"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Before He Starts Kindergarten

Three years ago, I thought nothing would be more difficult, more heart-wrenching, more anxiety-inducing than sending my oldest son to kindergarten.

Three years ago, I didn't know that I'd be sending my second son to kindergarten in a skirt.

But here we are...one week out from the start of school and the butterflies have taken over my stomach.

I know, I know: He'll be fine.

I know he'll be fine because he's right where he needs to be. I know he'll be fine because he will always, always, have a safe place to land in our family and in our home. I know he'll be fine because he is who he is: confident, charming, bright, and full of life and excitement. To know Max is to love Max, and I'm not just saying that because I'm the one who loves him most of all. (Well, okay, Sam and I share the title.)

I also know, though, that I'm about to send my happy, little rainbow fish off to a great, big pond and I just have to trust that we have prepared him well enough for what he may face in these uncharted waters ahead. I don't want his confidence to falter. I don't want his sparkle to fade.

But, it occurs to me that it's not fair that I should have to prepare HIM for the world ahead. He's done nothing wrong in choosing to wear skirts, magenta leopard-print shoes, and sparkly fingernail polish. He's just living his life and it's a beautiful one.

So this message is not for him. This message is for the Others: the people he will meet who do not Get It, the people he will meet who judge, the people who hurt.

Here we go:

Just don't be a jerk.

Parents, I don't care how you feel about the fact that my boy wears a skirt...but I will care if you share your judgements and discriminations with your kids. Your kids aren't judging him. Kids are not born to point and laugh and make fun of other kids. Kids, generally speaking, are open. They learn that ugly, judgy behavior from you (and from older, more jaded kids).  So just don't teach them to be jerks. And if you catch them being jerks, address their behavior. Swiftly.

Your kids may, however, be curious. And that's okay. Max has fielded a lot of questions from other kids about his wardrobe. It typically goes something like this:

Other Kid: Are you a boy or a girl?
Max: A boy.
Other Kid: ...but you're wearing a skirt.
Max: Oh, yeah. I like to wear skirts.
Other Kid: Oh. Okay.

If your kids ask why that boy in their class is wearing a skirt, just say, "Everyone gets to choose which clothes they feel most comfortable in, and he feels comfortable in skirts." If that's too much for you, then you can simply say, "I don't know, but it shouldn't matter to you what other people are wearing. Who'd you play with at recess today?"

Keep your ears open and if you hear a negative word about a child, any child, teach your children that everyone is Different: different colors, different sizes, different strengths, different struggles, different beliefs, different families, different clothes.

Different, because The Same is boring.

It really is that simple.

***

And then, this is a letter to the people who do get it, who don't judge, and who love him just the way he is...

Thank you. Thank you for loving him. Thank you for asking me when you have questions or when you don't know how to answer the questions of your children. Thank you for accepting him and for protecting him and for welcoming him into your families and your hearts and your homes. Thank you...but also, you're welcome.

He's pretty great, isn't he?

Lesson Learned:

One week. Here we go. We can do this. Are you with us?

Monday, August 10, 2015

the story of my ink

I got my first tattoo when I was 19.

It's a moon and stars; a quarter-sized doodle I'd been drawing in the margins of my notebooks for years. It's on my right foot, just below my pinky toe. It was my Teenage-Rebellion Tattoo...or it would have been if my parents were opposed to self-expression. They're not. They loved it.

I went with my best friend. He got his first tattoo that day, too. It was a celtic cross in honor of his late mother. I think I thought that, having gotten inked together, we'd be friends forever.

He and I parted ways shortly after graduation and I haven't spoken to him in years.

Sometimes, good things come to an end...and it's okay.

***

I got my second tattoo when I was 25.

It's the Tibetan Buddhist symbol for eternity, a woven knot, on the far left side of my lower back.

It was my Marriage Tattoo: I went with my husband. We'd been married for less than a year. He got a tattoo that day, too. It's a symbol from the I Ching meaning stability and duration. I knew that we'd be together forever...even before we got inked together.

