Letting It All Be.

This morning I lay on the couch and I cuddled my precious little girl. Marveling at each of her delicate tiny features and listening to her carefully sounding out the words on her ipad to me and I realised. "She can read! She can really read. And she can write. She can express herself through the written word and she can read the communications of others. And that is a true miracle for any human being and it made me a little breathless. Just as it had when my mom pointed out that I could read when I sounded out "Hot Food" in the food court at Sandton City.

And then I watched as the glass window above the front door filled with a halo of white blonde hair and my youngest son, who is suddenly a man with a deep voice, hurried to pull it open and greet his oldest brother and I listened to them talk, they way men who are friends do. And I thrilled with joy when each of them came over to wish their little sister Happy Thanksgiving and listen to her with amused affection and leaned over to let me ruffle their hair which felt exactly the same as it had when they were 3,6, 10 years old.  And I just soaked in their camaraderie as they laughed and exchanged stories and jokes about Thanksgiving morning football games they had participated in years gone by and I thought to myself. This is my family.  And honestly looking at all these handsome grown men, I still feel like I'm playing a part of mom to teen-aged boys and a girl who has her boyfriend come over to help with the pies. I can't quite fathom that it's real. It feels like I dropped into a Folgers coffee Thanksgiving morning commercial to be honest.

I don't know if everyone feels like this or if it's because my life is so very white middle class TV-ad American and I'm still very South African. And I only saw scenes like these on TV rather than in real life?  Or perhaps it's just because I'm still in denial that my son is older than I was when I got married and so none of this can possibly be because I'm still 19?  I'm still 28 with 4 little children in matching outfits. Aren't I? And then my husband hands me a cup of coffee and he says, "you made all these people. Can you believe it?" And I'm like..."hey so did you and...nope."

But instead of feeling weirded out or panicked or wistful or wishful, today I allow myself to soak it in completely. To observe it and feel absolute wonderment and gratitude and joy that this happy, peaceful scene of perfect abundance is mine. Is mine! Is of my making and of my good fortune and of my love and the love of those around me. And of the love and the goodness and the hard work and the faith and the commitment and the forgiveness and kindness of everyone in my family, and everyone who had a supportive role in my family over the years through all of our good times and our many struggles and our day to day conundrums of having too many places to take too many children. Someone always stepped in.  The Universe has shown us a tremendous amount of grace and has  never failed to channel love our way and I don't know why but I do know that this love is responsible for everything so precious and perfect in my tiny sunny living room.  My tiny very humble living room with it's random assortment of donated and found furniture and the rug which is actually a big piece of fabric from a bolt I found for $5 at Goodwill and put on a rug mat I found at Big Lots and rejoiced because the widths matched EXACTLY,  this morning and I feel purely and entirely thankful.

At the beginning of this month I was committed to posting something every day. I was derailed by PTSD. I kept writing but it was for me.  And I had many other posts lined up in my drafts for today. But none of them wanted to be published. And long ago I decided that if my heart didn't beat a little bit more quickly when I considered publishing something I wrote, it was to stay in my personal folders until it did. But here's something I want you to read it's by Glennon Doyle and it was written last Thanksgiving Eve:

Here's what we do tomorrow
We stop trying to be the director of the family show
and we just become an amused audience member

we jump on stage when it's our line
we let everybody in the family play their role

we stop fixing, cajoling, judging, and lobbying

we stop hoping so hard and start accepting

we let it all be.

