Monday, December 28, 2015

I'm Right Here

One and a half weeks ago, on a Friday afternoon that was of little consequence to many other people, my firstborn graduated from college.

We were so excited. Like the people you see celebrating the very first person in their family to graduate from college. So stupid excited. She made it. Consequently, we made it. We got pregnant, young, unmarried, na├»ve, and we beat a boatload of odds. To the naysayers who bet against us, we raised a girl who grew up to be a fucking bad ass. She did it. We did it.

Yeah, we've still got two more in process, but let me just bask in this moment...for a moment.

As the processional of graduates entered the gym, I slipped down onto the floor to take a picture of my baby girl. She walked in, and I watched her face light up as she saw her dad, her boyfriend, her siblings, and then I watched her face go blank as her mouth formed the words, "Where's my mom?" I was literally 2 feet away from her, but she didn't see me because she was looking up. I said, "I'm right here, Beebs!" She beamed. I took her picture, and she said, "Go! Go!" I wasn't supposed to be on the floor.

It was another of those moments. Those physical representations of an emotional lesson I need to learn. It was my friend with her arms full of everyone else's shit. It was my daughter not seeing what was right in front of her because she was looking up.

I spend a lot of my life looking up, overthinking, improving, seeking, reaching and a lot of times missing the beauty of what is right in front of me. I've spent too much time not realizing that everything I have ever wanted and more is right here.

For as long as we've been a family, I've tried to make lots of fun traditions that will turn into happy memories for my kids. While I have some treasured memories from my childhood, too many are unpleasant. One of our traditions, picking out a Christmas tree, has gotten to be rather hectic since Chloe moved out. This year, in fact, it resulted in dragging the children out of bed and into the rain, and some tears--mine--and it crossed my mind that the memory they would probably recall in adulthood was, "Remember how Mom used to freak out and drag us to get the damn Christmas tree every year?"

And I realized that the traditions were as much for me as they were for the kids. I needed to make happy memories to replace the unhappy ones. But I don't need to force it, I just need to live. Our life is happy. Our kids are happy. It's not perfect. It might appear to be perfect on Facebook, but for every picture where we are all smiling, there are 5 where Lily is scowling or my eyes are closed or Peyton is making a funny face. And many of the ones where we are all smiling is a result of my screaming, "CAN WE JUST TAKE ONE NICE PICTURE?"

Still...when I was a little girl dreaming of how my life would be when I grew up? I could never have conjured up a life that even compared to the glorious craziness that is our Bellville. So on today's leg of the journey, I am reminding myself to look not up but at the blessed, silly, wonky-eyed imperfection that is right in front of me.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Can You Hold This for Me?

It's a big week for us. Chloe's graduating. She's going to a grown up interview for a grown up job. I've spent a lot of time crying. Not sad crying. Not emptying nest crying. Just feeling all the feelings crying. Pride and hope and where the hell did the time go...all at the same time. I'm crying right now just writing about crying.

The past few months, I've had shoulder pain. Can't raise my arm, can't do much yoga, can't spot Lily on back handsprings kind of shoulder pain. I went to the chiropractor, and he got my back and neck in better shape than they've been in for the last 10 years. I highly recommend chiropractors, by the way. No pills, no shots, no scalpels, just good old fashioned adjustments.

Unfortunately, it didn't help my shoulder. At all.

So, I've spent weeks researching, stretching, icing, heating, taking more ibuprofen than I'm comfortable with, but nothing seemed to help that much.

Stretching helps some.

Meditation helps more.

But then...

Yesterday, Lily and I went to the Christmas Spectacular at Lakepark Farm with some friends. It's wonderful and magical, and the kids and adults alike had a great time. As we neared the end of the evening, when the kids were all tired and sugared up and slap happy, I noticed my one girlfriend sitting on a bench holding her purse, children's coats, toys they made in Santa's workshop, two cups of hot chocolate and a bag of giant turtles--the chocolate variety--as she stared blankly ahead.

Seeing my friend bogged down with so much stuff sent a bolt of clarity directly to my heart.

I'm carrying too much stuff. Some is mine, but too much of it belongs to other people. I've been unwittingly carrying around bad days, hurt feelings, secrets, confessions, judgments, expectations, insecurities and so much more.

No wonder my shoulder hurts, I'm like a freaking pack mule.

Reaching my own full hands toward her, I joked, "Can you hold this for me?"

She laughed. We laughed.

But...It's too much.

It makes my joints ache.

