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Watering the weeds

my gorgeous gardenia

My friend Mollie called this the world’s tiniest gardenia. But I planted it, and it sure looks huge to me!

People that know me know that I’m what you could call a “recovering doormat.” They also know that I’ve had to work very hard at getting and staying emotionally stable while learning that it’s okay to feel stuff. I spent most of my life thinking I needed a reason, an excuse, and allowing other people (let’s just call them bullies) to tell me my feelings were wrong. I thought I was crazy for even having them.

It hurts me that… No, you’re wrong. Here’s why.

I want to tell you I’m mad… No, you have no right to be mad.

Well, you get the picture. I have stuff buried all over in this blog and poetry place about my mid-life epiphany that I’m allowed to have feelings even if they have no reason whatsoever. And so are you, by the way! So now, these days, when people try to tell me I’m wrong, I actually notice it, think about it, see it for what it is (bullying and control) and then I say to myself, Self, move on. This isn’t someone who will respect you, nurture you, or even make you smile. It’s harder when it’s a relative, but life is short, and my time really is precious to me.

I spend a lot of that time lately weeding the garden. It’s not only healthy for me to be outside moving, but the results are a beautiful space full of balance and color. The weeds I toss into a heap, and that heap goes into a container, and that goes away to wherever the city takes yard waste, with my blessing. Sometimes when I’m rushed I only have time to just water everything, and when I’m watering weeds, I think about life. Yes, I think about life all the time, it’s just this happens to be about weeds. Watering weeds feels wrong to me. All that energy going to something that is trying to take over my lovely space. Energy that could go to my flowers and plants, or the veggies my husband John is growing.

That’s what it’s like trying to fix things with someone who can’t respect your feelings. Sometimes, you just need to put the hose away and stop trying to make flowers out of weeds. Yank them out and toss them in the pile. Then, look at the space you’re creating, smell the flowers, and enjoy the hell out of caring for what you love. My garden is thriving, it’s really my first year feeling this crazy passion for it, and I can’t seem to stop working on it. The birds come and eat at our restaurant and frolic in the bath, and the dogs roll in the grass, and I look around with my husband and I say, Look at what we’ve created here! It’s the same in my heart. I’m not into blooming where I’m planted, but I do love taking charge of my garden. Happy Spring!

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We should stop hiding

There was once a time when I looked good, like really really good. Like this picture here.00000262

Kinda nice, right? Of course, if you’d have asked me, I’d have said oh yuck, I’m meh at best. And yes, those fake pearls were all the thing in the 80s, so get off my back.

Anyway, blah blah blah, weight happens, and it happened to me. I could tell you it was trauma-related. It was. But then it was just comfortable. And then it was impossible. Also, I had kids, that sure was an extreme thing to do to a body. And bedrests and surgeries, and you get the picture, right?

Oh, no you don’t, because I don’t show those pictures. Well, until now. Because I was going through old stuff today, and found them, and it’s the day after Mother’s Day, and I’m with my kids in these, and I’m just happy being mom.

I never felt good about how I looked, never had the right clothes, never took the time to do anything about it except avoid mirrors. I lost a lot of weight about 10 years ago, and suddenly “Sure I’ll pose for those pictures…” Well, a lot of the weight is back on now, and I hate pictures of myself again. But I’m still posing for them sometimes. I figure I should have *some* proof of a life after all. I’m so glad I have the pictures from the last 8 years with friends and family, so many adventures!

But in my 20s and 30s I spent most of my time hiding from the camera. Apparently my parents weren’t fooled, and took shots anyway. Thank goodness! Because today when I looked at these pictures, I thought, wow, I remember that day, I remember that moment, the things the kids were doing, the books I was reading to them, the clothes, haircuts, all that love love love. And it made me happy. And then I was like, what the hell was I hiding from? Well, I’m glad someone found me. Also, I look gorgeous.

Now please stop hiding your beautiful light from the world! And I’ll keep working on that too.

P.S. Damn, those kids are cute, right?

me nuzzling my son

Sometimes you just gotta nuzzle.

me and my daughter

Oh her eyes!

me and my son laughing big

This kid still cracks me up constantly. <3

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00000603

me and my son

You could manage to exhaust him into posing…

me and my daughter

MerleFest, camping and music and this cool kid.

very pregnant with my son

Didn’t deliver him for another MONTH!!

me very pregnant and tired

Okay, it wasn’t all delight!

me and my baby girl

She was born intense.

me reading to my girl

We used to negotiate the number of books per bedtime.

