I Know This Much is True [Eleven Years In]

When I was younger, my mother shared with me that there was a point in her and my father's relationship where she *knew* she was going to marry him, and I loved their marriage for that knowledge.   I loved the idea of *just knowing* a thing, in your guts, in your heart; finding a truth that no one else could explain. I adopted it as my own, shelving it in the back of my mind, feeling, expecting that I would have a similar epiphany, someday. But I didn't know when, or where, or who would spark this innate knowledge for me, and so I just sat back and let things happen. I was observing more than waiting; I had a big life to live and I was hardly looking for someone to get in the way of my adventures.*

[*This was how I saw marriage at that point: a burden to my self-actualization. I had to get my head wrapped around who I was and who I could become and get along on my way towards that end before I seriously joined up with anyone else. Dating was purely entertainment, until I met Bazz.]

* * * *

I had been a lot of places by the end of my twenty-second year, or at least it felt that way, at twenty-two. The cross-country exploration I'd taken at nineteen had given me a firecracking spirit of adventure, and in December of 2001, my heart was aflame over the possibility of spending a semester in Montana, to get back to the Rockies I'd fallen in love with. I was ready to get out of my home state and see and do and explore the world, writing the Great American Novel out of the back of my little red Honda as I bummed my way through hostels all over North America. The sky was the limit, and it was thrilling to be alive with such great potential. I suppose that's a great deal of what nineteen is.

On the cusp of all that action, I said yes to an invitation that would finally change my life in the big way I'd long been hoping for. A few years before, I had written in my journal that I wanted something to happen that would test me, shake up my ideas of who I was, break me down and make me learn how to rebuild myself. I did not know when I wrote those words that the bringer of this sea change would be a young man I was to meet whose walls bore the mark of an immigrant, who only somewhat ironically wore a rodeo belt buckle, who I knew *upon sight* would be my future husband.

I was at a Christmas party in a friend-of-a-friend’s home, reuniting with old buddies from college. I was enamored by this stranger's unconventional decorating style, someone who was confident enough to throw who he was up all over his walls, and when I saw the immigration papers from the country where I knew my (until-then imaginary) future husband would hail from, I couldn't believe it. I asked someone where we were, and who this person was and she pointed out the host to me.

He was across the room, pouring someone a drink, grinning the most charming, rosy-cheeked, chiclet-teethed grin I'd ever seen. The moment is still burned into my conscious mind; I hope it never fades. He was wearing a dress shirt that looked like graph paper, white with blue lines, and it was unbuttoned enough that, upon closer inspection, I could see his black undershirt had a purple Hard Rock Cafe logo. There was a silver and gold belt buckle at his waist, and a pair of black cowboy boots on his feet. I did not understand the combination of details in the house and on his body, I just knew I dug this dude for having the balls to pull it all off, and I needed to talk to him. For the first time in the history of my life, I did not walk up and immediately assert myself and my femininity all over the place. I was clueless as to how to act around this creature; I was completely smitten.

I don't know how I knew. I don't know if it was he way he carried himself that breathed his level of self-respect or his ridiculous sense of style, or the pattern of the freckles on his wide, strong wrists. I don't know if it was just excellent timing, this meeting that had been years in the making, at the height of our post-adolescence years. But by the end of that party, without so much more than awkward chit-chat and the touch of his hand, I knew beyond any doubt that I had met my future husband. Our first kiss was at midnight on New Year’s Eve; every clock in the world held onto that bewitching moment, and I could feel the pause, in my breath, in my heart, in the timeline of my life and my children’s lives and the lives of our great-grandbabies. My fate was sealed.

* * * *

This weekend we celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary. It feels like a great accomplishment to have gotten through that first tough decade of growing and learning not only about each other, but ourselves. The reason divorce is common, I now understand, is because marriage done right is really fucking hard, and so many of us, myself included, are really pretty lazy. The work that goes into creating a successful marriage is infinitely deeper than getting someone not to leave their towels on the floor and dresser drawers left perpetually open. Once you take a step back and look around, you can see that those things, annoying as they may be, don't actually matter. They’re bothersome, sure. But don’t forget - so are you.

