Of Grief and Love

fall leaves

As I shuffle through the fallen leaves that have blanketed my favorite running path, I tell myself I should pick up the pace and really get moving, but today, I just can’t. I walk quickly, and eventually find a gentle ease of stride. It feels good and so I decide to put my energy into noticing the way the Earth feels beneath my sneaker clad feet, lifting my face to meet the sun, peeking out from amongst the changing leaves.

This is my favorite kind of day. The sky is blue- as blue as a sky can be and the trees are showing off in brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange. I breathe in deeply.

I’m lucky, I know this.

To be here, walking, breathing in and out, heart beating in rhythm to the pulse of my Creator’s Universe. I’m lucky every day, but especially today. It’s October 25.

I stoop to pick up a perfectly yellow leaf, shaped just like a shining star- it’s as if last night’s sky left me a small morning offering of twinkling things; I only have to stop and notice.

How beautiful it can be, when we decide to let things go. I remember reading this somewhere out there in the infinite sea that is the internet. So profound, for once. Oh, to let things go.

The endless amount of leaves at my feet suggest that there is more to let go of than I have the strength to acknowledge. I practice it with the action of my fingers, releasing the stem of the perfect glowing star, and let the leaf flutter off into the breeze.

If only it could be this easy- this letting go.

It’s autumn, and as I’ve been learning the intricate art of Chinese medicine in my herbal studies, I understand that this is the season of the element of Metal or Air. Each element has an emotion associated with it, and it is so very fitting that the emotion attached to the autumnal season, is grief.

This has always resonated with me because I see myself as a carrier of great grief. We all are, some of us just haven’t recognized it yet. I’ve only recently begun to understand this enough to identify it and that has been bind blowing, transformational work that is hard, but necessary. Like learning how to walk again, this crippling thing that I have not been able to give a name to, has turned into a catalyst, giving me strength and permission, allowing me to peek inside my soul with eyes so clear and honest, I have often been too overwhelmed and have had to run away and hide. And then somehow, I find enough courage to try again.

Grief. What place does this have in our days, our lives, our inner workings? We do not give it the room that it deserves.

In our fast paced society, where we are always trying to fix things, make them better, faster, smarter, stronger, we have squeezed out the necessary space for the profoundly innate. We have evolved, yes, but not that much, because we are still born the same way we always have been, live for a period of time that we cannot control, and return to the Earth when we are called to go. We cannot escape the parameters of being human, and within that, is the necessity that we try so desperately to ignore because we just don’t have time or strength or mental bandwidth- of allowing the place for emotion- and the greatest of these that we consistently ignore, is grief.

We have forced grief into a singular and solitary experience, something confined to a two- week period of time, in which people leave us alone under the guise of understanding and support, but that is mourning, which has a beginning and a culturally accepted end. Grief is not that precise. We have mixed up the two somehow, and forgotten that grief’s role in our lives is to journey with all of us, serving as our eternal reminder that we loved something so much that when it had to leave, in whatever capacity, we were beyond blessed and lucky and all the rest of it, to have known whatever it was so intimately in the first place. The tears of grief that fill our souls and spill out through the windows of those things so deep and infinite, remind us that we are CAPABLE. We are capable of feeling and caring and knowing something, someone, some experience so deeply, that we have been forever changed- which is the red thread that weaves together the fabric and patches of this gloriously complicated experience of life. Grief shouts out into the atmosphere, or is designed to at least, that we are survivors of broken promises, disrupted lives and shattered hearts. The tears that should be allowed to fall whenever and however, are a running river of healing that mend us into something stronger, wiser and more complete. Grief leads us to pain, which leads us to the source. The source of who we are and why we are here and what it is, we are to become.

Grief is good. Grief is generous. Grace is necessary.

Things don’t happen TO us, they happen FOR us. I hold on to this hope on the days when I just don’t understand why it happened, why it had to change things, or who I am supposed to be now, in the aftermath. For a while, I was ashamed, thinking the healing was taking too long, that I didn’t have a right to it, as if there is a limited capacity and that it was someone else’s turn to hold the grief, and my time was up- like a game of hot potato. I have learned that the experience of grief is what binds us together in the human experience; loss tears us apart, but love sews us back up, double stitching it’s way right up the surface of our still beating heart. There is no limit or end to either. Where there is grief flowing, there is also love, and it does not aim to dam up the deluge, but works hard to allow grief the space to flow freely, trickling into the crevices that crave it.

Today is October 25. It’s been six years since my car was overtaken in Somalia and a gun was held to my head as they forced me out into the desert.

I lived.

Oh God, how I LIVE.

But there was something that also died that day.

My naivety, a few of my long held dreams, my belief in the simplicity of the world.

And so for that, today, I allow myself to grieve.

I picked up my kids early from school today, and did what I knew we all needed to do. Just the three of us and the trees.  When they weren’t looking, a few tears escaped from my weary eyes, grief flowing.  Caught in the arms of love, they were, when my five year old came over to the old piece of tree I was sitting on, and plunked down beside me, so sweetly, without saying a word, he rested his beautiful head on my shoulder.

We looked out at that water together, and breathed.

With infinite gratitude, I honor the grief as much as I honor my life.

For I now understand, I cannot have one, without the other.

