There is no easy walk to freedom

At this very moment eleven years ago, at the age of 31, I was in a hospital bed, waiting to be born.

I, a 31 year old woman, was waiting to be born.

People around me were waiting for a baby girl to be born. They didn’t know that she was not the only one entering the world, though. They didn’t know what my insides looked like, because I didn’t tell them. I guess I didn’t really know that I was dead inside either. I only knew that I was a vapid, insipid human being–a person who knew nothing and felt very little. Feelings were painful and scary, and so disassociation had become my normal state of being. I was going through motions just enough to keep the peace, but not enough to actually show up in this world as fully human.

Until I saw her.

They pulled her out of me at 7:50 am on June 15, 2008. She tilted her head to one side, as the nurse held her up to my face. For the first time in such a long time, I felt something. Something about those mocha eyes staring at me caused me to almost want to stand up, even though I had literally just been cut open a few minutes ago in a Caesarean section surgery.

I took her and held her. This was an inexplicably important moment. It wasn’t just the birth of my child. It was the birth of me. Somehow I knew that. I just didn’t know how it would quite play out. I didn’t know what that meant. I only knew disassociation was no longer an option. I had to start showing up in my own life.

Every day of the first two years of Aliana’s life, I knew that I would need to leave my marriage in order to become me again. This truth grew into a massively strong tree that continued to grow inside of my soul as it was revealed to me, day in and day out. This tree of truth became so mighty and strong that I felt shame for not watering it. I felt shame for noticing it, but not taking care of it. While I didn’t act upon it, I felt this ominous feeling inside that I needed to do something or that tree would actually pop out of me and I would be exposed for being a fraud.

I somehow made baby steps of action. I found Bible verses that spoke to me and read them every day. Every morning I read the magnet on my fridge that said, “Be strong and courageous and do the work.” -1 Chronicles 28:20. As I read that verse over and over again, I hoped the words would eventually cause my feet to act on what was growing inside of me. I wrote down a quote in my journal by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “Our lives begin the end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I knew this was the truth. That until I spoke up about what was happening in my life, and acted on that truth–that I would continue to choose a life that was rooted in darkness instead of in light.

Silence creates shame. Ironically, the more we don’t act on changing things that we know need to be changed, the more the shame seems to grow.

I knew the work I needed to do was to leave my marriage. The more I knew it, the angrier my spouse seemed to become. The abusive episodes escalated until a moment in February 18, 2010, where my daughter witnessed something that no child should ever see. I felt my heart jump out of my chest as I called the Julian Center the next day, “I need help,” I told them.

I began to call attorneys. I began to interview attorneys in secret. I began to go to the Julian Center for a women’s support group.

And then I told my family. I started with Uncle Roy. Uncle Roy was patient and kind and truthful. He helped me to begin to not be ashamed of my experiences but to actually own them. I began to understand why “responsibility” is the fourth stage in the cycle of violence: for it is when we take responsibility for stopping the cycle, that it can finally end. Ownership of truth leads to responsibility.

Abusive relationships are addictive. People become addicted to each other during the cycle of trauma. There’s something called trauma bonding that happens-which is why the average woman tries to leave an abusive relationship multiple times before she actually does it with finality.

People ask me all the time: what causes some people to finally leave abusive relationships, and others to never leave? And I used to say all the time, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I just know I somehow did it but I’m not even sure how I got there.”

And while I still don’t completely know, what I do know is this–there is a connection between humility and courage.

My parents always acted on the extreme side of teaching me humility. Sometimes I felt that they aimed so hard to teach me that vanity and pride were a load of crap, that I actually almost had none.

But this trait they worked so hard to instill in me–a sense of humility–was ultimately what caused me to change my life.

Humility is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” When you are humble by nature and are facing difficult challenges, you can start to say things like, “Hey, I don’t know how to do this. Let me get some help from someone. Let me listen instead of speak. Let me admit that I’m jacked up right now. Let me sit with this and know that God will lead me out of this if I listen hard and surrender to the fact that I cannot control my situation, but I can take responsibility for it.”