I think that’s so much of what a successful marriage is, or has been for me – the perspective shift from ME-MINE-ME to understanding that things aren’t just about what’s good for you, but for everyone around you, too. Your joining of forces is a gateway to understanding compromise, not just the meeting halfway kind, but the ‘throw the whole damn plan out and write a new map’ AND ROLL WITH IT kind. There feels like an innumerable amount of wisdom and lessons I’ve picked up along the way, and the learning has increased exponentially over the last five years. I could never have understood these things on my own the way I have with my partner, with this partner.

I don’t think it is much exaggeration to say that I didn’t really understand marriage, despite being in it for half a decade, until I was in my thirties. I didn’t get that marriage was a partnership in every way – not just in raising kids or building a home together, but also in our own personal growth, in writing the story of our lives. I have been so cosmically blessed to have found a true friend whose life expectations and personal goals so closely mirror my own, whose wisdom and bravery urge me to challenge myself and grow beyond what I have believed was possible. My heart continues to swell and soar for this man, my very best friend, and I love him more than I could have ever imagined loving another person not of my blood. That night at his party, the evening our lives intersected, was the pivotal moment of my life and I am so wholeheartedly grateful for what that moment sparked: the life we have helped each other create. This is my co-author, my co-conspirator, my partner, not in crime but, in reaching nirvana. And sometimes, so many times, I am grateful to say, it feels like we’re already there.

Reaching Out and Touching

I made a new year's resolution and it is ridiculous and you will cock your head and look at me like, how is this challenging?, but it is, and it is the first and possibly the most important game changer of my year.

Here it is: I have to stop texting people.

It's not that I am texting excessively or that I sent a really horrible text so I'm self-flagellating, it's that I have become a singular texter. Since the moment text messages appeared in my life, I have clung to their power like a lifeline. Because the power of texted communication saved me from something I had grown to despise, and that is talking on the phone.

My shoulders start to rise up at just the mention.

I've put a lot of caveats on the phone, rationalizing my silence; I hate (there's a word I don't use very often) the sound of my own voice, I get anxious about saying something that may potentially come across as offensive, I feel more comfortable writing everything, and I know I'm a much better writer than I am a speaker. So I've texted in every instance I could and avoided talking on the phone as much as possible for the last decade.

Recently I was going back and forth via email with a client, one of my very favorite clients, whose work and self I adore, trying to set up an appointment between us. It was just an endless game of tag, and as I was telling Bazz about how I was unsure about how to resolve the round and round, my husband asked a most logical question: "Why don't you just call him?"

I'm certain I scrunched my face up and I know I immediately responded with my standard list of the aforementioned cons because at some point while I was rationalizing, I heard myself trying to justify that it was okay to not call because I didn't want to put myself in an uncomfortable position.

(cue the sound where the engine suddenly powers down.)

And that was when, even though I didn't want to with all of my over-anxious guts, I didn't want to SO BAD(ly, yes), I knew I had to start using the phone as a phone. And I knew how important the implementation of this awful idea was precisely because resistance is the devil. (Or god, actually - or both?) Resistance is a tipoff and a tool for change. The dreadful knowing of 'Oh shit. Now I have to do this' – following its call always results in change.

 

 

