The Road to Forgiveness

California here we…leave!

We are wrapping up a work/play trip to San Diego/LA, and just boarded the plane for Denver for our third leg of our western summer adventure. We brought the kids (and even one of our favorite babysitters!) and hit up beautiful Southern California, their little eyes wide at seeing it for the first time. We definitely saw our fair share of sights!

From Sea World, Del Mar, and the San Diego Zoo…to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, we soaked up the perfect SoCal weather and slept in the most amazing Air Bnb’s, thanks to my husband’s uncanny ability to find the best last-minute places. We also endured classic LA traffic, whining, fighting kids, the cluster of Opening Day at Del Mar (ok, so that was also fun and perhaps the best people watching ever!) the monstrous line at In and Out Burger, and multiple Uber drivers that didn’t speak a lick of English, but alas, such is the beauty of travel. No one got kidnapped or ended up in the hospital, so I’m calling it a success.

Hooray for Hollywood!
Seeing the west coast for the first time

So now here I am, just me and the kiddos, (our first flight as a threesome without daddy) and I’m trying as usual to hold it together and relax instead of imagining going down in a flaming ball of fire because, you know, being in a plane is my happy place. Oh, and did I mention that when I boarded the plane I discovered that my husband unknowingly swiped my headphones, and after the third baby cried before take off, I was cursing that sweet man a bit excessively in my head while trying not to bang my head against the seat 6 inches in front of me. And then there’s a guy behind me that clearly needs a new iPad because he is banging on his screen with brute force, so hard that it’s shaking my seat my seat as if a toddler was kicking the crap out of it. But hey, the kiddos are knee deep in plane snacks and soda and laughing their heads off together at something, so at least some of us are having fun.

On this next leg of the trip, we are meeting up with my mom, who has finally fulfilled her dream of renting an RV and trekking across the wide open space of the west. We plan to join her for some of the journey in Wyoming before heading back to Georgia for the start of school.

Before we meet up with her, we are spending a night in Denver to catch our breath and see some family. We have some cousins there, and we are meeting up with my “real” dad, who I haven’t seen in over 20 years and who has never met his grandkids. Yep, you heard me right.

So, that’s not awkward at all.

I think I wrote some time ago about how my real dad hasn’t been in my life for quite some time, several decades passing between the time I talked to him on the phone, asking if I could invite him to my wedding (which was a no-go as I’d figured) to about a year ago when I finally got the nerve to return his surprising phone call. We have had several small-talk conversations since then, but he mentioned he would love to see us.

So here we are, about to land in Denver, me trying to explain to my children that they are about to meet a total stranger who happens to be their grandfather. Just another day in the life.

There are all sorts of reasons I could not make this happen today. All sorts of hang-ups and resentment and abandonment issues that have plagued me over the years. But as my sadness and anger and confusion has gradually settled, after I’ve realized that my love and self-worth isn’t dependent on a single person or my past, I know that forgiveness and love are the ultimate healers in any situation. In that truth, I rest assured.

Our meeting today will be brief and probably totally awkward, but it also needs to happen. All I can do is take baby steps in this journey. I must trust the process and be open to it. I will let the past stay where it needs to and focus on an amazing present and future.

Just like two wrongs don’t make a right, two hurts don’t mend a heart. But an open heart, one that takes the first step, one that chooses to forgive…that’s where the magic can truly happen.

Update: Meeting was a success!

Those Summer Nights

Y’all. I just need to gush about how much I love a good, warm, chill summer night. Because sometimes it’s just fun to write about the good things in life.

Down here in the south there’s this golden hour of summer, between about 8 and 9pm. The sun starts setting, the twilight sky glows as clouds start to turn all yellow-orange-pinkish-purple, the tops of the trees catch the last golden glimmer of the sun’s rays.

Birds sing their lullabies and cicadas start dueling with their shrill cries. Children’s laughter echoes off the houses as they finally take to the streets in the cooler air, delighting at the first sight of fireflies blinking in the trees. Crickets start chirping and the frogs start to call out from the retention pond down the way.

It reminds me of an old folk song, which was also made into a picture book I used to read to the kids, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir”. Nature’s song comes together with an array of sounds, celebrating this golden hour of summer.

And then…a dang mosquito bites me on the ankle. Almost immediately after, I hear my daughter’s tell-tale my-brother-just-hit-me cry. I interrupt my euphoric back porch moment to go check on the situation.

He p-pushed me into the c-c-cabinet! Waaaaaa…aaaaahhh…

I hold Allie close and don’t even attempt to seek justice in this simple brother-sister squabble. I immediately direct her attention towards the back deck.

Come on! The fireflies are starting to come out!

Of course she requests a bowl of cereal first because face it, she’s my child and cereal is life, and then we sit out back in the spinning outdoor chairs (aka, the spinny chairs). I show her the torch candle I’ve lit, brought back to life after finally being filled back up with citronella oil. We spot multiple airplanes in the sky, their underbellies glowing pink, reflecting the last of the sunlight. We ooh at the brightness of the quarter moon as it peeks over a tree branch, and ahh as a fluttering flock of birds race by.

The golden hour is back in full swing.

Jack eventually shuffles out to meet us, casually digging into a bag of goldfish. He points to a few more airplanes, makes some goofy faces and then says excitedly…let’s swim!

My goofy kiddos having some back porch fun

And just like that, they are skipping down the stairs and jumping into the pool, (conveniently still in their bathing suits from this afternoon because duh, its the official uniform of summer) and I take a front row seat to the splashing joy of my children’s childhood. My heart fills up watching them play together (the earlier shoving match long forgotten, at least for the moment) as I sit back and watch the stars pop out one by one. Night officially sets in, and I am grateful for yet another beautiful day.

What’s that? Another mosquito?!

