Service and Therapy, With a Smile

If you ever wonder what your relationships look like, don’t pay a therapist, ask a waitress.
Good servers give food correctly and timely, but great servers are intuitive, feeling out the emotions and needs customers unconsciously demand all the time, knowing who wants to joke and chat, who wants to sit in silence, who is anxious to have the table cleared and the dirty napkins gone, and who wants to sit and graze until the chairs go up, the plate of fries slowly touched, but very much enjoyed.
The way people live life can be measured in how they order food.
I see the husband rubbing his temples with his head between his elbows, mumbling for chips, not even hearing you ask the original question, which after giving a name was, “Hi, What can I get for you to drink, sir?”
I get this 20 minute window into people’s lives, and it is fascinating to observe how incredibly different and unique people are, how they interact with each other and the world around them, the symbols of life lying right there in front of you, obvious to everyone but them. The way you feel about life is not only on your face, but it is in your body, in your tone, in your eyes, and words never deceive me, not after years of observation.
I see countless couples never speak through entire dinner conversations and yet I feel a peace, a connection, a way of life that is comfortable, relaxed, and enjoyable. It is in a plate being cleared by a wife who needs not hesitate and ask, clearly half the steak is gone, but she knows him, and smiles lifting and passing it to me, while he pats his tummy. It is her glass he notices is in need of water, catching me with his eye, holding it out for her as she chats, not noticing the act that says it all.
It is how they communicate with their eyes, looking and knowing by a nod and a head toss if they want desert, his hand over hers when she digs in her purse for the Visa. It is in the moments in between breaths, the silence of a moment cherished, not with words but with her feet touching his, the one yawn that leads the other to yawn, both in agreement to go home, and so I drop the check, his hands holding her keys, her hand on his shoulder all signal me hello and goodbye, an effortless team, a communication built on trust and time and love.
I also see countless people who never speak through entire dinner conversations and the look she gives him while he orders, the tense way he shakes his glass, in mid air, a subtle repetitive motion he does every time he puts his lips to the glass, the folded arms, darting eyes, the relief when the meal arrives, not from hunger pains, but for something to do so they don’t have to just be.
I am always amused with people who believe words have weight.
They say they don’t have the baby, that they are so pleased to have a date, finally, and her big eyes beg me to stay, her chatter endless, his phone in his hand, his eyes locked to the television behind her. There is a relief I feel each time I come to the table, like they are so excited to be checked on a hundred times, both believing they are having a conversation with each other, but not at all. They want random talk about the food, the news, the loud children, personal questions shot out one after another, like if I have children, where I am from, and I communicate for them, aware they believe in talking to me, they think they are having a conversation with each other.
I see emptiness in grand gestures, beauty in soft glances, big plastic smiles just applied with red lipstick, rude and angry comments tossed to each other in front of me, but I know in those moments, I am only allowed to look in this window because I am not a friend, a pastor, or neighbor. I am just a person serving food who doesn’t matter.
I am aware I will not always be a server, but I am certainly grateful to be one, to realize real eyes see real lies, and that at the end of the day, I may have witnessed the beginning of the most beautiful romance, a horrific divorce, a relationship built on friendship, an affair started over one glass of wine, a marriage blessed, a marriage trapped.
I may be seeing the best or the worst 20 minutes on a given day, the most important or boring time of your life spent, and yet, I am only there to collect your tips, watch you hate or love your life, an attachment I have nothing to gain from.
It is the ultimate study of relationships, of watching what people are by how they behave which for me can sound like nails going down a chalkboard, a scream that two people can both hear, and at the same time, both deny.
Perhaps you just thought you were hungry, and both felt like having steak.
If that is the case, go have dinner and have fun, get full, and tip your server.
Dinner is just life on a platter so if you want to fool someone, I would suggest take out, or drive thru, but don’t think you have a chance of fooling your waitress.
Domino’s Pizza always delivers.

