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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Here we are and there they go

Yesterday was our last day of summer vacation. The kids and I have spent almost every day together these past couple months in a mix of lounging and hustling, adventuring and hanging out at home. The house as been a complete disaster for most of that time. We've eaten home-cooked meals and grabbed random handfuls of whatever snacks happened to be in reach. We've been bored and restless and found our way out of it. We've been blissed out and awake. We drove into San Francisco many times, Barted once or twice, jumped into pools many times and exclaimed over discoveries big and small. We've created lots of art, built many towers and a tree house, done tons of laundry and mowed the lawn never quite often enough. We've watched lots of TV, tried camps for the first time, celebrated birthdays and grown inches. We've had lots of grandparent times, play dates at friends' houses, bee stings, playground visits, ice cream truck celebrations and not many naps. We've paired up in every way possible, snuggled in, laughed, tantrumed, fought and loved. We've been together, talking and wondering and playing and expanding. It has been good.

My big kids started kindergarten today. Yesterday we were in San Francisco visiting my dad, their Poppy, in his new apartment. He lives a couple blocks away from the hospital in which they were born and we drove by it yesterday, pointing things out and telling our stories together.

That's the corner that I ran around, holding my big belly and scaring the people on the sidewalk who got out of my way as fast as they could.

That's the apartment where Lily and I lived by ourselves for three weeks while we waited for Cyrus to be ready to get out of the hospital.

I didn't feel like drinking a bottle so I stayed there a while.

That's right.

I wasn't deep in nostalgia, I wasn't deep in emotion, I was in another place. An in-between place of deep awareness. The human inability to truly comprehend the passage of time because it is a mix of fast and slow, holy and excruciating.

They take my breath away with their long, strong limbs and their bright eyes. Their funny observations and their great vocabularies. Their pride in accomplishing new tasks. Their kindness and their resilience.

"I'm not a baby," Cleo told me at dinner last night.

"That's right, you're not," I replied.

"But you call me Baby," she said.

"I do. Do you want me to stop?" I asked.

"No. I want you to keep calling me that," she said.

"Good. Because I want to call you all that forever, even when you're grown-ups." I told her.

My babies. I think about holding Lily and Cyrus on my chest together for the first time, weeks after their birth. I was filled with so much gratitude that they were both alive and that I got to be their mama. When we first got them home eight weeks later we swaddled them up and put them in the same crib, an ocean of mattress between them because they were so little.

We took a quick picture this morning, the dog tied to a pole a few feet away, their little sister sitting in a huff against the wall. We wandered around trying to figure out where we were supposed to be. We found our place and got in line for Room 11, surrounded by kindergartners and parents, wide-eyed taking it all in. The line started moving, we got to the front door and were greeted by the principal and then they were gone.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Waking thoughts

When I was nineteen or twenty years old I quit soccer. I cried in front of the coach when I did it which I hated doing--I didn't like that coach at all and I wanted to quit with my head held high, powerful. In those days tears flowed easily, especially when I said anything that scared me out loud.

Walking back to my dorm, Anne was with me. She was a year older and we were friendly with one another, although not really friends. I didn't really have real friends on that team which was quite a change from my past team where the friendships were equal to the soccer. I don't remember any parts of our conversation other than her saying to me "I don't know who I'd be without soccer. I've always been a soccer player. But you have so many other parts to who you are, you'll be ok."

That was a relief to me at the time and I've thought about it over the years to remind myself--this thing that you're doing, whatever it is, is not you. You are more than this one thing.

I pulled those words into my heart this morning as I woke up to motherhood changing, yet again, as it always does and always will. My son wasn't in bed with me--he was next door with his dad where he'd been since one in the morning. One of my daughters, she who used to be the only one who stayed in her own bed all night, was over there too. I was in my son's bottom bunk bed because another daughter had asked for me also around 1 a.m, which is how I'd noticed the other two were gone.

In the arrangement we currently have which will be ending in the next couple months, I often wake up to an open back door. In the dark the kids, especially my son, make their way from the big house to the in-law unit, walking the thirty yards surrounded by shadows. Sometimes I wake up alone. That never used to happen.

