Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ch-ch-changes--Thanksgiving, Hope, Life

Over the years I've spent Thanksgiving in a lot of different places with a lot of different people. 

There were the Thanksgivings as a kid where I would excitedly watch the clock and wait for my grandparents to arrive from Alabama. We would eat and eat and watch football and play and talk. I remember falling asleep in sleeping bags on the floor with my sister and brother and cousins listening to the grown ups talk. There were a few Thanksgivings after my parents' divorce spent meeting and eating with new people that would be my step-relatives, and then eventually my ex-step-relatives. Thanksgivings spent in O'Hare Airport Gate B 22 with my brother and sister missing our connecting flight  going home to Michigan from my dad's house in Nebraska. There was that one Thanksgiving when I was 20 I spent in Amsterdam with friends, that was a good one. I also spent several Thanksgivings serving turkey at soup kitchens in Pittsburgh. A couple Thanksgivings I spent with friends who had no place to go like me. Years later my first child was born a few weeks before Thanksgiving and I remember being overwhelmed with joy and hormones and swollen breasts at my in-laws for turkey dinner with my newborn in my arms. There was the Thanksgiving night I spent with my sister in the ER waiting room after my mom broke her neck falling down the stairs. There was the Thanksgiving we forgot to defrost the Turkey like characters on a predictable sitcom. 

Thanksgiving 1980-something. 

Me with new friends and wearing a beret in Amsterdam.

My picture of Amsterdam that looks 150 years old. Ha!
Two weeks as a mom not having a clue what I was doing. 

What a turkey. Oh my god, what a cute little turkey JT was.

One constant has been change. I haven't always gone to the same place with the same people and had the same meal or the same happy or sad experience. I should be better at change than I am.

The world feels crazier than normal right now and changing so fast. I've never really been someone who has been that affected by, or to be really honest that compassionate about, those "trigger alerts." But Jesus, I get it so much more now. I feel like the entire year has been a trigger. This administration. Social media. Things I thought I believed but now question and vice-versa. My kids growing up. Losing control. Setting boundaries. Being firm. Being understanding. Balancing compassion and fear and strength and vulnerability. Getting enough sleep. Wishing I could do more. Wishing I didn't feel so much. Wishing everything didn't feel like it was constantly changing all the time so fast. But also grateful for some of the changes. Holy shit. Ahhhhh.

I wish I had someplace to go that I 've always gone this Thanksgiving. I want a constant that feels comforting and safe.  

As usual in times of turmoil I turn to my beloved pop culture. I watch movies like Planes, Trains & Automobiles. I love that movie. I watch Young & the Restless and General Hospital. I delight in the fact that Victor and Nicki are still fighting and loving and trying to get the family together on Y & R.  And that the Quartermaines are still trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Jason on GH. The same things I was watching in 1987!  My comfort zone.

But as I look back on the years and think about this year and Thanksgiving, I am reminded of other constants. There was always laughter. Even in the emergency room that crazy Thanksgiving my mom broke her neck, my sister and I found things to laugh about. Like how the first person my mother asked for when she woke up in the hospital was Justin Timberlake. 

Another constant...there has always been somebody. Whether it was friends or family, my babies or strangers in the airport, there have been people to connect with and talk to and be with. For that I am grateful.

Every Thanksgiving I can remember has been filled with some kind of hope. Hope that the turkey will defrost. Hope that everyone comes to visit. Hope that everyone will get along. Hope that everyone recovers. The thing about getting older is that you've been through enough to know there's another side to things. Even though the world is making me uncomfortable and tense and confused, as I look back I see that we've been here before historically and it's led to great change. I feel hopeful that we can figure this shit out--our government, our communities, our families, parenting teenagers, disagreeing with love, respecting each other, finances, my grandma's dressing recipe, global warming and all the rest of it.

I'm grateful for laughter and hope and perspective. And that there are soap operas that are still on TV. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Acceptance--Confessions of a Middle Age Sports Mom

"I take Xanax during the first quarter of every game."

"I eat like a Labrador stomach would explode if someone didn't stop me."

"Pass the chips."

"I did the least amount of volunteering this season because I was intimidated by all of you."

Insert nervous laughter after each one of these phrases and picture a middle-age woman with bad roots and tired eyes. Now imagine a group of very put together women staring at her not exactly sure what to say. The scene has been set. Not for a bad dream or a joke. Nope, this was the scene of my first Football Mom Lunch a few weeks ago with the high school varsity football moms.*
(*All the varsity football moms were incredibly nice to me.)

I don't know what made me act like I was sitting on my therapist's couch. It's pretty true to form though for me to over talk and say stupid shit when I'm nervous. Even though I am in my 40s and have reached a level of acceptance that can only be had once hormone levels have spiked and bottomed out multiple times (yeah, I'm one big perimenopausal punchline)--I still got nervous and did the whole over talk/over reveal thing. 

