Movin’ On Up

I’ve got a new website! Pretty easy to remember: http://www.plansinpencil.com. From now on I’ll be posting over there, so stop by for a visit!

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Marbles

I’m currently dusting out the cobwebs in my head to make room for more words and some Halloween decorations, and all this random stuff keeps falling out. Here’s what it looks like:

–Can I get paid $1 million by Oman to not go hiking in Iran?

–I’m starting a new website. Actually, it’s been up and running for months now (thanks to The Husband), but due to a contract I signed to join a women’s blogging community (and get some ad dollas), I’ve received the push I needed to post solely over there from now on. So starting next week, I’ll be posting the link to that website (www.plansinpencil.com) instead of this one. You know how it is–sisters doin’ it for themselves and all (with the help of their tech-savvy husbands).

–What makes oatmeal cut by steel better than regular-cut oatmeal?

–“The Power of Love,” by Huey Lewis and the News, totally holds up over time as an awesome song. Especially when coupled with a workout and the image of Michael J. Fox climbing over a convertible to land on his skateboard.

–Last night’s Troy Davis execution debacle was profoundly sad on every level and shouldn’t have happened. I don’t say that because I think he’s innocent (the evidence would suggest otherwise), but because our system is broken. I disagree with the death penalty. This may sound strange coming from someone who supports the right to bear arms and thinks that the rich already pay their fair share (and a lot of other people’s). But while I do think plenty of people deserve the ultimate punishment for their crimes (I’m looking at you, Scott Peterson), I don’t think I or any other human beings have the authority to pronounce that a life should end (see also: abortion). That’s God’s job, and we’re all under-qualified for the position.

–OMG! Thursday night comedy is back! Who will be the new boss on The Office?

–I prayed for encouragement, and God decided to show off when he answered in the form of a couple of emails, then a call from a New York City area code. The conversation was a response to a deeper prayer than I had uttered–a validation that I am on a genuine path. I was set free by someone else’s words, words that reminded me that there is a Yet to this path and a joy in the process. I’m so grateful.

–I’m 25 weeks pregnant now, and depending on which website you read, that means The Kid is either the size of a rutabaga or a loaf of bread. Regardless, he is elbowing and kicking and loves coffee, weekly sips of red wine, walks along Chicago’s riverfront, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and Sunday Night Football. And making me pee.

Whew. That feels better.

Above the Fray

The older I get, the more skittish I am. It seems I’m figuring out that I have more to lose these days than I did during the wanderings of previous years. So what I’m saying is, it’s not likely you’ll find me hanging from another bungee cord anytime soon. Even the rise and fall of a plane ride, which I used to love, has become more a source of anxiety than thrill: the jet hits an air pocket and I’m seeing my life flash before my eyes, oxygen masks falling from the ceiling all Lost-style, hands sweatily gripping the armrest. The Husband and I flew to Chicago last weekend for a wedding (“Let this be your last flight of the pregnancy,” the doctor advised when I told him), and the cons of the flight were the tiny old plane and the fact that it was operated by American Airlines; the single pro was that we had our own two-seater row. (I don’t like strangers in general; the ones with whom I’m trapped in a small traveling space seem especially unbearable.) Our modicum of privacy was the diamond in the rough of our journey, and it allowed me to sit by the window without enduring the trauma of climbing over people I don’t know to race to the bathroom.

Sunday morning was gray and rainy, but we lifted off the runway and into the dripping sky without trouble. Then came the moment when we barreled through the blanket of clouds blocking the sun. The plane shook a bit, and our view of the Chicago skyline was blocked. Our view was blocked, period, replaced by impenetrable vapor. Then we began to emerge on the other side of it, and I remembered what would come next, the seeming miracle that transfixed me when I was a child: the fact that there was light above the clouds, that it never went away no matter how things appeared at ground level. I turned to TH and whispered: “It’s about to get sunny again!” Around that time, the light poured through, and a blanket of white soon unfurled beneath us.

I thought about vantage points, and the default assumption that mine is best; about the negativity I encounter from others and myself that, left untended, creates a thick haze over my head; about what life would look like if I didn’t go by just what I can see from ground level. I felt the gratitude known only by those who have been knocked around and picked back up enough to finally find rest in a wisdom that flies higher than theirs. After awhile, the clouds disappeared altogether.

