Monday, May 22, 2017

Lucy at 12.



Dear Lucy,


I’ve run the gamut of emotions this week. From, “how could she be 12?!” to, “where did the time go?!” and all of those typical things that happen at birthdays. I think my emotional state has been complicated, too, by your friends leaving for France today. I know you’ve been emotional about that, too.  Just last night you said, in the same breath, “I’m so glad I’m not going to France, but all my friends are leaving me!” It’s tricky, really, and I want you to know that it’s weighing on me as well. We knew fairly early on that an overseas trip for you in 6th grade probably wouldn’t happen. Your struggles with worries and anxiety started early, and over the years your dad and I talked about whether or not you’d be able to make a trip like this. Recently, I heard you telling your cousins that your friends were leaving on this trip, and you said, “Oh, I have anxiety. There’s NO WAY I could take a trip to France.” 

I want to acknowledge how cool it is that you know yourself enough to say something like that. You know your limits, and you’re not afraid to tell people about that stuff. That makes you pretty amazing, I think. I also think that you need to give yourself credit for something else you said last night to me. You told me that if you were the same person at the beginning of 6th grade as you are now, you’d have fought harder to go on this trip. I agree. You have grown in so many ways this year, and I’m glad you can see that, too. No longer do you have bouts of panic attacks. No longer do big changes affect you in the same ways. You’ve learned over the years to name the stuff that makes you worried, or nervous, and that is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. That’s not to say you’re done with anxiety or worrying about stuff. Hardly. Hello, you have my DNA running through your body.  It’s just to say that this is the year you figured out how to use those tools you’ve worked so hard on to learn. I’m proud of you for that.

For me, today has been bittersweet. Looking at photos of the kids you’ve been in school with for the last seven years carrying luggage, and boarding airplanes has been hard for me. One of the things we knew when we were lucky enough to get a spot in your school was that this day would eventually be here. We knew early on, a 2 week trip to France might be the right choice for you, but I never thought it would be so hard for me. I think the hardest part is this: I have one chance to make certain choices for you in your life. I have one chance to do this mothering thing the “right” way. No one tells you how hard it will be to make these kinds of huge decisions, and there will be plenty of them. No one tells you that you need to be willing to sit with your crying child at 10pm the night before this big trip, and rock her while she says how sad it makes her that she’s not going.  No one tells you how hard it will be to hear other parent’s opinions of the choices you’ve puzzled over for years, and to not second guess all of those hard decisions you’ve weighed so heavily. 

“You’re NOT sending her?” 

“She’s going to have to grow up someday!”

“She’ll be FINE.”

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m not ready to put you on a plane by yourself on a flight to Paris. I’m not ready to have you spend two weeks with a family I’ll likely never meet. Maybe I don’t think you’re quite ready to handle money, and schedules, and being away for that long. Maybe that makes me a shitty mom. Maybe that makes me overprotective and weird. But also? Maybe it means that your dad and I know who you were, and now you know who you ARE. Maybe it means that someday soon you’ll be ready for something like this. I don’t know. But, I do know this. At 12 you know yourself better than some people will know themselves in a lifetime. I am so proud to be your mama.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

ten.

“I love my daughter. She and I have shared the same body. There is a part of her mind that is a part of mine. But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since.” – Amy Tan

Ten. Double digits. It hardly feels possible that today Zoe Margaret is ten years old. I always read back over what I’ve written the girls for their last few birthdays, and today was no different. Two years ago, Zoe was a mess of anxious nerves. It occurs to me now that some of that was tied up in the upheaval of our home life at the time. Last year, I was working on giving up some of my control and being ok with sharing parenting time with Steve. Zoe was learning to do the same. It’s been a weird few years, and I feel like we are just now getting to the point where things are back to normal. It’s a new normal, but things are evening out for all of us nonetheless.

Zoe remains feisty and strong willed. She isn’t afraid to stand up for what she thinks is right – or more often, what she thinks is wrong.  She doesn’t mince words, and sometimes for me, that means listening to Zoe, walking out of the room to gather my thoughts, and then returning to respond. I’m learning so much through Zoe about communication and about the power of being able to sit in silence with strong feelings. Those are some of our hardest times, and I am certain they will only get harder as she gets older. It’s very important for me to value Zoe’s emotions, and to give her space to get frustrated, or angry, or sometimes even overly excited and happy. This morning when I tried to wake her, I said, “Zoe! Get up so you can open a present before school!” and her reply was, “Mom! I am ADUSTING MY MIND!” Zoe feels things deeply, and I never want her to feel like that’s not ok. I know that suborn streak in her will eventually be what keeps her going on the hard days.

