Monday, June 30, 2014

Maya Was Right



June 24 marked my 10 year anniversary with my employer. When I first got the job, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had zero training in the field, but the job didn’t require any previous experience and I was immediately hired solely based on my desire to fill the position and my promise to do my best. I’m not gonna lie…my first few days on the job were pretty rough. I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. My boss was always cranky and required my round-the-clock services and attention. He was tough to please and definitely a challenge to figure out. But over the course of a couple of weeks, he and I got to know one another a lot better and now, 10 years later, he says I’m the best in the business. That’s what my son told me on Mother’s Day this year. It was the biggest compliment my “boss” could have given me. I work really hard to try to be the best mother I can be so to hear him praise me and give me recognition…well, that’s better than any salary or pay-raise I could ever earn.


It’s a funny thing, this parenting business. It’s a job we get without ever having to prove our qualifications first. Wait…I take that back. Adoptive parents DO have to prove quite a bit before being handed over a baby, but still…the hands-on, day-to-day stuff…no one can train you or prepare you for that until you’re actually in it yourself and do the learn-as-you-go method. I feel like my mothering skills have improved greatly over the last 10 years. I have an almost three-year-old now and I find myself doing things a bit differently with her in some areas because as the great Maya Angelou used to say “When you know better, you do better.”


For most of my life, I subscribed to the philosophies “People don’t change” and the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. But in recent years, I have come to the realization that people can change. The only caveat is that there must be a desire and willingness to do so. I changed some of my approaches to parenting because I want to do my job to the best of my ability; because I knew I could do better than I was doing; The sayings should actually be “People don’t change if they don’t want to” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks if he doesn’t want to learn.”

*****

Like I imagine most two-parent households function, my mom was my go-to parent my whole life. She was my primary caregiver and primary disciplinarian. She was my homework helper, chef, chauffeur, personal shopper, launderer, counselor, playmate, and everything else in-between. My dad on the other hand was my hero, my knight-in-shining armor, and my prince charming all rolled into one. I was always a daddy’s little girl for sure. If mommy said no, I knew daddy would say yes. If I wanted a new toy, daddy was my guy. I remember my dad came home from work one day and surprised me with the Grease Soundtrack when I was nine. Best day ever! I remember walking into the store Two Guys with him to pick out a bike for Christmas. Whenever we were near a Hello Kitty store, it was guaranteed that I was going to walk away with a new trinket of some type – maybe a My Melody bubblegum eraser or a Little Twin Stars stamp set or Hello Kitty scissors. I had more Hello Kitty stuff than any other little girl I knew, all thanks to my dad. Basically, he spoiled me rotten. 
Dad making a funny face while playing cards


My dad also had the title of the fun and adventurous parent. We danced together more times than I can count. If there was music playing, we were dancing. We rented boogie boards many summers in Huntington Beach (even though I didn’t know how to swim) and spent entire days in the ocean. On vacations, we rented tandem bikes. In San Pedro, at Ports O’Call, he often took me on helicopter rides over the harbor. We fed the squirrels together in Lake Tahoe. At amusement parks, we were roller coaster buddies. My first (and only) ride on a public bus in the U.S. was with him. We rode down the Las Vegas Strip to a big souvenir shop by Circus Circus just to do something adventurous. Through these experiences and so many others, my dad made me fearless. Seeing him live life unafraid made me believe I could do anything. He was my first teacher in what it means to be brave. He always made me feel safe and protected too. I knew that with him by my side, I was going to be ok.
Always in his lap - no matter what my age
1981 or 1982 - Catalina Island


1976 or 77 - Feeding squirrels in Lake Tahoe
When my mom died, our world and our relationship as we knew it came to an abrupt end. Suddenly, my dad was thrown into the role that my mom had previously held and to be honest, he didn’t know what he was doing. On top of that, I don’t really think he wanted the job either. For years he had been responsible for taking care of my mom with all of her health issues. Although I know he grieved and deeply felt the loss of my mother, I think my dad also must have felt relief from what his role had become with her (caretaker/nurse). This is all purely my own theory. I have never asked my dad about this subject (although maybe now I will). Anyway, I believe that having to take care of me infringed on his plans for himself as a newly single, free man.


