Ride the Wave You’re On

Posted on by .

I was walking through town with a friend the other day after a multiple-hour hike interrupted by a champagne lunch overlooking the beach. It was not a bad day. We had covered all major topics: family, alcoholism, holiday plans, politics, when something she said brought the following words out of my mouth: “ride the wave you’re on.” Fuelled by endorphins and one-and-a-half glasses of booze, I thought, Damn that’s good. Even though it’s one of those phrases that could be relegated to a sign in the gift shop that we had just made fun of–life’s a beach, dance like nobody’s watching, etc. But I stand by it. And also, I’m dragged under and nearly killed by it. Both true.

Another friend (I have two!) and I were recently discussing how much parenthood is like drowning. Really! Isn’t that fun? We have such great talks. Stop by for one of our back-and-forths on depression sometime! Anyway, I told her about something I’d read that compared motherhood to being caught in a riptide. You know the drill with those: the experts recommend letting the tide pull you along as you swim in its direction, parallel to the shore, rather than trying to pull yourself out of it. Eventually the tide will fade and you’ll be released naturally. Motherhood is similar: we’re pulled along by something bigger than we are in a direction we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen in any given moment. Our instinct is to try and fight the tide, pull ourselves out of it into calmer waters of our choosing. But this attempt at control will only exhaust us. We’re not meant for shore; we’re meant for more.

Seriously–where do I get this stuff? I’m on a roll.

It’s like last week, when I took the boys to the gym and afterward we headed toward the down escalator. I thought Little Brother was stepping on beside us but at the last minute, he held back. With The Kid beside me, I watched the distance between me and LB grow; I watched as his face registered what was happening and crumpled in shock and dismay and fear; I watched (and heard) as he began sobbing despite the fact that I could see him the whole time and assured him I’d be right back up for him. I watched as kind strangers attempted to comfort him and he continued to wail. There was nothing I could do until I could. And the mofo still cried the whole way out of the building as though I were a stranger nabbing him. (A muffin seemed to help.)

There are moments, so many, of waiting to find out: will this wave kill me or save me? So far, they’ve all been the latter. But I still wait, breathless, in the seemingly interminable space between not knowing and knowing, faithlessness and faith, tragedy and triumph, sorrow and joy. It’s where all of life is, I think. And I keep expecting that to end, for one final stroke to pull me from the tide and away from…life.

The moment between my children being lifted out of me and hearing their cries. The moment between when they wheeled him off to surgery and brought him back. The moment between regret and forgiveness. The moment between Atlanta and Sydney. The moment between introduction and friendship. The moment between no and yes.

Interminable moments, all of them. Especially when lived on behalf of our children.

We went to lunch on Sunday, to a place where we haven’t been in awhile, and I heard, “Hi James,” before I looked up and saw a boy from his class. A boy who has called him “Our James,” a boy who often just calls him “Jamesy.” I nudged James anxiously, as I always do, attempting to broker another social interaction: “Look, James! Say hi!”

He did, barely. Little Brother did, emphatically. Then the friend loped off to another table and I was left wondering whether to mourn a loss or let it go. Left in the moment, letting the tide move me along whether it was headed where I wanted to go or not.

I sipped my wine and waited.

A few minutes later, he came back. He was waiting for his food; we were finished with ours. He showed my boys his iPad, and a game. He invited them to his hangout underneath his table, one over from us. The three of them lay on their bellies, propped up on their elbows, and I head their laughter and conversation. I kept looking back and checking. “They’re fine!” his mom assured me.

Her words were deeper than she knew.

There’s a scene in Moana, which my children watch every day now (in between listening to the soundtrack on every car trip; #blessed) in which she is felled by a huge wave. You don’t know whether she’s going to crest it until she doesn’t. Later? She does. The waves that feel like they’re going to kill us can bring us closer to the ones that save us. The tides that pull us away? Can actually be pulling us toward.

Two Lives

Posted on by .

I was pushing down the crowded streets of a city, men and women in suits all around me, heels clacking on the sidewalk, sun piercing through buildings in narrow shafts of light. For an instant I was back in New York: the midday lunch crowd carrying me with it, spring in the air and with it the promise of longer and warmer days. But this wasn’t New York; there were a few dead giveaways.

