Help!

Three weeks ago I started yoga classes. I quickly remembered the terminology from years ago, but the moves…not so much. Muscle memory seems to be struggling at the moment. Surrounded by blankets, blocks, and straps, twice a week I find myself working to move as the lithe instructors do. I am not lithe.

Two weeks ago we took a 15 hour drive to Augusta, Georgia. We went to visit dear friends, have Thanksgiving, and attend a wedding. We remembered our old hometown well enough, and our friends were welcoming and gracious. The trip was fine until we were returning home and got north of St. Louis and the blizzard took hold. We slid off the road. A good Samaritan stopped by. He couldn’t tow us out, but his buddy is a cop, so the cop came by. The cop couldn’t help us, but he had a buddy who had a tow shop. Three hours later, we were towed out and in a hotel.

One week ago, I got far behind in my work schedule. I was turning up late and unprepared for meetings. I fell behind on emails and lost track of an entire project. A colleague jumped in to save me during a meeting. Another understanding colleague gave me an out on that project.

Too often we take on things we think we can do. “I can do this!” “I’m a strong independent person.” “I don’t want to bother anybody.” “I’m all alone on this one.” These thoughts and multitudes of others populate our brains – calling us to struggle and suffer alone.

Well, I’m calling bullshit. Let’s end this year and start the new one with the idea that it’s totally fine to use the yoga blocks and do a modified plank. There’s no shame in getting a tow – in fact, it may be the only way out. We probably do have colleagues committed to the work and mutual success; let’s find them and team up.

You do not have to be alone. Whatever it is that you need – there are individuals, groups, and whole societies that stand ready to support you. If you don’t know who or where those are, reach out or call out or scream out. Create a group. We are here. No matter how awful things seem, we are here. The commune is everyone’s to call upon. So, as you enjoy the holiday season and begin the new year, please remember: you are not alone. From auto accidents to yoga and everything in between: call for and use help when you need it.

To paraphrase the movie “Love Actually”: If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that help actually is all around.

 

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Momming

“You won’t leave me; you can’t take care of two kids on your own. You can’t handle it.”

cartoon-airplane-89967That was what husband number one told me days before I left him, one and three year-olds in tow, in Riga, Latvia. We took flights to Sweden, New Jersey, Chicago, and finally Des Moines. From the time I left to the moment I fell asleep at the kitchen table at my parents’ house, I had been awake for 56 hours.

Since those first long strides away from dual-parenting, I have been a single parent. Sure, some would argue that my second marriage doesn’t count as being a single parent because I gave birth to another child – clearly not a single person undertaking – and, I did, very technically, have a husband for nine years before I moved out. Those who might argue that would need to have a peek inside that marriage to know that one can be married and still be a single parent.

It has not been easy. Making decisions – from where to live to which job to accept; giving advice – from dating to college acceptance; doing daily life – from mowing the lawn to buying a new water heater: all of these things are the things I couldn’t do, according to husband number one.

Now, I will be the first to say that between throwing the bread loaf across the kitchen in aopT56dpiB supper making frustration and dealing with first son’s post-high school rejection to coaching youngest son through the perils of two new schools in two years have not all been my finest moments. I certainly would do some things differently.

However, at the core of how I have and am parenting/guiding my sons is: imperfection.

They have taken turns over the years pointing out the abundance of my imperfections.

I have not done anything perfectly. In the early days of independent momming, I beat myself up for not meeting a set of mythical, invisible, unobtainable standards that seemed to flit around my conscious. Like the carpenter bees that dive bombed our front porch in Georgia, these standards came out of nowhere and served no real purpose other than to exacerbate the effects of the self-flagellation that every parent – single or no – goes through.

For years I fought this imperfection by trying to replicate the happy parts of my childhood. This proved impossible because even at his lowest salary, I’m pretty sure my dad made more money (relatively speaking) that I do now, at my highest salary. This proved impossible because even on the days when she had the least amount of time, I’m pretty sure my mom somehow had more time than I do on my most unfilled days.

The stress of trying to create a version of parenting perfection lead to things like the aforementioned bread loaf toss. This also lead to some resentment and sadness and stress for me and for the boys. But, gradually it occurred to me that I was, in fact, not only handling being a single mom, my imperfection had somehow helped us make a life where my sons were able to become creative and intelligent human beings despite my singleness and (hopefully) because of the environment we created together.

Somehow my sons have had some really great moments like when elder two sons had set up a war scene all over the living room with the little green plastic army men. Not being thrilled with war games, I asked what they were fighting for. Eldest son responded, “These guys are fighting so that girls can go to school in Afghanistan.” Parenting win number one.army_men_header Another time all three boys – trapped inside on a rainy day – got out stuffed animals and created a farm. But not just any farm: they created animal farm from which Farmer Jones was banished and on which all the animals were treated fairly – their own spin on how the novel should have gone. Parenting win number two. But really, there have been so many more: on the soccer field, directing musicals, on the dance stage, in classrooms, around the world, in the community, and on jobs.  We never really get to see the true achievements of our momming because they happen in our absence.

In considering everything, I realize that I wasn’t really single parenting; I had the love and support of three amazing young men. The teachers, friends, coaches, and family members that provided love and support throughout the years made single-parenting a contradiction in terms.

So, yes, husband number one: I can handle it. I did handle it. I am handling it.

