gratitude, writing

Stretch

I’ve passed another birthday on the calendar since I last wrote here. 38 now. A year away from the 9-number which always seems heavier somehow than just flipping the official page to the next decade.

I started this blog when I was just celebrating 29. I divorced at 33. I have shed at least a thousand skins in this span of time. To me, that is the strangest thing about aging (so far) — that you just keep becoming these new versions of yourself, refining and evolving all the time. We really have no clue what we will become in another ten years, if we are doing it right.

I felt such a shift this year, though not much changed on the outside. It’s ironic how some years work like that. Things can change on the outside in huge ways and you pass your birthday and feel mostly the same. Or years like this come along where things look mostly the same from the outside view, but I’ve evolved more inside than I have in quite a while — an enormous shift beneath my skin, like pieces of a puzzle moving closer to where they should be or the plates of the earth settling tightly along fault lines. I commented last weekend on my birthday that this is the year that I learned that no ship is coming to save me because I’m already on the boat. It is the closest I can come to explaining what this feels like.

I didn’t set out to be particularly brave as I turn the page to my 38th year, but that is what has happened this past few months anyhow. As the year closed, I finally felt ready to send my book proposal out to literary agents, and that process continues now. In January, I submitted some other writing to a few publications that are a tier above what I have aspired to before. I applied for a couple of summer workshops which is a terrifying concept if I think too much about it — to travel alone to a place where I know no one and sit in a room with writers and instructors and revise my own work according to their observations. But I just took a leap and decided to lean in to something scary. Acceptance rates are low, and it is extraordinarily competitive, but I figured why not. This weekend I’ve worked a little on a submission to a new (to me) academic conference as well. I’m just casting a large, wide net out to the edge of what I’m comfortable with, stepping out on a limb a little farther than I usually do. And now I guess I just wait to see what sticks, see where it all lands me.

This theme is following me everywhere — courage and risk. I’m taking an online course with a group of women, and last week’s focus was on courage and fear. I attended a work event on Friday, our annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium, and heard an author and business expert speak about the behaviors that transform careers and create leaders, and as expected, a willingness to take a risk was the thread that ran through much of the data she presented. The event closed with a chamber choir singing an arrangement of that Eleanor Roosevelt passage where she tells us, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face … You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

I think the thing you think you cannot do looks different for every one of us. And it has looked different for me at different chapters in my life. I can think back to all the moments in my life that rise to the top for me because of their joy or their ecstasy or their beauty or their strength or their reward or just the amazement of it all. Most of them occurred as I did the thing that I thought I couldn’t do. When I pulled my daughter to my own chest in the dimly lit water of a hospital tub instead of a bright operating room. When I went back to work with two toddlers at home and wondered if my brain had shriveled too much to work in academics any longer. When I left a marriage behind, a relationship of 15 years, without any plan or idea of what was ahead for me. When I swallowed my own sorrow long enough to sit with my grandmother in her last weeks and watch with real eyes what was unfolding as she transitioned. And little moments too, the smallest things that can bring the biggest shifts — the conversations I have mustered the courage to have, the essays I have mustered the courage to write and submit.

Spring is here finally. The window is open behind me as I’m typing this, and I can hear neighborhood kids on the trampoline next door. My own two will walk in the door in one more hour, and my quiet house will be noisy again. Every night, the sun is hanging on for just a little longer before setting, and summer is on its way eventually. I am ready to shed another layer — that hardest one perhaps. That one that hangs on longer than you’d like, the fear and trepidation. I want to stretch as far as I can reach, and then stretch a little more, just beyond what is comfortable and one step closer to the horizon beyond what I can imagine. I want to stretch everyday, relentlessly, just one inch at a time, until my span is wider than ever.

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Jude, Life and Randomness

hard things

Today is the day! Jude started kindergarten.  This morning, I put my baby boy on a bus.  I can’t believe it.

