Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy May!

It's so beautiful outside right now, I love how the sunshine and light breeze make everything feel right.

So, I'm finishing up school. It has been an amazing ride.  I feel like a very different person than the one who started almost 2 and a half years ago.  There were some dark times.  There were some of the most beautiful moments of my life.  There are connections that have been made that have changed me.  There have been lots of tears and a lot of laughing.  Someday, I hope to articulate the changes in me because it's been a beautiful journey, but I don't have the words today.

This morning I had a couple of moments, with both Bo and Avee seperately, where I kind of stepped back and saw them as the little individuals they have become.  Not babies.  Not entirely mine.  And still so unbelievably perfect.  With Avee it was when she first woke up and I asked her if she was allowed to wear tanktops to school.  She said they had to be at least an inch wide, and spaghetti straps weren't allowed.  But that she saw girls wearing stuff that weren't necessarily spaghetti straps "technically" but definitely weren't quite an inch wide.  It seems almost silly recounting it, but I saw this smart little girl using words and making references to things I didn't know she knew, or don't know when she learned.  Later, Bo stood at the bottom of the stairs telling me about a dream he had before he went up to get his shoes.  He looked so tall.  I said, "You look like you grew a foot overnight!"  He grinned proudly.  It's getting more rare to get a pure and joyful response out of him like that.  I loved it.  And what happened to my little boy who couldn't say his r's, who greeted passersby in the buff, who sniffed the back of people's necks when he passed them, who practiced counting to 100 for 3 weeks straight?  I do love who he's become.

Speaking of who he's become....that boy has an excellent sense of humor.  It is so delightful for me to watch it develop into something J and I enjoy instead of endure.  Yesterday while I was making dinner he started telling me about a picture of a dog he drew.  Lately he's taken to acting goofy when he talks, and sometimes he's just talking nonsense and I don't pay much attention.  He was saying, "I drew a dog.  It was big.  It had a collar. Yep, there was a collar. And a nose. And some ears. Yeah, yeah, he had ears."  Do you see why I don't pay much attention?  Then he said, "And I drew some ear holes."  I turned and said, "Now I know you are making this up, you didn't draw any ear holes."  He said he had and described to me what an ear hole was.  I said, "I know what they are, I just don't think you drew them on a dog."  Instead of arguing more with me as he could of (because apparently he DID draw them) he said, "Mom, everyone has ear holes, it's nothing to be embarrassed about."  I burst out laughing.  This statement is close on the heels of getting "the talk" at school. It is fresh on his mind.  I guess because he wasn't sitting there painfully alone getting the information from his father, he feels more comfortable talking about it.  And talk about it he does!  I love it.

So, we are leaving Iowa at the end of July.  I am filled with sadness at the prospect.  In fact, I soothe myself by saying we'll come back.  We aren't selling our house, so it really is an option.  I know I'll love North Carolina.  Probably I won't want to leave.  But the relationships we've developed here, they are wonderful.  We've gotten to associate with so many awesome people.  It helps that we are awesome too, but still.  We are so, SO excited that J got into PA school.  We learned pretty much after he'd applied, so many things about the process we didn't know.  First, applying in April increases your chances of acceptance by like two fold.  We got everything submitted by September 1st.  We take "deadline" very seriously.  I am pretty sure that reason alone is why he didn't get into at least two of the schools we applied to.  Secondly, people typically apply for 2-3 years trying to get in.  These programs have 2,000 applying for 35-50 spots.  There's no way dozens and dozens of very qualified candidates don't get turned away.  So for J to get in on the first round is so cool and of course makes me feel very proud of my smart and socially skilled husband.  Getting in to a North Carolina school is just an added bonus.

The way I feel right now reminds me of a card my mom gave me when I turned 25.  I was devestated when I turned 25.  I know, right?  I had graduated from college, I was moving to a new city where I knew no one, and I was single.  I honestly can't think of anything more difficult to deal with in life. Sheesh.  On my 25th birthday I was in Missouri in between graduating from Utah State and moving to St. Louis.  (It's also the summuh I met my lovuh!)  I locked myself in my childhood bedroom and cried and mourned the loss of my youth.  It was pathetic.  A dozen people could have slapped me and told me to grow up and would have been well within their rights.  But I have surrounded myself with kind and somewhat indulgent people.

