My piece on connection and seeking balance is featured at Kindred Magazine. I am delighted to contribute to this great group of women writers.
“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”
My brothers and I were playing in our backyard asking questions kids have asked forever. I was emphatic. “I want to fly.”
Although, at the age of 9, I would have been satisfied to see more than a few inches in front of me and have straight teeth. But these questions were not about our measly humanity. This was about far-away and fantasy. Living in an alternate dimension.
We discussed all the superpowers, debating which ones would be the coolest. X-ray vision. Invisibility. The ability to cling to walls. Which superheroes were the best? What about the Wonder twins? They can take on the form of an eagle or a waterfall. Batman has stealth. Superman has speed. Wonder Woman has a gold lasso. Their special powers make them superheroes but they have other traits in common. They have flaws and fears, obstacles to overcome. They wrestle with their humanity.
My son, hesitant and proud, called me a cyborg last week. I laughed because I kinda am. Part machine – so cool, right? Very superhero! But the truth is I am an ordinary person who is afraid to fail, afraid that I will be crushed by the weight of the unknown. Yet, there is more to me than my fear. I can’t manipulate time or see into the future, but people’s pain doesn’t scare me. I have empathy. That’s something my scars and cyborg-ness have given me. We are more than what’s wrong in our lives.
When I was a kid my fear was that the baseball would reach me in the furthest part of the field. What if I couldn’t catch it? I’d cringe every time I heard the crack of bat against ball. Now the fears are grown-up, bigger, and I can’t outrun them. There are some I can shake off and others that hang on tight. Everyone is confronted with fear. We can’t be fearless, but we can have courage. We can be afraid and try anyway. We can take a deep, wobbly breath and stand up. We get to be the heroes of our stories.
I’m inspired by the heroes I know, in the way they live their lives. My mom has a backbone of steel and loves her grandchildren fiercely. My world is a brighter place because of the generosity of my friends. My friend Anna lost her beautiful boy and somehow manages to find grace in heartbreak and stun us with her strength.
We get tired, sad and lost, and we have the capacity to be kind, compassionate and bold. Possess the character traits of a hero. Armed with our experiences and lessons learned and perspectives, we have stories filled with resolve and depth, bursts of brilliance and color. While I would still love to fly and have superhuman speed to save someone from disaster, being a hero does not have to be about invincibility. It’s about our hearts and minds, the glory of our humanity.
She was still, her hands in her lap. Tears streaked her face as she told me her story about loss and aching sadness, loneliness that met her everywhere she went. The sun didn’t shine for her anymore. Life was too much, hard and hollow. “I’m trying to fight, to have hope. But, I can’t. I don’t know how to do this anymore. My family is gone.”
I had told my story on a stage that evening to hundreds of people. 20 minutes of how my life fell apart and how I picked up the pieces. Afterward men and women made their way to me and shared their stories of fallen pieces. Some spoke haltingly, the words stuck in their throats. Other losses spilled out fast, fast. My sister, my baby, my husband. Blindsided by tragedy. They lifted their heads. They wanted to know. “When did it get better for you?”
I couldn’t give them a definite answer. There wasn’t a timeline. I just knew that one day I began to feel better, lighter. Sorrow didn’t disappear, but joy found me. I could laugh, a body-shaking laugh, and I felt that joy and sorrow could exist together, side by side. I didn’t have an explanation of how or why, only that it was true. One day it wasn’t only about what I had lost, but what I had learned. One day I didn’t wake up and wish I could return to the numbness of sleep and shut out a world I didn’t want to be a part of. One day I made peace with my scars and saw them as a map of what I had fought for and how far I’d come.