Motherhood is not the only thing that I am. It is a big part of who I am, though. Motherhood and wifehood have been two of the things that have changed me the most and now one is ending and the other is changing. But it will always change. So why am I gripping so tightly?

I remind myself that it is not my kids' job to love me enough to fill up the holes in my heart. It is their job--their joy and their opportunity and their hardship--to be kids. It is my job and my soon to be ex-husband's job to build the structure and the support in which their developing brains can grow and thrive. I tell them "You never have to choose between your dad and me."

And it is my job to make that always true.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Fight or flight

In my head and in my heart I am the kind of mom who supports my kids as they feel intense feelings. In real life I am the kind of mom who starts yelling "STOP CRYING!" internally gasping in horror as I imagine the therapy my children will need to learn how to feel their feelings after their mother repeatedly told them to stop. Recently I read an essay written by a mom about how she responds to her daughter's tantrums and how the responses teach her daughter emotional intelligence. I felt a tiny flash of shame and desire, sad that I didn't do what she did and full of a wish to learn to do that. Those feelings were followed by  emphatically shutting off my phone and patting myself on the back for doing my best and trying really hard to keep doing better. Parenthood brings up the consistent wish that I had no flaws with which to damage my children as well as the constant reminder that I have the opportunity to show them how to be a flawed person who keeps trying.

The other night I lay on the floor of my kids' bedroom waiting for them to fall asleep. I started to weep, curled into my left side on the stained carpet. The tears came quietly: my kids didn't notice. I was grieving a relationship that is changing and feeling the hurt and fear fill me up. The tears came after several days of my own emotional upheaval, during which time my mind was racing circles within its inflexible container. Outrun, find a way to fix it, make a change, do something! The tears came, a relief. And I saw so clearly how much I hate feeling sad. Or mad. Or scared. I don't just hate it, I want to get as far away from it all as I can, by almost any means necessary.

I have spent most of my life trying not to feel my feelings. And not just because they are painful but because my whole body goes into a major fight or flight response, all of my parts straining to get the hell away from the thing that is causing the pain. But the thing causing the pain is. . . in me. My heart.

The fight or flight comes up with my kids too which is tough because three and four year olds are kinda nuts. I mean, they're supposed to be. Everything is new. The can speak more words than they truly understand. They are growing and forming and changing so much. They fly into rages or tears or tantrums and often they are totally irrational--at least to me. There is always some kind of explanation if any of us were calm and rested enough to sit there and find it. My well-educated mind can tell me that most of what they do is developmentally appropriate. That these small humans don't have the words to express all of the feelings that are coming over them. In fact, they are most likely in a state similar to mine--being flooded and not knowing what to do. My heart wants these beloved, amazing people to feel safe and cherished no matter what. I would love to sit on the floor and calmly put a hand on a screaming child, telling her "I'm here," and letting the feelings wash over her until she is ready to move on. I don't want them to be like me, afraid of my own fear. Afraid of my own rage. Afraid of my own grief. But my mind and my heart take a back seat to my body, awash in messages telling me to do anything I can to shut that shit down. What a relief to finally be paying attention to my body so I can notice these things are happening. And to have teachers and coaches who confirm that yes, my body is often in fight or flight and it doesn't need to stay that way. That is a coping mechanism that I don't need anymore. We can fix it with a lot of different kinds of hard work.

I don't recall ever experiencing the fight or flight during any of my many babysitting experiences. In fact, one of the reasons I was such a baby whisperer before I was a mama was because babies could feel the calm radiating from my body into theirs once I picked them up. I was unphased by crying and it never lasted long because of that--babies and kids settled right into my chill and stopped. But mamahood? Totally different. Maybe partly because I have so many. Yeah, that's a lot of it. With one at a time I might have been able to gut it out. With four it comes as a torrent. The whining and the crying often come from multiple directions and the need to escape it or shut it down washes over me like Niagra Falls. I just. . .can't. Within two minutes one night one kid was asking me, politely, to staple a hand-crafted book, one kid was screaming to get out of the bath, one kid stood up at the table and knocked a full glass of water onto the floor and the final kid was standing at the stove next to a hot pot of cooking chicken, demanding to make popcorn. And that wasn't even a time that I lost my shit. Oh wait, that's a lie. I didn't lose it in that moment but a few minutes later as I carried the crying child from the bathtub (after being told three times that said child needed the dinosaur towel! The dinosaur towel!) I stated fiercely "The effing crying is making me want to tear my head off." Except I didn't say effing.

