My Anti-resolution

I have a confession.

I hate New Year’s resolutions. I hate them for me, I hate other people’s, and I think we should unite as a society and rise against them.

Also, it has taken me way too long to realize how fun it is to post a blog and hear my husband’s resultant sigh as his phone pings with a Twitter notification (this blog is attached to a Twitter account). He tolerates me. We like to bother each other. It keeps our marriage strong.

Back to the resolutions, though. Why do we pretend that the New Year is the best time to reinvent ourselves? Other than the fact that I am off work today and lounging in bed with my dogs, I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday. It is Tuesday. I am still 35. I still woke up to the smell of dog breath because our pug/boxer mix weaseled his way into becoming the little spoon. (His name is Duke, he is a shameless hussy, and for a dog we picked up out of the dust under a tobacco wagon, he has acclimated a little too well to blankets and pillows.)

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What I wake up to in the mornings: Duke, as little spoon.

 

I am the same person I was yesterday with the same job I had yesterday, the same issues, same quirks, and same foundational belief that separate bathrooms save marriages and that no matter what people may tell me, beets are gross and taste like dirt regardless of how they are prepared.

I guess I hate resolutions because part of my job is to teach people how to set goals for themselves and then how to reach them, what it takes to stick with one and realize that motivation is a myth, achieving anything worthwhile is going to take a lot of baby steps and failures, will suck at some point, and is often completely un-fun, and because the veneer of most resolutions is chintzy.

Resolutions are gold-plated lug nuts sold as diamond rings. They require work, dedication, purpose, and the assistance of several other pieces of hardware that tend to go unnoticed in order to perform the function for which they were created. But people toss them around like confetti, then hope that by the third week of January the book will have written itself, the relationship will transform into a true-love story for the ages after three whole ‘dates’ without the kids, said kids would altruistically wash the dishes without being asked, and that kale will magically taste like cotton-candy drizzled with chocolate.

It sounds fantastic.

I’m sure this year everything will be different and by January 21st, or February 1st, or even by July everyone’s resolutions will still be in full swing, new habits will have been formed, and 2019 will be the year everyone’s life will be transformed. The chrysalis spun on January 1, 2019, will have helped everyone metamorphose into the butterfly they were created to be.

Cool.

I have another confession: I doubt it.

I think kale will still taste like kale by January 21st, the idea of the resolution will still be a good one but the execution will have been too difficult (read: inconvenient) to be sustainable. The shiny gold plating on the lug nut will have started to flake off under the torque of guilt resulting from not being able to make it more than a week or two without backsliding.

I could spend another 364 blog posts on how to set goals and actually achieve them, which takes not just resolve but also grit, accountability partners, feedback, self-discipline. Those, in turn, take the courage needed to ask for help, the humility necessary for admitting we need help and that we are not Disney princesses or super-heroes regardless of what we post on social media, the fortitude to be honest and transparent even when it hurts like hell, and the grace and kindness – for ourselves and those around us – to admit out loud that we do not appreciate some of the feedback given but we can respect the person and the heart giving it. Then it takes the deliberateness of choice to move forward with that same person or persons and maintain accountability and relationship with them. All of that relies on a vulnerability that is not comfortable and on having good people in our lives who, though flawed themselves, love us enough to tell the truth with kindness.

Very few people know how to do the latter. Very few resolutions succeed because of it.

Instead of dedicating 2019 to writing something that the self-help gurus have already done (and whose editors made sure they did it quite well), I’m going in a different direction.

What if, instead of resolutions – rather than building a better beach bod, forcing ourselves to write for at least 30 minutes every day, drinking a gallon of warm flower water every morning, solving the world hunger problem, or inventing something that can warn us every time we’re getting ready to step on a lego that shouldn’t be in the floor – what if we spent more time being grateful for right now?

For example, I write quite a bit about my issues, which frustrate me, but I am incredibly spoiled. I am loved. I have experienced hardship, but less so than several of my employees, my friends, even my husband (we lost his dad in September). Our dog is a shameless hussy and he has to be walked for at lease two miles every day in order to prevent him from becoming spastic – also because he refuses to poop in our yard or within a 500-yard radius – but he keeps us healthier than we would be without him and he is always happy to see us. How special is it that there is a creature on this planet who is fulfilled simply because I exist?

What if we spent more time dwelling on thoughts like that? What if, rather than a resolution based on who we want to be, we appreciate who we are and what we already bring to the table?

