Monday, December 18, 2006

Pondering Patterns

Photo: Walking the labyrinth at Sinsinawa Mound, Women's Retreat

I've always needed help discovering my own rhythms, patterns, and needs. Countless times my mother has wisely interpreted my situation, pointing out the simplest things before they registered on my own radar. Usually, it's when I get sick or "hit a wall," as I call it. I will wonder why I've suddenly crashed and Mom will gently point out how busy I've been, how many things I've been juggling, how it's no wonder my body said "no more." And then when I think on it, I see she's right. Funny how someone else can see the inevitable crash coming, and I haven't yet learned to always sense it myself.

That's probably because I've got a lot of my father in me. I can go and go and go... and then things get all a'jumble. I start forgetting things, I get weepy or easily angered, and bam - I crash. But Dad rarely crashed. I don't think he ever crashed in the early days. He just kept on. That man had more energy than the rest of us put together, and it made for some unreasonable expectations. I once told him, after he'd complained about the lack of work ethic in someone else, that his comparison was unfair since his work ethic was not only off the charts, but so far off into the ozone as to never be seen with the naked eye. That man could work.

Not just physical work, though that was his forte (my Dad is probably one of few who'd regularly utter things like, "Why use a bulldozer to take down that silo when I can do it with my bare hands?" - and damn if he didn't actually do it), but cognitive 'work' as well. My father was a "man with a plan." No, not 'a' plan, several plans. He was always planning, and if the physical labor under his heavy hand didn't wear us out, his "I've been thinking...." did. If he wasn't making plans for the upkeep of the family farm, or my brother Matt's future, or the extra acreage I've let grown wild, or for the school district funding, or his insurance business, or Rob's career in insurance - and so on - he wasn't awake. He couldn't stop himself, we know now. It was a compulsion for him, as thrill-seeking is for others.

But he slowed down in the later years. Finally. It'd been a long time coming, and perhaps, too late. He drove himself too hard. For too long. He looked tired. He was tired.

And now without his intense energy and constant oversight, we struggle to get our bearings. We create new patterns, though for most of us, at a much less frenetic pace without Dad hovering over us. Not so with sister Jackie. She has taken over Dad's role as farm manager, and as if that wasn't enough to learn by immersion, she also took a part-time job with the Natural Land Institute. This, from my introverted, content-with-the-simple-things-in-life, mother-of-three sister. And I, the one who thrives on busy-ness like my father (though still out of his league), have grown more and more quiet, seeking solitude in the quiet spaces that I didn't notice before in my mad rush of living.

And Mom, well, now I'm the one to notice her patterns as they unfold. One particularly striking one is that at the moment when we notice, "Wow, she's doing really well today," we now follow it with, "Too well," as we've learned it's the high before the plummeting low. And we struggle on with our own unreasonable expectations and compulsions. Jackie, to fill the spaces with farm work, farm business, and her new job, and Mom, to "be fine" when she's really not.

My new patterns have brought some good from the bad, though, and I can't deny it. In my quietness, I've learned that in all my seeking and searching "out there," I have what I need right in front of me. It's made me not only appreciate but finally understand that I can easily miss what's right here when I'm so focused on other things and other places. It's brought a sense of calm I've never known. When I'm not pulled in a million different directions, I can more easily attend to the tasks at hand, put more of myself into them, give more than just a fleeting, scheduled, allotted-amount-of-time sort of attention, but rather the full me.

Everything takes on a new depth and meaning with this sort of acuity. Cooking has become less harried and more nurturing - both the ingredients chosen with greater care, and the actual meditative and therapeutic act of preparing itself - as I engage with more mindfulness. Tending to daily tasks can remind me to be appreciative that I actually have the time and I'm not doing them in a mad rush or with rising resentment, as was often the case. And answering a child's request for attention with actual undivided attention is a gift of presence, and serves to give on many levels.

At my last women's retreat, a friend led us in meditation. Many of us were rather new to it, and wondered if we could actually accomplish the 20-minute goal set for us. I was more able to settle than I expected. Before, and not so long ago, I'd have fought to contain my fidgeting, struggled to focus on something other than those around me, and spent most of the time trying to get relaxed so I could begin. But this new awareness, this new mindfulness, allows me to have a sort of tunnel vision that is freshly satisfying. It's not even something I asked for - it's something I needed and didn't know it.

Is this the sort of silver lining that comes from tragedy and great pain? I don't know. I know now that I can't control all the changes that come from such a life-altering event, and I see now that the lessons that come from pain are very different from the lessons that emerge from joy. When we experience a transition that is joyous, such as marriage, or the birth of a child, or having a new friend, the lessons come of willingness and eagerness and seeking. When our transition comes from pain, the lessons come of survival.

On an unschooling e-zine I read last night, a reader asked unschooling mother and author Rue Cream, "What’s something you keep in mind to help you be the kind of mother you want to be?" and she replied, "Memories."

She shares her fond memories of childhood with her children, but she also suggests that we know not which moments become the fondest memories of our own children, and so therefore ought to make each moment meaningful. Or put a different way, to be mindful so every moment and its choices are based in love, freedom, and respect. Put that way, how we answer our child's request for yet another drink of water provides an opportunity to deepen a pattern of mindfulness or a pattern of angst. Which shall we choose?

