Tag Archives: gratitude

Rehabilitation

“Kathleen! Do you have a moment?” my neighbor asked after spotting Miles and I pull up by bike one afternoon last week.

“I’ve been wanting to tell you this for weeks. Has anyone told you about Mrs. Brown, who lived here until she died?”

She went on to explain that Mrs. Brown, a widow and a mom, tended the garden day and night, rain or shine. Mrs. Brown baked my neighbor a homegrown rhubarb cake after she gave birth and doted on her sons as they grew up. Mrs. Brown grew food and flowers, nurturing this land and her neighbors. I bet I would’ve loved Mrs. Brown.

“And you know what? You brought back Mrs. Brown to me. You have brought her back to life by restoring the beauty here. I’m reminded of her every time I walk by now and I am so thankful.”

I was so touched. I got teary eyed, and probably would’ve gone into an all-out shriveled up cry if Miles weren’t refusing to get off the bike, angry at me for not taking him That Very Moment to buy spy glasses at Archie McPhees.

I knew this place was treasured once upon a time because there were signs everywhere. The old plum and pear trees. The rhododendrons and azaleas, the hydrangea greeting visitors at the front door. I made a new discoveries almost every time I gardened during our first year. Bulbs would peek out and if I spotted them before the weed-whacking “landscaping” team arrived, I would try to prevent their demise. Sometimes I was too late to save a plant because it was too diseased or crowded. Other times I spotted them just in time.

One fortunate day a few years ago, while clearing a patch of weeds, I found five dying peony roots in a dry, barren spot that no longer received sunlight. (Three others were completely shriveled up.) I transplanted them with my fingers crossed. One flowered this spring. The others line our front window, growing stronger each season, and will likely bloom next year.

The neighbor who told me about Mrs. Brown used to run a rehab facility. Who better to understand and value the beauty of life restored? There is great joy in watching lives receive long-awaited nourishment after years of starvation. We rehabilitated this garden! When I think about it like that, I feel incredibly honored to have played a role.

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April 21

First of all, I feel bound to inform those of you who didn’t realize it that I posted about losing our beloved cow Tulip on April Fool’s Day. She never existed, but I did capture those pictures of cows during my exchange student year in The Netherlands. I also spotted that calf on a bike ride in Friesland and was absolutely smitten. But no cows traveled home with me. No animals were harmed in the making of that post.

The “burial site” is really just some logs, compost and greens in my first attempt at a specific type of garden bed, called a hugelkultuur bed. Hilariously enough, a neighbor’s visiting mom recently asked them with great concern if we buried a dog in our yard. It does look suspicious. That’s why I thought of that post in the first place. I’m hoping it’ll look a lot better once all the food and flowers are covering it. Plus, with time it’ll shrink. Otherwise, we’ll just be “Those neighbors. You know, the ones with the grave.”

Did I fool you? I hope you at least get a chuckle out of it.

In the past few weeks I have been buried under piles of mulch, speech-language pathology textbooks, a strange medical event, making the most of the boys’ spring break week at home, and celebrating my little guy’s fifth birthday. I’m clearing away one pile at a time, but will not be posting here often until late May, after I’m done taking my SLP national exam.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some pictures of our yard and garden. The layers, textures and colors are breathtaking right now. I feel so thankful to live here and to have nurtured this property along to better health. There are plants, bushes and flowers blooming now that weren’t four years ago because the soil was so poor and/or they hadn’t been pruned. This is the first year I feel like we’re really seeing it all come together in health. It’s a daily treat to look outside to the canopy of pillowy blossoms, the soft flowers carpeting our grass, the eye-achingly bright azaleas, the dogwood’s pink flowers, like fall in the spring, and the promise of food to come with our peas, chives, lettuce and berries growing up as fast, strong and colorful as my boys. I am so grateful.

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Clear cut parenting (Ha!)

It’s no secret that it was challenging for me to learn to trust my child’s snail-paced journey throughout years of watching him observe instead of participate. Fearing he would never move himself out of his comfort zone, we wondered if he needed a push from us. In the end, we committed to honoring his temperament and developmental pacing, which meant not forcing participation, listening to his fears and respecting his decisions. We watched in awe every time the excitement of an activity motivated him over the first hurdles. It was never our push that made him jump.