It took me over a decade to get here, but I realized recently that I have arrived at a place in my life where I love me some me. I don’t mean my ego is out of control – I try not to tell people how much I like me. I mean I’m pretty comfortable with who I am. I can admit my faults. I have started to get to know other women and stay out of the trap of comparison (a trap every girl and woman falls into and one that is almost impossible to stay out of) and instead appreciate that they offer something as a human that maybe I don’t, and rather than feeling the guilt of not measuring up to an imaginary standard I created for myself, I think it’s awesome! I am confident. I am less worried about appearances and what other people think of me than I’ve ever been, because I have learned over time that (a) it is none of my business what other people think of me and that (b) I have no control over it, anyway.

There is freedom in that place like I’ve never known.

What if we spent 2019 focused on what’s good about now? What would that look like?

I resolve not to set a resolution, then. Instead, I want to throw myself shamelessly at life the way Duke throws himself at the nearest human if he thinks he can get a belly rub. I want to wallow in it the way he wallows in the bed.

It’s good to have goals.

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Shameless hussy.
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Yes, that is my pillow, my blankets, my bed. He does this all the time when we’re not looking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(As a side note, I do want to write more and see what I can do with this blog. I already have a notebook or journal – or ten – in most of the rooms in the house. It won’t be a stretch. Plus, it posts to my husband’s Twitter feed. I think he secretly loves the notification.)

 

The Greatest Fear: a journal entry in real time

There will probably be some typos, cliches, run-on sentences, and disjointed thoughts here. You’ve been warned.

My husband is asleep in the next room after being home all day, sick. He will not love this post. I have to write it, because I have to get it out of me, and he will not love it, but he will still love me. You cannot know how long it took us to understand that.

This is not about that journey.

I am writing this while he is asleep, not because I wanted to be sneaky or because he cannot know. He follows me on Twitter, for pity’s sake, where all of my posts are broadcast. He will know.

I am writing this while he is asleep because I cannot sleep. Typically, that is true because I have insomnia (thanks, Crohn’s and all my other issues!) and because I have always been more of a night person than a morning person. Tonight, it is true because I have experienced the adrenaline rush of all adrenaline rushes and the only way to come down off that is to crash, and I haven’t crashed, yet. If the good Lord is willing, I will crash very soon.

I have not crashed, yet, because tonight, about 20 minutes before 7 PM, my husband got a call that his daughter did crash. She was not injured, thank God, but my heart stopped anyway.

I need you to understand something before I go any further. I exaggerate. I admit it. I also admit that I love to exaggerate. I’m a storyteller, people. It’s what we do.

So when I say, “my heart stopped,” some might consider that hyperbole – an expression, a figure of speech. Most people use that phrase or a similar one as such.

It is one phrase I do not use lightly. I have enough health issues that I have felt my heart “skip a beat,” as some are wont to say. I have a mild arrhythmia, so it happens more often than I care to admit. I also have a plethora of immune system issues, the least of which presents itself as severe allergies with a side of asthma.

If you’ve ever had an asthma attack, you know what my Christmas Day turned into when I had one (and of course I didn’t have my inhaler). Not only does the feeling of not getting enough oxygen make me want to panic, it also has the side benefit of making me hyper-aware of my body and what’s happening within it. When the attack started, I could feel the weight on my chest as my lungs filled with mucous and my airways tightened. My nose and ribs expanded, painfully, because I was desperate for air, even though it was all around me. I calmly told my husband that as long as my face was just tingly and not totally numb we were good to go, then I asked him to go a little faster down the interstate. I didn’t tell him why. It was because my face was tingly, true – the pins and needles feeling you get after a limb falls asleep and you start moving it to get blood flowing – but I knew I was in trouble because I had completely lost my vision. He figured that out by the time we got home and I couldn’t get out of the car and onto the porch by myself. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t walk. He mostly carried me inside to my inhaler, and down the hall to our room after. (It was heroic.)

For those who have ever wondered what it might feel like to drown, ask someone who has had an asthma attack. Fluid (mucous) fills your lungs (yes, you can feel it), you breathe but you can’t get air, then you get tingly (usually your extremities or your face), you get tunnel vision that quickly worsens, and eventually, right after you can’t see anything but you’re still conscious, you go completely numb. Then, your body forgets how to operate and you can’t walk. It’s at that point that the true danger is apparent, but the problem is that you’ve already gone through the other stages, so you just don’t care anymore. The wheezing stops, so everyone else assumes the danger has passed. It’s called “silent chest.” That’s bad.

I’ll spare you the details. We got home, got to the meds I needed, I didn’t go to the hospital (no point), and I’m fine. The end.

Where was I?

Right – heart stopped.

Fast forward a couple of days, and things were going well. Work hasn’t been too busy, and other than an internet outage that shut us down for an hour or two, nothing major to report.

And then we got a call.

