When We Look Back


_DSC1070

Years ago when the ink was barely dry on my heart wrenching divorce, I was in the very necessary stage of moping around the house and crying. A friend who had apparently grown weary of my lament, sent me a picture of a quadriplegic wounded warrior, lying in the crib with his new baby.

Ouch. Okay. I got it. I got the point. I understood the whole “I felt bad because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

Dry your tears. Count your blessings. It could be worse. It could always be worse.

But the thing is, I needed that time. I needed to feel sad and grieve my loss. I needed to putter around and feel the heartbreak of everything I had lost. I wasn’t going to live in that space forever, but I needed to pass through it to get to the other side.

The other side is where I would find the gift of perspective. Perspective would show me how much better and beautiful life could still turn out to be– something I couldn’t see just yet.

Perspective is the gift of time and experience. 

Last week my daughter, along with thousands of other high school seniors across the country, found out that school is officially canceled for the rest of the year. While we suspected this might be the case, we were just barely holding onto the tiniest thread of hope that maybe… just maybe… things would end differently.

We weren’t ready for it to be over. She wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

I intentionally keep saying “we” and “us”, because it has occured to me over and over again that while this is primarily her loss, it’s my loss too.  She is my youngest. The baby.  I’ve championed her (and two other kids) through these years and dreamed of her success and accomplishments right alongside her. It’s the end of an era for her, but it’s the end of an era for me, too.

2020 graphic

One day she woke up and went to school, like it was any other day, never realizing it was actually her last day of high school forever.  It has left everything so unfinshed. Undone. Wanting. It feels like we’ve been reading this fantastic adventure about her life and suddenly the pages go blank. What happens? Where’s the rest of the story? Where are the pictures of Prom? The senior picnic? Signing yearbooks? What about hearing her name called and watching as she walks across the stage at graduation…the victorious culmination of all these years? Parts of the story are missing now and we’re trying to figure out how to write the ending. Somehow, a closing chapter needs to be written.

 


 

If it sounds dramatic, I’m okay with that.

It feels dramatic. 

For my daughter and others like her, the depth of time is much shallower in youth.  Each day, week, and month carry a lot more weight when there’s only been 17 or 18 years of living. There’s a post going around social media reminding us that boys barely out of high school left to go off to the Vietnam war and that’s how their senior year ended. It feels as though it’s meant to shame some sense into our modern-day seniors. And while I understand what’s trying to be said, I have to imagine those boys did not march off to war galantly that very day. Only perspective years later could show them the honor and value in their sacrifice.


So for today, as we navigate these tricky waters together, I steer clear talking of silver linings. She knows things could be worse.  And we’re all beyond grateful we have our health. But also, we are sad. There is loss. It is hard.

Someday, when we look back, when she looks back, I already have so much anticipation to hear what gifts time and experience will deliver. I think about her sitting in job interviews or talking to her own kids about perseverance, optimism, and making the best of a bad situation. After all, she’s part of the Class of 2020. The Year of the Quarantine.

Missing out on the second half of senior year will always sting a little, of course, and not yet, but someday it’s going to make her life richer in ways she can’t know today. It’s going to make her stronger in ways she won’t see tomorrow. It’s going to make her wiser in ways she can’t understand right now.

It’s also going to make for one hell of a story for the rest of her life. Take it from me, kid. I’ve got the time and experience and someday, you will too.

Wherever-you-go-go-with-all-your-heart-Class-4-580x386

 

Post Script for Emery Patricia~ You have been the best quarantine buddy a girl could ever ask for. You have braved these weird, scary, uncertain times with courage, stability, and humor that has us laughing every single day. You already knew how to do hard things, but now you can add “Canceled and Quarantined Senior Year” to the list.

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can”~

You have. And you will. And now you’re off to go finish writing the rest of your story! Congratulations, Emery!

 

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?

blackbirds

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}

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.

36177218_10217068013760442_1613919027594264576_n

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 Love Christmas {And other truths about December}

tangled xmas lights

It’s the most… complicated time of the year. For plenty of people I know, Christmas time, the holidays, New Year’s… They can be a tidal wave of emotion, reflection, regret and just plain sadness.

The toughest things I’ve ever been through have almost all happened in the month of December. A baby on the 23rd when I was just the tiny age of 19. The loss of my first husband in a car accident on December 28th when we were both just 26. (Only to bury him on New Year’s Eve. If you’re really feeling festive, you can read more about that here  or here. ) And then the final undoing of my second marriage on the darkest Christmas Eve in my history, when we finally could not un-ring the bell.

And all of this among a few other losses and if-onlys and what-ifs.

