Tag Archives: Motherhood

Commencement: A Mother’s Guide to the Extra Stuff

cap tossas seen on mamalode.com

I can never remember if the word “commencement” means beginning or ending. My knee jerk reaction is to think that it means ending, though my writer’s mind quickly corrects it.

That’s probably because graduation ceremonies are called Commencement, and I think of graduation day as an ending– leaving the known behind: a good reputation, dear friends at a stone’s throw, families whose refrigerators and bikes and kitchen tables are yours for the sharing… the dismantling of decorated walls soon to betray you for guests, or someone else with new photo collages, new tapestries, new blue ribbons. I have never been good at leaving the familiar, and I usually mark it with a little hidden graffiti—Laura Munson lived here, and the dates.

But it’s not my turn this upcoming Commencement. It’s my daughter’s. Now it’s she who is dismantling her room, coming down to the end of her check list, five more days of school to go, graduation invitations in the mail, college deposit in, orientation dates in stone. There is a new timber in her voice; something dire. “Mom, can you do something with my Breyer horse collection?”

“Can’t you just leave them on your shelf?” I ask, vignettes reeling by of mock horse races on the lawn and barnyard feedings with tiny plastic apples, and that one coveted palomino paint that became real one Christmas.

“I need room for my stuff.”

“What stuff?”

And then I realize that the stuff that has been strewn all over her room for the last four years of high school actually could have had a home in her bookshelves if we’d been more able (or willing) to pack up her plastic horse collection.  I’m not sure whose job this is. Please Lord, not mine.

I look into her eyes. And I see…it’s my job. Some things are just too hard.

Suddenly, I feel a desperate need to give advice in fast forward. “Have I taught you how to make hospital corners? And to never leave a wet towel on a bed? Or leave a glass directly on wood?”

“I know. Respect the wood. You’ve told me.” She’s tolerating my Mom-ness much more than usual lately. She’s in the bittersweet of Commencement while I am bursting into tears in pathetic public places, like at the bank drive thru, catching myself in the video screen looking miserable. Will her roommate know that when she needs a hug but is too shy to ask, she makes tea? Will she know that she likes to sing in harmony and that all those eye-ball rolls don’t really mean anything? Will she know that she acts street-tough sometimes, but is deeply sensitive and if she’s playing the ukulele along with Jack Johnson, something pretty rough probably happened at school that day?

“Mom, why are you crying?” she says, bringing me back to the grim task of packing up her happy childhood.

“I’m sorry. I’m just going to miss you.”

Last week was when it really hit. I was doing laundry and I heard from her room in that new dire timber, “How do stamps work?”

Stamps? Like postage stamps?”

“Yeah.” This from a 4.0 student.

I went into her room. She was sitting on her bed addressing graduation party invitations. “Really? You can program a computer, but you don’t know how stamps work???”

“My generation doesn’t really use them.”

I was sure she was playing a joke on me. Stamps? But she wasn’t. She really had no clue that you use the same stamp for a local letter that you do for one that goes all the way to New York City.

Geez– what other glaring omissions have there been in my mothering? I’ve tried so hard to fill in every blank, taking every single second possible as a teaching moment. “Maybe I should write you a survival handbook for college and beyond. Would that be helpful?”

“I know all the basic stuff. But yeah…maybe the extra stuff.”

I wracked my brain, taking inventory. The extra stuff. If stamps are “extra” this could get ugly! I decided to do it room by room, compartmentalizing life in cross-section, like the dollhouse we spent hours decorating and playing in.

Kitchen:
I started with How to boil water, tell if pasta is ready, smell a gas leak, turn off the water main…but suddenly it turned into a different kind of “extra.”
• If you’re having a bad day, leave the dishes. But do soak them, or you’ll really be in a bad mood when you get around to cleaning them.
• If you’re having a really bad day, don’t adhere to the utensil slots. Just chuck ‘em all in and let them fall where they may. Actually, if it’s a really bad day, just leave the dishes alone. They can wait.
• No matter what kind of mood you’re in, make yourself a nice meal, especially if you’re lonely.
• Always eat some fruit in the morning and some veggies at some point in the day. Keep bananas, carrots, apples, and potatoes around. They do the trick when you’re not feeling inspired.
• Keep a granola bar in your purse. (Tip: Use only small purses—lest you end up with a Mary Poppins carpet bag, coat rack and all. Read Nora Ephron’s essay on women’s purses.)
• Splurge on really good jam and really good bread.
• Always have a flower or a piece of greenery in a vase on your kitchen windowsill. It really helps.
• If you see evidence of mice, set traps immediately. This probably will not apply to 99% of the places you’ll live, (we live in Montana), so take it metaphorically: See s*** for what it is and get rid of the source before it gets out of control.
• If you use To Do lists, get rid of the word “goal” and replace it with “possibility.” You’ll be nicer to yourself that way.
• If you find yourself writing down something that you’ve already done on a To Do list, just so you can cross it off, you might want to stop making To Do lists.
• Allow yourself to grocery shop without a list, but not when you are hungry. You might surprise yourself by what ends up in your grocery cart—like rhubarb or radishes or kale or pistachios!
• Always smell fish before you buy it. If it smells like fish, it’s no good. Also, look into its eyes. They should be clear. This also applies to boyfriends.
• To cut goat cheese, use dental floss. (Unflavored! Duh. Don’t roll your eyes.)
• To make Deviled Eggs, put boiled eggs into cold water/ice bath. When cool, cut in half, shell ON, with sharp knife, then scoop egg out with spoon. Magic!
• Learn how to make homemade chicken broth. (Ask your mother)

Living room:
• Splurge on nice candles. Light them for yourself daily. Light the not-nice ones for guests. Not the other way around.
• Lie on the couch and do other things than watch TV. Like read a book or listen to classical music.
• Watch old movies. You know…back when people used stamps, and women dressed for travel. There’s a lot to learn from the “olden days.”
• Limit TV.
• Listen to NPR. Especially opera on NPR. Pretty much everything you need to know about life is in operas.
• Make sure to have musical instruments and keep them within eye-range so you’ll actually play them. Guitars and pianos welcome group jam sessions.
• Always have a drum somewhere for that person who claims they “aren’t musical.”
• Have board games and cards in a drawer or on a shelf. Play them. Especially Scrabble, backgammon, gin rummy, Farkle, and Scattagories.
• Have guide books and binoculars. It’s good to know your birds and flowers and other critters. Even in the city, there are hawks.

Bathroom:
• Have nice hand towels and nice soap in your powder room. Your guests should feel special.
• Use your powder room. You should feel special too!
• Always have an extra roll of toilet paper in each bathroom.
• And a plunger. (Replace plungers every-so-often, unless you are the type to wash and disinfect toilet plungers. Dirty secret: I’m not. That’s what the second flush is for.)
• Don’t forget to wash the toilet flusher handle when you wash your toilets. They are dearly overlooked. (Try not to think about that too much in hotel rooms.)
• Put nice art in your bathrooms. And magazines. You can learn a lot about a person from their bathroom.
• Supply room spray.

