Earlier this summer, we went on a family visit to a pizza restaurant on a farm. There were goats, music, and a carefree feeling in the air. There were also flies. Lots of flies. Our two-year-old daughter was terrified of the flies. To be fair, she had never really seen a grouping of flies before, so it made sense to be afraid. One fly might have been tolerable, but dozens had the making of a horror story. At least in our daughter’s mind.
After a few failed attempts to temper our daughter’s concerns regarding the flies, we shifted focus and ended up taking our pizza to a park down the street where we suspected there would be less flies. A few minutes later we arrived at a mostly fly free park with a picnic table and were ready to begin our lunch. A few minutes after that, the kids were off playing at the park, and we had all but abandoned any hope of a family picnic.
We ended that day fulfilled and very much enjoyed our time together. The terrors of the attack of the flies that our daughter endured shrunk in importance as the gratitude for our time together grew. Overall, it was a very a good day.
However, like most things in life our perception of the day’s events was based solely on our own experiences and our daughter’s commentary regarding the day was limited to a two-year-old’s vocabulary. We truly had no idea of the impact of the flies until a few weeks later.
To celebrate our son’s fifth birthday last week, we went to visit family who live on a farm. As one might guess, a farm has many flies. We had all long forgotten about our daughter’s unfavorable reaction to flies and regarded them as annoying at worst. Our daughter seemed largely indifferent to the flies at the farm so collectively we decided the files were no longer an issue. We had all moved on.
The departure from the farm took longer than we expected, and it was hot so we opened all the doors to the minivan while we waited so that we might enjoy the occasional cross breeze. We loaded the children and ourselves into the van without a second thought of flies.
It wasn’t until we reached the freeway, did we fully appreciate the gravity of our situation. Our daughter started yelling “Ouchy, Ouchy” and screaming out in pain. It only took a few seconds to realize that there were flies, or at least one, that was circling our daughter who was helplessly strapped in her car seat as we drove down the highway at 70 mph.
Each time a fly landed on her, she yelled “OUCHY” and cried harder. To her, these flies were not pesky annoyances but rather the bringers of death and destruction. As heart breaking as it was to watch the horror unfold in the back seat, my husband and I fought faint smiles and muted laughs as the drama of it all rivaled a blockbuster movie.
For the next twenty minutes I held our daughter’s hand while awkwardly stretched from the front seat to the back, while simultaneously swatting away the flies who were undoubtedly obsessed with her by this point.
The trauma of the car ride home was quickly forgotten as we moved on with our nighttime routine. However, once the kids were asleep and we were able to reflect more on the day our perspectives shifted. One thing that stuck with me was that the flies only needed to land on her for her to perceive pain. She was not being bit nor was she being hurt but nevertheless, her pain was real.
Once our daughter had in her head that flies would cause her pain, they did. Therefore, every time she felt one land on her, she perceived it as pain. As comical as this may seem to the casual bystander, as parents we had no doubt that her screams were authentic, and her fear completely justified in her own mind.
It wasn’t until I validated her fears, protecting her by swatting the flies away and comforting her by holding her hand, was she able to relax enough to realize that just because she could feel it, that it didn’t mean that it hurt.
What a powerful concept. Just because we feel things, it doesn’t mean they hurt. Our pain, therefore, is in our own perceptions and within our power to change. It also serves as a reminder that pain is pain. It doesn’t matter if it is real or imaginary as the impact is the same. We can never truly know how someone else perceives an event, so we should do our best to empathize and take them at their word.
Today, I will remember that just because I feel something, it doesn’t mean that it hurts, or even that it is important. There are dozens of metaphorical flies that land on us all every day. Some people will not even notice while others may crumble under the pressure. I will strive to be patient and kind to those around me as they each have their own way of dealing with the flies of life.
“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?… Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime, it is not. So, look forward to better things.” -Seneca
There is a gap between poverty and wealth that translates to many people as one missed paycheck or one serious illness from their life as they know it crumbling away. This fear drives many to work dead end jobs, stay in loveless marriages, and live in uninviting communities.
Life is just life. We will get sick, people around us will die, we will be lied to and cheated and stolen from, but accepting these things as facts of life, allows us the freedom to discard these worries from the present day. This doesn’t excuse us from planning, preparing, and executing careful action, as guided by our ethics, but it does make us immune from the threat of the great unknown.
The Great Lie is that we can prevent life’s hardships by sacrifice, prudence, and avoidance of what is unknown to us. I’m not saying jump into a pool if you don’t know how to swim; only that it is uncertain if you would drown if you did. The truth is the only certainty in life is one day it shall end. So why do so many, me included, fall prey to the Great Lie?
For me personally, I’ve always been an anxious person. As a child, I felt like I saw dangers that adults appeared oblivious to. I did not yet understand calculated risk and my child mind could not grasp the fragility of life, only that when you are dead – you’re dead for a long time – and I did not want to do that. But I wasn’t just going to just take anyone’s advice on life; I was curious and wanted to know for myself.
Drinking from the hose on a hot day always seemed like a bad idea to me. Plain water should not taste like anything. Even when adults told me it was fine, I did not believe them and resented their assumptions of my intelligence. During a time when I had so little control over my own life, I could at least choose not to drink from the hose.
These minor acts of agency were enough for me to develop some self-assurance, but I was thrown off when I was told external things could harm me. These were the same adults that tried to gas light me into drinking 90 degree stagnate water from a plastic water hose on a hot day and I was supposed to trust their judgement? I think not.
My first memorable rebellion was when I was ten or eleven years old. I took a bus far from the security of my suburban bubble and ventured to the very places I was told to avoid. I entered an unknown world and to my amazement, everyone seemed very normal and nice. I met a homeless man who wanted to be pastor and taken a vow of poverty, and another that had HIV and had spent all his money on maintaining his health. I even made some friends my own age.
As time passed and the gravity of my homelife was too much to bear and I would seek refuge in these sorted places with a collection of misfits who, for the most part, treated me with the upmost respect. I learned how-to put-on makeup, shop at second-hand stores, and attempted panhandling, for which I was promptly arrested for. All truth be told, some of my happier childhood memories are of my time in hanging out in places with people I had been told to avoid.
Years later after alcoholism had infiltrated every aspect of my life, I wondered if the “bad” influences I sought out as a child caused my downfall. Afterall, my mother told me this much. It wasn’t her inability to parent that caused a scourge of alcoholism and drug abuse to dominate all four of her children. No, it was that I had gone places and talked with people “I shouldn’t have.”
Time has given me the perspective that people, places, ideas, things, and even food, are not in themselves inherently a threat to anything or anyone. To live as such, is to limit ourselves from the very things that make life interesting. And while I cannot speak for the masses, my internal conflicts are the root cause of my poor decisions. Sadly, the conflicts I had as a child directed so much of my growth that it may take a lifetime to see myself for who I truly am, not how others want me to be.
While there are chapters of my life story that I’d prefer to be footnotes. However, I can confidently say that I am better person for having lived it. I do not have to borrow trouble from other people’s worries, nor do I have to carry anxiety about the unknown. The external world cannot disrupt my internal calm if I deem it so. It is only when I give myself up to the future or past that I am robbed of the present moment.
Today, I will take comfort in knowing that I will meet the woes of tomorrow with the same logic and tools that I have used to successfully deal with the problems of today. I will turn deaf ears to the Great Lie and trust my own reason and of those I surround myself with. When trouble does come, it will have to come find me as I will not come out to greet it.
“We often hand our tension over to others without understanding that it wasn’t ours to begin with. Someone passed it to us, and so we pass it to the next person, and they to the next, until it lands in the hands of someone with the tools to process it and let it go. The more of us who are open to inner work, the more points there will be in the giant web of humanity where harm will not be able to spread.” -Yung Pueblo
Last night our two-year-old daughter was struggling to go and stay asleep. It was about 1am when I finally fell asleep with her wide awake, but wedged safely, between my husband and I in our bed. I truly have no idea what time she fell asleep.
Our four-year-old son came into our room about 6am, which is not abnormal as we are normally already awake or about to wake at this time but today was different. We all needed just a little more time. My tired eyes struggled to see how I could convince our son to go back to sleep, so I wooed him with Kung Fu Panda II, and he settled in, awkwardly resting on my pelvis/stomach area to quietly watch the movie on the tv in our bedroom.
Then the dogs heard that someone was awake and rushed into the bedroom. Our 60-pound labradoodle, eager for some cuddle time with our son jumped forcefully onto our bed and landed directly on top of our sleeping daughter. Luckily, she did not stir, and the dog settled between my legs as my daughter snuggled in against my right shoulder.
There was a brief reprieve of comfort before our other dog, a Black Mouth Cur – who is also 60 pounds, jumped on the bed and forcefully cuddled with me on my left side under my arm and pressed against my ribs. Our son was now in a sort of nest with on my stomach, leaning against the Labradoodle, I was effectively being pinned down on all sides.
My dear husband was happily snoring next to me, and our exhausted daughter was sleeping peacefully between us, nestled as close to me as possible without being directly under me. I understood then that the task that laid ahead of me was to find rest if I could but more importantly to not move and disrupt the delicate balance of six living beings in our bed.
During this time, I did several breathing exercises and mindfulness meditations. My heart was full of gratitude that I had so much love surrounding me, and I focused on the promise of a new day, rather than my exhaustion and the annoyance of spending precious morning hours stuck in bed.
Despite my best efforts, my started mind to wander to resentment after about thirty minutes or so of suspended movement. I watched my husband snoring and resisted the urge to wake him up so I wouldn’t have to be miserable alone. Thankfully, our son was blissfully unaware of my discomfort and his sister was completely unaware as she slumbered.
Then the Black Mouth Cur farted, which startled her awake, then she repositioned herself before going back to sleep. This allowed me the opportunity to free a hand and grab my cell phone. Now I was armed with the endless entertainment of the internet. Thing were starting to look up.
Marcus Aurelius is usually my first stop when I need inspiration and Seneca when I need to reflect on something specific. However, today, I bypassed them both in favor of aimless scrolling and stumbled upon the works of Yung Pablo, specifically, the referenced quote.
My reflection on Pablo’s words allowed me to free myself from resentment and annoyance, so much so, that I was able to fall back asleep. When I woke an hour later, little had changed around me. The dogs were still being space hogs and their flatulence was still prominent. And I was still the cornerstone for slumber for our daughter. Nothing had changed but my perspective.
Our daughter was starting to churn and called out “mama” and “I’m hungry” a few times before her eyes opened all the way, and with that it was all over. Our son started jumping on the bed saying he wanted a “snack” and both dogs jumped down from the bed, barking, wanting to go outside. My dearest husband was still asleep, but I was freed from the conflict of waking him, as our daughter took it upon herself to greet him by jumping on his head while laughing hysterically. By 8:30am we were all awake and life was in full swing.
Right now, it is 6:45 pm and I can confidently say that today was success. We had a pancake breakfast, I had a zoom chat with a friend, we had a dance party with the kids, we went to a baseball game and closed the busy day by watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Life is good. Today was a fantastic day.
The moments of annoyance in the morning have been lost by the overwhelming number of happy moments gathered throughout the day. But I do wonder how much of this gratitude could have been lost had I woken up with different intentions. How could have the day looked if I had chosen to be well rested instead of helpful?
The answer is almost inconsequential, as rhetoric isn’t my strong suit, but the sentiment remains: I choose how I greet the day, regardless of what I am surrounded with. I can find beautiful irony in that the meditation I came across while struggling to take the brunt of the morning’s chaos caused me to shift my perspective from inwards selfishness to outwards usefulness.
Today, I will remember that I have many tools to deal with all sorts of circumstances that some of my fellows may find difficult to navigate. My practices and skills are most powerful when my actions benefit others.
Last night I was playing with our children by bouncing them on an exercise ball. They loved it but they had a difficult time respecting each other’s turns. Although both were completely dependent on me to bounce them, they acted with absolute assurance that if they reached the ball first, it was their turn to bounce.
After a few failed attempts our son finally was able to sneak his way past our daughter and grab onto my shirt enough to be able to bounce on the ball himself – without much assistance from me. Our daughter stopped, assessed the situation, and calmly got down from my lap and went behind our son.
She stood behind him and I assumed that she was just waiting for her turn. Then is a matter of seconds, she pulled her brother’s pajama pants down as he was busy bouncing away and put her finger in his butt. Our son immediately stopped and got out of her way. There was no yelling, no negotiating, no nothing. Our daughter effectively won the power struggle by going straight to the point she knew would yield the most results with the least amount of conflict.
In fact, for the rest of the evening our son respected our daughter’s space, something we had tried and failed to enforce for months. While her behavior was shocking and non-traditional, it was very effective.
Our is daughter is two years old, so her behavior is not out of line for her age and experience. However, there is some wisdom in her actions the rest of us can glean. While I don’t recommend do what she did to anyone you’re in conflict with, there is something to gained by acting swiftly and effectively in business and in life.
Sometimes business stinks. People lie, exaggerate, manipulate, and will discard some of their most prized ethics for the alure of money or prestige. Ego can push leaders into some unsavory behavior and those impacted often endure a level of disharmony that can echo straight abuse. These leaders are not unlike our son who assumed because he didn’t get caught, that the rules of cause and affect didn’t apply to him.
From my perspective, a common trait that exists amongst unpopular leaders is the default starting point of thinking other people are like them. When they are scheming, they are only thinking of what their reaction would be if they were whoever they are targeting. This applies to the boss who is overly confident their employees won’t quit their low paying job because “they need the money” or the supervisor threatening the loss of employment if a certain shift isn’t covered, or some arbitrary rule isn’t followed.
The corporate machine tells us why our economy is the way it is or how we can “make” employees do their bidding. They use terms like “head-hunter” to describe how they recruit prospective talent. Offer advice about how to make the workplace more inviting, or whatever the coined word of the day is. All this translates to preventing good talent from fleeing while attracting new talent that will stay, instead of balancing the workload and pay of existing employees accordingly.
However, there is one variable that these corporate predators cannot account for; free will. Those who let money and prestige drive their motivation will forever be vulnerable to those who do not.
Over my working years, I’ve played in several corporate sandboxes and had the entertaining experience of many lengthy meetings with corporate leaders. One practice in these meetings was to list off employees and discuss why they were or were not a risk of leaving the company, a practice that always seemed counterproductive to me.
A conversation from one of those meetings stands out in my mind. An employee, who was paid far less than he deserved, was deemed not to be a risk of quitting because he interviewed so poorly and lacked social graces. The reasoning being no one would take the risk to hire him, therefore they could justify continuing to pay him far below what he was worth.
The employee in question was someone I had worked with on a technical level and knew better than to let his social skills deflect from the technical agility he possessed. I spoke up and said he was a risk because he was not even close to market value in pay. I was ignored. A few weeks later he put in his notice; he had been offered a job for double his salary without ever doing a formal interview. To this day that story makes me smile.
Those who take on the attitude of “it’s better to be the hunter than the prey” are only seeing half of the equation through their own ego filled lens. Some of the most lethal animals on earth became that way after eons of being preyed upon. Poison frogs, scorpions, black widow spiders, and of course the disgruntled employee.
Much like the shock my son received when his sister defended his advances to her time on the bouncy ball, companies are shocked when an employee, who they had counted on to be docile, revolts without mercy. What is a restaurant without cooks or a hospital without doctors? The answer in one word: Closed.
