Here’s the Difference

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If this is the end of me, at least I have a friend with me.

God only knows what I’d be without you.

Last week we received our final delivery from the corporate furniture rental company. Aren’t those words sad-sounding? Corporate furniture rental company. So stark and barren. So lacking in warmth.

I was excited about this delivery because (a) it would mark the last time these strangers would show up at my door; and (b) a rug for our living area was arriving with them, and I was planning on it really tying the room together. The piece de resistance, if you will.

What I’m saying is that there was a lot riding on this rug.

The deliverymen left the rug, as I asked, rolled up and leaning against the wall. I admired the pattern and grew more giddy. I vacuumed and mopped the floor. I pushed the furniture aside, bad back and all, and slowly unfurled this thing of corporate furniture rental glory. I pulled the furniture back into place and stepped back to admire the effect.

The rug stinks.

I mean that literally: the rug smells bad. Not like shit–I know what that smells like. Not like a dead animal or B.O. or anything specific. Just…musty. Like an old warehouse. Which is probably exactly where it came from. And I don’t know if Febreze can solve this scent. As I wrinkled my nose in growing distaste, I noticed more. Like…that the rug could be bigger? And could lie down flatter? And could just STOP SUCKING SO MUCH?

Here is the difference between a bad day and depression: on a bad day, a bad rug makes things worse. On a depressed one, it ruins EVERYTHING FOREVER.

The walls have been closing in on me more. It reminds me of the time TH and I went to Niagara Falls and ventured into a haunted house and one of the final features was a pitch-black room that, we came to realize, had no exit. This was scarier than any ghost or minimum-wage worker in a hockey mask. This was terrifying. Claustrophobia-inducing. Panic attack-birthing. Then, I screamed. They let us out, and I ran the hell away from that den of horrors (and to the nearest bar, I imagine).

These days, the solution isn’t so simple.

The depression that reared its head in the form of anxiety back home is different in our new one. In Atlanta, I would wake up wired, running on adrenaline and cortisol, going through the motions like a well-oiled machine in a familiar environment. Here, I’ve been tired. So tired. As previously mentioned, I don’t even need Xanax to wind down at night–I fall asleep almost as soon as I hit the pillow. I feel weariness lapping at me like the waves on the nearby beach, which I visit at least by car daily and you’d think that would help. But it doesn’t keep me from falling asleep over Dr Seuss, Little Brother tapping my face and yelling “Mom-MEEEE!”, my alarm clock through the fog.

Here, depression looks like anger. It looks like an even shorter temper with the boys, and don’t get me started on TH not replacing the toilet seat the way I asked. It sounds like a raised voice and resembles a flat affect. A lot of “I don’t care” and “whatever you want.”

It looks like rebellion: thoughts of jumping on a bus (I’ve never taken the bus; wouldn’t even know the first thing about how; and yes, this pisses me off too) or hopping into a cab and heading for the airport. Except I’m so tired. And I can’t find my passport. Or TK’s water bottle that I left at his school, the thought of which wakes me up in the middle of the night. My 3 am anxiety alarm clock. And is that a possum scratching on our roof?

It looks like Valentine flowers arriving a day late and tossed, in their box, upside down by our front gate, and my inability to see their beauty because how could anyone just toss my flowers around like that and I don’t even have a vase here.

It looks like feeling stupid all the time, but especially when I drive a block on the right (wrong) side of the road this morning and the car behind me honks then passes me on the two-lane street.

It looks like everything feeling like too much and being too difficult.

But.

The other morning I walked the boys to TK’s school and, as we waited for the morning bell and line-up, I saw another mom of a kid in his class walking down the steps. My mind immediately went to an ugly place–those pants aren’t doing her figure any favors–and I looked around, wondering if anyone else noticed. I looked for camaraderie in the worst way possible, which is what a lonely person does. What an insecure person does. What a depressed person does. A minute later, she was sitting near me and a couple of the moms struck up a conversation about all the information we’ve been given and the expectations laid on us and our kids and this mom, she looked at me and said, “I mean, damn. I don’t know what the hell is going on most days!”

I wanted to kiss her. I immediately loved her. We were the same. Who cares about pants?!

So there is this: the kinship born of being in the same boat, confused and uncertain even when this has been your home for years. There is the flurry of morning activity over text and email and Voxer and Signal even as it fades away into quiet later, because that morning activity is my connection to so many who know me, who get me, who love me. Even if I wore bad pants the first time we met, they hung on. And they will hang on. They hear me and respond and there is no falseness, only deep and true connection, and if they came from somewhere then there are more like them, even here.

And there are more like them: there is the instant and forever friend, giver of the wine and “grace” bracelet, and there is sitting barefoot on a couch drinking wine and sharing life. There is the Friday night in a house full of kids and their parents, friends from another continent and life and now ten years later we are picking back up, deeper than before.

There aren’t solutions, but there are people. There is grace. There are prayers felt and understanding given and forgiveness offered. There is a counselor recommended and the possibility of increased dosage and a hair appointment made. There are runs outside and a new pool for laps. There is this messy new adventure we’ve been called into and the ensuing low tide I’ve been navigating and there is this: the moment I step outside on our balcony and think first how ungrateful I am because who could be “sad” with all this, and then I remember that depression is not the same as ingratitude. It is so much more, so much harder, so much more complicated. And grace knows this. So I look up, and the sunset is so beautiful: gold, pink, orange, and purple, and only because of the clouds are all these colors showing up. It’s like a bruise, I think. Which, when you think of it, may be something only a depressed person could see. And it’s beautiful.

Will Write for Attention

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Few things are certain in this world, but there is this: however critics feel about a movie, I will almost certainly disagree. There have been rare exceptions; the triteness of He’s Just Not That Into You, for example, pissed a lot of us off. Usually, however, I can be counted on as a contrarian. Such was the case with Passengers, which my husband and I saw in a theater with reclining leather chairs and a bar — hard to go wrong between those amenities and a Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence pairing. I was delighted not to be the only one who enjoyed the flick and took note of its redeeming qualities.

