Friday, July 31, 2009

Where My Feet Are

In recovery, I am taught over and over again the importance of keeping things in the moment; to not awfulize or catastrasize about what might happen, to not project too far into the future. One of my favorite expressions is to "keep yourself where your feet are". I use this when I'm overwhelmed, when I feel like I'm not measuring up, not getting to all the things I feel I need to be doing - I look down at my feet and think: I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

The feeling like I'm supposed to be doing more, like I should be doing more things or different things, is particularly hard to resist when it comes to parenting. In this high pressure world, it is difficult to just stop. We are trying to have what I have dubbed "an old fashioned summer"; summers the way I remember them - long, lazy days without the overstuffed schedules of the school year. The kids aren't enrolled in camp, or classes of any kind. We have access to a wonderful family pool center, and a beach cottage we share with another couple. We have friends for playdates, and we have each other. This, I thought at the outset of the summer, should be enough. In any sane world, this should be more than enough.

And, realistically, it is enough. We play board games when it is rainy, or watch a movie together. We run through the sprinkler, we read books. We have the occasional playdate or trip to the beach. We get to the things that get shuffled to the bottom of the pile during the hectic school year.

It is astonishingly difficult to get used to this pace - for the kids and for me. The first couple of weeks were really hard. "What are we going to DO today, Momma? " and "I'm BORED!" were heard over and over again. They would say this in the middle of doing something fun together - like while playing a board game (a bored game?), or building a fort in the back yard. We are all so accustomed to the constant stream of a busy schedule - running from school to girl scouts to soccer to the grocery store to a playdate. During the school year we are hardly ever just home. It got to the point where I would get a panicky feeling on days we didn't have anything planned - I'd rush to the phone to schedule a playdate or look up an activity we could do at the library or the YMCA.

I realized after about a week and a half of the "I'm boreds" why it was so difficult: my kids had forgotten how to amuse themselves. During the school year, when they are shuffled around from one activity to another, they would get up each morning and look at me expectantly - what are we doing today? Where am I going? Who is coming over? I found myself saying those things I remember my Mom saying to me: "A house full of toys and things to do and you're bored? Go find something to do!"

I also realized I felt completely responsible for their contentedness - like I had to save them from boredom. Wow, I thought with some measure of fear, I am over-involved. I can't let them just figure out how to fill a day. I feel that mother-guilt creep up - the thought that other mothers are doing a better job keeping their kids busy. To spare my own feelings of guilt, or unworthiness, I don't let us stop.

It is getting easier as summer marches on. I have forced myself to let the flow of days come - I schedule the odd playdate, visit with family or friends, but I don't over-think our days. This morning they entertained themselves happily for an hour or so while I read a book. It was physically difficult for me to stay focused in the moment - my mind kept thinking about the rest of the day - how I would fill it. Then I looked at my feet. I was right where I was supposed to be.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!!!

Congratulations to Krystal M who won the "Fly Away Home" necklace in my last giveaway! Thanks to everyone who entered!!

The next item is a fabulous summer ring, and it comes in two styles, The Big Pearl:


and the Midnight Blue Pearl:


Both rings are made with 10mm Swarovski Pearls. The large size of the pearl gives a contemporary flair to a classic style. Click on the picture to see more pictures of the rings (including what they look like on my hand, so you can get a sense of the size of the pearl).

To enter, please fill out the "Contact Me" form on the right hand side of the screen and send me a message that you would like to enter the giveaway and which style ring you would prefer.

The winner will be chosen at random on August 15th!

Thanks so much!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Growing Up Brady

Greta, Finn and I are at the vet's office waiting for our appointment, and we're bored and chatting.

Greta: (holds up her hand with her fist closed and just her pinky finger sticking up): "Mom, did you know that in China this gesture is a swear?"

Me: "No, actually, I didn't."

After a moment or so, she holds up her fist with just her middle finger sticking up - she's grinning: "Did you know in America this is a swear?"

Me: "Now that one I know."

Greta: "What does it mean?"

Think, Mom, think.... "It is like any other swear word - it is just rude to do it to someone."

Greta: "So its like calling someone the 'S word'?"

I take a brief moment to wonder how the heck she knows the 'S word' is called the 'S word', and whether she may actually know the word "shithead". At a loss, I pull out the old answer-a-question-with-a-question trick: "The 'S word'?"

Greta: "You know," she drops her voice to a whisper, "Stupid."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is early morning, on vacation with my in-laws. The four cousins are around the computer, giggling. The oldest is 7, the youngest 4. I'm reading in bed in the next room, only half paying attention. Last I saw they were playing Webkinz.

Someone says, "Okay, Greta, you type. Did you do the 'www' part yet?"

More giggling, and mumbling to each other. I'm lost in my book for a minute or two. Then I hear:

"Did you spell it right? No, wait - it has two letter Ts. Right -- that's it! B-U-T-T."

Now I'm sitting up in bed... just in time to hear an explosion of laughter.

"LOOK AT THAT!" says one.

"Why is it all girl's butts?" says another.

I race around the corner - they are on butts.com ... the only anatomical part they can collectively spell, apparently.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'm making jewelry, and Greta and Finn have been watching a show in the next room for the past half an hour. Greta comes in with a big grin on her face.

"Notice anything different about me?" she says.

I look her over, and it takes me a minute to see the bright purple bruise on her upper arm. "What happened?" I gape, alarmed.

"I was sucking on my arm, and it made this pretty purple mark - do you like it?"

Oh dear God my daughter gave herself a hickey... "Um, didn't that hurt?" I stumble.

"Not at all!" she says proudly, lifting up her tee shirt sleeve on the other arm. "Look! I made a matching set!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is morning, and I'm trying to get Greta to change out of the dress she wore yesterday, and insisted on wearing to bed, too.

Me: "You have to put something clean on, honey, you slept in that dress."

Greta: "I can't, it is against my religion."

Me, skeptically: "Your what?"

Greta: "My religion. I am going to wear this dress for four days. I have to."

Me: "Last time I checked, our religion didn't say what we can and can't wear - please change your clothes."

Greta: "I'm a hippy now, Mom. We change our clothes every four days. And I'm not brushing my hair anymore either, Dude."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Finn

Finn is 3. He is a completely different 3 year-old than my daughter was - he's a boy, that is clearly one reason, and he challenges me in ways Greta never did.

This morning, for example, I asked the kids to play together for an hour so I could get some work done. Miraculously, they did. I didn't hear any fighting, and nobody came to ask questions or for a snack. I should have known that it was too easy - when I finished my work and came into the kitchen, Finn was naked and literally covered from head-to-toe in Trix yogurt (you know, the bright pink kind?). It was everywhere - in his hair, his eyes and other unmentionable places. "I'm a Yogurt Monstah!" he cried happily. Greta was standing off to the side, looking bemused. She shrugged and said "boys...."

Then there are our conversations - Finn is nothing if not tenacious, and once an idea is in his head, there is no shaking it out. The other night he put his feet up on the table during dinner - he knows he isn't supposed to do this - and the conversation went something like this:

"Take your feet off the table, Finn."

He puts just his toes on the table, grinning. "My feet aren't on the table now, Momma."

"Take your toes off the table, Finn."

"They aren't on the table, Momma, I'm seewious."

"Finn, take them off now, or you will go to your room."

"Its just a dweam, Momma, you're dweaming. You only think you see my toes on the table."

"Go to your room, NOW."

