Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This is My Normal

This is my normal.

In the past 21 months that I have kept a blog and have been sharing my writing with the world, I have created a book of sorts, or a series of essays in the making. These essays have explored different aspects of my life and the various roles I play. I began the blog during a tumultuous time. A tornado of sorts had been unknowingly invited into our home and it took me several months to reach the point where I could open a window and let it out to stir itself to another location. The damage it did to my home was repaired quickly and I vowed to be more careful in the future. But as with most of my decisions, I am not hasty in saying I can’t completely regret the experience. For enduring the storm taught me a great deal and when the clear skies returned, I believe I never saw a brighter blue.

The year 2011 was not my favorite, but it ended and there were some moments that I will hope to never ever forget. There were days of pure joy and days of humble acceptance of life’s changes. Although I was most ready for the ball to drop at Times Square and to usher in 2012, I know that 2011 shook me to my core and knocked me down with a stinging slap, but that the fear and the pain of that year made me stronger and wiser. That’s a bunch of cliches I realize, but there is simply no plainer way to express it.

The thing is, in the months of 2012 I have been hit with more challenges. I have been open, honest, and transparent in expressing my emotions and that has brought me some interesting attention. Some people have expressed concern for me which is lovely on one hand and disconcerting on the other. It has made me stop and ask myself whether or not writing of my feelings has changed any. Perhaps there is worry that I need help in returning to “normal”. But then I realize what is true. Circumstances may have changed, challenges may have increased, the stress in my life has been amped up to what a friend recently called a “shit ton” of degrees. But I am, at heart, the same woman I have always been. I know this is true. This is my normal. 

I am honest. I am expressive. I am happy. I get sad. I am intelligent and thoughtful, intuitive and wise. But I am silly, impulsive, weird. I am dramatic. I am fierce. I am protective. I am your best friend. I am your worst enemy. I am a force to be reckoned with. I hate arrogance. I hate dishonesty. I can tolerate almost anything except intolerance. I am strong but I do cry. I am one you can count on but I want to count on you. I am organized but my bedroom is a mess. I am a lover of all things creative, of all things that are colorful but I need order and structure and security. I’ll get that closet of mine organized again...and the bureau, and the chest where my clothes have spilled over to. We creative types get kinda messy with our work stations but I’ll dig myself out of the mess. I just need a little more time.

I love to laugh and I love to smile. I am appreciative and grateful. I am given to moments of despair but you can count on me to pick myself up in an hour, a day, a week. I get knocked down because I think too much, I care too deeply, I imagine, I worry, I fret. But I know who I am and I am always going to be okay. I just need a little more time right now to sort out all these stressful circumstances.

This is my normal.

This morning I told my Creative Writing class that we were going to do a prompt writing together. Although I’ve had them writing for nearly three weeks now, today’s prompt came with a slight twist. I told them I was going to collect this one from them, so I realized that they might have to figure out what to say or how to say what they wanted or needed to say knowing I’d be reading it. I told them there was no right or wrong way to respond to the prompt. They were to take it any way they were inclined to. Then I wrote these words on the board:

This is my normal.

I gave them ten minutes to respond. At the end of the time, as is my habit, I alerted them that we were nearing the time for a transition to another task. “Okay. Find a spot to stop and in the next minute or so, look over what you’ve read and at the bottom, again write the words, “This is my normal”.

And that’s when I saw the head shake. It was Dawson.

“No? You can’t write that?” I asked. I wondered if he’d written something completely off track or if he’d perhaps realized what he’d written was NOT his normal. Dawson simply responded, “Not yet”.

He wasn’t done. He had more to say. That’s when others in the room began to nod in agreement. “I’m not there yet”, said Nate.

It was decision time. “When do you think you’ll get there?” I asked. Jake raised his palm. “Five minutes?”

Allie answered, “Ten minutes”.

“Ten more minutes?” I asked the class. They all nodded. Knowing what it’s like, how cruel it can seem to have a teacher stop you just when you’re getting to the good stuff, I knew I had to give them that time.

“Okay. Ten more minutes”, I smiled. And they went at it again.

You see, it sometimes takes a little more time than you’d think to adequately express, to another human being, what your normal is. So I’m going to ask YOU for a little more time as you try to get your head around how to make sense of what you see in my writing and as you try to figure me out. I know all you need is a little more time to see that...

