I used to be somebody. I was challenging people as if I had everything together and knew it all, had it all, had The Universe by the balls. What do I do now that I am a nobody?
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
When I was working it was a question I asked of the young people who sat across from me. These young, insecure, anxious kids were afraid–afraid of failing and afraid of succeeding. Often I would challenge them with what seemed to me like a simple task, perhaps it was to make a phone call or to arrive to class or work on time or to ask a question during a meeting.
I would say, “Why don’t you ask that question at your next meeting?” or “Why don’t you call your caseworker/RA/supervisor/landlord and ask?” So often the answer would be:
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
I have challenged my son the same way, though probably not with the exact same question. He is is smarter than both my husband and I and very outgoing and articulate.
Frankly, being smarter than me isn’t a huge accomplishment, but my husband, HE is pretty smart. He won’t admit it, but he kinda has a photographic memory. I say ‘kinda’ because he often forgets when I ask him to do something, like pick up the shit he leaves laying around or that yesterday I told him why I had to leave early today. But he remembers almost everything he Googles and reads on Facebook. And judging by the time he spends on both of those, he has A LOT of stuff stored up in that absorbent, photographic brain of his.
Corey’s excuse about not picking up his mess or remembering my schedule is that I never told him in the first place. That’s stupid and totally his way of messing with me– if I am questioning myself, I can’t blame him. (Smart, right??)
Did I really forget to tell him to pick up his crap or did I just say it in my head?? Well…who cares!? He is a grown man; he should know better. That’s my go-to argument anyway. All the while I am questioning myself in my head because I do have a memory problem and forget just about everything I don’t write down on my hand.
Anyway, Kobe is really smart. The kid loves documentaries and has watched everything he can on Netflix. So between that, YouTube, and his iPhone, he has harnessed the internet to educate himself and man, he just KNOWS things. I shake my head in amazement everyday.
He is also incredibly articulate.
And he does really great in school except for one subject: writing. There is a reason for this, but it’s a long story and doesn’t really matter. What matters is he hates his class and doesn’t like to ask for help. The teacher will specifically ask the students if anyone needs help and he won’t ask for help. If I ask him why, he just says,
“I can’t,” is so hard for me to hear. I’m a fixer. If there is an issue, I hate not being able to FIX IT. If a challenge comes up in conversation, ANY conversation, I immediately shift into fix it mode. My friends will want to vent to me and will have to preface the venting session with, “Denise, I don’t want you to fix it. I just want to vent.” Because they know. They know for me, it hurts to not SOLVE THE PROBLEM…to take action… to just fix it.
And so here I am, 45 and 3 months into unemployment. In so many ways I am at peace. I feel settled at home and continue to enjoy creating a relatively stress free home for my family. When my husband leaves for work, he even asks what we are having for dinner. Because he is excited about eating what I make.
Like, when has that ever happened in my 20 years of marriage?
(The answer to that is NEVER, friends. It has never happened.)
Well, I recently listened to Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I am an audio book listener. I can’t read anymore. I just fall asleep. But I can listen to audio books while I am painting or cleaning or cooking or driving. So I have listened to a bazillion books. I LOVE Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved Eat, Pray, Love. I connected with that book so deeply. I read it maybe 3 times. I felt she was literally speaking to me when she wrote it. I loved her take on spirituality, on God, on life. I feel like we are friends.
In Big Magic, Liz also asks the question. She asked me, “Denise, what would you do if you knew you could not fail? Would you trust yourself, your talents, your work? Would you put yourself out there and trust that The Universe will provide for you?”
I cried. I have been busting my ass writing a blog barely anyone reads, marketing mediocre talent in an Etsy shop with mediocre sales. I just started a PoshMark closet . I work 10 hours a week for a non-profit that helps juveniles stay out of the justice system. The most positive feedback I get in a day is that my dinner tasted good.
I used to be somebody.
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
I think that’s what hit me the hardest. I was asking that question to others and I was asking it while on some pedestal in a holier than thou spot in The Universe believing I was all that and a bag of chips. Challenging people as if I had everything together and knew it all, had it all, had The Universe by the balls.
Stories of love, laughter, and inspiration. Read about what moves me, frustrates me, and most importantly EMPOWERs me as I learn how to rewrite the script of life by blending art and words.
