Over the last decade I have been privileged to contribute to a lot of wonderful publications, but very few are as respected and world-renown as Chicken Soup for the Soul. My five feel-good stories have appeared in seven different anthologies. And since it seems an appropriate time to share some virtual chicken soup with my followers, I thought I’d offer my first round-up post of ‘Soul Stories,’ as I’ll call them now.Continue reading
Not long ago I shared a post entitled When Death Means Something Different, and in it I explain how the loss of my father was vastly different than my mother’s death. He had been a tortured addict for decades, and this was his chance at finding a peace he couldn’t experience in life. But my grander point in that post was that with each situation in life, the greatest factor in our ability to cope becomes perspective.
It is with this perspective that I approach this newest piece. Societally, divorce has been said to induce the same sort of grief as death. It surely did that for my mom, who had been left by my father just as I was born. Dad abandoned us for a new life that was seemingly less complicated. Meanwhile, Mom’s new path was tainted by divorce from the get-go because for her it symbolized failure, heartbreak, and a loss of control.
My divorce has meant something much different though. I never intended to be divorced, but I also never intended to be unhappily married. In our marriage we had created habits that were detrimental to each other and to our children’s development, that much I could see as they got older. It seemed to only promote pieces of the cycle that I had escaped from before. Thus, with divorce we have found the space to curate balance and peace for our children, a calmer home life overall. With our separation and consequent divorce, our children have flourished in many ways. And through divorce I have found self-respect and an increased happiness that became impossible within the confines of our relationship habits.
Of course, it has not been without complication, but nothing largely transformative is ever terribly easy. So, to me, divorce does not have to equate to grief. Nothing automatically does. If we choose to allow it, divorce can equate to advocacy and hope. Almost anything can. It’s simply all about perspective.
I’ve written about grief a lot over the last decade or so. And much of that writing has helped me put in to perspective some of life’s biggest moments and emotions. Ones that could have easily swallowed me whole, and if I’m being honest, almost did.
But with reflection and the right tools, I feel confidently about the direction my life has taken. So, to celebrate my mom’s birthday on January 26th, and all the ones that were stolen because of her murder, here is a list of the pieces that helped me feel less alone while writing, and may help you as well. Especially if you have a hole in your heart where a loved one left it, too. Because I think that’s all life is about: connection, community, and catharsis.
Raise your hand if you have a strong-willed child 🙋🏻♀️
This is mine. Here he is shopping in our fridge.
He’s doing that because his Daddy happened to go on an errand right when the Instacart delivery arrived. He wasn’t able to help me carry the groceries to the fridge because he was distracted by a difficult “Goodbye!”
So, as the tears began to spring and his voice escalated into a shriek I said (without thinking, really), “Why don’t you go shopping in our fridge?”
He sniffled a few times, paused, and said, “Why?”
“Well, you can grab what you want from it, put it in a bag, then you can carry it outside. Next, knock on the door and carry them in. Then you’re the delivery person! If you ask nicely, of course.”
Another sniffle, which is extremely promising. Usually by now the teetering on imbalance would have turned into a full-blown tantrum complete with screaming and maybe even some body-writhing on the floor. All over delivered groceries.
But instead, he says, “Okay. Please?”
Little man then proceeds to stuff a watermelon, a half dozen eggs, a yogurt cup, horseradish sauce, half a head of iceberg lettuce, & four carrots into a dangerously thin plastic bag from our stockpile. The bag is close to breaking but I breathe through the sticky chunks of fractured egg shell I imagine all over the floor after he drops their carton. But without my saying anything he puts them back, seeing the loot he’s grabbed is too heavy.
And when he’s replaced everything except the watermelon and the carrots, he trots to the door with his shoulders held high. Then he looks at me to see if it’s OK to go outside, sees my confirmation, and toddles outside.
And there’s nothing more for me to do than hire this second delivery person and hope he doesn’t require a tip. I close the door, take a deep breath, and think, ‘This is ridiculous. What are we even doing here?’
But then I hear his silly, unbridled joy filter through the door in the form of, “Knock knock! Grocery here!”
I smile. He barges in like he owns the place, carries the food to the kitchen, and unloads it back in to the fridge. Then he gives me a high five and we go on with our day. 🤷🏻♀️
Now, I share this because I’m in the same boat as you most of the time, feeling like I’m just barely figuring this parenting thing out as I go. But in this moment I truly felt I figured it out. Or maybe I didn’t, and I just got lucky.
Either way, I stumbled upon a solution to manage his expectations, and at the same time, help him manage his emotions. And if I’m being super real, to manage my own so as to not to meet him at his melting point.
Because in the end, all he wanted to do was be helpful. But when I get wrapped in my own schedule or presuppositions, I often lose sight that my trying to control his feelings isn’t aiding him at all. That it doesn’t teach him how to do it himself. Instead, finding the point somewhere between his meltdown and my instinct to manage, that’s the sweet spot. The exact place learning for all parties happens.
