I remember when I was pregnant and nearing the end of it, I’d always have a moment in the grocery store when I bought something with an expiration date after my due date. It was always a scary realization, knowing that the milk or yogurt could potentially last longer than the inside kicks I was feeling.
I keep doing that retroactively lately with so many things around my own home. The huge bag of bulk brown rice I bought at Costco? I had no idea when I bought it that I’d be divorced when we reached the bottom of the bag. I had no idea when we bought this dream home that life events would force me to sell it before we even put down real roots. I had no idea when we adopted our lab 8 years ago that he’d follow me to a new chapter alone with two children while my husband began his own new life with a woman ten years younger than I am.
But as another thing that outlasted my marriage, I also vastly underestimated the role of friendship in my life. Over the holidays, I had dinner with a friend who only knows me from my work life years ago, and I was in a bad place of fear and confusion and self-pity, and I remember saying that I felt like nobody even knew me outside of my husband. No one sees me as a separate being. But in reality, I’m learning that nothing is farther from that truth. Even when I didn’t see my own self in the mirror very much and I only saw a wife, others were seeing the real me tucked away inside.
Lately, not a single day goes by that I don’t receive a call or a text or an email from someone close to me. Someone who graciously continues to think of me and check in and give me words of encouragement. As word has leaked out on social media, something I feared for a long time, I have been so surprised at the people who have reached out with some really specific and genuine words in my time of shaky ground. Graduate school classmates I’ve hardly talked to much in the last 8 years, former teachers, former students, so many I forgot that I’d once been closely connected to.
I dreaded telling our neighbors for quite some time. I don’t even know why. It’s just such an awesome neighborhood as I’ve mentioned before, and I’m sad to leave it. But it’s also ALL married families with children here. And everything always looks so pristine on the outside when you are looking in. It’s intimidating to let someone know that yours doesn’t match. (I think we all know what I mean with that feeling.)
So finally last week, I had to tell them the day before the “for sale” sign emerged in our yard. I emailed the three I am closest to with very few details and a lot of tears, and what happened? They rallied and sent such words of encouragement and invited themselves to keep me company last Wednesday evening, sneaking over after kids were asleep with bottles of wine and gifts and food. My only contribution was s’mores dip and a lot of conversation.
There is a line in Almost Famous (anyone else love that movie?) where Phillip Seymour Hoffman says to the young protagonist that “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” I’m learning that lesson in all of this. Every time I open up and share the real vulnerability, the real pain or sadness or confusion or whatever overflows, the result is real currency, so to speak, real friendship.
It’s such a lesson for me, and for all of us I think, to be genuine and real and stop the game of pretending we don’t have worries or sadness or doubt or fear. This problem is worsening with Facebook and Instagram and blogs and every other avenue for posting polished photos and catchy captions. Let’s be real, for once. Say what bothers you, say what you need from a friend, say what you need from your own self. Express your sadness and doubt and fear and disappointment. So much good happens when we finally just say it.
I’m so grateful for friends and real conversation and relationships that span time and distance and reach out to comfort us when we need it. Life is funny. I’ve connected with a lot of people, at times closely or intensely, and then you move forward and time separates you. You forget you had that connection once, and yet if we are willing to put ourselves out there, it can still shine through unexpectedly when you most need it. And at this time in my life, when I am feeling so doubtful and less steady than ever, it soothes and encourages me more than I can express to hear someone say that I have what it takes to move forward and begin this new chapter for myself and my kids alone.
So to any of you – if you are reading here though I know many of them don’t – but if you are reading this and you sent an email, a text message, a card in the mail. If you listened to me cry on the phone, if you sat across from me at lunch or dinner or over coffee and listened to my rambling as I worked through the hard weeks and hard moments. Thank you. Thank you for seeing me as I really am and looking beyond the mess to exchange real currency, so to speak. It’s been a life raft for me, and I’m still clinging.
And I’m promising to become a more fearless friend in the future as well. I think we sometimes fear being too connected with others, judged as too forward. We might hear that someone is in a rough patch, or likewise hear about something good in her life, and stop ourselves from reaching out to comfort or encourage or congratulate. But having been on this end of the equation, I see how much it means. Putting yourself out there with a quick note or comment or call – even if it’s been years since you’ve seen the person – it feeds the soul in a way nothing else does. I’m vowing to put some of my own encouragement outward again and really observe and listen, in the truest way I can.
