Feb 062011

“Home is where you are.” – ED

It’s five am on Sunday morning. The kitchen is quiet and cold, but I have my monkee hoodie, my mug of coffee, and inspiration to keep me warm. It’ll be one of those days when mommy’s tired and cranky by three – it always is when I get up so early to write. But to me, this precious writing time is worth any price my husband and children have to pay for it.

I know I haven’t written to you about my personal life lately, and that’s a conscious decision. My vision for Momastery is that it’s about Life, not just my little life. I have learned that there is a difference. This might be one of the most important things I’ve ever learned.

Writing about Life instead of my life is a spiritual discipline for me. Remembering and exploring the difference between the two . . . stepping outside of my personal circumstances each morning and writing to and about all of us helps me maintain perspective about the ups and downs in my little life. It reminds me that Life is much too important to take my little life too seriously. It helps me remember that even when my world has stopped spinning, the world hasn’t. It reminds me – G, even when your little life is on hold, Life goes on. Join in.

I do this every morning because when my life here is done, I don’t want to discover that I was so concerned about dropping a stitch in my little square, I never stepped back to soak in the beauty of the entire quilt.

Even so – I know that you’d like an update on our little family. Here goes.

Last April we sold our home, abandoned our suburban lives, and moved to a teeny town on the Chesapeake Bay. I was feeling overwhelmed by the pace required to keep up with our lives. I dreamt of fewer school and social obligations and more family time and slower days, wide open spaces and sunsets on the water. So we sold our home and rented a beautiful old Victorian house on Main Street in a gorgeous old fishing town. It was glorious. We decided to stay there forever and raise our kids on the water. I love the water.

Here is what I learned.

The bay is beautiful, but not as lovely as Manal. The morning sound of the birds on the bay comfort me, but Adrianne’s ridiculous laugh comforts me even more. Watching my kids splash in the bay is wonderful, but not nearly as wonderful as watching them play with their Aunt Christy. There is no substitute for girlfriends. God made some beautiful things – and the Chesapeake Bay is one of them – but I’m pretty sure women were His best work. I was lonely without mine.

I have always been confused about friendship. I have never felt good at it. All of its keeping in touch and actually answering the phone and navigating group dynamics and remembering birthdays and showing up at things and returning emails seemed like overwhelming pressure. I have a reclusive side, which makes it challenging to maintain friendships.

Even so, I have managed to keep a small group of “best friends” from college. They take such incredible care of each other. They make friendship look so natural, so effortless. And I always felt loved by them but also a few steps removed. I couldn’t do it the way they did it. Couldn’t be all in like they are with each other. I always kept one foot out. Partly because I have a very hard time feeling part of any group. Groups are so hard. But also because everything they relied on from each other…advice, help, a shoulder to cry on, shopping partners . . . I get from my Sister. I am ashamed to say it, but I never really thought I needed them. But after a few months in my new town it became clear that it was going to be very, very hard to make friends. And impossible to replace the ones I already had. Marriage and parenting become extra hard without friends with whom to discuss how wonderful and hard they are.

So Craig and I started talking about what this all meant for us. It’s a journey, our marriage. We try one thing, then try another. We see what works and what doesn’t. We get to know each other better with each new try, and then we fix things for each other and try not to lose our patience. We try to be tireless with each others’ hearts. Craig is an expert at these things. I am learning.

In the end, we decided to move back. Back to Northern Virginia. Back to the burbs. Back to our friends. Mostly because it became clear that I needed to. As a recovering alcoholic and bulimic, true loneliness is dangerous territory for me. I don’t know how it works, but being plugged in to others is one of the keys to my sobriety. And there was one lonely night in our teeny little town when I glanced at the wine bottle on top of the fridge – just for a couple seconds too long. That scared the bejesus out of me. And sweet Craig knows…if I go down…the whole fam damily goes down. So listen, here is what we did.

We bought a house in one of those planned communities in which I swore I’d never live. Where the HOA spray paints the grass green and the backyards and closets are about the same size. I know. Big change. But listen.