And if I can do that for a moment or a meltdown, I can do it for another, for a day, for a year, for the rest of their sweet, little lives. And so can you. 💓
One of the very best things about having children is sharing with them what brings you joy. It allows you to relive that same experience for the first time, perhaps even in a new way, which can be pretty magical. And if I am being honest, as a lifelong movie lover, I’m probably more excited about sharing my favorite flicks with my kiddos than watching them learn to ride a bike (which just sounds anxiety-inducing to me). In that vein, here are the top thirteen films I can’t wait to share with my kids (when they’re of age, of course).
If anything captures the spirit of childhood and the wonder of belief, it’s The Goonies. I can’t wait for a trip down memory lane through One-Eyed Willy’s caverns, to introduce my kids to Sloth, and relive what it felt like to grab my bike and roam. I think my kids will seriously thank me, and then they’ll do the truffle shuffle. What could be better?
A perfectly cautionary tale about how amazing childhood can be, it’s Big. Tom Hanks plays Josh Baskin, a kid-turned-adult who wishes upon Zoltar to grow up overnight. It’s funny, nostalgic, and thoughtful, the perfect movie to bridge the gap between generations.
Speaking of generations, the Addams Family has been a source of entertainment for several. Personally, I like the newer versions starring Anjelica Huston & Raul Julia, but even the TV series is iconic. No matter who you identify with, there’s a character for everyone (plus there are real Girl Scouts in the Girl Scout cookies).
Speaking of fitting in and high school, there is (of course) Can’t Hardly Wait. It’s the quintessential 90’s teen tale about all the different cliques and misfits (because, aren’t we all?). Kids need to know they’re not alone in their weirdness, and this film is a great reminder that’s what makes us unique.
On the subject of misfits, Teen Wolf has to make the list. It’s prime Michael J. Fox, and one of the most quintessential 80’s movies EVER. I mean, what says nostalgia and fun more than Styles’s screen print tees and van surfing?
Now, when I want to prepare the kiddos for college there really is only one true film to do that with: Real Genius. Maybe college isn’t all laser beams and hallways full of ice, but it most definitely can be expanding your mind, young love, and finding out who you are.
Two guys that have always stayed true to themselves are Bill & Ted. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure AND Bogus Journey are both heartwarming, creative films that span across time. There’s a lot of history, a little bit of mystery, and some rocking music. Plus, the third B & T (Bill & Ted Face the Music) is set to come out in a few years, which means I have to premiere the first two before the third hits theaters. That way the kiddos can be just as excited as me!
Of course, if we are talking time travel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share Back to the Future I, II, & III with my kiddos. The storylines are all so different, yet each one has a theme of love and family running through it. It seems only right that I introduce the kiddos to the McFlys.
What movies are at the top of your sharing list?? #sponsored #dvdnation #movielover
A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Where Does Hatred Come From?” In it I discuss my mother’s murder and what (I think) compelled my brother to do such a thing. But something else has been on my mind, a question I get quite a lot that usually makes my heart race and my tongue trip up:
“How on Earth did you survive?”
Let me begin by saying that if I’m being totally honest, it still feels some days like I haven’t. Survived, that is. The cycle of abuse is a road that is twisted, long, and arduous. I am still traversing it, and live with the bits of shame that victims often do. On other days, however, I have an answer to the question everyone is really asking – how do two people born from the same parents go in such vastly different directions: one a murderer, the other a motivator?
In more general terms, “How Can Love Find a Way?”
The reality is, it’s almost so simple it’s painful. The answer is that love and hate are both born from attachment.
See, for almost every experience my brother had where he felt alienated and different, I had one where I felt accepted or celebrated. Or maybe even just O.K. with being different.
I came second. By the time I was born, my parents had been separated for a year. They were divorced when I was two, but my dad never lived with me. So, his absence wasn’t an absence to me, it was my norm. Thus, when dad ripped himself from our lives, it was only devastating to one of us.
Then came all our moves. Within my first sixteen years of life I lived in eight homes. I got used to change, and loved switching schools or classes. It gave me the chance to reinvent myself and make new friends. Jesse, however, was a bit of a pariah. Not by choice, of course, but by social design. He was short, chubby, and an easy target. I was short, chubby, and an easy target, but apparently the world thought that was more acceptable in a girl. I got bullied less and made more friends. So, when people didn’t allow either of us in to their lives or picked on us because we looked a little different, it was only really devastating to one of us. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father.
Soon, my brother started attempting suicide. He was institutionalized and given “help.” Here, at these bleak homes for ‘troubled youth,’ he learned to believe he was even more different than he could have imagined. That now, with a triple diagnosis of “mental illness,” he’d never really escape. This was probably the worst time of Jesse’s life. My dad never visited him; Mom and I were the only ones that seemed to care. And so, while I was in middle school, I visited mental institutions and wrote him letters, begging him to stay here with us. He would keep one of those notes in his wallet for years. Through all of this I learned how dark people can feel. But more importantly, I learned how good it felt to give people reprieve from their darkness. These failed suicide attempts were devastating for him, and of course, extremely devastating to me. But I had my studies to throw myself in to and excel at and friendships to seek asylum in. Thus, it was really only life-damaging for one of us. Especially since Jesse had already been rejected by our father and peers.
