Now’s the Time. Do Something. #1000Speak

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“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping

While my guitar gently weeps”

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I wanted to do something. I felt helpless as I sat in the backseat. My legs couldn’t yet reach the floor board, my pockets were empty of all but a scuffed up Hot Wheel toy car. But I wanted to do something.

It was the first time I’d seen someone begging for food.

The seconds ticked by while we sat at the stop light. I studied him and wondered what it must be like to be him. I saw tattered clothes, I saw a worn face. I watched as he stared straight ahead, meeting no one’s eyes. Letting his roughly scrawled sign do all the talking.

And suddenly we were off, on our way. Off to do some destination so inconsequential I can’t remember it.

But I remember him.

I remember feeling the unfairness of it all.

I remember feeling incredibly sad.

Concerned.

Pity.

Shame.

I was young but I knew enough. I knew a little of hunger. Of shoes too small. I knew a little of the struggle to make it to payday.

But my hunger was always fed eventually. My toes were only pinched for a short time until we received hand me downs from family friends. My mom shielded us with stretched out cans of Beenie Weenies and a funny story or a silly face. Her casual manner hid the stress of trying to survive one more day.

But I didn’t know what it was like to be him.

“I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping

Still my guitar gently weeps”

Life goes on. We see people barely hanging on to life, clinging to shreds of dignity.

You can’t really ignore it. It’s on the street corner. It’s huddled under the overpass. It’s on the t.v. It’s in the news.

All around us people are in pain or in fear or destitute.

It’s hard to ignore.

Yet somehow we do.

It’s survival. It’s not letting ourselves get washed away in the abyss of despair when you look at the suffering. When you feel hopeless in the face of tragedy. When you feel angry at ongoing injustices. We can’t let ourselves drown in it all. We have to take care of our lives, our kids, our families. That’s self preservation.

And we have to preserve ourselves.

“I don’t know why nobody told you

How to unfold your love.

I don’t know how someone controlled you

They bought and sold you”

Sometimes we insulate ourselves because of our own hurts and our own struggles that bearing the pain of another person’s suffering is just too much.

That’s ok. As long as when you’re better you take off the blinders and take part. As long as you don’t let your head stay nestled comfortably in the sand long after it’s due for an appearance above ground.

“I look at the world and I notice it’s turning

While my guitar gently weeps.

With every mistake we must surely be learning

Still my guitar gently weeps.”

Because there’s much to do my friends. Every great change that has ever taken place has required masses of people to take notice, to stand up, to participate.

There are so many things, so many ways to give. There’s causes to join. Movements to start. It’s little every day things and big grand gestures.

As long as it’s something. Because not doing something leaves you feeling much more helpless. Because not doing something leads to more of the same.

I look around and I see the world in pain. I see fear pulsating. I see children hungry. I see humans sold. I see divisions over arbitrary lines in the sand and borders that were decided ages ago. I see religions of love and peace tear each other apart. I see black men being shot. I see children being abused. I see people dying from diseases that don’t carry a big enough payout for a cure. I see people slipping through the cracks we all blithely step over every day.

And I remember him.

I remember the disappointment of driving away. Of wanting to run back and do something. But instead turning around to look out the back window. Watching as he faded from view.

“I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping

While my guitar gently weeps”

Atrocities and injustices of the past tug on the back of our conscious. We struggle to comprehend the brutality of the past. How did people allow these things to happen? Why was there hatred over superficial and trumped up differences? Why did they allow needless suffering? Why didn’t they do something?

These things are viewed through the lens of present day.

How many things are we allowing to happen? How many things will our children, our grandchildren look back upon and wonder, Why didn’t someone stop it? Why didn’t people stand up? Why did’t they push back?

“Look at you all

Still my guitar gently weeps”

Now’s our chance to do something.

I know it’s there, in you. In me. In all of us.

The part of that cares.

The part that cries when we hear of pain and suffering.

The part that hurts when we see injustice.

The part that breaks when we see hate and anger.

The part that wants to do something.

Meet anger with softness.

Meet hatred with love.

Meet judgement with acceptance.

Meet ignorance with knowledge.

Meet apathy with urgency.

Meet hunger with food.

Meet cold with warmth.

Meet disregard with a mirror.

Indifference with compassion.

I have hope. I have overwhelming optimism and hope. Because,

Look at you all. 

#1000Speak

1000 Voices for Compassion

Over 1000 voices coming together to do something.

Spread the love, make our voices LOUD. Tweet, share on Facebook and Instagram. Let’s flood the internet with compassion!

Add your link here.

How Marriage Has Taught Me To Pick A Fight

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I met him in our college Spanish class. After admiring him from afar for the better part of a year, we fell into a heated relationship. I was crazy about him.  Our relationship was tumultuous. Until it wasn’t. Eventually the passion was gone.

We were living together, making a home and making plans. Three years together and talk of a future, but I knew it wasn’t working.

I tried to save us. For well over a year I tried. He was pleasantly apathetic.

Eventually I was done.

He called. He wrote. He begged me to give him another chance. He promised to make changes. Things I had pleaded for, he now promised to deliver.

It didn’t matter.

I was done.

That’s how it works. You try. You fight. You fight for your relationship.

Until you’re exhausted and tired from all of the effort. Until you realize you’re the only one putting in the effort.

It’s that cold realization that is the nail in the coffin of a relationship. The loneliness that comes with the scratching and clawing for love… and looking around and realizing that no one else is getting their hands dirty. The harsh loneliness of sharing space with someone.

