Awake

“Most people don’t know there are angels whose only job it to make sure you don’t get too comfortable & fall asleep & miss your life.”

I ran across this quote from Brian Andreas this morning. It was in my Facebook memories. Apparently it spoke to me On This Day four years ago.

It spoke to me again today.

There are many ways we fall asleep and miss our lives. For me, it’s being “busy.” Or “tired.” Or having that one extra glass of wine to take the edge off. Or sitting on the sofa flipping through social media instead of engaging with the living, breathing people in the room with me. Or telling myself stories about what people are thinking and feeling or why they are acting a certain way instead of just being brave enough to ask them.

For a few weeks now – maybe longer – I’ve felt lost and drifting. Even in the middle of a satisfying work day, a happy school morning with the kids, a cozy night by the fire with my boyfriend. Nothing specifically wrong. Nothing I can name. Just an overwhelming sense that something is amiss.

My therapist once said, “Rebuilding trust is more about learning to trust yourself again and less about learning to trust someone else again. You’ve got to listen to your gut. It will tell you the right things, if you’ll only listen and trust.”

I’m not listening to what my gut is telling me – whatever that may be. I’m asleep. I’m too comfortable.

Thankfully, there’s an angel poking me so I won’t miss my life. She poked in the form of unsettling dreams that I spent most of the early morning hours trying to analyze. I’ve determined the final analysis isn’t important. It’s the process of sitting still, of thinking things through, of listening to my gut.

It’s Advent. The season of waiting and watching and listening. What better time to actively re-engage with the world around me? What might that look like?

Engaging in longer conversations with my children instead of the cursory daily recap? Reaching out to friends more often? Looking that harried cashier in the eyes and smiling when I’m at the check-out counter? Using social media less and seeking real human interaction more? Getting back on my yoga mat? Sitting in church? Moving through the world more slowly and deliberately? Ensuring my outsides reflect my insides by sharing my thoughts and feelings outloud?

Yes. To all of it. And more.

I’m awake. I’m not going to miss anything. I listen. I watch. I wait.

Travelin’ Light (the only way to fly)

When I was in 2nd Grade, our teacher read a novel outloud to us every day.  My favorite was “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeline L’Engle. Mrs. Baldridge developed voices for Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit. She made the story come alive. I was captivated, and I also became obsessed with reading any book by L’Engle I could find.

Thankfully, my school library had her entire YA canon. Over the years, I moved from Meg Murray to Vicky Austin. By the time I was in 7th grade, I had read “A Ring of Endless LIght” at least three times. That was the year I met the author herself.

She was the featured speaker at Women’s Institute, a retreat sponsored by the Episcopal Church Women at Camp Mitchell, high atop Petit Jean Mountain. My mother let me skip school to attend. I sat in rapt attention as she spoke, and I stood in line with middle-school timidity to get my well-read copy of “A Ring of Endless Light” signed.

I honestly don’t recall my interaction with her — I was star struck! But the inscription on my book stuck with me all these years:

“To Jennifer: be a light bearer.”

It’s a loaded assignment. Does she mean “bear a light into the world” or “bear heavy things lightly?” I’ve never known the true meaning, but I can honestly say over the course of my life I’ve tried very hard to do both.

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I look back over the course of this blog’s life, and I love my writing. Well, most of it. I have to admit I’ve struggled recently with what to write in this space. My posts have been few and far between. I’m the first to admit my most recent posts haven’t been all that great. It’s like when Eminem admits in Not Afraid: “Let’s be honest that last Relapse CD was ‘ehhh…'”

My best writing is borne out of heartbreak, struggle and searching. Isn’t that always the case? I mean, you can’t sing the blues if you don’t have some serious shit to manage. Much like the blues, my writing seems to  work best when I’m facing my demons, owning my story, healing my heart and trying to figure out how to move on. It doesn’t work as well when the lyrics to the blues song are: “I found my groove … My kids are great … We love our life …. And all is straight.”

I have been hesitant to write life is good right now, and I’m not convinced my writing is any good without a tinge of drama.

Today, on a 3-hour road trip, I tuned in to Season Two of Magic Lessons, a podcast by Liz Gilbert. She’s the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and most recently “Big Magic.” I dig her insight. This edition of the podcast focused on a woman from England who has known her whole life she wants to be a comedy writer. And yet, she convinced herself this wasn’t serious art. To be taken seriously, she maintained, she needed serious subject matter. So instead of writing comedy, she got a PhD in Holocaust Studies and did her dissertation in crimes again women.

So, Liz being Liz levels with her (I’m paraphrasing here):”What the hell, sister, seriously? You have a gift. And guess what? If the whole world majored in pain and suffering, it’d be a pretty bleak place. So write your comedy. Make people laugh. Bring some joy to the word. It’s a public service. Do it!”

Later in the podcast, her guest Sarah Jones (I hadn’t heard of her. Ya’ll. Google her. Amazing.) says, “What if joy were your only metric for success?”

Woah. What?!

