find someone who is kind

My grandma likes to tell a story about the first time she met my dad. At this point, my parents had been dating for almost two years and were engaged to be married in a matter of months. Shortly after my mom went off to college, my grandpap got transferred from California to Delaware for his job. Rather than being a few hours’ drive away, my grandparents were now living across the country. They knew about my dad, of course. Grandpap had met him once when he was out in California for work and visited UCSB. But my grandma had never met my dad when my mom called with the big news that she was engaged.

Grandma had never met my dad… but she discovered that she did know his parents. In an incredible small-world coincidence, all four of my grandparents attended the same small college of Wittenburg in Springfield, Ohio right after WWII. Grandma, Grandpap, and Grandma Auden were all in the same class; Gramps was a few years older. They were in different fraternities and sororities, but they were acquaintances who had some close friends in common. Then they graduated, got married, lost touch, and had children. Both families separately moved from Ohio to Southern California in the early 1970’s. My parents grew up just a couple hours away from each other, in Ventura and Northridge. Then my parents each chose to attend UCSB, and met each other at a party around Christmastime through mutual friends.

My grandma was comforted to realize that the man her daughter had fallen in love with was Jim & Audrey’s son. When the two sets of parents were reunited before the wedding, Auden pulled Grandma aside and said, “Don’t worry, Mary Lou. He is very kind.”

Kind is definitely one of the first words I would use to describe my father. He is gentle, thoughtful, compassionate, and loving. This past Easter, when I was visiting my parents and had to get my blood drawn {which is always an ordeal for me with my tiny veins} he sat beside me and held my hand. He slips cards into my purse just as he used to slip notes into my lunchbox. He and my mom have shown me that kindness is a source of strength.

So it is perhaps not a surprise that when I was looking for the person I would share my life with, the first word at the top of my list was kind. I wanted to find a partner who was kind, gentle, and compassionate. Who made me feel understood and loved, even when I didn’t understand or love myself. Who would be a beacon of comfort in a world that can, at times, be a very harsh place.

{photo credit Allyson McAuley}

When I came across Allyn’s photo on an online dating website, I was immediately drawn to his kind smile. I felt that quiet kindness emanating through his spirit on our first date, when he looked at me with his smiling eyes and listened attentively to all my stories. Kindness was the first quality that drew me to him. And, years later, it remains the quality of his that I am most grateful for.

I don’t think kindness gets much attention in the language we use to discuss romance. We talk about mystery and intrigue; sex appeal and beauty; passion and attraction. And all of those things are important. But I do think that, as a society, we focus too much on the “flashier” traits that are on the surface. Those traits that lessen over time as you build a life together, as you grow older together, as you let each other in on the secret intricacies and intimacies of your true selves. Allyn is less of a mystery to me now than when we met, and I am surely less of a mystery to him. Instead of meeting up for a dinner date all gussied up, he sees me when I am sick and when I am tired and when I have just woken up in the morning with crusty eyes and messy hair. When that whirlwind of initial romance ebbs into a steady partnership, and that newness melts away into the familiar, what you’re left with is the bedrock of your connection with each other.

To me, it is most important that it be a foundation built on kindness.

I am witness to my husband’s kindness every single day. When he comes up behind me and gives me a hug for no reason. When he opens the car door for me or insists on carrying in most of the groceries. When he traps the spider and carries it outside rather than killing it. The way he sends thank-you notes and mails birthday cards. The sweet way he hugs my grandma whenever we see her. I hear the kindness in his voice on the phone — not just when he talks to me, but also when he’s on the phone with his mom or his sister. When we go visit his great-aunt Flo and take her grocery shopping, and Allyn holds her purse so she won’t lose it, gently guiding the cart through the aisles to find her oranges and graham crackers and milk. I feel the warmth of his kindness every time he holds my hand when we walk down the street, or pauses to say hello to a neighbor, or picks up a piece of litter that had blown out of someone’s trash can.

I am so proud of his kindness. So proud to be married to him.