I don’t think so, mister. Go mess with someone your own size. I’ve got a perfect summer night to savor.

Nothing and Everything

Ahhhhh….summer.

As I lay here, minutes ticking away towards 9am, kids still snoozing away in silence, I realize how much we have really settled in to our summer groove.

At the end of May, when everyone is coming down from that tornado of end-of-year-madness, we begin gearing up for summer.

What trips are y’all taking? Are you doing any camps? Swim team? Travel ball? Plans, plans, PLANS?!!!!

All of a sudden I’m plunged back into scramble mode. Desperately feeling like I should have every week plotted and activity-filled. I’m googling camps and scheduling play dates and travel planning like a crazy woman.

Our summer started out with a bang. The day after school ended, we ran off to the cabin, straight down to the beach, and then flew off to Chicago. We did have a lot of adventures, made countless memories. But somewhere during all that traveling, my body just needed to stop.

I drove home from the beach, which is still a huge feat in itself, knowing I had a little over 12 hours before I had to turn around and leave again. I flung open the door and literally made a beeline for the bed. My body ached for sleep. The hundred-mile-an-hour, action-packed summer I was so excited about was already exhausting me.

Then my son really drove it home when he turned to me sweetly and said, “Can we just have a week where we don’t go anywhere?”

Wow.

All my fretting over having enough to do over the summer, and my nine-year-old had to spell it out for me: I just want to do nothing!

Of course he didn’t actually want to do nothing, but I understood. He wanted a chance to be still, to stay home and catch his breath. He didn’t want camps and activities and agenda shoved down his throat like he had during the school year. He didn’t want to spend hours in a car strapped into a seat. He just wanted space and freedom and stillness.

Isn’t that what we all want?

So we did just that. We came home and got some much-needed rest. Yes, we still had chores and errands to do here and there, the kids both spent a week away at camp, and we have another trip or two planned. But we have spaced them out better so we can fully embrace our summer rhythm. We have plenty of nothing days in-between.

Sometimes we aren’t dressed until noon.

Sometimes we have popsicles 4 times a day.

Sometimes we have cookies for breakfast and cereal for dinner.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) the pool counts as bath time.

Sometimes we watch tv for hours.

Sometimes we forget to wear shoes for a whole day.

Sometimes our only outing is to get gas station ice cream.

Sometimes there’s literally nothing to do.

But sometimes, doing nothing is EVERYTHING.

Don’t be afraid of having nothing to do this summer. I admit that I was. I feared every small hole in our agenda. But as I settle in to summer, I’m realizing how much this quiet rhythm soothes my soul. How being bored can actually breed creativity. How slowing down is my love language.

I still haven’t heard a peep from my sleeping children, and that’s a beautiful thing. These sweet days won’t last forever. But soon enough, I’ll hear those thundering little footsteps coming my way, and when they come jump on my bed for their morning hugs, they’ll ask me what we are doing today.

To which I will happily reply… nothing!

Just Say Yes

It was a rough start to the trip this morning.

As we took off through a barricade of storms in Atlanta, the plane once again bobbed and weaved through the turbulence, sending me once again to the edge. Zero visibility blinded my view and brought on panic.

Meanwhile, my brave daughter next to me could hardly contain her excitement. “We’re in the clouds!” she exclaimed. Unfazed by the bumps, she smiled and carried on without a care. Her joy was contagious, parting the clouds of my fear.

As we journeyed on to Denver and started making memories on the first leg of our trip, I realized just how grateful I am that I can persist through my fears. I could’ve crumbled and said no to flying at all. I could’ve foregone the excitement and anticipation of this time with my family. I could’ve just stayed in the safety of my home and never experienced a day like today, watching my children take in this beautiful scenery for the first time, their eyes wide with amazement.

I could’ve said “no”.

I could’ve said “I can’t”.

But I said YES.

Go, see, do.

Live.

The yes is not always easy. It’s not graceful or without pain or embarrassment or doubt.

But I’ll take a yes over a no any day when it comes to facing my fears.

What will your yes be?

Happy List #3

Okay people. I’m bringing back the happy list.

I started doing these a while ago and they just kind of tapered off, but I think it’s time to bring it back. One- because it will force me to write more. And two- because we should always find a reason to celebrate the things that make us happy. So here is my list for this week!

1.FALL!!!!! I feel like I was just celebrating the start of summer. But all of a sudden, fall is upon us. I know I mentioned that summer is my jam. I could also say the same about Fall (although I’m pretty sure the start of any new season is the best, really). It’s been a really hot summer here in Atlanta, and in fact, the first technical days of Fall were equally as hot. But a couple of days ago, the switch flipped and now it finally feels like fall.  The crisp, cool air, the clear blue skies, the leaves starting to fall ever so slightly…I just want to eat it up! Throw in football, pumpkin everything, mums, Fall Festivals, apples, sweaters, leggings with cute boots and I’m smitten. The other day I made my Target run, and instead of just walking out with the birthday gift and milk that I intended to get (of course), I walked out with a Halloween sign, the cutest fabric pumpkin, a glittery bat garland, a cinnamon scented candle, and a fabulous gold pumpkin pillow.  That pillow almost made the Happy List by itself I love it so much. I know we (and I’m talking to you, ladies) make fun of ourselves for going into Target and getting side tracked, but that seasonal decor is really just too much fun to ignore. So in another month when I’m tirelessly sweeping leaves off my porch and whining about how annoying it is to get my kids to put on coats and socks, I will try to remember all the reasons why I love Fall. Target seasonal section, you will always be one of those reasons. 

