The Sand Dancer

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She was the true definition of ‘dance as though no one were watching.’ I couldn’t help but notice her- I felt a kindred spirit- as though we might have both been survivors of sorts. Maybe 11 or 12, and a bit big for her age, she was wearing a two-piece swim suit and a pair of tinted glasses-the kind of prescription lenses that older people keep as a spare for their car. The glasses were useful, but did not match her free spirit at all. Spinning and twirling, she was kicking and leaping- pressing foot prints and toe trivets in the wet sand. Her arms were outstretched high above her, and she cart-wheeled, turning gracefully and awkwardly, all within the same movement. After a string of dances, she would stop and stare motionless, out at the great green waves, watching them roll in. I imagined she was filling herself greedily with inspiration, illumination, and when she was ready, she would begin a new performance on her sandy stage next to the sea.

There was nothing-not one single part of her-that seemed to even notice, as she would waltz all around- that she was in a public space and there were dozens of people evaluating her, taking notice, as she marched to the drum of her own beat.

She just did what she wanted to do. And it was beautiful.

Making little trails with pointed toes, kicking up sand as she lifted one leg and then the other, the picture was total abandonment, yielding to the inner dancer who was begging to create in this space of natural wonder. I wanted to weep at the freedom of it all. I wanted to run up to her and thank her for being her beautiful lovely and off beat dancing self.

But then I got myself together and decided that would have been a little weird.

So instead, I stayed glued to my chair, mesmerized by her childlike ways, and realized I knew why I wanted to cry. I wanted to sob, because I knew what was coming.
Standing on the edge of childhood and looking out into that vast sea of living, I had been there, it felt, not so very long ago. I knew from jaded experience, that a deluge was inevitable, an overwhelming flow that she could never be ready for, was about to roll in, and like the waves that were gently waltzing with her dancing toes, enticing her with promises of play and adventure, a tidal wave full of self-doubt would probably wash over her, leaving her drenched and sputtering, in a bath of self-consciousness that would cause her to shiver, alone on the shore. Wet and cold, suddenly all too aware of her body and everything about it and too conscious of everything she was, she would run for cover, and her blissful naivety would have gone out to sea with the pull of the ever steady tide.

It all sounds very depressing and dramatic and surely it doesn’t have to be this way, I kept thinking. And maybe, oh just maybe, it doesn’t. I hope there is someone out there who has had someone else help them figure it out.

But for me, and what I’ve realized, as I carry on, throughout this journey, my pilgrimage back to myself, and as I watch so many others, working hard at doing just the same, I have come to understand that WE DON’T KNOW WE AREN’T OK UNTIL SOMEONE ON OUR PATH TELLS US WE AREN’T, AND THEN WE DECIDE TO BELIEVE THEM.

It just takes THAT ONE. That one person. To stop and watch us dancing on our metaphorical beach. And as we are lost in our boundless leaps of creativity and delicious ‘alrightness’, we suddenly notice our insides get their little hairs all up, because somewhere out there, we heard a snicker. It was just a little laugh, a harmless tiny chuckle. Not loud enough for anyone else to hear, but loud enough for us to FEEL, and despite the crashing of the waves which are working their hardest to drown it all out, just like that, our flow is broken, and left in its wake is a tiny harmless crack. It’s hardly noticeable, but the damage has been done, and with it, breaks through that fleeting nervous light that all of a sudden leaves us feeling, at the very least shy, and at it’s very worst, broken.

What a tragedy, this life we are living, will sometimes be. My heart broke just a little for her, the Sand Dancer, but mostly, it broke for the little girl who once resided in me.

How long-I sat there in wonder- will she be able to hold on to her ‘alrightness?’ To the dancing beat of her own drum? How long before her mother quietly clapping and praising her in the corner, is no longer her truth, and the careless comments of another confused being leaves her dancing legs motionless, as she sees herself through THEIR eyes when she looks at herself in the mirror?
How long before she has to start the dirty work of recovery? Demanding back her own thoughts
about everything she ever knew and loved about herself. How long before she sees this is all a part of her becoming and the dancing, she will do again.

