How I’m working through the active fear and self-doubt of writing a book.

Morning and hello!

I’ve been doing oh-so-much thinking lately, while I’m editing and writing and reorganizing this mass of work I’ve been collecting it’s time to say here that … I think it’s a book. It is. But I think I’m going to do something with it. I am. But. It’s scarier than I thought it was going to be.

I printed the entire body of work this week and just finished reading it through for the first time. My throat hurts, I don’t usually talk out-loud that much apparently, but it feels like the first mile of a run is finally behind me and now I can set pace and just keep going.

With each essay I’m holding it up to a few standards and questions to determine whether or not there’s something constructive in it, if it meets the ultimate goal or message of the entire collected work, and finally, if it’s something I want my kids to know, learn, or have as a record of me.

That last one will cut through so much bullshit.

Writing here for the last 17 years or so has been a beautiful exercise in learning to use my voice, and while I get that publishing words on the internet is sort of like putting them “out there” forever … something feels so much less permanent about these words. I write, shooting from the hip, quickly edit, and then publish. Rarely do I rework something I’ve already put out there. But the idea of having bound pages with my words to live in a physical place for ever and ever? I mean, that scares the living hell out of me.

So. That means I just have to keep doing it. Being scared, I’ve learned, isn’t the emotion that leads to safety. It’s not the response my body needs to listen to when I’m on the cusp of making something happen. Being scared is more like the “here we go” feeling of heading off into the great big yonder. It’s the walking man signal of crossing the street, not the flashing hand. Fear, in this sense, isn’t the ‘stop and wait’, it’s the ‘time to go!’

In addition to that, I’ve tried to find the appropriate box I might fit in. You know the ones, the ideas and dreams we have: where do they fit, what size do they need to be to become the most successful commercial version so I can claim success by standards not set by me, but for me. And not in my best interest, but in the interest of commerce.

Which, sounds about as exciting as reading spread sheets. Ok, LISTEN! Here’s what I’m getting at: It’s all uncomfortable. To say the ideas or dreams out-loud, which moves to (hopefully) actually making work of them, which moves to the undeniably hard work of pushing through the fear and self doubt, which leads to the unknown.

The question is: would I do this if no one cared? Would I write books to leave for my children so they had a record of the kind of legacy I wanted for them? Would I tell them everything, anyway?

And that answer is always, without a doubt, absolutely.

The volley

Let’s catch up. I have a few things to tell you and then so many more to unpack with you, buckle in.

We started school this year at an entirely new school. My kids went from a private school to a public school and everything is going well.

Along with all of this change my daughter started a sport she’s never played with a team she’s never met and her first match was also the first day of this new school and everything is new – are you getting my drift? I spend a lot of time in bleachers waiting with her for her turn while she barrels through her nerves and anxiety and shovels every bit of it at my feet and then stomps around on it, like a tantrum. And I think to myself, this shit is ridiculous. Enough of this. Pick your damn self up off the mother loving pavement, Child, and go. get. it. But I don’t say those words, no I do not.

I spend that time rubbing her back and listening and offering a little hope, but not too much because then she accuses me of not understanding, so I wait with her. That is all she wants. Someone to bear witness to the waiting for her turn. When is it going to be her turn? Why isn’t it her turn yet? And the stage-fright. It’s tennis, but people are watching, so that takes it to a new level of MAKE IT STOP.

I didn’t play school sports for my own reasons, all of them selfish and kind of childish. I didn’t have a lot of school spirit. But this kid, she wants to do it all. Paint her face and wear the logos and do the fundraisers and buy the duffle bags and sign up for every club and get as involved as possible. She makes me tired. Because I still facilitate her social life, so when she signs up for something – in essence she is signing me up too. And you know what? I LOVE IT.

Here we are, doing all the new things and both for the first time ever. It’s pretty great. It’s great that she’s still inviting us along for the ride.

My life is now a serious matrix of overlapping schedules and carpools. I am always supposed to be in more than one place at a time. So far, it’s working just fine. Somehow.

I’ve tried to catch up over the summer or just chronicle our days and trips and memories but every time I came to this place and logged in and started writing I couldn’t bring myself to publish any of it. I’ve had kind of a bumpy summer? How do I say this without sounding alarming but also telling the truth THAT EVERYTHING SUCKS. I try not to spread the wealth too much. The wealth of emotional bankruptcy. That bitch came to win, and let me tell you, she swept me off the floor.

