The Power of “Me, Too”

Two weekends ago, I had to call my girlfriend from Six Flags to pray for and with me.  Because we’ve had our own disjointed, shorthand, can-talk-over-each-other language since seventh grade, she is the only friend I can still call without feeling like I am disrupting someone’s busy weekend, even though I *was* disrupting her as she set up for her daughter’s birthday party.

As soon as I heard her voice, I started crying, still holding Olive, first trying to find half a bench to sit on, then pacing so that I can have some privacy away from the benched Funnel Cakers.  I was holding her awkwardly, trying to keep her out of the sun while the sun kept following us.

After wasting our time yelling at each other and NOT hearing each other, Kevin had taken the boys to a different section of the park.  I felt abandoned but looking back, it allowed me to catch my breath and stop raging in front of the kids.

I was grateful that Olive was too young to later say, “Remember that time Mommy was crying at Six Flags?”

I continued to my friend:

“…on top of all that, I am now spiraling, feeling like WTF is wrong with me, looking around this dang park with today’s perfect SoCal-like weather and everyone taking selfies, Funnel Caking and heeheehee, able to enjoy themselves.

I feel like a f*cking failure ‘cuz I couldn’t put our fight on pause like a mature ass adult and parent but girl, I just felt so unheard and still do.  No matter how many times I tried, I could NOT just ‘snap out it,’ take a deep breath and re-emerge as Mom who is able to Funnel Cake and Batman ride right now!”

My friend and I talked over each other, which is what we do.  I told her that rehashing it won’t get us anywhere so let’s just pray.  But before she prayed, she shared with me, “STOP!  Stop it.  LOOK, I been there!  And it is OK that you couldn’t collect yourself to take your kids to the rides as a family.  It’s not fair to put such a time pressure on yourself for being OK.  It’s OK to show your kids that Mommy had to go collect herself and yes, even at Six Flags.  And if you think you the only one melting down, trust me.  Some of these families you comparing yourself to?  They already had their meltdowns on the way in or will have them later as they leave.”

She also shared just how “been there” she been, which helped spare me from beating myself up even more.  All while speed-talking before her girl’s birthday party.

Of course, as a friend, she couldn’t just co-sign on all my bad habits.  She did acknowledge that I can work on some thangs, but she let me know that I was not the only mom who had failed.  In this age where phone calls are obsolete, I’m so glad I was able to reach her.

Also, this past week, I’ve been chatting online with some dear mom friends and the power and beauty of that chat was all in the “Me, too.”

Sometimes, a “Me, too” is more life-giving than any, “I’ll pray for you” or “Have you ever considered…?” or “At least you…”  (Actually, no one enjoys an “At least you…” ever).

And I don’t know why my self-talk can be so damn mean.  “Snap out of it” is the worst message, something I would never tell anyone else after being told that when I suffered from clinical depression decades ago.

I don’t know about others but I am my own harshest critic and I would like to work on that.  If I don’t check myself and remind myself aloud, like Stuart Smalley on SNL, my negative self-talk can be downright fatal.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“How come other moms don’t experience such a range of emotions?  Why are you so extra?!”

“How come I’m not more like Kevin?  He can handle so much more.”

“How is that other mom so damn calm?  Does she ever yell?!”

And in the darkest moments, “What if my kids are better off without me?”

I’ve constantly asked myself, even on this blog, why I am prone to confessions while some are never prone to any self-deprecation.

I think I’ve always been drawn to the power of “Me, too,” to help others (and myself) know that we are ALL broken.

Sometimes, I hear church folk talkin’ about how we are all broken but for the life of me, I can’t imagine this person in front of me ever breaking down.  So when someone shares their weakness, it is downright life-giving.

This is why I can relate to addicts and recovery programs, though I have not been an addict myself – the opportunity and ability to share low moments with each other, to remind each other regularly that we all struggle.

And to be clear, “Me, too” is not to be mistaken for having a pity party where we bring each other down and stay there, or excuse bad habits together but to remind each other that we can be imperfect, that there is always more grace.

We can fail in big and small ways, but as long as breathe air in and out of our different-shaped nose holes, we can seek redemption for moments and narratives we want to shed.  And one thing is for sure:  we will mess up again, and His mercies abound.

Lamentations 3:21-23 “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

 

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If These Walls Could Talk

In less than a week, we will be waking up in our new home, our unexpected new home for just one year, while we soul search about where to lay down roots.

I might have to force the family to do vision boards.