I live within a mile of Gena, Casey, Manal, and Megan. We can walk to each other’s houses and our little ones are all in school together. And when Craig calls and says he’s going to be late, I call my girls and say come over right away. And our million collective littles run around my house and we mamas talk and drink Diet Coke out of wine glasses because Manal’s mom told her it tastes better that way. It really does. And we make nine frozen pizzas and I burn most of them and Gena looks at me in the middle of the chaos and says, I can’t believe this. I can’t believe how lucky we are. 15 years. We’re mamas together.

And I look at Gena – and all of these Genas flash before me.

I see her in a sparkly gown that she wore to a dance her freshman year in college. And then I see her in a black graduation gown, holding her diploma. And then I see her walking down the aisle in a gorgeous wedding gown. And finally I see her in the blue hospital gown she wore when she had her first child, Tyler.

And I think, we are growing up together . . . kind of like sisters do. We’re friends. And I know we’re friends because I need you. I don’t understand why. I’m just grateful that I do.

And I turn to watch Gena’s little girls chasing mine through our house in their Snow White dresses and I think….Yep. I found my Water. I found my Small Town. My water and my small town are my friends. And I’m all in. It’s like The Alchemist. Sometimes you have to go away to discover that you left everything you needed Back Home. But the journey was necessary.

And is our new (old) life here perfect?

Hells no.

But here’s what I’ve learned, finally. I am not going to be perfectly happy anywhere.

If I live by the water, I will miss the burbs. If I live in the mountains, I will miss the water. If I live in the burbs, I will miss the mountains. If I watch House Hunters International, I will miss Costa Rica. And I’ve never even been to Costa Rica.

The point is that I have done the experiment, I have moved six times in eight years, to very different places…chasing peace and joy. And I stiiiiiill haven’t fooooound what I’m looking fooooor. I am a slow learner. But I do eventually learn. So listen- I am finally ready to accept that there is no geographic location that offers perfect joy and peace. Because, like Bubba says: Wherever you go, There you are. That’s the problem. Not where you are, but that you are. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me seven times…..

There is a scripture that says “quit wearing out your shoes.” And I think I finally know what that means. One of the keys to happiness is accepting that this side of Life, I’m never going to be perfectly happy where I am. So I might as well get busy loving the people around me. I’m going to quit deciding whether they are the right people for me and I’m just gonna take a deep breath and start loving my neighbors. I’m going to take care of my friends. I’m going to find peace in the ‘burbs. I’m going to quit chasing happiness and sit still long enough to see it right in front of me.

Now here’s the important part of all of this. I’ve been thinking a lot about what these discoveries in my little life mean about Life. What does do my discoveries about friendship mean for all of us?

Because I am starting to know you Lovies pretty well. So I know that some of you are reading and nodding and thinking about your own close girlfriends and feeling grateful for them. But I also know that there are many, many others reading and feeling sad because they don’t have close girlfriends. Because they’ve been hurt or ignored or left out by women. I have been, too. I know how that feels.

I’m reading a book right now called The Twisted Sisterhood about all the ways that females hurt each other. It’s making me sad and frustrated and inspired. I want us to all take better care of each other. We ladies need to learn how to love each other better through this tough life. And I’d like to talk about how. What better use of our time here than to explore ways to make more women feel welcome and loved and safe?

How do you feel about female relationships? Do you have them? Do you want them? Are they satisfying? Are you afraid of them because you’ve been hurt? All of the above?

Love You. Take Care of Each Other.

Mar 122011

I feel exhausted after posts like these. Not bad exhausted – more like just-finished-a-marathon exhausted. I feel grateful and inspired, but also worn out, poured out, and a little shaky. Not so much from the writing of the essay, but from the responses – which challenge me and require me to rethink and practice accepting criticism and praise without internalizing either one. That’s tough for me, but good tough. Growing tough.

Here was one of my favorite responses to the last post:

Dear G: Why are you so obsessed with gay people?

This one cracked me up because for a whole day I couldn’t stop picturing myself as Jerry McGuire in this scene – except that in my daydream I was screaming: I LOVE GAY PEOPLE! I LOOOOVE GAY PEOPLLLLLEEEEEEE!

Anyway, I guess my answer is, as usual: I don’t know. I think it might have something to do with this picture, though.

This is a picture of a sit-in in 1963. Just fifty years ago. In America.

