What Do You Do With an Idea?

       I'm thrilled to be guest posting over at the Nerdy Book Club today! I know some of you first found yourself here because of my picture book reviews. Since I'm expanding my focus to different genres, I only review titles that are truly outstanding. This is one can't get out of my head- What Do You Do With an Idea?

               Something happens to us as we get older.  We used to have time to dream and to ask ourselves, “What if?”  Then we had even more time to let each scenario play out- to watch it crumble or watch it grow.  Now we don’t have time for anything.  We don’t have time to communicate unless it’s via text and half the words are abbreviated.  We don’t have time to visit so-and-so who moved across town or the time to read all those books that keep piling up.  And, most of the time, we don’t even have time to think.  That’s what happens- we stop thinking as we age.  We let a famous celebrity, our favorite television show, or the nightly news tell us what to think.  Even if we silenced the noise and finally heard our own voice blurt out an original thought, we might find ourselves asking, “Now what?  What do you do with an idea?”

               Author Kobi Yamada and illustrator Mae Besom guide us on the course of one child’s conviction in the celebrated picture book What Do You Do With an Idea? Yamada’s verse lifts us from whispers of self-doubt to bellows of confidence and joy.  Besom’s delicate pencil and watercolor pictures tip the scales from a hint of hues to a world overflowing with colors.  The tale centers on a child, neither obviously a girl nor boy, to whom we can all relate.
             Want to read the rest of the post? Click here!


To Doe Bay

     As soon as I saw the announcement for Write Doe Bay on Instagram, I knew I needed to take this trip.  I felt pulled to this certain place for reasons I couldn't explain and, even if I could name good reasons, I probably wouldn't have trusted them. The anxiety I held inside grew with each week of anticipation because I would be taking this long journey alone.  But I had been to many new places before.  I could go there, no problem.  All I had to do was make it there and, if I could, I thought maybe I would find my people, my tribe.  Somehow, someway, I was going to get to Doe Bay.

     It took some work, but I convinced my husband and my parents to support the whim and readjust their lives for four days to take over my responsibilities.  I shared my dreams with the girls too and explained that I would be gone only because of this tugging, this hope that I knew would feed me and, therefore, feed them.  The night before I left, Baby Girl sulked into her bedroom as Little Girl posted a sign on their door, "Keep out!  Mommy!  But come in when it's story time.  And hugs."  Then she shut it behind her.  I felt awful inside- that Mommy Guilt nagging my heart.

      After we tucked the girls in, I shared my fears with my husband.  I hadn't spoken about them before because I wanted him to fully support me.  If he had known I was scared he would've tried to talk me out of it.  But now all the arrangements were made, the tickets were purchased, and my bags were packed.  I was nervous how the girls would handle four days without me because I knew how it would affect them.  I have been away before.  I was nervous how my husband would do without me because I know all the things I do he doesn't notice.  And I hoped he didn't feed the girls oreos and doritos the whole time I was gone.  But there was something larger stirring in the back of my mind.

      "This is going to sound weird," I told him, "but do you know what I'm most afraid of?" 

      "What?" he asked. 

       "Well, you know it's been difficult navigating this whole Christian thing now.  And I know what most people on the west coast think about Jesus and Christians.  We're going to get in there and people are going to start pouring their hearts out. I can't pour my heart out now without talking about my relationship with God.  And as soon as I do, I'm afraid I'm going to stick out like a sore thumb and it will prevent people from connecting with me. They won't take me seriously because I'll be that red-state idiot." 

        "Oh.  Yeah.  I could see that.  I didn't even think about that.  I just want you to get there and back safely.  Don't worry about it." 

        "But I am worried about it.  It's my biggest worry.  I'm still figuring out what it means to follow Christ but I know if I'm hiding then I'm not glorifying Him." 

      The next morning, with all the shuffling and planning behind me, I slid into a seat near the gate with no one familiar on either side of me just like I had done countless times before.  I felt my nerves convincing my neck to tighten so I buried my face in A Week in Winter.  I was going to the rainiest part of the country and decided a book about Ireland in the winter would help me find the beauty in gloom.  We had a plane at the gate but the first class bathroom was out of order.  So I read for the three hours it took to get a new plane.

     A four hour flight later, the constant clouds of Seattle greeted me with a pale grin as I slid into the seat of a rental car.  I pinched the key and, squinting to find the ignition in a barely-lit parking garage, shoved it into the steering column.  "Oh, this is a new car.  I'll have to find the ignition," I said to myself.  After unsuccessfully fumbling for several minutes, I slunk back to the booth.  "This may sound dumb but I can't find the ignition." 

      "Oh," she said, "there isn't one.  Just press the brake and push the button on the dash at the same time.  It will start." 

       I heard her snicker as I walked back to the car.  I adjusted the side mirrors and tilted the rear-view to check my makeup.  "Simple mistake.  I can do this."

     After three hours of strange-car-manipulation and a few panicked texts to my contact, Jenn, I managed to find my way through the dark, drenched city during rush hour and steered onto the ferry at Anacortes just seven minutes before it left the harbor.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, the goal was to get there that first night in time to catch the end of the festivities.  I couldn't get there for the beginning.  But if I made the 7:00 pm ferry, I would at least get to sneak in at the tail end.  I watched them outstretch a mesh wall and clip it taught through my rear-view mirror.  As I unbuckled my seatbelt, my eyes caught the license plate in front of me- on it was a little silver fish.  I smiled.  Then I swayed up the stairs and fell into a slippery bucket seat.  Phew.  I had made it.

