Life is like JENGA

Ever notice that?

It’s almost pitiful when you’re watching a group of kids play a board game and your thoughts go to ,”Hey, that’s just like life.”jenga-1

Jenga. What’s the goal?

Tactically and gently poke and push out blocks that have constructed a tower until it falls. Why? Because it’s FUN! Poke and push out pieces of the tower until your friend loses. What could be better than that?

Life. What’s the goal?

I’m going to use my life for this scenario, because it’s the one I walk in every day, and I’d be speculating to impose anyone else’s analogy here. Feel free to consider how this applies to your life afterward though, because truth be told, we ALL have Jenga moments.

Here we go:

The Jenga tower, with all its blocks in perfect form, is your life (or at least what people see on Facebook), what you’ve built.It fits together perfectly, one row bolstering the next, until you have a (seemingly) magnificent-looking structure.

Maybe it looks like a cohesive fun marriage, a sprawling house, taking the children to Disney, a group of friends and couples to spend time with, and your designer Doodle dog. “Ahhhhh,”we say, “Look at that! That is an accomplishment.”

As your opponents do in the game, so does The Great Finger of Fate. Undoubtedly, when we have almost finished looking longingly at our magnificent structure, the Fate Finger (I just know it’s a middle one) swoops in and pokes out just enough blocks for your eyebrows to start twitching.

For example, all four of my kids starting different schools the same year. One in high school, one in middle school, one in elementary school, and one in preschool. When that happens, your ex-husband and kids look like this…206725_1029468862098_7360_n

Doesn’t that look like FUN? Don’t they look happy?

I am taking that photo because I have about 3 hairs left in my pony tail, I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, and I’m still drinking my first cup of coffee—that I’ve already re-heated THREE times.

Oh, and the one who is starting preschool? I’m her teacher (one of the teachers, the assistant one). Yes, that’d be my first year back to work after TWELVE years of raising those little buggers. So, now that they all look beautiful to carry on their day and head off to work, I HAVE TO GET READY TO GO TO WORK!  Eyebrows, starting to twitch.

My tower still looks OK though. The Great Finger of Fate has poked us into a new era at Barr Inc., but through the twitching I can see that we are still solid. Game still on.

As the game would have it though, your opponent is never sedentary in mind or body. Their mind is watching for their next opportunity to push just the right block out. When they spy it, they push on it gingerly and with great consternation. A few turns later, your magnificent structure looks more like a 3-D puzzle of Swiss cheese than a solid mass of blocks.

The Great (middle) Finger of Fate has made a Swiss cheese puzzle of my life on several occasions.

High Schooler? Well, she’s too pretty (AND smart, and funny, and stubborn, and now….rebellious). All the girls hate her because all the boys like her. Friends have made up rumors about her and left her out as the “competition” is too much. She’s her mother’s kid at that point. She’s pissed and she’s done. With everyone. Including me.

The Middle Schooler? Well, when it’s pointed out to me that he “hasn’t developed scholarly study habits,” my first reaction is, Did you read his paperwork? He has inattentive type ADD. We went through hell last year to get all that paperwork, only to hear he doesn’t have scholarly study habits! Go check his locker!! I’ll bet alllllll the homework that you’re looking for is there. He…just…forgets…to…hand…it…in.

Elementary Schooler? She cries big, quiet tears at her desk sometimes because math is hard, she only wants to talk about 101 Dalmatians (which her classmates have moved beyond), and she has some impulsive moments of temper which she should have outgrown by now. She has so many big thoughts, but not enough words to get them out. She eats lunch by herself, and she is SO BEAUTIFUL that she melts my heart every time I tell her, “It will take you longer to find your friends, but you will find them. And they will be true friends.” My heart melts because I’m her mother, and she BELIEVES ME. 

My Preschooler? She goes to school with mom every day. Mom gets a really up close and personal look at one of the funniest kids ever — who is having a lot of difficulty remembering the alphabet. Even the letters we practice. She has to share her mom every day with 20 other little people, and she’s GREAT at it. But she knows, even at 3 and 4, that her friends know things she doesn’t quite remember yet.img_1211

Those are some Swiss cheese holes in the Jenga  tower. Eyebrows are twitching and the worry lines are beginning to make themselves known! I still got it though! Game still on! I can just pedal faster and swim harder.

