Of all of the weeks of quarantine, this one has been the most disorienting to me. On Monday, I drove to the place where I pick up my daughter on Wednesdays and didn’t remember that this was incorrect until I pulled into the driveway. On Wednesday, I asked my daughter if she was excited that tomorrow was her last day of school assignments, and she had to remind me that she still had 2 more days of assignments. I spent all of Friday chanting “this is Friday” to myself, because nothing inside of me seemed to grasp the truth of that, and I needed my brain to remember to do the Friday things. I call it a miracle of the highest order that I managed to show up to work at the right times all week long.
On top of the disorientation, our little family has begun the strange adjustment to mask life. It hasn’t been pleasant, honestly. On some level, I’ve recognized that going into stores makes me anxious, and that I generally adopt a mindset of getting what I need and getting out. But I don’t think it really hit home that this is what I was doing and experiencing until the first time I had to take my child to the store with me. Seeing her experience the store anxiety for the first time opened my eyes a little bit more. I did the best I could to prepare her and let her know what to expect, but the rest had to be learned in real life and that can be difficult to witness.
Yesterday, we needed to go out again to pick up something I had ordered online. Since we were out, we decided to make an impromptu stop for ice cream. We have a summertime tradition of getting ice cream cones and eating them as we stroll around the downtown square, and since we were there and the ice cream shop was open, we tried to replicate that tradition. Honestly, the whole thing fell flat. There was anxiety about putting masks on, and there was anxiety about taking masks off. There was anxiety about taking new routes to maintain social distance, and there was anxiety about walking the old, familiar routes with the business closed and bearing the signs mandated by the CDC.
We tried to make the best of it by stopping to read the signs on the doors about how each business was operating during Covid-19. On some level it was comforting to know what to expect, how to obtain services, and how to behave when we needed that service or wanted to visit that store. On another level, it was unsettling. In an attempt to simply state a complex experience, I’ll say that though the information was simple, it felt overwhelming to try to comprehend.
We ended up strolling all the way to our church and sitting in the courtyard processing the experience we were having. My child was able to talk about her discomfort and worry and her desire for things to be the way that they were before. We sat with that desire for a while, because I think that says it all.
I process this desire in therapy every week: “I just want to be who I was before”: before the “thing” happened that changed me and changed everything. Gently, I have to deliver the news that there really is no going back, and challenge the idea that going back is something any of us actually want to do. Just as gently, I introduce the idea that while we can’t go back, we can grow forward, and maybe what we as humans actually want in this scenario is the peace that comes from that growth. My therapist, brilliantly quoting from the book You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, stated it to me this way, “We can’t choose the pain, but we can choose whether or not we suffer”.
I’m coming to believe that the effort we spend in trying to get back to the way it was before, to who we were before, is the choice to suffer. It is a goal that is impossible to reach and our efforts to achieve it will only leave us feeling frustrated and helpless. I know I’ve been feeling those things pretty intensely this past week. Conversely, perhaps growing forward is the choice to feel the pain and learn from it. The goal of this idea is actually attainable, and our efforts to pursue it may generate a sense of agency and peace.
In the case of the Covid-19 life, I’m not really sure yet what growing forward looks like, but I am 100% sure that grasping for how it used to be is causing me some very real suffering. From the things I’ve seen in the news and on social media, I feel like it is safe to say that I’m not the only one. Figuring out how to hang on to my internal peace while also attempting to reduce the ambient stress for my family during a global pandemic has been a big ask, so I think that in my life, the growing forward has to start with grace: grace for myself and grace for others. I need the grace that allows me to be ok, to still be “good”, while I fumble around and figure it out.
It’s also the gift of grace that I want for my daughter during this season. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be growing up during a global pandemic. Above all, I want her to feel confident that she is safe, and then right after that, I want her to know that she is still so very, very good while she fumbles around and figures out this new life.
If I may offer a single prayer on behalf of us all, it would be that we all grant that kind of grace to ourselves, our families, and everyone we encounter in the days to come.
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Our little town has been undergoing a transformation over the last several years. An art district has been flourishing and revitalizing the historic downtown square, and recently this area hosted a block party in order to celebrate a newly renovated park. May Lee and I were excited to attend, and clearly we weren’t the only ones, as several thousand people came and explored the STEM themed attractions, shopped at the various vendors, and formed long lines at all the food trucks. Since my child is going through a picky eater phase and neither of us enjoys a crowd, we opted to begin our evening at the art studio where May Lee has been taking classes since she was about four years old. We spent over an hour making crafts before deciding to hit the street again.
As we left the building, we could hear that a musician, who happened to be our guitar instructor, was just starting his set. We made our way next door to the newly renovated park and marveled at the transformation as we stood at the entrance scoping out open seats. What once was a vacant and neglected outdoor lot littered with broken glass and other debris had become a clean and inviting space. The previously cracked concrete floor had been repaved and blanketed with a bright green square of astroturf. Low walls bordered the left and right sides of the lawn and created walkways on either side that lead up to a new stage that spanned across the back wall. Overhead, steel beams were lined with festive outdoor lights that created a warm and relaxing glow.
Some seats opened up on one of the walls, and we made our way over and settled in for the show. For over an hour, we enjoyed singing along to the popular cover songs being played, joining in with the crowd to clap along to the beat, and cheering for our favorite songs. Several children ran to the open space in front of the stage and danced and tumbled on the astroturf in variations of somersaults and cartwheels. It summoned memories of when my own child was 3 years old and twirling around in her pineapple sundress to a bluegrass band that played at one of our favorite Florida farmer’s markets. There was also the time around the same age that she performed interesting dance moves right along with the dancing sea lions at Marine World.
Now, she is 8 years old, and rather than running to the front to twirl and dance to the music, she spent the show with her long legs stretched out on top of the wall and her back leaning against my shoulder. She’s growing up, and that really hit home to me as we enjoyed the live music together in this new and grown up way. She has favorite songs now that are not pre-k classics like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”,
“Some of you are gonna love this, and the rest of you will want to puke,” the singer declared before launching into a cover of “Old Town Road”. My daughter’s whole face lit up with excitement, and I allowed my jaw to drop to mirror her emotion. I chuckled at the Billy Ray Cyrus induced “Achy, Breaky Heart” flashbacks I was having, but I also relished in my daughter’s delight at hearing one of her favorite songs being played live for the first time in her life. There really is something very highly contagious about sharing live music with your people. When that person is your child, it certainly makes it very difficult to be a music snob.
