12.04.2015

Vise

I am going to tell you a short story that is maybe/probably/mostly true. To be honest, I haven’t fact-checked it, because the story in my mind is quite possibly my favorite tale about childhood, period.

Why? 

Because this story sums up so much in one powerful moment.  And also because, in it’s most perfect way, it foreshadows something that is often our biggest dilemma in adulthood. 

And so…

----

A little girl – a toddler at the time – went on a short trip with her father, and by the end of their wandering, they returned home with a tray of chicks.  It’s likely that among his reasons for purchasing the creatures, the father may have hoped that the family would raise these small golden puffs into hens, so that the little girl and her siblings could experience the lessons held in raising animals (which are many) as well as eat fabulously yummy, orange-yolked eggs, laid in a coop with ample space and food and fresh air, and not in chicken-jail.  At least that is how it plays in my mind.

This was a day of life and hope and anticipation.

But as this little girl held the first chick in her cradled fingers, she became so excited – so swept away by this wonderful small thing, something just her size, and so soft – that before anyone realized it had happened, without her knowledge and certainly without her intent, she had smothered it. 

-----

This is the moment. 

I don’t know if the girl even knew what had happened, though if you are concerned, she is a sweet and happy girl who seems unaffected by the event.  Her father may have simply taken the chick from her tiny hands and laid it elsewhere, possibly distracting her with a phone or snack or, as it would be in our family, mommy’s hairclips.  Regardless, she will probably hear the account told at her wedding, or eighteenth birthday, or her high school graduation, to the giggles of her peers and reflective gaze of her parents.

But I want to tell it now. 

I want to tell it now because I need this story; because I am this story.  I am the little girl who is smothering the things I love most. 

I love my son, Milo, and because I love him so fiercely, I want to control everything that happens to him.  I want it to be good and safe and healthy, and for it to promote learning and development, but only where there are wood chips covering the ground and bumpers on the sharp things and someone there to praise him with a smile bigger than the sun. 

I love my husband, Craig, and because I love him so fiercely, I want his job to be challenging [but not stressfully so] and his hobbies exciting [but not risk his safety] and his friendships deep [but never hurt him].

I love my freedom, and because I love it so fiercely, I want it to be all-encompassing and limitless, but never oblige me to go beyond what is comfortable, and never require me to endure injury or pain or sacrifice for its sake, or in in its enjoyment, ever ask that I

arrive
on
time.

Yet, after these reflections, I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone.  I have heard enough tales of regret from others to be certain of this.  We are each like a child, holding a chick in our small hands for the very first time. And without really meaning to, we can be so overcome by the sheer force of our captivation that we may very well squeeze to death the thing we love so fiercely.

This Christmas season, join me as I make myself aware of the things that I am seeking, because of the brokenness of my love, to control or contain, and then as I, in small and big ways, work to loosen my constricting grip on them, that they may

breathe

and

flourish

and 

live


[and lay fabulous eggs].

Just pretend it's a chicken.


9.21.2015

Feeling Flushed

Stay at home moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, nannies, and child caretakers of any kind, 

How do you do it?  

I have been home, or rather, away from the camp/commune life, for like, five hot minutes (two weeks), and am slowly rapidly turning into a monster.  The frustration creeps in not even one hour into my day and continues careening along the path toward tyrannical madness until – mercifully for all of us – my head hits the pillow at night.  I feel so wound up inside that, if tugged, I might very well unspool the full amount of my pent-up crabbiness all over the floor, and probably wouldn’t have the energy to either explain it away or pick any of it back up.  Not only have I become a miserable body and mind to inhabit on my own, but I have been particularly miserable to live with, should you even dare to try to connect with me or suggest that we, I don’t know, talk about it. 

The last two weeks have been a whirling, spinning toilet bowl full of – you guessed it – misery. 

In the next turn of mental upheaval, I am faced with the reality that I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do, to stay home with Milo.  I know, I know, I know that many parents are not able to be home with their little men and women, and I do, in my saner moments, comprehend that my daily experiences are enviable.  But, to be honest with you, it makes me feel a little bit like one of those six year-olds at the dinner table who won’t eat the asparagus-stuffed Gefilte fish you made them for dinner: 

Oh, there are starving kids somewhere? 

SO SEND IT TO THEM.  

I realize that this is a terrible, horrible analogy, but it’s the best I can come up with in my state, so please be gentle. 

In each day, there is most often the Good: Milo learning to point to the Dalmatian in his Curious George book when I ask him to show me where the doggy is; running into my arms with the full momentum of a tiny rhinoceros; giggles and giggles and more life-giving giggles at sweet, timely intervals.  But there is normally also the Bad:  irate cries when I take away the caps covering the screws that secure the toilet to the floor (a favorite of Milo’s, that on a positive, keeps me cleaning the toilets); kicking my legs/arms/everything everywhere during a diaper change while we are out visiting a friend’s house; throwing peas and spaghetti and milk cups on the floor and then somehow – in a miraculous cloud of impossibility - finding a large, heavy, pointed object to throw down on my head while I’m cleaning up the first three (a half-truth, yes, but then why does it always feel so pointy?). 

But really, he's the craziest cutest angry person. 

