Sunday, May 7, 2017

An Open Letter From a Childless Adult to Those With Children

Her hair was windblown, the color of sand, and slightly stiffened by the salty tears that she'd shed just hours earlier. It felt so brittle as I gently brushed it to the side of her face, knowing that the frailness of her tear-stained hair matched the current state of her heart. After fighting in the foster system for longer than she could remember; after time and time again suffering the disappointment of hoping for a child and feeling the anguish of that dream being ripped from her hands, she found herself retreating into the safety of a hobby. A place where she could let her heart grieve and also allow it room to mend. In what felt to be her safest space, a friend stopped by, and after a quick "hello", made an exit with the phrase, "it's so great that you have time to do these things because you don't have kids. That's awesome!" In that moment her heart silently shattered into a million pieces.

Everything in me wished I could take that pain away. And everything in me wanted to shout, "WHY?" from the rooftop nearby.

If only this were a one-off thing..

"You're lucky that your car is so clean! It's because you don't have kids."
"You must have so much free time because you don't have kids."
"You have no idea what it's like because you don't have kids."
"The kids kept me up so late last night. You must love not having to deal with things like that!"
"If you had kids you'd understand."

All are things that have been said to me and/or childless friends of mine. One of the harshest things I had to witness was at a church retreat over a decade ago where I was sitting with a friend around the campfire, someone who I knew had just found out she would be unable to have children, and through a series of events a random person calls over to her across the fire, "Thank GOD that YOU don't have kids!" I didn't even know what to do or say for fear of revealing my friend's hidden battle. It was as if I could audibly hear her heart being stomped on by someone who made a flippant comment - not at all intending the pain that it unknowingly had inflicted.

And so I pen this: an open letter to all parents

 
At one point you, too, were single, or even married, without a child of your own. Maybe you used to ride bikes with your friends as a kid; showing off your skills by jumping "so high!" off of the apron at the end of the driveway - staying out till the streetlights came on or someone called you inside. Those summer nights passed, and you grew. Friends of yours fell in and out of love, eventually finding themselves on a new track for their lives. The day came when you did to. Whether planned or not, another life began to grow and you were part of it. That joy and nervousness of finding out morphed into days, weeks, and months of monitored growth on every level. You may have documented every appointment, every sickness, every craving, until one day you finally held the reward of your labors. Your child. Yours. Once a child yourself, you now found yourself in a new stage of life; caring for another human who was entirely dependant upon you. One of life's greatest rewards.

Not everyone has that same story. Some are penned differently. Plot twists are thrown in and decades pass.
 
 
Granted, not all women want to have kids. To those who know with complete certainty that they do not - more power to them! There is no shame in knowing what is right for you. And if you know that about a person, then by all means feel free to joke about it if you know they are alright with it. But, just know, that those people -women especially - are few and far between.

In my circle, I can easily say that most of my single friends have more experience working with, and caring for, children than a lot of new parents. So many of my childless friends would give everything they had for the opportunity to be called, "Mommy" by a child of their own (whether by blood or through adoption), but for whatever reason, even though they've "offered themselves as tribute", the odds have been anything but "ever in their favor". 
 
To the surprise of some, I want to assure you that those of us without kids of our own are actually very self-aware people. We realize that children can be a handful. We know that their demands are time-consuming and, well, ALL encompassing of your life the majority of the time. It's no surprise to us that you nurse through times when you'd rather be asleep and you're constantly needing to lay down your own wants and needs to tend to the ones who depend on you for theirs. Even if we slept 8 hours the night before, and you slept 3, it doesn't mean we have no idea what that is like. For some childless women, they'd give up sleep for years just for the *chance* to be "inconvenienced" by someday caring for a child of their own.
 

There's no doubt that childless friends - the ones who honestly LOVE kids - make some of the best aunts, uncles, and god-parents that ever walked the earth. Their ability to change their schedule to help you in a bind is, at times, life-saving. In turn, for them, the love and involvement of participating in the life of a family is both healing and important, when healthy boundaries are established. It's a powerful expression of community in every sense of the word!

But everything encouraging and life-building that happens in those relationships has the option of being crushed by a single, off-the-cuff, remark about their childless state. You see, what people don't stop to think about is that childless people are rarely unaware that they are. We don't need to be reminded that we have a lot of free time, or that our cars don't have handprints on their windows. Our hearts and minds know that truth very well. Our refrigerator doors are covered with baby shower announcements instead of fingerprint paintings and report cards. We don't really need that fact pointed out to us by others as well.

