We are Pilgrims on a Journey

As I sat there listening to music being created right before my eyes, manufactured by human hands up on the stage two tent lengths away, it struck me how amazing the moment was. How lucky I was to be alive and experiencing it. A resounding hum roiling behind my breast bone – the hum of music another om of humanity.

And it is no coincidence that the space music swells is the same place that aches with longing for life, the unnamed.

For where there is a lack, there is also largess.

A void with the ability to be filled.

An ebb and flow

A sacred space that the filling and emptying of reminds us of the balance of life.

For every pain, there will be achingly beautiful joy.

For every time we feel bereft, there will be the overwhelming beauty of belonging, of certainty.

Seeing such music flow from the source brings the magic to life even more. It is the shared experience, the affinity between and among all humankind: a common ache for the sublime, a beatific high when we attain it, and the lonely muddling through when we don’t.

We all are passengers on the same journey, all trying to find our way.

On nights like this, our souls travel together.

"Servant Song" by Richard Gilliard & David Haas

“Servant Song” by Richard Gilliard & David Haas

Next Stop: Transition Town

Ironically, the section of the book I’m reading right now is all about transitions.

To ease the transition of moving for our children, I gathered a thematic collection of books to borrow from the library:

  • Fred Rogers’ Moving (classic – right down to the 80s fashion in the photos!)
  • Mo Willems’ City Dog, Country Frog (we are going from city to country – though I didn’t expect the heartbreaking twist!)
  • Our House by Emma and Paul Rogers (inspired my daughter to suggest leaving a time capsule; guess it translated my idea of legacy and different chapters in life)
  • Moving by Michael Rosen (the cat giving his family the cold shoulder b/c of the move didn’t quite get across the positive vibe I was going for, but I guess it shows that even ambivalence can be won over with food!)

As I sifted through the on-line card catalog, I extended my search to books for me.  I think originally I was looking for books on the logistics of moving, tips and tricks.  Maybe.  Who knows?  I’m all over the road lately.  But in any event, I found two titles that sounded interesting.  The first, Moving On by Sarah Ban Breathnach, caught my eye because I’ve had Simple Abundance on my shelf for years.  I figured the universe might be giving me a nudge if I was seeking books on moving and here was one by the woman who first introduced the idea of a gratitude journal to me.  Though I know her other title to be more of a self-help, for some reason I expected a memoir on the rigors and epiphanies of moving.  There are personal anecdotes, but it’s also about finding one’s true home regardless of physicality; being comfortable with one’s space in the world regardless of where she calls home.  The idea of home and making the space within those four walls enjoyable is tackled, but it’s really more about letting go of excess baggage to make room for that enjoyment.

Ha, ha, ha.  So funny as my days are filled with purging and packing.  I am totally in limbo.  This home no longer looks like my own as the boxes begin to outnumber the intentional home décor.  My new home is still occupied by someone else.  So I’m hanging out somewhere in the ‘twain’.  I can’t do any of those exercises she suggests for finding what works about your home because I don’t know which one to focus on!  I know the chaos that surrounds me right now certainly isn’t working.

So I get about halfway through this book and reach the section on transitions.  A major thrust of it is that we actually make these difficult times even harder for ourselves by refusing to let go, go with the new flow of things, honor the past and appreciate the future.  Who, me?  I hate change.  There are some people who have wondered if I want to move.  Yes, of course.  And another scared, change-hating part of me, says, this is so freakin’ hard.  I lay in bed one night and realized I’d have to leave the blades of grass I’d stenciled onto the walls of our first nursery (affectionately known as the grassy knoll).  So between the stress of actually making the move a reality and the mental and emotional preparation, I probably do come across as a little ambivalent at times.

But not because I’m not looking forward to settling in our great new house and setting up shop, exploring the community, meeting people.  It’s just because I’m apparently really good at setting up roadblocks on the way to transition town.

And so this is where another highly appropriate quote from Moving On comes into play.  Ban Breathnach shares the words of Mary McCarthy, who says,

“There are no new truths, but only truths that have not been recognized by those who have perceived them without noticing.”

