Life has been humming along here for us five, which means I haven’t had a lot of time to post but have noticed lots of small moments of celebration that some of you (ahem, grandparent-ish figures) want to know about.
It has not been all hummingbirds and tulips, though our tulips have bloomed and are the bright spot in our unkempt yard. Potty usage was smooth sailing for a while, and there have been some regressions. Like, I do multiple loads of laundry per day. The washing machine is like my own personal spot for daily devotions. (There must be a patron saint of laundry, right? All those Catholic mamas with their large families must have spent time praying to someone as they scrubbed stains and washed and dried and folded.)
But my friend with twins a little older than our kids, whom I had not seen in like months even though she lives three blocks away (hi, K!), told me today that her kiddos have had similar potty issues, which makes me feel better that my kids are not abnormal.
There have also been some behavioral upheavals, including some very overtired and loopy or defiant children from our recent trip to Dallas. Mostly, the issue seemed to be saving face: “I don’t want to get in trouble but I don’t want to do what you say, so I’ll find a way to barely comply while not actually doing what you asked me to.”
Then there was the “it’s so funny to do exactly the opposite of what you say.” Hugely funny. That pushes my angry button every single time. But I have been working on my responses, so that’s another little celebration.
Some little celebrations to observe on the kids’ end:
- We spent Easter with Alan’s extended family in Texas. They are super-awesome, especially his aunt and uncle who are our kids’ Ooma and Oompa: another set of adoring grandparents.
- The kids got to meet my Aunt Rea and Alan’s Uncle John for the first time, which was also awesome.
- Theresa has some serious attention to detail. Alan’s uncle called her a “cautious observer.” She pointed out nails embedded in the sidewalk today on our ride to the park, and a mural on the upper wall of a food court that I would never have noticed otherwise, and bugs and flowers and so many tiny things that remind me to stop and really look at the world around me. At the aquarium on our special Theresa-mommy day, she asked about jellyfish: “Why don’t they have eyes?”, which the volunteer answered for her. She found almost every acorn cap in the entrance to the Children’s Garden at the Dallas Arboretum. She delights in pill bugs. Callie tolerates–maybe even invites–her hugs. This may someday turn into my house becoming a menagerie. Also, she has decided to ride her balance bike after nine months of not wanting to, and is rocking it.
- Jamie’s biggest thrill of our trip was the ceiling fans at Ooma and Oompa’s house. There were seven. He liked turning them on and off, which became a problem when we realized that he would not stop, even after multiple instructions. He also learned “Hot Cross Buns” on Ooma’s piano. He also got several experiences with escalators and elevators, which probably led to him describing the following scenario yesterday: “There’s an escalator in my building and it goes up to my desk. I will take the escalator and you can take the elevator. And there are ceiling fans. It’s in Mont-Free Downtown.” He likes introducing his statements with “Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey.” One current interest is letters and sounds: he wants to know “How is your named spelled?” and tries sounding out words in books like we’ve showed him.
- Audrey has been practicing her own calm-down time: she gets really quiet when she’s upset, and either says, “I feel like crying, but that’s okay” [like when we left her backpack on the shuttle to the airport and a kind man on the shuttle had to run after us to give it back–including Munny inside], or sits down with arms around her knees, saying she needs space [like in the doorway of the bathroom at the Cameron Park Zoo]. She loves inventing life stories for her animals, often involving making them a birthday cake, feeding the animal, and helping them poop on the potty. She worried that our van was sad when we left, and gave it a hug when we returned. She continues to be an awesome helper, bringing her siblings ice when they’re hurt, helping Jamie put on his pants when he got frustrated, and saying things like, “I’m an activist. Activists are helpers.” She also delighted in being the spokesperson for our group, telling everyone about our trip: airline staff, other passengers, Ooma and Oompa’s friends…
- The kids like making up their own names for themselves and their animals. Theresa’s recent alter-egos are Kanika and Jackson Piaxon. Audrey makes up words that don’t sound like any other language on earth, then tells me she’s speaking Spanish or French.
