I See You

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Invisible – (def.) Unable to be seen.

As a child, I played a superhero game. If you could have any superpower what would it be? The choices included: invisibility, flying, superhuman strength, x-ray vision and many others. We chose our special power and argued why our power was the best. We told each other what we would do if we could fly, disappear or see through walls.

Now as an adult, I am struck by invisibility. The more I consider being invisible, it becomes clear that it is not a super power at all. As I observe the world, my people, my friends and myself, so much loneliness, violence and unhappiness stem from the noxious feeling of being unseen.

 *****

The baby screams, giant tears roll down his plum colored cheeks. His shrieks pierce the air. He won’t nurse. He won’t sleep. He won’t stop. His mother bounces up and down, jogging in place and holding him in her arms. Her tears join his.

“I see you,” she whispers. “You exist. I see you. I hear you. I love you.” Her endless bouncing creates a rhythm behind her words.

 *****

An elderly man sits hunched over on a park bench. He closes his eyes, tilting his face to the sun. He lives alone. Every day he circles the park and sits on this bench. This year more friends are dead than alive. His wife is dead. The pendulum of life shifting, as he navigates his closing chapters. A young man sits down beside him and asks him about his day. He waits for an answer. He listens to the old man’s story.

I see you.

*****

A cool autumn morning, a mother heaves a 40lb double stroller into the back of her dirty minivan while the baby sobs in his car seat. She attempts to slam the trunk and the stroller topples down on her leg. She swears. The baby cries. Tears fill her eyes. An older woman slowly walks a straggly mutt down the opposite sidewalk. The creak of her knees is almost audible. “A mother’s strength,” she marvels as she watches the bewildered young mother.

Her words are a gift.

I see you.

 *****

A doctor knocks on the door of her patient’s room. A woman sits on the reclined patient chair. Her legs stick to the tissue, separating her from the plastic seat. Her tired eyes scan the doctor’s face, anxious to hear the test results. The doctor sits down beside her. She asks her how she feels? The doctor listens and talks to the patient the way she would want a physician to talk to her or her family member. The results aren’t good. The patient’s eyes fill with tears. Her doctor grabs her hand. “I am so sorry,” she says.

She hugs her patient.

I see you.

*****

A woman walks through a busy mall. Tears distort her vision. Grief guts her. She feels invisible. A part of her is gone and will never return. She wonders about his last thoughts, words and feelings. A stranger approaches her and looks at the woman’s swollen red face. The stranger doesn’t cringe at the sight of snot streaming from her nose. “Can I help you?” The stranger asks, wrapping her arms around the adult who feels more like a child.

“He died,” the woman gasps.

“I am so sorry.” The stranger whispers and holds her crumpled body.

I see you.

 *****

Every day he works. Every day he leaves the house while his wife and children sleep, buried in stuffed animals and down comforters. He drives to the office. This man could be anyone. He types notes, sees patients, writes briefs, calls clients, bags groceries, builds houses, fixes pipes, answers phones and sells stocks. For years he gives 100% of himself to his job with no recognition.

The daily grind, is this what life is about? Will these be my days for the next 30 years? He thinks. He is drained. He feels like an invisible cog in the corporate machine.

Then his supervisor visits his office. “Wow, I’m impressed. The corporate office recognizes how hard you work. It’s impressive. What can we do for you?”

I see you.

*****

She sits on her couch. The children play on the floor. The house is a mess, half finished puzzles, broken crayons, papers cut into millions of odd shaped slices cover the hard wood floor. The baby nurses, sucking every last bit of energy out through her chest. Disappointment settles on her shoulders. She wanted the house to be clean before her husband got home. Dinner is not ready. Bills cover the dark granite counters. This is my job, she thinks, and today I failed.

Her husband walks in the door. He puts his coat and bag down on the counter stool.  He walks to his wife on the couch and kisses her head. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you for working so hard today.” His words, a balm, lift the weight from her shoulders. “Let’s order pizza,” he says, cradling the phone in his hands.

I see you.

*****

A little girl sits on the pavement during recess. She picks up a piece of sidewalk chalk and draws a picture, right next to the four square court. Some girls in her class giggle, bolting by her in a streak of color. She loves to play but she doesn’t know how to join the group. She sits on the pavement, feeling invisible.