That was a long time ago. Just after that relationship ended, I fell in love with my husband. I was gun-shy and not looking for romance. I tried to talk my way out of it. I told him I had fears. I told him that I needed more than he could give. I couldn’t live a life of complacency.

I told him that I get bored easily.

He promised our life would never be boring.

I told him I need passion. I needed fire.

He promised a lifetime of passion.

I told him I needed someone who wouldn’t give up easily.

He promised me he would fight for me. For us.

That was over 18 years ago. Three houses, three kids, three dogs ago. A lifetime ago.

It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Hard because we all have something, something that burdens us. Something that lives deep inside of us and comes out sideways. Hard because we’re all pretty messy inside. Hard because all of things that we all carry are forced to mingle with all of the messiness of this person you share a life with. And they bump up against each other and they feed each other and they confuse each other. And sometimes they hurt each other.

So what do you do with all of this?

You pick a fight.

You pick a fight with yourself. For yourself.

The fight you choose is the fight to become a better you. You trudge into the stagnant waters of long held pain and damage. You wade into the muck and you start cleaning it up. You fight through all the barriers and the defenses that we each cling to like a tattered blanket of comfort. You get dirty and you fight.

You fight through all of this because it’s the only fight you can really win. You can’t fight for him. It’s not about fixing him. If it was, there would be no break ups. There would be no divorce. The idea of fixing the person you love, of fighting his battles? That’s just a fantasy. His issues are his. They are borne of different things than yours. You can try to fix them but it will be fruitless. You can spin your wheels for a lifetime trying to fix someone else. Focusing on them and all of their stuff. This won’t get you far, I promise. It’s a twisted path to bitterness and disappointment.

But you can fight for you. You can work through all of your stuff. Recognize it. Deal with it. Learn from it. It may give you some peace and strength. It may stop the cycle of your stuff feeding his stuff and the chaos of emotions that tag along with that. It may give him enough room and space to see that something’s changed and that maybe, maybe he can start to work through his stuff too.

Regardless, you fight for you.

I picked this fight in recent years. It has been scary and hard and at times I’ve come close to giving up. But now I’m starting to see what comes after the fight. Some peace. Some healing. The burden of all of my stuff is much lighter and I feel more free. I am not so weighed down. I’m not as confused by my emotions. The other side of the fight with myself is a good place to be.

My husband has also picked his fight. He’s trekked into the depths of what burns deep inside of him. He’s never been one to be complacent or apathetic. Eighteen years and it’s never been boring. I’ve seen him refuse to give up and refuse to let me be the only one fighting.

I think back now, to that day years ago. The day I tearfully told the man I loved what I needed. What I thought was impossible for someone to give. The day I thought I should give up on love because my expectations were too high and unattainable.

He didn’t try to change my mind or my expectations.

He accepted the challenge and the needs of a naive young woman who thought she knew what she needed.

I never needed him to fight for us.

But he gave me things I didn’t know I needed. He did more than share space with me. He didn’t just sit and watch me fight my battles. He listened. He supported. He loved. And when I wanted to give up on my demons? He started fighting his. He showed me that vulnerability is the bravest place to be. He got his hands dirty with me. In fighting for himself he showed me just how much he loved me. The lengths he would go to to be better for us.

I didn’t need him to fight for us.

I needed him to wage his own fight.

I didn’t need him to fight for me.

I never needed him to fight for me.

I’m capable of doing that for myself.

I can fight my own battles.

Lessons From the Worst Day Of My Life

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“And I know it aches and your heart it breaks and you can only take so much….  Walk on.” -U2, Walk On

It was my wedding day.

I found myself standing outside the doors to the chapel. My heart was racing. Pressure began building inside and I felt my eyes fill up with tears.

I can’t do this.

Before I could turn and run, the doors were flung open. I was caught off guard as 80 expectant faces turned to look at me. I scanned the crowd….  I saw my family and friends…. I saw my Dad and Stepfather waiting in front of the alter to give me away.

But I was going to have to walk down the aisle alone.

And that’s not how it was supposed to be.

I don’t know how long I paused there. I felt like I couldn’t move.

Then my eyes found Joe. And right next to him a single candle burning on a tall candelabra. Gulp. I looked back at Joe and knew that if I could make it to him that I would be o.k.

I took a tentative step. I felt as if my knees were going to buckle. I took a deep breath and willed myself to move. Somehow I began walking. It was surreal. I felt as if I was floating down the aisle….  Something was propelling me forward.  I felt a sense of calm. A sense of warmth and serenity that I hadn’t felt in 18 months.

***

Eighteen months earlier, my 16 year old brother had been diagnosed with a rare pediatric bone cancer.

The diagnosis was grim. The prognosis was not good.

He was quick to rally. He was going to be fine. He was going to live his life. He was still planning a future. He packed a lot of living in a short time.

Ten days before my wedding he lost his fight.

That was the day my world forever changed. Nothing would ever be the same. The damage was irreparable. I felt gutted, depleted and seething with heartache.

September 15, 1999 was the worst day of my life.

Fifteen years later I still look back and I don’t know how my family and I made it through a funeral and a wedding. But we did. We somehow walked through it together, feeling our way through a fog of pain and grief.

There would be no postponing of the wedding, as I’d suggested. I couldn’t imagine waking up in a world without my brother, let alone throwing a wedding. Every single member of my family told me in no uncertain terms that my brother would never want me to put it off. He always said he “didn’t have time for cancer”, he didn’t let it stop him from doing the things he wanted to do.

And he would be highly pissed if I let cancer stop my wedding.