After the music ended and the party was over, we headed to Sonic for grilled cheese sandwiches and tater tots, since we dared not brave the food truck lines during the event. On our way out, we were able to snag a couple of macarons before they closed down their truck, so we snacked on little blueberry cheesecake delights while we waited for our food. I pulled up the video of “Achy, Breaky Heart” to show my daughter what was coming to my mind every time I heard Billy Ray Cyrus sing on “Old Town Road”. I didn’t expect her to love the song and request that it be added to her playlist so she could listen to it every day, which is exactly what happened.
(That request was met with a hard no, by the way. I lived through “Achy, Breaky Heart” once, and that was enough. She has her own device, so go with God, child.)
Mercifully, our food arrived at that time, and as we sat and ate, I took a moment to really savor this wonderful evening with my daughter. The fact that she is old enough now to enjoy- and allow me to enjoy- an hour and a half of live music is ushering in a new phase of growth and maturity. Being able to stay out a little later every now and then without a total meltdown because she’s tired is a new lease on life for the both of us. It’s a really happy and hopeful thing that we can enjoy a great night out together, and I found myself hoping that this common interest in music could sustain us through the tumultuous teen years and beyond. Perhaps it’s even time to allow myself to begin dreaming about taking her to her first big concert.
When we arrived home, my daughter announced to me that she was tired and going to bed. Not only did she get ready for bed without any prodding from me, she actually got into bed without me having to tell her to do so no less than four hundred times. For once, I was able to be the mother I always dreamed I could be and was able to say sweet, goodnight things to my daughter in all sincerity and not through gritted teeth and thinly veiled frustration produced by the circus that is the typical bedtime routine.
I’m not going to lie, I may struggle a little bit with this new phase of maturity. It’s a little shocking to the system to have such an abrupt change, but I’m determined to allow myself to enjoy every moment of it. Because there is more of this to come, right? If I’m doing this parenting thing well, there should be more milestones like this ahead. At least, this is what I’ve been led to believe by the Great Cloud of Parenting Witnesses that have gone before me and frequently encourage me that “this too shall pass” when I’m about to pull my hair out. I’ve been told that one day I’ll be rewarded for all my effort in raising this small child with an adult child who is responsible and pleasant to spend time with.
So, I’m choosing to see this block party as a foreshadowing of the really lovely adult my child is working on becoming. I’m choosing to believe that this was a small taste of my parenting efforts paying off, and I’m accepting that as encouragement that my less-than-perfect parenting is still producing some good fruit. I’m also renewing my commitment to her music education. This is clearly an avenue by which we will continue to bond, and y’all, I want to enjoy the music (at least some of the time) too!
Today begins my 2nd week of pre-training for the St. Jude half-marathon in December. The first week had some interesting twists and turns, but overall I’m happy with how things went. Compared to last year, my approach and attitude toward this training cycle is totally different, and that shift in mindset has come from working with the coaches at the OmniFit through their 7 Day Challenge and the Transformation Blueprint course.
So much of my growth over the past year has been around setting realistic goals and managing expectations and my emotional response to those expectations. The reality of managing my expectations is much like wrestling an alligator, in that they are powerful, ornery, and unwilling to be tamed or controlled. It gets really ugly when I let my emotions attach to that power struggle, because clearly, it is going to end badly with me feeling like an exhausted, wrung-out failure. Which is entirely ridiculous, given the fact that I was never meant to wrestle alligators. Goal setting is never supposed to be a power struggle. When properly designed, it is an avenue of empowerment by which goals are achieved.
But in order to do that, expectations have to exit the alligator wrestling arena that I have conjured in my mind and shake hands with reality. That means moving past denial and telling the truth about everything: my time and schedule, my energy level, my attitude and motivation, and my current unhealthy patterns and how deeply entrenched they are in my life. It means accepting that this is going to be hard and I’m going to be uncomfortable and sometimes I’m going to hate this and it is going to bring out the worst in me at times and I’m likely going to act really immature at some point and whine like a small child and NOTHING ABOUT THIS PROCESS IS GOING TO BE PRETTY OR PERFECT.
If this sounds like I’m talking about lowering the bar substantially, then you are picking up what I’m laying down. If that makes you panic, sit in that feeling for a minute and ask yourself why. What I’ve discovered is that when I sit with that feeling and ask myself why, the answers usually reveal wildly unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for myself that I didn’t even realize I was holding on to. The more I reflect on that, I realize that it has been those silent, hidden expectations that have been operating in my life without my conscious permission. They are the drivers behind the unhealthy patterns, like eating my emotions or numbing out or making myself invisible with food.
In light of all of that (and that was A LOT, wasn’t it?), when it was time to start planning my 1st week of pre-training, I created a basic “skeleton” schedule for workouts. After I told the truth about my schedule and my time, I used that information to identify the days of the week that I was going run or walk and the days that I was going to do strength training. As I wrote out the workouts I was planning to do, I wrote them like the stars do align and the day actually does go as planned, because when that glorious day actually happens I want to have a plan in place that allows me to maximize that time for all that it is worth. Knowing that more often than not my days fly off the rails at some point, I identified the part of each workout I could do come hell or high water.
Having that kind of plan in place- a plan with built-in flexibility- made me feel so much more peaceful and less intimidated about starting this training cycle. It also removed the shame of “failing to do exactly what has been prescribed to do” and gave me the freedom to adjust according the realities that life throws at me. Last week, that looked like canceling a run/walk night entirely because my child was exhausted and falling asleep on the couch at 6 p.m., and I wasn’t too far behind her.
