Not For the Faint of Heart

My husband, Mike, is the one with a concussion, stitches and cracked teeth, but I feel like I got hit by a Mega Bus. Not one to ignore an opportunity to make someone else’s crisis about me, here I go…

I keep having flashes of seeing Mike unconscious on the stairs, bleeding from his head. I burst into tears at random times. I feel a sense of dread and alternate between feeling patient and loving with the girls and incensed at their constant noise. Rhys (4) dropped her doll over the stairs to Ava (9) yesterday, and I nearly lost my shizz. When I come home after being away for a couple hours, I’m scared I’ll find Mike on the floor again or dead.

This is the price of being attached, of loving. I hate this price, always have. I hate that once we open ourselves to love, we stand to lose. We are vulnerable to hurt; to the whims of the world, of life, of nature. After our daughter’s bike accident last fall, I thought God and I had a deal. Apparently, I still have some learning to do.

I'm all for love, strength and courage, but could live without the vulnerability love brings. Photo  Credit: http://pinterest.com/yazoah/

Could I take a pass on the vulnerability love demands?
Photo Credit: http://pinterest.com/yazoah/

Coincidentally, before Mike’s accident I was reading the book, Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor, about a young woman whose husband died after hitting his head in a freak skateboarding accident.  She was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death and somehow wrote this heartbreaking, compelling memoir in her spare time. Reading Natalie’s poignant words was helping me feel grateful for my husband; appreciative of his simply being in the world.

I have so much relief and gratitude that I’m not in the author’s shoes, yet at the same time I feel panic that something horrible will happen. And I have to be on guard. As if.

Life may be trying to teach me that I’m really not in control. I surrender. Sort of. I’ve been holding on too tight, walking in terror much of the time. Instead of trying to control my terror, I want to learn to embrace it, live with it, give it a seat at the table, but not the head of the table.

I want my terror to serve me, rather than the other way around. I don’t know what benefits embracing my terror will offer, but I want to find out because pushing it down isn’t working and controling offers no benefits other than pause and paralysis.

My brain tells me I don’t want to open my heart any more, yet I will. I will because I am the hero of my own story and the hero opens up her heart and reaps the benefits and the sorrows. Life didn’t work any better for me when I played it safe. Life didn’t deliver the promises I longed for until I was willing to be vulnerable. Now that I have those promises, I have to learn to live with this fear of loss.

I’ve wanted all the pluses of attachment – joy, love, excitement, a heart bursting with life and joy. Got ‘em. But safety isn’t one of those promises. Is love still worth it? I think so. I hope so.

What is the alternative? A life of searching for an attachment that won’t leave me hurt or aching? I didn’t feel the same vulnerability all those years I was yearning for a spouse and children. As long as I was longing, I was in control. Once attachment set in, I was toast; no longer guarded against pain and fear and hurt.

As I think about the Natalie Taylors of the world and all the parents and loved ones of the victims of Newtown, the Brazilian nightclub fire and the daily accidents, shootings, diseases and the like, I’m reminded of the saying, “Love is not for the faint of heart.”

And for me, today, there is no acceptable alternative. There are, however, helmets. And we’ll be sporting these beauties at all times from now on.

Stay Strong and Scrub the Toilets

A Family Emergency, How to React in a Crisis, Stay StrongEver wonder how you would respond in a crisis? The heart stopping, life changing, this-can’t-really-be-happening kind? I’ve always imagined I’d be cool and confident under pressure, then crack once the adrenaline and immediacy of the situation wore off. I was right. But I never expected a crisis to leave me with clean counters and folded laundry.

My husband slipped and fell down the stairs last week, hitting his head on the banister. I found him sprawled halfway down the staircase, bleeding and unconscious, after hearing a series of loud thumps that woke me from a light slumber. The time was 5:20 am.

After my initial scream, which woke our two daughters, I moved into action, putting my extensive Grey’s Anatomy training to good use. Relieved to find my husband’s pulse, I quickly put Ava (9) and Rhys (4) to work.

“Ava, Daddy is hurt and needs an ambulance,” I said, hysteria lurking behind every syllable. “I need you to get the telephone for me and dial 9-1-1. Can you do that?”

