Friday, December 28, 2018

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I want to say it started the day E got home from college, but the truth is, it began somewhere back in October. I'm a stocking-stuffer fiend, to say the least. I start collecting things early - a small face mask someone said they loved, an ornament that will encapsulate the achievements of the last year, a pair of fuzzy socks just perfect for lounging. There are not many things that give me more of a jolt of joy than finding a tiny trinket that I can tuck away for Christmas for my girls.

Over the years, I've collected other kids, too. My daughters' friends who hang out at the kitchen counter and snack, do homework, play games - I listen to their stories and sometimes when I'm out wandering, I find something small that will give them a laugh or let them know I'm happy to have them in my life by extension.

Those kitchen-counter gatherings happened less this fall while E was far away at school, so when she came back in mid-December, the volume of extra teenagers in the house more than doubled. Having more mouths to feed, more laughter, and more noise in my house is bliss. I don't even have to adjust the amount of food I cook, because thanks to my great-grandmother, I am incapable of cooking for less than five or six people at a time, anyway. There are just fewer leftovers and more midnight raids on the fridge, more smiles and a few more dishes and a lot more glee in my life.

By the time the solstice rolled around, my heart was full. And even though the girls had gone with their dad for a few days, I had a lunch date with good friends and had prepared myself for the long, dark night and the letting go that comes with the winter solstice. I knew exactly what I wanted to release and I needed the dark and the quiet and the stillness to crystallize my thoughts and intentions. I lit candles, breathed deeply, formed pictures in my mind of just what it would mean to help myself be lighter. I imagined the weight and heft and color of the burden I've been carrying, nurturing, feeding, and by the time midnight rolled around, I had it cornered in my body and knew just how much space it inhabited. I blew out the candles and let go, seeing it disperse in to a million tiny fragments as though propelled with a giant wave rippling out, out, out. I'll never be free of it, but having the bits and pieces spread throughout my body lessens the weight and impact. Instead of feeling it tight and heavy in my chest, I can let each of the bits be part of something larger in their own way. I woke up feeling lighter, free.

Over the following days, I spent time with dear friends and family. I saw my mom, my best friend, my brother and sister, an old friend who has known me since seventh grade whose history is both intertwined with mine and divergent. I was blessed with open arms and love and amazingly easy travel conditions. There were hugs and sweet moments of recognition as precious gifts were exchanged. Tears of joy and connection as we looked at each other and knew; we are holding each other, we see each other, we honor each other.

The date, the day of the week - it never mattered. Was it Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? I still struggle to place myself in a calendar because there are still gifts to be opened in the living room, the fridge is full of delicious food, there are forthcoming plans with friends over the next few days. My house and heart will continue to be filled up with conversation and laughter.

Even as I prepared for the ritual of the solstice, I wasn't sure it would work. I didn't know if I could let go of something that I know will continue to trigger me for a long time to come. And in the days following, when I was, indeed, triggered, I braced myself even as I realized I was doing better. The blow didn't come as hard, sink as deep, or leave a bruise that my mind and heart worried over in the hours following. Letting go had worked. Somehow, I was able to use the darkness to align my heart and my head with my values and intentions and it feels as though the light hours - even though they are shorter - have more room for love and laughter. And I'm using every last second to soak up my girls and their friends and the moments with loved ones. It truly does feel like the most wonderful time of the year.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Where is God?

I spent the first eight years of my life as a Catholic. Went to church, learned the hymns and the responses and the stories. Longed to have my first real Communion, marveled at the beautiful robes and pomp and circumstance. Learned about God.

When my parents divorced, even though I didn't understand the circumstances of it at the time, I was told that we were no longer welcome in the church. My parents had been married in the Catholic church and a divorce was not allowed. I went through a period of being unmoored - for a variety of reasons related to my parents' split - and I remember wondering, Where is God?

This morning, as I drove Lola to class, I turned on NPR and heard a rabbi ask that same question. In the wake of the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, so many are trying to fit the events in to some understanding of their framework of faith. So many times over the years, I've done the same. I would get angry with God and turn away, thinking that no real God could ignore me simply because my parents made mistakes. I fought against the notion of any omniscient being, took a comparative religion class in college and learned about the different ideas and iterations of this being throughout the ages, in different cultures. I have called myself an atheist, a "recovering Catholic," agnostic. All of those labels were in reaction to what I absorbed from my years in church and from my mom, who held on to her faith in God with a fierceness and tenacity I never understood.

When I finally stopped reacting and thinking about God intellectually, I was able to recognize what I know as spirit, connection. I don't feel a vertical connection with some other being that exists above all of us. I don't think I ever have. Intellectually, I believed in that for years - relied on it, even. But I don't recall ever feeling it within me. What I do feel is a horizontal connection, a link to each and every other sentient being that reminds me I am part of something bigger, that I am not alone, that I am held and I hold others. I don't have a name for it, and I don't frankly feel the need to.

I understand deeply the question, Where is God. The need to find some meaning or framework for processing the horrific acts we humans perpetrate is visceral and the idea that there is some being out there that can hold us in our grief and pain and provide answers is often central to our ability to move forward in the face of such trauma. For now, I believe that we are it, we are the ones, and it is that connection between us that allows us to continue on. When Jewish people are targeted, those of us who are not Jewish are called upon to hold those who are, we are called upon to acknowledge the pain, feel grief profoundly, and hold tight. We are necessary to lift those who cannot walk on their own right now and carry them with us as we do the work to rebuild, affirm love, create peace. When Muslims or Native Americans or black and brown people or people with disabilities are targeted, we are called to do the same work. My connection with you is not dependent on your religious beliefs or the color of your skin, the language you speak or where you were born or whether you can hear or see or walk. My connection with you is much deeper and is rooted in something that goes beyond physical form, and that connection goes both ways, if I let it. That means that when you are in pain, I can feel it if I choose to, and in doing so, I can help relieve some of your burden. It also means that when I act with love in my heart, it raises me and you, and reaffirms that tie. When I offer to speak on your behalf when you're in pain and you can't, that is "God". When you listen to me with love and care, that is "God". When we come together to spread peace and acknowledge the worth of every sentient being as equal, that is "God".

If the question, Where is God is in service to preventing future massacres like the one that happened in Pittsburgh or the killing of two black people in Kentucky, the only answer I have to offer is this connection, this affirmation of our link to each other. When we turn away and refuse to feel each others' suffering, we deny the existence of this thing that ties us to each other, and we also deny ourselves the support we gain from others around us. We are supposed to live in community with each other, we are supposed to rely on each other, we are supposed to offer each other our unique gifts when we can and draw on the gifts of others as well. Call it what you will, but I think this is what will save us.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Real Housewarming

One year ago today, I was surrounded by a group of amazing women who helped move Eve and Lola and I in to our new home. They packed boxes, cleaned cupboards, organized movers, found screwdrivers, and held me up during an incredibly difficult time. The transition from a life I loved and knew and assumed I'd always have to a mostly blank canvas felt simultaneously frightening and exciting, awfully sad and tinged with possibility. I was able to experience the full range of emotion precisely because of these women who showed up, who loved me and my daughters, and who helped me feel safe.

I am so incredibly grateful and so lucky to have such people in my life.

In my previous life, there had been lots of dinner parties and events - many occasions to host friends and family and fill the house with laughter and great food.

In the last year, I've hosted scores of the girls' friends for both impromptu study sessions/girls' nights and planned Halloween or New Year's gatherings, but I've not felt like I was quite ready to host something on my own for grown ups. Until now.

It wasn't supposed to be a housewarming party, but it turns out that this morning, my new home feels properly "warmed." Last night, I hosted a house concert as a fund raiser for Eat With Muslims, an organization started by two women in Seattle to try and build community and understanding of Muslim culture and individuals who are Muslim using food (brilliant!). Sheryl Wiser, a local singer-songwriter suggested that we do it as part of her Pies + Persistence project that raises money for nonprofits who are working for social justice and human rights in the face of this current Presidential administration's often horrific policies. She would play music, and Lola (who has been working furiously on her own original music for over a year) would open the performances with three of her songs.