Goodbye to our first home as parents.

Seven years, three babies, 900 square feet.

Thank You, Lord, for watching over us, through the laughter and awe, through the screaming and tears.  ALL OF IT.  Only You knew the answers to all of our questions.

I waddled in here on September 28, 2010, with baby Micah in my womb.

Now we walk out as a family of five.  Grateful beyond belief.

What words

have smashed against
these walls,
crashed up and down these
halls,
lain mute and then drained
their meanings out and into
these floors?

What feelings, long since
dead,
streamed vague yearnings
below this ceiling
light?
In some dimension,
which I cannot know,
the shadows of
another still exist. I bring my
memories, held too long in check,
to let them here shoulder
space and place to be.

And when I leave to
find another house,
I wonder what among
these shades will be
left of me.

“The New House” by Maya Angelou

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6.24.17 (photo credit:  Keri Tan Photography)

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Musings in the March Snow

While we were in Orlando, my 96 year-old down-the-hall neighbor, Charlie, passed away.  We missed the funeral because we didn’t see the memo until we belatedly checked our tiny mailbox.

Charlie was the neighbor who came up to me a few years ago while I was running out to take out the trash.  His wife had just passed away and his grief was raw.  He hadn’t planned to come up to this Mama down the hall but the grief was so overwhelming that he shared with someone he had never spoken to before – “I just lost my wife.  We were married for ____ years.  I don’t know what to do.”

I dropped my trash and gave him a huge hug as tears escaped from both our eyes.  I told him later that sometimes I take my baby to Forest Hills Park and that he can walk with us but he was too frail.  I kept seeing him around with his full-time caregiver and dutiful son.

I ran into his son on Queens Blvd. while walking to the boys’ school this week and I grabbed his forearm to tell him how sorry we were for his loss.  His 60 something(?) year-old son had shared with me once, “I don’t know how family live so far away from each other.  I am so close to both my parents and always lived a building away from them.”

He told me that he was present at both his parents’ deaths and that they parted while holding his hand.

Growing up, I knew that my dad equated success with being a world traveler and adventurer.  He immigrated to the U.S. after falling in love with it on a business trip.  He always said that children should go far away for college instead of being sheltered and fearful, only confident at home.

He was disappointed when I didn’t get into Harvard.  I applied, for his sake, Early Admissions and got Early Rejected.  He never hid the fact that he thought my going away “just” to UC Berkeley, a one hour flight away from home / six hour drive, was not grand enough.

And because I always chase (chased?) after my dad’s approval, I believed the same.

But when I spent a few minutes talking to my recently deceased neighbor’s son on the street this week, I realized that my beliefs have changed.

After the boys go to sleep and Kevin and I get to unwind, one of us can’t resist going back into their tiny room to gaze at or squeeze them, especially after an episode of “This is Us.”  It’s like having a cartoon rotisserie chicken asleep on the bottom bunk, and a scrumptious pork belly slider tucked in in the top bunk.  Irresistible.

I no longer define success as globe-trotting  and being as far away from family though I drool at my globe-trotting friends’ adventures in lands I have to Google.  I would love for my rotisserie chicken and crispy pork children to traipse the entire globe…then return to home base to share as much of their lives with me as they will allow.

I will be waiting.

RIP neighbor Charlie.  I am so glad that Art had the privilege of holding your hand as he ushered you into eternity.

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Like Sands Through the Hourglass…

FullSizeRender (5)FullSizeRender (6)FullSizeRender (7)FullSizeRender (8)IMG_2438FullSizeRender (9)FullSizeRender (10)FullSizeRender (11)When deliberating where to go for our last hurrah vacation as a family of four, we were able to narrow it down to L.A. vs. Orlando.  Thankfully, we didn’t have too many options to cull through as our passports have not been renewed and other Florida spots were known for Zika outbreaks.  As much as we would have loved to go back to my hometown, we opted for Orlando as Escaping the Cold and Relaxation were our #1 priorities.

You know how we all say, “Where has the time gone!?”?  I can recall a few moments from this delightful break where I actually could pinpoint my kids growing up before my very eyes.

