Wednesday, September 6, 2017


I was at the farm when I got the email, which is remarkable in that my reception at the farm is always spotty so I don't usually bother checking much.  When I saw the sender and the subject title (re: your submission) my heart leapt and I rushed to open it, praying the few bars I had would be enough for the content to load.  It was and as I scanned over the words of the message I found myself smiling despite what those words said.  It was a rejection letter.  My first rejection letter.

Well, to be clear this wasn’t my first rejection letter of all time.  I’ve received plenty of those.  In fact, there were a few weeks in 2001 when I received a string of rejection letters from almost every college I applied to.  Even the mailman started giving me sympathetic looks as I hopefully awaited his arrival.  This email was my first rejection letter for a writing submission.  And while outwardly I received that solid, unmistakable “no,” inside I was warm and even unmistakably happy.  

I’d thought about submitting pieces to magazines and online publications forever.  I’d toy with the essay contest for Real Simple each month, spend an inordinate amount of time researching “how and where to submit writing samples," think about what I’d write and where I’d submit it, sometimes actually start said submission but never, ever did I actually write, edit, finish and submit any of my writing.  

I don’t even remember exactly what was the catalyst for this submission.  For months I’d been circling the 15th in my calendar each month as a reminder that this was the deadline for submissions to a particular online magazine.  Each and every month the 15th would pass and I would fail to send anything, worried that whatever I’d been working on wasn’t quite “right” for their site.  I do remember, when I finally did finish something, thinking, this may not be quite what they’re looking for, but screw it.  Send it anyway.  And before I had a chance to overthink it or back out, I did.

And, a few weeks later I heard back from them.  The response to my very attempt at the sacred act of “putting yourself out there” in this area of my life was a resounding (but very kind and polite) no.

And so, in the face of that first rejection I became surprised at the overriding emotion of… pride.  I wasn’t upset at being told “thanks, but no thanks.”  Instead I was proud that I’d had the courage to follow through and submit something in the first place.  Instead of deleting that email, dejected, I smiled a little to myself and saved that sucker, proof that I’d been brave and vulnerable and lived to tell the tale.

In his memoir “On Writing” author Stephen King writes about how he used to stick all of his rejection letters to a nail in his wall and that by the age of 14 he’d had to upgrade to a spike because the nail could no longer support the weight of all those letters.  By the age of fourteen he’d had the courage to submit enough work that a nail couldn’t hold all the proof of his chutzpah!  I marveled over this story when I read it and committed to racking up at least a few more rejection emails.

I now have a file, nested under Personal in my complex and numerous gmail label system, entitled “rejections!” It looks just like that, too, with the ! serving as a reminder that these emails are exciting!  They are not rejections, but rather marks of your daring, your chance taking, your “putting it out there-ness”!  Collect them happily because it means you are trying.  In 2018 I just may set a goal for myself to receive a certain number of those emails.

This is easy to say, at the beginning of this journey.  When that file has accumulated hundreds of “thanks, but no thanks” emails, I may not be so cheerful about my rejection epiphany.  Be careful what you wish for and all that jazz.

But I am careful about what I’m wishing for.  I’m wishing to be brave and bold.  I’m wishing to follow through on long held dreams.  I’m wishing to show up and do the work for the work’s sake.  I’m wishing to put myself out there a bit more, to dare and chance and dream.  And so if all I end up with is an email file filled with receipts that I tried and took a risk I will still have gotten what I wished for.

And so, fellow dreamers, this one is for you.  Could we do this?  Can we wear letters of rejection as badges of honor, a testament to our bravery?  Can we face the fear and celebrate when we survive that of which we were so afraid?  What are your "rejection letters" and how can you flip the script on them?  

Let’s do this, friends.  Make your own rejections! pile and let them stack up, smiling with each one.  Follow in the footsteps of Stephen King and really rack ‘em up, high-fiving your chutzpah along the way.  Let’s try something, be brave, put ourselves out there and fail.  And then let’s happily get up and try again. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Few Good Books: June and July

Oh hey there.  It's been a minute hasn't it?  July was basically a blur of airports and adventures and laundry and repacking for more adventures (so basically it was my favorite month ever :) ).  I will say my reading has taken a hit this summer.  There are so many children around right now.  And there are so many adventures to be had.  So I got a bit less read in July and I’m not on track to change that in August.  But a bunch of what I did read was awesome.  And the rest wasn’t terrible.  

