For Addye: Musical Marriage Advice

This weekend my friend A’Driane is getting married. When I heard the news, I was instantly happy for her even though I’ve never met her beloved, Bert. Okay, I’ve never met her in person either. But I know her. I adore her. I admire her. I respect her. A’Driane and Bert work at their relationship. They are meaningful in their actions toward each other. They take care of each other. I predict a lifetime of love and laughter. Even though I know these two crazy kids already know a lot about love and how to stay knee-deep in it, I still want to offer some wisdom on the topic. And in my experience, the best love advice comes from country music, specifically 80’s country.

Islands In The Stream-Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers

If you go by Pandora’s rotation, 80’s country begins and ends with this song. And who can argue?

“Baby when I met you there was peace unknown.

I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb.

I was soft inside; there was something going on.”

When you’ve found the right person, your soul is calm and you finely comb your hair? And your insides got something going on. Yep. That’s love baby.

When You Say Nothing At All-Keith Whitley

Not to get all mushy, but this song makes me think of my husband. Thank God he doesn’t read my blog, or he’d be embarrassed I told you that.

“The smile on your face let’s me know that you need me.

There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me.

A touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall.

Yeah, you say it best when you say nothing at all.”

Trust in what you know about your spouse and how they express their love. Also, never underestimate the power of The Look. No, not the sexy times one, the Dude, Seriously? one.

Forever And Ever, Amen-Randy Travis

Lots of love songs make promises, but this one seals it with an “Amen.” A promise that’s a prayer is what marriage means to me.

“Oh, baby! I’m gonna love you forever, forever and ever, Amen!

As long as old men sit n’ talk about the weather, as long as old women sit n’ talk about old men

If you wonder how long I’ll be faithful, I’ll be happy to tell you again.

I’m gonna love you forever and ever, forever and ever, Amen!”

Now that’s a promise! Forever and ever. The end. The only problem is I can’t hear this song without picturing Randy’s mug shot.

Photo Courtesy GRAYSON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Meet In the Middle-Diamond Rio

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: marriage requires compromise. When I’m feeling like I’m at an impasse with Michael over something, I ask myself, “Do you want to spend time with him being angry or being happy?” And then I answer myself because I have lots of voices in my head.

“I’d start walking your way.
You’d start walking mine.
We’d meet in the middle
‘Neath that old Georgia pine.
We’d gain a lot of ground
‘Cause we’d both give a little.
And their ain’t no road too long
When you meet in the middle.”

If all else fails, take a long walk and get your priorities in line. Make sure you have your cell phone so you can call for a ride home when you realize you’ve crossed state lines.

Close Enough To Perfect-Alabama

Bert, this song’s for you. I mean, it’s for you to live up to. This is how you should treat my girl.

“She kisses me each morning,
And smiles her sleepy smile
And she don’t have to say it;
I can see it in her eyes.
Don’t you worry about my woman
Or what you think she ought to be,
‘Cause she’s close enough to perfect for me.

Well sometimes she gets down and starts to cry,
But then again a lady has a right.
She’s everything I ever wanted; she’s all I’ll ever need.
She’s close enough to perfect for me.”

Did you know Alabama released an album every year in the 80’s? I have no idea what that has to do with marriage, but I’m sure you can think of some way to apply it.

So, turn up the volume and dance a little Texas two-step my friends! Here’s to marriage and to A’Driane and Bert!

A Better Mom

I’m not what people would call a calm person. In fact, I’ve been called a hummingbird on speed. I am in constant motion and full of a constant stream of thoughts, very few left unsaid. It sounds funny, and sometimes it is. I’m a hit at parties and a bringer of levity at meetings and conferences. But when I’m just living my daily life as a stay-at-home-mom, it’s exhausting and scary. And it is a problem that is stigmatized and misunderstood as evidenced by the reactions to this article on Parenting.com and the ensuing talk shows like Anderson Live and Katie where wine drinking and mood-stabilizing drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist are lumped in the same category.

