June 27th, 2014

Have a Wonderful Weekend.


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What are you up to this weekend? I had all these plans this week to get a lot of writing done here and elsewhere, but then life happened. Summer, sunshine, blue skies, and children make doing things in an ordered and planned fashion nearly impossible. It’s easier to just be, to allow your day to naturally progress on it’s on path without your willful hand at trying to order it. So today, I woke up and decide to write this to say have a happy weekend. Here are some links around the web of things that I’ve been enjoying this week.

In honor of my eight year wedding anniversary: The key to a good and lasting marriage.

 

This made me laugh.

 

What a pretty dress.

 

This love story made me cry.

 

There’s a checklist for anxious travelers like me.

 

This video on benefits of being a single-tasker.

 

Kind of cool: Emotional computing.

 

These sunglasses are cool.

 

Good to remember: Move forward, even when you are afraid.

 

This print is inspirational.

 

Swim then crawl? Fascinating read.

 

Who is Michael Jackson?

 

Sexy first ladies? Yay or Nay?

 

How are you spending your weekends?


June 19th, 2014

Milestones


If you know me in real life, you likely know this truth.

I often get lost when I’m driving.

I am okay at reading directions, yes. And I am okay at following directions. But it takes me a long to graduate from absolutely needing directions to not needing them and, thus, feeling comfortable within new destinations.

I don’t naturally have that “sense” that good drivers have, the one that whispers in their subconscious, telling them “I know where I am and, thus, can find where I need to go” even though they may be in a place where they don’t exactly know where they are.

My husband is one of those drivers. He pays attention to his surroundings all the time, even when he’s a passenger in a car. So when he drives somewhere and accidentally makes a wrong turn, he can usually figure out how to get where he wants to go just based off of memory and that “sense,” you know, the one good drivers have.

I wasn’t born with that sense.

I’ve known this for a long time but I don’t think I’ve ever made it a point to process this fact until  last month. I was driving somewhere at the time. I had driven to this place at least five times. And I’d been driven, as a passenger in a car, to this place over 30 times, at least.

Though, when I got in the car on this day to drive to this place I should have known, I needed directions. So I used my GPS and as is usual, at this one turn, the same turn as the other five times I traveled to this place, I got lost.

My GPS tried getting me back on track, but it failed.

So there I was in a place that felt both familiar and not familiar at the same time. And I kept telling myself, “I know this place. I’ve seen this street. I think.” I had seen that street and been to that place, though, connecting it all in my brain felt impossible.

I realized then why this always happens to me. When I am driving, I don’t focus as much on trying to make those kinds of connections that would help me on future trips.  I focus on the road, yes, and my traveling speed, yes, and what my GPS tells me, yes. But I rarely move beyond that information to make the kinds of overarching placement connections that good drivers make. Instead of doing that mental work, I live in the moment, driving to the “music” of my navigation, doing as she says all while focusing on other things that make my drive enjoyable. Make sense? So, when driving I may see a pretty building and I’ll internalize that and think, “Oh, how pretty!” And I’ll turn down that road with the street sign in front of the building but all the while, I’m not just looking at the sign but at the building too and how I feel in seeing it. So when I’m back in that place, say a week later, it’s the building that I’ll remember first and then hopefully the sign, too.

I was reminded of this yesterday in thinking about my children’s milestones.

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I used to obsess over and live for milestones. With my first daughter, I used to anticipate them, mourn when they came, write them here and elsewhere, and wait anxiously for the next ones to come. Then a new one would come and I would dread the pending arrival of the next. I lived for milestones to tell me that, as a parent, I was doing something right, that we were traveling in the “right” direction. I would always make connections between each milestone and it’s relationship to the massive idea that my baby was no longer going to be a baby one day, that one day she’d grow, one day this would all end.

It was sad, really, this way of living, this very anxious and fearful way of living.

But then when I had second daughter and my first exited babyhood into toddlerhood, I learned that growing up isn’t that scary of a thing since there are always even more wonderful things that await the children who can grow. So, I changed and remained changed when I had my third daughter.

My third daughter got her first teeth nearly a month ago. There’s two on top and her bottom gums are swollen with teeth waiting to pop up and out.  It wasn’t just a getting-first-teeth milestone that we crossed, however. In the same week as when those teeth made their arrival. She started waving. Her hair grew into this (even more) giant curly mass. She started crawling faster, standing on things, clapping her hands, really using her pincher grasp, dancing, and saying words (kind of).

No matter how many times I do this, or repeat these same milestones, they always feel new to me, kind of like those roads I travel down in familiar yet unfamiliar territory. Even though this is my third trip with my third daughter down “babyhood” lane, it still feels new, familiar, but new. And they (the milestones, I mean)  even if not always memorialized remain meaningful and important to me.