Ha!  If that does not describe me in nearly every aspect of my life, I don’t know what does.  How often have I relearned something I’d already known?  How often have I ignored what needed to be done though the answer was staring me in the face?  Human frailty, I suppose.  That damn weak free will.  We know what’s best and yet take the easier, more convenient, if insanely repetitive and possibly destructive, path.

I know I need to focus on the amazing truths on my doorstep.  A rich life lived in this beautiful little house with many pleasant memories to pack.  A lovely, airy, hope-filled home waiting for us to fill it with sights and sounds and silliness.  I know I can be my authentic self there.  I know this transition will make me stronger and truer.  It’s just a hell of a lot easier to feel it when you’re at the other end of the journey.

 

In a somewhat related vein, the other book I chose to read is a memoir: On Moving: A Writer’s Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again by Louise DeSalvo.  I have yet to read it.  I’ll let you know what epiphanies that unveils ☺

What books have helped you and your children make a successful transition when moving?

Week in Review

Laminated beam

Delusional whirlpool

Hopes, dreams, wide-plank oak flooring

Traffic and toilets

Heat and defeat

Moist, blueberry deliciousness

Love, support, rapport

Light, bright, lofty air

Gorgonzola, lobster croquette

Bulkheads, bitten-off leaves

Tiny hands on steel support poles

swirling in never-ending circles

Phases and Stages

As my three year-old legs trudged after my parents on the last leg of a trail where the promise of the parking lot was just around the next corner, I was the most tired I had ever been in my life.

In the final push of a crazy semester where all-nighters became a necessity, I was the most tired I had ever been in my life.

On the last day of the marking period during my first year of teaching, with too many grades to process and not enough daylight hours to do it in, I was the most tired I had ever been in my life.

When I slept twelve hours a night and still needed a nap during my first pregnancy, I had never been more tired in my life.

Then the baby was born.

Then a pregnancy while taking care of a toddler.

Then a pregnancy while taking care of a toddler and a preschooler.

When a few years into a family of three, I thought I could resume my own interests and still maintain the smooth flow of said family, I was never more tired in my life.

Undertaking a six-day intensive writing institute, prepping a manuscript for publication, tearing through my house for showings, looking for a new home for us, and hosting a birthday party, I have never been more tired in my life.

It’s so easy to get snarky with ingénues of any sort, in any matter, when you know what’s coming down the pike.  But they don’t.  To them, in that instant, it is the hardest thing they’ve dealt with.  As is everything that I think is the penultimate exhaustion-inducing tribulation.  But there’s always something more challenging than the last, isn’t there?  Which is another good reason not to resort to snarkiness – karma will come around and knock you on your ass – or at the very least, laugh heartily at your discomfort.

All the more reason to be present.

If we lament our lot now, when we’ve reached the next, progressively more difficult step, we’ll look back and realize we didn’t know how good we had it.

A wise woman with almost as many children as Mrs. Duggar with whom I’ve become acquainted once said, “You always have one more child than you think you can handle.”  So true.  Adding one more straw of any sort isn’t going to break our back, even if we fear it may.  If we only follow our instincts and trust in ourselves, our bodies, our lives, our mindsets will shift naturally to accommodate the weight.

Great advice.  If I wasn’t so damn tired, maybe I’d be able to follow it.

 

 

Wine before Beer

Once upon a time, I wore straw hats and strappy tank tops while I tasted wine alfresco.  I sampled champagne paired with complementary bites of savory food.  I dined with my husband for as long as it took to finish that amazing bottle of wine just shipped from California.

Now I drink beer from the bottle.

The shift started somewhere during my second pregnancy.  The mere whiff of a freshly opened bottle of beer would set me to salivating.  I thought for sure I was having a boy since beer is not the drink that comes to mind when picturing a ladies’ tea.  Plus, I never drank it.  I would’ve fit right in with a bunch of teetotalling ladies in college.  I didn’t really enjoy the taste of any alcohol.

But, as they say, it’s an acquired taste.  A glass of wine with dinner here, some fruity drink there.  By the time I came home from my honeymoon in Napa, I was well versed in obnoxious adjectives like full-bodied, oakey, and well-rounded bouquet.  Eventually I branched out to ‘heartier’ reds.  And by then I was ready for lagers, ales, and now, even the occasional stout.

