This morning I forgot you were gone. I expected to see you at the bottom of the stairs, spinning in circles with excitement for the day. But you were not there, at least not in physical form. It’s been seventy-six days since you left your decrepit and failing body behind.
Seventy-six days is a blink of time from when we first met thirteen years ago, yet somehow it feels longer. Grief slows the Earth’s orbit, making each moment a little more pronounced and sharper. Time cuts away a little slower and more precise than when you were here.
The first time I saw you was on a Petfinder ad for a dog in Tennessee who had lost his humans in a housefire. You weren’t smiling then but I didn’t know that. Something about you haunted me and caused me to repeatedly go back to your picture. At the time, we lived in a small apartment that didn’t allow dogs, but we were planning on moving into a house and had started investigating what sort of dogs were out there with the intention of getting one once we were settled.
A few days after I saw your picture, my brother sent me your profile and said that he had “found my dog.” I laughed until I opened the image and saw you staring back at me. It was at that moment that I knew, somehow, we would be together.
After a brief conversation with my brother, he agreed to watch you until we moved into our house, and it was decided. We were bringing you to Minnesota.
Your journey to Minnesota was not an easy one. You got into a dog fight en route and were banged up. Once in Minnesota, you promptly ran away from your foster home. I’m sure the whole ordeal must have been scary for you.
I remember the day we picked you up. Several dogs were barking, and I correctly theorized which bark belonged to you. Your foster human wasn’t home, so we had to wait just a little longer. When we finally met, you immediately leaned on me with affection. Then we took you to my brother’s house, who you immediately bonded with.
Over the next few months, I came to take you on walks and spend time with you almost daily. You ran away a lot. Once, I was walking with you, and you broke your harness, sending me barreling down a hill and into a lake. I was so mad. Then I saw you chasing after a young boy and realized that you missed your humans in Tennessee. I remember feeling sad that you had no small children to play with.
When you did come home with us, you settled right in and never complained. You liked your kennel and never had any potty accidents. I was scared to let you sleep in the bedroom because I had never had a dog before, and I didn’t think it appealed to me. But after a few months, I warmed up to the idea and let you in the bedroom.
You were always a very considerate bedmate. Moving to accommodate us, never taking up too much space. Our old house had narrow hallways, and every morning, your tail would wag so wildly with excitement that it would bang against both walls. If someone was still sleeping, this was sure to wake them up.
Many mornings, I watched in amazement at your energy and zest for life. Sometimes, your enthusiasm was not met with kindness. Once, you came across a young deer who beat you senselessly with a few quick kicks. I thought it had broken one of your ribs. Or when you faced a possum who lost their life in your battle. Then, there were the coyotes who would come to visit you from time to time. I always worried something would happen to you, but it never did. You’d run off, have your adventures in the woods, and then return with a smile.
Once our son was born, your role changed. You took the role of protector very seriously. You started fending off trains every time you heard them, which was frequent because we lived by the tracks. In hindsight, it must have worked because, in the eight years we lived there, we had zero train attacks.
Then, one night, the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night, and you broke out of your kennel, through a baby gate, and into our bedroom to ensure we were awake. You barked fearlessly and incessantly until you knew we were all safe. From that night forth, I no longer worried about being around the baby.
Your tail was always wagging, and you were always smiling. Once, you came home from the groomer and couldn’t move your tail. We rushed you to the vet’s office, thinking the groomer abused you. The opposite was true; you had sprained your tail from wagging it too much. The vet called it “Happy Tail Syndrome.”
When we moved to Lakeville, you settled in right away. You took up the role of resident patrol of all surrounding yards and really anything you could see. If someone was near, you let us know. You let us know if someone was across the street in their garage. You let us know if someone was standing in their doorway three houses down.
Occasionally, I still hear you saying hello to all who pass and letting them know that we are your humans and that you will protect us.
Your decline was gradual but did not go unnoticed. Then, one day in May, we came home from a movie, and you were unresponsive. I sobbed and held your head while we frantically called vets, trying to figure out what to do next. Our five-year-old son hugged you and told you that you had to be strong and that he loved you. Although your health was fading, we were not ready to say goodbye.
The emergency vet confirmed what we suspected: cancer. It was everywhere but primarily your lungs and brain. We thought about putting you down right then but decided to take you home and have the vet come to the house to assist you in crossing the rainbow bridge.
The following day, I came downstairs to find you spinning in circles, bursting with enthusiasm for life. You ate all your food and wanted more. You played with your sister Lucie outside and smiled. Death was near but had lost its grip on you.
Over the next month, there was much happiness and a few sad days—three or four good days, followed by a terrible day. Then we started giving you THC for dogs, which seemed to help plenty. You would barely be able to move, and I’d put some in bone broth, and you’d be jumping around and playing within a few hours.
Once, your sister Lucie finished your bone broth when you weren’t looking. She must have had what they call a “bad trip” because she spent the next six hours staring at the sky outside and the following six hours sleeping. To this day, she still won’t touch bone broth.
You spent much time with our son in the final two weeks of your life. He dressed you up in a cape, sat by your side dressed like Spiderman, and talked to you about how he was going to save the city. By the end, I think, you were hanging on just for these brief moments of play with our son. Thank you.
We know you didn’t mean to nip at our three-year-old daughter. You were confused, and she startled you. She is fine, and it didn’t even leave a mark. She still loves dogs as much as ever and knows you didn’t mean to frighten her.
The next day, you forgot how to drink water, and that’s when we knew it was time to say goodbye.
A few days later, I sobbed and held your head as you left this world. I miss you.
Last month, a dog at the pet food store demanded my attention. I tried to ignore it but couldn’t. We ended up rescuing it from a fraudulent rescue. His name is Diesel. You would have liked him. He’s part poodle like you and loves to play. Lucie is indifferent. I think she’s still grieving you, but she has a new companion to play with when she’s ready.
Thank you for everything you taught me. You were my first dog, and you taught me that there are many reasons in life to get my tail wagging, metaphorically speaking. I will always love and never forget you.
In 1993, a group of teenagers from the local Alano Society invited me to come with them to something called “Gopher State.” It was in a hotel and there were a lot of people I didn’t know, and I didn’t really understand why I was there, so shortly after arriving, I left and walked four miles back to my childhood home.
At the time, I just figured that was something people from Alano societies did, gather in big groups in hotels. I thought of it as a sober kegger with root beer instead of booze. I really had no concept of any of the recovery programs that were offered at Alano societies. I went to meetings because my friends went there, and we got pizza afterwards. I can’t recall feeling or thinking much of anything during this time frame, given that I was only thirteen years old, I didn’t fully understand that my current situation had pointed me in the direction of future crushing desperation.
In 1996, I had been more formally introduced to recovery by external influences. I was sixteen years old and thought of my sobriety as something conditional. I would be sober until I could drink again. But I was having consequences and thought I’d give recovery a chance, you know in case I really needed it later in life.
Most of my early life’s memories are clouded with a heavy shadow that distorts time. I would make a terrible historian as my dates blend together and events merge together as time passes. With that being said, I have some crystal-clear memories of the early days of Gopher State. I remember the mushroom cloud of cigarette smoke in the main room that was lined with recovery groups from around the twin cities. I remember there were only a few places one could go to, to escape the smoke. I remember the wild debates about making the main speaker rooms smoke free.
In the nineties, the rules were loose and the party at Gopher State was wild. One year a piano ended up in the pool. Another, there was a fire in one of the suites that was serving food. What started as a few hundred people grew year after year. I remember where I was standing when they announced one Sunday afternoon during Gopher State Weekend that there had been three thousand people who attended. I couldn’t believe there were that many people who would choose to come hang-out in a sober environment for Memorial day weekend.
Over the next two decades, my sobriety was sometimes intermittent, but I always made it to Gopher State. Sometimes I didn’t have money to get in and would volunteer for some minimal tasks and this would “pay my way”. Then there were the few years when I worked at the hotel that hosted it and hotel management would give me a suite so I could watch the speakers talk about their recovery without “feeling embarrassed” that someone might see me.
One year I was on a committee that hosted a “hospitality suite.” Another year I was in charge of the food, which comprised of nothing more than telling everyone to bring something to share. Another year, the committee responsible for planning collectively quit and our alano’s presence was sparse. Then there was the year when a sponsee of mine died in route. And the year that several members from the same group found themselves drunk at the bar.
Time passes with or without my participation. For thirty years, Gopher State has been a way for me to participate. At least once a year, I make time to sit and chit-chat with my fellow sober alcoholics. More importantly, it is a time to reflect on my sober life and sit with gratitude that I was one of the lucky ones that was granted a reprieve from certain alcoholic demise.
In 2019, a group I was attending at the time volunteered to serve food in a room at Gopher State and I helped out. I had a toddler to get home to so my time there was short and uneventful. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but looking back, that was the last time I saw many of my elderly friends as Covid was lurking and in the end, it claimed a fair number of them. Another reminder that life, and death, goes on with or without my participation.
This year, the stage was set for a fun-filled weekend. We had a hotel suite booked for both nights of the round up and the bonus of our kids going to sleep over at a friend’s house the first night, giving my husband and I time to socialize and mingle uninterrupted. We expected to recapture some of the fun we’ve had in previous years, but as time has taught me, expectations are nothing more than premediated resentments.
By the time we arrived at the hotel and got checked in, I was beyond tired. We decided to watch the speaker in our room, lying on the bed fully clothed, and within minutes I fell fast asleep. Waking up before the speaker was finished, I was now tired and grumpy. I had no desire to do anything and just wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed. Luckily, my husband agreed as sleepiness was also upon him. Although we had the best of intentions of socializing with people we hadn’t seen in years, it didn’t take much to justify abandoning the event and going home to sleep.
This morning was met with tired eyes as we had to pick up our children and bring them to soccer. Nothing went as it should have, and both kids were unenthused about any sort of physical activity. After our kids fled soccer practice before it was complete, we decided to set our sights on Gopher State once again and try to go and connect with our fellows. With some light bribery and the promise of unlimited snacks, we were able to convince our kids to come willingly to the round-up.
We planned ahead and brought noise canceling headphones for our son, who has sensory issues, and thought we had a good plan of picking up some food from the hospitality rooms and then going to eat said food in our own hotel room. As one could guess, nothing is as simple as it should be when young children are involved. Our son quickly became over stimulated, and our daughter’s hunger was no match for her pickiness which left her in a perpetual state of insatiable hunger.
We saw people we wanted to chat with but to do so was next to impossible. We finally made it to our room to listen to the speaker and once again, we both promptly fell asleep. Thankfully, the kids don’t understand commercials since we don’t watch TV at home and were both glued to the TV, so my husband and I were able to steal a few winks of rest. But all good things must eventually come to an end, and we were awoken with pleas for more food. We decided to go to a nearby restaurant which brought with it a whole new set of chaotic issues.
After food, we decided that we would split the load and I would take our son back home and my husband would stay at the hotel with our daughter. A reasonable way to navigate a complex situation.
My husband just sent a video of our daughter and him cheerfully in the midst of the activities. I’m happy they are happy and that they are able to participate. However, my first reaction was one of jealousy, as I am home writing a blog when I could be at the biggest sober party of the year. But jealousy is fleeting and is easily displaced with gratitude.
There was a moment this afternoon when I could watch my son’s world shut down. He was over stimulated but really trying to participate. He had his headphones on but was still trying to engage. Then we ran into some friends that we were eager to talk to and the noise escalated. Our son retreated and sat down on the dirty floor and rocked for a moment, before I left my conversation to check in. Our daughter followed me and required a bit of attention. Then within the span of what couldn’t have been more than few seconds, our son went from slightly overwhelmed to curled up in a ball in the corner of the room behind the bed. It’s terrible to watch your child suffer but what a gift it is that I am able to be fully present and that only seconds passed before he was safe in my arms, and we were working on how to accommodate his needs for the rest of the evening.
Since we’ve been home, our son has cleaned his room, played “superheroes” and is currently very focused on building in his Lego city. He is very happy and calm. There is no doubt in my mind that coming home was the right thing to do. Gopher State has been so many things for me over the years. This year, it served as a reminder of where I’ve been and how it was all necessary to become the mother, wife, friend, daughter, and sister that I am today.
Today, I chose to live with the solution instead of lamenting over the problem. I chose to live in gratitude over manufactured misery. I accept that I cannot recapture the fun of times past because that would rob me of the present moment and the present is all any of us truly have. Tonight, as soon as this blog is posted, I’m going to quietly watch tv with my son in our pajamas and there is no where else I rather be.
Life is less complicated than we think it to be. For over a decade, I wrote without readers and left my dreams of becoming a writer to the distant future – truly believing that the rest was out of my control. The idea of producing works for the exchange of money or to write simply for the art of writing – releasing my words out into the wild without expectation or regret seemed an impossible feat. Until one day it wasn’t.
The transition from day dreamer to writer was a slow and clumsy journey. My parents and husband were, and still are, my biggest fans. Cheering me on and offering constructive criticism. But where there is creative energy flowing, there too, will be doubt lurking in the shadows. There have been several times in my journey to writer-hood were I have doubted not only my abilities but my commitment to the process. Thankfully, these struggles have been short lived.
My mantra for the last several months has been “Writers write.” So simple, yet to sit and write when one has nothing to say can feel like climbing a mountain, only to rise to the summit, look down and realize that you are no more than a few feet from the ground, and the summit has somehow risen even higher than before.
The idea that we only need to decide what we are and then remove what stands in the way to become or achieve that ideal, is not a novel approach. When I was in culinary arts school, I had an instructor who was a truly gifted ice sculptor. When teaching students how to carve ice, he’d often say “Great. Now just cut away anything that doesn’t look like a Swan…” (or whatever the student was trying to carve). For him it was as simple as deciding what the ice should be and then making it so. Ice sculptors sculpt ice.
Yesterday, I joined a kickball league. What started as an innocent conversation with some friends, snowballed into a series of events, some of which I still don’t fully understand, which resulted in me showing up to a field thirty miles from my house to practice with a group of people I had never met before.
As I walked towards players, who were obviously very serious about the sport of kickball, I muttered to myself that “kickball players play kickball.” As I approached, I swallowed any athletic pride that had carried me thus far and introduced myself as their newest player, and informed them that I hadn’t played kickball for thirty plus years.
One hour later, I was in it to win it. The barriers of doubt and fear dissolved with each new hint, rule, or tip, that I learned from my fellow players. It was all so simple; I wanted to play kickball, an opportunity arose and now I was playing kickball. Life really does work out if you let it.
However, not everyone was enthusiastic about my presence. I showed up with no cleats or knowledge of the sport and now I was playing amongst them. Chasing fouls and missing the ball more than catching it. One player stood out amongst the rest, who seemed to focus on who wasn’t there and what skills we didn’t have, opposed to the reality of the present moment. For this sole individual, there was more required to excel at kickball than just playing kickball.
This experience impacted me more than it probably should have. I felt unwelcomed and questioned my value to the team. I mistook the words and actions of one player as the collective experience of the entire team.
After some reflection, I decided that unless told otherwise, I was part of the team and that I was going to show up and play kickball because that’s what kickball players do.
Then I watched with quiet disdain as this individual wrote the rest of the team members on a group chat with messages of shame and comparison. This person claimed to never miss a practice, therefore, no one else has an excuse. The one-sided argument grew until this person talked themselves off the team.
What remained once this person left, was a group of people who wanted to play kickball. Sure, we all understand that practices are important and that it lets the team down if you don’t make it, but at the core, we are just people who want to play kickball. Life happens to us all, and none of us could be the arbitrators of someone else’s woes. We will carry on and play the rest of the season and this individual will not. I could hypothesize all day about what drove this person’s actions but doubt it actually had anything to do with kickball.
Writers write. Kickball players play kickball. Those seeking disharmony will find disharmony.
Today, I find myself grateful for circumstance and the opportunity to be a part of my family, community, and most recently, my kickball team. I will strive to remember that goals are simple if I do not have conflicting wants. Having a single purpose in my goals allows me to pivot when required and shields me from the chaos that clouds people with unknown motivations. I am looking forward to what comes next.
“If your plan doesn’t work – change the plan, not the goal.” – 16-Year-Old Afghan Refugee
Summer is almost here. End of the school year activities are in full swing, and the endless buffets of graduation open houses are on the horizon. There is an optimism in the air, as each new season brings with it expectations and hope. There are camping trips, lazy pool days, squirt gun fights, picnics, and casual strolls in the park that inch closer to our reach as the days get longer.
Last week, I sat and watched our kids run back and forth from the porch to the dining area, leaving behind them a trail of shed. First a shoe, then the other, then socks, then our daughter’s pants. Back and forth, our kids played carefree. Our five-year-old son armed with a slinky was battling our three-year-old daughter who was armed with two butterknives jostling back and forth like fencers in an old-time dual.
Hysterical laughter mixed with the menacing words “HOHOHO, I’m Santa. FIGHT ME!” Spewed from our darling, bare-bottomed daughter, as she taunted her brother. She was now Santa Claus, who as we all know, is most skilled with butterknives out of all the superheroes. Our son was Shang-Chi from the Marvel superhero universe, armed with his ten magical rings, otherwise known as a slinky. I don’t know what sparked the battle between Santa and Shang-Chi, but it was getting heated.
The battle raged on for more than twenty minutes. Inside. Outside. More articles of clothing were shed as the heat of battle grew. Santa’s cynical laughter and taunting “HOHOHOs” were starting to break down Shang-Chi’s will as his magical rings started to bend and twist from the multiple entanglements with the chair, fence, and one time our dog’s tail.
Before Santa could completely break the will of Shang-Chi, the greatest heroes of all intervened, collectively known as “The Parents”. There were tears and grunts of disapproval as clothes were collected from both inside and outside the house and the bed routine continued without their permission. Defeated, Santa and Shang-Chi reluctantly traveled to dream land as The Parents celebrated their victory with cup of hot tea.
The next day the battles of the night before were long forgotten, and more familiar fights were waged as The Parents worked together to get the kids to Montessori on time. Worn out before the day even begins, The Parent let out a collective sigh as we pulled out of the school’s parking lot and prepared ourselves mentally for the productive part of our day.
My husband went off to work and I went to teach an ESL class to adult learners. The day’s lesson circled around the concept of goals. For two hours the clarification of what a goal is and how it is different from a want, or a need came up repeatedly. By the end of class, I was beginning to question not only my effectiveness as a teacher but my overall philosophy of goals.
By the time I returned home, the subject of goals was far from my mind. There were dishes to be washed, laundry to be dried, and random socks scattered throughout the house to be collected. I did take a moment to review the yearly goals sitting in a frame in my bathroom and to my dismay, not a single one has been completed to my satisfaction. With the year nearly half over, there was a small jolt of motivation coupled with disappointment that washed over me.
However, these feelings were quickly set aside, to focus on more urgent tasks like the realization that I still needed to get groceries and that the kids would be returning from school soon.
The next evening, my husband and I attended a gala for “Green Card Voices” which is a non-profit organization that works to collect stories of immigrants and refugees. Their newest project is focused on Afghanistan and is a collection of stories from young people, many of whom fled Afghanistan in 2021 when the Taliban regained control of the country. Several times during the event, the impact of what these young people endured, slapped the room with the force of a wet towel. In short, it was heavy.
Towards the end of the evening, our evening anyways – we had to leave early to get back to relieve our sitter and put our kids to sleep, a young man talked freely about his multiple failed attempts to flee the country during the airport crush where thousands of desperate Afghan citizens were trying to get on a plane to escape before it was too late. His smile did not match the gravity of his words, but he spoke with such an optimistic tone that it was contagious. He concluded his speech with a simple yet profound statement: “If the plan doesn’t work – change the plan, not the goal.”
The words of this sixteen-year-old refugee from Afghanistan stuck with me. I wrote them down the moment he uttered them to reflect on “later.” Turns out that “later” was fifteen minutes later in the car with my husband. And again, in that evening’s reflection. And again, this weekend when all the plans that were carefully laid out before me were cast aside when I was burned by boiling water from an exploding coffee tumbler. And again, this morning as I sat with my husband going over summer schedules and wondering how we’re going to “get it all done.” And again one last time, when my husband demanded I go to the library to write because “writers write.”
It’s been less than a week since I stood in front of a class of English learners contemplating the deeper implications of what the difference is between a goal, a need, and a want. The lie of unmanageability is that I can’t reach my goals because of time constraints or some other variable. My lower self has been prioritizing needs, then wants, then goals. In an artificial hierarchy constructed by my own feelings of inadequacy, I’ve willingly put my goals beneath my current reality instead of using goals to break through my own limitations thus creating a new reality.
What if this young man arrived at the airport for his fourth attempt at escape but then changed his mind and decided not to try since he had already “failed” three times? We don’t need to know the answer because that’s not what happened. He learned from his prior attempts and remained agile until he succeeded. While I currently have nothing in my life that is as profound and intense as fleeing a war-torn country, the idea of changing tactics and learning from failure while keeping your eye on the prize is applicable to any number of life events and circumstances.
My newfound insight into my own goal making, has helped me let go of some self-limiting old ideas. I just need to keep moving forward, keeping my feet under me in the present moment, and walk towards my goals step by step. I may need to change shoes, socks, and periodically adjust my path, but as long as I’m moving, I’ll eventually reach my goals.
When I think back to a week ago, watching my children play Santa versus Shang-Chi, it becomes clear. My goal to be a good mother isn’t defined by the fresh food I make, clean clothes I provide, or the careful routines we follow. It is defined by my ability to be present with my children. While this goal is more subjective than most, it is perhaps the most important. As for the rest of my goals, the same sentiment applies. Goals are required for me to persevere. Any goal I do not reach, serves the purpose of granting me humility.
Today, I am energized by my goals and inspired by the mantra “If your plan doesn’t work – change the plan, not the goal.” To succeed as a writer, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, student, and teacher, I need to have something to measure against. These goals are the strings that will pull me up when I’ve lost my way and as long as the string is intact, there is hope.
“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.” – Aldous Huxley
Life has picked up pace in our household over the last few months. Happenstance mixed with a bit of grief for our beloved dog whose health is ailing. Sprinkled with the utter chaos that follows young children, leaving behind a trail of sticky destruction.
Life is sometimes black and white and sometimes it is an explosion of color. This past month has been very colorful indeed.
It never feels like a choice to not write. There are circumstances that on occasion physically prevent me from writing but beyond those rare occurrences, I write every day. At least that’s what I strive for.
Lately, I’ve found time to work on my next book and not much else. My blog fell on the priority list, right below completing my homework for a course I am currently enrolled in. My blog days went from four to three to none with the brain telling me that I would find time. But I didn’t.
When I look back over the last year, writing in my blog is paramount to being seen. When I write my books, the story is already written and I’m just the vessel to get it out. I don’t think about the process too much or worry about the outcome because I truly see myself as the story carrier, not the creator. This may sound humble, trust me it’s not. But at a high level, that is how I see it.
My blog however is about me. All of me – in all my craziness, vulnerability, and insecurities. I sit down to write and when I am done, I publish it, and then I move on with my day. I put myself out there with the hopes that my words will find someone and brighten their day or if nothing else, make them think. But if not, that’s ok too.
Last night I received a message. I generally ignore most forms of electronic communication, and while this is not my most desirable trait, it’s served me well over the years. However, this particular message I did not ignore since it was from an old dear friend. The note was short and sweet, and my friend was merely “checking-in” since she hadn’t seen me post anything for a while.
This morning during my meditation it struck me how much of a disservice it is to myself and my few readers to simply stop posting. Then came the real-world worries of not feeling inspired to write a blog and being hyper focused on finishing my next book while staying on top of my course work. The truth, however, is simple. Writing my blog is part of my creative process. It allows me to process my successes and failures as a mother, wife, daughter, and sister. This vulnerability helps me stay connected to the present moment which in turn allows me to create more vibrant alternative realities in my stories. My blog and my books are in an interdependent relationship.
Today, I will remember to strive for consistency in my life. Habits are the foundation for growth and the ladder to success. I will also remember that inconsistency is part of life and remaining agile is required for sanity and survival. I will fail forward when my good habits fall prey to bad ones and use the momentum for further growth and refinement. I’m grateful that I was in my friend’s thoughts enough to “check-in” and her efforts spurred up some dormant inspiration.