 

When Allyn and I first moved in together, I was concerned about keeping our “spark” alive. I didn’t want us to descend into roommates, losing any semblance of mystery or romance. I refrained from doing certain grooming tasks like plucking my eyebrows or trimming my fingernails around him. We never left the door open while peeing. When we dressed up to go on date nights, I would get dressed by myself in our bedroom so I could open the door and make my entrance. {I still like to do this — it’s just more fun that way!}

We made it through almost our first two years of living together, and the first year and a half of our marriage, before we broke these rules. Or, should I say, transcended them. When I underwent emergency surgery due to an ectopic pregnancy, suddenly I needed my husband in a way I never had before. I woke up in the hospital bed after my surgery, and I glimpsed a new layer of love in Allyn’s eyes. He kept telling me, “All that matters is that you’re okay.” That evening, before I was able to go home, the nurses wanted me to use the restroom. I felt too unsteady to walk across the hall by myself, plus I was attached to an IV pole with cumbersome wires. So Allyn held my hand and helped me slowly shuffle into the restroom. He held my arms and helped me sit down on the toilet. He stood right there as I peed. I realized I was breaking that cardinal rule I had set when we moved in together. I had believed that peeing in front of each other would be the furthest thing from romance. But, in that cold hospital bathroom, as my husband bent down to help me pull my panties back up, I felt more connected to him than I ever had before. It was a beautifully romantic moment in an ocean of grief.

In the following days and weeks, my husband’s steady kindness became my well of comfort. He helped me out of bed in the middle of the night to take my pills, then gently helped me lie back down into bed. He dried my legs off after I showered because I wasn’t supposed to bend down yet. He brought me saltine crackers and popsicles and refilled my water glass. He stroked my hair and told me how beautiful I was and how amazed he was by my strength. In those days and weeks of healing, I felt stripped down to my barest self. And my husband gazed with awe at that raw, vulnerable part of me and said, “I have never loved you more than I do right now.”

It was not the stuff of romance novels. It was not the scenes I dreamed about on those lonely nights when I was single, imagining my future husband. But since going through that trying and intimate experience together, our attraction to each other has only grown and deepened. Allyn’s kindness makes me fall more and more in love with him every day.

 

I still close the bathroom door when I pluck my eyebrows and trim my nails and pee. I still hope that I retain a bit of mysterious intrigue in my husband’s eyes. But, one of the sweetest moments of our nightly routine comes right before we turn out the bedroom light, when Allyn says, “Ready for me to do your eyes?” I have dry eyes, so my doctor recommended putting in these nighttime eye drops. It is more like an eye gel, much harder than putting in normal eye drops, and I am terribly unsuccessful at doing it to myself. After witnessing me poking myself in the eye and squeezing eye gel onto the bridge of my nose, Allyn said, “Would you like me to help you with that?” So now, every night, I hold open my eyelids while he carefully puts the gel into each of my eyes.

My sweet, thoughtful, kind husband. I feel so lucky to have him. I am so glad I picked him, and he picked me.

Every night, I blink my wet eyes, put the tube of eye drops back down on my bedside table, and turn onto my side. Allyn flips off the light and kisses me goodnight. His hand finds mine under the covers as we drift off to sleep together.

To me, it doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following prompts:

  • What traits are most important to you in a partner? Why?
  • Write about a time someone has shown you kindness. What happened? What did it mean to you?
  • Write about an experience when you were forced to be vulnerable around someone else. What happened? What did you learn from the experience?
  • Think about some of the most romantic experiences in your life. Would they be considered conventionally romantic? Did any of them surprise you?

the panic before the party

Last Sunday, Allyn and I hosted a book launch party at our new home to celebrate the release of my short story collection, WOMAN, RUNNING LATE, IN A DRESS. {You can snag a personalized copy here!}

We’d been planning this party for months. Even before we found our new home, when we weren’t even looking at houses yet but were planning to move when our lease was up, I said to Allyn, “You know what would be cool? What if we had a combination housewarming/book launch party when my book is published?” Allyn immediately agreed it would be cool, but said what would be even better is if we left out the housewarming part and just focused on celebrating my new book. He’s teaching me more and more how to step into my own spotlight rather than feel like I need to dim my light. One of the 846,748 reasons why I love him so much. 🙂

Once we found our house and signed the lease on our new place, planning really began in earnest. We set a date for the party and made an invitation on Facebook. We spread the word to our friends and family. I ordered cute raffle prizes featuring the book cover {coasters, a tote bag, a puzzle} and made bookmarks. We felt hugely motivated to get all of our boxes unpacked, our pictures hung on the walls, and everything organized before the party. {Which, if you’re willing to handle a bit of stress, I would totally recommend — never before have I felt “all moved in” so quickly!}

We planned out the food and the drinks, the seating and the mingling areas. I made a display of my books. Some of our guests volunteered to bring wine; others brought beer; others brought appetizers and veggies and sandwiches. The day of the party, I baked mini pumpkin muffins, set out paper plates and napkins, and organized plastic utensils into cups. I took a shower, dried my hair, carefully applied eyeshadow and mascara.

