I love the idea of hitting the reset button as a new year rings in. I love taking a moment to look around at my family and friends and career and desk and packed-full storage space and think about what I could be doing better and what is just fine as it is, at least for another year. And I do love lists, big ideas, seemingly silly dreams and plans.
But what I don't love are the resolutions that keep me tied to an overwhelming new schedule, a weight scale or obligations that don't feel right. A challenge is great, a chore is not. So this year, we are holding fast to the spirit of resolutions -- reaching toward our better selves -- and letting go of the pressure.
Oh, yes, I said we. I am hooking my little family into this with a jar full of moments to share throughout 2013 to help us spend time together, laugh more, hug harder, keep tidier, run around often and maybe even tackle that storage space.
I asked Lil E to help me make a list of things we loved about the year we are leaving. What was important to him to include was funny and sweet and far less silly than I expected. He wanted books to be on there ("for sure!") and our time with my pistol of a nephew, Baby J. He wrote in the Not Boyfriend's move and school (that was my idea) and being off school (his, clearly).
Being together was all his own and I didn't even know it was there until I snapped a photo of the list. His scooter time topped the list but it wrapped up with news from our family we're happy to share (soon). For now, we will usher out this long archive of happy memories (and some prayers of thanks for making it through the challenges) by relacsing and drawing and adding on to a new post-it in the days and weeks and months ahead.
Happy New Year, kittens. May your 2013 list be filled with many funny, sweet and even silly times.
This was totally worth the last-minute editing and ten bucks I paid the kid to participate.
Stoplights, horrid traffic, waiting for the school bell to ring on frigid days, hanging out before Tae Kwon Do class starts — all opportunities to have a dance party in our car.
While I certainly am working on my son’s musical education from the Beatles to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the best music for belting out and jamming out in the car is certainly the irritatingly addicting top 40 variety. Taylor, Katy, Rihanna, Train and Flo Rida are all frequent passengers in our vehicle.
The Not Boyfriend has been in my life for three years, but it is the first Christmas we will spend together. It’s the first Christmas he will celebrate in decades. For other couples, this might feel like a natural progression. But for us, and for his winding path of faith, it will be an interesting and tentative walk.
The Not Boyfriend was raised Jewish, and as soon as he was out on his own, he began to explore many other ways of being spiritual. He read and read and read, he dove deep into the waters of Maui, kibbutzed, floated in the Dead Sea, traveled extensively, sat in meditation, and finally shaved his head in recognition of his Buddhist journey. He knows much more about the Bible than I do, a girl brought up in a Christian church and the granddaughter of a minister. But he also knows much more about the world’s religions and their histories and commonalities than I do. It’s part of how he serves his higher power. We don’t practice the same ways, we don’t hold fast to all of the same tenets, but our spirits are very much in sync. And when I tease him about reincarnation and he teases me about the Baby Jesus, it is usually part of some late-night conversation in the pitch dark about something that resides in the most protected parts of our soul.
Is it possible to open him to Christmas? To show him our world like a glittery snow globe that he will want to fit into with us?
I am so honored to once again be a part of this list of Top 100 Mom Blogs 2012.
Sitting among the other writers on this list, I feel like I am in a theater that is echoing with laughter and cries and cleverness, and I am taking it all in. The women around me. The ones I'm closest to and the writers way up in the balcony who I've long admired. The ladies whose stories and voice I know so well it is like we've always been just across the aisle from each other. The writers whose work is new to me and those who I recognize and want to know better. The ones I've just heard about. The people in the audience we all look to or are the most recognized.
Last year, I was excited to be placed right in the middle at #51. This year, I have moved up a few rows. But what astounds me and makes me feel a little like Halle Berry lip-smacked by surprise on stage is being honored with third among those in the confessional category -- good Lord, what great company to be in.
All these stories poured out and raised up and sent out with eyes closed and fingers crossed --well, this is a lovely recognition of all that. If I could give a speech (and well, since I pay for this space, I guess I can), I'd say a gracious thank you to Babble and to the people who read this crazy thing and to the women around me who inspire me with every single post to be better than I am. And, of course, to the wonderful souls who let me tell their stories, I feel lucky to write your words among my own.
