Friday, June 24, 2016

The bend in the road, one year on...

One year.

There were days that I never would have believed that I would get to one year.

There were dark days filled with fear and grief and sadness. Days that whispered you will never see the end of this. You have messed everything up so much the world would really be better off without you.

Oh, I hope I never go back there.

Instead, one year on, I have hope. I have peace. I am almost, almost, ready to whisper, "I am happy." To silence the voice in my head every single morning that asks, "Were you happy?" To say yes, I was happy, and I am happy again.

Oh, that girl that I was one year ago. I want to hold her and say, it will be okay. You will survive. You, believe it or not, will thrive. You will become someone that you were meant to be.

How crazy, she would say. I like who I am, I like my family as it is, please go away and leave me alone.

No, I would tell her. You really did like who you were, you really did love your nuclear family as it was, and you really did not want any of this to happen. But, Joy, you are so lucky that it did.

Having your world shatter at your feet is not only the scariest feeling in the world, it overwhelms everything inside of you. Everything that you have worked so hard to build, this family that you have created, these dreams that you have, they all have to change. To shift and move. To create space around them that you didn't want to be there.

What is life like, one year on? Life is different. Life is joyful. Life is harder in ways, and easier in ways, and just different.

Our family is changed for the better. The girls are the center of your world and it is endlessly fun for that to be the truth. Life is full of junk food and old tv shows and this rabbit that somehow wormed its way into your heart. Life is full of movies and trips to Claire's and always getting to order dessert. Life is what you always wanted-these two beautiful girls who have movie dates and listen to show tunes and 90s music without complaining too much and who love you to the moon and back.

In Jenifer you have found a friend. Which seems hard to imagine. But now it has become hard to imagine how we did this without a Jenifer before. Jenifer is a partner in parenting, she listens, she loves the girls. She respects you as their mom. And-this is the biggest blessing-she takes care of Nick. Everything shifted, which took time to process and appreciate. But one year on, you are part of each other in a way that very few people seem to understand. You are blessed to have Jenifer in your life. I promise.

You are different. In mostly wonderful ways. You are more patient with yourself. You are more deliberate in your life. You are more sure of yourself-catcher of mice, cleaner of drains-you know yourself to be capable of anything. If there is a mountain in front of you, you climb it instead of simply staring at it and admiring its beauty.

You are learning. You are figuring out your truth. You are devouring books, you are eating right and exercising and amazed at how that clears your mind, you are determined to learn to cook, to learn a new language, to try everything that you were afraid to do before.

Of course, you are not perfect. You still screw up. You still worry endlessly that you didn't say something kindly. You aren't always kind. You still want to sleep way more than you should.

But mostly, mostly you are happy. You are finding your way on this new path. This bend that nearly took you to your knees. It was a gift, Joy Elizabeth. It was a gift of a stronger, healthier, more confident person. It's not always easy, it's definitely not always fun, but it's important and different and ultimately, it's going to lead to a beautiful life. I promise.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Confessions of a former stay-at-home mom...

My life is a checklist.

I'm just that type of person-I feel accomplished at the end of the day when I have checked everything off of my list.

Tea with lemon. Banana. Devotional. Prayer. Meditation. Workout. Shower. Sunscreen. Straighten hair. Get dressed. Makeup. Greek yogurt. Read the Skimm. Watch the beginning of the Today Show. Brush teeth. Pack lunch. Leave for work.

That's my morning. Every day. Skip one thing-my day is off, ruined. (I'm working on not letting it be ruined. But mostly, ruined.)

Becoming a mom was like the ultimate checklist for me. I read and read and read everything I could get my hands on about the proper way to raise a child before Betsy was born.

Betsy's days in her first couple of years of life went something like this:

Get up. Breastfeed. Tummy time to Mozart. Get dressed. Sunscreen. Mommy and me workout. Baby Einstien video. Read. Breastfeed. Nap. Breastfeed. Read. Play. Read. Breastfeed. Nap. Breastfeed. Read. Play.

You get the idea.

I mean, eventually solid foods, storytime, MOPs, all of that stuff made its way into our days.

But I had a checklist always: the most important things Betsy needs. They were mostly breastmilk, books, sleep, and stimulating playtime. Not just regular old playing. No, we had to be playing with goals in mind: we played with letters to learn the shapes tactically, we discussed letter sounds, we sang and sang and sang about everything.

And it worked, I thought. Betsy knew how to read, all of the presidents, all of the states, all of the capitals when she was five. Clearly I had done everything right.