There is something to be said to listening to your inner compass. But when your inner compass is not working, there is wisdom in listening to and following the advice of others who love you and who are professionals. When you are blindsided with fear and anxiety, your inner compass doesn’t even work. It’s like a compass on steroids, spinning and spinning and freezing up.

So that is when you find the following two people:

-a very wise, professional well researched individual who is an expert on what you are going through (like a psychologist or doctor)

-a wise friend or family member who always wants what’s best for you and loves you more than you love you

And then you sit down and listen. Filter out what sits better with you than what doesn’t. But trust that they know things you don’t.

We don’t know it all. We can be experts and read books until we are dead, but when we are experiencing something keeps us stuck in a shame cycle, anxiety spin, or is just painful as hell, we will need help.

We will need help. We will need each other. We will need truth, that is borne from love.

For me, my rebirth was the road to freedom. I still have pain and difficulties in my life, but I have ME. I know how to be me and it’s safe to be me. I am free from abuse, and just like an addict who becomes sober, I will never go back “there.” I will not become entangled with someone who abuses me, uses me, and confuses me.

But I wouldn’t have gotten to that point without learning to listen, and without a humble heart. The challenge with raising a child is aiming for humility AND self love. It’s hard-it means you must do a lot of talking, modeling, and building understanding of healthy relationships.

I feel so much gratitude today. Gratitude for my 11 year old baby, gratitude for humility, and gratitude for freedom. The other day, I saw this quote from Nelson Mandela, posted at a school I was in:

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again, before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”

May we remember this: that no one, not even God, has promised us an easy life. But we have the ability to be quiet, be still, and listen. And within that stillness, we just might find a new path or new way of being. I am so thankful to this child, whose birth was a reminder that it’s never too late to change your life. And it’s never too late to become free.

What it’s Really Like to be a Single Parent

The other day I went to my doctor’s office for an appointment and was making small talk with the nurse. I told her about an upcoming solo vacation I was going on for a weekend, and the nurse asked me if I was taking my daughter. I told her no, she was with her dad that weekend.

“Oh,” she said. “So you can like get away and do things by yourself when she’s gone. Man, I wish I were divorced so I could get a break from my kids!”

🙆🏻‍♀️🤔😐

I thought of a couple sarcastic, semi humorous possible responses in my head, but chose not to verbally respond to her statement, knowing that it was probably more of a commentary of her sentiments about her own marriage and responsibilities, and less of a statement about divorce.

Because no one who has ever been divorced says stuff like that.

And what the nurse didn’t realize is what it’s REALLY like to be a single parent.

Preface: This is my perspective, based on a few different factors pertaining to my individual situation listed below.

    I am divorced and have my daughter alone about 75% of the time.
    For various reasons, I do not co-parent with her father. We have more of a “business relationship.”
    I do not have a partner in my home. It’s just me and my kid.

So in essence, I’m about to give you my take on single parenting from someone who is truly single parenting 75 % of the time to one child.

Here goes:

Single parenting is like living inside a computer that never turns off. There are many different tabs and programs open and only you can close them because you’re the one with the username and password and operating instructions. Oh, and the operating instructions are ones you have developed yourself based on your own experiences as a child except for you have to keep tweaking them as you realize your childhood and even your child is quite different than you. People may try to help you and sometimes you’re like oh my goodness, thank you for your help, YES, because your computer is so warmed up from running all the time, and you have all these different tabs open, like a tab for meals, clothing, homework, cleaning, extra curricular activities, one for trying to figure out tweens or toddlers, and not even mentioning the tabs for your own life.

In contrast, many homes with two involved parents have a computer they share. They exchange operating instructional notes. They both know how the computer works. And they can divide up the endless tabs and responsibilities. And sometimes one of them can say to the other, “I’m losing my patience with this kid we are trying to figure out. I need to walk away from the computer, so can you keep tabs on it while I go to the grocery store and get a mental break?”

But the single parent has to keep all the tabs open even when she or he wants a break. Any breaks taken from the computer are never, ever spontaneous. No one just randomly shows up at her door at the exact moment she needs a break. That doesn’t mean she or he never receives technical support to keep their computer up and running smoothly. But it does mean she is the only one responsible for running that computer. It is she who must make decisions and decide how to fix it most of the time.