Finding this solitude within myself is a true gift, and it soothes that restlessness that I once saw as a 'given' part of my make-up that I must accept and obey. If the loss of my father has given me the gift of awareness, then his giving to me doesn't stop with his absence. It continues on. As we will continue on, taking up some of his patterns, like storytelling, and discarding others, like taking down silos with a sledge hammer, and ever mindful that through his example and in these days of retreat and healing, we continue to grow and become better.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tucson, AZ Trip Photos

Photo: Before our jog, to work off all that food!
Photo: dinner date
Photo: a work of art - Key Lime Pie at Wildflower restaurant
Photo: The fountain at the Westin La Paloma resort

Tucson, AZ Trip

Photo: amazing bougainvillea outside La Fuente Mexican Eatery
Photo: before final night dinner reception

Photo: rest stop on Catalina Mountain hike

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Coffee Confusion

"God of the Wild, you are different from what I expected. I cannot predict you. You are too free to be captured for the sake of my understanding. I can't find you in the sentimentalism of religion. You are everywhere I least expect to find you. You are not the force that saves me from the pain of living; you are the force that brings me life even in the midst of pain." ~Adolfo Quezada

Irony is sometimes cruel.

On the day of my father's death, I was attending a homeschooling conference in Arlington Heights. It's an annual conference and we've attended every one for the past seven years. Consider us junkies. It's a family affair; workshops for adults, workshops for kids, a massive vendor hall, and a hotel teeming with homeschoolers. It's a yearly getaway for us as a family, a yearly pep talk for me.

My father and I were planning to take a trip together. We'd talked of it for years and had looked at everything from a hike through Nepal to a stay on an Idaho ranch; from a rigorous backpacking experience to a cushy inn-to-inn hop while others tote our belongings. Dad urged me to decide, to pick a date. I thought I had all the time in the world. I mean, I was busy! I'd get to it soon enough.

During this year's conference I registered for three workshops that were conducted by parents and their children. Now that Brady is a teen, I thought it would be wonderful to hear from some homeschoolers on the tail end of the journey. The workshop I attended that morning was about road trips...

The road trip workshop was given by a father and his teenage son. They take an annual road trip that spans as much as a month. Each year they select a different destination and painstakingly plan their itinerary, each choosing their "must see" attractions and also allowing for down time and off-the-path wanderings. Their enthusiasm for their yearly ritual was intoxicating... they finished each other's sentences, laughed deeply as they recalled stories of mishaps and unexpected adventures, and had the entire audience smiling and vowing to start such a tradition for ourselves and our children. Or for me, with my father.

After the workshop I spoke with the man and his son to tell them I, too, was planning a long overdue road trip with MY dad. I bought their $3 booklet on frugal travel tips. I told them I was inspired by their talk, and left with a renewed commitment to my dad and our own travel plans. Dad would be so happy....

On the way to the next workshop I grabbed a french vanilla latte. I love coffee; coffee does not love me. Coffee can sometimes set my stomach in snarls, but I can usually get away with an occasional splurge and this was such an occasion.

I was quite eager to attend the next workshop, given by the keynote speaker, Pat Farenga. But when I got there I felt unsettled. My stomach was doing loops. I'd only consumed perhaps a sip or two of the coffee, so I was quite surprised it would affect me that quickly. I fidgeted in my seat; I tossed and turned. I kept muttering, "This damn coffee," and finally, feeling more uneasy than is reasonable, I got up and marched down the hallway to throw out the cup and pace for a few moments to calm myself down. I had no idea why I was feeling so suddenly distraught. I returned to the workshop and my friend Kristin, sitting next to me, frowned in that concerned "what's up?" sort of way.

I managed to wait out the rest of the workshop and next was lunch. I had plans to meet up with some women I'd met online (to chat about unschooling of course) but first I needed to check in with the family, make sure Rob and the kids found each other. The elevator area was a zoo, so I took off down a hallway to find a staircase. I finally found one, in an obscure faraway location. I opened the door to the stairwell and there was Rob - white as a ghost. He'd taken the phone call from my brother that there'd been an accident.

The rest resides in my memory in fits and starts. Dad. Snowmobile. Airlifted to a trauma center. Internal bleeding. Don't know how bad. Can't be good. We should go.

Time of the accident.... 10:30. Where I was at the time of the accident.... fidgeting in Pat Farenga's workshop, blaming coffee.

Grieving for not taking a trip with Dad... well, it's just another of those things. I saw my dad often; our lives were intertwined. I am one of the fortunate who can say there wasn't lost time. And I'm so thankful for that.

But I can't get over the amazing power of connection that allowed me to sense something was amiss. I believe we all carry within us greater powers of intuition and clairvoyance than we know; they're simply dormant from lack of use. And the sting of irony... well, such is the way of things sometimes.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Evolving Mantras

Photo: Martha, Diane, Me, Dana at women's retreat

The other day I told a friend it seems there has been some sort of seismic universe shake-up this year. I am different now. Every cell of my being is changed. Nothing will ever be the same. Things are just not right.

To be expected, I suppose, given that my father died in March, six days before my birthday. (When we scrabbled together a fragmented birthday party, I opened a card that said "Love, Mom & Dad." Mom's color drained as I opened it, and that was the end of the charade.) But it's not just that - all manner of things have gone askew this year.

I won't list them, because tempting as it is, I will continue to travel the high road (new mantra #1) - those folks who've thrown obstacles in my path know who they are.