This is my normal.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dear God

Dear God,

It’s me, Anne. I am overwhelmed. I am trying so hard to keep it together, day by day. People are depending on me. I am needed by many and I cannot disappoint them. I cannot abandon them. So these feelings of despair, these heightened emotions of anger, frustration, fear, and irritation? They all need to go away. NOW. Okay?

I tell myself to be patient. I know this is MY will and that it is YOUR will that will be done. I remind myself that tomorrow things may look different. I push myself to go to bed, to rest, to ease up on my own expectations. I turn to books, to films, to anything which might distract me or calm me.

I make good choices. I work out. I eat right. I try to get more sleep. I tell my loved ones I love them. I hug my husband and my kids every day. I let myself laugh and to feel joy. I’m not a crying mess all the time. I appreciate the little things. I let myself cry although I try to push aside the temptation to wallow in sadness or to not look at my blessings. I admonish myself for not keeping my word to “let go, let God”.  You don’t make mistakes. There’s a reason for all this, even if I don’t understand. You’ve got this, right? Right.

I do believe that. And I know I need to let go and to let you take the wheel as that country song suggests. But then I realize why I am so afraid to fall on my knees and to ask for help. If I fall to my knees, I might never get back up. And You’re counting on me too, right? I’ve got a lot of work to do to help others. I know that.

One of my favorite quotes was spoken by your dear little nun from Calcutta. Mother Theresa said, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”  I turn to this and plead with you God to lighten my own load. I know I shouldn’t put myself in the same sentence with Mother Theresa but I swear, I’m reaching my limit God. I don’t feel like I can keep going like this. I’m so afraid of those spinning plates crashing to the floor. They are so precious. I need help to keep them safely moving.

There’s so much to juggle right now and I think I’m going to do a lousy job with everything. I don’t know how to move on, God. I know others have it much worse than I and I should not complain. But even the guilt of knowing that, the acknowledgement that I have no right to feel anything but gratitude for all that I have been given, is weighing me down. I get it, God. You’re pushing me down to my knees. I can feel your hand on my shoulder. You’re saying, “Stay there. Don’t be so quick to rise. Be humble and wait for me to give you a hand up”.

I want to be carried, I really do. I need more than the rest. I need to know which direction to take.  What do I do first? What is most important? I’m stumbling God. I need to feel enveloped in Your loving protection and care. I’m having a hard time with trust, God. It’s really tough for me to be as vulnerable as I need to be to give in and to give up.

So, I’m going to ask you to do me a favor, God. I know I don’t have any right to ask and I will accept it if you should know better than me and not deliver in the way I want you to. But here goes... Would you please visit me in my dreams tonight and show me the way? Because I think when I am sleeping I will be more receptive to You. I'll pay better attention. I won't allow myself to be distracted. And if you could just help me wake up tomorrow remembering whatever lesson, whatever it is I have been shown, that would be great. I worry a lot lately that I won’t remember what is most important. I have that fear that the one person I thought I’d always be able to count on, won’t always be there for me. And that’s ME. So, thank you in advance for doing whatever it is that is necessary to bring me to where I need to be, where I am meant to be. Thank you for seeing past all this foolishness--the stubbornness, the pride, the train-wreck that is ME and for loving me anyway.

I love You. Goodnight.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Within the Fog

As much as I love a bright sunny day, waking up to rain or seeing fog hovering over the road as I drive in to work in the morning never upsets me. It might take a little more effort for me to grab an umbrella or to watch that yellow line in the middle of the two lanes so I can get to school safe and dry, but it’s worth the extra challenge to have a day that isn’t traditionally beautiful. I love the sound of the pouring rain. I love getting caught in the rain, and let’s face it, being kissed in the rain is near perfection. But it’s a foggy day that holds even more mystique for me. The fog lingers and hangs. And when it’s ready, it dissipates.

This morning as I drove to work in the fog, anticipating the business of the day before me, I thought about the mystery of time and of my many responsibilities and then I found myself reflecting on the job of being a mom. I thought of how I used to be careless with time. I miss those days when I ran outside to play after school or on a Saturday morning, completely unaware of when it’d be time for our next meal or whether or not I had to go to the dentist’s in a few hours. That’s what Mom was for, to keep track of the time, and to go to the door to call my name into the air when it was time for me to come inside. Now I’m the mom at the door, or rather, on the cell phone, awkwardly texting the kids to say, “It’s time to head home”.