- Audiobooks are a godsend. We listened to Small Pig by Arnold Lobel, Brave Irene, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and The Amazing Bone (read by the amazing John Lithgow) by William Steig, and Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit on the long ride back from Waco, and the kids were a) awake, and b) silent.
- They actually most of the time play well together–today they were even helping each other put together a puzzle. When things are going well, they look like this:
- Most of all, I’m grateful that they hit the grandparent jackpot. They love those adults who love them right back. (Audrey kept asking people in Texas, “Will you miss us?”–even people like Frieda whom she had just met but evidently bonded with.) I wish every kid had such a circle of grown-ups who lavish them with love because of who they are.
We’re all seeking.
Some of us for enjoyment: the next awesome show on Netflix.
Some of us for a partner.
For a cure.
For a family.
For a baby.
For relief, or release.
It’s better than Waiting, I suppose. Waiting is passive. Dr. Seuss calls it “a most useless place: The Waiting Place.”
Seeking feels more active, more promising. More in control. (But with no guarantee of “boom bands.”)
For me, Seeking can end up being synonymous with restlessness. An itchy, irritable, why am I not THERE yet? It is hard, hard, hard to be in the middle. Just be-ing. Especially when the be-ing is in the dark. For a long time.
* * *
To be clear, this is not about me. Or rather, it is about my wanting to help the people around me. To heal things. To fix. To make better. Because my life mantra (or at least one of them) is from George Eliot’s Middlemarch:
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each another?”
Not one of us can heal another’s internal suffering. The best we can do is to witness and to love, and I feel sometimes that it is inadequate, imperfect, blundery. And it reminds me of precisely how powerless we all are: both Seekers and Witnesses.
* * *
We became friends about six months ago with a couple pregnant with triplets–a really great couple, whom we knew would make great parents.
Their triplets arrived really early, at 27 weeks. They were relatively stable (as stable as preemies can be) in the NICU, and their ring of family and friends brought food, commented on their updates, sent waves of love and support to those three babies.
A few days ago, at 7 weeks old, one of the boys died.
To lose a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. To lose a child while you have to care for two other medically fragile newborns is unimaginable. I cannot even begin to figure out how best to love this couple as they grieve one baby and care for their living babies.
* * *
My Grandma turns 90 this May. Each of the past several times I’ve talked with her, she tells me, “Every day I pray that the Good Lord take me. I’m ready. This isn’t living.”
Stuck in a nursing home due to a combination of ailments, including congestive heart failure and recently, chronic nausea and pain from a herniated disc in her lower back, she is done. D-O-N-E. She watched her sisters languish in nursing homes, visited them weekly if not daily. She doesn’t want that. Nor do I.
I call. I listen to her breathless, weak voice. I answer her questions about how my job is, how my kids and husband are. I tell her I love her.
* * *
Maya told me once, when I was having a hard time, that she would “hold space” for me. What on earth does that mean?
It means that I hold a space open for you, she said. I don’t wish or pray for one thing or another for you. I just hold space that you are able to find the direction you need.
It means empathy. Exposing our hearts to pain and grief: the other person’s, and our own.
It means not Seeking, or Waiting. It looks like someone witnessing and loving another on their journey.
Can we be strong enough, vulnerable enough, to hold space for the seekers? For the suffering?
P.S. This is a beautiful post on holding space and how to do it. Cheers to hospice nurse Bridget for sharing it.
Anyone who knows me knows I have an intense sweet tooth. When I had to eliminate a bunch of foods from my diet, I wondered if I would ever get to have dessert again (especially in the winter, when lots of fruit is not in season). Here are some things I found to satisfy the sweet cravings without adding refined sugars:
Allergy-Free Pumpkin Muffins (Alan made these earlier this week, and I swear, you cannot tell they’re not “normal” muffins)
Carrot Cake Bites (which is a better recipe title than “carrot cake balls,” which is what they are shaped like): I didn’t roll them in shredded coconut, which made them a bit sticky to eat and therefore slightly less portable, but they were so, so delicious.
