Saturday, January 30, 2010

Let Your Light Shine

Being a mother takes guts, we all know that. There are a thousand different ways to be frightened, as a mother, and a million more ways to screw it up. Moms who put themselves out there in the blogosphere, keep it real, and share their struggles and triumphs will always have my respect and admiration.

Moms are human, of course, and subject to the struggles and pitfalls everyone faces. The pressure to put your best face forward, no matter what, is always out there. We're allowed to be frazzled, overwhelmed and have ourselves a good old fashioned pity party - Mommybloggers (gad, I hate that term) everywhere commiserate about the delicate balance of raising children and keeping ourselves sane.

The world is increasingly full of Moms who have kids later in life, after going out into the world to get advanced degrees, have careers, or make their way up the Corporate Ladder where they can kick asses and take names. After kids, their days are now filled with changing diapers, playgroups, fixing dinner and carting kids around in their minivans. Important, if not exactly heady, work. We tackle raising kids the same way we approached our careers: head-on and with an exacting determination to do a good job.

Sometimes, though, the floor drops out from underneath us. We become depressed, angry or addicted. Sometimes all three. What then? Is the world ready for Moms to talk openly about the truly dark stuff? I don't know. But I do know that, increasingly, there are Moms who will open up, tell their truths, share their struggles in the interest of helping themselves and others. They face judgement, embarrassment, ignorance and outright denial from the world at large that Moms fall apart, too. And that, sometimes, they turn to alcohol or drugs and get caught up in the web of addiction.

I blogged a lot about Diane Schuler, because I felt the public's response to her tragedy spoke volumes about the world's readiness, or lack thereof, to speak openly about addicted mothers. From newspaper and television reports, people seemed more ready to accept that someone at McDonald's had spiked her coffee that morning than that she had been drinking the day she drove her car the wrong way down a highway, crashed and killed eight people.

How do we break down the barriers of collective denial? By talking about it. Increasingly, there are brave women who share their stories, openly share their struggles with alcohol or drugs. Mothers have always struggled with addiction - this problem isn't new. What is new, however, is the power of the internet, our ability to open up and share our hearts and voices with the world.

Two women who are doing just that: Maggie and Heather. More and more, brave women like them are coming forward, speaking their truths, keeping it real. Addiction thrives in the dark. They are helping shine a bright light on the truth.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Take that, Failure

One of my post labels is "who put me in charge?" Much of the time I feel like I'm winging it, especially when it comes to raising the kids. Emotionally I feel like I'm in my mid-twenties (and that is being generous), so how the heck can I possibly be responsible for these two beautiful little souls? More often than I can count, I just want to throw up my hands and say "Seriously, kids, I really have no idea what I'm doing. Can you chuck out a few suggestions? Like a customer satisfaction survey or something?"

But there are some things I have learned over time. They don't have much to do with how to handle day-to-day life, not really. They won't help me answer a complicated question from my daughter about how gravity works, or what makes people fall in love. Over the course of my four decades on this earth, though, there are some things that I now believe to be true. They are the beliefs I fall back on, like a safety net, time and time again. They come from the people who have traveled the path before me, who have imparted their wisdom on to me:

~ Time heals. No matter how badly I feel at any given moment, it will pass.

~ What other people think of me is none of my business.

~ Fear is at the root of most negative feelings. Anger, insecurity, hate, jealousy, petulance: all born out of fear. Fear of rejection, of success or failure, of being abandoned, ignored or misunderstood. Face the fear and healing can begin.

~ If I rely on other people for a sense of self-worth, I'm going to come up short. It's an inside job.

~ To be a the best person I can be, I have to love myself first.

~ I won't learn a damn thing if I don't make mistakes. On the other side of pain and adversity is growth, if I'm paying attention.

~ No matter how much I want to, I can't change the past. I will never, ever have a better past. The future is out of my hands. All I have is now.

~ When in doubt, choose kindness. Treat people with kindness, even those who are rude to you - not because they are kind, but because you are.

And, finally, a quick story behind my favorite saying. These seven words have given me strength time and again. Last year I was in a strange city, full of fear and insecurity about a difficult thing I had to do the next day. I hadn't eaten in days, because I was so anxious. It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. It was about 7pm, and to pass time I decided to head out to the local bookstore. I asked the concierge where the closest bookstore was, and he gave me some sketchy directions. I ventured out onto the sidewalk, my head swimming with fear, thinking that I could just get on the next plane home and forget about what I had to do the next day. I followed the directions exactly, only to find an old boarded up storefront. No bookstore anywhere . It was just about the last straw... how was I going to go back to the hotel and face a long night of fear?