I suppose it's just as well - I mean, this year is already ruined. But these crises, coming one on top of the other, well - they offend me. I was doing quite well at grieving, if I do say so myself. My friends knew I was going to be quiet and reclusive for a while. My children understood that some days are weepy and others are dry. And I was really trying to give in to the grief.... avoiding the process would mean carrying around a sickness in my soul.

So as the other problems arose over the past few months, well, they distracted me from my grieving. Emotionally unstable, I was afraid to make decisions and unsure what to make of the additional stress. They were a rude interruption to my grieving and it was only recently, as things seemed to settle for a short while, that the anger struck like a lightning bolt. How dare they? What the hell is the matter with people?! I need to grieve for my father, I need to reinvent myself and my way of being in the world without him, and yet I've had to deal with some very unsavory things. Mantra #2 - People Suck.

Always one to 'seek the lesson', I pondered the possibility of karma. I admit I've always had a rather easy go of things... I've even felt somehow protected, grateful that the ugly side of life had not visited me, and often wondered why I was so lucky. So perhaps this is just my time? My year of reckoning? I shared this thought with my grandma Alice. She told me there doesn't have to be a lesson. She said, "Oh honey, you're just emotionally exhausted, that's all" and held me while I had a good cry.

The stress of dealing with many big things at once had me quite nervous and shaken, and so a retreat with some of my favorite women friends was a welcome refuge. As we sat in circle, someone asked me to share all that had been happening. Too tired to rehash everything, I gave the short version. As I told my stories I got more and more riled up, and I suddenly felt a new clarity. I used to be quite confident and out-spoken, but these past many years have been marked by a 'softer' me - a kinder, more empathetic, inclusive me. It served me well for those years of childrearing, homeschooling, and networking. But now... these times call for a new spark. Or an old one, rekindled.

After sharing my utter disgust with certain things and certain people, one wise and wonderful friend blurted out, "Oh, f*ck that sh*t!" The severity of the comment gave us all fits of laughter, and first I replied, "Yeah! F*ck that sh*t!" And next thing you know, she laughed, "Let's all say it together! One... two... three.... F*CK THAT SH*T!"

Definitely mantra #3.

There is freedom in accepting that some things are just ugly, and I don't have to fix them. So here I sit, acknowledging that some things can't be fixed and that's ok. If this year has taught me anything, it's that. I will take the high road for my own integrity and peace of mind, but I will walk away from darkness and seek light. When people suck, I don't have stick around and be the punching bag. F*ck that sh*t. I've got bigger things to attend to.

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life exists in the elimination of non-essentials." ~ Lin Yutang


Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Photo: My dogwood tree at night

I'm a night-owl.

It's not very convenient any more, and I've tried many times to change it, but fact is, I come alive at night. I feel very creative, very philosophical, and very inspired during the dark hours. Trouble is, those attributes fade by morning. The idea that sounded oh-so-perfect the night before seems unreasonable the following morning. The commitment I made for myself in those wee hours loses its appeal by daybreak. By morning, the magic is gone. I feel sluggish and uninspired and like procrastinating the day away. It's a frustrating cycle.

Sure, I could stay up late and give in to my inner clock, but when the rest of the world doesn't operate that way, it's more than a little challenging.

Recently, however, my days have become the productive refuge from nights that have been taken hostage. After all this time, the physical manifestations of grief have returned, and with a vengeance. Night after night I wake barely able to breathe, tears at the ready, and thoughts and images flooding in that cannot be stopped. It's rather, well, upsetting.

I can rationalize all manner of reasons. There has been a flurry of attorney meetings to address some estate and inheritance issues. There are holidays and my father's birthday approaching. There are myriad local groups erecting public memorials in honor of my father and related stories peppering the local newspaper. And there are the constant reminders that someone, someone usually so incredibly present, has gone missing. I think a part of me still clings to the hope that perhaps Dad is just 'away' for a while. Like, around the corner. On vacation. Too busy at work. I mean, really, this cannot be.

It's really brought an awareness of mortality out into the light, and that alone makes me feel a sense of urgency about life and my children and the plans we make and why we make them and whether or not it's worth the trouble. As my mom tells it, one of the things she felt as she sat at my father's bedside was, "Ok... I get it now."

One of the recent night terrors was about my grandmother, my father's mom. I've only seen her a few times since Dad died, but that's not unusual for me. I'm not very good about such things and somehow opt to carry around the guilt of "I should" rather than just doing it, slow learner that I am. But the other night I sat straight up in bed and the thought racing through my head and pounding in my chest was, "She lost her son...."

I finally visited the cemetary. I'd been avoiding it, telling myself I wasn't ready. The church is a mile from my house, can be seen from my bedroom window, and yet I'd not gone. But I've taken up jogging as a change from my usual biking, and since it's the perfect distance away for a good run, I set out in the direction of the church without thinking the other day... I stopped dead in my tracks about 1/4 mile away when I realized where I was headed, and decided there was no turning back then. It wasn't the still-muddy burial ground that got me, nor the silk floral arrangement. It was the red University of Wisconsin "W" staked into the ground that stole my breath away. This cannot be....

On my way back home, iPod fully cranked, a new mission - escape - in my stride, something caught my eye. I stopped to find a raccoon - which, if you're blinded by tears and breathless from running, can look remarkably like a badger - sitting in a barren patch of field, looking at me. I rarely see these creatures in the light of day, and we sat and looked at each other for quite a while. It was a chilly, damp morning, and it cocked its head at me as I wiped the sweat and condensation from my face and talked to it, wondering if it was sent to soothe me. And then, after looking from cornfield to me and back a few times, it finally, slowly, lumbered off. Curiously, I felt a bit better.