2. Child’s Pose. I started doing yoga a few years ago. When people learned about my anxiety, they were all, “why don’t you try yoga?”   and all I could think was how anxiety-provoking it would be to try to do all those fancy hard-to-pronounce moves in front of a room full of strangers. But somehow, I found BeYoga on the Marietta Square and I was in love. And, they offered a workshop for beginners!!! That really helped with the first-time jitters. Turns out, I love yoga. The stretching, the breathing, the mindfulness. Great for your body and mind. Score. But child’s pose, man, that is the best. You sit on your knees, slightly spread apart, bring your head to the floor and stretch your arms out long on the ground, and breathe.  If you’ve never tried it before, I’m begging you, just do it…and get ready to say ahhhhhh. 

3.La Croix. I always wondered how anyone could drink barely flavored sparkling water. I didn’t see the point. I don’t know if there’s some magic age where sparking water suddenly becomes glorious but I guess I must be close because by-golly, all of a sudden I’m an addict. I am constantly hitting up the Costco for 24 cans of bubbly goodness. So cold, so refreshing, so barely-flavored. Which, apparently, is now my thing. If only I could figure out how to pronounce it. French class, you have failed me.

4.The Beach. The beach could be an entire Happy List by itself.  We recently made the trip down to Ft. Walton Beach, FL (the trip where I drove us home by myself!!!) a couple of weeks ago, and it was the best time. The weather was unbelievable, and the kids are at this magical age where they finally posses a decent amount of independence while still managing to be innocent and cute. We all enjoyed each other’s company.  One notable perk of the magical age is staying up later without totally falling apart the next day, so we enjoyed more than one sunset on the beach and our fair share of night swimming (which always feels like a huge adventure for the kids).  All of this while Jason and I could sit back with a cocktail and reminisce about surviving the good old days of swim diapers, beach tents and pack-n-plays.  I think I finally made a family vacation believer out of him. 

5.Football. If you are born and raised in the South, you have probably seen a football game or two.  Game Days are considered to have their own culture in some aspect. Being a Georgia native, I am a UGA Bulldog and an Atlanta Falcons fan (two teams that have broken many hearts during my lifetime), and I love everything about football Saturdays and Sundays (or sometimes, Thursdays and Mondays).  Planning your team color coordinated outfit, meeting up with friends and family, tailgate food, marching bands, and finally, the roller coaster ride that is the actual game. Every game is like watching a movie, the drama unfolds before you, in real-time; sometimes your heart explodes with excitement and other times you are left jaw-dropped with shock and disbelief. This past Saturday was no exception as the Bulldogs lost in the final seconds to the Tennessee Vols.  There were just no words.  But that’s the name of the game. You cannot predict every outcome. Win or lose, I still love this game.

6.Campfires. Okay, so maybe we weren’t exactly camping, but we did set up a nice little cheapie fire pit in the backyard. With the fall temperatures finally cooling off, we were able to have our first fire the other night.  We carefully searched for the best sticks and roasted marshmallows. We threw leaves and pine straw into the fire and marveled at how fast they shriveled up. We practiced outrunning the smoke as it shifted with the breeze. My son became a little too obsessed with lighting things on fire, so eventually we had to call it quits. Also, I made the mistake of buying the bag of jumbo marshmallows, which resulted in my children resembling some sort of human fly paper.  Despite the stickiness, I’m predicting many more backyard pow-wows in the future. 

7.Starbucks. Okay, okay, I know there are a million cute mom and pop coffee shops that I could mention that make me happy, but there is just such a comfort in the reliability of a Starbucks. If there’s ever an hour or so to spare in my day, I know at least 3 Starbucks nearby that will be waiting with my Chai Tea Latte, free wifi, and a tiny little spot for me to just sit and be. I went this morning to do some work (making the class directory for Allie’s preschool class is serious work, people!!!) and again I was amazed and how dang happy it made me just to sit in a Starbucks with all the mature, well-dressed business folk (and a few other stragglers donning t-shirts and yoga pants, like myself) and just chill. There’s nothing like pounding away freely on my laptop while the echoes of verbal chatter and the hiss of steaming milk fill the air. I saw a sign today that they’re going to start serving beer and wine in the evenings?!! Really? As if I don’t loiter in there enough, now I am going to be enticed to stay straight on through until night-time now that I can enjoy a glass of Pinot and a cake pop simultaneously. Might as well just keep an overnight bag behind the counter.

8.Apple Slices and Caramel Dip. Makes me happy. The end.

9.The Sunrise. With the days becoming shorter, we are waking up before the sun. Which means we are catching quite a few sunrises these days. I know I mentioned the sunset as being up there with my top favorite things of all time, but a sunrise is just as magnificent, if not more so.  There’s such beauty in the beginning of something, and it’s hard to compete with the wonderment of a new morning. Plus, I have witnessed significantly less sunrises (or at least purposely sat and watched one) than sunsets, so the rarity alone adds to the awe of the event. Some of my most memorable sunrises… on the beach in Cancun, Mexico, during spring break in college (oops, we never went to bed!), early mornings when I lived in Breckenridge, Colorado (you couldn’t actually see the sun, but the way it lit up the rocky mountain peaks across the valley, in a blazing splendor of orange light, was one of my fondest memories), and sitting on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Pacific during our honeymoon in Kauai, HI (thanks to the time difference we were up extra early to enjoy a few of those).  I look forward to many more of these quiet, magnificent moments that come with each new day. 