Bedroom:

Don’t be a slob.  Pick up your clothes.  If they’re not dirty, put them somewhere to wear again during the week, like in a hamper in your closet. NOT on a chair. And definitely NOT on your treadmill. Like your mother. Who then forgets she has a treadmill.
• Wash your sheets at least once a month.
• Splurge on nice sheets and feather pillows.
• If the person/people with whom you are sharing your room snore, make sure you have earplugs by your bed.
• Supply your nightstand with books that you want to read when you grow up: a book of poetry, a spiritual text of some sort, a classic novel, something on the best-seller list that is not written by a celebrity.
• If you eat breakfast in bed, use a tray. Crumbs are worse than bed-bugs in some cases, especially if you’ve listened to your mother and splurged on good bread.
• Eat breakfast in bed, but not lunch or dinner. That means you’re depressed.
• Do not let your dog sleep with you. Or your babies. They need a bed of their own, and so do you.
• Sleep in every-so-often. Like till eleven. This will get harder and harder the older you get.

Closet:
• You’re on your own on this one, but do get nice hangers if possible.
• Oh, and do accept that your “skinny” clothes are probably a thing of the past if you haven’t been able to fit into them for a few years…

Office:

Virginia Woolf was right—you need a room of your own, even it’s in an eave, or a closet under a stairway, or (if you’re lucky enough) a whole studio over your garage, or an unoccupied bedroom, or a renovated garden shed.  Claim space for yourself!

• Don’t allow people to come and go without knocking.
• If you have children, always have an available chair in it for them. It’s important to have your own space, but it’s also important that they know that your work does not take away your motherhood.
• This one is really really important: Whatever it is that you do in that office, whether it’s a vocation or avocation, make sure it’s something you love. NOT something that you are necessarily good at. If you happen to be good at what you love, then that’s a bonus, but not a rule!

Outside:
• Have a communal outdoor space that feels like a room in your house, but isn’t exactly…like: A screened porch, fire escape, hammock, hot tub, front stoop, garden or terrace. It doesn’t have to be big. Just a place where you sit at least once every few days and dream a little.

A few extra extras:
• Write handwritten notes on nice stationary to people you love. That’s where the stamp comes in…
• Try not to kill bugs. If they’re inside, put a mason jar over them and take them outside. They do elegant things like lick the wax off the peony buds so that they can bloom. (I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there.) (Mice are a different story. If you’ve had one die in the walls, you’ll know what I mean.)
• Practice Yes and Possibility instead of No and Not Possible. Positive begets positive and negative begets negative. You don’t want the latter.
• Have fun, for crying out loud! Life is beautiful and heartbreaking any way you slice it so you might as well enjoy the ride!
• There is no such thing as cool.
• Judge not.
• Don’t mistake a full schedule for a full life. If you find yourself saying, “There’s never a dull moment,” you should probably make it a goal to have at least one “dull moment” every day.
• Take walks. (especially in the rain)
• Sing.
• Dance.
• Read poetry.
• Have dogs.
• Grow a garden.
• Travel.
• Create the sacred wherever you are.
• Be kind to old people and remember they know a lot more than you do. Ask them to tell you their stories.
• Know that there are saints everywhere. Look for them. They’re often where you least expect it.
Call your mother. Texting is a challenge since she can never find her reading glasses. Plus, she likes to hear your voice. It reminds her of lying in bed with you when you were little, reading books, singing, praying, watching the moon, dreaming. And she loves you no matter what, which is hard to find.
DRINK WATER

graduation_cap

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My Happily Ever After: what I’ve learned from writing something that a lot of people read.

author_photos_heath 008You never really know where life will lead you, but if you live with pure intention and feed what you love with all your might, consistently and honestly…you might find yourself in places you’d never dreamed you’d go. 

That happened to me in 2009 when I published the essay version of a memoir I’d written in the New York Times Modern Love column.  The entry point was a marital crisis, but the book and the essay were not really about marriage.  They were about being responsible for your own well-being no matter what’s going on in your life.  They were about focusing on what you can control and letting go of the rest.  And they were about powerfully choosing to not play emotional victim to the things that others say and do to you.

The book (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is) became a New York Times and international best-seller, and that essay went viral.  Today, five years later, the essay is having a resurgence all over the internet and in The Week magazine where thousands of people have made comments, and over 200,000 people have shared it.  That number is increasing by thousands every hour.  (At this moment of writing, it’s at 214K.  When I finish this post, if it is going the direction it’s been going, we could be at 22K, and I write fast!)  It has been the top read article for days on The Week, sparking blog posts and ribald conversation on social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter and beyond. 

Normally, I don’t follow this sort of stuff.  I’m a writer and a mother and those things take up most of my time.  I’ve learned that media often manipulates the meaning of my message and unfortunately a lot of the press I’ve gotten spins my essay/book to make it about how a woman saves her marriage.  But it’s not about that.  It’s about saving yourself.  Turns out, people aren’t easily open to that message.  People are used to playing emotional victim, and society re-enforces that.  I see things another way, and when you offer new solutions, people oftentimes not only don’t want to hear them, they go on attack mode.  I don’t have much room for that.  I wrote that essay and that book to help myself process a difficult time in my life, and I wrote it to help others do the same.  It has helped people all over the world and when I wonder whatever possessed me to be the main character in a book (I normally write fiction), I take heart in the knowledge that I have been true to my author’s statement:  I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.  If I have helped one person out there, then it’s all worth it.  And I’ve heard from thousands of people who tell me my writing has done just that. 

I walked a line of integrity throughout the whole experience of book promotion, not exposing my family outside of their comfort zone, not naming names, and turning down major media when my gut told me that it wasn’t right.  And I mean MAJOR media.  My message never has been about staying in a relationship.  It’s about taking care of yourself and stepping outside of emotional suffering to do so.  Moment by moment.  Thought by thought.  Breath by breath.  Stepping into the most powerful question I know and that’s:  What can I create?  You don’t have to suffer, even under fierce rejection.  Even when your spouse says, “I don’t love you anymore.”  I’m here to tell you—this is the exact time to find the greatest emotional freedom of your life!  You don’t have to take that personally!  Nor do you have to take “You’re fired” personally.  Or “You’re a jerk” or “You didn’t win the prize.”  These are just words.  I’m not always good at it, but it’s a practice I’m dedicated to because it works.  It’s truth.  I own what there is to own, set boundaries for myself, and mind my own business.  It’s actually easy once we gain the self-awareness that it’s possible to choose our own happiness no matter what’s going on in our lives.  And that usually begins with getting in touch with our own self-talk.  Most of us speak to ourselves ten times worse than we’d speak to our enemies!

That’s new news to a lot of people and so now I find myself in the Wellness realm, speaking about the subject of non-suffering through self-awareness and creative self-expression at conferences and at my Haven Retreats, and I’m happily working on three books that have nothing to do with marriage.  I have moved on from that time in my life, and while the end of the essay and the book leave my marriage in a place of healing, that marriage needed to end, and it did.  Again, it was never about staying together.  It was about taking care of yourself in a time when society says that you should suffer greatly, fight, splay yourself supplicant.  I refused to do that.  I felt that it was his crisis, and my job was to focus on what I could control and let go of the rest, which included the outcome of my marriage.  I gave myself a stopping point.  And eventually we stopped.  And now we are divorced.  Amicably.  We are on to new chapters.  All the players are thriving.  And I’ve been given the opportunity to re-live the messages in my book/essay from a new angle.  They still apply and they are still lifelines.  And I can say that I know, without a doubt, that happiness is within.  I’ll leave it at that.