Bazz and I moved to Florida in 2009 after a failed business venture created a pathway that would take us on a coastal living adventure. He headed down to begin his new job while I stayed back at the house in Atlanta for nearly a month, alone with 3 year-old Ava and 1 year-old Finn. It was an awful month of taking the house apart and putting it back together to sell, but once I got down to Bazz in Hallandale Beach, there was an incredible, inimitable feeling of freedom and change that only a total life refresh and reload can create. We'd done it, although in no way that I'd have ever seen coming. We lived in a condo a block away from the beach and it was incredible to open our windows and catch salt air every day, and stroll the kids seaside in the evenings. But the condo was also a tight space for two growing toddlers - and two adults who had just had their life plans drastically altered from what they had been plotting on for the last year. There were a lot of changes going on, most of which I was not at all prepared for, and although it was a stressful time, it also began the act of intentional living for us. I remember the first step was very tangible; we had bought a new television and we arranged our living room in a way so that it was no longer the centerpiece of the room. We didn’t want to eliminate it completely, but we understood that we had to wean ourselves from the sometimes numbingness of network television, so the next step toward that end was to cut the cable. It was an adjustment at first, having grown up in a house where there was always at least one television glowing and chattering away at all hours of the day and night, but I quickly grew to prefer being selective as to what we let into our home and heads.

Netflix was full of shows and movies, but what we really dug into right off the bat was the documentaries. Sociological stuff, science and nature docs, docs about the government and aliens and religion, they all gave us great brain food and fodder for discussion, but the one that changed everything was Food, Inc. It was early on in the Netflix experiment, we were devouring any documentary with even slightly intriguing cover art and moderately positive reviews. As I was flipping though titles, I saw that sad cow with the barcode on his side and I knew. Ugh, I knew! I read the description and the reviews and I knew 1) we needed to see what this movie was talking about and 2) this was not going to end well, for us or the cow.

We avoided it for a few weeks, talking about how crappy everything inevitably was going to be after we saw it, but how we knew we were going to have to watch it and see all the awful anyway. It wasn't right to keep our eyes closed; it would go against all the intentional, conscious work we were just beginning, and so we watched it and it was just as bad, maybe worse, than we expected. But it opened a door that, although I'd knocked on a little bit already, was now thrown wide open. Once you see something, you can never un-see that thing. Everything changed, the way I looked at food and the places we got food and the way food affected all of us, and implementing things to be better all around was hard, but to know better and not do better was not how we wanted live. Denial wasn’t an option.

 

 

The first time I pushed myself outside of my texting comfort zone was the week before Christmas, when a dear friend messaged me for our home address. How easy it would have been to just reply with our numbers, send an emoji-kiss face, and call it an interaction - that was my natural first inclination in this scenario. But I couldn't, I knew I couldn't avoid beginning this project; I had to do the hard work of reversing the trend of hermitage I'd begun. So I swallowed hard and dialed the number of this amazing woman who I adored, and it was such a joy to actually hear her voice! Even better than a hand-written letter, the intonation and laughter of your friend's voice is a gift. Although I blurted out my reason for calling within the first minute of speaking, like an excuse for intruding, or explanation of potential awkwardness to come ("I never do this, but..."), it was so wonderful to talk to her and reconnect in the most real way possible when two friends live 1400 miles apart. We caught up on each others lives, we told stories and had quick witted responses that just wouldn't be possible through a keyboard. It was great and I told her I loved her (which is how I intend to finish every conversation from here on out) and hit ‘end’ on my phone. And then I released the most lovely exhale of undue stress.

Today I called my Aunt. I don’t know how many times I have told myself I would call her over the years and never, ever done it. We have hand-written letters and emailed back and forth, but I always resisted the phone. This woman is absolutely the most wonderful, darling, slyly funny person in the world – and she loves me. She’d sent me a birthday card, like she has every single year of my life and as soon as I opened it, I knew (*cursing under breath*), I knew I had to call her. I put it off for a few days – today is Sunday, my birthday was 5 days ago, but this evening – after a quick dose of procrastination by calling my Dad to make sure I had the right number for her – I just called her. Her voice was smiling as she told me what a treat it was to hear my voice and my heart just glowed. It was so good to chat with her about our lives, to hear her laughter and sweet voice. It is always, always good to reconnect.

