This brave person shared her story with me.

Remember the prompt I sent out a few weeks ago: What is one thing that motherhood has taught you this month? Our friend Michelle wrote on the prompt and sent it to me! You guys - this is what I have been asking of you and one of you actually did it - YAY!! Please use Michelle as an example and try it. You don't have to send it to me, but if it's as awesome as I think it will be, I would love to share it. I really hope to add other voices to this newsletter on more of a regular basis. 


Questions by Michelle Small

The other night I saw something that just didn't seem right.  I ask, "What happened today?"  Silence follows.  I ask, "Did this happen at recess?  Who were you with?" She stares at me with her lips as straight as a line and her eyes completely glossed over.  I tell her I love her and I am only trying to help and she holds her hands up to her ears and walks away.  Exhausted, I want to just yell after her “Fine! Forget it!!”  I look down and there is my five year old, laying on the ground incredibly lethargic - an instant sign sickness is coming since he rarely ever is still for more than 20 seconds. 
 
I give my daughter some space for a moment while I try to get my son to get up and put on his pajamas, knowing tomorrow I will likely be taking him to the doctor’s office.  He refuses so I ask him “What hurts?”  “How do you feel?”  “Are you hungry?”  He stretches his arms out and whines, “Momma.  I want momma.”  I give him a hug and then he lays back down.  I let him lay there while I go search for the thermometer and check on my daughter. She is in tears and yells, “Don’t ask me anymore questions!!!  It is too hard to talk about it!!!”  

Reflection on my quest to help them both, I am realizing that asking a bunch of questions - a strategy that always helps me and also my students with their comprehension - is not always helpful.  In motherhood, I am learning, sometimes silence can produce the answers.  Sitting quietly with my son after taking his temperature (he didn’t have one at the time), I was able to check in with my gut feeling to know he needed to go to the doctor (he wound up having a high fever the next morning and an inflamed throat that needed medicine).  Since the blow up with my daughter, I have stopped the constant peppering of questions and wait for her to cue me she is ready to talk.  Amazingly, last night, she asked if she could read to me a part from a book she was reading.  This book is one I actually recommended to her and, for the first time EVER, she took me up on the recommendation, AND now she wants to show me a part she likes and connects with.  I feel like I finally have a win.  

I learn and grow by questioning, but I am learning that isn’t how my kids necessarily learn or grow.  It also does not seem to be a method to helps them to open up to me about what is going on in their lives.  For my kids, the more questions I ask, the more unwilling to share they become.  My daughter gets tense and stressed and my son just flat out ignores me and/or dances around (sometimes with underwear on his head) repeating my question or words in a sing song voice and refusing to answer them (He is feeling better today!).  

It is SO hard for me, but I am learning to look for those opportunities to sit in silence or just side by side, waiting for them to be ready to share.  I won't stop asking questions, but I will start pausing more before I do.  It will help me decide if the questions I am bombarding them with will produce the answers I am hoping for.   

A Frowning Smile

I've had a rough week full of disconnection with my nine year old daughter. Today I noticed she was getting dressed without prodding, brushing her hair and doing what she needed to do to get out the door on time for school. I was so proud of her and she seemed so beautiful and precious to me in that moment. I made eye contact with her and smiled. Not a huge wide-toothed smile, but I felt my facial muscles move into the place they go when I smile.

She stopped in her tracks when she saw me staring at her and said, "What?" Let's just say I sensed some venom in her voice.

I just love you and I'm proud of you.

Then why are you giving me that look?

I'm smiling at you babe.

That's a frown trying to be a smile.

Here I was showing up with the absolute best of intentions trying to connect and she still didn't see it this way. How bad must it feel when I'm reacting out of a place of anger or irritation? It was a reminder of perception and how much our kids feed off of our energy. We have to literally ask them the question to make sure we are on the same page.

This applies to all relationships in our life. With our partner, at work, with our friends. Unless we have the courage to check in, "You seem a bit off today, did I say something that upset you?" we could be two ships sailing on different rivers, in opposite directions.

I wrote today's post in response to a podcast interview question from the amazing Maria Alcoke of The Engine Mom podcast. Use this question that Maria asks all her guests as your writing prompt for this week:

What is one thing that motherhood has taught you this month?

