Yesterday we celebrated 14 years of wedded bliss. Bliss? Well, I’m not sold on that one. We were 26 when we got married. We’d been together for five years already and thought we knew it all. We’d known love. We’d traveled. We’d lost loved ones. We’d bounced around and lived in several different cities and states already by that point. We genuinely believed that we were special – sharing something that no one else could possibly imagine. That love that people dream about. Yes, we were young. And yes, we were stupid. And entered into marriage having truly no clue what it all meant. That’s just what you do.
Fast forward 14 years. We’ve bounced around, living in even more cities, more states. We’ve managed to travel far less. We’ve fought the ugly fights. The ones we said we’d never have. We’ve had rock bottom moments. 19 years together will do that. We’ve gained pounds and lost hair. We’ve created humans. And are still creating them. We’ve made a crazy life of our own. But through all of it, we’ve stayed intensely loyal, coming to recognize that real love is far less like fairy tales and fabulous times, and more about acceptance, self awareness, compromise, selflessness, and humility. We didn’t know any of that back then on that beautiful spring day in May, but the reality of love and marriage has taught us both the bad and the beautiful and we can only hope that this will pave the path for many more years of learning, laughter, and yes, love – whatever that really means…..
Turning 40 has been funny. As I enter this new and unknown stage of life, I’m finding there’s a whole wealth of wisdom that inevitably comes with it. I knew my forties would bring forth new insights and introspection, yet there is some wisdom that’s not entirely welcomed. Although they may be honest, some lessons are simply hard. Throughout my life thus far, I’ve traveled the world. I’ve traveled the country. I’ve lived in many places. Different cities. Different states. Followed different paths. I’ve collected a vast history of meaningful experiences that have provided great education. However, one of the greatest lessons of all has been in transitioning into this new phase of life, as it has moved me to truly evaluate what I have. And that which I do not.
Earlier this year, I decided to do an experiment. Here is what I did: I set a great many relationships free. I stopped extending the invites. I stopped always being the initiator. I simply took my foot off the gas just to see what would happen. Would my relationships change? Would there be some underlying balance that would surface and carry these relationships on into that proverbial sunset? I let them go, and wondered if that age old adage would ring true- If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was. Unfortunately, what I learned is that the reality of that old adage is not as light and whimsical as it’s words are.
Admittedly, I have fallen down that rabbit hole of self-blame and criticism from time to time. Who hasn’t? But regardless, the fact still remains- when I stopped pursuing them, a great majority of my relationships simply withered away. BUT, it is not all woeful wisdom. I have learned who really is in my corner. Yes, there is a silver lining. I’ve learned, and in many cases quite surprisingly, who really is interested in preserving a relationship. And I cherish those precious friends. As with anything, there are, of course, many factors at play. I am a transplant in a city that does not willingly open its branches to those who don’t share its roots. But there are so many other factors and ranking at the top of that list, despite life experience, is plain old youth and naïveté. This brings forth an unfortunate truth and, thankfully, the valuable lessons that always accompany the truth.
It has been a difficult learning curve, but I am confident that what lies on the other side of that curve will bring depth and authenticity to my life. And I share these lessons here – to set an example of mid-life growth, grabbing on to what you have, and letting go of what was never really yours to begin with.
When my daughter came home from school the other day she immediately bragged to me and her two sisters about the book report she had just been assigned. Her very first book report, which (for a book worm like her) is the highlight of all things holy. When asked what book she would be writing about, she explained that each student got to choose a book about a specific historical figure from a list provided by the teacher. We heard all the details: who chose what, what the books all looked like, all the different choices offered, etc. And when I was finally able to get a word in edgewise to ask her whom she chose, she ecstatically shouted: “Sacagawea!!”
My presumptuous mind immediately filled with pride as I puffed my plumes, took a huge sigh of relief, and mumbled something about my job being done here. I envisioned her sitting in that classroom, just hours earlier, carefully selecting the strongest female role model she could identify from that list. I felt sheer joy thinking about how hard I’ve worked to incorporate both routine subtleties and strongly worded messages of empowerment into all of my daughters’ daily rhythms. I actually praised myself and secretly boasted that all of it had actually paid off!
