Dear Jessica,

There’s a letter somewhere in this house written to you on your 16th birthday. I remember where I was when I wrote it … in our last house, before any renovations, at the desk by the back door. In pink pen, I poured my heart out on the paper when you were … seven? I sealed the letter, googled the year you would turn 16 and labeled the envelope.

I’ve seen it a few times since then, and I know I still have it, but just in case I can’t find it in time:

Jessica,

God, I love you. You are effervescent. We have come a long way since you were seven. That was a tough year (and most years before that, too). I hadn’t been able to go through your childhood without, also, going through mine. And WOW. That was a doozy – but you have such a different life. Oh my God, you have such a different life.

It dawned on me recently that you would be 16 and driving on your own so all of a sudden I needed to make sure you knew EVERYTHING about driving. You should drive all the time, I should maybe just double check to make sure you’ll be safe … and while we were on the road I had this desire to just download everything to you.

Could I just give you all my experiences? All my heart ache? Could I give you my heartbreak so you never have to have it? Could I give you my biggest disappointments, my regrets? Could I let you have my brokenness so you could stay in tact? Could I just, please, this one time, give you everything I have so far … so you could go farther than I have, before I have?

And I can’t. It’s really hard. One day, when your first child is coming of age, you might have these same feelings. Or not … You might be way ahead of us, and I can’t wait to see it. You’ll be amazing. Because you conquer everything you put your mind to. Jessica, you are a stand alone in this world. You are going to be OK. You are amazing.

You doubt yourself and you hold yourself back, but I’m here to tell you … you have nothing to fear. You are wild and free and I can’t wait to see what you do with this one and precious life.

You recently asked me “what were you like when you were my age” in the middle of Menards and I started crying. You haven’t been interested in my life (as it relates to your age) for a long time. I’ve been waiting for you to ask. I even came to the conclusion that maybe you never would, and I was finally ok with those memories and my decisions dying with me.

I have journals full of my life, and I’ve been mostly ok with you someday reading them. Until recently. All of a sudden I don’t want a written memory of my life, struggles, pains and wishes left behind without me to explain. I don’t want you, your dad or your brother, to wade through my written words worried that I wasn’t here for you.

I am. I always will be. I always have been.

But my story is storied. It is infected with pain and sorrow. A tale to overcome. And I have overcome. I am so proud of where I’ve come from – because of where I began.

When you do ask: and I do answer … it is always crystal clear to me how different you are from me. And also, and also, how similar. How much you want to know, how you’ve excavating your soul. And I’m here for it. I want to help you, assist you, be here for you and mostly I just have to LET you.

Coming of age is largely comprised of figuring it out for yourself. Which, ok. Can we talk about this? Because I want you to be able to download all my experiences for you so you don’t have to repeat them or learn on your own.

And I know it isn’t possible. I can just be here for when you’re ready. I’m ready, Jessica. I’ve been ready since we saw 2 pink lines on a pregnancy test and it was go time.

I’m here for you. I will be the shield you don’t know how to yield. I am here for you. We’ve come so far, such a long way, and that is mostly what that letter from almost 10 years ago says: I love you, look where we’ve been together and … I think we’ve come so far since then.

Jessica Ranae, you are poetry in motion. You are everybody’s wishes come true. You are the reason I believe in God. That’s a tall order, and no longer something I cast on your mantle. But you are the gift of my life. The forgiveness I believed in. The very reason I was able to break away from destruction and give myself a chance. You held so much promise for me, and without knowing it – you have delivered 10 fold.

It’s not your job, any longer, to complete me. It is mine. But you wrote the first sentence and I am so thankful I let you.

God, I love you.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

If you remember nothing else of me: please remember this in thick black ink: I LOVE YOU.

But in case you need a few reminders: I also love to dance, and be silly with you. I love the way you whine, even though it is maddening. I love the noises you make of life, you are here for it and I feel every single whine you wince.

