Concussed… and Changed

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, I fell down the stairs and got a concussion. There’s no sugarcoating it: getting a concussion sucks. I hate pretty much everything about it.

Except I think having the concussion has changed my entire approach to life, parenting, and how I treat myself. And I think this approach is better than my old one.

But everything else I hate.

One of my favorite refrains is, “I got this.” It’s a source of encouragement when I’m overwhelmed; a battle cry when I’m underestimated. A 12-hour work day on five hours sleep? I got this. Boot camp, despite a knee injury? I got this. Installing a dishwasher by myself? I GOT THIS.

Most of the time, perseverance is a really good thing. But sometimes, this insistent independence can be a problem. See, I’m super awful at asking for – or accepting – help. I usually try to go it alone because I don’t want to bug anyone. I got this.

Likewise, I am terrible at giving myself the chance to rest. Days after my c-section with Annie, I defied my OB-GYN’s orders, lifted up two year-old Ella, and tore my stitches. Years ago, after pulling a hamstring, I eschewed rest and began to run again almost immediately… which, brilliantly, resulted in my inability to run for a full 12 months.

Resting is anathema to my ADHD self. Even when I follow the experts’ advice and “rest,” it’s a modified version – like when you tell kids not to draw on the walls and they draw on the door instead and are all, “WHAT? I’M NOT DRAWING ON THE WALL!”

Then, I fell down the damned stairs. And everything changed.
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Langston was very concerned about me…

Not that instant, though. Even as I huddled on the floor, bruised and bleeding, I brushed off Nick’s concerns. “I’m fine! Nothing’s broken!” I showered and got the kids off to school as though everything were normal. And then my head really began to hurt.

After posting a self-deprecating story on Facebook , several friends said they were available to offer assistance, so you’d think I’d have taken them up on the offer.
Nah. I got this.
Totally drove myself to urgent care because I didn’t want to be a bother.

Lemme tell you what would have been an even bigger bother: asking a friend to post bail if I’d hit a tree  because my concussed brain couldn’t think straight. SUPER AWFUL AT ASKING FOR HELP.

Honestly, I figured I’d be back to mostly-normal pretty quick – modified, Emily-style “rest.” I told Nick, “People get concussions all the time. It’s no big deal.” “No,” he countered, “People get concussions all the time and they think it’s no big deal, which is why they’re not taken seriously.”

It became apparent really fast that a concussion can, indeed, be a big deal, and that I couldn’t “rest” my way out.

No matter what I did (or didn’t do), exhaustion would overtake me. I hated that.
I hated being tired. I hated napping. I hated that this one little fall, this seemingly innocuous event, had turned me into a version of myself that I didn’t recognize and didn’t want to be.
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Flying + Concussion = VERY SPECIAL

I couldn’t drive. For a week. Not even home from urgent care (Nick got me).
I hated it.

I hated not being responsible for my own self. I hated Nick leaving work to take me places. I hated feeling like I was burdening him.

Nick never once complained. NOT ONCE. Not even when he drove – after a full work day – to the wrong place to pick up the printout of my CT because I neglected to tell him it was at urgent care and he drove to the radiology office instead. This is a man who lays on his horn at least twice daily, and not once did he so much as raise an eyebrow at being my taxi. Which was more than a little humbling.

People like to help. I know this, because I like to help. One of my biggest parenting priorities is showing the girls how amazing it feels to help others.
But receiving help was a whole different ballgame.

The “cure” for a concussion? Lie down, I’d been told. Minimal screen use. Don’t read. Dim light. Limited exercise. Most important: rest. Let your brain rest. It’s been banged up. It needs to heal. REST YOUR BRAIN.

Well, let me be the first to tell you that resting your brain is REALLY FREAKIN’ BORING. “Boredom” is not something I typically experience. I am Energizer Mom, Super-Emily. Even in my so-called down time, I’m multitasking – folding the laundry while listening to the girls read; sorting recipes while watching a movie; painting nails while drinking wine (#fail).

Heck, at least when I’m sick, I get to dive into a good book or watch a Star Wars marathon. I hated not even being able to read a magazine or scroll through Instagram. I hated being unproductive. I hated feeling like I was wasting time.