Today, I remember that I am one amongst many, and that I do not know anyone’s story but my own. Straight forward communication is the best strategy in my personal and professional life and that the relationships I develop in either realm should be treated with the upmost respect. The employee of today could be the boss of tomorrow. Business isn’t personal but the people in it are.
Last night, as part of our bedtime routine, I rocked with my two children and asked them questions about their day. My four-year-old son announced that he needed to talk to me when we were done, which seemed to defeat the whole purpose of the exercise of asking them about their day, so I sent his two-year-old sister off with daddy and I settled in to have a discussion with my son.
After readjusting on my lap several times, my son took a deep breath and forced out the words “I need to quit gymnastics” and then stopped talking. I gave him a minute to elaborate on his own accord, which he did not, so I asked a few questions. Was he upset by something that had happened in gymnastics? Did he have a disagreement with someone? Did his coach do something to upset him? All my questions were met with indifference and a prompt “no”.
As a parent, I started to worry about things that parents worry about; is someone bullying him? Is the coach acting inappropriately? But I was able to recognize the worry train before I had a chance to fully board, so I chose to sit with him in silence for a few minutes and keep my thoughts to myself.
Then in a meek voice, my son announced that he wants to quit gymnastics because “it sometimes runs long, and it cuts into his lunch hour” which was completely unacceptable to him, as lunch is his favorite subject in Montessori. Relief came over me. Now this was a problem I understood; lunch was my favorite subject in school too.
After a brief discussion about the angst of missing valuable eating time, I assured him that I would confront this issue with his teacher the very next day. With that assurance, my son was able to relax and fell fast asleep.
This morning, during drop off at school, I was able to have a discussion with our son’s teacher regarding his infinity for lunch and the desire to protect that special time. The teacher explained that gymnastics did not overlap with lunch time, but she did recognize our son’s problem with eating his food in a timely manner and understood how he could feel rushed.
The teacher’s solution was to have him go wash hands ten minutes before lunch so he could get started right away while the other children washed up. Our son was present during this conversation and seemed content with this solution, as was I. Problem solved, at least for the moment.
This experience reinforced my belief that giving a person time and space to be vulnerable and think through their concerns is extremely effective to foster meaningful connection and reminded me that this type of communication does not come intuitively for me.
It also was a crude reminder that children are products of their environment. My son came to me with a solution instead of telling me his problem, a skill he likely learned from me.
In business, it is common for leaders to tell their employees to come with solutions in mind when addressing an issue. Brainstorming sessions and meetings to talk through possibilities are very much the norm in all types of organizations. I have put the ownness back on people who came to me with an issue many times in my life, and in the process often left them feeling I had dismissed the existence of their problem in the first place.
Had I taken that approach with my son, he would no longer be enrolled in gymnastics and would still likely struggle with eating his lunch in the time allotted to him. While it is too soon to tell if the solution of washing his hands before everyone else is effective, the conversation has been started surrounding the problem, not the solution. The motivation is clear when it has to do with my children, I want them to feel loved, safe, and secure. And in my son’s case, I want him to enjoy his favorite subject in school, lunch.
Outside of family, this approach is a bit more difficult to take. In the rental business, it is easy to get caught up in the solutions of tenets. The air conditioning needs to be fixed or the water is too hard or fill in the blank for endless line of suggestions for better living. This is part of the reason many property owners have very little to do with the tenets themselves and have management companies and caretakers sort through these suggestions masked as complaints.
If the problem is a tenet is hot, the cause may be the air conditioner is broken or it may be something else. The problem lies within the tenets experience and while often there is something that can be done to improve the quality of life in apartment living, those efforts are meaningless if not put into context with the actual problem is. Without proper context, a perfectly functioning air conditioner might be replaced when really the issue was the heat was still on at the same time as the air. Or a water softener replaced when really only the shower head needed to be updated.
Like most things that make me a more useful person, empathetic listening to fully understand the problem, while refraining from letting my solution focused thinking dominate the conversation, is something that I need to consciously focus on practicing in my day-to-day life.
Today, I will glean wisdom from my son’s lunch dilemma by remembering how far I could have derailed his progress had I taken the solution he presented without listening to his problem. I will strive to allow those around me in conflict to take the time they need to express their concerns as they understand them, not as I would like to solve them.
“After so many years struggling to keep up with you, I finally realized we’re not even running the same race.” ― Scott Stabile
My first “real” job consisted of cutting fruit. Lots of fruit. Sometimes for six plus hours all I would do is cut fruit. Honey Dew, Cantaloupe, and Watermelon were my main stays, the fruit I could always count on to be there for me waiting for me to relieve it from its rind.
Over the next few years, I had many jobs in kitchens and nearly all of them required my refined skill of fruit cutting. I logged hundreds of hours working my way through cases and cases of whole fruit. With each case, I became a little better. I don’t mean to brag but as far as fruit cutting goes, I was one of the best.
In Culinary school my fruit cutting abilities were challenged with contests of beauty and skill. Suddenly, I was no longer the best as I had only ever cut fruit for people to eat. I struggled my way through making Cantaloupe Swans and Watermelon Baskets. I became embarrassed by my lack of skill and started to miss the days of being the top fruit slinger.
By the time I graduated Culinary School my fruit creations were good enough. The days of plowing through cases of fruit in preparation for Sunday brunch felt far away and what was in front of me promised opportunities to create beautiful fruit centerpieces and platters. My creations were not the best, but they were far from being the worst.
Then I started to work in Banquets and while my duties were now more refined and did not require hours of cutting fruit, I wasn’t immune to it as staffing in a kitchen has and probably will always be an issue. The surprise task of cutting fruit would generally come as I was getting ready to leave for the day and realized it needed to be done for breakfast. Almost always, I would be one of the last ones in the kitchen when this realization occurred.
Once my professional life defined me as a “chef” instead of a “cook” my perception of fruit cutting changed with it. That task was below my talent level; we have prep cooks for that sort of thing. But as I quickly learned, no amount of ego or shame is going to solicit volunteers to cut fruit and, in the end, it’s the chef that gets blamed if it is not done.
After I had a talk with my ego and told it wasn’t in charge anymore, I was able to focus on the task at hand and cut fruit like the good old days. Since I was almost always alone when fruit was on the line, I was able to play loud music and sing loudly along with my favorite songs. I’d cut fruit late into the evening, but it would get done before morning.
As the years passed, so did my patience with fruit cutters. Out of frustration I had trained all the dishwashers to cut fruit and made it a steppingstone to becoming a cook. This worked for a while until egos would flair and jealously would erupt between the dishwashers when the workload was high, which inevitably would coincide with needing someone to cut fruit.
My skills as a professional fruit cutter became a tool for shaming others. “Look at how easy it is! Just do what I do!” I’d yell at a frustrated dishwasher who was just not cutting fruit fast enough to subdue my temper. It’s ironic how a task that took me hundreds of hours to master was warped by my ego into something that anyone should be able to pick up in a few hours.
A few years later, a knife slip while making a garnish for a fruit and veggie tray ended my culinary career. The knife severed the nerve to my left thumb, rendering me disabled, at least in the kitchen world. I have a very clear memory of returning to work after surgery and rehab and not being able to peel a potato; a task deemed well below fruit cutting on the kitchen totem pole.
With the kitchen in my rear-view mirror, my ego was deflated. I longed for my fruit cutting days where I could command my hands to preform, and they listened. With a bit of distance, I was able to see how silly my behavior had been and thought that fate had dealt a fair hand by taking away the use of mine. It’s been almost two decades since I injured my hand and have exceeded all expectations in regaining function of my thumb, although, it doesn’t listen to me all the time.
I’ve had a few instances over the last several years when someone has witnessed me cut a melon, usually at a kids’ birthday party or the like, and comment on how well and fast I can cut fruit. This seems like an insignificant thing but the nearly all the people in my life today did not know me when I was an egocentric chef and do not know about the injury in my hand or my plethora of fruit cutting experience. I usually shrug off the compliment and mutter something about how I used to work in a kitchen, as if I needed to justify my fruit cutting skills.
The truth is I’ve spent hundreds, perhaps even thousands of hours cutting fruit. I can carve a melon in the back of a catering van or balanced in-between two sinks. Even with the clunkiness of a bum hand, I can slice through a watermelon with ease and dare I say some grace. But they don’t know that. They only see a middle-aged woman who probably had some sort of career before having kids, dominate the melon like a boss and wonder why they can’t do the same.
Everyone has a story. Reasons why they are who they are and can do what they can do. The default thinking is that we all have the same starting point in life. It takes discipline of thought to understand people often start well outside the bounds of your understanding. Progress is not linear, and experience matters when it comes to defining skills.
It takes practice to share your full self, with all experience attached, without comparing yourself to others. It takes refinement of this practice to fully concede that comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides is a dangerous endeavor that will likely end in disappointment.
Today, I will stive to take things and people as they come without judgement. I will not compare my internal world with anyone’s external expressions. I will try to live in the sweet spot of middle of the herd where I am not better than or worse than any of my fellows. But I will offer to cut fruit at any event that requires a professional fruit cutter. 😊
When I was in my twenties, I went through a period of discernment for Lutheran Seminary. While this period of reflection resulted in me withdrawing from religious life altogether, I did learn a great number of things about people and the process of grief.
Hospice, hospitals, and funerals are all areas where clergy and laypersons spend a fair amount of their time. The transition from life to death is something a person does only once and not something we hear about based on personal experience. There are many theories on how to act during this transition and how to console the ones left behind but ultimately it is at the discretion of the living, as we can not ask the dead.
One of the more impactful things I learned about grief is that it is unavoidable and looks different for everyone who experiences loss. No amount of faith or consoling can allow the grieving to bypass their emotions and there are no magical words to relieve the sting of the loss of a loved one. The only thing that can be done is to express and share in the grief and sorrow. Clergy and laypersons trained in this area are especially gifted at being fully present with the grieving in this liminal space between life and death. As for the rest of us, there is a fair amount of uncertainty on how to act around the dying and grieving.
Yesterday, I attended a funeral for a member of my husband’s family whose death was drawn out over several months after receiving a diagnosis of a very rare illness. The grief process had begun well before he left this earth but the tragedy of his transition hung low in the air surrounding those who knew him best.
We drove from Minnesota to Ohio with a car packed with all that goes along with traveling with two small children. My expectations of participation were low given that our two and four-year-old had never been inside a church and had limited experience with social interactions in general due to Covid. Nevertheless, we put our best selves forward and showed up.
After answering a few questions about the “guy hanging on the wall” from our four-year-old son, we found our places and prepared for the funeral. By this point, it was plain to me that the unrefined nature of our children was entertaining for some of the people present. I watched as people with tears of grief in their eyes smiled at our children as they climbed on the pews, asked if they could color in the hymnals, and other behaviors we as parents either take for granted, apologize for, or ignore entirely.
There was a point in the service when the brother of the deceased was overcome with emotion at the pulpit. His grief poured over all of us. Then the widow came and stood with him at the pulpit and remained there at his side for the rest of his speech. Her presence had a healing effect. That moment struck me as a powerful demonstration of the miracle of being fully present in the liminal space of grief.
We spent the rest of the day with family and by the evening hours, there were more smiles than tears. My personal insecurities about not remembering everyone’s name or not knowing what to say were moot points as our children were fully present and perfectly comfortable in this liminal space. Watching the children interact with the grieving reminded me of something that was echoed throughout my religious training; in times of grief simply being present with others is a very powerful healing act.
It’s tempting to get lost in what is the right way to act, the correct things to say, and what appropriate clothes to wear. It’s easy to forget that often all that is required in life is to show up and present your honest self.
Children are the great regulators of adults’ misguided worries about appearance as all bets are off when your son loudly announces he has to go poop during a funeral service or your daughter becomes obsessed with waving at one tearful woman in particular whose soft gaze and slight smile spoke volumes of gratitude.
My reflection today is to remember that there is power in simply being present. That standing next to someone struggling to express their pain at a funeral can bring profound relief and the innocent smile of a child can divorce thoughts from tragedy. Grief cannot be conquered with thoughts alone but it can be dissolved through shared experiences with others.
A few years ago, I had to write a paper for a course I attended at the University and my keyboard broke. One key was missing, my cat Spike has taken it out with his paw.
Instead of being upset about the broken keyboard, I decided to accept it as a game. I wrote the paper without using the key for “I_” and to my surprise, I received an “A” for my efforts.
Whenever, what surrounds me seems broken, I remember the paper I wrote without “I_” as proof that I can adapt and persevere despite not having the proper resources.
Today, I chose to focus on what is in front of me and do my best even when it seems hard. I remember that pain proceeds growth and adversity can be its own reward.
“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.” — Marcus Aurelius
Today my son got a bloody nose for the first time. I saw it in the car as I was driving, knowing that we did not have any tissue in the car, I said nothing. When my son complained that his nose was running, I told him to go ahead and wipe it on his shirt and that we would change clothes when we got home. He rubbed his hands all over his face and then his shirt and then proclaimed he was better. He didn’t see the blood and apparently his nose bleed had ceased.
Once home, we cleaned up. I didn’t see much blood on his shirt and concluded his nose bleed must have been minor. The rest of the evening passed with ease, and it wasn’t until bedtime that the topic of nose pain came up again.
After more than an hour of attempted sleep, my son told his dad that his nose hurt and that he was scared. They talked about it a bit before I became involved. I took my son’s concerned seriously and listened to his worries. Then I put some Vicks on his chest and coconut oil on his dry nose. I turned off the fan and told him that I saw his nose bleed in the car earlier that day and that it passed without him knowing it.
The idea that there was blood coming out of his nose without him knowing it was mind boggling for my son and it prompted an in-depth conversation about nose bleeds and nose pain. I told him that when I was his age, I sometimes got a bloody nose from the dry air caused by air conditioning and that I thought that was what had happened to him. He thought about it for a minute and then said he felt better. He then laid down and was asleep within minutes.
Children don’t know how to change their perceptions. They must rely on adults to offer an alternative view when they get stuck on something that causes them anxiety. The problem is it is tough to tell what will provoke anxiety in a child as they’re perspectives are limited by experience.
The outcome of today’s experience could have looked very different. I’m sure that every parent has at least one good story of when they tried to lessen the anxiety about something only to make it worse.
As a parent, it is not always intuitive that the truth will bring comfort. It is tempting to shield our little ones from the woes of the world. But the problem with that strategy is that they are a part of the same world that we are and pick up on more than we can fully comprehend. It was tempting to not mention my son’s nosebleed to him as I thought that might provoke more anxiety, but it turned out that it gave him the context he needed to shift his perspective from unknown scary nose pain to the air conditioner made my nose bleed.
In my own life, I understand it is within my power to shift my perspective, I just don’t always do it. Anxiety is a good reminder. Sometimes I don’t know when I am anxious, or I can set it aside without changing my perspective. But this generally doesn’t have a lasting effect. To completely discard my anxiety, my perspective must be changed about whatever sparked the anxiety in the first place. Relieving anxiety is always an inside job.
Today I find my mind oscillating between rage and fear about the women in my country losing autonomy over their own bodies. I have plenty of context on to why this happened and predicted this very outcome years ago, but that isn’t enough to discard my anxiety. If anything, it makes it worse as it validates my anxious mind.
What does bring me some comfort and hopefully enough enlightenment to shift my perspective and discard my anxiety is to know that I will meet the problems of tomorrow with the tools and soundness of mind that I have today. I don’t need to have all the answers, I just need to focus on what is in front of me and act within the bounds of my ethics.
