A Map of My Day

Were you to ask me, “How are you?” on many days I would truthfully reply, “I’m good, thanks.”

On the other days, when I’m only being polite (read lying), my fingernails tell the real story.

As you know from a previous post, I’m a picker:  cuticles, scabs, dry lips. Myself. Others. I don’t discriminate. Whatever will relieve stress is fair game.

Cuticles are my first love; soft, yielding, with the right amount of give and tension. Not a pushover like a scab. Cuticles are fighters; tough and satisfyingly resistant.

If my cuticles resemble a puppy’s ragged chew toy, you can be sure I’ve been anxious, bored or agitated.

If they are smooth and soft, you can be sure I’ve been drugged to within an inch of my life taking good care of myself and feel connected and secure.

Like a mood ring, the cuticles reveal the story of my day. Here’s a detailed guide (with the feeling I’m avoiding in parenthesis):

  • Ragged Index Finger Cuticle (Boredom):  I likely spent several hours at the park playing make believe, possibly portraying a wicked witch trying to capture and eat Hansel and Gretel. Over. And over. And over. (I may have even brought my kids with me to the park this time!)
  • Frayed Thumb Cuticle (Insecurity):  I probably volunteered at my daughters’ school and didn’t get a warm enough reception from the cool moms or felt hopelessly dowdy and dull. Or I avoided the school principal so I wouldn’t say “yes” to yet another volunteer opportunity. Because I really would mean “no.”
  • Torn Pinky Cuticle (Joy):  I possibly had a great idea for an article or a post (e.g. I’ll write next from my cuticles’ point of view!) or had a fun adventure with the girls minus any arguing or whining. Life is GOOD! I picked this cuticle to avoid exploding with excitement. I’m adorable like that.
  • Raw Side of Thumb (Fear):  Guess who missed a few workouts and is feeling fat today?! Or I’ve been impersonating a drill sergeant, pushing myself mercilessly to finish a project. No bathroom breaks. No weakness. Go, go, go.
  • Jagged Ring Finger Cuticle (Anger):  I likely spent time contemplating ways to blame my husband for some real or imaginary transgression (e.g. the shampoo bottle falling on my toe in the shower, a dresser drawer closing on my finger, a stinky clogged toilet). Even though he’s been at work for hours.

I’ve tried various methods over the years to curb my picking – deep breathing, meditation, manicures, snapping rubber bands, sitting on my hands, cuticle cream – and many have worked for periods of time. But the picking always returns.

I bet you have a more evolved (and sanitary) way of handling stress and anxiety. Please share! Is there hope for me and my cuticles or am I doomed to a life of scruffy fingernails?

Something’s Shifting

For as long as I can remember, I’ve bristled at any mention of my maternal grandfather. Whenever I’ve heard stories of his escapades as an Italian immigrant adapting to life in the US, instead of remembering him fondly, I’ve felt curiously annoyed or irritated.

I’ve often played devil’s advocate aloud or in my head whenever a family member lovingly described an interaction with him.

My father would affectionately reminisce, “He was loud and blustery and always laughing. What a character he was; forever joking and telling great stories.”

Instead of feeling happy my dad had positive memories of his father-in-law, I’d think, “Sure, Grandpa was always talking, but he never said more than five words to me. I was invisible to him.”

My mom would wax poetic about my grandfather’s ongoing financial support of his church. And laugh about how he admonished my grandmother for spending money on groceries for their six children. Instead of appreciating his quirkiness or relating to his financial fears, I was happy to point out my grandfather’s hypocrisy.

I’d hear repeatedly about how hard he worked and how much he sacrificed to come to this country. Instead of admiring his tenacity, I’d think, “Oy, enough with the martyrdom. He had it good – his wife and kids took care of his every need. The cheap bastard never spent a dime on them and hid all his money in metal pipes in his basement.”

If fault-finding and bitterness were marketable skills, I’d be as wealthy as my grandfather was upon his death at age 96.

I’ve often wondered why I never felt the warm, loving feelings toward him that appear to flow freely among my parents, siblings and extended family members; why mostly what I felt toward him was resentment.

Though I grew up seeing him regularly, my grandfather and I didn’t have much of a relationship. Perhaps it was the language barrier, he spoke only broken English, but we didn’t interact at all until I was a young adult and even then, our conversations were limited.

“Have some wine. Drink, drink!” was the extent of our connection. I’d giggle. He’d laugh. Enough said.

Except it wasn’t enough. Now, as an adult watching my father interact lovingly with my daughters, I’ve often felt deprived of a loving, committed grandfather figure who doted on me and showered me with affection.

