72 ways to show real love now

IMG_9751

I’ve been learning whole lot about love, in all its many forms, in the past year. Thanks to lots of you, I have a broader picture of what love can look like, as listed below.

Here are 72 ways to show someone love today.

  1. Bring them homemade peanut butter cups.
  2. Pass along a book you’ve read and think they’ll love.
  3. Give them your recent Us Weekly
  4. Tell them you love them.
  5. Suggest they do something that’s good for them.
  6. Book a flight to go visit them.
  7. When they mention it’s been an emotionally intense day, respond by saying “Oh, how exciting!” in your most sarcastic voice. And laugh together.
  8. Pray for them.
  9. Teach them something you know how to do.
  10. Ask them to teach you something.
  11. Be warm and kind to their children.
  12. Send them a text when you’re thinking of them.
  13. Offer them homemade soup.
  14. Give them space to say something important and potentially heartbreaking to you, and treat them lovingly even if it hurts.
  15. Boldly say something important and potentially heartbreaking to them. Be there for them after if it hurts. Why? Because, delivered with love and with a golden heart, truth can heal.
  16. Give them a symbolic gift to assist them in their journey.
  17. When it’s the right thing to do, release them.
  18. Comment positively on their Facebook status.
  19. Enter their messy house and make yourself comfortable.
  20. Let them talk your ear off. Ask questions. Remain engaged even if you’re (justifiably) tired of talking about it.
  21. Call to check in. On the phone.
  22. Compliment them on the delicious dinner they’ve made you. Repeat.
  23. Tell them they need more sleep. Suggest they go to bed earlier.
  24. Hold them.
  25. Take something off their to-do list just because you can.
  26. Turn on Drunk History because you know it’ll make them laugh.
  27. Make them a cup of coffee or tea. Just the way they like it.
  28. French braid their hair.
  29. Let them be uncool around you.
  30. Whatever it is they geek out on (we all have something), ask them questions about it.
  31. Scratch their back.
  32. Beam at them.
  33. Make fun of them in a good-natured way.
  34. Keep their secrets.
  35. Hug with vigor. Hold on tight.
  36. Send them a long-distance song dedication over email, text or social media. All the better if it includes a lavishly produced hip hop video.
  37. Bake something and give it to them.
  38. Sing them a song.
  39. Remind them how _______ they are. (insert the most called-for adjective.)
  40. Let them take care of you in some way.
  41. Make plans to get together.
  42. Call them on the phone to request they actually pretty please do come to your party even after you’ve RSVPd that you won’t be there.
  43. Share something really deep and really personal with them. Trust them with the knowledge.
  44. Ask them for help.
  45. Share a poem that makes you think of them. Bonus points if you can’t find the translation, so you send it in its original language.
  46. Watch their kids.
  47. Tell them the truth.
  48. Surprise them with their favorite treat.
  49. Introduce them as someone who’s important to you to someone who’s important to you.
  50. Go for a walk together.
  51. Share a story about a way in which they impacted you positively—one they may not even remember.
  52. Ask them how they’re doing, and stand by for the response.
  53. Like their instagram pics. Better yet, say something nice in response to one.
  54. Show them your real, true, unveiled self, inside and out.
  55. Let them see you without your makeup on.
  56. Say glowing things about them behind their backs.
  57. Share their business, blog or favorite cause on social media.
  58. On their birthday, let them know how happy you are they were born.
  59. Make your favorite comfort food from childhood and share some with them.
  60. Teach your baby how to say their name.
  61. Invite them to share in a holiday with you.
  62. See their greatest weakness, and then guide them to see where they are strong.
  63. Be up for hanging out even when you know they’re down.
  64. Hold their hand.
  65. Review their resume. Offer honest feedback.
  66. Ask them to review your resume.
  67. Get them home safely.
  68. Pat them on the back.
  69. Brag about them to your friends.
  70. Give them a nickname. The best ones are those that make the person feel like a goddess or a king or like they have some kind of superpower.
  71. Tell them something you appreciate about them.
  72. Look them in the eyes. Smile from your heart.

The good and bad of birthdays, and the gift we can give ourselves and others every day.

See? Historically, I relish my birthday no matter what. You wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid, too, little sister? Aw, I hope you get one on your special day. But stand aside because it's MY birthday and I'm gonna enjoy it. Smile!

Do you see? Historically, I relish my birthday no matter what. You wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid, too, little sister? Aw, I feel a little awkward about this, and I sure hope you get one on your special day. But, shhhh, stand aside because it’s MY birthday, this is MY gift and I want to make sure Mom gets a pic of me with Henrika Lily. Wait, no. I think I’m going to name her Jenny Henrika. I’m turning 7 today, so I can totally change the name on the Cabbage Patch Kids birth certificate. You know, I can actually do anything I want today. It’s my birthday. I’m the star. Sing to me! Feed me cake! Give me ice cream! Let me open presents! Cheeeeeeese!

I turned 35 two weeks ago. Appreciation and surprises rolled in from near and far. People made me smile, laugh, blush and feel overcome with gratitude because I can’t believe they love me so perfectly. (cookie bouquets, haikus, notes, flowers, jewelry, cars pulled over on the side of the road and technology given to kids to make space to talk to me, oh my!)

And, yet, there’s the other side of birthdays, and it didn’t elude me. There were tears. Not because I’m getting older—although I was once told by someone who is obviously mistaken that 35 is a woman’s tip toward the downhill slide—but because of this: My journey sometimes feels way harder than I want it to be. And, though I know this journey is all for the greater good, even my birthday couldn’t relieve me of its present weight.

