Tuesday, May 2, 2017

first Tuesdays

I attend monthly lectures on spirituality put on by the Loyola Institute for Ministry and hosted at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, one of the most beautiful and holy spaces I've ever experienced. I've heard some really powerful thoughts from people of all faiths over the past few years, and I enjoy the fellowship and perspective it gives me in the middle of my work day.



At the end of today's lecture, the Ignatian priest asked us, "When did you feel God today? Where have you seen God in your life today?"

Admittedly, I have not been much focused on today. I had a huge Board meeting yesterday, and tomorrow is my stepdaughter's birthday. I had 13 Board packets and a testimony to prepare yesterday; I have 29 people dining in my home tomorrow.

So I hadn't given much thought to today. I got through emails and text messages this morning. I made myself breakfast and drank lots of water. I got makeup on. I got to my lecture on time, walking by new construction in the Quarter to see how it was going.

I honestly didn't find much about the conversation today compelling until the priest posed those two questions. And then, suddenly, today started to mean something more than GiveNOLA Day. It meant more than a gateway from yesterday's challenges to tomorrow's celebration.

I have not felt God in this damn cold that won't quit me or Beau. I definitely don't see God when I look at our mountains of used Kleenex. And I'm not sure where God fits in to this scenario, but we haven't kissed on the mouth in days.

But I feel God every morning I get to wake up beside the person I love most in this world. I see Her in the sunshine and low humidity of early May. I feel Him in my ability to walk to my meetings.

I see God in the police officers I communicate with almost daily, as they try to protect our community... but I don't see Her when I hear about the rape of a mentally incapacitated woman.

I tried to help a friend see God in me by stealing her away for afternoon coffee and listening to her cry. I try to show God to others in the way that I laugh and forgive and connect... even if that means tracking down RSVPs at the last minute.

I did not feel God in the two giant spills/messes I made tonight or when I snapped at my husband for something really dumb or when I blew my nose for the 87th time today... but I think She was there for dinner on our back patio, surrounded by our garden at sunset.

I see God in my stepdaughter: her sheer joy, her solitude, her empathy.

And I will make a more conscientious effort to feel and see God in my every day, in the mundane, in the work and the blessings and the laughter, in the low grade fevers and the perspective of strangers, in the tears I've been entrusted to witness, and in the patience and grace my husband grants us.

The sun rises, and the sun sets. It's up to us to be honest with ourselves about how we can love our neighbors best, one day and one moment at a time.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

those who save us

(originally posted May 2, 2016)

My beau has a daughter. She doesn't remember a time in her life when I was not a part of it. She calls me her stepmom. Her friends and her friends' parents and my friends call me her stepmom. I could be. I should be. 

But it's not all cupcakes and champagne. 

As I said goodbye to one of my Board members one afternoon this week, I wished her happy Mother's Day if I didn't see her before then. She said, "Same to you."

It makes me feel like a fraud. I feel embarrassment, shame, and all other manner of self-deprecating emotions that are largely uncommon in my life when people wish me a happy Mother's Day. It's a ridiculous reaction. Nia Vardolas, the actress in/writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, wrote an amazing book, Instant Mom, about her journey towards motherhood that included adopting a child from the American foster care system and argued that "If you've wiped a butt, you're a mom."

N'est-ce pas? 

I rationally know that I matter to my beau's daughter. I rationally know that she loves me and enjoys spending time with me and admires me and considers herself my daughter. I rationally know that the day will come--and, at this rate, soon!--when she tells me with so so so so so so much anger that I am not her mother. To which I will respond, "but I *am* your parent."

When it comes to how I parent, I feel like I am constantly questioning myself. Especially lately, because the lessons on how and why to wear socks are far easier than the lessons on how and why to empathize. The tantrums that she mostly missed in her second and third years have arrived with foot stomps, exclamations of "I'm so so so so so so angry!", and slumping onto the floor in protest. Sometimes I wonder how we got a teenager trapped in a kindergartner's body.

I cannot imagine a circumstance when I get to spend Mother's Day with her. My brother got married last year on the night before Mother's Day, and that Sunday at brunch, everyone was wishing the women happy Mother's Day. Except not one person said it to me: no one in the family I was born into, no one in my new family, no one in the family I have created. 

And I felt like a fraud for being bothered by it.

I feel a constant search for validation: even though her father and I aren't married (yet? ever?) and that I didn't give birth to her, I desire a sense of belonging to a club I haven't biologically joined. The other female caregivers whose children are in her class have been really accepting of me; they offer advice whenever I ask, they encourage me via text message, and they refuse to let me belittle myself because I'm "just" a stepmom. They help me realize that all of us are questioning ourselves all the time, even the ones whose bellies and thighs and breasts stretched in ways mine haven't (yet? ever?). These neighbors and strangers recognize that beau's daughter and I love each other and that I put great purpose into always putting her best interests first. 

Which is one reason why I laugh at her when she gets alligator tears over having to choose which uniform to wear to school: validating her ridiculousness is not in her best interest.

