Write to Heal

Chopping out a Shared Space

After nearly three years of living with postpartum depression and anxiety and four months less treatment, my mind and heart began to yearn for processing through the written word – as it always has. I should have known I was coming back into myself if I began to get that itch, to set pen to paper and excise those thoughts, soothe those frayed nerves.

I even got the urge to share these thoughts online. Still, the stigma – that keeps many mothers from seeking help at all – gave me pause. Did I want to air my dirty tattered laundry for all the world to see – and judge? The fact that all my secrets would be laid bare became the determining factor. If I was to write my story, I was to own it and post it for all mothers to see that they were not alone in their struggle.

Motherhood – be it ‘typical’ or out-of-the-ordinary, adoptive, biological, or step, mentally fit or ill, of littles, teens, or empty-nested, sought-after or surprised, happy or hard – is a challenging road. As I’ve risen out of the deep depths of environmental, mental, emotional, and hormonal morass, I’ve talked. I’ve sat around tables in the dappled sunlight of backyards, holding cups of coffee long since gone cold or empty, on sidewalks, at kitchen counters, in the unearthly glow of the computer screen late at night, in the darkness of a lone streetlamp that just closed its pool of light. And the more I talked, the more I learned that I wasn’t alone. The more I shared, the more it opened the floodgates of similar experiences and struggles.

There is community in common experiences. There is solace in shared realities. There is strength in vulnerability.

If you’ve read a blog post and thought, yes, that’s exactly how I feel, I’m honored that I’ve given a struggle a voice.

If you’ve joined in a discussion at a workshop and felt, yes, I see a way forward, I am humbled that a question sparked an answer.

If you’ve been yearning for a way to hold space for yourself and fortify or expand that space’s edges, I hope you’ll join our journey with its weekly promptings.

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chopping potatoes
Identity, motherhood

Your Strength Comes from Within

Flashback to that time in prenatal yoga. The first time you were pregnant and had no other job, maternally anyway, than growing that tiny human and channeling all your energy into it. When you could go to a class once a week by yourself, surrounded by other expectant mothers. Where you could bask in the beauty of rounded bellies, orbs in profile as your fingertips pointed forward. The potential energy of abdomens and archetypes. Muscles taut and ready to tense, to push a new soul earthward. And while intuition and multigenerational muscle memory take hold in the throes of labor,

it is you

who fire the muscles

who isolate the exact ones at the precise time

who activate the strength within

and gasp the first lung-filling breath.


Growth and Girl Scouts

Any Girl Scout leader will tell you a troop is born of one girl’s total insistence – and that girl is usually her daughter.

That’s how they get you – the girl and the Scouts; they know you are wholly dedicated to her growth and will do anything, including hundreds of volunteer hours, to facilitate that.

So how did that commitment ten years ago land me in the same church hall last night leading a workshop for mothers?

That, too, is all about growth.

When I trained to be a troop leader, I did not know with whom I’d be working. Ironically enough, there was an existing troop at my daughter’s elementary school so both my daughters joined. Fresh-faced and grateful for all the two co-leaders were doing, I eagerly attended each meeting, offering whatever help they needed. I knew these two moms, their oldest girls in the same classes as mine, but not closely. As the girls bonded over ‘Simple Meals’ and ‘First Aid’ badges, I got to know and enjoy crazy times with these women. Overnights and hikes, crafts and camping. When I went to Troop Camping Training with one of them, we found a whole crew of women dedicated to the cause and having a whole lot of fun doing it.

The circle of women I got to know only grew as my girls progressed through the levels. My younger daughter started as a Daisy and a new crop of girls and moms came in. Leader meetings gave us a chance to ease the commitment we’d taken on by sharing ideas and resources and they almost served as a troop meeting for the women themselves. Very often, the speaker had to deal with unruly ‘kids’ just as a leader did. The leaders of the ‘mega troop’ of many levels all three of my girls eventually joined even went on a scavenger hunt scouring three towns.

It all started with a desire to empower our girls. But I wonder what other motivations kept us dedicated. Was it the thrill of recapturing a lost girlhood? Carefree and fun and sequestered? Or did it speak to a longing that grown women, especially mothers, don’t often find fulfilled? Companionship, camaraderie? And was it also a safe way to seek this out, without guilt, within an activity that also served our children?

Even though I took on a troop when my fourth was a newborn, I eventually ‘retired’ from leadership. I remained a registered member and assisted with my youngest’s troop, but I was too tired to lead. Still, there are times I miss the sisterhood of women bonded by the girls they serve.

Now that newborn is old enough to insist I bring her to Girl Scouts. I did. Our service unit hosted a ‘Learn about Girl Scouts’ series for parents and girls. Over the course of three meetings, girls experienced troop-like activities while parents learned all the stuff I already knew. My former service-unit manager outed me to the Council member running it, saying ‘she’d be a good leader’ with an elbow to my side. I admitted I was a ‘recovering leader’. But as she explained to parents how leading her troop for thirteen years gave her her own set of friendships with women as they nurtured the girls, I was wistful.

