Laura G Owens ~ Writer. Raw. Real. Chronically ambivalent.

Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do, you apologize for the truth. – Benjamin Disrael

new years resolutions

New Year Resolutions? Go small. Three things to add to your 2023.

Years ago I swore off making one single day the starting line for when to begin a new habit, or drop an old one.

I figure any day is fine.  But as the new year approaches I can’t help thinking about what I want to do differently. How I want to evolve my mind, body and spirit.

For me, it’s an endless battle to be more patient.

With infuriating customer service, with my husband whose Maryland conversational cadence is slower than my New York vocal marathon.  

I also need to interrupt less. This always enraged my father, and my husband isn’t a fan. He tells me to stop interrupting, I tell him to talk faster. This goes nowhere.

I also need to pare down (a little) of my wine-love. But I’m a hedonist, they’ll be no Dryuary (dry January) in this house.

Another of my goals is to drop two dress sizes.

This means at 57 the simple non-magical formula of eating fewer carbs, less sugar, lots of protein and minimal nighttime snacking. I already work out six days a week but as my daughter reminds me, “abs are made in the kitchen.” I bust my ass at the gym but my waistline doesn’t seem to notice.

I don’t weigh myself. Haven’t for decades. Women’s weight goes up and down with water gain and added muscle (men too). So the scale is an annoying stab in the back. It demotivates me and makes me want to kick the thing across the room.  

Basically if I have to suck in my stomach to squeeze into my jeans, it’s time to lose weight.

For 2023 let me offer a suggestion.  

Don’t make your resolutions big. Go for inches. Small strides. Work out one day a week, then two, then five. Cut out a little sugar, add more veggies and protein. Read more. Don’t make your goals feel impossible by day three.

Three things to add to 2023: Breast health, immune support, healthy boundaries

I’ve been studying what it takes to fix my mind and body for more than 20 years.

After I was misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, had severe postpartum depression, anxiety and adrenal insufficiency, I took my health into my own hands. As of a Greece trip in 2019, I now have microscopic colitis. I’m working like a dog to get rid of it despite being told it’s autoimmune (Never goes away. Not on my watch. I’m getting rid of it).

My doctor is a holistic MD who preaches prevention and cure rather than just treating symptoms. We’re a team. She listens. She reminds that the body knows how to heal itself with the right help.

  1. I suggest women add breast thermography to their annual breast health plan. Inexpensive, painless, life saving.
  2. I also suggest everyone add Argentyn 23 to help their immune system. It’s a powerful safe antiviral and antibacterial small particle silver. My husband, daughter and I took it constantly during COVID (none of us got COVID). There’s peer-reviewed science behind small particle silver. I can’t sing it’s praises enough.
  3. Set personal boundaries and extricate yourself from toxic people. Mean, shitty people who don’t make you feel good about yourself, or people you don’t trust, don’t deserve your company.

How do you know who’s toxic and who you need to gently leave behind?

Ask yourself how you feel every time you’re around this person. Are they at least trying to get better? Are they self-aware? There’s your answer.

To a joyful, healthy happy 2023.

Broken trust

Broken crosses: Two local religious leaders who broke my heart

The reverend asked us to call him Bryan, but some people called him “Rev.”

He was a regular visiting minister at my lay led Unitarian Universalist church. Wildly popular, burly Santa-type, warm and calming. When Bryan spoke, I made a point of getting my lazy-butt to church.  

Clergy always made me a little uncomfortable. Not from religious guilt or any bad experience. I just wasn’t around religious leaders enough chit chatting at our church’s Wednesday dinners to see ministers as regular types. Growing up I went to a Methodist church with my mother, but only sporadically.

In my early thirties, I re-started in the Methodist church, but when even the coolest laid-back pastor said hello I got nervous. Godly rock stars, I guess. My anxiety around the cloth wasn’t because I was God-fearing. If anything I was God questioning. I just wasn’t sure how to act.  Bryan made it easy.

Thankfully he was our scheduled speaker the day after the Pulse Massacre 25 minutes from my house. He led us through our stages of pain. Enraged, shattered and speechless, spiritually bleeding from the shock and sorrow.

His messages were always easy to carry into your day. The sort of pastor who uses straight language without cryptic Biblical jargon.

And so his style resonated with our mutt UU congregation of believers and non-believers, the reformed and practicing Christians, Jews, Catholics, humanists, agnostics and atheists. He mentioned Jesus here and there as a symbol of how to do the right thing under the hardest circumstances. It didn’t matter if we thought Christ was the Son of God, a hippie or fairytale.   

Bryan spoke the greatest hits across all religions: love, kindness, humility, compassion and forgiveness. And he was a walk-the-walk advocate for civil and women’s rights.  It was his dedication to reproductive choice and gender equality that impressed me the most. An unabashed feminist who railed against patriarchy.

I trusted him as a female-ally because he was well-known for fighting for women’s rights. He once told our congregation, “How arrogant would I be to think I know what’s best for a woman who finds herself pregnant?” He took hard stands, but gently. He was witty, humble and much better at doing grace than me. Exactly what I want in my spiritual leader. Better, but admittedly fallible.

