Re-thinking the Skydiving Mindset

This essay was published by Holstee's Mindful Matter blog. I'm so grateful for their support - this is my third piece they've published.

During my younger sister's senior year of college I planned for an epic graduation gift. I worked a second job outside of my 9-5 for months for the sole purpose of building her gift fund. We were in our early twenties, with what seemed like the entirety of our lives before us. I wanted something memorable, something to kickstart our adult lives. On a bright summer morning we took off on the extreme adventure which was her gift: skydiving.

To be sure, the experience lived up to the hype. Simply sitting in the rickety vehicle they called a plane was enough to get my adrenaline flowing. It was a thrilling, once in a lifetime experience. It was worth every bit of time, energy and money that was poured into it. 

We often have a skydiving mindset when we seek new experiences. We have visions of ziplining above the rainforest in Costa Rica or white water rafting down the Colorado River. While there is certainly a place for those adrenaline pumping events, I've learned you don't have to get a second job to foster the sense of adventure that many of us seek as an escape from the everyday. Although the carefree, untethered 20-something still lives inside me, here are some lessons I'm learning in the years since jumping out of a plane.

Embrace your personal sense of adventure. If you find a thrill in scoping out a new restaurant in town or achieving your goal of running a mile for the first time, revel in it. Soak in the experience, feel it with all of your senses. We don't have to travel to a foreign land to find excitement. People have different views of what qualifies as adventure. Don't apologize for your own.

Cultivate adventure in the everyday. Figure out what excites you and find a way to bring it into your life. Maybe it's trying a new recipe from an exotic cookbook every Tuesday night or taking an online photography class. The anticipation and planning alone can improve your mood. Science has shown that anticipating an experience can bring us more happiness than awaiting the purchase of a new possession.

Surround yourself with adventurous friends. If you are anything like me, seeking new experiences can sometimes feel like another to do on your growing list. That's where adventurous friends come in. These are the ones who invite you last minute to a weekend getaway just because it sounds fun. Get out of your own way and go along with the plan, especially if you aren't the one doing the planning. 

Follow the ease. We set off on our travels with high spirits and hopes. Then, when things don't go according to our schedule we feel frustrated and disappointed. Trying looking at what is working instead of what's not. Some of the most cherished moments happen when we drop our agenda and lean into the ease. 

 

Re-write your story 101 video

I made a video! As I start thinking about next steps with my business (a class, perhaps!) I want you to get a sense of who I am and how I teach. In this video I give 3 steps to re-write the story that is weighing you down and a real life example I'm currently working on. Plus, bonus!, how this stuff actually works and shows up in your life.

Thank you Abby Wambach

I spend a lot of time with my kids in the public library. As an avid reader it's always been a place I feel at home. I can remember the library of my childhood; an old building with squeaky wood floors. My memories of the the adult section convey a dimly lit room with actual lamps and an old wingback chair covered in velour fabric. I still get a thrill walking out the doors of the library with a new book in hand.

I've enjoyed experiencing the library through my kids' eyes. My daughter, recently emboldened with a library card of her own, does something I have never done and have avoided like the plague. She enters the library and heads straight for the help desk. Sometimes I follow behind and other times I go hide in the stacks. She tells the librarian what she's looking for, graphic novels being the current favorite, and off they go, on a quest to find a new book. We've discovered wonderful new authors and series using this method of actually talking to a person, (imagine that!), at the library. 

So, when faced with a complexity in my own life, I frequently turn to books. Over time I've learned that I often stand to gain more from fiction and memoir than from instructional how-to's that promise to get your baby to sleep and harness your strong-willed child. 

We all need strategies to help us cope and one that has been so useful to me (and free to everyone with a library card!) has been books. Often I'll be reading along and happen upon a sentence that resonates so deeply it'll jolt me out of my heavy-lidded almost asleep state. That's it exactly, I think to myself. You read my mind. And all of a sudden I am less isolated in my experience. Here are some of those words.

