Experience vs Expertise. Chatting with Ladies.

by Alicia on January 16, 2015

“You know, if you get married, you don’t have to change your last name. Did you know you can keep your name the same as it is now?” This sentence came up over breakfast one morning. The ladies were intrigued. So I was too. “Or, if you want, you can hyphenate and add a new name onto your old one, or you can even legally come up with a new name altogether! You have so many options, and you should always do what you think is best…even if other people don’t think the same. You don’t even have to get married at all!”

Yes I know the concept of marriage is still a fairy tale princess story to my 9, 7, and 4 year old daughters. But one day it won’t be. One day they’ll be seriously considering the possibility, and hopefully they’ll recall that “my mom has been talking to us about this for years” and maybe they’ll think I can handle their questions or that I’m not shy or judgemental or forceful about my own experiences. I count on this model for a lot of my parenting young girls.

Set up the foundation of trust and openness and real dialogue now, things are only going to get more complicated from here.

They’ll have friends, they’ll have celebrities, they’ll have teachers and babysitters, and and and…right now they count on their dad and myself for the right answer to every question, even when they protest said answer. I wonder if one day I’ll notice suddenly that my ultimate authority has lost its edge, or if I’ll watch it slowly slip away  and attempt to grab it back like a failed game of tug of war. And the truth is? The truth is that I know nothing. I don’t know how they will look at the world, how their relationships will feel to them. How each small and big thing they go through will change them. Which seemingly insignificant things will stay with them, and how the background information I don’t ever get to know will shape their thoughts. I don’t know their life. I know my own experiences and failures and how they affected me right at the time that I went through them. In retrospect, I might have changed a few things, but I think those things are oddly specific to the time of my life and the person I was then. I can only speak of experience, not expertise. There’s a bit of danger in that, of exposing my flaws to my daughters. I’m asking them to trust me while telling them I had have trouble trusting myself sometimes.

But there’s less danger in truth and vulnerability than there ever is in making something up to save face. In all of their decisions, I want them to be authentic. I want them to act fearlessly, even if there’s a little bit of fear in the way back there. I want them to listen to themselves, seek new experiences and fail. I want them to fail so hard and break so many things so they can learn the hard work it takes to put it all back together, and the sense of calm pride you feel looking at your pieced-together life. I want them to be independent and accept help when they decide they need it. I want them to say “no” when every single molecule in their body is screaming at them to say no, even while they watch all their friends nod yes in unison.

I don’t know how to do that. I’m only stumbling along here, talking about my dreams for them and hoping I’ll rise to the challenge.

Higgy Ladies, Christmas Eve 2014

(PS- My Ladies? If you’re reading this before we’ve talked? I’m totally smart, ok. I’ve got this figured out and none of this “I’m confused” stuff is true……..except that it is. So we’ll work this out together.)

 

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Words and a Door.

by Alicia on December 23, 2014

Yesterday, I had the most intensely real moment of my adult life. I say that with no exaggeration.

I put up these quotes every week on my office door. I just find something that speaks to me, I print it, and I tape it on my door. I’ve been doing it for over a year. Sometimes I’ll put them on my work Twitter account and hashtag it #thedoorspeaks and tell a fun story or whatever. Only once has anyone every approached me about it, or acknowledged them in any way. But I do them for me. Today, I learned that I do them for other people too.

A woman accepted a package for my office, delivered while I was out. She stopped me in the hallway yesterday and said “Are you Alicia? This package came and the girl told me it was for a pretty girl with red hair…I just looked down the hall here this morning and saw a pretty girl with red hair putting up a sign and thought, that might be Alicia!” I was flattered of course, I like to be the pretty girl with red hair, I like that that is my descriptor on campus. So I gathered my package and formally introduced myself, and she and I struck up a conversation. It started with some benign comment about how she’s been through a difficult year and the quotes on my door spoke to her every morning. That she would take the longer way into her office just to walk past them. As she spoke, I felt this warming all over my body. I won’t put her story on blast (I will let her speak for herself, which I’m hoping she will), but suffice it to say it’s horrible and one of my worst nightmares, and it was true life standing in front of me.

meraki

She said that once, the quote I had put up actually brought her to a conclusion about how she needed to handle a really difficult situation with her daughter. And another was all she needed to tell her to keep going the way she was going. Convinced her she was on the right path.