That Great Finger of Fate is an A-hole though. While you might be able to walk away from the board game with a laugh, by the time there are enough holes in your life for the tower to fall, no one is laughing.

Just like Jenga, we keep playing to see how far we will get, how many skilled moves we can make, how many more chances we will have before there are just too many holes and the whole thing falls over. And it ALWAYS falls over.

Sometimes the damage is minimal, and the sides can be shored up with a “Banana Splits for Dinner” party and a documentary about the idiot who walked on a wire between the World Trade Center towers, while curled up in my bed with my Corporation. I know my tower is compromised, but we are holding on to each other. There is still the illusion of victory. After all, that magnificent structure I stood back and admired and took years to build still looked successful and viable (at least on Facebook).

Other times, The Great Finger of Fate has become a Fist of Fate that has opened up its can of “whoop ass.” An entire section of your Jenga tower gets punched with the swiftness of a falcon carrying off your Chihuahua.

That looks like cashing in your 401K, a second mortgage, or bankruptcy. Those holes are big enough for the spectators in your life to see and, just like the game, spectators  yell,”AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!! OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod! What are you going to dooooooooooooo?”(And yes, they drag out the word “do” just like that).

One thing I have recognized about myself is that I do not possess the ability to mask my thoughts with my facial expression. When I imagine my appearance as those spectators are expressing concern, I envision my “puzzled and annoyed” look. The thoughts my face are not masking? “Ummm, DUH! Thank you for alerting me with your screams. And DUH — again! You’ve been watching this thing play out for a while now and I’VE BEEN WORKIN’ ON IT! SHEESH!!”

Finally, the collapse. No matter if it’s gradual or sudden, it always feels like Thor was your Jenga partner this whole time, and he swung his hammer down HARD! (I just got a little happy when I wrote that, because if that were true, at the very least I got to watch Thor’s biceps in action while he ruined my tower.)

Those holes are heartache. They that look like estrangement from family, divorce, rumors that circulate through a small town (or a small school), moving, and even leaving a job for a new one.

Jenga? The tower is now at ground level. Rubble.

Life? That magnificent tower was just a passing oasis in the desert. Try to look for it a second time, and all you see is sand and what used to be.

In my moment of looking back for that oasis and realizing that I will never see it again, I remember having an epiphany. I SEE all the rubble. I SEE the big mess. I also see my foundation hasn’t budged!

Jenga and life have the same ending. The foundation remains when that big tower cascades to the floor.

That’s where your real strength comes from….It’s at the bottom. At your foundation. You can sit in the rubble, or you can rise.

Those people you cuddled with for ice cream sundaes and documentaries and drove to counseling four times a week at the expense of your job? That you advocated and fought for? That you drove for hours in your taxi cab/mini van when you were legally too tired to drive but you did it anyway? HOLY CRAP!! THEY LOOK OK! Maybe a little worn around the edges, but DAMN! I laid an awesome foundation. Those kids? My corporation? They were already walking forward! We were already rebuilding. I just needed to jackhammer that rubble and start over.

Rebuild that Jenga tower of life people!! That Great Finger, Fist, or Hammer of Fate will always put holes in it, and in Jenga that’s fun.

In REAL life, re-building is a gift. It won’t ever look the same, but there will be parts of it that are more beautiful than before. That’s the truth!



The Escape Hatch

The Escape Hatch.

At least once a week, I look for it. The way to get out and never have to come back. Yep, I mean to my life.  As glorious as some moments in each day can be, there are those that beat me to my core.

Here is my typical week:

  • I cannot please enough people, be smart enough at work, participate in school events, go through the mail, or pick up the freakin’ house.
  • I forget it’s trash day — for the fourth week in a row.
  • My garage door is frozen shut, with my car inside.
  • I forgot to submit half my time sheet, so I only got half my pay.
  • My #4 child has to be taken to the Doctor for the second time in three days because she REALLY DOES have strep throat and they forgot to send the culture in the first time you were there….but wait, did you know Christmas is tomorrow?!?!!?