10.People.  I realize that this can be a subjective topic.  Do I really like all people? I can’t say that I do. Especially if you ask me while in the Costco parking lot at lunchtime, in Atlanta rush hour or on Black Friday.  But for the most part, I believe that all people are generally good and have goodness somewhere in their hearts.  Yes, there is evil in the world. But let’s not focus on that now.  This is a Happy List, by all means. What fascinates me about people, is that what you see is usually not ever what you get. Heck, I am a testimony to that fact.  I am always curious about the story that everyone carries with them. So much so, that sometimes I feel compelled to ask complete strangers about their life story (from which I always refrain, for fear of looking like a complete lunatic).  The people who intrigue me the most are the ones who seems to be suffering, the ones with frowns on their faces, who are lashing out at the world.  What are their stories? Where is their source of pain? Okay, so maybe the guy honking at me in the Costco parking lot isn’t on my list of favorite people, but there’s still a tiny sliver of compassion for him buried beneath my irritation. For just like you and I, he has a unique perspective. There’s a story beneath it all. No one person in this world is the same, and that is a beautiful, amazing thing. People are the glue that hold our world together, and we have a responsibility to each other not only to respect our differences but to celebrate them. We as humans have a unique and powerful ability to influence our world, and if we can leave a legacy of any kind, I pray that it is one of peace and unity. People make me happy only when they are doing their best to be good-hearted people. Good, not to be confused with perfect, but good, decent, loving people.  Even those who seem distraught or coarse can be hiding a pure, but broken heart under a tangled mess of sadness and despair. So before you discount the weary, the broken and disheartened, get to know them as people. Listen to their story. Little by little, you will start to see the happy in their hearts. And I guarantee, by taking to time to listen, you will feel the happy in your own heart growing too.

The Longest Drive

I’m doing it again.

I’m waiting for perfection.

I haven’t blogged as near as much as I’ve wanted to, and besides lack of time (or reaching for the glass and wine and a blanket instead of the laptop) there’s really no good reason not to be writing more frequently. I’m beginning to think, however, that this pesky little perfectionist in me may have something to do with it.

I keep waiting for the perfect thing to write about, edit it a hundred times, and then finally put it out there. When it’s perfect.  Didn’t I promise transparency, though? Didn’t I tell you to give yourself grace and embrace your imperfections? Looks like I need to start taking my own advice.

I started following a blog recently, and the author posted a new goal of trying to blog everyday. Everyday! I can barely put make-up on everyday. Today I didn’t even get dressed until almost 11am (not that I wasn’t super productive though…it’s amazing how many household chores you can get done in your pj’s! And thank goodness no one can see my glorious outfits in morning carpool line!!).

I’ve accomplished some pretty noteworthy things in the past few months, and I have hardly written a thing about them. Why?! Part of me thinks no one really wants to read about it. That’s the other pesky friend in my head, the low self-worth one. She’s just hanging out up there with little Miss Perfect, having a cocktail and scheming away and how to rob me of a full, content life. Sorry ladies, time for last call.

In the spirit of celebrating my accomplishments, I am determined to write about my drive yesterday. I took the longest drive with the kids I’ve ever done…7 hours from Destin to Kennesaw by myself. BY MYSELF!!!!! As I traversed those long, seemingly endless stretches of highway, I thought, I need to blog about this!  Yet those snarky frenemies in my head started inflicting doubt. It’s just a boring drive. Why would people want to read about that? People drive all the time. They don’t want to read about it. 

So I didn’t take to the keyboard, although I was fresh off reaching this huge goal and teeming with disbelief and pride.  It was partially out of pure exhaustion that I failed to capture the moment in words…I’d driven the farthest I had been in about 10 years, and I still had to unpack and put the kids to bed without a husband. The wine and cozy blanket were the clear winners.

Here I am though. I’m going to write about this, damn it! Sure, my kids are yelling at me from downstairs and I should be starting dinner, but they will survive a few more measly minutes. I can at least get started and stop if they start beating each other up. Clock is ticking.

While I ruminated on whether anyone would want to read about a boring drive home from the beach, I had a thought. When I first started grappling with this anxious driving business, I was desperate for answers, advice…anything to proove that I wasn’t alone in this. Enter the smart phone. I Googled driving anxiety, then searched and searched for someone with a similar story. There were some forums here and there, some technical psychology sites, links to this and that; I did read some snip-its of similar experiences, but nothing that I could really connect with. I ended up finding an anxiety Facebook group, so I put a couple of posts out there and waited. I needed support and reassurance. The most poignant response I received was from a woman who had just started driving on the highway again, after 20 years. In my reply, I remember asking her how she did it? She mentioned that it took a great support group and lots of courage. That’s one of the trickiest parts of recovering from the grips of paralyzing fear…there’s no clear answer. No one size fits all. But we crave a sense of community, a support group of our own, for whatever we may need. We cannot do it alone.

This is why I write. Because maybe there’s that one person, who was like me 6 or 7 years ago, desperately searching for a common thread, for a link to a glimmer of hope. Someone out there needs me. More than likely, it’s several someones.

Back to the drive. I have said for years, one day I want to be able to drive my kids to the beach. It has been a goal for so, so long. I really am still in disbelief that I actually did it. I’m like that though, slow to react; I kind of go into shock until reality sets in. Anyway, the opportunity kind of just presented itself unexpectedly.

We took a family trip down to Ft. Walton Beach, right outside of Destin, FL. I was so excited that Jason could finally join us; he is so hard to pin down with his work schedule. When we arrived I realized that it was booked until Monday, and we had planned to come back Sunday. By the time Saturday evening rolled around, Jason made a suggestion; what if he flew home (he had an international flight he had to catch the next day) and I drove the kids home? Then we could stay an extra day.

Could you do it? he asked.

Pause.

This is where the fear wants to control you. You hesitate, you start to make excuses, you try to find every reason not to face your fear. Jack has school. I really miss my bed. I don’t know if the kids can ingest another meal of popcorn shrimp. But I knew better.  Here was an opportunity. Not only to extend our wonderful, priceless family time, but to practice. To take the fear head on. I did not pause for long this time.

Yes. 

Yes! Challenge accepted. Was I really going to do it? Then Jason went ahead and booked his flight. It was done. I was in.