I turned off the radio and drove in silence. How could this play into my life and, by extension, breathe some new life into this blog?

What if, ya’ll?

Most of my writing up to this point has been heavy. Many people have reached out to me after reading my blog to say: “Me, too.” “Wow.” “Yes!” “Thank You.” I deeply appreciate their support. It was never about gaining followers, and I’m still genuinely moved by such responses.

I made a connection with people by being honest in a vulnerable time. Doesn’t it follow that I could now entertain and inspire with how far I’ve come and how silly my world is these days?

So, what if my only metric were joy? What if I began bearing witness to Madeline L’Engle’s charge to me all those years ago? What if I bore things a little more lightly and brought a little more light into this world?

If my only metric were joy, this is where I would start:

I’m obsessed with “Hamilton: The Musical.” I quote it constantly and break into hip-hop lyrics at the drop of a hat. My kids are tired of it. My coworkers are baffled. Seriously, the other day, a coworker commented on another’s cute new pants and I said, “I think your pants look hot. Selig, I like you a lot. Let’s hatch a plot blacker than the kettle callin’ the pot.” They looked confused. I felt triumphant. I feel I should be comped tickets for such a feat. Sadly, the Broadway fairies have not come calling.

It stands to reason, I’m a pop culture junkie. I quote movies and books constantly. I sing all the time. Music is like oxygen to me. I don’t care if it’s rap, hip-hop, disco, pop or country. I like good writing as much I love catchy hooks. It all moves me. I’ll throw lyrics and quotes at you until your head spins (as witnessed by the title to this blog post!), so just try to keep up. I don’t think this makes me less of a professional or undermines my intelligence. It’s a layer. And it’s me.

I also cuss … a lot. I’m not sure why. I know better. But there is something cathartic in working “motherfucker” into a sentence to express intense emotion. I mean, not in front of board members and VIPs, of course. Although there have been accidents. Again, it’s a layer. It may be the brown, scabby layer of the onion you peel back and throw away … But it’s still part of the onion. And the onion is me. You got that metaphor, right?

I love to tell stories. I’m lucky writing is a major part of my job description, but I’m honestly funnier in person. Just ask my brother. He thinks I’m hysterical.

It’s bat shit crazy around my house most nights. But we have fun.

My daughter spent the majority of the night singing the words to the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin to the tune of “Little Cabin in the Woods.” My son has emerged from his serious state and laughs more, smiles lots and talks my ear off. I’ve gotten more hugs from him in the last month than in the last year put together. He’s a different child. I believe it’s due in large part to his new daily environment and in no small part to the fact I’m finally listening to him and not trying  so hard to control him.

As I said in my intro to this blog, there is so much of my story that’s yet to be written. When I wrote those words almost two years ago, I thought my story would be an award-winning drama. I joked about the day I’d write the screenplay and Reese Witherspoon would produce and star as me. It would cause weeping and wailing. We’d win an Oscar for Best Drama.

Now, I have a feeling it’s a comedy. Reese may still play the lead role, but it will be the “Legally Blonde” version of Reese, not the “Mud” version. The next few chapters are going to be lighter, funnier and more joyful. Sure, there may be fewer raw life lessons imparted, but maybe those of you who are on your own journeys to happy can catch glimpse of what’s in store for you.

It’s time for me to be a light bearer. I’m ready. Hope you are, too.

Change

But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. – B. Franklin

… and school. – J. Pyron

 

My son goes back to school tomorrow. My daughter starts Wednesday. It’s the first time in many years they’ve not gone to the same school.

When Charles was in 8th grade, we agonized over the decision of where to send him to high school. He shadowed at other schools, but ultimately, we decided it was best for him to stay at the small Episcopal school where my mother teaches, where we know the families and where we felt he’d receive the best education.

Shortly after 9th grade began, so did his complaints. It’s too small. Everyone is in my business. I don’t like it. When can I leave?

I didn’t understand. He was playing two varsity sports. He was making good grades. He had good friends. He was never without something to do on the weekends. What was wrong?

The complaints continued sophomore year, which ended up being the hardest year of his life thus far. Surprised? Me, too. I would have thought the year his father and I separated and divorced would have earned that ranking. But he and I both agree, it was last year.

I tried to get at the root of it, to dig into what was troubling him and pinpoint the reasons he wasn’t happy. One night, I said, “I’m worried about you. You’re just so unhappy.” He looked at me like I was crazy, “I’m not unhappy!” he insisted. “I just really hate school.”

One day, he got in the car after school. “Today was another horrible day,” he announced. “How so?” I asked. “They all are,” he lamented. “Can I please just leave?”

There is nothing worse than knowing your child is unhappy. Unless it’s knowing he’s unhappy and not having a clear understanding why. It was at that point I quit trying to understand, and I tried to just listen.

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I’m not sure why it took me so long to understand. After all, I’ve been there.

In 9th grade, I followed the majority of my female classmates to the all-girl Catholic high school. I had lots of friends. I went to football games. I went to dances. I had plenty to do on the weekends.

