January 6, 2017

Getting Real About 2016 and Looking Forward to 2017

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It’s a NEW YEAR! Oh man, you guys, I know I’m not the only one who is not sorry to see the backside of 2016, which is not something I normally feel. But, last year was a toughie. We lost several people we love, our family endured a traumatic event that shook our beliefs and courage to its core, which doesn’t take into account all the craziness in the world, and the fact that the 90s are back and no woman with hips looks good in oversized t-shirts.

There were times, this past year, when I thought I was going to fall apart. That what the world was asking of me was too much and I was actually held together with Scotch tape and not duct tape like I always hoped. That there was no way I could continue to be a good mom and wife and friend in the midst of all my pain and uncertainty. That the easiest thing would be to lay down and let the year wash away and pray I would find the strength to face the next one.

But, I discovered I’m made of tougher stuff that I thought. I didn’t crumble, but instead kept moving, albeit often clumsily and with less grace than I would have liked (and with more tears and yelling), but I kept getting up every day and taking care of my kids and life and family. I let myself feel overwhelmed and defeated and then dragged myself out of bed and got the kids to school and I’m proud of that.

I felt the terror that comes with discovering violence can happen to people you love but I didn’t cower in our house. I made myself stronger by joining a gym, bought myself some Mace, and forced myself back into the world because, as I learned, fear is a terrible guide. It acts like it wants to keep us safe, but in reality it keeps us small and I don’t plan on being small.

I found myself an amazing therapist who has helped me see the opportunities for growth and I’ve tried to use this past year as a catalyst for cleaning up my life. You know all those annoying undercurrents that bug you and you keep thinking you’ll take care of someday? This year I blew them up. I decided next year is not the year to get better at money, have better relationships, work on a stronger marriage, speak my mind, stop being co-depedent – IT’S RIGHT NOW. (Not annoying at all for the people in my life, ya know?)

As you can imagine, coming along for the ride this year has not been for the faint of heart. I’ve been annoying, dogmatic, dogged, emotional, and lost. But, and I hesitate saying this too loudly because I don’t want to jinx anything, it has also been remarkable.

For such a long time I’d been living a life of complacency where I acted as if I didn’t acknowledge things they couldn’t hurt me. The best example I can think of is I refused to put together an earthquake kit because I somehow believed that by doing so, and acknowledging the fact we live in a place where an earthquake is highly likely, we might bring one on. I realize how insane that sounds when it’s written down, but keeping your head in the sand is a very effective coping mechanism. 🙂 And, I did this with many relationships in my life, my finances, my health, my career. I acted like my kids when they close their eyes and think I can’t see them. Um, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there, it just means you’re not dealing with it.

The thing about life walking into your life and demanding to be dealt with is it’s hard to be complacent. Your hand is forced and you are faced with a decision – hide under the covers or woman up and deal with it. I’m not saying I didn’t build the occasional blanket fort but, for the most part, I’m doing the hard, dirty work of dealing with life. I’m facing relationships honestly and having hard conversations that have opened doors to easier times and deeper connections. I faced my money fears (how much do I love you, YNAB?!?!) and, while I still buy way too many shoes, I now know what I can afford and don’t feel guilty when I hit “Buy.” I’m recognizing patterns in my emotional life and with my depression and working to be pro-active rather than wishing I was somehow different. I’m seeing where I undermine myself and am working to put in place systems to prevent it.

In short, I’m a totally different, better person you all should strive to be.

KIDDING. I’m still a hot mess, and THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY. It’s weirdly stressful to act as if everything’s always rosy and pray that nothing bad will ever happen and worry whether or not you will be able to step up to life’s challenges. Instead it’s freeing to know that life is inherently messy and imperfect and I’m just going to do the best I can and sometimes that will look like I want and other times I’ll be hanging by my fingernails, screaming for help.

Because, here’s the other thing I learned last year – I am not alone. Oh sure, I like to think I’m self-sufficient cowgirl who can move dressers and mountains if she puts her mind to it (I grew up in Colorado, otherwise known as the “I will run 100 miles to prove my fortitude” state, okay?), but what I realized is burdens are best shared.

I tend to go internal when things happen but circumstances forced me to rely on others and that was a gift. From my friends who listened for hours when I wasn’t making sense and held me up, to the strangers who donated money that eased my sister’s family’s life, to the therapists and police and case workers and PR people and community members who worked overtime and off-time to accommodate our family and make sure we felt supported, not to mention, all the people who delivered food and checked on us and continue to think about us, we remembered the world is full of good people with kind hearts at a time when it would have been easy to think otherwise.

I’m still working on letting people in and asking for help, but I’m getting better. I know how much I appreciate when people are vulnerable and give space for support so I’m trying to remember it’s the same for others. Which is one of the reasons I’m writing this post. I want to be more open with you guys about what’s going on, to not be so frightened of online criticism that I make myself small, to be so worried about offending a few that I don’t speak for others. I want to cool it with the self-editing and open the door to mistakes.

