Happy Birthday to Me









Dear sweet baby girl,
or
Dear sweet woman,

I don’t know how to address you because it feels so often like I am talking to both of you. It is hard, isn’t it? Riding that line between who you were and who you are now? I see your innocent face- those dear rosy cheeks and that haircut that you detested- short, the quintessential “boy” cut of the 60’s that your mom adopted because she didn’t do hair. So many memories come rushing back to as you float towards 50. I see you holding a baby pig up by its hind leg as you help your dad give them shots. How uncomfortable you were- the humid farrowing house, the heavy winter gear making you itch, the warm urine running down your arm into your coat and there you were- stuck, wet, hot, surrounded by squealing pigs. This memory is so strong because it seems there are many of those that center around your discomfort and how you could not shake it.

The hot outdoors, the freezing outdoors, the hours in the beating sun walking beans, picking rocks, helping in whatever needed to be done. You have wrestled so much with all of this. And, because of this gift you have, you have spent so much time wondering, why did it feel so hard to you? All of the things you spend so much time feeling resentment for are the very same things friends cherished when they discuss “growing up on the farm.”

It’s all done now. You made it. It was just the way it was. You have spent too much time, I think, trying to figure out what was wrong with how you felt about it instead of just accepting it wasn’t for you. More than all of this is knowing how your parents showed up for you time and time and time again, every year since you left. All the questions they didn't ask, all the support given by their presence in your life. All love, all the time. They were always for you. It is time for you to be for you, as well.

Dear sweet woman, look at how far you have come! You have endured so much loss. The harrowing years of loss- the miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage. Sometimes it still astounds you- to know you lost 7 babies. What you know now is that it was trauma. What you know now is that you did not let that trauma have a place. What you know now is that what doesn’t get acknowledged, doesn’t get time, doesn’t get to be seen and felt for truly what is will come back. And so that is why it has ridden down so deep in you for so long. And I am proud of you! For letting each of those losses out, bit by bit, word by word, tear after tear. You now know it wasn’t YOUR fault. It wasn’t something you did. It wasn’t something that you were. It just was. Each drop of blood, each little baby, gone- they were not meant to be yours. And here is another thing. It isn’t ok. It just won’t be. But it is and you can carry it and not let it be all of what makes you you.

Dear sweet woman. This will sound so anti-feminist that you will struggle to write this sentence, but it needs to be said anyway. You chose well! You have found a partner in life who is everything you’d hope for your own children. Dear Bob is funny and kind and patient (mostly) and so for you in all ways that it feels remarkable at times. His life’s mission is your joy. How did that happen? How did you see that? It was his eyes, you know that. They are always at the ready for a laugh and always so steady. He looks at you on a treadmill the same way he looks at you ready for a night out. It is his eyes that you choose to use more often when yours get cloudy. Your life together has been far from easy or perfect, but sweet woman, you feel deep in your bones the true meaning of gratitude and love each night you take his hand and each morning when the cup of coffee is sitting at your nightstand.

Dear sweet woman, the other thing that must be said, this thing you have struggled with for so long, is that you see that your depression is not you. It is a gift to know this, finally, at 50. It has leveled you. It has stopped you in your tracks, it has told you lies and made you small and it has kept you from being the woman writing this letter. It is simply a part of you- not all of you. Every bad minute, hour, day, week, or month is just that- a stretch of time that is dark, heavy, hard to wade through. But your record is strong- you get through it every single time! You come out and see the before, during and after. You have learned to remind yourself as much as needed...it passes, it passes, it passes. You don’t have to hide it. You don’t have to pretend it’s ok when what you feel is so clearly not. Those who love you know this, but better than that- you know. Sometimes, it is not ok.

Dear sweet woman, you do not know and it is ok. You do not know so much. You don’t know how it will all shake out for your parents, your children, your own self. You know the path you are on is only as clear as maybe the next right step. The best part here is that this feels just right to you. You used to want to plan it all and what I see is how much freedom you now feel for not knowing, for letting go, releasing your shoulders and accepting that you don't know.

I see how much you still like to micromanage your kids’ lives, but the feedback from your teens is clear. BACK. OFF. Micromanaging really only comes in handy for party planning but the rest of life? Not so much. And so I just love how you are moving forward without much of an agenda.

I love you dig into the things that matter to you and how you have slowly let go of those things that do not. This is true for people and how you spend your time. I like how you know that it’s ok to pay attention to how people make you feel and if the answer is “not good” then you don’t need to seek them out because of obligation.

You have always tried to so hard to listen and say with your eyes, “I see you”  for whomever you are with. But now...the gaze is slowly shifting, finally, to you.

