Tag Archives: building community

One little conversation

When my twitter and facebook feeds erupted rainbows last Friday morning, I sobbed. Then for a solid hour I was glued to the screen, scrolling, “liking” and commenting endlessly to celebrate. I’m a relative newbie to the fight for civil rights, fleeing chains of conservative Christianity in the past two decades, but damn, it still felt amazing to win. How deeply it must have resonated for people who have been denied the right to sit by their loved one’s side in the hospital, listened to decades of hateful slurs, told they were less than, and had their worth questioned. Snot and tear city.

My boys built forts and played with Legos that morning, unaware that lives just changed. I’m trying to capitalize on natural opportunities for conversations about hot-button topics, such as sexuality, race, discrimination and violence, so we chatted over snack. I told the boys about the SCOTUS decision, homophobia, and discrimination. I didn’t use those words. I simplified it. They’re five and eight.

“Some people don’t believe that people who are the same sex should be able to marry. Some people also treat these people really horribly and tell them that they’re not ok as who they are. This has meant all sorts of awful things have happened, including people being bullied, people not being able to support each other in the hospital nor make important decisions together. Now, the government has said that this can’t happen anymore. Anyone who loves each other can get married.”

They’re not surprised by a same sex family. Their community includes a few gay family members and many friends who have parents in same sex marriages. (It’s been legal in Washington State since 2012.) We also have a history of discussions about various family structures. As far as I can tell, my boys think nothing of it. But I wanted them to know that this law was hard won, a HUGE deal, and critically important for many people in our nation.

Because we used to attend church and occasionally still encounter conservative Christian beliefs, I also made sure to specify with them that some Christians will say God doesn’t believe gay people should marry, nor be gay at all. But, Harry and I don’t believe this. We think God cares about loving people and fighting for those who aren’t being loved.

We finished by specifying many of their friends who have same sex parents, our family members who are gay, and I reiterated the fact that now anyone can marry whoever they want in every single state of our nation. That was it. A ten minute discussion over lunch. How much did they process? Who knows. They seemed more interested in their peaches than our talk. It doesn’t matter, though. This isn’t a one time deal. Short, simple discussions will be peppered throughout our life, evolving in complexity as the boys grow.

Later that afternoon, while Charlie and a friend played in the Seattle Center’s International Fountain, I scanned the crowd struck by how many different races were represented around the circle. It hit me that just like I grew up with it legal to play at a park with kids of different colors and found the alternative terrible, my children will look back at the USA prior to this law and rightfully acknowledge how horrible and ridiculous it was that it took us so long.

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I love the rainbow. It is stunning after so much black and white.

Will this decision be among the first dominos that topple the devastating effects of hatred against the LBGTQ community? Will teenagers stop needing to flee home because they know their parents would hate their truth, possibly even beat them for it? Will stories like Matthew Shepherd’s horrid murder become less and less frequent? I believe yes. There will be pockets of hate. The road is long and bumpy, but I believe yes.

My hope and prayer is that if my boys ever hear anything hateful spoken, they will speak up for love. This is an important piece of why we are not silent. We fight discrimination, bias and stigma one little conversation at a time.

If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend watching this beautifully produced short on Jim and John. Thank you, John, for your deep commitment to this fight. You are astoundingly courageous. And SCOTUS, it’s friggin’ overdue, but you deserve a thank you, too. America is truly a little closer to being the Land of the Free this Independence Day.

 

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Spring’s call

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After a few weeks of increasingly anxious waiting, good news keeps bursting from the ground. Harry secured a contract for a few months that might become full-time work. The boys were accepted into a school that is a significantly better fit with our educational philosophies. While there is grief in leaving friends behind, we are eagerly anticipating joining this community. I am so thankful to have relief from the unknowns, as well as the opportunity to look forward to new experiences. In the meantime, I am relishing the present. It’s spring, friends!

Spring beckoned me to the garden, sore back be damned. Peas, lettuce, arugula and kale are in the ground and the tiniest of lettuce leaves are now visible upon careful inspection. A few peas peeked out today, too. Flower seeds were sprinkled all around, too. For me and the bees. A couple hugelkultuur beds are in process, ensuring my reputation as one of the craziest gardeners in the neighborhood. (The fact that I’m not THE strangest says more about Seattle than it does me. I have neighbors down the street who grow a ton of food, own goats, and trap and eat bothersome squirrels on their property.)