When I was about seventeen years old, my mother’s boyfriend bought me a handheld crank flashlight as a gift. Although I was grateful to be thought of, I didn’t think much of the gift. It got put away into a drawer along with the other thoughtful but not-so-useful gifts I had accumulated over the years. It wasn’t until we had a power outage, did I even remember that I had it and that in fact it was useful.
The little level pulled up and the idea was you could crank it to recharge the battery and even crank it while it was turned on if you couldn’t wait for the battery to charge. The flashlight worked well enough but the battery was not long lasting and the light would dim after a few minutes of use. If the battery got low enough, cranking it while the light was on would result in a fairly consistent, albeit dim light that would die the second the cranking stopped.
The charge generated by the hand crank could not keep up with the energy demand of creating light. It would create some, enough light to function on a base level, but not bright enough to make life measurably easier. Unless of course there was a warning before the flashlight was needed and it could be cranked sufficiently ahead of time. If it was turned on with a full battery, it functioned like a normal flashlight. However, in times of crisis, there was hardly a time it could be cranked ahead of time, thus resulting in perpetual dim light with a rapidly draining battery.
My life has been busy lately. Or at least it feels that way. The moment I stop moving to read a book with one of my children, I almost immediately fall asleep. Fatigue has gripped me in an unfamiliar way. I don’t feel sick or depressed yet I struggle to complete my daily workload with any measure of grace. My internal battery feels like that of the wind-up flashlight. My daily cranking is no longer sufficient to shine as bright as I want to.
“The more I have to do, the more I get done” has been my mantra for many years. This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself on the sidelines of my own life, but it is the first time since having children. I no longer have the selfish option of self-preservation at all costs, as my life is no longer solely mine.
Historically, when I hit periods of low energy in my life, I changed whatever I can to increase my enthusiasm. However, I’m unsure of how to do that with two young children, and two dogs, that depend on me and the delicate balance that my husband and I have carefully crafted to prevent utter chaos from erupting in our homelife.
Life will come and go without my permission. If I spend too much time reflecting without action my world could cave inward further separating me from the aspects of life that I enjoy the most. I’m not sure what the answer is but I can’t help but think the parallels between my life today and that crank flashlight from so many years ago hold the wisdom required to change my perspective.
Today I will remember that it’s ok to let the light dim and even, on occasion, to let it burn out. Constant cranking is not sustainable nor is living in complete darkness. Rest, then work towards making my light brighter seems an effective strategy.
When I was about seven years old, I learned that some people in my family had trouble with their vision. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it never really left my mind. I remember doing tasks in the dark or with my eyes closed as “practice” in case I ever went blind. It wasn’t an anxious activity and I truly never really worried about it but I did take comfort in knowing that I could go to the bathroom, shower, brush my teeth, comb my hair, and get dressed in complete darkness. It was more of a game than anything else.
At school, I paid extra attention when we learned about Braille and picked the subject up quicker than my counterparts. I had enjoyed Origami since I was five years old so when I learned that blind people sometimes folded their money in special ways to denote their value, I paid extra attention. I spent the next summer perfecting folding paper cranes with my eyes closed.
Contrary to what it may seem, this type of behavior wasn’t strange for me. I was always imagining a different life as a child. I learned how to pick things up with my feet incase I ever lost my hands, I took cold baths and showers incase we ever ran out of hot water. I’d fast before I even knew what fasting was just to empathize with the hungry people, I saw on tv commercials. In hindsight, I looked for ways to be optimistic about things I could control because there was so much that I couldn’t.
The general conclusion of my childhood experiments were incredibly useful and translated into adulthood; what I once had and then lost may be painful but with time, whatever adaptations I have to make will become my new normal.
I was thirty-two years old the first time I lost my vision. I was happily working on my computer at my corporate job and suddenly, there was a dark hole in the middle of my vision. I had been having migraines with light orbs so I was somewhat familiar with vision disturbances but this was different.
While my vision was darkening, I started walking to go get help. My periphery vision was still intact so I was able to find my way and sit down near a managers desk. I quietly got her attention and told her I couldn’t see. I asked her to dial my husband and to ask him to come take me to the hospital. I remember the smell of her perfume. I remember the faint vibration from my apple watch alerting me that my heart rate was over 120. I remember hearing the whispers of my coworkers.
My stepdaughter came to get me from work and brought me to the hospital. I was completely blind when I walked into the hospital, and by the time they called me back to see the doctor, my vision was returning. In total, I was blind for about twenty-five minutes. The light hurt but I could see. I started to tell the nurse that I was fine and that I could go home now and then the worst migraine of my life hit me and I started vomiting. My vision disturbance was due to a migraine. I wasn’t going blind.
I had three more episodes of losing my vision and then promptly getting hit with a migraine over the next four years. Each time I was treated with steroids and migraine medication. Each time I worried less and less about it when it happened. Then I had children and my migraines stopped. For five years, I occasionally had migraines with light sensitivity but nothing like the literal blinding migraines of a few years earlier.
Two months ago, I was having a conversation with my friend in her home and my vision left. It came on slow enough for me to react by finding a place to sit and to inform my friend what was happening. My friend who is medically trained gave me some Aleve and said she thought I was having an ocular migraine. We then carried on our conversation like nothing had changed and within thirty minutes, my vision had returned. I waited anxiously for migraine that never came. I felt fine. Everything was fine.
A week later, I lost my vision again while leaving Walmart with my son. Like the previous incident, after thirty minutes my vision returned with no other symptoms. I went to the eye doctor who preformed scans and determined that my eyes were healthy but strained, a condition easily fixed with glasses. I was assured that any genetic blindness would be detected through scans years before any permanent blindness would set in. The doctor did however inform me that I was experiencing ocular migraines and that light was my trigger.
Two weeks ago, I lost my vision twice, two days in a row. Both times occurred when I was outside during sunset and the sun was particularly bright. Both times I was wearing strong prescription sunglasses. These two experiences were different than the times before because it came on almost instantly, like snow blindness. I was devastated. Despite the eye doctor’s assurance, my eyes were failing me.
Self-pity flowed through me. I felt it. Accepted it. Spent a day in it. And then I let the self-pity pass. I reasoned through the thousands of dollars we would spend to go to doctors who would send me to other doctors to tell me that they don’t know or that I have migraines. I reluctantly decided to consult a friend, who happened to also be a doctor, who correctly diagnosed a sunburned retina. An issue apart from ocular migraines. My eyes just needed to rest to recover.
Last week, I tried an eye treatment to help my eyes heal. The black powder is applied at night. The next morning, there is certainly a raccoon vibe as it looks like heavy eye liner. I liked how it looked so I left it. That morning it was noticeable how much less my eyes hurt when I went outside. My husband said it was my version of “eye black” like what the baseball players use.
Since then, I’ve invested in some wrap around sunglasses and continue to wear my unique eye liner. My eyes are feeling better. My husband has happily taken over most of the driving and I’m planning activities around the bright parts of the day to avoid the sun as much as possible. I’ve invoked my inner child’s adaptable spirit and have found ways to make my bi-polar eyes less problematic.
It is gift to have a sense temporarily taken. I would not ask for it, nor would I wish it upon anyone else, but now that I have experienced it, I have a new perspective that is full of gratitude. My vision is a gift.
Today, I’m writing a blog on a bright yellow keyboard in a dark basement with my eye comfort backlight on my screen. I’m not sure if any one wants to read about my brushes with blindness but it is a gift to simply be able to write about it. Gratitude is what I wish my readers to glean from this. I will embrace the creative spirit of my inner child and take all of adventures my body wishes to throw at me with enthusiasm. In the meantime, I will thoroughly enjoy these fine pleasures of sight, taste, sound, touch, and smell.
Our daughter was a self-soother from the moment she arrived in this world. Born in April of 2020, we were hit on all sides with discomfort, fear, and loneliness. It was just us two, snuggled away in quarantine in a little hospital thirty miles from home. I did the very best I could to bond with and comfort her, but the delivery was cesarean, and I was in rough shape. With no family present to help shoulder the burden of constant diaper changes and feedings, I had to rely on the sparsely staffed nursing staff. Needlessly to say, it was a rough experience that I wish never to repeat.
The trauma of it all was lessened significantly by the fact that our daughter was a warrior. She cried a bit when hungry or wet but otherwise she just slept. Carefully, sucky on her middle finger she suckled her way to comfort. It’s like she understood that there was nothing we could do to remedy our situation but wait for it to pass.
Sadly, I have very little to say about the next nine months. Post partum depression claimed me and with the rest of the world locked away in quarantine, the chaos that is caring for a newborn fell squarely on my husband. He rose to the occasion, quit his job, and took over as mother and father while I recovered.
When the fog that prevented me from fully participating in my own life, finally lifted, I had a lot to learn about our little girl. One of the first things that became crystal clear was that our little bundle of joy LOVED her “Nini”.
The word “nini” is not a word we would have chosen for a pacifier. Our son had a teacher who called the pacifier a “nini” and it stuck. I did try and replace the word with something more familiar to us like “pasi” or “nuk” but I failed. The teacher, who’s name I can’t remember, bestowed onto our family the word “nini” for pacifier and that was the end of it.
Our daughter never lost her nini. She always knew where it was and would hold onto it in her hand when she wasn’t sucking on it. Compared to our son who had a period where he probably lost three ninis a week; her awareness of her nini was nothing short of a miracle.
In almost three years, I’ve purchased three packs of ninis, which were three different sizes. As far as I know, she’s only lost one nini and that wasn’t really lost, she just dropped in a full toilet, and we cut our loses.
Due to her affinity for ninis, she has had several injuries that were made much worse because she had one in her mouth at the time. I made rules like she could only have them at bedtime, in the car, or nap time, but my rule was inevitably eroded in a way that only a two-year-old can provoke.
We had a babysitter that “helped” the process by cutting some of her ninis. This resulted in our daughter feverishly hiding ninis all over the house. While she never used a nini at school because they are not allowed, she almost always had one in her mouth, hand, or nearby, at home. We talked about weaning her off by trying to temp her with gifts and praise. One time I told her that if she gave up her nini, she could have anything she wanted. She promptly handed me her nini and then said that for her “prize” she wanted “more ninis.”
Last night she fell and hit her face against the wall with a nini in. There was blood and loose teeth. Something that we are all too familiar with. With her third birthday less than a month away, I decided it was time to say farewell to nini. There were lots of tears and hitting and crying. But then finally there was acceptance and cuddles. She slept with few disruptions through the night. She did it. What a big girl!
This morning she proudly exclaimed that her mouth was all better now and that she wanted her nini. We explained that she would not be getting it back. It seems, at least for the time being, that she understands and accepts no more nini.
Reassurance. Security. Comfort. Those are just some of the things I imagine the nini gave our daughter. Independence. Self-assurance. Confidence. Are some of the things I imagine she will gain now that she has said goodbye.
This morning, I was in the car and mentioned something about the blog I wrote yesterday. My husband remarked that it was the first blog I had written, in almost a year, that I didn’t have him proof read before I posted it. He said that he thought I was finally confident enough to put my writing out there without needing his validation.
There was no plan to stop having my husband proof my blog. I have started writing at the library everyday to help with my focus and to reduce the amount of snacks that I seem to find while writing at home. Circumstance made the decision to stop having my husband proof my blogs.
Progress isn’t always linear. Had I set out to stop having my husband proof my blogs, I may have been anxious or unsure about it. I am dyslexic after all.
My husband was my nini in a manner of speaking. My reassurance. My comfort. My security. I trusted that if my writing was garbage or offensive or misleading or just plain ineligible, he would tell me. He would stop me. But as time progressed it just became more of a habit than a necessity.
So, it seems that yesterday, both my daughter and I, said farewell to our ninis. Leaving behind our illusion of reassurance, comfort, and security. We now venture out into the world with a new self-assurance as “big girls” with a boost of confidence.
Today, I will remember that going out into the world without a nini can be scary. But that it is necessary for growth. There will be times when life seems crooked and our insides don’t match our outsides, but these moments are fleeting if we let them be. Farewell Nini!
Raising young children is a paradox. Time moves both quickly and slowly. The annoyances of today are the nostalgia of tomorrow. Behind every milestone reached is an exhausted caregiver that rejoices that they will never again need to change a diaper, puree baby food, or whatever the case may be. But even as the chaos is unfolding, there is a persistent reminder that there is a last time for everything. The last time you take a child out of a car seat, the last time you hold them in in your arms, the last time you as their caregiver are needed for daily function. This bittersweet reality stalks us all in some capacity or another. One day, we will outlive our ability to be useful and only our legacy will remain.
The goal is to enjoy your children as they grow. Invest in their interests. Work with them to solve their problems. Cuddle them. Discipline them. Read to them. Teach them life skills. Comfort them when they are sick. Or scared. Or lonely. Love them unconditionally. While being mindful that they are their own person. Make sure to respect their boundaries while standing firm on your own boundaries. Don’t yell. Or swear. Or make things too complicated. But not too simple either. Make sure to challenge them intellectually but be careful to not overwhelm them with unreasonable expectations. Try to do this all with grace and composure. No pressure.
Every year I make goals with my husband. Some are broad, others are very specific. One of my goals for this year is to “Stop Yelling.” Last year I came to the conclusion that there is not a circumstance, other than catching someone’s attention who is in danger or to shout words of support in a loud area, where yelling has benefited me or those around me.
My mom was a yeller. Yelling was her preferred mode of communication. She’d yell from one room to another or from the bottom of the stairs or from outside to inside or vice a versa. Because of this, as a child I associated yelling with power, not fear.
When I worked in the kitchen professionally, I yelled often. I yelled over the noise of the cooks line, over the sound of the dishwasher, and over the music that always played loudly from the prep kitchen. I yelled to assert myself as female in a male dominated workplace. I yelled to be heard. I yelled because I felt empowered to do so.
Then I met a lovely cook from Afghanistan. This was shortly after 9/11 and people were generally cautious of Muslims. To avoid any negative attention, the cook from Afghanistan learned a few words in Spanish and pretended to be Mexican. He never actually told anyone he was Mexican but never corrected anyone either. Because of his thick accent, he remained as quiet as possible. He relied on the chaos and background noise of the kitchen to protect his secret as he passed as a native Spanish speaker.
Within the first week of working with him, I knew all his secrets and I was impressed. I tried to model my behavior from his, as he was quiet, respectful, and probably most importantly, he never seemed stressed out. His reasoning for not yelling may have been singularly focused on maintaining his alternative identity but surly the benefits of talking to every single person in a respectful tone helped elevate his position.
My efforts failed spectacularly. I was incapable of being quiet and respectful. At the time, I told myself that my identity had to be “tough” or surly I would fail due to my gender. It’s cringe worthy to think that I thought I was the disadvantaged one in this scenario. The idea that the cook from Afghanistan, who had fled his homeland to protect his wife and daughter, lived in an area that did not accept or welcome him, and was working a job that well beneath his skill level, couldn’t possibly grasp my perceived hardship of being a young white woman working with men, (who for the most part couldn’t have cared less about my gender) is comical at best. Within a few weeks, I moved to a different restaurant within the hotel, where my hyper language and enthusiasm for colorful words was better appreciated.
Over twenty years later, I found myself examining my use of language once again. My kitchen days are well behind me. I left my bad attitude and need for validation burning on the stove. However, my time in the kitchen did teach me that somethings are habits and others are defaults. Having a bad attitude is a habit. Acting out by swearing in a quest for validation of position or authority is a habit. Habits can be changed, updated, or eliminated if the motivation to change is there. However, for me, yelling became a default behavior, not a habit.
How does a behavior become a default? The same way anything becomes a default: at one point in time, it served a purpose. Coffee drinking is a habit. The thought of coffee comes to mind and the person decides if they are going to drink coffee or not. There are several things that can happen at any point during the obtaining coffee part of the habit where the habit can be broken. Tea could be ordered instead. It could be avoided all together. Gum could be chewed to dissuade the weird taste combination of coffee and mint. There are as many solutions to breaking a coffee habit, all one needs to do is be motivated to try.
A default behavior would be blowing on coffee before taking the first sip. If a person takes a sip of coffee and it is too hot, the next time they are put in the same situation, they try something different to avoid getting burnt. Through trial and error, they determine that blowing on coffee best suits them and reduces the changes of them getting hurt. Therefore, blowing on coffee becomes a default behavior. As time goes on, this person may start to blow on soup, tea, or even on something that doesn’t require it, like a cold glass of water, because it is ingrained in them to do so.
The risk of blowing on something that does not require a cool down is inconsequential. Perhaps, it even generates a few laughs from those who observe. There is no reason to change. Until there is a reason to change. There appears to be no downside. But for the sake of this example, imagine that one day this person decides they need to stop blowing on coffee. Maybe their mouth is injured in such a way that blowing is physically damaging, but not painful. Or perhaps, their bad breath is so obnoxious that request was spurred on by their significant other.
Knowledge that a default behavior exists is not enough to change it. For a mild habit, that has not yet become an unconscious default, being aware is the catalyst for change. But for a default behavior, the origin story of how the behavior became default in the first place, is key to changing the behavior to a new and improved default behavior.
My mother thoughtlessly yelling from room to room, solidified yelling as form of communication for me. This form of communication later became a default whenever I felt like I need to establish my presence, like in the kitchen. Or like being a parent to two young children.
It’s been two and half months since I set out to “stop yelling”. I can count on my two hands the number of times I’ve yelled since then. Each time it has happened, I’ve been perplexed on how I got there. I then must examine the events leading up to it. Talk about it with someone. Figure out what I could have done differently. Apologize to my kids, husband, or dogs, as they are the ones most commonly getting sucked into my vortex of loud words. And I keep trying.
When I think of the soft-spoken Spanish speaking, Afghan cook, I think about how he replaced his natural reaction (default behavior), to speak his native language, with quiet Spanish words. He changed his default and it worked. This gives me hope that I too can break my default to yell when I want to be heard.
Last week, we had yet another round of illness hit our house. Our five year old son and our three year old dog either had food poisoning or shared a stomach bug. We picked our son up from school early that day and when we arrived, he was laying down on a mat holding his stomach. It was clear that he did not feel good. When we got home, he collapsed on the couch. Then he started vomiting.
It’s only in hindsight that I can see the moment that my son started vomiting as something meaningful in my quest to stop yelling. My husband was there with him as he began to vomit all over the couch. He was holding him. Comforting him. I saw what was happening and felt worried. Then I had a shadowy memory of my mom yelling at me to “stop” vomiting when I was throwing up on her couch as a child. Suddenly my inner child was right there with our son, and I was able to comfort them both.
It may seem insane to yell at a child who is vomiting. Yet, I shudder to think that if I had not made the goal to “stop yelling”, that I could have defaulted to the behavior I was familiar with as a child and yelled for my son to not vomit on the couch. That feels like progress to me.
Our house is finally cleaned up from the carnage of illness. The couch cushions have been washed and sanitized. Both our dog and son have returned to health. Life has moved on. To be able to reflect on life as it is occurring is a gift. I don’t know when the last time my son will uncontrollably vomit on our couch will be. But if that was it, I’m at peace with how I showed up.
Today, I will embody the Spanish-speaking Afghan cook from my younger days. I will be mindful of my words and my reactions. When I am stuck in a default behavior, I will remember that understanding the origin of a default is the best way to effect change with compassion. I’m grateful for the awareness that this time is fleeting and for the two little humans that are my daily reminders to continue to work on being the best version of myself possible.
My father is one of the most confident people I’ve ever known. When I was younger, I thought he was an expert on everything because he always spoke with self-assurance and seemed to never second-guess himself. One of my favorite childhood pastimes was sitting in my father’s lap, while he rocked in a rocking chair, smoking a cigar (no judgement – it was the 80’s), while he told me random facts about stuff. It didn’t matter what the topic was – my father was the smartest man on the planet.
It wasn’t until Middle School that I started to think perhaps he wasn’t an expert on everything. By this time, I had started to ask him questions he couldn’t answer. Like what’s it like to be a woman? But my admiration for him never waned.
One day in my early thirties we were at a family brunch and I was talking about Chorizo. I don’t remember why I was talking about Chorizo, only that it was relevant. There was a lull in the conversation and someone, I don’t remember who, asked openly to no one in particular, what Chorizo was made out of? My father didn’t hesitate and blurted out; “Chorizo is just salty eggs.”
Over half the table was comprised of people who had worked in the food industry. No one had to waste one second of thought to know unequivocally that my father was wrong. Between my brothers and I, we were quick to correct him and explained that it was a type of pork sausage. He listened, shrugged, and said he knew he had eaten it with eggs, so he assumed it was salty eggs, then, with ease admitted he was wrong and moved on from it.
The salty egg conversation was over a decade ago and it still brings tears of laughter to any one that recounts the story. I’ve even heard the story repeated by people who were not there. It wasn’t the fact my father made a mistake in identifying or explaining chorizo, rather it was the confidence in which he did so that was hilarious.
My father has given me a lifetime of advice that has guided me to be the best version of myself. It would take volumes to write down all his invaluable stories on how to thrive in the world and live confidently. One of the main themes of my father’s legacy is that it takes effort to connect with others and often you need to just jump in with both feet and see what happens.
The other day I was at a recovery meeting, the same meeting I’ve attended dozens of times in recent months. I know most of the people there by sight and a few of them by name. We reintroduce ourselves frequently during the meeting so admittedly, I’ve become quite lazy with putting in any actual effort to remember names.
It’s important to note, but not to focus, the fact that this is a meeting of recovery, meaning the people attending are often disconnected from society and are struggling to regain their footing. We all show vulnerability by simply being there.
However, there is a great deal of happiness and laughter in these meetings. There is no judgement. It is simply a community of people trying to make their way in the world without drugs or alcohol. So, when I recognized a fellow, who I had chatted with at great lengths a few weeks prior, I was eager to say hello and hear how he was doing.
This fellow must have had the same idea about me because the moment the meeting went on break, he came to greet me and stuck out his hand while calling out my name. He said that he “didn’t know if I remembered him” and I quickly cut him off. “Of course, I remember you! Jim, right? How are you?” I loudly exclaimed, feeling proud of myself for remembering his name. I extended my hand to shake his and he paused. He looked me dead in the eyes and said that wasn’t his name. That his name was Greg. Then he quickly disappeared into the crowd as the break was concluding.
In my breakout group, I said to no one in particular, that I was embarrassed that I was wrong about Greg’s name and regretted calling him Jim. Then another man in the room spoke up announcing that his name was actually Jim so he understands why I was confused. Then another man spoke up, purposely calling me the wrong name, and started laughing so hard he couldn’t finish saying whatever it was he was trying to say.
For about three minutes, jokes filled the room about how confident, and how wrong, I was about Greg’s name. For a fleeting moment, I thought about my dad and his “salty eggs” comment and imagined that he must of felt similar to how I was feeling, which was amused by my ability to confidently make a mistake.
About thirty minutes later, I set out to find Greg to apologize. For all I knew, I was the only person he recognized, saying hello to me was difficult, and me forgetting his name was the final straw. Greg was easy to find, he was sitting comfortably chatting with several other people. He laughed as he saw me coming and said he loved how confident I was about his name. Then he said that an easy way to remember his name is that it is Gregg with three g’s. We chatted about how people will ask if it Greg(g) with one (g) or two (gg)’s when in reality the question should be two or three g’s.
The conversation flowed easily and there was much laughter in the air, so we collectively decided to go out for a bite to eat down the street to continue the camaraderie. About halfway through the meal, a woman came up to Gregg and confidently called him “Jim.” She had been present when I initially called Gregg, “Jim” and must of only heard my loud exclamation that of course I remembered Jim’s name. My confidence was shining so bright that bystanders had no choice but believe me. This set-in motion another ten minutes of laughter and jokes.
Today, I reflect on the importance of confidence and self-assurance and remember that confidence does not equate correctness. However, confidence coupled with the ability to be wrong is a power combination. If I speak up and I am wrong, someone will correct me. If I sit in silence, I risk missing many opportunities. My dad now knows for sure what Chorizo is and I know with a great deal of certainty that Gregg’s name is not Jim. However, as I write this, I’m wondering if it was really three g’s, maybe it was just two.