As much as our Wild Florida Airboat ride, Gator and Wildlife Park, Legoland, Crayola Experience, and other excursions made the trip fun and memorable, I replayed the precious growth moments over and over in my head during our week together.  They may sound mundane but I still recall them vividly:

When we arrived at Crayola Experience on the one rainy day of the week, I immediately looked for a bench to hobble towards as I had been having acute back pain.  It was so bad that we looked into renting an Electric Convenience Vehicle at Legoland.  Anyways, the boys were dancing in front of some moving crayon images while I watched.  Suddenly, a massive group of students on fieldtrip entered the space between the boys and me, while Kevin was in the admissions line.  I still had my eye on them but they could not see me.  I craned my neck to keep my eye on them and watched as Micah’s face morphed from slight panic to great resolve.

“Ellis, come!” Micah looked ever firstborn in that split second as he grabbed his compliant little bro’s hand and starting walking away from the crowd.

“Micah!  Mommy still sees you!  Where you going?  I never lost sight of you.”

Micah, looking relieved: “I was taking us to the workers to report that we had lost our mom.”  (Of course I thought about the movie, “Lion,” all over again.  Gulp.)

For some reason, this moment has left a mark on my heart.  My boy is growing up.  I don’t see the drooly toddler who soaked through 15 bibs a day, no exaggerating, as we watched the big kindergardeners go off to school.  This is a bonafide big brother who snatched his cheeky little brother when he thought that this was finally the moment his mom had warned him about, “If you ever get lost, go up to someone who works there OR go up to another mom!”

He is ready to become Big Bro of two.

Second moment:  When we hit the pool, Ellis usually asks one of us to hold him as he gets adjusted to the water.  I didn’t realize how much I savored that babyish habit until this time, in our Orlando pool, he said, “I don’t need you any more, Mom-oo!”

I paused to take the moment in.  “My Pillow Cheeks has grown up so much.  You don’t even need Mommy any more!”  I sheepishly swam away backwards while facing him to watch him grow before my very eyes.  He must have felt this moment too as he added, “I don’t need you.  But I still want you.”

And the final moment was at the airport.  We were strapped for time as I had kept us another 15 minutes at Disney Springs.  Instead of trying to manage with my jacked back, one sleeping Ellis, and too many bags for Kevin and Micah to carry on their own, we flagged down a porter.  When I told the porter our flight time, he said, “We have to hurry.”

But I could not hurry.  I could hardly walk as I felt stabbing pain on my lower back, even with a belly / back brace on.  The rest of my family ran with the porter.  I tried my best but I could only walk.  My eyes started watering from the pain and I looked up to see my Micah’s concerned face.  “My mom…she can’t run.  She’s coming.  Mommy, you can do it, you can do it!”

Now, my eyes were watering from the love my growing boy had for me as I hobbled to keep up.  I always imagine him from a few years back, where I did everything for him.  I guess it didn’t dawn on me that as he grows up, he will be the one cheering ME on.  I had underestimated the six year old boy before me.

His stricken look didn’t go away until I was able to join them in the elevator to make our flight.  I realized that our family being together was just as important to the kids as it was to us.

Thank you, Orlando, the host of our precious moments!  Happy 40th Birthday to Kevin, who took care of all of us on the trip!

 

 

That Raccoon Life

A few of my years attending UC Berkeley for undergrad was spent in a house on Dwight Way.  I remember my roommates and I talking about the new nuisance on the block:  Raccoons!  While adorable in children’s storybooks, far from adorable when stumbling upon them in real life.

One of my housemates came home reporting another raccoon sighting:  “Eww, the guys across the street at Americana said that at night, they caught a FAMILY of raccoons going for a night swim!  Can you imagine?  So gross!”

As I tried to fall asleep that night, visions of the raccoon family took hold of me.  As much as I was anti-raccoon, the vivid image of the family going for a swim captured my heart.  Not gross at all.

Were the raccoon parents immigrants?  What was their story?  When did the parents get together?  The dad must have told his buddies, proudly, that he can’t go foraging with them that night because he was going to take his family swimming.  The kids were probably excited all day for their moonlit swim.

I pictured the dad looking at a map for the best swim holes Berkeley had to offer, researching how to get there and weighing the pros and cons between Clark Kerr pool and the more humble pool at Americana apartments.

I imagined the mom making some kimbahb and packing some trash for their midnight excursion.  The kids were not helpful but their excitement was contagious.  When the coast was clear and the loud humans were off to bed, the dad must have let out a high pitched whistle with his black lips and leathery black fingers,  waving one bandit hand, “It’s time.  Dive on in, guys!”

For some reason, this raccoon family I had not even encountered for myself during my college days, left an imprint in my brain.  I especially pictured the leader of the pack, the family-oriented Dad, creating some merriment for his brood.