Isn’t that what this letter is all about? I see you, Lisa. I see the little girl you were and the woman you are now and you are all of it. There are heaps of things I did not say here, and that too is ok. You know that your gift, the one that fuels the very heart of you, is not going away. The gift of sorting it all out in words will be something you return to again and again. You have accepted that you will never stop wrestling. It is who you are. It is the best thing about you. I like that you know this and so you know it is impossible to write one letter to yourself- there are letters to be written that will be fueled by anger, joy, and everything in between because you feel it all and want to understand it. That is you.

Happy Birthday, sweet woman. You are a gift and it is such a profound joy to see that you not only know this, but you believe it.

Lisa



Almost...

Almost 50. What Have I (Not) done?


I have not made peace with my body, but I have learned to care less about appearance and
more about health.

I have not taken up sewing or crafting or house cleaning. I have not become any more
interested in any of these things over time.

I have tried to keep a few plants alive. No real success yet but the desire to try again is still
there.

I have not made a bucket list. I have determined there is no need to wait for things. Do them as the opportunity arises. There is no better time.

I have forgiven those who hurt me. Forgiveness heals. Now, to extend this towards me. I'm
inching towards this.

It turns out I have a special power. I can split myself into two people, the see-er and the be-er.

See-er:  “Oh look...you are not well. Take care, sweet pea. Rest.”

Be-er:  ”Here I am, remembering my medicine, seeking out comfort in people who love me.”
Or, “My skin is prickly. My stomach is turning. Something feels off. What should I do next?”

It’s so good to remember I have both of these skills. I have magic!

I have noticed my son’s voice after I tell him to have a good day and that I love him. There is
usually a slight pause and then, “I love you too, mom.”  It is not exactly uncertain, but it is also not loud and sure. It is a kid saying what he knows is true while being self-conscious. 
He is 15 and love feels weird, even for your mom. But it is true. Our love is true.

I have not been a gunner. I have not raced to the top to be the best at anything.  I remember when Bob was in medical school he played Gunner Bingo with the riffraff in the back row.
He and the riffraff made a Bingo card out of peoplwho would answer questions first, those
who would race to jut their hands up, shout out with great certainty the answer though often they were terribly wrong. What did it matter as long as they were confident in their errors?
It took a semester for the names to shift- a whole 18 weeks to finally understanding shouting out answers
willy-nilly isn’t an education. How long does it take to understand it's ok to not know?
to just listen, to not race towards answers instead of letting them reveal themselves to you?

I have always wondered why I wasn’t competitive. What, I have asked too many times over
the years, is wrong with me? But lately, I have laid down this particular sword which has been
extended towards myself. It was simple, really. I stopped wondering, digging into this question
and just let myself be. There are other far more interesting things to get into- such as how  the light changes with the seasons or which book to read next or searching out funny jokes
to make my teens roll their eyes at me. Pointing swords at my perceived failures.  Not fun.
I have determined I want more fun.

I have found holy spaces. Here is one. Nine women in a room writing, intent and focused on
the telling of her story. There is space and energy and light and there are sighs of letting go,
of holding on, of breaking free. They seem trapped sometimes and then escape of their own
free will. The sighs travel to the pen and the words come out and then there is another
freedom. It was said. That thing you thought, buried, ruminated on, wondered about,
explored. You put it down and now it’s out. And then the telling. You read what you wrote
and space and energy and light shifts again. You see the words and hear the words and
they now cannot be unsaid. Freedom. The words have set you free. Holy.

I have lost children. I have thought long and hard about that time in my life. The time of
losing babies. I don’t think I really was a be-er at that time. I saw it but could not be it. To be
loss is too much. One and then another and another and another. So much blood. How can
a person be blood? And so I just watched it and didn’t let it become me. I didn’t let it be me.
My feelings now for that woman during that time- I can see her and I wonder if I did
something wrong to not be her?  I do know I feel great empathy towards her- the girl who
could not be. Poor dear heart. She did the best she could. I see that.

I have not succumbed to despair. Every day the news blasts another atrocity. I feel my skin
prickle with fear when I think of my daughter going away to college. I want to insert a
disclaimer- as if the place she chooses will determine whether or not she is not safe. My
daughter will not be safe anywhere. My daughter is not safe now. No one is safe
anymore. Not in a church or a synagogue or a hospital or a nightclub or a concert or train
or a bus or in the woods or in a city. This is true. So how to explain my lack of despair?
Because I just have to turn towards the light. I have to. I must to do my part, my little tiny
part and keep pointing this part towards the light. So despair, I see you. There are times
when I feel you. You want to rob me of breath, force my eyes shut, root me to the ground.
But no! Sometimes I shout that to you, “NO!” I cannot let despair BE me.

