The Long Goodbye

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Parenting is the emotional equivalent of open heart surgery.

Many days his little brother and I circle around in the school parking lot until we find a spot, then take him by the hand and walk him into school, dropping him off where his first grade classmates are waiting in the gym.

But now that he’s a big kid, an almost-seven-year-old who is comfortable venturing forward alone sometimes, he walks himself into the school building from the drop-off spot some days. I kiss him and hug him and tell him I love him from the driver’s seat, and a teacher walks him from the car to the sidewalk.

He takes off like a flash then, sprinting up the walkway to the school and around the corner to the door, out of sight. His boxy green backpack shifts as if on a short, frantic pendulum behind him as he runs. At times he stops short just before the sidewalk curves and glances back to see if we’ve driven off yet.

We take turns then, his almost-three-year-old little brother and I.
One of us says, “That’s my boy.”
The other says, like clockwork, “I miss that guy.”

NaBloPoMo: What Doesn’t Kill Me Does What Again?

sparkler write

Photo credit: erichhh / Foter / CC BY-SA

I’ve been away.  I’ve done a little bit of writing for myself, the well-it’s-cheaper-than-therapy kind of writing and more often the cop-out talking-to-great-friends-is-easier-than-writing-AND-cheaper-than-therapy.  Sometimes it feels like my mind is on another planet or in an old house like mine that might as well be on another planet because the cell reception is so bad.  What I mean is that often I don’t know what I’m thinking until I see it on the page.  I push and pull and try to shoulder my way in to the spot where the important ideas are distilled, but it doesn’t work.  I’m locked out.

Then I roll my eyes and have a seat (after work is done and the kids are in bed and only if I have more than 5% computer battery left or actually know where my power cord is).  I have a seat and turn the computer on and climb over the mountain of distractions that are seven hundred open browser tabs and the timesuck that is Facebook and open up Word and stare down the white screen.  Then and only then does that door open, and my thoughts saunter out, aloof and casual, like a toddler who locked himself in the bathroom for an hour and then opens the door like nothing just happened.  Seriously.

When people ask me what I’ve been writing I appreciate the assumption that we both think it’s something I do well enough that I must do it often.  The truth is that it’s more complicated than that.  It’s the things that matter most that we’re (I’m!) most freaked out about failing at.  So hearing that others think I write well only makes that worse sometimes.  As an impossibly busy single mom, at times I still find the courage and energy to break out of my hustling-to-make-bills-and-love-my-kids-the-best-I-can routine and challenge myself (beyond what it takes to hustle to make bills and love my kids the best I can, which already takes a whole lot) to do things like the Listen to Your Mother performance and getting some writing published out there.  But taking the time to write because it’s good for me and I’m good for it and I’ll only get better by actually doing it seems like a luxury most of the time.  What good is a room of one’s own when our house is burning down around it?

I’ve committed myself (ha!) to participating in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) – that is, writing once a day for the whole month of November! – because it’s time for me to take the energy I expend on thinking about writing and feeling bad for not writing and feeling envious of people who are writing and spend that energy on, you know, writing.  Here goes.

Ourstory

Photo credit: YoLoPey / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo credit: YoLoPey / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We save our own lives. Seems simple enough.  We fall apart to various extents at several different points in our lives, and we find a way to steady ourselves, breathe and keep moving.  We save our own lives.  But so often we give that away, credit others with picking us up and putting us back together again.  We tell the story of our triumphs over what tripped us and sent us flying, wild and breathless, into uncharted territory; we tell that story and forget that we’re the protagonist.  The hero.

We forget that we’re the ones who did the hardest work and saved the fucking day.  Survival looks like a group effort, but when we’re crying so hard it feels like bones will break, like boulders are coming loose inside and ripping into soft tissue on their way down, we’re on our own.  We’re alone when going to sleep with weak, absurd hope that tomorrow will be better, and we’re alone when getting out of bed after realizing today feels much the same as yesterday.

We save our own lives, and this spring has been my chance to relearn that truth, one which has sharpened my sense of survival in the past but which I had lost sight of these past few years.  I had forgotten that my life was mine to shape, to direct.  And even after coming to the crossroads of divorce and choosing the hardest path, I forgot that I made that choice with my own brain and walked that path with my own feet, sometimes dragging myself along, sometimes chanting, sometimes singing, sometimes wrapped up in the quietest quiet, alone.

This spring I met a group of fifteen fierce, brave women and became reacquainted with myself in the process.  I ran into the me who lived in Paraguay for the summer at 16, who co-owned a bakery and ran a community newspaper, who moved abroad because why not?, who tackled graduate school with a newborn because why not now? and founded a tech startup because who else?.  The me who makes the hard decisions and then puts them on the badass resume inside her head, the one she consults when wondering if she’s got what it takes to do the next hard thing.  The me who knows she does.