There were the Australian flags waving from rooftops, the streets like “George” and “Pitt” instead of “42nd” and “5th.” There was the nearly three-year-old boy on my hip, refusing to walk despite assurances that my arm would fall off soon and groans that he was too big for this. There was the athleisure I was sporting, soaked with a layer of sweat from the gym and another from the walk from the ferry.

There was the ring I was going to retrieve: the ring I’d been given on a New York rooftop when we decided to keep saying yes to each other before we knew what it meant. The ring that had become, like me, a bit unhinged, the metal separating at a joint under the stone, which was loose. Here’s hoping vows are stronger than platinum.

I could be forgiven, I think, for transporting myself back to those American streets ten years ago, the only thing weighing me down being a knockoff designer bag and memories of bad dates. I could be forgiven, I know, for what I thought this morning: that motherhood is wonderful and beautiful and sometimes I HATE IT.

A few minutes later the ring rested around my finger. Little Brother and I sat at a cafe, where he downed two biscuits. At almost three, he’s been talking for a year, conversations indicating a vocabulary possibly more well-stocked than my own. I carried him the whole way back to the ferry while he giggled on my back. It was wonderful and beautiful and I loved and hated it.

The next day I accompanied The Kid to a birthday party down the street. A truck full of screens blasting video games sat outside the front yard. TK checked it out and quickly retreated. He checked out the playhouse, the snack table. He peeked inside the house, which was empty. I told him no, but the mom appeared beside me. “It’s okay, he can go inside,” she told me, then asked if he wanted to check out the toys. We talked for a minute before she headed back out, and I sat in a playroom with my son who didn’t speak until he was four. Recently I read something from just before the words happened–I had written about a dream I had in which he told me he loved me. And here we are, the dream having come true, but I’m still in a quiet playroom while the rest of the kids and moms (those whose kids hadn’t sent them away) mingled outside. I felt pulled toward them, the dual appeals of obligation and interest making me want to get up and walk out. TK asked me about the toys he pulled out, one by one. I imagined a life in which he was right there in the mix, playing video games and engaging in horseplay while I accepted the other moms’ invitation to go grab a cup of coffee at the beach.

I imagined that, and the thought just felt empty. It wouldn’t be him. What’s the point of that? Besides, my friend also passed on coffee and stayed with me to talk. Another life, and I would have missed so much. So many.

There is a painful beauty to what is real.

And there is “Sweet Home Alabama” blasting from the workmen’s radio as I walk to pick TK up from school. There is the city minutes away and the beach two minutes away, these two places that bring me to life. There is the working mom and the stay-at-home one, of which I’ve been both. There is the left and the right side of the road, and I’ve navigated each. There is the speechless and the never-shuts-up, the atypical and typically developing, the woman who pushed against TK getting off the ferry and the man who rushed to us, saying how rude it was and making sure we were okay. There is the New York marathon that set me running my own races and the Sydney marathon that made us miss our ferry but piled the four of us into a taxi together for yet another adventure. There is the single life I fought against, and parenthood, against which I fight too even as I try to grasp it, this slippery eel that I try to control with my promises to be kind and stay calm and DEAR GOD DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED WHATEVER YOU DO and here we are anyway, the end of each day its own mixture of pride and regret and commiseration and wine.

There are not two lives but a million I could be living, imagining myself within at any given moment. In the end, it is always this one that stays.

LB brings his letters to school and his teachers rave about his alphabet knowledge. TK fixates on cars and his head therapist wants to limit them, to broaden his interests. That’s fine. But also…he walks up to strangers now and tells them about these cars of his, connects with people he’s never met on the street and ferry. He walks up to kids and parents at school, and one mom turns to me and says, “I can see him being a car designer.” And it feels like freedom all of a sudden, this idea that I can raise the children I have, not the ones I don’t. That I can live the life I have, too.

Staying for Spring in September

Posted on by .

He wakes me up now with questions.

There was a time when there were no sounds, then no words, and at every stage an intervention designed to reach that next step. Once there were words, there were exercises meant to encourage questions. At first they were stilted and out of context, forced and unsure. Now, the sun comes up and he pops up beside me, grinning and filling my ear with the whys and hows and whens and wheres and I have to remind my pre-coffee, barely-conscious brain–and heart–that this is what I once dreamed of.

