Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On Being Vulnerable

Thanks to the Internet and social media, we now live in a world where our lives are on constant display (of course by our own choosing). It’s a territory that our generation is navigating for the first time in history- raising kids in the era of the Internet. I can’t help but think that this culture of show-off, do-more, glorify busy, and be picture-perfect doing it has an impact on our “IRL” (in real life) relationships too.

Vulnerability is already hard enough. Allowing another person to see some of your faults and realities is overwhelming because it opens you up to judgement. But when we’re used to being able to filter out all the junk, edit our image, and share only what we want on-line, I think our ability to practice vulnerability in relationships is even more challenging.

Ever since I was young I have struggled with the concept of vulnerability. But once, I graduated high school it became near impossible.  Prior to high school ending I felt the freedom to be myself- with all my faults, insecurities, and chaos- but once I left and moved onto college, university and graduate school, I felt like there was an unwritten rule that I had to have it all together. Coincidentally, this was also right around the time that Facebook was really taking off. I suddenly found that I was self-conscious in conversation, reluctant to share my fears, struggles, and realities even with my closest friends. THEN when I became a mom, it was like the universe doubled-down on the “must have it together” rule. I felt like I was supposed to raise the perfect kids, have the adorable home, be a great hostess, find success and fulfillment in my career, cultivate some hobbies, volunteer, stay fit, remain relevant, and do it all with a smile on my face and a sense of accomplishment when I laid my head down at night. But all it really left me was exhausted and longing for more. In the midst of trying to “do it all,” I felt like I couldn’t even tell my best friend that I had a bad day because admitting that I had a bad day might be admitting that I’m not as good or as capable as she thought I was or that the image I was trying to maintain would be damaged.
 The me that gets presented.  "She's got it together today". 
The me that sits here writing about vulnerability.    
      Feel honoured....not many see this side.                         

Here’s the deal- motherhood is hard. Relationships are HARD. Life is hard.  But, when we close ourselves off to key relationships, fail to share some of the truths in our lives, and isolate ourselves in an effort to maintain the perfect image, we run the risk of feeling very alone and very weary. I want to find freedom from this perfect image rat race. Freedom to be myself, freedom to celebrate other women right where they are at, freedom to own my emotions and my realities. And I want anyone reading this post to feel that freedom too.

So what can we do to start cultivating the art of vulnerable motherhood and womanhood?

Here are some things I am working on:
  1. Making time for in-person connection with my female friends– without kids! If you don’t have time with friends, how can you ever connect on a deeper level?
  2. Taking a risk and sharing something with a close friend that I am struggling with. Often I think relationships lack depth because both parties are scared to be the one to open up first. But the truth is, when we are able to be vulnerable, it frees others to follow suit. And whatever it is that is weighing on you- odds are your friend has experienced it too.
  3. Embracing myself and my life right where it is. Until I was able to sit down and accept how exhausted I was and how some of the things in my life were draining me, I wasn’t able to move forward. Own where you are so that you can make a plan for how to get where you want to be.
  4. Asking for help! I am terrible at this. We live in a culture that so values self-reliance that we have become awful at partnering together in life. 
  5. Practicing self-care. Developing deeper relationships is hard work, and sometimes it might feel awkward or exhausting especially if you are an introverted vulnerability-hater like me. Honour your need for alone time. Schedule time every week to do something for you- something you enjoy that is relaxing and that “fills your tank.”
  6. Telling people how much I value them. I can think of at least five people off the top of my head that I truly value.  I make sure that I tell these people from the very deepest and honest part of my being what they mean to me.  This could mean taking a few minutes to just encourage them- tell them they are a great mom or a beautiful woman, tell them that I value them as a person. In encouraging and celebrating others we are able to let go of some of our own pride, our own need to be recognized. And when we learn to celebrate others right where they are, we are better equipped to celebrate ourselves right where we are.
  7. Letting go of the mask.  You don't need to be perfect all the time.  Letting people see the tired and frustrated mommy, the friend that is hurt that you haven't made time, the girl that doesn't feel so independent, the woman who loves too hard-too soon, simply opens you up to be surrounded by people who love those things about you. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On Saying Good Bye

Sometimes I write things with the clearest picture in my mind of who I am writing for. It is like I can see you. You, with the red lipstick that you just got confident enough to start wearing. You, the one who doesn’t really understand the unique thing that people see you to be. I can see you sitting there. Reading me. And I search the ground, sort of like an Easter egg hunt, for the things I think you’d want to read.