But in the light of this break-neck resurgence of that small essay I wrote what seems a lifetime ago, I am moved to respond to a few things that might help you wherever you are in your lives—in a crisis, post-crisis, free zone.  With the recent inundation of intimate, bleeding emails these last few days, for the most part about a painful marriage…thanking me for my essay on The Week, which indeed provided relief for people, and perhaps a new way of looking at life…I am moved to investigate this phenomena of the collective We. 

We are in pain. 

We are looking for hope. 

We are looking for empowering messages. 

We are looking for these things from every-day people. 

We want to know that We are not alone.

We want to re-invent our relationship with pain.

We want to know that to fight is not always the best way to win.

We want to know that the only real winning is in our ability to step outside of suffering and into emotional freedom.

We want to know that we can powerfully choose our emotions.

We want to know that no one can really make us mad or sad or feel guilty.  Or even happy.

We want to know that life is daily and that we don’t have to go to the top of the mountain to find enlightenment.  It’s right where we stand.  Even at our kitchen sink.

We want to feel connected to our loved ones, but sometimes the best way to connect is by stepping out of their way.

We have forgotten the power of deep breathing.  A long walk.  Candlelight.  A hot bath.  A singular flower in a vase on our nightstand.

We have forgotten that pain can be a terrific guide when we breathe into the groundlessness of it.

We have forgotten that life is about endless possibility.  And endless Yes.  And THAT’S where the real power lives.

Writing helps.  I have used my writing to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life since I was a child.  I did it in my published memoir and essay so many people have read, are re-reading, or  reading for the first time and sharing with their loved ones. 

It’s for precisely this reason that I started Haven Retreats which were recently listed in the top five in the country!  Now I help others dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page.  I invite you to write your way through the difficult times in your life.  You never know what might happen… 

One hour later.  219K shares.  We are 5,000 hungry for these messages and counting…

Note: As of June 4, 2014 there are now over 300,000 shares at The Week so it looks like we’re in this together!

Now booking Haven Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana. 

For more information email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

2014

September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

2015

February 25-March 1
June 3-7
June 17-21
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

 

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College Decision Day

Haven Retreat was named one of the top five Writing Retreats in the US by Open Road Media and Tumblr! The last 2014 slots are filling fast so if you want to come, email me asap: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com!
June 18-22 (full)
September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

This is for all the parents out there whose child is going to college for the first time this fall…

As featured on The Huffington Post 50, and The Huffington Post College.

May 1st, 2014. It’s been a strange spring for daffodils. By this writing, they’ve usually shot up, bloomed, and wilted. This year: not one yellow head in the garden. These daffodil bulbs are loyal and old friends. I planted many of them when I built my home here in Montana, three years into my now eighteen year old daughter’s life. They have never failed me, and frankly, neither has she. And now she’s a few months shy of fledging. Going to college. Spreading the wings that she has grown in full flourish and that I have proudly procured, mostly in small moments, doing things together like planting bulbs, canning jam from the strawberry garden, collecting heart-shaped rocks on any number of Montana riverbeds to line the garden path. This garden knows this child, and especially the daffodils do. She was born in daffodil time. My hospital room was full of them. I cannot look at a daffodil without thinking of her.

I try not to anthropomorphize as a rule, but something tells me that the daffodils are in revolt. They are harbingers, after all, announcing summer after a long Montana winter when you can’t believe there will be any other color than grey, mid-grey, and white. Somehow, they prestidigitate through the last of the snow and POW—there they are, promising color again. Birth. Every year their promise feels so pure—like the kind a grandmother makes. There will be life again. In abundance. Summer. Sun on flesh on green grass and ladybugs. Lemonade on the front porch with bare, painted toes, and cricket symphonies. I love those daffodils: they are all H.O.P.E. Maybe this year they know that she’ll walk down that garden path in a few months, and not come back for a long time. Maybe they’re depressed. Or in denial, thinking that if they don’t produce blooms, she will somehow stay. Maybe they’re trying to stall spring, so that summer and fall will have to wait. Maybe they’re teasing time in hopes of keeping her around a little longer. The tulips don’t seem to care at all. They’re ready to do their thing, looking around in confusion like their warm-up band has bailed and they have to play to an un-lubed audience.

I’m envious then, of the daffodils. I want to go on strike. To not have to feel my way through this fledge. This inevitable and natural parting. I want to fold my arms across my chest and say, “I’m stepping out of the wake of all this college stuff—the financial aid forms and tax returns, the coast-to-coast-and-in-between college visits, the applications and essays and what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life questions. The info sessions and tours with perky student guides walking backwards and shouting fun university factoids to battle-weary Juniors and their parents. The “Beggars” meetings with advisors and teachers and admissions people and alumni. The rejections. The acceptances. The “Choosers” tour that ended just last week— the trains planes and automobiles that have taken us to all of those hallowed halls, trying them on for size, hoping to fall in love.”

I just want to spend today sitting in the garden with her, amid the daffodils, telling her about the day she was born. And drink hibiscus sun tea. And braid her hair. Can’t I, can’t we, just…plain…duck from all this for a moment? It’s over. She made her choice and she’s thrilled about it. I am too. We have a few months now to breathe. To collect the years of her youth and to pile them up somehow into a cairn that will help her find her way wherever she goes. There is this deep need in me to have it all make sense. To make one defining sculpture of her happy childhood that she can leave behind, and a duplicate for her that is portable.  I’ll put the first one in the garden and slip the other one in a box along with her comforter and favorite pillows marked:  bedding. Maybe the daffodils will come out of hiding then.

Only a mother whose child is going off to college would have these berserk thoughts. I cannot imagine what a mother whose child is going off to war thinks about to fog her fear. I’m sure it’s about way more than daffodils. I keep thinking that I am one of the lucky mothers out there who knows her child will be happy wherever she goes, and if she isn’t, she’ll change things around so that she is. She’s so comfortable in her own skin. She’s so ready to fly. I mean, what if she wasn’t? What if she wanted to live in the basement and get a minimum wage job and let her dreams, or worse her wonder, sift through her fingers? If that was the case, I’d be shoving her out of the nest with all my might. This is a good “problem” to have. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The official college decision day was yesterday. We sent in the deposit. Filled out the last forms. Applied for a few more scholarships. She wore the collegeT-shirt to school, along with her other friends who wore their college-of-choice T-shirts. It was a day of celebration. For her. I made her favorite comfort food: Greek lemon chicken soup. I think tears actually landed in the broth as I stirred. I served it to her in bed because she had homework to do and sprained her ankle running track, and just needed to be in bed. I don’t blame her. It’s the end of a long academic, extra-curricular, SAT, form-filling haul. She deserves her favorite soup in her very own bed. Next year, if she’s having a day like today, she’ll be in a bunk in a dorm room, with ramen and a microwave. Hopefully she’ll call her mother.

I am not a heli-copter mother. I didn’t push her through her childhood (except to take piano lessons, I confess. But I let her finally quit when she got to high school. Now she wishes I had pushed her to keep going…so go figure!) Instead, I took her pulse. I was the wind at her back when she needed it and sometimes without her knowing. But it was always her life to live, not mine. The first thing I said to her when we were alone in the hospital room on the day of her birth, her whole body fitting between my fingertips and the crux of my elbow was, “You can be anything you want to be.” Daffodils and all. Time to fly, my dear daughter. braid_2

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Long Ago: Community Entry #21

Winter holds the space for the return of abundance. Maybe that's how the muse works.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Amazing the power of love in a created thing.  Thank you, Kristen Thaxter for reminding us.  yrs.  Laura

Not Alone, by Kristen Thaxter

It was a simple request.  “Will you make one for the baby I will have someday?”