It also gave me the freedom to make it fun, which looked like including my child on all the other run/walk workouts. On my scheduled track night when I intended to do an easy, short workout, we ended up doing an almost 2 mile walk. During that walk, we enjoyed time to just chat and catch up with each other that is so rare these days. My scheduled weekend 1 mile run ended up coming in at 0.88 miles, because I also used that time to introduce my new bike rider to the bike trail. I ended up stopping many, many times during the 1st half mile to coach to her, even laying my body down on the paved trail to demonstrate how wide the path really was to relieve her fear of suddenly losing control of herself and rolling into woods. The things we do to calm our children’s fears!
Before I started this journey of wrestling with my expectations, having these things “interrupt” my workout would have caused me a ton of anxiety. Now, I enjoy seeing my daughter get excited about doing any form of exercise. She doesn’t look at me all confused when she walks in the living room to find me in plank position; she simply joins me. This week, she has paid close attention while I measured out and planned my food to take to work and asked important questions about nutrition, which happens to also be the 1st week in a very long time that she has not fought me about eating a proper meal.
So, did I achieve all those “big goal” markers and finish the entire “big goal” workouts that I wrote out? No, I didn’t. But I got close. I certainly did more than I did the week before. More importantly, I stuck to that skeleton structure I created and put some flesh to it by figuring out what is actually going to work inside of my real life and what is not going to work, and figuring that out will set me up for long-term success.
Most importantly, I was a good mom this week. I enjoyed some real, quality time with my child, and she achieved some goals and conquered that fear of bike-riding that she has been trying to work out for over a year now. If I keep on working out my goals and managing my expectations this way, my whole life may get healthier, including my relationship with my daughter, and that will be a way bigger win than shedding a few pounds or shaving a few seconds off of my mile time.
Last weekend, May Lee and I took an impromptu trip to Memphis to buy a birthday present for my dad. It turned out to be a lovely little day trip. During the drive over, we listened to The Greatest Showman soundtrack, playing the song “The Other Side” over and over so that May Lee and I could perfect our duet.
“You be Mr. Barnum this time!” May Lee would instruct, or “Let’s switch and you be Mr. Bailey!”
Sometimes we’d pause our rehearsals to argue passionately about what the lyrics to the song REALLY are. Currently, May Lee holds the high score for the most creative lyrics, and I hold the high score for accuracy. I try not squash her inaccurate and completely humorous lyrics with my need for accuracy, because it works in my favor when she replaces the swear words with “meow”. It cracks me up every time.
We rolled into town just a few minutes late for services at one of our favorite, local churches. When church was over, we ate lunch with friends at Memphis Pizza Café, one of my favorite spots. As has been my tradition at any Memphis Pizza Café location for over a decade, I picked up The Memphis Flyer as soon as I walked in. Then, I sat down at a table and ordered a Greek salad and a slice of pizza. The only thing that really varies in this equation is the kind of pizza I’ll order, as that selection is entirely dependent upon the state of my spirit. That day, my spirit said Hawaiian, which turned out to be an excellent choice.
The Petting Zoo: What is thriving and what is not
We are down to 1 goldfish of the original seven. What strong stock must this remaining fish be made of that it has outlasted all the others? I fear that it is a female goldfish and that she is secretly harboring eggs. I fear that she will lay these eggs and that one morning we will wake up and there will be an entire, new generation of goldfish for us to care for in a cycle that will never end.
The turtle also continues to thrive. I suppose it is time to find a permanent location for her, also. Maybe she should move in with the goldfish, seeing is how they are both determined to survive living in this household.
The dog continues to be himself. Although, he appears to be less motivated to eat the cats these days. It could be the heat that has decreased his desire to chase and annoy the felines.
Speaking of felines, Tidden continues to be charming and mischievous, but Emmy Lou has taken on a new level of weird. For the last several days, she has taken to spending hours sitting in the dark on top of the toilet in May Lee’s bathroom. From the shadows, she will meow loudly at various, random times with no discernible provocation. May Lee and I will pop our heads in from time to time to check on her, and there she’ll be, staring off into space with the tip of her tiny, pink tongue sticking out of her mouth.
I fear that this may be the end of the line for her, and that some neurodegenerative cat disease that will ultimately cause her demise is overtaking her. But I’ve harbored this concern off and on for several years now, and yet here she is: alive and well and meowing from her perch on the toilet lid. Carry on, Emmy Lou. Carry on.
When coffee betrays
This afternoon, after I woke up from a power nap on the couch, I couldn’t shake off the nap-induced haze and decided to make a cup of coffee. As the coffee brewed, I prepared my prized Wonder Woman mug by filling the bottom with Cheesecake Factory Strawberry Cheesecake creamer. (It sounds disgusting, doesn’t it? Strawberry Cheesecake creamer?! I was horrified when I saw it at the grocery store, and then I bought it anyway. I can’t explain myself sometimes.)
I filled the rest of the mug with coffee, slid my middle 3 fingers through the handle, and turned to walk into the living room. I can’t fully explain what happened next, outside of some sort of temporary, epileptic convulsion, because why else would the synapses in my brain betray me by sending messages to my arms and hands to completely lose control of the cup of steaming, hot coffee?
The mug seemed to slide out of my right hand, causing my left hand to attempt to quickly grasp the errant mug in order to prevent the impending doom. What my left hand actually did, however, was send the mug spiraling into the air while coffee sprayed out in every direction. The mug hit the floor, sending ocean waves of coffee in every direction. I gasped loudly as coffee splashed up and all over my jaw, neck, chest, shoulders, arms, stomach, and legs. Pools of coffee formed in my flip-flops beneath my feet.
With my mouth hanging open and my brain frantically trying to assess the burn factor on my skin, my eyes surveyed the damage. The Wonder Woman mug was in pieces large and small. Pools of coffee were on the floor and spreading out with every second that passed. Coffee was dripping down from the cabinets, the stove, and the island.
I probably stood there for a full 2 minutes letting my brain click through it’s processing procedures:
Am I horribly burned? -“No. I’m actually good.”
How long will it take me to clean this mess? – “Most likely the rest of eternity. Maybe 10 years, if I’m lucky. Or perhaps a span of 3 years is a more reasonable amount of time to expect to find coffee droplets everywhere I turn in my kitchen, no matter how well I may clean it up now.”
Is my coffee mug completely destroyed? – “Yes, it seems irreparable.”