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Happy Birthday, Auggie

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As we walked through the parking lot, my enormous belly leading the way, I laughed as I could barely fit through the narrow tunnels of parked cars. The sun, a brilliant ball of rising color, not high enough yet, to be yellow, but no longer low enough to just glow, she was a beauty on this morning, and I felt as though the boldness of her red was signaling to the world that something significant was about to happen.

The hour had finally come to meet our little one, his making having been, quite literally, the shock of my life. Just a few weeks after the most insane, intense and quiet literally, surreal period of my life, my world, once again, tilted on its axis just enough to cause my white knuckled hold on to the wall. Trying half successfully to keep upright, the room around me began to spin as Erik translated the words on a little stick from Swedish to English: Positive. Definite. Pregnant.

Impossible. Unbelievable. Mind Blowing. How COULD this be? I’d spent months in the desert, lost dozens of pounds, my body, so fragile, so sick. How could I be a hospitable host to another living being?

Months of sickness, exhaustion and fear ensued, sprinkled with excitement and visions of maternal bliss- I was worried. So anxious. Confused.

I’m not ready to be a mother. I won’t be a good mother. My own mother is no longer here to show me the way. How will I ever know what to do, how to do it, when to do it, why? These, among other strange nighttime thoughts, would roll around my spirit as I would lie dutifully on my left side, chewing Tums tablets like crack, waiting for dawn to come.

In the beginning, it was only survival, for him, and for me- I thought I was going to get a little break. In an airport somewhere, sick in a public bathroom, we made a pact, this little one and me- we were strong- we knew that already, and despite the doubts that we had used up all the reservoir of strength God had graced us with, we had each other, and I promised him, we would figure this thing out- and although I didn’t know it then, I certainly understand it now-

That’s Motherhood.

Together. We have no idea what we’re doing, but somehow, we will figure it out.

That was my first lesson, and he’s barely even here.

So that morning, I wasn’t surprised when the African Sun was declaring to the world that it was going to be a very good day. October 2. I had chosen it because my doctor said it was Gandhi’s birthday. I believed that to be significant, just as I knew this baby was meant to be. His timing was incomprehensible, but I chose to trust.

There was so much laughing that morning. Grampa and Auntie had traveled the oceans and  continents to welcome him with warm love. Together, we gathered in a small room, loving so much we were laughing, laughing so hard we were crying, wearing a shroud of fortunate disbelief as less than a year before, no one knew where I was, or if I was even alive, even me. The beautiful absurdity of how different things could be now, on this day, in a Nairobi hospital, because I was not only alive and well, but huge and bursting with life itself could only bring with it bittersweet tears of struggle, heartache and that mountain top feeling when you have won.

Standing outside the operating room, Erik tries to awkwardly put his arms around my enormous body. It’s our last few moments of just being two. We never dared to ask for this- we thought we had already asked for enough. Oh, but our Creator, just showing off, calling out to us, ‘You think that’s all I’ve got? Just close your eyes for a sec, and I’ll show you what I can do!’

Tears run down my face as we are ushered in, going in as two, leaving as three.

I notice a clock on the wall, the ticking is loud. It’s cold in there and the doctors and nurses are wearing garden gum boots. They are white and clean- and I chuckle. This is Africa. I love it here so much.

I am splayed on my back, connected to wires and tubes, it’s weird and I am trying not to panic. One of my doctors, a quiet man from Rwanda, is closest to me, administering medication, explaining what is happening, how it all will go. My main doctor comes in, she is bright eyed and ready- we have walked a long road together, she and I. She squeezes my hand before she begins to deliver my baby. We wish a Happy Birthday to Gandhi, and so it begins.

Erik is to my right, and I know this is hard for him. He is as overwhelmed as me, but ever strong, never changing, he holds my hand and together, we gently walk over the threshold that will change our lives so profoundly. How we see each other, how we see ourselves, all of this is forever different as we are ushered into the sacred space of parenthood.

A push and then a cry.

My tears come with such force, I feel like I’m going to choke. He’s here. He’s breathing. It appears that everything is just fine. All the fear that I had been carrying around with me, like a twin in my belly, is birthed as well, and as my sobs become overpowering, my doctor, in such a soft, unexpected way, strokes my head with his hand and just whispers these words, like little gifts, that I will take with me and carry always: ‘You’re ok, he’s ok, you are going to be a good mother….’

Erik, across the room, shouts through tears, laments of beauty and perfection, as I sob at the immensity of it all.

And then it happens. The real moment of birthing, I would realize years later, which really has nothing to do with the physical process of birthing a baby at all. It’s unexpected, I’m unprepared, no one wrote about this in all the birthing books.

As they place this tiny creature onto my chest, howling like the wind, a second birth is taking place. My arms wrap around him, wriggling and mewling, and my heart, automatically, gives it’s own push. The cavity that is beating expands tenfold, and there we are, forever changed, connected forevermore.

I’m not different because he has come from my body, but because he is mine, and I know this truth just like every mother knows in her heart, regardless of origination-

This child.

This child is mine and I am his. We belong to each other and nothing can ever change that- my arms know the truth, just like my heart.

Through sleepless nights and worry filled days. Through the moments of frustration and fleeting although, transcendent joy. Through tears, and scraped knees, hurt feelings and heartaches, growing pains and life gains, we are in this together, he and I.

You and me.

Today marks 5 years since we were both born together. Time really does trickle and rush like a raging river and a dried out stream.

But this boy, oh, this boy. I love everything about him and embrace the privilege of getting to hold him in the middle of those long nights.

