Posted on | August 3, 2015 | No Comments
If you ask my mother, she can tell you only one true thing about my first day of Kindergarten. She vividly remembers walking down the hallway to my classroom with my hand in hers and with each step, my grip on her hand grew tighter. I didn’t speak, I just squeezed tighter. I’ve always been one to hold on… maybe too hard, maybe too long. I just never have quite mastered the skill of letting things go.
This morning, I fastened a little brown belt around a little boy waist and snapped a picture with him by the front door. I watched him fasten his seat belt in the back of the car, and listened as he told me he was just a little nervous about his first day. From the driver’s seat, I could see his reflection in the mirror: tall, strong, a little boy in a blue and red school uniform. I blinked away a tear and for a moment I could see him there, just a little boy in a blue and white coming home onesie, tightly strapped backwards into the backseat of the same car. I blinked again and the image was gone.
One more blink and we were there, unfastening seat belts and climbing out onto the hard pavement of his new school, feet stepping carefully with his hand pressed into mine as the door loomed ahead. Somewhere along the walk, the grip between us grew tighter, fingers pressing snug against palm and I believe it was me holding too tight.
The classroom was bright and quiet, and he took his place at the table beside his name.
“Do you want me to stay or go?” I asked, silently needing to be needed. Maybe he knew that or maybe he needed me, too.
“I’m not sure,” he said, looking up at me with those same bright eyes that peered up at me from a long ago bassinet in a not so long ago hospital room.
“Then I’ll stay for a bit,” I smiled, hoping my smile would shut in the tears that threatened to fall.
I watched from a distance as he settled in, coloring on the sheet in front of him, possibly oblivious to whether I was still there. It took me a moment to realize I was clutching the arm of his backpack, willing it to connect me to him even as I stood only paces away. His teacher took it from my hand with a smile.
“I’m going to go, bud,” I smiled again and he looked up with a grin and motioned me closer. I stepped in to his hug, feeling the press of his lips on my cheek and the strength of his arms around my back. I couldn’t bring myself to let go, squeezing just a bit tighter before he pulled away.
“Bye mom!” He waved, giving me permission to step away, to step out and allow him to be who he is, a kindergartener in a new school.
I stepped from his room, my hands squeezing into fists as though I could hold in the last scraps of baby… as though my fingers would wrap around the gurgle of his infancy, the breaths of his toddlerhood, the giggles of his pre-school days. As though the force of my wanting could capture it all there in my hands.
I turned the corner away and looked down at my fists, tight and saddened by my side. With a careful sigh, I reached up to wipe away a tear, letting the last few wisps of my baby curl out around my unclenched fists.
Posted on | July 23, 2015 | 9 Comments
Sometimes, when you least expect it, life throws you one of those sweet spot fast balls that streaks down the middle of the plate and you just know, without a doubt, that when you make contact you are on your way to a one way trip around the bases. Your eyes light up with sheer joy, your shoulders tense and then relax because you just know… somehow you just know… that there’s no way you can mess this up. Time slows down. There’s only you and the ball, and you can taste the perfection there on your lips. There’s a crack so loud that you believe every bat in the world split on contact and the ball, that perfect sphere of wonder, will arc in such a way that no one can mistake where it’s headed.
Out of the park.
Over the fence.
Perfectly connected, ball to bat, and you know that no matter how many times you step up to the plate you’re never going to see anything so beautiful ever again.
This summer, I stepped up to the plate in a big way. I stuffed and folded and laminated all the important documents and clothes and necessities and I reached one hand down to grasp J’s and the other over to grasp Banks’ and we headed into the sky on a plane bound for Europe.
First time out of the country.
And to say that it was a perfect trip would be, well… lying. I mean, we were on a plane for 8 hours with a five year old. And we were on a train for 6 hours with a five year old. And did I mention we walked mile after mile only to end up at another museum or church… with a five year old? So no, it wasn’t perfect. And I could (and perhaps will) write you all kinds of little snippets of the trip that will have you wondering if my last name is actually Griswold. But, like in any segment of life, there were moments of absolute perfection.