Raw Nut-and-Fruit Bars (from NaturalZing catalogue)
- 2 cups raw almonds
- pinch of sea salt
- 2 cups pitted dates
- 3 scoops protein powder (I subbed 2 Tbsp. chia seeds for 1 serving of protein powder)
- 4 Tbsp. almond butter
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (I used raisins in one batch and cranberries in another)
- Process almonds and salt in a food processor until ground into coarse meal. Add dates and process until mixture is well-mixed and sticky.
- Add protein powder and almond butter and process until a dough-like consistency is formed.
- Pulse in the dried fruit.
- Press the mixture into an 8 x 8″ pan lined with parchment paper (don’t forget to line it so you can easily lift the bars out–otherwise you will have a sticky mess in the pan!). Let bars set in the fridge for 1-3 hours. Cut into 1-2″ bars and enjoy! Store in the fridge.
Note: These are delicious and super-crumbly–not the best portable snack unless you have a really well-sealed container (i.e. not a ziplock bag).
* * *
Maple Almond Butter Cookies (gluten-free and vegan!)
Adapted from this blog. I was pretty proud of these–they’re the first recipe I ever adapted to be gluten-free, and the flour combo worked!
- 1/2 cup natural almond butter
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 3 Tbsp. oil (olive or melted coconut)
- 1 tsp. almond extract
- 1/3 cup oat flour (I made mine by putting oats in a food processor until they were flour-like)
- 1/3 cup coconut flour
- 1/3 cup brown rice flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds or chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Combine wet ingredients–almond butter, maple syrup, oil, and almond extract–and mix well in a large bowl.
- In a smaller bowl, whisk flours, baking soda, and salt.
- Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring until just combined. Stir in additions. Let sit for five minutes. (If you have toddlers, this part is no problem.)
- Roll dough into balls, flatten to 1/3″, and place on cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes. Makes 12-18 cookies, depending on size.
* * *
Almond Butter Cookie Dough Bites
- 1 cup almond butter (smooth, not chunky)
- 1/2 cup coconut flour (or 1/4 cup almond flour and 1/4 cup coconut flour)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp. melted coconut oil
- 1 tsp. vanilla (I forgot this)
- 1/2 – 1 cup chocolate chips (I always over-chip)
Put all ingredients into a food processor, except the chocolate chips. Blend. Stir in the chips. Put spoonfuls into mini muffin cups (mine yielded 24 mini muffins). Freeze until firm. Store in fridge or freezer.
* * *
Berry Pie smoothie (adapted from Clean Detox Manual)
- 2 cups mixed greens (kale, chard, spinach)
- 1/4 cup pecans
- 1 cored apple, cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup frozen fruit (I used mixed berries)
- 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 – 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ginger powder
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup coconut or other non-dairy milk
* * *
Carrot Cake Smoothie (adapted from Paleo Partridge)
- 2 cups mixed greens
- 1 cup carrot (I used baby carrots)
- 1/3 cup chopped apple
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 1/4 tsp. fresh minced ginger
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 pitted dates
- 1/4 cup pecans
I have tried to make some recipes, like “Black Forest Smoothie” or “Chocolate Mint Grasshopper Smoothie,” but the cocoa powder somehow doesn’t blend well enough for me–it tastes a bit chalky. Maybe you can find one that works for you–if so, let me know!
I used to hate Valentine’s Day. Really, really hate it. “Singles Awareness Day,” one of my former students called it. Even after we got married, I didn’t love (ha) the fact that I was supposed to make a show of my love and affection on a certain day, preferably with consumer goods.
And it is a show in high school. My female students who happen to be dating on February 14 come laden with flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, candy, and other tokens of their beau’s attention. It makes me cringe. (It makes some of them cringe too.)
What I have noticed recently are more concrete examples of True Love, which have nothing to do with perfumed, saccharine, Hallmarked romance.