My step-daughter had been in a wreck. Her mom and step-dad live farther out into the county than we do, so her mom called my husband to tell him and we left immediately. I didn’t hear the conversation, but I saw his face and heard, “What happened, where is she?” and I grabbed the keys and my shoes. My heart stopped.

When I was younger, my step-dad and his family would loan the teens in the family vehicles if we asked. They didn’t hold back, but they always held the keys just out of reach and said, “Be careful. The car/truck/convertible is insured and replaceable, but you can’t be replaced.” I knew they meant it, because one of the boys wrecked an Escalade and it wasn’t a big deal after everyone knew he wasn’t hurt. Don’t get me wrong; no one was thrilled that it was totaled, and I’m pretty sure he worked for a while to pay at least a token penalty, but no one made a big deal out of it and all was well. I now know what it must have been like to say that and mean it.

Tonight, the 15 minutes between getting that call and getting to the scene was scarier than all of the following, which I have also experienced: being stalked, being threatened, getting a phone call about my brother (a police officer), getting a phone call about one of my step-brothers (both Marines), getting calls about parents/grandparents, almost drowning (there was one actual time in water that I remember, two others I apparently don’t remember – my childhood was… well), asphyxiating, being put to sleep for major surgery, repelling down the side of a 7-story building, cliff diving, enduring a fever of 107 for over 8 hours (3rd grade was rough), PTSD, paranoia, and basically anything else I can think of right now.

There are no words.

I know her mother felt the same thing, if not more acutely. (Fact: it is incredibly difficult for me to imagine that, because I am incapable of imagining a bigger hurt or fear than what I experienced tonight. I may never fall asleep again, and at this rate I’ll be wrapping up this post and alphabetizing all of our dishes and canned goods throughout the night if I can’t get some sleep. I am not a big enough egomaniac, though, to think my feelings are any deeper or purer than another human being’s, let alone her mother’s. I love this kid like she is mine and there is nothing on this earth that will change that, but I am not the only part of this equation. That is another journal entry or ten (thousand) for another day.)

I can say I also saw the differences in parents, tonight. The dads (it’s just easier to say that) were focused on logistics, next steps, process, etc. Her mom and I showed up at different times and went straight to the hugs, the letting her cry while we held her, the assurance that not a single one of us gives a flying flip in space about the car, the stuff in it, or where the money will come from to get another one. The only real thing that matters is that she’s okay. (And yes, she is okay. I may never be the same, but by the time we left her mom had talked her into food, a hot bath, and some ibuprofen, so she’s good, y’all.)

There is no greater fear than that of a parent for their child. There is no greater relief than that of holding your child safe in your arms.

I don’t care if you’re a biological parent, adoptive, step, surrogate, whatever. And I don’t care if your kid is 2 years old or 20. It doesn’t vary. At one point, I was dumb enough to think it might – that I would worry less the older they got.

I was an idiot.

Ask anyone who has lived through a heart attack what it feels like and the answers will vary. Ask anyone who has had a near-death experience what it was like in their mind before, during, and after and you’ll hear harrowing tales of darkness and redemption.

I have felt my heart stop, skip a beat, and start again. I have watched the light fade as I ran out of oxygen and I have come out the other side. I keep telling God there must be a reason he keeps saving me and he’s welcome to show that to me any day, now. It cannot possibly be only to nag my husband and his son to scrape and rinse their plates before they leave them in the sink. And yet…

I can tell you without hesitation that if – in that moment – I would have had the choice to put myself bodily between my step-daughter’s vehicle and the other one, I wouldn’t have asked questions, I wouldn’t have put in a stipulation that I would do it only if the collision were going to be fatal, I wouldn’t think, I wouldn’t wait, I wouldn’t blink or even twitch an eye before I chose to step in and keep her from going through this. I would lay down in front of a moving train. No take-backs.

There is a saying that having a child is like watching your heart walk around outside your body. Maybe for some that’s true.

I’ll tell you this.

That child is not mine – not really. Her mother is alive and well and very present, and forced to loan her to me for this lifetime. That cannot be easy. They enjoy a pretty good relationship for a mom and her teenager. I came into the scene when she was six years old, long after their history had been established.

And that girl, with her knack for high drama, her mama’s nerves, her daddy’s dimples and sense of humor, with her snark and her brains and everything else, is more than my heart walking around outside my body. She and her brother are worth far more than just my heart.

I have desperately wanted my own child for over a decade, but after tonight I am re-evaluating whether I can do all of this again. Her brother is only 13, so we have just now entered into the valley of darkness with him. I’m 35, but after tonight and what small indication I have about how the next 5 years will go, I’m pretty sure that by the time he’s 18 I’ll be 90.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some alphabetizing to do, followed by a collection of 1273 classic works of fiction I just found on my hard drive that I was supposed to move to my Kindle. If that doesn’t put me to sleep, I might even learn a new language.