We put out the word on social media and via email and the house filled up with amazing salads, deli trays, the most delicious Somalian chicken and rice dish I have had in my lifetime, and cranberry pie (tart). So many of us didn't know each other when the evening started, but the conversation never lagged and the plates were never empty. We sat and stood around the kitchen island laughing and telling each other about our lives and when it came time to sit for music, my heart was full. My house was full of people ranging in age from teens to 70+, enjoying each others' company with the dogs weaving their way around the room sniffing for scraps.

The music was beautiful and heartfelt and mesmerizing, and people stayed afterward to continue chatting and laughing. When I fell in to bed just before midnight, I was grinning from ear to ear. I can't think of a better way to flood our new home with love and positive energy than by gathering a group of people for food and music to support the hard work of women making a difference one dinner party at a time.

This life, it is a joyful one. There are good people in our midst doing amazing things. I can't wait to throw another party.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Confessions of a Recovering Control Freak

Last weekend I went to visit my mom for the first time since she moved to a memory care facility. It's been a long time coming and while I felt good about this particular place, it was also good to visit a few times over a few days to really absorb the feel of the place, the vibe of the caregivers, understand how it all works.

The first time I went, my dear friend Susan came with me. We've known each other for almost 40 years and she and Mom were friends for a couple decades, so having her there felt really natural.

Without oversharing, I will say that the first ten minutes or so were hard. There were some difficult things to witness and if you've ever spent time with a loved one who has Alzheimer's, you might understand. Knowing this woman who was so independent and capable for most of my life, it is sometimes hard to acknowledge all that she has lost, how reliant she is on others to care for her.

Susan and I sat at her kitchen counter the following morning, talking about it over coffee, and I was reminded of how strong the pull is to DO something when we feel that way. And then, almost immediately, I was reminded of how grateful I am that I've cultivated the ability to not respond to that compulsion in the moment.

If you're like me, you grew up being taught that any time you felt scared or uncertain or really sad, that was a call to action; that the thing to do was to assess the situation and put a plan in place to both alleviate those feelings and prevent them from happening again. Over time, I got really good at doing that - I became a control freak. I prided myself on my ability to anticipate potential disasters and keep them from occurring, mitigate the possibility that I would be blindsided.

When things happened that I couldn't have predicted, I allowed myself a brief moment of intense emotion (flashes of anger, a crying jag, a mini panic attack), steeled myself, and moved on.

Eventually, that did several things:

  • fed the false notion that I am in control (and thus, that when disaster does strike, it's because I am not smart enough to accurately predict or prevent it), 
  • turned me in to a DOING person instead of a FEELING person (which reduced my ability to empathize with others and to feel the full range of emotions human beings are designed to feel), 
  • exhausted my reserves because I was racing around putting out fires all the time - the vast majority of which weren't mine to put out, 
  • reinforced the idea that it's perfectly normal to avoid feeling certain emotions that are uncomfortable (and thus, justified that glass of wine or piece of cake or other unhealthy coping mechanism I utilized when I ran out of ideas about how to eliminate sadness/fear/anger),
  • put me at the center of the situation, as though my feelings were the most important consideration.
I became an alternately frantic and depleted half-person who was ultimately incredibly unhappy, despite all of my efforts to the contrary. 

But as I sat with Mom the other night, I reminded myself that difficult feelings do not compel me to act. Just because something is hard to witness doesn't mean I have to DO anything about it. [Obviously, there are exceptions. If someone is in physical pain or imminent danger - yup, I'm diving in if I can.] And if I can ground myself in that moment enough to just acknowledge that what I'm experiencing is really hard and I'd rather not be feeling it, it helps me to focus my efforts. It may be that an hour or more later I will decide that there's something I can do that will help - but those acts are purposeful, effective, and efficient. The way I used to handle things like that was scattershot - come up with all of the things I could do to cover any potentiality, make lists, call people, insert myself into the situation to "fix" things so that they wouldn't make me uncomfortable. 

For the record, Susan didn't like this conversation at all, and I totally get it. There is something seductive about knowing that we can effect change in any situation, especially ones that make us sad or scared or angry. And often we can be in control. For a while. Until we wear out. For me, learning to sit with painful feelings was a survival mechanism. I wouldn't have lasted long at the pace I was going if I continued to think that I had to address every unpleasant situation I found myself in. I can say that my life isn't any easier now, but I'm a heck of a lot happier and I believe that the things I choose to do are making a much bigger difference than before. 

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Burn. It. Down.

I have felt nauseous for two days, a feeling that's pretty unusual for me since I stopped eating gluten over ten years ago. It's pretty rare that I have any stomach issues, to be honest, and when I first started feeling off, i instantly began running through what I'd eaten in the last 24 hours in an effort to figure it out.

Since a week ago, I've been careful about what I look at on social media. I needed to step back from the Kavanaugh hearings because of some difficulties in my life that were closer, more personal. And frankly, I had noticed that even seeing the ubiquitous photos of his angry, red, yelling face in every other Facebook post made my chest constrict uncomfortably.

Angry men are frightening

I don't know if that's something they know and use as a tool, but for most women and girls, male anger is tremendously upsetting. Men in our culture are taught to translate their anger and frustration in to physical outlets - hitting, throwing, slamming, shooting.

And yesterday, Lola and I got on a plane to fly across the country to visit Eve who is in her first year of college. I couldn't afford to be angry or rage-filled or incapacitated by grief. I was filled with joy at the thought of being in her presence again, the presence of both of these young women who love each other and make each other laugh. We travel together well, easing in to activities and rest with comfort, somehow managing each others' desires without fighting.

I woke up nauseous again, desperately pleading with the Universe to help me be 100%, to feel ok, to be able to enjoy my girls this weekend. Before my feet touched the floor, I took a deep breath and tried to pinpoint the feeling of unease and when it became clear that it wasn't inside me, but surrounding me, I finally acknowledged it. I am receiving the energy of others outside me - the overwhelming despair and rage and fury of women everywhere who know they can't stop this confirmation despite all our efforts.

Lola and Eve politely waited until I'd hugged Eve to fall in to each others' arms and stay there for a minute. Little do they know that while I loved hugging Eve myself, witnessing the two of them resting together, holding each other up, was the biggest gift. My heart is full.

Not far in to the day, things turned. The ride to breakfast was a bumpy one and Lola felt carsick. Eve wanted to know what the plan was after breakfast. The weather forecast was horrid - humid and thunderstorms. The wait for breakfast seemed interminable. They exchanged (quiet) sarcastic words and there were tears. As we sat at the table, the girls ignoring each other on their phones, I remembered family trips where our parents were angry with us for being  "spoiled brats."

We are spending money to bring you to this place and have a vacation, an adventure, and you repay us by bickering and complaining? Knock it off right now or you can forget about us taking you on any more trips.

I nearly laughed out loud, knowing that I could never say something like that to my girls. Not only would they think I'd been inhabited by some alien life form, but I know better. The very air is tainted right now, with anger and frustration and despair. And we are all entitled to feel overwhelmed, sad, confused, upset.

We soldiered on. And many hours later, as we sat eating lunch, our phones all pinged with the notification that Kavanaugh had been confirmed by the Senate. And I was reminded that what we are learning is valuable. We are learning, over and over again, that the solutions we can come up with within the paradigm of the current system are limited.

Had I threatened the girls, made them feel small and embarrassed, it might have made them less likely to express their frustrations outwardly, behave slightly better in public, but it wouldn't have addressed the root of the issues. Had I dug in to the "root" of the issues, things would likely have gotten a lot worse in the short term (and they probably would have both turned on me instead of being angry with each other).  Those were tactics my parents used. My tactic shifted - I created a new system. I decided that since I'm the grownup here, I would trust my girls to let me know if they needed my help sorting out their emotions, and in the meantime, I would forge ahead, doing what I thought would make me happy. We headed to a burgeoning neighborhood and wandered through bookstores, thrift shops, stationery stores. I stopped to pet an adorable puppy, mused about birthday gifts for my nieces, begged Lola to try on an outrageously gorgeous, outrageously tiny pantsuit that she looked phenomenal wearing. By lunch time, we were doing ok. Good, even. And when I suggested we head back to the hotel so Eve could have a hot bath (there's no tub in her dorm, so it's been a long time since she had a therapeutic soak), Lola could chill by herself and watch TV, and I would head to the lobby and write, there were huge smiles all around.