When I heard in October 2019 that Bryan was charged with having sex with a minor over 100 times between 2005 and 2010 (starting when she was 14, grooming her when she was 13) I almost threw up. His victim was a long-time member of the church where he served as senior minister.

If you live long enough you know that plenty of good people do bad things. And that sexual abuse in all places of power is sickeningly common. But people like Bryan, a religious leader outspoken about gender equality, they don’t sexually abuse.

For weeks I woke up in the middle of the night hoping it wasn’t true. My heart was broken. I felt betrayed, angry and bitter.

Bryan was a local celebrity known for his commitment to interfaith discussion, a topic that always appeals to me. He co-hosted the popular NPR show, “The Three Wise Guys” (A minister, rabbi and imam), bantering theology (with reverence) across the Christian perspective on issues. After his arrest the show shut down. It stuns me that people still write “Happy birthday Bryan, we miss you,” on his Facebook page. Even after what he did. 

Sadly the Reverend killed himself ten days after he was released on bail. Before he had to face numerous felony charges. Investigators recorded a long conversation between he and his accuser (now an adult) where Bryan admitted that she had been a victim and that he was a predator “in the eyes of the law.” He admitted to having a sexual relationship with her for years when she was under 18.

“[T]here was never anything salacious or bad about it and you were always too damn mature for your own good and I have always loved you,” Fulwider told his accuser in the call, according to police. “It wasn’t like I was off hunting people. It was a connection.” ~ The Orlando Sentinel

Orlando Sentinel

I was heartbroken for his family, and relieved that someone I cared for, someone who regularly talked to God, no longer had to battle his demons. But I also wanted to scream in his face, “Listen you predatory scumbag, you did this to yourself!”

I’d like to say time softened my anger, but it only dulled the edges. I don’t forgive as fast as Jesus. Sometimes, although rare, I never do. On purpose. It keeps evil and good simple.

Bryan’s sons said they “witnessed his pattern of disrespecting women and know he was not the person he presented publicly.”

Some of my church friends who knew him better than I, or who are probably just more forgiving, haven’t erased all the good Bryan did.

Still, it’s one thing to cheat on your spouse, evade taxes or embezzle church funds. It’s another to commit statutory rape with a 14-year-old girl in your congregation.

A couple years ago another one of my favorite speakers was arrested. A priest charged with sexually abusing a boy. That’s all I know because I can’t find anything about his arrest record. I only know from friends at church that he’s serving time.

This priest whenever he saw me (or anyone), beamed a magnificent smile, like he was genuinely excited to see me. Then he’d give me a hug. Usually this sort of gushing friendliness from someone I don’t know well creeps me out. But my priest-friend radiated genuine love and benign affection. He made you feel special. So my trust radar, like with Bryan, beeped strong. That’s pretty Christ-like. I was drawn in.

His voice was deliciously melodic when he recited poetry and sang verses of his favorite black spirituals. He was brilliant about breaking down theology into modern practical terms. He was also mesmerizing and charismatic, commanding but not at all intimidating.

A few years ago he helped a few of us at church during a breakout session for an eight-week white privilege class. Somehow he moved us past being mildly self-righteous white liberals (who mean well), into activists who needed to keep our back-patting wokeness in check.      

Years ago he begged his Diocese to let a few local impoverished non-Catholic kids reap the educational benefits of attending a Catholic school. He knew God wouldn’t care about rigid enrollment rules, only that he could help a handful of kids get a better shot in life.   

Maybe someday I can forgive my priest friend. But not Bryan.

My priest friend as far as I know (or tell myself), “only” molested one boy. Bryan groomed and sexually molested one girl over a 100 times.

Evil amounts to numerical calculations against all the good someone has done. There’s a net total we learn to live with. But once we see evil in someone we trust, it’s hard to see anything else.  

For me, despite what we’re promised, forgiveness isn’t always a salve for the sufferer (“forgiveness is for YOU, not for them”).   Not forgiving can heal too. People think I’m nuts on this. Not forgiving goes against all the best Jesus lessons. It holds on to emotional sludge and makes you literally sick.

I’m not saying we stew in destructive rage. What I mean is, choosing not to forgive someone for heinous acts puts evil and good right where they belong, in separate corners, judged as they should be judged. There’s relief in that sort of clarity.  “I don’t forgive you,” doesn’t have to make you stuck in pain and bitter. It means you gently accept that some things are unforgiveable.

My interview on Mother Plus Podcast

Ambivalence in motherhood. Part 1: When you’re a “different” kind of mom

What happens when you feel like a “different kind of mom?”

Despite feeling grateful to be at home with my daughter, try as I might, I didn’t fit the mold. Despite joining numerous playgroups, despite having date nights with my husband, mom’s night out, etc.

I sensed immediately that I needed more — more time away than other mothers, more of my own interests, more of my old identity.

Listen on ITunes
Listen on Spotify

I share:

Why we need to have real conversations about our ambivalent feelings and find moms who understand (find your tribe who gets it, who gets you).

