Alice in Wonderland

My first glimpse of truth was at a costume party. He took me to her house for the event, and the two of them enjoyed shots with neighbors and work pals while her husband and I watched them like they were our errant children, laughing about how they couldn’t hold their liquor and wouldn’t make it through the whole party. I’d planned to go as Poppy, the happy-go-lucky girl from the movie Trolls, but at the last minute decided instead to wear a costume I’d purchased for an office event. I was Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, in a big blue dress, properly pressed apron, and a little purse that looked like a clock.

There are dozens of theories about what all the fantasy in Alice in Wonderland really means, but I think almost everyone would agree that at least in some way it’s a story about the loss of innocence. And at the center of that story is innocent Alice – polite, sometimes snarky, trusting, with a little bit of a temper. One of the many supporting roles in Alice’s story is The White Rabbit, the character that leads her deep into a rabbit hole to a fantasy land. The White Rabbit is the character that leads Alice to awareness. The White Rabbit is the character that leads Alice to truth.

Some would say that The White Rabbit is a counter for Alice. The initial persona of a happy, carefree character fades and The White Rabbit’s overwrought and desperate self becomes visible. The neurotic character is a counter to Alice’s calm. Lack of composure counters her purpose. Alice is curious about The White Rabbit, and as Alice says, “curiosity often leads to trouble.”

Watch: The Rabbit Hole

The party was filled with happy people, all dressed up for fun. Neighbors and friends dressed as doctors and clowns and such. He was Batman – the costume of a character that lives two lives, who lost the most important people to him in his childhood and who fights to help others not suffer the same loss of family.

One of the funniest details in this wonderland/party story is that two people who hadn’t spoken to each other about costumes before that event were both dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland. Me as Alice, with my proper white tights and Mary Janes. Her as an adult steampunky version of The White Rabbit, with bunny ears, leather short-shorts, and black fishnet stockings. It was so funny that people took our picture together – two characters from the same story, a contrast of light and dark. There might actually be more irony in our choice of costumes for that night than in all of Lewis Carroll’s writing.

Did The White Rabbit invite Alice into the rabbit hole and to the party in hopes Alice would see some truth? Perhaps to force the hand of all the players in wonderland? There’s no question what the outcome would be once everyone was exposed to truth. Or did The White Rabbit invite Alice into the rabbit hole and to the party because games were just part of the fun and thrill? In the big scheme of things, The White Rabbit’s motives are not important. The more important question was why Batman would take Alice to The White Rabbit’s house for a party.

I used was because it doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t care why people behaved the way they did, and even more than that I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in divine intervention. Sometimes the seemingly awful things that happen to us end up being our salvation from things that will really harm us. And there are messages and lessons for us not just in what happened, but also in our surroundings at and in the details of those events.

Here’s the thing about Alice and The White Rabbit. In the end, after all the chaos and confusion, The White Rabbit is just a noisy trumpeter that’s a slave to others in a world of fantasy. But Alice…Alice separates herself and she runs away from all the dysfunction. Alice looks at that screaming mob that’s yelling at her and railing at her, and Alice focuses on the calm guidance of a doorway to peace – and then she wakes herself up.

Watch: Alice Wakes Herself Up

I threw away my Alice costume long ago. I didn’t want the reminder of such a horrible night hanging in my house. I regret that. I likely would never have worn it again, but that Alice costume is a symbol of so much more. It’s a reminder that Alice knows what is real and what is not. It’s a reminder that Alice chose peace over chaos. It’s a reminder that Alice saved herself.

Alice saved herself.

Find the Funny, Brave Girls

Find the funny in all things, and life will be fun.

I don’t know where I heard that in my youth, but it has stuck with me. I really really wish I could remember the context, but it is deeply hidden somewhere in my mid-forties Mom brain which must prioritize school lunch components that need to be purchased and after school activities that require speedy cross-town transportation.

I love funny. I laugh at weird things, things that sometimes make others uncomfortable, and I laugh at silly things. I laugh at Ellen and Chris Rock and Jon Stewart. I probably laugh the hardest at a loud noise from the ketchup bottle. I love what some others might call inappropriate humor. I love kid stories.

And, probably most importantly, I love laughing at myself. I laugh at myself when I dance and I know it’s bad (it’s always bad) and when I do something dumb like buy a car that’s a blue color I like and then drive it off the lot without knowing where the gas tank is. We have to laugh at ourselves. It’s one of the keys to true happiness, I think – not taking yourself too seriously while loving yourself just as you are.

My friends and family and work family are all a bunch of people who love to laugh, and I realized today – in the middle of a sermon about God’s Presence – that one of the ways that I know that God is present in my life is through laughter. My life is filled with people who find the funny. I am surrounded by just the right people at just the right time each day – and that is a daily miracle in my life. It’s true today and it’s been true my entire life.