As we sat across from each other, one by one, knees to knees, sharing heartache and hope, I told them it is possible to get to the other side where the pain isn’t as wide, so deep. The only way to get there is to go through. You did not ask for what happened, but you are capable. You cannot hear one more person talk about ‘the journey’ without growing nauseous, yet you go on. You fight because your life is worth living. You find strength you didn’t know you had. It surprises you, this strength. You will carry it with you and one day you’ll give your strength to someone who needs it. You hang on because you are loved. Have hope even though you’re afraid. You have days where you are angry, so angry it blurs your vision and crushes your chest, but one day it won’t be anger that fuels you. There is more for you than this. Because you’re not a victim. You’re a survivor.
in my new nephew Brennan! I just want to squeeze him. All the time. This sweet photograph was taken by my friend Lesley.
You know when you’re blah and everything is just off? You’re pretty sure you will never like writing again. When the phone rings you sigh. An email in your inbox is a chore – like mopping the floor chore. Shopping loses its shine. Even chocolate has let you down – yeah, I was doing all of that for a while. After a ho-hum summer, fall has been gracious and I’m breathing deeply again, reviving a flattened self.
I’m thankful for the beauty of the outdoors and I no longer judge the person who puts her dog in a stroller or straps this dog to her body. (Okay, I still judge a little. It’s not a baby!) I found art for the bare walls in my living room and dining room. The basement is cleaned up and organized after the kids shouted at me to HELP! I had promised to help and then I got sidetracked upstairs, trading cleaning for chocolate. Eventually I gave in to the guilt, unable to ignore their cries. And the best part of my rediscovered zeal for life? I’m working on the acknowledgments page of my book which means I get to thank the people who helped me.
Actually, I’ve been done for about 2 weeks. I just can’t hit send. I can’t part with it. It’s one of the last pieces to my story and maybe the piece I enjoyed writing the most. As I sat at my computer, I thought about the journey – the heart in my fingertips beginning, the agony of the middle, and the rush of finally, of the end. Writing and risking. Querying and rejections. Acceptance and contracts. Revisions, revisions. And now. While I applauded the people who supported me, listened to me and made-me-do-it-anyway, I felt grateful, loved and honored.
I’m especially honored by you guys. Honored that you read my blog. Honored by your encouragement. Honored by your belief in me. Beyond honored, I’m humbled. With all my heart, thank you. You’ve helped make this book a reality, a dream come true.
I’m thrilled to be featured at She Knows as one of the top 10 inspirational bloggers. I’m #2! Last week I received this good news from Jessica Watson, the lovely author of the article. I am filled to bursting. Check it out and visit the blogs of these amazing women.
Annie has her hand up, as high as it can go. Pick me. Pick me. It’s her turn to climb the rope, her turn to use the ring, her turn to be thrown into the air. She is always eager, ready, her smile wide.
It’s the end of the acrobatics lesson, time to go. Annie bounds over, tired and beaming. A mom, waiting for her daughter, turns to Annie and says, “You are fearless.”
After I ask Annie if she had fun and we climb into the car the word brave is on my mind. It’s been on my mind for a while, begging for attention. What does being brave mean? I see adventure in the confidence of my daughter; hear strength in a friend’s voice as she confesses what lies in her heart, feel courage as I watch people try something new.
Last year believe followed me everywhere. Daring me as I typed, in my ear as I fell asleep. Riddled with doubt about the direction of my life I rose to the challenge anyway, did my best to believe, and now, now it’s time to be brave. To be afraid and do it anyway. To enter the land of the wide unknown, wind against my face, unable to see the end.
I’ve never been excited to ‘wait and see’. I don’t relish the unexpected unless, of course, it’s a happy surprise. We get sidelined by insecurities, flattened by stress until we can’t see who we are or who we’re going to be. Because we’re still becoming. We don’t get to live our lives fearless, but I wonder if I can face my fears chin-up. To have faith – faith that things will work out, and if they don’t, faith that I’ll get through it. I’m not soaring through the air or landing a back handspring, but I can learn from my daughter. Choose to be brave. Pick me. Be ready. As I try something new.
I posted this photo on FB a while ago, but I just had to post it here. Annie’s ballet recital was the Wizard of Oz and she was a Munchkin. Annie has been my little symbol of bravery this year. Also, I’m ridiculously proud of her.