These "grief attacks", as I may take to calling them, really do sneak up on me. It's amazing what the rational mind can do to keep the demons at bay so you can function, but it's all just right there under the surface. An admitted NPR junkie, I caught the beginnings of a 9/11 piece - a family member who'd saved an answering machine message left by her spouse just before he perished in the twin towers. The rush of pain that swept through me in that instant was overwhelming, and I quickly turned the channel. Picture me driving down the road, crying to "Jungle Boogie", the song playing on the very next station! What a wild ride this is indeed.

It's really the long-ago past that gets me the most. It's not so much missing the recent past as grieving for the early years that trips me up. When I feel sadness for Dad, I get sad for the dad of my childhood. I get sad for recalling all the energy and eagerness and dreaming and struggling that took place all those many years ago, and I mourn for the path that was unexpectedly cut short. My dad took living very, very seriously, and damnit, he wasn't done yet. He wasn't done.

As I took a walk this evening I looked down and saw, for the millionth time, the patterns in the road, the bubbles in the tar, the way the imprints trapped moments in time, and marveled that I've been looking at these same markings for most of my life. These are the small comforts that ground me. This is a place my father loved so very much. This is how I stay connected.

So that's where I am right now. And before you don your psychologist hat and declare me mentally unfit or clinically depressed, hold on a minute. You won't find me walking in a fog on the average day, and I can be seen laughing and carrying on as usual on many an occasion. It's just, as I've said before, I've got to go straight into this one to heal. My close friends will tell you I'm quieter than usual, and a little less excitable. But I'm in my cocoon, and all creatures rest when they undergo a metamorphosis, no?

These things take time.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Musical Mayhem

Photo: Twin Renee (rt), Director Drew, and me (left) at cast potluck in February

Photo: Final pose of dance number

Photo: Closing number, the captain "wins" the Gemini twins

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Breaking the Mold

Photo: Renee and me with Adam (Hero understudy in Pec, lead in St. Charles), backstage

My friend Kristin tells a story about a woman who had ten children. She knew she'd be cooking all the time, so instead of making it a dreaded chore or doing it only half-heartedly, she decided to embrace the necessity and become a gourmet cook. What an inspiring choice.

Marriage and parenthood became my path far earlier than anticipated (and that's assuming it was ever anticipated - hmm), and so I, too, have had my own decisions to make upon meeting certain crossroads. And I, too, decided if I was going to do this marriage-and-motherhood thing, I was going to really do it.

If you'd told me at age... oh, say twenty, I'd opt to have children, stay home with them, and homeschool to boot, I'd have laughed and said "ah, who knows and why worry myself about it now?" I lived a rather spontaneous life back then. Despite the insistence of my father, who always had short-term, long-term and everything-in-between plans and eagerly pored over high school and college syllabi with great intensity, I gave such goal-oriented thought only mild attention. I was much more interested in leaving days and weeks and futures wide open and carefree enough to grab each whim as it arose. And so thoughts of "real life" with bills and lawncare and career paths and child-rearing philosophies were virtually non-existent in my free-spirited days.

Embracing motherhood, however, meant putting my whims and fancies and spontaneity on the back burner. Or as friend Diane puts it, lowest on the totem pole. And I do so willingly and freely, have no doubt. Once I fully committed myself to being a mother, first and foremost, I've deeply loved the intense experiences that come with such an intimate relationship. Being here to watch my children blossom and evolve, being privy to those "aha" moments or turning points in their lives, and finding comfort in the quiet of rhythmic days has been quite lovely. And I regret none of it.

That said, an opportunity to step out of that role and embrace my inner-spontaneous-child again came to me recently. I had a part in a raucous, bawdy musical, and I played a courtesan. Yep. A whore.

Yeeha mama and hang on to yer skirts, the old Laura (Lola to some) is back in town. Hold on a sec while I catch my breath, will ya?

Particpating in that musical was one of the most wild and frivolous things I've done in a long, long time. (I know, I really oughta get out more.) And the timing.... well, it was impeccable. The show wrapped up just a few weeks before my father died. I've been riding on that built-up storage of fun ever since.

The cast was amazing and so much fun we laughed until our sides hurt. It was great fun to enjoy the banter and goings-on of the teens and young 20-somethings and recall such days of my own. It was awe-inspiring to find myself standing among talented actors and actresses - I was so smitten to be there. And it was wicked fun to put on heavy make-up and beautiful dresses and shake it like I might still have it. Or some of it, anyway.

I laughed with my twin today (we were Gemini twins in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum") that I've made a bigger deal of this than is prudent, but it really allowed me to break out of my mold and do something completely out of character. My current character, that is.

And just today, we traveled to St. Charles to reprise our role as Gemini Twins. We were so flattered! Drew Thomas, the director from our show here at the Pec Playhouse, moved to the 'burbs and got himself a gig directing "...Forum" again. Opening weekend approached and he had no Gemini. One phone call to us Thursday afternoon, and a dozen emails, some mega-schedule rearranging, frantic searching for costumes and jewelry and hair pieces, and several phone calls later, off we went to St. Charles. We had 30 minutes to get a refresher on blocking from the other courtesans - two lovely high school girls who could dance like there's no tomorrow - and learn about the changes from our stage to this, and on we went. Such fun!