Yesterday, despite the cold, hail, rain, and slushy Slurpee streets of NYC, Kevin and I were determined to go for a swim together.  His gym was offering two hours of Family Fun time where we could all go swimming as part of his membership.  This would entail some planning in order to make it in time.

Pack our swim stuff the night before, to take on the E train into Midtown.

Attend church.  Leave stuff in car for easier transport to subway.

Buy empanadas for speedy lunch on the run.

Drop off car in our lot.  Confirm with gym that their pool is open.  Take swim stuff and position onto Ellis’ stroller and have him sit in stroller so our massive belongings don’t tip over.

Walk to subway stop without slipping.  Especially Mommy and her Belly.

Wait for Sunday E train and remind boys to stay in the middle of the platform.

Hop on train.  Grab seats as they become available.  Kevin scarf down a few empanadas he could not eat while driving us home.

Pop out of train and maneuver umbrellas.  Walk to gym as more freezing rain pours down.

Laugh at how we really must like adventures and wonder if others would even bother to do this for a free family swim or just say, “Haiiiill nah!”

Sign waivers, change into swimsuits and meet at the pool.

Kevin told me to get my lap swim on while he frolicked with the kids in the loafer lane.  The kids were beaming.  Their wet seal heads bobbed up and down.  Daddy took them on rides on his back.

As I swam towards them, my eyes teared up behind my goggles.  They looked…not unlike…the raccoon family of my college imaginings.  I hadn’t thought about that raccoon family in years but there they were, every bit as tight as I had imagined.  Turns out that the dad had a gym membership!

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post swim foraging

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post swim ride home – feeling relaxed and happy and hungry

 

 

 

 

Flipping the Script on Envy

As I’ve shared before, I am euphoric when pregnant.  I imagine soundtracks playing as I subway to work or walk in the frozen tundra to pick up the chil’ren:

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed Be Your name
Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

I feel like I won the lotto to be able to experience this all over again even with a growing, peach-fuzzy stomach,

linea negra faint black line down my belly,

gagging while brushing teeth,

burping on the drive to church and being shocked by more than a burp,

and popping Tums for dessert night after night.

However, I am still a three-dimensional human being and find myself struggling with envy even during this abundant season of verdant pastures.

Pastor Rankin Wilbourne once shared that he would never be envious of Kobe Bryant’s basketball skills.  He is more susceptible to becoming envious of another pastor whose church is flourishing in a way his church is not.  I get that.

I’m not envious of most things because I couldn’t care less.  You thinner than me?  Congrats!  So are many.  I don’t care.  I want to eat more empanadas.

You have a great science mind while I was happy to earn my “B” in AP Bio?  Cool – maybe you can drop science on my kids one day while I watch Wendy Williams.

You have a fat salary but have to work crazy hours?  That’s great that you have that drive but for me, for now, no thanks.

However, there are wounds I carry and if you are blessed in those areas, I feel the wounds getting picked at again, or at least my armpits getting sweaty.  Currently, we are blessed enough to have four living grandparents for our children.  But all four of them are not geographically available and three of them are not available in the way I yearn for.  I also don’t have a dad who can pour into my life.  THESE ARE SOME RAW WOUNDS.

As abundantly blessed as I am, when I see doting grandparents, I tear up.  When I see my friends get affirmed by their dads even at our mature ages, I cry.  (Hell, I’m crying now, typing this).

I want my kids to know and FEEL that other than their loving but imperfect Dad and affectionate but limited Mom who still hates to cook, there are a couple others who love them to pieces and would sacrifice for them, not just connect on the phone once in a blue moon.

But I don’t stay sad because my default emotion is anger.  I spew out and release my “Fuck Yous.”  I don’t actually hate on my friends with blessings in this area because they handle their blessings with gratitude and grace, but when an innocent stranger posted on a FB Mom group about how both sets of grandparents watch her kids, NEVER LEAVING HER ALONE WITH THEM, and how one of them dared to ask for carseats for their own car so that they can go on adventures with their grandchildren, I had to bite my tongue because I want to say, “FUCK YOU VERY MUCH YOU FUCKING PRINCESS!”

Everything is relative.  I KNOW THIS IN MY HEAD but my heart ain’t feelin’ it at times.