I didn’t get why I was feeling so heavy on my birthday, the ultimate festival of awesomeness for a hardcore Leo, and I felt generally very awkward, alone and socially inept all day. I just wanted to hide and not have to face anyone because I simply wasn’t “myself,” and I was definitely not playing the part of the happy-go-lucky birthday girl I felt I should be.

So I called up a friend who’s always good for spiritual refreshment. Cin is a poet of some renown (check it) and always has a fresh way of seeing things. She said, “Everything is just extra on your birthday. Ouchy things feel extra ouchy. Wonderful things feel extra wonderful. This is kind of how birthdays are. They’re extra everything.”

So this is obviously, like, "extra" fabulous. This is me on my 35th birthday, post-tears. If this is the downhill slide, I'm wearing tight jeans and big necklaces the rest of the way.

So this is obviously, like, “extra” fabulous. This is me on my 35th birthday, post-tears. If 35 marks the downhill slide, I’m totally wearing tight jeans, Blanche Devereaux jackets and big necklaces the rest of the way.

One thing we can learn about being a friend, from a comedy writer

So, yeah, on the topic of those “extra” kinds of feelings and friendship, I read this really cool Cracked.com article the other day. (Hey-oh, David Goldstein, thanks for the share!) It’s called “Robin Williams and why funny people kill themselves.” It paints a vivid picture of why comics develop the gift of funny, and how they often feel compelled to hide their dark stuff throughout their lives, sometimes all the way up until a self-inflicted end. It’s insightful and it’s sad. And I hereby declare it required reading.

(Aside: My inner circle does not need to read the article because they already know. They miraculously like me even when my need to process is incessant, my forehead vein is sticking out and mascara is streaking down my cheeks. Which is doggone decent of them.)

Anyway, David Wong’s boiled-down advice to friends of funny people is this:

“Be there when they need you, and keep being there even when they stop being funny. Every time they make a joke around you, they’re doing it because they instinctively and reflexively think that’s what they need to do to make you like them. They’re afraid that the moment the laughter stops, all that’s left is that gross, awkward kid everyone hated on the playground, the one they’ve been hiding behind bricks all their adult life. If they come to you wanting to have a boring-ass conversation about their problems, don’t drop hints that you wish they’d ‘lighten up.’ It’s really easy to hear that as ‘Man, what happened to the clown? I liked him better.’”

It got me thinking. I wonder what would happen if we substituted different personality traits in for “funny.” Nice. Smart. Strong. Empowering. Sexy. Snarky. Motivational. Witty. Holy. Wise. Tough. Passionate. Ornery. Creative. Cool. Shiny.

What’s your schtick?

I’m not funny, so the applications of Wong’s article aren’t an exact match, but, like you, I am a bunch of other stuff (warm, open, caring, playful…) These are real things about me, and I generally try to be my real self at all costs, but sometimes other qualities (over-thinky-ness, overwhelm, hard-on-myself-ness, perfectionism, fearfulness, etc.) take the stage. On those days, I feel afraid of what might happen if my shiny self doesn’t present.

Will you still want me?

I’m not sure you will. So I can identify with Wong on this point. I’ve seen it before—that moment when someone you consider a friend isn’t quite sure what to do with a state of being that’s not your modus operandi—you get the glazed-over eyes and emotional detachment and end up feeling dumb for venturing from your usual shininess, or whatever it is you think they like about you. And so you bottle it up around them and, next time, you’re darn sure to put on the face you think they want to see.

Feeling dumb after showing your real self sucks. And it veers awfully close to feeling un-liked or unloved or isolated. Which, in some cases, can be a slippery slope.

So my point is: If funny people feel required to stay funny because that’s what’s expected of them, as Wong asserts, others may feel it behooves them to maintain X, Y or Z persona for the same reason. And it’s just as damaging. We must break this pattern. All of us. I’m talking to you.

The shiny mask keeps things nice and pleasant, but behind the mask, we feel glaringly alone walking around in the world. You tell yourself people don’t want anything to do with this heavier, lackluster version of you. You keep your sunglasses on.

And if you remove the sunglasses? And the mask?

Well, I can’t say I’m skilled at doing this myself, but all I know is that when someone takes off his or her sunnies and lets me see their heart and soul, no matter what shape it’s in that day, it gets pretty awesome. Unfortunately, most of us walk around with some masterful masks, which may cause us to miss out on potentially expansive connections.

Recently a friend I’ve known for almost a year shared one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard. It was a tale of unending loss and grief in his life. In our relationship of pleasantries and passing conversation, I never could’ve guessed he’d been through such tragedy. After he laid it out there, he apologized for telling me, for weighing me down. But, on the contrary, I felt both more alive and more connected with him. I’m not sure how this works, but something about the honor of becoming privy to the trials of this guy as he was processing some deep feelings was ultimately very, very uplifting. And, as a result of being let in and letting him into my own world, I am now way more into what’s beneath his facade than my experience of him from the past 10 months. It took some time to develop a friendship, as it usually does, but the dude is now in my heartspace.

Another example: I was recently shaking it with a big crowd at a festive occasion, delighted to have run into a much admired friend I hadn’t seen in a while. As we hugged, shimmied and bumped booties on the dance floor, I asked her how she was doing and she responded so simply, to the tune of, “Well. Here I am. I haven’t done this (insert her deep desire) yet, and I want it so bad. So, I’m happy for these people, but I’m really not doing so well at the moment.”

