When Superman takes off his cape

There’s something about spending time in a hospital. Maybe it’s the way we lock eyes with strangers in the waiting room, or in the hallway, our mutual presence a silent, white flag salute.

We share the ragged moment, because together we, or the ones we love, have learned a terrifying thing.

Image courtesy of thepaperwall.com

We are no longer invincible. Something has stripped the Superman cape from our shoulders, the one that blinds us to the danger of driving a little too fast, climbing too high, reaching for something too far. Failure creeps onto the scene, and suddenly we are shivering like Adam and Eve in the garden, aware of our naked vulnerability for the first time.

No one owes us our lives. Health is not a given. It is a gift.

***

At the beginning of this week, my husband had a tonsillectomy. As he drove us into the Minneapolis cityscape Monday morning, all I could think of was this: if he really wanted to turn the car around and forget this whole thing, he could.

Let’s be real. A tonsillectomy is one of the most painful surgeries an adult can face. But like so many things in life, sometimes we have to remove X to solve for Y. We have to put ourselves in what seems like the way of harm, so that in the aftermath, we find a better way to be strong.

Even if that means choosing to untie our invincibility cape, and agreeing to become weak.

Monday afternoon, as I was about to enter the hospital wing my husband was on, a set of double doors scissored opened and a bed came wheeling through. It took me a second to understand what was happening. There was a doctor in scrubs sitting next to a little boy with wide, dark eyes. The doctor was leaning back on the pillow, arms crossed behind his head, the little boy snuggled into his side. They were riding together on the rolling bed, both dressed in gauzy, puffy blue caps. I can only assume they were on their way to surgery.

The scene caught my breath. I couldn’t stop thinking about what it must have meant to that little boy to have his doctor climb up into his hospital bed and sit next to him.

Or what it would mean if all of us learned how to sit in solidarity with one another’s weakness.

Not try to fix it, right it, vindicate or validate it.

Just sit together.

Feel what one another is feeling.

Encourage one another, and listen without interrupting and interjecting.

To Be together. To sit at the kitchen table, the hospital room, the patch of grass at the park and really, truly hear one another with our hearts. To know that healing craves security, safety, and rest in the face of uncertainty.

To trust that we can supply a measure of that to one another just by being present.

Advertisements

What a Mama Needs Most on Mother’s Day

The internet has literally exploded in the last few days with all things mother. My inbox is a glut of all the different ways one can celebrate moms – Flowers! Brunch! Pastel clothing! Chocolate! Workout gear! Kid-friendly recipes! Family time! Jewelry! Craft Projects! Plants!

I’m starting to agree with Anne Lamott when she says, “No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day.” I can’t go anywhere online without being confronted by tear-jerking, snot-inducing, warm and fuzzy YouTube videos about the sacrifices of moms in bathrobes making school lunches before the sun comes up.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally watch them. I’m a sucker for a good emotion-inducing experience. And if you’re in the mood, definitely check out this one about the one word you’d associate with your mom, and this one where the little blindfolded kids pick their moms out of a crowd, and this one and this one from the Olympics which both make me BAWL.

It’s OK. Go get some Kleenex. You’re welcome.

There’s something that sticks out to me from all these videos and pictures and ads. The ones that really get me sniffling are the ones that show moms in the mess and mundanity of every day. I love watching a mother combing a child’s hair, adjusting a baby’s blanket, wrapping a twisted ankle. Why?

These are the moments that no one usually sees.

Let’s face it. Motherhood is comprised mainly of stuff no one else will ever notice: the late night stumble into a crying child’s bedroom, the scrubbing of stains, the lunch that no one mentions. These things are done every day by a quiet army of women across the world, women who know at least one thing about motherhood that’s always true.

Mothering is lonely work.

Care and love and constant attention are draining on even the most patient of women. And just when we think we have a hold of what motherhood is supposed to mean, or look like, or feel like, it twists and flips and we’re left with nothing but a handful of slime.

Big_4391833_0827Sometimes it’s a day to celebrate. Sometimes it’s a day to feel, to remember, to be overwhelmed. But always, it should be a day where mothers everywhere are SEEN.

Seen for the work they do, (or did.) For the carpets they vacuum. For the meals they put together. For the budgets they balance. For the clothing they wash and the miles they drive and the hours they spend at the table, the piano, the game.