Do I smell like an incredibly delicious dessert? – “Yes, the strawberry scent of that creamer is strong, and coffee always smells heavenly.”
Is my skin becoming stickier by the second? – “It is going to take no less than 3 showers to remove the adhesive powers of this coffee creamer from my skin.”
In the meantime, May Lee was carefully collecting the fragments of the coffee mug and trying to console me with her optimistic belief that we could Gorilla Glue it back together. Still mostly in a daze, I slipped off my flip-flops and started laying down towels over the enormous mess on the floor, first using the towels to wipe the coffee from my neck, arms, legs, and feet.
In what turned out to be a crucial mistake, I neglected to put the flip-flops back on my feet after toweling them off. After placing a towel over an enormous puddle, I turned to retrieve another towel and felt the sting of glass in my heel. Hobbling over to the cleaner part of the floor, I removed the shard from my foot and proceeded to drip blood into my flip-flop.
It was in this moment of complete chaos where I found myself surrounded by blood and coffee stained towels and blood and coffee filled flip-flops that my child decided to make the clean up process into a game of make-believe.
“Let’s pretend the king and queen are coming to our house!” she said.
“Oh dear Lord,” was my only reply.
“They are coming in 5 weeks, so we have to get this place totally cleaned up!” she continued.
I smiled, because her imagination and willingness to help clean up was completely endearing. And yet, this make believe game of the king and queen coming to visit my house while coffee and blood mingled together everywhere I turned stressed me out so badly. My grown up brain knew very well that the king and queen were not actually coming to our house, but the stress in my body kept saying that their arrival was imminent. Apparently, my imagination is just as strong as hers.
We continued to scrub while May Lee happily pretended that the king and queen were coming. I kept chanting to myself that none of this was really happening, because denial is my favorite of the unhealthy coping skills.
It was at this point in the pandemonium that I realized what an enormous betrayal this really was. I was depending on coffee to help me make it through the rest of the day. It was to be the supplier of the inner fortitude required to play imagination games, clean the house, and listen to no less than 1000 of May Lee’s antidotes. Yet, here I was attempting to clean an enormous mess and to respond when and how I’m supposed to respond in this game of make believe with NO COFFEE. Then to add insult to injury, any coffee I may have from this point on would not be in my Wonder Woman coffee mug, which was a gift from my roommate at my last trauma-training module. The matching mugs were a symbol of our sisterhood of survival.
Sigh, I suppose we will survive even this.
I paused mid-cleanup to brew another cup of coffee, selecting the mug bearing the logo of the local funeral home. It seemed most appropriate for the occasion.
I suppose that we will be required to wear shoes in the kitchen and will be finding stray droplets of coffee for the next several weeks. Perhaps we’ll even try to superglue the mug back together and use it to hold pencils or for some other decorative purpose. Through it all, I will be drinking coffee, even though I feel hurt and betrayed at the moment.
You see, coffee and I have a long-standing relationship based in deep and abiding love, and where there is deep and abiding love, there is always forgiveness. With love, forgiveness, and coffee by my side, I can always find the strength to bid a heartfelt fare-thee-well to gentle creatures (such as goldfish) and symbols of sisterhood and thereby release them into the universe.
This week as I was cleaning and going through a stack of papers, I came across May Lee’s final report card for the 1st time. I walked to the calendar hanging in the pantry (I still have paper calendars. I will defend this choice to the death) and counted back the days to the last day of school. A week and a half had passed since the report card had come home, and all I can say is that is about right. A week and a half is a good measure of how far behind I was with life by the end of the school year, and I think we should all just be grateful that it wasn’t a larger spread than that. I am slowly catching up now that summer is here.
Spring Cleaning in this house has been more about creating lasting organization than anything else, so it has taken awhile to yield visible results, which can be discouraging at times. In fact, most of the time, it has been much more visually messy than it was before the organization process started. But this week I experienced a real sign of progress: I can now close my closet doors. In fact, they now stay closed, like, all the time. What a lovely experience!
As I finished working in the closet, I timidly held the knobs and gently pulled the doors to. When they met in the middle, I just stood there for a minute, mentally putting the former closet chaos behind me and letting the peace of new order really sink in.
A memory came in that moment. A memory of married life and an actively addicted husband who became so anxiety-ridden one night that he shot out of bed and closed the closet doors because “demons were in there”. In the morning, despite the fresh light of day, he would again request that the closet doors stay closed, relaying some story about demons coming through the closet. I remember looking at him and seeing on his face how completely convinced he was of the fact that demons had been in that closet and also thinking that I hadn’t seen his face look that sober in a very long time. Then I turned and looked at our closet. A black chef coat, a white chef coat, a pair of cargo pants, and a few of my dresses were hanging there. I remember feeling like they appeared remarkably unspectacular for playing host to demons, if that were in fact the case.
Thinking back, I don’t think I have ever closed a closet door since our split. I don’t know if there is any spiritual significance to that, or if it is simply a good measure of how deep my stubbornness can run. He always had to have the closet doors closed, so I’m going to leave each and every last one open from now until eternity. A picture of emotional maturity, I am.
Maybe that is why I smiled as that memory began to fade and my eyes refocused on the closed doors of my newly organized closet. His demons don’t live in my closet anymore, nor do they live in my mind and manifest in my behaviors of closing or not closing the closet doors. I’ve reclaimed my own closet territory, and he holds no more influence there.
I wonder what other household structure or appliance is next up on the batting order of unexpected exorcisms? I feel I should be more prepared if this is going to be “a thing”. Perhaps I should be gathering some sage and essential oils….
Shaking Hands with God
Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall this week, and do you know where he decided to land? He came right up the beach access that was MY beach access when I lived in Florida.
Tropical storm Isaac came through when I was living there. Schools were closed and work was cancelled, so we walked down that very access to the beach. I remember the feeling of complete awe, watching an angry ocean churn up the most remarkable things and deposit them on the beach. Among other things, we came across a whole section of beach covered with starfish bearing the marks of being pushed from the safety of the sandbars to the beach by the storm surge. We tried to put a couple of them back in the ocean, but the ocean just kept spitting them back out onto the sand.