When my brother left high school after being told he didn’t fit in to the mold they provided, he eventually found exercise and drugs. He grew fit and powerful, more toxic. He had grown sick of being told by society how different he was, and with his newfound strength his previous shame was gone; now his emotions had morphed in to anger. In turn, he became extremely violent towards Mom and me. We were his scapegoats. There were tires slashed, holes punched in the walls, swift kicks to our guts (literal and figurative), obscenities screamed, and so much more. It was Hell.
Mom, left with little other options, called the police on him several times. When he was released, Jesse slept in an old car he bought from Craig’s List, other times at friend’s houses. But he wheedled his way back home each time, as many abusers do. Then Mom would eventually kick him out again. Within this cycle he somehow found his way in to the army twice, despite a juvenile record of domestic violence.
Mom and I reveled in our freedom from him whenever he was out. Without him home we were able to focus on our personal and professional endeavors. I was sailing through college with a 3.9, was an officer in my sorority, and had a great job working for Arnold Schwarzenegger right out of high school. For every hurdle Jesse had collided with, I was jumping over two at a time. And when he was eventually kicked out of the military a second time for erratic behavior, he came home to find me even more successful. Which made him that much angrier. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father, our peers, the school district, mental health professionals, and now the military.
He brandished his isolation like a sword, swinging it at anyone he saw as a threat, which eventually became everyone. Girlfriends, strangers, it didn’t matter. However, he swung most often at home. Jesse reached out to my dad a few times at this point, but Dad was dealing with his own demons. So, while my brother’s identifying parent was slipping deeper in to a depressive, drunken state far from us, seeing us less than he ever had before, Mom and I grew closer. She and I became best friends. We didn’t speak of our heartache much, because I’m not sure we ever had a grasp on what ‘it’ was, but our bond was deep and inexplicable. We knew we needed each other to survive the toxicity in our lives.Which made Jesse hate us even more.
Thus, two weeks after I finished college, Jesse killed Mom. It had been a long time coming; there were aerosol cans sprayed at lighters, knives thrown in to walls, online dating and email accounts hacked and spoiled. And despite my world being rocked, I survived. Because I had been shown in life that bad things happen. A lot. However, they always stop. And there’s always love on the other side. Or on the underside. Or somewhere; it can always be found somewhere. In the encouraging words of a teacher who didn’t know why I was at school as much as possible, but still let me have my safe place. In the stalwart support system of a sorority. In the home of a best friend whose parents may not have known exactly what was going on, yet still had an open door policy. In believing in someone even when they don’t. In my mom’s encouraging words and resiliency. Where there is hope extended, wherever connections are made, love can be found. That’s the answer to what saved me from a life of hatred and bitterness: hope in the form of attachment & love.
So, remember that next time you see someone who may seem different, struggling, isolated, or even angry. A little love can go a very long way, especially for those who haven’t received much. In some cases it could be the difference between a life of love and a life of hatred.
Thank you to everyone who helped me see the love when it may have been difficult to do so on my own.
If you believe you or someone you know may be the victim of domestic violence, please read the resources on the National Domestic Violence Hotline and consider reporting the abuse to the authorities.
I had the pleasure of being a part of the Expressing Motherhood cast for a third time this past month. Originally, I wasn’t going to share my piece online because as much as I pride myself on my openness, I know some things are too much. However, it was pretty damn freeing to share with a bunch of strangers and also well-received, so why not with my online community? 😬
A huge thank you to everyone who came to see it live this time around, and especially to Lindsay Kavet for giving me a little soapbox.
Thirty-seven years ago today my mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Three years ago yesterday, I gave birth to my own son.
Every cell in my body wants to have a sit down with her, to trade birth and/or parenting stories. But, as my brother stole her life eleven years ago, I haven’t been able to. I never will.
Yesterday I baked a cake. It wasn’t beautiful. No one in the family could identify what it looked like: a guitar? A banjo? A magnifying glass? I didn’t mind though; all I kept thinking about was the cake my mom made 30 years before, the one she served my brother’s friends at his 7th birthday, that looked almost the same way. I wanted to talk to her about it, laugh at their coincidentally-matching, misshapen figures. Maybe argue over whose was worse. But I couldn’t, so I wrote about it instead. This was was my way of feeling closer to her: writing and baking
Yesterday, my son’s birthday, I spent the day wondering if I’d hear from my brother. Far too much of the day was wasted wondering if he’ll, in a final show of selfishness, steal his own life. Sometimes I hope he does, sometimes I pray he doesn’t. Either way, I am healing from a life of trauma and abuse. And my abuser, despite being behind bars, still has a strange, distant power over me.
Some days are easier than others. 💓