Kat, My Financial Advisor

I had my first financial counseling meeting with my daughter Kat, who is 8. We met at the Barnes N Noble (of course, I drove her). This meeting came to be over a series of events, beginning with the start of summer. Every dime that I make has gone to my girls, and it has always been this way. I struggle to buy things for myself, even the most mundane practical things because I am afraid that they will miss a part of their childhood, that they will not have all the things they deserve.
It doesn’t help that I have guilt from working so much, that I want our free time to be fun and exciting, but what I have noticed lately is that I am barely able to function from all the hard work, tired and exhausted, my cup empty, and what it has produced are two children who just never seem satisfied or grateful.
I know at some level, many parents are going through the same thing, divorced or not.
I have been in deep grief over my financial situation, my wheels turning constantly at night, wondering for some time how I was ever going to be independent, knowing I am about to go in debt for school, sometimes terrified at all the endless possibilities of what may happen without money in my bank account.
I thought that showing them an Oprah show on Haiti might help.
They were for about five whole minutes, changed.
Kat wanted to give away all her toys, and Lola wanted to give away Kat’s toys too.
I prayed a lot about this issue to the Universe, asking for the clues to the puzzle, wondering if perhaps a financial self help book were the answer. Dave Ramsey and Suzie Ormand were bought and on my night stand, unopened. I lay awake, sometimes for hours, and I thought a lot about my own mother, who after a horrific divorce just a year ago was living with me for awhile and now my brother, working long hours for a woman her age. She would and did sacrifice anything for the four of us, and every penny she had or made or inherited had been abused horribly by my father, a man who had countless financial affairs with fast cars, computers, gadgets, vacations, and only God knows what else. Flashes of all the jobs she had from cleaning out school trailers, to throwing newspapers, to working in lunch rooms, to Kroger, would come into my consciousness like bad dreams, all the while we lived in huge homes, drove expensive cars and had nice clothes, going on Spring Break, visiting other countries as young adults.
She had a car that barely operated with no air condition and I never heard her complain.
It made me feel physically nauseous.
She inherited money throughout the years, and yet, was only given her name back in the divorce, my father’s financial crisis so big no one could touch, leaving her with nothing.
My own marriage reflected back to me many of the same issues, working tirelessly, handing over all my money without a thought I deserved to know how it was being handled. He lost two jobs and went bankrupt at one point as well, and the fights over these heartbreaks eventually broke us, money being the symbol of all that we had lost between us. We were emotionally, spiritually, and financially bankrupt.
And so here I am, wondering, searching, asking.
God answered through my brother, a man of logic, an engineer, born into the world understanding its ways, a mystery to me. He has often been often described as an old soul, and with all his flaws, his greatest strength is his ability to cut through the heart of the matter, to speak truth when no one else dares.
He had a long hard talk with my mother about money, a heart breaking conversation for her, and after it, she called me. She discussed with me all the ways she did not value herself, her joy being in giving, and how much grief she had that she had modeled not loving herself the way she should, an unconscious life she had passed down to me.
She had a plan, a rather good one I must add, and I was amazed to see her always transforming, opening her heart to all the ways in which she could be better, doing the hard work to become someone I hardly recognized.
And it hit me.
I had become her. It wouldn’t matter if I became the highest paid photographer in the world. I was going to give it all away, believing I did not deserve money, thinking I could make my daughters love me, and they would feel the pain one day of taking care of me, a responsibility I was destined to fulfill.
It was like a charge of fire came through my body. Something had to change, right then, right now. I had to be something different for me, for them. My heart bled thinking of the ticking time bomb I was handing my girls, and if I lived my life only to see them not become me at 32, that would be enough.
So I came up with my own financial plan, asked Kat if she would join me, a little nervous, clueless as to how she might react. The original thought in my head was that I would explain a little about Nana and me, ask her to learn about money with me, to understand that when I said no to all her wants, it was not because I did not love her.
She sat across the table from me, her little pigtails perfect, her brown freckles adorable.
“Kat,” I said, aware she was not just curious, but painfully quiet, waiting for me to explain what this was all about.
“Do you understand why Nana lives with your Uncle?” I waited to explain it to her.
“Yes,” she said. “She has no money because Papa took that money and he is not in our family anymore.”
