26 October 2011

Losing, and then finding, yourself

**In Lost Edens, author Jamie Patterson struggles to save her marriage which may or may not be already over. Keeping her attempts a secret from her family, she attempts to mold herself into the wife her husband wants her to be. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Lost Edens by Jamie Patterson on book club day, October 27 at From Left to Write. This post is inspired by the book.**

Lost Edens by Jamie Patterson

I struggle for words when I think about this book.  That's a little unusual for me, to struggle for words, but I read this book nearly in one sitting and when asked what I thought of it, I came up nearly empty of words.  Not because I didn't like it, or it was a boring story, badly told; far from it.  I found it riveting; real and raw and emotional.  I felt as though I were living the experience with Jamie, and I was spent by the last page.  It's not a real happy, feel-good story but it is, in many ways, hopeful. 

Most of us have been through a terrible break-up, whether it was getting your heart well and truly broken by your first love, or a mid-30's divorce that left you shattered and alone with young children.  I remember when my first love, my high school boyfriend (I'll just call him T) broke up with me.  I sobbed and cried and begged him not to leave me; I promised I'd be anything he wanted me to be, if he would just not leave me.  My baby heart was broken; I was 17 and I believed with all my heart that he was The One.  He had even given me a tiny diamond chip that I wore proudly; it may as well have been a flawless, colorless 5-carat ice cube for all the weight it carried for me.   By the time I graduated from high school, the shine was off the diamond, literally and figuratively.  It was never going to last; we were children and we had no idea what we were talking about as we pledged to love each other forever and ever. We broke up on senior prom night and although we got back together and tried to make it last, we were never the same and no matter how I tried, I could never change myself enough to be the girl he wanted to be with.  

Now, over twenty years later, I am glad that, as painful as it was and as much as I didn't think I could live one.more.day without him, T set me free.  He's gone on with his life and I've gone on with mine.  My life is a pretty good place to be these days and I'd never have grown up to be who I am today, with my experiences and my perspectives, with all the good and the bad that entails.  

The next Serious Relationship I had, with R,  also ended with me sobbing and crying and swearing to be whoever he wanted me to be, if he would just please not leave me.  He did, in fact, leave and again, I'm grateful.  Although at the time, I thought I might die from heartbreak. 

I'm beginning to see a pattern here.  

The thing that T and R knew, that I didn't, was that you can't change who you are, to please someone else.  Not even if you really, really, really want the relationship to work.  When you dance to someone else's tune, you are always just a little bit out of step.  You are always looking to them to see what your next move is, to see how you're going to feel about everything, from the day's headlines to how much cream and sugar you take in your coffee.  Little by little, you get swallowed up by the person you're trying to please.  You look to them to see if those pants really do make you look fat, if you're cheering a little too loudly for your favorite team (wait, is that your favorite team? you can't remember), or if it's ok for you to go ahead and have that second slice of pizza or glass of wine.  What they want becomes what you want, and your desires and needs merge with theirs until you almost can't see yourself as separate from them. Your thoughts, and by extension you, cease to matter, even to yourself.

And in the end, by compromising so much of yourself and what you want, you disappear.  One of the most poignant moments in this book, to me, was pretty early on, when Jamie was at Target buying a new set of sheets.  She really wanted the pink ones but she knew he wouldn't like them and would rather have another color.  She tried to take a stand, even to herself, and get what she really wanted.  But even as she bought her new pink sheets, she knew she couldn't do it; she knew she'd be bringing them back the next day to exchange them for sheets that would make him happy.  Even in something so simple as a set of sheets, Jamie allowed her desire to fix her troubled marriage to trump everything that might have been important to her, everything that made her who she was.  

T didn't necessarily want me to change for him; he told me so, and so did R.  They both said essentially the same thing: you can't change for me.  You wouldn't be you anymore. During each of those break-ups, I wanted so badly for them to love the me that I was, and I didn't know that trying to make myself into someone that they could love would have negated me.  It wasn't T or R telling me I wasn't good enough as I was; I was saying that to myself. 

Losing yourself is far harder than losing someone else.  If you don't know who you are, if you have lost yourself, how do you know where to start?  How do you go about figuring out who you might be, what you might want? If you're not good enough for yourself, how can you be enough for someone else?  Finding out the answers to those questions is a tough thing.  But after you have allowed someone (and yourself!) to beat you down to where you don't recognize the girl in the mirror, the you that you will find at the end of the questions is pretty awesome.  Don't ever let anyone tell you differently. 

26 September 2011

Politics and sex

**As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a complimentary copy of Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff for review. This post was inspired by reading the book, and you can check out other club members' posts by going to www.fromlefttowrite.com starting on 27 September.**

I recently graduated from college with my bachelors' degree in history. It was a big deal for me, a long awaited dream and a goal that I had put off.

I mention this only because it seems to me that, with said degree, I should have some knowledge of, well, history. I read this book, Cleopatra by Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff(who is totally my new hero! Author, scholar, historian, yo!) and I learned so much! I learned a lot, and I also disabused myself of some of notions previously held.

Obviously, as a history major, and a historian, I'm fascinated by history. I also love politics, and nothing pumps my blood pressure like an election season, preferably with big issues at stake. And really, when isn't there a big issue at stake? But every election season, I lament the ever-increasing hostility and lack of manners and decency. I wish that we could back to the days when politics was a little more civil and polite. Heh. And when, pray tell, would those days have been? Loosely defined, I think of politics as the relationship between the government and the governed. The bosses and the workers. The leaders and the people. The business of making a nation function.

That's what I mean. You'd think I would know that politics has always been a blood sport, quite often literally, and maybe never more so than in Cleopatra's time. In the early chapters of Cleopatra, Schiff outlines Cleopatra's "ungainly shrub" of a family tree and her early years when she was groomed and trained to lead. She was schooled vigorously in philosophy and language and the art of public speaking and it seems her father had high aspirations for her. She married one of her brothers; a common practice of the time, hence the "ungainly shrub" of a family tree. They were expected to rule Egypt as king and queen and yet they were mercilessly plotting against one another, even to the death.

