The Getaway Blues…

It has taken most of the last 39 hours for me to relax. And while I am pretty peaceful person, that’s saying something. Though what it’s saying, I’m not sure.

This is the weekend that I have been looking forward to for weeks. It has been planned for, packed for, and paid for. My husband is spending the mornings of each day this weekend performing Christmas carols and playing guitar, at one of my favorite nice restaurants, while children get a free brunch, and meet Santa Claus. All the proceeds go to The Salvation Army Food Bank, which makes the air crackle with good cause and holiday cheer.

While I have “helped” by maintaining the children and household without a second set of hands for the last several weeks of rehearsals, I am now officially off duty.

It is the kind of thing I find myself daydreaming about in between shuttling my five amazing children to activities and errands, homeschooling, cleaning house, and cooking. A whole weekend. Away.

Nothing to do but rest, write, and read more than a paragraph or two before succumbing to sleep. Oh, and spend time with my husband when he isn’t performing. Maybe even eat a few meals where people serve me, and the only food I cut up is my own. While it’s still hot, even. Dear Diary…

In one daydream, I managed to squeeze in a massage, hair appointment, and pedicure, all before my husband’s five hour performance was through. Then, the new and vastly improved me made it back to cheer him on adoringly, before raising my perfectly portioned pink champagne mimosa in toast.

A girl can dream, right?

But, it turns out, that’s all it was.

I mean, I’m here. We’re here. My husband is once again clad in a crisp new button down, a red velvet jacket, and a Santa hat. A look that caused several children yesterday to question if he actually is the real Santa. Perhaps, if Santa shaved and stayed on the Keto Diet for a few years, he would resemble my husband. While I seem to resemble the classic Mrs. Claus more everyday, without actually trying.

Was it sweet, to watch little girls in Christmas dresses dance while my husband played a rousing rendition of Frosty the Snowman? Yes, it was. Will I always remember the way their curled hair bobbed up and down, adorned by bright red bows, their mothers straining to capture the cuteness with their iPhones? I hope so. Did I go get any of the aforementioned treatments done? No, I did not.

The only time I left the hotel was to stop by a clothing sale for my children. I spent most of my time in the store on the phone actually speaking with my children, and all of my time in the store missing my children.

From the moment I got to the hotel, I have thought of little else. A heated pool in December? My kids would love this! Polar Express on AMC? One of their favorites. Even though we own it. Even though we watched it last week, while drinking hot chocolate at just the right scene.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever wished for something, and then gotten it, only to realize that it isn’t what you really wanted? That you already have what you really, truly want?

I have, and not just this weekend, but also this weekend.

It’s nice to stay in a suite. It’s amazing to have a queen bed all to myself when I want it, be the meat sandwiched between layers of down, softer than white bread. To have the ability to choose not to set an alarm in the morning. To have the time to hypothetically do all the things I usually don’t prioritize. Two hot showers a day, unbalanced food groupings, the ability to scroll through social media without thinking of the example I am setting. An exercise room I don’t have to drive to.

But, you know, none of that is all it’s cracked up to be. And none of it can beat what I have at home. Okay, except for the down. So. Much. Down. I feel like the princess and the pea. Only, without the pea. My five year old little sweet pea, who crawls into my bed every night, because she needs part of her (usually her feet), to be touching me (usually my spine).

It’s a heck of a tight rope we parents walk. And sometimes I get caught up thinking that it’s rest and self care that are going to help me not fall off. I’m not discrediting those things, but it turns out that for me, they aren’t what give me balance. In addition to my faith, the pole I’m holding onto, as I put one foot in front of the other, is my children. The everydays. The miracles hidden in the mundane. The extraordinary beings that I serve while clothed in the aprons of the ordinary.

The truth is that I have fallen, hook, line, and sinker, in love with this life I am living. Glub, glub, glub. Not with the laundry or dusting, not even with all of the constant cooking. But, overall, with all of it. And I never even saw it coming.

C.S. Lewis, that old genius of a man, said that, “Children are not a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work.” The thing is, I know that. I live that. I didn’t need to come to a hotel for two nights to remember that. That’s not the point. Or is it?

