Brooke Conley

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mama Ain't Dead

Jake's grandmother picks him up from school, so I think his mom is dead.

Hmmm. She probably just works.

No, I think she's dead. Maybe she was in the Army.

What happens in the Army?

Well. Sometimes you get really ill. Or people stab you. 
Or you could get shot or something. Or just be really old. Like 98.

This is the conversation I had with my daughter yesterday after school. It was a pretty excellent tête-à-tête, and after a long laugh over the unique decoding process of her methodical little mind, I came to the somber realization that my kid has somehow decided if a mother isn't around every second of the day, then the only logical conclusion is that she's dead.

Well, shit. 

I clearly need to get a hobby. I also probably need to explain to her how the Army works.

But, back to the former. Is this really the message I want to send my little girl? That my only purpose in life is to be her mom? Don't get me wrong. I definitely define myself as a mother hen before all else -- it's just that I know I'm capable of so much more than tending flock.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Keeping the Faith

Being as private as I am effusive, I have a habit of spontaneously shutting down, the weight of oversharing at times causing me to cocoon into my inner sanctuary of family, self-care and Netflix.

It's a balance that I at times struggle to maintain: My willingness to be an open book versus my desire to keep certain things mine alone, coddled and gently cared for. It is especially this way when I'm tired or going through periods of adjustment. Often, I remain open and that helps me navigate choppy waters. But there are also stretches of time, like this past half year, when life feels especially turbulent and I'm compelled to shut out the world in order to get things done. 

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I finally came to terms with the fact that we weren't happy in the city we were in. We wanted more than my hometown could offer: increased opportunity and adventure; energy and connection and a looooong list of other things both whimsical and practical. But in order to get said things, we knew we would have to permanently alter our entire existence -- including all of the people, places and routines our children had come to rely on in their short lives. 

We are no strangers to moving and have lived all across the country, but transitions that involve little ones do not come easily. After several months of praying and soul-searching and basically letting the universe know that we were willing and ready if this was indeed the path we were meant to take, we made the decision to uproot our family and actively claim the life we were after.

The overall process of relocating was long and arduous to say the least. But we both firmly believed that we had to give up everything we knew to get everything we wanted, so we continued on. We shared our worries and fears with one another, and found solace in our mutual excitement over new beginnings. Eventually, we began the painstaking task of dismantling our life. We got out the proverbial bulldozer and dropped one hell of a wrecking ball right in the middle of it all - we tore the whole thing down in order to build it up bigger and stronger. 

I've gotten used to seeing that wrecking ball over the years. It usually appears after strong currents of change have lead our lives down an unexpected route. Sometimes it shows up unforeseen and in the worst way. Other times, we purposefully bring heavy machinery into our lives, blindly wielding the controls and trusting instinct to hit our target.

After struggling to control everything for most of my existence, I have for the most part come to terms with this ebbing and flowing of life. For me, true happiness is an equal mix of chasing my dreams and letting go, paired with a deep and profound understanding that when all is said and done, my best laid plans don't mean shit.

Because we operated out of faith with our recent move, everything worked out beautifully. But our lives haven't always functioned that way.

Faith is an oft misunderstood thing and it has taken me years to finally grasp that trusting what is, is an active and conscious endeavor. It sure as heck isn't about sitting around and letting things happen TO me, but it's also not about micromanaging every outcome. It's a delicate balance of determination and surrender. It's about unapologetically and wholeheartedly trusting myself.

I'm not talking about religion here. I'm talking about the difficult work of shutting out the noise and opinions and judgements of others in order to focus within. It's about making dynamic choices based on listening and honoring whatever is meant to be for me

And because I do happen to believe that God is ultimately in charge, my personal faith requires me to accept that those plans will sometimes align with what I want, and other times send me running into my self-contained womb of doubt and fear. 

At times I am me of little faith. But even then, I trust the process. 

I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. For a large part of my life, I operated out of fear. For sooooo long, I was under the impression that I had to be something or someone to everyone. I truly believed that I had to remain unfalteringly consistent in my thoughts and actions; that I must define myself and stick to that definition for a lifetime. This was hard because I am incessantly curious and like to change my mind. I ended up resentful of the times I obstructed my inquisitiveness in order to conform.

I got caught up chasing "should"s and started seeking validation from absolutely everyone but myself. I got in the habit of questioning my choices and didn't honor who I was inside, which made me kind of messy on the outside. I was scared of who I was becoming, but even more scared of not being who I was. I wasn't honest about what I wanted and became moored in bad decisions and moments of regret. 

Paralyzed from old wounds and harsh words, I viewed my worth through the lens of others. I grew up with vastly different feelings and opinions than many of the people around me and instead of being true to myself, I let certain people just assume I agreed. This disconnect was incredibly painful and I covered up my hurt by being defiant, loudmouthed, needy, controlling and, ultimately, STUCK. I second-guessed myself constantly, all the while fighting an interminable stirring deep in my bones that urged me to let the noise of the world fall away.

I found solace in moving to new places, having honest conversations, learning about different cultures, and nurturing friendships that brought deep and meaningful connection. When I became pregnant with my first child, my desperation to be authentic grew even larger. I couldn't show my little girl how to live an honest life if I wasn't living one myself. God was specifically and carefully creating this baby in my belly, just as he specifically and carefully created me. If I couldn't be myself, then who would I be? And if I couldn't teach my daughter to be herself, then who would she be? 

I started peeling back the onion of my life, and began the difficult work of figuring out who I was. I learned to be still and in those moments of stillness, I allowed my thoughts and prayers to be raw and vulnerable. I slowly started to ignore the voices outside and listen to the one inside. Things began to seamlessly fall into place and I started feeling at home in my own skin. I realized that trusting myself is directly correlated with my happiness and that it doesn't have a thing to do with anyone else. It's not about outward acceptance or "likes" or conforming or doing what is expected. I can have bountiful and meaningful relationships without always having to be consistent or accessible or even-keeled or agreeable. 

This doesn't equate to disrespect or combativeness, nor does it translate into being defensive or self-righteous or self-serving. In fact, trusting oneself goes hand-in-hand with increased compassion for others. I've learned that I can't honorably follow my own heart if I don't respect others when they follow theirs.

For me, following my heart simply means taking the next right step - whatever that means in the moment. Faith is a constant flux of tearing down and rebuilding, of listening and acting. I can cocoon, open up, shut down and expand again. I can finally love and accept the person that I was created to be without depending on someone else to do it for me. I can act on my instincts without looking to another person for approval.

And because I have given myself permission to re-mold, re-think, re-group, re-work, and retry on an ongoing and permanent basis, I can also love and accept whatever choices I happen to make tomorrow.  

These past six months have only cemented my beliefs. Instead of giving into the numerous doubts that came with moving our family across state lines, we understood that Fear is just the louder, more aggressive partner to Faith, and we politely asked it to shut the hell up.

We trusted our choices implicitly and proudly showed up for our lives. We let uncertainty and discomfort unravel all around us, but we did not change our course. We kept our heads down and forged onward, relying on faith to safely deliver us to our new home -- believing all along that we were only moving closer to ourselves. 


Monday, March 21, 2016

3/21:World Down Syndrome Day

I am forever indebted to your sister for giving me the gift of Motherhood. She is my absolute pride and joy, that one. My only girl. My firstborn.

She came into the world easily, all rosy and pink. But once she arrived, she curled into a tight little ball and stayed that way for the next two weeks. It was as though she wasn't quite ready to be here. I would often try to unfurl a skinny arm or leg, interested in seeing her tiny fingernails or ten miniature toes, but as soon as I pulled a limb toward the sky, she would snatch it back like a turtle returning to its shell after a breach. 

You came easily, too, and were likewise flushed. However, there would be no constricting into a ball for you.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

French Fries For Now

We've been in perpetual Vacation Mode over here, which has been a nice surprise in the middle of what is normally a slogging, mundane time of year. 

Inspired by our recent trip to Mexico, our cups have continued to run over with lazy afternoons, hours of reading books and catching up on magazines, long walks, and last-minute meals. 

My husband is in that sweet spot between an old job and a new one, and since he's around to help more, we have less on our calendars and on our minds. There is a world of excitement and chaos and change heading our way soon, but for now, we are turning off our phones and turning up the music. We are always singing and dancing in our house, but lately, the volume has gotten a bit louder and we're allowing Flo Rida repeats beyond our firm "seven is enough" rule.

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