The thing I find kind of funny, not so much in the ha-ha way, but in the ironic way, is that a woman who was successful in politics in the years before Christ (B.C.) is, to this day, regarded as a wanton seductress, and cunning manipulator. Julius Caesar, with whom Cleopatra crafted an alliance, was regarded as a successful military strategist. Credit is given to his intellect and his leadership, while Cleopatra, who was not necessarily regarded as all that attractive in her time, has emerged from history as a breathtaking beauty who was capable of rendering men senseless with her come-hither smile and a bat of those kohl-rimmed eyes. She doesn't get credit for being smart and well-trained; she gets credit for being beautiful. But love her or hate her, she was on a pretty equal footing with the men of her time and outfoxed many of them, including her brother and husband Ptolemy who was trying so hard to kill her! When he discovered she had tricked him right under his nose, he literally burst into tears and threw a tantrum, so furious was he. Who says she's just a pretty face?

Fast forward about two thousand years...love them or hate them, there are some pretty powerful women in American politics these days. Hillary Clinton, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin. Their education and expertise, although it is hotly debated by many, was enough for the people that elected them. They didn't come to be governors or Senators or Secretary of State on their looks alone, and yet that is exactly how they seem to be judged first and foremost. Eventually the conversation will turn to intelligence (or perceived lack thereof), training, experience, education, political savvy. But a lot of weight is given to looks, when the same isn't true of their male counterparts. Unless you count the snarky jokes about John Edwards' $400 haircuts, but that's another post for another day....

Cliches become cliches for a reason, and this whole line of thought brings an oldie but a goodie to mind: the more things change, the more they stay the same. No, a woman doesn't have to be beautiful to be successful, but it helps. Hillary's presidential campaign was history making, groundbreaking, and yet what got so much press was her wardrobe. Sarah Palin's clothing budget was the stuff of political legend. And just yesterday, I read a snark opinion piece complaining about how much Michele Bachmann must spend on her manicures.

I stand in awe of powerful women, who didn't follow the rules and didn't behave, no matter what they might have looked like. You know, well-behaved women don't make history.

23 September 2011

On forgiveness and second chances

** Deborah Reed's debut novel Carry Yourself Back to Me follows heartbroken singer-songwriter Annie Walsh as she digs into the past to exonerate her brother from murder. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Carry Yourself Back to Me on book club day, September 22 at From Left to Write.**

Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I really enjoyed it. This is a debut novel and I really like the author's writing style.  I have a bad habit of picking apart the author's writing style when I read, as opposed to just allowing the story to carry me along, but I suppose that's an occupational hazard.  Sometimes I just can't keep reading, if the style distracts me too much, but I found Reed's style compelling and a little mysterious.  Maybe suspenseful is a better word...at the end of each chapter, she threw in a little twist that made me stay up too late to find out what happened, saying to myself, "Just till I see what what she does now, then I'll put it down."

This book got me thinking, as good books are supposed to do, and it got me thinking about second chances.  Seems to me that just about every character in this book, major and minor, got a second chance.  Bad guys got a chance to be good guys, broken hearts got a chance to heal and love again, and dreams that seemed crushed had a chance to breathe again.

Forgiveness and second chances are not the same thing, but it sure is hard to give someone a second chance when you're not willing to forgive.  Then again, if you forgive, that doesn't always mean you're willing to give a second chance.  

I have been blessed throughout my life, with many, many second chances.  I find it kind of funny and ironic that friends from my wild and mis-spent youth would not recognize the small-town, church-going, stay-home wife and mom I have become, while friends that I have now would not recognize the somewhat wild-child, party-girl, dancing-on-the-edge-of-legal rebel kid that I used to be.  I had something a little bit removed from the childhood my own little people are enjoying.  They have both parents still living, still married to one another, in a nice comfortable house with dinner on the table (oh alright, sometimes it gets delivered in a box from the pizza guy, but whatever!) every night, good friends at a great school, all the books and Legos and video games any three kids could want, and very few worries.  I used to feel sorry for myself for the raw deal I thought life had given me, but I've come to see my rough beginnings as a blessing. 

I got a second chance. 

I was at a crossroads as a young teen, poised on the brink of that time in life when bad decisions really can follow you for a lifetime instead of being mostly temporary and erasable.  And then what I thought was the worst possible thing happened: I was uprooted from one home to another.  I thought it was the end of the world, and that my life was over.  In reality, it was just beginning.  Had I stayed in the other place, I was all but certain to head down a path that was littered with bad decisions and unpleasant consequences.  That is not to say I never made a bad choice again, or that I didn't live with any unpleasant consequences; to the contrary, I did just that.  But my new environment afforded me opportunities that the old one had not and much better guidance along the rocky path to adulthood that kept me from completely careening out of control and over the edge.  I found my way.  Not perfectly, not without mistakes and regrets and tears, but I found my way. 

My father was alternately emotionally abusive, or completely absent.  He was a guy who always seemed to have circumstances stacked against him, he had a lot of bad things happen to him, and he got bitter about it.  He and I didn't see eye to eye on many things, and we hurt each other.  A lot. Ultimately we spent a lot of years estranged and not speaking.  Until he got really sick.

I gave a second chance. 

A lot of water passed under the bridge that last week he spent in hospice and I learned that forgiveness isn't something you give to the other person, it's a gift you give to yourself. Putting down that baggage is blessed relief.  You're the only one that carries it; it's only a burden for you, not the other person.  It's easier to move forward when your load is that much lighter.

Second chances are a gift.  A beautiful gift to be treasured and not squandered. 

In Carry Yourself Back to Me, Annie extended forgiveness and received second chances.  It was only after setting down her angry baggage and forgiving those who had hurt her, that her hands were open and able to receive the second chances. 

Have you ever been given a second chance?  Were you able to receive it? 

21 July 2011

Gettin' it done

My summer reading, that is.

Which is at least part of the reason this poor blog sits unwritten-in, lonely and neglected these days.