Perhaps, the missing piece in my puzzle of discontentment is the difficulty I’m encountering trying to love my fellows or at the very least, tolerate them. Rage is fear going outward, so the answer is the same for both, but the willingness to look past unwelcomed opinions of law and life, is something I’m currently lacking.
This reflection is not my finest, but it doesn’t need to be. I am angry. I wish to discard my anxiety as Marcus Aurelius. Tomorrow is another day.
“Plan for what it is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.” -Sun Tzu
In today’s world there seem to be two schools of thought fueled by division and political rhetoric. The first, would like to carry on as they always have and take any new information with a skeptical view. My trade school chef instructor who told me that the internet was a passing fad comes to mind when I think of these types.
The second type is a bit more twisted, as they take in all the information presented to them and demand change to accommodate whatever new circumstance arises. However reasonable this approach may sound; this type often disregards the lessons of the past and forges ahead fighting for a better tomorrow while falling out of touch with today.
The only thing these two types have in common is their inability to live in the present, one looking backwards with nostalgia while the other eagerly ventures out into the unknown.
Like many people, I’ve oscillated between these two world views most of my life while longing to live in the middle and stay firmly planted in the present. While my daily meditations and reflections have made it much easier to see life for what it is, not as I would like it to be, there is progress to be had for me with living in the present while simultaneously preparing for the future and reflecting on the past.
Sun Tzu’s quote from the Art of War, written over two thousand years ago, rings as true today as when it was written. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst while living our best life in the moment. Take care of a cold before it becomes pneumonia. Communicate with your partner before it becomes a fight. Brush your teeth to prevent cavities. Spend less than you earn to build up savings. Prioritize your health and wellbeing over work. Common sense, right?
The truth is that being present is hard because we as a species are survivors. We’ve risen to the top of the food chain and have maintained our position unchallenged. Our unhinged instincts are what has kept us safe and alive. Can’t find food? Burning down the forest to enjoy a walk-through buffet of charred animals is effective but not a good survival strategy. Raising animals from birth for the sole purpose of slaughter is. To live, we must see past what is in front of us or perish.
The other side is the old sage that has utter faith that everything will work out. That everything is temporary, and that past has provided for us before, so no future action needs to be taken. An animal may wander into our camp and die of old age and so we have further proof that no action needs to be taken to survive. These are the men that die of illness before they know they are sick.
Either side left to their own devices would succumb to their own fears and die. The future focus would discount the immediate needs and lead society down a spiral of progress that ends in suffering. Like the practice of destroying thousands of acers of forest and polluting the rivers to mine for minerals for batteries to power our electric cars so we can use less gas so we can save the earth.
The past focus people are like a toad in boiling water never taking the actions that could save its life but rather is content with the transition of it all based on the unshakable belief that it will all work out in the end. Even when the end is Toad Stew.
But if these two sides can come together in harmony, the future and the past will meet in the present and real change can be made. The large tasks become smaller as perspectives shift and actions taken become proportionate to ability not necessarily the outcome. In other words, the end may be inevitable but journey there can shift drastically.
Today, I aim to be present. I can plan while reflecting on the past. I can listen to perspectives that outside of my own worldview with compassion and understanding. I don’t need to borrow trouble from the future, but I can prepare for its arrival.
Seneca was a big advocate for shipwrecks. While the exact number of shipwrecks he endured in his lifetime is debatable, it is widely accepted that he lost all his belongings several times in his life yet regained his composure as a man of extreme wealth. Seneca was said to be fond of the outcome provided by shipwrecks as it gave him an avenue to practice his stoicism and recommended that everyone lose everything at least once in their lives.
This is not a history lesson on Seneca, as I prefer the world of the hypothetical, but rather a thought exercise. A man, who for over 2000 years has been one of the mainstays of stoic philosophy, who wrote extensively about wanting less and abstinence from vices, was also a man whose wealth would dwarf the wealthy elite of today. In addition to his fortune, the fact that his wealth was lost and regained multiple times brings us to a paradox. How could a man who appeared to care so very little for wealth, have so much of it?
Seneca is not alone in his knack for obtaining wealth, as there are many ancient sages that began as slaves and then elevated themselves to a higher level in society.
Until I’m afforded the opportunity to ask Seneca myself, I will have to take some artistic liberties on his successes in life. I like to think that Seneca, like so many others in ancient Rome, had been taught how to think from the elders who had known loss that he could only imagine. And then Seneca was encouraged to imagine these horrible events repeatedly until he was able to master them in his own mind. He was taught to live in another perspective without having to physically endure its tragedy.
In the vaguest of ways, I’ll tell a story of a person I once helped (unknowingly) flee the police. This person had committed multiple offenses that I knew nothing about. They called me looking for a ride to an out-of-town retreat that I was already enroute for. I passed by to pick this person up without a second thought. While they were very eager to get going, I didn’t see anything odd about their behavior until we got on the highway and the truth came out.
Listening to what was surly multiple felonies, I tried to talk some sense into this person who had fled without any thought of their family. My words landed on deaf ears and by the time we arrived at the retreat, I had to make my own decisions about what I was going to do next as aiding a wanted fugitive was not on my to-do list for the day.
The host of the retreat was made aware of the situation and came with me to confront this person who I had help flee from the law. Our conversation was brief, and it was clear that they needed to return to the city and face the consequences of their actions. It was also apparent at this time that they were intoxicated.
So as quickly as we had arrived at the retreat we left. As this person sobered up a bit, the conversation became a bit more somber as they realized the severity of the situation, they had left their family in. We stopped to make a phone call to their child and the child said that the police were there looking for them. The fugitive was able to talk to the police and agreed to come into the station on their own accord.
The rest of the car ride was quite pleasant. Knowing that jail was likely in their future, they gave me some belongings of value for safe keeping, and we talked about what we thought jail might be like. We made a list of pros which included making new friends, losing weight, and having some quiet time. As we neared our destination, this person said something that I will never forget: “I don’t know what I’m worried about. It’s not like they can take away my birthday.”
This story has a happy ending as this person changed their ways after making restitution and has been living as a productive member of society for almost two decades. A few years ago, we crossed paths and I recalled the beauty of their words “It’s not like they can take away my birthday” and they had no idea what I was talking about and barely recalled the events of that day. Not all words of wisdom are spoken as such.
However, this person had lost it all and recovered their position in society just like Seneca. I believe in part it was because of their perspective. Making a gratitude list on the way to jail is not a practice many people would turn to as their world was imploding. Knowing what is in our control and what is not is not a simple thought. It takes practice. It takes losing and regaining many times either in real world or in our minds to know that in the end, it is up to us alone what hurts us.
Today I will adjust my expectations to want what I have instead of placing my happiness on an unknown future. When I’m gliding along on calm waters and my ship suddenly sinks, I will not lament on why, but look forward to what comes next and meet the future with a clean slate.
Some people just don’t play well with others. We all know these types and might even be related to, or work with someone, who knows all the rules of social conduct but bucks the system and opts to be memorable rather than liked in social settings.
While I used to cast judgement on those who interrupt, ignore, or were downright offensive, I’ve come to appreciate these personalities. Like all things in nature, they play an important role in the interconnectedness that we call humanity.
As I age, my perspective has shifted. The rebel has become the trailblazer, the recluse has become the deep thinker, and the attention jockeys have become the world’s entertainers. How boring life would be if everyone followed the rules and acted in the best interest of their fellows?
A few weeks ago, I learned about a practice Japanese fisherman use when collecting fish for the sushi market. The fisherman adds a live shark into the fish tank onboard the boat to keep the fish moving and alert, resulting in a fresher tasting fish. They claim the fish that sit idle in a shark less tank do not taste as fresh as the ones living with sharks.
Fish, like people and animals, will sit idle if given a chance. It is hardwired into all living things to take the path of less resistance when survival is not on the line. The sharks may eat several of the fish in the tank, but the ones that remain are more alive than they were before. Granted in this example either end seems unpleasant as all of them get eaten one way or another.
While the shark in the fish tank interests me; I find myself wondering how they discovered this practice in the first place? I like to imagine some asshole fisherman who had an idea that was poorly communicated and even more poorly executed. Perhaps he just threw a shark in the tank to see what would happen, like a sociopath disregarding life for curiosity. Or perhaps, he was lazy and didn’t remove the shark, that was accidently caught, from the net and figured no one would notice or some other weak justification.
History is beautifully painted with peaks and valleys with sunsets of gold and moonlight nights despite the depravity that sparks the masses to action. We need the people who throw sharks in to fish tanks to keep humanity moving and alert.
In my twenties, I was president on a board for an Alano society. It was all very formal as we followed Robert’s rules and published very official looking reports and budgets. However, no one was really interested in any of that stuff and generally the only people outside of the board that showed up to the meetings had selfish agendas. The discourse was often underdeveloped as a result.
The idea first came to me out of annoyance. Items would get passed with almost zero discussion and the whole process felt disingenuous, so I told a little lie to increase attendance and create interest in the topics that were being covered. With no intention of following through, I made several purposed changes that were wildly against everything the individual groups and committees stood for.
The result was at our next board meeting the room was seething with pissed off people. No one could believe the items on the agenda and were outraged that the board would try to extend its reach to such extent. As the president, I was able to quickly navigate through the mess by asserting the will of the people had been heard and dismissing the bogus items, moving on to more boring but equally important items.
The next board election had enormous turn out. People didn’t mention my little stunt, but it stuck with them that without active participation, things could go sideways very quickly. I was the asshole who threw a shark in the fish tank, and it worked.
My ethics now days are a bit more defined than they were in my twenties and I no longer instigate conflict to solicit participation. But I do take comfort that natural state of individuals has a wide variation and that there isn’t a right or wrong in nature – there’s only survival.
Today, I will remember that when I come across someone that I want to judge or I conflict with, that they too have a place in this world. I don’t need to waste my thoughts on judgement, but rather focus on what value they bring to the whole.
When I was in my late teens I worked as a waitress for one of the hotels where I also was a line cook. I waitressed in the morning for breakfast and lunch and then I worked as the line cook for the dinner rush. I had zero experience as a waitress, but I was a very good line-cook, so management made an exception.
Since I was very familiar with the food and often was the one that prepped it the night before, I had a lot of opinions that were sometimes difficult to keep to myself. My poor short-term memory coupled with my doctor inspired handwriting made taking orders feel more like a guessing game than a required task. But what I lacked in skill and professionalism, I made up for with enthusiasm.
At 5am every day, I’d be the first one in the restaurant and would quickly knock out all the side work in case the other servers had to help me out later when it got busy. I rolled silver wear, stacked glasses, set tables, whatever needed to be done, I did without complaint. Then I’d go in the back and talk with the breakfast cooks to ensure that the breakfast buffet was ready on time and offer my help if needed.
People usually started arriving for the breakfast buffet about 6am. My coffee and juice game was strong, and I’d usually the customer’s drinks on the table before they could get up to look at the buffet. Simply the fact that I was wide awake when others could barely keep their eyes open, gave me an advantage.
By 730am, things would get complicated. People didn’t want the buffet anymore, they wanted to order off the menu and needed extra things; like highchairs for their kids, extra napkins, and to-go bags. I ran around the dining room and back and forth from the storage room and kitchen is efforts to get and/or do what was required.
However, despite how ungraceful I was as waitress, a curious thing happened, I out earned all the other waitresses. I’d make more in the first two hours of breakfast than some of them made all day. It didn’t make sense to them how anyone as clumsy, forgetful, and anxious, as me could make any tips at all.
After a few months of good tips, I started to really examine what it was about my approach that made me more successful that my co-workers. I concluded my success was directly proportional to how present I was.
When I arrived at work early and with the mindset to be fully present. I was able to prevent a million little mishaps before anyone else arrived. The random dirty pepper shaker, the half empty glass rack on top of two completely empty racks, the sticky computer screen used to enter orders, the printer that was out of paper in the kitchen, the dirty rags, and misplaced tips from the night before, where just some of the tasks I’d confront in the morning. Each taking less than a minute to remedy.
Making it a priority to greet each morning for what it truly was, not how I wished it to be, gave me the power to have an unshakable attitude. I didn’t waste time blaming others or leaving chaos for the next person, I just focused on what was in front of me and did what needed to be done. The result was I was able to be fully present while those around me were pulled down by circumstance. I believe this impacted how I was perceived by my customers and while I was not as graceful, or bubbly as the other servers, I was indeed 100 percent present and it showed.
This morning I awoke before the sun and went out for a walk. As I walked down the stairs from our neighborhood to the lake, I was greeted by dozens of spider webs. This is a common occurrence for me as I am often the first one down this spider infested outdoor stairs. The first few times this happened, I panicked a bit and would hurry down the stairs, but soon realized the only thing that changed by doing this was my attitude towards the spiders and the loss of my pace.
Then I learned to accept the spider webs as part of my morning walk and started to anticipate the wall of webs. The simple act of putting my hand out in front of my face allowed me to keep the webs out of my mouth so I was able to keep my pace without fear of choking on a spider.
Today, I don’t have any negative thoughts about spider webs and my hand almost automatically goes up in front of my face when I go down the stairs. I catch the spiderwebs before they become a problem and I continue my way.
When I focus only on what is right in front of me, I can avoid getting caught in the webs of chaos by adapting myself to meet the situation instead of sitting idle waiting for the situation to change.
There’s a phenomenon that I like to call “Shrinking World Syndrome (SWS)”, when a person’s perception of the world shrinks until they are no longer able to cope with daily life. SWS occurs after a person has experienced something dangerous and the trauma of it warps their instincts. The afflicted begin to make associations from the trauma into everyday life, with each association, another one presents itself; thus, their world gets smaller and smaller.
My personal experience with SWS looked like this: I had a trauma. At first, I was disassociated and didn’t process what had happened to me. Then I started having flashbacks and night terrors. I started to avoid things that triggered me. The more things I avoided, the more triggers I started to notice.
Here are some examples of what that looked like for me:
My attacker was afro-Cubano. After my trauma, I started to avoid, and fear black people. And Cubans. And anyone that spoke Spanish. After a few years, I was a budding racist and didn’t know it.
The night of my attack, I had made a pot roast. After my trauma, I started to avoid roasts. And steaks. Then all beef. Then I became a vegetarian. After a few years, I didn’t eat a variety of random foods because they reminded me of my trauma.
Much of my trauma was in a bedroom. With a bed. Beds became a problem when my night terrors would have me leaping and injuring myself. So, I started sleeping on the floor. After a few years, I was regularly sleeping in my car, in the Walmart parking lot under a big light with my seat belt on to keep me safe.
It is easy now to see how gravely affected I was by my trauma but at the time, I felt normal. I may have had fleeting thoughts from time to time about how great it would be to sleep in a bed, but for the most part I thought I was perfectly fine.
The smaller my world became, the more I normalized my behavior, and I became so good at justifying my lifestyle to myself and those around me that I truly thought I was in control of my life.
There were a few years that blur together but about a decade ago, things started to come together. After 18 months of treatment for PTSD and continued therapy, I was able to face my triggers. Within a few years, I not only faced my triggers but dominated them.
The most problematic trigger was my intense fear of criminals, which fueled a fair amount of anger and hate. The Minnesota prison system had a program to help inmates with PTSD. I was one of the first volunteers to sign up.
