Posted in Faith, Guest

The Pots in My Head

I am so excited about my guest this week, Sandi Piazza!  You are in for a treat!  Sandi is married to Gerry, and is currently on her third career as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to Emilio (10) and Ana (8).  She is passionate, strong, wise and gentle.  Her heart comes alive when fighting for equality and social justice, diving into literature of all kinds, and providing the much-needed love and care for her foster dogs.  Welcome, Sandi!

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A few years ago, I heard someone preach that men’s brains are like waffles (compartmentalized) and women’s brains are more like spaghetti (highly intertwined).  For many in the audience, this really resonated.  Not for me.  I have pots in my head.

As a perfectionist.  I always have a lot going on AND never really learned how to outline and organize big projects, I tend to procrastinate until I must focus fully on the task at hand and get it done.  To juggle several divergent tasks, I developed a system where I envision my brain as a cooktop covered with pots during a large holiday meal.  Those who know me well may have heard me say, “OK. I need to get a new pot going in my head.” (In fact, that proclamation to my curious friend Esther is the origin of this post!)

When any project comes up, I add a pot on my brain’s stovetop.  I carefully consider the core (main ingredient) of that task?  What else needs to be added (some side elements) in order to accomplish this?  How long do I have to complete (cook) this undertaking?  Each item on my “to do” list gets a dedicated pot–something akin to the discrete little compartments in waffles, but oftentimes things are related and work together and it’s not quite the jumbled mess of spaghetti.  Every so often, I sit down and think, “OK, POT CHECK!  Let’s give things a stir.”

This process was crucial to my success as an undergraduate student.  I was pursuing a degree in English Literature, which meant multiple books and essays assigned at any given moment.  I was an officer in a club.  I had an almost-full-time job.  I was active in a church community (and most of us know what that means for good and bad).  I was fortunate enough to have scholarships covering a huge chunk of my tuition, but room and board simply weren’t in the budget for the Rodriguez family. This meant LOTS of time spent in transit on the subway, commuting from the northernmost tip of Manhattan all the way down to Greenwich Village, in the days before internet, laptops, and smartphones. What was a student to do?  CHECK MY POTS!

Typical POT CHECK, sitting on the subway riding home from school:

POT ONE:  Paper due later this week on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

“I loved the book, even though it took me a while to understand the first chapter, with its stream-of-consciousness descriptions and odd details like Cassie’s white underpants as she climbs a tree. WTH is that about? Interesting that the main character of the book never actually gets to speak for herself…her brothers and the family servant do all the talking. Can I emphasize this in my paper somehow? Hmm… OK, I’ll put it aside to revisit later, but it’s due soon so best not to wait too long.”

POT TWO:  Paper two comparing Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus.

“Ugh.  May as well be comparing liver and okra. Blaaah. That one isn’t due for a few weeks. Back burner for sure.”

POT THREE:  Leading Bible study next week.

“What’s the verse again? ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…’  OK, how can I make this super-familiar verse seem fresh? There’s the whole Iran Contra-gate thing in the news…weapons of warfare… Too much of a stretch?  Should I just read it and leave it hanging there, hoping everyone can apply it to their own life?  Hmm… I have some time on this.  Let it simmer on low.”

POT FOUR:  Choir Christmas service.

“It’s coming up soon.  I have the lyrics and harmonies of the songs memorized.  I have the white shirt I need and I have that black skirt I can wear.  I haven’t worn it in a while.  I hope it fits…I might need to add some girdle-y (is that even a word? girdle-like?) underwear to make it fit better… Stir that pot when I get home.  Wait…”

WEIRD TRANSITION BACK TO POT ONE:

“Underwear, again.  That’s in a couple of my pots.  Back to the paper.  There was that thing in where Benji notices Cassie’s underwear.  Weird for a brother to notice that about his sister.  Wait, now that I think of it, didn’t that happen with more than one narrator?  Where’s that book?”

By the time I got home from school, I had figured out that there were three different characters in The Sound and the Fury who noticed the central character’s underpants, and that the underwear reflected what they thought of her in that.  The paper practically wrote itself, which was a blessing in the pre-word-processor 1980s!