I make the pies in the family. My grandmother never officially appointed me with this duty. My mother never formally stepped down. But since my mom has taken on nearly every other dish, tending to the turkey and carefully planning sides to please each person at the table, I am the one entrusted with the pie tins my grandma smoothed rounds of her own homemade crust into each holiday season.
As Thanksgiving approaches, baking the pies feels like an enormous task. I count them out -- apple for my dad and me, brownie for my boy, pecan for my other grandmother, one more for fun or sharing. Carving out the hours to peel apples and knead dough and slice decorative leaves in the top crust all take time.
I think the tasks of making the pies pull at me because I know it will all be accompanied by the voice of my grandmother in my head, flour-doused memories of her in my heart and hours counted out on my fingers of how much time I will have with my son in the holiday visitation back-and-forth. There's a lot there in the kitchen while the fruit softens, the butter melts and it all bubbles up at the edges of a soft, golden brown top.
Once I get into my mother's kitchen with my apron on and too many people's hands in the way and too little counter space to roll and slice and cool it all, the daunting part of making pies slips away. I always feel right where I need to be.
I would love to make an entire Thanksgiving dinner on my own, host each course from salads to pie slices. But I feel like I am contributing something important as soon as I pull back the checked dishtowels protecting the apple, the brownie, the pecan and the wildcard pie. That part matters.
This year, we celebrated Fakesgiving two days early since my boy was off to his dad's for the real holiday. Once upon a time, this was a glitch in the whole weekend and I mourned his absence on the actual day. But this year, I felt happy to stretch the holiday out, to savor time with him and my parents and still have a long weekend with my love.
Taking away E's chair for part of the holiday wasn't at all the biggest shift for us this year. It was adding one in for the Not Boyfriend.
This is the place card Lil E made for me for Thanksgiving dinner. To mark where I should sit. And also to validate my fancy shoes.
And crazy-lady eyes.
Who could foresee this classic turkey-bombing maneuver?
That turkey, all felt and crazy-eyed himself, was made by me when I was four or six or something.
Circle of life. Or at least circle of dead fowl.
Four years ago, I took Lil E, then half his current age, with me to the polling place a few blocks away. Then I penned him his own ballot. He voted in the parking lot, strapped into his carseat, barely able to hold the pen with his oversized gloves on.
Later that day, he voted in his preschool classroom. He'd brought up the election in class, spurring the mock-voting where every kid got to cast two ballots. Obama won in pre-K and in the USA. But four years later, E remembers voting once for each candidate and still believes every kid ("and adult even") should get two ballots.
That night, I sat anxiously with my parents in my living room, watching the returns. Only a few miles away, crowds pushed in tightly to Grant Park, just as anticipatory as we were about the final call. E was still tiny and it was past his bedtime and cold, but I longed to be there with the masses of people cheering on what I hoped would be our nation's first family. But looking back, I am grateful for the tiny circle of support in my living room that night, for the time to listen to parents talk about Kennedy's election and the similarities in the energy and faith and uprising of younger generations.
Of course, it was Obama. I mean, we know that because we have been with him for his first term not because anyone was "of course" about his chances of winning. It all felt so precarious up until the words were officially spoken. The three of us cried.
It occured to me that night that my son would never grow up questioning the normalcy of a person of color being this country's president. I was bowled over by that revelation and it made me want for more -- a kid who doesn't think twice about the legality of gay marriage or access to birth control and abortions or pay equity. I am still holding on to those dreams.
Today, I teared up to cast my ballot, again for Obama. I felt a wave of relief and hope as I watched it the counter suck up my ballot and register the numbers. The prevailing question of this election, "Is your life better than it was four years ago?", rang in my ears. Yes, I thought back, it is.
But one thing hasn't changed -- that relief and hope. And it didn't need to. I have that very investment in President Obama today as I did four years ago and that is one thing that is perfectly the same.
I voted to re-elect President Barack Obama because I believe in reproductive justice for all Americans. I believe in safe, legal and accessible abortion and the right to choose without question. I believe in birth control availability, accurate information and coverage by insurance.