But in the school building, I wasn’t happy. Something wasn’t clicking. My chest felt tight and my adrenaline rushed when I walked through the door every morning. The curriculum bored me. Everything felt homogenous. My grades started to slip. I grew defiant.

I looked around every day at my classmates and friends who were happy and wondered what was wrong with me. Why wasn’t this clicking? Why couldn’t I find my footing?

One afternoon, my mother found me crying on my bed. It had been a miserable day. I looked at her and said, “Don’t make me go back there. Don’t make me stay.”

They didn’t. I started sophomore year at the public high school near my house. I felt lighter, hopeful, and happy. It turned out be an excellent move.

The buzz of the crowded hallways energized me. I loved being in classrooms where not everyone looked like me or thought like me. I loved the variety of classes offered. I found my footing in the Drama department and my passion in the Journalism room. I graduated in the top 10% of my class, and the friends I made are still the ones who know me best – and love me anyway.

I found my place. It was a good fit.

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I buried all those memories of my “lost year” of high school, but they resurfaced when I took Charles to register for his junior year at Little Rock Central High.

The hallways were packed with kids and parents. I was nervous, unsure of how to navigate the lines, fill out the forms and not miss anything. I looked over at my son, hoping he wasn’t feeling the same way.

His smile was broader than I’ve seen in a long time. He kept waving at people he knew, hugging and laughing with friends. He suggested (twice!)  I sign up to help in the front office, so I did. He wanted spirit items, so I forked over $70 for a hat, two shirts and a tumbler with the LRCH logo.

As we left the building, exiting through the massive wooden doors and walking down those impressive, historic stone steps, he said excitedly, “That was so much fun!”

He is leaving a school where everyone knew his name. Where each classroom had no more than 15 kids in it. Where his graduating class had only 50 members.  It’s an excellent school. I will miss it for him.

His new school has 2,400 students. He’s a number now, but he’ll soon meet teachers who’ll learn his name. He’ll sit in class with kids vastly different from him.  He’ll learn so much from them, and hopefully be able to share a thing or two himself. He’s taking Debate and a computerized business applications class, on top of four AP classes. He’s playing baseball.

The best thing yet? he’s actually looking forward to going to school tomorrow.

We’re in for another year of new experiences and changes. Does it ever stop? I suppose not when you have teenagers.

Here’s to uncertainty. To new. To revolutions and revelations. To a good fit. And, hopefully, to happy.

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Feminism … Sexism … All the Isms

One cannot live one’s life based on what somebody else’s image of you might be. – Hillary

Isms, in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, “I don’t believe in ‘Beatles’, I just believe in me.” Good point there. After all, he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus, I’d still have to bum rides off of people. – Ferris

I know you could care less who I’m supporting in the primary. I would never pretend I have sway over your opinion simply because you read my blog. After all, this is one of my favorite memes:
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However, I find myself having interesting conversations about why I am so passionate about Hillary. The thing is: She’s important. The fact a woman could possibly win the Democratic nomination, and please, Sweet Baby Jesus, become President … just, wow.

Some context would probably be helpful.

The man I dated in college was a Republican. More than that, he was a Right-Wing, Christian Conservative Republican. It was a rough two years. But that’s another blog post.

Three days after we broke up, I sat in a booth with my friends at our favorite bar and proclaimed, “I will NEVER date another Republican.” And, seriously, as if on cue, my future husband walked through the door.

For the next 20 years, political discussion were off the table. I am the former VP of the Young Democrats at Hall High School (class of 89!). I’m the the girl who sported a “Put Hillary in the White House” bumper sticker during the Clinton/Bush campaign. I’m the grown up who still tears up when she hears the words, “I still believe in a place called Hope.” But my liberal heart seemed no match for his conservative mind, and so we quit trying to share our beliefs. And I resigned myself to the fact that we’d always cancel out each other’s vote.

Bygones.

Now, I’m dating a man who is addicted to CNN. He records all of the debates on DVR. We text back and forth about how Trump terrifies us. We jokingly make plans to pick up stakes and move to Canada if he wins. He sends articles to me comparing Bernie and Hillary.

And I like Bernie. He’s fine. But having a strong, smart woman “this close” to being a Presidential nominee is too big a deal for me to ignore.

My first job post-college was as a teacher-counselor at a treatment facility for at-risk youth. I joined a team of five staff members responsible for “parenting” a house of 10 adolescent boys who were victims of sexual abuse. I was the only female staff member.

One day, we took the kids swimming. I wore a conservative one-piece bathing suit. Instead of getting in the pool with the boys, I supervised from a lounge chair in the sun.

That night, after the kids were in bed, our Director called a staff meeting. He scolded me in front of my male counterparts for “tempting the boys.” He quoted a popular rap song, saying “Ms. Cobb, when you laid back on that chair all we could think was … what’s the lyric? ‘Wanna put it in so deep, so deep put her ass to sleep’.” He laughed hysterically. My coworkers laughed and gave each other high fives.

