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Sittin on top of the world, Sittin on top of the world.

Remember the times we used to play,

We sing and we’d dance all damn day…

-Lenny Kravitz, Sittin On Top Of the World

 

This is an anniversary I never wanted to celebrate. One I wish I could forget or ignore. Fifteen years ago my little brother died.

It’s still impossible to believe. Impossible to adjust. Impossible to ignore.

I don’t want to reflect on that day. Memories will creep back. They always do. But today I won’t let them. Today I will celebrate.

But all I do is sing the blues,

But have I forsaken you, by telling you what you must do…

And all I do is sing the blues,

But I would never lie, let things go by. Leave you in the road to die.

I will never ever say goodbye.

‘Eff you death. Because today I’m celebrating life. The beautiful laughter filled life my brother lived for 18 years.

Never gonna say goodbye,

Never gonna say goodbye…

Today I’m going to remember all the times we shared. All the times we laughed. Because there was always laughter. Even when there was pain there was always laughter. He was amazing like that.

I was eight years old when he was born. I was indifferent at first. I could have cared less about babies. But then I held him. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I’d never felt love like that. The protectiveness, the awe. The wonder of this little baby who came into our lives and made our family complete.

We had your typical brother/sister relationship. He loved to bug me. But as he got older we became more friends than siblings. We bonded over music. He loved to hear about the concerts I went to. He introduced me to Eminem long before Eminem was on MTV. He loved hip hop. He made me cd’s, mix tapes. Bob Marley, Tupac, Biggie. And Lenny. Lenny Kravitz was our music. We both loved Lenny.

He made me tell him, over and over, the story of my first Lenny Kravitz concert. We were supposed to get hooked up with backstage passes. I was dying to meet Lenny. It didn’t happen. The guy gave them to someone else. So of course me and my friends stalked Lenny after the show. We waited by the tour bus with a small group of die hard fans. Finally, he walked out. A giant crocheted hat on his head, dreadlocks trailing beneath. The crowd was hushed. We had waited for over an hour and no one said a thing. Right as he passed in front of me I yelled out, “Lenny!” He lifted his chin in greeting, “What’s up, ya’ll.” Then everyone went nuts as he climbed on to his tour bus. My brother loved that story. Every time he hung on every word as if he didn’t know how it was going to end. A year before he died we got to see Lenny in concert. It was the only concert we ever got to see together.

Remember the times… that we used to share,

You got to remember the times… that we used to share, that we used to share…

Today I’ll remember that concert. I’ll remember the Halloween party we went to at my friend’s house- that he later told me was the best night of his life. Today I’ll remember how he always had us all laughing. His impersonations. Pecking at his plate like a chicken at Thanksgiving dinner. How he would put his finger up in front of me and my sister and say in the most serious tone, “Hush. No talk-y talk-y.” How it always made us stop whatever big sister lectures we were giving and had us cracking up.

Today I’ll think back on how he invented the selfie way before cell phones were in every hand. He would finish up every role of film on my mom’s camera with extreme close-ups, always making crazy faces. I would always flip through the photos, anticipating the pictures at the end of the roll. The ones that I knew would make me laugh. The ones that were always different. You never knew what was waiting for you at the end of the stack, but you knew it would be funny.

Today I’ll laugh when I think about how he would take baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene my mom set out every Christmas. Every day baby Jesus would be missing. My mom would feign annoyance, but she would erupt in laughter when she would see little baby Jesus perched somewhere unexpected. Sometimes she wouldn’t find him until cooking dinner that evening. Or doing laundry. Or going to the bathroom. It was The Elf on the Shelf way before anyone had even thought of that creepy guy. Baby Jesus was always lurking, hiding. Always some place different. Sometimes completely inappropriate. Always hilarious. A tradition that my niece continues in her uncle’s honor every Christmas.

Today I’ll remember how we got through 18 months of chemo and radiation treatments. How he kept us all laughing through it all. His goal was to make his very serious Oncologist laugh. It didn’t take long. He quickly cracked through the veneer of a man who spent every day treating sick children.

I’ll never forget how he still loved to mess with my mom. He loved little pranks. He would sit at the kitchen table while she would flush out his IV line and right as she was pushing saline into the tube he would scream “It’s burning!” She would laugh every time, right after she had jumped in alarm. He loved to trick us, to pull one off, but he was truly happiest when he was making us laugh.