Since I missed posting about my June reading in July I’m going to cover the best of June and July today.  As always, I’m linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s monthly quick lit post.

Here’s the rundown of June and July:

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
Underground Airlines by Ben H Winters
The Dry by Jane Harper
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
Every Wild Heart by Meg Donahue
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel
A year of Living Danishly by Helen Russel
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I See You by Clare Mackintosh

The Best:

The premise of Underground Airlines is that the civil war never happened and slavery still exists in modern day America in four states, known as the hard four.  It was so uncomfortable and, frankly, unsettling to see our modern day government systems and conveniences within the back drop of slavery.  The book follows a black slave catcher who is on the hunt for an escaped slave, trying to infiltrate an abolitionist group along the way.  The story itself is riveting, fast paced, and intense but it was the premise itself and the ease of which slavery could still exist in this modern world that haunted me.  I couldn’t stop thinking about this one and recognizing the ways our laws and systems still protect other injustices.

Lincoln in the Bardo was one of the buzzed about books and when I heard that the audiobook included an all star cast (featuring prominently my favorite couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally) I knew I wanted to listen to this one.  It took me a beat to get into this book, it was so outside the norms of literature in many ways, but I love what Saunders did.  It’s part play, part novel, part history lesson, poetic and beautiful.  It explores the period of time after Abraham Lincoln’s son dies, imagining him encountering the spirit of his dead son in this middle place between life and death.  I’d highly recommend the audiobook, but you may need a copy of the physical book nearby at first to understand exactly what’s going on (I did).

This is How it Always Is was one that a number of people with fabulous taste had been recommending on line or in person.  I’m so glad I read it.  I think this may be a good book to go into with very little knowledge about the story so all I will say is that its characters are so beautifully and realistically drawn, the unravelling of the story so honestly and powerfully revealed and the interpersonal dynamics among the family members so authentic and loving that I felt like I knew these people and I was a friend on their journey with them.  It made me think, lay down assumptions and grew my empathy, just like all good books should.

I’d had Hillbilly Elegy on my list for a long time but kept avoiding it for some strange reason.  I’m sorry that I did, because this was a beautiful story that I couldn’t put down.  Vance tells his life story with such love and care for the people and place that raised him without denying the complicated and conflicting aspects of them both.  As a reader you can disagree with the characters he draws while still loving them fiercely as Vance did.  It helped me understand large areas of our country that I’ve been wrestling with lately.  I very much appreciated and respected the way Vance told this story; he honored the best of his community while still calling out the worst, doing so in a way that set him firmly within the community, not as an outsider pointing fingers at a problem.  His voice and leadership is remarkable and I hope we hear more from him.

The Hate U Give will definitely be on my best books of the year list.  I am obsessed with this story.  The characters in this are so incredibly and authentically written that I found myself so sad to leave them when I got to the last page.  I read this book in about two days.  Main character Starr is a teenage girl who walks in two worlds, the upper class white community of her private prep school and the urban, black, more impoverished community she lives in.  She finds herself thrown in the national spotlight and drawn to activism when she witnesses her unarmed friend shot by a cop.  The story is relevant, nuanced, and engrossing.  It’s technically YA, but this should be required reading for everyone.  I can’t recommend it more highly or enthusiastically.