This tornado of kids is teaching me so much. One of the reasons I don't write much about them individually or specifically here is because I want to protect their privacy. The other huge reason is that the experience of becoming their mother affects me so intensely that I'm processing and learning and healing myself and that's what I want to write about.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Therapy

I think I scared some people with my last post. Eek! That is hard for me because for a moment I let myself fall into doubt. Is it too much? Am I too much? I feel like reassuring everyone, making my fear and darkness lighter, smaller. And then I gently remind myself that too much or not, it is true for me and feels worth sharing. And I remind myself that I do not have control over how other people respond to what I write. And then I let myself feel the depth of people's love and concern for me and I bask in it, feel grateful for it and come back to the page.

I will say that for me to write something like my last essay means I am no longer in that place. I've passed through it and I feel lighter and ready to share it because often when I do someone else is helped by knowing they are not alone. And that's why I believe God and She and the Universe give us grief and pain, but not all at the same time. So that there is always someone who can stand still and strong and hold my hand when I need it, to help me be ready to stand still and strong when someone else needs it.

In my deepest self I am more than ok. I am awake and interested and so very glad to be living this life. Yes, I do struggle with depression and anxiety. Often the path I am walking is not an easy one. I know I am not alone in that. But I am also so held. I have found people who are travelling similar paths with similar interest and commitment. I see how I want to travel even as I'm not sure where I'm going and even as I sometimes very much wish that I could just arrive already.

My first significant therapy experience began when I was 33. My best male friend, someone I love deeply and who surprises me with how well he knows me, suggested, not too gently, that I talk to someone about my issues. He is not known for his tact. I had tried therapy and hadn't loved it, mostly because I felt like I was trying to get the answers right. I felt tired in advanced by the idea of trying to find the right practitioner. At a party an old friend recommended her therapist to me. That's how I met Ame, a Hakomi practitioner. Hakomi is a body-centered approach and those sessions were really the first time I was invited to drop down into my body, to pay attention to how my actual physical body felt. I wasn't just talking about emotions, I was being asked to notice the sensations in my feet, my belly, my shoulders, when we talked about something or when she asked me to sit quietly and observe. It was hard as hell. Not just because my mind was always jumpy but because the response from my body was so very faint. I wanted to get the answer right and my mind would leap to the occasion, guessing how my belly might feel while talking about something that scared me. But when I quieted my mind, I often felt. . . nothing. Ame would take me through exercises of feeling my feet on the floor, feeling my butt in the chair, feeling my back against the cushion. I could feel the floor, but not my feet. I could feel the couch, but not my butt. It was like I didn't exist except for in my head. After many attempts she, my body, started giving me little, quiet murmurings--like a tiny little mouse peeking out of a long-inhabited cave. Whispers so faint that I wasn't sure they were there at first. And what she was saying to me made me cry because my poor body was so grateful to finally be asked. She wanted to talk and sing and yell and she didn't trust me one bit to actually keep listening.

In one of our sessions I talked to Ame about my years' long experience of feeling like two different people. On some days, I said, I felt light and open and happy. On those days I was energized and awake and could easily see the signs the Universe was giving me, telling me "Yes! You're on the right track. Keep going!" I loved those days. On the other days I felt heavy and dark and blocked up. I wanted to hide and be quiet and binge watch TV. I hated those days. I told her I tried to pay attention on those good days to make note of everything I'd done, what I'd eaten, if I'd exercised, so that I could try to have those days every day. I even said I was thinking I should keep better track of my cycle so I could see if there was a pattern.

She didn't exactly dismiss me but she essentially said that it was impossible to feel the same way all the time and that neither type of day was good or bad. I didn't have two selves, I was all the same self. She wanted to focus on my strong certainty that some feelings were good while others were bad. This was important because I did, and still do, fall easily into the belief that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing everything. I thought, deeply believed, that there were good things about me and bad things about me and therefore the obvious goal was to rid myself of the bad things, even if some of those things made me feel good sometimes. Ame introduced me to the idea of trying to see the voice in my head as an observer, rather than a judge. To notice things rather than proclaim what each thing meant. My time with her was profound and helpful and, as I know now, just the beginning.





