On Settling My Mind and Letting Things Be

Where have I been? Better question, or maybe a statement, where I have I not been.

I’ve been riding my bike by the ocean. I spent the fourth of July exactly how it should be spent, with friends on a boat. I treated my parents and my brother’s family to a nice vacation in the Cascade mountains. I blew my kids’ mind with a moped ride. I stifled my gag reflex and took a picture with my ex husband at Kindergarten graduation. I watched my son be inspired with his first taste of BMX racing. I went to an ironic art show about penises. I saw the sun set and a full moon rise at the same time while on the Pacific ocean. I smoked cigarettes with a very sad man on his back porch while comparing divorce war stories which were so different and yet eerily similar. I adopted two kittens. I had long, hopeful, but sad phone conversations with a friend in another state from long ago who was in the hospital for six weeks with an infected leg and trying to stay clean off meth. Sadly, he was in so much more pain than physical and he’s lost now. I met some amazing women at a blogging conference across the country and sang Rick Springfield while sober. I’ve carried on a lively texting relationship with a man who lives in a neighboring state who might just be my doppelgänger. We have never met but sometimes he reads my mind and we finish each other’s sentences. Go figure, he’s a writer and editor. You’ve never seen such grammatically correct texting which, by the way, is a turn on. I’ve grown an accidental garden of cucumbers. I took a fiction class and wrote my first short story in a year. I penned an anonymous sex article for an online zine which shall remain nameless. I met another really nice boy who I liked a lot. He wined and dined me with smoked salmon and white wine in plastic stemmed cups on a mountain trail. I lost that boy out of fear – his, not mine. But that’s not to say I haven’t been afraid.Where I've been

My fear, though, is right here on this page. I’ve been writing, but not much publicly. I’m bursting with stories, but I can’t get them out. It’s an achy, itchy sort of pain. I start, stop, then ignore, and live to tell more stories squashing the regret for the ones I neglected to get out which now seem stale.

But I can’t complain. I have no right. My life is pretty good now. Which on one hand, seems strange because the hole left by the explosion of my divorce is still hallowed ground. But it’s no longer smoking. And some things are much harder now. Like bills and missing my children. But overall, I still can’t complain. In fact, often times, I look around and can’t believe how stupidly contented I feel in spite of all that I have survived in the last six years with law suits, career moves, divorce and babies.

There are many reasons I feel content in the aftermath of such destruction, but the one that comes to mind is that I’ve settled my mind. For six years the space between my ears was its own battlefield. A constant stream of impossible choices: stay, go, fight, stand down, run, hide, pull out the big guns. And while in some areas, the battle rages on, I have managed to find peace. And that peace has come not by laying down my arms, but by accepting what has come to be.

Why? That is the question I have asked more times than my self-diagnosed ADD would allow me to count. Why did this happen? Why is this my life when I made so many good choices? Why can some people see themselves clearly and others die in search of? Why is addiction such a bitch? Why is it so damn hard to communicate when there are over a million words in the English language with an infinite amount of combinations? Why is love not enough? Why?

And I suppose the peace I have found is not in the answers to these questions – it is accepting that there are no answers. There has been one phenomenal shift in my life which I may never stop writing about and that is… nothing exists in this world without its opposite. There is no definition of light that doesn’t include dark. There is no truth without the lie. The full moon can rise at the same time the sun sets over the ocean. Both exist even when you can’t see them. Especially when you can’t see them.

And so I live with the hallowed ground and the hostile ex husband and the fear of writing and the contented joy of my wild garden and I let it all just be. I fight when I have to, I sit when I need to, I tend the fire inside which aches and itches and might burst any day. I keep asking questions and practice accepting the lack of answers. And with that, I have built a pretty good life.

So that’s where I’ve been. Living. Not perfectly. Not without mistakes and messes and missing pieces, but just letting it all be.

Also, regarding my absence from this space, a couple of months ago I was rattled by the power of what I do here by a few urgent messages from readers. One message, in particular, which I’ve neglected to answer, but the gist of which was… how? How do you live with the pain and uncertainty? How do you let go? How do you face the unimaginable?