Someone could very well be thinking the same of me as Kevin does the heavy lifting in our household.  In that way, I am pampered and ever grateful.  But he also does this heavy lifting partially because he knows I have NO ONE ELSE and that it grieves his emotional wife.  People have advised that I look for friends or “spiritual family” to lean on but I don’t dare lean on non-relatives when I know their plates are full, too.  And frankly, friends have their own extended REAL families.

I also think about my friends and what they must struggle with.  Friends who have suffered baby losses while they see pregnants all around.  Friends whose kids have received diagnoses while they see neurotypical kids going about their regular school schedules.  Friends who pray for a spouse.  Friends who pray for healing of their illnesses.  Friends who beg God for a baby.

HOW DO I/THEY FIND PEACE in our respective areas of need!?  I know one solution is to stay in our own lanes and be grateful for everything we do have.  But I need something more because in this real world, we don’t live in a bubble and we can’t help but notice each others’ lanes.

I want to grapple with envy in a different way.  I don’t wanna become Bitter Miss Fuck You or only want to play with people who have my exact same struggles.  I will protect and distance myself from folks who subconsciously enjoy being the object of my envy because they feel elevated from my raw confessions that I wish I had what they have.

Lord, give me tools to flip the script on envy.  I know that it is not a single battle but a life-long journey but mature me in this area and teach me to deal with this in a healthy manner, and not resort to anger.  Please guide me when the going gets tough and I hear Satan whisper in my ear, “Bet you wouldn’t be struggling if you had grandparents around like so many of your friends!”

I will hold you to this verse I love for 2017 – please spring forth a new thing within me:

Isaiah 43: 19 (NIV):  See I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

(photos of my blessings below)

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Me being held by my beautiful Mama Love, who may be geographically unavailable but emotionally available and still wrestles with her grandchildren because it makes them squeal

Every Good and Perfect Gift

I don’t know how to talk about what is going on in our country right now so I will only talk about my own small world.  For now, I only have to visit my o.b. monthly.  While waiting to be seen by my very popular doctor this past week, I reminisced about how each pregnancy experience was different in many ways, but also same in the sheer awe and gratitude I always bask in.

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I kept forgetting to take these time capsule pics so I did two in a row this week.

For MLK, my first, I was working.  Everything was new.  No other children.  I would ask friends on FB what the first flutter felt like and what exactly I was supposed to do while waiting for baby to arrive.

For EZ, my second, I was a full-time at-home mama.  I was busy taking M to the playground and on playdates.  I treasured these moments where M and I got to be attached at the hip, when he was my “OCUO,” Only Child Until October.

I realize now how fun that second pregnancy was as so many of the mama friends in my ‘hood were blessed enough to be expecting at the same time.  It was almost hard to keep track of who was due when.  “Who got next!?”  From spring babies to blizzard babies.  Newborns meeting first friends and mamas doing drive-bys on each other to drop off a little sustenance.

With this Bonus Belly Baby, I only work part-time so I definitely have pockets of quiet when the boys are at school.  To feel the kicks and to try to imagine what it’s going to be like when we meet Baby and become a family of five.

I do miss those days when we were all knocked up together as I feel like the Lone Pregnant these days and wouldn’t mind a few Preg Buddies.

As I left my doctor’s office, I saw that there was a Goodwill store on the same block.  I wondered, “Could there be a cute hat for me in there?  Nah, I’m tired.  I’m carrying too much stuff.  I gotta hop back on the train and eat something before picking up the boys.”  Then  I got this strong feeling, “GO IN.  GET YOUR HAT.”  I came out with a hand-knit, bright turquoise hat for $2 after a nice chat with a young employee who is also pregnant.  I smile to myself about how much older I am than her and I remind her to put her feet up and drink lots of water.

The last strong feeling I got was when we were at Storm King, the day before I turned 40 and the day before I found out officially that I was expecting our third baby.

When I got to luxuriate in that solitary shuttle ride as a Storm Queen, I gazed up at the sculptures and the trees and asked God, “Lord, it’s me again and yes I am obsessively asking.  Could I actually be pregnant?  **Even though I just got my period!?**”  I felt a strong answer from within:  “You are expecting.  You will be back here with your baby.  Why you ackin’ so surprised?”  I think He even said the sex of the baby but I didn’t write down this memory fast enough so I don’t wanna make up stuff.

With small gifts (Goodwill hat) and grand gestures (Bonus Baby), He has gifted me so much lately so I can’t help but share these mundane praise reports on repeat.  Beyonce-like photo shoot up next (Psyche!).

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spotted this beauty after my doc visit

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the view I enjoyed as I went in for my check-up