It is the times when my child is most emotional that I feel the greatest responsibility of single parenting and running that computer. When she is devastated about a loss, or extremely excited or nervous about an upcoming event, or angry with me because she didn’t get her way, I feel her feelings and I hold space for her and I realize that THIS IS IT. I’m her emotional support and I have to be present. I have to help her process.

It is in those times that I sometimes literally fall to my knees and say, “Lord, lead me, because it’s just me and my heart leading this kid, and I don’t know what in the heck I’m doing. Give me wisdom and strength to bear this great responsibility.”

Here’s the thing, though: I cannot bear witness to the challenges of single parenting without bearing witnesses to the beauty in it.

I am no more proud of anything than I am of the work I do as a single parent. I am not doing it perfectly, but I am doing it. I know that there are times she wishes, as many children of divorced parents do, that her parents were not divorced. What she doesn’t know, and may never know, is that I fought very hard to save my marriage to the point that I had lost myself completely in another person.

However, I found myself as a mother when I had the freedom to be me. I found myself when my daughter was two years old, woke up vomiting in the middle of the night, and cried for me. I found myself when she was three years old and fell running at the pool and got a concussion, and I scooped her up off the ground and rushed her to the doctor. I found myself when I took her to a child psychologist at the age of four because I was so worried I had no idea what I was doing raising this strong willed, vibrant little girl. I found myself when she received straight As all year long and won an award, and I was the sole person there to support her. I found myself when she got in big trouble in first grade for throwing her shoe over the fence during recess and she went the rest of the school day wearing one shoe.

In a million and one ways, I FOUND myself due to parenting my daughter alone.

And while I do not wish the challenges that come with divorce or single parenting on anyone, I am grateful for the million and one ways that the experience of single parenting has forced me to find myself.

With great responsibility, also comes a great reward, if you are simply willing to find yourself in the midst of the hard stuff.

One decade ago today

One decade ago, I was lying in a hospital bed in great physical discomfort as I was birthing my daughter.

This day is sacred to me unlike no other. My child’s birth was my rebirth. For this reason, her birthday is even more special to me than my own. She woke me up to the possibility of a new life and a new way of being.

She ignited a fire in my heart that I followed: a fire which burned through

injustice,

darkness,

and fear.

I took the ashes from this fire and buried them. I built walls to prevent me from veering off the path. I knew the new pathway I was creating required a significant commitment to growth, courage, and love–both for myself and for my child. I knew it was going to be hard, but that the reward would be great.

I am not being dramatic when I say Aliana saved my life. That statement is both a beautiful and ugly truth for me. It’s beautiful because it was because of my love for her that I took responsibility for my life. It is ugly because no child should have to enter the world, bearing a burden of such consequence.

The world of domestic violence is a dark one. People who live in it experience warped realities and emotional and physical trauma. There were three things that saved me: my love for my daughter, getting professional help, and about two people who knew my story and never gave up on me. Those two people told me everyday that I was strong and smart and that they believed in my capacity to do hard things. They reminded me of who I was when I forgot.

But if I hadn’t had that trifecta–I may not have left.

I feel that I am one of the lucky ones. Some people live their whole lives in an abusive relationship. Some get out, but they never heal or understand how they got there in the first place. They continue to repeat the patterns or form new addictions.

When you decide to take the pathway to healing, you will discover that it is simultaneously incredible and also brutal. You must be willing to be ripped open and dissected and put back together. Not everyone is willing. But I do believe everyone is able if they allow it to happen.

But they must really allow it to happen. All the beauty and all the terror– to allow it to wash over them, as Rilke says.

Today, people sometimes write to me and ask me for advice about how to help a friend or family member who is experiencing abuse and what I usually tell them is this:

  • Listen
  • Affirm their feelings
  • Accept their decisions
  • Set boundaries when necessary
  • Encourage the victim to get professional help
  • Acknowledge that leaving is very hard but it is the only way their children will know the love of a parent who has the capacity to love with her whole heart.

I am not a therapist nor do I know if the advice I just gave is the best or not. But I do know that conquering an abusive relationship is similar to conquering an addiction. That’s because all these crazy neural pathways are formed in your brain during trauma bonding. Research it. It’s a real thing. Stockholm Syndrome and stuff.

