The Most Important Thing of All

20140703_144701One day last week I watched casually as my 5-year-old daughter held a thimble-sized sticker in her hand the shape of a triangle. Her eyes squinting and her mouth opened slightly, I could see she was immersed in concentration. She was trying to apply this tiny sticker to Chelsea’s Clubhouse, a new toy we purchased that day. I watched silently as time and again her small hands couldn’t quite arrange the sticker exactly where it needed to go — on a yellow plastic piece the shape of a flag with an indentation the same shape as the sticker. She stuck it on and pulled it off a few times. The last time she pulled it off, it ripped, and she let out a frustrated grunt. Uuurrrgh.

“Do you want some help, sweetie?” I offer, already knowing what she’s going to say.

“I can’t get this on right. I want it to be perfect.” She looks at me out of the corner of her eye because now she knows what I’m going to say. “Don’t tell me that nothing can be perfect Mama, ’cause it can!”

I smile because I appreciate the strength of our bond, that we can read each other’s thoughts.

“Honey, there’s no such thing as perfect.” I say, like I always say when my perfectionist first-born wants to get something just right; her arrangement of stuffed animals, her drawings of rainbows, or her worksheets of practiced letters and numbers. She wants it all to be perfect.

“Perfect isn’t what’s important anyway. Tell me honey, what’s The Most Important Thing?”

She lets out a sigh because I have asked her this question since she learned how to speak and she knows the answer without having to think.

“Trying.” She says like a bored teenager.

I smile. “That’s right baby. Trying is THE Most Important Thing. As long as you try, that’s all that matters.”

I’m divorcing her father. It’s not going well. My soon-to-be ex was a professional contrarian in our marriage. He defended this habit of contradiction as “enjoying debate” or, “I just don’t see it the way you do.” Sure, he was bound not to see things the same way sometimes, but ALL the time? I swear if I said I thought the air was chilly, for him, it was balmy. If I said the dinner was excellent, he’d say the steak was horribly dry and the service atrocious. If I said I wanted to go to the beach, he’d make a case for a hike in the mountains.

If this tendency was strong in marriage, you can imagine how much fervor it has gained during divorce.

In spite of my best laid plans, life has not turned out the way I’d imagined. I suspect this is true for a great many of us. I did try though… to make it perfect. I went to school, got good grades. I went on to get great jobs and promotions. I got married at the average age of 27 to someone who looked great on paper. We saved money, bought a house. I stayed healthy, had 2 children, 2 years a part, before the age of 35… a boy and a girl. Everything was unfolding as planned… until it didn’t.

Until life happened on life’s terms and I was thrown into a turbine of impossible choices such as: Option A. catastrophe, or Option B. oblivion.

No. No ma’am. There is no such thing as perfect. 

Today, my daughter tells me, hands on hips and a look of smug satisfaction, “Guess what? Daddy says you’re wrong. He says there IS such a thing as perfect. And he says that it’s ME. I’m perfect.”

Oh lord.

I get down to her level. My mind spins off into a million directions trying to hide my frustration and think of how to explain this so she understands.

“Honey. No one is perfect. Not me, not you, not your daddy, not your brother, or grandma or grandpa. There’s not a single one of us who is perfect.” I have her attention now. I take her hands. “But, and this is an important part, we are all just fine the way we are.”

She stares at me. “But daddy says… “

“I know what daddy says but listen to what I’m telling you right now, sweetie. No one is perfect, but we are all just FINE the way we are. Repeat that for me, please.”

She repeats it not looking at my eyes, her attention already diverted to other things. I bite my lip and wonder if she understands but I know if I press further I will lose her completely. I know this subject of perfection will come up again, and I will repeat this mantra again until it is committed to her memory, just like The Most Important Thing.

She goes about onto another project and I say a silent prayer; it is for understanding, faith, forgiveness and strength.

When her father came to pick her up this afternoon I had to carry my son out to the car because he had just woken up from his nap. As I’m strapping him into his car seat my daughter says, “Daddy, tell mommy there IS such a thing as perfect?”

He lets out a quick laugh from his gut that sounds like “ha” with your mouth closed. Of course he says nothing to this request because he won’t even look at me let alone speak to me. I hear her repeat this plea as I shut the car door. “Tell her!”

“I love you, have fun!” I shout as they pull from the drive.

And as I walk back into my empty home I say another silent prayer; for understanding, faith, forgiveness and strength.

Because I am not perfect, and all I can do is…  try. It is The Most Important Thing of All.