A man walked by, and he caught my eye - he was just strolling along, whistling contentedly to himself, taking in the city sights. Dressed in an old worn suit, with a knit hat jammed down over gorgeous dreadlocks, he carried a book of some sort in his right hand, stuffed with notations and papers. He stopped to wait for the light to turn green so he could cross the street. I ventured up to him - he just had this content, wise aura about him - and asked him if he could direct me to the nearest bookstore.

He stopped whistling and flashed me a huge smile. "There used to be one right there," he said. "But it closed down a while back. I'm afraid the nearest one is several blocks away." He winked at me and started whistling again.

"Oh, okay, thanks anyway. I just thought I'd ask," I said. He must have seen something in my expression, because he stopped whistling and looked me dead in the eye.

"It's alright, Miss. Nothing beats a failure but a try, right?" The light turned green and he strolled off, whistling, leaving me standing there with my mouth hanging open.

His words rang in my head, and suddenly what I had to do the next day didn't seem so daunting. At least I was out there swinging, right?

Nothing beats a failure but a try.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chickenhawk Down

Yesterday I was washing the breakfast dishes (oh, who am I kidding, I was washing last night's dinner dishes, too) when my eye falls on a the spaghetti pot, still partway full of cooked noodles. I decide to give the chickens (yes, we have four chickens) a treat; they have been trapped inside their coop since the last snowfall, and began gleefully running around their pen as soon as we let them out this morning. The chickens love spaghetti.

Greta follows me outside (Finn is at a friend's house), and I open the little gate and step into their pen - a small fenced in area in our woods that is about 20 feet x 20 feet.

That's odd, I think. The chickens are nowhere to be seen.

"Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!" I yell - this always brings them running. Nothing. I spot one chicken through the trees, cautiously making her way over to me. I scoop some noodles into my hand and slowly walk towards her. "C'mere chicken, I have some noodles for you!" I say, and hold the spaghetti out like a peace offering.

Now, my eyesight isn't what it used to be, so I'm only about four feet away when I realize that what I'm looking at isn't a chicken at all: it's a hawk. A big one. Five feet beyond the hawk lies the sad remains of one of our chickens.

"Stay where you are!" I yell to Greta, who immediately catches the alarm in my voice. "WHY?" she yells back. "WHAT IS IT?"

I'm trying to spare her the sight of what is left of Bubbles, and I don't know what hawks do when they are cornered, even when offered spaghetti. So I say, as calmly as I can, "It's a hawk, sweetie. Stay where you are."

"NOOOOOOOO!" she says, and starts to cry. "Are the chickens okay?" Before I can stop her, she runs up to the side of the pen. Thankfully, Bubbles is mostly covered by leaves, but she knows what she is seeing, and she cries even harder.

The hawk is eyeing me cautiously. I back away slowly and check inside the coop. The remaining three chickens are in there, safe, but clucking nervously. "The other chickens are fine," I tell Greta. "But we have to get the hawk out of here."

"BAD HAWK!" she says. "Go away go away go away!"

The hawk starts walking towards the far side of the pen, and I notice that it's hurt. One wing is dragging on the ground, and it is limping. Greta sees this, and her affections change immediately. "The hawk is hurt, the hawk is hurt! MommayouhavetohelpitohmyGoditshurt!"

I'm standing there helplessly, holding limp spaghetti, with my mouth hanging open. I decide to regroup. I throw the spaghetti at the hawk, back out of the pen and close the gate.

"I'm confused now," Greta says quietly, tears streaming down her face. "I'm mad at that hawk because it killed Bubbles, but now I want it to be okay, too."

"The hawk was just doing what hawks do, honey," I say. "Let's go inside and figure out what to do."

We go back inside and I call my husband at work. He doesn't have any bright ideas, but says he wants a picture. We head back outside with the camera to take a picture of the hawk. It is back to pecking away at the chicken, but when it sees us it starts limping away, dragging its wing. It look so pathetic that I feel badly for it, despite what it has done to Bubbles. I inch closer, camera raised. It limps faster. When I'm about six feet away, it spreads its wings and soars to a high tree branch. It is fine.