My mom slid my birthday card under the door.  Inside was a $20 and a $5.  See? Turning 25 isn't all bad!  She had written some sweet things about me and about things I had accomplished and then wrote, "I know you are at a crossroad right now and I know it feels difficult.  Life doesn't get easier, but it gets better."  I knew at least that my mom was wise, and honest.  So I trusted her---but I certainly didn't understand how "not easy" could make room for "better".  I so get it.  I've experienced some really difficult things.  I've watched others around me experience really difficult things.  I have also never been happier in my life.  Part of that happiness is knowing it won't always feel this way, but also knowing it will come back---after it doesn't feel this way. 

I also know that I have the most incredible person at my side, loving supporting, pushing, encouraging, and navigating with me.  I am always hesitant to post my thoughts about J publicly because I feel like people who do that either feel like they have something to prove or are trying to convince themselves.  Of course, to make it not be all about J, I manage to be proud of myself.  I'm incredibly proud that 26 year old Nobody had the sense to see what a gold mine she had, and be successful in convincing him to marry me. There's no way I could have known the extent of his awesomeness, but each month, each year, it has become more and more evident.  He is amazing.  And those incredibly cute kids have 50% of his DNA.  At least, that's what he tells them all the time.

Well, this is kind of a stream of consciousness post. Free therapy!

Speaking of therapy....I'll tell you what, ending therapy with my clients is haaaaaaaaaaard.  I had a total and complete meltdown in my supervisor's office a couple of weeks ago.  She has this uncanny ability to hone right in on the heart of a problem and I wasn't entirely aware of the emotional difficulty I was having with it all.  So, yeah, that was fun.  I am going to be that counselor that ignores all the rules about making client's independent and helping them help themselves and ultimately not need a counselor.  I will make them mine forever.  "He's so fluffy I'm gonna die".  That's how I just said that.

I guess I'm done. Word to each of your respective mothers.

Monday, February 25, 2013

One Year & One Day

I made it through the one year anniversary of my Mom's death with no tears.  I wasn't striving for that (heaven knows I've learned the value of tears in this last year!), but it was such a good, positive day, focusing on things we love and miss.

Today, I sit at "work" (my internship site) and I can't seem to keep the tears from streaming. Not entirely sure why now, but I'm just going with it.

I post on FB, so then I tend to think that's enough, but I'll post about it again.  We put messages in balloons and sent them off yesterday.  I loved it, it felt like I was communicating with my mom in some way, and the kids loved it.  Avee wrote for one of her messages, "What's it like up there?"  She watched my face closely as I read what she wrote.  She was prepared for me to think it was funny, but I could see in her face it was more than that.  I smiled and told her, "I love that Avee" and I watched her own the thought.  She was ready to disregard it as silly if I laughed.  I see so much of me in her.

Bo wrote, "I think about you all the time" which did my heart good to see.  I do too.  And sometimes I feel like it's just me.  Sometimes selfishly, I forget how big of a role she played in their lives too.

My sister and I were talking yesterday about how it still doesn't feel real.  I thought I felt that way because I haven't lived near her for so many years; but my sister who never lived more than 5 blocks away her whole life, feels the same.  I guess that's what happens when you're heart and soul are larger than life and you live on so vibrantly in the lives of other.  Yesterday I thought a lot about if I'm living that kind of life.

One of the things about my mom being gone that consistently stings is not being able to share things with her.  My heartaches, my victories, my struggles, my children....

I had a day a couple of weeks ago when I got some bad news and I couldn't wait to get off the phone to call my mom and talk to her about it.  I hung up and immediately started to dial her.  That was awful.  I felt like the wind was knocked out of me and I was gasping for air for the next two or three hours.  I called my cousin sobbing.  I hadn't talked to her for a few months so I'm sure that was a really fun phone call for her.  Talking to people in those moments who know just how deep the void is, is really helpful.