Time in motherhood has taught me this:

Everyday your children grow up.

I know that as I write this, as my three babies sleep, they are each working on doing something amazing that once it’s done it will seem as though it came out of nowhere.

I could focus on making the connections between all the smaller signs leading to the amazing upcoming “milestone,” that next tooth, that next social skill, that next fine-motor development, but I don’t want to.

I’m having so much fun in this moment to do that.  Like my car drives, in motherhood, I try to remain focused on how this feels, their smiles, our laughter, and all the other things that make this moment enjoyable, heartfelt.

I focus on this moment, this one I can touch, breathe in, feel in, this moment right now, because it’s really all we’ve got, right? Tomorrow is gone. Yesterday may not come. But this? This is here and so am I.

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Once day, I will remember them for what they’re worth, meaningful markers, signs directing me to a destination that seems far from right now. I will be thankful for the ones I have recorded, yes, but more so I imagine I will be thankful for all the memories made along the journey, the ones that were like that pretty tree near that street sign, meaningful not just for where they got us to but for how they made us feel.

***

Oh, and along with defining my inability to follow driving directions and take on my children’s milestones, being guided by “how I feel” when going places is the reason I accidentally ran a half marathon last month.

Yes, accidentally.

I intended to run a 10k, but I took the path of the half marathon runners. I only realized my error at mile 9. Yes, I know. “But, Jessica, a 10k is only about 6 miles!” I know. And I knew that then. But I was having so much fun, being outside, running, jamming to my music that I didn’t pay attention until mile 9.  Once I realized that my running path was going deeper out of civilization, and after my sister called to tell me she completed her 10k race, I wanted to cry in a forest. But I didn’t do that. I just kept running until the end.

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Do you document all of your children’s milestones?

 


June 9th, 2014

the secret lives of parents


Your loved ones only die when you cease to remember them

For as long as my children have lived they’ve assumed that I have only one parent, a mom. I didn’t have a dad because I never talked about having a dad. I never talked about having a dad because, in my mind, I don’t have a dad. Or, I did have a dad, but he died in 2008, two years before my oldest was born.

So, since he wasn’t living when my first daughter was conceived and he wasn’t living when she was born, he had no meaning, beyond DNA, to their lives.  So I didn’t talk about him…ever.

Beyond that “reason” (if you want to call that a “reason”) I had other reasons for not talking about my dad.

Not talking about my dad, beyond explanations about his death to any stranger who’d ask, was my way of overcoming grief over his death.

Amidst the pain of dealing with his unexpected death, I really wanted to move on. I didn’t want to think about him since thinking about him made me think of him all the time. And that made me cry and regret all the times I didn’t cry for him when he was alive.

I didn’t want to talk about him since talking about him beyond a year of his death seemed strange. It felt strange and I felt awkward.  So I wanted to create distance between the experience of grieving and my “normal life” to just carry on in my “normal life” which didn’t include him. I needed to move on. So, I have no dad. My children had a grandpa, but he died. He’s dead. Move on. This was my narrative of adulthood fatherlessness.

I saw no problem with this line of thinking until my children became old enough, around two or so, to begin talking unashamedly about death and dead things. They talked about the dead crab on our sidewalk, about the chickens on their plate who once lived but are now dead. My children understand death. Though, since death has always been for them distant and unfamiliar it’s not had the kind of emotional layer that I always imagined it would have should I ever tell them about their grandpda, the man who lived but then died.

One day a few months ago, my oldest daughter found a picture of my dad. It was a picture at my wedding during the father/daughter dance.  She asked who he was.

“That’s my dad,” I said.

“But you don’t have a dad,” she said, laughing, I guess, because everyone knows that I don’t have a dad when everyone else does. Duh!

“But I do have a dad,” I said.

She paused then and said nothing more about that or my dad until months later. We were in my bedroom, talking about something related when I told/asked her. “You remember I had a dad, right?”

“Yes, but how come I never saw him before?”

“Well because he, he died.”

Pause

“Why did he die?”

“He…(don’t say heart attack. don’t mention the prescription drugs. don’t say depression. but say SOMETHING…something she can understand) He died from eating bad foods.”

“Oh,” she said before I could fix my very problematic death sentence.

She didn’t say anything then but I knew she was trying to process all that said and why food could make a person die and that I was possibly lying since she’s good at detecting those kinds of things.

“Where is he now?”

I said the sky, in heaven since that’s where I like to imagine him.

I showed her a picture then, I think, and she smiled and that was that. Since that day we’ve talked about him a handful of times. And all the times we’ve talked, I haven’t cried. I haven’t felt bad or like I’m living in the past. In fact, I feel like talking about my dead dad with my daughters has been a healing for me, allowing me to focus not on the bad and grief of his death but the redemptive aspect of that.