My grandma had set out to crochet an afghan for each of her grandchildren.   She made them for us in age order, and as time went on, her fingers were not cooperating so well any more.  In her 40’s, her right leg began dragging and she walked with a limp.  First she used a cane, then a walker, and finally a wheelchair as the right side of her body became increasingly paralyzed.

I lived with my grandparents my final two summers of high school.  That last summer, Grandma still had use of her right hand.  After she finished the last grandchild’s blanket, I had a special favor to ask:  would you make a blanket for the baby I will have someday?”  It was something special, just for me, the promise of a dream come true.    I chose a white yarn, soft and fuzzy, and she created a crib sized blanket out of it.  It was her last creation.  I treasured that blanket, and put it away for my someday.

There were some hitches along the way to someday.  I married in my early 20’s, and postponed having children while I went to graduate school.  I was eager to get the baby making machine going as soon as I graduated, but biology had a different idea.   Finally, with assistance from the modern miracle of fertility inducing drugs, I got pregnant, and with great joy, realized the dream of becoming a mother.

But the blanket remained in its safe, sealed Rubbermaid box in the garage.  I didn’t even consider using it at the time.  It was too “special” and I didn’t want to ruin it.  I find that I save things like that.  Things that I especially love, and am afraid to use up.  I save them, and treasure them, and never fully experience them.

Three years later, after the birth of my second child, the “just so” nature of my life had unraveled significantly, and I had begun to develop an appreciation for living in the present and inhabiting the life that I had.  A little less scripted and a little more real, kind of the like the Velveteen Rabbit.  One day, a daring though crossed my mind:   “What if, just what if, I got out grandma’s baby blanket, and (gasp), used it?”  In what seemed like a bold move (it’s funny to me now, how my definition of bold had changed), I took the blanket out of the box, washed it, and laid it over my baby.

My grandma was long gone before either baby was born.  Her gift of the blanket had always been meaningful to me, but in the time between its creation and its use, I learned more about my grandma’s life, and had life experiences of my own that created in me an emotional connection to her.   She had been a passionate and vivacious young woman.  My grandpa had told me the story once of the first time she had caught his eye, a young woman on the back of a horse, blue eyes flashing, brown braids trailing behind her, flying across the Nebraska prairie.  It was a dream he felt he must catch.

Another memory stands out – I was sitting in the funeral home, holding space with what was left of her, not yet ready to say my last goodbye.   As I sat there, some of her old friends came by for a visit.  I sat there on the sofa, quietly listening as they talked among themselves, recalling stories of her younger days, days I had never been privy to.  “Remember hearing Annie laugh?” one said.  “Oh, yes.  You could always tell where Annie was; you could follow the sound of her laughter and find her.”  I had never known that side of my grandma.  It made my heart very happy to know that she had joyful years as well.

Over time, life had taken its toll on her.  Yes, there had been the pain of her gradual physical decline, and the fear associated with it.  Doctors had not been able to diagnose her ailment while she was alive.  It was not until after her death that an autopsy finally gave it a name:  multiple sclerosis.

There was also the pain of a very difficult marriage.  Family secrets are strong, and I only have bits and pieces.   After she died, I learned that my grandpa had experienced what was called a nervous breakdown, when my mom was 12 and her sisters were teenagers.  They lived in a tight knit Mennonite farming community and I have only heard the story once.   To this day, I do not know the details; 50 years later, it must still be painful to discuss.  All I know is that one day, the men in the white coats literally came and took my grandpa away.

Again, my information is sketchy, but I gather that he was gone for the better part of two years.   My grandma was left to raise four extremely headstrong teenage girls on her own.   I cannot imagine the shame, in a small, religious, farming community in the late 1950’s, of having a husband and father in a mental institution.  My aunt, one day, in a tiny glimpse of that era, remembered my grandma, crying at the kitchen sink.  My mom recalled that periodically, Grandpa would be allowed home for visits, without her knowledge that he would be coming home.  She just remembers him appearing there, quiet, dazed, possibly drugged, possibly the recipient of electric shock, sitting in his easy chair in the living room.  It had to be terrifying.

Life brought unexpected challenges to my life and marriage as well.  Suffice it to say that I experienced my own version of fear and shame, and secrecy.  I cried many a day at my own kitchen sink.   It was during that time that I began to feel an exquisite tenderness for my grandma, for what I perceive to be our shared experience of living in a painful marriage, our communion of disappointment, shame and sorrow.  It’s a community I did not care to be a member of, but was not able to avoid.  Being a member simply meant I did not bear it in solitude.   I learned that we do not always get to choose which communities life initiates us into. Our mere presence in them, however, is a declaration that we are not alone.

“Thnuggo me” she said as she climbed onto my lap with her blankey.  It was a familiar command from my lisping toddler.  I would be happy to snuggle her; she had been a squirmy baby, the kind that could leave you sweaty and exhausted after trying to keep her still through a Sunday sermon.   After all, what’s better in life than a little one after a bath, wet hair combed back, fresh diaper on, blankey bunched in her arms,  sucking her fingers and pulling them out just enough to utter the welcome demand “thnuggo me.”

She’s a teenager now, and thankfully still likes a good snuggle.  The girl still loves her blankey, though there is not much left of it.  It’s been well loved, that blankey, a fixture in her life.  When she was a baby, she would suck the first two fingers of one hand backward, and with the other hand, push her blankey toward her nostrils, as if she wanted to inhale it.  As a preschooler, you could often find her crashed on the couch for a nap, cuddling the blankey.   When she began school and had her first sleepovers, it was a serious decision whether to take the blankey or leave it behind.  She was 9 when her dad and I separated, and for the past few years, her blankey has made the trip with her from my house to his and back every other week, a silent partner in her own unplanned community.

The demise of the blankey has been an intermittent conversation for years.   It is quite literally falling apart.  It’s not unusual for her to approach me even now, with a scrap in her hand that has fallen off, a silent plea in her eyes “I want it to last forever”.  Without a word, she leans into me and I hug her close, just like the blanket she has leaned into all these years.  

I wish Grandma could have known what a difference that blanket has made in the life of her granddaughter.   How the work of her hands has brought comfort and solace.  Without ever meeting each other, she has mattered to my Paige, and provided her a feeling of belonging to a family, a community.

Thank you Grandma; you have done the same for me.

 

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #14

I am building community up in this neck of the woods in all sorts of places I'd never think to look at home...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

With each entry I read, I am more and more stunned by how so many of us don’t expect community.  We build it.  And often it takes a shock to the system to believe in it…and to receive it.  Thank you, Darla Bruno, for showing us.  yrs. Laura

Essay on Community for Haven, by Darla Bruno

It was my town’s fault. Or maybe it was my boyfriend’s. Things happened fast after I got the surprise news I was pregnant. We moved here—to this homogenized affluent suburban town—because we needed a nest within commuting distance of New York City. There were so many other, better, places to live. But this would do. For now.

In the beginning, I stayed home with our newborn. Eventually I began lugging my weary lactating postpartum body to mom’s groups and lunches full of shrieking newborns. There was much discreet unfastening of nursing bras; we fed and comforted so there would be quiet to carry on conversation. Though conversation back then typically involved nothing more than nap schedules, sleep issues, and poop. Lots and lots of talk about poop.