For several years I went into prisons, as a Volunteer Contractor, to meet weekly with inmates who were within a few months of release and then continued to meet with them in the community for a year after their release. I met murders, rapists, molesters, people of all types, who had committed all sorts of crimes. Yet, I never met one that even remotely reminded me of my attacker. I was able to smash dozens of prejudices, triggers, and judgements by having shared experiences with inmates, who in many ways were just like me. Only circumstance had put us on different sides of the prison bars.
Being a volunteer in the prison was a very clear example of how I faced my triggers. Less obvious ones included learning Brazilian Jitsu so I could better understand how I was attacked and to learn how to defend myself. Practicing going out to eat and to movies with other people around. Learning how to manage my night terrors which eventually became a little more than a nuisance. And of course, showering daily and eating a balanced diet.
One of the things my experience has given me is a renewed perspective on life. Not only did I almost die during the attack, but I died a thousand deaths in the days that followed. Trauma stalked me and seeped, into every aspect of my existence without my knowledge or permission. To break-free of that cycle makes every day feel like a bonus.
Honestly, I don’t feel like I have much advice about overcoming PTSD. I did many things the professionals told me to do for a long time and I’m not entirely sure what worked or why.
My hope is that those who read this who have PTSD can glean some hope and those who know someone with PTSD to have some compassion.
Today, I will remember that when life around me starts to feel like it’s shrinking that it is within my power to expand my perspective and my world.
“Expectations are premeditated resentments.” -Anonymous
For two years straight, illness, forced quarantine, or unusual circumstance, like our babysitter and all three back-ups coming down with Covid at the same time, blocked us from participating in life. We missed five weddings, two funerals, numerous parties, galas, and every holiday ranging from Christmas to Labor Day. The first few times it was easy to take it with a light heart, as we’d make our plans and laughingly say that we need to make sure everyone stays healthy or say “fingers crossed” with a smile.
A year later, things started to get more cynical. We’d make preemptively prepare for the worst and made backup plan on top of backup plan – which inevitably still seemed to fall through. Even when we’d decide that one of us going alone was better than none of us, we’d all end up getting sick and no one would go.
About the two-year mark, after two entire cycles of holidays had been missed, our family life was stained and the relationship with my husband was starting to buckle. Even our dogs were impacted by the inconsistency which became apparent by our labradoodle’s increase in obsessively licking his paw.
Then we all got Norovirus followed quickly by Covid for the kids, and an unspecified lung infection for me. For eight weeks everybody felt cruddy. Then one day it was over. We all felt good and strong as we had survived the dreaded Covid and decided right then we would make the most of our kids enhanced immunity and get back into life.
First, we went to Chicago and day trips around Minnesota. Then we started going back to all the places we used to avoid, like dining in a restaurant. Life picked up its pace and hope flooded our household. Our favorite nanny who had taken extended time off due to a variety of circumstances informed us she was able to return two nights a week and excitement griped us at the prospect of getting some time to ourselves.
We tried our best to keep our expectations in check but the idea of being out in the evening, without the kids, pulled on us like moths to light.
Last night, the kids both ate well, and everyone was in good spirits when their favorite nanny arrived. The kids were so enthralled that they barely noticed when we left. The nanny let us know that we didn’t have to rush and that she could stay late. The night was at our feet. Freedom was ours at last.
Before we reached the movie theater we were in a fight. I’m not sure how it started or even what it was about, but it killed whatever excitement we had for the movie, and we abandoned the idea. We drove around for more than an hour fighting about every grievance we each had about the other. Then we reached common ground and leaned into gratitude for each other.
By the time our fight had concluded, our options for the evening drastically shrunk as it was Sunday, and we had no real plan. We opted for a carwash and grocery shopping. We had a great time doing both and ended up staying out until nearly 11pm.
My husband and I agreed that our fight was probably unavoidable and necessary. It was just too much pressure to make our first date night, in as long as we could remember, special. Although, we didn’t have any specific or spoken expectations, we both wanted that night to be something it wasn’t destined to be.
The result of our date night fight was a shift in focus and expectations. Wandering the aisles of Byerly’s at 9pm on a Sunday turned out to be the perfect activity for us.
It is a difficult task to place expectations upon ourselves and not others. It’s even more of a task to place right sized expectations on outcomes. This is apparent in the home as well as in the workplace, as people looking in the same direction doesn’t mean that they are sharing the same view.
As I reflect on our date night fight, I feel thankful it happened because it called out and smashed all our expectations for the evening. There was no settling or compromise as the foundation of our plans was pulled out from beneath us. In the end, spending time together away from the children was the only thing that mattered and together we eked out a fun filled evening at the grocery store.
Today, I remember that life is best lived unscripted and that expectations can rob future joy.
“If you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means… When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment. Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who … judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him. Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself… Regard him as loyal and you will make him loyal.” – Seneca
When I was a young child in Montessori, I had lots of friends. When my fifth birthday came, I invited the entire class to my house for a party. I don’t recall much in particular about the party, as most gatherings at my home were strained at best, but I do know lots of people came and that I felt very special.
The following Monday, when I arrived at school everyone was in circle time already and some kids were crying. The teacher informed me that one of my friends (who was at my birthday party) had died. I heard the name, but I couldn’t think of who she was. While other kids were shocked at the loss of their classmate, I was struggling to figure out who it was.
It’s strange the things we remember as adults. I have strange mental blank spots of my childhood but this day, I remember very well. I recall scanning the room to see if my favorite friends were in the circle or not, by use of deduction, I was going to figure out who had died. One of my favorite friends was not there. I felt like a rock had hit me in the stomach. I started to cry. I remember feeling tears and snot run down my face as a sense of helplessness washed over me.
Then my missing favorite friend walked in wearing a pink winter coat with matching boots. She was alive. I felt joy wash over me and ran over to hug her. Then I told her someone died. I had already forgotten the name of the deceased, even though it had only been moments since the teacher last said it. I know today that this was a product of my audio dyslexia, as I need context to process certain things especially when emotions are high and talking about someone that was not present felt void of context.
Awkwardly, I asked my favorite friend her name and she told me it was Jennifer. Thirty-eight years later, I remember Jennifer in the pink coat with matching boots giving me a hug and telling me it was ok. I responded with I was glad it wasn’t her that died. I cringe as I write this because that is a messed-up thing to say while in the room with people actively grieving but that is what happened.
To this day, I don’t know the name of my friend and classmate that died two days after my birthday party. My mother later told me that she was very ill and had a terminal illness. She knew that she was dying but that she was so excited to be invited to my birthday party that she defied expectations and hung on longer than anticipated. Her mother was very grateful that I had invited her and said that her daughter had a very pleasant time before her illness claimed her little body and she found eternal rest.
While I was happy to hear that my deceased friend enjoyed my birthday party, I still didn’t know who she was. One of her dying wishes was literally to come to my birthday party and I didn’t know her name. This experience stuck with me. Not all relationships have equal participation. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be special or valuable. If anything, it highlights the need to treat everyone with respect because we all carry with us a story that is not easily told.
In my twenties, I had many unequal relationships. It wasn’t until I put effort into who I allowed into my inner world and as Seneca would say, “pass judgement before the friendship is formed, not after” that I developed lasting and loyal friendships.
Then I had children and I had to learn how to play well with others for their sake. My harsh judgements of who would be allowed into my inner circle of trust was burst wide open. I had to learn how to open my home, but not my heart, to the parade of families my children invited into our life. To make amends to countless nameless friends of my youth, I diligently keep track of everyone’s names and even have a song that I sing at night to my children where we name all the people we came across that day.
There is no conclusion to this reflection. I’m in a liminal space where I am learning to put in the right amount of effort with the other soccer moms while leaving room for friendship to grow without abandoning my necessary judgements of character required for strong friendships to be forged.
Today I will remember that true friendship is a gift to be cherished and has no space for judgement. But that this gift of friendship should not be given out freely or lightly as loyalty becomes unpleasant when it is one-sided.
“You know what, it’s not your life, it’s life. Life is bigger than you, if you can imagine that. Life isn’t something that you possess, it’s something that you take part in and witness.” – Louis C.K.
The pandemic impacted everyone. It didn’t matter if you were rich, poor, or what race you were, everyone at least paused to think about what would happen if they got sick. I was eight months pregnant when we went into lockdown the first time. Besides working full time from home and raising a two-year-old, I had to go through the mental and literal process of deciding what would happen with my stuff, my children, and my family should I die. I had uncomfortable discussions with my husband about how he would carry on should something happen to me or the baby or both.
My doctor discussed difficult decisions based on the shortage of blood and point blank told me that if I were to start to bleed out, there would be little she could do. We opted for me to take extra iron to prevent bleeding and we hoped for the best while we prepared for the worst. While most of my weekly check ins with the doctor were done virtually, there was fear in the air. My doctor at one point said she would be there for me even if she had to come in an astronaut suit. That visual still makes me smile to this day.
In the week before my scheduled c-section, I practiced negative visualization daily and walked every worst-case scenario I could think of out in its entirety which always brought me to the same end; life will continue, with or without me.
The actual experience was terrifying but brief. A little over twenty-four hours after my daughter was born via planned c-section, I was released from the hospital to recover at home. This was in stark contrast to the five plus days I was in the hospital with my son, but I was grateful to go home and be with my family. My husband was waiting anxiously to get to know his beautiful daughter whom he had only briefly met following the c-section.
In hindsight, the lockdown came at the perfect time as we were so exhausted from caring for our new baby and toddler that we wouldn’t have had time to go out into the world much anyways. But as time passed and the veil of covid started to lift, we witnessed something peculiar, life had stopped for everyone.
The meditative and comforting thought of life continuing with or without me was challenged. For many people, businesses, and even pets, life as they knew it just stopped once lockdown began and since everyone anticipated the lockdown to be shorter than it was, there was a collective feeling of being stuck.
The zoom calls with friends became shorter and shorter and nothing new was really happening to anyone. Work took on a larger role because at least it was something to do. Time became twisted and people’s growth became stunted. Fear drove some people to madness and others into isolation. Society fractured under the pressure of self-preservation. There was a feeling that everyone was out for themselves.
Then like life always does, it found a way. Society found new hobbies to pursue, and growth was accelerated as gratitude for life became the fuel for innovation. People left their jobs in pursuit of something that fit their ethics or wallets better and families emerged from the shadows to show off their newest members.
The idea that we are merely witnesses to this thing called life, and that life itself has never been something we possess but rather something we are lucky enough to be able to participate in, is something I would like to keep in the forefront of my mind.
The pandemic has given me new appreciation for the time we have on this earth and made me more aware of how I spend this time. It has also made clear that what we do matters. While we all have much less control than we’d like to admit, we do have control over how we chose to navigate through life with our attitudes. Once we can learn to view our role in the world as unique but fleeting, our perspectives shift, and we become better equipped to live a lifetime each day.
Today, I will remember that life is something I get to participate in and that it will continue with or without me. When I have moments of doubt or fear, I will reflect on my feelings and ask if they are the right size, given how much bigger life is than me.
My third-grade computer teacher didn’t know what to say when she first saw the swastika drawn in magic marker on my hand. I knew I was in trouble, but I didn’t understand why. My teacher knew I had to be punished but it had to have occurred to her that I had no idea what it meant. I knew nothing of the hate that symbol carried but the undisputable fact remained, it was on my hand and needed to be dealt with.
After an unsuccessful attempt to contact my mother, my teacher frantically removed it by scrubbing my hand raw. I didn’t resist and was shocked that the weird little x thing I had copied from a book at my house had caused such a fuss. I wasn’t worried about getting in trouble at home, after all that is where I first saw it. But I did lose recess privileges for a week so I would have time to sit and think about what I had done. It was a hard lesson to learn but it would not soon be forgotten: Do not draw on my hands.
It wasn’t until a few years later I learned the gravity of what it means to wear a swastika to school. Once I understood, I was disturbed that the school didn’t do more; like tell me that the symbol represented the genocide of millions of people. It was a lost opportunity because the focus was on the existence of the symbol, not what it represented.
Today my son’s teacher was waiting to talk to me at pick up. In a low tone she told me about how my son had been making jokes about peeing and farting on things and that she has spoken to him about only using potty words in the potty. I asked if his jokes were funny? She said it was clear he was trying to be funny, and that he was getting a reaction. Which to me, meant that his joke was probably funny, at least to four-year-old.
This is a situation that most parents have been confronted with; the language or behavior of our child is offensive to someone, and society’s reaction is to censor the source instead of using it as an opportunity to educate, clarify, or elaborate on the topic. Knowing my child and how farts are regularly a topic of conversation in our household, I was not offended in the least by the word. My son’s bookshelves are filled with books about the topic. Frank the Farting Flamingo, Thomas the Tooting Turkey, 101 Facts about Farts, etc. Not to mention that making fart sounds on our daughter’s stomach is one of her all-time favorite activities.
However, even as I write this my word editor is flagging the word “fart” with a caption of “this word could be offensive to your reader”. There is a large section of the US population over the age of four that finds farts offensive so I should have agreed with my son’s teacher and told my son that there would be consequences for potty talk, but my conscience wouldn’t let me.
The teacher continued on to tell me that she’s not sure how to handle this. I immediately respected her more; she was being authentic. I told her that we don’t censor words in our household, but we do punish intent. That if my son’s intent was to gross people out at the dinner table, there would be a consequence, regardless of the actual words used. But if he was in good faith trying to tell a joke about bodily gases and fluids that there would be no consequence.
After a few more minutes of discussion, we decide that I would teach him how to tell jokes that didn’t involve bodily fluids or gases and support the teacher in telling him that he was not to use potty words outside of the bathroom. I held my tongue as I sincerely wanted to know if he could ask his classmates into the bathroom to tell them about a joke with potty words, but I reasoned that would not be helpful.
Farts can be gross, smelly, and unwelcomed by most adults but to a four-year-old, farts are pure magic. My son can make his butt talk on command. What more does he need to know? Controlling body fluids and gases are often the first time a child has real agency. They get to decide when and where they will let these go. They go from waking themselves up with their own farts as babies to playing fart tag with their friends.
By in large, bodily noises are hot topics in the play-yard and impossibly funny to most kids. My son has never come to me crying because another child talked to him about farts. Nor does the topic of farts represent any horrific historical event, or racism, or sexism, or really anything other than a loud noise followed by smell. I would venture to say that farts are probably one of the few topics that cross geographic boundaries and span across all ages. Simply put, creative jokes allow children to put the “art” back into “Fart.”
My last employer had a CEO that swore constantly and was unbashful about it. He reminded me of Louis C.K. and was probably one of the most authentic people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He said something early on that really stuck with me. I can’t recall the exact words, but it was something along the lines of: Swear at work. Don’t censor yourself. If you’re watching what you say, you’re not really being yourself. I’m paying you to bring your full self to work so don’t waste time/money trying to be someone else.
In the almost three years I worked for that company, I never once censored myself. I felt safe in just being me and often received reassurance from my superiors that I was hired for what I am not just what I can do. I should note that I didn’t show up to working telling jokes about farts, but I was more “me” then I had ever been at a job. Since that experience, I will never again play the corporate game of puppets and mirrors as my authentic self has proven to be much more effective.
Today I will laugh at my son’s fart jokes and then gently remind him that it is important to know your audience. I will be mindful of what is offensive, but I will not react to every single offense. I will remember that the gravity of an offensive statement has everything to do with intent not just the words. I will do my best to always try to understand the intent and not make assumptions.
