I recently had the opportunity to experience that most rare and exotic of situations: solitude.
Not the kind of alone time you get when your toddler is napping and you finally collapse on the couch and look at your emails, and not the kind of alone time you get when you’re driving between errands or managed a solo trip to Target to pick up diapers. No, this was real solitude, or at least the winter 2014 version of it (It was more ‘fireplace suite for one’ than Thoreau’s ‘Into the Woods’).
I drove four hours one way to visit my mom last Sunday. My husband and I agreed I would go alone since I was going to do the return trip the same day, and our two-year old wouldn’t enjoy over eight hours in the car. I knew a snow storm was coming, but I still decided to give in to temptation and make an IKEA run…and late that night, while I was still 175 miles from home, I grew incredibly sleepy and started driving over ice patches. I decided to be sensible, and I checked into a roadside motel in a tiny town off the interstate.
I woke up the next morning to nearly a foot of snow. The entire hotel was abuzz at breakfast, talking about how no one was going anywhere that day. I dug my car out and took a test drive to the grocery store. I had to help a lady push her car out of a snow bank which had formed while she was shopping.
I quickly returned to the hotel after stocking up on food and checked in for another night while the storm raged outside. For the first time, it hit me. I was totally alone with nothing to do. No errands to run. No people to talk to. I sprawled out in the bed and ate Cheetos (bad, I know). I went down to the pool and sat in the hot tub in my pajama shorts and a tank top, hoping no one would tell me off. I went back up to my room and showered and as I hung my pajamas in front of the fire I realized I had nothing clean to wear. Oh well, I thought. I’ll just be naked for now.
This hotel room had a lot of mirrors all of a sudden. A LOT. There was even 7x magnifying mirror above the sink. I realized I was audibly going ‘Ahh!’ when I caught sight of myself.
I hadn’t looked at my body in a long, long time. I loved my body while pregnant, but as soon as I gave birth I felt uncomfortable with it. So much of my shape had changed. My stomach had a new, looser jiggle, and my midriff harbored stretch marks over what used to be smooth, youthful skin. I’d read all of the memes about being a tiger who earned my stripes- but I still didn’t want to look at them.
I breastfed for 11 months and my breasts became something else to me. Beautiful, but in a different way. They were functional. That was it. I only saw them in the context of feeding, or pumping, or trying to fit into new bras, unsuccessfully.
And maybe that’s how I came to see my post- baby body. Different, functional.
My husband says I wander around naked, but that’s just because I can never find clothes I’m happy with to cover this new body of mine. When I find them, I cover up and certainly don’t do what I used to do- preen, change outfits, compare how my butt looks in certain jeans.
All of a sudden, in this hotel room, I was faced with something I’d been avoiding: what I really looked like naked.
I didn’t stand around naked all day– that 7x magnifying facial mirror was my next project. Whoa! The pores. The unplucked eyebrows. The nose hair. I could see it all, so so clearly.
I took the above photos in the magnifying mirror as this blog post took shape in my mind. I was getting to know my body, my face. And why hadn’t I done it earlier?
I love my son. He is absolutely worth every mark, scar, tear, stretch, and hormonal shift. He is my world.
But my body is mine alone. My face is unique to me; it tells my story.
I feel we need to honor ourselves more, inside and out. My body deserves more than the shameful covering I’ve been quick to toss on while never acknowledging what’s under those clothes. My face deserves a closer look.
I need to learn to love my body again- to nourish it, to know it, to treat it how it deserves.
You deserve to be loved, by others and yourself. You are worthy of that love. And if you aren’t finding that love in your current circumstance, you can change that. As I learned in mindfulness- we cannot control what happens to us but we can control our own actions. Our freedom lies in the space between stimuli and response.
My two-year old is obsessed with the song “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, and singing it all the time has gotten me thinking about the concept of self-love and how it relates to how others treat us.
My son and I shake our shoulders as we sing, “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate….and the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake….heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break….just shake it off, shake it off, ooh ooh.”
This is so much easier (sung) than done.
And when I’m feeling really down on my current life, which is sometimes full of literal and figurative haters, fakers, heartbreakers and players, I need to find the strength from something other than the present. I wish it could always be pulled from inside my soul, but I’m not at that point yet.
Today someone called me a name. I don’t think anyone deserves to be labeled through name calling. It’s easily acknowledged to be a petty way to make a point, but the sting is the same. And we’ve all done it. But today I was on the receiving end and it helped fuel some righteous indignation. Which isn’t always good, but it usually feels good at the time.
I decided I needed to dig deeper. I needed to think about self worth and how mine was formed.
All of our life experiences differ, but I believe that there is a level at which we all deserve to be treated. A certain level of love and respect owed to us, by ourselves and our loved ones. It’s the very least that we deserve.
