Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fear of Success

I have always known that success freaked me out a little bit. Fear of failure is pretty clear cut—no one wants to fail. But fear of success is murkier.

The last blog post I wrote got 1500 page views. Compared to some very successful blogs, that is a drop in the bucket. For me, only a month into this incarnation of my blog, it was amazing. I have had a few pieces of writing published before, but I’m pretty sure none of those pieces ever got 1500 sets of eyes on them.
I posted the piece on Monday morning. I plugged it on Facebook and thus began the compulsive checking of my stats. Each time I put Thomas and his Friends on for the kids, which is more times than I would like to admit, I checked. When I got up and when I went to bed and a bunch of times in between, I checked. I had liked the piece while I was writing it, and I had that feeling I sometimes get while writing like it wasn’t actually me writing it, like I’m just making space in the universe for something that already existed. I revised it and tweaked it and asked my husband if it was okay that I publicly suggested he was glued to his chair in his man cave for the first months of our son’s life. And then I sent it out into the world. Or at least Facebook.

All week, I’ve been checking, checking, checking.
All week, I’ve been not writing.

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying the most creative era I’ve ever had. Stories have been shooting into my mind like stars, glittering and plentiful. Until this week, when instead of writing, I was checking.

It hit me. I am afraid of success because then I will have to keep doing it. Keep being successful. Keep writing stuff that will make people want to hit the “share” button on Facebook.  I will have to not disappoint and because I’m an anxious, neurotic overthinker, I will be constantly stressed out and striving, a one hit wonder.

So I’m letting myself off the hook. I want to write because when I do, my whole body lights up and it feels like magic, like alchemy. Because it helps me makes something else out of the fact that the people we love die and that yesterday I was up to my elbows in my son’s hot watermelon vomit. It helps me slow down all those moments I might otherwise lose, and sculpt them into something a little more permanent than the constellation of brain cells where they would otherwise reside and morph and fade.

Have you ever felt afraid of success?

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”—Marianne Williamson

photo credit by Andreas Krappweis

Sunday, June 23, 2013

To my Postpartum Self: What I Wish I had Known


Don't drown in it. Every little stage your baby goes through will feel like a riptide, like forever. I don’t know why this happens. Maybe because for your baby, that week of cluster feeding is forever, and maybe, because your baby is stuck to you like Velcro, and your nipples are chafed, and you're pretty sure you're never going to sleep again, you absorb his sense of time. Maybe it’s some hormone-fueled survival code to make sure you take your baby’s needs seriously. But pretty soon, your baby won’t be cluster feeding. He will be teething. Refusing naps. Calling you poopy. You will hear yourself saying things like, “Please take your penis out of the windowsill.” Go ahead and take each stage seriously, but don’t drown in it.

Boobs. For awhile, your boobs will be out. All. The. Time. Your boobs will see more sunlight than you do. Warm, sticky milk drips down your skin and you feel like the stump of an ice cream cone in July. This too shall pass, but for awhile, you’re going to feel like quite the centerfold. From National Geographic.

Do what works. Let your baby sleep in a swing or in your bed or his car seat if that is where he will sleep. You are not a failure if you don’t hand mash organic baby purees. It is okay to make things easier for yourself. There are very few irreversible decisions regarding sleeping and eating patterns in these first months and years. Your child will not head off to college still needing to sleep in a lamby swing. (They don’t make them that big; I checked.) He will not droop with malnutrition if he refuses to eat anything but bagels for a week. Or a month.  

You are not alone. Other mothers struggle, too. They flicker like candles, awake in the night in a thousand bedrooms. They hunch over their babies, nursing. They are limp and worn, like wrung out washcloths. Remember them when you are up in the night for the fifth time. When your baby won’t stop crying. When you can’t stop crying.   

Take a time out. Take time to yourself. Often. Beg, barter or pay someone to watch your child. Go to yoga. Go for a walk. Go to a movie. Your baby doesn’t need you present but drained, a mom zombie. A mombie. Your baby needs you to be okay. Your baby needs you to be you. Needing time to yourself does not mean you are trying to get away from your baby.

Okay, so you are totally trying to get away from your baby. That is okay. Find a way to do some of the things that keep you sane and happy. Your baby needs you sane and happy.

Ask for help. Ask your husband for help. He does not mean to just sit there in his chair playing Mortal Kombat. He will eventually show more interest in the baby, when it can giggle and hug and go to baseball games. But for now, he needs you to tell him you need help. Ask.

