Thursday, March 15, 2018

I was the Pariah Girl


When I was in grade school my dad would drop me off early because it was on the way to his office.  Back then, you could just wander around the school until everyone got there.  I was in second grade and I walked down the long hallway to my classroom.  My best friend, Kristen arrived on Bus #3.  This day I decided to write her a note with a sticker I had gotten at the mall the day before and put it in her desk.  
When she arrived I couldn't wait for her to see it.  It was one of those oily stickers that you pressed on and it made all sorts of swirly shapes.    When she opened it, she folded it in half and stuck it back in her desk.
For sure I thought by snack time she would crack a smile or at least acknowledge the note.    When I returned from grabbing my milk she approached me and gave me the note back, but written in bubbly print it said: "You are not my friend and nobody likes you."
Up until this point, I had only had the wind knocked out of me while playing a sport, her words punched me just as hard. I looked around the hallway and she had returned to the group of girls in my class. They stood there giggling and whispering while I made my way to the girl's bathroom with floor to ceiling yellow tile and sobbed.
Of course, this is through the lens of my 8-year-old self.  Maybe the girls in the group were already laughing. Or maybe they didn't know about the note.  But the rest of the day, not a single girl talked to me.  It was a game they were playing that week.   At recess, I played four square with the boys.  I ate lunch alone,  (this was before buddy benches).   Luckily for me, I was a bit of a tomboy.  Many times I was the only girl invited to boys birthday parties.  I was so thankful for my knowledge of Garbage Pail Kids and Mighty Muscle Men that week.  What I didn't know was that this was a game the girls in the class had decided to play. To call out one girl and treat her like a pariah.  I don't know how I was chosen to be first, but thankfully I was the last. This game only lasted a week before everyone became uninterested.
Obviously, this had a significant impact on me.  I had trust issues with girlfriends after that. I spent most of my childhood being friends with boys in my class. Peter H., Noah G., Clint O. and Adam K., to name a few. They were fun, they played sports and they didn't play hurtful "games" like the girls did.
  
Eventually, I found a new girl that came to the school in 3rd grade.  As much as I loved playing football with the boys, I missed nail polish and dolls. I knew this was my opportunity to befriend someone who didn't know anyone.  It worked.   We became fast best friends.  And when you find that, you don't let it go.  Even 32 years later, we are still best friends and she was my maid of honor.
But the majority of my good friends, even today, are male.  This doesn't sit well with some women.  I get that, but they don't know my story.
I understand that even today, that some women groups still choose a pariah to collectively distrust or hate.   But if you have been the pariah, you don't participate.
I'm not perfect.  Initially, in high school, I fell into that trap.  I was popular  and with that I gained some sort of false power that made me believe that I could be mean without repercussions.  It would make me feel good at first.  But I began losing girlfriends. Then, on cue, another new girl came in.  She was beautiful, and she didn't know a single soul at this small Catholic school.  We had met at a party in 7th grade and she remembered that I was nice to her.  She gave the office my name and shadowed me all day.  When I got married 7 years later, she was a bridesmaid. 
Over time I allowed myself to trust women until eventually, I had enough for an entire bridal party!

But I carried the pain from 2nd grade around in my back pocket. It's amazing that a simple act of cruelty, even if it feels harmless can have a lasting impact.  In college, my roommate and I got into a fight and she screamed: "You are so closed off, you don't let anyone in!"   I was a theater major for God's sake, I was letting people in all the time! Or maybe I  let them see a scripted version of myself.  A predictable story. A protagonist, an ingenue, and best of all, a curtain at the end for keeping my distance.
She made me realize that I had been protecting myself and in the process, I was missing out on a lot of amazing friendships.
After I got married I decided to aggressively and proactively pursue female friendships.  Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard.  You find something you like and do it.  Eventually, you find other people who also like those things. And BOOM, you have a friend.  Then when you have kids, that makes it even easier.   Also, work-friends are a no-brainer.
I joined two book clubs. I joined mom groups, I joined CrossFit, and spinning or yoga, I took an art class, even a dog walking group.  And along the way, I was creating a little army of women who were there for each other. 
Equally, as a simple act of meanness can impact someone,  a simple act of kindness or inclusion can have an even bigger impact on someone, especially a woman.
I spend a lot of time at war with myself and I'm assuming that other women do the same.  The worn out recording of the same old crap. I'm not (blank) enough.  People think I'm (blank).   We have no business tearing other women down because chances are, she already does that to herself enough and is much better at doing it then you could ever be.

A year or so ago I found out that a woman had said some really awful things about me.  She doesn't even know me, but still thought she would go out of her way to say mean things.  Of course, her hurtful words made their way back to me. 
The funny thing is, is that when you surround yourself with army of strong women who you actively build up, they are going to go to battle to protect you.   Her effort to gain friends by being cruel resulted in having the opposite effect.

Even so, it still hurt, and it is really hard for me to forgive that person. It's like standing the hallway at snack time all over again.

I saw her recently, sitting alone in a bar that I was having a drink with one of my guy friends. I went on a 10-minute tirade about why I hated her, I also decided to call out all of her flaws.  He just looked at me in shock, he had never seen that side of me and told me it was ugly.  At that moment I was not choosing an action that was in my best interest. Or hers.  I was hurt and I was venomously expressing hatred that would carry me to a dark mean place, which made me just as bad as she was.  I figured this out the hard way after I yelled at my friend for pointing this out.  (That is another perk of guy friends, they have no problem calling you out.)

So the next week or so I went out of my way to make up for this discretion.  I friended women on Facebook who had bad ass profiles that exuded happiness and confidence.  They friended me back instantly, and I sent them messages, even though I didn't know them, explaining why I wanted to be their friend. Not just in cyberspace, but it real life.

I also started liking selfies of women friends on Instagram.  Taking a selfie takes courage. Unless they are seriously narcissistic, it's not a braggadocios act. Maybe their skin or hair or make up looks really amazing that day. Maybe their relationship with a significant other is just going super well and they want to document it.  Maybe the opposite is true, who the hell knows, but what I do know, is I am going to LIKE it. Because it takes courage to put yourself out there.  Every single time a woman  supports another woman we win.

This isn't a competition. It is a collaboration.

So what the girls in 2nd grade didn't realize is that they were teaching me a very important lesson.  That kindness trumps cruelty in every. single. situation. 

For that one day, I'm so grateful.  I was the lucky one chosen to be the Pariah.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Unlocking a teenager


Last night there were about 6 things that needed to be done.  About 4 of them HAD to be done,  like making dinner and opening a bottle of wine. But of those 4 items, I only managed to get one done and I'm sure you can figure out which one that was.  I needed to finish yet another paper for grad school and should have been researching data analysis.  But instead, I found myself on my bedroom floor surrounded by a dozen old journals. 

Just by looking at the worn covers I can tell you exactly where I was in my life.  The yellow one with pink and green flowers with the word "Help" on the side?  That was the beginning of high school.

I flipped through the worn pages that if I run my fingers over the print it almost feel like the words are engraved.  I can tell how I was feeling by how deep the impression of the words.  I flipped through until I found 1992.  I was 14.
It was my adult self's desperate attempt to figure out what it feels like to be 14 again.  

Memories have a way of filtering out things. For some people, they filter out the positive. For others, they filter out the negative.  If you asked me now,  I would say I liked being 14, I had fun. I had a lot of friends and was well liked, I was a great athlete, a cute girl and a decent student. 

My 14-year-old self would vehemently disagree. According to her, she loved people that didn't love her back, her friends betrayed her,  boys made fun of her. She let her team down in a playoff game, her body was fat and her face was hideous,  and she was the dumbest person in her class.

I was given my first journal when I was 8 and since then, when I needed to sort through my feelings, I turned to writing.  The entire rainbow of feelings, high and low and everything in between. That is one thing that has withstood the test of time. And right now, I need to figure some things out.

Like a library, I can go back to a very specific stage and read my very own description of exactly what it felt like.

I pulled the journals out from their hiding place in the name of research. I was trying to figure out a combination to unlock my one of my sons. 

When he is hurting, as his Mom, I feel like I need to do whatever it is to help him.  Every child is different and he internalizes.


The combination that would work as a toddler,
Pick him up.
Tell him I love him.
Make him laugh.

When he was a little boy,  I would
Give him a hug.
Tell him I love him.
Make him an ice cream sundae.

When he was a preteen, I would
Go for a walk.
Tell him I love him.
Give him his space.

Now as a teen.....
Tell him I love him.
Text him I love him.
Text him a funny dog video

But last night my combination failed. Nothing I said or did worked.
I desperately wanted to unlock him, because if I understood what was bothering him, I could surely fix it.  Don spoke to him and said, I should give him his space.