I’m not entirely certain, Andrea, but I’ve come to understand that by expanding my view while narrowing my focus was crucial. I came to a point where I included all possibilities and explanations for the fucked up reasons life is fucked up, and yet, I held fast to my own, core truth. Now, I leave nothing out of the realm of possibility, but accept my own limitations. And I hold on. Often, for dear life. And I breathe. And now I know that one can haul around an excruciating amount of pain when you know that joy is riding shotgun. Nothing exists without its opposite and everything is, as always… temporary. Good luck. 

Yin and yang Kittens

My yin and yang expressed in kittens. (Also known as, Alex, left and Benjamin, right.)

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Like a Feather: My Life’s Lesson Right Now

The last “big” purchase I made on our joint credit card, before we went our separate ways, was a black, thigh-length, down-filled, winter coat. Although it was January, it was already on sale, and I bought it from fancy-schmancy Nordstrom for $150.

I needed a new coat. The one I had been wearing for a couple of years was from Costco. It was white and had gotten dingy. One of the pockets was ripped and every time I put my hand inside, I felt the inner-lining. The zipper was starting to go too.

I splurged on my new coat and I loved it. It was light-weight, but warm, and could even smoosh up into a small ball inside a built-in pouch for travelling… or clubbing, whichever.

All through the rest of last winter, in some of my darkest  moments of separating from my husband, this black coat was my cloak; my warm, full-coverage hiding place with deep pockets and a high collar. But there was one tiny issue. Every now and again, while driving or sitting in writing class and staring off into the ether, a tiny feather would float past my face.

Sometime in February, my 2-year-old son crawled on top of the counter and knocked off a glass ornament which shattered into a million pieces.  This ornament was filled with soft, speckled, brown feathers. It was symbolic to me. Every time I saw it, it reminded me of a phrase –– a saying which encapsulates how I want to live in this world: “Like a feather on the breath of God.”

Like a feather on the breath of God, Hildegard Bingen

So all throughout the cold, dark winter I kept seeing feathers float past me at random moments for one of these two reasons. And wouldn’t you know, as soon as summer came, and the coat was packed, the doors flung open, my daughter started a “feather collection” from ones she’d find in the yard or on walks. Now, whenever she finds a feather she puts it in a yellow bucket for safe keeping. My son finds feathers too. He holds them up to his big sister and says, “Brookie, I found another feather for your collection.”

This morning, as I sat on my front porch and drank my coffee, I talked with my children about love. I don’t remember how the conversation began, but I remember telling my daughter how very loved she was by everyone — me, her daddy, her grandparents, her brother.  And she asked, “And God?” And I said, yes, especially God. He loves you most of all. Then she turns to me, in her infinite 5-year-old wisdom, and says, “Why isn’t God a she?”

Touche, darling, touche.

So I said, “OF COURSE God’s a SHE!”  I told her God is a he and a she, but if she wanted to call God “she,” then I would too. Done. Henceforth in our house God shall now be a “she.”

Just then my son looks above my head and yells… “Look Mommy, it’s a feather coming down!” And sure enough, right behind me, there it came floating — as light as could be.

My daughter jumped up the steps behind me and caught it in mid-air. “A bird must have just flown by and dropped it!” So excited to have seen a feather falling from the sky.

So I said, “Yes, and she was beautiful, and must love us so much she wanted us to have one of her feathers.”

I was thinking that feather was from God. And that it was a sign, like all the other feathers over the past seven months. And suddenly that moment became one of those moments. Moments when you stop, and pay close attention to everything around you, take in every detail, memorize every sense, and then lock it away in your memory bank to unfurl on cold, winter days.

And so I looked at my babies, really looked at them. I studied them like I would a fine painting in the Louvre. Their lightened, summer hair falling everywhere; the way my daughter constantly sweeps her’s out of her face with her right hand; their smooth, soft, tanned cheek bones; a new, tiny freckle on my daughter’s nose and all 20 of those tiny dirt-filled fingernails. Those smiles, oh, those little teeth hurt me so deep. It all made me want to cry. And so I did. And I told my sweet little girl that I was so happy I was going to cry. Then she put her hands over my eyes and said in the most cheerful voice something I said to her on a rough night a few days back when she was feeling sad, “Let those eyes cry. Let the tears come, Mama. You’ll feel better when you do.” She is a special one, this girl.

