four…

Growing up a little white girl, among a see of hispanic children was both hard, and it wasn’t. I mean, it WAS hard because I always felt like I didn’t fit in. Adding to that the fact that my mother was a smoker and the kids at school always made it a point to acknowledge that I was a Gringo, and stank. It also wasn’t hard though, because it was what I knew. I had no alternative to compare it to.

Childhood leaves us with the funnest memories, doesn’t it?

When I was a teenager I was living in a fundamentalist group home in (then) rural Idaho. Life was the sheltered sort, with the exception being church and youth group at a local “city” church. A mojority of the normal kids at church, living in their normal homes, going to normal schools and eating normal foods thought us group home kids were freaks. To be honest, their parents also saw us as dangers. It was an isolating and pretty scarring existence.

With this package deal attached to my early life development, there was also the personal feelings (SO MANY FEELINGS) that I had about NOT fitting in. Not feeling a part of things, sure. I had essentially been abandoned by my family and lived a daily life of rejection, so those feelings made a lot of sense.

I also didn’t WANT to fit in.

While everyone was listening to what was hot and trendy, following the current of what they believed kids our age were supposed to do, I teetered there, unsure.

Did I follow along, accept and finally achieve belonging?

Did I go with my gut and follow the less worn path of obscure movie tastes and worn out sneakers?

The struggle was real.

I believed the struggle would eventually subside as I matured into a woman, beyond the angsty years of teenagehood. I was wrong.

That eternal quest to belong equated itself with my sense of personal worth so deeply. Knit by (what I believed, at the time) the rejections, abuses and abandonment thematically designing my life, a melancholy hopelessness settled into everything I did.

I went into group home care in 1988.

I walked through that gate and into the real world in 1993.

I became a wife in 1994.

In 2017 I learned that, on the enneagram chart, I am a four.

Fours have big feelings. Fours are creative and artistic. Fours ache to fit in, but also want to dance to their own rhythm. (and their own, non-trend decided tunes) Fours are (likely) the 90’s emo kids. They are the ones not regularly depicted on screen, in film and television because they happen to (probably) be the real life people writing those characters and creating that art.

I embraced my four.

I connected with other fours.

Knowing these things, having these explanations, it’s like the comfort of filling the gaps I’ve lived with, unwhole, for my entire life. It also forces me to see where my flaws lie. The how’s and the why’s.

I am able to know “ok, these are things I’ll do when I’m at my emotional healthiest”, and “these are indications that I need to work some stuff out, because I’m struggling.”

So many times we’ve humorously mumbled about life not having an instruction manual, or people not coming with a guide.

Guess what? We do.

That is literally what the enneagram does for us.

Plainly put, it is EMPOWERING.

Owning our truths helps us with one another too. For instance, I know that if someone on my team is an enneagram two, they will be prone to saying “yes” and people pleasing. Knowing that, and asking a lot of them anyway would be exploitive and selfish. Additionally, being married to an enneagram nine has helped me realize he isn’t passive or apathetic, he is simply prone to not cause ripples. At his unhealthiest, this can be dark and explosive. Knowing these things helps me love and respect him the way he deserves. It helps me see all of him, and love him.

If you don’t know where you’re at, or want to learn more, I strongly recommend the Road Back to You, by Ian Cohn. Also, in this week’s episode of the Collective Podcast, Abbey Howe is hanging out and chatting random ennea-info with us. Her youtube channel Enneagram with Abbey is super fun and informative. (As is Ian Cohn’s podcast!)

Little birds…

In the quiet silence of aloneness I am left on my own, to reflect. There were years of flowers and clumsy breakfasts, all blooms in what would feel (for a very long time) like a crowning achievement.

After so many years of heartbreak and pregnancy loss, my life suddenly held this bubbly little girl who called me Momma. It truly did feel like everything, for a time.

From fifteen years old, and on, though I had other dreams and other goals, being a mother was the heart & soul of all of it. It was everything I wanted, and the motivation for moving forward. I had only ever really seen this plan work for others, so I had no clue it could simply NOT work for me.

When you are lying in a pool of blood, on cold tile, sobbing to heaven about why your babies all seem to die before they’ve had a chance to breathe, there are thoughts that rise up during broken prayers.