Almost Missed You was an engrossing tale about a husband who disappears with his son, leaving behind a wife to unravel the secrets he’d been keeping about his past.  The Dry was a really good murder mystery set in the Australian outback.  Talking as Fast as I Can is Lauren Graham’s memoir about her career with a focus on her time shooting the Gilmore Girls reboot.  Graham is a pretty good writer (did you know she has a fiction novel out??) and I super enjoyed this peak behind the scenes of one of my favorite shows.  Every Wild Heart follows a mother and her teenaged daughter in this equal parts mystery and love story.  It was an easy, fast read that tied up a little too neatly at the end.  Into the Water is the newest work from The Girl on the Train writer Paula Hawkins.  It was a great story and definitely in the same vein of Girl on the Train, but not earth shattering.  I’ll probably give A Year of Living Danishly its own post because I have a lot of thoughts on this one.  A british woman moves to Denmark with her husband and spends the year trying to discover why the Danish are considered the happiest people in the world.  I See You is another new one out by the author of I Let You Go, a novel who's surprise twist had me gasping out loud.  This was another great psychological thriller that had me turning the pages as fast as I could.

That's a lot of words about two months of reading (so much for Quick Lit!).  I can't wait to hear what you've been reading!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A God Thing

I’m a bit of a skeptic at heart when it comes to “God signs.”  That phrase alone makes me cringe (along with its sibling “God thing”) and I have always had a hard time claiming with any amount of certainty that something was a sign or word from God.  

I used to think this was an indication of one of my many shortcomings.  If I just had more faith I could speak confidently of what I knew God was trying to communicate.  If I was a better Christian, God would make himself known more clearly.  If I read the bible/prayed/fasted/devoted myself more, I could use language of certainty.  If only I was more, then those “God signs” would be real.

Sometimes I still believe this.

But I’ve also been around long enough to see how people manipulate these signs from God.  How they speak with such certainty about things that are not certain.  How their “God signs” were often things that they wanted to see or happen. Or to serve as proof of their very “in-ness.”  We Christians are very good at speaking what we want to believe as though it were sound truth.

If I have to err on either side of this conundrum I think I would rather err on the side of skeptic.  I don’t want to be cynical, but I’d rather not feel like everything must be a sign from God in order for it to warrant merit.  And also, if I’m being real honest here, I’m just not confident enough to say with any amount of certainty that something is from God.  Maybe that reveals a weak faith, or maybe wisdom from years of witnessing the voice of God sound an awful lot like whoever is speaking on His behalf.  Probably a little of both.  

And yet still I feel like maybe the spirit is nudging me to be more open to naming God’s work.  Maybe I can acknowledge deep in my heart movement I hope to be of God.

I have two red headed babies.  They have the kind of red hair that stops people in their tracks.  It is truly beautiful hair.  Everyone always asks, “Where on earth does it come from?”  My husband and I are both brunettes through and through.  Neither of us has the fair complexion or ginger roots that would naturally be inclined to produce such vivid red hair on a kid.

For a long time I would answer that question with a simple “my side of the family.”  This is certainly true; my dad, sister and brother all have heads of different shades of ginger.

But I’m never telling my whole truth when I answer this question.  What I want to say when people inquire about their red hair is much more vulnerable.  I want to say, “I think their hair comes from my dad.  I think it’s a sign from God for me to trust that my dad in heaven and God is still good.  Because my first two babies have honey colored and dark brown hair but then, when I was pregnant with this third baby, my dearly loved, red haired dad unexpectedly died and the effects of this tragedy took a toll on my faith and my understanding of God.  Then, six months later, I gave birth to a little red haired anomaly and it felt a little kiss from my dad.  

Maybe it was from God, but it could have just as easily have been a nice coincidence.  

But then, sixteen months later I gave birth to another ginger haired baby and I wonder if surely this meant God was trying to tell me something, that this was more than just coincidence.  Maybe it is a sign.”

If it had just been Lou, the older daughter, I might have been able to convince myself that it was all just a lovely coincidence.  But then Rory came and two babies with the same hair color that is nothing like their parents but everything like their grandfather and maybe, just maybe it’s more.  

It could be a little piece of my dad in the babies he never got to meet.  Maybe it was God’s way of keeping my dad’s name on my tongue.  Whenever anyone asks where their unique hair color comes from I get to speak of my dad.  And I get asked that question multiple times a day.  Or maybe it’s a visual reminder of him I get to kiss and hug every day. 