So, we pulled it together and summoned our strength. Even though we were still in a state of shock, we had a wedding. There were tributes to my brother throughout the wedding. The single candle stood where he was supposed to stand as a groomsman. There was a beautiful poem in his memory read during the ceremony. His favorite song was played at the reception. And we danced. And we drank. And we had fun.

Inexplicably, we had fun.

Fifteen years have passed since that day.

Fifteen years later and I’m still trying to figure out how to move through life without him.

Fifteen years later and I’m still learning how all of this works… the after part.

And even though I’m sometimes exhausted by all that I’ve learned from that day, I know it’s important to pull my head out of the sand. I know I need to pay attention to all that grief has taught me.

I would gladly trade the things I’ve learned to have my brother back.

But I learned a long time ago that bargaining doesn’t work.

So I choose to appreciate the lessons I learned.

I learned to cut people some slack.

You really don’t know what people are going through. You don’t know what they have endured. You don’t know what battles they may be fighting.

There were the times that I would find myself driving 15mph in the left lane. I would be lost somewhere between grief and exhaustion after a long night at the hospital with my brother. I would arrive home with no idea how I got there.

There were times when I’d look up distractedly at the grocery store to realize I’d been standing in the middle of the aisle lost in thought.

I used to be that person that would honk impatiently and cast a dirty look as I zoomed past a slow driver.

Not anymore.

I learned what it was like to really have a bad day. To be so lost in a world turned on it’s head that you could be completely unaware of your surroundings.

I learned that we all have bad days and some of us have really bad days.

Some of us are just trying to make it to tomorrow.

Now I see people differently. I don’t see people who are trying to get in my way. I see someone who may have heavy things weighing on their mind. I’m sure many people granted me that grace, and I’m grateful. I was so fragile and raw that to be confronted by an impatient driver or shopper would have been too much.

Compassion and grace isn’t giving people a pass when you know they’re suffering.

Real compassion is giving people the benefit of the doubt. Granting them access. Assisting them when you don’t know them. Being patient and kind even when you don’t know what they are going through.

If you have to know the behind the scenes? If you have to know their story in order to be kind?

If your kindness is based on an assessment of their pain… if it is conditional…

then it’s not truly kindness.

It’s judgement.

I didn’t get this before. I wasn’t cruel. I wasn’t mean spirited. But I was impatient. I was easily irritated. That was before I realized the depths that people can be trapped in and look completely normal to the rest of the world.

I learned that comfort  sometimes comes from unexpected places.

There are some people who had such an impact on me, who helped me through difficult times. They probably will never know the significance of their actions.

The soft-spoken coworker who offered me a hug as I was leaving to meet my family at the hospital. We were meeting with doctors to get news of test results. He knew I was nervous. When my shy, reserved friend wrapped me in a big bear hug I was overcome. I knew this small gesture was not easy for him to give. His effort to offer me solace moved me. It reminded me that even though my coworkers didn’t know my brother, there was a whole team of people rooting for him.

There was my brash, loud, jokester boss who let me take off as much time as I needed to be with my brother at the hospital.

There was my friend from work who calmly assured me that I would feel joy again after I tearfully confided my fear and pain to her.

Then there’s my husband’s brother and my sister in law who drove 12 hours to attend my brother’s memorial service.

My sister in law was the person I leaned on during that service. I found myself opening up to her and this was only the second time she andI had met. She helped me get through an emotional night. She seemed genuinely touched by the stories she heard from my brother’s friends. She said that he sounded like an amazing person and she felt like she kind of knew him after hearing about his antics.

I almost collapsed with gratitude. Her words gave me hope that my brother wouldn’t be forgotten, that his spirit and his humor could be translated to people who’d never met him.

I learned that an act of kindness, no matter how small, is never wrong. Sometimes it’s the thing that can help someone put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it can make all the difference in the world.

I’ve learned that you can, even 15 years later, be blindsided by the cruel reality of it all.

You can be sitting at your kid’s swim practice just trying to write in your notebook when a memory you’re writing about simply knocks the wind out of you and next thing you know you’re wiping away tears hoping no one notices.

You can be eating dinner at a restaurant and the waiter looks just like your brother. You can’t stop looking at him. You feel the loss and pain take over and overwhelm you. You are again surprised at the cruel force of grief’s ability to blindside you. And you almost want to stalk the waiter just so you can pretend for a minute that your brother’s still here.

You can watch your kids doing something especially mischevious and your thoughts unwillingly flicker to images of your brother. Memories of the antics of a little boy long ago. And then, imagining what could have been. Him egging them on, encouraging their exasperating behavior.

And you can almost hear him laughing, enjoying every second of finding a way to torture you as an adult as he did as a little kid.

And your heart hurts because you know he would have had so much fun with your kids and they would have loved their uncle so much.

You could bottle yourself up and try to insulate yourself from it, but it’s not going away so you might as well let it happen.

You’ll feel it, you’ll hurt, but you’ll be ok. You will be ok. 

And I’ve learned that I still feel my brother’s presence.

I see him in each of my children, in their personalities…  in their sense of humor, which is what my brother was known for.

I feel him sometimes. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I feel a warmth come over me. A warmth hard to describe because it’s unlike any sensation I’ve felt before.

I feel him when my family is together and my sister and my parents are laughing and we’re giving each other a hard time.

I feel him kicking me in the ass when I’m about to chicken out on doing something that scares me.  I can almost hear what he would say in those situations.

Don’t give up. You’re better than that.