I think about this a lot with my toddler. It’s probably the only time in my life where haven’t been late. I’m hyper aware, partly because she’s a girl, but mostly because she is doing the important work of being utterly and so frustratingly, HERSELF. Accessories in every color and sort, in multitudes, she goes about her days adorned. And while she is not even three yet, it seems that is the only reason it is deemed ‘ok’, and even lauded, as chuckles follow her around the playground and well- meaning words like ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ are tossed out, in an effort to make me feel better about how she chooses to express herself. I smile and accept graciously on her behalf, and wonder how long I will keep those in my back pocket, because quite possibly the time will come when those words won’t be the ones following her around, but other descriptions, sharper than any kitchen knife, will inadvertently cut her to the bone. I know there will be a time that it will happen and I fear it will be before she has the words to put it together, and the quirky, lovely, uniqueness that is her life blood will drain out like water between my fingers, and she will come back to life a girl that she never even knew existed, a girl that she was never meant to be.

I can assure you, I know this from experience, because it was very much like this for me. I remember the exact moment someone told me I wasn’t ok. It changed the course of my thinking, one for which, I had no map. I am 38 now, and have realized over time and throughout my experiences, that no one else was ever given a map either, and if I want a path to follow, I will have to draw it out myself. I finally got my crayons out and started drawing. And it feels so much better this way.

And as I sit here, sand buried toes, aching to be at play, I realize I don’t just want, but I need to get up and dance. I chicken out a little, but I find, I am mostly brave. I grab my daughter’s hand as we trip, laughing, to the water. The ocean foam bathes our journey worn feet in the cleansing salt that is everything about our Mother Earth, and with her we dance, we laugh, we sing.

We are, if only for a fleeting moment….
Ourselves.
We are Free.

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My Wake Up Call

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Eyes flying open, my heart skips half a beat. What is that ungodly sound? I pick up my phone and remember. I had set my alarm. It is 5:30 am. How can it be time to get up already? I JUST closed my eyes a minute ago. The decision awaits; one of the most important I will make, throughout the day.

I stick to the promise I made to me, the night before- swinging my legs over the side of the bed into another day.

As wearying as it is to be up at this time of day, I’ve come to love it.

Settled in to a corner of the couch, lights low, coffee in hand-it’s just me and my notebook.

There is nothing more sacred than this.

Waiting in calm.

Writing in silence.

The opportunity to make space for my thoughts.

Carving out this time is beyond important, for it is here, that I am in harmony with myself.

Trying ever tactic under the newly risen sun, I have never been able to get my exhausted body out of bed before their voices, like the chirping of two little hungry birds, would finally rouse me out of that warm space and into the jarring activity of a new morning.

Until I let myself start writing again.

Scratching the sleep from my eyes, sweeping cobwebs from my mind, I savor a sip and let out the breath I’ve been holding accidentally. This space is so still; even breathing seems as if it would be too loud, that it would somehow be irreverent. I begin to write my Morning Work- just three pages of whatever comes out through the end of my pen. There’s no judgement, no editing, no crossing out or adding to, just my spirit and the paper. Alone and together, we begin our work.

I have so missed this part of my day. I have so missed this part of myself.

Before I was Mama, I would spend hours pouring into journals and binders, selecting just the right pen. I’d use oil pastels and draw out my day in vibrant splashes of texture and contemplate all the happenings of my world. But somehow, the pages of ponderings and poetry, my expressions, my illusions and delusions, had all been replaced by other artwork created for a slighter younger audience. I’d finish reading ‘Skippy John Jones’ for the 25th time, only to wake up on a pillow of another author’s crumpled pages…there just wasn’t anything left at the end of the night, for me.

I did all the good mothering things that good mothers do, and on the wings of my second wind, if there were still any brain cells left, after dinner dishes, puzzle pickups and feeding of the cat, I’d pull out my computer and get lost in the world of planning: birthday parties and nature outings, what size is he wearing in socks? Potty training how-to’s and will the chemicals in the M&M’s really cause brain damage? Will they survive past 12 if they eat anything that is not organic? Remembering an article I’d read on Facebook, I’d surmise that it was really a wonder anyone survives at all.

After all the physical work that led to the mental work that would lead me to the end of my day, the rest of my thoughts would get thrown into a pile, like the library books and junk mail waiting for me on the corner of my desk in the living room. It would grow, and grow, and I would promise and promise. I’ll get to them soon, those thoughts of mine, those truths to contemplate. But the ‘overwhelmingness’ of sorting through them all, what was worth saving and keeping, in the state of bottomed out motherhood, was more than I could handle, and so I did what I have come to do with the piles of laundry that block my way to the door: I closed my eyes and told myself that I if couldn’t see them, then they must not be there.