Then, a girl with short blonde hair approaches her. She wears a Star Wars t-shirt and pink pants. “Race me,” she shouts. The quiet girl on the pavement hesitates, but then jumps up and runs.

The challenge to race – a life raft for a lonely girl in a sea of children.

I see you.

*****

Recognition, empathy and connection, small acts that have the power to heal marriages, friendships, employee dissatisfaction and improve foreign policy. Everyone feels better when they are SEEN.  A little act that goes so far.

Oh, if we practiced SEEING each other – what a wonderful world it would be.

My Love/Hate Relationship with my Blog

I love blogging. I hate blogging. I vacillate between extremes. I don’t have any writer/blogger friends, so I don’t know if my love/hate relationship with blogging is normal, or a sign that maybe I’m not cut out for it.

Recently, Nina Badzin wrote a post “Wondering About Other Writers” in response to Kristen Ploetz’s post “Nine Things I Wonder About Other Writers”. Many other writers commented on these posts and others wrote responses on their own blogs. I found all the posts fascinating because I often wonder about other writers. What stuck out most prominently was that most of these writers have formed an online community of support. Her second question hit home. “How much of your “real life”  family and/or closest friends read your blog?” Many responded that most of their “real life” friends and family do not read their blogs regularly. I realized that I have not formed a wide audience online separate from my real life family and friends. Instead, I am the annoying person who publishes my posts on my personal Facebook page and begs real life friends to visit my website.

Oh, I have made so many cringe worthy missteps throughout the process of blogging. I may have committed every single blogging faux pas. I blindly entered this world and stumbled through the creation of my blog on wordpress. I didn’t think it through or map out what I wanted to write about. I named it denvermommy.wordpress.com (ughhh!!!) because I thought I might want to discuss parenting in Denver and it was the only moniker available. I sent embarrassing emails to bloggers I followed about whether or not I should create a blog (sorry Aiden Donnelly Rowley). I wrote embarrassing comments on other people’s blogs with links back to my pieces.  I read somewhere that that was how to build an audience (it’s not).  There were embarrassing typos. I shutter rereading my earlier posts.  I wish I could edit every one of them.

Oh, how I cringe. I was clueless and I still am for that matter.  For instance, I am publicly admitting all my prior blogging mistakes rather than playing it cool.

For anyone thinking of starting a blog, here are my thoughts, my likes, dislikes, things I wish I had known, and a tiny bit of advice.

What I love:

  • I love telling stories.
  • I love the writing practice. Truly, the more you write, the more you improve.
  • I love that I rediscovered my love of writing and storytelling.  As a stay-at-home mother, writing this blog keeps me sane.  I need a creative outlet, something outside of parenting small children.
  • I love having an audience.
  • I love the connections I make with random people. I receive emails from old friends and strangers, telling me that they appreciate my stories and they relate to my experience, highlighting the notion that none of us are alone on this parenting journey.  Our experiences feel unique, but they are pretty damn similar to other mothers around the world.
  • I love that I am getting published. It provides validation that my writing does not completely suck.
  • I love that I have received paid work opportunities, stemming directly and indirectly from this blog and literally putting myself out there.

What I dislike (hate is a strong word)