Why having feelings of ambivalence has nothing to do with how much you love your children (zip, zero, nada).

Why you’re “allowed” to have childcare even if you’re a stay-at-home-mom (gasp!).

Ambivalence in motherhood Part 2: Changing the definition of “selfish”

Why I put my daughter in two half-day pre-schools although I was at home (oh the comments!)

Accepting the type of mother you are, even if you’re different from other moms (self-acceptance).

Listen on ITunes
Listen on Spotify

Bottom line but what we never tell mothers:

Mom needs to be as happy as her kids. Change the definition of “selfish” to “filling” self, to caring for yourself. This is excellent role modeling for your kids, especially girls.

I’m not suggesting you ignore your kids’ needs and put yours ahead of theirs. Of course not. Parenting demands sacrifice. I’m suggesting a radical paradigm shift that says, “my needs count too,” and acting on it.

It’s important to acknowledge and accept that ambivalence—even hating motherhood sometimes, is normal.

Image credit

vaccine passport

Orlando Sentinel guest column: Vaccine-passport debate shows middle-ground thinking is dead.

Vaccine passport

Orginally published by the Orlando Sentinel – Guest columnist

My daughter recently attended a Harry Styles concert at the Amway Center in Orlando. As required by the venue she showed her vaccine passport (or a negative COVID-19 test 48 hours prior).

Now, the Amway Center and other establishments in Florida, are under investigation for violating Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ban on vaccine passports.

When will it end? The politicization of everything vs. decisions based on critical thinking and common sense?

Norwegian Cruise Lines defied DeSantis’s vaccine passport ban. Of course they did. Cruise ships are giant moving superspreaders.

So why is our hands-off-business governor fighting this no-brainer?

Politics. And some voters on all sides are following suit.

Coming down on an issue solely in opposition to the other party. If they’re for it, I’m against it. But are they really against the issue across every angle?

Never mind nuance. Never mind science and common sense. That uncomfortable middle ground that makes our head hurt.

God help you if you ponder the practicality of mask mandates and vaccine passports in all situations. Party treason.

And when the vaccine was first released if you had a legitimate concern (vs. a ridiculous conspiracy theory) you were a selfish moron.

Where’s the nuanced thinking in statements like, “Wear masks even if you’re vaccinated!” or “Vaccine passports are like living under the Gestapo!”

On vaccine passports I’m not totally against or in favor. In other words, it depends.

I support (temporarily) requiring proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID test) at large crowd and travel venues. I support a vaccine mandate in schools, for frontline workers and in health-care settings. Lots of people, close together, spread lots of germs. That’s not political. That’s science.

But I’m against requiring them at every business, e.g. every retailer and restaurant. Common sense knows this isn’t practical. And it’s invasive. I say that and I’m a Democrat.

I support businesses encouraging but not requiring the vaccine as a contingency for employment (or a negative COVID test).

I personally have no issue showing my vax card (I have yet to be asked). It’s not like I’m revealing I had an STD. But if I had to show my card everywhere from now until who knows, it would get old. Of course I’d pull it out without pitching a fit. It’s how I feel about masks.

I hate them. Yes, we all do. But I hate masks a lot. Except I know they help stop the spread so prevaccine I politely complied.

Okay, you got me. Masks, like vaccines, aren’t 100%.

But when we scream “Masks don’t work!” we’ve willingly stopped using common sense, never mind respect for established science.

Masks do workThey help.

The word help doesn’t mean prevent. It means to assist. Vaccines assist in stopping the spread.

I’m concerned we’ve lost our will to even consider the nuance behind issues. Shades-of-gray thinking doesn’t fit into a tidy party narrative of Us vs. Them. And our cognitive dissonance is astronomical.

If a business still requires a mask I politely wear it, otherwise I forgo because I’m vaccinated. Uber still requires masks. So last weekend, I privately grumbled to my husband, put on my mask, got in the car, and kept my mouth shut about it to the driver.

I keep strengthening my immune system with a supplement regime I’ve done for years. And once the stay-at-home order was lifted in Florida in May 2020, my husband and I went out — a lot. I tested and quarantined before I visited my elderly stepmom, reminding her that a false negative was a real possibility.

I’ve tested three times including one antibody test. All negative.

Some people might call me selfish for going out so often before I was vaccinated. I’d ask them to consider what I’ve been doing to strengthen my immune system.

Either it worked or I’m lucky. I got sick plenty before I started on this regime years ago. Now I don’t. Or at least not for long.

We owe it to each other to care about the collective. We also have the right to take individual calculated risks. My husband and I are one of those messy middle-of-the-road people during the pandemic. We don’t fit one box or the other.

At this point during COVID-19 we might consider mandates in context of where and when they make sense.

We teach our kids to be good citizens and critical thinkers, shouldn’t adults do the same?

Image credit

bed alarm

“Bed alarm” – a poem in my father’s voice

Published on the Feminine Collective

I don’t tremble, but they assume I’m Katherine Hepburn’s kind.
We share our Parkinson’s frozen mask, expressionless, involuntary
deceit of emotion.