Forward by Abby Wambach. This conversation between kid Abby and her mom could have been spoken between my daughter and me.  

"Abby, " she says, "you scored a lot of goals today. Don't you think it's important that your teammates become part of it?" I look up at her, confused, and ask, "Isn't the whole point to score goals?" She thinks on that for a moment and admits, "It is." "Well, I am the best one to do that. So if that's the whole point, I don't see the problem."

Devotion by Dani Shapiro. Oh, I love all of Dani's work so, but in Devotion I felt like she was literally walking inside of my brain and teaching me more about the why behind Orchid Story. 

Yogis use a beautiful Sanskrit word, samskara, to describe knots of energy that are locked in the hips, the heart, the jaw, the lungs. Each knot tells a story - a narrative rich with emotional detail. Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world. 

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. A gorgeous and heart-wrenching journey of friendship and addiction. This passage strikes right in my heart to all the times I've frantically grasped for control in the midst of uncertainty. My eyes well up every time I read the last line. 

I wouldn't give Lucy money anymore, but I'd buy her things or send an emergency rent check directly to her landlord. After we talked for an hour, I went online and bought her everything I could think of: pot holders and vegetable peelers and plates and pans... I bought her Tupperware. It was my own special brand of insanity that made me think the trials of Lucy's life could somehow be eased by the order of Tupperware. 

 

 

It's Time to Fly

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its time to fly

Lead with Empathy

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Do you have a phrase about telling our stories that you want to see hand lettered? Let me know! 

You do not have permission to yell at my kid.

The last day of the week-long summer day camp. The day when the parents are asked to come in for: "An opportunity to see what we've been busy doing this week and celebrate with your child!" Aren't we paying copious amounts of money for this camp precisely because we need someone to care for them while we are working? And that missing an afternoon of work completely defeats the purpose? So, maybe I arrived with my feathers already up. I will say that.

The campers and parents are sitting around tables while the director calls out each child's name to come to the front. There are withering mounds of snacks and a musty, unpleasant smell in the air. The kids, ages 6-12ish, are restless and hot because it seems the air conditioner is not really working. My own camper is melting before my eyes. Her back is on the chair, arms flailed off to one side, legs to the other, backbend-esque. And she's kicking me. Not in an I want to hurt you way, but more in the I'm about to lose it and if I engage in some repetitive behavior that also forces mom to pay attention to me maybe I won't

This part of my life as a mother, this out in public with a child that's not behaving how everyone around her wants her to behave, has held some pretty painful moments. They've been some of my biggest parenting aha's. It takes every. single. ounce. of my self-control to not start screaming at my child to just do what I'm asking you to do and behave like every other kid in this room. But, most of the time and especially when I've had coffee and good sleep, I've trained myself away from doing just that. And when I say trained myself, I mean it's as if I've never walked across a balance beam and somehow came up with the goal of mastering the backflip on those four inches: it's taken years and endless piles of parenting books and a good therapist and many, many scenarios like these that did not end well. 

Another mom decides she can't possibly take it anymore, my methods are ineffective and she needs to intervene. "You need to sit up, stop kicking and start listening to your mother."

My heart skips a beat and every hair on my arms stands up straight. Simply because you are a mother does not qualify you to understand what is going on here. Simply being a mother does not give you permission to parent other people's kids. 

So often we don't know the struggles that other people face. Just like I don't fully understand lots of parenting experiences, many parents don't understand my child. Be mindful and lead with empathy. Our words can be knives that carve deep wounds into the hearts of others. 

Three Reasons to Reveal Your Personal Story

1. Gain a sense of closure

When you are able to sift through your tough experiences and weave together a story with a sense of completion you become released from the emotional grip that the experience held over you. 

2. Free up space in your mind

Gaining closure and moving on provides space for new things. New experiences, new energy, new joy. You need more of that.

3. Increase resilience

This process of creating your story reminds you that you can overcome tough times. You can get through it. This idea of bouncing back is called resilience. The more resilient you are, the more content you are with your life. Sounds good, right?