When you do, don’t tell him how to care for your child. Or tell him, but then let it go. He will probably watch Pulp Fiction with your baby. He will let your precious little one gnaw on pizza crusts like a junkyard dog. Your baby will be okay on both counts.

And then leave the house. If you don’t, your husband will rise from his chair like Zeus. He will find you, and he will suggest that the baby needs milk. Even though you just nursed him.

Don't clean. Your house will still be messy in five years. I am sorry, but it’s true. So when your baby sleeps, take a nap. Read a book. Masturbate. Look at pictures of clean houses on Pinterest. Look at pictures of clean houses on Pinterest while you masturbate. But don’t clean.  

Find your tribe. Find other moms who admit that it’s not all baby powder and bliss. Playdates were not invented to overschedule and socialize your child. They exist so you can admit that you yelled, “For the love of God, will you just freaking sleep?” at your six-month-old this morning. That you plopped your son in front of Elmo for several hours yesterday afternoon when it rained and rained and rained and he wouldn’t nap.

Be a hater. And those moms who appear to have it all together? The size six supermoms who appear perky and well-rested? The ones who haul big designer diaper bags brimming with healthy snacks and water and sunscreen and extra outfits and hand sanitizer? It is okay to wish them small misfortunes, like fecal incontinence or eye herpes.

You are on your way. Listen. I know you feel like you’re doing it all wrong. I know the stakes feel so high and all the other moms look like they know what they're doing. Take a break from reading books and articles about how you’re supposed to be raising your child. Your baby is reasonably clean and growing. See how he melts into your shoulder and falls asleep? And how when you actually go to the grocery store all by yourself, you find yourself standing in line gently swaying, as if he were still on your body? And you smile at the mom with a baby about the same age in the next line, and your milk lets down and you feel like hey, I’m missing something, did I forget my keys? And then you realize that what is missing is your baby? You are doing just fine.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


The other day my daughter’s legs flared up with eczema. Circles of red, scaly skin stretched down her legs. She scratched the inflamed areas, leaving them more irritated and raw.

Consistency is not my strong suit, but I got out her eczema medication and lotion and began applying them frequently. Within a few days, the rough skin on her legs became cream-colored and smooth, with just a few hints of the eczema.

Every so often I get a little sick of myself and make a bunch of changes. Some are external: I’ll get my hair cut, try a new eye shadow or buy a funky pair of shoes. Other changes are less visible: I make space and time for prayer. I come home from the library with a stack of new books. Some changes are about community: I join a writing group. I venture out of my routine and go to a party I am terrified of, because even though I’m an introvert and I hate small talk, it’s good to challenge myself.

I don't make these changes in order to be different than who I am. One of the definitions of "regeneration" on is "The restoration or new growth by an organism of organs, tissues, etc., that have been lost, removed, or injured."

When I step back and really see with clear eyes, I remember that my job in this life is to be the person I was born to be. I believe that we are each born with certain gifts, and many of us encounter obstacles to making room to express these gifts. We pick up wounds from our families or peers and we use them to tell ourselves we aren’t really good enough. We encounter financial struggles or illness. We decide we are stuck in jobs or relationships that aren’t really working for us. We simply get distracted by the demands of our children and the items on our never-ending to-do list.

It is not about a caterpillar you trying to burst into a butterfly. It's more like a starfish. When starfish lose a limb to prey or accident, they can often regenerate. Their body heals the exposed, raw wound where the limb was lost, and then sets about sprouting a new one. It's like a writer revising a story: it's not necessarily about chopping up the story because it's a bad story. It's about creating space so that the words that were meant to be there all along can shine.

Life is change. If you’ve had a baby, or closely observed one, you know that they change so fast. Most babies triple their birth weight in the first year of life. When my daughter was born, she had dark purple stains on her eyelids. They have faded into a light lilac. She is exactly who she was, but different.  

Even death, which seems so permanent and scary, involves evolution. We sprinkle the ashes of our dead on beaches and they become part of the earth. We write about them, and the essence of who they were lifts up and reaches people they never knew. I like to think that the spark of who we are, that spark that I strive to get closer to, swirls around in the ethers, free of the pain and worry that comes with being human.  That we stay the same, but different. Regenerated.
This was a hard winter for me. Some family issues that came up illuminated the fact that I was stuck and stale. So I took up running. I’m doing EMDR to reprocess some of those old wounds from childhood. I wear shorts on hot days instead of hiding in my jeans, scorching and uncomfortable. I sit down to write often. The other day, I gave my notice for a job that wasn’t serving me. I’m regenerating, sidling a bit closer to that spark, that person I was born to be.