I was 22. I was embarrassed. I was scared. I’d like to say I resigned on the spot. I didn’t. Instead, I learned quickly my male coworkers saw me as different, lesser – a “threat” to the young men we were supposed to be protecting and nurturing.

A few years later, another boss told me, “I have to hire women for your position, because I can’t pay men enough to raise a family.”

I once asked a male coworker if he had a preference on how I handled an issue. He looked me up and down, grinned slyly, and said, “Whatever blows your skirt up.”

Yet another male boss was so condescending to female employees in meetings some of other the men in the room would visibly wince.

I was raised in a generation of women who were told we could be anything, do anything, achieve anything. We were encouraged to “have it all.” We all tried. So many of us have been successful. But it’s been in spite of our gender, and it’s come with a whole lot of sexist bullshit.

I am encouraged by Hillary, who has endured an onslaught of insults in her lifetime – more than I can even imagine. She is a bad ass. She stands up to the status quo. She stares down the Old Boys. She’s smart, fearless and unapologetic. She’s been labeled a bitch, a cold fish, a lesbian. A man is never questioned for being a bad ass. Instead, we say, with awe, “Damn, he’s got balls!”

I respect those who question her agenda. I know she’s polarizing. I know there are some who believe she’s just a cog in the political wheel. I get she’s not necessarily advancing a feminist agenda. But I believe she has the mind and spirit to lead this country. And it’s time a woman got a shot at it.

Plus, my daughter is watching. Millions of girls are watching. They need to know the American dream applies to them, too. That they can be anything, do anything, achieve anything … even POTUS.

That’s why #imwithher.

Notes from the Bathroom Floor

 

The tile on my bathroom floor is green and white. It’s cold. Calm. Quiet.

I lie here. Knowing I’m being dramatic. Waiting for the moment Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about in “Eat, Pray, Love” when she lay on a bathroom floor, crying, and a voice said to her: “Get Up.” I doubt the voice will come. Yet, I know I will get up. I know I will go to bed. I know I will wake up in the morning and pretend my cheek never met the cold, hard floor of the bathroom while I sobbed and prayed for a way out of my shame and pain.

This memory washed over me tonight as I bent over my bathroom sink to wash my face. I caught a glimpse of the tile out of the corner of my eye. I stopped what I was doing for a closer look. All of the sudden, I remembered what it was like to lay on that floor, feeling like I was over-reacting, yet unable to move.

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My daughter constantly amazes me.

In December, she surprised me with news of her first boyfriend. She was enamored. He adored her. She let me read their texts, so I knew there was nothing inappropriate happening. As happy and flattered and honored as she was by his affection … she was also freaked. all. the. way. out.

A few weeks ago, she said to me, “Mom, I just don’t think I want a boyfriend anymore. It’s a lot of responsiblity. And there’s drama at school. And it makes me stressed out because I don’t know how to act around him. And I just don’t think I’m ready for all this.”

What?! Really!? She has her first boyfriend and he’s cute and he’s sweet to her and his parents are nice and she is BREAKING UP WITH HIM?!?

I caught my breath, as I realized this is not how I had foreseen this playing out. I was ready for the moment  I came home from work and she looked at me with red-rimmed eyes and said “we broke up.” I was prepared to hold her hand as she cried. I was ready to haul out the roll of cookie dough and two spoons while we sat on her bed and talked about how she would hold her head high and go to school the next day.

But this? A 13-year-old who said, “I know I am going to hurt his feelings, but the only way I can be responsible for myself is to break up with him.” Where did this come from? Who is this child?

Then I realized with awe: It took me 20 years to learn that lesson. 

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My ex-husband remarried last week. One of my greatest hopes when we divorced is we’d both find our way back to happiness. I have. Apparently, he has. My children now have a stepmother who loves them dearly. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s seriously all good.

But. 

What do you do when your ex-husband get remarried? How do you act? How are you supposed to feel? Happy? Sad? Angry? Resentful? Jealous? Nostalgic? Relieved? 

Yes. All of it. All the feels.

When I noticed the bathroom tiles tonight, I remembered the times I sunk into them during the last months of my marriage. The times I sat there or laid there, crying tears of shame, and regret, and pain, and desperation. 

So, I embraced them again. I am laying on my stomach, typing away on my iPad (Thank God the maids came this week!). I remember how far I’ve come – how far we’ve all come. I acknowledge the pain I caused and the pain I felt. I can feel the cold tiles through my t-shirt. All I can hear is the exhaust fan. The house is quiet. The night is calm.

And this time there are no tears. We all seem to be healing. I’m stronger. My kids are stronger. My relationship with my ex-husband is honestly pretty decent for a couple who’s only been divorced a year. 

And my daughter? She’s a 13-year-old bad ass.

Her ex texted her a few nights ago to tell her he wants to “win her back.” She ran into the living room to read the text to me. And then she said, “What?! Like I’m just some PRIZE he thinks he can win?!? Whatever!”

