Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#blessed

I looked at my Facebook "memories" today and realized it would have been my anniversary.  May 23.  Jeff and I would have been married 8 years today.  (Except we had already been married since April when we got married, but whatever.  Long story.)

I checked in with myself.  Am I sad?  Angry?  Anxious?  What feelings do I have today?

Jeff and his partner Abby have a new baby.  He was born last week.  His name is Noah and he is the sweetest, most precious little one I have ever held.  (And I say that with full knowledge of my own children.  They were never all that sweet and precious - they were pretty demanding and vocal.  But that's why I love them!)

When Noah was born, I also searched myself.  Did I feel jealous?  Nervous?  Pushed out?

I have really wanted to confront whatever feelings I might be having because in the past, I may have just claimed to be okay and fine, and then five years later had a crazy disproportionate response to some more or less quotidian event in my personal or professional life.  That's a typical Emily way to work these situations.  But I don't want to be like that anymore.  I want to have my feelings when I have them, and realize that they won't overwhelm me.

So I searched.  And a lot of people asked me.  I got some of those concerned texts from friends:  "How are you feeling about the new baby and everything?"

And can I tell you:  I literally have not a single negative emotion.  Not one.  I feel joy and contentment when I'm around the baby.  I feel happiness and peace when we are all together.  I truly feel that Jeff and I are in the kind of friendship and co-parenting situation that we are meant to be in.  I think that Abby is a great partner for Jeff.

As I was drifting to sleep the other night, I was having a conversation with God, as I often do in that twilight time between waking and dreaming.  I was pondering why it has been so easy and peaceful to fit this complicated network of relationships together.  Lord knows I have my share of extremely difficult and conflict-ridden relationships, as well.  I have relationships that are so damaged and badly deteriorated that I'm not sure they can ever be repaired.

But it seems that, for whatever reason, the relationships that matter most (family; people who will parent my children) are safe.  And it's not even a case of "oh we just want to get along for the kids."  (Although that makes me sound very noble and self-sacrificing, doesn't it?)  I honestly think that Jeff and I would have a great friendship even if we had never had children and divorced.  I just earnestly enjoy being around him, his family, Abby, and Noah.

I have been joking with my friend Amanda about the abuses of the #blessed idea.  No, God doesn't want you to be #blessed by your new car or business success or whatever.  But when I consider this intertwining of lives and the ways that things have worked out, I cannot help but call upon that idea.  God has #blessed me with the most unconventional family imaginable, and somehow it just . . . works.


Monday, May 15, 2017

"you'll never be the prettiest girl in the room . . .

but you'll always be the smartest."

With those words, my mother laid the cornerstone on the foundation of my personality.  It has been both exceptionally sturdy and also very weak.  (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I was standing in the downstairs bathroom, the one with the little statue of W.C. Fields.  I was probably seven.  I was observing a ritual that had been repeated thousands of times already in my short life:  standing next to the sink, watching Mom put on her eyeliner.  We were late for church, and I knew that we would go in the side door on 10th Street and go through the library and slip into the back pew.

I had asked Mom a question that was so seemingly benign and innocuous.  It was one that I have imagined every little girl asks at some point.  "Mom, do you think I'm pretty?"



In the last six years I have spent a lot of time drinking in the beauty of my own two children.  I know how you stare at the curve of her cheek or admire his gait.  I know how every mother sees her child as the most gorgeous thing imaginable, and how you think to yourself, "If they resemble me at all, in appearance or personality, then I am more beautiful than I thought."  So now, I know what my mom was thinking.  But standing at the sink, she contemplated the question for so long that I thought she probably hadn't heard me.  I was about to ask again when she simultaneously deflated me and fed my arrogance with her straightforward statement.

And thus my course was set.  I removed myself from the "prettiest girl in the room" competition and set my sights on "smartest."  By anyone's estimation, I did very well.  National Merit Scholar Finalist.  Ivy League (where I also found out that I wasn't, actually, the smartest girl in the room).  Turner Scholar.  Lewis Fellow.  Free Doctor of Ministry.  Perfect verbal score on the GRE.

But no matter how well I do in the "smartest" category, that seven-year-old is still in there asking if I'm pretty.  She is so persistent that in every serious relationship I've had, once I trusted him completely, I had to sheepishly ask my partner if he thought I was pretty.  Usually he has said yes.  Sometimes he has even told me how beautiful I am, unprovoked.  But there's a silent understanding that it's not my strong suit, and that if you really like me, it's probably for reasons other than appearance.

I have wondered often, over the years, what caused my mom to make that pointed remark.  Mom has been gone for almost thirteen years now, so I can't ask her.  But with my own daughter now six, I think I know.  She wanted me to estimate myself far beyond whatever value society might place on my beauty.  She wanted me to invest in myself in ways that would not necessarily be physically apparent.  But in doing so, she also created a little quagmire that sucks in bottomless amounts of attention and reassurance.

So last night, as little Vicki wanted to snuggle on my lap, I held my lips against the side of her forehead and whispered, "You're so beautiful."  Tomorrow, it might be, "My God, you're brilliant."  And the next day, "You cannot control anyone but yourself."  They are all true, and however she chooses to define herself - whatever competition she decides to throw her hat into - I want her to know that she has the internal resources to win at being her best self.  Always.