And here's something I want you to know. I have a beautiful, blessed life. And I am thankful for it. And a good deal of the time I also struggle with feelings of great sadness and I struggle with them so that I can enjoy the abundance that is real. And I'm getting so much better at winning those struggles but less than 48 hours ago I lay sobbing like a very little girl in my bed, under my covers. Feeling very sad and very, very, very alone and scared and lonely.   And I wished nothing more than that all the holidays would just disappear because they trigger my PTSD rather badly sometimes. But I also know that I have a family and I don't want their holiday legacy to be tainted by PTSD and so I figured out what would make this day the very easiest for me. And that meant deciding to cater in most of the Thanksgiving meal and handle only the parts that a very scared, overwhelmed little girl felt was doable.  And once I made that decision I felt more and more like a functional adult.  So if you are feeling very sad or very alone as you see pictures on social media of big happy families enjoying time together know that we all have our struggles. Everything is not as it seems.  Be very, very kind to yourself. Do whatever you need to do to stay alive and to be present and to enjoy the abundance that is in front of you. Because it is present for all of us in some form or another. Even if it is just a comfortable place to sit, a hot cup of coffee, running water and a bed where we can rest undisturbed. Shelter from storms and from vermin. Somewhere we can go to get food.  Whatever it is, recognize it and rest in that abundance and ask nothing else from yourself. And if you simply can't see any abundance because the sadness is just that overwhelming and the fear and panic feelings are just too real, withhold any judgment. Talk to yourself as if you would a small frightened precious child. Because that is who you are. And assure yourself that this too shall pass. And yes the feelings may come back over and over again but there will be breaks in the clouds and there will be sunshine and you only have to handle what is right in front of you on this day. And then find a distraction if you can. A friendly face, something to laugh at, something to do. Move your body. Get outside even if it is just to take the trash out.  See if you can help a neighbour in any small way. All these things help. They helped me a lot in the last 48 hours. We can do this. I hope you can feel my love and my warmth and my reassurance because it's meant just for you dear reader.

Much love.

The Person Who Inspires Me Most

You guys, I'm kinda nailing this November blogging thing. I'm just saying.


You know those people who don't get impressed by anything? Well that's not me. Life can be hard and people are amazing. There are so many people who leave me breathless with their resilience, brilliance, bravery, dedication, creativity, strength, willpower, patience, capacity to love.  Over time, particularly in the last couple of years my inner circle has become extremely small and tight and there is not a single person inside of it who doesn't completely blow me away in some regard on a daily basis.  I feel like that's a good rule of thumb for who you want in your inner circle. You want your inner circle to make you smile from the inside out, to light up your soul in some way. You want your chosen people to be the type of people who make you drift away for a moment when you are interacting with them because you are marveling over how incredibly lucky you are to have them in your life.

Sometimes I will mention to a friend how I have replayed something they have said or done in my mind when the going gets tough and I need inspiration.  Usually they have completely forgotten the incident they had a part in which was so inspiring to me (that's good to remember, you never know who you are inspiring and how).

I am inspired by people I know and love also by people I don't know. Today, I watched the NYC marathon and got teary eyed along with everyone else as the female winner pumped her fist in triumph when she realised she had won. The first American woman in 40 years to do so.

Ripped from the pages of my facebook feed:
Her "FUCK YES ✊🏻!!!!" as she sprinted at the line...gave me a total lump in my throat. So I pretty much always root for the African but it was so apparent that she was having that one in a million perfect dream come true when every oz of everything you have sacrificed and suffered comes through for you at just the right moment experience and that kind of magic...it's just an absolute privilege to watch. 

Clearly, I can never relate to the thrill of being an elite major marathon winner, but I can most certainly relate to what it feels like when all the work pays off and you are also blessed with a good running day. Running is so unpredictable and in the course of 26.2 miles alongside thousands of other people, anything can happen to derail your dreams but today, it all fell into place for Shalane Flanagan and that was magical and so inspiring. Just the shot in the arm I needed as I have been struggling with a fearful and pessimistic mindset in my own marathon training. I want to feel some of that joy again. It's absolutely intoxicating. She was every little girl who had a dream's hero today.

But if you were to ask me which person I think of the most often when I am really at rock bottom, when the tank is empty, when I can't get out of bed, when I feel like the worst, most useless or ridiculous human being in the world and I really need to get over that and get on with it. The person who comes to mind is.....


Why? Because there is nobody I know more intimately.  There is no one whose struggles I am more closely acquainted with.  There is no struggle I can relate to better than my own. I know exactly what I have overcome, and how often I have triumphed in tiny and big ways. Sometimes it's as small as getting out of bed, and forcing myself to do some household chores before I collapse back into bed to sleep off the grips of a PTSD episode, sometimes it is taking my tired self out into the freezing cold to complete a difficult run, other times it' humbling myself on the mat as I get tossed around like a rag doll at jiu jitsu or being content to look completely inept at boxing, sometimes it's as big as giving birth or completing a 1/2 marathon or naming and facing my biggest demons, standing up to my abusers, walking away from things which are breaking me.  But every time something hard comes along, and I fear I will not be able to handle it, the most powerful and effective thing I know to do is remembering all the times I did.

Reminding myself that I have survived 100% of my worst most difficult days, and I will survive this too.  Allowing myself permission to start over, to ask for forgiveness from others, to accept forgiveness from myself.  Reminding myself that this too shall pass, like all the times it did before.  Conjuring up memories of all the times I thought I was done for, when in fact I wasn't.

Let me be very clear. I don't believe I'm any better than anyone else. But I know that my victories are hard won and I know they are legit.

Which is why, as I get older and wiser, the days when I'm feeling ok or maybe even better than ok, I try to make hay while the sun shines. I try to do as much as I can. I try to stretch myself, move out of my comfort zone, face a fear, do something new, express my love and appreciation fearlessly. I try to deposit as much as I can into  the Bank of Mama Said There Would Be Days Like This.

So that when those rainy impossible days do come, I can make those withdrawals from my archives of badassery, and I can remind myself of how awesome I am and how brave and tough and strong and fierce I can be when I need to be.

Here's my advice. Surround yourself with your heroes, always be looking for new ones, but most importantly, be your own.

Saturday morning musings. Mormon Regrets? I have a few. Or do I?

This morning as my husband brought me coffee in bed, I mapped out my running schedule for the weekend, knowing I had two full days at my disposal. He mentioned that he had bumped into a former member of our Mormon congregation at the coffee shop and their pleasant interaction,  "Oh good for them! Enjoying that coffee life too!" I exclaimed as I sipped my fresh cup of happiness. And then of course, I commented to him for the millionth time how much more wonderful life is now....

Once again my mind wandered back to a specific moment of one of the many, many times since childhood where I questioned the Mormon church. On this specific day, we had been dressed up in our Sunday best. But it wasn't a Sunday morning, it was a Saturday night. We were preparing to go to some church event, missing a community function we would have much preferred to be at, and we also had to do our grocery shopping before we left for the church function, because we knew we would be home late in the evening and we wouldn't be able to shop the next day, it being the Sabbath. I was stressed realizing that once again we had forgotten to get one of our son's new church shoes and he was going to be stuffing his feet into something 3 sizes too small.  In my tired resigned state I  remarked to my husband, "can you imagine how mad we are going to be when we get to the other side and realize that all of this was for nothing? It was all bullcrap?" (I swore significantly less in those days)   He laughed and shrugged it off. This was a half serious joke I had made since childhood.  My mom's answer for that was always, "so what if it is? Can you think of a better way you could have spent your life?"

Um. Yes. Yes I could.   The truth is, that I didn't. I was raised and I raised most of my children for a good portion of their lives in the Mormon church. It is what it is, for good and for ill. And there's a really good chance that a good portion of it was for good. But we will never know. I have at least one child who deals with a lot of emotional fallout from what I now realize was super inappropriate overreach, controlling, guilt inducing, toxic nonsense. And as a parent I take responsibility for allowing his exposure to that, even encouraging it. I give myself grace though because I was doing the best I knew at the time. I truly was. And so were the people in the church, and they still are. Still, it messed with my kid's mind to an extent that my kid has had a really tough time since. But that's ok because when we are supported through struggle we become powerful to help others in turn.

Do I regret all the Sundays I spent stressed, miserable, triggered. Shooting dagger eyes at adorable normal little children we were forced to "sit and be reverent" for the lion's portion of 3 hours? Yes. I absolutely do.  With all my heart I would like to go back, put those sweet precious little children in comfortable clothing and let them spend all sunday playing outside or going to a church where they learned only about a loving God who expected nothing from them but for them to love as fully and completely as their little hearts could muster. And that this love should start with loving themselves.

Do I regret the relationships they had with older people in lieu of geographically absent and disinterested grandparents ? No I don't . I am so grateful for every kind, invested, generous and loving older member of our church congregation who gave my children a sense of belonging, of inter-generational family. When Finny would cry because his best friend had two doting and geographically close grandma's and his grandma didn't even visit when his baby sister was born, I could point out all the people who did visit. Who did care. Who did love him and lived close enough to show him so.  We formed those relationships through church, nurtured them through weekly attendance and miss them now. Those things were categorically good.

Would my children have been as well behaved, as driven, as responsible as kind to each other if we hadn't based our parenting on the very specific frameworks set up within the LDS church designed to keep families in touch with each other, high achieving and focused on a common purpose? We were pretty good at playing the Mormon game, I won't lie. And so I can't honestly say. I don't honestly know. I would like to believe that I would have been just as good and focused of a mom and I have a dreadful suspicion that I actually might have been a much better mom without all that pressure and with the assistance of coffee and the lack of permanent crippling guilt and strain of a hundred million expectations (as if raising 5 kids without any extended family assistance whatsoever, is not loaded enough). But I just cannot honestly say.  I see our non-Mormon friends and their happy successful families, their kind, high achieving children, and it's hard to connect the dots from being a good Mo to having a good family, but truly. There is no way to know how it all might have turned out for us ours and since I feel really grateful for where we currently are as a family, I'm willing to give credit to the church if it's due.

Here's what I can say. I can say that life now is so damn good and that I might never have known and fully appreciated, no, cherished how unbelievably wonderful an ordinary life in its simplest form as an autonomous guilt-free adult can be.

How incredibly pleasant it is to live free from the shackles of responsibilities that don't feel right, that don't make sense that feel controlling and nonsensical. How blissful it is to drink a hot black cup of coffee and feel nurtured, encouraged and enlivened by that.  How fun it is to enjoy a couple of drinks with friends and feel truly relaxed and enjoy the fact that they too are feeling truly relaxed because life is bloody stressful sometimes and I've always said that I can party just as well sans alcohol and oh boy, can I! But not everybody is like me and I like to see others getting that little bit of assistance to have fun too. That's really fun for me.

Without being a lifelong Mormon, I would never have known the pure and simple joy and elation it is to know on Saturday night that we have a full day on Sunday to work, or relax, or shop, or run.  A whole extra day to spend enjoying each other instead of the tense mornings spent snapping at each other, getting to church late, being judged for getting to church late, spending 3 hours feeling miserable, hypocritical, judgmental, angry, guilty, bored stiff, exhausted, and being cut in half by control top hose . (I do miss the weekly opportunity to wear heels though).   The relief of spending Sundays productive and happy at home rather than going home to a trashed home and a frantic feeding frenzy with a van load of irate, low blood sugared children. Sweet, impressionable, good kids who had not often, but definitely sometimes, been thoroughly mistreated by frustrated resentful exhausted teachers of their own, (or occasionally by completely deranged people who were allowed to teach kids when it was clear they were wrecking their own children in spectacular ways. UGHH. but those are few and mercifully, far between).

Without the Mormon church, I doubt I would be just coming into my own at age 40 and 41 when a lot of people are feeling as if they are fading.  I don't understand that sense at all. I'm constantly thrilled at how much I feel in my prime at this age and I'm sure that having this huge weight lifted from my shoulders has been the most rejuvenating experience ever. I think it shows up in my face, in my attitude, in my energy level, in the way I feel about myself now, in the way I carry my body. I'm pretty sure that leaving the Mormon church has given me an an unusual new lease on life for a woman of my age or honestly, of any age. I may have more lines around my eyes now, but I'm almost sure they are from laughing more.  Why do I feel such a huge sense of freedom and joie de vivre in my femininity suddenly? Well. For instance:  Instead of wearing bizarre, uncomfortable and restrictive Mormon underwear dictating my fashion choices and reminding me that my sexuality and my body somehow doesn't quite belong to me. I am finally free to wear my own lingerie. And that feels pretty damn awesome. DO YOU REALISE THAT I WAS AN ADULT OF ALMOST 40 who did not have the option of wearing my own lingerie? Not if I wanted to be with my family forever?  (Go ahead laugh out loud reading that because I'm with you but up until pretty recently, it was a life and eternal death matter, you guys!

Do you understand how liberating it might feel to a woman to finally be able to pick out  her own style of panties? Or to not have to worry about wearing anything to sleep in? Do you know that endowed, temple going (family forever brand Mormons) are required to wear long underwear day and night. Some members take it off for showering and sex only (and they put it right back on post-coital...fun times!!)

I thank the Mormon church for the fact that after being required to wear garments both day and night, sleeping in nothing or next to nothing every night feels like the most luxurious thing of all time. No 800 thread count sheets required. No island vacation required. Every time I get into bed I feel the sublime joy and freedom of a kid skinny dipping in the moonlight. My husband certaintly isn't sad about it.

Without the Mormon church I don't think I would be as effective a mother to teenagers as I am today because I understand first hand in a very vivid and recent way that feeling controlled can be suffocating to a person.  That extreme expectations do not help, they hurt. That hypocrites telling you want to do will only make you really really mad and extra rebellious. I have learned the great value in not preaching to kids, not trying to enforce a one size fits all morality on them. I have learned the value of allowing them to make mistakes and of helping them to know that mistakes do not make a man (or woman). I have learned how much better we do as a family when I do not sweat the small stuff. I have learned that a family can be even more united and loving without bringing them together in prayer, without forcing them to gather at inconvenient hours to read from ancient scriptures in language which rings and hollow and irrelevant to most children and teens but instead taking the time to laugh with them over the Office and agonize with them about their problems.

There are Mormon families who seem to have cracked the code. Who don't feel oppressed or stressed by the expectations. Who find comfort and guidance in the rules. Who have found the sweet spot where they feel all the love and none of the guilt and are able to help their kids find that sweet spot too. I rejoice for them. I do. I bear no ill will for Mormons just doing the best they can and not encroaching on the rights of others. None at all.  I know so many women and wives who genuinely feel blessed by the opportunity to send their kids far away for 2 years with virtually no contact or to give up their husbands to church service for huge portions of their children's lives.  It works for them. It breaks my heart to even contemplate but they seem genuinely happy. So..ok then. Thank god I only have to worry about living my own life. (That's new too ;)

And as for me and my house. It's the heathen life for us. We are delighting in the hedonistic pleasures of the living the "worldly" life which is somehow just suddenly so simple...and it actually feels more wholesome. It really and truly does.  We delight in loving whomever we want to love and allowing others the unequivocal right to do the same. In speaking breathing and believing with no more cognitive dissonance. We are grateful for the lazy Sunday mornings together. We find tremendous joy in parenting our sons and daughters as young autonomous men and women without the expectation that they become missionaries and mothers.  We are are basking in finally feeling fully free and alive. This works for us.  The Mormons quote scripture very often referring to the beauty and necessity of Opposition in All Things.  We have pain so that we may enjoy pleasure.  Well said. Well said.

Regrets are more or less useless. And so, in the end I choose to dwell on none. I am grateful for my path and if it is grace that has led me to this place, it will lead me home too.

Amen, and amen.  Happy Saturday

(this post counts for Friday, I bet I'll do another before the day is out because I said I was going to do a post a day and I mean what I say...until I get too tired and I want to lie in bed drinking wine and watching Riverdale.)