 

 

 

mewithkids

Gah!

rope_Iván_Melenchón_Serrano_MorgueFile

I lie all the time. I tell people I’m fine. Dandy. I mean, sure, there are some hard times, but you just gotta breathe. Go with the flow. I seem so wise, right? I mean, even *I* believe that I’ve got it together sometimes.

Well, that is until my tooth hurts so much I can’t chew, or let any water flow to that entire side of my mouth, and the dentist, who I took two weeks to call, says well dear, you’re cracking your molar from clenching your jaw shut all the time, that’s very bad. And then I get fit for a night guard, and told to use it during the day too when I can, because this isn’t just a night thing, hasn’t been for a while now. And the dentist, who FINALLY pronounces my name right by the way(!), says wait, your kids are all out of the house, what do *you* have to be stressed about.

And so I lie again, and say absolutely nothing that I know of should be stressing me out, I can’t understand it myself (which wasn’t really a lie, because I’m just dumb sometimes). And I go home and my own guts start to try to kill me with (ahem) very unpredictable and unpleasant behaviors. So I wait another few days, miss a day of work, and finally get my butt to therapy, where truth happens in spite of my best damn efforts.

Headaches, jaw clenching, gut issues, messed up shoulders and neck. Hmm, what do we have here? Well, it might just be stress. Let’s look deeper, shall we?

Oh my, the stress isn’t just simply daily stuff getting to me, it’s me trying to hold back anything, no, everything unpleasant, which works fine for a little while until the stuff all builds up and I’m trying to dam the whole ocean, which is really a terrible idea as it turns out. Scratch the surface of the dam and I start to leak, and please pass the tissues and just hold on tight because this might take a while. And I’m drowning in sorrow which is NOT depression (phew, for now), but still sort of just, well, awful. And it’s all this close to Mother’s Day when strangers ask about your kids, and friends ask about your kids, and why is this stupid holiday a thing anyway?!

I miss my kids, all of them. But mostly, I miss my girl, because I can’t even say hi to her and get a hi back. And I miss the promises life made to me when I pushed and pulled her out into the world, the ones that said I’d have a hard time with this one, she’s stubborn, and I was excited to suffer the future because I could raise her in love, and it was an adventure and I was up to it. I was, and I am. I was ready for the work. I wasn’t ready to lose the chance, and I’m lying whenever I say I’m fine about it. I’m not fine. But I’m okay. Or I will be okay. Or I’m lying again.

Either way, doctor’s orders, I’m working on a self-care regimen. My go-to method of coping is to not cope. I don’t know how to focus on myself for very long, and it makes me all weird and self-conscious. I don’t know if I should be around people or alone. I don’t know if I should write, read, or just watch re-runs. I don’t want to get a pedicure and I don’t think it will help, but oh I really do need a decent haircut. And some clothes that fit this stress-fed body. But but but I don’t know how to start. Also, where the hell did I put my night guard?

Permanent ink

IMG_2409I just wrote this statement about parental alienation, and it snapped me awake more than I expected it to: “It’s not enough to win, they want to erase us entirely and brush us off the paper with their fingers.”

Being ignored has always been a trigger for me. Little sister blah blah blah. But seriously, it was how I was controlled in my first marriage, whenever what I said was disagreeable. Don’t like what I’m saying? Look away, walk away, never speak of it again. Really want to hurt me? Yawn while doing all of the above. Roll your eyes.

When I walked away, I walked into a world where I existed, unique and amazing. I came into being. I fell in love! And then the eraser came down and started scratching me out.

Parental alienation is the act of wiping a parent of the face of his or her child’s planet. Memories are rewritten in shadows, new rules created. Doubt and fear are tools. “Is she spying on you?” “Will she try to kidnap you?” “Are you safe with him?” “He’s trying to replace me with a new wife/mommy.” Never mind that the now-horrible parent has been there virtually forever for the child. Never mind that the child will never be balanced from the damage this causes. Never mind. Let’s pretend mom is invisible, crazy, not worthy of love and respect. Let’s ignore her and get on with life, just you and me kid. Let’s twist everything she says and does into threatening dark shapes on the wall. This isn’t about something a normal mind can grasp. It’s honestly incomprehensible. And yet it’s my reality.