Monday, January 8, 2018

New Year

The day before New Year's Eve, December 30, 2017, I fell deep into a hole. I couldn't stop crying. Crying hasn't been a big part of my life over the past decade or so--I unlearned the habit after years in my youth when any intense emotion would have me bursting into tears. Now the tears are coming back and it still makes me deeply uncomfortable, even as it feels like a relief.

It wasn't a physical hole--it was the emotional hole I'd been circling for months, afraid to get too close exactly because I didn't want to fall in. Even though I knew I needed to fall in. Knew I couldn't avoid it. Knew it would be in my path no matter which route I tried to take.

I felt desperate. With loneliness. With fear. With mental illness. With self-loathing. Just this deep sense of being so goddamn tired of being this person that I still am. The person who thinks too much about everything and can't relax and beats myself up and can't appreciate what I have. The pain was so intense. The fear was so intense. The fear that I would never get out of this sad place, this longing place, this feeling broken place. And even though some far corner of my mind knew that this would only be temporary, that I'd been here before and I would pass through it somehow, I felt trapped in myself and all I wanted to do was get away. Numb. Run. Hide.

There have been things going on in my life, difficult things, that I don't want to write about here. That's one of the reasons it has been hard to show up on this page, hard to find a way to share myself when so much of what I've been doing and thinking about and working on has not been for public consumption. 2017 was a hard and painful year for so many of us, for so many reasons. Me too.

I am working really hard, even as some of that hard work is in learning how to be softer. Softer on myself. More forgiving. More loving of this wild, imperfect woman that I am blessed and sometimes cursed to be. I am getting help from many wise people. I am surrounded by love. I am known. And I know for certain that I am on the right track just as I know for certain that the part of the track I've been travelling has been and will continue to be devastating. There is all this inner work going on and I still have four little kids who need to be loved and driven to school and taken to the doctor. There are still friendships, old and new. There are still people hurting and struggling and working all around me.

In the few weeks leading up to New Year's Eve I kept asking myself how I wanted to celebrate. Ceremony is important to me and it's always mattered to me to mark the passing from one year into the next. It's always been a funny day, often not living up to the hype, easy to end up somewhere you don't really want to be especially if, like me, you're someone who hasn't given much thought to where I truly want to be. I wondered whether I wanted to ring in the new year with my littles or whether it was a better year to go into the city and party, dance all night and let my body feel young and free and fun. I thought about hosting a party but that felt hard. I thought about going to spend the night on a beach somewhere with my journal, to be quiet with myself but that sounded way too hard and scary. The day got closer and no plans were made.

On the 30th I felt achy and drained. I felt sad. The tears started pouring out, my mind got desperate, I went into hermit mode and didn't want to talk to anyone or see anyone. I knew I needed to reach out to someone and I didn't want to. At all. I did not want to pick up the 10,000 pound phone.

I texted with my brother and sister to say "I'm struggling. I am so sad. I don't want to talk but I want you to know." They loved me from afar and told me they were there to talk when I was ready. They tried to reassure me.

I texted my sponsor and said "I'm struggling. I am so sad. I don't want to talk but it feels so hard to even reach out to you to say this much that I knew I needed to do it." She said she was sorry I was struggling, she sent me some slogans and suggested I pick one to focus on. That helped a little.

I cried. I tried to get out of my head. I thought of different ways I could escape myself and chose not to take any of them.

I texted my wise friend Liz and said "Oh friend. I'm in the dark and I feel afraid here. How do I not fight it?"

Liz is writing a book about the Divine Feminine and the Goddess traditions. She is a fierce feminist, a yogi, a mama, a soul sister. She is one of my teachers in this life. She has written before about how we can all be so afraid of the dark but that the darkness is a necessary part of us. Diving Into Darkness

She wrote me "Breathe. You were born in the dark, love. You ARE the dark. She's waiting for you there. Ask Her for help. She will hold you."

Then she wrote "Get your feet on the ground. Bare feet on the dirt. Let the sun hit your face. Breathe. You've got this."

Ok, I wrote. Feet in the dirt. Thank you. And I took myself outside into the backyard and did what she said.

