Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Picking Up The Pieces When Life Feels Like A Game of Dominoes

It's Celebration Season at our house: 5 weeks containing 4 birthdays, 1 anniversary, dozens of cupcakes, gallons of frosting, oodles of cheer, and presents everywhere you look. By the end of it all, we are stumbling around in a sugar-induced fugue state, reflexively singing the birthday song with every flick of the light switch, unsure of who or what we are celebrating, salivating like Pavlov's dogs each time the oven reaches 350 degrees. The adults in the house have raw fingers from the wrapping paper rolls, the recycling bin runneth over, and the toys.... oh, the toys.

There are toys that beep and toys that buzz. Toys that glitter and toys that shine. Learning toys, cuddly toys, active toys, e-toys, gender neutral toys, dress-up toys. Toys from friends, and toys from family. Toys made in China and toys made in...other parts of China.

And in order to make room for the semi-annual influx of new toys, we set aside a few hours to go through the current stash of toys for those no longer working and no longer wanted. And in addition to those our birthday tradition states that each child is required to find the same number of toys as his/her age to give away.

In the midst of this process, we typically uncover some treasures of birthdays/Christmases past buried in the bins or relegated to the far reaches of the toy chest (aka The Island of Banned Toys):

"Ooh, Mommy! Remember this dollie that really pees and poops when you feed her??? I wonder how she got stuffed in the bottom of this box!"

"Mom- remember how you said you'd help me put together this 4000 piece 3-D light-up, musical mosaic tile puzzle?"

"FINGERPAINT!!!!!!"

But occasionally, as my just turned five-year-old daughter and I discovered on a rainy day while eating someone's leftover birthday cake, there are some pleasant surprises.

That was the day she came across a box of dominoes. Good, old fashioned, low-tech, dominoes. I'm not sure whose gift it once was, but the unassuming box hadn't even been opened. And so we happily passed the afternoon together, carefully constructing squiggly lines all across the playroom floor, until that inevitable moment when one slip of her hand set off the familiar clink-clink-clink-clink chain reaction and one by one, end-to-end, they all tumbled over.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! She wailed. "They can't FALL DOWN!!!! Everything is RUINED!!!!!!!!"

"But it isn't," I assured her with a comforting hug as we surveyed the damage. "Just look: nothing is ruined, and all the pieces are still there. It's different, but it's still beautiful."

She walked away, turning her attention to another one of the Ghosts of Birthdays Past, and I was left holding one lone domino in my hand, trying to convince myself that what I told her really was true.

Because lately I've found myself feeling like I'm trying to hold everything up and it's all falling down around me. Piece by piece, one little clink at a time. Because when a loved one is ill, and when you can't fix it, it's hard to make any of the pieces stand up. It's hard to enjoy the the things you once loved when you know that something...or someone... is missing.

But something about that domino in my hand helped me realize that there is beauty in change, even the most difficult kind. There is peace to be found in shared memories, and there is joy in passing them on.

So I put that domino in my pocket, scooped up my little girl and took her over to the couch. I pulled out a weathered, dog-eared copy of a much beloved book my dad must have read to me at least 200 times. I showed her where he'd helped me write my name in the inside cover, a crooked, five-year-old's scrawl using 3 lower case letters and one upper case.

We got out a crayon, and right below it, almost close enough to touch, I helped her write her own.

It was a lot of sweet and a little bit sad all at once: the spot where past and present stood side-by-side. End-to-end.

And so it seems that's the way life will be. A lot of sweet and little bit sad all at once.

So instead of dwelling on what isn't, and on what has been lost, I will do my best to focus on what still is, and what will never end.

And I will take my memories in one hand and my future in the other and place them next to each other.

There they will stand together, almost touching, end-to-end.

And if it starts to feel like everything is falling down, I'll remember: all the pieces are still there.

It may be different, but it's still beautiful.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Mother's Day Role Model For All Moms

Ladies.