And then sometimes I write something just so that I can go back and read it. Maybe once. Maybe twice. I write the words for myself, pretending that someone else is writing them for me. I do this strategically. I do this so that I don’t have to feel like the one who is alone– her hands full of unanswered questions– in the middle of something I don’t fully understand.

Goodbye is one of those things.

In my life I've collected enough life experiences to write this post as a self-proclaimed expert in the field of heart-breaking good byes.  I've said good bye to my mom while she was in a casket, and my dad over months of him withering away.  I've parted with friends with amicable "can't wait to see you's" and anger filled "Fuck-you's".  I've ushered out relationships with dying whispers and others with bursts of tears. I'm beginning to get the hang of this.  So, this post will be dedicated to the life lessons that the "Good-byes of 2015" have brought me.  

Good-bye is one of those things I don’t fully understand yet. I’m no good at it. I’d rather not go there. I’d find it better to beeline the whole entire thing. I don’t want to miss people. I don’t want to know they are growing in my absence.

That’s the secret pain of goodbye: people still have the permission to grow into their own skin without you. And that feels very strange. I’m tempted to just say, “No, you can’t. Please. Just don’t. Just stay as you are.” But that’s selfish. You don’t get to keep people, selfishly, just so you don’t have to be so fearful they’ll find a way to live without you.

The only thing I know for certain about this whole “goodbye” thing? You have to say it sometimes. You have to get real brave, and bite your bottom lip, and let people go sometimes. Fully, fully. Even when you don’t feel ready.

They always make the point of goodbye seem so romantic on the television.

Someone is always waiting by the airport terminal. Someone is always asking you to stay, hurdling suitcases so that they can clutch your face. I used to watch Dawson’s Creek and imagine I’d get to have all the long, gruelling departures one day, just like Joey Potter. I thought that would be the real golden duck of adulthood– when people found it terribly hard to release me.
It isn’t. And Joey Potter should have just been honest and told us all the truth,“Goodbyes suck. And there’s no eloquent way to say that. There is no poetic way to talk about ugly crying on someone’s nice shirt. There is nothing in the moment that makes walking away seem reasonable. It’s just hard.” You awkwardly just sort of hope that someone will tell you not to go. Because maybe you would listen to them. Maybe a big white poster board with the letters “STAY” written in black Sharpie would convince you to do just that. Just stay. For little while longer.

Goodbye is hard. Goodbye is the starting point you don’t see because the finish line is so piled high with tears and last words and fears that this– this thing you have right here– will never be the same. Don’t fear that. Don’t fear that because it’s already true. It won’t ever be the same. It could be over. It could be final. But it could be better than the two of you could ever predict. That could happen too.

And yes, it feels like something in the room is dead or dying or about to die. And the scary thing about that? That’s already true too.

Something is dying. We can’t even ignore it. It sounds so morbid but goodbye is really just admitting that something is dying. You two came together– for a month or for a year or for five of those years– and you built something. You breathed your whole little life into that thing. Your secrets. Your fears. Your laughter. All into that thing. That friendship thing, that “I’ve never really met someone like you” sort of thing. Then, out of nowhere, it feels like something comes along and lobs the whole thing into pieces. That’s what a goodbye will do.

Goodbye is the fear– temporary and real– that we’ve carried for years up until that one word– short & stout– made it all tip over and all pour out: I am afraid to leave. I am afraid to change. I am afraid to be vulnerable with you. I am afraid you'll abandon me.  Can you just keep me here? Can we never move? I’m afraid you will forget me and what we felt.