My shuffling gait halts while I calibrate my balance, refusing my wife’s arm
even as my committee of limbs won’t comply.

Stiffening, my six-foot body cracks against the shower door that night.
Cubes of blunt glass explode. I am bare, crooked. Fetal once again. Read entire poem…

Photo credit: John Towner

Public preaching

When street evangelists scream preach I just ignore. But this guy is interrupting people working out.

I saw a viral video years ago of a girl at my daughter’s college in tears because a kid with some Christian group, was screaming that she was a “whore” for the way she dressed.

Certain places on campus allow these sorts of public soap-boxes.

Me personally, I’d just tell the guy he was a bully, and that I’d worn my favorite short-shorts that day, which I believed were not REMOTELY-whorish.

And that I’ve never taken a single dime for sex. So “whore” is not quite accurate. Then I’d tell him he was an asshole, likely in need of getting laid. Then I’d smirk while he turned away from the girl and shamed me instead. Sacrificial lamb and all that.

But this poor girl was genuinely shaken. Slut-shamed on her way to class. Fortunately a few kids spoke up and rallied around her and gave her a hug.

Bullies always lose. Mello Jesus wins.

Does this really work? Bullying people towards God? Seems counterintuitive.

Dude, read the room, no one wants you screaming while they’re working out.

Is this need to YELL the Good News a sickness? I was a Methodist. I know the Good News.

And calling people sinners is a huge no for me.

This being “born” a sinner is weird.

Seriously when was a baby a sinner? In the womb she sucked in too much amniotic fluid?

I’m wildly flawed, but preach “sinner repent!” and we’ll have words. I hate guilt preaching. I makes me want to run away from God. (My God is very LGBTQ friendly, pro-choice and doesn’t support burning in hell for non-believers).

Listen, I don’t go to my gym and preach the word of my Unitarian Universalists while someone jams out on their cross trainer.

The gall of ANYONE to preach ANY religion AT people, astounds me. Which is I why I get giddy when LDS folks come to my door.

They smile, hand me a pamphlet, share the Word. I then kindly and gently (I swear) share my Word (Unitarian Universalist: Nutshell: We don’t care if you’re protestant, Catholic, pagan or an atheist. Just be loving compassionate and open-minded.

My favorite preaching is when religious folks want to tell me about preparing for the “end of times” so that I’m not Left Behind while the sinners burn.

Now THERE’s a super upbeat conversation at my doorstep.

If you want to share Jesus, please quietly hand out pamphlets, invite people to your church, start a blog.

I wish people would stop YELLING God AT people in public places.

Jesus was a gentle peaceful guy. He’s well-known. We’ll find him if we need him.

Three things to make your holiday FEEL better

Holidays make lot of us giddy. The lights, decorations and excited kids drunk on all the magic. I love this time of year.

My daughter is grown but I still run to my front porch and wave to Santa when he comes riding into our neighborhood, sirens flaring (now in a pickup truck vs fire truck. No more candy canes. Even Santa has his budget cuts).  

But holidays send some people into a tricky emotional place. They feel gut wrenchingly sad because they miss a parent or are estranged from loved ones.

This time of year triggers memories of drama-soaked meals where someone was too drunk, too mean or too critical.

Christmas in our house was a big deal.

After my dad’s first wife left when I was five, my father was instantly a single parent with five emotionally shattered kids. Therapy helped but children don’t ever fully recover when their mother takes off.   

Santa does wonders.

My dad made Christmas spectacular. Our 10-foot tree was covered with presents, our stockings were stuffed, dinner was spectacular (my dad was a hobbyist chef and could master any recipe). He’d make beef tenderloin, Yorkshire pudding, and homemade chocolate mousse with hand whipped cream spun with a bit of bourbon.

I don’t remember Christmas as especially sad, angry or dramatic. Although, if you spoiled your appetite or pushed your food around the plate (I dissected every inch of fat off my meat) — you better run. My dad had a big loud temper. Which, managing five kids (three big feral boys) and working full-time, I’d be cranky too.

Whatever the holiday feels like for you it’s guaranteed busy.  

If being a perfectionist gives you peace and joy. Go for it.

I’m reindeer obsessed so I spend hours setting up my indoor decorations exactly right. It’s a high.  Some people feel compelled to master gift-wrap corners (I’ve tried for years. And I still can’t fold a fitted sheet). For others it’s flawless pies and sixteen homemade side dishes. Preparing food is a love language for a lot of people. Too many sides makes me tense just thinking about it.   

If you’re losing it on everyone and stressed, let something go.

What I mean is: willingly “fail.”

Cut out a few sides, ignore the crappy wrapped corners, and God knows ask for help from your kids, your spouse, any willing and able body.

No opposing politics, none, nada, zip

This speaks for itself. Haven’t we learned since 2016 that talking Trump vs Not Trump is useless and disastrous? No one gets any closer. They get mad and farther apart.

