Jan 212010
 

I’m currently re-reading an old favorite called “The Cloister Walk,” a book about Benedictine monks and how their monasteries operate. This time through I’m reading with a specific purpose. I’m studying the book as research for our Momastery. I want to learn everything I can about how to build and care for a community of individual women. I want to learn how to celebrate differences and unity simultaneously. How to tirelessly set aside ego for love. How to, in Benedict’s words “persevere, bear one another’s burdens, and be patient with one another’s infirmities of body or behavior.” I am trying to learn how to take good care of each other, because I’d like to turn the notion that groups of women have to be exclusive or petty on its head. This type of peace seeking and peace keeping are hard work for an American girl. But so far, it sure has been worth the effort.

A community, in order to thrive, needs to have a common purpose. And it occurs to me that right now, the Monkees’ purpose is trust building. We are learning how to trust each other by making ourselves vulnerable. By tearing down our walls and admitting that we might be a little needier than we suggest at the bus stop. That we might need something more or something different from relationships. That we might be lonely enough to reach out, brave enough to be challenged, loving enough to put down our guns and care for imperfect people. That we might be strong and wise enough to quit taking everything personally and be kind, knowing that everyone is fighting a battle.

I’d like to introduce you to my friend, to your friend, Diane. If you meet Diane in real life, you might think that she already has every single thing she needs, what with her supportive husband, brilliant children, important career, cute hair, fancy pots and ingredients, and doctorate. You might be wrong. Monkees, meet Diane.


Blackbird



I have a confession to make. I am a Momastery imposter. A wolf in Monkee’s clothing. (Well, I will be once I get my hoodie.)

“Nah,” think the nice Monkees, “everyone feels like that some days.” I know. But I have a very good reason to think I’m different. Besides the obvious one…that I always think I’m different .

Here’s why. Women–especially groups of women–kind of terrify me.

I have a metaphor to help you understand my bizarre fear of my own gender. It’s just exactly like my bizarre fear of birds.

I went to the San Diego Zoo a decade ago and wandered into a bird habitat. Everyone (else) was delighted in this claustrophobic netted area (I refuse to call it a sanctuary) because several varieties of exotic birds were boldly landing upon them. With false bravado, I poked out my index finger and seconds later, was taken aback by the disturbing pinch of little birdie feet. Watching this fragile scrap of feathers over balsa-bone working to steady itself on my shaking finger, seeing the rise and fall of its little breast, and looking into its tiny eyes, made me want to FLING IT OFF. IMMEDIATELY.

But I clenched my teeth and waited for it to flutter away, because:
1) I knew I couldn’t be gentle enough,
2) I didn’t want to hurt it, and
3) I had to admit, it was kind of beautiful to look at up close.

Developing close friendships with women terrifies me in just that way– I know I can’t be gentle enough, and I don’t want to hurt them. It’s why I rarely venture out on the new friend market (well, I do hate shopping.) Even with the friends I’ve had for a long time, I have to watch myself. I unwittingly play the role of insensitive guy in the relationship, neglecting to respond to my best friend’s emails or forgetting the exact date of her birthday or forgetting which topics are OK to tease her about and which ones just aren’t. I never cry at the expected times and I don’t text or call every day “just to say hi” and I refuse to keep her company in public restrooms. That’s just silly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m always dreadfully sorry if I’ve made a false move. It’s just that sometimes I feel like the world of women is a minefield. And when I’m with my closest friends, I don’t feel like I should have to work so hard.

On the rare occasion that I find another woman whose gravitational force is impossible to ignore, I start by telling her that my brand of New-York-direct dialect often clashes with the Passive Aggressive dialect, resulting in the occasional girl faux pas. Then I speed right past gossipy girl talk and dive into deep conversations; for example, how stupid I was to ignore how passionately I hated school when I decided to be a teacher, or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop (it’s 726, by the way).

I just have to make wandering into that minefield worth it, as soon as possible.

Girls like me need friends too.

I can’t resist seeking intimate friendships, because up close, women–like birds–are so breathtakingly and beautifully complex. I started reading this blog and knew I would not be able to resist Glennon’s pull…I’m a sucker for complexity. And wooden signs. That doesn’t mean I’m not still terrified I might accidentally hurt her one day. Like today. Which is why I plan to obsessively check the comments you post after this. (Yeah, yeah, THAT’S the reason.) I feel assured that, in this place, a blatant detour from tact ought to be called out by someone. But you have no idea how freaked out I am to put myself out there, having no idea which of my offhand comments will be my downfall for the day.

On the other hand, I fear flocks of birds for precisely the opposite reason I feared that bird on my finger. Let’s just say…I’m not at all worried that I’ll hurt them

Just the other day I was teaching a lesson when a first-grader, briefly glancing from my (apparently not so riveting) lesson to peer out the window, called us all over. There were literally THOUSANDS of birds quietly, eerily blanketing in black the front lawn of the school, the benches, and the playground equipment. As birds do, they rustled in waves, swooping up in mini-groups and settling back down in new formations, a few yards away from where they started. The classroom teacher and I watched in awe and fear, contemplating indoor recess, when those THOUSANDS of birds just up and left at precisely the same moment in time. Just like that.