So, this Mother's Day, I am going to try to put all of my ridiculousness away. I'm going to be grateful for my own biological mother and all of the other female caregivers and friends who have been the village that raised me. I'm going to be grateful for all of the female caregivers who have helped me improve as a mother. I'm going to be grateful for beau for being a wonderful partner and for sharing his beautiful and sweet daughter with me, for entrusting me, for loving me. 

Because embarrassment, shame, and all other manner of self-deprecating emotions are not in my best interest. I am not a fraud; my love for beau and his daughter is not a fraud. And it's in my best interest to find gratitude and grace today and always.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sinatra

Old blue eyes croon/swoon
Luck be a lady tonight:
Be mine, forever.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

my girls

I have never wanted bridesmaids. Even as a child, it seemed like a not very nice thing to do to people who are supposedly your best friends.

And then I grew up and had it affirmed approximately 27 times that it is not a very nice thing to do to people who are supposedly your best friends. It's expensive and time consuming. It is often humiliating. [Cue the bridesmaids' luncheon I attended where the mother of the bride described my hair as a frizzy perm (because it was August!) and accused me of having collagen lip implants (false).] It requires you to get on stage in a costume you probably aren't comfortable with and recite lines you haven't memorized, wearing stage makeup that sometimes you've had to pay for yourself.

But, in one of our first compromises, Beau said I needed a bridesmaid. He said it would look dumb for us to stand up there by ourselves, and it made sense to have someone to hold our rings and the flowers... and he's right.

So then I had to choose a person. This gave me a lot of anxiety, because I have a lot of beautiful, talented, supportive women in my life who love me really, really well... and choosing one of them wouldn't be fair to any of them.

Case in point: I have 16 other females getting their hair and/or makeup done with me the morning of my wedding.

I don't have a sister. I don't have a best friend from third grade, although the two best friends I had in third grade are still my friends, and one of them will be present. My college roommate/sorority little sister is swamped with a career and family in another time zone; she's never met Beau.

But I do have a female cousin with whom I have always been close, so she was a natural choice. Carolyn lived in Austin while I did, and we saw each other frequently. I have traveled internationally with her. We have each spent time with every idiot the other has dated, going back 20 years. I gave a great toast at her wedding and then shared the honeymoon suite with her the night before her wedding. I have had more slumber parties with her than any other female.

When I called to tell her I was engaged, she was already happy crying when she answered the phone. When I asked if she'd be our best maid, she screamed "of course!!!!!"

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is, "How many girls do you have?"

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about my girls, the day after several of them threw me a bridal shower.

Brooke is my oldest (longest) friend in the bunch. We both attended Wake Forest but didn't meet until after graduation, when we were both being 23-year-old idiots in Washington, DC. We were making no money and spent a lot of Friday nights consuming pizza and two buck chuck on her couch. This worked out really well, because both of us like mushroom pizza and cheap wine; we would rather have been with each other than the ridiculous men the greater DC area offered as dates. One night, she programmed herself into my phone as "hotilishous." That's what her contact name remains. Her husband described me as the person Brooke would call if she needed to hide a body. Totally accurate, and it goes both ways. She arrives in New Orleans on her birthday, four days in advance of the wedding to help out wherever she can. She's throwing a luncheon for me on the Friday before we get married (you know, what would be the traditional bridesmaids' luncheon) and has been an absolute joy to vent to, because we have essentially the same sense of humor/sarcasm.

Brittany is my newest (and youngest!) friend in the bunch. She is my current work wife, as we see each other nearly every day for work and, if not, then for coffee. She got married in the French Quarter in August 2015 and has been an invaluable asset to me as I navigate the logistics of getting married in New Orleans. She's also very fashionable and opinionated, which helps when making nearly any decision.

Joy is my previous work wife. She is the Executive Director of CASA New Orleans, and I was the Executive Director of CASA Jefferson. We didn't know each other before I started working there, but we immediately liked each other and had standing meetings every other Thursday afternoon. She helped me write our major funding grant not quite three months into my position while her husband literally nursed Beau, who had just gotten out of the hospital with six broken ribs and two broken bones in his hand. Yes: I had *just* met these people, and they were in my home helping me through one of the most difficult times in my career/life. And, afterwards, they took home a load of our laundry to clean! There has never been a time when I have needed Joy that she hasn't made time for me; she often shows up often before I even ask for her help, usually with booze or flowers or both.

Julia has seen it all. I thought about this yesterday as I stood at her kitchen island, where I have stood 100 times before celebrating 100 different things, big and small. One of the first times was when she was distracting me with cheese and wine while my ex-boyfriend moved his stuff out of my house. Then she kept making me come over, even though the last thing I wanted was food or company, for the next couple of months. Her parents have included me in their Thanksgivings and birthdays. When my mother asked me if I had put together a vetting committee for my next boyfriend, I nominated Julia as President. She is judgmental but fiercely loyal. I've visited three time zones with her; we've shared clothes and more bottles of wine than anyone need count. She told me she couldn't let me get married without a shower, so she galvanized my other New Orleans' girls and hosted 20 women, many of them strangers, in her home. That's who she is: a generous host, a rallying cry, a champion for the people she loves.