An hour ago, a stranger knocked on my door and announced, “Room Service.” He gave me a tray with a silver colored metal lid. After tipping, I closed the door and did a short little happy dance. I ate my breakfast in the quiet. It was nice. I hope to do it again in 10-15 years. But in the mean time, I hope for loud. I hope for open mouths, for my baby birdies to never be too self conscious to silently ask for a bite of whatever I am eating. I hope for spontaneous pillow fights, dance parties in the living room, mom jokes, and mysterious blue congealed substances that have bonded with my dining room table.

What I really want, is what I really have. Because I won’t always, and that makes it precious.

It is time and pressure that turn a lump of coal into a diamond. Apparently I’m not so different. The responsibilities that rest on my shoulders, that squeeze and make me uncomfortable, that make me question if I have more to give in that 24 hours, those things, are what are helping my own becoming. Those things, are what is stripping away the qualities that are good for only short term heating, and replacing it with something lasting, and transparent. Something worth keeping.

The air I am breathing is too beautiful and rare for me to wish it away on a sterile oxygen mask. While this has been “nice”, I can’t wait to check out. My insides are already filled with butterflies, fluttering. What a homecoming it will be. To leave the lap of luxury for the arms that encircle me.

Advertisements

Government Issued Gratitude

When I was a little girl, we used to wait outside in a long line, behind a decaying building. The people in line behind and in front of us, seemed to mirror the buildings state of disrepair. Jeans were ripped, long before destructed was the style. Tee shirts hung loosely, dotted by stains, ill fitting, on already sagging shoulders.

In this sea of shame and hopelessness, my mother seemed to stand out, like some sort of merchant ship. Cresting the same waves, but not really a part of the angry churning. Experiencing a temporary skiff, perhaps, but not soaked to the bone from a lifetime of poverty.

Her posture was flawless, chin up, and always wearing perfume, she stood differently than the others. Even wearing second hand clothing from the men’s department, she seemed regal. As if even the stitching on her Kmart clearance shoes could recognize that she came from royal blood, and bowed themselves together in honor.

I always tried to talk to the other children, always tried to enchant them in a game of make believe. I don’t remember a single child ever saying yes. I do remember the way they rested their chins on their chests, as if the weight of their heads was simply too much to bear. Closing eyes, and shyly shaking their hair back and forth in no. Or sometimes, simply hiding behind their parents own dirty hands.

It didn’t occur to me until years later that I had anything to be ashamed about. This was my life, so I thought it was everyone’s. Government cheese day, was one of the best days. Commodity boxes were something worth celebrating.

It wasn’t, of course, as magical as I thought it was. Neither was living in a hooker motel in Las Vegas a year or so later, as my dad searched frantically for his birth mother.

When I was still 21, I added it all up. In 21 years of life, I had moved 21 times. This included living in more than one motel, and more than once living with friends, while our family wobbled, like a just born baby deer, trying to find our footing.

Poverty is tricky sand to build a family on.

I made a lot of promises to myself back then. Words are free, you see. At least, promises are. Words said in anger, can cost you everything.

Anyway, one of the things I promised is that my children would live differently. My children would know stability. They would not know the feeling of living meal to meal. They would not go to bed hungry, or cold, or any way wanting. They would grow up on the other side of the line. The side putting blessings into hands open and waiting. Not the side shifting pride from leg to leg, to allow the taking.

My children’s lives are different, in so many ways, from what I grew up with. Out of all the things they struggle with, I have the hardest time with their entitlement. It grates at me. How can you not be grateful, I wonder, when you have everything?

I had almost nothing, and am thankful for everything. I see it. I feel it. I know it to my core. Every strand of DNA cries out in twists of appreciation, to the moon and back, Thank You, Thank You, a thousand times. Maybe more.

Every November, we do this thing, as a family. I stole the idea from a friend on Facebook. (Brynn, I think.) We cut leaves from construction paper, and then write on them in Sharpie. All month long, we are putting our penmanship where our heart is, then putting them up on the window. Light and dark brown, orange, green, yellow, and red, the things for which we are thankful overtake whatever lies on the other side of those panes.