I find flocks of women just as threatening. Actually, it’s not because I think they will intentionally hurt me (like Hitchcockian dive-bombing buzzards), but because they just shove their sense of belonging right in my face.

I treasure my solitude, my unique perspective, the way I question everything and my habit of coloring outside the lines. Most of the time.

But sometimes the world feels exactly like my high school cafeteria, and I can’t find a seat at a table. Which makes me want to skip out on lunch altogether. And eat vast quantities of chocolate.

Sometimes, when I’m confronted with a happy, humming group of women who simply look like they belong to each other, to something more than just the sum of their separate selves, I have to come to grips with the fact that belonging to a flock might not be as lame as I think. They always seem to be laughing. And I love laughing.

Please understand that I have no self-preserving choice to call it anything but shallow, this sisterhood among women. (Yes, I know it is just as shallow of me to think that, but I haven’t watched “The Breakfast Club” for a long time.) All my life, I have gotten itchy in close quarters with women…in Girl Scouts or sororities or malls or spas or book clubs or PTA meetings or at-home parties or mom networks. (Imagine my dismay to discover that deep and interesting people like Glennon and Adrianne actually met through a mom network. My world tilted a little at that one.)

I have never experienced depth in any female relationship that wasn’t one-on-one. (Except maybe my huge family, on our good days.)

Until now. Until here. Every single day.

And that terrifies me most of all. You’re making me think I might be wrong. About what happens when women flock together. And I hate being wrong.

It seems to me that all flocks have a secret language, a shared understanding that allows them to move together as one. But all my life, just when a flock of women has settled near me and I thought I’d be able to anticipate its waves, it flew off together. Just like that. Leaving me a little relieved, honestly (it is less work), but a little lonely, too.

In the Momastery, for the first time in my life, I’m being let in on the secret language of the flock. I know, you have every right to be wary of me. Heck, I’ve told you to be wary of me.

But I’m still drawn to your beautiful colors. I’m mesmerized by your complexity, your fragility, your strength. And I’m singing the best way I know how. Please don’t fly off without me.

P.S. To all Male Monkees, this not-so-comfy-with-sisterhood-talk girl hereby requests to hear more from you. But a friendly word of caution: tread carefully today with the hearty “Women terrify me, too!” response. On second thought, don’t worry. You’re all probably more sensitive than I am.

And now, my birdsong.




Jan 202010
 

Chase’s birthday was a huge success. Unless you ask Tish, who is still whimpering in the fetal position due to the injustice of an entire day spent hailing her brother. But everybody else around here is pretty happy.

First we served our little man breakfast in bed:



Then Sister and I went to Chase’s school to eat lunch with him.


This is us serving Chase’s “birthday treat” to his classmates.


Last week he asked if he could PLEASE bring birthday cupcakes to school like all the other kids? I started sweating profusely and said, “Honey. You don’t want to be like everyone else, do you? Let’s be different, let’s be unique! I know…how about Chips Ahoy? I’ll even spring for the sprinkled ones for an extra dash of uniqueness! It’ll knock their socks off, honey!” Chase said, “Sure mom. I know stuff like cupcakes are really, really hard for you.” It’s important for men, even little ones, to understand and respect the limitations of the women in their lives. I was proud.

This is us getting reprimanded by the Lunch Lady to USE OUR INSIDE VOICES DAMNIT! She didn’t actually say the damnit part but I could tell she really, really wanted to. I didn’t blame her a bit.



This is Sister and Little Man.


When Chase and I offered a cookie to Little Man, his face got sad and he said “I can’t have cookies. I’m allergic to wheat.” Please understand that the SECOND Little Man said this I got very, very scared. Because I knew Sister heard him. And Sister is a lawyer. A lawyer who literally scours the world trying to weed out injustice for the oppressed. And I knew she was going to decide that unsuspecting Little Man was her newest client. I nervously looked up at Sister’s face and saw her eyes widen. She said: “SISTER. I am fighting for justice for Little Man.” I said, “Of course you are, Sister, we know. Just please don’t embarrass Chase. He’s already the smelly kid (due to my laundry disability) who has to serve store bought cookies.” Sister spent the next ten minutes convincing the poor Lunch Ladies to break from what they were doing (feverishly running from raised hand to raised hand opening ketchup packets) long enough to hear her case. By the way…WHY don’t they make kid-friendly ketchups? Are the Lunch Ladies of America being punished for something?

Eventually, the Lunch Ladies slowed down long enough to listen to Sister. During their negotiations, there were some tense moments in which Chase and I tried to hide under the cafeteria table, but in the end, Little Man got himself a chocolate, wheat- free donut. I think I heard him say THANK GOD ALMIGHTY I AM FREE AT LAST. And the oppressed and the rescuer had themselves a little hug. I asked Sister if maybe she could stay home from the third world and fight for the oppressed right in the cafeterias of America. She said no. She said she was brave, but not that brave. We left Chase’s school completely exhausted.