Protesting, signing petitions, calling our representatives, those are all things we do to address the problems within the system. And I'm certainly not saying that those efforts are useless. But it's the system itself that allows for these things to happen. The system that was created by white men for white men will always benefit white men. We need to get rid of that system. We need to dismantle (smash? burn?) the set of rules and mores that keep us small and compliant. We need to get a lot more comfortable imagining what a different paradigm would look like - one that is created for all of us - and work vigorously toward that end. Especially those of us who have benefited a great deal from this system, by playing by the rules and excusing the white men who make those rules.

It won't be easy. And it won't be comfortable. But we can't make substantive changes within this system that will end up benefitting all of us. While I am still furiously angry that Kavanaugh was confirmed, there is a tiny sense of relief in that now I know that this fire will forge steel. Should we still work our asses off to get out the vote in November? Absolutely! When we take back the House, should we start impeachment proceedings on Kavanaugh and Drumpf? First. Fucking. Order. Of. Business.

And then, we should not rest. We should not think we've won. Small victories within this broken, broken system are not enough. We have to burn this SOB down.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What Today Feels Like

It is not like a rock in your shoe - rolling free in the arch where you can't feel it until it somehow lodges beneath your heel and annoys you. It's not like that. That is a memory from when I was seven and a neighbor kid stole my new bike. Pissing me off decades later, but really just an annoyance.


This is a virus that lives in my bones. A virus that comes roaring back to life and makes me feverish, weak, agitated like I'm covered in hives.

This is sexual assault. 

The fact that I couldn't sleep last night from the ache in my lower back. It's not some metaphor or literary device - it's the seat of my shame, of my pain, of my sexual assault. This is where it lives in me, dormant until triggered. Once released, it is overwhelming.

It is why I cannot watch the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee because that feels like drinking castor oil when you have the flu. Why would I want to make myself puke even more?

It is why, even though I'm not watching, I can't stop crying.
It is why I took the dogs for a very long walk this morning; because movement makes me feel better - gives me the illusion that I am not trapped like I once was, or twice, or three times. Outside, headed for the park, at least I'm not in the car with my boss groping me - unable to get away because we're on the highway and I'm buckled in and I need that job. At least I'm not in the dark back bedroom at the babysitter's house, floating away in my mind while her 17-year old son does what he does to my 8-year old body.

There is a war between my bones and my mind that I cannot reconcile. 


My mind wants me to tell, to release the stories, to join the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport movements - to add to the ground swell. It knows the power of story. It says it will make a difference.

My bones push back. They know that telling is not a guarantee of release. That doing so is not like picking that small rock out of my shoe and flinging it away. These stories will always be with me. They are a virus.

There is another part of me, a part whose name I don't know, that is enraged. This part of me, she is furious at the idea that more stories will get us to some tipping point - that there is some magical number of reported rapes and molestations and assaults that will flip a switch, turn the tide, change the cultural narrative. She wonders why we have to continue to rip our scars open and present them to others to be believed. SHE IS ANGRY BECAUSE WE NEED THEM TO BELIEVE US. Because it means that we are captive again - trapped until they "believe" us and release us. Because it reinforces the power differential.

The stories live within us. Always. 

It is why some of us drink too much, because numb is better sometimes.
It is why some of us cut ourselves, because the idea of release is so tempting.
It is why others deny themselves food or eat too much, because anything we can do to be in control of our own physical bodies feels like taking back power.
It is why some of us talk and talk and talk when we tell our stories, to still the questions waiting to tumble from your lips. Believe me, we've asked ourselves those questions over and over again and we still don't have the answers. Because the answer lies outside us - with the perpetrators - while the pain lives inside.

And yet, no recounting of the story will matter if you're not listening. If you are only waiting to turn this in to a philosophical debate or thought experiment, our stories will never matter, because your "What ifs" (she is lying/he was drunk/she was drunk/this is a setup/he thought he had consent/you're not remembering right) are about you and your discomfort with our stories. Turning it in to a "conversation" means you're not willing to listen to our lived experience. And if you're uncomfortable with the details hitting your ears, imagine how we feel with them living in our bones.

Monday, September 10, 2018

When Mothering is in Your Bones

By si.robi - https://www.flickr.com/photos/sirobi/14239128799/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33623062
There are so many things to be struck by in the story of Serena Williams and the US Open Women's Championship. I was pelted by many of them, both as I watched the match and afterward, reading and processing the controversy. I know there's no way to say what I think any better than Rebecca Traister did here, but one thing that's been rattling around in my head and heart since Serena protested the first warning won't leave me until I do write about it.

Serena seemed to be saying that she can't separate her tennis playing self from her mother self - she was as concerned about being accused of cheating for her own reputation as she was in regard to her role as a mother. I feel that so deeply.

I won't generalize to other mothers or even other parents, but for me, becoming a mother didn't just add an appendage to my Self, it added a thread that runs through every cell of it. Once I discovered I was pregnant, I was, in my mind, a mother. From that moment forward, I was never NOT a mother. In the background of every decision I made was the knowledge that I was tied to another being, responsible to that being.

When Serena told the judge that day, "I am a mother. I have a daughter," I knew what she meant. Growing up a girl in a world dominated by men, where we are told in a million different ways who we are allowed to be, what is expected of us, and what our limitations are, we yearn to break free. Often, we don't yearn to break free with a vengeance until we are mothers of girls, and then we positively scream to break free, to create a different dynamic, a new conversation, smash the patriarchy for our daughters. (Ok, I'm generalizing - sorry - this is how I feel, what I know in my bones).

When my daughters were little and they questioned why it was me up on the ladder changing the batteries in the smoke detector instead of Daddy, I felt empowered to offer them a different world view. When they heard me assert myself to a physician or a mechanic or a credit card company that wasn't taking me seriously, I did it knowing that they were watching, listening, learning. I was always a mother - demonstrating that whatever the world-at-large told them, they had the right to take up space, voice their beliefs, ask for what they deserved.

Eve is in her third week of college - across the country from me - and I'm still teaching her to look at the world in a different way, to ask critical questions about how it interacts with her (albeit a lot less). When she texted me last week, nervous to go in to the advising office a second time to switch a class, she was worried that she would be characterized as whiny or wishy-washy. If I had a dime for every time a man accused me of not being able to make up my mind, or being emotional, I could pay for all four years of her private college tuition right now. I understood. And then I marshaled my mother-muscles and texted back:

Girl, you are the customer here. The only reason the people in that advising office are employed at all is to help you with things like this. To guide you as you determine what your major will be, and which classes will best fit that. You do NOT have to feel bad or embarrassed about asking for their help. If you want me to, I'll send you a screenshot of the check I wrote them to ensure that they help you when you need it. You deserve to ask them to support you as you begin your college career (and throughout it). I love you. You got this. You're fine. 

Whether men know it or not, every second of every day of the rest of my life I will be a mother to these two young women. I am never NOT a mother - it is part of everything I do, every decision I make. It has made me stronger, wiser, and more confident. I totally understand Serena's fury at being accused of something she knows she is not in front of the whole world and her baby girl. When mothering is in your bones and you've taken up the mantle of raising the next generation of strong women, you feel every slight more profoundly. (Ok, I'm generalizing again - sorry.)

I don't know if fathers feel this way about their sons or daughters. What I do know is that this awesome privilege and responsibility of motherhood has changed me in a way that will never be undone.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Using What's Available

Image: Low row of bricks alongside a sidewalk

On the sidewalk in North Chicago, just outside a large, upscale grocery store, Lola and I walked past a woman about my age building this brick wall. She was likely homeless, had a disposable plastic shopping bag filled with her own homemade mortar - newspaper bits, water, mud and other things only she knows - and was bent over stacking bricks and patting the mortar. Nobody challenged her, and she spoke to no one.

