Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Year's Peace

Almost every year I set a New Year's resolution or two. I'm a resolution kind of person because I'm a linear thinker and a goal setter. I like to set myself SMART goals- smart, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. I'm not into setting lofty goals and creating expectations for myself that I can't meet, which in turn makes me feel like a loser who can't follow through on anything. Yet, I'm going to push myself a bit because I like the challenge and the feeling I get from accomplishing a goal. I'm that person who wants to do what I say and say what I do. I want to be accountable and try to hold myself accountable.

In the past few years, my goals have always included something related to running and running a marathon was one of my greatest accomplished resolutions. During each week of training, I'd write the number of miles I'd completed on my kitchen window. There, splashed in primary colors, (those kid window makers are excellent for adults, too) was my resolution in writing: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18....26! I left the 26 on the window for about six months after the race, so that every day I was reminded of "what I could do if I set my mind to it."

Whether it's running, drinking more water, or reading more books, my resolutions have always been tangible and not too serious. Remember, I want my goals to be measurable and attainable and that tough stuff, the stuff of the heart and head, are often really hard and very nebulous.

I wasn't actually planning on having any resolutions this year because 2016 was fast and furious and I've had very little time to think about goals. Or my goals have been things like, 1) put on underwear right side in each morning 2) drive the car with window washer 3) remember who is picking up the kids each day 4) try not to fall asleep with glasses on.

Yet, these just seem like unrealistic goals for a full-time working mom who commutes, manages a messy house, organizes disorganized kids and a husband. (He never takes my glasses off when I fall asleep on the couch. Instead he takes photos of them slightly askew on my face, also with a pile of cats upon me.

My goal was going to be not to have a goal; to roam freely and directionless through 2017 without any pressure or personal expectations. This was to be my goal, my un-goal, until the holidays happened.

2016 was full of obligations and booked calendars. Between vacations, work commitments and kid activities, we didn't have one unscheduled weekend for more than 7 months of the past year. I truly felt as though I had hit autopilot and I put my head down and moved forward. Luckily, as fate would have it, the insanity of the year came to a very abrupt halt in early December and we had multiple weekends with no commitments, no obligations, and with a little R&R came clarity of mind.

I spent 10 days straight with Andy and the girls. Folded in was a month-long visit from Andy's parents and a Marietta family trip to Massachusetts. In fifteen years, my in-laws had never been to my home, and since they are my family, I felt strongly compelled to show them my roots.

We rented a beautiful, historic house down the road from my parents' home and gathered there to exchange gifts and celebrate the New Year. The house is nestled in the woods atop a hill. It had snowed the day before we arrived and the girls and I got the best view of the stars each evening while we sledded as the sun went down. On New Year's morning, we awoke to a blanket of snow on the ground and the sun shining above. I bundled up, snapped on my snow shoes and headed out on a trail behind the house. I could hear my own heart beat as I marched along. I stopped and took photos, I listened to the sound of the melting snow falling off the trees onto the ground. I breathed deeply. I took turn after turn deeper into the woods. I stopped and smelled the crisp air. I had nowhere else to be at that moment. No one was looking for me. No one needed me. I needed nothing but to be in that moment. There, in the snowy woods of Western Massachusetts, layered up in winter gear, I shed the anxiety I've been carrying with me for so long that I didn't even know what it was like to be without it.

With my family not too far from me, the most important people- my people- safe and happy and healthy, and a chance to let go of so much thinking and worrying and planning, I felt a sense of peace I've never felt before.

This is my New Year's Resolution. I'd like to find that place more often. Maybe it's through meditation. Maybe it's through more "down time". Maybe it's through changing my perspective or taking a step back. However I can, whenever I can, I just want to be more at peace with myself.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Raising Children: Marriage Inequality

When Andy and I moved in together, fourteen years ago, we never talked about the division of labor in the house. We never sat down and had a direct discussion about who would mow the lawn. He mowed the lawn. When it snowed, he shoveled (and, now, he snow blows). He didn't ask me if I was ok cleaning the toilets, I just cleaned them. I made the bed. When we got married, and opened a joint bank account, he started paying the bills. I sent the Christmas cards. Yes, it seems as though all of our household tasks fell in line within traditional male and female stereotypes. It seems like I took on tasks that women have always done and he was responsible for tasks usually completed by men.