“We could be anywhere,” the man said as I finished my hike on the beach last week, where he was playing fetch with his dog. “The Caribbean, the South Pacific…” he trailed off. “Gorgeous weather. Beautiful water.”

It was one of those first spring days, when the sun feels brighter than it has in six months and the air holds warmth that feels like a promise, and people smile more readily, hardly believing their luck that it happened again: winter became spring. “We could be anywhere,” he said, and I thought, “But we’re here.” Which is so much of everything right now.

Last September, we boarded a plane and left Sydney on the first day of spring. This year, we’re staying, staying into our third season here, rounding the corner on our first year. We’re staying for spring this time. Staying for the removal of heat lamps outside, for the rising hems and sweatier runs, for the lengthening days. Staying for the smoke from the back-burning floating through the air, this protective measure against the brush fires of summer: burning to save. Destroying to keep.

And I feel the burn in our own lives, the hours The Kid spent in therapy now turning into words and questions. The dream I had that he was telling me “I love you”, only to awaken and find it untrue…yet. And now? As real as the sunrise, as spring following winter. His spine jutting through his skinny back, the straightness of it a function of burning–surgery–and growth, and now I feel it beneath my hand and take it for granted. The boy who fights having to dress himself, who is still inching toward being fully toilet trained, but who finishes his assignments first in computer class and waits, bored, until they can all move on because things make sense for him in that room, and within numbers and inside cars, in a way that finally makes him faster instead of lagging behind.

The burning away of all that happened before–the hospital stays, the waiting rooms, the initial scans, the lost pregnancy, the uncertainty–to get to this moment where two boys in their minion pyjamas lie pressed into each other on our bed watching Moana and singing along. All the moments I never dreamed of, never asked for, wouldn’t have chosen, being the very ones that make this one mean so much.

“You’re having a fabulous time here, aren’t you?” she asked as I dropped the kids off with her in the childcare area at the gym (creche if you’re nasty or Australian, and I’m a bit of both). I had told her about an outing the night before with friends, and we commiserated on the days that end in drinks, and we ended in laughter as usual. Last September I didn’t know her or anyone here. I was reminded of that later in the day, when TK took off his goggles during his swim lesson and popped his head above the water: “My eyes can’t see!” The only way he used to swim, goggle-less, now supplanted by a new thing and a new form of seeing. Seeing, period. All that I couldn’t see a year ago, and all that we can now, the smoke clearing and new life showing up everywhere.

Will Write for Attention

Posted on by .

Over here in Sydney, the eclipse didn’t occur, and a 14-hour time jump from the East Coast means I actually often receive current events updates on a delay (while lying in bed reading them on my phone at 6am). The weird FOMO/day-ahead mentality, where my daylight is your nighttime, renders me disoriented; I feel as though I’m watching the world from a distance, as a bystander to all things America. The break from that most patriotic of traditions, the 24-hour news cycle, has been healing for me: in the absence of bottom-of-the-screen news tickers, I can choose when and how I want to be informed. But who am I kidding? I have a smartphone, and Twitter (where I get most of my news now), and a bookmarked Safari page with R. Eric Thomas’ Elle articles. I’m still a slave to culture—I’m just a long-distance slave.

Luckily Entertainment Weekly (digital edition) and Rotten Tomatoes are accessible from Australia, so after I read early reviews of The Big Sick and saw that it was coming out here, I headed with a friend to see it. The next night my husband and I went to dinner with another couple and the wife was describing some health problems she’s been facing. I took in her symptoms and was struck by how they mirrored those of Emily in the movie. Feeling hopeful and more than a bit heroic, I mentioned as much to my friend, who resolved to discuss the similarities with her doctor. A few days later, she told me that there was 95% certainty she had the same disease portrayed in the film.

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!

The Toe and the Tyre

Posted on by .

I had the thought in the middle of the chaos of the morning, as I finished shoving tiny feet into shoes and tried to make my way into the bathroom alone while voices screamed around me:

I am so unhappy.

It’s not unusual, this thought. This voice. But today, I stopped listening to it, following it down its bleak road. Instead, I questioned it.

Am I? I thought. Am I really?

Just the question was rebellious, and felt empowering. Suddenly I was suffused with possibility: the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the voice was full of shit.

