An Extra Box of Kleenex

Screenshot 2020-03-26 at 5.10.57 PM

I thought I was going to run out of Kleenex. Not really Corona Virus-related. Just your typical, “I think we need more Kleenex and we don’t have any.”

Except it’s not that easy right now to just run out and buy more. And it’s possible we’ve been crying a little extra around here because things have just been a little sad and scary and unknown. I’ve got a high school senior who’s really missing her friends and teachers and the finale of her high school career, so that’s upped the ante for sure.

A little later in the day, I opened the cabinet in the downstairs bathroom, and whadyaknow? There was a box of Kleenex! Totally unexpected! I forgot I had put an extra box under there a few weeks ago. I literally cheered and fist pumped. Over the Kleenex. With a huge smile on my face.

My gratitude over a box of Kleenex stopped me in my tracks. I stood there for a minute and thought to myself, I hope I can sustain this. I hope WE can sustain this. I know, I know, it sounds a little dumb, but when was the last time I was this genuinely grateful for something so seemingly insignificant? (And I KNOW a lot of you are thinking the same thing about toilet paper these days.)


After 9/11, I remember having all of the same thoughts and feelings. (I wrote about it here) We all wanted to stay in that sacred space of gratitude. Patriotism. Coming together, One Nation under God and all that jazz. Nineteen years later, I’m not so sure how we’re doing. Shitty. Very, very Shitty.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like a lot of us could use a little fine-tuning.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I know so many people have died from this awful virus or have suffered through the illness of it. That’s not “fine-tuning”. That’s tragic and terrible. But for many of us, it’s mostly been massively inconvenient.

The thing about times like this– an unprecedented world pandemic– is that even though we hate it, it really does bring out the best in us, if we’ll let it. It feels like we’re suddenly jolted back into paying attention. Like someone shook us awake again.  We’re suddenly back to checking on our neighbors. Reaching out to friends more than usual. Going the extra mile to make someone’s day.  Showing genuine appreciation to those around us. Sharing our stuff with those who need it more than we do. Calling and FaceTiming our parents and family members just to say hi and see how everyone’s managing.

I am a better me right now. (Despite my current diet, which can best be described as “Unsupervised Toddler. With Alcohol”) I want to be this grateful all the time. This attentive. This thoughtful. This connected. I really want to. I know I won’t always be. But I want to.

The last paragraph from “Bedtime, Wet Towels, and 9/11“, still fits today. I can’t imagine a day it won’t.

“For whatever reason, we just can’t sustain that level of awareness long enough. Oh sure, some of us can, for some things. But not most of us. And not for everything. And so it seems we somehow always just ease back into being ourselves. Doing the best we know how and hoping it’s enough. Making tiny strides out of the ruts when we can. When we remember. Let it be enough, I think to myself. Please, let it be enough.”

Stay well, my friends. And let the fine-tuning carry on. xo

Will it Always Feel Like This?

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This past year, a lifelong friend experienced an unbelievable tragedy. She’s carrying all of that fresh, raw grief right into her first Christmas season with it, and it’s heavy. So very heavy. She recently reached out to ask me if she’ll ever be able to listen to Christmas music again without crying; if she’ll always feel like this.

Oh.

Oh dear.

Should I be honest? Do I tell her that my favorite Christmas station on Spotify is called A Comfortable Melancholy Christmas? I can’t help it. It’s exactly as it sounds. Comfortable. Easy on the heart. Not so shiny. Melancholy.

In The Fault in our Stars, Author John Green once said, “So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I am still trying to figure out how that might be.”

So this is my life.

And this is what I tell her.

That my life is the most beautiful and heart-breaking story I ever would’ve imagined. It is both. That I am still one of the happiest people I know. That everything– including Christmas– feels both happy and sad. That grief has made me the softest version of myself. I cry easy and often. A lot of the tears are happy tears because I cannot get over all the goodness in my life, in spite of the rest. I cry easily because there is so much joy in my life when I’m really paying attention. Everything feels meaningful. Everything feels overly special. And there are easy and often tears of grief, too. For the empty spaces. For the losses. For all of the longing in my heart that has no answer.

But I laugh easily too. And a lot. Because the rest of life–everything unrelated to grief is so good. And there’s so much to laugh about.

And yet grief is always the underside of my joy and the line between the two can be so very thin.