But I have been on a major reading tear over the last several weeks, staying up waaay too late and losing sleep to see how things end.  I must confess that much of my reading is pure escapism, not really edifying or educational in any way, although some of the books have made me really think about different things.  I finished Love, Greg and Lauren, and jumped into The Passion of Mary Margaret, which is a really good story that didn't go at all as I expected it to.  It's the story of a religious sister who knows from a very early age what she wants to do with her life and sets out to do just that, only to find that Jesus has other plans for her.  He literally sits down in her kitchen and tells her so.  I thought all the way through that book, how great would that be, to have Jesus sit down at my table for a cup of coffee and say, "Good morning sweet pea.  Here's what I have planned for you." I'd always know for sure what God intends for me, what His plans are for my day, my week, my life.  I wouldn't spend time needlessly worrying about if I'm doing what God wants, or if I've convinced myself that what I want is what God wants, by the sheer force of my desire.  In any case, it was a good book that I enjoyed reading, and there were some real surprises that I didn't see coming.  I don't like to give away spoilers so I won't tell you what the surprises are, but suffice it to say that it wasn't plodding or predictable.

From there I jumped into Unbroken,  for my book club, and I'm SO bummed out I had to miss the meeting where we discussed it.  What a phenomenal story, and written so beautifully.  It's the story of Louie Zamperini, written by Laura Hillenbrand.  He was a troublemaker kid in Torrance, CA, in the 1930's, who fell in love with running and was training in hopes of running in the 1940 Olympics, and when they were canceled because of World War II, he went into the Army instead and became a bombardier on B-24s.  He and his crew crashed one day and he, along with two other crewmembers survived the crash and drifted at sea.  After an astounding 47 days drifting in a liferaft, with very little food or water, and nearly constantly hounded by hungry sharks, he and his pilot were rescued and ultimately taken prisoner by the Japanese.  He endured nothing less than hell on earth and eventually made it back home to tell his story.  He is still traveling today, speaking at churches and community centers.  Hillenbrand is a fantastic writer; I felt like I knew him personally and there were several points in the book that were suspenseful enough to make me stay up reading into the wee hours just to know what happened.  This was one of those books that really affected me.  I'm a military person and a history nerd, but that's only part of it.  Amazing story, amazing man, amazing book.  Read it.

I also motored through Then Came You, Jennifer Weiner's new one.  A story of three women who don't know each other, have very little in common, and yet their lives are permanently intertwined.  I love Jennifer Weiner's books and this one was no exception.  Her style is just so comfortable...easy to read, snarky and funny and clever, but also heartbreakingly real and vulnerable.

I found Emily Giffin this summer too...I'm usually late to the party, and it's not as if she is new to the world of books.  I just hadn't read her before, and she is similar to Jennifer Weiner in that her books would be considered 'chick lit' but they're not fluffy.  My husband would never read her books, but they're about far more than who's having an affair with whom, or rich trophy wives and their shoe collections.  I've read Heart of the Matter (which I finished at 2:30 am the morning after I bought it....HAD to know where it was going) which addresses infidelity in a very thoughtful and thought-provoking way, and Love the One You're With, which is about a question most of us have asked ourselves at some point, if we're really honest with ourselves.  It's about "the one who got away"....what if you got a chance to make that choice again?  It's romance, yes, but much more at the same time.

I have started and set aside The Hunger Games a couple of times and I'm not sure why.    I did it this week, in fact.  I am reading Working It Out right now, by Abby Rike. If you're not a Biggest Loser fan, you probably don't know who Abby Rike is, but she was a contestant a couple of seasons ago.  She had by far the saddest story of anyone there, at least to my mind.  She lost her husband, her 5 1/2 year old daughter and her two week old son all at the same time, in a horrific car crash, and it just devastated her.  As a mom, I can't even fathom what that would be like.  She insulated herself with food and the weight gain that came with it, and ultimately became a contestant on The Biggest Loser.  Her story is inspirational and the love story of her marriage is bittersweet.

Next up is Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons, for my book club.  I've read it before and was the one who suggested it, but I am looking forward to reading it again.  It's the story of housewives who live on the same block and become friends, bonding over books and weathering life's storms together.  It's the story of the strength of friendships and how, sometimes, a girl just needs her girlfriends, even more than the other important people in her life.  Good stuff.

I hope that I can find time to do all the reading I still want to do!  I've read a lot in spite of lots of summertime running around, but there are still so many books, so little time.   I hope that you're able to make a dent in your summer reading, and while you're at it, leave me some suggestions from your list!

12 June 2011

Summer reading--what's on your list?

I have grand plans to get a LOT of reading done this summer.  In between basketball camp, Vacation Bible School, zoo day camp, trips to the pool and oh yeah, making dinner once in a while and trying to manage (notice that eliminate was not the word of choice) Mt. St. Dirtyclothes.

Here are a few of the titles on my list:

Right now, I am reading Love, Greg and Lauren, which is haunting and beautiful and inspiring.  It's a compilation of emails written by Greg Manning beginning on 11 September 2001, when his wife Lauren was severely injured as she walked into her building at the World Trade Center.  As she stepped into the lobby, the elevator door opened and out exploded a giant fireball, created by burning jet fuel.  She was burned over 82 percent of her body.  Greg wrote almost daily email missives to keep the many family members, friends and acquaintances who were asking after her updated.  It's sometimes hard to read, because it really takes you back to that day.  As Greg recounts Lauren's struggle for survival and mentions things that happen during those days, I can feel my gut clench, just like it did back then.  I think about how far we have come (or not) since that day, the accomplishments and the losses.  Although I'm not finished with it and I don't know how it ends (I am not one of those readers who will read the last page first), it is inspiring to read about and be reminded of how we as a country pulled together in those dark days.  I found it by pure chance at the library;  we had gone to sign up the little people for the summer reading program and they were gathering up their own summer reading.  I was waiting sort of patiently for them to inspect every title on the shelves and glancing at a cart of books to be out back and there it was. 

