_____

“You can make anything by writing.” ― C.S. Lewis

Posts for ABOUT ME Category

Sehnsucht.

[sehnsucht]

I am going on a journey.

I’m taking a trip back in time. I am packing for me, my husband, and our toddler. We are loading up the car, and we are traveling back to a time and place when things were simpler – or at least seemed that way. I am thirty years old, and in a week, I will be thirty-one; but for this one trip, I get to go back and live in the past – be myself at 8 and 11 and 14 and 21. The past whispers to me, as we settle in the car and get on the road, following the lane markers up the interstate on this drive I have made a thousand times before. I feel all those memories, all the laughter and the mistakes and and the misunderstandings, brushing against me like the wind. Our history can be such a palpable place, just stepping foot in a building can bring back this oppressive feeling of presence, of a time gone by, of people who were once here, once important to us, and now are gone.

| | | | |

Talking about family is difficult for me.

When I was younger, I thought my family was perfect. Spunky and a little loud and a little odd, but in all the best ways. When I was older, teenage years, early twenties, I thought my family was unconventional, maybe dysfunctional; but all the better for it.

In my mid-twenties, I thought the very existence of my family would crack me apart, from the inside, a great splintering, a great shattering. I wasn’t supposed to talk about it much, then, and I’m not really supposed to talk about it much now, for convention’s sake, for manners’ sake. So I don’t.

At thirty, I have decided family are the people we choose to be close to us, the people who may not always be related by blood, but have proven they will cherish us, and protect us. My chosen family is no less holy and divine simply because we are all friends who grew up in complicated families, with loss, with disappointment, with hurt and battered feelings. We are closer for it, because we know what it means to lose the familial ties, those traditional roles. We know what it is to be envious of a family whole, with two parents and siblings who get along, and grandparents and aunties and uncles who treasure your precious self, just as you are. We try to be that, for each other.

| | | | |

We are traveling to Indiana, because my dad’s mother, my grandma, has passed away.

It is difficult. All of it is difficult, layer upon layer of emotion that has weighed heavily on me for a week, for two. Now that the news has come, and the very moment of her death has passed, I am trying to unravel this knot. I am following the little cords of emotions in my heart to see where they lead, what memories they dredge up.

It is difficult because my grandma had been very ill for a long time; one of those sad and slow degenerations that seem to take far too long, torturing her as she lost her strength and her memory, as this once robust and energetic woman became frail and uncertain. For a year or two now, it has seemed like anytime really, as she broke bones from falls, and had hospital stays, and got worse and worse but still stayed with us. For the last month, it has been anytime now, for the last week. Last Friday, she wasn’t supposed to survive the weekend, but she held on until Tuesday night. She was always made of very tough stuff, my grandmother.

It is difficult, because I have not seen or talked to my grandma on this side of the family much, for the last few years. Some of that was accidental, the very real limits of distance and circumstance, the demands of a day-to-day existence.

Some of that was intentional, and it feels rotten to admit that. In that time when I felt my family would splinter me apart, I lost all understanding of myself. In that time when the villains in my life were blood-related, I lost who I was, and I had to dig very deep to find my roots and get grounded again. I had to work very hard – for a long time – for years – I am still working on it – to find myself again, and protect myself so I could never get that lost again. And in that time, anyone who was a a supporter to one of those people who hurt me felt dangerous. Anyone who defended them felt dangerous. Anyone who tried to explain to me why I was wrong to feel my own feelings, to own my own damage, was dangerous. I put distance between me and honestly quite a lot of people, because otherwise I could not make it through a day. In time, I worked on rebuilding some – some – of those relationships – but I did not rebuild all of them. By the time my head was far enough above water that I could breathe and tread water again, my grandmother had degenerated so much that she barely remembered who I was, had only a vague understanding.

But still, I sent her Christmas cards, and occasionally letters. I tried to call on her birthday. Even if she did not remember exactly who I was, I was told she smiled so big, when she heard my voice. It was not enough, and never do I feel that more acutely than in the first days after her passing. But still – I did what I could. She always flickered through my mind on holidays, her birthday – all I can say is that I did my best to remember her, to honor her in whatever small way I could.

It is difficult, because I feel regret, I feel guilt – and yet also, I feel like I did what I had to do. I feel like I do not have to justify the actions I took to protect myself, even though I feel compelled to. I feel like a person who does not have the empathy to understand why I did what I did will never understand, no matter how long I try to explain. I feel like a person who does not believe how shattered I felt those few years does not know my true heart, or care about it, and so I should not waste time on them.