I came across a piece from Anna Quindlen yesterday. She writes, “Sometimes, missing my mother, I lose track of whether I am missing a human being or a way of life. Our mothers only slowly become people to us, as we grow older and they do, too...There is something primitive about this love and this loss. What does it mean, to sleep beneath the heart of another person, safe and warm, for almost a year? No scientist can truly say.”

I have three children, but I’ve been pregnant four times in my life. I’ve had a child sleep beneath my heart four times. For anyone who has never experienced that, let me simply say that it is indeed a primitive feeling of wanting, no NEEDING, to protect that little being at all costs. I got lucky and raised three out of four of the precious hearts that once would beat right next to my own. One heart, my oldest daughter is an exuberant college junior, thriving in her circle of social, academic, and creative pursuits. Another heart, my second daughter, is presently feeling a bit anxious, balancing her senior year expectations with her big dreams for a career on stage. The third heart, my only son, has a heart that beats fast running on the soccer field, texting like there’s no tomorrow, and eating me out of house and home. The fourth heart I lost too soon. I never met her, the daughter I lost in a miscarriage back in 1998, but I will. Someday.

Actually, fog or not, I’ve been thinking often about my feelings towards motherhood and the passing of time. I have been reassuring myself that I did regularly show appreciation of my own mom, and that she always knew how much I loved her. I said it routinely and I said it in grand gestures too. I say it now. And I am recalling one Christmas Eve in particular when I went to bed after a beautiful evening with both Mom and Dad and when I said to myself, “I must never question whether or not I have told my parents I love them. I have said it loudly and clearly. I have said it often, lest they forget. I must remember this”.

Each August my family and I go to camp for an annual family vacation at the lake and we visit with my Mom and Dad for two weeks. Things have changed from how these vacations once were, but this past summer, on the first night of my arrival, I made a mistake which showed me that a mother’s love is immutable. Knowing her work schedule would force her to return home after just a few days, my daughter had gone to camp before us. After unpacking my own suitcase, Sydney and I hopped in our kayaks to catch the sunset. I’d not had a chance to talk with Syd about her first few days with my parents and the two of us lost track of time as we watched the sky and its gorgeous colors. We were not far from camp but an island obstructed our family’s view of where we were. As we paddled in, directly after the sun had sunk below the horizon, my husband and father appeared on the front deck. I quickly realized they had been worried about my daughter and I. I said my apologies, but got the heads up that someone inside the camp was quite upset. My Mom.

“Mom, I’m so sorry. I surely did not intend to frighten you. I am sorry”, I said. I reached down instinctively to give her a hug.

My Mom grabbed my arm to stop me and with her eyes opened wide she made strong eye contact with my own. “Don’t you EVER do that again!” she scolded. I felt ten years old again. I know she said more but I have since forgotten what else she said. I was overtaken with the realization that to her, I was still a child who had acted recklessly and without thought or concern for her feelings. My first instinct was to smile for I was truly touched by her love, “She was worried about me. She still loves me", I thought...but I bit my lip and instead promised her I would be more careful next time.

There may be days when the fog takes much too long to dissipate or when the passing of time and life's changes all become too much for me to accept, but what I must remember on mornings or evenings when I am quiet and missing my Mom like I am today, when I am full of unnecessary regret or remorse or even anger and frustration in thinking of how I wish it were as it once was, is that I know my mother loved me. Correction: She still loves me...with all her heart...with everything she was, is, will be. I know this for sure. Despite the weather, the age, the time on the clock, there is no greater love than the love a mother has for her children.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Never Say Never

Two weeks ago, on August 27th, my husband and I joined a gym. It was the first time either of us had done such a thing, although we had talked about the idea for a few years. “I’m not a gym person”, I had been telling myself for quite some time. Extremely self conscious and worried over investing money into something I might abandon after only a few days, I had tried walking in my neighborhood for exercise and indeed that had been a most successful way for me to lose weight after the birth of my third child almost thirteen years ago. In the last few years we had done some hiking and had purchased a couple of swim passes for the local pool. However, we were not making these jaunts on a regular basis. And after tracking our food and losing some weight last summer, this past year we had both eaten our way through stress and had given in to the comfort of a new sectional couch and multiple cable channels. Much to our disappointment, we had both regained the weight.

Knowing the start of the school year was approaching and knowing that we knew that the months ahead were going to be difficult for a number of reasons, we began thinking about joining a gym. A family health crisis had clearly made us realize that getting fit needed to be a priority for each of us. We wanted to be realistic in our efforts but demand better of ourselves. We heard of a great special to join a gym for a year at a minimum cost. We discussed how we could go there on our way home by taking an alternative route. We decided we were doing this.

