Category: Women

Tell A Better Story

“I don’t know….” I said, trailing off as I searched for the right words.

“It just feels….I don’t know, like….like I’m given my lines every morning, and I just follow this script that someone else has written for me.”

My friend nodded in agreement as I continued.

“I’m more than a mom and a wife.  Bigger than the sum of my parts.  But, I’m not living like I have other roles.”

“That’s exactly how I feel,” my friend chimed in.  “I feel like I’m ‘just’ [my husband]’s wife, or ‘just’ [the kids]’ mother.”

The two of us stood on the safe side of a chain-link fence, looking on as twenty-two 7-year-olds kicked dirt into dust clouds on a baseball field.  We were careful to keep one eye on the game so we’d know when to give a wink or a clap or a thumbs-up to show that, yes, we did just see that hit/run/catch.

God forbid a mom doesn’t see whatever play her own child deems to be the “game changer.”

I hit a home run, and you were talking to your friend.  You didn’t even see me — you were probably talking about pillows or furniture.  [Eye roll].

I have many times been accused of ignoring my sons’ shining moments in favor of gabbing about furniture.  Furniture or “fashion,” actually.

And knowing that my boys think that furniture and “fashion” is what us moms are talking about, huddled together on the safe side of a chain-link fence, well…..that bothers me more than being accused of neglecting their game in the first place.

I have stood with many, many moms — for hours upon hours upon more hours of soccer games and baseball games and other kinds of games.  I’ve also sat with many, many moms — some friends, some strangers — in the collective wait for piano lessons to end, or dentist appointments to be over, or for our kids to take “just one more” turn on the tire swing at that park that has all the cool equipment, but is always swarming with bees.

I have stood with and sat with all these moms, and I can tell you as I tell my boys: Mommies talk about lots of different things.  Lots of different, important things:

We talk wistfully about our college years, when we hadn’t yet made any permanent choices, and the world was still seemingly at our feet.

We talk about current events, and carefully negotiate our way around politics so as to allow for the sharing of informed opinions (brains!) that don’t ruffle too many feathers in the process (respect!).

We talk about books we’ve read, and how we could or could not relate to the author’s perspective.

We talk about the books we always secretly planned to write.

We talk about traveling — where we’ve been, and with whom —  and where we still hope to go “someday,” and with whom.

And, as was the case during this particular moment of waiting on a baseball field one beautiful Saturday morning, me and my mom-friend — we were talking about who we wanted to be.

And neither of us came to any concrete conclusions, other than “more.”

We knew we wanted to be more than what we had been in the business of being lately.

As I sat in the passenger’s seat on the drive home, I thought about my friend and our talk, and how it wasn’t at all like the douche commercial I used to think these kinds of talks were reserved for.  A bunch of bad actresses with wedge haircuts  and male-imagined “female issues” we were not.

No….we were good actresses (with great hair, by the way), who grappled not with phony “female” problems, but with real human issues that women just happen to be incredibly deft at identifying and discussing.

When I got home, I went for a run, which lately I’m relying on more and more as a means to clear out my head as opposed to lean out my thighs.

Sanity trumps vanity any day.

So I ran.  I ran without my iphone because I didn’t want my thoughts muddled by lyrics that send contrived little vignettes into my imagination, leaving false notions of “how things go” to rattle around in my head.  I often wonder how much of my life is foolishly spent in an effort to imitate bad art  simply because I don’t spend enough time alone with my own thoughts.

And, so again, I ran.  Without music.  And it felt really, really pure.  I watched the street move under my feet as tiny rocks and pebbles blurred into ribbons of peach and gray against the black of the asphalt. I lost my self to the forward movement of it all, which was immensely satisfying; from the moment I left my friend and that baseball field, I’d had this nagging sense of urgency about needing to move forward.

And yes, it was a need to move forward in a figurative sense, but this run — beyond that lamp post, beyond that house with the blue shudders, over and beyond that tiny little bridge that eases the break in my favorite bike path — this literal running ahead toward whatever new landmark I picked on the fly felt like the kind of consistent pattern of accomplishment I was craving on a bigger scale.

A few months back, I read a book in which the central theme was how our lives are like movies, and we are the scriptwriters.  It’s our job to create a great story for our character.  And great stories, it turns out, require one to step into a whole bunch of different roles, meeting a whole bunch of different challenges, and then facing a whole bunch of new challenges so that we keep the whole risk/reward pattern going indefinitely.  For those curious, the book was A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  And, for those further curious, the idea behind the book was more interesting than the details contained within it, but that’s just my opinion.