But now my grandmother has passed and we are driving up to Indiana, and I feel weird. Sick, even. It seems like when a death is expected, a long time coming, we think we’ll feel more numbed to it – and I do, I do feel numbed. The loss does not feel as raw as it might have. But I have this heavy feeling in my chest, and a squiggling feeling in my tummy. My eyes are heavy and tired, even though I’ve had coffee. I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my ear. I can see her smoking a cigarette at her glass table on her brick patio. She is with me, and I can’t stop thinking about her.

| | | | |

The drive up to Indiana is painfully familiar. We made this drive, so often, when I was a child, when my parents were still married. In my early years, we spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas at my grandparents’ house in Indiana, large chunks of the summer. In middle school, early high school, we made this drive every other weekend – for years. Four and a half hours there on Friday night, after my sisters and I were out of school, after my mother was done with work. Four and half hours back, Sunday afternoon so we were home in time to get ready for school the next morning. It was exhausting for my sisters and me; I cannot imagine the exhaustion my mother felt, packing us all up, hauling us into the car, driving us that far, and back, and there and back again in the same weekend – all after working all week, supporting us on her single mother’s salary.

Two hours up to Henderson, the exchange point, where we met in a ratty old Burger King that still gives me anxiety if I step foot inside it, or in better weather, at James Audubon State Park, where we could at least stretch our legs and wander around the grounds, before we climbed into the next car and made the second half of the drive, two and a half more hours.

The Kentucky half of the drive is quick, all highways, speeding through trees and hills, the occasional town lined up against the Interstate, just off an exit. The Indiana half, when I was younger, was my favorite even though it was longer – we drove through so many little towns, Petersburg and Shoals and Loogootee. I made up stories for the people who lived there, imagined attending that high school, going to dance at that studio we passed. Now, I-69 connects all the way from Evansville to Bloomington, now the drive is stream-lined, and efficient as it wasn’t before. As we drive, I do not have any familiar landmarks to help me judge the distance, it is all naked trees and grey sky – we shoot along the highway and it is the same, it is the same, it is the same, until – suddenly – we are there.

I am nervous. I am nervous to see everyone. I am nervous to step foot in what was once my grandparents’ home and what became my grandmother’s home after my grandpa died, years ago. I know as soon as I walk in, another wave of memory will wash over me and overwhelm me, from the garage to the kitchen to the living room where we used to laugh about how all the paintings hang so low, so much lower than other houses’ – because all of us were so short, and that seemed the normal height. I know it is not just my grandmother I will miss when I walk in – it will be that time before, when my heart was lighter and freer, when I did not carry so much cynicism and judgment. I will want to be that little girl again, who saw this home as a vacation, who came in to a fridge full of caffeine-free Coke and our favorite pickles, who played whiffle ball with my dad and uncle and cousins and sisters in the back field, who played with all of Grandma’s little knickknacks on the windowsills, and listened to her stories for each and every one.

I am nervous to see any family that will be there. I am afraid they will tell me they are disappointed in me for not being there more often, for not calling more often. For not helping as much as I should have, when the times were hardest and they carried the load. I know how it feels, to be on the other side, to be the in-town family dealing with an aging and ailing relative while the rest of the family is spread out all over the country, distanced from the legwork of the day-to-day care. In the same week my paternal grandmother passes, my maternal grandmother is taken to the ER, and then admitted. It seems a week where the bonds of family are tight and pressing in on me. I know how it feels to be the group in the trenches, watching my grandma in Kentucky’s pale face as machines beep and whir, helping her into a new hospital gown and putting chapstick on her lips, lifting her glass of water to her mouth. I don’t know if I can explain my choices, I don’t know that I should have to. But I know the load my Indiana family carried, when my sisters and I were not there, when we were not the ones shouldering the heavy burden that was my grandmother’s health deteriorating.

I am nervous to see my father, with whom I have barely spoken in the last year. Our relationship has been fraught for years upon years. There was a time, when I was very young, that our relationship was simpler. A time when I was a daddy’s girl and raced to see him. That feels a very long time ago. For most of my adult years, our relationship has been, at best – at best – problematic. This man feels like a stranger to me, and has for years. I am seeing him, because his mother has just died, because it seems like the right thing to do.

Everything about this trip scares me, and yet I feel so compelled to make the journey that I cannot stop myself.

| | | | |

When we are younger, our childhoods seem normal simply because we lack relativity, we lack perspective. We know nothing else other than our own experience, so why should anything seem unusual? The lens of time sharpens our view, as we grow older and gain maturity, we’re able to see what we could not see before.

Many of my memories from my childhood in Indiana are happy.

In summer, we – my grandma, my sisters, my cousin and I – we would pack our bags and walk up the tar-patched road, through the duplexes and the tennis courts to the neighborhood pool, where my grandma loved nothing more than to teach all of us how to swim. My younger sister and I paddled from edge to edge, daring to go into the deep-end, while my older sister and my older cousin sunned themselves on the lounge chairs. And home, later on, my grandma kept a counter full of treats for her own sweet tooth. I sat in a tall bar stool at the counter, spinning and spinning and spinning until she told me she’d make me stand on my head in the corner if I didn’t listen to her and stop spinning.