     My stomach was growling because I hadn't eaten in eleven hours.  I unwrapped a granola bar and opened the book again. After re-reading the same paragraph about eight times, I glanced up from the pages at the blackened windows.  My stomach stopped eating itself and I started to think of Melanie Griffith on the ferry in Working Girl- because everything points back to New York for me.  I wanted to go reenact some eighties-style wistful, important gazing out onto the water while leaning on the rail like she did, but it was too cold and dark outside for it to be fun.  So I did the two thousand teens' equivalent and took a selfie- a deer-in-the-headlights/I-feel-terrible selfie.  My head began to pound and my nose closed up.  It was a horrible time to be coming down with a cold.  But it didn't matter.  I was almost to Doe Bay.

       When we arrived at Orcas island, I started the car with ease and drove it onto land.  I called my husband to thank him for this opportunity and to encourage him during the nighttime routine I was missing.  Then I turned up the music and down the windows.  As I drove further into the island, cars started to peel off our single-file line from the ferry.  I kept driving.  Soon I was alone and my cell signal dropped.  Then I realized how dark it was beyond my headlights.  I kept driving.  I reached down to grab the phone, hoping to call my husband again, when I remembered it didn't work.  I kept driving, but I could feel fear creeping in. 

       This road would bring me straight to Doe Bay.  All I had to do was follow it.  On curves I could make out specks of light leading up to the sky.  I knew I must be driving through some kind of spectacular, mountainous scenery.  But all I could see was my little blue dot on the map, which only moved every few minutes, and the road turning in front of me.  Then I saw the first light in miles.  There, on a hill, was the outline of a huge cross backlit by the glow of neon.  I laughed.  I had heard people speak of happenings like this before and I thought they were kind of dumb.  But these little signs washed a peacefulness over me.  I felt like a fool for never acknowledging these moments in other people's lives.  It was significant.

          Forty-five minutes later, I arrived at the end of my route.  I looked up over my dash and found myself in a driveway- the driveway of a home without a single light on.  I hadn't seen a lit home in about twenty minutes.  What had I done wrong? I never get lost.  It's easy.  You type in the address and follow the map.  Oh no.  Had I entered the wrong address on the map before I got off the ferry?  What had I entered?  I looked down at my phone and tried to zoom in.  After a minute or so, the streets came into focus.  It said, "Doe Bay."  I had typed in Doe Bay and chose that instead of Doe Bay Resort from the drop down menu. But for a second it looked like it said "Die Bay" and I started to panic.  This was how horror movies began- dumb girl, darkness, silence. 

      "Ok, so I messed up.  Breathe.  I have no cell phone signal so I can't call anyone and ask them to guide me in.  Breathe.  I don't have a paper map or a working map, so I am literally lost.  And it's pitch dark.  And I haven't seen anyone and I don't know anyone or anywhere.  Breathe.  Please keep breathing.  Ok.  So I'm just going to have to drive back toward the harbor until I get a signal.  I'll be fine.  I'll miss everything.  But at least I won't be sleeping in this car.  Here.  Breathe.  Turn the car around." Oh my, I thought.  I'm talking to myself.

        So I started to drive back around the island while staring at my phone, studying the map when it would appear, and desperately trying to call Jenn over and over and over again.  I pictured her sitting at a crowded table laughing with everyone, loud music masking her ringtone. If I could just get a signal, I could look up the physical address on the website so I wouldn't end up in someone's  driveway again.

        "Surely since I'm at the bay I should be close to the actual resort.  I should see a sign or somethingSurely.  Right?"  Nope.  No sign on any street.  But I'm still talking to myself.  Then the dot moved.  "It moved?"  So I followed it up a hill, away from the water.  "What?  This can't be right." 

        It wasn't.  Now I was headed up through trails with no home or structure to be seen.  And this road seemed too narrow to turn my car around- but that's exactly what I had to do.  My lungs started to rise and fall with the beating of my heart.  I grabbed the handle on the door to support myself.  I was going to puke.  Yup.  No doubt about it.  Here came the puke.  At least it was pitch dark so no one would see.  And I was in a rental car.

        "No," I said.  "No.  You're not going to puke.  Stop it.  Breathe.  Slower.  I can't believe I've managed to get myself lost right now.  I never get lost.  So much for doing this well on my own.  Fine.  You suck at this.  Just turn the car around and find this stupid place with no sign."  I started to turn the car around and, just then, I got a signal.  Two bars.  It would have to be enough. 

        Later I would realize how miraculous it was to get a signal and to complete a phone call, but I called Jenn and she answered.  "Where are you?" she asked. 

        "I, I'm not sure.  (Don't be an idiot.  Don't sound panicked.) I think I'm on Point Lawrence now but I can't find the resort.  I can't believe I'm lost.  (Insert a casual laugh.  Don't tell her you want to throw up.)  I never get lost.  Ha.  Ha.  Ha."

        "Well, you're on the right road," she said.  "Which way are you going?" 

        "Hold on," I said, "I think...I think I see...yeah I see a Doe Bay Road on the map."  What?  That wasn't there two seconds ago.  "I'm so sorry.  I don't mean to interrupt you. I know you've got a million things going on." 