Some 30 years later, my perfectionism has waned, but I still organize my thoughts and projects in this way.  The pots bubbling away in my mind these days tend to be more abstract than project-based, and currently include things like:

  • what walking with Jesus looks like after deconstructing some toxic doctrines from my fundamentalist upbringing
  • having a successful marriage, almost 14 years in, without an example in my life to emulate
  • parenting a child—possibly two—with autism
  • navigating family relationships successfully and in a healthy way when members struggle with mental illness, addiction, & codependency
  • homeschooling
  • building and maintaining a tribe
  • a room decorating project
  • volunteer responsibilities
  • rescue dogs, old dogs, and how to keep them both healthy/calm

You get the idea.  Lysa TerKeurst says, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on.  What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”  That rings true.  This is the stuff of my life…the things that nourish me, sustain me, and keep me going.

Doing an occasional pot check helps me to realize what I know a lot about and what I need to research further.  And, much as it did when I was in college, it often allows me to draw parallels and to see how something in one pot relates to another, helping me make sense out of a vexing problem and integrate the various parts of my life.

I also cook a lot more now than I did when I was younger, and something invaluable I’ve come to know is that there is one ingredient that improves every dish I cook.  GARLIC! Just kidding.  It’s SALT!

Salt is amazing. It has so many uses! It preserves.  It melts ice.  It kills weeds, and, relevant to the topic at hand, it seasons food and enhances the flavor of almost everything.

Author and activist Mariama Bâ has said that “The flavor of life is love. The salt of life is also love.”  That rings so true!  Much as every dish I cook improves with a bit of salt, every pot in my head is better when I add some love.

Sound like a stretch?  See for yourself!

Parenting?  Add love.

Marriage?  Add love.

Faith?  Family?  Tribe?  Yes, yes, yes…more love.

Re-examining my faith?  Definitely needs more love.

And so on…

However, unlike salt, I have yet to see a “pot” where too much love ruined it.

Well, if you’ll excuse me, the kids are occupied for the moment, leaving me a few moments to sit and reflect.  Perfect time for a pot check.  No thanks on the waffles and spaghetti, but…can you please pass the salt?


A final word from the Dolly Mama.  It’s been a pleasure having Sandi come and share with us.  She’s exceptional.  If you’d like to see some of my favorite blog posts, take a look at these (and please follow me if you like what you read and don’t want to miss another post):

Not the Boss of Me

The Goetz Family Law

“I Just Had to Pee” and other Half-Truths (Fighting the Monster of Anxiety…A Day in the Life…Glimmer of Hope)

To Pick Up or Put Down (Every Parent’s Never-Ending Battle)

Unraveling and Re-raveling (Getting Rid of the Formula)

Shattered Shalom (restoring it in my home and in our world)

Redeeming Hypnopompia

Posted in Family, Guest, Motherhood

Leaving

Meet Susan Bernstein!  She is a wife to Eddie (married over 20 years), mom to three growing, young men (Brandon, Blake and Jordan) and a kind friend.  Susan is a dog-lover, a very organized stay-at-home mom (she jokes that she spends half her life at the grocery store), an amateur photographer and an aspiring writer!  Susan is loving, smart and brave.  THIS WILL BE A HUGE TREAT FOR YOU PARENTS OUT THERE (no matter what your age and stage)!  I hope you enjoy! 

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Guess Which One is Susan?

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”  (Denis Waitley)

I would suspect most people don’t cry when looking through a Bed, Bath & Beyond catalogue. Last night however, I found myself doing just that. As I studied the various organizational and space-saving items they sell to help one fit their belongings into a 14 x 14 foot dorm room, the tears just started flowing. I couldn’t believe that in one short month, I’d be packing my oldest son up for college. My mothering mind wondered if he’d have everything he needed, but deep down I wasn’t too worried about shower caddies or desk lamps. My concern was more for friends, support, and wisdom…things they didn’t sell in that catalogue.

My husband noticed my tears and came over to hug me.

“You ok?” he asked me for probably the millionth time this year.

“Yeah.”  I exhaled and sighed.

“It’s not that I’m upset about him leaving,” a fresh sob forming in my throat, “It’s just that he’s never coming back.” And the floodgates erupted once more.