Voices that tell you why…

They tell you it’s because the babies saw what a disgusting person you are, and would rather die.

They whisper about how you can’t do anything right and you would be the worst sort of mother.

When you trust someone you love enough to confide those fears to them, they will kiss your matted forehead and tell you that these are lies, and the amount you ache to have a baby will make you a beautiful mom too.

As time passes, it’s hard to tell which things are truth and which things are lies, because we rationalize a world of either/or. We don’t conceive that it is possible the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

That sweet little girl made me feel like a mom, for the happiest years of my life. After fighting with every ounce of me, for unborn babies, and then fighting with everything I had left, for already born kids, that big-blue-eyed girl let me live there, for awhile.

I’ll always be grateful.

Family didn’t understand the idea of loving kids not from your blood. In hindsight, I think they wanted to. I think in unique ways, they tried. Then again, they couldn’t actually understand the journey of loss we’d known, so I can see the difficulty. So many times, over the years, these people who really did love us, would use the phrase “playing house” when it came to our family. Whether legally adopted, or so heart loved, it made no difference in the legitimacy they perceived.

The frustration and disappointment of this, mostly for the kids, triggered those dark post-miscarriage whispers to rise up. Was I playing house? Was I not a real mom? Was this all just pretend? The truth, somewhere in the middle, is that life is complicated.

I have loved with every inch of my mother-aching heart. I have advocated. I have sacrificed for. I have had my cup so full, down to so empty. I have known the tears, and the worry. I have held crying daughters and put my life on hold to do so, without regret. It wasn’t perfect, because I wasn’t perfect. Early childhood trauma leaves a lasting effect. Sometimes it was hard.

It wasn’t perfect because nothing is perfect. I never expected it to be, or them to be. I did expect me to be… And it seems they did too. While they were younger, I covered the multitude of ways I was proven to never be enough, with so much grace. So many excuses for how they’d endured so much hurt early on, how they were still so young. Well meaning people promised it would be so much better when they were older… when she specifically was older.

It has been years since I’ve spent any real time with that sweet little girl of days past. One of the last gifts I gave her, before she left the nest, was a little key with the word love etched into it. I told her that my biggest wish for her would be that she could learn to love herself and accept the love of others, the love of me. That had been our biggest struggle, really, her inability to accept my love. I would never be the mom she wanted me to be. So close to that truth, I was shattered and haphazardly put back together again and again.

My truth is that part of my motherhood dream involved daughters becoming mothers too. It involved loving their babies and porches filled with things like lemonade, laughter and pie. It involved vacations and photos and smiles for as far as the eye can see.

It involved, plainly put, things that a lot of moms get. It is not a guarantee, it is not a right of passage and it is not a plan set in motion for me.

Once, when asked, I proudly told the world I had two daughters. Anymore I am honest that I never really had any. I was never their mom, but for a few really good, hard, raw and fulfilling years I played the part with everything in me, and then one day the role was simply done.

I am not a victim, and neither are they. They are both beautiful survivors of things no children should have to go through, and the results of that have never been easy for them. I talk a little bit about this in my book, but in the same way that we crave absolutes, we expect them too. Couples are allowed to break up. Unrequited loves happen all of the time. It is unfair to expect adopted/foster children to reciprocate a love for a parent. The hurt, sacrifice and effort a parent makes does NOT mean the child has to return it. This is a truth no one talks about. This a truth that fearful women in the hurt-filled pursuit of motherhood do not want to know.

For five months, last year, I felt like I was losing everything. My worst fears were coming true, all around me, and I could not find my breath. And then, it happened… And my everything became not mine to hold anymore.

I was sad, and I grieved the most brutal of loss.

One daughter indicated, with absolute silence, that she did not want me anymore, while the other proceeded to tell me the cruelest and most hate-filled things she had in her arsenal. Then, I was wounded to my core, because I was so close that I couldn’t see the truth.

They each know what is best for them, and as adults that is their responsibility. I did not ever want them texting, calling, gifting or visiting on birthdays and holidays because they felt like they were obligated to. If they did not want me as their mom, they were allowed.

