Are you there, Goddess? It’s me, Margaret.

We remember this book cover, don’t we, girls?

My tried-and-true crew of goddess-friends recently got together to celebrate the summer solstice and, naturally, conversation turned toward periods. You know, as it’s prone to do at a girls night*.

(*ASIDE: Surprise! I was being ironic. As lavishly liberated ladies, it’s actually quite rare for us to discuss our periods when we get together. Usually we stick to talking about organic baking and our favorite bras. Haha. Tricked you again. We actually did discuss bras—the fact that no woman should waste her breasts on anything but a sexy one. But, really, normally we just have pillow fights in our panties.)

But about bras, this vintage La Perla longline will do just fine.

Turns out Cin was in the process of plotting a coming-of-age ritual for a dear friend’s daughter. The questions started flying: How old were you when you got your first period? How was that for you? Who helped you through it? What did your mom do? Did you have any idea of the amazing gift you’d been given—to create life—at that moment? Were you able to fathom that, in all this mess, you’d just received the world’s most wondrous superpower?

We all reflected on how glorious it might have been to be surrounded by a bunch of loving women when our bodies decided to go off the effing reservation. Because that’s how it seems when you’re 10 or 13 or 16, or whatever, and you have fertility rushing from your body for the first time.

My mom was pretty great—warm, loving and matter-of-fact—about the whole period thing, but it certainly wasn’t, like, a celebration. I was given some Ivory soap, some pads and a big hug. “Welcome to womanhood,” she smiled sincerely. She was sweet and I felt like I’d joined a new club, but it was shocking. And solitary. I was young—I got it on vacation in Colorado on my 11th birthday—so it was also a secret. If anyone had found out about me getting my period while riding Mademoiselle, the spunky brown Bay, up the mountain toward the old abandoned sheepherders’ cabins on the Jacques’ ranch only to notice blood through my jeans, I might’ve killed them.

So last week when my babysitter’s 11-year-old daughter revealed with an uncomfy grin that she couldn’t swim today, I went in. “Is it because…?” I asked her. Her mom was sitting right next to me, and she leaned toward me, smiling. The girl nodded.

“Oh, honey, that’s wonderful!” I beamed. She and her mom beamed back. The glow of her beautiful face was unforgettable. I started gushing. “Congratulations! I’m so excited for you. This is such a big deal. You know that right? You now have a superpower! You can create life, you are infinite, you are connected to all women throughout all time, you are a goddess, you are a queen.”

This isn’t how most of us feel about our first period, but this is how I want girls to feel about coming of age.

I stopped, glancing at her mom, who was smiling from ear to ear. “I mean, of course just because you can create life doesn’t mean you should—you’re so young—but you have a gift, the gift of womanhood. Wow, honey, I’m so happy for you.”

She beamed so brightly, her lovely features completely absorbed in the joy of my reaction. We hugged. She pressed her flawless face into my chest and wrapped her arms tightly around my waist as we embraced. When I pulled away, her smile was so big, and her eyes so wide. She searched my face and I knew what she wanted to ask.

“You know you can swim,” I started. “If you want to, right?”

Her mom jumped in, talking really fast. “I never learned how to use those things, Emily. Can you teach her? Please? Would you mind?”

Oh. My. Holy. Can I teach your luminous, sports-loving daughter how to use a tampon so that she can swim today because it’s hot out and she really, really, really wants to? Would I mind?!

“It would be such an honor,” I said, with tears in my eyes, for sure. “Thank you for asking me!”

We tucked away on a sidewalk behind the bushes at the park and I rifled through my purse for a tampon. Even though my little boys already know all about periods, they and their buddies were curious about what was going on with this unlikely pow wow, which mortified the new young woman. They eventually lost interest and gave us the privacy we wanted.

This was kinda what the scene looked like. But at a park.

We sat in a circle and they listened, rapt, as I explained how to use the magical thing that would allow her to swim with her friends even while on her period. She was so excited about it, and her mom seemed relieved to find someone she knew who could teach her daughter about this thing. It was awkward, so we laughed a lot. It was the kind of laughing that starts out nervous, moves to a crescendo of sincerity that acts as glue between those sharing it and culminates in a deep, comforting sigh. Eventually, after doing my best to answer her questions, I gave her one for the road—it was all I had in my purse—and we re-engaged with the park around us.

On some level, I aspire to heal my own girlhood, fraught with stifling, subverting and frequent invisibility, by seeing, uplifting and empowering the young girls I get to know now that I’m a grown-up.

It may say something strange of me to get so excited about taking part in an aspect of this lovely girl’s initiation into womanhood, but my feet didn’t touch the ground the rest of the afternoon. Naturally, as I happen to be in a season of making intentional effort to experience gratitude for all the things going wonderfully in my life, I felt overcome with thanksgiving for this girl, her mom and the favor they so generously asked of me.