I tell my friend that grief has made me the toughest version of myself. Because life is hard and this is what it has required of me. As a woman. As a mom. It’s hard to ruffle me. It’s hard for me to imagine something I can’t handle. I’ve stood in front of my husband’s casket while my brothers held me up on either side so I wouldn’t collapse. I’ve swam in the depths with my children and their own grief.  I have carried it with them and for them. What is “hard” is suddenly very relative.  But what is not hard is also very clear: Traffic. Running late. A rude cashier. Long lines. These things are not hard.


I bristle at comments and quotes that hint at the “gifts of grief”, but only because in my heart of hearts, they ring true. Grief itself is like a black hole. But these gifts within grief  have made me who I am today. And I really like who I am.

Please understand, there are so many different kinds of grief. We talk a lot about grief related to death, but it’s more than that. It’s divorce. It’s a break up. It’s broken relationships. Addiction. Troubled kids. Illness. Chronic Pain. Chronic emptiness. Chronic…Life. There are, sadly, many different ways to have a broken heart.

So my friend, will you always feel the way you do right now?

Yes and no. Understand you will carry this grief with you forever. First, like an elephant on your chest, making it impossible to think clearly and somedays, even breathe. Then eventually, like heavy baggage chained to your ankle. You’re walking around with it, you’re doing it, you’re living, but it’s hard. You feel the weight of it all the time. It refuses to be ignored. And then years later, like a stone in your pocket. You’ll run your fingers over it, smooth and cool, checking to see if it’s still there. And it will be. It won’t always make you feel everything. But it will always makes you feel something. You will not forget it’s there.

If you befriend your grief…

If you learn to understand the tide comes in and the tide goes out…

If you lean into it and let it be whatever it is…

If you weave it into the fabric of your life and let it be part of who you are now…

You will have a life that is both happy and sad. Soft and tough. Tears and laugher. It’s not the life you would’ve chosen, but it’s more beautiful and meaningful than you ever could’ve imagined.


For more reading like this… Even When it is So Dark I Cannot See, You Are There {Healing from Grief} This Is Why.You Don’t Have to Love Christmas {And other truths about December}

Rerouting… Please Wait

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I’ve often said that when God was handing out internal compasses, I was either talking to my neighbor or fluffing my hair. As in, I missed out. I didn’t get one. I’ve always had a less than accurate sense of direction, and that’s being nice. Since the advent of GPS, this has mattered far less. I actually don’t know what I would do without it.

Or where I would be.

[LOST]

But even with GPS, there are plenty of times I take a wrong turn. Miss the right turn. Accidentally head in the opposite direction. And as you know, when this happens, my GPS girl (that’s right- my GPS voice is a girl. I don’t need another man telling me what to do {wink})–very calmly tells me she’s rerouting me– Making an allowance for my mistake and course correcting so I can still reach my destination.

This happens to me so often that I’m totally unphased by it and so are my kids and anyone else who rides with me. Gotta turn around? No big deal. Need to make a U-Turn? No problem. Tra la la…


Side Story: Many years ago before GPS, I was on my first long, solo road trip with my kids. You know, back when you had to use a map (what am I Lewis and Clark???) to find your way. At some point I made a very wrong turn, became very lost and very off course. So off course, in fact, we had to spend the night in a hotel and start for home again the next day. Because my kids were watching me, I pretended to be TOTALLY BREEZY about it. NO BIG DEAL! Slumber party in a hotel! WHAT AN ADVENTURE! We’re making memories! GAH. But it was a good lesson for me AND them: It really wasn’t a big deal and we really were okay. Delayed? Yes. Safe and sound though? Also yes. My dad always says if you carry money in your pocket and speak the English language, you’ll be fine, which has always felt sorta true. Not for everything, but a lot of things…like getting lost.


In the past few years, we’ve started using the phrase “Course Correcting” a lot in our home. I’ve got pretty much adult children facing a lot of serious decisions all the time. Decisions that could potentially start to chart the course of their lives or at least the next few chapters. And sometimes, they find these decisions scary. And paralyzing. Of course they do– they’re a big deal! But what I want them to understand is the ability to course correct. The ability to change direction mid-stream. The understanding that there are very rarely massive mistakes that can’t be undone. Turns out it takes a lot to ruin your life, and things like choosing a college, or a career path, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a paint color don’t fall into that bucket.

Are there reckless, poor decisions that ARE massive mistakes, with potential damage that cannot be undone? OF COURSE there are. But even then– maybe ESPECIALLY then, there is space for course correcting. 

