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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Preschool

My mother used to pull us to nursery school in a red wagon, a rope tied to the handle to give her more leverage. Our school was three flat blocks away. Sunset Co-Operative Nursery School, it was and is a play-based school with a huge amount of parent involvement and regular parent education meetings to help teach the adults how to be parents.

There was and is a tall red tower in the backyard--I don't think we could see the beach from the very top. I don't actually remember climbing it as a kid, though I know I did. I remember having to climb up a couple times during the months I worked there in my early 20s. Sometimes a little one would have a hard time getting back down and would bellow from on high until I came to talk them through it. What I remember from my own childhood is lying on my belly in the net hammocks, swinging and swinging and swinging and swinging, around and around and around. Both ends of the hammocks were tied up to a hook on the ceiling, creating a little pocket you could snuggle into. The two hammocks hung down from the ceiling above the middle of the rug where circle time would be held and according to my mom it was the first thing I did every day when I arrived.

I remember being called by a parent to the pay phone hanging on the wall in the room where we ate at little round tables a snack prepared by a parent. My little sister stood next to me and the voice on the other end of the phone was my dad telling me our baby brother Ira had been born. I was five, my sister three. I remember feeling important and far away and safe and forever changed.

I remember there were animals that sometimes ran around in the backyard where the tower and the sand and the climbing tree were. Bunnies and guinea pigs I think.

It's hard to separate my own childhood memories from the memories of visiting. My mom has told stories there for decades and I can't count the number of times I've unlatched the back fence to walk inside. It was and is a magical place. My nephews go there now and I am so glad for them even as I feel sad that my own kids aren't there.

How many people remember preschool? Credit it for who they turned out to be? Sunset has been part of my family's lexicon for more than thirty years--my dad was the president for a while, my mom still goes as a professional storyteller two or three times a week and teaches a parent ed class every year. My younger brother worked there for a while, so did I. We still know some kids, now parents themselves, from when we were students there. It's part of us.

It shows up in us in other ways too. Like the way I won't lift any of my children up to a place they can't climb themselves--we learned that there. If a kid can't climb up to that branch in the tree, she isn't ready to be there yet and is more likely to fall off and get hurt if you put her there. Or the way I think of my teacher Dorothy Ingram telling my mom that kids feel all their emotions at once, rather than adults who have learned how to focus on one and put the others away for a time. So when I was getting ready to fly to Maryland alone at age 5 to visit my grandparents and my mom worried that I didn't want to go because I was alternately freaked out and excited, Dorothy told her I was both of those things. I tell myself that as an adult--you can feel more than one thing at a time, Megan. That doesn't make you crazy or uncertain, it makes you a person.

My sister, brother and I are not all the same. We have as many differences as we do similarities. Maybe. Though now that I write that I'm not even sure how to quantify that. We are definitely not unalike. One of the biggest things we all share is a certain ease in the world. I credit a large part of that to being allowed to be full out, fully appreciated kids. We were surrounded by adults who were committed to learning how to respectfully care for and raise children. People were interested in how we were learning. We were allowed to choose our own adventures at school--not all the time and not without guidelines but we were very free. It was a co-cop and we were a community, growing together. I'm so grateful that I got to go there.

As a parent I have a lot of beliefs about how things should or shouldn't be done. Not too much TV, not too much sugar, sharing meals as a family seated together at the table, rules and boundaries are important. Not too many toys, not too many presents, not staying up too late, being respectful to others. A co-op preschool. Being raised in a multi-cultural city. . .
Here is where I feel obliged to share that my kids watch more TV than I'd like, eat way more sugar and junk food than I'd like. . .and well, most of these are guidelines that I aim for and often miss. It's humbling. It's also been an exercise in exploring why I feel attached to certain ideas. Often I face that it's because that's how I was raised so I'm attached to it as "they way" but it doesn't necessary need to stay the way. Still more often I have to face that with four children so close in age, some things I/we do in an effort to stay somewhat sane. Probably most parents do.

Our children all attend a co-op, though they're not in the same one right now. They each attend school two mornings a week for two to two and a half hours at a time. The Bigs go to one school, the Littles go to another. I have Tuesdays and Thursdays off work and I am always working at one of the schools, doing my co-op shift. There's a per kid requirement and we have a lot of kids. It's hectic and neither school matches my memory of what Sunset was, which makes me sad. But.