The important take-away was this notion of diversifying your experiences to maximize the risk-reward potential that provides the fodder for personal growth.

I suppose that’s kind of what I have been chewing on lately.

It’s at the heart of most of my mom-to-mom conversations.  And with the conversations I have in my own head, usually while trying to fall asleep at night.  It’s my biggest motivator to “move” — whether pounding the pavement during a run, or forcing myself into some sort of commitment, like attempting to churn out thoughtful entries on a blog that I keep inviting people to read.

I want to move forward — forward and “out” in a million directions.  I want to diversify my experiences.  I want my character to have a full story — a good life with lots of different roles.

This is where I am right now, and I needed to get it down in writing.  I once told a whole dinner table full of people exactly how much I weighed — down to the ounce — because I knew it would hold me accountable for the diet overhaul I kept threatening to undertake.  Within three months of my public revelation, I had lost 12 pounds.

So, now I’m saying that I want a better story, and it will involve some sort of action on my part.  And now that I’ve said as much, it means I’ll likely do it.  I am thinking that some of my posts will (hopefully) start to reflect that.

As I work on my own story, I’d love to hear from any of you in the process of an edit and re-write.  If you are upping the ante on your own risk-reward cycle, how do you plan to go about it?  What challenges do you deem necessary for the kind of growth you seek?  What role are you aiming to play?

As I’ve said before, I love to hear how other people think and relate to the world.  This could turn an off-the-cuff post into an interesting discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A Second Look At How Being “Settled” Can Be Very “Unsettling”

So, tomorrow is my birthday.

Weeeeeeeeeee!

That “weeeeeeee” was meant to be read with a heaping dose of sarcasm, by the way.

So, yes……where were we?  Birthday.  Right.

So, tomorrow is my birthday.  I will be officially turning 36, but if you ask my husband, I’ve been 36 for quite some time now, as he likes to remind me that at 35, I was really in my “36th year.”  See, he’s splitting hairs here, about the way we humans mark the passage of time — on the back-end as opposed to the front.

The husband also recently revealed that yes, it was appropriate for M’s husband to suggest that she (38 years old) and I (a fresh 35 at the time) Google “office dress for middle-aged women,” when the two of us were curious about what, exactly, we would wear when we ventured back out into the world beyond the Target-library-grocery store circuit.

Middle-aged!  Middle-aged?

“No way!” I protested.  “You’re cracked.  Middle-aged…..puh-lease.”

“Baby — how long does the average human live?” he countered.

“Geeze…I don’t know,” I floundered, already sensing that I was not going to like where this was headed.

Being the prig that he sometimes is, he answered with what I believe is the actual average life-span number, according to the CDC.

“What, 78?” he quipped.  “So…what’s half of 78?  39?”

My stomach dropped at the notion.

“So, okay, then you have about three years left (remember at a fresh 35, I was really in my 36th year, so his math was sound).  And M is, well…….[her husband] was right about her.  Middle-aged, babe.”

This conversation happened in the kitchen: Me, at the computer Google-ing work dress for women in their mid-thirties, he, leaning against the counter, eating a stray piece of something from one of the kids’ already-cleared dinner plates.

I wanted to get up and give him a swift shove for being so smug.

I literally wanted to push him.  Hard.  Send him hurling backward to make contact with the refrigerator, shaking loose all the school papers and important reminders.  Sending magnets to crack and break against the ceramic tile.

I, of course, didn’t play out the fantasy.  But my violent impulse did make me wonder:

Why was I so spun up about the whole age thing?

It took me some time to peel at these onion layers — the ones that had covered an almost unnatural fear of getting older.  But I did eventually figure it out.  And, a while ago, I wrote a post about it.  I have re-published it below, and I invite you to read my theory and then let me know what you think.

Oh — and the mention of some content in my “About” page was referencing old material that I have since re-written, lest anyone get confused by a seeming inconsistency.

Enjoy…..

An essay on why I cringe at the thought of another passing year.  Turns out, I’m not completely vain after all.  Yay!:

….the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of all that will never be….

Okay, so, in my little “About” page, I made some ridiculous statement about not feeling like I had grown chronologically older since 25 or so, and I went on and on and on about “vertical” versus “horizontal” movement of time and growth and something about wisdom trumping years and blah, blah, friggin’ blah.

Well I am back — a mere five days after the fact — to tell you all that whatever I thought I was selling is such a pantload of crap.  Cancel your orders.  Don’t buy it.