        "No, no it's totally fine.  I'm just trying to figure out where you are."  And then I saw a sign.  This sign was not there ten minutes ago.  It just wasn't. 

        "Um, I think I'm here?  Yeah.  I think I'm at the resort." (Praise God!!)

        "Ok.  Just drive to the water and we're at the Café on your left." 

        "Oh.  Ok.  I see you!  (Wait.  You're not that relieved.  You're fine.)  I see you." 

        "Oh great!  Perfect!  Just pull in and park right here," as she motions for me.

        I was trying to slow my heartbeat and play it cool as she led me to the cabin, but I could feel the disaster rising within me and the congestion clogging me up.  I dropped my things by my bed and hustled over to the café.  Still starving, I decided to order food before I found the group and said hello.  Too late.  As I opened the door, I saw a table of Instagram-familiar faces turn towards me.  I slid up to the bar, grabbed a menu, and buried my face in it.  Maybe they hadn't recognized me.  As I stared at the selection of normally delicious gourmet pizzas and adult beverages, I felt my stomach clamp down.  I knew this feeling but couldn't quite remember when I had it last.  I turned the menu face down on the bar and went to gather myself in the restroom.

         "Come on.  What is wrong with you?  You're here!  You came all this way.  For what?  To puke, I guess?"  Well, that didn't work.  I slunk off to the house, took a Nyquil, and closed my eyes.  And there it was.  That old feeling.  That all-consuming, mind-numbing, body ache of fear that I had faced my first night in Milan all those years ago.  That had been the last time I had taken a risk like this.  But I didn't have children then.  And it didn't end well.  Shhh.  Silence the demons.  Sleep.  Channel some Scarlet O'Hara, "After all, tomorrow is another day," and start composing the apology to your family and the promise that you'll never do anything stupid like this again.  I smiled at all the giggling and the music blasting in the living room when the girls returned from the café.  It sounded like a sleepover out there.  But a smile was all I could muster, and a "hi," when they found me lying in bed.  Then, sleep came- beautiful, cleansing, restorative sleep. 


It's Together Ever After

             Y'all know I have been longing for a writing community for some time now- people to understand my struggles and to guide me in this new arena.  I am pleased to share that I found one of the missing pieces on Instagram.  I don't remember how I first found her, but ever since I started following Evelyn A. Lauer I have felt we share the same love for love and the same urge to tell a story about our battle to find it and keep it safe.  Each time she publishes something new, I am reaffirmed that I know the character in her story.  Evelyn earned her MFA in creative writing at Texas State University, is a Huffington Post blogger, and has just recently finished a memoir.  This week she is hosting 7 Days of Love Stories written by guest bloggers on her website.  The opportunity to share our story came at a perfect time since I'm currently working on our testimony for Re|Engage, the marriage ministry we hold so dear.  I am grateful for my words to be included in her series and can't wait for y'all to read it so you can tell me what you think.  My story is one fraught with poor decisions.  But that's life, isn't it?  And, somehow, I found a love that lasts.  Here is our love story (in a word count nutshell)...

To visit Evelyn's  website, click here.

It's Together Ever After

               The first night we met I was broken.  I was still technically married at the time but had recently left my then-husband to chase an old flame, to escape the pain, to make it all clean again.  My then-husband was relieved to have the spotlight positioned over my head instead of his and I was questioning why I had never thought of divorce as an option before.  I let the old flame blanket me in warmth and I melted into him. 
Just as soon as I learned to smile again and to eat more calories than I drank each day, I started to see I wouldn’t be able to keep him either.  He had just returned from the service overseas.  I had just escaped war in my own home.  He wanted freedom.  I wanted security.  Tangling in the sheets kept me entertained, but it wouldn’t make me stay.  I could hear the cries and feel the wounds of the past seven years creeping up behind me at night like the clip-clop and clatter of an old horse and buggy chasing me in the dark.  Without the warmth of his bed, would I have the strength to flip on the lights and ward off the ghosts?   And then we met...

My girlfriend called me at ten that night.  She said her ex was going to be out and she had to see him and I had to go with her.  It was an easy choice to leave behind another night of adjusting the rabbit ears on the TV in between bouts of airing out my depression on the patio with a couple packs of Marlboro Reds.  I stabbed my cigarette in the ashtray and grabbed a slightly sheer button-up top and a short cotton skirt from the mound of clothes on my bedroom floor.  The mound began growing three months ago when nothing fit.  When we were getting ready to go out each night, then-husband would be flexing his abs in the mirror as I was peeling off tops and jeans that made me look like an exploded can of biscuits.  By the time he was done covering up his pimples with my concealer, I would’ve settled on a sweater to cover it all up. 

I tossed that tube of concealer into my drawer and glanced up at the mirror- the one that reflected only me now.  I shut the drawer and bolted to the car.  It took me an hour to drive across town to pick her up and then to a popular patio bar at which we either began or ended most nights.  We shuffled up the steps, flashed our IDs at the door, and then she disappeared to find him.  A strip of walkway spun through the middle of the crowded room walled with exposed brick and then wound around the bars outside.  I used to sit quietly with then-husband while my single friends walked the loop.  Tonight I walked it by myself.  My cheeks felt warm.  When I neared the end of the loop, I saw him leaning against the bar rattling his drink with one hand, sliding his baseball cap around backwards with the other.  His eyes were staring into the bottom of his glass when he laughed to the guy on his left.  His smile caught me.  I kept walking.