It was a very matter of fact answer.
“When I was a little girl like you, Kat.” She leaned in. “Nana made all her dollars and gave them to him, to us, to everyone but herself…”
“Like you” she said. That surprised me. I gulped. “Do you know why Nana did that?”
She thought for a second. “Because mom, Nana does not want money.”
“Really?” This answer surprised me. It was true. If you give all your money away, you don’t want money at all.
“Yes,” she said. “Nana comes and buys us Jason Deli, takes us to get fun things and buys us books because she wants us to love her more, but we do anyway.”
I started to cry then, the tears rolling down my face.
“Kat,” I choked. “Do you see that mommy does the same thing?” I listed Chuckee Cheese, Shrek 3, the last shopping spree, party bands, all the while her eyes widened, full of compassion, breaking my heart even more wide open.
“Mommy, isn’t this what you call a pattern?” I laughed. She listened more than I thought.
“Kat, do you know that when you don’t use money to love people but to value yourself, you put it in the bank and it grows and grows. This is what Uncle J taught Nana, who is teaching me, and now I am teaching you. No one taught me or Nana anything about money, Kat.”
She sat back. Her wheels were turning. “Is this why Uncle D and Uncle J have their own houses and you don’t?”
I sighed. “Wait. wait. wait.” she was on a roll. “This is a girl pattern. Is this why you buy things for Lola that she throws under her bed?” and “Do you never go to the bank?” and “Why would you not know we love you without party bands?” and “Do you not want money like Nana?”
With tears sliding down my face, I told her almost weeping. “Kat, I don’t want you to be me. I want you to be free, to value yourself, to love money, to be bigger than I ever could. I want to make a contract. We are going to the bank every day and depositing everything I make from now on. I want you to help me learn. We will write down all the things we need, and when we finally make our goals, then we can chose the very biggest thing you want to have happen..”
“Like the Water Park,” she interrupted.
“Yes, and small steps will make big changes.” Before I could get any further, she asked,
“How much money is in your bank, mommy?”
Yikes. I told her the amount and she sat in her chair, her mouth open, and she put her little hands on mine.
“That is not a lot, right?” She asked it already knowing the answer, her hands massaging my arms, comforting me as I cried, my heart breaking in front of her eyes. She smacked her little hand on the table then. She was full of self righteous passion for a little thing. “You know what? Uncle D is very smart but Uncle J, well, he is just clever.”
She was making connections all over the place then, a wheel I couldn’t even keep up with.
“This is why you have to live with Daddy isn’t it? You are divorced but you can’t have money on your own yet.”
“Mommy, this can’t be. You have to tell Lola when she is 8 too, okay?” I nodded, my smudged mascara half way down my face. “Why didn’t you tell me about the bank?” She asked it like I had four heads, an answer I only had exasperation for. “KAT, YOU ARE ONLY 8!”
And with that, she put her chin in the air, put her pinky across the table, and I put mine around hers, wrapped in pain, beauty, hope, and unconditional love, a love so beautiful, my heart could hardly take it. I had thought she had been spoiled rotten, ungrateful, would be resistant to a plan to put money in my bank because it would mean it would cost her stuff. I had underestimated my beautiful daughter, a child who looked as if I had just blew her up with the air of purpose, something I had been searching for in books of the wisest financial wizards.
How bizarre. The wizard I needed all along was less than four feet tall, had not lost all her baby teeth, but believed in me with the power of an electrical cord, just waiting to be plugged in.
I wiped my face with a napkin, grabbed my purse and keys, but she hadn’t finished just yet. She pulled my purse with a grip that put me back in my seat. “Mom,” she said quietly. “I know you don’t have a house. You have no money. Uncle J and D have stuff. But, you know what?”
I wanted to put my hands over my face, scared of the glare of truth coming my way, my 8 year old rarely gave me the gifts of hugs and kisses that she once had, now going on second grade, jumping out of the car and rarely even caring to say goodbye.
“Its not so bad to be you.”
With that, she let go, jumping up before I could wrangle her with kisses, her independent little self ready to get home and watch her favorite show, Icarly.
But I heard every word. I put them deep inside, unwilling to trade them for any dollar amount in the world.
She may be my child, but I think Dave Ramsey has nothing on her, my little wizard. I would die before I broke that contract, ever believing the lie again I am not worthy of money, that my children wanted things more than they wanted me. I felt the healing within me, and I wonder what love is capable of, its magic, full of wonder and possibility, hope, and power.
We might just pull off the impossible, my Kat and I, financial independence arriving, whispering, asking if I have what it takes to claim it. I know that financial plans, advisers, investments, and goals are part of the process, important, logical, and should be honored.
But I can’t help but smile and imagine what the power of a pinkie swear just might hold.