The other side of the coin is that some skills just have to be learned. Let’s start with an obvious choice, like safely crossing streets. Parents don’t let their kid run into traffic simply because that’s what lil’ Jimmy wants to do. They also don’t leave Jimmy on the other side of the road because he won’t cross with them. Jimmy’s hand will be held and his always-in-the-moment mind will be reminded a million times to “Look both ways!” until the People With Brains That Contemplate Consequences are certain he understands. Love & Logic’s “natural consequences” get thrown in front of the bus. Not Jimmy.

Other lessons are not as clear, but can feel just as critical.

Take swimming, for example. A sensitive topic in my household for a few months last summer. If Little Monkey hadn’t scared the daylight out of me with the pool-bobbing incident, I doubt I would’ve endured the initial phase of his latest swim lessons.

In the weeks after that nightmare, I signed him up for a couple private lessons through Seattle’s parks department. He participated well but continued to demonstrate the lack of fear that originally got him into trouble. Despite his inability to float, he kept trying to swim unassisted. On a few occasions he jumped in impulsively or lunged at me without warning. Obviously, at this point I was watching him like a hawk, so he was quickly scooped up. But I didn’t feel any better about his water safety by summer’s end.

Not wanting to enter next summer at the same level, we decided to take the plunge last fall and signed him up for intensive private swim lessons recommended by a friend. He dug in his heels, certain they would be “horrible!” With a little probing I learned that he believed that this swim coach would squirt him with a water gun. Ah, the rational fears of a four year old.

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With a firm promise that his coach wouldn’t shoot him, and quite possibly a pack of Pokemon cards in hand as bribery, he willingly entered the pool during his first lesson. At his request and the coach’s approval, I was in the water with him for his first two lessons. Courtesy of the most methodical, safety-oriented, and efficient swim lessons I’ve ever witnessed, Miles learned to open his eyes underwater, swim with his head under, and begin to backfloat. To get there, he was pushed farther beyond his comfort level than ever before. It was painful to watch him struggle.

The third lesson consisted of me sweating on the sidelines with my teeth grit together, trying to hide my anxieties from both the coach and Miles. He screamed and sobbed a decent portion of the lesson. The swim coach heard his complaints but did not let him give in to his fears. She kept him moving, practicing and struggling his way through each critical skill. I felt sick to my stomach.

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I spent that evening wondering if this lesson style was the right choice. DId I betray his trust by not just ending it there and calling it quits? Was he being pushed too far? Did I trust this coach and her judgment?

As I contemplated, I thought of all the parents of children with learning disabilities I interacted with when their kids came to me for evaluations and therapy. Many required months to trust me enough to follow advice or accept a diagnosis. I sympathized then, but I understand their hesitancies far better now that I’m a parent. Acknowledging that another adult may know what is best for your child is not easy to swallow, no matter the situation.

I came to believe that years of experience have taught this swim coach what children tolerate. She is not worried about their well-being as they go underwater, cough a bit, and correct themselves. At least not in the short-term. But long-term, she is absolutely concerned. She wants these kids water safe. To get there, she accepts the struggle as part of the learning process, like the countless falls toddlers take while learning to walk. She knew what my boy was capable of achieving. She knew that he needed to conquer his fears to move forward. While Miles and my brain were in fight or flight mode, hers was calm, cool and collected.

I dreaded telling Miles about lesson number four. I promised to take him to a favorite playspace afterwards. To my astonishment, that was enough to get him over the hump. Maybe he knew he needed it, like the toddler that keeps running despite scraped up knees. Maybe he found the outcome satisfying enough to account for the struggle. He entered the pool without complaint, seemingly forgetting his fears.

The reprieve didn’t last long. She asked him to stick his head underwater to retrieve a toy, and he completely broke down. In the skilled, graceful way that experienced teachers exhibit, she guided him back with ease, letting him repeat a skill that he found pleasurable and comforting until he calmed.

She moved him into snorkeling next, which was a completely new skill. “I DO NOT WANT TO SNORKEL!” he yelled and sobbed. Unaware of her motivation, I watched anxiously and questioned this choice. She introduced him to the mask by talking about its function and demonstrating its use. Then, the snorkel. She quietly put both on him. He protested throughout, but she assured him he’d be fine, and sure enough, soon he was excited to search underwater for toys. After he got the hang of it, they spent the rest of the session snorkeling around the pool to round-up tiny pumpkins. (It was October.)

