Who's Beside You When You're Facing the Fire?

How was your first Monday of the year?

I don’t know about you, but today feels like the real first day of 2019. It’s the start of a week without any half days or holidays.

This week is a wide-open mouth to the new year.

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My first Monday was better than I expected but in order to explain just how Monday, this Monday was, I need to begin with the end of last week.

Friday was tough for me. Just horrific. I’m not a supporter of Facebook Vague-booking, but to respect the privacy of others, I cannot release specific details about why my Friday was beyond miserable. But I will tell you that something happened – and I hoped against all levels of hope -- that it must have been a gross misunderstanding and unfortunate break-down in communication. The whole event left me feeling humiliated, devalued and unworthy. I felt cast aside. Good God it hurt. It was that awful stinging sensation where it feels like electricity was running through my chest. I was in shock. I spent the rest of my afternoon and evening ping-ponging between rage and shame.

On Saturday, I traveled without my husband and kids to meet my sisters in the North Carolina mountains for the memorial service of a close family friend. The Cherokee woman who passed was more than a friend, she was family – like a cousin maybe – she was extraordinary.

In the early 1950's, our mothers were in nurses training together and they’ve been friends ever since. Nearly 67 years. Their lives mirrored one another. Each of them was married almost the same length of time before they lost their husbands to different types of cancer. Each of them had three daughters. We may not have been related by blood but were most certainly connected by heart. The memorial was a moving tribute to our friend who was young and vibrant, a relentless advocate for all things just, and a talented artist. Remarkably, her final works were purchased by the Smithsonian.

Her early death rattled me.

After the service, I had dinner with my mom and sisters. Our lives, normally separated by miles and different states, joined as we ate together and reconnected. Isn’t it amazing how births, weddings and deaths bring people together? It’s a reminder of how life gently nudges us to connect when we can.

I explained how awful my Friday was. How humiliated I was. I admitted that my complaint seemed even worse now and it embarrassed me to share it with them today, of all days, considering we had just said goodbye to our friend. I told them the unfortunate series of events and they listened to the story. I couldn’t help but notice the motion of our eating felt decelerated. It was like our table and the air around us was encased in gelatin. I would drag my fork over the crab meat and flounder. One sister would use her finger to catch the condensation from her water glass, the other would move the centerpiece and dish filled with pats of butter just so, out of the way. They were listening. They were hearing me. I needed their advice and I needed their presence and they gave me all of it.

One of the honest benefits of confiding in your sisters is that they won’t tell you what you want to hear. They will lovingly tell you what you need to hear. It wasn’t easy listening to their view of my awful, terrible Friday. Some of it I didn’t want to hear, but it helped me to look at the situation from another angle and appreciate that my lens was not the same lens of the other person. My perception doesn’t necessarily align with their position. My truth may not be their truth. It was a powerful conversation and I was grateful to my sisters for it.

I drove the three hours home and thought about everything they had said. It was late when I got home so I kissed my husband, hugged my teenagers – surprisingly they allowed the affection -- and collapsed into bed. I was asleep in seconds.

Sunday morning, I woke up and determined I needed a full day of rest. A day of absolutely nothing and zero requirement to accomplish, check off or plan. I wanted to not worry about anything for an entire day. I wanted to empty my mind from the frustrations of Friday and my sister’s solutions from Saturday. I wanted to just – be. I needed to let go of it all and allow things to settle. I wanted to amble around the aisles of a local antique mall and just get lost in all the curiosities of the booths. My husband enjoys the search for vintage oddities, so I asked him to join me. I needed him to be with me. He knows he helps center me, so I needed this time with him. We talked and strolled and explored the problems in a relaxed, nonjudgmental way. I was able to talk about the issues without extreme emotions. I was settled. I was discovering how I felt, but also considered how the other person may have perceived what happened. It was peaceful. Even though Friday was contentious, Saturday and Sunday waves were smoothing it over.

That’s when I found this print.

It was tucked behind an old radio and ceramic figurines and it captured me as soon as I saw it. The couple dressed in their finery appear sad – the woman more so than him. She seems melancholy and thoughtful. Maybe he’s being comforting and supportive. They stare into the fire in a modest cabin and hold each other. Something has happened. We don’t know what it is or why the artist felt compelled to capture it, but I was captivated. The longer I looked at the print, the more I wanted to come inside their home. I wanted to sit on the floor near the hearth and ask what was troubling her. Before I realized it, I felt a cold tear slip off my cheek. My husband moved beside me and studied the print. He told me to get it. He said it speaks to you – get it. I set it back on the shelf and said, I love it. I really do. The woman looks so sad, but not today.