In the late 90’s I read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It took awhile for me to get through because of the outdated and sexist language. Also, if I’m being honest, I was probably at an elementary school reading level as my dyslexia and homelife had derailed my academics in my younger days. While the message was life changing, the details of the book bothered me. I later learned that my experience was a common one for people just beginning in their journey of sobriety.
As my sobriety attempts ebbed and flowed, becoming almost as predictable as the seasons, I met other people, who, like me, were trying to get and remain sober. I made it a habit to judge those I met on the likelihood on whether or not they would stay sober. Did they “have what it takes” to leave the drink and make a better life for themselves? Occasionally, one of my judgements would come true and I’d pride myself on being a good judge of character. However, more frequently, those around me got sober and stayed that way, while I continued to struggle.
The “Big Book” as it is affectionally called by those who read it frequently, was always nearby. As the years of intermittent sobriety mounted, so did the number of times I read the book. I was told over and over again that the answers I was looking for were in that darn book, so I read. And re-read. I read it out loud, in groups, and to myself on lonely, quiet nights.
The message of the book never changed. I understood the words and how they reflected in my own struggles. I understood the hope its words represented. However, I didn’t think it fully applied to me. It’s sexist language and outdated references were reason enough to justify why the program, as it was outlined, would not work for me.
Naturally, I tried other versions of the program from other texts. I read religious texts and self-help books. If I could only find out why I was the way I was, then I could change it. At least that is what I told myself. I’m not sure when it happened but at some point, years into failed attempts at sobriety, I decided to look outside myself, and outside of books, for answers and reluctantly let go of what I thought I knew.
Somehow, I was able to piece together some sobriety. Then life happened and I became grateful that I didn’t have to drink over things anymore. And that for me was the magic. I had become grateful. Despite myself, my bad attitude and unwillingness to fully submit to any formal program of recovery, I found gratitude.
Gratitude lists are common in many communities. They are common because they work. We all have something to be grateful for. Even when it feels like all is lost, if we put our minds to it, we can find something to be grateful for.
Once I had learned how to foster an attitude of gratitude, life became a lot easier. So did reading the Big Book. I no longer focused on the lack of female perspective or my perceived biases. Instead, I saw the book for what it was intended to be, helpful. All the judgements were mine alone.
Eight years after I opened the Big Book for the first time, I was able to read it without discounting its contents. When I reflect on what changed and why I was able to hear a familiar message in a new way, the answer is clear, gratitude lists. It had become habit to make gratitude lists every day. Focusing on what I had, not what I wanted, allowed me to take the actions required to get and stay sober.
Last month I celebrated eighteen years of sobriety. On my gratitude list today are many things that were beyond my wildest imagination eighteen years ago, yet here I am. I still read the Big Book and I still make time to share my journey with those who are just starting out. I remember where I came from but there is no overflow of the past into future. My feet are firmly planted in the present and gratitude is what keep me there.
There was a period in my sobriety when life was difficult. Joy had abandoned me, and apathy became my default emotion. A few years ago, I found a gratitude list from that period of my life. There as only one thing on that gratitude list. One thing I was grateful for. It was only two words; “Red Cup.”
While my state of mind was terrible at the time, I wrote that gratitude list, I remember the cup I was referring to. It was red painted stainless steel and vacuumed sealed, so it kept water cold or coffee hot all day. It had a metal clip, like the ones rock climbers use, attached to the top and it was sharp if it was opened. I used to carry it as I walked past a halfway house of men that made it a habit to sit outside and catcall women as I walked to class at university.
My red cup made me feel safe. Looking back at my younger self, it’s almost comical that I thought a stainless-steel cup would protect me against a group of men. But at the time, I would have thought it ridiculous that it would not. The metal clip would allow me to swing it with great force and the added weight of the liquid inside would only help. In hindsight, it was probably the swagger in which I walked that cooled the cooing as walked past. Self-assurance can be unsettling to those who push boundaries.
When I first found the Red Cup gratitude list, I laughed and how disassociated I must of have been to write that. I had forgotten about the security it gave me walking to class. Only recently, has this come to mind, hence me writing about it today. It reminds me that gratitude can always be found and that it doesn’t need to be complicated.
Today, my life is blossomed in so many beautiful ways, I’m hesitant to share as it could be interpreted as bragging. But none of it means anything without gratitude. Today, I am grateful for the journey and all the stops along the way. I’m grateful that life can move through me instead of against me and that when I am off course, it is not a struggle to start again in the direction I want to be going. But most of all, I’m grateful that I do not have to do any of this alone. My friends, my family, strangers that read my words, all this connection is the fuel that makes my light burn strong and bright. Thank you for reading this.
“Occam’s razor (also known as the ‘law of parsimony’) is a philosophical tool for ‘shaving off’ unlikely explanations. Essentially, when faced with competing explanations for the same phenomenon, the simplest is likely the correct one.” – Occams-Razor
This winter has not been easy on our household with regards to health. Influenza, followed by mysterious lung infections, and capped off with a sudden and explosive battle with the stomach flu. While we have since recovered, every little health complaint is met with seriousness, as we are desperate to maintain a healthy household.
A few months ago, my thumbs started itching and the skin, only on the palm side of my thumbs became tough and scaley. I consulted with a few of my friends in the medical field and finally tried jock itch cream which seemed to clear it right up. Maybe it was just dry skin. Maybe it was my immune system revolting from multiple illness so close together. Maybe the vitamin D supplement I had started taking cured it. Too bad my thumbs can’t talk to tell me which remedy was the winner.
Then I developed a random rash on my shin and determined that I was allergic to one of the blankets on my bed. I didn’t like how the blanket felt, so probably I wasn’t really allergic, just annoyed – same difference. It made me feel better to blame a blanket.
About three weeks ago, I got a rash on one side of my body. I decided since I had slept on that side, I must be allergic to the new detergent I used to wash the sheets. A week later, I noticed that I had scabs on my left leg, presumably from the itchy skin that stemmed from the sheets.
My health seemed to be improving in many ways, but my skin was revolting. My mother had eczema, and I worried that my fate was to have bad skin. With my diet much improved, motivated by the earlier illnesses, and regular daily exercise, I thought the fates to be cruel to give me chronically bad skin. My face was clear, my nails were growing strong, yet little bumps and scabs lined my arms and legs.
Last week, my healthy weight loss became visually noticeable. As did little tiny scabs on my stomach. I was now covered, shoulder to toes with angry skin. Our two-year-old daughter was now starting to scratch herself and our son mirrored my complaints about being itchy. Whatever it was that was causing my discomfort, it appeared to be contagious.
I recalled the frustration and annoyance, as a young child, watching my mom scratch herself until her skin bled, complaining of how much it hurt. Then I remembered something relevant – my mom then went and got acrylic nails at the salon and her obsessive itching ceased.
My nails were stronger than they’ve ever been. I have worn them short my entire life but since they have been growing so strong, I had let them grow long. Then, as if my skin crawled up and slapped me across the face, it hit me. I was the cause of my chronically bad skin. My skin was no match for my long nails.
Awareness is the first step to changing anything. I had “decided” the root cause for my skin condition many times this winter. However, my attitude and long nails were never taken into consideration. I promptly cut my nails short and resigned to keep any skin discomfort to myself to see if our children’s itchiness also resolved. To no one’s surprise, it worked.
It’s only been a few days and my skin has improved. Our kid’s skin irritations have seemingly vanished as well. Perhaps, my nails were not the cause of my initial skin condition but they were certainly a variable and more simply, the cause of my scabs and increased irritation.
Skin issues may not make for good reading material but there is a lesson behind all of this. We have so little control over our lives. I cannot control if I have been exposed to something toxic or something I am allergic to. I may not know why my body responds the way it does and if I did, it might not change a damn thing. But I can control how I respond. And when there are two little humans looking to me for guidance and care, how I respond will be mirrored by them, whether I think it warranted or not.
My body is my house for a finite amount of time. There will come a day when my body will no longer be worthy of my soul and it will be left behind. Until that day comes, it is my responsibility to care for my physical state to the best of my ability. Not because I can change my fate, but so that I can enjoy the journey.
Turns out to stop itching, all I had to do was cut my nails. The simplest solution may not be the cause, but it can certainly be the cure. In the case of my itchy arms and legs, Occam’s razor proved true.
Today, when things start to feel complicated, I will remind myself of the simple truths for good living. Am I hungry? Tired? Lonely? Angry? Sick? Whatever the case may be, and whether it is within my power to do something about it or not, I can change my perception by accepting what is right in front of me and remember that solutions need not be complicated.
One of my favorite games when I was a child was to hold a mirror on my chest and look down on the reflection of the ceiling and walk around my house. I’d pretend I was walking on the ceiling. I have a few memories of doing this with my brother but mostly it was just me, alone in my room, walking on the ceiling.
Like most children, I just assumed everyone I met lived like I did. I had no concept of poverty or wealth. I didn’t know what neglect was and just assumed that everyone thought like I did about being a child; that childhood was to be endured and that happiness would come with the freedom of adulthood.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a happy childhood, just that the happiness was often hard earned. At an early age, I learned that I was responsible for myself and discovered that there were lots of way to escape my reality through television, drawing, and of course, walking on the ceiling.
As I grew older, I found new ways to escape that brought me further from happiness and eventually into a downward spiral of drug use and alcoholism. My optimism disappeared as adulthood approached and freedom from despair felt far out of reach.
Thankfully, I found sobriety before alcoholism could claim me forever. It was about a decade later than I had originally anticipated but I did finally reach adulthood and experienced the freedom I dreamed of as a child.
After a few years of nurturing my inner child, as a fully functioning adult, my happy memories outweighed the bad ones in every avenue of life. Everything I could think of that sparked a negative memory from childhood, I redid. While starting a stuffed animal collection in my late twenties may seem trivial, it did wonders to soothe my anxious inner child, who wished away her youth on the promise of better days.
It’s been the better part of a decade since I made peace with the first few chapters in my life. My inner child is healed and feels loved. The timing was magical, as soon as I could say with confidence that I had addressed the resentments of my youth, I found out I was going to be a mother.
Our children are now two and five years old. My inner child comes out to play with them and our home is a happy and safe one. My husband and I talk often about how we can continue to make strives in breaking generational trauma without whitewashing the past or minimalizing the importance of the individualized journey we all must make to adulthood. Like most parents, we’re just trying to do what we think is best for children.
The other day, our five-year-old jumped up on the dining room table and grabbed a mirror that was on the table. He immediately positioned it under his chin and started looking down as he walked towards the end of the table. I instinctively knew what he was trying to do, and grabbed him, setting him down on the floor and helped him position the mirror so he could continue walking on the ceiling.
My friend who was sitting at the table visiting with me, commented how intuitive the whole interaction with my son was. She then asked if that was something he often did with mirrors? I told her it was the first time I’d seen him do it but that I remembered doing that as a kid, so it was easy to help him.
My friend commented how she had never and would likely never even think to do such a thing. I laughed and asked my husband if he ever walked on the ceiling? Which he responded a quick “no.” It then occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t a common game to play as a child and searched my thoughts for any memory of talking to my son or showing him how to walk on the ceiling, I came up with nothing. It appears, that he came to the game of walking on the ceiling organically.
Watching my son play with the mirror to pretend he is walking on the ceiling, warmed my heart and made my inner child smile. Another memory from my childhood made sweeter by reflecting on my present-day life.
Reflecting is a way to change our perspective and even our reality. To reflect, we need to tap into something outside of ourselves, but this doesn’t need to be a complicated pursuit. For me, watching my son walk on the ceiling was enough to shift my attitude for the day and fill me with gratitude.
It also reminded me that it is within my power to act if I’m feeling stuck in my way of thinking. It could be stepping outside on a cold day without shoes on. Or looking up when I would normally look down. Taking a shower in the dark. Acting my way into different thinking is a surefire way to expand my perspective and tilt my reality just enough to have a new experience.
Today, I will remember that in a world that sometimes feels out of control, I can control how it impacts me. When something doesn’t feel right, I can try something else. I don’t need to make huge decisions to cultivate a new attitude toward life, I just need to be willing to try and look at the world from a different angle.
“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.” – Seneca
In ninth grade, I learned that not everyone has the same starting place. I recall the very moment that I felt genuine empathy for what I deemed at the time, a very stupid problem. I had worked that morning and forgot that it was picture day. I had a deep impression on my forehead from my baseball cap that I wore backwards while working part-time in a kitchen. I felt a bit embarrassed that I had an indented head but reasoned that this was my reality and if nothing else, I would look back on it one day and laugh.
While I was busy worrying about my forehead, I became aware of a group of girls sitting in front of me. One girl was fighting back tears and the other girls were trying to comfort her. They all looked beautiful and had obviously put time and effort into their appearance. The upset girl was oscillating between something her mother had said to her that was critical of her appearance and worrying about “ruining” her makeup with her tears.
My first thought was self-pity. In that very second, I would have gladly switched places with the girl. Her problems seemed so trivial and stupid. I had not even looked in a mirror yet and this girl had hardly looked away from one. It seemed like a luxury to be that self-obsessed and vain. Then something broke inside me and how I viewed the entire situation changed in an instant.
This girl was one of the “popular” ones in our middle school. She always had the right clothes, hair, and make-up. Other girls always surrounded her, hoping to glean away some of her popularity. Yet here she was just minutes before her picture, absolutely drowning in self-doubt. The girls “comforting” her were mostly just talking about themselves, while occasionally patting her in reassurance. She was on an island, surrounded by false smiles.
My self-pity changed to empathy. I felt in my heart had I been in her exact situation, that I would not have been as strong as her to hold back the tears. I took a quick inventory of my life and decided that truly in that moment, having an indent mark on my forehead, that I earned while working a job, was the worst of my problems. I did not have any false expectations of my life or anyone in it. I may not have been happy but at least I was 100% me and not a fractured reflection of someone my mother or someone else wanted me to be.
When it was my turn to go take my picture, I walked by and casually mentioned to the sad girl that I thought that she “looked nice.” I was met with something along the lines of “Fuck-off dike”, which made me chuckle because there was nothing else to do. I was trying to be nice, but I could see how taken out of context, my words could be off-putting.
That year, I didn’t get a yearbook to see how my dented forehead picture turned out. I did not care. It was my last year as a “regular” student. The following year, I started at the local trade college for a degree in Culinary Arts. I left all the insecurity, drama, and vanity, that middle/high school had to offer and traded in my childhood for adulthood.
There are many things I don’t remember my childhood. It is better that way. But when things pop up in my mind, I do my best to pay attention to them and reflect on why the memory is surfacing. I think in this particular case, it is to remind me that not everyone has the same starting place and that no one can truly know the burdens another carries with them. Also, none of that really matters. We can judge ourselves on our emotional state, while the rest of the world judges us on our actions.
Yesterday, I went to coffee with a friend who I admire greatly. She spoke with fluidity about the challenges in her life and the effort it takes to break generational trauma and to live life in an “average” way. As I listened to her, I became keenly aware of how much effort it takes in my own life to reach the point other people start off at. In other words, I became aware that I was still carrying around this feeling of being fundamentally flawed in some way, and worse, that somehow this made me unique.
Listening to my friend talk about her successes and growth, I felt optimistic. If she can overcome the fractured childhood, and other scars, so can I. She broke the generational curse, so why not me?
My glowing optimism lasted until I picked up my kids from school. My two-year-old didn’t want to take off her snow pants and my five-year-old was so excited he literally could not stop jumping. We hustled into the minivan and headed towards Tae Kwon Do.
The two-year-old was crying because she got goldfish for a snack, and she wanted animal crackers. The five-year-old, found an old bag of animal crackers in the car and promptly started tormenting her by offering her tiny pieces and then withholding more. The homemade muffins that I had made that afternoon, which used to be their favorites, were suddenly “disgusting and tasted like poop” and the music I had on was terrible, and I was driving too slowly, and the chaos continued to build.
Once at the gym, my son ripped off all his clothes and then got distracted and started running around in his underwear while my daughter wandered off and helped herself to the training equipment on the mats. Meanwhile, a fellow parent is handing me ice skates as a hand-me-down for my son and the instructor is trying to talk to me. My calm resolve started to fracture.
Two minutes into class, my daughter is asked by the Master to leave the mats, because she is not listening. Also, she is not really in the class. This is completely unacceptable to her, and she has a meltdown. Somehow, my son makes it through class without incident and in a whirlwind of chaos, we make it out the door and on our way home.
Once home, the chaos multiplied which included refusal to eat anything, coloring on the walls, table, and each other, and ended with my five-year-old son telling me he “hates me and that I’m the worst mom ever” and my daughter screaming at me because I’m “not her dad.” I felt utterly defeated. I remembered telling my own mother that I hated her and meaning it.
Thirty-five years later, I can still feel the distain I had for my mother as a young child. She used to tell me that she hoped my kids hate me as much as I hated her. And for a moment, I felt my mom from the grave, smile approvingly as my both my children railed against me.
Later that evening, as I laid in bed, I felt the familiar wave of self-pity from my childhood wash over me. I called my dogs to come comfort me and they did not come. Even my beloved dogs had abandoned me. I wept and went to sleep, feeling like a failure as a parent and as a person.
About 3am I woke up. Both dogs and my son had climbed into bed with me. I chuckled to myself at the ridiculousness of my earlier thoughts. I enjoyed a moment of gratitude and tucked in my son and pet my two dogs, all of which cuddled closer to me as I did so.
Then I picked up “Gilgamesh” and finished the epic poem I started weeks ago. The story of Gilgamesh really highlights how important it is to enjoy life and to not focus on the unchangeable. Another theme is it costs life force to love another. In other words, we can only truly experience love when we are vulnerable. I asked myself how vulnerable I had been in my own life? I did not like the answer.
This morning, I spent a few minutes reading articles about five-year-olds and learned that what I had experienced the night before was very common and almost expected. Same thing for the two-year-old. I was not a chronically unique mother who had already damaged her two young children enough to earn their rage. No, I was just an average mother with average kids having an average experience that I was internalizing to be worse than it was.
Before school I received a total of three unprovoked “I love you mama” between the two children and my son took a moment to thank me for switching him to a new classroom – something I had already internalized as being the wrong decision. There were hugs and kisses and smiles and we all went on with our day.
It does take effort on my part to adult in a manner that breaks free from my generational trauma. But the alternatives are unacceptable. Whatever I struggle with, I am not alone. There are many other mothers that feel the way I do. I am not the only one that worries about passing dysfunction to another generation.
What I choose to focus on today, is not only am I not my mother, but that my children are not destined to experience anything I endured. It doesn’t really matter how I get to a place were I can remind myself of this simple truth, only that I get there.
Today, I will continue to strive to live in a manner that is free from shame, guilt, and doubt. I will remember that even as I look to the struggles of the past, perspectives can change, and new strength can be found. The roots of my struggles only matter in context to growth and should never be used to seed doubt. It does not matter how I arrive, only what I do once I am there.
“Let us cherish and love old age; for it is full of pleasure if one knows how to use it.” – Seneca
The other day I had the great pleasure of sitting next to a women that was many years my senior. While I was familiar with this woman from previous engagements, I hadn’t spent much time getting to know her personally and admittedly had some preconceived notions that her character was that of a “sweet old woman”.
Within a few moments of sitting next to her, she began to grill me on why I didn’t have any coffee cake? Everyone else at the table had coffee cake, and the fact that I had none was unacceptable. Even after I offered that I had just eaten a scone, my excuses were ignored because a scone isn’t coffee cake and that was before, and this is now.
Several other women joined in the chorus demanding that I try the coffee cake, so I submitted. Afterall, if it was half as good as they were saying, I would have regretted not at least having a bite. When I returned to the table with my coffee cake in hand, I noticed that everyone else at the table had cleared their plates.
As the program started, I took a bite of the coffee cake, and it was indeed very good. But I was already full and certainly didn’t want the sugar in my system, so I stopped after one bite and left the plate in front of me. As I shifted my attention to the speaker, I turned to see that the woman next to me was now wearing sunglasses. I remember wishing I had brought my sunglasses because it was indeed a bit too bright in the room. Then the women leaned in and said she wanted my coffee cake.
We were immediately called out for being disruptive. It was in the most lovingly of ways, but nevertheless, it was clear that we should not be talking amongst ourselves and that our eyes belonged on the speaker. I whispered to the woman to take the cake and started to push it towards her. She refused and pushed it back.
Of course, this sweet, old woman was too proper to take food from me. I contemplated going up to get her a new piece of coffee cake. I imagined her refusing out of politeness, so I refrained. A few minutes later, I saw her hand inching towards my coffee cake. I tried again to push the plate in front of her and she refused.
Then a moment later, I looked down to see my coffee cake in her hand and she was bringing it back towards her mouth. She whispered for me to “look away” as she ate the rest of my piece of coffee cake. There was nothing that could be done to stop my laughter. This woman was gleefully eating the piece of coffee cake without a single care in the world. She was not a sweet, old anything; she was a woman living her best life.
Towards the end of the meeting the group was discussing movies. The women next to me announced that she would be seeing “Puss and Boots” which is a children’s movie. A few of her fellows poked a bit of fun on her for making such a choice, to which she responded that “her granddaughter told her it was good” to which a voice from another table boomed asking her to tell everyone how old her “granddaughter” was? To which she replied, “42 years old”.
While the movie conversation died out amongst the group, it carried on at my table. The women next to me, was unapologetic about her choice and said she’d meet with whoever at the theater and they could see whatever they wanted but that she was going to Puss and Boots. My heart was now in full blossom of admiration for her. She was going to do what she wanted to do and that was that.
Regrettably, I was not able to go to the movie, but I sure wanted to. Being around someone who has leaned into aging and in turn dominated it, is a very desirable person to be around. I spent the rest of the day giggling to myself randomly at the thought of the women next to me stealing my coffee cake and telling me to “look away.”
Today, I will lean into aging and take comfort that as time moves on, I will only continue to refine myself and my place in the world. As time passes, experiences will smash worry, and self-assurance will reign if I let it.
The last few weeks have been tough. Illness swept through our house right before Christmas, leaving our plans unfulfilled for the third year in a row and disappointment stalked our children. However, everything with regards to the holiday turned out great. We were isolated but happy and we all recovered fairly quickly, thanks to modern medicine. It would be easy to say that my heavy heart was due to circumstances but after sitting with it for a few weeks, I can now clearly see that my melancholy has one but one primary cause; I miss my cat Spike.
Spike was with me for 25 years. 25 Christmases. 25 New Years. 25 Birthdays. Everything that has happened to me over the last 25 years, Spike was there with me. This year, he was not and that hit me in a way I did not expect. Grief crept into me and worked through me this holiday season as it was the first time in my adult life that I didn’t see that little blur of orange fur constantly plotting to destroy my Christmas decorations.
Although, I was once very religious, dogma and organized religious thought I have since abandoned. I prefer to focus my energy on the present and connecting with others. Death seldom disturbs me because I have made my peace and stride to live a lifetime each day. My meditation and reflection practices have allowed me to grow in every sense of the word, so why waste time with semantics on the hereafter?
The dreams started a few weeks ago, shortly after Christmas. At first, I’d wake up thinking I heard Spike’s meow. Then I found myself waking up longing to hear it. Grief of his passing was balled up in me so tight, it took a few occurrences of extreme longing to see my cat again, for me to realize how much his death impacted me.
Then one night Spike came to me in a vivid dream and talked to me. He told me that he was enjoying his bodiless form and that he could now freely travel through dimensions, space, and time. He said that all cats can see into other dimensions, realities, and timelines but that he liked his existence with me so much that he never tried until he was in his “free form”. Then he asked me if I was going to get another cat?
When I awoke, I wept. Then I wondered if I was going crazy. Maybe I am, but I’m comforted by the questioning of my sanity, as only crazy people think they are normal. I talked to my husband and told him what I was experiencing. We talked about getting another cat and decided to leave it to the universe, knowing that another cat could never replace Spike.
Knowing something and accepting it are not mutually exclusive. I knew I was alcoholic eight years before I could accept my alcoholism enough to actually quit drinking. Knowing Spike was gone was much easier than accepting I’d never hold that little fur ball again. I allowed the grief to move though me and shared my pain with others. I even made a special Christmas ornament with Spike’s picture on it.