We walked past a giant tree and wondered where on earth it came from, how long it had been in the ocean, and what would happen to it now. I remember feeling the constant push of the wind and thinking the sensation matched the pressure in my heart. If only I had understood what that meant at the time.
About 2 years earlier, on a beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I stood and watched the outer bands of Hurricane Earl push waves against the pier to the south of us. I remember the lights looked so lonely in the foggy dimness that comes with storms. I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband was spinning out, and a category 2 hurricane was coming ashore.
To this day, I struggle for words to express the deep, deep love I feel when I think of these memories of the beach and these storms. When I share the memory with people, I try to persuade them to go to the beach during a tropical storm. Put it on your bucket list. (And please use your good sense.)
When I watched the footage of Alberto coming up my beach access, my mind immediately went to calculating the distance and time from here to there, because I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in it. When there is a storm coming, my first instinct is to run to the beach and meet God there. I cannot think of any other time I have witnessed His power like when my eyes have seen the spirit of the ocean and the wind change like they do when a storm is coming ashore.
Since Alberto, a deep longing to go home to the beach has taken up residence in my chest. My child is languishing with the same unmet desire. Being born and raised at the beach for the 1st three years of her life, the love of the beach is as deeply etched into her soul as it is mine. We missed out on the beach last year, and right now, it looks like the same fate awaits us. Perhaps Alberto has reignited a desire that will see us to the beach this year after all. The need to walk out on the beach and shake hands with God is pressing.
I Told You
On Thursday night, May Lee and I went to see A Wrinkle in Time on the last night it was playing at the local discount theater. I was super excited, because it was one of my favorite books as a kid, and I thought May Lee would love not only the story but also the visual beauty of the movie.
What actually transpired can only be called a disastrous miscommunication regarding vomit. She ate an entire bag of gummy bears during the movie, then spent the last 45 minutes complaining of a stomachache. I asked about needing the bathroom, and she said no. On the way home, I glanced back and saw that she had “the look”. I again asked, and she said she didn’t feel well. I drove as fast as I could, as we were only 1 block from home at this point.
I pulled in the drive, and she immediately opened the door and puked everywhere. She looked up at me and accusingly said “I told you”. Then she leaned back over, and puked again.
I can’t even begin to describe what I was thinking and feeling, as I draped my entire body over the steering wheel. I pressed my head into it, alternating between sighing deeply and chuckling to myself.
After May Lee was cleaned up and the driveway hosed off, we had a little chat about the day and where we failed in the movie-going vomit portion of it. She reported a day of many cookies and other sweets that I was not aware of. She also let me know that she thought when I asked about the bathroom at the theater that I wasn’t going to go with her. I assured her that I would have been following close behind and that I would never send her to the bathroom alone to be ill.
We now have a well developed plan for any illness that may befall either of us in a public place. I feel like the day it actually goes down and one of us takes ill, we will move will military-like precision and speed. It will be a thing a beauty. Also, May Lee has taken a vow of “no sweets” for the month of June and has already broken it many times over.
Bring Your Kid to Work Day
I declared Friday to be Bring-Your-Kid-to-Work-Day, and so that is what I did. As you know, bringing your child to work can go 1 of two ways: your child will either be a delightful presence or they will make you regret the day you were ever born. Fortunately, the former was our experience, and we had a lovely day.
In fact, my daughter and I enjoyed time doing activities we never get to do together at home. This was due, in part, to the fact that the internet was down all day at the office, severely limiting how much work I could actually do. Being stood up by my clients was the other factor providing time for us to do things like play Upwords, draw together, and organize the art supplies. I can’t remember the last time my daughter and I had that amount of uninterrupted time to just sit and play a game in it’s entirety without some other event or chore pushing us for time.
Once I was done seeing the clients that did come to their appointments, May Lee and I went to lunch at a local place that was recommended to us. We played more games as we waited for our food. After lunch, we went to the local Wal-Mart and loaded up on summer toys and necessities. Then, we checked back in at the office to see if the internet had been restored, which it had not.
After finishing up the work day, we changed into bathing suits and prepared to head to the lake. This is when I discovered that my tried and true bathing suit was no longer true. I have been making changes in the way I eat and exercise, and I knew that my weight hadn’t done the “yo-yo” thing in a long time. Clearly, what I failed to realize is how much my body had changed, but this fact was now shockingly evident as the top of my tankini refused to stay up and kept threatening to slide all the way off.
I had not thought to pack 2 bathing suits, as I had packed the “never fail” bathing suit. I stood there, not understanding this new reality but understanding that I needed to come up with a solution. The pieces I had packed already didn’t really match, but they fit correctly (so I thought), so I had to wear them. But in order to keep the tankini top in place, I had to add the additional layer of my gray t-shirt, tied up in a knot just above my waist to keep it out of the water.
After driving the hour back home, I was able to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror while donning this swim get-up, and I laughed out loud when I saw what it looked like in real life. It explained a lot of the looks I was getting as we played in the lake. Oh well! We had a good time!
Also, I’m choosing to spend at least a few days living in denial that bathing suit shopping is now completely unavoidable. I need to be in the right state of mind and emotional space for that undertaking.
Saturday Morning Bliss
It is now Saturday, and May Lee and I are fresh-spirited after the good night of sleep that swimming and time in the sun always brings. Spending all of our free time yesterday at the lake meant that we had no food in the house this morning, so for breakfast May Lee ate PBJ and I ate the last hot dog remaining from our backyard campout rolled up in a leftover pancake. I think that is a good measure of how far I have fallen off the meal-planning wagon.
In fact, “good measure” is a phrase that has shown up a few times in this recap of our week. Good Measure is also the name of our local health foods store, so perhaps this whole thing is word of prophecy exhorting me to higher planes of getting my life together that do not include leftover campout food wrapped in stale pancake. I wonder if they also sell sage and essential oils. This could be a one stop shop for all kinds of health and healing!
My child has been begging to go camping. I have hesitated to take her, given her complete and unholy terror of flying insects and intense aversion to outdoor bathrooms. Reaching a compromise, we planned a backyard campout for the Memorial Day weekend.