Stop what you're doing immediately (all 10,000 things at once) and have a seat. There is something I need to tell you.

I have made an amazing discovery. I found her: the perfect mom. The one we can all learn from, the one who can give us all hope, the one who is the whole package. The real deal. She has got it going on.

And here's the best part: you're going to absolutely love her. I promise, she's not going to make you feel insecure about your house, your wardrobe, or the size of your thighs. She's not going to preach to you, criticize you, or look down on you.

I'm telling you, she is incredible. It's like someone took the best parts of all the amazing moms you've ever met and rolled them into one.

I've only known her a few weeks but she's had such a profound impact on me that I had to introduce you to her. She's really quite camera shy, so that means you don't have to worry about her clogging up your news feed with selfies. While she's not anti-social by any means, she is going through a really hectic time in her life so I don't think she's even ON Facebook. Twitter is probably closer her genre anyway.

So who is this Mystery Mom? The one who has it all together, the one who is that perfect blend of patience, perseverance, energy, discipline, and love?

It's definitely not THIS mom. She's the first one to admit she is pretty much just fumbling her way through.


Believe it or not, I'm not even talking about this Mother.



 And while this mom has many of those attributes...


 And this one has others...



The mother I'm actually referring to is....well, a bird of a different feather. She has 13 children (yes, 13. As in a baker's dozen) with no nanny, no visiting grandparents, no extra hands on deck that I'm aware of. The kids are all well fed, well groomed, and polite. You'd think a household that large would be total chaos, but quite to the contrary. This mom has things totally under control. She is calm and relaxed. The whole bunch- they're not just surviving, they're thriving.

Look closely (like I said, she's camera shy and always on the go) and you just might be able to spot her.


Look again and you might catch a glimpse of a few of her newborn children.



I'm told there are 13 of them, but they move quickly and bear a strong resemblance to each other so I might have counted a few of them more than once.

Yes, the perfect mom is, in fact, a duck.

Now before you stop reading and assume there's nothing you could possibly learn from something so...fowl... and that I must be a... quack...let me just remind you that we are talking about a mom to THIRTEEN children. Just take a moment and let that sink in. Do a quick inventory of your own children, and then consider that Mama D just might be able to teach us something. Did I mention that those babies were just born three days ago? Does she look amazing, or what?

For weeks I've watched her sit on her nest in the courtyard of my daughter's preschool. Day after day, we'd come stomping into the building, me and my 3 little ducklings, usually running late, still tucking in shirts and zipping up backpacks, often times with remnants of breakfast smeared across one...ok, two... ok, fine- three of their faces.

And there she was- right outside the window, just camped out on her nest, day after day. In the midst of the noise and confusion as hundreds of children and their parents paraded past and ogled her, she never batted an eye. I don't know when she ate, or slept, or had any kind of "me duck" time, but she never complained. I don't know much about her background, but I think it's safe to assume she made some major sacrifices to be there for her babies. You'd never know it from her demeanor.

I don't think she was waging any kind of internal battle over her identity, nor do I think she was consumed with decisions about "opting out" or "leaning in." I have no doubt that before she was Mama D she was a duck with a very her own dreams, aspirations, and goals. But there was no bitterness or regret in her eyes, she was simply doing what she knew needed to be done with grace and poise, what she knew only she could do. Through rain, fog, sleet, and even late Spring snow, she sat there contently, just taking care of business. I'm sure that somewhere inside Mama D knew that as difficult as some of those moments were, they were not forever. You might say that in the moment, she was just...well, ducky.

Never once in the time that I've known her have I seen or has she mentioned the babies'  father (and I can't bring myself to ask- aside from the language barrier, it would feel rude) so I think it's safe to say she's raising these kids on her own. They are not even one week old and she has already whipped them into shape: she says "We're going for a walk," and they line up and get moving. She says "Swim!" and they start paddling. Set the bar high and your kids will jump (or at least waddle) for it- Mama D is proof of that.