I am absolutely, positively sure that there are moms and dads out there who would almost literally kill to be able to partake of these daily rituals.  I know that you work intensely hard, and that you still feel the terrible pressure to be everywhere and everything to everyone, especially your kid(s), and I don't mean to belittle your case, even in the smallest degree.  But friends, in my world (because that's what i'm talking about here), there is also the Ugly.  There are diaper changes with the aforementioned flailing, kicking and throwing things, but also with fecal matter smearing all over your carpet, while you are suddenly battling the intense urge to pin your toddler to the ground and lock him in the cat crate while you take an extraordinarily long walk to the nearest bar and have a really, really, exceptionally strong drink, even if you've never had a drop of alcohol in your whole life.  There are days in which, unless your list is composed of:

“feed child
clean up after child [a little]
change diaper
try [and fail] to get child to sleep
feed child
change [appallingly rank] diaper
cry on the floor
bribe child to get through the yogurt aisle
feed child [donut holes] so he won’t fall asleep on the car ride home
fail to feed child dinner (because he’s eaten twelve donut holes already)
wrangle child into pajamas
put wild animal to bed, twice
eat a pound of chocolate
step on approximately five thousand small toys
go to bed way too late”,

you won’t be able to check anything off.  Laundry?  Nope.  Dishes.  No way.  Exercise?  Bahahaha.  

Wait - did you really think you could do that?

I realize that I am writing this in a state of moderate frenzy, so forgive me when I ask to take it all back in a week and tell you how much I love my life (because I do), but in a world that tells you that your value is bound to how productive you are, and because I have foolishly bought into that mantra, there are days when I want anything but this job.  Anything.  Commercial dishwashing all day?  Yes.  Hospital laundry?  If I don’t need to talk to anyone, sure.  Stuff envelopes in an office??? Ohmygosh, yes.  Some days I would give almost anything to feel productive.  

But for now, in the midst of these good/bad/ugly days, I plan to simply keep changing my list to look like the above, so that I can actually check some things off, thankyouverymuch, and to do my best – my very not-good-enough best – to keep up with my son, and to smother him with an excess of love and hugs so that he would never guess that his mom is justthisclose to completely losing her marbles. 


9.10.2015

Rust

I wrote a little note to read at the reception of two friends of mine who were married a couple of weeks ago.  This is a pair who I love and who happen to be on a terribly enchanting honeymoon right this minute in the forests and mountains of western Canada, being, as they have always been - both independently and together - adventurous and appreciative of every little small thing.   They are among my host of favorites and have generously given me permission to share this with you.  Thanks, friends. 

-------



There is a little shop in Moab, Utah that sells crafts and other works made by local artisans.  Each time Craig and I have gone camping in that area, we’ve popped in the store to have a look around.  Invariably – as is true in all parts of the southwest, I think - there are a number of art pieces composed of mixed metals: old bike gears and chains, scraps of galvanized steel and maybe a washer or two thrown in somewhere.  Most parts show definite prior use – the edges of the gears are worn smooth, the chains are clunky, and the washers are pock marked and could never lay straight.  And yet, in each case, the artist has intentionally chosen that specific object as a component in order to create something of new interest and new value.  And even in their altered form, each of those components is still completely identifiable.  Each metal piece remains as it formerly was - rusty and bent and imperfect – and yet the new creation, as a whole, is a marvelous and whimsical thing.

Jennifer and Jacob, welcome to your new adventure.  Welcome to a lifetime of being welded to something broken.  

I say this with a smile, because it’s as true for you as it is for Craig and I as it is for every couple anywhere.  There’s no other way to do marriage, and most often it’s in this brokenness that we get to see the extraordinary nature of love done well.  

In these initial months and years, I challenge you to develop the habit of thinking on your individual brokenness, not in a manner to weigh you down, or discourage you, but in order that you are able to see more fully how good and beautiful it is to be on the receiving end of such love.  Humble people don’t have pride to be hurt or inconsequential arguments to win, and, I’d wager that they experience a deeper sense of joy than the rest of us.  In marriage, winning is never the goal.  Perfection is never the goal.  Showing love... that is always the goal. 

Love might take physical form as a comforting embrace.  Or a hard conversation.  Or laughing so hard that you pee a little.   But like any of its incarnations, genuine love can only emerge from a heart of humility. 

During these initial days, you will hear that marriage is a hard work, that it contains difficult stretches to be endured and will require more restraint and patience than you imagine.  I admit that this can be true.   But if you can practice being clear with your expectations and gentle with your judgment, it can be as whimsical and lighthearted as art made from tea kettles and tire irons.   If you can learn to love each other well in the seemingly small, everyday ways, the big challenges will seem less daunting.   You are broken – both of you, and all of us.  But today marks the beginning of your brokenness taking the shape of something beautiful - and I’m warning you - amidst the work and the patience and your sacrifice, it’s going to be a terrible amount of fun. 

-----

Also, happy belated anniversary to Craig, my best and most forgiving friend.  Let's do ten more, just to be sure.

8.31.2015

Home


There are five massive screen doors in the open living area of what has been our off-and-on home here in Maine.  On a clear morning, the warm glow from the maple trees on the lakefront and the ethereal, bright rays of dawn pour into this glass room in yellow and green shards, beginning at the earliest hour and somehow continuing to channel prisms of light deep into the evening.  Even when I am right here, asleep on the very couch I sit perched upon now, I dream of this room. 