Last night was our two-year-old daughter’s first-time playing soccer. For us, just getting to the field felt like an accomplishment. The directions from our map app were incorrect and then when we finally found the field, we had to weave through dozens of knee-high children to find our coach.
Once we found our spot, our daughter collapsed like a wet rag, teasing us with a tantrum, as toddler often do. My husband didn’t miss a beat and was quick to swoop her up and brought her to the line-up in front of the coach. For the next twenty minutes, he held her hand and ran around the field with her and helped her follow directions.
Meanwhile, our four-year-old son was playing a quiet game by himself which involved closing his eyes and running as fast as he could towards a busy street. After much intervention, I was able to convince him to warm up for his soccer practice which followed his sisters. We settled into a complicated game involving a soccer ball, zombies, farts, and sonic the hedgehog. I’m still not clear on the rules but I was made aware that I lost.
Then my husband asked to switch. I seamlessly replaced his hands, that were dutifully holding our daughter’s hands, with mine with such stealth that our daughter didn’t realize her dad was gone until she saw him on the sideline. The coach continued to encourage her to run, and I quietly let go of her hands and followed closely behind her.
Over the next few minutes, our baby girl went from clumsy toddler who didn’t quite understand why she was there, into a wobbly soccer player. After making several runs up and down the field kicking the ball without any assistance, she was brimming with confidence. I slowly made my way to the sideline as the team prepared for a scrimmage where I was met by our son who was now keenly aware that his sister was excelling at soccer.
The first goal she scored was met with the applause but because of where she was located on the field there were no high-fives. Then as the team worked its way down the field to where we were standing, another child scored a goal and applause erupted. Our daughter seemed a bit confused as she realized the applause was not for her but was otherwise undeterred.
Our son took upon himself to go congratulate his sister on scoring a goal, well after it had occurred. When she came near the sideline, he put his hand up to give her a high-five just as she turned chasing after the ball, resulting in him hitting her in the back of the head with much enthusiasm.
The team continued to play as our daughter paused trying to figure out what she was supposed to do. Our son’s cheers and smiles directed towards his little sister, seemed to spark an understanding within our daughter that his hit was meant to be supportive. The parents on the sideline were watching her pointing at the ball and telling her to go after it. With the clarity of expectations fading, she was free. Over the next few minutes our once shy girl, went into beast mode and dominated the soccer field.
For our daughter’s second goal everyone cheered, and she got a round of high fives from us and other teammates. Her smile was radiating confidence. It was clear that she was engaged and trying her best, even when she was still a little unclear of the rules. She was exceeding whatever expectations were placed on her and was speeding headstrong into the uncharted territory of all eyes on her.
While our son’s unexpected high-five to the back of our daughter’s head did derail her a bit, once she realized that his actions, however poorly executed, stemmed from an honest place of support, there was no stopping her.
Expectations are generally precursors to unhappiness – the only person we can safely place expectations on is ourselves and even that is only effective if we can honestly accept where we’re at. When I think about my daughter’s experience, she had no idea of what she was capable of, so the outpouring of praise from the sidelines lost context. But our son’s ungraceful high-five, rocketed her to the next level of performance.
Our son’s congratulatory but aggressive high-five to his little sister head was perhaps the most honest show of support she received during her soccer debut.
The expectation of praise is a good to have as a toddler, as it means you have people invested in your success enough to be taken for granted. As we age, the expectation of praise becomes a bit more complicated as external expectations often cause profound unhappiness.
The modern-day workplace is a great venue to witness the catastrophic impact of misplaced expectations. In my personal experience, the roles where I completely understood what was expected of me, were the roles I quickly outgrew. However, I seemed to thrive in situations where the expectations were uncertain and desired outcomes were moving targets, but by the very nature of these roles, it was difficult to excel when there were not clear expectations to exceed.
In many ways, workers can be like toddlers with the expectation of praise when they exceed expectations. However, bosses are not dutiful parents, and the praise that is misguided or insincere can inflate the ego provoking unsubstantial growth, i.e., congratulating someone for working more hours than expected instead of the person who was able to improve the process resulting in working less hours.
Like my daughter, I have received the occasional unexpected high-five to the back of my head which required a retrospective moment to be appreciated. But the ungraceful, or even painful demonstration of honest appraisal that is heartfelt is much more motivating than generic words of praise.
I have no advice on how to show honest appraisal of others. Nor have I figured out how to divorce myself from expectations of myself or others. But I do know that blurring the lines of what is expected is the key to growth and that recognition of these ambiguous accomplishments can catapult someone from ordinary to exceptional.
“When you are high in indignation and perhaps losing patience, remember that human life is a mere fragment of time and shortly we are all in our graves.” Marcus Aurelius
It is easy to have patience with a child who is learning a skill for the first time. The clumsy growth of the child mind is inspiring to witness. It is equally inspiring to watch adults learn a new language, skill, or physical mastery that is result of zig zag slow growth as acquiring new skills at an older age can be challenging and is almost never linear.
Our society praises intellect. In my own life, I find myself wanting to brag about my daughter’s awareness and my son’s creativity. I don’t tell the stories of how my son got his finger stuck in a grated parmesan container twice in quick succession, or how my daughter decided to ride her Paw Patrol fire truck down the stairs, with the same enthusiasm as I share about my son’s Lego projects or my daughter’s expansive vocabulary.
It is often in the less impressive demonstrations of skill/logic/reason that we find value, and if nothing else, humor. After all we’re just humans doing human things while we live out our days.
When I was a young girl, I was being hard on myself for making a poor decision and I was lamenting to my father who shared a story I’ll never forget. He told me that when he was about my age, he had a hunting rifle, and he went out on a frozen lake and decided to shoot the ice below him. His actions were without consequence, but the moral of the story is at the time he felt he was being totally reasonable and within a second of pulling the trigger he realized that not only could the bullet bounce back but that he was shooting at the only separating him from the frozen depth of a lake. After hearing his story, I did indeed feel better about my own failing logic.
My son is four years old and learning how to read. He can recite a book with ease but cannot sound out a single word. His can memorize a book after hearing it only once, but he cannot in fact read. Given the right audience, book, and situation our son would appear very bright, easily reading a book well beyond his age level. But separate the words from the pictures and all hope is lost, he would not be able to recite anything.
There are adults that operate in this manner. They mimic those around them without fully understanding why or what the desired result is. They seem to float through life, largely unaffected by the trials and turbulations most of us face. They are looking at the pictures of life while everyone else is reading the words.
Often people of this caliber are cast aside in life as they seem to cause more trouble than they are worth. I used to feel this way. But my experience has taught me that these people are necessary and even fulfill a unique purpose.
When everyone is looking right, they are the ones looking left, their perspective is often unexpected. They’re the ones that are the catalyst for clarification and clear policies. But perhaps most importantly, they are the ones that cause the rest of us to take pause and question how we reached our conclusions.
My son was singing the ABC’s song the other day. A…B…3…D… and then switched over to strictly counting. He mixed up C and 3. Given how he recites books by knowing the order, I can only guess that since C is the 3rd letter that in his mind, they are interchangeable. His questions about letters, reading, and counting are so granular that I must stop to really think about how I know what I know. My son’s limited knowledge has placed him in a position to better question everything.
Whether it is in the workplace, home, or community, we all cross paths with people who are not on our level, whatever that level may be, and who will come across to us as ill equipped, ignorant, or even antagonistic. How we handle these situations as they arise has more to say about us than them. If we find ourselves in a position where we wish to complain about another, we should first take an honest account of the situation and do our best to think of a time when we found ourselves in a similar situation. If we cannot reconcile our thoughts, perhaps the best recourse is to shrug our shoulders and walk away.
Today I will remember that I am one of many and that I am not unique. My way is not the best way, and my logic is not impenetrable. In the end it is not the arguments I won or the enemies I made that will bring me comfort but the lives I shared in and connections that were forged.
“As for old age, embrace and love it. It abounds with pleasure if you know how to use it. The gradually declining years are among the sweetest in a man’s life, and I maintain that, even when they have reached the extreme limit, they have their pleasure still.” Seneca the Younger
A woman in the United States of America is considered geriatric by age thirty-five in terms of reproduction. A pregnancy is no longer just a pregnancy but a “geriatric” pregnancy. The acronym AMA (Advanced Maternal Age) wiggled its way into my health charts and the question “How are you feeling?” was enviably followed by confirming my age during medical visits while pregnant. I didn’t feel geriatric but according to the US medical system, I was just that.
My grandma was in her late thirties when she had children. My mother was forty years old when she had me. My stepsisters both had children in their late thirties/early forties, as well as my two brothers who procreated with woman well into their thirties. Essentially, everyone in my immediate family is a result or participant in/of geriatric pregnancy.
My son was born when I was thirty-seven years old and my daughter at forty. I had zero health issues with either pregnancy, age related or otherwise. But because of my advanced maternal age, I was allowed many more services through my insurance that younger women are not. I had more sonograms, genetic testing, 3-D ultrasound, and general office visits than younger mothers. The grossly unfair and largely inaccessible US health care system was tipped in my favor because of my age.
Within a few months of my son being born, I could see the benefits of being an older mother. The father and I both had cars, jobs, money, health insurance, and decades of experience of simply being alive. We didn’t have much family support, but we had already been humbled by age so that we were not too proud to ask others for help when we needed it. We built up a community around us.
Last week we went to Chicago as a family. Our daughter had some tummy troubles which turned a six-hour drive turn into a nine-hour drive and our son’s dairy allergy caused us to work a bit harder to find good food which ultimately resulted in me making sandwiches in the car as we drove. But my husband’s prior experience in Chicago allowed us to almost effortlessly find family friendly bathroom stops and suitable food.
We packed just what we needed and check-in to the hotel was seamless. Our kids zoned out on the tablets, that only allowed them to access parent approved kid apps. We flossed our teeth and commented on how hard the water was as I congratulated myself on bringing extra condition for my hair anticipating bad water.
We meditated as a family, like we do every night, and I rested my head on my buckwheat pillow that I brought from home as I drifted off for a peaceful night of rest. The next morning, we all had appropriate clothing for the drastic shift in temperature and proper footwear to deal with the rain.
We found a local diner for breakfast, and I ordered the egg white omelet with dry toast and my husband ordered oatmeal. The kids ordered whatever they wanted and of course didn’t want any of it by the time it arrived. They occupied themselves by drawing all over their bodies with a pen they found in my backpack. I didn’t mind because I knew that in that same backpack, I had alcohol wipes that would easily remove the pen.
We were served homemade jam with our dry toast, and I commented on how delicious it was. Not too sweet, nor too tart, it was just perfect jam. My husband and I discussed the jam while we sipped our hot coffee. By this time both our children were covered in pen drawings, but they were having a blast. Life was good.
Looking at my husband across the table cluttered with carnage from the kid’s meals and our healthy but not so flavorful breakfast where the jam was the highlight, I was overcome with gratitude. I joked about how getting older is no longer about good coffee, but rather “hot” coffee and that jam becomes a topic of conversation. We both laughed, topped off our coffee so it would remain hot and ate another bite of jam covered wholegrain toast.
When we’re young we don’t often think past tomorrow. We make food and lifestyle choices that have consequences, just not right away. It’s not that a person suddenly becomes fat in middle age, but rather a lifetime of eating for flavor, not function, has an accruing effect. As we age, we can think through choices and even past our own lives.
The trials and turbulation of transitioning from youth to old age are not an accumulation of emotions, as the impact of the first time of anything is quickly lost by the second, third, and so on. Rather aging is the natural conclusion of our experiences allowing what was once a struggle to become effortless.
Our children have given both my husband and I something to channel our love and life to – our family. This narrows the focus and quiets the distracts of life. It does not prevent the aging skin and desire for increasingly hot beverages and delicious jam, but it does afford us the opportunity to make our years count. A chance to be impeccable with our lives and hold ourselves to higher standard. Not a higher standard than any other human, but higher than the people we were yesterday.
Today I will embrace my graying hair, affinity for a hot cup of coffee and quest for the perfect jam. I will keep moving and make decisions today for tomorrow and for all the days of my children but keep my feet firmly planted in the present and strive to live a lifetime each day.
Our two-year-old daughter is smart one. She can follow most conversations, dress herself, is nearly potty trained, and she even holds a pencil correctly. But what she cannot do is discern what is, and what is not, within her control to change. This is probably most apparent when she climbs up on a chair or bed and then wants to get down but isn’t sure she can do it on her own. She just doesn’t know what she is capable of and fears getting stuck.
Over the last week, I’ve been talking to her about what it really means to be stuck. I told her that if you could get in somewhere by yourself, you can get out by yourself. However, this isn’t a steadfast rule as drug addiction, pregnancy, and bad hair cuts are just some examples of how this logic can be flawed but that if you are able to get up onto the bed, you should, in theory anyways, be able to get down by yourself.
We discussed various ways of getting down from the bed. I demonstrated the slide-down-and-land-on-your-butt method which she found humorous and the more difficult to demonstrate as an adult woman, slide-down-on-your-stomach-grasping-the-comforter to slow your fall method which she seemed to favor but still was unwilling to try.
Then I suggested the use of a step stool and brought it to the bed side. She looked at it unamused and rolled to her stomach and did the slide-down-on-your-stomach-grasping-the-comforter method. That was two days ago. She has since completely reverted and now refuses to get on the bed or off without help. She seems to have forgot our little talk and that she has, in the past, successfully gotten off the bed herself.
Being stuck is something people and animals alike fear. Whether it is being stuck in a cage or in a dead-end career, we will do just about anything to live in the illusion that the door will one day magically swing open or that next promotion will come unsolicited. Without this illusion, many of us would simply give up and resign to a life of unhappiness or invite death to our door. However, it is this illusion that permits us to become stuck in the first place.
Seventeen years ago, I was held against my will. Time moved very slowly and the only thought that kept my mind present was that the police were going to bust down the door at any moment. I strained to hear the sirens that never came. Once I accepted no one was coming, my soul negotiated its pending departure from this world with one condition, not here in this bed and not without a fight.
The rest of the story is anticlimactic. I simply got off the bed and walked down the stairs, past my captor who was stooped over by the bedroom door, and I left. I survived. The next people to cross the captor’s path were not so lucky. I have no doubt that had I stayed on that bed, convinced that I needed help to get down, I would not be here writing this today.
The feeling of being stuck is a trigger of my PTSD. Whether it is a job, a car, a bad relationship, a long line, whatever horribly annoying thing that involves not being able to move freely, I can make that much worse with my anxiety. But because I am aware of this trigger, I’m able to avoid the stuck feelings with some planning.
For example, I’ve written a resignation letter on my first week of employment at every job I’ve had for the last 17 years. I tell myself that no job will ever define me and that I was looking for a job when I found this one. I give myself permission to jump ship whenever my ethics are violated with the condition that I always speak up first. This has given me the confidence to get myself out of jobs and situations that I get myself into.
Parenthood has introduced to me a new concept; sticky, not stuck. Currently, my domestic duties and children take up more time than I would like to give. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I know this because I’ve tried every other way. I’m not stuck, I’ve chosen this. But there are days where I feel my identity fades into the loads of laundry, soccer practices, and packed lunches. Somedays I need to be reminded that like my daughter, I can do all sorts of things but sometimes it’s ok just to ask for help when things get a little sticky.
Today, I will remember that I am not stuck in this life even when things feel a little sticky. As long as there is air is in my lungs, I have the ability to change direction.