Looking into the mirror I am quick with my face, my hands. I apply make-up, think about today’s schedule, this month’s calendar of field trips and practices for recitals, and as I add mascara to my eyelashes I catch the green of my eyes, the scar that curves around the right side of my chin, the faint lines around my mouth. I see someone who has lived.
On our way to school, in the car, Annie asks me about Ottawa. “Is Ott-o-wa in Ontario?” Yes, it’s the capital of Canada. I tell Annie and Benjamin how we have nothing to do after school – a day of rest! They cheer! We arrive at school in 2 minutes and they lean into me to peck my lips before they tumble out of the car in a blur of backpacks, jackets and eagerness. Annie is the last one to leave. “Bye, mommy!” There is a moment where I see her. How our eyes are the same shape. Her face is changing, she’s growing older, determination set in her small shoulders. I see someone whose life has just begun.
I come home to a phone call from a family member asking can I talk to this girl who just lost her leg. After I find out what happened, I ask, “How old is she?” 23. The same age as me when my life changed. When I suffered burns and limb loss. When my life was divided into before and after…
To read the rest come over to Kimberly Speranza’s blog Sperk*and her fearless examination of life with two adolescent daughters. She is thoughtful, wise, and truly fearless with her writing and her heart. Seriously, her writing is fantastic. What a delight to be Wednesday’s Woman today where Kim honors woman bloggers! Read the rest of my post here.
Last week I wrote a post on what not to say which led to great advice from so many of you, especially on what to say. So, as promised, what to say and do when someone is given more than they can handle…
When you don’t know what to say these two words go a long way and cover much. When tragedy strikes we can’t make sense of it and you know the person traumatized can’t find sense. We don’t need to define the why of it all. I know a heartfelt I’m sorry meant so much to me.
This is awful
A high school friend came to see me. I hadn’t seen him since he graduated the year before I did. He stood by my hospital bed and cried, wiping his face. “I’m so sorry. This is awful. This shouldn’t have happened. Not to you.”
My friend didn’t know I needed his tears. Everybody came in strong, breath sucked in, and bodies rigid. To have someone let their emotions go unchecked relieved me. This is bad. Please, someone. Tell me this is bad. I was devastated and, for a few seconds, I wasn’t alone.
We don’t need to gush about how awful it is, but stand in someone’s pain with them. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder; ease their burden.
We want to do something, anything to help. We ask, “What can we do?”
While I was in the hospital enduring surgery after surgery my parents stood guard, rarely leaving the concrete walls. They barely ate and couldn’t begin to think about what to eat. So, friends and extended family cooked and baked. They didn’t ask if my parents needed it. They just brought.
As I recovered and slowly got better, an old friend of mine baked me a pie. A pie! I didn’t know he could bake. In a place where there was little delight, this delighted me. I had a feeding tube through my nose supplying me with thick chalky nutrients. Food often nauseated me, especially hospital food, so any outside food thrilled me.
Be specific in your help. Instead of ‘let me know what I can do’, just do. Clean, cook, offer to drive, run errands. Bring me a nightgown! I was so sick of hospital gowns a few people brought me nightgowns and made my new unwanted world better. It’s the little things that can sometimes impact you the most.
My friend Tanya visited me often. Once a week, sometimes more, she drove the hour-long drive to sit with me and when I was able she wheeled me anywhere I wanted to go which was sometimes just to the floor below me. She helped put on my prosthetic legs, pulling and stretching, since I wasn’t strong enough. There wasn’t always a lot of conversation between us. Often I was too tired to speak, so we sat in companionable silence, watching a movie or whatever was on TV. She didn’t come with pat answers, but she did come equipped with homemade cinnamon buns. I loved her for it.
My friend Loraleigh who was there through it all used the precious words sacred ground when commenting on the previous post. Know that when someone is in deep pain and you, with all your heart, want to be there for them remember you are on sacred ground. You are in someone’s hell, their very own hell, one they wake up to and go to sleep with. Listen to them and love them.
