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How Do You Ask For Help When You Don’t Know What You Need? [A woman's embrace extends so much farther than the span of her

Posted May 17 2013 1:31am


I swear I have actually done this. Like in the last week.

Indecisive. If there was a word to sum up what I am these days that would be it. This is actually the fourth post I’ve started today, having abandoned all the others because… because. True story: At the grocery store yesterday the cashier asked me if I wanted paper or plastic – was there ever an easier question? – and I couldn’t answer him. I stumbled over it for a solid minute before finally exclaiming, “Whatever you think is best!” He was so surprised that he ended up bagging all my groceries twice – first in plastic and then in paper. Yep. I’ve officially become that lady. I think it’s because I’m so overwhelmed with Really Big decisions – I basically feel like I’m determining my children’s entire future in this moment and one wrong pick will condemn my kids to a lifetime of Maury-esque paternity tests, misspelled tattoos and flip flops as formal wear - that the smaller ones just fall off my map. (Overly dramatic, me? Never!)

Want to know my new party trick? Name any school in the Denver area and I can tell you what it’s ranked, its student-to-teacher ratio and whether or not they serve “Salisbury steak” on the menu (what is that anyhow? Chicken? Beef? Deep fried breading coated in breading?). Unfortunately all that information has pushed everything else useful out of my head. So when a friend asked me this morning, “How can I help?” I gave her a glassy stare and the same answer that I’ve been giving to all my many generous friends who’ve asked the same: “I have no idea.”

How do you ask for help when you don’t even know what it is you need?

Mikela answered, “Never mind. I’m bringing you dinner on Monday. It will be in a crockpot so you don’t have to cook. You are not allowed to say no. I will break your door down if you don’t answer.” (She was in “intelligence” in the military so I totally believe she’d do it!)

Cassie answered, “You’re not sleeping on the floor after your beds are packed. You’re sleeping at my house. We have beds and couches and everything.” She said this while going through my house like a tornado, picking up garbage, putting things in boxes and then organizing all the boxes.

Debbie answered, “We’re coming on Thursday to clean. Lots of us. So don’t stress about cleaning anything now.”

Allison answered, “I’m taking your kids and feeding them lunch. You go home and pack. Pick them up whenever you want. Or don’t. They can sleep over.”

Daria answered simply by showing up with two bags of soup and a loaf of fresh bread.

The Gym Buddies answered by buying me a family membership to the Denver zoo so I’d have something to do with my kids while we’re living out of a 600-sq ft hotel room this summer.

The Turbo girls answered by packing me a super-cute road-trip bag complete with snacks for the kids, new music to listen to, magazines, a sparkly headband, a netflix subscription, a book of pictures of all of us together (aww!) and two Minnesota team t-shirts so I won’t forget where I came from (even if I’ve already forgotten what teams play here, forgive me). Tucked in the front pockets were gift cards for gas and food.

All of this from a glassy-eyed “I don’t know”.

I will never understand why some people think it isn’t cool to be a “girl’s girl”. Women are amazing and their capacity to lift and heal and serve and love is unmatched. Looking back over my life women have helped me through every difficult transition I’ve ever had to make.

How do you survive the death of a loved one? Tarragon chicken, roasted potatoes, green beans almondine, three different kinds of pie – she didn’t say anything as she placed dish after dish of lavish food on the tables, which was for the best as even if she had asked what I wanted, I would not have been able to answer her. When we decided to have a funeral for a baby no one knew in a place where no one knew us – grief makes familiars of us all – we hadn’t exactly thought out the details. Just making the arrangements to transfer our daughter’s body from the hospital to the funeral parlor proved enormous – in a strange trick of fate the State sent us her death certificate months before we got her birth certificate and we were left explaining over and over again how someone who hadn’t been born had died. So the fact that all our families were going to need to be fed after the funeral? Too enormous to comprehend. But there was Mandy, hand on her own pregnant stomach, dishing out not just food but a funerary feast. She stepped so lightly that I couldn’t even remember the moment that she had stepped in and carried my pain in her hands, just as adeptly as she carried the platter of crudities. Women carry so much more than babies.

How do you talk about a nightmare? When I was called to testify against an abusive ex-boyfriend, the story I’d hid for so long pressed behind my lips and I could no more hold it back than hold back vomit, Erika listened. Her faith in my version of the events was a first. Because she believed me, I could start to believe myself. Then came Laura who let me call her every day, sometimes many times a day, to recount one more memory I’d pushed away. The memories felt endless, my need to purge insatiable and yet she never flinched from the torrent. For months she listened. And then came all the girls – some of you girls, even – to wrap me in the protection of their stories and their arms. Girls who called when they heard a news story about sexual assault, to see if I was okay. Girls who called to ask if they were going to be okay.  Girls who said they could talk about their stories because I could talk about mine. Women hear so much more than what is said. Women say so much more than what is spoken.