The next day as I walked to the El station, she was nowhere to be found, but I noted her progress and wondered whether she'd be back or if she ran out of materials or energy or drive to do more. I wondered whether she was trying to wall someone out or someone in, or if she was making herself a place to sit up off of the ground, or if she was simply creating, making something with her hands that made her feel productive.

I like to think it is the latter.

Even after all the therapy and reading and journaling and work I've done to counteract the cultural and familial narratives I've ingested for the last 47 years, it takes effort to remember that not everything I do has to make sense to anyone else. It doesn't have to garner a paycheck or be in service to some bigger societal machine. It can simply be me using the materials I have available to me to create, to follow my heart and instincts and do what I do best and love most.

Lola, Eve and I spent the last week in Chicago, exploring, walking, shopping, and moving Eve in to her freshman dorm room. It was, by turns, uplifting, gut-wrenching, exhausting, and hilarious. These two sisters have their own secret language such that they can read each other's emotions and rush in like a bubbling spring of water to fill in the holes, buoy the other, amplify the laughter. They know when to be quiet, when to lighten the mood with a carefully placed insult, when to link arms and raise an eyebrow to show support. It is an absolute pleasure to witness. So many times in the last week, I sat across a table from them or followed a few steps behind on the sidewalk and felt my heart swell at my good fortune. I get to be part of this.

We complained about the humidity (it was really gross - Pacific Northwesterners aren't built for that much warm moisture), people-watched, got makeovers at Bloomingdale's on a whim. We sat on a beach at Lake Michigan and marveled as a swarm of dragonflies swooped around in a cluster, creating their own mini-hurricane near the shore. We laughed and ate and filled an entire shopping cart at Target with hangers and laundry soap and bedding and school supplies.

I had one on one time with each of them; watching Glee with Eve late in to the night, sprawled on the couch, talking about nothing and everything. Lola and I hit five thrift stores in one day and ate tacos in the sunshine, simultaneously wishing we were home and dreading saying goodbye to her sister.

By the time the two of us settled in to our seats on the plane for the trip home, we linked arms, tipped our heads onto each others' shoulders, and sobbed. One of the three legs of our stool wasn't coming home with us.

Upon our return home from Chicago, I was a little lost. To be honest, I still am. I know there are essays to be written and sold. I need to continue sending out my memoir manuscript if it is ever going to be published. I have an agent interested in seeing a book proposal for a manuscript I wrote years ago, so I could work on that. None of those things pay much, if anything. Neither does mothering. I'm a bit paralyzed - do I look for a job that does pay? What can I do that's valuable and useful? What do I enjoy doing? What can I stand doing that pays?

There's something in me that says to wait. Just give myself time to roll with this new phase - settle in to having one less chick in the nest and use my energy to support both my girls through this transition. I don't often think about modern technology - even as much as I use it - but I am tremendously grateful for the ability to text my girls. It means that I can offer advice and insight no matter where I am, so that when Eve feels a tiny bit homesick or has a question about returning textbooks she purchased for a class she dropped, I'm 'there.' Because what I know is that I am a good mom, and relying on my strengths in that area feels good to all of us. The fact that the girls know they can ask me anything, anytime, and I'll want to answer, jump at the chance to engage with them - that is immeasurably important to me. It is a constant for all of us, a reminder that we are a team and while the characteristics of our connections might change over time, the fact that there's a connection there is a given. I don't support them because I have to. There is no sense of duty there. I am truly overjoyed to be their travel companion, sounding board, keeper of memories. I am using the bricks and mortar I have at my disposal to create something, and it may not look like much, but it is strong.

When I get caught up in the "but you're not making any money" narrative in my head, I have to remember that I'm ok right now, that I do my best work when the work I'm doing is something I love and something I'm good at. And right now, the things I love most of all are mothering and writing. In that order. Today, that's good enough. Better than good enough. It's great. Amazing. Phenomenal.


Thursday, August 02, 2018

When Life Moves as Fast as the News Cycle

I am often astonished at how much less I write here than I used to, and for a while, I attributed it to the speed of life. There have been so many changes - substantive changes - in my life in the last two years that I can barely keep up.

For a while, I was trying to peg some freelance writing work to the news cycle - writing about depression when Kate Spade was discovered to have committed suicide and realizing that by the time I wrote my piece it was Anthony Bourdain that was in the news and by the time I heard back from an editor, the world was talking about North Korea and then the next school shooting and then family separations at the border.

Funny how much that felt like my life.

Separation after 23 years of marriage followed by (or in the midst of) my oldest daughter's senior year in high school with the attendant college preparation/final Homecoming/Prom/graduation. Searching for an alternative to the youngest daughter's school and finding the Running Start program that allows her to enroll in community college in lieu of finishing at her high school followed by divorce and moving to a new home. Watching my mom descend further in to herself and trying to help arrange for her move to a long-term facility and preparing to help my daughter now move across the country for college.

The speed of life.

As I walked the dogs in the cool mist this morning, I realized that part of what has been weighing on me is a feeling of failure - that I am doing so many things and none of them very well. I've sold some writing, but not enough to live on. I bought a new house and there are still pieces of furniture where I don't want them and the outdoor space isn't as inviting as I want it to be. I don't cook as often as I used to and I am afraid I'm not showing up for my girls in the way they want me to.

But when I took a moment to really say those words in my own head - to bring them out of the shadows where they play havoc with my heart - I realized that I've actually done a pretty damn good job in the last two years simply by putting one foot in front of the other. The fact that I've sold any writing, finished my manuscript, bought and sold a house, navigated the end of a decades-long marriage, and managed to stay upright and kind and tell my girls every damn day that I love them is almost a miracle. If I've failed in any way, it was a failure to accurately assess what my future was going to look like, and I think it's a human trait to be pretty bad at that kind of prediction, isn't it? By making an effort to stay grounded in who I am and what's important to me and focusing on the next best step, I've strung together quite a path thus far, so while the news cycle of my life is still hurtling along at a fairly fast clip, I know it won't always be like this. I'm just going to hold on and keep doing what I've been doing for the next little while and believe in my own abilities.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

We All Belong To Each Other

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. Wikimedia Commons
Tuesday night, I joined a room full of people of all different faiths to talk about how we can help the immigrants in our community - both the ones in the local federal detention center and those in our midst who have been living here and working here for months, years, sometimes decades. It was an amazing gathering with people of all ages and religions and backgrounds, and some of the individuals who have direct experience as immigrants were asked to share their stories.

While this meeting came up as an effort to build a Rapid Response Network to meet the needs of families separated at the border, it was also acknowledged that the immigrants who are living here are not safe from ICE, either. While I knew that, the stories I heard shook me.

One Somalian woman spoke about her experience translating for another Somali woman - a mother of four children who immigrated to this country via Kenya after the death of her husband. She came her with her four kids to try and build a new life for all of them and secure some sort of future in a land not plagued by war or drought. She knew that if she stayed home, she and her children would be in jeopardy. They've been here for more than ten years, integrated into the community, part of it. One day, not too long ago, she received a frantic phone call from her teenage son. He had been picked up on the light rail with a group of other teens (also Somalian) and instantly moved to a federal detention center in Tacoma. They were told that they would be sent back to Somalia the next morning on a plane that was already full. ICE had performed a set of raids specifically to round up Somalians in the area and send them back. This young man has been in the US since he was two years old. He doesn't speak Somalian. He has no recollection of that country. His mother had no time to contact an attorney and no recourse. He was flown back to Somalia where he and the other young people (all unaccompanied minors) were dumped at the international airport in Mogadishu without food or money and left to their own devices. She has not seen him since.