In reality, this cabin is made up of about one third glass, with the remainder composed of v-match, vertical pine panels with a slightly tinted polyurethane finish.  It is bright and open and is life-giving in the way of an enormous, tight hug.  On my first night back here in early June, what must have been hundreds of insect wings beat frantically against the dark expanse of wire window screen and the resulting sound was that of a pounding torrent of rain, rather than the quiet presence of the still, cool evening breeze that moved into and through the room where I sat. 

Home. 

I dare say it is the single most comforting thing on earth.  It is as soothing as a lullaby, as essential to our souls as oxygen to the lungs, and as impossible to pin down as an easterly wind.

I’m realizing more and more that home isn’t a specific place, a particular building, or even an individual set of circumstances.  Home is like a rhythm that only your soul will recognize, like a melody that you hear with your ears, and only upon its hearing can you identify it as the song which has always existed somewhere inside of you.   From the very first note, you feel your footsteps fall into place with the beat, as if the music was born at the very same instant that you were.

This past Saturday night, after putting Milo to bed, I found myself, as usual, doing a late night exercise circuit:  walk; squat; pick up a wooden car; repeat.  When I had finished, I stood in our open living room, did a small, but very stylish wiggle, and declared myself the LUCKIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD.  You see, on this particular day, one of my very favorite friends, Jenn, entered into her new big wedded adventure, and it all took place in my seasonal backyard.  It was a day full of frenzy and running from place to place like a sugar-pumped six-year-old in a room full of puppies, and yet, also a day of incredible beauty and peace and – you guessed it, my favorite buzzword – community.  It was community at its best: purposeful and hilarious and exceedingly life-giving.  Saturday was also, as Craig said multiple times throughout the weekend, a terribly frighteningly day to be a spore-producing plant, but since we only eat ferns in the spring, and I only occasionally make my bed in the moss, it was nothing other than an enchanting day sandwiched between two very magical ones, filled with greenery from the forest, and I cannot imagine anything on this natural earth more perfect than that.


Due to our relational overlap with dear Jenn and her husband, Jacob, it was also an opportunity to welcome a number of friends back to camp.  I think of this group of people as something like our own personal traveling circus, like the band getting back together.  Every individual falls into place amongst the rest, and we each become a unique part of what feels to be one single working body. 

In this community of people, I hear my melody.  They sing my song.  They beat out my rhythm, and my feet follow suit.  But they aren’t the only ones.  This isn’t the only place.  The expression of home has a wild, wandering voice.

During my first trip to the red rocks of the dry southwest, I heard it.  Hidden amidst the mossy pines nearest the southern shore of Heald Pond, I sense it.  In the tiny embrace of my son, I recognize it.  In the gaze of my fellow adventurer, my husband, I am enraptured by it.

As much as this particular room, with its bright warmth and its air thick with joy and memory, would beckon me to label it the ultimate definition of home, I cannot.  I am afraid that if I give in to the notion that home is one certain atmosphere or one specific structure, I will lose something precious.  I will have surrendered myself to the unnecessary reality of loss, to the weight of grief at a house sold or an empty nest, or as I know it, a little cabin in the woods seen from the rear-view mirror.  I will attempt to turn my ear, rather, to listen at each fork in the road, because the sound may come drifting as a working collection of feelings and faces experienced in blueberry pancakes, or mist on the river, or the giddy chortle and short-bitten fingernails of my sister.  I will listen for it in the daunting truth that for each of us, our best and most dear friendship may still be yet to come.  I will seek to embrace its elusiveness, it’s mystery and it’s unpredictable nature.

Our move-back date occurs next week, and I know that I won’t be ready for it until it’s happened.  Or rather, until I’m back in New Hampshire, and have gotten a large enough quantity of hugs to remind me that it is a place that is also good, that it is also mine, and that it is also home. 

The expression of home is as impossible to pin down as an easterly wind.  

This room is not the only room. 



My sound of Home:
Artist: Sleeping At Last
Album: Atlas: Space II – EP

8.22.2015

My Laundry-Folding Napoleon Complex and Other Matters of Pride

I am, in general, a rule follower, and a fan of both uniformity and procedure.  I like to keep my pens with their caps on or their buttons unclicked.  I like a neat car, and folding my t-shirts in thirds, first horizontally, and then vertically.  If you have ever been sweet and generous enough to help me with fresh laundry, I’ve probably – no, definitely – revisited your work later.  (You can ask my husband, who has gradually taken to folding mostly his own clothes.)  I dislike a messy bed, even when the sheets are in the wash.  I like the soothing silence of our town library, and can hardly handle the cacophony of camper songs in our summer Dining Hall, which is a more insurmountable occupational hazard than you can possibly imagine, unless you've witnessed it yourself.  When I worked in a juvenile group home, residents had to line up in silence and then count off in order to transition from building to building,

and I loved it.


Hello, My name is Michelle and I am systematic,

and I can be a

total buzz-kill.

In truth, it can be a considerable challenge for me to overlook procedure for the sake of fun.  I have spent many a moment stuffing down my frantic need to organize or correct, all so that I don’t entirely stifle a mood.  While I love to organize, I am terrible at giving instruction, because I’m both not what one would call verbally coherent, and I also want to give every tiny detail of my micromanaged vision for how you should organize the left side of the staff bathroom shelving:  The pile of mystery hair ties sits HERE”.  It’s astonishingly petty, and I admit, very, very compulsive.  I will say that in general, these obsessions are relegated to my personal domain, so if you’re worried about your office or your laundry or your hair ties, relax, because that’s not my world.  In fact, I’ll help you fold in whatever crazy manner you want, or we even can ball up the t-shirts and throw them into the drawers from across the room if that’s what tickles you.