Maybe if we were all just a little more like Mama Duck we would swim through motherhood a little more easily. Maybe we would just focus on what needs to be done we'd be able to let the rest roll away... like water off Mama Duck's back. Maybe if we followed her lead, we wouldn't let our feathers get so ruffled.

So the next time you start feeling overwhelmed and start feeling like motherhood is too much, just take a deep breath, think of Mama D and her 13 babies, and ask yourself:

"What the duck am I so worried about?"

Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hanging Up On Fear

YI don't have very many pictures from my childhood. Unlike my own kids whose every waking (and the occasional sleeping) moment has been documented, uploaded to Facebook, and permanently entered in the digital records, I'm not sure my parents even owned a camera when I was born. They do have a drawer in the basement crammed with various snapshots from birthday parties and some painfully posed formal pics with the Olan Mills script stamped in gold across the bottom, but that's about it. And among those random snippets of childhood, crammed in between the family trip to Niagara Falls and the creepy late 1970s Easter Bunny was this shot.



Apparently, I liked to play with the phone as a toddler, a fact I find very odd since I later developed a a major aversion to the device. You see, I'm not exactly a phone person today. While you're all comparing apps and gigs and waiting in line for the new leopard print iPhone 87Q Titanium, I am perfectly content to hang with my trusty old not-so-smartphone.




It makes calls and sends texts… and that's only when I can find it… which is usually not when it is ringing or receiving a text.

I've had a smartphone when I was forced to for work, and I didn't like it. Too much of an electronic ball and chain, too much temptation to be Instagramming my life instead of living it. So it's bare bones phone for me. But even still, I have phone issues.

In the past few years, I've grown increasingly fearful of the phone. It seems like in today's text-heavy world of instant communication, the only time anyone ever calls is to deliver bad news, and lately I've had my share. So I started taking my anger out on an easy target- the phone. The mere sound of its ring (and there's only one on my outdated version) was enough to make my heart race. And instead of answering it, I'd glare at it, and then glare some more at the voicemail icon, sometimes taking days to work up the courage to listen to it. Upon entering the house, I'd obsessively check the home landline for both messages and missed calls, convinced that the bad news was just waiting for me to leave the house before it showed up.

But the worst times came overnight, when I would wake to see the phone on the bedside and instantly brace myself for what I assumed was to come. Many nights I stayed up for hours in a silent stare down with the phone, certain that the only way to keep it from ringing was to keep one eye trained on it at all times. I was locked in a tense standoff with myself, living in constant fear of the arrival of bad news… and the phone.

Then last month we took a family vacation- a Caribbean cruise. My biggest fear was not contracting some stomach virus, losing a child overboard, or running into trouble on the high seas (although I do question the cruise line's decision to air the movie Captain Phillips in an endless loop), but being out of phone's reach. You'd think this would be bliss for me, but the thought of being out of range in the event of the bad news I always anticipated, was terrifying.

With no telecommunications to monitor, I found myself with some time to read, and appropriately enough, the first book I turned to was all about phones. Mitch Albom's "The First Phone Call From Heaven" had sat idle on my Kindle since Christmas, but was quickly devoured as we sailed along.

It's a simple story with a powerful message: there are messages we need to hear- messages of hope, pain, love, grief, and forgiveness- and the phone is just one way we receive them, but what we choose to do with them comes down to faith. "What we give to fear, we take away from faith," Albom writes. I read that line over and over, repeating it to myself like a mantra throughout the trip. For the first time in years, I felt a sense of peace and calm, confident that what was inside of me was strong enough to handle whatever  the phone might potentially bring.

As we pulled into port early on the final day of the cruise, I slipped out of our cabin before dawn and took my phone with me on my morning run around the deck, knowing we were finally back in cell service range. With trembling hands and a pounding heart, I turned it on and saw the voicemail symbol spring to life.

I dialed it up, entered my password, and waited.

And then there was nothing. Nothing but a few work messages, a reminder from my dentist about an upcoming appointment, and an offer to lower my credit card payments. Tearfully, I hung up the phone and resisted the overwhelming urge to throw it overboard.