Yes. This is why we needed another day.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t even that worried. Usually, the anticipatory anxiety would fester and build until I was a hot mess of nerves. But we just enjoyed our last day of glorious beach vacation time, sipped frozen drinks while our kids played in the pool (side note: the day when both your children can swim unassisted in a pool is AH-MAZING!!!), Jason flew out, I enjoyed another frozen pool drink, we watched the sunset from the beach, swam until dark, ordered a pizza, and called it a day. I even slept like a rock. It wasn’t until the next day that my nerves started acting up on me.

Looking back, I think that packing the entire condo up into the truck while you are alone with two kids and a dog was maybe more annoying than the entire drive, but thanks to the trusty old iPads, I got the job done.  So we all strapped into the F150 (Jason’s car, since mine was at home) and I started taking deep breaths. This is it. I have to do this. 

I find necessity to be a very helpful motivator. There was only one way home, and I was it. But I was nervous. I adjusted my seat belt. I entered the address in Google Maps and dissected each possible route.  I ate a protein bar. Mom, I’m ready to go! My son was clearly not in the mood for stall tactics. Time to go.

I decided to take a different way then how we came in, really only for old time’s sake. Back in high school and college I could drive to Destin with my eyes closed, we came down so many times. I can still see myself, driving in my white ’88 Honda Accord, windows down, music blasting, usually a best friend or two riding along. I used to put the car in cruise control and drive Indian-style, for goodness sakes. Please Lord don’t let my kids ever do that. There were no smart phones, no navigation systems; it was just me, a road atlas and a Sony Walkman CD player that would play through the stereo via cassette tape. Free as a bird (and probably listening to Free Bird).

So I started on the route, reminiscing over familiar sights and smells, noticing changes here and there, but mostly enjoying the scenery.

Until I came to the bridge.

The Mid-Bay Bridge seemed familiar, I’m pretty sure this was the route we used to take into Destin back in the day. These days, however, bridges are not my friend. As part of my anxiety I suffer from agoraphobia, which is a fear of being trapped or stuck in an enclosed space. A bridge leaves no room for error. I must maintain complete control and competence on a bridge.

There was a girl in college with me that was deathly afraid of bridges. I was with her once when she had to cross a bridge, and people had to literally hold her hand to help her across. I remember thinking that was crazy. How could you be scared of a bridge? I know now. I think of her all the time. Crazy how things can change.

I glance at the navigation map…wow, that’s a long bridge. I must maintain myself for how long? The impulsive thoughts come quickly…should I turn around? Should I reroute? Can I pull over if I need to? Can I do this?!

Yes. I can do this.

It is not a walk in the park. I take deep breaths. I try to control the AC so that it’s just perfect. I prepare to be uncomfortable. And then…I’m driving over the bridge. Guess what? I just go with it. Then, I turn the moment from dread into complete wonderment.

Look at the water guys! (They are engrossed in the iPads at this point) Put your iPads down!!! Look at the sailboat! Look at that pelican on the pole! Say goodbye to the ocean, guys!

This is the good stuff. The good that is happening in the moment. I declare the goodness out loud, and flush away the negative. Then, just like that, we are over the bridge.

Getting over that bridge seemed to be the push I needed to make it through the rest of the trip. After that, it was smooth sailing. The small highways didn’t look all that familiar; I’m pretty sure there were some new ones built in the 15 years since I’d driven down here. There were some pretty sketchy, remote areas (at one point the road didn’t even register on the map), but most of the route was straightforward. In the past I never had anxiety about being lost; I always considered myself having a decent sense of direction. We drove through a couple of rain storms, had to let the dog out to pee on the side of the road, then Jack had to go (which resulted in stepping in an ant hill, which he was quick to brush off, but then decided he would stick it to the ants by peeing on them). We hit up two Love’s truck stops (which were eerily similar and packed with way too many tempting kids toys), stuffed our faces with McDonalds and Pringles. We listened to Katy Perry on repeat (per Allie’s request) and laughed at Bear when he got his head stuck in the Happy Meal box scavenging for rogue french fries. Jack had a timer set on his phone to track how long it would take us to get home, but he still kept asking.

Mama, how many minutes are in 2 1/2 hours?? After many appeasing answers, I finally responded with, I can’t do math in the car. 

On I-10
Off the map!
She wore this the whole way home. My hero.

We actually had a decent time. The kids were great. Again, thank you Apple. We had a lot of laughs. I had a lot of time to think. I sang a lot of Katy Perry. But what I didn’t have a lot of, was fear.

Every mile, every second, every hour, was another step. A step towards freedom. I was building on this experience and coming out stronger because of it.

I did stall again, however, as I approached I-85. What had been simple, two lane divided highways for most of the trip were bound to end once we inched closer to downtown Atlanta. I stopped at the end of the smaller route 185 to get gas, clean out the car, let the dog pee…putting off the inevitable. Unless I wanted to add an extra couple of hours to the trip, I had to push on.

So on I went. The kids were getting a bit antsy into hour 6, and I couldn’t blame them. More motivation to take the fastest route…and the most intimidating. Three lanes turned into four, five, and finally I was in the middle of the eight lane connector. This was the stuff I had only reserved for my nightmares, and all of a sudden I was slap in the middle of it. But I was calm. I had to work at it, but I remained that way. As I hit rush-hour traffic in downtown (fabulous timing, I know), I realized that I could hop over to the HOV lane (yes, I Googled it and kids do count), but it was all the way over to the left. Much like the bridge I had feared earlier, the left lane is not my friend either. But I was ready to get through this as fast as I could if it meant getting home quicker. So over I went.

The big, scary connector up ahead.
At least Bear is relaxed!