Anyone in my most intimate circle knows that I talk incessantly about getting older.  I mean, like, incessantly (J and M, thank you for always listening, btw).  And I most certainly do not mean older “out” like I would have had you all believe, but I mean older “up.”  Up in age.  Up in years completed orbiting the Sun.  Up in moments gone by.  Up in number of pounds that won’t budge from my middle, in the number of creases that frame my eyes when I smile, in the sixteenth-of-an-inch increments that I swear — swear to goodness — I notice my hairline receding by every few months.  Older.  I am getting older, and I feel it now.  I feel the weight of that movement — that upward movement — every. single. day.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait — couldn’t wait — to get to the “next big thing.”  I was never ever satisfied with where I was. Too restless to live in the moment, I could never carpe diem.  Rather than “carpe”-ing I just, well, carped.  I could include several quotes here mimicking the “me” that I was during each phase of life that I deemed a necessary evil on the way to the golden ring (the golden ring always changed, by the way — being old enough to go to junior high, old enough for high school, old enough to date, to vote, to get a real job, be married).  But I think you get the point.  And yes, I listed voting.  I did not list driving.  I am a nerd.  I already know this, thank you.

And now?  Now I want to hold on to every moment of every day– down to the second.  I am absolutely beyond myself at the notion of putting another year behind me.

I don’t know how so much of my 30’s has escaped me.  Well, maybe I do.  I got married young by today’s standards (one month after turning 23).  While my peers were still dating and job-hopping, I was celebrating wedding anniversaries and managing a joint checking account.  And then I got pregnant at 25.  And again 15 months later.  Before I had turned 30, my husband and I were eyeballs-deep in meeting a mortgage, rearing school-aged children, negotiating in-laws, and hunkering down in our “forever” careers (my husband’s outside the home, mine inside of it).  My late 20’s and early 30’s were a blur because I was bum rushed by the milestones that most others parse out —  allowing at least a few years between each of life’s big “gets.” When I finally got my sea legs aboard this existence I created on the fly,  I was somehow already 34.  And I was incredibly aware of my age.

Huh.  That’s funny.  34 doesn’t sound old. And further more, things slowed down considerably at 34.  These last two years, my life has been relatively static.  Kids are incredibly self-sufficient. My return to graduate school was slow, and very very part-time; upon graduation, it was agreed that I’d hold off on re-entering the outside workforce for at least a little while.  Marriage kinks had been more or less ironed out several years ago — we’ve long found our rhythm as a couple.  So, what gives?  I thought it was the “fast” of it all until I entered the “slow” and still felt panicky.  I could never really put my finger on it.  Why I was obsessed with age.  Why I felt old.

There was one thing that should have clued me in:  I repeatedly considered women who were older than me quite young. Why?  It all came down to their level of “settled”-ness.  For example, a particular acquaintance of mine: At seven years my senior, she still seemed to me just beginning her life.  She had deliberately developed a nice career that still offered much upward movement. She was in a lovely condo in an important city.  She had established a serious relationship with someone she might very well marry.  She had things that mirrored all that I had with one exception: she had an “out” from it all.  With no wedding ring, no mortgage deed, and no children, this friend still had one foot in the land of infinite possibilities. And, while I would never in a million, zillion, trillion years ever, ever, ever want any “out” from my beautiful family and the life that we’ve built, the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of what will never be.

Could this be at the root of my whole “getting older” conundrum?  Was it not so much increasing years, but decreasing possibilities that was making me mourn for yesterday, and last month, and last year?

With this stressor always at play in the recesses of my mind, my heart, and my soul, I was ever grateful to come across this post by blogger Jennifer Fulwiler: Behind the Scenes of a Mid-Life Crisis.  I read it, and I knew.  This was it.  What she said.  Exactly what she said.  All of it.  I would love for each of you to take a few minutes to read her words; whether you share in my fear of getting older or not, I think there is still wisdom to be gleaned.

Do any of you feel like me?  Anyone unsettled about being settled?  Let’s discuss.

 


For Me and M and All Almost-Edible Women

I had been contemplating creating a blog for a long time.  But there was always a reason not to start:

Everyone’s blogging!  This over saturation of women-mommy bloggers has made a huge “so what” for me to answer, and I don’t have a good enough “what.”

Everyone in my current audience says I’m a great writer — aahh, the pressure (and, by the way, stop telling me what I’m good at — you all are really killing the joy for me.  Let me own this.  Let it be special)!