A few days after we returned, I received the call I'd been so dreading. A loved one was very ill, in critical condition. It was a horrible, awful phone call and an even more horrible, awful situation.

As I hung up the phone, it hit me- all those months of dreading the phone, all those sleepless nights, all that wasted energy will never come back. Dreading the calls doesn't allow you to avoid the truth. Being angry at the phone when you should be making peace with reality doesn't serve any purpose. Putting your life on hold for a call that may or may not come is no way to live.

Albom is right- "What we give to fear we take away from faith," and I'm not ready to be on the losing end of that equation.

So I think it's time to say goodbye to my phone-o-phobia and to work harder at muting my fears. When the phone rings, I will answer it. When it doesn't, I won't question it. Most of all, I won't center my life around it. Faith will win out over fear, because if it doesn't, then it isn't really faith.

But I'm still not upgrading my phone.


Monday, December 30, 2013

A Thank You Letter To Santa For What He Didn't Bring Us

Dear Santa,

I hope this finds you well and resting up following your 15 million mph Christmas Eve journey. I assume you are now either on a beach in Bora Bora sunning that Belly Belly, or en route to  your annual detox at the Betty Crocker Clinic for Frosting Rehabilitation. And I know you've had more than your fair share of mail in the past month or so, so I won't take much of your time.

I just wanted to say thank you. Of course, thank you for the obvious- all the gifts you brought, the memories we made, the great times we had. Cheers to you, big guy. How you manage to get it done each year, spreading laughter and loot to an average of 822.6 houses per second, is truly amazing. I can barely manage to deck my own halls and here you are bringing joy to the entire globe in a night. Wow, just wow.

But more importantly, I want to thank you for what you didn't bring. As I'm sure you will recall from your NSA-worthy pre-holiday surveillance program, my little boy (who is not so little anymore) lost both his front teeth in December. And of course, every adult he encountered (including me) serenaded him with one of the worst Christmas songs of all time (second perhaps only to the one with the donkey): "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth…" and he'd happily sing along, adding Legos, a remote-controlled helicopter, and a pair of ski gloves to the chorus.

And many of those things appeared under the tree: the Legos, the chopper, the gloves… but no teeth. Not in a package, not in a stocking, not even in one of the "Happy Birthday" gift bags I ended up having to use when I ran short on tape (and the will to live) after hitting the wall during the annual all night wrapathon. No teeth. And for that, I thank you.

Because somehow I have the feeling those teeth will mark the beginning of the end of something so simple and sweet. It won't be long before that innocent little gaping grin will be replaced by a sullen scowl, a snide remark, or worse yet- silence. With those adult teeth will eventually come adult worries, adult responsibilities, adult fears, and at times, the weight of the whole adult world.

Santa, the move from "little boy" to "big boy" has already been heartbreaking enough. Have you seen the other side of the clothing store- the one where sizes don't have a "T" after the number and instead of footy pajamas that say "I Stole Mommy's Heart" they have ripped up jeans and t-shirts with skulls and crossbones and snowboarders? Not that there's anything wrong with snowboarders, I just didn't get the memo that at age 6 my son automatically switched from Team Mom to Team Shaun White.

There are other sure signs he's growing up, and I'm not just talking about the shoes he's rapidly outgrowing, or the inevitable obsession with bodily functions. I can already see him looking at the world in a different way, realizing that not every story has a happy ending, and not all boo boos can be made better with a bandaid. I know that he's becoming more and more aware of loss, of hardship, and his mom's inability to actually kiss away all the pain.

And he also now has really stinky feet.

So thank you, Santa for not delivering on the front teeth for Christmas. I feel like you've bought us some extra time, and I promise to use it wisely. I promise I will laugh at his nonsensical "Knock Knock" jokes, I will  cuddle and tickle him until my arms ache, I will hold his hand in public, I will keep the magic alive, and keep him young as long as I can.