My daughter turned 18 Sunday. 18. There are so, so many things that run through my head that correspond to that sentence. I mean- The first is, She is 18; she is an adult! But then my mind goes a little crazy, ya know? Like:
She is 18. I can kick her out anytime I want with no consequences.
I just blinked and she is 18!
She is FINALLY 18.
She is damn lucky she made it to 18.
My baby is 18???
I am old enough to have an 18-year-old?
Really? I am really old enough to have an 18-year-old?
And that is where I sit. Obviously, 18 has been coming. I know how to count. We have been preparing for this for the last 18 years.
It really sunk in a few weeks ago, when she and I went to a doctor’s appointment. Lately, she has been going into the appointments by herself. It’s new, but no big deal. Less for me to worry about and more independence for her. This time when she returned to me in the waiting room she had one of those sh*t-eating grins on her face and proudly announced she had gotten her tetanus booster during her appointment. While I was in the waiting room. And I hadn’t heard any screams or cries.
She had gotten a shot allbyherself. This child…oh man…this child has helled me over the years with shots. She has been DEATHLY afraid of needles and has gotten herself so worked up and hysterical that half the time I had to BEG the doctor/nurse/C.N.A/ whomever had the needle in hand, to perform the procedure and get it over with because said doctor/nurse/C.N.A/ whomever had the needle in hand was so freaked out by her reaction THEY didn’t dare administer the injection.
And that was barely 3 months ago when she had her wisdom teeth out.
When McKenna was 2 she fell off the jungle gym and broke her wrist. At the ER, they tried to give her a shot for the pain and she was so strong she shoved two nurses off of her. One was just starting the injection and wasn’t prepared to be hefted aside so easily. The nurse dragged the needle down the side of McKenna’s thigh as she was pushed by that angry 2-year-old. She still has a scar!
Back to present day injection completed. Sh*t eating grin meets WTF? face.
“How the hell did you manage that?” I asked incredulously. She shrugged and said, “Well, I told myself I couldn’t be 18 and still need my mom to hold my hand while I got a shot.”
That was when it hit me that I have an 18-year-old. This child…this child whom I can still feel inside me, rolling around kicking, all the time kicking, and whom I always imagined was always just bursting to GET OUT into the world and start – This child who was almost literally pooped out in the toilet just yesterday, is 18.
Ahem. Pooped out in a toilet? Yup. She was born almost 2 weeks early and almost in the toilet. I didn’t know what childbirth felt like. I just knew I felt like I needed to poop. So by the time I got to the hospital, I couldn’t imagine why I needed to poop SO BAD and WHY wouldn’t it just come out already!!?? Then imagine how upset I was to learn my carefully written birth plan, which included an epidural, was null and void because my baby was already crowning!
And I had been trying to poop her out. Nobody tells you that stuff! Am I right? Except now I do. If you are pregnant and I halfway know you, I will tell you. Because no one told me and look what happened. I almost had my baby in the toilet.
Then I think. Holy sh*t. She is almost 18. She is leaving for college in New Hampshire in 7 months. and counting.
Did I say that out loud? Now I feel guilty again. *sigh* You just don’t understand. Let me explain. McKenna has been a little challenging. We joke about it now. She and I. Corey and I and just about anyone who sits beside us at an athletic event. Or at any event. Or in line at the grocery store. Or anywhere really. Sorry strangers. We aren’t really crazy. Or bad parents. I don’t think…We just TALK about it. It’s like our therapy.
There was this time when she was about 3 or 4 and she broke down a wooden door when because we put her in time out. Yeah, she kicked it. It cracked right down the middle. She had temper tantrums like that. Really bad ones and the only way to get past them was to wait it out with her in time out, in her room, with us holding the door closed. Really tight. Sometimes for a REALLY long time.
When she got older she would stay in her room for time-out, but she would scream bloody murder at the top of her lungs. Sometimes she would throw stuff at the door or the wall. Really big stuff cause she was always really strong. It’s a good thing we live in the boonies because people would have called the cops. They would have thought we were killing her. Sometimes I felt like killing her, but I never tried. Really. Corey and I would walk to the end of our driveway and wait. Sometimes for a really long time.
She has always been very persistent.
