A Master of Should

AMasterofShould

I am a master at using the word “should.” Here’s what I thought when I went back and looked at this Daddy/daughters picture:

  • It should be in focus.
  • Everyone should be sitting next to each other with gloriously happy smiles.
  • I should be able to see the girls’ matching shirts which say “Daddy’s little sweetie.”
  • I should be able to see more of Dan’s face than just 1.5 eyes.
  • Emmy should not be crying.

In other words, this picture is a failure, right?

On the contrary. I think it’s one of my favorites.

When I look closer, I see the following:

  • Charlotte’s personality is perfectly captured (easy-going nature, eagerness to please, her headband which is always askew because she likes it that way).
  • Emmy’s personality is perfectly captured (generally happy but can be very quick to get upset, especially when pulled away from Mommy).
  • Dan’s personality is perfectly captured (smiling eyes, comfortable being surrounded by his girls). I looked closer and noticed his wedding band peeking out behind his oldest daughter. His original wedding band was lost to the ocean on our honeymoon. This one was much cheaper but still holds the same value, in my eyes.

Maybe when things are not as they “should” be, that means they are just right.

We took Emmy to the doctor today. It’s the same hospital where I gave birth to Emmy and, every time I go back there, I’m flooded with the emotions of that time. We didn’t know Emmy had Williams syndrome, but she was in the NICU for 8 days, and the entire experience was emotionally painful. The hospital staff was wonderful and they did their best to console me, but it was very sad to be separated from Emmy right at birth and then not be able to take her home for an entire week.

I found myself thinking: “It should have been different. Emmy should not have been blue when she was born. Emmy should not have had heart problems. I should have had the happy hospital stay that most new moms have…” The laundry list of shoulds continued.

Then I stopped myself. What can defeat a case of the shoulds? Acceptance.

I accept that I had an emotionally rough stay in the hospital. I accept that Emmy was in the NICU. I accept that she was not 100% healthy. I accept that things did not turn out exactly as I expected.

I accept it, and I am grateful for all that I have.

Salt Water

Saltwater

Salt water is nature’s remedy. When faced with difficult circumstances, I make a hasty retreat to the beach.

I don’t mean “retreat to the beach” as in “put on a bathing suit and sunscreen and relax on the sand.”

My version of going to the beach over the past few years has been more like “put on two sweatshirts, sit on a bench in the cold wind, and gulp in the salty air.”

It helps.

In some ways, we’ve had a tough few years. Dan’s mom died in 2010 from cancer. Dan’s dad died in 2012 after many years battling Parkinson’s disease. We found out that one of our daughter’s has a genetic condition that is coupled with medical issues. And now she’s due to have heart surgery next month.

But, despite all of this, the last few years have also been wonderful. I’ve given birth to two precious children, and we learned about a fascinating genetic condition that has brought a lot of love and community into our lives. We have also leaned on each other, which has made our marriage stronger. Over the past few years, we’ve come to the beach many times to have the salt water heal our wounds, and I’m thankful that we’re in this together.

I told Dan that, when I met him in 2002, I never could’ve imagined what life had in store for us. I was sitting at my desk with an eye on the door, when the “new guy” walked in. His boss started introducing him around the office, and I couldn’t wait to get to know him. Maybe it was the facial hair.

I thought back to myself at that time, caught up in the excitement of meeting the love of my life. Really, I didn’t have a care in the world, and it went on like that for quite some time.

In certain ways, I’m surprised at what life has brought our way. And in other ways, I feel as though we’re right where we need to be. These were our lessons to learn.

This week hasn’t been easy. I’ve had an imaginary little bird on my shoulder whispering “heart surgery heart surgery heart surgery” in my ear–constantly. It reminds me of the same little bird that whispered “Williams syndrome Williams syndrome Williams syndrome” after Emmy was born. I hadn’t heard from that bird for a while, and I’m sorry he’s back. He’s giving me a migraine.

So it felt good to go to the ocean and give my problems over to the salt water.

And as I walked down the windy boardwalk with Dan by my side, my migraine started to dissipate. I was comforted by the fact that when Emmy goes in for surgery, I’ll have a strong hand to hold.

Present Living

PresentLiving

I’ve never been good at living in the present. Everyone always says “Enjoy the moment!” or “Make every second count!” and the pressure of it all makes me nuts. I think I’m hardwired to live in the past and the future (usually the future).

When I live in the present, it’s because I’m actively trying.

Over the past few months, I’ve made a conscious effort to live in the present, even if it’s only for 5 seconds every day. Really–sometimes I can only get 5 seconds of present living before I’m back to the future!

I learned my lesson the hard way. I used to live for the weekend. Every Monday, I’d begin my race through the week with a steady eye on the weekend. Here we go–flying through Monday, skipping over Tuesday, sailing through Wednesday, almost there Thursday, finishing with Friday, and HELLO SATURDAY AND SUNDAY!! LET THE FUN BEGIN!

I wasn’t living. Every single week, I was wasting 120 hours and enjoying 48 hours.

Now here’s where my real problem came in…

Let’s say Saturday and Sunday were crappy days. Let’s say I had some obligations to fulfill and didn’t even get to enjoy Saturday and Sunday.

Now I’ve wasted 168 hours, and I am PISSED.

But here we go–sliding into Monday morning and the cycle begins again!

Finally, something jostled in my brain. One useless idea moved to the side to make room for another that said, “How about enjoying the present?”

Ever since then, I’ve been trying hard to make that happen. I want to be a participant in my life. I want to actively live it.

