Imbalance, Worth, and the Moral of a Sober 21st Birthday

My 21st birthday was underwhelming. 

It’s one of the milestones many of us look forward to, usually because it involves a night of debauchery, free drinks, and funny stories to relive for years to come. And that is how it went for the majority of my friends. 

I spent my 21st with just one of my friends, my little sister, and my mom. We went to TGI Friday’s – not a bar – because my sister was in high school. I had two mudslides then pretended to feel tipsy because I didn’t want to let on to my mom that I had already illegally built up a solid tolerance over the past three years of college. The wait staff tied balloons in my hair and sang happy birthday to me just like they did to the 7-year-old a few tables over. My mom did pick up the tab, so I at least had the free drinks thing going for me.  Continue reading “Imbalance, Worth, and the Moral of a Sober 21st Birthday”

Everything is Better with Mayonnaise

“Who can tell me who sings this song?”

We were in the car the other day, and my husband was taking care of one of the most sacred of all parental duties: ensuring our children receive a foundation in solid musical taste.

Michael piped up from the backseat. “Mayonnaise?”

I looked at my husband quizzically, at first figuring Michael was just being his random, quirky, nonsensical preteen self. Then it clicked, and a laugh escaped my lips. He had created a very clever alternate name for the band in question.

“Please don’t ever lose that, buddy,” I pleaded.  Continue reading “Everything is Better with Mayonnaise”

The Power of Presence

I’m about to say something I never thought I’d say.

There is something more powerful than the written word. 

Writing is important to me. It helps me process. I’m funnier, smarter, and more expressive on paper than in real life. I communicate my feelings and opinions more clearly and freely when writing because my brain seems to work more harmoniously with my fingers than with my mouth. 

But over the last few months I have also come to appreciate that the written word has its limitations. It can never really be a substitute for the messy, awkward, and sometimes uncomfortable power of presence. Face-to-face presence.

Now, I love being around people. Spending time with friends, laughing and having fun. Commiserating. Talking about big ideas and small nothings. But when it comes to deep feelings and hard topics, I have trouble with the face-to-face. I don’t trust myself to say the right thing. I worry about not being in control of my emotions, good or bad. It’s so much easier to retreat behind a keyboard where I can have more confidence in what I say without the embarrassment of whatever raw emotions I’m feeling being on display. It’s super uncomfortable being real in person.  

But sometimes, that is exactly what you need, as I found out a few days ago. 

I have a friendship I’ve been struggling with. The details of the struggle aren’t really important to this story, but it’s a classic case of two people having different experiences over a shared commonality. Neither of us were wrong, but everything about it felt wrong. And it has been weighing on me. I’m pretty sure I have been letting it take up too much real estate in my brain, instead of focusing on all the relationships in my life that have been so amazingly on point lately (big thanks to all my on-point people!). But there is a reason the good shepherd left his 99 sheep in search of the one he lost. 

The funny thing is I thought I was doing a better job handling this situation than how I normally deal with conflict. That is to say, I didn’t avoid it. I didn’t say what I thought I was supposed to, then pretend to move on until it ended up poisoning either the relationship or myself. I didn’t let my feelings go unsaid. In fact, I not only said my feelings, I practically vomited the entire contents of my emotional bank. Then I went back and vomited more. And then again one more time, just to make sure I had finally reached the point of dry heaves where there was nothing left to say. And I did it all through my preferred method of emotional transaction: I wrote it in emails. On paper, I was a fierce lioness, unafraid to say what she thought, willing to risk whatever consequences came of it.

But in reality, I was terrified. To hit the send button. Then after hitting the send button, of what my friend’s reaction would be. If I would get a response. What that response would say. Then when I got a response, of what was being said between lines. Or if I was creating something between the lines that wasn’t really there. If I was supposed to inflect more or less emotion on that sentence. If we were ever going to get past this. If my friend even cared if we got past it or not. (*This has been your all-inclusive pass into seeing how the sausage is made in Kelly’s brain. There will be a performance review suggesting that she chill the eff out.*)

It didn’t matter how grammatically sound our sentences were. It didn’t matter if we nailed the perfect word choice for the occasion. It didn’t matter if we thought we were being as crystal clear as we possibly could, and said in so many words that things were resolved. Something was missing that left me completely unsure about where I stood with my friend, and very likely, where he stood with me. 

But I found what was missing a few days ago. It was his face. 

After months of only communicating through the written word, we finally sat down together. It took some courage on both of our parts. Because neither of us really knew what we might find on the other side of that, which wasn’t how it used to be. It used to be an easy thing that didn’t involve uncertainties about how you’d be received once there. But suddenly it wasn’t that easy thing anymore, which made it weird.

Until we were actually face to face. It took me only a moment to know we were okay. Was some of it still awkward and uncomfortable? Yes. But I also finally had all the information I needed to know it was worth working through it to get back to that easy place. 

For everything this beautiful language of ours can do, with its limitless combinations of letters and syllables and semantics, it can’t take the place of looking someone in the eye and seeing what you really need to know. I try to only use my words for good, but words can lie or be misinterpreted much easier than eyes. And what I saw allowed me to finally stop worrying. It gave me permission to stop being weighed down. And – probably much to the delight of my friend – it made me realize I didn’t need to keep sending long ass emails explaining my feelings. 