Said audience consists of four people, maybe, and half of them are related to me.  They’re all just being nice, trying to “encourage” me.  I actually probably suck, or am merely average at best.

I can’t even think of what to write about.

I don’t have a good camera.

I just need to finish (painting the hallway/sorting the pantry/re-covering the footstools in the master bedroom), and THEN I’ll be able to settle in to a new project.

And so, I marinated in my own special blend of wanting and not wanting, asking for and refusing, kinda-sorta-thinking and absolutely not-ing.  I was in a perpetual circle-jerk with myself — momentary fearlessness getting only so far as the shock collar of “reasons not to” would allow it.  Which was never farther than a few wistful conversations in the secrecy of my own inner workings that started with “maybe someday….” and ended with “maybe…..BUT I think what I really need to do is figure out how to address the bedroom windows.”  And as a result, our bedroom windows (as well as the sofa, the living room floors, and the family room walls, and, for that matter, anything else and everything else that wasn’t related to my own personal growth and development) have all enjoyed an appropriate metamorphosis, going from once-rough sketches to something truly pleasing and functional and “just right.”

And here I sit…..

I’m in this meticulously edited house, with a husband whom I assist as he creates his own happiness (men are particularly deft when it comes to getting this done), with two beautiful boys who merrily march to their own bands (bands in which  I have gradually been demoted to the likes of a cymbals crasher or triangle dinger — you know, the instrumental effects that only, like, one song in a set of 50 ever needs, and even then, if I’m not there, a relatively unsophisticated keyboard could reproduce my job in a pinch)….and I am still a rough sketch myself.

I am nearly 36 years old, and I have yet to jump from the confines of a two-dimensional page.

This realization really started becoming scary.

I finally decided to change things.

The desire to “start something” went from idling to overdrive at a very precise moment that, even as it unfolded, I made a note-to-self that it had to be the topic of my very first  post.  I had just  climbed into a warm tub thinking I was particularly happy.  I had been enjoying a routine of nightly baths, honey facials, hot tea, and good reads.  The baths were necessary to soothe aching muscles — the result of pounding the asphalt on a near-daily jogging regimen.  I was now consistently working out.  I was losing weight and looking good for the first time in years (the post-baby pudding belly was finally cooking up firmer).  Honey facials were  the result of months-long Internet research on the benefits of various skincare routines.  Raw organic honey was “so good” for your skin, I had read.  And here I was, making a habit of it, starting to possibly see results, my skin feeling firmer and the fine lines on my forehead maybe actually starting to fade.  The tea?  The perfect elixir to further the effects of the bath, each sip a figurative mantra: I am able to relax….I have carved out private time….I am taking care of myself….This is good.

And the books?  That was the best part.  I had just joined a neighborhood book club, and was now sharing in an idea feast with seven brilliant women; we would read and then talk and dissect words and phrases and thoughts and messages, the selected book like a pig at a pickin’ — being torn and shred and digested like only women know how to do.

Women are good at making a feast out of thinking.

And so all of this — this “me” time and this taking care of my mind and my body, oh, and the  wife and mother thing, and the completion of a Master’s not even a year ago — it felt as though it all equaled “wholeness.”  It’s all good, right?

And then, I breathed in the steam and vanilla bath salts disappointingly married to the faint smell of sickly sweet mildew-towel (this must have been a Wednesday night — Thursdays are towel-changing-toilet-scrubbing days), and I opened my eyes to feel the weight of that night’s read in my peripheral vision.  I was really enjoying it so far — Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman — a story of a woman treated more like a girl by boys who pretend to be men, and as a result, the main character — the edible woman — her spirit is figuratively eaten away by these men, and by the world, and even by other women.  Maybe even by her.  She loses herself, so much so that at one point she exists in the third person.

While the content was no doubt weighty, this was not the presence I felt.

It was M — my friend who picked this book for our monthly read.

She was so excited for us all to share in what she repeatedly called her “most favorite book of all time.”  She makes a habit of reading it every year.  She loves the layers of messaging and imagery and commentary on womanhood.  She says there is always something new to discover.  This book was more than a book to her,  It seemed like a diving-off point from which she could exercise her own voice — invite some of us in to what’s important to her — her worldview, what makes her tick.  That’s a fairly big deal for a woman — for someone other than your own self to know who you are and what you really think and how that all falls into place to make you an important player in the world.  And I know it meant a lot to her on a very deep level.  And her offering it up for her book club month, as her pick, it was a risk.  She was trusting us to care and to relate and to walk away from her feast completely satiated, and tell her it was the best meal we had eaten in a long time.