He had a way of making you fall for the same joke over and over. He would call me at work as he and mom were leaving treatments and doctor’s appointments. He would pretend to be one of my customers. I sold pagers to corporate clients. He would use different voices and accents and call me with crazy complaints, irate fake tirades and real creative scenarios of where he lost his pager. He would always erupt in laughter once he was sure I had fallen for it again, then quickly say “Where do you want to meet us for lunch?” It was impossible to get mad at him.

But the only way for you to survive

Is to open your heart, it will guide.

You wanna stay in this world of music and life,

You gotta turn around, Spread a little love and get high..

So, today I’m going to laugh. I’m going to remember every funny Todd story I can think of and I will laugh. I’m going to hold all my happy memories close to my heart and be thankful there are so many to choose from. I’m going to go to lunch with my mom and eat a giant cheeseburger in his honor. I’m going to remember his smile. His voice. His easy going nature that drew people to him. Today I’m going to remember the times that we used to share. And I’m going to listen to Lenny all day.

 

 

 

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 “Love is gentle as a rose 
And love can conquer any war 
It’s time to take a stand 
Brothers and sisters join hands 

We got to let love rule”

-Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule

There are many things that get me fired up that I could write about. And I love to write when I’m angry. It’s more satisfying than punching a wall or screaming at the top of my lungs. Writing is my favorite form of anger management. But sometimes I have the need to tap into my optimistic, idealistic self. The “cumbaya” side of me, the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” side of me. I’m a total sucker for a group sing along, for those moments of camaraderie. We’re all in this together. You’re all my brothers and sisters.

My Utopian World would be a population of people free of anger and shame. A world where everyone looked out for each other, a world that is color blind, gender oblivious, accepting, forgiving. And my manifesto would be the album “Let Love Rule” by Lenny Kravitz.

It was 1989, I was a Sophomore in high school. My best friend handed me a cassette tape he’d made for me, a copy of the debut album by a new singer. I went home, popped it into my stereo and sat frozen as I soaked up every sound, every word. I was transfixed. I was in love.

This album spoke to me like no other had. For me, this was the album that signified everything I believed and felt and wanted. This was THE album of my generation that spoke for social change, a new world view. I felt like Lenny was speaking to me, for me. I wore that tape out. My friend and I would ride around for hours in his car, driving down winding country roads, blasting Lenny. Sometimes pulling over to listen to a particular song and just absorb it.

Let love rule. A simple premise. Let your actions be guided by love. Let your thoughts be influenced by love. It’s so simple. But it’s so hard.

Here’s what I don’t get. We all want the same things. We may go about it different ways, but we all want basically the same things in this life. Who doesn’t want to be loved. Accepted. Included. Safe. Secure. Comfortable. At peace. So why do we do things to each other… hurt each other? Judge each other? Condemn each other? Shame each other?

It’s not a game of whoever ends up with the most marbles wins. It’s a quest for happiness.

Think of the things that made you angry today. The people you’ve argued with this week. Were these issues relevant to getting you where to you want to be? Or were they born of hurt and anger? Back against the wall? Pushed into a corner? We can always choose to step aside. Break the momentum of an argument.

Dear lord, I’m not preaching here –did I just say dear lord? I can bask in negativity. Anger. Irritation. But it sucks. I don’t feel better. None of that makes you feel good. It feeds on itself. It only produces more. More anger, judgement. More crap. Aren’t we all sick of the crap? I know I’m tired of it.

There’s a perverse joy in reading about a starlet’s divorce. There’s the satisfaction of you’re no better than us. Life can suck for you too. Theres’s the satisfaction of  the wealthy neighbor who files for bankruptcy. You know, the one who would flaunt all his expensive “toys” and walks around barrel chested and smug. Ha. You’re broke too, asshole. But where does this all get us? It doesn’t make us any happier.

There’s the fleeting glee of righteousness, but it’s quickly followed by a hollow feeling. The voices echo and bounce around inside of us if we don’t fill it up with other crap. And so continues the cycle.

“In this garden 
They’ll be no war 
No racial prejudice 
You’ll be my brother 
Of any color 
You’ll just be okay with us 
We’ll live each day in peace 
In hope that we will one day reach 
The rest of the world 
When they are ready to be teached” 

-Lenny Kravitz, I Build This Garden For Us

There are no “others.” We’re not all that different. Some of us look different, sound different. Some of us walk different and talk different. Love different. Who cares. Deep down, we all want the same things. These differences are just superficial. They add interest to life, they keep the canvas from being bland. But that’s about it.