As you may recall, up until my mom died, I had never spent the night away from my parents. I had never been left home alone. I had never been allowed to go on playdates or to birthday parties or to sleepovers or anywhere that didn’t involve my parents being there too. Shortly after my mom died though, I was suddenly home alone everyday after school which in itself was a big change and shock to me. On top of that, I was suddenly also spending the night at my brother’s, my sister’s and my aunt and uncle’s houses quite often. I don’t remember requesting these sleepovers; they just started happening. I started babysitting my nephew and niece on Friday nights alone at their house. I started going over to friends’ houses to visit and hang out with them on weekends. I distinctly remember that my very first sleepover at a non-family member’s was at my friend Jessica’s house. All these changes happened within months of my mom’s death.


My dad and I went from only knowing each other as fun buddies to having to get to know one another on completely uncharted levels. For 16 years, I had never once had an argument or disagreement with my dad and now, I was fighting with him all the time. I know we fought a lot because I wrote it in my journals. I don’t necessarily remember what all of our fights were about and I didn’t write what they were about either. I just wrote that we argued and left it at that. I wrote that we weren’t getting along. I wrote that we disagreed or that he got mad at me or that I was upset with him but I never wrote the details. Knowing myself, I probably (subconsciously) didn’t put it in writing for fear of him reading it.


My 17th Birthday (my first without my mom)
Around the time when our arguments started

What I do remember is that one of our first big fights happened when my dad told me that a lady was coming over for dinner. It was six months after my mom died and I just about had cardiac arrest when I heard the news. I wanted to scream, yell, kick, punch, and do some serious damage, but instead I went to my room and quietly sobbed. I called a friend. I don’t know who but I know I called someone and told them. Maybe it was Maggie. Maybe it was Jessica. Maybe it was Sara. Maybe I called all three. I don’t remember. I also don’t remember if the lady came over for dinner the same day my dad told me or if she came over shortly thereafter. Whenever she showed up though, I do remember that I stayed in my room and refused to come out to greet her or to sit down at the dinner table with them despite my dad’s efforts to get me to oblige. I thought “No matter how much you beg me, I am NOT coming out! Eff that bitch!” I felt like my mother must have been rolling in her grave. I felt like I was participating in the ultimate betrayal to her memory by allowing this wretched whore to be in our home. I also remember that I called a friend while the lady was at my house. Once again, I don’t remember who I called though.


When my dad realized that I was not coming out no matter how much he tried to force me, he decided to bring the lady to me. I think she walked into my room with him while I was on the phone. I remember I was in bed and she came toward me to shake my hand. I reluctantly shook her limp hand while wanting to spit in her face. I remember wondering what kind of woman has the audacity to show up for dinner to a widower’s house just six months after his wife died? What kind of woman thinks that the widower’s daughter would be eager and happy to meet her? And what kind of father does this to his daughter? And who is this father anyway?


I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I am near certain that that incident is what started the first of many huge fights with my dad. You see, just as I mentioned in my previous post (Expressive Superpower Activate!), I have this gift of being expressive, so I didn’t just quietly stand by and watch my dad start a relationship with this woman. I spoke up but in a passive-aggressive, rebellious teenager kind of way and when I wasn’t using my words, my actions, body language, and facial expressions did the talking for me. This was not well-received by my dad. In his opinion, I was being a disrespectful daughter. Although at the time I thought he was probably right, my disdain for what he was doing was stronger than my will to be a dutiful daughter. Hence, all the arguments that ensued between us.

I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. Things got pretty bad and got very ugly between us very fast. A lot of things were said that shouldn’t have been said. A lot of things were done that shouldn’t have been done. I was grieving the loss of my mother and now I was grieving the loss of my relationship with my father as I had once known it. I couldn’t believe that things had gone so terribly awry for us. I was devastated and depressed but mostly angry. Very, very angry. I needed and wanted him to be there for me. I wanted him to step into my mom’s shoes and fill the huge void I was feeling. I remember driving with him alone in the car one day and I said to him “Dad, we should spend time alone together; go to dinner or something.” He looked surprised at my request and said “Why would you want to hang out with me? What would we talk about? What would we do?” and he chuckled as if to say “What a silly request.” Just like my elementary and middle school days, I felt rejected – but 100 times worse because this time it was my father. I also felt doubly abandoned; first by my mom dying and then by my dad withdrawing from my life.