My boyfriend worked long hours, and so did many of the people in my town who were trying to support huge homes and large families, private schooling and Whole Foods. It’s hard to meet your neighbors when you spend your days in an office in a different state and come home past eight, just in time to get to the gym and crash. Another thing that seemed to segregate us from the neighbors who were never at home: we were renters.  Very few people rented in our town. Those who did were professors, college students, or divorcees—none of whom congregated regularly with the rest of us.

I needed community. I longed for it. After spending the ten years since grad school living in New England and then traveling to Europe and back again, community had acquired a more global meaning. I felt most at home with expats in other countries and with the fellow seekers and travelers I met on planes. But now I was building a family and a community. Or so I hoped.

My days, for at least 26 months, involved nursing my daughter, squeezing in a little work while she napped and after she went to bed, and having dinner at 9 p.m. with my tired boyfriend. When I railed against this lifestyle and begged my boyfriend to find a different job, I discovered this was normal life. We weren’t special. Other people’s husbands got home at nine. Mothers worked. People spoke in hurried apologetic fragments when you met them in line at Whole Foods or the post office. There was just so much to do.

My boyfriend’s corporate job was paying our bills. But it didn’t stop the growing longing I had to connect. To widen my circle of support. I had a child now. And it takes a village … right? Where was my village?

The answer was never apparent. Perhaps I was waiting for someone else to make it happen, for a community housewarming committee to come knocking at my door. For the day when I would become less busy.

And then one day it came. It even made international news.

For several days and nights in late October, the atmosphere took on an odd golden hue and eerie silence that stole my attention. In retrospect, it was literally the calm before the storm. But at the time, I didn’t know what was brewing over that horizon and the deep impact it would deliver.

Flashlights, cell-phone chargers, batteries, bottled water, all began disappearing from stores through the entire tri-state area. The predictions were dire, but no one could know for sure. When I spoke to my family or friends who lived in the area, I sensed a subtle panic. The kind that comes with uncertainty and nowhere else to go.

During the previous year’s hurricane, we managed to secure a hotel. This time, even hotels weren’t equipped to handle what was being expected. So we all stayed put in our homes. Sitting ducks.

The waiting opened up a different connection than any of us had felt in a long time. “Us” grew to include me, my family, our neighbors, our extended family and friends, and strangers in other cities. The waiting and the uncertainty birthed a kind of vulnerability that most of us don’t surrender to in our daily lives.

A few weeks before, I had taken my daughter to the community theater to see a Richard Scarry show that involved foxes, cats, a family of pigs, and a worm. They lived in a town called Busytown, and the animals waved as they rushed past each other in cars, on bikes, and with shopping carts. It seemed like the theatrical version of my town.

And yet, on the eve of the storm, many of us were hunkered down. My boyfriend and I and our daughter lay on sleeping bags on the living room floor. We snuggled together watching nature shows until the power went out. Within a couple of hours, we layered on clothes to prepare for a night without heat, grateful the temperature wasn’t too cold.

And then came the wind, blowing 40 miles per hour. In no time, a tree fell a couple of feet from our house. It landed on my regular parking space. I’d been smart enough to move my car to safety earlier that evening.

After putting our daughter to bed, my boyfriend and I stayed up and waited. We were frozen in time, watching, anticipating. We lived in a house surrounded by trees, and all I kept imagining was the next one falling and cutting through our roof. The wind whipped around the soffits and drain pipes. It rattled the windows and threatened the structure.

In the distance, I heard what I later realized were trees falling—giant oaks, maples and birches—their trunks hitting the ground with a thwack and rumble.

There was nothing else to do but sit and wait and pray. I knew that nearly everyone statewide and beyond was doing, and feeling, the same, and as I sat and waited, something in me—a sixth sense, perhaps—felt connected to something bigger than myself.

The following day, gray and chilly, we were without power. No more roaring winds; just the low grinding hum of generators.

The worst of it was over. But recovery was slow. In the days that followed, there would be flooding, and gas shortages, extended power outages and families in shelters. The usual—the every day, the business of Busytown—was stripped away.

And with it came a deep connection through our most vulnerable selves. The ones wracked by witnessing destruction and injury and even loss of life. What mattered most in that aftermath? It wasn’t the phone calls and emails, the gym, the lists of things to do, or the effort to pretend that everything was well.

Everything was now not well. But the thing was, we were all in it together. Facebook posts blinked through the ether—“We’re okay.” “We have heat now, please come to our house.” People extended whatever abundance had befallen them to anyone who may not have been so fortunate.

This storm, like the storm of the year before, happened right over Halloween. The year before, Halloween had been rescheduled. This year, it was cancelled, except in our town. That Saturday, my boyfriend and I took our ballerina house to house and were in awe of the friendly neighbors who’d gone to whatever stores were powered by generators to grab bags of candy for the trick-or-treaters. One entire block was teeming with kids and parents who stood outside with a keg of beer and some popcorn, greeting everyone and trading stories about the events of recent days. It was the coziest I’d felt in years, and the kids were thrilled to be out and running around.

Later, we stopped by a local pub for drinks, and chicken fingers for our tired ballerina.  A fireplace glowed. We all were there for the same reasons—to charge phones and laptops, to warm up and enjoy some hot food and company—and with gas outages preventing us from using our cars, we were staying local and not so plugged in. In our vulnerability, our sudden desire to help each other, and our recognition of just how much we have to be grateful for, we had all come home to ourselves—and through our shared goal to restore our lives, we had deepened our connection with each other.

BIO: Darla Bruno lives in New Jersey where she is a writer, editor, work-from-home mom, and life coach

 

 

 

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Breaking Point: #20

I am going to end this Breaking Point series with two stories of grief:  beginning in resistance, denial, anger and a final facing of the truth…and ending in Glacier National Park, a place I hold dear.  And a reminder that nature (or God if that is your belief) can hold us when we can’t hold ourselves.  “Let go and weep.  I will not leave.”  Thank you to all who have bravely contributed and to all who have bravely read and commented and shared with others.  It is Springtime now. 

yrs. Laura

 

Submitted:  by Laurie Wajda who blogs here.  You can get her ebook here.

Tribute to a Friend

It was 4pm. In all reality it was 5, but the recent time change had stolen an hour so the shadows were reaching their peak. I rolled down the sleeves of my jacket as a chill hit the air, and stood in my own eternity looking at the stone. It was 4:02.

The mist that had started to rise as I passed through the gate was growing denser with the twilight hours. It swirled up slowly, engulfing my ankles, and lulled across the grass, around and over and between each epitaph. Surely my imagination, but as the earth’s pores let out its steam, the pungent odor of decaying flesh filled the air. I stood fixated, pulling tight the coat around me as if to ward off some unseen evil.

I patted the two Michelob Lights I’d shoved into my pockets and settled myself directly in front of…it.

It was my best friend’s birthday, and I was bringing her a beer. The sad part?   I brought two, opened them both, and placed one at the foot of her headstone.  It had been two years since I’d been to this place.  I had to laugh as I looked around and said, “Well, kiddo, you haven’t changed a bit.” And then my head hit my knees and I cried like a baby.

I don’t know if I went there that day out of guilt or loyalty: Guess I never will. But nevertheless, there I sat.