I remember driving around Bloomington with my grandma in her car, my younger sister in the backseat, and me in the front. So often, Grandma drove us around town, because my father was – somewhere, somewhere else – and so often she would tell me stories. My favorite has always been about her two sisters and her, with their three trees in their backyard, an apple tree, a pear tree, a cherry tree. Each tree was special to one sister. We would run out to our trees, and call to each other, my grandma would tell me, steering carefully through curving roads, Calling Sister Cherry Tree, calling Sister Cherry Tree. She told me stories about taking care of her entire family, her father and all of her siblings, from such a young age, after her mother died. She was sixteen, and she told me about all the times she messed up dinner, because she didn’t know how to cook yet. About how her father was stern, a hard worker, but she knew he loved her.

She told me stories about music, about her professor at the IU school of music who would tease her by giving her the wrong sized bow when she was learning a string instrument. She always loved music, it is one of the things I remember most about her besides swimming. She had a little electronic keyboard she used play hymns on, hitting the organ setting and explaining the chords to anyone who might be listening, at the boozy Christmas Eve parties she hosted for years. Silent Night was her favorite hymn, and we always sang it on Christmas Eve. The adults were usually drunk, but I took it very seriously. Just the pretty singers now, my grandma would say, and the adults would collapse into chagrined laughter, break into a chorus of Who Let the Dogs Out while I tried to sing along with my grandmother. She loved music so dearly, and in one of my last visits to her, while she still knew who I was, I managed to fix her CD player so it could play her CDs, all choral arrangements from her childhood. Oh, how she clapped her hands together and smiled.

Not all of my memories are happy. Many of them aren’t. Many of them, I didn’t realize there was something  off about them, until years later, until I could see them through an adult’s eyes. So many memories seem fine and normal because it was normal, at the time. Because I was a child, and I didn’t know better. Other memories made me feel slightly ill and uncomfortable at the time they were happening, and I didn’t understand why, then. I do now.

It is hard to place an Indiana memory where someone was not drinking. Where most adults were not drinking, and heavily, and for long periods of time. All those Christmas Eve parties seemed so glamorous, when I was kid, when I just thought everyone was laughing and laughing louder because it was Christmas, and why wouldn’t you be that excited? I remember taking a sip from a red Solo cup that I thought was my punch, and then spitting it out in horror as it burned my mouth, my throat – all the adults around me laughing, because I’d grabbed my grandpa’s bourbon by mistake. I remember the older cousins getting the younger cousins drunk, because it was funny; my older sister, at 14, puking outside on the blacktop driveway. At least, when I was younger, 7 or 8, my mother was there, keeping an eye on things. She would shepherd my younger sister and I into one of the side bedrooms and close the door, try and get us to sleep over the noise and the racket and the excitement of Santa Claus coming.

But as we got older, after my parents divorced, she wasn’t there. There wasn’t really anyone to run interference. My little sister and I were younger, significantly younger than anyone else around, even my older sister. Maybe I should have been the one to run interference, protect my little sister better, and maybe I would have if the whole situation didn’t seem so normal, so perpetual. I lacked perspective, and we went along with whatever happened – with increasing discomfort, aping what had become for us the social norms, unsure and uncertain we could say anything that could make much of any difference.

So often we were alone, my little sister and I. So often we were left at home in one residence or another, the house on Grimes Street where we used to sit out back on the second-floor roof, or the little house way out in the country where at least we could rove through the fields, and for the longest stretch of time, in the condo out at the lake. We ate Doritos and drank Cokes until our teeth nearly rotted out of our heads, and we sat alone for hours and hours, weekend after weekend, watching Nickelodeon and SNL reruns and this one tired NSYNC concert on VHS, over and over and over again. We sat bored, and we quarreled, because we had nothing else to do, because we were stuck at home again while everyone else was out. We drove four and a half hours to sit on a couch at night, alone, unsupervised, until even we, pre-teens and teenagers, knew we ought to just go to bed.

But just as often – we weren’t left at home. So often, we were dragged out to whatever party just so my dad and older sister didn’t have stay at home with us. Some of those memories are the ones that seemed fun, then – because it was fun, mischievous, to be present at these parties that our mother would have never let us attend, to be sneaky and play along with my father’s charisma, and his conviction it was all fine. If our father, our parent, thought it was fine, why wouldn’t it be? There were summers my sister and I spent a week at the golf course pool, swimming and splashing and eating ribs and sucking BBQ sauce off our fingers, that never-ending supply of Coke; while the grown-ups – not just my father and my sister, but my uncle, my cousin, their friends we saw so often we thought they’d become our friends too – clustered around the bar, drinking, getting rowdier as the hours passed from afternoon into evening – before they all adjourned to someone’s house to continue the party. I thought it was cool, then – the way everyone else at the pool gazed over at our posse, our family, watching us. I thought we were the funny ones, the cool ones – the ones flouting convention, making our own fun.