I did all the same things with Felicity. Now, I will admit that because I had a three year old at the same time, Felicity's day looked a little different. I was slightly more laid back. Felicity was a more laid back baby, so I held her a lot, didn't quite get in her face as much.

But Felicity was not interested in learning the presidents. She knows a couple that she particularly likes. She knows the capital of Colorado is Denver because she likes the word Denver.

Felicity is perfectly capable of reading and spelling. She does have more trouble with math than she probably should, but she comes by that honestly as I am terrible at math. But the thing is, Felicity doesn't care. She gets middling grades and she is find with that. I have tried making a big deal of good grades, I have tried encouraging words and workbooks and songs.

But Felicity is just perfectly happy being an average student.

Before this year, this life changing year that shifted my world, I would have just cried and cried over the fact that I know that Felicity is nowhere near the top of her class. I would have blamed myself, blamed the fact that I let her sleep in my arms so much instead of creating all of the challenging games and rote memory facts that Betsy excelled at.

And maybe there is some truth to that. But it doesn't matter.

Felicity is going to go out and change this world because she is Felicity. She is funny, and she doesn't have a shy bone in her body, and she loves everyone. Her strengths lie in things that aren't tested in school. I used to hear people say that and think, you just don't want to put the time in. I would say, in what I imagined was a humble voice, "I am not doing anything you can't do. I am just putting in the time and it just shows in what my kids are capable of."

I now realize that, as sincerely as I meant that, I was being a snob. A stay-at-home mom snob who deep down thought that, even though we didn't have much money, we were creating exceptionally smart children.

The fact is, my children being smart or funny or sociable has nothing to do with me. What I have given my children is a safe place to be who they are, a love that nothing can break, and a home that will never leave. It was great that we played and learned and read so much. But ultimately the point was that we were together.

The three musketeers. Forever. Check it off the list.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I cannot spell...

So, here's the thing: I am a terrible speller.

Normally this is not a huge deal. I use spell check. I google words that I am not sure of the e before or after the i. There really is no excuse in the year 2016 for poor spelling.

And yet, I managed to link to my blog yesterday my piece about my love for Cleveland. Or, as I wrote, Cleaveland. All over my Facebook page. Yep, for all of Facebook to see.

My first thought was, "Brian Elliott will see this. He will know how dumb I really am." Not that I exactly know that Brian Elliott actually reads my blog or looks at my Facebook feed. He did one time like a link to one of my blogs, which was basically the equivalent of receiving the Pulitzer to me. But does he do this on a regular basis? I doubt it.

But now he, along with the rest of the Facebook world, knows that I cannot spell. I am an English major fraud.

Here is another of my deep, dark secrets: I am not all that great with grammar. I cannot parse a sentence at all.

I was an English major because I like to read and write. And I often write faster than I should, and I often type the completely wrong letters. Normally I can fix it, though. But Facebook, with its weird updating, editing system, would not let me change it.

For reasons that I cannot understand, I have issues with doing things a certain way. I am not a perfectionist-I do not think that I do anything perfectly nor should I-but I have obsessions with doing everything on this checklist of my life in a certain way and if I can't check it off correctly, I feel like I deserve to have my life fall to shambles.

It's a weird combination of OCD and magical thinking that I have always had, and it tends to rear its head the most when my life is falling apart. I know what causes it-I want to feel in control of a situation that I have no control over. But it is still my weird quirk.

Someone recently praised my blog. And I must admit, that probably went to my head a bit. So this is just really a nice grounding for me-never get to high up on your horse, Joy Elizabeth, you are as human as anyone else.

I know that most people probably don't even care.

Still, I apologize and bury my head in shame. And I will try very, very hard to take this as a good thing, an understanding that no matter how hard I try, sometimes I will look like an idiot. It happens. It will surely happen agian again. And again.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cleveland rocks...

I am a Browns fan.

I will wait for your collective sigh.

I know. It actually hurts me to tell people that I am a Browns fan anymore. The last couple of seasons have taken nearly all I have left inside me to give them.

I am as exhausted as anyone else with the never ending carousel of quarterbacks and head coaches. I know as well as any other somewhat knowedgable person that we are never going to have a good team to build on when the quarterback changes every year. Every year some great hope that this will be our year. It won't be.

I still hold a grudge about Brady Quinn. Quinn was our chance, he actually wanted to be there, he had the tools necessary, he just needed the time to improve. But no. No, because we are Cleveland.