The honesty. The authenticity. The courage. The vulnerability. The real, pulsing life being laid out there in an unlikely space. The power of it all will take your breath away. At the time, when each of these friends opened their hearts and showed me what was inside rather than what they thought they should display, my heart opened, too. And what came next in each instance was infinitely better than whatever I was doing or planning to do the moment before they got real with me.

This chick--let's call her "Tiffany" in honor of the artist who created her--is all, "Hey, Fish. I'm kinda blue today. Do you still wanna hang out? No? Ok. I'm just going to descend, then."

This chick–let’s call her “Tiffany” in honor of the artist who created her–is all, “Hey, Fish. I’m kinda blue today. Do you still wanna hang out? No? Ok. I’m just going to descend, then.”

It’s awesome when people get real.

On one end, the willingness to let down the walls and just be who you are, whatever it is, in that instant, is a pure, glistening gift.

On the other end, compassion, sincerity and general openness is equally as valuable. For example, at a BBQ last weekend, someone I don’t know as well as I hope to one day circled back to a nonspecific comment I made weeks ago about a tough time I was having. She asked me about it in the most sincere, caring, understanding, open way, and it instantly brought me to tears. She might as well have said, “I see you, I care about you and I’m here for you.” It’s ballsy to jump into someone’s world like that. I’d call it heroic, even. But now I know that if I want to reach out to her and be my stripped-down self, I totally can. What a gift. Happy Birthday to me.

So, what if we were genuinely open to allowing the people in our lives to be however they are on any given day? And what if we were authentic about our own feelings as well? When we’re not our usual shiny selves, what if we could just be ok with that? And not worry about how others might receive us? And not feel icky about their response, if unfavorable, to us on these days?

I think we can try for all of this.

Kip frosted this cake for me all by himself. Because it was my birthday cake, and because he loved frosting it so much, it was extra-extra delicious.

Kip frosted this cake for me all by himself. Because it was my birthday cake, and because he loved frosting it so much, it was extra-extra delicious.

But back to my birthday.

Birthdays feel like the New Year to me. They’re a chance to look at your life, at what you’ve created, and reflect on what you want to manifest in the coming year. I’ve got a rough sketch in my head of how I might want my 36th year to look. It’s pretty bold and there are a lot of unknowns, and being true about my feelings and wholly accepting of others is on the list.

But if it ever gets to be too much, I could take the tongue-in-cheek advice from my burst-of-goodness-and-wisdom-and-laughter friend, who rocked an extended text convo with me the day after my bday. Here’s a sample:

Her: That pic of Kip and the cake summarizes how blessed yet awesome you are. I hope your day is as rockin as yooooouuuu!

Me: You are so right. 🙂 It was an up and down day (birthdays are kinda like that sometimes), but overall definitely rockin. Thanks for your kickass love!

Her: Ummm, yes, birthdays are bittersweet, emotional, thought provoking in maybe not the best ways…why is that?! … I hope wine punched those thoughts in the ass…ha!!

No filter. No mask. Let’s just feel what we feel and be who we are today, tomorrow and every day after. And, if friends aren’t ready to embrace the real you when you’re “not yourself,” don’t let it get to you. Be that person anyway and go for a cup of the fancy tea, a talk with your closest friend, a nice yoga class, a long run, an Epsom-salt bath or, yes, maybe even a glass of wine. You are not alone. You are divine. You are loved. A tough day—be it your birthday or otherwise—doesn’t have to mean a downhill slide. It can mean your very blossoming.

 

Friday night poetry slam

Were you wondering what cool people do on Friday night? They put their kids to bed and write haikus.

Below I thank, in 17-syllable fashion, seven more people for heeding my Facebook call to follow my blog one day this week. I promised haikus to the top 20 who signed up to receive my emails, and this just about rounds it out. (Ok, I have a couple more to write, but being cool is so exhausting that I can’t dream up another syllable of poetry tonight.)

Thank you so much, all, for supporting Emily En Route. Major thanks to you, friends.

 

Lisa K.W.

You are like champagne

Celebrate! It’s just more fun

When you are around

Hector L.M.

Tu, como el sol

Brillas, y todos crecen

Tu luz tan fuerte

Erin D.R.

You got for-real style

From prom dresses to mom togs

Fab across decades

Kathleen F.D.

If there was a prize

For the world’s twinkliest eyes

You would always win.

Jeanne L.

Dressed up or in sweats,

Tis a rare woman who just

exudes elegance.

Carrie H.Y.

Never has a soul

Met one so soothing as you

Clear voice, warm eyes, love

Melanie R.

You have a smile that

Unites people and brings them

closer to the One

For reals, though, my apologies for taking so long to get these haikus to you. The boys and summer have been taking it all out of me. Writing, beaches, pools, Little League games, tag in the park, shedding dogs, grains of sand multiplying on the floor and in my sheets…every single second (and multiple cleaning supplies) are occupied when you have two little boys in your grill 24/7.

The "seaweed" in Charlie's hand is just one object of found art they've brought home this week.

The “seaweed” in Charlie’s hand is just one object of found art they’ve brought home this week.

Perhaps because I let them bring home the seaweed, they agreed to pose for a pic with me. Which is exciting, because I have surprisingly few snaps of the boys and me.

Perhaps because I let them bring home the seaweed, they agreed to pose for a pic with me. Which is exciting, because I have surprisingly few snaps of the boys and me.

 

And the really cool thing we did this week was this. Charlie's first library card. Then we did something I will never allow heretofore: I let them check out 25 books. That is 20 too many.

And the really cool thing we did this week was this. Charlie’s first library card. Then we did something I will never allow heretofore: I let them check out 25 books, of which, realistically, I now have to keep track. Probably 20 too many.