So now I am sitting here, on the morning of my 43rd birthday, adding another deposit into my wisdom bank. And I am feeling grateful that I get to begin a new trip around the sun a little more enlightened than before, blessed with all of the friendships that have come to be so very important to me. It is the only gift I really need.

And that gift was made possible by the power of presence, not the power of my beloved words.

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“PRESENCE Daan Roosegaarde Groninger Museum” by Studio Roosegaarde is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Embrace Grace

“If he wrecks the car, I’m gonna lose it. I know I should try to be calm, but I’ll probably flip out.” She made the little half giggle she does when she’s making a half joke…like, I’m trying to poke fun at my hypothetical freak out, but it probably won’t be hypothetical. 

My friend and I were talking about our oldests getting their driver’s permits and navigating another new parental “letting go” milestone. 

“Same. I’ve basically been losing it over everything since mid-March.” I said. I can’t remember if I made my own half giggle at that remark. But if I did, I should not have. Because there has been nothing funny about my mental well-being for the vast majority of 2020.  Continue reading “Embrace Grace”

Freedom is a Construct, Not an Absolute

4th of July. The holiday that celebrates the United States as the land of the free. But this year, that idea has caused me pause. It seems that we, as a country, are on very decidedly different pages of what “freedom” means.

Therefore, I’ve been examining what my own idea of freedom is. Because here’s the thing: for something that we stake our identity on, fight wars over, sacrifice lives for…”freedom” is not something tangible. It does not “exist” in reality. It is a construct; something that exists within the mind of each person. Sure, there can be shared social constructs, or mutually agreed upon definitions. But it is also something that can be argued, changed, or altered and technically still be true to the individual or society who chooses to believe in that interpretation. Oh, those slippery slopes. Well, people. We built our entire country on a slippery slope. Continue reading “Freedom is a Construct, Not an Absolute”

The Edges of the Brownie

“Are you a middle-0f-the-brownie person, or an edge-of-the-brownie person?”

I was having breakfast several months ago with some of my ladies, and my friend Kathy decided to turn the conversation to dessert…because sometimes it’s fun to talk about food you’re not eating but want to eat while you’re already eating other food. Though I can be indecisive about most things in my life, I definitely had a stance on this topic.

“Edge. All the way. I’m the reason why they make those special pans where every brownie is a corner piece.” Continue reading “The Edges of the Brownie”

An Elbow to the Face of Hard Work

I was getting ready to throw away a pile of old papers from my desk when I noticed one that was about to be discarded in error. It certainly looked like trash, with its worn, tattered edges and crumpled creases. But this was a special piece of paper. It was my list of “No Elbow Zombie Apocalypse Moves.”

Okay, so let me back up for a second.

My elbows have a history of causing me trouble.

There was that time in grade school when I was goofing around in the hallway and slammed my elbow right into the corner of a door, resulting in such blinding pain that I passed out in front of my entire class. That’s a super fun thing to do, especially when you’re already one of the uncool kids. Continue reading “An Elbow to the Face of Hard Work”

Uncomfortable White Girl at a BLM Protest

I got a text from my friend Megan, asking if I wanted to join her.

Some local students had organized a seven mile Black Lives Matter protest march, and they would be passing near Megan’s house. She was planning to stand along the route and pass out water to protesters in the 90 degree heat.

Yes. Yes, I would like to do that. And I was grateful that Megan had thought of a concrete way to DO something, while I’ve just been over here completely in my head about everything.

So I brought my daughter and two of her friends to join Megan, her husband, her sons, and our friend Kathy and her daughter to set up our little water station alongside the road and wait for the marchers. Continue reading “Uncomfortable White Girl at a BLM Protest”

The Breaking Point

Yesterday was a breaking point.

Literally. I left the shards of porcelain scattered on my basement floor. I didn’t have it in me to clean them up. Probably because I couldn’t easily clean up everything else that shattered yesterday as well.

I heard the crash from upstairs and immediately knew. I didn’t have to look, and I really didn’t want to. My son was downstairs at the desk playing an interactive video game with friends online. He can sometimes get a little excited, banging on or shaking the desk. On the top shelf of that desk is a plate from my wedding, signed by all the guests, which my sister-in-law lovingly decorated and had fired.

Or, I should say, the plate was sitting on top of the desk. Continue reading “The Breaking Point”

To My Former Students: Walt Whitman Was Right

Dear Former Students,

I talked about you today. It’s funny – I actually bring you up quite a bit in conversations. Our time together was a mere five years before I started a family of my own and never returned to the classroom. But clearly, those five years made an impression on me. You made an impression on me.

Some of you I still know. Maybe we grab lunch every now and again. Maybe we keep in contact on social media. Maybe we cross paths in the small world that is our city. Maybe we run into each other at a bar, and I become embarrassed that I am clearly not sober even though I am no longer your teacher and you are no longer my student and we are both within our legal right to over-indulge. But the thing is, you could be seventy-five years old, and I could be eighty-five years old, yet I would still think of you as one of “my girls.” And I would still feel the same responsibility to be a good example, to hold you to high expectations, and to count your head on a bus to make sure I wasn’t leaving anyone behind on a field trip. Continue reading “To My Former Students: Walt Whitman Was Right”