A particular area of offense comes in the Projects department.   I have been known to regularly refuse social invitations and increasingly rare downtime with my husband because I won’t stop working on a project until I find it to be absolutely, 110% complete.  These are typically tasks that can be put down and picked back up with little to nothing lost, apart from my own convenience, such as washing dishes or vacuuming out the car.  Once I made Craig wait until nearly nine o’clock to have dinner, because I was busy staining a deck chair.  At around five-thirty, long after I should have been finished, he asked me when I might wrap up, and I continued to holler “Almost there!” until night had fallen.  To his credit, Craig gave me a kind but firm grownup scolding, which I fully deserved and needed.  

I’d like to tell you that I don’t do things like this anymore, but I would be lying.    

This is the love of a man who knows me.  He leaves me a little room.

Living in proximity to other human beings, and also having a kid, really puts this into perspective, because at times my bent toward quality control comes at the cost of the people around me.  I have found over the years that I am fully capable of stealing joy away from my peers, and often under circumstances that make me look crazy as a loon.  Have you ever stayed home from taking your child to the park because you needed to reorganize the refrigerator shelves?  Have you ever shamed away a helper with your disappointed looks or have you invalidated someone’s contribution to an effort by being, as my friend Amy says, judgey?  I’ve done these things.  I’ve done them over and over and in every permutation possible. 

Let’s be real.  These desires of mine – to be thorough and follow guidelines and adhere to a procedure – do have benefits.  If done in good measure and with mindfulness, these characteristics can produce reliable and efficient work. I think we can agree that high standards naturally generate good quality.  But how quickly I have been to pass off my unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns as anything other than what, in those low moments, they have revealed themselves to be: pride. 

I can fold the laundry more perfectly than you can.
I deserve a quiet space, free from your chaos.
My project is worth more than your time and your feelings.
Your help is insufficient, because

I. 

AM. 

BETTER.

Even as I write this, it makes me feel sick, and I am struck by how fundamentally cruel my pride is.  Even the word is short and sharp, and it is in my case absolutely, unquestionably accurate.

Our friend Will sent Craig and I a copy of the book, A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie, and I want to include an excerpt of a prayer from the second day, in the evening.  This specific prayer has been a challenge to me since I first read it this summer, and regardless of your take on Christianity or of faith in general, I think his words will cut you a little, as they cut me.  A necessary cut.

O Lord, forgive me for:
My failure to be true, even to my own standards;
My excuses in the face of temptation;
My choosing of the worse when I know the better;

O Lord, forgive me for:
My failure to apply to myself the standards I demand of others;
My blindness to the sufferings of others, and the time it takes me to learn from my own;
My apathy toward wrongs that do not impact me, and my oversensitiveness to those that do.

O Lord forgive me for:
My slowness to see the good in others and to see the flaws in myself;
My hard-heartedness toward the faults of others and my readiness to make allowances for my own;
My unwillingness to believe that you have called me to a small work and my brother or sister to a great one. 

It sometimes takes a pinch on the arm to discover that you have spent the last hour daydreaming in biology class, and it has taken far more force than that to awaken me to how I have concealed my pride under traits that are decent and productive and worthwhile.  Sure, it’s okay for me to fold our laundry however I want.  Yes, it’s fine to crawl on the floor and lint-mitt my carpet, foot by foot.  Crazy – yes – but fine, because it’s our carpet.  However, the second that my compulsions inhibit my relationships or communicate superiority to any friend or passerby, I have not only wronged my fellow person, but have seriously misjudged my own importance.  

I am not better.  I simply am.  

We all are. 

I realize after all of this has been written, that I have likely kissed goodbye any future help with the family laundry, and instilled fear and loathing into the hearts of sing-along lovers everywhere.  In all fairness, I deserve this.  But I ask for your grace and your liberal forgiveness as I seek to learn how to be thorough and how to work hard, without letting my pride drive those qualities into the stratosphere.  I am attempting what, for an alcoholic, might be impossible and certainly unadvisable:  to learn to have a single drink.  I am learning to restrain.  To reeducate.

My name is Michelle, and I am systematic and I am proud, and can be a total buzz-kill, but I am not better than you.   I may have a little more crazy flowing through my bloodstream, and many more delusions of grandeur in my head, but I am not actually better.  So, will you help me?  Will you leave your pens clicked open and sing your Disney songs at my table?  Will you hold my hand and whisper words of comfort as I let my husband fold our laundry?  Will you show me more kindness than I have shown you?  Maybe then, I will learn. 


Yes, maybe then.

8.17.2015

Looking Out For Number Two

I looked up from our cabin’s off-white kitchen peninsula to see my husband, Craig, holding our son in the awkward, half-hug of a body vice grip and urgently asking, “What is in your hand, Milo?  What is that??”. 

Poo.  It’s poo, Dad.

Score one for Kiwi the Cat, who apparently thinks that dragging bits of yesterday’s processed kibble into the living room is a fitting exchange for the millions upon millions of Rice Chex and Goldfish crackers that Milo leaves for her on the carpet, wood floor and every possible crack and crevice within his ever-expanding reach.  At least she didn’t go for quantity, and at least he didn’t eat it.  In the face of impending dysentery, some things are still worth being grateful for. 