Ready to tell your story? Let's get to it!

This old fridge door

You're still here, seven years later

Would've thought you'd be replaced by now

By one of those gleaming stainless steel guys

The one with the water dispenser I use with envy at my friend's

But here you are

Nondescript and how old I wonder?

You have stories of your own from back before my family invaded your space

And now you hold mine, proudly displayed on your chest

My cheering squad, my Reason

My belief that love remains, light remains always

Nieces and nephews, weddings and godchildren, sons and daughters

My promise to four beautiful souls - I will not forget you

I will carry your love, your goodness in my heart

This old fridge door is the shoelace tied around my finger

I will not forget you

I will not take this day, this moment for granted

But of course you see that I do

The hundreds of time you are opened and closed without a second glance

But I know you forgive me, you let it slide by 

Knowing I will come back around, when fear strikes deep

When I worry that another soul will be added

Because it will happen, because this is life

You remind me, there is always love

You can rewrite your story.

Think about a story you frequently share or mull over in your head. Chances are your telling of the story has changed over time. We rewrite our histories to fit the stories of our lives. We do what social scientists call "autobiographical reasoning" to tell our stories. We identify the lessons learned, we decide which pieces of the story are important to keep in and which we leave out. This is important stuff, it helps shape our identity. Here's an example from me.

I studied obsessively in high school. My dad got his PhD from Yale and he had high expectations for me. He'd check out my report card and highlight the one B+ in a sea of A's. I put the pressure on myself too, studying constantly and in the most unlikely of places: in the foam pit at the end of gymnastics practice, sitting in the bleachers "watching" my boyfriend's hockey game, even in the bathtub (I don't recommend that option - I dropped my AP American History book in and had to pay for it). My reward for studying this intensively would be to go to an Ivy League school and compete on their gymnastics team. I would make this happen out of sheer will and effort.

Senior year rolled around and I set my sights on Brown University. I was asked to attend a recruiting trip with the gymnastics team and I felt right at home on the campus. My grand plan was coming together beautifully. 

Except that it didn't. The letter came in the mail telling me I was waitlisted at Brown. I crept into the basement of my parent's house and cried for hours. I was a failure. I couldn't hack it. Of course I wasn't Ivy League material, who did I think I was? And the worst: I was a disappointment to my dad.

For months that was the story I told myself. But gradually things shifted, I landed at James Madison University (JMU) and fell in love with everything about it. Here's how I tell the end of the story now:

Except that it didn't. I was waitlisted at Brown and didn't get in. While devastating, I shifted and set my sights on JMU where I knew I would have the opportunity to compete and be challenged academically. My college experience exceeded my every expectation, landed me a terrific job when I graduated, and eventually led me to my husband. We met downtown in Washington DC, a place I can't imagine I would've been living in had I attended college in New England. 

This is a simplified version, but you get the idea. I bet you have stories like this in your life too. It's helpful for us to reexamine them, turn the pieces around and figure out what you learned about yourself in the process. Stories of contamination (my first version where I tell myself I'm a failure) have been shown to negatively affect mental health whereas stories of redemption (second version where I pick up my bootstraps) may be linked to greater well-being. 

The Love and Loss Sandwich

Tuesday February 7, 2012 I was downtown in DC walking back to my office from a lunchtime errand. It was a beautiful mid-winter day, the sun was shining with mild temperatures and I remember a little skip in my step. Then, my phone rang. It was a doctor I had never met. My dad had suffered a massive stroke. His second within one week. It was unlikely he was going to survive.  

At some point that day I know I went to my house to pack. Before I got in the car to drive north I placed a card on my husband Curt's pillow. I wouldn't see him for his birthday the following day. My brother-in-law drove my sister and I up to NY that night. I left my husband with our two small kids, ages 3 and 1.