Ava’s eyes widened. “Mommy! Mommy, what happened? Why is he bleeding like that?”

“I don’t know what happened,” I yelled. “Get the phone!” Seeing her eyes, widened in terror, reminded me to calm down and breathe.

“Honey,” I said, “I know you’re scared. I want you to look at me.” Surprised by the newfound authority and control in my voice, I said, “Get the telephone and dial 9-1-1.”

As Ava ran to get the house phone, Mike began moaning and slowly writhing, his eyes opening briefly before rolling back in his head. Placing myself between his 6’ 2” frame and the remaining ten steps, my job was clear:  use my strength to keep him from rolling down to the bottom.

A flash of pink caught my eye. I looked up to find Rhys standing at the top of the staircase clutching Finn, her favorite doll, and the hem of her rose-covered nightgown.

“Rhys, your job is to get me a clean towel for Daddy’s head. Can you do that, honey?” I said.

Rhys tilted her head and smiled at me before hurrying off; Ava handed me the phone so I could speak with the emergency dispatcher, who tried to calm me down while I begged her to hurry.

Ambulance en route, I turned to Ava again. “You have one more job. Open the front door so the ambulance people can come in.”

When Rhys returned with her offering of a single sheet of wet paper towel, I felt panic building inside my chest. As blood spilled from the gash in Mike’s forehead onto the hard wood steps, I wanted to scream – at Rhys, at the universe, at God, at anyone who would listen. We needed help. Real help. Not a half-sheet of Bounty; a fucking grownup.

Instead of screaming, I pressed my pajama sleeve to Mike’s head and used the paper towel to wipe the smears of blood from my hands.

While we waited for the ambulance, we talked to Mike as he regained consciousness and convinced ourselves he was going to be okay.

The sixty minutes between the ambulance rushing Mike to the emergency room and my friend Jackie arriving to take care of the girls was the longest of my life so far. After leaving messages for friends and family and cuddling with the girls, I settled them in front of the television and looked around for something to do, something to distract me from the panic and dread rising in my chest and the sight of congealing blood pooled on the staircase.

Cleaning was the obvious answer. When in doubt or panic or confusion, I clean. I clean counters to be specific. I doubt I’ve ever cleaned more efficiently. I methodically wiped down our kitchen counters three times before loading the dishwasher and folding the many loads of laundry cluttering our dining room table. I cleaned spit from the sink and scrubbed the toilets, something our children have never seen me do.

This robot mode felt safe, solid, something to hold on to. I knew if I slowed down for even a moment, I’d be overtaken with fear.  And I was desperate to keep terror from getting anywhere near me again.

Around the time I started cleaning out the refrigerator, sanity returned. I grabbed a bucket and some rags to tackle the blood-splattered staircase.  As I lovingly wiped Mike’s blood, the tears finally flowed.  And haven’t stopped since.

Other than a serious concussion, five stitches and two chipped teeth, Mike is remarkably unharmed and recovering well. As for me, I’d like to borrow some of Mike’s resiliency. And our house has never been cleaner.

Linking up with those wonderful writers and supporters over at Yeah Write. Click the image below to check it out!

Moms Need Play Dates Too

After a fun, relaxing overnight stay at a nearby resort with friends last weekend, I’ve come away with two overall lessons:  vacations look good on me. And more is better.

Before I left for my weekend, I had the following conversation with Ava (9) and Rhys (4):

Ava:  “Mom, why are you going away?”

Me:  “So I can be a better mom.”

Ava:  “How will going away for a night make you a better mom?”

Me:  “When I spend time with my friends, I come back feeling relaxed and grateful for you and Rhys and Daddy. I want to model for you that moms get to do all kinds of fun things, with our kids, with our husbands, with our friends. When you have kids, I hope you’ll know it’s good to get away every now and then.

Rhys (looking up from her syrup-soaked waffle long enough to mutter):  “I’m staying home with my kids.”

Ava:  “I’m not! I’m gonna have play dates! Even mamas need play dates!”

Me:  “Exactly! Mamas need play dates too!”

Have I mentioned my kid is a genius?!

I loved my time away last weekend. Loved it so much I was afraid to come home, unwilling to let that vacation feeling evaporate so soon. One night is not enough – two may have been perfect. (I may even be willing to try for three in the near future, but don’t tell my kids or husband.)

