Saturday, April 27, 2013

You Are Enough

Today, a dear friend shared three words with me that filled my eyes -- and my heart.

You are enough, she said.


You are enough.

I paused. Am I?

Yes, she said. Yes.

I had no idea how badly I needed to hear those words until someone spoke them to me. Only then did I truly realize how not enough I often feel, how I sometimes cannot see the glass as half-empty or as half-full. I just see that it is half of whatever it is supposed to be.

This is not a pity party. This is womanhood.

Not long ago, a beauty campaign went viral with its "social experiment", an advertisement demonstrating that women are their own harshest critics. What a revelation, huh, ladies?  I mean, it's not like we spend a fortune on makeup, beauty creams, hair color and shoes (though the shoes are totally justified, because, well, shoes).

I almost resented the ad for telling us what women already know: we never feel like we are enough as we are.

We aren't pretty enough, smart enough, successful enough. We aren't working enough. We aren't mothering enough. We aren't reading enough. We aren't exercising enough. We aren't recycling enough. We aren't doing the laundry enough (okay, I really don't do the laundry enough). We aren't having sex enough.

Enough, already!

How did we get this way, we who have so much more than those before us?

Maybe it is because we work hard for a living, and we fear our children are missing out on something.

Or maybe it is because we are home with our children and fear we are missing out on something.

Perhaps it is because we never had children at all.

Perhaps it is because we don't even want to have children, and others insinuate that makes us incomplete.

Maybe it is because we never wrote that novel (raises hand), or we disappointed our parents when we dropped out of school, or we disappointed our spouses when we lost that job.

Perhaps it is because women on magazine covers look nothing like us. Maybe it is because that swimsuit model makes us feel like our boobs are too small or our waists are too big. Maybe it is because the reflection in the mirror doesn't match the image in our minds. Were those lines there yesterday?

Do we feel inadequate because we divorced? Or is it because we never married? Maybe it is because we are gay, and we have to fight so damn hard to be married, to be equal.

Maybe it is because our spouse had affairs, or we had affairs, and our anger or guilt has become attached to us, like limbs.

Maybe we have a child with an illness, disability or disorder, and we fight so hard for their well-being that we forget to be well ourselves.

Or it could be that our house is too small, our kitchen too outdated, our car too old. Are we less because we don't carry that designer handbag that everyone has this year? Is this two-year-old tote from Target a symbol of our inadequacy?

Maybe it is because last year's jeans no longer fit, or we have a father who now struggles to remember our name, or we had that late-in-life baby, and we're tired. God, we're tired.

Then again, maybe it is none of that and all of that. Maybe this is who we are: fragile souls whose well-meaning parents told us we are EVERYTHING! We can do ANYTHING! Yet, we aren't. We can't.

We try, though, don't we? We wear ourselves out with the trying. We have advanced degrees and work out five days a week, and our 40 is certainly not our mothers' 40, is it? We have smart, talented children and never miss a soccer game or a piano recital. Exhausted, we work late nights and weekends to get that promotion. We volunteer at the PTO or the civic club and stayed up past midnight recreating Pinterest treats for the school party. We make kale chips and drink expensive wine with friends.

And in spite of that, we go to bed feeling less than, making mental lists of the ways we will change tomorrow. We will do better tomorrow.

But here's the thing: we are doing the best we can.

We are. I am. You are.

That is enough.

The fact that you go to bed, exhausted, thinking of how you will do better tomorrow? Sister, it's enough.

We need to tell each other that more.

To the worn-out young mom of twins, who can't recall putting on a top not splattered with mashed sweet potatoes, you are enough.

To the teacher who gives everything to her students and fears she has lost patience for her own children, you are enough.

To the woman who ran that first half-marathon and feels like her husband should have been more supportive, you are enough.

To the 60ish-year-old who has so many Facebook friends, but who feels alone, you are enough.

To the woman who fights for equal rights, you are enough.

To the exhausted mother caring for her own mother, you are enough.

To the woman executive who is making less than the male executive, you are enough.

To the woman who appears to have it all: the husband, the career, the amazing house, the perfect kids, and who still feels like no one truly understands her, you are enough.

To the divorcee who wonders if she'll ever meet the right man again, you are enough.

To the single working mom whose child wore the faded t-shirt to school and didn't have a haircut because you forgot it was picture day, you are enough. It's okay. It will probably be your favorite school picture.

To the mom who fed her kids instant oatmeal for dinner because it was a long day at work and you just want to curl up on the couch and watch Netflix, you are enough.