Another man spoke of living in an apartment building with many Latino families. While he is not Latino, he has befriended them and gotten to know their children. It is a tight community of neighbors who all help each other (this man is physically disabled) and look out for each other. His voice broke as he told us of the gatherings they have to socialize where talk eventually turns to plans for what will happen when ICE shows up. Many of the parents have had to teach their children where to hide and how to be silent if a stranger comes to the door when the parents are at work or at the store. Many of them are citizens or are waiting on green cards to complete their legal process, but ICE does not discriminate, and with their unchecked powers, they are able to round up and deport or detain people before a legal defense can be mounted.

I heard a Kenyan man who has been here for much of his adult life speak of the refugee camps in his country and the people who come through them looking for a better life. He explained that even though Kenya is a beautiful, mostly peaceful country, the exchange rate for their currency is 100:1. That means that someone coming to the United States can make 100 times the amount of money here working in the same job as they can if they stay in Kenya. Is it any wonder that people are willing to trek through the unknown to get here?

There were more stories that broke me wide open, and the support and energy in that room was tremendous. It is tempting to succumb to the overwhelm and realize that there is so much happening behind the scenes on a daily basis that we can't even know about, but then I remember that even one family protected is vital. I will continue to work with these people to demonstrate my American dream - the dream that we all remember we belong to each other in profound ways and we all deserve to live our best lives, regardless of where on this planet we happen to have been born. I hope you'll find ways to help, too.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Dream and a Nightmare

I had a dream last night that I volunteered my car and my services to transport kids who'd been separated from their parents back to reunite with them. I have a car that seats seven and I was eager to help in any way I could with the family reunifications.

When I got to the detention center, I couldn't look at any of the children. I suddenly felt very white and wealthy and American and I wondered how much I scared the kids. I felt complicit. I wanted to apologize, to take them all into my arms and sob and tell them that I never wanted any of this, that I didn't vote for the monster in the White House, that I marched and protested and wrote on their behalf. But in the dream, I didn't touch any of them, because it's not about me. I had to stay in my own lane and remember that doing this work isn't focused on making  me feel better or less guilty. And so I bowed my head and opened up the back of the car and didn't make eye contact. I let the kids in and made sure their seat belts were all buckled tightly and then I went around to my side of the car, climbed in, put my glasses on, and drove them to their families.

I spent most of Friday throwing up - for real, not in a dream. I have been agitated and on edge all week. I spent Sunday - Father's Day - at a rally in the hot sun, tears streaming down my face as I listened to stories relayed to my Congressperson from parents in the federal detention center in Seattle.

I spent Tuesday writing my story of family separation, finally understanding why this is hitting me so hard (not that it shouldn't hit every single person on the fucking planet right between the eyes - this tearing apart of families). I spent Wednesday and Thursday trying to get someone to publish my story, to hear the devastating effects of family separation.

But it's not about me. And I can't make it about me. There is much work to do to get these kids back to their families, to repair the damage we've wrought. Today, I will find others who can help, band together with them, and bow my head as I do the work.

If you want to help, please look over this article and find something that fits your skillset.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

This is Not a Father's Day Post

By Dave Huth from Allegany County, NY, USA - Pill bug, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64866062
My gut can be the source of some pretty deep knowing. It's often the first place I get an energetic "hit" when something is off or really, really right. But it's also the site of connection to my daughters and I realized this morning that if I'm not paying really close attention, it can lead me to places I don't want to go.

I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to make parenting decisions (or, really, any decisions, for that matter) out of fear. While fear is important, it's important as a first hit emotion, not a "let's move forward" emotion. So when I let energy sit in my belly, it's not good. Especially when it comes to my kids.

The alternative to acting out of fear, for me, is acting out of love, and for that, I need to be in my heart. I have to really work to open a portal from my belly upward and let that energy move to a place of abundance and openness and vulnerability. And that's the shitty part.

When I close my eyes and think of my gut and the way fear feels there, I shrink forward like a pill bug, curling around those soft parts and protecting them. But that traps the energy there and while it feels safe, it's not sustainable. My babies were in my belly for a finite period of time for a reason. I wasn't meant to protect them forever. And as they grow up and make their way in the world without me, I still feel that tug just below my navel - a cord of connection that is like an early warning system. It's always 'on.'

These days when I am afraid for my girls, the stakes seem so much bigger. They're driving, working, spending time with people I've never met and maybe never will. They are making decisions I don't know about and maybe wouldn't make for myself or them, given half a chance. The gut hits tell me to draw in, tug on that cord to keep them closer to me, curl around and try to protect them again. That's fear. Fortunately, sometimes I have the presence and ability to remember that I chose not to act out of fear.

It's time to draw that cord up through to my heart, to open and expand, to breathe and shine light and lead with love. It's time to trust that the connection will always be there, it's just that the nature of it is changing, like everything else does. It's time to remember that fear shrinks, dims the light, takes so much energy, but love expands and shines and releases energy. These girls are up and on their own legs, and when they wobble, I'll be here, with open arms, standing tall with my shoulders back, leading with my heart, because love is so much more powerful and transformative than fear.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

An Open Letter to Men Whose Daughters Opened Their Eyes To Feminism


By Father of JGKlein, used with permission - Father of JGKlein, used with permission, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10787084
If you are among the men who claim to have awakened to feminism because you had a daughter, I just want to let you in on a secret: that’s not feminism. If, before you had a female child who shares your DNA, who may or may not continue your legacy, you didn’t identify as a feminist – despite the fact that you have spent your life surrounded by women in one way or another – you’re not one now.
You may be on your way to finding feminism, but you’ve got a ways to go, so keep moving. You are not yet enlightened.

What you’ve found is narcissism. Or, alternately, patriarchy masquerading as feminism. If you suddenly see your daughter as a human being who might be mistreated based on her gender, if you feel compelled to protect her and fight for her rights, that’s patriarchy. If you look in to your daughter’s eyes and see yourself, or watch her on the soccer field and think, “she got that from me,” that’s narcissism. You feel as though you have a vested interest in her equality simply because she is ‘of you.’ 

Feminism is about all women and girls, so if you had a mother or a sister or aunties or female teachers or friends who were girls, and you didn’t feel compelled to support their struggle for equality before now, keep working. 

I’m happy you’ve gotten this far, but I’m not going to congratulate you on your newfound social justice muscle. We have way too much work to do for me to take the time or energy to make you feel better. You can join us, watch us, learn from us, and hopefully you’ll make it to feminism at some point. But you are not the center of the universe here. 

Women and girls have been raised to believe that the male gaze is the one that is most important – their daddies, their coaches, their bosses. Because men are the ones who have traditionally been in power, it is their acknowledgment and support we have been taught to seek, so I understand why you might think you deserve to be praised for this novel idea you had – that girls are people, too – thanks to your fatherhood. I’m here to tell you that that is all nonsense and you’ve been sold a lie. Women and girls are people regardless of whether you think they are or not. Women and girls are powerful, smart, and deserving of all the same things men are, their relationship to or with men notwithstanding. We don’t deserve equality because we are your sisters or your cousins or we have your eyes. We deserve equality. Period.

So put away your self-concern and self-congratulation and get on with it. We have miles to go and you’re a bit behind. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When The Story Gets Too Heavy

Naturvetenskap 1

 I am a storyteller and I have been my whole life. I carry them inside me, work on them, figure out the best way to share them. But sometimes the stories get heavy. Before I ever put anything on the page, the words and feelings chase each other around and around inside, making connections and trying to fit the puzzle pieces together. When I sit too long with the stories, they start to burn and I know it's time to walk or go pull weeds. Somehow, being outside helps the sentences flow and combine in ways they can't when I am indoors.

The stories of the last year and a half are heavier than many that have gone before, and I'm finding that walking takes on a new urgency for me and it also requires a focus I haven't been forced to have before. These days, I have to walk farther away from home and immerse myself in places that are new and expansive in order to divorce myself from the circling thoughts and feelings. I have found an open space surrounded by trees where few people go and at least once a week I walk there and sit and untether the words from each other, and also from my head and heart. Sitting in this place just breathing helps to re-string it all in a way that offers clarity.