"YOU ARE JUST DWEAMING!" he yells "Wake up and you'll see!!!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The other day in the car, he asked, "What does A-B spell?"

"Ab", I said. "Its not actually a word."

"NO!" he says, "it doesn't spell Ab. What does it spell?"

"I don't know what else to tell you, hon, it spells 'Ab'."

"IT DOESN'T SPELL AB! Don't you know anything? What does it spell?"

So I try a new tactic: "Well, what do you think it spells?"

"Dat's why I asked you - I need to know - what does it spell?"

We can on like this for a good half an hour.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For all his tenacity, he is also very reasonable at times... patient, even.

Two weeks ago my father-in-law and husband gave Finn a "tickle cut" - what they call a homemade buzz cut with the electric hair clippers. Finn does not like to have his hair cut, but he finally let them do it.

He was gazing in the mirror later that day, and said "Momma, my head looks weird."

"Your hair is shorter, hon, that's all." I said.

"I don't like it - it looks like a big weird ball."

"Sorry you don't like it, I think it looks nice."

"It growses back, right? Someday? All by itself?"

"Yes, it does."

"Okay then," he said. "I just wait."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And sometimes he is just plain cute. We got him those "Bendaroos" - little bendy rods of different colors you can mold into shapes and stick on the wall and they don't leave a mark. Finn fashioned a little shape out of a few of them, and stuck them to the wall.

"Look!" he cried. "No mess, no stain, no fuss!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I marvel at his boy-ness, and how he is starting to lose all traces of toddler, and become a little man. He is so open, so loving. Greta is too, just differently. Finn will crawl into my lap, curl up to snuggle and say, "I just love you, Momma." He always wants to be touching me somehow - holding my hand, leaning on my leg, sitting in my lap. It can drive me nuts, for sure, but I try to remember this won't last forever, and cherish his sweetness. A few days ago, after one of our frustrating conversations that make no sense, I lost my patience.

"I. Just. Don't. Know," I said. "You keep asking me and I don't understand what you're asking and I'm getting really frustrated."

He looked at me with his big, smiling eyes and said, "Its okay, Momma. Just be happy!"


Saturday, July 25, 2009

It Is Hard To Hide A Giraffe

Pride is largely considered negative - after all it is one of the seven deadly sins, if you subscribe to such notions. As a parent, however, I spend the better part of my day helping my kids feel proud of themselves. When they draw a picture and come running up to show me, their eyes shining. When they play sports -whether their team wins or not. When they do something big for the first time, or even something small. My son yelled "Momma! Come look at me!" the other day, and I came into his room to find him balancing on one leg. "Look!" he shouted, "I can DO it!" During the course of an average day, I have countless opportunities to help them feel proud. One of the things I marvel at the most about my kids, because they are still young, is that shame is largely still absent in their lives.

The delicate balancing act of helping my kids build pride and navigate shame can feel rather precarious at times. Finn, at 3, is boundary testing. He will do something he knows is wrong, hang his head dramatically, and say "I sorry, Momma" - all with a huge smile on his face. He is curious -if he is repentant enough will I still get mad? The difference in his demeanor when he does something wrong accidentally is startling. The other day he was running through the house and he bumped a table and knocked over a lamp, breaking it. His eyes widened in horror, he burst into tears, and ran away covering his face with his hands. When I came after him to talk, through his tears he said, "Let's don't talk about it". I tried as best I could to explain the difference between wrong and bad. That he can do things that are wrong - as in Against the Rules - but that doesn't make him a bad kid. That mistakes are a part of life, and that "I'm sorry" goes a long way.

My daughter, who is almost 7, is hardwired differently than Finn. She was never big on testing boundaries - for as long as I can remember she has been hugely fearful of being In Trouble. I can count on one hand the number of times I have witnessed her do something purposefully wrong (like the time she wrote "GRETA", in perfect penmanship, on the wall and tried valiantly to convince me that her one year old brother had done it). For the most part, she is so fearful of shame - a word she doesn't know, but a concept she clearly grasps - that she over-tries to do the right thing. She takes emotional ownership of nearly everything and everyone around her. She is just like me. One of my greatest challenges in being her Mom is not to over-identify - to help her find her own path, and not superimpose my own fears onto her.

Helping my kids find a sense of well being inside themselves, not from external influences, is difficult, especially when it is something I struggle with myself. I want so badly for my children to understand that the good stuff - accomplishment, pride, self-confidence, happiness - is often achieved through navigating the tough stuff. But in order to achieve that, there has to be some tough stuff. They have to make their own mistakes and learn from them. I have to resist the urge to gloss over things they do wrong, things they are afraid of, or ways they feel badly about themselves.

In my adult world, I have had my share of shame, of course. On a grander scale, as it relates to my recovery from alcoholism, I have learned that shame can be a great Teacher. I learned to face up to things that made me shameful, own up to my part, and let them go. I had to re-learn pride, understand that feeling proud of myself wasn't inherently bad. I discovered the difference between guilt and shame: guilt is feeling badly about something you did, and shame is feeling badly for who you are.

Pride, as it relates to a sense of accomplishment, is essential to well being. Not pride as a feeling of being better than someone else, of having more - it is a sense of balance within myself. If I don't pay attention to my small daily victories, the scales easily tip towards Shame. It is much easier for me to see my failings than my accomplishments. In the world of parenting, there are ample opportunities to feel shame - mothers in particular are hard on themselves. It is easy to get tangled in the web of comparison - to look at other mothers and see if, or how, I measure up. After all, there aren't many times when anyone stops and says "Great job handling that one, Mom." But I can't be a good parent if I don't feel good about myself. If I don't forgive my mistakes, try my best, and remember that I learn through trial and tribulation - I'm not going to get everything right the first time. I need to treat myself the way I treat my kids - I need to listen to the lessons I try to give them. Or, perhaps more accurately, the lessons they give me.

Last year Greta had an idea for a book, it was called "It Is Hard To Hide A Giraffe". She wrote and illustrated the whole thing herself. Each page says something you can't do with a giraffe, with an accompanying picture: you can't take a giraffe to the library, you can't take a giraffe to the pool, you can't take a giraffe to school. The last page says: but you can love him and hug him and call him yours.

It is hard to hide shame, it is hard to feel accomplishment and pride. And there are lots of things you can't do in this world. But, if at the end of the day you feel love for your family, yourself - even if it is the only thing you can do - it is a good day, and you should feel proud.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

HALT

Most of you probably remember that book that came out in the mid-90s "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff -- and Its All Small Stuff". I was thinking about Small Stuff today. How sometimes Small Stuff is just small, and it is okay to leave it at that. But sometimes what seems Small isn't small - because in aggregate little stuff piles up and can get Big rather quickly.

Sometimes getting back to basics is essential. There is an expression in recovery called "HALT". It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. As in: look out for these things, because they may seem fairly basic, but they can trip you up Big.

I see this loud and clear in my kids; even just one of these can lead to problems. If they get off their regular eating and sleeping schedule, if they spend too much time cooped up without playdates, things go badly.

The same trends apply to me, too. I am not nearly as patient with my kids when I'm tired. When I haven't connected with friends and have been isolated in the house for too long, when I feel like I'm about to climb the walls, I get resentful of the kids, my life. The only thing that has changed is that I have failed to pay attention to some fairly basic human needs: companionship, food and sleep.