June 1987 - Miami Airport
The photo speaks for itself
(but notice my arm was still wrapped in his)
 *****

A close friend sent me an Iyanla Vanzant quote today. It said “No matter who you are and what you think you know or do not know, life will teach you to honor and respect balance. There must be discords in order to achieve harmony. There must be darkness that propels us into light. It is the frigid cold in winter that teaches us to appreciate the warmth.” She sent it to me in relation to an incident I told her I had had with someone, but the more I read the quote over and over, the more it made me think of other times of my life when this has applied. It particularly applies to how I view my current relationship with my dad.


I am able to see that in order to have the harmonious relationship we have now, we had to go through the discords. We went through a lot of dark times, but we are presently in a place of love and light. To look back on who we once were as father and daughter utterly stupefies me. It’s inconceivable that the man he was then is the same man he is now. It doesn’t seem possible that who I was then is the same person I am today. On the outside we are the same people, but on the inside we have grown and evolved into two very different beings. The change wasn’t overnight. It happened gradually over time. But I believe my “employment” had a lot to do with it.


In the last 10 years, I feel that my dad began to see me as a grown woman; the mother of his grandchildren; and no longer the little, helpless girl I once was. He began to know me as a person and grew to respect me as a parent and as an intelligent woman. He opened his eyes as to what our relationship could be if he allowed me in and gave me a piece of his heart.
 
In the last 10 years, we have also spent countless hours alone together (like I had dreamed of doing so long ago) - talking, eating out, running errands, just getting to know one another better and on much deeper levels than I ever imagined we would. We have healed old wounds and released the past. We have become better versions of ourselves than I ever thought imaginable. Of all of my relationships, I am proudest of the one I have with him because of our personal growth and healing. I am so proud of how far we’ve come! I know my dad has taught me a lot in my lifetime, but I also feel that I have taught him just as much. I taught him about forgiveness and unconditional love and he taught me that an old “dog” was able to learn some new tricks because he had the desire to learn. And we have both learned that Maya Angelou was right…when you know better, you do better.

2013 - Knowing better and doing better


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Expressive Superpower Activate!


Last year, my BFF Maggie introduced me to Brene Brown. Maggie had seen Brene on Oprah’s show Super Soul Sunday and highly recommended I watch the episode. The following week, I played the episode on my DVR and within the first five minutes I was hooked. I instantly became her number one fan. She was talking about my favorite word: Courage. As I watched, I would pause the show and jot down notes. I had never done that before while watching any other person on TV. But that tells you just how much what Brene Brown was talking about resonated with me.

Shortly after Brene appeared on Super Soul Sunday, they announced that Brene and Oprah were teaming up together to do an e-course based on Brene’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection”. (Read here to learn more about it. I won’t get into what the book is about because that would turn into a whole other separate blog post.) At first I wasn’t interested in doing the class because I thought “Why am I going to spend money on an online class for six weeks when I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom alone? How am I going to carve out time alone to do a class???” Two of my close friends were doing the e-course. They told me that the only class requirements were to get art supplies like watercolors, paint brushes, markers, etc. That was when I knew for sure I wasn’t interested. I am a crafty person and I love being creative but I can’t draw and I can’t paint so there was no way I was going to take this course and make myself miserable feeling like a failure who can’t complete the assignments with A+ quality work!

The day the class launched, one of my friends texted me a photo of the art assignment she had completed. I loved it so much that I got a bit weepy and emotional. We texted back and forth about it and then she said that she wanted me to do it so badly that she was going to send me her user-name and password for the class just in case I changed my mind. I was so moved by her thoughtfulness and desire to share the experience with me.

The next day, I went to Michael’s, bought my art supplies, and decided to give the class a shot and see what it was about. Well, needless to say, I LOVED it. In fact, I didn’t want it to end. It was eye-opening and life-changing for me. I got so much out of it. I learned so much – about myself especially. Anyway, the six-week course covered the first half of the book. They kicked off the second half of the e-course in April and my friends and I did the course once again.