Instead I experienced my grandfather as distant and demanding. Even at a young age, I hated what I perceived to be his favoritism of his sons and the disrespectful way he treated my grandmother. She was my hero – all warmth and hugs and generous bosom.

Grandma was the saint in my eyes. I’d prefer to hear more stories about her; to have known her as an adult instead of losing her as a young teenager. I’d like one of my grandmother’s impossibly comforting hugs right now.

My grandfather died in 1998. On the day of his funeral, I wrote a long, heartfelt letter to him expressing my anger and resentment. I blamed him for a lot of the dysfunction I saw in my family of origin and held him accountable. I tore up the letter all those years ago hoping to release the pain and ill feelings I was carrying. And all the shame I felt for resenting instead of admiring him.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I had lunch with my mom and dad. For the first time in my life, I felt eager to hear stories from them of my grandfather’s antics. Rather than judgment, I found myself fascinated by his life, compelled by his struggles and achievements, curious about his foibles and his larger than life persona.

I found myself wondering about his fears, jealousies and resentments. The stories I’d heard about him rarely acknowledged his weaknesses or failings. He was the hero in everyone’s eyes but mine, and I could only see his flaws. Suddenly, in wondering about his doubts and compulsions, I could feel his humanity. And my own.

During lunch my parents recounted many funny anecdotes about my grandfather, including the day he found an old toilet in the alley on his way home from work. Confident he could put this toilet to good use, he carried it on to the bus, eliciting disparaging comments from the bus driver.

His response? “The seats here stink. I brought my own.” He placed that toilet in the aisle and rode on his throne all the way home, confident no one would mess with him. I can clearly picture the self-congratulatory smirk on his face, the triumphant strut in his step.

I realized my grandfather did have something I admire – the ability not to care what other people thought of his actions. He was shameless. And fearless.

I’d like to steal some of my grandfather’s confidence and joie de vivre. (For the record, he can keep the old toilets. Not my thing.)

Maybe my family members could see all along what I’m only now experiencing – my grandfather was a human being, capable of great sacrifice and greater folly. He loved his family enough to provide for them day in and day out and what he lacked in affection, he perhaps made up for in marrying a woman capable of nothing but.

I imagine him as a little boy, 12 years old and living on his own in a foreign country. Working by day as a water boy for the railroad builders, fending for himself at night.

My heart is softening toward this man. I miss my grandmother. Maybe one day soon I’ll also miss my grandfather.

Guest Posting on Momwich.net Today!

I was prepared and eager to enjoy and connect with my daughters after getting some wonderful advice from one of my wisest friends.

I tried. Really.  I did.

Instead, I channeled Mommy Dearest. With my kids in tears, I did not anticipate what happened next.

Grace.

If you want details, check out my guest post, Definition of Grace, today at Momwich

As parents, what is your definition of grace? Let me know in the comment section!

Projections & (Potter)more

Her excitement was palpable. And contagious. Every ounce of her eight-year-old being oozed enthusiasm.

“Mom, I can’t wait to see what house I get into!”

So began our journey into Pottermore, JK Rowling’s online world of all things Harry Potter. After signing up and answering a series of questions, the website determines the best Hogwarts’ “house” for each participant.

Reminiscent of college sorority rush, the warning signs were there. And I wasn’t prepared.

My daughter is obsessed with Harry Potter. She, like her forefathers, read the first Harry Potter book two dozen times and fancies herself a Hermione doppelgänger, bushy hair and bossy intellect alike. And similar to many fans, she expected to be chosen for Gryffindor, the heroes’ house.

The computer screen returned the verdict:  Hufflepuff.

My heart plummeted.

“Mom, I can’t be a Hufflepuff,” she moaned, her disappointment as intense as her original anticipation. “They are boring and dumb. I didn’t answer the questions right. I must be a Gryffindor!”

My first instinct was to disavow her feelings and remind her that Pottermore is a silly computer game with zero impact on real life.

Instead I hugged her while she cried and told myself we could weather this storm. And she was learning a valuable lesson.

But what the f**k was the lesson? Don’t let a computer algorithm determine your self-worth? Can an eight year old understand that lesson? Can her forty-something mom?

I flashed back to college sorority rush. Hundreds of young women, dressed to impress, chatting and mingling as if the rituals were natural experiences instead of contrived, competitive events. I chatted, smiled and hoped I would get what I wanted – entrance into the “right” houses.

I wanted validation that I was worthwhile, that I mattered and was acceptable. I got the opposite:  none of the houses wanted me.