I read them, daily. Put hand to frail paper edges, too willing to bend under the weight of my knowing. “Family” one says, “Mommy” says another. I breathe a sigh of relief, when I spot four more of the same. It is my modern day cast list, and I am desperate to see if I made the play.

Then what, I wonder. For what else are they grateful, these children that I would die and live a hundred times for. “Toys”, a leaf says, “Our Home” says the one next, “Clothes”, “Friends”, “Homeschool”, and “Our Car” all make the cut. Then, in neat preteen handwriting, I see the word “Food”. So they were listening, after all. I let go of the breath that I didn’t know I was holding. Someone has written “Water”, her sister has written “Hope”, the thirteen year old has filled branches worth, listing all the blessings that he knows.

They are thankful, I tell myself, later in the kitchen.

“Come quickly, Mommy! It’s your favorite thing!” My seven year old is waving her hand frantically. I am smiling before I reach her. “What is it?” I ask. “It’s a cotton rainbow sherbet sky, like the candy,” She says, beaming. “It is,” I say, widely grinning.

It is the kind of sky that makes me give audible thanks. Blues and pinks collide with one another, above a blazing orange sunset. It is what I call a rainbow sherbet sky, with cotton candy clouds. It is so beautiful, it nearly takes my breath away. It is one of those moments where you know you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

“Thank you”, I say. “Thank you so much.”

Face to the sky, heart bursting, I am once again in line receiving, what I have no way of repaying.

109 Times

She spoke to us about the night of broken glass. Told of how all the windows were shattered, valuables taken, homes ransacked. A woman, small in stature, but large in spirit, she walked lightly across the center stage, never veering too far from the safety of the podium. I was enthralled. Hundreds of us, in fact, were captivated.

She confessed to us that she believed that the Nazi’s were going to keep them warm during the harsh German winter. Said that she was thrilled to see trucks filled with firewood driving through Bergen-Belsen. Imagined the fireplace in their barracks aglow, and bearable, from this kindness. Then, with horror, realized that she was looking at trucks filled with naked, dead bodies, little bodies, not branches.

We, in attendance, let out a predictable gasp. Those who didn’t intake sharply, either let out a low moan, or released the breath they had been holding. The air shuffled its weight in the room. Lightness left through a side door, and the heaviness of Knowing replaced our naivete. My son shifted in the seat next to me, suddenly uncomfortable in his growing frame. The speaker continued, and so, we continued listening.

Her eyewitness account brought us on a journey, through torturous survival of the camp, allied bombings at liberation, aftermaths, relocation, and finally to freedom. Her story presents like a prize winning quilt. Vignettes on square fabric, where the brightest colors shoulder darkness, but the darkness cannot drive it out. With small, even stitching, the gold binds the black to the white, exploding in quiet fireworks of defiance across even the bleakest scenes of night. A design of precision, as if thoughtfully planned, held together with golden threads of hope, so that the whole piece shines from an elsewhere light.

I don’t know about the others, but I know that I left that place different than I walked in. And not because I now knew too much. After 13 years of working with foster children, I know things about how people can treat each other. I watch documentaries, I read books. I get in person updates from friends who work tirelessly to rescue children from human trafficking. I see the threat of darkness, albeit from the safety of my own window, lit up by the reflection of the lights I live in. Still, I know it’s out there.

But, maybe, I hadn’t realized how big Hope is; how ever present.

You know how in school you kind of thought each planet was similar? And even after your teacher made you misshape a hanger and paint foam craft balls different colors, to hang from the hanger with fishing line, you still thought, eh, close enough… But then one day a different teacher shows you a diagram of how many Earths you can fit in the Sun, and it changes the ground that you are standing on? (109, for the record. The Sun is 109 times bigger.) Well, that is what happened when I heard her speak. If the Earth is the darkness, then Hope is the Sun.

It might be night time for years, but the morning will come.

You guys, I know I sound corny. I know it, but I can’t stop. She lived through some of the worst that history has to offer, and still she knows hope more intimately than most of us know our husbands.

She never gave up. And neither will I. With everything in me, I hope you don’t either. I know your life is hard. I know the days drag on. Some days it requires courage, just to get out of bed. I know that no one knows exactly how you’re feeling, exactly what you are fighting. But I hope you stay. I hope you keep fighting. And one day, I hope you look behind you and see a trail of people you led to freedom.