Has anyone seen my inhaler?

We Don’t Do That Here

I’ve been exploring and talking a lot about my feelings over the past couple of weeks. I hate doing that. I’m not good at it; it’s incredibly inconvenient because if I talk about them I have to reflect on them and if I reflect on them I have to admit I’m not perfect and that I really do have the feelings even though I don’t do the feelings. Who has time for that? I’m not a starving, mediocre poet writing lines about the trash on the sidewalk. I’ve got bills to pay.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally fine talking with other people about their feelings. I’m quite good at that, actually, and make my living helping other people explore their reactions and why they have them and then overcome them so we can get stuff done. Because after the feelings have been felt, there is still stuff that has to get done in order for the progress to continue. And I am all about progress while I still do care about the feelings of others.

Unless the progress is mine, apparently. That’s what I’ve learned while feeling my feelings over the past few weeks.

I have made very little progress toward my own goals in life. I’ve rah-rahed and fist-bumped my way through team-building exercises and I like to hope I’ve inspired other people to reach their potential, or at least think they can. But if life progress were measured in speed and miles I’d be a flea in a rusted go-cart a couple of inches from the starting line.

“There’s nothing wrong with feeling things,” I’ve been told, usually by people who have their lives together and don’t worry about all of the many possible scenarios that have literally and will likely never happen to them in this life, which is one of the things I catch myself doing. (I legit waste a lot of free time having imaginary arguments in my head that never come to fruition – line by line, action by reaction. I’m told this is one of the trademarks of a true INTP. Of course it is, because I wouldn’t have a useful trademark like making friends easily or being naturally athletic. No. Instead, I’m one of the lucky ones who has a high probability of being recommended for new anti-anxiety drugs and clinical trials to help alleviate ADHD symptoms.) And that’s great for them if they like to get worked up over their emotions and really engage with that mess. I hear there are also some people who love kale smoothies in the morning. I’m happy for them.

I would rather be stripped to the skin, drizzled in honey, and tied face-down to the top of a fire-ant hill (is that a thing? do fire ants have hills?) than talk about or even acknowledge ‘the feels.’ I feel the same about kale breakfast smoothies, to be fair.

Unfortunately, through an ongoing series of events (and we’re talking years here) and because of some of the books I’ve been reading lately to add some ‘tools to the tool-belt’ for work, I’ve been reflecting on my feels and dreams and hopes and wants and expectations and hang-ups and fears and co-dependencies and I’ve realized I’ve got diddly squat compared to what I have the potential to have, and worse, compared to what I expect(ed) to have at this stage of life. I’ve been forced to look in the mirror, stop having imaginary arguments for a minute or two, and tell myself, sternly, what I always hated hearing from grown-ups when I was a child: I am so disappointed in you.  I thought you were better than this.

I don’t know if you’ve ever sternly talked to yourself in a mirror before, and if you have I hope you had the sense not to do so as soon as you rolled out of bed and before you’ve combed your hair, brushed your teeth, or wiped the previous night’s mascara out from under your bloodshot eyes and the flaking-off drool from your chin. Regardless, it ain’t cute.  It’s downright ugly if you do talk to yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning like I did, but at any time it ain’t cute – not if you do it right.

The crux of the issue is that I’m disappointed in myself for being less than what I know I can be because I’ve spent all of my time ignoring my own feelings, needs, goals, and dreams in order to take care of other people’s feelings and apparent needs. Were they real needs for those people? Possibly, but I didn’t have to be the one to provide for them or fix them. The fact that I felt compelled to do so was a disservice to them and to myself. I tied my self-worth to the validation I felt when others needed me, or at least appeared to need me, instead of to what I know is true about me. I believed I could only be worthy of love or friendship or success if I could prove how useful I was. I watched dream after dream after dream of mine fall by the wayside, fiery meteors of death and devastation crashing to the earth around me. I let go of little pieces of myself along the way, minute by minute, dust particle by dust particle, until I lost myself. I lost friends, time I would’ve loved to spend with them and with my family, the balance I felt when I focused on things I loved like art, writing (see? I’m slowly getting some of my own back), the outdoors, and anything I could possibly get my hands on to read. I lost money, and gave up my goals to travel, and at one point my dumb@$$ gave up the chance at a MacArthur Fellowship.  (Yeah. I’m an idiot. I got that.) I gave up everything I loved about me, everything I loved before I decided I needed to be needed.

All of it. Gone.