Public enemy “number two”

I keep telling myself that I will miss these days.  These days, so full of food flinging, mysterious wet substances and a reoccurring festival of tears when the hand sanitizer is taken out of reach.  I will miss this.  Careening like a drunken circus performer down the front lawn toward open water.  I will miss this.  Toilet paper-ing the house as proficiently as a high school senior on Halloween.  I.  Will.  Miss.  This. 

He’s been known to stick 


things


in


his


mouth.


But really, who am I kidding?  Of course I will.  If, two years ago, someone had described the parenting of a young child as fun (and they did), I mostly thought they were as well put together as the embossed warning on my dad’s industrial strength, alarmingly effective ice-shaver: 

Be Careful Finger.

However, to my pride-swallowing surprise, they were correct.  Even more than correct, they were radically understating the fanciful glee-factory that lay ahead of us.  While Milo has caused me to exchange my ideas of sleeping in and sleeping well for simply sleeping at all, he has enhanced just about every other aspect of my life.  Except for road trips and dinner out, that is, and probably general hygiene, but who’s keeping track, really?  That multitude of people I know who have said, “you will see things differently”, or “life will carry new meaning”, were right, and I humbly admit that I am now learning to see the world with fresh eyes.  In particular, I am seeing the vast and varied world of excrement in a whole new light.

You might think this to be my segue into a tale of diapers and diarrhea (or diarrhear as we say up heyah on a regulah basis to keep the inmates from really losing it), but you would be wrong.  Today, I have my sights set strictly on feline feces.

As I puttered away down our three-mile gravel driveway on the twenty-five minute drive to town and the grocery store, I found myself periodically snorting and sniggering, totally amused at both the enthusiasm and significance of Milo’s morning discovery.  Don’t we all pick up a little crap every now and then?  More often than not, it looks like poo, smells like poo, and – oh, no – does it taste like poo??  Yes.  Gasp. Yes, it does.  And yet, there we are, clutching it’s nasty contents in our grip, seemingly unaware that we’ve seized hold of something that seeks to do us foul, filthy harm. 

Jealousy over a good-looking friend?  Nasty.
Bitterness over a wrong that you can hardly remember?  Foul.
Anger over something trite?  Filthy. 
An addictive habit?  Poo. 

(Especially true if that somehow is your addictive habit.  And especially unsanitary.) 

I don’t know about you, but – good glory – I know that I’ve picked up handfuls of the stuff in my years.  Interestingly enough, Milo released his small but surprisingly robust grip on his pirate’s treasure this morning far more promptly and agreeably than I have been known to release my vices.  This is a trail we could easily bunny hop down, because the only reason Milo gave it up so readily was because I offered him hand sanitizer in a trade, which is as I mentioned above, a favorite substance to squish through his fingers. If I hadn’t offered him something new, he would have been sorely tempted to snatch his bounty away from my grasp.  I believe there is a life lesson hiding here somewhere….

(Like, Why didn’t you notice the cat crap on your floor before your toddler did?)

(No, not that life lesson.  The other one.)

Just like that cat scat would have been toxic to Milo had it somehow *utter silent praise* been ingested or had festered in his grip for too long, the nasty habits and harmful characteristics I have picked up are also lethal to me if I don’t learn to offload them.  Which, I think you’ll agree, isn’t as easy as simply relaxing my hand.

Today’s episode was important for me, because as time progresses, I am increasingly desensitized to what I’m hanging on to:  it’s weight, it’s smell, it’s  *gag* texture.  I get so desensitized, in fact, that I completely forget about it.  I fail to see that I am bitter.  I overlook that I am jealous.   So I am thankful for the reminder this morning to reflect on my rancid baggage – the unhealthy and distancing things I have held onto – in hopes that I might spark a decision to put them down.  I’m reminded that, so far, I have chosen to embrace these things and that unless I make a deliberate choice to release my grip, they will persist and fester and ruin me. 

I am grateful for Milo, in innumerable ways, and realize that over time and through new experiences, I will become even more grateful: for his perspective and audacity; for his lack of a filter and lack of fear.    But today, I am specifically thankful for this reminder, and for Craig’s masterful speed and agility, and finally, for someone paying any semblance of dutiful attention in this house.  

8.12.2015

Scattered-Schmattered, and Other Lessons of Love


Craig and I were reminiscing the other day over an older couple that we know, whose children are grown and each pursuing a different dream or lifestyle somewhere on the globe – those who are still living, that is.  I have to wonder at the resilience of these two, at how they function in a capable and composed manner - how they even so much as form complete sentences - as so many pieces of their hearts are scattered across the country.

In what feels to be a cruel sort of emotional Ironman, we meet people, form deep and meaningful relationships with them, and then, often by necessity, learn to let them go.  These individuals may be children: met en utero or at birth or when brought into your family for the first time.  They may be parents: blood-related or adoptive, actual or surrogate, to your flesh or to your soul.  These people may be friends or mates, who have come into your life – haphazardly / in perfect timing /who you never expected – and have become as deep and connected to you as a foreign tree branch grafted into your trunk. 

Part and parcel.  

One and the same.  

And so your heart swells in size to make room for this new life, this new friendship, this new love.