I like them more than the other schools I've visited.
They are more affordable than some of the schools I've chosen not to visit.
There are so many adults who care about my kids and care about me because of these schools.
Three of our four children are always excited to go to school. The other one is always not excited but almost always very smiley at pick up.
They are strong. They are capable. They do art. They climb and run and play dress up and eat healthy snacks and ride bikes and build. They sing songs and know their colors and use scissors.

Looking ahead to next year gets tricky and for this reason we haven't settled on a plan for how and where and when they will attend school. If they all attend the co-op (either of them) it would mean school five mornings a week, but not for all the kid on all the days. Our childcare situation doesn't lend itself to having someone else drive and pick up regularly. My work schedule doesn't lend itself so much co-oping. And so. . .we are in figure-it-out mode. Combined with ignore-it-mode, hoping that it will resolve itself.

This is not a terrible problem to have and we will find a resolution. I find myself often weighing values in my head--consistency vs. community vs. parent involvement vs. kindergarten readiness (emotional and developmental). It's a lot. We will get it figured out and the kids will be alright. But/and it's an opportunity to really sit with what matters. What we're hoping for and what we're willing to do or change to make it happen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Miss Cleo

My kids are growing so fast, right before my eyes. Everyone says that happens and therefore we had to on some level accept that it must be true even as we felt none of it. Yet here we are. Their limbs are stretching, their sentences becoming more complex. I sit by and watch the expressions on their faces as they navigate the world, grateful to have a moment and the wisdom to sit and watch and notice. So often it feels like hurricanes swirling all around me.

We made so many people smile last week, Cleo and I. My little peanut. She was the one the doctors worried most about during the en utero periods. At first it was hard for them to find a heartbeat on ultrasound, which is why we did the genetic testing we opted not to do in the first pregnancy. The results came in a long voicemail a couple weeks later, which I didn't listen to for a couple days. When I did, I almost shut it off after hearing everything was fine but kept listening to the very end when the genetic counselor said something like "XX, times two. Two girls."

The doctors monitored this nameless girl child closely, wondering and worrying about the fact that she was so much smaller than her non-identical twin. My husband and I decided on two names we liked, glad to know this time around what kinds of babies would be joining us. Ha. What kinds of babies. As though there is any way of knowing that. Cleo was the first name we chose--I love it. Then we searched to find another name, a fourth name, that would complement the three other short, pretty, interesting names we had found. Daphne.

While they were in my tummy we didn't decide which girl which would have which name. Not officially. But in my mind the Lil Peanut would be Cleo and the Big Little Sister would be Daphne. Big Little Sister because she was Baby B, the one further away from the cervix so slotted to be born second, or in our case, fourth. She would be the youngest of our brood and she was the biggest. The doctors monitored Baby A, Lil Peanut, because she was just so much smaller. Why? they wondered. Would she need to come out early because of her small size? When I held the palm of my hand against the roundness of my belly, communicating with these determined little girls who had been so committed to being born that they inexplicably slipped the eggs holding them into my womb when no one was watching, I would tell her, the littlest one, to do what she needed to do to be ok. Whatever ok meant to her. I sang her Inch by Inch, The Garden Song

During the final ultrasound the worried doctor checked again and ultimately declared "Maybe she's just the runt!" Maybe her sister is big for their age and she is small for her age but they will both ok anyway. And they were.

Cleo hangs from monkey bars and ropes, body still as her powerful little arms hold her up with their power. She lies down in the middle of a path, refusing to go one step further, no matter how much I urge. I knelt in the dirt on the way to a wedding held in the middle of a field, watching as the other well-dressed guests streamed by us, waiting out my small, determined daughter who refused to walk anymore. I gave in because she would not.

She changes her clothes many times a day. Either because her pants get a little wet or her shirt gets a little dirty or she doesn't like the color combo. Discarded clothing dots the floors, marking her trail. She is committed to babies and always has been, since she was a baby herself. The only one of our four to love dolls immediately. She asks that I wrap one up and then criticizes my technique. Not like that!

She insists on buckling her own car seat as I stand in the rain watching her struggle to push a buckle closed with her small hands. She can do it every time on her own.

She is watchful and always has been. She drinks everything in, wide eyes open. She has been known to dismiss adults with a shift of her eyes, a movement in her eyebrows. Strangers remark on it.