When Audrey was an infant and still had cancer in her body, I remember my Dad praying for me as I held her in her rocking chair. He obviously prayed a lot for Audrey, and he prayed for my health and my energy and my peace. But the thing that surprised me was that he prayed that I would have joy.

Beth has peace. Beth has joy. Beth is filled with peace and joy.

He understood a truth I am only just now grasping a bit of. Joy is necessary. Funny is necessary. Laughter is necessary. We have to pursue them and we have to surround ourselves with them and we have to actively focus on them. They are keys to our healing. They are keys to full lives. In order to live our lives and accomplish what we need to, we can’t just think we’ll be happy when things are going our way. We have to decide to be happy and decide to pursue joy and decide to find funny when things are not going as planned.

One of the little running jokes with some of those funny people who surround me each day is “that’s one of the reasons.” I love camouflage pants…that’s one of the reasons you’re getting divorced. I’m a big meanie about deadlines…that’s one of the reasons I’m getting divorced. I don’t know what teams are playing in a big game and I can’t stand that some people plan their day around sports on TV…that’s one of the reasons you’re getting divorced. Every time I say it or someone else says it, I laugh out loud – and it feels awesome.

I have watched people look at us strangely when we joke about it, so I know that finding funny about this subject is awkward for some people. But I really just do not care. And you know what else? it is totally okay to laugh and joke about dark things. It is totally okay to have moments of happiness and laughter in the midst of dark stuff. That’s one of the things that puts the dark stuff in their proper place. Very often, I think people feel compelled to be serious about something, or they actually have to be serious about their situation when they’re at home – in my case that’s where little minds are still wrapping their heads around family changes. So that means it’s even more important to have those moments of funny in safe spaces with friends and family. Every one of those one-liner wisecracks is and was a step to a happier person.

Another thing I have laughed about for an entire year is that the book I was reading at the time I discovered my then-husband was in another relationship was The 5 Love Languages. A friend had recommended it, and I was just reading about people who regularly need words of affirmation. That’s pretty far outside my wheelhouse because I am not a person who needs that sort of thing, so I just didn’t even know what to do with that. And I found myself wondering why I should thank someone for stuff like taking out the trash. All household chores should be equally managed by the adults – do people really need a thank you for doing their part? I mean, we’re all grown-ups here and this is chores we’re talking about. But I digress, and clearly I am not well-matched to words of affirmation folk. The point is I was reading a book to understand the ways that people show love, when I learned that I was in a relationship that was in no way about love. I used to think that was sad and tragic, and it is but at the same time there’s funny in that irony. There’s also endless crass commentary about the love languages of people who do not honor themselves or marriage – which is probably what helped me get to the place of seeing the funny in that irony.

Today during that sermon on God’s presence, the pastor talked about Jesus attending a wedding and it struck me in a new way that He was a person just like us. And yet it seems like the majority of stories about Him are serious – He wept or He was angry or He was grieved or He was hurt or He was compassionate or He was teaching. He talked about salvation and how to pray and how to treat your neighbor and how to live. There was nothing specific I could recall from the Bible where Jesus talked about laughter. So I came home and Googled it. And I did find something He said about laughter and it’s in the Beatitudes, which I should have thought about. But I hadn’t read the Good News Translation of Luke 6:21 which says “…Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh!”

I don’t know with any certainty if Jesus laughed or if God has a sense of humor, but I feel strongly both things are true. Jesus was human like us and we laugh. I’ll concede He probably doesn’t like my crass commentary. But perhaps He laughed with his Mom when they recounted childhood stories or perhaps He laughed with His friends at weddings. And aren’t we are made in His image and made for fellowship? Part of fellowship is laughter. I have to believe God finds the funny, and He’s present with us all the time rooting for us to do the same.

Grieving is Brave

It’s hard to predict what things will “stick” in our children’s minds years from now. What memories will become indelibly lodged in their brains and psyches. What events will be life changing. What words will be mulled over repeatedly. What action or inaction will never be forgotten, and will alter the way they think and behave forever.

Will my girls remember the words I carefully wrote and practiced on the topic of not caring about what other kids think? Or will they remember that I shouted and took their phone away when they didn’t come home on time? Will they remember me saying you can do it, you just haven’t done it yet? Or will they remember me crying about my failed cooking attempt at the end of a very long day?

