The Contradiction of Leaving

Posted on April 23, 2019

My flight leaves in exactly four hours as I write this. The girls are still sleeping after back-to-back sleepovers and hours spent helping us build the fence that I declared I wanted. It is the kind of morning that makes me want to say aloud to the trees and sky, “I am so happy to be alive.” As the light filters through the tree and birds swoop into the feeders and then fly out, banking near the window and disappearing into the lacy limbs of the Hemlocks, my throat feels tight.

Little girl sits with her hand outstretched waiting for birds.

Finley patiently sitting with bird seed in her hand.

Leaving this moment feels like some sort of cheating. How can I possibly leave when the girls are on vacation, the yard is nearly done, and we are all so content? My feet are leaden before a trip; shame hovers as I also feel a fluttering. Travel, leaving the ordinary and testing my courage and even my imagination.

Last night, one of the last things Sean said to me was, “Don’t let guilt swallow you. Feeling guilty is like obsessing over something in the past. It doesn’t move you forward, and it doesn’t do anything for us. Go do this.” I kissed him and promised that I’d heed his advice, my fingers figuratively crossed behind my back.

Padding around the backyard with the dogs and my first cup of coffee I admired our work from the past three days. A fence to keep the dogs in, gates the girls can climb on, posts we dug together, and benches he made from the trees he felled. A whole world we’ve created on dreams and hard work. I’m leaving for a few days, but I’ll still be here, and the girls and Sean will discover new ways to be together. They’ll create memories that they can share with me.

Life is made up of countless arrivals and departures. I think the threat of tears and the promise of excitement are a part of the beauty of it all. And homecomings.

 

 

There You Are

Posted on April 2, 2019

A man and woman stand in front of a door, the woman is kissing the man's cheek.

Standing outside our second office.

Here comes a kind of post that I don’t usually do. I’m not big on birthdays and anniversaries and even less focused on lavish, public, I-love-my-spouse posts.

Today is different.

Sean is 43 today, nothing very remarkable about the birthday. Except that at our age, it now is remarkable to have a birthday. People get sick, men have heart attacks, breast cancer strikes moms. I woke this morning on day three of a nasty bug, he continued picking up the things I do, things I thought only I could do. Nope. He’s got them, the girls too. Life goes on, even when we fall out of our routine. I apologized for being sick, and he asked incredulously, “Why would you apologize?” I didn’t have an answer.

17 years ago I went to visit him in Framingham to try and confirm that we were a thing. We walked to a park, the whole thing had a very Zach Braff, melancholy feel. Except there was no great soundtrack, just the whiny screech of the chains of a swing as he said that he wasn’t sure about us. Everything felt colorless.

________________

Three years before everything was in full color. I could feel you in the room. Acknowledging that I had feelings for you was still weeks off, and that was just to myself, not you—that came much later, but you knew before I did.

You walked lightly and confidently, on your toes I came to notice. I also began to adore it, sometimes I’d watch you from across the lawn—there he is. There was, for me, an irresistibility of boyishness, cockiness, and where-did-you-come-from? about you. Still engulfed in my insecurities and bitterness, I didn’t really dare believe that you might actually be interested in me.

I began to notice you walking into the room more frequently. You started making small talk with me and then, maybe flirting. I wasn’t sure, I couldn’t believe it. Oh, but I was slow, and you were persistent. And gallant.

On this day 20 years ago I hadn’t yet met you. Seems impossible with the way we fit, the way you call me on my shit, and allow me to call you on yours. I had a different last name and defined myself as a smoker. You were on the other side of the country not finishing things.

The girls asked for photos of you with them today. “Do you have any from when we were toddlers to share on Insta?”

I spent an hour scrolling through images, falling more in love with you. I forgave myself for the memories that skirt the edges of the photos, the harsh words or frazzled struggles. I see through smiles and remember the worn hands, weak-from-plaster-dust lungs, and empty bank accounts.

Just last night we were pressing dandelions on Ave’s wall, and all I could think was how it all flutters away. Today the snaps from hikes and playground visits, road trips, and walks to the farmers’ market reminded me that it all flutters back.

The two of us in our twenties (me much farther along in mine), the girls in diapers, last night and ten years ago. We are forever moving in and out of focus, learning, and forgetting, and with any luck forgiving and finding the patience to be ready when one of us comes back.

A man and woman in ski gear smile at each other.

You tried for ten years to get me on the mountain.

I love you for more reasons than I could ever write down. Thank you for the impossible things we’ve done together.

The Thing Only You Can Say

Posted on February 27, 2019

It is very easy to not say what you need. In fact, it is so easy that it becomes second nature, a decision you don’t consciously make, rather a silence that you fall into comfortably to keep things simple. Days go by with to-do lists, then weeks and months, all the things that didn’t get said vibrate in the past with wasted potential.