Maybe I did/do it because it lowers all expectations of me and there's only going up from there. Maybe it's because I really believe in keeping it real. Maybe I did/do it because it's just who I am, and I guess I can accept that.

I have to accept that I am a nervous, worried, overtalking, always keeping it real kind of mom who doesn't care what people think but totally cares what people think at the same time. I have to accept that not everyone is going to think that's charming, or want to talk about hormones, or like my kid, or like me. 

I have to accept that I might always eat too many chips and need Xanax at Friday night football games. But I also am accepting that I am learning to be a better "sports mom." I'm learning to be more supportive of my kids and what they are passionate about even though I worry about them (a lot). I'm also learning to lean on other moms and families and support their kids and their teams. And I'm learning that I kind of like watching my kids play football.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Bracelet

After Wade was born I was a bit overwhelmed. Having four kids and a husband that worked all the time was a lot. I felt like I needed to walk around the world saying I'm sorry for [insert any topic like being late, my kid throwing a fit, my bad parking job at Kroger, my baby crying, not brushing my little girl's hair, basically failing at everything]. So my girlfriend made me a bracelet (pictured below) to inspire me to own it and stop apologizing to the world.

Some of the letters have fallen off, but you get it...

She got me to admit to myself and everyone my truth at that moment, being a mom of four little beings was consuming my life and even though I got a little overwhelmed and showed up a little late and lost the PTA paperwork, I loved my kids and my life and I was doing the best that I could at that moment to be the mother/person I wanted to be. I quit apologizing..."I'm a mother of 4. Fuck off."

Here's the thing, I never wore the bracelet and certainly never said it to anyone (okay, maybe to Tim once or twice). I hid it in a drawer in my kitchen and pulled it out when I felt like apologizing to the world for my shortcomings. It helped. 

I found this bracelet the other day. I hadn't seen it in almost  seven years. But you know the universe/God/whatever force you believe in has a way of showing signs to you just when you need to see them.  

When I started this blog Wade, the fourth baby that inspired the bracelet, was a toddler. Life was intense and busy. Looking back, it was mostly wild and colorful and loud and chaotic and silly and exhausting. It was also sweet and more simple than I really appreciated. That's how it goes though right? I mean just like I didn't appreciate my thinner thighs or wrinkle-free forehead in my early 20s...hindsight can be a bitch. But it also can remind you that time is the bigger bitch.

It has all gone so fast and seemingly goes faster and faster every year. 

When my kids were little I worried that I would get lost in all the beautiful chaos and have no identity but "mom." I worked hard to get involved in politics and advocacy, wrote a blog, landed a few fun freelance gigs, met amazing artists, traveled to conferences around the country and co-produced a live-stage storytelling show. I hustled to create a balance of sweet young children and a creative, political life that fulfilled me.

It worked for a while. But then my kids' schedules started making my projects harder to do. The freelance hustle became harder to commit to and I needed jobs that had a concrete pay structure. I started working two part-time jobs. I had to say no to a lot. And sometimes I said yes when I should have said no and I let people down. I volunteered but had to cancel. I started resenting my yes's and my no's and my kids' busy lives and started apologizing to everyone about my shortcomings.

Then I found the bracelet. And just like all those years ago, I had to get real with myself again. I had to say some tough no's to some amazing creative opportunities. Because to be the mother/person to the four children I love more than anything, I have to be fully present as possible. That bitch Time taught me it goes fast and I don't get a redo.

When I was a teenager my parents weren't around, mentally or physically.  They were going through their own heavy shit and boy do I have so much more compassion for what they had to figure out back then. I'm not mad. I'm just going to do it differently. My past is probably motivating my present. I don't know what I'm doing really, except worrying a lot and loving a lot and setting boundaries and really trying to not take things personally and trying to do the right things and say the right things and just be here. And my four children are pretty wonderful and smart and funny and challenging and well, I'm a big fan of theirs.

I will start saying more yes's again someday. And for real, wait until they grow up and I write the book or a storytelling show about their teenage years. Here's my working title- "Mom of 4, Fuck Off.--How To Be An Imperfect, Mindful yet Forgetful, Mostly Successful, Always Loving, Unapologetic, BadAss Mother."

Right now nothing makes me happier than all my kids around my dinner table telling stories and laughing. NOTHING.

Here's some of the stuff we've been busy doing the past month....

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Magic of a Sunset, And Maybe a Road Trip

"Run, we have to catch it! It's almost gone! Hurry, we can't miss it!," I was urging loudly as I screeched the minivan sideways into a parking spot by the beach. We took off our flip flops and all started running toward the ocean. "We only have a few minutes left, hurry!," I shouted into the wind as we ran.

I tripped over the edge of my long dress and it ripped a little bit, but I kept running. The kids were lagging behind but still making their way in the white sand, dodging the scattered people that were on the beach. Suddenly I stopped and gasped. "There it is, we didn't miss it," I exclaimed bending over putting my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath. "The sunset. Isn't it beautiful kids? Look at it."