Parenting is a such a huge responsibility. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying if you really stop and think about it. Our behavior is one of the primary things responsible for how our children’s lives will play out. They have free will and so will, of course, make some choices as adults that we would not (which in some cases could be a very good thing!). But the way we speak to them becomes a voice they hear in their head throughout the lives. The way we handle adversity in their lives and our lives becomes a lesson they will refer to time and time again. The way we choose happiness, the way we choose avoidance, the way we live with or without moral principles, the way we embrace faith or fear, the way we prioritize – they all teach our children something, even and especially when we’re not actively thinking about our choices.

Almost 4 years ago now, our beloved cat Sammy passed away. It was a chaotic weekend of visits to an emergency vet without all her normal paperwork, which led to concerns she was not up to date on her shots even though I knew she was, which ultimately ended with animal control keeping her body for rabies testing. We didn’t have Sammy’s body to bury, but I thought that the girls having the ability to say goodbye before she died and our talking about seeing her again one day in heaven were all things that would help them through the grief process. What I didn’t realize then, that I’m keenly aware of now, is that (1) the grief process is unique to every person and (2) the notion that grief is a 5-step process is a load of doodoo. Grief does not have a finite end, which is the implication of a process that ends with something called Acceptance. And in fact I think grief is likely a lifelong experience.

Our lives are all filled with ups and downs. With happiness and with disappointments. With change. Our lives will inevitably involve the death of loved ones and the death of people we didn’t know but who moved us in some way. Our lives may include the loss of a job whether by our own choice or someone else’s, perhaps the loss of a pet, a marriage, a feeling of safety, an innocence, a fall from grace, an expectation of what life should have been like. Grief is just a part of life.

We will grieve all of those losses and while we will hopefully move past the initial intense feelings associated with our grief, we will remember the loss or change throughout the rest of our lives. We will remember the circumstances and we will remember our pain, and we will remember the way others reacted and grieved. And something as simple as a song or scent or photo will bring it all back in a flash food of emotions.

So the things that become really important as it relates to grief are that for a time we commit ourselves fully to it instead of avoiding any part of it, and then we don’t allow ourselves to wallow in it forever. We have to purposely pursue healthy grief – so that when we are faced with those inevitable flash floods of emotions that will come days, months and years later, we are able to navigate those waters.

Each loss in our lives, even if it’s a loss that’s different from others, can remind us of any and all other losses. The suddenness and unexpectedness of a family pet’s death parallels the suddenness and unexpectedness of our family changes. And so the loss of Sammy in 2015, which I didn’t handle with as much thoughtfulness as I should have, is now something we are thinking about and experiencing again. I didn’t think twice about not having her body to bury or cremate because I didn’t need that to grieve, but others missed it because they grieve differently.

Sammy was a contradiction in many ways – a loner who liked her space and yet loved to take naps on my chest, a kitty who loved play in her younger years but embraced a bit of laziness as she aged, fiercely protective and purry and lovey and a bit cantankerous all on the same day. We honored her this weekend by talking about her and looking at her pictures, and at Audrey’s suggestion, we painted and decorated rocks for our yard to honor her and remember her.

We grieved purposefully. We grieved bravely.

Will the girls remember our stones for Sammy? Stones painted on a cold day when the sky was crying big raindrops? Or will they instead remember the smell of my overcooked crockpot orange chicken? Perhaps they will not actively remember anything about this day at all, but carry within them a sense of peace because we took time to acknowledge that Sammy will be a part of their lives forever.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ~ Anne Lamott

Sorry is Brave

Sorry is a word.

Sorry can go from a word to a feeling.

Sorry can go from a feeling to a behavior.

It’s that action, in the behavior step, that separates the phony from the authentic.

Sometimes we say we’re sorry when we don’t really feel it or before we feel it. Sorry is not a word that we wield just to end discomfort or conflict. It’s brave to vulnerably say we’re sorry when we’ve wronged someone or behaved badly. It’s the opposite of brave – it’s cowardly – to say we’re sorry when we don’t mean it, as a method of avoiding further discomfort.

People who are truly sorry make it to part two, which is a feeling. It’s called remorse. When someone truly feels remorse for something, they apologize by saying the actual words I’m Sorry because they feel regret about what they’ve done. And then the words of apology are followed by action.

The words themselves aren’t always really necessary, although in some cases the words provide an element of healing for all involved. If the words are offered, the word choices and the way the words are delivered speak volumes.

Sorry is never accompanied by an excuse. It doesn’t give reasons. It takes accountability without reasons and excuses.

Sorry never says but. It never says if only. It never points to others. It never hides behind pieces of the truth.

Sorry doesn’t gather up an audience. Sorry quietly and consistently shows the wronged their commitment to behave differently.

Sorry behaves differently.

Sorry identifies all behaviors that cause stress in the lives of those who were hurt and takes every action to stop adding stress. It does that regardless of the stress and challenges that may add to the life of the one who’s sorry.

