I'm telling one of my favorite all time stories about one of the scariest days of my life over on the Dukes Take Five JMU Alumni Association blog. Plus some tips for finding and listening to your intuition. Love the opportunity to work with my alma mater. I'll be back in September doing a webinar with them - join me if you're a Duke!
I can't recall the first time I was asked to give a lecture. Surely I've given hundreds at this point; to undergrads, graduate students, medical students, colleagues. I've even taught Interfaith religious education to kindergarteners (a favorite group but quite possibly the hardest). I do know that every time I've stepped in front of students or sat down at a conference table with them, my entire being lights up. It's the feeling of knowing that I am in the exact place where I need to be. It's the feeling of doing inspired work.
Being the over-preparer I am, I take tons of time developing the curriculum, getting the Powerpoint slides exactly the way I want them. I get in front of the class with my carefully laid plan and five minutes into it, I realize I'm so enraptured with the students sitting in front of me that I still haven't moved past my intro slide. No matter - I've learned that time and space cease to exist when I am in the teaching zone. It's something about the connection between teacher and student, that these people have put their trust in me to give them knowledge, to tell them something that might be useful, that might resonate. Something that might change the way they look at the world or approach their work.
Something similar happens when I am in the groove of writing. The world slips away, my mind quiets down, and my fingers glide easily over this keyboard. It's harder for me to enter into writing bliss compared to teaching bliss, but the pure sense of feeling that I am doing something worthwhile and meaningful is similar.
Recently, an opportunity arose to combine these two loves of mine. To teach personal storytelling. Am I qualified to teach students how to write their story? Has my writing been published? Well, I've certainly published a lot of scientific papers. My list of personal essays that have been published is much shorter and much less impressive. Could I put off teaching a writing course until I had more essays published and experience as an entrepreneur under my belt? Sure. But I'm ready for the challenge now.
I've honed the skills of managing a classroom. I've honed the skills of planning a curriculum. I have hundreds of hours of experience actually teaching in front of students. Most importantly, teaching and writing are my passions. They inspire me, which means I show up to my class full of energy which in turn inspires and energizes my students.
What are you ready to do that you have not yet stepped into? Maybe it's learning photography or reading your poem at an open mic night or setting boundaries to free up 15 minutes of your day to sit in quiet. Maybe it's writing your own story. You don't need an MFA or scheduled writing time on your calendar for the next month. I promise. I'm giving you permission. Put a sticky note in your pocket and write one sentence today. Talk into your voice memo on your phone as you are driving home tonight. I'm giving you permission to start. I'm also inviting you to take my class starting Sept 20th. Absolutely no writing experience necessary. If you've ever said to yourself I'd like to tell my story (and you live in the vicinity of Vienna, VA) this class is for you. Come join me.
When you whisper "I love you" to your dear, beautiful child every morning, every goodbye, every evening. She usually looks away, she may occasionally shout "bye", but the three words you long to hear don't come out. You keep it up; every morning, every goodbye, every evening.
When you stand at the front of the church, the church he took you to every Sunday, except this time, you are standing in a different place. It is you in the pulpit, speaking to the people in the pews. And you are talking about him. He is gone. The people in the pews are a blur, but you notice curly blond hair in the back that you would recognize anywhere. You didn't know she was coming. She drove eight hours to be there. You find the strength to finish the eulogy.
When you know you've tried all you can and it's still not working. The day is a marathon and you're only on mile three at 11am. It hurts to come around to the realization that you are not able to figure it out on your own. Because you are the person who is always able to figure it out. You pick up the phone, in spite of this, and make the call for help.
When you look your girlfriend in the eye and you see the same pain you feel in your heart. The specific pain of being a mother to a specific kind of child. You've been looking around for this spark of recognition and it feels like a homecoming to see it. You bring her a cup of coffee and say, "I know".
This essay was originally published on the blog at Mindful Healthy Life. Happy summer to Jessica over there and thank you for the opportunity!
Here's a confession: part of me has been dreading this summer. It sounds rather awful, I know, but the thought of my kids tearing down the stairs at 7am demanding my full attention while I try to write one last sentence at my computer and then have a whole entire day laid out before us for which we have to fill, well, it strikes a bit of fear in my heart and stirs up my anxiety.
This summer is going to be a new experience for me. For many years I've been a full time working mom, kids in daycare and then camps and then babysitter and then a hodge podge of cobbling together whatever I could for summer. My professional life shifted significantly this past fall as I took my dream job. The thing with big goals and dreams is that they don't always show up the way in which you expect. So, while this opportunity was my dream job, it was also part-time.