Happy Birthday, my dear August. You are a kind and generous soul. Thank you for how you have changed me, for what you continue to make me.

I love every day with you.

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.

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.

 

 

Growing Pains

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Watching a bumble bee make its way slowly around the late summer blooms, I absentmindedly wonder what it must feel like for that to be the only thing you really have to think about- in all your entire life.

Sustaining and pollinating.

Very important work-

Vital to the evolution of our whole organism, and yet, there really is no thinking about it all.

It’s instinctual.

It’s all about survival.

Weaving in and out of layered gardens, together with the bugs and the trees, my senses are saturated by the sounds of water trickling, splashing onto all the green and red and yellow. I run my fingertips through soft grasses and over velvet petals as I inhale the scent of growth and life, right here, right now, as my search for perennials begins. I carry a hope to fill up empty spaces in my garden but there is a yearning to fill a hole in my heart.

It’s been four years since I left the gardens and deserts that changed me, so utterly, completely, and profoundly.

Oh. How I miss them every day.

After we left those places, the longing became so unbearable, like that of missing a long lost lover who you know will never return to you, no matter how much time is spent in yearning and regret.

Some days, I could hardly breathe from the pain of it all.

Just to go back and plant my feet firmly into that brilliant red Earth- one more lazy Sunday afternoon to lie beneath the avocado trees that, every day at morning’s break, would generously nourish my child with his first foods.

Doubt and anger would regularly stream down my face as my heart kept breaking over and over- finding places I didn’t even know it had grown.

If you were to look up the definition of ‘homesick’ in the dictionary, there would be a picture of my soulless eyes staring back at you.

I felt like an alien in my own land- a stranger to myself.

I was afraid- and believed I was so very alone.

And as is the way of it, what I was most afraid of was what I needed most to do.

But how could I let Africa go?

If I let Her go, I was convinced, it would be as if the good parts had never happened. If I let go and settled HERE, it would be as if who I had become there, had never even existed. Like it had all been some distant, far-fetched dream.

I had completed my metamorphosis amongst the bright lavender blooms of the Jacaranda tree- I had arrived there a girl, but left a woman. I’d become a wife and a mother.

Africa gifted me with the opportunity to learn exactly what I was made of.

A fighter, a survivor, braver than any of my childish dreams.

If I wasn’t there, rooted in the richness and reality of those experiences- was I still really any of those things?

She had found me, I decided, so she could keep me.

I held on.

I resisted.

I relived the glory days- if only in my mind.

And as a result, I forgot how to grow.

Roots buried in a shallow surface of the past, I convinced myself that was all I needed. I figured out a comfortable way to keep lingering in a cracked pot of memories, because it was mingled together with the only African soil I had left. I refused to mix in any other dirt, as I was waiting for the time when I would be transplanted back “home”, placed in the garden I had conjured up in my mind.

The grass was so much greener out there in that other space. I was sure of it, because I had seen it with my rose colored glasses. I figured I could wait.

But while I was waiting, I slowly began noticing how dried out I was becoming, how limp and lifeless I was feeling. How parched and thirsty I was- for connection , for a place to lay down my roots.

I was withering away, in my broken pot, the fertile freshness of new beginnings all around, and still I refused to get out because I was just so overwhelmed and I guess, afraid-of the work, of the fear itself-of letting go.

My husband came to me one evening, and in the exhaustion that is left at the end of an evening full of stories and bedtimes and trips to the potty that were the result of limitless sips of water. He confessed to me, tears pooling in his eyes, that he could tell I was withering, and try as he might, he just couldn’t figure out how to keep me watered anymore. My pot, confining and ‘safe,’ was cracked to the point of no return, and everything he kept pouring into me was leaking out. Fear had left me too hard to absorb anything. Anger had fueled the energy to pack my roots together, leaving no space. Life giving water was just rolling right off the top, being wasted in a puddle on the floor.

So sweetly, so selflessly, he promised, “Whatever you need, wherever you should go, whatever you want to do- please figure it out. For me, for the kids, but mostly for you. We can’t watch you wither away….we need you come back to life, to grow- we need you to bloom.”

So, on a cold and sunshine filled March morning, I gathered with a group of women who were just like me, and completely different. We were a colorful array of cultures and races, life stories and experiences. We were there to learn about plants. We meditated in our teacher’s sacred gardens, spreading fingers and toes within the blooming life of chickweed and violets, singing heart songs, writing soul poems, mingling with the Earth, waiting for connection.

Together, we discarded the confinement of our damaged pots, using the cracked pieces to make a mosaic, reminding us of the hard times that had brought us to this place. We sought out growing spaces full of green, ready to be cultivated, waiting just for us, in the great bright Sun. Every month since, we enter the garden, together, with the plants, who are becoming stronger and brighter and lovelier, as they are fed and nourished by the Earth- the rain and the Sun….together, we are finding ourselves, each other, The Way.

I step back and survey the work that I have just completed- I’m digging around in blooming beds- I just planted a native Virginia Butterfly Weed, touted to attract winged creatures, striped bees and all the good garden kinds of things. The hostas are blooming, and the Motherwort is spreading like crazy, the tippy tops of her proud little head peeking out their new growth of lavender that I will soon harvest and make into a tincture.