I have so much to say on this topic but I fear your eyes will begin to glaze over. (I’ll save it for the book 🙂 )If there is anything you’d like to add, please do. I love reading what you have to say.
When you come from a long line of women who move with bravery and backbone, you’re destined to do the same. Perseverance is your crown. And like the women before me I wear it well. I was born a fighter. My dad said so.
I close my eyes and I breathe. In and out.
Under obligation, through worry and over the unknown I search for that spot inside me where peace resides. The place that tells me I’m going to be fine. No matter the outcome I am here – whole and healthy. My life is good.
While my body rests my mind races. It is dark, the house is still. Outside and over my children is a blanket of stars. The night isn’t enough to quiet me; there is always one more thing. While determination is in my bloodstream rest is foreign to me, to the women before me. If one learns by example then my example is to never stop.
I am crowded, too full to sleep. Thoughts zig-zagging through my brain. Longing for more, always for more, I wonder where I will go, where life will lead. What can I do? Change is everywhere.
I’m on my side, pillow scrunched under my head, hands curled under my chin. I remember holding my babies when they cried; gently patting their small soft backs as I sang lullabies into virgin ears. Soon, soon with long slow blinks, their mouths forming an ‘o’ they surrendered to sleep.
There is a time to fight and this is not the time. I breathe. In and out. I give in to the night. I surrender. To peace. To rest.
In this ballet girl!
Annie is part of a ballet character duo this year and here she is on stage mid-performance as one of the two Dueling Maestros!
I am thrilled to have Kate from The Big Piece of Cake as a guest on my blog today. I can’t even tell you when or how I found Kate’s blog. I just know that when I did I subscribed immediately. I was hooked by her humor, heart, and honesty. I was hooked by her. If you aren’t reading her blog yet you should…you really should. While we haven’t officially met, Kate and I have become friends. What you are about to read is one of my favorite posts. It’s beautiful and heartwarming and makes me think. And that is Kate. I can’t wait to finally meet her in NYC this summer. It’s going to be epic!
Oh, and I’m over at her blog today where she posted one of her favorites from Fancy Feet! Pulled from the archives it’s called Summer and you can read it at The Big Piece of Cake.
Here is Kate’s post…
A few weeks ago when we were at the beach, my mother in law and I packed up the kids to visit one of my friends at her nearby house. She and her sister were staying there with their five children, four of whom were boys.
Once we all found each other, we spent most of our time by the water. We stood sentry watching all of our boys hurl themselves into the surf. And we counted heads in the foam while trying to hold a conversation between exclamations of “don’t throw sand!” and “that’s too far, come back here!”
My boy was right in the middle of this. This sensory overload of wind and water and squishy, grainy sand between his toes. He was in his element – in the elements. He needs to feel things and he needs to immerse himself in the moment without inhibitions. And what better place than the beach?
He also loved being in the middle of all of those boys. They were his people. They understood the joy of throwing wet sand in the air just to feel it splatter all around them. They wanted nothing more than to live in that moment with the waves crashing around them, drowning out the sound of their screams of laughter. They were just like him.
In that moment.
But only in that moment.
They called to each other and knew when to push and when to pull. They knew when to stop and when to start again (obviously when mom was looking the other way). They understood the rules of the game. They both made and discussed the rules. In bits and pieces of course – but still, they communicated. Communication came easily to them.
Communication does not come easily to my boy. He doesn’t know when to stop. He doesn’t know when pushing isn’t welcome. He doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t know how to join. He wants so much to join – to play. But he doesn’t know how. So he just watched.
And I watched him from behind my sunglasses, happy to see him having fun even if it seemed a little lonely. Happy that he couldn’t see the tears welling in my eyes. Happy that my friend couldn’t see the tears either and only heard me talking about doctors and school and how well he’s doing. Because that’s really all I want anyone to see.