A few weeks later, my husband and I returned to the theater, though now it was called the cinema, and we were shifted ten thousand miles from the leather-recliner situation, having moved to Sydney. It was our first adults-only getaway since we moved, so again: hard to take a stance other than Just Happy To Be Here. We saw the Will Smith vehicle Collateral Beauty upon recommendation from our older son’s therapist, whom we had flown over from the U.S. to help my son get acclimated to his new team, and who was also babysitting for us (so, you know, obligations). A couple of hours later, I had tears streaming down my face and a Screw you, critics attitude in my heart as I reasoned to my husband that saccharine overload has cinematic precedent: by all accounts, It’s a Wonderful Life opened to mixed reviews and only later became a classic.

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!

Once More, with Feeling(s)

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Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

We are now entering the portion of a monumental life change wherein everything is going well but I’m spinning out anyway.

I’m feeling the way I did a few months ago, back before I decided to finally take the plunge into low-dosage antidepressants instead of daily anxiety pills (I switched those to bedtime, tks). There was a moment–I remember it; I was sitting in the sunroom of our Atlanta home while the boys played around me and I was pondering all the shit that was going on in our lives and had been over the past few years and presently: breast cancer scare, miscarriage, 2 surgical childbirths, multiple surgeries on The Kid, one minor one for Little Brother, postpartum emotional and hormonal swings, and oh, AN IMPENDING MOVE ACROSS THE EFFING WORLD; I sat there and looked at my children and wondered why the hell I was waiting to get a little assistance if not only would it help me, but them in the process; and that is the story of my call to the doctor).

At that time, there were plenty of entries under the list labeled Difficult. SEE ABOVE. My nerves were frayed and someone always seemed to be sitting on the last one I had left. I felt perpetually at the end of my rope where, yes, I know God’s office resides, but even he at that point was all, “Sweetheart, GET THE DRUGS. They’re a gift, see.” (Sometimes my God talks like a gangster from the 40s, sue me). There was not a day that didn’t leave me feeling overwhelmed and fretful. And we were leaving our home for another one across an ocean.

So I got the drugs. And they helped. And they didn’t take away my ability to cry, which was a big concern for me (I love crying, as previously mentioned). And all was good. I mean, as good as it can be when you’re saying goodbye to everyone you love while crying a lot, right?

And then we moved.

Our first month here was a whirlwind of newness: new house, new accents, new words, new doctor, new church, new neighborhood, new car, new therapists, new babysitters, new people. I theorize that I was running off adrenaline and balancing it with wine and that this and grace got me through those days. Ahead loomed the transition I feared most: new school. Particularly, for TK, since LB just cruises around new locales in search of his next snack. But TK…I mean, nothing has been easy for him, you know? Every step is a big one and, in the process, a triumph. But to get to the triumph…

And we did. We are now to the part where his teacher knows him and his therapist loves him and, yesterday, we ran into two of his classmates on the way to school. The first, walking beside us, said “Hi, James!” with her red curls bouncing as she reminded me of The Niece, the silver bracelet on her wrist glinting in the sun. Seconds later, a voice issued from a nearby car: “HIYA, JAMES!” TK took these greetings in stride, grinning as I prompted him to return them, and he bounced ahead of me, knowing the way as I pushed LB in the stroller. He can’t wait to go to school every day. “I want to go to BEAUTY POINT PUBLIC SCHOOL!” he announces every morning, beaming as I help him slip into his uniform. We pass teachers and staff members who greet him by name. Another mom told me she visited the class yesterday and saw what a great reader he is. There is kindness all around us. On Monday, I sat in a monthly meeting of Team James, his cadre of therapists from the center we frequent twice a week, and what initially felt like an echo of tense disciplinary sessions from my Two Worst Years Ever, AKA my residency, became a conversation populated by people who really see TK, who know him in ways big and small after a month. I realized once again how much I interpret as threat what is meant as gift. I’ve finally met some other moms (mums) from his class at school and we’ve walked the blocks home after drop-off together, pushing our second-borns and commiserating over homework and all the other shared experiences that I wasn’t sure I’d get to partake of, even as I know that our path is different–but somehow still the same. Last night we met our neighbor and he mentioned getting together for wine. We really like our church, and I have, like, three friends! I don’t take pills to get to sleep (yet). I see the Pacific Ocean daily and I even have a local lap pool. I’m writing this from the deck of our home, overlooking our pool and a harbo(u)r. Everything appears to be going…swimmingly.

So why am I having such a hard time? Once again with nerves frayed, at the end of my rope, so easily overwhelmed?

This is Life 2.0: everything replicated in a different place. I suppose there are people who land in a new existence like this and look around at the sun and beach and say, “GREAT! Let’s get started!” These are probably the same people whose kids eat only healthy foods, who craft adorable homemade Valentines for each child in the God-forsaken school, and whose marriages are perfect. To them I say, from a distance and across a chasm, “Enjoy that.” I don’t do “new” well. I don’t replicate easily. I don’t LIKE it when it’s sunny all the time. (And it’s not here. Contrary to popular belief, this is not Southern California. So there’s that, I guess.) I see shadows and cracks. I overthink. I am shit at making crafts. Also, I hate making crafts. When the wonderfully kind mums from TK’s class bid me farewell after our perfectly pleasant conversation at our respective turning points, I breathe a huge sigh of relief (but not before inviting them to come over with their kids and play in our pool, because I am COMPLICATED).

There is a part of me that resents the ways this place is becoming our home, even as I am grateful for them: the places and the people that are gaining familiarity and are embracing us as we embrace back. There is a grief coupled with the gratitude. There is loss with the gain, because it is COMPLICATED.

I went through a similar depression a few months after arriving in New York. I thought it was purely a seasonal thing at the time, but maybe it too was a bit of delayed grief, even a form of guilt: I’m doing okay in this new place, and what does that mean? Back then it was less complicated: no stroller to push around, no tiny bodies to bathe each night, no emotional underpinning times infinity to everything I did. Here, I feel the weight not just of my adjustments, but theirs. We are doing life, all the parts of life that were big steps and little, difficult and easy, struggle and triumph, all over again. How would that not take a toll?