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IMG_8898He was hooked. “Mama, I think I could be a scuba diver now!” He was over the hump.

I realized, yet again, that she had a clear plan and vision. The hardest skill for him to learn was how to transition from swimming forward with his head underwater to rolling over on his back to rest and breathe. With the snorkel, he could delight in swimming all around with ease. She took his biggest struggle out of the equation.

After lesson five I believed that he would have a chance at survival in a water accident. During lesson nine he took a “Clothes Test,” demonstrating the ability to fall in with clothes on, float on his back at length, swim to the closest exit, and other skills like getting his shoes off while floating. (He worked his tail off during 20+ minutes of testing.) We both walked away from this lesson stupendously pleased. Miles was thrilled with his accomplishment, and I was greatly relieved that last summer’s nightmare won’t be repeated.

I’m not sure how I’ll know when my boys need to be that far out of their comfort zone again. Right now we are contemplating decisions that could upset both of them, but we think would be for their benefit long-term. It is incredibly hard to choose between respecting their emotions and trusting in their resilience. I want them to do things of their own accord, but I also don’t want them to become paralyzed by fears. One thing I can count on: I am going to mess up a lot. I am going to error on both sides of the coin. Once I know I’ve gone too far in one direction, all I can do is apologize as we all learn from the mistake.

I’m glad I didn’t get in the way of progress this time. By learning to trust the coach, I didn’t rob my boy of these skills, nor the pride and satisfaction that resulted. Plus, how cute is a kid with snorkel gear? Sheesh.

Parenting is rarely clear cut. I couldn’t be more thankful that it comes with support staff.

(Pssst! I added a little video from one of his lessons to my facebook page. Head on over to see him in action. I always appreciate you “liking” my page while you’re there, too! Thanks!)

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Shelter

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Brené Brown

“Can we listen to ‘I see trees of green’?” Miles inquired at breakfast, singing the line as he requested the song. The boys were sitting at the table with their oatmeal, I was packing lunches, Harry was making the two of us some eggs, and Miles took a break from eating to sign along to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” At the end he made certain we knew that, “The sign for ‘world’ goes like this [hand gesture], because the world is round.”

As breakfast progressed, the best series of songs ever requested by a child in our household unfolded. We played James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” once Miles elaborated enough for us to figure out that “I feel nice” includes “I feel nice! So nice! I got you!” That was followed up by “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “My Girl.” “Baa Baa Black Sheep” also entered the mix; it wasn’t all nursery-free. More signs, more singing, more moments that made me wish we had a hidden camera in our household so I could watch this on repeat when I’m sad, nostalgic or otherwise needing to smile.

My episodic memory is so horrible that writing is one of the only ways I’ll file this away with most of the details accurate. Even a few hours later and I was dependent on Harry’s recollection for all the songs. I would be a horrible witness. (OMG!. Finally listening to Serial. Late to the party, but so glad I showed up. DO NOT TELL ME ANYTHING.) But I do not want to forget this morning. I want its sweetness seared into the depths of my cortex.

These beautiful, not-to-be-missed moments seem brighter to me now than they have for months. A crucial part of this season of struggle for our family is how we let it refine us. Harry and I are acutely aware that our stress can be handled countless ways. We hurt each other at times, of course, but thankfully we also call out to each other for support in our dark moments. It could easily go the other way. Blame, shame, anger, and guilt could do us in if we didn’t bring our more upsetting thoughts into the light.

IMG_5324I am raw. I cry often. Much to my embarrassment, this seems to include every time I walk through one of Seattle’s beautiful parks filled with gigantic, blooming trees. I depend on spring’s flowers. I am also, on occasion, acting like a caffeinated dog stuck outside during a lightning storm. No shelter in sight, I chase my tail until I collapse. This is not a particularly helpful strategy.

After, oh, round seven or so of time between jobs, I am finally realizing that this is one of my coping patterns. In my unhealthiest moments, I detour around my productive strategies for dealing with anxiety to a manic search for something tangible and “stable.”