Whether the parent of twelve or the parent of none, we'd all do well to be kinder and more considerate of the words we often dish out haphazardly. If you find yourself on the verge of saying something about not having kids to a man or woman who doesn't have them - maybe take a second to reign it in and find out *why* you want to offer that nugget in the first place. Maybe it's not out of gratefulness for their position in life at all.  Perhaps it's from a place of frustration or jealousy even.  These things can mask themselves in the sheep's clothing of our words, but can be recieved as the wolves they really are.
 
Love, your childless pal,
Simply Miss Taken
 





Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Single and Afraid

A friend of mine, another single girl, once waited for me after a meeting just to ask me if I was joking about enjoying going to the movies alone. I couldn't help but laugh. Then I realized that it wasn't funny to her. She wasn't kidding around.  Her face when I told her that it was "one of my favorite things to do" is one that I will never forget. She leaned in, almost as if to tell me a secret, and lowly said, "that is on my bucket list - to go to a movie alone. I don't think I'll ever be brave enough to do it though. You're so brave".

It wasn't the first, nor was it the last, time that I would hear something along those lines.


 
I wasn't always this way. As a child I was very independent when it came to nature. When we would go "up north" to visit the grandparents my Mom always said she knew where to find me; out on my "thinking rock". Time alone, in nature, fueled me somehow, even as a kid. But that didn't automatically translate into loving being alone. My family knew full-well that if I was left home alone (after dark especially) every door in the house would be locked and every light with a bulb in it would most definitely be turned on. My heart longed for time alone, yet needed someone there. Probably why, until I was much older, I always assumed that I'd get married and have a large family - thus ensuring the hustle and bustle of always having someone around.
 
But God had different things in store for me. He had different adventures for me to have. And along the way, the girl who would once be unable to sleep until someone came home and who would sit on the center of the sofa- clutching a knife- with every light on in the house, would eventually become the woman who rented a cabin in the middle of the woods, with (go figure) a broken lock on the door, and stayed there for an entire weekend, alone.
 
You see, as a woman, you grow up with a level of alertness that most men will never feel. The constant awareness of your surroundings, especially after dark. The discomfort of the eyes of that man watching you pump gas or walk to your car. The chill of fight-or-flight that rises from cat-calls out of car windows as you're walking somewhere, anywhere. All of these things grooming us by a young age to crave companionship of some sort - clinging to it as part of our identity and safety. And when I say safety I'm not referring to the safety that is actually wise - there are DEFINITE times where girls should NOT be alone. I'm not encouraging anyone here to be stupid. But in this sense I am referring to safety as in needed comfort.
 
I love camping. I love hiking. I love so many things like; nature, fresh air, raindrops falling on my skin, good food, adventure, movies... and at some point, early on in my sea of friends who got married and moved on from the life and friendships of singlehood, I learned that I wanted to live my life without care of what others think about it. If I want to see a movie, I'm seeing that movie. And I'm buying a kids meal, not for a child but for myself, and I'm enjoying it! If I want a meal at a new restaurant, well, I'm having a meal there and refusing to feel weird about it. I don't have time to worry about eyes on me because I'm *gasp* alone!
 

Listen, it's not easy to tackle fear. I get that. After years of not camping, because I had no single friends left who enjoyed it, a few years back I finally did it, alone, on my own, in a tent. Drunk people knocked on my tent to check that I was okay at some point in the night. A skunk sprayed somewhere nearby before the sun rose. I had my car keys on one side of me, ready to push the alarm button, my phone in a netted hammock above me, and my hiking knife near my other hand. I spent most of the night holding my breath and freezing in place at the sound of every twig crack....but I did it. I survived. I learned that I can camp on my own and power through the fear. Power and PRAY through the fear! And I also learned a little bit more about myself in the process.

My prayer for single people is not to become these independent women who don't need a man or something crazy like that. But do you? The older I get the more questions I ask myself. Like, "why am I doing (or not doing) this?" and, "what do YOU want to do?". I see couples doing awesome things all the time. I love it! I love seeing people enjoy life. In turn, I don't see why I need to wait (or be too afraid) to enjoy mine.