The journey from childhood to adulthood is made with little footsteps, scraped knees, loose teeth and big dreams. We don’t decide the day we’re ready to be an adult but rather we simply realize we are no longer a child.
One day, unbeknownst to us, was the last time we were carried in from the car while still sleeping, got excited about a happy meal from McDonalds, or waited anxiously for Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or the like.
The interesting thing about this journey is that it varies so widely from person to person. Some of us have very brief childhoods riddled with fear, abuse, hunger, and other circumstances that robbed us of our childlike wonder before we were truly ready to deal with the harsh realities of the world.
Others of us, settled into our role so seamlessly, that the years passed quicker with each grey hair and wrinkles formed before left our parent’s home. For a few of us, our best days seem like they were behind us, and the future’s promise looked bleak.
But whether a person feels that their childhood was too short, long, good, or bad, it is generally agreed that by the time we make any sort of conclusion regarding our own informative years, that they are indeed over. Adulthood is fully thrusted upon us, with or without, our permission.
My entrance exam into the local community college brought me to tears. I was 26 years old and tested into the lowest possible math level. A decade had passed since being diagnosed with dyslexia and I had been through so much life. The fact that I couldn’t do long division shook me to my core. I was capable of so much more – so why did I feel like I was failing adulthood?
The next few years brought with them their own unique challenges, but a common theme was a feeling of resentment for the young adults I went to classes with who seemed to gleefully glide through life. Whereas I was getting up at 3 am to work in a warehouse throwing boxes so I could have health insurance to get the help I needed to be physically able to get up at 3 am and throw boxes so I could attend school so I could find a better way through life.
My ego made unwelcomed appearances as I had a life story that validated my bad attitude and resentment. It was easy for me to blame my current circumstances on past events. I reasoned that if only I had ________ (fill in the blank with anything those chipper young students seemed to have, and I could assure you that if I had that too); life would be easier.
Life continued without me. While I was busy looking backwards, life was moving forward. Somehow, I found the motivation to carry on with my studies and slowly limped towards completing my degree, but I still felt that I was operating with only a few pages of the manual of life and that everyone around me had read the entire series.
Then, despite myself, I made a friend. At 26 years old, I made my first real friend. This person didn’t care where I came from or what had happened to me. They had just as many scars, both internal and external, as me. They were looking for connection and stumbled upon me, probably because I was too busy looking backwards, I didn’t realize I was in their way. Our accidental friendship taught me something I didn’t know I needed to learn. The key to intimate relationships is intimacy. The only way true intimacy is achieved is through vulnerability.
Then I made another friend. And another. And another. Before long, I had dozens of friends that seeped into every nook and cranny of my life. Suddenly, school seemed easy and each job I was offered was better than the last. Finally, my transition from childhood to adulthood was complete.
As soon as I was able to allow my inner self to shine through me instead of trying to cultivate it in isolation, I was able to see myself reflected off those I surrounded myself with and vice versa. I learned that not only is synergy a real, working concept, but how to implement it into my life in a meaningful way.
Today the people I share my life with are woven into my story. Interdependence, not independence paved the path for me to reach adulthood with some level of grace, albeit a bit tardy. I will remember that when awkwardness, shyness, even embarrassment strike, I should smile with joy that I am being vulnerable.
About a decade ago I started writing down goals every New Year’s Eve. Here’s a few from years past: Learn to crochet (done), Fix my feet (two surgeries later – done), Learn yoga (done), Learn how to use oil paints (done). Most of my past goals surrounded self-improvement or learning a new skill. I also, historically, set one or two goals based on meditation, reflection, or mindfulness.
At first, I chose the low hanging fruit, i.e., listen to a guided meditation, read a reflection, write every day, etc. But after a few years I learned that once I had incorporated mindfulness into my daily life, the meditation, reading, writing, even yoga, all went with it effortlessly. In other words, I was cheating myself by setting goals I knew I could easily reach.
My husband is fond of a guy named David Goggins. I don’t know much about him other than what my husband has shared. David is a runner who pushes through his mental barriers to reach his physical goals. His stories help my husband and give him inspiration. I very much appreciate those who overcome physical limitations and push themselves further than they could have ever imagined. But I’m not that impressed. Don’t tell my husband.
Inspiration strikes us when we can relate. I am not a runner, nor do I want to be. I don’t care that David can run a million miles in a week living off seaweed. Cool story bro but can you take two kids under the age of four to the grocery store before a major holiday without a tantrum? Although, I bet if I asked my husband, he’d say he could.
Goals are only goals when it’s something relevant to us personally, at this period in our lives, in this body, that feels out of reach. Adding a daily reflection reading to my current meditation routine is not much of a goal. Running a few extra miles a day isn’t much of a stretch. Starting to run is.
This year I added a goal that has proven to be one of the more difficult ones to achieve. “Clean the tops of condiments” The idea was to improve my mindfulness and slow down my daily rush by refusing to put away any condiment that was dirty without properly cleaning it. I had to meditate on this one a few times to really understand where I stand on condiments and what I discovered surprised me.
The house I grew up in was not a home. It was dirty and we often did not have proper food. We did however have a plethora of condiments and I would take great joy in using whatever it was. Pickles? Fantastic. Mustard? I’ll make a mustard and pickle sandwich. Ketchup? Jackpot!
My condiment meals were probably the catalyst to my first career as a chef. I can take almost anything from school cafeteria to gourmet dining with a generous number of condiments. As a child, I would ravish through condiments whenever afforded the opportunity. Thinking only of what I was about to eat and never giving a second thought to the cleanliness of the bottle.
This formed a bad habit of using condiments carelessly and leaving them dirty. I have memories of trying to use mustard only to notice the top was clogged and simply pushing out the dried mustard, sometimes onto whatever I was eating, and not giving it a second thought. I’m quite certain that not one time in my entire life did I stop, unscrew the top, run it under water, dry it, and replace it so the next person could enjoy a clean bottle.
Last year I was at my brother’s house, and he watched me use the ketchup and put it back dirty. He asked me why I didn’t clean it off, and I was surprised that I didn’t have an answer. Thus, “Clean the tops of condiments” made it onto my goal list of 2022.
Five months later and I have yet to leave a dirty bottle behind. I think it is a habit now to keep them clean and I am hyper aware of the state of other people’s condiment bottles. I don’t carry any judgement, only awareness. Goals have a way of growing our understanding, compassion, and empathy by aggressively smashing our old ideas and ways of doing things.
Perhaps, reading David Goggins will make my goals list next year but for the remainder of this one, I shall keep my aim a little closer to home.
Today, I will remember that everything I have felt accomplished about in this life started with goal in mind. There are no big or small goals, as time will pass with or without us. The difficulty of a goal may not fully be realized until it is made, and that’s just fine.
This morning began with my daughter vomiting in my hair. While I can think of worse ways to be woken up, this was certainly not my preference. I was able to swoop her up before the next wave of vomit struck and aim her towards the floor. When she finished vomiting, she snuggled in my lap as I tried to wake up all the way and process what was happening.
It was a little after 530am. I had a few hours before the vet was due to put our beloved Spike to rest and then we had a gala to prepare for and then the babysitter was coming and then tomorrow morning we leave for Chicago. Our daughter vomiting did not fit into these plans.
Luckily, we are no strangers to illness dictating plans. As I sat at the edge of the bed with my daughter snuggled in my lap, I was able to make a gratitude list.
- The vomit looks clear, could be drainage.
- We have an awesome portable carpet cleaner
- Our new sheets are easy to wash, and our mattress pad is one of the best
- She doesn’t have a fever and doesn’t seem sick
- We live in an area where we have access to both doctors and medicine if needed
Within a few hours, our son was at school and our daughter was happily eating a pint of raspberries and two bowls of chicken noodle soup with no consequence. Whatever struck her in the morning passed as quickly as it came.
Waves of despair washed over me as 10am drew closer. The vet would be here and then within a short time Spike would be gone. I decided to attend a virtual meeting where the topic was very fitting, and I was able to connect with several lovely souls that shared in my preemptive grief. At a few minutes before 10am I logged off and told my daughter and husband that they had to go downstairs when the vet came.
Just as soon as I finished telling them to go downstairs the vet called and said she’d be there in 20 minutes. So, we all decided to go outside where Spike was laying down on the deck. I grabbed some catnip and offered him a little. He seemed mostly uninterested. This was unacceptable to our 2-year-old daughter who grabbed the container from me and dumped its entirety in a large heap in front of Spike. This got his attention.
For the next twenty minutes Spike playfully played with our daughter while he rubbed catnip all over his body and ate as much as could. There was laughter and connection. My husband, our daughter, our beloved Spike, and myself were all very present. Well after a short period Spike wasn’t present anymore because he was very high, but he was happy, and we were together.
When the vet arrived, my husband and daughter retreated to the basement, and we went through the process to end Spike’s life outside in the sunshine. I was able to hold him through the entire process and his journey was peaceful. His life was a good life, and his death was a good death.
Spike’s physical suffering was over. I sobbed. I grieved outwardly. Then I took a shower, put on clean clothes, and showed up for life. My daughter’s health remains intact and while the gala planned for this evening already feels like a distant memory, the promise of Chicago is still very much alive. Life will continue with or without me.
Today is Thursday. It might rain later but right now it’s sunny. I am present. I will let the grief pass through me. Spike’s soul was done with his body and no amount of hope or want could fix that. I will remember the cat he once was. The curious, annoying, loud, orange ball of fur that sucked on my ear to fall asleep. I am thankful for the journey we had together and will tell my children and grandchildren of his life so he may live in their memories and hearts as he does mine.
The first time we met, you were hanging upside down in a cage full of unwanted kittens. Your bright blue eyes spoke to me, and in a single moment I knew that you were mine and I was yours. The adoption process was quick and within a few minutes I was handed a box with you inside. When I lifted the box, it was so light that I had to check that you were in there. I asked how much you weighed and human society worker said 6 ounces. You were tiny.
The ride home I was nervous about you getting sick and drove with you next to me with my hand in the box. You snuggled right up into my hand. I remember feeling your little heart beating so fast.
Your fur-grandma Bonnie came to help me get you settled. She was very allergic to you but said you were cute. Once back in my apartment, I realized I had no supplies and you stayed with grandma while I went out to frantically buy a litter box, litter, food, and toys.
Our first night together you snuggled in my hair and sucked on my ear lobe. That next morning the birds were chirping outside our window, and you watched in delight from the bed. Your bright blue eyes watched the world outside in wonder.
The next few years were not always easy. There was the time you climbed up a tree, got stuck, and I had to get the caretaker to retrieve you with a ladder. Then there was the time when I was taking you to the vet and had the foolish idea that you would just sit in my lap as I drove. You escaped and went under my car seat and twirled in a bunch of wires that got wrapped around your neck almost killing you. I pulled over and tore all the wires out to save you.
Then we moved and moved again, ending up in Edina. There you almost drowned when you jumped into a full bathtub. Ever since that day, I could count on you wanting to be an active participate in showers and baths. You may be the only cat that loves water but freezes completely when submerged.
From the balcony, you and your brother Kato used to fight with the Ravens. Sometimes they’d be three or four of them out there swooping at you. You two were warriors. Remember the time you killed a Raven and ate it? I do. All that was left was a claw and beak. I never did find the rest of it.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day I thought I lost you forever. I had left the patio door open so you and Kato could spend time outside while I was at work. Since the condo was three stories up, I didn’t think you would jump. I was wrong. Once I realized you weren’t in the condo I immediately started crying. I felt terrible. I should have known better than to leave the door open. I was sobbing on the balcony when I saw an orange ball of fur and I knew it was you. I ran down three flights of stairs and had you in my arms within minutes.
There was dried blood around your mouth, and you weren’t moving. I thought you were dead. I brought you into the condo and set you down, unsure what to do next. Then you popped up, bit me, and took off running around the condo playing with Kato.
By the time you were just a few years old, I thought that you had used up all your nine lives. But the worst was yet to come. My alcoholism and bad decision making were in full effect and sadly, you bore the brunt of my neglect. You did not deserve the lonely nights, dirty litter box, and intermittent feedings. Yet, somehow, every time I’d come home, you were happy to see me. I did not deserve your love, but you gave it to me anyways.
You endured abuse from my first husband and spent many evenings as my only confidant as I told you all my fears and hopes. I divorced and we moved and moved again.
This is when you met Bella, the love of your life, when she moved in across the hall from us. You loved Bella more than anything and would spend every waking moment peeking under the door waiting for her. Whenever she was in the hallway, you’d put both paws under the door to greet and play with her.
After a few months your love affair with Bella was known throughout the apartment building and you had many visitors. Those were happy times. When Bella moved out, you went into a deep depression, and I feared that it may be the end as you didn’t eat for nearly a week.
Then came husband number two, who was everything the first had not been. You two hit it off right away and you got more love and affection from him and his daughter than you were accustomed to. Then we moved into the woods. This transition was a little more difficult, but you adapted, like you always do. We were a family and there was much love and kindness.
Shortly thereafter, we were told that you were dying by your vet and that you would be dead in six months. I cried and cried. I was not ready for you to go. I told you that we weren’t going to listen to the vet anymore and that we weren’t going to take any more of their medicine and whatever time you had left, we were going to make the most of it.
Then I got divorced again but the gratitude outweighed the sadness. Time passed and a new man came into our life. He brought with him a dog named Winston who unfortunately killed your brother Kato. But you persevered like you always do.
Four more years passed, and I had a son and we moved again. I was so grateful that you lived long enough to meet our son. Then I got pregnant again and got married.
You had periods when you’d stop eating and hide. Every time you did this I prepared for your death. Shortly, before our daughter was born, you had an especially bad spell. I was sure that it was the end, and I was sad that you wouldn’t met our daughter. I was wrong.
That was over two years ago. You love our daughter, and she loves you. I’m so happy that you got to meet her. For over 25 years you’ve been my constant companion. You are the most consistent relationship I’ve ever had. I am a better person for knowing you. Thank you for sharing your life with me.
As I write this, you’re sitting next to me on my son’s batman couch. A few minutes ago, you were messing with our new dog Lucie. You’re not afraid of anyone anymore, are you? I’ve fed you nine meals of bone broth today as you are not able to eat anything else. You are skin and bones with clumps of missing fur as I’ve had to cut out mats and messes.
Your bright blue eyes are no longer. A faded yellow color peaks through your cataracts. I’m not sure you can see at all anymore. Your thyroid condition and kidney failure have brought you to your limit. You are now behind my chair throwing up but there isn’t much there as you haven’t eaten solid food for a year. Your body is no longer worthy of your beautiful soul. It is time to let you go.
You’ve hung on longer than anyone could have anticipated. Sometimes I think you powered through because you wanted to know that I was going to be ok. I want to tell you that I will be ok and thank you for all that you’ve done for me. I love you more than I’ve ever loved any animal and I will always carry a part of you with me.
On Thursday, a vet is coming to the house and will give you a shot that will make you sleepy. I’ll be there to hold you in my lap. Then the sleep will take you over and you will be free from this earthly form. Until we meet again old friend. Rest well.
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”-Bruce Lee
Our son’s school had an open house this morning. He could hardly sleep last night because he didn’t want to be late for the “party.” This was our first large gathering since Covid began. Our son had waited a long time for an opportunity to return to a world he barely knew, as he was only 2.5 years when quarantine first began.