Adult teeth can wait.

For now, I still have a sweet little boy with a big gaping grin.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Discovering the Magic of Christmas as an Adult

I think I owe you an apology.

If you've ever sprinkled reindeer dust on your lawn, donned a hat with a sprig of mistletoe hanging off the front, or placed a giant inflatable penguin on your lawn, I'm sorry.

If you take your pets sit on Santa's lap, have elf shoes in an adult size, or any garment of clothing with a bedazzled "Ho Ho Ho" across the chest, I ask for absolution.

And most of all, if you are currently driving around in a car with antlers stuck to the top and a red nose on the grill, please forgive me.

Because for the past few decades, whether you know it or not, I have been making fun of you. I've mocked you silently and not so silently, rolled my eyes at the sight of you, and poo-pooed your holiday spirit. I've called you some not-so-nice names and questioned your intellectual prowess, and for that I'm deeply, deeply sorry.

Because I get it. I finally get it.

It took me 40 years and a little girl who grabbed my hand and yanked me out of an otherwise dreary, stressful day as we wandered through the grocery store parking lot, my brain processing through its never-ending to-do list (holiday and regular editions combined) on autopilot.

"OOH, Mommy look!!!!" she squealed in delight, her blue eyes blazing with excitement. "A Rudolph car!!!" She threw her head back right there in the middle of the parking lot and giggled hysterically. Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to the car.

"Shhhh! He's sleeping!" she warned me. "You can't touch him- he's…MAGIC."

And that's when it clicked: the magic.

I'd heard about it in songs and movies, but never actually believed in it.

And because I didn't believe in the magic, it was just easier to scoff at those who did.

Don't get me wrong- I certainly didn't grow up deprived as our tree was piled high with presents (most of them purchased in my mom's annual Christmas Eve shopping frenzy we dubbed "The Closing of the Malls") and the table overflowed with food. We wanted for nothing… except maybe a little magic.

I'm quite certain my scholarly, professional, serious, immigrant parents didn't even know about the magic. It's not like it comes in the "How to Live in America: Holiday Edition" newsletter. They did their very best at melding their version of Christmas (a serious, deeply religious holiday celebrated on January 7th as per the Orthodox calendar requiring 40 days of prayer and abstaining from all animal products to prepare) with that of their new home (Trees! Cookies! Lights! Elves! Beginning in August!!) as best they could, but there was very little pretense. And not much magic.

So for years I told myself the magic wasn't necessary. In fact, it was just plain excess. Who needs magic when you can have a perfectly fine holiday without it? I blanketed myself in reason and rationality aside so I could focus on other elements of the holiday season, like stress.

When I had my own children, I convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by not overindulging them in Christmas magic or saddling them with lofty expectations of magical holidays. Wouldn't magic only lead to disappointment when the (wo)man behind the curtain was revealed? Wouldn't it take away from our focus on the real meaning of Christmas? Who needs magic, anyway?

Turns out, I do.

Because this year in particular, Christmas started to feel a bit hollow. Already stretched far too thin in every direction, coping with a loved one in the hospital, faced with mounting work pressures, school parties, the shopping, the baking, the wrapping, the endless planning of every second of every day, there were only 2 choices: give into the stress, or give into the magic.

I chose Rudolph.



So here's to you, reindeer car. Here's to balancing the reason for the season with giggles and wonder and fun. Here's to not hiding in the past, but taking the best of what you've had and deciding for yourself what you want the future to be.

And here's to losing yourself in the big blue eyes of a 4-year-old girl.


Here's to a magical Christmas.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Who Is That Looking Back?

Have you ever looked in the mirror and not quite recognized the person staring back? You know, the one who has apparently been walking around with a Hello Kitty sticker stuck in her hair for the past 8 hours? The one with the lines on her face that can't possibly be mattress marks because it's now 2pm and it's not like that face spends all that much time on a mattress anyway? The one with the slightly really completely harried look in her eyes? Yeah, her.