Three days later, at my parent's house. My family is together again. My dad's funeral is the following morning and I'm giving the eulogy so I'm trying to get myself to bed.  I remember Curt coming up to hug me and saying "John died". It was dark in the house and quiet. I remember him being on the phone and making calls to try to figure out what was going on with John, his childhood best friend of over 20 years. I remember feeling utterly confused, defeated, and saying "No, no, no". 


Five years later, we are still recovering and grieving from those events. You can imagine how many people continue to be affected by what happened. That week came shortly after my son had turned one - a year that was filled with uncertainty and, frankly, terror, about his congenital heart disease. We didn't recognize the lives we were living. Our world had completely changed. I believe that each of us in my little family; myself, Curt, and both of our kids, continue to feel the effect of that week on our collective psyches. Those events continue to influence decisions we make almost daily. "What would John do" has become our family credo. 

In the years since then, after the holidays are over, I can feel this week approaching deep inside of me. I still don't know exactly how I should feel or what I should be doing during this week. But I think that is one of the biggest lessons that I've learned so far: there is no "should" in grief. There is no place for "should" in the way you remember a lost loved one or don't. Acknowledging and truly giving yourself the space to accept that there is no right or wrong can be very impactful. We have to go easy on ourselves.

You may have noticed that in between these two deaths that rocked our world lies my husband's birthday. This is meaningful. This forces us to celebrate life in a week where I would maybe prefer not to. If you have kids you know that birthdays are huge and have to be celebrated to the fullest. And so that's what we do. 

This year I decided to take Curt and the kids to a professional hockey game to celebrate. It was the first one for the kids. The anniversary week was a tough one, but on Saturday night we drove into the city for the game. The kids were in heaven. My daughter took to screeching at the top of her lungs, causing most of us seated around her to go temporarily tone deaf, but sure enough the 20-something guy in front of us was high fiving her halfway through the second period. We came back to our seats after a break for treats and a woman seated nearby, surely a season ticket holder, handed each of my kids a 15 inch stuffed Capitals mascot. I was blown away. Generosity abound in the nosebleed seats. 

It was the type of in-your-face gesture I needed that week to wake up to the good right in front of me. As hard as it might be to celebrate in between the anniversaries of the deaths of two dearly loved ones, I'm choosing to see it as a opportunity to challenge myself to find the joy that's asking to be seen around me.

Remote

Dedicated to my dear friend Kristin in memory of her son Matthew.


My headphone wasn't working so I found myself yelling at my phone alone in the car. It was Maryland and the last thing I needed was a ticket. I hadn't really wanted to call my mom, but knew she would be upset if I didn't tell her about my trip. 

But you've never met her before, right?

I could feel my blood pressure mounting, my chest getting hot.

Are you sure you should go? It's such a long drive and I'm worried about the weather.

A baby had died. Wasn't it always worth the trip? 

But, as I hung up and flung the headphone across the seat, I acknowledged that my mom was right. I had never met her before. In person, that is.  

It was in the midst of a months long hire spree when we first interviewed Kristin. What I can recall most is that she was upbeat with an energy that shot right through your earpiece to announce I'll be a great addition to the team! She was hired in no time and I was assigned to be her trainer. 

Only our manager worked in an actual office building with cubicles and a water cooler. The rest of us fanned out around her, little chickens to our mother hen, spread throughout this country and Canada, sitting at tables in our home offices, guest bedrooms or kitchens. 

Kristin and I hit it off from the start. To be clear, she would have hit it off with the lowliest slug of office life, because that's just who she is. We became fast friends and colleagues, always willing to extend each other a hand for work and connecting about family life when we could. With only a virtual office space, it was sometimes challenging to build personal relationships, but ours came easy. 

Kristin was pregnant with baby #4 when we started working together. As the consistently overwhelmed mother of two, I was in a constant state of wonder when I pondered her growing family, successful career, and world-traveling husband. I came to understand that she makes it look effortless because she truly adores being a mother and revels in her role. 