I had just started Best Friends Forever  by Jennifer Weiner when I picked up Love, Greg and Lauren, so I decided to set it aside for the time being.  I bought BFF  and can read it anytime and the other is a library book. I love Jennifer Weiner's books.  I started reading her about nine years ago when the middle boy-child was just an itty-bitty.  Her books are sort of fluff, chick lit if you will, and yet they're never silly.  They address serious topics in a relatable way, and her characters are always people you feel like you know.  She's funny and her characters are often self-deprecating, and snark abounds.  And just when you think the main character is getting really annoying with the self-deprecating feeling-sorry-for-herself-ness, you get a heartbreaking glimpse of why.  She tells a compelling story in an enjoyable and entertaining way, and it's hard to put her books down.  It's not necessarily because she writes so suspensefully that you HAVE to know what happens next, it's just that her stories are so fun to read that you don't want it to end. 

I have been hearing about The Hunger Games trilogy quite a bit lately and wanted to check it out.  I picked up an e-copy of the first book for $5 and I'll start that next.  I flipped through it at the store and it looked interesting.  It's kind of futuristic but not in a space-agey sort of way, and it's a fascinating look into what could be if we as a human race allow it.  I've heard a lot of positive reviews from my reading friends so I'm anxious to see what it's all about.  It's not the kind of thing I'd normally pick up, but sometimes those are the best finds of all.

I have on my list some faith reading as well.  I really enjoy Max Lucado and I want to read Fearless,  as well as When God Whispers Your Name, which I just picked up at the local used bookstore.  Outlive Your Life is another one.  I don't know how many I will actually get through but I have a long list of his books on my to-do list. One book that has been recommended to me, more than once actually, by my friends is The Passion of Mary Margaret, which is faith fiction and sounds compelling.  A few others are Stalking the Divine: Contemplating Faith with the Poor Clares and Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, both recommended by my friend WriterMommy who always has a great reading list, great perspectives and is an awesome book club organizer, yo!  My friend Lynn has been reading and quoting Thomas Merton of late and has gotten me quite curious, so I'm planning to carve out some time for that too. 

It sounds like a pretty ambitious reading list for summer.  I'm already on it.  We have instituted some new rules in the house this year and I'm working on enforcing the old ones to make more time for lying around reading and less time for video games and movies.  Not that there's anything wrong with those, in moderation, but books are where it's at.  The last couple of nights, after pajamas and teeth-brushing, the boys and I all piled into bed with our books, and they got upset after an hour when I made them stop reading so they could go to bed.  I'm digging that.

What's on your summer reading list?

10 May 2011

Good enough

***I received a complimentary copy of "Good Enough is the New Perfect," by Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple from my friends at From Left to Write, and this post was inspired by the book.  The views and opinions contained within are 100% my own and not necessarily endorsed by the authors and/or the website.***

A significant number of the women interviewed for this book about creating your own version of work/family balance in your life are, or at least used to be, lawyers.  A career in law was a cherished dream I gave up about eleven years ago after the birth of my first child, when I realized that the life I had chosen, and the life that had chosen me, would not permit the single-minded focus I believed a career in law demanded.  Law school is three hard years, a lot of time spent arguing hypothetical cases in front of mock juries, and a lot of hours spent in the library looking up precedents and researching case law.

I was 29 when Moe was born, and I'd spent nearly nine years serving in the military, a career choice all in itself.  I was at the point in that career where I needed to think about the future: I was already nearly halfway to retirement eligibility.  I know, that kind of sounds ridiculous for someone who wasn't even thirty yet, but it had to be considered.  I also married a man who travels extensively for work.  All the time.  Not that he goes away on business now and then, but going away is his business, as an airline pilot.  I can count on his being gone for an average of 15 days every month.  Yeah, that's half of every month that I'm doing the married-single-mom shuffle.  I don't begrudge him this and I don't resent it; I chose it when I chose him.  I will, however, cop to some serious envy occasionally, that he sometimes gets entire days off to wander around San Francisco or Seattle or New York City. He gets to sleep a full night, by himself, in linens he didn't have to wash and a bed he didn't have to make.  Color me green.  But there are lots of up-sides to his work too: when he's not flying, he's home. Like, really home. As in, doesn't have to go to the office or the airport and can therefore log a significant number of mornings getting the boys up and fed and ready for school.  He can drive to tee-ball practice and karate lessons, and he does.  A lot.   He also brought two children with him into our marriage,  who were teenagers when we married.  While they didn't live with us full-time, they were certainly a big part of our family, and a factor in every decision we made.  Suffice it to say, I couldn't make life decisions based solely on what I wanted anymore.  So I gave up the idea of going to law school, not being willing to give up so much time and effort that I believed was better spent on my family. 

After Moe came Larry, and we were surprised a couple of years after that by Curly's arrival.  While they were little, it was all I could do to keep them all dressed and in clean diapers while Captain America was off flying the friendly skies, let alone try to hold down a regular job or manage any kind of classwork at all.  I set aside my aspirations and I didn't begrudge my family. I stayed in the military and I forgot about law school.  I didn't do it without sadness and regret, and I didn't do it without paying a price,  but I did it because I grew up with parents who weren't around and to me, being a good parent has always meant being present, physically and mentally.

I piddled around in college, not knowing what to do since I had taken law off the table.  I went part-time, aimlessly, for a lot of years until I figured out something that I could get passionate about,  that I loved doing, that I was good at.  Finally, finally, 14 years after my first undergrad quarter, I'm graduating with a degree in history.  But now, I'm once again at a crossroads, with a decision to make.  This time around as I make big decisions, I know something I didn't know before.  I know how to carve out space in my life for the things that are important to me, that make me who I am, irrespective of being a wife and a mom. I know more about how and where to draw the line about what I am willing to give up, and what I need to keep.  I believe that being a wife and a mom is my vocation. I don't believe that there is anything else I could do that is more important than raising good and decent human beings and being the best partner I can be to Captain America.  But while my family may be the most important I ever do or contribute to, it's not the only thing. 

I'm poised to reach the point of eligibility for a military retirement in just a few months.  That is a huge milestone achievement for me.  My degree is another one:  I am the only person in my immediate family to attend, let alone graduate from, college.  Neither of my parents, nor none of my four siblings ever went.  And I'm not done with school:  my big decision relates to the possibility of resurrecting a dream that I thought was abandoned.  I am seriously considering going to law school; at a point in life when many people are well established in careers, I feel like I'm just starting mine. It's odd to look around at my classmates and realize, without exaggeration, that I could be their mother. 