I got some dirty looks (at one point I rolled the windows down so the kids were a bit more visible), but the HOV lane sped my commute up immensely. Next thing you know, I’m on 75 north, cruising with the rush hour crowd like it’s no big deal. I got this. I pull in the driveway and want to kiss the ground. Home. I’m exhausted. The car smells like stinky dog, sweaty kids and chicken nuggets. But we made it. I did it.

If the me from 6 years ago could read this, I’d be in shock. I wouldn’t believe it. It would be impossible to fast-forward through years of crippling fear and doubt to realize that a moment like this could exist. But what that younger, more fearful, broken me would see, is that there is hope. That fear does not win in the end. The the steps are small and painfully slow. Sometimes there will even be steps backwards, but there is hope in the end. There is always hope. No one can get you there but yourself, but you also cannot do it alone.

I met with a friend not long ago who specializes in natural healing and helps patients with anxiety, and had overcome it herself. As I explained the many outlets and paths I had been taking to find an answer somewhere out in the universe, she said something that will always resonate with me.

The answer is in YOU. You have everything you need right there, inside you. 

I finally believe her. I knew she was right, even then, but like all things in life, sometimes it takes the gift of time and wisdom to see what’s right in front of us…what’s been within reach the entire time. One day, I promise, you will be able to just reach up and grab it. And when you do, hold on. Hold on tight.

And by all means, freaking celebrate it.

 

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Mama Bears (and Papa Issues)

It’s been a tough week.

First, this senseless, incomprehensible shooting in Orlando. Then a two-year-old is drowned by an alligator at Disney World, of all places. My heart can’t take all this madness. And the social media circus that has followed is just as frightening. But I am like a moth to a flame; I get sucked in with the best of them. And it ain’t pretty.

There have been many posts defending the poor parents of this sweet 2-year-old boy, who have been judged and attacked for their “negligence”. So I guess this could count as another one. Although I’m going to take the long road to get to the point. So bear with me.

When I was pregnant for the first time, with Jack, I had a peace and calm I had never felt before. I was creating a miracle, a sweet baby boy who would love me unconditionally and make me whole. I mentioned before that my anxiety pretty much disappeared during my pregnancy. I was filled with a joy and a purpose that patched up any previous holes in my heart. I finally had someone to call my own, who promised to stay forever. Which was a huge relief for me, because I’ve lived through the opposite.

In my darkest days, while in therapy with Wendy and right before I started medication, I had a breakdown. In, fact, this was the session when, after a year of lots of talking and digging but little progress, she suggested I seek help from a psychiatrist. I really did try, I tell you.

My anxiety was so bad then that I could barely sit in her office without feeling terrified. I think I mentioned that we had to meet downstairs in a restaurant a few times just so I didn’t have to sit in there. This time, she suggested sitting in the office next to her, and maybe the different environment wouldn’t trigger any panic. Again, I really did try. I was laid out on a couch (like you would totally picture in a therapy session) trying to relax, but I was so anxious that I was shaking in my boots. Literally, I had my cowboy boots on that day. So at least I looked cute. But I was an anxious, panicky mess.

I can’t even remember what we were talking about, but somehow we got on the subject of my dad. I have an incredible, loving step-dad that I refer to as my dad, but my biological father has been estranged for about 11 years now. The last time I talked to him was on the phone, when I asked him if I could mail him an invite to my wedding. We’ll see, honey. We’ll see. And that was it.

Of course, I kind of expected that answer. After all, he had failed to produce any child support for his fourth child (from his third marriage) and he was trying to stay as low profile as possible. We always joked that if he had ended up coming to our wedding, it would have been like an episode of COPS. So of course, he was a no-show. I mean, he’s only the Father of the Bride. Sure, it was to be expected, given the circumstances. But it still hurt.

I remember getting upset about my dad when Jason and I were engaged. I was excited about marriage, but also terrified that one day he would leave. Because that’s what the men I love in my life do. They leave. There were a few nights I remember the flood gates opening up during our pillow talk (usually after a night of binge-drinking at the local bar) when I would ramble on about my fears of loving him with my whole heart and then being left in the dust. This has always been hard for me, to trust someone with my whole heart. To know that they won’t leave me. It’s easier to put my guard up and not get too close than to risk being heart broken.

Then I had a child. My resentment towards my dad really ramped up after that. How can a father leave his child? The question became even more infuriating after I became a parent. For that is probably my greatest fear of all; losing a child. But to just give up on one? To abandon them voluntarily? I was hurt and confused more than ever.

Back to Wendy’s office. Shaking in my boots. And somehow, we get on the subject of my dad. And I finally let it all go. I just don’t understand how he could leave me! I cried a terrible, organic, ugly cry right then.   And I’m not much of a crier. The hurt was deep, and it finally came to the surface. Slowly, eventually, the tears dried.  I stopped shaking, I calmed down, and I actually felt better. It was like an emotional cleansing.

She looked at me, with a comforting but bewildered smile. I think it would be best to refer you to a psychiatrist. Yeah, time to throw in the towel. Sweet Wendy. We tried, girl.

When you have a child, there is such overwhelming joy in your heart. You automatically love with your whole heart, no questions asked. There are no trust issues, no drama, it just IS. It is full-throttle LOVE. It is yours to keep, to cherish, to grow. But then, as big as the love comes, comes the WORRY. The realization that there are no guarantees. That it is your job to keep your child safe. The world becomes a threat. You adopt a whole new set of fears, and the stakes are higher than ever. The responsibility is stifling. You have finally given your whole-heart, and now you must be its protector.

They say when you have a child it’s like your heart has left your body and goes out into the world. That’s a pretty accurate way to describe how big your love is for your children. You would do anything for them.

You become a mama bear. 

My anxiety took a turn for the worse after my little hearts were outside my body out there in the open. I was responsible for keeping these precious loves safe at all cost. No pressure. 