I love this picture. I might actually have it framed for my family room wall. I think it just shows the Truth of Things. It shows how complicated people are – how our courage and weakness and blindness and anger and love are all wrapped up together. It shows that often – the louder people are, the wrong-er people are.It shows that there is no safety in numbers. It proves that you can stand alone with the whole world jeering at you and God can still be right there beside you, holding your hand, encouraging you to resist, encouraging you to keep the faith, begging you to BELIEVE.

Quiet, believing, together. That jeering crowd…. each one jeers alone. They just look alone – together. There is no real unity in a mob. Fear incites – never unites. But look at the people at the counter. They are suffering together. They are united by Love. I bet inside they were shaking, though. I bet they thought they were LOSING. They thought they were losing, I bet.

I think that’s why I love this picture so much. It is proof that things are not always what they appear to be. It is proof of quiet, courageous, determined, Hope. It is proof that even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment…Love Does Win. It’s a done deal. Always. The first will be last and the last will be first, eventually.

My minister showed our congregation this picture several years ago. He asked us to look carefully at the faces. Some are giddy with mob fever and hate, some are distressed but fearful to take a stand, some are looking away. Which face would I have been? Or would I have been absent from the picture altogether? Would I have been home, preaching to my kids about equality from the safety of my living room? Would I have even recognized the opportunity to join my brothers and sisters in insisting that We Belong To Each Other?

So anyway, Lovie – I guess that’s why I’m obsessed with gay people. Because it seems to me that gay rights are civil rights. And when I look back at the snapshot of this time in my life- I want to see myself sitting at that counter, covered in mustard, alongside others who believe that in the end, Love Wins.

“Civil and political rights are a class of rights and freedoms that protect individuals from unwarranted action by government and private organizations and individuals and ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.”

Mar 222011

This post is dedicated to John, Sister’s fiancée. Good Luck, Brother.


Let’s head back to the morning of March 20th, 2003 for a moment, shall we?

Craig and I have been married for six months. Chase, our firstborn is five months old. Just skip the math and stay with me here. I’m home on maternity leave and spending my days alternating between the ecstasy and despair that accompany caring for an infant. I’m a little worn out.

But on March 20th, 2003, I wake up renewed and refreshed and tingling with excitement. Because as soon as I open my eyes, I remember: It’s my birthday. MY BIRTHDAY. I lie in bed and wait for the surprises and festivities and celebration of me to begin.

I wait. Then I wait a little longer. I look at Craig sleeping soundly and think, Ooooh- this is gonna be good. He’s still asleep! He must’ve been up all night preparing for my big day. Can’t wait.

Still waiting. Staring at Craig.

Craig opens his eyes, turns to me and smiles. Happy birthday, honey. I bat my eyes and smile back.

Craig gets up and stumbles to the shower.

I stay in bed. Still waiting. Waiting patiently.

He comes back in twenty minutes later and says, “Can I make you some coffee?”

I say, “Um. Sure.”

I climb out of bed. I put my hair up and throw on a little make-up so I’ll look nice in the pictures Craig’s sure to snap of me when I emerge from the bedroom and see all my balloons and flowers and perhaps the string quartet he’s hired to play while I eat the fancy breakfast he’s prepared.

I take a deep breath and fling open the bedroom door with much birthday gusto. I prepare my most surprised face.

Turns out there was no need to prepare. I am surprised. Because there are no balloons. No quartet. No nothing. Just Craig. Smiling, hugging me. Happy Birthday, Honey. Gotta go. See you for dinner tonight?

Craig leaves. I sit on the kitchen floor of our teeny apartment wondering if perhaps this is a practical joke. I open the front door to see if he’s hiding there with all of my friends whom he’s flown in from the ends of the earth to yell SURPRISE! at me. No friends. Nothing.

I sit on the couch, shocked. I am misunderstood, I am unappreciated.

Please understand. Growing up with Bubba and Tisha, birthdays were a big deal. They made the world stop on my birthday. You never knew what would happen, but you knew it was gonna be good. Tisha would bring us breakfast in bed with flowers and gifts and prizes and out-of-the-ordinary things would happen all day. One time in high school Bubba and Tisha sent roses to my fourth period history class with a card that said “from your secret admirer.” Nobody was allowed to get flowers delivered to class. But Bubba knew people. He also knew that those flowers would make me the most popular girl in school for the day. And they did. I walked around shrugging my shoulders when people asked me who they were from- glancing nonchalantly in the direction of the captain of the football team. Who didn’t know my name. But still, anything was possible on my birthday.