As I rest beneath the shade of our giant Magnolia, I am struck by her fragrance and presence, solid and feminine, steadfast and present, always evergreen. I consider the power of acceptance in Nature, and think about a time out hiking, when we came across a tree trunk that had been forced to grow into a strange, unnatural U shape. It was amazing in its ability to adapt and be molded by its environment. It is survival at its best- becoming a work of art, as it had figured out how to grow around whatever had gotten in its way.

The tree never stopped growing, and although it took me some time to realize, as most things do, it turns out, neither had I.

Envisioning my garden growing, and what it would look like a few years from now reminded me that when we surrender and accept where we ARE, we suddenly realize where we are, is in fact, exactly where we NEED to be. And when we are where we need to be, we eventually understand that place, even if it is the furthest space from where we ever dreamed it, in the end, is all we really ever wanted anyway.

I miss Africa every day, but finally, with bare feet rooted in the Virginia soil, working alongside my ever patient husband, raising these two little beings so lovely and so loved, I can say, as I scoop that last bit of soil into my weary hands, I am EXACTLY where I want to be.

 

The Pool Puker

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I knew we shouldn’t have left the house today- I just KNEW it. With the eclipse coming and all that pressure to not look up at the sky- I should have known better. In fact, after lunch, I even sat silent in contemplation, sipping my third cup of coffee trying to convince myself to get out and go, but my ‘Mom Gut’ (not to be confused with the belly I’ve developed from birthing babies and too much chips and salsa, but rather the space BEHIND all of that, otherwise known as ‘Mother’s Intuition’) told me in her most firm and unequivocal way, “NO. Stay home, let the kids binge on goldfish and Netflix. They will be ok. Today is not your day.” But then two shrieking creatures took over my living room killing any inner monologue or stream of consciousness that ever was, with all that screaming (what is UP WITH ALL THAT SCREAMING?) over a dumb game of ‘bird memory’ and I was like: HELL NO.

We gotta get out of here.

All is good and well- we’re splashing around, waiting for the eclipse, hanging in the sun. I kick the kids back into the pool and zone out, the two-foot depth just high enough to cover my butt and thighs, so you know, I’m feeling ok. My Girly Girl and I bob together in the water- it is hot out, but this moment right here, is as good as its going to get. Big Brother is off with his friends, ottering around, having presumably, a great time. I make a joke with another mom next to me, we cheer on the little guy who has just learned to swim. I’m congratulating myself for having the gumption to get out and go when I turn, and see him. He is frantically swimming toward me, lips pursed into a peculiar, yet somewhat familiar line. I vaguely recognize his movements and think, ‘I’ve seen that look before….???’ It takes me just the splash of a second, but I realize very quickly, with horror, as he hurls himself toward me, hands clasped over his mouth, freaked out eyes unblinking, dripping with tears:

Oh MY God. He’s gonna completely puke in the freaking pool.

As he gets to the edge and hurls his torso onto the concrete, I put little sis back down into the water and do the only thing that comes naturally.

I catch it.

I freaking catch it.

All of it.

In both of my hands.

And as I’m holding his lunch, I am simultaneously picturing all of these mothers who have planned their afternoons eclipse watching, snack serving and splashing with their tiny tots, slashing my tires as they are forced to drag their kids out of the pool, screaming and kicking, missing the historical solar event-a perfectly planned afternoon in shambles- pool closed because it’s policy, all because my kid choked on chlorine water.

I know, I know, it all sounds rather dramatic. And let me assure you, we swim with very nice people, even though I am imagining them to be total A holes. But that’s what embarrassment does to you, and well, let me just say, you weren’t there.

And I’ve got to be honest- the thought that people are seeing you and your mom bod in a swimsuit is always disconcerting.  Just like many of you, I’ve read all those ‘mommy blogs’ that send out statements of righteous indignation and declare the only sensible thing we can do is to Put on your damn swimsuit but I KNOW I’m not the only one who takes off my wrap, and refuses to make eye contact until I have made it thigh deep into the water. But, I can now tell you through today’s experience, that there are actually worse things than someone staring at you and judging you about your taste in a maternal one piece- and that would be you and your kid, at the center of everyone’s attention, top hanging out of your ill fitting swimsuit, standing on the edge of the pool, hands full of puke, trying desperately not to let it drip into the water, unable to adjust yourself, because…..OH MY GOSH. WHY???

WHY, WHY???

Why didn’t we JUST STAY HOME?

WHY did I even get out of bed this morning?

I finally get him out of the pool and see my friend across the water. “Erin, can you please help me?” I call out in the calmest of desperation.

And this.

OH, THIS.

THIS IS THE BEAUTY THAT BINDS US TOGETHER IN MOTHERHOOD.

She immediately goes on to conduct a 30 second assessment, sees my hands full of barf, my top half-exposed, and without blinking a sun-glass covered eye, swings right into action. Before I know it, Auggie is situated with a garbage can over in the shade, another mom has been located to watch Ebba Jane and a life guard has been alerted and is on his way, garden hose in hand.

Meanwhile, I’m like a hawk, guarding my son’s pile. No one better step in this and then get into the pool.

After all of this- the damn thing had better stay open.

“He just choked on some water…” I feebly offer an apology to him as he comes toward me with a hose.

‘Ugh.’ He says, gagging. ‘These things happen.’ He manages to let me off the hook.

Barf running down my arms, I awkwardly manage to haul myself over edge onto a clean part of the concrete.

As I walk the gauntlet of shame, ALL THE WAY TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PROPERTY, to the restroom, The Puker in tow- I feel my face burning, and I know, it’s not from the sun.