And then….THEN…. I ask her the obvious question that I wish I’d never uttered: “Why did you choose Sacagawea?”
Without hesitation, she emphatically replies: “Because she was the prettiest one on the list, of course!”
And like a limp idiot, I shrank down in my seat as my balloon of pride deflated almost as quickly as it grown. Every X chromosome inside of me shouting out various expletives as I became acutely and awkwardly aware of my complete and utter mom-fail. How did I let this happen?
And so I digress. And regress. And quietly drop about a dozen different f-bombs under my breath. From prideful to pissed off, all in under ten seconds. Back to the basics I go, humbled by my oldest daughter’s innocent gravitation towards what our society has begun grooming her for, and settling in for the long road of realizations and raw education that lie ahead. Clearly, my job is far from done here.
We had a wild time when I turned the 4-0,
Our kids are not babies, so we can have fun now, ya know?!
But then, in a downright shocking twist of fate,
The weeks go by and by golly, I’M LATE!
So I go to the doctor and so it begins,
BUT when he gets a close look he says: “HOLY SH*T….IT’S TWINS!!!!
If only they had the same look of joy when they opened up their gifts this evening…. Tonight’s theme – let’s call it self hygiene – brought them each hand sanitizer and a hair brush and was inspired by the notion that “I’m all out of steam, all creativity sucked dry, so just enjoy these sundries that I found laying around the house and let’s put this holiday to rest already!” Happy 8th Night!
Mom-ing is hard. The physical & emotional demands and tedious tasks are just pieces of a cornucopia of challenges. And sadly, filling so much of that cornucopia is judgment from others and inevitably judgment of ourselves. But we all know that there is no perfection – yet so much harsh judgment about imperfections. If we could all just give a smile and a kind word, and have an acceptance of all those insanely imperfect moments and downright imperfect people (gasp!), we would all be stronger as a community of caregivers. And if we could embrace those imperfections – both within others AND within ourselves – and view them with humor and a loving eye, we would all be better as mothers, as role models, as women, and as human beings.
You haven’t truly lived until you’ve taken all of your children to a Disney On Ice performance by yourself. And if you’re anything like me, going into this venture, you take all that you’ve learned up to this point and channel it at once because you know all too well the great challenges that lie ahead – this is not your first rodeo.
You’ve sprung for the good seats this time because last time those not-so-cheap nosebleed section seats had your children screaming because they couldn’t see the twirling, ant-size Elsa on the ice and they weren’t allowed to lean forward for a better look due to your reasonable fear that they would surely tumble to their certain death if they leaned over just a bit too far in Section Mt. Everest. You’ve already purchased and packed the coolest looking light up toys that 5 Below had to offer because you’re not going to get stuck shelling out the 75 bucks for those ridiculous raver light sticks like you did last time. You’ve packed drinks and snacks galore to avoid the hypnotic appeal of 2-day old cotton candy and popcorn. You’ve packed all their sweatshirts, just in case the numbing 65 degree temperature of that damn Disney On Ice arena envelopes your precious children like a snow squall on that good ol’ Mt. Everest. You’ve fed them all morning. You’ve left an hour and a half before curtain up to guarantee a parking spot close enough to the arena, so there’s no need to carry two and drag a third down three city blocks like last time, but that doesn’t cost you $5/minute. You’ve restricted their water intake and made them all go to the bathroom -at least 6 times – before getting to your seats because you’re flying this voyage solo and you can’t make a quick potty stop without having to drag the other two in tow. BUT, amidst all that masterful planning, YOU forgot to go to the bathroom YOURSELF! No problem. This so-called 90-minute-cost-me-an-arm-and-a-leg madness will be over before you can say Rapunzel – You can hold it, You got this! And this was my morning…sigh.
So alas, with all this comprehensive planning, we successfully make it to our section and ON time, no less. But, someone is in our seats! They don’t actually have tickets for our seats, but they’re part of what seems to be a charming little 5th birthday party and you’ve never been one to mess with someone’s birthday party mojo, never mind make 4 snowball covered four-year olds leave your seats when you can just take the 4 empty seats a few rows back. Fine. Grrr. I have to pee, so just get me to a seat anywhere so I can stop jostling my full bladder around this arena.