And then, of course, we have Anger. Sometimes anger is very straightforward - a kid breaks something valuable to me and I get angry. Simple. Sometimes, for me at least, anger is harder to pinpoint. A sense of imbalance, or unease. I realize I've been walking around with a furrowed brow all day and I have a headache.

In recovery, I have learned to pay more attention to little alarm bells. I have a deeper appreciation for the importance of trying to figure out why I'm off. Sometimes it is simple: I skipped a meal, stayed up too late or haven't been exercising. But sometimes it isn't simple. It may be a resentment I have over something someone said or did. It is in my nature to overlook these negative things - I would rather gloss them over, minimize them or avoid them all together. It may require some internal detective work to figure out where the Anger (or Sadness, or Resentment) is coming from.

Then I need to do something about it. Sometimes quiet meditation or reflection works. Sometimes a good cathartic cry. Sometimes it is large enough that I have to put my Big Girl pants on and clear the air with someone. These are not things I like to do. I'd rather shuffle my own emotions to the bottom of the deck and hope anything uncomfortable or negative will quietly go away. I have learned it doesn't go away, though, it just goes Someplace Else. It will return later in the form of being short with my kids, or corking off about some inconsequential thing, or trouble sleeping. As Buddha said: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

It is one of the pain-in-the-ass gifts of recovery - I can't afford to ignore or overlook something just because it is uncomfortable. I have learned that when things get hard, I'm about to have a breakthrough of some sort. That growth, spirituality and freedom are not usually found when things are sailing along smoothly.

As the Dalai Lama says: "We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Delicious Candy

The past few days have been unusually busy. I'm catching up on orders from when we were away, unpacking, doing laundry and generally catching up on daily chores. It hasn't been much fun for the kids, or for me for that matter. It has been raining for two days and we've got cabin fever to boot. This morning I woke up stressed and more than a little grouchy. I was up late working on orders, and only got through about half of what I needed to do. So this morning, once again, I sat and talked with the kids about our day.

"It won't always be this busy," I explained. "We just need to get through today and then things will be more normal around here."

They look at me skeptically, and wander off to play for a bit together. I sit down in my studio to make some orders, with a little pit in my stomach about the whole balance of working with the kids around. I feel that old mother-guilt creeping up on me. I try to focus on the positive, think about how good working is for me, how I need to keep myself occupied and happy for everyone's sake. How the little extra money is important. But it is hard.

Finn wanders in, and leans on my arm while I'm working. "Momma?" he says, "when you are done working, will you push me on the swings?"

"Of course I will, hon. Thanks for asking so nicely." But I feel that little sting of guilt again.

He is quiet for another minute or two, and then says, "Momma? When I grow up, can I be an artist like you?"

My heart swells. "If that is what you want, of course you can. I think you'd be a great artist."

"YAY!" He throws his little arms up in the air. "I CAN BE AN ARTIST! Sissy guess what? I can be an artist!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About an hour goes by, and Greta shuffles in, looking sad. "What's up?" I ask.

"Do you ever wish you weren't so famous?" she asks.

It takes every ounce of willpower I have not to chuckle, or make a sarcastic remark. OH, yes. This FAME is just UNBEARABLE.

"Do you mean that you wish I wasn't so busy? Is that what you mean?"

"Well, yes. If you weren't a famous beader, then you would have more time to play."

"That is true. But its my job, and it is something I like to do, too."

"I know," she says. "And jobs make money. And money means more toys for me and Finn. And toys make us happy, so it all works out."

Yes, yes it does, I think. Sometimes it all works out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Greta was about 4, my husband was leaving in the morning to go to work, and she was crying because she didn't want him to leave. He picked her up, hugged her and said, "I miss you too, when I'm at work. But I have to go to work to make money."

"Money?" she sniffed.

"Yes, to buy things like food, and to pay for the house we live in."

"Oh," she said. "And to buy delicious candy???"

Now, when he leaves for work and they feel sad, he says "I'm off to make money to buy delicious candy!!" and we all laugh.

So it really is all about toys and delicious candy in the end. And what could be better than that?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Now What?

Okay, seriously, I didn't realize how long 2 months really is until my first summer home full time with two kids. It doesn't help that the first few weeks of summer my kids were occupied very happily 100% of the time - first at my parents' house while we were on vacation, then on our family vacation with cousins last week. We have been home for two days, and I feel like I have been looking at two sets of unblinking, expectant eyes for hours on end.

"What are we going to DO today, Momma?"

It is so tempting to say "heck if I know - I'm going to kick up my heels and read a book - what are you guys gonna do?"

I managed to get to July 21st before the doldrums actually kicked in .. I guess that isn't so bad. Now we are sunburned and out of money, so the real work of negotiating a 6 year old and 3 year old through the summer weeks begins.

Organizing time has never been my strong suit, but I am slowly realizing that if I don't structure our day and set realistic expectations (mostly mine) it can be quite painful. We will have a 'mother's helper' starting next week - a local kid who will come play with them for a few hours a couple of times a week so I can get work done. But, thankfully, my business is quite busy, so I can't just bank on those few hours to accomplish everything.

So this morning I called a family conference. We plunked down on the floor in a little circle. "Yay! We're having a meeting!" Finn said. He sees me go out the door to my AA meetings at least three times a week, and he is more than curious about what-all happens there. "Not that kind of meeting, hon," I said, "we're going to plan our day together."

I explained that even though it is summer and they don't have school, that I still have to work. I said I know it is frustrating to them sometimes when I'm home but I can't play, and said that I wanted to plan each day so they know we will do fun things, too, but when I needed to work they had to find things to do together and not interrupt me.

Blink. Blink.

"So," I trudged on, "this morning I am going to do some work, then we have to go to the bead store, and then in the afternoon we'll do something fun!"

"Is it aftahnoon yet?" asks Finn.

"Okay," says Greta, but she recognizes an opportunity when she sees one, "so if we're good and don't bother you this morning, this afternoon you'll give me ten bucks?"

"Is it aftahnoon now?" asks Finn.

"No, hon, this isn't about money," I say.

"But, you have to work to make money, and I think its only fair that I get some money, too. I mean, looking after Finn is a lot of work."

"But you aren't looking after him, you are playing with him. You know, because you love him."

She rolls her eyes.

"NOW it is aftahnoon, right?" says Finn.

It goes on this way for a few more minutes, until it occurs to me that I'm delaying the gratifying part of the day - they just don't have that kind of patience yet. So I switch tactics. "Okay, we'll play this morning, and then this afternoon I will do my work - how's that?"

"Is it morning now?" asks Finn.

I look at his sweet face and chubby little cheeks. "Yes, it is morning now, what do you want to do?" He wants to "play beach".

So suddenly I'm pretending to snorkel around on my carpet that needs vacuuming and wondering who is really in charge around here.

"Do I still get my ten bucks?" asks Greta.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Handmade Rocks

I can spend hours cruising around Etsy, amazed at the talented and creative people there are in the world. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Etsy, it is an online marketplace that offers only handmade, handcrafted items. Vintage items and supplies are also available. It is one of the fastest growing online marketplaces, and for good reason. Etsy is more than an online store - it is a community of artists and entrepreneurs. I opened my shop a little over a year ago, and I am continually amazed at how supportive other Etsians are - right away I was contacted by other sellers, many of them other jewelers, welcoming me, offering tips, help and support.

Just for fun, I went to Etsy and searched for a variety of items... you can find just about anything your heart would desire there -and it is all handmade.