               A few minutes later I ran into my girlfriend.  As she started to give me her update, I felt a figure approach over my left shoulder and stride past both of us, quickly enough to shift the fog of smoke, but slowly enough for us to hear him mutter over his right shoulder, “I’m gonna buy y’all a drink.”  Then he disappeared.  I turned to my friend, “Was he talking to us?”  “I don’t know,” she said.  And I suggested, “Well, let’s go find out.” 

               We caught up with him and he offered us a drink.  I asked him if that was how he usually picked up girls and started to advise him otherwise when he stopped me with a wink, “It worked on you, didn’t it?”  He was cocky and rugged and he made me laugh, but not because he was silly, because he was clever.  I fell in love.  Then I talked myself out of it.  I was still married and headed straight for divorce, still heartbroken about losing the old flame, and obviously in no condition to be making romantic decisions for myself anymore.  I heard the ghosts whispering in my ear, telling me I was no good, and I chose to mostly believe them.  But I got his number anyway.

               The next few months I crumbled.  All those dreams I had were dead and in the ground.  And I wasn’t dumb enough to spin a web of lies with anyone again.  How could then-husband have lived seven years in a charade?  Did he think if he lied enough it would change him into who he was pretending to be?  So I just lived each moment, each hour, each night.  I made quick decisions assuming those could only have fleeting consequences.  No more planning and hoping- leave it up to chance and whim.  Just try this!  Just do this.  Just call him- the one who made you laugh.  So I did.  And I didn’t expect much.  I knew we’d exchange banter and we’d connect in more ways than one which was wonderful, but it wouldn’t last.  I can’t keep anyone.  I was flawed.  But then he stayed.  Dates turned into weekends.  Weekends turned into vacations.   Our time turned into dreams.  A ring turned into a daughter.  And a home turned into another daughter.

I couldn’t believe we both took a chance on each other that day.  And I couldn’t believe the day we met would turn into a family, a home, a life.  There we stood on a peak when the landslide came.   All our previous disagreements about where we spent our money, why we were having (or not having) sex, how to handle each other’s families, how to handle our own family, and where we each wanted to go in life- the ones we thought we were over and healed from- knocked the feet out from under us.  And we fell.  Faced with our worst fears once again, but now with children who depend on us to stay together, we couldn’t choose divorce.  Instead, we chose to believe in each other and to forgive.  We chose to forgive that day we cried in each other’s arms on the porch and every day after, over and over again.  Without our faith and without our decision to choose to love one another every day until this world disappears, we would still be trapped in that landslide.

So this is us.  This is our love story.  It isn’t fireworks.  It isn’t happily ever after.  It’s together ever after.  It’s just us- fighting to stay together.  And when the next landslide comes, because we’re either leaving one behind or headed towards one in life, we’ll choose each other and fight for us.



Keep going baby.

   Last Thursday night I was sitting outside of Little Girl's acrobatics class doing some self-prescribed homework with Baby Girl.  She wants so badly to be big and capable and worthy.  I can't believe she doesn't already know she is beyond capable and worthy but I let her assign herself some homework anyway.  As we sat on our favorite wooden bench, dancers and cheerleaders crisscrossing in front of us and almost tripping over our feet, we pulled out the Kumon workbooks I bought at Costco forever ago.

   First we worked on uppercase letters, then we moved on to mazes, and finally ended up at connect-the-dots.  I began at the number one and ran my forefinger through the white space, encouraging her to follow me and draw a straight, bold line right where I had traced an imaginary one.  She drew her marker up in the air and pressed it on the paper.  Every few seconds her big brown eyes would glance up from the paper to me for encouragement and I would remind her that she knows what comes after 14.  "Keep going baby," I told her.  "You're good at this."  With each page came new challenges- the lines were on a diagonal, the numbers went into the 20s- and when she started to lose interest or get discouraged, I said, "Don't stop.  It's going to look so neat when it's done.  Can you tell what it is yet?"  The mystery of the end product drew her back in. 

   Eventually, she developed some new strategies, "What if, instead of a straight line, I made a wavy line from seven to eight?  What if I drew a circle around fifteen before I draw a line to sixteen?"  At this point I was standing at the window, trying to watch Little Girl's dance.  She's the youngest and most inexperienced in the class.  I have to watch the routines intently so I know the answers to her questions while she practices during the week.  Once I brought my attention back to Baby Girl and noticed what she was doing, I tried to steer her back to straight lines.  "Honey, if you draw wavy lines between all the numbers, then the picture won't look right.  Try the straight lines again."  She went back to the straight lines and when she was done with each picture, she'd prance around the halls, holding the workbook open wide with both hands, singing a song about whatever she had just drawn.

   As we drove home my mind kept wandering to the night before and the decision I need to make.  I had attended an information session about creative writing classes.  I debated not going in the days prior, but I figured the classes were unimposing.  Adult education or continuing education classes are just for fun, right?  Nothing to worry about.  Wrong.  These classes are intense.  The Writer's Path seems like it is designed to strip you down and then build you back up.  I expected that in this process.  But I was pretty good at bringing myself down on my own; I didn't think I needed to pay someone else to do it for me.