 

 

Learning to Breathe Again: On Being a Divorcee Cliche

I’ve been studying writing and literary fiction at the University of Washington for the last two years. I’ve learned oodles about the craft of writing and story telling and I love it so. It makes my brain hurt and my heart soar and my soul sigh in sweet relief. One of the first things I learned about is the dreaded hallmark of bad writing… the cliché. Never, ever, EVER use clichés. Clichés are lazy; a sign of immaturity and lack of creativity and originality on the author’s part. Clichés are the death of good writing!

But right now, my WHOLE LIFE is a cliché.

henna tattoo feather

Don’t worry Mom, it’s henna.

Mid…okay LATE… thirties female, newly divorced with two small kids seeks red wine for comfort. Also, lurks on dating websites, dives head-long into yoga, buys vibrators off infomercials and contemplates getting tattooed. Up next, attempts her best impression of Mrs. Robinson.

See. Cliché.

Going through a divorce (my kind of contentious divorce, anyway) is a trauma. It’s a grenade exploding in the middle of your life. There is a shell-shocked aftermath. A time when your ears ring so loudly you cannot hear the world; all its messages lost in translation. The air is so heavy and thick with acrid, poisonous smoke that you choke, then panic for fear of asphyxiating. You spend weeks, months even in this state trying to find one safe place to take one clean breath. Just one. If you can breathe, maybe you’ll live.

Then, after the imminent danger has passed, you begin the cleanup process. You sweep up the cracked and blackened picture frames of smiling faces from a bygone time. It knocks the wind out of you instantly. You clean out closets stuffed with mementos from “before” and your hands shake with anger and fear. One day you get a wild hair to organize the detritus in a corner of the garage and you find some dusty snorkel gear. That snorkel gear puts you right back into the blast on a rolling tide of emotions so violent you have to sit down right there on the garage floor to steady yourself. Breathe, just breathe.

And all of this happens below the surface. In the murky depths so filled with pain and sorrow you’re too afraid to take anyone down there with you. You leave the world and its people up on the surface along with the easiness of your anger and sarcasm because at least up there, up there there’s air. Like trauma, divorce carries with it a kind of PTSD. In this deep, dark, personal space, a space as intimate as your previous marriage, is where you, and you alone reside. Just trying to breathe.

After the blast, and in the early phases of post divorce, this empty, airless place and it’s shrapnel are always somewhere on the edges of your life; in back of junk drawers, at Costco in the frozen aisle, at the beach in the summer, in the curve of your son’s face after a growth spurt… in your daughter’s toes. When you see these things, it steals your breath again and again leaving the taste of smoke in your mouth. And then you must remind yourself again to breathe. Just breathe.

I’m six months post blast, and I’m learning over and over again how to just breathe. I’m still cleaning up the pieces, still getting the wind knocked out of me. But as I grow stronger I’m also taking the frayed threads of my new reality and spinning them into something brighter. More beautiful. Something full of sunlight and the smell of lilacs and daydreams that make me giddy with possibility. It’s not easy though. It’s actually very, very hard work. In fact, I get tired a lot. I lose my creativity and inspiration and that’s when I turn to my overwrought clichés.

The other night, at 1am, wine glass in hand I sat on my back porch and sang sad songs alone, to no one. Actually, not to no one because my neighbor heard me, and called me out the next day. “I heard you last night, singing.” I didn’t know what to say. For a brief second I was mortified. I was busted being this predictable cliché of a sad, lonely woman. But then I realized that I didn’t care.

Because nothing in my world is easy right now. There’s not one damn thing that’s simple, including breathing, and while the whole world is being hard I’m going to take the path of least resistance. I’m going to be an immature, simple, mindless cliché, and I’m going to embrace that shit like the spare pillow on the empty side of my king-sized bed. Because while I’m floundering around in the dark, murky waters of divorce PTSD, I might as well have a nice glass of red, an expensive vibrator and a playlist of Sam Smith to keep me company.

Keep your windows closed neighbors… I have a feeling it’s going to be a long summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Maya Angelou Knew That We All Aspire to Learn

What Maya KnewSaturday is Dr. Maya Angelou’s memorial at Wake Forest University. I will take time out of my day to honor this woman for the wisdom she so generously passed on to me, and the world. What a bold, courageous woman she was; writer, poet, actor, singer, songwriter, director, editor, professor, ambassador for equality… a model for anyone wanting to live an inspired life. This woman knew a great many things about life. Things we all aspire to know which is why we listened so intently.

Oh sweet, wise Maya. Whenever I’ve been in one of life’s valleys I find it hard to use my own words to express what I’m experiencing. Too mired in the bog of my own circumstance, unable to get any true perspective, I seek comfort in the wise words of others to carry me through to higher ground. Many of Maya’s simple phrases held me up through these difficult times.