But for every memory that seemed fun at the time – there are the ones where I felt awkward, confused, uncomfortable in my own skin. So many parties, later on, after my older sister moved up to Bloomington and started school, where even she wasn’t there. Parties that my younger sister and I were dragged along to, the only females in a crowd of drinking middle-aged men, football on the TV and beer and liquor on the counter. So many parties all we wanted to do was go home, because it felt weird, hearing the men yell at the screen and make crude jokes and talk about women as if they were objects. It felt weird to be young women coming into flower, when this was how men talked about women – and so we sat silent, pretended we were not there, that we were not girls becoming women, just so we wouldn’t take notice. So many parties where we just sat in the corner and took turns playing Snake on my dad’s phone because it was the only entertainment we had.

How many times did we get in the car with him when he had been drinking? Drinking, and not just a little. Not just a glass of wine or two, or a couple beers. How many times did I know, or understand that was what was happening? Everything is foggy, so often I can’t bring it into sharp focus. So many things I blotted out because speaking up seemed wrong, but letting the evening run its course as it seemed set to do seemed wrong too. How many times did we ride in the car with him and feel scared? I have this one terrifying, one oddly specific memory among all the fog: a night with snow on the ground, of the car slipping off the road under my father’s hand, my sister and I waiting white-knuckled but silent for him to correct it. I felt ill, near to puking, but somehow he saved it, and we made it home. Another night where finally – finally – my older sister and father came home, and my father was loud at the parking lot at the top of the hill, and I came out to greet him and watched him going tumbling headfirst down the hill. How I raced to meet him, dust the mulch and leaves off his clothes, steer him more carefully inside. Put him to bed like he was the child and I was the parent. How many times did my younger sister and I just shut ourselves in a room with the TV on, rather than face what happened outside the closed doors.

I suppose I ought to feel lucky, because throughout all of it, there was love. We were not beaten or hit. We never actually wrecked. We had food, and a roof over our heads. We laughed, and here and there we went on adventures, at least when we were younger and less self-sufficient. As the years passed and we became older, more and more of those nights were on the balcony of the condo, or my uncle’s garage. More and more nights where everyone snuck off to the bathroom to do something my younger sister and I were supposed to ignore if we saw. Literally, I remember someone saying that. But we were loved, and told that often, and for that, we are supposed to feel grateful. We are supposed to forget how often we felt, at best, ignored, a burden that gotten in the way of partying, of the fun times that happened full-swing when we were not there to interrupt; and at worst, we felt scared, uncomfortable, unable to speak up and ask for something different.

Most of these bad Indiana memories are not my grandmother’s fault, and if there was anyone who was careful and attentive with us in our visits up there, it was her. But she never stopped us from getting in the car and riding with someone who had been drinking. She never stopped the glass from being refilled, and if we were settled in one place, she drank right along with the rest of them. Everyone loved to laugh and tease her about how she’d say, we are not getting drunk! – even as she topped off someone’s wine glass.

It is hard to know what to feel, as I comb over all of these memories, the good and the bad, in the days following my grandma’s death. I know that I loved her. I know that she loved me. I know that even as she told me I needed to lose weight, even at a healthy weight, over and over again until I hated to exist in my own skin – that she did it out of love, because she cared about me.

It is hard to know how to feel, and I have to keep reminding myself there is no wrong way to feel. That all my emotions, good and bad, are valid. That I can love my grandma and her memory, that I can love the times I was happy and oblivious with my family in Indiana, and I can still feel scared and confused and angry about all those years. There is no right answer, there is no winning answer. There is only what happened, in the past, and what I choose to do with my own future.

| | | | | |

In the end, the visit itself is mostly just underwhelming.

Everyone there is the same, almost predictable, just older. We are all of us careful, tentative. As if we are all aware of the distance, the time apart, the phone calls missed and the texts ignored. As if we are all aware of who is not there, willingly and unwillingly. We are all of us carefully polite and friendly. There is wine, of course, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some.

My daughter is there, and she is an almost eerie copy of myself, as a child. Our eyes are the same, our lips. She is fair-haired and rosy-cheeked, as I was. The echoes of my girlhood swirl around the house, she plays with the bear-shaped paperweight on an end table, as I did, she oos at the vase of periwinkle flowers collecting dust on the window sill, as I did. It is impossible not to compare, to remember, to see myself in her capering around the house, making the adults laugh.