We went on a date last week, my little girl and I. She changed her clothes four times and at one point I wondered if we would even leave the house. We drove to Orinda and hopped on Bart, she feeding the ticket into the machine and boarding the escalator without assistance. I had to tell her five times to stay behind the yellow line as we waited for the train; she was not down to obey the command and I finally had to physically pull her back. We got out at Embarcadero and walked the few blocks to Yank Sing for dim sum. Her first time but she tried everything, even figuring out how to make the chopsticks work for her. She kept asking when we would get on Bart so rather than attempt the museum I had suggested we headed back, taking a different route. When it came time to cross Embarcadero to the water side she refused, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk because she was mad that I wouldn't let her cross the street without holding my hand. Rather than drag her or get mad I backed off, letting her sit and wait it out until she was ready. Adults walked around her. I took deep breaths and looked across at the Bay, reminding myself that this was what we were here for. Eventually she stood up. We crossed the street to the left instead and she held my hand. When we let go she stopped and climbed up on a cement planter and there we stayed as she walked around and around and around the perimeter of that box. I watched as people in their cards looked out at her as they waited at the light. Smiling. Fondness and appreciation and love of life, of innocence, in their eyes. That used to be the way I looked at mothers and their children, fathers and their children, marveling at the wonder of being able to share moments with such little people as they met the world time and time again.

It is so rare that I feel the way I thought I would feel, being the mama. It takes a lot of getting used to.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Day Without A Woman

Today is International Women's Day--a day I don't think I've recognized in any real way before now and a day whose history I know little about. I will add it to my list of things to look up and read about--the list is growing longer every day.

The Day Without A Woman strike was organized by the national group who put on the Women's March Womens March (this link is to the national group) which I did not participate in for a variety of not-very-great reasons and which received a lot of fervent accolades and fierce criticism. Many of my friends (almost all female) participated in the marches on January 21 and most of the accounts from those I knew who were there in person were uplifted, inspired, empowered. The criticism and commentary I followed most closely was shared by women of color. It focused on the ways in which feminism is not intersectional. It called out the ways in which a bunch of privileged white women marching a day after the inauguration of a president who received an embarrassing and unacceptable number of votes from white women did nothing for them. I had a lot of personal, emotional reactions which can be summarized as sad and angry that I hadn't made it a priority to be there and triggered, defensive and sad at some of the criticism. I didn't write about any of those feelings because I was busy listening and paying attention and because my personal life was a mess. Anyone looking at a calendar while referencing some recent blog posts might notice that my pit of depression spent binge-watching Scandal began not long after this event.

When I thought about whether or not I would strike today I asked myself how I could participate and be most in line with my values. Which are:

-Women working and standing together is essential, to me and to the world
-Feminism is not separate from racism and we white women need to do better
-An imperfect event can still be necessary and valuable
-Showing up in person is a big deal

One of my friends posted this article, about how the march was mostly going to be a march for privileged women. Privilege

I am very privileged. On International Women's Day I am employed and my family and I do not need my job to survive. (My mental health is more stable as a result of being employed). I am a full-time, benefited employee so I have the option of taking a sick day. My kids were taken care of by a caring, reliable woman and friend. My house was cleaned today by three women who immigrated to this country with their families.

On Monday I thought about how or if I would take the day off. I'm not sure why I didn't think about it more seriously before Monday but probably because I'm not much of a planner and at most I have a sense of what's happening a day or two in advance. My husband and I sat in the kitchen and talked about it. I work an hourly job and am scheduled many weeks ahead of time. To email my boss on Monday saying I planned to not work on Wednesday would put many people in a tricky position. I would not be granted PTO that late in the game--two days notice is not enough time to cover the schedule and I would have been expected to ask sooner. I had the option of trying to get someone else from my team to cover my shift but that didn't seem useful to anyone. I also wasn't sure what the response would be if I were honest. If I said I was not going to come to work as part of a strike, would I be fired? Would it be desertion of duty? I wasn't totally sure and I was scared to find out.

The other option, and the one most people probably use when something comes up that they didn't anticipate, was to call in sick the day of. I didn't want that to be the way I got out of work for the strike--it would be sending no message and it would be putting more work on my team and would potentially be disadvantaging the families we serve. I wanted to attend the speeches at City Hall in San Francisco SF Event but I decided to take my chances and hope I didn't get called out to a case. I appreciated this article which gave ideas of how to participate for people not able or not willing to take the day off and was prepared to participate one way or another. How to Spend the Day Without Women If You Can't Take The Day Off

