Nothing seems to fit

I knew I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was 14. That’s when I read “Hang Time” by Bob Greene, a book about his time with Michael Jordan. I wanted to do that, too. I wanted to cover the Chicago Bulls, preferably for The Chicago Tribune (the name sounded more legit to 8th-grade me than the Chicago Sun-Times).

I believed I could do that. I believed the grown-ups who told me I could do anything I wanted, as long as I worked hard enough.

I did work hard. I worked so hard at everything I did. I was desperate to be good at everything I tried. I was desperate for praise. If I worked hard and excelled, grown-ups would praise me. That was the equation: Straight A’s=acceptance and praise. Hurling my body around the volleyball or basketball court=acceptance and praise. Limiting what I ate and exercising to the point of exhaustion the summer I was 15=acceptance and praise. When grown-ups were proud of me, I mattered. I deserved to be here.

This was the world truth I had concocted.

This is not a healthy world truth for someone who lives in a world that does not keep you in the parameters of school and school sports.

I’m 37 years old and totally confused. I’m at a loss really, for words, for action, for what? I have no idea what I’m even at a loss for sometimes.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve wanted it since I became a mom 12 years ago. I’m finally living that reality, and I’m happy, so happy, being more present with my babies. But lately, something has started creeping in, blurring my thoughts so I can’t focus. I’m suddenly incapable of making a decision. I can’t make any decision. What we should have for dinner, whether I should I keep coloring my hair at home or start paying money we don’t have to get highlights at a salon again, what we should do for my birthday, whether to take a day trip earlier this week when the kids had a day off from school, when to go to the pumpkin patch, what to wear.

Nothing seems to fit.

I’ve started looking to my son or my husband to validate my decisions, to influence them. “What do you want for dinner, Rye? I was planning to make x, but does that sound good to you?” Or to my husband, “I wanted to go on a day trip, but I needed you to help me. I needed buy-in.” I was whiny when I said that.

Because I don’t know what’s going on.

I no longer have a job I go to where I can work hard and earn praise. Praise=acceptance=self-worth=identity. I don’t have a job in a form I’ve ever known at least. And so I can acknowledge that and meet it and if I’m truly being a yogi embrace it. But I’m not there.

Instead, this feeling, this low feeling I first named several years ago when I called it depression, is back, hanging around, pushing me down, messing with my head.

Rye said the other day, “You seem mad.  Yesterday and today.”

“I do?” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m not mad.”

Because I’m not mad. I’m lost.

So I’ve been thinking about my career and my indecision. I feel indecisive now, recently, but I have been for a long time, if I’m honest about it. I’m indecisive about everything since I went to college.

By the time I graduated high school, I was going to be on NBC’s “Dateline.” I wanted to be an anchor like Jane Pauley. So I majored in broadcasting at the University of Nebraska. But I also started writing for the college daily because I was a good writer; it’s what I knew. So I added News-Editorial and for about a year double majored. I dropped broadcasting halfway through my sophomore year because I didn’t care about microphones or cassette tapes or being on the radio. After my sophomore year, I decided to change majors all together. I wanted to be pre-med. I told my mom; she said to go for it, that it wasn’t too late, that I can do anything I want. I checked into what it would take to change majors two years into college; I would have needed to start over, and I decided I couldn’t do that.

When it came time to graduate college, I decided I wanted to teach. I applied to the University of Denver’s masters program in education. I was accepted and planned to go. But my fiance, my first husband, talked me out of it. He said I should use the degree I’d just earned. So I went to work in newspapers. It became my identity.  I worked as a reporter and then an editor in newspapers for more than a decade.

And then I changed my mind. It was complicated then, life, but I landed a job in public relations. I loved it, for the most part. Then that job changed and I hated it, for the most part.

So then I made a series of strange, questionable decisions about my career. I left the hateable job for one that cut my salary by $15,000 and slid me into a tiny desk-sized office with no windows, no camaraderie and little direction, inspiration or motivation.

Within a week, I hated that job, too. I asked for my old job back. One of my bosses said, “Sure!” Two didn’t respond. And the third said, “Sorry, you’ve been replaced.”