Until then, I hope you see the sky through the barbed wire. That you know firsthand, which one is bigger, which one is forever.

 

Dear Daughters

When I tell you that you are brave, believe me. When I say that you are stronger than you know, trust that I know. And when I tell you stories about the past, tuck them quietly into the pocket of your heart; you will need them later.

I will not always be around to whisper truth. I will not always bare the hands that pull up your covers. Mine will not always be the name you call out to vanquish whatever lurks in the dark.

You are here, all lively and lovely, and filled with possibility. Hope shines in your eyes, two lighthouses, amidst a churning ocean. You are young, and do not know what to do yet with all of the length of your limbs. The pace at which you are growing, leaves my heart and your muscles, aching.

The world in which you are becoming women, will never be good enough. I will always wish the grass that you play in was greener, that the sand from which you build your castles, was smoother.

You are learning more everyday. Things I tell you, and things I don’t. You are stretching and changing, careening us into uncharted territory, with every step you take. We are racing around a track, one with an unmarked finish line.

I wonder at the power of marine life, to release their babies into the wild. To nurse your young and then release it, into a vast and dangerous ocean. How can they do so, when they can’t control the kindness of the receiving waves? There are sharks, and pollution, oil spills, blood red tides. I always find myself wondering… and then it eventually occurs to me. They let go, where and when they do, because they have to.

And someday, so will I.

Someday you will stand on legs that will walk you gracefully into adulthood. But you won’t be standing alone. You will walk in the paths worn smooth, through thickets and nettles, past poisonous trees. You will find your way, though narrow, because of those who dared to go before you.

You will find some nights that your legs tingle with too much energy. That your calves burn with steps yet to be taken. Your fingers will be cold with excitement, and your palms will ache empty with anticipation. There, on that night, you will know the secret.

All women have been given more strength than needed for just their lifetime. As women we are waymakers, and caretakers, for those yet to come.

We burn and we ache, and we fight for change. We do what is right, whether or not the law agrees. We stand at our full height, though injustice looks taller. We rock, and we hush, and we soothe the crying. We bandage and restore, we build, and we mother.

We are the choir, the deacon, the pastor, and the crowd. We speak the truth, as many times as it takes for our world to hear it. Our stories are not less because others don’t believe them. But be careful, darlings, all words have power. A careless word can bring an empire to its knees. A lie can spark a hemorrhage of uncontrollable bleeding.

Do what is right.

It is rare to see the power of your fight in your own lifetime. Change takes time.

Susan B. Anthony was dead and buried, before the bill bearing her name, changed the face of the free world. But that didn’t stop her from spending all of her living days fighting. She used her voice, though it was illegal, because it was hers to use.

Because of her and countless others, you can use your voice too. Use it, my daughters. And use it for kindness. Use it, to be the light that crowds out the darkness.

When they tell you that you must choose between a rock and a hard place, remember that water has poured out from rocks before. Use your intuition to find the streams in the desert. Find a way to live with dignity, and courage. Wrap mercy around the shoulders of those who suffer from the cold. Tread lightly, but do not tiptoe. You are a woman, not a walking apology.

So often Blue and Red collide, leaving a purple bruise on everyone.

Remember that you are not for sale. Cast your vote with a fearlessness that defies the hate mongers. One match can burn down an entire forest, one pocket of air can stop a heart in it’s beating, one word can begin the process of healing.

Cast your vote, darlings, with arms full of kindness.

 

Sacred

I like it
When we
Hold hands, tight
My hand the love letter
In the envelope of your own
I like the rhythmic drumming
Of your pulse
And my pulse
Mingling, a
Symphony that no one
Else can hear
All percussion and blood
Our veins the string section
Our sighs the wind
Your voice a bass
That requires standing ovations
I love
You
I love
Us
I love this life
This home
In its unkempt sacred glory
Love the sound of
Footsteps that grew
First in my belly
Turning wooden stairs
And carpet
Into a grand cathedral
Love how the handprints
On walls outshine
Stained glass windows
Our babies voices ring through halls
In unconscious worship
Their laughter a hymn
Their good nights
My sanctuary
I love
That we keep
Our shoes by the door
Waiting patient for our next big adventure
But also off of our feet
As if we needed a reminder
To tread carefully
For the ground
On which we are standing
Is holy.