It worked out in my favor and I got to stand in front of the steps of beautiful City Hall and watch my sister, the public relations lead for the SF Women's March group, coordinate the ten or so female speakers who showed up to speak to the crowd. I stood in the sun with my mom, a lifelong activist, both of us wearing red. I watched and felt as more and more people, mostly women, gathered. There were signs. There was red lipstick, red boots, red dresses, red t-shirts. Babies in red. There was a tiny speaker which didn't turn on until exactly 11. The woman who opened the event was a young Ohlone who began with a tribal yip and told us she was there to honor the land of the indigenous people we were all standing on. People shouted at her to use the mike and my sister strode out and held up her hands, her fingers. She told us we had four more minutes until the mike would be turned on and asked us to cheer or chant or wait patiently until then. We did. I didn't record the whole thing because it occurred to me too late but here is a bit of her song.

video

The other speakers were City Supervisors, the President of the Board of Supervisors, the city Controller (I think that's her title but not sure)  a union organizer (and mother to my best friend from elementary school), the fire chief in uniform and another high ranking fire fighter (I think she is the Assistant Chief), an Iraqi immigrant artist with her sleeping, infant daughter strapped to her chest, a Spanish-speaking janitor of 20+ years who immigrated illegally.

All women. A mix of ethnicities. A mix of native languages and countries. A mix of ages. Some mothers, some not. Some in vibrant red dresses, some in sweatshirts.

I cried several times. I didn't shout very loudly during the few chants because I am still learning to use my voice in a yell. There were many shouts of "Louder!" from the crowd because the speakers were not powerful enough and because even when many of the speakers felt like they were yelling, and maybe were yelling, they weren't loud enough.

I was so glad to be there.

There is more to write but not tonight.

One more valuable perspective. Why I'm Not Participating in A Day Without A Woman

We have much to do. Much to read. Much to think about. And showing up is good.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bills

As is often the case, there are several things I want to write about. Three of the main topics right now are:

Thoughts on the ceremonies around turning 40

Thoughts on choosing a school for our kids

Thoughts on fairness in parenting

Before I sit down and try to put any of those into good words I will share this teensy summary of the medical bills thus far in 2017. Note, it is the 6th day of March so there have only been 65 days this year. Including today.

We are covered under an employer-provided High Deductible PPO. For our family of six, we have an annual deductible of $9,000 and an out-of-pocket co-pay maximum of $13,000. These numbers are for if we go to in-network providers--they're higher if we go outside the network. ($18,000 and $20,000 respectively)

I wrote earlier about the various doctors appointments we have attended so far this year which include, among general check-ups and basic "I have a cold" visits, my annual colonoscopy prescribed as part of the maintenance of my chronic ulcerative colitis, hearing and speech evals for one child and a set of ear tubes for said child.

The following is a breakdown of what the provider billed our insurance and what ended up being our patient responsibility (after hospital write-offs which are part of how this bonkers system works). I am also including the patient's perspective of what was actually done.

January 6--$885 billed, $504.45 left as patient responsibility ($380.55 knocked off by insurance/hospital relationship aka "Network Savings")
This was a toddler hearing assessment that lasted about 30 minutes. It was well-executed and required fancy equipment. Performed by techs. Good experience at a private facility (with an extremely long waiting list that made the entire hearing/speech assessment take nine months.) No report provided to me nor offered as an option. I found out about the report because in order to get the prescribed speech therapy set up through the school district (because the waiting list at the private facility was too long) it was suggested that the report would help things move along. To get the report I had to fill out a form and go drop it off in person, during business hours. It would be difficult to quantify the cost of this to a parent with a regular job or no car considering he/she would have to take off work to go fill out the form at the office. Also, our report wasn't ready. Also, they will not mail it to me so I will have to go back in person again. Also, report still not ready.

All in all, aside from the bullshit of the report, I don't find the amount billed for this service to be completely excessive. Expensive but still in the realm of acceptabl

January 6--$1200 billed, $234.64 patient responsibility.
                  $4808.10 billed, $2272 patient responsibility
                  $2662 billed, patient responsibility still being determined
Total billed for my annual colonscopy=$8,670.10. What in the ever loving eff? 
There are three separate charges as this reflects the lab fee, the surgical services and the meds. The entire process (not including the fasting and colon clean out I did at home--good times, get excited for your 50s when normal people start getting these) lasted about two hours. The two hours consisted of--a nurse putting in an IV, someone pushing some enjoyable drugs into said IV, a twenty minute peek by a doctor into my large intestine with a long, flexible camera tube, an hour or so to wake up from the meds. This apparently costs almost nine grand. For a maintenance procedure that is mostly done to keep an eye out for colon cancer since I'm more susceptible to it (based on the colitis alone with an added risk because of the immunosuppresants). As in, I wasn't having any pain or problems. One can imagine that someone without a lot of money would choose to forgo such an annual procedure due to cost. Except its more complicated than that of course because the costs and insurance and the payments are all determined somewhat differently based on how much money someone has and what type of insurance he/she has. I mean, the costs are the same. Sort of. I don't think it cost anyone almost 9k to look into my colon. But that hospital (which is lovely and one of my favorites and with which/whom I have a long-standing, trusting relationship) has determined the cost if $8,670.10. We get a break because the hospital/insurance relationship knocks some money off. But we've still paid $2506.64 so far, with more to come once the breakdown for the meds is determined.