This is when I start to open the Escape Hatch. The severity of daily events determines just how wide the opening needs to be.img_1733

For example, a day when I unknowingly slam my winter scarf in the car door and walk away JUST in time to clothesline a passing pedestrian followed by serving pancakes for the third night in a row (because it’s Tuesday and payday isn’t until Friday)? That opens up an Escape Hatch that looks ME, in my car, alone, driving up I-95 until I hit Canada.

A day that begins on a 9-degree morning when there is no water in my house? If the subsequent events include the “well guy” having to come on an emergency call to dig up your front yard with a backhoe because….the pump down in the well isn’t low enough (WTH?), telling your kids to “wait to pee at school”, “use the bottle of water to brush your teeth”, and a bill for $3,200?

Well, that day opens an Escape Hatch that is as large as a withdrawal from the ATM (in Escape Hatch mode there is actually money in my bank account) and a bus ticket (so no one can trace where I’ve gone) to as far West as it will take me. Then I’ll be a waitress and live at the Skylark Motel (doesn’t every town  have one of those?), and no one will know who I am.

When I am in Escape Hatch mode, that thought is comforting. No one knows who I am. I have no responsibilities to other people, therefore I’m not letting anybody down. And I don’t have to make any more pancakes….

Maybe that’s not your Escape Hatch. Maybe yours looks like a “safe cheat.” You know, the kind where you don’t get caught? Or perhaps three hot fudge sundaes and a movie binge? Mark Wahlberg with his shirt off? Making a powerful dent in a bottle of Patron? Or maybe just a very intense shopping spree.

Maybe your Escape Hatch looks like that fleeting moment when you think, Everyone would be okay if I….just….drove….into….this….tree.

Have you been there? Right there? Some of you have, and it’s a seriously rough spot to sit in.

Therein lies the drawback of the Escape Hatch. WHY? Because, it’s the most un-real place your brain will ever go.

It’s a lie.

Safe cheat? Ummm, there isn’t one. Three hot fudge sundaes and a movie binge? That equals sick to your stomach and —if you’re over 40, laying there in a bloated state from too much dairy.  Mark Wahlberg without his shirt on? Well, it depends on the movie….but even Marky Mark is getting old, my friends. A bottle of Patron? YUM, vomit, and then two weeks of out of body experiences while you detox. Shopping spree? A closet full of junk, with the tags still on them, because (let’s be honest) if you’ve got that problem, you’re not shopping because you NEED the items you bought.

Here’s what is really happening when your brain opens the Escape Hatch. It is telling you, “I need to stop! Too much is happening in here!”  In your frustrated, overloaded brain, it sounds like that high-pitched whistle that only dogs can hear.

Fact: Your brain IS telling you to stop. Your brain is creating “escapes” so that subconsciously it can regulate. I know this is true, because I live this.

Truth: I broke. For hours, one night, in the dark. I cried like I never knew I could cry and I couldn’t stop. I prayed out loud, the same words over and over, “Father please help me. Father please help me….” I laid on the floor and let my body feel the pain and remorse and loss and hurt and frustration and fatigue. Sometimes, I couldn’t even get a breath. I did not have the thought of plunging into my final eternity—BUT, afterward, I could understand and empathize with how someone else may get to that point.

I cried for hours. I have no idea how many. My guess would be however many my body and my brain needed. My crying stopped, and then I just laid there in the quiet. Hours passed. For once, I just let myself sit in the realness of life and felt it all.f328c596c6a14004a9acafd7ef6cb453-1

Wanna know what blows my mind? After all of that, after sitting in it and accepting it and feeling it, my sans-whistling brain told my body to GET UP.

So, I did. I got up and I walked forward. Then I freakin’ realized, “HERE  is the REAL Escape Hatch!” (My calm brain added, “You Moron!” to that previous statement) It’s walking forward….