She is a balm, an icebreaker for all of us. She is a dear and precious child, and my father sees that, as does my uncle, my cousin. Children have a way of breaking down barriers, and I am grateful to have her as a buffer. I am grateful to be an adult, in charge of my own child and my own marriage, to make my own decisions and be able to decide when it is time to leave, and not be second-guessed.

We do not ever have any difficult conversations. We come close, once or twice, but we keep the gatherings safe. Gentle. And perhaps that is for the best. It is, I think, what my grandma would have wanted. I do not know the next time I will see my father, or my uncle, or my cousin. I do not know that I will ever set foot inside this little duplex at the dead-end again. I watch my second cousin race through that back field under a dim grey sky, and my daughter toddles after, desperate to be like one of the big girls. I run my hands over stained-glass window hangings, I take home a painting that has always hung in my grandmother’s dining room, for as long as I can remember – a single candle in a dark window. I peer intently at black and white photos, then grainy color photos, more recent prints I know I myself had sent to this address. I feel years and years of history that I never asked about being lost to me now. I cling to the few stories I know, that I held close to my heart because I knew one day they would be important, and that day is today.

On our final day there, it is sleeting. My daughter has a cough and swollen eyes. She has been chipper and hardy, but now she is exhausted, coming down with something. We get on the road to beat the worst of the winter storm. We do not even go inside for one last goodbye, I bid my father farewell in the driveway under freezing rain.

We drive home, all those miles of highway again, and my daughter sleeps. I am quiet. My husband concentrates on the slippery road. I feel old, and at peace. I feel ancient, and like I have closed the chapter on a book I have been waiting a long time to finish.

| | | | |

At home, I think, I am at least grateful my grandmother met the man who would become my husband. She adored him, on the visits we managed up there, because he cooked for her.

I wish she could have met my daughter. I wish she could have been in good health and sound mind while my daughter existed in the world. I wish she could have taught my daughter 1-2-3, I think I’ll have a cup of tea, dipping under water in the pool to learn how to blow bubbles out her nose – the first step in learning to swim that my sisters and my cousins and I all learned. I wish she could have put out bird seed and watched the squirrels steal it with my daughter from her living room window. I wish my daughter could have known the Christmas mornings from my own childhood, when we came out and saw Grandma’s tree stuffed with presents, the entire family assembling groggily and hungover, or else ecstatic that Santa came, the rotation of present-opening around the room that we ape still today.

At home, I hear from my father the day after we get home, and then a week later, the day after my birthday. I respond politely both times. I know that I have opened a door, making this trip up there, and it seems impolite to slam it shut so soon.

I wait. After all this time, all these years of the same cycle — I still fall for it. I expect to hear from him, again. I expect conversations to be attempted, and I think, perhaps this time I will answer, again. I convince myself to be the bearer of goodwill, yet again. I convince myself it would be worth it, to try. I tell myself, life is so short — hadn’t we just learned that — and you are not so young any more. One day slides into the next. Weeks go by, another month, and I realize I have not heard from my father, at all, since the day after my birthday. I realize, yet again, I thought things would be different, and they weren’t. Once again, I offered an olive branch, and just when I thought he took it, he dropped it. I expect this to hurt, as it has so many times before.

It doesn’t hurt. Instead, I feel nothing.

Continue Reading

On Turning Thirty.

ABOUT ME, Birthday - Emily - March 30, 2017

The thing about turning thirty is – we’re supposed to be scared of it.

Remember that Friends episode? The One Where They All Turn 30? Actual tears at the prospect of hitting that third decade – that was my idea of what turning 30 meant in our society, all the years I was growing up. We were supposed to dread turning 30, it was supposed to be this sort of Farewell to Youth tragedy.

And I sure don’t feel that. Not a bit.

My twenties were hard. For most of us: our twenties were hard – even if some of us don’t want to admit it. Your twenties are about learning how to be adult. We worked so hard, in our teenage years, to become an adult, and hitting 20, 21 – we thought we made it. Then we started to realize: holy shit, being an adult is teeeeerrible. And then – we spend the whole rest of our twenties having some sort of nervous breakdown, as we adjust to adulting, over and over again.

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh — but when we were younger, our twenties were painted as this magical time when we would be youthful and full of energy. Our twenties would be the time we had it all, when that dream life everyone expects would be so easily achievable. Our lives were going to be so adventurous and fun, and finally, we would have that freedom we’d craved all the years before. We were all going to find our perfect job, right? Straight out of college – or at least a job in our field, with that potential to move upward. We were all gonna find the love of our lives, right? Get married, right? Maybe eventually have a baby, yes?  We were going to have that cute little starter house, and a dog that curled up by the fireplace. Or else, we were going to travel the world, experience everything, see everything, taste and smell and hear everything. We would go out and have big times with our friends on the weekends, throw cool parties, go to shows, work on our cars, network and socialize, enjoy this freedom and this freshness before we all inevitably passed into Old Age by the time we hit thirty.