Need a bed? No problem. How about this one, made by Attiladesign and handcrafted in Helsinki**:Or perhaps you would like to custom design your own wedding cake, like this one here at llkaygifts:


There are goodies to eat:


And things that look good enough to eat, but aren't edible, like this soap:



How about a handpainted silk dress:



Or a beautiful scarf:




Or something a little more off the wall, for that hard-to-buy-for friend (yes, those are tiny little handpainted ants) :


Or get in touch with your punk side:



Maybe some adorable booties for the friend who is expecting:


Or perhaps you want to predict your future with some custom made fortune cookies:


Maybe you are feeling a little racy, and want a handmade item for the bedroom? How about a pastie:



You can even do a search for artists who live near you. Here are two of my local favorites - Kill 'Em Dirty:




And RomanMcCall:



Well, you get the idea. Go ahead - stop by http://www.etsy.com/ and do a search for something, anything - I bet they have it. Handmade rocks.

**click on any picture to go to the seller's shop.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Home

We're home, and I am glad. Vacations are great - good for spending time together as a family, good for as much rest and relaxation as you can finagle around small children, and good to get out of the daily grind for a while.

I forgot about that just-walked-in-the-door feeling I get after being away for a while. I did my best to straighten up the house before we left, but evidence of the whirlwind of packing is all over the place. Somehow, when I'm away, it is easy to forget all the niggling chores and responsibilities that await me when I return. I have orders to make, emails and calls to return, appointments to make and shopping to do. I spent the first couple of hours home kind of orbiting .. everything seems way too familiar and completely different at the same time. The pets are beyond overjoyed to see us (even though the cat pretends he isn't). Rhino the Hamster survived (I had visions of his frozen little body playing through my head the whole time we were away) and the chickens didn't peck each other to death being shut in their coop all week. The dog is glued to our side, convinced we're just going to disappear at any moment. The cat is mad at us, but he'll get over it.

The other good thing about getting away for a while is that it makes me appreciate all I have here. My friends, my support system, my routine. I under-appreciate how important routine is for all of us. I love my little business, I love making jewelry, and it is physically and emotionally difficult for me to peel myself away from it for a week (which is exactly why I should, though). I have wonderful friends, we talk all the time, and I miss them like crazy when I can't connect with them every day. It is too easy for me to take for granted how much they help me stay afloat. I feel very, very lucky to have them in my life, because when I'm away from it for a bit I realize how special that is.

The kids miss their friends, too. A week all packed together in one house has its ups and downs - kind of a love/hate thing. They did great, they had a ball, but they are so relieved to be home. Greta wanted me to call her friends last night at 7pm for a playdate she was so desperate to see them.

I make it sound as if we were away for ages and ages - but in their little lives it feels that way. Finn asked me on the fifth day of our vacation why we were "living in this new house now". When he saw his bedroom last night he said "Oh good! Its still here!" And I knew just how he felt.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Lies Within

I have a small framed quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson on my mantle at home:

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

This little framed quote was a gift to me by my counselor as I left my final addiction rehab. I placed it on my mantle when I returned home, high up where I could see it and read it often. In early sobriety it was a reminder of my internal strength, my ability to reach within and find the courage to do what I needed to do - what I would eventually want to do - every day. Stay sober. That the troubling days are behind me, and can stay there, and that I don't have to worry about the future, because it is headed my way no matter what.

As I progress further down the road of recovery, the concept of what lies within us, within me, takes on deeper meaning. Within all of us are swirling eddys of strength, fear, joy, weakness, desire, regret and wonder.

What I notice most about what lies inside me now is my thinking. I don't think alcoholics or addicts are unique in this regard: all of us think all the time. But for us, thinking can be dangerous.

The past six days on vacation have been a whirlwind of activity: beaches, games, staying up late, giggling, whiffle ball games, shopping, snorkeling. Today I jumped at the opportunity to stay home at the beach house while the rest of the gang went out for a little shopping and dinner. I haven't been by myself in a long, long time, and I couldn't wait to kick up my feet and read my book.

As the car doors slammed and the muffled voices of the kids giggling in the cars receded down the driveway, I let out a long breath of relief. Silence.

I grabbed my book and headed up to a pretty upper porch with views of the ocean, intent on finishing the last few chapters. I read about two paragraphs, and the thinking started. I pondered over my daughter's extreme sensitivity today, even anger - is she just overtired? I worried about our animals at home, watched over by a friend - are they okay? Do they miss us? I was edgy, nervous, jumpy. I knew I had to just stop - enjoy this time, soak it in - and instead my brain went into overdrive. How much, or how little, can I do with this unexpected gift of free time? Am I utilizing it the right way? I thought about how much I miss my friends, my support system, my meetings. I felt discombobulated, disconnected. Then I worry that I'm in this beautiful, serene place and I can't even find peace.

Then I find myself thinking about the fact that I'm actively trying not to think about the cold bottle of vodka in the freezer (not ours, left by the owners of the house we're renting). I just want silence. I just want peace. I don't want to drink.

The gift I have now, that I didn't have early on, is that I know this voice. It is the sick alcoholic part of my brain that will never die. Now, however, I have a whole healthy side to my thinking, side to my brain, that knows exactly what to do. If I were home, I'd call another alcoholic and we'd talk it through together, until the bad thinking stopped. But I don't have cell phone coverage here - I'm on my own.

I avoid the kitchen and head straight for the large bathroom with a deep, luxurious jacuzzi tub. I fill it to the top with the hottest water I can stand. I slip down into the water and turn on the jets. I'm still thinking: here's me trying not to think.

I slip down further into the tub - it is so big I can float - until the roar of the jacuzzi jets fills my ears. I close my eyes. Eventually, I turn off the jets, most of my head and my ears still underwater. All I can hear is the beating of my own heart and my steady breathing. I am okay.

That is the thing about the world - it spins madly on taking you in unpredictable directions every day, every minute. I no longer expect the world to cater to my needs - to keep me safe. I'm not resentful or angry about the vodka left in the freezer where it could be dangerous to me. It is up to me to keep myself safe. To remember the gifts I have been given, the people who have believed in me, and most importantly my new-found ability to believe in myself.

I bought myself a ring today. It is a simple silver band with one message stamped into it: Enjoy The Moment. The message here is not: every moment should be enjoyable. The way I interpret this is: appreciate every moment, even the tough ones, the scary ones. Because that is when we learn.

Little Superheroes

So, we're on day 6 of the vacation with four kids under the age of 8. The complex social hierarchy and negotiations involved between children of this age are staggering. The next time there is a summit meeting of world leaders I'm sending this little troop of kids in to straighten things out.

They each come with their own special skill set- their own superpower, if you will. Finn, as the youngest, has the Power of Instant Tears. He is not yet concerned with his budding ego, so he'll stomp his feet and say "But I'm only fwee!" and cry at the drop of a hat. J, the oldest cousin, is In Charge. The younger three look to him, due to his advanced years, for the rules of engagement. Greta, as the only girl, has the Power of Transformation. She can be, by turns, tough as nails, giggly, weepy, shy, coy or crafty. The boys are usually confounded at the speed in which she can flip the switch, and she uses their brief disorientation to her advantage. W, who is 5, is a combination of The Incredible Hulk and Elastic Man. The Elastic Hulk? Just picture what you could do with this combination of skills, and you pretty much get the idea.