Our biggest challenge came elementary school. It was a different kind of challenge, though. McKenna began struggling with crippling anxiety. There were days she wouldn’t go to school or get on the bus because of the noise. There were MANY days she would call me with headaches because the anxiety would manifest itself into a migraine. She didn’t want to leave me at all. (And frankly, some of the school staff were a**holes. That didn’t help!) Ultimately, we had to go through tons of testing to make sure she was experiencing anxiety and didn’t have a brain tumor or something else medically wrong.
It was a terrible, horrible time for all of us. And I am thankful I had an understanding employer and a wonderful psychologist friend who snuck us to the top of her therapy list. Through individual therapy and family therapy, we got through it.
And we learned that McKenna struggles with anxiety. Once we knew that, we knew how to get through it and life got a little easier. We had strategies and support.
Over the years, I have viewed that experience as a defining family moment and probably McKenna looks back to see it as helpful as well. I think she has learned to adapt in her life to see that despite feeling anxious, if she does [whatever she is concerned about] she will get through it and be ok.
She continues to manage the anxiety. It has bubbled up in pockets. The fact remains that she is still a teenager and a pretty high-strung one at that. I haven’t fantasized about kicking her out because life has been perfect. I mean, she is perfect on the outside. And sometimes I will share some of our challenges with people who know McKenna and they will be shocked. She saves her ugly for us because we are the safe space for her. That’s a good thing.
Doesn’t make it any easier for us when the ugly comes out.
But the fact remains. For all intents and purposes, my kid is perfect. It cannot be denied. She is a gifted athlete—Softball is her sport and last year she won every award in her conference Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year. Then she was chosen as the top softball player in the state. Her team won their state championship trophy for the second year in a row. She is going to college and will play softball at the Division II level and plans to be a Dermatologist. She plays other sports and excels in those. She is also an excellent student who ranks 4th in her class. She has a 4.0 GPA. She is in National Honor Society. She volunteers. She holds down a part-time job and pays for her own gas for her car, all of her own extras like food or fun. She has never gone to a party. In fact, her kind of party is to have her friends over HERE to have a fire and play Manhunt on the back lawn. She has never had a speeding ticket. Or a detention.
Oh, and she is beautiful.
And we argue like crazy. I am the task master. I make her do her chores, hold her accountable, ask her questions. And what teenager likes that?? I can’t help it. I’m the mom and that’s my damn job. But why is it when I ask her a question she can’t just tell me the answer? Why do I get snapped at when I ask innocent questions? Why can’t she just do her chores without me having to nag? Why can’t she turn off the lights or put away her clothes or pick up her trash?! Why does it feel like she is only nice to me when she wants something?
Why? Well, she is a teenager for one. And she is just.like.me.
There. I said it.
She is just like me. She looks like me, she acts like me, she gets stressed out like me. Her baseline disposition is like mine.
Why is that a problem? Because most days I have to convince MYSELF to like myself.
So, when she walks in the door demanding someone go outside and plow the driveway cause, hello? It’s snowing! I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”
Or when she is doing her homework at the dining room table and she insists the entire house be quiet because SHE is trying to concentrate, I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”
Ohhhh, I know. Me. I remember being that teenager, the strong-minded, verbal, everything revolves around me personality full of emotion and ready to fight. I remember expecting everyone to adapt everything they were doing to make my life work. HELL, I kind of do that now.
When she walks out of the softball dugout, dirty, sunburnt, and pi*sed off because she knows she could have played better and she is crying even though they won the game, I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”
Oh, I know. ME. Every missed shot or attempt and competitive bone in her body. I can have experienced it. It’s why I yell so loudly on the sideline. Because it’s the only thing I can do now to contribute. I feel the grit, the sand, the anger when she misses. I want to kick the dirt, the bag, the chair. I want to cry with her because I have been there. I want to yell, “CRY! Go ahead! Jump up and down and scream. I completely get it. Kick that glove across the field. That girl should have totally caught that ball!”
But I can’t, because I am her mother, and being a team player is more important. Losing with grace is more important.
When she tells me how she spots drivers texting and driving on the highway and purposely drives past them and calls them out by making the universal sign for “shame on you” with her fingers or how she “mothers” her friends by scolding them on their poor choices.