I didn't.

I tried every combination I knew. 

Something you should know about me is that I don't like people to feel sad.  Especially the people I love.  When I see someone broken in pieces, I want to put them back together. 

So, I didn't listen to Don. I went up to his room and I tried to pick the lock, and truthfully, I only made it worse. And my son continued to turn inwards. Every attempt I made another lock was added to keep me out.  When I looked at him I saw the Pont des Arts in Paris. Lock upon lock upon lock.  The wall was getting thicker the more I tried.

But a mom stops at nothing.

That is how I ended up on the floor of my bedroom reading my journals. searching for a code that I could offer it to my son.

Before I went to bed I went up to his room and saw the door was shut.  I stood there and said "Goodnight" but got no response.  I considered sleeping outside his door just in case he needed me but even I know that is a little crazy. 

As I walked away I forgot to do the one combination that I always attempt. Through the door, I said "I love you" ..... I waited a few seconds in hopes to hear it back but didn't.

I sent him another text with those same words, he didn't respond.

Those locks in Paris were called Love Locks.  In 2015 the wall was removed and 45 TONS of padlocks were removed and there was a public outcry.  All those locks represented people who loved each other.  45 TONS of unbreakable Love.

Maybe I need to think of his locks differently. They aren't keeping me out, but keeping things in.  And he will unlock them when he is ready.

And no matter what, I am going to continue to tell my boys that I love them, I'll never stop. Even if they don't want to hear it or read it.  What I know for sure is that they NEED it.

And that is all I can do.

My hope is, that when any of them are in a dark place that my voice will reach the places that my hands can't and serve as a light to guide them back to a familiar safe place, which will always be unlocked for them.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

An Open Letter to The Person Who Critiqued My Son's Performance in A Christmas Show


I was having a pretty decent morning. Yesterday, our neighborhood had a freak power outage at 7:30 a.m. right after I had dried half of my hair.   Luckily for me, the wet side was on my left and I was able to roll my window down and let the brisk 41-degree air dry the other side as I rushed to get my boys to school on time So compared to yesterday, it was smooth sailing.

Until a few friends of mine told me not to read the local newspaper.  To be honest, I didn't need coaxing with that.  I don't usually read it anyway, but now I was curious.  As you know, there was a review in the paper of the show two of my sons, my husband, and numerous (new) friends are in.  It is a timely production of A Christmas Story. An adaptation of the movie and my son plays Ralphie. 

I felt that little tingle.  The tingle I can only imagine Bruce Banner feels right before he turns into the Hulk. Except, I'm something far more dangerous than a giant green meathead, I'm a Mama bear.   I tried to suppress this feeling before I made it to my office and searched the Internet.  

You see, Jack has wanted to be on stage since he was 2.  Any opportunity he has had to perform he has jumped at the chance.  Both my husband and I spent a good amount of time on stage.   We didn't let him audition until he was 8.  Jack's older brothers were in plays, but we wanted him to be ready for the massive time commitment any production takes.   He auditioned for a few shows and while his brother got lead roles, he got the chorus and ensemble, if he got a part at all. 

When auditions for A Christmas Story came around, he wanted to audition, but talked himself down saying he would probably be cut.  We encouraged him to try. When he got the news that he had not only gotten a part but the lead, his world blew up.  

That was in October.  We are now in December.   What I don't think you could have even possibly considered was that, a commitment to five- six nights a week for 2-4 hours is tough for anyone. It's not just the actors commitment, it is a family commitment.   We ate dinner at 5:15 every night so we could still see each other and make it to rehearsal on time.    I'm currently in the trenches of my master degree, while working full-time and raising four young boys, but you see, all that doesn't matter when you finally see the spark in your child's eyes when they finally find something they love doing and believe for the first time, that they are good at. Running lines day and night, became our life.

A little history about me,  I have a theater degree, hence me returning to get my masters at the age of 40.  I was in my junior year of college auditioning for parts across Los Angeles, I got some bit parts here and there.  Then I got a big break, an audition with an agent that I believed could change my life.  And he did, but not in the way I had hoped.  He told me that I was a great actress, that he wanted to represent me, but that wasn't good enough. I needed to change my appearance and test my morals if I really wanted him to be my agent.  The really sad thing is, is that I believed him.   I was just 21 and I thought he knew what he was talking about.  And just like that, I believed something someone else said to me, and I gave up my dream. 

So today, when I sat down at my computer and saw that you critiqued my 10-year-old son's acting I couldn't help but feel a bit defensive.   I'm not a theater mom. I'm just a regular mom, who just read someone publicly criticize her son.  In a community theater production. At Christmas.   Can you imagine if every kid that did any kid-like things was judged?  Jack loved playing basketball but he was terrible, thankfully someone like you wasn't there to point out all his flaws there too. He gave it up on his own accord. 

The thing is, my son is a kid, playing the part of a kid.  And the criticism was that he wasn't engaged when other characters were speaking.  Holy cow, talk about method acting, I think this is a brilliant interpretation of how every kid across the world interacts with their parents on a daily basis! He deserves a Tony Award.

I apologize if this is starting to sound a bit too Mama bear, theater mom crazy, but I'm writing it for every parent who has sat crouched in a cold dark backstage room telling kids to be quiet or listening for cues . Or pricked their finger sewing on a feather that has fallen off a costume. Theater is so much bigger than just the acting.

This little town of mine, and the kids in it, need this community theater now more than ever.  Why? Because acting is more than just pleasing the audience. It's allowing our kids to learn to express themselves in creative ways. It's showing them alternative ways to deal with complex emotions. Being a kid today in this violent world is not easy, but what is easy, is being a kid, playing a kid in an imaginary world and loving every single second of it.

The last thing I would want is for someone to read a bad review of a community theater production, and then decide not to attend. Because without an audience, those kids are just rehearsing, and they do a LOT of that already.  Plus,  those ticket prices, although they may seem high, are what keep these little theaters going, and these kids dreaming and learning how to navigate in this unpredictable society.

So thank you for saying my husband was the "highlight of the entire production", that was sweet, but I kindly disagree, I think every single person on that  stage was equally as bright.  And thanks for saying Jack did a fine job reciting all of his lines (167 of them in all, he counted). But, he isn't going to see your review.  We have taught him that people will forget what you say to them, but they will never forget how you make them feel. 

After his opening night, the same show you saw, as I tucked him in way, way, way past his bedtime,  he said the best part of the entire night, was hearing people laugh and seeing people in the audience smiling.  You should know, you were there.

Really, that is what theater is all about. It is making people feel.  And with every kid who can stand on a stage and that is willing to do that for me, is a star in my book. 
All I ask is that next time, you feel like tearing something down consider the community that took the time to build it up. 

I encourage every single person in our city of South Bend, Indiana and a 25-mile radius to go and see the remaining 15 shows if they get a chance.  And if you aren't local, go and see your community's Christmas Show.  I can promise, you will smile, at least twice, and I don't know about you, but lately, our world has been filled with a lot of frowns.   

Thank you,
Noelle Gunn Elliott

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Losening the Reins

I have never broken in a horse.  I should say that up front.  Although recently I told a friend that breaking in a horse would be easier than raising a teen.  She didn't question my comparison, at least not out loud.  The last couple weeks have been challenging.  Since last month, I have two teen boys in the house.   I don't want to freak anyone who is currently raising toddlers out, but I have lost more sleep and felt more guilty about my parenting than I ever did when they were young.

And guilt was my middle name.

My teens are 13 and 14. This is just the pony stage of teen life and if I can't even handle a pony how in the world am I going to handle a full-size horse.  Again, I have no experience with horses, the last time I rode one was in Sonoma on our honeymoon (16 years ago). The thing about horses is that you they are beautiful, but at the same time, they can scare the shit out of you.  For example, you can be going along riding a horse on a trail, and then all of the sudden something freaks them out, they start galloping and you think you are going to die.  And you say "Whoa", but they don't listen, and just before you think you are going to get bucked off, they start walking again like nothing ever happened. That is why I feel like raising two teen boys is like breaking in a horse who doesn't like having someone on their back telling them what to do. And for the simple fact that horses eat a ton....
What I do know from brief horse encounters, and the obscene number of Lifetime movies I have watched where the movie takes place on a ranch is that horses respond better when you loosely hold their reins.  When you guide them gently, but let them follow the path without forcing them to go where you want them to, they will do it.

I have learned that teen boys are kind of like that too.  In every instance that we have ended up in a conflict, it has been because of someone's ( okay, mostly my) expectations have not been met.   My preconceived ideas about how a conversation or a situation is going to go, and when those expectations are not met, all hell breaks loose.  This happened recently with a movie night I had planned.  All I wanted to do was put on my comfy pajamas, make some popcorn and snuggle with my husband and the 4 humans we created surrounding us.  I announced my intentions numerous times and put it on our kitchen chalkboard that the movie would begin at 7.