- After receiving a call that our car was parked inconveniently too close to the front of his house, I went to apologize to our elderly neighbor. He invited me in to visit with himself and his wife, who is several years into Alzheimer’s. This tall, thin, gray, former Army man gently guided his petite wife into the living room, helped her into her cardigan, and sat next to her on the sofa with his arm wrapped around her shoulders. In telling me that he doesn’t read very much anymore, this man who loves talking about literature squeezed his wife’s shoulders and said, “I spend much of my time taking care of my favorite person.” And she smiled, eyes downcast. He eagerly invited me back to talk more about books, and the overwhelming sense I got from their home is the sacrifice that this man has chosen in order to care for his life partner and great love.
- Nicole helped our kids make handprints on a giant card for us for Valentine’s Day, with incredibly sweet messages from them. We are so lucky to have her.
- When my dad was here helping me while Alan was gone, the first of several blizzards struck New England. He checked the weather as often as my weather-nerd friends (you know who you are), and called my mom to check in, strategize, make sure she would be okay. Their neighbor across the street borrowed another neighbor’s snow blower and cleared my parents’ driveway for her.
- True love is lying in bed in the dark, holding hands with my husband and decompressing about a Saturday from hell with our kids a few weeks ago. Laughing about their over-the-top-ridiculous behavior. Letting it go, together.
- My kids have been into get-well cards recently. Whenever they hear about someone’s illness, Theresa usually suggests that they make the person a get-well card. Audrey made one for me when I was down-and-out with the stomach bug two weeks ago.
- We met a couple who delivered the boy-boy-girl triplets at 27 weeks by emergency c-section. The babies are in the NICU and doing okay for being so early, and the parents wrote a note about being overwhelmed by the support of friends and family, particularly in the meal department. They have not had to worry about food for weeks–as they should not have to, since they need to dedicate so much time and energy to supporting their babies. When I brought them soup and bread and other goodies, they were exhausted and exhilarated, and so grateful for the love that surrounds them.
- One of my students in The Girl Effect club will be showing this documentary next week. Just the backstory moved me to tears.
- This song from a Sufi chant:
The ocean refuses no river, no river
The open heart refuses no part of me, no part of you.
I am one with all that is, one with all;
All that is is one with me, one with all.
- One of my students told me about a life-changing revelation about their* identity–a revelation that changes everything about the way this student interacts with the world. To have this kind of self-awareness, integrity, and courage as a high school freshman is beyond amazing. I always thought this student rocked; now they have my even deeper admiration and respect.
- The e-mails of support and inspirational messages that have been sent back and forth among a group of college friends to bring light and sometimes levity to our suffering friend. We’ve had Isaiah, Shel Silverstein, Psalms, Rumi, an Irish prayer, and a song from a Belgian film called Broken Circle Breakdown. Our friend sent us back this Yeats poem about the love of old friends:
THOUGH you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud,
But think about old friends the most:
Time’s bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes.
When I think about hearts, I think about my babies’ hearts. I check on my kids before I go to bed at night. Put a hand on each chest. Feel their heartbeats. I remember the first time I saw their hearts. I was 8 weeks pregnant, and there was a little clamshell in each sac, flickering its pulse. Tiny blips on an ultrasound screen.
Each of these hearts turned into Audrey, Theresa, and Jamie.
They will beat in that same chest for whatever lifetime they have.
I saw them first.
It makes me think about the truest form of love, which is forgiveness. Each heart is born with a finite number of beats. If we could see each other’s hearts and understood how many beats they have left, what would we do differently?
*Incorrect plural pronoun form used purposely to avoid gender identification. English so needs a gender-neutral personal pronoun.
Maya teetered on the edge of the Sea Ranch tide pool, the toes of her green Converse gripping the seaweed-covered surface. I squatted near her, not certain enough of my balance to be so close to the edge. The tide was going out.
We stared at the starfish in the pool, releasing tube foot by tube foot from the rock. The free arms dangled in the water. Eventually, the starfish would separate its last suckers from the rock and float wherever the tide would take it.