I have, against all odds, hope.

My hope is that as I keep inching closer towards my truest self, the gifts I do have will grow. I
cannot grow with despair. I can grow with medicine and sunshine and words and cats and words and
saying yes and no exactly when I mean them. I can do this with the people who see me being me.
I have met those people and I am those people or others. Despair doesn’t fit in with us.

I have no grand conclusions about turning 5O.

I have not given it all away. I have not discussed marriage and all the work it is.

I have not shared with you all of my hopes and dreams and plans for the next 50 because this is another
thing I have learned. Some things are JUST for me.

I have great excitement because I see who I am becoming and I will share one more thing: I like who I see.

I have gratitude for not being done yet.

I chose this photo of me taken in New Orleans last year because I like it.
That's the only reason. This is my 50's mantra. Because I like it.





AND AND AND



1.
“How can I help you?” That’s how I start every session with any student who walks into the writing lab. I smile. I am sincere. I want to be there. Forty-five minutes later, after fumbling through each word, pronouncing over and over again and you repeating, me finding the words to describe the word you don’t seem to grasp, sometimes drawing, sometimes miming, I am exhausted. And you? You live every day this way. I am shattered and inspired at once.

2.
It seems like most days you look at me with disgust. Is it testosterone? Is it that I don’t know how to speak to you without reminding you of something? What do we have in common? I can’t find it. I don’t like video games. You are waning on the baking. My attempts at humor and simply buying a thank you with junk food don’t even work. I don’t know. Am I losing you? I look at your broadening shoulders, searching madly for a glimpse of the sweet boy I know resides in there somewhere. Sometimes it’s like I am looking for a ghost. Was it ever real, how you’d take my hand or let me lie next to you forever reading, snuggling? I love you and I am terrified. Will you return to me?

3.
We have a bag of kale and so far it’s worked its way into four out of five meals. Mom made caramel corn this weekend. She bagged it up so each person received their own stash. It has worked its way into five out of five meals. Kale and caramel corn. The story of my life.

4.
The secret to happiness is having no expectations. Generally, I find this to be true AND I find it nearly impossible to not have expectations. Most mornings my hubby sits a steaming cup of coffee next to my bed. On the days that he does not, I am momentarily wrecked. I can also feel myself drift towards, and this is totally embarrassing, anger. I am angry someone did not hand-deliver a steaming cup of coffee to my bedroom. Jesus, girl! Get a grip! And the cornerstone of teaching, running a business, really, managing people, is to have HIGH expectations. I don’t get this and I do. I don’t understand this and I don’t. Regardless, I made my own coffee and I was sad about it.

5.
Every morning I climb back into bed after feeding the cats. I snuggle down just for me and try to write. After eating, one wanted to snuggle and I wanted to write. How can I have both? I can’t. It’s hard to write with a cat between my chest and the keyboard. I pushed him off. He was not happy. I love you and I need you to go away.

6.
I am putting too much pressure on myself for finding just the right way to celebrate my 50th birthday. It feels like a big deal to me. But there it is, it is big for me. Not to anyone else. So I want to keep the focus on me. But here is where I screw up, I skip ahead thinking I will do it wrong and feel regret. I do not want an “I wish I would have” birthday. But damnit….an after Christmas birthday sucks. It totally sucks and here’s another thing. I am the party planner. No one in my life likes to plan parties. And so, I get twisted and it’s dumb and I wish someone would just say, go away by yourself and I could forget it all. I broached this idea with my hubby.
“What if I just go somewhere alone for two days?”  
"You?" he said, "for your birthday? With no one fawn over you?"
He was right and so am I and then I am mad at myself for making something bigger than it needs to be. I am mystified by people who say, “Oh, we had dinner at home. It was not big deal” for whatever milestone birthday. How can this be? And what does it say about me that I want to mark the passage somehow? I am irritated with me AND I want what I want but, of course, I don’t know what I want so that is the trouble. And look at this? My rumination on my birthday is the longest passage yet!!

7.
It’s after 7 and I have to get ready for work. I started late because of no coffee and cat wrestling. I made this commitment to myself to do this and now I feel pressure. Jena would say some words are better than no words but I can’t stop. I don’t feel like a perfectionist and god knows, this is far from perfect, but I can do it. I can feel pressure and not stop.

8.
I stopped to take a picture of our bluffs yesterday. It was on the way into our valley and I pulled the car over and got out and walked around. The road was busy and I felt a little weird, but how many pictures have I not taken in the last week. So many! It felt good to be standing in the cold, cataloging the shades of gold and red and orange. The thing is, I love the way this land looks. And so I looked. I am happy I have the pictures. I am happy I said yes. I wanted to stay longer and I did not feel safe and it was worth it.