Anyway, I thought I'd document some of those things I'd like to tell her.  The thing about telling my mom was, I was never bragging, never having a pity party, never stupid, never so wrong, never alone.  Even if I was having a pity pary or being stupid, she didn't call it that. 

J and I have navigated some difficult roads the past couple of years and we are good.  I'm thinking less that I am someone who doesn't deserve him and recognizing more what an incredibly good team we make.  I definitely think I scored a million times over, marrying him.  But so did he, and I love seeing that play out in our lives. 

I can hear my mom say, "Oh Angela, he is just darling. He's a good father, he's your friend, he cares about people, he's so sweet to me...don't you ever think for a minute he isn't wonderful.  He is."
I've learned so much about myself in this last year that it blows my mind sometimes.  I think I finally have something to write a book about! :)  I love what I've learned.  I've loved learning how weaknesses don't lessen you, they make you real and give you something to work for.  I've learned that vulnerability is attractive. It's desireable.  In my opinion it's a form of perfection.  When I can get past my own belief that no one should see all of who I am, weak, strong, scared, confident, lonely, loved, ambitious, lazy, angry, calm, doubting, sure.... the doors it opens are so fulfilling.  I've had experiences in the last several months where I had to just kind of hang up my fears of rejection and plunge right through a door of uncertainty.  All the things I've done to protect myself, were protecting me from nothing.  They were actually limiting me.

I don't even know if I can articulate these thoughts concisely.  I have lived a long life of not letting myself be vulnerable, constructing exactly what I thought people should see.  Peeling away those layers of self-imposed judgment has lightened my load.  Instead of focusing energy on what I think people should see and know, I am able to focus my energies on taking things in, experiencing more fully, simply loving more. I. LOVE. It.

I can hear my mom say, "This is so WONDERFUL. You have always had the courage and strength to do things I could never do."

AJ is an angel.  I look at her and think we've made perfection.  For the fourth time. :)  She is smart and funny and tenacious and even-tempered and opinionated and a "very communicative non-verbal".  That is what they called her at the hospital in November.  The other day J was reading to Bo on the couch and snapped a couple of times at the other kids to be quiet so he could read. AJ was puttering around humming/babbling to herself.  She got kind of loud, but how do you tell a baby to be quiet when it's so darn cute?  So J just read a little louder.  AJ also got louder.  He tried going a little louder without making any fuss about it.  Soon, AJ was full on yelling her baby babble.  It seemed so hilariously intentional but it just wasn't.  Although J was probably annoyed that he couldn't simply read in peace, it was too funny not to laugh.

Sometimes I pull AJ to me and smoosh on her face and cover her neck in kisses like you would.  I mourn that she won't know personally the greatness, the strength of character that she comes from.  I ache that she won't get the lipstick reminder of your constant love.  I try to watch her through different eyes, just to see what you would tell me about her.  You always saw unique things about all of our children. I love your view of them. 

I can hear my mom say, "She is soooooooo darling.  All of your kids are--such perfect little personalities, all so unique!"

I love this program I am in.  I never could have known what it would do to me, to my life.  I can't believe I'm almost done.  I am eager to be at home with my children and have some semblance of control over my schedule again.  I am anxious to have those letters behind my name and the accomplishment of a very big goal.  I am so proud to being doing this and to have accomplished this.  But I also never want some of it to end.  I am in a very nuturing, "mistakes are expected" environment with some really, REALLY incredible people surrounding me.  I could live like this forever!  But, I'm paying for it in money and time, so there will definitely be perks to it ending.

I can hear my mom say, "It's nice to have this experience, but life just has to move on, doesn't it?"