Who knew where it would go next? Who knew if it would be smashed against the rocks on the tide’s way out? Or eaten?
But it couldn’t stay, so it had to let go.
And it would be pretty and pleasant to think that once the starfish had released all its feet, that it would be Free and Floating and At One With the Ocean.
But the tide goes out. And comes back in. And the starfish will find itself on a different rock, on a different day, in a different tide. And have to let go all over again.
* * *
I don’t know what it’s like to be a starfish, but I do know what it’s like to have my world tilt sideways. Disoriented. In free-fall.
Just after my friend gave birth to her first baby, I wrote to her, “So much love to you as you wade through these unfamiliar waters, testing the currents, swaying with the waves, pulling yourself back to center, sliding your toes over rocks to see what the next step brings.”
Sometimes you step on a sea urchin.
Sometimes the water half-carries you where you’re supposed to go.
Sometimes I can bring myself to trust the tides.
* * *
Recently some of my dearest friends have experienced startling turns in their journeys. Unexpected. Unwelcome. They feel, perhaps, adrift. Unmoored.
Can I sit with them, feel their chest-tightness and heaviness, without force or avoidance?
Can we get used to the sea-change of relaxing into the unknown instead of fighting it? The sense of wading chest-deep in currents, trying to keep our footing on slippery rocks and seaweed, holding our arms out for balance as the waves buffet us?
I usually hold on with all my strength to what seems immobile and sure. But immobility leaves me high and dry, while the changing tides sustain and nourish me.
I am learning to trust myself, to trust others, to trust the Universe to make things right. To hold on when I need to, and to let go, over and over again. To surrender my need to be in control.
Let us go then, you and I,
to where the ocean stretches out against the sky,
where a starfish may detach, secure
in the knowledge that the tide will catch and carry,
light and strong as grace.
My beloved friend Patrick is undergoing treatment for a life-threatening illness. As his friends and family pray constantly for his treatment’s success, he maintains his usual optimistic attitude, exemplified in his writing about how his father Jim’s favorite song, “Accentuate the Positive,” has played on the radio at auspicious moments.
These guys know something about accentuating the positive. Jim was and Patrick is a formidable force for goodness, for justice, and for laughter in the world. They have experienced more than their share of tragedy, and have both chosen joy and gratitude in the face of it. They inspire pretty much everyone who has ever known them.
In this spirit, I humbly offer my recent accentuating of the positive:
- The man whose car I scraped while attempting to parallel park was so kind when he called in response to my note left on his windshield. As I apologized profusely, he said, “It’s not a big deal, just a paint job.” To end the conversation, he wished me “the best day it was possible to have.” Kind strangers rock.
- We now have all three children in underwear during the day, and one no longer needs pull-ups overnight. This feels like a huge milestone to have hurdled (nothing like mixing metaphors…).
- My children, while at times loud, unruly, shovers-and-grabbers, are developing such empathy and kindness, it makes my heart melt. Upon hearing that a different friend of mine was not feeling well, Theresa announced, “Let’s make her a get-well card! What animals does she like?” Nicole helped them create cards and wrote down what they wanted to say to her (some of which is hilarious due to its non-sequitor-ness).
- Nicole told me today how she had to explain to our kids and another girl at the park how the playground toys are for everyone, because this other girl claimed that the slides were “for girls only” and that “boys can’t use them”–which made Jamie seriously sad. We are so grateful for such a kind, empathic, and intuitive nanny who coaches our kids on lovingkindness when we are not there to do so.
- This post by Sarah Ruddell Beach about mindfulness. Yes.
- As a curly-haired female who has spent most of my life defending my choice not to straighten my hair (to my students, some stylists, etc.), I love this ad for Dove about loving one’s curls–not because I use their products, but because they are trying to do something about yet another aspect of perceived beauty that makes girls feel less-than, on-the-outside, not-enough.