Right on, sister.

I’m not sure where she got that gumption. Although from my perspective right at this moment, it could be from watching me get up off of the proverbial bathroom floor. 

I hope so anyway. 

Muscle Memory

After all of the darkness and sadness, soon comes happiness. – Survivor, Destiny’s Child

I started going to my early morning boot camp again in December. Before you assume this is a post about physical exercise, healthy living, or failed New Year’s resolutions, let me assure you it’s not. Stick with me, here.

Several years ago, I worked out with my trainer Susan in a 5:15 a.m. class two days a week and at home with videos five days a week. By the end of six months, I was in great shape. I ran my first 5k (turns out, it was my ONLY 5k, but who’s keeping score?). I had definition in muscles I wasn’t aware existed. I could complete a hardcore workout and not even be sore. It rocked.

This time around, I feel every minute of my 45 years. My muscles protest loudly as I stretch them and push them to do things they haven’t done in ages. But here’s the thing: my muscles remember what they’re supposed to do.

During my first class, I was amazed I could still do push ups and full sit ups. Not very many, but I did them. As Susan called out exercises, my mind kept telling my muscles, “Oh, there’s no way you can do that one. Seriously. Don’t even try.” But muscle memory took over. My muscles gave my brain the finger and kept going.

The workouts are excruciating at times. My muscles often scream in protest. But for the most part, when I’m in class, I’m giving it all I’ve got. If I’m lucky, my muscles will remember exercise is supposed to make them more firm, less flabby. We’ll see.

All this pushing, pulling and stretching isn’t confined to my abs, glutes and biceps, though. My heart muscle is also getting quite a workout these days.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post exploring the capacity to love. Riffing on a video featuring Oprah and Bishop T. D. Jakes, I maintained that I have a pint-sized capacity for love versus a 10-gallon capacity. It made sense at the time, but I’m not sure I believe that anymore.

Looking back, I think my poor little heart was simply worn out. It had been through a lot, after all. It had contracted in self-defense, self-loathing and sadness. It had one purpose at that point: just keep beating.

If you’d asked me this time last year if I thought I’d find love again, I would have laughed. And yet, here I am. My little heart is stretching, pulling and pushing in ways it hasn’t in years.

Some days, it’s painful. It’s too hard to balance kids, work and our relationship. It’s frustrating we don’t get enough time together. My brain often tells my heart, “What on EARTH are you doing? Stop that! You’re not healthy enough. Don’t even try.”

Thankfully, my heart muscle is perfectly capable of telling my brain to go to hell, and it stretches a little more every day to make room for this amazing person. Just like it did during boot camp, muscle memory is taking over. My heart is remembering what it feels like to be happy, to be alive. It’s remembering it’s healthy and strong. It’s remembering how to love someone and accept love in return. It rocks.

To borrow the incomparable lyrics of Destiny’s Child, my heart’s a survivor. It’s not gonna give up. It’s not gonna stop. It’s gonna work harder. No matter what my brain says. It’s a workout. But it’s worth it.

 

In Sum

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” ― Frederick Buechner

Social Media has perfected the art of remembering. Today, I awoke to a laundry list of New Year’s Eve posts from past years.

According to Facebook, I was “never more ready to say goodbye to a year” than I was in 2011. “Bring on 2012!” I wrote, hopefully. Not to be a downer, but 2012 kinda sucked, too. It did not “kick ass,” as my friend and I swore it would.

In 2013, the year itself wasn’t all that great, although I did start a new job and the kids were happy. We celebrated with dinner at a neighbor’s house. I was skinny. And blonde. Not too shabby.

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Life was a mess in 2014. On New Year’s Eve, I forced myself to take Emily with me to a friend’s house for a party. Charles Jr. spent the night with one of his best friends. Shortly after midnight, I dissolved into an ugly Oprah cry in front of everyone. Nice way to ruin a party!

Suck it, 2014.

This year was big. I finalized my divorce. My kids and I found a new normal for the three of us. I took control of my finances. And, after years of telling other people’s stories, I began to tell my own on this blog. None of it was easy, but 2015 turned out to a surprisingly wonderful year.

According to Instagram, here are my #bestnine2015:

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Watching my son play lots of football (and baseball, although it’s not pictured). Celebrating the sunshine after weeks of snow and ice. Being cast in the Little Rock LTYM show with some exceptionally talented writers. Sightseeing in Chicago with my new honey. Watching his daughter and my daughter grow as close as sisters. Seeing strong, brave Emily begin to come into her own. Standing in my truth (and embracing the brown hair) on stage at Ron Robinson Theatre. Appreciating another Christmas tree masterpiece. Attending my first MLB game at the spur of the moment.

Now, that kicks ass.

To paraphrase the Buechner quote above: Here is a new year. Beautiful and terrible things will indeed happen. I certainly hope so, because I am not afraid.

Bring it.

