Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's the thought that counts... but no pressure or anything.

Last weekend the hubs and I were out on a date and he told me he needed a Christmas list from me.  I said, "Oh, I don't need anything.  I just got the new computer -- that's plenty!"  He said, "Well, I need a list of little things, then." I said, "Oh, I really don't need anything.  But, ya know, if you found some little thing that just seemed like it would be perfect for me, then that would be cool.  But no pressure, I really don't need anything." (Oh, my goodness -- I sound crazy just typing it out, but it gets worse...) Then I said, "You know, part of the happiness of getting a gift is knowing that the person took the time to think about you, that they appreciate what you like and what makes you you." You know, some small gift that communicates everything that makes a person who they are.

But no pressure or anything.

Fast forward a few days, and my son Josh (just turned 7) and I were in the car, jamming out to the Phineas & Ferb Christmas CD.  A song came on in which Candice (neurotic teenage girl) is agonizing over what to get her boyfriend for Christmas.  When it ended, Josh asked "Why doesn't she just ask him what he wants?"

I said, "Well, Josh, sometimes what makes a gift special is knowing that someone took the time to figure out what you would like more than anything else, because they know you and care about you!"

Glancing in the rearview mirror, I could see his look of utmost befuddlement.  I'm pretty sure it was the same look Dan would have given me if he wasn't so nice to me.

I laughed and said, "Sounds too complicated, huh?"

Maybe I'm trying to put a leetle too much meaning into what we find under the tree 19 days from now...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What he's doing right.

Today marks three months since That Night.  As I have contemplated the awesomeness of my husband lately, I have been so grateful for the way he has approached this huge upheaval in our life.  After all, there is no guide for how to tell your spouse you lost your faith, or that you've been hiding something so life-altering for years.  And I know (especially as I've had a lot of opportunities to talk to people since my last post) that many people face the same kind of situation.  It may not be a loss of faith, but there are a lot of times when a person might need to reveal something potentially devastating to someone they care about deeply.  Dan could not have done a better job, and I thought I would share a few key things he's done that have helped me and our marriage and family enormously.

1.  He told me the truth.  As difficult as coming to grips with all this has been, I am so grateful that he had the courage to tell me the truth.  That was not always his plan -- he had planned to keep up his facade of faith until our kids were out of the house.  Let me tell you right now, that would have been a disaster.  It was hard enough dealing with the fact that he had been concealing this struggle for five years.  Add another 15 on to that, and the damage might have been irreparable, both to me and to the kids.  Plus, I don't think he could have done it.  I knew something was wrong, even though I didn't know what.  His secret-keeping was suffocating to him, and it was weighing down our whole family.  We didn't recognize that at the time, and thought we were pretty dang happy, but the difference as we have truly worked together and fought for each other has been incredible.  If that weight had remained on our relationship, it would have done more damage every day.  Tell the truth -- there is no good alternative.

2.  He talked.  Like many men, Dan would not put "let's sit down and talk about our feelings" at the top of his "fun evenings" list.  But he recognized that I needed to talk, to know what he was thinking and feeling, to be able to express to him all the overwhelming crazingess in my brain.  In the days and weeks since "the big talk," we have spent hours and hours and hours talking.  Dan has let me get to know him at a deeper level than I ever have before, and that was crucial in helping me get over that initial "do I even know you at all?!" feeling.  And now I know that he really will talk to me about whatever comes up, as we continue to work through all of this in the future.  There are going to be lots of issues dealing with this, but I know we will be able to talk and work through it.

3.  He let me grieve.  Dan knew me well enough to know that his loss of faith would break my heart -- that's why he kept it hidden for so long in the first place.  And it did.  I went through all the classic stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and finally acceptance.  There probably needs to be a "feeling like you're going to have a nervous breakdown" stage in there, too.  None of that could have been easy for him.  But he didn't get defensive or demand that I "get over it." He respected that it was going to be a process for me, and stayed right by my side throughout, completely supportive.  Even when I have been fine for a while and then suddenly have a little breakdown, he has been completely patient with me.  His patience and support and absoutely continuous love are what have made it possible for me to regain complete confidence and faith in him.

4.  He has stayed positive.  He has not looked to blame others for his loss of faith, or tear anyone or their faith down.  He is living in a way that is true to what he feels is right, without bitterness or anger.  He supports me in my own faith in a positive way, and is truly striving to build instead of destroying.  That is the measure of a good man.

