A Thank You Letter to my Toughest Kid

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I never thought I’d write you, of all people, a thank you note. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? After all, for what on earth do I have to thank you? If there’s a debt of gratitude here, isn’t it from you to me?

But I’m reading “Field Notes on the Compassionate Life- A Search for the Soul of Kindness,” by Marc Ian Barasch, and like any book worth the paper it’s printed on, with every page I am propelled into an emotional tug of war.

“Soren Kierkegaard said we think a person who is loved owes a debt of gratitude to the one who loves them. There is an expectation that it should be repaid in kind, on installment, “reminiscent,” he says sarcastically, “of an actual bookkeeping arrangement.” Instead, he turns the whole thing on its head: “No, the one who loves runs into debt; in feeling himself gripped by love, he feels this as being in an infinite debt. Amazing!”

Was Kierkegaard onto something? Is it I who owes you for the privilege it has been to love you? For the way that love has transformed me? Shaped me? Whittled me down to the core of my personhood? Dared me to look in the mirror and see myself for who I really am– flaws and imperfections included– so that I could fully understand who YOU really are and all the ways we are more or less the same? So I could see how similar our struggles really are? So I could humbly take note of all the things I want to change about you- that I pray you outgrow- and clearly see they are the very things I hope and pray for myself?

Like a hurricane, you have torn through my life at times, upsetting all that was so meticulously thought out and designed for my comfort and enjoyment. My ease. You force me to regroup. Re-think. Re-configure. Your selfishness forces my hand to be more generous in word and in deed. Your frequent lack of concern for my feelings forces me to see all the ways I, too, am selfish and self-centered and want the universe to revolve around me.

Your strong-willed spirit requires so much more from me than I knew I had.  Your absolute insistence to do things your way instead of mine constantly reminds me that I do not own you. You belong to yourself and you need to live in a way that makes sense to you, even when I don’t understand, even when it would never work for me.

You would not let me be a lazy mom (if such a thing exists). You’ve demanded I be present. Involved. Aware. Creative. Much more thoughtful. Smarter. Clever. Strategizing and learning to cope with what I, in my piety, have deemed a difficult person.

For all the circumstances you dragged me into involuntarily that required me to get over myself; That obligated me to learn how to circle the wagons in loyalty even when my heart was breaking in humility, thank you. For compelling me to dig deeper and become the best version of myself as a mom, a woman, person, just by being who you are, thank you.  Because of you, I’ve seen the very worst and very best of what I’m able to be. Do. Overcome. Persevere through in order to give you more. More. More. More. Thank you.

You see, the other children are easy. Rule followers. Quick to listen. Quick to act. Wanting to please. They require so little of me, really. I can relax around them.  But not you. Your struggles. Your needs. Your unwillingness to just do things my way, dammit will not let me rest. They have driven me crazy with anger and frustration and grief and made me search. Search, search, search.

You have kept me awake at night, gripped with fear. Whispering prayers in desperation. Prayers for you, prayers for me. Holy utterings that one of us will somehow get this right. This growing. This learning. This becoming. And somehow, even though I am the parent and you are the child, it’s happening together. It’s happening to both of us at once. While I am trying to teach you, you are teaching me. And though I would not have chosen it to be like this– while I would have rather taken the easy road, it’s the difficulties here that are refining both of us.

And I have finally accepted that the toughest chapters of my life have always. Always. Always been followed by the best chapters of my life.  And that includes the pages with your name on them. And your name is on all of them.

I’ve always believed each child should secretly suspect they are their mother’s favorite; That I’ve done such a thorough job favoring each one of you, NONE of you would believe this is about you.

So if you’re reading this and do imagine it to be you? Thanks, kid. I owe you.