Outrageous.

I will close out with the following pending charge:

2/13/2017--$18,821.50 for tubes in a toddler's ears (officially called a myringotomy)
That's how much the hospital billed our insurance. We have yet to see what our portion will be or what the detail between hospital/insurance will be. This is a lovely, amazing hospital that serves many very sick children and their families. The actual procedure took 20 minutes (including induction of general anesthesia, performed by a pediatric anesthesiologist and the surgery itself, performed by a pediatric ENT. Both of whom were women of color, btw. Which rocks because I love for my kids to see badass women doctors, especially women of color). We were well loved and supported by nurses and a Child Life Specialist. I don't think either of us were traumatized too much (I mean, watching your kid fight going under general anesthesia is an experience I wish on no one). If I had millions of dollars and assigned value to medical services before paying for them, I would pay this much and more if it meant my kid were going to get this level of top-notch care. And yet. Dang. That is a shit load of money that no one can really afford. I mean, almost no one. People with millions of dollars could, though they probably wouldn't want to if they had a choice. And they probably never will, because with private insurance the actual cost to the parents of the patient (us included) will be much less than this.

In summary, in the first 65 days of 2017 we have spent $8771.47 of our $9,000 annual deductible and $10,771.47 of $13,000 of our annual co-pay maximum. Almost twenty grand. With two expensive bills still outstanding so we've probably met both limits. This means for the rest of the year we will go completely hog wild and seek out all the expensive, free procedures we can find!

Um, no. It means. . .

That health care is complicated and the way it gets paid for has been made almost inscrutable, especially when it comes to business side of things If you haven't already, watch this old interview from The Daily Show about an article written by Steven Brill for Time magazine A Bitter Pill. I don't know if the writer would get royalties if we all went and paid to read it via Time magazine  but I'm thinking of buying it anyway so I can read the whole thing. He's writing a book about it too. It's important stuff. And this isn't even my issue! I mean, it's my issue in that it has a big impact on me and it matters to me and I want it to be better but it's not even the one I choose to think about/worry about/focus on the most. 

This post is already much longer than I meant it to be and I haven't even gotten into all the layers worth discussing. So in signing off I will say I believe access to quality health care is a human right. And it shouldn't bankrupt people, which is currently does. (Not us so far, because we're lucky and have good jobs and my husband is good at budgeting) And our government should not be fighting to take insurance away from people--we should be figuring out how to address the fact that a colonscopy costs more than eight thousand pretend dollars.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

35 of 40

The thing I'm most proud of from last year is that I made friends with a woman whose writing and style and heart I had been admiring from afar, through her words, for a couple years. Nici Cline. She writes Dig This Chick. I found her via Enjoying the Small Things, written by Kelle Hampton. I found Kelle through Momastery, written by Glennon. I can't remember how I found Glennon. Or how I found Dooce. Straight up and Dirty by Stephanie Klein was the first blog I got really into, unless you include Rockstar Mommy, written on a now forgotten platform and since disappeared, at least under that name. There are a few others included on my daily check out list, but none of them stuck with me. I appreciated the voices and learned some things and they passed the time.

Nici lives in Montana, homesteading with her love and her two soft, fierce, open daughters. She is a gardener, a cook, a maker, an artist. She finds ways to make her life rich--in color, with dirt, in fullness. Her written word moves me, every time. Every time she write an essay it changes me in some small, nudges a little spot open in my heart, makes me want to be better. I read her for over a year before commenting--I was never much of a commenter on blogs. I emailed her once for some reason that I now forget. She responded after a couple weeks and it was a nice response. I felt shy and awkward, like I didn't even know what I was asking for. That feeling you get when you listen to and watch a musician make magic and fall into imagining what a conversation with that person would be like, certain that if you could just take a moment to connect you would both realize how much was there to mine together. Is that love? It was something. I had her in a separate place, a place for artists and movers and people with voices. I wanted to communicate to her how much not just her writing but her way of seeing the world and her way of being in the world, of loving. of parenting mattered to me.