One of the chapters of the book is about cultivating meaningful work. I jotted notes while watching the class video: Meaningful work doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job. Brene’s definition of meaningful work is making time for doing what brings meaning to your life; what brings perspective. Meaningful work is different for everyone. What is meaningful work to me, may not be for someone else.

In order to find what meaningful work means to you, her instructions were to think of your superpower. Your superpower is something you’re really good at that has maybe even gotten you into trouble (especially as a kid). It is that quality that shows up in every area of your life and is deeply intrinsic to you. She said “It is something you can’t help, but it is also something that can be a very powerful force for meaning in your life. It is that quality that allows you to uniquely contribute and be creative in the world.”

She then went on to talk about how every superpower also has its kryptonite. She said that she had realized in doing her research on the subject that “the best things about me and the hardest things about me are not that far apart.” She said that the kryptonite is the part of your superpower that doesn’t always serve you well.

Our assignment was to do an art journal page for our superpower and list how it shows up for us and then do another page for our kryptonite. I thought about it. Hmm…what is my superpower? What is something that I got in trouble for in school? Talking! It was the only thing I ever got in trouble for. Hmm…what else? I made a list of what she called "gifts"…Expressive, Compassionate, Sensitive, Observant, Analytical. But I quickly realized that the only one of these gifts/qualities that had kryptonite for me was the first one. I happily did my art journal pages!

“My Superpower is: EXPRESSIVE”
"I can convey my thoughts and feelings easily.”
“I can openly show emotions.”
“I can communicate clearly.”
“I can help others put their feelings into words.”

On my kryptonite page I wrote:

“But:
“I can get too wordy/say too much.”
“I can make others uncomfortable.”
“I can get my feelings hurt.”
“I can have a vulnerability hangover.” (Brene Brown’s term which I love!)
“I can withdraw/shut-down.”

Then, I had to list three things that signify meaningful work. Just as the work is different for each person, so is the definition of meaningful. I wrote that meaningful work to me is “spiritual, soulful, and inspiring.”

The very fascinating piece to all of this is that I did this chapter in the book and this assignment just three days after I started my blog!

So here I am, nearly two months after starting my blog and it occurred to me today that I am experiencing every single item on my kryptonite page. I have slowed down on writing/posting because I feel like I am saying too much; revealing too many details. Therefore, I feel that readers may be uncomfortable with what I’m sharing. When I imagine my readers feeling uncomfortable and/or judging me for over-sharing, I get my feelings hurt which causes me to then have a vulnerability hangover and then once that happens, I withdraw and shut-down. See how that works?


*****

After my mom died, I dealt with a lot of crap that I won’t get into now. I was labeled as a drama queen by family members. I acquired a reputation for stirring up trouble and for always having something to say about the issue at hand. I became known in my family as someone who was looking for a pity party because I would speak up and tell it like it was; show my emotions. I didn’t hold back on sharing the problems I was experiencing with whomever in my family. In other words, I was expressive! This was viewed as a bad thing in my family and that was how I got the reputation of “Jackie just being Jackie. Always wanting others to feel sorry for her.” I’m not sure what my motives were back then. I’m sure I did want pity and attention for all the shit that was happening in my life. But more than anything, I wanted validation. I wanted to be taken care of and nurtured. I wanted them to say “It sounds like you’re going through some really hard times. I’m so sorry. That sucks balls. Whose ass can I kick for you?”

After writing the three posts about my mom’s final days and my return home from Argentina, I questioned if it was truly necessary for me to reveal the intimate details of just how much I cried and exactly how I handled myself and the ways in which I fell apart at home alone. (i.e. Vulnerability hangover) Trust me, I really contemplated for days just how much I would reveal of what I went through. In the end, I decided to share quite a bit because I realized that there was nothing to be ashamed of. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary with my grief. I didn’t do anything shameful. It was my reality. It was my truth. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing! 