This did not mean my love for them was wasted. It did not mean my love for them died, at all. It just meant that I would have to grow my courage to be brave in different ways, for them. When one daughter had a major car accident, I would stay away. I would send flowers, because it was so soon and I didn’t know how to not… but she didn’t want me in her life, and I could respect her. That was something I could do for her. When birthdays passed, I would ache to see their beautiful faces and shower them with love and gifts, but instead I would make a silent donation to an organization that rescues women and children, in their honor.

It isn’t the same, but what one meant for me was a prison sentence of obligation for them and I love them enough to believe they deserve the freedom they asked for.

I am not a victim, I am not perfect.

I am a woman.

I am a writer, a mentor and a wife.

My heart will forever love two daughters.

I was never really their mom.

That’s ok. I am ok. Five hundred times a day, when my gaze falls on a photograph or a memory comes to mind, I pray that they are ok too.

Ok, and happy, and free.

I never wanted to be a cage.

A powerful thing…

A million years ago, we crossed into a new millennium.

I found myself a twenty-three year old divorcee with a trail of miscarriages, health issues and heartbreak in the jet streams behind me. Because I’d become a wife so young, and essentially achieved grown-up status as a child, in many ways it felt like I was beginning my life again.

With all of the change, why not add in my first solo-cross country move? I took a position in rural Kentucky and a Greyhound took me on the thirty-six hour adventure to my new life.

Prior to this unexpected chapter, I had always been the girl who prided herself on having an easier time forming friendships with guys, over girls. Sure, I’d had girlfriends, but I found it so much easier to be real with my guy friends. And then, suddenly I was in my new life, making new connections and friendships.

FORTUNATELY for me, the housing situation paired me with the sweetest girl, who I am still so grateful to call one of my dearest friends. Because we worked such long, and often opposite, schedules- it wasn’t super regular that we hung out. Quite often, the early foundation of our friendship was laid, brick by brick, around our shared kitchen table over Kraft mac and cheese, with music videos in the background and generic soda. We learned not only to laugh, and share, together- but I learned to heal and grow though that.

A few times, our days off aligned and we were able to take the winding mountain roads into town for a meal and some shopping. On one of these particular trips, normal for most girls but so foreign and mysterious for me, she mentioned needing lipstick.

I did not wear lipstick. In fact, I wore minimal make up. I didn’t love it, I didn’t understand it. I had never had anyone show or explain much of it, to me. I knew that my mother was glamorous and all about beauty, when she was in the mental health headspace to care about such things, but I’d left home long before I would have any interest in such things…

At some drug store, in small city Kentucky, my adorable friend Laura taught me about lipstick. She taught me about color matching, to the back of my hand, and about how a good lip color can bring with it the power to change an entire day.

Over the course of our months living near each other, this special girl would become the first deep female friendship I’d really know. She held my secrets and listened to the things. She would co-carry the load of inside jokes and sway with me to the rhythm of Dave Matthews, which was the very first magical thing to bond us. She would read a hilarious book, and then loan it to me so that we could swoon and talk about the same things. There are a thousand things my friendship with Laura shaped about my life, and the chapters of life that would unfold. I remember so much of it, etched clear as day, in my soul. The most prominent of memories though, is that Tuesday afternoon in the make-up aisle.

The truth us, a good lip color can deeply impact a lot of things, but the pure & honest friendship and support of another woman has the power to change the world.

I tell this story in this week’s episode {76} of the Collective. That is about the extent of what I bring to the table really, because our guest Katie Allen is an absolute FORCE and as she shared about reconnecting with herself, (and lipstick, I won’t lie) I was happy to just absorb her awesomeness. Women supporting women is a powerful thing!

and here we are…

A month ago I launched a mini, limited-run series on my podcast.

A month ago I prepared to celebrate turning 44.

I was hosting a giveaway for movie tickets and, for the most part, one month ago it was business as usual… We knew what the news was saying, and we heard what others were warning. It is so easy though, to live in a state of voluntary tunnel vision, isn’t it?

We human beings can pretend really well.

I was among the many, who grew more anxious about impending March changes, and yet somehow still felt blindsided when reality, Shelter in Place orders and infected numbers continued to rise…

Season three of our show was set to premiere mid-april. A powerhouse of a virtual conference was being designed for a few days later. Enthusiasm for both things was HIGH. Despite the looming threats, we had no idea how that would impact us, and how could we? The only thing we’d ever seen, remotely like the world suddenly feels, today, played out on the big screen.