I was devastated and inconsolable. My friends soothing words felt hollow and disingenuous. They were accepted, not humiliated and filled with shame. The message:  I was worthless and unwanted.

And now my daughter was a Hufflepuff. Despair!

As I hugged my heartbroken daughter and fought my insecurities, my thoughts cleared. Could I be projecting my own feelings of devastation on to her? Would this disappointment truly derail her youth or was it possible my daughter was a separate being, with distinct insight and wisdom? Could I let her have her own experiences without superimposing my own?

After frantically trying to undo and redo the computer test, my daughter grabbed the telephone.

“I’m going to call Lexie and find out what house she got into,” she declared.

Lexie, my niece and fellow diehard Harry Potter fan, was assigned to Slytherin, the evil Lord Voldemort’s house! And yes, Lexie was equally disappointed with her results.

Relieved and resigned, my daughter decided her computer-generated house assignment was a mistake and wouldn’t stop her from enjoying Pottermore’s many other enticing features.

Ms. Rowling, thanks for the lesson. Apparently, my daughter’s resilience and self-worth surprisingly and thankfully surpass my own.

I am linking up with Yeah Write for Week Three of their Summer Writer’s Series

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Opposites Attract: Ten Years & Counting

My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. Ten years of wedded bliss. Actually, I’ve used a new iPad app to determine exactly how many of our 3,650 days together have been blissful and how many  – not so much.

Our results:

Ten Years. That’s a long time for two people with well-documented commitment issues. We’ve had our ups and downs and have the bumps and bruises on our love to prove it.

Overall, it’s been a happy, laughter-filled road to ten years. But I don’t have anything concrete to compare it to. I could compare ours to our family or friends’ marriages, but who really knows what goes on in a marriage? And comparisons burn my ass every time.

While my husband and I are similar in many of the areas marriage experts say really matter:  mutual love and affection (at opposite times of the day), shared values (laughter), strong commitments (in-patient and out-), similar money styles (cheap), compatible sex drives (at opposite times of the day), and intense love for our children (when they’re asleep), our differences can be summed up in this exchange:

Me:  What happened to the silverware?

Mike:  I moved it. It’s now in the drawer nearest the phone.

Me:  Huh?

Mike:  We needed a change. I’m shaking things up a little!

Me:  What? Messing with the silverware is your idea of “shaking things up?”  What’s next – unpotting the plants? The silverware was fine where it was!

Mike:  I’m a renegade, honey. I thrive on change. Wait until you see the family room!

Where Mike embraces change, even seeks it out, I resist, fight and usually, after some drawer slamming and angry muttering, come around. Actually, the silverware works well by the telephone. The family room redesign – not so much.

Although we expertly push each other’s buttons, mostly we laugh, value each’s contribution to our family and love the bee-jeezus out of each other and our kids. And then we laugh some more.

At a recent wedding we attended, Mike and I considered whether we would want to be newly married again, our entire lives together in front of us. We decided not unless we could begin with all the hard-won wisdom we’ve gained over the past ten years.

We’ve walked through a lot together, and we both give as good as we get. On our recent anniversary getaway weekend, Mike told me that he understood going in to our marriage that I was going to be a pain in his ass. And that he was going to be a pain in mine. That we both deserved exactly what we got. And we both couldn’t have made a better choice. I think that’s romantic.

And, yes, I would do it all over again. Would you?

“He’s my baby

And I’m his honey

Never gonna let him go.”

John Prine, In Spite of Ourselves

Vacation Re-Entry: Words to Live By

Petosky, Michigan

My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary with a long-ass drive and a frivolously-fun weekend away in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

When we had been driving home for several hours and were a few miles from picking up our daughters at their grandmother’s house, my expectations kicked in:

I wanted a show-stopping reunion with our girls immediately followed by two hours of whine-free driving (to get home) and ending with a fuss-free re-entry into our regular lives.

In other words I wanted to hug our girls, express how much we missed each other and then have them disappear into no-need nirvana before effortlessly going to sleep. As long as I was knee-deep in fantasy, I also wanted to return home to a butler ready to unpack and neatly put away all of our crap.

Mike and I haven’t taken much time off together as a couple since we became parents eight-plus years ago, and we both really enjoyed our weekend together – sleeping, reading, biking, eating, getting massages, making out like teenagers (so we’re clear:  we have little first-hand experience with this teenage rite-of-passage nor will our girls if we keep them locked up can help it).

While I missed Ava and Rhys and was excited to see them, I wasn’t ready to start being a mom again ever yet.