 

Hurdles

I did something I’ve never done by myself before – something I wasn’t sure I could do. I bought a car.

I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself in the last 14 months. Here is a partial list of the hurdles I’ve cleared:

  1. Changing batteries in fire alarms, which requires standing on a tall ladder, holding my head at just the right angle and uttering a few choice curse words;
  2. Replacing the line in a weed eater, which requires several trips to the hardware store, asking the guys behind the counter many stupid questions, bending over the apparatus with my mouth held just so as I thread the line … and uttering a few choice curse words;
  3. Using the aforementioned weed eater to “mow” the small fenced area in my backyard a real mower can’t navigate. This requires curse words and bandaids, because I always manage to slice up my shins, but I can weed whack the shit outta some stuff, ya’ll;
  4. Purchasing and replacing air filters, which is fairly easy but gross; and
  5. Rolling the trash and recycling bins down the hill to the street, which is also gross and which requires balance and precision so the bin does not roll down the hill faster than you’re willing to walk.

Point of clarification: Yes, I have a teenage son. Yes, he helps with most of these things. However, I am trying to ensure he doesn’t step into the role of adult too soon. One of the first things I said to him after his dad and I separated was I didn’t want him to feel like he had to take care of me. He can help me – he should and does – but I want him to know I can manage it all just fine on my own, thank you very much.

Until now, though, I hadn’t made a big financial decision on my own.

I did some research online and decided what I wanted. I called the credit union where I had my loan to find out what they would loan me and at what interest rate. I was determined to not incur a monthly payment more than my current payment. I had a plan.

As I worked up my courage to test drive cars, I almost asked my boyfriend to go with me. Then I thought about asking my brother … or even my dad. Finally, I said to myself, “Self, are you crazy? Why do you need a male escort to shop for a car?”

So, I went by myself. I drove the SUV I picked out online. I loved it immediately. I was honest with the finance guy about my less-than-stellar credit and steadfast in my commitment to not pay more per month than I was already paying. And you know what? I got everything I wanted, including a much lower interest rate than my credit union was willing to give me.

One more hurdle cleared – and it was a big one!

There’s a scene near the end of “St. Elmo’s Fire” when Billy visits Wendy in her new apartment. She’s finally moved out of her parents’ house and is starting life on her own. She tells him:

I got up last night to go make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And it was my apartment. And my kitchen. And my refrigerator. And it was THE BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’ve ever tasted.

So, without further ado … meet Wendy.

Wendy

Okay, so this isn’t really Wendy. It’s been too rainy to take her picture. But this one looks just like her.

I got her with my salary. And my marginal credit. And my smarts and courage. And she is THE BEST car I’ve ever owned.

There’s a lesson here, of course. When is there not? As Glennon Doyle Melton writes all the time on Momastery, “We can do hard things.” If we have to, we can even do them by ourselves. We may slice up our shins with a weed eater (figuratively and literally, in my case), but we never know until we try.

What’s the hard thing you’ve been thinking about doing by yourself? What’s stopping you? Go do it. I promise it will turn out to be THE BEST (fill in the blank) ever.

Emily Day

Today is the 10th Annual Emily Day.

Ten years ago today, I held my 2-year-old daughter as she had a seizure. I had no way of knowing it would be the last time I would see her smack her lips as if she were tasting something awful, hold her as her body grew tight and whisper calmly to her as her eyes watered and her heart raced. When it was over, she fell asleep on my shoulder.

Two days later, she would undergo a second round of surgery to remove what was left of a benign tumor in her brain. The neurosurgeon would also remove a significant amount of scar tissue, essentially leaving her with only 9% of her left temporal lobe.

In Boston for an appointment with a neuro-oncologist, January 2005.

In Boston for an appointment with a neuro-oncologist, January 2005.

Chatting up Daddy on her birthday in 2005.

Chatting up Daddy on her birthday in 2005.

It had been a long year and a half since she had her first seizure, prompting an emergency MRI at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. The test revealed a walnut-sized tumor. She was immediately put on anti-seizure medication, which made her tired and irritable. Her neuro-oncologist assured us the tumor “wasn’t angry” and that we could wait to see how she reacted to the meds.

Turns out, her seizures could not be controlled medically. When her seizures broke through the meds, she had up to 10 a day. The right side of her face drooped. She began losing vocabulary. Her speech was slurred. She was sleepy all the time.

After months of monitoring and weeks of tests, her team advised surgery to remove the tumor. She had her first craniotomy in March 2005. By May, her seizures returned. We started the testing process all over again.

Day four of a week-long hospital stay for a video EEG. She's pretending to talk to her neurosurgeon on the phone.

Day four of a week-long hospital stay for a video EEG. She’s pretending to talk to her neurosurgeon on the phone.

This time, there was no conclusive evidence more surgery would result in no seizures. Charles and I were left with this decision: accept our child would have a lifetime of meds and seizures or put her through a painful surgery and hope one day she could be med-free and seizure-free. We struggled mightily with that decision.