I left town for vacation in the mountains. On the day my husband drove back home to put our dog to sleep, I emailed my resignation. I’d decided to teach. Desperate to get out of the first job I hated (the one with four bosses), I’d applied for an Alternative Teacher License and every K-6 teaching opening our district had.

No one called, so I assumed no one wanted a former professional journalist turned PR hack who hated her job to teach elementary school.

But then someone did call. He offered me a position teaching third grade at a low-income school across town. I thought about it for about half an hour before accepting the position.

I was ecstatic.

I was terrified.

Last year was all the feels. It was awful and beautiful and hard, hard work. By the time spring came, I’d decided I loved it. Maybe I’d teach again, I thought, something I had decided back in the fall that I would not try again. But even though I loved the kids, I lamented the low salary and the long hours.

So I applied for and accepted another public relations job, this one in the energy industry. It was the most money I would have ever made, by a lot.

A month before I was to begin, I told them I wasn’t coming. I’d decided the work itself did not sound meaningful. I’d also accepted another teaching position, at another school, a charter school that required me to attend training away from home for two weeks every summer for the next three years.

Alright, I can do that.

But I couldn’t. Four days into the training, I quit. I couldn’t stand being away from my family and I also couldn’t stand feeling like I was at church, which is what the training felt like to me.

So now, here we are, with the only question to be asked lingering in the air: What the fuck did I do to my career?

I have this idea that I can be a writer, and I’ve started two books. One is a memoir, the other is young adult fiction, based largely on my high school experience. But I have no confidence that I’ll ever get them published, and I’m scared. I’m scared I’ll write them, putting my family into financial peril perhaps and then nothing will come of them. I will have written them, yes, and that will be amazing, but then what? Then what do I do?

I have three friends here, sometimes four, depending on the season. One of them yesterday said she’d taken a full-time job and she was excited and sad about what it meant- it meant her kids didn’t need her at home like they once had. It also meant she’d be able to help her family financially.

Overall, I think she’s happy.

Overall, I think I am, too.

But it’s scary. The not knowing, the things that lack, the changes.

Is it all just transitions? Life?

Where is the peace? How do we keep it once we’ve found it?

How can I like who I am, all the time?

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Loss

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When I found out I was pregnant a couple months ago, I had a dream shortly thereafter.

In the dream, I had given birth to twins. The twins happened to look like my furry orange cat,  Marty McFly, but in the dream that wasn’t weird.

What was disconcerting in the dream, though, was that I lost one of the twins. We had gone to a park or a shopping mall of some kind and somehow I had turned my back for too long and one was missing.

I never found the baby in the dream.

When my husband and I watched the monitor in my doctor’s office Wednesday afternoon, squinting to make out the shades of gray that show up on an ultrasound, I saw the baby, one baby, that I knew we would meet this fall. I saw the baby’s spine, a miraculous tiny chain of vertebrae. And I waited for the movement, the tiny blinking I knew we should see. I convinced myself the doctor was just checking other things out first, taking measurements of the baby’s head perhaps.

But, no, I knew before she said it. I had lost our baby. Not just in a dream where the baby was a cat who I lost track of, but in real life. My real life. Our baby had no heartbeat. It measured 8 weeks, 4 days. I believed I was 9 weeks, 2 days along in my pregnancy. Sometime last week, while I went about my life as a mother, wife, teacher and all the other things, our baby we’ll never know said goodbye.

Angel babies, I’ve heard people say. I don’t really believe in God or angels or Heaven, but I totally and completely understand why people do.

The past couple days online, Facebook wants to remind me of the picture I shared on Feb. 7, 2014. It’s a picture of 4-year-old Paige holding a sheet of paper with two ultrasound pics taped to it and the words she wrote: “Big sister. x 2!”

We lost Lila’s twin a few weeks after that, and I never could bring myself to update Facebook with that news. At the time, I was terrified we would lose Lila, too. Baby A was how they’d referred to her. Baby B, we will never know.