Not too long after we started working together, Kristin learned that the baby she was carrying would be born with serious health complications. I remember scrolling through my Blackberry as we drove home from a family beach trip, skipping past all the actual work to pinpoint the ultrasound update she had promised to send me. I never found it because she didn't send it. A familiar sinking feeling developed in my stomach as I realized what that meant: not good news.

From right around that time I started believing that a force bigger than both Kris and myself had brought us together. Becoming labeled as a high risk pregnancy and facing the reality that the baby you are carrying may not survive was something I had experienced just a few years before I met Kristin. The first few weeks after my son's in utero diagnosis were some of the loneliest of my life. I felt honored and compelled to figure out how to be there for Kristin as she navigated that time.

Adorable baby Matthew was born after an extremely eventful delivery on September 18, 2014. He faced many pokes, prods and procedures during his first few months but seemed to be making progress. Kristin essentially moved into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), setting up office and take conference calls from the family waiting area on the floor. Just imagine this for a moment - your tiny, medically frail baby in the NICU with no real idea of his future, three (three!) other children at home, and working mostly full time at your baby's bedside.  She did this all with the beautiful grace that is singular to and defining of Kristin.

We were in close contact during these months. We still hadn't met in person as we live eight hours apart. We mostly texted - she sent me details that only a person with a medical background could understand. I would read them, cry, and text back. I had no words so I said the same things over and over again. l send my love. I am here for you. I am praying for you. I saw scariness and unknowns. She saw small steps forward and blessings everywhere. 

In December Matthew underwent a surgery that his family hoped would be his ticket home for the new year. But instead of moving him forward on that path the surgery seemed to send him on a new one altogether. Things were bleak. When that terrible acronym, ECMO (a form of life support), came across on a text from Kristin I knew that we may be nearing the end.

Matthew died on January 14, 2015.

On my son's 4th birthday.

The day of the funeral I walked into the church with my colleague and a little note of apprehension in my chest. I hope she doesn't think I'm some stranger seeing her on one of the most vulnerable days of her life. But the moment she saw us she smiled in recognition. The first thing I said to her was: You are so much taller than I expected!

This story I'm sharing is not meant to be Matthew's story or the story of my friend's grief. Those aren't my stories to tell.

This is the story of a friendship. It's the story of two paths crossing at a very particular time. It's the story of noticing; choosing to see the connections between us and believing that we were brought together to serve a purpose to each other.

I've moved on to a new job. Kristin and I communicate much less often. She is bringing communities together for fellowship and fundraising in memory of her son. She's doing amazing things and infusing her spirit into the world. Her message - to love and embrace life - will always stay with me.  

Believe

Choosing a word of intention for your year is something I came across when I first dove head first into learning about self-reflection. The idea sounded a little woo woo, but last year I decided to try it. My word was fun. Nothing fancy. Simply fun.

I found that it guided many of my choices. It was a factor in signing up for the ah-mazing online business course I took this past year. As in I have no clue where this will lead me, but it sounds like so much fun! The result was this website and my growing business.

But 2017 was barreling towards me with no new word in sight. On December 30 I found myself in the middle of Manhattan. Fresh out of my first ever witnessing of the Rockettes (let's get last minute tickets because, well, fun!) I was getting jostled by the holiday crowds and focusing on keeping the kids right beside me. I happened to glance up and saw the Believe sign on the side of the Macy's building.

What a sign (pun intended)! That was it; my 2017 word of the year. Believe

Believe in myself. That when I fall down (I always do) I can figure out how to get myself back up.

Believe in my kids. That they are goodness and light. 

Believe in the capacity of others. That being everything to everyone is not helpful (nor possible) for myself or for those who love me. 

Believe in the grace of the universe. That even when I can't see a way out of the darkness, the light will eventually come. 

Happy 2017 - I'd love to hear your intention for the new year!