For those of you without kids, simply substitute partnership or yoga or nature or life for "motherhood". I’d love to read your response - email it to me!

The Messy of "And"

I think and write a lot about living in the “and” of life. That’s the place where seemingly conflicting or contradictory feelings arise and the idea is to allow them both. Just because a feeling feels icky or maybe not what you “should” be feeling, you still allow it to be there and co-exist with your other feelings. I think we often stuff our feelings so quickly that we might not even notice them. We were told as kids, “It’s not scary” or “Stop crying, there’s nothing to be upset about” or “Everything is fine” and we ingest this for life.

My version of embracing “and” is about acknowledging and allowing the feeling. I think this is one of the paths to personal growth. I need some teachers along the way because this stuff is hard. I love to listen to Megan Hale’s version of this on her Wild & Holy podcast. Episode 12: The Underbelly of Expansion was all about how parts of us contract in the middle of expansion.

You know I always use myself as the guinea pig when I’m trying to figure something out, so I am going to use a recent anecdote to illustrate.

Back to School Night happened recently. The day of, I worked at my genetic counseling job, ran to the parking garage at 3:30pm, had my usual two hour long commute home, picked the kids up at their after care, brought my daughter over to gymnastics and then found myself in my kitchen with my husband and son. It was time to go to school for the event, but all I wanted was to sit down with them and rest. Going to school events can be challenging for me. No matter. I left with 10 minutes before the start of the session I was attending, plenty of time given the school is one mile away. Except I forgot about parking at school events. You would think we lived in Times Square. I parked about five blocks away, got out in my heels and started running. My good girl reflex kicked in and I didn’t want to make a bad impression on the teacher that might reflect poorly on my kid.

By the time I got the classroom I was dripping sweat and panting. Great first introduction. The teacher was lovely and calm, which eased my stress and I was feeling good by the time I pulled into the driveway back at home 90 minutes later.

Then my phone rang. I looked at it and saw the name of one of my mom’s caregivers. My stomach dropped, quick and hard. A very big part of my wanted to throw the phone into my bag and stride into the house to start the bedtime routine with my family, ignoring the call. Having been on the receiving end of these phone calls for the eight years since my mom’s diagnosis of a rare dementia, I have a strong hit of intuition when something is wrong. I just knew that answering the phone would lead to more action that evening. I didn’t want more action.

Let me pull apart here some of what I was feeling right in this moment:

Utterly exhausted from this marathon day and stimulated from a big shot of adrenaline knowing something has occurred with my mom.

Shameful that I wanted to ignore the call and proud that I can handle these moments of extreme stress.

Gratitude for having helpers that lovingly take care of my mom and resentment towards this disease that has taken over our lives.

I could go on. I think it’s so helpful to acknowledge and, as I’ve done here, write these feelings down. I don’t feel any shame now about these feelings. Processing them in this way is so helpful to me.

I did pick up the phone. There was an emergency. We dealt with it. Until the next phone call.

Your turn: Describe a scene where you had conflicting feelings. Then write out the actual feelings.

Dementia Made Me My Mom’s Mom, And It’s Devastating. Here’s Why It’s Also A Gift.

The Dark Night of the Soul and You

Sometimes the road we are traveling down becomes bumpy. The path narrows, the sunshine gets pushed out by the brush surrounding us. We trip over rocks that pop up out of nowhere. We can find our way through, but it feels like real effort. Every step takes thought and consideration and your mind feels full to the brim and overflowing. Am I going the right way? Did I remember to pack water? Did I pay the electric bill and find a sitter for the kids' day off and call the doctor's office again because they never called me back? 

Sometimes this is a stage of life we are passing through. It's a tough climb but we know that after we get through this tricky portion of the path we will see the sun poking through the trees in the distance.

Other times, though, we find the brush getting thicker. The rocks are becoming boulders that we need to scramble over to get by. A mile takes hours. The trail markers have disappeared and we are out in the wilderness alone. We are hungry. Hungry for sustenance and light and ease. 

We think to ourselves: One more night alone in this tent on the edge of the cliff and surely, the path will clear tomorrow. 

But it doesn't.


This is the Dark Night of the Soul from Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. I love teaching the Hero's Journey because it feels so relatable. If you reflect on your own life, have there been times of the Dark Night of the Soul? 