But sometimes I wonder if it’s even more that that.  Maybe it’s a reminder of God’s love and care for me still.   A physical representation that God cares about me enough to send me a sign, an answer to the rawest and most vulnerable questions my heart holds.  These two babies and their unique hair color came during a season of my life when I so desperately needed to know that God was good.  Could God’s answer to the biggest questions and fears I have about Him lie in the hair atop my daughters’ heads? An answer I desperately need to hear?  Maybe it is a God thing…

I’m learning in this season to claim this truth with a little more certainty.  I could be wrong, sure.  But I’m tired of letting my fear of being wrong allow me to assume that God can’t or won’t move in my life.  I don’t want to stop looking for God’s hand because I’m afraid of placing too much significance on some innocuous seeming event.  I don’t want to be silent because I’m afraid to hope.

And while I will likely not go into this whole mess of theology and belief with the check out girl at Trader Joe’s each time I am asked about their hair, I will settle in a little more deeply in my heart my own truth about God’s work and his “sign.”  I will choose to believe this God thing…

Sunday, June 25, 2017

On celebrating your wheelhouse

This past winter I attended some meetings with friends I only see once or twice a year.  In the meantime we keep up with each other through social media, liking Instagram pictures and wishing kids happy birthday in comment sections.  Right before this particular trip I had posted something on Instagram about a “fancy party” my kids and I had as part of the Fun list we create twice a year (summer and winter).  The Summer/Winter Fun lists are just basically a handful of things my kids and I want to try and do during the season that we are in.  The things range from stuff that requires some planning on my part- go to an indoor waterpark, go to a baseball game- to stuff my kids do all the time but becomes special once its on the list- go to the pool, sit by the fire and look at our baby books.  Most of it is all stuff we’d be doing anyway.  It’s just a simple way for us to add a little adventure to our seasons and make the stuff we’d already do seem a bit more significant.  For me, nothing about the Fun Lists are difficult or hard.  They push me to do a few things I may have easily put off until it was too late to try, but by and large it’s all stuff the kids and I already look forward to doing.

last year's summer fun list
When I caught up with these friends at the annual meeting more than one made a point to mention my “fancy party” post and comment wistfully at “what a great mom” I was, implying somehow that I was going above and beyond in the parenting game.  The comments caught me off guard and made me uncomfortable.  I was being given far too much credit.  The fancy party was not an act of heroic “Mom-ness” on my part.  It consisted of letting my four year old pick out my entire outfit (gray vintage polka dot dress I wear to weddings, knee high heeled brown boots and the earrings I wore for my wedding), inviting a few friends over, putting a table cloth on our dining room table, serving left over desserts from a party we’d just had and letting the kids drink out of tea cups and glass mugs.  None of it was too much trouble and all of it made that dreaded 4-5pm hour go by much more quickly. 

the fancy party

Pushing my kid on the swing for more than three and a half minutes or doing some sort of complicated craft with them- those are heroic acts of Mom-ness.  When I post about those on social media I would like a parade thrown in my honor and some sort of gold medal.  Unfortunately I don’t post about those on social media because they don’t happen.  Ever.  

I follow a mom on Instagram who’s summer plan involves a different activity each day.  To share her fun she’s got hashtags for each day of the week (#makesomethingmonday, #tastytuesday, etc).  Her activities are things like creating fun snacks for the kids or art projects involving making homemade paint with food coloring, water and cornstarch and painting the driveway.  These are all things that make my skin crawl and leave me grumpy and stabby with my kids if I try to do them.  I scrolled through her pictures of kids happy and messy, enjoying the creative activities she’d not only thought up (or taken the time to look up on pinterest) but also prepared ahead of time and then had the wherewithal to capture photographic evidence of the activity (instead of spending the whole time supervising said activity mentally counting down the minutes it could be over while simultaneously preventing the kids from also painting themselves, the car, house and bikes, thereby sucking all fun out of the activity, as I would have done).  And I felt guilty.  I should do that kind of stuff for my kids.  I should get over my deep and abiding hatred of such activities for their sake so they can have fun memories of making messes and eating yogurt covered bananas dipped in chocolate chips they created themselves.