You know what’s left out of that picture? Learning how to do your taxes, or how insurance actually works. Student loans – those were left out of that twenties ideal, BIG time. I think everyone I know had their twenties monopolized by student loans, and how to pay them off, and how to live the life they wanted while working a job they hated in order to get money to pay off those damn student loans from that degree they worked so hard for that was supposed to get them that dream job. Car payments – those were left out of that ideal twenties experience too, and medical bills, and negotiating a raise and what the hell a 401k is and aren’t we seriously too young to be worrying about life insurance??

You know what else was left out? Emotional trauma. Losing loved ones to fatal diseases. Learning to recognize abusive relationships, romantic or platonic, and figuring out how to get out of them, how to recover. Break-ups in general – break-ups with boyfriends or girlfriends, break-up with friends who just weren’t good for you. Realizing that family isn’t perfect just because it’s family. Learning which problematic relationships you can work with, and which are just making your life too hard, too painful. Loss – loss was left out of the twenties ideal. All kinds of loss; loss of innocence, loss of that very ideal we were taught to expect. Loss of love, loss of trust, loss of people and pets and all those tiny little hurts that build up to one big ball of pain that we carry around every day for the rest of our lives.

So – our twenties ain’t easy. Our twenties, to me, are all about learning lessons. Sure, we never stop learning lessons, our entire lives – and I think that’s the biggest lesson of our twenties. This is adulthood, kids, and it’s not going to change. Everything that smashed into us at 23, 26, 28 – none of that’s going anywhere. There’s no magical off-switch that makes the hurts and the challenges and the exhaustion go away, stop coming – there’s no magic Harry Potter spell we get to stay to make wave after wave of life stop crashing over us.

That’s where I stand, at the cusp of my thirties. Understanding that life isn’t easy, for anyone, and that’s normal. If anything, I stand grateful at the cusp of my thirties, because my twenties taught me that, and my twenties taught me resilience, versatility, hope even in the face of despair. My twenties gave me the tools to deal with my thirties, and my forties, and however many decades come after.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Wrestling.

This week, I have been struggling with guilt.

Guilt is an emotion I’ve struggled with for years, one that I wish I could let go of and move on from.

I always worry about being enough. I want to be enough, for myself, for everyone around me, for everyone I love. For years, I have wrestled with being a good enough daughter, a good enough sister, a good enough wife or coworker or friend. A good enough writer or dancer or artist. Brave enough, confident enough.

We always tell ourselves that we don’t care about what other people think — and sometimes, we really don’t, and sometimes, we really do. And that’s where, I think, guilt comes in. I struggle with free time, with down time, with self care time. I work hard all through out the week to get enough done so that by Saturday afternoon or Sunday, I can take a nap, and then…that scheduled time comes around and I can’t sleep because I’m guilty thinking about all the things I ought to be doing. The housework I ought to be completing, the baby prep I ought to be doing. Did I exercise enough this week, did I food prep for the week ahead, am I prepared for dance class and projects I need to complete this week? I end up wasting more time tossing and turning, talking myself out of getting up and working, only to finally fall into an exhausted sleep just a little bit before I have to get up.

Anxiety and guilt, I think, go hand in hand. The anxious mind does not rest, the anxious mind can’t be convinced, there is plenty of time and I am handling all my responsibilities in baby steps, a little each day. The anxious mind is prone to panic, the anxious mind thinks all times are NOW, all deadlines are now. The anxious mind convinces us that we will be a failure if we don’t exhaust ourselves doing 100 million little things right this instant. If we are practiced in handling anxiety, maybe we can remember to take the time to stop and talk to that anxious voice — you are okay. You are doing just fine. Let this go, there is nothing we can do about this worry in this moment. We will handle this when the appropriate time arrives, and that moment is not right now.

The anxious mind is persistent, though, and it can take a powerful resolve and a powerful determination to keep having that talk and keep fighting that fight.

My anxiety (in case you couldn’t tell) has been particularly bad this past week or so. And the weird thing is? I’m not really worried about anything in particular. There are times when we have a sense of dread and unease over a particular issue, and that sense of dread filters through every facet of our life and we feel it everywhere, at work or home or in relationships — but we know what the cause is. Times when we’re short on money and know we won’t be on top again until pay day in two weeks — and until then, we just have to endure. Times when we’re struggling with a particular relationship that seems to be troublesome at the moment, and we can’t stop thinking about that person until the issue is resolved. We might feel that anxiety always, but we know where it’s coming from.