Fate was on our side today. We pulled into the school’s parking lot at 10:02am for the event that began at 10am. We played with Llamas, jumped in bouncy castles, ate snacks, planted some seeds, did some face painting, and topped it off with some dairy free Sonic the Hedgehog ice cream.
As parents of young children, days like these are rare. To add to the miracle, we had our nephew with us and still everything was effortless. No fighting, no crying, no accidents, no one got sick, it was beautiful.
After the party we came home without a plan. The weather was perfect, and we ended up spending most of the afternoon outside. I tested the sprinkler system while the kids tried not to get wet. There were water guns, climbing, building, games, laughing, and fun.
As dinner time approached, I asked the kids if they wanted dandelion pancakes? Without answering me, the kids enthusiastically set out to gather dandelions from the front yard. At first, they thought I was kidding but once they realized I was serious their imaginations went wild.
In hindsight, using the word “pancake” to describe the fried dandelion flowers was a bit misleading. I imagine the kids pictured big fluffy pancakes not little fried flowers but what was said was said and my clarification helped nothing. Their expectations were set.
The dandelion pancakes turned out delicious, or at least I thought so. But I also had very low expectations and just the fact that I didn’t light anything on fire or burn myself was enough for me to continue riding my pink cloud of happiness. I felt assured the kids would like them because they were fried and delicious and even if they didn’t, at least I got my front yard weeded.
The rest of the dinner exceeded my expectations as well. Chicken thighs, rice, kimchee, and a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables. I was confident that this was going to be a dinner to remember. Then a crowd formed in the kitchen until I conceded and let everyone take a dandelion pancake.
Our son ate a dandelion pancake, gave a thumbs up and left the kitchen. Our nephew shrugged as he ate it and said it was not bad. Our daughter threw it on the floor without trying it. My husband tried it and immediately started complaining of the weird taste. A few seconds later his tongue went numb and then his throat.
Turns out my husband is allergic to dandelions. There were a few moments of panic but once we were able to get allergy medicine in him, the numbness ceased. It took a few minutes to get everyone settled back down and then the kids let me know how they really felt. “Mom, this is the worst thing you’ve ever made” and “It tasted like; you know…. Burps” were just a few of the comments hurdled my way regarding my dandelion pancakes.
Next it was the chicken that grossed out the kids. We don’t eat much meat and I often call a meat substitute whatever meat it is supposed to be substituting. My son assumed that when I said chicken that I met vegetarian chicken, not a hunk of real chicken meat still attached to the bone. The disappointment was contagious.
After some careful surgery on the chicken thighs, I was able to separate the meat from anything “icky” and convinced the kids to eat it. I was regaining their trust. Within a half hour or so we were back on track and all having a lovely time. We even had a good laugh about the dandelion pancakes. The jokes transcended to two more guests who arrived later and continued until they left, gently refraining from taking the dandelion pancakes to go.
Today was a rare day that will live in my heart and for that I am grateful. However, I can plainly see how expectations impacted our collective happiness, albeit briefly. The success of the morning’s outing to my son’s school was because my son had almost nothing to compare it to. My nephew didn’t know we were going until we were on our way and our daughter was just excited to be going in the car. Expectations were low or non-existent; so of course, we had a marvelous time.
The dandelion pancakes were the crack in the day’s cement. The children worked hard to harvest the dandelions and their imaginations ran wild with what a dandelion pancake might look/taste like. Then they had to hurry up and wait as appetizing smells wafted from the kitchen. Then in the moment of truth, shock of my husband’s allergy shook them and suddenly the promise of dandelion pancakes felt like a betrayal. The mood was quickly recovered but that could have easily been the end of it. We’ve all had experiences where everything was going grand until…
There is always something we can do better. Every day, even the good ones, there are opportunities for reflection, refinement, and if required, change.
Today I remember that expectations are precursors to unhappiness. The only thing I can expect is to trust my own reasoned thought and to act in accordance with my ethics. To live in someone else’s expectations is impossible. Comparing my inside being to someone else’s outward reflection is a fruitless endeavor. Dandelion Pancakes will serve me as a reminder of the dangers of expectations.
“The best way to avenge yourself is to not be like that.” -Marcus Aurelius
After a rather lengthy period of illness in our household, we are officially all out of isolation. Whether or not we’re still contagious is debatable. We continue to follow the CDC guidelines as we have since the pandemic began. We wear masks when we’re out in public. Masks are still required in our son’s school as our district is currently experiencing an outbreak of Covid.
In two years, I’ve never had anyone say anything negative about my mask wearing. Until today. After picking our son up from school we decided to stop at a local grocery store that historically I have hated. The food snob comes out in me in full force whenever I’m forced to shop there. The lack of organic and vegetarian options is mindboggling. We decided to stop because my son asked for vegetarian hotdogs for dinner and I figured I could tough it out long enough to check if they had one single item.
We walked at a brisk pace straight for the hot dog aisle. My son was excited to be out in public and dutifully pulled up his surgical mask that kept sliding down off his nose. We were on a mission. Within a few minutes it was clear they did not have the brand we’re accustomed to, so we wandered around for a moment looking for other options. We settled on corn dogs. Then my son saw his favorite cookies and started the systematic breakdown of my parental will power as kids do.
That’s when it happened. A man who was probably around my age started staring at me and turned around to come towards me. I figured I knew him, so I smiled, which of course is pointless with a mask on. Then he started swearing at me and yelling about me wearing a mask. My son missed this interaction because of his laser focus on the cookies.
Over the years, I’ve worked very hard on controlling my rage. The first few years after my trauma, I’d get in fights with anyone that crossed paths with me. I reveled in it. I trained for it. I looked for it. Old me would have escalated the situation the moment the first swear word was hurdled my way. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’ve never been a good fighter but what I lacked for in ability I made up for with unbridled rage.
The angry person I once was died a long time ago. I have no rage left in me. I got my son the cookies. And graham crackers. And the hot dog buns that we no longer needed. I told him it was time to go, and he listened. The man continued to swear towards me and was on the phone talking very loudly about me and my mask. I feared he was following us.
We walked to the help desk, and I asked to check out there. The lady behind the counter obliged and checked us out. The man fell back. We left the store quickly and got into our car and I locked the doors. We were safe. I told my son that if there is any chance to avoid a conflict to always take it. He had no idea what I was talking about. I asked if he heard the man yelling at me and he said no and then asked if he could eat a cookie. My son had no idea what happened.
On the drive home I tried to explain to my four-year-old son why a random man in a store felt it was his duty to harass us because we were wearing masks. I didn’t have a good answer. As we drove, I felt relief and then anger. I thought about how this is a small community and that I could find out this man’s identity. I could call him out on social media and berate him for his behavior. I could be calculating and impact his business or job and erode people’s trust in him.
Thankfully, I was able to stop the mental train to resentment town and collect my thoughts. By the time I got home my anger started to dissolve. This random angry man does not deserve my thoughts.
Today, I will remember that sometimes the only cure for anger is delay. And that indifference is the only suitable response when confronted by such foolishness as we encountered in the store. The fact that this situation made its way into my writing means I still have work to do but that I’ve made progress.
“Everything has changed and yet, I am more me than I’ve ever been.” -Iain Thomas
The loss of identity during a transition can be terribly disorientating. Simple tasks can become infinitely complex when we’re not sure of our place or ability. The journey from childhood to adulthood, singlehood to couple hood and/or parenthood, addiction to sobriety, illness to death or even illness to health. To do something that you’ve done a million times but to suddenly find it difficult or even impossible is stupefying.
After my son was born, I suffered crippling postpartum anxiety. I’d have dreams of my baby being ripped from my arms by water or wind and I’d wake up sobbing. I would panic about my baby dying while I took a shower so I’d put him in his car seat, prop him against the mirror in the bathroom so I could watch him the whole time and frantically shower as fast as possible. I wasn’t married to the father yet so insecurity would creep in from all angles.
Motherhood was not something I was prepared for. I had no role models for motherhood and had no idea how to care for a tiny human. I don’t think I’ll forget the shock when they let us leave the hospital; they just let us take this fully dependent person home with very little instruction other than if I didn’t breastfeed, I was doing my child a disservice.
Those first few weeks were unlike any other experience I’ve had. The transition from only having to care for myself to having to care for another human being was intimidating. The father was/is supportive and loving but, like me, lacked experience. We were first time parents with limited outside support. We had each other which in the end was more than enough but at the time felt like we were an island surrounded by expectations.
During this transition, it was extremely hard for me to leave the house. To combat this fear, we planned a special day together as a family before my partner had to return to work from paternity leave. We decided to go to the “The Museum of Russian Art” in Minneapolis.
It took us way longer than it should have to get out of the house, but we finally made it. We were on our way! I have scattered memories from our adventure to the art museum but the memories that remain I will likely never forget. Our son needed a diaper, so I took him to the bathroom to change him. I was prepared. I had a diaper changing pad, back-up clothes, diapers, wipes, and diaper cream. What I didn’t have was confidence.
Once in the bathroom, I realized I had to go to the bathroom too. I was in the stall before I realized I had no idea what to do with my son. I held him as I did my business which made it take way longer than it should have. I was paranoid about him touching anything dirty, so I was also frantically wiping everything down and trying desperately to keep him close to me. Then it was time to change his diaper.
After diligently wiping down the diaper changing station with sanitizing wipes, I carefully secured the water-proof diaper pad and laid him down. Only then did I realize that the diaper bag was now out of reach. I panicked. There are signs all over the station saying not to leave the baby unattended for any reason and I remembered at the hospital they said to always keep one hand on the baby during changing. Surly, if I didn’t follow this direction my baby was going to fall off to his demise. Poop was everywhere by this time, and I need more wipes. The situation was becoming dire.
In hindsight, it is comical how poor my problem-solving skills were at this moment. Panic prevented me from calling out to my partner who was literally less than ten feet away on the other side of the door. Instead, with one hand always on my baby, I was able to hook the diaper bag with my foot by practically laying down on the floor with one hand awkwardly still on my son. Now armed with the proper tools I was able to dominate the diaper situation and change my precious son’s poop-stained clothes.
When we entered the bathroom, I was but a meek girl but by the time I emerged, victorious with my happy, clean son in my arms, I was a fierce mother. My partner could recognize the change in me and congratulated me on changing a diaper in public for the first time.
The next memory that has stuck with me was the first time I saw the painting “Milkmaids” by Nikolai Nikolaevich Baskakov. I was in awe. I could feel the happiness in the painting. I felt hopefully looking at the painting of three women, who I imagined as mothers, laughing so much they lost their composure. I made a brief comment to my partner about how it made me feel and then we our son started crying and our adventure to the museum had reached its natural conclusion.
A few months later, my partner gave me a print of the painting “Milkmaids” as a gift. We didn’t have much money at the time, but we decided it was worth the expense to have it professionally framed.
More than four years have passed since those early days of parenthood. Today, I can change a diaper in pretty much any scenario with little thought or effort. Together, my husband and I are confident that we can handle whatever the kids have in store for us. We are warriors.
Today, I remember that transitions are difficult but worth it. It is by scarping away what is familiar that we can find beauty and growth. My darkest moments have proceeded some of the most beautiful. When I have doubts, all I must do is look at the Milkmaids painting proudly displayed in our living room and take comfort that there is no wrong way to acquire experience and like all things, this too shall pass.
“The fisherman know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reasons for remaining ashore.” – Vincent Van Gogh
During the George Floyd riots I watched Minneapolis burn. I took my kids out during the daylight hours and showed them the aftermath. I showed them the still smoking burnt down police station and the nearby “help” center where people were handing out food and groceries to the community. Commercial buildings with apartments on top had spray painted “Do not burn, kids live here.” The looted stores. The red cross vans. The smoke. People wandering around the street in shock.
I have no experience with warfare but seeing building after building destroyed and burned to the ground, it is easy to imagine the devastation war brings. Yet this wasn’t warfare. It was a cry for help. A demonstration of rage. A push back from systemic repression. It wasn’t warfare because there was no clear enemy as racism is integrated into my state and my country in ways I may not ever fully understand.
Not even two years later, protests are mounting again. This time to defend the systemic repression of women’s rights. The current has shifted in the ocean and storms are brewing. For some women, this will be the second time in their lives that they have marched for autonomy over their own body. Seventy-year-old women are writing their lawyers phone number on their arm, putting aside money for bail, and stepping out into a sea of madness that they have faced once before.
Civil unrest is scary. Mob mentality can shift quickly and have lasting consequences. The insurrection of January 6th is the most recent reminder of how unhinged people can become when their fear turns to rage. It’s debatable of what they were afraid of, but I think the short answer is change.
When I think of Vincent Van Gogh’s quote I wonder if there was singular issue he was thinking of when he said it, as I have my doubts that an abstract artist mind like his was simply pondering the habits of fisherman. I wonder what he would have to say about our current state.
When I think his quote today, I think of all the people who feel the need to do something to protect themselves and their loved ones. I think of those going out to cause a disruption as a demonstration of their seriousness of the topics at hand. I think of all those who do not want to fight but cannot flee. I think that crossing the ocean is a necessary journey that will cause us to perish or bring us to a new way of life.
I don’t have answers. My practice of stoicism has caused me to be cautious of any action based out of fear. Perhaps, my current illness is a gift has it has muted my outrage. What I wish to tell my future self is that justice and equality is a virtue I must protect and that I need not focus on the boats lost in the storm, only the promise of uncharted outcomes across the horizon.
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” – Seneca
The last few days I’ve been ill and to my dismay, this has prevented me from writing. Historically, I’ve focused on writing when I have the physical ability as any mental anguish I encounter can generally be remedied with writing. However, I didn’t account for my physical illness to take a toll on my creativity.
Seneca’s quote rings true for me, especially these last few days. The first day of my illness I was so focused on my own experience I could hardly come up with a topic to reflect on. The second and third day I did not leave my bed and writing was far from my thoughts. Today, the fourth day of my illness I’ve written and deleted four different topics that sounded good in theory but failed to produce anything in my creative self.
A trip to CVS to pick up medicine to treat my daughter’s covid infection resulted in a momentary burst of creative thought. And was followed by realization that my creative self was suffering because I had removed myself from any outlet and my imagination had nowhere to go but inwards.
While I don’t feel that I have been particularly anxious the last few days, my heart monitor on my fitness tracker, and my dear husband would suggest otherwise. I feel at peace with my life and my affairs are in order. I can find the gratitude, despite our current circumstances. However, there is something inside me that cannot reconcile our current situation as temporary.
Anytime my mind goes to something we have planned, that we are looking forward to, the next, and sometimes simultaneous thought is someone will be sick, and we will miss it. This is mentally exhausting and self-defeating.
Part of the beauty of life is that it will continue with or without you. Being sick and even being bedridden is no longer the sentence it once was. I may not have been able to write but I could have painted or crocheted or really anything that served as an outlet for my creative self. To go against my creativity is a risk with increasing consequences as I age. My creativity has become a part of my ethics.
If I could go back in time, I would ask my sick self to paint a picture of what the next family outing would look like and/or write emails to my family members and make plans. For if we plan nothing, nothing will happen.
Today, I will focus on being a part of life in whatever capacity I am able to. I will strive to care for my creativity as I do other virtues required to be fully present in my own life and remember that this too shall pass.
“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.” – Mother Teresa
Humility is an elusive virtue. To see yourself how you truly are, not how you’d like to be, requires a level of inward focus that by its nature should be fleeting as the truth can, and often does, contradict with our natural desires.