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I transplanted a bunch of perennial herbs and flowers out of this bed to make room for my first half-ass hugelkultuur. It’s our sunniest spot that’s ok with the landlord to change around, so I try growing heat-loving veggies here. I threw a ton more logs down, some leaves, weeds and grass, a layer of compost and a layer of topsoil. Fingers crossed! (Really should’ve done this last fall…)

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Here she is, simmering and sitting pretty for the next month until I plant.

Anyways, it’s not the first time I’ve covered a yard with cardboard and newspaper while neighbors craned their necks. After submitting a to-scale plan and receiving approval, I xeriscaped our front yard in a Colorado HOA suburban community that was filled with perfectly green, weed-free, Round-up abundant, sterile turf yards. Mulch and newspaper was a surefire way to get all busybodies talking. I ended up doing most of that work at night with a headlamp on, mostly to avoid gawkers and cranky old men with nothing better to do than complain.

In comparison, this time feels easy, if not downright delightful. I got landlord approval years ago! Many people pass by on walks and ask about the project with genuine interest. I’ve met five new neighbors since the mulch was dumped. Gardening is a fabulous way to build community in a neighborhood that appreciates it. Most people in Seattle do, thankfully. If they don’t, they’re certainly not surprised to see it. Gardens and weeds are tolerated, along with the chickens and goats of urban farming nutheads. (Oh, how I dream of joining them.)

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Enough mulch was dropped on our driveway to bury a bus. The boys immediately took to rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows. Give them a pile of mulch and they’re like sheepdogs around sheep. They need to move it. Three days in and I’ve barely made a dent in this pile. Oy.

Spring brought rain and wind, which was surprisingly absent most of winter. One of the nastier days we hunkered down to watch Mary Poppins as a family. It was the first movie in ages that hasn’t landed our boys crying in our laps. They giggled like crazy, eyes wide in wonder, “She’s flying with an umbrella!” “They’re dancing on the roofs!” The sweetest sound in our house in ages was the boys singing “Chim chiminey” repeatedly after the movie’s end. (And, by George, Mary doesn’t even sing “Let’s go fly a kite!” It is Mr. Banks, of course! Somehow, it’s still her voice in my head when I’m biking. Even now that I know better.)

Spring brought a morning of traipsing through the farmer’s market with Miles, who eagerly accompanies me anywhere offering quesadillas. On our way out, with our treasured orchard apples, my favorite loaf of bread and a few veggies in hand, I spied the word “nettles” written on Foraged and Found’s sign. My heart skipped a beat. I’ve wanted to try them for years but always let intimidation stop me. This time, I walked away from that booth with an extra skip in my step, a bag of stinging nettles, and a bag of watercress. I immediately knew what dinner would be.

I didn’t handle the nettles at all until they were blanched. I dumped them straight from bag to boiling water, treating them like hazardous waste until I was certain they wouldn’t sting me. Our first encounter left me confident enough to forage for them now. The taste is absolutely worth a possible sting.

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Toast a delicious piece of bread, sourdough rye if you’re lucky, and top it with a thick layer of chevre. (I had a black truffle chevre, and oh man, that was extra nice.) Spread on some nettle pesto and voila! My first real bite of spring came courtesy of those nettles and I’ve enjoyed spoonfuls of it almost everyday since.

(I substituted almonds for pine nuts because they were already in my house. I also added a bit more olive oil and lemon juice. Pesto is easy to make to taste. Have a bite, see what you think, and add more of what you want. We first enjoyed the pesto on pasta along with a watercress salad. In a somewhat miraculous evening, both boys ate both dishes! Plus, Miles exclaimed, “I love watercress!” which might be the nicest utterance I’ve heard exit a 4 year old’s mouth when faced with an all-green dinner.)