The thing about the Dark Night of the Soul is that what comes after it can be life-changing. Curious about that part of the journey? Sign up for my Hero's Journey workshop where we will be talking all about it.

Here I am, In the Airless Room

Her need traps me in a tiny room with no windows, no door, no air. There is no one to come save me and I feel desperate, unlike myself and not the daughter I want to be.

No place can protect me from the airless room. Not when I’m on vacation, eating donuts and coffee out on the porch, admiring the sun rising over the expansive ocean. Not when I’m teaching my students, intent on sharing with them the shapes and symbols to create a family tree.

Even here, secluded away in this picturesque setting with mountains and lake, where I’ve just practiced poetry and taken mindful breaths in Child’s Pose, I’m at risk.

Mere minutes after that zen-induced state, I hear her voice through the phone and I’m snared, caught in the tiny room. “Where are you?” she demands. “I can’t keep track of whether you’re working or with the kids. You and your sister, always traveling around.” I hadn’t told her I was going to a writing retreat, dropping all responsibility, including the responsibility of her, to come here to do this thing for me.

I want to protect this part of myself from her. Or not from her exactly, but from the dementia that seems sometimes so big it is the air I breathe, the food I eat. I’m afraid if I let her see my creativity, the dementia will gobble it up, swallow it whole.

Before this disease stole my mother away, we shared everything. She was my confidante and best friend. When I first became a mother, a year before her diagnosis, I called her from my car every day during my hour-long commute, hysterical. I was distraught that I could not figure out how to be the mom my infant daughter needed. As time stretched on, anxiety crept in, telling me I would never get to that place.

My mom stood by me steadfastly, never wavering in her support, always believing that I had the ability to figure it out. This was the person she had been throughout my entire 30 years on this earth. I wonder now why I can’t access that kind of patience within me, now that the tables have been turned.

Here I am, guiding her foot into her left pant leg, having carefully chosen the pants with no button or zipper, and praying she holds steady on one foot as I crouch on the floor beneath her.

Here I am, hopping up from the table at the restaurant to wipe the glob of salted caramel ice cream from her lap after her spoon missed her mouth. All the while trying to be discreet so as not to draw attention to her disease, and also to act as quickly as possible in the hopes that she doesn’t notice me dabbing her lap because that would mean she would have to acknowledge that help is needed.

Here I am, buckling her seat belt as I drive her to yet another doctor’s appointment, steadying myself to retell the story of eight years of the slow loss of a person. The person who was my person.

Here I am, trying to get out the door of the apartment that we moved her into last year, 400 miles away from the place that she called home, and feeling the well of guilt and anger as she cries because I am leaving, because her world has become so small that she no longer has the cognition to comprehend what it is to have two kids waiting at home, the grocery shopping to do, the lunches to pack.

Here I am, sent to the small, suffocating room by this seemingly innocent question. I could gloss over it by evading and responding to her questions with a question. These days I withhold details and logistics from her, because they cause confusion and aren’t essential. This question gets me though. Isn’t “Where are you?” a timeless question mothers ask of their children?

Doesn’t she have a right to know simply because she is my mother? To evade would be to lie. To the woman who gave me endless amounts of time, energy and love from a well that never dried up, that feels like a deep betrayal. Despite the complete reversal of roles that has transpired over the last few years, I do what’s asked of me and, finally, I tell her where I am.


Published on July 30, 2018 by Rebelle Society.

Summer series: Grief

I’ve thought about, studied and experienced grief for a long time. Here are some seemingly simple universal truths I’ve learned. 

Grief never looks the same from person to person.

Grief does not follow a logical path. 

Grief can come and go.

Grief happens not only when someone dies, but when we experience the loss of a dream, a relationship, an expectation. 

Denial of grief doesn’t always feel like denial and can last a long time. 

Our western society and the people in it do not do the best job of supporting those grieving.

Trauma and grief often go hand in hand.

Grief is a chapter in every human story.

I was introduced to filmmaking duo Lexi and Zach Read of Rhyme & Reason this year through my congenital heart disease community. Their films are breathtaking. I wanted to share this one with you today.

