The Year My Hydrangea Bloomed {And the Unexpected Miracles from Letting Go}

Nothing.

Not a single bloom or bud. Lush greenery, sure. But still empty. For nearly fifteen summers I have watched my Hydrangea remain flowerless. Oh sure, occasionally I did a little research trying to figure out why it Would. Not. Bloom. But still, nothing. A few times I think I sprinkled coffee grounds around the roots. Added Lime to the soil. Over-watered. Under-watered. (Mostly under-watered, if you know me.) All to no avail.

And each year, as the summer came to a close and the hot summer days gave way to fall, I would cut it back with a big heavy sigh. “Why won’t you bloom?”,  I would think.  “Where are your flowers?” All these years… not even one.

And then this past fall, whether in neglect or laziness or weariness, I left it alone. It was the first time in years I didn’t cut it back. “Nothing I do matters anyway– stay the way you are. Fine. Whatever.” {Yes, dear readers, she even has a complicated relationship with her plants. }

I had pretty much given up. I didn’t understand. Every plant around it blooms. All the other flowers are thriving– but not this one.

And so I accepted it. This plant doesn’t bloom. It just…doesn’t.

 


 

Except this year.

It did.

Big, fluffy, full, bright pink flowers.

And it didn’t almost bloom, or barely bloom. My Hydrangea is COVERED in flowers. It’s almost unrecognizable. It’s so lavish and bright and alive. It’s actually bigger and better than ever.

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And it got me thinking about other “Hydrangeas” in my life; Spaces I’ve sort of given up on after exhausting years of trying to force change, trying to control, trying to fit into my idea of the way things should be. Things I actually don’t even hope for or dream about anymore. Things I’ve just painfully come to accept: This is how it is. And certainly, that’s okay; There’s so much peace in the quiet acceptance of how things just are.

I accepted my  flowerless Hydrangea. I wasn’t going to dig it up or get rid of it or replace it. But I still always knew it was SUPPOSED to be flowering and wasn’t. And so all these years later, when I saw those luscious, vibrant blooms, I cried.

And I thought to myself,

We must let life surprise us. We must hold things so loosely and sometimes just let them be. We must graciously let go of things we so desperately want to change and then watch the natural unfolding that happens with our release.

It is not lost on me- the irony. The irony that the year I left it alone– the year I didn’t prune it or search for answers or try to somehow “trick” it into flowering, it did. I had been trying to force it for years and when I finally let it go, it bloomed.

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It’s Not a Match

Writing about your dating life isn’t necessarily easy. And yet, it’s still easier than actually dating. I’ve been a little slow writing this sequel to Plenty of Fish in the Sea, but a recent article in the Buffalo News was so sympathetic to my plight, I knew it was time for an update. (Mom and Dad, do NOT panic. And maybe don’t keep reading along.)

I can’t JUST include the link– I must SHOW you the article for complete and thorough understanding of this bizarro world of online dating:

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A new study lists Buffalo as the nation’s most dangerous city for online dating.

The study, conducted by security review company SafeWise and HighSpeedInternet.com, ranked 56 U.S. cities based on two risk factors that researchers said were key to online dating safety: STD cases and violent crime rates, both adjusted for population. Using these metrics, researchers produced safety scores for each city.

With the highest STD rate in the study and the 11th highest violent crime rate, Buffalo was found to be twice as dangerous for online dating as the study’s next most dangerous city, Riverside, Calif.

“Buffalo residents may not have a lot to do while cooped up indoors for those long Buffalo winters, but clearly some people could use more precaution,” one of the researchers, John Dilley, wrote in a summary of the findings.

Alrighty then.

STDs and violent crime? So basically Gonorrhea and stabbings? Is that all you got, Online Dating?  Psssh.  Buffalonians are a hearty bunch. You’re going to have to do better than that!

(And yet. This article still says nothing of the other real danger out there: The Heartbreak.)