I tried to replace it with taking care of people and working my tail off and fitting into a mold that I thought my family expected me to fit into. I tried to tell myself that it was worth it and that maybe this was what I was meant for – to be last in order to gain my ultimate reward. Isn’t that in the Bible, too? “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16)? (FYI, it turns out that verse isn’t about being a martyr like I thought. It’s about a landowner being smart with his resources regardless of what others do for him or how much they think they need from him or deserve. Let that sink in a bit.) And while during some of that time I learned some new things about myself, about how strong I am and can be, and about what I can tolerate and withstand before I’m ready to start slamming faces with a baseball bat, I’ve finally realized something deeply, exhaustingly disturbing.

I was wrong.

And I know I said that the crux of the issue is that I’m disappointed in myself but truly the crux of the crux of the issue is that I was wrong, and I really, completely, totally, wholly hate being wrong. (<— And that is the true crux of the issue. I’m petty that way. I know my truth.) It makes me feel stupid, worthless, and embarrassed. And you know what? I don’t like to feel my feelings, at least not those feelings. Those feelings suck like a stoner siphoning helium from a birthday balloon behind the local Chuck-E-Cheese.

Now, the heart of the crux of the ocean of issues is the fact that I have to make a decision to do something about it. And that means I have to confront my feelings and then talk about them with the people I’ve given so much up for, and we don’t do that here. We don’t fight, we don’t disagree, we don’t stay mad at each other, and we don’t talk about how unappreciated I feel because of everything I’ve given and done and everything I haven’t gotten in return.

We don’t do ROI (that’s Return On Investment for you non-business people) discussions and we sure as heck don’t rock this boat we’ve been patching with peanut butter and holding together with frayed bungee chords while we’ve been navigating the stormy seas of the hurricane we’ve been in for a decade. We talk about how we’ll pay the bills and feed the kids and how in another decade we’ll go on an imaginary trip overseas so we can do more things I really couldn’t give a flying flip about but that I support because it’s what I thought I was supposed to do.

And again, let me be clear: I did this. This was me. There is no blame to be laid but at the door of my dilapidated shack of self-efficacy, washed-up dreams like fragments of seashells and plastic can-rings left by the tide as it washes back out to deeper, bluer, livelier places. I’d love to be able to end this by saying I have a brighter outlook (I do, I think, but I’m hesitant to hope) or with a witty turn of humorous phrase. But I can’t, because this is serious stuff I’m addressing.

And we don’t do that here.

 

On Horses, Hijinks, and What Happens When I Go Home

So, I was super busy with life and parenting and life and stuff over the weekend, but in case you missed it, here’s what happened:

Saturday: the Kentucky Derby

Sunday: Mother’s Day

Here’s the thing: the Kentucky Derby is one of my favorite days/things (ever) that we do in my home state. We grow up with it; Kentucky children learn “My Old Kentucky Home” when we’re in elementary school.  (Granted, many do forget the words – that song is crazy long – but we all know the tune and they put the words on the TV screens before the derby, so we’re good.) The boutiques on every Main Street in the state carry derby hats almost year-round, but they stock up around Valentine’s Day and keep adding to their stock until the week of the big event. Some women – you know, the ones with lots of local friends – even have “hat parties,” which is really an excuse to drink mint juleps, mimosas, and sangria, buy out the floral/ribbon stock at the local Hobby Lobby, and get crazy with a glue gun for the sake of creating a one-of-a-kind (and usually fallen-apart-in-the-humidity-and-revelry-of-the-actual-day) crowning glory. For three weeks before the race, Louisville is in Kentucky Derby Festival mode, offering more than 70 events that include things like one of the nation’s largest half-marathons, a steamboat race, the Pegasus Parade, a concert series on the waterfront of the Ohio River, and the largest annual fireworks show in North America – Thunder Over Louisville. We bring out the Hot Browns, the burgoo, and Mint Juleps, and we celebrate our heritage and the launch of the US Triple Crown.

All of this is to say that this year, I’ve been reminded of a time a few years ago, around Derby week, when I was visiting my parents’ place with my family and we were out riding the horses. They used to take in retired thoroughbreds and exercise horses alike, and had a couple other quarter horses and one cutting horse (he was my favorite – I won’t lie). Our son was about 5 years old, our daughter was 10, and my 6-year-old niece was there, too. They were all taking turns riding with my mom, my brother, and myself. Everything went well for about an hour, then before we went inside the house, Trenton (our youngest) asked if he could ride by himself.  We negotiated, since that’s his favorite thing to do, and we agreed that he could ride on Classy, our most docile quarter horse, if I had the lead rope and walked him around so the horse wouldn’t go too fast.