Every time new life comes, there is a death along with it. (God, that sounds depressing.) But it’s true–don’t make me quote Semisonic again. Some people have gentler grips than I do; they let things pass through their hands more easily. I’m still learning how to let go and hold on and when to know the difference. But I’m seeing the grace in the second time around: how when LB speaks, it’s so much sweeter because of how long we had to wait for TK to. And how, when they speak to and with each other, it’s like a damn symphony (notice I said speak, not whine). How TK’s propensity to make people cheer for him only gets sweeter with repetition. How flowers delivered in Australia look just as beautiful, if not more so, in a food container than a non-existent-in-our-new-home vase. How every sunset, while different, is the same sun. How grace takes no notice of time difference or distance as it carries us through grief and joy, always to the same place: home.

Already There

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It’s been a hell of a week.

Hell being the operative word. As in, hot as hell. Warmer than Satan’s armpit. More uncomfortable than a whore in church. Sweatier than Ryan Lochte at a spelling bee. And hot and I, we don’t mix. Yes, I grew up in the South. Yes, I was told that summer in Sydney is hot and humid. And I believed it…but also, I didn’t? Because what could really compare with August in Atlanta?

Sydney in February, that’s what. And it is not doing me, or my hair, any favors.

I’m on the edge. Not of glory, but of losing my shit. Every. Single. Day. But it’s not fair to blame just the heat. There’s also…me. And a little across-the-world move. And two boys who know just how to push each other’s buttons, and mine in the process. Also, a few spiders have been involved. And maybe a bit of lingering postnatal depression, some anxiety, and PTSD? I don’t know. I’M HOT. I’m hot, short-tempered, irritable, and glistening.

Let’s begin, shall we?

I made some notes. I make notes in my phone, because if I don’t then I forget everything: everything that’s happened, everything I want to write about, everything I need to buy at the grocery store. And as I look at my notes, I’m abashed by all the good things I listed, all the sweet moments and joyful memories. So I’ll work backward, from this morning, which was a Monday morning, which is the worst time of the week, can I get an amen? It was approaching 40 Celsius here (convert it to Fahrenheit yourself, I just can’t with it all right now) and I decided to drive The Kid and Little Brother to TK’s school, a ten-minute walk but it was 8:30 and I was already over this day. I parked along the street at a surprisingly close and open spot, which is a bit like seeing a nearly empty subway car in NYC and thinking “Score!” and being the chump that walks onto it then realizes too late, as the doors are closing, that the lone occupant of the car is likely homeless and definitely soaked in urine, and now you have not just the scent to contend with, but your nausea and also guilt over walking away at the next stop. Which you do, but still–ambivalently. Anyway, I parked the car and heaved the kids out of it and walked them (=herding cats, and YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT CATS) to TK’s classroom. TK was dealing with Monday-morning anxiety and his therapist wasn’t there yet and he had lots of questions and LB had lots of energy and I had no Xanax (on me) and there was, as ever, my current, erstwhile, and oft-returning companion, Sense of Awkwardness. Also goes by Always the Outsider, Hey Look at Me–I’m a Weirdo!, and I Might Need a Bathroom Soon. I was trying to hold it together so TK didn’t lose it (aren’t we a cute pair) even as I was navigating this foreign land and might-as-well-be-another language. And bonus excuse-the-f%ck-out-of-me moment, but there are assemblies every Monday morning! And everyone else but me knows this! And the teachers were hustling their classes out onto the schoolyard, AKA Satan’s butthole of heat, to listen to the principal discuss being kind to and looking out for each other as I dragged LB behind me like a suitcase and TK was growing increasingly anxious over where his therapist might be and just exactly what the HELL was going on.

It crossed my mind that this is WHY we have a shadow therapist for him–one of the reasons–because were I not here, he would have been lost in the shuffle and who KNOWS where he would have ended up and WHERE THE EFF IS HIS THERAPIST and by this point, even the t-shirt and gym shorts I was wearing were like “Oh HELL no, you reek and we’re out of here.” The assembly ended THANK GOD and the kids dispersed to their classrooms and I told TK’s teacher that OF COURSE I left my phone in the car and I didn’t know where the therapist was but I’d go to the school gate and see if he was there and if not, grab my phone. I explained this to TK and he consented for me to leave but not without a look of uncertainty that broke my heart (not for the first time), and I heaved LB up on my hip like a sack of groceries as he squealed and protested: “IT’S HOT OUTSIDE! I HOT! I HOT!” and I made it to my car just in time to see the traffic cop taking a picture of the company-sponsored RAV4 (what does Equifax think we rap for?!), which was OF COURSE parked in a bus zone.

I played the ignorant American card (she’s seen our President and felt sorry for me and canceled the ticket), and TK’s therapist arrived talking of traffic, and we were all on our way. And that was my morning.

Now I’m in the waiting room at TK’s therapy center. There is light air-conditioning, I have snacks and cold water, I have time to weigh whether to increase my dosage of Lexapro, and I can breathe again. And as I do, I return to my notes. To my thoughts, from this week of new adjustments: of school starting for both boys, primarily. And there is this:

There were the two mornings last week when TK and his therapist did in-home sessions to pair with each other (a term which reminded me of Twilight and imprinting, but turns out, not the same thing), and I actually got to shower without an audience and walk out onto the balcony (dressed) and hear them downstairs, playing cars (did I mention his therapist is a dude? It’s wonderful. He actually has energy, #whatsthat) while TK laughed and laughed.

There is the comfort that both boys feel at church now, to the point that I was actually able to leave them in their kids’ class and hear a sermon and cry a bit, which is one of my favorite things to do.