It hits me at odd times that our family of five will never again permanently reside under the same roof.  I beamed proudly during his graduation ceremony without shedding a tear. However, I had to pull myself together in the aisle of the Hallmark store as I shopped for a card and gift just days prior.  I choked back the tears as I chose Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go, realizing he was about to begin a new phase of life, and it wouldn’t include us.

I knew in my heart the day would come.  I mean, isn’t this what we plan for as parents all along?  None of us have children and secretly hope that they’ll live with us when they are 40, right?  The fact that they leave means we actually did something right as a parent! We raised a child strong and independent enough to survive on his own! Isn’t that the whole point of this parenting thing? We spent untold hours teaching them the value of hard work, integrity, and the need for sunblock.  We had heart-to-hearts about taking the high road when betrayed by friends. We battled fears, real and imagined, late into the night, and steadied their shaky steps when they entered the unknown territory of a new school, team, or social circle.  All the pep talks, time outs, chore charts, and consequences have paved the way to this moment.  Leaving might actually be the Super Bowl event of parenthood, a time to fold our arms and smugly proclaim, “I rocked this parenting thing out of the park!”

Not exactly.  Yes, he’s a capable, intelligent and (somewhat) responsible young man.  He drives and makes decisions and can even vote or join the army if he wants to.  But is he ready?  I remember asking the same question when I left him at preschool a blink of an eye ago. He cried and cried for me, and I was sure I was doing him irreparable harm by leaving.  It’s funny, because my heart hurts in the same way now.  Except he isn’t crying anymore.  He’s on Facebook meeting incoming classmates and looking for a roommate. So, he probably is ready.  But am I?

Parenting seems to be the most selfless profession out there.  After you’ve done all you can to love, nurture and raise this tiny little person, you need to let them go.  As a child, my son believed everything I told him.  Now, he forms his own opinions, and he is influenced by a myriad of voices over which I have no control.  Our children aren’t mini-clones or younger versions of ourselves.  They actually have their own unique identity.  They will think and believe and do what they decide, and we are now on the sidelines, watching.  We silently cheer them on and pray constantly that they will have victory.   We are most definitely now on the bleachers watching their game of life, rather than next to them in the huddle.

As I prepare to release my son into the world, I will shop for all the things he needs for his new “home.”  I will buy fluffy towels and warm blankets, plenty of Command hooks and microwave popcorn.  He will leave packed up with all the essentials, including 18 years worth of unconditional love.   I will watch with wonder, excitement, and a fair amount of sadness, as he leaves us behind and begins his life.  He has a story to write, and he will write it his own way, on his own terms.  I will always be a part of that story, but just one part, the one loving him from afar and praying that God protect him and put good, loving people in his life.  And I suspect, for a few years at least, I’ll be the one helping to pack and organize him at Bed Bath and Beyond.


 

How great was that?!  I just want to thank Susan for sharing her heart with each of us!  If you are interested in reading other parenting blog posts by me, the Dolly Mama, click on the links below:

The Goetz Family Law

Ending Well (and a surprise beginning)

To Pick Up or Put Down (Every Parent’s Never-Ending Battle)

My “Top 10” Epic Mom Fails (With Help from My Kids)

 

**PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA…THE BUTTONS ARE BELOW**

PHOTO CREDS TO JASON AT WWW.AWAKENEDFILMS.COM

 

Posted in Anxiety, Family, Health, Motherhood

4.0 Prison

“Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.”  (Brene Brown)

Undefeated season.  Rachel’s middle school basketball team’s final record was 21-0.  The crowds came to every game and cheered wildly (I mean the parents and a few random middle schoolers came to some games, but yes, the cheers were wild). The team hugged and jumped up and down at the final buzzer of the championship game. A large trophy was given as the girls gathered center court . The parents beamed and frantic videos and photos were taken.  The team picture went in the newspaper with a long article praising the efforts of the coach.  Once in a lifetime.  Perfection.

Sarah’s freshman fall semester at college.  Worked extremely hard.  No crowds cheered.  Didn’t miss a class. No trophies were given. Read every assignment thoroughly. No photos were taken.  Studied until the wee hours.  No articles in the newspaper.  End result:  four A’s and one A-.  Imperfection.  Not 4.0.  3.95.  (Even this paragraph is shorter.)