I recently saw her and she scared the bejeezers out of me. She looked frazzled, frustrated, and out of focus, even after I put in my contact lenses. Sure, it's natural to be tired when you have 3 kids ages 6 and under, a busy job, and a busy life. But the woman in the mirror didn't just look tired. She looked somehow off-center.

Later that morning,  I stopped at a local coffee shop known for posting inspirational and thought-provoking messages on the wall to pause for a few seconds in between dropping off 2 kids at 2 different schools, going to the grocery store, prepping for a conference call, scheduling interviews, writing up articles, and returning the 827 emails in my in-box while doing some online Christmas shopping, all before having to run the school shuttle in reverse. I looked up from my tall soymilk chai latte to see "Have You Found Your Center?"written in chalk next to the free-trade, organic, lovingly cultivated Sumatran fresh roast blend of the day.

Clearly, that sign was a sign, I thought. I decided it was time for a change. A perspective shift. A re-centering of my center. It was time to get my zen on. And so began a mission to find my focus, a Journey to the Center of… Me.

Church seemed like as logical a place as any to start. Sunday: the beginning of the week, so I'd begin there. We go to church every Sunday but this week I'd make a special effort to recommit myself to prayer. To focus on my faith. I'd remember the Sabbath and keep it holy… MOLY! How the *&^% (oops-tack one on to my list for confession) did I forget it was Sunday? I sprint back home from what I thought was going to be a leisurely Saturday morning jog (would the person who stole an entire day from my memory please kindly return it?), bolt through the shower, throw a dress in the general direction of my body (some people think I'm all fancy but really, who has time for separates?)  and do the same for the kids. Oops, 2 are boys. OK, they can wear separates.

We somehow make it to church and take our seats in Spiritual Siberia, the section outside the actual sanctuary reserved for families with young children. Not unlike animals in a cage, we peer longingly at the parishioners and wonder what it's like on the other side. Except some of it use it to play peekaboo with the ushers.

I bow my head and attempt to block it all out. And for a moment, it works- I feel myself re-centering, I hear a voice from within… it seemed to be calling me and tugging at my heart…

No, make that my eyelids.

"MAMA!!!! OPEN YOU EYES!!! WHAT YOU DOING???? MAMA!!!!" my two-year-old screams, his tiny hands planted on either side of my face. "We do ring-round-rosie?" he asks hopefully as the congregation joins hands.

The rest of mass passes in a blur of diversionary tactics/snacks/pleas/bribes to sit still, 5-10 laps around the building chasing a runaway toddler, and a long explanation in the hallway as to why the Sign of Peace should not involve ninja moves of any kind. We leave and I am worn out and out of breath, unsure if we went to mass or some new form of religious Zumba.

Later I decide to try meditation. Two kids were napping, one was playing outside. The house was, dare I say, silent and still. It was the perfect moment for ME to be silent and still and re-center myself. I headed up to my room, my safe zone, my sanctuary…my four loads of unfolded laundry.

So first I'll just fold this laundry, put it away, and then I'll meditate, I tell myself. But if I'm going to fold laundry, I'm going to need some music. So first I'll just go grab the iPad so I can listen to Pandora, then I'll fold the laundry, put it away, and then I'll meditate. But now that I've got the iPad, I can't help but give a little love (or at least a few "likes") to my Facebook friends and maybe update my status (Mona is meditating. Namaste, peeps!), and then I'll fold the laundry, put it away, and then I'll meditate. Just as soon as I take this quiz about how many 80s movies I've seen, which reminds me that I need to find a good recipe for pecan pie for Thanksgiving dinner, because my favorite 80s movie is When Harry Met Sally and who doesn't love the whole "Waiter, there is too much pepper in my paprikash, but I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie"thing, which also reminds me that I need to register for the Turkey Trot, which makes me think of the picture my 1st grader drew of a turkey trying to run away from a hunter, which totally cracks me up…

Wait, what was I going to do? Oh yes, meditate. But now the kids are up from their naps and they are rolling around in the unfolded laundry and playing Row, Row, Row Your Brother with the laundry basket while I run to block access to the giant waterfall, aka the staircase.