But here’s the thing. I’m NOT invisible. I still exist, unique and amazing! I’m done hiding and pretending I have ANYTHING to be ashamed of. Of course I’ve screwed things up, of COURSE. But no, not that badly. Not anywhere near that badly. Children of abuse still don’t disconnect entirely from their parents, in fact they often push and fight for connection. Children who are alienated do disconnect, and also from their other relatives on that side. They switch into a mode of hate, not just distance. They wipe out half of their entire being for the satisfaction of someone needier. It’s heartbreaking, and more so for the children than the parents. There really is no winner here. Just pain and therapy bills and uncertainty.

I’m a step-mother now to two wonderful kids. I’ve annoyed them at times reminding them to call their mother. I’ll annoy them more I’m sure. We need to know our parents whenever possible, where we come from, where we fit. I’d never wish this lost feeling on any child or adult. Yes, of course in cases of abuse it’s different, but this is not about abuse. Please try to keep an open mind when someone tells you they haven’t seen their children in ages – there’s so much shame in this, it’s a huge act of courage to even speak the words. I want to change that, I’m working on how, but I don’t know yet.

What I do know is that I’m not written in pencil that can be erased. I’m not invisible, I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll never give up on my children.

To my lost child, and the one found again: I was not just there when you were born, I was your home. You will always be a part of me, and I am a part of you. I will be here until the day I die, ready to accept you, hug you, listen to you no matter what. Unconditional love is yours already, and will never ever run low. All of the hopes and wishes I had from before you were born are always with you. I wish so much happiness for you. I love you forever. In permanent ink.

Golden Handcuffs

Colorado

So I went to Colorado to be with family and fresh air, and it was wonderful. Maybe a little too wonderful, because as lovely as it is here in Raleigh, I’m having a hard time settling back down to this ordinary life that I honestly resent living sometimes. That isn’t a complaint, just the simple truth. Life is about compromises, and that pretty much always means we’re left wondering about our choices.

Every big decision I’ve made has been fairly well thought-out, and yet when I look at the path I walked to get here, it sure seems random and strange. Like everyone, I enjoy the What If game, even though time has tempered the urgency of it all. I understand on some basic level now that things are the way they are and that’s more than okay. I love life and find many things to enjoy every day.

But on a less basic level, I sense that my life is passing me by while I spend most of my waking time sitting at a computer writing about things I don’t care very much about. No, not this blog, that’s different! This is about work.

We all need some kind of work. I’ve done a bit of everything from fast food to corporate fancy. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, a home-schooler, an advocate. Some jobs were incredibly fulfilling, some soul-sucking. And honestly, the best ever was while I was recovering from a severe bout of depression and my first marriage was falling apart, which is pretty hard to explain even to myself. But I here’s why.

It’s because I was writing. I was still home with the kids, who were in school. I wrote every day as soon as they were on the bus, and watched as most of a novel stretched into life. I had an active writing partner who kept me going and tossed ideas my way. I wrote and we reviewed, and then played games until the kids got home. I drank coffee out of giant vessels and refilled frequently. I laughed every day. It’s kind of crazy to me now that I was even able to pull that off for a little while. Yes, my house was messy. But hey it still is anyway, and no new novels so far.

In this new(er) life, I get up early, but as late as I can manage, and get ready for work while my wonderful husband makes me coffee (coffee is my soul-mate). I go to work and think about what I’m paid to think about, and try to squeak out the rest of my thoughts the best I can around that. Often I feel stifled, rushed, panicked, and always insufficient. I’m basically suffocating myself creatively so that my family can have food, clothing, shelter, and most of all, health insurance. I don’t come cheap in that regard; doctors find me fascinating. Health insurance is mandatory.

Years ago when my career was just beginning and I had no children yet, the direct employees where I worked referred to the Golden Handcuffs. This meant a job they didn’t love with benefits they simply couldn’t live without, a captivated style of working. I remember thinking that those problems seemed a million years off, but I suppose I was off by most of a million. And here I am handcuffed to my desk by ideas that weren’t my own.