 

 

Announcing Sensory Kid book project! + Long-distance haiku dedications

Big reveal! I’m working on a book proposal. The book’s working title is “Sensory Integration at the Soul Level: An intuitive toolkit for parents of today’s Sensory Kids.” I’m still writing it (in fact I should be writing it right now instead of crafting haikus, probs) but, in short, it’s a nonfiction ditty on the spirituality of sensory integration issues in children, and it’s full of ideas to support Sensory Kids and their parents on their journey. I’m not stoked about the title. Ideas welcomed.

So, it turns out agents and publishers kinda want authors to have a gazillion fans before they ever publish your work. So I called up my friend, Facebook, and offered to write thank-you haikus to the first 10 friends who followed my blog yesterday. I threw in a couple extra for two ladies who shared my post with their friends (thank you!) and one more for one of my dear longtime followers on the occasion of her birthday.

So, following are a few 17-syllable thank you notes to those who showed up in a cool way yesterday to help me grow my readership. I’m writing haikus for 10 people today, too, so it’s not too late to forward to your friends and suggest that they follow me by email. You know, if you wanna…

Kate R.B.

Visionary Kate,

You are one of the bold ones.

Sharp mind, brightest heart.

Kristy M.

Pure, breezy, lovely

You glow, warming all with love.

Kindness radiates.

Frank B.

Your still countenance

And air of acceptance puts

Friends in a bliss place

Moira S.C.

Southern charm in spades

Your great laugh is contagious

Fun, fascinating

Wes R.

You are the rare spark

That happens when heart and mind

Ignite with spirit.

Marie F.

Though you have many,

One superpower stands out:

You give gifts of laughter.

Dana McJ

When you speak and smile

We perk up our ears to hear

Still waters run deep

Nicole A.

Soul sis at first sight

Dazzling spirit, shining smile

Strength and grace abound

Christie B.

Hot aerospace girl

Mad brains and a giving heart

Got it goin’ on

Whitney G.B.

Nothing’s better than

a spirit so generous

and a smile so warm

Dana M.

I wonder if you

Have any clue how very

Luminous you are

Becca U.

The vastness of your

Inner and outer beauty

Grows richer with time

On donuts, uncontrollable weeping and the treat of falling only to find open arms everywhere

 

If you take time to snap a photo of your donuts before you eat them, you're not doing it right.

If you take time to snap a photo of your donuts before you eat them, you’re not doing it right.

This is a story about donuts.

Yesterday, I spent much of my morning trying really hard to stop crying. Without success. Because, friends, apparently sometimes we just have feelings. And apparently some of these feelings simply have to happen. You’ll know the requisite-expression variety when no amount of stifling works to vanquish them. So, paying heed, I simply sat down and sobbed.

When you have the kinds of feelings I did yesterday, there’s no sense of up or down; it feels like you’re falling. I didn’t know where or how, or even if I would ever land, and it scared me. I’m a happy person, you know? And I hate to brag, but I have an outstanding bag of tricks for managing feelings and navigating difficult experiences. Still, every magic wand I have was powerless against the raw realness of my day. Terrifying.

Of course the loneliness in these moments feels desolate. Undiluted emotion can be alienating—it requires a rare courage to be able to sit with someone while they’re falling apart (see here for a tale about one such person). You have girlfriends, you have a sister, you have plenty of people strong enough to sit with you, but you still feel painfully alone.

Desperate for a break from the fearsome falling, I called Brian. “I just wanted to tune into your energy for a minute,” I said, weeping. I didn’t ask him to come home. In fact, I told him not to and meant it, but 20 minutes later, he walked in the front door full of lightness and compassion. He quietly held me while I soaked his dress shirt with tears and then fell asleep in the afternoon light of our bedroom. When I woke, my feelings were a different color than before. They’d seen the light and had a witness, and it helped.

But this story is about donuts.

Liz is one of my oldest friends and lives just a few miles away, yet we hadn’t spent time together in way too long. So when we found ourselves sitting at the bar of Fat Rice in Logan Square (shout out to the beef heart salad, y’all!), the drinks and the conversation flowing, I could scarcely remember the terror of my emotional vertigo just a few hours earlier.

liz and em

See? Look how happy Liz makes me.

“I almost cancelled tonight,” I confessed. “I had such a weirdly difficult day and I’m exhausted and I didn’t think I’d be any fun for you to be with.”

“I am so glad you didn’t cancel,” she told me. “I would want to be with you however you were.”

Magic words.

We ate, we drank. And then Liz presented me with a glorious white bag.

“Donuts,” she said. “For you.”

She knew I’d been having a lot of feelings lately. And somewhere in the recesses of her memory, she called up the one thing I know to be true in this world: Donuts = happiness.

I don’t talk about donuts a lot—not nearly as much as I talk about bouncy houses. And I don’t recall ever dropping any hints that “you know, if you ever want to cheer me up, go spend too much money on gourmet donuts and bring them to me.” (In case you want to get in on this Chicago-rific donut party, I usually brake for Do-Rite Donuts, and I now know that Stan’s Donuts, too, has magical healing properties.)

I opened the white bag. In it were three of the most beautiful buttermilky, fried-just-so cake donuts in pistachio, vanilla and blueberry. Not only did Liz remember that I love donuts, but also that they darn well better be cake—not yeast—donuts. And that pistachio-flavored treats are my jam.

I started crying. And squealing unintelligibly. And crying more.

What else could I have done? I had to pay heed. And so I ended my day the way I started it. In tears.