"It's not hurt!" Greta cries indignantly. "Stupid hawk!"

I have one of those moments where I just want to blink my eyes and forget about it. So that is what I do. I know - I'm great in a crisis.

"Let's go back inside, sweetie," I say to Greta. "There's nothing more we can do for Bubbles, and the other chickens are safe. We'll deal with it when Dad gets home."

Greta is still quietly crying, and we cuddle on the couch for a bit and talk about the circle of life, and the food chain. I get into a complicated conversation about who is higher on the food chain - humans or sharks - since sharks can eat us with their bare teeth and we can't eat sharks with our bare teeth. I'm in over my head, clearly, so I suggest we look up the hawk on the internet to learn more. Turns out birds will pretend to be hurt to lure threats away from their prey.

I'm going to try that the next time I'm in a confrontational situation and don't have a witty retort. I'm just going to limp away flailing one arm helplessly and go for the sympathy vote.

Or maybe I'll just chuck some spaghetti and run away.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wanted: One Hobgoblin. No Navels, Please.

Want to know what happens when you Google "writer's block"? I'll tell you: a whole lot of nothing.

Wikipedia provides this definition: "Writer's block may have many causes. A writer may run out of inspiration. The writer may be greatly distracted and feel they may have something that needs to be done before hand."

I always feel greatly distracted, and I always have something that needs to be done beforehand. So far laundry and the need to pay some attention to my children, on occasion, hasn't prevented me from being able to write.

Is it the other option? Have I run out of inspiration?

Here's what normally happens: I'm going about my day, minding my own business, when ZING! a little germ of a thought, or idea, just pops into my head. It doesn't particularly matter if it is a good idea or not. What matters is what it does to me: I turn it over and over, around and around, it takes on a life of its own and I can't not write about it. Once I've written about it, gotten it out of me, then I decide if it is worth putting out there for general consumption. Since I'm terrible at figuring out what is good, and what isn't, I generally just put it all out there. Lucky you.

Having nothing to say, no little germ of an idea or thought to be found anywhere in the vast wasteland that is my brain, is new to me. It appears the little hobgoblin in my head that produces things to write about has gone on to better endeavors, like navel gazing. It is too generous to call what I have a Muse - Muses are surrounded in light with long flowing white robes and bestow wonderful ideas upon people..... mine kind of snortles around looking for acorns and occasionally chucks me one.

The kids, my other source of seemingly endless material, aren't cooperating. They have been sick and haven't been up to their usual shenanigans. Unless, of course, I were to talk about the half hour conversation I had with my son yesterday about his boy parts, and even my hobgoblin knows that isn't a good idea.

I don't think I appreciated how much writing, for me, is a kind of self-therapy; I am inspired to write when I'm churning with some problem, anxiety or hurdle. And you know what? I'm feeling pretty good these days. Last week was awful - to be sure. Someone has been throwing up in my house for the past seven days (now it's my husband, even the dog had a turn). We've been house-bound, bored and rundown for a long time. But I'm okay. I kept my cool, took care of my kids, let myself off the hook with the housework, and we're getting through it.


So I guess I'll kick back, relax and wait for my hobgoblin to stop looking at her navel. Or for someone to pee in the DVD player, or something.

In desperation, I even Googled "I have nothing to say". You know what I found? A whole bunch of people writing about how they have nothing to write about.

Hmmmmm.. there's an idea.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Postcard from the Petri Dish, and Guest Post at Baby on Bored!

Sometimes it is just hard, and this week is one of those times. For the past five days we have endured the stomach bug, strep throat, sleepless nights and a major case of cabin fever. I have left the house only twice since Monday - once to go to the doctor, and once to get medicine. I haven't been to a meeting in over eight days - that has to be a record for me. Steve was away on a business trip for most of the week, and we are all stretched to our limits. Today the kids are feeling better, but now the dog and I are sick.

I have a tendency to ignore when things are just not going well, to stuff my feelings of frustration, anger and irritability. So I'm venting a bit, airing it out, all while reminding myself that it could be so much worse, and that this, as all things do, shall pass. What is it about my brain that feels like every emotion I have is going to last forever? When I'm happy, I can't imagine how things were ever so hard, and when it's hard I can't imagine that I'll ever feel normal again. It is just the way I'm hardwired, I guess.