I voted to re-elect President Barack Obama because I see the social good of Obamacare.
I voted to re-elect President Barack Obama because the civil right to marry should be available to all Americans, no matter what gender we claim.
I voted to re-elect President Barack Obama because I want to bring home the troops who are serving in conflict and to create viable, actionable, immediate exit strategies where our military serves in conflict.
I voted to re-elect President Barack Obama because I believe in investing funds in the future of our country -- education, public programming, green space, and yes, Sesame Street.
I voted to re-elect President Barack Obama because I will never stop being an activist for fair and equitable pay for women.
I voted to re-elect President Barack Obama because I feel deeply in my heart that one day my son will look back on the good works done by this administration and be proud he remembers it, grateful his mother participated in and in wonder of what life was like in this country during the time before.
My little light is my boy, my beliefs and what I hold high as best for most of us in this nation. I am proud to see it shine on.
Today marks one year since the Not Boyfriend's mother passed away. Just as the earth at her gravesite has not yet been completely covered over by grass, sometimes it still feels like her soul is present.
My heart is heavy with my love's today. And I am grateful for all his mother showed me about parenting into adulthood, through an illness and after death. Just a few months before she surrendered, she leaned in and told me to take care of him. I could only nod and say, "I promise."
Pieces of her life are placed in the Not Boyfriend's new apartment -- a water pitcher in the window, a poster with funny motivational phrases in the bathroom, a small needlepoint-upholstered rocking chair in the corner. Her bright green Kate Spade bag is tucked among the clutch purses in my closet, a lozenge and a lip balm and a few carefully folded kleenexes she placed in the inside pocket still there. A necklace she left for me is around my neck. These are things, just things. But the imprint of her and the others who have owned those heirlooms -- I believe strongly those are still there.
Send some comforting thoughts to the Not Boyfriend today, please. Help me blanket him on a day (and days) when mothering love will bring him peace. Then call your own mamas and grandmothers and women who have shaken their heads and fingers at you, who have pushed you to be more yourself, who have shown you love with cookies and Thanksgiving dinners and silly cards. Hold them tight to you today. And care a little bit more for you today, too -- in some small and kind way, as a thank you for carrying on the lessons and the heirlooms, and for mothering yourself when that's what you have to do.
And if you see a lady bug, let us know. It the NB's mother's way of still speaking.
He transforms in this costume. It is something hilarious and slightly strange and amazing to behold. He has a dance all choreographed and he slinks down the hallway on all fours. He moves in close -- too close -- and doesn't ever say a word.
That's how I knew the costume was perfect for him. Lots of people will be Avengers and Mario Brothers -- that's what I told him. And he thought about it for weeks and chose to suit up in a way that really suits him.
He wore the costume many times before today. One Saturday, he was in and out of it six or seven times. He is uninhibited. He is inspired. He is in love with himself in all that spooky Spandex.
This morning, he couldn't keep still while I tucked all of his skater-punk hair into the mask and Velcro-ed it shut. He fidgeted while I tied his sneakers and tucked his pants way down in the skinny legs of it all.
"I can't wait to see how kids react when they see me!" He said this as he waved at people passing by in cars as we drove to school.
But when we got to the playground and the kids stopped and stared, he moved in closer to me. His gelatin moves stiffened and he tucked under my arm as a pair of Mario Brothers pointed and said he was too spooky.
My alien-boy got shy. And maybe a little embarrased. I tried to pull him out of it, but he waved off my attempts. When the bell rang, he waved off his friends as well as they tried to touch his wig and tug at his finger tips. It didn't go the way he envisioned.
It wasn't the kind of encounter he planned. I hope when I go back to pick him up, he sees it all differently. I hope he's warmed up to the weirdness of his costume and the fabulousness of the opportunity to be mysterious and funny and a little creepy all at once. I hope he's found his way back home in his costume.
We will go to a party and then trick-or-treating with too many kids on a street too crowded with parents and wagons and strollers and chaos. Then his dad will arrive, surely dressed to match, and I will snap a thousand more photos of us all. It will be cold and too soon we will be ready to call it a night, no matter how much candy is in the bucket and how much more the other kids are up for.