Those complicated thinkings that didn’t have anything to do with them.

Little snippets of life that revolved just around me.

But then I noticed the emptiness. It would come over me, at first, when I was by myself, spraying down the kitchen counters, or eyeing the giant loads of laundry I had neglected to fold. It was fleeting and subtle, easy to push aside. FORTUNATELY, it began coming on more frequently, and for longer periods of time, and although I wondered and worried, and even started to panic a little bit, it propelled me to that imaginary desk of my mind, and finally, after long periods of denial, I started poking around, cautiously, amongst all those piled up thoughts.

While unearthing myself from that massive stack of emotions and needs and wants, I came across a book that I had long since put aside, promising I would ‘get to it soon.’ It, of course, was no accident that, while I was quickly leafing through it, in the midst of all my ‘sorting’, one of the first quotes to catch my eye was the wisdom of Carl Jung. In it he says:

“Nothing has a stronger influence on a child psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parent. “

It sent a lightning bolt through my body, filled my weary eyes to the brim with hot and burning tears.

I realized, with stark clarity, that I was not living MY life.

I was living THEIRS, or what I thought should be theirs, and the truth is, I was doing it because it was easier for me to do that than figuring out how to live my own. One night after stories and songs, kisses and cuddles, I sat down, by myself, and in the silence and end of the day light, the truth finally opened up.

My truth.

I was living their life because I was too AFRAID to actually live mine.

It wasn’t really because it was easier, or because I was too tired or whatever very valid reason I had come up with.

It was because it was safer.

It was because the stakes were not as high, if I were to mess up.

Screwing up a kangaroo cake was much more forgivable, I had subconsciously decided, than trying to actually do something I felt created for (this is not to exclude those who love to make kangaroo cakes, because if you do, then, rock on.)

But that would mean I would have to find out if I was good at what I was meant to do or if I actually really sucked at it.

And well, that is very scary.

And then the realization that I had been putting EVERYTHING I AM into the littlest parts of EVERYTHING THEY ARE, by giving them what I thought they needed, while ever so well intentioned, had also given me a free pass on asking myself the hardest question of all:

What if I found out I loved something else just as much as I loved them?

What if I wanted to spend a little bit of my time doing something else, that didn’t revolve around them?

What if- Oh and GOD, this is so hard to write down….

What if I let myself love myself….just a LITTLE BIT MORE?

Did that mean that I would love them a little bit LESS?

It all got me to wondering: How is it that, when your children come into your life, your heart expands to the most enormous of proportions. It grows so much you fear it might burst, but despite all that new found space your heart has found, eventually, there doesn’t seem to be any room left for… you?

I mean, we love them with ALL our hearts….don’t we?

Of course we do.

But does it mean I love with less than my whole heart if I spend that extra 30 minutes following a stream of inspiration and end up ordering a pizza instead of cooking a homemade meal, or whatever I never get around to making for them, because I made something for myself instead?

Does it mean I love them a little bit less if I let them watch one more show and use that time to write down that quote that I thought about in the wee early hours of the morning, and I just have to do it now or I might forget?

Does it mean I am less of a mother if I read one story instead of three because I am exhausted and want to crawl into bed so I can be ready to write in the morning?

Of course not. This is what ALL of us would say.

I can imagine we are sitting across the table from each other, and because its been a tough day, we are sharing a delectable brownie and we both have a double cappuccino in a REAL CUP. My tears are threatening, and you take my hand and assure me that it is ok, my kids shouldn’t be the center of my Universe ALL. THE. TIME. You tell me I am a good mom, and my kids are great and that it’s ok to put myself first once in a while.

Thanks, I needed that. And maybe you do too.

When you get a minute, perhaps you could sit down at the table with yourself. Look at her with the same compassion you look at me with and tell yourself exactly what you just told me. And don’t forget the brownie and the coffee to go with it.

It’s all worth it. This figuring it all out.

Letting myself love myself, just a little bit more, has surprisingly allowed me to love them a little bit more too. It’s that paradoxical mathematical equation where (more + less) = more.

More me. For just a little bit, anyway.

And as I watch the pink morning sky fade into a bluesh gray, I hear the patter of little feet coming down the hall in search for me. I close my notebook, for my time here is done, but I take comfort in confidence- it won’t be long until I’m back again.

And that is all the assurance I need.