So if “that” uncle or cousin even hints at bringing up opposing politics, gently steer them away. If they don’t listen, firmly steer them away. If they’re being obnoxious drunk and belligerent, send them to the TV room.

Make peace with gaining a few — or don’t gain a few

You can go a couple ways here.

Except that you’ll gain a few pounds but lose it later. Or, treat the holidays like any other week. Eat and drink reasonably, indulge here and there, exercise as much possible.

I’d rather not put on a few pounds and have to work it off. At 57, working off a few pounds is exponentially harder than at 25.  The added weight just laughs at me now, “good luck losing it.”

But I’m also not big into self-sacrifice.  I’m a hedonist. For me that looks like fine cheeses, plenty of wine and lemon drop martins and some sea salt dark chocolate. I generally love all salty savory white carbs. Pasta, chips, popcorn by the bowlful.  

Some people prefer to get buzzed on pie and cookies. Do your thing. Decide what’s worth it.  Then let it go.

10 things to tell yourself when you’re going through a hard time.

From Tiny Buddha (I love this site).

Every point hit home for me. But oddly enough, number two stood out because at first glance, it sounded kind of selfish.

You have the right to feel how you feel even if other people have it worse. Your pain is valid regardless of what anyone else is going through.

Sometimes I feel a little petty when I vent about minor problems, or even big ones (like family estrangments, health issues) in contrast to true tragedy. Ukraine, COVID deaths, a friend who lost a loved one or is suffering from a serious illness, job loss, financial ruin, divorce.

How dare I bitch about the contractor who didn’t show up or ripped us off? How insignificant and trivial. Veering on the now grossly overused, “Karen.” (My laid-back husband and daughter have accused me of “going all Karen” on customer service or contractors simply for refusing to get screwed over).

We should all try to view our problems in contrast to bigger suffering. It puts our life into perspective. And yet, all stress and pain is valid, while not created equally.

I remember years ago I was venting to a friend about my husband being insensitive about something. I don’t remember what. Nothing major. All of a sudden my friend, usually a great listener, snapped. “Well at least he’s alive. Remember I told you Lisa just lost her husband from a heart attack? Dead before 50. Now THAT’S suffering.”

I was taken back and defensive. I told her I remember her telling me about her friend’s husband and how sorry I was. But I wasn’t comparing my minor complaints to the death of a spouse, obviously.

It became clear she lashed out from fear. She told me she was terrified how many people she knew who suddenly dropped dead at a young age (usually undetected heart issues). My friend, in her late 40’s at the time, was facing her own mortality and the possibility of suddenly losing her own husband. The unpredictability of life is something she’d spoken to me about every time she heard of someone dying too young.

So for her, my venting at that moment felt trite and meaningless.

But all feelings are valid.

Now if I chronically complained about small stuff, yes, I deserve a knock upside the head reminder that suffering is relative. No one likes a chronic complainer.

One of the practices I use to get myself out of a funk is to focus on gratitude. What’s working in my life vs what’s not.

Part of my gratitude practice is to mentally rank how much harder my life could be if I say, I had an incurable disease like so and so, or if my partner left me like so and so or if I was living homeless or hand to mouth like countless people across the world.

My gratitude list is infinite. Likely yours is too.

I’m not sure that comparing and contrasting ourselves aka, “it could be worse” is pure gratitude at its best. But it is a form of gratitude. Gratitude is one of the most powerful, transformative tools humans possess.

But I often say, it’s normal to have two seemingly conflicted feelings at the SAME time. What I mean is you can feel grateful for x,y,z in your life and upset about a,b,c.

You don’t have to feel guilty for experiencing pain because someone else has worse pain. Your feelings are valid. It’s all about timing and self-awareness. When or even if to vent to someone who’s suffering.

Dealing with negative emotions

I love, I hate. Peace after accepting ambivalence.

All mothers know this. 

That the love we have for our child is so intense and all-consuming that it’s spectacular and terrifying in its power. 

Yet it’s rare we admit that what motherhood gives us, so too can she take away…

Depression

A few weeks after my daughter was born I was hit with severe postpartum depression.

My husband did everything he could within the confines and nerves of new fatherhood. What was he supposed to do as he watched his wife genuinely smile and coo and competently take care of our baby, then an hour later, turn around and sob and crumble into wishing “I’d just fall into a black hole of feeling nothing. Dead but not really dead.” 

How do you respond to your wife’s sort of death wish?

My husband was a hands-on dad from the start. There for me in every way. But with my exhaustion and hormone-imbalanced brain, nothing helped my depression except getting back on hormone replacement therapy (I have a pituitary disorder that requires HRT), more sleep, and sheer time to get used to the demands of being a new mother.

Identity crisis

I was a stay-at-home mother by grateful choice (and self-imposed guilt), but as the months went on sometimes I felt mind-numbingly bored. Flattened and anxious by the drudgery and repetition. Despite the numerous Mommy and Me playgroups I joined. Despite friends telling me “this too shall pass and they’re only young once.” Despite date nights with my husband and girls’ nights.