I will whisper to him that he is so him. And that even swathed from top to toe in alien green, I see the boy he is and I see who he is becoming and I see the part that connects it all and will stay true, year after year, get-up after get-up, change after change.
It has been too long since I've been here. I don't like that feeling, the itchiness that comes when I have so much going on in my life that I can't get my body and brain to settle long enough to give Sassafrass the love she deserves. Instead, I write posts in my head. I take pictures as prompts. I set cell-phone reminders and carve out spots on my calendar.
And then there's one more email to answer, a few little things to finish first. There's a phone call or series of texts. Or I feel depleted, distracted or just direly in need of a dose of Real Housewives.
It's not always bad -- sometimes the life-stuffs happening are good and gooby and happy and in-loveish. And I want to be there, in it, swirling around and enjoying it rather than disciplining myself to sit back down in front of a screen.
But even when I know all of this and rationalize this and remind myself of this, I still feel the itch that needs to be soothed. Eventually, it gets irritating or remind-y enough that I get back here. So here I am.
And here is why I have been all of these things over the last couple of weeks.
1. I have been in mediation. Perhaps those of us who are divorced need to believe that finalization papers really are the end. But the truth is that, for many of us, court continues on. I've been in two long, exhausting, emotional mediation sessions and am also in the midst of another court hearing process on a separate issue. It's a lot -- of money, time and keeping myself organized, tempered and true to what I believe is best for my boy. I want to share more about this when it feels a bit less consuming. (In the meantime, what would you like to read? How I make it through mediation? The best bits of advice I received? Or just the dirt?)
2. I have been writing. A lot. I've also been editing and content strategizing and filming videos and appearing on live news segments. It's thrilling to be so close to that exactly-where-I-want-to-be place with my work. And I cannot wait to share the details with you.
3. I have been in the midst of some pretty heavy parenting stuff. Everyone's safe and OK. But Lil E and I have been making a pretty tremendous transistion. Nothing radical, mostly a shift of the heart and community. I've needed to funnel a lot of tenderness toward him in the last month because some little moments have changed us quite a bit. More on that soon, too (I promise).
4. Oh, yeah. The Not Boyfriend's minutes away. I've been delighting in the tiny changes -- stopping by for breakfast, seeing him every Wednesday evening, having a partner to go to Steppenwolf plays with me, an Ikea trip together, spontaneous (sort of) after-school meet-ups with the kiddo. And we are still adjusting to the change and the schedules and trying to make it all work smoothly.
5. I've been reading. Because of all the heavy-duty shit happening, I've been unfolding the dog-eared pages of my favorite Pema Chodron book and going over and over the lovely wisdom in Welcome to Your Crisis. I've also been making my way slowly -- as I can steal bits of time in the tub and during Tae Kwon Do class -- through Kyran Pittman's Planting Dandelions. Kyran, who is hilarious and wears fishnet stockings and thusly making her perfect for me in those regards alone, writes this like a good friend who reveals more and more as you make your way through the book. There's a building honesty and trust as the chapters go on. And it's comforted me and made me feel like this friend, who I know only from a conference and many Twitter LOLzing, is closer.
6. I have been getting Sassafrass ready to go to college. Well, technically since she's six now, I guess that'd be closer to kindergarten or first grade (so smart!). But actually, the relaunch I am planning with a talented designer really will make Sassafrass look like a real overachiever. I am so damn excited. And yes, you know what that means -- more details later.
See? I made it. All the way down to end of one post. And now I am quite sure it will be hard for me to close up the laptop until tomorrow. But I will because I have already outlined all the conversations and confessions and revelations we will be having in the days ahead.
See you then. I promise.
I was looking through pictures the Not Boyfriend and I snapped at my friend Lulu's wedding in Portland last month, overtaken time and again at just how beautiful she is -- and especially was in those moments.
That was my first thought, gasping again at her smile, when I saw this one of Lulu and her groom coming down the aisle after their vows.
But it only took a split second for me to see this...
See it there, marked by sunshine on the side of the reception hall?