“When you know better, you do better.”

This one helped me break up hard blocks of guilt that kept me chained down to all the times I failed. It helped me forgive myself for all the ignorant and arrogant self-righteousness; the unbending stubborness, all those actions and words spoken out of fear, and all the times I hurt others out of a selfish need to self-preserve.

“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.”

This is a big reason I write. I know some things now after 36 years, and I want to pass them on. In spite of hard times, this life has been good to me. I want to give something back to it; do more good than harm. I’ve heard Maya say that when something bad happens we must say thank you. “Thank you God because I know you have something better in store for me. Thank you.”  I write so I can say thank you over and over again.

“When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

I’m still learning this one, Maya. I know it by heart, and I remind myself often, but I’m still learning.

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

Being brave is hard. So hard. You have to be brave to be kind, to forgive, to love, to stand up for what is right. I remind myself of this every time I want to lie down and let life happen to me instead of make life happen for me. Being brave… it is the most important thing.

Maya’s only son said his mother possessed an “unshakeable faith”. She believed “the hand of God was in everything” — in words, actions, thoughts, and intentions. She wouldn’t even let profane words be spoken in her home. One time, a party guest across the room told an offensive joke. Before he was finished, Maya made her way over to him and promptly escorting him out the door. “Not in my space,” she said. She believed words had a kind of tangible power, and if you let the negative ones into your space, they will infected you like poison. This is why I rarely press publish without having, and understanding, the intention behind my words. And making sure that intention is good.

I’m positive this woman had a direct line to God. I’m sure He spoke through her to remind all of us, of universal truths. Truths we all know inside our hearts, and yet need people like Maya to remind us of. Her words held the weight of truth and transcended time.

After all these years of listening to her words, I find it ironic and hopeful that her last immortal tweet reminds us to listen to ourselves. To get quiet, and really hear our own voices. Because Maya knew what so many of us are still learning… that in that stillness of our hearts is the only space you get a direct line to God.

 

Maya Angelou last immortal tweet

 

(photo credit: Oprah Winfrey Network, Dr. Maya Angelou’s Master Class)

This Single Mothers Mother’s Day

She learned about Mother’s Day at her preschool. Every year the teachers spend days making special projects for us Mommies. They splatter paint canvases on “Jackson Pollack Day” which they wrap in hand painted dish towels and tie with a bow. The kids fill out ad lib style questionnaires about their mommies and paint pictures of flowers.  Then we have a special “tea” where the kids sing songs and serve us punch and cake. With all this preparation my daughter began talking about Mother’s Day two weeks in advance.

I’m going through a contentious divorce. I filed in January and it was my decision. Since then, I can count on half a hand how many times I’ve had a civil conversation with my ex. At this point, he won’t even allow me to approach his car to help strap my children in their car seats. My 2-year-old son has started mimicking his father’s angry tone and yells, “Mommy get away from Daddy’s car” whenever he pulls into the drive. It breaks my heart more than my ex ever could.

Last week, when my ex came to pick up the children, the first thing my daughter asked him was if he would take her to the store to buy me a Mother’s Day present. I cringed. I knew he wouldn’t. I knew her request would fall on deaf– no, angry, vengeful, cold-hearted ears.

I would have had someone else take her to buy a present but there is no one. I live 1200 miles away from all my family and most of my friends. I moved to this city to be near my ex’s family; a family that also refuses to speak to me because they choose to believe the only side of the story they know. I suppose believing anything else is too painful.

First, I tried like heck to convince my daughter that I didn’t need a store-bought gift, but when that girl gets an idea, there is no derailing it. (I wonder where she gets that from?) Then I sent my ex an email about my daughter’s request because he refuses to speak to me in person. I pleaded with him to please help her buy a gift. I told him I would reimburse him for whatever it costs –just please help her buy one. I told him we shouldn’t set the precedent that honoring our parents is an unworthy cause. But most importantly, I didn’t want my daughter to show up on Mother’s Day empty-handed. That’s a horrible feeling, to stand in front of someone you love without a thing to offer.

But she did. Because hell would have to freeze over TWICE before my ex would even look in my general direction with a feeling other than contempt and malice for “gravely ruining his life.”

I knew being a single mother would be full of moments like these. Moments when your hands are tied, your back’s against the wall, and all you can do is hope that it is enough to just open your arms and say, “honey, I love you, YOU are all the gift I’ll ever need.” Moments when your heart would shatter into a million pieces for things you cannot fix. Maybe that’s ALL of motherhood though.