Then, the marching men waving their sparkly six foot staffs, bearing thousands of dollars worth of stale snacks parade by. So, never mind all those healthy-but-still-fun-and-FREE snacks I brought just to combat this. Cue the Mom guilt -they can’t fully enjoy this Disney experience without a $15 bag of cotton candy. Each. Oh man, I really have to pee. Fine, give me forty-five dollar’s worth of cotton candy please. Then I notice we are surrounded by Moana light sabers and Flashing Belle wands, so obviously my miniature magic spinning flashlights (essentially) don’t make my grateful girls feel quite lucky enough. Oh, gosh, my bladder. I can’t take this. Fine, we’ll take one light for $30 that you all can share. Clearly, my bladder is clouding my acute awareness of the fact that sharing is NOT caring in my house. So, I just bought $30 worth of tears. Great. And oh hell no…I don’t think I can hold it anymore!
We make it to intermission. The line for the bathroom runs like a river through a valley of Disney bling that would make even Mickey’s head explode, so forget it, back to our seats we go, bladder still oh-so-painfully full. The second half is always shorter than the first, right? I can DO this. The show commences, the girls are screaming and need to sign a treaty to properly allocate that light-up lucifer lasso that I threw $30 bucks away on, so of course, I have to place my 4-year old on my lap to avoid the battle of bitches that always commences in times like these. Yes, I just called my beautiful babies….bitches (and I’ll likely say it over and over again throughout the course of the next decade or two, thank you very much). My legs are now numb from my bladder pressing up on all my nerves, as my 4-year old now happily bounces up and down on my lap. Up and down. Up and down. Oh my…I don’t think I CAN do it! So yes, I’m just plain over it all at this point. And yes, this battle of bitches and bladders can now just go stick it! So here we are, crying, complaining, bouncing on bladders to the delights of Disney right before our eyes. It’s quite the two and hours (yeah, forget those quick 90 minutes) of the glamour & glory you thought it would be. A magical marathon of Mickey & Minnie mania indeed. And at long last, I make it to the finish line – empty wallet no less – but dry pants to boot. We bolt out of our seats and b-line for that majestic Womens’ Restroom: that far off place I’ve fantasized about for hours. And as I close the door to that less-than-sparkling-not-so-Disney bathroom stall, I am simply and all-consumingly grateful.
18 years ago yesterday, I boarded a train with nothing but a duffel bag full of clothes and shuffled my way out of Buffalo to “start my life” in the Big Apple. I was 21. I had a college degree, but had no plan. I’d only just decided to move to NYC the night before and was lucky to find a ride to the station to make the 5am train early the next morning. I bought my one way ticket and off I went. No job waiting for me. No place to live. No strategy, other than to just “figure things out”. Don’t get me wrong, I had a couple of friends in the big city and my brother was there, so I had my proverbial safety net, but still no plan. The only arrangement I had was to get off that train in Penn Station and meet up with my oldest & dearest childhood friend to go see a band with some friends of my friend on Long Island. Those small details did, in fact, happen as planned. I got off one train in Penn Station, only to board another heading out of the city to join some strangers for one of many concerts I had seen up to that point. And when I got off that final train, it actually happened. That plan to go to the Big Apple to “start my life”? On that day, unbeknownst to me, that is exactly what happened. You see, it was on that very day, that I met this guy. A new guy. Kinda cute. Dirty hippy. Just my type. That day. That guy. Fast forward 18 years. I’ve lived for months out of an old beat up car with that guy. Quit an amazing job to travel the country with that guy. Led teen tours with that guy. Lived in 8 different homes with that guy. Made 3 human beings with that guy. Made a life with that guy. Created a legacy with that guy. And, by golly, he’s still my guy. Now, amidst all that wild & crazy, footloose & fancy-free adventure, we’ve squeezed in our fair share of gut-wrenching disputes and regrettable words that we only wish were just uttered under our breath, but he’s still the guy. And looking back, I realize now that although I may not have had “a plan” that brisk Buffalo morning boarding that one-way train, apparently the universe had one for me….