He and I...and our relationship...have changed a lot in the decade that followed that trip to the tattoo parlor. Time and life and kids will do that. But I still know that we'll be together forever.

Sometimes things change...while, somehow, staying the same.

***

I got my third tattoo yesterday. I am 35.

I went with my mom, which was fitting because this is my Motherhood Tattoo. My mom got an infinity symbol on her left wrist. It's her motherhood tattoo, too, because if you flip an infinity on it's side, it's an eight: she has eight kids (and has earned infinity Mommy Merit Badges in the process of raising all of us).

Mine is inside my right bicep...


When my babies were babies, I spent hours rocking, swaying, dancing, nursing, and praying them to sleep. They were, and kind of still are, terrible sleepers. As I rocked, swayed, danced, nursed, prayed, (and sometimes cried), I sang. 

In the middle of the night, deprived of sleep, and with my nerves frayed to their bitter ends, it was all I could do to summon, from the recesses of my subconscious, the words to three songs, which I whispered into the ears of my three babies over and over and over...and over...again. Three songs, but oh, they're the good ones. My favorites.

My babies may no longer be babies, and they may no longer need me to rock, sway, dance, and sing them to sleep. Hearing those songs, though, will always bring me right back to those dark, quiet, endless nights when my babies needed me, and only me. 

Now, every time I look down at the arm that cradled those sweet, stubborn, wide-awake babes, those songs will play in my heart.

Let It Be
Blackbird
Three Little Birds 

***
Lesson Learned:

Sometimes, forever is a good thing. Sometimes...forever is perfect.

Oh...and, for the record...due to a scheduling snafu, I'm now That Mom that brings her kids to a tattoo parlor. 


Whoops.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Transcript from the Backseat...or: The Talk

I had grand visions of being an open, honest, and straight-forward purveyor of information when it came time to have The Talk with my kids. In the past, I have been, in an age-appropriate way...we call body parts by their anatomical names, they know *how* babies are born, and they know that babies develop in a mother's uterus from an egg.  I have been open, I have been honest, and I have been straight-forward in answering their questions....I just haven't ever provided information beyond the requisite answers to their wondering minds. I hadn't ever needed to.

Until last week.

We had just spent the morning gazing upon the beauty and majesty of the Wild Horses of North Carolina. We had driven "up the beach" in hopes of finding them, but with the firm expectations that Wild Horses Are Nearly Impossible To Find. Imagine our delight when we spotted a dozen horses in the dunes overlooking the beach three minutes into our drive!

We were driving back to our beach house, excited over our Horse Discovery, happy, together...when Max's question opened the door to the most ineloquent conversation I've ever had with my children.

Max: So do some people never get married?

Me: Sure. Lots of people don't get married....for lots of different reasons. Getting married is a choice.

Max: Awww! I hope I get married!

Evan: Some people don't get married?! But don't they want CHILDREN?!

Me: Well, some people don't. Even some married people don't want to have children. And you don't need to get married to have children. Some people want to start their family even though they haven't found the person they want to marry...so they have a child.

Evan: But how...?

Max: Oh! I know! Maybe they can adopt a baby, like when two boys get married! One boy or one girl can adopt a baby all by themself!

Me: Well, yeah, but a man or a woman, not a boy or a girl...you have to be an adult who can take care of a baby to adopt a baby.

Me (continuing, unnecessarily...for some reason, which I will shortly regret): But you can become a parent without adopting, too. Like my friend Jess: she was ready to become a mommy so she chose to have a baby. She had her baby in her belly like I had each of you.

Evan: Waaaaaiittt...you can choose to have a baby? I thought a baby started to grow in a mommy's tummy when she was married and ready to start her family....

Me (recalling an answer I had provided several years ago, when a younger Evan watched my belly swell with his growing baby sister): Um, yes, of course a woman can choose whether or not to have a baby....

Evan: But HOW? HOW does the lady choose?!

Sam (glancing at me from the driver's seat, with a "You started it, you get to finish it" smile on his face)

Me: Well, you know that a baby grows from an egg that is already in the mommy's body.