I am learning that there is a sort of chemical reaction taking place as I assimilate the stories and try to keep my heart and my head on the same level. Most days, the two are at war, fighting for supremacy, which sometimes means wild swings from sadness to anger. My brain can only witness so much grief before it burns it off with anger, like alcohol in a skillet. My heart is simultaneously relieved of its burden and seduced by the beautiful flames, but the anger is also expansive and  at some point I realize it is taking up too much space in my head. The sadness dissipated, but the stories are still there and they are all about other people. I imagine a large section of my brain colonized by the stories of others, the actions of others, the words of others, and I am impatient to evict them.

When I was in college, the days I spent in the Chemistry lab were some of my favorites. The cool, cave-like room with its expanse of concrete worktops and glass beakers and pipettes and orderly rhythms gave me a stillness and a focus. There were rules, a set of steps to be taken, and all that was asked of me was to do one thing at a time and remain curious - observe and report. Even if I knew what I was supposed to be creating, somehow the cascading chemical reactions along the way were always enchanting - sometimes it was a smell or a particular color flame that I hadn't expected. Witnessing the magic kept me from getting caught up in the story or the sequence. I had my instructions. Observe and report. Remain curious.




Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Tough Love is For the Birds...

and for the parents. 

If you were raised in the 1970s and early 1980s, you might be familiar with the "tough love" approach. It was my dad's go-to method of parenting. Figure out how to treat your kid like they'd be treated in "the adult world" and apply that. And tell them it was "for your own good - you'll thank me someday." 

I didn't. Ever. Thank him. 

I have, on occasion, been sorely tempted to employ the Tough Love method of parenting - telling my kids to suck it up, stop sniveling. Urban Dictionary defines it as "being cruel to be kind;" Dictionary.com says it's "promotion of a person's welfare, especially that of an addict, child, or criminal, by enforcing certain constraints on them, or requiring them to take responsibility for their actions." I call bullshit. 

Tough love is about the parents, it's not about the kids. When parents use these tactics, it's because they're uncomfortable with their own kids' pain. Every time my dad told me to stop crying it was because he couldn't stand to see me cry. (I didn't know that at the time - I thought there was something really wrong with me that I cried so easily.) Every time my dad told me that I had created the mess so I'd have to figure out how to fix it, it was because he didn't have the bandwidth to sit with me, listen to me, soothe my feelings, and help me talk through how I got here and how to move forward. 

I'm not saying he was a monster. He was a product of his time, and that was the prevailing parenting wisdom in those days. But I am saying that it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him, his discomfort with strong emotions, and his insecurity with parenting overall. If he convinced himself that he was doing what was in my best interest, "promoting my welfare," he could wipe his hands of the affair altogether. It was mine to figure out. I'd be fine. I'd pull myself up from my bootstraps and learn (or I wouldn't, and he still wouldn't be accountable or have to jump to action).

How do I know this? Because the other day when I was supremely frustrated with my kid, worried about a choice she was tasked with making, and so overwhelmed with emotion about the entire situation, I considered taking the Tough Love approach. Not because she's nearly 16. Not because I thought it was in her best interest. Because I. Was. Tired. Because I couldn't stand to see her struggle anymore and if I just told her to figure it out on her own, then I wouldn't have to think about it anymore. 

It was about me and my pain, not hers. It was because hanging in there, holding space for her angst and confusion and really empathizing with the fact that there was no easy answer felt too hard. I'm happy to say that instead of channeling my dad, I took the dogs for a walk and gave myself some space to breathe and remember that I know how to do hard things, especially when I'm doing them with people that I love fiercely. I was reminded that walking beside her, being exactly who she needed me to be in the moment of her biggest challenge, and not throwing her to the wolves is my job as her mother and her champion. I can model for her that sticking by the people you love when things are hard is what we do. I can remind her that she can lean on me when she's tired and it all feels too much. And I can remember that, no matter how difficult this all feels to me, she's the one living it, and the least I can do is let her know that I won't go anywhere. 

Screw tough. Just love. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

PTSD and Book Club



I never know where inspiration will come from, but in general, it is spurred by conversations with people I don't know as well as I thought I did. And for that, I am tremendously grateful.

I have been part of a book club for about four years that is composed of women who look an awful lot like me - upper middle class, white, most of us have children who are teenagers. Most are married (some for the second time), and about half work a traditional job. And yet, the disparate backgrounds and thought processes are interesting enough that we have some pretty deep conversations. I have to say, there have been some tense moments (for me, anyway, who is incapable of staying quiet when I think there is something privileged or provocative or unacknowledged), but they've generally been talked through, and all are sparked by books we've read.

Many of the books are ones I wouldn't have picked up in the first place and I love that, too. There have been a few over the years that I couldn't bring myself to finish (one that I didn't even bother to start), but for the most part, I dive in with curiosity and look forward to the conversations we have. And nearly always, I am left with lots to think about in the ensuing days. Our last meeting was a week ago and I'm still chewing on one small exchange that happened around PTSD and when I think about something for that long, it usually means the only way I can process it is to write about it.

We read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah which contains themes of domestic violence and PTSD (albeit largely unacknowledged - only alluded to) throughout.  At one point during our discussion, I referenced this post from a few weeks ago in an effort to talk about the way my brain worked to prepare myself for potential catastrophe when I was a kid and one of the other women chimed in, "From who?"

I stopped talking and turned to look at her.

"From who? Who were you afraid of?"

In the moment, I answered truthfully and moved on to make my point, but it is that exchange that has been stuck in a crevice of my brain for nearly a week now and I feel the need to elaborate on my original answer.

Here's what I know about PTSD (in my case - I won't generalize to other people's experiences): it's not rational, and it doesn't limit itself to one trigger. If, as a kid, I was afraid of one particular person, anytime I encountered another person who had similar characteristics, my nervous system went into overdrive and sent me to fight/flight. So while I may have started out worrying about one person harming me, as soon as I went out in to the wider world, I saw potential disaster in all sorts of places that other people wouldn't normally see it. I was, quite literally, prepared to duck and run at any time. I saw danger everywhere for years. This is how PTSD compromised my ability to function in my daily life - by keeping me on a hair trigger whether it made sense to other people or not.

Here's another thing I know about PTSD; repeated exposure to triggers won't give me the sense that I'm safe. This is not like experiments scientists are doing with food allergies where small doses over long periods of time gradually help the immune system become accustomed to ingesting the item and end up being ok with it. Repeated exposure to triggers only made me develop more armor which I spent a lot of time and money with therapists trying to dismantle. The way I overcame most of my PTSD was to have small repeated exposure to safe spaces, to people who didn't violate or harm or scare me. With a lot of effort and mindfulness, I was gradually able to change the narrative in my brain, but it didn't just happen. It took work.

If you love someone who has PTSD, please don't explain to them why they shouldn't be scared or anticipate disaster. Please don't trigger them and later say, "See? I didn't hit you. I just yelled. You were over-reacting." A trigger sets off a biochemical chain reaction that completely obliterates language. By the time I realize you haven't hit me, I've already felt the fear in every corner of my brain and body and it's too late for you to convince me that I shouldn't be scared. I already was. It happened. And that's one more example in my brain of why it's not safe to be around you - whether you hit me or not.

I realize that PTSD is unfathomable to people who don't have it but the more we can try to understand what triggers our loved ones with PTSD, the more we can avoid those incidents that send them in to a frenzy of survival mode behavior. Just because we can't understand someone else's reaction to something doesn't make it unimportant or irrelevant or over-reaction. PTSD starts with one trigger but our brains are so good at generalizing and so worried about keeping us safe that we can expand the list of triggers to include things that others think are nuts. If you love someone with PTSD, the best thing you can do is learn what triggers them and avoid doing those things as you continually remind them that you are safe and loving.

(For the record, I was dismayed that the book we read didn't explore the idea that one of the main characters was clearly struggling with PTSD. There was a missed opportunity there, in my opinion, to make him a much more 3-dimensional character. )

Friday, April 06, 2018

Anger

Two things: I don't like the way anger feels in my body but I am discovering how to help it leave, and for me, nature is an integral part of that process.