And then I remembered my conversation with my friend all those months ago.  And I had a moment of clarity.  These activities, the crafts and fun snacks, that’s probably fun for this Instagram mom, just like Fun lists and adventures are fun for me.  It probably doesn’t produce the urge to poke her eyes out or chew off her arm just to end the activity.  She’s probably not doing incredibly hard things she hates just for the sake of her kids in the same way that I’m not when we check off Summer Fun List items and have adventures.

I think it is a very common misconception when we see other parents doing the kinds of activities that we ourselves find hard/boring/frustrating/violence inducing.  We assume that they, too, feel that way about the activity but somehow overcome their aversion in a super human feat of self sacrifice for the kids.  We believe our own inability to sacrifice at this level makes us sub par parents and this causes us to discredit all the awesome things we are already doing because they may come more naturally to us.  Things that other moms might find hard/boring/frustrating/violence inducing.

I'd take this kind of crazy over blowing bubbles with the kids any day of the week 
For me, I get out of the house and do stuff with my four kids because between doing that and staying home with them, staying home is the more difficult thing.  I am not a homebody.  We go to the pool or visit parks we’ve never been to because I prefer that to staying home and doing arts and crafts projects or playing My Little Ponies with them for hours on end (or really for even just five minutes.  My Little Ponies suck.).  Other moms stay home and create cool pinterest worthy projects for their kids because that is much less difficult for them when faced with the thought of lugging three or four kids out in public.  I have a friend who has spent the last year creating awesome reading and writing activities every afternoon for her pre-k kid.  He’s a genius and will enter Kindergarten this fall more than a little prepared.  I wouldn’t know where to begin to create education activities for my 4 year old.  But my friend genuinely liked doing that sort of thing.  She used to be a teacher and this kind of thing is right in her wheelhouse.

I’m learning to celebrate the moms who are doing what is in their wheelhouse while also remembering that last part.  It’s in their wheelhouse.  And it doesn’t have to be in my wheelhouse.  And I’m giving myself just as much credit when I do the stuff that comes more easily to me.  Our kids don’t need us to do it all.  They need us to do the stuff that makes us come alive as parents, whether it’s getting out for adventures or creating beautiful crafts, cooking dinner together or homeschooling.  I’ve learned from experience that crafts are not fun when mom is tense and short fused the whole time.  Neither are adventures out.  The kids won’t know the stuff you didn’t do with them.  (They’re not on instagram.  They don’t even know that making your own paint with cornstarch and food coloring is a thing.)  They will remember the stuff you enjoyed doing with them.  So do that stuff with zero guilt about the rest.  Isn’t that more fun for everyone?
adventures make us both happy

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Few Good Books: May


Despite the insanity that is my life in May (or maybe, as a coping mechanism, because of it) I finished a new record of books last month.  Every single one would have been noteworthy in a different month, so narrowing down the top two or three is difficult.  But, we can do hard things, right?  So for this month’s Modern Mrs. Darcy Quick Lit link up I give you the very best of what I read in May (and some brief words about the rest).

First, the line up:

Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenrider
Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Hamilton the Revolution by Lin Manuel-Miranda and Jermey McCarter
El Deafo by CeeCee Bell
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

At Home in the World is Tsh Oxenrider’s second book, but my first encounter with her writing.  I’ve been listening to her podcast for a little while now and through the blogging world I knew that she and her family had taken a year long trip around the world (and lived to tell the tale!)  This book is just that tale.  I honestly hesitated to read it.  I’ve got some hardcore wanderlust right now and I was worried a book about a fantastic adventure globe trotting with three children would make me a little bitter.  I found it to be the exact opposite.  Oxenrider writes very honestly about the tension that exists between her adventure seeking traveler spirit and the root longing homebody that also lives in her.  She writes beautifully about all the amazing benefits of traveling like that with her family while also acknowledging that it is not perfect and it is not real life.  There were very real challenges that came with that experience, ones that were worth it, but challenges all the same.  This book made me start planning doable adventures my family could do now, and also appreciate the regular, everyday home life we’ve created for ourselves at the same time.  It was a quick read, a thought-provoking read, and I highly recommend it!