Maybe something more active would work? Still zen and soothing and totally re-centering, but not so…still? I'm (clearly) not great with stillness. We move downstairs (on foot, not in basket) and I head to the entertainment center to search for my favorite yoga DVD.

"Ooh, movie time!! Can you make popcorn? Can we watch the Muppets? Can I sit in your lap?" says the world's sweetest 4-year-old as her big blue eyes glow with excitement. We grab a blanket and cuddle up on the couch. Yoga can wait.

Later that night, once all the bedtime stories have been read, after all the goodnight hugs and kisses (and the accompanying 8-10"Just one more?" hugs and kisses) have been distributed. I make one last re-centering attempt: a hot bath. I start to run the water in the beautiful jacuzzi tub that was such a draw when we bought the house, the one I envisioned using for nightly luxuriating soaks… the one we really only use to bathe the kids and that currently houses a tugboat, two plastic frogs, some squirt guns, and the lingering scent of "No More Tears" shampoo.

I catch a glimpse of myself as the tub fills and the bubbles part to the side, revealing the clear water in the center. And that's when it hits me. Maybe I'm not off-center after all.

Because you see, I am AT the center- the center of a bubbly, chaotic, sticky, messy world. In my world, it is loud, it is crazy, it doesn't sit still, and if you look closely you'll probably find it is more than a little bit wrinkled, it is likely wearing two different socks, and it may have remnants of breakfast stuck to its sleeve. It's full of crazy deadlines, school projects, dance class, soccer practice, birthday parties, late night work, and early morning workouts. When we go to church, we take the scripture literally and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. In my world there are epic battles over toys and who is looking out whose window and why is she breathing the air on my side of the car? But it's also a place full of giggles and hugs and wonder and excitement and most of all, love.

And here I am, at the center.

Yes, I am tired, and yes, I am at times frazzled. I could certainly use more zen in my life, more yin in my yang (or is it yang in my yin?), more OM and less OMG. I should really strive to do more downward facing dog to balance out my upward facing temper. And one day I might even learn to be still and meditate.

But am I off-center? Not a chance. 

I am right where I need to be. I am exactly who I need to be. 

And I wouldn't have it any other way. 


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Caterpillars to Butterflies With a Stop in Paris: The Many Transformations of Motherhood

When I was in college, I was fortunate enough to spend my junior year living in Paris, France. Ooh la la! As I packed for the adventure, I just knew it would be transformative. Like the title character in one of my favorite movies of all time, Sabrina, I would leave a slightly (ok, totally) gawky, awkward, frizzy-haired, caterpillar, and return a sleek and chic butterfly- or as they say in Paris, un papillon.

Audrey Hepburn plays a young girl in Paris, circa  1954


That's not quite the way it happened.

In my defense, it's not like Audrey Hepburn was EVER, even for a fraction of a second, gawky or awkward, and I'm sure it took a village of Hollywood hairdressers to transform her lovely locks into something even vaguely approximating frizzy for the "before" shots.

But back to me. So off I went to Par-EE where I did my best to absorb the language, the culture, the je ne sais quoi that all French women possess. Along the way I also absorbed a lot of croissants, baguettes, and brie. Oh, I was a caterpillar all right- The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I gained about 25 pounds during my stay in the City of Lights, which did not exactly help with Operation Papillon. And the whole frizzy hair thing didn't get any better on the other side of the world.

Monet's Gardens at Giverny, 1993
But I did learn a lot about myself, including the fact that I was born without the scarf-tying gene that all French women possess. Try as I might (and I did try) I always ended up just looking like I was being choked by a yard of fabric. Try as I might (and I did try) I never looked anything like a French woman. And that's OK. Because what I did learn in that year away from my family, my friends, and the language and culture I grew up with, is that I am still me without all that. Strip away the trappings that seemingly define you, and what you're often left with... is you.
A random train was calling my name, somewhere in Europe. 