I chose that road–the road of possibility–and told myself what I know: that a momentary feeling does not a life make, is not the sum of my existence. That the sight of my children can be the best part of my day, can fill me with awe and wonder. That it can also drive me mad, true, but that this madness is inextricably woven in with a fierce protection and maternal instinct and hormonal changes and biological connection beyond even my understanding. What I’m saying is, it’s complicated. And that’s okay.

What I’m saying, also, is that I’m learning to recognise the voices that would take a feeling and try to make it a definition. I’m learning which voices to listen to. It’s just that the mean ones are so loud. And total assholes.

Last week I had just broken some blinds, so I was already angry when a sharp pain came out of nowhere to land upon my big toe. I looked down and a chair was resting on my foot, while beside it stood Little Brother. Somewhere in all of this I yelled out a non-Disney-approved word, and LB scampered away. I crumpled to the floor to cradle my bleeding toe, with its now-purple nail, defying anyone to come near me with my body language. The pain was excruciating. I don’t know how we’re expected to be mothers and good citizens in moments like these, when all has fallen apart and our very bodies are just heaps upon the ground, but I waved my white flag pretty early. I’msodoneI’msodoneI’msodone, I remember thinking, the physical assaults of a day full of small children past taking its toll. Another thought entered my mind–it could have been so much worse–which I swatted away in self-pity even as I marvelled at the fact it showed up at all, a funny and misplaced-feeling gratitude gently working at the edges of my anger, another voice added to the chorus already singing “This always happens to you” and “Why is life so hard?” I allowed it to stay, on probationary status, while I continued to weep.

Later that week I was driving LB to sleep, covering the area around our house and the beach, when a kerb (Australian spelling) jumped out at my car and attacked us both. LB stayed asleep but I clenched my teeth, knowing our company-bequeathed RAV4 would not make it out of this encounter without scars. I pulled over and sure enough, the front tyre (Australian spelling) had popped. Flat. I considered just parking it there, a block from home, then imagined lugging LB and all our gear over that block and decided to take my chances. We made it home, back to our broken garage door, and I parked, texting The Husband the truth even though I wanted to feign surprise later–THIS IS SHOCKING! How ever did it happen?–while guilt ate away at my soul. Appealing, but no.

His first response was to ask if I was okay. Bastard. This kindness opened up an avenue for thoughts like “Good thing we don’t need to drive anywhere later” and “thank God it happened so close to home,” instead of my usual “why does this shit always happen to me?” (Full disclosure: this has never happened to me.)

I am an introvert with a need for solitude and quiet. Instead, I look up and am followed into the bathroom by two small people constantly in need, asking questions like “Why is it Tuesday?” and screaming about how one did something to gravely offend the other, like “He put me in time out in the shower,” as if that’s a real thing. I hear the negative, the hardest, thing the loudest: the hissing that I’m unhappy, the need that I know I’m not enough for and will never address perfectly. The worst and most confusing part is that there is an element of truth to it: there are moments when I am unhappy, when I do want to be alone. But this is not the whole story.

Because there’s the rest of it: there was the moment, between toe and tyre, when I went back to the beach that is now our beach but last year was the site of tears between school visits and home search, when all felt lost and hopeless, and now I drive by every day and say “hi water” with the two small people in the back seat. Last week I went on my own to say thank you. Thank you to the grace that changed that beach and me, that refuses to let hopeless and unhappy be the whole story. There was the moment last week when I was rushing to pick up LB because I had left TK at home with friends who had come over for a playdate, and when I got back my friend told me that he had given them a tour of the house, through every room, hadn’t stopped talking for a second so that she couldn’t get a word in. Sounds familiar, I thought, then remembered a time when it didn’t, namely the first four years of his life. How, when I had picked up LB from school, his teachers had shown me a picture of him singing to his class, performing his alphabet song while they all sat watching. How, on the way home, in the midst of my anxiety about getting to TK, a rainbow had appeared on the road ahead of LB and me then just as quickly disappeared, a gift that lasted a moment but more. How the chaotic morning routine has left me clambering for a way to not be so me during it, and so I’ve resorted to this: giving each boy a turn on my lap in which we look into each others’ eyes and I tell them how loved they are. Because people, they…we are changed when we believe we are loved. When we listen to that voice.

Unhappy? Sometimes. I mean, have you seen what’s going on in the world? But a better word may be beset. Or the one a friend and I toss back and forth with regularity, because of how all-encompassing it is: fraught. Some days I choose to add “so f-ing” in front of it, this word that means filled: with responsibilities, with voices, with burdens, with blessings, with everything.