“Listen… I know I haven’t been here in awhile. Well, I haven’t been here at all… A few times but … it’s not like I could forget your birthday or something.”  Phil Collins flashed throughmy head. No Reply At All. “Jesus. Listen to me talking to a rock.” I took a swig of beer and waded through my myriad of thoughts.

“Ya know – I read your name on that damn thing and I still don’t believe it. I feel psychotic sitting here but we always said the big 2-1 would be a hell of a party.  Some party…

“It’s not like I forgot you or anything…  It’s just that, well, it all feels so superficial…   I’d come here, drop off a flower and sit and cry… what’s the point?  It’s not like I’m here for a visit with some tea and a chat, right?

Listen, Kate, You were my best friend – always were, always will be. You were the person I talked to and trusted and partied with – and then you just up and died and I had no one to tell.   I can’t come here.  Just to look at a damn stone with your birth-date on it?  I can’t do it… I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”

Before any tears fell I got up to leave. Hands shoved in my pockets, I slowly backed away. I turned my back on that stone, that grave. And then I walked toward the gate, never looking back.  I knew at that moment I would never return.

I left the beer bottles there that day. One full one and one empty one, standing side by side. They stood there together like old buddies saying I’m sorry and I forgive you and Happy Birthday all at once.

When the groundskeeper swept them up the next day, I’m sure his only thought was that a local drunk had left his garbage once again. He would never know that those two bottles stood for years of friendship and laughter.  For vacations and smiles and tears and
understanding. He would never know that those two bottles were a tribute to a friend.

Submitted by: Kaye Dieter  

“The River”

Glacier National Park’s Rocky Mountain Front borders the east edge of the North Fork of the Flathead River that winds its way past my childhood home.  These mountains rise rugged over the grassy, tree-dotted valley that holds this river that has been a friend to me for over 30 years, a friend that listens, always listens.  Even before I sensed it was listening, I was drawn to the river.  Before the sadness.  Before the tear drops would not fall, then carrying the tears that could not be contained, unnoticed and without a grudge, in its welcoming mass flowing cold, clear and comforting, away from where I stood on its rocky edge.

I have come to this place since I was seven years old.  Back then it was pure joy to be a seven-year-old girl with an hour, or afternoon on a hot Montana summer day, with time to be oblivious to everything but what absorbed me from my inner-tube portal.  Tied to a log in the mainstream of the river, my rubber craft allowed for enough interruption in the current that, if I sat silent and still, was usually rewarded by a glimpse of a bull trout lying heavily on the grey-green limestone river bottom.  The inlet, where the water flowed slowly in a clock-wise direction, and the spring glacial silt settled to cover the rocks, is where I drifted facedown, delighting in the newly hatched frogs that hopped from the muddy shore, and the minnows as they zipped, zigzagging through the mesmerizingly spaced grassy reeds.  I was keenly aware of the large water beetles swimming haphazardly, and then colliding bluntly, into whatever happened to be in their paths.  Any innocuous leaf or silent stick that was unfortunate enough to bump into the last 1/3rd of my foot (it required too much effort to keep it out of the glacier-chilled water), was unfairly accused of being one of the clumsy little monsters, and was reflexively kicked at. If the water beetles were monsters, then the slimy green-black leaches were blood-sucking snakes that brought terror into my inlet water world.

From the idyllic age of seven, the dependable nature of the four seasons initiated me into early adulthood sooner, and later than I would have liked.  The river saw it all, and listened the whole time.  When I had to leave the river is when I needed it the most because that is when the sadness became my constant, demanding and meddling companion.

During the winter months of November, December and January the river struggles to flow as the slushy islands of ice glob onto its edges.  By early January it is no longer a black ribbon meandering quietly between soft snow banks, it has become just another cold, hard surface for snowflakes to settle on.  But under the deep layer of snow, on top of the thick glass ice, the subdued river is still listening.  Then, as an 18 year old, I kick and glide, kick and glide down its unobstructed path, the snow greedily snatches the tears falling from my eyes, and the water below murmurs quietly.  I listen.

The river says softly, “Let go and weep, I will not leave. Even though you must leave again, when you return I will be here, and will always listen. I know you and I also feel your sadness. I knew and miss her too. I saw her watching you from the high bank.  Making sure I wasn’t playing too rough with you, admiring my graceful form in the varied shades of light, and paying me the highest compliment by putting my likeness on canvas.  Her protective gazes over you were over me too. So please, let go, weep, collapse, remember, weep some more, and when you are able, remember and smile.”

 

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Breaking Point: #12

Today we have two teen Breaking Point stories– one of eating disorder and one of depression.  Perhaps you can relate personally or as a parent.  As I read these entries every morning, I at first feel a resistance to the experience of empathy and pain.  Yet with each one, by the end, something is released.  I hope it is the same for you.  Submissions are closed, but I encourage you to write your own Breaking Point story as a healing exercise. 

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Natasha Kasprzyk , who blogs here.

“When You Know That It’s Real”

There was only one good thing about going to St. Juliana’s: Noon release on Fridays.

Early release from being teased at recess while the slap of jump ropes smacked on the blacktop, the stares of indignation when I, the Jew, dared to ask a question in Mrs. Lidgus’s Religion class; the hiding between the toilet and the back left corner of the bathroom stall, focusing my tear-filled eyes on the spit wads clinging to the ceiling, while Chris Flosi told Mary Fahey what an ugly fat slob I was.

In other words, release from (insert sign of the cross here) Hell.

Of course, early release meant trekking over to my mother’s office for the afternoon, because god forbid I actually get four hours of peace and be by myself in my own house…well, my mother’s house, that is. It wasn’t mine, I was reminded on a regular basis.

My one saving grace, one area of neutral territory between this version of jail and that, one place where I could seek solace was watched over by a benevolent little girl, face doused with freckles and topped with vibrant red, braided hair.

Wendy’s.

Every Friday, I stood in the winding line, waiting to approach the counter where I could spend MY money on MY lunch, as if the grease and cheese and starch and carbonation could transport me into a world without judgment, if only for a few, high-calorie minutes.

Kathy always worked the register on Fridays. Tightly cropped curls framed her face, and at the time I thought she wore an expression of focus, but now I wonder if it was resignation at what her career had become. She smiled when she saw me in line, as if I were an old friend who had come to break up the monotony of her day.

One afternoon, I knew I needed to make a change. This lunch just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Whether I ordered my burger with extra ketchup or lettuce-free, it no longer brought me the pleasure it once had. Something was missing. And I decided that something was a second hamburger patty.

I finally arrived at the front of the line, ready to give Kathy my order, and in return, she would validate my existence for the week.

“Welcome to Wendy’s. How may I help you?”

Oh, Kathy, I thought. Enough with the pretenses…you could drop the formalities with me!

I smiled, cleared my throat, and said, “I’d like a combo meal, please…with a double cheeseburger.”

The corners of Kathy’s smile fell into a thin line, her lips held together tight until the right words were ready to come out. She looked left, checking to see if anyone would notice she was about to break character, leaned forward, and said, “Honey…do you really think you need that much food?”

Did she really just say that? Kathy, my one oasis in the middle of Hell?

I looked down to hide tears of embarrassment, put my money in my pocket, set my straw, two napkins, and four ketchup packets on the counter, and slipped out the side door.

I wasn’t hungry anymore.