Zoe has always been a funny kid, but this is the year that she started watching old SNL episodes. Perhaps not my finest parenting moment, but she has started doing stand-up routines in the living room, and she really gets humor. She’s wickedly funny and isn’t afraid to crack a joke to lighten the mood. Zoe loves Moana and Beauty and the Beast as much as she loves Alice Cooper and Hamilton. She’s a complex kid, and I love that she never makes excuses – she loves what she loves and that is that. Zoe is creative, always looking for ways to repurpose and reuse materials to make art. If ever there is extra cardboard in the recycling? Zoe snags it for a project. Last week, she turned an old skull mask into a “Beast” mask – hot glued yarn for hair, and all. And it was awesome.

Two years ago, Zoe’s anxiety about vomit and sick people was out of control. Anytime someone was sick at school, I would get a call from the nurse that Zoe was also “sick”. If someone got sick when we were out in public? Forget it. The fun ended there. I only mention that because this year for her birthday, she wanted nothing more than Owl Pellets. OWL PELLETS ARE VOMIT. She talks about nothing more than dissecting these little pellets of puke. I should probably be more surprised by this, but I’m not. In fact, nothing surprises me about Zoe. She is as soft and snuggly as she is sharp and witty. She is curious. She is kind. She is a dog whisperer. She makes our home a better place to be, just by being there – even on the days when she drives us all crazy. I’ve said it a million times before, and I will say it a million times again. Being a mom has changed me in so many different ways. My children came in and made the dark places in my heart brighter. They continue every single day to teach me things, about myself and about the world around me. I mean, who even knew owls vomited up cool stuff you can dig through? Happy Birthday, Zoe, thank you for being my little fish.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Scot


I’ve been thinking about how to put this week into words. Honestly, I don’t think I can do that with any grace, but I am going to try. On Sunday afternoon, my friend Scot Squires passed away. He was 49 years old, and he was living his life the way that people who “live to the fullest” tend to do. Everything Scot did, he took to the limit. Sometimes it was advocating for public education, and for teachers in this city to have access to books, supplies, or continuing education. Sometimes he was extreme in his opinions of things. Some of the most challenging conversations I’ve ever had were with Scot. He wouldn’t back down when he had strong opinions, and he challenged me to think in different ways about everything from curriculum, or education reform, charter schools, or plagiarism, and maybe even to why Maker’s Mark was the best bourbon out there (the jury may now forever be out on that one). Scot would tell you how he felt, and he didn’t care if you disagreed with him – you could always still end the night as pals, even if you called each other names while you fought about the state of education. He was just that kind of friend.
Scot loved Kansas City. He loved traveling, too. He ADORED his only child, Stella. Stella was the light in Scot’s eyes. Stella hung the moon for Scot, and he never let her, or anyone else, forget that she was the reason for everything he did. Everything. This is the part I can’t write about. My best friend lost her dad when she was 12 years old, just like sweet Stella, and I keep thinking about that time, and about all the ways that people have tried to keep her dad’s memory alive over the years. You can keep memory alive, but you can never replace a dad. My whole being hurts for Stella right now.
Scot was a runner. He wasn’t the guy you’d think would collapse and die from a heart attack on an early spring day. When my friend Ted called me Sunday night to give me the news, I couldn’t even wrap my head around what he was trying to tell me. I still can’t. How can someone so seemingly healthy and full of life just leave it so quickly? I’ve lost a lot of people in my life, but I’ve never lost a close friend. And here’s where I’m struggling.  There are people in my life who are rotting away, wasting precious space with a life unlived and unexamined, and taking for granted how precious life can be. Why should Stella get the rest of her life without her dad, who doted on her and who cared about her, and who would do ANYTHING for her, all the while other people who don’t give a shit about life still manage to be here taking up space? I think this is what hurts the most about Scot’s passing. So unnecessary. So unfair.
I have memories of my friend Scot that I will hold dear. The time we were at a writing project retreat and Scot jumped into the pool wearing a fluffy white bathrobe. The time Scot called me from the Birmingham Airport – I had already made it home to KC, but his flight was delayed – and he told me about the book he’d picked up and read in one sitting. It was Tanner Colby’s Some of my Best Friends are Black, and we continue to use that book  with teachers all over this city as a platform to talk about race and class in Kansas City. Scot was so excited about that. Scot and I explored the National Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham together, and stood in silence together, shoulder to shoulder, outside of the 16th Street Baptist Church. There was the time he encouraged me and my friend Katie (on that same Birmingham trip) to get on an empty trolley with him and take it for a spin. We didn’t, and in turn, no one got arrested…that time. Once, at a writing project gathering that happened to be on the anniversary of 9/11, Scot sat next to me and helped me through a poem I wouldn’t have been able to write without that encouragement. The time Scot and I took the girls to Brush Creek in KC to see the “Water Fire” boats, and he talked me through what the first year of divorced life might be like. Scot had been there, and was such a support for me during that time. Mostly, in all things, he made me laugh, which was usually exactly what I needed. 
In December, Scot and Stella were walking on the Plaza when they came across a crime scene outside of the public library. Someone had been shot there, and he quickly ushered Stella away. Later, though, he made a point of taking her back there, and they walked to the library – only days later. He said that he wanted Stel to know that, “1. there are WAY more good people in the world than bad and we are safe to walk wherever we want. And, 2. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING will keep us from a new batch of library books.” This is pure Scot. Funny, and real, and honest, and willing to keep going back to something even when it’s scary or threatening.  Thursday night, Scot texted me asking to meet out on Saturday to watch a friend’s band. I quickly texted back that I had the girls that night, and, I said…”next time!” Sigh. What I wouldn’t give now to have a next time.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