For better, and often worse, I’m a relentless self-improver. Every failure, every trial, every obstacle put in my way is an opportunity for personal growth; a way to find deeper meaning; learn something new about me or the world I live in. I have become ruthless at removing negativity from my space — be it someone else’s or my own.

But what happens when you’re out of options? What happens when the only path forward is not littered with lessons in self-improvement, but appears to be only one of endurance? To put your head down and simply endure.

I have only one answer to these unfixable problems and unendurable endurances. It is the answer that calls out to me each time I fall down the rabbit hole of self-improvement. It is the answer that whispers much too softly when I’ve run out of questions to ask. It is the only thing worth a damn to me anymore.

And it is love.

Love what is happening to me as though I’d chosen it for myself. Love the shit out of whatever pile of shit I’m standing in, and trust that it’s happening for a greater reason than I can know right now. Love thy neighbor, thy enemy, and everything in between. And love myself enough to collapse into the embrace that says, “honey, I love you, YOU are all the gift I’ll ever need.” Because someone believes that about me too. And it’s so true.

So come Father’s Day, I will help my children buy a present for their dad; a man who “hates” me. I will buy him a gift so that my children won’t have to show up at his door empty-handed. I’ll even tie it with a bow and zero malice. And I won’t even ask to be reimbursed because there are many things in this world more valueable than money. mother's day

And this is one of them.  

Home, Love, Freedom and Driving Down Back Roads

That road. The one that winds and dips and turns through the trees and comes to a weird, Y-shaped intersection. The one we used to drive down after school in our hand-me-down cars listening to The Cranberries with the windows down. I love that road.

And then there’s this other road. The one I walked along side every day on my way home from elementary school picking dandelions through the cracks and making them into jewelry when I was still young enough to think dandelions were flowers and stepping on cracks was the cause of bad luck.

But oh man, this road. The one with a memory every mile. I played t-ball where that Sonic is; I practiced driving my friend’s stick shift in that lot; I went to school there and there and sang in that church, and in college, I waited tables at that restaurant. And over there, well that’s where I sat up all night with a boy for the first time.

I made my mother check me out of school the day I turned 16 to get my license. I could not, would not wait one. more. day. When we got to the DMV on my 16th birthday it was closed. I threw a gigantic toddleresque tantrum and I made my mom drive to another DMV that was open or I refused to go back to school. (Thanks Mom, and FYI daughter, I will not be doing that for you. Harsh, I know.) But I remember my desperation that day. It felt like my chest was caving in sitting outside those locked doors. I wanted, no NEEDED that piece of paper or I thought I might explode. That paper meant I could go and do and be on my own. That paper was my ticket to freedom and freedom was my drug of choice back then. At 36, I’m as addicted as ever.

That same yearning for freedom is why I left my hometown and all those familiar roads 12 years ago. I wanted out so bad it ached in my bones. It was that same desperation; feeling confined by all those stupid, easy roads and their territorial views of the wide open plains dotted with water towers. I outgrew those roads in my 20s and hurt for new ones – bigger ones. Freeways. Express ways. Roads with new views — mountains and oceans and tall, tall things. That’s what I wanted and so I grabbed my ticket and went to find them. But that ticket came at a very steep price. Over the years I shed huge chunks of me out there alongside those highways and byways. Some good stuff, some bad, maybe all of it was necessary. Who knows, right?

And now here I am visiting my hometown again, newly divorced, two kids, approaching 40 on a speed train with a ticket to nowhere…  and I’m driving these old roads again. These roads – like permanent time capsules hold years of memories and emotions that take me back with every turn to that wild-eyed girl with the big dreams and the naïve belief that everything would always work out just fiiiine. And also that lost girl aching for freedom and running away from home to find it.

A good friend of mine has a good man. A real good man. He’s more than 10 years her junior but an old soul. He’s now the father of their new baby girl; a baby she never expected at 37, but now can’t imagine life without—because that’s how it works, right – life happens the way it’s going to happen and then it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. They’ll probably get married someday and it will be the real, long-lasting thing. Well his dad died last week. His wife of 35 years said to him before passing, “we didn’t have enough time together.”  I can’t stop thinking about that. What is that kind of love?

home love freedomI took a moment the other day to drive down a two-lane back road out in the wide open country behind my parent’s house. The wind whipped my hair and I turned the radio way up. I thought about time, and decisions, what “home” really means and another thing I’ve never known… that long-lasting love.  It occurred to me that perhaps the reason I’ve never known it, or felt truly at “home” is because neither ever held a candle to my passion for freedom. I’ve always had to choose between the three.

What I’m coming to understand is that I need all of it. Freedom, home, love… I need it all or I know, I’ll get lost… again.