And so now, back home and noticing my patterns, I’m faced with trying to either find peace with this arrangement or change it. I’m not a tree, and I don’t have to bloom where I’m planted. Eight years ago I started life over with almost nothing. I traded my slow and lovely writing days for the career I’d left behind. I’d left it happily really, thrown out my watch and my badge and walked on out. Walking back in was hard as hell, in spite of the amazing luck of a fast hire into a great team. That was two companies ago, and I work for an amazing company, with amazing benefits, and a great team yet again. It’s all amazing. So many people I know want to be where I am.

Now, how do I convince myself that I do as well?

Kind of like family

file00058283027I was talking about depression recently and I realized some things. Like this whole thing about forgiving myself is great and all, but I still haven’t forgiven, or even tried to forgive, the depression itself. I think in metaphors and similes a lot, and it came to me that it’s like family. Even when you don’t see it for a long time, or you’re just dreading one of its all-too long visits, it’s still a part of your world. You can disown it, but that doesn’t change the connection. It won’t set you free.

So while I’ve been saying all the right things about learning to let it flow through you and accept yourself, I’ve also kept a war mentality about it. Like an “it’s either me or you” kind of thing. But the thing is, depression is part of me, part of my cells. It’s in my DNA, and to hate it with passion is wasting perfectly amazing passion that I could put somewhere else. Hating depression won’t make it leave me alone, won’t clear a path to eternal joy. And eternal joy is best left to the afterlife anyway, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Me, I’m aiming for peace, as much as I can make, here and now. So I’ve done the work, learned to respect my own boundaries, learned to nurture myself like a friend or mother. Okay, at least some of the time! But I’ve tried to ignore the part of me that is depression, because it’s not a friendly house-guest, and I’d oust it if I could. Cure it like cancer, and save us all. Ah, but I can’t. So I won’t.

So here we are, connected, wary, trying to learn to get by in life without falling too far off the ledge. And I do know that as good as things are right now, my odds of never seeing its face again are pretty damn low. So maybe if I can accept this thing, this dark, ugly, black-hole-peace-swallowing thing, maybe I won’t feel like a total loser when it comes to raid my fridge and take over my home. Maybe I can try to remember that the visit will end. It is what it is, after all. Like any wild thing, or that one relative of yours who just doesn’t have any empathy and doesn’t know when to leave. I can’t tame it, or teach it. All I can do is learn to accept it for what it is, and hope that by doing so the next visit will be easier, and shorter.

Hopefully, it will be a good long while before I get to find out how that goes.

The utter delight of neighborhood bookstores

bookstoreThere’s a smell when you first walk into a small bookstore that reminds me of the homemade cookies my grandmother never actually used to bake. Ah, but I’ve read about those cookies in so many books. I’ve tasted them, wrapping myself in the loving embrace of sugar and unconditional love that has always existed for me in fiction. Walking into the bookstore is coming home.

All of my crazy relatives are here. My ancestors, the classics: Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Twain, standing straight and reliable and in-charge after all this time. The crazy uncles: Stephen King, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, always ready for a laugh or good scare. My mysterious aunts: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Patricia Cornwell, leading me with wicked smiles wherever it pleases them. My sisters: Alice Walker, Barbara Kingsolver, Maya Angelou, helping me see into the souls of others, and into my own. Hundreds of family members waiting for my visit.

And there are always new friends to meet. I never know where to start and I sometimes wonder why it should matter, because honestly, my reading pile is already longer than I can expect to get through in my lifetime. But it matters, and I want to read them all. I always find something to sneak to the top of my pile. I hope that never stops.

Small bookstores are usually arranged like a home too. No giant sections with perfectly flushed covers and neon lights here. Instead, rooms to visit, with carefully arranged books organized to catch the eye and imagination. Thoughtful sections containing books that have been read and loved, set aside in careful groups with notes telling me why I will love them too.

As an aspiring writer, I also experience this amazing sense of my own smallness. It’s okay, I like that feeling. It’s like visiting the Grand Canyon. It gives you permission to just get on with being who you are. I am a speck of dust in the canyon, and I am so happy to be here. In many ways this is my church.