I can’t manage eye contact with anyone. They can’t manage eye contact with me. The collective sigh that is amongst them all breathes out one thought, and one thought only: ‘Oh, THANK GOD, that wasn’t my kid.’

As I stare at myself in the mirror over the sink, scrubbing the stink off my arms and hands, I briefly wonder if anyone will notice if I don’t come out to claim my children and just stay in the bathroom and hide.

Realizing this is not a viable option, I figure it’s now or never and I fix my swimsuit top, finally, make sure Auggie is ok, and attempt to invisibly walk back to my chair by the side of the pool.

A mom I’ve only chatted with on occasion leans over to me quietly and relays their puking fiasco a few weeks earlier. It sounds like it was horrible, but OH… the relief! We chuckle a little, and I thank her for telling me- it helps to know I’m not alone.

It takes a few more cleansing breaths, but I realize:

I’m not alone in the embarrassment.

I’m not alone in the work.

I’m not alone in the problem solving and the ‘crisis management.’

I’m not alone when I want to cry but need to laugh.

I’m not alone when my hands are full and I need someone to be another set for me.

As I watch Auggie sitting with all of his friends, post-puke, munching on a chocolate ice-cream cone, laughing in delight, the whole ordeal rightfully forgotten, I remind myself that catching every single part of him is what I signed up for. I’m a mom. I’m HIS mama. And although today it all felt really hard, I recognize the privilege of it all.

And as I look around and feel the support in friendship, the mutual understanding of this sometimes very literally messy thing called motherhood, I finally am brave enough to make eye contact.

I pull my swimsuit up, just a little higher…

And then, I begin to laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There

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My foot hits something hard and crunchy on the floor as I finish my breakfast. I look under the table and find several parts of dried up waffles littering the carpet. I’m ashamed, but only slightly. The little one swings her feet in summertime freedom as she munches her morning meal. I stare at the wall. My thoughts, they ARE there, hovering- it’s just so hard to harness them, as they swirl in and amongst the to-do lists, the constant demands and requests, the baggage of life. Motherhood. Survival. Which one came first?

Dishes clink together as they go into the sink. I take another long drag of cold coffee and lift my tired body out of the chair and nearly slice my left foot on a week of dropped breakfasts. I need to get the vacuum out. It sits in the middle of the living room for three whole days- a witness to my domestic failures, chastising me, at the end of every day, as if she’s keeping score.

And she’s not the only one.

I am keeping score too- of how many sacrifices I have made today, how many solo trips to the bathroom I’ve had. How many band-aids I’ve had to locate and apply, loads of laundry I have NOT done, how many questions about bats I have promised to YouTube…You see, I’m no martyr here. And I do actually think I’m kind of mad. I’m mad because I have things to create, words to write, important thoughts that need to be brought out into this world. “I have so much potential!” I lament outloud to the vacuum, as she and I stare at each other from across the room. Heavy sighs- those waffles are not going to pick themselves up.

I realize quite quickly that I really should vacuum more, getting lost in the monotone of the machine, more of a quiet roar than a hum, she blocks out every other sound or question that would demand I drop my immediate and fullest of attention. Here, in the song of the mundane, I can actually THINK, I discover, and be alone with the person I miss the most-

MYSELF.

Maybe, I’ve found a friend.

With uncharacteristic diligence, I clean the cracks and the corners, the stairs, moving to closets and behind furniture. The crackle of crumbs as they are sucked up into the device, become a rhythm, a beat, to which I am beginning to enjoy.

I start thinking about how difficult it is when your head gets out from below the surface of the waters of life. It seems counterintuitive because when you are in survival mode, that’s ALL you can think about. But that’s the beauty of it- and the secret to enduring it, I suppose. There is no space for thinking anything else other than just ‘Stay ALIVE!’ It’s fight of flight, at its most basic and domestic of levels.

But I’m not there anymore. The gulping and gasping for air has transitioned as the muck of babies and up all nights and changing dirty diapers has been replaced by a gentle bobbing, that in the end surprises me, as it proves to be more exhausting and ultimately frustrating, because I don’t feel like I am ever making any progress-I am just treading. In the gasping and grasping years, it’s enough success to just keep everyone alive and be able to say, “Hey, I got a shower today AND I brushed my hair!” That’s an accomplishment of extraordinary proportions when you’ve got babies.

But now, as the intensity is easing up, I realize:

I want more.

I am greedy.

Surviving just isn’t enough.

I want to get to shore. I want more than just to float and bob and tread in a big beautiful sea of blue.

But float and bob, I do. Going under from time to time, because I’m always in it with these two little people, who are genuinely trying hard to learn how to float by themselves, but quite naturally, just aren’t ready to swim out there on their own yet.

I wistfully wonder, looking around. When am I going to get there?

I see it- it’s so close, the shore, where I think I need to be, but my energy feels like it’s too far away. My body knows it can’t make it.

And what IS ‘THERE’ so to speak? And why do I want to get to it anyway?

The crack of something that shouldn’t have been sucked up, snaps me out of the water and back into my living room.

All this while vacuuming?