P.S. Are you on Instagram? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE instagram (beankathleen). It sharpens my focus on the everyday moments of my life that are filled with beauty. After years of using it, I think my eye is better trained to appreciate simple delights. I am so thankful for that practice. Plus, it gives me glimpses into the precious tidbits of other people’s lives. Or the not so pretty moments to which we all relate. I like seeing those, too. Occasionally I also post wacky pictures there. Like this one: my cry for help after the bags of nettles and watercress attacked me.

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Back to the core

I entered the new year on my back. Not in an exciting sort of way. Quite the opposite, in fact. For a few days I regularly had an ice pack under my lumbar spine, popped pain medication and read The Signature of All Things (the nicest part of this debacle). The simple act of standing up from the floor, while holding a book and twisting a bit, led to an unexpected fireworks show in my back. Searing pain shot up my spine. I got dizzy and blacked out. I didn’t lose consciousness, but I couldn’t see for a second. If labor pains had shot through my system with the same intensity, I would’ve had an epidural within 20-minutes.

I immediately knew what had happened. I have attended countless “Take Care of Your Back” seminars while working in hospitals. Visions of vertebrae on Power Point slides haunted me for a few minutes while I iced and longed for Aleve to kick in.

I was mad, extremely disappointed, a little scared. I had just “graduated” from physical therapy after dedicating four months to consistent resistance exercises, icing and stretching. I was finally experiencing days without pain in my hip. My PT even cleared me to run short intervals with the promise I bought new shoes. I was so excited that I bought them right after that session and ran the next day. I reveled in every stride around Green Lake and remained pain-free as long as I held correct posture. Dreams of more time to write, cook, and garden emerged, since most of my free time this fall has been dedicated to healing my body. (I’m incredibly grateful to have this time.)

Anyways, after resting in bed for a few days thinking it was best (it’s not) and waddling around like a 42-week pregnant woman because any uncalculated movement would make me cringe, I scheduled a session with my physical therapist. I kid you not, I walked out of the office pain free. Between her massage and this crazy exercise that I’ve grown to love, my back found relief. I now visit daily to be tightly strapped into a traction machine via a horse-like saddle, also known as the least discreet corset ever. (It’s leather. I have slightly bruised ribs from it.) Anyways, after many reps of these weighted squat/pull-up combos, I unhook feeling normal. Well, that’s actually not true. My hands ache like hell from grabbing the bar, but my back. Oh, it feels good.

Now, the pain still ebbs and flows but it’s isolated and manageable with meds, icing and exercises. The primary way to eliminate and prevent lumbar pain long-term is to improve my posture, practice safe body mechanics, strengthen my core, and stretch. It will take time and dedication, but my body certainly grabbed my attention. Preventing chronic pain is self-care 101. (Making my heart sink a little bit for those who have little control over physical pain. I have thought of you, collectively, a lot these past months.)

I wanted to share this part of my journey with you for a few reasons. First, I highly recommend that you avoid doing what I did. Don’t twist and lift. Strengthen your core. Stretch. Fire your glutes. (I’m looking at you, runners.) Second, If you happen to hurt your back, waddle your way into a PT office stat! I can’t imagine how much harder these past weeks would’ve been without proper guidance and treatment.

Lastly, a lesson being seared onto my brain with equal intensity as the acute pain, ASK FOR HELP. We don’t have family around to fill in, so we have to call on friends. Asking can feel daunting, especially when most of our friends have family available or young children under foot. When reciprocity isn’t the norm, it’s harder for me make the request. But, I reminded myself that I am always happy to assist my friends. I don’t feel put out- I feel honored they asked and thankful I can lend a hand. (I can also say no if I’m unable, but that’s a separate lesson, obviously.) So, I asked. The encouragement and help I received, including a friend whisking away my boys with hers to the zoo (can we say energy explosion?!), reminded me of how awesome my local tribe is.

Pondering what entering the new year on my back taught me just might be my best motivation for moving forward with greater purpose and grace this year. I will be dedicated to building strength, flexibility and stability. I will remember that this requires repetition, often pushes me out of my comfort zone, is frequently monotonous and always makes me sweat. I will pursue balance, not to avoid uneven ground, but so that it doesn’t make me tumble. I will remember that this requires focused eyes and grounding. I will include others on my journey, whether it’s pretty and picked-up or painful and dirty. I will remember that this requires trust. My friends love me for who I am, not how clean my house is or how I look. I will be quick to lend a hand, especially when my life has abundance. I will remember that this is often best done tangibly, but even a thoughtful phone call or text lighten the load. Finally, of tremendous importance, I will avoid wearing corsets at all costs after therapy concludes.