life warrior


Admitting to being a human can be refreshing.  It doesn’t happen very often. We are all so caught up in what other people might think, or what it means if we admit to some sort of infallibility. I just finished reading Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton, and I thought her writing about how her marriage almost failed, but then didn’t, was lovely, and honest and real. And then I read that Glennon and her husband just recently divorced after all of the work that they did to save their marriage. I was confused. I truly wanted to know how they could, after ALL of the work and the time and the therapy she and her husband endured, just call it quits. Turns out, Glennon is engaged to a lady now – so that might be the short story. But, I’ve been at the end of a marriage, and in my head, I thought. How? How do you make a commitment to save your marriage, chronicle that messy stuff in a memoir, and then leave anyway? 
I’m always skeptical of writing about relationships. If you read the archives of my own blog, you’ll find writing about my marriage. And you’ll find writing, too, about how it failed. I guess writing that “my marriage failed” isn’t really the way that it happened. People fail each other. That’s what happened in my house, anyway. I think when you put your stuff out there for all the world to read, it can mean two things. Either one, that you’re brave for sharing those deeply personal emotions. Or two, that when stuff heads south, as it so often does, people are likely going to judge you. Harshly. Because that’s what most people do: delight in other’s misfortunes.  We live in the United States of Schadenfreude, and life is good there, because it’s easier to laugh at, or gossip about someone else’s issues than it is to turn inward and think about why you feel such deep emotions about other people’s shit. 
Glennon’s writing made me think about my own marriage. The truth is, that over the years, I moved in one direction in my marriage, and Steve moved in another. I broke, years before our divorce, into little pieces. I broke as I had babies, became a mother, and grappled with questions like “who am I supposed to be to these little people?” and, “who am I outside of my marriage and my family?” and, “how can I be a different person for myself and for my girls than my own mother was for me?” I thought so much back then about these things that it nearly took me under. Parenting, and even marriage, didn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t have the kind of model of either that I wanted to emulate. I was constantly questioning who I was and where I was supposed to be. Would I always be defined by another person – as someone’s wife? I resented that, and I felt trapped by it. I tried everything I could to break away from that – earning different educational degrees and finding new friends who were my own - not his to begin with. I felt broken, and for years I struggled with how to put the pieces back together.
Over time, I realized that though I may have felt broken, I had really always known exactly who I was. Instead, what I really needed was to work through the stuff that made me, well…me. Perhaps in trying to define who I was within a marriage, I had become someone else, someone I didn’t really like, or even know.  Fixing yourself can be painful work. It can mean that when the pieces of your puzzle are put back together, you don’t look the same as you thought you did.  Glennon writes, “You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary…And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying. Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.”
These words hit me directly in my core. This is where I realized that it truly doesn’t matter that her marriage failed even after that hard work. I set the book down after finishing it, and realized that all of the things that outsiders have speculated about the end of my own marriage, all of the things I’ve had people say to me, or not say to me, and all of the things people may have assumed about me…don't matter.  What matters now is how to move ahead and to show my girls not how to pretend to have a perfect life, but how to be ok with living within a beautifully imperfect life.
Glennon’s story is not my own: I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not a bulimic, and I didn’t leave my husband for a lesbian. I don’t have the same relationship with the church that Glennon has, and her writing about God wasn’t what I connected with. But in a lot of ways, Glennon’s story is everyone’s story. Finding who we really are is hard, it takes a lot of time, and in the end, it can put us in a very different place than we once imagined for ourselves.  It can change everything. It means admitting to being fallible. It means admitting to fucking up. It means admitting that you might actually not know anything about anything. And it means that it’s ok to have a say in where your life goes. Imagine that.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