I was part of the crowd who cheered and took pictures and congratulated the coach and  girls on a job well-done that winter of 2012.  I was a proud parent.  But underneath, I cringed before each game, knowing that the team was held captive by their continuing undefeated and perfect record.  As the season marched on, it became worse.  What would happen if they lost a game?  Would they fall apart?  What seemed amazing on the outside could have the potential of “messing” them up on the inside.  I continually asked myself the question:  is this actually a good thing?  Thankfully, Rachel was second-string, being a mere seventh grader and the pressure was not on her directly.  She had played in many games, but no one was counting on her skill set to accomplish this far-reaching, never-accomplished goal in the life of Central Middle School.  She could enjoy success without the pressure of failure.  But as I thought about those first-stringers, my heart went out to them, understanding the potential stress and perfection prison that just might be holding their hearts and minds captive.  What some would call a good thing might just not be so.  Call me crazy, but I secretly began to wish for at least one loss.  As you read, it didn’t happen and life marched on.  But at what cost?

I was also the comforting voice to an 18-year-old daughter as she received the news of her 3.95 right before Christmas of 2010.  If anyone deserved all A’s and a 4.0, this girl did.  By her nature, she poured effort upon effort into her studies, working when others were playing and getting up for early classes when others were sleeping in and skipping (yes, that was me in college).  But inside and actually pretty vocally and loudly, I cheered her release from 4.0 PRISON.  She could now move on throughout the rest of her college days without the underlying duress of perfection.   Might sound strange to you, but it was an amazing relief to us both.

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“4.0 PRISON” became a mantra in our house.  A-‘s and B+’s (and sometimes even D’s – this is true.  Ask Sarah.) were high-fived.  Game losses were a normal part of sports.  The “gift of imperfection,” as Brene Brown has coined it, was something we, with much trepidation, received with both confusion and gladness, fearing and embracing it at the same time our hearts were disappointed and frustrated with each loss or bad grade (some of my kids even failed tests and had to drop classes in college – imagine that).  I was on a mission that my kids understand that their worth is NOT based on their performance (a new concept in our family and particularly myself), that life is full of successes and failures and neither of those define them and that I love and accept them no matter what. I took very small and shaky steps to embrace and share this newly-discovered message with them (neither an easy task):

LIVING FOR A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS SLAVERY!  LIVING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS FREEDOM!

Fast-forward to last Sunday, one week before this Dolly Mama blog marks it’s one-year anniversary (cue balloons and congrats and trophies and loud cheers and pics).  We were spending the weekend as a family on our beloved Long Beach Island when I spoke out loud for all to hear, “Oh no!  I don’t have ANY views today.  I have had a view EVERY SINGLE DAY for this whole year and I’m only one week away from accomplishing my goal of exactly that.  Ugh.  I didn’t post today since we are away and that usually produces my needed views for the week.”  Remarks from audience:  “Oh mom, I can go on your site today.”  (Daughter) “That doesn’t count.” (Me) . “I will like one of your posts on Facebook and get it back up to the top.  Someone will click on it.” (Husband)   “It doesn’t work that way.”  (Me)  And the one that got me right in the heart:  “4.0 prison, Mom.”  (Son)  “Ugh.  You’re right.”  (Me)

I thought I would be suddenly freed from this “blog-view jailhouse,” I had made for myself but I continued to check the blog throughout the day and was hugely relieved to see a visit to my charity:water post late in the evening, along with the confessed views of some of my children (I made them promise none of them had viewed the charity:water post which they pinky swore they hadn’t).  4.0 prison is right.  Perfection.  I am stuck there again.  I have been checking all week and continue to have views every day.  I am writing this on Saturday morning and currently, have no views today so far.  Maybe I will be released.  Or maybe I will have an “undefeated season” after all.  It’s only 7:41 am.  The battle rages on inside of me.  I know that the “gift of imperfection” is what’s best for me.  God accepts and loves me regardless.  I am His one way or the other.  Yet I hang on to perfection like it’s my life’s blood.  I pray that I am released from this internal 4.0 prison no matter what happens today externally, whether on day 363 I have a view or not.  I need that strong and good and beautiful and true voice to shout loudly and cheer me on as I listen (albeit reluctantly) once again:

LIVING FOR A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS SLAVERY!  LIVING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS FREEDOM!