   Daddy issues aside, at sixteen I thrust myself into modeling and spent the first few years making decisions which would reveal, in time, who I could trust and who I could not.  I was talking to my mom about all of this yesterday and we were half laughing, half cringing at all the mistakes I made when I first started modeling.  The writer's retreats and writing classes I want to do now are very reminiscent of the model camps and model schools I tried when I was younger.  I hear that tape playing in my head, chiding me with, "Everyone just wants your money.  You're smarter than that."  But really, I'm not.  I'm not savvy enough in this new industry to know where to put my resources.  And the stakes are much higher now with a family that depends on me.

   My husband, daughters, and I have been discussing this during breakfast, late at night, in the car, in the bath, and now I'm sharing it with you, wherever you are.  I think my husband always knew this was coming and is nothing but supportive.  The girls just want to know what the book is about.  I don't know where this interest in writing will take me but I am going to pursue it regardless, kind of like Baby Girl's connect the dots workbook. 

   I am now aware of the dots that brought me here but I'm a little hesitant to trust in which direction I should go.  Maybe all the self-prescribed studying I've been doing these past seven months was just drawing a circle around my spot instead of moving onto the next one.  Maybe the writing retreats or the Writer's Path will be wavy lines instead of straight ones.  I don't know.  But I wouldn't have met the people I needed to meet in the modeling world if I never started to take risks.  And I'm never going to prance around the halls, singing and holding my book wide open with both hands, if I don't start taking more risks.  If only the path I should take was lined out perfectly in front of me, each step clearly numbered, you know? 

     I plan on making more time to share on the blog this year and I hope you'll stay tuned and let me know what you think.  For now, I'll be subtly hinting to my husband by posting on my blog that all he has to say is what I told Baby Girl (and what I'm sure I'll tell Little Girl later when we practice her dance), "Keep going baby.  You're good at this."


December is a Test

   December is over.  Phew.  For me, it is always a test- as if I've been auditing and adjusting skills all year and the considerable demands of the busiest month test my limits.  It is the most magical time of the year, right?  Yes, only if the matriarchs can keep it together.  Let's be honest, ladies.  The magic is all up to us, isn't it?  I think I fared well this year, better than in the past.  Did you survive?

   December is a glittering mirage that taunts me.  "I can't wait until Christmas," I tell myself in July when we're dehydrated and dreading back-to-school.  I love decorating with tiny, blinking lights and shimmery ornaments while Bing Crosby sings in the background.  I love drinking hot chocolate while oohing and ahhing at Christmas lights in spirited neighborhoods.  And I love cozying up under a blanket with my family to watch Home Alone for the umpteenth time.  We look forward to it all year.  I was proud of myself this fall for making it through the school's fundraiser, the pumpkin parties, the costumes, the candy, and then Thanksgiving in one piece.  But as I was doing the last of the dishes at my parents' house, and I saw Christmas on the horizon, the anticipation of glitter and comfort dissipated.  I felt the weight of December descend.

   I resent the weight and the stress of December.  How horribly ironic that Christmas is a celebration of the Lord sending us His one and only Son, yet our culture has tortured it and twisted it into a month-long, all-consuming army of monsters.  I didn't want my family to duck out of any of the wonderful traditions, but I decided to reject the weight that is so closely associated with Christmas.  My children's memories of the holiday season shouldn't be dictated by a mommy teetering on the edge of sanity.

   The first stop on the normally crazy Christmas train is family drama.  I am a relational person by nature.  I feel most secure and most loved when surrounded by my family, which is a catch-22 because I come from a broken-three-times-sideways family that has always struggled with mending fences.  We fight.  But nobody ever wants to clean up.  And as soon as we started to coordinate schedules for family meals, church services, and mini-birthday celebrations (one of my sisters and I both have birthdays within the week before Christmas), battle wounds from years ago were suddenly sore again.  I even went down the will-he-even-send-a-birthday-card-this-year rabbit hole.  Everyone's style varies from issue to issue- some choose to be silent, some choose to be very vocal- but either way, the pain is palpable. 

   This year I chose not to fight the fight.  I chose to be respectfully quiet, peaceful, and humble.  (Ok, I did freak out twice, but they were short-lived, well-contained, and two is a major improvement.)  I smiled.  I sent out Christmas cards anyway.  And I prayed for them anyway.  I heard someone raise the question last week, "How do I know if I have enemies?"  If it's difficult for you to pray for them, then they're probably your enemies.  And having an enemy within the blood of your own family is excruciating to maneuver well.  If blood is thicker than water, it's far more painful to receive a blood transfusion than it is to drink a glass of water.

   Sending out Christmas cards is, therefore, a major portion of the December Test.  And the questions one must answer aren't confined to family.  We must answer for our friendships as well.  Will you send a card to them despite what has happened?  Will you delete their address from your book completely?  Will you contact them to get their new address since they moved, or not?  Several years ago I decided I needed to make new friends, even reach out to some old ones.  I have never trusted more than a handful of people at a time. Unknowingly, I had set the bar pretty high for success in these new relationships.  Along the way many have not ended well. Discontinuation of the new friendships were mostly justified- square peg, round hole syndrome.  But it still makes me sad when a connection is lost.  Addressing Christmas cards has always reminded me of the fragility of the human heart.  Things can change so quickly.  You never know what the year will bring.  This Christmas I decided I would intentionally change my attitude and focus on all the love that exists, instead of the void where it does not.  I focused on the miracle of Jesus and the miracle of love and connection, instead of the great divisions.
   Once I realized I could transform my perspective a bit in terms of my emotions, I was inspired to tackle the staggering logistics of December as well.  I wanted to be prepared for surprises.  I wanted to make sure I got enough sleep and didn't rely on vices for motivation or escape.  And I wasn't going to allow myself to be devoured by worry and stress.  So, I did the unthinkable- I quit smoking.  (Yes, again.) 