I heard about the premise of One True Loves described as “basically the story of Cast Away only he comes back before she gets married.”  I would add that it’s also told from the “Helen Hunt” point of view, as opposed to Tom Hanks.   Emma marries her high school sweetheart Jesse who disappears in a helicopter accident on their first wedding anniversary.  She returns home to put her life back together and ends up falling for an old acquaintance, Sam.  A few months before their wedding Jesse returns and Emma is left with a bit of a dilemma.  This was a page turner and I think I finished it in about three days, but I was surprised by how torn I was by her situation.  Reid does a good job of making it an impossible situation for all parties.  Based on the premise alone I assumed I would be rooting for the story to go one way, but Reid reveals the complexity of love, loyalty and death.  This one is a good summer read. 

So, El Deafo.  This book wrecked me.  I am obviously very invested in this topic, the story of a young girl who goes deaf at age 4 due to a bout with meningitis, and her subsequent years living in the hearing world with hearing aids, not quite in but not quite out.  This is CeeCee Bell’s true story, written in graphic novel form.  Liam and I read it together and I don’t have enough space here to fully convey how great of an experience it was.  Bell’s goal with this memoir was to express how it felt to be deaf in the 70’s in a hearing world.  And man, did she do a great job.  It opened up so many conversations for us, giving him some language and concrete stories to help him describe his experience.  I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to parents of kids with hearing loss (and the kids themselves!).

Dreamland Burning is my read of the month I think (which says a lot ‘cause this was a heck of a month).  This is technically a YA, but I think it’s a great read for all ages.  Set in Tulsa, OK the book flips back and forth between present day and 1921 in the days leading up to the Tulsa race riots.  I knew nothing about this tragic event in history, so everything about it was eye opening.  In 1921 the thriving African American community of Greenwood was burned to the ground by rioting whites.  There’s a mystery involving the discovery of a dead body that connects both storylines, as well as the reality of racism that may not have lessened as much as we’d like to believe from 1921 to present day.  This one stuck with me and I’ve recommended it more than once since finishing it.

The Gifts of Imperfection is one of Brene Brown’s earlier books.  It’s a short, quick read that I’ll probably return to again, as it’s a good reminder of the importance of leaning into vulnerability and honesty.  I picked up Be Frank With Me on a whim, to check of the “book you picked solely for the cover” category in my reading challenge.  I really loved it and the endearing character of the little boy Frank will stay with me for a while.  I’m making my way through the Anne of Green Gables series, reading the second book, Anne of Avonlea.  Anne is a little older and a little wiser but just as charming.  Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk was our book club pick this month and I was super delighted with it.  Lillian Boxfish is another endearing character and the book follows her as she walks the streets of Manhattan on New Year's Eve, 1985 reflecting on her life and career as the highest paid female ad exec.  That premise sounded stupid to me, but I promise it was really good!  Finally Hamilton the Revolution is really only going to be interesting if you are Hamilton obsessed like me.  It’s basically the book of lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical interspersed wth stories of how the show came to life and the players that made it happen.  The real gem for me were the many footnotes Miranda added to the lyrics pointing out the different easter eggs he’d created or giving background on particular references or lines.  I’m a theater nerd and I hardcore love Hamilton so naturally this was right up my alley.

That’s what I’ve got this month, friends!  Have you read anything good this month?

Friday, June 9, 2017


When my dad turned 50 my mom threw him a big surprise party.  Our backyard was filled with all the people who loved him: United coworkers, neighborhood friends, family.  My sister and I had been the decoy.  My mom sent us to Target with him and told us to stall as long as we could.  It turns out this is an easy task for two tweens.  We puttered around, going up and down every aisle, eventually hanging out in the bathroom for an insanely long time while my poor dad waited outside, his blood pressure slowly rising.  By the time we left he was seething but it was the only time I was not phased by his anger.  We were doing this for the greater good.

And it was all worth it when he rounded the corner behind our house and saw all the people who’d gathered to celebrate this milestone.  They had a funny tee-shirt for him and all sorts of “over the hill” paraphernalia.  He made his way around our backyard, in his element, laughing and greeting all his people.  Later they would all pass around a basket collecting cash for the parking ticket my mom had incurred in the chaos of trying to get everything done for the party.  The party, as all my parents’ parties did, lasted well into the summer night.

Celebrating birthdays wasn’t a thing we did very well for my dad, so that’s probably why the 50th stands out.  I have no idea what we did for his 60th.  I was wrapping up my time in New York, a month away from getting married.  Did his birthday get lost that year, wrapped up as we were in wedding planning?  I’m sure my mom and siblings had a dinner at home for him like always, but that was probably it.  

The only other birthday I remember for my dad wasn’t an actual birthday, but the acknowledgement of one.  Shortly after my dad’s 63rd birthday he was gathered in our kitchen with his older brothers.  I watched them quietly raise a glass of whisky, toasting their father, who had died at 62.  As the youngest, my dad was now the last one to make it past that cursed age.  Now all three men had celebrated the birthday their father never got to see and there was a murmured recognition of this birthday’s significance for my dad and for them all.  

Sometimes I wonder if one day my siblings and I will gather in the weeks or months after my youngest brother turns 67 to acknowledge that we made it, that we all passed that milestone my dad never did.

Today would have been my dad’s 70th birthday.  As I type those words, tears flood my eyes.  I'm heavy today, anxious and burdened.  Seventy seems particularly significant and, for the first time in a while, I find myself grieving a little more bitterly than usual over this missed milestone. It makes me sad that he never got to see this age, that I will never know what my dad was like in his seventies.  For whatever reason that number, 70, feels more significant than the other three birthdays we’ve marked without him.  

I wonder what we would have done today.  It’s easy to say now, on this side of knowing how quickly and without warning a life can end, that we would have planned a big celebration, another backyard blowout, a cake with 70 candles, and “really over the hill” decorations everywhere.  In all likelihood though, we would have done what we always did: dinner at my mom’s, a simple toast to my dad, and a few gifts.  Either way this longing, this longing to be able to mark in some large or small way my dad entering into a new decade, making it of another year older, this longing is crushing today.

I hate that I don’t know what my dad would be like in his seventies.  I hate that I can’t throw him a big party today, or at least share a pint of Guinness with him.  I hate that he is forever stuck at age 66 while time keeps moving.  The sun will rise and set on June 9, 2017 but this day won’t be the day we want it to be.  Instead it’s a “would have been” day.  The day my dad would have turned 70 if he’d made it that far.  The day we would have celebrated him wildly.

I haven’t had a day like this in a while.  A day of bitter, hot tears and sharp pangs of longing.  I don’t know why this particular milestone feels so hard today but it does.  I’m sad.  And kinda pissed.  Much of the past three and a half years of grieving my dad has involved deep sadness over the loss of all the good he encompassed, sadness over the people who won’t know him, over the ways we no longer get to experience his love and care.  Today, if I’m being really honest, I’m mostly just mad that he didn’t get to be 70.  That we don’t get to celebrate this passage of time with him.  It’s shitty and it sucks.

And I know days like this give me a choice.  I can let my heart stay hard and bitter in it.  I can stay mad and shake my fist at God for not letting my dad at least make it to 70.  Or I can let it teach me and grow me.  I can use it as a reminder that we are not promised milestones forever so we should celebrate the ones that come with abandon.  

I have chosen the latter as often as I can, and I know I will continue to do so today.  But I will also let myself sit in the anger too.  I will let myself long for what “would have been”, even if I know that longing can never be met.  The only healthy way around days like these are through them, through the truth of what is hard to the hope of the good that can be found in hard things.

I will get my dad’s favorite burgers for lunch and maybe even down the fries with a Guinness.  I’ll be with my mom and my sister tonight.  We’ll imagine what celebrating my dad’s 70th birthday would have looked like and we’ll be sad that this particular story will never be told.  And tomorrow will be a new day.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  70 would have looked good on you.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Few Good Books: April edition

On the fifteenth of the month I link up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and share the books I read the previous month.  I’ve made a concerted effort to read more this year, and I’m finding that keeping track of what I’ve read and sharing my favorites has helped make that possible.  (More thoughts on how I read more here.)  Plus, I love a good book talk. April was lost to disease in our house-everyone was sick more than once, including me.  The only plus to this kind of sick that keeps you horizontal is that you’ve got plenty of time to read, and read I did.  I made my way through some good ones this month.

The list:
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh
The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd and the Coffee + Crumbs team
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
A Movable Feast by Earnest Hemingway

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon is a delightful YA novel about two teens in New York City.  Natasha is an illegal immigrant, brought to the states at age nine by her parents, who is about to be deported back to Jamaica.  She meets Daniel, a Korean-American teen on the morning she is frantically trying every last ditch effort to stop her impending deportment.  The book follows the two throughout the day as they fall in love (as only two teens can in a few hours), fall apart and come back together.  The book also injects chapters from the point of view of the many people they encounter throughout the day.  It was a charming book with surprising depth about family, home, young love, and that universal truth that there is always more to people that what you see on the surface.  I really loved this book and would recommend it to teens and adults alike. 

R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is an upper grades children’s novel.  I picked it up because I’d heard great things about it, but also because I’d wanted something new to read with Liam.  Its main character, Auggie, is a young boy with severe facial deformities due to a genetic condition he was born with.  Auggie has been homeschooled his whole life but as the book begins we find that he’s about the start the fifth grade, middle school for this New York City school.  Auggie’s facial deformities are such that people react instinctually and poorly upon seeing him.  The book follows his fifth grade year as he makes friends, deals with bullies and adjusts to life in school, all told through the perspectives of Auggie and the people who surround him.  I loved this book and I loved reading it with Liam.  I’d intended to read it to him each night, but he was quickly hooked and went ahead without me.  This left us fighting for possession of the book regularly.  It was on the high end of Liam’s reading level and I’m glad I read it along side him because we were able to check in on comprehension stuff.  Plus, my book nerdery loves chatting books with my kid.  A super sweet book that gives kids a chance to practice empathy and understanding.  I loved it.

Before I’d even picked up I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh I knew it was a fast paced story with a twist “you never see coming.”  This meant, naturally, I was on high alert, my mind forming theory after theory as I read as to what this twist must be.  And even though I’d been warned, even though I’d been looking for it, there was indeed a twist that smacked me right in the face, so unprepared was I for it.  This is the story of a boy who dies in a hit and run, the detectives following the case, and how it all can change in a moment.  Mackintosh does a really good job with multiple perspectives.  It was well written, engaging and with a killer twist.

Coffee + Crumbs is a collaborative website with stories from motherhood.  This book, The Magic of Motherhood, is a collection of essays from the women who run the blog.  I caught wind of it because one of the writers, Anna Jordan, is the daughter of Ryann’s beloved pre-school teacher.  It is a beautiful book, both the writing and the images sprinkled throughout.  The essays are a great mix of voices and topics and I love that it covers all aspects of motherhood: from pregnancy through birth, joys and loss, biological, foster care and adoption.  You can find traces of your unique story in all aspects of this book.  It would make a great gift for a new mom, or an experienced one.  

A Rule Against Murder is the fourth in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series.  I’d heard that she hits her stride by the fourth book, each becoming better and I did find this one to be my favorite so far.  A Moveable Feast by Hemingway was our book club pick.  I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise, but I was glad I read it and terribly disappointed when the plague that was April kept me from book club that month to discuss it.  It was an interesting look at Hemingway’s life as an unknown writer in Paris.  The English major nerd in me loved seeing his encounters with other well known writers from that time.  It also made me want to pick up and move to Paris, but only if I could also go back in time to the 1920's.  The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Schumer’s first memoir, was interesting, insightful and funny.  I fell in love with Schumer when I saw her randomly on Ellen once, and I’ve long loved her stuff, relating to it in so many ways while also feeling like she is often on a different planet than me.  The book felt the same.  She is funny and smart and I inherently “got” her but also felt completely foreign from her.  Which, for me, makes it a great voice.

That’s what I had in April.  What are you reading?