Friday was my dad’s birthday. Yes, he’s dead, but if he were alive he would be 58 and two days today. In honor of his birthday, I said something to my daughters about my dad, their grandfather, on the morning of his birthday.

“My dad played in band.”

“He did?!?”

“Yeah, he did. Want to hear his song?”

She did. So we listened to my dad’s first (and only) “hit” song, recorded when he was in a group he started in high school called “Faze-O.” It, or the song, is called “Riding High” and for longest time I thought that meant riding a purple van through wispy pink clouds.

Faze-O album art

Faze O  Riding High PASTE ON CD FRONT & BACK OL

I think if I really thought about why my dad, who was 21 when he recorded that song, wanted to ride a purple van through wispy pink clouds, I would have realized my blunder. But that’s just the thing. When I was a child, I never thought about my parents as anything or anyone but my parents.

Even up until his death (I was 25 at the time), I never imagined my dad beyond the version of himself that I chose to see through my very limited lens of who he was and was not in my childhood and early adulthood.

If I had thought of my dad beyond “my dad” perhaps I could have thought it cool that my dad was someone else beyond my dad, or beyond the very limited stock character “dad” that I had known of him in his life.

I didn’t get it then. But now, hearing it again at 31, I got it, or what “riding high” meant and that made me feel cool because once upon a time my dad was cool enough to “ride high.” My daughters may not have gotten all of this from that song, but they did at least get the latter or that he was cool and, by default, so am I and so are they because we’re related.

So that he’s dead and no longer here ceases to be relevant in that moment because it’s not really relevant at all. Who he was, I realized, is who I choose to remember him to be. I choose to remember him by this song and all the other pieces of his life that spoke to the larger portrait of his human-ness. His secret life that really wasn’t a secret just not known by me is what I will remember along with the good parts of what I knew to be true of him as a child and young woman. I’ll remember him as my dad, my dad with, among other things, a one hit wonder that has been re-dubbed by new members (according to their Facebook page, the new members of Faze-O continue to tour), sampled in 81 songs, and made into videos on Youtube.

“That’s your dad?”

“Yep. That’s my dad, your grandpa.”


May 28th, 2014

#MAYAANGELOU


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“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.

No one is discovered. No things are ever discovered. They exist and we find them and they become real things in our consciousness. They aren’t discovered first by us, but they are discovered for ourselves when we meet them for the first time.

I don’t remember when I first “met” Maya Angelou.

I don’t remember which came first. Did I first hear or read one of her poems? Did I hear her voice or did I see her on television? It may have been all of the above. It may have been that I met her in her poems without knowing what she looked like. It may have been that I met her by hearing her voice without knowing or remembering that I had her read her poems. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that it wasn’t until I was a young woman, maybe 18 or 19, that I put all of the pieces together and decided at once that “I know Maya Angelou.”

The Maya Angelou that I met in that moment of knowing was many things– a poet, a novelist, a playwright, a dancer, a mother, a civil rights activist, a sexual abuse survivor, an actor. She was all these things and more, but today, in looking back on my time “knowing” Maya” I have to say that I remember her most by how she made me feel.

She made me feel:

Accepted.

Understood.

Loved.

Valued.

Beautiful.

One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou comes at the end of that wonderful and very full quote included above. It’s “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou did this best. She made me feel like a person. So even though I never “met” her until I was old enough to know her. Even though I can’t remember my favorite quotes from all of the pieces she’s written that I’ve read, I remember that feeling whenever in the presence of some part of her. I remember how she made me feel.

I don’t know why but for every season of my life as a woman, there’s been something Maya Angelou has said, written, talked about that spoke to that moment, that breathed into that moment and made me feel like she understood…me.

She understood about being a woman phenomenally, a mother, a writer, a human being with a soul. She understood what love is and what it isn’t and how to know the difference between the two.  She understood what it means to have brown skin, what it means to be hurt. She understood true beauty and pain. She understood what it means to be woman and writer and mother and why telling our stories matters to our souls and why the caged bird must sing. She understood herself well, and I think and that’s why she understood so much else about others, about the world, about…me and millions of other voices of “me” around the world who hear themselves in her words, who feel her lived existence in that experience of commiseration.

When I heard of her death, I felt like I did when I heard that my dad had died, kind of. I felt familial grief though it was grief without that intimate sense of guilt and what-ifs.  I felt full of emotions. On the verge. There was something tight in my throat as I looked at pictures of her and thought of her. “Mommy, who’s that lady?” my four-year old asked in seeing her on my computer screen. “That’s Maya Angelou.”

She was not family. I never met Maya Angelou in the flesh, though, I did meet her in her time on earth and for that I am grateful. She felt close to me, comfortable to me, familiar to me. And so that’s why I felt compelled to write these small words to honor a legend, a good soul who lived and made a difference in my life and the lives of others with her words and good deeds.