  • I dislike the self-promotion aspect of blogging. I want people to read what I write, but I hate publishing it on Facebook.  It’s a double edged sword, because if I don’t publish it on Facebook no one will visit my website and I want people to visit my blog.   I created Justine Solot Writer page, so I wouldn’t have to harass my friends and family, but I often still do.
  • I dislike caring whether the post gets any “likes” or “shares”. When I started blogging, I felt as if I returned to junior high school as the awkward unpopular kid. The good news is that I am beginning to care less.
  • I am an introverted person who thrives on connections. I am a sharer, but it sometimes feels uncomfortable writing about my life and sharing it with the world.
  • I dislike the blogging rules, perhaps I dislike the idea of following certain criteria to deem one’s blog successful.
    • Rule (1): At a minimum, one must publish posts each week.
      • I strive to write weekly, but I can’t find the time to keep up. Sometimes I am able too, which feels great, but then we all get sick and I don’t write for ages.
      • It is true that in order to create an audience one must post regularly. Each time I publish an essay I recruit a couple of new followers.
      • There is a balance, write, but do not write too much.
        • Some bloggers write multiple posts a week. I don’t know if they do this to gain followers, but it annoys me to receive several emails a week from the same blog.
    • Rule (2): One must visit as many other blogs as possible to obtain more followers. Again, this ties into feeling obligated to write weekly.
      • In order to court followers, you must comment on other blogs in hopes that those bloggers will visit your blog, comment, and follow you back.
      • Sometimes this happens, and sometimes it does not.
      • Visiting as many blogs as possible and commenting on everything feels disingenuous.
      • I love reading other writers’ blogs. In fact, I spend an inordinate amount of my free time perusing what other people write.
      • If you take the time to find them there are amazing writers all over the Internet, but it is hard to find them.
      • It is important to let other writers know that you are reading and appreciate their words. Initially, I read other’s work, but I didn’t always comment. Now, I realize the importance of voicing my appreciation.
        • My issue lies with bloggers that comment to comment and play the game of “I comment on your blog, so you comment on mine.” This feels uncomfortable to me.
        • On the other hand, it feels uncomfortable to comment on someone’s work and never ever have them visit your website.
    • Rules, rules, rules – there are so many rules that tell you how to obtain blogging success – i.e. certain days to publish, twitter, etc.  If I ever decide to get serious about blogging, I may need to look into these rules.  One day I may actually sign up for twitter. 🙂
  • I am beginning to dislike (feel uncomfortable) writing about my children.
    •  I write stories inspired by my life. Currently, my life revolves around my young children, so it follows that my stories are about my children. I feel fine writing funny stories about my baby and preschooler, but I am beginning to feel it’s inappropriate to write about my Kindergartener. “Mom, that’s embarrassing,” is a phrase that regularly comes from her mouth, regarding the music we listen to at school drop-off, her Dad’s Steelers jersey, and my show and tell suggestions. I think the frequent use of “that’s embarrassing” is a sign that I need to stop writing about her on my blog.
    • In 2015, I hope to explore more topics (writing, books, social issues, short stories, etc.)

Advice & Tidbits:

  1. Visit Nina Badzin’s Blog. She offers honest advice about creating a blog and her own experience developing her writing career. What is magnificent about Nina is there is no ego involved in her advice. She is not competitive about her writing and helping other aspiring writers out.
  2. Visit Beyond your Blog, a site that lists places to be published “beyond your blog”.  There are many other websites that offer writing advice.  I am a blogging novice, so I love to discover new ones.
  3. Sign up for Bloglovin. I learned about this from Nina. I follow blogs via Bloglovin and I get one daily email that contains new posts from all the blogs I follow. This way my inbox is not inundated with emails from numerous blogs. Also, since Facebook may not be sharing everyone’s posts, this is a great way to stay up to date without worrying about social media.
  4. Write weekly if possible. It gets you in a good rhythm and helps you build an audience. The more you write, the more you improve. In 2015, I strive to write more often.
  5. FYI, you won’t make money blogging unless you create the next Scary Mommy, Momastery, Dooce, or Enjoying the Small Things. However, you might make money from opportunities that arise as a result of your blog or writing.
  6. Do what feels comfortable, but also do what feels uncomfortable.  I sometimes feel uncomfortable sharing my writing on my blog.  However, writing publicly has been enormously rewarding.  To a certain extent, I feel as if I am realizing a dream.  I finally feel as if I am on the path to becoming a “real writer” and have concrete aspirations as to where I want my work to appear in the future.
  7. If you want to create a blog, then create one.  The blog will grow and morph with you.  You can’t let fear and failure prevent you from following a dream.  The blog isn’t my dream, but writing is, and a blog is a great stepping stone for those of us who dreamed of writing.
  8. If you want to be a writer, then start writing.
  9. Fake it until you make it, (and then confess how little you know publicly on your blog, oh, maybe that’s just me).

For my fellow bloggers, do you have any advice for those of us starting out?  Does anyone else have mixed feelings about blogging? Is my love/hate relationship normal?  How do you feel about sharing stories about your children?  Is it important to continue posting on your blog while trying to get published other places as well?