Compare Rhymes With Despair

Comparison is the thief of joy. And my whole life, it’s been stealing from me.

Or maybe, comparison is the burglar, to which I open the front gate, the main door, dust off its feet, and willingly hand over my spare key.

I don’t remember the first time the thoughts came, the I want what they haves, the they have more than me’s. I only know that somedays, it seems to come out of my subconscious like a rushing, relentless stream. Kind of like when I got way into Tetris several years ago, and actually started to play Tetris in my dreams. And then even in my day dreams. Pink, and green, orange, yellow, and blue… the pieces would float from the top of my vision, and turn, ever slowly, as they descended, to rest on the ones that came before them. Boop, boop, boop.

Only this feels much less innocuous. I remember sitting at the doctors office at 13, and wishing I could trade lives with the teenage girls who checked in after me. They must have perfect lives, because they were skinny. I would never talk to my mom like that, if I was her. Her mom dresses so nicely, they obviously have money. There is so much room on the sides of her seat, she isn’t afraid that the chair will stick to her when she stands up. She must have the life of my dreams. I would do anything, anything, to trade places with her. I bet she’s totally sixteen.

Yeah. That’s just a sample of what I used to think.

To be clear, sometimes, for weeks on end, I am able to silence the beast. I am happy, content. I look around without the blinders of what I don’t have, and actually see. I live in the moment, sing songs, play games. I allow my life to be the Enough that it is capable of being. I ignore the Target app on my phone, steer clear of the 60 car pileup that is social media. I do not go to Etsy, or Pinterest, or digitally visit Ikea, World Market, or Old Navy. I don’t spend time thinking of things that we should buy for the next two seasons. I do yoga, poorly, and with limited flexibility. I breathe. I paint with friends, or acquire germs and endorphins at the YMCA. I laser focus on finishing our laundry. I do things.

When I pray I say thank you, instead of pleading.

But if all my thoughts were written on a wall, that wall would be really ugly. Even if that wall was scrubbed with bleach.

I’m 37. I consider myself a hopeful realist. So I no longer pray to trade bodies and lives with total strangers. Partly because I wouldn’t trust them with my kids, and partly because I am somewhat happy already. But also because, well, things can always get worse than we think.

Still, those thoughts of comparison, are sometimes like an endless supply of glitter in front of an industrial fan. One with faulty wiring, and a sticky switch that is almost impossible to turn off entirely.

Only now those thoughts always come with a caveat. And it’s not just envy, it’s not just covetousness, because I don’t want these things instead of others having them. I just, in theory, want them for myself, as well. I don’t know if it makes sense, but, stay with me.
I wish I had her boobs, but not the surgery it took to get them that perky. I wish my arms were defined like that, but not because I spend all my spare time at the gym. I wish I had her body, unless there is hidden cancer, or infertility, or mental illness lurking in those toned strands of DNA. I wish I laughed as freely as she does, but that I was taken more seriously. I want her bank account, or house, or passport stamps, but I still want to experience those things as me. I wish I walked without my thighs touching, but was never hungry. I wish my husband looked at me like that, but without my ever changing. I wish I lived closer to the ocean, but without the risk of hurricane season. I wish that I had her successes, but without the sting of all her rejections.

The older I get the more I realize, that no one really has it all. And if they do, it’s only because they built it from what used to be ashes. Or they’re standing on the cusp of losing it all. Because, life is fleeting. And what we hold onto so hard, what we clasp our hands around dearly, so often ends up being disposable. My hands ache from grasping at the plastic straws of Being.

All lives are touched with tragedy, and pain. We’re all doing our best to stay off the floor crying, to get out of bed morning after morning, after morning.

The thing that I sometimes miss, though, is that we are all also incredibly blessed. We are all given more beauty than we know what to do with. We have air in our lungs, our hearts rhythmic in their beating, we have people who love us, and need us, and see us.

We have sunrise and sunset, and noon in between. We have trees and water, and things worth saving.