A check-up you didn’t book.

A massage you didn’t think you deserved.

An invitation you didn’t accept because of time, cost, fear.

The things that I am alluding to are the things you need. I don’t mean life or death, I mean life. It’s going to be different for all of us, but we all need things and I am here to tell you that you also deserve them. The little things that other people seem so comfortable saying, “I’m going to learn how to play guitar” or “I started going to a counselor, I just needed a place to talk.” Sometimes people will say things that reveal how their needs are a part of everyone’s life, “He took the kids to a museum and told me to do whatever I wanted with the day. The kids said ‘have fun, mama’.”

When Sean and I were new parents I was sitting at the computer writing. I’d been blogging for several years and had found support and friendship with other writers.

I said to Sean, “I wish I could go to BlogHer.”

He smiled, “When is it? We’ll send you!”

He was excited and I was shocked. I said, “It’s happening right now.”

His shoulders slumped, “Why didn’t you tell me? Amanda, you could have gone. You should be there, but you made it impossible for me to help.”

Looking back I realize how foolish it was, bordering on cruel. I thought I was being selfless and realistic about what we could afford. What I didn’t acknowledge was that I was also harboring resentment for all the things I didn’t get. The time I didn’t take, the full price purchases I didn’t make, the extra sleep I didn’t ask for, and the compliments I didn’t acknowledge I needed.

The truth is I’ve made a pastime out of finding it scandalous that people can articulate and claim what they need. The nerve. The thing is, we get this one chance at living. There isn’t some checkpoint where someone measures all the things you have gone without and gives you some sort of reward. The people who love you don’t achieve the gift of mind reading and stage an intervention to tell you that they are putting a stop to your tendency toward joy deprivation in order to fulfill all your unspoken desires.

Sometimes people will get lucky and read between the lines, helping you to get what you need, but mostly they won’t. Where does that leave us? Seems to me it leaves a lot of us without the love people have to offer, without the cushion our lives could have, and it leaves us without the resources we might have if we dared to say aloud, “I need this. It is important to me.”

Last week I did it, it was awkward and I felt sheepish, but I spoke it aloud.

“I want to see the sunrise tomorrow.”

No one said much.

“Finley and I got up today and tried, but we couldn’t see it from here.

More quiet.

“So tomorrow I really want to get up and go to a place where I can see the sunrise.”

Sean rolled his eyes, “She does this everywhere. She always wants to see the sunrise.”

I nodded, “I just—”

“You love it.” He smiled at me. “We’ll find it, together.” My stepdad said, “I’ll go.” Finley said, “I’m in.” Briar and Avery chimed in as well.

We all met up before 6 am and drove twenty minutes to a beach, from there we had another twenty minutes of walking. The sky was overcast and the wind was stiff, like lean forward and it holds you up strong. I had packed towels and a blanket thinking we might swim and stay awhile, the wind and temperature made the bag seem laughable. I muttered blends of, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” as we trudged along.

Eventually, we rounded a bend and the sun began popping out from behind the treeline. It was magnificent. It was exactly what I wanted and needed. As I looked around at my people, all of them bathed in the golden light, I realized how lucky I am, no, scratch that, how worthy I am.

 

A young girl stands on the beach at sunrise, she holds a camera to her face and faces the water.

Sunrise is important to me. Helping me have the things and experiences that are meaningful to me is important to my family. The act of sharing with them what I needed and allowing them to help me was a circle of generosity that could not happen if I didn’t speak up. I am guilty a thousand times over of not saying what I need and, beyond that, of silently screaming that people don’t support me. I cannot have it both ways.

It’s time to be brave and say the things that only we can. I promise that on the other side of the terror and the sense of being greedy, is an abundance that we can share.

Stop Trying to Outrun Yourself

Posted on February 24, 2019

A woman's shadow is shown against a wall, there are horizontal shadows from blinds.I can trace back to as early as eleven, things about myself that I remember running away from. I had a penchant for cussing, picked up from sitting along the periphery of my dad’s poker games. The vocabulary would escape with enthusiasm on the playground.

“You’re a bad influence. We don’t want you around because you bring trouble. Just because you’re parents are splitting up doesn’t mean you can act like an animal.”

Her name was Lisa, we were at Amazon Park in Eugene, and I can still see the way the weeping willow limbs cast shadows on her face. She had a hint of a smile as she said it, the other kids gathering around her. I was poison. Too strong, too loud, too wild to belong. “I’m afraid you’ll rub off on me. On us.” I wanted to outrun their views of me, but the anger I felt only made me want to swear more. I berated myself:

 

Be less, Amanda.

Be less Amanda.

 

A few years later it was my emotions that shamed me. Fractured friendships because I was too moody, again I tried to be less. Then it was the size of my clothes, I’d cut the tags out, trying to erase me.