Chase’s dinner went well. We had tacos and tator tots. Just don’t ask.

Then it was cake time. Monkees- I tried to make Chase’s cake. I tried harder than you kitchen-literate people can possibly understand. And by God, I witnessed a birthday MIRACLE because the directions on the back of the box WORKED and when the cake came out of the oven, the cake really did look like a cake. I was giddy. But then I tried to frost it, and the top of the cake kept coming off into the frosting. So I had to keep putting layer upon layer of frosting on top until there was like FOUR INCHES of frosting. And it still looked rough. So I put seven million sprinkles on top to try to camouflage the holes in the cake. And then I got REALLY cocky and tried to write HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHASE on top. That part did not go well either. If you look really hard, you can see a faint yellow “happy,” but that’s all, because when I got to the “birthday” part, my little blue icing writing magic tool EXPLODED all over the cake. You’ll be proud to know that I did not start crying. But I came close when I realized that I didn’t have any candles. There are far too many details to remember when you are a parent. I mean, seriously, it’s just ridiculous. Ludicrous, really. Infuriating, on a bad day. After scouring my cabinets (Hey, guess what, I have a crock pot! Who would’ve known?!) I found one lonely, bent, yellow candle. Victory. I put it on the cake and proudly presented my creation to Chase.



Is this the facial expression your ungrateful son makes as he catches his first glimpse of his birthday cake? Punk.


Chase’s first words to me were: Mommy? What does it SAY?

I said: It says: Happy Birthday Chase!

Chase said: No it doesn’t! It says “Happy…big blue splotch!” And also, mommy I’m SEVEN. Not ONE.

And I said: You know what? I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s sing.

And we did. And then we ate the cake. And everyone agreed that it was less gross than last year’s cake. Low expectations are very important to a happy life.

Also heavy drinking.


Chase was thrilled with his present, two frogs he’d been eyeing at the Pet Store. And by “eyeing” I mean spending the last several weeks begging incessantly for. The frogs looked PERFECT, I am happy to report, because the recipe for them was “Add Water.” “Add water” is my specialty. I did a great job with that.


I woke up this morning thanking God that birthdays only come once a year. I think we’ll watch movies all day.

Have a great one, sweet friends.

Love, G




Jan 192010
 

Today is Chase’s seventh birthday. In an hour, Craig, the girls and I will sneak into his bedroom and serve his traditional birthday breakfast-in-bed. Before the celebration begins, I’d like to write to you about three significant moments during Chase’s short lived career as a six year old. Since my camera is perpetually lost, writing is my attempt to grab his childhood and hold it down while it sprints past.

Last summer, in my neighbor’s backyard, I watched Chase play a game of pick-up football with a group of his best friends. I laughed and realized that my Chase might never grow into the professional athlete that his daddy once was. Chase never came close to the end zone, or even to the ball, because he kept stopping in his tracks, again and again, to pick up every friend who’d fallen.

One evening this fall, Chase asked to be excused from the dinner table to get something from his back pack. When he returned to the table, he handed Tish a small chocolate chip cookie wrapped in a paper napkin. Tish’s eyes lit up and I asked Chase where he got the cookie. He said “It was Eric’s birthday and he passed out cookies at lunch.” I asked Chase if he decided to bring his extra cookie home because he was too full to eat it. Chase said “No, I wasn’t full. But I had two cookies and Tish didn’t have any.”

At a Christmas party, Chase and I sat down at a table with several friends to eat and talk. I saw Chase notice that my pregnant friend, Manal, was standing and eating a few feet behind us. Chase looked up and said “Manal, please, take my seat.”

These are the three moments, during Chase’s sixth year, that I was most proud to call him mine. And the fact that these are the three memories that stand out among so many makes me wonder.

I wonder.

I wonder if we’ll get to heaven one day, and we’ll stand in front of our Father, and we’ll look at his face and we’ll say,

I’m sorry I never got it exactly right. I never became who I wanted to be. I never became fearless or selfless or patient. I never became that perfect mother or wife. I never lost that weight and I let my kids watch too much TV and I never finished those projects I was always dreaming up. I never lived up to my potential in so many ways, God.

I wonder if He’ll say,

Yes. I was watching. I know those things were very hard for you.

And then He’ll cup our chins in the palm of His hands and turn our faces up towards His. And He’ll wipe away our tears for the last time. And He’ll say,

Remember the day you offered the elderly lady your grocery cart? Remember the night you were so very tired but you held your baby’s hand and rubbed her back while she cried? Remember when you brought food to your grieving friend? Remember when you woke up every single morning to try again? Remember how you never gave up? On yourself, on your friends, on your babies, on me?

I was never worried about those things you didn’t do. I was too busy watching what you did. And those little acts of kindness were the moments I was most proud to call you mine.

Happy seventh birthday to my kind-hearted boy. Thank you, Chase, for bringing me closer to God.