I have generalized anxiety disorder, and after the twins were born, it became postpartum anxiety and depression. This meant that before treatment my mind was my worst enemy. My ability to imagine turned ordinary new-parent worries into disasters of epic proportions. It was imperative that I give the boys the exact same amount of formula. If I didn’t get them to take good naps now, they would never sleep well. Having pears on Monday meant not even looking at pears Tuesday so that they had a nice variety in their diet. To get to the living room from our master bedroom, you had to pass the mantle which had a corner that stuck out almost into the hall. Every time I passed that corner, I imagined accidentally knocking a baby’s head into it. I saw the blood gushing and heard the screams and cries. I never accidentally hit that corner, but it haunted me every time I passed it. When I went to take the boys to meet Michael, my husband, for lunch, I would pack three meals’ worth of formula in case there was a massive traffic jam, and I had to be with them in the car for hours. Seriously.

It only got worse when the boys got mobile, and I ventured outside to normal places like the park and the mall. My brain saw the germs on the play structures. I could imagine them jumping onto my sons and sending them to the hospital. Stairs were my mortal enemy. No matter how much the boys improved at navigating them, I still imagined them falling down them. My brain played out the whole scene. They fall screaming. I drop what’s in my arms and run to them. There is a lot of blood, and I tell the other twin to call Daddy on my phone. I grab band-aids and calmly apply pressure to the wound even as I know in my heart the injured child would need surgery and would never be the same. And it was all my fault for not holding their hand or telling them to slow down or being late and in a hurry. And the park? Play the stairs scene over for every piece of equipment. I tried to have play dates there and enjoy the company of friends and their kids, but I was always on alert and ready to run after a child heading for traffic or falling to his death from the slides. These things never happened, but I was sure they would.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

I’m shaking, and my heart is racing right now just writing this. I can’t stop thinking of all the examples of this behavior.

The only way I’m able to get through the day and be out among the people is with therapy and medication. And even with that I still have the thoughts. They just don’t paralyze me or send me into an anxiety-induced crabby-fest. My anxiety manifests as anger; the anger is that things are out of my control. But I have coping skills, and I have support.

In other words, my medication makes me a better mom. My medication and techniques I’ve learned in therapy. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding, superpartner spouse.  My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat and my fantastic spouse and my involved parents. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my caring parents and exercise. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my involved parents and exercise and having a hobby.

My point? Yes, I’m medicated, but no, I’m not using it as a crutch. I work hard to be a good mom. It’s an obsession that can lead me down a rocky road. So I use all the tools I can find to find that balance between striving to be what my kids need and keeping my spirit intact. It’s not easy, and anyone who tells you medication is the easy way out has never been where I am-at the top of the stairs facing another day of shutting off the horror show in my brain.

I Don’t Understand (Stream of Consciousness Sunday)

I’m once again linking up to my friend Jana’s blog. Our task? Set a timer and write for five minutes without editing or censoring. Our topic? I don’t understand…

I don’t understand how I have two little boys all of a sudden. I mean, I know how I got kids. It’s a timeless tale of doctors and stirrups and no shame. But what I mean is that I don’t understand how my babies are now big kids.

This weekend they started T-ball. My sons can now hold a bat. In fact, they own bats and regulation t-balls. We spent the whole afternoon after practice getting geared up. Thank God they didn’t have to buy cups.

These boys also have super hero sheets and a real Star Wars love. They can roam the playground with me at a greater distance. I still hover, but it’s with less anxiety and stress.

Friday night we had dinner with our group of friends and their kids. We set the kids at one table, and we grown-ups took the other. We are finally getting to the point where the kids can play, and we can actually have a conversation or play cards with few interruptions.

But still, I don’t really understand how this happened. It boggles the mind.

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Honey, I’m Home

I was mesmerized by the massive gray clouds, and I realized I could see miles of them. It wasn’t just over our city like in Poland; it stretched well into the next county. And I thought it was beautiful. Seeing for miles and miles was a treat. I could see where I had been and where I was going; I felt like I had my compass reset.

Our adventure in Poland is over, and we are home in Texas. I’ve been giddy about it since we landed, and I kissed the ground at DFW.

And lo, the glory of Texas shone all around her booted toes.