OK, admittedly I'm still learning how to carve out that space.  Sometimes I go too far and commit to too many outside activities and need to reel myself back in and reorient myself on my true north, my family.  Sometimes I immerse myself a little too much at home, and forget that I do have interests and pursuits and goals that have nothing to do with the care and feeding of my little people.  I also know that life happens while you're busy making big plans and I have learned a lot about flexibility and Plan B. 

In the book, Hollee and Becky share that the women they interviewed sorted themselves roughly into two groups: the Never Enough's and the Good Enough's, that probably need no further definition.  I can think of several examples of each in my circle of friends and acquaintances, and if there's one thing we all have in common, it's that we're all trying to do our best for our families, and for ourselves.  There's no checklist, no template; each of our families are different and have different needs and wants.  There is no right answer.  We're doing the best we can.  And that is good enough. 

28 April 2011


Although you wouldn't necessarily gather this about me by looking around my house, I don't like clutter and mess.  I like things to generally be in their place and semi-straightened up.  I have a family that includes three boys and one husband; I know my house is never going to look like something out of a magazine (unless maybe there is a print version of Hoarders, but I digress...) and I don't really want it to.  But I do like things to be generally in order.

This week has been a tough one, because we're in transition.  We're moving out old furniture and moving new stuff in.  So. Half of the old set, which has found a new home with a good friend, is still in my garage.  We started loading it into a truck and then...the skies opened and out poured enough rain to fill Lake Michigan.  Well, maybe not quite that much, but honestly, it's been raining here for weeks.  So, the rest of that set sits in the garage until the friends and the husband can both be here at the same time to load and move. 

This also means that there is no furniture in the bedroom.  As in, sleeping on the floor.  Amid piles of clothes.  Since there is, of course, no bed and no dressers in there.  I have slept in worse conditions, that is true.  And I had some cushy comforters and blankies to make a reasonably comfortable nest out of.  It wasn't that bad, and it was only two nights. 

As I am typing this, two strapping young men are upstairs putting together the new bedroom set and I can hardly wait to start putting things back to rights.  Clothes in dressers, knick-knacks back on shelves.  I can hear the power tools buzzing right this very minute, and it really makes me happy.  It's not something I can do, build furniture, but it sure makes me happy that others can.  It will make the mess in my house go away, at least temporarily.

Just like in my bedroom, clutter and mess in my life make me grumpy too.  There has been some more family drama as of late, and I am only indirectly involved.  It directly affects people that I love, and there is very little I can do about that either.  I can provide emotional support, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen and maybe offer some insight or advice.  But I can't fix what's wrong.  And I can't stop the tears from flowing, and the pain from crashing in.

And just like these guys that are fixing the disarray in my room, there is a silver lining in all these clouds that will bring light into the darkness that has been hanging over my family for several weeks now.

That's the thing....I have to learn to live with the temporary disarray and messiness, in order to get to the order and (relative) neatness that makes me feel better.  And I have to let my people suffer the pain and wander in the dark, so that they can find that silver lining.  If it was light all the time, they'd never see that one sparkly place.

And man, is it a good silver lining.

I really dislike clutter and mess, darkness and pain.  But I have learned that it is a necessary step on the way to a happy and peaceful place.

Now I'm going upstairs to put my clothes away and make my new bed :)

18 April 2011

Faith and conversion

I just read the most amazing book yesterday.  (Book club girls, look away, LOOK AWAY, if you haven't read it yet!)

It is called Unplanned, and it is written by a young woman named Abby Johnson, who was at one time the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic.  She had a dramatic conversion over the course of several years working for Planned Parenthood first as a volunteer, and eventually as a fulltime paid employee, rising to the level of director of her own clinic and a media representative for Planned Parenthood.  She is passionate about helping women; you can see that and feel it in her story.  No matter which side of the fence she is on, literally or figuratively, you can really get a sense of the depth of her commitment.  This post is not a debate about abortion or reproduction rights or any of that icky political stuff.  I have my beliefs, and you have yours, but I don't want to argue.  And see, this is my blog :)

No, I don't want to debate at what point a fetus becomes viable, or what point a fetus gains legal personhood or what the intricacies of the law should look like in my perfect world.  I want to examine Abby's conversion and just stand in awe at what faith can do.

Abby was firmly pro-choice, and believed strongly that women should have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies.  Abby believed whole-heartedly that Planned Parenthood's mission was to decrease the number of abortions overall, and she believed she was working for the betterment of women's lives.  She believed she was working as a part of a force for good in the world. 

But she always had these little questions nagging at her.  She couldn't always reconcile what she said she believed with the actions she took.  She was horrified when a very pregnant woman came into her clinic and asked for a late-term abortion, at twenty-three weeks.  Her own line in the sand was at the point of viability; she couldn't abide late term abortions.  But this woman really challenged her; she said to Abby, "What difference does it make, six weeks or twenty-three weeks? Isn't it all the same anyway? I just want it out of me."  Bound by her commitment and responsibility as clinic director, Abby sent the woman to a medical facility that did late term abortions, not being able to budge the woman from her decision with adoption agency referrals or the knowledge that the baby was in fact medically viable.  The woman simply didn't care, and it bothered Abby greatly.  But this was not the point where she acted.  Not yet.  She was asked to assist in a procedure one day,  and what she saw and what she felt in that room added to her growing  inner turmoil  But this was not the point where she acted yet either.

Finally, she was given a reprimand and a stern talking-to about her clinic's failure to meet its financial goals.  She was told to do whatever she had to do, to raise revenue.  She knew that the clinic made the most money from performing abortions as opposed to family planning and birth control education, and she believed she was being told to increase, not decrease, the number of abortions performed in her clinic.  That went against everything she believed she had been working for, and that was what finally pushed her into action. She left Planned Parenthood and ran into the arms of the "enemy," the Coalition for Life.