Losing my children. 

When I worry about crashing on the highway. When I travel without them. When I feel like I am dying in the middle of a panic attack. I worry about my children. 

This is most likely fear number one.

And the sweet mom of the boy at Disney, I’m pretty sure it was hers too. 

And of course the father, the papa bear, trying to wrestle an alligator to save his child. I can’t bear to think of what it was like for those poor parents, to watch their worst fear unfold before them. I can’t.

I also can’t believe this family has to be defended. Of course this is a living nightmare for them. We owe them our complete support and compassion and those who dare think otherwise do not know what it’s like to have your heart out there in this big world, at risk of being swallowed up at any moment. Things can happen in the blink of an eye. We do our best to keep our children safe, but there’s only so much control we have. It is the heart-breaking, terrifying truth of parenting. We as parents, as humans, should be lifting this poor family up instead of judging and criticizing. It makes me sad to think I even have to say that.  Come on, people! Where is the LOVE?

Not too long ago, I was talking about my “real” dad, taking the usual bitter tone about how he doesn’t even know he has grandkids, yada yada, when my mom chimed in.

Poor Pete. He was always so down on himself. He never felt like he was good enough. 

My heart opened up right then. All of a sudden, I felt like I knew him, like our hearts shared a moment. Maybe we’re more alike than I realize. Maybe instead of harboring this bitterness and hurt, I should realize that he may be hurting just as much. Maybe I should practice compassion and forgiveness instead of anger and resentment. After all, he’s living out my worst fear. He’s lost his children. 

He needs love, too. 

Of course, we are not completely lost. We are very much here, carrying on our beautiful, messy lives, open to reconnecting at any moment. It just takes a little bit of effort, and a whole lot of courage.

Another Father’s Day has come and gone. I celebrated my wonderful step-dad and loving husband, and had an amazing weekend with my family. Of course, I also thought of my “real” dad today. I wondered how he feels on a day like today. I can’t imagine it’s warm and fuzzy. I assume he feels loss and regret, but I only assume that because I am a parent now. And if he and I are related, I trust that he has a compassionate heart like I do. A heart that loves deep and yet doesn’t know how to show it. A heart that feels like it’s not good enough and therefore may be reluctant to try. A heart that is only human.

One of the phrase I tell my kids often is: I’m doing the best that I can. I feel that it’s important to teach them that life is hard and complicated, and all we can do is try our best. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. But we must give ourselves grace. And more importantly, we must give it to others, too.

Unless you’re a terrorist or an alligator. In that case, the mama bears are coming after you.

Slow it Down

Is it just me, or is May like the new December? It’s one of those crazy months where your schedule is packed-out like a Taylor Swift concert. Between baseball tournaments, ballet recitals, musical performances, awards banquets, field days, end-of-year parties and graduations, it’s hard to find time to breathe. Yes, these are joyful occasions; priceless moments for the memory book. I’ve cried at pretty much every single sweet event. But, the insanity of May-cember can tend to add a few extra gray hairs.

I think I’ve been ready for summer for about the whole month of May. I function so much better in the slower months of summer. If you know me, you know I am a slow human being. In fact, this is probably my husband’s least favorite thing about me. He is like the energizer bunny; I’ve grown accustomed to being 10 steps behind him in almost every situation. One could beg to differ that his impatience is a match for my slowness, (now, don’t you just know that God put us together to learn a little thing called tolerance?) but the older I get, the more I appreciate this trait. What’s wrong with stopping to smell the roses? And the gardenias, magnolias, lavender, honeysuckles…

I do enjoy life in the slow lane. Except when the world wants you to go fast. 

Which is what May is to me. Fast-paced and jam-packed and just plain emotional. Things are ending, beginning…changing. All of a sudden, Jack is done with Kindergarten. My baby girl is four. I started off the year pulling my hair out trying to potty train that iron-willed girl, and now she is so independent sometimes she forgets to tell me she’s pooped. And don’t you know, parents of young children, you are nosy about their poops.

Today was the day my May-cember wave finally crested. We had Jack’s field day and end-of-the-year party today, which was actually really fun. I do love participating in all that fun stuff. As a former teacher, I do miss that fun, crazy time with the kiddos. But 5 hours in the blazing, humid Georgia sun with screaming children and a tear-jerking Kindergarten slide-show is just about enough to do you in. We headed home with strict orders for everyone to rest. Until, a friend invites us to the pool. How nice does the pool sound on this 88 degree day? Maybe just for a quick swim? But don’t forget, quick is not in my vocabulary.

After that 2 1/2 hour shin-dig, I remember that I have to eventually feed my children, so we hike home, sun-baked, chlorinated and low on fuel. Allie is whining because she’s scraped her toe in the pool, so we are moving at a snail’s pace (that mind you, is too slow even for me) and she is begging me to carry her, at which I look at her like she’s crazy since I have two bags and three pool noodles in my arms already. But how sweet that our kids think we are super heros like that.

We make it home, and knowing I have to focus my ADHD brain on dinner prep, I stick an iPad in front of the kids and try to proceed. Allie’s iPad, however, is having connection issues and she’s asking for help and again, I give her a crazy look since I have two raw chicken breasts in my hands and clearly I am in no position to put my fingers on an electronic device. “Go find your dad” is my solution. Off she goes.

I really wish I liked cooking. I actually don’t mind it when I can do it slowly, without distractions. Which I haven’t had in about 7 years.  But the whole following-directions and timing thing is a bit overwhelming for me, and my husband knows I turn into a crazy person and it’s best to leave mommy alone during the meal-making window. But alas, the kids are still needy and hungry, the trash is overflowing, and I have made the mistake of not pouring a glass of wine before the maddening dinner creating. I’m sunburned, tired, hungry and irritated. If I hear “mommy” one more time, I just might crack. You win, May-cember. 