And without realizing it is happening, as your heart grows, little bits of it become attached to these people, like the bits are coated with tiny Velcro hooks or pine pitch or that really sticky glue that packaging companies use to put the labels on pickle jars.  And just like that, right under your nose, someone has walked away with a piece of your heart.  It could happen whether or not you grant your permission.  It will likely take place completely under your radar.  And you will be left in the wake of what it means to love. 

It both a divine and terrible thing, to love: to feel the swells of joy at knowing and being known, and also the debilitating reality in the risk of loss and fear of separation.  Yet, we cannot have the first without the second.  There is no other way.  As we grow up, we are faced with this reality, and with the subsequent choice: to adopt the terms of risk and wrestle with its fear for the sake of knowing the incredible freedom of love and community, or to forsake the latter so that we will never required be to experience the former. 

For some, this risk is too great.  It includes the risk of rejection, and the possibility of being left behind or worse yet, left alone.  And so, some individuals choose the safety of a tight circle, of close borders and small wagers.  One may prove to be happy enough with these circumstances, but the heart’s call for companionship is as persistent as the suspicion that there may be much more to life beyond those tight confines.

To modify the common saying: little wagered, little gained. 

For others – for many of us, I would guess - we battle daily to see above and beyond the risk and fear toward the beautiful mess of human connection.  The challenges we face are great, but the triumphs of love are even more extraordinary, and as we experience knowing and being known, we learn to see more clearly that truly, any wager we make in the name of friendship is microscopic in comparison with our gain.  Upon this realization, we dare to connect once more; we dare to throw down another bet onto the table in favor of love.

And that’s how you end up, like me, with little bits of your heart in places like Washington state and Illinois and Florida.  How you have a specifically-shaped void from a piece that was plucked from this world, and how the journey to reach others who are far flung can seem as insurmountable as walking to the moon.  As painful as it is to have these people so far away - like the pronounced throbbing from a recent wound – let us be reminded of something downright miraculous.  When we have sent our love to so many scattered places, not only will our heart beat on, but also like the story of those five loaves and two fish, we will continue to have enough of it to go around.  When you meet that someone new - at school, or church, or your favorite microbrewery, or in a hospital room, handed to you by a large grumpy physician wearing purple - you will have enough love for that person, and upon meeting them, one more piece of your heart will quietly slip off to it’s new charge. 

I promise you, it is not a trade.  You do not need to lose an old friend for the sake of a new one.  You are not bound to stop loving your father because you now have a son, or your friend because you have a mate.  In the words of a favorite song of mine, love grows more love, and in fact, one relationship will often enhance another.  Many will benefit.

Milo and Jessa, being spectacular, or rather, themselves.


When I picture Craig, or Milo or my dear friend Jessa, who is three thousand aching miles away, I feel great love for them.   But as the shadow of fear approaches, and I stand facing the risk of impermanence and the length of the journey to reach my friends, I remind myself, as I remind you:  Love is worth it. 

Though fear can have terrible strength, and bear heavy clouds of uncertainty,

 Love is worth it. 

Though the risk of loss can be overwhelming and threaten you with loneliness,

Love is worth it. 

Though the distance can carry profound weight and your longing may need to stretch farther than you think can bear,

Love is worth it.

As we learn to love, you and I are forced to learn the skill of letting go.  If we believe that one is possible without the other, we are wrong, because the resulting product will not be love, but rather possession.   When we love truly, we are, in a sense, handing someone wings.  Love is an investment and an encouragement – an affirmation that you are valued – and as such, will likely propel you or your friend/child/parent/lover into a perpetual state of exploration and positive risk taking.  Of rising to the challenge and living in full.  This is what healthy love and true friendship looks like.  Possession, the destructive charlatan that it is, will do no such things.  It will promise fulfillment for its owner, but leave only a small list of questionable companions and relationships ruled by fear and control and layered in deceit.  This is not the way, friend.  The suspicion of our hearts is correct:  there is so much more for us than a thing that small.

So let us choose wisely – to risk it all for the sake of something that is immeasurable and beautiful and alive.

Learn to let go.  Graft in new branches.  Propel those you love forward.  And as you walk through this, and bits of your heart become far flung, do not be afraid.   Resist the urge to pick up the pieces.

Let your heart be

s
c
a
t
t
e
r
e
d,


and you will somehow find it whole.

7.29.2015

Risk Management 101: Aim to Fail

My middle school years were difficult, as I allude to frequently here  on the blog – probably frequently enough that you are ready for me to gosh, stop talking about it already.  As I watch Milo, at a bit over one year old, spend his mornings grinding puzzle pieces and Cheerios of questionable age into the wool carpet, I can only hope and pray that his experience will be different, and prepare for the worst by investing in both a Sam's membership (for the bulk-wrapped Kleenex boxes) and a punch card for mom therapy sessions, also known as Time Alone.  They make punch cards for that, right?

If you can’t tell, I am preparing for the worst: that he will take after me.


Which he might.  

Who really knows these things?

However, something magical happened one day in 1997, during the spring of my eighth grade school year.  It took place in a badly lit, undersized gymnasium, which if I remember correctly, had dark wood paneling all the way to the ceiling, and which alternately housed school lunch tables and rousing games of wallyball (which apparently, to my gawking amazement, is a real thing).  In an effort to lure me from my isolated, ever-shrinking shell of social anxiety, my parents had encouraged me to attend some open gym volleyball sessions, hosted by the coach of what would later be my high school varsity team, Chris.  I didn't know it then, but that day would be another link in a chain of significant transformation in my life.  And it happened like this (Disclaimer: probably not verbatim. Aka, definitely not verbatim.):

Chris: "Until I say to stop, run back and forth across the gym with your arms at your side.  Pretend that you only have shoulders, and that anything distal exists in the flexible state of orange jello: wiggly and formless and completely out of control."