Two nights ago, I had another vivid dream about Spike. It was so abstract, yet real, that I lack the words to describe the impression it left on me. In the morning when I woke, I meditated, reflected, and did all the things I know how to do to keep in prime spiritual condition. But I found no comfort. So, I turned to something, I had long since abandoned, I tried praying.
My prayer was directly to Spike. And I use the term “Prayer” loosely because really I was just talking to him with an immense amount of faith that he could hear me. I told him how much I miss him and that I was a bit confused by his presence in my dream. I was driving as this conversation was occurring and I just let the words flow. My prayer ended with something that surprised me, it ended with a plea to confirm in a concrete fashion what he had told me in my dream, that he was in free form, travelling through dimensions, space, and time.
An hour after my prayer, I went to the store. I’m going to recall in great detail the events to illustrate not only my awareness but the strangeness of the event that occurred.
2:30pm, I parked my car in front of Aldi’s. I was very aware of the time because I still had to get dinner situated before getting the kids at 4:30pm. Aldi’s is less than a mile from my house. I parked and did a mental checklist to make sure I had a quarter and bags. I opened the change bin that we keep in the car and grabbed a random quarter. As I got out of the car, with the quarter in my hand, it caught my eye.
The quarter looked different than a regular quarter. The metal looked different. Not much different but enough to command my attention. I walked to the sidewalk towards the entrance and stopped to investigate the quarter more closely. It was from 1978. I pondered how this little piece of metal was older than me and wondered if the mixture of copper and nickel was different back then.
When I arrived at the cart exchange, which was the sole purpose of having the quarter, I paused. I felt strangely attached to the quarter and didn’t want to lose it. My fear quickly dissolved when I investigated the cart and validated that my quarter was merely a place holder and that I would be returned my same quarter.
With cart in hand, I entered Aldi’s. I spent about ten minutes in produce and then quickly went through the other four aisles, just to take a quick look and grab some frozen cabbage. I felt very calm in the store and questioned to myself why I didn’t shop there with any regularity? I was keenly aware of my fellow shoppers, especially the young woman who was with her daughter who was wearing snow pants in the store. They both looked so happy and were enjoying their shopping experience very much.
There was one person ahead of me at check out, who moved very quickly. There was one older man behind me who was carrying a few items in his hands. I was about to tell him he could go ahead but the cashier was already speedily passing my items through check out, which only took a few minutes at most. I paid with my credit card, as the only money I had was the quarter in my cart.
After I had paid for my groceries, I went to the side to quickly bag my groceries. I remember feeling very good about the four bags of fruits and vegetables that I had just bought for a fraction of the price I normally would pay. My attention shifted quickly to the woman with the daughter in snow pants as she said very loudly, “we did it” and high fived her daughter. The man that was behind me in the checkout was gone. As I prepared to go out the door, I stopped and watched the woman and her daughter for a moment and felt very happy. Whatever was going on in their life, it didn’t matter. They had a cart full of food and each other.
When I got outside, the sun looked lower than I expected. I packed my bags in my car and turned to return the cart. As I walked towards the cart exchange, I was thinking about how the quarter was forty-five years old and how much has changed in the last forty-five years. I wondered if in forty-five years from now, the young girl in snow pants would recall the joyful trip to Aldi’s with her mother.
My quiet, happy, musings came to screeching halt when I retrieved my quarter from the cart. The quarter was from 2017. I was utterly speechless. I had been with my cart the entire time and there was no way that my quarter was switched. I was one thousand percent sure that I had a quarter from 1978 in my hand when I got the cart and now I was holding a quarter from 2017. I stood staring at the quarter in the same spot I had first noticed it was from 1978.
Once I was sitting safely in my car, I muttered to myself about the quarter. I checked my pockets thinking that perhaps I randomly had another quarter in my pocket, despite not having used cash with any regularity since 2021. Then I noticed the time. It was 4pm. There was absolutely no way that I had been in Aldi’s for ninety minutes. I started to panic. Did I have a stroke? Is this what a nervous breakdown feels like? I didn’t feel stressed at all, in fact, I had been feeling rather calm. But how did what felt like a twenty-minute trip to the grocery store turn into ninety minutes? I was utterly confused.
As I sat in the car, I wondered if I was even ok to drive. I took a moment to do mental body scan and determined that physically I felt fine. But I could not let go of my 1978 quarter. I had not imagined it, but where did it go?
I opened the change bin in the car and took out another quarter. It was from 2001. Then I saw one last quarter in the back of the bin, and I picked it up. It was the quarter from 1978. I was strangely reassured and immediately my thoughts went back to the prayer I had said in the car earlier that day. The quarter was my concrete reassurance that this reality is not the only one. In essence, this quarter was the answer to my prayer to my dead cat.
This isn’t my first choice to be writing about my profound experience with a quarter in reference to my time travelling, dimension bending, deceased cat. But I often feel that what I write isn’t really mine anyways. I am simply the means to an end to get words to paper. Sometimes, I’m as surprised as the reader to what comes out when I write.
When I came home, I told my husband about my experience. He agreed that there is no way in any reality that I would willingly spend ninety minutes in any store, especially not Aldi’s. I checked my frozen cabbage, and it was still frozen rock solid, which it wouldn’t have been had I actually spent ninety minutes in the store. Yet here I was.
My husband lovingly listened as I told him my thoughts about switching timelines. In one timeline, I grabbed the quarter from 1978 and in the other timeline I grabbed the quarter from 2017. I’m not sure how but I was rather certain that something not of this reality occurred and the quarter was meant to be a reassurance.
There are many theories on the different dimensions and timelines. One thing that all these theories have in common, at least as far as I’m aware, is that decision making creates new possibilities. The more unprobeable the decision made is, the more likely it is to create a new timeline. Basically, in the fourth dimension, everything is seen. The past, the future, and all the possibilities. However, the randomness of probability is unseen, therefore, nothing in any reality is set in stone.
Spike overcame so much in his life. When he was eight years old, I was told he wouldn’t live but another six months. I left the vet’s office with a heavy heart and plethora of prescriptions, including a special food. Spike hated his special food and the medicine. It made him throw up and it didn’t take long for him to refuse food and water all together. I remember holding him and sobbing because I wasn’t ready for him to go yet.
Then I had the idea to abandon logic and to stop all treatments. I bought him the cheap can food that the vet had explicitly told me not to feed him and gave it to him. He ate with glee. I decided right then, that whenever Spike wanted to give up on life, I would simply try something different.
The mantra of “try something different” kept Spike alive for 17 more years. After a few years, the vet stopped giving advice for me to ignore and started telling me to keep doing what I was doing, which was changing things up whenever Spike seemed to be down.
A few years ago, I updated the mantra to “What Would Spike Do?” Whenever I felt stuck in life, I would remember Spike’s example of how simply changing something, anything, can make a huge difference. It was this mantra that led me to pray to Spike that day in the car. In some manner, it was this same logic that led me to Aldi’s in the first place. Whenever life starts to feel small, change something, and it will start to grow.
It’s 3am on a Tuesday. I awoke an hour ago with a strong desire to write this. Perhaps, all this is grief-stricken madness that will only become clear with time. But as I sit here, I feel peace. And in this peaceful state, I can now clearly remember switching carts once I was checked out, so not to interrupt the cashier’s speedy flow.
Turns out I had two quarters from 1978 in my car, which is not a rare possibility. Sure, it’s more fun to think that Spike jumped through a time portal which caused a quarter to spark a flurry of abstract hypotheses but sometimes reality is just as boring as it seems.
However, the fact that some peace has been found and the blanket of grief has been lifted is perhaps the only proof I need that faith in something being possible is all that is required to change a perspective therefore changing our own reality.
Today, I will remember that this life isn’t set in stone. My destiny may be heavily suggested but is not unchangeable. I will embrace the lessons Spike has taught me, both in life and in death. I will remember to embrace the possibilities of life and strive not to get stuck. I will take the risk of making uncalculated decisions when my world starts to feel small, and I remember the day that randomness and a quarter changed my reality.
Life will go on with, or without me. Whenever tragedy strikes, my energy is better spent thinking of others. Just because it feels like the world has stopped, doesn’t mean it has.
Alcoholism, drug addiction, and trauma are all diseases of perception. All three work to kill its host by convincing them they aren’t afflicted. No amount of thinking will cure these ailments, as we created our own perceptions that allowed the disease to take over. Connecting with others who understand and exercising a willingness to try and live life in a new manner, will quickly loosen the grip of these deadly ailments.
The measure of a good life is a good death. There can be great joy found at the funeral of someone who has led a meaningful life. Consequently, there is a deep sorrow when hope was just out of reach when the person passed. The good news is, by living a lifetime every day, we get to make that choice for ourselves.
Slow down. When is doubt, it is better do nothing. Any decision that appears to need to be made quickly, should be tested with inaction. The harder someone pushes for quick action, the more their motives should be questioned.
This too shall pass. Times are bad; don’t worry, this too shall pass. Times are good; don’t take it for granted, this too shall pass.
Create goals. Writing down actionable goals and placing them in a visible place is a great way to get and stay motivated.
It’s ok to be angry, it’s not ok to be hurtful. Anger serves a purpose. Its mere existence can uncover layers of repressed emotions, and that is a good thing. Explore it, feel it, own it, and share it with a safe person. Then let it go. No action should ever stem from anger.
It is within our control to change our perspective, but we can’t do it alone. To remind me that it is within my power to take the actions required to change my perspective, I make a regular practice of looking up. We spend much of our lives with a limited scope of reality by simply looking forward instead of looking all around us. Once we are willing to change our view of reality, we need only to ask for help and we are on our way to a changed perspective.
Whatever isn’t used and cared for will erode and decay. Our bodies and minds are ours for a finite amount of time. We can strive for good health and sound minds and die the same day as if we did nothing at all. But whatever we don’t use will erode and decay faster as it becomes atrophied. Inaction robs of us choice. Take the walk. Ride the bike. Read the book. Idleness will never be missed when filled with fruitful activities.
Cure trauma by replacing hurtful events with happy ones. Trauma can spark Shrinking World Syndrome (SWS) by connecting past pain with current places, events, and people. This can be undone by purposefully replacing traumatic triggers with pleasant experiences. It is cumbersome and can be tedious, but it works. If you slip on the ice, instead of avoiding it all together, learn how to ice skate.
There is no good or bad, only perspective. What is good for someone may be bad for someone else. Instead of wasting time with judgements, look for common solutions and understanding.
Look for the helpers. Whenever strife surrounds us and tragedy strikes, look for those who are helping others and join them. If there are none, become the helper and build a community of helpers.
Meditation strengthens the mind. A daily meditative practice prepares and strengthen the mind so when it is tested it will be strong. There is also no wrong way to meditate if we are willing. When it seems impossible to quiet my own mind, simply sitting in silence for an hour will produce amazing results.
Alcoholism, Drug addiction, and Trauma are terminal diseases. The seriousness of these conditions is not complex; left untreated, it will kill those it infects. Recovery from these ailments is for those who want it, not those who need it. Those who have overcome this hopeless state, can save lives by sharing their experience.
Creativity is the soul’s expression, listen to it. One thing the diseases of perception (alcoholism, drug addiction and trauma) all have in common is they rob their victims of their creative expression. Once on the road to recovery, creativity often bubbles up. Listen to that internal voice that tells you to start painting, writing, singing, sculpting, etc. This urge to create is the soul expanding. Nurture your creativity as if it were a small child. Be patient and accepting of the process of learning how to do something new. Given enough practice, not only will you have the power to change your own perspective through creative expression but to change the perspective of those you share it with.
Humanity is filled with humans. We all have our nature, ethics, virtues, vices, values, and defaults. The goal is not to overcome ourselves or others but to learn to live in harmony. To live without judgement becomes a digestible feat when we look to the natural world. A shark is a shark despite anyone’s desire for it to be something else. We can appreciate the shark’s beauty safely from the shore. We resist the urge to swim with sharks because we understand the shark’s natural state conflicts with the average natural state of a human. This is not the shark’s fault nor our own. Humanity is much of the same. Once we know someone’s nature, we should look to find ways to appreciate them while maintaining healthy boundaries to keep ourselves safe.
Emotional intimacy is sparked by vulnerably. Asking for help can seem like an impossible proposition to someone who has routinely been let down. Self-sufficiency can only give you what you’ve already had, nothing new. However, the process of asking for help, regardless of the actual task, breaks down the walls and allows for vulnerably, which is required to create meaningful bonds with another human.
Reflection is required for growth. The number of times I’ve written, said, or produced something that quickly became obsolete is staggering. However, the process of doing so is what helps facilitate growth. I don’t know what I don’t know. When presented with the option of giving it an honest effort and failing or not trying at all, failing is the preferred choice. Fail forward. Reflect with kindness and keep going.
The moment I passed through the locked doors, I saw her at the end of the hall. It was unusual to see my mother, who was a resident of a locked memory care facility, out of her room. But today was different.
There were several other residents in the hallways chatting. My mother was in the center of the social circle and turned to greet me. She walked towards me with her arms stretched wide, eager to give me a hug. It was clear, by the amount of her enthusiasm, that she did not know I was her daughter.
We were in Covid lockdown, and I had only been allowed to visit due to a medical exemption. I was wearing two surgical masks and a face shield. It is likely that even in a solid mental state, she may not have recognized me, so to not do so in her decrepit state was no shock.
My mother raced to me and gave me perhaps the biggest, most heartfelt hug I had ever received from her. Then she gently held me by my shoulders and said that she that she loved me and that she was happy I was there. Had there been any doubt before about her recognizing me, this clenched it.
The first few times I visited her in the locked ward, she would hardly speak to me. I would try to connect with her in any way I could, but she just wanted to watch T.V. Twice, she called me on my cell phone after I had left to tell me that the most annoying lady keeps coming to visit her and she hated it. So, to be greeted with a hug was a unique and unexpected experience indeed.
There was something different about my mother on this day. She was happy. She smiled as she talked and had a relaxed way of carrying herself. Her hair was styled, and she was fully dressed, which was not something that had occurred for some time. I stood next to her as we both looked out the window at the church next door. She looked hopeful.
Then my mother’s expression turned mischievous, and she confessed that she’s “been thinking about taking a gap year” because she didn’t really like college anymore. She continued to say that the classes are so boring, and she just didn’t want to do it. What she really wanted to do was travel and go see the world.
With a voice full of optimism, my mother then said that she had to go get ready for us to “go out” and started to fuss with her hair. A nurse came in to check on her and my mother gleefully introduced me as a “really good friend” and told her that we were getting ready to “go out.”
Watching this old woman relive her college days reminded me of Soren Kierkegaard’s quote; “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” This fragile woman, who was writing the final chapter of her life, had the good fortune to take a detour into her past. In this past, she was not yet a mother but a young adult brimming with optimism.
It brough a sense of calm over me to see my mother in this state. As she talked almost non-stop about all the places she wanted to visit, I smiled. I smiled because I knew that she did all those things and visited all those places. Her life may have not been the type of life I wanted but it was certainly what she wanted.
A few short weeks later, my mother asked me to “please kill her.” The pain of losing control of own mind was too much. Then she stopped talking. Two weeks later, she laid dying as my brother and I did our best to assure her that she could move on and let go of this life.
A year after my mother’s death, I decided to take a “gap year” and do all the things that I had been dreaming of. I pursued my artistic interests, spent quality time with our children, then spent quality time away from our children. Whatever, I could think of, I did. I allowed myself to become bored and then inspired and then bored all over again. I spent days, sometimes weeks, reflecting, meditating, and growing both spiritually and emotionally. Which almost inevitably was followed by Netflix marathons and baking sprees.
It’s hard to say whether the experience with my mother in her final days laid the foundation for me to take a gap year but I’ve certainly thought of it often over the last year. My mother’s life was tragic from my perspective, but time has taught me that my perspective isn’t the only one. From the perspective of the young lady, who was plagued with deciding whether to take a gap year, her life was a smashing success.
As my gap year ends, I am as ready as I ever could be to dominate whatever comes next. My heart is full of gratitude that I was given the opportunity to simply exist for a full year. I am excited to take all my artistic and philosophical musings with me as I prepare for my next adventure.
Today, I will be grateful for what exists in the here and now and carry optimism with me into tomorrow. I will take with me the lessons learned and look forward to learning something new. And I will always fondly remember the power of a taking a “gap year”.
When I was a little girl, I asked an adult what heaven was like? Their answer was something that I appreciate even more now that I am a mother, they simply said that heaven is “happiness.” I pressed further and wanted to know what type of happiness? Was it waking up from a good night’s sleep type of happiness or playing with my friends outside in the sunshine type of happiness? Inquiring minds needed to know specifics.
Unfortunately, the adult who had led me down this path of questioning, which type of happiness was the best, didn’t have sufficient answers for me. So, I set out to define my heaven-like happiness all by myself. I spent a few days thinking about the subject. At times, I determined that heaven isn’t a place I’d like to go if I was confined to just one emotion. But then I reasoned that heaven was more of an abstract ideal and not a place, so my thought exercise was still a worthwhile pursuit. Perhaps, even more so.
When I asked other children what their thoughts were, I was deeply disappointed. Some said that there were kittens and puppies in heaven. But when I asked what happened to the puppies and kittens when they grew up? Or if their puppies and kitten’s parents were also there? And was part of the joy of heaven taking care of pets? Their vision lost focus.
Others said their deceased relatives were there. So, I asked what version of their relatives were there? Was it their grandma when she was young or old? And would your grandma’s parents be there too? And their parents? And so on? What about the family members who didn’t know each other? Or were the relatives unique to the person’s vision of heaven the only ones that mattered? I didn’t get any of my questions answered. It was at this time, I started to realize that perhaps, I thought a little deeper than the average eight-year-old.
And then there was the one kid that said that heaven was just like candy land, a place where you could eat everything, and it tasted so good. I liked this version of heaven. I had no questions. I understood this type of happiness.
That night as I laid in bed, I constructed my own version of heaven in my mind. There was a huge, beautiful banquet hall with an ice cream buffet that had every flavor of ice cream ever made. The hall had people and animals in it, but only those who wanted to be. I didn’t have to know them, and they didn’t have to be relatives. They just had to want to be there.
My thoughts flooded over into dream land, and I spent that evening eating ice cream, without ever getting brain freeze or a tummy ache. As I ate a huge mint chocolate chip ice cream cone, I wandered around and talked to my deceased hamster Midnight, my grandma Hannah, and a dog named Fluffy – who walked on two legs and held a tall chocolate ice cream cone in his paw. The ice cream never fully melted, and the buffet never ran out.
My magical ice cream buffet heaven is now 34 years old. I still frequent it during meditation and occasionally in my dreams. My guest list has expanded to include a collection of my historic heroes: Seneca, Martin Luther, Homer, Marcus Aurelias, Cleopatra, Sitting Bull, Albert Einstein, to name a few and the ever-expanding list of people I’ve known on this side of life who have since gone to the other side.
The ice cream is always flowing, and the conversation is always interesting in my version of heaven. While I fully accepted long ago that heaven isn’t an actual place, I take comfort knowing that as long as I am living, I can visit there anytime I like.
When I think about my own death, I don’t think about heaven. I think about heaven when I think about life. Heaven feels close when I think about the curiosities that drive me and my love for interesting people and ice cream. I bask in the gratitude that I have been alive long enough to know happiness in so many ways, too numerous to be confined to a place. Even heaven. I do not need to worry about death, as life is all that separates me from it. It will come at some point, whether I am ready for it or not. Death is what unites us all. It is life that can separate us.
Today, when I am having trouble connecting with life, I can meditate and visit my magical ice cream buffet. I can take joy in the fact that I am connected to life through death and vice-a-versa. Wherever I was before, I will be once again. But right now, in this moment, I am alive and that is a gift. And if that doesn’t work, I can make myself an ice cream cone and call a friend. I can make my own little piece of heaven in the here and now.
I am the flow of life that connects the body and soul.
I am the nature of all things from the smallest to largest creatures of this earth.
I am the bridge of all emotions. Awareness of my presence changes how I am experienced.
I can be held in and pushed out, but nothing can control me indefinitely.
I am all around you.
Although I can be hard to see, you can feel me when you are close to others.
When I am absent, grief soon follows.
From the first time until the last, I am ever present. Even when you are unaware and have forgotten me.
Even though I belong to everyone, I am uniquely yours. No one can feel me the way that you do, nor can you ever fully comprehend how I feel to others.
I am a fact. I am provable, measurable, observable, and finite. Yet, my origin may feel contentious and my existence a gift.
I am breath.
I am god.
When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with cheetahs. Unfortunately, we lived in Minnesota and didn’t have a zoo that could house such a magnificent creature due to the severity of our winters. Naturally, I harassed my father constantly to take me to a place where I could see a real, live cheetah. While my eight-year-old self had Africa in mind, any zoo that had a cheetah would suffice. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
My father handled my obsession brilliantly and made many efforts to put a cheetah in front of me. We traveled to different zoo and even made it all the way out to California to the San Diego zoo to see the Cheetah exhibit. I don’t recall the exact circumstance, but our trip ended without me ever seeing a cheetah. I believe the exhibit happen to be closed that day. Slowly, my dream of seeing a cheetah in real life diminished.
One day my father brought me a stuffed cheetah when he returned from one of his business trips. I was very grateful and out of the toys I received as a child, this cheetah ranked in the top five for sure.
Years passed and I started to seek out trouble. I have vague memories of packing up a bag to run away and putting the stuffed cheetah in my bag. I remember getting drunk and painting the cheetah purple with purple hair dye. As my childhood moved further away, that stuffed cheetah toy was the last thing to fall out of sight.
In my later years, as the distortion of my younger alcoholic fueled days were fading, I embarked on a journey to heal my inner child. This journey led me right back to the Cheetah. I made a few attempts to see one in real life and did get an opportunity to see one that was on a leash for a few minutes which was amazing but not sufficient to quiet my inner eight-year-old that was still screaming to go to Africa.
Naturally, I did what any caring parent would do, and bought my inner child a new stuffed Cheetah toy. I opted to buy a purple one as a nod to my angst filled teenager-self who had dyed the original cheetah toy purple. My adult-self, inner-child, and inner-teenager, all agreed to name this purple stuffed cheetah toy “Purple”.
Time passed and Purple traveled with me through the ups and downs of life. Most of the time, Purple spent his days in a box or bag but occasionally, I’d take him out to sleep with. It wasn’t the same toy that my father bought me all those years ago, but it represented that and so much more. Purple was the comfort of a loving father, the hope of a little child, and the acceptance of all the things that happen in transition from childhood to adulthood.
Then we had children. The mounds of stuffed animals that we collected from zoos, museums, birthdays, and Christmas was indeed impressive. Neither of our children ever had to press me too much for me to cave and buy them a stuffed animal. I wanted our children to have some of the same happy memories that I did with my stuffed cheetah.
Of course, the magic of my stuffed cheetah wasn’t material. It was my father’s solution to not being able to show me a real-life cheetah. He saw the cheetah in a store, without me there to tell him I wanted it, he bought it anyways and then traveled with it all the way home to place it in my little hands. This is in stark contrast to our children expectingly presenting me with a stuffed animal while pointing at the cash register.
A few years ago, when our son was about two years old, he went through a period of intense nightmares. I dug out Purple and told him that he had brough me comfort over the years and that he would guard him at night. Purple brought our son comfort over the next few years.
Six months ago, I was sick and our son, now five years old, brought me Purple to comfort me while I recovered. It was around this time that our new dog Lucie had developed a taste for stuffed animals and was making a habit out of destroying stuffed animals from our children’s vast collection. Our son seemed largely indifferent about many of the casualties but did take special efforts to protect Purple.
Last month, we brough our children to the Missouri zoo and watched three cheetahs in a wonderful exhibit. My heart was full, my inner child was satisfied, and our children could finally witness with their own eyes, the creatures they had heard their mother talk so much about.
Last week, I heard a cry as our son held a ravished Purple. His eye had been destroyed and his head had been ripped open. Lucie, our dog, hid in the corner as both our children yelled at her for being a “bad dog”. I intervened and reminded them that Lucie didn’t know that Purple was special and that she didn’t deserve to be yelled at. Our son, with tears in his eyes, said that Purple was wrecked and that he was sorry.