I remember starting this program 2 years ago and looking around the room at my classmates, feeling like an outsider, knowing I would never connect with any of them.  My classmates rallied around me when AJ was in the hospital for a week and sent love, support, balloons, cards, cookies, phone calls and messages.  Who are these people I was sure I'd never connect with?  One always has my back.  When you died, she was there. When the road was too hard, she pushed me through what had to be done.  When I was withdrawing, she called me on it.  I didn't even know she was doing it when she was. That's how connected we are.  Another hears what I say and shows me regularly I matter. Not because she's trying, just because that's how she loves.  She makes me feel smart, connected, funny, and can make me laugh until I cry. You know that's not easy.  It's amazing how you can feel so "complete" with the relationships you have and then others come along and remind you that you aren't. 

I can hear my mom say, "Oh you've made friends wherever you are, I can't believe you ever thought this would be different.  I just can't get over what wonderful people ALL of your friends are! Who's that little one that...."

All of my friends are "little ones", just by comparison. :)

I wrote an essay for a contest with the American Counseling Association.  I never really put myself out there to be judged. If you don't put yourself out there, you don't ever have to face rejection.  I have become a master of avoiding even perceived rejection.  I definitely didn't think I'd win anything, but I also knew I had nothing to lose.  Winners get a free registration to the conference in March. I must admit, that was a strong motivator because I wouldn't be able to afford going otherwise, and all of my friends were going this year.  Well I got runner up!  At first I thought that was honorable mention, which is fine, it's still something! But then I found out there was a winner, and then 4 runners up, and I was one of them!  That felt good.  I was one of the top five out of nearly 300 essays.  Funny thing is, even after winning I felt myself slip into what my counselor calls "the imposter syndrome".  I immediately began thinking how I "fooled" everyone and it really wasn't great, and how all the other submissions must have been REALLY bad if I won....
It's so crazy that I do that to myself.  I am a good writer. I wrote something that enough people liked that it got selected.  I am going to own it. 

I can hear my mom say, "I can't believe you doubted your writing ability, I could read what you write all, all day!  Don't let it go to your head so you start writing poopy because you don't have to try! Hahaha, I know you wouldn't.  Does that mean you're going to the conference? Are you going to be leaving those babies?  It's hard on them Angela, don't think it isn't.  They need their mom.  I remember when I went to Boston...."

Bo submitted a science fair project the day it was due.  I happily took him to Hobby Lobby and let him pick up the stuff he needed.  I even felt proud of his initiative to get it done!  Then I learned the actual fair was the next day.  He was going to show up at the fair, with a project.  I knew it didn't work that way so I started asking questions.  He produced a permission slip that he said he could take with him the day of. It said, "Please sign and return no later than January 11th."  It was February 6th.  I lectured Bo pretty exstensively.  Unpaid car payments get cars repoed.  Unpaid mortgages get houses taken.  He was given instructions with a deadline and he's not an exception to the rule.

The next morning he woke up with a rehearsed speech for his science teacher, taking responsibility for his slackerliness, and asking permission to still be allowed to participate.  It was a humble and kind of darling "speech" he had memorized the night before, before falling asleep.

His teacher said yes.  Of course I was happy that he didn't have to be disappointed, I can't help but feel that.  But I was also a little annoyed that he wasn't getting told no.  I felt like it would be a good natural consequence to help him increase responsibility.  Oh well.

He came home three days after the fair grinning like a smug little turkey.  His project won.  This victory wasn't lost on him either.  I had to just laugh it off.  I guess he'll learn responsibility the hard way, somewhere else.

I can hear my mom laughing, "Oh dear", she'd say as she laughed, "You'll be dealing with a whole 'nother set of challenges with this one!  You and J are the perfect parents for him though.  I think about what a team you and J make and whoooooooeeeeee, you two pack a punch!"

We're waiting to see if J will get into PA school this year.  I hate being in limbo like this.  We met a guy who tried for 3 years to get into PA school and finally gave up and started another program.  That kind of scared the bajeebies out of J.  But, I know things will work out, even if not on the time frame we'd like.  I just hate the waiting.