I spent a ridiculous number of hours looking at homes on Zillow this week. Questions about the Seattle market? I’m your gal! Want a home on San Juan Island? I can hook you up! I’ve been sick and weak from a lovely GI episode (FeBRUTALary!), laying in bed drooling over gorgeous homes with views of the waters the orcas visit. Even if we could buy a house right now, it would be an idiotic move. Yet I chase that dream like it would bring reprieve. How can you weigh the importance of a dad choosing work that doesn’t demand relentless hours or suck his soul dry just to receive a higher income? How do you know whether it’s better to choose home ownership and a more affordable town than the city and community you love?

Yesterday, I spent hours fighting way too many regretful feelings that staying at home for over five years was a poor choice for our family given the ups and downs of a contract-based business. I went to that extremely unhelpful Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda place. If I had worked, we would have more money. I should’ve trusted that the wee boys would be fine with someone else and we could’ve bought a house. If only, if only, if only. The standard privileged modern mom’s dilemma. I’ve faced it before, just not as deeply. Was not working worth it? How much do I value on staying home with kids? Would greater financial stability, nice vacations and a home of our own be better for our family? How do I weigh these factors?

My questions about those things remain, for sure. I wish someone could tell me with certainty all the ways my boys are better off, but ultimately it’s a moot point. Mostly, though, I think I’m deflecting fear that our next income might not allow us to live as we have in the past, as well as anger that returning to work as a Speech-Language Pathologist requires jumping ridiculous, expensive hurdles. I didn’t anticipate a cake walk, but thus far the Washington State Department of Health is giving the DMV a run for their money.

This season has been painful for me, but I am beginning to value the questioning process that is birthed from the anxiety. We are in a refinement period, redefining what is important to us, reminding ourselves of our core values, savoring the laughter, passions, and love we share as a family. We’re going to come out of this with a clearer vision. This is a tiny but important step in accepting that I can not fight the storm. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to stop chasing my tail, too.

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Surrender

IMG_9050IMG_9029Despite Harry having just recovered from the flu, we pulled off a stellar 8th birthday party for Charlie last weekend. Our house was covered with squares and cubes to honor his Minecraft obsession. It was nice to have his party to prepare for on the heels of our news. It kept me focused on celebrating. I served Smitten Kitchen’s so-crazy-addictive-they-must-be-cocaine-infused rice crispy treats with a hint of green as “slime balls”, and her amazingly fudgy brownies as “coal” and “redstone”, along with savory bites like bell pepper “TNT.”

I thought we’d spend this week pushing through a few of the woes of unemployment, like finding health insurance, but it has been a doozy. I threw out my back Monday morning while lifting weights, Friday I got word that my SLP license is going to be held up for at least a month unless I can convince someone that their red tape makes absolutely zero sense, and last night Harry began a round of GI eruptions. This time food poisoning has him prostrate.

I wish we would raise white flags during times of need and our neighbors would take turns dropping off meals, watching the children, leaving good books on our doorstep or pulling a few weeds. While overwhelmed by a three year old and a newborn, I remember dreaming of a service that hooked up grandparents missing their grandbabies with moms of young children desperate for help. Maybe there should be a similar set-up for families dealing with illness, unemployment, death and other major life events. (What’s that you say? Move to Sweden or Holland? Ok!)

My jerry-rigged white flag system involves texts and emails. I’m getting better at this, quicker to fill people in. It still feels scary because I have voices in my head that tell me people won’t show up, are too busy, or really don’t want to hear about this Yet Again. But, here’s the deal. Just like I don’t care if someone’s sick repeatedly or needs a break from their crying baby, they understand our situation. They show up because they love us.

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Friends have been my rays of light. They have been the bright notes to counter the gray. One arrived at our door holding enormous bottles of beer and a bottle of wine. (She knows we stop buying alcohol when future income is unclear, so she became our party Jesus, turning our water into wine.) Another friend’s thrift store birthday party provided some serious belly laughs. I realized that even though I wasn’t buying clothes, I could still try them on. I found the most horrifically ugly outfits to model, an activity I can’t recommend enough. My BFF Anne Lamott retweeted one of my tweets. (!!!) Another friend sent a link to a blog post she “knew” I needed to read and, indeed, it contained words that powered me through the week.