I need these connections, we all need these connections, and to deny that part of ourselves is to deny our inevitable, miraculous interconnectedness with the world and everyone in it. I have subconsciously denied this for years, and I’m anticipating that it’s going to take a good while until I am not clenching my teeth through the sound of each ringing phone line. I know the results will be worth the discomfort. In addition to the joy that will come from tending to relationships that frequently lay fallow for too long, I am also doing this with the great hope that by daring to make first, fearful contact, over and over, I will grow much more comfortable with myself. I often forget that I have something to give. I have stories to tell, and wisdom to share. The value of my experiences, not only in my life, but the lives of others – that’s something I know is important, and I can’t continue to deny it, either.

Into the Second-Third

Yesterday was my 36th birthday, which I celebrated by checking the kids out of school early, and driving up to Lookout Mountain for some winter hiking and woodland creature spotting. Barry was out of town, so I was fully in charge of making my birthday special. So, of course  I wanted to head to one of my Happiest Places way up in the Rocky Mountains.  After days of grey and glunky, the sun came out early yesterday morning and burned off enough snow so that we could make out the trail - but not so much that the huge snow piles on the sides of the trail were any less alluring to all three kids.

snowy hikin
birthday hike
nature center

We visited the Lookout Mountain Nature Center while we were up there (the kids are in a museum phase and I thought they'd dig this), and it was a beautiful building, full of yellow wood and taxidermy and big, beautiful windows. Big windows - facing the right direction - are imperative out here in the winter. There was a children's room with a huge, plush nest and giant eggs that everyone had to sit on (Finn: "Now I know why birds love to sit on eggs; these are sooo comfortable!"). There were boxes of animal bones to touch, paw prints to examine, stencils to do rubbings on. The kids were so happy and excited and interested in everything and I thought, 'oh this is what it should be like – they should feel like this when they are learning new things. I should be homeschooling them. We could be doing things like this every week.' The more I think about it, the more I am sure that this is what I'm supposed to be doing in this season with them. Part of me wants to start next week.

nesting ava

When everyone was suitably snow-packed and red-cheeked, we got off the mountain and went to see the buffalo herd that usually hangs out a little further west, just off I-70. But, much to my and Finn's disappointment, the buffalo must have been back in their buffalo barn/cave/underground lair and we didn't get to see them. So I kept heading west. I couldn't help myself; it was barely 3:30 and I wasn't ready to head back home and have our day be over just yet. I turned up some Bela Fleck and sighed in contentment to be back in my natural habitat, buzzing along at 70mph in my wonderful travelling machine. [I love my car so much, I can't help it. I'm full-on American in that respect; stick me in a huge, beautiful automobile and I *get* it.] . There is a peace that comes over me on that road, an exhale that happens as soon as civilization slips out of sight behind us, and suddenly, we surrounded by peaks and evergreens, all dusted in snow, back in nature, in the real Colorado. That’s kind of nirvana for me.

treading softly on gtown lake

We headed to one of my favorite little towns due west of Denver, to Georgetown. Georgetown is a little sliver of a town, built around Clear Creek, covered in old historic homes near the town area, and surrounded by bigger, more modern homes near the lake. It is picturesque and charming and it gets dark by 3pm. So we'd missed actual direct sunlight, though it wasn't quite dark when we arrived at the lake. Driving on the freeway, we passed the lake and I noticed people walking on it(!!) and pointed this amazing feat out to the kids. Then I asked – because I’d never done anything like this before and it sounded thrilling – if they wanted to walk on the lake. Of course they did. So we did! And it was thrilling – and I was very grateful to the people who’d recently tracked through the new snow out there so I could see that these adults (by shoes size, I surmised) had not only walked out to the middle, but had walked back completely dry. We treaded lightly, the kids hunting for a fishing hole to peer into, and then we took pictures. I have taken my favorite Colorado pics at this lake, and yesterday didn't disappoint either.

boys on frozen lake
kids walking on water
timer time
Self-Timers are fantastic.

Self-Timers are fantastic.