   My close friends and family know I've been struggling with this for years.  Each time I was done nursing my daughters, all it took was one date night and I was smoking at home every night after I tucked the girls into bed.  It certainly is the dumbest thing I have ever done- to entertain such a ridiculously destructive habit.  Yet I indulged over and over again.  And I quit over and over again.  This time though, I made it through Christmas, my birthday, and New Year's Eve without giving into another monster that used to prop me up during the holidays.  More on that later, but I'm pretty proud of myself.  And since I wasn't smoking, I hardly drank during the holidays either.  Steady as she goes.

   Ever since we became parents, the Christmas season has felt like an interminable acupuncture session gone horribly wrong.  Each event, communication, task on the to-do list, and even our hopes were steadily poked and jabbed until the soft spot was eventually punctured.  It almost seemed like that was the goal, to strip me down of all my safety barriers and crutches so that in January I could start rebuilding again.  And I think I accepted it these past few years.  But that's not what I want for myself.  And my children definitely deserve more.  We all deserve the best of me.  And if I'm going to be the best version of myself, I have to be intentional about which side of the fight I'm entrusting with my energy.

   January is still a time of rebirth and renewal for me, but on better terms this year.  For once, the desperation that drove me to press the reset button was lessened...and lessoned.  As I grow each year, I realize it isn't as important to maintain relationships as it is vital to understand each person for their own fears, their own needs. I'm afraid of the haunting pain that comes with losing people, so I grip them tightly.  That's exactly why I smoked all those years- to lessen the pain of loss.  It's unrealistic to expect life to be painless.  It is absolutely possible for me to handle pain, and stress, and worry, and failures differently. I think I passed the December Test this year.

   So I'm going to stop trying to warm the cold and to melt the ice.  It's not my ice to melt.  All I can control is what kind of wife I am to my husband, what kind of daughter or sister I am, and what kind of mother I am to my children.  And when we have our own ice to deal with I better be ready and willing to stop focusing on the cold, to stop looking for something to lean on, and to just dig in and make the best of it.



Fire Island

   I've spent the past couple months studying the craft, poring over book after book.  I desired to return to my story with a fresh set of skills but I needed time to pump myself up.  This past summer I realized I shouldn't be desperately seeking writer friends.  I needed to be reading their books.  So I did.  Their impeccable prose and constant encouragement sent me on a literary high.  (Stephen King and Dani Shapiro and I have totally bonded.  Too bad for them they have no idea.) I neared the end of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird on the first leg of our family vacation a few days ago.  For weeks I had been coasting along on my new-found confidence, itching to get back to my story, when, riding the Magical Express to Disney World, I read Lamott's last chapter.  It made me mad- fire-breathing, spitting-dirt, kick-the-wall-even-though-it-hurts mad.  I spent the days on our trip in Wonderland, laughing and smiling until my cheeks hurt.  Then we'd tuck the girls in, my husband would fall asleep watching the news, and I would lie in bed with my eyebrows all scrunched up and my lower lip stuck out- angry and pouting in one of the most magical places on earth.  A wildfire attacked My Galapagos.  I stood witness to all of my work going up in flames.

   Most artists and writers are introverts.  We want to have a support system and a critique group to touch base with, but we aren't looking for new friends.  I'm allowing my inner hermit to take over in this phase of life.  My close friends would be hesitant to believe I'm any sort of a wallflower because they've stood witness to decades of shenanigans.  But the ones who really know me have always suspected I would rather stay home, no matter how much fun we would have if they could get me to come out and play.

   I've been locking myself in myself.  In order to tell my story, and hopefully many others, I have to truly know myself.  What would your answer be if someone asked you, "Who are you?  What is your purpose in life?"  Would you even have an answer?  I was asked this recently.  I told them I would have to get back to them.  Even though I know my heart, my habits, and my dreams, I couldn't sum up exactly who I am and had never thought about my purpose in life.  The easy answer would've been, "I'm a wife and mother and I like to read and write."  But that's just the surface.  I don't like living on the surface.  It isn't the truth.

   I have found many answers these past few months in my reading.  Every time I read a new book, I learn more about myself.  That's what I love about the written word.  I love to connect with people, to tear back the façade, and to get a good look at the bones.  Maybe this stems from hiding other people's lies; maybe it stems from hiding my own.  Either way, all the dishonesty surrounding me left ravines so deep that the ground on which I stood broke away, and decided I would only focus on the truth, the bones from then on.  We are all different structures built on the same set of bones.  We all have the same problems, same worries, and same insecurities.  The manifestations seem incomparable, but the bones are all the same.  I just wish everyone wasn't so hell bent on celebrating the surface.

