Enough is NOT Enough

It's a twisty-gut sort of morning. Another day, more people dead.

Now what?

Seriously.

I want to lock our lawmakers in a room with the whole population of our blessed country standing outside chanting, "We will not be moved! Act now!"

Because not only are innocent children and people being killed, not only are law enforcement officers being overworked and sent into horrific situations, but our spirit is being killed and our FEAR of acting is rising.

For the past year I have been participating in this series of step meetings from a nonprofit called The Red Boot Coalition. In each meeting, those present "work" a step. What that means is that after the step is read, each person gets a chance to respond using "I" statements. People listen. There is no fixing, changing, or judging how a person experiences the step. We hold the space and in doing so, my world has been opened through each lens, story, and viewpoint shared. It feels like action on a microscopic level.

How does that relate to this particular (and yet redundant) horrific morning?

Because, in holding this present morning, what I desire more than anything is to understand so that my actions gel with my understanding.

What is going on? and what can I do about it? I don't see a need to spend another single minute pointing fingers. Instead, I point to the dead and the grieving families and I know without a single shred of doubt that every parent in this country fears this event. I do not want to live my life in fear. 

On a very basic level, I do not care how anyone feels about gun control. Because in the end, someone found a gun and pulled the trigger and now there are dead people because of those two basic facts. And this reaction of mine is normal and I get to have it. But how can I use it?  I know I can do better, I just don't know what better is. Instead of shutting down and out what can I do? I am using this as my guide right now. Maybe you can, too.

Step Two: We came to see that, despite sometimes feeling small and powerless, we possess the power to positively influence all those with whom we come into contact, which on any given day can be literally hundreds of people. We are empowered.

For me, embedded within this statement is the crazy notion that I can be bold. I can look someone in the eye and say, "I don't know, but I do know something has to be done. What can I do? Can you help me figure this out."

I know I am not alone. And that seems to be the crux of it. We are all sitting alone wondering what we can do and then doing nothing.

I am going to reach out. I will be practical and start with the whole calling campaign of my legislators. They need to hear from me.

And I will go to my meeting on Saturday and work the step we are on which, timely enough. is this:

Step Eleven:   We are engaged.


I have a lot of thinking to do on engagement. Prayers, lighting candles, yes, even talk. It simply is not enough.

************************************************************************************************

Minnesota Guide:
Sen. Al Franken 
Phone: 202-224-5641 
Email: Sen.Franken@opencongress.org 
Twitter: @alfranken

Sen. Amy Klobuchar 
Phone: 202-224-3244 
Email: TK EMAIL ADDRESS 
Twitter: “@amyklobuchar"

Rep. Timothy J. Walz 
Phone: 202-225-2472 
Email: Rep.Walz@opencongress.org 
Twitter: @RepTimWalz

Rep. John Kline 
Phone: 202-225-2271 
Email: Rep.Kline@opencongress.org 
Twitter: “@repjohnkline"

Rep. Erik Paulsen 
Phone: 202-225-2871 
Email: Rep.Paulsen@opencongress.org 
Twitter: @RepErikPaulsen

Rep. Betty McCollum 
Phone: 202-225-6631 
Email: Rep.Mccollum@opencongress.org 
Twitter: “@BettyMcCollum04"

Rep. Keith Ellison 
Phone: 202-225-4755 
Email: Rep.Ellison@opencongress.org 
Twitter: @keithellison

Tom Emmer 
Phone: 202-225-2331 
Email: Rep.Emmer@opencongress.org 
Twitter: “@tomemmer"

Rep. Collin C. Peterson 
Phone: 202-225-2165 
Email: Rep.Collinpeterson@opencongress.org 
Twitter: “@collinpeterson"

Rep. Rick Nolan 
Phone: 202-225-6211 
Email: Rep.Nolan@opencongress.org 
Twitter: “@USRepRickNolan"

And here is a LINK to the entire congress to find information on your state.

Too Much AND Not Enough AND Just Right

I attended the retreat that I won as a result of writing THIS essay called A Heavy Heart. You might need to scroll down to the middle of the page past a video if you want to read the essay.

I  returned late on Sunday, and I am been thinking about it so much. What was it? It was too much and it was not enough. It seemed like everything and not one thing I could accurately describe. Was it just what I needed? I don't know what I needed, yet I do know that other people's stories save me over and over and over again. In reading and hearing them, I am reminded that mine, too, is worth telling. 

It was in the shower this morning that I realized that for so long, I thought what I wanted was to tell my story to you, but really, what I am attempting is to tell my story to MYSELF. I want to hold it in my hands and say, "Here, I did this. I did this part of my life and I tried to makes sense of it and see myself  more clearly."  There is a difference, I think. 