Purple was indeed a mess. The eye was unsalvable, but as I held him in my hand, I realized the opportunity to demonstrate to our children that scars are part of life and because of that, they are beautiful.
While our children were at school, I got to work. It was able to repair Purple enough to stop filling from falling out. I cleaned Purple up and was anxious for the kids to see that he had made a recovery after the vicious dog attack.
Our children were overjoyed with Purple’s recovery, and both vowed to take good care of him. While it’s only been a few days, I have every reason to believe that they will make good on their promise. So, it appears that a toy stuffed cheetah has worked its way into their childhood memories after all.
Today, I will remember that while meaning can be tied to an object, it does not define it. I’m grateful to know that everything changes and that the marks left by these transformations carry with them beauty and meaning. I will take time for my inner child and make sure our children become familiar with her too. I will encourage our children to find their own way and share in their passions and joys.
In the early 2000’s, I was introduced to the work of a rap artist named Eminem. The catchy beats and fast lyrical raps caught my attention when I heard one of his songs on the radio. Generally, I was not a fan of rap, but decided to buy his CD: “The Eminem Show.” The first time I listened to the CD, the lyrics moved through me. I felt all of the emotion and pain that Eminem had to offer. I was appalled and intrigued at the same time.
Over the next few years, I listened to all of Eminem’s songs and appreciated his craft. The way he utilized words to express his distain and rage was masterful and repulsive. I wondered if he’d ever regret his songs, as some were so forceful, violent, and explicit that one couldn’t help but wonder if he was indeed a madman.
Then a curious thing happened. Eminem went from unhinged rapper to my role model. At the time, I was in therapy to deal with my frequent periods of disassociation due to past trauma and discovered that his music touched me in a way others could not. His rage became my rage. For a brief period, I had everything in common with an explicit rapper, that I had never personally met, and he became my guiding force.
While I had little in common with Eminem the musician, I had everything to do with the rage he felt. He spoke in a way I could not. I hadn’t yet gotten in touch with my own rage, so I had to borrow his. I learned a valuable lesson from Eminem, one that I had failed to learn as a child. Creativity is its own thing and while it may be uncomfortable, and even gross, it is necessary in its raw form. Creativity is the expression of the inexpressible. Art is pain in all it’s beautiful glory. Without an outlet for creativity, the soul cannot thrive.
As a child, I didn’t learn how to embrace my creativity, nor how to express unbridled emotion. As an adult, all that emotion, that didn’t have an outlet as a child, needed to find one. And it all began with Eminem.
In Eminem’s later years, he did in fact regret some of his music. Things change, as we change. But instead of living in regret, he made more music about the music he regretted. He didn’t let any emotion own him, rather he set it free into the world through his creative expression. He leaned into the discomfort instead of away from it.
Over the last five years I’ve found multiple outlets for my own creative spirit. Although, I haven’t yet tried rapping like Eminem (yet), I’ve expressed my rage through stories and other writings that have provoked people and even disgusted them. I’ve ridden the boarder of acceptable and pushed myself and others to the boundaries of comfort. I can’t help but wonder if years from now I’ll look back with regret for some of the harsh words I’ve used and strong emotions I’ve provoked?
My hope is that I will continue to refine myself over the course of my life. That the things I struggle with today, will seem trivial as time goes on. That my wisdom and acceptance will drown out any rage that lingers beyond its purpose.
My desire is to be honest with my words and craft, whatever that may be, even when it is hot with emotion or cold with apathy.
My goal is to be unapologetic in my expression but humble enough to share all my experiences, especially the ones that hang heavy in my heart years later.
Until this stage of my life, I never understood the angst that seems to be synonymous with creative expression. Today, I understand it plainly. It is terribly uncomfortable to be vulnerable with art, music, writings, or any other expression that may be misunderstood. Or worse, understood perfectly, but not in context to the person you have become since creating it.
With my newfound understanding, I view the artists of the world with a refined appreciation. Bravo to those who explain their artistic process and kudos to those who do not. Anyone that puts their creations out into the world, for better or worse, is worthy of admiration. With honest artistic creations, humanity becomes more human and infinitely more beautiful.
Today, I will remember with gratitude, all the musicians, poets, sculptors, writers, painters, and artists that have gone before me. When I consume what they offer, I will take comfort in that I am basking in their emotional outlet and admire their courage for putting it out into the world. In my own works, I will let the creative spirit move through me and take no responsibility for how it is consumed, only that it is an honest expression.
“A man who carries a cat by the tale learns something he can learn in no other way.” -Mark Twain
My father once told me a story about an experience he had with a rifle as a young boy. The story wasn’t an exciting adventure with chases of wild animals or skilled shooting but rather a cautionary tale about the limitations of our own thinking that can only be remedied by experience. And more specifically, how terrifying the process of gathering experience can be.
The story goes something like this: my father was young and had a rifle for shooting squirrels and such. One day he took a walk out on to a frozen lake and decided to shoot the ice. So, he stopped, and placed the rifle barrel straight down between his feet and pulled the trigger.
By his own words, it wasn’t until after he pulled the trigger did it occur to him how incredibly dangerous it was to shoot ice you are standing on. The ice could have broken, causing him to drown or freeze to death. The bullet could have ricocheted up and hit him. He could have shot himself in the foot. Or any combination of these events could have occurred. By all reason, one of those terrible circumstances should have occurred. But it didn’t. My father went home and lived to tell the tale.
Seventy plus years after my father shot the ice he was standing on, the story lives on and I have been able to glean from his experience. I have never owned a rifle, nor am I a fan of walking on frozen lakes, but one thing I can say for certain is that should I find myself on a frozen lake, with a rifle, I will not shoot the ice I am standing on. Not because I am smart, or inherently know not to do so, but because my father’s story now lives within me. His experience has become my experience.
What if my father was too embarrassed to tell anyone about his flawed logic in shooting the ice? Knowing what I know, it is almost impossible to think that I would have done the same as him if I found myself in a similar situation. But that’s the kicker, I don’t know what I don’t know. And did I mention he was a child? Age should be irrelevant because maturity is a spectrum but defining someone as young as opposed to a child makes a difference in perception.
And what is experience? Is it not just an adjustment in perception? If this is true, one need only to learn of someone’s experience to benefit from it. Of course, it helps if they live to tell the tale. Not only would I have never been conceived had my father’s shot in the ice turned out differently, the how and why of it would have been lost to the ages.
Our own personal experience is our most prized possession. It is uniquely our own and free to give to others. There is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to experience, only whether we live to talk about it or not. However, while hearing other’s experience can be helpful, even lifesaving, it can only truly be colored by the person who lived it.
What if my father had told me that it is fine to shoot ice? He shot it when he was a kid and lived, therefore, it is fine to shoot ice. I may have believed him and applied flawed logic to physics, guns safety, and even ice safety. I still might not have duplicated his actions if given the chance, but who knows? We don’t know what we don’t know. I might have had to have had my own experience of shooting the ice before I truly believed it was a bad idea.
We can substitute any one of the variables in my father’s story and a darker picture will form. Instead of gun shots it was whisky shots. Instead of young it was old. It was a person instead of ice. Life can turn quickly from passive to aggressive.
Thankfully, my father’s story was truly only about shooting ice. The humanity of his story is that it is something we could easily imagine a child doing, based on the experience of being adults who were once children.
My reflections of my father’s story remind me of the importance of sharing our experiences with others and that we don’t get to decide which story helps who and when. I doubt my father in telling me this story all those years ago thought I would reflect upon it as many times as I have all these years later.
If I truly want to be as helpful as I can be to my fellows, it is my duty to share my personal experiences. Even when they are uncomfortable and especially when they are comparable to shooting ice.
Today, I will treat the experience of others as a gift. I will remain grateful that I am able to avoid many pitfalls because of those who have gone before me. Likewise, I will do my best to be transparent with my own experiences and share them freely and without expectation.
Ever since I was fifteen years old and attended my first “meat fabrication” class in culinary school, I’ve been a conflicted vegetarian. It wasn’t the blood, or the immense physical effort it takes to disassemble a dead cow that turned me off to meat, but rather seeing the living conditions the cows lived in before slaughter. And however bad it was for the cows; it was way worse for poultry and pigs. Weeks, sometimes months would pass without me eating a single bite of meat. But then someone would invite me out to a steak house, and I’d have no conflict whatsoever about eating a nice medium rare filet mignon beef steak.
By my twenties, I learned to not obsess one way or the other. If I could avoid eating meat, I would. If I had a “relapse” with a plate of bacon; I’d shake it off and jump back on the meatless bandwagon. I stopped trying to define myself and just tried to eat ethically. As I had learned by experience, calling yourself a vegetarian, and then ordering a steak and then enjoying eating said steak, doesn’t sit well with most people, regardless of their stance on meat consumption.
By my thirties, my periods of vegetarianism would span months. When I did eat meat, it was harvested by hunters on my hobby farm. One venison would last an entire winter. A turkey would last a month. I knew the animals that were hunted and knew that they had a good life. This knowledge made eating them seem holistic instead of barbaric.
Then I got pregnant. I could not consume enough meat. Some meals would consist of three or four different animals. My appetite for meat of all kinds far out paced my desire for anything else. During the 48-hour labor with my son, I ate at least four hamburgers. As I was being brought back to my hospital room after an unplanned c-section, the phone was ringing. It was the kitchen. They hadn’t received my hamburger order yet and were concerned.
After the birth of my son, I didn’t want meat anymore. Or milk. The physical experience of nursing my newborn son was so profound that the thought of a mama cow being separated from her calf so her milk could be stolen, broke my heart. I had unwittingly jumped from occasional flexitarian to almost vegan. I say “almost” because I could still rationalize eggs from my in-law’s farm.
The rule I made for myself was to only eat meat that was offered to me when there was no other option. But I also reasoned that I valued people more than animals, and that if someone went through the effort of preparing meat for me, I should respect that by at least trying it. However, I still very much liked the flavor of meat so if I had a little, I’d likely have a lot. Nevertheless, this rule lasted, with very little effort, for several years.
No meat in the house. Well, unless the hunters gave us a turkey or something because I wasn’t going to waste that. And if my mother-in-law sent us home with some leftovers. And if we entertained because the world isn’t made of vegetarians. As the list grew with exceptions, so did my desire to define myself as a vegetarian.
When our son was ready to start eating solids, I decided to continue with the no meat in the house, unless it was gifted to us. A short while later, we learned my husband and our son were lactose intolerant, which left our whole family leaning towards veganism. But since our son was already underweight, we didn’t dare align ourselves with anything that could limit the food he could physically eat, so we were largely mute on the subject.
The arrival of our daughter did little to upset the status quo of limited meat and no dairy in our household. The few times we bought cheese for her to try, she threw it on the floor with disgust. We found or made alternatives to all the regular junk toddlers eat. Dairy free muffins and cookies. Meatless chicken nuggets. Veggie hamburgers. Even dairy free cheese – which our daughter liked.
One day, our four-year-old son asked where meat came from? He had made the connection that chicken nuggets came from chickens. I smiled and told him that the “chicken nuggets” we eat at home, weren’t made from chickens but from plants. He seemed content with this knowledge, at least for the moment.
From that day forth, every time our son was served a meat alternative, we told him it was not made from an animal. If given the choice, he would pick vegetarian almost exclusively. When we were out and about and meat was on the menu, we told him when it was “real” meat and left the decision for him to make. His vegetarian streak ended the day he discovered culver’s chicken tenders.
Until very recently, chicken tenders from culvers were his most requested food item. We would tell him every time we ordered them that they are made with real chicken. His response was usually something along the lines of “but they are so good”. He is his mother’s son.
This morning on the way to school, our son proclaimed that “no one should eat chicken or any meat at all.” I asked him if that meant he was done eating culvers chicken tenders? His response, “I’m not going to eat at culvers until I’m six years old”, which is over eight months away. Then he repeated his battle cry of people shouldn’t eat meat at all. “No one should ever eat chicken” he proudly proclaimed.
My husband and I, gently reminded our son that we can’t control what other people do and that the best way to feel better about not eating chicken, is to make the decision to not eat chicken. And then don’t eat chicken. Then he repeated a familiar conflict “but chicken tenders taste so good.”
My reflection on this morning’s events has little to do with the decision to eat meat or not and everything to do with having conflicting wants. As both my son’s and my behavior demonstrate, it’s difficult to maintain your ethics when you have conflicting wants. And this doesn’t just apply to chicken tenders.
Most of the world’s unhappiness stems from conflicting wants. I want to save the environment, but I also want a car to drive and hot water in my house. Now that I know that I can drive a car and have hot water, it would be a difficult adjustment to not have them. Of course, I can reduce the amount that I indulge in these comforts, but to omit them completely? That’s asking a lot.
As my son demonstrated by coming to his own conclusion that no one should ever eat meat, while he simultaneously struggles with giving up his beloved chicken tenders indefinitely – but maybe just until age six, is a very literal example of struggle we are all familiar with. The struggle of conflicting wants.
It must be human nature to impress on others what you want for yourself. My son declaring that “no one should eat meat ever” while he struggles himself to not eat meat, shows an unflattering side of humanity. Replace meat with almost any issue that involves a life of any kind, and it quickly becomes clear why politics are so infuriating. We can have anything we want but only if it’s only one thing.
If I want to be rich, I need to make a lot of money. I can do this. Most people have this ability. However, depending on many variables this could look a lot of different ways. Perhaps, I need to sell an organ to make a lot of money. Or work twenty hours a day. Or sell all my belongings. When there is more than one objective, reaching that objective becomes increasingly more difficult. If I want to be rich, and have my own time and belonging, including my organs, I need to learn how to be more agile and compromise. Maybe even redefine my definition of what “rich” is and adjust my goal accordingly.
There is no stunning conclusion to today’s reflection. I have no answers. Today, I am just more keenly aware of my limitations as a human with wants and the importance of continually striving to refine my personal ethics, while simultaneously working to accept myself and others with grace and compassion.
“He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at.” – Epictetus
The other day my husband showed me a video of a little pig with a custom-made wheel contraption so he could be mobile despite not having two back legs. The news anchor reporting on the story started to laugh uncontrollably as he read the pig’s name “Chris P. Bacon.”
The video is from 2014, so it is hardly relevant, yet somehow it is. Laughter never goes out of style. The video itself is marginally humorous with extra points for the creativity of the pig’s name. However, the laughter of the reporter, who is supposed to be a “professional” at talking, takes it to the next level of funny.
My mantra since I first saw this video has been “Chris P. Bacon”. I seldom pick mantras that are this ambiguous but every time I say it, I can’t help but smile.
Stoics are not generally thought of to be a funny lot, yet their indifference to adversity can be quite comical. What I interpret Epictetus’ quote to mean is to embrace what is known to be true and laugh at it before someone else can.
Self-deprecating humor serves a purpose. As a stoic, I strive to have thick skin and meet those who mock me with indifference. However, as an imperfect person, I am bound to be offended at some point. Humor is the great equalizer.
This morning, my husband and I, went to pick up our children from a friend’s house and I was dressed in manner that could suggest we don’t own a mirror. I was aware of my fashion faux pas but didn’t care enough to remedy it. Then while chatting with our friends I made a casual comment about my affinity to “dress like a homeless person” and my friend almost lost her mouth full of coffee due to laughter. It’s funny because it’s true.
When used in this manner humor can repel criticism by taking the power away. To make fun of my clothes after I had already done so would not have much of an impact.
The reporter could not regain his composure while reporting on Chris P. Bacon. He is unapologetic for his behavior and at one point just says, “you have to read this story” although it’s unclear who he is talking to. He is just being his authentic self, much like Chris P. Bacon, and Epictetus.
The reporter could have responded in a number of ways, but he chose to lean into the humor and be transparent.
Today, I will find ways to laugh. I will use Chris P. Bacon as my mantra and use my reflective moments for humor. I will remember the words of Epictetus and always try to find the humor in my own defects.
Here’s the link to the video: Chris P. Bacon
It happened quick, there was no pain or fear. One moment I was chasing my friend “Jumpy” across the street when suddenly he turned and went back. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to turn around. I paused for a second. I decided to follow my friend and turned around. This moment of indecision is what caused my death.
The school bus that hit me was full of elementary school kids. Luckily, none of them saw it happen. As my soul sat at the side of the road, confused about the transition that had just occurred from alive to unalive, I was greeted by three ghost squirrels.
“Blinky”, “Limpy”, and “Jake”, three brothers who were also claimed by indecision on the very same road where I met my fate. They were talking over each other as they gathered around me in my new misty form to welcome me. They explained that I was now a ghost and that I would now spend my days haunting other animals.
Jake called me a liar when I said my name was “Spooky”. I didn’t understand why he thought I’d be lying. I was after all an albino squirrel, with pure white fur and bright red eyes. Spooky was an endearing nickname my mother gave me as kid, she said it was better to call out your own differences before someone else does. Like calling a tall guy “shorty.” Except I guess to many squirrels, I probably do look spooky, so maybe the nickname wasn’t so endearing in life. But now that I am a ghost, the nickname was quiet fitting.
Blinky and Limpy both had fitting names as well. Blinky, well blinked a lot and Limpy had one leg that was shorter than the rest, so he limped as he walked. I don’t know what a “Jake” is but I’m going to assume that since they are all brothers that it must be something fitting to Jake’s personality or physical form. It was a mystery. I love mysteries.
The brother’s sure had a lot to tell me. They talked about how important it was to haunt other animals and how it was fun to haunt animals that would be considered predators in life. Because now they are dead – they weren’t afraid of getting hurt. That logic didn’t make any sense to me. I asked what happens if they spook a predator so much that in fear they run out into the road and get hit by a bus? The brothers nodded in agreement with excitement and said that would mean that they “won!”
Perplexed by the brothers’ lack of insight, I asked what would happen if the predator died? They said that it would be payback for all the other squirrels it ate in life. Then I asked them what happened when they died? They told me they found themselves in a new misty ghost form. I then asked what is preventing the hypothetical recently deceased predator, who is also now in misty ghost form, from hunting them down for the rest of their days?
The looks on their faces was priceless. Simultaneously, all three squirrels reached the same conclusion: haunting/scaring any animal to death was not a good idea, as they would then find themselves on the same side of existence together. Then Jake spoke up, “Spooky, thank you for enlightening us. We will no longer haunt any other animals. From this day forth….” Jake couldn’t finish his sentence as he was engulfed with a bright white light that was slowly raising him up towards the sky.
The two remaining brothers met the same fate as light engulfed them as well. I watched in amazement as they were lifted to what I could only assume was an unseen spaceship. I couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous that there was no light engulfing me. Then panic ripped through me as I cried out Jake’s name. He reached his paws towards me, and I yelled out “what does your name mean?”
Jake was too far up for me to hear his answer. I watched until the brothers were lifted out of sight, into the beautiful sky of rainbows and fluffy white clouds. “I wish I could have seen the spaceship” I muttered to myself as I scurred up a nearby tree. What was the point of being a ghost if I didn’t want to scare or haunt anyone?
Then I felt a wave of motivation pulse over me. I knew what my mission was. It was my destiny to find out the meaning of “Jake”. In my new ghost form I could practically fly from tree to tree. I swished my way over to the local library and in through a vent. I was determined to find my answer.
To Be Continued…
(Spoiler Alert) My husband asked me this question after we watched the first episode of “The Patient” together. He was curious because I endured a similar situation, albeit in much different circumstances and outcome. My response was “we’ll see”, as my opinion at the time was that often creators get characteristics of a psychopath down, but generally the story line demands logic and reason to draw a conclusion and those things are not compatible with serial killers or psychopaths. If you haven’t seen the show but intend to, please stop reading.
Quick disclaimer: I am no expert in mental health/serial killers/psychopaths and do not claim to have any authority about what I am about to write. This is my opinion based SOLEY on my personal experience. I also have no connection whatsoever to the show itself, so any bias is mine alone.
Now that the series’ first season is complete, I can confidently say that yes, the mini-series “The Patient” is a very accurate depiction of what not only being held captive feels like but also how disorientating it is to spend any significant amount of time with a psychopath.
The first thing is to break down is what I think the differences are between a psychopath and sociopath. There is a lot written about this subject and I’m going to ignore all of that and give my opinion. Psychopaths don’t experience empathy; sociopaths have a lack of it. In my experience, a sociopath is less predictable, more emotional, and has a general sense when they are doing something that hurts other people. Psychopaths do not experience empathy at all. They may be aware that they lack something, as portrayed in the show, but they do not understand what exactly it is.
A therapist once told me that a psychopath will cut open a puppy to see what is inside, whereas, a sociopath, knowing that he could get in trouble, will try to convince someone else to do it.
In the show, the patient, Sam, is reaching out to his therapist because he has become aware that killing people is something that is undesirable in our society, and he wants to “change”. I do believe this is a “feeling” (thought) a psychopath, especially one that has already killed many people, could have. The premise of the show, Sam wanting to stop killing people, is, in my opinion, realistic.
Then there is the small detail of Sam kidnapping his therapist to “make” him get better. This also seems very plausible.
Next, is the perceived loyalty Sam has to his ex-wife and mother. A diagnosed, but not violent psychopath, mother once told me that although “she doesn’t believe she can love her children; she is instinctually protective over them.” That is as close to love as she will ever get. I believe this is what drove Sam’s loyalty to the two women in life, a desire to “protect” them. However, it is not comparable to love.
One thing about the show that I really appreciated were the details of the character Sam. I think his focus on food with the multiple examples of Sam bringing Alan different types of food from different cultures, highlights something I believe to be true with people who lack empathy. They have one or two culturally appropriate things to focus their efforts on, to better conceal their darker impulses.
The second thing was Sam marriage. The couple had “adopted” (sponsored) a child in Africa and talked about her as if they were actively involved in her life. They “built” an imaginary life together with a child that lived in another country.
Another example of this type of masking was Sam’s obsession over Kenny Chesney. I think the creators really hit this example of masking out of the park. Sam was able to blur his identity into this mask because it came complete with a separate little niche society. Concerts, and outings with other fans allowed Sam to “feel a part” of something social.
Sam’s character makes for a very believable psychopath. One thing I think society has trouble understanding is that most people know, probably personally, someone that is a psychopath, or sociopath. Or at the very least, someone that falls on the spectrum of anti-social behavior. Albeit, not as many people have the experience of personally knowing a murder, the leap isn’t as wide as most people think it is. More simply put, Sam is generally a likeable character who no one suspects to be a serial killer. In my experience, psychopaths are generally likable people. Sociopaths, not as much because their behavior is more erratic and unpredictable.
There is one thing that “The Patient” does better than any show I’ve seen, is to visually show the internal disorientation that occurs when someone is trapped and the gradual process of accepting one’s death. To a lesser extent, this is demonstrated in “Handmaid’s Tale”, but it is too artistic and drawn out to be realistic.
Alan the therapist, is seen having lapses of disassociation with delusions where he is talking with his dead therapist and having other delusions including the holocaust. While the viewer may be tempted to think that this was just a way to give context and back story to Alan, it was, at least in my experience, one of the stages I went through. For me, I was able to look at my life and my relationships in their entirety. I experienced it in short rushes of memories and experiences that didn’t feel that meaningful at the time but were heavy with emotion when I thought death was coming at any minute.
The next stage is hope. This was portrayed in the show with Alan shoving a note asking for help in a dead man’s mouth with hopes that someone would find the body. Alan spends the next day sitting starring at the patio door imaging the police busting through to rescue him. In the show it was shown as short bursts followed by dialogue with his dead therapist that show he was vaguely aware that it was unlikely that anyone would come for him and that he needs to think more proactively.
In my personal experience, it was reasonable to think the police were coming, as I was successful in getting communication out. However, they did not come. After several hours of waiting in anticipation, thinking that I could hear sirens in the distance, I fell into a state of mind that I can only describe as fragmented and terrified. Hope disappeared and I struggled to accept that I need to take some sort of action or surely be killed.