But if you actually DO it–if one actually leaves the abuse, the amazing thing is how quickly one can heal when you

  • Take responsibility for showing up in your life
  • Allow justice to be served by setting boundaries like you’ve never known before.

I am so lucky. I am so grateful. I will never ever EVER stop feeling grateful for my trifecta: my daughter, the professional help I received, and my two people who believed in me nearly a decade ago.

But it all started with my daughter. With me looking into her eyes and me saying to her, “I don’t want you to live like this.”

Beauty and truth. It’s what’s being served in our home, one decade later.

I love you, Aliana.

For the People Who Care the Maximum Amount

This one is for the people who care the maximum amount. Those of us who care about others, what others are thinking, if we offended others, suffer from social anxiety, perfectionists in our relationships, etc. If the aforementioned describes you, lend me your ears.

Many years ago, an incident happened with a friend, that I felt was a betrayal. Others perceived it as a miscommunication. I wanted to give the person the benefit of the doubt, so I communicated to her that a boundary had been crossed in our relationship, and I then restated my boundary (which happened to involve my child).

My friend said, “No problem, I understand. This will not happen again.” So, I carried on in the friendship until, one day, she became very angry with me about the boundary I had expressed and it was stated to me by both her and members of her family, that my boundary was unrealistic.

I spent a night agonizing over this. Was it unrealistic? Was I wrong? Was I… being stubborn 😳?

You see, I had spent most of my life, believing that people who could not come to an agreement on things were exhibiting pride and/or were operating purely from their egos. I didn’t want to be a person who was so caught up in “my beliefs” that I couldn’t compromise.

Until one night I was talking to my friend Melanie about this incident, and she said something profound:

“This is one situation where you can’t budge. It’s beneath your dignity to do so.”

“Dignity?? Like, what does that even mean??” I asked her. (I mean, I knew the word “dignity,” but its meaning felt so foreign to me in this context that I needed to hear an explanation.)

“You know… dignity. Like, you’re worthy of respect.”

“Dignity. Okay. My dignity,” I slowly said, taking it all in.

Within that particular moment, what I was beginning to realize was this: my boundary that had been violated was an extension of my values. So I just couldn’t bend–or I would break and be compromising WHO I was. I would be compromising my self worth–what I value, who I am, and my dignity.

And here’s the thing–for some people, this wouldn’t have been a big deal. But for me, it was. Because I’m wired to care THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT about my relationships. Like, on a continuum of caring about other people, where zero is literally “IDGAF” (don’t google that, Mom) and ten is “I really want people to be happy with me and not hurt their feelings,” I’m pretty much a 12. While saying no to others may come easily to some, it does NOT come easily to me.

And this situation was a hard one. I ended up disappointing a lot of people: people who I loved and people who my child loved. I had to take time to grieve the loss and work through this betrayal.

But the one person I didn’t end up disappointing was myself. I had not betrayed my values. I had spoken from my heart, and from a place of truth. This was not pride–it was dignity. And dignity is the very ONE THING we cannot compromise. Our lives will never be easy, but we can at least know we are living in integrity when we speak and respect our values through our decision making.

I’m talking to YOU–the one who cares the maximum amount. Don’t forget to care about yourself.

Photo: My friend, Melanie, who has been teaching me about dignity since the third grade.

Happy Re-Birth Day to Me


9 years ago today, after laboring for 30+ hours, my daughter, Aliana, was born via Caesarian section at 7:50 am. After experiencing what my OB-GYN proclaimed to be a freakishly challenging pregnancy, that included sciatica, kidney stones, preterm labor, and gestational diabetes, it was mind-blowing to me that a human this extraordinarily healthy had actually been percolating inside of me for nine months.

On this day, June 15, 2008, I was 32 years old, yet I was just a shell of a person.  I had no personality, no likes or dislikes, and no idea how I had gotten myself into the mess of an abusive marriage.

And now I had this tiny, gorgeous human with a full head of curly black hair, that was staring at me with the deepest coffee colored eyes I had ever seen.  And somehow, those eyes were the only thing that ever could break me of my numbness.  You see, I could no longer disassociate from my life, because that would mean I was disassociating from MY OWN CHILD. 

In the intensity of her gaze, I imagined she was saying to me, “I am here.  I am LIGHT.”

Her existence broke me into a million pieces so that I would be somehow be forced to make a plan to put myself together again, because her eyes–HER LIGHT–showed me that she needed a mama who was whole, and that mama had to be me.

One day, I was giving her a bottle when her father entered the room.   I don’t remember what I had said that upset him so much, but he spat on me.  His spit ran down my face and dripped onto my shirt.  I didn’t react, as I knew that would make it worse, but Aliana did. She screamed at the top of her lungs and she no longer wanted the bottle.  Her screams and her terror reminded me of my own terror–reminded me that I needed to finally be terrified in order to be her mother. My heart of darkness slowly began to crack, and I allowed her light to seep into me.

Her birth was my rebirth, so in many ways, this day, June 15, is sacred to me and forever will be. It is a day that I was also born, as this baby was the one who brought me back to life.

Sometimes people say to me, it’s unfortunate that you and your ex husband conceived a child together, because that means you have to still communicate and can’t be completely unattached. What people who make these comments don’t understand is that if I hadn’t had my daughter, I might still be living in that marriage. Aliana’s existence propelled me into a completely new level of life, because I finally loved a person so much that I didn’t want her to live the way I had been living.  The love I couldn’t feel for myself, I could feel for her. 

Something deep inside of me knew that I could never be the mother she needed unless I could fully be myself, and the journey to self discovery started with her birth. 

Changing lives is serious business, and this girl wasn’t even planning on getting into that business; the universe simply deemed it so.

And for that I will always be thankful. Happy birthday, Aliana. 

Child of God

On Tuesday, I drove up to Kokomo to be with my dad at his doctor’s appointment. On the way there, I stopped to grab some coffee. 

I went inside the coffee shop and ordered. As I was waiting for my organic, almond milk, local pumpkin “spiced” latte, (I know, I’m annoying), I sat down on a couch and peered out the window. 

Outside there was a child with a beautiful round face playing with legos at a table while a woman (presumably the child’s  mother) chatted with a few of her friends. 

The child came up to the window and waved at me through the glass. I waved back, smiling, and wondered what gender the child was. It was hard for me to discern, and I found myself wanting to know. 

And then I sighed. And just sat there, mesmerized by this child’s smile, until I heard the barista say, “Order for Emily!”

And as I walked away, I suddenly snapped out of my wondering. I am not sure why. Maybe it was just the emotional state I was in. I was trying to go into the doctor’s appointment with an open heart, trusting what was about to happen, despite my fear.  And so I heard a voice inside me say, “You don’t really need to know everything, Emily. Don’t put that beautiful child in a box. Separate yourself from this world of boxes and labels.”

And I began to think about my own baby, who is really not a baby anymore, but a vibrant 8 year old. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, when people ask her, “What are you mixed with?” I feel weird and awkward and like some boundary has been crossed. I am still stunned when strangers and acquaintances ask that question so effortlessly. It slides of their tongues like smooth butter. 

“What is she mixed with?”

“What is she?” 

“Are you her mom? What is her dad?”

It’s a label–a category–that people want. And it bugs me. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive. Or perhaps I’m not. 

But here I was with this beautiful child, in the coffee shop, wanting the same. I wanted a label. A box. A category. Male or female? I’m embarrassed to admit that my psyche may have wanted to know, so that it could structure my interactions with this child based upon knowledge of his or her gender. 

And that is NOT someone I want to be. 

I suppose my brain knows that deep down–which is why it started talking to me about boxes and labels. The child is a child is a child. The child has his or her own identity which is being shaped and formed and I have no business being involved in that process. 

One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, (who recently divorced her husband) announced that she’s in love with another female, who happens to be badass soccer player, Abby Wambach. Everyone is suddenly like, “Is Glennon gay? Is she bisexual? What IS she?”

And there’s something about those questions that I find unnverving. It’s like, we humans are so obsessed with checking boxes. These are some of the common boxes we like to check: 

  • Gender 
  • Race
  • Sexuality

And there’s a lot more. But those above are the three biggies. And there’s a reason for that–people treat you differently based upon their associations and/or unsettling beliefs they associate with those labels. 

There are people in this world who are very uncomfortable without labels; these are the people who can’t stand not knowing what “categories” others fall into. They find comfort in categories and do not like ambiguity. 

And yet, if there’s one thing to be certain of in life, it is that our lives WILL be filled with ambiguity. We are not omniscient nor were we designed to be.

And so I was thinking about ALL the things I just said (I’ve a busy brain) as I entered my dad’s doctor appointment with his neurologist. And as the neurologist gave me his diagnosis, “Your dad is in the beginning to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” I made a conscious decision right then and there to not let this diagnositic label DEFINE him. 

I saw my dad’s face, as the neurologist told him that the disease is not curable. He was unable to make eye contact with the doctor. He was somber. He did not ask questions. So I did. 

“What does this mean?” I asked. 

“It means he needs to start this medication I’m prescribing as soon as possible to prolong the quality of his life,” the doctor said. 

He went on to explain that with this medication, we are buying at least 8-11 more years of a life that is true to him. 

When I looked over at my dad, I thought I would cry, but instead I just felt overwhelming love and compassion for him. I looked him square in the eyes when we left and told him that this is a condition… but it’s not WHO he is. 

We cannot let these labels–these boxes, these words–DEFINE each other. They are cages. You know what my most important identity is? Child of God. That’s it. Because I’ve had important labels taken away from me–wife, niece, granddaughter, and friend. And yet, I’ve gone on living. 

People build walls in the name of labels; when what we REALLY need is proximity. 

As for me, I am going to do my best to fall in love with the ambiguity, while  decreasing the distance between myself and those different from me. 

And I’m going to keep reminding my dad of his most important identity: child of God. I love you, dad. 

Let’s Talk about Sex

At 6:45 am during my morning commute, I am awake, but not like, REALLY awake. You see, I’m a crockpot, not a microwave. I heat up sloooowly, getting warmer by the hour. Therefore, I was not prepared for the bomb of a conversation my child wanted to have with me this very morning at 6:45 am in the car.

“Do you know what the word ‘climax’ means–like, the climax in a story?” she suddenly asked me.

 “Yes,” I said, (insert thoughtful pause) “Are you studying that in school?”

“Yeah, and I was, like, looking it up on Merriam Webster’s Dictionary online for the definition. Well, the first two definitions were normal. Like they were talking about stories…”

I was starting to get anxious at that moment. I’m not even Catholic, but I wanted to say Hail Marys.  I prayed in my mind, “Please, please, do not let my child go there. I’m so not ready to talk about this topic before 7:00 am. Please make her stop!”

But my child did not stop talking. Her eight year old brain was, in fact, churning.

“But the third definition,” she said, “was like, talking about sex.”

“Oh my. Oh my goodness. Oh dear…Did you show your teacher?”

“No! I just wrote down the first definition and got out of there fast.”

“Okay, well… I can see why that would have been shocking. You just, um….” (holy crap, I’m totally struggling for words here), “you just sometimes have to be careful with the internet.”

That response did not appease her. 

“So, like…what IS sex? I mean I know it’s a private word, but what it is it?” she inquired. 

“I am not exactly prepared to have this conversation at 6:45 in the morning on the way to school. Can we talk about it later?” I asked, feeling like I needed time to plan out what I was going to say. 

“Okay,” she said. 

But then, some weird voice intruded in my head. It was the voice that told my fears to shut up. It’s like, my authentic voice–the one that actually doesn’t respond in fear, but approaches situations from a place of love. And I was like, “Seriously, voice? After you just avoided that conversation, now you want me to be courageous? You are SO stupid, voice!”

And that internal voice said this:  “Emily, there is no perfect time to have this conversation. It is a gift that she’s asking YOU, her mom, instead of someone else. GO there. Be grateful for this moment.  Answer the hard questions the best you can.”

Stupid voice. 

“Actually, Aliana, that’s a good question you asked, and we should talk about it now,” I suddenly said. 

“Okay?” she said, now starting to get confused by my change of heart. 

“So sex is something that a woman and man do that creates babies… or I mean, that can create babies,” I stuttered.

“So, I am sex?” she asked.

“NO! I didn’t explain that right… um, sex is like something a man and a woman who love each other can do together to make a baby,” I said, through my not fully awake brain. 

“Okay,” she said. “Oh, did I tell you about the trip my friend went on?”

And just like that, she changed the subject. And I kind of, like, thought about going back to the sex thing, but then I remembered that when we went to the child psychologist, she told me to follow my child’s lead in discussions of this nature, and just answer the questions they ask.

And that was it. Apparently I CAN have awkward and hard conversations at 6:45 am. And if I can, we all can. AND, I know I’m going to have to talk about this again with her, which literally makes me want to crawl out of my skin, but I think what this means is that I SIMPLY HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT YET what it is that I want her to know and understand about sex–what it means and what it doesn’t mean. What intimacy is, and what it isn’t. 

And maybe that’s because I’m still figuring this all out FOR MYSELF. Sex is a topic that people have VERY strong opinions about, and I’m even nervous as I’m sitting here typing this out to you. 😳🙄😳 When I was growing up, I found out through the grapevine that sex was when a penis went in a vagina, and OMG that was just so BIZARRE to wrap my brain around,  and THEN I was told just to “never do it until my wedding,” and wasn’t really told why. 

I am starting to see that I sort of learned things in reverse. Like, I got married and had a child, and THEN I learned about sex. And that’s all I’m going to perhaps say about it now, as the rest of my thoughts on that will be in my future memoir (hehehe), but WOW, you guys. Just wow. I actually got through that conversation!!  Like I tell my students, “We can do hard things.” ❤️ I can. You can. We can. 

Dr. Willis 

Six years ago, I found myself walking into the Julian Center, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence, and asking for help. 

“I need to talk to someone,” I said, in a shaky voice, while trying to calm my cranky 18 month old toddler. 

The girl behind the desk told me that there was a 12 week long women’s support group that met every Monday night and was led by a therapist named Dr. (I can’t say her name, so let’s just call her the name I’m about to say) Willis.

I had no idea what was about to happen. All I knew was that I needed to put one foot in front of the other and just show up.

But first, I had to meet one on one with Dr. Willis, so that she could listen to my story and become familiar with me. 

I sat in a chair across from her in her tiny, dimly lit office. Dr. Willis was tall, exquisitely beautiful, soft spoken, and serious. 

She asked me a series of questions, all of which I answered through blubbering tears, while the doctor maintained her serious, yet concerned, composure. 

“I think you will be a good fit for this group,” she said. “I need to tell you that this is a women’s empowerment group. I’m all about tapping into your strengths and helping you build each other up. This group contains women of various economic backgrounds, races, and IQs. Everyone is very different, but you all are here for the same reason–to become empowered.”

I showed up to every single one of those 12 week sessions. Dr. Willis gave us homework every week, and I diligently did it. I was hungry for the knowledge she was feeding me.  

After one of our sessions, I asked Dr. Willis for advice about a book to read. I named off about three books I had researched, and she listened.

“Emily,” she said, in her always composed, calm voice, “I want you to stop reading books for the time being.”

“What the freaking heck?” I said in my head, as I would never have dreamed of contradicting Dr. Willis out loud. “Stop reading books? Seriously? Books? Books are my fountain of knowledge, my support system, my–”

Dr. Willis interrupted my internal monologue. 

“Those books are good that you named. However, I think it’s time you started to look within. You have all the knowledge you need in you to get through this. Allow yourself to trust yourself. You don’t need more evidence or research. Your feelings and your truth are enough to be your guide.”
I swear my jaw was hanging open. This was a first. No one had ever forbidden me from reading a book. 

But this amazing thing happened, you see. I started to recognize that my feelings and intuition and gut mattered. I mattered. I was almost even beginning to show signs of trusting myself. I trusted God first, but believed in the signs shown to me, and that my knowledge was valuable. 

And now…I have a confession tonight. 

I’m writing this story because I need to hear it again myself. Sometimes I forget that I have the capacity to be courageous. I forget that same woman with a quivering lip and a cranky toddler who finally asked for help WAS ME. 

And sometimes I forget that I have this built in superpower called intuition and self knowledge. I have it, and so do you. 

Occasionally I will find myself scrolling mindlessly through my phone, looking for information on God knows what. You should see the weird sh*t I’ve googled–things like, “Did I screw up my child because I let her watch television for eight hours straight while I was cleaning the house?” Or, “How do I know if he’s cheating on me?” Or “What happens if my cat eats her own barf?”
Seriously. 

If you are looking hard for information about how much you have screwed up your life, I guarantee you that you will find it. And you will find it everywhere

This week, I’m challenging myself to stop the mindless scrolling and looking for articles on silly sites like buzzfeed or elitedaily for answers to my life. Let me tell you, it is a BAD habit I’ve formed that needs to be broken. Because 25 year old writer from elite daily named Jenny has no idea how to live my life.

A friend of mine reminded me today, “There is no blueprint for life.” So, on that note, I’m reminding myself to just show up, do me, work hard, and pray–not in desperation–but in thanks. Because I’m thankful that God has given me and you everything we need to get through this messy and beautiful life. 

  
A photo of my cranky toddler, 6 years ago, about the time that I decided that I was more courageous than I thought.

 

I’m So Excited about Florida!

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to do something I seldom do. I decided to buy two plane tickets to Florida for my daughter and me. 

You see, here’s the thing: I hate making big purchases. And even though I preach to my friends about the importance of living in the moment and traveling to see the world, etc., the reality is that I am a single mom living on a teacher’s salary, and any traveling I do must be carefully planned out.

So, I had this “travel money” fund saved up for awhile. At first I was gonna go to Vegas, but that suddenly felt dumb, since I’m not really a Vegas girl. Then, I thought I would go to San Diego by myself on a weekend I didn’t have my daughter, just because I’ve been obsessed with wanting to go there, and I felt like I was getting signs from the universe that I was supposed to go there by myself and explore, and yada yada yada, BUT…anywho, every time I was on the verge of purchasing a plane ticket to go there, I suddenly got interrupted by something–my daughter calling for me, a sudden realization that I needed to make dinner, or just a myriad of random interruptions, and the ticket NEVER got purchased. It was like the universe suddenly said, “No. Not now. San Diego is later.”

And then, one day my daughter came over to me with a piece of red construction paper. On the construction paper she had made a list. It said, “Places with an ocean I want to visit.”

Number one on the list was Florida. Next to Florida were the words, “in October.”

You see, my daughter makes plans to live even when I forget to. 

At first, I told her the list was very nice and said something non-commital, like “That’s cool. We shall see what the future holds,” in my mature, parentish voice.

She explained to me that she really just “wanted to see the ocean like we did in Hawaii.”

Time went on, and I subconsciously mulled  it over. Aliana put the list away, and we didn’t talk about it. 

Until one Saturday when she wasn’t around, I just thought about being in the ocean, and what a wonderful thing it is to  breathe in the air from the waves. And I have always felt there was something magical about water, because water washes over you and just makes you feel new. 

So, I booked the plane tickets for two and a hotel on the beach. And now we are going. It’s only for three days, but it’s the OCEAN. My daughter and I are going to just BE in the ocean. We want to swim and breathe in the smell of the water and feel the sand under our feet and find rocks and shells and marvel at whatever we find marvelous. 

I’m working hard to remember how important it is to live while living within my means. We must live and make plans to live. Do you know how happy I have felt during the last couple of weeks, when I paused from the rapid pace of life to anticipate this trip? Anticipation is half the fun. 

I was actually getting giddy over this trip with Aliana to the point that it was annoying her. I would be tucking her in to bed at night, and saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited about Florida!! We’re going to Florida!!” and she would look at me and say, in her I’m-pretending-I’m-a- teenager-for-this-moment-voice, “Yeah mom, I know. You keep saying that all the time.”

The day has come. And I’m so excited about Florida. Like, totally. Like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to Florida and I’m going to swim in the ocean and frolic in the waves and I can’t believe I just said frolic since I’ve never used that word in my life, but I’m so excited about Florida!”