When anger comes it is seductive and as a human being and a storyteller, my wont is to engage my mind and immediately begin to weave words around it and harness its power.

But that red hot ball burrows its way in to me and sometimes hunkers down to stay a while and it sends out tendrils, armies, missionaries. It burns.

So what I've learned is that anger has to reside in my body sometimes, but I don't have to help it stay any longer. I don't have to soften the space where it hangs out, change the sheets and offer fresh towels. I only have to acknowledge it, nod my head at it, and keep it from connecting with my stories. My stories are meant to heal, to illuminate, to open understanding, and anger sucks the life out of them and makes them hard and mean. Even if it feels powerful and purposeful. That is the seduction.

A wise friend once told me that it's important to help move anger through my body - that movement makes it hard for the hot twist of resentment to stay. And so I walk in nature. I disconnect from my head and ground myself deep in my belly. I run a cord from my sacrum to the earth and I breathe and I move, and gradually I feel lighter. Noticing the trees and moss and meandering streams reminds me that movement and coexistence, community and cooperation, connection and distinction are my sweet spot. I cannot make my priorities anyone else's priorities. I cannot predict or prescribe what will happen when I speak my truth. But I can invite the anger to leave and fill myself up with possibility and light and let the ripples move through me out into the world.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Arming School Personnel: We Can't Do This to Our Kids (or Our Teachers)

Sometimes, I have a view in to PTSD that I haven't ever seen before. Generally, at this point in my life, it's a pretty distanced view, and for that I am grateful.

As I was getting ready to take the dogs for a walk this morning, I was putting my shoes and socks on and having to contend with Chivito to keep possession of both socks. He loves nothing more than watching me separate a pair of socks and waiting until I begin to put the first one on and my attention is diverted so he can snatch the other sock and run away with it to a corner of the room. As I chased him to retrieve it, I was suddenly reminded of something I used to muse on as a kid.

Is it better to put both socks on first and then start on your shoes, or one sock and one shoe first and then the other sock/shoe combo?

Seems fairly philosophical, except that, as a kid, when you're living in fear, it's not. It's practical. I always chose one sock and one shoe and then the other pair and here is why - if I got interrupted halfway through and had to run, at least one foot would be entirely covered. If I did both socks first and had to run, those socks wouldn't protect my feet for long as I ran away, but, I reasoned, I could always give the bare foot a break by hopping on the foot with the shoe for a little bit if necessary.

These days I can look back at the kid who thought that way most mornings and smile with compassion. I no longer feel that sharp spike of adrenaline in my chest as I imagine what she was afraid of. I know I'm safe these days. I am filled with appreciation for that little girl's survival skills and for the fact that I made it through that time and am no longer forced to think that way.

I wonder what else that little girl could have done with her time and intellect if she hadn't been so afraid all the time, so focused on fight or flight, and it makes me determined to do what I can to keep other kids from living that way.

This is a pretty ham-handed segue in to a discussion about gun control, but here you have it: this is one of the reasons I find it unconscionable that there are lawmakers considering adding more guns to the landscape of our kids' lives. Between active-shooter drills and actual mass shootings in schools, churches, and other public places, our kids are traumatized, and we are letting it happen. Consider this post by a teacher named Danae Ray (taken from Facebook postings made by her FB friends - I don't know her):

"Today in school we practiced our active shooter lockdown. One of my first graders was scared and I had to hold him. Today is his birthday. He kept whispering "When will it be over?" into my ear. I kept responding "Soon" as I rocked him and tried to keep his birthday crown from stabbing me.
I had a mix of 1-5 graders in my classroom because we have a million tests that need to be taken. My fifth grader patted the back of the 2nd grader huddled next to him under a table. A 3rd grade girl cried silently and clutched the hand of her friend. The rest of the kids sat quietly (casket quiet) and stared aimlessly in the dark.
As the"intruder" tried to break into our room twice, several of them jumped, but remained silently. The 1st grader in my lap began to pant and his heart was beating out of his chest, but he didn't make a peep. Eventually, the principal announced the lockdown was lifted.
I turned on the lights, removed the table from in front of the door, opened the blinds and announced "Let's get back to work. " I was greeted with blank faces... petrified faces.... tear stained faces... confused faces... elated faces...and one "bitch REALLY?" face.
This is teaching in 2018. And no... I don't want a gun." #teacherlyfe

Now consider those children coming to school every morning, passing through metal detectors staffed by men and women with guns. Think about what it must take to walk through the halls of school with armed personnel in your periphery. Think about what it might feel like to be a child of color, whose family history might be peppered with stories of police officers using undue force. Imagine how incredibly difficult it might be to focus on what your teacher is saying or relax enough to joke with your friends or cut up in the lunchroom.

Think about what it would be like, as you get older and begin to draw conclusions based on subtle societal cues, and you notice that your teachers are working two or three jobs just to afford their rent and your classmates are holding bake sales and car washes to raise money for field trips or band uniforms, but the government seems to have plenty of money for school police officers and ammunition and bullet proof vests. What would your conclusions be about where our priorities lie?

Human beings can't learn when they are in fear-mode. They can only react. Schools need to be a place of learning. They need to be safe places to experiment, and they should be places of joy. In order to create the best conditions for creative thought, problem-solving, and collaboration, we need teachers who are not afraid and who feel as though their efforts are appreciated and well-rewarded. We need students who are well-nourished, relaxed, and who feel safe and optimistic.

Banning assault weapons (or whatever you choose to call them - I know there is some petty argument about whether bump stocks or AR-15s should be called "assault weapons" - but I'm clear on the fact that these are not simple hunting rifles unless you're hunting human beings) is not an affront to anyone's Second Amendment rights. Banning assault weapons is simply a way to incrementally increase the safety and security of every single person in this country. Is it a perfect solution? No. That doesn't exist. Is it a key part of the puzzle? Yes. It is. And if we can take that step toward reducing the amount of fear our children have as they simply get dressed in the morning to go to school, it's the least we can do.

#guncontrolnow #notonemore #neveragain

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Wearing My Heart on My Sleeve

The thing about mindfulness for me is that it lets me have more access to my emotions. It's not only that I give myself the opportunity to breathe when I feel something strongly and tune in to the stories I'm telling myself (either in an effort to quash the feelings or to turn them into something else). It's that when I am really mindful, I let the emotions show up as they are, whenever they choose to show up. And as hard as it is to trust that they'll come and then go (as long as I don't spin tales about them that take me off into another place), they always do, and the more I practice that, the easier it becomes.

It's not easy.
I said "easier."

Because what I'm discovering is that all of this means that my emotions are much closer to the surface in any given day and sometimes that's a little uncomfortable for people around me. Sometimes that means that without any notice at all, I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Sometimes it means that I dance through the kitchen at the mere sight of sun streaming through the windows on a Tuesday morning.

Today, I was struck by a wave of unexpected sadness and I watched as my brain struggled to turn it to anger almost immediately. I was driving Lola somewhere and part of my brain said, Stop it! Don't let her see you cry. You don't want to make her worry about you or feel bad. And my brain's response was to start crafting reasons why this sadness was the fault of someone else, why I would be entirely justified in getting angry, and I even began imagining potential conversations to that end.

Wow.

For a split second, that worked. I felt anger rise in me and I no longer had the urge to cry. But when I realized what I was doing, I let go of the story and waited. It was remarkable to me that the sadness didn't return right away - how easy it had been for me to push it away.

After I dropped Lola off at her destination, I spent the rest of the drive home experimenting. I played with conjuring up the sadness again (even though it had been unexpected, I was perfectly clear on why it came up when it did) and watching as my brain fought to make it go away with anger. It took effort to stick with the original emotion and let it flow.