I’m not a selfish person. I’m a mother of two small children and I learned the deeper meaning of sacrifice the day my first child was conceived. I know what it means to give up everything for someone else, but there’s a difference between giving of yourself for the betterment of the whole, and giving up ON yourself all together. The former I do daily, the latter I will never do.

A week ago, before I came back to my hometown I drove down another back road near my current “home” in the Pacific Northwest. The wind whipped my hair and the radio was way up. There were mountains and an ocean and tall, tall things. Beautiful couldn’t accurately describe that day. I leaned back in my seat with my sunglasses on and my hand out the window riding the wind. I can’t remember a moment in recent times when I felt so free AND at home. It was very close to heaven on earth.

And so now these two back roads, one flat and dotted with water towers, the other winding through mountains and next to oceans are taking me backward and forward at the same time, helping me figure out this new woman who’s now in the driver’s seat of her life. The one that wants it all… or nothing.

But I guess this is how life is, right? It happens the way it’s going to happen, and then it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. And maybe all that shedding and getting lost… it’s all necessary. And maybe, just maybe things will still work out just fiiiine.

Riding the Waves of Loneliness

I read somewhere that we are all addicts to whatever releases a hit of dopamine to our brains.

Food and sex are big dopamine triggers because evolutionarily speaking, we need to eat and procreate. We are engineered to derive pleasure from these things. Everyone has heard of Pavlov and his dogs. The psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, conditioned his dogs to produce a salivary response to the ringing of a bell because every time Pavlov rang that bell, the dogs got fed.

We are no different, really. Our bodies respond to triggers which we know will give us a high — a hit, a feeling of satisfaction. It can be anything really; alcohol, nicotine, scratcher tickets, Pinterest, the little blue light that blinks on your phone alerting you to a message. All hits of dopamine. All stimulating our brain’s pleasure centers.

Personally, at least recently, I’d take a dirty martini over a donut any day and that little blue light has my full attention. I crave communication and connection with the world and that little blue light, and accompanying buzz, is my bell. Ding! Ding!

So we are pleasure seekers. We always have been, always will be, and I don’t think our problems result from wanting to get “high.” Where we fall off the tracks into addiction and bad decisions is when we can’t handle what always comes right after the crest of the wave… and that is the crash onto shore. And make no mistake, the higher the high… the lower the low.

I’ve had some incredible highs lately. From exciting accomplishments at work; to whole weekends with long-time friends; to the positive attention of putting myself out there in the world without fear or guilt overshadowing me; all have produced incredible pleasurable feelings. I got a second chance to live the life of my dreams and I’ve been surfing that wave all the way to shore! But with these new peaks has come some soul-rocking valleys. Deep undertows that have me gasping for air while scanning the horizon for my next wave.

In this new life, where my sea legs are still shaky and new, everyday is a constant battle against riding the wave of highness and figuring out how to survive the lowness. I wish this was an exaggeration.

But I’m not going to feel bad for wanting to get high on life. I’m human, and this is natural. What I’m struggling with is staying present with the lows. What has me tied to my phone and my nightly cocktail is the fear of the power of the undertow and my ability to hold my breath long enough to survive it… even though I know I will.

In today’s technological age, this ability to stave off the undertow is so easy while staying present for the white-hot loneliness is increasingly difficult. It is the long forgotten art of delayed satisfaction. In this modern world all I need to do is reach for my phone to get another hit, and the temptation is, at times, overwhelming. This is when I make my biggest mistakes. It’s when I say something, or do something I may regret later when calmer waters prevail.

This is what loneliness is teaching me today. That when it comes rolling in like a low tide, and it always will, that I must sit down, stay put, resist the urge run for shore or head-long into the next wave. That I must let the water circle around my ankles, slowly rise to my neck and take a deep breath…  because it will run its course, and there’s nothing worth drowning for.

beneath the waves

Image Credit: Sarah Lee/ CATERS NEWS

 

 

 

The Loneliness of Post Divorce

I’m adrift right now, and I know it. It’s been almost three months since I filed for divorce and the loneliness has begun to wrap around me like a wet, dense fog.

During the day, I have no shortage of things to do. I have two small children who live with me most of the time. I have a job. I go to night school. I potty train my youngest, do the grocery shopping and mow the lawn. If an uncomfortable feeling creeps in during the daylight hours, I get busy.

It’s mostly at night when it comes. When my daily work is done and I’m settled into my couch or bed; that’s when I feel the thick haze descend. So I pick up my phone, pour a glass of wine, return to my computer; anything to stop what I know is my current reality and immediate future. Alone.