The adults, by turns, are doing their best to practice the Power of Invisibility. The trick is not to be the only adult in the room when snacks are needed, or an argument erupts. When all four of the above mentioned powers are used on one unsuspecting or unprepared adult, any logic, control or wisdom he or she may have possessed are rendered useless, so the only tools left are bribery and pleading. It is not pretty.

Unless, of course, you are one of the Grandparents. They have the Power of Impermeability (otherwise known as I've-seen-it-all) and try as they might, the childrens' powers are mostly useless on them.

I love the way they are all teaching each other. J loves having Finn around, and he is very nurturing with him. I found them huddled together at the beach yesterday, J giving Finn a brief lesson on marine life. Being around three boys has toughened Greta up a bit. I never know how she will react to the ocean, and at the beach yesterday there were some small swells, and the beach had crabs and other animals that usually frighten her. She charged right into the water, following her cousins, with her fist in the air saying, "I'm not afraid of anything!"

Even the teasing they give each other helps build character. The older three were teasing Finn about being the 'smallest'. He screwed up his face and looked down at his legs for a spell. Then he looked up and said "Guys, guess what? My legs are even longer den dey were yesterday!"

W and Greta are quite a pair, with their big smiles and competitive spirits. They were having races yesterday, and it was a draw as to who was fastest. They flopped down on the grass, exhausted, and W turned to Greta and said "you're pretty fast for a girl". "Yeah, I know," she beamed, "wanna go again?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Greta

It is nice to be away, to be out of our normal routine, to spend time with the kids without the stress of the daily grind. They are more grown-up to me now, in ways I hadn't noticed when we're just trudging through daily life.

I see this in particular with Greta. She is surrounded by her brother and two boy cousins who are 3, 5 and 7. She can more than hold her own, but she misses her girlfriends.

After one particularly long day, where it seemed the majority of the day was spent with her two cousins and brother trying to give her a wedgie, she crawled up into my lap and said, "I miss Mary and Abigail" (two of her closest girl friends). I was out at a meeting the other night and when I got back she threw herself into my arms and said, "Mom, I missed you so much. There's nothing but boys around here."

I have more time than usual just to observe her, and I am in awe of her gracefulness and agility. She can run like the wind - a distinct advantage when she is spending much of her time fleeing a boy carrying a stick, or a gross bug, or chanting taunts at her. She laughs it off, most of the time, and when she has had enough she finds me and we snuggle up for a bit.

"What is it about boys, Mom," she asks. "They are so loud and they just don't stop moving."

"Yes, that is true," I reply.

"All they talk about is bugs and butts and Transformers and Star Wars." she continues. "And I even like bugs, but I like other stuff, too."

"Yes, that is true, too." I say.

"And they love to pull my hair and pin me down and tickle me," she says. "Sometimes I really hate it."

"Do you want to know a little secret?" I tell her. Her eyes get wide. "Sometimes boys do these things because they really like you, and they don't know how to tell you that."

"They annoy me because they LIKE me?" she says incredulously.
"That just doesn't make sense."

"The best thing you can do is ignore them," I say, "if they are making you mad. Their favorite thing is to get your attention and if you don't give it to them it will make 'em crazy."

She grins from ear to ear.

"Okay, I'll try that," she says. "But on the next vacation? Can Abigail and Mary come too?"



Monday, July 13, 2009

Reading

I love to read. I will read just about anything. I have been this way since I was very small... I didn't ever have a "lovey" or suck my thumb or anything, but I would ask for a "bunch of books" at the end of my bed before I could fall asleep, even at the young age of 3 or 4.

I grew up watching my parents read all the time, too. It was not uncommon, especially during vacations, to see my Mom or Dad toes up on the bed or the couch totally engrossed in a book. We had a rule in my family ... when someone was nearing the end of a book, they were excused from all regular chores. We called it "thin pages".

"Mom's in the thin pages!" I'd shout to my Dad and my sister. "Don't bother her about dinner!"

My favorite thing to do as long as I can remember is to curl up with a good book. The first series I can remember loving were those ones where you got to control how the book went... anyone else remember those? You would read a few pages, and then you'd have a choice. "If you think the boy will go in the hot air balloon," it said "go to page 83." "If you think the boy will go into the creaky woods, go to page 71." Throughout the book you controlled the momentum of the story. I read these over and over again, for hours.

Waaay before the days of Harry Potter, I lost myself in Lloyd Alexander's series "The Book of Three", or the "Chronicles of Narnia". I also love TinTin comic books. I read and re-read all of these until the pages had worn thin.

So I've been thinking about books and authors that have influenced me over my life. There are authors that I consistently enjoy: Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Hamilton, Sue Miller, Richard Russo. The best whodunit writer I have found is Michael Connolly and his Harry Bosch series. Or Jeffrey Deaver, especially the Lincoln Rhyme books. I am by no means a literary snob. I get enjoyment from just about any kind of book, although I admit I'm not a fan of romance novels. The scariest book I ever read was "Gerald's Game" by Stephen King. I am still haunted by the imagery in that story. The saddest book, or one of the saddest, is "The Deep End of the Ocean" by Jacquelyn Mitchard. The funniest book is "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by the late, great Douglas Adams.

So over the past couple of days, I was thinking about those few books that have had special importance to me. You know the ones you can read over and over and not grow tired of? Each time you read them, especially at different stages in your life, you get something more out of the story. The writing is lyrical, the imagery so powerful it is like the story plays out like a movie in your head. You become so attached to the characters you feel like you know them. When you finish the book, you are sorry you're done, because you know you will never read that book for the first time ever again.

It was hard for me to narrow this list down to only five. So here is a list of six. Six books that have stayed with me, regardless of how long ago I read them, or how many times I have read them since. I reach for them again and again, because I know they will deliver the whole package. So here they are, in no particular order:

1) The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles - I first read this when I was 21 and fresh out of college. It has been made into a movie, but it is the book that really gripped me. I read it again recently, thinking perhaps youthful wander lust is what made me love it so at 21, and it spoke to me on entirely different levels at 40.

2) A Map of the World, by Jane Hamilton - I first read this before I became a mother, and the storyline gripped me and held me from the first few pages. It is a story of human failings and frailties, misunderstandings and regret. It is beautifully written, with a wonderful eye for plot.

3) Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver - Barbara Kingsolver is one of the great writers of our time. I loved the Poisonwood Bible as well, but I read Prodigal Summer in the throes of active alcoholism and this book still touched me deeply, even though it has nothing to do with addiction. The writing is so beautiful it reads like a musical score. Re-reading it sober was like receiving a gift all over again. Just beautiful.

4) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini - one of the more predictable books on this list - many, many people loved this book. I didn't expect to like it, reading the jacket cover. It was about a part of the world and a culture that I had sort of a visceral reaction against. It moved me deeply - it was difficult to believe this story came out of a person's imagination. I didn't see the movie, and I'm not going to.

5) Memoires of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden - Again, not a subject matter I felt particularly drawn to when I read the book jacket. I somehow missed that the author was male, and was about halfway through the book when I realized this powerful woman's tale was written by a man. An engaging and beautiful story, and one that can be read again and again.

6) Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo - Just read it. It is so good. And don't see the movie until you have read it. If you have already seen the movie - read it anyway.