I know. Every time I know. I am there in every moment she is speaking and demanding and mothering everyone. It is me. She only got it from me. I want to say, “You are so right. They are making poor choices and let’s call their mother.” Or “Honey, you aren’t their mother and they are going to resent you for trying to be.”
But I can’t, because I am her mother and she needs to learn how to communicate and navigate her relationships.
18-year McKenna doesn’t yet have the life experience of 45-year-old Denise. Her edges are a little bit sharper. Her tone a little bit tougher. But that’s ok. When I was 18, my edges were also sharp. I learned as she will learn and I grew as she will grow. All those edges and hard lines will soften. Because one thing she has learned is she can do anything she puts her mind to. That’s not something I taught her. That’s a lesson she learned all on her own.
What she doesn’t know is that SHE has been my gift. Watching her struggle and learn and conquer and become the adult that she is now and will be has been the ride of a lifetime. Oh, I know I crab and I bitch and I cry about all the things that make me CRAZY, but that’s in the moment. In the moment, things are different. In the moment, every edge is sharper. It is in the moments of reflection that I really appreciate the complexity of McKenna.
Those who truly love her also appreciate her complexity.
McKenna is perfection. McKenna wouldn’t be the same if she wasn’t all of herself packed into her great big personality. McKenna is beautiful. Inside and out.
My newfound extra time has allowed me the opportunity to clean out areas of my house I haven’t been able to get to for awhile. I have closets full of stuff I literally stuck in there so I didn’t have to look at it scattered about in the house.
It’s ironic really, I mean, we laugh about my daughter and how she cleans her room by throwing everything in her closet. So when she proudly announces, “look, I cleaned my room.” She is also saying, Do.NOT.look.in.the.closet! I guess I have been doing the same thing for years. Don’t know where to put this basket? I’ll just tuck it in the hall closet. I’ll remember where I put it when I need it. This quart of paint I don’t feel like trucking to the basement? Hall closet. The extra printer supplies for the printer with no ink?
Yup. Hall closet. Now where did I put that basket that time…?
I have a pretty big house. And the people who built it did a great job with storage. I have a lot of closets and cabinet space. Over these years as I picked up behind the kids or found shit I wasn’t ready to donate, I just stuck it in one of the many storage spots I had all around the house.
If I don’t have to look at it, it doesn’t exist and if I don’t have to look at it, I can resume control of my life with a clean house and less stress. I adapted the ‘Whatever Works’ philosophy.
Except it’s really still there. The stress, I mean. The stress of knowing the hall closet and the bathroom closet and pantrys and every nook and cranny is full of crap that EVENTUALLY is going to need to be cleaned out. Those things, piled up, are really still in the back of my mind.
*Ohhh Dennnissse* (It’s the musical voice from inside my head) when are you going to get to cleaning out those closets and moving that crap to the basement? And then when are you going to clean out the basement and take all that crap to Goodwill??? I am writing this as I look at my white board that also lists “clean out upstairs closet.” Like I literally need to nag MYSELF. (As you can see, I also need to clean the top of my kitchen cabinets. They get really dusty and gross. Especially when they haven’t been wiped in like, 10 years…)
And so here I am, again, unemployed and FINALLY I have time to go through all the CRAP I have collected over the years. And what do I do? I spend precious cleaning time reflecting because, of course there are so many things to look at as that cleaning out the closet becomes an all-day affair. There are pictures the kids drew, cards they made for me, old photos, and of course, the old slate book.
The ‘old slate book’? Well, funny you should ask. It’s kind of a long story, but it is all connected. You may also be asking what this WorDSMITHstudios business is all about and why I said I am ‘back at blogging,’ when you only read my first post last week.
Me looking like I can barely fit through the bathroom door.
Well, a few confessions:
1.I have a shop on Etsy.
2.This is not my first painting gig.
3.This is not my first blog.
Not wildly surprising? A bit of history for those just checking in:
I first started painting when I was pregnant with my daughter. That was 1999. Y2K was a thing and many thought the world was going to end. My husband and I were happy and healthy, living at and managing at a small camping resort in Western Maine. (papoosepondresort.com). We didn’t believe the world was going to end (sometimes the dangerously optimistic thing can rub off), so we got pregnant.