It only makes sense, really.  If someone were to tell me on my wedding day what was coming down the pike in the next three, five, seven years, there would’ve been no way I could’ve handled it.  Three babies?  Who one by one spirited away a little bit more of my independence?  No more travel?  No more carefree weekends?  No more Monday-night-kill-the-bottle dinners?  Agonizing self-doubt?  Guilt?  Depression?

I started out with the light, fruity stuff; the bright, refreshing tastes of youth.  My tastes changed as the years went by, the experiences deepened.  Spicy zins for when things got dicey.  Bitter hops when the shit hit the fan.  Luckily, I never hit the hard stuff.

I’m not a fine bottle of wine, getting better with age.  I identify more with the wizened old man sipping his beer at the end of the bar, the lines on his face telling the story of where he’s been.  I know my life is not refined as it may have once been.  Lately, it’s been hardscrabble more often than not.  But I might be okay with that.  Now I can handle what life throws at me, more than I may have been able to at the start of this journey.  I can enjoy the acidic bite following a sip of ale.  And I can more readily appreciate the sweet in its stark contrast.

 

(Im)material Possessions

I sat staring at the porcelain platter in my hands for far too long.  I did not need another platter.  The delicate design painted onto its surface was not my style.  Yet, it was beautiful, the fine crackled lines a roadmap across its surface.  And flipping the plate over, I saw to where the roadmap led.  Ireland.

My great-aunt and uncle traveled to Ireland numerous times.  My great-uncle was consumed by a great need to discover our family’s roots, perhaps because his grandfather, whose name he shared, was the first to make the trek from Ireland to the United States.  Unfortunately, he was not able to glean much information about him or other relatives of the same line.  Thirty years after his death, I’m hitting many of the same walls.  And nearly as consumed by that desire – though not in possession of a purse deep enough to do much about it save research from home.

So when I came across this beautiful platter made in Ireland, perhaps acquired on one their many trips, it was not just a plate, but a tangible link to my heritage.  For not only have I never been to the homeland, but our family has no heirlooms from it.  In mere moments, I formed an odd attachment to this piece of pottery because it’s really all I’ve got.

Then I realize, even that is more than my ancestors had.

Between the potato famine, extreme exportation of their own food stores, and their diaspora, the Irish came to America with virtually nothing.  Reading “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement” by Jane Ziegelman, I learn that extended even to their culinary traditions.

“No other immigrant arrived in the United States with a culinary tradition as skeletal as the Irish.  By the time of the Great Famine, three centuries of the landlord system had stripped it down to a single carbohydrate and a handful of condiments.  Where Germans and Italians and Jews worked hard to perpetuate native food ways, the Irish peasant had little to preserve.  Other immigrant groups used their native foods to establish a collective identity in the New World.  Not so the Irish . . . they turned to religion, music, drama, and dance, among other cultural forms, to assert their identity and connect themselves with the past and each other.” (Ziegelman 59)

After the life they’d lived, they looked to things other than the material to sustain them.

The heirlooms my ancestors have left me are immaterial – in their composition, not their importance.  They are stories, struggles.  I know within my bones the legacy of my people.  I’m calling on the lyrical muse of their lives when I write.  When I laugh in the face of adversity so that I may not cry, I’m utilizing the gifts of their survival.

I still haven’t decided whether I’ll keep the platter.  I’m still haunted by the phantoms of the past, but now I know their spirit lives on.


Making Whoopee

In the middle of the pain-induced delirium of my first labor, I turned to my husband and said, “How can something that is so much fun lead to so much pain?”  We laughed: at the absurdity of the situation; at the fact that I could still joke in between contractions; at the ultimate truth of the statement.

And little did I know that as we pressed forward into parenthood, that statement would stretch and morph to encompass so much more.