I know the tremor you have of letting other people in, I understand the pain of personal reliability. I know the cost of loving people, and I see you calculating the effort. Here’s a short-cut: It is always worth it.

There isn’t a wasted effort in love. Time doesn’t matter when you are caring for someone. It just doesn’t. It could be 1 week, 2 years, or a decade. You will not, ever, waste your love. So, Jessica, be free here. Love wildly and without ambition. You will never regret walking someone home.

Even if, and especially when, you are not their home. We are not here to fix people or patch them back together. We’re here to find ourselves in God’s green earth. When we overlap, you go ahead and relish that. For as long or as little it lasts. You keep those moments close, and protect your heart … but don’t be too precious with it.

Your virtue is not your hymen. I will repeat: your virtue is NOT your hymen. You do not have to preserve your virginity like lemons that have soured. Jessica, you alone will decide when the expiration date has arrived, and you alone are in charge of caring for that special moment.

If it’s stolen from you: shame on them. SHAME. It is your’s and your’s alone to spend when and where you want. God is concerned with where we lay our heads at night but He has never made it His business to condemn us for it. Do Not Believe Otherwise.

And mostly, Jessica, I’m always here. For as long as I’m here … you cannot surprise me. My love for you extends every circumstance. I am here for you. I am for you.

You are good. You are special. You are so smart. You are love. You, Jessica, are just beginning. And I can’t wait to see what’s next.

I love you, with all of my being, I love you,

Mom.

Celebrate Everything.

What do you do when your son announces in the middle of Panera Bread that he has started puberty and could we please have a party about it already?

Well, I have no idea really. But what I did was bake a cake because my one rule is to celebrate everything. If my kids are in to it, so am I. Puberty? Let’s celebrate the crap out of that one.

Here’s where we know more than he does: he has not started puberty. But he is convinced that this rite of passage is upon him and we are on Team Him, so it’s a go. We’ve had “the talk” with both of our kids and we have a number of different age appropriate books scattered throughout our library for them to pick up as they wish. Our son is very scientific about all the things and has informed us that puberty is a 2 year stage, of which he is smack dab in the middle of. According to his research. Which I’m sure is vast.

Here’s the deal, guys, ok? This part of parenting (as with all of parenting) is generally a very personal thing. Between you and your tribe, whoever has a voice in your kids life. Sometimes I call on my kids’ allies to help when I know I’m not able to have the kind of conversation or transparency I’d like with them, I rally my troops and the people they feel the most comfortable with – outside of me and their dad. Not just with sex and bodies and safety and love. But with anything really. Friends, siblings, family relationships, homework, responsibility, etc etc etc.

I was the kid who was most excited to turn 16 not because of all the driving or freedom (that part terrified me, actually) but because I would FINALLY be able to buckle my seat belt with my left hand. I am not even shitting you a little bit. I took photos of my first zit, first hickey, and have embarrassing momentos from my own rite of passages in life. No shame, guys. None. I geeked out about the little stuff.

So I really understand where my son is coming from. And God help me, we’re going to dance around like fools for fake puberty and eat banana walnut cake together and wear silly glasses because the look on his face when he realized what was going down? He will never forget that feeling of being seen. And I’ll never forget being there to witness it.

Banana Walnut Cake

Puberty Party!

Puberty Party!

Puberty Party!

The best

This sort of thing embarrasses the life out of our daughter, but she showed up for her brother and that’s what mattered. We had extensive conversations about if he was going to share this with friends, how and what would be appropriate to say. Because I promise, if it happens at home – it’s news on the playground. See mom naked? TELL YOUR FRIENDS. Dad moons the kids after dinner? DEMONSTRATE TO THE CLASS! Mention that we’re possibly thinking of maybe doing something? IT IS FACT AND THE WORLD WILL KNOW.

All true stories, friends. All true.