I wrote, auditioned and performed an essay at the Listen to Your Mother show in Kansas City last week.  Thirteen cast members and myself told our stories about motherhood to some three hundred people.  I was told by many in the audience it was a night they will not soon forget, and those of us in the cast are forever changed as well.  My essay was about coming to terms with feeling like a part-time parent after my divorce last year and missing my kids more that I can bear some days.

Pre-show Huddle. Photo credit: Dawn Swanger Photography

The writing process was difficult but cathartic and helped me clarify my thoughts around all the different emotions I’ve been feeling.  The performance was, for me, something else entirely.  How would I keep the composure needed to talk for five minutes about the most personal and painful topic in my life right now?  I struggled with this at rehearsals because I still struggle with this in life.  Even on my best days I’ll become quiet and sad and have to work on feeling how much I miss them at that moment, sending them love and releasing those feelings.  I mostly suck at it, but I’m not giving up.

The thing about the Listen to Your Mother experience leading up to the performance is that I saw this community forming among the cast and our producers based on having told our stories to each other, built on empathy and humor and constant reminders of our own resilience, our grit.  It was while I was supporting new friends in telling their hard truths that I relearned one of my own: we save our own lives.

And one of the ways we can know we’re strong enough to face whatever’s coming is by telling our stories in a way which gives us credit for our own survival.  We wake up.  We show up for ourselves and for others.  We push through and make it out, over, beyond.  We can’t even see the destination from the middle, but still we persist.  We’re the ones who were there for it all, the protagonists, the heroes.  I have had a tremendous amount of support from friends and family and don’t have the words to express my gratitude to them.  I don’t mean to minimize what their presence and encouragement has meant to me.  But I imagine someone hearing my story and thinking, “You did that because you had that support system. I could never do what you did.”  I would tell that person, the woman in her own make-or-break moment, that I did the hardest part by myself – that we all do – and that she can, too.  That I survived and she will, too.  That we save our own lives.

Tell your story like it’s your story.  Be the hero.  “Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.”  It’s your truth.  You’ve earned it.  Each moment of survival is a weight which keeps us from blowing over quite so much when the next storm hits – and even builds in us the fortitude to seek out storms just to show what we’re made of.  Each weight is also a gift, a story we can give away as many times as we need to.  “Look at this.  I did this, and you can do it, too.”

 


 

Listen to Your Mother takes place in 32 cities in the U.S. around Mother’s Day.  Check out their website for more information and for links to watch performances.  I’ll be posting mine here when it’s uploaded to their site.  If you have something to say on the topic of motherhood, consider submitting.  The experience for me was like therapy, boot camp and summer camp all in one.  And I adore my fifteen+ fierce, brave new friends.

Maggie Kuhn said, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”  I don’t know who changed it to truth, but I like that better.  Maggie was pretty fierce and brave herself. 

The next blog post contains a poem I wrote the day of the Listen to Your Mother show.  Check it out here.

All the Same

Photo credit: Buck Sommerkamp

Photo credit: Buck Sommerkamp

I recently participated in the Listen to Your Mother show in Kansas City.  It was an indescribable experience (though we writers always try).  I’m working on a post about just that, but I wanted to share this poem as well.  Before the 14 of us went onstage to share our essays about motherhood (some funny, many heart-wrenching, all intensely personal), we shared some words with each other.  I read this aloud to my new friends.  I had written it (at 4 o’clock in the morning on the day of the show!) to process what we had all been going through together to prepare ourselves for this production.

All the Same

My chest wasn’t hard to rip open,

Superman-style, the big Clark Kent reveal.

My body had become so brittle, a husk and little more,

Shoulders sloping forward, arms wrapped tight in front,

A woman’s battle shield.

 

I reached in and put my hands around it,

Battered, scarlet,

Tirelessly beating away, like a ticking watch found on a roof after a tornado,

Unlikely but natural all the same.

 

I ripped it out and held it there before me.

I examined it, so many questions circling in my head

That none came through clearly, except this one:

We’re okay, right?

 

Then I looked right and looked left.

And you all had your hearts out, too,

Battered, scarlet,

Tirelessly beating away, like a ticking watch found on a roof after a tornado,

Unlikely but natural all the same.

 

Mine looked like yours,

And we held them carefully at first, like newborns,

Too small to cradle easily.

 

Something happened then.

We shared their history as we held them in our hands.

We told their stores to each other.

 

Without thinking, I lifted my arms and saw all of your arms were lifted, too.

We held them high like spears, like answers.

We held them high, out for everyone to examine.

Even those of us who were crying smiled then, and we nodded to each other.

 

Battered, scarlet,

Tirelessly beating away, like a ticking watch found on a roof after a tornado,

Unlikely but natural all the same.

Life on the Edge

Ivan & Elias at the Nelson-Atkins MuseumThis post is an important one to me because it marks the moment when I decided to start writing personal content in a public forum and to put energy into getting my work out there.  Mamalode is an amazing community for people who have something to say about the experience of parenting, and there is some brilliant writing featured there.  I am grateful that they published my essay in August 2013 because writing that piece meant a lot to me as a writer and as a mom and as a human trying to make it in the best way she knew how.