Everything looked beautiful. Everything was sparkling and clean and ready to go. Everything was exactly the way I had hoped it might be, back when Allyn and I began planning the party a month ago in our crammed-to-the-brim-with-boxes apartment.

I felt that excited, nervous energy that bubbles inside you when you are preparing to embark on something that you have been dreaming about for a very long time. Because this party wasn’t just about this one afternoon. Nor was it just about this new house we had claimed as our home, or about the 178 printed pages between two shiny covers of my published book. It was a party that had been years in the making. A party that, for a long time, I had thought would never come.

I sent out my short story manuscript for six long years before it won the Cypress & Pine Fiction Award from Yellow Flag Press and was accepted for publication. Six years of form rejection slips and crushed spirits and doubt. Six years of dreaming that, one day, I would hold this book in my hands and proudly share it with my friends and family. Six years of stubborn hope that these characters in my imagination were meant to leap into the hearts and minds of other people — that they weren’t just meant to live inside me.

And now, here I was, standing on the threshold of that day I had gazed at on the horizon of my life for so long.

My mother-in-law arrived first, bearing enormous platters of delicious sandwiches. We arranged them on the kitchen table and the island. We uncorked the wine. Then my grandparents arrived, with a cooler full of beer that we put on the back patio. We gave them the tour of the house. They helped themselves to sandwiches. Our dear friends Justin & Fawn arrived with their adorable baby boy, and it was so nice to visit with them in the kitchen, catching up on life. And yet, laughing there in the sunshine, an urgent panic began to rise within me.

What if no one else showed up? What if this party — that I had been dreaming about and working towards for so long — what if it was a total lame disappointment?

Allyn squeezed my hand. The minutes ticked by. The doorbell was silent. My phone beeped with text messages from friends and family members, explaining that they were so sorry but they could no longer make it. My panic gained strength, whispering in my ear like a mean girl in middle school:

This was a stupid idea. You never should have planned this party. You never should have put yourself out there like this. Now everyone is going to feel sorry for you. No one wanted to come to your party and no one cares about your book. You should have just stayed quiet and kept to yourself. Why did you even take this risk?

Panic doesn’t only visit us before we throw a big party. It comes whenever we try something new — when we step out of our comfort zones, launch a new venture, share something that is important to us. It comes when we express excitement about a new opportunity or decide to make a change in our lives — take time off work to travel; sign up for Whole 30; start a side-hustle; pursue a passion project. It comes when we plant our flag in the sand, stand tall in our truth, and say boldly, “This matters to me!” Because in doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable. Our high hopes might be crushed. Our beautiful plans might be met with lonely disappointment.

This inner voice of panic was familiar to me. I had felt it before many times in my life, which was actually a blessing because it helped me recognize what was happening. I spoke back to my panic. I talked my nervous heartbeat down from the ledge.

Shhh, shhh, calm down. It’s going to be okay. Look at these people around you. They came a long way to be here with you today. They’re happy for you. They’re proud of you. Focus on savoring these moments with them and loving the hell out of this experience while it is happening. This is precious and special. Right here. Right now. All the rest is just white noise from your ego. Let it go.

I think it is natural to feel that panic-before-the-party in many aspects of our lives. We make a decision focused on all the wonder and magic that might unfold, and then when we’re confronted with the messy reality we feel panicked that maybe we made the wrong decision. But I think that our inner voice of panic is actually a clue that we’re on the right path. That we’re growing.

The truth is, it would be easier to stay safe. To never risk that panic. But I don’t think “easy” is an ingredient in the recipe for a satisfying adventure in this one wild and precious life you have been given.