He wouldn’t let me bake a penis cake. I asked. (All those bachelorette parties would finally pay off) So I found a phallic inspire caked (Banana Walnut) and we donned hairy glasses to ring in the beginning of something great, we also decorated with some fancy table cloth to make everything look great for the occasion. Or the almost beginning. Either way: it was a good day.

Celebrate Everything.

PS: To his future spouse; You better believe this is making a cameo at your wedding. We have loved the intense dickens out of this boy and are not ever going to stop celebrating his everything. My hope for you is that you delight in his curiosity for life, his passion for living as much as he does and you both carry the flame forward, together. I’ll be there with all the cake, no matter the theme or cause for celebration. I’m in.

Don’t look down

Perspective

Stick with me here for a minute, per usual, I have a round about way to get to the point. I used to spend an awful lot of time driving towards the lake. Specifically a small outlet in a nearby town where the parking spaces were few, the traffic slow, and the view unending.

It’s been a while since I made this pilgrimage … for a number of reasons. I haven’t really had time with this project house we’ve been working on, and the emotional space this ride used to take up was otherwise occupied by my anxious worries about the end result. The end result?

Of so many things.

When is this house going to be done? When is it going to sell? Is it going to sell? What did we do wrong? Why hasn’t any of this worked out? Did we make the right decisions? Should we have seen this coming? Were there red flags that I ignored? Is this ever going to be something that’s easy for me? Will this always be a fight? Why do I feel so unsupported? Where did my people go? What’s going on? Why can’t I stop the roller coaster? Are my kids ok? What the hell were we thinking? Will they ever make new friends? Did we just cement their future in therapy? Why is marriage still so hard? Aren’t we supposed to be good at this by now? Why do I resent my husbands job so much? Why is my family such a basket case? When does any of this workout for me? Have I just gone through life bulldozing my way towards something better without waiting for whats right?

So, as you can see, super busy.

The house is finally done and is listed for sale. Now we wait, while also continuing to work on things as the weather improves.

There’s so much more going on in the background of some of these decisions – I’ve thought more than once that we never really know whats going on behind the curtain.

Anyway, enough about the house. Back to the beach.

In addition to my mental gymnastics that were keeping me busy I’ve been having some pretty interesting conversations with God. And some completely crap-tastic dreams every night. Weird stuff, heavy stuff, icky stuff. Not generally “sleep good” lullabies – more “you’re trapped in a room and here’s your clue to get out, clock is ticking, enemy is after you: GO” adrenaline dump at midnight type stuff. I wake up weeping most nights.

Right? So – we’re all on the same page. Things are stressful. Overwhelming. And yet … I continue to hear from God that I can trust him. That he will not surprise me. That I haven’t heard him wrong.

You need that information for the next part:

Early this week on my way home from bringing my kids to and from school, somewhere on the rural back roads of Holland Township, this conviction just hits me;

I don’t trust him. No two ways about it, when I get an idea I don’t wait, I go. Not always without his blessing, but definitely always before the prompting. I am impatient. And in control. I have a hard time accepting blessings (tangible ones from friends or family, as well as those lofty things we all pray or hope for) because I am so capable on my own. Not necessarily from a “I’m awesome” stand point, more from a “well, I can afford to buy my own meal or we aren’t the ones who NEED that gift/blessing/or pardon.”

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I drive up to the beach this morning, park and get out. I walk to the steps and relish in how mild the weather is today. I’m not too cold near the water, it smells amazing, and the ice is moving. I think to myself, why have I waited so long to come back here?

I get to the bottom step, before another set of stairs that takes you right down to the beach, and I stop. The sun is just peaking through some clouds, it’s kind of moody – my favorite. I take my phone out for a few photos:

Perspective

Perspective

And then I walk down towards the beach, and stop again. I take another photo:

Perspective

And I immediately notice how I can no longer see beyond the ice formation towards the horizon. My view is blocked by what’s in front of me. I know it’s there, because I was just a few steps higher and saw it. But coming down to the beach, towards the water, everything changed. Somehow now I was landlocked. The open and vast water in front of me now a small shore towards something that felt much smaller, even though it’s still the same big lake I know exists.