Yes, it's true, we didn't talk about who would do certain tasks. You see, I am not skilled at many of those particular tasks assigned to my gender. I tried, with much effort, to cook. After many an inedible meal and much wasted food, Andy took over and we became a mid-western casserole eating house. My starch intake increased over the last decade but at least we weren't starving, which was the alternative with me in the kitchen. This also means that the cook shops and Andy is better known at the grocery store than I am.

While I do most of the laundry, Andy isn't shy about throwing in a load. Unfortunately, he is shy about drying, folding, and putting it away. If a button needs to be sewn, and the wearer would like it to stay on, that's a job for Andy. I still clean the toilet but he is almost OCD about clearing dishes in the sink. I see him at his most flexible when he's on his stomach vacuuming under the couch.

In our marriage, with nearly no discussion, our division of labor has been divided simply- the person who does it best, does it, and ever so rarely, the person who likes to do it does it, and every once in a while, the impatient person does it and then yells at the other person who said they were going to do it.

With this completely non-planned, non-systematic approach to household work, it's no shock that, at periods in our marriage, one of us has felt we were doing more (sometimes much, much more) than the other. For example, a particularly snowy winter might make Andy feel like he's doing nothing but snow removal. Or, before a friend from out of town visits, I may feel like I've done little other than clean the house and plan our visit agenda.

Or, when the children were birthed out of my body, I might feel like I'm doing nothing but raise children.

In all of our years together, there has no imbalance of responsibility greater than rearing our kids. In many moments, filled with tears, anger, frustration, and desperation, I have asked (ok, shouted) if, because they came out of my vagina, the children, and all aspects of their lives, are my responsibility. I get how some of it fell to me. I was their food source, so I couldn't ask Andy to breast feed when they were infants. I worked part-time (summers off) for many years so I couldn't ask him to watch the girls for me when he was at work. And, while I've heard that some husbands refuse to change a diaper, Andy was always there to assist with a big poo, bath, and that time when he had to help hold Caroline down so she could get the flu nasal mist. Yet, as the girls get older, 90% of tasks related to their care fall on my to-do list.

And I get tired and pissed about it. I am the one who plans their after school care and arranges for the sitter every time we have a work conflict. I write the lunch checks and the after school plans. I email with the teachers. I make sure the homework is done. I manage the seasonal clothing process. I schedule, and take them to, their hair cuts and their doctor's appointments. I pack their back packs and snacks every day. I do Girls Scouts and horse shows. I manage anything related to Caroline's special supports, both at the school and in the community. Most nights, after a long day in the office, I am home alone, making dinner, (Oh! I cook now!!) plus bath, homework and bedtime alone. They are living and breathing. Wanting and needing. It never stops, day and night. Twenty Four. Seven.

Again, I've heard horror stories that some dudes don't help with any of this-ever. Andy is the bagel maker in the morning. When he is home at night, he always reads to Charlotte. He helps herd the kiddy cats to bath and bed. He (and does a terrible job) makes their beds. If the girls are sick, he takes a day off and watches them just as often as I do. And, lately, with my cajoling, he is responsible for dental appointments- making them and taking them.

I've been at my breaking point so many times that I have pleaded with Andy to help me more with the kids. He argues back that he does help. I argue, in return, that while I understand he is helping, his help comes in touch points or fits and starts. His help with the girls ebbs and flows, it is not regular nor is it continual. It's HELP. He is not the leader of the childcare, a responsibility that often, in my darkest hours, feels like a burden. A burden too hard for me to bear. A burden I'm not good enough or strong enough to shoulder.

There is a difference between being the helper and being the one standing where the buck stops. In an effort to explain this to him, I put it in his terms. I told him that our family is a non-profit and he is the volunteer and I am the staff. A big event is coming up and the volunteer signs up for a slot from 2-4. The staff got to the event at 8 am and leave at 8pm. The next day the staff thank the volunteer with a pancake breakfast, hoping this will lure the volunteer back next year. The staff should feel so lucky to have the volunteer.

I question my parenting abilities daily. I think, did I sign up for this job? Why didn't I know it was a job? Would I have signed up for this job if I'd known it was so hard? I ask myself, where is my pancake breakfast. On my lowest of low parenting days, my fight or flight instinct kicks in and I know I can not fly. So, I fight.