Why does it matter to anyone if someone practices a different religion or no religion? Why does it matter to anyone if someone wants to marry someone of the same gender? Why does it matter if someone is living their life in a way that is different from you? Let’s keep it simple. If they are not hurting others, who cares?

If a teacher wants to have a ring through their nose and purple hair… why should that matter? If a boy wants to carry a My Little Pony backpack…  why does that matter? If a girl wants to wear her hair short and dress masculine… who cares? I have yet to hear any valid reason why we should care about how someone looks or acts or who they love.

I have heard many arguments, but none of them seem to actually answer the question. The are based on hypotheticals (“If people do this, then…”). Why does anyone care? Why can’t everyone just be o.k. with everyone else?

I want to go back to 1989. I want to ride in that little run down Honda and listen to the strains of hope. I want to think that a world like that is possible. I don’t want to be jaded and bitter. I want to look around and see you, my brother. And you, my sister. I want to want what’s best for you. Because what’s best for you doesn’t take away from what I’ve got. I want to feel joy for every good thing. I want to have patience and peace. I want to look around me and see people thriving because that means we’re all doing something right.

“But the only way for you to survive
Is to open your heart it will guide
You wanna stay in this world of music and life
You got to turn around and spread a little love and get high”

-Lenny Kravitz, Sitting On Top of the World

 

“Are you telling lies with you pretty eyes,

You’re in trouble yeah, you don’t get me twice”

-Sleigh Bells, You Don’t Get Me Twice

I love a good kiss-off song.  And this one may be responsible for damaging my eardrums this past week….  A danceable beat, fuzzy guitar reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz’s version of “American Woman”  and Alexis Krauss’s breathy vocals.  This one is best served with the volume turned all the way up…

“You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  You shine just like sunlight rains on a winter snow.  I just had to tell you so.  Your eyes sparkle as the stars, like the moon they glow.  Your smile could light the world on fire, or did you know?  Your mind’s full of everything that I wanna know.  I just had to let you know.  I just had to tell you so.  You’re my butterfly, fly high… fly fly fly.”

-Lenny Kravitz, Butterfly

Do you remember who you used to be?  Do you remember a time when your only care in the world was to taste life and revel in the simple joys of just being? Do you remember the” you” before life happened?  I never really gave it much thought.  Not until recently at least….

We were done having children.  That’s the decision we came to.  Right before we found out we were having a baby.  I knew I was pregnant, even when the tests came back negative.  I was like a crazy pregnancy test hoarder, buying as many as I could at a time without garnering weird looks from the cashier.  I took six tests that came back negative.  I wasn’t taking all these tests because I wanted a positive result, I really just wanted confirmation that I wasn’t pregnant, even though my body was telling me otherwise. I woke up early on a Saturday morning and realized I had one more left at the bottom of my bathroom drawer.   While Joe was still sleeping I snuck in to the bathroom to try one more time.   I was greeted with a little pink line.  Very faint.  Oh no.  I ran into the bedroom and woke Joe up and shoved the test in front of his bleary eyes.  I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t the best reaction.  He ran his hand through his hair, he was speechless, but his face said it all.  He looked stressed.  We had come up with all these practical reasons why we shouldn’t have one more child.  We had agonized about this decision for two years and wouldn’t you know, we finally make our decision and apparently the universe had other plans in mind for us.  Our panic began to dissipate as we wrapped our brains around this news.  Obviously it was meant to be.  By lunchtime we were on board, we were excited.  We told the kids right away.  We told the rest of our family later that day.  We’ve never been good at secrets… everyone was thrilled.  We began planning for our new future.  The two older kids would share a room, I would take HypnoBaby classes to deal with my “Holy Crap” night sweats over having to go through labor and delivery again.  Plans for an anniversary trip to Wine Country were put on hold.  Our lives were turned upside down, and we were thrilled to accommodate the changes.

I had a sense of who she was before she was born, my daughter, my third child.  I experienced this with each of my children.  I know that sounds crazy, but I knew their personalities and temperament, I knew who they were before I officially met them.  For some reason I had a sense of apprehension with this pregnancy.  Nothing awful, just this feeling of “What if she’s like me?”  I’m not even sure where this came from or why that would be a bad thing.  I am not filled with self-loathing, I am perfectly ok with who I am, at least I think I am.  I am a generally happy person.  Being happy and upbeat has always come easy to me, it’s my default setting.  So this fear of my child turning out like me kind of threw me.  I chalked it up to hormones.