How do you regenerate? How do you know when it's time to correct your course?

photo credit by Alex Bruda

Saturday, June 15, 2013



I’ve been grumpy for weeks.

Before I had kids, I set up my life to be spacious. I worked part-time so I had ample opportunity to take good care of myself; I could practice yoga, dance, write and walk. I could watch TV and relax. I spent time with friends. I am high maintenance in that way—it takes a good deal of effort for me to simply feel okay. Some of that is because of the anxiety and depression that I am prone to. Some of it is just because I’m freakin’ sensitive—research suggests that some of us are just born with nervous systems that overload easily. I feel things deeply. I shut down when there are too many people around or too much noise. I get overwhelmed. It’s just who I am, and something I’m trying to accept, despite living in a world that places great value and emphasis on doing.

And then we had two kids.
They are gorgeous. They bring great meaning and love and snuggles to our lives.

And they squeeze out all the extra time.

So I stopped watching TV. I stopped spending much time with friends. We started sending our son to daycare a few days a week. So I could breathe. So I could attempt to tame the sprawl of toys and crumbs and laundry.

And then we had another baby. And I took a part-time job.

It’s a low-paying editing job that I can do from home. It worked for awhile. It felt good to be contributing a little teensy trickle of money to our family. It felt good to use my brain and do something I was good at. Something besides raising two little munchkins, which is amazing, but does not ever leave me feeling wow, I am really good at this. 

My husband provides well for us, but there is something in me that can’t let go of my little job. Though it gets in the way of writing. And yoga. And breathing. Though it stresses me out and takes time away from my husband and I.

I am so scared to let it go.

We are so fortunate that I don’t have to work for a paycheck right now. I could be writing more. I could be taking better care of my kids' mom. So why do I create this problem for myself? This fully first world problem?

Guilt. And fear. 

Guilt that I’m a bad mother because I need so much time to myself. That if my babies go to daycare a few days a week, I should be using that time to work. To be productive. To contribute to society.

Fear that people will judge me. That because I decided to be a mom, it’s selfish to want so much time to myself.  

Fear that if I let go of my little job, I’ll have to really commit to writing.  And then I’ll find out that I’m really not good enough.  

If you were my best friend and you were sitting where I’m sitting, I’d say, “Sweet Lord, woman. Go for it. You have nothing to lose.”

My husband says, “The kids go to daycare because it’s good for them and they like it. Your job is not serving you.”

So why is it so hard to say that to myself? To believe it?

What do you do when you get stuck in fear?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Where did they Come From?

“Mom, did I come and visit you guys at your old house?” Max asks as he munches on a snap pea. We are sitting at the table finishing dinner.

“What do you mean?” I ask. He’s talking about the house Scott and I lived in before we had kids.

 “Oh—are you talking about what daddy said the other day? That we were so glad you came to be with us?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s what I mean. Are you glad I came to visit you?”

“We sure are,” Scott says. “We’re really glad you came to live with us.”

I decide to seize the dinnertime moment for a little spiritual inquisition.
“Do you know where were you before you came to live with us?” I ask Max, putting my fork down.
Max looks at me for a moment, then a big smile lifts his face. “In your belly!” He looks proud, like a contestant on a game show who got the right answer.

I press a bit further. “Do you know where you were before you were in my belly?”
“Nowhere,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. A twinge of disappointment passes through me.

 I often look at my children and say, “Where did you guys come from?” I say it with a laugh, as if the two of them just popped up in my living room, a surprise. Because a lot of the time that’s what it feels like. It used to just be Scott and I. Now there are these two little ones, with their almond-shaped blue eyes, long lashes and light skin. Sometimes I wonder if we kept having babies, if they’d all look like Max and Violet. Or if somewhere in the mix, we’d get one with my olive skin and dark eyes.

But beyond the variables of genetics, eggs and sperm lying dormant; where were they before that? Where were their spirits?

When I was pregnant with Max, I knew he was a boy, long before the ultrasound confirmed this fact. And he felt like a Max. I knew that the color green would suit him. And I felt something else, something I now believe was his strong will. He used to roll around in my belly towards the end of my pregnancy, making my stomach ripple, jarring my organs. I remember his powerful kicks and jabs just as I was trying to settle into sleep. “You’re not too little for a spanking,” Scott used to joke to the wild creature living in my body.