5.  He loves me completely.  The #1 most wonderful thing that Dan has done throughout all of this is to show, both by word and action, that he loves me, that our marriage is his top priority, and that nothing will change that.  In the midst of so much change in our family and our lives, knowing that nothing can change that.  Not because we just know we're strong and take it for granted, but because we are both willing to work every day to protect the love that we have for each other.

What it all comes down to, I think, is unselfishness.  This doesn't surprise me -- ever since I've known Dan, which has been 15 years now, he has always put the needs and feelings of others ahead of his own.  And in all of this, a time when he could have been selfish and defensive, he has continued to try to make this as positive a situation as possible for all of us.

I love Dan with every part of me.  I am so grateful for the courage, positivity, and love with which he is facing this change in his life.  He never set out to lose his faith or to hurt anyone, and throughout this transition he has worked -- really worked -- to proactively be the man he wants to be.  That is what has made the difference between "potentially devastating" and the beginning of a beautiful future for our family, whatever that future might hold.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Less and More.

Believing in God has always been as natural as breathing to me, and as vital.  It has been the foundation for my life, and the framework upon which we have built our family.  And like breathing, you take it for granted until your ability to do it is threatened.

One month ago, my husband Dan came to me after all the kids were in bed and said we needed to talk.  I could tell by his ultra-serious expression that this was going to be a life-changer, but I was unprepared for the words that followed: "I am an atheist."

I felt that I had been suddenly plunged into a cold, stormy ocean, and every word he said was another heavy stone around my neck.  He had come to this realization 3 1/2 years ago after a year and a half of struggling with his faith, he told me, but had felt that hiding it was better for our family.  He couldn't live with himself anymore, though, and needed to come clean.

Sinking and sinking, I thought about every prayer we had said as a family, everything we had taught our kids together, every time we had knelt in prayer together at the end of the day, and the million other ways in which our life was so entwined with our beliefs -- all lies.  3 1/2 years?  Three and one half years?!  Every moment of every day.  WHY?

I can't even begin to express all the thoughts that were churning through my head, thoughts of past, present, and future.  What would happen now?  How was our life going to change?  How would this affect our children?  How could he just give up on the promise of being together forever?  Could he truly believe that this life is all there is, that we were really only married "until death do us part?"  Dan tried to pull me back, assuring me over and over of his love for me and our children, his dedication to supporting me in my own faith and helping me raise the kids in the gospel, and the kind of man he always intends to be.  But I felt like I was hearing him from underwater -- all I could really hear was the fear pounding away in my own heart.  I thought that I knew Dan.  I thought that I knew who we were, together.  Now I was terribly afraid that I was losing him, and myself and everything else important to me along with him.

I floundered in the depths for what felt like a long, long time.  We talked for hours, and when we finally went to bed I did not sleep.  I felt like we had lost something so important, and that I had never had a chance to save it, to fight for it.  I prayed and prayed but found no peace.  The next day I went through the motions, keeping it together as best I could for the kids, but there was no relief.  We had returned only two days earlier from an incredible just-the-two-of-us vacation to celebrate our tenth anniversary, and the suitcases full of memories were still in the middle of the living room floor.  I couldn't bear to look at them.  I couldn't bear to download the pictures I had taken on the trip.  For me, the trip had been magical -- two weeks of just us, laughing and talking and having all sorts of funny adventures, growing closer and just being so... together.  But now it was all muddled together with the fact that I felt like I had been living in a fantasy world of my own creation.  Had I imagined every good thing about our relationship?  Because obviously Dan was living in a very different world than I knew.  The trip had become the ultimate example of the facade of our lives, a sham of happiness that I had been blinded by.

I talked to Dan about it that night, and he was visibly upset that his timing in telling me the truth had ruined my memory of the trip.  He told me what the trip had meant for him, and the way he described it sounded just the way I would have before everything got smooshed together in my mind.  It was like the first shaft of light for me -- the realization that, while it was true that I had not known or understood what was really happening with Dan, our life and our love was not a figment of my imagination.  And then he said something that I will never forget.  I asked him why he had chosen now to tell me -- if he felt I was ready for it, or if he just felt so much pressure from living a lie that he had decided that it was time to sink or swim.  He said, "Never for more than a moment did I think we would sink, because I knew that I would swim."  I realized then that I had underestimated his love for and commitment to me.  He was just as fiercely committed to us as I was, and he would do whatever it took to protect that.