I can’t say that that is necessarily my problem right now. I’m blissfully happy, 70% of the time. Spring is here, the pear trees are blooming and the Japanese Magnolias are blooming, and the forsythia glows yellow, and we get these beautiful days of sunshine and blue skies. I’m wearing sandals pretty much all the time now, a couple times I’ve managed a dress. This is my favourite time of year, and I’ve been amazed by how much my mood has improved from the earliest part of the year. I love going on long walks around the neighborhood with Shaun after work, I love meeting friends for lunch or little get togethers, I love planning outings to the park or the homeplace for the kids. I love having packages come in the mail, and putting together  our cosleeper bassinet or her shelves with baskets for all her little clothes and socks. I love sitting outside with Shaun while he grills us a healthy dinner, I love feeling my sweet baby kick me any time of day, I love snuggling up against Shaun on the couch in the evening and having him kiss my hair and rub my belly, trying to feel the baby kick on the outside.

Nothing in particular is bothering me, and yet my anxiety seems to be on a hair trigger, and any little thing can set me off. I miss a call from a loved one, someone at work says something I don’t agree with, Shaun has to go to work, I indulge in eating something other than vegetables and lean protein, the baby hasn’t kicked in a couple hours, I decide I want to stay home and have some quiet time rather than accept an invitation somewhere. BAM, there I am. Heart pounding, mind busy worrying if my loved one thinks I hate them/if I will keep the house clean enough/if I’m not being social enough/if I’m not being healthy enough/if everything is OK with baby girl.

I think with anxiety, and the guilt that follows; at first, it seems we really only have to options: wallow, or power through.

Wallow usually seems like the easier option — I cannot get out of bed, I cannot put on clean clothes, I cannot do the little things that would make me feel better. We have to lie here, on the couch, binge watching a show we don’t even like while we think about how bad we feel, how behind we are, how much we have to do. The mental weight of all these worries crushes us, and we are too heavy, too exhausted to get up and deal with them.

More often than wallowing, I find myself on the alternate path — powering through. And while it might seem like the better option, I’ve found it can be just as harmful to my emotional state in the long run. Sure, on the surface, it seems like the better route — I force myself to get up, I force myself to clean, to correspond, to be social, to take a walk and do some crunches, to food prep. I visit people even when I’m tired, I offer to take on projects I don’t want to — I strive to be that Perfect, Impossible Woman I still somehow believe I can be. I seek to prove to myself that perfection is possible, when it isn’t. And the thing is? After I’ve exhausted myself, and exhausted every possible task I could set before myself in order to validate that I’m an OK employee/daughter/wife/sister/mother-to-be — I’ve still not dealt with the anxiety. I push myself, I drive myself forward, in fear of failing, in fear of disappointing myself yet again. I arrive at those scheduled rest periods at the end of the day or the end of the week — and I still cannot deal with myself, I still cannot still my unquiet mind, and I find myself no better off than if I had stayed on the couch and wallowed.

The truth is — sometimes we have to just stop and stare Anxiety and Guilt in the face. I see you. Hiding from anxiety, whether through inaction or over-action, doesn’t solve anything. In ignoring it, in wishing that an anxious mind were not the reality we are saddled with — we allow it to grow and fester. We allow it to take over our brains and take control. We allow it to seep into every moment and every step of the day — and sometimes, we don’t even realize it. Sometimes, we accept these frantic, obsessive thoughts as normal — I‘m just busy. I’ve just got a lot on my plate right now. We make excuses, and we keep getting wound up tighter and tighter.

I sometimes wish I had a life coach to be with me constantly, always validating me and reminding me I’m OK and doing a good job. Then I remember that life coach is me.

When faced with anxious periods, we forget we can be the ones to stay stop. We don’t want to admit that we’re anxious or that this sick part of our brains has such a strong hold of us. But today, as I kept crying after Shaun left for work, as I kept making lists of Things I Had to Get Done Today on Sunday, my Day of Rest — I realized I wasn’t dealing with my anxiety, I was avoiding it.

Sometimes, the only thing that works is being that life coach for ourselves. Stopping, and sitting still. Turning off the TV and putting down the phone. Not hopping in the car and speeding off to buy something to distract us, or creating a social environment to buoy us through for another hour. Cultivating stillness. Cultivating quiet and calm. Sitting still and really talking to ourselves, telling ourselves, I am doing OK. I am working hard. Forcing ourselves to see our actual reality, and not the version our anxiety would have us believe to be true. Reminding ourselves that perfection isn’t possible — that we could clean every moment of every day and the hamper would still fill up and the fridge would eventually empty, because that’s how life works. Reminding ourselves that we cannot be everything for everyone, all of the time. Reminding ourselves that we have limits, and that we are only human. Reminding ourselves that if we let ourselves become obsessed with an idealistic version of ourselves, and only work towards that — then we will be missing a huge part of life, the most important part — the actual living.

