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.