When I was a teenager, all of my friends wore sunglasses. but I never did. I didn’t like them. They gave me “raccoon eyes” in the summer and felt out of place with my coats and hats in the winter. Not to mention the fact that they never did look good on me. Back then it was always about how I looked.
Now I’m the one doing the looking. I don’t care as much about how I look. Sunglasses will never compliment my face with its long, slightly crooked nose – but I need them to see my children through the glare. I need them to see the road when I’m driving on a sunny day. I need them to be responsible. So I wear them. And I’ve found that they are pretty useful. They allow me to be the observer and they can hide what I don’t want people to see.
I also wear my sunglasses at the neighborhood pool where I take my children most late afternoons. After the twins wake up from their nap, I load up all of our towels and waters and changes of clothes and snacks and push the double stroller uphill, calling for Oliver to wait for me at the corner. Which he always does – but I ask him to anyway, just in case.
When we arrive, we head straight for the baby pool. At two, the twins are still too little to stand in the shallow end of the big pool like their four year old brother. This suits me just fine since Oliver is still young enough to be satisfied with the baby pool and I can sit with a magazine while they play. Or at least I can for a few minutes at a time, since I frequently have to administer warnings and time outs for bad behavior.
One thing I like about this time of day is that the pool tends to be rather deserted. More accomplished mothers are thinking about cooking family dinners at 5 p.m. My children will only eat kid food and my husband and I don’t usually have formal meals together due to all of the corralling required before their late, but “works best for them” bedtime between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. When no other families are at the pool, only our own rules apply.
If Oliver is splashing, I can ignore it. That is, as long as his siblings don’t mind. And they often join in. If Oliver is being too rough and pushing them as part of some inexplicable game of his, I can just watch and see how it goes. I don’t need to stand or look alert as a show for the other parents. I can see just fine from my shady seat. My sunglasses cut the glare. Everything is crystal clear and I know exactly when to step in and when to let them work it out.
But more often than not we arrive at the tail end of another family’s pool time. And I have to stand and administer twice as many time outs as I would if we were alone. I have to find ways to tell the other mothers that Oliver has a hard time knowing when to stop. In Oliver’s mind, if another child seems to like being splashed at from across the pool, why wouldn’t they like it at closer range? And at that point, why not cut out the middle man and just shove them back into the water? Sounds fun to him!
So I can spend an hour having the same one-sided conversation with him over and over. Telling him to stop. Asking him to be gentle. Pleading with him to listen.
He wants to comply. I know he does. He wants to please me and he wants to please these desired friends (he has the makings of “a pleaser” – something else that worries me – but that’s another concern for another day). He wants to get it right. He just doesn’t know how.
I always keep my sunglasses on when we’re at the pool.
The other day, a few kids a year or two older than Oliver were in the baby pool during adult swim (everyone seems to call it “break” now – is “adult swim” no longer PC or something?) Anyway – they were being rowdy and Oliver was thrilled. They were pulling out the hose that was supposed to be filling the pool with more water. They were spraying each other with it and splashing and eventually ran to get their water guns.
As they stood there spraying each other and yelling unintelligible things about Star Wars, a movie that I doubt any of them has actually seen, Oliver decided to join in.
It didn’t work. He didn’t know the rules.
He splashed around in the middle of them when no one was splashing. They asked him to stop, but he didn’t understand. If they were shooting water at each other, then why wouldn’t splashing be allowed? A younger sister in the group, exactly Oliver’s age, explained, “we’re playing Star Wars now – you can play Star Wars too, but you can’t play with us if you keep splashing.”
So of course I had to intervene.
At this point, I didn’t think I had ever said, heard and thought the word “splash” so many times within the space of five minutes. It had completely lost all meaning and was just a rude noise that made me feel decidedly uncomfortable. It was an expletive. A swear word. I wanted it to not exist anymore. I was done with it.
But Oliver wasn’t. He didn’t understand, and I had to pull him aside. No time out though. How could I when he had only the best of intentions? Instead I offered to drag him around the other side of the pool. Something he loves and I hate. He loves the feeling of the water rushing all around him from head to toe. I hate the feeling of hunching over to pull a 60 lb. four year old from one end of the baby pool to the other.