There was the afternoon last week when we took LB to his preschool and TK and I got to spend some one-on-one time together, rare these days, and we walked around town and passed an elderly gentleman relying on a cane to walk. TK walked beside him and grinned up at him, and I was reminded of how much he sees that other people miss–how his heart is shaped uniquely to feel others’ “weaknesses” and “burdens” and recognize–rename–them as “special.” This boy, he sees everything, to the point that I have to slow down for him (you can imagine how well I take that at times)–he slows me down. He makes me see. It is so inconvenient, and so life-giving.

The heat, it is wearing me down. And now that the initial shock and adrenaline of moving have worn off, there is room for anxiety to enter in, space for frustration and lostness to show up and threaten to undo me. And I am so easily undone. The people here have friend sets and lunchbox intel and different foods and words for those foods and even my phone is new and doesn’t understand what I want to type (#firstworldproblems). I feel so out of place sometimes. It hurts, and I realize I have to let it–I have to take that time in the car after a near-ticket and a rough morning and let the tears flow, let the grief wash over me, because it’s not really about being in a new place, it’s about being in the old one–the one where I’m afraid I’m never going to fit in, never going to be really known.

There’s a print hanging on our wall here that reads, “I once was lost but now am found.” I found it online before we left Atlanta and had it shipped here, and it greets me when we walk in the door, and no matter the day I’ve had, I choose to believe it. Some days make that choice so hard. Others make it easy. Most days are a combination of both. But I watch it happening: the ways we are being seen, and known, slowly over time and through heat. How more faces and places are becoming familiar. How people are embracing my children, and how the way they say my name–“Mommy”–can change in an instant from needy to awe-filled, and I know it: that grace was here before we were, making this a home, and grace isn’t finished yet. I listened to it this morning, the reminder of the woman who knew the voice when it said her name–and I believe that that same voice calls things into being that aren’t there yet, even as I ache for them. I believe, but also…I don’t? Which is okay, because I know, and more than that, I am known.

You See Me (Home)

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There’s a line in the critically acclaimed classic film Crocodile Dundee in which the main character responds to a threat by declaring, “That’s not a knife. THIS is a knife,” then unsheathes a weapon that causes everyone around him to stand down in awe. The clip was played on the TV at my gym over the weekend and when I saw it, I knew: that’s what grace has been doing for us since before we arrived here in Sydney, at every turn. It’s been taking my fears–fears that were converted to prayers but keep wanting to switch back–and making each of them stand down, one after the other. Because grace, if you didn’t know, speaks softly but carries a big knife.

See also–babysitters.

Grace, much like soylent green, has been turning up as people, popping up all over the place. Some of them we knew before; some we are just laying eyes on. It turns out they’re laying eyes on us too, really seeing us, and it’s funny, this post I was reminded of recently when it popped up on my newsfeed–how it brings back in a rush of recognition my lifelong desire to remain invisible, under the radar, and how life has been found in the moments of being seen. And how many of them would never had occurred were it not for all the things we never would have chosen.

A couple of weeks ago, we welcomed our first houseguest: The Kid’s therapist from back home. We were two weeks into this move, newcomers ourselves, and when her taxi pulled to a stop in front of our house and I beheld TK’s grin at this piece of home, I was reminded of the early days with her, nearly two years ago, when almost every time she left our house I would doubt and wonder and consider calling for a replacement because I did NOT feel like we were connecting. But she and TK were. And I considered that the fact she had started out–with her matter-of-factness and directness and demands–on my bad side might not be truly fair since that side actually covers more than fifty percent of me; it’s almost the whole thing–my unspoken policy seems to be that all new people are guilty until proven innocent. So I waited, and watched, and there were many standoffs and confrontations (in my head) and now, she was standing in our new driveway ten thousand miles away from the old one, and TK looked happier than he had since we arrived. For the next week, she became part of our family, getting TK (and me) back on track and reminding me of what he is capable of–and what I am, too. When she left after days of deep conversations and more of a relationship than I ever would have imagined possible two years ago, I was urging her to come back soon and stifling tears.

This is how grace appears: not in the people we expected or the things we asked for. It’s so sneaky like that.

It shows up in the lady at the cosmetics store, who introduced me to her coworker who had lived in Atlanta, and who seemed to find me hilarious and asked me to come back soon, even if it was “just for a chat.” I am DELIGHTFUL in Australia, I thought, emerging into the furnace of heat outside with a bounce in my step just as an elderly woman yelled at me for stepping in front of her. It shows up in the doctor whose office we called for a same-day appointment to sort out the boys’ immunizations/immunisations, and when he asked if we needed anything else I told him I’d be back to get a prescription for myself filled–a little drug called Lexapro that has been talking me off ledges recently–and he pulled out his pad. “And is that for…depression?” he gently prodded. “Postnatal depression?” I nodded at the latter even though it’s two years out, because all of life for me is now postnatal (HELLO PTSD AFTER HAVING YOUR INSIDES AND IDENTITY REARRANGED), and he handed me the slip of paper and looked at me seriously as he asked it: “How are you doing?” I wanted to cry but feared it would not match my sincere answer, that some of this has been hard but I’m actually doing pretty well, but the question–it made me feel seen. It made me realize I am being seen, grace showing up in kind queries and in the moment the other morning when the sidewalk ended without warning due to construction and I was left with two boys in a stroller in the scalding heat, profanities lacing each labored breath, and no fewer than four people stopped and offered help, their arms and mine lifting my children across the ripped concrete and sand and onto solid ground again.

Then I went to the gym and a bird, for no apparent reason, flew right through the room and over my head and scared the shit out of me. But I don’t have the metaphor for that one yet, so stay tuned.

Grace shows up fully armed in the removed-by-multiple-degrees-but-still-feel-like-relatives-friends who showed up on Australia Day and met us in the harbo(u)r, and since I’ve only met them twice and briefly, I worried I wouldn’t recognize them or they, us. But through the crowd I saw their faces and knew, and so did they–because you always see the people you know. We spent the next few hours talking and laughing and watching boats and hearing the national anthem and standing together for it along with everyone around us, a part of something bigger than ourselves, always. A piece of home here.