When I line up guests and topics, for the show, I take a pretty organic approach. I usually follow the opportunities that come my way and seldom have to chase down a person. The upcoming season three was no exception. Most guests were scheduled and confirmed, by Thanksgiving. We were set to begin recording in March. It had all gone together so smoothly, it was easy to feel a sense of accomplishment as the calendar turned…

Ironically, there were several mental health experts, therapists and coaches lined up. As my team and I connected, via zoom, to meet our guests, mini therapy session began to unfold. While taking care of families, responsibilities, our lives and going through the minute-by-minute changes the world was sending our way- we were there on screen together, processing with experts along the way.

It was hard, and awkward, cathartic, vulnerable and all around necessary. Unplanned by us at all, we have weeks of conversations with really strong women, unfolding on the show. It’s amazing really, and humbling as I am once again seeing how important this journey is…

This week’s new episode is with Nicole Burgess. She is a psychotherapist, introvert empowerment coach and also has an awesome podcast! Within her interview the one thing you can expect is several jewels of wisdom and perspective. Nicole said so many healing and healthy things that I am sure you can hear me scribbling notes in the background.

Towards the end of this powerful episode, Nicole challenges us to determine an action step that we can do each and every day. I’ll admit, such a simple directive can be incredibly powerful during this season of uncertainty and self-isolation. (On her website, she has the opportunity for a free workshop that is also timely and relevant.)

Come listen to Episode 71, and learn along side us, better ways to get through this season, but also to give us essential items for our tool box of the future.

p.s. four…

Some days, I hate you. Some days, I wish you were something different. I cannot control you. Like the tides, you are unpredictable and change whenever you please. You are sensitive and easily irked. But other days…most days, I adore you. You are a part of me. You make me who I am. Set me apart from fifty per cent of the world and join me with the other half. You are the source of life. You make me feel both empowered and vulnerable. A channel of desire. A passage of two ways; giving and receiving. You cause me such anguish and distress and yet bring me indescribable pleasure. You are completely unique to my person, a part of me only I know. 

You’ve been with me through it all. Through every change that has evolved us into the woman we are today. But you have betrayed me in the past. Seen fit to humiliate me and trick me some days, leaving rose-red brands on my skin and clothes. Because of this, I felt ashamed to be one with you. And other times, I’ve felt fearful to call you mine. 

Weak and exposed. You are the constant reminder that I am different. As we grew, I came to realize that this part of me that stays hidden unless I want it to be seen can be wielded like a weapon. I blamed you for feeling frightened in the dark streets walking home alone. You became my Achilles’ heel; the thing that set me apart and left me open for attack. And one day, you didn’t belong to me at all but to someone else entirely. 

For a long time, I didn’t trust you. We became disconnected and I felt resentful towards you. For if you weren’t a part of me, I would never have been hurt. But time heals wounds and time helped me realize that it wasn’t your fault at all. It isn’t what’s between my legs that makes me different. It isn’t what makes me weak or what led to my trust being betrayed. You never betrayed me. If anything, I betrayed you. 

Truthfully, neither of us is to blame. Not me, young and naïve. And not you, an innocent participant that was abused. You do not make me vulnerable. It is the world around us that has made me think that. Made me think I need to feel ashamed of you. Society’s atrocious standards and victim- shaming agenda. It has made us believe that you are the problem. That the crown at the base of my thighs is my weakness. They lie. 

This part of me is strength. You can bleed for seven days and survive. You can give birth to life and thrive. You can be betrayed and stay alive. I will not be ashamed of you any longer. I will not be made to feel that you and I ever need to part. You are what makes me different. You and your idiosyncrasies. What you want is what I want. To be appreciated and adored. To be respected and never be ignored. I won’t let the world tell me that I am less because of you. I won’t let another person use you against me. I will never be ashamed of my strength again. You are perfect just the way you are. We’re in this together, Vagina. We are one and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

{This post is part of a series of anonymous submitted letters both written here, and read via the Collective Podcast limited series: PostScript.}