When we returned home with our infant, my husband and I camped out on the couch passing the baby between us.  They fell into dreamland while I fell into the throes of a fever, my milk coming in with a vengeance.  I didn’t know why I had the chills, why I couldn’t lift my arms higher than my shoulders without hurting, why my baby wouldn’t latch on . . . I just watched my husband sleeping peacefully, the baby nestled on his chest, and shook with wracking sobs, realizing that the one I needed most couldn’t comfort me because some other little thing needed him even more than I did.

When we added a second child to the mix, the house was never quiet enough, the baby never had uninterrupted sleep, our nearly-three year-old never caught a break.  The pained look on her face when one of my tirades went a little too long and a little too loud broke my heart – because I was afraid I had broken hers.

Baby Number Three ushered in a matrix of physical and emotional pain unimaginable.  It took me months to figure out what the hell was going on and years to fix it (or work on it – I’ll let you know when I’m done).

Then there’s the toll parenthood takes on the bond between husband and wife, or ‘Mom and Dad,’ as it seems you will now forever be known as.  In the beginning, doing the act that landed you in this predicament in the first place does not seem appealing at all; never mind the doctor’s estimation that you will be back to ‘normal’ in six weeks, ludicrous.

In fact, I used my pregnancies as warnings to others.  When I overheard two of my twelve year-old students discussing sex, I piped up, “I hope you’re not thinking of becoming sexually active,” at which their pretty little jaws hit the floor.  I went on, from my perpetual position behind my desk because I was too tired to stand, “Because you don’t want to end up like me.  I’m married and it’s hard enough.”  At a wedding shower about a month before the due date of my second-born, I told the bride not to break any of the ribbons from her presents.  Circling my belly with a pointed finger, I said, “This is what happens when you break a ribbon.”

But that weird mind-blanking trick that humankind’s desire to procreate does to our memories soon kicks in, allowing you to forget the (seriously) gut-wrenching pain and remember the joy of intimacy again.  That is, when time and circumstance allow.  When you’re alone.  When the kids are sleeping in their own beds.  When you’re not so exhausted you fall asleep before your head hits the pillow.  When you can think like man and woman and not Mom and Dad.

Just last week, as my husband reached for me, brushing my arm in the process, I cried out, “Ow, watch out for my boo-boo!”  Nothing like the mention of a decidedly kid-term to ruin the moment.  Even when they’re not there, they’re there.  But, all parents somehow find a way around such dilemmas.  You lock the door.  You find a way to connect without hurting the various wounds you’re nursing.  And you learn to have fun.

 

When we were invited to a party at our newlywed friends’ place, we decided to bring whoopee pies for dessert.  We thought they fit well with the southern menu of pulled BBQ, cole slaw, and corn bread, but also that they were somehow apropos for newlyweds.  Wink, wink.  Then the girls, who love anything sweet, wanted to help prepare them.  I couldn’t help but see the irony as I watched them.  Here, in living color, devouring what was left of the frosting, were the literal fruits of my labor.

That’s what you get when you make whoopee.  Three gorgeous girls.

It’s been a long road since the first pangs of labor, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  And I wouldn’t do it with anyone other than my husband.  (Wink, wink).

Same $*@#, Different Day

There are times when I wake up in the morning and don’t know what day it is.  It takes my mind a minute to focus and remember.  I can blame a lot of this on lack of sleep.  My body feeling like its packed inside a bag of cotton balls, it’s no wonder my head is foggy.  But I think most of it has to do with the repetitive nature of my days.

Don’t get me wrong – I love routines.  I actually get a bit batty without them.  Anxious people like me do not like the unexpected (except surprise gifts on Mother’s Day – much to my husband’s chagrin).  I’m much better at fitting everything in if I have a set list of objectives and time frames within which to do them.

I’m thinking you can wear routines out though.  Without variety, you ain’t got no spice, right?  And life right now is looking pretty bland.  It’s the first week off winter vacation.  The weather’s cold, actually wet and snowy for once this year, the kids (and I) struggling to get back into the groove of wake-ups, waffle-making, lunch-packing, teeth-brushing, coat-wrestling, out-the-door running.

This morning, Thursday, I woke up saying, Thank God I don’t have to go anywhere besides drop-off and pick-up.  Four days into the week, I’m already so beat-down, I could barely crawl into my sweats.