I am off on vacation, so I may not respond to comments right away, but I would love to hear what any readers think…

It’s Been a Long Time

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Wow, so I haven’t written in a long time.  It has been at least a few weeks.  I haven’t sat at the computer and felt inspired to say anything.  When I have sat down at the computer I’ve been distracted by online shopping and other nonsense that keeps me occupied until my free time has flown by and all I can show is yet another obscure order from Amazon.

Part of my not writing has stemmed from not sleeping.  My almost four year-old chose this summer to stop napping.  Simultaneously, she has become petrified of the dark.  The minute I step away from her bed in the evening she starts panicking and crying.  This draws out the bedtime routine for at least a couple of hours until I am physically and emotionally exhausted by the time her eyes shut.  She then continues to be up throughout the night with nightmares and whatever else.  Her, and therefore my lack of sleep has caused me to use any restful time during the day to actually lie down, zone out, and do absolutely nothing.

I’ve struggled with whether blogging is the appropriate medium for my writing.  I’ve enjoyed sharing my writing publicly, but it is a double-edged sword.  I appreciate the feedback from friends, acquaintances, and strangers, but simultaneously have spent endless hours consumed with how my writing or feelings affect those around me.  It is impossible to write honestly when one is consumed with the emotional repercussions of one’s writing on others.  And to be honest, writing publicly throws me into a state of heightened angst, my lack of internet popularity leaves me questioning my writing and myself, which admittedly is very juvenile.  I don’t like Fajitas, so why am I publicly airing my feelings and writing?  Clearly, I have to work on buoying my self-esteem, but is it worth sharing my honest self with strangers over the internet?  Hmm, I am struggling with that question.

Well, now for the life update, I bought a minivan.  I never thought I would drive a minivan, not in my wildest dreams.  I swore them off.  If I needed a bigger car then I would definitely buy a larger SUV, but then there you are with two toddlers in car seats, two large dogs, and an infant on the way, and you start looking at larger vehicles. Here’s my thinking. First, large SUVs are much more expensive than minivans.  Second, large SUVS gas mileage sucks.  Third, lifting toddlers and preschoolers up and into large SUVs sucks.  Fourth, if you have a third row of seats up in a large SUV there is no trunk space.  Fifth, having two kids three and under is hard, and having three kids four and under is going to be harder.  I chose to make my life a little bit easier.  Minivans are convenient, on a busy street the kids can climb out on the sidewalk side.  If there’s a busy parking lot, get them all in, press a button, and the doors miraculously close.  Further, mine is kind of speedy and drives like a car.

“I can’t believe we are getting a minivan,” I sighed to my husband.  “How have we reached this point?  I can’t even pretend to be cool anymore.”

“Why, because you looked so cool before, driving in your Subaru station wagon with two huge car seats in the back seat?”  He said a broad smile on his face.

I guess I just had an inflated self-perception of my cool factor.  But when my daughter picks up a play purse and throws it over her shoulder and calls it her diaper bag because she never sees purses, maybe I should’ve questioned my cool factor? Or when I ask my husband if I should get a haircut and he comments that a cut really only changes the length of my ponytail, maybe there is a problem?  My image is being dragged through the trenches of pregnancy, infants, and parenting toddlers.  I know some moms are able to do it all and look fashionable, but I am not one of them.  I have high hopes that when we are out of car seats, I may be trading the minivan in for a super cool car.  But for now, I drive a minivan.  I bought a black minivan because I think a minivan looks less mini-vanish in black. A black minivan equals cool …

It turns out it was a very good thing we purchased a mini-van, a couple of days later my wonderful husband had a basketball accident and tore his achilles.  Now we have his stroller (pictured above), his crutches, along with the kids stroller, two kids, and two dogs to load into the car.  We require no less than a minivan to sanely navigate this family through the next month until he can get behind the wheel again.  This injury could be a blog post in and of itself and adds a colorful dimension to my third pregnancy.  I am thankful that this handicap is temporary and very aware that it could all be a lot worse (we are lucky), but being the only parent that can drive and go up and down stairs freely  definitely sucks, especially when your youngest gets a stomach bug.  My husband is handling it better than I could’ve ever imagined, he keeps wheeling along with hardly a complaint.