After the show we went for dinner and talked for hours and hours, none of us needing to rush home, and now I sigh contentedly, enjoying the taste of whimsy again and remembering what a rush it is to put myself out there like that - especially at a moment's notice. I love that sort of challenge.

I don't need to go "back", though, don't worry. No plans to jump ship or change what I'm doing. I'm not the kind of stay-at-home mom who will crack and run off with the pool boy, I'm made of much stronger stuff. It's quite enough to wax on about the experience, enjoy the pictures, and revel in the new friendships. I may or may not audition for another show at some point. I love my life, even the predictability of it. In fact I take great solace in our simpler rituals of staying in jammies until late in the morning, Jonathan chatting me up as he makes his fourth PBJ of the day, Brady following me around while I tend my flowerbeds at dusk, Rob asking for the millionth time if anyone wants to go running with him even though he knows the answer before he asks. Life is good.

But I am deeply grateful to Drew for giving me a reason to break my carpooling-dishwashing-kid-tending mold for a short while, and take me back to that time when life was wide open and all options were on the table.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Considering Compost

"The next time you feel like complaining, remember that your garbage disposal probably eats better than 30 percent of the people in the world." ~Robert Orben

I love quotes. I collect them, and have so many I ought to catergorize them for easier reference. This quote came to mind as I was on salad duty last night. My sister ranks her compost clippings as she chops. "This is very good compost," she'll say as she tosses an eggshell into the stained bucket. These days our compost competition is chickens versus gardens. I used to empty my compost bucket straight into the gardens, where dark, rich soil showed no carrot stump went unused. But now we dump it into the chicken yard. Fruit peelings and soggy greens make a chicken's day, they do. I suppose chicken manure fertilizer and brightly yellow-yolked eggs are the advantage to this system. Ultimately, I just can't resist a face, even one with a beak and beady eyes.

The Evolution of Salad

When I'm feeling unwell or off-balance, I crave cold, raw, colorful foods. During a recent low, I realized I hadn't been eating well. That weekend I committed myself to making richly colored dishes and eating at least one meal from the garden each day. (Needed: 101 ways to cook Zucchini) It struck me last night as I did my nightly short-order salad-chef routine, how our salad fixings of choice are age-appropriate. :-) In a recent conversation someone extolled the virtues of a food processor, but to be honest, I really love chopping vegetables with my favorite knife. Simple pleasures.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

In the Shelter of Healing

Photo: Path at Sinsinawa women's retreat in May
I can't watch the news anymore. And I can barely read the newspaper.

I've always felt it my duty to be informed of goings-on. Certainly it's expected that one can sufficiently converse at the water cooler, and since I often feel a sense of guilt for living a life of relative ease, the least I can do is be informed as to what's going on around me and in my world and take on some of the soul-work of praying/meditating/sending energy to alter the paths of horror occurring daily, worldwide.

But right now I find I simply cannot take it. At least not without melting into a puddle and losing entire days to wandering aimlessly and muttering, "I just don't understand." When the mere mention or fleeting thought of my father sends tears springing to my eyes, the horrific news of wars and abuse and lies and deceit are very much more than I can handle right now.

I'm a pisces. The symbol for pisces should be a sponge, because while my water-baby status allows me the ultimate flexibility in adapting to all manner of situations, it also makes it quite difficult for me not to enter into every realm I encounter and take on the accompanying energy. I enter as water enters, fully and taking up any and every available space.

So when I hear of all the heartache and suffering and loss and fear (much of it uneccessary; unless, of course, your social or political status depends upon it) I cannot help but take on the sadness and let it consume me. And it's a helpless feeling to know of these things and see no end in sight, no break to the patterns of domination and selfishness and audacity, no gathering of mothers and others screaming, "That's ENOUGH!"

One of my wise women friends, Joanieji, once told me I shouldn't disparage that thin-skinned quality that is my fate because the same faulty filters that take on the pain allow me to feel the rain on my face, the sun on my skin, the joy when I look at my disheveled long-haired boy in the backseat and stare at him just long enough that he looks up quizzically, and says, "What?" And she's right, even though it doesn't always feel right after I've read another story that drops me to my knees.

My friend Sharon once told me she stopped reading the paper because she had to spend so much time meditating for peace and healing and love afterward she couldn't attend fully to her own daily needs. My guilt- and obligation-ridden martyr self didn't quite understand at the time, but I've slowly come to see the wisdom in it. Isn't it true that unless we care for ourselves we cannot care for others? My wandering angst did nothing to change the situations I read about, it only served to worsen my own personal situation, and likely that of those who depend upon me.

The torrent of cards, letters, visits, emails, and stories that have come to us since my father's death have been such an incredible gift. I've dreaded standing in the visitation line all my life, and often declared I simply would not, could not, do it. My mother, my nurturer, pulled me aside before the day and told me I could do whatever it was I needed to do, be there in that line or not. It was that gift of acceptance, of honor for my needs, that allowed me to go to my place and stand in that line, with all my vulnerability, pain, and fear displayed in what was, for me, the ultimate submission. But the gifts that came to me that day, that I would not have recieved had I not laid myself bare, brought things full circle in a way I had not anticipated.