I also savored an evening with my graduate school girlfriends. The plans were made long before Harry lost his job and I re-injured my back, but I kept them because I knew time with them would be therapeutic. We can laugh, be sarcastic, cry and be ridiculously silly within a ten minute window. I’ve known these women over a decade and we’ve walked each other through major piles. We know how to show up for each other, in celebration or consolation. I feed them chocolate, they bring wine. An additional bonus is that they don’t mind the obstacle course of Legos, crumbs, nerf darts and discarded crafts covering my floor.

There is an abundance of beauty in my life. I feel deeply loved. I feel cared for. I am excited about what opportunities may arise from this shift. I’m just equally scared they may not happen soon enough. That we might have to let go of a few dreams that made my heart flutter. My little control problem turns me into an unpredictable geyser during these periods, erupting in tears at the wrong look from a dog. Stability and predictability are my game. However, I don’t wave my white flag when I’m in control. And I receive the most amazingly rich food for my soul whenever it waves. So, I’ll keep surrendering. Again and again.

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The lone remaining slice when I decided I would blog this. Isn’t she pretty? Imagine an entire loaf!

Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake

Yet another from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Yields 12 servings.

Cake batter

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream

Filling

  • 1/3 cup raspberry or cherry jam
  • 1 teaspoon water

Frosting

  • 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350℉.  Butter a 9 1/2 x 5-inch loaf pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess.  Place the pan on two stacked regular baking sheets or on one insulated baking sheet.

Whisk or sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs individually, beating each for about a minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low to add the sour cream. Still working on a low speed, add the dry ingredients but mix only until they have just disappeared into the batter. Stir one last time with a sturdy rubber spatula and scrape the very thick batter into the pan. Even it out using a spatula.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. After about 45 minutes if the cake looks as if it’s browning too quickly, loosely cover it with a foil tent. Let the cake cool on a rack for about 5 minutes before turning it out. Cool to room temperature upside down.

Bring the jam and water to a boil over low heat. (Or make your own and just don’t let it get too thick. No need for water. This step was fun for me because I had some raspberries in the freezer begging to be used up.)  Stir to smooth it.

If the loaf cake is extremely uneven on top, slice off the very top using a serrated knife so it will lay flat on a plate. It will serve as the base of the cake. Slice the loaf twice more, creating three layers. Put the first layer (originally the top of the cake) cut side up on a serving plate and spread half of the jam on it. Top this with the middle layer and the rest of the jam. Place the top layer cut side down. Use a small pastry brush or a gentle hand to remove any crumbs on the top or sides of the cake.

To make the frosting, use a double boiler or fit a heatproof bowl into a pan of gently simmering water. Add the chocolate and stir it occasionally until it has melted. Continue working over the hot water and stir in the sour cream. The cream may tighten up, but just continue to stir gently and the frosting will become smooth enough to spread. Once it’s ready, remove the frosting from the heat and cover the sides and top of the cake with the warm frosting.

You may serve immediately or wait a bit. It will last covered and at room temperature overnight, otherwise it is best to refrigerate it. Just bring it to room temperature prior to serving. Serve with pretty much any sort of cream and you won’t regret it.

To examine

I reflect on 2014 with such contrasting emotions. Changes and choices in my life brought freedom, adventure and greater happiness, yet at the same time many of my dearest friends have plowed through their crappiest year yet. My life has become easier in many ways, yet more people are struggling for food, safety, and shelter. I anticipate returning to work next year having choices about where I’ll resume my career, not whether or not I’ll be able to find work. Many concerns for my boys have lessened, as there are fewer head bonks on doorknobs and falls off of furniture, yet I’m intensely aware that fears other parents face only grow as their children age.

It’s never simple, is it?

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people that could gloss over everything and focus solely on the beauty of the world, but I’m not. So, here we are again.IMG_5526

I have an amazingly easy, beautiful life right now. There is pain, loneliness, anger, longing and grief, of course. But, man, I really have it so good. (This is not because “I’m blessed” or did something right. I hate that complete disregard for privilege. My life is what it is because of a wide variety of factors, many of which I have no control over.) Yet, instead of reveling in the glory of this, I often get sucked into lies. Nearly forty years into life and I still must actively fight against believing that circumstances out of my control can determine how I judge the “success” of my life. Somehow I still have moments that I believe I will find relief from internal struggles if only we lived a more sparkly life.

