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. 

I Don’t Have a Model

I was talking to these hooligans, a.k.a, my parents on the phone a couple of nights ago.

   

My dad said, “I wish you would just call us more and respond quicker to our emails.”

This may seem like a guilt-trip statement, but it’s not. You see, my dad’s not really a guilt trippy type of person. He’s just honest and speaks from the heart. 

I felt a twinge of something–maybe guilt, sadness, inadequacy–when my dad said this. Because he’s right. I don’t respond efficiently enough. And these are people who deserve to hear from me. These are people who REALLY love me. 

So it got me thinking about a couple of different things. The first thing it got me thinking about is the fact that I still feel kinda overwhelmed by this single parenting thing at times. It’s consuming.  And the second thing it got me thinking about is that I am so overwhelmed by my “to do list” that I have unfortunately neglected those who are most important to me.

When you know someone will always be there, you sometimes forget how important that relationship is to you. And  I do NOT want to be like that. Because at the end of the day, there are a handful of individuals in my life who know me deeply and are committed to loving me. And while I have A LOT of responsibilities on my plate, I want to make it a practice to invest in those relationships. 

So that ⬆️ was the second thing I thought about. Now back to the first: 

Being a single parent is consuming. 

I DON’T HAVE A MODEL for this single parenting thing. My whole family consists of married couples. I have tried to not think about this too much, because it’s, quite frankly, an overwhelming thought, which can lead to negative self talk like, “What the heck are you doing? I mean, seriously, no wonder you have motherhood-induced ADHD- BECAUSE YOU are just on freaking auto pilot.”

And then this thought can turn into a meaner voice. It says, “Just who in the HECK do you think you are? People think you have your crap together and YOU DO NOT. You can’t even get your parents called back.”

What a mean thought. 

So I put the thought on the shelf. And I did what I do when I feel overwhelmed–I put my phone down, stopped doing chores or thinking about chores, and snuggled up to Aliana, to remind myself of why I do what I do. 

And after that, I just did the next thing, and reminded myself to practice self-compassion sometimes for when I fall short. Which is like, all the freaking time. 

And even though I didn’t grow up in a single parent household, I paused that night to think about the millions of single mamas and single daddies in this world who just somehow miraculously parent their children BY THEMSELVES. They may have their moments where they feel truly overwhelmed. Where they pause and think, “Geesh, it would be nice to have a partner to help me do the dishes. It would be nice to have someone stay at home with the little ones while I go for a quick walk and get some fresh air. It would be nice to have a partner around so that I didn’t have to experience my child’s emotional meltdown or temper tantrum ALONE.”

There are MILLIONS of single parents going through that. Right now. Every second. And they just put on the game face and are brave and keep going.

So I’m not alone in the struggle. My struggle is universal in some ways–by single parents and those who are not single parents. My struggle is simply this: I’ve got a lot of crap on my plate, and I’m doing the best I can. While I do the best I can, I’m going to work on being still so that I can love those who need my love. Being still means to cut out the “I’m so busy” crap, and making time to just BE. 

You can do it. I can do it. We can do it. We can do hard things. 

Just do a Cartwheel 

Aliana: Mommy, I’m going to ask you something, and you can’t say no. You have to say you’ll at least try.

Me: I can’t promise an answer to a question I don’t know. 

Aliana: Pleeeease!!! Just say you’ll try! 

Me (exasperated): Okay, okay, what is it?

Aliana: Will you try to do a cartwheel? Just once? It’s okay if you can’t do it; but will you try?

Aliana is obsessed with cartwheels. She learned to do one in gymnastics not long ago, and she won’t stop doing them. She does cartwheels everywhere–after school in the hallways, in the mall when we are shopping, in the yard, in the living room, and even in the grocery store.

Last Sunday, my friend and I were walking down Mass Ave (a street downtown), and were deep in a conversation about how hard life can be, when suddenly Aliana, who was probably tired of listening to us adults talk, started doing cartwheels. On the sidewalk. In downtown Indy. 

And of course, my first reaction is, “What are you doing? Why are you doing a cartwheel right on the concrete?  You’re going to bump into people!

The pedestrians started moving to the side to make way for her cartwheels. They didn’t seem to mind. 

Aliana said, “Sometimes I just feel like doing a cartwheel, mom!”

So when she asked me to try a cartwheel the other evening, I was thinking, “Sweet Jesus, you have got to be kidding me.” I’m 38–about to turn 39. I’m not as spritely as I used to be. It has probably been over twenty years since I did a cartwheel. 

I looked down at the hardwood floor of our living room, and kept thinking, OMG, it looks so far down. I admittedly felt panicky, despite the fact that I’m only five feet, three inches. 

I was anxious. I wasn’t sure if my body could intuit what to do. And I always sucked at gymnastics as a child. And I thought my arms may not be strong enough. 

But I did it anyways. In fact I did several.  They were not very good cartwheels, but I did them. And my child pretended to be a British sports broadcaster, while videotaping a play by play of my cartwheels. 

Suddenly, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so ridiculously fun to do these damn cartwheels. It’s like my body and my mind needed those cartwheels. I exercise and lift weights on a somewhat frequent basis, but I wasn’t used to moving my body this way. And I needed to. I needed to do something different. 

It reminded me, in general, that when things in life aren’t feeling good, I need to  do something different. Sometimes I have to trick my feelings by changing my actions. When I feel like lying in bed and not getting up even though the big, bright sun is shining, I must get up. When I’m feeling down, and my child is asking me to get in the pool and play with her, I must do that, even though I feel like just sitting on the side of the pool, getting a tan. When I keep dating the same man in different clothing, I must stop dating and just be alone. When I am tired of the same old bullsh*t story, I need to change it. 

When life knocks you down, do a cartwheel. Or a somersault. Or a headstand. You don’t have to do it well, you just have to try. 

I Can’t Think of a Title, so this is my Title

From the time I was five years old, I was on the nerd fast track. 

It started out in kindergarten when I was placed in a program called KEY. I was trying to remember, for a moment, what the acronym “KEY” stood for, but then I realized I don’t actually care enough to figure it out. 😳

So anyways, we “KEY kids” were clustered together in a class throughout elementary school. Because I was in this cluster, when I entered high school my guidance counselor continued to place me in all the advanced placement courses I could possibly take.

The problem was…I began to discover I wasn’t actually a REAL “KEY” kid. I was a fake one–an oily, washed up, poser of a nerd.  I certainly looked nerdy. I certainly acted nerdy. But I never really had the brain of a true KEY kid–which I think looked like this: 

  

Whereas my brain looked like this:

  
So, as you can imagine, when I began to take classes like advanced placement chemistry and pre-calculus or even advanced placement economics–I couldn’t keep up with the true KEY kids’ brains. My brain just couldn’t learn and comprehend the material fast enough.

I wasn’t destined for true KEY greatness. But I kinda decided I didn’t care. Because I was one of those strange kids who didn’t have a competitive bone in my body. 

During my junior year of high school, I asked my guidance counselor if I could stay in my advanced literature classes, but I wanted to be taken out of the AP science and math ones.  I was tired of pretending to be a real KEY kid.  I said, “I want to go to ‘regular biology’ and ‘regular chemistry.'”

But…

before I had that epiphany to get myself out of KEY math and science, I SUFFERED through the first semester of precalculus my junior year.

I was placed in the class of a teacher I’ll call Mr. Dorian. Mr. Dorian reminded me of the McDonalds land character, Grimace–the big, purple guy who was always smiling. So Mr. Dorian was like that guy except for he didn’t smile. So I guess you would say he was a mean Grimace. 

  
The weird thing, though, was that he was actually nice to me. I knew no one in that class. Everyday, I came in, listened to the boring lecture, asked a million questions since I never understood the lecture, and then would do my work. There were seniors in my class who were smart, but seemed to bother Mr. Dorian. They didn’t pay attention to his lectures and would goof off in the back of the room. Mr. Dorian would vacillate between ignoring them and giving them ridiculously stern consequences.