I’ve missed this space so much in the weeks that have passed. I’ve wanted badly to come here and string words together in this familiar spot and gain encouragement from those of you who read. But because of the details that exploded in my life last fall, I’ve resorted to an old pen-and-paper journal until I felt ready to come here and strong enough to begin to tell my story. I feel like life during these past few years has been one reinvention after another. From grad student to young married. From high school teacher to motherhood that consumed me full-time. Then to college professor with one foot in the working world and two preschoolers to look after. And now to single motherhood. I read Anne Lamott’s Small Victories this past December, in efforts to make sense of anything that was happening and to link together my fumbling attempts at reframing my whole perception. As always with the written word, the perfect thought was trying to find me, and a beacon was shining already on page ten when Lamott explains the process of forced change that happens in our lives:
“Redefinition is a nightmare – we think we’ve arrived in our nice Pottery Barn boxes, and that this or that is true. Then something happens that totally sucks, and we are in a new box, and it is like changing into clothes that don’t fit, that we hate. Yet the essence remains. Essence that is malleable, fluid. Everything we lose is Buddhist truth – one more thing that you don’t have to grab with your death grip, and protect from death or decay. It’s gone. We can mourn it, but we don’t have to get down in the grave with it.“
I’m here to finally tell you, friends, that in the weeks of my absence from here, I was in the grave, so to speak. In the darkest reaches of a grief that gripped me so completely it sickened me from the inside outward. I wish I had words to explain what it feels like to have one perfectly sculpted idea of your future, and in a matter of days, that image disappears completely. But I know so many of you know exactly what I mean by that – whether it is a wandering husband, a scary diagnosis, a death of someone you can’t live without, a change in your life or career or family that is irreversible …. We all encounter it at some point. And after that initial heaviness of grief, I’ve seen women emerge stronger and better and wiser because of it. But how they get to that new place, I am not really sure yet.
I won’t be the same me I was before. It’s weird to look back and hardly recognize who you were in your last life. I’m embarrassed in ways – of how I loved without question, married at 24, so sure that I would never be in this position. Of how unbelievably hysterical I was for weeks when this erupted. Of how I made excuse after excuse of all the things I found last October and November and blamed myself for someone else’s actions. Of how I still wonder what I could have done differently or how I could have been better, and I know that list is long. Marriage is a partnership, a work in constant progress. And I think anyone in my position tends to look back and wonder when it all started to unravel, how I could have predicted the future and intervened sooner. Why I didn’t see it coming. Sadly, you reach a point when these questions don’t even matter anymore because what’s done is done. Irreversible. The only place left to go is forward.
I wanted so badly to believe the best, and I think I also feared what life is like on the other side. And I am still a little scared, to be honest. But I’m flailing – ungracefully but purposefully – to make it to the next shore. I lost my center and my backbone in the mess that was left when it all fell apart, but I’ve found it now.
A new adventure awaits, and I’m losing my death grip, as Lamott calls it. Piece by piece, I’m letting go of what has no place in my life anymore. It still hurts, and I know I’m gripping some of those pieces a little too tightly even now. But I’ve heard it said that “Ruin is the road to transformation.” I’m ready.
I usually make long, elaborate lists of goals or resolutions with the dawn of a new year. This year, I have only one.
It’s so easy – in the roles of wife or mother or teacher or whatever your title is – to become consumed with what others want for you, what others ask of you, what makes them happy. Sometimes I neglect to think about what makes me happy, what motivates me to reach for bigger and brighter things. That is my simple one-statement resolution for 2015. Find what makes my heart sing, and do more of it.
On January first, I began a happiness jar, which I already mentioned on Instagram a few weeks ago if you follow me there. The idea is to reflect on your day for a few minutes before bed and decide what the happiest moment of your day was. Then you just write that down and place it in the jar. It’s a daily gratitude practice that serves two purposes for me. It makes me see the good in life, no matter how messy it gets. But it also makes me pause to think of what really makes me happy, what drives me.
So far, the notes I’m scribbling in this exercise really surprise me. Some I knew I loved – cuddles with my kids, a good dinner with old friends. And others are things I forgot I loved so much – a sweaty mile or two at the gym, a new music discovery (like this one or this one I am loving lately), and connected moments in the classroom with engaged students and eager ears.
So that’s it. That’s my resolution. To see what makes me happy, and to do more of it. If it stirs my heart, I’m going to say yes in 2015. If it doesn’t I will say no.
It’s a selfish notion, but self-care can be a radical idea during some seasons of our lives. I can’t wait to listen a little more closely to my own soul, as Anne Sexton says. To fill it up and wash it clean.
Thank you for all the kind words, emails, and texts since my last post. I do hope to be more specific in the months to come, but for now, keep holding me in your thoughts as 2014 comes to a close. I am not certain I’m ready for all the changes 2015 will bring for me.
I’m realizing we had family photos done almost 2 months ago, and I never shared here. I’m sharing a few of my kids for you to see.