I’m an independent person. I like solitude. I like to be alone with my thoughts. Maybe I like it more than most, but no one likes it exclusively. We all need personal, often times physical connections. I’m in a place right now where I’m all over the map as to how much connection I want or need. I keep drawing it to me, and then pushing it away afraid of the fire and heat it brings. If I’m being honest, I don’t trust myself to handle it well.

For a month I’ve been riding this rollercoaster of surplus and deprivation of connections.  My emergence from the pain of my divorce began on a business trip to Vegas (of all places), and it was there my eyes were opened toward the future and all the possibility it holds. Since then, I’ve been reaching for that same feeling. I brush up against it every now and again. The constant, hopeful reminder that we’re on the edge of spring helps a great deal. The bright yellow daffodils blooming in my yard make me smile, and when I see them, I feel the rush of possibility all over again.

Duality of LifeThese daffodils were transplanted from my grandmother’s garden three years ago. My grandmother passed away four years ago, and after she died, my mom and I dug up some bulbs to plant as yearly, living keepsakes. They sprouted green shoots for two years, but no flowers. I was beginning to wonder if they would ever show their happy faces. But this year, they finally did.

Today, I sat down in front of those daffodils. I admired their daintiness and beauty but I also felt the sadness of loss. I sat in quiet reflection on those sweet, little flower faces and I let the loneliness fill me to tears. It felt good to embrace this duality of life.

There is no regret. There is no wanting things to be different or going back. I’m here, and I’m okay with being here. But here holds a lot of unanswered questions; a lot of fear of the unknown, a lot of solitude, and sometimes, even scary heat.

Over a month I’ve realized that if companionship is something I want, I could have it, and it wouldn’t even take that much effort. But right now, I feel like this loneliness has lessons I need to learn. Lessons I need to lean into and embrace even though I can’t see two feet in front of my face. I need to learn to trust that even when I’m surrounded by fog, the landscape is still there. The potential for daffodils still exist.

These miniature flowers took their sweet time showing their shining faces, and I think I need to, too. These keepsakes from my wise and loving grandmother sat dormant for two years; gathering roots, growing slowly under the surface before they decided it was the right time to bloom, and now… I will too.

I will gather my roots. I will sit below the surface, fighting back the fear of the cold season to come, and I will bloom when the time is right.

Because hope springs eternal.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

If You Say You’re NOT Broken, You’re a Liar.

“I have no issues.” The boy says.

“What do you mean? You have no issues? Everyone has issues.” I say.

“Nope. Not me. I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. Nothing gets me down. I always stay positive.” He says.

“Yes, but something bad had to happen in your life at some point. Something that broke your heart?” I ask.

“Why would anyone want to think about those things. I prefer not to dwell.” The boy says annoyed.

“I don’t think it’s ‘dwelling,’ I’m just trying to understand you. We all have things that caused us pain. Things that taught us… “

“Maybe you’re just a negative person? All you seem to want to do is talk about negative things. Maybe you’re the one with a problem?” The boy says a bit too angrily.

I had this conversation once, many years ago. I was young, and at the time, ashamed of my own brokenness. With the desperation of someone on the verge of losing it all I wanted to run from those things that made me human. That which made me me. I wanted to put the past in the past and be nothing but positive, too. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. 

Back then I was too naive, too ignorant, too scared and ashamed to realize that all I’d been through, was really a gift. I didn’t understand that my brokenness was my strength. I didn’t know the simple truth which is: if you say you’re not broken, you’re a liar. Or worse, you’re in denial. And denial always manifests in ugly, ugly ways because no one can run from their brokenness.

We’re all broken. We’re supposed to be. Life is a series of breaks to your soul. Over and over and over again like ocean waves this life, and its heart breaks, break us. Because that’s how it is, and that’s how it will always be; birth, growth, death, rebirth. The more we fight this reality, this cycle of life and living, the more we suffer.

So I ask — why hide our brokenness behind fancy curtains, shiny things, and disingenuous status updates? What’s the point? Just SAY IT. 

The poet Rumi wrote, “Suffering is a gift, a hidden mercy.” I believe that. You, nor I, nor our next door neighbor cannot NOT suffer. But where’s the mercy? How are we to find the mercy in all this suffering? Because when you’re truly suffering, all you can think about is sweet, merciful relief.

So where is it? Where’s the mercy hiding, Rumi!? My answer… I don’t think you can find it. I think mercy finds you.

But first, you must submit to the randomness, the chaos, the complete insanity of it all. You accept that you have no control; that your will is not the will that will be done. When you do, mercy finds your sweet, beautiful, broken soul. And when it does, it lifts you up, out of the dirt, brushes you off, shines a light on your path, and keeps you walking.