I wanted to pack everything possible in they were willing to do, so we hopped back in the car to warm up and head into town, where they still had all their Christmas decor up and illuminated (hooray!) and we poked around in the shops that were open, where I consciously let everyone take their time touching toys and investigating things. I wanted this day to be straight-up happy memory filled for everyone, so I let my contentment just ooze out with no hurrying or fussing. It was really lovely to spend time with them so loosely, without needing to hurry toward anything. Barry wouldn't be arriving back from New Mexico until much later in the evening, and I knew we could whip through homework when we got back home.

christmas in january
mason mcdonnell

The pizza place was on the way out and the big kids sat quietly reading their books while Shay and I chatted and looked at all the things around the restaurant. Sometime I can see the light at the end of the tunnel with him, where he becomes more independent and able to sit still for more than a few moments at a time. But I wonder if that's wishful thinking. And, truly, I don't want it to hurry by - he's a handful, but he's so sweet and little. I love this stage with him. I find them all fascinating. I had originally tried to get some buddies to join us, but their absence was all for the best – it was really just about the four of us that day, and I love days with just the kids and me. I love days when it’s just the five of us even more, but sometimes Daddy has more dragons to slay and can’t make it out. I miss him, and his absence makes me more aware of my gratitude to him for giving me this life where I can enjoy our family so much.  

IMG_7265_2.JPG

But the four of us. I remember the first time I finished a full day with all three kids and thought, damn, I really enjoy spending time with these people. I remember it vividly, and I’d like to think it had happened before then, but maybe it hadn’t. It was October of 2012, which means Ava was almost seven, Finn was five, and Shay was about eighteen months. There were days like that before Shay arrived, but it took a while to resume normality once someone new came onto the scene. And it wasn’t that I hadn’t enjoyed thousands of moments in that year-and-a-half, but that was the first time I'd gotten to the end of the day and been so satisfied and in love with them; the kind of day, if I had a chance, I'd want to come back to for the rest of my life.

And that was my 36th birthday. It was wonderful to get out of our everyday element and explore and play outside together. I used my phone to take pictures, and that was pretty much it (I did have a lovely friend call to serenade me while we walked the icy lake), and it felt good to pull away from technology, to be highly conscious with my interactions with all three of them, and for them to have the independence and maturity to enjoy giving me the gift of their day, too.

I am excited about 36. I feel as though yesterday was first day of the second-third of my life. I keep asking if other people felt this way, like a big chapter had come to a close with the end of 35, and I'm about to bring something new and blank and powerful into bloom. After he finally got home from the airport, Bazz and I stayed up and chatted for two hours about everything; our resolutions for the new year, our big dreams for the future, our perspective on life and what we believe happens after we die, and how we can help each other grow while we're here. It was the most beatific gift I could have received - falling asleep wrapped up in his arms, feeling overwhelmingly loved and understood by, and connected to my best friend. That's nirvana.

I am so grateful that this is my life...and it's just beginning all over again.

Happy birthday!

 

   

 

 

Gravity = Time

Before: Newly 25, the morning of our wedding. So fresh, so sweet.

Perhaps we are entering a new annual pattern, or maybe it has always been like this, but I'm really starting to notice my age again this winter. I don’t know if it’s because I’m more aware of the dryness of the weather here in Colorado (Florida’s humidity; I was never grateful for its virtues), or if it’s just the lingering memory of a birthday creeping up, or possibly the humbling super/shaving mirror I thoughtlessly installed next to my bathroom window last week, but, January. The lines, the curves, the freckles, all seem to become a little more ominous under the stark contrasts of winter.

 

I have always thought of my face as a collection of stories; my ‘owl’ birthmark, and my awe at the person who christened it such; the scar under my nose from a tricycle crash, and the faux bois paneling of the doctor’s office I’d sat in when we thought I’d need a stitch; the mole on my cheek that someone once informed me that I ‘could get removed’, which left me feeling strange that I’d never even thought twice about it being an unattractive feature. Isn’t it amazing when someone points out something about you that you’d never noticed before? Anyway, there are plenty more. But I don’t mind, I’ve always really liked those stories; those stories are part of me, and are on display in the most public of our parts. I consider having a face with character a virtue. But now, my admiration is being pressed as I see the new signs of my age settling in alongside my old friends. Yes, I will absolutely acknowledge that these are just the beginning, and relatively very gentle…but they still are exactly what they are, and that is time. (Gravity = time.) Time is now appearing in the smattering of sun damaged freckles that no longer disappear in the colder months, and gravity comes alive in the creases between my eyebrows who showed up during my last weeks in Atlanta and are not letting up regardless of how much organic, oil-based healing moisturizer I use. Gravity = time. Gravity is the one thing everything has in common; no matter how we try, we cannot beat it. Time is just as ruthless.