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So what if you choose the wrong school? You transfer. Transferring does not mean you failed or made a mistake. Transferring means you figured out what you don’t like and what you might prefer. So what if you choose a career path that no longer feels right? Course correct and pick a new one.  So what if you decide the relationship you’re in is no longer a good fit for you? You’re allowed to change your mind and move on. It’s not indicative of failure. It’s indicative of growth and a well-examined life. Giving yourself permission to course correct as a way of life makes decisions much less scary. Nothing has to be permanent. Choice and change are always an option. You don’t have to be stuck or trapped or scared.

Rerouting is part of life. Changing direction is admirable. And not all who wander are lost- sometimes they’re actually just finding the path they were always meant to be on.

 

 

 

Oh No She Didn’t…

women whispering

1953 Giclee Print by John French 

Recently another woman referred to me as fat. (Don’t click away now. I’m about to spill some serious tea.)

There I sat in my size 8 jeans with the waistband pressing gently against my stomach. I could feel my throat tighten up and tears pierce my eyes. I forced a deep breath and a long, unnatural exhale and started mentally running through all the defense mechanisms I know for a situation like this–But not before getting up to double-check the tag on my jeans. Surely if I were wearing a size 8, I couldn’t be categorized as fat.

Could I?

“This is completely ridiculous,” I told myself.

“Consider the source. This person is not your friend. Who cares what she thinks?”

“Jesus, hold my hoops ‘cuz I’m about to cut a bitch.”

“Did you feel fat BEFORE you heard this comment?”


I don’t know. Did I? I’m normally a pretty secure person. There isn’t much you can say about me that I don’t already own.  And as an almost 47 year-old woman, I know what I bring to the table and what I don’t. But what I also know? This whole weight thing is tricky. It’s like a house of cards.  Truthfully,  I’ve never felt better. I lift. I spin. I run. I walk. I drink green smoothies for breakfast and eat salads for lunch. I drink beer. And wine (medicinally, of course) And I eat a little junk too,  because a girl’s gotta live.  I’m pretty much doing everything I know to do at this age to keep shit tight.

And someone was still saying it’s clearly not enough. FML.

So after my mental review, I did what any other woman would do and called my BFF.

“Am I fat?”, I asked with a small, strained voice.


Later that same week, I asked another girlfriend if she was looking forward to her upcoming vacation. She hesitated. “Not really,” she said quietly.

“What?? Why not?” I asked.

“Because I hate the way I look and feel right now. My weight hasn’t been this high in a while and I’m afraid to even try on my summer clothes. I know we’ll be eating out a lot and around a lot of food and drinking and family and the whole thing will just be hard.”

She wanted to cry. But so did I. For almost every woman I know, our weight rules our lives. If only the energy we spent on worrying about it burned calories, we’d be all set. It’s practically criminal. Imagine the things we could do and accomplish if thinking about our weight didn’t take up so much space?

vintage weight pic

Photo cred to Seeker Intimates 

Maybe this seems like a tired topic, but the reason it’s so well-worn is because we still haven’t figured it out yet. Not only for ourselves, but apparently relative to other women, as well. It’s incredibly draining for almost every woman I know to find a “resting place” in our minds and our bodies where we finally feel peaceful in our own skin. I’ve pretty much found mine. Most days. Except when someone refers to me as fat, I guess.

The other hurtful part of this comment though? I just didn’t realize women were still doing this to eachother. I’m no saint, but it’s just not in my wheelhouse to call another woman… well really anything, much less fat. And I never forget my daughters are watching me. And listening, too. Even if I thought it, I’m still not going to say it. I’m a big believer that people are doing the best they can and overweight people, especially,  know WELL BEFORE anyone says a word, that they’re overweight. They’ve already been much harder on themselves than you could EVER be.  Why would you ever add insult to injury and hurt someone that way?

At the end of the day, I don’t actually think I’m fat. Really, I’m just glad she didn’t call me mean. Or ignorant. Or jealous.  Or a bully. Because I’ll take fat over those names any day of the week.

[mic. drop.]

 

 

Does It Ever Get Easier? [Spoiler: No]

nicole

Photo Cred: Harper’s Bazaar 2012

A young single mom recently asked me if this gig ever gets easier. You know, the momming by yourself? I was alone in my bed, drinking wine and eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and laughed out loud. Poor sweet thing. She might be thinking since my squad is a lot older than hers, I’m on easy street now. But alas. It doesn’t quite work that way.

My short answer? It doesn’t get easier. You get tougher.

And while nothing feels better than being an invincible, badass woman and single mom, holy smokes–shit ain’t easy.