9.
My daughter looks strung out. Is this how almost 18-year-olds are? I am collecting poems for her. I am going to give her a book at Christmas of all the empowering words I have read in the last year. It’s my strange little hope that poetry will help her through this troubled time. I am not sure it’s worth the effort and I am hopeful that maybe there will be one phrase that stops her, helps her reframe this wonky time in her life.

10.
Everyone is up now and they are angry. I want to hide. I was just helping someone locate something and I am the wrong one. I have slunk back in here hoping to finish. I can do this and I don’t know why this is such a deal to me.

11.

It’s hard to keep promises to myself. Years of putting myself last are a well-worn path. Building new roads takes time. This is a step. It’s not easy and it’s worth it. (I did it!!!!)


Elevens: Don't Hesitate

Jena Schwartz, Promptress Queen recently lead a group of 7 women including myself through writing prompts during one of her wonderful retreats One of my favorites was her 11's Freewrite. She asked us to write 11 things starting each one with Don't Hesitate. We had 30 minutes and this was what I came up with. I read it out loud and I liked it. Maybe that sounds strange to say, but it's hard to get this writer to say when I actually like something I did. I am owning this one.




Don’t Hesitate


1.


When your husband asks you on a date, don’t hesitate. You will wonder if this will ever happen again and if he will notice the line of grey that stretches from the top of your forehead all the way along your part or the chin hair that popped up overnight. Deep down you know the answer is no and that even if he did, he would never say. After all, you choose well and it doesn’t matter because today is a new day. Unlike you, he let’s go easily. He has forgotten that you forgot to run that really important errand, the one that cost you a lot of money because you were late. He forgets. He lets go. Either way, he dresses up in jeans without holes and a flannel shirt without paint splotches. You will sit side by side on barstools each searching for words that don’t lead towards your kids. He will start by sharing a funny cat meme and you will laugh feeling grateful for saying yes. Again.


2.


When your body starts to tingle, a little alarm bell rings in your head, your pulse begins to race, and your face grows suddenly warm, don’t hesitate to back away. Say no. You’ve been here before. This place, exactly. Your body has not lied. This person, that person. They are not for you. They are not FOR you. Back away. Don’t hesitate.


3.


Don’t hesitate to take a photo. Why not take 20 pictures of the sunset? Why not stop along your walk 15 times or pull the car over suddenly because you must capture that cloud now, that riff in the sky you’ve never seen quite like that. It’s not a selfie- it’s a worldie. You want to see the world and its beauty and here’s the thing. Pain and suffering are tucked in a locked vault in your heart, your body. You carry it every day and so, the relief- the sweet joy of looking out- seeing such beauty is like none other. That moment before the click is the hit you are after. It says, “Here I am. I see”.


Click.


Don’t Hesitate.


4.
Don’t hesitate to say I love you to whomever you want however often you can Why not? Who will get hurt? The crazy lady in the cafe. I love you. The bad grocery boy who cannot seem to remember that it’s cans first, then bread. I love you! Catty workmates, annoying relatives. I love you! I do. I might not like you, but I love you. I do. Don’t hesitate.


5.


Don’t hesitate to write. To at least give it a try. So often you are clunky, without direction. But when your pen moves across the paper it takes you with it. Closer, you are getting closer to yourself. And so, do it. Keep going, don’t hesitate. Write. Now. Say yes. Don’t hesitate.


6.


Don’t hesitate to live your truth. Sometimes you like to be alone. Sometime you like to be with people. Sometimes you like to say Fuck. Sometimes only a poem will soothe your battered heart. All of it is fine. All of it is perfect. Like you. Don’t hesitate to be the complicated person that you are because fitting into one box has not yet worked so give up trying. Don’t hesitate.


7.


Don’t hesitate to listen harder. You love to talk. You love to process out loud, but don’t hesitate to shut your mouth. The teachers you’ve been looking for are all around you, but sometimes you’ve been too busy talking to take in their lessons. Be quiet. Don’t hesitate.


8.


Don’t hesitate to say you’re tired. You just need a nap, a rest, a chance to tune out. Though your body is weak, your emotional fitness is that of an Olympian. You deserve rest, too. Don’t hesitate.


9.


Don’t hesitate to let go of the inner asshole, critic, jerk who likes to trip you up with lies. You don’t do enough, aren’t thin enough, don’t contribute enough money to the family, serve your community enough. Remember how you like to say fuck? Now is a good time to say, “Fuck off inner asshole.”  Say it as much as you need to. Don’t hesitate.