Last weekend, just as the sun was coming up, warming the Earth, in that end of summer kind of way, the four of us set out, doing what we love most in the world- hiking through trails of ancient leafy trees, along gurgling rivers, with the promise of a waterfall and a picnic lunch to end our hard work and beautiful day. Big Brother, unusually vocal about his dissatisfaction at his current situation, expressed the singular, most asked question echoed all over the world by traveling kids, set out to exponentially annoy their parents:

“When are we going to be THERE?’ He whined, draping himself over a huge moss covered rock. The river was rushing beside us, the ground was firm and beautiful beneath our feet. We were all healthy and strong, we had coffee and candy in our packs, and as I gulped in the fresh air and the smells that only Nature can make, I spewed out in exasperation:

“August. We ARE THERE. THIS. This is THERE, all around you. We are already and always will be THERE.”

He looked at me, didn’t say a word, made the decision to keep going, albeit begrudgingly, and kept walking. Typically, three minutes later he became distracted by the wonder of a millipede and excitedly called me over to look. Stooping down to inspect the crawling creature, I felt my throat close up with tears. I realized how he had just acted out what I do daily in my head.

My mental whining and incessant complaining: “When am I going to get there?”

Wherever THERE is.

When am I going to get to the point where I can really focus on writing or my career or figuring out who I AM or who I want to be, after trauma and survival, motherhood and other stuff?

When will I feel like I am swimming instead of just treading water all the time?

Making progress, headway….when will a full night of sleep be enough? When will I…….

The list is endless and not comprehensive.

And now, I’m sort of wondering, who ever told me treading water was a such a BAD thing? That it’s NOT enough. It’s exhausting, that’s for sure, but also toning and strength building, necessary for that EXACT moment in time, when they are ready to set me free.

Tears will mingle with the water as they use me to push off, and my hope is that we’ll all swim together, back to that ever illusive shore, laughing and splashing, capable and strong, because we allowed time to take what it needed to take, and I finally gave in, relaxed back into the water, looked up at that big beautiful sky, and decided to breathe.

There are places to go, but that is for then, and I’ve surrendered.

Here for now.

Contemplating my cleanish floors, I recognize, with satisfaction and understanding, if only for a single fleeting moment:

Keep treading water.

It’s worth it.

Because I am already there.

 

 

Healing

 

Sitting here, trying to be grateful for all of it, today.

But in the end, irritation prevails as my plans for work and escaping the house and never ending demands of motherhood have been thwarted by the most demanding of all, a vomiting toddler.

A good excuse to stay in and vacuum countless cracker crumbs up off the neglected living room floor while sick toddler and just fine older brother binge watch Netflix on this hot and muggy morning. At least I finally have that chance to clean those living room windows so I can actually see what’s happening out there in a world that I feel is spinning around at warp speed while this inner world which I have chosen seems to be standing still.

The struggle so many of us face. Those who have chosen this lifestyle, or maybe the life style chose us, yearning to be singing as Snow White in constant optimism of the most menial of jobs, but in reality acknowledging, as we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the hallway mirror, noticing we are wearing breakfast instead of eating it, that each day feels a little bit like all the rest, and wondering, when will we finally get a chance to write that short story that has been brewing for months in the back of our brains? When will we have the energy to finally read that book- or even just get through the first damned chapter without falling asleep? When will w find the time and energy to stop drinking white wine during the witching hour and finally lose that 10 pounds? When?

When will it get easier? This load of being constantly needed- forever wanted -always being touched?

Sometimes I think it actually hurts my body, all this constant needing. And just as I twist to work that kink out of my crooked and tender back, someone falls on the floor in a sobbing heap, or has drawn me the most prolific of pictures and my attention once again goes from my own aches and pains, sorrows and griefs to that of kissing boo-boos and knees, washing sticky fingers and retrieving yet ANOTHER snack as the afternoon gives way to another evening of warm and yellow summer sun.

I really should be more thankful.

The older one, crawls onto me as I am trying to settle in on the sofa, savoring the luxury of a second cup of coffee for the day, while the younger one is passed out, letting sleep heal and do its thing, sits up and runs his finger over the scar still healing across my neck and asks me if it hurts. Not anymore, I tell him, taking another sip.

He asks to hear the story of how he was born- inwardly, I know, as much as I am craving solitude and caffeine, these moments of connection matter, for me, even more than him really, and so I begin, searching my memory for the very abridged version, because he’s still too young to understand the meaning of time and how it heals, or at least this is my belief.

I refrain from telling him about the moment I realized I was pregnant with him only weeks after the greatest trauma I will ever endure, and how I didn’t think I could be a mother in the state I was in, but that motherhood, at that EXACT time, was indeed, and forever more will have been the greatest and most generous gift that has ever been granted me.

After a few memories, he finishes his own story of life by describing how he popped out of my belly and then the doctors stitched me up. I smile and leave it for another day. Seems about right.

Did having him pop out of my belly hurt? He asks.

Yes.

I tell him the truth.

It hurt a lot. But more than just the stitches in my tummy.

I leave that part out, only for me.

Knowing and so wise, his soulful brown eyes, I swear, could see, just for an instant, into my mother’s soul as he gently shook his head and answered:

It’s ok for things to hurt sometimes, Mama, they won’t hurt forever…it takes time, but things always heal.

Then he laid down next to me, and within moments, fell into a deep and delicious sleep.

I write this so I can remember. In case my mind betrays me someday and decides to forget. When I am hopefully old and listless, knowing I’m the burden instead of the lifter, I want to find a copy of this pasted inside my journal so I can remember the long days that belong to the short years, that the hours spent seemingly doing nothing, but in the space and time of watching butterflies dance and birds flit in and out, whiling away hours answering the same questions, picking up the same toys thinking the same thoughts…all of that time I wasn’t doing nothing-

All that time, I was just healing.