Another truth: so often, panic is short-sighted. It is focused on the immediate moment and spirals into despair. But so often, even when the reality is messier than you anticipated or there are a few bumps in the road, eventually things level out. You look back and realize that everything turned out even better than you had imagined it would. You are so grateful you made that leap and took that risk and tried that newness on for size. The voice of panic is completely washed away and it is easy to forget that it was ever there… until you plant another flag in the sand and the panic comes to visit again in full force.

I think panic loses its power when we recognize it as part of the process. It is simply part of the journey and we don’t have to listen to it. We can turn our head away and focus on the other voices in our hearts that are cheering us on.

Even if no one else had showed up to my party, it would not have been a disaster. It would have been a lovely intimate gathering with six of my favorite people. But more people did show up. First a slow trickle; then guests arrived all at once. Before I knew it, I looked up from arranging a bowl of fruit salad and realized our kitchen was crammed full of people, talking and eating and enjoying the afternoon. Later, everyone gathered in the living room and I read an excerpt from my book, and then champagne and Martinelli’s were poured and toasts were made. As I gazed around the room so filled with love and support, I felt tears prick my eyes. I kept thinking, This is it. This is it. This is it. 

This is what was waiting on the other side of the shore, during those years I swam through the cold waves of doubt and disappointment, wondering if I would ever reach that land I was striving towards.

This is what was waiting through the moments of panic and fear, uncertainty and envy, hopelessness and frustration.

This is what was waiting. And it was more than worth it.

When you finally do reach the shore — when the train does finally come — the struggle of the journey makes the celebratory champagne taste so much sweeter.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about the questions below that speak to you:

  • When is a time you have felt the “panic before the party” in your life? What did the panic say to you? What actually happened?
  • Write about a time you took a risk, felt doubt, but pushed through to a new opportunity.
  • What is a risk you long to take in your life now? How do you yearn to grow?

house-hunting lessons

As I mentioned in a previous post, Allyn and I have been planning to move into a larger space. For the past two years, our one-bedroom apartment has been the perfect cozy little home for our growing lives. But now, it is feeling cramped. We’ve known for a while that when our apartment lease is up this March 1, we want to move. So, aiming to give ourselves plenty of time, we began our house-hunting journey the last weekend of January.

We started out that Saturday full of energy, excitement and optimism. We were going to find Our Perfect Home in Our Perfect Location and we were going to Find it Immediately! Yet, by the end of that first day, we were both feeling a little disappointed. The first house we saw was in a lovely location, but the house itself was pretty run-down. The kitchen was tiny, and we’d have to buy a washer and dryer. The second house we saw was easy to cross off our list: not the best location, and in even worse condition than the first house. The third place was our favorite — we loved meeting the owner, and the house itself was cute and seemed well cared for, plus a washer and dryer was included. But the location was not ideal for us.

It was a classic case of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” No house was perfect. We joked, driving home, that all we needed to do was move House #3 to the location of House #1 and we’d be all set.

The next weekend, we made appointments to see more possibilities. The townhouse was less expensive, but we weren’t sure if we wanted shared walls — something that has been problematic at times about apartment living. Another house was very nice and had been recently renovated, but they wanted tenants to move in immediately, and we were hoping to move at the end of the month. Another place was on the corner of a busy, noisy street. The kitchen was gorgeous, but the bedrooms were tiny.

House-hunting revealed so much of how our brains work and the games they play with our emotions. First of all, we quickly realized that there is no One-and-Only Perfect Home out there waiting for us. {Or, if there is, we aren’t willing to put in months of house-hunting to find it. We need to move out in March.} Every place we saw had its positives and negatives. And our brains — my brain, at least — loved to go into comparison mode. Each house we saw, my brain would worry itself over the “flaws” and less-than-perfect components, comparing this Actual House with an Imagined Ideal House that existed nowhere other than my mind. My brain loved to insist,

But wait, what if Imagined Ideal House does exist somewhere in the real world? What if it is the next house around the corner, the one we will find next week, or the week after that? What if we give in and sign a lease, but then our true Perfect Home pops up on Zillow and it’s too late?

It was a prime example of Fear Of Missing Out. The lure to continue searching reminded me of gambling — always hoping to win bigger next time. Allyn and I could have kept house-hunting forever, searching for that elusive ideal. But, as the saying goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” We also didn’t want to hedge and hesitate on applying to rent a home we really liked, and miss out when someone else swooped in and rented it before we got our act together.