But here’s the long answer:

The past few years have been some of my toughest mom years yet. When they’re younger, the physical exhaustion is greater than the mental exhaustion. But as they get older, it’s the mental load of single-momming that weighs the heaviest.

School stuff. Grades. Projects. Health issues. Health insurance. Driving. Cars. Car insurance. Friend problems. Boyfriend problems. Broken hearts. SATs. College visits. College decisions. Financial aid. Teach them life skills. Teach them coping skills. Teach them math. Proof read papers. Quiz them on vocab. Teach them morals. Teach them boundaries. Teach them about relationships. Teach them about God. Religion. Tolerance. Safety.

But also, have fun. Be cheerful. Be happy. Be breezy. Make memories. Create a warm home environment that reminds them we’re a family. A whole, loving, family.

By yourself.

With your job. And your house. And all the other life stuff that comes with being a grown up. (By the way, look good. Stay in shape. Eat well. Don’t age.)

In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed says this of single moms, “She has to be her best self more often than it’s reasonable for any human to be.” 

There is no luxury of passing the baton or tag-teaming it. There is no whispering fears in the dark of night.

“What will we do if….?”

“How should we handle…?”

“I’m scared.”

There is no space for being too tired. Too spent. Too done with the day. The week. The month. Life. They need me. And they need to know that I am here and I am present and accessible and theirs. No matter what happens. No matter what we face. And happily so.

It’s not that I don’t have a super supportive family and friends. I do. And I could not be more grateful. Their intense love and support for both me and my kids is a total game-changer. But the buck still stops with me. There is still an aloneness to single-parenting that rests squarely on my shoulders. 

I have to make it okay. Every single day, I have to make it okay. That is my job. And my commitment to giving my kids the lightest part of the mental load runs deep.

“We will figure it out.”

“What’s coming will come and we’ll meet it when it does.”

“I’m not worried about it. We’ve got this.”

These are my mantras. There are no alternatives. If anyone is going to lose sleep under this roof, it’s going to be me. There is a constant drive to make their lives feel whole. Safe. Steady. Happy.


If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. If it sounds like a cry for sympathy it’s not. Raising these three kids? It’s the Magnum Opus of my life. It’s also really f*cking hard. And not (necessarily) because they’re hard kids. But because life is hard and there’s something about parenting alone that is lonely. Every misstep and mistake follows a trail leading back to me. But also every triumph. And there’s been lots of both.

I’ll never get over the wonder I feel for each one of them. These magical people they are turning out to be; But I can’t get over the amazement for who I’ve turned out to be, either.

I did it. I’m doing it. We’re doing it together.

I am trying to sell my kids the world. I want them to believe along with me that life is good. This world is tough. Life can be absolutely brutal, but it’s still a good place to be.

This life, right here with them, is exactly where I want to be.

“Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”                    [Good Bones, by Maggie Smith]

I have made this place beautiful. And so far, I think they’re buying what I’m selling.

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If you’re new around here and curious about the backstory to my single momming, grab a glass of wine or cup of tea and your own bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, settle in, and read  THIS post about becoming a widow at 26, or THIS post about divorce. Yes that’s right. Widowed and Divorce. All that and a bag of Cheetos 😉

You Don’t Have to Be Who You’ve Always Been

The last time I wrote a blog post was about 6 months ago when I had mice.  [Update on the mice- they were actually back last week. Rude. But this time, homegirl TEXTED Jeff The Exterminator within SECONDS of hearing them and he came that day and took care of the problem. This is good news. It means sometimes I actually learn lessons and apply them.]

But why has it been so long? And in the past year, there have only been 2 or 3 other posts before Thank God for the Mice. 

Why did I stop writing? Well for one, I started a new job. It’s in sales and I love it and I feel very fortunate every single day for my new gig. (Also, if you need ANYTHING relative to packaging, let me know. I gotchu) On top of that, there have been some huge changes with my kiddos this year, namely my son joining the Navy. The months leading up to that decision were not easy ones. Parenting is hard AF, y’all. Whether you’re wrangling babies, coaching teens, or navigating kids who are basically posing as adults, it’s no easy feat. At the end of the day, (literally EVERY DAY) it took up A LOT of my mental and emotional space. There was a lot going on that just wasn’t my story to tell and couldn’t be written about and published. Yet.