Unfortunately, all we had was a training lead rather than a standard lead (training leads are much longer to allow the horse more movement), so we had to wrap it into a coil a bit to shorten its length.  Also unfortunately, when I handed the coiled lead to my brother while I was dealing with the saddle, he set said lead on the ground as I was adjusting the stirrups and getting Trenton settled. Classy was moving only slightly as she grazed and waited for me to finish, but when she moved her front right foot, she got it tangled in the lead rope.

(Note: we probably should have done better at adulting and made better decisions. It happens.)

I don’t know how much you know about horses, but they can shy away from things and panic if they can’t see what’s happening. They’re tall, and it’s not easy for them to just look down at their feet, so when something gets wrapped around their foot – say, a lead rope – they don’t know if it’s a harmless rope or if it’s a copperhead (both wildly prevalent in these here parts). Needless to say, Classy was not pleased.  She did okay, though, just prancing a little bit, chestnut flanks twitching and gleaming in the sun but otherwise calm, and I told Trenton to hold onto his reins and pommel while I took care of her for a minute and talked to her. I had soothed her pretty well after a second or two, but my idiot brother then broke rule number one when working with horses: he rushed up to her in a panic of his own because he wanted to unwrap the rope and keep Trenton safe. (This is still a bit frustrating for me, of course, for two reasons: one, we were raised with horses basically from birth and both of us know better than to do that, and two, my son was on that horse.)

Feeding off his panic, the horse bolted, Trenton seated firmly atop her. My mother and I still had hold of the lead rope and were trying to pull her head down to calm her, but Mom lost her grip and stumbled right as I dug in my heels, and Classy, rearing and screaming, pulled the rope out of my fingers (leaving 2nd degree rope burns in its wake, because I despite multiple college degrees I was not smart enough to wear gloves).

Then everyone else panicked. My brother started running after Classy (idiot, like he could catch her), my sister-in-law grabbed her daughter and mine and pulled them out of harm’s way (obviously smarter than her husband), and I started yelling for Trenton to hang on and not let go no matter what…

…until the remainder of the lead rope that had gotten wrapped around my leg during the struggle pulled taught and dropped me onto my face into the field, cutting off all my air and sound. Classy then proceeded to drag me over a hundred yards across the paddock (think about that for a moment…yeah, it was as gross as you imagine).

I managed to flip onto my back and remove my shoe, on which the rope was stuck, so I got free as the horse continued to gallop across the field. I started sprinting (rapidly hobbling) for the barn that bisects the center of the field while Trenton and the still-panicked Classy took a sharp turn at the far corner of the fence and came barreling across the ground toward the opposite side of the barn. By the time they were halfway across the field, I noticed our other quarter horse, Sage, galloping toward Classy. He’s the Alpha in the group, so my wonderful and clearly-more-intelligent-than-her-eldest-son mother had released him from his stall and slapped his flank to send him running to Classy. He corralled her back to the barn and escorted the panicked mare to her stall, Trenton still hanging onto the reins, his knuckles as white as his sun-bleached blond hair.

I was taking stock of possible injury, gauging everyone else’s reaction so we didn’t scare any of the other horses, and soothing my crying daughter – who couldn’t tell me why she was crying since everyone was fine – when I saw and heard what followed.

Once Classy was settled in her stall and sniffing through the feed in her bucket, Trenton, oblivious to the chaos behind him when his mighty steed (okay, mare) bolted, had thrown his leg over the saddle, slid down to the ground gracefully, and had run out of the stall with bright eyes and a huge grin. He went straight to the barn door to my sweet, calm mother, reaching up to her to be picked up and saying with all the excitement in his little heart, “Mimi! Mimi! Did you see that?! I was on that horse on that saddle and I had the reins and she went so fast and I rode her fast as fast as she could go all the way around without letting go and I did it all by myself!”

To which Mimi (she’s too southern and too young to be called Grandma, she says) replied, “You sure did,” and patted him on the head.  She is and always has been eternally graceful, calm, and collected. (I do not take after her, in case you’re wondering.)

Then Trenton, without bothering to notice anyone else, asked Mimi if he could have a cookie, switching topics as children do, and she walked him and the girls to the house.

And honestly? I’ve never laughed so hard, because what looked to us like impending tragedy was the most brilliant and fun day of his life, and he had no idea what was happening just behind him.  You know how I know that? He looked at me this past Saturday – over 6 years later – while we watched Nyquist, his favorite (his school number is 13, like the thoroughbred), win the Run for the Roses and said, “Hey… do you remember that time we went to Mimi’s and I rode that one horse real, real, real fast all by myself?”

I said of course I remembered. Who could forget?

Then he said, “I bet I could ride in the derby with Nyquist and win all by myself, too. I would ride even faster than I did at Mimi’s!”