I’ve learned to recognize these moments, when I feel him with me. They are bittersweet. They are welcome. And they tug at my heart because they will never be enough.

My brother was supposed to walk me down the aisle.

When we knew, in those last weeks, that it would not be possible for him to do that, we contemplated our other options.  We considered having both my dad and stepfather walk me down the aisle… or having my sister’s husband walk me down the aisle.

But in the end, I decided that my brother was who I had chosen to walk me down the aisle.

There was no understudy.

There would be no last minute stand in.

I couldn’t imagine replacing him in that role.

I didn’t know how I was going to manage making that walk without him. I didn’t have much time to dwell on it.

And what I’ve learned is that there didn’t need to be a replacement.

My brother showed up.

He kicked me in the ass a little and told me not to be scared. He reminded me that I didn’t have time to let my pain stand in the way of my wedding, my happiness.

My brother showed up…

he  was there with me on one of the best days of my life.

“Rebel Heart” Guest Post on Hasty Words

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Who Me???

That’s what I thought when the incredibly talented Hasty Words asked me to do a guest post. Hasty is a poet, an artist and writer who’s words always leave me a little breathless and I am honored to be a guest over at her blog today.

Click on the link and read all about why I want my kids to be rebels…

“Your Rebel Heart”

(Comments will be closed, but head over to HastyWord to tell me what you think!)

Be A Part Of A Movement: #1000Speak

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“My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark. I do not feel the romance, I do not catch the spark…. and I will not be a pawn… for the prince of darkness, any longer.”

-Indigo Girls, Prince of Darkness

This week something pretty incredible remarkable amazing happened. One blogger wrote a beautiful piece in response to recent tragedies and atrocities happening in the world. Another blogger was posting about these same events on FaceBook. The two had a conversation that inspired this:

“How cool would it be if we could get 1000 bloggers on the same day to write posts about compassion, kindness, support, caring for others, non-judgement etc.? (Date to be decided.)
We could call it 1000 Voices For Compassion.
Who’s in?”

And thus began a movement. 1000 Voices for Compassion. A call for bloggers to join together on one day to speak out in the name of compassion. To stand up to the bullies and the killers and the harmers and the haters. To make the voices of the good drown out the insatiable voice of negativity and hatred.

That was five days ago.

Within 48 hours 500 bloggers had joined the movement. Today, 690. People are moved by what Yvonne and Lizzi started.

Most of us write because we have to. Often we write about things that move us. Things we care about. Things that we think maybe need to be heard. Some of us have been floundering under the oppressive weight of heartbreak over everything that we’re reading and hearing and seeing in the world. Most of us want to do something.

And what do we do?

We write.

We write, damn it.

Because words matter.

Words change minds and change lives and words have power.

And all of our words together?

Just imagine.

So, this is my plea. If you’re tired of the negativity that permeates the news and social media. If you’ve grown weary of all the violence in this world. If you’re tired of the “us” and “them” mentality and want to be a part of “we.” If you are ready for things to shift, for something to change… then write. Speak. Be a part of this movement.

Maybe it will help.

Maybe someone someone will hear us and feel wrapped in the comfort of knowing that people care.

Maybe someone’s hardened heart will soften just a little.

Maybe positivity will breed more positivity.

Maybe all of us together will be heard.

Maybe we can convince the “us” and the “them” to join.

Because your thoughts might add to the thoughts of others who want to create change. And if enough of us join in eventually we’ll be heard. Eventually those trudging through life will hear our concert of thoughts and lift their heads and open their hearts.

So please, join in. All of you have something to say. All of you can be a part of something good.

Let’s do this.

When: February 20, 2015

How: Write a post about compassion. What it means to you. How has it affected you? How we can bring more of it to those who need it. Really, there are no rules, just as long as it’s about compassion.

Participate: via FaceBook go to this link and request to join.

via Twitter, post and use the hashtag #1000Speak

*If you’re not on Facebook but would like to join you can let me know in Comments, below, and I’ll add you to the mailing list.

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Music And Words And Dilettante, Oh My

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“All your life you’ve never seen
woman, taken by the wind
Would you stay if she promised you heaven?
Will you ever win?” 

-Fleetwood Mac, Rhiannon

There are two things that get me so excited I can barely contain myself. Well, three, but this isn’t that kind of blog now is it? I’m talking about discovering new music and new books. Music and books are (almost) everything. Both can touch your soul, transport you, intoxicate you.

That’s why I’m so incredibly lucky to know Helena. Because Helena is words and music. She lives them, breathes them and (thank god) writes them.

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Yes, that Helena. Dilettante, author, music aficionado. Helena who introduced me to Jessica (who still haunts my darkest dreams), Helena who wrote the amazing Memoirs Of A Dilettante (which I gobbled up like a bag of white cheddar popcorn), Helena who is a virtual walking encyclopedia of music (good music that is- we’ve had wonderful Facebook chats where she’s introduced me to some kick ass music.)

Today Helena is announcing her forthcoming Memoirs Of A Dilettante, Volume Two.

Eeeekkk!!!  I know! It’s so damn exciting!

Coming Spring 2015.

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Cover art by the supremely talented writer/ artist/ poet Hastywords.

And to whet your appetite and hold you off ’til Spring, here’s a little somethin’ somethin’ about the book:

Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two is the second collection of reminiscences, following Helena Hann-Basquiat, a self-proclaimed dilettante who will try anything just to say that she has, and her twenty-something niece, who she has dubbed the Countess Penelope of Arcadia. 