The Last Christmas

If holidays are about traditions, one thing's clear; Christmas will be celebrated at my parents' house. I have spent only two (of 37!) Christmases elsewhere. I was raised in small town Western NY where trees lining Center Street twinkled with lights and the empty lot down the road was frozen over for ice skating during winter months. As in, someone filled it with a garden hose and the neighborhood kids walked over, lacing up their hockey skates. So far north that you can see Canada at the end of the street and snow was almost a given on Halloween. Idyllic? Not always, but generally speaking, yes. 

This house is my childhood. Where my dad played Neil Diamond on the record player and my mom ate a cookie for breakfast every morning. Where my little sister slept with me in my bed for years because I didn't like to sleep alone. Then later where I kicked an actual hole through her bedroom door during a fight (about She-Ra? Barbies?). 

The house we gathered in the morning of my wedding. Where all four of my parents' grandkids will have spent their first Christmases. Where my dad was when he suffered the stroke that killed him. Where I slept with my mom the day he died. They weren't all good times, for sure. But they are all ours. Our history is this house. 

How do you say goodbye to your history? This will be our last Christmas in our childhood home. The For Sale sign goes up March 1. Sure, those memories live inside of me and don't simply disappear. But there is something about walking into this house that evokes such strong images, scents, sounds. Despite all the times of struggle, I feel such love emanating from those walls. I feel a deep sadness that I will no longer walk in through the front hall and picture my dad sitting the family room, getting up to give me one of his bear hugs.

A new stocking will be hung this year, before the boxes are packed, for the newest addition to our family, my beautiful 6 month old niece. I'm a person who tends to experience losses more significantly than joys, but I'm hell bent on soaking up this last Christmas for all the imperfection that it will be.

So this is my love letter/goodbye to, as Miranda Lambert calls it, The House that Built Me.

The shifts of time

We've religiously brought our son with congenital heart disease (CHD) to the cardiologist in regular intervals for the six years he's been alive (seven if you count the year he was in my belly when the whole thing started). It's become a ritual. For the first several years they could never get an accurate blood pressure on him and it would take several tries of torturing a baby, then later, a toddler, with that awful squeeze. Is it so important today? we would ask. And why such an archaic method; surely someone has invented an easier way to get a blood pressure on a squirmy, red-faced two year old?

But the worst part of these visits, the dark well of Griffin's condition, is the uncertainty. (I've written about that previously). His medical team was quite convinced he would need open heart surgery within the first year of his life. Every time an appointment approached I convinced myself it was time. And every visit that first year ended in, Let's wait another 1 or 2 (any random number??) months and check him again. This scenario has played out now over six years. He has not yet had the surgery we know is someday coming. 

So it seems, time really does go by. Kids grow. Parents say little excruciating goodbyes: goodbye to tiny onesies, goodbye to crawling, goodbye to early childhood as they hop on the bus the first day of kindergarten. 

This fall when our cardiology appointment approached, Griffin asked us about it before we mentioned it to him. When is it time to see the doctor who puts the jelly on my chest? It made me pause.  He's recognizing the importance of this in his life. On the day of the appointment he looked curiously at the monitor during his echocardiogram. Is that my heart? What is that color? What is that noise? He engaged in a conversation with our doctor about blue (de-oxygenated) and red (oxygenated) blood. She told us to come back in six months and he counted out when we should make the appointment.

I felt a real shift in me that morning. Griffin is beginning to take ownership of his heart condition. I've wanted to protect him from the uncertainty and anxiety I've always felt surrounding it, but I'm realizing that we have been in this together since he was an 18 week old peanut in my belly. And he's showing me there doesn't have to be so much angst tied up in his CHD. This is his normal.

After seven years I am finally starting to peek through my CHD armor. To talk about Griffin's heart without saying, but he will need multiple surgeries throughout his life and we have no idea when we might have to pack up and leave home for a long hospital stay. I am trying to breathe into, he is doing great and there were no major changes at his last visit.

Time and perspective have allowed me this shift. We all have BIG, HARD stories in our lives. Can you open yourself to a different perspective, a new chapter in your story? 