I have no idea how that sweet shape made its way through her radiance, how it landed where it did in that one moment we all were watching this happy couple. What I hope is that it is a sign of all that is ahead of her.
I've been to a lot of weddings in the years since I have been divorced, and at most of them, I've been seated with my parents or other single friends. That has been nice. Still, I sipped on champagne and stayed rooted in my banquet chair during the bouquet toss, quietly hoping for a plus-one, looking ahead and squinting to see events when I could dance with my own love.
This was the third wedding I went to with the Not Boyfriend as my date. During one wedding, we threw rose petals as the bride and groom relived one moment from their courthouse nuptials the week before. At another, we took crazy photo booth pictures with Lil E. At this wedding, we felt like a family.
Lil E ran outside in the dark, playing catch on a hilly sideyard. The Not Boyfriend and I swayed to a song or two when an iPhone playlist after the bluegrass quartet packed up and went home. I wished the wedding could go on so we could dance to a few more slow songs, maybe share another glass of champagne, stand outside in the pitch black to give E just five more minutes to play free.
Maybe it wasn't much different than those weddings when I longed to not be alone, if only in that I was looking ahead for more than what I had in that one turn in time. I saw the heart then. It just seemed so far ahead.
Or maybe it was completely different. I found the love. I just want more time to pull it close, pressing it to my own beating heart.
Lulu didn't see that heart-shaped light. Since she's been busy with a honeymoon and the post-wedding scramble to get back to everyday life, I haven't had the chance to point it out to her.
Bride or single lady sitting at the table alone, we don't always see that promise and glow just beyond our reach, do we? But look, it's there. If you look, hard enough and for long enough, you will see it there.
The truck finally arrived, days late and in the rain, with the Not Boyfriend's belongings. When I got there, he was furiously unpacking and breaking down boxes, loading up the recycling bin and dealing with the movers.
There is a lot to do. And because moving is never about the contents of the boxes, there are all those contents of the heart and past and future to find a place for, too.
To ease it all, we've been joking about what will be the wagon-wheel coffee table of this big move. And although I've tried to be sensitive about his stuff and he's been protective about his stuff, we did get honest the other night, laying in bed and discussing where furniture from his mom and that he had made and that he loves will be configured in his new apartment.
"Can I be blunt?" I asked. I was apprehensive. "Ditch the loveseat. I do not like that loveseat."
He laughed. "I like you blunt," he said.
I was relieved. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Maybe that was a spot of sanctuary for him. Even though I was not fond of folding myself into the small space, perhaps he was.
We moved on from there. But today, after Lil E and I helped unpack a few boxes and headed home to do homework and get him ready for his dad's house, after we left the new place filled up with bubble-wrap and blanket-covered furniture, we crossed the courtyard to our car. And there it was, left on the curb, where it will surely be snatched up by someone with a pickup truck in less than an hour.
Already rolled out with no further discussion.
There will be wagon wheels to contend with, put up with, discard and negotiate, I am quite sure. This just wasn't one of them.
Need I clarify that my friend with the car Martha Stewart would be sated to be chauffered in is not a mother?
I am sure there is a mother or three out there who has somehow managed to hide her station wagon from kids with sticky hands and leakiy diapers and 47 of the smallest Lego pieces ever shoved in teensy pockets. Or a mother who has interns to vacuum all that junk off of the seats every day. Or some Real Housewife, maybe. But I do not know these mothers. And I am not one of them.
I have good intentions. I splurge on the $13 handwash that includes lots of scrubbing down and Windexing off and other detailing I can't seem to make myself do. Still, I end up with makeup somehow smeared on the steering wheel, piles of empty water bottles rattling around and tiny parking meter slips wedged in everywhere. And seriously? Who can ever get those rugs clean? I need the car wash gents to handle that for me, and I relish the four hours it lasts.
I have taken some steps this year to make my car a saner, cleared-out space. After all, I spend enough time in there and it is a small enough space that I am not totally overwhelmed to tackle it and re-tackle it (unlike my basement).