Then I remember my meds. I am weaning off of my anti-depressant (with the hopes to try something new) and clearly this has not helped my current mood. Switching/weaning medications has never been a smooth process for me. There are withdrawl symptoms involved and when you have anxiety, these symptoms can throw you into a panic. I am more experienced and educated in what to expect, so I have learned to give myself plenty of grace during this process, but it’s still no picnic. I have actually been feeling okay, and my short temper this evening could simply be from the day’s events, but it’s worth a thought. Luckily, I remembered to brief my husband of this change so he could brace himself for whatever version of his wife was about to emerge. That sweet man, who is clearly scared by my tone of voice by now, offers to put the kids to bed. How fast can I pour my wine and hop in the bubble bath? No slowing down there.

Now I’m clean, cozy and horizontal. My sweet children are tucked in and dreaming. Things have finally slowed down. But I wouldn’t appreciate this moment so much had the day been any different. It was exhausting and crazy, but it was my crazy. We made memories and said good-byes and laughed and cried. We pouted and whined and kissed and hugged and said good night. Today was a good day.

“Today is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” – Psalms 118:24

One of Jack’s teachers showed us a clip of her son graduating high school today:

“Don’t blink, parents!” she exclaimed.

And then I sat and cried through that sweet slideshow of my baby boy.

We can’t slow down our days. Time marches on and change will inevitably come. We can try to enjoy the present as much as possible, even when it irritates us to no end. One day we will look up and the world will be different. We will wish we could go back and just slow down. Savor every sweet moment.  That last wave of May will crash onto the shores of summer and slowly disappear, soaking in each little memory. I hope you welcome summer and its promise of slowing down. As for me, I was made for summer. But inevitably, the waves of life will come again. How I choose to ride them, however, that is up to me. 

Practice

Do you ever feel like you’re on a ferris wheel? Like you are constantly spinning around not accomplishing anything? That’s the phase I’m currently in.  I know I haven’t posted in a while, mainly since I haven’t quite figured out how to be a blogger and also since I can barely make it through the kid’s bedtime without falling asleep tucked up next to their soft blankies and stuffed-animals.

My sweet friend Kristen, who just launched her own blog (here is where I would insert a link to her blog if knew anything about blogging) sent me a tutorial, which I am yet to read, and I still can’t manage to drag myself down to my desktop in the basement without being intercepted by my couch and a blanket. I am currently accepting laptop donations to fix this issue. So there is my explanation on lack of blogging.

But a lot is going on for sure. Hit a rough patch of anxiety which peaked and resulted in adding to my current anti-depressant, which I have since decided to go back to my original dose. Playing ping-pong with the old brain again. Poor thing. Have dabbled with paleo dieting and possibly changing medications all together as advised by friends/doctors/health coaches. Lots of possibility brewing. But my favorite little tool in my anxiety tool kit at the moment is my current book, Panic Attack Workbook, by David Carbonell, Ph.D.

A brief synopsis of the book…it basically says that to truly beat “the panic trick”, you have to practice the exposure theory. Which is pretty much letting yourself panic in phobic situations and working with the panic instead of fighting it. Which personally, I’ve known about for years but have never really been ready to face. After 12 years with this mess, however, you start to say enough is enough. 

It’s a great, practical, pro-active read. I’m pretty sure he named every single panic situation/thought I’ve ever had, along with offering non-complicated advice. Well, non-complicated until you actually start practicing with panic. Easier said than done. And bless you, Dr. Carbonell, I would love to practice for your recommended hour a day/five days a week, but I have two small children and a husband that is gone half the month usually. I’m practicing most days keeping little people alive and functional. Finding time to go to the bathroom, let alone “practice” with my anxiety, is a luxury. So I would have maybe added a chapter, like: Panic and the Tired Mom. Or, Practicing with Panic While Your Kids are Screaming in the Background. But hey, maybe in the next edition.

Just to illustrate my point, here’s a brief overview of my evening. Hubby is out of town (for 10 days!!!) and I’ve just finished miraculously putting some kind of food on the table. My kids start yelling at each other because Allie’s chair is touching Jack’s and she won’t move it and then she bumped it hard “on purpose”. So we flee the crime scene and start the bath/shower process, where Allie is fussing because she has her arm stuck in the shirt she is taking off by herself because “she can do it”, meanwhile Jack has clogged the toilet because he uses about half the roll to wipe himself. So, I help Allie with her shirt and then go into the bathroom to find poop ON THE WALL. It’s a trace amount, mind you. But no amount of poop on a wall is acceptable. So I clean that up while the dog starts going crazy at the door because the TruGreen guy is here to ask if I need lawn services even though somehow they have missed that they have been treating our lawn for 2 years. All is quiet momentarily so I go to clean up from dinner when I hear screaming from the bathroom because Allie has splashed Jack because “Jack was being mean” and he is splashing back because “she splashed me first”.  But man, are they sweet when they’re sleeping.

I love my children dearly, I do. My mom bought me a sweet little sign that says, “Being a mom makes me so tired and so happy”. I love that. Being a mom is a labor of love, and being a mom with panic disorder adds a hint of spice to the dish. Which makes me think, maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up for relying on medication for anxiety in these early childhood years. Maybe that book was meant for moms with kids off to college. Certainly they don’t want you to do it during the teenage years either. So when is the right time to suck it up and start exposure therapy? I’ll sleep on that one.

Seriously, I do want to start soon. I have so much hope in my fearful little heart. I think once you loose hope, you’re in a far tougher spot. So I’m thankful for hope. I can’t say I’m thankful for anxiety, but I am accepting of it and it’s the journey I’ve been given. My hope is to overcome it and to help others on their journey as well. So cheers to starting practice… one of these days.