What I Like About You…

A few years ago, on a hazy golden afternoon, I looked at my husband with nothing but love, and said, “I adore you.” Without missing a beat, he coolly replied, “Adore Jesus. Love me.” And that was that. Never again, have I uttered those words to him. Except to occasionally replay the conversation, as if laughing about it now, will take some of the sting out of it then. Like a pinch of white pepper, I throw those words sparingly into the mundane soup pot that is our life. “Adore Jesus.” I say, with as much snark and arrogance as possible. Sometimes, my husband laughs, then says, “Man, what jerk said that?” And then I chuckle, filled with relief that he agrees with me. But also out of desperation to cover my rejection with a salve. Forgiveness at my house frequently sounds more like nervous laughter than cleansing tears.

Luckily, my life is filled, filled, to the brim, running over the sides, and pooling at my feet, with people who are worth adoring. People whom I greatly admire, and hold, not just in esteem, but in my heart. These people make me a better person, in the same way that Pinterest makes me a more creative mom. Like, oh my gosh, so that’s how you do that, whoa, I didn’t even know that was possible, ways.

In the forest of life, I feel grateful to be surrounded by such greenery of health and strength. Women who are brave and vulnerable, who use their voice and listen to others. Women whose hands are caked with the mud of trying to build something lasting. Who do not waste time, and who don’t get enough sleep, who wear out pairs of shoes comforting children and doing the mommy sway. Women who encourage other women, and lift each other up. Women who are real, and alive, and who know how to love.  Those women, are my favorite.

Like Keilani, my very best friend. She is real and raw, and filled with courage. I call her Free Therapy because she talks to strangers, all strangers, like she has known them for years. She tells our waiters things that most people hold back until their fifth session of counseling. And she listens. She really hears the Me under the things I am saying. I can say, “I hate him.” And she’ll reply, “I’m sorry. I know that it hurts to love someone that much. I know you’re disappointed. I’m on my way over.” She is telepathic in a way that only people who are great at loving can be. She knows the real me, and still loves me with a fierceness that I never have to question. She always believes in me. Even when I have been rain gutter low, she sees the best in me, and doesn’t stop looking until she finds what she was looking for. She is my personal Pollyanna, without the broken legs. She is the prism that I hold to the light, when I have lost my way. Being her friend feels like following a path lit by 10,000 Chinese lanterns. She fills my life with adventure, encouragement, and unspeakable beauty.

And then, there is Jen. Such a short name, for so much person. She is lovely and kind. She is the treasurer to my darkest sides. She has this way of making everything better, just by being my friend. When I first met her, I thought, oh, she’s new here, I can help. But have now spent about a year and a half learning how it feels to be loved. Jen is the kind of human who calls everything out. She is passionate and talented, and fiercely loyal. She speaks the truth and expects it of others. She challenges my beliefs and doesn’t mince words. She brings care packages when my kids are sick, for me, not them, knowing that’s the part I wouldn’t have done. She meets me at the park, with iced coffee, then walks for two miles up and around, spilling uncoated truths on the concrete ground. When we became friends, we skipped forward several years, there was not a lot of weather chatting, and there still isn’t. I find her company, as well as her honesty, quite refreshing. Which is a huge understatement.

I have a Krysann who reminds me of all the world’s beauty. A friend and fellow writer, whose soul echoes my own, and whose life cuts the guile out of me, so gently that I find I don’t miss it when it’s gone. She is humble and generous, kind and giving. She sparkles with Special, in a way I can’t word right. She is a sun finder. If you put her in a dark room, she’ll be the first to turn the light on. She is like looking into a mirror and always seeing the very best you. She is the Jacob’s Ladder, among a sky filled with clouds. She can’t help it, light just radiates through her. Against the world’s cruelty, she wages a war of hand written kindness. She is clothed with sunflowers, where others wear bitterness.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that there are too many others for me to do justice to them. There are the people I look forward to at my children’s school. The Kristina’s, and Patty’s, the Jill’s and the Hilary’s. People who I admire, albeit from afar, who live authentic lives, and do a great job. Women who are doing their very best, and raising children who add goodness to this earth. These women are real, and beautiful. They dare to love and encourage. On days where my feet are cemented in Mommy Muck, I so appreciate the ways they smile and offer conversation like a lifesaver, to help me out of the mud.

I have my writing group, who I’ll write about later, because there is not time to say how much they mean to me. Nine other women, who I admire so much. My words are too feeble to encapsulate all that I owe to them.

There are friends at work, at church, and at home. My GBF in Portland, (that’s Gay Best Friend, for those who don’t know). My Jay, who I love, love, love, love, love. Who teaches me to enjoy life, and to laugh, and go on.

There are people around me, who help me stand up straighter, who remake my brokenness into something better. That is what and who, (or whom?,) I admire. The people who risk, the people who give. The people in my life who don’t bow or shrivel to the howl of the wind. The ones that speak life, and do the hard things, only to wake up the next day, and do it all again. The real super heroes, are the people who love. So, maybe my husband was onto something, after all. Because the people I adore, are the ones who lay their lives down. Those who don’t strive for power, but wear an unseen crown.