But enough about me.  There is a pressure to love December and Christmas and all things holly jolly like no other time of year.  You can say you hate summer or the 4th of July or Labor Day, but what kind of a jerk doesn’t like Christmas?  There’s a shame attached to it that’s unmistakable.  Months in advance we’re impressed with how we’re supposed to feel about the holidays. There’s an anticipation that begins around Halloween and doesn’t relent until the final carol has been sung. You’re supposed to be happy. You’re supposed to feel joy. You’re supposed to feel lighthearted and whimsical and ready to party and celebrate and exchange food and gifts and time and affection. So when you don’t feel all these things, the only reasonable conclusion is that there must be something wrong with you.

54c3695ddf074f7040abcc5cec3b12c8

But the truth is, holiday depression is a real thing and more people feel this way than are willing to admit. For so many, the dramatic emphasis on love, cheer and goodwill only reflects the lack of it in their own lives. Any other time of year, we know how to deal–but December’s over the top expectations have us staring a little too hard and long at all the spaces in our lives that fall short and feel empty.

Just think of the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge– both infamous for their dislike of December 25th.  (Although  truthfully, the Grinch never really hated Christmas. He hated people, which is fair.)

If you want cold hard facts, one North American survey reports that 45% of Americans dread the holiday season.  Ouch. Pass the eggnog.

Here’s the good news: December is just another month. The end of one year and the beginning of a new one bringing brand new chances and opportunities for peace and happiness. And although it seems to loom for weeks, Christmas is only one single day. If it turns out to be a good one, hooray for you! But if it ends up going off the rails, clock out early, crawl into bed and wake up renewed on the 26th and move on with your life.

You don’t have to love December. You don’t have to love Christmas. You don’t have to be or do or feel a certain way. About anything. Ever. It doesn’t make you a bad person, a sad person, or a less-than person. It makes you a real person.  And there’s nothing better than being real about yourself, where you’re truly at in life and how things are actually going. If you’re not feeling strong enough to celebrate and socialize, don’t feel bad about telling the people around you, “Thanks, but I’m just not up for that right now.” With no apologies. On the flip side, sometimes getting out of your own head and being with people is exactly what you need if your sadness has you turned a little too far internally.

But the best part? You get to choose.


This is my happiest December in decades. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel the heaviness I’m usually carrying this time of year. I feel peaceful and grateful and actually, a little bit Christmas-y. But I never forget about my friends who are not. And I still don’t love December or Christmas. Accepting that and not judging myself for it has been, well, a gift.

Cheers to January, friends. We’re almost there.

The Year My Hydrangea Bloomed {And the Unexpected Miracles from Letting Go}

Nothing.

Not a single bloom or bud. Lush greenery, sure. But still empty. For nearly fifteen summers I have watched my Hydrangea remain flowerless. Oh sure, occasionally I did a little research trying to figure out why it Would. Not. Bloom. But still, nothing. A few times I think I sprinkled coffee grounds around the roots. Added Lime to the soil. Over-watered. Under-watered. (Mostly under-watered, if you know me.) All to no avail.

And each year, as the summer came to a close and the hot summer days gave way to fall, I would cut it back with a big heavy sigh. “Why won’t you bloom?”,  I would think.  “Where are your flowers?” All these years… not even one.

And then this past fall, whether in neglect or laziness or weariness, I left it alone. It was the first time in years I didn’t cut it back. “Nothing I do matters anyway– stay the way you are. Fine. Whatever.” {Yes, dear readers, she even has a complicated relationship with her plants. }

I had pretty much given up. I didn’t understand. Every plant around it blooms. All the other flowers are thriving– but not this one.

And so I accepted it. This plant doesn’t bloom. It just…doesn’t.

 


 

Except this year.

It did.

Big, fluffy, full, bright pink flowers.

And it didn’t almost bloom, or barely bloom. My Hydrangea is COVERED in flowers. It’s almost unrecognizable. It’s so lavish and bright and alive. It’s actually bigger and better than ever.

img_1269


And it got me thinking about other “Hydrangeas” in my life; Spaces I’ve sort of given up on after exhausting years of trying to force change, trying to control, trying to fit into my idea of the way things should be. Things I actually don’t even hope for or dream about anymore. Things I’ve just painfully come to accept: This is how it is. And certainly, that’s okay; There’s so much peace in the quiet acceptance of how things just are.

I accepted my  flowerless Hydrangea. I wasn’t going to dig it up or get rid of it or replace it. But I still always knew it was SUPPOSED to be flowering and wasn’t. And so all these years later, when I saw those luscious, vibrant blooms, I cried.

And I thought to myself,

We must let life surprise us. We must hold things so loosely and sometimes just let them be. We must graciously let go of things we so desperately want to change and then watch the natural unfolding that happens with our release.

It is not lost on me- the irony. The irony that the year I left it alone– the year I didn’t prune it or search for answers or try to somehow “trick” it into flowering, it did. I had been trying to force it for years and when I finally let it go, it bloomed.

img_1268