   Back in April, I wrote here about my fears with this memoir.  I'm afraid to include other people in my story- people who indisputably changed my future with their choices.  They certainly didn't think that by popping in and out of my life that their actions would someday be immortalized in print.   My curiosity on protocol caused me to reach out and ask for advice.  Thank y'all for lending me your time, for your thoughtfulness, and for guiding me in a new direction.  Hearing your feedback, whether encouraging or not, shapes me as a writer because it helps me discover what you want to read.  Writing is all for naught if no one will read it.  My heart and mind were full and ready to burst after y'all sent me down a new path and I naively bopped along this glorious trail with a literary companion for the next few months.  And then the bomb went off.

   A monsoon bathed the bus as we headed from the airport to our resort in Disney World.  Determined to stay awake and utilize every free moment, I opened my book.  I wanted to finish it before we arrived at the hotel and the vacation/marathon began.  I had just made it to the last chapter when I read this from Lamott's Bird by Bird, "Libel is defamation by written or printed word.  It is knowingly, maliciously saying things about people that cast them in false or damaging light." She went on to explain, "if you lived with a man who had a number of curious personal and professional habits and circumstances that his friends and clients know about, and if these friends can identify this man in your work by these habits and circumstances, you should probably change the details dramatically."

   I felt robbed.  I felt betrayed.  I felt angry.  Everywhere I turn, authors are inspiring other writers and dreamers to dig deep, to be unafraid, to tell your story, to be transparent, to not leave anything out.  Lamott began on page 3, "The very first thing I tell my students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth," and continued on page 6 with, "Remember that you own what happened to you." Just kidding.  Everyone's going to sue you.

   I chose to keep quiet about my torment until I had enough time to sort it all out.  The next few nights I sulked, I cursed, and I plotted.  My island became immediately engulfed in flames.  All I had built, the sprouts I had planted, the towering palms I had been babying, even my favorite spot where I sat to write, had been devoured by the fire.  This is my life, I thought.  I would not be kept quiet anymore.  That was the whole point in writing a book- to silence and expel my demons.  Instead, they were consuming me, once again.

   Eventually, I wiped the page of my mind clean, lifted my pen of creativity, and sketched an escape hatch smack dab in the middle of the empty white space.  Fiction.  Write fiction.  I stared at the scorched bones left behind, littering my once-beautiful island, and began building again.  I have no other choice.  This dream won't be joining the rest of my failures in the scrap pile.  This dream will be realized.  If I have to change all the details, the identifying characteristics, the places, and everything else that lies on the surface, it won't bother me a bit.  It won't change my story.  The bones are still the same.


What Kindergarten Taught Me

  The first day of Kindergarten- it was the moment I had been not-so-secretly looking forward to her entire five years of life.  On those endless colicky nights that bled into the mornings, during those chaotic evenings when I wanted to hand everyone a package of Pop-Tarts and send myself to bed at 5:30, after running out of patience and answers when faced with the never-ending list of questions about the world, and especially when she asked me to get out the play-doh or the paints again after I just finished scraping Legos out of the carpet, I held out hope for...the first day of Kindergarten. 

   My parents, my mom friends with older children, her pediatrician, and even her Sunday school teacher all told me, "Just wait.  When she's in Kindergarten it'll get easier!  You'll have more time to catch up on all those things you've been setting aside."  Their words transported me to my go-to fantasy, the one I had been painting in my head ever since her first indiscernible cry, and I smiled.  In this future life of mine, I would saunter through the hallway of my clean house, draw in the aromas of the simmering pan, pat the heads of my content children, and go back to my book to sneak in a few pages before dinner.  If only for a moment, I smiled.  Life was going to be better.  I would eventually get my act together.  And it would be wonderful.

   We had been preparing her for Kindergarten at every stage.  "Oh, look!  She is focusing her eyes on me for the first time!  Go get the color blocks!"  On her first half-birthday I began reading three books to her every night and never stopped.  I let her use scissors way before I was comfortable giving her any sharp object and I tried to always say yes to play-doh because I knew it would strengthen the writing muscles in her hands.  We took her to the zoo, the aquarium, the arboretum, the museum, the library.  We pointed out every leaf on every tree, corrected every behavior that would be unbecoming to classmates, and cringed at the ones we knew the teacher would discover anyway.

   Suddenly, we could see kindergarten ahead of us.  Teachers were pointing out all the ways our children would be prepared for it at her preschool.  Parents were giving us tips through past experiences, blogs, books, and unsolicited advice.  Even my Mom's Group brought in speakers with checklists and inside information.  Then, the wrench.  My husband got cold feet.  He started to entertain the idea we keep her home another year.  Most of our parent friends in her class had children with late birthdays and it seemed at least half had decided to hold their children back.  It was unclear whether their motives were sports or social-skills related, but still, he gave into the pressure.  And he tried to convince me.

   I panicked.  I had this all planned out.  We had discussed this plan countless times before and he had entirely agreed until now.  How on earth was I going to change his mind?  As we stood in the hall one morning, watching her class file upstairs to chapel, he whispered to me, "Wow.  I never realized how much taller she is than the rest of her class."  Bingo.  I nodded and gave a little, "Mmm hmmm.  She sure is!" Then I waited.  I stayed quiet just long enough so he wouldn't see it coming.  One night as we laid in bed watching TV, I nudged, "Honey, you know the biggest problem I see with holding her back?  If she's a little bit older than everyone else, and even quite a bit taller, she'll probably be the first to...(ahem)...develop."  "What?  What do you mean?"  Then I went for the jugular, "You know, she might be the first one in her class to get boobs.  And, trust me, you never want to be the first girl in your class to get boobs."  And just like that, it was over.  Off to Kindergarten we went.