I can hear my mom, "Meeeeeee too! Ach! I hate waiting and worrying. You're better than me though, I don't sleep when I have to wait and worry---and then everything gets ugly really fast!"

Hmmm, I feel better already!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shame's Eviction Notice

I was listening to BrenĂ© Brown talking about shame and had a flood of thoughts and emotion suddenly fill me.  I think about how much I've let shame guide my thinking, make my decisions.  I thought back on my first real experience of recognizing the shame.

I was 25 years old.  Yeah, I had been alive a quarter of a century before I recognized even an ounce of shame in myself.  I know I was oblivious to it before because I worked with a professor, very closely, in my undergraduate program, researching guilt and shame. I am a published Jr Author on an article about shame but none of it ever applied to me.

I was driving from Saint Louis to Kansas City over Labor Day weekend and one of my friends, a coworker, was making the trip with me.  We were about 15-20 minutes from my childhood home when my friend said, "So, what did your dad do for a living?"  I felt the familiar feeling of my heart sort of skipping a beat, my face flushing (with shame, unbeknownst to me though!) and my mind racing for what answer I would give this time.  The memory of 7-year-old Nobody filled my mind, completing school test forms and coming to the line "Father's Occupation _______".  I'd pause over that blank for 3-4 times longer than any other.  Should I leave it blank?  Should I lie?  Should I tell a half-truth?  I was certain any one of those would get me "caught" and I've have some 'splaining to do.  Most of the time I settled for "half-truth" and would write "Self-employed" or "Construction".  My dad didn't work for anyone else, so if he worked, it was "self-employed" and he could build, rewire, plumb, repair anything. So, I could justify that answer, if anyone red-flagged it.  I was sure one day I would get caught.

So here I was, 25 years old, college graduate, working at a law firm, enjoying a lot of personal accomplishment and success in life.  What my father did for a living smacked me down to a helpless, hopeless, useless, nothing, with everything to hide.  I decided in that moment, with that friend, "screw it, I'm diving in" and answered, "Gosh, I...I've always been so embarrassed to admit it but my dad didn't really work to support our family. He'd do odd jobs now and then, but we never had money or any real type of income growing up."  I felt like I had just vomited, been exorcised, ran a marathon, and had an un-anesthetized c-section of sextuplets.  I sat there depleted, vulnerable, scared.  What did I expect? I think I expected her to look me up and down, sneer at me and say, "You're pathetic, why are we friends?"

I had spent year after year after year protecting myself from that response.  I was really good at keeping myself safe.  From everyone but myself.

My friend turned to me, seemed to register surprise at my obvious emotional response to "coming clean" and said almost off-handedly, "Why on earth would you be embarrassed about decisions your father made that you had no control over?"

It was as though the heavens parted and a thousand angels descended singing hallelujah and the weight of all that shame I had carried and all the guilt from hiding my shame was revealed for the uselessness that it was. There was no place for it in me anymore.  It was an epiphany if ever there were one.

This comment spiraled my thoughts over the next several weeks, even months, back to my life experiences and conversations I'd had.  I thought of ways I'd behaved, things I'd learned, and how differently they looked now, looking back with my new found knowledge.

I'd like to say this experience started me on a track of being free from shame, but it didn't.  It's just been in the last year, other life experiences that have opened up that door again.  I am seeing things so differently and realizing the burden I have carried for so many years as I've felt shame that wasn't mine to feel, and carried it, at great emotional expense, into relationships and into place that it had no place being.

As I'm listening to BrenĂ© Brown speak, I hear her say, that if you can push past the shame that says you aren't good enough and "who do you think you are" and carry on, when you look up, 99% of the time, the critic you see looking down on you----is you.

I'm ready to rid myself of the shame I don't need or deserve. It has done nothing good for me.  It has held me back from successes I would enjoy. It has inhibited me from relationships I could more fully enjoy.  It has clouded my judgment, shriveled my confidence, tainted my view of others.

I'm ready to turn that critic looking down on me into my biggest fan. Feel free to join me.  You're invited.