I write and share in the hopes that someone, anyone, might think, "Me too!" or, " I've never thought of it that way", but really when it comes down to it, I am simply trying to tell myself what happened and how I felt in the most honest and clear way. I get in my way all the freaking time with fancy adjectives and ulterior motives of blowing up the wrong thing when it was that quiet little thing that really got me and steered me onto the next right path. Life and writing are fraught with tiny landmines to avoid. I think, if anything, I am learning what I have been avoiding. 


***
The Retreat

The women on this retreat have a private Facebook page. Before the retreat, we tiptoed gently into meeting each other a bit. Now we are chatting away, postulating, groaning, reaching out, encouraging, scratching our heads collectively- what was that? 

I don't know. I don't know. 

Jen Pastiloff is not a fearless leader. She is fierce and loving and daring to ask questions she asks herself. Her story is full of pain and fighting and she is teaching what she needs to be reminded of every day. She lets fear along for the ride and strives to do her heart's desire anyway. She loves to dork it out with dancing and atypical music choices for yoga. Yoga, for her, is the lesson. Be in your body. Be present. Feel where you are in this space in this time. BP. Be present. I will write it on my wrist for days to come. She likes to get in your face because she can't hear and eyes don't lie. It's hard to hide or lie about feelings when someone is looking at you with love and an expectation that you will say your truth. Tears filled my eyes and the snot flew as I headed into downward facing dog while Hold On  (please listen! no shame in eighties cheese!) blasted away on the speaker. 

"What's stopping you?" she challenged. "How much longer will you let IT run YOU?"

The combination of yoga and disparate music and swearing (I loved the swearing!) and questions and writing prompts opens up a body and a heart if you let it and I tried. It felt terrifying. Sometimes I was a mess. I don't always do this emotion in the real world. I make coffee and pack lunches and write and fold laundry and cart kids and buy groceries and pray for sleep and scratch my head in confusion when someone hurts me and then I get up and do it all over again.

Emily Rapp was our writing instructor. Her own story is full of pain and so familiar with it, she knows what a writer has to do to get to the good stuff. And that hard part? The part you can't seem to do? That is where the magic is. She asked me to capture images of my feelings through memories. Using sensory details, describe a memory that illustrates happiness, sadness, anger, sexuality. It was hard. I felt overwhelmed. Anger was the most difficult for me. I guess I haven't done anger. I have felt it, but I haven't named it and I certainly haven't embodied it. 

This became even more clear when Jen asked me to hi-ya it out- release some anger. Get loud! Get angry! Use my body, my voice, and release! I tried, but it was just sort of all sitting there. My movements were limp, my voice soft. I was profoundly uncomfortable. The alcoholic brother who took my mom from me, the lost babies, the postpartum depression robbing me from my kid's lives, the family betrayals, the death of loved ones, the unemployment, the sick sickness of anorexia. That's a lot of shit. That is a life. Anyone who lives has pain. 

But. 

I do buts a lot. But I am not lying on the dirt in a Syrian refugee camp. But I am not burying my parents. But I am not staring at a spouse who betrayed me. But I am not fighting a losing battle with cancer. But it could be worse. 

But, but, but, but.

Stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff. 

So now what?

That was the final question posed to me. If I do not like how I feel or where I am or what I am doing, now what?

I am a stuffer? Unstuff!

I am scared? Do it anyway.

I am a writer? Write.

I don't know all the answers of how I can do these things or when or why, exactly, they need to be done. 

I guess if there a take away it is this:  I don't know AND it will be ok.

Life, I think, is far more AND than but.

This retreat was everything AND not enough AND just what it needed to be. 


***
As a scholarship winner, I am filled with gratitude for the space and time and gift that this experience was. Had I not won, I do not think I would have had the courage to attend. To be willing to open up in front of strangers and to yourself is not for the faint of heart. It will be a long while, before I figure it all out. I look forward to the discoveries. 










When No Means Yes

Do you ever say NO to something in order to say YES to something bigger? Do you ever feel like, in saying NO, that you let people down though it is exactly the thing you need to do for you?

I am in this right now. Saying no a lot. Saying no to things that are not mine, saying no more consistently to distractions from my real work, saying no to activities and people who don't make me feel good about where I am in my life.  

It is weird and hard and also freeing. I sort of feel like a fighter- swinging away at this or that obstacle to make way for a bigger fight- for a sort of personal and creative freedom that I have not allowed myself. Did you catch that? Allowed? Because I do believe that is what it is. I have always believed that we teach others how to treat us by what we allow to happen. But I haven't always turned that belief inward. What do I allow in my life through the way in which I treat myself?

