Monthly Archives: November 2013

Holiday Freedom

I love the holidays.  I love the lights and smells and sounds.  I love decorating for Christmas.  I love eating way too much pie (and then eating it again for breakfast).  I love presents.  I love it all.

I also think that I love holiday gatherings.  I watch holiday movies or the holiday episode of my favorite TV shows and my heart is warmed by the family togetherness… and for most of my adult life I tried over and over and over again to replicate the feeling I got from watching those scenes in real life.  And it never worked.

It’s not because I don’t like my family, I do.  It’s not for lack of the dramatic moments, we have plenty.  It’s not for lack of any of the essential sights, smells, or sounds, they’re all there.  It just doesn’t feel the same as watching it on television.  Which makes perfect sense, because it’s not television.  It’s real life.

And in real life I am far more of an introvert than an extrovert.  I get overwhelmed in crowds.  I am sensitive to loud noises, temperature conditions, and lighting.  I have a million dietary sensitivities.  I have both gift giving AND receiving anxiety.  And I REALLY like wearing sweatpants and watching holiday movies (in a room where I control the temperature, sound, lighting, and available snacks).

Last year, for the first time ever, I opted out of the family Thanksgiving dinner.  My son will always spend Thanksgiving with his father per our divorce agreement and I was starting to realize how little I actually cared for the whole occasion.  The plan was to bake pumpkin cinnamon rolls, go to the movies, and eat chinese takeout for dinner with my girlfriend.  I don’t think we ended up finding an open Chinese place but overall, it was a great day!  A day of celebration completely free of obligation that set unrealistic expectations and got in the way of pure enjoyment.

pumpkinpieWe repeated it again this year.  Went up to Idyllwild and then ate a horrifically processed tasting meal at IHOP on the way down the mountain.  It was awful, yet there was still something about being able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted that felt delectable.  A binge viewing of House of Cards on Netflix rounded it out.  Today, I spent all day in the kitchen roasting a chicken, baking a dairy free pumpkin pie (with a gluten free gingersnap crust), grating potatoes, frying latkes, and smashing the leftover potato chunks with heaps of butter and garlic.  More House of Cards is on the menu for tonight and I couldn’t be happier.  I am comfortable.  I nurtured myself by doing things I wanted to do.  I love my family more than ever and can’t wait to see them for Christmas.

This Thanksgiving, more than ever, I am grateful for the freedom to choose to be authentic to myself.  To care for me and put my own needs first.  Happy Thanksgivvukah!

Keeping Pace

No matter what you believe, you probably believe you have a purpose.  Either because you’ve discovered it and you can feel it running through your veins like electricity in the moments you get to plug into it… or because you haven’t yet and you can feel the gaping space where you think it should belong.

but, not so fast!

but, not so fast!

And either way, you’re probably in a hurry to do something about it!  Ack!  Must.  Live (or find).  Purpose.  It’s a totally natural and expected reaction.

The thing about purpose, finding or keeping pace with it, is that you’ve got to slow down to make it work.

Slight detour to tell a story before returning to make a point: When I was a kid I didn’t know that any other musicians existed besides The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, & Carole King (maybe including a duet with James Taylor) until I was on the bus in 4th grade and people were asking whether I liked Michael Jackson.  Michael who?  It was embarrassing then, and for some reason the embarrassment lingers (because whenever anyone asks me what kind of music I listen do–which is a question that LUCKILY slows to a trickle once you pass 30–I realize I would still prefer to stick to those three).  Anyway, detour over.

One of my favorite songs as a child was the 59th Street Bridge Song by Simon and Garfunkel.  I had no idea what it meant then, and even reading the lyrics now… I’m not sure I do… but the first few lines are pretty straight forward.

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning (although, I thought it was moment–which made more sense) last

And I hear them in my head all the time!

The thing about purpose is that it’s about being connected to those forces (no matter what you believe they are) that are bigger than us.  And it’s not just being able to see each other from across the room, in our mind’s eye, or sensing awareness… it’s about keeping pace with those forces.  Anyone here ever been in marching band?  You know what it means to be in step?  If not, you can probably imagine… it’s moving your feet to the beat of the music taking a step with your left foot when everyone else does and a step with your right when everyone else done.  Being in step.