Forward is the CHANGE you’re going to make because….well, you HAVE to. You can’t keep doing that shit! Forward is not a lie, or a mirage, and it’s definitely not Mark Wahlberg with his shirt off.

There is struggle that will become great. There is struggle that will stay struggling. You may find yourself crying on the floor again (and again).  BUT remember—you’ve been here before. It’s survivable. YOU WILL GET UP. YOU WILL ESCAPE FORWARD because, as I said, you HAVE to.

Why do you have to? Because that’s real, too. The world needs you, whether you know it or not.

unnamedSo, in my real life week, the unread mail was still there, the house was still disgusting, I still wasn’t smart enough at work, and I didn’t wrap the presents until Christmas morning. (No joke, I told my kids they had to wait upstairs until I was done!) Oh, and the Doctor called me three days after my daughter started antibiotics (for strep) to tell me that she had strep.

That’s messy happy life. There is never happy without messy — unless you’re a liar.

If you are reading this, and you have teetered on the edge for a moment or for hours, I need you to know this…CHOOSE to get up. Escape forward.


Barr, Inc….What’s in a name?

485261What is the most important job you will ever do? Your main focus in life, the masterpiece you contributed to during your years here on Earth? What will be your legacy? What do you want to be remembered for?

Not long ago, my oldest daughter saw me making my page for LinkedIn.

“Mom!” she said. “It’s SUPPOSED to be for professionals! People use it for business contacts! I’m not sure you get it.”

The thing is, I think I get “IT” better than a lot of people. I grew up with great parents, have five years of college, where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a Master’s in Learning and Behavioral Disorders. My profession?? TWENTY-FIVE YEARS worth of putting all of that education into action — forming what I call my Corporation.2014-04-29-08-08-25

As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, a corporation is any group of persons united or regarded as one body. AKA: a family. MY family. Barr Inc.

Barr Inc. is a family corporation, born, built, and changing every day. It takes turns being loved and hated by all its members (depending on the day.)

dsc_0180Barr Inc. has its home office in Maine, where its duties are unevenly divided between Junior partners and the CEO. I (as you probably guessed) am the CEO. Our Junior partners describe my role as never listening to ANYTHING my kids say, being solely responsible for the fact that there is NEVER anything to eat at our house, and being the person who will never fail to be there when they need me.

Our main satellite office is located in Indiana, where their Dad (our CFO) resides. Along with keeping us on track financially, he is also Head of the Complaints about Mom Department, co-counselor to our four Junior partners, and Advisor In Absentia for which college classes to take and reminding the Junior partners never to take themselves too seriously.

We also have two other branch offices, located on Long Island, New York (home of our Senior Junior partner), and in Florida, where we find our Original Founding Member, my Dad. 15965034_10212198803590413_6962340233538217304_n  Our other founding members have moved forward, to their last Corporation, where we will be happy to meet them again in our own time.

My Corporation has no paid employees, and is an all guts and no glory operation. It IS my first profession and those four people God transferred into my temporary care ARE the corporation I was put here to build.

My second job, which intermingled 12 years of the above 25, was a true passion and extension of myself: Being a teacher. I was a better teacher because I had the experience of Barr Inc. to pull from every day. I loved my students harder and knew them more deeply as little PEOPLE, not just someone else’s children.

See? I get this professional thing just fine.

Moms…Dads…. you may never have thought of it this way, but however you do it, however you parent, do it like the life and death of your Corporation depends on it…because IT DOES! You absolutely don’t do it perfectly, and from our kids’ perspective we are terrible at it all the time!! You may not have the amount of time as some others, but whatever you do have, KNOW that it matters. YOUR Corporation isn’t the same as anyone else’s. It’s always a work in progress, and it’s never too late to build it or to make it better.

One last thing: Tell your Junior partners the stories of their Founding members. Tell them where their grit came from.

Tell them about the time Grandma ate a spoonful of mayonnaise because she thought it was vanilla pudding, and about how Papa fell in love with her in the 10th grade when she took the eraser off of his desk, used it, and put it back. Tell them how you learned to hit a golf ball and why you know the words to the Notre Dame Fight song. Tell them how you learned to love children, and love being their teacher. That’s how Barr Inc. operates anyway, because I believe that’s how my Corporation stays on track, even in the toughest times — by carrying the past along, so it will be here to benefit the next people that God transfers into our temporary care.