Walking into the gym, I tried to mask my nervousness. A trainer at the front desk welcomed us both as I told her we both wanted to join under the special we’d heard about on the radio. I added that I needed help. I had no clue how to begin to work out at a gym, had no idea how to work any of the machines, and had only used a treadmill at home. She quickly reassured me that the gym had trainers who would show us everything we needed to know and that we could design our fitness plan with the help of a trainer at no extra cost. Signatures went down on paper. We received a tour, and the best part of that was seeing people ages 18-80 working out. “This isn’t bad”, I thought to myself. Everyone there seemed to be minding their own business. No one was judging us. Folks were friendly but focused on their own workouts. Eric and I began on two treadmills, side by side, clocking in a half hour. We followed that up with a half hour strength-training circuit and then we headed home.

I made it back to the gym four times that first week, and Eric went five days. Last week, after suffering a bad head cold, I put in only two. But my sneakers and gym clothes are already packed for my return tomorrow afternoon and more importantly, I’m feeling empowered. Each night I check in with the kids, find out when they need me to pick them up after sports practices, and I think of my workout schedule. I walk into the gym, say hello to the trainers behind the desk, and I go right to work. I’m working on building stamina right now so I head to a treadmill where I briskly walk for 35-40 minutes and I follow that up with either cycling or the strength-training circuit. I’ll improve, but for right now, it’s about creating the habit of getting to the gym each day and staying for an hour.

 The act of joining the gym has reminded me the truth of the phrase, “Never say never”. So much for not being a gym person. Who knew I’d be this comfortable and this determined to get there as often as possible?! Oh yes, the best days of my life may indeed be those awaiting me in the future. But more importantly, today, right this moment, with my gym bag packed for tomorrow, I am happy. I am loving the feeling I have after each workout as I get back into my car. I feel the sweat dampening my hair at my neck and I know I’ve done something good. I am making healthy choices. I am doing this for me. I am doing this for my husband. I am doing this for my children and my future grandchildren. I'm doing this to honor the life I have been given and the opportunities that I am blessed to have. I do this to know I am choosing health and wellness. I have a long way to go, but little by little I am building a lasting, physically fit, active lifestyle and don’t you worry, I am going to get there, to those beautiful days in my future, and I’m going to be feeling great.

Monday, September 3, 2012

He's Got This

I’ve started this blog post today several times. I write a sentence or two, or even a paragraph...and then I hit hit delete. I try to hold in the truth of what I want to say, what needs to get out. I try again to focus my eyes on the page. I take deep breaths, look outside, try to offer my worries up to God, work to gain perspective. I make a short mental list of what I’ll do today, this morning, this next half hour. I give myself a pep talk, I give myself permission to do whatever comes my way, to give up plans, expectations, must-dos. I have a head cold. I tell myself this is why I am so shaky, so uncertain, so tired, so weak. I try to see the beauty of the world, to trust in the process of this thing called life, to remember through prayer and the support we receive from friends and family, there is relief from pain and suffering.

But then I feel a tear fall from my eye. There it is. It fell right there on my cheek despite how much I was demanding it not to. Betrayed by my body. Again. Or maybe it was God who pushed it out of my eye. “You’re not in charge here”, He says. “I’ve got this. Remember?”

So let me just say it. We are losing our Moms. Me. Eric. And the other day my friend Veronica lost hers. And I’m so sad about these losses. So freakin’ pissed, in fact. So unbelievably overwhelmed by it all. It hurts and it sucks. Today I don’t want to be mature about this. I don’t care whether or not I am supposed to be strong. I don’t want to be understanding and patient. I just want our Moms back, our completely healthy, happy, loving Moms.

Maybe there’s more for me to say. I should talk of how lucky we have been to have had our Moms for the number of years we did. I should put this all in perspective and accept that none of us will get out of this world alive. I should speak of how through these losses we are learning some of life’s greatest lessons. I know all this and those insights and beautifully packaged emotions will no doubt come from me in all sincerity at a later date. But today, I am going to let myself fall apart for a little while. Let the tears fall and remind myself that I am not in charge here. None of this was my decision or my fault. I’ll trust that God has my back and that He’s got this. He’ll even understand my anger and my frustration at Him. He knows I’ll pull it all together by the time my children come home. Because at the end of the day I know what’s true. We are losing our Moms. But my three children will NOT lose theirs any time soon, right God?! No, not if I have anything to say about it.