Evan: Yeah, and I know it's not in her TUMMY. It's not like she swallows a chicken egg or something.

Me: Right. The egg starts to grow in her uterus. But it doesn't start to grow into a baby until it's...well, it's...fertilized.

Evan: FERTILIZED? Like with a fertilizer?! I don't think so...

He is seriously starting to think I'm full of shit.

And I am seriously starting to notice how closely Max is listening to this whole conversation. I want to be open and honest, but he's only five. I really don't need Max to be the Knower Of All Things at his Kindergarten snack table in a few weeks....though I'm sure his teacher would get a kick out of hearing all of this...

So I toe the line....like a hippopotamus in a tutu, I pretend to be graceful and elegant, but I know I look ridiculous...

Me: Well, no, not with a fertilizer...but with sperm. You need sperm and an egg. That's how a baby grows. And the mom gets to choose when to introduce the sperm to the egg. And that's that.

Evan: Sperm?! What? ...and Where? ...and How?

Sam (to me, gleefully): I'm going to stop for gas, good luck with this!

Me: thespermcomesfromthedaddyevenifthereisn'tadaddymarriedtothemommy WHO WANTS TO HELP DADDY PUMP THE GAS?!

[end scene]

Lesson Learned:
These conversations are always so much easier in my mind....

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

a brief Civil War tour: Washington D.C. and Manassas Battlefield

Evan has been interested in all things War lately. He wants to know about the soldiers, the battles, the weapons, the strategy. He wants to know it all and it all makes me sick.

Every time he tries to show me pictures of guns and tanks and military uniforms my stomach turns a bit and I send a silent prayer up to the Universe that this phase, too, shall pass. Can't we go back to dinosaurs? Let's remember how cool trucks were, once upon a time, please? Can we talk Creature Powers for one quick minute? Please don't ask me who "won" the Vietnam War. Please don't ask me to tell you about Adolf Hitler. Please don't tell me you can't wait until you're grown up so you can join the Marines. My pacifist heart, no--my Mama heart, quakes at the very thought.

But he's my kid. I'm his mom and, though he may be but 8 years old, I know that the fastest way to feed the fire of a child's interest in a subject is to try to change it.

So I listen. I take him to the library where he can find all the Eyewitness Books that have all the answers to his many questions. I even planned a trip to my parents' house near Washington, D.C., from which we could explore a few places of historical, wartime significance.

We took a brief Civil War tour. And I didn't hate it. And Evan didn't run away to join the Army...just yet.

Ford's Theatre; Washington D.C.

We began, it would seem, at the end. We spent a rainy Saturday at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., where Lincoln was assassinated just days after the end of the Civil War.


We learned about President Lincoln's time in office, we learned about the events that lead up to the War. We learned about the final days of war and when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, bringing four years of bloodshed and destruction to a close. We learned about the timeline of events of Abraham Lincoln's final day.


We went across the street to Petersen House, the boarding house where Lincoln succumbed to his injuries the day after the shooting. We saw the bed in which he died. We learned about John Wilkes Booth, his cohort of conspirators, and the manhunt that followed his horrific crime.


...and, when our minds were full and spinning, we breezed through the street-level gift shop, which contained the single best display of books Anywhere, Ever.

...and they're all about Lincoln

From Ford's Theatre, we went, naturally, to the Lincoln Memorial.




In what would be my favorite part of the trip, we turned to descend the staircase and found ourselves facing an iconic scene.


And standing in the footprints of an American icon. 
A simple statement, etched into the stone, forever marking this space, 
forever remembering these words.


My dad, our tour guide for the day, reminded us that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is right across from the Lincoln Memorial and, despite the rain shower that was quickly becoming a downpour, we couldn't miss the opportunity to see The Wall.


As we started down the walkway, I reminded Evan that each of the names etched into the wall is the name of an American soldier who died during the conflict.