It’s uncanny–but not really, is it?–that the woman I barely met on the plane is now my son’s emergency contact and my drinking/gym/life buddy; that after meeting with him for just a few minutes, TK’s new teacher told me, “He’s just so kind, isn’t he?” and I breathed again, knowing she can see him; that one of my dearest back home said it too–how a debacle at a restaurant recently brought out the people Mr. Rogers liked to call “helpers,” who followed her to the bathroom and asked her the same thing asked of me: “How are you doing?” How another of my dearest back home wrote about it, her son who faces so many of the same challenges as TK does revealing the kindness of strangers too. They’ve been called guardian angels by some, but I don’t know; I like to think of them as grace putting on skin and packing heat.

This American Life did an episode last week on what happens when one person spots something no one else can see; Modern Love blew me away with a father’s description of his life with his son on the spectrum. And I write about it here because I have to–this documentation of all that grace has let me in on, all that it allows me to see that I would have missed otherwise: TK and his wonky and beautiful way of looking at the world; divine faithfulness stretching across thousands of miles; forgiveness being the glue that holds marriage and family and life together in the midst of failure and depression and anxiety and general wretched brokenness that keeps turning into hope. I can’t not tell you about it, because you’re my people too, and if you are…then that means you can see it too now, right?

A Different Sunset Every Day

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I finally cried in church this week. That hasn’t happened in a while; specifically, since we were back in Atlanta in our home church on Christmas day. I’ve missed the tears that come with heartfelt experience, that attend a weekly re-membering, the stark awareness of a grace that transcends my daily worries. The tears were welcome; they reminded me of home. They made me feel like we are getting to be at home here.

True to my nature, I’ve taken to adopting several routines here in Sydney: the repetition helps me adapt and relax and gives structure to my days. To the boys’ days. Most of the routines are centered around cupcakes and wine, but there are a few others. Some are carry-overs from back home in Atlanta: my nightly epsom-salt-filled bath, the morning and evening liturgy that mercifully remains the same across oceans and continents, God himself unchanging in the face of everything else feeling so different.

But is it that different?

The end of the day is, in so many ways, and that’s one of my favorite new rituals: after putting The Kid to bed, while The Husband remains with his allotted child, Little Brother, I head out to the balcony off our bedroom (I KNOW, but someone’s gotta do it) and take a look at the setting sun, since this is the season–summer–for it to set around 8 pm every night, the days long and often hot, the evenings splashed by the western glow of fading light. That light is more scattered and glorious when clouds are paired with it, filtering the beams and painting them purple and pink and orange, leaving me wonderstruck at the artistry of it all. Then I turn to the harbor(u)r on my right, the boats bobbing in the blue-gray water. I feel my blood pressure lower, and often TH appears beside me, taking it in too even though he’s had longer to get used to it over the visits he paid before we all moved, and he tells me about those weeks when he watched alone–how there was a different sunset every day.

So yeah, that’s not quite the same as the occasional day-enders I’d catch from the window back home, when I’d pull the boys out the front door and onto the porch to witness the setting sun through the trees of our neighborhood. We have a different view now.

But so much is similar. There was the moment in a local (and now favorite) pasta takeaway shop, after I’d heaved the stroller through the doorway and placed my order and waited in a rare moment of quiet with the boys then heard a familiar crying sound and saw that it wasn’t my #preciouschildren but those of the woman who had just entered with her stroller, out of which had clambered a boy who was now throwing himself onto the floor in a fit of passion. She sighed deeply, the same sigh I emit several hundred times a day, and glanced at me with exhaustion in her eyes. “That sounds just like my two,” I told her, and she smiled ruefully, pausing to think. “I mean…” she began, and I waited. “I mean, it’s hardly worth it sometimes, is it?” I think she was referring to leaving the house with small people, though she could have meant more and gotten away with it in the moment, sweat running down her face as it was mine, goodwill evaporating with the day itself. She said it, and I felt less alone and told her so: “I know exactly what you mean.” The language of kinship, of CS Lewis’ “What, you too?”

And there’s church. The place that, outside of our actual house in Atlanta, felt most like home there, surrounded as we were by so many who know our story and embrace us because of and independent of and in spite of it, who prayed us all the way here and haven’t left just because we did, whose messages light up my phone alongside other friends’ and family members’ and carry with them an awareness of those moments that define us, that solidify our existence. You can’t replicate that; it will not bear re-creation. But maybe it can be echoed, transformed, so that it is both similar and different, its own thing here yet not without familiarity.

This week before the Sunday service the boys bounded into the old building with its arched ceilings and stained glass windows, and they ran to the front where the musicians were practicing. They bobbed up and down in their rhythmless white-boy dancing, then chased each other through the rows and around the pews, and the pastor–new to them and yet known from long ago to me–laughed as he approached. He mentioned gin and tonics, getting together, and it was like the pieces of life that I had felt were disappearing were suddenly just being rearranged, falling into their new places. The “for now” part of “home for now” falling away…for now? Or for good, for no matter where we are, this new place will always be a part of us too. A part of our story the same way New York is, never to be unfamiliar again. What a gift, to be scattered around in so many directions like the setting sun.

And when the music played later, the kids in children’s church with TH because it was his week, I heard an old song in a new arrangement, and it was the same but different, and I felt new yet familiar tears fill my eyes in a kind of baptism into this new yet forever the same life. Later, before the sunset, our house made its sounds and instead of frightening TK, they felt familiar: “That’s just the fan turning on,” he told me. As he drifted off to sleep beside me, more peaceful this night than the last and still more peace to cover ahead of us, I thought about how it’s the different sunsets, the different colors, the different places and people and experiences that tell the whole story and make us part of something bigger than ourselves. That mercifully take me out of myself and the tiny world I’d inhabit if given the chance–that choice denied me by a love that won’t let life be so small. The next day, the boys and I turned in our new car onto our new street, and as I grabbed for the new garage door opener that feels strangely similar to our old one, TK spoke to me from the backseat: “Mommy! We’re home.”