How do you say “I’m sad when I have every reason to be happy”? Weddings and baby showers. Births and deaths. Beauty and trauma. The large moments of our lives are emotionally etched into our being but what of all the myriad small moments? The day-to-day monotony, sometimes punctuated by a burst of rapid-fire baby giggles, sometimes overwhelmed by a string of gray days: Even though I am surrounded by tiny people – whom I deeply love – I have never known such loneliness as I have as a young mother. And just when I think I am about to go mad from the incessant irrational whining, Sam and Debbie show up at my door. They come bearing gourmet cheesecake (just because) to feed my stomach and stories to feed my soul. Women feed so much more than hunger.

How do you learn to accept your faults? “Charlotte, sit down. We’re done with our workout.” “Girl, get over yourself.” “You have gotten too thin.” And even a stage-whispered, “You have camel toe! Fix it!!” Over the years, Allison, Megan, Daria and Krista, always just a hysterical text message away, have done so much more than keeping me from dropping the weight bar on myself. They rein me in, they ground me, they correct me and through it all they still love me. I am stronger because they do not treat me like shattered glass. Women temper so much more than tantrums.

How do you comprehend the eternal? Three years old, her large brown doll eyes welled up. Three is too young to understand death much less such an untimely death. I was 20 when my baby sister died – an entire lifetime apart from three – and yet I could barely wrap my mind around the fact that a person who is here one moment can be so utterly gone the very next. I watched my next-youngest sister Kathryn climb up the stool to sit on the kitchen counter so she could be eye level with her sisters, aunts, friends, her grieving mother. Taking all of us adults in, she stared solemnly, already forgetting the sister she barely knew. But some things run deeper than mere memory.  Shared things like grief. Things like a tiny hand on my arm and then a tiny head on my shoulder as she sobbed. These were not crocodile nears nor were they shed out of fear or exhaustion or hunger, no she cried for one simple reason: the rest of us were crying and she cried with us, her heart-broken with ours. Even at three, women cry so much more than tears.

How do you squeeze a pressed ham through a tailpipe? Oh, excuse me. How do you bring a baby into this world while you feel like you’re on your way out of it? (That didn’t make it sound any more glamorous did it?) The answer is simple: You do it surrounded by women. The friends who sympathized with my pregnant fears. The nurses who cared for me. The doctors who delivered me (oh and the babies too). The mother who always came to help me. The doula who coached me through it. The friends who babysat me afterward when my post-partum anxiety nearly incapacitated me. The little girls who handed down their clothes and toys to my baby. The grandmothers – not even mine! – who stopped to tell me how beautiful my baby was. A woman’s embrace extends so much farther than the span of her arms. 

Women get a lot of bad press – if you believe the media, we’re catty, gossipy, back-stabbing competitive bitches. The Real Housewives of Wherever is pretty much based on this premise. Sometimes in our pettier moments we may even believe it ourselves, fearing other women’s successes, glorying in their failures. And gossiping about all of it. But we forget: This sisterhood – this is what we lose when make it about comparing waistlines, jobs or children, when we reduce the complexity of our relationships to the span of our thighs or the label on our bag, when we compete for things we’ve already lost. These “mom-petitors”, “”skinny bitches”, “drama queens” and fashionista social climbers – these are not the women I know. In the end, women are so much more than we give ourselves credit for. We have the power to be angels.

I want to take this time to thank all the amazing, talented, big-hearted, beautiful inside-and-out women in my life – those I mentioned here and the many many more I didn’t have room to name. While it isn’t always rainbows and unicorns and PMS parties (and sometimes the bad is really bad), the good I have received from you far outweighs the negative. I’m writing this now partly as a thank you but more so to remind myself of how richly sisterhood has blessed my life. I don’t ever want to forget what was given me because I don’t ever want to miss the chance to do the same for another girl in need.

Not that I don’t love and adore the men in my life but so much of my life revolves around my sisters, those who share my DNA and those who don’t. I’m proud to call myself a “girl’s girl”.

Anyone else get paralyzed by indecision the more decisions they have to make? Any of you have a story to share about a woman who has been important some way in your life? Do you consider yourself someone who gets along more easily with men or women? Or both, equally? Men, do you feel totally left out yet? (Don’t worry – when it gets close to Father’s Day, I’m going to write an Ode to the Gents;))



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