And I want to have more fun! I saw in stark detail last year that you have to practice joy so it’s a part of who you are to your core. Even in the dark times, my sisters and I managed to laugh, which felt like a huge accomplishment. I want to keep choosing joy and practicing fun so it courses through our veins and lets in the light no matter what comes our way.

So, my resolutions this year are pretty simple: read every day (my ultimate fun), have a family day once a week where we go on an adventure (woo hoo!), figure out a way to easily record things the kids do and say (any suggestions?), and take bigger risks with Fabulistas (much more on this next week). Basically, focus on the joy. I have a feeling the other stuff is going to take care of itself.

My emotions toward 2016 are kind of like a bad boyfriend. You’re happy you made it through intact and glad you learned so much, but, omg, you never need to see that sucker again.

Here’s to a 2017 full of laughs, joy, and hearty mistakes.

Lovely print by Wishful Printing

November 14, 2016

This Past Week

image-1When I was twenty I traveled with the group Up With People, which consisted of 150 kids from different countries, running around Europe and the States, doing community service and a Broadway-style show. The year was heavily focused on experiencing other people’s viewpoints – we stayed with close to 90 different host families all over the world, volunteered with local organizations, and lived on a daily basis with 150 other people who may or may not have been anything like us.

We had kids in our cast that came from wealth and other folks that fundraised their entire year; we were gay, straight, bi; we were from the cities, the suburbs, small islands, former Communist countries, an African village, not to mention all over Europe, Japan, Mexico, Australia, and everywhere in the States from Alaska to Georgia to California; we were Catholic to Atheist to Buddhist; we had quiet folks and others who wanted to be in the limelight, leaders and doers, people who constantly questioned the status quo and others who hoped we could all just get along.

And we did get along. Of course, not all the time. Living with people 24/7 is hard, annoying, get-under-your-skin work and there were arguments and hurt feelings and grating nerves and sometimes you just wanted to scream, “What is wrong with all of you?!” and throw in the towel and go home where there was TV and a comfy bed and people who understood you and you didn’t have to try so damn hard all of the time.

A couple did leave because it wasn’t the right fit, which was totally understandable. For the rest of us though, we decided to stick it out – through crazy host families, and little sleep, and giving, giving of yourself until you genuinely felt like you had nothing left, only to discover reserves your reserves didn’t even know were there.

Why did we put up with all this craziness? Why did we PAY (and, in my case, take a year off of school to work to raise the money) so we could never sleep and volunteer and make our lives so much harder by living with a bunch of people whom we might never even run into our everyday lives? Because, we believed that understanding is the key to love and peace. That if we could literally live in someone’s home that was completely different that ours (a trailer, a barn, a mansion, a church, a chalet on the side of the mountain, an apartment in an inner city), we had no choice but to see life from their viewpoint. If we traveled with people that held such contrasting views to what made us comfortable, our view of the world and people would be forced to grow and expand. If we practiced listening and compassion enough, it would become a habit so ingrained that we couldn’t help but pass it along to our children, families and communities. That if we volunteered in the communities we visited we couldn’t help but have a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people with circumstances completely different that ours.

It was a big ask. Did it always work? No. Sometimes we were caught up in our cast drama and who broke up with whom, sometimes we were homesick and too caught up in our own pain to be able to heal others, and sometimes we were just too damn tired.

But, sometimes it did. I distinctly remember one session where LGBT members shared personal experiences and then, with astounding bravery, opened the floor to questions. At that point in my life, I had a few gay friends, but, as a polite, sheltered gal from the suburbs, didn’t have the vocabulary or nerve to ask the questions that might jumpstart a deeper understanding. Sitting there, listening to my friends’ experiences, was hard. There was a part of me (and I think in a lot of us that day) that rebelled against what they were saying with defensiveness to cover up my shame and embarrassment over things I might have said or done to hurt people I cared about, however inadvertently. There was a greater part though that felt relief because there wasn’t anything to be afraid of anymore – my ignorance was fully visible and my friends were still my friends, no one died, and we all left knowing each other’s hearts a bit more. Was it all rosy forever after without any hurt feelings or misspoken words? Of course not. Did it forever cement the way I feel about gay rights and marriage? You better believe it.

I believe, with a fervor normally reserved for iced coffee, that you cannot sit and listen (I mean, really listen, not just wait your turn to speak) to someone else’s story and not be affected or changed. It is impossible to see someone else’s heart and not have it touch yours.

This past week has been hard on all of us. There’s fear, divisiveness, pain on all sides – it’s as if we pulled up the rug and exposed a rat’s nest of ugliness and anger. And, to be honest, I don’t want to deal with it. I’d much rather stay at home and watch TV and talk to my friends who think like I do and complain about everyone else because I know I am right.