While I knew our daughters would be happy to see us, I also knew they’d be overtired and sad to leave the bevy of cousins and fun they had enjoyed over the past two days. Anticipating what I expected to be a combustion of oversized feelings and needs, I knew we were headed for our usual trouble – lions and tigers and bears exhaustion and sadness and power struggles, oh my!

For once I was clear that my expectations of familial bliss were out of whack. No way were our girls going to run into my arms and then have no needs for the rest of the evening.

I called my friend Trish for some advice on how to handle our vacation re-entry:

Her sage suggestions:  “Your only job tonight is to be loving and to set whatever boundaries necessary to get everyone a good night’s sleep. End of story.”

My over-muddled brain loved the idea that my mothering experience that night could be boiled down into two simple ideas:  be loving. I could do that. Set boundaries. Not a sure thing, but doable.

When we arrived home, Rhys was 47 gummy bears past overtired. After an initial power struggle around brushing her teeth, I held her while she moaned and cried, all the while repeating my mantra to myself, “be loving and guide her toward sleep.”

Once she got her cry out of the way, she was willing to brush her teeth and move on to the story marathon that is our sleep routine. By the time the irresponsible man with the yellow hat had left Curious George alone to incite mayhem for the second time, she was blissfully asleep. One kid down, one to go.

Ava had enjoyed some cuddling and reading time with her dad, so I was anticipating an easy sleep transition. “Be loving and stay firm,” I told myself. After we enjoyed our Harry Potter reading ritual, I was ready to say goodnight, lock my parenting hat in the closet and check my Twitter feed connect with my husband.

Instead, Ava wanted more attention before she could sleep. She wanted hugs and a chance to tell me how sad she was about leaving her cousins – how much she loved them and how happy she felt while she was with them. In Michigan. Not at home. Unless home included me reading her another chapter of Harry Potter.

I held firm and held her through her initial resistance to sleep. When I felt her soften in my arms, I said a small prayer of thanks to Trish and smiled. Mom fail averted. Job well done.

How do you help your family re-enter after a vacation or time away? We have a family trip to Michigan planned for later this summer, and I need your ideas! 

I’m participating in Pour Your Heart Out with Things I Can’t Say!

Anger Looks Good On Me

I feel angry. Glorious, full-bodied rage.

Every inch of me pulsates with passion and electricity. I feel brazen, voluptuous and alive in my body.

I am real. Free. Powerful.

And then reality hits. I am terrified. Terrified of the raw power born of my anger; terrified of the intimacy of sharing all of me, my anger in particular.

For most of my life, I’ve told myself that my anger is too frightening to unleash in my relationships; that “all of me” is too much. I’ve feared I would bulldoze through life, ripping large trees from the ground as I raped and pillaged the earth; scared I’d take more than my fair share, more than my carefully- portioned slice of life.

Instead I trained others to see me as a nice girl, a kind refuge. I expressed few needs, no demands, only accommodations. While no one emotion defines me, the more I shoved anger down into various nether-regions of my being, the more I became a prisoner to it.

I was convinced I could not be compassionate, kind and loving as well as angry, powerful and strong.  One or the other. Choose, damnit.

And I did choose. For years I chose to stay safe and small and in control. I chose to rage at myself instead of owning my power in the world. Chose to believe my anger made me unlovable. Disposable. Unwanted.

Worse yet, I chose to believe my anger would hurt others; elicit derision and hatred while frightening animals and young children.

I am slowly, imperfectly learning to make different choices.

I have learned to express my anger with and at my husband. He has been a loving witness, and this intimacy often brings us closer. I express my anger with and at my daughters. While I’m not clear of the outcome, our relationships for now are strong and real. They are experiencing an authentic mom:  human, flawed and ever-changing.

While I’ve been willing to risk expressing anger with my husband and children, until recently I rarely brought my anger to any other relationships. Again, I’m slowly making different choices. Now that I’ve tasted this untapped power, my soul wants more.

I want to live, to soar, to feel worthy of my spot in this world without apologies. I want my daughters to learn from me how to walk through life unafraid of setting boundaries, being authentic, owning their power. And I’m terrified.

Terrified and willing; willing to try out new behaviors and gradually show the people in my life a more complete picture of me – drop by drop. Slowly the colors of me are coming into view.

I am living through the backlash of loved ones feeling hurt or angry with me. My relationships at times feel out of control, messy, unsettled.

My new choices don’t feel better yet. I trust they will. For you see, I am learning that there is no such thing as too much me.

I am linking up with Yeah Write for their Summer Writer’s Series