Happy New Year, friends. I am thankful you stop by here, grateful for your support.

PS- I’m ringing in 2014 with a facebook page for my blog. (Yes, I have done this before. It could vanish again, but I don’t think it will this time.) There will be further explanation as to why in a post soon to come, but if you prefer to follow my posts via facebook, just “like” it to be subscribed. I only plan on posting when I write. If you’ve been following awhile, you know my pattern. You can rest assured I won’t clog your feed.

You may also sign up to receive my posts via email (found on the right side of this page), should you prefer.

All clear

My diagnostic work all came back clear and negative. I am enormously relieved. I wasn’t completely satisfied when I left the office because I still longed for an explanation of why I had pain and why the tissue felt different. I’m pretty sure I have that now, so I’m feeling even better.

My primary doctor sent me a message tonight letting me know that the changes in density were probably due to reactivity of lymph nodes from tiny scratches I’ve acquired while gardening, combined with old mastitis scarring. I’m going to buy new gardening gloves to celebrate the end of this journey. Sexy, I know. I had mastitis three times while breastfeeding the boys. Twice with Charlie, once with Miles. I had no idea that it caused scarring and permanent tissue changes.

I also learned today, when handed a brochure entitled “Breast Pain”, that 70% of women experience it with unknown etiology at some point in their life. I’m guessing mine isn’t unknown but rather hormonal because of where I’m at in my cycle. It’s weird that it’s lasted for five days, but it’s possible all this stress made things worse than normal. The only time I recall breast discomfort lasting that long was the early weeks of pregnancy.

Yes, that did make me wonder. No, I’m not. I think what’s even less likely than me getting breast cancer is Harry’s vasectomy failing. But yes, I did freak out about that a bit until my period came.

I realized this afternoon that the last time I was in that imaging department was exactly three years ago today. I was 41-weeks pregnant with Miles, completing an ultrasound to check his fluid levels. I delivered him two days later, at the very end of a gorgeous spring day. So, now it’s time to focus my energies on celebrating my little guy. My LAST baby, who is officially leaving toddlerhood and becoming a little boy.

I am thankful I shared here, which basically means sharing with my friends and family on facebook but not taking up their entire newsfeed to do so and having chances to edit! One of the things that happened for me was just normalizing this. Prior to this, very few people have shared their experiences with me about these scares, so I first heard about them when I shared mine. And there were A LOT of messages in my inbox. I think it’s like this with so many topics- other health problems, miscarriage, fertility struggles, parenting challenges, marital struggles, etc… and I’m amazed at how many friends I have tackling these issues in the light, making them less taboo. They have inspired me.

Thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement, stories, humorous tidbits and concern. Thank you.

Rule it out

Late last Thursday night I felt a lump. I was immediately quite worried. It was decently sized- nickel to quarter- and felt a little painful. I told Harry and he asked, “Are you worried?” Dear soul. I love him so, but I wanted to pound him over the head.

I called my doctor’s office Friday morning and was able to get in at 4:30. By the time the doctor stepped foot in my little sterile square land, it was 5:15. She had something urgent come up. I became so bored (no magazines! seriously?) that I posted a shot of the exam room to instagram and twitter. What the hell was I thinking? I looked at how many twitter followers I had and who they were and realized it was no big deal, but knew I’d better not hesitate to call my mom. Anyways, by that point in the waiting, I had gotten over my initial nervousness and come to a place of thinking that I was about to draw a monopoly card to get out of jail free. I didn’t think I’d be calling her to tell her anything else.

After lots of questioning my doctor told me I needed to go through the full work-up because cancer was a possibility. Not likely. But it needed to be ruled out. Good god. God is good, but good god. Really. Hearing that I needed to schedule my first mammogram and ultrasound quickly brought me out of my social media all-is-well-coma and back to a place of fear.