Let this freedom ring on in all of our hearts today!

(((UPDATE:  I got views today, Saturday.  I was kind of bummed in a weird way.  I guess my freedom will have to come from the inside out, not the outside in.  Imagine that!)))

Posted in Friendship, Grief

Grief – One Friend’s Journal Entry (For Steven)

“True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self.  The pain you experience from the death of the person you love calls you to a deeper knowledge of God’s love.  The God who lives in you can speak to the God in the other.  This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you.”  (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)

Grief.  Most of us try our very hardest to shy away, or even run away from it.  We question what to say when someone is grieving.  We are unsure how often or even if to “bring it up” once life supposedly goes “back to normal.”  We don’t know what to expect from ourselves or what the other might need from us.  Should we come close or give the other space?  It can be a very confusing time for everyone.  And truthfully, if I can speak candidly about myself,  I don’t like to be in pain or be with others in pain.  It’s just downright uncomfortable.

The past couple of years have been filled with family and friends who are grieving.   And like most things in my life, I am not an avoider.  I want to throw myself headlong into the process, engage in it, learn from it, deal with it.  After all, it’s fairly new to me and I’ve heard that it’s horrible, sacred, beautiful intimate, and gut-wrenching all at the same time.

I lost my own sister-in-law, Denise Maret, just under a year ago, after a year-and-a-half long battle with colon cancer.  My brother and 19-year-old niece are left to raise my nine- and ten-year-old nephew and niece, along with the help of their grandparents.

My friend lost her precious brother to suicide.  He has left behind a wife, three children and two grandchildren and her heart is broken.

Our friend and former babysitter lost both her dad and her husband to cancer during her two pregnancies and she is left to raise two young children alone.

I reconnected with someone on Facebook who lost her only son to teen suicide.  This was the second time she lost a child, the other, a daughter, in early infancy.

A friend from church battled kidney cancer for many years.  His wife faithfully cared for him, only to lose him.  He missed his step-daughter’s wedding by only three short months.

One of my best friends from high school lost both of her daughters, her only children, in a tragic car accident on Good Friday.  They were only 19 and 20 years old, absolutely stunning girls, one only 10 days away from her college graduation.

You have your own stories.  So much horror.  So much sadness.  Grief multiplied.

This is probably where you want to click off, log out, go find puppy videos on the internet.  Me too.  At times.  But not today.  Come with me.  Lean in.  Learn along side of me.  Today, we will catch just a glimpse inside the world of my friend, Annie, who lost her baby brother to suicide at just 51 years old.  I promise you that it’s not all horrible.

When she first shared this journal entry with me, my heart was filled with horror, joy, sorrow, connection, injustice and comfort.  Yes.  All of those things.   Loss feels raw and sad and terrible and wrong, but also sacred and beautiful and precious.  Entering in to the pain allows our hearts to be touched with a deeper knowing and beauty that we will miss if we click away.  I ask that you would read on.

Annie’s Journal Entry on 6/17/2017.  Four months later.

Steven is gone.  He is gone.  He is gone from me.  How can this be?  How can he be gone, just gone?  I don’t feel disconnected from him . . . but definitely disengaged.  He is not here to hope, or dream, or plan for a future together.  All those things are gone.

My connection to a future here that includes him is gone, and nothing will take its place.  It is an empty space…and it will stay empty.  It is a space that holds his absence and my missing him.  My own future will always hold this empty space.  I am suffering.  I will suffer, but I will not be destroyed or left desolate by an empty space.

This empty space where Steven is missing is a sacred place.  I would rather have this sacred, empty space than no space at all.  Our love and connection to each other created a space for our future together.  If there had been no love and connection, there would be no space – – and I am thankful for it, for our empty space . . . for my empty space.

I am thankful for all the other spaces, the other spaces that are full – – beautiful, cherished spaces filled to bursting with love and life and memories.  Memories of the two of us.  All the precious moments we had together and apart-but-connected.  All the treasured memories we had together with others.  Those spaces are filled up and will stay full . . .
nothing will change that.

I don’t have you with me now my Steve, my beloved Steven, but I am forever grateful for you – my one time little brother, my forever friend.