I Landed on the Question Mark

Posted on by .

If we whittle away long enough, it is a story we come to at last…And the storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning—that the things that happen to people happen not just by accident like leaves being blown off a tree by the wind but that there is order and purpose deep down behind them or inside them and that they are leading us not just anywhere but somewhere. The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story. –Frederick Buechner

The Kid wrote a story.

This term in school, his class is learning about king and queens, knights and castles. We (I) constructed a cardboard castle that I bought at the toy shop for him to take in and give a speech about, the highlight of which was that he named it Castle James. Duh. “Why are the kids in my class going to laugh when I tell them that, Mom?” he asked, with a glint in his eye, because he knew the answer: that they think he’s funny, and not in the way I’ve been terrified of. They aren’t laughing at him, they’re laughing with him. He’s not just writing stories and giving speeches–he’s making jokes.

Anyway, he wrote the story: “I went to the castle.” And it was so spontaneous, his handwriting–formerly such a struggle–so skilled, that the teacher called me into the room at pickup to show me. And she had sent him to the year two class, where the Assistant Principal was teaching, and TK read it to all of them. I MEAN COME ON.

His growth is so beautiful, and I know that because life is all things, his path will also be all things, but right now? So beautiful. I’ve been writing his story for so long, wondering if I’d always be the one at the keyboard, and now I can see these glimpses of him taking over, his self-awareness slowly seeping in like one of the Orphan Black clones, and one day he’ll gloriously push me out of the way completely and tell the whole damn thing himself. But for now: WHEEE!

But the real comedian in our family? That’s Little Brother, whose mischievous grin reveals a knowingness beyond his age. He knows what to say to earn the most laughs at the dinner table and everywhere else; his highest goal is to render TK breathless with giggles (“James laughs!” he turns to me and says, delighted); his timing is impeccable. Often he’ll deliver a joke–classic example: “I have a tasty belly”–then walks off, tossing a smug expression back at the room left laughing in his wake.

And his singing? Girl, don’t even. He’s learning lyrics left and right after hearing a song once, and whether it’s inspirational or Disney, nothing will melt your heart more than to hear him whispering “oooh, you love me best” from the backseat or belting “what can I say except, you’re WELCOME” from his bed.

And one more thing: the other day we were at the amusement park and I asked him what colour something was. Mofo replied, “Cyan,” like that’s an actual colour which it IS and when I looked it up because my kid knows more colours than I do, I found out he was right. So there’s that.

There’s a lot of things. There’s TK’s growth, which has been anything but a straight line, rises and tips and twisty turns showing me that hard may not be easy but it’s beautiful, this slow but sure uncovering of grace right where we are. And there’s LB’s growth, which unwraps itself before I even have a chance to tug at the bow, bursting out in self-satisfied glory while we all–TK especially–watch with glee.

It’s a thought I have often, while driving past Balmoral Beach or looking at my kids: How many people get this view?!

At that same amusement park, we ran into a boy from TK’s class, and I stopped to talk to his mom. Within a few seconds, he wanted to jump on a ride with TK, and his mom turned to me in disbelief. “He never rides that one. He never rides anything! He’s always been too scared.” Cut to him and TK and LB shoved into a tiny, slow-moving fire engine lolling around a circular track. I wanted to tell her the story of how he brings out the best in people and uncovers things you never knew were there, but it seemed like that story? Was already telling itself.

Later that night we were playing Monopoly, because my kid can (kinda) do that now and this is huge, and while LB expertly played a matching game next to us like it was no thang, TK cheated and moved forward one space further than the dice had decreed. He looked up at me because he knew what he had done, but he also knew what it meant: his favourite, a “chance” card. “I landed on the question mark!” he proclaimed, and I thought about all the times I’ve wanted to land on a straightforward period, how often I’ve wanted “easy” over “real.” How I’ve shunned mystery and how it’s showed up with its gifts anyway. How I’ve landed on the question mark too. And the view is beautiful.

Winter in Sydney

Posted on by .

Remember that time a year ago when I balked at moving to Sydney primarily because The Kid had made so much progress and I was afraid of regression in the land down under?

Ha. I mean…really.