The day of the campout began with much needed yard maintenance to prepare a nice place to camp. I spent the morning mowing the front lawn and entertaining portions of the neighborhood girl gang. At lunch, we all took a break to recover from the heat. In my case, I took a long, luxurious nap.
After I woke up, I put the hammock up between the trees in the front yard, because what is a campout without a hammock? Then I began mowing the back yard and getting it ready for the tent. In the middle of that process, we received a pet turtle, and so we spent some time creating a turtle habitat. We are now a family of 2 people, 1 dog, 2 cats, 1 turtle, and 2 goldfish. I’m going to start charging admission to this house that is quickly becoming a petting zoo.
By this time, it was time to hit the local Wal-Mart to join with all the other Memorial Day celebrators in procuring all the cookout necessities. Over $100 later, we left with all manner of campfire cookout food and 1 bona fide fish tank, because I am now willing to accept that we have become fish people. Also, because I am no longer willing to change tank water every other day when there are such blessed inventions as water filters.
We returned home and immediately set up the new fish tank. It came with an LED light that changes color, so once it was all set up, we sat in front of it mesmerized by the colors, the bubbles, and the fish making fish faces.
Finally pulling ourselves away, we began setting up the tent. I need you to understand the weather conditions under which I took up this occupation. It was approximately 1000 degrees with 10,000 percent humidity. I bent down to open the bag containing the tent and that action alone caused me to be immediately drenched in sweat. By the time the tent was up, I felt like I had walked into a swimming pool with all my clothes on.
Still, we soldiered on and started the campfire. We ate chips and dip and roasted hot dogs, and we didn’t completely swelter from the heat. We made s’mores and enjoyed the hypnotic effect of a campfire. All the while, Stax whined in protest that he was not included in the festivities and was sent to his bed inside the house.
As the sun set, we cleaned up from the cook out and let Stax outside. I walked with him around the tent as he inspected it, hoping to prevent any Lab-like chewing behavior. Rather, he immediately marked the side of the tent as his territory. Thanks, boy.
I went inside to gather the rest of the bedding we needed for our campout, keeping an ear and eye out for any shenanigans Stax may try to pull. Stepping back outside with an arm full of blankets and pillows, I found Stax happily laying in the grass while eating our lantern. By the time I pulled it from his jaws, he had already chewed off the handle. Upon further inspection, it was found to be incredibly slimy but still in working order. Nothing a good cleaning wouldn’t fix.
We settled into the tent, leaving Stax on the outside. I would have liked to have him in the tent, because despite his many flaws, he is my emotional support beast. My child, however, does not find him as charming as I do, but we both found comfort in his large form being present right outside of the tent door.
My child asked me to read to her, and handing me her small, green Bible with a ladybug adorning the cover, she asked me to read the first chapter. By the light of our now handle-less lantern, I read aloud the account of The Creation. The atmosphere of the creation account had never before felt so fitting as reading it in a tent, by the light of a lantern, with the moon and the stars peaking through the window.
Next, we read two chapters in the 1st book of the Magic Treehouse series, and then we settled into the stillness of the night. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, as I was exhausted from a day of yard work and setting up backyard camp. I had just switched off the lantern and closed my eyes, when a light rain began to fall.
“Ahhh, it’s raining!” I happily exclaimed.
“I’m scared! We have to go in!” my child declared, not at all sharing my delight.
“Look, it’s just a gentle rain. Even Stax isn’t bothered by it. He hasn’t even moved,” I pointed out.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “He’s not freaked out at all”.
Taking her cues from the emotional support beast, she settled back down into the pillows and blankets, and we enjoyed the sound of the rain that only lasted a couple more minutes. I lay there, sinking deeper into relaxation, enjoying the sounds of the insects and frogs singing, until a new sound made its way into my consciousness. Quickly, I realized that sound was Stax snacking on the guy lines of the tent.
“NO!!!” I yelled, as I bounded out of the hobbit-sized opening of the tent. Stax lay there completely unfazed by my exuberant exit from the tent and happily chewing the lines. That was the end of the campout for Stax, as I escorted him to his bed inside the house.
The humans attempted to settle back into the tent, but we were newly aware of how hot it was after exerting ourselves. Every few minutes, one of us would declare, “It’s really hot” and the other would agree.
At one point during this exchange, my child said, “Well, at least we got a tent so you can go camping when you want to. I can have a sleepover at Nana & Pop’s or a friends house”.
In response, I burst into laughter, and she promptly covered my mouth with her hand.
“Does that mean you would like to go inside now?” I inquired.
“No,” she responded, “I’ll try for a few more minutes.”
By 9:30, we were in the house, safely tucked into our beds and enjoying the air-conditioning. I fell asleep more deeply relaxed than I usually do, with the scent of the outdoors and campfire fresh in my hair and the song of nighttime creatures still in my ears.
The tent is still up in the yard, and we keep looking out of the window to make sure that Stax isn’t using it as a giant chew toy. The spirit of camping seems to have nestled into a small part of my daughter’s heart, as she keeps saying that she would like to try to sleep out again tonight.
Maybe we will sleep out all night in the tent, and maybe we won’t. Whatever time we get to spend together outside will ultimately serve us well, with the slower pace and fewer distractions it allows us to enjoy.
I recently told my daughter a story from my early elementary school years. I feel like it must have occurred somewhere in the 2nd to 4th grade range, because I still resided in the bedroom with the rosebud wallpaper that had a slight metallic sheen to it. In that room, I slept on an antique bed, played in the window seat, and enjoyed 2 closets- one for toys and one for clothes and shoes.
One morning, I ran upstairs to put on my shoes in order to finish getting ready for school. I had one shoe successfully on and was in the process of putting on the second shoe when my toes bumped against something. I stopped and looked into my shoe, but I didn’t see anything. I tried to put it on again, and again my toes bumped up against something foreign. Perplexed, I removed the shoe again and shook it.
Tumbling from the shoe came a solitary black cricket. I had instantaneous feelings of guilt that I may have hurt the poor, little fellow while shoving my foot into my shoe and of disgust that my socked foot had touched an insect. Twice.