Today we went for a walk in the woods and, for a good 20 minutes, I didn’t think about the past or the future. Twenty minutes is a major accomplishment, so thankfully it seems to be getting better with practice.

Forever – is composed of Nows –”     Emily Dickinson

Being Vulnerable

Beingvulnerable

I’ve had a scary realization. I’m at my best when I’m vulnerable.

A lot of people were surprised with how personal my blog is because I’ve made a practice out of being stoic and reserved. I once went 5 years without shedding a single tear and loved to brag about it. I used to proclaim, “I don’t cry!” as if it were something that deserved an award.

I didn’t start out that way. When I was younger, I was very sensitive. I would readily reveal my feelings (in many aspects of my life–love, friendship, etc) expecting that the other person would respond in kind. Wow, did I get burned.

When I was in elementary school, I found a friend who wasn’t really a friend, and she announced to the entire class that I had a crush on the most popular boy in fifth grade. Let’s call him Billy. I remember feeling betrayed when that girl came over and whispered, in a snakelike fashion, with blood practically dripping from her lips, “I just told everyone that you have a crush on Billy.”

My heart stopped. Would my Prince Charming finally announce that he’s interested in little old me?

Then Billy came sauntering over and said, loudly and proudly, “Just so you know, I DON’T like you.”

Everyone laughed, and I cried for the rest of the day. IT WAS AWFUL. I can put myself back into the feelings of that scene very quickly.

This pattern repeated itself time and time again, and I retreated further and further behind a protective outer shell. At a certain point, I’m not sure that I even knew what my real feelings were, and I certainly didn’t reveal them to anyone else.

Over the past few years, the concept of vulnerability has kept popping back into my life, and I’ve finally become more willing to explore it. I became vulnerable when I found a partner in life who I can tell anything to and not fear his opinion of me. And thank glory I found him. I dated a string of zeros before meeting Dan. I also became more vulnerable when we had children, one of whom has medical issues that make me worry every day. And then I started to open myself up to new experiences, new people, and a level of openness that I hadn’t touched since childhood. And my life started to take on new, vibrant colors.

It’s scary to be vulnerable, but I have no doubt that it’s where I’m supposed to be.

Messy Life

Messylife1

I have a vision of myself in the future. I am totally laid-back and easy going. I wear pajamas till noon, let the kids dump Play-Doh on the couch, and don’t freak out when Emmy tries to put our dog’s bone in her mouth. I’m known as the “cool mom” around town, and my kids brag about how we finger paint the walls.

In reality, I’m kind of OCD. I am very much aware of the slightest thing that’s out of place. This is a great quality to have as an editor. But it’s not so great when I’m trying to raise my children to be more free spirited than I ever was. Charlotte has already adopted my fear of bugs, which makes me realize how easily our children can step right into our shoes.

In my ongoing effort to be more laid-back (let me know if you have any advice!), I didn’t make a peep this morning when the kids threw grass from their Easter baskets all over the livingroom. Where I initially saw a mess, they saw pure joy. They laughed like crazy, and I couldn’t help but appreciate every second of it. It’s the incredible messiness of life.

Messylife2

I swear I have more to learn from them than they have to learn from me.

Messylife3

4 Steps to Family Fun Night

FamilyFunNight

A couple months ago, I broached the idea of having Family Fun Night every Friday. The idea is this:

4 Steps to Family Fun Night

1. We Order Take-Out

2. We Don’t Turn on the TV

3. We Don’t Do Chores

4. We DO Sit Next to Each Other and Play Games

Here’s what I expected…

I pictured Charlotte rebelling. “No Dora the Explorer? You can’t do this to me!”

Here’s what I got…

Charlotte gave me the biggest, brightest smile and said, “Really? Yay! I can’t wait for Fridays!”

A little while ago, she asked if every night could be Family Fun Night. I’ve realized that she prefers our company over Dora’s, and that feels good.

Of course, nowadays, sitting around silently staring at a screen seems normal, and interacting over board games seems foreign.

(I tend to project into the future, so now I’m picturing my kids sitting home during prom, playing Hi Ho Cherry-O with their folks.)

I’m Counting on You

imcountingwhitelogo

One of the many, many things I love about Charlotte is how she drops phrases that I’m not expecting. I remember so clearly holding this little baby in my arms and wondering how she was going to act when she was older. I would try and picture her–in the future–sitting down to eat dinner with us or sharing details about her day, and I would come up blank. I wasn’t able to envision this baby any other way than snuggled up in my arms–sleeping, crying, or gazing curiously at her surroundings.

Well, at 3.5 years old, she has proven that she has a mighty personality. She’s independent, witty, observant, and has a sharp memory. She picks up on phrases from her teachers or from us, and she waits for the right time to use them.

Yesterday, I was driving her to school, and she mentioned that she wanted me to read a particular book for story time before bed. Still tired from waking up only an hour before, I said, “Ok, I’ll try and remember.”

She got very serious and replied, “I’m counting on you.”

I instantly perked up. She’s counting on me! I better deliver the goods.

I could picture her teachers using that same phrase, and I love that she tucks these words away and brings them out at the perfect time. She’s a little adult in many ways–an old soul.

Of course, as soon as I got home, I found the book and dutifully put it on top of her toy chest–in preparation for story time that night. You can count on me, Charlotte.

Green Bagel Morning

Greenbagel

My husband, Dan, loves traditions. Two years ago, he decided that green bagels on St. Paddy’s Day would be a tradition. He’ll dutifully go to multiple bagel places and wait in long lines (something I am far too impatient to do). Charlotte loves it. Emmy is still too young to understand the tradition, but she does appreciate a good, green bagel.