Getting There

I opened my email and saw a word I'd never seen before: Kripalu. It was an email from a student of mine, someone who saw my heart as I saw hers without the need to talk much about it. I scrolled down and then saw this more familiar term "narrative medicine". I felt my shoulders straighten because that's my jam and because that's the graduate program my sister in law completed at Columbia.

This email was about a workshop, a retreat. Where was Kripalu and how did you even pronounce that word? The description jumped off the page at me. Writing, self-discovery, psychology, storytelling. Healing. The workshop was long, almost a week, and it was far away. It was also coming up quickly so obviously there was no way to plan and make arrangements. I responded to my student, "This would be perfect for me... Maybe in the next couple of years when the kids get a bit older." I closed my laptop and went on with my day, Kripalu, however you say it, shrinking away as quickly as it came.

Two days later, same place, same laptop, same email account. In my inbox I saw that funny word again, "Kripalu". I clicked it thinking it was a reply from the same student. Nope. This was the same Kripalu email about the Narrative Medicine retreat, but forwarded from a different student of mine. Another student with whom I had truly connected in the past year.

This time I got a tingle up my neck. My immediate response was: I need to take this more seriously. When the universe, G-d, inspiration, your muse, or whatever you name it comes to you twice, it's time to listen. 

Several weeks later I packed up as if for summer camp and drove eight hours to Kripalu, nestled in the Bershires in Western Massachusetts. It was one of the most life-affirming weeks of my life. I found my people (people like you, my dear reader). The morale here is that listening to the little whispers, the knowings in our heart, can lead us to the experiences in life where we feel most at home, most like ourselves, most happy. Don't ignore them even when it's inconvenient and hard.

Writing prompt: When was a time when you followed your intuition and what happened when you did?  

ps Swami Kripalu was a yoga master. You can read a little more about him here. (I'm no expert but this is how I'm pronouncing it: krĭ-PAW-lu.) xoxo

Get back up.

The past week has been re-learning about rejection and resilience. If you follow me on Instagram, you've had a seat in the front row. It felt at the same time important and insignificant, new and old. I suppose that's how lessons begin to feel when they keep popping up in your life. This re-learning felt important enough to share with you, so I'm taking a bit of a meander from our summer series to share this with you. 

Halfway through 2018, I've sent out 11 pitches. This includes pitches to be a guest on a podcast, to host a workshop, to submit my personal essays or a guest blog, to speak in front of an audience. Out of these, I've had success with five, so a little less than 50%. This is the first time I'm looking at these numbers and that's better odds than I realized. But still six rejections, six no's, six opportunities for me to question what I'm doing, to doubt myself, to wonder who the hell I think I am trying to make it as a writer and business owner.

Last week I decided to work on an essay that had previously been rejected from a print publication. I felt so much resistance simply opening up the document to take a look and see how it could be improved. I distracted myself with email, coffee, calendar, weather and Facebook before I forced myself to sit in the chair and read the darn thing. Maybe it wasn't as spectacular as I recalled but it still rung true. Oh, and also, I had written it in2016. Two years ago and this great piece of my heart was idly sitting here on my laptop. 

It was the date that fueled me - I made a promise to myself to send out another pitch within two days. Then, I closed my laptop and spent the summer day with my kids. 

The next time I checked my email guess what I found? Another rejection. This time for a speaking engagement. I realized I had been holding my breath to some degree waiting for this response. It was a no, but at least I could breathe. Maybe it was the conversation I had with myself the day before - I was able to feel the no for a quick minute and then move on. Gotta get that next pitch out, I told myself. It's all part of the process. 

There are a lot of stories of rejection out there. Harry Potter got rejected 12 times for goodness sake. Sometimes those stories bolster me, other times not. I'm finding that the process, living through it, is my best teacher of rejection and resilience. The more I put myself out there, the more I get rejected. The more I get rejected, the more resilience I build. I can write this to you. I can teach this to you. In order for you to learn it and re-learn it, you may need to go through it yourself. 

Friday morning, the morning of my 39th birthday, I submitted another pitch. I don't know what the outcome will be, but I do know that simply trying again has a power all it's own.

If you have told yourself it's time to try something new but fear has been holding you back, I hope you find some encouragement here. If you need a little more, hit reply and I'll gladly cheerlead for you. 