I felt uncomfortable in his classroom. I felt like he had made me into “the teacher’s pet” yet I could never please him, since I had no freaking clue HOW to do precalculus.

Meanwhile, several of my closest friends were across the hallway during the same class period doing the same precalculus class–except for they were with my another math teacher who I adored named Mr. Cordell.

Mr. Cordell was the opposite of Mr. Dorian. He knew how to relate to kids. He was approachable and made us laugh. He was kind of like Ronald McDonald. 

And Ronald McDonald is much more popular than Grimace. 

Every day, I walked out of Mr. Dorian’s class when the bell rang, and would catch my friends across the hallway, leaving Mr. Cordell’s class, with smiles on their faces. They were happier than me because they had Mr. Cordell, right? That had to be it. Mr. Cordell made learning fun.  And I wanted to have Mr. Cordell, too, damnit! 

I made an appointment with my guidance counselor, Mr. Kammeyer.

“Mr. Kammeyer,” I nervously stammered. “Um, I was wondering if you could change my schedule and if I could be in the same exact class I’m in now, but just with a different teacher.”

“Why?” Mr. Kammeyer asked me.

As I started to rationalize to him that all my friends were in this other class and how Ronald McDonald’s teaching style was better suited for me, I could see him looking at me sideways with one eyebrow raised. He wasn’t buying what I was selling.

Mr. Kammeyer turned to me and said, “Okay, Emily. I’ll make the change. But only on one condition. You have to go to Mr. Dorian and tell him that you asked to be changed to Mr. Cordell and why.”

This is the kind of stuff that makes me shake in my boots. Confrontation. Telling someone you aren’t choosing him. Awkward conversations that you know will be awkward no matter how you say it. 

But, I believed I had to do it in order to save my precalculus ass.

And, I don’t remember how it went down exactly, since my nervousness and anxiety was on overdrive during the 5 second conversation with Grimace, but it happened something like this. 

I ran over to Grimace while he was standing in the hallway monitoring students during a passing period. 

“Mr. Dorian, I just wanted to let you know that I’m not going to be in your class anymore. I asked to be changed over to Mr. Cordell because I am more comfortable being in his class.”

He looked at me. And for the first time, I got the stern version of Grimace, looking back at me. There was no smile. He looked very annoyed. And maybe even hurt. 

(As a teacher now, myself, I understand how he felt. If a student were to come to me and tell me he didn’t want to be in my class anymore, I would feel rejected and confused. I would want answers. It would be difficult to not take it personally, because I care about my craft and my students).

But before he could say anything else to me, I ran away. Like, I freaking bolted down that hallway at Kokomo High School as fast as my scrawny, nerdy legs could go, and ran into my next period class. 

I felt like a piece of sh*t. Like diarrhea sh*t. Not the good kind of sh*t, if there is such a thing. And, I didn’t feel “free,” after changing over to Mr. Cordell like I thought I might. I didn’t feel one ounce better, in fact, even as I was sitting in his happy Ronald McDonald class with my friends. I realized that my unhappiness in precalculus had nothing to do with who my teacher was–it had to do with the fact that I simply could not do precalculus. 

I finished that semester of precalculus, and got by with a B-. I dropped the class, because I finally realized I just didn’t have that math brain that could do hard math things. 

But I still think about what Mr. Kammeyer asked me to do and why he asked me to do it. He wanted me to learn what it meant to be held accountable for my actions. And in this day and age where we have so much emailing and texting and snapchatting and messaging and other ways that we hide behind this little computer that we call our phones–THIS is a lost art. 

Telling someone your truth–your story–to his or her face is HARD

It feels so much easier to not be seen.  Being seen equates to being vulnerable and that’s scary

But our lives don’t occur in this box we call a telephone. We come to life in the real world. The real world is where we live and talk and think and communicate with other people. The real world is where we develop integrity in our interactions with others. The real world is messy. There’s no delete button or backspace. But it’s real. 

And that’s a notion I hold close to my heart.