Blaming myself for being myself

The clash of enough and too much is something I’ve tried to coax myself into conquering. As an adult, the race has been to be more organized, feel less passionate, accept more passion, be more disciplined, care less than I do, try harder. I’ve put different names on things, but at the root of it all has been an attempt to be less of who I am.

Each carrot held just out of reach—

Once I start waking up early…

If I can just get my weight down…

When we move to the new house…

As soon as the girls are old enough…

After we reorganize the cabinets and…

Getting away from the day-to-day I’ll be able to…

We don’t have to change to change

I know that sounds ridiculous, but I mean it. The parts of ourselves that we try to change are inside of us, it’s our mind we have to change, not our body or our habits.

The common thread for me has always been a failure to achieve enough. Even in the times when I’ve followed a workout routine, set intentions, or practiced periods of meditation, I’ve never said to myself, “That’s it, Amanda. You did it.”

I think the problem for me began the first time I taped an image of Elle Macpherson on the wall in my bedroom.

“Aim for that,” was what I told myself. On some level, I’ve been measuring myself against her every day since. My success told in how close I got to Elle, how far I moved from Amanda.

I am here to tell you that we never get there. We run and attack, shaming ourselves for our inability to get to a place, to a self, that simply does not exist. We’re always there, we cannot undo ourselves.

We can’t outgrow, outrun, or outlast who we are.

Change isn’t about distance

We were on vacation last week. I spent less time reading the headlines, I honored the promise I made not to work, I slept when I was sleepy and ate when I was hungry. I found a different rhythm and at no time did I try to change. Sitting in the sun reading a book it hit me that none of this needed to wait for vacation. The change of scenery was nice but at the beginning and end of each day, I was still me. The parts of me that I wish to change were all still there, they’ll still be there when I have (insert wild, audacious goal) _____________.

We’re all working toward (or running away) from different things. I know that I am never going to be done questing, it’s who I am. What I am done with is the impossible chase, remembering a 30+ year old photo of Elle Macpherson. I can’t rewrite who I’ve been, nor do I want to. I have made some big mistakes, I wasted time hating myself and carrying grudges.

Today I am strong. I still feel weird about certain parts of my body, the sound of my voice, and my inability to dance, sing, or speak publicly without being overcome by nerves. I’m getting better, little bits of singing along with the girls, allowing myself to not feel ashamed when the music calls me to move and using my voice even when it shakes.

Becoming who we are

My daughters are 10, 12, and 14. They are bursting forth into young women, filled with opinions and ideas. I won’t kid myself into thinking I can lift them over the potholes of self-loathing. The best thing I can do, for them and for myself, is to be slightly more tender with myself.

We can try things on, sluff things off, and afford ourselves do-overs.

Don’t try to outrun yourself, let yourself catch up.

 

 

What Did You Want to Be?

Posted on February 7, 2019

Finley and I were walking across the Target parking lot the other night. The pavement was slick, and we weren’t in a hurry. We strolled, holding hands, and talking.

A ten year old girl smiles at the camera as she walks. She has a long pleated skirt on and she casts a shadow. The photo is black and white.

“Mom, what did you want to be when you were my age?”

I thought for a minute, “A writer.”

She squeezed my hand and smiled, “You kind of do that now, right?”

“Yes.”

She looked up at me, “Do you ever wish you were a book writer and that you didn’t do all the other stuff you do?”

“I’m not sure, maybe? I mean, I like what I do,” I said honestly.

“Would you still have met Dad if you were a writer?”

“That’s pretty doubtful. A lot of things have to happen, decisions and just life’s twists and turns, for people to meet.”

She was quiet. We both slipped inside ourselves for a moment. I found myself thinking that I didn’t want to say that if you are destined to meet, then you’ll meet. As much as I love parenting with an open heart and hopeful spirit, suggesting that love is promised and easy isn’t in the plan.

“Do you ever think that if you had gotten exactly what you wanted that we wouldn’t be here today?” she turned to me. “Like, the girls and I would never be born?”

Looking into her eyes, the sky dark around us, I felt the dizziness of all the times I have imagined losing the girls. I don’t think about them never being born as their existence is as much a part of me as my own body.

“No, honey. I never think about that. I also don’t regret not becoming a writer immediately after being in school. I’m glad things happened the way they did.”

“Do you think you’d like to write more?” She moved her second hand to rub my wrist above where her other hand was laced together with mine. Her instinct toward tenderness always catches me off guard, and I am shocked by how much comfort my baby can give me.

“You know what I think? I think I’d like to do this more often. I like spending time with you and hearing the way your mind and heart work. What do you think of that?”

“I think I really love you, mom. And I think you are pretty special.”

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