A quote. A quote I had on my door, that spoke to me in some small way, spoke to her in a huge way. And I had never met her. The act of my putting it up, changed her life. Propelled her through. Inspired her and convinced her to keep going. That really happened. It actually just happened to me. I stood there while a real person told me that what I was doing really mattered in a huge way to her actual life. That it changed her.  “Keep doing what you’re doing,” she told me, “because it matters and it’s changing someone’s life.”

This past year has not been effortless for me. It has been intense, and challenging, and dammit I needed those quotes to keep me going. I needed them to feel brave, and feel like I was doing the right thing. That I was the person I wanted to be, even if it felt like I was being told to try to be someone else. Someone a little less raw, a little more normal, a little less dramatic, and a little more quiet.

“It’s changing someone’s life” she told me.

You never know. You rarely ever get to see it, the act that you did that inspired someone to change their life, that convinced them of their own power, that invited them to trust themselves. I can’t tell you the kind of floating-above-myself feeling I had…moments after it happened. I could run forever, off the pure pride and happiness and euphoria of the proof that I’ve put myself out there, and it reflected in her a permission to do the same. The best way to describe it is that I feel completed, in one way. I feel vindicated. I feel accepted. I’ve had many questions for myself on how valid some quirky things are to my life…and I was just unequivocally told by some force in the universe to absolutely trust myself.

I made sure I told her, as we both stood in the hallway (the public hallway, people!) with tears in our eyes and choked up a little, that I was so grateful that she told me that. I wanted her to know how it made me feel, how it filled me up in a way that I hadn’t actually noticed was empty. The weight of her honesty and bravery gave me something to grab onto and feel proud of, and gave me the impetus to keep going and being myself and doing it because it feels right. And it feels right because dammit I just put something out there and it came back to me in spades. Isn’t that even what Oprah tells you to do?

bebraveenough

Be you. In all the ways you feel you should be, but are afraid of.

Do what gives you that intense feeling. When you’re standing at that place of “oh hell I just don’t even know” flip a coin in your head and decide on the way down what you want that coin to tell you. Then do that. You don’t need the coin. You need the impetus of choice. And if the answer scares you, that’s ok. Putting quotes on my door didn’t scare me. It was the act of people walking by every day noticing. Because what was in those quotes is something deeper, it was like putting my struggles on display. I’m inspired to do that, but I’m also so scared that I’m going to be made fun of for it, or thought to be foolish, not taken seriously, ridiculed in private, and assumed to be a flighty nutcase of a girl. But I do it. Because something inside me compels me to expose my flaws and my vulnerabilities and see where the dust settles.

My impact is words. Words here on this blog. Words in the hallway at work. Words to a friend in need. Words in my own head when I’m struggling. When something is on my mind and won’t be left alone, I have to write it down to get it out. There’s something to that. I’m so grateful for the chance to have really seen what happens when it inspires someone else.

I feel changed.

And it’s wonderful.

 

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It’s ok to not know.

by Alicia on December 15, 2014

Each trip I make out to my hometown, I detour to a stop at a graveyard and that’s really shitty. But you know what? It doesn’t actually feel always shitty. I hate that I have to go there, but I like to have that place to go. I hate what the place as a whole represents, but I like Blake’s little place there. It’s homey. There’s always something a little quirky about it, a friend that’s left the last sips of a beer (or perhaps a cousin or two that do the same…), a golf ball, a random firetruck toy, a big ol yellow smiley face. I touch his gravestone even though it feels weird to do that. I tried once to trace the letters in the last name, but found that I couldn’t keep going. It used to be my last name. I have conversations with him in my head, it’s not very often that I find answers there. It’s painful to see that the grass has grown in.