A mother seated next to me, who may indeed end up being the leader for her daughter’s troop, said, “I want to do Girl Scouts! Can there be a Girl Scouts for adults?”

I think it’s safe to say that most adults yearn for the simpler days of their childhood. Not the growing up all over again, but the chance to do things just for the fun of it. To play with friends. To not have to be the one in charge. To feed our soul with things that feel good and light us up – not alienate us and drag us down.

As I packed my things last night in preparation for the workshop, it didn’t escape me that it was same as setting things down into the tote bag I used to haul Scout supplies. I loaded the trunk and drove the same route. I parked by the ramp and unlocked the door with the same key I borrowed for meetings. As I set up in the rosy glow of sunset slanting through the blinds, the quiet excitement with which I laid items out on tables, shifted chairs into place, had the same feel as preparing for a troop meeting all that time ago. It was oddly satisfying and soothing to be preparing for this new type of meeting in that same place. It was like coming home.

But this time, it was for the moms.

A meeting to discuss putting ourselves on the schedule. Where our motherhood ends and our self begins. Or the jumbled up place in the middle where they intertwine. About taking care of others and ourselves.

I’m not saying my meeting was Girl Scouts for Adults, but it was a chance to sit uninterrupted and think about what we, as women, as individuals, want from our lives. With like-minded people experiencing the same things, facing the same struggles.

Because no one wants to be lost in the shuffle – girl or woman.

Write to Heal

Exciting News!!!

I will be offering women the opportunity to explore their identities and where mother and self intersect through reflection and writing. There will be several ways to do this – including an interactive one right here on my blog – but my inaugural offerings will be local in-person events this month. I’d love for you to join me on this journey!

high tide line

Wrong Shoes and Wrack Lines

I wore the wrong shoes for a walk on the beach yesterday. Loose, low-top, canvas. Perfect for sand spillage and saltwater seepage.

But the beach was empty and we wandered across it. There’s always the gravitational pull of the ocean, of course, but the surface packed firm by the pounding waves also makes for a firm path to walk.

Mindful of the play of wind-whipped froth, we measured our distance to the shoreline.

This liminal space always provides so much to observe. Constant creation and movement. Destruction and rebuilding. Patterning and cleaning the slate.

The wind rolled the masses of bubbles into balls of foam and then skidded them across the sand to nothingness.

The salt water splayed out on the sand stiffened into sheets of lace overlay.

As I watched all this, my feet suddenly fell upon solid ground. A rippled strip of wrack felt firm underneath. Steps easier to take, path more sure. I experimented as I followed the serpentine line where the sea left its mark. It didn’t always prove my hypothesis, depending on how much extra sand and bits of sea grass or driftwood were pushed up along with the water. But given the choice between shifting deeps that threatened to overflow the upper lip of my shoe or absorbent sand that would suck me down in, the twisting line of possibility seemed the way forward.

And as does any calm, quiet time in nature, a fully formed realization pushed its way to the front of my consciousness.

It’s always been about balance.

That elusive, ever-shifting sprite, flitting just beyond the fingertips of our most focused days.

For years, I’ve complained about balance. I’ve mocked gurus in their long-flowing robes and elasticized outfits. On more than one occasion, I’ve muttered, fucking balance. But we hate that which we most need, what we are most like.

In the great irony of the universe, I’ve finally come back to what I’ve known from the beginning.

It’s all about balance.

Shooting a straight a line down the seashore isn’t optimal for sure footing because the terrain changes. Based on the moveable sands on the left and the perpetually mobile sea on the right, the way forward turns and twists. The up and down, in and out of the wrack line is the perfect balance of dry, fine sand that slips through fingers and wet, moldable sand that suctions around whatever is placed in it. Of course, there may be plastic tangled up in seaweed on that line. But there might also be the iridescent sheen of mussel shell shimmering in the sunlight.

So, yes, I should wear proper footwear for the journey, but on-going adaptation and give-and-take are givens. And whether I acknowledge it or fight against it, the ebb and flow of the ocean is always a stronger force than I. Better to work with the ebb and flow of life than stubbornly stumble a straight line.

Identity, motherhood

Balance the Equation

I think I know why mothers put themselves last. The one thing they can unequivocally control, with no x-factors or unknown variables, is themselves. In a world of crushing responsibility and swirling chaos – with them at its center – it is easier to remove oneself from the equation than adjust other unwieldy elements to make room for themselves.

When my now six year-old was a SCREECHING toddler-preschooler (and yes, it was in all caps and a continual hybrid of those two phases), many freak shows occurred in the tinny tube of a well-sealed minivan. When we had no choice but to hurtle through the tunnel of terror, my husband would often turn up the volume of the music. With all the children, we’ve always joked that music calms the savage beast, but if that didn’t work, I believe his secondary goal was to at least drown out some of the noise with more pleasant ones. But music – no matter how soothing it was – was just another layer of auditory assault on top of her banshee screams and the increasingly agitated protests of her sisters, who had a front row seat in the fallout zone. At some point, all the windows would be shooshed open, adding full-blast high-velocity wind to the affront. With something in my head about to twist in upon itself and either roll out my ears or burst out my forehead, I would lean forward and snap off the radio. Which inevitably would anger my already wound-tight husband at the wheel. I think his reasoning was to have some say in the cacophony, a pleasant personal addition to counteract all the negative auditory input over which we had no control. Mine was: the one thing I have control over and can remove from the untenable equation needs to be gone before I go out of my ever-living mind.