So of course I said, “You sure would,” and then I patted him on the head.

Mother’s Day as a Step-parent

As I sit here, the sounds of my 11-year-old son and my husband wrestling the daylights out of each other (and probably injuring an arm and a kidney or two between them) are literally vibrating through the house, followed by squeals of delights and the yowls of defeat (mostly coming from my husband, it seems). My almost 16-year-old daughter is at church with her aunt and cousin, in one of her favorite spring dresses and my super-tall wedges that fit her almost perfectly.  What makes today different than any other day, though, is that it’s Mother’s Day, so I am not at church with her and I’m instead sitting at home, writing.

That may seem weird, except I’m not really their mom – I’m their step-mom.  My husband and his ex-wife share joint custody of their two children, so we have them (or one or the other, depending in the season) almost as much as she does. I call them mine, because their father and I, and their mother and their step-father, have been living like this for a decade.  (Our youngest has no recollection of a time when he didn’t have four parents.) I love them just as much as I would if they were mine.  Parents without step-children would probably disagree with me there, since I’ve repeatedly been told by several supposedly well-meaning busy-bodies that it’s different.

Is it? Can you prove it? Have you lived inside my heart and seen the height and depth and breadth of my love for them? Because unless you have (and I’m pretty sure you’re not God), you can’t say with 100% certainty that it is different.  You can say that you think it would be different if I had my own children.  You can say that you’re in a similar situation and you know it’s different, and you can even say that you’ve seen multiple situations like mine and you’ve observed the differences.  But you can’t say that you know our situation.

But I can tell you that I come from a blended family, and I love my step-brothers and step-sister just as much and just as deeply as I do my biological brother, so it’s not a stretch for me to feel the same about these two children. And I can say I love them just as much as if they were my own because their mom and I have a pretty good relationship, and I react to their successes and failures the same way she does.  We’ve talked about how it makes us feel, and we’ve found we feel the same. And I commend her for that, because I can’t say that if the situation were reversed I would handle it as well; that’s how much I do love them.

But back to the layout of today…

I take them to church every other Sunday, sometimes more often depending upon their mom’s work schedule and if we have them back-to-back weekends. So today is weird, because I didn’t take them, and I didn’t go by myself. Why? Because it’s Mother’s Day, and I’m not their mother, nor would I ever try to replace her or pretend I’m equal to her. Maybe in their eyes I am.  In fact, I hope they love and respect all four of us – mom, dad, step-dad, and me – equally.  That means we’re doing something right. But I can’t fault them if they don’t. Their biological mother and father get to be at the top of the pecking order, and that’s as it should be. We are all equally involved in their lives. We plan and coordinate and re-plan and adjust based on everyone’s needs, and that gets us to school, soccer practices, baseball practices, archery, family events, birthday parties, and everywhere else. And it takes all four of us (they have a younger half-brother who is part of all of the logistics, too).  But they have a mother, and I’m not her, and they need to know I understand that.

So, since I’m not their mother, I didn’t go to church. I don’t want to stand up when they do the usual “Recognition of the Mothers” and get the strange looks and the judgments and the stilted applause. I don’t go to “Muffins with Mom” at school every year, and when asked, I tell people they’re my step-children. I don’t want to take any attention away from their real mother, who is very much in the picture and works just as hard to make sure they know and feel secure in how much they’re loved. It’s not my right, it’s not my place, and it’s not my desire to detract from that.

And you know what? It’s hard to know you’re number 2 (or number 4, depending on the day and the kid) forever.  That number isn’t exactly equated with great things. (Think about it.) In fact, it really, really sucks some days – especially on the days when not even my husband recognizes the sacrifices I make because life is just that hectic and stressful and it’s hard to notice. I won’t even sit here and lie and say my feelings don’t get hurt, because they do, until I remember that oh yeah, it’s not really about me, is it?  It’s still worth it, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I. Chose. This. And I would do it again.

So on Mother’s Day, the oldest gets to spend over half the day with the women in her mother’s family.  Because she got the reminder two weeks ago, she already put thought into and bought flowers for her mother and gave them to her. The 11-year-old and I are working together and painting a sign for his mom so she knows he thinks she’s the best mom ever.

Because this day – no matter how commercialized and Hallmarked it may or may not be – is not about me. This day is and should always be about her. That is the life and truth of a step-parent. We know this; we chose it with eyes wide open and willingly.

And you know what? It’s kind of super awesome. Because if we do it right, we get to see these kids grow up into loving, considerate, wholly fulfilled human beings.