Tonight we have a chance. Just a chance. But we will take it.

When Lebron left, it was like a kick in the stomach. I understand why he did it. He had a legacy to create, a family to feed-he could not stay and maintain the hype with a team that couldn't get him there. I understood that in my head. But it hurt. Lebron was ours. We were all witnesses, remember? We finally had a glimmer of hope and he took it away, along with his talents, to Miami.

So, I kind of hated Lebron. Not really. But a little. Because a true Cleveland fan would have understood how much we needed him.

And that is why I was thrilled that when he came back, he seemed to acknowledge that. He could go anywhere and win a championship. He could only come to one place on earth and deliver a championship so cherished.

If they win's like I can't even imagine. The pure joy of a championship in Cleveland is beyond what I can actually picture in my mind.

If they lose, we will love them still. They fought a good fight against a team having a golden season.

Bu we will love them either way.

"We are all witnesses. Cleveland rocks."

Friday, June 3, 2016

Summer of the Cicadas...

It's the summer of the cicadas. My Facebook feed is full of complaints about them. Personally, I am enjoying them-the noise just doesn't really bother me. But I seem to be in the minority.

Lucas is the most perfect summer-of-the-cicadas movie ever. I can't get over how many times I have mentioned this to people lately only to be met by a blank stare. I assumed that most people my age had seen Lucas. But apparently no.

Corey Haim is the title character. This is 1986, pre-the two Coreys days. This is young, geeky Corey Haim, illustrating to the world that he really did have mounds of talent, making his death all the more sad. Lucas is a geek, a 14 year old who skipped 2 grades and who loves bugs. Over the summer-the summer of the cicadas-he meets Maggie, played by Kerry Green, who is new to town and lonely. She strikes up an awkward friendship with Lucas. When school starts, Maggie becomes a cheerleader and becomes friends with Cappy, played by Charlie Sheen. Cappy is popular but nice-he genuinely likes Lucas-but of course, given the choice between a bug loving 14 year old and a popular football player, Maggie is falling for Cappy. (Despite the fact that his name is Cappy-seriously, he sounds like an 80 year old man.)

This movie is full of nuanced, completely believable portrayals of bullying and well intentioned teachers who aren't in the least helpful, and just teenage life in the early 1980s. It's a beautiful movie. The performances are stellar. Corey Haim is pitch perfect as a tiny, picked on kid who absolutely refuses to lay down and play dead. This is my all-time favorite Charlie Sheen performance. A few years ago, when Charlie seemed to be having a nervous breakdown in front of millions of people, I kept thinking of this humble performance at the beginning of his career. I do worry endlessly over people that I often do not really know. I have no idea if Charlie Sheen was ever in the least like this portrayal. But it existed on the screen, and I hope that eventually when all is said and done, this performance will be weighed in with his over the top exploits and excessively negative attitude towards women, particularly his wives.

Kerry Green is also most awesome in this movie. Kerry Green had the perfect career, I think. She starred in these classic movies-The Goonies and Summer Rental-and then she just disappeared, never having to go through the awkward transition to more "adult" roles and shedding her girl-next-door image.

Tom Hodges is also at his best, playing one of Lucas' tormentors. (Jeremy Piven is the other.) I had such a crush on Tom Hodges when he was Rich on the The Hogan Family. His role is pivotal here. He really deserved a much bigger career than he was granted.

And lastly, there is Winona Ryder. Lucas was her movie debut. Isn't it amazing to think how big Winona was, how huge a star, how she was a first consideration for so many iconic 1990s roles, and now she is barely a blip on the map? It's kind of like Jennifer Grey on a much larger scale. But here is her beginning, showing all of the talented, slightly weird and somehow off girl role that would propel her to stardom two years later in Beetlejuice.

The girls and I have talked about how when the cicadas come back they will be 28 and 25. Adults, maybe with families of their own. So I am treasuring this summer of the cicadas with my girls who still call me "Mommy" and curl up to watch whatever movie I decree they will enjoy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

End of a long weekend...

So, I spent all day Monday reading a book. Which is my favorite way to spend a day alone. My favorite way to spend a day ever is clearly with my girls. But they were with their dad and his family on Monday. I try really hard to be okay with that-I got Christmas and Easter, he got Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I mean, I clearly made out on the deal. But it's still hard-if you have read some of my really old blog posts, you know that Memorial Day was a special day for our family, a day that we spent with each other always, even as life kept twisting and changing around us.