We all deserve to have parents who will paint our vanity our favorite shade of pink, even if they don’t know how or don’t have the means to actually put a mirror in the vanity. Face it, this is just a pink dresser with two talons. But it’s also a perfect encapsulation of the 90’s, with an Uncle Joey and Michelle poster, a Strabwerry Shortcake, and a “Talk to the hand.” But I was so loved. We all deserve to have people who will paint our bedrooms our favorite color, and we need to appreciate the effort and look less at the missing pieces.
We all deserve to have friends who will come and play dolls on our couch, despite the cushions seemingly have been sat upon by centuries of bums. Those friends who judgeth not how the seat cushions are white and the seatbacks a tacky 80’s (maybe even 70s; it was old) pattern, now indiscernible. We deserve to have friends who love us despite our yellow walls and who aren’t afraid to be with us, no matter where we live, because they like to spend time with us. We matter more than our possessions, and those who care more about things deserve pity (although they’d prefer presents).
We all deserve to have friends who will go to Wal Mart with us on a school night to pick up the newest Nsync CD. Heck, we all probably had friends who did that. What we REALLY all deserve are friends who will go with us to Wal Mart on a school night to pick up the newest Nsync CD WITH HAND WRITTEN SIGNS ON OUR BACKS. Nothing says “I love you” like walking around shamelessly with a girl who has “JC’s Only Space Cowgirl” taped to her back. The less-informed shoppers may have wondered what “I’ll Be Good for Justin” really meant. Perhaps people thought we were cult members. They would probably be right. Everyone a deserves a friend to share in pop culture obsession, and late night phone calls and early morning ticket lines and terribly written fan fiction. Everyone deserves a BFF. Everyone deserves a BFF who you know so well, you no longer recognize each other’s stupid ideas because they’re one and the the same.
I wonder who took that photo.
Everyone deserves a person who will be there for you in the bad times. A person who will take care of you when they can barely take care of themselves. A person who will protect you with all of their power from their own personal demons. A person who loves you so much, they do whatever they can to be healthy so they can be the best version of themselves for you.
In this photo, my mom was just home from her first long-term stay in a mental hospital. I was 17. Both my mom and dad sacrificed so much so I could live a normal life while my mom was an hour away in an institution, and totally not my mom during that time. I was scared and confused, but I was also so well taken care of. My dad did everything he could to take care of my mom and myself and he all of a sudden had to be both parents! My mom worked so hard out of love for us to get better and get home to us, and she did. (But mad props to my friend Kristi who more or less moved in that summer)
Having witnessed how difficult mental illness can be, I know everyone deserves to be loved so completely they can disappear for months on end (in their brains) and those who love them will be there like they never went away. I saw this in many manifestations. My dad took care of my mom. My dad took care of me. My mom took care of me. I took care of my mom. I took care of my dad. We all loved each other enough to care for each other in the darkest of times.
Everyone deserves love like that.
This is my mom a few months later, so you can note the comparison. She bounced back with a lot of therapy, and medication, and mental health care. But her motivation was her love for us.
Everyone deserves to have experiences so perfect they will just as fun to talk about a decade later. Everyone deserves to have magical moments. These usually have to be created yourself, and it makes them all the more rewarding. When I look at this picture of myself at 19, about to go to an Oscar party, I don’t see sparkles or curly hair. Well, I do. But what I really see is satisfaction, pride and confidence. My best friend and I made this happen because we wanted it badly enough. We worked for it. We dreamed about it. We turned our passion into an experience we will never, ever forget. Everyone deserves at least one Oscar party in their life. It will look differently for everyone. But everyone deserves to have those perfect moments as a human. They are short moments, but they make life. They’re worth it.
We all deserve to grow up with someone, to change WITH someone, at some point in our lives. It doesn’t have to be siblings, or spouses, or family. It can be friends. We all deserve the experience of growth with a companion by our side to make the changes manageable. With my best friend, we went from taping signs on our backs to traveling the world. We didn’t just travel to places like California or Europe. We also travelled together to Adams, North Dakota. This photo is in my grandmother’s house in a town the size a few blocks. But my best friend and I found some defining moments there, amongst the gravel and the humidity and the lack of people. Sometimes it’s not where you are, but who you’re with, and I feel we all deserve to have someone to help us come-of-age.
Everyone deserves to be protected. Everyone deserves to know that there’s one person who has their back, not matter what. Everyone deserves to know that someone will help them get through the day. That someone will be on their side. Everyone deserves to have one person who they can count on for anything. Everyone deserves that unconditional love. When my son is in his father’s arms, or mine, he feels safe. He deserves that safety. He deserves to know that we will care for him and he can count on us. He deserves to know that we will pick him up when he falls, that we will be his biggest supporter and cheerleader and confidante.