Then she wrote "Lay in the dirt if you need to. Feel Her holding you. You are not alone. Never have been, never will be."

So I lay in the grass and dirt of my backyard and I wept. I closed my eyes and I begged "Help me. I need help. This year is ending, a new one is beginning. I don't know where I'm going. I'm so afraid."

The acuity of the desperation passed shortly after that. I got back in bed and hid there, wrapped in blankets. Kid bedtime happened and I got back in bed. Not long after that I started shaking, my whole body shivering without cease, for thirty minutes. Rigors.

Oh! I thought. There is something really wrong with me. Physiologically wrong with me. And even though I felt shitty, I felt such great relief. Because I know what to do when something needs to be healed in my body. But I get so afraid when I lose control of my mind.

I celebrated New Year's Eve in a hospital bed, alone, after an ambulance ride into the city to take me to my special hospital where they know me and know how to take care of me. I had pylonephritis, a kidney infection. It wasn't a party and it wasn't at all what I pictured when I tried to imagine how to mark the passage of another year but it felt deeply right. That was where I needed to be and it fit as an end to 2017--a year of learning to focus anew on my physical health.

After Liz told me I wasn't alone I wrote her back to say "That helped. I do feel so alone. And so tired of myself and this journey of learning that is so hard."

"You're ready, friend," Liz wrote to me. "You're on the cusp of huge change."
'I imagine it hurts like hell. But you can do it."

We can do it. Happy New Year. I wish you all more of the power of the Divine Feminine in your lives. I wish you good, true friends and helpers when you ask for them. I wish you care for your minds, bodies and spirits. And I wish you tenderness as you journey to wherever it is you need to go.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Breakdowns and breakthroughs.

The house is absolutely trashed despite the fact that it was professionally cleaned three days ago. Utterly trashed. Now, I am not a neat person and my level of acceptably messy is far higher than most people I know. But I like to be in a clean house and I feel how much calmer my body feels when I walk in the front door and admire the sweet restfulness of a shining, tidy house. The slam of unease that comes as it gets immediately undone, as though I just hired professional uncleaners to come in and tear everything apart is intense. Almost so intense that I'm tempted to not have it professionally cleaned so the fall is not as severe.

I completely lost my shit with my kids yesterday. We don't have a lot of rules in our house, mostly because it has to be something that really matters to me to make me willing to have to address it one million kazillion bajillion times every day until I die. I mean, until their brains develop enough for them to remember the rules and to remember to follow them. One of the rules is that they are not allowed to play with food. This is partly because table manners are really important to me and partly because it makes me actually physically sick to see food disrespected and wasted as though it doesn't matter. Last night they were hyper and having fun and couldn't settle down and I asked them and then told them over and over again to stop playing at and to eat their food and then I fucking lost my mind and slammed my hands down on the table and yelled STOP IT! I made Daphne cry. They all stopped and stared at me. And then it all started up again. Eventually I started crying because I felt so powerless, so overwhelmed, so over it and so trapped.

I knew I was feeling out of control way before that. It came over me at 11 am as the result of a money conversation with its subsequent worry and fear. Coupled with the experience of feeling unseen, unvalued. Those are triggers for me that I am now wise enough to recognize. I knew I needed help but I didn't ask for it because. . . I didn't know who to ask and I didn't know what to ask for and because I thought that, though not ideal, recognizing how I was feeling would be enough for me to manage my way out of it. Nope.

Yelling at my kids makes me feel bad for many reasons. I don't like to scare them and I don't like the feeling of being out of control. There is some shame but I have to say there is less than there used to be. Because my anger and tears and yelling are true. And I would rather my kids see me lose it sometimes than for them to get used to me shutting down and turning myself off which is how I have handled my anger for most of my life. Still, as a wise advisor helped me see last week when we talked, that is not how I want to be parenting and the questions to ask myself are how I got there and what I needed to do to take care of myself to help me before I get that far gone.

It became so clear to me yesterday that I need help. I am working really hard in a lot of ways right now and I am out of gas. Flayed. Turned inside out. But whom do I ask? What do I ask for? These are things I don't know. Not because there is a shortage of people asking how they can help me but because it feels so hard to figure out not just what I need but how and whom to ask. This is why we need caves. Communal caves where I can be surrounded by people who can step in and take over when I need to be out.