 

{Looking for another Mother’s Day read? Check out The Mosaic of Motherhood from a few years back.}

 

Plenty of Fish in the Sea

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The thing about dating is eventually you’re either going to break up or get married, and the truth is, I don’t want to do either– so you can see my dilemma.  But about a year ago, I felt like it was time to make my social circle a little wider if I ever hoped to be in a relationship again. When you work from home and like to spend your off hours in bed with a book, your options become pretty limited. (Plus I had already dated my boss and the UPS man. Hi guys!) I was either going to have to quit, move, or join an online dating site– and since I love my job and my home… Enter Match.com

I approached Match the way I do any new project: competitively and with enthusiasm. I was going to have the best dating profile out there! And honestly, after creating it,  I wanted to date myself so hard. I had the best pictures (Look how cute I am!) The most appealing descriptions and write up of myself (I’m NOT COMPLICATED AT ALL!) The most fun sounding life (Likes to watch sports and grab a beer and hardly spends any time reading and writing alone and crying herself to sleep!)

I did not understand at the time what a huge mistake this was.  HUGE. All you really need when you decide to “get out there” is a pulse.  Instead, I sold myself as the Taj Mahal of girlfriends and within minutes, it was game on.

Day 1: Wow! This is so flattering! Woah! I’ve still got it! Hey, look at all these winks and likes and emails! This is so fun! Why didn’t I do this sooner?  How did online dating get a bad rap?? I’ll have a date in no time!

Day 1, hours later: WOW. Okay. WOW. This is a LOT. How will I ever sort through all of this? I think I might need to use an alternative email address. And I don’t think a lot of these people look like a “match”, if you know what I’m saying. But hey. Think positive! There are a lot of people out there looking for love. Plenty of fish in the sea and all that jazz!

End of Day 1: Responds to almost every inquiry with kind and thoughtful comments such as, “Since you live in Ohio, that’s slightly out of my geographical range” or “I’m not sure we’re a match, but I hope you find what you’re looking for” and “No thank you.”

Day 2: How could I possibly have 73 emails already today? These people are a little bit aggressive. Don’t they sleep? Were they on here during the night? What about work? This is like a part-time job. And why does HOT4U374 look like the same exact guy as URman109? Is that the same person?

Day 2, hours later: LET ME LIVE. I DON’T LIKE ANY OF YOU. NO ONE WINKS THIS MUCH IN REAL LIFE- AND IF YOU DID, we would NEVER date. EVER. STOP it. And it’s “you’re” not “your”.

End of Day 2: I cannot even check my email. I cannot jump on Match to “see what’s out there” because you trolls might notice I’m online and try to chat me. I’m going to read in my bed. ALONE. And all of you should, too.

Day 3: Turns profile off.  Orders Chinese food and binge watches Sex and the City.

It’s fun being me!

Stay tuned to hear about my first dates… also known as “It’s Not a Match”

New Year. Same Me. Just a Little Better.

 

I’ve never been a big fan of the whole “New Year. New Me” annual bandwagon. Not that I don’t admire the optimism; I do. I’m all for self-improvement and renewed dedication to being the best version of ourselves. But if we’re truly being honest, do any of us actually want or need a whole “New Me”? That’s an awful big project. What a massive undertaking. And what sort of plan would you be following for an entire new you, anyway? I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

But the main reason I don’t like to proclaim “New Year, New Me”, is that I really like myself. I don’t want a whole new me. I want to keep being the same me, but maybe just a little bit better.

The same me, but with more self-awareness, so that I completely consciously make the smartest decisions for myself and my family instead of acting out of old patterns or habits.

The same me,  but more fully present. Less on my phone or in front of a screen. More fully engaged with the people right in front of me.

The same me, but using more emotional intelligence to navigate all of my relationships, so that every person I encounter is getting the truest, most authentic version of myself.

The same me, but more willing to disappoint others so that I always remain true to myself.

The same me, but with a heart that opens up just a little bit wider, making a little more space for every dimension of love in my life.

The same me, but with my heart a little softer. More compassion and more empathy. More aware of the strugglers in my life and the little ways I can make them feel less alone.

The same me, but always learning new ways. For everything. The way I think. The way I process. The way I do things. The way I interact with people. The way I handle things.