To live your purpose, you want to be in step with (I’m going to take liberties and call it…) the universe.  And to be in step with the universe you need to slow down so you two can (find each other if you need to) come up alongside each other, figure out the beat, decide on a direction, and step off together–left foot first–rolling from heel to toe to keep your upper body steady (wind instrument players get that part).  Then, you can take off running.

Go for it.  And go slowly.

Sacrificing Santa

Over the last six months or so two, somewhat contrasting, scenes have been on repeat in my household.

Scene 1: Opens with some variation of the line “Momma, is Santa real?” starting at a place that’s relatively benign and when my response of “what do you think?” wore on his nerves, worked it’s way up to “Momma.  For real this time.  Tell me the truth.  IS.  SANTA.  REAL?!”  To which I responded “oh look, a squirrel/lego movie poster/pizza place/cloud shaped like a hammer/insert something fascinating here.”

Scene 2: Is triggered by a discovery of a lego that wasn’t supposed to go to school hidden in a backpack, vitamins tucked into the shag carpeting, or a handful of Pokemon cards showing up out of nowhere and tends to end with me saying something like “I need you to understand how important it is for us to be honest with each other.”

The lying, sneaking, and hiding occurrences were starting to get uncomfortable.  I almost typed “out of control” but really… he’s six, he’s experimenting, it’s normal, he’s still bad enough at it that it’s easy to spot, and it’s no more out of control than any other part of life (which, of course, means that it’s completely out of control, but that’s not usually what people mean when they say that).  The conversations always went well.  Each time he seemed to be persuaded that being honest was, while sometimes difficult, ultimately less painful than the consequences of deceit.  Then, because he’s six… and no matter how good our relationship is I am his primary oppressor (read: person who sets limits on the fun stuff like screen time and junk food!), something else would come up and he’d try out lying again.

I always dreamed that my parenting style would have resulted in a dreamlike relationship of mutual trust and intrinsic respect… but no matter how good (or not–because I have my own connection-breaking moments) a parent I am, it doesn’t change the fact that a whole lot of shit went wrong.  It’s about as stable as it’s going to get and his life is still a mess.  There are new transitions every other day and even though he’s getting used to that as a lifestyle…  inconsistency (even being consistently inconsistent) doesn’t breed confidence and trust.

My whole job as a parent is about connecting and repairing when connection is lost and it was getting a little hypocritical up in here.  I was firmly rooted in my chosen values when explaining the importance of honest being a two way street.  I wasn’t just saying, it’s important that YOU be honest with me and I get to do whatever I want depending on the moment… yet, when the moments of truth came (pun intended) I tended to answer questions with questions and change the subject.  And the lying and sneaking continued.

A few weeks ago he asked again.  About Santa.  And I told the truth.

Here’s what I think the truth is.  Santa abso-fucking-lutely exists (I didn’t use that language).  I happen to believe, similarly to what I believe about the other supposedly old, bearded, white dude who lives far north (ahem, g-o-d), that he isn’t the story that has been concocted about him… but instead is an idea or spirit.

When I was 12 and discovered the wrapping paper “Santa” had used that year under my mother’s bed I had enough information to conclude that my mom was the one putting the presents under the tree every year.  I was also completely unwilling to let go of the idea of Santa Claus so I decided then that Santa just didn’t visit the homes of middle class kids like me.  Santa and his magic were reserved for the people who were truly in need.

I hung onto that belief for a long time… long enough, in fact, to see it come true.  A few Christmases ago when I was in need, and couldn’t provide the Christmas that my son had become accustomed to, loved ones (acting as the spirit of Santa) sent gifts to our home and filled the space under our meager tree.

So that’s the truth about Santa that my son learned.  Momma is the one who puts the presents under the tree (then we had to clear up that they are purchased in advance and hidden and that he isn’t left home alone, sleeping on Christmas eve while I go shopping).  Santa’s magic is there for people who really need it.  I also fessed up (after multiple lines of questioning) to being the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy (which was met by a squeal of excitement and “THANK YOU FOR THE TEN DOLLARS!”)