Without fail I followed the formula prescribed to make the transition to being at home easier. In fact I did more than most of my stay-at-home mom friends who weren’t yet comfortable leaving their little ones.

But it wasn’t enough. 

Not until my daughter started Kindergarten and I had more time to myself and to write. First I wrote cathartic stream-of-consciousness ramblings to self-soothe, then gradually I wrote as a part-time profession.  

Motherhood tore open beautiful facets of myself and my relationships. Richer in emotion, new layers of appreciation emerged as I watched my child giggle at dandelion fluff, blow a ladybug off her finger, run from the waves chasing her little ankles. 

But motherhood also threw me into a full-on identity crisis.

I’d been an ambitious marketing professional for 20 years and then suddenly I wasn’t. A shift so abrupt as to almost reorganize my DNA overnight.

My daughter was of course front and center, her well-being always top of mind. But becoming a parent didn’t suddenly wipe clean my ambition or my need to spend time alone or with my husband and friends. 

And yet I was told that it would, promised that “once I saw that little baby nothing else would matter in the world.” But other things did still matter, even while I fell in love with this perfect creature I wanted more than anything.  

Emotions in contradiction. Or were they?

Mothers are all different as humans are all different

Being at home full-time is just easier for some mothers. I don’t mean the work is easier. 

It’s universally hard to be chronically sleep-deprived and change 800 diapers. To be hypervigilant that your child doesn’t choke, suffocate in her sleep, stick her fingers in sockets or the dog’s mouth, run in the street, smear her poop, sling-shot off the slide or bite her toddler friend – again.

It’s exhausting to worry about Texas-shaped rashes, fevers, teething, vaccine reactions, solid food introductions, weird cries, to nurse, rock, soothe, stroll, shop, play Candyland incessantly and watch The Wiggles for the 90th time. 

But some women adapt better to this new normal. They don’t have a full-on identity crisis as I did. 

It goes without saying that watching your child grow and thrive is spectacular. What’s not spectacular is the exhaustion and the ambivalent feelings we grapple with alongside judgment from other parents. 

The “I love my child, but I hate……” 

I dropped out of the workforce when my daughter was 9 months old (I’d returned part-time after maternity leave).  Once the honeymoon of being home ended and the silence of no adult company crept in, once my daughter’s two-hour screaming fests shattered my nerves — the stress, repetition and boredom drove me mad. 

So to process my feelings, when I had time I wrote.

I also read stacks of books about real motherhood. Gritty, raw stories (My favorite, Susan Maushart’s The Mask of Motherhood). These books unpacked and validated the anger, resentment and anxiety mixed with gratitude, awe and love.

To be human is to feel a spectrum of good and “bad” emotion….

The spectrum of emotions I have since become obsessed to accept rather than vilify.

From that space came a compulsion to write what I learned, loved and loathed about the experience of being human, about grappling with ambivalence. 

It starts with the truth. Unpolished. Uncomfortable at first. 

It starts with being radically honest with ourselves (and with people we trust).

Honesty takes a risk. Honesty is terrifying. 

But gradually the chokehold of trying to pretend you’re someone you’re not comes off.  

Freedom comes from (trying) not to judge yourself for feeling different from your friends, mother, sister, cousin, and neighbors.

When I enrolled my daughter in two pre-schools at the same time (half days Mon-Tues for one, Wed-Thu another), you can imagine the comments.

“That’s interesting, I’d never heard of anyone doing that before,” said one friend. “Well at least you’re not doing it just to get your nails done,” said another. “You’re doing it to have time to write.”

“Actually I’m doing it to have time for errands, writing and nails.” 

One of my daughter’s pre-school teachers asked me, “Doesn’t your daughter get confused?” 

“Not it all. She’s doing really well. Does she seem confused to you?”

“Well, no, actually.”  

As humans we share traits born of the instinct to survive and to thrive.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Food, shelter, safety, a need for love, validation and belonging.

But we’re also individuals, spectacular in our breadth and depth of interests, challenges and pathways to finding peace, joy, balance and God knows, less angst.

In the end, your authentic self is who should show up every day. Because the ones who love you will love you despite — or probably because of who you are. The others, well, they never mattered much anyway.

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Condolences that hurt

I just listened to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast where he interviewed Nicole Byer (both are comedians, actors, podcasters). Marc asked Nicole when her parents passed away. Both were in their mid-50’s. Like anyone who loses parents too young, Nicole had a hard time.  

And like most well-intended people who console the bereaved, the condolences came pouring in. Death is uncomfortable. What to say, what not say.

I’m sorry for your loss. We’ll miss her so much. I’m here for you. What can I do? Let me bring you dinner, help with arrangements, whatever you need.

These words are kind, comforting and thoughtful. A salve to ease the unimaginable.

But there are a few words that harm, “At least she’s in a better place.”

Nicole said she heard it a lot.

I know. I really believe they think they’re offering Christian comfort.

But to the survivors, even after long intense suffering, losing their loved one feels like hell on earth. Even if their loved one passing is a relief.  