I’m going through the toughest trial of my life thus far, and yet, I am being reminded all the time that it won’t last forever. The pain will rise and flow and fall and rise again on a burst of unseen air, and then it will disappear into the atmosphere again. It will move through time and space as unpredictable as the wind, and yet, if I can stay soft and light, I will not fall, and I will not break.

This is not at all what I want to do most of the time. What I want to do is go all Mama Bear, claws out, teeth bared. What I want to do is yell at God for how utterly ridiculous and unfair this life can be, and ask how HOW! could anyone behave this way?!?

But God knows all this already, and she is telling me what I must do in spite of what I want to do. She whispers to me softly, like breath, that this too shall pass. She’s telling me that the sooner I learn to trust and let go, to float and fall and rise again… the better off we’ll all be.

image

 

 

 

 

Riding the Waves of Loneliness

I read somewhere that we are all addicts to whatever releases a hit of dopamine to our brains.

Food and sex are big dopamine triggers because evolutionarily speaking, we need to eat and procreate. We are engineered to derive pleasure from these things. Everyone has heard of Pavlov and his dogs. The psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, conditioned his dogs to produce a salivary response to the ringing of a bell because every time Pavlov rang that bell, the dogs got fed.

We are no different, really. Our bodies respond to triggers which we know will give us a high — a hit, a feeling of satisfaction. It can be anything really; alcohol, nicotine, scratcher tickets, Pinterest, the little blue light that blinks on your phone alerting you to a message. All hits of dopamine. All stimulating our brain’s pleasure centers.

Personally, at least recently, I’d take a dirty martini over a donut any day and that little blue light has my full attention. I crave communication and connection with the world and that little blue light, and accompanying buzz, is my bell. Ding! Ding!

So we are pleasure seekers. We always have been, always will be, and I don’t think our problems result from wanting to get “high.” Where we fall off the tracks into addiction and bad decisions is when we can’t handle what always comes right after the crest of the wave… and that is the crash onto shore. And make no mistake, the higher the high… the lower the low.

I’ve had some incredible highs lately. From exciting accomplishments at work; to whole weekends with long-time friends; to the positive attention of putting myself out there in the world without fear or guilt overshadowing me; all have produced incredible pleasurable feelings. I got a second chance to live the life of my dreams and I’ve been surfing that wave all the way to shore! But with these new peaks has come some soul-rocking valleys. Deep undertows that have me gasping for air while scanning the horizon for my next wave.

In this new life, where my sea legs are still shaky and new, everyday is a constant battle against riding the wave of highness and figuring out how to survive the lowness. I wish this was an exaggeration.

But I’m not going to feel bad for wanting to get high on life. I’m human, and this is natural. What I’m struggling with is staying present with the lows. What has me tied to my phone and my nightly cocktail is the fear of the power of the undertow and my ability to hold my breath long enough to survive it… even though I know I will.

In today’s technological age, this ability to stave off the undertow is so easy while staying present for the white-hot loneliness is increasingly difficult. It is the long forgotten art of delayed satisfaction. In this modern world all I need to do is reach for my phone to get another hit, and the temptation is, at times, overwhelming. This is when I make my biggest mistakes. It’s when I say something, or do something I may regret later when calmer waters prevail.

This is what loneliness is teaching me today. That when it comes rolling in like a low tide, and it always will, that I must sit down, stay put, resist the urge run for shore or head-long into the next wave. That I must let the water circle around my ankles, slowly rise to my neck and take a deep breath…  because it will run its course, and there’s nothing worth drowning for.

beneath the waves

Image Credit: Sarah Lee/ CATERS NEWS

 

 

 

Don’t Ever Let Anyone Tell You You Don’t Have a Light

“Mommy, mommy, tell us  about the time you got hit in the face with a fish!” My 4-year-old exclaims.