When I stood at the door to say goodbye, I muddied up the whole thing.

I let the fear speak louder than the genuine thing inside of me that knew goodbye was the only road to take.

“I hate goodbyes, I'm so fucking sick of them” I told him. “I’m sorry. I’m just so bad at them. I wish they didn’t exist. I want to be like an octupus who has 8 arms and can just hold onto everything always. I wish I could just go in the night.” It was all my fears and insecurities that I would never have it this good again, all mounted and stored up inside of that word.

He stopped me. “It’s goodbye,” he said. “And then you get over it. Let me go.”
That’s all he said before he pulled me in for a hug. And then he let me go. And everything about his gesture of letting me go so quickly– nearly like a band-aid you rip off and pretend there is no sting– seemed to hum the truth:

"You, I believe in you. That is why I am so quick to let you go. Trust me, trust me, the human thing inside of me wants to keep you right here. Right where I can see your eyes and I can hold your hand. But even if you can’t see it, I can see it and I can not ignore it any longer: you are ready. It is time. If I held you back, I’d be the one doing a disservice to the parts of this world that so deserve the blessing of “you” for a little while.

So cry your tears. And say your last words. And when you are emptied out, let me go. Please let me go. Don’t live in your memories, making tents and tiny houses out of the way we used to be. Something really wonderful awaits you. I need you to step inside of it.  Say goodbye because something new is about to start right here.

And me? Well I’ll carry the thought of you doing just fine. I’ll carry the thought of you meeting new people, and holding new pairs of hands, and clutching people closer than you ever clutched me. I’ll remember that when you came to me it was a blessing. A temporary blessing that we’ll one day see if we can make permanent. But for now, it’s you and all the little lives you’ve got to go out there and touch.

You’re ready. That’s why I’m letting you go. And everyone else? Everyone else who gets you for this next little “I’ll see you everyday” sort of while? They win. I don’t feel like much of a winner in this moment, but them? They absolutely win.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

On Glass Houses, Betrayal and Ashley Madison

This week I have heard and seen countless rants about how the cheaters are going to “get what they deserve” after the Ashley Madison data leak.  I find this kind of rhetoric unnecessary.  Who is really going to suffer from the narcissism that is cheating? The liar and cheater?  The ones who will be most impacted are the families.  Why gloat?

I was never really into the Duggar’s TV show. 

Maybe it’s because the thought of tater tot casserole makes me queasy or because I stopped watching most reality shows after Season 2 of Survivor. But mostly, it was because I didn’t identify with the large, homeschooling, “good” family. (They just made the unruly, eye-rolling, sarcastic people in my house look even more unrighteous.) While I’m sure there was some common ground, I could only see the things we didn’t have in common.  However, this week I have felt a certain amount of intrigue with the family’s struggles. 

When I read Josh Duggar’s statement this week, admitting he not only struggled with a pornography addiction, but was also unfaithful to his young wife and children–I didn’t rejoice. I felt sick to my stomach. Knowing what his family is enduring is heartbreaking. And I don’t have to be a “fan” to recognize it.

No, I didn’t gloat and point a sanctimonious finger. My first urge was to shout, “Man down!”

It’s what I screamed last week when I found out through the town rumour mill that a trusted friend was sharing my own life’s struggles. A person that I had deeply trusted decided to point that sanctimonious finger directly at me, judge my choices and short-comings and then to top it off share her thoughts about my life with complete strangers.  I was gutted. 

It’s hard to know if Josh’s Duggar contrition this week came because he got caught or because he was truly repentant or because he has nothing left to lose. We might never know. While I think it matters privately to his wife and family, it’s really none of our business. Just as my choices in life are none of this town’s business.  This is ground zero for a family and hopefully redemption and help will follow.

Should the TV show be off the air? Absolutely. (Maybe the real question is should it have ever been on TV?) Should this family be taken off a pedestal? Definitely. (All families are messy, even the “good” ones). Should we pick up a rock and join the mob? Only if we’re perfect. Should we worry about our own hypocrisy? Probably. Should we take a moment to clean the windows in our own glass houses? You bet!  Should we avoid tater tot casserole at all costs? You know it.