 

Submitted by:  Mary Novaria

Her blog, A Work in Progress, is found here

Also on Facebook — www.facebook.com/mimsy811

A call from the school is rarely a good thing. When my phone rings and I see the caller ID, I resist the urge to let it go to voicemail, my thoughts wavering between now what? and impending doom.

“I have Hannah in my office,” says Mrs. K, the school psychologist. “She’s in a pretty dark place. Can you come to school so we can talk?”

“Of course,” I whisper calmly, although I am not calm.

Senior year. Until now, Hannah has attended school in our neighborhood. Less than a block away, I can see it from my kitchen window. It ‘s quicker to walk there than to drive and find parking. Wanting a fresh start, Hannah has transferred to a new school ten miles away.

I breathlessly sign in at the front office, a security measure that annoys me since I am in a mad dash to get to my daughter who doesn’t say much, but lets me hug her. We follow Mrs. K into a classroom and sit around a table with Hannah’s guidance counselor, assistant principal and gifted education teacher. They are concerned and sympathetic. Hannah looks small and pale. She’s huddled in a jacket with a sweatshirt pulled over her head, a state her dad calls being “hooded.” Hannah’s ever-present hoodie has become a security blanket, although it seems to make her more separate than secure. A symbol of retreat, the hoodie is a silent decree: Leave Me Alone. But a mother just can’t leave a troubled kid alone and neither can these educators who, although they’ve only known my daughter and our family for a few months, really seem to care.

“We are worried that Hannah isn’t safe, that she’s going to hurt herself.”

No one uses the word “suicide” or the phrase “kill herself” but we all know that’s what we’re talking about. The room begins to close in on me yet, somehow, also seems too cavernous for such an intimate discussion. High ceilings, fluorescent lights, institutional furniture… an assistant principal with tears in her eyes.

“I just want to get out of here.” It’s the only thing Hannah says.

“Before you can go,” Mrs. K says, “We need to be sure you’re not going to harm yourself, Hannah. Can you tell us you won’t?”

She can’t. Or she won’t. One thing I know about my daughter is she detests being on the spot. If she is backed into a corner she will dig in her heels and there will be an epic standoff. For the next hour, each of us tries to get a guarantee from Hannah that she’s not going to carry out some dark and deathly plan. I am grateful this isn’t my battle alone. Hannah knows exactly what she needs to do to escape this intervention and she won’t do it. It is a quiet and indirect cry for help.

“Hannah, I’m going to ask your mother to take you to the hospital…” Turning to me, Mrs. K asks, “Will you do that, Mom?”

“Yes. I will,” I say, aching from my tensed, furrowed brow to the knotted pit in my gut.

“No! I won’t go!” Hannah says defiantly.

“Then tell us you’re going to be safe,” someone pleads.

Silence.

We’re not making progress. The adolescent psych hospital is not far away.

“They won’t admit you unless they feel it’s necessary,” I tell Hannah.

I am glad someone else can decide. This is the fifth time in the last year Hannah has had a hospital assessment related to her severe anxiety and depression. The first resulted in a week-long day program. The most recent was a six-week inpatient treatment center 2,000 miles away. Now this.

At the hospital, Hannah still won’t articulate a safety plan and is thought to be a danger to herself. She is admitted. She is furious. I want to take her home but I am too scared. She was gone over Thanksgiving. And Christmas. Then, finally, home for New Year’s. We had a fresh start, a new beginning, a healthy girl, hope.

That was three weeks ago.

 

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Breaking Point: #10

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  

yrs. Laura

Today we have two Breaking Points.

One of desperation…

Submitted by: Victoria, in London

Sitting in the hall way of my small modern flat.  Just me.  Although the walls were bright, it was dark with no natural light.  The walls were moving in.

What were my choices, there must be choices.  Swinging my straggly hair and becoming aware of an odour I wondered when I last had a bath.  Did I need to do something?  It didn’t matter.  I could not do anything.  I would sit and wait.  And wait some more. Something would happen, it always did.

I could hear the buses in the road and was aware that life was carrying on outside.  Buses, bikes, cars, people bustling, on the way to and from the shops, the bus stop, the park, the library.  But nothing was changing.  It was still the same.  No one was coming to rescue me.  No one was going to knock on the door and solve everything.  If the phone rang I would not be able to ask for help, again.  I cannot ask.  Who would understand?

And what if I tell?  The look of pity and incredulity at my words would be the last pebble that made the earthquake begin.  And it may never stop.  Not ever and this may be the end of the world. The world which is my world which is the only world that I can know.  How am I supposed to know another person’s world, how is that possible?  Which brings me back to here.  And the walls and my bad hygiene because I have no energy to go the bathroom not 3 steps away.

Get the clothes and bury myself, pile them on myself and hide in them so that I do not exist, no one could see me if anyone was here.  Finally, I am not here I am sorted out and I am just a blouse, or a towel or a piece of fabric and no one can tell that I am in the pile of things so I can stay here forever, un noticed.

But no one is here.  And there is no one to see that I am not here.  I know that I am here and I still feel the same.

Nothing has changed, nothing is better and I cannot do this any longer.

And one of healing

Submitted by: Merris Doud

God helps us in times of need even when we want nothing more to do with Him. In my case, He used my dogs to help me through the days following the death of my daughter, Sarah.  I never blamed them, never questioned their love for Sarah or me, never felt anger towards them. They were the perfect instruments for God to use. In the split second that it took my brain to process the words “Sarah took her own life,” my world lost all meaning.  My husband, Mike, had taken the dogs to be boarded.  When I was able to move – to speak, I asked him to bring them home.  As I lay on my bed, feeling a brand of pain that I could never have imagined, the dogs ran in and excitedly jumped on the bed. They immediately sensed that something was horribly wrong and quietly settled, lightly molding their bodies against mine.   Soon they slipped into their afternoon routine, gently snoring as they napped.  They didn’t move; they didn’t speak; they didn’t cry.  They were just there, warm and alive and touching me. And it was comforting, so much more comforting than being told that Sarah’s death was God’s plan, that time would take the pain away, or that Sarah was now in a better place.

Throughout the months that followed, I moved through my days vowing never to love anyone or anything again.  The dogs were always there, either laying on the bed beside me or collapsed like speed bumps on the floor beneath my desk where I tried to work.

I begged anyone who would listen for an explanation, and it infuriated me when they shook their heads looking through me – offering nothing. I felt no such rage towards the dogs.  I asked them no questions; they gave me no answers.  I didn’t expect that from them.  They looked at me in the same way they always had – no pity in their eyes.  Nothing had changed in our relationship, no awkwardness – no impatience for me to get up and carry on.

One morning I woke up to find Maggie, the abandoned pup that Sarah had brought home, standing over me.  She cocked her head to the right then to the left. I swear she smiled as if to say, “There you are. I’ve missed you.”  And I felt something other than pain for the first time since Sarah died. Encouraged, Maggie bent over me, wagging her tailless backside with such vigor that she nearly toppled over. Then she began showering me with wonderful, wet kisses, her sweet puppy breath warm against my skin – awakening my capacity to love. Watching this action from the foot of the bed, Annie, who Sarah had rescued from an animal shelter, jumped up and joined in, happy that we were kissing again.