There are many authors of note that I need to mention - I read all their novels and love most of them: Andre Dubus III - I am currently reading The Garden of Last Days and am in awe of his character development, eye for plot and ability to draw the reader in immediately. The House of Sand and Fog was an amazing book, too. I read all of Jodi Picoult's books - my favorite is still The Pact - she is always great for an entertaining plot line with lots of twists and turns, but sometimes I think she is reaching a bit. Sue Miller, who I have already mentioned, has insight into the frailties of familial relationships, marriages and the human heart that I find moving. Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres is a great read, however I haven't been as fond of her other novels. The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton is a work of dramatic genius. Richard Russo's Straight Man is a work of comic genius.

And I will always have a soft spot in my heart for John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire. That was the first real "adult" book I read, and I still use a line from this book in my daily life ... "You have to keep passing the open windows".

I didn't even touch upon the classics, because I simply don't have that much time. I need to get back to The Garden of Last Days. I'm in the thin pages.

I'd love to hear from all of you - what books would be on your all-time favorite list, and why?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Art of Relaxation

Relaxation, according to Wikipedia - the oracle of all things - is defined as this: in which a system changes to an equilibrium condition from a non-equilibrium condition.

So, that begs the question - what is equilibrium? Again, Wikipedia: Equilibrium is the condition of a system in which competing influences are balanced.

Okay, now we are getting into more familiar territory. I understand competing influences, at least I think I do. Like when Greta and Finn are bickering over something earth shattering, like who can burp louder.

But what about competing influences on a grander scale? I find that my own internal competing influences speak loudest to me when I'm 'relaxing'. When I'm zooming through life with barely a moment to breathe, I don't have time to worry about equilibrium ... I'm just putting out whichever fire is largest in my life at the moment. Relaxation is so far down the list of possibilities that I don't give it a second thought.

Even summer break, when you have school-aged kids, is far from relaxing. Suddenly you are all together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I am not accustomed to this. I rely fairly heavily on the school system to do things like keep them entertained, educate them and generally help them grow into well-balanced people. I do my part, of course, but I am out of practice doing this on a full-time basis.

So here we are on vacation for a week - the whole family, including my in-laws, which means we have four kids under the age of 8, two sets of parents and one set of grandparents staying together in a pretty beach house near the water. After three frantic days of packing, lists, cramming suitcases and kids into a car, a ferry ride and the unloading of all the crap we need to bring with us to survive (hello, laptop) we come to a startling stop. Okay. Time to relax. Seven days and a whole lot of nothing to do. Time to go from a non-equilibrium condition to an equilibrium condition. Time to balance my competing influences.

I don't know about you, but it is times like this when my competing influences tend to show up. I am so programmed to go, go, go - I am terrible at stopping. I feel this rush to go do stuff - the beach? a run? a museum? go exploring? I am so accustomed to having to do things, I feel empty and disconnected when my daily pressures are removed.

Ironically, it is the kids that ground me. They totally get how to stop. While I'm feeling sort of anxious and wringing my hands about what the heck we're going to do for seven days ... they run off and play freeze tag, or pick-up whiffle ball. While I'm perusing magazines about all the great places we're supposed to see while we're here, they flop down on their bellies and play a board game.

Today I asked them if they wanted to go to the beach.

"Nah, we're busy," they said.

I looked at them. They were sitting in a circle in the grass outside, tossing a rock around.

"You can do that at the beach if you want," I said.

"No, that isn't part of the game."

I felt myself sliding into Lecture Mode: we're here near the beach, and you want to sit in a circle and toss a rock around? All that planning for this? We can sit in our own backyard and toss a rock around if that makes you so happy.......

But I don't say it. I watch them for a few moments, completely caught up in what they are doing, and I realize they are fine. They totally don't need me to entertain them. I can go, I dunno, read a book? Lie down? .... RELAX?

So I swear I will relax. As soon as I stop typing this blog. Really.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Twice Monthly Giveaway -- New Item!

Congrats to Catizhere who won the Amethyst Twist Ring in our last giveaway!!

To change things up a bit, our next giveaway item will be a necklace - the Fly Away Home Necklace. It comes in baby blue quartz or green turquoise, both pictured here:





These 'bird's nest' style necklaces are made from semi-precious stones wrapped in sterling silver wire, and hang on an 18" sterling silver box chain. They are a terrific look for summer!

For more pictures of these necklaces in my Etsy shop, click on the picture.

To enter, please send me a message through the "Contact Me" section (on the right side of the screen) indicating you would like to be entered, and which color necklace you are interested in. The winner will be chosen at random on July 30th.

Thanks!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just Calling It Like I See It

I have resisted jumping into the fray about Michael Jackson, but I can't help myself. There are things about him that are irrefutable: he was an iconic artist who changed pop culture forever, he was a talented singer and songwriter, and he lived his life in the glare of the public spotlight.

I'm not here to write about the child molestation allegations against him - in my opinion the best case scenario is that his behavior with children was incomprehensibly inappropriate, and the worst case scenario is that he was a pedophile and a criminal. Neither option is okay with me.

What strikes me most about the whole thing is this: Michael Jackson was an addict. He died a junkie. He was taking a lethal cocktail of painkillers and intravenous drugs used by the medical community as anesthesia. He had been doing this for a long time.

I have looked long and hard at the media hype surrounding his death, searching for references to his addictions. What amazes me is how, on a global scale, we see what we want to see. There are countless references to his work as an artist - the party line seems to be: yes, he had personal trials and tribulations and increasingly bizarre behavior over the years, but lets celebrate his life and work for the artist he truly was.

We collectively enabled him - we treated him like the town kook, or the off-beat artist who led a strange life and justified it by saying: who wouldn't under his circumstances? I hear talk about how hard it must be to grow up in the public eye. How he had domineering parents who pressured him to be perfect. How isolating his level of celebrity can be. I even read reports that bordered on sympathetic about how the stresses of the child molestation trials drove him - drove him - to use painkillers to hide from the emotional pain. Excuses - all of them - to avoid the truth: he was an addict. I hear it all the time - if you had my life, you'd drink, too.

The arc of his life - for all his celebrity - follows a pattern that is all too familiar for addicts. A star that burned bright, full of promise and talent. An introduction to drugs, and a slow spiral of addiction, denial and isolation that eventually killed him.

By most accounts, his first introduction to pain medication came in 1984 after the Pepsi Commercial Incident. For those of us of a certain age, the imagery of this is etched into our minds - they played the footage of his hair catching on fire while shooting that commercial over and over and over. He took pain medication during his recovery from this injury, and the subsequent surgery on his face and scalp to repair burn damage. From my vantage point, this is where the addict was born. Here is a picture of Michael Jackson in 1983, at the height of his personal and creative success:




In 1988 he co-wrote "Man in the Mirror" - the irony of the lyrics is inescapable. "I'm starting with the man in the mirror, I'm asking him to change his ways. No message could have been any clearer, if you wanna make the world a better place take a look at your self and then make that change - you gotta get it right while you got the time..." In 1988 he looked like this:






By 1993, he cancels his "Dangerous" tour, stating an injury he had while on tour led to a Demerol addiction. He disappeared from the public eye for a while, and there were unconfirmed reports that he went to a "wellness center" in the United Kingdom to help with his addiction. It was at this time that the allegations of inappropriate conduct with minors began surfacing.

By 1997 his behavior is all but inexplicable, and he writes a song called "Morphine". Here is a sampling of the lyrics: "Demerol, Demerol, Oh God he's taking Demerol. He's tried hard to convince her to be over what he had. Today he wants it twice as bad."