Not that motherhood is all about work, but those things – those boring, every day unseen things – are acts of love. When we shine a flashlight on them, even for just a day, we tell our mothers a very important thing.

I see you.

I see your love tucked in Tupperware and folded in clean jeans. I see your heart in your offers to help, to paint, to take my little ones for an overnight. I see your attentiveness in your phone calls, your emails, your vigilance, your prayers.

I see you even when you’re gone. I look at pictures of you, and see the laundry basket in the background, the pot simmering on the stove. I see clean clothes and combed hair. I see the way you held me as a baby, like I was the most precious treasure you’d ever found.

I see you.

Which can also lead to other great phrases like, I love you. I appreciate you.

You know. Gooey stuff. Good stuff. Heart stuff. It’s Mother’s Day after all.

See her, and let her know she’s seen.

What 50 Shades of Grey Teaches my Daughters About Love

Dear friends,

Yesterday, I spent the day scrolling through my social media feeds, overwhelmed with the amount of things being shared about 50 Shades of Grey. There is constant buzz about the movie, and it seems the world is both intrigued and unsettled by its existence.

EllisI hesitate to add my voice for a few reasons. One, I don’t want you to think I’m judging you if you’ve read the book or plan to see the movie. Why? Because, friend, I care about you. You’re here in this community of people, and your thoughts, feelings, and opinions matter to me. Which leads me to number two. I care about you. I care about me. I care about my daughters, and the world outside our door that I must raise them in.

But any time we care about something, it becomes infinitely hard to talk objectively, and talk well about it.

If you’re looking for a review on the details of the movie, or specific examples from the book, I’m sorry. I’ve got nothing. I haven’t read the book. I don’t plan to see the movie. That means this post will be short, and to the point.

There is one thing that concerns me most with the widespread popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, and it’s this: mainstream sexual violence is now acceptable.

You can sit on the bus, in the break room, or on the exercise bike and read about a man whipping a woman for his own pleasure without thinking twice. You can grab dinner with the girls, and then head to the movies to watch sexually explicit acts next to someone’s daughter, or someone else’s son.

It’s acceptable because it’s popular.

But if this type of sexual violence is popular now, what will be left by the time my daughters become women and start looking for a man to build a life with? Should I teach them that it’ll be okay for their future husbands to throw them against the headboard on their wedding night? That it’s normal to submit to being beaten with an object during intimacy?

Moving the societal norm in this direction is frightening. Popularizing sexual violence in mass media means that this generation of watchers will come away with a new idea of what might be okay in the bedroom. If Hollywood sets the standard of what’s desirable, and X million viewers walk away thinking that Christian Grey is a pretty great guy, I firmly believe that our children are in danger of losing sight of what love actually looks, feels, and acts like.

For the record, here’s a really great list of things that love IS:

Love is patient. (No masking tape necessary.)

Love is kind. (Whips – no thanks.)

It does not envy (or leave bruises), it does not boast (or bite), it is not proud (domination has no place.)

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (It’s the opposite of Christian Grey.)

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (No locked pleasure rooms necessary.)

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

This is the kind of love I want my daughters to find. This is the kind of love I want you and me, in our relationships, to be wrapped up and around with.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day. I’m not going to tell you what to do, or how to do it. I’m simply going to ask you to compare what love looks like in 50 Shades of Grey with what love looks like from the list above (taken from 1 Corinthians 13), and decide which type you’d rather celebrate.

Take Care, Make Care

Take CareThe gray presses down with two hands on my shoulders. I sing nursery rhymes and dutifully remove grape stems. I lay my girls down for their naps, thankful that they are resting but loathe to let go of their little hands.

Sometimes, parenting is lonely work.

Not because I am alone (I am RARELY alone), but because day-to-day, it’s hard to see anything change. Diapers get dirty at regular intervals. The princess dresses are out of the toy box by 9:45 AM every day. We eat off the same silverware, drink from the same glasses that then need to be washed. And washed. And washed.

Routine is beautiful. Routine is tiring.

My husband leaves for work at the same time every day, carrying the same coffee mug and rugged leather briefcase. My parents have farmed the same dirt since they were married. I have friends who have worked for the same company for over a decade.

