the map

Dear Detta,

Hey, it’s me. I mean, it’s you. I mean…never mind. You get it. Can we talk for a minute about a few things? And before you begin with, “writing a letter to yourself is so overdone” I want to remind you about what you tell your students. There’s no such thing as a copycat, it’s just called parallel inspiration. And besides, even if it’s been done before a thousand times, it’s never been done by you. You can put that stamp of “unique” on this so you feel better about it. But, for the record, that stamp doesn’t really matter.

I’ve noticed that you are feeling lost. You’re running on the hamster wheel, managing the menagerie, weathering the storm. Pick your metaphor. And you’re afraid that while you are in this “season” as you like to call it, that you will lose yourself permanently. Like a balloon drifting off into the sky. But I need you to remember that you will never lose yourself. You know the way back. You just have to remember the map and follow it.

First. Can you talk a little nicer to me? You say all day long that friends speak nicely to each other. But have you heard yourself lately? So much “I can’t…” and “I’m a failure…” and “This will never work.” Yes, you can. No, you aren’t. And yes, it will. You have tons of cheerleaders that surround you. But if we can’t get it together in our own cheering section, then it’s going to be a lot harder to get there. You will still get there. Let’s just make it a little friendlier. Remember when you used to say, “You’re doing good, girl!” Try that again. It felt nice.

Second. Let’s discuss self-care. But before we can even discuss that, can we start with basic needs? Go to the bathroom when you need to. Drink water. Eat more food. This is being Human 101. Even animals have that figured out. (Ok…that was judgy, let’s try to be nicer). And as for self-care, remember it’s not a Millennial thing and it’s not selfish. It’s called choosing joy and presence. It doesn’t mean alone time, but it could. It doesn’t have to be a spa day, but that sounds like a great idea. What makes you laugh? Board games. Watching TV with Mike. Playing with the kids. Do that. What helps you relax? Massages. Writing. Yoga. Of course there’s no time for this. So figure out what you can let go of (see number four) and replace it. I know you still don’t fully believe that it will pay off in the end because you don’t know when “in the end” will be. You still see taking care of yourself as shooting yourself in the foot. But the reason you keep coming back to it is because you know, deep down, it’s true. Go back to that old prayer you used to say, “I believe. Please help me with my unbelief.”

Third. Please, just say yes to help. It doesn’t make you less of a mother/teacher or more of a failure. You may not know this, but when people offer help, it’s because they see possibility in you. They wouldn’t do this if you were a lost cause (as you often feel). You are loved. Say yes and do so without hesitation. This morning, when you said yes to help, you were able to step outside your front door and notice the way the light came through the trees. You felt like yourself again for the first time in a month. Saying yes allows you to be rooted and present with the precious time you do have with others.

Fourth. Remember what your wise friend Heidi said earlier this year? You are the cake. Whether it’s your kids or your students or your husband or your family or your friends – they do not need anything more because the cake is enough. Everything else is a bonus and absolutely unnecessary. If you show up, that is enough. Perfection is included in this analogy. Trying to perfect things is the sprinkles and the decorations. You are wasting a lot of time on this, quite literally in your classroom. Redoing charts, rearranging furniture, trying to “fix” the crappy feelings by moving the picture an inch to the right. The cake is enough. You are enough. Show up. 

Fifth. Can I give you a compliment? With this crazy busy “season”, you’ve actually been doing pretty great at not giving a f*ck about people pleasing. Keep it up! I guess when you have too much time on your hands, it’s easy to obsess over a comment someone said two weeks ago. But lately, you’ve had tunnel vision. The hamster wheel will do that to you. So I guess that’s good. Remember how it feels to not over-worry about making others happy. When you get off the wheel, it’ll be helpful to recall how nobody disowned you. 

Ok, that’s enough for now. Thank you for taking a little time for us this morning. Good job at saying yes to help. You’re doing good, girl.

Love, 
Me

P.S. And for goodness sake, please go buy a new bra. What you have been wearing is embarrassing. (This is Judgy Detta talking again…and sometimes a little straight talk is necessary.)

enjoy every minute

A few days ago, I sat in the teal colored arm chair that is positioned by the door in the kids’ room. The chair doesn’t rock or glide but bounces a bit and makes a creaking noise that’s neither comforting nor annoying enough to fix. It has sufficed as a rocker for my babies, better than the Ikea one we had purchased for that purpose because its arms are softish for when they get too tall and their head rests simultaneously in the crook of your elbow and on the arm of the chair. 