I must point out– the few people I met and went on actual dates with were TOTAL gentlemen. Total. (No STDs or violent crimes, thank the sweet baby Jesus) It was weeding out the crazies to actually get to the first date part that was the toughest. But still, I was in near tears before every first date. My girlfriend would say to me EVERY SINGLE TIME, “For F*#&s sake, Bean– it’s a DRINK. Not a proposal.” And I would whine back, “I knoowwwww. But I don’t wanna goooooo.”  Super attractive, right? And I get it- you’re thinking, wait- I thought you wanted to meet people and date…?

Well I do. But I just want to skip ahead to the part where we’re happy and it’s a match. Are you saying that’s not realistic?

So I started corresponding with a few people and emailing back and forth and getting to know each other a little bit, because that’s how this gig works. And I did go on a few first dates.

Here is a very abridged version of my experience:

#1 was married and still living with his wife. This was a touch confusing. I thought- well- I thought we were all gonna be single and available. “We” weren’t. Not a match.

#2 was not a match from the second we met— and when he said he didn’t believe in God, I told him that was a deal breaker for me. Later in the week he messaged me to say he was going to attend church that weekend and “give it a try.” (I make the boys believe in God! It’s like magic! ) Ultimately I told him I would’ve had more respect for someone who stayed true to their beliefs (or lack thereof) than someone who was so willing to jump the atheist ship for a girl– ‘cuz we’re not just talking about switching from Protestant to Episcopalian. We’re talking about THE EXISTENCE OF GOD. It’s not a match.

I can’t even remember #3. I was too jacked up from #1 and #2

On Date #4, I distinctly recall waiting and wishing he would swear first so we could just sort of relax a little. And also order a third drink. It was not a match.

There was also one in there that- I’m not exaggerating- spent THE ENTIRE date talking about his ex and repeatedly and emphatically convincing me just how over her he is.  Even the bartender was rolling his eyes. Check please. Not a match.

On the last date, I knew from the second we met it was not a match. His online persona and his real life persona were… incongruous. And that’s being polite about it.

And then I quit Match. I cried and quit and shut down my profile. Match could go match itself.

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And then I tried one more time because I only learn from my mistakes after I make them approximately 437 times. (On the low end.) And whaddya know? I met a match. I fell in love. And then it turned out to just..not be a match.  No matter how much I wish it were or wanted it to be. Love is a complicated thing. Not everyone is for everyone.

More than 500 times once I’ve said, “As soon as I saw him, I knew we were not a match”, and I’m not just talking about someone being attractive. Each of us has a very unique and specific vibe that is made up of so much more than just physical appearance: Body language, mannerisms, energy, spirit… So much of our chemistry and attraction with another person is about everything that’s unspoken.  Within minutes of meeting someone, your subconscious is already deciding if this person feels good to be around and is someone you’d want in your space. (So to speak. Ahem.)

There are three general immediate responses:

“This is okay.”

“No. This just doesn’t feel like me

Or “THIS! THIS! THIS! ALL DAY LONG THIS!”

The last one is like a unicorn–rare and extremely hard to find.

The heart wants what the heart wants. The heart is not always schooled in reality. Sometimes the heart is a drunken fool that won’t shut up. That’s the problem. You think you know exactly what you want and you think you know exactly what you don’t want. Getting those things to collide, well, that’s another story.

Stay tuned. And if you live in Buffalo, stay safe my friends. Love is a dangerous game.

 

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”

Suck it up, Buttercup

 

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Photo Cred: HAIR, by John Barrett

She was crying as we pulled up to the school and she didn’t want to get out of the car. My daughter was having an “off” morning and I was trying to decide on the best course of action. Is there a worse way for a mom or dad to start the day than with a crying kid who doesn’t want to go to school? I was stuck in the frustrating in-between of wanting to push her out the door so I could get on with my day and wanting to crawl back in bed and snuggle her close, rub her back and shelter her from whatever was making her upset.

“Are you going? What are we doing here?”