Like the moment I stood with my son and boyfriend at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
Like the moment I stepped out of the stairwell into the chapel at Saint Chapelle.
Like the moment I turned around to drink in the beauty of Montserrat Monastery and found myself looking down into the eyes of the man I love as he stretched out a small black box and told me he loved me. No. Told me he loved us.
It was the perfect pitch.
It was the moment I thought I’d never have, on those long nights when I cried myself to sleep, knee deep in divorce and baby and new job. It was the moment I thought would never come as I toiled through the every day, the moment I gave up on when I slid off my first wedding band and put away my wedding albums.
It was the perfect pitch.
And though I know we’re going to have moments when I’ll want to kill him, moments when he’ll want to strangle me… moments when we both wonder what in the hell we’ve gotten ourselves into… in that one perfect moment, at the top of Montserrat, time slowed. The air swirled up in amazement at just how far I’d come since that long ago day when I stretched yellow sheets onto a forgotten marital bed. The dust of the ground settled beneath my feet… level, even mountain top, and I knew there was no way I could mess this up. There was no way this could be messed up.
So I said “Yes.”
And watched as it sailed up and over and out and around in all the right ways before settling back where it should be. Here. With us.
Posted on | June 1, 2015 | 3 Comments
We had a busy weekend, full of trips to the pool and the park and playing with friends. Then this morning, J pulled his back pack onto his back and climbed into the car for the trip to his very first day of non-school summer camp. Sure, he’s been in camp before, but it’s been right at the Montessori school, with the Montessori teachers. It’s been a controlled environment with skilled adults leading the way. Today was his first day of summer camp.
Real summer camp.
He was excited all morning and even more so in the car. It wasn’t until we checked him in and started down the pathway to the pavilion that his hand reached for mine and he whispered “I’m a little nervous,” into my listening ear. I was a little nervous, too.
It probably doesn’t help that I was a summer camp counselor in high school. It probably doesn’t help that I know the ropes and rules and ways of life for a summer camp counselor. I’m sure that my view of those teenagers is skewed by my own experiences herding groups of children through outdoor summer activities. But regardless, when the lanky teen looked at me quizzically and said “I’m not the guy in charge of this part,” and walked away from my son and I, I wanted to scream “BE IN CHARGE, DUDE. MY FIVE YEAR OLD IS NERVOUS.” But instead I calmly waited for “the guy in charge of that part,” who turned out to be genuinely awesome. I watched as J followed his instructions on putting his lunch in the right place and putting his backpack just where it needed to go. The teen then turned to J and said “Alright man, you can head on down to the playground,” and my son took off around the corner as though I were nothing. As though I weren’t the same person he needed only moments or years before.
“I love you!” I called out, transforming into that crazy mom from Almost Famous and wanting to chase after him and toss my body atop the grenade of age and wisdom that was stealing away my baby boy. Instead, I simply turned the corner behind him to see if he made it safely to the playground, scanning the crowd of children for that familiar messy hair and blue star wars t-shirt.
And then there he was, half way to the bottom of the hill, standing still and tall and looking around as though he weren’t entirely sure of the life that lay ahead. I waited for him to move, to take off down to the rest of the kids but instead his eyes met mine and he smiled that sweet half smile and turned back to me.
“I love you, mom,” he called out, barreling into me for a quick hug. Then, as though maybe my love had energized him, he took off down to the playground, all legs and arms and almost six-year-old-ness. Though I stood and watched for a lifetime longer, he never did look back at me. Finally, I moved away, heading back down the winding pathway to the quiet sanctity of my car where I could let the tears fall.
My son is growing up.
The little boy who has been almost the entirety of my world for six years is doing what six year old boys do and getting taller and smarter and more adventurous. He is growing and changing and all the while, I am achingly just the same.
I am still the person who swaddled and rocked and nursed his tiny body. I still feel that need to shelter and protect and wrap him in my arms. My need and love for him… it never changes. It doesn’t shrink or bend or break with his back talk or intelligence or entirely too grown up vocabulary. I am always and only the same.