My daughter was born at 12:50 am, after 4 hours of excruciating back labor.  I had been through this twice before and thought I knew what to expect, but I had never experienced this before.  The pain was so intense and searing that I wanted to crawl out of my skin.  I am not a bad ass who refuses epidurals, I gladly would have had one, but I am unable to have one due to back surgery I had as a teen.  She came quickly, the doctor didn’t even have time to show up. The nurses grabbed an intern from the hallway as about six other nurses rushed in to the room.  I had tried to warn her that the baby was coming but she very confidently told me I was only 8 centimeters, that the Doctor would be there in plenty of time.  I really didn’t care who delivered her, I knew this was happening with or without the Doctor.  The instant she was born, I felt a rush of emotions.  And I mean I was sobbing and couldn’t catch my breath.  This had never happened either.  I had always cried a little with the birth of my other two children, tears of happiness, relief, gratitude.  But this was different.  I felt like I was purging.  I had no control over the tears that took over, I had no idea why I was reacting this way.  I was so happy to hold her, to look into her face for the first time.  It all seemed so much easier this time, I had been here before and knew what to do and what to expect, but I had this overwhelming emotional reaction and  I couldn’t put my finger on it.

She was a blessing, as all children are.  Our family felt complete and she brought a lightness to our home, to our family.  I felt settled, content.  It was the easiest post-partum recovery I’d ever had.  I felt great and energetic and ready to take on the world.  I cried tears of joy almost every day for the  first year of her life. The fact that we almost missed out on her, and all she brought to us,  literally brought me to tears every day, I wasn’t exaggerating about that.  I had never been happier, I was so grateful that our stupid, practical reasons for not having a third child were ignored.  I had no idea the things I would learn from her….

I could see that she was a little me.  Not in appearance, but her personality.  I had mixed feelings about that.  She was so much fun, yet she reminded me of me…  why did this seem to be a contradiction in my mind?  My apprehension I was feeling was tempered by the fun I was having with her.  She made me laugh every day, still does.  I joke that I have all kinds of new wrinkles because of I’ve smiled more and laughed more since she’s been around.  Which makes my misgivings all the more confusing.  I felt like I was waiting for her to turn in to a “me” that I wouldn’t like.  And I’m not sure what version of me I was so afraid of. I was so worried that one day I would wake up and she would be un-likeable, that I wouldn’t be able to see beyond our similarities and love her the way I did already.  The realization slowly crept out of my subconscious in to the active part of my mind, the realization that I had been seeing myself as unworthy.  Not the adult me, I’m actually ok with that person.  But the young me, the three year old me… wow.

As I’ve watched my daughter grow over the last few years, I have had a real life glimpse in to the me I used to be.  And I started to see things so differently than I had with my mind’s warped fish-lense eye.   I had a moment a year ago, when it hit me in an unexpected way.  She was jumping on my bed, talking to me excitedly about who knows what while I was getting ready for the day.  I for some reason stopped and looked at her.  Her crazy wild blond hair was sticking out at all angles, her eyes were alight with excitement, every tiny white tooth was visible as she smiled with her whole face.  She was jumping purposefully, getting the most bounce out of each push of her feet on the mattress.  The whole time she’s carrying on a steady stream of chatter.  She was in her glory, as she often is.  I felt a wave of feelings come over me.  I started tearing up, I ran to her, grabbed her in a big hug, burying my face in her wispy wild mane.  I was saying over and over to her, “Don’t change.  Don’t ever change.  You are amazing.”  I finally pulled back to look at her face.  She looked me in the eyes very seriously, “You wanna jump Mommy?”  I laughed then, wiping away the tears.  Maybe she won’t change,  maybe she’ll keep this part of her.

My parents keep telling me she is just like me.   That they feel like they are sitting across from the four year old me when they have her over for dinner.  I have vague memories of being like her.  I remember being completely goofy, unaware of myself.  I remember being carefree, crazy, free spirited.   So what happened to that me?  When did I change?  I’m still a very happy, easygoing person.  But I am not like the four year old me.  Seeing my daughter grow and evolve, I see that this is intrinsically who she is.  It’s the pure core of her.   She is me, I was once her. I was all these things, I was free and goofy and crazy.  I love that she is like this.  At some point I stopped being like that.  I think that part of me is still there, buried under life and experiences and all the baggage that comes with growing up.  I think I am, most of us are, a jumbled stew of all the things we were born being, all the things we experienced, the good and the bad, the expectations, the worries, the guilt.   I choose to be mostly the good ones.  The happy, the content, the optimistic.   All the other things shaped me and there’s no hiding from that, but maybe I can find that part of me that is buried.  The part that feels invincible, the part that doesn’t have time to be concerned with how I should be and just allows myself to be.  What if we could all do that?  Let go of whatever constraints were placed upon us or that we put on ourselves.  Growing up means you mature, but it doesn’t mean that we have to lose the idealistic whimsy that most of us had as young children.