Andy recently shared that, for all the stress I externalize, trying to manage work and home, he, too feels the weight internally. He is engaged in meeting after meeting, traveling, often in crummy conditions at night. He has deadlines to meet. The bills must be paid by a certain date. The house won't be warm if he doesn't fill the pellet stove. No one can go to work if he does not clear the driveway. The house smells like crap if he doesn't clean the litter pans. The list goes on and on. Twenty four. Seven. He reminded me that he does those tasks so I can focus on the girls. I think, when it comes to the kids, he doesn't want to step on my toes or do the wrong thing (aka what I think is wrong.) And, I want to argue that paying bills is not the same as raising two living human beings but I have to respect the fact that every task we each do has it's value.

The division of labor is never even. Responsibility in a marriage is not always equal. Sometimes we give more than we take and other times we take so much because we know the other will not stop giving. We each feel the burden of our responsibility and we take the completion of our own tasks so seriously that we often forget the burden the other carries. From our perspective, the other does it so well, so effortlessly. The other does it best. Why would we interfere? We interfere because it is our responsibility to make it easier for the other. A marriage is a promise to share the burden. We must be willing to divide and conquer and to meet one another half way. While we don't often (or ever) say it, we both appreciate the tasks we accomplish every single day, no matter how big or small.

But, just to be clear: I'm the best parent and Andy is the best kitty litter pan cleaner.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rage Fest

Everyone loves a good festival. There's no better way to excessively celebrate a theme than bringing a group of like-minded individuals together in observance, over a period of time- be it a day, week or even a month. Most of us have been to some sort of festival or carnival of one type or another: religious, harvest, music, movies, food, beer, wine, dance, art, fairies, comic books, etc. If there's something to celebrate, there's likely a festival for it.

I'd say my first festivals were musically focused and I recall being angry that I was a bit too young to go to the revival of the ultimate music festival, Woodstock. In my younger days there was nothing better than an all day and all night celebration of music accompanied by dancing and a massive hang over. Over time I have expanded my festival attendance which is now much broader in nature. As a family, we have enjoyed art festivals in a variety of settings- art by the lake, art in the hills, art in the city. We've felt hungover after kid-centric festivals that include hundreds of screaming children in a gymnasium, bounce houses, cake walks, and cotton candy. We've actually been hungover after the multitude of beer festivals (also known as the bearded men wearing pretzel necklaces festivals) that take place in our cold and dark upstate area every year. We've never missed the annual harvest festival and it's unlikely we are ever going to miss the local fairy festival after participating for the very first time this past summer. And whether or not you call it a nerd convention or festival, Andy relishes attending NYC's ComiCon convention, which I hope to attend one day, as well.

Now, there's one type of festival, or fest, as I like to call it, that I relish over all others. It certainly takes place over a period of time, sometimes a Sunday afternoon, sometimes mornings before school starts, or 7:45 on a Tuesday night, sometimes it lasts for weeks on end, or sometimes as long as it takes to get from point A to point B on a road trip. It can occur in a group setting, like with a bottle of wine being shared by a group of moms or it can be shared by a small group of individuals, for example a family. This fest is different in nature from all others. It's excessive for sure. It's cathartic (to some involved) but it's not what I'd call celebratory in nature. This festival is known as Rage Fest.

Don't confuse this Rage Fest with one I may have attended in my younger years- a music event in Waterloo, which is known for being, "a great community that provides an escape from the drudgery of daily existence and memories for a lifetime."* The Rage Fest of which I speak is brought on by the drudgery of daily existence and unfortunately, for any of us who have had a mom, or been a mom, it does make memories for a lifetime. You have all been to your mom's Rage Fest. For my mom, Rage Fest looked a little like this: she cleaned for 6 hours on a Saturday while we moaned about being bored. Dad watched bowling and moved his body only to lift his legs for her to vacuum under his recliner. Just as she was putting away the vacuum and cleaning supplies into the closet, my brother picked little pieces of brownie, that she'd somehow made that day, and tossed them at her. She picked up the plate and threw all of the brownies at him. He ducked, they hit the wall. She yelled. She screamed. She swore. We laughed. Dad sat. She cried and then we got the silent treatment. Rage Fest.