When I buy into the lure of the shiny, I only find disappointment. I feel sad that we don’t own a house and may never be able to afford one in the city unless we sacrifice certain values. I want a Not So Big House with a permaculture garden. I also wouldn’t say no to a Tesla. I could wear a different pair of Bombsheller leggings every day. I want a red helmet to match my red bags on my bike. I could go on and on and on, even though I know deep in my core that happiness from stuff is fleeting.

When I’m still, listening to the voice of truth instead of fear, I can settle into contentment. Therefore, in an act that will probably be necessary for my entire life, I take the end of the year to reflect on how I grew. For me, this growth usually comes by rejecting lies and fears. I don’t come by it naturally. In addition to gratitude, this is my antidote to the shiny.

I leave 2014 thankful for the support that helped me take the risk of biking with the boys, rejecting the idea that it’s too dangerous, slow or inconvenient. Biking has been a hard-won highlight of the year. Each new step up in the riding progression was incredibly scary for me so I procrastinated like crazy. I have managed my anxiety by taking baby steps, along with ample cheerleading from my husband and inspiration from Seattle’s family biking community. There are plenty more fears to conquer, but I am finally far enough up the mountain to know it’s an adventure I will gladly continue.

I leave 2014 appreciative of renewed discipline, loosening a tightly held notion that I no longer had the resolve to consistently take care of myself as well as I’d like. Years of sleep deprivation and the incessant demands of parenting young children made me wonder if I’d lost my ability to be very disciplined. The first time I dragged my booty out of bed for a 6am weight-lifting class last spring felt like summiting Mt. Everest. I rejected months of serious doubt-training by finally showing up one morning. And the next. And the next. Now it’s a precious part of my weekly routine that elevates my mood, makes me feel better in my body, and gives me strength for biking the hills with the precious, heavy cargo.

I leave 2014 grateful for a husband who thinks deeply and questions conventions. Between the two of us, he is the one most frequent to question our motives. His constant call to reject fear is not always been easy for me, but listening to him and questioning with him has undoubtedly led us to better choices. Because of him I am excited about and energized by more risks we’re going to take in 2015. I am really lucky to have him.

I leave 2014 aching for several friends in crisis. They are unbelievably resilient, having to call on reserves I don’t know. One has demonstrated to me first hand that in our pain we need to call on our trusted loved ones to support us in specific ways. “Text me tomorrow and check in. It’s going to be a hard day for me.” This has aided me tremendously in knowing how to walk alongside her, and others, in agonizing challenges. It’s also a lesson for myself. I sometimes believe that others should know what I need when I’m struggling, and that if they don’t, they don’t really love me. I no longer want to fall for that lie. I want to let people know specific ways they can support me.

I leave 2014 thankful for freedom from false loyalties, rejecting the idea that I need to stay in relationships or communities that have not always honored my values nor shown care for me. This may sound a little crazy at first, but I am an intensely loyal person. I’ve only realized this year how that aspect of my personality has brought imprisonment along with it’s benefits. By listening to that quiet voice, and asking myself what I really want, I am finding desperately needed liberation.

I also leave 2014 angry. Rejecting lies and seeking truth comes with anger. In hindsight, yelling “fucker” at the driver who nearly hit me on my bike wasn’t my best possible choice, but FINALLY, I am speaking my anger, and this is very, very good. It’s probably not too surprising to those older than me. I’m in my late-30s, finally discovering who I really am and fighting hard to take off the masks I’ve unknowingly worn for years. I’m pissed about those masks. Mad at myself for putting them on; mad at those who encouraged me to wear them. I’m also angry at the systems that are failing our most vulnerable and maintaining people in oppression and poverty. I still don’t know what to do with the piles of rage. Word on the street is the antidote is love. And prayer. But many questions and doubts remain for me. I suppose that’s good. It’ll give 2015 something to do.

Happy New Year, friends. May 2015 bring us eyes to see what binds us, the courage to leave it, and a greater ability to love. Ourselves and each other. Out with old lies, in with newly found freedom!