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Here’s how this all came together for me; this morning I had a very tangible example of how moving just slightly in any direction can change the view in front of us drastically. How perspective is more a tool than an idea.

When I have a broad view (say, things are going well and my quiet time is full of big picture promises and hope and encouragement) I can see beyond the peaks in front of me. Beyond the road blocks, the hills, the possible mountains. I can see the horizon – still endless – but visible.

But when I walk towards those peaks, hills, mountains and the view changes from being able to see where I’m going to where I am right now: shit can really hit the fan.

I stop trusting that beyond this little bump in my journey there is still a beautiful horizon. I stop believing I’m on the right track, I start looking at my feet and my ability as the only tools to get me to the other side when I’ve forgotten the best part:

feet

The sky? She never disappears. Those beautiful clouds and the sun shining through them – they don’t connect to the endless horizon but they meet the mountain of ice instead.

Boulder, Co Day 6

I’ve been looking at the wrong thing. Trusting that the end is the goal and if the goal is out of reach, I must be doing it wrong. So I should try harder, do better, get more resourceful, get busier, work more … when I could, maybe, just keep going instead.

The hills are never that big, after all.

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Literally none of this changes my circumstances, it changes my perspective. My attitude. It calms my fears and washes away the anxiety. It brings my focus from a micro to a macro and I can finally breathe knowing we aren’t stuck here. Not even ‘we’, but me. Among my chief fears in life are: being forgotten, never being loved, and being stuck.

Not one of those fears is actually true. I just wondered if I was having such a hard time in this place, maybe one or two of you were, too. I would say to you: You’re not alone, you are loved, and don’t look down.

Two-thousand-and-who?

Before there were babies on the scene, I started hard-coding a weblog back in the day because I was mysterious like that, liked to write, thought I had interesting things to say, and liked a boy who could code.

The entry I can remember the most was about plastic water bottles and pondering the tough questions about whether or not water could actually “go bad”. Such originality. What educated talking points.

It is physically impossible to roll my eyes in the back of my head as far as I would like to for the effect needed of being entirely embarrassed and over myself for that period of my life. Which I documented. Out loud. On the internet.

There was a small break from my weblog days of yore to the infancy of this here website – what started as a “bump watch” for family became what we know today as jodimichelle.com.

That bump, if we can remember that far back, is about to turn thirteen.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. THIRTEEN.

The archives throughout the years are still here, albeit maybe a tad difficult to search. But they’re here, nonetheless. The teeny baby parent I started out as at the bright and shiny age of 21 is a bubble gum version full of raw pain, neglect, and heartbreak. And again, all of which I documented. Out loud. On the internet.

In the middle of it all, I was asked over and over again why I was so brave with my pain. Why was I so vulnerable? And over and over again I answered, “What else am I supposed to be?” That was real, then. That was my life. Torn and broken and bright and beautiful and full of life and longing and grief.

Now my little lady is about to come out to the world. She’s going to show up and color outside the lines and dance with abandon and wear her heart on her sleeve and cry and weep and laugh and achieve. God, she’s magnificent. She wants to sit at the table, THIS table, and start partaking. She’s ready to let the world in.

I’ve stopped sharing about my kids unless I have their permission. Something I wish I had thought of sooner. But here we are with chronicled little miracles throughout her life in writing. And her mother, fumbling through the task of growing up while raising her at the same time. It’s all there, here. For whoever wants to put their nose up to the glass of our little window and peer inside. I’ve let strangers in to my home. And, too late, I’ve discovered at what cost.