out with the old


I’m a pretty reflective person. It’s part of my job to ask my teachers to be reflective in their work, and recently I’ve found myself thinking back over the last year or so, and how my life has changed. There’s a trick about being reflective. In my work, we call it being “strengths based”. If you’re good at turning inward, it’s really easy to go down the rabbit hole of “what if”. If I’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s that the “what ifs” aren’t things that you can go back and change. The only thing you can do with them is to think about how they can affect the moving forward. Most days it’s really easy to look back and think about all the ways I fucked up 2016. But that’s not what I’m trying to do here.
This was a year of change, to be sure. I got divorced. I watched my children navigate this new life we created for them. I beat myself up at every opportunity for that. I cried a lot. I struggled nearly daily with the why and the how and even the what ifs. But I also grew this year. A lot. I went to a lot of therapy. I owned up to some ugly stuff. I took responsibility for my part in what led to my divorce. I thought a lot about how I could have different relationships moving forward. I worked on being assertive. I worked on saying no to things, and on saying yes to others.  This year I had to accept that some people who were closest to me would no longer be in my life. Family I will likely only see at graduations and weddings from now on. I had to endure those people lashing out at me in their anger and misunderstanding by calling me names. As recently as this week, I was called trash. A sadness. A self-centered martyr. Reading those things about me from people I once turned to as the closest in my life is nearly unbearable. But this year, along with all of that hard stuff, I continue to work on the things that I can control in those situations. Namely, my reaction to them.
I recently read an article in the Atlantic about what traits make loving relationships last.  It was interesting to me for a multitude of reasons, but specifically because the research these people had conducted on couples divided them into two groups – “masters” and “disasters”. The article talked about how connecting with your partner was crucial to a lasting relationship. “There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
I feel like all of those findings are true of love, of friendships, and just the way we approach life in general. It’s so easy to look for mistakes in people and in situations. It’s easy to blame someone else instead of turning inward and recognizing what you bring to the situation. It’s easy to disconnect and turn away. What’s hard work is being purposeful about finding joy. It’s hard when all the world around you seems to be falling apart. It’s hard when you are worried all of the time about how your children will turn out in light of your failings. It’s hard when the people you once held dear find it so easy to be hateful, to call names, and to place blame. It’s hard to look inward and think about all of the things that lead up to a failed marriage. And though I thank everything holy that 2016 is almost over, it’s not nearly the end. In this crazy year, maybe the biggest lesson was learning to give grace to myself and to others.
I’m beyond ready for 2016 to be over. For every reason I’ve written about here and for a hundred more. I don’t know what 2017 will bring, but I know that in it, I will be kinder. I will be looking for more ways to be thankful, and to be thoughtful. I will be looking for opportunities to connect with the people around me in meaningful ways. This year, in the midst of all of this madness, I met someone. And while it was maybe the worst time in history to meet someone new, I realized very quickly that there is a reason this person is in my life right now. He finds joy in things. He is one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I know. I think 2017 is for helping me find more of that in myself.  And I’m really looking forward to a new chapter in this crazy book of life.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Brangelina.