I don’t remember what I did next that day way back in elementary school, and I certainly didn’t tell this story to my daughter in this much detail as we were having our own struggles to get out of the door and arrive at school on time. Nonetheless, the story clearly made an impression on her and, using her own vivid imagination, she seems to have created her own details and attached her own emotions to the story. How do I know this to be the case?
This morning, my daughter thought it was absolutely hilarious when her pink and green striped soccer sock got stuck to her hind end with the help of some static electricity. I mildly acknowledged the humor and strongly encouraged her to continue getting dressed by putting her shoes on. She exited the room while I finished up in the bathroom, then I went to put on my own shoes. The first boot went on without a problem. With the second boot, my foot met with some resistance. Upon inspection, what did I find in the toe of my boot but a bright pink and green striped soccer sock.
Friends, it matters not if my shoes are in my room, in my closet, on the living room floor, or waiting for me by the kitchen door, they are quite regularly full of surprises. Legos, crayons, orange wiffle golf balls, small plastic La La Loopsy dolls, and various other treasures have taken up residence in my shoe in an attempt by my daughter to recreate that element of surprise from the cricket-in-the-shoe story.
On a morning that finds me irritable and in a hurry, these little surprises in my shoe can elicit an exasperated groan. On a morning that finds me happy and ready to conquer the world, a shoe treasure can bring a sentimental tear to my eye. This morning was a response mixed with irritation and curiosity about why this behavior lingers on. It has been weeks, maybe even a couple of months, since May Lee and I actually discussed and had a little chuckle over the shoe surprise bit. I realized this morning that I have been quickly dumping the shoe intruders onto the floor and carrying on with business for some time now.
Something about that response didn’t sit well with me as I thought it over this morning. As I continue to ponder it this afternoon, it is starting to feel like my daughter is trying to engage me in a playful way and in response to a piece of my childhood that I shared with her, and I have been completely ignoring her attempts. On a morning like this morning, it is likely my daughter’s way of saying “Lighten up, mom. Life can be fun if you let it”. While it may be easy to fall into a parenting shame spiral at this point, I see no need to go that route. I’m not going to catch everything every time. I simply do not possess superpowers that morph me into the Perfect Parent.
Now that I do recognize the potential importance of this little game, it seems clear that I need to respond. Lately, I have been learning that it really is never too late to go back and make something right if you missed it the first time. In the same vein, I’m learning that showing up is always important-the most important- even if you happen to show up a little late. In this case, I also better show up silly and with a light-heart.
Therefore, in the spirit of this new parenting revelation, tomorrow the shoe will be on the other foot, if you can pardon the pun. Come morning, May Lee just might find a surprise with her little toes.
This week has continued to be insanely busy with to-do lists that are never-ending. My ability to multi-task has grown substantially, and I think that is due in part to the fact that I’m sitting down and planning my week. I’m not getting it all done, but the structure is helping me use my time more efficiently. I’m working errands and tasks into the margins, so to speak, and I feel like I was rewarded handsomely for my efforts when I set out on my Monday lunch break to run an errand that would end up killing 3 birds with one stone.
A while ago- we’re talking a couple of months, maybe longer- a FedEx package was mistakenly delivered to my house. After a couple of futile attempts to get the package to its rightful owner, I queried the FedEx guys who delivers to my job about what to do with it. He suggested taking it to Mr. Postman.
Monday, I finally pulled into the parking lot of Mr. Postman with the mystery package, my Stitch Fix items to return, and a bill to mail. Friends, let me tell you, when I opened those doors and crossed that threshold, I was in heaven. I was so bumfuzzled by the divine aroma of freshly brewed coffee, the sight of cafe tables and chairs, and the dazzling collection of adorable home decor and gift items that I must have looked like Dorothy taking her first steps into the land of Oz. Somehow I communicated to the barista the nature of my shipping needs, and she took care of me well. Once that errand was complete, I eagerly chatted with her about their selection of coffees, ordered a snickerdoodle latte, and perused the many treasures in the shop while my coffee was being made. I have to say, this sweet little find may have been the highlight of my week
The next morning presented a challenge, as it was Stax’s surgery day. After his escape from the backyard last week, it seemed clear that I could no longer delay getting him neutered. He was also due for some vaccinations, so my excuses for delaying the inevitable were running out. To get him ready for the vet is no small thing. I legitimately need the skills of a rodeo cowboy to get Big Yellow into his harness, but we managed to get to the vet where he promptly marked his territory 3 times. Bless that staff. One of them even helped me get him into the car after the surgery. On the way out of the clinic, we were talking about how confused Stax must be, to which the staff person remarked “Yep, he came in with a full purse and is leaving with an empty one”. I don’t know why, but that cracked me up.
As for my growing girl, it has been another great week. I can no longer escape the fact that May Lee is growing and maturing in leaps and bounds. Last week at her soccer game, she performed the chicken dance and numerous somersaults but gave very little effort to playing the game or following the coach’s directions. During one of the breaks, we had the following talk:
Me: May Lee, I want you to go out there and make a WHOLE BUNCH of mistakes. Like, hundreds of them.
May Lee: Huh?
Me: Yes, I want you to go out there and make a whole bunch of mistakes. I’d rather you make a whole bunch of mistakes than not try at all. And listen to your coach and do what she says.
May Lee ran out of the field and continued on in the same fashion as before. However, during soccer practice this week, I could tell a difference. She was “in it” and not so hesitant. She was trying instead of letting herself get intimidated by her own fears. I was a proud mama. This was quickly followed by another proud moment when we got home and she read 3 little books to me that she had made at school. She’s really growing and coming into her own.
May Lee is also pumped for the upcoming holiday season. She celebrated the first day of fall then immediately asked how many days until Christmas. She cannot decide what she would like to be for Halloween or whether she would like to dress as a pilgrim or a Native American for her school’s Thanksgiving Feast, but she does know what she would like for Christmas. Her Christmas list is as follows: horse, pony, unicorn, kitten, puppy, turtle, an Octonaut set, and toys of all our friends and family. When I heard that last one, I immediately pictured all of our friends and family members as little bobble-head dolls, then I giggled a little bit and wondered if I could actually make that happen.