But he is not.
And this learning to let go is a slow and painful process when I am still the same.
Posted on | May 12, 2015 | 1 Comment
If you ask his teachers or the parents of his friends, everyone will tell you my kid is “all boy.” He plays loud, messy, and hard, and if it shoots or launches or in some way represents super powers, it is his most favorite thing. He just likes all that so-called “boy” stuff. And for the entirety of his short life, I’ve always thought that I’d be the mom who would be okay with whatever he wanted. If he wanted pink bows for his hair, he’d have them. If he wanted his toes painted pink or purple or glittery blue… he’d have it.
I never once thought I’d balk at any request for experimentation of any kind because colors are just colors, toy are just toys, and there’s no such thing as “girl” or “boy” things. (Except genitalia, obviously.)
Yesterday, J came in my room while I was putting on my make up. He watched as I put the foundation on and then blush and eye shadow and mascara. With each application, he asked what it was and why I put it on. He stood there, picking up each piece of make up and turning it over in his hand as though it were something strange and unique and interesting and all of a sudden, I found myself wanting to slap it out of his hand and tell him that boys don’t wear make up.
Yes. Me. Little old liberal-esque me. I wanted to quickly and carefully snuff out any interest he might possibly have in putting on make up of any kind.
And that feeling overtook me without him ever asking once to put on any of it. I was mortified by myself. I was horrified and sad and honestly, it made me question so much about who I’m inadvertently raising my son to be. Does he sense that revulsion from me? Will he grow up to make fun of boys who try on nail polish or lipstick?
We went to a party not too long ago where one of the little boys had nail polish on his toes. At the time, I thought “what a brave momma” and wanted to go out of my way to tell her that I thought it was great she let her child be whoever he was. Now, I can’t help but wonder why I felt it was commendable in another parent yet worrisome in me. I feel like I’ve let myself down or maybe let J down, without even doing anything at all. Just by internally balking at the possibility of him wanting to try something “girly” have I condemned him to live a life where he condemns?
I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what I would have done had he asked to try on something.
But I know that even I have a lot of learning and a lot of understanding left to do.
Posted on | May 11, 2015 | 3 Comments
Oh hi, remember me?
No? Yeah… I figured. Seeing as how I’ve sort of dropped off the face of the Earth, what with work and life and imbalance and stuff. It’s hard work to do all the things, am I right?? But Mother’s Day brought with it a soft but insistent reminder that I need to do more to take care of ME not just everyone else. Because if I can’t take care of myself, how can I possibly be good at caring for anyone else?
I’ve never been all that good at self care, something that became infinitely more obvious to me last week, when I made the decision to get up at 5am to either write or maybe to mediate or read the Bible. I thought it would be good to set aside some quiet time; time just for myself, ya know? In my head, that time looked a little like this: feet tucked under, curled up on the sofa with a steaming cup of coffee and either my iPad or the Good Book. Maybe there would be muffins. Maybe there would just be the sweet call of backyard owls as I focused on my breathing: inhale the good, exhale the bad. In any event, it would be peaceful and quiet and just what I needed.
Except that no. Not even slightly.
What ACTUALLY happened, was that I hit snooze for a good 30 minutes, stumbling out of bed at 5:30 and proceeding to use that 30 minute head start to get ready for work. So by the time I was actually ready to sit down and do anything other than straighten my hair and put on makeup, J was up and asking for breakfast. My “quiet time” consisted of me reminding him, on repeat, that I was having quiet time, dammit, and couldn’t he see how peaceful I was trying to be?
Clearly this whole self-care thing will need some work. But I’m still determined. It’s just going to take a realization that it’s okay to just get up and BE for a while. I don’t have to rush around to get everything finished before I take care of myself… before I do what I set out to do in the first place. Because there’s always more to do. From now until my dying breath, there will ALWAYS be a list a mile long of things I could be DOING. But really, BEING is so much more important than doing. And I think it’s time I learned to just be.