What I'm discovering is that dropping the stories I am constantly telling myself about what I should do or be or think or say makes my life much simpler. I am more able to move through my days in the moment and experience whatever comes as it does. I have always been the kind of person who feels things deeply - who has very high highs and very low lows - but this is a different phenomenon. This feels cleaner somehow. My emotions are very close to the surface, very accessible, and they don't hold as much sway over me as they once did. Without the stories weighing them down or the struggle to be allowed to show up (because I'm not trying to ignore them or make them come back later, when it's more appropriate), they are simply there. It's a lighter, easier feeling than I've ever had before and even if it means that I might start crying at the drop of a hat, I'm welcoming it.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Values of Belonging

I am reading the most fascinating book right now and it is spurring all sorts of wonderings in my mind. The book is "The Values of Belonging" by Carol L. Flinders and every paragraph is an opening and a widening and a deepening of understanding.

The Values of Belonging breaks new ground by examining human value systems from the perspective of how we live, not our gender. "There is a way of being in the world that recoils from aggressiveness, cunning, and greed," writes bestselling author Carol Lee Flinders. This way of being arose out of the relationships our hunter-gatherer ancestors had with the natural world, one another, and Spirit -- relationships that are most acutely understood in terms of trust, inclusion, and mutual reciprocity. This society's core values, which include intimate connection with the land, empathetic relationship with animals, self-restraint, balance, expressiveness, generosity, egalitarianism, playfulness, and nonviolent conflict resolution, are what Flinders calls the "values of Belonging."

She contrasts the "values of belonging" with the "values of enterprise" that came about when humans began cultivating the land and domesticating animals. She speaks of how profoundly this affected the way we saw our place in the world - changing us from believing we were one integral part of something bigger to a culture of ownership, of dominion, of power.

I have pages of notes and sketches. I dream about it.

It has prompted me to start asking questions about Enough.
What is Enough?
What can I take part in without owning it?
Do I need to own things? Do I need to control them?

Part of the trouble with owning things is that, if we ascribe a certain level of value to them, we then start to fear losing them. And when we're afraid of losing something, we often begin to believe that its value is greater than it once was. Then, we see anyone or anything that could potentially take those things away from us as a threat and this further severs us from a culture of belonging. Or, it means that we've created a new set of things to which we think we belong (and which belong to us) - inanimate objects or scraps of land, or even people, but this kind of belonging is ownership, not connection.

So many of the things that plague us today stem from a loss of connection. Depression and anxiety, relational aggression, climate change. These are all things that came about because of our desire to have, own, be in control of - these cultural values that make us believe we are safe and important. And they are tearing us apart. Owning land and cultivating it, drawing lines around "our" borders and rejecting those who we perceive to be a threat, these things might serve the short term purpose of feeding us and protecting us, but they are anathema to our long-term survival because no matter how hard we might try, we will never be separated from the natural world and each other. We are all intimately intertwined and, in fact, it is our biological imperative to live that way. Our brains are hard-wired to respond to connection by releasing hormones when we cuddle an animal, nurture our young, give or receive a hug. It is why, when we offer help to another person, we feel good about ourselves and when we walk in the woods our nervous systems calm down.

So how much is Enough?
How can we begin to return to each other and the natural world?
Can we integrate the values of belonging with the values of enterprise without destroying ourselves?

I hope so. I haven't finished the book yet, but for now, I am asking the questions and spending time noticing how I feel when I imagine more connection and less dominion.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fear and Parenting

photo from www.newromantimes.com
We had snow in Seattle last Wednesday. It rarely happens, and when it does, it's a novelty and generally doesn't last for long - just the way I like it. Thursday, the sun came out and melted most of the inch or so that had accumulated, except in the spots that remained shady. As I walked the dogs through the neighborhood, I could see some icy patches of sidewalk and a few places with snow tucked beneath branches. We rounded one corner and there stood a tilted snowman about three feet high, just beginning to melt and sag at the top. The dogs cowered behind me, tugging at the leashes to get as far away from it as they could.

It wasn't moving or making noise. It was just sitting there, melting in the sun. And they were petrified because never before on our walk had they seen this thing in this place. It freaked them out.

I considered encouraging them to go closer and investigate - to see that it wasn't a threat - but they would have none of it. I wish I knew what was happening in their heads - what did they think it was? What were they worried it was going to do? All they knew was that it was foreign, unexpected, and scary.

Sometimes it's hard to argue with your instincts. Sometimes, you have to just hope that the thing you just saw that freaked you out won't be there the next time you round that corner and try to put it out of your mind.

And sometimes, you have to creep up to it, slowly and cautiously, to check it out. You have to walk around it to see from all angles, sniff it, maybe even poke at it and try to determine what the significance is. It's also important, while you're doing this, to acknowledge that this takes energy - a lot more energy than walking away does. It's frankly exhausting to stay alert and run through the mental calculations and be ready to bolt at a second's notice.

Parenting teenagers is a lot like happening on an unexpected snowman in your neighborhood. Sometimes I just rear back and walk away from that thing that just happened, hoping it was a one-off. Other times, I steel myself and tiptoe up to assess the situation, ever-vigilant and truly hoping it's not as frightening as I thought it was when I first saw it.

It was a week filled with snowmen. I'm tired, but also relieved that the ones I saw weren't as bad as my nervous system said they were. And I'm also happy that I've spent time training myself over the years to breathe deeply and creep forward. I've learned that if I simply describe what I see in front of me I am suddenly less fearful.

There is this thing here that I didn't expect and I'm not sure what to do with it. To be honest, with teenagers, it happens more than I'd like. I can't possibly anticipate most of the things they'll do even though I try, and sometimes I'm altogether floored.

But, as the mom, it's my job to remember that I set the standard, and that maybe we're all a little freaked out by this thing that happened (even if it happened as a consequence of some teenager's poor choices). So I take a minute to let the initial adrenaline rush subside and I start talking. And usually, that snowman starts to melt in front of our eyes and become more manageable.


Saturday, February 03, 2018

Unlearning

The last year or so has been a challenging one. I am getting a divorce after 23 years and there is a lot to learn, and even more to un-learn; about the world, about myself, about relationships. I have been thinking a lot about "groundwork" and how I believed for a long time in a paradigm that said if I worked hard and diligently and laid a solid ground beneath my feet, at some point I could rest easy and revel in that. It's that same story we hear in the West about getting to retirement or busting our asses in high school so that we can get in to a good college or killing ourselves in college so that we can land a good job and ... rest.

I am un-learning.

I am reminded that people who embody their purpose and their passion, who trust their instincts and intuition and forge a path from that, centered in it, steeped in it, are the people who most inspire me. These people don't lead with fear, they live with it, walk with it until it falls away. It is, at most, an occasional companion on their journey, not the engine that drives their motion.

I wanted, at some point, to stop living moment by moment, breathing deeply and re-centering myself. I wanted to have built a solid path already so that I wouldn't have to keep laying one cobblestone at a time, breathing always, focused always. I wanted there to be some magical point in time when I would have laid enough "groundwork" that the path would simply be there, shining and solid before me, so that all I had to do was step out and follow it with ease.

As I say that out loud, I realize that the only way that can happen is if I go backwards. The path in front of me hasn't been laid yet. It can only be laid by me.

Some days, I want to lie down on the path I've already made, at the place where the last cobblestone is set before dropping off into Earth, and rest. And I think that's ok. Rest is ok. This is hard work, laying your own path, staying grounded in who you are and being true to your own deepest pull.

If I am to forge my own way, I have to keep building one stone at a time. I have to keep asking, 'is this who I am?' I have to believe that what lies behind me is only important because it is how I got here. It is not worth going back to.

So while I don't know exactly where I am going, I know that I am getting there one brick at a time and I also know that each brick is laid with care and determination. The point is not to get "Somewhere" or to "Finish" or even to look back and show how far I've come. The work is the point. The daily inquiry - what is most important and true today? what is the highest and best expression of my Self? what is the next right step?

If I embody those things, the work is centering and grounding and I am grateful for it.

Suddenly, I have no more longing for a clear path ahead. I know that what I'm creating is its own purpose, and that gives me joy. And I know that all around me is an abundance of materials and support, reverence and love, and that if I can remember that I am part of something bigger that sustains me and to which I am responsible, in the moments when I falter, I am held firmly.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...