And just like I hope he learns (eventually), the honest conversation I had been dreading turned out to be painless… it was quite lovely, actually.  And since then we’ve been able to have all sorts of rich conversations about the intentions of Christmas and managing expectations and it feels damn good.

So that’s it, Santa.  In the name of family values I told the truth about you.  You will no longer get credit for the work I’ve been doing (5 of 6 years).  Hope you’re okay with that.  xo

Dear Pregnant Lady at Trader Joe’s

That was weird, that interaction we had, wasn’t it?  I’m still a bit shaken by it…

So, what I saw happen was that my son backed himself (and our cart) into you while trying to turn around (he’s just learning to steer carts.  it’s important to him this week.  i’m not sure why he chose now, but i am going with it.  choose your battles, ya know?).  Actually, I didn’t see it (I was looking at my shopping list), I heard a thump and expect that’s what happened based on what I saw when I looked up.  Because I was verbally guiding him through this whole learning-to-steer-the-cart thing and I had just said “back up” I then added “ah, but first look behind you.”

I seem to recall then that we made a brief moment of eye contact and shared a smile (you and me).  Then I looked at my son’s face and he looked a little shaken.  So I said “are you okay?” to which he responded “yes” and his face returned to normal.  You had your back to us by now and were picking out some veggies.  When you were done you turned to me and said “You know he ran into me, right?”

With slight surprise that you were addressing me (simply because it was unexpected) I said “yes-” and before I could say any more you started saying something I couldn’t quite make out about how you have four other kids and repeating again that he backed into you.  You were also insisting that it hadn’t been your fault and you had done nothing wrong.  You said “I didn’t hit him.”

When you paused I agreed that you hadn’t and asked you why you thought I had.  When you explained it was because of my reaction to him and mockingly repeated “are you okay?” in a sing song voice I started to feel my heart beat faster.  I began to object and really wanted to defend myself.  I felt “no I didn-” start to come out of my mouth and I stopped it.  I said instead, “I knew he backed into you.  I’m sorry it seemed otherwise” at the same time you said “I’m not just some awful person who runs into kids, I have done this before four times and are about to do it a 5th.”  Then you walked away.

If we had kept talking I would have attempted to explain that my questioning about him being okay was in response to his facial expression… no assumption of guilt or attempt at slandering you, but the moment was gone and I quickly averted my eyes later when we nearly crossed paths again at the eggs.

I thought it about it for a long time (and obviously still am).  I really want to understand you, because I want to understand most people… and maybe more than that because I don’t love confrontation and I’d love to be able to learn from this and not be nagged at a public market again.  Here’s what I’ve come up with–are any of these right?

1. You’re pregnant, and therefore crazy: I know that sounds awful.  I read that piece on Huffington Post about labeling women crazy.  It was good stuff.  People should really start checking themselves on that shit.  In this case, what I’m saying is… when I was pregnant I know that my brain was swimming in a cocktail of hormones that made me even more sensitive than I usually am.  Maybe that’s what was going on with you.

2. You really did hit him: Seriously.  Maybe you are some maniac (hormones or otherwise) who walks around Trader Joes’ and whacks kids in the back of the head for trying to pursue independence or explore the feeling of power that comes from navigating a cart around a store.  You aren’t ready to own up to this crime but you’re not ready to stop either and someone finding out would surely put an end to your game so you’re quick to defend yourself.

3. You are guilty of some other crime: and this is just residual guilt/defensiveness.  I tried to imagine one that I could picture you committing and all I could come up with is… nothing… I have nothing nice to say.  I want to make fun of your pink sweatshirt and bad dye job, but you’re SUPER pregnant and apparently you already have four kids–I know we all do our best.

4. Some mean pregnant lady bumped into you in a market when you were a child and you never recovered.

(and this last one is where I landed… and started to get a bit pissed off… and then calmed down and figured this is an opportunity for education)

5. Despite having four children and another on the way it has never occurred to you to check in with a child about how they’re feeling about a situation and address their feelings as a legitimate need for expression: Yes, to have been the most effective model to my son I could have looked up at you post-bump and said “excuse us” before explaining to him the importance of looking before backing up.  I didn’t do that.  My bad.  I was distracted and also focused on him.  And I guess (if this is what happened) that’s where we have a difference of opinion.