Again, from my vantage point, this is where he "crossed the line", as they say in recovery - when his addiction consumed him. The next 10 years are spent mostly out of the public eye - with the notable exception of the child molestation hearings - with reports of ill health, missing court dates due to "spider bites", "swollen toe", "exhaustion". He is estranged from most of his family, and has a cycle of friends who come into his life for periods of time, only to have falling outs with him and disappear. It is acknowledged that his inner circle of friends and family knew of his addiction, tried to help, tried to intervene, to no avail. Several of them admit to being unsurprised at his death of a heart attack at age 50.

By 2007, he looked like this:

He was disfigured, bald (he wore a wig), frighteningly underweight, and virtually incapable of functioning in the real world. He had surrounded himself with paid help - doctors, nurses, body guards. He had the money and the means to maintain his addictions, and like any good addict, he did. There is no way to watch this evolution and say that he was anything but a very sick and broken man.

Here's the thing: I don't put the responsibility for his drug use on anyone but him. I think the doctors that supplied him with these illegal medications are reprehensible and possibly criminal, to be sure, but ultimately it was Michael Jackson's addiction - his illness. It is impossible to get someone sober, and keep them sober, if they don't want recovery for themselves. Throughout his life, his behavior demonstrates a kind of self-rejection ... self-repulsion, even - one of the four horsemen of addiction.

But he is no different than any other addict or alcoholic I meet every day. He had the added difficulty of living in the public eye - I do have sympathy for how that complicates things. But it irks me to have his obvious addictions explained away -- this is enabling. It isn't any different than a family member who loves someone struggling with addiction - it is very hard to see how bad things really are. It is part and parcel of the illness - the addict is in denial, and will do anything to maintain their addiction. They will isolate and vehemently maintain that everything is fine. They will do this until it kills them if they don't get - and accept - help. His death was a virtual certainty. We all watched it unfold over the course of nearly three decades. We have a strange level of intimacy with our celebrities. We love to idolize and vilify them. But they are human, and subject to the same pitfalls as the rest of us. There is a very straightforward answer to all of his odd behavior, his isolation, his steadfast denial that his behavior was odd or inappropriate: he was an addict. He created impenetrable walls of denial around himself - he had the means to build them stronger than most - and he shut out the people in his life who tried to help him.

So now he is gone. His talent at the pinnacle of his career is undeniable. We lost an iconic artist, and that is always jolting - like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe before him. I heard some say his death is like a loss of innocence. But Michael Jackson the talented and promising artist, the singer/songwriter, the creative talent, the man himself - he has been gone from us for a long time, it is just that few people really want to admit it. But I do. One of the real tragedies here is the lost potential. Thriller - even for people who aren't particularly fans of his kind of music -was an amazing piece of artistry. It changed pop culture forever. Can you imagine what else he could have done, what other barriers he could have busted down, what kind of cutting edge music he could have created if he hadn't been taken down by drugs?

So while I honor his artistic legacy, I say a prayer for another life and spirit extinguished by addiction.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ask For Help

I ran into the mother of a friend of Greta's the other day in the supermarket (sorry, Peapod man, I was cheating on you). I had met her on several occassions, social and otherwise, so we are on a friendly getting-to-know-you basis. Her daughter Michelle* and Greta squealed and wrapped their arms around each other and began chattering away. In addition to Michelle, she was navigating her 3 year old and 1 year old around the store - she looked exhausted. We were coming off about 15 straight days of rain, and everyone was going a little crazy. I asked her how she was doing, and she gave me a dazed look and said, "I'm great! We're so excited summer is finally here!"

She looked about as excited as someone heading in for a root canal, so I thought I'd throw her a lifeline.

"Does Michelle want to come over some time for a playdate?" I asked. "I have a 3 year old, too, so why don't they all come over for a bit and give you a break?"

She blinked hard, twice, and said, "Oh, no. I couldn't possibly. The little guy is still in diapers, and they really are a handful, you know. And Michelle gets anxious at new people's houses, so I don't think it will work. But thanks for the offer."

So I tried a new approach. "How about you come over, too? We could have coffee, maybe finish a sentence or two while they are playing? I don't know about you, but I'm about ready to fall on my sword with all this rain."

Perhaps the imagery of me falling on my sword was too much, but her expression closed down completely.

"That's okay. Maybe some other time. Thanks." she said, and gathered up her kids and headed away to finish shopping.

I licked my wounds for a moment or two, feeling a bit stung. Is it me? Did I come on too strong? Does she think I'm some stalker or something? But I understand, too. I used to be this way - I couldn't relinquish my kids to another person, no matter how desperate I was for a break. I remember sitting on the couch with Greta when she was about 3 months old, terrified to take her grocery shopping and scared to leave her with anyone for any length of time. I told myself she wouldn't be able to handle being away from me, even for a short time. I told myself that nobody else on earth could handle the level of emotional duress this tiny person induced in me.

The truth was this: I was afraid to ask for help. I felt that asking for help was admitting failure on some level. That waving the white flag in surrender meant that I couldn't hack it as a Mom. I spent a lot of time examining other Moms and wondering why it seemed so easy for them. In my mind's eye, these Moms spent hours around a table with their fresh-faced children, dressed in matching outfits, making crafts or practicing their multiplication tables. Good Moms were never desperate to get away from their kids. Good Moms didn't lock themselves in the bathroom to have a good cry, because they couldn't take it for one. more. second.

And then I met Liz. We first met over the internet, on a website with discussion groups for expectant mothers. We connected during the course of our first pregnancies, and her daughter was born 8 days before mine. We kept chatting through the magic of the internet, but I didn't meet her in real life until our daughters were just over a year old.

Many of you follow Liz's blog, so you know firsthand how funny, smart, intuitive and amazing she is. At first glance I was completely intimidated by her. How could she possibly be so grounded? She didn't seem daunted at all by Motherhood (these were in the days before her blog). She didn't seem terrified at all.

"Doesn't Motherhood just scare the pants off you sometimes?" she said, after greeting me and welcoming me into her home.

I blinked twice, hard. And then - a flood of relief. "Yes," I breathed. "Yes, it does."

And so it began. This friendship that has endured the births of five children, my alcoholism and recovery, other trials and tribulations and many, many joys. We kept ourselves afloat - along with Karin and her three kids, the other members of our Posse (actually it must be said that Karin came along before me) - with humor, empathy and several million cups of coffee. Karin's quick wit and wise words of advice. Liz's grace under pressure, and uncanny ability to know just what to say. Our jokes about how far we think the crying baby would fly if we threw her off the porch. How long the kids would survive if we duct taped them to the wall and chucked them some fresh meat every now and again. We celebrated the milestones together - first steps, first words, second (and third!) pregnancies, the birth of our children. We had marathon playdates during one particularly snowy and difficult winter. We kept it real.

Through Liz and Karin I learned how to ask for help. About the importance of bonding together when times get tough. How a problem shared is a problem cut in half. How surrendering when it is too hard is the key to parenting. As Liz puts it: the perfect people are all stinking liars. Amen to that.


*not her real name

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Heaven

We're back from Bermuda. It was an amazing trip - perfect weather, so relaxing, great food and lots of reading of trashy novels (and one great book - Breakfast with Buddha - HIGHLY recommend it if you haven't read it).