I stared at the cover.  I saw The Edible Woman laser-inked in gold overtop a graphic of a fruit bowl that perfectly camouflaged a naked woman.  She was so “hidden” that more than one book clubber didn’t even notice her until one of us who did notice her pointed it out the night we met to talk about the book.  She was naked.  And yet hidden.  The edible woman — nobody can actually see her.

And that night in the tub, in what I thought was a perfectly happy space, I got tears in my eyes, and a sore lump in my throat.  And the tip of my nose burned with the pain of an almost-sneeze because the feelings and realizations were coming on too fast for my body to manage properly.  I was completely overwhelmed.  And yes, this was a literal experience just as I described it — the lump, the tears, the suddenness of it all as I sat there in the bath trying to process the genesis of this big heavy-chested sadness amidst the background noise of a loud tv tuned in to a wrestling match on the other side of the bathroom door (husband and kids are wrestling fans).

It all hit me.

My precious M and this book.  This book with a wrinkled cover from too many nights falling asleep reading.  It sat on my toilet unobtrusively.  It was just a book, after all.  paper and ink.  Completely not loud or mobile or threatening or able to get in your face.  Kind of like me sometimes; maybe kind of like M.  But it had the potential to be personified that way, if only we dared to read into it.  It could be loud for her.  It could make her “heard.”  It could turn us all from “feasted on” to “feasters of.”  It meant so much to M, and now it suddenly meant so much to me.  Me, and maybe a lot of my friends, are we hiding too?  Are the people in our lives really seeing us?  Do we matter in the way that we want to?  Are we able to say what we mean and mean what we say and live like we do?  Or are we believing that we are honoring our most basic instincts because of baths and tea and “me” time and because we get to be moms and wives and some of us even work outside the home with a real career that pays money and everything.  No.  We might still be hiding.

I don’t want to stay hidden.  I don’t want to be consumed by fears — mine or anyone else’s.  I don’t want my life to go by, bobbing along on the waves that just happen to come my way — the waves that my husband is making.  Or my kids.  Or whoever.  I want to make my own waves.  I don’t want me or M or any of my beautiful fellow thinkers and feasters to have any more kinda-sorta-maybe moments.  Life is too short to hide, and for me, “un-hiding” means exploring the potential to share something that someone else might relate to, screaming “Exactly!”  Even if 20 other people read it and think it’s dumb.  I don’t want to wait for someone else to write something before I feel I’ve recognized “my” voice.  I want to write my own words.

As much as I like women (something I recently learned to do, and for that I am grateful), I don’t like women who complain and don’t do anything to improve whatever it is they are complaining about.  So, to not turn in to someone I wouldn’t like — a caricature of myself — I am writing.  I just wrote my first blog post.  This is it right here.  All four of you (or hopefully all seven of you, or all double-digits of you, if I am so blessed) are reading it now.  And this is sorta how it will go:  I’ll post once a week, M-F, writing about thoughts and ideas, some lofty, some pedestrian.  Some deep, some embarrassingly shallow (and I do mean shallow — don’t say I didn’t warn you).  Some will be long, and some short.  All will mean something to me, and I hope mean something to you, too.  This will not be a “mommy” blog, though I might write about parenting from time-to-time.  And, despite lots of decorating mentions in the beginning of this post, it will not be a decorating blog either (though I know interior adventures will make occasional appearances).  This will instead be a blog of thoughts and ideas about the experience of being human, from a woman’s perspective, I suppose.  Or maybe just from my little perspective.  Whatever.  It’s my platform to “un-hide” and move forward with something I have been wanting to do for a long time.

I will never edit posts for fear that no one will like my writing; I will most definitely edit posts when they aren’t pleasing to my sense of mental aesthetics (words, like puzzle pieces, must fit together just so).  I am calling it Tell. Try. Question. Sigh….because that is how I start nearly every personal e-mail to a friend.  Though technically not all imperatives, that’s how I treat these words.  Tell me how you would handle this.  Try this awesome product because it will change your life.  Question: Please say you you feel this way too.  Sigh….you MUST read this because I need to vent.  As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, my audience is fairly small (four might have been an understatement, but not by much).  I am now inviting as many in as are willing to join me.  Whoever is reading this is now on my “Contacts” list, so to speak.  And, as with any e-mail outreach when I am Telling, ‘Try”-ing, Questioning, or Sighing to a friend, I hope I get some feedback.

Let’s read and think.  Relate and agree.  Or disagree.  Please comment (respectfully).  And definitely feast.