"The letters are so small," he noticed, surprised to see it in person for the first time. "That's because they had to fit a lot of names on it." You're right, buddy. More than 58,000 names, in fact.


One name stood out.


That of my dad's cousin, a medic who was shot while attending to wounded soldiers. 
He died on his birthday.

It had been a long day and we were all sufficiently soaked, so we headed back to my parents' house, ready to rest up for another day of history.


Manassas Battlefield: The Battle of Bull Run

Sunday was a rare, cool and breezy July day outside our Nation's capital. It was sunny with some occasional cloud cover but without the threat of rain. It was the perfect day to walk a battlefield. But first, we explored the museum. I didn't take any pictures of the impressive display of uniforms, weapons, and artifacts, but it's worth factoring a half-hour or so into your trip to really take the time to look them over. 

Our favorite part of the museum, however, was this:


A 3-D topographical map of Manassas Junction, ca. 1861, the location of the first (and second) Battle of Bull Run. This map is equipped with LED lights that light up in two colors, representing the Union and Confederate armies. As a voice-over narration tells the story of the opposing armies approaching toward what would later become known as the Beginning of the Civil War, the lights on the map "move." It was amazing to see the armies meet, divide, retreat, re-group, and ultimately engage in battle. Evan was captivated. Max and Molly were actually paying pretty close attention as well.

From there, we met up with our tour guide, who led us on a 45-minute walking tour of the battlefield, retelling the story we heard in the museum, but on the actual grounds where thousands of soldiers would ultimately perish.




It's a fascinating story.

So fascinating, in fact, that after the 45-minute walking tour, Evan wanted to stay and watch the 45-minute film reenactment of the battle. So, for the third time in two hours, Evan listened to the Story of The Battle of Bull Run. It was a pretty graphic film, though...guns, cannons, blood, etc., so Molly and I only made it through about five minutes before I decided she didn't need to actually "see" the war. Max lasted another ten or so before he and my mom joined Molly and me outside to run around a bit.

From there, we concluded our Civil War tour at the nearby Stone House. Before the Civil War, this building served as a tavern. Because of its proximity to the battlefield, it was turned into a hospital during the war. It is also believed that prisoners of war were held here temporarily.



It has been well-preserved over the years, with many of the rooms even containing the original flooring. In one of the upstairs bedrooms, these initials can still be seen on one of the floorboards; the initials of a wounded Civil War soldier. How incredible is that?


Growing up just down the road from Manassas, I knew this house well. We called it the "Cannonball in the Wall House," because you can see actual cannonballs lodged into the stone. I'd never actually been inside, though, and I was anxious to hear the story of this house.


As we approached the house, I told the boys that we were going to see real cannonballs from a real Civil War battle in the stone.

Until my dad struck up a conversation about those cannonballs with the National Park Service guide at the house:

"Those? Oh, no, they're not really from battle. These walls are 18-inches thick! Any cannonballs that hit this fortress would have bounced right off."

"So....the cannonballs?"

"Yeah, they were put in by the new owners in the early 1900s. They saw an opportunity in this house and turned it into a for-profit Civil War tourist attraction. They lodged the cannonballs in there to give it some 'authenticity.' It was quite a successful stunt!"

Humpf.

I prefer my version of the story.

Lesson Learned:
I don't have to love war or conflict to find history fascinating. Unfortunately, Evan seemed to enjoy this tour just as much as I did. I had kind of secretly hoped that I'd take him to a boring old battlefield, make him listen to boring old men talk about boring old history and he'd get over this little phase of his. Not this trip...

But seriously, if you're ever in the D.C. area, it's worth the drive.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

a visit to Jamestown Settlement

We have Big Plans this summer: We are going to (finally!) check things off the To Do lists we've been adding to for the past few years. We are so lucky to live within driving distance of so many places that hold environmental, cultural, and historical significance...many of which we've never been to. This is the time to start exploring them: the kids are still young enough to go along with our summer plans instead of making their own, but they're old enough to have the stamina and the attention span to make these trips worth it...and relatively easy.

