I woke up hungover on my fortieth birthday. It’s the only way to ring in special occasions, really (see: my wedding). This time around, the nausea was thanks to a fundraiser hosted by The Kid’s school at a swanky local event space with an open bar. Open bar are two of the deadliest words in the English language, in my experience at least, and when combined with the fact that a) we had friends over for a drink beforehand and b) they were just about the only people we knew at said fundraiser, the conditions were ripe for a champagne-storm of epic proportions. Also, everyone was dressed according to the theme in their MTV finery, so YOU sit at a table next to a fifty-year-old Axl Rose and see if you don’t end up wasted.
Mornings come early these days, so I found myself downstairs on the couch before I would have chosen were it not for our #preciouschildren. The Husband made coffee, bought donuts, and handed me gifts, the latter of which I wouldn’t mind becoming a part of our usual Saturday routine. After the presents were opened, he handed me the laptop I’m typing on now and opened it to a screen, telling me to press “play.”
That was when the magic happened. The boys’ faces appeared first, filmed in the backseat of our car singing me Happy Birthday. Falteringly, and distracted by squirrels, but I’ll judge their performance with them later in private according to our “Points Equals Love” system. Then an array of American faces paraded across the screen and told me what I meant to them. I laughed, I cried, I barfed (unrelated).
Not clothes, dummy. (Though I did do that too, after a shower during which my hangover began to lift and I sang a few bars for TH from Gloria Estefan’s timeless classic, “Coming Out of the Dark.”) I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the video was life-changing. It recalibrated me. It reset something deep within my soul. It moved me…to where I need to be.
This is what happened: it unburdened me.
Some think that if a person has a blog they post publicly, then said person must be a narcissistic asshole. Untrue. I’m an asshole, sure, but not because I post a blog. I post a blog because I’m better at written communication than verbal; I need to express what’s going on in my head to make sense of it and quiet the voices there; and honestly, because the words will fight their way out one way or another and better here than on the nightly news. But no matter how many therapeutic benefits there are to this dressed-up navel-gazing, I am constantly hit with reality bricks that make me realise I will never Figure It All Out. I will never stop learning. It’s annoying, because I’m really old and I’ve been through a ton of school (check my student loan statement). But as I watched these faces I love smile at me, and heard their voices tell stories and express their version of events, I was amazed yet again to realise how I can skew reality with my own issues: my anxiety, my fear, my need to control. It’s the same realisation that hit me when I was living in New York and stood up at a Q&A with Tim Keller to ask a question and was terrified because of the voice hissing in my ear telling me I was going to look stupid, and it’s this: I have a lot of self-hatred built up within me.
Y’all, I didn’t know. I thought I’d dealt with it back in New York and left it there. But becoming a wife and mother has opened up new realms of ways to beat myself up. To tell myself I’m awful in sneaky, insidious ways, most of which revolve around listening to anxiety and heeding its lying commands. What happened, when I heard so many of your voices, is that I found a different narrative: one in which I am loved, and flawed, but doing okay. One in which my kids are doing okay. One in which I am as beloved as I try to help others believe they are.
I don’t think I believe that. Not enough.
Good thing though, is that the object of my faith doesn’t depend on the strength of my faith. I spent the rest of the weekend looking at my family with new eyes: not as objects to corral, but as gifts to enjoy. It was a honeymoon period that I know will pass along with the waves of life that tend to define each day as “good” or “bad,” as if life can be distilled to such terms. But for a couple of days there I was able to just look around, and breathe…and glow.
This is grace.
So thank you. Thanks for showing me a beautiful version of this story, one that’s so hard to see in the mire of daily life. Also, thanks for showing me how many of you count your favourite memories of me to be the ones involving gastric emergencies. Now THAT’S a life to be proud of.
On Sunday, hangover-free and slightly more rested, I took TK to a birthday party for a girl in his class. It was at a little cabin in the woods overlooking the sea–two minutes from our house–and I was still glowing. Still walking on air. Usually I approach these events with a healthy dose of apprehension and even more anxiety than usual: will he be comfortable? Will be participate? Will I have to talk to people? We walked into the party and it felt like home. We hiked through the woods in search of unicorns, and laughed and ate cupcakes. Then came his turn at the pinata. It was a bit much for him–he gave a valiant effort, but making contact between the stick and the donkey was tough. So I walked up behind him, put my hands over his, and swung. It was awkward, and we looked like assholes. But we were doing it together. A few minutes later, the adults got a shot, and I was nervous.
You’re going to look stupid, hissed the voice.
I paused. Then, “Fuck you,” I told it.
I grabbed the stick and swung. Twice, I hit the shit out of that piñata. And it didn’t break. But right there beside me stood TK, watching and learning. And when the next person came along and did break it, TK and I bent down along with everyone else, gathering the treasure together.