So, this brings me to my first Monday of the new year. The misunderstanding I thought I had with the other person found brilliant clarity and the problem I thought I had disappeared. The person had not had a change of heart. All is well and I am grateful that what I thought was bad turned out to be just as it should be.

I was so happy that found myself driving back to the antique store. I bought the print I found yesterday. The woman in the painting will always remind me that sadness and melancholy will come and go but staring into a fire beside people who’ll weather life’s storms make it all worthwhile.

Come Home Safe

Come home safe. That’s what I find myself saying a lot these days. Come home safe. It’s my motto -- on repeat ever since I’ve been adjusting to our family’s new normal. This awkward new chapter in our life called Surviving the Terrifying Moments When Your Teenager Drives Away Until They Return -- and ways to avoid Life360 App addiction. Come home safe is the crutch phrase of our family’s new season. You use crutches when you’re hurt or weak and although it’s embarrassing to admit - my children growing older makes me anemic.

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I say come home safe every morning before school as my son grabs his car keys and my daughter opens the back door that leads to the garage. The last words I say on the phone are, come home safe when my son calls from his job and lets me know he’s on his way. I feel the concern in my voice and I know my kids hear it too when I say come home safe on a Friday night after an overtime football game. It’s a crutch, but I’m imperfect.

My son turned 16 this year and I could tell you all the things I’ve been telling myself over and over -- that he’s respectful, responsible, makes good grades, has terrific friends -- all that warm, positive vibey stuff, but he’s driving solo more often and when he says goodbye - I always say, come home safe.

Like it makes any difference at all.

As if the words, come home safe will shield him and place a cover of protection over his car. Like an imaginary bubble that prevents other cars and objects from hitting him, or worse, if he hits someone else. I’m not sure why I’ve worked up in my mind that it would be worse if he caused the wreck. Fault or no fault, our car insurance payment will balloon but honestly, it isn’t about the money. The older I get the more I realize that if it can be fixed with money it’s not a problem. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t think money can fix everything - and we certainly struggle with not having enough of it, but if the problem can be fixed with money, it’s manageable. Here’s what’s fixable -- a totaled car, a damaged church sign, an extended hospital stay or months of physical therapy. All of those inconveniences are paid with time and money even if takes until you are 127 years old. A loved one, dead on the side of the road after a car accident cannot be fixed with money.

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Come home safe.

But like a fresh breeze, all these gory images are ushered from my brain and replaced with the endless loop of my energizing, rehearsed, positive words.  My son is respectful, responsible and a good student. He has terrific friends and he’s conscientious. I added that last adjective since it has a comforting sound to it. Makes me feel better to think that he’s a conscientious driver. A person wishing to do what is right and to do it with care.

It was after a few months of him driving that I realized I was pouring a favorable outcome into him. Planting seeds of confidence in his subconscious. I say come home safe instead of don’t speed...don’t be reckless...don’t make quick turns or tailgate. I won’t parent using the negative because I chose not to parent that way when they were younger. I used words of affirmation as I spoke to him just like I’ve done his whole life, but now, in this season, my words are different. Instead of, come home safe, when they were younger I’d say, share what you have and when they did, “I’m proud of you.” As the kids grew, I’d say “care for one another or watch out for your sister.” When they entered middle school, “Be a leader” and then later, “Make good decisions" and "I believe in you.”

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Come home safe is my way of adjusting to my teenagers when they flinch (ever so slightly) when I say I love you or when they shrug me off as I pat them on the shoulder. It stings a little when I can see him recoil when I adjust his collar. Our kids know they are loved. But, I’m honest enough to admit that they’re going through the “it’s so weird stage” when your mom says love you -- all the time -- out loud -- for like the whole world to hear. So I’ve learned to replace I love you with come home safe.

And come home safe is my way of saying that home will always be their safe place to land.

The Heaviest I've Ever Been

When I discovered how heavy I’d become, I was in the Dermatologist’s office. It was a Thursday and the weather was dreadful. Rain had soaked our city for days -- flooding streets and overwhelming storm drains. When I looked at the parking lot through the water-streaked window, it was full of puddles and the nearby gullies were swollen and nearly cresting. I remember thinking, if we get flushed away, at least I’ll float to the top.

Digital scale in Doctor's office.

Digital scale in Doctor's office.