Sometimes thinking about things I'm grateful for helps. Even this week there were so many times I felt gratitude - fleeting, but it was there. On Tuesday I was holding Greta's hair as she was sick at 2am, and she choked out "Thanks, Mom. This is what Moms do, right? They hold their kids' hair when they are sick?" I smiled and said a silent prayer of thanks that I could be one of those Moms, that I wasn't passed out on the bed, or irritable from a hangover. On Wednesday night, Finn and I were taking turns being sick all through the night. We were lying awake at about 4am, feeling miserable, when he put his hand on my forehead and said "I sorry you're sick, Momma. Dat's just not fair."

And, of course, when Mom is sick she still has to rally. The resentments well up, and I think "When is it my turn? When do I get to fall apart?"

I know, now, that I can lose myself in feeling obligated to other people, that I can happily sacrifice of my own emotional and physical health. It feels good, somehow, to martyr myself for the cause of my family. I'll take the kids to the doctor, get them on medicine, and ignore my own symptoms. I'll allow myself to get run down, resentful, tired, and won't put my hand out to ask for help. It feels right, somehow, to put myself at the bottom of the list. I'm comfortable there.

So I tell on myself. I don't allow myself to shuffle me to the bottom of the deck. I talk to other people about how I'm feeling, and I allow myself to be comforted. Most of the time.

I'm off to take a nap, I hope. Before I go I wanted to let you know I'm guest posting today over at Stefanie Wilder-Taylor's fabulous blog, Baby on Bored, so head on over there, if you want, and check it out. Stefanie is one funny, kick-ass woman and a terrific writer. She also happens to be in recovery, and she has helped so many, many people by sharing her story and putting herself out there. Check her out - you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Must-See Link about Addiction

We've been hit with "the bugs". When Greta was three she got the stomach flu, and we explained to her that it's called a "tummy bug". From then on, whenever she was sick she'd say "I got the bugs, Momma". And the bugs are back.

It has been a long week, but we seem to be coming out of it. I don't have anything insightful or interesting kicking around in my aching and sleep deprived head, but I wanted to share a link with you. It is an interview with Jeff VanVonderen, one of the interventionists on A&E's show Intervention. He talks about how the cycle of addiction works, how everyone around an addict gets sick, and gives an answer to the question "why can't they just STOP?". It's about seventeen minutes long, but it's good. The interview is a follow-up to a show Oprah is doing today about addictions (food, alcohol, drugs); she will be interviewing three people who went through an intervention themselves. To see the interview with Jeff, click here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Because Its All About Me

I love me some Celebrity Rehab. I need to make that clear up front. It's voyeuristic reality TV at its worst: watching people play out their lowest moments while I'm sitting comfortably on my couch munching popcorn. What is the fascination with watching train wrecks? Am I the only one who finds this compulsively entertaining? And it is a stretch to call these people Celebrities - okay, maybe Dennis Rodman and Heidi Fleiss were once household names, but I've never heard of most of these people .. Joey Kovar? Lisa D'Amato? I guess I don't watch enough reality TV, which is where several of these people get their dubious starts in the public eye.

Perhaps it is because I've been a train wreck, too, that I can't peel my eyes away from this show. And when the dramatic soundtracks and replays are stripped away, they are just regular people caught up in the web of addiction. The cast members (just the fact that they are considered a cast should be a tip off that there is something askew here) are at various stages with their ability to look objectively at their addictive behavior - some are firmly in Denial, while others are praying they are at Rock Bottom.

My own brief experience on camera was enough to convince me that it is very, very difficult to be yourself with cameramen and producers hovering about. Five complete strangers came to my house, the week before we taped the Oprah show, to interview me in my 'natural' environment. A sound guy, three camera men and one producer followed me around for hours, asking me question after question about some of the most painful moments of my life. "Act natural," the producer kept suggesting. "Pretend we aren't here," she says, while there is a camera lens eight inches from my face and a large microphone dangling in front of my nose. It was terrifying and alluring at the same time. I didn't feel anything like myself, not even close. The urge to edit my life, to project the right image (am I interesting enough? entertaining enough?) was nearly overwhelming. I told my truth, as best I could, and if I hadn't been talking about things that already happened to me, I don't know that I could have done it. If they were asking me about how I feel right now, in this moment, I wouldn't have known how to be truthful. My mind would have been casting about for the most interesting thing to say.