I had been clutching fear so tightly that I was paralyzed.  As I began to let it go, there was room in my mind and heart for other emotions: understanding of what Dan had been going through for the past five years and the pain of bearing that burden all alone for so long; gratitude for his determination to live as an honest, loving, moral husband and father; trust that he really meant it; and, finally, peace.  When I stopped shouting so loudly inside my head, God was able to send me the peace that I needed.  I began to have specific, undeniable experiences that let me know God is aware of our little family at this moment of upheaval, and that He has not let go of Dan.  He is there, and He loves us.  I don't know what is coming in the future, but I do know that.

I began to hold on to peace and love with both hands, instead of fear and resentment.  As Dan and I have worked together through the inevitable issues this has brought forward, we have grown so much closer and more united.  And I have felt God's love stronger than at any time in my life.  I feel so grateful for Dan, for our family that has shown so much love and understanding, for a kind and thoughtful bishop who gave me a blessing that was literally a godsend, for a friend who took me to the temple and let me cry it all out to her, for a hundred moments of guidance and peace that I have felt in the past month.

How is it possibly that through losing so much, I feel like I have been given so much more?  How can having the foundation of our marriage and family swept away lead me to a stronger relationship with Dan and with God?  My only answer is the grace of God.  To me there is no other explanation for being able to overcome the overwhelmingly negative emotions with which I reacted, so quickly and completely. Dan doesn't explain it that way, of course.  And that hurts my heart, but I know that he is working so hard to be the kind of man he wants to be.  He is positive and supportive and so full of love.  And I am grateful for that.

It has been a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process -- sometimes a rogue wave of sadness pushes me back under for a while.  But instead of feeling like I'm drowning, I am trying to let my faith in Dan and in God pull me out again.  Dan and I are sailing our ship together. (Do you think I've beaten this metaphor to death yet?  Because I could go on...)

P.S.  Why am I putting something so personal out into the blogosphere?  First, I needed a way to let as many people as possible know about the change in our family.  The last month has left me emotionally and physically exhausted, and having to explain this to people over and over again just makes it harder.  This was the best solution for me, short of renting a billboard that says "Dan is leaving the church.  I'm okay.  Our marriage is not in danger.  Go back to your lives, citizens."  I don't mind talking about it, but having to break the news again and again is just too much for me right now.

Second, I guess I hope that this experience will help someone else.  I do not think I have suffered in some uniquely difficult way -- on the contrary, I think everyone goes through utterly heart-wrenching experiences at some point(s) in their lives.  But after this storm hit, when I went online, I couldn't find any experiences like mine.  Or like Dan's, that might help me to get some perspective.  This blog post is entirely my story, I realize.  Dan is going to write his own experience -- why he hid the truth for so long and what he wishes he'd done differently, as well as his experience with finally telling the truth -- and post it here as well.  People need to be able to talk about things and know they are not alone, whichever side of this kind of situation they're on.

P.P.S.  A note about commenting.  I think nearly everyone who reads this blog is made up of our family and friends, so I'm not that worried.  Please leave comments if you'd like -- nothing is worse than radio silence after putting something like this out there.  But I've seen too many mean, bitter, snarky, contentious comments on blogs not to be afraid of that one random person who, protected by the anonymity of the internet, decides to take in on themselves to inflict pain.  Please know that this is coming from an intensely personal and painful place in our very real lives.  If you don't have something nice to say, please just keep it to yourself and click to the next blog...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

And if everyone else was doing the macarena, would YOU?!

My son Sam is in Spanish Immersion at his elementary school, and last night they held their year-end program, called "La Fiesta."  As part of the grand finale, all the student did the macarena. A few seconds into it we noticed Sam was not even close to the same moves as the other kids. At first we thought he just didn't get how to do the dance -- he is my son, after all -- but then we realized he was totally doing his own thing -- one kid doing a very serious robot dance in a sea of macarena. I asked him afterward why, and he said the macarena was weird and stupid.

That had to take guts.  8 years old, first year in Spanish Immersion, surrounded by his friends, classmates, teachers, and tons of older kids he looks up to, to say nothing of the thousand plus people in the audience, and he was brave enough to decide the macarena was going to be his line in the sand.  I can tell you right now that when I was 8... or 18... or probably even now, I would not have had the guts.  In fact, I can point to a lot of situations in my life where I felt uncomfortable with something, but I kind of went along so I wouldn't stand out from the crowd, or look as weird as I always felt.  Who knew a second grader doing the robot could teach me a profound lesson on being true to yourself no matter what?