Convinced

I hadn’t realized how soul-starved I was for some positive feedback. The encouragement I receive from family and friends is priceless to me, and I treasure it (literally–I keep it in a gmail folder labeled “Encouragement”). But when you’re actively pursuing a professional opinion on your work, a string of rejections coupled with positive words from those who know you can leave you feeling a bit like the girl on prom night who gets a corsage from her parents because she doesn’t have a date. Yes, the flowers are lovely, but I still feel like a loser, thanks.

So this week, when I heard from two professionals who read people’s words for a living and their answer was something other than “thanks, but no thanks,” I was riding high. Gratitude, at times like these, comes a little too easily–I don’t have to look for it. And I basked in the meaning of it all, the signs that I might just be onto something here. That I might not be chasing a whim. I followed up on the encouraging emails and went back to my latest project, and the words flowed like water. It was a good day.

Then, yesterday, the cable and internet went out. And just like that, it all went to shit.

I don’t speak the language of technology–instruction manuals make my skin crawl, and I shut down recently when my email was hacked, forcing The Husband to step in and redeem the situation. But when technology fails me–well, then it is ON. I shout, I cry, I pound the air with my fist, I feel wronged in a way no one has been wronged before. It is an ugly, ugly scene. My first-world problems never fail to get the best of me.

So yesterday, when I was forced out of the house and down the street to Barnes & Noble, it felt like I was admitting defeat. But I figured that if I transferred to a public location, I would (a) not be allowed to pout like a little brat; and (b) maybe even be productive. The drive there, though, was a reckoning.

The trash poured into my head: What’s wrong with you? Why do you always do this? Why are you so ridiculous? Why don’t you ever make any progress? And that’s when I held my finger up, the “Oh, hell no” stance of the white girl, and said, “No more.” I recognized that I was under attack, and whether you want get all spiritual and call it warfare (I do) or psychological and call it low esteem, it was real. And I decided I was not having it. One of my favorite authors calls it “making agreements” when we listen to this garbage, and in my life, I’ve been way too agreeable. I knew what was going on: there are all too many voices in this world who will do whatever it takes to steal our joy, to leave us robbed and empty, to thwart our progress. Wherever they come from, they speak misery because they are miserable. They preach barrenness because they are barren. They speak hate because hatred is their currency. And only too often, we let them speak loudest. So I told them to shut the hell up. There is way too much unhappiness in this world–I refuse to be recruited to its side.

I didn’t immediately feel lighter than air, or even joyful for that matter. But I knew that I was now dealing in truth, and there’s a quiet certainty in that knowledge, and sometimes the only way forward is one small step. One “yes” to the truth and “no” to the lie. I walked into B&N and sat down and started to write. Each word was a step forward, an act of faith. Later, I walked around the block and had to stop and admire the way the light fell on a green field, the way that what had been sewer covers the day before now looked like stepping stones on a path toward the sun.

What We Carry

Lately, I find myself confronting emotional depths that I had conveniently neglected with the passing years of adulthood. It’s so much easier to face the world without letting yourself get torn apart by it; after all, this planet offers much that can disappoint and even threaten to destroy us, leave tears on our faces and anguish in our hearts. The proper path of maturity often dictates that we find a drawer in which to place these emotions, or extinguish them altogether, and I’ve bought into that practice. It’s easier than feeling things deeply. But pregnancy did a number on me, followed by yesterday’s tenth anniversary, and sometimes the waves of emotion have to roll unchecked with the pulling together and gathering up left for their aftermath.

Ten years. A decade. I watched the television, like most of you, as the images of that day unfurled on screen, and thought I don’t want to degrade the experience of those who lost nearly everything by going into detail about how it affected me on my couch hundreds of miles away, I will say that John Donne’s words never proved truer. And when I became a New Yorker four years later, I was integrated into something larger than myself, something stronger than hate and destruction, something resilient and hopeful beyond despair, a fighting spirit born of what felt very much like faith. Now I’m settled back into a spot hundreds of miles away, feeling the disconnect that geography brings but also the kinship that it can’t erase, and as the State Farm commercial and Paul Simon’s solo appeared onscreen, the wounds of that day felt fresher than ever; sadness and rage rose up within me and left me close to despair, and I couldn’t help but be surprised and unnerved: ten years gone by. Years of healing, and I didn’t even lose a loved one in the disaster, yet there is a depth of anguish that is completely unresolved.