Celebrity Rehab is damaging, I think, to the public's perception of recovery, because it isn't really real. Heidi Fleiss asks a nurse, on the first show, whether or not this is "pretend rehab". The fact that the question has to be asked provides the answer. We, the public, may have become somewhat anesthetized to Reality TV, to watching people play out their lives on camera, thinking the subjects of our voyeurism are barely aware that we're there. But I know the subjects we're watching aren't anesthetized to it - quite the contrary, in fact. I know from my own experience it is impossible to ride out in front on a white horse and think objectively about yourself.

I'm reminded of how my 4 year old seems to view the world: any attention is good attention. It doesn't matter to him that he's behaving badly; he just wants me to Look. At. Him. Better that people are watching, than that nobody seems to care. And, just like with my 4 year old, it works.

I look.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Congratulations to ncrinehart, who won the Hydrangea Pendant Necklace! Thanks to everyone who entered!

The next item is one of my favorite winter rings - the Firelight Ring:

Made from anti-tarnish, permanently dyed gold colored wire and a sparkling tangerine crystal, this ring reminds me of cozy times by a flickering fire. Also available in sterling silver, but the winner will be sent the gold ring unless you indicate otherwise. Click on any picture to see the listing in my Etsy shop.

To enter, please comment below that you would like to enter, and include your email. If you are more comfortable emailing me directly, please do so at:

The winner will be chosen at random (my daughter draws a name from a hat) on February 1st.

This giveaway is open internationally.

Thanks so much!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gorilla Training, 101

I hate Expectations.

I'm not talking about hopes and dreams - those are great. They live somewhere out in the ether where they don't interfere with my day-to-day life.

I'm talking about the Expectations that live in my head. The ones that superimpose themselves over my real life - and without my permission, I might add. I do this unconsciously, most of the time. I didn't even notice that the Expectations were sitting at the breakfast table with me yesterday morning, as my kids ate sugary cereals and Greta scrambled to finish her homework only minutes before the bus comes.

"Tsk, tsk," they said. "Empty calories and carbs for breakfast. Why don't you just feed them crack cocaine? What happened to doing homework the night before? Oh, right. You were too busy keeping them up past their bedtime watching TV."

As we search madly for boots, hats & mittens the Expectations have a good laugh at my expense. "I thought you were going to have them hang up their coats so we don't do this everyone morning?" they whisper savagely in my ear.

Greta makes her bus, her homework completed, just as she does every morning. This doesn't appease the Expectations, though. They just find another target. Finn has a potty accident as we're walking out the door, and they tell me it's my fault. "It's because you aren't consistent," they hiss. "Other Moms remember to reward their kid every time he uses the potty. You forgot twice yesterday."

I have a mental picture of the Headmistress of Expectations: she is me, dressed in an uncomfortable tweed suit, wagging her finger and shaking her head in disappointment. I wish she would go away and leave me alone.

It is hard to resist her siren call. I seem to be hardwired to be tough on myself. Even when I do things well, the Headmistress can always find an example of how I could have done better. She hangs out with Low Self-Esteem and Addiction, and together they make a hell of a team.

I'm learning, though, how to tell her to shut up. Meet the Headmistress' laid back twin sister: Aunt Content. She is like a beloved substitute teacher; she shows up unpredictably, and we all breathe a little easier when she's around. She knows how to live in the moment and appreciate the smaller victories. Aunt Content pals around with Acceptance and Surrender. They remind me that I really don't control much, it's just that the Expectations make me think I do. She knows how to have a good laugh at my own expense, without losing my sense of self-worth in the process. She is my recovery.

When I was newly sober, someone said: "You aren't a bad person, you're a sick person. Hate the Addict, don't hate yourself." Right then, a little fissure appeared in my mind; I had always thought of my disease as a kind of out-of-control mental gorilla that raged in my head, beyond my control. I felt a seedling of hope: a gorilla can be contained, but only if I acknowledge that it's there.

I understand, now, that the Headmistress feeds my gorilla. She is my disease talking to me, telling me I don't measure up, that I'm not worth it. Now that I recognize her voice, she frightens me less and less. Before, hers was the only voice I heard. Now I have me a Gorilla Trainer.