Speaking of Arcadia, this volume delves into Helena’s childhood, as she revisits what she calls the Arcadia of the mind — that place that keeps us trapped and holds us back from our potential. Some of her most personal stories are included here, interspersed with hilarious stories of misadventure. It’s not a novel, really, and it’s not a memoir, by the strictest definition. But most of what follows, as they say, is true. Sort of. Almost. From a certain point of view.

Discover Helena’s tales for the first time or all over again, with new notes and annotations for the culturally impaired — or for those who just need to know what the hell was going through her mind at the time!

***

Helena is going to be running a crowdfunding/pre-order campaign at Pubslush, a community focused solely on indie writers, and has set up a profile there to launch Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two.

For more information, and to follow the progress, Become a Fan at http://HelenaHB.pubslush.com

And in case you’re not yet familiar with Ms. Helena… 

The enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she then bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming.

She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populous or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them.

Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

In 2014, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, several e-books which now make up Volume Two, as well as a multimedia collaborative piece of meta-fictional horror entitled JESSICA.

Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One is available HERE in e-book for Kindle or HERE in paperback.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell.

Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or http://whoisjessica.com or connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat.

Check it out, check her out (her blog, I mean) and let me know what you think! All praise and thanks may be left right here in Comments….

 

Four Ways I’m #Winning At Parenting

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It’s like looking in a mirror…

 

I like to think I’m a pretty good parent. I love those three kids more than anything in the world. I have spent the better part of 14 years doing all the things for them. You know, all the mom things. They are pretty lucky little shits if you ask me.

And I tell them that all the time. They are damn lucky to have me. I’m a pretty cool mom. And all the cool moms announce their coolness to their kids all the time, right? I’m pretty laid back. I really don’t sweat the little things. I don’t run my house like a Drill Instructor during Hell Week. We keep it simple. Do the basics, get good grades, work hard, do your chores, be nice. That’s it. Pretty cool, right?

But sometimes I screw up. Sometimes I do all the wrong things. Sometimes I feel bad about it. Not always, but sometimes. Because I like to keep it real with you guys, I’m going to peel back the curtain of this seemingly perfect little life I have and show you the real seedy underbelly that is MomsIsALittleCrayCray.

1. F Bombs and other awful things little ears shouldn’t hear. I say them.  Not ALL the time. But I don’t really practice self-editing. I’m not a complete potty mouth or anything, but let’s face it, there are frequent and varied occasions where the words just fly out of your mouth. When you run into a doorway. When you back into your husband’s car. When you show up just in time for the game and realize you’re at the wrong ball field. And your kid is starting pitcher. And it’s rush hour. Anyways, the point is I’m human and such situations elicit some choice verbiage. But they know the rules. I can curse, they can’t. I also exhibit tact and class and don’t curse in front of strangers or other children (at least not on purpose). I’m just saying that they’ve been exposed and some of their fist words were “Shit” and “Dammit.”

2. I have favorites. And I tell them. I will loudly whisper to one of my kids when the others are acting up “You know you’re my favorite.” I do this fairly and evenly. They each get a turn being mom’s angel. I like to keep them guessing and vying for favorite status. Nah, not really…  I’m simply trying to entertain myself with their expressions when they hear me say it to their sibling. It’s pretty damn funny. If you’ve never tried it with your kids I totally recommend it. It usually squashes whatever beef the other kids were fighting over and they become united in their hatred of you. In the meantime, the current favorite is giving you all kinds of cuddles with a smug look on their face and that makes you feel like an awesome mom.

3. I lie to them. Just on occasion. Usually just for fun. Sometimes for totally acceptable practical reasons (ex: “we’re all out of chocolate” as you hide a package of Reese’s cups in the freezer.) But I have a few on-going lies I tell my kids. One is that I used to be a famous pop star in Europe before they were born. I have embellished this one over the years to include my appearance on Top of the Pops and being hounded by the paparazzi. Recently, as I was belting out Rosanna (Toto, circa 1982) in the car, I responded to my daughter’s eye roll with “People used to pay good money to hear me sing!” I tell them I gave it all up to get married and have kids (a little martyrdom is always useful in parenting). The best part of this lie is that I have the worst singing voice ever. Like, my babies have cried when I would sing them lullabies. My husband has threatened to divorce me when I sing in the car. But they all kind of bought in to the lie at some point. You know how kids believe everything their parents tell them? I was just having a little bit of fun with that power.

4. They look like homeless kids. I try. I really do. But I don’t put a ton of emphasis on what they look like. I could care less if my kids look like they just walked off of a GapKids ad. But it would be nice if they didn’t look like they lived in a hovel. My teen wears basketball shorts and a pullover hoodie every day. He doesn’t take the hoodie off, so I’m sure his teachers think he has one shirt. Just yesterday I insisted that he wear jeans to school since it was like -80 degrees outside. (Kidding. I live in the SouthEast, it was more like 35 degrees. But still, soooo cold.) It was a battle but I won. He ended up going to school in jeans that were two inches too short. Oops. I just bought them a month ago and he grew out of them. Sorry kid. A little bullying about your high-waters will just build character.

Also, yesterday my five year old decided to pull out her hair bow in carpool line because she wanted to “fixth it and make it pretty.” My daughter wakes up every day with hair like Nick Nolte’s mug shot. It takes a lot of work to tame it. Guess who she went to school looking like yesterday? I don’t think it was “Dress Up Like Washed Up Druggie Actor” Day, so… yeah.