The baby, who is no longer a baby but a toddler even though I refuse to call him that, was banging his head against said chair arm and pulling at my shirt asking for milk. Demanding it really. His mouth stretched open revealing six razor sharp teeth and let out a scream that no longer caused my milk to let down but rather elicited fear. This baby is much more sinister than my girl was, terrorizing me with the upturn of a smile while he holds my nipple between his gums. He laughs at me when he bites and unless he wasn’t otherwise the sweetest human on the planet, I’d be convinced he might someday be a serial killer or maybe a dentist.

Meanwhile, the toddler, who is no longer a toddler but a little girl even though I refuse to call her that, stood in front of us and screamed at a similar octave. She was stamping her foot and whining about shoes not fitting or wanting real live fairy wings or a dress that wasn’t twirly enough. I can’t remember. I tried to conjure the right empathetic response but the symphony of screams caused my eyes to twitch. My stomach was swirling with a combination of anxiousness, too much caffeine, and low blood sugar. 

It was 4:58 p.m. The witching hour was upon us – but they don’t tell you that you are the one that becomes the witch. I closed my eyes and tried to breath. 

“Enjoy every minute. It goes so fast.”

The advice from dear friends and family and strangers, always shared with such good intention, echoed in my ears. Their words hung crooked like a too-big-for-me crown over my greasy, unkempt hair. How can I enjoy this minute? Is something wrong with me? I must not be doing it right… 

Later on, as I drove across town and had a few minutes to think because my children were strapped in tight to carseats in the back, I thought about a conversation I had with a friend earlier that week. We were talking about a season in her life when a family member had lived with her. Many phone calls and texts were riddled with complaints of dirty dishes, broken appliances, and a general feeling of being taken for granted. She counted down the days till they moved out. But then, in the span of a few years, suddenly she didn’t talk so desperately about this part of her life. She spoke of missing their company and of feeling “blessed” to have had that time with them.

And that’s when I realized, we as humans are professional editors of the past. We judge the overall merit of a situation (a pathological liar as a boyfriend – BAD, a relatively complicated pregnancy that ended in a beautiful baby – GOOD) and then we go ahead and remove all the memories that would suggest otherwise. Suddenly we find ourselves reflecting in feathery awe about an experience that was downright torturous at times and we miss it.

This is parenthood.

“GOOD,” we deem it as we look back. And it is. Having kids is so good. The love I feel for these humans is like a lightning bolt that shoots through my core sometimes. And I really like them too. They are so funny and creative in ever-surprising ways. I have little best friends – except I also have to wipe their butts.

Yet the truth is, by most standard measures of happiness – financial, independence, emotional balance – kids have an incredibly negative impact. It is so f-ing hard a lot of the time. Like Ninja Warrior hard some days. No human should ever be expected to “enjoy” parts that just aren’t enjoyable. But in the darkness, I hear the whispers of shame. They tell me that because I am not having fun or feeling blissed out on the smell of my baby’s head, then I’m a bad mother. 

So what do I wish people would say to me instead of, “Enjoy every minute”? I’m not sure. I suppose this isn’t as much an admonishment to those who say it as it is an encouragement to those who are in the thick of it. I know I will miss this season of life. I will call it GOOD and I will remember mostly beauty. I will wish I had savored the time, as if this act in the past would somehow stave off the chill of quiet rooms and adult-sized problems rather than shoe problems and twirly dress problems.

But perhaps in addition to reminding us to tattoo the good moments on our hearts, we should also meet each other with a heaping dose of empathetic realism. So that in those hard moments, instead of draping shame over our shoulders, maybe we’ll try to give ourselves grace. Yes, this is hard. It’s ok to not like this. This really sucks. And in the in-between moments, those that are often forgotten due to monotony and the mundane, the ones that slip so easily into tantrums and yelling even though you vowed not to be a yelling-kind of parent, let’s try to be present and open to the possibility of laughter and hugs and playfulness. 

I wish I could offer you a new inspirational mantra, wrapped up in a pretty bow. One that says, There, now everything is going to be ok. Something to have echo in your mind when the witching hour begins to transform you into the Disney-villain version of yourself. One I’ve been seeing a lot lately says, “I can do hard things.” But, this is hardly helpful! It makes me feel like maybe I’m not already doing hard things. And I’m just so tired, I don’t want to do anything harder! My mother once told me that my great grandmother used to say, “Chin up!” which strengthens me a bit, as if I am being encouraged by a lineage of tough-cookie women to press on. But it also seems to have a little unspoken subtext of “quit complaining” that comes with it.