I got home a little before six. Imaging was closed. I left a voicemail, but would have to wait out the weekend. I didn’t make dinner, I didn’t help with the boys getting to bed. I just laid in our bed in shock.

I cried with Harry but didn’t freely sob until after he got the boys to bed. I cried when Miles crawled into bed with me to hug and kiss me goodnight and tell me he wished I felt better. I could see the concern in his face, too. He hasn’t seen me cry much. He’s only a few days shy of his third birthday. That’s what I had been thinking about until I found the lump.

I am proud of how I’ve handled this, and realized I’ve actually learned a thing or two in the past few years about how to be vulnerable. I called my mom and dad, instead of assuming it was better for them to wait until I knew something for sure. I also emailed a handful of friends and family. I knew I couldn’t handle any more phone calls after doing the awful mutter-sob-breath-mumble-cry-talk on the phone with my mom, but I knew I needed support. I needed texts, I needed calls, I needed prayers, I needed hugs.

I am learning. I am not a rock. I guess I am also not an island, though I do like to sing along to that song, so I will continue to proclaim that I am when Simon and Garfunkel grace my home.

I have been to the worst in my mind. I have left my husband and my boys. I have realized that Miles probably wouldn’t remember much of me if I had the most awful, aggressive form and went quickly. He might remember me, but probably not the healthy version of me. I am trying really hard to not go to this place often.

I have been spiritual, a believer in God and Jesus, since my early teens. (If you’re wondering where I fall on the spectrum from fundamental to liberal, I’m probably about as close to the far end of liberal as one can be without falling off the edge. I think God can handle me cussing here.) Many times, God has prepared me for things yet to come. I can look back and see faithfulness. What doesn’t help, though, is when I read into things I’ve been soaking in lately and assume it’s all because I freaking have cancer.

Because Harry and I both have friends from high school who have children with cancer, one of them with a very rare form of childhood cancer, it’s easy to think things like, “Well, yes, I could be one of those one in a million who gets breast cancer under the age of forty without a family history of breast cancer. Someone has to be.” The sun shines on us all, the rain falls on us all. And lightning strikes one unlucky chap every once in awhile.

In the past month or two, I’ve been introduced to the powerful words of Lisa Adams, a woman with terminal stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. I have kept up with her since, including her twitter feed, which gives a really amazing look into her life. I’ve also finished a little book about a boy’s time in heaven during an emergency surgery that I never checked out but read because it was in our home. Of course, I immediately thought, “That’s all because I needed this preparation!”

The same goes for so much of my history. It’s easy to chalk it all up to “necessary growing trials.” As if other people’s traumas and tribulations were for somehow for me. How twisted and ridiculous is that? Ugh. I hate it. But, I went there. (I probably have my childhood fundamentalist background to thank for this.) For several weeks during college I took care of kids I grew up babysitting while their mom went through intensive breast cancer treatment and spent most of her time in isolation. I could attribute that time with those precious kids to preparing me for my time with mine. Check! First stupid way to try to rationalize this. My sister was hospitalized for months with an extremely rare, neurological disease while I was in junior high. Check! Second stupid way. It’s easy to travel this road. I think that’s a really dangerous thing about over-spiritualizing things. Shit happens. Sometimes there isn’t any rhyme or reason. God comforts, yes. I even believe in miracles. But I don’t think they’re like gumballs in a machine that our prayers automatically release.

So, I wait. I would like to say that I know I’m going to be fine, but I don’t. Sure, very long term- but I’m not referring to heaven. I can’t lie and say I know what path my life will take. None of us do. God doesn’t make these promises to us. Today I wait with a full heart because I have been very loved this weekend. I know I have a really good team.

I know the odds are in my favor. I really like those numbers. I also treasure your prayers, cheers, hugs and messages. So, please pray for me. My family. My friends. We would so very much like for this to just be a cyst or random lump. Most are benign. Chances are good. But if I’m wrong, we will need a lot of support and I’m counting on at least a few good jokes and stories from those of you who read this. You’re going to be in my corner, alright?