Here it is.

Into the Maddening Crowd

zurich-airport

Photo credit: caribb / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I love the promise of airports.  While I’d certainly rather be the traveler than the volunteer chauffeur, I’m happy to drop off others when they need a ride.  I do it for the contact high of fluttery excitement, a feeling which taps into a pool of memories which still pulse with anticipation.  The trip up to the airport makes me feel like anything is possible.

I felt the same when we sent our Growing Gratitude app off to the App Store.  Clicking SUBMIT and pouring champagne, it felt like anything was possible.  One thing I have learned about being a volunteer airport chauffeur is that that feeling does not last.  The drive up is exhilarating with thoughts of fresh surroundings and the thrill of time spent out of context.  The drive home is still, quiet, lulling with thoughts of groceries and what’s on the DVR.  The post-App-Store-submission week was like that for me – still, quiet, lulling.  I was very aware of being the chauffeur and not the traveler, of groceries and what was on the DVR.

Our app arrived, safe and sound.  No worse for wear.  Looking incredibly like it had when we’d dropped it off the week before, even after having experienced so much.  Kansas City, Missouri to Cupertino, California.  Being one of 700,000 apps in the App Store is like being in a small airport where a year’s worth of travelers all show up for the same flight.  Crowded doesn’t cover it.

And instead of the drivers holding signs with passengers’ names on them, the travelers hold the signs.  “Want to launch birds at monkeys and make your DMV wait fly by?  I’m the app for you!”  “Manage your kids’ homework and keep track of the wine in your cellar for just $1.99!”

Ours shouts as best it can above the din, “I’m going to change the way we say thank you! I’m fun, easy, personal, authentic!  I’m free!”

There we are, at our destination and not at our destination.  We’re building a bigger megaphone, a taller platform, a bolder sign.  It’s fun launching birds at monkeys, and I love an app which organizes everything from my pantry to the bodega of my dreams.  But that’s not us.

Our team will help us drown out all that App Store clamor and lift us above the booming crowd because, in doing so, they lift up themselves as well.  Lift up each other.  Gratitude – feeling it, knowing it, sharing it, “getting” it – is good for us, for all of us.  “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.”  Let’s turn the amp up to 11 and spread the word!

We’ve arrived…kind of.  The end of the trip is the beginning of our great journey.  And as we’re on the verge of becoming the world traveler we dreamed of, sharing smiles across the globe, the exhilaration of what’s to come rattles our teeth, with all of the jolty vibration of a jet engine and the stomach-flipping anticipation of a trip into uncharted territory.

*          *         *          *          *

For more about the Growing Gratitude app, visit our website & the preview of our app in iTunes.  We’re recruiting more gratitude pioneers to use our exciting new app and to help us spread the word – and their thankfulness.  “I’m going to change the way we say thank you! I’m fun, easy, personal, authentic!  I’m free!”

Across and Beyond

There’s a saying in Haiti: Deye mon gen mon. It’s stuck with me since I heard it in a college class long ago. It means “Behind the mountain there’s another mountain.”

Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos / Foter / CC BY

Ray of Light on Cap Haitien, Haiti. Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos / Foter / CC BY

I’ve been thinking about that, Deye mon gen mon, throughout my Growing Gratitude journey. I’ve been thinking about that phrase’s simplicity, about its richness. Whether the phrase is optimistic or fatalistic depends on your perspective. Is it a lamentation of a life of endless obstacles or a celebration of an infinite number of breathtaking views?

The startup journey is much like that. For someone like me who has to learn just about everything from scratch, the mountains are many, and they are the kind where you think you’ve reached the peak only to find the real summit is still a ways to go. It’s exhausting. The air is thin. My pack is heavy. But I’m still on the move. There are some tourists speaking another language who are chatting noisily as they sprint up the mountain. I struggle to catch my breath at half their pace. But I’m still on the move.

I like looking back and remembering when Growing Gratitude was just a smudge of an idea, little more than a run-on thought which could have been lost like so many others between the chain of activities that made up my life then. It held on though. And here we are.

Today, after taking the kids to a play date where they’ll make a holiday craft then destroy a friend’s house with their pint-sized cohorts for an hour or two, I’m going to buy a bottle of champagne. Then home for lunch and nap time (not for me, of course!). Then to see Nick and Michael, my PixelNation coding superheroes. Today is THE DAY that we submit the Growing Gratitude app to the App Store for review. And while a bigger picture view of this moment might prevent me from seeing the submission as reaching a climax (being accepted into the App Store on our first try would be too easy, right?), I have to reject that view.

I’ve been on the move, head down, trying to keep my breathing steady by meditating on the ground beneath me. I’ve been focusing on the inhale and exhale, the gravelly, sliding crunch of each footfall, and it’s gotten me this far. Today’s a day to look up and out, across and beyond. It’s a view that will hold many mountains, no doubt.

Deye mon gen mon, and – at least for the moment – the view is magnificent.