We all stood, speechless, looking at the pink and red sky as the sun dropped below the horizon. The sound of the waves rolling onto the shore and the seagulls searching for treasures left my the afternoon beach goers. The people that dotted the shoreline looked like enchanted shadows from Peter Pan--some darting in and out of the water, others walking hand in hand down the beach. 

"It's magic, isn't it?," I smiled at the kids. "This is what we couldn't miss."

We got there just in time, just as the sun was setting.

This was one of my favorite nights from our road trip across 10 states that lasted 21 days. I have so many more wonderful memories from our journey. Seeing museums and memorials that I have never seen before in D.C. even though I have been there countless times in my life. Going to Universal Studios and watching my kids, even the cranky teenagers, fall in love with Harry Potter's Wizard World and roller coasters and adventure rides. Jumping into a pool an hour before it closed at a rinky-dink motel in North Carolina in the dark with my clothes on because I didn't want the kids to have all the fun. Eating so much junk food we all craved salads and carrots when we got home. Hearing my kids laugh and sing and have fun together. 

It was chaotic and unorganized and spontaneous and mostly very fly by the seat of our pants kind of travel. Most of the time we didn't have any "have tos" or timelines or schedules. If we wanted to stop at Peach World, we totally could. Okay, I was the only one that wanted to stop at Peach World, but the kids ended up thinking it was fun and JT got a shark tooth necklace for $4 there so he was happy.

JT's travel look. lol

We also stopped on the campus of Duke University when we were passing through on our way to see my brother in Savannah.  Our plan was to take a picture of the boys outside of the basketball stadium because they are big fans. After we took the picture we found a giant spider that we were all enthralled by and were taking pictures and videos and guessing what kind of spider it was and promising we would add it to our list of questions we had for Google when we got back on the road. As we were talking, JT noticed there were people inside stadium lobby. He pulled on the door and it opened. We crept inside. Turns out there is a whole museum type display with glass cases full of trophies and memorabilia and pictures. There are also interactive booths with crowd noise piped in along with the fight song. There were several other fans wandering around the exhibit. Then like a scene out of a movie, a gentle old man walks over to us and asks us if we'd like to see center court. "Yes please!," we replied eagerly.

"I'll take you the back way," he said softly. As we walked down the back halls, he talked to the kids about the history of Duke basketball and when the wood was put in and how old the railing is. He also asked them about their lives and if they played sports. The kids seemed to feel really comfortable talking to him because they were telling him stories about their football games, cross country plans and Wade proudly told him he recently ran his first 5-K and got a medal. Once we reached the court, he told the kids and me to take a minute and enjoy it. We stood on center court and breathed in the history of all the games that had been played there and the talented athletes that had been on that floor. As we made our way back upstairs, the grandfatherly man talked to Peyton and Lucy about keeping up their grades and staying focused if they wanted to go to college. We thanked him and he nodded and smiled and said, "I'm so glad you all stopped and got to see this." And then I think he might have disappeared into the wood panels from 1931 like a ghost. I'm just kidding, but he seemed too perfect to be real. 

Wade wanted to take pictures too,
 so I bought him a disposable camera.

That's the point of my road trips--I want to give my kids a sense of wonder and adventure in the ordinary stuff and encourage them to let go of the timelines and schedules sometimes and stop and enjoy it all, even the seemingly ridiculous. Peek in the windows, open the unlocked doors, notice the spiders, buy the cheap shark took necklaces, talk to people on the beach, jump in the pool with your clothes on, and don't ever not appreciate the beauty and power of a beautiful sunset. 
Lucy capturing the sunset on her phone. Makes me proud.

I wish this was my back yard...for real.

As I wrestle with trying to fit back into "normal" life, I have to remind myself of those things too. I have to remember that even though I truly struggle with organizing my life and my kids' lives and that I don't feel like I will ever fit in with "normal" life, the things I can teach them and show them have some value. 

Yesterday I almost had to quit my job because I forgot to sign Wade up for the program he goes to before school, since my job at the preschool starts before his elementary school. And this wasn't my first time forgetting to do that. I frantically called and emailed and apologized to the program and my boss. "I think I'm pretty good with the kids and my gosh I love them, but I'm sorry I'm so unorganized and I'm working on it I promise," I told my boss. Luckily, she was wonderful and helped me and I still have a job at the preschool. 

I do that a lot--I mess up calendars and schedules. I forget stuff. I always have library late fees, always. And I say sorry, a lot. I hate that my kids see that. I feel like a failure at "normal" life.

But on the road trip it's different. I get to show them a side of me that I hope they remember along with the apologizing side...someone who appreciates life and people and sunsets and oceans and finding new roads and ways to get places and connection and adventure and being alive. That's important too right? Maybe. Hopefully. 

Here's a little recap video I made of our trip:

road trip 2017--A million good memories from Jumping With My Fingers Crossed on Vimeo.

Heard a TON of country music and while it's not my fav genre (at least new country), I fell in love this song and it's how I felt and feel and ahhhhh.