About 14 months ago, a few weeks before our divorce was final, Justin and I sat down on our bed to talk. The kids were asleep and the house was quiet. Too quiet. At some point during that conversation, he calmly launched into an analogy about our marriage. It spoke to me. And it devastated me.
When we first got married, Kelli, I felt like we got into a car, fastened our seat belts and started out on a journey, he began. At first, it was awesome. I really felt like we were on this long journey together. But then I came up behind another car and had to slow down. What do you always tell me to do when that happens? he asked.
Pass it, I said softly, intrigued by where he was going with this.
Pass it, he repeated. Hurry up. Go faster. Pass the next car, you aren’t going fast enough.
I stared at him.
Kelli, you always had to go faster and do more. You wanted the perfect job, you got it. And you were so good at it. Then you wanted a better job, a nicer car, kids, a bigger house… you wanted it all and we got it all. But it wasn’t enough. You kept speeding up. For a while, I thought I could keep up with you and for a while, I really wanted to. But then I got tired, he continued.
I was quietly crying by this point, processing his words.
Kelli, all I wanted was to slow down. I wanted to stop and enjoy the ride. I wanted to sightsee with you. But you never would.
He went on to tell me he was worried I would never slow down. He said he had genuine concerns about how that would affect my relationships with our kids and other people in the future.
That conversation haunts me because, in many ways, he was dead-on. It was also one of the deepest, most sincere talks we’d had during our entire marriage. And it happened much later than it should have.
You see, I have a knack for doing life aggressively. I excel at filling my plate with so much stress, work, stuff and super high expectations that I slip into autopilot. When I’m in “go mode,” I know one speed… running toward everything that keeps my walls high and away from what’s important.
Over the past year, I’ve worked on pumping the brakes and slowing down. But that’s a challenge because when it gets quiet, I’m forced to sit and deal with feelings and emotions I’ve never faced. So then I speed back up, piling on work and stress because there’s comfort in forging ahead. I’ve learned it’s such a dirty little cycle. Can anyone else out there relate?
Exhibit A: Hudson’s birthday party. I’ll preface this by saying the past twelve weeks almost murdered me. Crazy projects at work. Running kids. Trying to get to the gym. Calls (yes, more than one) from the principal’s office. Halloween costume shopping. Delivering dessert to the PTO teacher appreciation luncheon (I caved… the boys are in a new school and we all love it). Saying yes to the occasional date. Forgetting to pay bills (my mortgage in October… whoops). This, my friends, is all things Mom Life.
So for Hudson’s Lego-themed party, I ordered invites, gave Justin a handful then never sent out the rest. Friends and family on my side all got invited via text message. Ugh. (Do I at least get points for it not being a group text?)
But that’s not the worst part.
Our kids live for custom birthday cakes. Over the years, we’ve done fire trucks, garbage trucks, unicorns, baseballs, beach scenes and all sorts of 3-D cakes the kids pick out on Pinterest. It’s our thing and it makes them feel really special.
You’re high, by the way, if you think I made any of those cakes. I’d screw that shit up in the first 30 seconds. We trust and pay the experts. It’s money well spent. For real.
I booked the baker in August. Then closer to the party date, emailed a picture of the cake Hudson wanted… the number 6 with a Lego construction theme all around it. She asked me what number cake pan she should order and I confirmed a 6. Justin offered to get and assemble the Legos, because, well… I suck at that building and engineering business.
But the night before the party, we had a problem.
The baker had emailed a picture to show us how the cake turned out. And it was PERFECT. Except… the bright colored fondant Lego blocks were wrapped around the number 6.
And Hudson was definitely about to turn 7.
Since it was too late to bake a 7, she offered to turn it into a circle. Justin made a few tweaks to the construction site plan and SUCCESS! Hudson never noticed anything was weird. He was enthralled by the Legos and asked if he could keep the giant crane. He loved it. Phew.
That’s the story of my epic cake wreck.
But two days later, the cake wasn’t even a blip on the radar.
Disoriented and in pain, I was walking to an ambulance.
It felt like a dream.