Just Ride the Wave

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It’s a glorious, sunshine filled day. The light from every angle at which I stand seems to make the flowers and trees and even single solitary blades of grass look like they are dancing.

I love- LOVE- these kinds of days. They ring of fresh starts, filled full of singing and sighing- that sigh that you do when you feel complete and content, hopeful about all that can become.

These kinds of days whisper promises of quiet strength. Soft in their fortitude, rest for the weary, hope for the downtrodden.

I’m grateful for it- this day. Just to be experiencing it and noticing it, as it’s been a draining and emotionally exhausting span of space for me as of late. I am downtrodden for sure. Nothing especially special has happened. Thank GOD, we are all fine, we are all well, we are all free. We have a (literally new) roof over our heads, nutritious food to eat, we have our health, we are not frantic, over-scheduled, or exhausted. We have green all around us, the firmness of the Earth beneath us, good friends to keep us grounded- community telling us that we are loved and are lucky enough to have the assurance that we are not alone.

Life is good. It’s as it should be.

For me, anyway.

I was pretty surprised, when a few days ago, that little backpack I can’t ever seem courageous enough to put down for good, The Past, or as I often think of her, ‘One of my Past Lives’ (as there have been many) literally blew her top and out of the clear blue sparkling Spring sky, dropped a mother of a memory onto me,  rendering  me on the floor, immobile, crying uncontrollably for hours on end, wondering, not for the first time, if this was it- the moment I have always been trepidatiously waiting for- and I had finally hit the point of no return.

Was this me, losing my mind?

I’ve imagined what it would be like, this losing my mind thing, having watched someone very close to me, endure the process of playing hide and seek with one of our most allusive partners in life-The Psyche. It’s horrific, exhausting, bone achingly so. Many of us have been bystanders and watched this game play out, whether for someone else, or like a bird hovering over the shell that once embodied us, we know- none of us are immune. Anxiety attacks, debilitating depression. Being too afraid to live, but too afraid not to, a purgatory like space that many refer to as reality- I watched my mother balance in this arena for a very long time. Depression always taunting haughtily, as she knew she was already winning the game, ‘Ready or not, here I come…’ and all the while, me, singing the child’s song, ‘Come back to me…’

It’s a hard thing to remember, but all I can think about in this very moment.

Was IT finally coming for me? Five years after the greatest trauma I will hopefully ever experience in this life; four years after unexpected motherhood applied her pressure and forced me to live for others not just for myself; seven years after losing her, the Greatest Victor of it ALL, my mother.

I can’t pick up the phone to ask for the best hiding places.

And ready or not- here it comes.

Like a tidal wave-you see it coming, but you are so indescribably paralyzed and all you can do is pray whatever mantra to whatever Being may or may not be listening and hope that you survive the deluge.

This is very difficult to write.

The shame and embarrassment after this latest episode filled me, for a time, to the brim. As the reservoir gave way and overflowed into all the crevices of my spirit and mind, it mixed with my angry tears and created yet another wave so big and strong that I could only watch in amazement as it washed over me once again, without time to recover from the first one, leaving me sputtering and gasping for air, for light, for reprieve. As my heart grappled for anything around her to help her stay afloat, I realized all she was holding on to was the confusion and hurt pride, betrayal of her senses and The Fear: you know, THE BIG ONE- we all know it-

Intimately.

I quite literally couldn’t breathe.

I WAS DROWNING. In anxiety perpetuated by triggers, feelings of overwhelming anger and the inability to understand what was happening to the one I thought I knew so well:

Myself.

My SELF.

And more than anything- it was the SADNESS. I thought I was through this, I thought I was ok, I thought I was strong.

Finally, when it was all done, like a drowned rat, I climbed out of it, onto the shore, and quite beautifully fell into the acceptance that I get to call my husband.

We were both scared and sad, overwhelmed and heavy.

This again? Really?

Just ride the wave, rather than resist it.

That’s what was written on the back of the beautiful soul standing next to me in yoga class this morning. It was an effort to get there today. Needless to say, I’m worn out, I’m empty, even though it’s all done.

Just ride the wave. Don’t resist it.

With each painful pose, my eyes drifted to the back of her shirt and as I closed them, to block out anything and everything, I could see how much resisting I have been doing, and how the end result of fighting something with which I have zero control over is always going to leave me gasping, exhausted, fearful and without much hope for reprieve.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just let go- let it take me where it needs to take me, do what it needs to do FOR ME? Nothing happens to us, only for us.

This is hard too.

Many years ago, in one of my past lives, at a table in little Mexican joint somewhere in Tucson, I found myself sharing margaritas and tacos with a dear friend who I love so very deeply. The salt in our drinks was due to the steady flow of tears, as she shared the experience of losing her daughter too early and so painfully, she shared with me the wisdom of the waves.

Though her pain was unending, she sagely managed to explain that we can never escape it, these waves. They will be there, slapping us down, until we give in, surrendering to the movement of its rhythm, allowing it to carry us to whatever realm it sees fit. The sea of life will have its way- always has and always will. But surviving it requires full surrender.

Surrender of control, the letting go of our pride and expectations, and most importantly, the requirement that we should be exempt from any pain.