Let’s just say that the morning of March 20th, 2003, I did not feel like the most popular girl in school. I did not feel like anything could happen. I kinda felt like nothing was going to happen. Defeated, I sat down on the couch with my crying baby and turned on the TV.

The news anchor announced that America had officially declared some sort of war.

WHAT??? I yelled at the TV. ON MY BIRTHDAY?????

And that was IT.

I called Craig at work. He didn’t answer, so I hung up and called back immediately, which is our bat signal for it’s an emergency. He answered on the first ring, “Hi, What’s wrong? Is everything okay? Another fire???”

Whatever. So, I had set the apartment on fire the week before. Twice. Firefighters had come both times. Blaring their sirens and holding their big hoses and wearing their big masks and costumes and everything, which I thought was a little dramatic of them. I mean the fires weren’t that big. So Craig was still a little jumpy. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. Please, Monkees, for the love of God, try to focus on MY BIRTHDAY.

Me: “No, husband. There is no fire. It is much worse than that. You should know that I have cancelled my birthday. Today is no longer my birthday.”

Craig: “What? Why?”

Me: “Because it is already 11 am and nothing extraordinary has happened to me yet. Except, apparently, some sort of war. I hate this day. And so it is not my birthday. Cancel it in your brain. Tomorrow is my birthday.”

Craig: “Okay. Ooooookay. Should I cancel our reservations and the sitter for tonight?”

Me: “No. No you shouldn’t, Husband. We will still go out to dinner tonight. But it will be a working dinner. Bring a pencil and paper, husband. Because tonight I will be holding a seminar for you about my birthday expectations.They are many and they are specific, so you will want to wear your thinking cap. Also, find a sitter and reservation for tomorrow night, too. Tomorrow night will be my birthday dinner. My birthday is tomorrow. Consider it a second chance. You are welcome. See you tonight, Husband. For the seminar. “

And we went to dinner that night. And I explained to Craig how growing up, my parents showed their love by making a big deal out of special days. And by paying attention to what people really wanted and cared about and then offering thoughtful gifts. And by creating special traditions. And so that’s how I learned to accept love. And how when Craig didn’t do that, it made me feel panicked and unloved somewhere down really deep.

And Craig explained that he loved me very much. And because he loved me, he wanted me to feel loved. But he said that sometimes it’s hard to know what makes a person feel loved best. So he thought it was kind and wise that I figured out what made me feel loved and shared it with him. He said he was grateful. It made him feel safe, like I would help him through this marriage thing instead of being secretly resentful.

The Love Seminar worked for us. It lasted four hours. There was some crying and lots of laughing and talking about how hard it is to come from two different families and try to make a new one. And how impossible it was to read minds and hearts. How wonderful it was to just hear what the person you love needs and learn how to do it.To set each other up for success rather than failure.

The next morning, on March 21, 2003, my temporary birthday, Craig walked into our bedroom with hot coffee and bagels covered with pink candles. He sang to me and asked me to make a wish.

When I peeked out of the bedroom I saw posters covering the walls of our apartment. They said, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HONEY! I LOVE MY AMAZING WIFE! The posters and balloons and hearts drawn all over them. Boys can’t really draw balloons and hearts, by the way. Ridiculously cute.

I squealed and Craig beamed. I kissed him goodbye and he said he’d call soon. Every hour, in fact.

I peeked into Chase’s room and saw that his crib was decorated with blue streamers.

I went pee, unrolled some toilet paper and little sticky notes fell out of the roll, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABY!”

Teamwork. Love takes teamwork, I think.

These days, Craig is known for his skill at celebrating special family days. He takes pride in it. He is a master. Legendary. I can’t tell you how many times a friend has said to me, “You are so lucky. He is amazing.”

And part of me wants to say, “Lucky? Whadyathink he fell out of the sky like that?”

But instead I say, “I know. He is. He’s amazing.”

He is.

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