A couple of very courageous people showed me they’re in this with me in simple yet profound ways and, as a result, there are a few more things I know to be true: I am seen. I am known. I am valued.

I suppose it doesn’t take an overture to show someone you see and value them. In my case, a little time, open arms and three donuts had an extraordinary impact. And today it has me thinking: “What can I do to show Brian and Liz—and everyone else I love—that I really see them?”

For now, all I can think to do is pray. So today I’m praying this simple prayer for Brian, Liz and for you:

May you see and feel seen, know and be known, love and be loved.

And, as long as I’m talking to God:

May you receive your own version of epicurean cake donuts when you most need them and pay heed to the fullest expression of your feelings when it happens.

PSA to those considering leaning on their inner circle: Do it.

Image

These ladies–my goddess girls who gather to celebrate the equinoxes and solstices–have gotten an earful about me over the years. God bless them.

For the past few months, I’ve been super needy.

My poor friends. (Seriously, Kellie.) With those in my inner circle, instead of the traditional give-and-take of conversations among women, it’s been all about me. For hours at a time. “Can I talk about this? Would you help me process that? Because, oh girl, I’m struggling. I’m going through this and I am trying to make sense of that and I just really need your help with the other thing…”

Need, need, need. Take, take, take. If I counted up the hours my nearest and dearest have listened to me over the past few months we’d total at least a full 24/7 of conversations about me. Me, me, me. Friends, you know who you are.

It doesn’t feel natural for me to be this needy. In most of my relationships, I feel comfier as the question asker, the listener, the fixer, the how-can-we-make-this-better-let’s-put-our-heads-together-and-figure-this-out-we’re-not-leaving-till-everyone-feels-hopeful-again friend. But I just haven’t been in that space lately. I’ve been so consumed in my own stuff that I’ve needed lots of extra love and support lately, and there’s been no option other than for me to just own it.

Unexpectedly, I think it’s been kinda good for me.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I think I just want to come out and say to all my fellow fixer types out there that owning a little neediness is hella empowering.

In revealing my raw, real self to my inner circle, I’ve experienced a kind of grace I can’t quantify.

For one, inevitably, these friends listen and, what’s more, all my stuff stays safe with them. Beyond that, if you could just see the looks on their faces when I talk, the soft curve of their smiles as they listen, the warmth in their eyes and the gentleness and strength of their arms around me—it’s lush and wonderful. It’s a kind of love that, as the fixer, you so often give but so rarely allow yourself to receive.

It feels miraculous to allow myself to lean on my people, some new, some tried and true, to help me navigate the trickiness that crops up in life. It’s not a practice to which I’m accustomed, this leaning completely into the love of friends, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. If perchance you feel like you don’t have these people in your life at present, call them in. Ask the Universe to bring you people aligned with your highest and greatest good, trust they’ll show up and then receive.

This is all a tad stream-of-consciousness-y, but I guess I just want to encourage anyone out there who’s feeling a little needy right now—and I know you are many, you immaculate fixers, you—to reach out to your inner circle and receive. As the beautiful, imperfectly perfect person you are, you have a little friendship coming to you. Just sayin’.

 

Image

I’m also sayin’ thank you to all my people. Like this one here. I travel to her baby shower and she ends up showering me with love. Who does that? Linds D, that’s who. (and this is funny because i’m clearly trying to rock the L.A.-girl-hand-on-hip-for-the-camera pose here, but i am laughing bc I obviously have no idea how to do it for real.)

Love lessons from kindergarten sweethearts

ImageLove flowing freely is a wonder to behold. Think back. You know the feeling. It’s that pure, can’t-stop-it-and-why-would-you thing that happens when you meet another who sparks you, the sort of falling-in-love kind of love that brings spectacular joy without condition or expectation or design or hope. It wants nothing; it just is. Your souls spark an ember at first meeting, the ember catches flame and, when the love is returned, it consumes your whole being and warms everyone in your radius.

I believe I’d grown a bit out of touch with the magic of this glow, the spectacular power of seemingly out-of-nowhere, ancient love. Then on the way home from school yesterday, Charlie opened his mouth, seemingly out of nowhere, and we all grew warmer.

Charlie: (Mumbling) Mommy, I’m in love with Rosie*.

Me: What, bud?

Charlie: Oh, never mind. I didn’t say anything.

Me: Babe, did you just say you’re in love with Rosie?

Charlie: (Getting worked up, about to cry) Yes, I did! I said that, ok?!

Me: (Gushing) That’s wonderful, Charlie! Wow! I’m so happy for you that you feel so much love for Rosie. How does it feel in your body to feel this way about someone? How does your heart feel?

Charlie: (doing his little half-smile.) Really, really good. Awesome, even.

Long pause

Charlie: I thought you would be mad at me.

I admit, my gut-nanosecond reaction was to think, “What the—? But he’s too young for this kind of…” And then I remembered that falling in love is recognizing the infinite light in another, and no one is too young or too old for that.

Falling in love is seeing the truth of another’s perfection and him or her beaming your own perfection back at you. It’s pure. It’s beautiful. It’s world enhancing. It’s everything and the only thing. And, without a doubt, this glimpse of heaven is entirely accessible to two bright-as-the-sun five-year-olds.

Me: Mad at you? No way! Being in love is such an amazing feeling and I’m so happy for you that you get to feel this way for your friend. This is a huge deal, Charlie. You must enjoy it! It’s absolutely wonderful. You can’t control who you end up loving, I know that. So I will never be mad at you for falling in love with someone.

Charlie: Ok, Mommy. That’s good. Thanks. (smiles.) I’m just really in love with Rosie.