I’m mourning a great, very personal loss. In the wake of other very personal losses. Right after the other, all stirred up in a pot, on and on and on they go. Swinging at me like a batter bent on revenge. I see you: I’m awake.

I took a break from my other writing this summer as well, for the same reasons, everything was angry in response to my pain. But I also started this really lovely, very daring personal project before the summer came. And if the only thing you take away from this rambling is this: please pull for me. I think this is big, if for no one other than me, it’s monumental. And I need the timing to be right and the people to be in place and the conversations that have yet to happen, for those to have a way paved before them so I can have them. I need some cheerleaders. I need someone pulling for me, even if you don’t know why or what for.

As I was journaling recently I came face to face with some fear, not new. It’s the ugly side of my vulnerability. I am my own roadblock. Afraid of looking like a fool, but realizing that if everyone I’ve ever quoted or loved or admired let their fear stand in the way of their message or art or gift for the world: I wouldn’t have their words to help me or their photos to inspire me or their songs or poems or paintings to take my breath away. I wouldn’t have a full understanding of how big my own dreams are, how rare my own beauty is, how daring my own words could be.

And I learned: I’m not done yet. I have to keep showing up.

Just like my daughter needs someone there to witness her showing up, even when it’s scary and new and nothing feels normal, she needs someone who believes in her, not because we have to. Or because she’s shown great athletic prowess – but because we know she can. If she keeps showing up, if she keeps trying … eventually the ball will make it over the net. Eventually she’ll move from the bench to the court and without ever thinking of how or why, she’ll volley.

Not because she knows how – but because thats what you do when the ball is yours.

As time passes

I’ve been more aware than not lately about how fast my kids are growing up. You were all right; mothers before me, and Grandmothers at the grocery store, and you well-meaning strangers who preached “how fast it goes” as you watched me struggle to enjoy the chore of raising little people. It wasn’t always a struggle, mostly it was the best happy I’ve ever known. But it was exhausting. And could someone please just tie everyone’s shoes for me and get the socks and diapers and sippy cups and cheerios and changes of clothes and the list doesn’t ever actually end. Parenting small people is a run-on sentence with no correct grammar and absolutely no access to spell check or a period.

Jessica, March 2017

Oliver, March 2017

I think the pause to consider this task comes as they enter middle school. When the phone calls from school are no longer about what your kid did in class that day but now it’s one of them calling to ask me to bring them their violin, shoes, coat, lunch, or homework that they forgot.

They went from being little floating pods in a happy, cartoon society to being aware of the contents of their life and keeping track of themselves and their work. They’ve turned into non-functioning adults. Practicing ones. With a lot of hormones and room for error. And a mountain to climb in front of them called Learning.

Jessica is making breakfast for her and Oliver this morning. 2 pans on the stove, lots of chopping, using the oven. My favorite part? The towel across her shoulder, just like me. She's fluttering around from counter to counter and every once in a while sh

My mancub sewing by hand.

The pace of raising them has changed, and the conversations, too. They’re part of them, which is so weird and so cool. We’re not making administrative decisions any more, not on most things, now it’s collaborative. Do you want to play this sport? And if you do, are you really invested, so should we also try this camp? I see you really enjoying this particular outlet, how can we support you to succeed? You’re both social butterflies, how can we accommodate your friends and our sanity at the same time? Where do you fit, now? Where are you going? How can we help you get there?

When you come home to a note from your kids that makes you cup your face and cry for all the right reasons. Hey you there? Your countless hours in a thankless job matter. Kids or no kids. You are seen. You are loved. You are enough.

They've graduated from the kiddie hot chocolates. Probably years ago but this just caught up with me. #16ouncesplease #canihaveacookiewiththat #takingkidsanywhere #allthequestions

I love them so much. And as I remember their pudgy little hands and the way they’d pronounce words or the sound of their morning voices from home videos; as I look at old photos and remember the memories we’ve made, and have been making for what seems like forever now … it really is too short. I’m struck with how it’s already almost over.

I’m not ahead of myself here, just finally catching up, I think. We’re past teaching kids how to pee in a toilet, tie shoes, their ABC’s, we’re past car seats entirely, and there are no training-anything’s on their gear and equipment. Both of my kids have bigger feet than I do and when I’m doing laundry, it’s almost guaranteed I’ll give Jessica my clothes and take hers to my closet.

These are people! They are their own persons. And it boggles me that we get to live with them. They’re so nice, these kids. I say that publicly a lot, but they are. I like them. They’re so nice. Pleasant, fun, kind people. Who have faults, yes. But mostly, they’re my favorite humans to be with.

They don't even know they're getting their reading minutes in before dinner. *popcorn* (it's like parenting fairy dust, sprinkle that shit everywhere) 👏👏👏

This shift started happening when Jessica lost her first tooth. I was very much in the mindset that they were a part of me before they lost their teeth. They grew in me, I gave birth to them, I sustained their life for the first 9 months of their life with my breasts. I didn’t know where I ended and they began. I was worried about their temperature at all times – too cold? Too hot? Coats? Shoes? Their hunger was always on my mind. When did they last eat? When are they going to want to eat again? And when I wasn’t feeding and comforting them, I was bathing them and reading to them and keeping them on a schedule so they would stay healthy and grow strong.

But then she lost her first tooth. Jessica lost a part of her own body. It was hers. It was not mine. And I realized her hair was her own, and her body was her own, and if she felt cold or hot or hungry or angry or excited or confused – those were all of her own feelings. Her own experiences. They were not mine.

Thank God.

The pressure was off. I didn’t have to own them, and strangely I didn’t want to. They’re both different than me. So different from each other. They want different things and think completely different thoughts. They come to conclusions in different ways and they celebrate in their own unique language. They love differently and need love differently. They’re magnificent.

At Jessica’s third grade parent teacher conference her teacher shared with us a story she had written. I cried because she wrote and Aaron cried because her story was about him. I didn’t want her to grow up in my shadow, always being asked or tasked with being part of me. Writing is unique to who I am, it’s an essential part of my life … it’s also the gift I get to give to the world. But whatever Jessica’s was: we hadn’t really discovered yet. And I didn’t want to push her towards my own, because I could make it easy for her and it would be exciting for me. I wanted to know what her gift was, what passion she had inside that hadn’t come to the surface yet. But hearing her teacher tell us how well she wrote, how thoughtful her prose were. That she was a storyteller by nature … I thought, yes. We are a little bit the same. She is still mine, I’ll always be hers.

This past week Jessica got in front of her peers and school, in front of parents and grandparents, and she performed a couple of poems for the audience. She made it through the first round of performances (just for her teachers and 6th grade classmates) and was selected to perform to a larger audience. She picked her poems on her own, they were not your average rhyming poems. They’re serious and thoughtful, deep and meaningful. Just like her.

Forensics Poem, Jessica 6th grade

(Video of her performance above, click to view)

Everything comes full circle. I can be hard on myself but when I see the same depth of emotion in my kids, I finally accept my own.

I haven’t known where I fit in this story, it’s been a good one but something of a first go for me. I can’t use my family of origin as a map of where to steer this ship and the masts who should be anchoring me along this journey are no longer part of my fleet. I feel lost so much of the time.

Without a bearing on who I am or where I came from, I don’t have pillars to hold onto anymore. But as time passes I’m finding the way to the deep and sinking down in the fertile ground of new beginnings.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And I realize that while I’ve spent the last 12 years teaching them how to walk; they’ve been teaching me how to love.

Oliver turns 8!

If my kids could vote, I’d read them these letters first

Here’s what I’ve noticed: people are hurting. We are touchy and a bit prickly. We are scared, mostly afraid of what’s coming next. In this political season I’ve unfollowed so many kind, logical people. It’s ok to disagree. It’s ok to have difference of opinion and to turn off the notifications of support of flawed candidates.

I do not want to write about politics because we aren’t sitting across from each other where I can look you in the eye and hear your heart. Where I might still walk away disagreeing with you but where I’ll meet you with compassion and understanding for being a human. For being charged with this heavy decision. For being alive right this minute, in this season.

I do not believe that this election is tethered on pro-life or pro-choice and I can only say this because of the research I’ve done for myself. But if I were going to talk to my kids about this election, here’s what I would tell them:

To Jessica,

You are worth more than what your body can do. Period. You are not a phrase for anyone to throw around in their mouth like they’re chewing cud. You are not less-than or better-than any of your male counterparts. It’s true that we have two front runners for the presidential office and neither of them look good. I personally cannot vote for Trump because narcissism as a leadership tactic is very disruptive. Because having a leader of the free world who can say he values life and then in the next breath completely disregard it is not the sound mind I feel comfortable signing up with. When we make a habit of coloring the story just enough to fit our agenda, that’s called lying, too. When we only recognize our flaws as a result of being caught, when we point the finger away from ourselves so often that we can no longer distinguish where we’re pointing we start to think we’re untouchable. And being powerful is not being untouchable. Being powerful is being approachable, understandable, it’s having self control and tact. Being powerful looks a lot like being humble. It’s the quiet that will spread, the peace that conquers. It’s not the blood, not the fight. It’s not the battle. Additionally, I cannot vote for Hillary. When you’re so comfortable, so poised in discussion but so two-faced, so unattached from the decisions you make: that’s dangerous. And as a woman, Jessica, you will be expected to understand the difference between Decision and Assumption. You will be asked to constantly judge concession. You will be seen as the legs that you have, you will be treated as the pussy that can get caught in the hands of a man who has “needs”, you will be used and taken advantage of. As a woman – your leaders look a lot like Tellers. You ‘should’ do as you’re told. You are bread to be compliant. To listen, submit, concede. And if there’s one thing I can do that makes it easier for you to vote in 8 years, I hope it’s to empower you to choose.

We look at things through the lens of a loving, spiritual Father. So I’m going to see things a bit differently than some of the other people you’ll come into relationship with – and Jessica, I want you to listen to these other voices. I want you to hear them out. I want you to sit with them and absorb their stories and sorrows. I want you to be awake when you hear something that sounds different, that sounds radical or possibly risky. I want you to open your ears and look through your heart and I want you to wrestle with what it means to say yes to the hard issues or to sit with the people you don’t understand or have been taught to be afraid of.

Here’s where it gets risqué and a bit provocative. I serve a pro-choice God. Who very much is pro-life, just very much. So much pro-life but He can only claim to be pro-life THROUGH being pro-choice. Free will, Jessica. This is not a dictatorship. I think most people are too afraid to choose so they hide. They hide behind misinterpretation or the fears passed down to them by their own fathers and mothers. They hide from being seen as the beautiful mind that they already are. None of us are exempt from making bad and regrettable decisions, none of us are exempt from committing crimes, adultery, fraud. From killing innocent people, or our brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers.

And this is not what an election is about – so don’t get stuck down in the mud. Don’t go there, don’t stand at the doorstep of someone else’s redemption with hatred and condemnation. You don’t know the whole story until you ask, you don’t know the million reasons and excuses, you don’t know what happened. It could have been you.

But Jessica, I hope it never is. I love you so much.

Mom

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To Oliver,

You are kind and gentle. You are beautiful and lovely. You are soft and sweet. AND you are strong and brave. You are smart and helpful. You are resourceful and understanding. You are a warrior who loves well and I can’t explain to you how much it would hurt me (for you) if the leader of this free world was a man whose made his mountain on top of the pain of the people who helped him get there. You’re smarter than that. And I don’t think you’d understand this kind of leadership. You see things so clearly, so innocently. And in 10 years, when you get to vote, I hope you’re still seeing the world as an open book with pages and pages to discover.

We’re trying to teach you how to treat women, while at the same time how to respect yourself. So that the story is not one-sided and “she” becomes the only thing that matters. You have great character that can easily be taken advantage of because you’re willing to give and trust and love. If you’re not careful, there will be someone who latches onto your brand of kindness and saps every bit of life out of you because they’re broken and don’t know how to say it. Guard your heart, Oliver. It’s worth fighting for. And when you’re in the locker room, or at a sleep over, or on the field … and you hear something that sounds counter-intuitive to how you would treat your sister or me, speak up for us. Remember the soft parts of our bodies when we hug you, the gentle way our hands hold you. Remember what love feels like, it’s not sharp.

We’ve tried to teach you to ask questions so when you come up against authority who won’t tolerate a challenge, yell louder. You are not less-than and your values and ideas have merit. Ask again, and again.

Politics are somewhat lost on you still at this age, but you’re starting to follow the leader. And in a stretch of the imagination – that’s a lot of what this is. We’re picking the new leader. What have we taught you about being a leader? Hold everyone who asks you to follow them up to these checks and balances. Your voice is mighty and wise, and your heart is pure. You can trust yourself, too.

I love you so much.

Mom

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I said I wasn’t going to write about politics and then I did. There’s so much out there right now for you to read and watch and picket and claim. I’m not interested in being one of those voices. I meant what I said in the beginning, I want to see your eyes if you want to have this conversation with me. I need to hear the inflection in your voice when it breaks for the issues you cannot stop wrestling with. I will gladly listen to your stories, your points, your ideas. I’ll ask questions, too. And then I’ll leave it alone and I’ll go home and feed my family and support my farmers and get involved in my community. Because where a voice cannot be heard for miles on end, the ripple effect of a healthy community can spread like wildfire. And so can love.

And that’s what I’m interested in.

I love you so much.

xoxo
Jodi

Grocery Grandma’s Ribs

Come with me to the grocery store. We’re idly walking the aisles fulfilling our lists and comparing prices, mentally checking off items from our to-do lists, smiling at the strangers passing by and stopping to talk to familiar faces. We handle items in the produce section gently choosing the perfect avocados, testing the mangos, walking slowly through the citrus just so we can inhale deeply. We consider the grapes and wonder why we always buy broccoli only to forget about it. We measure the pears and select this weeks bananas.

We look up to scan the sea of faces one last time, the same group of shoppers that you walked silently in with finishes at about the same time as us and we cross the vast spaces between almost-out-of-here and the check-out-drudgery before we choose a line with a check out girl who seems to be proficient today. We calmly turn our carts towards lane 22 and sideways glance at all the magazines screaming at us to believe Ben and Jen are adopting, that the Princess is pregnant and that sex is better on vacation. We take a small detour towards the candy selections and note they’re on sale, too. What would we really do with 10 reeses peanut butter cups? Are they really for s’mores? We’re honest with ourselves and pass this opportunity.

Almost there. It’s almost time to unload our cart when we see an elderly woman behind us carrying just a few items. She’s not that elderly, but she’s of respectable age. Older than my mother, with kind eyes. She declines our offer to go ahead of us (we have a small load today too, no big deal) when she starts the conversation …

My grandkids called and asked for ribs today. (She’s excited but almost unbelievably)

She notes that they prefer all organic produce and dairy, that they check to make sure she’s adhering to their standardizations.

We make small talk, she’s retired and thought she’d have all this time on her hands. She discovers my kids are school aged and we bond over the silence of our time, how we miss the chaos a little more than we’d like to admit. How we both realize that we’re the lucky ones.

She’s worried about the time, it’s almost noon and usually she has more notice for ribs than this (but thankfully they were on sale). She tells her husband to not expect to get too many, they never know how many kids are coming to the table since her grandkids brag about her ribs and always bring friends. They often feed their grandkids and then go out to eat together after. (And this is when I fell in love with her.)

If you have a head start, you cook the ribs low and slow for 8 hours. Starting at 275 at about 10 am. You cut the fat off the back and rub them, lightly, with seasoned salt. That’s it.

If you’re crunched for time, say you start around noon for dinner – you cook at 325 to help it along. In the last hour or so of cooking you take the ribs out and brush them with barbecue sauce.

She serves them with mashed (organic) potatoes and cooked carrots. (She winks and tells me she forgot the cream but with the 2 sticks of butter in the potatoes, she might get away with it this time.)

I didn’t catch her name but I’ll know her forever.

Grocery Grandma’s Ribs.

"Grocery Grandma's Ribs"
"Grocery Grandma's Ribs"

My kids actually cheered for me after Sunday lunch today. I started the ribs about 9:30 this morning and we ate at 2:30. I used the 325 method and actually tried to doctor up the rub a bit but made it too salty. Just means I get to try it again.

I served it up with mashed potatoes, our favorite kale caesar, some crusty bread, and creamed spinach.

"Grocery Grandma's Ribs"
"Grocery Grandma's Ribs"

We decided tonight that we’ll write a family cookbook. It’ll be a collection of our favorites and instead of chapters we’d have people. Jessica, Oliver, The Whole FamDam.

Jessica’s portion of the book will read like this; Ribs, bread, pies, sweet breads (scones) … the flour and water, elemental stuff of a kitchen. Fire. Meat! She likes sharp food – vinegars and mustards.

Oliver’s portion of the book will read like this; Salmon, rice, muffins, oatmeal, breakfast!, salads, shrimp, Asian infusion. The water, the sea, the salt. With the sweet finish, and anything that feels like a hug in a bowl. Veggies! He likes calm food – tea and rice.

The Whole FamDan of the book will read like this; roast chicken, meatballs over rice, tacos (3 ways), pancakes, breakfast, birthday cakes, Grocery Grandma’s Ribs, hot chocolate mix, Christmas cookies, cinnamon rolls, The foods we made memories with, spring rolls, camping food. The earth, the sky. The grounding and the flying – the take-off and the landing.

And they told me they’d tell all their friends about my cooking and then they promised to always come home.