I guess, for today, I prefer to wrap myself up in the gentler words of Mary Oliver…

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Be kind to yourself today. Heap on grace as if it’s a third spoonful of pillowy whipped cream. And don’t feel bad about it.

packing it up

I started packing our home in a nesting rampage two months before Michael was born. It was spring break and we had just gone to look at a house that we couldn’t make an offer on because ours was just not ready to sell. So I did what I do best. I made a spreadsheet and on it, I listed every room in the house and the to-do’s for each.

There were two items that my seven month pregnant body could accomplish: pack and clean. And I did. Like a madwoman. At the end of my hormone induced purge, I had a fortress of bags for Goodwill and another fortress of boxes stacked in my garage. One month later, the possibility of squeezing a home purchase in before baby came dissipated. So we tabled it for later.

The second sweep of my house came last Christmas. I wanted to take advantage of the time off to pack up the rest of the things we didn’t need every day. And since I still had to pay for daycare, I could send the kids and not feel that guilty about it. I put everything in a box that I wouldn’t need for a few months. I also binge watched all eight episodes of Tidying Up after which, I Marie Kondo’d the shit out of every room. Let me tell you, there was a very special magic in organizing my husband’s bullet and knife collection. I think Marie would have been proud.

In my first attempt at packing and purging, I was more like a tasmanian devil, impulsively and insensitively clearing out drawers, shoving item after item into bags without much thought. But this last time, I put all my things in a pile and then held each thing to ask if it brings me joy or serves an important purpose just like Marie taught me. And when no one was looking, I knelt on the ground and talked to my house just like she does, thanking it for being our home. It was hippy dippy but hey, I’d been talking to the ghosts in there, so might as well chat with the floorboards too.

After I had cleared out each room to the bare bones, I stood and stared at yet another fortress of donation bags and packed up boxes. So much stuff. Probably thousands of dollars of stuff. Most of my rooms have had several iterations of curtains and art on the wall, nicknacks and attempts at making it look a specific way. The sheer number of picture frames that I donated was obscene.

I recognize that there are trends and styles that come and go. The color palate of 2010 is quite different than that of 2019. And Joanna Gaines has not helped in the matter by bringing her particular sense of style to an overpriced section of Target for me to drool over and wonder if the swath of fake goldenrod flowers will be JUST what I need to make me a different person and finally have thick, smooth black hair and skin that tans up nicely in the sun instead of burning and freckling. But it all makes me wonder what the heck I have been trying to accomplish these past few years in accumulating all this stuff?

The nice thing about moving is that it put a temporary halt on my never-ending efforts to make things “just right”. I knew my realtor Lorrie was going to bring a box full of treasures right before we listed our house and those things would make it look “just right” to the potential buyer. My vision was no longer necessary. It needed to be neutral and clean and simple. It waswa small blessing, those handcuffs of “wait, don’t buy that for a house you are moving out of.” I don’t want to forget the feel of them on my wrists as I move into the new place and start trying to transform myself again by way of drapes and trinkets and art.

In Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, she talks in the end about moving out of the White House after eight years. While I am clearly not in the same world as the First Lady of the United States with butlers and chefs and a Chief of Staff, her thoughts on transitioning from one home to another resonated with me. She says, “You’re left in many ways to find yourself all over again.” I wonder if, while building our home over the past ten years (the concept and feel, not necessarily the posts and beams) had been guided more by a need to change who I am rather than to find myself.

Many of the things I’ve chosen to keep are all reminders of who I have become. A small white mug that is trimmed in gold with yellow flowers on it, holds my pens on my desk. This was from Grandma Willson’s house and my sister sent it to me after she passed away. There’s also a painting of three women, each with skirts the colors of jewels. I haggled over it for months with a gentleman who was selling art on a beach in Durban, South Africa. “You won’t be back,” he said each time, wagging his finger at me. “Oh yes I will,” I cajoled in return. And I was, each week until the very last weekend when he finally gave me a better price. He wasn’t super happy about the ordeal.

When I pared it all down into piles of keep or discard, my truth began to emerge. Hopefully this new journey ahead of me will also be one of self-discovery. In the same way that I will learn the nooks and crannies, the idiosyncrasies and beauty of a new home, I hope to learn more about those elements of myself. Ahead of me is an opportunity to set new rhythms and to fill the spaces with colors and expressions of who we are and what we value. Rupi Kaur says we must stop searching for home in others and lift the foundations of the home within ourselves.