One sunny, breezy day in October, I took her to the playground in her stroller. I put her in the toddler swing and gave her a push. I was wiped out emotionally. I sat quietly on the bench next to the swing set, listening to the creak of the swing and the wind blowing through the trees. I looked up at the bright blue sky and watched the clouds move across it.

Suddenly, these words came to me: “Be still, and know that I am God.” I took a deep breath, and I looked over at Emily. Within seconds, she began to have a seizure. I scooped her out of the swing and held her close. I knew exactly what had to be done.

The second round of surgery was not easy. There were complications. Her sutures wouldn’t close properly. As a result, spinal fluid leaked from them and dripped down her chubby face. We spent three weeks in the hospital. She had two more surgeries. The last time I handed my screaming toddler over to the surgical team, I broke down in sobs. I screamed at her neurosurgeon, “You fix it this time, because I can’t do this anymore!”

The third time was the charm. We took her home the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I’ve never been so grateful.

Home after surgery, slighly swollen and bruised, but happy.

Home after surgery, slighly swollen and bruised, but happy.

Today, she’s seizure-free. She is sassy, funny, talented and smart. She takes meds for anxiety and ADHD, but they don’t have near the negative effects anti-seizure meds would have. She has a learning disorder in reading comprehension, which means she has to work extra hard in school and will soon have a tutor. She has very little impulse control, which means she speaks and acts before she thinks. These things make middle school difficult, because being different in middle school is the last thing you want to be.

In our day-to-day life, I forget how lucky she is to only have ADHD and a reading disorder. I forget there was a chance she’d never talk – that her vision would be damaged – that she’d never be able to drive a car for fear of having a seizure behind the wheel.

And this morning … I actually forgot Emily Day. She had to remind me. So, I’m writing this blog post as proof that I remember.

I remember it all, baby girl.

I remember your pediatrician looking at me, saying “Oh, Jennifer. That’s a seizure.”

I remember the radiologist who wouldn’t meet our eyes as he informed us the neurologist was waiting for us in the clinic down the hall.

I remember how you slept in between me and your daddy every night for almost two years so we would know if you had a seizure.

I remember how your teacher at day care carried you on her hip all day because you were too sick and tired to play with your friends.

I remember your four-year-old brother being shuttled back and forth between friends’ houses while we took you to Birmingham for appointments.

I remember keeping you up all night so you would sleep during your MRIs.

I remember quitting my job when your seizures returned.

I remember you waking up from a nap after that second surgery, your pillow soaking wet from spinal fluid.

I remember holding you down on the exam table while you screamed as the surgical residents replaced your stitches in an effort to stop them from leaking.

I remember sleeping in the hospital bed with you every night for three weeks.

I remember you walking around our house when you finally came home, saying “I so happy be my house.”

I remember the day you took your last dose of medication and how relieved your daddy and I were when your seizures never came back.

Happy Emily Day, our brave, strong girl. We love you. Here’s to 10 more healthy years.

Halloween 2015. Our Super Supergirl.

Halloween 2015. Our Super Supergirl.

What A Long, Strange Trip: Advice for the Newly Divorced

My daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was 18 months old. Almost immediately, two people from my professional world reached out to me to share their own stories.

Both Susan and David were parents of teenagers who’d survived brain tumors as toddlers. I leaned hard on them for advice and comfort, referring to them as my “Brain Trust.” They taught me to find the strength within me to make it through appointment after appointment, test after test, seizure after seizure and surgery after surgery. Most importantly, they taught me the power of the phrase “me, too.”

During Emily’s first round of surgery, David sat with us in the waiting room. He looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re a member of the club, now. It’s not one you’d ever thought you’d join, but here you are. You know what it’s like to have child with a brain tumor. And one day, you’ll do for me what I’m doing for you. We pay it forward. It’s what we do.”

I never found the opportunity to do for another parent of a child with a brain tumor what David and Susan did for me. But as it turns out, I’m now a member of a different club: the newly divorced. Again, not a club I ever thought I’d join, but here I am. Turns out, we pay it forward, too.

One of my good friends is in the process of divorce. She’s still a few weeks away from filing, however, she and her husband have made the decision to end their marriage. She’s on the same roller coaster I rode in 2014.

I’m trying to be of service to her. I listen carefully. I answer her questions. I coach her through the lows and laugh with her during the highs. Like my “brain trust” did for me, I’m trying to show her that she’s stronger than she thinks she is – and that quite often the most powerful words are “me, too.”

For what it’s worth, here are the bits of advice I’ve been giving my friend. None of it is groundbreaking, but sometimes it helps to hear what worked for others.

Get to therapy. I don’t believe anyone can go through such a dramatic life change without professional help. I was lucky enough to find a counselor with whom I clicked early in the process. She calls me on my bullshit when it surfaces, helps me build strategies to change and grow, and cheers me on when I’m successful. It’s a powerful relationship, and I’m grateful she’s been by my side.