What are your two words?

I have been feeling off balance in recent weeks. Many of us have. I have realized that some of the things I've said surrounding this election caused my kids to worry and to feel scared. I have been floundering around searching for the right words to use and mostly feeling like I can't find them. 

When my dad died suddenly four years ago my daughter was three. She was and is a kid that soaks in all the emotions of the people around her. It was very clear she knew immediately that something was not right. I felt so strongly that we needed to convey the truth to her about her Papa. No matter how hard it was for us to do that. My sister helped me come up with a phrase that we repeated over and over again: Papa got very sick and then he died. We showed her the Sesame Street clip where Big Bird talks candidly about Mr. Hooper's death. We have talked openly about death almost every day since then and she has had many, many challenging questions for which we attempt a response. 

I don't know of a Sesame Street video that can help us convey our country's current situation. But I do know that there are two core values we uphold as a priority in my home. They are kindness and respect. These days, when I don't know what to say, I fall back on these values. It's almost become a mantra for me. Kindness and respect, kindness and respect. I know I sound like a broken record to my family, but this is the best I can do right now. I will always trust kindness and respect.

We attended our Interfaith gathering last weekend and I was happily surprised to hear our Rabbi asking us to think about two ideals which we hold dear that we could use as a peaceful meditation during these difficult days. I heard members of our community sharing "love and justice", "compassion and peace", "action and equality". My daughter and I shared a look and a smile spread across both of our faces. I raised my hand to share. You guessed it. Kindness and respect.

 

A Cup of Grace

This essay was published in the November issue of Holstee's Mindful Matter

There was a crispness in the air as I plunked down on my neighbor's driveway. It was twilight of a beautiful early fall evening. The first day of the new season that we had put on our sweaters to go outside. My son and my neighbor's son, both recently minted kindergarteners, were running and laughing and pulled out a big bottle of bubbles. My job sitting there was to keep the bubbles from toppling over and to watch for cars as they ran screaming into the cul-de-sac for their bubble popping game. 

I sat on the hard, chilly cement, letting the boys' laughter wash over me. I told myself to breathe, to listen to the sound of their voices. To be in the moment. I was glad to be out of the four walls of my house for a bit. It had been a long day, a day in which I was mostly stuck in my head contemplating and lamenting my changing relationship with my aging parent. We had several big, looming decisions to make that would significantly impact her life (and mine). I needed some air.

My neighbor, mom to my son's playmate, a lovely Cambodian woman with gorgeous, long, jet black hair and the warmest eyes you've seen was suddenly at my side. She was crouched down holding a steaming turquoise, ceramic mug. She held it out to me and I grasped the mug in both hands and let the heat warm them for a moment. I put the mug to my nose and soaked in the sweetness of the honey and tangerine. Then, I took a sip. The warmth, the sugary syrup, the pulp of actual tangerine, it filled me like a warm hug. As if my friend had given me a special elixir for my worry. What was this stuff? For the next ten minutes I relished every sip of that tea. I could smile with ease at the boys' game and the cloud of uncertainties fogging up my mind was lifted. It was such a gift, this cup of tea from my dear neighbor. 

Life doesn't slow down when big things happen to us. It seems as we get older, those big hard things just keep happening faster and more frequently. The daily small acts of kindness we give to each other are our fuel to keep us going. It was just a cup of tea, but it was really so much more. 

 

Searching for Light

Turns out we need to actively search for light. In the thick of it. 

There was a time when I was pregnant with my son where a darkness washed over me. I wasn't myself, but I didn't know where my normal self had gone. It was like wearing sunglasses 24/7. I didn't see the everyday beauty around me. I didn't notice the brisk fall day with the leaves changing into bright colors.