There is never enough time to spend here. Or money if I’m being honest. I wander around and back again, touching, reading, smelling. Some of these books I have on my Kindle. Yes, I have a Kindle, and yes, I use it. A lot. But I still enjoy visiting those same books on paper, touching them, taking in the covers and contents all at once in a lovely package. There is nothing like a bookstore, and nothing like the smell and feel of real pages in my hands. Cookies and milk. And I don’t ever want to leave.

 

When redundancies and semicolons have nothing to do with words…

colonoscopyHere’s why I want you to call your doctor and make that appointment for those tests you keep putting off:

Two weeks ago I had surgery to remove a polyp that was hiding in such a tricky spot the doctor couldn’t remove it during the colonoscopy. The nasty thing was hiding right where the small intestine met the large one.

I say met, past tense, because there’s a whole new meeting place now. I’ve been redecorated, reconstructed, and otherwise reconfigured. I was referred to a wonderful surgeon who informed me that, no worries, they’d just go in through my belly-button and remove a few inches of intestine on each side, small and large, and pull out the polyp. Then they’d just reattach the leftover bits and snip snap, off you go.

“Woah.” I thought.

“Cool.” I said. I was too stunned by the whole thing to ask questions or think real thoughts. And he was just so darned upbeat and reassuring. This is his job, you know? I’ve never met a surgeon more kind and friendly to be honest. That was enough for me.

So I waited until the night before the surgery to actually look closely at the procedure. People, remember I am a cautionary tale! Look AFTER the surgery! Or never look. Yeah, never look. They did some stuff. I’m not even going to link it, feel free to go ahead and Google “laproscopic right colectomy” for grins. The procedure was supposed to take two hours, so I told my husband and my dad (who drove up from his snow bird season for this fun) to settle in.

Well, it was three hours. Because apparently I have (or is that had?) a very “redundant” colon. In writing, redundancy is to be avoided, unless you’re trying to make a point out of it, you know, creatively. In nature, redundancy is not that great either. I knew my colon was not ideal — the referring doctor had likened it to a silly straw during our last consultation. I even warned my surgeon, but I think maybe “silly straw” was understated. Imagine that. No, don’t. Let’s just say they spent an extra hour sorting, removing and rearranging. They took more than a foot of colon. Then they put the rest back in a way that makes more sense. This will eventually seem like a good thing, I’m sure. I mean I’m still a bit freaked out about the whole thing, and there’s still superglue in my belly-button, so give me time.

Was it fun? Um, seriously? Am I glad I did it? You bet your ass (ha!). The polyp is gone, and I’m left with a less-redundant semicolon. We knew the polyp was benign from the colonoscopy. But nothing stays benign in the colon. Polyps are bad news waiting to happen. And this wasn’t my first polyp. I’m 49, younger than the recommended age for this test. I started in my late 30s because my father had colon cancer in his early 40s. He’s fine now, but he lost a lot more than one foot of colon! So I’m grateful for my semicolon, grateful for modern medicine and wonderful doctors, and especially screening tests, which have saved my life quite literally more than once. Just make the appointment, okay?

I’ve been on the couch for two weeks, and am finally sitting mostly upright at a real computer, and I’m off the Percocet (mostly). I wrote some fun poems on that stuff last week… I’m in the itchy phase of healing, and my cabin fever is at high pitch. I’m off to walk in the sunshine before Raleigh gets hit with another snowstorm tonight. We’ve been slammed with school closings for over a week here, so even though I’m home alone with my husband, my entire community is suffering from cabin fever with me. Ah well, make the most of the quiet times, right?

Oh, one last thing. Make the damn appointment!

The truth in drafts

darkenoughSo after the huge move to WordPress, there was a little bit more I needed to move into this blog so that I could call just one place home. It was mostly old poems, things from BEFORE. Before the divorce, before I met John, before my daughter left and my son came back, so many befores. I know my own words, I remember where I was, what I was thinking. So reading these older things doesn’t surprise me. Some of the oldest poems reflect those not-yet-divorced times. I was angry a lot, trying to get out from under some things I’d been stuck in for decades. Trying to find out who the hell I was, really, after all that time. Trying to breathe on my own. I chose to put the poems here; they belong in my story.