Sing. I’m going to have to insist you try this, even if you think it’s silly. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good singer. Just find an anthem and sing it. Loudly. Over and over and over. In the last few months of my marriage and early days of my separation, mine was “Landslide.” It’s this line that got me:

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing ‘cause I built my world around you. But time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I’m getting older, too.

I sang it in the shower. In my car. In my office. At a friend’s karaoke Christmas party. I wasn’t picky.

Anyway, just sing. Find a song that makes you cry when you’re bottled up (“Wasted Time,” by The Eagles). Find a song that makes you stop crying when the dam breaks (“Survivor,” by Destiny’s Child). Find songs that paint the picture of the life that you want (“The Way I Am,” by Ingrid Michelson).

And then call me. We’ll do karaoke.

Read. I’m not saying everyone needs to stock up on “self-help” books, but it sure was helpful in my case. I craved books about empowerment, recovering from heart break, coping with change and forgiving yourself for your mistakes. I’ve come to refer to my favorite three writers as “The Holy Triumvirate:” Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle Melton.

Brene wrote “Gifts of Imperfection,” “Daring Greatly” and “Rising Strong.” Elizabeth Gilbert wrote “Eat, Pray, Love,” of course. She’s also very active on Facebook, did a great podcast called “Magic Lessons,” and just released “Big Magic,” which I’m reading now. Glennon’s book is called “Carry On, Warrior.” Her blog is Momastery.com.

These three women helped me get through the last year and learn how to start being the best me. And I have to say, I’m a much more interesting person these days. Well, in my opinion, anyway. And really, I’m the only one whose opinion matters. Which leads me to my next point:

Quit giving a shit about what other people think. This is a hard one. Especially if you’ve lived your life trying to measure up to other people’s expectations.

At the core of this is learning to love yourself for the messy, broken person that you are. It means changing the tapes that play in your head from negative, self-loathing phrases like “You’re fat” and “You’re a bitch” and “You’re a screw up” to kinder, gentler phrases like “You may not perfect, but you are enough” and “Hey sister, you got this” and “Whatever, you’re still fabulous.”

Once you make peace with yourself – and learn to trust yourself again – it’s much easier to quit worrying about what other people think of you. I would love to tell you I’ve mastered this. I haven’t, yet, and I’m not sure I ever will. However, I am much more comfortable speaking my mind and being myself these days. It’s nice. Most days, I really like me. Which is good, because my next piece of advice is to …

Be by yourself. I had the same conversation with different friends recently about the tendency to jump from relationship to relationship. One woman said, “It’s like I’m a monkey, swinging from vine to vine.” The other said, “Honestly, I can’t remember a time since 7th grade when I haven’t had a boyfriend or a husband.”

I thought smugly,” I am so glad that’s not me!” Then someone kindly pointed out that I’ve been divorced for a year and in a relationship for six months.

You may be tempted to file this one in the category of “do as I say, not as I do,” but I am going to go out on a limb and argue being alone and being in a relationship are not mutually exclusive.

Standing on your own two feet is important. Choosing to be by yourself for extended periods of time is important. Making decisions based on what’s best for you and for your children (NOT for your relationship) is important. Remaining true to yourself is important.

Here is a revolutionary thought: you can – and should – do all of these things while in a relationship. The danger comes when you swing from one co-dependent relationship to another, making the same mistakes you’ve made over and over without slowing down to learn from them.

I caution anyone who’s divorcing or recently divorced to give themselves as much time as possible to heal before jumping into another relationship. If you do jump, I encourage you to continue to do the hard work of healing WHILE you enjoy that new relationship. Just don’t become so entangled again that you forget who you are, where you’ve been and where you want to go.

Forgive yourself. You’re human. You’re going to screw up. And if you’re getting divorced, it probably means you’ve made a mistake or two.

Occasionally, I have a despondent moment where I say to myself, “Holy shit. I failed at marriage. I am a failure.” Nothing good ever comes from staying in that mindset, though, so I try to shake it off quickly. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Here’s a hard fact: not everyone is going to like you – or forgive you. Despite the apologies I’ve given and amends I’ve tried to make, there are people out there who are still hurting deeply from words I’ve said, decisions I’ve made and things I’ve done. Owning that sucks. Period.

You can’t make anyone forgive you – but you can forgive myself and learn from your mistakes. Tell yourself you’re sorry. Explain the lesson you learned. Accept your own apology. And then move. on.

Be patient. It’s dark right now, I know. You’re ready to be done. You’re want to stop hurting. You’re ready to become whoever this new person is people keep telling you you’ll discover.

You can’t rush this. Grief heals in its own time – not yours. Hold on tight. Hold your breath. The light is coming. I promise.

I thought I would be emotional when the anniversary of my separation rolled around. Instead, it was if an internal switch flipped and pulses of strength, relief, gratitude and confidence began to surge through me. My healing process isn’t over, but I’m so much better than I was last year, last month, last week or even yesterday.

Every day is new. Every day is a step toward a better you. Keep walking. You’re almost there.