Sunday night, we went to a Candlelight Vigil for all young people who have passed in our community, put on by the Canadian Mental Health Association. It’s heartbreakingly well attended. This is the first year I took my girls and, let’s just say it was a lukewarm idea on my part. Bella took it really hard. She’s really empathetic, and while I don’t quite think she feels the weight of Blake’s loss on herself, she absolutely feels it on me and watches it wash over everyone else that’s around her. She gets it. And I don’t mind that she does, but it’s hard to say the right thing to her. Hard because I don’t know what that is, and hard because dammit I’m sad and I want to curl up in a ball and be sad myself. I said nothing, by the way. Well, that’s half true, cause I said “it’s ok to be sad” and “isn’t the look of all these candles so beautiful?” and “I get it, sweet thing, I absolutely get it” but I said nothing to calm her or take it away or pull it down to earth,  because sometimes you can’t and you just have to sit with the hard crap and feel it and not understand it. And I wasn’t about to lie to her.

Because some part of us getting together is always going to be a little bit sad. There’s a hole, where a whole person once was and then suddenly is not ever again. I listened to this brave dad get up and talk about building a relationship with his own son who had passed away three years earlier at the age of 18. It shook me a little, the idea of a relationship with someone no longer in forward motion, someone stuck forever at one age, in one face. And he spoke of it so simply that I took it in. Pieces of big events are always a little skewed in my family. Overall, when there’s a get together, we pull it together…we feed the masses, we make toasts, we laugh, we talk about all that’s happened…and we talk about all that’s happened. And I’m proud of us for that. Blake is a part of every event.

At the vigil, while some of us cried, Maëlle walked around just touching everyone. It was such a sweet little funny thing to do and it made me smile and kind of giggle to myself. She found it fascinating to be allowed to hold a candle in a cup with real fire, she handed her beloved blankie off to Bella for support and just took about 6 trips around the outside of the group we were standing in. I bent down at some point to acknowledge Annika’s absolute silence, and to distract Bella. The look on Maë’s face looked like a cartoon, she was so so happy and I was so so overwhelmed because how in the hell do I simultaneously properly parent one devastated child, one avoiding child, and one elated child? And my cousin caught a picture of what I decided to do, which was just kind of huddle in with all three and stare at them and, by saying nothing, applaud them for just whatever it was they were feeling. The picture makes me so sad and so happy all at the same time. I know how I was feeling- gutted. Raw. Lost a little. (I didn’t expect to be so overcome by sadness that night. I really didn’t.) But I think you really can’t tell that I was feeling that way.

CMHA Candlelight vigil December 2014

This picture makes me feel like a Mom. And a good one, actually. In a moment where I felt completely emptied, I still had something left for them. When we talk about Blake, I know they see my face twinge, I know they feel my energy tank, I know they take that all in and aren’t quite sure how to deal with it. Ok. It’s always going to be a little  bit sad. Or a lot sad. Ok. That’s a thing, we don’t have to cover it in fixes, we can just be sad, and feel that and hate it and wish it was different and  be angry and confused and lost. That’s ok. It’s ok not to know what to do. It’s ok to just choose something and try that. It’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to be happy, it’s ok to just let yourself feel that thing that’s stirring inside you to feel.

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Social Media: noun or verb?

December 3, 2014

People have…opinions. I know this because I am a people. I have many opinions. I like them. I don’t mind that you have opinions that you like too. High fives for freedom! However…I’m confused and somewhat fascinated by the question of whether everyone has always had so many opinions, or if we’re just so intensely influenced […]

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The Pain of Raising Daughters

November 19, 2014

There is very little that touches the particular searing pain of wanting to change something for your kid, but then realizing you don’t have the power to do that. Perhaps the only thing that hurts more, is knowing that even if you do have the power, you can’t use it. This article on the pain […]

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