Yesterday afternoon, taking a break from packing it all up, I sat on the floor of our bedroom. Now empty, I looked around at it’s echoey vastness. I had slept in that room for ten years but I never had the vantage point of that moment before. At first, there was so much imperfection that caught my eye. A floor vent that didn’t quite fit, dust and fur in every corner, the faint hint of old lady smell in the air. But then I noticed the light coming through the window. It was exactly right and beautiful. And isn’t this the truth of life as well? So much fixing to be done, but the light is everywhere, making people and places feel like home.


cougars

I dreamt last night of cougars. Someone dragged two of them, hunted but not fully dead, into my current home (which is no longer my home) and dropped them by the large gray couch in our living room. They lay there with tails twitching, giant paws and thick fur, their teeth bared and angry. Suddenly, they began to fight with each other and I tried my best to keep them apart, but my hands kept getting precariously close to their giant teeth and claws. I kept looking up at the window, wondering when Mike would come home to help. I was alone, wishing for a gun and also the knowledge of how to use it.

Google tells me that to dream of big cats is a sign of your power and femininity. Sure, I suppose it could be that, my subconscious trying to remind myself that I am made up of my strength rather than my fear. But it could also simply be literal – that I’m terrified of encountering an actual cougar on the new property we are moving to. Because apparently there have been six cougar sightings on the property over the past eight years. Mike didn’t want me to know this information and reluctantly shared it with me the other night. My reaction was dramatic and panicked. I yelled out, “What? No! No! No!!!!”

I don’t know why I signed up to basically live on a savage savannah. This seems ludicrous. My children will now be layered in bells before they go outside. I will learn how to shoot a gun. I think I much prefer my drug deals across the street and the comfort of sirens in the neighborhood. I understand this. Drug dealers are just minding their own business, making ends meet. I suppose you could say the same for cougars too.

My fear is usually a small balloon that grows and deflates in my tummy, but lately it has expanded beyond me. I’m inside it, looking out. “Everything is going to be ok!” my village says to me from the outside. I cup my hand to my ear, “I’m sorry, what? I can’t hear you from in here!” There is so much unknown. The move, my job, what the president will do next, whether shoes will be rejected this morning by the three year old.

I watch my heartbeat and sleep patterns on my Fitbit, the charts resembling a mountain range or a roller coaster, both apt metaphors depending on the moment. I breathe in and out, trying to return to calm. Mike and I try to remember to stop and give each other long hugs, Mila squeezing between us like I used to do with my parents. We all try our best. Meanwhile the cougars are brawling, our fear and strength head to head, trying to claim dominance.

I forget so quickly how every up and down and detour my life has taken has led to precise and serendipitous details of blessing. Most of these, in the form of people who I was meant to know. My mother, my siblings, my husband, my in-laws, my best friends, my children. Chromosomes zippered, seats were assigned, resumes were read. I once overheard someone once say, “All we need is each other…and snacks.” This is probably the truest thing that I know.

Mila just came out of the bedroom and climbed into my lap. She was holding a little magazine for kids that Auntie Meg got her a subscription to. There was a tiger on the front and Mila says to me, “I don’t like Tigers. They are scary.”

I asked her, “What do you do when you are scared?”

And she simply replied, “Say hello.”

Well good morning little Dalai Lama, nice of you to join me this morning.

This idea, of simply saying hello to your fear, is exactly what I’ve been reading about in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. She has made peace that fear is always going to be a passenger on the ride and that to not feel it would be un-human. She tells us to write fear a letter, acknowledging its presence but firmly reminding it that it won’t be driving the tour bus. And let’s not forget that along with fear rides our strength. It depends on us as to which one we let take the wheel.

So I guess, for today, I will try to simply say hello.

Hello fear, I see you. Get in and let’s go. And try not to be a backseat driver.

the dark ages

I’ve been living in the dark ages for exactly four and a half days. And by the dark ages, I mean I haven’t had a cell phone but I’ve had the internet and a computer and TV and electricity and a magical box that cooks food in like 30 seconds. So not at all the dark ages. But still…no cell phone!