I do, and you do. We have Enough. We have Together. And we have right now. Our lives, they matter, even when we don’t feel it. Whether I ever have thighs with that long, smooth indent, or whether I put people off of cottage cheese forever, I have everything I need in order to be happy. I only need to remember to look up and see it.

Five Years of Fighting

Last night, a four year old fell asleep in my bed, this morning in her place, a five year old is resting. I wake, and watch you, all nuzzled against me. Long arm wrapped around my arm, long legs slung over me. The brown black curtains of your bangs, part just right of the center of your alabaster forehead. Your mouth is open, and I am instantly back to the day that I met you. A million years ago, or five, when you were all chubby cheeks and did not have the strength to lay with your rosebud mouth closed.

I am sure I have said what I am about to say before. Sure that this post will seal in your mind, the fact that I repeat stories. And maybe my blog is the digital equivalent of a woman, that woman, by the punchbowl, avoided at all costs at the company Christmas party. But just in case, there was a stone left unturned, let me flip them all over, just for a minute, while I remember.

I so wanted to write a sweet, happy repose. To fill up this page with laughter and rainbows. But darling, so far, that has not been your story. No, your story, sweet girl, is much more of an adventure. And like all adventures, begs to be told.

You tried to make an entrance at only 16 weeks gestation. I spent a day in the hospital, where I was told that there was nothing that they could do to stop you. That you weren’t yet viable, even though I loved you. We prayed, and you stayed, and that was all that mattered. Then in the hospital again two weeks later.

Over the next four months, I saw a lot of the doctors. Was hospitalized more than nine times, and that’s not including my long weekly appointments. While every part of you grew, my body seemed to turn on itself. Kidney stones, infections, and more problems than it would be polite to mention. I knew before you came that you would be my last. The doctors said that my body would not survive another pregnancy.

And then, suddenly, you came, three weeks and two days early. Almost nothing about your entrance was easy. Except for loving you, that part came naturally.

Your first day on the earth, was nearly my last. There were complications, and blood was lost. At some point they took you to the NICU, and called in more doctors, more blood, more nurses, to tend to me. I remember it hazily, like a dreamy afternoon. One moment I was there, and the next I wasn’t. I was looking down at my body, from above and to the left of the bed, still in the operating room.

I felt perfect peace. And I felt a still small voice, ask gently if I wanted to stay, or if I wanted to come home.

I thought about it, about what hope lies ahead, about how things here are hard. But I also thought about you and your siblings. About how much you need me. Of how you’ll need my lantern in the dark. And as soon as I thought it, the decision was made. Because of you and your siblings, I decided to stay.

The second I said stay, I was back on that table. My favorite nurse was squeezing my hand and rubbing my forehead, saying, “Stay with us, dearie,” in a deep Scottish accent. When I opened my eyes, she said, “You gave us quite a scare.” And then some other things, from which I will spare you.

After six terrible days in the NICU, we went home. You were welcomed with love, and open arms. Since then, it has been an education to love you. It continues to be a privilege to be the one you call Mama.

So, now you are five. I can scarcely believe it. You are all here, all present, all living in the moment. You are funny, and free. You don’t bow to others rules or expectations. You are fearless, yet cuddly. You have strong emotions. You believe in the power of your own voice, and yet find refuge in the voice of your mother. You are always questioning, always wanting an answer to the infinite Why. You take everything one step further, just to see how far things can go.

You are truly the child who changed everything. I believe that you will change the world, even more than your presence already has.

Though you are not able to read this yet, I know you will be someday. So, let me just say, on the record, that I meant what I said when I first met you. I will never give up on you. I will never stop fighting. I am on your team for all of eternity. You are worth doing the hard things for. I will always, always, love you. I will love you because of who you are, whoever that is, and because of whose you are. You are my daughter. My little Sunshine.

You were and are worth all of the fighting. You are worth all of the daily discipline. The suiting up, and learning how to meet you in your world. The parental yoga of bending to your needs, and holding. All of it. All of this. Everything that I will ever give you. To be here to love you, is an immeasurable privilege.

Today is your birthday. There will be presents and cake. There will be laughter and hugs, and reminders to say thank you. I don’t how much of today you’ll remember. So let me leave you with just one sentence to hold onto:

You were and are worth staying for.