And I think we all feel it. The weight of sameness.

The funny thing is this – different is rarely better. But I don’t always believe that. I believe that so and so’s recent trip to a tropical locale makes them happier. I believe I’d feel better if my hair were just a different color. I believe what I see in a picture is an accurate reflection of the whole.

I believe the untruths, get a little cranky, and then stop doing one very important thing. I quit taking care of my present day self.

Do you know what I mean? As in, if I can’t have all the apples, I don’t want any of them.

OK. I don’t stop entirely. I eat. I brush my teeth. I try to start the day in clean clothes. But some days, that’s as far as I go. I don’t devise fun games that make my toddler’s face stretch wide in smile. I read stories without doing the voices. I slap turkey melts on lunch plates for the third day in a row.

I let sameness overwhelm me, body and soul.

It’s easy to forget that in order to make time to care for others, I first have to take time to care for myself. I know, I know. We hear this a lot. You know why? Because it’s true. Marguerite Lamb, in an article for American Baby, said, “While we can’t control our children’s happiness, we are responsible for our own. And because children absorb everything from us, our moods matter… Consequently, one of the best things you can do for your child’s emotional well-being is to attend to yours.”

I think this applies to more than just parents and children though. It’s about the way we all live in relation to one another. Caring for ourselves makes us apt to be kinder to the world around us. Why? Because caring for ourselves makes us feel good. And when we feel good, we act accordingly.

At the risk of you thinking I’m a hedonist, I’m going to share three almost fail-safes that make me feel good, consequently making me a better spouse, mama, friend, co-worker, and fellow passenger on this earth.

Eat Good Food

We all have to eat. Every day, three times a day (if we’re lucky.) But I’ve noticed that what I eat determines how I feel. There’s a whole pile of science behind this that I’m not going to go into here, but straight up, I feel better when I eat yogurt and berries and scrambled eggs for breakfast than when I eat cereal.

I like cereal. Don’t get me wrong. Cereal is easy. But that’s the problem. When we start eating food because it’s easy, we stop caring whether or not it’s actually good. And if it’s not good, well, what’s the point?

Good food doesn’t mean difficult food, and I think that’s what derails most people. It’s just about having the right ingredients. If you want to make an amazing lunch, you have to have more in your kitchen than peanut butter and jelly.

So sit down. Make a list of foods you like to eat, foods that make you feel energized, foods that are colorful and bright and exploding with flavor. Then hit up the market. It’s a first class luxury to have a place that sells mangoes, peppers, chard and Gouda just miles from our homes. Take advantage of it.

Crank the Tunes

When we get bored during the afternoons, my living room turns into a disco. We can stream Pandora through our TV, which means that on any given day you’ll find us rocking to Raffi, bebopping with Billie, or pretending we have club moves like the Black Eyed Peas.

Sound crazy? It probably is. But music with a beat can immediately perk me up. It’s like a mental knuckle-crack and shoulder roll. Suddenly I’m out of my own head. I’m being silly with my daughters, swinging and twirling, boogieing and laughing.

I used to do this at work too (not the dancing part – Lord help us). I’d bring an ear-bud and plug it into my phone, and then delve into my next project with renewed gusto. Music is like a mental reset button, and it’s as easy as pushing play.

Love what you Use

I’m no minimalist, but I do like keeping my possessions pretty basic. I buy what I love, and then I use the heck out of it. At this stage of life, I’ve learned that “stuff” doesn’t make me happy, but quality and usefulness do.

So use what you love, and love what you use. If something in your cupboard or drawer annoys you, start a thrift store or garage sale box and pass it on. IMG_20140403_111741_015~2Buy what you know you need, and then take pleasure in using it day after day.

I recently found a really great website called Raise.com that lets me sell old gift cards and buy new ones at a discount. Someone could probably film an episode of Hoarders on the way I collect gift cards, so I was stoked to find a way to sell unused cards and make some cash, or replace them with cards that got me closer to a new item I needed. Check it out sometime. It’s a great way to get use out something that otherwise just sits.

Trust me when I say that I know life is busy. No one really has time for extras. But taking the time to do something that brightens your day usually means you make someone else’s day brighter as well, simply by virtue of your own happiness.

And isn’t that how we’re meant to live with one another? With kindness, with patience, and above all, with care?