Not regret, necessarily. But she’s about to start controlling the scope of what she shares of her life. And it will all be public. When I was 13 and loved dancing in the mirror in my bedroom to Shania Twain – I did not have a public record of the boots I wore, my belly button, or the weird dance moves I thought were legit. I couldn’t stop taking photos of myself or friends, with FILM in a camera, but thank you Jesus, that there isn’t an Instagram history of my middle school years. The truth or dare sleepovers we had, the pranks we pulled, the notes I wrote.

Heaven have mercy, there is no lasting evidence of the stupid things I did or notes I penned.

Social media is a complex game these days and it’s all too important to her age group. I’ve been delighted that she doesn’t even care yet. But she will, she’s starting to. There’s a rage monster inside of me when it comes to my kids. And the fever builds to blinding when I watch them try to be brave in the face of rejection from peers. They bury it, don’t let it show. The minute someone shames them or casts them aside or mistreats them – I have violent flashbacks to the first time they took a breath, laying on my chest; it cuts to breastfeeding them in the middle of the night and hearing them giggle for the first time. Their first word, first steps … firsts. It’s a movie in my head and they’re the stars. One bright light after the next: moment after moment after moment. Building to the very moment where instead of stepping in, I have to step aside.

Thirteen. Not always, but as it happens for us, this is the year she gets the reigns. And it’s beautiful and wonderful and I wish I could tell you all about it. But it’s her turn. This is her story.

And what a lovely story it’s been.

Happy Birthday, baby girl.

Me pregnant with Jessica

I’m kind of obsessed with you 🙂

Love,
Mom

How I’m working through the active fear and self-doubt of writing a book.

Morning and hello!

I’ve been doing oh-so-much thinking lately, while I’m editing and writing and reorganizing this mass of work I’ve been collecting it’s time to say here that … I think it’s a book. It is. But I think I’m going to do something with it. I am. But. It’s scarier than I thought it was going to be.

I printed the entire body of work this week and just finished reading it through for the first time. My throat hurts, I don’t usually talk out-loud that much apparently, but it feels like the first mile of a run is finally behind me and now I can set pace and just keep going.

With each essay I’m holding it up to a few standards and questions to determine whether or not there’s something constructive in it, if it meets the ultimate goal or message of the entire collected work, and finally, if it’s something I want my kids to know, learn, or have as a record of me.

That last one will cut through so much bullshit.

Writing here for the last 17 years or so has been a beautiful exercise in learning to use my voice, and while I get that publishing words on the internet is sort of like putting them “out there” forever … something feels so much less permanent about these words. I write, shooting from the hip, quickly edit, and then publish. Rarely do I rework something I’ve already put out there.  But the idea of having bound pages with my words to live in a physical place for ever and ever? I mean, that scares the living hell out of me. I don’t know how paper writers for hire do it day in and day out. It really spooks me to write for a physical book.

So. That means I just have to keep doing it. Being scared, I’ve learned, isn’t the emotion that leads to safety. It’s not the response my body needs to listen to when I’m on the cusp of making something happen. Being scared is more like the “here we go” feeling of heading off into the great big yonder. It’s the walking man signal of crossing the street, not the flashing hand. Fear, in this sense, isn’t the ‘stop and wait’, it’s the ‘time to go!’

In addition to that, I’ve tried to find the appropriate box I might fit in. You know the ones, the ideas and dreams we have: where do they fit, what size do they need to be to become the most successful commercial version so I can claim success by standards not set by me, but for me. And not in my best interest, but in the interest of commerce.

Which, sounds about as exciting as reading spread sheets. Ok, LISTEN! Here’s what I’m getting at: It’s all uncomfortable. To say the ideas or dreams out-loud, which moves to (hopefully) actually making work of them, which moves to the undeniably hard work of pushing through the fear and self doubt, which leads to the unknown.

The question is: would I do this if no one cared? Would I write books to leave for my children so they had a record of the kind of legacy I wanted for them? Would I tell them everything, anyway?

And that answer is always, without a doubt, absolutely.