The Same, But Different

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It was almost as if…dare I say…he welcomed the wonder of it all. –Maria Semple, Today Will Be Different

When I first lived in New York, in the summer of 2005, I quickly learned the subway’s 6 line and how to catch the express train to Union Square–a mecca of familiar retail like Barnes & Noble, and new ones like Forever 21 (which, regretfully, I was/am not). I would emerge from the underground and check out some stores, then head south on Fifth and hit up some more staples (J Crew, I’m looking at you…and your sale section). After awhile I memorized a route that took me past a favorite church and down a street of polished townhouses into the West Village, where I would end the first half of my journey at Magnolia Bakery, cupcake in hand.

I always felt that, after the effort spent getting to it and the miles I walked home afterward, I earned that cupcake.

I spent the overwhelming majority of the first three decades of my life thinking I’d earned a lot, actually. Isn’t that the unsaid and unspoken agreement by which many of us live–the law of karma? The world, after all, lives by–and recognizes–hours put in before assessing reward. It’s such a hard habit to break, this cycle of determining my own worth by my merits. By my productivity. By whether my kids are potty-trained or I’ve yelled at them today. Now let’s see: neither of them is, and one sports a black eye that I garnered for him when our stram (stroller + pram, I’m coining it) hit an Everest-sized bump that I failed to notice, probably because I was quantifying the lack of gratitude shown for all the hard work I’ve put in on this earth. (Some of you will be getting letters.) I HAVE MOVED ACROSS THE WORLD FOR MY FAMILY. I WIPE TWO ASSES THAT ARE NOT MINE EVERY DAY. I MAKE FOOD THAT TINY PEOPLE DON’T EAT THEN I PICK IT OFF THE FLOOR LIKE CINDERELLA BEFORE THE BALL HAPPENED. I could go on. I have gone on (ask The Husband). Surely, it’s time for God to throw me a solid and make things easy?

Life used to be easier and I never appreciated it.

I got blisters in New York. I sweated from countless places. But I ate cupcakes on the street and slept in until noon. I wandered around. I got lost. I got found. I stared at water views. I experienced grace. I peed alone. Looking back, it seems like it was…easier. But it was the same, just different. Because now, I do the same things. I just do them with a pair of tiny dudes, their combined weight working with gravity against me, their whines piercing through the quiet of unfamiliar grocery stores and interrupting the Bible story at church, their wrestling leaving one foot in my face and another in my crotch. I wipe cupcake off their faces and arms and legs and stram, and I sweat in playgrounds. I drive twenty minutes to a therapy center multiple times a week and wait for two hours while TK gets services. I would never have driven this early (read: I would never have driven in Australia) if TK hadn’t needed me to. I would never have done so many things if I hadn’t been needed to…if I hadn’t been needed.

It is weighty and often onerous, this being needed. It wakes me up in the middle of the night with thoughts of childcare and school starting, of sharks and drownings and kidnappings and breaks with sanity. It pulls me down into a depth from which I think I may never recover, and then it does the strangest thing:

It saves me.

Or, to be clear, grace saves me through it. Grace had the wisdom and foreknowledge to see what I didn’t, that I was on a collision course with myself, and grace intervened. Grace made everything harder, and better, and worse, and wonderful, all at the same time. Grace made everything more.

And what that looks like now is somehow the same as before, but different. There are the thousand tiny kindnesses of grace showing up. From the silly–the bedding I found that so resembles what I had and loved those years in New York, only now it’s bigger; it stretches further and over more people–to the deeply meaningful: the books my friend sent that I’m devouring on our back deck as the boys play beside me. The homes we’ve been welcomed into, where we’ve been watered (wined) and fed and our children have been embraced with stunning consideration. The liturgy that is the same across languages and hemispheres and continents. The rooftop bar TH and I went to the other night with a view of the water and a bridge, much like so many of the rooftop bars we frequented in New York.

Except now…this time, we came home to two boys who swam naked in the pool with grins on their faces, their faces that look like both of ours. (I only worried about drowning…occasionally.) Now, when I get to the gym, I park a stram and heave out those two boys and, in a move my old self wouldn’t have seen coming, I take them on an escalator ride before I work out, the three of us clasping hands like we’re going on some grand journey. And we are.

And at church this week, I didn’t get to stay with the grownups this time. I sat with my children, who alternately charmed and disrupted, and when the story came along, I wondered if it wasn’t for me as much/more than it was for them. Because when they were asked what kind of person we have to be to receive that divine love, a boy spoke up that I knew in New York, but he was a baby then. Now he’s an older kid, the same but different, another reminder of grace bringing the pieces of this puzzle together, and he answered in a way that not every preacher’s kid would, but in the best way, because he said: “You don’t have to be anything. He just loves you.” My boys scrambled across my lap and swatted at each other, and I grabbed their hands and heard it, this story that is always, always the same but meets me in every different place I am as though I’ve heard it for the first time.

Will Write for Attention

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This past calendar year, known by many of us as 2016, was nothing if not controversial. Populated as it was by unexpected outcomes, celebrity demises, and global tragedies, the year stands out as, at the very least, memorable. And at the very most? Well, it may be the first time I’ve heard a quartet of numbers get accused of killing people. Who knew those four digits carried around a sickle and political machinations in their back pockets?

Whether the loss of Prince and Princess (Leia) ruined your year or just amounted to a footnote in it, overall apathy about the past twelve months has been in short supply. For my part, I was talking on the phone to a friend in late December who, after we caught up past our social media newsfeeds, told me, “Well. You may be the only person who had a good twenty-sixteen.”

Yes…and no. Which is sort of the point of everything, right?

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!

Getting to Know You

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My point of destination’s different from where I was headed.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman about to become a wife and mother has no idea what the hell she’s getting herself into.

(Or maybe it’s just a truth that I’ve recently begun to acknowledge.)