But, then I think about my family. The 150 family members that are spread around this country and world, because that’s what happens when you live with people – they become your family whether you like it or not. I don’t know how they voted, I’m certain many of them hold beliefs counter to mine, and I have no doubt if we traveled again for a year we’d find ways to get under each other’s skin. But, they are my family, so even if things get hard or uncomfortable, we don’t give up. Instead, we listen harder, and love more fiercely, and work to create safe places to show each other our hearts. I owe it to them to try and understand.

What will that look like? I’m still working on that. I’ve been trying to read compassionate articles and blog posts that help explain why people made the choices they did, I’m going to have curious conversations with family members who voted differently than I did, I’m going to get involved with organizations I feel passionately about so my voice and people’s voices who are harder to hear have a place. I’m going to try to remember that it’s better to admit ignorance and ask dumb questions for greater understanding than to remain quiet, I’m going to work to look around the world and make a conscious effort to engage with people who are different than myself and ask if there are places I can support them or offer my voice to strengthen theirs, and I’m going to do my best to ignore the shouting because experience has taught me true connection and meaning happen when we’re listening, not yelling at each other.

I am different than when I traveled with UWP (20 years will do that to you). There’s no way I could live in other people’s house, I like traveling with our little family of four, and consider eight hours of sleep a necessity. But, what that year taught me has not altered.We are all people, who fundamentally want to be listened to and understood, and, like it or not, what we’ve got is each other. And, while real, sustainable change occasionally happens in sweeping measures, most often, it occurs in small moments of connection when we’re open enough and vulnerable enough to really listen and help each other. Not everyone will get to this place, just like not everyone could handle the rigors of “the road” as we called it, and we have to let them go. But, for those of us willing to try, this could be a moment of change and greater depth of understanding, a moment where we stand up for each other and a world of connection rather than hate.

The Up With People in me is hoping for the best.

October 26, 2016

Family Halloween Costume: Superhero Family with Super Mom and Super Dad

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I’ve gotta tell you guys, this year’s family Halloween costume was a bit of a challenge. Last year, when Alice said she wanted to be Annie my head and heart exploded because it was a lifelong dream to be Ms. Hannigan and I knew Bennett would be an adorable, baby Daddy Warbucks; the year before, Alice wanted to be Wendy from Peter Pan and, of course, I was happy to be Captain Hook (is this starting to sound like Halloween is all about me? Because it totally is.)

This year though, both the kids had opinions (ARGH! Kids with opinions at Halloween!) and they were definitive: Superheroes.

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The kids’ costumes were easy. For a hot second, I thought about making costumes for them and really jazzing it up, but Alice was very specific that her costume look EXACTLY like the “real” Supergirl, which turns out is code for “shiny”, and my DIY talents are limited to enhancing what’s already there, so, in the end, my dearest friend Amazon came through for me again.

superhero-mom-family-halloween-costume-fabulistas

For me and Chris though I was stumped. I’m not really a sexy Catwoman kinda gal (thank you, childbirth) and I tend towards funny at Halloween so I thought maybe we could be villains, but the kids are not into scary right now and I wanted them to actually hang out with us.

And then as I was washing dishes for the 400th time of the day (this is totally true) I thought “Super Mom” because THAT IS WHAT WE ARE and we should at least get credit for it one day of the year, right? Plus, I like to toot my own horn and am really hoping people will come up and say, “Wait, why didn’t you dress up this year?” (So good, right?)

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And because I have the coolest husband ever, he was 100% on board and fully embraced his Super Dad status. (Have I mentioned this is one of the main reasons I married him? He’s always up for dressing up – see Sandy in Annie and Tick-Tock in Peter Pan – and commits fully to the role.)

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For the most part, I tried to keep it as simple (and inexpensive) as possible and bought a few things (list below) and then scrounged the rest from around the house. The one thing I did make was the t-shirts; I bought some cheapies at Target, downloaded the Alba Super font for free, and then ironed them on.

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For our tool belts, I bought us each one on Amazon and then filled them up with random stuff I found around the house that I use in my daily super-mom-ing.

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Because I’m also a Super Nerd, I tried to make each of ours slightly indicative of that we actually use (for example, you’ll notice mine doesn’t have Legos while Chris’ does because I was informed that my houses look like Lego boxes but “to keep trying, Mom”).

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Want to know the other awesome part about this costume? It’s not too late! Order all the bits and pieces on Amazon, throw on a t-shirt and skirt, take five minutes to fill up your tool belt and, like the true superhero you are who gets life done, you are GOOD TO GO. Go Team Super Family!

Links: 
On me and Chris: superhero cape // superhero mask // tool belt // white t-shirts // iron on transfer paper in white

Kids’ costumes: Batman (which has a cape but someone refused to wear) // Supergirl (which has boots, but someone refused to wear)

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more about what that means and our site policies here.

Photos by the always astounding Milou and Olin Photography.

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