It was the first time I’d ever been to the dermatologist. Several of my co-workers came to our office with band-aids on their neck or arms -- residual proof of having a potentially cancerous mole removed, so I thought it might be a good idea to go, too. You know -- age spots. I checked in, was relocated to Exam Room One and finished answering a series of health questions. Do you use sunscreen? What level SPF? Have you ever used a tanning bed? Do you have any skin cancer in your family? Are you allergic to anything? Do you work outside? After suitable answers were documented and checked off, the nurse practitioner asked me to slip off my shoes and step on the digital scale.

If I hadn’t weighed so much and my cement feet weren’t grounding me to the scale, I would have fallen off in disbelief. When the "judging me" machine beeped, I stared at the readout and questioned everything I had eaten in my life in the span of about 23 seconds. My legs felt like concrete blocks and my knees suddenly forgot how to do their job. I turned around slowly as to not scare the scale any further and made my way to the chair. I felt like my thighs were melting off the edge of the seat and dripping onto the floor like cake batter. 

“But she has such a pretty face!”

Dad hugging me. (Lollipop, not a cigarette.)

Dad hugging me. (Lollipop, not a cigarette.)

Weight has never really been an issue for me. The only time (until now) that weight felt like a topic that needed addressing was when my Dad, after watching television or reading the paper would announce, “We’re becoming a nation of fat people!” I think this must have been a generational ideal because I remember my mom lamenting, “Oh, but she has such a pretty face!” My parents loved their girls more than themselves and these comments were never directed towards us, it was just conversation we grew up hearing. They believed that the United States was unified only by gaining obscene amounts of weight. We should all try harder to be thinner.

I was a skinny, bony child -- just elbows and legs until age 14. I developed modest hips and a smaller bust compared to most throughout puberty. During my roaring, single 20s I stayed in the 6-8 size range. I definitely wasn’t fit - but I was average or below in weight so I never thought about it.

In my early 30s, even when pregnant, I didn’t feel like a blimp and really I wasn’t heavy considering I was carrying this extra person who crowded my rib cage and mashed my bladder. I nursed, so that helped most of the baby weight come off and 16 months later - second verse same as the first -- I was still doing okay with baby number 2 and keeping extra weight off. Mostly because I was chasing a toddler and caring for an infant.

But I added weight and inched up the scale. I was softer in my mid-section but still hanging out in what most would consider average size clothing. The weight gain was subtle and my new desire for more loose fitting clothes and the comfort of elastic made my actual sizing seem vague. I considered myself average size and my doctors never mentioned weight at my Annual Physical or GYN checkups so I thought I was okay. But my perspective changed when I went to the dermatologist and stepped on a scale that came from The Devil and his depraved underworld.

Over the years, my jobs changed too, I wasn’t hustling and moving on the retail floor or working crazy hours at Radio Station remotes and events. My work became sedentary - calculating numbers at an accounting firm and writing posts like this one at my desk. Snacks cured boredom from sitting and cooking at home was a money saver but a calorie-induced coma.  Easy meals were prepared with processed quick dinners and comfort food like pasta and rice. Every week and month, the weight inched on but I was so busy working full time and raising a family that I didn’t think too much about the extra carbs and unhealthy choices. I was feeding my family and our time together at the table was more important than portion size or that our food pyramid was upside down.

Two important notes I’ll insert here:

  1. I am not making excuses. I’m explaining where I started and how the rat race kept me from spending time on the treadmill and making better food choices.

  2. This is a story about the heaviest I HAVE been -- not how heavy you’ve been or how much Aunt Marge has been. It’s my journey and I’m not comparing Chocolate Layered Cake to Apples. I’m not judging others for how heavy or light, healthy or unhealthy they are.

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When you put on weight and you’ve gone up in pant sizes a couple of times you start to think that maybe you should do something to get a bit of the extra weight off. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I started going to the gym and being more conscious of what I eat. No chips, white bread, sweets, soda or wine. I drink water All. Day. Long. and have one cup of coffee in the morning.  Yes, I still take it with cream and sugar. Dammit, I’m not perfect. Honestly, I had been going to the gym for about three weeks before I went to the dermatologist and discovered my loathing of a piece of metal attached to weighing instrument panel - so it makes me wonder how much heavier I was before exercising regularly and eating better.

For the love, I eat bran now.  

BRAN!

I didn’t gain weight, overnight. It was several nights -- like years of nights. Losing weight takes time. And I’m going to unpack the extra pounds and do the work one day at a time. What is your story? What have you done to gain a healthier lifestyle and lose unwanted pounds?