And lo, the glory of Texas shone all around her booted feet.

Our first dinner in America? Sonic corn dogs and cheeseburgers. Or, as I like to call them, ‘Merica Meats. We’ve had my mother’s homemade tacos and chili con queso. We’ve had bagels and Lucky Charms. I’ve even already had my parents over for dinner in our new apartment. It’s a culinary wonder, and we are eating it all. I still need a nice steak, but I think I’ve hit most of my food cravings including 12 pounds of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

I’ve been running. The boys have played in numerous parks without jackets or gloves or frostbite. We’ve seen the sun pretty much every day as is needed by my soul.

Even the dentist is fun here.

Even the dentist is fun here.

And oh how I’ve been talking. My blog title has once again been proven true. I’ve talked to friends and strangers. If you speak English and are in earshot, I will speak to you. Excuse me kind Target worker, where are the Ziploc baggies? Did you know the plastic baggies in Poland are useless and come in weird sizes and aren’t always at the grocery store and that their idea of cling wrap would make my mother weep?

Of course I’ve been talking the most with my family and friends. We’ve had our first friend group gathering, and I tried my hardest to slow my motor down. Luckily, the boys needed my help dealing with a crowd of kids and grown-ups we hadn’t hung with in a while.

Friend gatherings involve food and fun.

Friend gatherings involve food and mess.

On Friday I met my friend Christine for a drink after work. (I’d worked two days. I deserved it.) Poor, poor Christine. She didn’t know it, but she was my first outlet for real gabbing and laughing without watching my kids or my foul mouth. We talked about approximately 439 topics, with most of the words coming back to how the topic affected me. I was loud and happy. I was hoarse by the time I left. She kindly said we should do it every week, but I’m sure she went home and prayed I’d be out of words next time.

My tutoring job started last week. I’m working with seventh grade students getting them ready for their state test in reading and writing. I go two days a week, doing writing one day and reading the other. I was so happy about it I actually planned my lessons before I got to school, a new personal achievement. I even packed my lunch and had my clothes ready. And boy did those girls in my first class get the best me ever. I’ve got many friends at the school, so I’m feeling right at home.

I’m also really feeling my teacher soul jump for joy. When we lived in Poland, the owner of the boys’ school and my friend Zosia both made comments about how obvious it was that I was a teacher. They felt my personality and the way I talked to my kids (in public) suggested educator. I took that as a huge compliment. Then, at our gab fest Friday, Chris and I talked about my looking for a full-time teaching job next school year. I told her I had also considered just working retail or something so I could be free of grading and school-bureaucracy nonsense. She said, “No, you love teaching. You’re good at it.” Pump my ego up a little more with props from a fellow educator.

So, my Twitter presence has diminished, and I’m behind in my computer time-wasting, but, we’re settled in our apartment and happy as pigs in Texas mud. Soon I hope to be back to writing regularly and keeping up with the people in my computer. It may be annoying because I’m so peppy, but you’ll get used to it.

And finally, I leave you with things I’m loving about America:

garbage disposal, washer and dryer with large capacity, not having to haul my toiletries all over the house for a shower nor find my clothes in the closet in the kitchen, English-written & spoken, variety at the grocery store, Target.

No,This is 40

Okay, everyone get out your shiny new day planners, calendars, and time management apps.

Got ’em?

Good. Now put a big star around October 11. That is my 40th birthday, and you are all invited to my dance party/dinner/fun fest. I want an excuse to buy a new dress and laugh until my sides ache. And I want to be happy. Because you know what? I’m pretty damn excited about where I am and where I’m going.

I know that turning 40 is supposed to make me cry and wonder where all the time has gone. I remember the black party decorations for my mom when she hit this milestone, and the ‘holding at 39’ jokes. I guess she was supposed to be sad about being that age and that her life was over. My brother Michael did not handle 40 like a champ. It was probably because we threw him a lame family party he told us not to do. When my brother Rob turned 40, he had a big party at his house and doubled down on sporting hobbies that proved his youth and vigor. And I haven’t been exactly kind to the myth of the death of youth and fun at 40 myself, having deemed our friend Old Man Curtis when he became the first of our group to hit that age.