Still, just this once, I listened. I took it easy. I was tremendously fortunate that last week was spring break because it allowed me the opportunity to rest and withdraw without missing out on work or the girls’ activities.
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Lying on a beach chair is good for a concussion

We headed down to Kiawah and visited my dad and stepmom. I think I now understand what nursing home patients feel like, with their caretakers all up in their business, not allowed to do even the simplest of tasks. My dad would not let me be. “How do you feel? No, you may not ride a bike today. How’re you doing? How’s your head? Lie down. No, you’re not doing that. Yes, you are doing this. How do you feel? Let me help.” 

I hated it.
I hated feeling trapped. I hated being hovered over.
I also hated that I really needed it to happen. 

I’m still annoyed with the whole nursing home treatment, but I know he was right. I’m lucky my dad was there.

Before we left, he admonished me to continue to take it easy and not immediately return to “Supermom Emily-who-does-everything.” At that, Annie piped up, “She really does do everything. She helps with our homework, she listens to stories, she fixes things around the house, she teaches, she exercises, she cooks dinner…” She looked at me, eyes narrowing, and finished with, “You know mom, you really do do everything.” (Well, duh.)

That’s the way that it is for so many of us moms/primary caregivers, isn’t it? We do everything. We got this. It’s an image and a role that I’ve not only assumed, but cultivated – even reveled in. Moreover, I like it. I like showing Ella and Annie that we as women are capable of doing whatever we set our minds to, from designing websites to lifting weights, repairing washing machines to running corporations. I’ve never wanted my girls to think that being female is a detriment, and I’ve done everything I can to lead by example.

Except… in doing everything, in always soldiering ahead, in perpetual “I got this” mode, I’ve forgotten to show them that part of being a badass, confident, capable and healthy woman is treating your body with respect when it needs to heal – and that accepting help from others is not weak, but strong.

At first, I was embarrassed for the girls to see me couch-bound. Pre-concussion, this would have been unthinkable. I was sad and worried they’d see my incapacity and view it – view me – negatively. I’m the Energizer Mom, damnit; I keep going. Instead, they were confused… but then kind of awed. “Whoa. You’re napping. You must really be tired… And you didn’t try to stay up late doing laundry.

Mom. That’s pretty awesome.”

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Also awesome: the sweet shades Annie helped create to help me use the computer.

Rather than see my doing less and giving myself a break as a bad thing, they’ve become my biggest cheerleaders – and leaders, period. Three days ago, I became exhausted attending Annie’s soccer team dinner. Ella told me to sit down. “But I’ve never met these parents! I should be polite!” She physically took my arm. “Mom. You need to sit. No one will care – and if they do? That’s their problem.”

She was right, of course. So I sat. I accepted her advice, her assistance. This is uncharted territory for me – requesting, and taking, help. But since the concussion, I’ve had no choice. I’ve needed help. I don’t got this. It’s difficult and humbling. I mean, I know it’s true that being willing to admit vulnerability and ask for help is not weak; it’s brave.

I know that.
I suck at doing it.
But I’m learning.

I’m proud of the strong, independent, kickass example I’ve been setting for Annie and Ella. But there are different kinds of strong, and sometimes “independence” goes too far. By neglecting to take breaks when my body needed them, by pushing myself too hard, by trying to go things alone and always trying to “got it,” I’ve done us all a disservice.

How can I expect my daughters to respect their bodies and themselves if I don’t do it, myself?

For the past 18 days, I’ve been trying.
It’s a slow process. I’m not myself yet. I still hate it.

But this *%&$ concussion has caused me to change my approach to nearly everything… which is one of the best things that ever happened to me – and to my girls.

(Plus also I’ve discovered podcasts. HOW DID I LIVE BEFORE PODCASTS??)
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Un-Weird: They’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

It’s been a heckuva couple of weeks.

Okay, so that’s putting it mildly.
Shit has really hit the fan, hasn’t it?

Last Sunday, after learning about the Orlando massacre, I wanted nothing more than to hole up with my phone and consume as much information as possible; it was almost all-consuming, this desire to know more, to reach out, to stay connected.