A Christmas Parable

Years ago when I was a child, a package appeared in our village. A box wrapped simply: brown butcher paper and a red bow. No one
knew where it came from nor what to do with it. There were long months of talk about the package. Priests said it was a harbinger of doom and should be destroyed; commoners suggested we should open it and allow fate – bad or good – to take its course. Scholars could find no mention of such a happening in the histories of any of the villages. Tradesman thought we might sell the package to buy goods. Arguments, gossip, and schoolyard banter swirled around the mystery.

Solstice came and the decision was taken to mark the occasion by opening the package. At the midnight hour we all gathered, and the elders carefully removed the wrapping and set it aside. The most perfectly faceted gem was lifted from the box, and as the icy air hit it, a red-purple light penetrated every soul. We were, from infants to elders, mute in awe the gift lifted from its ordinary container. A warmth that surrounded every person, an invitation to acceptance and pure love. We stood in wonderment.

The reverie was broken when someone lunged at the gem, knocking it off the pedestal. A scuffle mutated into an outright fist fight among men and women alike. Children bit and clawed alongside their elders. The light began to fade as the gem was knocked about in the dust, but no one seemed to notice. It was as if the entire village had a singular goal: to get the gem for themselves only. Greed and fear obscured the light and love that had embraced us just moments earlier. The brawl continued until dawn when a man yelled out, “It’s gone!”

As if on cue, the townspeople, bedraggled, cold, tired, and defeated saw the wrapping that had been set aside so carefully. It fluttered in the wind at the edge of the well. Hands grabbed, elbows flew, eyes were blackened, and the wrapping was torn. People went home with tiny bits of ribbon while priests took shreds of the wrapping to their temples, ensconcing them in protective glass behind locked doors. The gem was gone entirely.

Many years have passed, and there are those who have never heard the story of the package; but we hear rumors that the gem is still near our village. One fisherman told us he saw such a light in a shallow at the river, and as he dove to retrieve what he thought was the gem, he felt filled with kindness and love. But, he was unable to bring back the gem. Once a child said she found the gem under some moss in the forest. She told a fantastic story of playing with and talking to it. No one believed her then, and we labeled her simple. She still wanders in the forest, gathering flowers and talking to herself.

Now, the priests retell the story of the gem and reveal the remnants of the wrapping twice a year. In homes, the story of that winter solstice has been passed down, but no one dwells upon it; to do so would be to mourn the loss of the purity of the compassion and mercy we felt in the all too brief light.

Giants Among Us

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Earlier this summer, middle son and I undertook a road trip from Georgia to Colorado to Iowa. He volunteered to find interesting things along the way. We saw: the world’s largest easel, the world’s largest spur, and the world’s largest ketchup bottle – which, incidentally, is for sale.

Son also incorporated a series of civil rights stops on our route. That began in Atlanta at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Park site. I had been there years ago, but the history and admonitions tugged on my sleeve a bit harder this year. We were then in St. Louis to see the arch, but it was there that we visited the Dred Scott monument because it was the Gateway City where the court case which bears his name was filed.  On our way toward Kansas, we stopped in Ferguson. Yes. That Ferguson. We visited the Michael Brown Jr. plaque that was recently installed near where he was killed. The next day we were in Topeka at Monroe Elementary; that visit coupled with the Equality House right across from Westboro Baptist Church and hours of road tripping in Western Kansas (it’s still really flat) gave me a lot of time to think.

Our job here is not to make things more difficult for each other. Humans are not meant to construct giant obstacles in each others’ paths: from slavery to social exclusion, from institutionalized racism to politicized sexism to we are experts at enslaving others’ lives and spirits. The burgeoning presidential election seems to bring this into everyone’s newsfeeds in every form possible. It’s demoralizing.

People, we are meant to support and help each other. Why do we spend so much time down-talking people’s plans and dreams? Is there something organic in human beings that makes us want to spread horseshit about others? What makes us want to make others’ lives as hard as possible? I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a lifetime of accusations and hatred tossed around this summer. It’s truly awful.  And, some of us do it in the name of tradition. In the name of our schools. In the name of our political parties. In the name of our churches!

Hosts of philosophical answers, from thinkers much more erudite than I, would answer those questions in any number of ways: Ego. Testosterone. Manifest destiny. Mental Illness. Intellectual blindness. Self-constructed spiritual superiority.

America has always been big on – well, big stuff. We like to go all out. From family reunions to rodeos to theatre: it’s hard to find a country that will outdo America in BIGNESS.

So, after this summer’s trip, I have an idea: how about we all – in our own corner of the world – create big opportunities for anyone around us? What if we create big social interaction by visiting with neighbors or having a neighborhood picnic? Might we create big comfort by reaching out to those who are hurting? Could we clear a big road by standing up for those different than we are?

I have to say, those things are being taught – even insisted upon –  in our schools as part of community building and anti-bullying programs. Many adults are asking their  kids to do what they refuse to do when considering politics or religion or sexual orientation or race. What if we tried to come together in similarity instead of encouraging the dividing lines to do what they do best?

Wouldn’t it be great if our kids could visit future sites dedicated to the biggest most diverse happiest neighborhood?

ShrinkAs a nation that loves giant things, we seem to be focused on giantizing our differences and problems, and the election rhetoric isn’t helping. C’mon, people, let’s work on shrinking the hate and obstacles and  focus on super-sizing the acceptance, tolerance, and understanding.

Join me.