***

So, before you all start clamoring for me to write a book on the art of parenting, I’ll run down a quick list of other not completely awful but not exactly June Cleaver moments: I refuse to do the whole Elf on the Shelf thing, I don’t go eat lunch with them at school (when did this become a thing? I eat every other meal with them!), I let them play video games, I introduced them to the classic Schweddyy Balls bit on SNL, we have watched this over and over, I force them to adopt a British cockney accent when they want something from me, I have forced them to follow up a request with “Please beautiful Mommy” and I frequently and lovingly refer to them as “little shits.”

And because I feel the need to counter all these flaws, lest you think I’m Mommy Dearest, let me assure you my kids are loved and are ridiculously showered with affection. Some might say they are a little spoiled. My husband and I are hard on them when it comes to the important stuff like school and respect and hard work. But other than that? We try to have fun with our kids. We laugh a lot. They seem to want to be around us all the time. (Seriously, aren’t kids supposed to want to be far, far away from their parents? Stay tuned for a future post about Helicopter Kids…)

What I’m saying is we’re not perfect, but who wants perfect parents? Kids need something to complain about. I’m doing them a favor by embracing my flaws and allowing some imperfection to creep into what is otherwise pretty stellar parenting. You’re welcome, kids. I can’t wait to rock this tee this Mother’s Day…

awesome_mom_tee

Are you an awesome parent too? What mean/crazy/silly things do you to your kids? Are you totally singing Rosanna to yourself right now? Should I be saving for their future therapy? Tell me what you REALLY think…

All the Stuff… That’s A Wrap on 2014

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 All The Stuff

That’s right. There’s been stuff I haven’t written about. Mainly because I got lost in the holidays and the shopping and the entertaining and the kids and the family and… you know. All the same stuff you were doing. Except you’re probably better at time management than me and you probably didn’t completely check out of writing and social media for… um… weeks.

But it wasn’t just the holidays. I think 2014 caught up with me. In both practical and emotional ways. Not to say I was lost in despair or wrecked, but I was just… tired. Last year included a lot of dealing with stuff for me. I dug up some demons and I dealt with them head on. I addressed long-held habits of dealing with pain and conflict that were holding me back. Now I can say it was worth it, that I’m better today than I’ve ever been. But the road getting here? ‘Twasn’t easy my friends. And I’m by no means at the end of that road, but I’m much further along than I thought I would be. Hell, before this last year I was in denial that I even needed to take this walk.

Enough with the cliche’ metaphors…

So here we are. It’s 20freakin15! Am I the only one who thought that we would be driving little flying saucers and having robots cook and serve us dinner by the time we got to 2015? Am I the only one who loved watching the Jetson’s growing up?

I love starting a new year. I love beginnings. And I’m one of those weird people who loves change. I love decorating my house for Christmas and transforming it to a glowing festive cozy place. And I love un-decorating it and having it look fresh and clean and soothingly minimal. It’s like putting on a big fluffy coat and wrapping yourself in it’s comfort, then shedding it and feeling the lightness and renewed energy of a fresh start.

Oops. Got all metaphor-ish again.

Anyways, I get excited to start a new year. In one sense it’s a random day on the calendar. In another sense it’s all of us taking a collective deep breath and starting out again. Each of us is hoping to get it right this time. Each of us reflects on the past year, what transpired and what inspired and what inflamed. We take stock and try to figure out how to improve. Many of us do this throughout the year, but the New Year is the only time where we all do it. Maybe that’s why we celebrate. It’s universally recognizing that we all want to be better and to try better and get better. And there’s great comfort in that.

Resolutions aren’t really a thing for me. I have many things I want to accomplish this year, but most of those things will surely bleed into the next year. I’ve been reading a lot about people choosing a word for the year. I like that idea better. I’ve seen a few I like. Thrive. Be. Those are good ones. But I don’t know if I can choose just one word. I mean, wordiness is my thing. One word? Pfffttt! Ain’t happening. Instead I’ll just nod my head in agreement and absorb all the wisdom that you guys keep putting out there.

Reflections on the past year… 2014 was huge for me in terms of blogging and writing. I’ve made some amazing connections here. I’ve made friendships. People I genuinely care about. People I respect. People I learn from. I can’t tell you how much this community means to me. To know and connect with other writers, with people who pour their stuff out ever day or week or month and find solace in words. People who love to string words together to create a melody or express a feeling or change minds or change the world. I feel like I’ve found my tribe. The people who speak my language. It’s a sense of belonging I’ve never really experienced. I have many treasured friends in my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but I never belonged any where. I wasn’t on a sports team. I didn’t excel at drama or the arts. I would join clubs but only half heartedly. But this? This is where I belong. I may not have made it to being published on HuffPo or ScaryMommy or anywhere really (ahem, 2015), but this seemingly endless and growing group of people, this sixdegreesofsomething community, is where I fit. Thank you to all of you who’ve given me a place to be.

Here’s to 2015! (Yes, I know I’m a little late for a New Year’s post. Shut up.) Here’s to welcoming change and growth! Here’s to writing all the words that matter, cause really, they ALL matter. Here’s to grabbing on to whatever the new year brings and enjoying the ride wherever it takes us! Here’s to you… To my friends. To my family. To my fellow writers. Every single one of you rocks. Because of every single one of you, this girl feels pretty damn lucky.

Change- Blind Melon

How do you feel about the New Year? Do you have resolutions? Or are you in denial about having them like I am? Do I need a metaphor intervention? Am I bombarding you with too many questions? Seriously, tell me whatever you want… random thoughts welcome.