And then the rest of life got in the way and I just wasn’t putting any time or effort into writing. But as I was looking at my blog the other day, searching for last year’s essay, You Don’t Have to Love Christmas and Other Truths About December, I glanced over and saw the little About Me section.  Somewhere in there, I describe myself as a Writer. And then as we were decorating our Christmas tree a few days later, as I hung the “You Should Read my Blog” ornament, I felt like a bit of a fraud. Last year that ornament was my favorite. This year, I almost wondered if I should even hang it.

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Am I still a writer? In order to be a writer,  you actually have to, you know…write. It got me thinking. I’ve always considered myself a writer. But I haven’t been writing AT ALL. Is it still me? If it is, why am I not making it a priority?

 

If it’s not, then what?

It’s okay if I’m not a writer anymore.  I don’t have to be. I don’t have to continue being anything I’ve always been. And there’s always time to become something I’ve never been. But either way, I want to give myself permission to be honest.

 

 

What is it for you?

 

Is there something you’ve always been that no longer feels like you?

Or is there something new about the way you want to be seen and known, in a way you never have been before?

You don’t have to be who you’ve always been.

Take a closer look at all the ways you’ve defined yourself over the years (and the ways other people have defined you, too). If there’s something there that no longer fits, it’s okay to grow and change. It’s better than okay. It’s what being alive and living a conscious life is all about. Only dead things stop growing.

So. Am I still a writer? Will I keep writing? I haven’t entirely decided yet. But if there’s such thing as a Sometimes Writer? That feels more like me.

 

 

Thank God For the Mice

I’ve got mice. Well, correction I HAD mice. A few weeks ago I could no longer pretend I wasn’t hearing scritch- scratching in the attic. And listen, I know pretending NOT to hear it is NOT exactly the best way to deal, but sometimes this is just what we do. The scritch- scratching would come and go and I sort of just kept hoping it would go and stay gone.

But no. It wouldn’t. And I knew it was time to either burn down my house or call for help.

mice

Side story: I have woods behind my house. I’m surrounded by wildlife, of which I’ve always fondly said, “I love nature. I just don’t like it near me.” So this isn’t the first time I’ve had mice. And I’ve honestly TRIED to handle the job myself, but I just can’t. I’m a pretty tough chica, but I have literally cried hysterically and talked myself through emptying mousetraps by saying things like, “You’ve been divorced! You’ve broken bones! You’ve been on Match.com! You can do this! You’ve done a lot of scary things! That mouse is dead! This is not scary!” But somehow, this powerful pep talking has not worked.

So I called an exterminator to take care of the problem. Jeff has been great. He’s super brave. Every time he goes up in my attic, I ask him if he’s scared. Or I ask him if he’s grossed out. And he always says things like, “No.”or “This is my job.” So, he’s been great.

But last week, after he was down in my basement catching mice and setting traps and doing his job, he came upstairs and said, “You have a big problem down there.”

Jeff. Don’t leave me cryin’ in the club.

This is not a phrase a homeowner wants to hear. Ever.

It turns out, when he was moving insulation around and doing his thing, he found some wet and rotted wood.

Awesome. So not only did I have mice, I needed to get my handyman in there, STAT.

(There’s nothing super STAT about Handyman Joe. He is EXACTLY like having Joe Pesci at my house doing chores. Every last thing about him. But he calls me Julie Girl, which I secretly love, so we’re basically best friends now.)


Later that night, when Boyfriend Erik, not to be confused with Exterminator Jeff  or Handyman Joe (or Tree-Trimmer Guy who sends flowers after he does a job here) and I were at the gym, I was recounting the nightmare of my day and whining about all of the homeowner issues I was facing. When I was finished, he looked at me and said, “Well thank God for the mice.”

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Thank God for the mice? Wait, what?

Yes. Thank God for the mice.  If it weren’t for the mice, Exterminator Jeff never would’ve moved the insulation and uncovered the rotted wood. The rotted wood is already a big problem– but at least now it can be corrected by Handyman Joe. Had it not been found at all, it could’ve been DISASTROUS.

So in a weird way– a REALLY weird way– thank God for the mice. (It hurts to even write that. I am nuts.)

I keep thinking about what other “mice” I might have in my life–problems and circumstances I’m only seeing from one perspective; things that might actually have value and purpose beyond the surface. I’m trying to view irritating matters as potential mice and use them for growth and change and goodness. I’m looking for silver linings a little more carefully. (Big points for Boyfriend Erik here…)

I know. I know. It’s practically sickening– all of the positivity around this joint. But it’s either that, or burn the place down, and I kinda love it here. Mice and all.