The third and most exciting update is we are expecting a little boy!  My youngest insisted there was a baby boy in my belly, the oldest insisted on a girl.  I told them they would find out whether they were having a brother or sister depending on the flavor of ice cream we brought home after the ultrasound (vanilla =youngest favorite flavor =boy / strawberry=oldest favorite flavor=girl).  We ate vanilla ice cream cones.  Whenever anyone asks my youngest about her impending baby brother she raves about vanilla ice cream, and they have no clue why.  I am so excited to be having a boy.

On a side note, a week ago I went to the zoo with the girls.  My oldest used to be terrified of the carousel.  She had me stand by her animal and spot her.  Yesterday, my youngest hugged my neck, “me scared,” she said and wouldn’t let me put her on the leopard next to her sister.  A zoo summer camp was in session and four year-olds surrounded us on the carousel with their counselors watching on.  My big girl climbed up onto the African Wild Dog all by herself.  I stood by her and out of habit put my hand on her back, “You look good up there,” I whispered and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Mom, can you and sister stand over there,” she pointed at the sedentary carriage a couple of rows behind her. “I want to do this all by myself.”  I smiled hugging my littlest baby who next summer will probably be saying the same thing to me.  Here I was the mom, bringing my four year-old girl’s “cool points” down already.  She smiled at the boy who had climbed on the leopard next to her.  Uh oh, here we go, as I saw it all fast forwarding several years into the future.  I sat down with her sister in the carriage and smiled to myself, this growing independence, this is how it’s supposed to be.

“Look at your big sister,” I said and my baby snuggled close and kissed me on the arm.  Around and around we went.  Up and down and around and around went my oldest.  All I could do was watch.

Later that evening, driving home from meeting my new nephew and witnessing the my girls’ excitement as they held him for the first time, my oldest said, “Mom, can I drive a “Mini-band” when I grow up?”  (She wants to inherit my minivan rather than her dad’s new SUV).   I laughed, thinking I still carried some cool points in my almost four year-olds’ eyes, (besides the minivan is kind of cool).  “Of course, you can drive my mini-band when you grow up,” I said, “I will happily pass it along.”

Perfectionism, Competition, Comparison and Life’s Pendulum

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I struggle with perfectionism, competition, and comparison.  I need to enter a 12 step program and I need to find one quickly.  It has been a battle that I’ve fought my whole life.  You see I’ve created this gold standard that I need to drive for, and the standard is excellent, perfect, the best.  I feel like I must be the best or at least rank with the best to be validated.  One rarely meets this standard of excellence or perfection.  I don’t know anyone that can say with complete certainty that they are the very best.  My problem is when I don’t meet my unrealistic standards, I become my own bully – I claim “I suck,” or, “I’m bad,” or “maybe I should just quit.”  My personal self-critique is unhealthy, bad for my self-esteem, and a poor example for my daughters.  But how does one learn to silence this inner critic?

The flip side of perfectionism is that it has been a driving force and led to success throughout my life.  It has driven me to excel at school and always shoot for the honor roll, to graduate from law school and pass the bar, to relentlessly work to represent my clients to the best of my ability in the courtroom and beyond.  However, if I don’t get an A in a class, if I’m not in the top 5% at law school, if I lose a tennis match, if my writing is not published or responded to, then my inner bully gets to work dragging me into a mini depression.  Why write?  You’ll never be a writer.  You’re not smart. An endless from the harshest critic.

How come the balance scales so heavily tilt to the critic rather than the champion?  How do words shouted in praise get swallowed in whispered criticism?

Life is a pendulum.  I swing high and rejoice, but gravity will pull me back down.  A constant shifting of tides as the earth moves slowly around the sun.  None of our stations are permanent.  Constant changes and shifts will bring us high then low then high again.  I must find the love from inside myself to create an internal equilibrium as I am swept up and then swing back down, knowing I will soon be up again.

The joy of the swing.

“Higher, higher,” my big girl shouts as I push her and she sails through the air.  I push the little one too and she squeezes the chains with both hands.  Her knuckles turn white and a grin spreads across her face.