And, bonus, I now have the perfect story to tell the ladies at our Fall Equinox celebration. Right after we discuss casserole recipes and hair conditioner.

A lesson in finding the blessing in the muck

High five for the blessing of a messy life. Behind the broken raspberries, there are five healthy fingers.

High five for the blessing of a messy life. Behind the broken raspberries, there are four healthy fingers.

Oh my peas, I have a cold. And I’m tuckered out. Everyone in my house has a cold, so until they’re healthy, mama marches on as usual. I’m coming off a week of temporary solo parenting while the man was at a conference and he came back sick and tired and in need of rest, too. Which means I got no rest last weekend. And this week has been a bear. (are you crying for me yet?)

The work deadlines have been bumpier than most weeks. I’m coughing a lot. My youngest squished these gelatinous Halloween eyeballs into a thousand jiggly crumbs on the living room carpet such that I had to jack the vacuum up and down to catch all the pieces like I was playing Hungry, Hungry Hippos. The dogs nudged the lid off the bathroom trashcan and dispersed its contents all over the floors of my office and bedroom. Brian’s artisanal breakfast sausage habit has reached a crescendo and now everything in my closet smells like his morning feast. Obviously, this is a sampling of the more trivial stuff.

Without going into detail about the bigger issues, everything and everyone coming at me was making withdrawals from my energetic bank account.

I vented a little when my next-door neighbor, Gwen, who we drive to work in the morning on our way to school, asked me how I was doing. I was fully expecting woman-to-woman empathy. Instead, she had a little something to teach me:

“You’ve got to be thankful for the messes because it means you’ve got wonderful little children. Right, boys?” she called in her booming voice, laughing, toward the back seat.

(insert record screech) What? I was looking for some sympathy. I’m here feeling burdened by life, you know…

“You got to thank God for the dishes because He gave you food. You be thankful for the laundry because it means you have clothes. Be thankful for Brian being out of town because it means he’s got a job and takes care of your family,” she said. “He makes a mess? Say, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me a great man who’s home with me.’ You got to say thank you to God for these things.”

Charlie announced my tears as soon as they sprung. “Oh, Mommy. I know you’re crying now,” he sounded amused. “Ok, well it looks like you’re crying for happy. So why are you crying?”

Gwen just smiled out the window. Gwen, the one who spends five days a week working in an assisted-living facility playing games with and caring mostly for mentally ill adults and her nights playing nurse to her husband, a stroke-victim who used to direct traffic in the Loop, serve as the neighborhood watch for our street and listen to jazz on his front porch when he retired. Now he calls to her at all hours of the night and she goes, she helps him and she thanks God for it. She yearns for a break, a vacation, some time for herself but, amid it all, she’s still grateful for what is.

I hesitate to name call, but what an out-of-touch diva I can be!

I face messes and other challenges because I have three affectionate, devoted, protective, hilariously quirky dogs; two brilliant, inventive, boisterous, physically strong little boys; and one luminous, soulful, powerful, inexplicably adoring husband. I have a cold because I’ve been out in the world touching a thousand different experiences and drinking in life as it comes.

Ok, ok. I get it, Gwen. And thank you for helping me see through a different lens. When in the swirl, it is helpful remember the source of it. Chances are, it’s a blessing.

Enoughness Project Series #9: My own personal sleep patrol, “vacation,” fish tacos and more enoughness

Brian had a serious talk with me two Saturdays ago. “I’m worried about you,” he said. He has never once uttered those words to me in 10+ years of togetherness. My husband is neither a worrier nor a man who makes casual commentary, so when he told me he feels I need more sleep, I could think of no other option than to get up from my desk and come to bed.

So that answers the question of where I’ve been, and why I haven’t been posting as much as a committed blogger should. As so many of us are every day, I’d hopped on a train I thought I had to ride and Brian gave me permission to get off. Sure, it’s meant less night writing (because no writing–no nothing–gets done by day with my two wildmen throwing stuff at me or wrestling each other into horrific squeals if I so much as open my laptop), less time on the gazillion projects I have working at any given time and less journal-y exploration of my Enoughness Project. But it’s also meant more rest, which leads to a more grounded me, a me who makes all-around healthier choices for myself because my nerves are firing smoothly enough to do that.

Somewhere in this earlier-to-bed journey—and I frankly should be in bed right now—I’ve discovered something. And it’s novel.

My enoughness doesn’t have anything to do with what I buy, or don’t. Cue the awe and wonderment. I know. Whaaaat?!

It actually turns out my value as a human being is unrelated to what I wear or own, or how I decorate my home, my face or my garden, or even what anyone else thinks of me, what I do, how I am, what my kids or husband are like, etc.