That happened to us with one property — which, looking back, I do not think would have been the best fit for us — but, when we found out it was no longer on the market, it was amazing how quickly all of those “flaws” disappeared and our FOMO was replaced by panic that we would never find any home to rent in time, that everything was being scooped up and we were too late. It is so easy to fall into a scarcity mindset. We had to remind ourselves to take deep breaths and have faith that we would end up in the right place for us. That the pie is big enough for everyone to get a slice.

My brain can contradict itself so fitfully. In the direct opposite of insisting that there was always a Better House Out There, waiting in the next Zillow email, my brain also loved to immediately get emotionally attached to each house we saw by imagining myself living there — only this was not Actual Me, this was Ideal Me. I would focus on how much I wanted the huge yard of House #1 so I could plant an enormous garden, because my Ideal Self is an avid gardener, even though in reality the only plants I seem able to keep alive are succulents. Or, my brain would fixate on how the townhouses had a pool, and we could go swimming there all the time, even though our current apartment has a pool and I have used it approximately three times in two years, because in reality swimming is not my favorite activity and the pool is always cold. Or, I would think about how House #4 was right by a nature trail, and I could go walking there every morning before I start my work. Which is a lovely idea, but not the most important factor in choosing where to live. Because what if there are a lot of bees on the nature trail, or I find a yoga class I love and decide I want to do that most mornings instead?

It is true that I can think about my Ideal Self and use this vision as inspiration. In her book about habits, Better Than Before, Gretchin Rubin writes about how a big life change — like moving — is the perfect time to start a new habit or let go of a habit that is not serving you. Moving is like pressing the “re-set” button on your habits because your environment is changing, so your daily routines are also ripe for change. Maybe I will begin with a small vegetable garden in our new backyard and see how it goes. Maybe I will try going for a walk in the morning, before I dive into my work. Maybe I will shop at the farmer’s market; quit processed sugar once and for all; meditate in the afternoons; banish the clutter.

Allyn and I made a list of the aspects for our new place that we find most important: in our price range; a safe neighborhood; close to public transit for his commute and close to the freeway for my commute; spacious enough for us to have a little room to grow. All the rest would be icing on the cake.

When we first toured the house that would end up being Our Next Home, we didn’t see fireworks the moment we stepped in the front door. We didn’t look at each other with knowing smiles that said, “Yes. This is The One.” We didn’t immediately tell the owner, “We’ll take it!” We followed the owner through the rooms, noting and nodding and smiling, asking questions and ticking off boxes in our heads. We talked about it on the way home. And the more we talked about it, the more we liked it. No, it is not a Perfect House. But it is pretty darn near perfect-for-us, right here and right now, in this chapter of our lives.

When I think about life in our new house, I imagine getting to know our neighbors in the cute, quiet cul-de-sac. I imagine dinners al fresco out on our back patio. I imagine cooking meals in the bright kitchen and writing in the back bedroom we’ll convert into an office and hanging our stockings on the fireplace mantel in the living room at Christmas time. I imagine hosting game nights with friends, hosting my parents and my brother in our spare bedroom, hosting dinner parties and birthday parties and summer barbecues and holiday gift-exchanges. I imagine a home filled with stories and laughter, good food and good company, warmth and comfort. I imagine a home filled with love — love in every room, love in every wall, love in every nook and cranny and crevice.

I guess that is the final, and most important, lesson I learned from house-hunting. It was actually something I already knew — something I said in my wedding vows — just something it can be easy to forget in the striving and dreaming and hustle and bustle of this life.

The truth is, I could be happy in pretty much any of the houses we looked at. Wherever we live, we will make it into our home with our care, our spit-shine and elbow grease, our personal touches — and, most important, with our love for each other. As excited as we are to have a bigger space, the reality is that we could stay another year in our small apartment and I would be content. As long as I’m with Allyn, I’m home.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • What are some lessons you have learned from the experience of searching for a new place to live, whether buying a home or renting your first college apartment?
  • Think about your “Ideal Self.” What are some differences between this ideal version of you, and your actual routines and behavior? Why are these traits “ideal” for you?
  • If you could magically adopt a new habit or drop an existing habit tomorrow, what would it be and why?