Before publishing the posts, I also tried to find the value in what I was writing. My hope was that I would shed some light on the intimate details of grief – the behind the scenes stuff that the outside world doesn’t get to see. I thought maybe a reader will know someone who has recently lost a loved one and these posts will make them think about what that person may be going through privately. I thought maybe these posts will build compassion in others. I also thought that maybe my posts would inspire readers to reconcile with friends or family because we never know when our time is up. I hoped that a young person who has lost a parent will read it and they won’t feel so alone. Maybe someone dealing with loss will have hope that they too can survive the grief, like I did. So with all those reasons (and more) in mind, I went ahead and shared a lot of the gory details.

In the last couple of days though, I’ve began worrying that my motives are being questioned by my readers. The old tapes of my youth are playing in my head and I’m wondering if I am being judged as attention-seeking and pity-seeking. I worry that I am being labeled as saying too much, airing my dirty laundry, over-sharing and that readers are asking “Why did she have to share that she punched a window or that she threw herself on her mother’s coffin? Why was it necessary for her to tell how she cried into her mother’s clothes? Does she want us to feel sorry for her?” Then I answer in my head: “NO! I don’t want pity! I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me! That isn’t my reason for sharing those details!” Today when I remembered the Expressive Superpower & Kryptonite assignment, it all clicked for me. My motives are pure in my desire to “cultivate meaningful work” and for it to be “spiritual, soulful, and inspiring.”

So, with that being said…please know, dear reader, that I am coming from a place of love and goodwill with the stories that I’m sharing. My intentions are clean and not self-serving. I am sharing with a purpose and most importantly, with courage. I pulled out my book “The Gifts of Imperfection” today and I want to share one of my favorite parts: “In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart’…We’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage…Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.”

So I am joining forces with my trusty sidekick Courage; I am putting on my cape and I am going to own my Expressive Superpower. Expressive Superpower Activate! Hang on tight…it’s gonna be an inspiring ride.



Monday, June 16, 2014

Friends With Purposes



Have you ever run into someone who was once a close friend and it feels awkward and uncomfortable? That happened to me in my mid 20’s. I was walking through Fashion Island and I saw an old friend coming toward me. (I will call her Valerie.) I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hadn’t seen Valerie in nearly 10 years! I was so excited to bump into her! I called out her name in disbelief. She looked and saw me. She smiled and gave me a light tap-tap hug. I was hyper, ecstatic, smiling from ear to ear, saying “OH MY GOD! I can’t believe it’s you! How’ve you been?!” She replied “Great. Listen, I’m in a hurry. I gotta run. It was great seeing you...” and she hurried off. I was shocked at her aloofness and complete disregard for the excitement that it should have been to see ME…her one-time close friend! I shrugged it off, believing that maybe I had just caught her at a bad time. I was bummed that we didn’t exchange phone numbers. Valerie had been in my life during my mom’s final years and she was Argentinean too. I used to see her weekly at the Argentine Club for two years straight. We had had so much fun and so much in common back then…


It was probably about a year later, I was walking this time through South Coast Plaza and who should I pass by…Valerie. Again, I was elated at the coincidence of seeing her AND once again, at a shopping mall! Weird! I said “Hey, Valerie!!” This time though, I didn’t even get a chance to give her a hug or ask her how she was doing. She literally waved at me as she walked past me and said “Sorry. I’m in a hurry!” WTF?! Now I was pissed and offended. And hurt. My boyfriend had been with me both times and had witnessed her behavior. He thought she was rude and definitely not someone worth chasing after any longer. It was clear that the friendship was over and that what I had perceived of our one-time closeness was not of importance to her any longer.


About four or five years ago, I came to the realization that every friendship serves a purpose. Some friends are meant to stay forever in our lives and some are just passing through. I came to this realization when another friend who had been close to me at one time, no longer was. (I will call her Susie.) Susie and I went from talking on the phone daily, multiple times a day for about two years, down to weekly, then down to monthly, and now to only sending each other text messages for birthdays. Susie and I just seemed to have outgrown our need for one another. We had met during some rough times in each of our lives but then once the storm passed, we drifted apart. It was sad at first and I missed Susie and the closeness we had once shared, but little by little I started to adjust to the change. As I made peace with the new dynamics in our friendship, I saw that we had each served a purpose in each other’s lives but once those needs had been met and fulfilled, it was time to move on.