“When I close my eyes it feels like I’m going to fall,” my big girl explains as her big brown eyes squeeze shut, her feet in the air shooting above me as I continue to push this toddler who more and more is becoming a little girl.  “But I don’t fall.  It just feels that way.”  She laughs.  Up she goes and then back down.   She delights in the ups and downs, how it makes her stomach lurch, her eyes gently closed.

“I love the swing,” big girl states.

“Me love swing,” my baby says in her unexpected low gravelly voice, which always makes me smile.

I watch them swing back and forth, the chains squeaking loudly, a loud moaning chorus to the ups and downs.  I like the swing too.  The ups and downs are what it is about.  There is no such thing as perfect.  No life comprised only of successes.  Gravity always brings us down.

How boring and lonely life would be if we all lived atop the highest peaks and were never able to venture down into the valleys below.  There is beauty in the canyons carved out through the passage of time.  You fall into these canyons, the valleys, and the grasslands and you see the rivers, cliffs, pines, spruce, aspens, wildflowers, wildlife …  Life.   The return trek up the mountain is intense.  One scrambles for a decent hold that doesn’t crumble beneath your fingers.  Your foot slides down as you search for solid ground.  You fall.  You cross tree level.  Life becomes scarce.  But eventually after climbing, working, and struggling you reach the summit.  You see the sky. The sun.  The clouds.  The apex.  The majesty.  The endless possibilities.  You are alone.  You feel grateful for all that you have seen along the way.  You breathe.  You rest.  You know the descent will soon begin.

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I Choose to Write

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Sometimes it is hard to write.  I love to write and put my thoughts on paper.  I love to process my feelings on a computer and articulate the many things that are going on inside my head.  But sometimes it is hard to do what makes us feel good, it is hard to pull yourself out of exhaustion, it is hard to give yourself credit for having anything at all to say.  Today I am choosing to write.  I don’t have much to say, but I am writing because I want to keep writing and sometimes it is so easy to let what makes us feel good slip away.

Starting this blog enabled me to connect with people in a whole new way.  I expose myself through my writing, imperfections and all, and often in response I receive a message from a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger that expresses solidarity, understanding, or thoughtfulness and we both feel less alone.  I worry whether posts seem too dark, too down, or too vulnerable. But every mother feels these ups and downs, none of us are immune to them or perfect even though we may pretend to be.  I love parenthood, but it is hard work.  I wonder when I discuss how hard it is whether people interpret me as unhappy or unappreciative.  I love my girls and my job raising them more than anything in the world, but in becoming a mom (or a dad) there is a lot that is given up.

My days are filled with the yin and the yang – laughter and tears, energy and exhaustion, lightness and darkness, levity and weight, confidence and self-doubt.  Parenthood exacerbates the emotional extremes.  It pushes me beyond myself and my own personal feelings, experiences, and ideas. Toddlers don’t care whether I got enough sleep the night before, I must feed them, play with them, and love them with all my energy and heart, day in and day out.

My daughters bring me joy every day, as they splash in the pool, jump through the waves, and lose themselves in the sheer abandonment of the moment on a beach vacation.  Happiness, as I watch them circle the house, pretending together they are “lost boys” traveling through Neverland.  Pure joy, as we sit outside in the afternoon sun our feet in a baby pool, shooing the dogs, and devouring fruit popsicles.  Golden moments in time, as my big girl proudly walks our pet basset (the first baby) on a leash around the park chasing her dad, her baby sister running by her side.  But, oh there is unadulterated heartache as I suffer their pain, hearing my big girl cry because of the rejection of another child or a lack of friends on the playground.  To live these buried traumas again through my daughters is beyond painful.  My heart shutters at the thought of middle school and high school – literally shutters. I need to toughen up.

So, today I am choosing to write.  I choose to write because it is good for me.  I choose to write because one day I aspire to be a writer.  I choose to write even when inspiration has not hit me.  I choose to write because it has been a hard month.  I choose to write and not question whether anyone cares to read it or what they think (easier said than done).  I choose to write though we’ve been up at 5am for close to three weeks straight.  I choose to write because I haven’t in weeks.  I choose to write and not edit since the girls took shockingly short naps.  I am choosing to write and today that is what is important.

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