Outside of Abby's clinic, there was a fence with a gate where Planned Parenthood employees and client drove through to park their cars.  The fence is symbolic in Abby's story; it's not the kind of fence you can sit on.  You must choose a side.  On one side was Planned Parenthood and on the other was the Coalition for Life and other pro-life individuals who would stand on the sidewalk and offer prayers, or try to persuade the clients going in not to go, that there were other options they should consider.

Out of all of the facets to Abby's story, the one thing that I found most compelling was her relationship with God.  She wanted to be closer to Him, but she wouldn't give up the one thing that meant so much to her, her job.  She truly believed she was doing good work and her family needed the paycheck she brought in.  She went from church to church, finding varying degrees of comfort and acceptance, but never finding her spiritual home.  She heard God's quiet questions and she wondered why, if she was doing good and she could take pride in her work, she couldn't tell her family about her job?  Why did she avoid talking about it with her mother?  Why did her pro-life husband, although he loved her, challenge her when she wanted to talk about things that happened in the clinic?  Why did she avoid telling people at church what she did for a living?  All these questions....

When we know we are doing what we are meant to do or following God's will for us, there is an inner peace that overcomes the questions.  Not that the questions necessarily go away forever, but they don't hold the same power.  It feels easier to let them go.  Abby didn't stop having concerns but because her faith was increasing she was better able to trust that God would answer them in time.  It's really hard to step out in faith, not knowing where the path leads, and afraid that it will lead you away from everything you know and all your places that feel familiar and safe.

Abby did just that, and I am in awe.

Her book is difficult, very difficult to read in places.  I cried with her, more than once.  But ultimately, in the end, it is a beautiful story of faith and redemption.  It got me thinking about a lot of things, in ways I never had before.  It made me question myself on what I believe, and why I believe.  I don't know Abby Johnson and will probably never meet her.  I borrowed the copy of Unplanned from one of my book club girls, didn't pay for it and didn't get asked to write about it.  But I have been moved and affected by Abby's story, and it's made me approach my faith and my beliefs in a new way and I wanted to share it.  I hope you will consider reading Unplanned, and letting it challenge you.

12 April 2011

Any regrets?

**I received a complimentary copy of 29, by Adena Halpern, from my friends at From Left to Write and while this post was inspired by the book, I have received no compensation for it.  The thoughts and opinions in this piece are all my own and are not necessarily endorsed by From Left to Write or the author of the book.** 

I have often thought about what I would do differently over the course of my life, if I had a chance to go back and do it over again.  Adena Halpern's heroine, Ellie,  in 29 got just such a chance.  I really enjoyed reading the book, but even more than that, I enjoyed a meander down memory lane and a mental do-over just to see how things might have gone had I made another choice at several crossroads in my life. And if I had that chance, would I get to have the benefit of knowing what I know now?  THAT would make a big difference.  What age would I go back to?  Which choice would I get to undo?  It really kind of opens up a whole bunch of other questions, doesn't it? 

One of my big regrets that I often think about was my decision to quit the job that I loved when my first child was born.  I was a cargo loadmaster in the AF Reserve, and I LOVED my job.  I oversaw cargo loading and unloading on C141 jets, and flew (literally) around the world as part of my work.  My crew and I would leave our base, fly somewhere and pick up a load of stuff bound for somewhere else, fly there and download it.  Sometimes we'd stay there, or sometimes we'd go and pick up another planeload of stuff somewhere else.  Sometimes we just flew passengers (usually troops or military family members) and sometimes we flew aeromedical evac missions.  We worked hard and played hard.  We stayed hotel rooms in beautiful places sometimes and we stayed in tents in scary places other times. I have been all over Europe, several Middle Eastern locations, Asia, Central and South America, the Pacific Rim.  I have pictures of myself on horseback at the pyramids in Egypt, and outside of centuries-old German castles, and on the beach in Hawaii.  My very first mission, my "dollar ride," went to the south of France.   I have a collection of t-shirts and souvenirs from all over.  We used to call them "MAC treasures," MAC meaning Military Airlift Command.  MAC is no more; the name is gone, but the mission of military airlift moves on, just under a different acronym. There certain things everyone bought in certain countries.  There was the black soap from Spain,  the wooden chests from the Azores.  There were Persian rugs from Kuwait and leather purses and jackets from Turkey.  In Korea, you could buy an amazing array of embroidered things:  what we used to call "morale patches" for your flight suit, helmet bags that were bigger than the AF issued ones with your name and your wings sewn right on.  Bag tags with anything you wanted embroidered on them, in any color you wanted.  I had blue ones with my name and my wings, and Snoopy the Flying Ace on mine. Most of my friends were flight crew members also, and so was my husband.  My whole world was on that airplane, for the most part. 

And then, there was Moe.  Sweet little Moe, precious baby, forced me to re-evaluate what was really important to me.  I believed, right up till the moment I said, "I can't," that I would take some time off to be with him, and then I'd pack my bag for a short 3 or 4 day trip once in awhile, keeping the best of both worlds.  I'm a notorious fence sitter...my butt is perfectly made to get real comfortable up there.  My boss, Chief H, was as patient and kind as he could be; his first grandchild was born close to the same time as Moe, so he got to live through his daughter's pregnancy and mine almost simultaneously.  He said, "Take as much time as you need.  Your job will be here."  Until he couldn't anymore, and he called me at home and said, "It's time for you to make a decision. I need to get you into the training schedule."  As I was talking to him, I was sitting in Moe's room, watching my four month old baby boy sleeping peacefully, and I just couldn't bring myself to say, "Put me in, Coach."  Instead, I said, "I don't think I can, Chief." 

I had made my back-up plan and lined up another job that did not require me to travel.  And as much as I loved the folks in that office, the first day I set foot in there, my heart sank and I knew that I had chosen wrong.  It was a no-win; I didn't want to leave my baby, but I wanted a job that made me feel good too.  If I was going to leave him to go to work, even part time, hadn't it better be worth it? But I was stuck with the decision I made, and over the years, I think I have made the best of it.  After Moe came Larry and Curly, and today, flying is certainly out of the question altogether.  I'd have been able to fly for maybe another year or two, most, anyway.  I have discovered other things I love doing and my military career marches on.  To a different beat and at a different pace, to be sure, but still it marches on.  I am still friends with some of the same people, and I am still married to the same guy, so I have done pretty well in keeping the best of both worlds.