It aligned perfectly with another, newer dream of mine that had been percolating - the idea of starting my own business. It truly felt like the stars had aligned and the universe was handing me a beautiful gift. I could take a chance facing drastic changes in family finances, new childcare decisions, and some pretty long days getting cozy on the beltway and 95 instead of getting the kids off the bus and making dinner (I was working full time from home). Or I could ignore the beautiful gift and keep doing the comfortable thing that wasn't bringing me the fulfillment I sought. So I leapt. I took the new part-time job and I launched my personal storytelling business,.
I've loved it. I've grown as a person, coaching myself to do new things and put myself out there. I've met amazing people in the DMV that I never would have had the opportunity to meet had I stayed where I was.
And now, summer. We all know that Washingtonians start thinking about summer plans for our school age kids in early winter, just as the holidays end. For several months now the voice inside my head has been challenging me with questions like, How are you going to keep up momentum with your business and take care of the kids? I've been responding by growing increasingly anxious with, I have no idea? How can I do all of these things? It will be impossible to find the time I need to get work done!
Meanwhile, I have always wanted to spend time with the kids over the summer outside of our one week of beach travel. To be at the pool instead of the computer. To have a real summer. One like those I remember from my own childhood, my mom relaxing on a lounge chair on the back deck, iced tea brewing in the sun, while we ran wild in the neighborhood. I'm also keenly aware that this time is a gift. This may be the only summer I have with days where I am not expected to be reporting to someone else.
I've been writing about how we all have stories on repeat in our heads that convince us of things, true or not. With some time and attention, we can rewrite these stories. You know where this is headed, I'm sure. That story about how the summer is going to be so hard and it's going to be a struggle to get any work done? It's time for me to rewrite it. I teach that the first step is recognizing the story floating around, so I'm already on my way through the process. Next step is the re-frame, where you ask yourself if the story is true. Since I've never had a summer with this set-up, I suppose I don't know how hard or not hard it will be. It's definitely an opinion of mine and since it's my opinion, I guess it's not a fact. Which moves me towards constructing my new version, something like, I'm going to do my best to live in the moment this summer and think of this time as a gift.
It sounds all well and good, but wow, tough to implement. Just this week, one morning before school, the kids had an argument over who would get the last of the milk for their cereal. There was screaming and insults and slammed doors. From all three of us. The bus pulled away and I took a deep breath of relief for the quiet that enveloped me. Then the voice said, How are you going to manage full days this summer?
Part of this internal work is going easy on ourselves. I won't be able to respond to the harsh critic inside my head with my new story every time. My hope is with practice, I'll start coming around to it before Labor Day.
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.
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.
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.
Download a free pdf version of Orchid Story's latest hand lettered quote. Simply submit your email address below and click Yes Please!
Today I'm sharing about the process of how I approach re-writing your story. I've broken it down into three take action steps. And I'll share an example of how I'm working on this process in my own life right now.
Step 1. Pinpoint the old story
This sounds simple but actually can take a commitment to doing it and some dedicated energy. Find some quiet time to listen to your thoughts. What is your self talk? Try listening to common phrases you say out loud as clues to your story. Things like: This is so hard..., I could never... Ok, so one of my self-stories that does not serve me (and that feels a little scary to share right here on the interweb!) is that: People will think my business takes advantage of women going through a hardship. Eek, I said it. On to step 2.
Step 2. Re-frame it
Ask yourself if the old story is true. For me, am I trying to take advantage of people? No, in fact, quite the opposite. If you find there is some truth to the old story, look for the chink in the armor, the place where you can let the light in. When the old thought pops into your head, be ready to acknowledge it and gently move it to the side with your new self-story. There is nothing inherently bad or wrong with our old stories. We don't need to come from a place of attacking those old stories to make them go away. We need to be kind to ourselves as we work through this process.
Here's mine: My business is aligned with my values of thoughtfulness and empathy.
Step 3. Practice the new version
Now is the part when you need to get yourself to believe your new story. If your old one has been deeply embedded in your psyche, you may need lots of reminders and support here. That's ok! It's a practice. I have my new story written on a notecard on my nightstand so I see it every morning and night. Find people to surround yourself with who support your new story. I recently joined a local female entrepreneurship group and I listen to podcasts that empower me in my business like How to Be Remarkable and Being Boss. Start small, even one connection can help you put faith in your new story when your own confidence feels shaky.
I created Storytelling Sessions as a powerful way to re-write our stories of struggle. Find out more here.
New this week: you can now download a free pdf version of Orchid Story's latest hand lettered quote. Simply submit your email below!
Do you have a phrase about telling our stories that you want to see hand lettered? Let me know!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.