This is what Aunt Content would have said to me yesterday morning, had I been listening:

"Take a deep breath, kiddo. We'll get there. What's the worst that could happen? That you drive her to school? That she has to make up the homework tomorrow? Is the world going to stop revolving if she isn't wearing mittens? If her hands are cold, maybe next time she'll remember to put them where they belong so she can find them easily. So what if Finn had an accident - he won't go off to high school in pull-ups. It will all be okay. And you know what? The world isn't watching. They aren't judging you. It's that Headmistress Bitch getting to you. So RELAX."

Monday, January 11, 2010

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

The witching hour. Parents have dreaded the hours of 5-7pm for eons. The sun goes down, Mom is tired, dinner needs to be fixed, homework done..... and the kids turn into little werewolves. Good times.

It is a time to buckle down, grit your teeth, and crack the whip.

Or, play Freeze Dance:

Untitled from Ellie S on Vimeo.

Maybe This Explains the Low Account Balance

Found this in a pile of Greta's papers on my desk. My little embezzler. Makes a Momma proud.

Good luck cashing that one, Greta.

*P.S. - the memo at the bottom says For: "Me"

Friday, January 8, 2010

4 Minutes In The Car

Greta, Finn and I are in the car, driving two miles to the post office. The conversation, if you can call it that, goes exactly like this:

Finn: "Momma ate a snail once. Dat's gwoss."

Greta: "That's disgusting. I hope they knocked the slime of it, first."

Finn: "Some people don't have ornaments on their Christmas Tree. Just lights."

Greta: "We read a book today about a giant snowman. It had tree trunks for arms."

Finn: "I don't evah, evah want to hold a lobstah."

Greta: "What is that day in January, Martin Luther King, Jr. day? We have school off that day, because he was really important."

Finn: "I totally hate lobstahs. Cwabs are okay, though."

Greta: "I want to have a holiday named after me when I die. They could call it Funny Greta Day."

Finn: "You know what would be gwoss? Eating your own tongue."

Greta: "Are there any holidays named after girls? There should be."

Finn: "I used to be fwee. Now I'm four. I don't wanna sit in my boostah seat anymore."

Greta: "Is it daytime in China now?"

Finn: "I went to China once. When I was a baby. Nobody saw me."

Greta: "You totally did not go to China. You're lying."

Finn: "I did. Santa took me."

Greta: "I can count to a million now."

Finn: "Spongebob is a kid. But Squidwahd is a gwown up."

Greta: "I can't believe you ate a snail, Mom."

Finn: "I nevah, evah, want to eat a snail."

Greta: "Mom? Are you even listening? Mom?"

Me: "Hmmm? Oh, yes. Sure. Snails."

**and for the record - I ate an escargot. It's totally not disgusting if you say it in french.

Perfectly Imperfect

There are so many juxtapositions to being a Mom, to parenting. I experience conflicting emotions on a regular basis: overwhelmed, but bored out of my skull. Worried when they are away from me, but desperate for them to go away when we're trapped at home. Madly in love with them, but chronically irritated. Trying to stay involved, but not controlling. Experiencing a tidal wave of affection for them, but when they are sleeping, not when they are clinging to me.

Another one: be true to myself, but accept invisibility. At their age they think I exist for them only. I'm a giver of hugs, a getter of snacks, an answerer of questions. The other day I was talking about doing something with friends, and Finn looked at me, puzzled. "Momma, you don't have any friends," he insisted.

I lost myself in that invisibility for a long time. I thought that putting their needs before mine was the only way to be a good parent. I grew angry, resentful and bored - and then guilty that I was angry, resentful and bored. I thought good Moms don't feel that way, ever. I fought those inherent juxtapositions of parenting - thinking boredom, irritation, anger and resentment weren't supposed to be part of the equation, and that if I felt them I wasn't doing a good job. It was a big part of my drinking: the need to erase the bad stuff, to manufacture a feeling of confidence and contentedness that wasn't always there. I didn't think I was allowed to have a life. Now I know it is essential to know who I am, understand my own fears and dreams, to find my own voice. How can I teach them to be strong, confident, independent people if I don't know how to do it myself?

I don't have to be perfect, I have to be human. I want to show them that mistakes can be a great teacher.

The other day Greta did something wrong, on purpose. Like me, she holds herself to a high standard, and because she's terrified of mistakes she doesn't behave badly very often. She lied about what she did, and tried to get her brother to cover for her. Being 4, Finn blurted the truth out within minutes. Greta fell apart. She was surprised by her own wrongdoing, she didn't understand exactly why she did it. She sobbed and sobbed, and didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to face her mistake, her fear. I understand that feeling all too well.