I realize that my life may not make sense to most people. Heck, I may be that weirdo, sitting at a booth in the local diner, writing away the hours next to tables filled with families and friends talking and laughing away. Actually, I definitely am that person. I'm cool with that. I wouldn't change it for the world. I don't have time to fit the mold of waiting for ducks to be in a row. Because you know what? Let's be real, I'll be lucky if my ducks ever end up swimming in the same pond!

My point is, don't waste time! If you are single, don't waste your time being too afraid to figure out who you are and what you like. Figure it out now and rock it! Refuse to live your life single and afraid.
 
 
 

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Joys of Comparison

How ironic is that title, right?

My seventh grade note-books with friends are filled with my sarcastic responses of "oh joy" whenever things were less than wonderful. And with that same sarcastic tone I typed the title of this post because, in my life, I have found this quote from Teddy Roosevelt to be spot on.



Standing in the bathroom with sweat running down my face. Out of breath and needing to change quickly to get to my job, my Fitbit vibrated. Instinctively I grabbed my phone and checked my new messages. Exclamation points and smiley faces filled my screen as I read my friend's delighted news about a new trip she and her husband were going on. Text after text of itinerary changes and upgrades in every possible way filled my screen.

Just ten minutes before these texts I was finishing up cutting the grass with my lawnmower - that has no self propel and has been on it's last leg for three summers now but I'm far too broke to shell out for a new one at the moment, so I make it work. As I shut the door and locked it up, I reached up to move a branch that kept touching my head. Only, there was no branch. Something was IN my hair. I swatted it, thinking it was part of the pine tree that had fallen into my hair, it didn't move. Then the terrifying sound of loud buzzing filled my ears. I ran in the house and yes. A wasp. A WASP WAS IN MY HAIR!

 
Not wanting it to get loose in my house and set my cats after it, I ran back outside and into the front yard, somehow grabbing one of the old pee-hats from my recent kidney stone removal surgeries on the way out the door to bat against my hair in an attempt to rid myself of the beast. After several attempts at hitting myself in the head with an old pee-hat while on a semi-busy street, the wasp was gone and I was back indoors, catching my breathe, still dripping in sweat, and now entering a mad dash to get back to work.

And then the texts came.

Why is it always when I'm in the middle a parking lot with a flat tire, using all my might to turn the lug nuts, or when I'm looking at my increasing medical bills that are stacking up daily on my table, that I get the message from a friend telling me of something incredible that's going on in their life?

Unlike a lot of people I know who struggle with celebrating the success of others (it's very real and I know a lot of friends who struggle with feeling happy when good things happen to others - it's part of human nature!), my difficultly comes after the celebration. Realizing the shades of gray that my life are compared to the vibrant colors of everyone else's can sometimes put me in a funk. See, I genuinely rejoice in the blessings that come to the lives of others. But sometimes I find comparison creeping closely behind, reminding me of my struggles.

When this happens you can fight it, or whine about it. You can let comparison take you down the road of feeling more and more like a failure or you can focus your head back into your own game. Some rounds are much easier than others, let me tell you!

Recently I deactivated my social media account for this reason. While going through one of the biggest trials of my life - 2 surgeries in 21 days, I was inundated with everyone else's amazing posts. While I was writhing in pain, I saw others on extravagant vacations, or having their dream weddings, or buying new cars and clothes, all while I was wondering how I'd be able to pay rent or just buy food for dinner. It wasn't that I didn't delight with the joys in my friends lives. On the contrary, it was the fact that I felt in my stomach that I was comparing my snapshot to their highlight reels. And all I wanted to do was vent, whine, and feel sorry for myself. In order to save myself from that road, I deleted my account and decided to focus on myself for awhile!


My life seems to be a constant serious of unfortunate events most of the time. But I'm blessed that in the midst of the storms God always shows me the rainbow. There's hope. There's beauty in the process of navigating through this life - whatever your lot may be.

Maybe I'm the only one who struggles with feeling like they don't quite fit into the line up. I've always been that square peg trying to fit into the circle's slot. All I know is that come what may, I wasn't created to just fit in. My life wasn't created to demonstrate the same things as yours, or my neighbors. The chapters in my book are muddy, messy, a bit smudged or torn on the corners, and some are a little disturbing at times. But they are me. Perhaps my life seems like a highlight reel to someone else. I'm not sure who would be that nuts though!  Ha ha ha!

The joy of comparison is that it's totally up to you what you do with the information you're given. You can either let it define you, rule you, or shrug it off and move on. I choose to move along.




Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why Do You Write Like You're Running Out Of Time?