Maggie and I met in the all-girls dance troupe we were both members of. Both of us have chosen terrible men as partners (although *fingers crossed* that phase of our lives is over!); both of us have experienced similar professional challenges; both of us love to travel, learn, adventure; both of us practice yoga and spend a lot of time self-reflecting; both of us feel a lot of guilt for being so far from our families, but both of us have parents who visit often. When Beau and I talked about someone to read at our wedding, we wanted someone who believed in the same kind of God that we do. Maggie was the immediate choice. She loves her neighbors in ways the rest of us should strive towards.

Meredith was my grad assistant at Tulane, and then we learned we were both in the same sorority alumnae group, and then we learned that we were both in the Junior League, and then we learned that my best maid was her best friend in elementary school. Obviously, the universe meant for us to be friends. (She has also worked for me in two capacities since Tulane.) She is one of those people who says yes to everything and somehow manages to diminish none of it. She uses her talent to improve her community, of which I am blessed to be a small part. She excels in making everything feel like a celebration, proving that every day is a holiday. She defines commitment, and I am grateful to be one of hers.

They are all strong, smart, amazing women. They have all held integral behind the scenes roles in creating the woman I am today, supporting my relationship with Beau, and this wedding. I couldn't be more excited for them all to meet, to celebrate with them, to laugh too hard.

May they, and the world, always know how special they are to me.

Friday, November 18, 2016

honeymoon

Our engagement will be fewer than four months. It has been incredibly intense to plan a wedding, which ends up being more than one day and more than one party. 

So we're going to wait to take our honeymoon. We'll recuperate energy and funds. We'll have more time to accrue vacation days.

And I really love to plan. I especially really love to plan travel. And I honestly haven't had time to plan it the way I'd like, so we readily decided to put off fleshing out all the details.

We need to go somewhere Zika-free and within the United States; we always want to go somewhere with a direct flight. 

So we decided on the American Southwest. Parts of it will be new to both of us: I went to the Grand Canyon when I was 15, and Beau went to Santa Fe as an adult and claims it is the most sacred place he's ever been. So we'll experience new things together and share others. Our favorite.

We'll fly to Phoenix and rent a car, driving through Sedona and Flagstaff before heading along Route 66 to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, then conclude our ventures at a spa near Phoenix. (The only reservations we have are hotels, because that's as much planning as I had energy for.)

best

Settle in, reader. I'm about to throw out some theories that are not commonly accepted.

I love Beau. I will love him forever. We are well suited for each other. We're a good fit in each other's lives and, if I may be so bold, in each other's families.

He is not my soulmate.
And I'm not his.
And we're both fine with this.

Remember how Grey's Anatomy taught us we all had a person? As in, "you're my person."

We are certainly each other's people in the way that we can depend on each other for big and small things. We have a partnership I am really proud of.

But we aren't soulmates.

Beau's soulmate is his best friend. They were college roommates. They talk all day, every day. His best friend lives two time zones away; I've never met him, but I certainly feel like I already know him.

He's our best man. Beau said he wouldn't feel married without his best friend as his best man. I had to get myself a best maid because Beau said he couldn't get married without his person at the altar with us.

My person, for as long as I can remember, has been my grandmother.

And she's another topic for another post. She's the elephant in the room of this #emmy30.

Because she has chosen not to attend our wedding.

I asked my cousin to be my best maid not only because she's the closest thing I have to a sister, but because she will understand better than anyone that I need someone to stand beside me and make sure that I don't fall apart in our grandmother's absence, that the grief doesn't overwhelm me, that I remain focused on marrying the person I love most in the world.

I am grateful she said yes.

page 423

Today we had our second (of three) counseling sessions with our priest. We went through the liturgy that will be used during our ceremony (and nearly all Episcopalian weddings).

He started out by asking how we were feeling, and we both answered variations of "overwhelmed' and "stressed," and then Beau realized the priest was asking if we still wanted to be married.

Oh. Yes!

At which point we discussed how we felt we had been planning our marriage for a long time, and the wedding is just the first day of it, and we hope our lives together will span several decades.

So then it was on to the liturgy. He warned us that very few people follow along in the Book of Common Prayer (beginning on page 423), which is so strange to me. There's a whole book sitting in the book rail in front of you with nearly every word of the ceremony... don't you want to know when it's your turn to chime in? To kneel? To sit?

Or at least how many more pages until you board a bus and head towards champagne?

We talked through the vows and the prayers. The priest had advice on how to not cry through the entire ceremony, which is especially helpful because Beau and I are both major weepers.

We're having one hymn (sung by our beautiful and talented friend Christian Sineath) and one reading. We are not having Communion. The homily will be brief, as the priest seems to understand that while everyone is excited for us to join our lives to each other and God, he's standing between us and what we all hope is the best party you've ever attended.

May there only be happy tears.