And now 40 has come for me, well, in nine months anyway. And though I’ve been upset about it in the past, today, I’m not. I am not giving in to the stereotype recently reinforced by the movie This is 40, and neither are a lot of really smart women I know.

First, my marriage is in a good place. My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we have figured out a lot about how to work together. I’m sure we have a lot more to learn, but for now, we compromise well and take good care of each other. I firmly believe my husband puts his family first and is intentional in the way he loves us. We’ve survived loss, new lives (Twins! What a fun marriage test!), and two years in Poland away from friends and family. Also? My husband is hot with grey hair at his temples and his toned legs from walking to work every day.

My twins are going to be in kindergarten when I turn 40. I’m not sure why, but it feels like I’ve reached some sort of achievement by keeping them alive until school age. It’s like I leveled up in the parenting game, and I am so ready. Though things are harder emotionally for big kids, and I already worry about how they will face bigger disappointments, I also get to watch them begin their life’s path. They have blossomed so much in this past year, and I know it will only get more interesting as they enter school. I love their perspectives on life and the way they look out for each other. I can’t wait to see the next steps.

But Stephanie, you say, turning 40 for a woman is all about lost beauty and lost opportunities. Well, to you I say:

Because I’m too busy being awesome. I’m not a super cougar hottie. I’m not Stacie’s mom. But, I’m not too hard to look at. This body has done a lot for me, and I can’t blame it for being a bit worn in places. My stomach? Dude’s been in battle. My legs? They have danced a thousand dances and continue to carry a five-year-old when needed. My face? Lined with laughter’s left-overs reminding me of how much happiness I’ve seen. (My neck? Crap. My mom told me for 25 years to take care of it, but I didn’t listen. Thank God for expensive neck cream. I will continue to buy it even if it means I can no longer afford new shoes. Yes ma’am. It’s that serious.)

I have a good vibe going on in my mental and spiritual world too.  I know me well. I’m not perfect, but I know where my imperfections lie. I’m somewhat able to work around them. For example, I know I procrastinate, and I try to fight that natural tendency with lists and self-imposed screen-time restrictions. I face all the parts of me, and I’ve even been known to make a joke or two about them. I know my passions. Writing is back in my life, and I am a happier woman for it. Not only that, but I think I’m a more driven person as well. I want to improve my writing and be read and appreciated by more people. I will write my Poland book and who knows what else. I am surprised because I guess I thought you couldn’t have new goals and dreams at this age.

My heart is also screaming out and yearning to get back to teaching. I remember going to my 10-year high school reunion. I had just decided that teaching sucked, but I had no real plan for another path. So, I worked an hourly job at Citibank and wallowed in existential questions. Could there be a better time to meet up with people who knew you when you were an over-achieving honors graduate? I cried a lot that weekend.

But now, I’m sure. I am a teacher. I love English. I would marry the rules of grammar if it were legal. I am here, ready to help you with your writing and work on my own. I want to talk about books and themes and the power of language.

I have so much to look forward to just in 2013. We are moving back to Texas. I get to see my friends and family. I get to go to writing conferences and continue to meet women who inspire me. When I went to my writing conference last October, it was like a new world opened up to me. I guess I didn’t think old ladies like me could make new friends. But I did. And they happen to be women with goals and dreams and positive attitudes. I want to start a new part of my blog that includes video lessons for families needing grammar and writing guidance, and these women helped me solidify this idea. They make me a better person, and I can’t wait to see how that manifests for me as I turn 40.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin' on.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin’ on.

So, Judd Apatow, this is really what 40 is and can be. It’s being at a place where you can use the lessons you’ve learned and try new things. It’s a time to enjoy some of the rewards of your hard work while you continue to seek new successes. It’s a time when anything is still possible though sometimes at a slower speed. So, if you come to my 40 and fabulous party, don’t bring any tired stereotypes or weak jokes about getting older. I will punch you in the throat and then blog about it.

So, what about you? What do you like about your age? What are you looking forward to as the next milestone approaches?