Last year she and one of her two college best friends put together a women's gathering in Petaluma called the Artful Homestead. In the days before announcing this news she posted a handful of images, a few sentences, breadcrumbs dropped leading us to the middle of the forest where the story would unfold. One photo show a pair of dirty, pale, child's feet next to a basket partially filled with frondy veggies in their god-assigned colors. It was spiritual. Bright. Hopeful. It beckoned.

When the announcement came that the event would focus on ritual and creating beauty and finding ways to connect to your artist, to cultivate the space to intentionally make what you needed to make, it was thrilling. Even more so, it would take place in Petaluma--not much more than an hour away from where I live.

Booked.

We would gather at a farm in Petaluma the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and spend the day together. There was a group of 15 of us or so, all women. When I woke up early to start driving I got nervous, as I always do when I'm off to put myself amidst a group of strangers. I didn't almost cancel but I was in that mild dread that makes it so easy to change your mind at the last minute. I drove on, through the dry, golden fields, rolling hills, long fences, different world roads found so close to my own home.I pulled into a gravel drive, past a llama or two, parking next to a wooden outhouse with a moon carved above the door. Quiet voices fluttered over the wall from the courtyard and I walked in, full of anticipation. I did the thing I know to do now before walking into a group of women.Found myself in my own heart, centered,opened up for the many beauties and styles and plate offerings I was bound to find.Reminded myself how easy it would be to feel cowed, less, not pretty enough, not artistic enough, not stylish enough. I shook it off, my eyes long open to the truth that I bring those feelings up in other women too. That with intention and curiousity I can shift the energy, be open and not threatened, and enter into one of my favorite pockets of humanity I've ever found--a circle of women where we are listening and embracing, consoling, crying. I think it may be why people have believed in witches for so long. It's because we're real.

Nici and Paige created so much beauty. The land and the farm were rough and pretty. The food was how food should be--so full of juice and flavor and the essence of being fed and of feeding. Plates, silver, vases, tableclothes. Beauty everywhere you turned. During one free moment I wandered around the buildings, through gates into backyards, under trees and tall grass. Getting lost but having nowhere else to be. I walked by a corner with stacked farm tools, cobwebs, ceramic pots, some broken. I didn't notice it the first time I pass it. The second time I saw it, saw the dirt. But what I really saw is how our eyes make things beautiful. When I walk by piled up corners in my own house I cringe under the weight of things to do, of "Why doesn't all of that have a place to go?" Here, it was part of the welcoming heart that was sheltering me and it was beautiful to me.

We sat in a circle and talked. We journaled. We sat in pairs, interviewing one another and taking photos of one another. We walked the perimeter,. We sat on quilts under trees surrounded by lambs. We ate lunch on a long wooden table in a field and every single bite I took was exquisite. Then we went swimming in the black bottom pool. Icy water surrounded by hot flat rock. Different bodies, different suits, different approaches to the water. We told each other stories and swam or dipped feet. Nici was there and I was intimidated by her, because I felt like I knew her through her blog and because she designed the event and because she was gorgeous and plunging into the cold water in glee. It would have been easy to stay a few paces away, to observe like I like to do. To soak up the atmosphere. But I swam up and somehow made conversation. I felt shy the whole time. But I felt so clearly sure that I did not want to miss the opportunity to actually get to know this woman I'd been admiring for so long.

There were so many wonderful connections on that day. So many vibrant, powerful women. It was like drinking gallons of a life-giving draught that would last me for years. We talked about everything. At the end of the evening we ate another other-worldly meal in a field, the wreathes we'd wound of branches and flowers sitting at our feet. When the meal ended, one woman sang opera, her voice pulling up from the base of her feet and spilling into the darkening sky. It was a gift of a day.

Nici and I wrote back and forth a couple times after that and now we are friends. And it is so exciting for me to write that! Because I love her and I love getting to know her and also because I love me and I am proud of myself for not turning away, for not hiding and waiting to be asked, for stepping into the power I know I have but get scared of so often because I have feared being embarrassed or rejected or wrong. That is the gift I am giving to myself on this 40th birthday of mine--I'm going to wrap up those fears and put them somewhere for a while just in case I need them again. Fear of embarassment? We are all learning. We all make mistakes. What is there to be embarrassed about?