The work I am doing right now is personal and it is deep and it is not financially remunerated. I feel really lucky to have the time and space to do this work and oh holy shit is it hard. It is recovery work. Healing work. Self-discovery work. It was begun some years ago and made necessary by the introduction of these four small people into my life and it is made harder by the presence of these four small people in my life. Every day this week I have been awakened by a screaming child. To be thrust into consciousness that way and then immediately carried by the waves of demands has been almost unbearable. Waves of panic and a desire to escape wash over me as my fight or flight systems roar to life. It's hard to shut them off.

I have always known I wanted to be a mother, as I've written here before. I was able to articulate as I got older that it wasn't just because I wanted to be a part of introducing new people to life but because I wanted to see myself, to know myself, as the changed version of myself I knew I would become through the experience of mothering. And yep! That has been the case. In a nutshell what I've been introduced to is that all the ways I'm managed my way through life so far no longer work. And I no longer want to live like that--numbed, pushed to the max, in survival mode. I want to be in this precious body of mine, tuned in to the sweetness and even to the pain. I want to be all the way alive. To love myself as much as other people love me. To not be so hard on myself. I want all of this. I want this because I want the same thing for my kids and I want this because what used to work for me is no longer sustainable.

I'm on the path. I have a lot of support although I need to figure out how to have more. My kids are thriving. This too shall pass. And now I'm going to go eat a donut and clean my house.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Hodge Podge

Four months with no posts here. I think about writing every day but my head is such a morass of negative thoughts and self-doubt that nothing makes it onto the screen. There are private life things that deeply affect me that I won't write about here so that's confusing. And despite June being the most enjoyable and sweet month of my parenting career, since then I've fallen more into the category of "The things I think about parenting are not things I want to record on the internet for my children to someday read" I feel scared to write things like that.

I have never gone back to read any of the things I've written here. I have a new, deep self-consciousness about writing about my life that I can't seem to get over. The reasons for that are:

-It feels navel gazing if I'm not writing something that addresses the real, serious, painful shit going on in the world. The racism and the sexism, specifically. I want to write more about those things but thus far my writing has just flown out of me, unedited, because I was just talking about myself. It feels worthy of more attention to write about the other stuff and it makes me feel more scared.  Learning about white privilege and white fragility, seeing the depth of the racism in this country, and paying attention to these things is confusing. My first thought is to share the confusion, the observations, the questions, but I keep coming back to a place of being a student and not being ready to try to write about it. In a similar but different vein, the campaign season and election of 2016 punched me in the face with the sexism in this country that I'd done a good job of convincing myself did not really affect me in meaningful ways before that. Mixed in with that the personal discovery work I have been doing for the past several years has brought me right into my femininity in ways that are raw and real and good. There is so much going on!

-I'm in major transition in many ways which has resulted in some periods of deep depression. When I'm down like that I go into hiding. I don't even want to talk to my friends or family about what's going on. Again, the idea of trying to share or explain what I'm thinking or feeling when I feel unmotivated, lazy, sad, and lame is too intense. In the past when I have shared painful or worrisome emotions people who know me in real life have gotten scared and reached out to check in. Which I often do not want to happen. I want this place to be a place where I make art, not the place where people find out how I'm doing. Maybe that is not possible. But the onus lies on me to be clear about my own boundaries so I can expect, nay welcome, comments and thoughts in response to what I write. I'm trying to figure it out. The good news is that I currently am not depressed so no need to worry about me on this account.

-I'm ready to change the tone of this blog from the totally raw, diary-like style it has been into something else. But I don't know what or how yet.

There are other reasons but those three capture the sum of all the parts.

I am a writer. I want to own that because I love being able to write. I want to do it more and more, but that is also the kind of want that sometimes exist more in theory than in practice. The actual practice of writing is way harder. I've tried to trust that I would find my way back here when I could. Today is the day because a woman named Stephanie who I don't know told my sister-in-law Lauren that she missed my blog. I so appreciated knowing that my writing had found its way all the way to DC that  I decided I'd muddle through a post today to try to get back in action. Thanks Stephanie!