Andy's mom, bless her heart and soul, being the only woman in her household, had her own way of participating in the mother of all festivals. I understand, from those lifetime of memories Andy has shared, that theirs looked something like this: his mom would clean the house, go grocery shopping, cook all day and then allow the boys to invite friends over. The boys thought it was a good idea to make a ball out of silly string, cover it in "vampire blood" and throw it down the stairs onto the carpet. Who would have thought Rage Fest would ensue when his mom asked them to clean up the mess and Andy sprayed Tilex on the carpet, leaving a big bleach stain for eternity. She yelled, she screamed and then she took to the typewriter and, on formal resume paper, she declared that she was on strike: she was no longer their servant, their maid, their personal chef and laundress. Rage Fest.

My family attends my Rage Fest weekly, or as Andy suggests, daily. I do the laundry, fold it, stack it and place it on the dryer to be put away. Kids pull a pair of pants from the bottom of the stack and leave the clothes in an un-folded pile on the floor. Rage Fest. I get up at 5:30 and feed the pets, get snacks ready, get school folders packed and ask the kids to get up over and over and over and over. Andy checks his email and hides in the bathroom. I give a 15 minute, 10 minute, 5 minute and 1 minute warning for the bus. The bus rolls up. My family stands in the living room, still putting on coats, hats, mittens, etc. The bus rolls away. Rage Fest. I work all day and don't take my coat off before starting to cook dinner. I help kids with homework and baths, wash dishes and read them stories. Andy walks in at 8 pm and insists I come smell the dog who he thinks has been sprayed by a skunk. He urges me to step outside and then come in to smell the "foul odor" that is the skunk spray. I walk outside. I walk back in. I tell him it's the fish I made for dinner. Rage Fest.

This is the tough side of Rage Fest that nobody enjoys. No mom wants to go on strike. No mom wants to fold laundry to see it fall on the floor. No mom wants to bake brownies to then throw them at the wall. No mom wants to protest for their rights to be treated as a human being and not a human vacuum. But rage is a fury. Rage is a frenzy. Rage is an emotional response to fight or flight and how many moms have been standing in the grocery store and, in what seems like slow-motion, watch their children knock over a display of cans and want to either scream and yell or run far, far, away? As moms, we have all come face-to-face with rage.

Remember, a festival is a happy coming together of like minded people to mark a special occasion or celebrate a mutual interest. There is another type of Rage Fest for moms and it's better than any other festival I have ever attended. The very best rage fest does not occur when I am in fight or flight mode with my family. The very best of all Rage Fests occurs with a group of other moms, preferably with wine in hand. During this Rage Fest, we collectively take stock, bear witness, give an amen, and exchange battle stories. Like the art festival, Rage Fests are geographically diverse. We can rage by the lake or rage in the hills. We rage in the city. It only takes two to organize the festival and it can go on for minutes, hours, or days thanks to instant messenger and texting. To outsiders, it may seem scary, dangerous, dark and mysterious. (a la Burning Man) At the end of the day, Rage Fest is a coming together to mark the season of motherhood, a time that is as rewarding as it is challenging, as fleeting as it laggard. For moms, it is a festival not to be missed and for families, a festival that can't be avoided.

*http://www.news-gazette.com/blogs/musicology/2016-06/ragefest-2016.html (Learn about the music Rage Fest here.)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Go Ask Alice ... About Her Bathroom Time

I wrote one of my college entrance essays about the bathroom. The prompt was, "Where is your favorite place?" On lined paper, in blue ink (I know, I'm that old, and my parents didn't buy us one of those giant word processors that some of you had then.)I wrote about how the single bathroom at our house, shared at the time by two teens and two adults, was my sanctuary. After a long and arduous day carting a 20 pound back pack up and down the high school halls, studying for pig anatomy tests, preparing presentations on the aorta (which I pronounced ahhhh-orta?)and conjugating Spanish verbs, I returned home and made a bee line for the bathroom. There, I would shed the angstful worries of a teen's day, load the tub with hot water, sprinkle in some Calgon, light a candle and read until my fingers and toes wrinkled into prunes.

My parents' bathroom, like all other parts of their house, is tiny. As an adult, the sink rises only to my upper thigh. You are really practicing your squats when you sit on the toilet which feels as though it was made for a child. When I started dating Andy, Mom and Dad bought a fancy, bendy shower head so the spray hit his head and not his chest. Everywhere you go in my parents' house, you can hear someone else doing something else. Like, when I was in my room in the morning, I could hear my Dad stirring sugar into his coffee, then slurping it to taste. (The beginning of my misophonia problems...)We all played different music on our boom boxes and would yell at the others to turn down their tunes in favor of ours. The so-called "little room" in the house is just big enough for a chair and we all fought for time in the little room, even though it had no door, because no one else could go in there with us.