The world may never understand that many families are a mess of sinful humanity trying to sort this life out, but they will see that we eat our own and wound our wounded.  This “kick her, when she’s down” approach, was my heart-breaking revelation this week and has been the cause of a painful end to a meaningful friendship.

It’s easy to use “love” as an action word for our lost world–those we don’t agree with in alternative lifestyles, but it’s harder to show it to people who are more like us than we care to admit.

How then shall should we respond to the falling of Josh Duggar or anyone else? Our heart should cry, “Man down! Family shattered! I’m going to live the best life I can live (in my glass house, with dirty windows)”

Because someone probably shouted it for us.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Letter To my 18 Year Old Self; A Hind-sighted Reflection andIntrospection

In a few short weeks it will be 16 years since I graduated from high school. It’s hard to believe how fast these years have gone by. Yes, I have aged a bit, grey hairs, wrinkles and lumps and bumps in places that would have horrified my 18 year old self. More importantly, I have also gained so much. These 16 years have brought wisdom through life experiences, a greater sense of self as well as self-confidence, and the realization that my own happiness is important too. I could not have imagined, while walking down the aisle that rainy September day that this moment would mark monumental life changes.

 I was inspired to write this honest and genuine letter to my 18 year old self, by the photographer from my wedding. How fitting. His honesty and introspection was moving. I wonder what would happen if that fiercely independent and focused 18 year old would have been able to listen.

 Dear Fierce Girl Full of Hope and Wonder,

You have waited for this moment; the moment to get out of the confines and small-mindedness of Ajax High School. You know it all. You feel ready for the world. I want you to be excited about what lies ahead, believe in the goodness of others, and don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams. I would like to offer some other words of advice to help you along the way. Realize what a beautiful person you are, how genuine your heart is and how intelligent and thoughtful you are. This will save you from many years of sadness, insecurity and heartache. Quit thinking that everyone else is more important. Find your voice. People will listen. Believe in yourself, because your whole wonderful life lies before you.

 Listen to mom. Hug her. Be patient with her. 

 In a few short weeks you are going to find her dead in the garage and you will later wish you had seen things from her perspective. Her intensity and advice comes from a place of love. I know it is hard to see that right now. When you have your own children you will feel that intensity and wish you could have shared in these moments with her. You will long for her advice. You will ache for the relationship you could have had with your mom.

Be vulnerable. Be generous. Be strong. 

You are very sensitive and your feelings are easily hurt. Try not to take everything so personally. And, though it may seem like the world is watching your every move, most of the time people have their own issues and problems going on to notice your faults and missteps. Don’t feel like you have to fix everything. You have always felt the need to make sure everything is perfect in everyone else’s world. This is not your job. Try to focus on your own happiness for once.

 Love with wild abandon. Ask for what you need. Give generously.

 Date guys who will lift you up, instead of pull you down. You're already strong enough to be able to stand up when you are being treated well. Good girl. But, I mean more than that here. I want you to seek elevation. Don't settle for "good enough" nor complacency. It's ok to expect passion and it's ok to ask for what you want and need. It will take you many years to learn this lesson. Hang in there, because you will eventually find someone who will treat you well, make you laugh and never be a cause for tears. Yes, he does exist. Natalie, please don't be a passenger on a train that doesn't serve you. Drive it, dear girl.

 Take time to know yourself. Don't lose yourself in other's expectations of you. 

 People will come to expect a lot from you and fulfilling this need will fill you up. I want you to remember to take the time for you. Spend time with friends. Spend time with yourself. You can not connect the dots looking forward. You can connect them looking backwards. So I need you to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something. Destiny. Life. Karma. Your instincts. Fate. Whatever! Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart and instincts even when it leads you off the well-worn path and THAT will make the difference.