Yesterday, I had surgery. In a cold, bright, stark white room surrounded by people I didn’t know, I was put to sleep and a doctor I’d only met a few minutes before, sucked my sweet angel baby number two right out of my uterus.

When I woke up, I was in a new room with new people. My throat hurt and I was thirsty, and I couldn’t believe it was over. I asked the nurse, “What do they do with the things they took out of me?”

She didn’t know. And I didn’t know. And I closed my eyes again because I was sleepy. I was so sleepy.

Last night, I did not dream of Lila’s angel sibling or our sweet solo Angel Baby A.

But I hope I do.

I hope someday I do.

Falling down

This fall has been a whirlwind.

I started teaching elementary school. Third grade. I did this without any training or background in education. I did this with only a certificate from the state that said I could and my own belief that this had to be better than what I was doing.

I have cried and given up and lost my temper and continued to show up every day, because at the very least that’s the best I can do. I owe those 8- and 9-year-olds in my care at least that. My presence.

Teaching reminds me of the first time I was pregnant. I had no idea what it would actually be like to be somebody’s mom, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Life will be different, sure, I’d thought. But I can handle that; we’ll figure it out without too much trouble.

Flash forward to two weeks after my son was born and I was thinking, “What did I do to my life?”

He wouldn’t sleep unless he was nursing, and “nursing” for him meant snacking and pacifying until he fell asleep. It was an endless, thankless cycle. He was also tongue-tied, so nursing was a lot of work, and he was never full. There is a photograph of 25-year-old me and 4-week-old him, and he looks like a skeleton with taut, pale skin. I can barely look at it.

So teaching has been that. It has been the false confidence that I could figure it out without too much struggle, without so much exhaustion, without the roller coaster of emotions. It has been that I was wrong about everything.

In reality, it has been an overdrawn checking account and generic food from the grocery store.

It has been resilience so many times, if only in the fact that I haven’t quit.

I love the kids I teach. I do not love much else. Picture any job you’ve ever had and the drama that came with it. Then, put 500 elementary-school-aged children into that picture with you.

Yeah.

That.

However, one boy told me he wants to go to Stanford when he grows up. This is the same boy who reaches out to the autistic child in my room to make sure he’s OK, the same one who quickly goes to help a classmate who accidentally knocked over the caddy full of crayons and glue sticks.

Another girl found out she was receiving an award at school yesterday and came to school in her best white satin dress and high white heels. She had curled her own hair.

During work time in writing yesterday, she came to me and said, “Mrs. Harvey, I can’t believe I forgot to shave my arms!”

She brushed her hand over her forearm, and I said,” Your arms? No, sweet pea, don’t shave your arms!”

Then she told me her mom does, and so I showed her my forearm and told her most women don’t shave the top of their arms (“just their armpits,” I whispered).

She just smiled at me, like I simply wasn’t in on the way real grown-up women (and third-graders) do things.

She is one of my favorites.

Another boy is a foster child with the most charismatic smile ever.

Another boy sobbed yesterday because two classmates wouldn’t let him join their math game. But when I pressed him, he said it was really because he hasn’t seen his dad in a year.

A girl in another class, to whom I teach writing, chose her family as the topic of an informational text she is writing. Her first chapter is about her mom. Her second is about her dad. Yesterday, she said, “I don’t really know much about my dad. He’s never been in my life. How do I write about him?”

Maybe you don’t, sweet pea. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe there is so much I don’t know.

At home, we are sometimes good and many times stressed. Lila has figured out that she’s 2 and that there is a phrase that rhymes with “Merrible Moos.” She has discovered her voice. That one that sounds really loud and shriek-like whenever she doesn’t get her way. This week, she learned that she can pull the keys off the MacBook Pro when left unattended with our family’s only computer. I am now typing on a keyboard that’s missing the M, D, Z and other non-letter buttons.

Fantastic.

Lila, though, has also learned to say, “I love you,” and give Eskimo kisses and talk regularly in full, complete sentences and dance and laugh and twirl and make us laugh more than anything else. She is the sun.