Posted on | April 20, 2015 | 2 Comments
Banks and I have been together a while now, just shy of two years, but there are still some things I’m just not comfortable doing around him. The thing is, though, I have stomach issues. Like… serious stomach issues. Enough that I’ve had an endoscopy and am now scheduled for my second colonoscopy in under 10 years. My gut just doesn’t work properly. So when I have to go to the bathroom, I literally have to go right then. No cuts, no buts, no coconuts.
This weekend, we got up on Sunday morning with every intention of going to church. I’d made breakfast and everyone was full and happy and ready to start getting clean and pretty for Jesus. Banks got up and headed for the shower in the hall bathroom… the one that is basically our primary and often only bathroom. See, there’s a second bathroom, but it’s off what used to be the Master Bedroom, and the toilet sort of consistently runs and I haven’t found the time (or the inclination) to fix it so I just turned the water off to save money on the water bill. (Bear with me, this is all important.) We keep that bedroom door locked because it’s our guest room, and it’s where I store all the things I don’t want J to see. (Think: Christmas, Easter, Birthday.) Just above the door, we keep a key to unlock it so it’s readily accessible, but out of J’s reach.
So Banks goes and gets in the hall bathroom to take his Sunday morning shower, and I’m “happily” cleaning breakfast dishes when suddenly it hits me… I need to go to the bathroom. Like… NEED to go. I stood for a moment, my hands in the sink, blindly panicking. Banks was in the bathroom with the working toilet. Should I wait? Could I wait?
I paced the floor.
Surely he wouldn’t take too long.
But the minutes ticked by and I realized there was no way I was going to wait. I’d have to go turn the water back on in the back bathroom. So I made my way down the hallway and reached up for the key.
The key was gone.
I looked everywhere but no sign of it. In desperation, I grabbed a piece of metal and tried to jam it into the door knob to unlock the door but it wouldn’t budge. Meanwhile, my stomach was churning in a way that meant I needed to get in that door yesterday.
So I did what I had to do.
I tossed the metal aside. I thought briefly about going into the backyard but figured the neighbors just wouldn’t understand. Should I just cross that line? Enter the bathroom where Banks was obliviously showering and do what I had to do? Would our relationship ever recover?
I sucked up my pride and opened the door beside me.
Then very studiously, I pulled out a screw driver and removed the door handle from the guest bedroom door.
Yes. I removed the damn door handle.
It’s clear that I’ve reached either a new low in my personal life, or a new level of respect for my boyfriend. Either way, I made it to the bathroom. And Banks got to practice re-installing door knobs instead of going to church, while I comforted myself with a shame nap.
Posted on | April 16, 2015 | 2 Comments
I’m not sure if started when I sat “holding space” with my grandmother, or maybe before, but lately I’ve been noticing things that have escaped my attention in the past.
When I wash my face, I can feel the dips and creases of the bones beneath my sin. I can feel the roughened edges of my feet against my socks and the pulse of my heart in the top of my wrist. It’s as though I can feel the aging of my body coursing through me and when I feel these things, these fragile reminders of my fragility, I become panicked and afraid that something else is out there.
That something more is out there.
Lately, my life has felt like one long race where the finish line is undisclosed and there may or may not be any sort of medal for completion. It’s monotony. It’s exhausting. It’s eerily terrifying in it’s complete incompleteness.
On Tuesday, J looked at me and told me I’m no fun any more.
“All you ever do now is work and cook and clean,” he accused, while waving a board game at my face. So of course I sat down and played, but then who stayed up late to finish the dishes… the pots and pans of my life all piled in a sudsy corner of the sink.
All I ever do now is work and cook and clean. And it feels like not enough. It feels like I am missing something bigger, something grander, that is lurking just outside my line of sight, begging me to come and find it. Begging me to come and embrace the bigness of life outside of work. And cooking. And cleaning.
Maybe it started when I held my grandmother’s hand as she disappeared into the spaces between. Maybe it started before then.