 Your time will be limited and sacred, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't get trapped living with the results of other people’s thinking or expectations. Don't let the noise of other people’s opinion drown out your own inner voice. You have got to find what you love. This is as true for work as it so for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. It will be hard work and you will often question your stamina. The only way to do great work is to do work that you love. Don’t settle. Don’t become complacent. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. You will constantly try to reinvent yourself and figure out who you are.

Slow down and focus on your life today. Enjoy your life’s journey.  Love but don't lose yourself. Experience people. Kiss some frogs. 

Andre has become your everything. I have hindsight to enlighten me, but take a step back. Be with your friends. Have the confidence to walk away instead of pushing so far that it hurts him. It will hurt to end it, but you will grow wings. Natalie, DO NOT jump right into a relationship. You'll fall for Ryan.  You'll get married and be deeply in love and you will love him forever. But, when you're in your 30s you will regret not having the life experience of dating and kissing frogs, and having awkward first dates, and first kisses that take your breath away.

Stop anticipating the next big thing. Smell the roses. You spend so much time right now, waiting to move out. Waiting for university, to move out, to live together, to get engaged, for the wedding, for the job, for the kids. Please stop and enjoy the beauty that is in this day. It will all happen in time, and you don't want to look back and say your whole life has been in anticipation. Don’t worry about events that may not ever happen. Even if negative things do happen, you are stronger than you think. You will be able to handle it. Try not to be so hard on yourself about mistakes that you have made and will make along the way. There will be many, but these experiences will shape the young woman that you will become.  Don't be afraid to cry and be vulnerable.  Heartbreak teaches us a lot. Be vulnerable. Don't let this heartbreak stop you from letting other's in.   In addition, do not regret these lapses in judgement or regret the mistakes made. Learn from them instead.

 Live from a place of gratitude. Embrace the moment because there will be loss. 

 I hate that this will be a hard lesson for you. You will suffer losses that will threaten to consume you. Some of the hardest and most alienating losses will be the babies. You will become part of a horrid sisterhood of pregnancy loss. You will feel alone. Please don't be too hard on the father. He is doing the best he can. Don't put up a wall to keep him from seeing your immeasurable pain. Let him in. Also, please know that you will have two amazing boys. Without, giving away the ending... Kingston will have a giant heart that will remind you of the generosity of spirit that you have. He will pull you out of the sadness with his hugs and sweet, gentle nature. Camden will make you laugh when you need it most and will remind you of the easiness of their daddy. Be grateful for the gifts that your loved ones bring to your life. You will suffer as you witness them leave your life, through death and distance. Say "I'm sorry". And mean it. Say "I'm so grateful for you". Mean it!! Realize that it gets better. You will endure many times when it seems like all hope is lost. Hang in there.

Life is going to be so good, you just have to experience a few rough times, so that you can fully appreciate the good ones. Don’t be afraid to go after what you want in life.

Many of your greatest opportunities will be disguised as challenges and obstacles. Never give up. Break through them and you will find many successes.

 Always remember that you are surrounded by people who love you and believe in you. These people will be your sources of strength whenever you need them. Lean on them and don’t push them way. 

So, you naive, beautiful, strong girl, embrace your future. You are blessed with so many wonderful gifts. Don’t get in the way of your own happiness. Live in the moment.

 And in case you’re wondering, in 16 years, everything is going to be ok. Go for it! Life is good. 



Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Tribute to My Dad

Yesterday our friends and families gathered to say goodbye to my dad.  I had many requests for me to send them my tribute to my dad, so that they could read it in more quiet moments.  Many people mentioned that as I spoke about who my father was to me, they were moved to tears and laughter as they shared many similar memories.  Thank you all for being a part of this crazy journey.  

First off, my brothers, my aunts and uncle, and my Omi want to sincerely thank you for your efforts in being here, not only today but  during this entire journey. You have filled our hearts with laughter, memories and friendship. 