“Yeah, yeah! Tell us mom!” My 2-year-old adds.

My kids love stories. I love that they love stories. This story is one of their favorites.

“Well kids, one time, in a country far, far away, I was riding on the ocean on a small boat. It was dark, and we were headed back to shore. The stars were bright and shining clear while the ocean looked black as oil. Then, all of a sudden something hit me in the head! I didn’t know what it was at first, but when I looked down in the boat, I saw it. It was a fish! It jumped right out of the ocean. And you know what?”

<the rapt attention of a 2 and 4 year old>

“What mommy?”

“It was glowing green! It was a glowing, green fish! And you know what else? It left some of its glow on my face! Can you believe that!?”

<toddler giggles>

“Like a ghost, mommy?” My 2-year-old asks because he’s fascinated by ghosts.

“But mommy, why was it glowing?” My 4-year-old asks because she’s at that stage where she wants to know why? Why? WHY!?

At this point, I used to tell them the truth. “I don’t know, that’s just how God made that fish.”

glowing fish in nemo

But that was before.

That was before I started to understand about light and things that glow. Now I tell them something different.

I tell them everything has a light. And it’s not just for making things seen – for illuminating the darkness – although it can do that too.

The light within all things is primordial. It’s the dangling light of an Angler fish made popular in Finding Nemo. It’s the glow that runs through jelly fish, lightning bugs and the aurora borealis.

don't ever let anyone tell you you don't have a light aurora borealis

Image courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day. http://apod.nasa.gov

And if you think you can only find this glow in the wild, think again…

"XXX" Neon Sign

… because this is what happens when you electrify rarefied gasses in a tube.

Whether it’s obvious or not, this elemental neon glow of far away galaxies and nebulas is what we’re all made of, and we only fail in life when we don’t see it, or we allow someone else to dim it.

I now know that the glowing fish that hit me in the face, wasn’t glowing itself, per se. The glow was from the algae in the water, which is common off the coast of Costa Rica. It’s called bioluminescence, and it’s the production and emission of light by a living organism.

Since their faces would gloss over if I said “bioluminescence” I tell them that the fish was giving me a kiss because he wanted to show me his light, and to remind me of my own.  I say that each of them has this light too, even if they don’t see it. I tell them we all have it, and it’s our job in life to find it, follow it, and let it lead us back to shore over and over again.

7 11 neon

I tell them they should try to see the light in everyone else too, no matter how dark it seems. And I tell them it’s very important not to allow anyone to tell them they don’t have a light.

And if they ever forget, they just need to look at the stars, or the local 7-11.

Then I tell them about an ancient greeting called “Namaste” which essentially means, “the divine light in me, sees, honors and bows to the divine light in you.”

And maybe someday I’ll add a little information about the relatively new technology of nuclear medicine which illuminates biologic activity in the body.

Because wherever you see it, it’s all light, life and love… 

Body Emotional Imaging Love

 Why? Because that’s just how God made us.

(The above image is from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States from recent research into the mapping of bodily emotions.)

God, Grace, and a Wretch Like Me

MountainPose

Grace.

It was the word the yoga instructor asked us to think about moments before starting our 90 minute practice on Thanksgiving morning. This annual, Thanksgiving class is free, but donations are accepted to benefit a nonprofit organization and this year it was Yoga Behind Bars. Yoga Behind Bars is a charity which teaches yoga and meditation to an incarcerated population. A representative spoke  about the amazing work they do, and how teenage girls in particular are benefiting the most from their efforts.

I sat in the back of a police car twice when I was teenage girl. The first time was for under-aged drinking, and the second was for trespassing. Not my finest moments, but neither was most of my teenage years. The years from 14 to 19 are my “lost years.” Back then I struggled mightily with depression, anxiety and impulsive, reckless behavior. I spent all those years hating myself for no particular reason, and at least that many more hating myself for the things I did while I was hating myself.

How I wish someone taught me yoga as a teenager.

The word Grace unfurled in my mind like my mat under my feet. The first thing I thought was Redemption, followed closely by Forgiveness. But for the Grace of God go I.