Burn Baby Burn

Kat, Lola, and I took a little cruise to drop some items off at the Goodwill.

One of the ways I make this sound like the most fascinating road trip ever is that I put on our favorite music, blast it a little too loud, and we car dance.

It is my favorite thing in the world.

We have had some hilarious reactions over the years from people joining us at car lights, motioning us to roll down our windows at stop signs, and I remember one woman in particular asked if she could join us by a sign held up that she busily wrote with an ink pen while her light was red.

We were especially thrilled today because I found an old cd of favorites from a dear friend’s wedding last year. The girls know every song, every line by heart.

From the back, Kat yelled, “Number 7 mom, number 7!

I love this song named “Barbeque” by ALO. If you haven’t heard it before, it is a song that describes the painful details of dreams that end, of being transformed, and in the end, dreaming something new.

We were singing as loud as our little voices would go and I felt a deep sense of what I have lost, and my chin started to tremble with pure gratitude that I am dreaming again, new things, big things, and as I was thinking, I hear a little voice from the back seat.

Mom! My dream never came true about my tooth coming out!” and Lola with serious eyebrows said, “My dream was lost cause someone ate all my Easter candy!”

And then, the chorus came.

Welcome to my barbeque where we roasts all the dreams that never came true. Welcome to my barbeque, pig out and dream a new…

Kicking their feet to the seat with the beat, Kat says, “Mom, I’m dreaming something new. I’m going to be popular and have play dates and never worry about my tooth again!”

As always, in her best attempts to overshadow Kat, Lola started to tell me a very elaborate story of a horrible terrible thing involving a child getting hit but then being given a scooter.

We all got lost in the music after that and I felt the tears brim my eyes and I had a vision of the three of us lighting a pit, writing down all of our dreams lost, turning the music way up, rising from the ashes, dancing in a circle, and dreaming new.

The Flip, the Switch, and the Crazies.

My intention with this blog was for me to write about my demons, the censored parts of my life that I need to purge to feel healthy, without judgment.

I wanted to be fearless in my writing, to bring all the dark places within me to the light, to throw the f bomb around if needed, to journal my deepest wants and needs, to write about all the people who have blessed, cursed, hurt, contributed, and loved me on the journey.

I’m not so sure it was a good idea to publish it on facebook. And yet, I’m not so sure it isn’t. For one, the blog I wrote titled “The One Who Got Away.” actually ended up being read indeed by “The One Who Got Away.”

I used to call him Hurricane as one of his many nicknames.

He had so much energy and power and enthusiasm for life that it was like he couldn’t help but start electrical storms every where he went. And so, the blog was published on facebook, which he read, and he asked me to please come visit him and he would pay for the plane ticket. I think I am a little bit in shock over this.

What am I going to do? I have no freaking idea.

And of course, there are issues surrounding my father. I want to write about him because he is my ultimate teacher, the catalyst of all that I have learned through pain and destruction, forgiveness, and self awareness.