I am sharing this with you (readers who I assume I only know from real life because I don’t think many strangers read this, but if so, “Howdy, stranger!”) because I have felt so bouyed by my little handful of friends and family who already know. I let them in on my pain and fear. I don’t think I would’ve done this a few years ago. Maybe not even a year ago. It has made an enormous difference. I am now letting everyone in on it because I think more openness will also be a gift to my family and me. (I writing it all is therapeutic for me, too. Thank you, Brené! I should send you chocolate or something.)

Cheer me on, tomorrow I’m about to get my breasts pressed like paninis. I’m really hoping that’s the worst of it, but if you’ve been through mammograms before and have any tips, I’m all ears.

With deep appreciation. ~K

Asking for Themselves: Encouraging Public Discourse

One of my favorite parenting decisions came while on the playground with my oldest son when he was shy of two years old. He saw another child’s tricycle, something which he had yet to experience, and naturally wanted to try it out. The common reaction at playgrounds is for kids to be told, “That’s not yours. Sorry, you can’t play with it.” So, my first thought was, “It would upset the other child and we shouldn’t put them in that situation.” But I thought a bit longer, feeling very committed to parenting with positive responses when possible (and -ugh- I really need to work on this again!). I realized we would almost always be happy to share, so why not give it a try with this family? I encouraged Charlie to go ask that child if it was alright to take a turn. I modeled the words for him at his developmental level first, “Turn with tricycle, please?” and we walked hand-in-hand together to the little boy and his mom. Charlie asked but wasn’t understood (darn toddler articulation), so I repeated his request. And you know what? They said, “Sure!” Then they asked to borrow a shovel Charlie brought. Both kids were happy as they learned the benefits of requesting and sharing in the best, most tangible way for that moment.

That decision seemed so small at the time but it has impacted our everyday life with kids in a pretty dramatic way. In hindsight I realize that we were making a choice to embrace and trust our immediate community, wherever we were, whether we knew them or not. We were allowing other people to be responsible for their own boundaries instead of assuming the worst and deciding not to “bother” them. We were also taking the risk that the boys would be turned down, and that we could all survive the sad cries that would ensue. They’d be alright, I’d be alright. The risk was worth it.

This attitude has allowed our boys to experience an incredible array of fun situations, activities and toys that they would’ve otherwise been steered away from. I’d guess that 99% of people respond positively. I realize this seems so simple and obvious, but in my countless experiences at playgrounds and other venues since making this choice, I find that it is very unusual for caregivers to allow children to ask others to explore something, borrow things or take turns if it requires interacting with strangers.

With our oldest, this increased confidence with approaching and asking others has generalized to him being very comfortable talking with most adults, handling transactions in a marketplace with ease, and being willing to share how he’d prefer for situations to be handled. It has led to Charlie feeling comfortable asking random construction workers if he could sit in their vehicle’s cabs, countless dogs being pet by Miles, snacks being shared, cockpits being viewed. We could wait and hope people will see the little boys’ longing eyes and be willing to offer, but now I much prefer they take the lead when possible..

I think it is really empowering. It allows them to make specific requests regarding their genuine interests as they’re out and about, not just what caregivers think they’ll find cool. Most adults love fulfilling a little child’s request. They love hearing the little voice ask them, seeing their wide-eyes and smiles during the experience, and receiving a lovely little two year old “fank you!” afterwards. I encourage my boys to request their own special treats when we hit our local doughnut shop or favorite bakery. Initially (in the late ones and early twos), both boys needed me to walk them through protocol. “First we wait in line. It’s not our turn yet. When it’s our turn, you can ask.” [Wait, wait, wait. Ack! This is taking forever. Hold on, child.] “Now you can ask for it.” Miles still needs some models and sometimes the vocabulary for what he wants, Charlie often needs a reminder to say “please”. I usually try to whisper it in his ear with hopes that my reminder doesn’t embarrass him, as he’s getting to that age. But let me tell you, they get the best responses from the employees. Everyone wins- the boys are confident and pleased with themselves, the employees get a serious dose of cuteness. I get to take in the sweetness of it all.

PS: If you’re too worried about stranger-danger to try this, I think this website might have some good advice for you. FYI- I’m there all the time and don’t allow any dangerous requests to be fulfilled.