Not only was I pregnant, but I was ENORMOUSLY pregnant. Imagine a summer filled with all the ice-cream and candy and pizza you want literally RIGHT AT YOUR FINGERTIPS and available anytime, steps away from your front door. Then imagine the freedom from guilt that comes when you are pregnant–I mean, you’re going to get fat anyway. Why not eat what you want? I spent that glorious summer getting back at every morsel of food that ever made me feel guilty when it crossed my lips.
Actually, I hadn’t been a parent yet, so it was before I knew was guilty felt like.
It was *BLISS*
The consequence? 60 pounds gained and pre-eclampsia 7 months in. The doc didn’t go so far as to put me on bedrest, but I was pulled from working and ordered to stay off my feet as much as possible.
Kinda like bedrest, but not bedrest. Makes sense.
As I type this I am 45. (And unemployed–as if you could forget). I am a Type A personality, but I would say I have chilled a lot over the years. Back in my Papoose Pond days, when I was 27, I hadn’t experienced what it was like to have kids. Kids help you realize there are some things that are worth stressing over in the moment and somethings you put in a closet to worry about later.
These days, my Type A corners are a little more rounded than they were when I was 27. Experience softens the edges, blurs the lines, makes everything a little less rigid. When I was 27, I was mad about everything, stressed about everything, YELLED about everything, fought everything. And I wasn’t the type to sit around much. I was still figuring it out. I was a happy person… pretty much. I was fun. I WAS.
Anyway, my husband and I were trying to find me something to do to occupy my Type A+ personality and still follow the doctor’s orders. My husband was trying VERY hard because as you can imagine, I also was still learning how not to take my frustration out on him. (I’m still working on that one.)
A trip to the resort’s craft barn resulted in some stone slate, transfer paper, paintbrushes, and acrylic paints. I was to find a picture I liked, trace it onto the slate, and paint the picture.
Now, I had never done any painting. Except for walls and I sucked (still suck) at that. It never fails. I always roll too high and get an entire roller mark on the ceiling. Or put too much paint on the roller and drip all over the baseboards. When I use painter’s tape, paint always gets under the tape–I don’t get that—and if I don’t then, you guessed it, baseboards and trim get marked all up. I end up doing two paint jobs– the walls and the trim, which of course never looks the same.
Buuuut, hey. This was going to be different. And when you’re bored the way that I was bored–the Type A+ way—you grit your teeth and paint as closely in the lines of whatever the heck you traced as you can. I can’t even remember what I painted, but I remember when I was done, it was pretty good!
Who needs Bob Ross?
So I just kept painting. Corey dug out what was left of those slates in the craft barn and I went to town. I wrote WELCOME on them and painted one for everyone I knew. Then I started taking photos of what I made, printing the page, and putting it in a binder. The binder, aka, The Slate Book or Denise’s Slates, became 2-inches thick. People could flip through and choose what they wanted. Then, Order UP! I would make it for them. I charged like $20 a piece.
For 2 years I paid for our Christmas and other odds & ends with the money I earned from painting slates.
A commission I did; a small old photo transferred to an oil canvas. Photo is on the right.
Then one day, I was painting 3 of the same slate, side by side sweatshop style. I vividly remember looking down at those paintings–it was a holiday theme and had a group of holiday characters together- Uncle Sam, a snowman, Santa, the Easter Bunny–and saying, “THIS sucks.”
And that was it.
I didn’t paint again for a long time. Then I randomly started to do a few commissions for people; painting pictures of people from photographs. Then I messed around with some oil paints. But nothing consistent.
And then my husband got laid off from his job. And WorDSMITHstudios was born.
A lot happened in between. Like how I sucked as a stay at home mom. How I pretty much sucked as a mom all-around most of my daughter’s first 3 years. Poor kid. How I discovered my passion for working with youth. Had another kid. Learned I might not have been such a bad mom after all. Started a blog I LOVED, then used really poor judgement and had to give it up. Read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time and felt blown away. Learned what it means to be a compassionate person. Realized the mistakes and failures I have experienced in my life were not something to be ashamed of, but to embrace because life is about growth.
Oh wait– *sigh* I just realized McKenna learned her ifyoucantseeit room cleaning trick from me. The closet thing? Great.