My weekend vacay almost didn’t happen. Our babysitter cancelled on Friday evening. The giddy feeling I’d carried for days tanked immediately. I was pissed. And devastated to have my weekend plans in jeopardy.

True to form, I started going into martyr mode, saying to myself:  It’s fine, I’ll go another weekend. If I stay home, I can get stuff done around the house. I’ll relax here at home. I don’t mind. I’ll get a pedicure and it will be almost the same as going away to a spa for a night with friends.

My bullshit meter was off the charts.

My bullshit meter:  off the charts.

Thankfully, my sanity kicked in within a few minutes – likely because I recently wrote about my martyrdom tendencies and wasn’t willing to confess a relapse to you all. (You saved my soon-to-be-massaged ass!)

When my husband and my parents offered to change their plans and take care of the kids so I could go away, I thanked them and didn’t look back.

I felt really taken care of the entire time I was away. One of my friends chauffeured me around all day. Other than being a decent roommate, I had no responsibilities, no drinks/meals/snacks to fetch, no toys to clean up, no fighting bouts to referee. Bliss.

After a heaven-sent massage, giggle-rich meals and a soul-satisfying sleep, my friend drove me home.  I sat in the car in front of my house staring at the door, unwilling to transition into mom and wife mode.

“Don’t send me back in there,” I said. “I’m not ready. I don’t want any responsibilities for a few more weeks hours. I want to see my family, give them hugs and come back out.”

Is that wrong?

My friend offered to drive away and go to lunch instead. Tempting. But I knew I needed to go inside, face my family and re-enter my life. As I was pulling my suitcase out of the trunk, Ava ran out the front door and threw her arms around me, welcoming me home.

When I saw my husband and daughters, my heart melted. While I can’t say I really missed them while I was gone, I was happy and excited to see them, to be welcomed into the warm, inviting bosom of my family, my life.

Reality has its perks. And there are always more play dates.

What Happened to the Martyr He Married?

My husband returned last week from a three-night trip to Miami to watch his beloved Notre Dame football team get walloped by the unstoppable Crimson Tide.  Mike’s getaway left me the sole parent, a role I have played many times and one I typically milk for as much resentment as possible.

Mike is exceptionally good at making plans with friends for activities he enjoys. Whether arranging football weekends, golf outings or ski trips, Mike knows what he likes and what will bring him joy and connection. He makes both a priority in his life.

Until recently (read today) I’ve been exceptionally good at being a martyr. And a scorekeeper. Not a fulfilling combination in our marriage. (And certainly not a satisfying role for an intelligent, smoking hot woman in her prime.)

Here’s our scorecard:

Marriage, Relationships, Parenting Styles, Martyrdom, Football WidwoMike = 35 Mary = 3

Yes, I’m exaggerating. I’ve only taken one trip:  a weekend visit to New York City last June with a dear friend.

This disparity has been an issue in our marriage for years; ever since we were blessed with children. Our pattern looks like this:  Mike makes plans for a night or weekend away. I collect a chit for a future getaway.

And by collect I mean hoard. My chits are stacked to the ceiling and threatening to overtake our living space. The time never feels right for me to plan a solo adventure, so I save my chits for a future, better time. When will this magical “better time” occur? Perhaps when our young daughters are away at college?

Don’t get me wrong, we do a lot of activities together as a family and as a couple. From date nights to nights away, we tend to our marriage in ways big and small. But most of my time is family time. When it comes to making room for individual pursuits, I’ve lagged behind (hid behind?) my socially-engaged husband for years.

I believe I deserve my own time, but am afraid of using up my IOUs and never having more; afraid of committing to my own happiness. If I keep my adventures in the future, I’ll have something to look forward to – you know, when we’re 84 and living on a fixed income. Then I’ll make time. Woot, I’ll live it up!

While pragmatism can be a worthwhile asset, I don’t want to model martyrdom and deprivation for our daughters or teach them by example that only one person in a marriage gets to enjoy time away for fun and pleasure. And somehow resentment doesn’t look as good on me as I hoped.