I met God for the first time when I was 16.

Early in life, religion was a concept no one told me to seek, and yet, I found it anyway. Perhaps more accurately, it found me. I started going to Wednesday night youth group at a local Presbyterian church when I was nine not because of my parents, but because my best friend was going. For four years the two of us attended weekly classes, sang in the children’s choir once a month, and went to week-long camps in the summer. But a Christian, I was not.

In high school I attended Christian-based Young Life meetings. I even hosted one at my parent’s house. This had less to do with Jesus and more to do with socializing. When I was 16 I raised enough money to attend a week-long, overnight, YL camp in Colorado–also for the socializing. It was at this camp, perched on a roof top high above a blacked out canyon, under a Colorado starry sky, where I met God for the first time.

My modus operandi was to be where the party was—it was always my number one objective. So too, were the fun activities listed on the brochure like repelling, rafting and horseback riding. Because that’s the deal with these things—they attract you with fun and then slip in Jesus-talk at the end for which you must sit quietly and tolerate.

Each night after dinner, the whole camp came together and the main preacher dude stood up to tell us everything we needed to know about being saved. I was skeptical, but also superstitious and naïve, so I listened, restlessly. At 16 I hadn’t made up my mind on all things existential and I had yet to find proof of a God. But if you asked me back then, I would have said OF COURSE Jesus is my personal savior… you know, just in case the rapture was coming soon or I be perceived as a social opportunist with no intention of saving my soul from eternal damnation.

One night the preacher dude said something that penetrated deep into my thick, self-assured, adolescent brain. He said (paraphrased), “The only thing you have to do to have a relationship with God is ask. It’s that simple. Ask and thou shalt receive.” Oh really?!? replied my snarky, skeptical, brooding 16-year-old-self.

That night, I took his bold assertion and made it my personal test of God. I’d ask him, alright. I’d ask as honestly and bravely as I knew how. I’d ask just like the preacher dude said I should ask and God had better bring it or I was taking one step closer toward eternal damnation. That’s what I remember thinking.

Each night after the Jesus-talk was over we were sent out into the darkened camp to find a quiet place to reflect and/or pray on what we heard. I usually headed for the small concrete slab in the middle of camp designated for the under-aged smokers—us sinners on the accelerated path to hell. But on that night, I chose to climb on top of a building that sat on the edge of a cliff side. The cliff dropped off into a large gulch with mountains stretching up either side like sentinels to a cave. The stars dusted the sky like perfectly spilt glitter. I looked down into this deep, black, v-shaped gulch and up into this bright, celestial sky and I asked, quietly.

Then I listened, openly.

My whole body responded in a way that I have never forgotten. An abnormal peace washed over me—abnormal because at that time, I had no awareness of what peace felt like. It felt like a tuning fork struck the deepest part of me and resonated with a pitch-perfect sound of Universal Truth. I understood, without thinking, that this feeling was real, and it was a hint of the Truth I’ve been seeking my whole, young life. I also understood, without thinking, that on a deep, intuitive level I was loved–that I would always be loved and watched over—that even in my darkest hours, I would never be alone.

What I felt in that moment is what I call God.

It is only in hindsight that I can interpret what happened that night. Now, I understand that it was the divine combination of my intention, the stillness of time and my mind along with the openness of my listening heart which allowed me to not only hear God speak–but to understand what God was saying. I sobbed. I knew I was changed forever.  It would take years before I truly understood how, and years before I would feel it again.

I feel it now each time I go to yoga.

In this special Thanksgiving Day class we sang Amazing Grace. Grace. The one thing I have been offered so many times no matter how much I have failed. That thought and the cacophony of our voices together in that yoga studio overwhelmed me. The tears, just two of them, came so quick they did not linger on my lashes, but leapt from each eye and fell straight to my mat. My mat. My church. My holy place. My rooftop perched high on a cliff side below a starry sky.

It has taken years to realize that I have been given, and forgiven, so much in my life not because I asked for it—but because I learned to open up and listen to what God was trying to teach me. I have come to realize that the answers to all my questions, the calming of all my fears, the peace I so long for every day, lay there quietly in the silence of my open heart. It is that voice that I am still learning to follow. Always.