It is a trip that will go down as one of my all time favorites for many reasons. First - it was a surprise from my husband. He told me a few months ago that we were going away for my 40th. This set me thinking (something I should never do). I pictured a weekend camping trip somewhere up North, like New Hampshire. I thought camping, because it is something I don't really prefer to do, and my husband loves to do ... so what better opportunity than to "surprise" me with camping?!?! On the camping thing... he claims I pulled a total bait and switch on him - when we were dating I said I loved camping, and the moment we were married I said I would never sleep on the ground voluntarily again (I had also told him I liked mountain biking, which was a complete and total lie designed to entrap him in my clutches).

He didn't do much to allay my fears when I pressed him for details on where we were going.

"Are we camping?" I asked.

"Define camping," he said.

Sigh. "Are we sleeping on the ground?"

"Define ground," he said.


It went on and on like this until my imagination got the best of me and I had us dog sledding across the frozen tundra of the Arctic and sleeping under elk pelts.

So I was understandably ecstatic when I learned we were heading to someplace tropical. It was the perfect place for us ... a crazy little resort called "9Beaches". It is a pretty array of cloth sided cabanas which sit ON the water. Literally. There is a little plexiglass hole in the floor where we could watch the fish swim by. Rustic and comfy all at the same time. Perfect.

We went out to a nice dinner on my birthday, but otherwise travelled economically -- stuffing our suitcases with granola bars and beef jerky and other non-perishables to save money. We had our own little beach right off our cabana, with a scenic (and shady) cave and direct access to water that hovered around 85 degrees. Heaven.

And as I mentioned before, it was good to miss the kids. Not that I didn't think of them constantly, but it was amazing to reconnect with my husband, finish sentences, and walk hand in hand on the beach. Alone. Everywhere I went, there were reminders of the kids, which was bittersweet.


"Greta would LOVE that shipwrecked boat!" we exclaimed. It was over 100 years old, and reminded us of the boat in one of her favorite books: "Burt Dow, Deep Water Man".


"Finn would go crazy chasing after all these geckos and frogs," we said.

It was a mixed blessing to be just two adults on vacation. I am so used to being Greta and Finn's Mom... it was odd to be treated like we didn't even have kids. We saw many families there, and it made my heart ache a little.

I will pick them up at my Mom's tomorrow. We called them tonight when we got back, and Greta was chatting away about all the fun things they did. Finn kept repeating, over and over, "Momma? I missed you!". I feel like the luckiest person on the planet to have these two beautiful kids to come home to. I can't wait for the endless questions, the sticky hugs and the long summer days. Heaven.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Look Back, But Don't Stare

As I mentioned, I am not wistful about birthdays. At least, not about getting older. Today is the eve of my 40th birthday, and I am thinking about things despite myself.

I'm sitting here in Bermuda - a surprise gift from my husband Steve. It is beautiful - peaceful, sunny and completely relaxing. My kids are having a ball with my parents for the week. Life is good. It is really good.

It is impossible for me to take all this in, however, without my mind pinging back to where I was just two years ago. Even though I am very open about my recovery, I don't talk often about the specifics of a darker time in my life, but now I feel compelled to get it out - write it down and move on.

I don't remember the eve of my 38th birthday. On July 3, 2007 I was seven days from falling apart completely, but I didn't realize it then. I was the last to know how bad things had become. This is how it usually works with addiction - you have worked hard for years to construct what you think is a perfect veneer. All around me, family and friends could see the desperate shape I was in, and I thought everything was just Fine, thank you. The reality of my life was this: I was in late-stage alcoholism. I hadn't eaten solid food in eleven days. I couldn't stand for long periods of time. I couldn't go more than an hour or so without a drink. Instead of having a wake-up call, I dug deeper and deeper into my addiction - clinging to it, thinking it was the only thing keeping me afloat, when in fact it was steadily dragging me down... drowning me.

To someone who has never suffered from addiction this seems unfathomable. My husband, family and friends were watching this smart, funny, loving person slowly kill herself. No amount of pleading, threats or illness could make me see how bad it was. Denial, the cornerstone to addiction, is a powerful, powerful thing. I don't think I can find words to describe what that kind of denial is like. It is like your mind builds itself a beautiful castle - you decorate it with all the trappings of life - ornate and shining. You put your family, your children, your life inside it. You want the world to see this shimmering testimony to your success, your emotional well-being, your normalcy. As things get darker and smaller in your life, you add more trimmings - like movie props - hoping that nobody will notice you have built this castle on quicksand. Addiction enables you to ignore the truth. If, on occasion, a glimmer of how bad things are bubbles to the surface and you see how tenuously you are holding on, your addiction tamps it right down.

And, before you know it, your addiction owns you. It calls all the shots. You don't want to think about that too much, so you drink more, or you use drugs more, and your addiction gets stronger and stronger. You are its slave.

I was completely desperate, scared and alone when I turned 38. Sure - I had friends - plenty of friends. I hid my secret dark world from all of them. The people closest to me were beginning to wonder why they never heard from me anymore, why I was always 'sick' and couldn't make it to events. I didn't leave the house because I couldn't hide it successfully anymore, and I wasn't about to stop. I thought it was the glue that held me together.

I am one of the lucky ones. My husband and my family got together and intervened. I ended up in long-term treatment. I left my family, my children, my friends for essentially the whole summer of 2007. I went into treatment absolutely terrified. I wanted to stop, I didn't want to stop. I could not fathom living a happy, rewarding life without alcohol. It was my liquid courage, my steadfast companion.

When I emerged from treatment, I had no idea who I was anymore. I didn't know how to return to my life. My husband, who is one of the most amazing people I know, stood by me, but he didn't enable me for a second. He was very clear that this was a one-shot deal to turn my life around. We made a pact that we weren't going to dwell in the past, only look to the future, one day at a time. And for the first time in a long while, my future was up to me. The idea scared me half to death.

I didn't know what my friends would think - would they accept me? Would I have any left? And my children - oh, my children - what do I say to them? How do I make it all better for them when I am terrified to the core.

Little by little, though, we healed. I went to meetings and met the incredible people I know today who hold me together like glue. I healed. I learned that I don't have to make it all better... I just have to be better. That my actions speak a thousand times louder than my words. I learned from my kids how to live in the moment, be grateful and joyous about the little things in life. How to forgive. How to love myself just as I am, with all my imperfections. It takes time - it takes a long time - and a lot of hard work, from everyone. And more than a little patience, understanding, acceptance and love.

If someone had shown me a snapshot of me, sitting here in Bermuda on the eve of my 40th birthday, relaxed, serene, grateful and free I would not have believed it. Since getting sober I have built a beautiful relationship with my husband, my kids. I have more friends in my life than I ever could have believed. I have started a little business that brings me great joy. I am sitting here writing about my recovery with pride, honesty and determination - talking about the very things that nearly killed me. It is an important lesson I try to remember every day. Running from the things that make me afraid only makes the fear chase me harder. Turning around, planting my feet, squaring my shoulders and facing them down makes them shrink, or disappear altogether.

A good friend of mine in recovery said a beautiful thing the other night. He said "in recovery, you get to write your own endings". In the throes of alcoholism, once you put a drink into your system you no longer have control over what happens to you - alcoholics react differently to alchohol than 'regular' people ... for alcoholics it seeps into our core, our identity, and it takes over. I get to write my own endings now. This doesn't mean I have control over what happens - far from it. It means I get to be present for everything life has to offer.

In some parts of the country, they call your sobriety anniversary (your sober date is the first time you went 24 hours without drinking or using) "Birthdays". I understand why. Because you get to be re-born. You get to begin anew. You look back at your past, but you don't stare. You look just hard enough to be grateful for all you have now.