It comes as no surprise, to those who know me well, that my current fascination and captivation has been with Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, Hamilton.

(photo is the property of the newyorker.com)

The theatre has always been in my blood. Music has always run just as deeply in my veins. So when Lin-Manuel's Hamilton MixTape hit the stage as Hamilton, an Off-Broadway production, back in February of last year, it definitely caught my eye. Playing to sold out crowds it was only a handful of months before its Broadway debut one year ago this month. I was absolutely hooked as I watched the cast masterfully perform each selection that was chosen for airing during this years Tony Awards; where Hamilton was nominated for a staggering 16 awards, taking home 11.

What began as a small "mixtape" project (google his performance of it at the White House back in 2009) turned into an absolute sensation. All based on the unbelievably tarnished story of an underdog immigrant who went on to become one of our least talked about founding fathers. As Lin put it, "our ten-dollar Founding Father without a father."

How can something like a musical be so profoundly impacting to a person?

The underdogs. The cast offs. The down-on-their-lucks. Those are the people who I gravitate towards. Those who naturally don't have very much going for them. In all honesty, those are my people. Those who deserve wrath, but who instead are given a seat at the table. Those who have a laundry list of things that disqualify them yet there is some sort of fight deep in their bones that is tougher than any fight you'll ever see. Who knew that Alexander Hamilton was one of these ragtag misfits?

Ron Chernow, that's who.


This is the book that inspired Lin to write Hamilton. The story of Alexander Hamilton which led to lines and lyrics that have challenged me to the core.

"You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story."

When I was young I dreamed of all of the ways that my life would count for something. Fast forward to now and I find that I've settled. I've settled for a lie; believing that a time will come when I will be able to do what I love. After all, I'm surrounded by people who love what they do. For some people, they are blessed with opportunities to pursue their dreams full time. For others, that will never be the case. For me, that never has been the case. There will always be people smarter, more articulate, more gifted and who have more resources. There will always be a reason to wait.

For Alexander Hamilton - in the midst of his scandals and reputation for just blurting out the truth, he knew that his time was precious. He wrote like he was running out it. Time wasn't something that controlled him, rather it was something that he used to his own advantage. At 49 years old, he died, yet his legacy lives on today in our history books and on our U.S. Currency.

Why, though? Why is this so inspiring?

Well, it is inspiring because this orphan, adulterous, man had every reason to give up when his own father cut out on him when he was ten. Then again when his mother died two years later. But he didn't. Even after moving in with a cousin who then committed suicide. After surviving a hurricane, losing a son, and countless other events that would try even the strongest of souls, Alexander Hamilton was unrelenting. He was determined that he would not throw away his shot.

All of us have potential somewhere inside of us. Every. Single. One. Some have opportunities handed directly to them - others have to fight for it. I, am one who needs to fight for it. Is it worth it? Well, that's up to you.

What are the hopes and dreams that you have allowed time or circumstances bury? If you really, honestly, believed that you were running out of time, would your days and nights look different?

Mine would.

This thought process has completely shaken me to the core. I've rearranged so many things in my life, just in this past week, to reflect a life that I want to have count for something. Anything! Regardless of how big or small it may seem.

Step One (for me): Read this book by Ron Chernow. The 800+ page book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write a record-breaking, hip-hop influenced, musical. Let's see what motivated a genius on vacation to put his pen to the paper and create a masterpiece.

What would your first step be?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Live Your Life!

"Call home as soon as you get there.
Call home as soon as you get there.
Call home as soon as you get there.
Call home as soon as..."

I could repeat that to myself the entire ten minutes that it took to walk from my house to my best friend's house, but even then it didn't stop me from forgetting to actually do it. And typically it resulted in me getting grounded.

That was only a few decades ago. Before cell phones. When we all wore watches and relied on the street lights to tell us when we needed to be home. If I wanted to play with my friend, and my Mom was gabbing away on the phone, or the line was busy (remember that!?), I'd hop on my bike and ride to their house.

Our times were documented on my Mickey Mouse 110 camera. And even then we'd sometime wait years to get that film developed.

It's hard to believe those times are now "back in the day".

Almost a year ago, I had that moment in time where I realized that I'm joining an older generation. A generation who valued things differently. For me, it happened at a Counting Crows concert when I reached into my back pocket, turned on my iPhone, and started taking a video of my sister's favorite song to send it to her. Through the tiny glow of my screen, I saw hundreds of other people doing the exact same thing.