Now, don't get me wrong - wiggly and formless and completely out of control is my natural state of being, but at that time, asking this behavior of me constituted the emotional risk of breakdancing my way to the front of a prison firing squad.  My anxiety level was at DEFCON 1.

However, of all the things I was at the time – including my excessive knack for apprehension – a submissive spirit topped the list, and so off I went, reluctantly but promptly skittering across the gym.

I ran around that room like a tightly wound doll, but quickly transformed into the human equivalent of a young basset hound, with my arms and hands wagging around like floppy ears and droopy jowls and my body sweat dripping to the floor like drool from a dog’s mouth.  I recall having to remind myself to relaxrelaxrelax, consciously making an effort to let my body parts behave as if I were unconscious.  I was focusing so hard on flailing that I'm amazed I didn't accidentally slam into a preteen or trip on my shoelaces.  

I can only imagine how ridiculous we looked, the wiggly crew of us, but in that small exercise, as was true of my previous venture into synchronized swimming, my life was beginning to change.  It didn't happen overnight, and I didn't transform into an entirely new person.  That said, I did become what I know was a better, more healthy version of the girl that hid underneath that bashful, anxious exterior.  

Physical risk is powerful.  Taking risks can stimulate change or reinforce stagnancy.  Risk can be a path to social and emotional growth, or it can be a manner of escape.  I would guess that more often than not, you and I would choose to take a physical challenge over an emotional one if we were given the chance.  See, we know that the outcomes of physical risk are predictable.   When bungee jumping, the risk is normally death or critical injury due to a high velocity smash into the ground.  Two of the many risks of climbing Everest are HAPE or HACE.  The risk of swimming across the Pacific is SHARK (not an acronym, just scary as all getout).  On the other hand, if you are confronting a deep personal fear, for example, the risk is... a little more complicated, a little more elusive, and can feel surprisingly more dangerous than something tangible or visible.

What is so special to me about this awkward memory is the fact that such small physical risks like this one reset my course toward a path of more healthy interaction with emotional and social risks for years to come.  I made friends and enjoyed school, and developed a sense of self, and faith, and even found a cool guy who was willing to flail through life with me.

WHAAAT? 

Miracles happen everyday, folks.

I attended a few Zumba classes this spring, which was significantly more fun and fabulous than I ever imagined.  With that said, I'll admit that it's still not easy for me to walk into a room of strangers, and let all of this flap around like a squirrel in flight.  While Zumba-ing, I inhabit a lateral swath of maple gymnasium floor with my arms and legs whipping back and forth in a room full of other bodies, fellow men and women flailing away to a latin beat. This experience has felt pretty much the same as that evening of open gym so many years ago, only that much more of me jiggles now.  I felt happy.  I giggled through much of each workout, occasionally interrupting my laughter with bouts of intense focus on the instructor's footwork and stopping for frequent water breaks and gasps for air.

In both of these stories, I have felt like a total oddball, which is scary for me, like I’m standing within a crowd wearing only blaze orange underwear.  But because in each of these cases I was surrounded by what was, in each moment, a sea of oddballs, I felt safe.  Now, I know that we aren’t always able to jump out of our comfort zones in the company of others, but if you are, it can be a great way to prime your engine for taking some individual risk in the future.  I’m an advocate for that, because if peer pressure is really a thing, well, we might as well be doing some good with it, right?

Parent Sidebar: As I write this, I am recalling how often enough I hear parents comment on how they need to be more conservative about what risks they take, as they have little ones to care for and can’t risk breaking their leg or missing time at work.  Hear me:  I understand.  I would never want to put my life at risk for the sake of momentary enjoyment or selfish ambition.  But with that said, if I don’t risk anything at any time for any reason, will Milo risk anything ever?  Will he take a risk when it’s worth it?  If I don’t, and he doesn’t, who wins in that scenario?  I’ll tell you:  No one.  In fact, in that scenario, everyone loses.  We may have remained safe by not assuming the risks, but we’ve completely missed out on the resulting growth.

Among other injuries due to grabbing adventure by the horns, my dad tore his MCL and meniscus skiing when I was in elementary school.  Missing work and suffering through PT, recovering, and some quality time with the doc:  not cool for dad.  A father who busts himself skiing a killer line because he isn’t afraid to tackle something hard?  So cool.  And more than cool, it was, for a young me, a picture of courage, which was something I desperately needed to identify and embrace.

Risks are risks because they are at some level inherently unsafe, but know that I am not advising anyone to head out for a run this afternoon in Death Valley or something of an obvious, dangerous nature.  If you want to train to run in Death Valley, fine.  Unfortunately, I have a sinking feeling you'll be training alone, 

because that sounds terrible.

So in conclusion, let's take some risks.  Let's get out of our comfort zones.  I know that  I need to, and perhaps, just perhaps, it's not just me.  The next time you get invited to trapeze class, or to hike the Long Trail or have to change the Jeep tire alone on the side of a deserted logging road in a skirt and sandals, remember that your sweat and nerves are only the beginning of something much greater.  The physical struggle will make you question your resolve, your strength and your fundamentals, but if you persevere, you’ll find out that you are made for so much more than you ever imagined.  