I believe people are put in my life, by choice and by design, to teach me things and help me hit bottom on traits that don’t work for me anymore. Under that belief, Mike has been trying for years to teach me to grab what I want and enjoy every big, juicy bite of it, trusting that more is on its way.

I have a choice. I can resent my husband and be a victim (Option A) or learn from his example and plan my own time away (Option B).

Option A:  “What the fuck, Mike? Why do you get to go away on another boondoggle? You should be here with your family having fun, damn it.”

Option B:  “Have a great trip, Mike! Before you leave, let’s coordinate our calendars for next weekend because I’m going away with my girlfriends. You have the babysitters’ numbers if you need them. Wanna have sex before your flight?”

Which would you choose? Exactly.

Today I cashed in one of my chits and spontaneously planned my own weekend getaway with two girlfriends. For next weekend! Although I’m feeling squirmy, I’m proud of myself and excited to try on a new role in my family.

One concern:  without my regular martyrdom and resentment fix, who will I be? Time will tell, but next weekend, I’ll be the one sitting by a pool reading a book. You may not recognize me. But I bet I’ll be looking damn good.

Dude Write

Also linking up with the good-looking group of writers at Yeah Write. Come check us out.

How To Be A Popular Mom

How to be popular

We have enough toys and games in our home for any self-respecting little kids to lose themselves in our playroom for days; certainly enough dolls, dress-up clothes, ride-on toys, sports equipment and art supplies to keep a troupe of preschoolers entertained and satisfied. In my mind, we’re the cool house for the five- and-under set.  We have that going for us.

However, as I found out recently when Ava (our 9 yo) invited two of her good friends over for a play date, when it comes to activities to entertain the young tween set, our house is decidedly uncool (according to me).

From the minute her friends walked in our home, I was anxious. We don’t own the latest tech gadgets; the ones I imagine ALL of Ava’s friends have (and of course, all of you have also!) – iPads/iPods for everyone, Wii, Xbox, Smart TVs.

With nothing but our treasure trove of Polly Pockets and Bitty Babies, we are not the cool tween house.

Sure, I had good food on hand, but the girls came over right after lunch and didn’t touch the spread of quesadillas, guacamole and overly-frosted cupcakes I lovingly set out. They wanted to play. And I panicked.

What would they do for two hours? How fast could I get a Wii set delivered and set up? Who offers that service? Anyone? Best Buy?

I’m a big believer in free play, and we limit our kids’ screen time, except when my my daughter’s popularity is at stake!

Not one to let go and trust without a fight, I went into control mode. I offered idea after idea of how they could spend their time together:  Play Trouble! String friendship bracelets! Put together a 4000-piece puzzle! Put on a Broadway-caliber show (I’ll make costumes!). See, we’re a fun family! Really!

My ideas were endless, my interference bordered on ridiculous. Why did I have to work so hard? Why did I need these kids to be entertained?

I’ll tell you why. Because I like these girls and I want them to like Ava and I want them to want to gather at our house.

Did the fact that these girls already like Ava and apparently enjoy her company enough to hang out with her on a Sunday come into consideration? No, no it did not.

I want Ava to be popular and happy and never feel embarrassed or less than … and …. and… Hmmm. Who wants to be popular, happy and never feel embarrassed or less than? Me?

Perhaps I need a hobby other than controlling my daughter’s social life and reliving my own childhood through her?

Growing up, we never had the cool house. My parents, Italian immigrants, didn’t know cool from cavatelli. My mom and dad didn’t have the financial means or interest to invest money in gadgets and technology – no Atari, VCRs or cable for us.

We did; however, always have an abundance of food. And supervision. My mom hovered; continuously asking my friends if they wanted a slice of her freshly baked onion pie. Or a cannoli. Good god, the embarrassment! Somehow, despite this depravity, I survived. And had friends.

How likely was Ava to say the same? How long would the riveting game, “Stay Away from Ava’s Lunatic Mother,” hold her and her friends’ interest?

I finally surrendered. I told myself Ava and her friends would be fine, this was my anxiety (can you say “b-a-g-g-a-g-e?”), and they could twiddle their thumbs for a couple of hours and probably have fun doing it. Or maybe they could play charades?