But all I know is that there is more than this. There must be more than this.
And I am not doing enough to find it.
Posted on | April 14, 2015 | 1 Comment
One of the hardest things about being they type of attorney I am, is leaving work at the office. It tends to crawl into the trunk and back seat of my car or run along beside me, tapping at the window and whispering “What about this guy, is he okay? What about Mrs. so and so? Did she get her medications today?”
By the time I get J at school, my mind is whirring with all the things that may or may not have gotten accomplished at work and it feels like a good 50% of my time is spent merely phoning it in with him, especially on Mondays, when work is screaming in my head and my son is screaming in his own way for my undivided attention. I only have so much mind that works, and lately it seems unfairly skewed toward the people who are hurt and have signed on the dotted line for my assistance.
Yesterday was one of those days.
My assistant called in sick to work and my phone rang off the hook. Emails were coming in by the fist full and every way I turned, there was someone else who needed something pressing. To top it all off, I had to leave the office early for a doctor’s appointment which just means that MORE things than normal didn’t get done. I finally finished at the doctor’s office around 4:30, clutching my prescription for a colonoscopy (yay.), and rushed home to get J’s tball uniform so we could make it to his 5:45 game. I raced back to school to pick him up, only to get an email alert at 5:05 that the game was called on account of rain. I was frustrated, frazzled, soaking wet, and overworked by the time we rolled into the driveway at home.
J was talking non stop about his day, something I usually love, but today I just couldn’t take it.
I walked inside, exasperated, handed him a DVD and told him to put it in while I made dinner. I forced the dog outside to the bathroom. I started cooking dinner, all the while doing what I thought was my best at carrying my side of the conversation with J as he peppered me with questions and comments about any and everything. Finally, blessedly, there was a pause in his conversation. I looked up to see him standing beside me at the oven.
“Can I help you?” I asked, in maybe not my nicest tone, while stirring the green beans in the pot.
“Um… Mom?” He looked at me quizzically. “Why are you talking to me in your angry voice today?”
Well shit, then, Mom of the Year.Way to go.
If you’ve ever thought you could get by with phoning it in with a five year old, let me remind you that you absolutely can not. I put down the spoon, drew in a deep breath and apologized. It’s just so easy to lose sight of the fact that he’s five and needs an attentive (and pleasant) mommy. It’s easy to fall into the routine of turning on the TV and encouraging him not to speak to me until I’ve had time to decompress, time to release the demons of my work life. It’s apparently all too easy to fall into speaking to him as though he were a burden on my time.
When really he isn’t.
When really, he’s the most special thing I have.
So the green beans turned out terribly. And I ended up just eating a salad for dinner and handing him a Lunchable. And maybe in another universe I would feel awful about that, but in this one? In this one, I felt okay because it meant that I could just slide next to him on the sofa to watch a movie, and feel his face pressed against my shoulder. I swallowed down the urge to tell him to move and just. give. me. space. and tried to remember that how I speak is just as important as what I say. Maybe more important.
Being a working mom is just hard. And that’s the Gospel. Because for every time I get those moments right… say the right things, use the right tone of voice… there are fifteen others when I screw it all up. But hopefully, when he looks back at these times we’ve had together, he’ll remember that at the very least, he was always able to correct me when I was unfairly using my “angry voice.”
Posted on | April 13, 2015 | 2 Comments
In my very first “real” relationship, there was more drama than a daytime soap opera. We were constantly fighting over this or that, constantly breaking up and making up, constantly in that space of “affection” where it’s so tumultuous that it seems like every single emotion is amplified. I was the MOST angry, the MOST happy, the MOST depressed, the MOST ecstatic that I’ve ever been. Either/or. Never just happily content to be with and around each other.
It seems that most of my life has been an either/or… a struggle to find that highest of the highs, even when they come quickly followed by the lowest of the lows. I feel things intensely. I feel things maybe too intensely. As a result, I’ve spent most of my life believing that to be real, feelings must be intense. They must be dramatic. They must be over the top, all over the place or something is probably missing.