In the words of Rosie’s supercool mom: “If only love could stay this simple forever.”

Kindergartners, they only know one way to love:  With abandon and without expectation. Grownups, on the other hand, we don’t always get this. And if we ever did, we may have forgotten it by now. We’re so quick to build walls, apply stipulations, put up protections, drive expectations, make demands, play games and otherwise move further away from the unconditional, unattached purity of that first divinely orchestrated spark.

Kindergartners, they don’t want to hold the other, they just want to love the other. For Charlie and Rosie, there are no plans or aspirations, for example. Just loving is quite enough.

We arrived home, went inside and opened his backpack for the note Rosie’s mom said would be in his folder. She’d written him a note over winter break, presumably because the only thing that feels more victorious than simply loving is speaking it aloud. He opened the note slowly and intentionally, savoring the moment. I read it to him, right down to the “P.S. I love you” part, and he smiled.

“That’s so nice,” he said. “I’m hungry. Can I eat something?”

A couple moments passed as we dug into the pantry and then…

Me: How did it feel to read that super sweet letter from Rosie?

Charlie: Awesome. So good I almost feel like I could cry. Can I have some pretzels now?

Even at this stage of life, maybe it can stay that simple. I, for one, am going to take a page out of Charlie and Rosie’s book, and look for the perfection in others, raze my walls and detach from expectations. If just loving each other is enough for them, maybe it’s enough for all of us.

(*Rosie’s name has been changed.)

Enoughness Project Series #10: Old friends, my childhood home and one smiling rockstar

This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I am abstaining from frivolous material purchases, accepting all blessings that come my way and focusing on gratitude for all that I have. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives for material consumption; grow my understanding of when/why I buy things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

If you allow for pointy corners, my childhood bedroom is shaped like a heart. I just noticed this last week as my children slept soundly on its floor. My bed is somewhere near the right atrium. I was surprised never to have noticed this.

Glow-in-the-dark plastic stars sprinkle the ceiling, as do totally unscientifically placed planets. Jupiter here, Saturn there, Mercury over there, Venus right here, Pluto right over here, etc. I heard about kids who were motivated to recreate actual constellations and astronomically accurate planetary alignment on their ceilings back in the nineties, but the prospect quickened my pulse at the time. And so, to this day, it’s a right-brained solar system of which two recessed floodlights, in the two atriums of the angular heart, are the suns.

While in Kansas, I had dinner with some old friends one night. The magic of time-tested female friends is all-powerful, to be sure, and I reveled in it. We are women now, many of us moms, but these were the girls with whom I belted Madonna into brushes, danced into the night on beer-soaked cement floors, morphed study groups into memories, tried on outfits before a date, cried when my heart hurt and generally started shedding the skin of youth to uncover the woman I would become.

Image

Strangely, in this Facebook-happy world, I didn’t get a pic of my friends at dinner. But I did snap a few of our kids playing at the pool together the next day.

Old friends are a little bit of magic. When you haven’t seen each other in a while, you gaze at each other in wonder, you drink every word of their life like it’s nectar, you want to know literally everything that’s going on and they want to hear the same—even the ugly stuff. And you share it. You share it all, and you bounce around from person to person, topic to topic, getting almost everything out in soundbites, and receiving instant healing in the salve of a knowing, loving look before being honored with the next revelation of vulnerability from the friend across from you. Or next to you.

We talked a little bit about my Enoughness Project, and about how some of them had taken it on, too. “What was your big takeaway now that it’s all over?” Meg asked.

I’m not sure what I told her, but it wasn’t a complete answer. I’m pretty sure I said it wasn’t over at all. Yes, my moratorium on frivolous spending is technically lifted, and I haven’t gotten back on the shopping horse since, but the enoughness journey is ongoing for me.

I drove home that night with my windows down, the damp Kansas night blowing wisps of hair across my face as I sailed through green lights and past the neighborhood pools into which my girlfriends and I snuck, as teenagers, for late-night swims in our bras and panties. Past the highway I used to take to my grandma’s house in DeSoto. Past the coffee house I patronized as a high school senior to have really complex conversations with really deep people who were, like, so totally real.

Image

My grandma no longer lives in the sweet little house in DeSoto, Kan. Instead, she lives in a glistening senior living center, where she provided Russel Stover’s chocolate and storytelling to Charlie and Kip, who happened to relish both offerings almost equally. Almost.

My kids played for an hour on the playground where a wondrous blond boy whose memory still warms my heart used to park his Jeep so we could “talk.”

In Kansas, I’m not really sure how old I am. I have to keep looking in the mirror and at my children to remind myself I’m a grown-ass woman. My mind slips into the teenage years and I feel myself thinking of friends and family and boyfriends, slipping into patterns of a bygone era. If I’d never left my hometown, perhaps all these memories and such wouldn’t rush back with such clarity. If I’d come of adult age in suburban Kansas, perhaps this place would have grown up with me, taken on new memories, forgotten the old ones, not stayed 16 forever, not compelled me to feel hopeful every time I cruise 119th Street.

I can almost see Amber rolling up with a diet coke between her knees and bare feet on the pedals to take me to swim practice, or Kristen blaring “Anna Begins;” or Ryan careering up Nall Ave with metal blasting from his open t-tops; or Sam sitting at my parents’ kitchen stools asking questions that made me hysterical with love and laughter.

Image

If you were a young girl when I was a young girl, there is nothing–nothing–like sleeping in pink foam rollers to transport you back to your youth. (Aside: I took this pic to send to my sister that night but, embarrassing as it is, it is too germane not to post here.)