So this Memorial Day weekend, I was alone. I went shopping with April on Sunday, which was fun (it does boggle my mind that I like to shop now, but I do). I managed to do pretty well-two tops from American Eagle (my absolute most favorite store), a new workout shirt and flip flops from Old Navy, a swimsuit (a bikini, good Lord-April insisted it looked good), a new pair of sandals, and, of course, a book.

What Alice Forgot. By Liane Moriarty. I know that Moriarty is kind of a big deal right now, but I had never read any of her books and only knew what this was about by the blurb on the back. Basic plot summary is that Alice hits her head and thinks it's 1998 and that she is newly married and pregnant with her first child. In reality, it's 2008 and Alice has three children and is getting divorced. It seemed well suited.

What would myself of ten years ago think of the me of now? I flatter myself to think that she would really like that I work out and spend time on my hair and, you know, have a job and support myself and the girls and am "an independent woman of substance."

I always told Nick that I was "an independent woman of substance." It was a joke, because I was the farthest thing from it.

In truth, the me of ten years ago would probably be appalled at the me of today. Who cares about your hair or your abs? You have lost Nicholas. That is what she would say.

Which is sort of the point of the book. What we have in the beginning is so changed by the end that we can't even recognize who we used to be. But, young Joy of 27, I do recognize you. I do validate you. I want so to tell you to enjoy this very minute because everything is about to change. The first big terrible is about to happen. The first big terrible is the first truly awful thing that you have ever endured. And it changes everything between you and Nick. Not right away. At first you cling together because you are all that you have. Then Nick pulls away and everything falls apart and then HE COMES BACK. And this is truly the worst thing, but I won't deny you living it, because it is the greatest feeling ever.

In my lifetime, I have been kissed three times that were magical. Every time was with Nick.

The first kiss was in my parents driveway, December 6, 2000. It was our first kiss. I was scared to pieces to kiss Nick because I really liked him a lot, and I had kissed just a few boys in the past (two, I had kissed two), but it never, ever lived up to what a kiss was supposed to feel like. It always just felt like lips. But the first time I kissed Nick, there were fireworks and explosions and everything that happens inside of you to let you know that this has been what you were waiting on.

The second kiss was when he came home from Iraq. He scooped me up and kissed me and held me so tight and we both just knew that we would never, ever let go.

The third kiss was when he decided not to leave me. The decision had been made, he was set on leaving, he wasn't happy living with me anymore. It was February 2009, Betsy was 4 and Felicity about to turn one. And just as it was all settled, Nick came in and scooped me up and carried me upstairs and kissed me and promised never, ever to leave.

It was that particular kiss that was my downfall. Because I believed that kiss over anything I ever felt again. Even when Nick got distant, even when everything felt slanted and wrong, even when I knew that something was so off we could never get it back-I would remember that kiss and that promise and stake my whole life on it.

We are almost a whole year out from all of this. I wish so much that my life would turn away from grief and sadness. It does sometimes, and I feel such relief I can't explain, and then it comes crashing back over me like a wave.

It's not really that I miss Nick. I miss the ghost of someone long, long gone. That may sound like a cop out, but it is true. The Nick that I talk to now is not the old Nick of those kisses. Nick was careful and smart to draw strict boundaries around us. I do often wish that we could joke around like we used to, that we could have even half of the friendship that we used to. Maybe, someday. But for now the wounds are too fresh, the guilt is too heavy in the air between us. And, of course, there is the fact that Nick moved on right away, while I am over here like a snail trying to climb a mountain. We are in different places.

So, dear Joy of 27, no, you cannot understand at all how any of these decisions that the next ten years are going to force you to make could have led to where you are. And that's a good thing. Because of everything that I know, the one thing that I am most certain of is that I wouldn't change any of it. Changing anything would have led to a different place, a different life, a different family. I am as happy as I can be with our family the way that it is. I am genuinely glad that Nick has found someone who is able to love him unconditionally. I refuse to begrudge him his happiness. Because I would never want him to begrudge me mine, when and if I ever get somewhere.

It's hard though. I need a new word for hard. A word that conveys such sadness, and grief, and just despair that I am never going to see the end of this. I know that I will. I know that the me of ten years from now will say, oh, Joy, stop being so dramatic about Nick. He's not the be all, end all. I know it in my head. Someday I will believe it in my heart. And until then, I will pretend that I am sure that this is how it is supposed to be.