To the teenage girl who didn't get invited to the party, you are enough. 

To the woman crying quietly into her pillow at night, you are enough.

To you, fabulous, imperfect, doing-the-best-I-damn-well-can you, you are enough.

You need to hear this today. Your girlfriend needs to hear this today. Your colleague, and yes, even your boss, needs to hear it. Your sister needs to hear it, and your mother, too. Your daughter needs to hear it from you, over and over again.

Tell them today they are enough. Tell yourself, too.

It's not easy being us. It really isn't. But it is enough.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scenes from a Marriage: Pinterest

Here's how I use Pinterest:

Annnnnd here's how the husband uses Pinterest:

He wins.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Dad

Twenty-five years ago today, I climbed out of my friend's car after school to see my mother standing on the front porch. It was unusual for her to be home from work at that hour, and I was immediately nervous. Turns out, I had good reason to be.

"Sweetie," Mom said, "I'm afraid you won't be doing anything with your friends for spring break."

"What?!" I cried. "Why not?"

"It's your Dad," Mom said, fighting back tears. "He's checked himself into the chemical dependency unit at the hospital."

"I really don't understand," I said, "What does that have to do with me?"

"He's admitted he's an alcoholic, honey," Mom said, looking a bit unsure herself. "And we all need... Well, we need to support him."

A self-absorbed, resentful 17-year-old, this was a hell of a pill for me to swallow. I threw myself down on the porch swing, fuming. I didn't feel like my dad had supported me much, but suddenly I was being asked to give up my senior year spring break to do.. to do.. what, exactly?

To get to know my Dad.

That's what I began to do 25 years ago today.

Mom, my little brother and I attended an Al-Anon meeting that night, a support group for families of alcoholics. There, we learned the "twelve steps" -- the process Dad would go through on the arduous journey to sobriety. We heard stories much like -- and some much worse -- than our own. Mom fidgeted with the strap on her purse. My 13-year-old brother largely stared at the floor. I rocked off-rhythm in a chair that had one leg shorter than the others.

I have never wanted out of a place so badly as I did that night. I had never discussed my family problems with anyone, and I certainly didn't want to begin with strangers. Unfortunately, my make-myself-invisible trick didn't work, and the group leader asked me how I felt about my dad.

"I don't know," I told her.

"Just share with us how you feel about your father," she encouraged.

"I just told you," I said through clenched teeth. "I don't know."

It was true. I loved my Dad, but I didn't know him. Not really.

So it was with trepidation that I visited my Dad at rehab for "Family Nights." The man I saw was too close to me in that tiny hospital room, on that institutional twin bed. The setting was too intimate, and the conversations made me long to be home watching "The Cosby Show." I wasn't yet comfortable with the man in front of me, a man who was finally revealing himself as he really was. Gone was the bravado induced by alcohol. In its place was a father who wanted to reach out to me, but didn't seem to know how. Yet, I couldn't miss his message: he was trying.

For 25 years, my dad has tried. It's been a long and admirable quest, his life without crutches.

He has faced numerous moments when his mouth has watered for a swig of beer at the end of the day -- and he has endured incredibly long, hard days. Many times I have heard him say, "I need a drink."

Somehow, he has found the strength and courage to resist.

To his credit, he also has helped others resist. Dad has taken many calls in the middle of the night, nodding knowingly as he listens to whomever is on the other end of the line. Inevitably,  he pulls on his coat to meet the caller wherever they are, physically, but more importantly, emotionally.

If they need to hear his story, he will tell it. If they need to tell him their own, he will listen. And if they need him to sit with them simply to keep them from getting up to get a drink, he will sit.

He is a respected community leader; a loyal friend; a loving, supportive husband; and a doting father and grandfather.

On this silver anniversary, I celebrate my father. I celebrate his courage. I celebrate his conviction. I celebrate his life -- and how he has enriched mine by checking himself into the hospital that spring day many years ago.

As someone who understands now how challenging it is to walk into The Great Unknown, I realize how difficult it must have been for Dad that April day -- standing at that door, wondering if he had the strength to open it and close his old life behind him.

Thank you, Dad, for walking though that door.

Thank you for being brave for 9,125 one-day-at-a-times.

Thank you for forging a new path, and allowing us to walk it with you.

Thank you for having the serenity to accept the things you could not change; the courage to change the things you could; and the wisdom to know the difference.

I love you. And I'm incredibly proud of you today and every day.