Rye tried out for a competitive boys basketball team the other night. It was courage in action. It was him knowing other boys are better than he is but deciding to show up anyway. It was a round robin of layups, dribbling, jump shots and scrimmaging while the coaches with clipboards circulated, quietly talking to each other. It was the way the world is; it was the haves and have-nots, the who you know and who you don’t; the who knows you or your husband; the who has the right basketball shoes and Under Armour technical t-shirts and who doesn’t; whose mom has the cutest tall leather boots, expensive jeans and straightened hair; whose mom knows the other moms.

I had to leave the gym a couple times to go outside and run because I was suffocating from it all.

Rye did not make the team. He choked back tears as the coach on the other end of the phone told him he hadn’t made it, that he should keep practicing, working on his skills, blah, blah, blah. Sitting next to him in the living room, I could tell he just wanted to hide, to pull himself into a ball and tuck himself into cushion of the oversized chair.

I cried for him; he moved on. The next day, he told me most of the kids who tried out hadn’t made it and he’d just play in the recreational league. He is OK. And I hope he is as proud of himself as I am of him.

I also hope I can let go of the Mama Bear inside who is raging at the way the world works, the way rejection feels and wishing my Wonder Woman bracelets could keep that pain away from my babies.

Lots of work to do.

Onward.

We talked about what’s next

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The HR girl and I walked across the street for coffee this morning. We each got dark roast and poured in our own cream from the coolest mason-jar-with-a-blue-lid ever.

It was my exit interview. And it was a beautiful morning.

We sat outside, on a bench at the library. We talked about shoes and home and volleyball and work.

And humanity. People. Kindness.

Fulfilling work. Meaningful relationships. Supervisors and mentors we would do anything for.

We talked about life insurance and Cobra and unused vacation days.

We talked about what’s next.

For me, it’s a new job, a new career. Similar work but different. Work that reaches closer into my chest, into my heart, than public relations ever did. I’ll be writing once again.

WRITING.

The word alone makes me happy. The words I’ll get to use! The letters my mind will string together! The words. The words. The words.

I’ll get paid to write again. I cannot even.

I’ll be doing social media, too, and editing (EDITING!!). I’ll be in charge of a glossy, beautiful magazine. I’ll hire the writers, and I’ll edit and I’ll write and I’ll work with talented designers to make our words and art and stories look beautiful.

And? And I’ll be part of a team. I will no longer spend my days as a communications office of one. I’m joining a team of like-minded professionals. We will work TOGETHER.

Oh, and this team? Those words? They’ll be on a college campus, a place of ideas and growth and creativity and choices and youth and WORDS! (And a kick-ass rec center with yoga taught by my favorite!).

And this is why, all of this is why, I chose to leave my comfortable salary and my fairly comfortable job. It’s why I chose to take a chance, to jump once again.

Because, in the end, it’s not all about money or security or familiarity. It’s about heart – your heart. We should all listen to it more. It knows you, more than anyone. More than your babies (who are walking pieces of it), more than your spouse. What goes on in your heart is magic. It is truth.

Mine sings loudly now, excited about the new adventure.

Having it all, please

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See this girl? Up there? With a glass of wine and a Batman mask and great legs and cool shoes?

I want to be her. I want to be her so badly she’s my desktop picture on my computer at work. She is a reminder that I am so much more than my day job, that there is so much more life to be lived outside the walls of an office or a cubicle or the day-to-day-to-day that sucks up everything.

I told a friend yesterday that I fantasize sometimes about what it will be like when my kids are grown, when I don’t spend evenings playing referee or making dinner or entertaining the toddler at the crowded gymnastics studio while her big sister takes class. For two hours.

I heard a story on NPR the other day about a couple that at the age of 44 sold their house and most of their stuff and bought a boat. They sailed this boat around the world for 11 years, stopping in Hawaii to repair it and then staying there for 10 years. Now, they live in Iowa because they wanted a front-row seat for this year’s presidential election. But after November, they plan to move on again, maybe to Thailand.

So much of me longs to be nomadic, to stay up late and drink and talk and laugh and listen to music and explore, to really live life with abandon.