Sam is on the second row up, third from the right of kids who are in the light. I wish this video was better -- I just pulled out my iphone as soon as I realized what he was doing. You'll also have to excuse Dan and I giggling like crazy in the background, but it was pretty much the funniest thing I've ever seen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The King Mushroom (extended version...)

I pride myself on not being easily offended, but now I have been defamed on the Internet for all to see, and I will not put up with it!  My famous blogger brother Dan of Single Dad Laughing just posted about The King Mushroom, a story that lives in infamy in our sibling history.

The basic story is this:  My mom always added raisins and canned mushrooms to the spaghetti sauce.  Don't knock the raisins till you've tried 'em, people!  Dan is totally fronting that he didn't like that part -- we all gobbled up those little bits of sweetness.  But the mushrooms?  Oh, what we wouldn't do to escape the slippery, rubbery bites of death.  One night we discovered the most enormous canned mushroom in the history of the earth in the spaghetti sauce.  I'm pretty sure it was the size of my hand.  It may have covered the entire plate.

DANIEL is saying that I was the unlucky recipient of the flying-saucer-sized fungus, and that after my attempt to hide it on the floor under the table was discovered, I blamed him then gleefully watched as he was forced to eat it.

Lies, I tell you!

I know this, because I would never, ever have done such a thing.  I was the oldest, and therefore had a responsibility to set an example of perfect integrity and compassion for my younger siblings.  And I was perfect at it -- just ask me...

I'm pretty sure the original recipient of The King Mushroom was our poor little brother Eric, who at seven years old could hardly have been expected to eat a mushroom the size of his head.  He did chuck it on the floor, where it was in fact discovered by our parents.  Dan probably did get the blame, because he was definitely the pickiest eater.  You should have seen him gag pathetically when forced to eat peas.  But Dan, you missed the best part of the story!  When none of us would 'fess up to the crime, my parents decreed that no one would get to leave the table until that mushroom was eaten.  They didn't care who ate it as long as someone did.  So the four of us "big kids" sat at the table, long after our parents had left, eyeing each other and The King Mushroom.  Dan stabbed it with his fork and dropped it onto Eric's plate.  Eric picked it up and threw it at Dan, who picked it up and threw it at me.  Pretty soon we were laughing hysterically as we threw it back and forth at each other.  It may or may not have escalated into throwing other food items -- my memory gets fuzzy at that point.  But it did not go unnoticed by our parents, and the four of us spent some significant time with our noses on the wall that night.

But not all night -- that's a sibling story for another time...

P.S.  I mentioned this story to my mom the other night and she had zero recollection of these events.  I'm very interested to hear if Amy and Eric (our two younger siblings involved in this particular episode) remember this at all, and their versions of the events!

P.P.S.  Raisins in spaghetti sauce are delicious!  Just check out this yummy recipe for Sicilian spaghetti sauce:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On a lighter note... (Why does everything turn to tears?!)

Yesterday's post was a pretty heavy one in which a lot of crying happened.  One of my friends, as we were discussing it on FaceBook, said that she always ends up in tears, too, and wondered why that is.  Why is that our outlet?  Would it be healthier to scream into a pillow?!

Everything seems to turn to tears for me -- happy, sad, weddings, funerals, babies, public speaking, my son's pre-kindergarten evaluation.  Seriously, I stood out in the hallway with tears streaming down my face watching him count with his new teacher.  Me when I'm pregnant?  Crazy town.  I sobbed for about an hour when detective Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue died.  I cried for four hours when my dear sweet sister gave me a hideous haircut (that was my poor husband Dan's first introduction to crazy Tomi).  On the flipside, my family's favorite sport was to see who could get me laughing, because it would inevitably lead to me crying uncontrollably.  Yeah, glad I could entertain you guys...

You may have already seen this -- it's all over FB and the morning TV shows -- but Kristen Bell was on Ellen yesterday talking about her emotional meltdown over getting to interact with a sloth for her birthday (the fulfillment of a lifelong dream).  It's pretty darn hilarious:

Ah, another member of the crying club.  I love how she described her crying zone as anything outside 3-7 on the emotional scale.  I'm with you, Kristen.  (Except when I'm pregnant, which I would say is anything outside the 4-5 range.)

Crying is not a negative thing -- I think it's just one way to release emotional stress.  Dan (my husband) prefers to "criticize invisible liberals" while "yelling at the windshield like a moron" on his drive home.  That's his outlet.  Yelling always makes me feel worse instead of better, so that wouldn't work for me.  Some people have physical outlets (Dan also likes to lift a lot of weight at the gym when he's frustrated).  Some people have a hobby that lets them escape.  For me, that's arts and crafts and DIY projects.  Hmm, I haven't made a lot of time for that lately -- maybe that's a contributing factor to my recent trip into yuckville.