“Better place” translates to, “I know you’re hurting but maybe feel a tiny bit of comfort because where they are is better than where they were.”

Still, it’s a crushing platitude for what the survivor feels. 

Profound breathless gut-punched loss, aching grief and suffocating loneliness. How to move through the next moment, the next hour, the next breakfast and bedtime’s oppressive emptiness. 

The smell of his shirts, a stray sock near the bed, his favorite mug or leftovers. The photos, travels, shared spaces in every inch of the house. His children’s faces and tears. Thousands of lingering floating reminders that stab over and over and over.    

Marc laughed when Nicole mentioned “in a better place.”

“Yeah what the hell is that,” he said. “Better place? No it’s not better. Better is here, with me. That’s better.”

That’s how I feel. Better is here.

This is probably why I never sense my father’s presence like lots of people do with deceased loved ones. I envy their connection. Their surprise ethereal embrace. Some people sense a spirit, or meaningful personal objects fall down for no reason, supernatural events that tell them their loved one is close. I’m here. I’m okay. You’ll be okay.

I loved my father with every cell.  I told a friend years before he died in 2006 that when he went, I’d crumble and never recover. I felt it years before I lost him which is why I think I did recover. That and relief that he wasn’t suffering anymore.  

My deceased father has never been a spiritual presence. He’s gone. Finite. Only pictures, videos and memories that I choose to look at bring him back. Perhaps I never sense him because spirit energy isn’t enough for me so I don’t even try. Also, the supernatural freaks me out a little.  I believe but don’t want to experience.

I want all of my father or none of him. Not his essence. Not his energy. Energy can’t congratulate my daughter on graduating from high school, college and getting her first career job.

At least I had years to say goodbye even as his Lewy Body dementia and Parkinson’s advanced. I got a lot of my dad even as his mind changed.  Even when he was confused about things, like constantly falling because he forgot he shouldn’t shuffle to the kitchen to clean out his teacup. He’d forget his body didn’t behave the way his mind wanted. But he never forgot people. Not one. He’d forget time frames, like that I’d recently visited. 

Marc Maron’s longtime girlfriend Lynn died fast and unexpectedly two years ago. He didn’t get to say goodbye in the hospital after paramedics picked her up in his apartment. It was during COVID. Death was quarantined. It’s one of the saddest things I heard during the pandemic. Barred from holding a loved one’s hand. 

I understand when someone is suffering with no chance of recovery that dying is the better place. Whether it’s heaven or the relief of nothingness. The pain stops. That’s better.

My stepmother has this expression she often says about end of life. “There’s worst things than death.” No one said “better place” when Dad died. They understood my father would shoot them a dirty look from the universe. 

My father’s illnesses stole the brilliant, witty, loving person I knew all my life.  For the most part he lived and communicated marginally well thanks to a litany of meds and my amazing stepmother.

Until the last year or so when he was wheelchair-bound he got around with a cane and walker. He ate okay. He continued to read voraciously. The day he died on Halloween, his mother’s birthday, two weeks before we’d gone to a famous Tampa steak house for my birthday. We pushed his wheelchair into the elegant table. Dad barely touched his spectacular food. His face rigid the way Parkinson’s involuntarily freezes expressions into faux angry.

That’s the night my father’s quality of life shrank to nothing.

One of his last passions, good food and wine gone. No taste. No appetite. All his pleasures now diseased.

Two days before he died my stepmother asked me to try get him to take a bite of ice cream. Sweet is apparently the final taste to go. My father reluctantly slurped a small spoonful of vanilla just to make me happy. His last bite was for me. His last words, “Thank you, but that’s all honey.”   

So yes death is a better place than that.

My father, a gentle quiet agnostic who never mocked my beliefs or cared what others followed, would say that the better place is here on earth and healthy. That death is a black void with sad survivors in the wake.

The better place lives longer than 74. The better place is with his wife, girls and grandkids, sipping a beautiful Burgundy, seasoning his all-day spaghetti sauce, reading the New York Times, ribbing everyone with his perfect Boris Karloff and endless British accents, at peace with past mistakes, watching the sunset over Indian Rocks Beach every summer, screaming at his NY Giants.  

What my sociopath boss taught me at 22

Signs of a sociopath

When I was 22, a year after working my first after-college job as a market research analyst, I moved to live with my serious boyfriend.

For six months I scanned the paper looking for jobs in marketing or marketing research. Eventually I found a listing for a “marketing assistant” to sell seasonal plants out of an empty greenhouse in a farming town an hour north of my house.

The first red flag was that my soon-to-be boss interviewed me at a Mcdonald’s, and that he didn’t have a car or his own place. 

Gray looked to be in his mid to late fifties, and I later learned when I had to drive him home a few times, that he lived with his mother.

He was tall and distinguished-looking with thick salt and pepper hair, dark-rimmed glasses and a resting smug-face. He told me that he’d been a former NYC Madison Ave advertising exec who in his heyday was in high demand.