I’ve always believed that love must be a state of constant euphoria… the finding of a place that nestles in that lost world of feeling you had when you got your first kiss. I thought to be real, love had to be that. Always.
It’s the real damage that movies do to us, you know. We begin to believe that it isn’t love if it isn’t all the time, in your face, affection over affection over affection with a bullet point of steamy romance and can’t keep your hands off each other crazy.
But that’s not love. Not really.
Until this weekend, though, deep down I think I still believed that was love. I think somewhere in my soul I worried that when those moments faded fewer and farther between, when those movie-worthy crescendos became quiet smiles over the top of a tow-headed pre-K… it meant love was gone. So I’ve been pacing for several weeks, wondering when Banks was going to drop the hammer of his disinterest, wondering when he’d just admit that he didn’t love me, not really, not any more. I’ve been on edge, waiting to hear the inevitable news that this, too, has passed. So when he came this weekend, he knew something was off with me. Let’s face it… he’s known for some time that something was off with me.
“Spill it,” he said, watching me fidget with my unspoken fears. So I did.
And as I poured out my thoughts and feelings and fears into the waiting ear of my ever-too-patient boyfriend, he listened carefully and then softly reminded me that real love… that HIS love… will never leave. That’s the beauty of it.
He reminded me that it’s not about the bigness of feeling, but the calmness of comfort. It’s not about the aching need, but the filled void. He reminded me that this, what we have, is louder because of its softness … larger because of the sweetly small, personal spaces that it sits in… day after day, month after month, and now year after year.
There have been no disastrous fights.
There are no screaming matches.
There has been no break up, get back together, rinse and repeat.
There is just us. Together. Happy. Maybe not movie worthy… but lifetime worthy.
Posted on | April 10, 2015 | 1 Comment
I dropped J off with his grandmother this morning at a little Chick Fil A between her house and mine. He waved, I waved, we blew kisses and then I was off, back on the highway and headed to work.
It’s funny, because I vividly remember, when I was first getting divorced, the feeling that spending weekends without my child would be excruciating. I remember sobbing that it wasn’t fair that I’d have to have days and one day weeks without him. It was, perhaps, one of the hardest things to swallow about being separated from marriage. But as the years have passed, I find now that I look forward to these weekends, these little segments of time when I am free to just be… me.
I remember saying to my Granny once that it must be difficult when everyone who knew her as just “Audrey” were gone. I remember thinking how hard it would be to feel like you were anyone other than “Mom” or “Granny” or “Great Granny” when there was no one there to call you different. Because there’s power in being called by your name, I think. There are memories stored in the letters, thoughts and ideas and dreams about who you were or are or once meant to be.
When J goes to spend a weekend alone, I have time to not be “mom.” When I leave the office that Friday, I’m not “Ms. Attorney.” And though I love all my “names”, the one I love the best is just… Karen. And these weekends apart from J give me time to just be her. I can recharge the battery of who I am outside of my child. I can revisit the parts of me that I keep tucked and folded in the cedar chest of my memory. I can be the Karen I sometimes forget to be when I’m knee deep in the daily grind of being lawyer and mom.
When I left J today, I rolled the windows down and turned the music up. I sang loud to, lets face it, not even borderline just straight up “inappropriate for mom” songs. I danced like a crazy teenager. I blew bubble gum bubbles so big that they made me laugh just from looking at them slightly cross-eyed. I texted Banks when I got to work and asked to go dancing. I made plans to play in a corn hole tournament with friends.
I was just… Karen.
And it’s nice to have these weekends… these moments when I don’t have to be anyone to, well… anyone. It’s what so many moms miss out on, I think, especially if you don’t find a group of people who know you as someone and something other than “J’s mom” or whatever title follows you around during your weeks and months and years.
This weekend, I’m going to just be Karen. No one else.
And though I thought weekends away from my child would be the hardest thing about divorce, I think that maybe they are one of the best.keep looking »