Rest in peace, Maya Angelou. May peace be upon you.


May 23rd, 2014

10 Things I Wish I Knew In College


My little brother graduated from college yesterday at the same school I graduated from eight years earlier. Feeling rather old and sentimental, as I walked on campus yesterday, for the first time in years, I reflected on who I was then, how I’ve changed, and this list of all the things I wish I knew when I was still an undergrad.

10 things i wish i knew when i was in college

1. It’s not that hard. College is challenging, yes, but really when you put the experience into perspective and lose your ego, you realize that it’s not impossible to do amazing things while in college. You can travel easily in college. You can eat without fear of a slow metabolism. You can get A’s in all your classes if you put in the work and decide to do it. It is that simple, though, you can’t get this until you’re my age and faced with many more hard things in life and get nostalgic about the “good ol’ days.”

2. Have fun. I went to a big state school with a reputable athletic department. But did I ever attend a game of any sport while there? Nope. Why? I didn’t really want to. I studied every day at the library and lived off-campus, two things that made doing normal college things seem undesirable. I’ve since learned that when you are in college, you should do everything you can not because you want to. You should do them because you may never ever get a chance to do them, again. So travel, run for an office, do something that you’ll be able to look back and tell your kids you did a long time ago when you were young.

3. Get over yourself. Going to a big state school for me meant often feeling like a small fish in a big, terrifying sea. To get over that and my anxiety, I would often do weird things to feel, well, bigger. The treks to my classes were far, so how did an insecure young woman like me get through it? Talking on my cell phone, usually, to my mom about nonsense that would sound to any over-hearer to be something substantial. “Mom, just stay on the phone, ok? I have 10 more minutes to get to class okay?” Sound silly? It was, but I did it nonetheless.

4. No one is a smart, creative…perfect as you think they are. Getting good grades was never a problem for me in college because, well, I had nothing else to do. Though, I can still talk about this or feeling like you’re not as smart as the one kid in your class who seems to have it all plus great hair. I think it’s easy in college to get an inferiority complex about yourself. I mean, sure, you were the smartest, most creative, most fashion-adept kid at your high school, but now in the big leagues you feel so average, so subpar. The truth of college and the rest of your life is that no one is as smart/creative/fill in the blank as you think they are. No one is as perfect as you think they are. You are smart, creative, amazing and you’ll do smart, creative, amazing things when you stop looking at what you think the smartest, most creative, amazing kid is doing and just do your best. Just be your best. 

5. After this, your life will never be the same. You can’t recreate college once you’re done with college. You can’t recreate that moment in life when you’re with your peers doing nothing but learning and exploring all these cool things that the world has to offer, often, for free. You can’t. Trust me, I’ve tried. So rather than counting down until you’re done with college and able to enter the real world (which might I add you only graduate from when you die), enjoy it. Live in the moment and relax that while better days are to come, the ones you are in are pretty darn good.

6. You’re not as old, wise, or clever as you may think you are. For some reason, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the world at 22 when I graduated. The truth is I knew mostly nothing. There was a quote read by someone at my brother’s two hour long graduation yesterday. I went something like, “Education is the progressive discovery of your own ignorance.” I was sitting in the nosebleed section of this ginormous stadium, so when I heard that reverberate back in the speakers, I was like “yes!” That’s it.

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The beauty of life after college that you should remember when you’re in college is that it will go on. The stakes of your life will change, but the gist of it will always be: You will do something. You will fail. You will learn. You will fail.  You will learn.You will succeed. You will learn. You will do something else. You never stop learning until you’re dead, so take your learning in college in stride and carry on.

7. Pursue your passions but stretch yourself, too. I like writing, right? So naturally, after taking English 101 and everyone told me I was a good writer, I did the most natural thing and major in English. Of course. Oh, and I also like to talk, so what’s the major for that? Oh, yeah, communication. Boom. I did well with my majors because they fit me. Though, I wish I would have minored or added another major in… something that didn’t fit so well, something that would have taught me something about myself I didn’t intuitively already know. Like Physics. I could have done that. Or maybe something with computers.

8. It’s okay to not have everything figured out. There’s a premium placed on the idea that the best of students have it all figured out. They know their majors early and don’t willy nilly in their time in school doing things that are a waste of time. I don’t agree with this line of thinking. I think college should be a time for purposeful willy nilly-ing. It is a time to explore and make mistakes because the stakes of those mistakes and time spent of exploration will never be measured the same post-graduation.

9. It’s okay to not think you’re cool. Cool is kind of overrated and exhausting. Cool in college is like local fashion, hot where you’re at and meaningless everywhere else. Be yourself instead.

10. Take lots of pictures. And print them.

 

What are some thing you wish you knew in college?