At any rate, I think we should give ourselves a break if we're criers.  It just means our hearts are full to overflowing, right?  Overflowing right out of our eyeballs.

I also really love these two graphics I found via Pinterest.

(via fourthescape)

cry because you have been strong for too long

(A very kind commenter named Gretchen also left that last thought in the comments yesterday.  Thank you!)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


A couple of weeks ago I turned 33.  I have never been one to be bothered by getting older, but this one was a doozy.  For the first time in years, I felt terrible about myself, like I was going nowhere and just getting worse and worse as a person.  The one big area where I seemed to be offending humanity?  My weight.

I have always struggled with weight.  About five years ago I started making a real effort to get healthy and lose weight, and I lost about 70 lbs.  Yay!  Then I got pregnant and gained every single ounce back.  Boo.  Then over the following two years I got back down again.  Yay!  Then my sister revealed that she had been struggling with an eating disorder for ten years, and in supporting her through her treatment process I realized that my own obsession with my weight was not only harmful to her but to me and also potentially to my kids.  So I made a commitment to her and to myself that I would not weigh myself again and started working to reevaluate my goals for my health and life without being obsessed with the number on the scale, or tracking calories, or crushing myself with guilt about food choices.

It is a thousand times harder than I expected it to be.  Over the past year, though I don't know how much because I'm still committed to not weighing myself, I've slowly gotten bigger and bigger.  I'm still exercising and eating sensibly, but apparently if I don't obsess and restrict and go crazy, my body doesn't want to be that smaller size.  It is incredibly frustrating to feel the pounds come back on and have to buy bigger clothes.  I have paid a lot of lip service to not valuing myself by my weight, size, or physical appearance, but saying it is a heck of a lot easier than really believing it.

So back to my birthday.  For the last five years I've felt every year like I was making progress, going forward, getting more and more awesome.  But this year I just felt like crap.  And I was walking around for weeks beforehand with all these negative thoughts and feelings swirling around in my brain, feeding on themselves and growing bigger and bigger until it was all I could think about.  I couldn't see my many other great qualities, or the fact that my appearance is just one small part of my identity and life. It was a dark cloud from which I felt like there was no escape.

I started thinking about writing this post, but realized that I hadn't even talked about it to another human being.  And that maybe that would be helpful.  And that, just maybe, I should talk about it to my husband, who I know without a doubt loves me.  Duh.

So, the night after my birthday, I spilled my guts and cried on his shoulder (literally) for an hour.  And since I had been holding all this in pretty effectively, I'm sure it was kind of blindsiding for him.  And guess what: he didn't have any miraculous fixes for me.  He just let me talk it all out and tried to reassure me.

And when I woke up in the morning, I felt much better.  I don't mean to say that I was suddenly okay with everything about my body image and my self worth, but things were more proportionate with the rest of my life.  I was able to see that yes, I was unhappy with that one area, but I was also growing in many other areas of my life that I was very proud of.  I was able to stop obsessing -- instead of could see taking things one step, one choice at a time.  The dark cloud lifted.

While we were talking about it, my dear husband was sorry that he didn't have any answers for me.  He joked, "I could suggest leeches..." I replied, "Well, as a lover of the Jane Austen time period I should be all over those old-fashioned methods."  Which made me think of bloodletting (stick with me here), where doctors would open up a vein or artery and drain some blood out of a patient in the hopes of getting rid of the bad blood making them sick.  When I finally opened up and poured out all the poison that had been swirling around in my head and heart for so long, it worked just that way.  I let it all out and that allowed healthier thoughts to come in.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that keeping negative thoughts and feelings bottled up is only going to make them stronger until they poison everything in your life.  I am grateful to have a loving and understanding husband I could talk to and I really wish I had done it sooner.  For you it might be a husband, friend, mom, sister, or just a journal where you write everything down.  This blog post is helpful for me, too.  I kept it in because I didn't want to admit that I was struggling with the changes I've made.  I didn't want to burden anyone else with my negative emotions.  But the truth is, my husband knew I was unhappy about something.  My mom knew.  My kids knew, because by the time I finally let it out I was not a particularly cheerful person to be around.  So I wasn't fooling anyone anyway.

I realize that many people upon reading this would think, "Duh."  But for those who are like me, and have a difficult time talking about hard things, I hope this will empower you to open up your heart to someone you trust.