To be perfectly humble would be awful as to become untouchable by life would be a terrible fate. Yet, to not seek humility promises an equally terrible fate as our instincts are all but guaranteed to warp our view of reality and left unchecked will produce a level of narcissism that suffocates reason.
The best we can hope for is to diligently seek humility in small intervals throughout our days while pursuing our goals.
Mother Teresa is a fine example of humility. Shortly after her death, her personal writings were made public. She suffered an immense crisis of faith for some 50 years but continued her selfless work to be a humble servant of people in need.
“Where is my Faith—even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness—My God—how painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith—I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart—& make me suffer untold agony.” – Mother Teresa
The depth to which Mother Teresa went to keep her humility in check while living out her days in line with her ethics is truly admirable. It is easy to do the right thing when you have your faith to carry you through times of doubt. To lose your faith and continue without complaint is a feat that not many people would be able to accomplish with the level of grace Mother Teresa did. In this regard, she may be admired by Christians and atheists alike.
A life without conflict is not much of a life. When I think how much of my daily thoughts are consumed with resolving or accepting conflicts it’s easy to see that my mind would become a void in their absence. Perhaps some people would fill such a void with meaningful inquiry into science, religion, or some other fruitful endeavor. I am confident that I however would simply self-destruct. I know myself well enough to know that left unchecked my natural instincts rob me of productiveness which in turn leads to a terrible life.
However, by examining my own life, I can refine, and follow my ethics which provides a constant undercurrent of serenity. That’s not to say my waters are always calm, but rather the current is always going in the right direction.
The last few weeks have been challenging at home. Finding time to do any sort of selfcare is difficult. But these are the moments in life that define us – how we act when we have nothing left to give. Moments of self-pity and anger are quickly followed with gratitude and focus. The ebb and flow of emotion is a gift.
Our daughter currently has Covid, and her tummy has a lot to say about that. In an act of providence or unbelievably bad timing, she has decided that now is the time that she is going to potty train. The first few days were rather innocent and productive as she simply went on the potty when she had to go. Then she got diarrhea.
This morning our daughter is not living in the same reality as us. In her mind, she is officially potty trained; diapers be dammed! She has successfully made it to the toilet two out of the four diarrhea attacks she’s had this morning. After the first accident, she moved the training toilet to the living room in front of the T.V., took off her pants and spent the better part of the morning camped out there. The last accident was when she got up to go get her pants and couldn’t make it back to the toilet in time – although she did try.
If our daughter was being humble, she would accept that her body is acting outside of her control and wear a diaper. But her instincts are telling her that it is time to do something different. Sitting is poop is not ideal and it’s time for change. Her ego is allowing her to push herself to do something she shouldn’t be able to do – potty train at 24 months year old while sick with diarrhea.
While the aftermath of my daughter’s potty training learning curve is not my favorite, I am very pleased that she is it not wavering in her resolve to be self-sufficient. I can reflect on this experience in my own life. Learning is hard. It is often messy and sometimes downright gross. But to grow beyond myself I must push through all of it. Whatever instincts give me the grit to get through the hard times today, can be balanced out with humility tomorrow. A bit of brazenness is required to remain teachable and move forward in life.
Today, I will strive for humility but hope to never fully achieve it.
“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” – Carl Jung
Little kids are savages. Their unbridled honesty can be shocking, sometimes annoying, and occasionally infuriating, but in many cases, they are simply telling you about an observation with their opinion.
A few years ago, I had strep throat. We had just moved, and I didn’t know where anything was, so I went to the Minute clinic at Target.
There was a girl in the waiting room that kept staring at me. I said hello and we made small talk. She was old enough to talk in complete sentences but still looked like a little kid. She was unbashful in her stares and followed me with her eyes when I moved.
After a moment of awkwardness when she followed me to the other side of the waiting room with her mother embarrassed and in tow, she told me that my tooth was showing. I smiled and showed her my teeth to confirm that I did indeed have a tooth in the front that stuck out a little. I said “thank you” as I wasn’t sure what to tell her. She told me that my “tooth was ugly” and that it “stuck out.” And that it is “weird to say thank you for something ugly.” Her mother was frantically trying to get her to go back to the other side of the waiting room and was obviously embarrassed.
The mother started to apologize for her little girl’s behavior, and I stopped her. I told her that it is true that my tooth is ugly and that she shouldn’t be punished for saying so. Then I thanked the little girl for her honesty and with that my name was called to go back and I never saw either of them again.
Before my interaction with this little girl, I knew my teeth were less than ideal, but I wasn’t aware that one had shifted so far that it was poking out of my mouth. I was grateful for the little girl’s bravery to confirm something I was only vaguely aware of. That night “fix teeth” was added to my goals list.
Two years later I fixed my teeth with braces and today all my teeth stay in my mouth when I smile. I may have gotten around to fixing my teeth one day if I hadn’t crossed paths with this little girl but more likely I would have not, preferring to live in the delusion that it was not that bad.
Accepting the truth about something is the first step in changing it; if it can be changed that is. Hearing this truth from another person is very helpful to speed the process along. Hearing it from a child is priceless as who can get mad at an adorable little girl with her mother in a Target clinic waiting room.
Our children say all sorts of things that are brutally honest. The other night after I cleaned the kitchen, my son commented on the great job I was doing cleaning and that “our house looked a little less ugly now.” He’s not wrong, our house is a bit ugly, but I chose to focus on the compliment of my cleaning, but I did hear him.
Today, I will work on accepting the truth as it is spoken, not as I would like to hear it. I will revel in the fact that I live with two tiny truth tellers that are going to give me opportunities daily to shift my perspective and take action to improve.
“The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny – it is the light that guides your way.” ― Heraclitus
Last night as I laid down in my son’s bed between two large dogs and my son who was peacefully sleeping diagonally across the bed, I couldn’t help but feel a bit restless. Besides the obvious ridiculousness of our current sleeping conditions, it was the activeness of my mind that stopped me from easily finding sleep. I put on one of my favorite audio books and focused on my breathing. Some of my last conscious thoughts before I drifted off to sleep were complex and dark.
At 4 am I awoke with an acute mental sharpness. My thoughts fixated on the mass organization and clean-up that had occurred in our house over the ten days that our son was in isolation recovering from Covid. We had donated 30 plus bags of children’s clothing and other items to charity and purged many unused items from our household.
There was nothing significant about my thoughts, in fact I almost bored myself back to sleep when a thought jolted its way to the surface; I had thrown away several old shock collars that we had from an attempt to train our old Husky. These collars had rechargeable batteries in them. Rechargeable batteries are toxic and should be recycled properly; not thrown out in the trash.
My next realization that today was trash-day and that garbage man would be picking up our cans within a few hours. The toxic batteries were going to be sent to the landfill if I didn’t stop them. But I was tired. And I didn’t want to wake my son. Or the dogs who would then wake my daughter sleeping in the next room with her father. And what’s the likelihood that I would find these collars anyways? And so, what if they found their way into a landfill, the batteries are inside of thick plastic collars that will protect them from leaking into the ground. My brain tried desperately to rationalize my inaction.
Over the next twenty minutes or so I fell asleep and woke back up several times. I could not ignore my conscious any longer and decided that the only resolution for my active brain was for me to go retrieve the collars from the garbage can on our curb.
It took me a few more minutes to get out of bed. I had to remind myself that every time I could recall going against my conscious, it has ended poorly for me and/or others. The responsibility of making a mistake becomes amplified once the mistake is recognized and no action is taken. I quietly put on my slippers and said to myself in a whisper that I was “doing the right thing.”
The dogs didn’t wake, my children didn’t stir, there was effectively zero impact on my family as I slipped out the front door in my pajamas and slippers. The garbage bag I was looking for was the second one I pulled out of our garbage can on the curb. The bag wasn’t dirty and the only items in the bag were dog related so I brought inside the entire bag. After I washed my hands, I went back to bed and slept uninterrupted until 7am.
Integrity matters. I believe humans are defaulted to take the path of least resistance. It takes effort to do more than what is required. No one would have known about my batteries in the trash. I’m certain I have thrown rechargeable batteries away in the past with little thought and no immediate consequence. But it is different now. I am different. My body, nor mind, would let me ignore what actions I needed to take to act accordingly to my own ethics.
Today, I will listen to my body and mind when they are trying to tell me something. When I am aware that there is something within my power that needs correction, I will act and not sit by idle. Even if that action requires a little bit of dumpster diving at 4am.
“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.” ― Marcus Aurelius
Today was a day of recovery. I arose with the best of intentions and the worst of follow through. My highlights included coffee with my dear stepmother and a nap by the fireplace. Both kids went back to school, after what feels like an eternity of illnesses beginning with the Norovirus and ending with Covid. Today my equanimity was certainly upset.
One of the most useful practices I’ve gleaned from the ancient stoics is the importance of daily practice. My words do not need to be masterful, nor entirely coherent to be effective, but it is certain that they will not exist if I do not write them. Writing is a tool for reflecting my perceptions back to me. If I do not write, nothing will happen, which is precisely why I must continue to write.
Today I will work on my habitual recurrence to harmony so I may better master it. 🙂
“He who fears death dies every time he thinks of it” -Stanisław I Leszczyński
Stanisław I Leszczyński was an interesting man, who I would have liked to have known. Born into a Catholic family and taught by protestant educators, his view on power, life, and death, were unique for the times, especially for a two-time king. In the 1730’s he published “A Free Voice of Insuring Freedom” which advocated for personal freedom for the Polish peasants and opposed serfdom.
The Polish king abducted from the throne twice and moved to France where he died rather unpeacefully in his sleep when his silk pajamas caught fire while he slept by the fireplace. He did have the good fortunate to have known his great-great-granddaughter Archduchess Maria Theresa and died at the tender age of 88 years old.
This morning, my husband was talking in admiration about a woman he heard speak who had been sober for over 30 years. While he thought this woman had many admiral qualities there was something that stuck out. The woman described an outing where each person’s purpose for being there was clear and some of them were present only to drink. The woman continued to talk about the power of prayer and spiritual matters and tied it back to the outing when she left with an 80-year-old woman who had been drinking. The speaker said a prayer and turned her life over to god as she got in the passenger seat of a car that was to be driven by an 80 year old intoxicated woman. There is nothing more notable to the story; there was no accident and no ill consequences – apparently because she said a prayer.
People sometimes get confused on what it means to not be afraid of death. I could see the merit in the argument that a king who fled the throne twice to save his own life should not criticize those who fear death. But it is because he fled twice that I believe his words to be that much more meaningful – he knew the value of life and did his best to preserve it at all costs but did not fear death.
It’s a curious thought to wonder if this Polish King knew that he would die while snoozing by the fire in old age, would have he done anything different? Only he knows the answer, but I’m inclined to think that nothing would have changed.
Some people die simply because they do not think to prevent it. Like the woman speaker who knowingly exercised poor judgement for reasons known only to her and her god. More than her lack of judgement is the apparent disconnect between her inner self and outer being.
Fear is the corrosive thread that can cause our lives to unravel. Fear of death is instinctual but a boost of adrenaline to help us avoid death is fleeting, what remains in our minds is in our control.
This speaker’s story makes me think of the impact we have on other people. I imagine if she were someone I cared about, and she died in a car driven by a drunk woman. My first reaction may be to get angry at the driver, however, as soon as I learned she got in the car with full knowledge of the driver’s condition, it is likely my anger would shift to her for making that choice.
The same scenario with different actions that were in line with her ethics would have a different type of impact. For example, if she refused to get into the car with the intoxicated woman but then was hit by said woman as she walked on the side of the road. Her life may have ended but her ethics would still be intact.
Today, I will combat my fear of death by thinking about it. Reflecting on each day as if it were my last, so that any feeling of regret or remorse can be attacked with urgency. I owe it to myself to do what I can to preserve my life and to live, and die, accordingly to my own ethics.
Over the winter holidays, we pet-sat a Betta fish named Diamond. The fish arrived at our home in less-than-ideal physical condition. We were ill prepared to remedy his situation. But over the next few weeks we were able improve his living conditions, and he began to thrive.
Our children were in awe of this magnificent Betta named Diamond and our son asked a lot of questions about how he lived in a tank. We used the experience to explore the topic of “ownership” and the responsibilities that go along with it.
The concept of ownership is a complex topic that society seems to gloss over when it comes to children and pets. At the time Diamond arrived at our house, we had two dogs and a cat so to tell my son that we don’t support “owning pets” felt a bit convoluted.
Explaining that Diamond was likely caught in the wild and then sold to a fish store who gave him a value and issued a coupon to redeem his life to a carnival that was then presented as a “prize” won by our nephew felt like the simplified version of how Diamond came to be living on our kitchen counter.
After the holidays, Diamond went back to his home in a brand-new tank. Our kids were devastated and missed him dearly. Our son, gleaning nothing from my interpretation of Diamond’s origin story, wanted to go to the same carnival where his cousin had won him so he could have a fish of his own.
Even with imagery of a fish being swept up away from his family (thanks to “Finding Nemo”) our son was adamant that he wanted fish of his own. I explained our values and ethics surrounding animals and that once we take an animal into our home, it becomes part of the family. I elaborated that only an animal that does not have a family of their own has a need to become dependent on people and that we do not interfere with nature for our own amusement, i.e., we only take in animals as rescues.
Admittedly, my logic was a bit high level for a four-year-old, but we got there. We decided that we would put it out into the universe that if any fish needed rescuing, we would answer the call. I was content with this solution as what are the odds that we would come across fish that needed rescuing?
Apparently, the odds of finding fish that needed rescue are pretty good because within a week we were made aware of several fish that needed rescuing. We answered the call and went to the pet store to procure all the necessary fish supplies. A hundred dollars later we were ready. Well almost. We had to wait two weeks for the tank to be properly cycled and then we were ready.
The air was thick with excitement the day we brough home our fourteen rescued fish. We had a few casualties along the way, but we’ve finally found our stride as fish caretakers, and they are living their best life in a twenty-gallon tank sitting on our kitchen counter.
A good question to ask now, why am I writing about my fish? The answer is simple, I need to clean the fish tank and I don’t want to so I’m writing about it. The reason however is more complicated.
One of the most common sources of unhappiness for me personally is when I have something in front of me that needs to be done and I don’t want to do it. I can split hairs between wanting and needing something and what really is important besides spending time with those you love anyways? If today was my last day on earth, would I be remiss if I didn’t change the water in my fish tank? I can come up with an endless parade of excuses when I don’t want to do something.
However, I’ve lived enough life to know that happiness cannot be found in inaction and avoiding my responsibilities, however mundane they may be, will always spark negative consequences if ignored.
My solution to my lazy thoughts is to reflect on what the task at hand means to me on a deeper level. Why is this task in front of me in the first place? If I can frame thoughts about my actions in a manner where I can apply my ethics, my perception shifts enough for me to move from lazy to productive.
Today, this writing is my reflection. The fish tank needs to be cleaned not because it is dirty but because I promised these fish and our children that we would give them the best life possible. I have spent several months learning how to correctly clean the tank, without harming the fish, so I am responsible. Even if I wished someone else would do it for me, my ethics would not allow for it unless I was completely confident that whoever the task was passed to had sufficient knowledge to do it as well or better than I. No one in our home meets this criterion but me. The fish are depending on me.
Now I’m done writing and off to clean the fish tank.