The other me, though? The other me thinks about my children all the time. The other me loves being with them, loves taking care of them, wouldn’t trade her job as their mom for anything in the whole entire world. Not for anything (even freedom).

This other me is the one who wanted a bigger house, another cat, a dog (dear God), the SUV with third-row seating. This me saves for retirement and believes we should have health insurance. This me plays the game of how we are supposed to live.

Oh, and this me? She still sometimes thinks maybe we should have just one more baby.

But then. Then Batman-with-a-glass-of-wine me kicks and in and screams, “No! Are you crazy?” And, regular me, says yes, no, well, maybe. I don’t know.

The competing desires slay me. How do we get what we really want? How do we carve and craft and maneuver through a life we really want?

How do we first figure out what that life really looks like? Is it truly impossible to have it all?

Help.

Surrender

I’m about to take my daughter to her first counseling session, my husband and I continue to prove that, yes, it is hard to be married, the baby woke up at 4:45 this morning and so that’s when I got up, too, and just now at yoga I did not want to get up off my mat.

I wanted to stay there in the dark quiet space, tucked up into myself in surrender to the universe. I wanted to rest.

Yet.

We have to get up off our mats, play the game in survival mode until this chapter transitions to the next. That will happen, though we don’t know when and we can’t script it or orchestrate it or make people do what we want them to when we want them to, not even our own children, the human beings that came out of our bodies. We have control really over very little.

Yet.

We are so strong we don’t even know how much until we have to.

For that, I am grateful. For that, universe, thank you.

Still. Some days? I am tired.

A constant need

My middle child misses me. When I’m there, when I’m not there, when it’s time to go to bed, when it’s time to wake up. Over the past several months, she has developed a constant need to be right next to me ALL THE TIME.

While this is sweet in lots of ways, it’s also other things at times: sad, heart-wrenching, frustrating and just not realistic. Or possible. It’s not possible for me to be available for her every second of every day.

I wish it was.

Really, I do. I love her just as much as she loves me. Maybe more.

I had lunch with a new friend today, a soul sister whose life has not mirrored mine but has had similar bumps in the road.

“What would you do if you could?” she asked.

“Teach yoga, write books and be present for my kids,” I said.

Neither one of us thinks this is actually a reality, but it’s the truth, my truth, and no matter how much I tell my middle child that I really would be right there for her all the time if I could, it doesn’t seem to help.

Separation anxiety among children isn’t uncommon. I remember leaving each of my first two babies at daycare when they were little and leaving my heart with them as they cried, arms outstretched toward me. But they were always fine. And sometimes, they weren’t even ready to leave with me at the end of the day when I came back to pick them up.

I wrapped my mind around that being a good thing.

But this current phase of anxiety, of neediness, is worse than I’ve seen before. My son didn’t have it. My middle didn’t have it before, but now, at 6 years old, she does. She’s taken to sleeping on the floor next to my bed. We have hardwood floors. She asks me to leave the bathroom door open when I go in to shower. She calls my name from the other room just to see where I am. Earlier this week, she refused to go into gymnastics (after we’d driven 20 minutes to get there) because she wanted to spend time with me.

Twice a week, I go to yoga teacher training classes in the evenings. Most departures are marked with tears and pleas to please take her with me.

It is sad and exhausting and heart-heavy. I feel bad when my babies are sad.

Last night, I crawled into bed around midnight and noticed a folded piece of white paper on my nightstand. I opened it to see a pencil-drawn heart with “M + P” in the middle and a note that said, “Mom, this is for gymnastics. I love you, Paige,” and a $50 bill she’s had in her piggy bank since Christmas.

It made me want to wake her up and swing her around and snuggle her and stroke her hair and tell stories as long as she wants and laugh and love and live with that sort of carefree spirit all day long.

Instead, I went to sleep, and this morning, I made her breakfast and packed her lunch and kissed her goodbye and went to work. Today, I will leave early to be there for her dentist appointment and after that, we will try going to gymnastics again.

Because all we can do is the best we can.

M + P in a giant, can’t-be-popped heart.