My father was a storyteller. He told his stories again and again and again, so often and in so predictable a fashion that cousin Heather and I always teased we could be two lines ahead of our dads all night long. But his stories weren't fiction - they were stories of the people he loved. As the familiar and unfamiliar faces filed through the line at the visitation, I could see all of my father's love and all of his stories, all there in one place. Time and again someone would begin with, "You don't know me, but I am...." and I would know the person - I knew the people through my father's words. And I saw how my gift of knowing of them and their relationship to my father and their story together was as healing for them as it was revelational for me. Here they were, all the people who loved my father and now bestowing that love upon us in our greatest hour of need, and my pisces-skin soaked it all in and bathed in it.

Who knew I'd find healing in the dreaded visitation line.

And for a short time, I saw potential for the world in that outpouring of love and support. I saw how things can be different. People I barely know can sustain me; people I am not particularly close to can come to my side and heal me with their presence; circles of friends and family can stand there and say nothing and soothe me simply by being nearby or holding my hand. This is the energy I crave, this is the medicine the world needs, and its taste is not bitter.

Thanks to the wise and insistent support of those who've gone before me, I've accepted it's ok to shut things out for a while, as I heal. I cannot attend to my wounds if I'm pulled in opposing directions. I have to go into this one fully - for me, there's no other way out.

So stop the presses. Shut off the television. Sleep deeply, write until my hand aches, eat colorful food, weed the garden, practice discernment, sit and feel and cry and give thanks, and attend to what's right in front of me. It's my most difficult to-do list yet.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I Like My Life, Too

Photo: Jonathan & teammates waiting for tournament championship trophy

I'm happy.

Those are the words Jonathan spoke as we had lunch, just the two of us, at the local ice cream joint.

I'd asked him if he thought he might ever try school. Our 'to school or not to school' question has been asked of Brady quite a bit recently, what with high school just around the corner. But I'd never asked Jonathan.

"So, do you think you'll ever try school?"

Pause.... munch, munch, munch.

"I'm happy. I like my life. I like my life like this."

I like my life like this. So simple. So matter of fact. A healing moment in the midst of a lingering storm.

Tears sprang, of course. We all hope our children are happy, and we all need those reassurances from time to time that we are making the right choices; or even that "rightness" isn't really the measuring stick of choice. There are too many choices for one to be more right than another. But happiness... now there's something to measure a life by.

Sadly, I can't say I'm happy right now. I've donned the "let's pretend... let's pretend this hasn't just happened" defense mechanism in order to get through my days without melting into a puddle at every turn. I know it's not healthy; but it's survival. A woman I hadn't seen all year asked at a soccer game last weekend, "What's new?"

"Oh..... not much." It was father's day. I couldn't speak of it.

I forgot about a doctor's appointment last week, the third thing I've missed in as many weeks. Instead of calling, I mailed a card explaining what had happened, that I couldn't call and say those words. Those words choke me. They are soul-suffocating words.

And my mind has been playing wacky tricks on me, the grief clouding my usually spot-on intuition, and making me blush with shame as horrible thoughts dance at the edges such as "Why Dad and not someone else?"

There's a young girl who's giving me a bit of trouble in theatre camp this week. After several days of gradually deteriorating behavior, and after using all my usual tricks and pep talks and teacherly methods to no avail, I decided I'd speak - gently, of course - with her mother after camp today. Her father came (35 minutes late) to retrieve her instead, and let's just say I now know why this girl is difficult.

Shame on me, I know. That's not a nice thing to say, but this man used vulgar language within the first 6 words, told me all manner of things I'd rather not know, and was a 'close talker' and had me backing up for the 10 minutes he assailed me with his excuses for being late and his bizarre stories, too personal to share with the theatre director stranger. And while he yammered on, I stopped listening. My rational mind kept the "uh huh" and "I see" dialogue going, while my tired other self tuned out and visited thoughts like "My dad died, and this man......."

See? Shameful.

I've shed my skin and I do not recognize the person I am right now.

When new homeschoolers call me for support and instructions, I often tell them to relax, to de-school, to just enjoy each other for a while without worrying about curricula, schedules, or requirements. I tell them it will take a full year to completely adapt to their new lifestyle - just when you think you've got it all down pat, you'll have a bad week or two. I tell them they will "redefine their normal." They have no way of knowing what their new life will look like, and they need patience and openness and compassion to allow it to unfold and become real.

If only I could take my own advice.

I will... in time. Even though I've had thoughts of "what's the point?" lately, I know that if I can sit across the table from my child and watch him slurp a soda and tell me he's happy, I have my answer.

In time, I will like my life again. I will like who I am right then. When the fog lifts, and the road becomes clear, and I've arrived... I'll know.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Two Boyz in a Tree

We've waited a very long time for a good climbing tree, and this one came to us quite by accident. The man selling out his stock told me it was a bush; and since it was a rather bare 10 in. twig, why would I suspect otherwise? I promptly planted it on the corner of the front porch, and lo and behold, it grew like a weed. 'Tis a poplar tree! Rather than risk moving it, we left it, and its branches provide our front porch with the most lovely leafy screen and the kids and cats and woodpeckers all take haven in its branches from time to time. This tree also happens to be home to our blessing scarves. With a little nod to Tibetan prayer flags, I gathered scarves and hung them from the branches to sway and blow in the breeze. Jonathan and I like to sit on the porch and watch storms roll in from the north, list all the things we're thankful for (once, Jonathan listed turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing three times in one sitting), and listen to the rustling of the leaves.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wisdom in Opposites

Photo: Daffs in mom's garden

I've gotten lots of garden time lately and while digging and weeding and planting I have offered my grief to the wind. Compost and rich soil and myriad heavy-on-the-purple gardens heal me, and it seems time for a post that's a little less soggy.