Yesterday I was pushing the boys in their stroller–ahem, pram–in the summer (YES, SUMMER) heat and humidity down the baking sidewalk as cars and buses roared by. We passed a bus stop where a teenage boy and girl were openly making out, going at it in front of my children’s innocent eyes, but more importantly my not-so-innocent ones, and I wanted to stop right there and yell at them–the girl, specifically. Not because I was offended. I mean, I’ve made out at my share of bus stops before, YA HEARD? But because I wanted to issue a warning to this girl that she would remember, one that would stand out among the thoughts of makeup and prom and college entrance exams and would crawl from the recesses of her mind every time she wanted to turn a huge decision into a small one and a small one into a huge one, a warning that would echo within her brain for years to come until, at the wise age of thirty or above, after years of bad blind dates and information gleaned and continents traveled, she would finally settle down with the right person and without any misconceptions of what that should look like. I wanted to pull her aside in the sticky heat and tell her that she better have some damn good birth control and a grasp of reality because otherwise she could end up like me a decade-and-a-half early. “Like me” meaning a middle-aged woman saddled with a husband and two kids, sweat running down the backs of her legs and from her armpits (because she can’t find an anti-perspirant ANYWHERE that actually lives up to its job title) and from every other conceivable spot on her body, headed toward a home where she would listen to those two children play and fight outside while she made them a dinner they would barely touch and would clean it up after them like some sort of shitty restaurant owner and would then bathe their dirty asses before her own collapsed into bed at the hour of about eight o’clock.

A woman like me. A woman who finally has everything she prayed and dreamed for and is not above feeling ambivalent about it all.

Let me be brave or awful enough to say it, and the rest of you can either a) pretend it’s never true; 2) act like you’re somehow above it; or III) come sit by me and pour a glass (bottle) of wine: this life isn’t all it’s made out to be. The women I know are often living lives of quiet desperation (yeah, looking at you, THOREAU–it’s not just the dudes), struggling either with what they want and don’t have or have and are struggling to hold together. In other words, living out the human condition. They are tired of IVF appointments or adoption waitlists, they are sick of their husbands working too late or their bosses being asses, they love their children madly and want to drop-kick them out the window. They are not crazy, though they feel like they are and their hormones and exhaustion aren’t helping matters. They have #firstworldproblems but they’re still problems, thanks. They are a little confused as to why they don’t know who they are all the time and under whose jurisdiction they are expected to have become different people because they now wear a ring or had babies removed from their bodies. They are high and low and up and down and all over the place in any given moment. Or maybe these are just the women with whom I care to do life. Either way, it is life. And we’re living every second of it, long days and short years alike.

All of which is to say that this second week of our new life in Sydney has been all of the above. You know–life.

The boys and I are together all day, every day. The Kid doesn’t start school until February (which I both anticipate and dread, go figure), and Little Brother’s occasional childcare situation is being figured out. Lately we have hammered out our own little routines to structure our days: walk to the gym followed by a trip to the bakery followed by a trip to the playground. Come home for Mommy’s desperately-needed shower. Eat lunch. Play on the deck. Go out again. Come home. Give the boys the screens they’ve been screaming for all day. Pour Mommy a desperately-needed glass of wine and pair it with the obscene coloring book one of her favorites back in ATL gave her. Dinner and the rest.

It’s been mostly good, peppered by TK’s frequent upsets and freakouts and general emotional processing of, you know, BEING MOVED ACROSS THE WORLD. It’s been good, and beautiful, and awful and sad. It’s been exactly what we’re meant to be doing even when it sucks ever so royally. We have had moments of sublime grace: playdates with a friend and her son, conversations while our boys play that identify our lives as wonderfully similar. The shoe-store employee who fit the boys with sandals and sneakers then realized we live in the house she occupied with her family JUST BEFORE WE MOVED THERE. Drives to therapy that end with TK and me arriving alive without crap-stained pants (mine). The guy at the car wash who witnessed TK’s meltdown and handed him a super-soaker to help. The dad at TK’s therapy center who just struck up a conversation with me because he’s also American. Slowly recognizing streets without maps. A cupcake shop. The crest on Awaba Road that gives us a view of Balmoral and the majestic Pacific beyond it and which leaves me breathless over how grace will just not leave me alone until I see the beauty it takes me by the hand and leads me to.

The complicated love I feel for all of it: for The Husband, whose gifts led us here and whose kindness looks out for us even as he can’t fully understand how it feels to be plopped into a foreign existence with the kids day in and out, handling their minute and large adjustments, finding them sitters I can trust and trying to manage the anxiety of it all and all their damn fights all day long. (Also, trying to cook in Celsius.) Love for those children, whose well-being is my absolute oxygen but whose happiness is often annoyingly independent of that in any given moment until the whole story plays out. And grace itself; rather, the giver of it, whose grand idea all this was. And it is grand–grand in its scope, complexity, ambiguity, and emotion. It is everything. It is life.

The other day the boys sat in their pram and I beside them outside that cupcake shop. As we inhaled out baked goods, I remembered Carrie in Paris, who wandered the streets, not sure of what to do with herself. I remembered myself in New York, sweat sticking to the backs of my legs in the July heat as I wandered the streets, not sure of what to do with myself. Neither of those women had children she was pushing uphill while breathing gutturally. Both were looking for home.

I’m the one who’s found it. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, but I’m counting on that being because somehow, it’s more. Complicatedly, blessedly, painfully more than what I would have come up with.

The other night the four of us headed upstairs and I had a fleeting feeling of familiarity: of how this can, will, be home for us. And yesterday, I dared to get behind the right-sided wheel alone with the boys and we drove around our neighborhood. LB slept in the backseat and TK yelled directions, just like old times. Just like new times. Then “Freedom” blared from the radio and I’ll be the one who’s brave or awful enough to say it: I turned up the volume, belted out the lyrics, crested another hill, and let TK choose the next turn as the wind (A/C) blew through our hair and the sun beat down mercilessly, mercifully, on us all.

From the Other Side

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Be forewarned: some of the following content will make it sound like I recently graduated from the Debbie Downer School of Life Management. Read on at your own peril.