7.21.2015

An Athlete of the Nautical Persuasion

I could have married that beanbag.  

If I had to guess, I’d estimate that I spent a third of my 6th grade school year nestled into the yellow beanbag chair in the back of our classroom.  I’d pull the hood of my cotton sweatshirt over my head, and settle in for however long Mrs. Bascom, the short-haired 5th and 6th grade teacher, would permit.  She was pretty generous.  

Apart from acquiring some shockingly bright Lisa Frank stickers, my 6th grade year left a lot to be desired.  It was smack in the middle of my sweat pant-wearing, Goosebump-reading, moody and melancholy experience of junior high.  I was still donning rastafari Tweety Bird t-shirts and playing with stuffed animals, all while my peers were reading Jane Eyre, crushing on boys and singing along with Gavin Rosdale on their Walkmen.  I felt incredibly uncool, and were it not for a couple of merciful friends, might have burrowed so far into that beanbag that I would have needed bottled oxygen.  

Psychedelic Baby Seal Trapper Keeper.  This will take ocean swimming off of your bucket list.

Then along came Mrs. Bascom.  She only taught at our school for that single year, and I have a few lingering memories hinting that she wasn’t well liked by the students.  I’m not sure that I even liked her all of the time.  Somehow, though, she found a way into my dreary, preshrunk cotton world.  Aside from allowing me to learn from my cushy perch at the back of the room, she also introduced me to creative writing (fabulously dramatic poetry) and even at one point, told me she thought I could have a future in synchronized swimming.  

Me.  

Synchronized.  

If I were anyone else, this would have been my Aha Moment.  The punch line.  The fleece pulled out from over my eyes.

But I’m not anyone else.  And it wasn’t.  

Strapping on my swimsuit like a coat of arms, I cannonballed into the pool with her high school aged daughter, who was, in fact, a real-life synchronized swimmer.  I feathered my hands through the water.  I flutter-kicked my legs.  I did my best to hold my arms straight up in the air, from the soft skin of my biceps to my pale, unpolished fingernails.  I may have even worn nose plugs for the first time, though I can’t say for sure.  

It felt like a dream.  A dream that stank of chemicals and sweat and pure awesomeness.

I don’t remember at all what transpired after this visit to the pool, but I know that my budding career never materialized the way that I’d thought it might.  I imagine that I busied myself with my typical concerns: wondering how I could adjust my afternoon plans to incorporate the Lion King theme song, consuming a whole bag of plain potato chips, magnetic earrings, and going by the name Heather, which was my favorite (followed closely by Maxi, followed closely by Heather again).  

What I take away from my brief calling as a luminary of the chlorinated world was the fact that a middle-aged woman took a glum sixth grader and gave her hope.  Hope for a future, perhaps as a National Poet Laureate, or perhaps as an athlete of the nautical persuasion, but fundamentally as a person worthy of interest.  Did I have talents that were undiscovered?  Was I compelling?  Would anyone listen if I had words to say?  “Yes”, she said.  

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

My parents had been affirming me for years, as had, I’m sure, other teachers and adults in my life, but when your emotions feel so heavy and your persona feels more like a suit to wear than your real self, it gets difficult to carry on with a smile.  When you have perceived so many discouraging messages (and what preteen hasn't), the truth seems like a voice not meant for you to hear.   

My life didn’t change overnight.  It took a few years before I really began to feel at home in my body and mind, but this was the beginning.  For as many of us who have felt the transformative power of someone’s belief, there are even more who haven’t.  While I may have been the only girl my age tucking in her Pound Puppy at night, I know that I wasn’t the only kid who worried that she would never find her place.  

Mrs. Bascom let me wallow in the beanbag, but she didn’t leave me there.  Her encouragement didn’t lead me to pursue a lifetime of impressive athletic feats, but rather demonstrated to me that I was a person of value, and that I should dream, because I was capable and interesting and had undiscovered talent.  And to this day, when I write of hopeful things, such as this, I look back and think of my sixth grade teacher.  

With this said, I have to ask myself whether I realize that I am equipped to do exactly what Mrs. Bascom did.  Do I believe that I have the ability to speak the future into someone’s life?  Do you?  With less work than you or I might imagine, we can shoot up flares of confidence over hundreds of uncertain horizons.  Just like a changed track will divert a train down a new path, whatever encouragement we can give to the lives we intersect with has the potential to permanently alter their trajectory.  Let me say that again:  something as simple as our encouragement can permanently alter someone’s trajectory.  And perhaps, hopefully, that affected life will someday repeat the process.  

So, let us be kind and be present.

Let us listen well and perceive what is beyond the words we hear.

Let us utter words of hope.  Inspire confidence.  Instill value. 

Just as Mrs. Bascom helped me see that I had something to contribute to this world, you and I have been given the opportunity to take someone’s hand and lift that person out of their proverbial beanbag chair.  Are we doing it?  

When you are worried that you aren’t good enough to help someone else, or that you don’t have it all together, relax.  

Please, relax.  I am worried too.

But none of us are perfect, and yet we are perfectly fit for this job.  

So let us be brave, and you and I can shoot up a flare of confidence over a hundred horizons.  Perhaps together we can light up the sky.


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