I know, I know...so introspective! So wonky and deep! Jeez! Get out of your head, right? Lighten up! But the voice in my head is where I am most of the time and so it stands to reason, at least most recently, that I make it a pleasant place to be . And where I am starting is by saying no to that which no longer works for me. 

It hasn't been an easy journey. In fact, many times I feel terribly uncomfortable. But then, after a bit of practice, I feel stronger. I feel good. I feel like I am doing just what I should do. I think I have had a failure to IMAGINE what my life would look like if I didn't always say yes. I could not IMAGINE letting people down, I could not IMAGINE NOT just sucking it up and taking the path of least resistance. People do not like it when you change course. Oh no! But I have clearly had a limited imagination, because they adjust, as I have and so, as Elizabeth Gilbert likes to say, ONWARD! 

On...toward things that are mine.

I know.

People who dress well sometimes intimidate me. I note how their zippers are UP, the buttons on their coats are present and fastened, shoes (tied) coordinate with coats and purses. I never see dog or cat hair on these people.

I look at my untied tennis shoe, the string dangling and flopping with every step I take. It is then that I will I wonder (too late because I am already en route) if I chose the right pair of jeans, the ones without the oil stain on my left thigh. I don't even see animal hair anymore because it is there and it will always be there until the pets die and I leave my home and get rid of my car.

How have I failed my ilk? is what I often ask myself in the presence of a smartly dressed woman.

I certainly believe in setting a tone, creating a message of who you are and to some degree, how you want others to see you. I have a communication studies degree and used it for a while. I coached speech and am well-schooled on the art of appearance. I have roles that require me to be "on" for the general public so I get that clothes do matter. Primarily, though, I am a writer and a mother so my clothes and their messages feel like tiny smoke signals that no one can read. Or wants to.

****

I did a silly thing . I was in a writing workshop and our instructor offered to sign any of her books that we'd brought with us. I had devoured three of her titles so I stood in line to meet her. She was polished. She had that "effortlessly beautiful look" conveyed with casually elegant clothes (in my world, matching is enough to convey elegance) and flowing blond hair. When it was my turn, I walked up to her and I blurted out, "I love you!"

Go ahead and cringe. I do each time I think about it. 

And here is the kicker. It gets worse. I get worse. I took her hand!  I wanted to hold it because that hand had written words that touched me. 

Miraculously, this serene creature did not pull back. She did not call me a weirdo.

Her eyes softened and she stayed there with me and then she said, "It's ok. I know."

What did she know? That my socks didn't match? That I felt like taking leave of my skin? That I cling to her words and so many other writer's words who seem to be speaking only to me? That I am her personal reader nodding my head along as sentence after sentence has me shouting, "Yes! Yes! Me too!" That I have found my religion and she is one of many who has saved me?

I held my tongue because it was time to step off the freak train.

But she continued to hold my hand. Hers was cool and solid as we sat there in silence until someone called the next reader over.

I had been saved.

*****

I was in a bank a few weeks ago. Bank employees make me uncomfortable because I am most often in fleece while the tellers look smart in their carefully pressed outfits. Many of these women wear wear make-up with a capital M. I wear concealer and maybe powder if I remember that I want my concealer to conceal for more than an hour. "Fancy" for me means tinted lip gloss if it can be found. Most often what is floating around in my purse is Chapstick with a missing lid and lint stuck to the top. 

On that day, I was meeting with a loan officer. She had on what could only be described as a power suit and Make-up. She launched into her speech about interest rates and pros and cons of this or that and then she stopped.

"I'll tell you something. You can be prepared. You can do everything and more to dot your i's and cross your t's.  You can have a contingency plan for your contingency plan and life will still blindside you, you know?"

I nodded and waited. 

She went on to describe a terrible event in her life relating to the loss of a home. I listened. She teared up a bit and then she said, "These charts and graphs? This is just information. I believe you can do what you want with some careful planning. But, you know, there is risk in anything."

Yes, I know is what I was thinking, but I stayed silent.

Her shoulder pads seemed to soften as did her posture. I looked closer at her eye make-up. The lines were not drawn to perfect points. It looked as if her hand may have wobbled a bit.

I offered her a smile. She accepted it with her own. 


****

"I know,' the author said.

I do too. No matter what I wear, how I look, what role I play, I am just doing the best I can. 

I long to lean in, to look closer at my own wobbly lines, and the courage to ask myself, "What am I revealing? and more importantly, what am I leaving out?"