I was on vacation last week. We’ll call it “vacation” but, as a mom packing up daily life and relocating it to a little lived-in cottage on a slimy green lake, you’re more vacation facilitator than actual vacationer.

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This is me, making the most of the slimy lake. While I took off in our ultra-portable new inflatable kayak, my spawn had no issue with the slime–or the cuts they got on their bare tootsies from the rocky bottom.

Anyway, I was there. And I was stepping around the kitchen in the old swimsuit coverup I wore every weekend in my mid-twenties frying fish tacos from the bluegill amassed by my husband and both of my wee sons that morning, and I thought, “Wow, I have so much to be thankful for. How could I have missed it?”

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Quinn men are very intent about their fish-getting. In this process, I discovered something else unrelated to enoughness and the like: a disturbing disconnect between my ability to eat animals, and my aversion to actually killing them myself. Topic for future discussion, perhaps. Or not.

Something about the act of once again cooking fresh-caught fish—after a very long hiatus due to the fact we no longer live by the sea and Brian hesitates to spear fish in Lake Michigan—and preparing it in the style of the region of Mexico I inhabited before becoming a mom to sons who’d just brought me a bounty of fish as their dad had always done in our early days, all while wearing a scant garment that was my veritable weekend uniform during a time of youthfulness and major inner blossoming in a tropical desert…it transported me in some way I can’t explain. It shifted me to a new frequency. There I was in a stranger’s knick-knacky weekend home beside a body of murky though fish-rich water listening to jet skis zipping back and forth using a crappy rented skillet wearing an old white embroidered kaftan and looking at my ugly Charlie-smudged DIY pedicured toes feeling like a resplendent queen.

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This is what happens in my world when you try to paint your toenails during Charlie and Kip’s normal waking hours. Not pretty.

The trappings of this life are not really where it’s at when you’re searching for your worth in the world. I suppose nostalgia and fish tacos aren’t the answer, either. Gratitude, however, may be the key to experiencing my own personal enoughness. Noticing how good it feels when you don’t care what you’re supposed to look like, or live like, love like or act like and just allowing yourself to look, live, love and be as you are, how you are, who you are, it feels like, well, more than enough.

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Homemade bluegill fish tacos.

Gut reaction to The Enoughness Project, my study in gratitude, receivership and transcendence

I’m going out with some girlfriends tomorrow night. It’s not any place super fancy, but it is in Lincoln Park, which is a place the mommies tend to dress up a little more than they do in my neighborhood. As I sat in the bath last night thinking about what I wanted to wear tomorrow, it occurred to me I might need a floor-length skirt. Yes, that would complete my wardrobe and my girls-night look if I just had a very-now floor-length skirt to wear with the sheer polka-dotted, button-down, tie-front top I plan to wear.

A ha! But, Emily, you made a deal with yourself. No shopping for material things for three months. You are enough. You don’t have to go buy stuff to prove it. Make do with what you have. Get creative. And may I remind you, you are enough.

Without realizing what I was doing, I began pondering the idea of going to Marshall’s tomorrow to look for something appropriate for this one night out with these dear friends who, though decidedly glamorous and aesthetically inspiring, would love me just the same if I met them wearing faded yoga pants and a sweatshirt. After all, that’s what we were all wearing when we met five years ago, just after we’d birthed our newborns and were settling into a state of shock over suspending our careers and plunging into stay-at-home motherhood.

But if only I had the right kind of skirt to wear… Better yet, if only I was a little thinner. Then those really cool jeans hanging in my closet would fit without my having to conceal the side-bulge with a jacket. And, if I were a smaller size, if my stomach washboard, then not only would those jeans fit better, but they would look awesome with that top, no under tank necessary…

Stop! Red light!

I am enough. I am enough. I am ENOUGH, I remind myself. I have everything I need, and most of what I want. Life is good and, know what? Tomorrow night, despite not having the floor-length skirt or the daily-Crossfit-style body I desire, I will look lovely enough. Not because of what I’m wearing or because I’ve lost or gained weight or because my hair and makeup are in place, but because I just am.

Note: 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…

Introducing the Enoughness Project: My study in gratitude, receivership and transcendence

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Kip calls these my cheetah jammies. (I always hang my cotton Target nightgowns on a satin hanger. You don’t?)

“Cool jammies, Mudder,” Kip says, a talking baby koala hanging from my right side like it’s eucalyptus. It makes me laugh every time this three-year-old snuggle monster calls me “Mother,” so he does it often.

“Are you a cheetah?”

“Yes, Kippy, I am a cheetah,” I whisper.

“Mommyyyy?”

“Your mommy is a cheetah. And so are you because you can run sooo fast,” I say.

“I suuuure can! I sure can wun wiwy fast,” he sings, then pauses. “I wuv you, my mudderrrr.”