I have often thought of myself as sort of a “friend whore”. I am not a one-friend-woman. I have a variety of close friends but all for different reasons. Different friends serve different roles in my life. I have my “fun friends” – the girls I go to for laughter and silliness and dancing and singing. I have my “adoptive mom friends” – the women I go to about the ups and downs of having an open adoption and the added layers of parenting that adoption brings. I have my “infertility friends” – the women who I went to during failed cycles and after learning about friends’ pregnancies. I have my “baby loss friends” – the women who understood the pain of a childless Mother’s Day and Christmas morning. I have my “long-time friends” – the ones who have been with me a long time or who I feel like I have known a long time from the start. They have heard all or most of my life stories and have helped me through them, each in their own special way. And some friends fall into more than one category, but all of them have a very special purpose in my life.


*****


Reflecting on my high school years, I now see that I had a similar pattern in friendships then too. I had different sets of friends for different purposes in my life. I had Maggie of course, but I also had other best friends. Maggie and I were best friends by default. We shared a pre-school past; a history; but when Maggie and I reunited during Sophomore year, I had two other best friends (I will call them Jessica and Sara) that I had made during Freshman year. I also had this new aspect in my life of being motherless. But I didn’t have a friend who understood what that was like…until I met new friends at school.


During the first couple of weeks of my Junior Year, shortly after returning to school from Argentina, I met a Senior in the library. She was serving a detention while I was in my Study Hall period. (I will call her Ramona.) Ramona and I started talking and I no longer remember how but we discovered that we had both lost our mothers. I felt like I had met my idol. Up until that point, I didn’t have any friends who had lost their mother. We instantly connected. She was funny, sarcastic, smart, and had sort of a bad-ass attitude. Soon after meeting Ramona, she introduced me to a friend of hers, also a Senior, who had lost her father. (I will call her Margie.) I looked up to Ramona and Margie so much. They “got me”. They knew what I was feeling. They knew my pain. Ramona would call me her “baby” and she took on a maternal role with me which I now think is so funny (due to the fact that she was only a year older) and sweet. Ramona and I would swap dad stories and she would validate me with “what a living hell it is” (her words) to lose your mom at such a young age.


Sometime during the first months of the school year, I also developed a friendship with Chrissy, my classmate whose father had died during Sophomore year. I introduced Chrissy to Ramona and Margie and they also became instant friends. The four of us shared the loss of a parent which made us feel connected in our misery. It was my first experience seeing that something good can come out of something bad. Had I never lost my mom, I probably wouldn’t have formed these friendships with these girls. But tragedy brought us together and I was so grateful to have them – especially Chrissy.

Chrissy and I became very close, very quickly. She could be silly and goofy like me and she had a huge personality that could light up a room. What I cherished most about Chrissy is that not only did we have a ton of fun but we could also have the uncomfortable conversations that we couldn’t have with a lot of our other friends. It was ok to say to one another “Today marks my mom’s/dad’s month-aversary” or “I really miss my mom/dad today.” We understood what that meant for us and we didn’t cringe hearing it or saying it. We could share with one another the drama going on at home with our remaining parent. We could cry together and we could even go to the cemetery together.


Also during Junior year, Maggie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember sitting together in my car after school one day, both of us crying like little girls at the news. I was devastated that she could also possibly lose her mother. I felt awful that Maggie was in the same situation that I had once been in – living with the fear of losing your mother. We felt so blessed to be able to support one another during the most difficult times in our lives. We both felt so fortunate to have each other. We related to each other on so many levels - especially our family-life, our culture, and our dads.


Then there were Jessica and Sara. I loved those two so much! They had been with me since Freshman year and we were inseparable. The three of us just clicked. We thought we were hilarious and could make each other laugh like no one else could. We were each other’s biggest fans. We ate lunch together every day. Jessica and I talked on the phone after school every day. We hung out together on the weekends or watched American Bandstand while talking on the phone about which dancers we thought were cute. When we went on vacations, the three of us sent letters and postcards to each other. We just couldn’t get enough of each other. Just like Ramona took on a maternal role with me, I did the same thing with Jessica. I thought of her not just as a best friend, but I also had the instinct to protect her and to be the mom of the group. It was as though when I lost my mother, I had had to become my own mother and I became Jessica’s mom too along the way. This weekend, I asked Jessica if she remembers me talking about my mom or about my problems with my dad. She said she does. But I have no memory of those conversations with her despite seeing things written in my journal about talking to her and Sara about it. The most vivid memories I have are of us laughing and having fun wherever we went together; we would laugh until we cried (or peed a little). I have fun memories of going dancing with Jessica; memories of singing “Blister in the Sun” with Sara in Jessica’s Pinto; memories of inside jokes and goofy shenanigans that only we could pull off. Jessica and Sara were two very bright spots in my life during such a dark time. They brought me "sunshine days" during the cloudiest of days and made me feel that the Brady Bunch weren’t lying when they sang “you and me, ya, we’ll always be friends”. I am so happy and grateful to have had them then…and now. Their purpose was to make me laugh and have fun at a time when I didn't think I could.