When the kids were little and wanted to bring a special item along somewhere we would always tell them, "You can bring it, but you have to carry it." We're not carrying it for you.

So, day by day, item by item, I am giving stuff back. I can't carry this for you. Here you go. This belongs to you. This is yours. I can't carry this for you.

You can bring it, but you have to carry it.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Pee Stick Celebrations and College Graduations

Lots of stories of becoming a mother start with a pee-stick celebration. Mine started with a handful of drug store tests, a case of beer, multiple packs of Marlboro Lights and this mantra: “You have got to be kidding me.”

It was July 1993. I was 20. My 18 year-old boyfriend was at a keg party. There were no cell phones, so I couldn’t text him, but I couldn’t wait. So, I chased him.

He ran away.

But then I caught him and quickly decided to run in a different direction. To dreams of writing and living in Greenwich Village, tackling the big city with my baby. He didn’t chase me. He never chased me. He knew my dreams would give way to reality and patiently waited for my return.

So…a baby. I love, love, love babies. One of the happiest days of my life was when my sister announced her pregnancy. I was 9, and I couldn’t wait to have a little baby to hold and play with. My nephew was like a real live doll. But my own baby? Mmmmmm.

After the initial shock wore off, I fell hard and fast for the tiny mass of cells growing and multiplying in my abdomen. I would lie on my back for hours watching itty bitty limbs move inside me. “Watch!” I would tell her dad, as we gently poked back at miniature knees and elbows, feet and hands.

I was certain our baby was a boy. When it was finally time for an ultrasound, my boyfriend didn’t want to know the sex. He wanted to be surprised. What’s the big surprise, my girlfriend once mused; it’s gonna be a boy or girl. It’s not like the doctor is going to proclaim, “Congratulations! It’s puppies!” So I told the ultrasound tech I wanted to know what the sex was before he came in the room. It was the 90's. It’s a girl.

A girl? Seriously? I had 5 brothers and 4 nephews, and I tearfully begged her to tell me she was sure. Show me! The technician laughed at my elation, “Did you really want a girl?” she asked. I was caught off guard as I didn’t realize how much I wanted a girl until that moment.

As the weeks passed, I fell more in love with the idea of motherhood. I was never sick or uncomfortable—the perks of being pregnant when you’re young and fit. I gained a mere 19 pounds and looked like the picture I carry around in my head of my ideal body about 5 minutes after I gave birth. 

Giving birth. All the waiting. All the anticipation. Childbirth classes. A planned c-section and boom, there she was. “Here’s your baby!” they said putting her tiny face next to mine before quickly whisking her away. This was before the days of kangaroo care and bonding with the baby right after birth.

Wait. Where are you taking her? “We have to bathe her and check her vitals. We’ll bring her back.” What seemed like days passed as they stapled my body back together, and I sobbed “I want my baby.” 

No one had warned me about the postpartum emptiness...the sense of loss I felt at my baby being on the outside instead of inside. When she was in my body, she was all mine. Once she was out I had to share her with the world. Before we had been inseparable…two souls but one body. Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” That’s it.

It’s been 21 years since my baby girl entered the world. She came with no instructions, but she taught me so much. She had no agenda, but she gave me a purpose. Before I had her, I wanted to change the world. I wanted to make a big impact. I wanted to do something great. 

Over the last 21 years, those dreams shifted. My perspective changed. I no longer seek accolades, accomplishments and applause because being a mom is more amazing than anything I could have imagined doing. It is the greatest thing I've ever done. And she has accomplished more than I'd ever dreamed possible.

In one week, this child will graduate from college. Her peers nominated her to speak at commencement. I honestly don't know if I will make it. Thinking about it makes my heart feel as if it might explode with love and pride. She has grown up to be such an amazing person. Kind, loving, compassionate, driven, bright, inspiring...a better person than I'd ever hoped or dreamed or imagined she would be. One of the most wonderful people I know. She is my best friend. My most trusted confidante and adviser. She makes me want to be a better person. She reminds me to cherish each fleeting moment with the other loves of my life because the days may be long but the years are short as the saying goes.

In one week, my beebee will graduate from college. I'm wrapping my head around that.

I wrote part of this some time ago for another site, but in working through my feelings about Chloe graduating, I felt like revisiting it. Thanks for indulging me. Also, some people still wonder and are too polite to ask: Brad was and still is my boyfriend. Yes, our kids are 21, 15, and 9. No, we've never been much good at planning.