He leans his head into the curve of my neck and pats my back the same way I do when I want to let him know without words that I love him. It’s the first thing in the morning.

It seems blasphemous in hindsight to put him down in that moment so that I might return to fixating on what to wear for the day, but that’s what I do. The recent indulgence in birthday cake and pizza feels full in my midsection. I think I look a little bit pregnant and the weather has turned warm, requiring me to forego the layers I’d usually employ to hide myself.

If only I had a shirt that looked nice and also hid this stomach thing I’ve got working.

If only I had something other than last summer’s cotton dresses to throw on.

If only I had a different body altogether. Yeah, I wish I just had a different body…

Should this If Only voice go totally unchecked, it might say: “OMG, what is wrong with you? Seriously, what is up with your body? You know that if you want to look fit, you’ve got to get control of yourself, lazy. I’m talking about exercise. And no birthday cake. I don’t care if it is your five-year-old’s birthday. Get it together.”

In this moment, precisely 30 seconds after releasing Kip, the embodiment of joy, from my arms, I feel sad. I think about how much better I’d feel about everything if I had a new shirt. A new shirt would solve all my problems. I wonder if I have time to go buy one. Or a new dress. Something to make me look more fantastic than I feel in this moment.

But I’ve made a deal with myself and with the universe, and a new shirt is not an option. This deal–it popped into my head in a way that felt important while meditating one night– I’m calling it my Enoughness Project: A study in gratitude, receivership and transcendence. You could call it a sort of spiritual detox, a process of recognizing my own innate enoughness.

What the Enoughness Project entails:

-No frivolous shopping trips. I will not purchase any nonessential material items for three months. This particularly means clothes, beauty products and home accessories. I’ve never been a credit-card-debt-racking slave to beauty and fashion, and I don’t *think* my friends would describe me as a shopper, but when I want to make myself feel shiny and new, I often seek out Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx, Target or the makeup counter for things that will spruce up my body, my appearance or my nest at a low cost.

-I must accept blessings in whatever form they come. My gut reaction when I’m facing generosity, gifts, work opportunities, epiphanies, beautiful moments, etc., is to think or say “Thank you so much. But I can’t accept that.” In other words, “I don’t deserve that.” With this project, I must remain open to receiving all the wonderful blessings that come my way and leave it at “Thank you so much. I’d love that.” Because I need to buy the line I give everyone else: You are amazing, you are a child of God and you deserve all the blessings in the universe. (Everyone does.)

-Maintain conscious awareness of all the blessings I already enjoy. This means opening my eyes a little wider so I can take in all that I have—and be grateful for it.

The point?

If you’ll pardon some redundancy, there are several points to this project:

-Separate the association between looking good and being good.

-Get comfortable with receiving blessings

-Be grateful for all that I already have

-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.

What was the impetus for the Enoughness Project?

I went to the dentist. That night, as I was meditating, I received a clear call, which may have been inspired by my conversation with the Bosnian dental hygienist who I’ve seen a hundred times but who has never made mere mention of the horrors she experienced during the ethnic cleansing of her people until that day. I listened to her tales of fear, torture, bleakness and not having enough food to feed her tiny children and, with tears in my eyes, I felt sickened by my own to-do list, which included things like “look for a new going-out dress” and “buy a turquoise accent piece for the living room.” The vision of my elegant dental hygienist huddled on the floor with her four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, both hungry, in a foxhole of couches and chairs, hoping to sleep all night protected from gunfire in the streets while her husband worked at the prison camp…

Her story brought an undeniable clarity within me: I have everything I need and almost all of what I want. In listening to her experience in her home country and in receiving her call to enjoy everything we have in this country, going out and buying stuff on a whim, though a regular habit, officially became an expired habit for me.

That said, it seems worthwhile to clarify I’m not foregoing shopping out of disgust for American mass consumption, although the trend does trouble me. The connection I felt with my dental hygienist was merely a catalyst for me to examine my own motives for consumption when, in reality, I have everything I need, no one is hungry and we are safe. This is not a political statement but rather a deeply personal exploration.

Send me some good vibes on this journey?

As most of us know, changing habits can be extremely difficult, and this will be no exception. My Enoughness Project is going to be a hard row, and I’ll be blogging about it as things come up. It’s sure to call up a whole slew of deep-down feelings, ideas, beliefs and experiences just waiting to surface; and, as this project is, after all, intended to induce transcendence, this is just as it should be.

With luck, in three months, at the very least, I’ll have the wherewithal to embrace life’s sweetest moments without preoccupying myself with material predicaments like what I’m going to wear. Instead of putting Kip down to stare at my closet, I’ll swing my little koala around in my arms, snuggle him close to my cheetah jammies, bathe him in laughter—and then get dressed.