So we were off on our way to Get Out and Do The Things...what better place to start than right where our country began?


On Saturday, we visited Jamestown Settlement, America's first permanent colony, near Williamsburg, Virginia.

We entered the building, purchased our tickets, watched a quick introductory video, and were eager to get started. Before we could get to the heart of the tour, though, we passed this super cool temporary exhibit with British military uniforms from throughout history....from the time of the British colonists in America all the way up to present day warfare in Afghanistan. It was worth a stop.

He read every word on each sign.
Cutie with armor from James Fort 

The museum itself was amazing. We learned all about life in the early 1600's in America, Africa, and England and how the lives of these three groups of people converged in Virginia, in a way that would ultimately shape the foundations of our country. We learned about the men and boys who boarded the fleet of three ships (the Discovery, the Godspeed, and the Susan Constant) in England in late 1606. We learned of their harrowing 4+ month journey from England, to Africa, through the Caribbean, and finally to the coast of Virginia in April 1607.


And then, it was time to jump into history and explore life in the settlement for ourselves.

There were three areas to explore around the Settlement.  
We started at James Fort, home of the colonists:


Throughout the Settlement, people in period costume provided stories and information about life in Jamestown. The first man we met was a leather-worker. We watched as he prepared the leather and twine and he answered the (many) questions my kids had for him. (He also listened patiently as Evan and Max regaled him with facts and trivia that was, at best, tangentially related to what he was actually talking about. "You know, gunpowder was actually invented in Ancient China." "A baby fox is called a kit!")


We explored a church, shop, forge, and several residences... 


We played ring toss in the yard...


...and we played with cannons, too. As you do when in a Fort.


And if you're going to be playing with weapons, you'd better protect yourself.


We left the Fort and walked through the gardens, heading toward the pier where two of the ships were docked.

We climbed aboard (a replica of) the Susan Constant. Okay, disclaimer: I am NOT a boat person. But I am a Brave Mommy. I took a deep breath and walked the plank (fine, it was a ramp) up to the boat. It was tiny...especially considering that 71 people spent more than four months on board. 


The kids had fun exploring the cabins (and calling to the people below deck...)


...but I was feeling extremely claustrophobic. So I hurried on through the self-guided tour and made it back to the pier. Sam and the kids took a quick peek on board the Godspeed, but it was even smaller than the Susan Constant, so I took a pass. (Kinda Brave Mommy?)

From the dock we continued on our way through the third section of the Settlement: 
the Powhatan Village.

Evan studied Native Americans in school this year and Max is practically a Pocahontas expert, so I knew this area would be a hit. The best part of these recreations throughout the Settlement is how hands-on it all is.

The kids practiced scraping the deer hide...


...digging out a canoe...


...grinding corn meal...


...and getting up close and personal with the wall decor...


There were several yehakins to explore...


...each filled with pelts and shells and bones to feel...


...and nets, traps, pottery,  clothing, and jewelry to talk about...to inspire little minds to really imagine what life would have been like for Pocahontas or Chief Powhatan.

Like in the Fort, there were costumed employees giving demonstrations, asking and answering questions, and really bringing the scene to life. 

Resident Chef

Arrowhead Expert
It was a great day.
We had seen it all...had a picnic lunch...visited the Gift Shop...and all with three happy kids in tow.

But the day wasn't over yet.

Oh, no. We had timed our return trip home to coincide perfectly with Beach Traffic. We needed to find an alternate route to avoid the highway and...as luck would have it...there was one!

All we had to do was to get onto a ferry.

Yup. Another boat for Brave Mommy to "happily" climb aboard and "not-at-all-nervously" ride across the river.

It actually wasn't that bad. This was my view for most of the 20 minute ride...


...and this was it for about two of them...


We happened to pass the third boat from the Jamestown Settlement, the Discovery, as it was cruising the river.

Perfection.

Lesson Learned:


It was hot and sweaty and almost three hours of walking, but the kids had a blast. That's some pretty high praise for a day trip. Plus, I love the idea that we're taking advantage of this historically rich place we live...staying, playing, and learning local. What could be better?