*****


I say I am a “friend whore” because I’ve always been the type of person who can have a very close friendship with more than one person. I don’t know if this is common or not. Sometimes I think it isn’t too common because some of my friends say they don’t have a lot of close friends. Sometimes I worry that my friends won’t feel “special” because they aren’t my one and only close friend or that they will question my sincerity or loyalty knowing this “friend-sluttiness” about me. Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me for being able to give my whole heart to more than one friend and to be so vulnerable and open with a number of them.


I am not a good “surface friend”. I am a very good “deep friend” though. I am someone who is highly in tune with her feelings and emotions; so I often try to get my close friends to do the same. I want them to experience their lives with insight and to develop the ability to analyze and reflect on their actions and choices, like I work on doing daily. I can have really deep, meaningful conversations with friends about all sorts of subjects, but I suck at small talk and nonsense talk. (This is why it pains me to go to parties. I hate the small talk!)


I have always been what I consider an “open book”. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I don’t hide my emotions nor do I have issues expressing myself or sharing my stories and feelings (as I’m sure you’ve gathered from this blog). I am someone who listens and tries to show compassion without judgment. I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes.  So maybe these qualities are what make it easier for people to open up to me and/or form a closeness with me. I also love telling my friends what they mean to me and how much I value them. Not only do I think it makes them feel good to know it, it makes me feel good to tell them. I want them to know that they’ve made a difference in my life and that I cherish them. If I should lose them tomorrow, I never want to have any regrets of wishing I would have told them what they meant to me.


I believe that we teach by example and that the more we lead, the more others will follow. Or at least that is the intention. I have another close friend (let’s call her Olivia) who has a hard time saying “I love you” to people other than her husband and kids. I rarely say “I love you” to her because I don’t want to make her uncomfortable or put her on the spot and let’s face it...no one wants to say it and not hear it back – even if it’s with a friend. But once in a while, I have let it slip out and I give her a hard time and joke with her about saying it to me. We laugh and she explains herself to me every time. I know Olivia loves me by her actions and her gestures but still, truth be told, I wish we would freely say it to each other like I do with other close friends. Not too long ago, as we were hanging up, I blurted it out once more, just on the off chance that maybe this would be the time she said it back.  And she responded “I love you too.” I couldn’t believe my ears! I yelled “YOU SAID IT!” I was so happy! She just mumbled something, probably annoyed with my over-reaction. Olivia probably doesn’t realize just how much that meant to me.


As I was writing this, it occurred to me…just like my friends serve a purpose in my life, I must serve a different purpose in each of theirs. But what those purposes are, I don’t exactly know. So many times, I’ve felt awkward and uncomfortable telling one close friend about another close friend; I’ve felt uneasy about possibly hurting their feelings or making them feel unimportant or insignificant. I have felt guilty that I have more than one special, close friend. But now I wonder...maybe part of my purpose is to shed some light on our capacity to love and to give our hearts to our friends. I have learned that openness leads to connectedness and connectedness leads to joy. Maybe part of my purpose is to show my friends that it’s ok to open your heart (with the right people); to be vulnerable (with the right people); to take a chance in sharing your story with others; to make new friends and continue to build on the friendships you already have. My BFF, Maggie gave me a gift a few weeks ago. It’s a wall plaque that says: “Your beautifully messy complicated story matters (Tell it)” Maybe that is part of my purpose – not just to tell my own story, but to lead my friends by example and with encouragement to do the same.