I suppose I could approach this the way Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day, righting all the wrongs the second, third, fourth time around.  I could go to bed earlier tonight so I wake up somewhat refreshed.  I could make Bella’s lunch after dinner so I don’t have to scramble in the morning.  I could plan something new and different for tomorrow to break the monotony.  But in real life, unlike the movies, we don’t always get the moral of the story.

Sometimes we get so worn down in our ruts that we can’t see up over the rim.  And we wake up in the morning to the same day, essentially, because we’re dealing with the same shit.

But I’m thinking maybe this is nature’s way of getting us to embrace change.  We get so sick of ourselves and the monotony that we’re thrown off the track and forced to forge a new one.

It’s times like this that I find the pages in my cookbooks that aren’t yet dog-eared.  I purge all that clothing I’ve been meaning to give to good will.  I seek out friends that I’ve been meaning to make plans with.  I try some long-forgotten yoga pose.  I stretch muscles I’d forgotten I had.

All of life is cyclical.  Like the tides and the lunar cycle, today and its attendant shit are bound to come around again.  But in between, there will be moments of shock and awe and the sublime.  I’ll just have to remember not to get caught out too far when the tide comes back in.

So I’m sure I’ll find something exciting to get me through this low point.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and remember what day it is.  Until then, you’ll have to excuse me, I have another load of laundry to do.

No Salt in this Wound

There really is no point to a saltine – except for the salt, of course.

For some reason, as many other kids, I loved them when I was little.  I think it had more to do with trying to stand it upright in between my top and bottom teeth or shoving it in my mouth in one bite rather than any great gastronomic pleasure.  I didn’t return to them until I carried whole sleeves of them around with me during my bouts of morning sickness three times over.  That’s the telltale sign of a pregnancy, isn’t it?  The white, crinkly cellophane pulled open at the seam, the stack of perfectly pointed squares cascading out into the open, and hopefully, into your belly to quell the ravaging beast that threatens to ruin every waking moment – not just those in the morning.  A friend’s mother says that she hasn’t touched a saltine since her pregnancy over thirty years ago.  I can’t say I blame her.  It is not a pleasant connotation when that’s your last memory.

So, imagine my surprise, when I found myself chowing down on them as I rushed to an appointment in the car.  So light and insubstantial, I was flying through the sleeve with reckless abandon – actually just savoring the salt and waiting for some sort of gratification from the mush that the enriched flour had turned to in my mouth.  I had bought them for the kids, but running late and low on fuel, I needed a quick and easy – if not satisfying – snack.

After I’d downed a quarter of the sleeve, the sharp bite of the salt searing into my tongue, I realized what I was doing.  I was eating saltines!  After a miserable last pregnancy, I avoided at any costs anything that reminded me of those memories that made me shudder.  I gave away all my maternity clothes with great aplomb.  I threw out the sitz baths and lanolin left in the house.  A wicked pack rat, I even sorted through and shredded all paperwork from the hospital.  Saltines fell into this category.  I didn’t fling them out my window, a crazed cracker hail sending birds flying, I just didn’t even think of pulling a box off the grocery store shelf.

In one conversation with my therapist in that first year of recovery, I explained how I felt as if I were grieving a death.  I marked each familiar date, each holiday, each anniversary of some hard memory – noting it, like the rung of a ladder I had to climb to get up and out of this hole.  ‘Okay, I’ve made it past that one,’ I’d say.  I’d survive one set of negative memories at a time and start to wipe them away with new ones.

It wasn’t easy and I knew I wasn’t suffering the same grief as someone who had actually lost a loved one, but, as my therapist so astutely pointed out, I was suffering a loss – the death of my life as I had known it.  Things were totally – in some ways, irrevocably – different.  It was time to move forward with the positive and with this new knowledge and see what would happen.  Life certainly wasn’t over – it was just different.

As was the action of eating a saltine.  I wasn’t a kid crushing one into my mouth as I cavorted on the beach with my parents.  I wasn’t a desperately nauseous woman at the mercy of her upset stomach (and those damn hormones).  I was an adaptable survivor who could do simple tasks again without the crippling connotations once associated with them.