I had my purse. My phone.
Why was my car against a tree? Why were people staring?
As I sat in the ambulance, a paramedic asked if it was OK for him to take my driver’s license out of my wallet.
“Wait, what happened?” I asked, wincing as I sat my hand down on the top of my thigh and felt pain shoot through my leg.
“You were in an accident. We’re headed to the hospital to get you checked out,” he said.
No. It was a great Monday morning. I’d prepped dinner for that evening so I could quickly feed the kids before putting them in the gym daycare and squeezing in a quick workout. I got the boys on the bus, dropped off Lyla, knocked a couple things off my work to-do list for the day and this was all before 8am.
There was no time for an accident.
I still have no memory of what led up to the crash or anything immediately after it. According to the police report though, we both had yellow lights and I turned in front of another car that was going 45 – 50 mph. The impact sent hot coffee flying through my Honda Pilot, deployed airbags down the entire passenger side and totaled both vehicles.
I don’t remember calling Justin from the front seat of my car and asking him to tell the medics not to take me to the hospital. I don’t recall telling them I just needed to sign the paperwork to refuse medical treatment because I had so much to do at work.
I don’t remember refusing to get on the cot when they asked me to… even though I had airbag burns on my hands, a painful bruise on my thigh and a concussion from hitting my head. As my SUV was loaded onto a tow truck, I texted someone from work to come pick me up so I could go home and change clothes before knocking out the rest of my work day.
Not realizing how out of it I was, I pounded on until about 1:30 that afternoon when Justin and I met up to buy new car seats (they’re supposed to be replaced after a significant crash). As we walked into Target, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think you’re OK. If you’re not going to be checked out, I think you should at least consider taking the rest of the day off.”
He was only about the 20th person to say that to me since the crash happened. But I could hear the concern in his voice, saying slow down without using those words at all.
“OK,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders as I took out my phone to email my boss and my team.
That was two weeks ago. And here I am… removed from the cake and car wrecks.
So grateful my babies weren’t with me when the crash happened.
Up to my ears in insurance claims (a first for me).
Navigating the process of buying a new car (also something I’ve never had to do by myself).
Trying to learn from how I once again allowed myself to become so intoxicated and distracted by the chaos of life.
Forcing myself to take a step back.
Finding perspective in a place somewhat foreign to me, as I lean into a strong dose of GRACE… something that was once missing from my life. It’s a word I only ever heard as a little girl in church, or the song Amazing Grace… until someone on my team at work used it about two years ago during a difficult conversation.
“Kelli, please understand what’s happening in my life and why it’s hard,” she’d said. “I don’t handle situations the same way you do and it’s OK that I don’t. It’s OK that we’re different. But I need some grace from you. And I think you should give yourself some too.”
That was a turning point in my relationship with that person, in such a good way. I’ve re-played her words in my head a lot and – in that time – worked to figure out how to find the grace she suggested for me. It’s been a process.
Here’s how my sweet friend (and incredible writer) Mandy recently described it in a Facebook post:
Grace. For myself, for my family, for my friends, for our country. It’s a new concept to my little brain and it’s been life changing. It looks like forgiveness to myself when I’ve said something wrong. Love in the toughest moment. Breathing out instead of yelling. Napping instead of laundry. It’s knowing that people are good and may not feel so good right then. It’s grace. I’m here for it.
I recently bought a little porcelain sign at Hobby Lobby with that word on it. I put it in the giant greenhouse window in my kitchen, where I see it when I walk in to make the kids breakfast each morning and when I flip on the light after coming home from a long day at work.
Grace reminds me I’m human. Grace reminds me I’m never going to be perfect. Grace reminds me to slow down. Grace reminds me I can’t go back and change any of the proverbial “wrecks” in my life (there have been so many), but I can move forward and forgive myself for those mishaps and mistakes.
And you know what? It’s time.
I'm a mom to 3 beautiful, spirited, tiny humans, I'm addicted to running + strength training, I have no filter & I work full time in the corporate world. But behind the scenes of all that is where it really gets interesting...