The same me, but less inclined to think I have all the answers and more inclined to adopt a new point of view or a more open, educated mind. How I see it is not how it is; it’s just how I see it. There are, indeed, new ways to think that I have not yet learned.

The same me, but with a renewed commitment to holding everything with an open hand  so that I flow more easily with life. This applies to people, relationships, circumstances, problems…When I hold it all loosely, it’s easier for God and The Universe to work it all out for my good.

The same me, but rededicated to the daily practices that nurture my heart, mind and soul: Meditation, journaling, gratitude, prayer… It makes a difference in every part of my life. When I get lazy about it, everything else suffers.

The same me, but making a concerted effort to live more awake to social justice issues, more awake to my white privilege and how it impacts the world around me. More  committed to getting involved and making a difference, and involving my kids, too. We’ll keep learning to be better citizens of this world and better members of humanity. Together.

The same me, but with a higher prioritization of self-respect. Allowing fewer people to waste my time, waste my goodness, waste my energy–and letting go of them sooner when they do.

The same me, but with a heart that forgives more quickly. There’s no use wasting time and emotional energy on old stories I can’t change. Moving forward with a clean slate is the only way to live in peace. (And an old story is the only kind of story. If it happened 5 minutes ago, it’s an old story.)

The same me, but with renewed commitment and enthusiasm for taking care of my body in every way: Eating better. Drinking less-ish. Moving more. (Drinking less-ish is a thing and I’m pretty sure a lot you reading this appreciate my realistic suggestion. You’re welcome.)

The same me, but saying yes more often to adventure. To opportunities. To celebrations. To more fun and laughter. (Because couldn’t we all use more of these things??)

So that’s it. That’s my plan for 2017. Nothing all that grand, nothing all that new. I really just want to be the same me, but a little bit better. I’m not going to “resolve” to do any of this. But I’m definitely going to try. And I am going to believe this coming year will be just a little bit better than the last. 

 

Because People-Love

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Every single day I’m reminded how beautiful my life really is. But every single day I’m also reminded how hard life can be. And hard times feel even harder during the holidays. My dear friend, Sister Johnice at the Response to Love Center in Buffalo, NY helps take care of people during hard times. And honestly? It’s so easy to make a difference. Way too easy to sit back and do nothing. This time of year wipes out the food pantry at the center. And when clients do come in, many of them have no winter gloves. Over the next few weeks I’ll be collecting canned food and winter gloves for adults.

If you’re a Buffalo local, would you consider adding to my Canned Food & Winter Gloves Collection? I’d love to have you join me.

Wondering how I got connected to the RTLC? Diapers. It was through Diapers. Read more here…

Taking the Long View

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One of my kids recently had to do something really hard. They had to go make something right that they had kind of screwed up. This is no easy feat, no matter how old you are. Making a mistake is so much easier than making amends. But making amends is so powerful. So much better. So freeing.

And so as my kid was going out the door to go do this thing– and just DREADING it, I looked them in the eye and said, “You are GOOD. YOU. Are. A good, good soul. You’ve got this.”

And then I cried at my desk. Tears of gratitude. Tears of compassion and humility and overwhelming love. Motherhood, personhood, is so raw and exhausting at times.

And what I’m learning right now is that it takes decades to build a person. Decades.

We expect so very much from ourselves and from our kids. And yes, it’s good to have standards and expectations; of course we should. But our character, our true selves, our best selves, our real selves…those things are built over a lifetime. An entire lifetime. And yet we expect things from each other that we just haven’t had the time and life experience to develop.

 

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Rialto’s Drift (USA) by Patrick Marson Ong

As a mom, this moves me deeply and challenges me to see my children in a different light. I expect so much of them. Self awareness and emotional intelligence are a high priority for me personally, but at 43, I’m just barely there. And it’s hard, conscious work all the time. I’m not sure how I can possibly expect the people in my house who have the distinct disadvantage of less time and less life experience (and let’s be honest- less therapy) to be even close to that.