When The Husband and I visited our future home last year, it was winter. We walked along a cool beach and ate dinner outside the Opera House next to a heater, but nothing felt too cold. I didn’t even wear a coat for the fifty-something nighttime temps (still can’t convert to Celsius). I smirked when Sydneysiders spoke of their dread of the season, how ready they all were for spring. That’s not winter, I thought to myself in a Crocodile Dundee accent as I imagined snow-capped Februarys in New York and frigid Christmas Days in Atlanta and wanted to say, THIS is winter.

Apparently I am adapting, as the temperature here as topped out in the mid-sixties today and my sock-clad feet are nearly purple. Everything’s relative, right?

But despite the houses not really being built for it, and the people not at all up for it, I have to say…the winter here isn’t bad.

On Saturday we drove to Manly Beach to meet another family for brunch. TH took TK and Little Brother to a natural rock wall, following behind the other boys and their dad, and I waited for TK to turn around and come back to the safe sand. Instead, he climbed the wall. LB, ever the support staff and attention-seeker in one, hustled up after him then came back down to jump off too-high rocks and take my breath away. We all walked along a path beside the ocean and watched the surfers and divers, weaving through other walkers. Later the next night TH and I returned to the suburb for an anniversary dinner in a tiny Italian restaurant recommended by a friend. I marvelled again at how Sydney seems to be a mix of two of my favourite places: New York, and the sea. City and surf. This combination that seems made for us, and there we were walking with light coats on through the winter night. Brutal.

And maybe it’s just the increased Lexapro talking as I enjoy the newfound distance it’s placed between me and the cliffs, but the beauty seems to chase after us here even more than the anxiety typically does for me. On Monday morning–the blight of the week–I walked across the pitch at TK’s school with him on one side of me and LB on the other, practically dragging the toddler who wanted to go home and the school kid who hates the loud assemblies in the sun, and another accented voice (I guess I have an accent too?) reached me: the Ukrainian mom of one of TK’s favourite friends. “It’s beautiful,” she said, gesturing to me and the boys. “I’ve never seen the three of you holding hands and walking beside each other. You all look beautiful.” And I wanted to snort because I had just been thinking about how I might send them both to the airport with a one-way ticket to Far the Hell Away from Here but instead I thanked her. And looked at us anew.

We’ve missed the Stateside eclipse, which is strange, not participating directly in the phenomenon that consumed so many we know and love, not sharing it with them in person. And yet it’s fitting, the idea that for us, right now, the sun doesn’t get blocked. That yes, there have been plenty of times we felt like something stood between us and its light, and there will be plenty more in the future, but here–in a regression-less year and a bearable, beautiful winter–we are enduring the beams of love without interruption for a season. For the season that, before, always seemed to be the one most barren of light.

Yesterday I drove the boys home from TK’s therapy centre. They asked for the God song again, the one they can’t seem to get enough of–and I need to hear it too. We hit the patch where the roads are beyond full capacity, where a place aptly named Traffic Jam Galleries sits. Stuck there in that moment, I looked at the paintings for what may have been the first time: beauty right where we sat, unable for a time to escape it. I looked through the rearview mirror at the boys’ rapt faces, their taking in of notes of love. No, winter here isn’t bad. Not when it’s so full of new life that you’d think it’s spring.

From the Other Side of the Hill

Posted on by .

It’s not about what you deserve. It’s about what you believe in. –Wonder Woman

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).

I changed.

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.

Will Write for Attention

Posted on by .

My family and I recently took a trip to Fiji. (I will pause momentarily for your pity.) My husband billed the “vacation” as part of my present for my upcoming fortieth birthday, even though since (a) the kids came along, and (b) trips with kids aren’t vacations, then by deductive reasoning, (c) I did not get a vacation for my birthday. Nonetheless, it was one of many experiences we’ve been fortunate enough to have because of our move to Australia. The only other way I could see myself ever getting to the South Pacific is as a contestant on The Bachelor and let’s be honest: they aren’t going to do another season with old people. Oh, and I’m already married.

We were eating lunch one day by the pool and a couple caught my eye. While my husband asked if I was listening to him, I studied this pair intently, then turned to Jason. “I think that’s Bradley Cooper and his girlfriend,” I whispered nervously.

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!

Beginning of Moonlight

Posted on by .

The days are getting longer.