I realize how shallow this may sound, an over analysis of my wrinkles in my mid-thirties. But I’m fascinated by the stages and passages I am, we all are, going through. It is the antithesis of our culture’s standard of beauty to embrace aging. Youth is at the top of the pyramid as most highly coveted trait, but to embrace only youth discounts the experiences that come with age. (“wisdom’s a gift/but you trade it for youth”) So as that piece begins to show its’ cracks over time, I am remembering that my face is merely the tip of the iceberg that is me. I am so much bigger than my looks, than simply the appearance of youth. It’s the appearance of contentment and joyfulness that I hope to achieve in old age, but more than that, the stories and adventures that earn wearing, in the squinting cracks and laughing creases, the satisfaction of a life well-lived. With mortality comes a sense of urgency, and as I prepare to make the leap across the chasm from 35 to 36, I not only feel the weight of gravity on me, I cannot help but see it, too.

But I wouldn’t trade this very slowly crumpling face with anyone younger, a woman with less children or stress in her relationships. I know women whose lives have taken a totally different turn than my own, adventuring independently in truly enviable worlds…and often their faces are nearly as soft and sweet as when they graduated college. And when I see them, my first pang is always of envy; oh, to still be so fresh. But I can only envy that look up to a point, because then I remember what things I would have to take away from my life that I really love to have my face, my story, have been so smooth. Now, in no way am I looking down on being single, or childless – I think that might be actual nirvana itself, getting to the stage where you’re just able to just really dig in and experience your own life without worrying about anyone else, at an age where you can physically enjoy it all, swoon – but from where I stand right now, and as relaxing as that alternative sounds, I wouldn’t trade my lows for anyone else’s high, ever. I wouldn’t undo those creases between my eyebrows because I couldn’t have gotten to Florida without them and begun that amazing, special chapter of our lives. I can’t imagine losing the freckles I burned into my chheks because…well, honestly, I love the way they look; I’ve always had a thing for freckles. And I couldn’t imagine myself without the thin, emerging creases in my cheeks, because without them, I would also be without the people and times that have given me hours, days, weeks of loud, cacophonous, joyful laughter. There is nothing I would trade, not the loss of every burden of this lifetime and the according scars each one riddled upon my body, for the time spent laughing and crying, working and growing through really hard stuff with my husband – because that’s the stuff that gets you to nirvana; every bliss and agony, every lesson. That’s real stuff, stuff that resonates, that hits you right in the soul, that builds your life again with its’ presence – I want that stuff, and if I have to wear the evidence of those experiences on my face, so be it. It’s worth it.

After: nearly 36. Seasoned, stronger, wiser. this is a face I will miss in thirty years.

I have earned this face. The marks of time showcase the chapters of my story, and I want no other story but mine. So instead of feeling disappointment when I catch a glimpse of another line I can’t control, I’m going to look elsewhere and be grateful for a life that’s given me and my mug so much more character than I ever could have imagined at fourteen, when plastic surgery had never crossed my mind and I had no clue of what potential agony and ecstasy awaited my heart. Now, I am a struggling, happy wife and mother of three little kids, gaining on 40 in a previously inconceivable way – and it shows, all that shows around the edges of my features. But it’s okay, because I love what makes me those things, who I am, and all the challenges and joys that come with them. My life is pretty bliss right now, and it’s exciting to think about the potential wonderful and horrible havoc the next decade will be playing upon my complexion. What dreams may come, the mortal coil is worth the weight when I pause to remember the gold wrapped around it.