So I’m learning to take the long view. Nobody needs to be perfect right now. Or tomorrow. Or next week. (Or quite frankly, next month or next year. Mercy.) Nobody needs to get it all right, right now. We need to keep stumbling forward. Making tiny strides and picking each other up with lots of empathy towards how hard it is to grow up and adult. Lots of forgiveness. Lots of grace. Lots of Love. Lots of acceptance. Lots of quiet conversations about who we are and who we want to be and if our actions today are helping us get there.  Lots of laughter at ourselves and with each other as we’re  trying to figure it all out. Over decades. Over a lifetime.

Because here’s the thing about the short view: It’s incomplete. It’s underdeveloped. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s unfair. It’s unforgiving. It’s unrealistic. It’s impossible. It’s an exercise in frustration– with ourselves and with each other. It’s harsh and uninformed.

It’s true the longview takes a long time– a lifetime– But since that’s all we’ve got, I’m going to stick around for it because I can see in the distance it’s going to be beautiful.

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Where I End and You Begin

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Not long ago I was on a first date with a nice guy. (We’ve already had our last date, but I’ll get to that later.And if it seems as though I’ve become the Taylor Swift of dating and then writing about it, I feel that. And you’re welcome.)

My date and I were chatting over a few drinks and having a very typical getting-to-know-you type of conversation when he started to describe a sticky situation in his life. It was a little weird and after he finished describing it and how he got into it, etc… He looked at me and smiled and said, “But if I were in a relationship with someone who didn’t approve and asked me to get out of it, I would.”

You could tell he thought that was a pretty smooth, impressive thing to say. And a few years ago, I would’ve thought it was too. Except now I have better boundaries. (Thank you, therapy. I love you. You are the one for me.)

And so instead, I thought, wait what?

Side Note: If the dating scene isn’t a freakin’ messy and bizarre melting pot of bad boundaries and crazy boundaries and no boundaries, I don’t know what is. And admittedly, I have not perfected the art of boundaries, so I’m not throwing stones as much as I’m making observations. But even I knew we had a boundary situation on our hands here.

A Boundary is a definite place where your responsibility ends and another person’s responsibility begins. Boundaries stop you from doing things for others that they should be doing for themselves.

A Boundary prevents you from rescuing someone from the consequences of their destructive behavior that they need to experience in order to grow.

Boundaries help other people understand how you will and will not be treated.

A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect.

I smiled sweetly at my date and said, “You are a grown man. And I’m a grown woman. I would never tell you what to do and you will never tell me what to do. You’ve chosen to be in that situation and that’s cool. But it will never be my job to tell you to get out of it. What I would end up telling you is that it’s not for me, but I wish you well.” (That’s some fine boundary-setting. Well done, Jules!)

Good luck! Godspeed!

Next.

He seemed to be a little confused that I wasn’t swooning over this generous offer to let me dictate his behavior.  But now the idea of that makes me want to run. I have a hard enough time figuring out my own stuff- I don’t want to figure out yours too, buddy.  And why on earth would you want me to?

Fast forward a few weeks and this same nice guy cancelled plans at the last minute twice and stood me up once.

And I’m not the kind of girl who gets stood up twice.

So that was the end of that.

But funny thing, he started calling and texting again recently. And I very nicely told him that the way he operates and communicates is not for me. I like him. He’s a nice guy. But I won’t be treated that way. (More good boundaries. Rock. On.)

Boundaries make it so simple, don’t they? They aren’t meant to be mean or inflexible. They’re meant to keep us safe and keep expectations clear. We teach people how to treat us. And when we’re clear about what we’ll tolerate and what we won’t, it helps both people decide if the relationship will work for them. If it won’t, we can both move on.

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It’s much harder to set boundaries with people we love deeply–Our children. Our partner. Our parents or sibs. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or see people we love suffer. But the truth is, we’re the ones who end up suffering when we fail to put healthy boundaries in place.