As a teen in my parents' home, whispers sounded like shouting, foot steps like thunder, walls closed in on me and I often felt as though I was Alice who had taken a pill and fallen down a hole. Before I knew it, I was ten feet tall and everything else was teeny tiny.

Yet, while the house is small, it is sparkling clean. One really, truly can eat off of the floor at my parents' house. Even when we were kids, my mom dedicated hours to cleaning, finding her peace of mind in the hum of the Electrolux. As a teen, I took comfort in the combination scent of bleach and bath salt and the way that the water flowing blocked the rest of the sounds of a full house. I was not the only one who took refuge in the tub. Both my mom and my brother took to the tile-walled room to soak and relax, finding quiet in a few uninterrupted moments.

Except, we all could pick the lock. And there was only one toilet in the house and one place to brush one's teeth or comb one's hair. People had places to go, people to see, glasses of cold water to throw over the shower curtain onto the naked bather reading a book, or in my Mom's case, smoking a cigarette. Plus, even though it was suffocating at times, we all were so used to being together, it felt odd to be alone. So, when my Mom was in the tub, she'd close the curtain, and like confession, my brother and I would squish ourselves, cross legged, between the tub and the wall, stare at the curtain and tell Mom about our days, share our worries or ask her to name a noun, adverb or verb ending in -ing to complete the funniest Mad Lib story of all time. I grew accustomed to leaving the door open when using the bathroom, straining my head around the wall blocking one's body from view, to shout out whatever story I'd been sharing and just couldn't wait to finish.

This was my normal and as many of you know, my normal is of a different variety. Ask my college friends and roommates who had to get used to me walking around naked, taking a bath in the shared bathroom, (they threw grapes at me from the other side of the door) or asking if they wanted to continue a conversation while I peed. Needless to say, being out of the Goshen Tiny Home, and co-habitating with non-family took some time to adjust to. The bathroom is an intimate space and sharing that space with others means you get to know personal things about them. Like whether they practice good hygiene. Like whether they leave toothpaste or hairs in the sink, or whether or not they can plunge a toilet.

Now, Andy doesn't remember the topic of his college entrance essays but he is pretty sure it was not about the bathroom. However, in the 15 years that I have shared a home, and a bathroom, with this man, I am most certain that it, too, is his sanctuary. Yet, unlike my family, Andy is not loading the bathtub with Calgon and reading a book to quiet his mind. He NEVER EVER invites others to join him in his bathroom time, say to partake in Mad Libs or a confessional-like conversation. After most outings together, after every arrival home from work, or on a Saturday morning when I go for a run and he is alone with the girls, Andy bee lines to the bathroom, shuts the door, locks it, and doesn't come out- for a very long time. When we were first living together, I'd try to follow him into the bathroom, or talk to him through the door, but I learned quickly that was frowned upon. Knowing what I'm doing in the bathroom, but not knowing what he was doing, seemed a bit of a mystery to me. Because I am the prying-type, I'd ask him what he was doing and I'd get no reply. I've learned over time that, with Andy, "What happens in the Bathroom, Stays in the Bathroom." I am most certain that, like my 16 year old self, Andy feels, as the only man in the house, the only person with any desire for privacy in our house, that he, too is Alice who has taken a pill, fallen down a hole, and is ten feet tall in a tiny, unfamiliar world. Ironically, the only space in the house in which he doesn't feel suffocated by demanding, loud women, is the smallest room of all.

Luckily, we have two bathrooms, so Andy can spend all day in one bathroom, while the three women of the house can enjoy our bathroom rituals in our own time and in our own space. And yes, I miss him while he is away- in the bathroom- but I respect his need for alone time. And yes, despite my efforts to bathe in peace nowadays, my bathroom door is always unlocked and open for little visitors. And yes, when I am home, I always squish my body between the shower curtain and the wall to catch up with my mom while she takes a bath.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Faith and Prayer

I'm not a God person or a Jesus person. I don't go to church. I don't pray. I don't find solace in a higher power or through the act of prayer. I've never felt that good things come from "leaving it in God's hands" or by requesting prayer warriors join me in sending good thoughts into the universe. It's not for lack of trying. As a kid, I went to church every week with my mom. I baptized the kids. I've read Bible verses and listened to others share their opinion on faith. I've knelt on the ground and tried to ask God for forgiveness and for hope. Unlike others, whom I have envied, God has not spoken to me. I have found no value in prayer. It has brought me no comfort. I would prefer to meditate, write, or talk things through with a friend. Rather than ask others to pray, I prefer to ask for help, to ask someone to listen, or to bear witness.

Like I said, this is not for lack of trying. I've wanted to find faith and I've wanted to be comforted. I have anxiety in general and, in particular, about death, so knowing I am going to be cradled in God's arms and enter the pearly gates sounds great! Finding strength in a prayer circle- sign me up! Except, we can't be who we are not, and so, I have accepted me for me and I have come to terms with the fact that organized religion and prayer is not for me.

Until today. Today, I started to pray.

Over the summer, I made a comment to a very wise woman (you know who you are; I'll keep your identity secret here since you are an introvert) about my annoyance with prayer warrior comments. She reminded me why people pray. She reminded me that anyone can pray, no matter your race, or religion or socio-economic status. She reminded me that when your cup is drained, and your turned out pockets turn up nothing, and your heart is broken you can still have hope and that hope can come in the form of prayer.

I woke up this morning and I prayed. Well, first I cried- a ton. And I turned to my community for support and to listen and to be heard. But, I also prayed. I pray for peace and I pray for love and I pray that dark days are not ahead. I pray that this wake up call mobilizes us to act and do so with vigor and with passion and intent. I ask all of you prayer warriors to get on your knees and do all you can to find it within your (bleeding liberal or otherwise) heart to forgive those who feel so angry and alone and alienated that they chose a candidate who openly hates others, a candidate who promised a wall to keep out those who look to our country for freedom and hope just as our families once did, a candidate who promotes violence against women; a candidate who intimidates and bullies; a candidate who promises things that I fear he might deliver. Today, my cup feels drained and I look for hope and so I pray. Perhaps this challenging (I really mean terrible) turn of events is the catalyst I needed in order to see that my faith is right in front of me.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Cure for a Neurotic Person: Children

I have a rigid personality. This fact is not new to me. I like things to go as planned. I do not like change. I am steel. I am ceramic. It all started in fifth grade when family friends asked me to go away with them for a week's vacation. I missed school and returned to find that the desks had been reconfigured. When I walked in, my little flip top desk had been moved across the room from where I left it, positioned in a pod with three different classmates. While there were only about sixteen students in the class, and my previous podmates were scattered just feet away from me, I felt lonely and afraid. I'd come to trust seeing their faces each day and took comfort in the routine of working alongside these three particular students. I had butterflies in my stomach and choked back tears that morning until recess. I pulled my Juicy Juice pouch and butterscotch Fruit Roll Up from my lunch bag and I will never, ever forget how it tasted and how I threw it, limply and unwanted, into the metal trash basket after my teacher refused to switch all of the seats back to their previous configuration. At the time, I did not see my request as ridiculous and, remember, this was the 80's. My teacher did not kneel down at my level, put her hand comfortingly on my shoulder, and share that she understood how I was feeling but rules are rules and, in time, I'd learn that my three new pod mates were just as fun and nice as the old ones. She didn't send a note home to my mom about how I'd had a hard day and cried quietly to myself for 8 hours. She just said no and to stop being a baby and to go out to recess.

As you can see, I've never recovered from that fifth grade moment and go back to it regularly when I consider my general inflexibility and anxiety. I feel most comfortable, and comforted, when I know what to expect. If only that silly teacher had told me before my vacation that my pod was going to be switched, I could have returned prepared! I likely would have imagined the pod configuration in my head, planned small talk with my podmates, ("Oh, what kind of Little Debbie did you bring today? I brought Star Crunch!"), considered the way the light would fall upon my desk during reading circles, and planned how many steps it would take to get to the rug for story time. Sure, make fun of me. There are so many super people out there who agree with me:

"Organize. Don't agonize."-Nancy Pelosi

“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.” -Oprah Winfrey

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” -Benjamin Franklin

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” ― Abraham Lincoln

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

That's it, Ben Franklin, you summed it up for me. Lack of preparation is failure and I do not want to fail. In addition to being rigid I am also competitive. No, not like star athlete, valedictorian competitive, but like intramural Dodgeball champ, family reunion balloon toss winner, finish 3rd in a road race of 7 people competitive. Whatever task is at hand for me to accomplish, I want to do it as best as I possibly can and if I end up on the top, I feel pretty good about it.

So, thanks to these awesome personality traits, my feathers get ruffled all of the time. If I have plans to hang out with a friend and the friend bails at the last minute, I get frazzled. If I want to go for a hike and it rains, I get upset. Need to send off an email and the internet goes down- watch out. Running a race with me and you fall into my pace group? I'm not going to say that I may not elbow you or spit in your general direction.

It's at about this point in time when you are wondering how someone so neurotic is surviving parenthood. Being a mom or dad is the antithesis of rigidity, organization, planning and perfection. My blood pressure sky rockets on the days when I get to work and then get the "your kid just puked in her lap" call. I have cried when all I want is a date night and the sitter cancels and all I get is the honor of cleaning a turd out of the bath tub.

Anyone who is a parent knows that you lose control as soon as you conceive and definitely as soon as your bundle arrives to your arms and care. I've been a mom now for ten years and I'm not going to lie. Every day is an upward battle; a battle to let go of expectations, competition, control, anger, desperation, resentment, fear, loathing, exasperation and instead embrace exhaustion, patience, flexibility, acceptance, kindness, love and hope. Now, I'm not a God person but I do believe that the universe speaks to us if we choose to listen.

The universe spoke to me 10 years ago on a cold, Upstate October night. The universe gave me a gift. The universe stopped me in my neurotic tracks. I'm not sure I understood the full magnitude at the time but, in the years to come, I learned that the universe saved me. The universe gave me Caroline.

Who would I be if I was not Caroline's mom? I don't think about this too often because I'm too busy being Caroline's mom (and let's not forget Char's too). It scares me to think about me being the mom of someone else. Would I be the mom, standing on the sidelines yelling to my kid about making the winning game goal? Would I be the mom insisting my daughter wear a matching hair ribbon with her outfit for picture day? Would I be the mom hyper tuned in to the friend dynamics in her daughter's classroom? Would I be the mom who poured over homework and pounded spelling words into her kid's brain to change last week's 90% to a 102%? Would I be forcing her to engage in bazillions of after school activities? I'm not saying that partaking in any of this is bad necessarily, but my rigidity, competitiveness and anxiety could easily make me an over-the-top mom.

Being Caroline's mom means putting most of that behavior aside. I've never stressed over her getting a 100% on a spelling test. I could give a shit about the standardized state tests as long as she isn't nervous about taking them. I know she isn't the most popular girl in class and she doesn't get invited to every birthday party. She's never scored the winning goal and she isn't a musical protégé. She's not climbing mountains. At least not physical ones.

I watch Caroline climb mountains every day and, over the last ten years, I've watched her blossom into her own unique and special person. Sure, when she was younger, I felt sad because she wasn't advancing at the same rate as other kids and I felt isolated because our daily challenges were different than the daily challenges of our peer parents and their children. Caroline reminds me every day that we may not get what we planned for and that we can't control everything in our lives. She reminds me that there's more to being a kid than wearing cute matching outfits, having a gaggle of girlfriends and being the best over others. Caroline reminds me not to be competitive but instead to just be.

I can't be rigid with Caroline. I have to be flexible, pliable and strong. I can 't be steel. I am her graphene.Every day with Caroline is a new configuration of desk pods and I have learned to greet each configuration with patience and understanding and I refuse to let a change of plans ruin my butterscotch fruit snack. So Ben, Oprah, Abe, and Nancy, meet Gilda, Tori, Yvonne and Metropilitan Nikolaos:

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the movement and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” –Gilda Radner

Some of the most wonderful people are those who don't fit into boxes." -Tori Amos

“Often people ask, "How can you say you're blessed to have a son with Down syndrome?" My outlook on life has forever changed. I see my own challenges differently. He's always showing me that life is so much bigger than self.” ― Yvonne Pierre, The Day My Soul Cried: A Memoir

“Each child with special needs such as this does not come into the world in order to make our lives difficult and make us suffer. They each come into this world for a reason and have their secret inner voice. It remains to us to offer our love; to 'bear one another's burdens'; to experience a collective humbling — to realize, that is, that we are not as powerful and important as we think; and to try to lighten that person's burden and understand their language. These children are better at speaking the language of God.” ― Metropolitan Nikolaos of MesogaiaM

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Our Teen Marriage

Tomorrow is our 12th anniversary but we have been together since September 2011. If you do the math, our relationship is 15 years old. That's right, our relationship is a teenager. We've passed the cute goo goo gah gah of infancy. Our baby marriage shit its pants over and over and we've had to clean up its explosive blow outs. Our infant relationship was needy and we were very dependent on the other. Back then we always had to be held and we co-slept. Our baby relationship needed the bottle as much as the breast and sucked its thumb for comfort. The first stage of our relationship was all about the basics and immediacy and survival.

We fell and picked ourselves up as relationship toddlers. This couple has thrown themselves on the floor and tantrummed like preschoolers. We've had many growing pains. We've grown and stretched and grown some more. Somewhere around 2010, the relationship lost its chubby baby fat. We learned the A,B, C's and 1,2,3's of marriage. We learned to read one another. We gained more independence and could go for longer periods of time apart without missing the other so much. Our school-aged marriage learned something new every day and it seemed like every day required something else for us to learn. We mastered the relationship building blocks needed for future marital success. All of our energy was spent on building the marriage ,and the family, and we went to bed exhausted and often dirty because we forgot to take care of ourselves or it didn't seem to matter as much at that time.

Then, we became pre-teens and we felt ugly and awkward. Things changed so fast while nothing changed fast enough. The past was forever ago and the future couldn't come soon enough. Our relationship's voice got deeper and the shape of our relationship changed, and changed, and changed again. We'd go to bed thinking one thing about us and wake up thinking the exact opposite. We realized there were people that now expected things from this relationship. We knew this marriage was about more than just us. We had a purpose. Our marriage wasn't just play anymore and the work seemed harder, more complex and at times, too complicated or overwhelming.

Now, as we honor the teen years, we feel more assured in our relationship. We don't feel pressured by peers whose relationships glow and sparkle on social media, because we know better. We know who we are and we are true to it. We celebrate our unique relationship. Like most teens, this relationship needs time alone. Away from family. Away from kids. Sometimes, we just want time alone from each other. Our relationship is excited and it's scared. We love watching our children grow into themselves and we are sad that they have grown so fast. We are not new parents. This relationship is not new. This relationship can get zitty and its emotions are like a roller coaster. "I hate you. I love you. I hate that I love you." This relationship gets depressed and isn't always sure why. Sometimes this marriage feels like a cloud and sometimes this marriage feels like we're walking on a cloud. This marriage is combative and argumentative and sometimes rebellious-"I will not empty the trash today even though I know he hates that." "I'm going to buy that shirt and not even hide it for a week before I wear it!"

This relationship is no longer fresh and soft and new. It is hardening and maturing and solidifying. We're not cute but there's something powerful in how we have grown. How much stronger we are; more confident and aware. The shape and outline of this marriage show it is aging. We're edgy and liberated and starting to tune into the world around us not just to our own little life bubble. At this stage of our relationship we have wisdom to share, experience under our belts, and we can fall fast asleep without the other at our side. We have no issue sleeping alone in our big girl/big boy bed -or alone on the couch. This couple is not afraid of the dark.

What will the next five years bring to us, I wonder. My twenties were a shambles. The decade of highs and lows and self-loathing and second guessing. I'm assuming that our marriage may feel similarly, mostly because at year 20 of this relationship, we will be the parents of one 15 and one 11 year old girl. I'm pretty certain most parents experience a great deal of self loathing and doubt while parenting teens. Yet, our 20th year of love will likely also be monumental. For all of the hardship I experienced in my twenties, I also found joy- joy in finding a person to spend my life with, joy in giving life to two children, and joy in being a mother and wife. I didn't realize it at the time, but when I was twenty, the world was my oyster and I had my whole life ahead of me. What had come before was merely the brief beginning of a long, wonderful, hard, challenging, exhilarating journey. Will our twenty-something relationship look back and see that our past two decades together were just a blip in time, the foundation for adventures and better days ahead? I suppose only time will tell.