- Alan leaves on Sunday for a week-long mission-of-mercy combined with work trip. But my AWESOME DAD is coming on Saturday to help out for the week, and my AWESOME MOM (who retires in June, woot woot!) comes on Thursday to round out the cavalry.
I’ve been gluten-free, dairy-free, nightshade-free, egg-free, and all-manner-of-other-foods-free for about 6 weeks now. And I feel SO MUCH better most of the time.
Except when I don’t. Like last night, when I hadn’t had enough water and I had tried reintroducing chicken eggs (and oh my Lord, that egg tasted so good), and from about 2 pm on I had zero energy and a headache. Alan had gone out to run some errands and I laid on the floor of the nursery while the kids played. Theresa tucked me in with her fuzzy blanket, gave me her “gorilla pilla,” and patted my back. I went to bed at 6 pm, got up to kiss the kids good night, and went back to bed till 7 am.
My body has been trying to tell me that something is wrong. And I am trying to listen, even though sometimes I want to fight against the experience, let the anxiety and uncertainty swell up. I want to take care of my kids, not have them have to take care of me. I feel like fatigue and headaches are almost not “worthy” enough as symptoms–that I know people who are very sick, life-threateningly sick, and it’s embarrassing to even talk about my bad days when theirs are so much worse. I want to feel healthy all the time like I used to without so much effort, so much attention to the fragility of my system. Read every label carefully. When in doubt, don’t eat it. Drink enough water. Eat the right amounts of the right things. Don’t mess it up, or you’ll feel awful.
One blog was philosophically as well as practically helpful: AIP Lifestyle, by a nutritionist used to working with autoimmune disorders. She talks about making your illness your ally, and loving and forgiving to heal the body as well as the spirit.
It occurred to me last night, as my brain was functional while my body was not, that healing does not only exist in the foods I choose to put into my system. Healing is already there, in me. It’s a long process of trial and error, and I’m trying to focus on the trying and the taking care of myself, and less on being irritated at the errors.
Some positives: we had a glorious Christmas and a wonderful trip to California (post on that to come). I ran a 5K with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I successfully reintroduced chocolate! To combat the nightmares I had in the early part of last night, I visualized being surrounded by all the people who love and support me, and slept well in that warmth until morning. So thank you all for that. =)
Here are some recipes I’ve found helpful and healing:
- Pork, Sweet Potatoes, and Charred Brussels Sprouts with Lime Sauce (I omitted the chile in the sauce and never missed it)
- David Lebovitz’s Bun Bo salad (easy for kids–lots of small bowls of toppings that they can choose from. Karen made it for us while we stayed with her and Kevin, and Kevin seared a top sirloin to put on top–delicious.)
- Coconut-Ginger-Lime Chicken (I made this when I had my sinus and ear infections, so I couldn’t taste or smell anything–I have a hunch that it was a little on the bland side, so I’m going to try again while healthy.)
- AIP Chocolate Brownies (First, I omitted the orange. Also, these were weirdly spongey when first out of the oven, but after some refrigeration, they were pleasantly fudgy and dense.)
I also found Phoenix Helix, who has an AIP recipe roundtable once a week, and I am trying these two this week:
- Nightshade-free Paleo Lamb Curry (with delicata squash, as my grocery store was out of spaghetti squash)
- Slow-Cooker Balsamic-Braised Beef Shanks
So I’ve been sick most of this fall. For the past four weeks, after an initial visit with a naturopath, I’ve been off all dairy, gluten, and nightshade plants, chicken eggs, and a number of other foods (most of which I don’t eat anyway, thankfully) that might irritate my immune system. I recently ended up with a sinus and ear infection following a simple cold. The antibiotics the doctor prescribed were so strong they knocked me out, almost literally. I am starting to feel a bit better, and despite the health issues, there have been so many things to be grateful for:
- While walking the Green Lake Pathway of Lights, we heard a crash nearby. An older woman walking with her husband and dog had tripped over some rocks into a ditch beside a pedestrian bridge and scraped her head on the rocks and branches. People surrounded the ditch with their flashlights shining down to illuminate her injuries; one woman held the dog’s leash so it would stay near its owners; others called 911; someone called from the top of the bridge for a coat to cover her; others told those in the small ditch to put pressure on the wound. I slid down as far as I could and handed someone my clean stash of tissues (a pocket necessity for winter noses), which he placed on her head. As I got out out of the embankment to help Alan with the kids, I heard a woman saying she was a nurse and could help. The kids wanted to talk about the incident over and over, and I was grateful to have had the opportunity to teach the kids that in emergencies, we become helpers.