Silence: how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

A Life in Motion

I spend a lot of my day in motion–cleaning, cooking, carting–basically, careening from one moment to the next. It’s a perpetual cycle of ups and downs, back and forths, over here, to over there, go, go, gone. On the surface, there isn’t much to show for all this movement except mud-tracked floors, upturned shoes in a heap, and crumbs from everything you could possibly imagine–good Lord the crumbs! For all the work I do you’d think things would be cleaner.

I’m finding a lot of contradiction in my life right now and this reality is leaving me frustrated. For instance, I spend a lot of mental energy wishing for more time alone, but if offered, there’s no where else I’d rather be. I spend a fair amount of time covered in food, sweat and children, wanting it all to be a little easier and maybe a little slower, but at the same time, infinitely grateful that my children need me so much; hoping that I’ll always remember their weight resting on my chest or the smell of their sticky breath in my face. I frequently lament the never-ending dirt, but there is something so sweet about washing tiny, impossibly flexible hands that makes my heart sigh.

These busy years of my life with two toddlers, my only choice is to move. I swing from one side of my day to the other, from busyness to boredom; burdens to beauty. I feel like I’m riding a pendulum, never still, in perpetual back and forth. The higher and harder something rotates to one side of my life; my angst, my fear, my doubt–the faster, easier and higher it rotates back to the opposite of it– my faith, my bliss, my calm.

One thing is always certain, I have never been more exhausted.

Laundry, wiping sticky counter tops, preparing pb&j sandwiches for the frillionth time, these things make up the bulk of what I do in this stage of life and yet they have nothing to do with the reasons I became a mother. I have come to realize that this is an unfair, frustrating reality. That these monotonous things are the motions I must go through to find the ultimate purpose at the core–the active toddler in just the right mood to cuddle, the perpetually dirty, easily edible, baby fingers–or my favorite–experiencing a whole new world through their eyes.

This menial, often overwhelming tedium that I must endure is what allows me to swing back to the other side of this life– the glorious, random moments. There simply is no amount of money or fame that could pull me away from this life because the more hands I wash, the less likely I am to forget how they feel inside mine and I know enough about life that one day will pray for that simple, priceless memory.

There is so much work that goes into each day, and yet on the other side of the pendulum, there is so much joy smashed right up along side it. But I also know that it takes a conscious effort to realize that joy.

It’s easy to believe that the tasks, the labor, the work is where we spend most of  our time and energy because it’s the hardest part and easiest to explain. It’s simple to complain about the endless paperwork, the commute, the mess, incessant whining and tantrums that come with more ferocity than ever. These things are universally understood and will illicit loads of sympathies and commiseration.

What’s harder is making a conscious effort to notice and express the other things.

There is no simplistic way to explain how the telepathic connection with your 3-year-old works… or feels. It’s impossible to quantify the invisible bonds that tether you to your children with just one look. Bonds built through familiarity, dependability, proximity and all the many repetitive acts that go into each day. People might think you weird should you stop to wax poetically about the way your one-year-old studied a rolly-polly bug this afternoon. Those are the subtleties. The subtleties that are often forgotten as you swing through your day from one chore to the next. I have a feeling that it’s these subtleties that will come barreling at me when I send them off to college. And although they often allude me, it’s why I must strive harder to take note of them– to attempt to make them equal in strength (if less in quantity) to all the other mundanity of my days.

I think there’s an important lesson in this life that involves learning how to balance these swings, or at least acknowledge them. To make the methodical cleaning of toilets, mildewed swimsuits and fingerprints on every glass surface (or long day at work dealing with the public or a jerk boss) be as equal in strength to the wondrous awe of watching the sunlight hit your baby’s hair revealing the colors of your own for the first time. (Or, let’s face it, what you think the color of your own might be.)

And perhaps it’s not something as precise as an equation to be equaled, or pendulum to be steadied, but instead, something more natural, arcane even; more like a gravitational, orbital path. Because if it’s an orbit, that means there is a core; something with a pull so strong it can both swallow, and save us. It’s gotta be the whole reason for this Life in Motion; the force behind the pull in opposite directions, around and around.