“Do you think you can you suck it up and make it through your day? If I’m going to get a call from the nurse in 5 minutes, please just save me the trip back to school and we’ll turn around right now.”

” I know you don’t feel 100%– but you don’t have to feel 100% to make it through the day.” (Hell, I make it through all kinds of days hovering around 35% or so.)

Yeah. These are things I said. But if you’re a parent, I’m pretty sure you’ve said them too.

We circled the Drop-Off loop one more time while she was wiping the tears and checking her mascara in the visor mirror, all the while my heart complexly interwoven with impatience and heartbreak. I knew it was not her best day. I knew she was upset. And I knew she was upset with me, too. She thought I was being hard on her and that was making everything worse.

As we pulled up to the doors, my eyes were watching the clock. I knew in one more minute she’d be late and I’d have to cop a lame excuse note, but the tears were still coming.

Ticking clock. Cars behind me. Buses lined up to move. What do I do? Do I make my normally cheerful little freshman walk into school crying? Do I drive us back home? On any given day, I’ve done both.

Today? I made her get out.

“I love you. Take a deep breath. You can do this. I know it’s not your favorite thing right now. It’s not mine either. But in just a little bit, you’ll be distracted and moving on with your day. Go. So you’re not late. Hop out.”

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Many a day I’ve allowed less than sick kids stay home. Many a day I’ve coddled kids who didn’t feel up to doing whatever the day required of them. And the more time goes by, I’m not sure it was the right decision. In the moment, it was the easiest decision, but the easiest decision and the right decision are unfortunately not usually the same thing.

When you’re trying to raise up kids into strong-minded and responsible adults, it becomes more clear on the daily that you’re not doing them any favors when you allow them to lie down under the weight of their little world. It’s not reality. It’s not how life works. And it’s a mentality that won’t serve them well– or at all– in the Grown Up world.

A friend recently introduced me to the famous acronym, MTXE, coined and embraced by former Wichita State head coach Gene Smithson during his tenure from 1978-86, which stands for “Mental Toughness Extra Effort,” a mindset that helped the Shockers compile a 155-81 record with two Missouri Valley Conference titles and a trip to the Elite Eight over a span of eight years. I’ve started using it with my kids and there are days I want to write it on my own hand as a reminder.

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I think of my own life experiences, of things that have required Mental Toughness and Extra Effort in my own life (widowed at 26 with 2 small children, a tough marriage, a tough divorce, an accident resulting in a few broken bones and surgeries, to name a few);  Of the endless days I’ve lived through compartmentalizing personal pain, anxiety or fear so that I could fulfill obligations and responsibilities and be a dependable mother, employee, daughter, friend. I want to know I’m raising my kids with the mental toughness and fortitude that difficult life- or even just DAILY life- experiences require; That there is a way to be both aware of your feelings and in control enough of them as well, so you can face the day regardless.

I’ll be thinking of my daughter all day, aware that she’s struggling. And if the school calls and I need to pick her up, of course that’s okay. But I still won’t be sorry I made her get out of the car. And someday, even if it’s not today, neither will she.

 

 

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. 

 

Alone Again for Christmas

My lifelong and dearest friend Joey has written something that resonates deeply, especially if you’re alone or single or divorced during this season. Merry Christmas, Joey- and thanks for the gift.

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Ahh Christmastime. Everyone loves it….
Ok maybe not everyone. It can be a hard time of year. Especially when you’re single. Or you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one.

I honestly never thought I’d be here at this stage of the game. And I definitely didn’t choose it. But damn, I’ve gotten good at it. So good, that I don’t really want anyone to disrupt the certain level of normalcy I’ve created in my house and for my 3 children. I mean, there are a lot of positives. Like. A lot. There’s no drama. No disappointments. No disagreements. No surprises. No leaving the toilet seat up. (Oh wait. That was me.) Just life. Work. Bills. School. Stability. And a little weekend dancing.

But still. It gets lonely sometimes. Especially around the holidays. And missing those moments as a family can be difficult. Because there once was a time when…

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