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Celebrating in both spaces

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Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

Like all holidays past, and all holidays future, there are other thoughts racing around in the back of our heads beyond whether or not the turkey will taste good and the pies will turn out. We miss loved ones. We ache for relationships to be healed. We want the children to stop pestering each other. We long for patience and wisdom.

Sunday morning brought news of my parents’ decades long neighbor passing away. Though her death was expected, I am never ready for the wave of grief that inevitably crashes into me as the words are spoken, and this time was no different. I sobbed, first to my mom on the phone and later in my bedroom while the boys played. It’s an odd experience to cry loudly while your kids are laughing and tearing apart the house. They were completely oblivious to my sounds. This isn’t too surprising since I could probably walk past them naked wearing a Frankenstein mask and they also wouldn’t notice if they were fully engrossed in their play, but it’s still strange to experience.

Once I calmed, all I wanted was to recount the stories. There are many, starting with my birth. Louise’s oldest daughter and I share the same birthday, a decade apart. My brother, nearly nine years older than me, spent the night with a swarm of ten-year-old girls at a birthday party while Mom labored and delivered. (I don’t know whether or not he enjoyed the party scene, but I like that it happened on account of me. My earliest successful attempt to mess with a sibling.) Several years later Louise baked me my favorite birthday cake- heart’s desire of every little girl of the 80s: the kind with the doll awkwardly sticking out of the middle of the cake while wearing a giant, impossible-to-walk-in dress, of course!

Louise lived across the street from me during my entire childhood, and she loved to garden. These two things ensured that our paths crossed frequently. Nearly every morning and afternoon of elementary school, as I hopped on and off the school bus, I’d look for her cats. Talkative, snuggly Cookie would cross the street, waiting with me in the morning and walking me partway home in the afternoon. Sugar or Pepper (I can’t remember which- they owned a lot of cats over the years and their food names always confused me) would wait in their yard, knowing I’d eventually come scratch behind her ears. If the cats weren’t outside, I’d inevitably ask my mom if I could go visit. I was always welcomed inside.

Routine, everyday encounters were the norm, but there were exceptional moments, too. One winter evening, a friend’s mom dropped me off at home after a dance recital. My mom and sister stayed for performances later that evening, but I was only six years old, exhausted and ready for bed. The woman didn’t wait to see if I got in, driving away before I even reached my front door. I stood knocking and ringing the bell, increasingly scared and lonely. The house was dark. The porch light wasn’t even on. The bushes grew big enough for people to be hiding behind. The night grew colder and darker. The wind hissed. My dad and brother were supposed to be home.

I was so young that I’m not sure if I’d even crossed the street by myself yet. I clearly remember being terrified to do it,  especially in the dark, but I knew where I wanted to go. Their porch light was on. The cats would be inside, too. I was even happy knowing that I could peek at the little world inside their enormous terrarium, which I found both odd and amazing. I remember my run across the street vividly, though more like I recently dreamt it than that it really happened. My heart pounded as I rang their doorbell. (I vaguely remember also feeling nervous about bothering them late at night or waking them up. It was probably 8pm.) A warm blanket of comfort covered me as the door opened and my neighbor took me in.

Both of the neighborhood women that nurtured me in special ways are now gone. There were countless simple, beautiful acts that only thoughtful neighbors can do: daily greetings, inviting me in for tea or kitty-cat petting, running little treats outside because I was spotted passing by. These women were present for my family during our most challenging and celebratory moments, too. They threw parties, brought food, gave hugs and ran errands. Their presence made our surrounding neighborhood pretty close to the elusive village “it takes” to raise kids.

The holidays have always felt hard to face when grief is fresh, but I’m realizing part of that is because I bought into a lie. For too long, I equated thankfulness with smiling and good cheer and felt like I’d somehow ruin a holiday if I was sad. So, I wore my emotions tightly, holding myself in a protective stance that didn’t allow for either extreme to be expressed. Finally, I begin to make room at the table for tears. What could be a more pure reflection of love shared and missed? And, of course, I set a place for joy. We would experience a different sort of grief without the warm memories of playing, dancing, laughing and telling stories. Without those elements, our grief might actually be regret. This year, I’m beginning to see how I can hold both joy and sorrow in my heart during the holidays. It starts with making space at the table.

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