I marvel at how my daughter can take any moment and experience it so joyously.  I always say that she’s squeezing every moment out of life, she is in the moment, happy on a level that is beyond most of us.  She thinks that she can touch sun light.  When she sees the dappled sunlight through the trees she will reach out to it, trying to hold it.  She will hold her palm out and look at her hand as the sun’s rays filters through her fingers.  She will slowly and deliberately close her fingers with her eyes staring intently at the sun resting in her palm.  Other times she will stop in the middle of whatever she’s doing to sneak up on a bird, tiptoeing quietly to try to pet the poor unsuspecting creature.  She’s been doing this for years.  And she’s unsuccessful every single time.  She goes after them every time with hope and conviction, that this will be the time that she’ll be able to touch the bird.  And my little girl loves to chase butterflies.  She crouches down when she sees them resting on a flower.  She talks softly to them and then gently reaches out to try to coax it in to her hand.  Inevitably the butterfly waits until she almost has it, then flies away out of her reach.  She runs after it, jumping and raising her hands to clap over it as it flies ever higher.  She does this with glee, laughing and talking to the butterfly the whole time. She is so in her own little world that she has no awareness of anyone or anything else around her.  She is in the moment, it’s just her and the butterfly and the glorious chase.  There is no frustration that the butterfly always eludes her.  She holds no grudge, she just waits until she sees the next one and tries again.

That morning, the one where she was jumping on my bed- that morning I saw myself.  I saw who I was at three years old.  I realized in that moment that I had been seeing things all wrong, that I had been putting a lot of pressure on the young innocent child of my youth. I had been holding her accountable for things I would never hold my own children accountable for.  This had all been going on in my mind behind the scenes, I had been completely unaware of it until I had to look in to my daughter’s adorable face every day.  In that moment when I looked at my daughter, I felt myself forgive that little girl of my past, forgive her for not being perfect, for not being the cutest or the funniest or the smartest or any of the “-est” words.  My daughter taught me to cut myself a break.  Just by being herself, she taught me let go of stuff I had been holding on to.

I look at my daughter in all her awesome goofiness and I love it.  I love her.  She doesn’t care if her goofy faces aren’t cute, if her crazy pictures she takes with my phone look funny.  She is just herself in all her glorious silliness and that makes her the most beautiful thing in the world.  I hope she never loses sight of this part of herself.  I hope she keeps that free spirit.  I desperately want to jump on a bed with her on the morning of her wedding day.  I want to see her still chasing butterflies when she’s a teenager.  I want to see her show her own children one day how to hold their hands out catch the sun light in their palms….

I don’t really spend a lot of time on self-reflection or introspection.  I have three kids to keep me busy, so there wouldn’t be a lot of time for that even if I wanted to.  But I do try to recognize the little life lessons that pop up at the most unexpected moments.  I try to absorb them, trusting that they’ll eventually make sense.  My sister in law said something recently that really stuck with me.  She said that she tries not to be so hard on herself.  I can’t even remember the context of the conversation we were having.  But that statement stuck with me.  She was genuine when she said it, too.  She doesn’t beat herself up the way so many of us do over …..   I don’t know, everything…. stuff.  She isn’t too hard on herself.  Now I know what she meant, or what it means to me.  I am letting go of stuff.  I learned from watching my little girl that the most beautiful people are the ones who allow themselves to be who they truly are.  They don’t worry about what other people think.  They live in the moment.  They don’t put pressure on them selves.  They are beautiful being who they were meant to be.  You don’t need  a size 2 body for that, or fancy clothes.  You just have to be who you truly are.  You have to find that part of you that didn’t know about expectations or limitations.  Look really hard and maybe we’ll all find that part of us that is convinced we can catch the sun in our hand.  Maybe we can all come to a place in our lives where we let go of everything, take time to just be…  go outside barefoot, let yourself enjoy the moment…  feel the sunlight on your face…. touch the flowers, chase the butterflies… And maybe the butterflies we catch won’t be the ones flitting in and out of the flowers.  Maybe we’ll be able to grasp the ones that reside somewhere deep inside each of us.

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