Chances are, you will still be able to find a snack's-worth of half-granola bars and Ritz crackers in my car. But you will actually have a place to sit, tuck your purse and rest your to-go cup of coffee. It's not pristine but it doesn't look like we've been living in it for a month on our way to the landfill, either. Here's what I do (and re-do and re-do) to clean the kid- (and mom-) clutter from my car:
1. A hook for my bag. This may seem like a ridiculous purchase from my favorite, overpriced store, but it is, in fact, a car-cleaning saving grace. I decided to stop complaining there was no good place in my car to put my purse and make a place for one with this hook from Container Store ($6.99). By hanging my bag (and sometimes, jacket or scarf), I move most of the clutter from the passenger seat. None of it slides and spills all over the floor if I stop suddenly.
2. A stash of fancy trash bags. I got rid of the little pile of kleenexes and receipts and banana peels that stuck around the car (or my purse) too long by collecting all the small shopping bags under my sink and putting them in the pocket of driver's side door. Here's the key for me: I only use the smaller bags, and prefer the fancy kind I was saving for some...oh, I don't know what could constitute a GOOD-bag worthy event, but I am sure they exist. Double bonus, this cleans out all those bags I've been saving since '97. I hook the bag around the gear shift, making a proper rubbish receptacle at hand at all times. When it is full, I drive down the alley and drop it in a trash bin. Done.
3. Bins. I learned this tip from a mom I babysat for years ago. She kept an emergency bin within kid-reach. Forget first aid, this mamafied bin was full of baby-sized water bottles, energy bars and other snacks. Any time a kid whined in the carpool line or was DYYYYYYYYIIIIING of thirst, BAM! Problem solved. I keep a small bin of snacks and refillable water bottles, and another with a full box Kleenex, cough drops, ibuprofen and sunscreen. If I'm giving a ride to girlfriends or stacking the backseat with small children in carseats, I toss the bins in the way-back to get out of the way easily.
4. Hook for my keys. I have a keyless sort of car. The key merely needs to be present and detectable by the fairies in the dashboard, not in the ignition. This presents a problem of where to put the keys. It sounds like a silly issue, but when they get wedged in between the seats or slide around on the floor, I worry I will lose them altogether. I could drop my keys in the cupholder, but then I wouldn't have room for my coffee-IV and Camelbak of two-day-old water. If I plop them in my lap, they inevitably get caught under my skirt. PROBLEMS, PEOPLE! MAJOR FIRST-WORLD PROBLEMS! To solve the key issue, I bought a clear, adhesive hook ($3.99)from the home store and stuck it near the steering wheel. I hang my keys there -- no fuss, no lost keys, nothing unwanted up my skirt.
5. Pay someone else to do the cleaning at least once a month. That could be a kid who is desperate for allowance dollars. Or it could be an industrious Junior Achiever who lives next door. Or it could be the nice crew at one of the seventeen hand-carwash garages in your neighborhood. If you're doling out a lot more than you are used to for this service, get a punchcard or bribe the kids with all the stale granola bars in the emergency bin they can eat. That should do it. And yes, do put all the supplies in a plastic bin.
If all else fails, turn up the music a bit louder, wear sunglasses so that any drivers in the lane next to you won't recognize you amidst the piles of recycling if they peer in the car. And then, if you must, unfriend the people with prisitine cars.
What are your best car-clutter clearing tips?
It's the last week! Can you believe it? Back to You is a month-long project designed by Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom and me to help moms remember to take care of ourselves during the busy back-to-school season. We will have great tips, giveaways, challenges and accessible activities to help you feel healthier, happier, gorgeous and even more fabulous.
I really suck at giveaways. I have such good intentions and I get all excited and then it takes me a year-and-a-half to coordinate very complicated logistics like buying a big old padded envelope and typing on my laptop. Apologies. I am totally going to get Oprah on myself to follow through better. Or maybe set ten to twelve calendar alerts to get my ass in gear.
ORRRRR....maybe pushing back announcing the giveaway to those of you I encouraged to claim a quiet space in your home was all just a rouse to see if you were breathing through the anticipatory weeks in that quiet space. Did it work?! Let's go with that one.
On with it:
[Click to read who the winner is]