I currently have a huge protruding cyst of acne on my right upper eyelid. It just so happens that this week I have also been reading Anne Lamott's Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. It turns out these two things go well together, because it helps me feel like it is completely appropriate for me to metaphorically shake my fist at the heavens over the existence of this stupid disfiguring yet completely benign lump even while still living this amazingly blessedly wonderful life, populated by all of this beauty and all of these people I love who love me.
See, for example, from the same book: "Being human can be so dispiriting. It is a real stretch for me a lot of the time." And also: "I started skiing only six years ago, and tend to have balance and steering issues. I fall fairly often, and can't get up, but I enjoy the part between the spills, humiliation, and abject despair - sort of like real life."
This sums up a lot of how I've been feeling lately. I am really enjoying the parts between the spills, humiliation, and abject despair! Those parts include my sweet daughters (most of the time; let's be real), my husband (an even higher percentage of the time!), my mom & dad & stepmom & brother & his kids. Those parts include the days, like today, when the sun in the bright blue sky reflects off the pure white snow. The times when Katie and I watch Gilmore Girls together (up to season 4 now) and read books together (we just finished James & the Giant Peach and just started Lois Lowry's The Giver). The times when Annabel comes into the kitchen and starts dancing her very own crazy dance, then holds out her hand to invite me to join in. The moment yesterday evening, when I was in the kitchen, after a difficult and draining day at work, and saw Geoff approaching the back (kitchen) door from our garage in the deepening twilight and thought "home" at the sight of his face. These things, and so many more, are so ridiculously, abundantly good and joyous that when they are filling me with joy it seems crazy that I have any complaints at all.
You will not be surprised to hear that I do. I mean, see above. Being human = dispiriting.
Last March, almost a year ago now, I showed Katie some of the blog/journal posts that I had written to her when she was very young, much too young to read them. Last March she was turning 10, and I thought that she might be old enough to appreciate what I had written, and I think that I was right. She looked up at me with an excited face and asked, "Are you still writing these now?" And when I said that I wasn't, she looked like she might cry. "I keep wanting to write," I told her. "Write!" she said. "I want you to!"
It has only taken about 11 months for me to sit down to do it.
Right now, I am 44 (and a half!) years old. I am about 60 pounds lighter than I was up to and including September of 2013, and - partially related to that - I seem to have become a bit of a runner. I ran an official 5K last summer, and for awhile I was regularly running 2-3 miles two to three times a week most weeks. I haven't run much since December or so, when the paths & sidewalks became covered with snow and ice, but I am signed up to run a half marathon at the beginning of May, and my official training begins next Monday, February 8th, so I am going to get back out there whether it's ice covered or not.
As of this summer, Geoff and I will have been together for 17 years, and last November we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. The years seem to be speeding along quickly, especially with respect to our children, who are now (almost) 11 (Katie, whose birthday is in 4 weeks), and 6 (and a half!) (Annabel) and in 5th and 1st grade, respectively. They are no longer very young children. They sleep through the night and dress themselves and get themselves snacks and sometimes do chores that we ask them to do. They are beautiful and intelligent and sometimes really obnoxious, and the other day I was thinking that while I still stand by my earlier disavowal of that notion (that I heard so often when pregnant with Katie) that parenthood "never gets any easier," I do think that possibly I am starting to know what people who said that might have actually meant, because while the day-to-day duties of parenting are so, so much easier than they used to be (since they sleep through the night, feed themselves & need no help going to the bathroom (they even wake up and make it to the toilet on time if they have to throw up in the night!), tell us what they want and what they're thinking and feeling, and spend most of each week day in school for almost 10 months out of the year), what's actually harder, for me, is knowing how to be a good parent. When they were little, even though I was exhausted by their neediness, I almost always felt like I was doing a good job as their mother - occasional issues with sleep training and potty training aside. And now, on a regular basis, I am not so sure. When do we stick to our guns no matter what? When do we give in based on logical & emotional arguments & negotiation tactics? When do we make exceptions for rules? Why can't they get along? How do I make them stop goofing off? Will the whining ever end? Why did I lose my temper and yell at them like that??! What kind of mother drops her child off at school in tears from being scolded? Is she going to be okay?
The other day I said to Geoff that I kind of wanted a new baby just so that I could feel, once again, that certainty that I knew that what I was doing was a good and right thing to do, even if all I was doing was just sitting in a rocking chair, snuggling that baby.
I am also very aware that having babies gave me a sense of life purpose that having grade school children does not. It was all-encompassing, taking care of them, and it was an exception in time to the rest of the rules of life. And now, life has settled down, and we are all moving forward - except, I often feel, for me.
There are huge, vast parts of my life that could hardly be going better, but when it comes to money and career, the last five or six years have been full of (not just financial, but also emotional) struggle, each year in many ways becoming more difficult than the last. And so, since I am missing fulfillment in that part of my life, I give it an extreme measure of importance. That's what you do, in order to properly punish yourself for the things you haven't done as well as you thought you should have, right?
I think sometimes about what I would like to have taught my children, when I look back at their childhoods. What can I teach them that will make their lives easier? How can I help them reach a point in their lives where they feel that their lives are successful ones, and that they are getting to spend their time (most of it, anyway) the way that they would like to spend it? What is my sagest advice?
On my saddest, worst days, I think that I don't know anything, that I have no wisdom to impart to them other than telling them something about not doing as I have done. But life has so many myriad pathways that only being able to tell them "don't do that one thing" seems so useless as to be completely meaningless. (We are so hard on ourselves, sometimes.)
Two days before Christmas I bought myself a bracelet at Creative Women of the World that has the word "hope" stamped on it, and during the past few weeks, in the aftermath of Christmas & New Year's, and in the doldrums of January & February in Indiana, I have been wearing it.
Anne Lamott says that "hope is not about proving anything. It's choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim bleak shit anyone can throw at us." So I have been hoping, and trying to let the love be the biggest, most important part of my life, instead of spending so much time focusing on the crap.
And so, Katie and Annabel, because today is a good day, I have some sage words for you, after all, and they go like this:
Trust in your own value. Trust that I love you. Trust that your family will love you no matter what. Trust that I am proud of you. Trust that I believe in you and will support you.Trust that you are the best judge of what and who will make you happy.
On the other hand, it is all right to change your mind about what you want and what makes you happy. It is ok to walk halfway down a path, realize that you are lost (or confused or bored), and decide to go back to the beginning or try to take a shortcut or decide to climb a tree or practice your dance moves or sit down and pitch a tent right there instead of continuing down the path at all.
I believe it is important to be honest, as often and as much as you can, especially with yourself. But I also believe it is even more important to be kind, especially to yourself. I believe it is important to allow yourself to be vulnerable, and I also believe that it's ok if that means that sometimes you end up getting wounded. I believe it is important to apologize when you have wounded someone else.
Notice the beauty in your life and be thankful for it. Do the best you can. Hope: dare to believe that love is bigger than all the grim bleak shit.
My love for you, my sweet beloved daughters, is bigger than all of that grim bleak shit; believe it.