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.