He has taught me what I am made of, how much I love, how secretly I hurt, how deeply I give. He has forever changed me for the better but in sharing those details, I fear that I will hurt or anger people I love by putting the ugly details of our family’s dirty laundry on public display. I am still working this out by constantly reminding myself to trust the process. I tell myself often to stop asking for the acceptance and validation from people outside of me, to live and speak my own truth and ultimately, to trust that my good intentions do actually matter.

Clyde isn’t even close to being ready for a committed relationship, and on most days I am good with this, enjoying being in the moment with him, our friendship still feels like fresh air, and I am hopeful it always will. We have so much effin fun together.

I knew from the beginning that his heart does not belong to me, but to his ex, and I still find this to be a bitter pill to swallow. Love is absolutely ridiculous and unfair, isn’t it? The love one of us would dream of having another would just give away. He’s trying to let her go and meanwhile, I’m trying to let him go, all the while trying to remain fearless, unguarded, and hopeful. This to me is what I call the flip, the switch, and the crazies. On a high note, photography is coming into focus and I will be finding out soon if I got into the school of my dreams, if waiting tables will soon have its end, if I have the courage to go face everything that makes me weak in the knees and faint at heart. I believe I’m doing well on my 90 day diet to follow my bliss. Some days I think my heart may just break wide open, and what you see come out will look a lot like this:

The One Who Got Away


I was waiting tables six years ago when he wandered into my section with a mutual friend, and I believe he ordered a couple of draft beers, something dark, and later, a cup of coffee, black.

He was very quiet, with a plaid shirt, tats, a hat he took on and off his head nervously. I noticed that he stared at me a lot.

Even more, I noticed how much I liked him staring at me and it made me flush deep shades of red, my hands shaking every time I filled his coffee.

He stared right through me, like he could touch me with his mind.

I didn’t know you could feel naked completely clothed, not like that.

He was there a few hours and I don’t think I noticed one other person in the smoky bar but him. Our mutual friend chit chatted about this and that, my stomach turning as I talked, feeling him stare straight through me.

And then, out of nowhere, as I talked fast and nervously, he interrupted,

YOU’RE MARRIED?” He asked it like he had just found out someone shot his favorite puppy.

I blushed. “Yep!” I shoved my ring out in front of the table, shaking, wanting to cry, not really understanding why.

He laid his head down in quite a dramatic way, and I felt this horrible rush of guilt as I wondered for the first time as a married woman what it would be like to be completely free, having not made any vows, any commitments to a mortgage, a child, and a husband. My husband and I had long began the process of leaving one another when this gorgeous stranger appeared from nowhere, reminding me what it was like to feel again.

Our mutual friend kept telling him it was time to go, and it was. We were smiling way too much, connecting in a way that felt uncomfortable, and we both knew it wasn’t right. When he got up to leave, he put his arm around me in a friendly way, and leaned over and smelled my hair.

Mmmmm. God, your hair smells nice.” And just like that, he walked out the front door.

I relived that moment in my mind over and over for years, after having another baby, a separation that ended terribly, and finally, a divorce. I wondered about him a lot, but knew all hope had been lost, feeling for sure he was married himself, and that moment had been built up in my mind, completely forgotten by him.

And then he found me. He lived hours away but he still found me by searching my name through Myspace, and had just gone through divorce himself, and on top of everything, he was convinced that I was the only woman for him. It was a fairytale, and I was finally Cinderella. We fell in love over texts, hours of phone calls, and a trip promised, planned, just like our future together.

I waited for him in the rain, freezing, as he jumped off the train to see me. I felt like my life had just jumped off the pages of a romance novel, and everything I experienced with this man was so magical, so breathtaking. It was like I finally realized what I had been missing.

Until our last day together. He was distant, nervous, anxious to get home. I didn’t know what had happened or why but something had completely switched, and I knew by his eyes that something was so wrong.

I can’t do this, I’m sorry. I can’t.” He could barely look at me.

I started to sob, and he just left. He left me there without even turning to say goodbye. Just like the first time he walked out of my life, but this time, his steps haunted me.

It was brutal for me and I could hardly get out of bed for the next three months, my grief so heavy and my heart completely broken. Every day was a challenge, and I didn’t know it could hurt that bad to just be alive. Its a testament to the human spirit that just when I thought I couldn’t go on, I did. And slowly but surely, things healed and my laughter returned. Days turned to weeks into months and now more than two years later, having nothing but that biting moment of being left by a man I loved with everything I had, I get this text from work.

U were never meant to be mine but I love you. It has always bothered me that you weren’t sure about that. I’m moving even farther away- I wont be back.  I just pray you know how much hugging you would mean to me- how smelling your hair would make me feel eternal- how watching you eat would make me feel alive. I have lived on the memory of seeing you two Springs ago. Your an amazing woman. I will pray to cross your path once more. Be blessed.

Two years later and I can finally receive the closure I have always wanted. I can’t be angry anymore or sad that the fairytale he promised didn’t exist.

I can finally stop blaming myself for somehow not being enough, and I cried tears of relief that I had not been crazy, that he did love me indeed.

I can finally breathe gratitude for a boy who stopped me dead in my tracks. Its like a ghost from my past has stopped by to remind me how deeply I am capable of loving, how much I have to give.

He will always be the boy who stopped to smell my hair.

He will always be the one who got away………………..


Cloudy with a Chance of Hurt Elephants

Tomorrow my little brother is getting married to a fabulous girl.

She has perfect teeth and golden blond hair but she has this really cool flavor to her as if she might just have been goth in high school so you forgive all her very perfect perfections.

She has a cat named Waffles and loves to read books to my girls, never skipping pages like me when I get tired of reading the same story over and over.

She takes her time and turns the pages so slowly, skimming her eyes over each one to make sure she caught every detail.

I love this about her.

Tonight can be described in cocktail dresses, the chatter of old friends meeting again, little girls in pearls, men in shiny ties and of course, the random clinking of glasses with forks to toast the future groom and bride.

It would seem as the perfect night for any rehearsal dinner except in our case, there was a big elephant in the room.

My dad wasn’t there.

Baby brother addressed this in his speech which felt like a small punch in the gut, my mom crying in to her napkin, apologetically. He did a good job and my heart filled with love and pride as he described our family as being put back together, but better and stronger.

None of us kids are very good at hiding big elephants; it is our greatest strength and flaw at the same time.

After a lot of work on my own daddy issues, including the grief and forgiveness acquired because of them, I was surprised at my hurt tonight. I mean actually surprised.

It was as if I wanted to put my hand over the hurt, the throb that seemed to beat with my heart, and look around to see if anyone else noticed what I did, this deep hurt, breathing and living and hiding inside of me. I am not good at hiding it, so I don’t know how or what to do with it, except go on, doing all the things that seem right, like attending weddings and taking photos and making blueberry pancakes for my little ones for breakfast.

I actually just told Clyde that it wasn’t even there anymore and tonight I feel so defeated, as if it is somehow my fault that I can’t confidently say I am moving forward, as if that isn’t what I want more than anything in the world.

I’m supposed to be joyful, grateful, always looking for the lesson and the rainbow on a dark cloudy night.

And I will. But, tonight, dear readers, I just hurt.

Love Tinks

Since my 7 year old Kat had her heart broken when a boy picked Sophie over

her, Kat said, “He twicked me, mommy.”

She said it must be that Sophie has blonde hair and she has brown,

which made me feel like a blonde betrayer.

For my girls and I, music is our way through the grieving process

and this has been her and I, every day,

on my bed watching Tinkerbell on You Tube

play out something so universal and yet still so very tragic,

this messy love business, where the man of our dreams

is chasing everyone but us.

Fleetwood Mac brings it with Gold Dust Woman, in which Lola, the little sis,

comes running in when the drums come on in the end, clapping and cheering, with Kat giving her the evil eye.

And I sigh, knowing Lola will one day have her heart broken too, and at 31, so will I.