But....given the chance, would I go back to being 29 and making that decision over again?  I don't know that I would decide differently.  I had parents who weren't there when I was growing up and as much as I loved my job, I don't think I could have done it with my whole heart anymore.  The minute I left the local pattern, I'd have been itching to get back home and get my hands on Moe. Where I used to identify myself as an AF reservist, a loadmaster, a flyer....now I identify myself more as Moe, Larry and Curly's mom and Captain America's wife.  I am still an AF reservist and proudly wear the uniform (although it's not a flight suit anymore) and I wear other hats too.

I talk to my friends who are still flying and tell them how I still miss it, 11 years later.  They ask me, if you could go back and change it, would you?

No, I still don't think I would.  I would be tempted, seriously tempted.  But I'd have to say that I love my life and if I had continued to fly, who knows what it would look like?  No, it was a really hard decision that had some long lasting ripple effects, and I often wonder, what if?  Given the chance, I still feel sure I made the right decision for me and my family, no matter how hard it was at the time. 

In the book 29, Ellie gets to do some similar soul-searching, but you'll have to read it to see where her heart lies :)

07 March 2011

The Pledge

I recently read about something called The Mom Pledge, on my friend Elizabeth's blog, and it really piqued my interest. 

She's written this great book about ceasing and desisting from the colossally ridiculous Mommy Wars, where we moms beat each other up mercilessly for making different choices than we ourselves did.  Stay-at-home vs. working, breast-feeding vs. bottle-feeding, co-sleeping vs. cry-it-out, spanking vs. no-spank, cloth vs. disposable, jar baby food vs. grow your own, circumcise vs. intact, baby-wearing vs. exersaucers.....the list of these battles never ends.  The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of us are all doing the very best we can with our kids, from day to day, doing what we believe in our hearts is the best thing for our own families.  Who can find fault with that?  Why must we not just critcize, but crucify, those who make different choices than we do?  What makes us the authority on someone else's child?  What right do we have to demean and excoriate someone else's mothering?  Is ours so perfect?  Really? 

So, I have a few things to say about the Mommy Wars and the Mom Pledge.  You knew that was coming, right?

I've pretty much laid out my feelings on the Mommy Wars.  But in case there is any doubt, I think they are stupid and destructive.  Motherhood is a gift.  It's a blessing.  And until you are there in it, no one can tell you how unbelievably difficult it is, at the same time it is so rewarding.  It's so hard, to be so sleep deprived with a new infant, a colicky baby, a stubborn toddler....it's shocking that such a small person can literally bring a grown woman to her knees.  But they do.  Daily.

Which is why we moms need other, more experienced moms so desperately to help us navigate the rough waters.   And we don't need their criticism. Especially as a new mom, you need to know that you're doing ok.  Even if you can't nurse, or if you have to go back to work, or if you simply need someone else to take the baby out of earshot for 20 minutes so you can decompress.  So what if you aren't following whatever the latest baby book of "wisdom" just got published, because there just aren't enough hours in the day to grow your own organic garden to make your own organic baby food, hand-wash your baby's organic cloth diapers in spring water and lovingly prepare perfectly balanced meals for your adoring spouse and perfectly-behaved older children who never complain about what's for dinner and beg for the pizza delivery man?  So what if you're flying by the seat of your pants?  So what if you haven't showered in two days?  So what? 

I remember vividly when my boys were babies, and I stayed awake at night, when I should have been getting the sleep I needed so badly.  I stayed up worrying because some other mom on a message board told me I had irrevocably scarred my son and he would fault me someday because of choices my husband and I made for him.  Other moms proclaimed against those of us who had taken pain medication in labor, that we had all made conscious choices to drug our babies, and that they would suffer for it and we'd have no one to blame but ourselves.  There is no limit to the ways mothers can wound other moms, and frankly it makes me angry.

Why?  Seriously, why?  Are we all that insecure with our choices that we need to beat up on someone else to make ourselves feel better?  Do we really think we're so much better than others who choose differently?  

Only in the last couple of years have I come to truly appreciate the depth of my need for my circle of girlfriends....my village.  I lean on them and they lean on me.  Dude, I NEED them.  And I have been blessed, BLESSED, I tell you, with a phenomenal group of friends and acquaintances that help me navigate, whether they realize it or not.  Some moms I know a little bit....we chit-chat in the school parking lot waiting to pick up our kids or on the sidelines of the soccer field.  Some moms I know better....we attend Bible study, prayer groups, or book clubs together and share more of ourselves.  And some moms I know really well: we've helped each other pick up pieces of broken relationships and comforted each other through real losses.

All of them are crucial and all of them, I need.  A lot.

Which is why I've chosen to take The Mom Pledge.  Not that my little blog gets much traffic or many comments but I don't tolerate bullying or being mean for the sake of being mean.  I don't tolerate it in my kids' school or in their behavior, I don't tolerate it in my life, and I really don't tolerate it in conversation and interactions I happen to be a part of.  I like a good healthy debate and differences of opinion are welcome.  
But the bottom line is respect, people.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T. 

We moms have another choice to make.  Right now.  Do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?  Do you want to help other moms and offer advice and friendship or criticize them and make them feel worse?  Do you want to help create and be part of a supportive community or a playground bully, a "mean girl"? 

Play nice :) 

25 February 2011

Just do it

I have been seriously absent from writing new posts lately.  For the last several months, in fact.  Not that I haven't had reasons, other demands on my time.  And a sneaking suspicion that maybe my ramblings are only interesting to me, but I don't really want to think about that right now.

So, I have decided, right now, tonight, to just do it.  Just write something.