Apparently, I am expanding in more directions than I thought. I watched a profile on the FDNY Ten House, standing next to Ground Zero, the men of that unit who were lost and the tourists who have appeared there every day since to thank the remaining firefighters. I heard their deep gratitude for these expressions of appreciation, coupled with the acknowledgement that each visit is a reminder of the loss, that there is no respite from the pain they carry.

I think about it on a smaller scale, how each of us individually is weighed down by what we choose to carry–how some of it is unnecessary burden and some of it is meant to make us stronger, make us who we are meant to be. I think about the doctor’s order that I not carry heavy loads and TH’s immediate responses: picking shaded parking spots, not letting me help with the groceries. Then, the load I can’t and wouldn’t stop carrying, the one I am now understanding will only grow once it moves outside my body and takes on more meaning: a life inextricably bound to mine and TH’s as we are tied together by the cords of family, a three-fold unit steeped in a new kind of love that inconveniences me out of my self-absorption and into the emotional upheaval that characterizes sacrifice. Sacrifice never has a day off.

In my life, I’ve been taught through difficulty and grace to let go of loads I’m not meant to bear; namely, that illusion of control, the letting go of which at first feels like falling apart but turns out to be a rebuilding through redemption. And I’ve watched the world’s brokenness invade the bonds of love and leave loss behind. Letting go can be freeing or it can feel like death, depending on what we’re charged to give up. Yesterday, I  reveled in The Niece’s laughter as I lifted her in the air; I watched fatherhood take shape in TH as he put The Nephews to bed. I witnessed growth and deepening on a day that will always mark sadness and devastation. And I realized that this is the world in which we live; the love and loss migrating side by side as we walk forward. We can escape neither, and the feelings are not meant to be resolved after ten years or a hundred, because hate is not meant to go unchecked, unanswered, or unmatched by love. Injustice is meant to be swallowed up by ultimate justice, which will not be delivered this side of eternity. So I let the tears flow unguarded and make me more human; I let the nudges from within bring me to life like I never knew life before. I watch from hundreds of miles away as water flows unchecked into the footprints of what was–scars that can only be answered by sacrifice, by what remains standing, and by the depth of wounds that bear my name and carry me.

Little Land Mines Everywhere

I am no longer allowed to park next to other cars. This is not a doctor-issued directive like the one I received about exercise; this rule is self-bestowed. Remember my mirror smash from last week, and the good times that ensued? The light reflects beautifully off of that mirror, by the way–like a magical prism. Although it’s quite possible that I’ve blinded several drivers behind me recently and caused some minor collisions. But this week, I headed to an OB appointment and pulled into the parking deck. A space was open next to a Suburban, but it was a bit tight. I was running slightly late, though, so I coached myself through it: cut hard left, slowly, slowly, and…SQUEAL. I didn’t yell the F word this time (I muttered the S word instead); then I whipped my head around to determine if anyone had witnessed the incident (still, after thirty-four years, my first reaction in any moment of weakness). Once my car was safely parked, I checked the Suburban out for damage. Thankfully, there was none (and I mean really none, not “I looked for two seconds with one eye closed and didn’t see anything” none). Apparently, I had polished my neighbor’s tire with my bumper. Things could be worse. But I still choked back tears as I rushed into the doctor’s office, feeling like a danger to society. That’s when I started having visions of dropping my baby. A lot.

I talked to The Sis afterward, who mentioned the parking-away-from-others suggestion and assured me that weird things happen when you’re off-balance due to pregnancy (last summer I had to drive thirty minutes to let her into the house she had locked herself out of; she was sitting in the 90-degree heat on her front stoop when I arrived and I only laughed a little). Despite assurances, though, it’s pretty discouraging to feel so out of place in your own body. To be so careful and methodical yet still hear crashes. To have visions of accidentally leaving the baby strapped into his car seat while I go shopping at the mall. A lot.