The death of my father has altered me in ways I didn't think possible. I seem to be at a turning point and I've been quiet - quieter than ever before. It comes at a good time, though. In so many ways I'm at a crossroads. And rather than choosing a path just yet, I'm content to only observe the options in front of me for now, with a newly discovered detachment (admittedly tinged with a wee bit of depression).

What I ponder these days is letting go.

Sometimes, the solution to a dilemma is found in what initially seems counter-intuitive. Take balancing, for example. If you walk a thin beam, ala gymnastics, the impulse upon losing balance is to tighten up, to shift lower, to cling to and toward the beam. But the solution, really, is to lift & elevate instead. As my pilates instructor would say, "Reach! Reach!" If you doubt this, find a curb and give it a whirl.

I do well to remember this logic when what I'm doing continues to be wrong and I feel stumped for a breakthrough forward. Parenting is such an area. Parenting a teen, especially. Just when I want to cling it seems I must instead learn to release. And as with balancing, it is again the better choice - and surprisingly steadying.

There is so much joy in parenting a young adult, and yet wistful sadness as well. When it finally sank in that my relationship with my oldest, Brady, will forevermore be defined by his need for independence, I felt an ache for the young needy child that once was my captive babe. Bittersweet indeed, though I'm finding the more I release and trust, the closer we remain - and for that, I am so very glad.

For years I've carried that bit of dread as I worried that his teen years might be marked with power struggles, silent treatments, and resentment, even though somehow I doubted we would end up that way. Still too soon to cash in my chips, surely, but since I'm not one for power struggles, I know that I offer little to rebel against. "Pick your battles" has been a constant mantra for me, even though there've been fewer and fewer battles I've found worth picking. We're just far happier together when we don't judge how the other chooses to spend time.

People ask me how I can homeschool and be with my kids all day long. I'm never quite sure how to answer, but the truth is we probably do the complete opposite of what folks assume. I do not control their time, we do not regulate by strict schedules, and I do not use stickers, carrots, whips, or cartwheel-turning to coerce. In fact, there is no teacher-student facade going on in this household. I see no reason to recreate something that we've voluntarily rejected in school, for one thing. And why create an arbitrary relationship when we have a perfectly legitimate and natural relationship - parent/child - that works beautifully? We are partners in this journey of learning. Forget school and its worksheet world, "life twice removed."

And how to "get" my children to learn? Back to the balance beam. I couldn't make them learn if I wanted to. Don't cling, release. Don't force, get the hell out of the way. The single best way to ensure your children live a rich, varied, interesting, inquisitive life is to live one yourself. When I'm tempted to force something down their throats, I give myself a time out.

There is so much beauty in taking a step back and resisting the urge to control, manage, or cling. And sometimes it means the difference between peacefulness and angst; or love and adversity.

It even allowed me to usher my father, lovingly, into the next realm. When I meditated for healing as we sped to him, it was working - I could clearly see and feel the healing, loving light as it surrounded him and, hopefully, soothed him. But once I got to the hospital, I could not retrieve the same connection, no matter how hard I tried, or how deeply I focused. And as I held his hand and stroked his leg during his final moments, I suddenly, intuitively, knew it would be better to cradle him and release him. Clinging to him, hoping for something that could not be, would only make the journey more painful for him, and he needed us to guide him through with love and commitment. Being one to travel inward, I even found that I was actually blowing out with each exhale - a little lift to ease his passage.

Thus far, this wisdom of opposites has served me quite well. It has allowed me to examine my own motives when my urge is to control (or even manipulate). It has shown me that freedom really is the most empowering thing, and when we threaten to take it away we should expect resistance - the natural reaction. And it removes unnecessary struggling. Why create struggles? No worries, there will be plenty without our adding fuel to any fires.

While I was speeding to Wisconsin to be with my father, and feeling the visceral pain and fear, it crossed my mind that created conflict is so senseless. Why do we create conflict when life will deal us heavy blows for which we ought to reserve our energy? The war in Iraq, top-down ministry, heated and personal attacks over referendums and committees and who-said-what....

When the solution, really, is simple. Be nice. And when you are inclined to cling - don't. Instead, breathe out. Release. Trust. Honor freedom.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Eye of the Storm

Photo: round barn at Mom & Dad's

I remember the night we learned my lovely aunt had an aggressive malignant brain tumor. My mom was rushing to be with my aunt and uncle but she wasn't very put together and needed me to drive her. The last place I wanted to go was to my aunt, I'm sad to say. I don't do well with such things.

But I went. And all the way there, I kept thinking... I'm going into the eye of the storm.... I'm going into the eye of the storm....

But it's a good thing I did; it was the last time I ever visited my aunt where she was coherent enough to recognize me.

So, too, did I have that same primal fear of "no no no... I can't do this.... no no no...." as we sped to the hospital in Wisconsin. I was mad with panic in the car and I knew my manic energy was doing no good for anyone. So I meditated. I opened myself up and I offered all I had. I visualized healing white light and bathed my father in it. I blessed the surgeons, their hands to do their healing work and their temples to use their healing knowledge. I offered soothing affirmations that they do what they do best. I sat with my father and spoke to him during the entire drive, telling him there was a circle of love speeding toward him from all directions and we were coming and he was not alone and he is strong and he is loved. I called him Daddy.