Note: It’s also really funny at birthday parties and parent-teacher conferences when we show up en masse and have to explain everyone’s relationship a dozen times before people get it. And it was extremely funny when the kids were little and would look at other kids with pity and say, “You mean you only have one mom and one dad?! Wow, that must be awful.”  (To be fair, that only happened a couple times before we had to have the “every-family-is-different-and-you-can’t-judge-them-for-it-or-say-things-like-that” talk in order to avoid future embarrassment.)

So to all the ‘real’ moms and step-moms, and to all the single dads who are also moms, and to all the grandparents and aunts and godparents and brothers and sisters and anyone else who steps into that role, Happy Mother’s Day. May it be delightful and rewarding no matter your situation and how you live it.

 

All of My Selves Are Crazy and We’re Cool With That

Since learning to adult over the past couple of decades, it has come to my attention how often absolutely stupid thoughts wander from around the bend of the ol’ cerebrum, spin around a few times in the frontal lobe, and then meander on through the cracks in the brain-to-mouth filter to vocally exit the building before I realize what’s happened.  (Wow, was that a crazy long sentence or what? Sheesh.)

For example, I’ve found myself saying things as a parent like, “No, sweetie, we don’t lick the dog’s face,” and, “Please don’t set that opened SlimJim down on the concrete to play with your friend, then pick it up and eat it again.” (At which point the other progeny – the teenager – said, “I don’t know why you waste your time saying that. You know he’s going to,” and I responded with a sigh and, “I know, but I have to at least try.”)

There are also random things like, “Alanis Morisette was the Taylor Swift of my generation,” which for some reason came to my mind while the song ‘Honky Tonk Rock and Roll’ played on my car radio, because clearly all three of those have worlds in common.  Add to that the fact that I now work from home (which is an absolute delight, by the way – an absolute delight) so I don’t really have office mates and my propensity for talking to myself conversationally has increased exponentially, and well, Houston, we have a problem.

I first became bothered by this a couple of months ago when I realized I was no longer talking to my dogs as if they are dogs but instead started conversing as if anthropomorphizing them was the same as, say, chatting at a coctail party or arguing with a family member.  We’d go on walks and they’d do something utterly canine, normal, and stupid (like try to crap in someone’s front yard when I hadn’t brought a bag) and I’d spout off nonsense like, “Stop being such a douchebag! You’re doing this on purpose to get me in trouble with the HOA! How will you feel when we’re banned from walks and you only have a 3 by 5 square of dirt to do that in, huh? HUH?” and then pause as if waiting for an answer. Because clearly we would be banned from being in public because of my dog answering nature’s call and not because the crazy lady who looks like the female unibomber thinks her dogs are people.

Right.

Then last week I seriously lost it while working (because yes, working from home does mean you actually have to work, contrary to popular belief – I average about 45 hours every five days).  What happened?  Well, it went something like this…

*Begin scene*

Me: *typing notes into database*

*suddenly remembers has a phone call scheduled 2 minutes ago and frantically searches for number*

*can’t find number and starts to panic, made worse by being startled when calendar reminder pops up and makes loud noise*

*knocks three pens, two pencils, and a notebook off of desk*

*tries to clean up mess but ends up knocking computer mouse off of desk, too, and it falls so hard it unplugs from computer and rolls into hard-to-reach corner where my T-rex arms can’t go*

Me (as I straddle desk and contort my no longer young body trying to reach mouse): “Argh! Get your sh** together! Get. It. Together. You. Idiot. You. Work. From home. And should. NOT. BE. HAVING. SUCH. STUPID. PROBLEMS.”

Me: “SHUT UP! Worry about yourself! No one needs all your negativity!”

Me: “YOU shut up! Stop being such a moron and learn to adult, already!”

Me: “UGH! I HATE YOU!”

Me: “You’ll effing get over it. Now, seriously, shut up. I’m TRYING to work, here! AND HURRY UP AND GRAB THAT MOUSE BECAUSE I NEED IT!”

*end scene*

I would love to tell you that this is fiction. I would also love to tell you that Chris Hemsworth finally saw the light, left his gorgeous and talented wife, and asked me to run away with him and live the rest of our sun-kissed days together in paradise and that the hubs was totally cool with that.  I would also like to be able to look at people with a straight face and say Trump will be a great president if the brain-dead multitude decides to vote him into office.

All would be flat-out lies. (And okay, really I don’t wish I could say that about Trump. Even I have limits, faint though they may be.)

And since it’s not fiction, and since this bottle of $9 red wine is surprisingly delicious, I’ve decided to embrace all my versions of me, and we’ve agreed on a temporary truce for now as I embody the crazy that is us.

At least until the hubs wants to know when the dishes will be washed. Because when that happens, those bee-otches are going down. I work 45 hours a week; those other freeloading fatties can start pulling their freaking weight or get the eff out.