We were all ready, and my oldest was missing.  He had decided to go to a volleyball game instead. He texted me and called, but I had put my phone away so I could be fully present.  When I did read the text and see he called 9 times. I was mad.  How dare my high schooler want to spend a Friday night with his friends?   If I'm honest, it hurt my feelings.  And I know how pathetic that sounds.  When he got home he couldn't understand what the big deal was, and truthfully, I couldn't articulate it either.

It isn't a secret that I'm a bit of control freak.  I like order, organization, and predictability.  The three things that teens are not notorious for.  At least not mine. So I continue to try and shove them in this perfect square I have created with four equal and straight lines.  And when one of them decides to veer off, I pull in the reins. Making it even worse.

It's a hard realization when you suddenly have kids who are the size of adults in your house.   I look up to their eyes and I still see the little boys holding a sippy cup, and a blanket.  And that is the problem.  I'm trying to keep them in this box that they no longer fit in.    They are growing, so I might as well too.

I decided it was time that I loosened my reins.  I'm not hovering. I'm trusting. I'm keeping them safe, giving them guidance but letting them find their way, (within reason).  This is tremendously hard for me, and could possibly blow up in my face. You see, for the past decade, I have been doing my absolute hardest to teach them right from wrong.  I have made them apologize when they have done something inconsiderate,  write thank you notes when they need to show gratitude, and put their dirty dishes in the sink.  In addition to being the single female in their house and trying to make them see me in a way that they will see all other women for the rest of their lives.  The last one, being the most important to me.  I want more than anything for them to respect everyone, but especially women. I want them to be the men I needed at a party in college, or at my first job, or second, or third job.
And my fear is that if I step aside, they may get off this path, so  I have painstakingly tried to put them on.

My answer came in the form of this text.


It's not groundbreaking, but I texted him at what I thought was his lunch time.  Just letting him know I was thinking about him.  But then, he returned and asked me how my day was.

Reins loosened. A 14-year-old boy asking his mom how her day was going.  It may not seem like a lot, but to me, it was validation that not only does he care about others, he takes the time to ask.

I may not know anything about riding horses or getting them to stay on the path, but the little that I do know has helped guide me in the right direction in raising gentlemen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Perfect Mess



I was running behind schedule this morning.  I did my usual workout at 5 and was back home by 6:15. But somehow between 6:15 and 7 a.m. I had the nerve to sit down and have my breakfast, rather than taking bites of it as I scrambled past the kitchen island.  Oscar saw me and was so confused by this that he asked me if it was Saturday.  "No, it's Wednesday" I explained and I have lost all motivation to move.
I managed to make my way into the shower and I just stood there in a strange time warp actually enjoying the hot water run down my back. I even decided to wash my hair today.  Seriously, who in the hell did I think I was, a lady of leisure?  Just as I was about to apply conditioner, Oscar burst into the bathroom and asked if he could have my thumb.  He needed it to unlock my phone.  I stuck my thumb out of the shower and he dried it off and pushed the phone against it.

"Why?" I asked.  He said he had made the perfect mess and wanted to take a picture of it.  I tried not to freak out, and my shower euphoria came to an abrupt end.

I'm not a messy person, on the outside.  But on the inside, dear Lord help me. Let me share a little insight.  A couple of weeks ago my foundation was compromised. What I mean is, on the outside, my structure looked normal, but on the inside, I was crumbling.  Anxiety was eroding any solid beams that were keeping me standing.

For me, anxiety is like a closet that you stuff everything into before you have company come over. Remember, I don't like a mess.  If someone is sad, I want to cheer them up, if someone is mourning, I want to shower them with love, if someone is angry, I'll take the hit.  If someone is lost, I want to help them find their way, (totally metaphorically, I have a horrific sense of direction).   I want to take those painful things away from others and lock them away.  At least for a little while, because for me, there is such beauty in a clean space, it's when I can finally breathe.


Then, one day something happened that forced the door to the closet to open and everything spilled out.   I panicked as I tried to stuff it all back in, but I couldn't as much as I tried.  Things spilled out in plain sight. Every anxiety I had hidden away, all my insecurities about every aspect of my life, my marriage, my friendships, my work, my school. Everything.  I had been here before and I knew I needed help, so I called a therapist.


I have had one fantastic therapist in my life,  and I became friends with him, so now he isn't my therapist, and that is really cool, but also sad because every other therapist I have had is, well, nuts.

So I went to a new therapist and sat with him for two hours, TWO hours answering his question as to why I feel overwhelmed with anxiety.  He told me he has never met a woman with more on her plate, and I agreed with him.  And then he told me he knew why I was having such anxiety. I was so thrilled to finally have someone offer a solution.  He told me it was Satan.

(See above comment about my luck with therapists.)

I had allowed Satan into my life and he was causing the anxiety.  Yep.

Our session ended abruptly after that. How ridiculous right? Satan?  But then, I started thinking about it. Maybe he was right? Maybe I had... I mean I was pretty crazy at one point in my life, maybe he saw a vulnerable window open and crawled on in?  Oh my God maybe I AM possessed?

I pulled over and messaged my pastor. Actually, my former pastor, but he is still on my crisis contact list.  Surely he would know.   He responded almost instantly and apologized for the therapist who offered such a suggestion and said that indeed, he did not believe Satan was the cause of my anxiety.

I texted/called 4 of my closest friends and asked them if they thought I had been acting weird(er) and if it was possible that Satan had entered my body.  They all responded and said no.  I didn't text my mom because she would have had an exorcism arranged by the time I got off work.

When I did get home, I poured a glass of wine (i.e. if blessed, the blood of Christ) and called my brother.  I told him what the therapist had told me.  He had a good point.  He explained that if the worst thing that Satan is capable of doing is causing a busy mom who (has four growing boys, a full-time job, a part-time job, a theatrical show, is going to grad school, who helps take care of her parents, and her husband) to have anxiety, then I must be one strong mo-fo.  OR, the guy was full of shit.

I can always count on him to make me see things clearly.

When I think of evil, I think of death, destruction, manipulation, politics, but anxiety isn't at the top of the list, or even on the bottom.

 I discovered a few things. In addition to finding a new therapist, I realized that most of my anxiety is caused by trying to conceal things that make us perfect.  What Oscar saw in his "perfect mess" was that it was the shape of a flower.

What causes me anxiety is all the things that are messy. I worry I'm f'ing up my boy's lives. I worry that Don thinks I'm not doing a good job as a wife or mother. I worry that I'm not smart. I worry that I'm not doing enough for others, on certain days I worry if I'm chubby/ugly.. ( I know it sounds petty, but these things are a concern.) My biggest and most frequent worry is that I just can't do it all.

But as my brother pointed out, I kind of am.

On a difficult day, I need to focus on the times when I saw this. Like, when Fin was at a rehearsal for his play and was the happiest I had ever seen him. When I broke the garage door (again) and Don didn't blame me, just fixed it.  When I got an A on a paper that I did at the very last minute because I was too busy helping Parker with his homework. When a co-worker tells me I look nice when I didn't even shower that day.

If I look closely enough, I too can see that true perfection is messy, ugly, hard and brutal and most importantly real. And most significant is the people who love me for it. Did I mention that not one single person I asked about  my Satan-induced-anxiety hesitated to help me? Or to talk me through it? Not one of them told me I was to blame.

Compassion for others (and in oneself) is being able to see the flower in the mess.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Scarlet letter F

I have not tried to hide the fact that I was a bit of a troublemaker as a kid.  Well, I have hidden it from my own kids, but not everyone else.   I like to act shocked when they get caught doing something they shouldn't be doing.

In fourth grade, I tried to use my sister's bug collection and pass it off as my own. She and my dad spent weeks making a wooden case with a plexiglass window.  Inside were all the insects she had collected day and night all summer. All of them intact with a long needle right through the middle.  Each was labeled with labels she lined up in the type writer to get just perfect.

We went to a small private school, but nonetheless, I thought I could pass it off as my own. I may mention that she is nine-years older than me, and the insects looked a little... crusty.  Despite my sisters research on what looked to be expert insect taxidermy, my teacher could clearly see that these insects had been dead for almost a decade.  They had legs falling off, some even had cobwebs.  But, on the day it was due, I marched it in and presented it to my teacher.

This box was not light. It was cumbersome so my Dad had to help me carry it in. He didn't say a word.  I sat it on the table next to all the other bug collections and although I felt a tinge of guilt, I was happy I spent my summer swimming and not killing bugs.  At the end of the day, the teacher gave me a note and a grade.  The note said I needed to take it home, and that I got an F,  and that my parents had to sign it.   This time I had to carry the stupid bug collection out to my Mom's car by myself. She didn't say a word.