Jamestown Settlement? CHECK! Next stop...I'll let you know!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why I Talked To My 8-year old About Charleston

Horror, sadness, and hopelessness gripped my heart, as it did to so many others, as I read the news this morning. Horror at the gruesome nature of this act of terror. Sadness for the victims and their families. Hopelessness for the state of our country...that this violence and bloodshed and hatred is becoming commonplace.

I was filled with these emotions...but not fear. In the wake of today's massacre, I am not afraid for my own safety, nor for the safety of my children. I am not so naive to think that nothing bad could ever happen to us; surely terrible things happen everyday. But I am white. I live in a comfortable, upper-middle class neighborhood. I am not afraid. But so many mothers' hearts were filled with fear this morning. Because they are black.

I thought of the conversations that were happening in the homes of these mothers this morning. Heartbroken mothers telling their children, again, that they have reason to fear...just because of the color of their skin. In 2015. In the United States of America. They have a reason to be afraid. They had a reason to talk to their young children about the nine lives that were taken, so tragically, so horrifically, last night.

And because they did, so did I.

Racial hatred and violence is not a "black America" issue. This is a "human being" issue. One that we have to acknowledge and address. My children, because they are white, do not know the fear that some of their classmates and neighbors know and, while I'm thankful for that, I'm not okay with that. I'm not okay with my children not knowing that racial violence in this country still exists. I'm not okay with my children thinking that We Have Overcome. We haven't. But someday, we can.

This morning, after I wiped my tears and busied my 3- and 5-year olds with a water table on the patio, I sat down next to my 8-year old.

"I want to tell you about something that happened in Charleston, South Carolina last night," I began. "It's a scary and sad story, so if you want me to stop, just tell me. If you have any questions, you can ask them whenever you need to."

I went on to tell him what happened...just the facts as I could piece them together from the various news accounts I'd read. He listened, making eye-contact the entire time, which is rare for him. He was really listening.

I continued, "I don't know why this young man did this horrible thing. I don't know what thoughts were going through his head, but I can tell you this: For some reason, his sick brain believed that he was better than the people in that church last night. He believed that their lives did not matter as much as his own life....he thought that the lives of black people do not matter. I want you to know that they do. ALL lives matter. It doesn't matter where you live or how much money you have. It doesn't matter if you believe in God or what language you speak. It doesn't matter what color your skin is. ALL lives matter, every life is important. And this sick, sad, hate-filled man took away nine Important Lives."

Because he continued to just look at me, wide-eyed, I went on...

"Listen: I'm sad today. But I'm not scared. I think, if I were African American, I might be scared this morning. And that's why I'm telling you this. It's not fair that some families have to be scared today just because they are black. I hope that, someday, that fear will go away."

He nodded. And looked down...deep in thought.

"Do you have any questions?"

He shook his head. I'm sure, in good time, as is his way, the questions will come. Regardless, the conversation will continue.

***

I talked to my 8-year old about the Charleston terror attack because:

--he recites lessons learned from school with words like "a long, long time ago...back in the olden days...black people and white people were treated differently. But Martin Luther King Jr. fixed all that when he gave his speeches." It wasn't that long ago, and little has been "fixed."

--I wanted him to see me cry for the nine people who were killed: men, women, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons.

--he's not too young to know that All Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter.

Lesson Learned:
Gun control. Mental health support. Love. Peace. Kindness. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

My First Time: A BlogU Recap

Over the past month or so I'd given myself the same morale-boosting pep talk dozens of times: "I know it's scary, but you can Do This! You can learn from experts! You can talk to people who are passionate about the same things you are! You can FIND YOUR TRIBE!"

I was preparing myself mentally and emotionally for my first Blog Conference. I was about to step out as a Blogger, to begin this new chapter in my life as something more than just Mommy. It was my debutante ball of sorts, but with less High Society and more Middle School Awkward.

I was scared to death.