Saltines have never tasted so good.

The Next Step

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  – Lao Tzu

My first step was recognition.  Recognizing the fact that something was not right.  Then stepping through the door of my therapist, nearly two years ago to the day.  Accepting the fact that I suffered from postpartum depression.  Asking for help to make things right.

And with her help, I did begin to make things right.  I began to relish those Tuesday evenings when I would give Angela her nighttime feeding and hand her off to Daddy, kiss the other two on top of their heads, and head out the door.  In the waiting room, sometimes I’d get fifteen minutes to myself to collect my thoughts, jot down ideas in the notebook I’d all but deserted in the bottom of my bag, or – gasp – read a mindless magazine.  She even joked with me once about how early I’d arrived: “Need some quiet time?”  I told my mom that it was nice to just have someone to listen.  “How sad is it that I have to pay someone to do that?” I quipped.

But my mother completely understood.  I’d put her in the selfsame shoes thirty years earlier.  A mother, a woman, most times comes last on her list of obligations.  Doing laundry, changing diapers, wiping noses, reading stories, making lunches, making love – there is no time to even think about what would please you, let alone do it.  So an hour of sitting still and talking someone’s ear off about my problems – that was well worth the $35 co-pay.

And unlike other pursuits outside the home, say ladies’ night or a yoga class, there was no guilt attached to this.  I was not choosing time away from my children.  I had to do this or I would go out of my head.  I needed healing and she was my practitioner.  So for someone who was already feeling like a bad mother, this was the perfect escape.

In fact, I even called my car the escape vehicle.  When I had an appointment, I got to drive my sedan, not the RV-like vehicle that fit all the kids.  The car I used to commute in to work each day.  The first new car I ever owned.  The car that, when it sat idle in the driveway, represented all about my old way of life that was dead.

Then the most miraculous thing happened.  As I became a less stressed woman, I became a better mother.  And as I began to achieve some sort of equilibrium, I actually began to think about what would make me happy.  Let me rephrase that.  I began to formulate ways to make me happy.  Because as a depressed person, all I thought about was why I wasn’t happy.  Why was this happening to me?

I do not believe God is vengeful.  Or spiteful.  So even though I was by no means a saint, I figured there was no way He would wish something like postpartum on me.  And so I searched for a ray of light in the darkness.  I had a recurring thought.  There had to be some way to help other women realize that the horrible, terrible feelings of worthlessness that come with postpartum are not theirs to bear alone.

That thought led into a brainstorm that still has me swirling.  Its development has led to a change in course for my career, even my life’s calling.  And right alongside it has developed a better and stronger me.  Through it all, my therapist has been right beside me.

So on a January night not unlike the first that I walked through her door, I was heading to my therapist’s office.  And not unlike that first night, I was nervous.  In fact, I almost dreaded going.  Because, not unlike other things she’d waited patiently for me to figure out, I suspected this might be my last visit.  On some level, I’d known on my most recent visit that I was becoming strong enough to continue on my own, but like any human who is her own worst enemy, I ignored the niggling sensation of knowing and scheduled my next appointment.  In the back of my head, I heard my friend say that she’d stopped going to see her therapist regularly when they’d run out of things to talk about.  Not yet, I thought.

At the appointment, I updated her on all the items ticked off my to-do list and how I planned to accomplish the others.  I shared successes; the resolution of sticky situations I’d been dealing with.  As the clock wore down on our hour, it sounded very much like a debrief.  An after-report.  The niggling knowledge bubbled just below the surface.

“What do you want to do?” she asked at the end of the session.

I knew what she meant.  “I don’t think I need to schedule,” I said hesitantly.

“No, you don’t,” she agreed.  “But that doesn’t mean you can’t call whenever you need to come in.”

I knew she meant this, too.  But I couldn’t help feeling a little like the kid whose Dad says he’ll hang onto the bike seat, but lets go as soon as the pedals start spinning down the street for the first time without training wheels.

She was not deserting me.  She was giving me a more literal translation of Lao Tzu’s quote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”

She helped me find my feet again, but now it’s time I stood on my own.

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