As for the health journey, I’ve been doing pretty well, but I’ve been really hungry the last couple of days. Plus, I’ve been a little stressed. Therefore, I have indulged, but I don’t really feel guilty about it. I’ve come a long way with being mindful about whether I am eating out of true hunger versus eating because I’m stressed. What I am bummed about is not doing my new morning exercise routine the last couple of mornings. I think I feel more bummed about the missed exercise, because I can tell the biggest difference in my body from the exercise and not the diet change. I haven’t been doing that routine for very long, but just stretching and doing some crunches in the morning has really relieved my aches and pains and my brain fog. So, I’m thinking missing these last couple of days has set in stone my resolve to incorporate exercise of any kind into a lifelong, daily routine. The weekend ahead looks like it is going to be just as full as our week, with soccer, lots of school assignments, and pulling together a donation for the silent auction at May Lee’s school. But we are going to make time for fun as well as business and hit up a local festival. Maybe a $5 pony ride will satisfy the pony craving and remove said animal from the Christmas list. One can always hope.
This week I found myself in the high heat of a tempering process that culminated in a new and hopefully more mature perspective about women and female culture. The timing of the events that lead to this epiphany can only be by divine design, so let me preface this story with a brief synopsis of what has been stirring in my heart for the last few months.
Well, in actuality, the interest in taking a deeper look into what is going on with the female gender in culture, in church, and in relationships has been stirring in me for years. Giving birth to a daughter will do that, you know, and other things have come up at church or work, but my attitudes and relational styles have essentially remained the same. Over the summer, our church was doing a series on the minor prophets, so I was reading along in my morning quiet time. In fact, I was reading in the prophets and in the gospels at the same time, which was absolutely mind-blowing, and I was happy as a nerdy little clam.
But then an incident occurred that really stirred up some past trauma, and I discussed the incident and its ramifications on my mental and emotional state with my therapist. Being an older and wiser woman, she was able to brilliantly tie in my growing interest in women’s issues with what I was currently going through. She floored me with the undeniable truth of this simple statement “Well, your wounds are really a product of being a woman”. My awareness and perspective was immediately opened up to a higher level that allowed me to see a new and very real truth about the attacks on my life, and over the course of the following weeks some things really started to make sense.
With my interest in all things uniquely female now peaked, I found myself grudgingly leaving behind my nerdy love of those crazy prophets and hopping all over the bible. I started in Genesis, which seems like a logical choice for new beginnings and perspectives, and looked into the creation of Eve, the only being not created from the dust of the earth but from a piece of creation already animated by the breath of life. Eve was the first earthly being to recognize deception, which I found to echo beautifully in the proverbs where the voice of wisdom is the voice of a woman. The voice of the woman appears again as the voice of love in the Song of Solomon, a book that neatly parallels the proverbs. And if you really think about it, it is no mistake that the attribute of wisdom and the attribute of love is given to the same voice, the same being. Speaking truth in love is a theme echoed throughout the bible, because wisdom offered without love goes nowhere, whereas wisdom offered in love goes straight to the heart.
That is no small charge, to be the voice of wisdom and love. As I studied more and more deeply into what the female image of God really means, the responsibility grew heavier and heavier on my heart. Which leads up the events of this week, where in one day I found myself in the dead center of the crucible of female relationships. In the morning, I was rallying with multiple women who are battling in their homes a war that is common to all women. In the afternoon, I find myself in the middle of a group of women rallying against another group of women. I went home that day absolutely reeling from the effects of finding myself in the middle of those 2 extremes. My mind full of questions, I stumbled around in a haze for the next few days trying to figure it all out.
Here is what my eyes have been opened to thus far. As girls, we learn immediately what being in girl culture means. Not one of us passed through the early years unscathed from this battle. You were either “in the sorority” or you were in “the anti-sorority”. I use the word sorority here, because I can think of no other word that captures the idea of a group of women that have banded together as a closed group that allows new members in only after those members have been approved by a certain set of criteria. Anti-sorority refers to the group of women that forms in reaction to that group and the hurt it can cause. They may seem like the “good girls” in the scenario, but that group is often just as closed and just as hurtful with it’s own set of criteria as the sorority. (So not talking about Greek life here, so carry on unoffended, my Greek life friends)
And the truth is, those groups do not form and remain static. As I reflected upon how this dynamic has played out in my own life, I see now that there were seasons of my life where I slid into the sorority-like group and mentality, seasons where I slid into the anti-sorority group and mentality, and seasons when I was somehow able to rise above that dynamic and interact with all groups and all females as individuals without much static. A deeper truth about this dynamic is that it is often so ingrained in female culture that we don’t even recognize that we are sliding into those factions of femininity, or that we are being exclusive or reactionary in response to the dynamic playing out in female culture. We don’t see it and we end up placing blame and responsibility for conflict on people that it doesn’t belong to.
At least, that is how it plays out in youth. As girls, we can’t really see it. We know it’s there, but we really don’t have the first clue about what is going on. As we get a little older, we have a better understanding of the dynamic at play, and the social struggle gets real. As fully-grown women, some of us grow out of it and some of us never do. A great majority of us see it and bemoan it but continue to participate in it on some level because we can’t see a way out of it. Some of us stay bound to it as a result of the lies that our insecurities feed us and thereby blind us to the truth that will set us free from it. I can honestly say, that I have walked through all of those scenarios in my life.
What’s worse, is that the whole ugly thing ends up getting written off as being “just how women are”, and to that grossly false idea I shout a resounding “NO!” I am still sorting through the full impact and meaning of this dynamic at play, the whole idea of female culture, and what can change it to bring it back around to reflecting the female image of God as He intended it, but I do know that right now I am standing firmly on “NO!” I am officially rejecting the sorority and anti-sorority culture in all areas of my life- personally, professionally, socially, and spiritually. Finding a new way of relating and participating in female culture is going to take a place of top priority on my life overhaul to-do list. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be raising my daughter to recognize the sorority/anti-sorority dynamic, to stay away from it, to release herself from it when she finds herself in it, and to conduct herself in a manner that honors the female image of God. With that being said and publicly declared before my mom and the 3 other people that read these things, I must get busy figuring out how to conduct myself in a manner that honors the female image of God. Rest assured that you will be hearing more from me about this piece of my journey.