It’s A Great Day To Be Alive

Welcome again to Tuesday Tunes! It’s that thing I made up a couple of months ago and then abandoned like my roller blades. (Not a good mode of transportation for someone so clumsy and bruisey.)

My original post was inspired by my friend Addye and her move to Austin. She made it, but she’s struggling now, and I have her in my heart again. Then a song came on and again spoke to my heart and made me want to share it with her and you.

When we lost our son Carter in March of 2006, many songs became connected to him and our grief. He has a song that a friend played at his funeral, “Godspeed” by Radney Foster. I will never forget laying in bed trying not to think of the awful thing that just happened and hearing my husband play this song on his computer in the office. The next day he asked if that was the song we could play at Carter’s funeral.

The day we made arrangements at the funeral home was a bright, sunny spring day. It was still a bit chilly, but the sky was perfect. It was one of those times when the weather was not matching my mood or the circumstances. I felt I deserved rain and gloom for a day at the cemetery picking out a plot for my son. We did the best we could, and we were treated well by the staff. The grandparents graciously picked out the coffin as Michael and I could not do that one task. (We never looked at it nor did we attend the gravesite service to lower it into the ground. It was just the one thing we couldn’t handle.)

After taking care of all the paperwork and decisions, we were hungry and stopped for lunch at Saltgrass Steakhouse. The grandparents were with us, but I felt the need to zone out a bit. It was all just too much. As I was retreating into my own mind, a song came on the restaurant speakers. It was late for lunch, and the restaurant was fairly empty, so it was quiet enough to hear the song well. The song was, “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” by Travis Tritt.

And it's a great day to be alive
I know the sun's still shinin' when I close my eyes
There's some hard times in the neighborhood
But why can't every day be just this good?

And suddenly, I knew that to be true. The sun was still shining, not to mock me, but to remind me that these were just hard times that would not last. I felt God’s love and power. I knew that He created the beauty around me, and I believed many more good days would come. That turned out to be the day I came up with calling cloudless days ‘Carter Days’ because Cloudless was the name of the paint I had picked out for his room the day before we found out he had passed.

A ‘Cloudless’ March day in Poland. God creates beautiful things here too.

The beat of the song was good for me too. It’s very simple and allows you to focus on the lyrics. And there’s this strong beat after he says ‘great’ that really makes you want to believe that it is true. For some reason it uplifts me and has me playing air drums instead of turning me sad or introspective as so many other songs connected to this time do.

I hope that my dear friend can find some uplifting tunes today. I’m sure if she starts with some Prince, she’s bound to land on a good one.

Please feel free to share some songs that uplift you on hard days. We did this in our #ppdchat yesterday, and it felt good just talking about them. It never hurts to have a new song to try!

Danger Zone-Stream of Consciousness Sunday

Today I’m joining my friend Jana in a little writing exercise. She’s giving me 5 minutes to write my heart out. I’m not allowed to edit the post, so please enjoy my word vomit in its purest form.

Today’s (totally optional) prompt:

What have you done recently or would like to do that’s outside your comfort zone?

What have I done outside my comfort zone? Oh, not much. Just moved to Poland. You know, the country. No biggie.

Huge biggie. Oh my God, so huge.

I cannot believe that I actually did it. I sit here three months away from returning to Texas, and I cannot grasp what I’ve done. I’ve lived so far away from my parents. I’ve spent many days alone with my kids. I’ve taken my husband to the ER. (We thought my kids were getting to see their first dead body, but it turns out it was just a drunk. Whee!) I’ve learned enough Polish to amaze my friends and confuse the locals. I’ve cooked with ingredients in foreign wrappings with no English to guide me.

Today, I was driving home from the grocery store and a though popped into my head. “I am so happy right now.” I felt a little silly, but then I felt proud. I’m in the dark times in Eastern Europe; we are dangerously close to the days where night falls at 5pm. But, instead of feeling blue, I’m feeling happy. I’m happy to be home from our Texas trip and back with Michael. I’m happy he cleaned the apartment and the car. (So happy. And lucky.)

I can’t believe I did it and that now this is my comfort zone. I can’t imagine what dangerous adventure I’ll take up next. Maybe I’ll cook in America too!