I’m getting better at boundaries all the time. And now that I’ve prioritized self-respect in my life, it’s easy to recognize situations that compromise my boundaries.

So how about you? Do you know where you end and someone else begins? If you don’t, there’s no better time to figure it out than now. But I’m not telling you what to do. Because that’s your job, not mine.

BOOM.

 

 

The Keeper of Myself

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A few years back when I was going through a very difficult time, some people in my life were questioning my resolve. My intelligence. My ability to figure things out and handle life on my own. And they said as much. It was like a punch in the gut. I vividly remember tears burning my eyes out of anger and shame and defense.

Their words weren’t true. At least I was pretty sure they weren’t. Were they? Either way, they flipped a switch inside me and traveled down my spine like an electrical current and this was the truth they ignited:

No one is coming to save you and you do not need saving.

You are the hero of this story.

This life of yours is 100% your responsibility.

You already have everything you need to make it happen.

But even with all of that smoldering inside me, the ugly words had woven themselves into the tiresome questions my mind played back on repeat.

What if I can’t do this? What if I’m not strong enough or smart enough? What if it’s too hard? What if I fail? What if I can’t make it?

And I kept coming up with one answer: There’s only one way to find out.

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I know a few strugglers right now. People in my life who are really facing some tough times. They’re at a crossroads. A fork in the road. Their futures are hanging in the balance, if you will. And quite honestly, things could go either way. And this is what I want to tell them:238e27af68c885bf3971e30846a2cb04

Dig f*cking deep. Deeper than you’ve ever dug before. Claw your way through this rough patch so that the dirt from this life– the disappointments, the heartache, the regret– the weaknesses that so easily beset you– so that it all becomes history beneath your filthy, torn nails. Find the f*cking grit and unquenchable spirit that’s inside you and figure it out. Do the things that scare you. Whatever the hell they are. DO them: But you’ve got to move forward in this life. And you’re the only one who can make it happen.

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And the funny part is, the “things that scare you” part for me? You’d think it was something, you know, actually scary. But it wasn’t. It was only doing things I’d never done before.

Actually, it was doing lots of things I’d never done before. But nothing truly frightening. 

If I’m being honest with you, it was about transitioning from a kept woman to keeping myself.

It was about getting shit done and working hard and feeling the burn of achievement and accomplishment and independence. And nothing has ever felt  better. 

A lot of the struggles and problems we face around here are very white-bread suburban issues– but sometimes the mental and emotional resistance we’re up against may as well be slavery. We feel powerless (even though we’re not). We feel incompetent (even though we’re not). We feel worthless (even though we’re not). We feel stuck (even though we’re not).

The battle I was facing was not really against a person. It was more against myself.

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Growing up, I wasn’t really raised to think this way. Understand me: I wasn’t raised to NOT think this way– but none of this bravado was really part of my Modus Operandi. I was always just letting life happen to me and then figuring out how to navigate whatever had happened.

Elizabeth Gilbert recently said, “Bad things happen to women who wait for good things to happen” 

Man. You can’t just sit around waiting for the Life Fairy to gift you one. You gotta get after it yourself. And it doesn’t have to be amazing to anyone else, as long as it is to you.

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Debbie Harry photographed by Richard Creamer, Los Angeles, 1977.

I started to believe all the audacious quotes I was reading everywhere. Believing that if they were true for other women, other people finding their way, they were true for me, too.

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Find something that speaks to your very soul every time you read it, reminding you how you want your life to feel.  Actively search it out and discover it for yourself. Whatever it is. Grab hold of it. Every quote, every song lyric, every crumb of inspiration you can suck the life from. Hang them where you can see them all the time. Repeat them like a mantra. Repeat them until you start to smile at them the way you would a lover across the room. Repeat them until you read them and your very first thought is, ‘Huh. Sounds like me.’ The bravery. The bravado. The badassery.

Donald Miller said, “The best stories have their protagonist wondering if they’re going to make it.” 

And I’ve decided I am.