- Nicole helped the kids write this letter. It’s possibly the best letter to Santa I have ever read.
- Last Monday I went as usual to our neighborhood coffee shop to grade for an hour. After ordering my tea, I realized I had forgotten my wallet. The barista waved it off, saying, “It’s fine; we know you.”
- I asked our school secretary to weigh an envelope of health-related documents to see if I had enough stamps on it, in an attempt to avoid post offices at all costs. When I then asked her where the nearest post office box was, she said she drove right by one on the way home and took the envelope from me.
- After I nearly passed out right before first period due to the antibiotics, my colleagues and administrators gave up part of their day to cover my classes because it was hard to find a sub once school had started, and told me not to worry about it. Our secretary (see above) made me promise to call her once I got home safely.
- The following day, one of my former students e-mailed me some cat videos to cheer me up because she heard I was sick.
- On Friday, my freshmen discussed the Ferguson case, the protests, and race in America. I did some up-front coaching on how to talk about controversial topics and how to ask questions and respond in ways that open rather than shut down conversation. The conversations were not easy. There was not universal agreement. But they maintained respectful attitudes and were using terms like “white privilege” and “us vs. them” in ways that made me so proud of them, and so hopeful about our future.
- Nicole sent me this text on Friday: “So this morning we went to the play center and they had awesome bounce houses. The kiddos were climbing up and sliding down but there was a younger kiddo trying really hard to get up but couldn’t make it. She was probably just under 2. So Audrey, Jamie, and another kiddo at the top pushed and pulled and helped her reach the top. It was so cute. And so awesome.”
- When I tucked Audrey in the other night, she asked for a hug. As I stood up, she said, “This hug is gonna be in your heart. And it will be there when you go to work.”
- Jamie, usually the earliest riser, has started a habit of running into our bedroom to snuggle with me. The others often follow. Anyone who wants to donate a king sized bed plus a larger bedroom to go with it, please contact me.
- Theresa as “Doctor Mouse King” gave my ears some medicine to help me feel better.
- Our Elf on the Shelf, named by the kids “Alice Santa Chugana,” asked the kids to help Santa by donating some stuffed animals to the Healing Center for kids who need hugs. They did (though when we actually got there with the bags of animals, the kids were a little sad to let go).
- We took three 3.5 year olds to The Nutcracker in Bremerton, and not only did they love it, but also they were super awesome audience members. They love pretending to be Fritz, Clara, and Drosselmeyer, and listen to the music over…and over…and over…
- We decorated gingerbread houses at Daddy’s work (Audrey asked for every candy piece she picked up: “Can I eat this?”)
- We saw Diving Santa at the Aquarium, decorated our tree, put up Christmas cards from family and friends, read Christmas and Hanukkah books, and though my house has been pretty much a wreck, we have been present in the joy of this Season of Light.
Because I have been teaching my students To Kill a Mockingbird and discussing Jim Crow laws, the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, the history of the n-word, and I cannot ignore the continued repercussions of institutional oppression as they play out right now in our country. In our own city.
Because I live out my white privilege every day, and people of color do not have that luxury.
Because my students of color talk tentatively and quietly about being followed around in stores, about assumptions of drug use, about questioning their choice of honors classes because black girls aren’t supposed to be smart.
Because the racial divide is sort of like global warming: you can say you “don’t believe in it,” but it still exists and is exacerbated by those who do nothing because they want to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Because we are trained as a culture to see non-white males as threats. As potentially violent. As barely restrained criminals.