Not everyone has that in parents. Not everyone has that in families. But everyone deserves, in some capacity, to have a person they can count on for the big stuff and the big emotions.
Everyone deserves a kindred spirit. A person who comes into your life when you least expect it, but connects with you at your soul. Everyone deserves that one person who knows where you’re coming from, and doesn’t judge you, because they just…understand. Everyone deserves that person who has similar hopes and similar fears, to help make life’s journey less lonely, for both of you, hopefully. Everyone deserves to make friends past adolescence, sometimes when you least expect it. I met this dear friend when I was 29, and I’m sure we’ll be giving each other advice at 79. Everyone deserves a friend who is borderless, where time and space apart become meaningless. Everyone deserves to know they have kindred spirits out there in the world and they’re on each other’s side.
Everyone deserves to bring joy to another. And everyone deserves to belong. Is nothing sweeter than seeing someone else happy because of your actions? Because of your words? Because of your unspoken bond, conveyed through looks and sentences, meaningless to others? There is happiness in inclusiveness, but also happiness in exclusivity. Of being theirs and them being yours. Of belonging. We all deserve to belong somewhere. And we all deserve to belong ‘to’ each other. The connections that forge us together lead us to great lengths for others’ happiness. And somehow their happiness is our own. It’s even more important in some ways. Since becoming a mother, I get far more joy from taking my son to playgroup than I do from wheeling him around a store to shop. Both make me happy, but the act which he prefers makes all the difference to my day. I understand holidays and celebrations much more as a parent. The anticipation of seeing his joy makes me want to put up Christmas decorations in October. But I refrain. There are plenty of less ridiculous opportunities to bring him and others joy, and to enlarge my circle of belonging.
We are all worthy and deserving. Life isn’t always going to hand us what we deserve. It’s often completely unfair. But I’m learning on my journey to wholeness that we as humans deserve to do our best to carve out the relationships which help us be happy, healthy people.
Specs of glaciers in a sea of blue gave way to expanses of patterned prairie and I forgot who I was again.
We flew into the sun after our ascent from the dreary Norwegian November morning, and I pulled my window shade up and squinted into the brightness, searching.
The plane hurled us over the Atlantic and I kept my forehead resting on the window pane, taking in glaciers when they periodically broke the swathe of muted color. Alone and drifting in the endless, endless sea. They looked so tiny and insignificant. My perspective from the sky, skewed.
We floated, it seemed, defying gravity and somehow reality. How does time exist on a plane? Where was I at any given moment?
There’s no touch screen map in existence precise enough for that.
I longed for the footing I felt on damp Norwegian soil. The pull towards the earth.
I walked confidently there without knowing where I was, like my boots somehow slotted into the cobbled pavement and my lungs recognized the thick sea air and breathed it in greedily. In Norway the wind whipped my hair into a frenzy of frizz and tangles. I didn’t care. Instead we let the wind pull our family along as we wandered the streets until our heads hit soft pillows and I fell asleep in a cocoon of belonging.
Because that is what my soul craves to do: Wander, and belong. Wander, and belong. Repeat.
I’ve never been sure the two are compatible, but it felt so, in Norway.
My family is only American as far back as the 20th century. Nearly all of my roots prior lead to Norway. My grandmother Martha used to teach me Norwegian nursery rhymes and how to count in Norwegian. Her Norwegian artifacts and cultural references were quaint to me as a child; exotic but old-fashioned. I knew Norway only as my grandma’s trinkets, dusty and handmade. The country was an intangible thing which created my grandma and my dad, and me, too, somehow.
But from the moment I climbed down the plane in Norway, the whir of the engines and the howl of the storm barraged my ears. The mist tickled my face, cool moisture on tired skin. I smelled trees. Lots of trees. I tasted fog and saw nothing but planes. But it was tangible, all of it. Suddenly, Norway was real.
I’ve had many conversations with my good friend in Scotland about roots. I’m fascinated by the notion of them but terrified at the same time of . I don’t feel I have many at the moment. That my family and I are tied to each other, but not things or places.
The wonder of Norway fed my soul. Something I so desperately craved but didn’t know on a conscious level until I was there.
I know no matter where life takes me, my blood is Norwegian. My genes gave me fair skin and big feet. Ever present reminders of a rootI do have, wherever I plant my feet: my body.
Going forward, I strive to honor my body for its creation, its lineage, and its most important purpose, other than birthing my son…. holding my soul.
My soul doesn’t know where it belongs and maybe it doesn’t belong anywhere but the uncharted space between two lands. My heart and soul is split between so many people and places. My love is scattered all around the world.
But my soul and my body have each other for this time on earth, and each should be loved the same.
Both need to be nourished, and this is my journey.