 

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Motherhood just changes you at your core, doesn’t it? I was saying earlier this week that it never stops feeling like one big change after another. Having a child who grew in your own body and rocking that baby in a dark, quiet house. Chasing those chubby toddler legs.  Singing ABC’s with a preschooler.  Those days feel SO LONG when you are in them, yet they all run together and race by as you look back. Here we are. Another change. Another new chapter on the horizon.  I’m excited for him, and seeing growth in your children is so fulfilling.  But it also aches a little bit. Being a mother is like forever seeing a piece of your heart running loose in the world, and sometimes you want to protect it and tuck it back deep in your chest where it belongs, but it doesn’t work that way.  

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He’s getting older, and I don’t feel like it’s my job here to comment on his feelings and his perspective.  But I’ll say that he was all the things you’d expect – excited, a little overwhelmed, exhausted, and proud at the end of the day. It was only 8 hours, but it was the longest day of my life. Such a joy to see him step off that school bus with a look of pride and satisfaction.

 

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It’s been a hard week. With all of the emotional intensity of preparing for today, it leaves you feeling unsteady anyhow.  Being human is hard sometimes.  I’ve come so far in the healing process, and I can see that on this journal as I look back at old entries.  But here we are with a new chapter of challenges I didn’t anticipate.  Watching someone who hardly knows my son come to open house events, school functions, teacher meetings, and all that this life entails.  It is HARD to swallow that.  There is so much more I could say, but that is already more detail than I usually write in this space where I try to focus on my own piece of the journey and not someone else’s.  I just don’t want to be hypocritical in my reflections here, so I’m admitting that while I am doing well in many ways and melding somewhat gently into this new life, this was a bad week full of encounters I wish I never had to experience. It makes me angry to see someone push an agenda on my child and me.  Life is full of hard things, I know. And this is hard.

Yesterday my awesome friend, Amanda, posted a fearless reflection on Facebook where she ripped the mask off and was honest about motherhood challenges and all that they entail and how they leave us wondering if we are doing the right things, if we are enough. Reading the responses she received was inspiring to me — just moms being honest about how hard this job is and how much we question if we are doing it right.

I have so many friends who are amazing and are not moms, so I don’t like to make big blanket statements on motherhood, but I’m just going to say that there are some things that you just do not get — you do not even remotely understand them — until you’ve done this. Everyone thinks they know everything about parenting until they actually do it. And those parents that —  even after they have kids or after their kids are grown — walk around saying they are the best parent in the world?  Those are the ones to really worry about and the ones you can be assured screwed up somewhere. It takes humility and authenticity to do difficult jobs, and parenting is difficult for certain.

Jen Pastiloff (who is leading a workshop this Saturday that I’m super excited to attend) posted this recently.  It resonated, and I saved it.

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I’m just going to be honest tonight.

I’m here to say that I am grateful for so many things in my life, but I’m also deeply hurt by some actions that were done to me and more than that by the complete lack of remorse or respect from those involved.

I’m inspired by my children every day, and they are the compass for my decisions and actions, but I still think motherhood is the hardest gig ever and I’m sure I don’t always do everything right.  And sometimes I feel so tired and weary from the heaviness of this job and the responsibility of guiding two little people.

I’m confident and I know I am whole and capable of so many things, but I can also be shaken and broken so quickly by someone’s simple actions or one hurtful comment. It still surprises me how solid I can feel on the inside and yet still be broken so quickly with someone’s simple stab.

But that’s being human, right? Being full of lots of imperfections that you wish didn’t exist but they do.  Thinking things that you shouldn’t take as the absolute truth but sometimes you do. Feeling things that you wish you didn’t feel but you do.

It’s all here – the doubt and the shining moments, the guilt and the satisfaction, the anger and the joy.  There’s a line in an Avett Brothers song that says, “There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light, and I’m frightened by those that don’t see it.”  It pierces me all the way through when I hear that song.  Those who don’t see it – they don’t feel shaken or see both the darkness and the light – are the ones who frighten and intimidate me the most when I’m playing the comparison game. But really if you don’t have moments of self-doubt and hurt, I’m learning you don’t have much to offer.

So here’s my offering tonight. Life is full of hard things.  And sometimes they feel too heavy, but on the other side of that heaviness, there’s always a joy and satisfaction tied to it.

My brave boy stepped on a school bus and began a new journey today, and it was full of fear and self-doubt but also full of joy and pride.  I think I can learn a lot from him.