Like the show, I too experienced some sense of calmness as I accepted my demise. I had to totally come to terms with my own death before I could attempt to do anything to try and save my own life. Seeing the parallels in the show was strangely comforting. Knowing that other people have survived a similar terrible experience is comforting in itself; but seeing it accurately portrayed so someone who hasn’t experienced something similar can gain some insight, impacted me in an unexpected way. I found myself very grateful for the creators of “The Patient” for not giving into the Hollywood pressure of producing for the masses.
Alan’s acceptance of death is highlighted by a note he writes to his family. He then takes a weapon he had fashioned out of a foot cream container and threatens to kill Sam’s mother if Sam doesn’t call the police and turn himself in. Alan had come to a breaking point and was done with being confined. His actions were very well thought through as he knew that he would activate Sam’s protective instinct over his mother, and he also knew that once this happened, Sam would not be able to control his impulse to kill – thus validating that despite his best efforts he cannot control his impulses and that may be enough to convince him turn himself in.
Alan was right in his expectation and is finally released from his confinement by death. There is a sense that there is no anger or suffering, only acceptance. Although, my escape was anti-climactic, it was paired with a calmness and acceptance of all things, even death. I can’t speak to being murdered but I think the show was about as accurate as one could imagine.
My personal reflections on “The Patient” are that it is a very powerful, and accurate, depiction of both predator and prey. It serves as a reminder that no single event defines anyone, and that life is but an accumulation of choices. It also highlights the fragility of the human condition and the strength of the human soul. Two thumbs up.
Every Tuesday and Thursday I bake muffins. I use the word “muffins” loosely as they don’t really have much sugar or oil and don’t taste like much. Honestly, they’re more comparable to a cracker than to a muffin. What started as a creative way to sneak fruits, like bananas, into my son’s diet, has now evolved into a muffin cloak for acorn squash, chia seeds, flax meal – pretty much anything that is nutritious and can hold a shape that roughly resembles a muffin.
Tuesdays and Thursdays our son goes to Taekwondo and requires a snack sufficient to tide him over until dinner. The muffins I bake meet this requirement. Once I discovered that he hardly has time to chew as he shoves them into his face as I drive, I saw an opportunity for sneaky nutrition. Since then, I’ve made muffin making a priority.
The recipe is one I made myself through trial and error. Although the errors seemed to go unnoticed as I’m not so sure my son tastes them as he eats. I’ve never written it down as it changes with whatever fresh fruit or vegetables I have on hand. I take some measure of pride in meeting a need for both my son’s nutrition and hunger.
The fact that I just wrote three paragraphs about fucking muffins is a cry for help within itself. Never did I think my life would be degraded to the point of seeing muffin making as a source of pride. Nor did I ever think that other mothers would look upon my baking skills with jealousy as they shame themselves for buying delicious, store-bought muffins. Never mind that my son doesn’t know what a good muffin tastes like, or the fact that his diet is so unbalanced that I must hide vegetables for him to eat them. But I digress. Muffins are merely a symptom of the slow decay of identity that creeps its way into the heart, mind, and soul, of mothers everywhere.
The world of motherhood is full of mirrors and shadows. However together a mother may appear, there is likely a trail of broken dreams trailing behind her. Some lucky mothers figure it out early on and thrive in their newfound roles of mother, teacher, cook, maid, nurse, and of course muffin makers. Others, like myself, not so much. But whether your experience is good or bad, there is the common denominator of the loss of identity that comes with motherhood.
There is a paradox that holds true, at least for me, in my parenting adventure. I love my children more than anything. My best moments in life are when we are all together. However, almost simultaneously, these moments can drag on for an eternity causing reality to splinter into segments of obligation and duty before happiness. Then as unwelcomed as this isolation, a wave of guilt for not relishing every second of the short existence that is childhood crushes any semblance of acceptance.
This morning began with the familiar piles of laundry to be put away and breakfast to made. My two darling children immediately started pushing boundaries after the two-year-old scaled the pantry and discovered the Halloween candy. I was trying to make eggs as my five-year-old had joined forces with the two-year-old and now both were in the kitchen haggling with me about when and how much candy they can eat.
My husband joined us, and the morning chaos continued, right up until we dropped both kids off at Montessori. Within minutes after drop-off, my husband and I were lost in conversation and on our way to coffee. The stresses of the morning melted away.
An hour later, my husband was hard at work, while I tackled the endless piles of laundry while listening to a book on tape – because who has time to read nowadays? The doorbell rang and it was my friend, another mother from taekwondo, and we sat and drank coffee together. We talked about motherhood and life and whatever else drifted into our minds. We were just two mothers sitting talking about unmotherly things. It was glorious.
The morning progressed and I said goodbye to my fellow mother as she had to get to work. On the way out, the conversation had shifted to a coffee club for mothers that is occurring next week. In very accurate context, my friend remarked that the motto could be “Silently Screaming in Your Life? Come Have Coffee!” We laughed and then carried on with our day.
Now, hours later I sit here reflecting on the power that sharing a cup of coffee with someone can have. First, the coffee with my husband and then with my friend. During these moments, I was just me. Not a mother, teacher, cook, maid, nurse, or even a muffin maker. This realization was exactly what I needed to remind me that whatever my woes, I need not face them alone. That even when the problems are existential, they can be lessened through connection with others.
Today, I will not let any one facet of my existence define me. I will not sit idle and silently scream in my life but rather find another person to connect with. Coffee may not solve all my problems, but the coffee talk sure helps.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to feeling worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” -Brene Brown
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been questioning what I am trying to accomplish with my writing and couldn’t come up with much of an answer, other than to not write seems impossible. Writing has become a necessary part of my existence.
Ten months ago, I embarked on the journey to become a “professional” writer. I now have, a blog that I pay for to avoid any ads, business cards I haven’t given to anyone, a website that I barely maintain, and a published book that I have no interest in promoting. While I do write every day, I feel more like an unpaid intern than a professional writer.
The pragmatic approach is to promote my writing and then ask people to pay for it. Simple. However, if I was pragmatic, I wouldn’t be a writer. The struggle of the “starving artist” makes sense to me now. To promote oneself to the masses means one would have to understand the masses, which I most certainly do not. And if I did, I’m not so sure I would want to cater to them, even if it ensured financial success.
The vulnerability that comes out in my writing, isn’t meant for the masses. Nor, is it meant to be kept secret in journals and diaries. There is a liminal space where my writing belongs, at least for the time being. In my unpaid intern writer role, my only aim is to write my truth from a vulnerable place. If I can do this, the rest will take care of itself, however that may be.
Today, I will focus on being vulnerable both on paper and off. When I feel stuck, I will remember that the goal is in the creation, not on how it is received. My words are my paint brushes that mix, spread, shade, and fill, the canvas of life that surrounds me. I am only responsible for the art of it, not how others will view it.
When I asked my toddler boy what sport he wanted to do the coming school year, I was a little surprised by his response: Dance. The summer was fast approaching, and I thought that perhaps his answer would change before the next school year. After all, he’d only had one dance recital through his school and was probably just answering that way because it was fresh in his mind.
Over the summer both our son and daughter played soccer. While my two-year-old daughter was scoring goals and going after the ball like it was a matter of life or death; our son twirled in the field and sang songs to himself. Our son’s Taekwondo classes were better received but capturing his attention was very hard earned somedays. Swimming and gymnastics were met with even less enthusiasm. Overall, the preparation and fighting to get out the door took longer than the actual activity.
While our daughter cheered every time we pulled into the parking lot for an activity for our son, he whined about how he didn’t want to go. We worried that we would not ever find an activity that he liked well enough to not complain about going.
When it came time to register for dance, I asked our son to rank all the activities he had done over the summer and to pick a favorite. He didn’t have to think about it at all and promptly answered that “Dance” was his favorite. Then I asked if he wanted to go to a dance academy or do the dance at school; to which he replied “both.”
The registration for dance classes at the academy was a bit more everything than I imagined. It was expensive, confusing, and fast paced. The spots filled up as quickly as they were posted. I had no idea what class to put him into, I contacted his dance teacher from school, and she recommended hip-hop.
After much effort, I successfully registered both our five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter for dance classes on the same day with a half hour in-between. I paid for their costumes for their four scheduled recitals and guessed at their shoe size, since dance shoes are sized by how the designer was feeling that day and doesn’t follow any logic.
The sheer number of emails I received from their coach should have been an ominous warning that dance is indeed a serious sport. Instead of reading the sometimes-multiple emails a day, I forwarded them to a folder that I knew upon creation, I would never open.
When the day finally arrived to start dance class, my husband and I foolishly went together as a family, directly after picking up the kids from school. Right away, it was clear that we were the odd ones out. Our children where the only ones not wearing dance gear and we were the only parents that did not seem to know that we couldn’t enter the academy but that we were expected to sit in the hallway, on the cement floor, until our child’s name was called.
That first day of dance was rough for both my husband and me. The noise, confusion, the hordes of little girls doing splits in the hallway dressed like they should be on tv; it all felt overwhelming. We decided right then that we would not come together again, it was simply too much.
After a few weeks we started to get into a rhythm that required lots of driving and operating on a very tight schedule. Thankfully, the kids both tried their best to be fast getting ready and never complained.
Parents are not allowed to watch the older kids; we could however go watch our 2-year-old daughter who clearly loved dancing. She watched the coach intently and tried to do everything she did. By the third class we had her in a tutu that riveled the other children and she was fully in her element.
Our son, however, didn’t talk much about dance. He said he liked it and never complained about going but didn’t say much else. Last week we were notified (by email) that the parents could come watch the last five minutes of his class. I missed this email and was unaware. I also missed his coach’s call out into the crowded cement hallway. Along with one other lost mother who was as bewildered as I, missed the slim opportunity to watch my son’s dance class demonstration.
Afterwards, my son came running out of class with tears running down his face. He was devastated that I didn’t come to see him dance. I apologized profusely and vowed that I would do my best to never miss an opportunity to watch him dance again.
Once home, I painstakingly went through the dozens of unread emails, signed up for the academy’s app on my phone, and committed to myself to set aside my discomforts about being a dance mom and to simply do better regarding all things dance related.
Last night was dance night. My husband and I ran ourselves ragged picking the kids up from school and getting them dressed in dance gear. My husband cooked while I chauffeured the kids individually to class, back home, and then repeat. To make things more challenging, it was also storming outside, and everything just took longer.
Our daughter’s class was first, and she was glowing from the moment we pulled in the parking lot. She marched her way up to the check-in desk and then sat down in the cement hallway to change into her dance shoes. When her dance troop was called, she raced into the studio, with me tailing behind struggling to carry shoes, coats, water bottle, and the weight of my own prejudice about dance.
My mother was a dancer most of my life. She got into dancing to cope after my dad left. She drank alcohol and popped pills of all types, and then rationalized her behavior because she went to dance class. Whenever a doctor would suggest stopping drinking or taking handfuls of unnecessary medications, she responded with she was fine because she danced. Parent conferences? No, she had dance. Help with homework? No, she had dance. Any sort of behavior that resembled a functioning parent? No, she had dance. Dance of course was a symptom, not the problem. But burrowed deep within my inner child was the equation that dance equaled neglect.
It wasn’t until my children were both drawn to dance like a moth to flame, did I realize how much distain I had for dance culture in general. And it wasn’t until last night that I realized dancing represented my lost opportunities as a child. Once realized, it all became comical. My forty-two-year-old self was allowing my inner child to throw a tantrum over decade’s old hurt from a person who is no longer living.
A tear welled up in my eye as I watched my beautiful, smart, strong, baby girl, shake her stuff and baby shark with the best of them. She was focused but would occasionally come over to get “a drink of water” and smile at me because she knew I was watching her. By the end of class, she was running over to give me hugs and high-fives as she cleaned up. On the way home she happily sang songs in the car.
A quick turn around and I was back in the car driving my son. He was holding his shoes because he didn’t want to get them wet, even though it had stopped raining. With minutes to spar, I frantically got his bright red hip-hop shoes on, and we ran inside. There were many more people than there was just thirty minutes prior. Both of us quickly became overstimulated. We waited in line to check in, right as his coach came out to call the students in. He froze. I panicked. Just then the only other boy in his class, reassured him and they ran in together. I checked him in and took a deep breath.
The curtains that cover the observation window into the dance studio have a small space at the bottom. I couldn’t stand in front of the curtain, lest I receive the scorn from one of the coaches. The mother who had also missed the observation the week before was sitting on the cement below the window peaking upwards. She informed me that she heard about the sin of missing the three-minute dance preview the week prior the entire car ride home, so she was determined to make sure she didn’t miss any opportunity to see her two kids in the class dance. I quickly joined her and for the next twenty-seven minutes I cranked my neck to spy a glimpse of my son dancing.
At first, I thought my son was causing trouble because he was stretching out his shirt. I was expecting something like “Cornholio” from Beavis and Butthead and prepared myself for the worst. Instead, he dropped his stretched-out dance t-shirt over his shoulder and danced with complete self-assurance. His outfit now looked like something straight out of the eighties as his bare shoulder shimmied and rolled while he strutted his stuff.
Just as my neck and back were beginning to ache from my ridiculous viewing position, the observation curtain flung open. I jumped up and was the first one visible as my son turned around to demonstrate the dance for an upcoming recital. His smile was ear-to-ear, and everything felt right in the world. Both my children found absolute joy in dancing. So why not I?
Group fitness has never been my scene. A few weeks ago, I stumbled into a dance class that was geared for older people but open to everyone. I had some fun with it, enough to want to go back, but didn’t think much else about it. I certainly didn’t view it as dancing but as fitness to music.
After experiencing the joy of my children dancing and accepting that I have some ridiculous prejudices about dance in general, I signed up for the group dance class for this morning at my gym. While going to this class wasn’t anything special, my attitude was, I was there to dance!
For forty-five minutes I danced for my inner child. I danced for my own children. I danced away from the childhood pain and replaced it with hip thrusts and zombie walks. I laughed as I danced. Those around me, many of which were women in their seventies and eighties, laughed as well. We had fun and were silly as we rehearsed our Halloween dance. We shouted and stomped and smiled. My inner child jumped up and down with excitement as I ungracefully but confidently strutted my stuff. She watched with wonderment and joy and together we found gratitude between twirls.
Today, I will dance like my inner child is watching. I will find time to be silly and have fun. I will rejoice in my children’s enthusiasm for dancing. I will make time to support, encourage, and watch our children dance. I will be the mother I always wanted and never had.
This morning while life was unfolding with all the chaos that two little kiddos bring, my husband was moving slower than I would have liked. My lower self had to tell him so. His response was golden; he gently asked me if I was aware that people with PTSD often think other people are lazy?
My husband continued the conversation by citing his sources and informing me that it is a real thing, not something he was just making up to respond to my impatience. I was impressed and intrigued.
One of the blessings of my journey is that I haven’t been alone with my feelings or struggles for over a decade. The community that surrounds me is filled with those who have both been where I have been but also those who are just starting their journey. Whatever I cannot see in myself, I can certainly see in someone else.
As my mind went over the people I know, who certainly believe that others are lazy, my husband’s words made complete sense. He was right – this was a common occurrence in my circle of friends. I had to concede that I often think other people are lazy, a thought that is easily justified by my friends. But why?
When I try to deduce my impatience to a single cause, the first thing that comes to mind is that time simply moves differently since my trauma. Hypervigilance has gifted me with an internal clock that seldom falters.
However, this clock seems to run a few seconds faster than everyone else’s. Add the need to control my environment, my aversion to being late, and my desire for consistency, and behold; a woman with little patience for deviations or perceived “slowness” emerges.
Mindfulness, controlled breathing, exercise, creative outlets like – crocheting or painting, and drinking cold water, all are good tools to keep me grounded and present, but what can I do combat impatience? Furthermore, what can I do to halt judgment of laziness in others?
My musings were interrupted by the fact both our kids had swim lessons fast approaching and we had no plan for the day. After some discussion with my husband, we decided that I will take our daughter, who has the later lesson, and my husband will take our son who has the earlier lesson
Our morning conversation had me keenly aware of my desire to manage my husband’s time, as he appeared to look at a different hypothetical clock than I altogether. I decided to attend an online social with some friends to pass the time and keep my judgment at bay.
As my son’s swim lesson was fast approaching, he was still watching tv downstairs. While my husband was taking his sweet time in the shower. Meanwhile, my daughter was standing next to me fully dressed in her swim gear, including goggles, watching me talk to my friends on zoom. Her impatience was profound, and I couldn’t help but giggle to myself as I did not have to wonder who she inherited it from.
Fifteen minutes until the start time of my son’s swim lesson, I decided to remind my husband of the time and suggested that it may take more than ten minutes to drive there. Then I took a deep breath and tried with all my might to resist even thinking of the word “lazy.”
Six minutes before the start time of our son’s swim lesson, my husband leisurely left, unconcerned about being late. I had to take a second and ask myself if I was jealous of his calm nature? I decided I was not. A few minutes later, I was out the door with our daughter for her swim lesson. We arrived five minutes before our daughter’s lesson. A full thirty minutes after my son’s swim lesson started. I had no doubt in my mind that my husband and son had arrived late.
As I thought about the seemingly antagonistic actions of my husband, I remembered how my therapist had told me that some people go faster when anxious and others go slower. That my husband was of the type that goes slower. I am the type that goes faster. I laughed out loud at the irony that we ended up together.
Turns out my husband had the wrong time in his head. He gracefully admitted his error and we both found the gratitude – that even though we fall on different ends of the time management spectrum, together we even out to normal speed.
Reflecting on the morning’s events brought me to an interesting place of acceptance. There is no one answer or reason for why we are the way we are. PTSD may make people more impatient or perhaps impatient people are more likely to take risks that may result in trauma. The how and why don’t matter as much as the outcomes which are directly related to our willingness to meet people where they are at.
Today, I will work on meeting people where they are, not where I’d like them to be. I don’t need to re-wire my tightly wound inner workings to play well with others if I am willing to let go of outcomes. My impatience doesn’t need to turn to judgment. If nothing else, I can hurry up and wait.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” -Brene Brown
In my early sobriety, my sponsor explained to me what her definition of shame was – “The feeling that something within you is fundamentally flawed or inherently wrong.” This was the first time I had heard a definition of shame that strayed from the concept of guilt. The idea that shame could burrow itself into someone’s being so deep that it was no longer tied to a specific consequence was a heavy thought.
Since this revelation, I’ve met scores of people that experience shame in their day-to-day life. The more I looked for it, the more it appeared. It became clear how shame is used in politics and religion to gain control and how shame is often the common denominator in family systems that have experienced generations of dysfunction.
Humans have evolved to be altruistic. Part of being altruistic is to demonstrate empathy. One way that empathy is demonstrated is by experiences of guilt and shame when our actions impact others negatively.
Shame in this regard is instinctual. But like all instincts, it can become corrupt when triggered in excess. A child that is repeatedly blamed for their parent’s emotional state. A wife that loses her identity in a marriage. A woman that loses autonomy of her body. Weaponized shame erodes the soul.
In a world that thrives on shaming people into submission, it can be tough to view shame as a choice. It takes at least two active participants to perpetuate shame, one to insinuate it and one to accept it. Shame can be returned to its sender at any time and for any reason. We are under no obligation to accept external shame from anyone.
So, what do we do once shame has weaseled its way into our souls? It’s not something we can think ourselves out of. The only release is to share it with a safe, empathetic person. Once the light of empathy has hit the darken corners of our secret chamber of shame, it begins to dissipate.
Today, I can take the “me” out of “shame” and leave nonsensical “sha” for the wind. If the cause of my shame is an action that is in violation with my ethics, it is up to me share and amend the cause if possible. If the cause of my shame is not in violation of my ethics, I can simply return to sender and remove myself from the equation.
“… We often cope in the wake of our own personal traumas, remembering the wounds as we struggle to see the growth stimulated by terrible events. Resilience has no meaning without disaster.” -Riley Black (The Last Days of the Dinosaurs)
Sometimes life goes sideways, and we lose our footing. It could be a death, illness, extreme weather, unexpected poverty, the list could go infimum as the things that define us – also have the power to destroy us.
During the last three weeks our homelife has been upended. The details don’t matter as much as the outcome, which was two parents at their wits end with two young children who still need to be reminded that they are not responsible for their parent’s feelings.
Somewhere in all that transpired, my footing slipped and down I went into a shame filled world of “should of, could of, but didn’t…” Convinced that my health must be in decline, as no other reason would suffice for the complete incompetence I was experiencing, I made an appointment with the doctor.
Disappointment is a strange word to use to describe the feeling I had when my new primary doctor not only told me that my overall health has improved but said unequivocally that my problems were a result of my mental status, not my physical wellbeing. I was prescribed antidepression medication, given an empathetic pep talk, and sent on my way.
While I remained a bit disappointed that there was no outside cure that was going to get me back on my feet, optimism seeped through the cracks of my psyche, promising a better tomorrow. It wasn’t until the next day that when I was reading a book about dinosaurs, that I came across the above quote that moved my thoughts from unproductive to gratitude.
“Resilience has no meaning without disaster.” That sentence hit me in a way that allowed the scales of pity that had clouded my vision for the last few weeks fall away. While meditating on what it means for me to be resilient, I was reminded that my personal experience, even my terrible experiences, are the most precious gift I possess to share because despite it all, I am still here.
The only reason I am aware of myself to the extent that I will seek medical treatment within a few short weeks is a direct result of knowing what it’s like to not seek medical treatment when it is required. I am willing to talk about my feelings with a stranger because I know what it’s like go inward with tough feelings. I am open to trying different interventions to correct my path because I know what’s it’s like to head full speed down the wrong path.
Today I am aware. I am grateful that I can accept my humanness with grace and compassion. I am not defined by any single event in my life but rather the sum of my actions. Happiness is not a requirement to live a good life, but it is often the outcome. Today, I will look kindly at my past and enjoy all the colors of the experiences that have given me a rich pallet of color to choose from to paint my life with beauty.
The pigeon barely noticed her at first, she was just one of many humans that she crossed paths with every single day. But there was so much joy and happiness that it radiated around her like a golden aura. The pigeon couldn’t help but be drawn to her. So, she perched to watch the mother with her daughter for a while. She couldn’t hear any words, not that she would understand them anyways, but the smiles shone brightly through the car windshield and that she understood.
The pigeon watched the horror as it unfolded and was powerless to stop it. The human’s maternal instinct was so strong that it thrust her body into action before her mind could catch up. Much like how a mother will instinctively lunge towards the elevator doors if her child wanders off on the wrong floor. There was no thought. Only action bore out love for her child.
Time stopped and the human’s heart traveled through time and space to the moment she first met her daughter. Love spun between them an unbreakable string that transcends all things from all worlds. Every smile, hug, joke, meal, game, everything that they had ever shared together welled up inside the human and a fierce determination to survive was sparked.
Then, seconds later, after the smiles were gone and the golden glow that radiated so bright only seconds earlier was starting to fade. Screams drowned out everything and even muted the breeze.
The human’s energy went inwards, as it often does when death is approaching, but the string that connects her to her daughter was so strong with love that it amplified all the remaining life force she had left in her, outwards, stopping her spine from being crushed by the car that bared down on top of her.
The pigeon called fate as death’s shadow grew. Life answered and found a way. The breaths continued. The human was not done with this life and rejected death, shrinking its shadows with her bright light from within.
The human’s daughter could not see her mother’s fight as the pigeon did – a warrior standing squarely against death, with a light shield protecting her from death’s shadowy advances. Blood filled the driveway, but the pigeon saw death’s retreat and knew that the human was going to survive. Not because her physical condition deemed it so, but rather her soul shone too bright for death to grip her.
The ambulance came and paramedics struggled to stabilize the fractured human. The pigeon flew high into the sky to attract other pigeons to her cause, which had now become to protect the human and the human’s child by calling fate on their behalf. All the pigeons briefly gathered, and all were made aware of their duties then they dispersed throughout the city.
The pigeon returned to the ambulance. Sometimes flying high above it, warning the ravens that Odin would not succeed where death had failed. Then she flew next to the ambulance to investigate through the window. At one point the pigeon was sure that the human looked directly at her as she could feel her energy. The pigeon didn’t know how to say anything in human but tried to send a message through her mind to the human that everything was going to be ok. Her daughter was safe, and that death had abandoned her.
The worlds are not scripted for the profound love between mother and daughter. Everything can be re-written when it comes to the love string that bonds two hearts together. Not even death can glean a taste of this radiance as its very existence is the opposite of all that is death.
Time will heal the broken ribs and cuts and bruises. Love will smooth over the trauma of this dance with death. The seasons will lessen the echoes of chaos etched into the wind. All days from this one, until the last, are bonus. Every sweet kiss and every warm hug will be felt more deeply because the veil that separates this world from the next was briefly breeched and rejected. Every day is on loan with love paying its interest.
“The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.” -Seneca
This morning I made pancakes for my two young children. This may sound insignificant, but I assure you it was nothing but. Like many things in life, perhaps all things in life, context matters. It is not the conclusion but how we arrived there. The journey not the destination. The process of learning how to cook pancakes, not the pancakes themselves.
When I was twenty-six years old, I worked in a warehouse and was the safety chair for the union for the 3am shift. Our operation had a particularly high rate of accidents, some of which were rather severe, so when we finally made a whole month with no accidents the safety committee decided to host a pancake breakfast for the entire warehouse.
The preparation for the pancake breakfast was easy. Syrup. Griddle. Pancake mix. Oil. Measuring cups. Whisk. Bowl. We were ready! Afterall, I had been to culinary school so there was no one better suited than I to lead the pancake making effort. The safety committee was lucky to have me. Except for one minor detail. I had not only never made a pancake, but I had also never had one made for me. I literally had zero pancake experience.
The directions on the back of the pancakes seemed simple enough so I followed them exactly. And the pancakes were terrible. So terrible that no one, including myself, wanted to eat them. I was embarrassed, but more so, I was confused. It must have been the mix, I reasoned and started to problem solve on how to get better pancake mix quickly to feed the masses that were sure to be starving after a long shift.
A fellow coworker came to my aid. She looked at what I was doing and asked if I had ever made pancakes before? I nodded my head “no” in shame and asked her if she would show me how to do it. She dumped my batter out, dumped a bunch of powder mix into the bowl, took cold water from the water cooler and mixed it for a bit. Then she took some more mix and a minute later added a little bit more water. She didn’t even touch the measuring cups I had set out for her. She showed me by lifting the whisk up out of the batter that there should be a continuous line of batter if it is the correct consistency.
The pancakes my coworker made were perfect. Everyone loved them. They were light and fluffy and perfectly brown. The pancake breakfast was a success because of her intervention to my pancake making efforts.
That night, I thought about everything I had learned in culinary school and in the eight years I had been working in professional kitchens. How was it that I never made a pancake? I thought about the breakfast cooks who always prepped the pancake batter the night before and how I had never really seemed to be on the hot line when breakfast orders came through. Perhaps, I actively avoided it. There was something else going on in my subconscious regarding pancakes.
A few months later, I found myself in the company of three young children and I offered to make pancakes. I had after all watched someone make them once, so I was now an expert. My pancakes were terrible. The kids ate them and were thankful, but I could tell by the mass amounts of syrup they used that they were not the type of pancakes they were used to. I felt a sting of rejection that bothered me more than it should have. The inkling that I had a resentment against pancakes was rising in me once again.
Several more years passed with intermittent attempts at making pancakes and failing. Then one day during a visit with my ailing mother she started rambling about how ungrateful her kids were and how they didn’t even remember how she made pancakes for every single day for a year. It was clear that she did not think I was her daughter, so I inquired which child she made the pancakes for, since I had no memory of her cooking breakfast. She mentioned the name of my oldest brother who is a decade my elder. Then it all started to make sense. My resentment of pancakes started with my mother guilt tripping my brother for not being grateful enough to her for feeding him breakfast.
Armed with the knowledge that my relationship with pancakes was indeed quite complicated and like many things in my life, stemmed from childhood neglect, I was ready to dominate pancakes.
It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I was given the opportunity to practice my pancake craft. At first it was rather effortless as I learned about how to use cold water instead of warm and to let the batter sit a bit before using it. It helped that I had found a great mix at Costco that was rather idiot proof. My pancakes were average, not gourmet, but most importantly, they were editable. My son loved them, and I gleefully made them for him anytime he asked.
Then my son became rather ill, and we discovered he was lactose intolerant. He had to forgo all dairy until he could start gaining weight, at which time we could try introducing it in very small amounts. This meant no more buttermilk pancakes. This was a complication that I did not have a simple remedy for.
For the next eighteen months, I tried many recipes and mixes for dairy free pancakes. I quickly learned that making the mix from scratch produced better results, so I focused my efforts on trying a few new recipes a month until I found one that he liked as much as regular pancakes. We even went to dairy free restaurants and tried their pancakes, none of which replaced his beloved buttermilk pancakes.
Finally, I had it! I found a recipe that had him asking for pancakes a couple of times a week. Every time he asked, I feel my heart jump a little as I was so happy to make him a breakfast he wanted to eat and at the same time, I was making breakfast for my inner child who didn’t even know what she had been missing.
By this time, we had a daughter as well and she was just entering the pancake game. She did not care for the dairy free pancakes. She hadn’t ever had a regular pancake, but it was like she just knew that it was a little different and she’d take a bite and leave it.
As time passed it was suggested that we reintroduce a little bit of dairy into our son’s diet to see how he handled it. Turns out, buttermilk pancake mix from Costco is exactly the right amount of dairy to not bother his tummy. We were back in business. Our daughter, finally got to experience the joy of buttermilk pancakes together with her brother. It was a very happy homecoming of sorts.
This brings me to present. I was sick the last few days and laid in bed listening to my dear husband wrangle the children. Our son was home sick too and our daughter went off to Montessori so there were a million things to do with a million distractions. My brave husband dominated while also caring for me. It is a terrible thing to be sick but even in those moments I could find gratitude in the care afforded to me by my partner in life.
This morning, I found myself refreshed and ready for the day. At 4am. After over 24 hours in bed, I was anxious to get started and made a huge breakfast for my family which included pancakes. As I cooked, I was overcome with gratitude. I am healthy enough to wake up and cook for my family. I smiled as I poured out little tiny pancakes for the kids on a perfectly greased griddle and watched with satisfaction as they evenly bubbled up and when I knew it was the exact time to flip them. I made over a two dozen pancakes without a single fatality. It was one of my most pleasurable pancake making experiences to date.
When my children appeared a little after 5am asking for a “snack” which is our toddler’s version of breakfast, and my son disappeared with the tv remote, I was ready. I handed them each a little pancake that fit perfectly in their little hands and they ran away with it like it was gold. Four times each they returned asking for another as I continued to cook. Then when my husband woke up, we sat down to eat more pancakes, fruit, oatmeal, and eggs. Everyone went on their way with a full stomach and a happy heart.
Today, I see failure differently than I once did. I failed at making pancakes because the pancakes were a symptom of unresolved emotional pain. Once I was able to work through this pain, I was able to make pancakes. This is notable but what stands out to me even more is that because of my experience, I hope to find the gratitude in pancakes for the rest of my days. The lightness in life is what seeps in through the cracks made by our experiences, it is in these spaces that life is most full.
PTSD has impacted me in various ways over the years. This is my personal experience:
Immediately after my trauma, I lost several hours of time to which I have no idea what I did or where I went. I was able to piece together that I had looked for, and found, a gun and returned to where I was being held to murder my attacker (he was gone). I made no mention of the trauma I had just endured to anyone I encountered. Those I spoke with during this time recall that I seemed “normal.”
The first time I was triggered, and lost control, was over the phone with the bank over a car loan. The car was considered a crime scene because a girl had been killed in it. I told the bank that that the police had the car and that it was part of an investigation. They told me I had to pay off the entire balance or they were going to sue me. I responded that I was going to come “kill them”. I heard the words come out of my mouth, but it didn’t seem real – I wasn’t going to do that. They told me it was a crime to threaten them. I apologized and then almost immediately threatened them again.
Three months after my trauma, I had a psychotic breakdown. I don’t remember it. Some friends intervened and brought me to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was put on sedatives and on a waiting list for a mental health specialist.
Four months after my trauma, my attacker had been detained in another state and I was encouraged by the police to give a detailed testimony to an advocate. This is the only time in sixteen years that I have given a detailed account of all that occurred during my attack.
Nine months after my trauma, I stopped taking my medication and got the ER doctor to release me from his care.
One year after my trauma, I was faintly aware that life was becoming more difficult. I was having trouble focusing, working, sleeping, eating properly, and surrounded myself with people who were emotionally unavailable.
Two years after my trauma, I went through the motions of life and was aware that everything in my life had been reduced to either before or after my trauma. I was isolated and watched massive amounts of television. I started to experience paranoia and had night terrors every night. I was hospitalized for exhaustion. I learned that I slept better if I was in my car with my seat belt on. Even though I had an apartment, I preferred to sleep in my car.
Three years after my trauma, I started to inquire about treatment for PTSD. I could barely work. My skin hurt all the time and the sun hurt my eyes. I felt like I was getting dumber and dumber. I struggled to take remedial classes at the community college. I had no desire to talk to anyone and felt safest in the woods by the river near my apartment. I’d often sleep outside and walk around in the middle of the night.
Four years after my trauma, I was really trying to get better and made a few attempts at getting into a program. But because I wasn’t suicidal and didn’t drink alcohol, or use drugs, I was always placed on the bottom of the wait list. I went to the county for help but couldn’t figure out how to fill out all the paperwork. I struggled with the most basic of tasks. It never occurred to me to just make an appointment with a regular therapist.
Five years after my trauma, I was sitting next to a student in a class at my community college who had just returned from Iraq and was having trouble adjusting. He threatened to kill another student and there was a bit of chaos that ensued. I sat there with him while the rest of the class fled. The professor handled the situation and explained to the triggered student how to get help for PTSD.
Later that day, I emailed the professor for the same information. The next day I called the clinic. Eight weeks later, I was in a treatment program for PTSD.
For the next eighteen months, I remained in a treatment program for PTSD. My clearest memory of this period is being asked about how the weather was outside every single session. I saw several mental health professionals every week for various types of treatment and each one always asked me how the weather was.
The treatment center was in the city, and I had to walk a good distance from the parking lot. I always had to go outside to get there but would somehow forget how the weather was by the time I got inside. After the first few weeks, I tried hard to pay attention to the weather and would even try to practice my response, but I’d often fail to recall the most basic information like whether or not it was raining or snowing.
During my time in treatment, I started to understand how mentally ill I was. There is a saying that “only crazy people think they are normal”, in my experience – this is 100% true. I had inklings that perhaps I hadn’t adjusted well after my trauma, but I didn’t realize how serious it had become.
Some of the things I normalized were: wearing multiple layers of clothing, resisting basic hygiene, refusing to talk on the phone, preferring to sleep outside or in my car, carrying almonds in one pocket and cloves in the other – always chewing on one or the other, watching hours of television at a time, only shopping in the middle of the night, avoiding public places and crowds, a feeling of static inside, explosive and unpredictable anger, and apathy.
In an anthropology class, I was assigned to do an ethnography in a public space with other people for the span of six weeks. I decided to make an online event and publicly post it on social media. It took every ounce of courage for me to go and see if anyone showed up for my “Taco Tuesday” event. To my surprise, several people came. It was super awkward for everyone and somehow that brought me comfort. It was the first time I had a “normal” conversation with new people since my trauma.
Taco Tuesday quickly took on its own identity. Every week people from all walks of life came out to eat tacos in restaurants all over the city. After the first month, it became clear that many of the people who came had trouble socializing and several people had PTSD like me.
Six and half years after my trauma, my treatment program was coming to an end when I was entered into a trial for “minipress” which was an alpha blocker that was being experimented with to treat PTSD. Within a few days, I noticed a change. The static that had been with me for as long as I could remember was gone. The shadows in my peripheral vision disappeared. My flashbacks stopped. Even my night terrors improved.
Seven years after my trauma, I was able to tell people I had PTSD and have high level conversations about it. I connected with others that had PTSD through Taco Tuesday. Although, I was no longer in treatment, I continued to nurture what I had learned there.
Ten years after my trauma, I discovered that my mother, who I already knew was a narcissist, was in communication with my attacker and had even paid for an attorney to try and appeal his 50-year prison sentence. Thankfully, his sentence was reaffirmed, but the betrayal I felt for my mother triggered my PTSD in a major way. The day after I found out, my heart rate was resting at 120 beats per minute. My body was stuck in a negative feedback loop, and I knew what was in store for me if I didn’t get help. I walked into an ER and told them to give me minipress to treat my PTSD, which after doing a short assessment and looking at my file, they did.
That same night, I booked an intake with a therapist online for early the next morning. The next day, I told a shortened version of my trauma, my relationship with my mother, and my desire to not get sucked back into the whirlwind of PTSD.
Eleven years after my trauma, I had made much progress with my therapist doing narrative therapy. I discovered that I had complex PTSD from a troublesome childhood and that explained why I was attracted to people who meant to do me harm. I learned how to overcome my triggers by actively confronting them. I took a very literal approach and recreated whatever scenario triggered me to create a new memory.
For example, I had made a pot roast the night I was attacked and became a vegetarian after because the smell of meat triggered me. When the opportunity presented itself, I ate pot roast, surrounded by loved ones and focused on how safe I felt and how much I enjoyed the flavors of the meat. Now I can take meat or leave it, but it no longer has the power to trigger me.
Twelve years after my trauma, I had a son. The delivery was complicated by my PTSD, but I had been very up front about my trauma and even gave some specifics to avoid being triggered. I had a doula that had training in dealing with trauma. The delivery was going fine until I got “stuck.” I didn’t feel triggered, but my body disagreed with my mind and tried to shut down the labor process. I labored for 48 hours before I had a c-section.
After the birth of my son, my night terrors practically disappeared and haven’t returned in any meaningful way. I did suffer some post-partum anxiety but had set up a network of support that included weekly therapy, so I was able to navigate it without any major incidents.
Fourteen years after my trauma, I gave birth to my daughter via scheduled c-section in April of 2020, the beginning of the pandemic. I was alone for the majority of my thirty plus hour hospital stay. I did not sleep much and was under-medicated. I struggled to bond with my baby who refused to nurse. I came home, handed my daughter to her father, and collapsed into a disassociated state of depression.
Thankfully, my husband is a partner in my PTSD recovery and in life. He took over as primary parent for our daughter as I struggled through postpartum. I doubled down with my therapist and took medication to treat the postpartum depression.
Eight months after my daughter was born, my mother died. After her death, I experienced a great sense of relief. My mood lifted and I stopped taking anti-depression medication. I continued with my therapist.
Sixteen years after my trauma, I am living a good life. Two healthy children, a loving husband, wonder friends, and a safe home. After the death of my mother, I felt the freedom to write and share about my personal experiences. I wrote and published a novella where all the characters have PTSD. I started sharing in a variety of recovery settings about my experiences. I decided to quit my job to embrace my role as a mother and to advocate/educate/write about PTSD.
Today, my life is no longer split into before my trauma and after. I will never be completely free from PTSD, but it shows up in my life in less frequently and for shorter periods.
Six years ago, a friendship of mine caught fire and turned romantic. Three years ago, we married. This weekend we celebrated both in what we generically call our anniversary week.
In the whirlwind that was our brief courtship, my husband and I were blissfully unaware of the hardships that awaited us. We lived in the land of possibilities and fell deeply, perhaps even madly, in love. We gleefully abandoned logic and jumped headlong into the realm of parenthood. As time passed, we naively told ourselves that life would calm down once the baby was born. Once the new job started. Once we moved. Once we got married. Once we welcomed our second baby. The list grew with each passing day, but we remained confined to a domestic life neither of us were prepared for.
Time passed and we endured. We fortified our relationship through couples therapy and sponsors but the spark of madness that was the catalyst of it all was fading. So, we planned and prepared to eke out some time away from the kids to seek out the madness that forged us. Several times our plans were foiled by Covid and circumstance, but we persevered.
Almost five years passed without a single night away with just the two of us. We had several nights away separately, as the crushing weight of parenthood fell squarely on us, and we had to find time away or perish.
Yesterday, the whole family sat by the front door waiting for our faithful, trustworthy, and kind babysitter to appear. My husband and I had been fooled before, only to be crushed by disappointment by the promise of a night away, but this time felt different. When she pulled up in front of our house, our hearts lifted, and we were ready to begin our adventure.
When faced with the question of where to go, we defaulted to the hotel we stayed at when I was pregnant with our first child, the Radisson Blu at Mall of America. A lot of things had changed in the last few years, but we were confident in our choice, so we booked it and headed on our way.
A few months ago, I was walking at the mall before the stores had opened and was swept up in a lockdown. The reality that violence is a risk in a place like the Mall of America impacted me in a way I didn’t expect. The normality of the experience and the lack of surprise by the employees and even myself only seemed problematic after reflection and realizing how apathetic we’ve become as a society.
It didn’t take long after our arrival to remember how and why my husband and I fell in love. We walked the mall holding hands and admired the progress and diversity that had transformed the mall from a shopping center into a thriving metropolis. We enjoyed an amazing meal at a restaurant we would have never even noticed had it not been an oasis in a sea of people. We held hands and looked into each other’s eyes as we talked about mundane topics with acute interest as we were free from dogs, and children, and dishes, and all the distractions of everyday life.
There was a wrestling match going on in the mall that had attracted a very large number of people. The roars from the crowd echoed through the entire mall. At one point, my husband mentioned how it felt like we were at a ball game as the noise compounded as the match progressed. There was a tickle of distrust of the crowd as we picked up our pace as we walked by but overall, we felt safe enough to validate being there.
At first, I thought it was a costume. A man dressed in a white security guard uniform holding an AK-47. Earlier, we had seen a man carrying a fake ax for a cosplay, so it took a minute to decern if it was real. As we got closer, it became abundantly clear that it was indeed a real gun and that the security guard yielding it was not messing around. With his finger hovering beside the trigger, and holding close to the middle of his chest, he looked ready to shoot. He only needed a target.
We pressed on and found a “tropical restaurant” that had a portrait of Two Harbors, Minnesota painted on the wall complete with parrots and tropical palm trees. Intrigued by the wild inaccuracy of Minnesota geography, we got a table and enjoyed some molten chocolate cake and coffee. We casually discussed that mall cops, who have borne the brunt of rent-a-cop jokes for decades, now carry AK-47s. We were indeed living in a different world. We laughed and relaxed as we ate cake and sipped coffee.
In the middle of the largest mall in the United States, my husband and I found quiet moments to recharge our emotional batteries and to connect on a deeper level. In a calm, lovingly stroll back to the hotel room, we congratulated ourselves on making this long without alone time together and reveled in every second.
By 9pm we were both in bed fighting sleep that eventually won. The night passed quickly, and morning found us rested and optimistic. We walked several miles in the mall past rows of closed store fronts before we returned to the hotel for a gourmet breakfast. The morning passed like a lazy river, calm and serene, but even lazy rivers eventually come to an end and so did our kid-free reprieve.
The reality of life came rushing back as we communicated with the babysitter and found out one of our dogs was sick and had several accidents waiting for us. And that the kids wanted lunch. Our jolt back to reality had some immediate consequences as we before we could get out of the city, we found ourselves in an argument. Thankfully, we navigated our heated discussion and were able to pick up lunch and come up with a reasonable plan for dealing with all that laid in front of us. All of this melted away the moment we opened the door to our house and were greeted with two smiling faces and met with our children’s sweet welcome home hugs.
Today I am grateful for my husband. There is no one else I rather do this thing called life with. But like any relationship, love is expressed through effort. Lots Of Voluntary Effort. This weekend we put in the effort and the rewards were rich. We are blessed.
“My name is Nobody…” – Homer
In the Greek Epic Odyssey, the ever-adaptable Odysseus finds himself faced with a fierce Cyclops who has his mind set on eating him and his men. When the Cyclops asked Odysseus for his name, he responded that his name was “Nobody” and with that the stage was set for his escape.
That evening as the Cyclops slept, drunk from sweet wine gifted to him by Odysseus, he stabbed him in his lone eye. The Cyclops cried out that “Nobody had stabbed him” and his pleas for help were ignored by the other Cyclops, as nobody is nothing to worry about. Odysseus then led his men to safety by hiding them under the Cyclops’ sheep to avoid his touch.
Adaptability equates survivability in life. It is the same for plants and animals as it is for people. Those who can adapt to the world around them as it really is – not how they would like it to be – are the ones who survive – even when faced with terrible odds.
Odyssey calling himself “Nobody” is a simple thoughtful response but with layers that demonstrate powerful mental prowess and humility. To refer to yourself as nobody is not something that is in line with human nature. We are all somebody to someone and to think or speak otherwise is generally regarded as a manifestation of inverted ego. However, none of that came into focus with the story of Odysseus. The words flowed easily as it was his destiny to survive.
When I think about adaptability in my own life, it is much more attainable when I only have one goal. When the goal is to survive, I will survive. When the goal is to find food for my hungry two-year-old child, I will find food.
However, when the goal is to find food for my hungry two-year-old child, that is also dairy free and organic and it would be nice if it was vegan or at least vegetarian, life gets a bit more complicated. The further I drift from the main goal or purpose set in front of me, the more convoluted my efforts become – the worse the outcome will be.
The plaque of humanity lies in the conflict between wants not needs. The nemesis of adaptability is desire. The solution to these self-inflicted woes is to want less. The path to want less is to first recognize what you already have and develop a practice of gratitude.
In a world where hot water comes from the tap, cold air from the wall, and heat without smoke are all common place, it can be difficult to discern our wants from our needs. The more accustom we are to the comforts of the modern world, the more shocking it is when they are removed.
The quest to live apart from the material world has been documented through the ages. Over 2000 years ago Seneca wrote about the joy he found in losing all his worldly belonging in a shipwreck, as it forced him to recalibrate his priorities. He even went as far as recommending that everyone lose all their belongings, preferability in a shipwreck, at least once in their life.
It’s been a little over eight months since I left the work force to focus on my writing and to better prioritize my family. The itch to return to the corporate world is growing stronger as I find myself losing focus on the creative dream from the distractions of life. These emotions are complicated by the reality that raising two young children requires an immense amount of time, energy, and patience.
The truth however is much less complex. I have conflicting wants. When I set out to write my first book, I focused on writing the book. One goal, one path. However, while working on my second book, I started blogging and now I have more ideas for more projects, and my publisher has ideas, and then there’s the PR guy who says I need a website, and an online presence. The more I strive for success, the more paths appear to take me away from what I originally set out to do. With each new variable met to assist my career, my goal of writing becomes diluted.
I’d like to follow Seneca’s advice and metaphorically shipwreck my expectations. A renewed focus of priorities and motivation for wordsmithing would rise from the ruins, and all would be simpler. At least for a little while. Until the next want came into view. However, it seems a better use of time striving for gratitude for my current position and humility to be Nobody like Odysseus.
Today, I will take comfort in the stories of those who went before me and that nothing that I could encounter in this lifetime is unique to me. I will remember that my adaptability is directly proportionate to my gratitude and that when I feel stuck, I only need to count my blessings and lower my expectations to be happy.
When I was a child, my needs were often not met. Children who do have their needs met, learn many ways to protect themselves. The most protective skill I learned growing up in a home with a mother who was incapable of empathy, is commonly referred to as the “Grey Rock Method” and is the suggested course of action for people who have no choice but to spend time with a narcissist or psychopath.
Here is a demonstration of the Grey Rock Method:
The weather is supposed to be hotter than normal tomorrow. I think. I need to check the weather forecast. Hold on. Ok, yep, it’s going to be hotter than average. I think it’s the jet stream that has shifted that is probably causing the warmer weather. The jet stream is important. It’s not so much the heat as it is the humidity. I’ll check what it will be, hold on. Ok, yep, it’s going to be 90% humidity tomorrow. That will make it feel warmer that it really is.
Congratulations if you read that last paragraph all the way through, as it was meant to direct your attention elsewhere. Plainly put, to “grey-rock” someone is to be as boring and uneventful as you can possibly be.
Here are a few suggestions on how to be deemed uninteresting by a predatory personality. The topic you choose to talk about is important. It should be as neutral as possible. Notice how I didn’t reference global warming or ask any questions or wonder anything, I just stated the obvious – the weather is warm, and tomorrow is supposed to be warm too. However, it’s important to not come off as an expert nor express too much doubt, hence the “checking” the (creditable) forecast. Creating an “out” – pausing to check a forecast is a great way to allow the person you are talking to come up with an excuse to leave the boring conversation.
By the time I perfected the “Grey Rock Method” – I no longer needed it. My mother passed and a lifetime of manipulation and triangulation passed with her. However, as we all know just because we don’t need something anymore, it doesn’t mean that we always discard it.
Last weekend I went with my family to the rocky shore of Lake Marion, and we skipped rocks. Well, my husband skipped rocks, the rest of us mostly just threw rocks in the lake. The rocks on the shore were grey but they were anything but boring – just ask our kids; had they had big enough pockets they would have brought all the rocks with them back home.
The morning we spent at the lake was perfect. Everyone was happy and engaged. All our needs were met, and we were communicating well. I had a feeling of gratitude that generational curse of my mother had been broken. I felt relief.
Then life got a bit more animated as the children were terrified by the bees at the park and our daughter was teetering on exhaustion. The urgency to get home amplified as the heat index rose and my husband’s and my patience waned.
Once home and the chaos was abated, I spent some time trying to write and failed. The next few days were much of the same. I’d start writing a topic then lose interest. I had been writing every day, either on my blog or my next book since April and suddenly I was stuck. I had trouble getting in touch with anything interesting to write about. In a manner of speaking, I was “grey-rocking” myself.
This morning I had a thought about what might be causing my writer’s block; my last post had received a lot of positive feedback. There is a part of me that still views opinions as weapons and positive feedback as a threat. Criticism I can take. I thrive in doing better, trying harder, and refining myself and my work. However, simple compliments or praise can feel heavy.
It makes sense, I spent my younger years not believing, trusting, or investing in anything my mother told me. I was often on the defense and prided myself on taking proactive measures to avoid her wrath. Along the way, I forgot, or perhaps never learned how to take positive feedback for what is it meant to be, praise with no action required.
Not knowing what to do with this new knowledge of myself, I was motivated to write. I have been able to let go of the grey-rock methods that served me well when my mother was alive but it’s clear now that there is more work to be done. Skipping grey rocks on the lakeshore reminded me that I have come far in this life and my struggle to write about it reminds me that I have further to go.
Today, I will remind myself that I can recognize a predatory personality when I see one and that I can act accordingly should that occur. But more importantly, that this is the exception and not the rule. I will skip the grey rock method of thinking and allow myself to be more vulnerable with others, especially when faced with unexpected kindness or praise.
It was shortly after a visit to the Duluth Aquarium that we decided to stop and eat at a restaurant. Our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter was still awe struck by the baby alligators and huge sturgeons we had seen at the aquarium, both of which she was very fond of. And our five-year-old son was full of questions, real thought provokers like, If Bears laid eggs?
The meal was largely uneventful as hunger took the main stage. But once the food was gone and our bellies were happy, the kids became unhinged. Our son was sing/yelling made-up songs, and our daughter began to climb all over everything in shallow attempts to wave to a neighboring table. Then out of nowhere it happened; our daughter started screaming and crying hysterically.
Our daughter’s cries were real, but we could not discern the cause. As my husband tried to set her down, she started hitting him and screaming louder. She pointed in horror at the booth and was trying to say something between the screams. Then my husband put her on the other side of him and she stopped crying and started to look with curiosity at the other side of the booth. Then it started to come together; she was saying “alligator” as she pointed at a rip in the seat that looked (to her) like an alligator.
We listened to her intently as she told us in her own special way that there was an alligator in the booth. We fought laughter and kept our poker faces on as we listened carefully to why she did not want to sit by the alligator. The shock of finding an alligator in the booth proved to be too much and we had to leave the restaurant for her to calm down.
There were warning signs throughout the day that I chose to ignore. We were in a new town. I had deviated from my normal eating habits, I did not diligently wear my polarized sunglasses and hat, I was tired and perhaps most erroneous of all, I had been operating under the guise that all my regular precautions, were easily caste aside in the name of spontaneous family fun.
There were plenty of sparks of adrenaline that flared throughout the day. There were the six seconds that I lost our daughter when she entered the aquarium without me and wandered off. Then there was the strange homeless man we first saw at 9am who had reappeared multiple times throughout the day in different areas. And finally, there were three separate incidents where we came across intoxicated people who were missing required articles of clothing.
As evening approached, we decided to go to the local co-op and bring food back to the hotel room for dinner. During the drive, we passed rows of abandoned buildings and numerous homeless people. I recall feeling a bit guilty because that could have been my fate but because of my support network and family, I was spared. It was tough to see so many people desperate for chemicals to change their mental state, if even for a few seconds.
By the time we reached the co-op the kids were unraveling. Our son was in what we like to call “jump-mode” which consists of him jumping almost nonstop and our daughter was repeatedly asking for a “snack.”
As I walked towards the back of the store to pick up Soymilk and cereal, I could feel the static building inside my body. It had been building all day. But this was the first time I was aware of it.
My husband corralled the kids the best he could, as I quickly filled the small cart with goodies for the night. My son followed me down the aisle yelling and jumping. I caught him and gently placed my hands on his shoulders, commanding him to take a few deep breathes to relax his body. We both calmed down, but the static was still there, slowly building.
We were in the checkout line when I snapped. My son was twirling and jumping and almost ran into a lady in the checkout line next to us. I don’t remember grabbing him or pinning him up against the wall next to the cashier, with my forearm on his chest, but that is exactly what happened. I quickly released him and struggled to regain my composure. My husband was undeterred by the chaos and ushered our son to the car while I picked up our daughter and followed them out.
As I walked to the car, I felt the static leave my body. I knew then that I had been triggered and that special care was going to be required if I was going to avoid any more undesirable behavior. We loaded our bags of food into the car, and a police car pulled next to us. I felt a wave of adrenaline course through me, which triggered a massive headache. My body was in full fight of flight mode. Thankfully, the police were just passing through and went on their way.
On the drive back to the hotel, I tried many tools that I had come to rely on to manage myself when triggered. I tried imagining a purple cloud, but I couldn’t pull up any images in my mind. So, I focused on breathing, but I’d lose count after one. I tried idol conversation with my husband but was quickly interrupted by one or both the children. So, I looked out the window as we drove by dozens of boarded up windows and broken-down houses with people surrounding them full of despair. I tried to repeat the mantra “when in doubt, do nothing”, but found myself getting distracted after the word “when”.
It’s tough to explain to someone what it feels like to have chronic PTSD. I think it’s important to highlight the word “chronic” as most people have a good idea of what it is like to experience traumatic events and the pains of it sticking around longer than they would like.
However, once the trauma response becomes chronic, it becomes less about the trauma itself and more about simply functioning in the day-to-day activities of life. In many cases, trauma causes more trauma as people become numb to the mundane and crave the familiarness of chaos. Clear examples of this trauma response gone sideways are alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, and violent acts – none of which are mutually exclusive.
By the time we returned to the hotel, I had convinced myself that I just needed to eat something and that would give me the clarity to meditate, or talk to my husband, or do something else to break the compounding impact of being triggered. The paper bowls for the cereal we surprisingly sturdy so I filled it up with wheat squares and added soymilk with confidence. I sat down in a comfortable chair and just as I was about to take my first bite, I dropped it. Soymilk and cereal went everywhere. It was tragic. I immediately stood up and walked out on the balcony of our hotel room and started to sob.
Right away, my tears stung my face. Something about the way my tears are when I’m triggered is different. I don’t have scientific background but it’s like they are quite literally tears of bitterness. The sting of my tears motivated me to stop crying and go back inside to talk to my husband who was cleaning up the mess that I had abandoned.
The rest of the evening was as good as it could be. We ate together outside on the balcony, as I anxiously paced and went back and forth – inside and out. The kids had a blast. My wherewithal was slowly returning, and I was able to apologize to my son for grabbing him in the store. I told my husband I had been triggered and was met with compassion. We watched “Funniest Home Videos” and humor washed away some of my mental angst.
The physical impacts of being triggered are devastating. My resting heartrate hovered around 120 bpm as I tried pressure points, breathing activities, and meditations. I was confident that I could break the cycle myself as I have successfully done so for the last seven plus years, but I did concede to myself that I would seek medical attention if couldn’t shake it off by morning.
That night was terrible. I developed a blinding tension headache and struggled to stay asleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. My heart rate was slowly going down but would spike as intrusive worries crept in my mind. I listened to my meditation app and fell asleep quickly. Only to wake up again as soon as it ended. Finally, I opted to lay quietly in bed, in the darkness, with my sleeping son beside me and ear plugs in, as my husband and daughter peacefully slept in a bed next to me.
Adrenaline spikes are weird. For me, it can feel like a cold egg is getting broken on my forehead followed by a vibration throughout my body that makes my skin hurt. Or it can feel like a burst of energy, sometimes productive energy. Other times, it doesn’t feel like anything, it is just an instinct to do something. This evening it was all of the above.
The sound of a pillow falling is not something most people would pick up on while wearing earplugs, but I did thanks to my hypervigilance due to my triggered state. I quickly jumped up and lounged towards the other bed at the exact moment our daughter fell out of bed. I was able to catch her mid-air and lift her back into bed without her waking up. For a moment, I felt like spiderman.
Then I laid back down and quickly fell asleep with my heart full of gratitude that my PTSD had served a higher purpose that night and slept undisturbed. In the morning, my tension headache was terrible. I took a hot shower and tried a technique I had only recently learned of, grabbing the muscles in the front of my neck that we impacted by my trauma. I pulled so hard I could hear the muscles pop and then I felt a release that flowed through my head, instantly relieving my headache. I was ecstatic to know that I now had one more tool in my mental health toolbox.
That morning was fantastic. I was able to talk again with my son and explain to him that he is not responsible for mommy’s feelings, and I was going to try harder to control my big feelings, so they don’t impact him. I apologized again for my behavior in the store, and we hugged. Then we were off for another action-packed day and finally we headed home. The kids slept the entire way home and so did I.
The trip sparked an urgency in me to share my journey of PTSD recovery with others. I have a life today that seemed impossible to even dream of a decade ago. I don’t have any magical advice other than if you are suffering from unresolved trauma or PTSD to get professional help and connect with others who understand. If something doesn’t work, try something else. Don’t give up, there is life out there waiting for you.
Today, I can see that there is little difference between my daughter’s run in with an alligator at the restaurant and my mind’s perceived threat of my son’s behavior in the checkout line at the co-op. Neither of these threats are real, but given the right context, they certainly feel that way. It is my responsibility to continue to build up my mental health toolbox in preparation for the next random alligator I might encounter in life.
When I arrived at the Ghost Tour in St. Paul Minnesota, my expectations were about as low as they could be. My hopes were for a somewhat quiet, kid-free experience and perhaps some light conversation with interesting people, who like me, decided to pay money to walk around Saint Paul and hunt for ghosts on a Friday night.
Right away my expectations were exceeded as the host was very confident about her ghost locating abilities and walked at a brisk pace. I hurried to walk next to her as she told me what various ghosts looked like and how they died. She talked casually as if she was talking about the weather. Every ten minutes or so, she’s stop and gather the group together to talk in-depth about where to look for said ghosts and tell stories of their demise.
About an hour into the tour, my imagination was full of all the magnificent lives and terrible deaths our host talked about in detail. I didn’t care about ghosts and didn’t expect to see one, nor had I given it much thought if they really existed or not. That’s not why I was there. I came with a mindset like what a small child might have while attending story hour at the local library. I was there to be entertained and be with other people.
While people gasped and shrieked at various terrors that they thought they saw in the shadows, I happily admired architecture and landscaping of the various historic buildings we were visiting. Then the host said something to me that gave me pause. She was talking about how ghosts come to her because they know they can; that she has something in her energy, in her being, that attracted them and so it was. Then she looked casually over to me and said that I too had that energy and that I should be able to see ghosts or at least they would be attracted to me.
While I was happy to play along, I didn’t much appreciate being singled out as the owner of mystical ghost energy. So, I asked what seemed to me the only question to ask in this situation; “What can I do to not attract ghosts?” Without missing a beat, our ghost seeing host told me to imagine purple surrounding me and that would ward off ghosts, and any unwanted energy. I liked her answer. We were talking in the realm of subjective beliefs, but her answer was as unwavering as the sky is blue.
The next stop on our ghost hunting adventure included a story full of revenge from a heartbroken woman ghost who was not friendly to anyone. I don’t recall the specifics of the story, but I do recall the feeling that came over me as I listened. It was gross. I did not like to think thoughts about anyone, alive or dead, that justified hatred. So, I tried to imagine a purple bubble over me and then I expanded the bubble and imagined including everyone in the group. My negative thoughts vanished. Maybe there was something to the ghost host’s advice after all.
My ghost hunting days feel far away as a lot of life has happened between then and now. However, I still regularly imagine a purple cloud or bubble to turn off thoughts that are intrusive or simply unwelcomed. The visualization of a purple cloud of energy surrounding me and those I love has become a powerful tool in my collection of meditative practices.
While little has changed in my opinion of ghosts and their existence, a lot has changed in how I view the energy that flows through us, opposed to the energy that can get stuck within us. By energy I am directly referring to thoughts although we may not always be consciously aware of the depth of our thoughts and may only experience them as physical anxiety.
People who have had trauma have pockets of pain stored throughout their bodies and minds. Decades can pass without much notice when unexpectedly trauma is released, and the pain can be incapacitating. Pain however can be good thing as it can be used for motivation for change. But it needs to be let out so the healing can begin.
The repeating record of a past trauma plays a narrative of pain, that needs to be stopped. In a story with no immediate ending in sight, as the pain is old and unfamiliar; why not imagine a purple cloud as protection and figure out the rest within the safety of people who understand?
This morning a casual instant message chat with a friend became a fear filled exchange that included worries about mass shootings and human trafficking. Trauma, fear, and justified worry can all look the same when it comes to a parent trying to protect their children. Perhaps even the idea that a person is completely responsible for the wellbeing and safety of another little person is a bit traumatic on its own.
Worry, vigilance, preparation, are all natural functions based out of instinct. Humanity has thrived by questioning if we should be eating that, living there, or trusting that large animal or not? But, like all instincts, they can become warped when there is too much focus in any one area. Food becomes a problem when we can’t stop eating. Sleep becomes a problem when we deny ourselves the proper amount. Etc.
So, when our chat had become too much for my imagination, I turned my thoughts to a huge purple cloud around my house and around the house of the friend I was chatting with. I sat in the purple energy and let go of my negative perspective of the world. Then I sent one last message focusing on the fact that we are good parents and that we do a good job keeping our children safe.
The purple energy lingered long enough to see a red heart emoji in response to my last message and then it was gone. Leaving behind nothing more than two moms’ just doing their best to love and protect their children in a world that doesn’t always make sense.
Today, I will use the power of visualizing a protective purple cloud when I want to stop my thoughts in their tracks. It is not a solution if there is a real problem, but it sufficient to stop the mind from growing pain into something else or creating a new worry. After all, if a purple energy cloud powerful enough to repel ghosts; my worries don’t stand a chance.
My unfamiliarity with LinkedIn didn’t stop me from mashing keys and eagerly posting a blurb about my first published book on my own page. After all, I had dozens of followers who were marginally interested in my clumsy transition from an IT Systems Engineer to Published Author and several people who expressed a vague interest in reading my book. One day. Maybe.
When a second button appeared on my screen asking if I wanted to share my post in a writer’s group, that I had joined only seconds earlier, I clicked it without a coherent thought and forgot about it. Little did I know that this random act of careless clicking would lead me down a path where I connected with the author Ashwini Rudra and a promise to read his latest book, “Delhi via Lucknow: Once, love travelled this route”
The day the book arrived; our two-year-old daughter had decided that she was done wearing diapers, despite not being potty trained, and our five-year-old son had learned how to sing Baa-Baa Black sheep on what felt like endless repeat. To say our home was chaotic feels like an understatement. Yet, there I was holding the amazon package that contained a real, printed, book, while our two kids were literally trying to crawl up my legs to snatch the package from my hands.
My intentions to read printed books are often unrealized. I have a pile of books from new authors, yet I spent my free time listening to audio books. I recognize and empathize with both new authors, like myself, who want people to buy and read newly published books, and with the readers who have the best of intentions and the worst of follow through. I regularly come across people who have purchased my book, sometimes they even show me pictures, and then tell me that they’re going to read it soon. It is at that moment that I make a mental note to never bring it up again, as obligation and leisure cancel each other out.
Experience has taught me that it is wise to be impeccable with my word, so I make an active choice to not commit to anything I do not realistically intend on completing. Some days I commit to nothing and think laziness is the better alternative to failed actions, even with the best of intentions. It is for this reason alone that I felt a bit of panic as I held a book that I had committed to read while the chaos of my small children swirled around me.
The first three chapters were hard earned. My dyslexia fueled confusion as a parade of new Hindi words appeared in the story line. I’ve worked my entire adult life to dominate my dyslexia by continually expanding my vocabulary and skipping over unknown words without context left me in conflict. By the second chapter I had started a list and every few pages I’d stop and google the words I didn’t understand. I reached out to Ashwini, and he assured me that the reference to Hindi words was not paramount to the story line. So, I weakened my resolve and tried to just relax and read.
The next few chapters I read while the children were at Montessori. The book was starting to feel comfortable as it ventured back to the 2000’s and into sorted tails of friends, academic struggles, thugs, and love in India. By the time the children were at home, and I was hurriedly trying to finish my neglected domestic duties, while Bollywood music played loudly, and I sang along with such rank that it drowned out my son’s renditions of Baa-baa black sheep.
That night my mind drifted to a place of romance and nostalgia; just as intended by the author. I awoke at midnight and spent the next four and half hours reading and then googling Hindi words, until the book was complete. Turns out Delhi via Lucknow is a very good book written with such careful intensity and humor that it transcends cultural bounds.
Yesterday, the consequences of late-night reading were minimal as I listened to “Wo Ladki Bahot Yaad Aati Hai” and contemplated what a KFC Ginger Chicken Burger tastes like. While the story touches on more serious implications and struggles of young Indians in both love and academics, the coming age love-triangle story is easy to enjoy and inspires nostalgia for late 90’s and 2000’s. Delhi via Lucknow is a comfortable and entertaining read with relatable characters, even if I doubt my ability to properly pronounce their names.
This morning I received a text from a woman reading my book who stated she was up late reading, despite having to go to work in the early morning. Her compliment hit close to home as I feel her conflict. Sleep disruptions have consequences, whether we want to admit to them or not. When everyone else was asleep, was the perfect time for me to embark on a magical journey to Delhi via Lucknow. But it is not something I wish to make a habit of.
During breakfast today, my husband casually mentioned that his best friend, a professional with a PhD, said that his is literally incapable of reading my book (or any book), despite his best intentions. He was happy to hear that my current and future Oddment series books will soon be available on audible. For many people the non-stop pulse of life makes reading for leisure seem impossible while the easy rewind of an audiobook is welcoming.
Today, I will be gentle with those who declare their intentions to read my book but don’t, and practice empathy for those struggling to find leisure time that is truly free from obligations. I will also remember that some things in life, like a good book, are well worth a bad case of the yawns.
My doctor as a teenager and into my early adulthood was my mother’s doctor, who only agreed to take me on because my mother had gone to her for years. I was always the youngest patient in her office, generally by a few decades.
During one doctor’s visit in my early twenties, I was particularly anxious. My liver values were off due to my progressing alcoholism, and I had been called back to the doctor’s office on a day the doctor normally didn’t schedule appointments. I only had to look around the waiting room to clearly see that only those with obvious aliments were there that day. Mixed into the sea of gray hair there was a heaviness that was still unfamiliar to me at this stage of my life. Today, I recognize this feeling of heaviness as shadow death stalking its next victim.
The elderly couple that sat across from me hardly spoke in the twenty plus minutes we all waited together for the doctor in a small, stuffy waiting room. I recall being able to see her blue veins through her almost transparent skin and wondering how the frail man beside her could possibly care for her. They both reminded me of parchment paper after it’s been cooked, colored by the heat and dryness of the oven. Frail and worn from time and life.
At one point the elderly women struggled a bit with a cough and her dutiful husband shuffled his way across a room that I had regarded as small before seeing his efforts to make it to the water cooler. The room seemed to expand with each shuffled step. A few minutes into me watching this old man struggle to retrieve a glass of water for his suffering wife, the thought ran through my head that I should help him. But due to my youth, inexperience, and intense self-focus, I did nothing but watch.
By the time the elderly husband returned with the prized glass of water, his parched wife eagerly drank as if it were the nectar of the gods. Then the woman was then called back into the doctor’s office and as she got up to follow the nurse back, she motioned for her husband to sit and rest, that she would be back shortly. My heart sank at the thought that I could have saved this man some of his energy if I had only spoken up earlier and retrieved the water for his wife. Now, he was too depleted to accompany his wife on what I only assumed was to receive terrible news.
The elderly man looked down at his feet with a straight face and loudly muttered to himself as his beloved wife followed the nurse to the lab area “Oh geez, I don’t know what we’re going to do if she’s pregnant!” In that instant the sad narrative I had painted in my mind of these two people I was sharing space with washed away in laughter. Everyone laughed but the old man didn’t break character and continued with overly dramatic gestures that you would expect to see from a man many decades younger and in a different phase of life all together.
A few minutes later, his wife returned to the waiting room from what appeared to be a urine test of some kind. He continued to play into the comic relief gently prodding his wife about the results of her pregnancy test and mimicking a first-time father with perfect timing and execution of hilarious commentary. The entire waiting room was light with laugher.
When my name was called, I didn’t want to go. Like everyone else in the room, I was heavily invested in the comical drama that was unfolding in the waiting room. The frail couple I had met at the start of my wait had disappeared and what replaced them were two people in love, who were throwing humor and laughter in the face of uncertainty. Their physical state may have been weakened by time, but their spirits were only made stronger. It was indeed a glorious thing to witness.
Last week, a cough that had been nagging for weeks turned into something more and I found myself unable to complete even the simplest of tasks. On Monday morning I sat in a doctor’s office waiting room with a negative covid test and a cough that would make the Marlboro man blush. But instead of sitting in self-obsessed fear, I took the quiet moments afforded to me in the empty waiting room to reflect, meditate, and center myself. The phrase “the world will go on, with or without me” centered me as I fondly reflected on the experience of the elderly couple in my old doctor’s waiting room over twenty years earlier.
My stoic practices did not fail me as I was able to find serenity before my name was called to see the doctor. While I do not possess great humor, I do possess the ability to talk to and listen to those I come across, so I focused on that. However terrible I may have felt, and whatever news awaited me, I was not the only one impacted.
Whether we like it or not, our lives are interwoven with all those around us and it is always within our power to choose how we show up.
As I cheerfully chatted with the nurses and doctors, my uniqueness faded away and I became one of many, which brought comfort for all people involved. It wasn’t until I made my way back to radiology for chest x-rays, did I encounter someone who was uncomfortable.
The x-ray technician was young and was happily going through the motions until she picked up my chart and said “ok, we’re doing chest x-rays today.” I walked over to the machine and assumed the correct stance to which the tech responded with “you really know what you’re doing; you’ve probably had to do a lot of these.” Her tone suggested that she had begun to paint a negative narrative of my existence in her mind, like what I had done to the elderly couple years earlier.
There are not many times in my life where I can say with any level of confidence that my actions are guided by any force beyond this realm. However, in this slice of time I somehow became a comedian and had the technician laughing by the time the x-rays were complete. The mood was soft, and the air was light.
It didn’t have to go that way. I could have fed into the technician’s assumptions about my condition and told her of my childhood riddled with mysterious lung infections or the smoking habit I picked up in fourth grade. I could have gleaned pity or basked in whatever uniqueness I could claim as my own to take energy instead of giving it. But instead, there was nothing but smiles and laughter. I was the bringer of energy instead of the taker.
Today I am much better. Steroids and antibiotics have vanquished my illness, at least for the time being. As much as I’ve felt my role in my own life was diminished by my ill health, I take comfort that I was always present. Today, I will remember that this life will go on with or without me. That I can be the bringer or the taker of other people’s energy and that, that choice is always available whatever the circumstances may be.
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.