While I was carrying Violet, I felt less of her. Or perhaps I was just so busy with Max and his strong will that I didn’t have time to ponder her nature as much. Once in awhile, while trying to pick a name for her, I’d place my palm over my belly. The word light popped into my head. And she is, indeed, a lighthearted being. Her eyes glitter. She laughs easily and often.

So where was Max’s will, Violet’s light, before they were in my belly? They are both just so here, I find it difficult to grasp that before they were conceived, they didn’t exist.
I’ve heard the philosophy that our children choose us before they’re conceived. This probably doesn’t sit well for those with horrific childhoods and broken parents. But I wonder sometimes. Did their spirits circle us in the night, watching, waiting? Did they live in other bodies, other lives before this one?

What do you think?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

More Potty Humor

A few Maxisms that have rolled in over the last few days:

Sitting on the floor with my mom:

"Baba? Do you even have a penis?"
"No, Max. No, I don't."
"Oh. Do you have baginas?"
"Just one."
"Not all?"

After managing to pee his shorts while standing at the toilet:

"I was trying to pee in the potty, but my penis distracted me."

Hanging out in the living room with a big blue balloon tied to his ankle:

"I'm playing a game called the big nimple (his pronunciation of nipple) comes close and I push it away."

I just love this kid.

And I can't eradicate the idea of my mom having all the vaginas. There is something frightening yet mythological going on there.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Thank You

I just want to take a moment and thank those of you who are reading. I’ve gotten some really positive feedback on my writing, and that means the world to me.

I’ve never wanted to be anything but a writer.

Except when I wanted to be a theater actress, a rock star, a grief counselor, or a hockey player.

But I love to string words together like beads, fumbling for the right combination, when the words fit together just right and spark a current. When they glow.

I struggle all across my life with the old not good enough tapes, so deep and ancient they are nestled in my bones. I am digging to remove the tapes, but it is surgery, deep and painful and bloody. So it means the world to hear that my words are working, they are shining something to you, connecting us like beads, like glowing words.

photo credit: <a href="">Ravages</a>

Thursday, June 6, 2013


It’s been a weird week. A trip to the emergency room, the death of a friend.

Then, I spent the day before my birthday in bed with an evil stomach bug. When I woke up on my birthday and didn’t need to heave, I felt giddy. I was alive, and had somehow made it to 39.

Still weak from the accidental cleanse, I rested in the morning and had a leisurely lunch with a friend.  After lunch, I went to Soakology for some pampering with three of my favorite women.  If you are a Mainer and you like pleasure, I highly recommend a trip to Soakology, a foot sanctuary and teahouse. We descended down the stairs into a dark room with exposed brick walls and shimmery curtains. It smelled like we had walked into a giant cup of tea.

We sat in big, comfy chairs that felt a little like thrones. Our legs dangled over the edges like a toddler in a loveseat. One of the staff brought us each a big, warm bowl of water and essential oils to soak our feet in. I rubbed my toes and the arches of my feet along the smooth, hot stones in the bottom of the bowl. Next, we were presented with warm shoulder wraps. I could feel the heat and the weight of the wrap pressing my shoulders down, sinking my body into the soft cushions of the chair. My belly still unsettled, I ordered a Moroccan mint tea sweetened with honey and sipped it slowly.

Two of us indulged in shoulder and neck massages. I was mildly agitated that the young woman in charge of my shoulders and neck kept calling me, “My dear.” But I closed my eyes and shifted my focus to the feel of her fingers circling the knots in my shoulders, the tight cords of my neck. The places I hold all the little and big hurts that I gather through the day. I let go, rooting into the chair, into myself.

After she was done, I opened my eyes. I looked around the dim room, taking in the faces of my beautiful friends. 2013 has not been the easiest of years for any of us four thus far. I took in the sweet sight of their relaxed faces and smiled.

Afterwards, I went home to my little family. My parents were supposed to join us for a fancy dinner, but they had come down with the same virus I had. So Scott and the kids ate pizza while I ate the traditional post-stomach-bug birthday toast. After dinner, we somehow migrated to the kitchen floor. Max sat on my lap while Violet marched back and forth to the living room. Max faced me and sang, exhaling warm pizza breath into my face. I closed my eyes and felt the bubbles of evening sun through the window on my forehead. Max got up and whispered, “Can I have my M&M’s now,” in Scott’s ear, which tickled Scott, which made them both laugh. Then Violet marched up to Scott’s ear and Irish whispered, “Ba Ma Blah Blah Blah,” which made us all laugh. We sat on the kitchen floor and laughed and I could still smell waves of lavender from my feet and I thought this is what all the work is for.