And that is much how I’ve operated these last several years. In the midst of pick-ups and drop-offs, errands to run and food to buy, kids who don’t nap and others who stay up too late – it was easier not to dream. It was easier to not start a project than be interrupted and watch it languish in the corner for months, years. It was easier to not even entertain the thought than watch it drift away on a sea of to-dos on scraps of paper.

It was certainly easier than fighting.

The amount of fighting it takes for modern mothers to get validation not awash in guilt and judgement is ridiculous. Unconscionable. Borderline criminal.

I’ve been trying to leave that combative quality out of my more recent mathematics. For I feel it just feeds into the idea that I’m doing something abnormal.

I want feeding my true authentic self to be as natural as the air I breathe, we all breathe.

Hopefully not as it’s whooshing past us in an attempt to drown out one (or more) of our screaming offspring.

true biz ASL
Weekend Write-Off, Writing

Being the Verb

What that? she signed, pointing to one boy’s lunch tray.

Pizza, someone said.

What i-s that? she said. She fingerspelled emphatically, question-marked her eyebrows. Austin understood first. With a flash of recognition, he scrunched up his face and gave her a scolding finger wag.

I-s. Finger wag, he said.

Charlie was disappointed – so ‘is’ and ‘am’ and ‘are’ just . . . weren’t?

How could a language exist without so fundamental a concept? Perhaps, she thought grudingly, her mother and doctors were right about the limitations of signing. Could you have a real language without the notion of being?

true biz ASL

But Austin just pointed to Charlie’s hand, then made his own gesture, sweeping up from his stomach out into an arc across the room. Charlie copied the sign, but that didn’t seem to be what he wanted. She stared.

Me, said Austin, pointing to himself.

He patted his chest, then his arms, then held out his hands, flexed his fingers before her.

You, he said.

He took her by the wrists and held her own hands out before her. She looked down at her palms and understood – her being was implied, her potential thoughts and feelings coursing through her body, the names of everything she knew and those she didn’t yet, all in perpetual existence in her fingertips.


Deep Thoughts with Karen Day

Several years ago, I heard Karen Day, author of several novels for young adults, including my and my thirteen year-old daughter’s favorite No Cream Puffs, speak at an ASTAL panel at Rhode Island College. As she shared lessons learned about the craft of writing, she dropped a bit of wisdom that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

Whatever age of character you gravitate toward is likely the age or stage where you are stuck.

I’m paraphrasing here, but I gave a knowing laugh when she said this, as did she and many other audience members. This comment, equal parts profound and simple, is one of those nuggets you come across in life that make you say, holy shit and well duh at the same time. It is absolutely no surprise, when I stop and think about it, that my first YA novel concerns a young person finishing high school and struggling with familial vs personal ideas/dreams of what should come next. And that my first adult manuscript centers a woman processing loss and a spiritual/emotional crisis.

As someone with storage boxes and shelves full of no-longer-blank books, I obviously use writing to process things in my life – interior and exterior. This blog serves as a weekly/monthly/yearly example of that as well. But just as my fictional writing is coated by a thin veil from my autobiographical or personal feelings, so has this concept of Karen Day’s permeated my everyday life.

For seventeen years of my life, most of my time was governed by the academic cycle. Sept-June. Academic planners were of more use than Gregorian calendars. The new year began in fall, not New Years’ Day. Then I became a teacher. Then I became the time keeper and facilitator for four students of my own. I’ve been feeling for quite some time now that I will never graduate; that I will be forever encased within the concrete block walls of classrooms and bell schedules.

With the amount of anxiety wrapped up in my school career – pre- and post-graduation and perpetually – it’s very easy for moments in my daughters’ lives to rehash my own experiences.

Big case in point: my eldest just committed to college.

I was filled with the rosy warmth of pride and love as we toured campus with her. For what she’d done and what she’ll do. For who she is and who she’ll become. Just gratitude for this fully formed yet evolving woman before me.

And yet, I couldn’t just let myself feel it. That warmth rolled around my chest and I felt it and the smile that threatened to permanently crease my cheeks.

And I fretted over how this isn’t just cause for celebration, this is just the beginning.

I worried about how closely we’ll have to read the financial aid packet and what scholarship applications we haven’t submitted.

I questioned the new direction the honors program will be taking.

I wondered what is the proper balance between sharing what I’ve learned from my base of experience and leading her to places she’ll resent me for later.

I second-guessed my own choices and those I let others’ make. I felt the what-ifs pull at my edges. I pondered could-have beens and what the hell I’ve done since I was in her shoes, which seems like fucking yesterday.

And I thought, have I ever really left that part of my life. Am I forever stalled in that existence that I never came to terms with.

And will all the writing in the world ever let me get past my fear.