This is the opposite of what I’m used to. In Atlanta, the days are getting blunted at both ends, the summer season inching toward fall. Here in Sydney we are creeping upon spring. Also creeping up is my birthday, this weekend. My fortieth, to be exact. And among the things I never expected to be doing in my life? Celebrating it in Australia, where I now live.

It’s the same, but different.

Like the better part of an hour that I spend in the pool on Thursday mornings, that initial chill giving way to motion and warmth, a new kind of breathing–intentional and quick, timed. One leg moving after the other as always, arm followed by arm, but with the lightness of air giving way to the resistance of water. Learning to move the same, but differently.

I had imagined a large gathering–and I usually try not to imagine large gatherings–but for such a year, I wanted to be surrounded by the people I’ve known and loved for so long. The people who helped get me here. What’s shaping up, instead, is the same but different: a celebration at a local restaurant with a few people I’ve come to know within the last few months. I’ll be a bit more nervous, what with the lack of years of buildup and acceptance of all that is so…me about me, but so far so good. I haven’t completely alienated anyone yet. These are people who know–are getting to know–the me now, the one with a husband and kids and crows feet and anxiety and occasional dips of depression, the me who is adjusting to an across-the-world move and passes through varying stages of honesty about it. These are people whose faces are somewhat new to me yet were already known by a grace that put them in my path, even before I asked for it last year. This is something to celebrate: making it through life thus far, but even more, making it because grace kept showing up.

I plan to drink lots of champagne, is what I’m saying.

Like I did the other night; well, two glasses to be exact, before dinner, when The Husband and I were heading out to meet another couple. I’d considered, in the midst of my social anxiety flare-up, a Xanax, but I try to stick to OTC on double dates. So I entered the restaurant with my hard edges slightly softened and spent the next three hours getting to know lovely people who–along with their kids–were put in our path by the love that answered my prayer last year, those pleas gaining names and faces over the intervening months. We talked about life and struggles and all the other things you do when you’re wanting to be real, to be known, which I do–and don’t. Like everyone, I guess? Because the legwork is so hard and involves the type of vulnerability that isn’t so much a currency of our social media exchanges, the baring of cracks and crevices that time and life have worn in our hearts, the places where we hurt and are afraid. Oh, and we laughed. We’ve had such dinners with such couples before, different but the same, and I suppose there are people who just float through this stuff but I always have to talk myself down from treating it like an audition. Then the moment comes, and you’re sitting with real people and realising that life is happening. That it keeps happening.

Which is how you got to be almost forty.

There are people who say they love getting older, what with all the wisdom and knowledge and whatnot, and I think that’s partially true. I, for one, would love to pass on the hormonal changes and poor sleep and aching knees and gray hairs. But I think about the me from twenty years ago, and how she could run farther–and did. Like, away from herself and everyone else. How, even though she had more free time and got more sleep, she didn’t know herself. She was barely beginning to do that–and what a journey it’s been: jarring, unsettling, chaotic, but real. How it’s still happening, within the context of a family, a foreign country, new friendships, and a recently increased dosage of antidepressant (#thanksdoctor).

This weekend, I’ll get to stop and look around at all that. Besides champagne, isn’t that what birthdays are for?

On Sunday I sat in church while TH took the kids to their class, and we sang a song that I already know–that we sang in Atlanta all the time. It had been in my head the night before–chalk it up to prophecy, intuition, the spirit, or time travel–and it sounded the same now, but different: different voices, different accompaniment, different feelings. It had always made me cry before, looking around at the faces whose struggles I knew. Here, I’m just now getting to know them. The legwork is hard. But it’s happening, in spots and with people who pop up, who were already known even as I’m just getting there and they are too, with me. Sometimes it happens slowly, over several coffee meetings and tentative conversations until a dam breaks and the truth comes out: “You too? I thought I was the only one!” Other times it happens over a three-hour dinner fuelled by wine and our kids’ already-existing connection. The point is, it happens. It’s happening.

That evening we made it to the beach a bit later than usual, but it was okay because the days, they’re getting longer. Which feels wrong, yet right. The boys–all three of them–played on the sand in front of me, and I watched the water begin to glimmer as the first rays of moonlight hit it. The end of the day, with no more guaranteed even as they seem to keep coming surely anyway, the end of one thing becoming the beginning of another, different and the same.