Unfortunately, the lesson didn't quite stick. Upon returning from Paris I said au revoir to my evolved self and reacquainted myself with the American tradition of trying to be things I'm not. I spent years trying to change myself myself to fit in with various crowds, always coming up short, feeling somehow "less than" as a result. I played the roles and dressed the parts: the intellectual, party girl, the suburban mom, the corporate ladder climber, and yes, even at one point in my life, the Club Med showgirl.
Club Med Turkoise, Winter 1995 

But none of those were me, and none of them felt quite right. I always found myself feeling like an outsider wearing a costume (sometimes literally) that didn't quite fit. It wasn't just the jobs, but the whole package. As my "finding myself" years stretched into decades, I started to wonder- was it just me? Was being just me just not enough for me... or for anyone else?

Until one hot summer day in 2009, when God sent me a message. It was a 7 pound, 12 ounce message which arrived gently and with barely a cry.

Sweet Baby Girl

One minute a bundle was placed in my arms and the next two big, blue eyes blinked back at me with an intensity I'd never experienced. I could see instantly that this little girl knew who she was. She was laughter, she was love, she was chocolate frosted cupcakes and warm, sandy beaches all rolled into one. She was pure joy. In fact, I was so sure of it, I knew right then and there it was literally her middle name.

Joy arrives. 

And since that day, she has more than lived up to it. At age 4, she is still so blessedly and unabashedly bold, so completely absorbed in being herself that she doesn't have time to even consider an alternative. If there is a song playing in her head (and there usually is), she dances with abandon, not giving a moment's thought to whether the rest of us can hear the tune or know the moves.

Beachside ballerina. 


Not only does she march to her own beat, she leads the band with a plastic recorder while wearing a skunk suit.

Leader of the band.

She is a girl unafraid of making a bold fashion statement, the kind that involves mixing multiple prints with multiple muppets.

Style maven. 

And when it comes to accessories, she's got a plan of her own.


Work it, girl. 

And so for the past four years, that fearless girl, my sweet Cecilia Joy has reminded me that we are meant to live our own lives. Not the one down the road with the fancy catalogue furniture and the Pinterest-perfect porch decor, not the one that looks so impossibly put together each morning at preschool drop-off and only wears yoga pants to do actual yoga, and not the one in the office down the hall that seems so much more accomplished or at least seems to be able to accomplish work AND a full night's sleep. No- we are meant to live the life we are given and to live it with joy. Or in my case, with Joy. 

Joy squared.

I'd like to say I've religiously applied that mantra to my life and have effortlessly blossomed into my very own butterfly at last, but progress isn't always linear and I've had my share of slip-ups. Lately I've found myself back at the comparison game, which is one I always lose. I've been spending too much time looking at what others have, or what they've achieved, or where they've been and wondering once again why I don't ever seem to fit in. 

And at the same time I've seen the first traces of self awareness creep into my little girl's brain. I can see her watching other kids closely, studying their words and their movements and trying to imitate what they do. I see her hesitate ever so slightly before she moves a certain way or says a certain thing, the wheels turning in her brain as she seems to question if she's doing the "right" thing. I watch her holding caterpillars in her hand and wonder what she's thinking. 

She calls them callipiters. 

So for her, and for me, it's time to make some changes.

For her, and for me, I left a job I didn't love, one which was rapidly turning me into a person I didn't love, a job I was holding on to because it was easier than finding my own path. 

For her, and for me, I'm recommitting myself to celebrating the things that make me different, and the wonderful people in my life who embrace those differences because, really, who has time for anyone who doesn't? 

For her, and for me, it's time to be OK with who I am and where I am. 


No more waiting for some magical transformation to turn me into a butterfly. Maybe I'm already there. Any maybe I'm not. But either way, I don't want to wish away all the joy (and the Joy) that's already here.