First, can I just get out that it’s pretty hilarious that having four/five children means that you’re not a monster who hits them?  Unfortunately the two are not mutually exclusive (I’m not sure if I used that correctly, but I’m too tired to figure it out).

Second, it’s okay to ask another person how they feel about a situation without implying that another party is responsible for those feelings.  In this case my son backed into you.  He was either physically hurt, shocked, embarrassed, something else, or a combination of some or all of those things.  None of that is one you.  Had you hit him, you’d be responsible for causing harm, yes, but not responsible for his reaction (this is something I’m trying to teach him about life).

Third, adults feelings and needs don’t need to come before children’s.  In fact, a lot of the times they should probably come second.  Here’s the deal.  We, as adults, have the capacity to wait a moment to get our needs met without a permanent imprint on our psyche that impairs our ability to feel worthy or whole later in life–kids… less so.  The older they get, the more they do… but either way, my six year old has less patience than you.  I, as his mother, am responsible for two main things: meeting my own needs, helping him meet his.  Sometimes, if I have energy left over I can help strangers in Trader Joe’s get their needs met–it’s rare.  In busy Trader Joe’s at 5:30pm on a Tuesday, my kid’s look of horror takes precedence over whatever you were experiencing.  You can handle your own stuff.  Yes, his carelessness caused a collision.  The learning I hope he takes from that is multi-dimensional.  I want him to be aware of people and things around him and how his own body movements impact that.  I want him to understand that there are potentially painful consequences to carelessness.  I want him to know that his actions have the power to impact others.  What I don’t want him to learn is that making a mistake means he is suddenly less important to me than you are (we have never met you, after all).  Or that a mistake is anything more than a lesson to be learned from.

So, that’s where I was coming from.  Sorry we didn’t have a chance to hash it all out in the dairy section.

With Gratitude for the experience,

Writing again

My fingers are cold.  It’s less than 60 degrees around here and that is far too chilly for a California girl like me to cope with in any reasonable way.  So I will complain about it.  And then on Wednesday night when I board a plane to Chicago and temps of less than 30 with wind chill factor beyond what I can even imagine wind chill factor will be I will return home a few days later grateful for the opportunity to be in 58 degrees with still air.  Really, in my living room at this moment… it’s likely no less than 68.  But I exaggerate.  A lot.  No exaggeration.

I’m writing again.  It’s been a while.  I’ve had a bit of a stick up my butt about it.

Turns out it was a little case of trying to do what I had been doing even though everything is different.

When I was writing about how everything in my life was wrong and what I was going to do to make it easy the material was coming fast and hard.  It was easy to sit down here, start banging out my thoughts, have an epiphany near the end, close it out, hit publish and let it be out there in the world.  I got most of my learning from the experience of writing about it here.

Then after changing a lot of things… things were changed.  And there wasn’t as much to do anymore.  We recently moved and it took much longer than the usual two days to move, unpack, and hang everything… and I didn’t like it.  And for the week or two it took to get everything put away and organized I moaned and groaned about it and it was a really big part of my focus and therefore my life.  And then, it was over.  And I didn’t have any more unpacking to do.  And I needed to find something else to fill my focus and therefore life with… but when it wasn’t so obvious as “oh look, there’s a box full of stuff… go unpack it so the stuff can be put away and the box can go to the garage” it wasn’t so easy to figure out what I was (and what i should have been) doing.

So now that the house of my huge personal transformation has been unpacked and everything put away I will still go shopping for groceries and there will be dishes to do and laundry (oh goodness, will there be laundry).  Maybe we’ll even get rid of the old couch and get something with more stuffing… but when those small tasks are done and things are put away again it will just be me, in the house of myself, face to face with the bigger task of what to do with it.

What I know is that I should write.  What I don’t know yet is how, about what, when, where… or anything else really.  It’s a good enough start.