Summer series: Chronic Illness

The Bellevue Literary Review is a literary magazine published by the Department of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. The essays and poems examine how illness affects the human condition. These are super high quality pieces of writing that I think you would enjoy. One day I hope my work will be published on those pages.

I was looking for a piece to share with you that examined chronic illness and the one that struck me the most was from the point of view of the son of a man with multiple sclerosis (MS). This isn't lost on me - as the child of a mom with a chronic illness of her own, it's no surprise I landed upon this piece. The author examines his own adjustment to MS, which seems to color his entire existence. This is in contrast to his father's seeming nonchalance about his condition. Isn't this fascinating? That two people in the same family can live through the same experience and have a completely different response and outlook. This line jumped out at me:

I became, in short, his emotional shadow, feeling all those things it would have been understandable for him to feel, if he had been a different kind of person.

I often ask myself why things stick to me and weigh me down. Why I carry bricks of concern in my backpack while others shed their backpack altogether. I think that's why I enjoyed this piece so much.  I felt a connection to these words that sometimes seems hard to find in my world. 

I hope you enjoy it too. What about it resonates with you? Reply and let me know. I recorded an audio file of me reading the piece since it is on the longer side. 

Read "Cripple's Kid" by David Milofsky

Listen to "Cripple's Kid" by David Milofsky

You can't know if you don't ask.

Recently, on a ball field in my town, I was chatting with one of the dads. I hadn't seen his wife for while, which didn't seem unusual. Two working parents, two young kids, your typical busy family. I said to this man something so callous, like: "Where's your wife been hiding, I haven't seen her in forever?"

His response made my stomach churn. She hadn't been feeling well and they were having a hard time figuring out what was going on, despite involving numerous health care providers.

This possibility hadn't even crossed my mind. 

So often we are stuck in our own worlds to the degree that we don't even take notice of what's happening in the world around us. And I'm not talking about the bigger world and feeling bad about not being involved in social justice or the myriad of other causes we might choose to dedicate energy to. I'm talking about the people in our community, in our circles, on our streets. The ones we see without really seeing. 

We do need to take care of ourselves before we can serve others. And yet, people around us, people we see each week, are suffering and we don't even know it. There were many opportunities to ask about this mom, to notice that I hadn't seen her at all in weeks, before I did. 

We make the assumption that everyone else has everything figured out while we are still trying to get the laundry that was done five days ago back into the drawers. But it's simply not true. I don't care if that person drives one of those huge, extravagant SUVs or shows up for every school event with vegan cupcakes. Every single one of us is suffering in some way and sometimes people are going through difficult times right under our noses. If we don't ask how people are doing, we can't know. If we don't know, we can't help. 

This conversation on the baseball field reminded me of all this. When I'm suffering all I want is for someone to reach out and say: I see you, keep going, I have faith in you.

Let's do that for others too.

Summer Series: Separation and Divorce #2

I love sharing research that examines how writing your story can be beneficial to your health (or not). This week I'm sharing an article that looks at how writing affects your physical health. 

Journal Article: Bourassa et al. Impact of Narrative Expressive Writing on Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, and Blood Pressure After Marital Separation. Psychosom Med. 2017 Jul/Aug;79(6):697-705.

Participants: A group of 109 recently separated adults

Design: People were placed in one of the three groups below. They also underwent a bunch of cardiovascular (heart) tests during the months they were involved in the study. Three groups:

1. Traditional Expressive Writing: write about the emotions surrounding the separation
2. Narrative Expressive Writing: write your story about the separation
3. Control group: write about how you spend your time

Finding: People in the Narrative Expressive Writing group had lower heart rate and higher heart rate variability than people in the two other groups. Both of these are good things for your overall health. Blood pressure was not different among the groups. 

Takeaway: Writing your story after separation might help improve your physical health. 

Commentary: The study I shared last week found that writing your story could be bad for your emotional well-being in some cases. Well, some of those same people were found to have improvements in their physical health after writing their story. It's a little confusing. Should I write because I want to be healthy in my body or should I stay away from writing because it might be unhealthy for my mind? My take: If you are someone who is deep in a well of trying to find meaning from your separation, it might behoove you to hold off on writing. Otherwise, try it and see how it feels for you.