When I finally settled down and attended to my own lunch needs (I make a damn good quesadilla!), Ava and her friends settled in too, choosing to huddle in the family room and sing karaoke. (Good thing I bought that karaoke machine last Christmas – my genius finally paid off!)

After a few minutes, I heard them playing with the microphone – pretending they were broadcasters interviewing each other for their school’s television show. They happily did this for more than an hour before belting out songs like miniature Beyonces and melting into giggles.

Perhaps we are still in the running for the cool house after all? Just in case, should I order a Wii?

Limit Setting for the Squeamish

One minute they’re debating whose Barbie sleeps in the Diamond Castle, the next they’re giggling over the cute members of the band One Direction and planning sleepovers. Such is the life of our tween, Ava, and her friends. Gone are the days when the toughest limits I set were how many gummy worms or Disney Junior episodes she ingested before dinner. Now we negotiate limits on appropriate app and music downloads and how much I’ll spend on a pair of jeggings. Before we graduate to the big issues of dating and driving, I need a remedial class in limit setting. Or maybe a private tutor.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, Ava had an unexpected play date at a new friend’s home, whose parents my husband and I had only briefly met. The girls go to the same school and play basketball together, but until recently had never hung out. An hour before pick-up, Ava called to ask if she could sleep over at her friend’s house.

The easy answer was “yes,” and my brain quickly reviewed the perks of choosing easy. Not only would a “yes” thrill Ava, it would mean I could avoid a long car ride in traffic to pick her up. I also salivated at the idea of an unanticipated evening alone with my husband once our four year old fell asleep. “Hell, I’ll put her to bed right now,” I thought, imagining the romantic time we would enjoy.

“I’ll call you right back, honey,” I told Ava. “Let me talk with your Dad, and we’ll make a decision together.”

I took the issue to my husband, he of sane thinking and generous sensibility. Mike is the “yes” man; usually I hold the overprotective parent mantle for both of us.

I knew in my gut that I wouldn’t relax for the rest of night if we said yes to a sleepover, but I secretly hoped Mike would tell me I was being overprotective and let me off the hook.

“Tempting, isn’t it?” he said when we discussed the option.

“Tempting, but troubling,” I replied. “I don’t feel comfortable with a sleepover on New Year’s Eve, especially with people we don’t know.”

“I agree,” Mike said.

Surprised and relieved by his response, I knew instinctively this decision was right for our family. And I immediately feared telling Ava.

“I’m not telling her. You tell her,” we joked, the truth of our discomfort apparent to us both.

We decided we would offer Ava and her friend options:  her friend could spend the night at our house or if her parents agreed, they instead could have a “sleep under,” which includes the movies, junk food and staying up late of a typical sleepover, but usually ends by 9 or 10 pm.

Loathe to disappoint our daughter, but eager to appear a strong, decisive parent, I chose to call Ava back with our decision.

From the moment I heard the expectant optimism in her voice, I knew I wasn’t up to this task. Rather than say “no,” and offer our options, I started explaining. And then explained some more. While I believe Ava deserved a short explanation (e.g. “We don’t know your friend’s parents so a sleepover won’t work tonight”), by trying to make her understand and agree with our decision, I unwittingly put the burden of setting the boundary on her rather than shouldering the discomfort myself.

As my lips parted to promise a rescheduled sleepover the next night, I shut up, put the phone on mute and called Mike over.

“I am fucking this up. Please handle,” I said.

Mike calmly and confidently restated our decision and relayed the options to both Ava and her friend’s parents. They agreed he would pick up Ava at 10 pm so the girls could have the giggling, movie watching and staying-up-late experience without the full monty.

I was in awe of my husband, always a heady feeling, and proud of myself for turning the conversation over to him. And the evening worked out in my favor. After cuddling and watching a movie, Mike left our cozy couch and drove across town to pick up our daughter while I chatted for an hour on Twitter and Facebook. Thrilled with her New Year’s Eve experience, Ava got enough sleep to avert a crankiness crisis in the morning.

Although I recognize that setting and keeping firm limits is a skill I need to improve, I think I’ll put off that particular resolution for another year. Or two. Mike is in charge.

Linking up with the supportive group of writers over at Yeah Write. Check us out!