I told her a story about something I did when I was about her age. A small thing, really - I broke a glass table at a friend's house. We lied about how it happened, saying we heard a big boom, the house shook, and the table broke. For some reason, her parents believed us without questioning it and called the police and the gas company, who showed up to look for gas leaks. We lied to the police, too, now consumed with fear, but not knowing how to back out of it. Her little brother blurted out the truth that night, and our punishment was to go to the police station and apologize to the police for lying.

Greta's eyes were wide as she listened to my story. "You LIED? To the POLICE?" she said. I explained to her that mistakes are a part of life, that breaking the table was just a human mistake. I told her I lied because I was too afraid to admit that I had done something wrong, and in the end we got in more trouble for lying than anything else. That mistakes are okay, that we're human and they happen. I told her running from mistakes, or lying to ourself or others about why they happen, makes the mistakes bigger and scarier. That the truth, even when it's hard - especially when it's hard - will set you free.

Perfect Imperfection. That's a goal I can achieve.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Ah, Christmas vacation - I have such a love/hate relationship with thee. It's my own fault, and I do it every time; I set my expectations somewhere between the Brady Bunch and a Norman Rockwell painting. I picture lazy mornings, playing in fluffy white snow, board games and sipping cocoa by a roaring fire, my children's faces beaming up at me with adoration.

Instead, the weather alternates between subzero temperatures, blizzard conditions and sleeting rain. Trapped inside, sibling fights break out. My house looks like it has been ransacked by wild chimpanzees. Their faces beam up at me, saying "Mooooooom. We're bored. There's nothing to do!" with their barely unwrapped Christmas gifts strewn at their feet. We play board games, but have to get creative because each one is missing a critical piece or two, or three. Norman Rockwell is nowhere to be found. Neither is Carol Brady. Or Alice, for that matter.

Finn, who is 4, gets particularly creative with large amounts of unstructured time. I was determined to try and relax a bit, stocked up on books to read, tried to sneak away now and again for some peace and quiet. I paid a price every time.

On Saturday Greta and Finn are playing happily in the playroom, some elaborate game involving Littlest Pet Shops and a large cardboard box. I doze off on the couch for a bit - I'm talking twenty minutes - and wake up to find Finn's face just inches from mine. "I didn't do it, Mom" he says. "The fairies did." He is holding a pair of kid's scissors behind his back. At his feet are seven or eight of my favorite Christmas tree ornaments, their little strings cut off. One Santa ornament is scandalously naked, his little red suit cut to shreds.

On Sunday there is a break in the weather - still freezing but the sun is out. I get them bundled up in their snowsuits, hats, mittens, scarves and boots and send them outside. I decide to take advantage of the quiet and return a quick phone call. Maybe five minutes goes by, and I peek outside to check on them. Greta is playing quietly in the snow, and Finn is marching around dressed only in his boots and pants, his coat, hat and mittens gone, with his scarf tied around his bare chest. "Why you so mad?" he asks when I whisk him inside. "I covered my boobies!"

On Monday we escape to higher ground for a few days: my parents' condo. As they always do around people who aren't me, the kids are angelic, polite and play nicely with each other. I get to sleep in two mornings in a row. Norman Rockwell makes his long anticipated appearance, and life is good.

We return home for New Year's Eve, head into Boston with friends and have a ball at the indoor activities at First Night. Monday rolls around, and they both head off to school. I wallow in a few hours of silence and peck away at the mess and the laundry, grateful to be back in a routine. 2010 is looking good, baby.

Finn comes home from school and I plug him into his new favorite movie, Snow Buddies. I sit down to read a chapter of my book, finally. After a few moments, he comes up to me with a long face.

"Da movie machine is bwoken," he says. "I don't know what happened."

Sure enough, the DVD player is on the floor, and the movie is stuck inside. I finally wrench the machine open, only to discover the interior is wet. It takes me a couple of minutes and one horrifying sniff to realize he has peed in the DVD slot.

Paint THAT, Norman Rockwell.

You Are Not Alone

I get a fair number of emails from women who are struggling with their drinking, are new to recovery, or have been in recovery a while and just want to connect. It's an incredible feeling - the sense of community and comfort I receive talking with other women, many of them mothers, who get it.