One of the major reasons that I have been so lax on blogging is the fact that I am in an all-out sprint to the finish line of my undergraduate degree.  Today ended the eighth week in a ten-week quarter.  I have two weeks of classes, then finals, and then.....nothing.  Till graduation in June.  Nothing.  Well, nothing but big decisions to make about what I am going to do next.

In an act of blind faith, I recently bought study guides for the GRE (grad school test) and the LSAT (law school test).  I say "blind faith," because that's the kind of faith that I have, that I will know what to do, when the time comes.  I've gotten quite comfortable up here on the fence, and the view on the grad school side looks a lot like the view on the law school side.  A lot more school, more papers, and ideally, something at the end of the road to show for my hard work. 

But I also have this new option to consider, that I hadn't really thought about until very recently.  Maybe I won't go back to school at all.  Maybe I'll continue doing what I'm doing right now: working part time for my Reserve unit, writing history.  And I'll be an active engaged mom, instead of the frazzled, always-running-late-for-school-pickup mess that I have become.  I am eternally grateful to have a supportive spouse in Captain America, who picks up way more than his fair share of my slack.  When he's home.  He does laundry, he drops off and picks up and chats with the moms at least as well (probably better than!) as I do.  He does dishes, and he manages the busy social lives and practice schedules of Moe, Larry and Curly.  And boy, am I ever grateful.

But last weekend, I had a little moment where I questioned myself, an epiphany of sorts.  When the boys come looking for me (which happens less and less often these days), they come to the computer first.  Mostly, they look for dad.  But if he's not home, they have no choice.  And it bums me out immensely that they have internalized that I'm generally too busy working on schoolwork to deal with their requests for snacks or their arguments, or just to help with their vocabulary homework (if it's math and dad's not home, they're really out of luck). 

I get that it's important for me to do something that means something to me, whether it's work, or school, or a hobby; a pursuit that feeds my soul, and fulfills me in some way.  I have said 'yes' to many of these things:  I work part-time, I write freelance, I volunteer frequently at the dudes' school, I teach preschool PSR (parish school of religion), I go to school myself, I am part of a mother's prayer group, I have joined a book club, I help coordinate and put on Vacation Bible School in the summer.  And I have a family that needs me to be present, and friends I want to spend time with...you see where I'm going with this.

It's a familiar refrain...learning to say 'no.'  We women are helpers and nurturers by nature, and it's difficult to say 'no' to someone who is asking for help.  I think maybe it's more of an issue of learning to say 'yes' to the right things, and concentrating on giving your best to those.  So what is it that truly feeds my soul?  Where can I channel my efforts so that I can feel like they matter and they make a difference? 

I'm a Libra; I can see both sides of any issue and am hopelessly wishy-washy.  Hmm, maybe this law school thing isn't the best idea for me....  In any case, making a decision is often really hard for me, especially when it affects everyone else around me too.  Going back to school again involves time given up with my family, and saying 'no' to some things that would make me happy.

I need to make decisions, but I'm afraid to, afraid that I'm choosing the wrong thing, or that my choice will make someone else mad, or that I'll regret the choice I make.  But fear is no justification for a decision, and if I pursue something that ultimately fulfills me and makes me happy, then I'm a better person, and better mother for it.

Just do it.

21 February 2011

Exploiting My Baby

is a funny book by Teresa Strasser, that I recently read, thanks to my friends at From Left to Write. 

I'll be honest....at first, I wasn't crazy about this book.  I thought it looked like a Jenny-McCarthy-Belly-Laughs-esque funny look at the hormonal train wreck that pregnancy often is...the irrational fears that keep you up at night, the breathless hope of what is yet to come, the consuming impatience to meet your baby, and the abject terror of BEING SOMEONE'S MOM. 

When I opened it up, I found something a little different....Teresa is blunt and in-your-face.  She's snarky and she makes fun of you, right to your face. She uses salty language and there are a LOT of people in this world she wants to punch in the face.  I may be one of them, in fact, having mostly enjoyed my pregnancies, but I digress.

But Teresa is also real.  I understand where she's coming from, a lot of the time.  The fears that she will turn into her own kid-hating mother are very real, and I get it.  When you come from dysfunction and your memories of childhood don't make you smile, impending motherhood is maybe a little scarier for you than for someone who had good role models and a living, breathing example of a functioning family unit.  Some girls had moms who stayed home to raise them, taught them to cook and bake, led their Girl Scout troops, and proudly took an embarrassing amount of homecoming and prom pictures.  Some girls had moms who worked and taught them how to set goals and then work hard to reach them, how to prioritize what's important, how to balance different aspects of their lives, and how to make things happen.  Some girls had moms who juggled all of these things and more. 

And then some of us had moms who just weren't there, literally or figuratively.  And that's the hardest of all, learning to be a mom when you want to be completely and totally different from the one you had. 

I give Teresa credit for having the guts to put herself out there and tell her story.  I have to give her credit for being scared and doing it anyway (not that she doesn't get hung up along the way, mind you). While her near-constant paranoia and plentiful ragging on other moms whose methods or manners she doesn't like sometimes get old, I was happy for her toward the end of the book when she begins to make peace with her mom. 

About all those pronouncements, though.  I am reminded of the ancient piece of wisdom about karma:  it's a bitch. 

She kind of turns into the mom that she spent her whole book making fun of.  She chases the dragon, trying to make that baby smile.  She goes for a day or two (or three) without showers. She packs her schedule with Mommy & Me classes.   She buys every toy, swing and Baby Mozart DVD that Toys R Us can hold and she not only has whole conversations about baby poop, SHE TAKES PICTURES OF IT. 

I love it. 

It happens to all of us, Teresa....you're in good company.  We were all scared first-time moms too, and we all thought we were going to do it better too. 

I liked the book, in spite of my initial reaction.  I'm glad I kept going because, although I still don't think you need to use the F word a lot to talk about wanting, carrying, birthing, loving or exploiting a baby and I don't really advocate violence so I don't see a need to punch people in the face, Teresa's book made me laugh.  It made me think about how I relate to other moms.  It made me grateful for my group of mom friends that I lean on, and it made me kind of wish I could bump into Teresa at the mall.

Then again, I don't know.  I don't want to get punched in the face.