Anxiety makes us fearful, and being fearful makes us forget what joy feels like. If we cannot stop and look at the little lives we’ve built, these beautiful, tender lives that we are lucky enough to be living, we forget our joyful selves, our true selves.

If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely an anxious person. You’re more than likely someone who knows what it feels like to let your brain drive itself out of control — and what I want to say to you right now is you are doing fine. It’s hard to trust your gut when your gut is currently set to Panic Mode, but please listen to me when I say — it’s OK to believe that you are doing good enough. It’s OK to believe that you are doing the best you can right now — because you are. It’s OK for you to take a nap, it’s OK for you to get a milkshake, it’s OK not to listen to other people’s advice, it’s OK to do things the way you want to do them. It is OK for you to live your life the way you want to, and it’s OK not to make anyone else’s priorities yours. It’s OK to tune out the world and tune out Facebook and Instagram and stop worrying about whether your house is decorated as nicely or if you can run a single mile, let alone five. It’s OK if you fed your kids chicken nuggets and applesauce because they won’t eat anything else. It’s OK if you think high heels are stupid and you’d rather not wear them for anything less than a wedding. It’s OK to let that phone call go to voice mail and call them back later when you’re feeling calmer.

Let’s try and help each other remember — we don’t have to wait until we feel terrible. We don’t  have to wait until the crushing worry is so bad we can barely function. Let’s help each other remember to stop, to breath, to give ourselves permission to be whole and human and imperfect, and therefore, perfect, just as we already are.

 

Continue Reading

Adjusting to Expecting.

ABOUT ME, Baby Weeks, Emi, First Trimester, Laureny, Life, Pregnancy, Shaun - Emily - January 7, 2016

This is a very honest, and therefore, very vulnerable post.

I always imagined that when I got pregnant, all my feelings and words would just burst forth from me, perfectly, without effort. I thought I would be Mary with her Magnificat, that all my emotions would be crystal clear and lovely and poetic. It was a post that I looked forward to writing, that I dreamed about actually having the opportunity to write. After another disappointing month when I wasn’t pregnant, as I worked through my feelings, I thought about how I would phrase this phase of our journey. I tried to see every minute of our time waiting as important, and linked to the whole grand experience of being pregnant and giving birth.

Turns out – from the instant I found out I was pregnant, I felt – for once in my life – kind of speechless. I wanted to write this post. I thought about it, a lot; from day one of actually knowing. And yet, I couldn’t write it. I couldn’t fathom where to begin, what words to peck out. Even as a couple weeks passed and things became more concrete, as we gathered more experiences and knowledge – I still didn’t feel like I was quite ready, like I quite understood what I was feeling. I sat down at the computer once or twice, with the intention of at least starting this post – and I couldn’t quite. I’ve actually written huge chunks of this post, two or three times, and always rejected them. Deleted it all, and only kept these first two paragraphs. Everything else didn’t quite hit the right note, they didn’t quite capture the emotions — or else they just seemed fake, forced.

The first thing I need to tell you about finding out we were pregnant is that I completely and absolutely did not expect it.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Two Years, Six Years.

My love, my husband, my boy —

I’m sitting here, writing this a few weeks early. The way life has been going lately, I know if I don’t take advantage of a few still moments to write, I might not have time for it later.

Evening is just starting to settle in, the light pouring in the big windows in the den is sharpening, taking on that amber hue that lets me know the sunshine is fleeting. Our fur baby, your kitty-daughter is snoozing on top of a stack of our stuff, some T-shirts, a few scraps of paper — because why wouldn’t she stake her claim on all of our stuff, mark us as hers?

You’re at work, and I miss you. It feels like we haven’t seen a lot of each other lately, although I’m proud of how we work to make time for each other, and each other alone. Maybe it’s just grabbing lunch in between both of our work shifts, maybe it’s the five minutes we nestle together in bed before I drift off. Maybe it’s those fifteen minutes on the couch as we’re winding down from the day — my favourite time of day, when I snuggle into your chest and you wrap your arms around me, scoot lower in the couch so you become my body pillow. How you pet my hair, drop kisses on my forehead. No matter how hard either of our days were, no matter how stressed or drained we feel — those fifteen minutes seem to cure it all, or at least make the pain and the exhaustion fade long enough to get up and do it all again, the next morning.

So, I’m writing this in the few quiet minutes I have, because our anniversary is in two weeks. When the actual day comes, we’ll be in Florida, our first vacation since our honeymoon, hopefully riding horses or walking down to Blackwater River. I hope we are holding hands, I hope we are laughing, I hope we are breathing easy.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading