To my son Matthew

Tomorrow you will graduate high school. You will toss your cap in the air and an era of youth will end. You will be an adult, entering a new phase of life, one full of greater responsibility and expectation. The pressures of growing up, the stress of taking care of yourself, the possible anxiety of making life decisions will all creep in. It may be scary. It will be challenging.

But know this: you are capable. You are equipped to handle much more than you know. You were designed for greatness and this world is a better place because you exist. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like a failure because we enter unknown territory and we feel ill prepared but do not give into that fear. Every moment of uncertainty is an opportunity to get better, grow stronger, gain wisdom and become a more complete and amazing version of ourselves.

When you were born, my life changed. The firstborn child among the five siblings in my family and the first grandchild. Everyone traveled to visit and dote on you. Our family began to grow closer with a new baby at the center of it all. You had no idea how much you mattered and I imagine, at times, you still do not understand the magnitude of your worth.

As you’ve grown, you’ve continued to affect our family, my life and the lives of those you encounter. You have a heart that loves so fiercely and cares so deeply that at times, you forget yourself in order to pour into others. When you enter a space, you bring pure joy with you. As someone recently told me, “you have a light inside you that makes others happy.” It’s true, there is something contagious and wonderful about being around you. It’s undeniable.

Watching you grow has been the single greatest experience of my life. You’re more amazing than any mountain I’ve climbed, any sunset I’ve seen and any adventure I have yet to embark on. You have taught me sacrificial and unconditional love. In raising you, I have learned to let go, to trust outcomes, to accept mistakes and to laugh at myself.

I will always smile when I think about us singing songs and being silly during car rides. I love when you practice your music around me and feel grateful you filled my life with the beauty of your talents. Thank you for reminding me to be kind to myself and for teaching me about what really matters in life.

I pray that I have instilled within you strength to endure the tough times. I pray I have modeled love and kindness so that you never forget how to treat others. I hope you can always turn to me for advice and know that I will be here, without judgement, to share whatever wisdom I may have. Thank you for being who you are. I love you more than I knew I could love someone and am honored to be your mom.

Sunday

Yesterday was Sunday.

It also was Mother’s Day.

I am a mom. I’ve been one for 18 years now.

The thing about yesterday, Mother’s Day, is that I usually find myself particularly disappointed and dejected inside. It’s the same with Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve and even Sweetest Day (which is honestly not a real holiday). I have some crazy expectation in my mind, breakfast in bed, flowers, romance, surprises, things you see in a movie. I see people’s lives on social media and it makes me believe that those days mean more because they include niceties. I have spent a lot of years believing that without those things, I wasn’t as important, maybe I wasn’t a worthy mom or person, maybe I wasn’t living up to the role of wife, friend, girlfriend, mother etc.

I also know a lot of people who find those days to be just as challenging; friends who can’t have children, whose mothers have passed away, who don’t have a significant other or who have been betrayed by their lover. These holidays, the cards, the decorations, the date night activities, the excitement, really can be nothing more than a build up to sadness and feeling alone or undeserving.

Now I’m not saying these holidays are junk OR that honoring others is a negative trait. I love celebrating people. I cry over cards at the grocery store and envision the emotion and sentiment being shared with a person I care for. I get excited for Christmas tree decorating and cut out cookies and I certainly enjoy a beautiful dinner and romance.

But when my whole day, my whole existence, my emotions are so tied to these grandiose displays of affection, I am setting myself up for hurt. Sometimes I think that no amount of gifts or attention would satisfy the day I can create in my mind. Who can compare to Ryan Gosling in the Notebook? That’s just not real life, at least not all the time (in fact probably not most of the time).

Relationships are tough. Pleasing someone else, considering someone else, selflessness, that’s really difficult. It’s not in our nature to think about others before ourselves. I’m not great at it and I’ve been intentionally working on it for at least five years.

Let me take a quick detour to clarify a few things: my husband is AMAZING. He’s patient and kind and loving and has the biggest heart. He’s talented and I am impressed by him and his artistic abilities every day. He is creative beyond what I can comprehend and is a perfectionist when it comes to his craft. He would die for me in a heartbeat. He cares about making me happy and he works hard to speak my love language. My son is also an unbelievable human. He is empathetic and generous and loves me with all his heart. When he sings, something stirs inside my core. Excitement pours out of his body when he anticipates something and he gives really great hugs. He’s genuine and respectful and makes this world a better place just by existing.

Now that I cleared that up, let’s get back to Mother’s Day….. nothing special happened. No card from anyone, no flowers, no surprises and IT WAS OK! In fact, it was totally fine. It was just Sunday after all. I didn’t feel sad. I actually told myself, “you’re a really amazing mom and this day doesn’t make you more of a mom”. In years past, I’ve cried, a lot. I’ve felt unimportant and angry. I’ve wanted something (I don’t even know what) to validate me. I compared my day to Instagram stories and Facebook posts and felt almost ashamed of the normalcy that ensued on all those Sundays in May.