When I moved to New York in the summer of 2005, a few people remarked that I was brave. While flattered, I knew the truth: I wasn’t brave, I was desperate. What’s brave about a person who exhausts every possible option of safety before finally, like Jonah, accepting her fate and heading to the big city? Home no longer felt like home. It was time to leave, and so I did. Nothing felt brave about that–it felt more like resignation: no husband, no ring, no prospects? GET THEE TO THE ISLE OF MANHATTAN, SPINSTER! (I was twenty-seven at the time. It’s possible I was a bit melodramatic.)

When The Husband came home with the news that moving to Sydney could be in our future, I issued a hard pass. Contrary to over a decade ago, when I felt run out of Birmingham by bad choices, Atlanta had grown to be home. I didn’t want to leave. “God’s going to have to make it pretty clear if he wants to move our lives across the world,” I said smugly, knowing he would never do such a thing after we’d become a family there and were surrounded by more family and friends that felt like it. Meanwhile, God looked up from his heavenly knitting pattern, smiled sweetly, and proceeded to love me right out of my comfort zone anyway.

We’re here now.

I wrote in an email to a friend that I tend to front-load all the hard stuff when a big transition comes. There is no “honeymoon period” for me at times like this: I drop into the new comfort-free zone like I was issued from a war plane and land with a thud, laden with maps and strategies and luggage, and immediately upon touching ground I curl into the fetal position, paralyzed by my trees-for-the-forest mentality, undone by the weight of all I’ve determined there is to do RIGHT NOW. I take some medicine, say some prayers, check in with people who understand. Eventually (a day, this time), I start to uncoil from myself, look around like a baby seeing the world for the first time, realize maybe it’s not all a threat. It’s not all bad. The nausea subsides a bit. I’m able to eat and poop again. Inch by inch (or centimeter, if you’re Australian/nasty), I come to life.

In case you were wondering how NOT to manage change.

As big a fan of grace as I am, I tend not to be so solicitous with it in the way I treat myself. (Or, often, others, though that’s a post for a different day.) When our plane touched the ground I was relieved, and thrilled. The boys had performed magnificently on the flight, and–again–though I’m a big fan of grace, I still thrive on a great performance, especially when it is mine or reflects well upon me. Both The Kid and Little Brother had slept for the greater part of our transit. TH had held LB for hours and I had spent some serious cuddle time looped around TK, spooning like it was our job. The fourteen hours were the opposite of the drudgery I’d feared; instead, they were fuzzy-edged with sepia overtones, a testament to our family’s deepening bond and maybe even TK’s and my growth away from anxiety. A grandfatherly type seated behind me pointed to TK and said, “You have a great boy there,” then told me how TK had tapped him and whispered hello while the man was sleeping (thankfully, the man found this endearing). I watched four episodes of a disturbingly fantastic show. I ate and drank without expelling it through either main orifice. THE TRIP WAS A SUCCESS–MARK IT IN THE BOOKS AND POST IT TO INSTAGRAM.

Then, to reiterate, we landed.

Shit got real.

We got to our house–our home?–and ALL THE PLUGS ARE DIFFERENT. I had known this, of course, and we were even materially prepared for it, but that didn’t take away the sting. The layout was different from the house we’d just left. The drawers were in DIFFERENT PLACES. We had to unpack. The grocery store was small and had DIFFERENT PRODUCTS. We got back to the house and I remembered that PEOPLE HAD LIVED HERE BEFORE. I wondered about skin cells, if the tap water was drinkable. Our shipping containers had not arrived yet (they weren’t supposed to have). I felt…unsettled. TK started freaking out about the red-light-laden motion detectors and as his anxiety grew, so did mine. I felt tired and unmatched to the task(s) at hand. I wanted to go home, or for this to become home immediately, and neither was an option. I considered the fetal position, or escaping to the airport while my family slept.

Instead, I stayed.

I started counting moments, trying to treasure them in my heart. There was the gift from my newest friend waiting on our doorstep when we arrived: Matchbox cars for the boys that made them grin hugely and feel special, a bottle of wine (hell yes), a bracelet engraved GRACE (perfect). There were the continuing messages and understanding from friends back stateside. There was the time the boys and I had had on the deck earlier, they quietly playing while I lay on the couch and smelled the beach air that is just EVERYWHERE here. There was the sunrise through the plane window that I’d watched with TK, how I’d told him we were chasing the sun to our new home and he’d smiled, whispering it back to me: chasing the sun. There was his approach of the ocean–a brand new ocean–when I’d thought he would have run. There was every faithfulness in every second, even the ones when I didn’t feel it, the commitment of grace to me and to our family beyond our comfort and certainty and into a foreign country, to ten thousand miles and beyond.

I am not as adventurous as an escape to New York and a cross-world move may make it appear. I like to have my stuff where I want it and for no one else to touch it. I like for my plan to materialize the way I dictate it. I like to drive my car on the right side of the road and not nearly have diarrhea every time I make a turn. I like to hit the turn signal on purpose instead of the windshield wipers accidentally like some kind of DUMBASS. I like to not feel like a dumbass. I prefer, instead, to look put-together and adept. And maybe a little adventurous. And I’m none of those things, not really.

BUSTED.

I like for things to be easy.

And when I told one of my people this, she said the perfect thing from across the ocean, sixteen hours behind me (because sometimes you need reminders from the past): she said that if things were easy for me, for TK, for us, then that wouldn’t fall in line with all we’d been through. That’s not our story.

This is.

And because we sometimes need reminders from our past, Facebook showed me pictures from four years ago, when we’d spent New Year’s Eve helping TK recover from a surgery that ultimately wouldn’t work and would lead to another. I remembered that there are hard New Year’s Eves, and spending one in a beautiful new place feeling unsettled isn’t the hardest. Because of grace, I’m allowed to feel it, though–the pain of transition, the very real grief of reaching for things that aren’t here now, yet. But I’m also allowed to–no, get to–wait in that now and not yet and know that it won’t always be this way, that the waves that led us here will also make this home, even as part of our home will always be somewhere else, hearts broken and healing at the same time, the only thing unchanging being the grace that never lets us go.