Because my brother and my cousins and my uncle are police officers who put their lives at risk every time they go to work to protect and help their communities.
Because I stand in solidarity with the non-white community but I will not march next to someone carrying a “Killer Cop” sign.
Because talking about race is not racist.
Because I was too afraid to talk about Trayvon Martin last year. And I have been too afraid to talk about race in current culture. And we must have the uncomfortable conversations in order for anything to change.
Because I want my students to experience a breadth of media coverage, including first-person accounts, in order for them to gain an understanding of media bias as well as the content itself. If they only listen to the news outlets that their parents listen to, it perpetuates the idea that Judge Taylor says in To Kill a Mockingbird: “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
Because our system is broken; our lofty ideals of what Scout calls “equal rights for all, special privileges for none” (To Kill a Mockingbird) is still an illusion. Racism did not end with Martin Luther King, Jr., as many of my past students have believed. Racism is woven into every level of our society. It is about poverty, and race. It is about the disparities in public education, and race. It is about housing, and race. It is about college and job opportunities, and race. White privilege means the belief that race is not an issue.
Because there seem to be two sides: one who calls cops “killers” and one who says that Michael Brown (and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and on and on) “deserved” their deaths. Because I cannot stand on either side, or look at this issue as clearly as right and wrong. Because there must be middle ground we can find. Always.
Because this dialogue needs to happen. The wounds must be revealed in order for anything to heal.
In November, the light can be as clear and crisp as the air to show the mountains cutting into the sky across the water.
In November, the light can slice through heavy clouds to flame yellow leaves still clinging to trees.
In November, some days never emerge from twilight, and the rain is unceasing.
Three Novembers ago was the hardest.
With my husband back to work, a new nanny, three four-month-olds, one of whom struggled with eating, I had slowly made my way from angry to numb.
November is the accumulation of chilling and dimming and turning inward that September begins. In nature. In me.
How to explain the weight of exhaustion? The sense that I had stripped my life of everything non-essential and built a precarious house of cards out of all the essentials. And then two more Big Things got piled on top, and what was left to let go?
My cycles–downward spiral followed by clawing back up to the light and resting, only to spin downward again–got closer and closer together.
I was very, very tired. Of fighting my kids to cooperate when I didn’t have the energy to be creative and playful and make everything a game. Of breathing that felt more like hyperventilating. Of fighting so hard to regain my center.
It took a long time to talk back to the voice that told me, Why is this so hard for you? Don’t you dare fall apart. Not in front of your colleagues. Not in front of your kids. Not in front of your neighbors. Keep it together.
It got heavy and dark. There were moments of light, but I couldn’t make them hold. This November reminded me in so many ways of the previous dark November.
I would not go back.
This time, I asked for help before I fell too deep into shame and paralysis.
I trusted true and beloved friends to catch me as I fell.
This time, I understood that the shame is a myth that I created, like the Ideals that I try so hard to live up to. That the bravest thing I can do is to reach out for support from a place of worthiness and strength, not weakness or failure. That reaching my breaking point is an opportunity for more light to come through, not what defines my value as a parent or as a person.
As November ends, I am coming back to myself. Probably not in a linear way, but still. Progress.
My friend and neighbor wrote this to me:
“Somewhere along the line you will learn to navigate these turbulent waters instead of waiting for calmer ones. There will be more storms but with a healthy you, you will be able to marvel at how big and beautiful the storm is and not be holding on for dear life. I pray for peace, for hope, for you to be able to weather this storm. Until then, I am here.”
I am slowly learning this anatomy of light. How the color, texture, brilliance changes. What it reveals and what it hides. I am learning to love whatever light there is.
I don’t have to wait for spring, or for calmer weather.
I will whisper a prayer of light, my version of the loving-kindness meditation, to my own soul as I whisper it to my children as I tuck them in after they’re asleep:
May you find peace.
May you find comfort in loving arms.
May you forgive and be forgiven.
May you speak and act with love and kindness.
May you cherish the light in you.