They knew very well what I was doing and neither one of them stopped me.  They let me get caught, and they let me carry the guilt and consequences (literally). The teacher didn't give me a chance to make it up either.  I had to carry that F as a scarlet letter for the rest of trimester and work my butt off to get a C. Which I did.

My parents didn't seem to think my actions were a reflection on them, but more on me.

I realize now that my parents were bad asses.  At the time I blamed them for all of my problems, like most kids, but I'm glad they let me walk out of the house and into a trap that I had set for myself and that they were going to let me get caught in.

Did I try and cheat again? Yes.  A few years later,  I waiting until the last minute to do a leaf collection. Rather than collecting leaves all Fall, I waiting until they were dead and covered in snow the night before it was due.  I attempted to color, and cut the leaves into various leaf shapes, then laminate and label them.  Although an Oak leaf may not look like a Maple leaf, with a little help from some craft scissors it can.  It is no surprise, I got caught... again. And once again wore the F of shame.

I would like to say that was the last time, but it wasn't.  In high school, I missed a history quiz so I was taking it in the library and I used my text book to find all the answers.  But as I was turning it in to Mr. Rethlake, I burst into tears and told him what I had done.   Once again, I got an F, but rather than making me tell my parents, he made me read him the chapters  that I should have read, out loud, and then asked me the same questions that were on the quiz until I got them right. Because of this, I was late to soccer practice. Because I was late to soccer practice.  I  had to tell my coach, why I was late , he made me run laps around the field for an hour and a half.

In unrelated news, that day my boyfriend broke up with me. #worstdayever

It was around that time I decided that it wasn't worth it.  I was destined to get caught, and not only that, I wasn't going to get off easy.

As much as I don't want my boys to experience pain or humiliation, a little discomfort goes a long way.   Of course, they are perfect in every way, yet they have each done some seriously stupid things,  and I have let them.  As long as it wasn't going to result in physical trauma, I stepped aside.

What I didn't realize is that it is not easy to do that for parents. Not at all.  It hurts ten times worse.   I find myself wanting to correct their wrongs, but if I constantly do that,  how will they learn what is the rights are?

Recently one of the boys plagiarized a book report.  I was a little suspicious because all summer I had not seen him open the book once.  But, I'm not a helicopter mom so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  On the day he presented his report to the class he was feeling sick to his stomach.  By the time he did, he was in full on guilt mode.  He admitted it to his teachers.  He didn't eat his lunch, he barely touched his dinner and afterward, he called Don into the bedroom.

On the bed, he had every item of value to him. His laptop, his iPod, his gaming system.  He (in dramatic fashion) said he needed to confess something. But, before he did, he was grounding himself from screens.  Don watched as he dry heaved confessing something he thought we didn't know. He made it right. It's like we are raising self-cleaning ovens!   They are regulating themselves.

By the time he told me, I too (in dramatic fashion) acting shocked and dismayed.  I'm not at the level of badassery as my parents were to let him know I knew. I'll get there, I'm sure.

Being a kid is hard sometimes,  but if I make it easy for him how will he ever be able to cope with the fact that being an adult is even harder?

As an adult, I can't blame my mistakes on not knowing better.  Chances are I do, but still make the dumb choices. Or the easy choice.  Like saying yes to that third glass of wine or saying yes, I want to watch the next episode of Orange is the New Black even though I have to wake up in 5 hours. I digress.

When you know better, you do better....most of the time. 



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shutting up and letting go

Right now the stars have aligned and I have a boy in different, yet equally crucial emotional growth stages.  At times I feel that each of them have a fish hook to a chamber of my heart and each is pulling the attached string in different directions.  I realize that it is a natural progression in the relationship between a parent and child, but having all boys, and trying to raise gentleman in today's world is challenging, to say the least.   Although my heart is pulling in different directions, sometimes I have to lean into the one who needs me most.
My oldest son is starting high school this month.  He has grown at least 3 inches this summer and yesterday for a snack he ate an entire rotisserie chicken. I asked him how football practice went and I got a one-word answer.   He went to camp last week, and when I asked him what his favorite part was he said "talking to people". The boy who doesn't say three words to me before noon, best part of a camp was talking to people?  What about talking to the person who spent 26 hours birthing him?
I'm trying so hard to not mess this transition to high school up.   It scares me more than him. At least I think it does. I don't want to be the mom that keeps asking annoying questions, but there is so much I want to know!  Last night, after he had his second dinner, he sat down next to me on the couch and told me about a troubled girl he met at camp.  I wanted so badly to offer advice, to give him a glass of milk and turn on Higglytown heroes and snuggle. But for the sake of preserving any mom credit I had, I did what is hardest for me to do... I said nothing.  I literally bit my tongue, and a crazy thing happened.  He talked more... and more... and even sat with me for an entire 20 minutes.  I didn't offer any advice or tell him a relatable story about my life. I was as quiet as a ninja.
His teen life is so different from mine. I made the mistake of calling some of his friends "just virtual friends" and he was hurt by that. Why? Because he may not see those friends, but he talks to them, plays games with them, and communicates daily with them.  He is living in an age where everything is at his fingertips, and he has to make the decision to click or not.  Girls sharing fleeting bikini shots while wearing over contoured makeup to perfect their already flawless faces.  Because somehow she believes that is what he wants, my 14-year-old son. My boy who is growing up in a country that the president tweets vengeful things about people on social media, something I have told my son never to do.
So who am I, to tell my son how to be a teen in a world that I have a hard time adulting in?  
I'm in the process of learning a lot about boys and men.   The majority of my life has been spent with boys.  My closest and first example is my brother and my dad.  My first best friend was a boy named Adam.  I have had a boyfriend pretty much consecutively since I was 15.   Some of my best friends today are men, including my husband.  And with this history of men, I like to think I have learned a few things.
Men have the same wants, needs, desires as women do, but they are hesitant to share them.  Hesitant, because they want so badly to be seen as strong, yet fear that vulnerability will make them appear weak.  Some of the most successful men I know have moments of the most insecurity.  And sometimes they need someone to re-secure them.
The men in my life are not intimidated by strong women. In fact, almost all my best guy friends are married to strong women. This includes my dad, brother and husband. And is something I want my boys to witness.
They need physical connection. Around the age of twelve my boys suddenly become an island.  I have noticed that they become awkward and don't know what to do with their freakishly growing bodies.   I no longer get the big hug when I drop them off at school. But I do get the back of his head leaned in just close enough for me to air kiss it.
It may not be a mother's touch a teen boy wants, but have you ever seen a bunch of teen boys in a group? If they aren't wrestling, they are high-fiving or jabbing each other's ribs.  What I see is that men and boys still want the connection of touch,  even if it appears barbaric at times, and breaks furniture.

In contrast, my youngest son has spent almost the entire summer touching me.  At the pool he has to lay his freezing wet body on top of mine to get warm when the lifeguard blows the whistle.  This could be partially in part to the fact that earlier in the summer we lost him at an aquarium for 45 min. (Huge parental low). When we finally did locate him, we hugged in the middle of the penguin exhibit, and both cried.
Did I mention how we lost him?  I was trying to post a perfect picture on Instagram.  I was looking down.  I wasn't paying attention to what was actually happening and more interested in documenting a moment with friends on social media.  I lost my son in the process.  How many other moments have Iost trying to freeze a moment that had already passed?
I remember an old woman in a grocery store telling me to never have too many kids that you don't have a hand to hold them. Between my husband and me,  we have enough hands. What this woman failed to mention is that they as they grow they need you to know when to let it go.
I want my sons to be great athletes, globally conscious citizens and stellar students.  But nobody but them can make that happen.  I have to know when to be quiet and step aside. 

But you better believe I will still be in arms reach if he needs to grab my hand.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mamalogues Recap


It has been a week since the Mamalogues, and I have had some time to reflect on what an amazing night it was.  But it might not be for the reasons you expect.

A little ritual I do before every show is that I visit the space and say a prayer for each of the women who will be reading.  I also say a prayer for the audience to be open to receive what they have to say.  If anything, this helps calm my nerves and sets a good tone for the rest of the night.  I do this for most performing arts events. (My full time job is managing and publicizing music events). But, similarly when my dad has an art show or my brother has a concert, I will set the same intention.  Art is subjective, I realize this, and not everyone will like it.... that is the hard part, especially for a people pleaser. I just really really want people to enjoy it!

What people may not know is that when the idea of a staged show first came to my mind, I wasn't feeling very creative at all. In fact, I was in a really dark place.  I was at my rock bottom of postpartum depression and anxiety, and I received an invitation to meet some friends for dinner.  That was the last thing I wanted to do. I hated what my second pregnancy had done to my body. I didn't feel like I could be a fun person to be around. I just wanted to sit in the shower and let the water drown the negative voices in my head. But, somehow I ended up at dinner with about eight women, all of which had recently had babies.  We shared stories without judgement, and for a brief moment, I forgot about how sad I was. I returned home uplifted.  The collective energy of women is intoxicating and powerful.  We get together to celebrate happy times, but why is that when things get rough, we retreat to ourselves? That is when we need each other most. That is when the idea of the Mamalogues, a time where we could share stories openly, crossed my mind.

I was a tomboy growing up, and have always had more guy friends than girlfriends. I like to play sports and have played soccer the majority of my life.  Most of the time I spent with girls, it was on the soccer field.   I loved them like sisters.  (Still do.) There was no competition.  We all had a common goal, which was to do the best we could to win the game.  I never wished that our goalie Sarah would miss a shot, I wanted her to succeed. I never compared myself to Katie, the best defender (who I played soccer with for a decade) because we each had a different skill, that was equally important.  Yet, after college, I didn't have a team of my own anymore.  I found myself comparing myself to others, especially women.  The voice in my head would tell me they were prettier, thinner, smarter, more successful than me.   This is what happens when you are alone. You start to believe all those things.  The truth is, just because someone may have an amazing body, doesn't mean I don't. Because they have a great job, doesn't mean they didn't put in the damn hard work to get it.   Thier success isn't my failure.

We desperately need to celebrate our successes and support each other in our weaknesses.
When women are working together, we are a force to be reckoned with.  For me, it is a waste of time knocking other women down because of my own insecurities. A better use of my time is to inspire women.  To encourage them to take up more space and not less.   And I wanted to give them a platform to showcase who they are.

If you were there last Thursday, you witnessed just that.  In the five years that we have been doing this, I have never felt more support from the audience, and not just women,  men too, all ages. In an age of technology dominated our existence, it was refreshing to see everyone engaged.   What it comes down to, is we are all on the same team.

A man in his 60's stopped me  after the show and told me how much he enjoyed it.  He said, he expected it to be women complaining about men. ( For the record, complaining is boring, so we would never do that.) But what he found was that he went on a roller coaster of emotions, and he was so moved by the openness of everyone who shared her story.  Who would have thought that just the act of sharing a story and and exposing a bit of vulnerability could  be an act of bravery?

I did. That's who.

Kate told me that a woman stopped her as she was picking up her son from camp and shared that she could totally identify with Kate's piece about Sam.  That is the point of this whole show! Bringing people together and starting a dialogue about stuff, sometimes hard stuff, sometimes funny stuff, but all of that stuff matters.

Today I took three little girls to camp and I listened closely as they discussed their favorite part of the Wonder Woman movie.  I loved hearing them say that the fight scene was tied with Wonder Woman's ability to speak every language as their favorite part.  One girl said, "there is nothing she can't do."

Exactly.

It is a lesson for all of us.  But Wonder Woman could never have defeated anyone by herself. She needed the support of her friends and family. If she would have wasted time wondering if she was good enough, strong enough or whatever enough, to do it, she would have never tried.... and never saved the world.

We are certainly not saving the world with the Mamalogues, but we are saving ourselves. And maybe saving someone else when they need it most. And making great friends along the way.

It was just a crazy little idea I had, but because I took the small but scary step to act on it, I found my team again.  A team that is rooting for each other.

I'm beyond grateful for Kate for being awesome and being a rock when my insecurities start crashing over her and everyone in my path like waves of a tsunami.

And of course, thank you and Congrats to the 2017 team, Becky S., Natasha, Alison, Katherine, Amiee, Jenny, Amy, Jennifer, Maria, Becky C.  Jill, Sandy, Mandy, Tiphini, Kelli and Cherish.  You gals rocked.

And lastly, thank you to the audience who were just as part of the show as everyone else.

The next Mamalogues will take place in the summer of 2018.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Zero Fox Given

This past week we had a lot of exciting things happen.  To name a couple, my oldest son graduated from 8th grade.  Next, the pool opened, and it was also the first time I had worn a bathing suit since turning 40. Sure,  the first one is a milestone.  But I have to feel like the second one is too, except nobody throws you a party.

Here is the deal,  no matter how much you workout, it is still a little weird stepping out into public exposing yourself legally.  Especially in a climate that certain areas of your body don't see the light of day except two months out of the year.

Don and I had planned on going on a trip to Antigua, but his mom got sick, and he was needed there.  I had purchased two very little bikinis for the trip that are totally acceptable in a place like Antigua, and a place where you don't know anybody. But now I have these unworn bikinis that I'm thinking about wearing to our country club, where I know everybody and my son's teenage friends will be joining us.

When I turned 40 my singular goal was to live as authentically and true to myself as possible.  Basically, to give 0 fucks. But I guess I hadn't thought about this part of my authenticity. And if I'm going, to be honest, I give a lot of fucks. Or as I say in front of the boys, as not to cuss "Zero Fox".  I can't help it. I care so much about everything and everyone.  Including my son's feeling about me wearing a skimpy bikini in front of his friends.  Teen boys are awkward anyway, then you add a teen boy with a mom who is practically naked standing in front of them, all the fucks I'm not supposed to give are out on the table for everyone to see.

But I really like this bikini. It has pineapples on it.  When I purchased it, I pictured myself on a white sand beach lounging in the sun, and the only question I had to answer was " What kind of drink would you like?"  Now, I will be sitting on white cement, and the only question I will be hearing is " Will you fix my goggles?" and " Watch this!" (Over and over and over and over).

So, if only once, I decided to wear my bikini and try giving zero Fox as to what anyone thought, including my sons.   I went to my room and I put it on.  Why can't swimsuits fit like underwear?  They never do.  I walked over to the mirror and didn't open my eyes.
I could hear the gang of boys starting to get impatiant behind the door. Including Don.  They had put their suits on in  4 seconds and couldn't understand why it was taking me so long. But I was having an internal debate that was going on longer than I had anticipated.

I opened my eyes. I saw a 40-year-old woman in a pineapple bikini.  I started to tell myself that it was appropriate because Sponge Bob lives in a pineapple and I looked just like him right now.  Spongy torso and stretch marks and  "STOP" I told myself.

I could hear the people (who gave me the stretch marks that I  loath), chanting my name outside the door.  " Let's go!"

I was holding up my family for a fun day because of all the foxes I was giving.  Screw it, I thought. Here we go.

We arrived at the pool and I took off my cover-up and revealed my beach...I mean, pool body.  I stood half naked in public, and
nobody cared. Not a single person even looked in my direction.
Don was already asleep in his chair, and the boys were jumping off the diving board.

The boys didn't even notice as they came up to me and asked me if they could order shakes. To them, I'm just mom.  When Don finally woke up, he said, " Is that suit new?"  "Yes." I said.  He then takes out his phone to take a picture of me.  And not at the good angle. The angle that is from below and too close and why the hell does he think this is a good time to take a picture of me?!

And then something hit me.  A woman who I just met, who I admire and who will be performing in the next Mamalogues told a story about just taking the picture.  To get over your hang ups, and just allow a normal, everyday picture to be taken.  A picture that is real and authentic (damn it, that's my 40 year old goal) and that when the boys see it some day, it will be exactly like they remember.

I have a photo of my mom like that.  I love it; she is in a bikini laying out in the sun and I'm wearing one too right next to her. She looks like she is giving zero fox and damn it, here I am in the exact same situation and I'm freaking out about sponge bob and stretch marks.  Did I ever look at my mom and think....eew? No. I just remember her spending time with me hanging out in the sun. (In the glorious 1980's on a silver tanning blanket without sunscreen I might add.)

I want to be that woman.   So, I agreed, he could take the picture as long as he didn't post it on any social media platform.  He did, just like my Dad had done, he took the picture of my mom and me.

The day ended and not a single one of my boys said anything about my bikini.  I even got a little sun and had fun.

When I looked at the picture Don had taken, I saw what he saw. Not a self-conscious Mommy.   It was Oscar proudly standing behind me with his goggles on, a shake in one hand and the other on my shoulder.  Not giving a thought in the world other than summer and ice cream.

And with that.  I began my quest for a summer with zero foxes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What Strong Women Do




Every so often I fall apart. I would say it happens at least once every few months.

I had this favorite pair of high heels.  They were perfectly broken in.  They carried me across campus for the past five years at least 1000 times.   A few years ago the heel became detached from the sole.  Just a little bit, and I ignored it and kept stomping across campus.

You see, these shoes were perfect, my pants were the perfect length for them. When I wore skirts, they were high enough to make me feel professional but not too high to look like a street walker.  Well, they were kind of on the border of the two, and I was okay with that.

I had the soles of these heels repaired twice.  But the heel was wobbly. It threw my off balance several times, but I kept going. One of my colleagues helped me duct tape it once. Don applied super glue at least three times.

But last week as it was starting to rain, the heel came completely off.  I didn't have an umbrella, and I stood in front of a group of college guys and had an adult breakdown.   I took them both off and threw them in the trash and proceeded to walk in my stocking feet in the cold rain to my car.

My husband was out of town, and I was single parenting for the week.  I had several work projects I had been working on, but unable to complete because I had to leave work early to pick the boys up from school. I had a paper due in grad school. My oldest son, Parker had a major conference for school that he was stressing about.  I got an email from Fin's violin teacher informing me that that he keeps forgetting his violin. My son Jack had made it his mission to be mean to his younger brother, which caused said younger brother to cling to me like he hadn't since he was two.  Top that off with morning workouts that made me say things like "my body is showing it's age." and stop for air.  Also, I found out someone was trying to steal the name Mamalogues, which I had trademarked and know for a fact they didn't have a trademark.  And that was just in one day.  And then my fricking heel came off my favorite shoe.

When I got home I checked my email and had one from my professor.  I received an A, but then she wrote, "I think you would benefit from a writing tutor for APA formating"  WTH? That is like telling my brother, who is a professional opera singer that he needs opera lessons.  I understand what she was saying, but it was too late.

Cue: Falling apart.

I decided to screw dinner.  I told the boys to eat whatever they wanted.  I had to say it twice because they didn't believe me.

I then proceeded to sit on the couch with a glass of wine, holding back tears as I texted my friends. My tribe of women who I know I can trust. Who I admire.  It was dinner, after all, and after I rapid fired a dozen texts my phone was silent.   I could hear the microwave beeping, the blender buzzing as the boys made a cornucopia buffet of everything they weren't supposed to make for dinner.  Smoothies, nachos, pickles.  I saw them peek in to see if I really meant it when I said they could eat whatever, and I did. Hell, I was having Pinot Noir,  with a side of nothing. I wasn't one to talk.

The boys have seen me cry before, but you see, Don's mom (and Dad) were really ill and that is why he was in Florida.  I felt like my problems were self-induced and insignificant. I didn't want to worry the boys more than they already were. So I tried to maintain a somewhat normal composure as I stared at the wall doubting all my life decisions while drinking my dinner.

What felt like hours, but was actually just minutes was when my phone started going off.  All the friends I had texted were texting me back. My phone has a light that flashes when I get a text, and it made my family room look like a disco.  One text after another. Telling me to shut up, that I'm fully capable. That they love me. That I'm stronger than I think.  That I'm not a dumbass.

It was then that I started crying.

Damn, I have amazing, strong and wonderful friends.  We don't see each other often because the truth is, we all have careers and mortgages, and we have to take care of kids and husbands, and maybe just life  They were busy, making dinner, or sitting at practice, running their own company or grading exams. But when a friend sent out a message, they stopped what they were doing, and they were all there, at least in texting form and that is what I needed.

What strong women do, is they don't avoid the pain of a friend, they rush to it.  They swoop in and take care of business.  The business of of repairing a wobbly soul.  I'm not throwing this one out.

By this time, the boys had taken the free-for-all dinner to mean they could eat on the couch.  I didn't care. They were also watching Teen Titans. A show I happen to like.  Fin (the one who keeps forgetting his violin at home) made half of his nachos the way I like it, just in case I wanted some.  And I did.

We all fall apart for whatever reason, but surrounding yourself with people that won't rush in to pick you up, but give you encouraging words that let you know, that YOU are fully capable of picking your own damn self up. Even if it is shoe-less and in the rain, they know you will find a way, because deep down they know you have got it in you and you can.  And when you do, you will be even stronger.

They knew I wasn't going to give up. I wasn't going to call in sick, or quit my job, or school or go AWOL and leave the kids alone. 

They have no doubt in me, because they have been there too.  They know, that on the other side of this,  I will be fine. The painful and crucial times like this are when true personal strength and growth happens.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Don't Rule People Out

Our marriage was born in 2001, so it is kind of a millennial. something that is hard to define, but cool nonetheless.
I had coffee with a friend whose marriage recently ended. They didn't have children. In fact, both Don and I were in her wedding. Just to let you know, every wedding that Don and I have both been part of, has ended in divorce. We are the nursing home cat who visits people right before they die, of bridal parties. If you ask us now, we will politely decline.
But she said, "You're so lucky, when will I get my Don?"

Don is a remarkable human being.  He is kind, and funny and loyal. Not only to me but his friends, family and students.   But when we started dating, he didn't look great on paper.  He had just quit his job and was moving from the West coast to the East coast in two weeks.  He sold everything that couldn't fit in his car. He was done with Hollywood and wasn't looking back.   I didn't hold that against him.  I  knew that he made me laugh, and our conversations came easily, so for the two weeks  we were inseparable.

On the day he left, I gave him a mixed tape; this was before burning a CD was even possible for normal people.  I gave him a travel bag full of snacks, a book, and hugged him goodbye.   I didn't ask him to stay.  I wanted him to, but how could I have made such a request?

I flew home to Indiana to celebrate my 22nd birthday with my family the following day.  I cried to my brother, mother, anyone who would listen wondering if I had done the right thing by letting him go.  I got my answer when showed up at my parent's house 2 days later with a birthday card.  He drove 600 miles out of his way for a girl he had been dating for 2 weeks. My parents didn't exactly know what to think of this long-haired tattooed guy from Hollywood, but I didn't care.
People put so much emphasis on what a person does more than how they make you feel.

Two months later he moved back to Los Angeles, and as our best man said at our wedding reception, Don told him the reason he came back was: " because of this incredible girl..."

I was still in college.  At times I had $3 in my bank account.  Our dates consisted of a lot of creativity and meals made at home.  But that was enough to consider me "incredible".

We grew together and everything that we have, we earned as a team. I don't see that as luck. I see that is understanding the person you are committed to.

People say that marriage is hard. I wouldn't agree.  It has it's ups and downs but so do my best friendships.  Nobody can piss me off more than he does, that is for certain. And he does some things, like puts ketchup on his eggs and just the thought of it makes me want to vomit, but I get over it and there is always a new day tomorrow.
I explained to my friend that a lot of women would have just overlooked Don because he didn't have a job or didn't have a title. He fit in the "other" catagory.  Maybe a lot of guys would have overlooked me for the same reason. And the fact that I am an extreme early bird, well, that really makes people angry sometimes.

But had I judged him before our first date, and said no,  I would have missed out on seeing the things that show his true character.  I would have never known that this tattooed actor would some day feed my Dad ice cream in the hospital when my dad lost the use of his arms and legs.   That this guy without a fancy car would fly to Florida in an instant to take care of his Mom who is sick and bring her flowers.  I would have never known that he would make an outstanding daddy someday.   Or that he would be completely supportive in anything I want to pursue. As for a career, that came later.

The same is true for any meaningful relationship in my life. I can't rule someone out because I think we aren't compatible. My best friendships are usually born when we have one thing in common, like a gym. Then over time, I discover how much I can learn from someone who is on a completely different life path than I am.

Marriage is weird, and fun, and challenging and I would never have expected to be where we are today. There have been some amazing times and those experiences are what carry us through tough times.

We settled back in my hometown, where he went 600 miles out of his way just to give me a card.  The place I swore I would never return. I always thought that if I moved back home after college that I had failed at life.  The opposite is true; it's not where you live that makes you successful. It is the people with whom you surround yourself.

Success to me is in the times of lazy Saturday mornings while I'm sitting enjoying my coffee on the couch, or walking to a neighbors house for an impromptu family dinner.   The food and wine will be forgotten, but the relationships built from one thing in common, end up being the most important.

Don't rule people out because of what they do, or don't do or have or don't have.  You may be missing that perfect relationship or friendship that is just right for you.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Sweet Spot



On Sunday we packed our entire family (including the dog) in the SUV  and heading on an adventure.  Don and I didn't tell the boys where we were going, but we packed a picnic and heading North to where the water was.

The other day, I posted something on Facebook about how our door to our home should be replaced with a revolving one.  During the day, when we are all home from work and school there is always someone coming or going.  Neighborhood friends, the boys, sometimes a random dog.   As much as I hate the door being slammed, I must admit, laughter adds life to a house... and chaos.
Our wedding photographer from 16 years ago commented on my post. He has never commented on anything, in fact, I forgot he was my friend. All he said was " I miss those days; they were the best of my life."

A friend of mine has five children, one is in college, and the next will be heading there next year. She just took on two foreign exchange students, because she understands the beauty in a full and busy house.

As we reached our destination which was a dog-friendly hiking trail that wound us up and down a heavily wooded path, through swamp-like mud, into sand dunes which led to Lake Michigan, to what seemed like our very own secluded lake front property.  I could actually feel the stress leave my body with every step I took.

Next year my oldest will be in high school.  I have already felt his enthusiasm for family outings start to decline.  I get it.  But I also know this is our sweet spot. This is the time of our lives we will talk about, look back on with fondness. The time we will miss. The time the boys will joke about with their future spouses when they tell them about their childhood at our big Thanksgiving dinner.  This is our sweet spot.  And I want to soak in every single drop of it.

After hours of running up and down sand dunes and putting our toes and paws in the water, we decided to return to the top to get our picnic and have lunch.

Don takes pride in leading the pack, and we all follow, and I hope ( in my head) that he knows where he was going.  I'm in the back making sure someone doesn't get distracted and veer off course. Which almost happens when we saw "Dirty Diana" carved in a bench. No joke.  It caused a big Michael Jackson discussion about how he really isn't dead.

But Don kept walking and his image was getting smaller and smaller, and I was trying to get Oscar to get moving.  He had made a sand ball out of black sand and water and told me all the treasures he had mixed into it.  But as we walked, the sand he was holding on so tightly began to dry and fall apart and slip through his hands.  He tried desperately to pick up the black sand as it dropped on the brown sand but he couldn't.  I watched as his magic sand ball fell apart before his very eyes.

Finally, he gave up hope, opened his hands and let all of it go. It blended perfectly back into the rest of the sand, and I don't know what his treasures were, but they were gone now too.   He threw himself on the ground and started a monumental tantrum that echoed across Lake Michigan. I tried to tell him that it was okay and that we could make another one at home. That didn't help. As Don was now, far gone, I pictured Oscar and myself getting lost in the woods and amber alerts for both of us.

He refused to move. He told me to go on, and he would sleep there.  He wanted to be alone. His feet were tired.  So I started up the trail and knew he would scurry to catch up at some point.
He didn't.
I turned around, and he was gone. He had gone back to the lake and was determined to make an identical sand ball.   At this point, my heart stopped for a second. Not because I thought I lost him, but moreover that he wanted to lose me.   I found him on his knees frantically scooping.

I told him he had to come with me because we needed him at lunch. That didn't work.
I told him that it was going to get dark soon.
That really didn't work.
I told him that I thought I saw a bear.
That kind of worked.
I told him that I needed him to help me find my way back.
.... and that worked.

A guy always wants to save a woman,  or at least think he did. He helped me to find our trail and eventually catch up with the rest of the family.

I know that just like Oscar's sand ball, we will not always be this close.  I left my house when I turned 18, graduated college at 22, lived on my own until 24 and then I got married.  The unit that was once my world grew in different locations and added spouses and children, but that cohesive sand ball of a family is just in my memory, and at times I miss it.

So, I know this spot we are in is bittersweet.

What never changed in my family unit was my parents.  They never went anywhere.  They stayed exactly where we could find them.

I was sitting with my brother in a recent visit and we just sat on a park bench watching people go by.  We were both working, so we didn't have our spouses, or our kids, just us, talking about a squirrel.  I'm 75% sure we had the exact same conversation on the exact same campus when he was 11 and I was 5. I know the notion of squirrel herds sounded familiar.
Our family unit has just changed shape.  The sand drifted to different places, but when it is together it is as close as it ever was.

Maybe the next four years will be just as sweet with the boys.  The unknown is what worries me.  I love our unit now. That we all fit in the same car, and that we can entertain them all with the idea of an adventure.

Eventually, Oscar and I joined the rest of the family, and Don was already dividing the sandwiches, and drinks and sides.  Wally was tied to a picnic table together.  I don't know what we talked about, but I made a mental note to never forget how good this felt.

I have turned into "one of those Moms" who get teary at the sight of her kids, for absolutely no reason.

And all I kept thinking was, it doesn't get much sweeter than this.
Oscar holding his sand ball.




Thursday, March 23, 2017

No Filter


I asked my husband to change the light bulb in our bathroom because it had gone out. He has a fascination with light bulbs, always searching for the most energy efficient one he can find.  When I returned to the bathroom, there was nothing efficient about this one, other than the fact it was scorching my retinas.  I needed sunglasses it was so bright. We live in a house that was built in 1941, and whatever light bulb he screwed in was making a buzzing sound.

There in front of me was a woman who is about to turn 40.   I immediately closed my eyes, one because it was bright, and two because I was nervous.   Do I have the courage to really examine this face under the harsh reality of this light?

What I have noticed lately, especially on social media, is the filters.  I have an iPhone, but a friend told me that the Android phone has an app that can make your skin look flawless and even slim it.   There is a filter for everything.  I'm sure iPhone has it, but beyond Instagram, I'm clueless about these.

I recently had head shots done with a fantastic creative photographer. He used natural light and sent me the proofs the same day.  I wondered how he could edit them so quickly and he told me that he hadn't.   This scared me.

In the past month, I have had two incidents that I'm afraid to look at my own face.  What am I afraid of?  If I can't look at my face just the way it is, how can I be confident for anyone else would want to?

I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror.   I have dark spots on my face, not from sun damage, but from a condition called melasma that sometimes goes away after pregnancy, mine stuck. Since I don't have stretch marks on my face,  I apparently needed a facial reminder of the kids I have carried.  I see a few lines around my eyes. A few hairs that shouldn't be there.  Eyebrows that are unruly.  I see a chicken pox scar that has been in every single one of my school photos since I was seven years old.  I also see the face that my boys see when they look at me.   The same face that my youngest touches constantly, so much so, that sometimes I don't even notice.   Just like when I look at my mom,  I see beauty even when she doesn't.

My oldest son is about to turn 14 and told me that he prefers when I don't wear makeup. Not because he thinks I look beautiful without it, but because he thinks I don't look like myself with it.

What if you could post a picture of yourself the way your children see you?   Sure, I'm not about to stop wearing makeup because truthfully, I prefer the way I look with it.  But I don't want to get to the point that I will stop doing things I love if I don't have access to it.

I love working out, that is not a secret.  The people I work out with are some of my best friends. There is no filter.  There are no flattering lights in the gym. There isn't a slimming mirror.  At times, I have sweat dripping everywhere, my clothes are stuck to me, I probably don't smell great, my hair that was in a tight ponytail is now half loose.  At times I have snot running down my lip and calluses bleeding on my hands.  It may not sound pretty, but it is when I feel the most beautiful.

Life doesn't happen in aesthetically pleasing filters. Beauty is found in reality.  It's found in the middle of the night when I hear one of the boys have a nightmare and my face is what gives them comfort.   I remember talking to a friend who was upset and crying and I thought to myself that she had never looked more raw, real or more beautiful.

Why filter out the good stuff?

So the next time I think I should add a filter to my Instagram post, I'm going to ask myself, what I'm trying to hide?  Is it the things that make me, me? The things that make the people I hold closest to my heart love me?

I had coffee with a friend of mine (who also is my trainer) yesterday and was voicing my concerns about my body. Specifically, the amount of time that I spend in the gym and that I don't think my body reflects that.  He asked me what I was comparing myself to.  I told him I would think about that, but the truth is, I knew, I just wasn't willing to admit it.

I was comparing myself to something that doesn't exist.  A time filtered image of myself, 20 years younger.   A version of myself that was great, but was just getting started.  Just like our house, the imperfections are what make it a home.

And the truth is, I want to look like I have lived because the last 20 years I have.. and then some. Even if I did try and hide that, if someone saw me in real life it would be very obvious.   I saw a woman whom I'm friends with on social media at a meeting, and I couldn't believe how different she looked. Not bad, just different than what I see in her posts.  I don't want that.  I want to look like me.

Today I had one of the most challenging workouts I have ever done.  It was more mentally challenging than physical. And my friend just kept talking to me, telling me not to stop, not to worry about the people around me, or my body that was telling me to quit.  He encouraged me to just keep going because he knew I could do it.  And I did.  And I felt amazing.

I went home and put my phone on the table and returned to mommy mode. While I was making eggs, I casually mentioned that I did 210 burpees to my boys and Jack wanted to give me a hug.  Because I snap photos of everything, Oscar took a picture.   Sure, I could look at it and see the sweat, the rolls, the dark spots, but instead I will choose to look at the arms around my neck.  A hug is a way of telling me "good job."  And his expression shows it.

The best filter you can add is life.  Even if you have been through hell and back, it looks so much better than a life-less air-brushed face.

As I approach my 40th trip around the sun, I'm going to try and see myself as I am, not as I was, not as someone else. No filter. Just me.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Making a Choice to Jump


When I was ten years old, I waited until the very last day of summer camp to jump off of the high dive.  The camp was in Michigan on a beautiful lake.  I can't tell you exactly how high the high dive was, but to me, it seems like it must have reached the clouds.
I remember everything about the moment right before I jumped.  Climbing the stairs, the wind, the lifeguards, my cabin mates cheering me on, my worn out swimsuit that had pilling all over the butt and was giving me a massive wedgie, I remember it all. 

I lunged forward at least three times before I actually made the jump.  I didn't look down.  Finally, the whistle blew, and I had to do it.  I just made the choice that I was going to do it, and I might die in the process, but I had mustered up the courage all week. This was the craziest thing I had done in my decade of life. When I stepped off, I regretted the decision immediately.  The 2-second drop felt like it took an hour and when I finally hit the water with my feet, it stung like a mofo.
This was the 80's, and John Mellencamp's song Hurt So Good was popular, and I thought that this is what this song was about.  It hurt, but at the same time, it felt so good.   I was on a high dive high for at least a day, possibly the next decade.

Last Sunday I was in the grocery store picking up stuff I had forgotten to get the other four times I was there that weekend when a woman standing behind me asked if I worked at Notre Dame.  I looked down to make sure I wasn't still wearing my name tag and said yes, I do.  "You're the marcher".  And she laughed. I had no idea what she meant, I mean I work in music, but I don't march.   We chatted, and she told me that she works in housekeeping in the business school, and every day she sees me at the same time, with headphones one "marching" through her building.  She said it's funny because she knows it's me by my heels, and I look like I'm having fun.

This is not the first time someone has told me I am heavy on my heels.  When my dad was in the hospital, he said he knew I was coming because he could hear me walking down the hall. 

What the housekeeper must be referring to is the fact that I always have ear buds in my ears. I felt bad for not noticing her when clearly she was noticing me.   It isn't that I'm trying to avoid the reality around me by drowning everyone out. It is that I'm making a choice.

I have mentioned this before, but I have a playlist for almost every occasion.  Before I step out of my car in the parking lot at work, I select my playlist.  It helps motivate me to start my work day, and it makes the 15-minute walk more fun.  What is on my playlist may surprise some people. I know it mortified Parker when he learned that  his mom could recite every word of Caroline by Amine.  More urgently, why the hell does he know that song?  The nastier the gangster rap, the better. No joke.

This is a choice I make.  Yes, there are days when I don't want to do things.  Like, go to work.  But I make a choice to make it enjoyable, like blasting inappropriate raunchy ass music as I pass a campus chapel. It makes me feel rebellious and wild, even though I just dropped off my boys at school, gave them all a kiss and said something like, "Mommy loves you and knows you are going to have a great day!" while giving them lunches in bento boxes with the crusts cut off, and baby carrots for a snack.

There are also times where my husband and I have been having the same argument for the past month and I finally just make a choice to wave the white flag because it doesn't matter who is right or wrong. I'm choosing to live the rest of my life with this person; I might as well make it enjoyable. That is an adult example of hurting so good.  Thanks, John Mellencamp.

By shifting my thought process, I can make a choice to love rather than dislike.  And trust me, there have been several times this year that hate or self-doubt has crept in and I have to hit it like a wack a mole and send it back down. And it will keep popping up, trust me.  But I have the power because I have the mallet.

As I'm walking into work listening to music that I should have a hard time relating too, but somehow can manage to make it about my life,  I see my reflection in a window.  I see a professional-ish woman in heels, with her hair tied back in a bun because she didn't have time to dry it.  Whose make up is the best she could do with drug store concealer and lip gloss. Who is carrying the same Kate Spade messenger bag her parents bought her for college.  Who looks pretty damn good for what she has been through already this morning.   But when I look closely, I still see that little blond girl on the highdive.  Eager to jump, but scared. In retrospect, I love that little tomboy.   I don't want to ever lose sight of her when I see my reflection.

Some days I do, and those are the hardest days. I have to make a choice to reconnect with who I am.  At the very core of myself, I choose not to let that little version of me slip away. Some days it is harder to see her,  buried under all the adulting I have to do, or have chosen to do. But beneath the mortgage, bills, marriage, parenthood,  she is the one who holds the key to what truly makes me happy.   And today, what makes me happy is gangsta rap.

That ten year old version of myself  is the one who will remind me to take a leap of faith into the unknown every single time.

I gaze a bit longer at my reflection- not long enough to find faults in my hips but long enough to find the beauty that every child has, and every adult has if they allow themselves to see it.

Our kid spirit and drive never leave us, they are still there.  We just have to make a choice to see them.

Monday, January 23, 2017

You Are Not the Boss of My Talent


Weekday mornings in my home are peaceful, and rather quiet until five minutes before we need to leave. It is then that everyone feels like I have somehow deceived them and I'm leading them down the path to Satan by telling them it's time to go.   Even though it is the same time every day.  Someone doesn't have their clothes on; another just remembered an assignment is due.  Inevitably someone has to go poop.  Or has forgotten to eat breakfast. Yet all of them are angry that I would have the nerve to suggest that we need to leave the house.
To give you perspective, I work out, return from working out, make breakfast, clean up breakfast, take a shower, get ready for work in the time it takes for Oscar to put on one sock.  Socks are his nemesis.
It is the same conversation most mornings.  Don leaves before us, and can't be interrupted from the conversation he is having with Alexa.
"Alexa, what time are the Steelers playing the Blah blahs?"
" I do not understand the question."
So he says it louder. She does not respond.  Then he calls her a bad name, and I stand up for her because we women have to stick together. And he knows that the only way he can call a woman a name in front of me is if she is a cylinder audio system. Eventually, he leaves without his answer, and I'm left to get everyone to school on time.

 I have heard that it is hard to wrangle cats, but I think those people have never tried to wrangle sloths.  It is much harder. Especially when two of the sloths weigh more than I do.
I had finally gotten the majority of them out the door when I couldn't find Oscar.   The only time he is quiet is when I'm looking for him. When I finally found him, he was playing Minecraft and crying.  The thought of playing Minecraft makes me cry too, but for different reasons.
He was upset because he couldn't make it past a level that all his brother's, and apparently every US citizen can.  (His words, not mine.)  I told him to turn the tablet off and get his other sock on and get in the car.  He didn't listen, so naturally, I got louder.
I read an article recently about how there is a way to get your kids to do what you want them to without yelling. And its a scam.  My voice is at an octave that is unheard unless I yell.  As I crammed his Fred Flintstone foot into a sock I told him that he lost his Minecraft privilege until further notice.   Then he said, "You are not the boss of my talent."
Before I went into an orbit of anger about how he shouldn't be talking to me like that, or that Minecraft wasn't a talent, I thought about what he said.
Sometimes kids say things that are completely nonsensical. Like when he told me that he had seen a racoon eat a frog.  But this, this made sense!
You are not the boss of my talent.
It was exactly what I needed to hear at that very moment. Nobody is the boss of your talent.  That is what is so fantastic about a talent.  You are the boss of it.
In my career, I have had some pretty awful bosses.  I have had some good ones too, though. But the horrible ones leave scars.  Scars that make me doubt I'm competent or capable.  Those rackets sometimes come up when I have a tough day (like last week.)
But what no boss or person can tell me, is how to do my talent.  I'm the only one. And if I view it as my talent, it's not subjective. 
One talent that I have is persistence. It starts as an idea, and until I get what I want, I keep trying.
Example: Four boys.
Did I give up when I didn't have a girl? No, but I did when I realized my body had produced enough healthy babies in this lifetime.
This past weekend, as a friend and I were making posters for the women's march, she said, "Noelle, you are a boss woman." I didn't know exactly what that meant, I mean, I do have a tendency to be bossy, yet, I have never actually been the boss of anyone. But just that night, this came across my Instagram feed.

Well hot damn, I guess I am a boss woman! (At least I try to be on most days.) Thankfully I surround myself with other boss women, and men for that matter.   I recently found out that a woman said some nasty things about me. Not the good Nasty, the bad kind. And she is now on my list of women who I do not want to be associated with.  Unless she changes directions and can support women as a whole and not tear them down.  If she does this, then I will make space for her at my table, but until then, I'm not holding up dinner for her. 

The truth is, we all have talents, some people hide them (lame) others put them out into the universe.  If they make you happy, then it can only be right. You may paint or do pottery, do you like it? Good. Nobody else needs to.
My dad is a phenomenal artist, and won't sell his art. Rather, he gifts it to people because nobody is the boss of his talent.
Just remember what a wise 6-year-old said during his sock resistance, next time you doubt yourself.

Nobody is the boss of your talent.