I believe that was when I started to heal.  Not then, but now I see that in that moment , God revealed to me that there was still joy in my world – not joy as pure as before,  for it would always be filtered through the pain of losing Sarah, but it was there, nonetheless. Both Maggie and Annie are gone now, their purpose fulfilled.  They were special dogs whose lives began as unwanted strays and ended as the esteemed channels that God used to touch me and give me a glimpse of hope.  For without hope – without love, we’re just passing time – waiting for the lights to go out.

For Annie and Maggie

I miss you guys

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Filed under Breaking Point, My Posts

Kendama– Buttons paused!

A strange thing has occured in our little ski town since the holiday season.  The local sporting goods store carried and featured
this Japanese wooden toy called Kendama and now…kids everywhere can be seen flicking
their wrists and sending this little red wooden ball into the air, hoping to
have the trajectory meet with the toy’s wooden spike or either of its wooden
cups.  As if it’s 1920 and they’re shooting
marbles or playing with a yo-yo, or a top.

So many kids are obsessed with Kendama in our town, the Middle School
banned it as if it were a cell phone or ipad.
It’s positively life-renewing in our tiny-screened button-pushing world
that a wooden toy which likely had its origin in the 18th century,
is so shiny to our  21st century
kids that its ban-worthy.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

To play with a kendama, one holds
the toy, pulls the ball upward so that it may be caught in one of the cups or
land the hole on the spike. More advanced tricks are sequential balances,
juggles, and catches. There are endless possibilities of tricks with a kendama.
[2] There are eleven prescribed moves on
the kendama trick list for achieving a kyu ranking and several more for
a dan ranking. A 1-kyu rating, for example, is attained by simply
catching the ball in the largest cup. A book published by the Japan Kendama
Association lists 101 different tricks for the toy and there are supposedly
tens of thousands of trick variations.[3] Different stances and grips are
required to perform different tricks.

While most people play with
kendamas for personal satisfaction, competitions do take place, especially in
Japan. Participation in such competitions entails performing lists of tricks in
sequence or completing particular tricks repeatedly for as long as possible.
Additionally, tricks may be performed head to head with a rival to determine a
winner. The competitor who is first to fail a trick loses.

In the trick moshikame (もしかめ?), the ball is juggled between the big cup
and the smallest cup at the bottom repeatedly. A Japanese children’s song of
the same name is often sung to help with timing.

I don’t know the song, but if I
could write one myself I would say:

Oh happy little sound clip clop
clip clop

In my living room, please don’t
stop

Yes I’ll watch yes I’ll watch

My sweet pre-teen

Anything to see your face free
from the screen

Kendama I love you

I worship at your altar

May you take on all things button

And make them falter.

Something like that.

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Filed under Motherhood, My Posts

Mommy’s Got Talent

As seen on the Huffington Post

For 13 years I had one consistent role and I performed it well. It’s been my primary area of expertise and with it I have molded social groups and inspired movers, shakers, and decision makers. I’ve given sustenance to the thirsty, hungry, sick, needy and taught the illiterate to read and write. I’ve served as professor emeritus in the fields of Comparative Religion, English, Earth Science, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Ethics, Political Science, Economics, Architecture and others. Without me, there are small civilizations that wouldn’t have thrived. Ok, one very small civilization. Comprised of two people, a king, and a queen. The king has spent these years ruling other civilizations by day. The queen has stayed at home, ruling the one of which I write. And the civilization has thrived in every way the queen hoped in health, wealth, and wisdom.

Until she quit her day job and became a businesswoman.

The civilization, as you have surmised, is my family. The queen is me. The king, my husband. While it’s a woman’s liberated “civilization,” it’s fairly traditional. My husband has been the bread-winner. I’ve stayed home with the kids. Both of us happily so. I love creating teaching opportunities with my children, doing art projects, gardening, cooking, playing games, reading. I’ve been that mother at the kitchen counter with her kids on chairs next to her, hulling strawberries for jam to can for Christmas gifts. I’ve spent hours singing them folks songs, their fingers taking rides on mine as we crawl up and down the piano keys. It’s been what you might call, “an enviable life” in the house of my motherhood. I’ve been deeply grateful for the choice to be at home with my children and it’s fed me like nothing else.

I’m also a writer. I’ve been writing since college, and so I entered motherhood knowing my craft, working during their naps, freelancing to help with family costs, and indulging my greatest personal passion: novel writing. I’ve written many novels over the years — not all good ones; many of them exercises in learning. So while my kids learned to walk, talk, eat, cut paper, use glue… I grew as a writer. All-the-while, I had a dream: to get a book published. To have readers. To speak at bookstores and in libraries across America. To write something that would help people in the same spirit of my motherhood. Only this dream was about my journey, not theirs.

I believed this was a healthy thing to teach my children, when they were old enough to wonder what I was doing in my office. “Mommies and daddies have lives of their own and that’s a good thing.” I’d put my hand on their chests and say, “I’m always here in your heart. No matter what.” And put their hands on mine and say, “And you are always in my heart.” Their knowing nods told me they understood.

Still, after a publishing rejection, I’d say, bittersweet, “Thank God I’m not published yet. How could I justify leaving my kids when they’re so young?” But deep down I was conflicted. I wanted that dream to come true with all of that heart that lived in them and lived in me. It was an inner war I fought every day.

And then in 2009, I got a book deal and everything changed. I had to rethink my motherhood. Suddenly deadlines had me seat-belted to my office chair for long hours, breaking only for meals. Homemade sauces percolating on the stove were forgotten for, yes, Stouffer’s frozen lasagna. A who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-with-my-mother was in order, and I got it in eyeball rolls, dramatic exits, and out-of-the-blue crying fits. But the truth is that dream or no dream, a change in my husband’s career meant that we desperately needed the money. And this was what presented itself in the way of livelihood. I had his total support and my children’s blessing, so they said.

But then the travel began and I became a second-class citizen in my own home. I’d return, haggard after 12, cross-country, back-to-back events in 10 days, and the kids would ignore me. Suddenly it was “Dad, I need you to sign this for school,” and “Dad, where are my cleats?”

I liked that he was such a presence in their daily lives. I didn’t like that I wasn’t.

So I hired a therapist. “You need to tell them this is what career success looks like for now. Things are different. They’re still safe. You still love them. Children are manipulators. You’ve done nothing wrong.” But it didn’t feel that way. I felt that I had done something very wrong. And maybe it was because of the mother I’d been all those years.

Would they have been better off in day care? More well-adjusted, flexible, less reliant on a mother who eagerly pushed them on the swing of life; answered every why-is-the-sky-blue question. Maybe Legos don’t count as Architecture, and lemonade stands don’t speak much for Economics, nor Chutes and Ladders for Physics, nor bedtime discussions about God for World Religion, nor patching up playground-politics-gone-amuck in the way of Ethics. Maybe those efforts feel like a slap in the face when the creator of them is out the door again with her roller bag and a plane to catch.

In all my career dreams, I never imagined I’d lose my power in this little civilization. Or that I’d fail it. And no matter how many hugs I give, or muffins I make, or soccer games I drive eight hours in both directions to support… I can’t seem to redeem myself. Maybe it’s because they’ve had to swallow a sudden bitter pill: their mother is a human being with dreams and needs and talent. Didn’t they know this? Did I sell them a myth in Band-aids and bedtime stories? Did I omit the fact that dreams-come-true sometimes take you far from home? Why must I be the first to break their hearts?

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Huffington Post Blog Pieces, Motherhood, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts