Writing Around and a Great, Big, Juicy Thanks

Wow, what an incredible few days.

logo-smMy article 4 Truths About Our Post Baby Bodies ran on Scary Mommy and has 364K Facebook shares and counting. All I can say is thank you, thank you and thank you to everyone for your support of this piece. It’s amazing — but maybe not surprising — how much the topic of postpartum body image resonates with so many of us. I’m just so glad that I’m touching so many women and contributing to the conversation around definitions of strength, beauty and self-acceptance in a positive way.

Speaking of Scary Mommy, if you haven’t checked her out, you absolutely must! The awesome Jill Smokler is an expert curator of all things true, funny, confessional, quirky, messy and gorgeous about motherhood. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Scary Mommy community.

kveller-logo…and yesterday, my first piece was published on Kveller.com! It’s about getting to know my middle girl, Ruby, while she’s off at sleep away camp for the first time. Cleaning out her room, I realized how much I missed her and I finally found time to truly appreciate the unique person she is. That doesn’t always happen on a day-to-day basis with three clamoring kids, one fuzzy, barking dog and, well, everything that comes with this crazy-busy, bouncing life. The chance to slow down, be present and engage is a rare gift, especially for someone like me who tends to become overwhelmed by the frenzy. See what good things come from cleaning out your kid’s room?!

Again, thank you all for reading and sharing and contributing to the conversation. There’s nothing better than connecting, both in real-life and virtually, as we navigate this grown-up life together.

Thank You For Your Service

IMG_0414We are not a family of troops. Other than a great-uncle who served in the Navy during WWII and my uncle who served as a Marine right before the Vietnam War began, we do not have any close relatives who were or are in the military. I suppose you could say we’re lucky this way, but more than that, we are lucky there are so many men and women who have and do bravely defend our country, freedoms and way of life. To them, I am extremely grateful and give my thanks to members of the armed forces in person whenever I see them. This usually happens at the airport. Last November, however, it happened at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC while I was with my kids.

Memorial sites are strange and evocative places. They are there to remind us of history, battles won and lost and events that changed the world. More importantly, they keep the lives of those who have died in our memories and hearts, even though we may never have known them ourselves. The space is sacred and you can feel it, as if the souls of those lost flutter in and out coming to visit us as much as we are there to visit them.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is particularly moving for me. It brings on a full rush of emotion, a combination of sorrow and gratitude and a million whys. It is a quiet place, a non-assuming structure, yet so very powerful. When we visited, there were small flags and six-packs of beer propped up against the walls along with flowers, packs of Marlboros, a lighter, folded notes, photographs. I lost myself for a few minutes, running my fingers across the etched names, reading them to myself, honoring them.

IMG_0467Then my big girls started asking me questions: How many Americans died in the war? (More than 58,000) Were women soldiers? (They did not serve in combat but were military nurses). Did any women die? (Yes, 67 civilians and eight military — their names are on The Wall). How are the names listed? (They are in chronological order by date of death rather than alphabetical order). Suddenly, instead of being simply a visitor, I became a teacher. When I didn’t have an answer, one of the veterans volunteering there for just this purpose, did.

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In this time, in this country, my children are so blessed and they don’t even know it. They go to school, have a loving family, a roof, food, clothes, all kinds of electronics. They do not live under fear of attack. They don’t live with the anxiety of wondering if a parent or sibling is going to make it home from a tour of duty. It’s not that my children are particularly spoiled or take their safety or liberties for granted, it’s just that they don’t know any other way of life. For that I am grateful. For that, I am honored to teach them about the sacrifice and commitment of the men and women who do defend our country, keeping us safe, guarding our freedoms.

Before we walked away from The Wall towards the Lincoln Memorial, I stopped to speak briefly to the veteran who had answered our questions earlier, the girls standing behind me.

“Thank you for your service,” I said, trying hard not to cry. He smiled and reached for my hand.

“You’re welcome.”

Simple words that mean so much and teach so much. Thank our veterans, not just on Memorial Day or Flag Day or Veterans Day, but everyday.

My 6 Minutes and 9 Seconds of Fame

When the Huffington Post emailed me yesterday to tell my article 4 Truths About Our Post-Baby Bodies was trending and they wanted to interview me on HuffPost Live this morning, I basically freaked out. I felt like I’d skipped to the front of the line for the World’s Most Mind-Blowing Roller Coaster, got thrown into the very front car and was heading down that first steep hill into a never-ending loop-de-loop. Was I thrilled? Yes. Did I feel like throwing up? Absolutely. For the rest of the day.

While the attention is exciting, what’s really phenomenal is the amazing response the piece is receiving. It’s so meaningful to connect with so many moms out there who not only struggle with their body image after baby, but also discover a whole new beautiful, strong woman in themselves. There’s so much empowerment and inspiration in that, so thank you all for sharing.

Secondly, if you’re a mom, the thing about having 6 minutes and 9 seconds of fame is that you still have to make school lunches. Which I did the night before. And I showered the night before. And picked out my clothes the night before. And I visualized myself being cool and collected upon waking. Ha. Let me tell you, it was Crazy Town around here this morning. Being on the west coast, the interview was scheduled for 8:05 a.m. with me being ready and online around 7:57 a.m. This also happens to be the time my toddler is wandering the house naked and the big girls need to be in the car on their way to school. Thank goodness for carpool. Or really, thank goodness for Billy who was driving this morning. Other than the dreaded Witching Hour, those minutes before the girls tumble out the door are the most stressful. One kid was asking me for the hot-glue gun, another was going nuts trying to find a particular skirt (she found it then decided not to wear it) and the toddler was simply yelling into the void hoping someone, anyone, would deliver her from her crib, give her some milk and include her in the melee. A super, duper thank you to my husband, Josh, for taking over toddler herding duties this morning.

IMG_2082Meanwhile, the morning dawned grey, not the most flattering light for a live interview, I woke up with a big zit on my chin and I couldn’t figure out the best angle for my laptop camera that would truly capture my, you know, inner essence. When it was finally go time, my mouth went dry, I swallowed the butterflies as best I could and wiggled my feet in my favorite sheepskin slippers, which were tucked under the desk, out of sight. Then mom went live.

My bit starts at about 14:27, but don’t miss Janie Porter taking about her piece The Stay-at-Home-Mom Conspiracy Theory. FYI, she’s a former TV news reporter. I thought she was the one interviewing me when I first logged on!

Finally, I’d love to hear from you — what your response is to the article, how you feel about your mama body and any advice or inspiration you’d like to share. You can leave a comment here, on my Facebook page or at the bottom of the piece on the Huffington Post.

xo/Lisa

You can find the interview here.

X is for XO

xo: hugs and kisses.

X and O. Two simple letters. I use them when signing off on emails or texts, in Valentine’s and birthday and thinking of you cards, on little bits of notepaper tucked into school lunchboxes. XO. Hugs and kisses. I love you.

And I do. I mean it. Every X and every O is considered. I don’t take the sending out of love lightly, not out loud, not in print and not on screen. Lately, though, I’ve been relying on the XOs more than usual. I’m tacking them on to all sorts of simple communications, like mundane texts to my daughter about the extra cream cheese that’s in the garage fridge and in response to my friend back east when she emails me a book recommendation. “Thanks! XO.”

Expressing love is all well and good and even great, but I wonder if I’m not using XO as a substitute for the real thing. I’ve been feeling a lot of love lately, both for and from a lot of magnificent people. Writing everyday has coaxed me into close proximity with my emotions, something I’m not always comfortable with. Love is one of those big, booming symphonies that fills me up and yet leaves me breathless.

My love these days is mixed with gratitude, which makes it even more potent. I’m thankful for the space my family has given me to write and for all the ways so many stunning writers, both in real life and virtually, have engaged with me over the past few weeks. I’m incredibly thankful for my friend N and that we’re in this together. Forever. I’m grateful to my older two girls who are helping out like crazy around the house and eating cereal for dinner without blinking an eye because they can see I’m in up to my neck in words. The toddler gives me sweet hugs and her soft cheek to kiss, so I love her for that. I have so much love for my husband who has been endlessly patient and ridiculously encouraging. I’m thankful to my parents who have never stopped cheering me on and are now doing so on a daily basis, even though I’m all grown up.

I’ve been signing off with XO every chance I get, but what I really want to say is Thank You and I Love You and You’re the Best. My Xs and Os are plump with love, but there’s nothing like the real thing.

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I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

Not the Best Week, Thanks

It hasn’t been the best week. Maybe it’s all the rain we’ve been having. I know we need it and I’m grateful, but I still don’t like it. Or maybe it’s that my birthday is tomorrow and there’s something about it that’s making me melancholy. It’s a semi big one, the kind of birthday that makes you stop and wonder where you’ve been and where you’re going and will that achy right knee get you there or will you need to stop that step aerobics class and downgrade yourself to walks, which you never really thought counted as actual exercise until just right now.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been feeling fragile and cautious and disconnected. I don’t particularly like feeling this way and if I was still in therapy, I’m sure my therapist would make me dig deep and get real. Um, no thanks. As the toddler would say, “That’s ouchy.”

Instead I’m going to focus on the more pleasant side of things and figure out what I’m thankful for this week. They say people who write down three things they’re grateful for on a daily basis are happier than those who don’t. Honestly, I don’t think I can remember to do it every day; this end-of-week attempt is much more doable for me. Here it goes:

Thank you to the guy at Pet Food Express who carried the 25-pound bag of dog food out to my car even though I said no, I didn’t need any help. With a toddler hanging onto my leg, the dog yanking me by the leash and the rain, clearly, I needed help.

Thank you to the pretty hipster chick sitting next to me at the nail salon who liked my choice of nail color (a dangerous, almost black navy blue), told me it was cool and then used it on her toes. You made me feel twenty years younger and while I don’t really want to be 25 again, I’m glad to know that I haven’t yet drifted off into the Land of Nail Colors for Women a Certain Age (think shimmery mauve).

Thank you to the man in the sporty white Mercedes who didn’t take the parking space I was going for. I know you saw the spot and sneakily drove the wrong direction in the lot to get to it first. Your decision to do the right thing instead of the convenient thing restored my faith in humankind for at least the next 10 minutes.

Thank you to my husband for listening to me. I’ve really noticed you paying attention, bringing on the sympathy and just letting me have my blah feelings without trying to solve them or get me to put on my Big Girl Panties. I could be wrong – maybe you’re really thinking about the next episode of Top Gear when you’re looking into my eyes with all that love and understanding – but I’d like to think after 14 years you’re still really into me.

Thank you to my 2-year-old for being two. You’re still small enough that your foot fits in the palm of my hand, but you’re big enough that you can walk around the block without needing me to pick you up. You want me to pick you up, but you don’t need me to. Fulfilling your simple must-haves – food, milk, hugs, kisses, your lovey, a clean diaper – is often the most rewarding achievement of my day.

Thank you to my 11-year-old for having that total meltdown when you came home from school on Wednesday. There’s nothing like a hormonal tween bursting through the front door, throwing her backpack down the hall and flinging herself across the bed sobbing to remind you that sadness happens and you just have to let it run its course. Plus you let me hold you in my arms for more than 43 seconds and that was pure heaven.

IMG_1338Thank you to my 9-year-old for reminding me that life is a celebration. Instead of freaking out when your fish, Frederickson, died, instead of being mad or sad or blaming yourself (did you forget to feed the fish?) or someone else (did I forget to feed the fish?), you organized a rather jubilant funeral for Freddy. Your capacity for turning a sad thing into a happy thing made me smile.

Thank you to my best girl friend for having a glass of wine with me at lunch, for listening to me talk my blues out loud, for keeping it real, for reminding me that just because my problems are first world problems, they’re not any less important or difficult to deal with.

Thanks everyone. It’s been a week, that’s for sure. Can’t wait to see what next week brings me.

Gratitude and The Motherhood Experience

A few weeks ago, my good friend lost her mother after a long and brave struggle with Alzheimer’s. When she told me the news, it cratered my heart. In those minutes of choked words and hot tears everything I thought I knew about gratitude quietly dissolved like snow melting under a strange winter sun.

A daughter just lost her mother. Suddenly it didn’t feel like enough to be thankful for the obvious: my kids, my husband, my parents; my good fortune, my health, my friends, my extended family and their health. We have more than enough food, money, shelter, safety, opportunity, love and for that I am immensely grateful. But what if all or part of it goes away? Do I truly appreciate what I have?

In the face of death and my friend’s grief, the only way I knew how to respond was to immerse myself in gratitude, starting with my kids. I became desperate to feel grateful for every minute of my motherhood, to uncover and behold all the glorious moments, no matter how mundane. I poured my love into school lunches, ponytails and bedtime stories. I pulled my girls close whenever they walked into the room. I greeted dirty diapers with a smile. My gratitude gushed out in a waterfall of “yeses” to everything from more dessert to extra screen time to staying up late.

At first, my blue-skies-and-butterflies approach seemed to work. The kids were mostly all smiles. They didn’t bicker as much. I felt calm and content. Gratitude seemed to abound. Hallelujah! It was a miracle!

I was soon reminded that miracles are usually short-lived, very special, one time experiences.

We’re a week in when the older girls have a knock-down-drag-out shouting match over a pair of leggings. Day eight, the toddler takes a Sharpie to the leather ottoman. Day nine, the dog barfs all over the living room rug.

Messy Lilah 2012

Okay people, what the heck is going on? How am I supposed to feel grateful when on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, my kids fight or complain about dinner or the little one refuses to nap or ruins the furniture/walls/my favorite sweater or the dog wreaks her own particular brand of canine havoc around the house?

My experiment in gratitude immersion came to an abrupt end and believe me, I was plenty disappointed.

A few days later and it’s back to the same crazy-making grind. I’m in the kitchen hurriedly cooking a dinner I’ve convinced myself no one will eat anyway. I need to get my kids back to school for Academic Celebration Night and we’re already behind schedule when the 2-year-old comes running in and bonks her head on the kitchen counter. As she lets out a yelp followed by tears, I think, “I don’t have time for this!” I roll my eyes, let out a big sigh and push my frustration aside. I turn off the stove, crouch down and scoop her into my lap. We sit on the floor for what seems like forever, she with her arms wrapped around my neck, me murmuring, holding her close. It’s she who finally pulls away, all better, leaving me slumped against the cabinets.

Clarity often comes at the most unexpected moments.

Sitting on the kitchen floor, my chest still warm from cuddling my little one, I finally figure out what it is I’m grateful for: all of it, the entire experience, with all its frustrations and tedium and glory and hysteria and comedy; all its intense love and sadness, anger and surprise. I’m grateful for the whole shebang. The blue-skies-and-butterflies and the stormy weather. I don’t have to like the ugly bits, but I can be grateful for having experienced them.

After my friend’s mother died, I tried to create a kind of Zanadu, a place where only good stuff happens. Maybe I was trying to protect my girls from a world where daughters lose their mothers. Maybe I was trying to protect myself.

Thing is, you can’t have the good parts without the not-so-good-parts, especially when it comes to motherhood. The toddler will say “I love you” just because then collapse in a fit over the color of her socks. The 6th grader will ask for my opinion on a dress for her first dance one day, then sass me like nobody’s business the next. On Sunday, the 9-year-old will run to me with a wide smile because she’s scored the winning goal. By Monday she’s in tears because she left her homework at school. There will be days when I think I will absolutely lose my mind if I have to drive another carpool or cook another meal or referee another sibling fight. Then there will be days when I can’t imagine ever loving anything as much as I love being a mom to my three girls.

Welcome to motherhood.