Then I found a draft post, my first actual blog post. Of course I remember writing that too. Sarah smiles. It describes the struggle of trying to help a child who was being torn apart in ways I simply didn’t understand at the time. And it describes the thrill of knowing her joy was still somewhere deep inside her. It describes hope. I still, always, rely on that hope.

Here I am, over four years later, and not much wiser. I realized I’ve tried hard to keep names out of things, and to keep any real details out of my story, because it’s not where the focus belongs for me. I see so many parents who are alienated from their children so filled with bitterness there is no room for anything else. I never want to be in that place. The choice I made not to fight was a fight itself, and still is every day.

So I chose to publish the draft, finally, after all this time. I did it because it’s both an ending and a beginning – part of a story years in the making, a lifetime really. And it’s important, because when I wrote it I didn’t believe what I’d been told was going on. I didn’t believe that I’d lose so much, that my daughter would make a choice that she should never have had to make and walk out of my life altogether. So no, I’m not much wiser now, just older. I have learned to shift the focus of my life to myself, being the best person I can be, living the life I want and need to live, giving back whenever I can. I’ve shifted the focus from blame to acceptance, of myself and others. I’ve learned to practice, every single day, gratitude, love, patience. It’s practice, never perfection. But it’s the direction I chose years ago, and while yes, I do look back, cry, sink and rise again, my feet haven’t changed direction in all this time.

My life is so amazingly full now. I’m grateful each and every day, even on the really bad ones. And there are bad ones of course. Practice, never perfection. I believe in my self, and in my heart, and my intentions. I’ve forgiven myself and all the other players. Well, I practice that too. Someday, I hope, and there’s always always hope, that I will see another of Sarah’s smiles.

What I’m doing when I’m not at the party

How-I-Spend-Friday-NightsWhew. I didn’t know how much I got done last year until I went through the whole moving-the-blog-to-WordPress thing. But what started as the drudgery of having to fix formatting on almost every post since 2012 turned kind of amazing. I had started back into writing so slowly, so unsure of what I was doing. Then I went with that! Not ready to start a novel? Poems, short ones to start, worked for me, and still do. Afraid to enter contests? Ha, I entered, and won! Terrified of reading my stuff to people? Did that! Cut down on doing stuff I don’t want to do? Work in progress.

I still don’t know what I’m doing, but at least this blog has turned into a Thing. I’m good with uncertainty, hell, it’s a way of life! Plus, even a little change in course can vastly change where you end up. I was going over the last year in therapy, and in an omg moment I realized the things I had said I wanted to aim for were in my rear-view now. Which left me saying “Next!” a bit more earnestly than I perhaps was intending. Still, what happens in therapy…

So yeah, I’m still cutting my path with my trusty machete. But I’ve cut down a bunch of the things that were getting in my way. I’ve cut way back on the crowd I’ve hung with since my divorce, great people mostly, but wilder than I really am. There’s only so many parties I can drink my way through, pretending I’m comfortable in a crowd. And creatively, I’ve been screwing myself out of my best times to make things.

Saturday night crazy
Makes Sunday so lazy
Too hazy for writing
And that couch, so inviting!

So, the number of times I’ve said No-thank-you has matured to the point that people usually don’t even ask where I am anymore.

Here’s where I am: I’m at home in yoga pants and a bra-less t-shirt. I’m covered in dogs and dog hair. I’m often reading or writing. I’m thinking deep thoughts. I may be marathon-watching Supernatural. And probably, I’m still drinking beer, because we make the stuff, and it’s delicious – perhaps even more delicious when it’s not a crutch. When I RSVP that I hate to miss the party, I mean that, kind of. But the truth is I chose myself instead. And I’m beginning to thrive under that choice. I’m Getting Things Done. And when I’m wasting time on Facebook, it’s with other writers now, so that’s kind of like working, right?

Of course, sometimes, I just need to dance. Sometimes, I need to go see my husband’s awesome band and just let it all go. Sometimes, I hang out with a few girlfriends and try to learn how to be a normal girl. I suck at that, but the right people, these people, will pretend I’m doing fine – they’re keepers. Sometimes, I get together with a friend and catch up the way we’re supposed to, in person, laughing and listening. Phones down!

So, I hope it’s a great party! (But I’m not really sorry to miss it.) Hugs, though, digitally.