Just because my husband and son aren’t great at proactive gift giving and surprises, doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate me. They show me how much they value me in so many other ways throughout the year. It almost becomes unfair to forget all of those moments and base everything on those 24 hours labeled as a holiday for moms, or lovers or Jesus (Christmas is definitely not about me or gifts so let’s get that off the table right now).

In general, the thought process of high expectations in every situation, becomes dangerous. People will always let us down. Things won’t always be 100% perfect and just how we choose for them to be. Life isn’t a movie or a post online. But this year, my feelings were totally disconnected from that thinking and I was able to celebrate myself. I applauded myself, did things I enjoyed and never felt one twinge of resentment or discontentment. I’m looking forward to a lifetime of more amazing days with less focus on what someone is doing to celebrate me and more connection with how I can be my own best cheerleader.

Georgia

Tomorrow morning I am ending a five day trip to my hometown of Georgia. I came home to surprise my younger sister for her graduation party. It just so happened to be my nephews birthday so I got to also celebrate him. I moved away when I was 18 (20 years ago). It was actually more like I ran away as fast as I could and never looked back.

For the past 20 years it’s always been bittersweet to come home. I don’t have many good memories here. This state isn’t full of all my old friends. In fact, there’s only one person from school I still keep in contact with. At times, being home has been more stress and pain than it seemed worth.

Coming from a large family, it’s hard to always get along. I am one of five children and we are all married and four of us have children. Once we all had spouses and children of our own, our lives became even harder to intertwine. We now had to accommodate our significant others, our busy kids schedules and then maybe find time to spend with our siblings and parents. Sometimes our spouses didn’t like our siblings. Sometimes we had old issues from childhood that got in the way of us being kind to each other. Whatever is was, it has made family time challenging to say the least.

Living in Ohio, I think it’s been easy to disconnect emotionally and physically. Absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder. It made it easier and easier to convince myself that I just didn’t care. Missing birthdays and special events didn’t feel sad because I had let the hard parts of family become more powerful than blood. It didn’t hurt to be away from my brothers or sister or nieces and nephews. The distance wasn’t even a thought really.

Maybe it’s just getting older or maybe wounds have begun to heal or somewhere in between but this trip, this was important. This felt necessary. I wanted to show up for my sister. I wanted her to deeply feel my love and support for her. Even though we haven’t gotten along all our lives and as adults, we haven’t been very close that often, me showing up wasn’t optional. I don’t know why I decided this. What changed inside of me? I do know I am beyond elated with my decision.

When I walked in her house to surprise her, she was overcome with emotion. She began to cry and we hugged one of those embraces that you don’t ever want to let go from. We spent the day together with family and friends celebrating her. We didn’t fight. There wasn’t a moment of tension or animosity or discontent. We were two sisters, laughing and being bound together. I was able to share kind and genuine words in a card. I was able to show her in action just how much she means to me. And in that day, in this trip, I felt like years of struggling subsided. We were friends again. We were like we once were as children sharing a bedroom, staying up late and giggling with each other. We remembered why we love each other so much.

Then came a lunch with my sister in law and mother. Just that sentence can be tough for some families. Meshing so many different personalities can feel impossible. Attempts to be kind can fail miserably and tension can create years of avoidance and awkwardness. But today, today was perfect. Lunch was full of joy and common ground. Three woman in three different stages of life, bound together by blood and marriage, able to somehow put aside fears and insecurities and opinions to just enjoy each other, lift each other up and love one another. And somehow, in that meal, the beginning of healing began. The value of family was renewed. The desire to continue to work on things was recharged. And again, I was grateful for showing up.

Growing up in Georgia was awful in many ways. I’ve referenced some things previously and am sure I will explain so much more as my blog continues. I don’t have fond memories. I don’t often leave feeling sad and anticipating my next visit. This is the first time I’ve really had a heaviness within me. I don’t want to miss these moments. I feel so connected and joyful and I don’t want it to stop.

I’ve always felt like other families were somehow better or closer than mine. That mine was so screwed up and I almost wanted to just find replacements. That’s not been a constant feeling but it’s been a pretty overwhelming one at times. I am so glad that feeling is fading and being replaced by what I can only imagine will continue to grow into more love, more joy and more closeness.

In life it can be a simple switch turned on and off when it comes to friendships and I’ve always felt that it was that way with family. Once I’d felt hurt and betrayed enough, I didn’t have to open my heart to whatever or whoever the cause was. I could pretend the person didn’t exist and even imagine they never existed. I could harden my heart to the point that I truly believed I was happier without my brother or sister. What I’ve come to find is that isn’t the case. I craved connection from my family so much and felt so discouraged and hurt at times that I decided to protect myself by shutting them out and shutting myself down. Maybe everyone doesn’t desire closeness with their family. Maybe it’s a fantasy to believe that old scars can be healed and forgiven. I choose to hope in the opposite and open myself back up because one trip like this is way better than all those years of indifference.