Meanwhile Star Wars continued, Oliver still didn’t understand what was wrong with “splashing” (excuse my French) and I hid behind my sunglasses.
And I made plans.
Apparently shooting water at each other is generally okay at the pool. Or if it isn’t, it’s not unusual for kids to not know when to stop. Quite simply – it’s not weird.
So while I pulled Oliver around the pool, I made plans to take the kids gun shopping the next day. We didn’t own any water guns, but we would soon own an arsenal.
Oliver could learn to shoot a water gun. And the next time there was a game of Star Wars at the pool, we’d be ready. You don’t need to have good communication skills to play shooting games.
I never thought I’d like sunglasses. And I never thought I’d encourage my children to play with toy guns. But I guess I never thought I’d be doing a lot of things.
I have a friend who also has a son with special needs. His are very different from Oliver’s but there are so many parallels to our lives… I love this girl. She speaks my language. The language of mother grief. Of future worry. She worries that her son will wear all black and write dark poetry about death and Japanese anime. I worry that Oliver will be Tommy Boy. We have to laugh. It’s necessary – and we both understand this.
It’s nice to be understood. And that’s probably what most breaks my heart about Oliver. No one really understands him. So I’ll give him a water gun if that helps. And I’ll laugh, and I’ll hope. And I’ll always wear my sunglasses. Just in case.
I should have prefaced my previous post with from the past. (I did change it a couple of days ago.) 2 years ago I was wrestling with writing my story. Even though I had been giving speeches I was terrified of spending time in dark places to tell my story beyond 30 minutes. Now I’m all in.
Near the beginning of a speech and toward the end I say this: Everyone has a story. This is mine. What are you going to do with your story? Your life?
Each of us has something in our lives we need to be true to; whether it’s to stay the course knowing this is exactly where you’re supposed to be or to pursue another direction or to uncover a path you didn’t know existed like finding a secret door to a secret garden where wonder and delight flourish (my childhood wish). Whatever the choice is, it’s about creating meaning in our lives. Not merely existing. Not giving up. Being true. Meaning can be found everywhere.
We live as story – as a work of art with many parts, colors, and layers. A significant word in the top corner, a ray of sun to the left, poetry to sum up your soul, a stormy cloud that threatens, roots that run deep into the earth. Parts of your story haven’t made it to the page, yet to be discovered and explored.
My story isn’t only about recovery after a devastating car crash, but about my childhood, my marriage, parenting, the wacky things my kids do that make me gasp and laugh sometimes all at once. (Oh, the day I had yesterday.) Friendships that enrich my life. Obligations I must meet. Being compassionate. Still, there is more. Destiny that begs to be drawn.
And I want meaning in it. I demand it.
Sometimes we can’t control the circumstances in our lives, but we can choose how we’ll respond. A part of life slammed into me, undid me and emptiness stalked me while I sought my version of whole. Finances continue to make me batty and I can’t chase every dark cloud away, but I can choose well and reach meaning.
While we fill in our stories and attempt to make pieces fit as others slip through our fingers, through our stories we get to help people. The meaning in our lives can be in front of us, beside us. It can be simple. Sometimes it’s picking up a friend’s child for school to help them out, buying someone a cup of coffee, being good to your spouse, teaching our kids about compassion, and noticing others. Sharing grief. Going out of our way, we let people know they’re not alone. Our stories cross and intertwine.
Your story, your life is never done with you. It’s always moving, shifting and you’ll want to be in it – right smack in the middle. So you can’t miss it. With all the cost and risk. With all the sadness, delight and wonder. With all that you have to offer. Living your story is worth it.
Now for something frivolous and fun, and meaning can definitely be found in fun…this sweet store is one of my favorite places to shop. From clothes to belts to jewelry it is all things lovely as the ladies that work at Barefoot Contessa will tell you.