Something I must try less and less to fight and more and more to slip inside of; make peace with.

Yes… a spinning, orbiting, rotating, paradoxical life of happiness and discord in equal strengths, if not measures, but always surrounding the same white-hot center. A burning, beating heart of reason and purpose. The only thing that matters anyway… always.

“A light came and kindled a flame in the depth of my soul. A light so radiant that the sun orbits around it like a butterfly.” ~Rumi

A Legacy of Goodness

I believe in Karma.

The word Karma comes from Eastern religions such as Hindu and Buddhism. The literal translation is “action” or “deed,” but it is understood as that which causes an entire cycle of cause and effect. Although its origins are ancient, it has been solidified in popular culture as a single word to imply–you get what you give, you reap what you sow, or for those (like me) who speak fluent Beatles; in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

This philosophy makes perfect sense to me. I believe deep within my core that everything we do (and even think) has an invisible force or energy attached to it. I believe that energy affects the entire world in ways we will probably never understand.

When my first child was born I decided to jump through hoops and endure the extra blood tests so that I could donate the stem cell enriched, umbilical cord blood to a local university. I did this for three reasons. The first, is because I believe in modern science and its abilities to save lives. I know that the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood are some of the very best for people who need stem cell transplants for cancers like leukemia. My greatest hope was that this byproduct of the birthing process would give someone else a second chance at life, and that was essentially my second reason–a wish, really. I hoped that the biological tether that tied me and my daughter together, the thread that gave her life could be woven back into all of life’s fabric as something positive, renewing, and life-sustaining; that the moment she entered this world, she would be a force for good, an act of kindness, an energetic spark of good deeds and good karma.

This year my daughter turned three and I threw her a butterfly themed birthday party.  I ordered live caterpillars from an online company three weeks prior to her party. Over those three weeks we watched them grow into fat caterpillars, form their chrysalids, and then emerge as butterflies. At her party, in spite of the grabby, sugar-fueled grasps of toddlers, we released them safely into the sky. It was an impossibly adorable, highly memorable moment that left the girls in awe.

We also had a pinata, face-painting and butterfly-shaped snack bags. It was all a little indulgent for a three-year-old but you’re only three once, right? In the midst of the frantic preparations I ran to the store for last-minute items. When I got there, there were teenagers out front collecting food for a local charity supporting homeless families. Although I was in a rush, I took their flyer with a smile and promptly shoved it to the bottom of my overflowing handbag.

As I darted up and down the aisles I was struck by a profound thought; a whisper in my ear, really. One of those moments of shear clarity. Here I was buying organic blueberries for rainbow-colored fruit skewers for a gaggle of three-year-olds who were probably only going to eat the cupcakes anyway, when there were entire families in need of basic things like toothbrushes and soap. I bought the soap. I also bought many other items on their list.

As mothers often do on their childrens’ birthdays, I had been remembering the day my daughter was born. I remembered the first donation made in her honor; the spark of good, the act of kindness. I decided then and there that this was going to be our family tradition.

Each year, on my children’s birthdays, we are going to find a way to give back. We are going put forth a conscious effort to honor the gifts we have been given in this world by giving of ourselves to others. We are going to give, sow, create and produce positive energy and good karma.

Later that day when the five butterflies fluttered away above our heads and into the sky I said a silent prayer. I prayed that the good deed of donating food to those in need, and the action of caring for and releasing the little butterflies into the world, would find its way back to us, to my daughter, really. And when it did, she would continue to do more good deeds and perform greater acts of kindness. That as a family we could create a never-ending circle of giving and getting love in the world.

Isn’t that what every parent wants for their child? A legacy of goodness?   (click to tweet)

Yes. I believe that everything we do matters. And even if we never understand the reason, there is always a reason. Because I believe Sir McCartney when he sings, In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

And if you’re wondering what my third reason for donating the umbilical cord blood was… recycling. I also believe in recycling.

It’s good karma.

Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word…

I didn’t want to publish this post. When I started writing it, it quickly turned into Bitchfest 2011 scheduled to perform in a venue for one. I didn’t want to publish it because I wanted to maintain a positive vibe here and write about all sorts of enlightening things, not the darkness of my personal hell. Then I decided, fuck it, it’s my blog so I’m going to publish it anyway. That’s pretty enlightened of me, right?

I’m finding that unless you are also currently the primary caregiver of multiple, small, non-sleeping children, 24 hours a day, that empathy is hard to come by. I mean, wasn’t I supposed to know this shit was hard? No one has a baby thinking it’s going to be all designer onesies and chubby ankles, right? And didn’t I consciously go and have a second one KNOWING exactly what I was in for?  Furthermore, haven’t mother’s been taking care of infants since, like the DAWN OF TIME and with far less gadgetry? So what the hell are you bitching about you spoiled, first-world, crazy woman?!

Unfortunately, knowing that my problems aren’t life-threatening or world-ending doesn’t make me any less frustrated. Similarly, knowing that it’s only temporary, helps to ease that frustration for about five minutes until the overwhelming, blurry-eyed weariness sets in again. So, if maybe I can break it down on a biological level, people can understand why I spend most of my days trying not to hit things.

First:

A mother, particularly a breastfeeding mother, is biologically, physically and chemically responsive to her baby’s cry. A nursing mom, (myself included in the early weeks), may express breast milk when they hear their baby cry. It makes sense that there is a strong symbiotic relationship between mother and child, you know, so we feed them and don’t leave them to marinate in their own fluids. In fact, I was told by my pediatrician that “colicky” infants (like the kind I make) might just be ahead of the evolutionary curve. Ever hear the saying, the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well, the crying infant gets the boob.

As for my personal experience, I can feel every nerve ending in my body tingle when my son cries. It feels similar to grabbing a live electrical wire, which I’ve done while changing light fixtures. I am particularly sensitive when I’m lying prostrate, sound asleep at 3 o’clock in the morning. The moment he lets out his first whimper, a jolt of electric energy courses through my limbs that pops my eyes like the jump cut of every zombie movie ever made. If I have to listen to him cry for more than five minutes (which happens a couple of times a night) all that electric energy starts to make me nauseous. It actually sucks worse than I can make it sound because you have to factor in the emotional aspect of this equation which is just too sad to mention.

Second:

You can die from sleep deprivation people. Literally, like, die. There’s a reason they use it as a means of torture, because it’s effective. It’s actually most effective when you let someone fall asleep for just a little while and then keep waking them up, again and again which happens to be exactly what my son does. Personally, I’d rather be water-boarded. Studies have shown that a sleep deprived person is more impaired than someone over the legal limit of intoxication. Speaking of intoxication, chronic sleep deprivation feels similar to a really shitty hangover; a perpetual, all-I-want-to-do-is-eat-greasy-food-and-sleep, kind of hangover. Chronic sleep deprivation (I’m going on four months people) can make a relatively sane, rationale person, do insane, impulsive things like destroy Diaper Genies and hallucinate.

A month after my daughter was born, my husband and I went to Lowe’s. I stopped to read a magazine at the checkout counter and when I looked up, they were gone. I shit-you-not within ten minutes I had the store manager locking the front doors and calling a Code Adam. Turns out they were in the gardening section. THAT is what sleep deprivation will do to you.

I bet I can guess what you’re thinking? “So how are you able to spend so much time writing silly shit on the Internet if you’re SO sleep deprived? Shouldn’t you be sleeping RIGHT NOW if you’re so tired?”

You’re probably right, I should. But honestly, writing, yoga and caffeine are the only things GIVING me energy right now. Because what I know for sure is that when you’re doing what you love, what you were born to do, it fills you up with all the things you need to go on in the face of adversity. So I keep typing. I have to keep typing or I will probably get myself banned from every large box store in the Puget Sound region.

Well, well, will you lookey there? I actually did write something enlightening. Yeah me.

Now Playing at Bitchfest 2011: Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word…(so Mommy can type a few thousand of them and feel sane again.)