Simultaneously, though, was this desire to stay as far from the news as possible. There’s so much going on this time of year – family birthdays, end of school, beginning of summer, my girl “graduating” elementary school (I can’t even) – that I viscerally recoiled from the external forces that seemed intent on taking the little time and energy I had away from what mattered most… Meaning I also wanted nothing more than to hole up with my girls and Nick and the dogs and weed the garden and listen to Ella and Annie read to me and hug everyone as much as humanly possible.

In the end, we wound up telling the girls about the attack – in part because we would be watching the Tony Awards that night (duh) and I knew they were dedicating the show to Orlando, and in part because we thought they might hear about it in school and we wanted them to hear it from us, first.

(During their school’s annual Flag Day celebration on Tuesday, the flag was taken down before the ceremony – as it always is – so that it could be re-raised for everyone to see, followed by The Pledge of Allegiance. This year, the flag crested the top of the pole… and then was lowered down again until it reached half-mast. The jarring juxtaposition of the mourning flag, the kids in their patriotic regalia, and the words of The Pledge – “with liberty and justice for all” – was not lost on the parents in attendance.)

After we shared the basics, the girls asked – as they always do when they hear about hate-filled crimes – why anyone would do such a thing; do they not know that gay people/black people/women/transgendered people/Americans are okay? How do they not get it? We answered honestly that we don’t know; it makes no sense to us. There’s fear that fuels hatred… but beyond that, we don’t know why – not really.

Nick ended our discussion by saying, with resignation, that he didn’t know what the take-away message was — but he was so sorry these sorts of things are reality. At first, I agreed; but upon further reflection, I realized there was a message I wanted to impart:

Be kind.
See other human beings as just that – human beings – rather than “others” simply because they’re different. 
Don’t fight hatred with hate; fight it with love and knowledge and understanding.
And never forget that one individual – who claims to be part of a community – doing evil things does not mean that that entire community is evil, not by a long shot.

The girls looked at me like I had two heads; my “advice” was so basic as to be assumed. “Thanks so much, Captain Obvious. THIS IS ALL YOU’VE GOT?”

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Unrelated annual Memorial Day photo…

The background to all of this fear and hatred and judgment – from nutty “bathroom bills” to the absurd six-month Stanford rape case sentence to ISIS to Orlando to Britain to the lambasting of the parents whose two year-old was tragically killed by an alligator – has been Hamilton. I mean this literally and figuratively: the soundtrack has been on an almost-constant loop in our house, and the storyline is fresh in my mind.

Immigrants coming to America. Native-born residents taunting said immigrants and grousing about how they take away from those who were here first. Disagreements on the size and role of government. Pride causing people to do really stupid things. Women being treated as objects. Gun violence. People attacking one another simply because they see things differently.

The parallels between this 200+ year-old story and the craziness of today have made recent events almost entirely surreal.

The musical ends with Alexander Hamilton’s killer/rival/one-time friend Aaron Burr lamenting that he should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and him. (No, we haven’t seen the show and won’t before Lin-Manuel leaves… but we did snag tickets to a February performance. Only eight months to wait, yo!)

That’s the crux of it, I think – the crux of everything. Somehow, we allow ourselves to fall into the belief that there simply isn’t enough… space, time, energy, money, resources, love, etc. for all of us. It becomes us versus them. We fuel our narratives with fear. If you’re not like us – a different race, another sex, transgendered, gay, a different religion, from another part of the world – we let those fear-fueled stories take over until…

… well, until there are half-mast flags during Flag Day and dancing nightclubbers gunned down by an extremist and people screaming (literally) for a ban on Muslims and folks being harassed just for trying to use the loo.

The thing is, though? Our kids don’t get it. No, I mean it: they don’t understand any of this, because they cannot fathom this us versus them mentality. As Rodgers and Hammerstein so aptly said, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear… Before you are six or seven or eight – to hate all the people your relatives hate.” So we’re trying a different approach.

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about the push by some for Elsa to be shown as gay in Disney’s Frozen 2 – and how I thought that was unnecessary, but how I also thought it was nonsensical for people to oppose the idea on the grounds that they’d need to explain it to their children, or it would be too confusing for kids.

My awesome friend, N. – who happens to be a lesbian – backed me up with these fantastic sentiments:

Exposing children to things at a young age is soooooo important. Just like ‘love is an action…not just a word’…so is parenting.

It’s pretty simple. Things are only ‘weird’ to kids because parents make them that way.

YES, this.

Our girls live charmed, privileged lives. They want for little and go to a (wonderful) school that is not racially diverse. Largely because of that – because we know that their personal experience is what will shape their view of the world and of the people sharing this planet with them – we have deliberately made efforts to introduce them to things that are different from their experiences, to make those things un-weird.

It’s much harder to talk disparagingly about “them” when you’ve met them face-to-face.

Also – although their worldview is narrow, we make a point to discuss as much as we can, to give them language and context. Just prior to Ella’s kindergarten year, a friend of mine told me she and her partner informed their son that they were gay. He’d never heard the term before – their life was all he knew – but they wanted him to be familiar with it before he started school, in case the other kids mentioned it. Nick and I thought this was a good idea, so we – casually, matter-of-factly – told the girls that they were half-Asian, lest they hear the word at school and debate it (“I am not Asian!”). They’d never heard that term and were fascinated (Annie wanted to know “which parts” of her were the Asian parts).
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This isn’t good or bad or anything in between; it just is, we told them.

And so it has gone with everything else. They know we’re Christian – but not everyone is. They have classmates who are Jewish and Hindu and Muslim and atheist; none of them is good or bad or anything in between; they just are. We’re straight; their uncles are gay. It’s not weird, because it just is what it is. They have strong opinions about Donald Trump (yes, really); they also know that people they love may be voting for him, and that doesn’t make them bad people; it just is.

None of these differences makes people weird (well, maybe the Trump voters…), and it certainly doesn’t make them worth hating.

The more Annie and Ella learn about people who are unlike them, the more normal – and human – those people become. So, when they hear stories of racism or sexism or homophobia or religious persecution, they are genuinely confused. “But they’re not weird. Why would anyone hate them so much?”

As I said, there’s so much else going on in life right now, I haven’t even begun to process recent current events – and I definitely don’t have any big answers. But I think all of our kids may be the place to begin. If they can be distraught that Burr didn’t realize the world was wide enough for him and Hamilton… they can be distraught that anyone thinks the same today.

We need to teach them that “different” doesn’t mean “bad” or “weird” or “wrong” – it just is. We need to do it before they are six or seven or eight… So they don’t have the hate.

It’s a place to start, anyway.

 

 

 

Finding my religion

I am not really what you’d call religious.

We do celebrate Christian religious holidays like Christmas and Easter – but we also eat latkes and spin dreidels during Hanukkah, just because we enjoy it. Ella and Annie were baptized in our wonderful, little Episcopal church back in Westchester; Ella’s (phenomenal) godparents are Jewish. I took the girls to church weekly for years, but I’ve never read the Bible. In fact, I’m unfamiliar with most biblical stories unless they’ve worked their way into popular lexicon.

I would probably be a great People magazine Christian. “Joseph’s Eleven Brothers: Where Are They Now?”

With that being said, religions have always fascinated me, both from a personal/ spiritual and a historical/ anthropological perspective. Theology is really cool; understanding the beliefs of different religions is something I believe in, deeply.

Still, I haven’t exactly felt that belief, myself. I mean, I know that I believe – in God, in Jesus – but it’s never really moved me. I really wish it would.

I want to figure out how to make sense of my liberal social politics, my love of science, the voices of my friends who feel that people who believe in God are either stupid or blind, my negative experiences with organized religion… but also that part inside of me that just knows there’s something more out there, that does believe in God, that wants to reconcile that belief with all the rest of the stuff I’m lugging around.

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Cyclops Easter egg!
I know this photo seems oddly out of place; I think it’ll make more sense in a minute…

Basically, I want to attend a church run by Anne LamottGlennon Doyle Melton, and maybe Brené Brown, too. These women rock my world. They curse. They openly support gay rights. They don’t take the Bible literally. They doubt. They wonder. They encourage and enlighten and broaden and brighten and inspire, not to mention that they’re freakin’ hilarious. BUT ALSO they feel super-tight with God and Jesus and don’t feel weird about saying so. I want me some of THAT religion.

Alas, these three amazing women live nowhere near me… but I’ve found the spirit of their messages in the new little start-up church that I’ve been attending since October, Sophia Community. Every week, we gather together, read from the liturgy, and discuss it (“Um, what the heck is going on here? Why on earth would this be in the Bible? I really don’t like this passage.”). We wrestle with finding meaning in the words, even though we don’t take them literally. We pray, hard. It’s a completely safe space; every viewpoint is encouraged. There are no right answers, and I have loved every minute of it.

Still, I’ve been waiting for the Big Moment — I mean, I’ve been reading biblical passages, I’ve been talking and thinking and opening my mind! I am talking about Jesus and it doesn’t feel totally weird!!! Surely my spiritual epiphany is just around the corner. COME AND GET ME, GOD!

Well, it’s been a lot of months and no bolts of lightning. Damn it.

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Just one more sentence and these photos will make sense, I promise…

When my grandma asked us if we were going to church on Easter (AH HA!) morning, I quickly answered (maybe a little too quickly) that we were not. We used to for the sake of “tradition,” but when the girls began absolutely dreading the service and Easter morning became a combination of wrestling match meets bribery meets hysterical sobbing, I decided that the church traditions I really enjoyed on Easter were a) the music and b) wearing new clothes. Forcing Ella and Annie to sit through the service by shoving jelly beans in their mouths and threatening to take away their Easter baskets if they didn’t stop braiding the bookmarks in the hymnals just didn’t feel right… so we stopped going.

Instead, for the past several years, I’ve pulled up the “Hallelujah Chorus” on YouTube and we’ve all slapped on new duds on our way to brunch and all has been right with the world.

Well, almost all. A lot of people seem to get really excited about Easter – like really, really excited. They exude this JOY about it that seems to go beyond excitement over Cadbury caramel eggs (it must be caramel; the creme eggs are gross). I, myself, get pretty psyched about those eggs and I love watching my girls with their baskets… but true joy at Easter has been basically nonexistent for me.

This year, especially with all of my new Jesus knowledge, I wanted to find Easter joy. Joy is fun. Joy is feeling. I wanted to FEEL Easter.

So, after the girls had gone to bed the night before the big day, I decided to haul my Bible and, for the first time ever, read the four New Testament accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection. The stories were interesting enough (I honestly had no idea that they were completely different from one another; I mean, it’s the same story four times – how different can it be? HAHAHA WRONG) and I was genuinely bummed out by the way that Jesus died, but I wasn’t moved. No joy for me.

When Easter morning came around, the girls waited patiently for us to come downstairs so that they could earn their eggs. Yes, that’s the right word – earn. The previous day, Nick and I had told them that we didn’t have the energy to create an elaborate scavenger hunt for their eggs and baskets (as we did last year), but we could either hide their eggs or they could earn them. To our surprise, they chose B: earning their eggs.

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Nick and I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to make the tasks fun/silly or actual work. In the end, we chose a combination of both… with heavy emphasis on the silly… and wrote them down on little cards, to be chosen at random in the morning.

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This is what awaited the girls when they came downstairs: a bowl with tasks to earn their eggs, the eggs themselves (one completed task = one egg), small baskets in which to put their eggs, and one final egg each that told them it was time to go find their actual baskets.

And so, on Easter morning, Annie and Ella sang to us, played the piano, made our bed (holla!), engaged in some Harry Potter trivia, cleaned the kitchen floor (for real), and played cards in order to get their eggs and baskets. As we dealt the fourth hand (’cause nothing says “He is risen” more than competitive card games), Nick and I looked at one another and said, “This is already the best Easter ever!”
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Giggling over Cad (a family card game).

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An Easter duet (okay, so it was “Heart and Soul,” but it totally captured the exuberant spirit of the day).


Even the more “serious” tasks were met with gleeful enthusiasm… Chocolate and presents are powerful bribes motivators, y’all!

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We dyed eggs with my grandma, listened to “The Hallelujah Chorus,” got all fancied up, and went to brunch; we were totally knocking this Easter out of the park. Then, on our way home from the restaurant, the girls leaned forward in the car and said, “Ummm… So, what is Easter again?”

You’d have thought, after being dragged to church all those years, something would have stuck. Apparently not. (Except the jelly beans.)

Have you ever tried to explain Easter to young kids? Holy crap – it is THE CREEPIEST story EVER. Murder… coming back from the dead… walking around, talking to people… HOW WEIRD IS THAT?!?! Jesus is basically a zombie and everyone thinks it’s great. Let’s celebrate by dyeing eggs! Oh, and a bunny came to the house last night and dropped off a basket! Yay, Easter!!

So I told Ella and Annie the story, they nodded their heads (“Oh, right… Jesus came back from the dead… I remember now…”), but I could see that, even though they’d heard me, it wasn’t making any sense. They didn’t get why Easter was so special.

I understood. I mean, for the past 39 years, I haven’t gotten it, either.

Mostly, I’ve been okay with this. Easter’s just strange; no need to “get it” to have a good time. As the day went on, however, I grew unsatisfied with my answer. Because, frankly, Zombie Jesus isn’t a very happy thought. Just ’cause the Bible says it’s special doesn’t make it feel special – not for me, anyway. I wanted more.

And as I thought about it – as I considered why Jesus’s resurrection was such a big deal beyond the zombie mechanics of it – I felt something shift. I found myself calling the girls back and saying, “I want to talk to you a bit more about this. You know how I’ve told you that the Bible says that Jesus was dead, and then he wasn’t, and that’s what Easter is? And you know how you think that sounds really weird – probably because it is really weird? Well, I think there’s more to it than that.”

So I told them what I’ve learned, starting with ideas I’ve heard from Sophia Community, from Anne Lamott and Glennon Doyle Melton. As I went on, though, I discovered my own ideas — about why Jesus was different from the people who’d come before him, how he was really an awfully cool and amazing guy, how radically new his message was — not about God and the bible and “being saved,” but about us. About how we’re just right exactly as we are, about how we don’t need to do any more to be worthy of being loved; we are, with our flaws and imperfections, exactly who we are supposed to be. We are each enough, and we are loved, and we can do this.

It doesn’t matter if the story if real, I told them. It doesn’t matter if it ever happened. It doesn’t even matter if Jesus was real (although I think most scholars agree that he was, in fact, a real actual human; the whole divine thing is up for grabs). What matters – for me – is the message that Jesus, or even the idea of Jesus, spread: the message of love, of connectedness, of wholeness, of you are good enough just as you are. I have no idea if any of this really happened, but it doesn’t make a difference; the message, and how that message makes me feel, is what matters.

And as I spoke, I felt this very unfamiliar thing burbling up inside me – a little like indigestion, except it was happiness. It was joy.

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Easter brunch in our fancy duds. Tradition, preserved!

The week before Easter, we were visiting family in Charleston and had the honor of attending my cousin’s daughter’s baptism. Before the big day, we were chatting with everyone, including my cousin’s father-in-law – a retired Episcopal priest who was in town to perform the baptism (and visit with his baby granddaughter!). Annie happened to casually slip into conversation that we used to go to church, but hadn’t in a while (kids are such fun), and then followed up with this gem, “What even *is* religion? I don’t think I have religion.” 

As I was struggling to craft a response that would explain that, of course, we have religion and how much I love my little Sophia Community and that I haven’t completely led the kids astray — TO THE RETIRED PRIEST — my cousin’s father-in-law just smiled at my little heathen and answered, without missing a beat (I’m paraphrasing slightly here because I don’t remember the exact words, but the sentiment is true and real),

“Oh, Annie, I promise you you’ve got religion. What religion boils down to – no matter which one it is – is that we’re all in this together, and we’ve got love in our hearts, and we’re helping one another. I watched you tonight, helping out, laughing. Everything you did, you did with such love. Your love came from inside of you and you gave it to all of us. That’s religion; I saw it. You have definitely got religion.”

All these months, I’ve been looking for my religion – in church, in books, online, in discussions. I’d hoped, if I figured out enough, if I learned enough, that I would find God or Jesus or something; I’d hoped I would feel it.

Turns out, my religion’s been right here inside me all along. (This is sounding an awful lot like The Wizard of Oz…) It’s in card games on Easter morning, it’s in the “You were great!” text from a friend, it’s in the holding open the door for someone at the mall, it’s in your husband and mom and dad being proud of you, it’s in the hugs that my girls give me each night before they go to sleep.

I still don’t consider myself religious, but I have definitely got religion.
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My little heathens and me all gussied up on Easter. 
They are my religion, every last one of them.