The boys and I left a day early to drive home. It was time to get back to our real life. It was a gorgeous day of blue skies, low-hanging cotton-ball clouds, millions of purple wildflower blossoms along the shoulder and enough sun to cast every farmer’s field in the richest of green. The highway was uncluttered, we mixed local radio stations with trusted ipod playlists, we talked a lot and we did our darnedest on a few occasions to pretend our car was a dance club.

Not too long after crossing the border into Illinois, probably a little more than half way into the 9-hour drive, Charlie announced he had to poop. We pulled over to gas up and find a potty. Two pumps down was a big, shiny, very fancy looking black van with a shimmery black trailer behind it. Two men walked toward the vehicle. One had long hair, steely eyes and one of those t-shirts that looks intentionally shabby but costs $75. The other was a meticulously groomed fellow, pristine in an all black getup that included a man-tank, tight jeans, a studded belt and well-shined boots.

“Hmm,” I said to the boys. “These guys look like musicians, don’t they? I wonder if they’re playing Chicago tonight.”

We rushed inside toward the bathroom and four additional guys—all skinny, all wearing nice clothes and a disproportionate number of statement rings per hand, all averting glances of other patrons and all sporting both overtly crafted rocker looks and cooler-than-thou airs—hovered at the register.

Three options: 1. They just happened to be regular guys from LA, 2. They were a highly contrived band of buddies hoping to get backstage at Lolla, or. 3. They were real-life rockstars. (For purposes of this story, let’s assume #3.)

Carrying Kip in one arm and leading Charlie by the hand, we walked briskly toward the back of the convenience store.

“Oh, Mommy,” Charlie called to me as though I were across a ravine. “I love you.”

“Yep, Mommy, I wiwy wuv you, too,” Kip echoed, also very loudly. “Dis is such a fun wode twip.”

We were almost to the bathrooms when Charlie made his next pronouncement. “Mommy? I really, really have to go poop!” he said, with plenty of feeling. I laughed out loud. “Mommy, can I go in the men’s room all by myself? I’m getting to be such a big kid. Or…maaaaaybe I can at least have my own stall in the girls bathroom? I can’t wait to get in there and go poop. I’ll feel so much better!”

Totally tickled and chuckling to myself, I happened to glance to my right and notice one of the rockers, in his smart little fedora and pointy boots, approaching down a perpendicular aisle, looking dead at me with an enormous grin on his face. He’d heard everything. Without a thought, I flashed him the biggest, happiest, flirtiest, most enchanting smile in my arsenal. I squeezed Charlie’s hand, kissed Kip’s head and, in the next second, pushed open the door to the ladies room, where we lingered for quite some time.

If anyone were to ask me today what came of my Enoughness Project, this story would have to be my best answer.

Barely any makeup, no glossy hair, dog-hairy yoga pants, worn t-shirt, kids slung all over me, conversing about poop and, when confronted with a dashing image of maleness and an otherworldly image of cool-ness, kissing my kids, batting my eyelashes and smiling like a starlet while walking into a gas station bathroom.

At that gas station on I-55 North, that was the enough-est version of me I know. Me being me without judgment. Me loving my loved ones, loving the present moment and loving myself such that no unfavorable ratio of me to “cool” could shake the fact that I am enough.

And that is exactly what I was going for with my Enoughness Project. Am still shooting for, because it’s ongoing. It wasn’t just about being mindful of and controlling my buying habits, it was mindfulness as my vehicle for reaching new awareness that I am enough, in every way. It’s not always easy, but at least I have a practice now. I know I have every second of every day to love myself and trust that what I innately am is exactly enough for this particular moment.

Perhaps you’ll have to come to this on your own, but this I do know: The same goes for you. You are exactly enough for this particular moment, every moment.

Image

Car dancing, naturally.

Get to juking, Chicago. Pride Week is upon you.

This weekend begins the 44th Annual Chicago Pride Week. As such, I would like to come out in support of my queer pals, and offer up a devastatingly vivid visual of this mama letting it all hang out at a big, gay dance party a few weekends ago.

How long has it been since you’ve danced with reckless abandon? Your own hands weaving through your hair like the fingers of a lover lifting the locks off your neck at 1 a.m. when the music is so loud and you’ve been dancing for hours and the new air on the skin of your nape feels like heaven.

A particular sense of freedom rises, uncaged after God knows how long. And you’re picking up the beat or the melody, or sometimes both, and moving without once worrying what everyone in the club thinks of you. You don’t even pause to consider what you look like, who sees you or whether you actually have any business dancing like no one’s watching, because you magically feel unconcerned that your body wasn’t built for music videos, and you can’t wipe the smile off your face. Your hips shake, your head tilts back and a hand laces in yours, pulls you in close, chest to chest and now you’re face to face.

I’m going to take you away. Just escape into the music. DJ let it play…

You haven’t felt this way in public in…maybe not ever. It’s ecstatic without X, drunk without drunkenness, sexy without sex. You laugh. And then you break it the hell down with the warm body pressed up against yours like you’re on Soul Train. No, more like Save the Last Dance, but the imaginary version starring a straight girl and her gay male friends.

You learn a new word, “juking,” and you’re not sure what it means, but you are pretty sure you’re nailing it. You find out later juking* is “A frequently used word by the Chicago urban scene meaning to dance, party, get crunk, get buck, get loose, and just simply have fun,” and you know you that’s what you did.

