renewed, ready to begin again {a quick post}

I just got home from a quick trip with some of my favorite people, my very closest friends. And it always amazes me how little time it takes to renew yourself when you are surrounded by the right people.

 

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We decided to book a suite at a winery and resort in north Georgia and pile in it together, and though it was incredibly close to home for most of us, it somehow feels far away when you unplug from your usual responsibilities and surroundings and go somewhere new.

A little wine and sunshine don’t hurt either.

I’ve thought a lot these past few weeks about the perfection masks we wear all the time, the “performance mode” I’ve written about here before. I’m so done with that and the loads of energy it entails, but it’s still scary to show the real face or any trace of vulnerability and pain when I’m with people who don’t know me well.  But these women are the exception. I share things with them that I share with no one else in my life right now, and I think we lean on each other in a way that only becomes even more valuable as time marches on.

In short, I love them.  And I love who I am when I am with them. I don’t know if there’s anything else better than that really. To make someone better and stronger and to say to that person’s real self, I see you and I hear you and I feel it, too. 

 

 

I read recently that psychologists say if a friendship lasts seven years, it will likely last a lifetime. And by that rule, I have a number of people who knew me when and know me now and will know me in the distant future when I’ve evolved to something else, too.  We are lucky – all of us – to have each other and to have weathered the storms together.

Their stories are not mine to tell, but they are in many ways much harder than the one I’ve weathered this year.  I’m beginning to see that everyone is shaped by her own experiences and everyone is fighting her own battle most just never know about, and I feel lucky that this group just keeps fastening even closer together as we change shape with our own life experiences.

As we packed up today and began the ride home, I was thinking about how little of summer is left and how close the school year is. I have anxiousness a bit about Jude starting kindergarten. (Big changes are always a little scary.)  But I think in a weird way, I’m ready to begin a new year with a new routine that will soon feel worn and comfortable.

People are always changing, always in a time of growth – if you are doing it right anyway.  I don’t want to become complacent. That said, I feel like the intense period of transition is coming to a close for me. I’m something very different from what I was a year ago, but I’m feeling more settled now. I’m finally feeling ready for regular life to take hold again and excited to see what’s ahead.

This summer has been the perfect finish to all of it. Resting in the discomfort a bit, embracing it for what it is, and feeling my way around all of it. This trip was the perfect finale for it as well, resting and renewing my spirit with my favorite people. Onward and upward.  I think I’m ready.

year 34

I celebrated a birthday this week, and as always with milestones and big occasions, it makes you realize where you are and how far you’ve come and reflect on the year behind as well as the one in front of you.  Remember when I posted a list of 33 goals last year?  That list got abandoned in the chaos of my past 5 months, but I had no idea when I wrote that post that life had bigger plans on what I needed to learn in my 33rd year.

Last year on my birthday, we ate dinner as a family on the back porch to inaugurate daylight savings time and spring and another year for me.  I posted a photo of Norah and me on Instagram, and I captioned it with a quote by Jarod Kintz that I’d run across which says, “The year of your birth marks only your entry into the world.  Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating.” I intended that as a reflection on the previous year and the challenges that I faced in motherhood and work and the whole work-family balance I began that year.  It’s so weird to look back on that now – knowing I had no idea the challenges that lied in front of me.

But this year, friends, I really proved my worth. I’ve got a mountain left to climb in the coming months, but I’m on the way. I celebrated this week in a big way.  Lunch with a friend on my actual birthday (with cupcakes!) followed by an impulse buy to a concert on Friday night with some former coworkers who have become like family to me. (For Hozier, and people, if you have not heard that album go buy it NOW. I have been obsessed for months.) Untitled The setlist was just what I wanted it to be, the venue was great, and he closed with a couple of my favorites as the audience sang along. I love those connected moments you get with strangers at events like plays and concerts.  It felt like church in the most real way.

Then Saturday afternoon my closest girlfriends of 16 years treated me to a facial and a private spa party at our favorite place to chat and treat ourselves.  The older I get, the more grateful I am for my truest friends. I cannot begin to explain the struggles we’ve encountered in the time we’ve known each other – and I won’t because some of those struggles are closely held and deeply personal for us.  But it has all shown me that life is so scary and unpredictable and that most importantly, the human spirit is stronger. The strength I gather from these women and their perspectives and stories is like no other. I’m so lucky to know them and to be loved by them. Untitled After that, we went out to dinner and met up with my other closest group (whom I saw Friday at the concert, so it was a double treat).  I could not have made it through year 33 standing on my own two feet without this crew.  And I mean that with absolute sincerity.  There were days, weeks even, that I really just wanted to roll over and cry a river and did not understand what the next step would be to move forward. But these girls and their constant contact and honesty with me, their acceptance of me and their listening ears when I poured everything out in all its ugliness, they are the force that pushed me forward. Untitled It’s such an irony that the year I learned I was so dearly loved is the year that I lost the person who was supposed to love me, so to speak. He was expected to and bound to by vows and legal trappings and societal expectations, but these women emerged as my tribe this year. My people and my family.  I cannot write enough words of gratitude to express what that has been for me, the way it has healed me. I am loved and valued, and I truly don’t know that I would feel that without so much support from so many people this year.

We followed up dinner with a spontaneous decision to walk around a bit and stop for cookies.  Can’t help but laugh at the deja-vu of a mall cookie experience with a group of thirty-somethings.  It was in an outdoor shopping area, and we saw groups of middle schoolers walking together.  We struck up a conversation with a few of them and reminisced on what those early days of independence felt like for us, when parents would first allow you to go on an outing alone with friends and the thrill of possibility it brought to you. Untitled And now, at 34, my life is so different than it was at 14, of course. But I feel that sense of possibility emerging a bit despite the pain.  My perspective is shifting in the slightest way, and I am realizing that a whole world lies ahead and I don’t know what it holds, and that is both terrifying and thrilling.  But it is mine. All mine. With my decisions and my own ideas and my own future waiting. I don’t know where or to whom it will take me, but it is a blank canvas right now, and I think I’m ready to start painting it  as I begin year 34.

Another birthday treat came last weekend with a handwritten card (oh, how I love real mail!) from a graduate school friend who knows my love for Mary Oliver and reminded me of the joy in the journey, so to speak.  The joy of possibility and self sovereignty. Untitled There is another line from that poem that I adore which says, “there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world.”  And I’m hearing that voice now.  When I am still and quiet and allow myself to listen to it, I’m hearing my own voice.

It sounds like an old friend.

life raft

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.

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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.