I believe my father waited for me to arrive at the hospital before he died. I do.

The first glimpse I got of him was unexpected. The docs were wheeling him from surgery to recovery. I didn't know they were taking him past our waiting room doorway and I didn't know we couldn't enter the hall while they were doing it. So suddenly, people were saying "here he comes" and "let Laura through" and pulling me toward the doorway. It all happened so fast and I didn't know what was coming.

When they took him past, the docs gave that sort of grimaced forlorn look that I know now to be their angst at the news they would soon deliver. And when I saw my dad - all tubes and sheets and swelling and plastic with too many docs for good news - I clutched the doorway because I thought I might fall to the floor. Surely that was not my father - so strong in body and mind - on that damn stretcher. Surely I'm not watching from a doorway, unable to touch him. Surely that surgeon isn't about to tell us that my father is going to die and we can be with him.

During the first weeks of return to soccer and lessons and schedules and chauffeuring, I was in a daze, the years of practice allowing me to function on auto pilot. In some ways, this is a preferrable way to travel, no doubt. I didn't have the usual impatience behind slow drivers, or the ritual "let's go, let's move!" pep talks on our way out the door, or a care for how pale and disheveled and undone I looked. There was no primping, only the most minimal preparation to go anywhere. And I had a sort of outsider's view of life happening around me but not involving me. And people didn't expect anything of me. But soon enough the schedule became the distraction, the buffer from the pain, the divide between 'life goes on' and attending to the needs of our collective grief. And I relish it.

But today we had to attend to "bizness." A stout Irish former NYC cop-turned-claims adjuster had to interview my mother in order to settle the life insurance claim, and boy was that unnerving. Curiously, it was, "And this, this here, is your husband's signature?" that sent the tears streaming down our cheeks at the inhumanity of it all. And as usual, the men in suits win the game because if we don't "play nice", we don't "get paid." Wishing it could've gone a little differently....

"State your name."

"Screw you. Coffee?"

But my mother patiently and truthfully answered the insulting questions and the photos of the accident site were brought out and the net worth was checked and double-checked and we could see through the man who told stories like he was our friend but wasn't. And so it is on another day in this new life, where we must create a new reality, where we'll never be the same, and where we still don't know how to be or how we will be or when we'll know we got there.


Playing takes a lot out of a kid, as you can see. Who needs a suntan when you can simply roll around on blacktop and do a little smudging. This was taken after a long day of playing on an unusually warm April day.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Misty Morning Musings

The early morning hours offer both great opportunity and wistful remorse... since we homeschool, the children stay up late and wake late into the morning. Therefore, I struggle with just how best to use the quiet time before the children rise. We're second-shifters, with soccer practices, piano and guitar lessons, tumbling, museum classes, and a computer apprentice position keeping us on our toes for most of our days, so if I don't nab a little 'me' time first thing in the morning, the opportunity is lost until the next day. The dilemma, though... what to do with that hour or so? Read email? Write? Practice yoga? Sit quietly with tea? I'm always torn.

On this particular morning, the view to the east caught my eye, and my new digital camera beckoned me to experiment. I took several pictures of the morning mist with the sunshine slowly burning the moisture from the fields... it was lovely.

I have a friend, ....e, who spends each morning having tea outside, no matter the weather. Once upon a time, inspired by her ritual, I adopted the same practice and found it rather exhilarating to sit on the porch in sub-zero weather, bundled in a down jacket, clutching a steaming mug of Snow Monkey Plum tea and gazing north. Amazing how a few simple moments in outdoor meditation can center you and start your day off with a boost. I think perhaps I'll take up that ritual again, easier now with spring peeking out all around.

I've been quieter than usual these days, anyhow.... and lately, my morning meditations have lasted well into the day; a few days, never quite managing to change out of my sleeping clothes even. You see, my father died.

Funny, I can write those words, but I cannot say them. They get stuck in my throat and add a realness I'm not quite ready for. My friend Drew asked, knowingly, if I was tired of being asked how I'm doing yet. And I told him I'd learned it's the most difficult question to answer. I don't know how I'm doing. And it changes, day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment. My stock answer has become, "Right now? Ok. I'm ok, right now."

The pain is surprisingly physical - deeply physical. I never expected that. Early on, the hospital images haunted me, flashing in front of my eyes unexpectedly, unwelcomed; each time, sending a speeding wave of intense, suffocating, desperate pain through my core, making me catch my breath and sending tears down my cheeks yet again. I feared I would be forever traumatized by those visions, and on some levels I will be - but already, I've learned to slow the reel of pictures and ward them off at inauspicious moments.

In Mexico, native healers called Curanderas speak of susto. Susto, sometimes called "magical fright", is a loss of harmony between body and soul and occurs when something traumatic has happened. They believe the soul, or part of it, is lost or wandering... and must be retrieved or coaxed back. When we hurt, we heal the physical, but often overlook or disregard the spiritual or emotional. Curanderas help you to heal susto.

The night my father died, we all waltzed like zombies into a seedy hotel in that godforsaken town. We were too shocked to drive the 3 hours home, but no one was to sleep either. I spent the night rocking on my side, and I knew.... I have susto.