Mothers, Teach Your Children

Mothers, teach your children.

Show them in big ways and in small, the intricacies of life, and love, and how to go on. Teach them strength and dignity, and kindness and respect. Train them to know the difference between being polite and the importance of being safe. Raise sons who respect women, starting with little girls. Raise daughters who expect honor, and who show honor in return. They will learn quickly how to treat others different from them, they will have heard the things you say, in the car and at home when you didn’t know they were listening.

Guard your mouths, and in doing so, guard the hearts of those who trust you. Tuck them in at night with gusto, as if you might not wake up the next morning. Read to them, daily. Read with different accents and tone, with silliness, opening the window to their imaginations wide, as if your voice alone was summoning the sunshine. Sing. Sing off-key, or hum, but sing to your babies, all the same. Children do not notice when they are out of tune, they extend this same grace to you. Sing at night, and in the morning, sing your instructions when you have told them a million times that same day, and they act like they haven’t heard you. Singing keeps you from yelling, and helps you remember your best self. Be her. Or him. You won’t regret it. And neither will they.

Teach your children how to wait. Let them know that things have value. Put down your smart phone in line, and strike up conversation. Ask your children questions, then really hear their answers. They will teach you more than you were expecting, and their insights won’t be this earnest forever. Listen. Teach them how to peel an orange. The world is full of sharp edges, and short cuts. There is a time and a place for orange slices, but teach them how to peel. Show them how the value in unearthing treasure, that the sweetest part comes after you peel back layers. Teach them that separation can happen without bruising, without cutting things apart, without losing the bits that are juiciest. Teach them, no, help them learn for themselves, that the work of things is wrapped up in its enjoyment.

Mothers, teach your sons that no means love. That no means stop, no matter what. Teach them to value themselves and others enough to exercise restraint. Not because if they don’t it could wind up on the internet, but because it is right, by everyone.

Train them to love justice, to plant seeds of truth, and to water those seeds with mercy. Tell your daughters that they are enough, and give them praise when they do things themselves. Teach your children to clean, both boys and girls, and how to change tires, and run a house. Find what your children are good at, and help them get better. Tell them you love them, and make sure they know your meaning it is unconditional.

Train your children to know that we are all in this together. That we the people is bigger than one person. But also that they matter, that we all hinge on each other. Teach them to travel. Expand their horizons, show them what is possible, and also those that are lacking. Let them see the world, from under the safety of your shadow, then let them rediscover its people and places on their own when they are older.

Fathers, hold your daughters. The time will come far too soon, when other arms will be waiting, empty, wanting for your sweet no-longer-babies to fill them. Hold them now, and fill them with hope. Hear them out, while there is time to talk. Build your children, sons and daughters, into something substantial, something not easily broken. Tell them their worth, remind them of it daily, make it part of their story, that will not be easily taken away.

Teach them to work, and to value hard labor. Make college the standard. Encourage their dreams, while giving them direction. Point out hard work, and praise quality service. Show them what people do right, and they will understand what is less than, without your having to tell them.

Be silly, and goofy. Tell jokes that you can’t finish because you are laughing too hard. Live freely in the moment, and you will give them things that you cannot buy. That said, do not be for sale. Make sure that you are getting the best value for your time. You only get 18 Christmases, 18 Thanksgivings, before your babies go to college. Don’t waste a moment of those days. Or any other, if you can help it.

Remember you chose this. Show gratitude. I know the pay is nothing, and the hours are long. I know, I know, that this is so very hard. But there are a thousand couples sitting at home with empty arms, just wishing they could be in your comfort soled shoes. Be grateful. Even if it’s the last thing you do.


Lost Scarves

Last night, one of my twins came to me crying. I was standing in the kitchen, putting together the last bits of our family’s dinner. “Mommy,” she said, all chin quivers and big hazel eyes. “I’m so sorry for you.” Then, as tears streamed down her freckled eight year old face, she explained that she had been thinking about it a lot, and was so sad for me that when I was driving the wind took my scarf. She said that she loves me and couldn’t replace it, and knows that I lost something important to me.

This girl. She has a way of catching me off guard. She, and her sister, have been surprising me ever since two pink lines showed up on the stick in my bathroom. Three weeks to the day after that, they surprised me again during what I thought would be a routine ultrasound. “There’s your first baby,” the tech said. And before I could argue out loud that my first baby was at home being babysat for this appointment, she said, “And there is your second baby.” While pointing to two fast heartbeats.

She is a game changer. She is more than I expected. And still, continues to be more than I would have thought of.

I had just been talking to a group of some of my favorite women the night before, as we sat outside on patio furniture. We had shared our writings and our souls, and also plates of appetizers. One of the things that had come up in conversation was how our children are so sensitive. That they talk about things that happen to movie characters, even days after the movie has ended. After we saw Finding Dory, my own daughter had wept with grief at the thought of Dory being alone for so long, and having been separated from her parents. For days she spoke about this, processing, until finally knitting together a silver lining, a daisy chain of at least’s, to give herself, and Dory, some closure.

Now, my attention went from chopping vegetables, to focusing on my crying daughter.

It happened three weeks ago, the event she was talking about. I was driving home on the interstate, windows down. My minivan was bursting at the seams with tired, cranky children. I despise driving outside of the city after dark, and so we were racing the sun, blurring past green fields and amber skies, to see whether we or it, would be the first to find ourselves home.

I had tied my grandmother’s scarf around my head. Not because I think that I am Audrey, or Katherine, Hepburn, but because of the wind. And also because I am growing my hair out, and it was whipping around, a million stringy soldiers, warring against my vision. For weeks I had been thinking about my grandmother. Just, you know, missing her. Feeling the void of her absence, aching that I can no longer share my life with her.

I had brought that scarf out of town with me, because it had been hers, and so felt like she was with me. It was a remnant of her fashionable life in Upper Manhattan. Part of what I had inherited when her mind and body were overcome by cancer and dementia, two and a half years ago. A slew of designer scarves, all ready to wrap around me, though I can no longer wrap my arms around her.

Somehow, the wind untied the bow that I had secured at the base of my head. And suddenly, as if on a movie, the scarf freed itself, and flew out the passenger side window. I reached out to grab it, and missed. Then watched in surprise from the rearview mirrors as it hovered, completely unfurled, in mid air, swaying like a giant ribbon, above the car behind me.

In that moment, I felt her loss profoundly. But also, something strange. I felt sad, but more peaceful, driving on. My mind replaying how the scarf danced, caught up in the wind of the traveler’s speed.  I thought of how the wind had undone what I had so carefully constructed, how it had taken something that so mattered to me. But also how it had held it, suspended and safe, the last time I saw it. And I said, aloud, “Oh, hi, Grandma.”

I’ll tell you now, just as I told my daughter, I am okay. Whenever life doesn’t turn out like I planned, something else falls into place. Even when things go away, they have a way of rising back up again. And I have what matters, my children, our family, and my friends. All of my needs are met. We live in abundance, my children and I. I still have more scarves, but maybe I needed a reminder to let things go, and dance again.

Bucket List

Spoiler alert: I don’t have a bucket list. Which is kind of ridiculous, considering how many lists I actually do have. My life often looks like an array of spreadsheets and hand written goals. To-Do lists, budgets, and packing lists all compete with grocery lists on a daily basis.  There are always more To Do’s than there are Have Done’s.

How I love the feeling of crossing things off as completed. The feeling of a pen in my hand, easing with smooth finality across my own handwritten conquests, is unparalleled. Sometimes I, too, add things that I accomplished earlier in the day, only to feel the satisfaction of another thing finished. Even if it will be undone by the five little loves of my life, any moment.

Still, when I sit down and try to think about what it is that I really want to accomplish on my giant to-do list, my last ever, this is your life list, several things bubble up to the surface. My children, and a million things concerning them, are first and foremost what I think of. But then, something deeper, if that’s possible, comes forward. Something that has been rooted in me, and ruminating in me, since grade school.

I want to make a difference. It sounds cliché, and corny, and old hat. And I know all of that. But it doesn’t make it any less true. I want to make life better, for my family, my friends, and for strangers. I don’t know if I will be lucky enough to do something grand, something worth writing about on the first or second page of newspapers. But notoriety is not what matters to me. Having true things that are admirable, and lovely, and just a bit noble, said about me in my obituary, that matters a great deal. Even posthumously.

I want to make my little corner of this world brighter. I want to burn in a way that drives the darkness from children’s eyes, while lighting their own candles with hope, until they have what it takes to wax strongly. I want to stay around long enough to see my own children Become. To stand against the night, hearts and lives alight with purpose, and glowing warmly with kindness.

I want to sweep the dross away from tired mothers. To be a voice that speaks truth to those trapped in the muck of everyday Mommying. One who says Well Done, enough times to drown out some of the You Aren’t Good Enough’s. Because there are so many shamers, aren’t there, especially inside of us? We all know that our babies are worth it. Worth the sacrifice, and the ill-fitting clothes, the lack of free time, and everything else that we give up. But so are you. So are the Moms. There is no substitute for these overlooked women. Women who are every day, tirelessly and selflessly shaping the future of our world. And someone has to say it, don’t they?

I want to remind people about beauty. To show them the loveliness inside of them and their community that they may be overlooking. You know how you don’t notice how many things are out of place in your home, until a new acquaintance comes over? I want to do the opposite of that. I want the people around me to see with new eyes all of the things that are good, and right, and just as they should be.

I want to bring healing to the broken. To give a voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves. I want to stoke the embers of children’s imaginations and help them to believe again. I want to smile at the cranky checker who looks at my cart begrudgingly. To make her laugh, as she scans my items, and help her forget the ache in her feet. Even if just for a moment.

I want the earth to be different, because I walked on it gently. Not because I crushed it. But because I helped build something. Something that will outlive me.

No, I don’t have a bucket list. But I do have hope, and these two hands. And with everything in me, I want that to be enough.