What’s in a name? In this case it’s the sum of some magnificent, flawed, strong, and tenacious people unified into one body. Barr Inc.

Just Me….

I freakin’ love this picture.

unnamed-1It started as kind of a joke. I was at a wedding, the most beautiful one I’ve ever been to by the way, and this lovely spot is where the bride entered to meet her groom.

After the ceremony and into the festivities, couples began wandering over to this gorgeous open air doorway to have their photo taken together. Happy couples do that at weddings.

Me being me, I was the third wheel with my awesome sister/friend and her husband. The 3 of us were enjoying the lovely view as one of those happy couples posed and smiled. As they walked away, I looked at sister/friend and said,”My turn! Photo with my date!!” We

were all laughing and it turned into an “Oh well, here I am again” kind of pose.

Did I mention…..I freakin’ LOVE this picture? At that moment, just me with my invisible boyfriend, was enough.

I don’t write that with a pity poor me attitude. It’s just a real statement about the way my life has turned out post-divorce. I am a Mom of 4, with an ex-husband who has lived out of state for the last 7 years. Do you know what that means?? That means, I have been by myself raising TEENAGERS! For YEARS! I should be drunk all the time, right??

There is only one of me, and it’s CRAZY. My household is not quiet, we do not always like each other, I am most often the Dean of Mean and the speaker of the infamous phrase, “Um, NO.” My last parent volunteer gig was at The Snack Shack during a Field Hockey game. Every other parent there knew the drill, and they knew each other. I’m there saying, “Yea, I think I’ve seen you a couple times at the grocery store.”

I cry a lot, but not a sad cry. It’s a frustrated/tired cry because bare minimum is all I seem to be able to give and it is literally EVERYTHING. I. HAVE..

Just Me….Is Enough, and here is why. Enough is all anyone EVER needs. Not “Too Much” or “The Best”, but E.N.O.U.G.H.

A piece of cardboard covering a broken window during a New England winter was enough to keep the snow out. Counting up some spare change from our “community change jar” was enough to get my youngest her donation to the Coaches end of the year gift. Two un-matching socks (which are all we have) are enough to keep our feet warm.

So, I’m going to write about me and my people and all the little things that have made most days enough. Like these faces.2014-06-28-06-06-18

To write….or not to write

“All the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who SHOW UP before they are ready.” -Glennon Doyle Melton

dsc_0164-2Deciding to start writing down and sharing real, and uncomfortable, personal situations with the world is kinda crazy. But, it’s brave. The author I quoted above poses the idea that the world is brutal AND, the world is beautiful. In fact, the word she uses is Brutiful. So, I’ll just hop on the wagon and call my Crazy and Brave attempt to identify with other people in similar situations-Brazy. I’m going to show up before I’m ready. Let’s hope it doesn’t end up sounding Brupid….:)

Wanna hear something scary? The fastest growing population in the United States for depression, drug dependancy, and suicide are women between 45 and 65. When I read that, my first thought was-“I feel ya man. Life is really hard!” Then I got sad because I realized that a good majority of those 45-65 year old women have given this world beautiful children, helped raise them or raised them on their own, put their career on hold or were working mom’s, took care of their elderly parents because they wanted to, loved and tried to be good spouses…..and are now finding themselves lost.They are hopeless, overwhelmed with the world, afraid, alone, and in some cases done.

That was when I pulled out my Brazy. An outraged little voice in my head yelled, “Well that’s just WRONG!!!” Maybe, if I show up before I’m ready (cuz who is ever ready to put their pain out for public consumption) it will help someone else.

I will never claim to have answers, because I struggle every day. There isn’t a solution, but there IS better. If you are struggling, or you are reading this and you love someone who is….let’s help each other. That’s WHY WE ARE HERE…on this Earth. Grab a hand and keep reading. Be BRAZY with me because we have given the world A LOT, and we have more to give AND to receive.