It’s so crazy seeing them grow older and change with every passing month. This feeling that time escapes me is something I am getting used to, and it’s something I want to focus on countering in the coming year. I feel like I’ve missed so much with them these past few weeks as I focus on other things. It’s a heaviness that I only feel in retrospect. … Realizing I was not listening to that conversation or question Jude asked me because my mind was elsewhere. Knowing I didn’t hold Norah as closely and as long as I could have because I was ready to move on to the next task on my list. Just the sting of realizing after the moment has passed that you have not been present for it as it deserved. That has happened far too much lately.
And these two? Of all the gifts I have received, the lessons learned, the grace I’ve been rewarded – they are the thing I am most grateful for. In all my life. I sometimes think that absolutely anything – any pain or sacrifice – is worth the reward of knowing and guiding these two. I hope I can treat that role with as much respect and dedication as it deserves in the coming year.
It’s 2 am, and I can’t sleep. Norah is next to me, and her little tummy is moving up and down. In and out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
So many times these past few weeks, I have relied on my own breath to get me through a moment.
My mother always tells me a story about when my dad died in an accident and she had a 5 year old and a 2 year old. She couldn’t sleep or eat or imagine what to do the next day. She would repeat Psalm 46:10. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. It’s all I can do in these nighttime hours lately. I repeat it to myself like a chant and drift back to sleep for a moment.
I am not religious in the traditional sense. But I know someone is out there listening to me. I know there is a method to any madness we experience here. I know life is crazy and full of surprises, and something bigger than you carries you through. I know pain is wasted if you don’t evolve. Become bigger and stronger.
Sometimes I feel that presence lately. And sometimes I don’t. It’s so easy to be blinded by fear, doubt, sadness. It’s so easy to forget that there is a master plan involved.
I pray every night that my little life will look just the same in a year as it did two months ago. But I just don’t know. I feel it in my bones that the train is barreling out of the station, and a new destination is there. I don’t want to go, but it’s there for me – whether I choose it or not. But this life? This one has been so perfect in so many ways. It’s hard to see the past few years as anything other than the best of my life. But life doesn’t always ask our permission before moving to a new chapter.
Friends, if you are the praying type, I want to you pray for peace in my heart and in the heart of others. For love to prevail. And forgiveness and hope. And gratitude for the blessings I have.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted, so Halloween feels like old news now. But considering I use this as a journal of sorts… a few pictures of my Minnie Mouse and Luke Skywalker trick-or-treating around campus on Halloween morning.
And then we did it all over again on Halloween night and invited a few cousins to join us. It was unseasonably cold and eventually started drizzling a bit, so I was glad we headed out to the neighborhood earlier rather than later.
Life is settling down, and fall is settling in. The colors are perfect right now, and I finally got around to putting out the last of my pansies yesterday afternoon in the backyard. I had a couple helpers using their own little fingers to get flowers in the dirt.
I walked inside to fill the watering can, and when I returned to the back again, Jude was singing something I didn’t recognize. I asked him what it was and he said a “lullaby for the plants, mama.” It is never still with these two lately, but I do hope I can remember some of their little quirks and sweet comments. This journal helps me to stop and take notice. Jude has a favorite tree, he says. And he loves to study leaves this year.
The kids have been learning all about autumn and the details of the season lately at school, and everyday I drive home with turkey crafts or pumpkins or pilgrim hats. Early sunsets and chilly mornings feel inspiring instead of tiresome right now. Soup is on the menu at least twice a week. I love November.
This time of year is always busy, but this year is crazier than ever. On the one hand, I really want to take advantage of all the fun stuff going on around us, but at the same time, I resent it when life gets so busy you can’t catch your breath. Weekends are flying by faster than weekdays lately. Work is busy among piles of midterm grading, but it almost feels like the few hours I have at my quiet work desk are the only times I can focus and breathe a bit.
Jude started playing soccer this year, so that accounts for some of this. He LOVES it, and the fields are less than two miles from our house, so I obliged. It is cute to watch, and I love seeing him get the hang of a real team sport and cheer on his teammates. But this whole be at practice an hour a week and a game every weekend stage of parenthood is very new for us. It’s like the second you stop potty training and dressing them and waking up at night, you reach a new kind of busy. It’s not easier – or harder. Just different.
In addition to early morning soccer games, we’ve had fall fairs and pumpkin patches to enjoy.
Finally, our craziness is coming to a slower pace after this weekend closed with a preschool fall carnival and a neighborhood festival as well. The amount of face paint, cotton candy, bounce houses, and plastic prizes over the past few weeks might have lost its luster for me, but not for these two.
I’m looking forward the the revelry of Halloween, of course. But I’m most looking forward to the slower pace of November. The season is settling in, and even Georgia weather will resign itself to soup and sweaters in the next few weeks. My favorite vegetables are in season and the calendar is fast approaching Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. I’m hoping I can work on a little more mindfulness in the weeks ahead.
Happy week to you and yours. Fall is in full swing.