With a slight breeze off of Lake Michigan, and hundreds of concert-goers around me in the open amphitheater, I realized that most of us had settled for re-living a moment more than living IN it in the first place. We were more eager to record a moment in time through our tiny handheld devices than to watch it actually taking place in person.

It was like a knife-to-the-gut sort of feeling.

Now, I'm sure my Mom would have aged a bit slower had she had the instant access to me, via cell phone, that mothers have these days. I'm also sure I'd have looked good in all of my slumber party pictures, and that everyone would be certain, with instant reviewing access, to have their eyes open for group photos!

But maybe my awkward years would have been all the more challenging. Being a teenager is tough enough on its own. I can't imagine being one today, with everyone posting selfies of themselves that look like they could be on the cover of a magazine. Me and my friends were too busy swimming, and bike riding to worry too much about glamour shots and the judgments that come with them. It's rough enough for me to live up to it all in my 30s!

My heart just goes back to simpler times. When we could sit around a campfire in the backyard and just share life. We could talk for hours, or we could just stare into the fire without the continuous glow of our electronic devices.


Now I'm not saying that technology is evil. Truth be told, I love it. I love that I have a way, other than snail mail, to be caught up on the lives of my overseas, and out of state, friends. But are we sacrificing too much? Are we paying to attend concerts that we just end up watching through a small screen anyway? Are we losing out on building relationships with people because we're too consumed with taking the perfect picture of the moment and letting everyone know where we were when it happened?

I don't know.

I'll still take a picture to capture an instant in time. And I'm sure that I will still document an amazingly plated meal. But I'll also be sure to put down my phone to focus my attention to a friend.

Or to enjoy a really nice campfire as well.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Who Are You?

There often comes a point in motherhood when a woman begins to wonder what her identity is or where it can be found. Between dirty diapers, piles of clothes, and shuttling children from play practice to dance class, it isn't rare to find a tired mother underneath it all, who at some point has asked herself, "Is this really my life?"

That luxury is not solely reserved for wives and mothers though, as I learned yesterday, when a mom-friend of mine posed the question for all of us to answer, "Who are you?"

Instantly I smiled, cracked my knuckles, and prepared to dive into a flood-like response from the depths of my creative being. My wit and sarcasm were sure to garner a few laughs in the process as well.  But sadly, my tap ran dry.

For over twenty-four hours now I have been haunted by this question. And like Derek Zoolander, thrown to the ground and staring at his reflection in a dirty puddle in the street, I find myself wondering, "Who am I?"

As a child I learned pretty young that fairy tales are simply imagination mixed with a bit of magic, nothing more. I never dreamed of being a princess or anything like that. Yet my imagination was fostered well. In my heart, and in my journals, I hid the dreams of what my life would one day be.

I marched to my own beat. And in the security of knowing who I was, and who I would be, I was somehow able to avoid the distractions and voices of doubt around me.

(Photo by Katie Curtin)

Now that little girl is all grown up. The little girl with skinned knees and dollar store goggles is now an adult, with scars and no time, or finances, to swing by the dollar store to grab something random that just screams her name.

Time and life have sucked so much out of me that I look in the mirror, I look at my yard, I look at the mess in my house after 45+ hours of working and ask myself, "Who am I? Is this really my life? Is this really what I have to look forward to for the next X amount of years?"

Certainly I'm more than debt, old shoes, jeans that are barely holding together, weeds, cat fur, dust bunnies, bills, and memories from the past. I mean...right? Maybe? ... Hopefully...

The volumes upon volumes of hopes and dreams that my younger doe-eyed self once held are gone. They aren't even ones that can now be dusted off and reexamined in the light of day. They are ships that simply passed in the night and were never meant to meet.

There is only one left that I hold loosely onto. It doesn't define me, but perhaps someday it will.

Maybe someday, when I'm living alone with my plethora of cats and dogs in a cabin somewhere, it will be the thing that I will be able to say is who I am.

Until then, I journey on. Hoping that maybe someday I will catch a glimpse of that little girl that used to have so many foolish dreams, and she didn't give a crap what anyone else thought of them.

 
I've reinvented myself in the past. Perhaps I will again. Not today, though. Today I will watch the cottonwood fly through the air like a snowstorm, sing loudly in my car, and maybe go for a walk if it doesn't rain.

Just me and my thoughts.
 
I guess the only question I have for you is the same one I have for me.

Who are you?