   Finally, there we were.  It was the first day of Kindergarten.  I parallel-parked on the street in front of the school.  Her sparkling new shoes led her as she floated out of the car and bounced off the pavement, skipping to the door.  I followed closely behind, swallowing and blinking in quick succession.  I only had to hold it together a few more minutes.  I pumped myself up, "Come on.  You can do this."  She replied, "I know Mama!  Come on!!"  I signed my name and reached out for her hand.  She was already halfway down the hall.  She turned back and looked over her shoulder at me, bubbling over with giggles and anticipation.  But she didn't slow down.  I ran to catch up with her and scooted in the door behind her.  A few fake smiles to the parents and a simple kiss on her cheek later, she was all settled in and ready.  It was time for me to leave.


   Of course I had to pull over and ugly cry on the way home.  And of course I walked her to class every day that first week.  Every day she smiled and skipped into the classroom.  And every day it was time for me to leave.  I did really well.  She never saw a single tear.  She only saw my smile, felt my arms squeezing the air out of her tiny little ribcage, and heard me whisper in her ear the same words I always left her with each morning in preschool, "Good bye.  And go fly."

   But then, that second Monday, I had to drop her off at the door.  I turned the steering wheel and curved my car to the back of the building.  I slowed up to the curb.  A teacher opened my door and I handed her the Merida backpack she had coveted for so long.  Be brave.  And I let her walk out the door.  I didn't move the car until I saw the school door close behind her, not until the teacher gently waved me ahead.  And then I lost it.

   I am not ashamed to say I pretty much lost it each and every morning I dropped her off at school the entire year.  No, I didn't ugly cry every single morning.  Yes, the teachers instantly knew I was nuts.  No, they didn't hold it against me.  But my heart did drop every time that glittery backpack bravely forged on and then disappeared through that door.  When I had to release the brake and drive away, I clutched my heart. 

   Of course I instantly fell in love with her teacher and knew she was as happy and safe as she could be.  Of course she made some incredible friends, blew our minds with her amazing math skills and hunger for science, and took our breaths away each time she finished reading us a new book.  Of course she loved every minute of it- story time at the library, field trip to the zoo, field day, crazy hair day, kickball in the gym, tying her shoes for the first time by herself, making her very own fossil in class, singing "Let it Go" the loudest in music class.  It was the most magical year. 

   And then, all too quickly, came...the last day of kindergarten.  Graduation.  Oh.  My heart.  No one warned me about graduation!  I remember thinking how silly a kindergarten graduation sounded when she was a toddler.  Really?  So everyone gets a trophy, birthday parties are going to put us in the poor house, and they have a graduation ceremony every time they complete something?  Isn't that a bit much?  Yes.  It is.  But it's worth it.  Preparing for, and entering, kindergarten is such a "thing" nowadays.  Kids have to be much more prepared for kindergarten than we ever did, which means us parents do too.

   Only, no one ever told me to prepare myself for the last day of kindergarten.  No one told me she would have a different laugh, one I didn't recognize, within the first month of kindergarten.  No one warned me that she may bolt out of the car in the morning and run into other people's arms...people I don't know- older students, classmates, art teachers, the school nurse.  It doesn't matter.  I don't know them.  They aren't me.  No one told me what would happen to my heart if I happened to be volunteering in the classroom on the very day the school practiced its lockdown drill.  No one prepared me for those five minutes of silence, cornered in the bathroom with her sweet teacher, with her class, with her- sharing her teacher's fear.

   I never realized all those years I was rushing through our three books before bed, not allowing her to speak whatever was on her mind because I was too tired, that she wouldn't learn to ask questions about the story, the characters, their choices.  I wasn't letting her write her own story. 

   I never could have imagined that, after instructing her to return all uneaten food to her lunchbox so I could see how much she ate when she got home, I would be handed a soggy, dripping mess the first week of school because she saved the rest of her ice cream for me.  I didn't know how tired she would be after school- too tired to do all the things I had planned to make up for our lost time together.  She had already been to PE and recess.  She was too tired to go to the park with me.

   I never thought parents of kindergarteners would be inviting my little girl to sleepovers at five years old.  I never thought girl drama would begin in kindergarten.  I never thought parents of kindergarteners would drop their kids off at birthday parties.  And I forgot how much I hate homework.  No.  Really.  I despise it.  Yes, I'm grateful to be involved with her studies and to better prepare her for "the real world" but give me a break.  Let them be little.  And let them be with their families in the few hours they have between school and bedtime.  But what do I know?  It's been decades since I was in kindergarten.  My little girl is my oldest.  This is our first time.  We both had a lot to learn. 

   Now she knows how to write her own story, how to add and subtract, that humans and tyrannosaurus rex were never neighbors, that we forgive our friends, that she can do it, that I can do it, that I will always be there for her, and that I will need forgiveness too. 

   And what did kindergarten teach me?  It taught me that I have a lot of letting go to do.  It taught that me if I do let go, I allow her to fly.  Sometimes she will fall, but mostly she will fly higher than I ever imagined.  It taught me that she needs to write her own story.  But it also taught me that I don't have to let go all at once.  I have time.  We still have time.  Thank God.