When lives have been irrevocably altered because of our behavior, Sorry seeks actual help. Sorry doesn’t just hope for the best, it seeks professional help even though the thought of help is scary. That act of bravery is important even if we live a mostly solitary life, because each of us is a person who has value and who contributes to the universe. But that act of bravery is especially important if we’re a parent, because we need to show our children that we’re committed to healing – theirs and our own.

Truly sorry is an action, and it’s brave.

No Excuses, Brave Girl

No excuses.

My commitment to myself for 2019 is that I am done with excuses. Done with making excuses. Done with allowing excuses from others.

One of the things I’ve realized about myself this past year is that I am an enabler. I am capable of juggling a lot and organizing a lot and being responsible for a lot. I realize that not everyone is capable in that way, just as I realize that I am not capable musically or artistically or mathematically or whatever the word is for parking correctly within two white lines. And what I have a tendency to do, and I think I’ve done for a very long time, is take on more and more and more – allowing the people around me to contribute less and less and less.

Not only is this not healthy for me, it’s not healthy for some of the people around me. Some people will recognize that I am trying to take their part and call me on it and tell me not to. But others will just let me do more and more and more. And then one of a couple of things will happen – I will resent them for not contributing or they will resent me for the ability to handle more, or both.

Not only do I take on more and more and more, I actually make excuses for the people I am enabling. And you know who that helps? No one. It doesn’t help the person I enabled, it doesn’t help me, and it doesn’t help the people I make excuses to because they know exactly what I’m doing (or will eventually).

I make excuses for people to avoid dealing with my disappointment in them. I make excuses for people to avoid the conflict that comes with brutal honesty, which I know I can unleash in harsh ways. I make excuses for people to keep other people I love, especially my children, from being hurt. I make excuses for why I can’t do something instead of just saying no. And I make excuses for myself, particularly when I continue to enable others, and I think things like “this is just who I am – I’m a helper. I am helping.”

I am not helping. I am not a helper when I enable.

This does not have to be who I am. And It will not be who I am, regardless of how much work and effort I have to put in to make it so. Because I am sick and tired of excuses. I’ve been living with them and making them my entire adult life and I am done with it. I’m done with how it makes me feel and how it makes others around me feel.

New Year’s is such a weird holiday for me. First, I am not a big New Year’s Eve celebration kind of person. I am an early riser without an alarm which means I am generally not one who stays up late – and if I do, I have to take a nap earlier in the day or I absolutely will not make it to midnight. Secondly, I am not one of those people who buys into the “out with the old and in with the new” bit. Let’s be adult and fix things as we identify brokenness. And finally, I am not a New Year’s resolution kind of person. When you make a decision to make a change in your life, you make it and stick to it whether it’s January 1 or May 4 or August 12. I’ve just never embraced the magic of starting fresh in a new year. And I’ve certainly never embraced any foolishness like never eating dessert again – we must set achievable goals for ourselves.

And even though I’ve never been a New Year’s kind of person, in the last week I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the fact that I’m starting 2019 unlike any other year. Particularly that I’m starting 2019 with a name I love and with a life of which I am proud. Not everything about my life is perfect – far from it – but at this day and moment one year ago tonight I could not even fathom how much I would laugh and speak freely and enjoy freedom and embrace the future the way I do on this night. A year ago tonight I was immensely proud of my daughters, but I could not even imagine how much more proud I would be of them a year later on this night. My daughters are the bravest people I know.

Tonight it’s just me and Audrey, and so we sat down with giant pieces of her favorite cake and I told her all the ways I thought she’d made progress in 2018. I specifically went through examples of when she was brave. I focused on things about her character that I’m proud of. She’s beautiful and smart, and I tell her those things all the time. I wanted her to hear me purposefully say how proud I was that she communicates feelings in a journal instead of keeping them bottled up and a secret, that she prayed for kids who are sick after we went to CHKD for a check-up, that she really takes time to think of gifts that will make people like her bus driver smile. And then I asked her…

me: What are you most looking forward to in 2019?

Audrey: My birthday.

me: Your birthday? Why your birthday?

Audrey: Because I’ll be 8 and I won’t need a baby car seat and I’ll be a big girl.

me: You’re already a big girl now, even though you have a booster seat.

Audrey: But I’ll be an even bigger big girl on my birthday.

I had no nap today, I bought a small cheap Prosecco for myself and Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, and I am actually awake just before midnight. Because for the first time in many years I’m not just going into a new year with ideas and plans – I can’t wait to start this next year, with no excuses. I’m toasting to a combination of thoughts by Audrey Grace and Charles Lamb: New Year’s day is every man’s birthday, and here’s to being an even bigger big girl in 2019.