10.

Don’t hesitate to notice what you feel. Those tears that rise up to overflowing, when the pit of your stomach is aching, when your heart squeezes with fear or hope or joy, pay attention. Those moments are fleeting but full of information. As they move you, notice.


11.


Don’t hesitate to follow your gut. It has lead you astray now and then but so what? Very few things are permanent. Don’t hesitate to trust that after almost 50 years, you know what you know including who you are and what feels right. It feels right to know this knowing you didn’t have before so trust it. Follow it. Don’t hesitate.

Eleven Things I Want to Say

My writing coach, Jena Schwartz, has this awesome exercise where you stop, drop and write eleven things that are on your mind in the moment you are in. I don't know what it is about this exercise, but more often than not I find some sort of flow. Today, I thought I'd share with you my Eleven Things as they occurred to me on a mild Monday afternoon.


  1. I went to Iowa to visit my parents. Over the years, my mom has created her garden the way a painter might, equal parts intention and surprise. She places eye-popping color in unlikely places to break up all the green corn and hay and grass. I miss it’s prime time most summers. I made it a point not to miss it this year. As I looked around at what her hands made happen, a woman of 72, I am amazed and humbled. What will I be doing at 72?
  2. In the span of a month, two teenagers died in separate automobile accidents. Neither was wearing a seat belt. I don’t need to know the teenagers or the parents or friends to know the anguish and the pain and the horror of getting that call. It’s the same way I don’t need to live on the border to understand the grief of watching a child being lead away from you. Pain is pain is pain. And though I don’t know, I know. My heart has been beating an irregular rhythm for months now and I can’t seem to find a way to regulate it. So I do what I always do and I pull out a pan and bowl and scan my pantry’s contents and figure out something I make while I scroll through a list of people in my life who might need something made with my hands. It solves nothing but gives my brain a way of focusing and that is something. My heart, though? It’s still wonky.
  3. There are so many flies in our kitchen. Is it the ripening fruit or the chickens or the compost or all of the above? We have the swatting hour. It’s after dinner when Big Man and Thing 2 have a contest to see how many they can get in little increments of time. I have started calling it Fly:30 in my head- the way my dad calls Beer:30 between 4 and 5 in the afternoon.
  4. We have turned off the air conditioner because we’ve had some pleasant weather. I have the stove on (see number 2) and it’s not comfortable here and in a way, I like it because I am reminded that so much of life is about discomfort and our way through it. This is minor, but I am going with it. The air is staying off for a few more days.
  5. I haven’t been writing except in my head. I wrote a gorgeous piece on the way home from Iowa. My son was in the car and I was floating in a dream of an essay when he piped up about something he was listening to on the radio- a program about a culinary arts school in Cedar Rapids. I don’t recall a thing I wrote.
  6. My husband is a hard worker. His hobbies require physical effort and his work mental. He does not have enough time to do everything he wants. I have time and accomplish very little. It’s a weird life we live.
  7. As soon as I wrote number 6, I could hear friends saying, “Oh but you do this and that and…” That wasn’t the point of my writing, just so you know. It’s a simple observation about him and me. He is a doer and I am a thinker and it’s ok.
  8. The best part of me thinking is that I do grow. I have had a few breakthroughs in my life recently and all I want to really say is when I do give things my attention, they can get better and my heart does lift and my spirit lightens and for me this validates my heavy thinking.
  9. I have spent this list trying to write away from sadness. I’ve poured myself a cup of afternoon coffee in my favorite mug and I am thinking of Zeke, the farm Corgi who gets walks each day from mom and from dad. He is chunky and long and his eyes are so bright and ears attentive most times. I recall hearing somewhere that every couple needs a third thing- something outside kids if they have them and themselves to flourish and grow. Zeke is clearly my parent’s third thing. Big Man and I have cats and drinks by the river or on the point and travel and books and politics and as our teens grow, I hope we find more third things.
  10. You may be wanting to know if I escaped sadness. Is there an escape? I’ve always believed if you are human and paying attention your heart will break every day. I have learned, at an older age than I’d like to admit that using this pain can be useful. The trick is achieving that balance of feeling to motion. Feeling to motion. Not easy
  11. A breeze just flew in off the deck and brushed a pesky fly off my typing fingers. My daughter is home (the first time in 5 weeks) and has pulled out the mixer and is staring at a recipe she got from her grandmother. I don’t think she’s sad, but she is doing. My daughter has a hard time adjusting to schedules. From all to nothing is a great challenge and she is like her dad. She is creating something and so I am I, just in different ways.