This is not how you spend most Saturday nights, not anymore. Usually you’re snuggled in the hammock with your husband after putting the kids to bed. Sometimes you’re out to dinner for a girlfriend’s birthday. Sometimes you’re already asleep. But Saturday night is rarely about unleashing your best attempt at Shakira hips, unless in front of your dining room mirror, and, if you do happen to be out dancing with actual people in public, it’s never to a gay bar because you’ve had too many wonderful friends mention they’re not fond of the bachelorettes who storm into the only place some gay people feel comfortable publicly revealing their sexuality with penis necklaces and cameras as though they’re visiting the circus. “I’m not your clown,” comments one of your friends. So, with respect as your intention, you stay away from Boystown and Andersonville’s dancey bars. You let your gay friends and their gay friends have their space, knowing that, as a heterosexual person, comparatively, the whole world is your space.

But these generous men talk you into joining them one night, this night, and you don’t feel like you’re dressed for a night out in white shorts and a top you’ve had for ages, but you throw on some heels and go anyway. You talk, you laugh, you dance together, the world slips away with the spinning DJ, you get told you’re gorgeous approximately 105 times by people who want nothing from you, no one so much as looks at you with disrespect and you smile the entire night. You wonder if, you being you, you could experience this kind of euphoria at a regular dance club, and, if you were out with your girlfriends in a typical hetero club, would you be ducking around, trying not to let loose for fear of a.) looking foolish, b.) not being as good a dancer as the glamorous chick in the sequins, or c.) attracting attention inappropriate for a married woman to entertain?

You brush the thought away because you’re here and not there, and your new favorite song is playing. Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child. See Heaven’s got a plan for you…

You watch one of your friends, a particularly tender soul, fall into conversation with a handsome stranger. And it makes you smile, like, huge, because he really needed someone to just notice him tonight. Whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh. See Heaven’s got a plan for you…

Despite all the joy, it’s late and you’re losing steam, so two friends wait with you on the curb to see you safely into a cab. You go home and fall asleep wrapped around your husband with your hand on his heart. You wake a few hours later pinned between your man and your five-year-old, who’s saying, “It’s morning, Mommy.” You tell him you’re super tired because you were out very late dancing in one of those places where grown-ups dance all night long. He responds by saying, with a quivering lip, “You’re making me feel a little jealous, Mommy.”

You know that it was a fluke of a night, and that it’ll be a while before you enjoy another dance party like that one, but you feel the sense of freedom lingering. And you pause to consider whether that freedom was accessible to you before this night, and before the two other nights of your adult life in which dear friends invited you to dance with them amid a sea of some of the free-est-seeming people you’ve ever seen.

But whether it happens again doesn’t really matter.

Your hypercritical inner mean girl got a little bit smaller tonight because your appearance-conscious self was juking without a care in the world. What else is there to say?

…A prayer. Yes. You can say a prayer.

Dear God,

May all queer people of the world feel as free to be their true selves as I felt in the safety of their space. You made us all, and we’re all perfect in your image. Thank you, God.

Amen

Happy Pride Week, Chicago!

*Note: “Juking” may also have a slightly more risqué connotation, and I can assure you what I was doing on that dancefloor didn’t remotely resemble the juking you might find on YouTube. How I’d love to be able to make my body do that.

Image

Sometimes you can’t even believe how blessed you are to count these guys as your dear ones. They have treated you to innumerable joys, but for context of this blog post, they’ve facilitated two of your life’s best dance parties. And by facilitated, I mean they have made a sandwich out of you for the entirety of “Hungry like the Wolf” and not laughed at your serious efforts to pretend you know how to samba. Here, you prepare to break it down to 80s cover tunes at Midsommarfest.

Bridging the porcupine-human divide for a more peaceful America

“Mommy, I’m a porcupine. Watch out!”

“Oh no! Please don’t get me with your pokey quills!”

“I won’t get you, Mommy. I like humans. My mom is a human. But my dad is a porcupine and so I’m a porcupine, too. But you better watch out, Mommy, because my dad is coming and he does nooot like humans.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, when he sees you, he’ll get you. He hates humans and he’s reeeally mean when he’s mad. Run, Mommy, run!”

“Ok, I’ll run, but wait a sec. Your dad doesn’t like humans?!?”

“Umm, no. He doesn’t like them aaaaat all. But…I think it’s because he just doesn’t know any.”

Here's one fierce little porcupine following swim class. Who knew his big brother would blow my mind with his simple insight?

Here’s one fierce little porcupine following swim class. Who knew his big brother would blow my mind with his simple insight?

Dude. Wow.

If we can overlook the obvious hole in the story—clearly porcu-dad must’ve “known” at least one human, and I’m certain his hatred was borne of her scorn—Charlie’s observation is profound. In one simple scene of preschool pretend play Charlie identified our problem and our solution…

Problem: Hate (See also judgment or disapproval)

Solution: Get to know that which you hate (or that of which you don’t know, or that of which you disapprove)

After recent conversations with a beloved and well-respected friend whose sociopolitical views are disparate from my own, I find in Charlie’s comment my marching orders.

I encourage you to join me in expanding your network of acquaintances or, better yet, friends, to include someone who’s your opposite in some way. Get to know someone who’s different from you—in terms of gender, race, culture, faith, sexual orientation, political belief, sports team affiliation, economic status, whatever—and try to get to know them. Even if just a little bit. And then tell me about it.

This goes for both sides of the coin, whatever your coin is. We’re all being called to open up just a smidge.

See, when a porcupine makes the effort to see a human, previously perceived as different, unacceptable, distasteful or worse, as a fellow child of God with his or her own heartache, hardships, loved ones and joys, love becomes that porcupine. And what’s a more powerful agent for that which heals individuals and the world than the energy of love?