 

 

Who’s Raising Who? Fourteen Years Of Being A Mom

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 “And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”

-Elton John, Your Song

My brother died 10 days before my wedding. I was caught between suffocating despair and the happy prospect of marrying the man I love. But I didn’t think I’d ever feel pure joy again. I couldn’t imagine joy in a world without my brother.

Six months later we lost my Grandpa. My big strong Grandpa. The Purple Heart Marine with the big booming voice. I will always believe that he died of a broken heart after the loss of my brother. A few weeks after we lost my Grandpa I found out I was pregnant. The sun started to peek through the darkness, just a little.

Nine months later my beautiful baby boy was born. He came into the world wailing and thrashing. “Feisty” was the word that came to mind. I proudly proclaimed him my feisty strong willed boy. Barrel chested and dark hair. He was strong and vibrant and ready to take on life.

But I was scared out of my mind. I was experienced with babies. I had spent my high school years babysitting. But I felt like I didn’t know how to do this. This, the most important thing I would ever do. I felt inept and inadequate.

I was scared I wasn’t feeding him enough. I was scared that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was scared that he was in a pain and I didn’t know it. I was scared that there was something wrong with him that I was missing. I was scared that I was screwing it all up. I was scared that he knew that I had no clue.

I was scared that he would get sick and die. The impossible such a real possibility to my family.

Fear dominated the first few months of my son’s life. Every doubt about myself magnified in the face of motherhood. Every fear I had after watching my brother suffer intensified as in imminent threat.

And I worried that he could sense my fear. I didn’t want to put that on him. I didn’t want him to grow up neurotic. I didn’t want my stuff to affect him, to change him. Another thing to worry about.

As the months went on, he proved me wrong. He defied all of my worries and fears. He was thriving. He was full of life and provided endless hours of entertainment for me and my husband. I would look at him in awe. He was a part of me. I couldn’t’ believe that something so beautiful and amazing came from me. I mentally attributed it all to my husband.

While I was floundering in fear and worry my husband took to parenting as if he’d been doing it his whole life. He took over when I couldn’t calm our son down. I would watch in wonder as he would play with him. I watched with growing love for my husband as he soothed our crying baby. And secretly, in a place that I’m not proud of, I felt jealous. He was better at this than I was. But at the same time I was so grateful. My husband was a soothing presence for my frayed nerves. I was grateful that the man I loved was a great dad. I banked on his strength and confidence to make up for what I was lacking as a parent.

Now my son is fourteen years old. I’m watching him grow into an amazing young man. He’s compassionate and smart and funny and good. He’s good. He seems unscathed by those early years when his mom was fighting anxiety and fear. He’s happy and confident.

I watch him play with his little sister and I see a glimpse of the father he will be. A loving, nurturing dad. Like my husband. I see him smile and laugh with his friends and I  see the natural charisma that his father carries. I watch him run, swim, play and I see the natural athlete that is my husband. I see him crack a joke, his dry subtle wit reminiscent of the humor that made me fall in love with my husband.

I listen to my son ask questions when we’re in the car. Questions about world events. I listen as he talks about Syria. And Egypt. And North Korea. Israel and Palestine. He wants to talk about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He wants to watch the morning news and catch up on what’s going on in the world. I listen to him as he gets mad, I see his frustration and anger towards people that hate. He doesn’t understand. And I see a little bit of me.

I see the look he gives me when I’m fishing for a dollar for a man with a sign on the corner. He takes the ten dollar bill out of my wallet and hands it to me. His look says it all. He needs it more than you, mom. On another occasion I watch with overwhelming emotion and pride as he pulls a few dollars out of his own pocket when I am out of cash and a homeless veteran is standing at the stop light.

I watch as he insists on buying a small toy for his little sister. Even though I know he wants to save up for the latest video game, he’s willing to hold off a little longer to bring a smile to her face.

I watch all of this and I feel more joy than I ever thought possible. My son opened up my heart again fourteen years ago. He proved me wrong. The pain of losing my brother isn’t gone, but I’ve learned that the pain doesn’t eclipse the joy. The two can co-exist.

I watch all of this and I feel pride. My son’s a good kid. I think he’ll grow up to be an amazing person. One who works hard and who cares. Cares about those he loves and about those he doesn’t even know. I look at him and I know that I did some things right. I know that along with my husband we’re raising a good person. And I realize now that our raising him isn’t the remarkable thing. We’ve done pretty good, we’ve made some mistakes for sure. Fourteen years later I feel like the good outweighs the bad. Our son is living proof of that. But we can’t take all the credit.

I’ve grown in to motherhood. All on my son’s dime. He had to endure my learning curve. His burden similar to that of many first borns. His siblings owe him a debt of gratitude for him teaching me how to be a mother.

As I look back on the past fourteen years, I see how far my husband and I have come. How much we’ve gone through, how much we’ve navigated. As I look back I realize that the credit isn’t ours alone.

Thank you, my sweet beautiful boy. You’ve been patient and you’ve navigated this path with us.

Thank you for taking our lessons, for enduring our long lectures. For humoring us when we think we’re cool. Thank you for still letting me into your world. For sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you.

Thank you for allowing me to feel joy again.

Thank you for raising some pretty o.k. parents.

Thank you for being you.

Because who you are couldn’t make me any prouder.

 

 

 

We All Need A Little Mayhem!

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A little over a year ago I met Kelly of Are You Finished Yet. She was one of the first bloggers I started engaging with in my blogging infancy. She allowed me to sit at the “cool table” and made me feel included and not at all stupid or out of my league. Since then I’ve gotten to know Kelly much better. I’m a huge fan of her writing, but I’m an even bigger fan of her spirit which shines through her writing. But who knew that in addition to writing for her award-winning blog and raising her children that she was cooking up something else?