The waves are life’s gift to us- teaching us of our ability to stay afloat, no matter what type of storm we are weathering. It’s all necessary, it’s all normal, it’s all we have sometimes.

All we can do is stay calm, breathe in, and breathe out. Stop resisting, and just ride the wave.

 

 

 

I Survived for This

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The rain is falling- falling in hard and fast, chilling sheets that are beating against the living room window. I turn the lights on, as it has suddenly grown so dark in the house. A little better, but still dimmer than it should be. I look up to the far left corner and see the bulb that I meant to change weeks ago, still burned out. Looking around, in the half light, I notice papers piled on top of the desk, toys strewn across the coffee table, toys tumbling out of bins all across the floor. No matter how hard I try, regardless of how little I do in the outside world, I can never keep up with it all.

The little one comes in with her cup of juice. ‘Do yoga with me, Mama.’

She doesn’t ask. She demands, as only a two year old can.

A heavy sigh filled with the temptation to get back to breakfast dishes, laundry, emails- REAL WORK- leaves my lips.

‘Do yoga with me, Mama.’ Again, the demand, quieter this time, waiting for disappointment, perhaps.

Work and work. It can wait, forever, if it has to.

We stretch, we touch our toes, it feels good to lie on the floor and giggle with this little being that is so free from schedule, duties and time. How I must learn from her. I close my eyes and breathe. How I’ve dreamed of these moments, visualized them into existence. How many of them do I allow to pass me by because the world tells me there are other things that are so much more worth doing?

A familiar song begins to play, ‘It’s my favorite…’

She says this about all of them, but I can’t help but take her at her word. I scoop her up, and bury my nose and lips into that soft space beneath her ear, and kiss her tiny, perfect neck.  In the shadow of the burned out light, amongst debris of childrearing and cleaning failures, we twirl, we swing, we laugh, we sing.

And I begin to cry. Slowly, tears escape from the corners of my eyes and turn into muffled sobs as we fumble around the furniture, tripping over a puzzle, a book, a dinosaur or two.

“I survived for this” I whisper it- out into the atmosphere, to her. She doesn’t understand, that for this very moment, just to share the ordinary magic between the two of us, this life altering experience of dancing, as only the two of us can, for THIS, I fought my way out of hell and back again and back again- tripping, face down onto the edge of an abyss of darkness that threatened to swallow me up, only to have spit me out into the utter confusing bliss of normality…

It’s for this, that I have survived.

When despair wanted to take me, conjuring up love for these little beings that were not even known, drenched me in light, feeding the will of survival, altering the belief that there was nothing worth living for, because deep in my knowing, somehow, I could feel them calling to me, while out there, for all those days and nights. As I walked to what I was sure was the end of it all, they traveled beside me, each taking a hand, assuring me that the best was yet to come, whether on this side or the other, I just could not know then.

But I sure as hell know it now.

This. This is why I made it.

For the everyday task of swinging my legs over the side of the bed to answer the calls of sick children. For the generous gift of preparing nourishment for the little mouths that have so shifted my world and made me into the only thing I was meant to become.

A better version of myself- a mere memory of who I once was. One who does not have the time or the energy to fret over the meaningless, one who must stop over and over again, trying to finish the most menial of tasks, only to, and quite literally for nothing more, and nothing less, than to stop and smell the roses.

I survived for this. Not for any other reason, than to do the everyday. To forge through the curtain of the mundane, so that on the other side I could experience the very purest form of joy.

Living.

Living Life.

Living Life Now.

For the past five years, I have carried around my survival as if it were a weight, a responsibility.

Call it survivor’s guilt, maybe it truly is shame-I’m not the only one- I believe we all carry our own version of it. But, when it has felt like too much to carry, I always go back to the truth that my experiences are like a smooth stone I carry around in my pocket- it will always be there- until I figure out where to put it, how best to lay it down, I imagine I will wander looking for that sacred space for a while yet, however, the weight of it never changes, although my ability to carry it around- my thoughts and beliefs about the weight of it- does. As I grow stronger from hauling it around with me, I see it for what it really is. Not something to be ashamed of, or have to prove it’s what I am always about, but really, it’s the deepest form of GRACE, that has blessed me with the opportunity to understand the work that has enabled me to grow strong enough to bear it, all while allowing me to get back on my own two feet again. And what’s more, because it takes time to build stamina and strength- and because it takes practice and is slow in its natural process, this has forced me to answer the call of the experience of a life of slow and deliberate normalcy.

This is the lesson in my survival. Had I not been tried, I would most likely never have slowed down.

And oh, the life I would have missed. Dare I say it was all worth it- for the chance to experience this?

Somehow, in the midst of books and writing and speaking and child growing and work and more work- I had ALMOST forgotten all of it- this truth that is so foundational, so fundamental.

And as for these feet that have carried me to the ends of the earth and back, that have born the weight of my world upon them, that shook with fear as I was walking into the unknown, following strangers and chasing after stars….these feet are now dancing the dance of survival- the dance of those who have and will continue to survive.

They are dancing barefoot in the garden as we pick violets and chickweed for our morning tea. They are dancing in the kitchen as I prepare (yet another) meal for hungry tummies and singing to me their songs of need.

They are dancing and rejoicing in the memories that are ever present but rarely painful because of that beautiful, ever healing gift of time.

It’s all just a blip in this thing we call life.

And for those of us who are lucky enough to be living it, how glorious it is, and forever more will be.