Back then, back when I was a girl running from my own brokenness I tried like mad to cultivate a talent for controlling my environment; always attempting to decipher the randomness, minimize the chaos, and make sane the insane parts of me. Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work. 

Rumi also writes, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” So without the brokenness, there is no light. And what would we be without light?

So to feel the light, to let sweet mercy wash over you, you have to let go. Let go of the way you thought life would be. Let go of the plans you so carefully made for yourself, your children, your future. Because when you loosen the white-knuckle grip on life… you might just find the sweet relief you’ve been praying for all along.

So all I want now, all I have ever wanted, but never knew I needed, is beautifully broken people in my life. I don’t care what you’ve accomplished. I don’t care that you make a million dollars a day, or drive an Audi or own two Breitlings and can bench press an elephant.

Show me your flaws, your scars. Show me your wounds, your perfect imperfections. Show me where the light shines through and I’ll stand there with you; sunglassed admiring the view. No judgement.

Over the last three years I have received a lot of messages from you about how much my writing has affected your lives in positive ways. How much it has helped you heal and feel less alone. If you haven’t sent me a message before, and you feel inclined to now, please do so. Show me your scars. Leave a comment here or send me a message through Facebook or email if you’d prefer to remain private. Speak your truth. Own it. I will not judge you. I will think you’re brave and beautiful and I will be a mirror to reflect your amazing glow.show me the places where the light shines through

That Girl vs This Woman: A Mom Going Through Divorce

My divorce didn’t begin the day the paperwork was filed a few months ago. It didn’t even begin the month before that when I KNEW I couldn’t do this another day. My divorce began over a year ago. It was a cold December night. I sat at my children’s bedside, one at a time, and cried telling them Mommy was so, so sorry.

I remember that night as clearly as I’m sitting here typing this now. My daughter was three and a half. She was still in a toddler bed. She was close to the ground and I sat on the floor. I held her small hand which was still tucked under the fleece blanket. “I’m sorry baby.” I cried quietly at first. “I’m so sorry Mommy couldn’t keep this family together. I never wanted this for you.” And then the tears turned to shaking sobs. Next, I went to my son’s crib. The same.

It took more than a year to actually file, but if you’re a mom, and you’re heading toward divorce, the first thing you have to reconcile is what about the kids? There is no greater concern, and there is nothing you wouldn’t do for the sake of their well-being. Of course you’re scared for them. What will they think? How will they react? Adjust? What will this mean for their lives? It’s enough to paralyze you… and I was, for a long time.

Then, at some point, you realize your children will be okay, but only if you’re okay, too. Because you are no good to them depressed, playing small, and living in a shadow. And so at some point you must accept what a divorce will do to them so you can save yourself. It’s an agonizing decision, but you know in your heart that everyone will be better off in time. It takes a mountain of faith.

Your children inform every next decision. Of course there’s the worry over money. Can I do this? What sacrifices will need to be made? Where will I live? What will I do? Only when those HUGE questions are answered do you even begin to contemplate what this means for you; as in you, the woman.

And that’s where I am right now.

What now?

As I begin to sift through a decade’s worth of rubble from my life – ideas, memories, feelings of long, long ago are making their way to the surface like something ancient encrusted in rock. Things I liked to do. Conversations I liked to have. Ideas I entertained a million years ago. The ways I thought as a girl are poking through my consciousness like barbed wire through linen. Remember that time you took off to Chicago in the middle of the night on a whim to see a friend? Remember when you loved to go dancing all night? Remember when you used to dance on the bar? Remember that girl who could talk to anyone, about anything? Remember staying up all night doing just that – talking? 

Right now that girl is running head long into this woman, and there’s a reconciliation going on.

that girl vs this womanThat girl was mighty insecure. That girl was achingly alone and scared. That girl was frightened of intimacy. Yes, that girl was fun, and spontaneous, and threw caution to the wind, but that girl didn’t always land safely on shore. That girl was funny and whimsical and wild to a fault. She has a lot of great memories to show for it. That girl was intelligent and trusting, but she was also needy and naive.

This woman has responsibilities. This woman is no longer insecure, or desperately lonely, or scared of being vulnerable. This woman is cautious, confident and capable. She is witty and wise. This woman wants for many things, but does not need for much. She is no fool.

These two factions are sparing it out in my head — the girl I was, and the woman I am — and it’s causing a bit of a ruckus in my life. That girl is fighting for face-time, and this woman is trying to talk her down with reason.

This woman contemplates that girl, petulantly bouncing her hip in her short skirt and high heels, while sitting back in her cozy sweater and sensible flats. That girl is dying for a chance to strut her stuff. To prove to the world that she still has what it takes, whatever it is.  And this woman is sitting back, with her cup of tea and her books trying to remind that girl that she already does. But this woman does not shout or demand. Because this woman is patient, and kind, and forgiving to a fault. But that girl pouts all the same.