My sense was that he’d wreaked havoc in his career and was run out of the industry. Gray insisted that after he quit drinking it was he who decided to quit the NYC scene. He also claimed he made and lost millions and was starting over as an entrepreneur. 

His plan was to buy wholesale inventory of Florida seasonal plants to sell directly to customers via direct mail, newspaper, television and radio.

The dangling carrot was that while he couldn’t pay much, the money would inevitably come rolling in, and that I’d be mentored by marketing greatness.

My 20-minute interview consisted of “Do you want the job?” and a rundown of the position. We would market seasonal orchids and Neanthe bella palms out of an empty greenhouse where he’d rented space. Just the two of us until he hired a salesperson (he eventually did).

Gray spent a great deal of time telling me how brilliant he was, insisting that he knew more than most in the industry. He was loud, intimidating and incessantly braggadocio.

It was clear he sensed my naivety, ambition and desperation to work in marketing. 

One day during lunch with a potential client, the client offered to pay for our meal. Gray said thank you but I said, “Oh that’s okay, you’re the customer, we should pay.”

When we got back to the office Gray lost it.

“DON’T YOU EVER SECOND GUESS ME IN FRONT OF A CUSTOMER AGAIN!” then he threw his coffee mug on the carpet. YOU EMBARRASSED ME! LET THE GODDAMN CLIENT PAY IF HE WANTS TO PAY!”

As awkward and insecure as I was at 22, I knew despite my mistake, his behavior was out of line. I apologized then told him, “I thought I was being professional!”

Then to match his anger I threw my coffee cup on the carpet. He didn’t fire me. 

One afternoon out of nowhere Gray told me, “You know, I used to have a secretary who came to work without any underwear.”

“Uh Gray, you do know it’s inappropriate to tell me that?” 

For the next couple minutes he proceeded to yell and gaslight.

“I’M TELLING YOU THIS FOR YOUR OWN GODDAMN GOOD!!! IF YOU PLAN TO MAKE IT IN CORPORATE AMERICA YOU’LL NEED TO KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH MEN THAT WILL SAY SHIT LIKE THAT TO YOU!”

I was stunned and disgusted that my boss not only sexually harassed me but tried to convince me that this was a teaching moment.

A conversation with my father flashed from when I was around 19.

“Has any guy ever been inappropriate with you?”

Besides a drunk college guy screaming “c…..t!” out his dorm window because I wouldn’t go out with him, and a much older yoga instructor during college who offered to trade private lessons for “massage,” no.

“Well, don’t ever let a man mistreat you under any circumstances. Pay attention to how he makes you feel.”

I told Gray that an underwearless secretary story wasn’t a “lesson” to help me navigate men in corporate America. It was gross and inappropriate.

“You just don’t get it,” he said then walked out of the room.

Gray had a former girlfriend who sometimes used our copier and fax. During one visit she pulled me aside and whispered, “Be careful with Gray. When we dated my mom thought something was seriously wrong with him. At one point she told him, ‘Listen, if you’re going to keep dating my daughter I insist you take this psychological assessment.’ I agreed with her concerns so I made Gray take the test.”

Apparently he scored off the charts on “sociopath” traits. 

The last straw was after an advertising shoot.

One morning we drove to a studio to film a 60-second ad. While he was working with the cameraman and setting up props he told me, “I need you to do the ad.” Clearly he didn’t want to spend the money to hire a professional actor and figured he could last-minute bully me into doing something that wasn’t in my job description. 
 
“Gray I have zero experience. I’m too nervous.”

“Listen, it’s only 60 seconds. It’s not hard. I’ll coach you and anyway, we don’t have anyone else. I’ve already paid for the cameraman. You have to do it. You’re my marketing assistant.” 
 
So I sat on the stool, awkwardly held the orchid, waited for the cameraman’s signal then started reading the cue cards. My hands and voice shook. I flubbed lines during every take.

Gray yelled repeatedly for me to slow down, relax and just “act natural.” At some point I was close to tears but blinked them back. 

Eventually he got frustrated, gave up and told the cameraman he’d do the ad himself because I “couldn’t handle the job, but that it would be much better if a woman was selling the orchids.” 

Fortunately no other boss I ever worked with came close to being the narcissistic bully Gray was.

In the beginning I saw him as a hard-knock, seasoned marketing professional. Smart. Creative. Resilient. Fearless. 

But he was just a pig and a fraud. 

Thank God despite my fragile confidence, my father, mother and stepmother instilled me with a strong sense of self-protection.

If it feels wrong, it is. 

Fortunately I was in a financial position to quit. I didn’t have dependents and I knew my boyfriend (now husband) and parents were there for me if I needed help. 

I can’t remember the details the day I quit, only that it took three months. I don’t remember what Gray said as I packed my stuff and walked out of the greenhouse.

I only remember I was shocked that he wasn’t mad and relieved he didn’t have a tantrum.

Maybe he ran out of money. Or maybe he realized we’d never work out because I wasn’t his naive little puppet or underwear-free secretary he secretly envisioned that day at McDonald’s.

When even the smallest red flags show up, run

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