It is an odd thing, speaking at the funeral of the man that has served as the narrator of your life. In the hours and days since his death, I feel as if I’ve lost my words. I suppose it is because he was the person that provided me with so many of them. Listening to stories it seems as though he's provided many of you with some gems.  So many times over the past few days, as we’ve struggled or hurt or hoped I’ve thought, I should call Dad. He’d help me see this all the right way.
He was good at that. Helping me see things right side up. When I was seven, he took me to The movie "my Girl". After the heartbreaking scene with the bees, my dad wrapped his arms around his "Turkey" and explained that death is a natural part of life. When I was 12, we sat on the floor of this office in Amherstview and he consoled an incredibly awkward me while I cried because I wasn’t that boy's "type", explaining that there was somebody out there that would be my perfect fit. Just six years ago, as I neared the end of a long first pregnancy, he laid his head on my enormous belly and apprised that I would soon realize what it felt like to have your my own heart beating on the outside. He held my first baby and rocked back and forth in our glider while I rocked back and forth through baby blues. He held Kingston with his eyes shut tight and in that deep softness his voice got when he truly meant something, he said, “Don’t worry, sugar. This baby boy is going to show you the world. Yes, you have a best buddy right here. Don’t worry, sweetheart. I am right here. You can do this.” It took months for me to understand what he was saying, but as I waded through the murkiness of sadness I held on to the sight of him rocking in my house with his eyes closed.

My Dad always closed his eyes when he spoke about the truths that meant the most to him. I used to think he closed his eyes to keep the tears in. Anyone who knows my dad, knows the man could cry over paint drying just right. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed my mind. If keeping tears in was the reason he shut his eyes, they would hardly have ever been open. No, rather, I think he closed his eyes when he spoke so that he could see more clearly. At the dinner table when he cleared his throat and squinted his eyes shut, we always knew it was time to put the forks down and listen. My dad had a way of gathering the beautiful aspects of mortality and immortality and holding them up for all of us to see.

My dad... For me.... He is sunglasses and baseball hats. He is water skiing on the river. He is funny nicknames and bear hugs. He is whistling and singing on long drives. He's blueberry cheesecake and Harvey's burgers. He is opi to my babies. He is a well loved denim shirt. He is bruder, mon kuchin, and mutti schatz. He is a cold glass of Richards red and an island coffee. The giver of big squeezes and pokes in the arm . He is a trip to Lake Placid, where I learned about exploding cigarettes and that time can stop long enough for you to breathe in the moments we have been given with one another. He is not enough days and so much blessing it hurts. He is a clothesline full of clothes and tiny footprints in the sand.  He is long meandering drives and beautiful sunsets. He is a heart bursting with love.  He is “wish sandwiches” and a fast moving boat. He is whiskers and encouragement and Christmas all shined up bright. He is the man that first taught me to stop leading and just dance.

How fitting!  As I danced with my uncle last night I was reminded how my dad loved to dance. He would drag me onto the dance floor and would say "Nat, stop leading.  Just follow me". While our family braced to battle this illness, he took another approach. He danced with it. In his final moments this past Sunday, with my uncle Jeff and I by his side, listening to the Boss, he lead!  He chose his moment. 
I am so flippin' proud of him for that. 

What a blessing. 

Yes, it is a blessing and that is all well and good, my heart says. But what about now? How do we survive until the reunion. What about about today? It is a good question and one I expect to ask and answer by the day, by the hour and sometimes, like right now, by the minute.

What about today?

Well, today, following the example of Larry Latiok, I will close my eyes so that I can see more clearly. And there in that place, absent from distraction and dismay, I know what I will find. There is a daddy whose body has been taken, but whose heart is near. There is love and the blessing of time given and time taken. There is hope and faith. There is the brush of something greater than you and me, something that carries the smell of stars and the impression of truths strait and gleaming and multi-dimensioned.

And there is the quiet assurance of a Father’s voice, rocking back and forth against my heart, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I am right here. You all can do this.” 
So today, with my heart and hopes, kicking and crying and protesting against this early farewell, I am learning from my dad. This parting is not forever.

I love you period Do you love me question mark