Then Violet explored my kneecaps with her cool, pudgy little hands and Max asked, “Why are they called… why are they called…” and Scott said, “Kneecaps?” and Max started screaming, “NO! I wanted to say it!” and the moment was over.

And this is my life. Little envelopes of sweetness that end in shouting. Eating toast on my birthday because my stomach is still gurgling from being sick. The smell of lavender and the faces of my friends and family.  In the shadow of the death of a friend and a virulent stomach bug, I felt warm trickles of gratitude all day long.

I remembered a word I came up with years ago, when I was still fresh from my brother’s death, which cracked me open enough that I had to put myself back together in a different way. A deeper way. Majedy. Part magic and part tragedy. (With a hint of majesty, but mostly just for the “j” so it doesn’t sound like “maggoty.”) Glennon Doyle Melton calls it “brutiful.”

It’s not perfect and it won’t be. Ever. And I still struggle with that. I can’t cook to save my life and my house is always a disaster and part of me thinks I am the only one. I have big hips and little boobies and it’s all okay because just for today, I get to be here. I get to be here and feel hot stones on my feet and see the faces of my friends, soft and relaxed. I get to giggle with my family and watch my insane little angels stomp around and cackle. I get to be 39, while others I love didn't get to make it so far. Life is good, life is hard. Life is majedy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mama Worth

I woke up in the wee hours of Tuesday morning with stomach cramps. It was that same crushing tightness of a labor contraction. Except instead of giving birth to a tiny, sweet-faced, sleepy conehead, I spent the next six hours ejecting foul-smelling slime. From everywhere.

My body was pissed and exhausted. I handed the morning child care duties off to my husband and proceeded to alternate between the bathroom and bedroom. I knew without knowing that I could barely migrate between my bathroom/bedroom route (cussed third floor bedroom with no bathroom), let alone feed and entertain my children for the day.

Scott kicked into gear and arranged for an extra day of child care for the kiddos, cancelled some of his work duties, and got the kiddos ready and off for the day. I stretched a shaky, grey finger to my cell phone to text him and ask for some Gatorade.

All day long, I dozed. I also admit to moaning for my babies, as if they were capable of being cuddly little teddy bears for more than .3 seconds at a time. I am pretty sure I even whispered "Mommy..." a time or two as I kicked the comforter off and on, off and on, a bizarre OCD dance.

When Scott picked the kiddos up in the afternoon, I couldn't even wobble my way downstairs to say hi until after Vi went to bed.

So, if you're ever doubting your worth, Mama's:

$110 for extra day of child care for two kiddos
$20 for dinner for dad and kids at Chipotle
45 minutes of 18-month old screaming for mama at bedtime
Husband scrambling to do all the things you usually do and the things he usually does

On the plus side, this morning, when I awoke feeling much better, an air of appreciation hung in the air. My kids were really happy to see me, and I them. It happens to be my birthday today, and Max launched into "Happy Birthday" about four times before 8 a.m. Violet even pitched in with,  "Buth-day boo."

It is good to remember the household can survive without me, but next time I hope to do something more fun than reenacting childbirth with a vomit baby. And it is not the worst thing in the world for your partner to have to do what you do, every day, without really thinking about it. It is sweet to miss and be missed.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


We woke up this morning to the news that a friend had died after a brief, intense journey with cancer. The last time I saw Greg, he stood in his driveway, smiling with his whole body, arms outstretched for a hug. “Max freaks out when we hug people,” I said. It had already been a long day with the kids and I didn’t want to set Max off again. I regret that choice, leaving Greg's arms open and empty.
Today, the sun was shining but it wasn’t as blistering as the past few days, and a light breeze sweetened the afternoon.

Scott and I went to brunch by ourselves. We sat next to each other outside in the shade. We talked. About our friend who left his body today. About the trip to Spain we took several years ago. About our kids and college and money and being sober. I felt the light pressure of his knee against mine.

All day today, my heart opened and broke, opened and broke. Opened for my beautiful little family, for all the work Scott and I do to put down the parts of ourselves that cause us the most pain. Broken for our friend Maggie, facing her first day without her husband. Opened for my daughter’s big blue eyes and near-constant smile that brings out her unusually low dimple (limple!). Broken for the thought of something happening to her, to Max, to Scott, to me. Open for the warmth on my skin, for seeing my kids play with my parents, for a few moments to sit and write it all down. For Greg, free from pain, somewhere in all this sunlight. For you, reading these words, letting me share them with you.