Effortless Dinner Parties: Hosting 101

Photo By:  Simply {Kierste} & {Brown Paper Packages}

Photo By: Simply {Kierste} & {Brown Paper Packages}

I want to entertain others in our home easily and effortlessly. While my hostess skills are light years ahead of where they used to be, I still get anxious when friends come over to share a meal. While I’m usually eager to invite, as the day draws closer, I begin to panic about having the time and energy to cook, clean, shop and prepare a picture-perfect meal (emphasis on “picture perfect”).

I love the idea of entertaining. I enjoy pouring over cookbooks and online cooking sites searching for delicious-looking recipes. Unfortunately, I like the idea of cooking a beautiful meal more than the actual act. While I love food, I don’t like to work so hard for my supper.

Entertaining often brings out my worst qualities. I’m learning to let go and enjoy a messier house with our family, but once we’ve invited guests over, no matter how good of friends, my need for order and control trumps all. And the big question becomes, how angry will Mike (my husband) and I get with each other this time? Typically, by the time our guests arrive, I’m thinking:  “If I’m going to let all of these other people into our home, I need to make room. Mike, you’re out.”

For years, Mike and I have argued whenever we entertain, usually the day of. While I typically really enjoy myself once our guests arrive, our my pre-party tension can rob all the enthusiasm from the day.

Last weekend we invited another family over for dinner. I obsessed about the menu for days, collecting recipes from magazines and on the internet. I found upwards of ten recipes I was excited to prepare clip (and add to my bulging recipe file). I wisely reminded myself that I wouldn’t enjoy making ten recipes; one or two is my sweet spot. I then ignored my own wisdom and shopped at four stores to ensure we had ingredients for a fusion feast to feed 37 people. And most of their ancestors twice removed.

The morning of the party, my husband I started our usual argument:

Me:  Mike, I’m feeling anxious about our dinner party tonight. Can you help me?

Mike:  Sure, honey. How can I help?

Me:  How about if you’re in charge of the kids today plus straightening up the house and sweeping the floor, and I’ll cook, set the table and clean the bathrooms?

Mike:  Sounds good. Are you going to enjoy this or just survive your way through it?

Me:  I want to enjoy it. Not sure I can.

Mike:  The entire point of having these parties is to enjoy ourselves. How can you build fun into your day so you’re ready to enjoy yourself tonight?

Me:  (Snippy Tone Alert) What would be really fun for me is for you do your part quickly, without me having to remind you and without waiting until the last minute. (Danger. Danger.  When my enjoyment depends on his actions, even I know that’s a “recipe for trouble.” Yep, bad pun intended.)

Mike:  That’s a good strategy. Pay attention to what I’m doing all day. Make sure you let me know if you think I’m sitting on the couch too long or not doing my share quickly enough. That should ensure you have a great day. (His eye rolls are a-l-m-o-s-t as professional as mine.)

Me:  Good. That’s settled. Thank you. Can you start now?

About to enjoy some self-righteous anger (my favorite kind!) and a cry disguised as onion-chopping tears, instead I had a moment of grace. I realized our entertaining strategies don’t work any better after ten years of marriage than they did when we threw our first dinner party.

I was ready for a change. And ready to enjoy my day. And my husband.

Mike and I regrouped and decided he would be in charge of the food. Carry out is his specialty. I did only the things I enjoy doing:   arranging the food on attractive platters, slicing lemons for the water pitcher, manipulating vegetables into this gorgeous centerpiece:

Me? Do this? Yeah, right.

Yeah, right.
Photo Courtesy of HeatherDreams on Pinterest

Just kidding about the centerpiece. I’m not that handy with glue guns or asparagus. With the time I saved not making an imaginative table arrangement, I cleaned the dried toothpaste spit out of the sink and shoved the girls toys into closets. Time well spent.

With an hour before our guests arrived, Mike decided to replace the lock on our front door, electric drill and all. And I practiced letting go, biting my tongue and refolding the towels in the guest bathroom (while making phone calls to friends for hyperventilation relief).

Wanna know how it went? Smashingly well, thank you. I’ve rarely been more charming or relaxed. And Mike was a consummate host (despite the drill shavings on his jeans).

Now that Mike and I have a foolproof system in place for dinner parties, perhaps you’ll see an invite from us soon! I’ll start working on the centerpiece …