It hit me worst when we were out. One evening we took our daughter, age 1 at the time, out for dinner. The hostess sat us next to a family of six. Four children; pre-teens and teens. The girls had shining, long blond hair flowing down their backs and the boys had clear skin and confidence. They looked like a page ripped from a magazine and I imagined they came from picture perfect home with soaring ceilings and a gleaming kitchen. The contempt I felt for that family just flowed out of me. It was so powerful that it felt like the air around me would turn into a black cloud. One glance at them and my eyes filled with tears, but I kept looking back, like a car accident you know you shouldn't be seeing. 

The universe seemed to be mocking me. I felt like a solo line dodge player with The World on the other side of the line, pummeling balls at me. I remember the details of that restaurant as vividly as I remember the details of the pediatric cardiologist telling us that our son may not survive to term.

When our world changes like this, nothing is the same as it was. But the world goes on spinning around us despite it being confusing and bewildering. Eventually, the tint on my sunglasses lightened up a bit, but never went back to the way things were before.

Sharing my stories helps me adapt them into my life. And to gain much needed space. I believe this to be true for all of us. Listen to my own audio recording and consider whether this is something that might help you adapt too. I would love the chance to hear your story.

The Taste of Memories

"What's for dinner?" I asked my mom this question every night as a kid. I was obsessed with her cooking. As I got older I would get home from school, make myself a quick dinner of english muffin pizza before I headed off to my four hour gymnastics practice. Afterwards, when I got home at 9:30pm, exhausted and sore, I would eat a second dinner of whatever Mom had made that night. It filled me up like nothing else could.

These are the things I think of now, as a working mom of two, just like she was. When I feel burdened by all of it I try to conjure up the image of her in the kitchen of my childhood home, buzzing about with the delicious aroma of homemade stuffed peppers filling the house.

I have an old, falling apart folder filled with many of her recipes, some of which have my dad's fax number on top - which means he brought these recipes to work and snuck in a quick personal fax so that I could get my hands on the Tropical Spinach Salad with Grilled Shrimp recipe. Always an intense rule follower, this little act of insubordination on my dad's part makes me smile.

I look at the date on that particular fax: 2006. Only ten years, but it seems so, so long ago. A dream almost. There are no more recipes faxed from Dad, as he died almost five years ago. And Mom's health has changed so significantly that she would not be physically able to write "Bridal Shower Dish!" today as she did on the page of that salad recipe ten years ago. Mom isn't able to cook anymore, either, which is heartbreaking for her and me both. Mom's cooking was a true and pure expression of her love. Lucky for me, I inherited this gift, the joy found in cooking and sharing, from her.

The Dance

It's 94 degrees, smack dab in the middle of hot, sticky summer in the Mid-Atlantic. I just arrived at the pool. Blue water, splashing, laughter. The epitome of summer and where I've been spending my every day 5-9. My son is at my side, mommy, mommy, mommy. He's not swimming solo yet and so we are attached at the pool; my petite little shadow. But before we get in I need to find his sister, dropped off an hour before for practice. They are 22 months apart, but at times it feels like 5 years.

First attempt to locate her is the vision scan: beach area, slide, diving well, swings. Nope. A tiny note of concern rises in my chest. Just a niggle. Next attempt, take a walk. This upsets my shadow. No mommy, I want to get in NOW. We walk, him begrudgingly with his signature scowl. We circle and circle. There are so many brunettes, but not mine. It's been 10 minutes since I arrived. The niggle grows. The wave in my chest, the spot from which all my anxiety grows, is more urgent. My shadow has gone from being irked to full tears while tugging at my hand, my bag, my dress. Where IS she?

Third attempt, snack bar. Maybe I can give my shadow a snack while going back to the vision scan from a new vantage point. I haul my overstuffed bag onto the bench. Digging through goggles, sunscreen, loose change for the granola bar I think I stuffed in there last week. A gaggle of girls passes by, I glance up and THERE SHE IS! Oh thank goodness, I've been looking all over for you! She glances at me, barely, and our eyes meet for a split second. She tilts her chin up a little bit and keeps walking, perfectly in step with the other girls. My shadow and I are left watching the backs of their long, tanned legs.