In the wake of the split of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt this week, I’ve taken notice of a trend: everyone is a marriage expert. From memes of Jennifer Anniston’s smug face to statements like “Karma is a bitch, if he cheats with you, he will cheat ON you.” Everyone has something to say about this. And, yes. I know. There are a hundred or more other important news events that I could write about right now, but I’ve been struck today by my anger and frustration over this. I guess it’s just that marriage by itself is just so fucking hard. Double the hard by adding kids to the mix. Triple the hard, I can only assume, by being a celebrity. I was talking about this with the woman who was combing head lice out of my daughter’s hair yesterday. (Which is another story for another post…now is just too soon.) She wanted to gossip about it, and I just said, “I can’t imagine how hard it must be for all of them.” She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I said, “I recently went through a divorce and it was terribly hard, and no one knows who the hell I am. All you want to do in a divorce is to shelter your children from all of it. I can’t imagine being so much in the public eye that shelter isn’t even an option.”
Furthermore? When did every human being on the planet become such a sanctimonious asshole about marriage? Puh-lease. “Oooh. You got what you deserved!” Is this really what people think? What about, sometimes you don’t know what people are going through? How about, you don’t have a clue what is happening – or not happening, as the case may be – behind closed doors? What happens when people change, during the marriage, or as a result of it, and then the relationship is suddenly not what it was when it started? What if maybe having children changes the entire nature of the relationship? What if there are suddenly not enough hours during the day to nurture children, and to nurture a marriage, and maybe the two spouses don’t know how to connect anymore after the disconnect happens? Maybe you wake up one day and you don’t know who the person sharing your bed is anymore? What if the way you were raised, and what you saw as an example of marriage happens to shape your own marriage? What if you become someone you didn’t like as a result of being married? Maybe becoming that person was to try to fit in, to try to soften your edges, or to try to connect with a new, extended family that is nothing like your own? What if maybe some marriages just don’t work and that’s actually not a bad thing?
I just love how everyone has opinions about this, but I would ask if the same people would want their marriage or relationship under the same kind of scrutiny? Would you want someone to watch you navigate the days and weeks and months after a marriage fails and comment on that, too? Because let me tell you what that’s like. It’s fucking awful, no matter what happened, or how blame is laid, or how “amicable” you think you are with your partner. And guess what? I bet Brad and Angie will find out pretty darned quickly who their friends are. Not the friends who smile and wave as they pass on the street.  I’m talking about the friends who come over to sit with you as you cry. The friends who bring over a pizza and braid your kids hair because you just don’t know what you’re going to feed them tonight, and man, who doesn’t like having their hairs did? I hope they find friends who take them out of town for a weekend, or who welcome them into their homes when they just need to get away. I hope they find the friends who want to go out and NOT talk about how life as they knew it will never be the same. I hope they find friends who will ask how they’re doing, and actually mean it, and will actually stick around for the long answer. I hope they find friends who aren’t scared by the random crying that comes during those first weeks and months. I hope they find friends who, a year from now, will still be there, and will be able to say, “Man. That fucking sucked. But you survived, and your kids are happy and healthy, and look! You are ok!”  I guess I just wish that people would stop and think about these things before making blanket statements about marriage. Guess what? People do stupid shit. We are all human, and we ALL do things that could make a marriage fail. Most of us are just lucky enough to do our failing outside of the public eye.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

eleven.




Every year on their birthdays, I write a little something for my girls. Something to mark what was happening during that time in their lives. Something to show them when they’re older so that they can know both how much they’d changed over the years, and how very much I love them. Today I pulled up what I wrote about Lucy last year, on the eve of her 10th birthday. I read it again this morning and I got sad thinking about this last year of her life. Lucy will most likely recall her 10th year as the year her parents began living in different houses.  This is the year that her mom started working full time for the first time in her life. This is the year of Lucy’s life when her mom listened to a lot of sad music. This is the year we all sat together as a family many times and had some of the most honest conversations we could have, all the while trying to protect Lu and her sister as much as humanly possible from hurtful truths about relationships, and about marriage, and about love.

Lucy continues to be cautious with emotional situations. She is teetering on being a teenager with every fiber of her being.  She’s listening to her own music, she’s figuring out her own style. She’s pushing boundaries as far as what she gets angry and back talk-y, and teenager-y about. And yet, there are plenty of times that she still tries to climb into my lap and snuggle with me. I will take that as long as I can, because I know it’s only a matter of time before she wants nothing to do with being that close to her mama. Lucy feels a lot of things that she doesn’t like to talk about. She’s the first to tell me all about a song she likes, or a movie that was funny, but she is the last to tell me something emotional.  She is so much like her mama in this way. One of the things we’ve started doing this year is writing notes to put in a happiness jar. We started this at the first of the year as a way to keep us thinking about the good things that were happening every day in our lives. We don’t always keep up with it, and I don’t always read what the girls write, but once, during the first week of doing this, I snuck a peek at Lucy’s note. “I got first place in Disney Infinity Race pack” (a video game they like to play with Steve). I stood in the kitchen and laughed for a long time. Sometimes I worry so much about how much I’m fucking up my girls that I miss those funny moments when they’re just normal kids who get excited about normal kid things. We’ve had a lot of those moments this year, too.


This year has been a lot of things for all of us. I hope that one day Lucy will look back and realize how much her dad and I love her and how we tried to do everything we could in this, her tenth year, to protect her heart.  In the end, there has also been a lot of laughter this year.  And, in spite of everything that seemed to fail this year, there was a lot of love: an abundance of love for Lucy Bloom.