There are some logistical issues like not having a landline in case of emergencies at the house. But mostly Mike is here and also we are surrounded by hundreds of neighbors who likely have a phone to call 911 on. My brain plays the “what if” game and the only real issue I land on is, “What if I can’t leave my house to ask for help?” Well, it’s likely if I’m incapacitated to the point that I can’t leave my house then I probably can’t get to a hypothetical landline in my house either. So…I believe I’ll be just fine.

The very fact that this has been somewhat hard for me makes me so embarrassed. One thing I’ve noticed is that I seek connection A LOT. Like every 10-15 seconds my hands and brain have this impulse to either look at something or read something or talk to something. Often times, there are humans right in front of me with whom I could easily connect. But these humans are usually my nine month old and three and a half year old so I am also realizing my desire to connect is actually a desire to escape from being present.

My counselor said that it’s not healthy to always think about the past or to think about the future. These mind habits of ruminating and worrying are like leaving the door wide open for anxiety to waltz in and take over. But if you stay present, even the simplest act of noticing what you are seeing/hearing/feeling right now can slam that door shut. Because all the things of the present are fixable. Got an itch? Scratch it. Hungry? Feed yourself. Dirty dishes in the sink? Clean them or let them be. Feeling lonely? Find someone to chat with or hug for at least 20 seconds, so it releases some endorphins.

This is all so much easier said than done. But take that phone out of your hand and you are well on your way. There are no pictures to make you wish your bathroom was a different shade of greige, no comment that makes you wonder if you are good enough. It’s just you, with your butt planted in a chair or your feet on the ground and the world waiting to be noticed. It’s uncomfortable if you haven’t had to be bored in a while. It’s excruciating when you are waiting to be seen by the doctor and every single human around you is staring at a phone.

A less shameful noticing brought on by this five day inconvenience is that I miss having a camera at my fingertips. There are so many moments that I want to capture and never forget. But lately, even when I did have my phone, I’ve been trying to see if I can just let moments be without trying to get my phone out and documenting it. Can I enjoy and notice the beauty of my kid sleeping without it forever being archived on “the Cloud”?  It’s like a tree falling in the woods situation around here. Did anything wondrous even really happen?

I’ve been reading a lot more. It’s funny how I say I don’t have any time to read. I guess I need to change that. I have time to read, I just don’t want to choose that activity over scrolling on my phone and watching TV in bed. I fished out my little book light, which miraculously has not been packed away at this point, and while I nurse Michael to sleep, I read. And as I lay in bed, unable to Chromecast Hulu or Netflix on my bedroom TV anymore, I read. And you know what? Reading begets reading. Now I want to read more because I’m halfway through a book and need to know what happens to Anne Lamott in India.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a little technology break. Last January, I did a “rest retreat” from social media using the guidance of a woman who writes a blog called Home Song. She challenged her readers to go thirty days without using social media and instead, do some heart work around resetting your rhythms and intentions. It was SO good and SO hard. One thing I noticed immediately was one of my “rhythms” (which is just a gentler way of saying “habits”) was scrolling when I wake up. To begin, I start by checking the time on my phone, then the light wakes up my brain. Next, I start searching each of the usual suspects – Facebook, then Instagram, then NPR for some news. Anything. This habit formed, or maybe more accurately, wrapped its tentacles around me, when the current president took office. I found myself, every morning, refreshing my feed and searching news headlines to see what happened while I slept. Mostly I was hoping to find words like impeachment or indictment or oops, we’ve made a grave mistake.

During the rest retreat of last year, I still had my physical phone. And so in some ways, I just replaced social media with other ways to scroll. Redfin, a handy little real estate app, was one way. I searched for homes every spare second I had. And Pinterest got another whirl from me, finding the perfect way to stage my new bathroom shelves and dreaming of a hairstyle that would suggest I’m not actually caught in a small twister on the way to work.

Today, my phone is set to arrive by mail. What do I do with this new awareness? It’s no good for my Henny Penny heart. I wonder if there’s any turning back for us as a species? I mean, sooner or later, the generation that can remember life before cell phones will be extinct. Is this how our grandparents felt? Was the world sure to end because people now had a new fangled television in their house? Left alone with my thoughts too long, I find myself exclaiming like King Solomon, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” Maybe he had recently taken a rest retreat himself when writing Ecclesiastes.

I’m saying a little prayer now for myself (because I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands to watch people and I’m pretty sure everyone else is doomed…) Please, please, please don’t let this knowledge be erased by the addictive cycle of scroll – veg out – scroll more – repeat!