There are so many problems I wouldn’t run into if I never left the house, never crossed my comfort zone of couch and coffee. But then I wouldn’t find out that Starbucks has pumpkin spice lattes again and that the ladies there recognize me now; I wouldn’t get the note of encouragement from an agent that makes all the rejections fade away; I wouldn’t get honest stories from other people that acknowledge weakness and make me feel less alone. Sometimes it takes those crashes to open my eyes to the gifts: the gifts of laughter and forgiveness and dreams in which I don’t drop my baby or leave him in the car, but manage him expertly and feel, even in my sleep, the love I have for him beginning to take off.

There is something to be said for comfort zones, though–for having a place to call home. Like yesterday, when I was immersed in that couch and coffee, and looked up into the neighbors’ yard to see a deer staring back at me. She stood stock-still for a few moments, letting me take her picture, then loped off to her own home. She clearly knew the way.

Being Here

You can’t ride two horses with one ass, sugarbean.     –Earl Smooter

On Saturday, I rode in the backseat with The Niece as The Sis drove us to Babies ‘R Us. I’ve always been put off by places that intentionally spell words incorrectly, as well as venues centered completely around products like breast pumps and musical swings. In the past, when I’ve shopped for friends’ shower gifts, I’ve browsed and clicked online, safely ensconced in a baby-free apartment. Now it’s time to delve right into this strange new world and familiarize myself with all its accoutrements. Luckily, I have The Sis, who was always just as turned off by this realm as I was until The Niece came along. Now she navigates it with precision and a minimum of gushiness–just my style. There is no part of either of us that gets weepy over Hooter Hiders (although I will admit, some of the onesies were pretty cute). So when the customer service rep handed me a booklet that opened up to read, “Thanks for becoming one of us,” I had to laugh and think, The hell I am. But then she passed me a scanner gun, and I was on board. The Sis and I worked our way around Babee Wearhaus or whatever it’s called, The Niece cooing in her stroller in front of us.

There was a time about a decade ago when I would have given anything to have a ring on my finger and the baby scanner in my hand, and I would have had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. Dear God, it would have been a train wreck. Now, thanks to the fact that this time in my life was gracefully delayed past my preference and that those who have gone before me can serve as my own personal Yodas, I know a lot more. Enough to be scared, in fact, and to openly admit and battle ambivalence. The Sis celebrated her birthday with a friend and me over lunch last week, and I felt flooded with relief (and envy over their glasses of Prosecco) as they described their own delays in the bonding process with their children; the fact that it didn’t occur the day they discovered their pregnancies but was, in fact, closer to the time infants were placed in arms and this whole pregnancy period was a thing of the past. Because for all the warmth with which I am flooded when I see The Kid bouncing around on the ultrasound screen or elbowing me in the gut, the idea of his existence is still layered in shades of gray and uterine lining and separated from reality by months and pee breaks. The other day, The Sis and I were at the park pushing The Niece on the swing when a fellow mom arrived with her toddler girl. She asked how far along I am, and when I told her, her eyes took on a glazed and wistful look as she waxed nostalgic on all things pregnancy and labor-related. “I miss being pregnant and having babies,” she lamented as her beautiful daughter sat pumping her legs unproductively on her own. “I loved every part of it. I loved going through childbirth. Just loved it.” I jokingly told her, “You can do mine for me,” then The Sis and I exchanged a look that said, “Let’s get the eff out of here,” and did just that.

As I go through the weirdness that is the next few months, I remember gratitude. I am thankful that I’m experiencing this now and not ten years ago. I am thankful that I’m paired up with the right partner for it. I am thankful that I don’t have to love being a fluid factory to love my child. I am thankful that I am allotted an amount of time to take all this in and embrace it; that I am becoming, constantly, who I was meant to be. I am thankful that a life of faith can feel like always being in between two spots–where I was and where I’m going–even as I am, in this exact moment, exactly where I’m supposed to be. Because there is an infinite amount of peace that comes with declaring an end to fighting the details and deciding to open the hands to Now–not next week or next year or last year, but Right Now. And whether now involves waiting for Mr./Ms. Right to show up, or waiting for grief to subside, or waiting for unpreparedness to give way to mastery, I am thankful to know that in the seeming stillness, I am being given all that I need–so that I can be right here.