I’m not going to lie. That girl has won a few battles. But this woman is wise enough to know that this life is long, and yet, much too short for war.

So they carry on; circling each other like territorial hens to scratch it out another day knowing that no matter what happens, the one thing that overrides them all, and always will, is being Mom.

Because if you’re a mom going through a divorce, there is nothing of greater importance. Nothing.

When a Newly Divorced Mom Goes to Vegas

I got lucky. So lucky.

A couple of months ago, just after my first appearance in family court, when I was at my lowest of lows in life, I also took on a new job. Shortly after, my boss started rumblings about a conference in Vegas. I prayed. Please, please, please take me. 

After he asked me to go, I think I hung up the phone and cried happy tears. How lucky was I?

Before this trip this week, I had been to Vegas twice. The first time was just passing through, and the second time was almost exactly a year ago. I went with girlfriends. Last year in Vegas, I was married… faithfully. I wore my ring and told any man within my vicinity that I was taken because I was not the cheating kind. After that trip, I came home, regretful and slightly depressed about the lack of freedom in my life.

Newly Divorced Mom VegasBut this time, there are no regrets. Of course, this time… there was no ring, either. There were no self-imposed rules. No limits. No chains. No reasons for walking away and saying, no, I can’t.

And there’s no need to lie. I got drunk on freedom. I was intoxicated by the possibilities. I got high from the ability to go, and do, and be whatever I wanted. It was liberating in a million different ways.

My boss is a nice guy, and exceptionally, happily married. We’ve worked together for a while now, and we clicked from the start, but this was the first time I’d met him in person. He’s 6’4″ and has the personality of a big, safe, teddy bear. I told him he was by body-guard. We had a signal if I wanted him to save me from bad conversation.

We poked fun at each other like brother and sister. He liked to tell people I was recently divorced because he knew what would happen.  A smile would spread across their face because it’s true; there are clichés about newly divorced women, and I have found myself representing each one of them. I possessed the devil-may-care attitude; the desire of freedom, and perhaps the need to be careless for the first time in a long time.

Freedom and independence used to be characteristics I put on the highest level of virtue. I spent the larger part of my teenage years grounded to my room because of my propensity to break the rules in the name of independence. My parents knew that taking away my freedom hurt me the most, and they were right. It was painful.

I was a wild spirit back then, but over the course of the last 12 years I let that spirit be eroded away, and not in the natural ways of age and matrimony. My sense of self was worn down like rock under a constant stream of dripping water. The incessant, methodical drip, drip, drip of precise words and actions over time had me falling down into a dark hole. And then I grew comfortable there, like moss.

But Vegas threw me a rope and I grabbed it with both hands, and legs, and all the strength of someone stuck in a hole would need to get out. Now, as I resurface into the world, the light is so bright I can hardly see. It’s like being born again. I’ve been shoved into the abyss for so many years that now I’m squinting trying to adjust to this bright new view. My equilibrium is WAY off. It’s scary, and not scary at all.

So after four days in Vegas, and coming back to a life with light in my eyes, I also had to come back to being a single mom of two toddlers. Talk about a reality check.

I was nervous picking them up. Did they miss me? Would they know that I felt different? Would I be able to be the Mom they’ve always known? The Mom they need? Was I more selfish now?

After six days of no contact, the moment they walked out the door and ran toward my arms – worlds collided. The new me smashed right into Mom-me and it was… okay. Good, even. They nearly knocked me over with their love and their “I miss you’s” and “I love you’s” and “I’m so happy you’re home,” and I knew then that everything was going to be okay.

I clawed my way back to the light, for me. It is part of my rebirth back to myself and it was going to happen eventually. And I will admit, I was selfish and wanting in Vegas. But I needed that, and for the first time… I don’t feel guilty about a thing.

But this is not without a price. I’ve already been judged for my public displays of “I’m so happy I’m divorced!” postings. And I’m certain that some people will read this and call me horrible names while making their own assumptions. But part of climbing out of this hole is not listening to what others have to say and trusting myself. And I will probably fall under these weak and shaky new legs… but I’ll do so while standing in the light.

Today is my birthday. I don’t say that to generate a stream of well-wishes, but I am 36 today. I think it’s about time I know who I am, and what I want… and don’t want.

Because if I don’t know that… how can I teach them? Because no one should ever have to grow cold and still inside a hole of darkness. Not when life is full of so much light. 

Vegas, baby.

Sinners WelcomeCome one, come all.