9780692311011.MAIN (1)That’s what. In all her ample spare time she’s been writing and illustrating a book! Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to change my blog header. Ahem, anyways, this book you guys. It’s awesome. It’s a story your kids will love. One you will love. And the pictures? I pause in the middle of reading it to my five year old just to study the pictures! There’s so much detail and character and life in these drawings.

So to celebrate this new it’s-awesome-and-should-be-on-your-kids’-shelves book, I got the opportunity to interview Kelly! It was almost like having a real life conversation with her, which is so cool. Especially since as I read her answers I was giggling and talking out loud. To myself. *evidence of my crazy will be in italics after Kelly’s answers*

Enjoy!

***

Is “mayhem” a term used often in your family? Should we assume that come Friday the Suellentrop household is one big party?

Absolutely. In fact, weekends at our house is where I got the title for the book. My husband started referring to that time as Absolute Mayhem, because it meant we were all home and weren’t as dictated by a schedule. Mostly it meant he had more time to have fun with the kids. To this day, when he gets home from work on Fridays, he opens the door and says “Absoluuuuuute… ” and the kids yell, “MAYHEM!”    

*Aw, your husband sound like such a fun dad! I want to be at your house on a Friday sometime to yell out “Mayhem!” I’ll even do a cheer or a cartwheel or somethin’, ok?*

What sparked the idea for this book?

Like I said, it all came from this little tradition my husband started. Now to be clear, the mayhem at our house  isn’t quite what it is for Lulu and Milo. Like, my kids get to have soda and we have movie nights or something. But I loved the idea of how even mundane things can feel special when you are able to break out of the routine of the week. Everyone looks forward to the weekend for one reason or another. And I wanted to capture that little feeling of anticipation and magic we can feel in our everyday lives, while still honoring the hard work and responsibilities that make us appreciate the times we get to have fun.

*I LOVE movie night! And I get what you mean, everything is more fun on the weekends! Except for laundry.*

I love the illustrations! How did you hone your drawing skills? Did you have any formal art education?

Drawing has always been one of my creative outlets, even as a kid. I used to spend hours in my bedroom listening to music and drawing people out of my teen magazines. I took art all throughout high school and some in college. I wanted to minor in art, but as an English major, I had a hard time keeping up with all the time-intensive art projects on top of the copious amounts of reading I had to do. So you could say my formal art education ended there. But I have never really put down my drawing tools, and I have spent  a lot of time over the last few years studying the work of other children’s book illustrators, as well as playing around with my own characters until I came up with Lulu and Milo.

*I was an English major too! That is so rare in the blogging world, right?*

Where and when and how do you write?

I keep myself on a schedule with my blog, Are You Finished Yet. I post every Tuesday, so that forces me to keep writing even when life gets busy. Now that both of my kids are in school all day, it is much easier to find the time. I have come to treat it like you would any other job. I drop my kids off at school, come home, get some breakfast and tea, and go to my office. (My husband and kids converted our extra bedroom into an office/art studio for me this past Mother’s Day, and that really helped me get into the mindset that I am now writing for a living.) I spend most of the day there working on things related to the book and writing upcoming blog posts until it’s time to get the kids. But you know, even though I have time during the day, I do find that I often get most inspired late at night. Sometimes I stay up late and run with it, and sometimes I will simply jot down notes and tackle it the next day.

*Schedule? Hmm… interesting concept… And what is it about writing in the wee hours? Is it the quiet or just our creative time? Whatever it is I blame it for my puffy eyes and my morning disposition.*

What advice or words of wisdom do you have as a bonafide published author?

That just sounds weird. Because I always thought of authors as eccentric, super-smart people who pounded on typewriters in front of sun-filled windows and hung out at coffee shops with other eccentric, super-smart people. And now I’m an author. But I write in between loads of laundry, hang out in carpool lines, forget what I went in to the kitchen for, and have trains of thought interrupted  when I realize I need to run to Walmart for toilet paper and spaghetti sauce. I mean, like, I’m just a person. But maybe that’s the wisdom here. We’re all just people. Like, Oprah’s just a person. And that means if you’re a person you can become a bonafide published author… or Oprah.

Oh, and patience, hard work and faith are probably good things to have as well.

*Ooh! Ooh! I want to be Oprah! Can I be Oprah? That sounds like fun! Plus, she’s a bonafide published author too! See, two birds… wait… sorry. Forgot to turn on the dryer… damn you laundry!*

Do you have more mayhem brewing? Will we get to see more of Lulu and Milo in the future?

Well, I live with two sources of constant inspiration: my kids. I wrote Aboslute Mayhem with the intention of it being the first in a series of Lulu and Milo stories, and I have the beginnings of about three more manuscripts floating around at the moment. The question right now is, which will become book #2.

*As long as we get to see more of Hippo too. He’s my favorite.*

***

Isn’t Kelly awesome? I know you’ll love her book. So will your kids and nieces and nephews and cousins… And one of you will get to win one right here! Just leave a comment or question and I will randomly choose the winner! Easy! And if you don’t win? No worries! You can go here: http://www.amazon.com/Absolute-Mayhem-Kelly-Suellentrop/dp/0692311017/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1415717713&sr=8-2&keywords=absolute+mayhem

and here: http://kellysuellentrop.com/

So, speak to me people! Do you think we should all show up at Kelly’s house on Friday? What do you look forward to on the weekends? Are you dying to know who Hippo is?

 

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