I recently joined an incredible Yahoo group, started by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor of Baby on Bored and Sweet Jane of Lights! Camera! Diapers! (check out their fabulous blogs by clicking on the links). It is an anonymous, safe place to meet other women and talk about drinking. Or not drinking. Only a week old, this group is already 58 members strong, and growing every day. It is amazing to get to know these incredible women, hear their stories, and realize that if you are struggling with drinking, or staying sober, you are not alone. We come from all different walks of life, but our stories are so similar. It is inspiring. When I was trying to stop drinking, I felt like the only person on earth who did the things I did, and felt the way I felt. When I finally reached out for help and learned I was not the only one, not by a long shot, it gave me the courage to try recovery.

There are women there who are wondering if they have a problem, women actively trying to get sober, and women who have been in recovery a while and want to stay there. So, if you want a safe, comfortable place to talk about your own drinking and/or recovery, come by and join. The link is here. If you are are concerned about anonymity, you can set up an separate, anonymous Yahoo email account to join.

Even if you're not ready to talk about yourself, it is a good place to just go listen.

You are not alone.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Gift

I knew a woman who loved to laugh. She was as cool as they come. Her hair was always done just right, her nails gleamed, her accessories perfect. She was there every week, with her purse propped in her lap, smiling and winking at those who sat in the circle around her. Quick with a joke or a hug, she always knew just what someone needed.

When I dragged myself to my first meeting, I noticed her right away. I had been drinking, and I felt like the loneliest person in the world. I watched her from across the room, heard her booming laugh, and wondered what it would be like to be so secure in myself, so happy.

She shared her story with humor and grace, and, as always, with a message. In my early days of sobriety I went to a weekly beginner meeting, sat silently in the back, wringing my hands and full of despair. One night, as the meeting broke, she put her hand on my arm and said, with a twinkle in her eyes, "it's okay to laugh, you know. It's part of getting better."

One night I finally worked up the courage to speak. I was angry, hopeless. I had just spent five days in the hospital, rushed there by ambulance after my blood pressure spiked dangerously due to alcohol withdrawal. After leaving the hospital, I went straight to the beginner meeting.

"I'm so scared," I said. "I nearly died. I don't know that I'll ever get sober."

I saw her raise her eyebrow at me from across the room, and then put up her hand to speak. I sank lower in my chair. She told a story from her own past, about how scary things got for her. Then she looked me right in the eye and said, "what you have been given, honey, is a second chance. It's a gift. It's okay to be scared, just don't give up." After the meeting, as I was trying to duck out the door without speaking to anyone, she stopped me and gave me a hug. "It's going to be okay," she said. Looking at her smiling face, I had my first glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, it would be okay.

Over the past couple of years I watched her help countless people with her ribald humor, irreverence, dedication and her own special kind of grace. She giggled nearly constantly, and swore like a trucker. She showed me that being sober didn't mean I'd never laugh again. She marched to her own drummer, and invited all of us along for the ride.

She passed away on New Year's Eve. It is hard to picture the world without her robust presence, her huge smile, and her unwavering dedication to recovery.

And she is right - I have been given a second chance, and it is a gift. She was a gift, too. She shared her story, she shared herself, and helped so many people get sober, stay sober, and laugh a lot along the way. I'm sure there are some angels in heaven blushing from her jokes, but I bet they are laughing, too.

This is how recovery works. She came into my life, a complete stranger, in my most desperate hour. She shared her experience, strength and hope, and passed along what she had learned from the people who came before her. It is Grace in motion, and it is amazing.

I will miss her; I will miss her a lot. But her words of wisdom and strength (and more than a few of her jokes) will continue through me and countless others.

Her gift lives on.

Rest in Peace, Millie. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all your love and laughter.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Congrats to Kym, who won the Black Raspberry Pearl Jewelry Set! Thanks to all who entered!

The next giveaway item is the Hydrangea Pendant Necklace:

This fun and funky pendant necklace is made with delicate pale lavender and sage green swarovski rondelles, wrapped in sterling silver wire. The pendant is about 2" long, and hangs on an 18" sterling silver box chain necklace. If you like a unique and hand-made look, this necklace is for you.

Click on any picture to see more pictures of this piece in my Etsy shop.

To enter, please comment below indicating you would like to enter the giveaway, and please include your email. If you are more comfortable emailing me directly, please do so at

The winner will be chosen at random on January 15th (my daughter picks a name from a hat).

Edited to add: this giveaway is open internationally.

Thank you!