Besides the worry over the talking and the listening and the learning and the networking keeping me up at night, I was also nervous to leave my babies. I'd never spent two nights away from my kids. I knew they'd be fine without me. I'd miss them more than they'd miss me, but still: It was going to be hard.

Then, after weeks of worry and nervous anticipation, it was the first weekend in June and I was there on a small, beautiful campus in Baltimore, ready to Get Schooled, ready to Take My Blog Beyond, ready to find my Tribe. Ready...or not.

I started the first afternoon by attending an informative and helpful workshop on Writing and Editing. Taught by experienced bloggers, writers, and editors, it was a crash course on when you may need to hire the services of a professional editor and what you can expect the process to be like.

I headed from there over to a class called Mastering Pinterest. It was exactly what it promised to be: A How-To course on the secrets and tricks to conquering the Pinterest algorithm to drive traffic to your site. Taught by the Queen of Pinterest herself (she must be, she's a Pinterest genius), the course provided real-life tips on making your posts pinnable and your pins searchable. It was great ready-to-apply information that could make a difference in your blog traffic immediately...if you're ready to Master Pinterest, that is. I have an account. I think I've pinned five things and they're all my own articles. I know that's not how you Do Pinterest, but I don't get Pinterest. I don't want to get it, yet I furiously scribbled notes during the class, believing that to be the Blogger I want to be, I'd better figure out the Pinterest Beast, and fast.

I left the session feeling completely overwhelmed. Add to that the fact that I still wasn't sure how, exactly, one goes about "finding her tribe," and the fact that I stayed up way too late listening to brilliant writers read the best of their best, and the fact that I woke up way too early for not having a 3-year old in my bed and two bigger boys whispering in my ear that "It's morning! Let's go downstairs, please, Mommy! Now, Mommy!" and I just lost my shit.

It was 5am on Saturday morning, with most of the weekend still stretched out before me, and I sat on my bed and cried. I called my husband: "I don't belong here! I don't want to Master Pinterest! I don't wanna find my tribe! I already have one and I miss you guys...I want to come home!" Sam reassured me that he and the kids were, somehow, managing to survive in my absence and that I should NOT come home. "You'll be glad you stayed once it's over," he said. "Just stick it out and don't try to be something you're not. If you don't want to Master Pinterest, you don't have to. Just try to have fun."

So I put my brave face back on and went to breakfast.

On Saturday, I learned a few things:

I don't have to Master Pinterest. I don't have to build a Facebook community or have a Fans of my Blog Page. I don't have to become a brand....but if and when I choose to, I'll know what to do and how to do it. All I have to be is authentic. That's it. That's enough. The women who organized the conference and who taught us what they've learned about Blogging as a Business, Making Money as a Writer, using Instagram, and Building Your Book from an idea to a hard copy you can hold in your hands, know exactly what they're talking about. These women are smart, driven, hard-working, and highly accomplished. They're inspirational and supportive. They're also funny as hell.

I learned that I don't need a huge tribe to feel supported. I need a small circle of real friends. (I found some!) I don't need a million page views a month or for an article to "go viral" to accomplish my goal. My goal is simply to write. I learned that, if I want to write for an audience, I need to write and write and write and to submit and submit and submit. I can do that. I want to do that. I don't have to do more than that...I don't have to BE more than that.

But I'm keeping my notes on Pinterest...just in case I change my mind. That shit was gold.

Lesson Learned:
I did it. I saw the boundaries of my comfort zone and I stepped over the line into uncharted territory. I defined my goals: I want to write. It's as simple as that.

One of my favorite lines of the weekend came not from a session but from the lunch table: My friend Jen said (and I'm paraphrasing here because I had put my notebook away), "If you're going to be a writer, you're going to have to hustle. Might as well hustle for something you're passionate about." I'm not passionate about becoming a brand. But I'm ready to hustle for my writing.

I'm glad I went. I'm glad I stayed. I'm glad Nickelodeon hosted the Saturday night party because, damn: I haven't danced to Sir Mix a Lot or The Bangles in way too long.

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