I long for the quiet space and a gentle hand to hold inside of it as I wait for the answers to come. 












Making order out of chaos

I really liked that in thirty minutes, I could go from this











to this.













The pile of unmatched and free-floating socks was huge and completely annoying, but it seemed like a task I could tackle. The kids were doing their homework, the crickets were chirping, and I decided to fold socks. It was sort of slow and a bit boring and tedious, but I liked how I could see my progress. I wished the way I handled my emotions could be as neat and orderly as this drawer. I do everything I can to avoid actually addressing my emotions. On the surface, it appears I say what is on my mind. This is quite different from naming how I feel. Instead, I avoid, suppress, mask, run away from, binge eat, exercise, or stare mindlessly at a screen. 

I have had to face some pretty tough emotions recently, and good god...it is hard! It is among some of the hardest work I ever done. I sit in a room with just me and one person naming what seems so hard to name. It feels ridiculous, really. I am a writer who shares a lot, but when I recently reviewed some of my past work one thing I noticed was how I really like to speak for the collective "we".   I have been avoiding speaking directly for me.

So there I sit alone in a chair. My tears fall, my voice cracks, and my stomach clenches....all indicators that HERE is a FEELING! But what is it?  It is as if it were the first time I have ever been asked to name them.

I am sad.

I am angry.

I am hurt.

I am frustrated.

I am scared.

I am confused. 

Well, how about that?  I had no idea it was all of those things. I really didn't. Am I ignorant? Or just dumb? It seems more likely that I don't often try to say what I feel because I don't take the time to discover what I really feel. I dance around it and fill the space of my emotions with so much noise that I don't really hear or acknowledge my feelings. I make do by plowing through like the farm girl I was raised to be. I put into context that my trouble is nothing compared to someone else's. I don't own my own hard truths and how they make me feel. I allow myself some tears and then I move on and take care of the kids, the home, the business of life. 

Or so I think. 

I am learning it's not really moving on. It's avoiding and so I am back to naming these hard emotions. Doing so takes a gentle nudge and some silence and a willingness to sit with them and get squirmy and red-faced and spent. 

But practicing being inside silence has become one of the greatest gifts of the last six months. I have had conversations on the phone where I was so silent that the person I was talking to had to ask, "Are you there?"

Oh yes, I am here. I am so here it hurts. It is hard to hang on to and be inside of some these large emotions that find their way into silence, which, of course, is why I have avoided it. 

But what I am also getting to is there is joy in this experience as well. There is joy in really listening to how I am feeling and naming whatever it might be.  It's better than turning a messy sock drawer into a little spot of calm. This deep and churning and icky feeling has a name! I have also discovered surprise and joy in being wrong about what I thought I felt. After some time and silence, I often discover, "Well no. That was not it at all!" Suddenly, I have a new way of thinking about my feelings. 

I have a trusted confidant and The Red Boot Coalition where practicing listening and silence is a real thing. It is THE thing. Both of these experiences are helping me immensely. 

I also have this sock drawer. Strangely, when I look at it, it sort of reminds me that I can do this. I can make some order out of the chaos of my feelings if I am willing to do the work.









One moment, please.

I have a frantic brain. It is taking in or reacting to or turning something over most times. I crave stillness and it is with a warrior's mindset that I have to go after it.

Poetry helps. In particular, Mary Oliver helps. She grounds me with her words. Her poems, at first glance, seem spare and even simple, but that is the mark of a master distiller. What remains is the most important stuff.

I think many times that this how I could do my life. It sounds easy, but what does that LOOK like? How do you DO a life? Is it an active or passive verb? Can it be both?

I am not yet sure but maybe this:

Lying on my son's bed after reading to him, the cat climbed on top of my stomach and began purring before he fully settled in. My son stroked the cat's ears and soon, the cat's eyes drifted shut. My son started talking about how we had found the perfect cat. He chattered about how Mugsy could not be named anything other than Mugsy, though Champion Cat seemed sort of cool. But Mugsy came to us as Mugsy and Mugsy he will remain. Mugsy has no affiliation to the mafia and Mugsy, my son asserted, was meant to be our cat, the very best cat of all cats. My son giggled as the purring continued. Finally, a long slow sigh and then my son closed his eyes. 

I was warm. My breath was steady. My stomach was sweaty from the ball of fur and a cool breeze kicked up boy-smells. They were not unwelcome. 




My heart felt ready to explode and I did believe, right then, that I was on to something.







You've Got to Stand for Something, Right?

I have been thinking a lot about the recent church killings. I have been thinking a lot about religion and its role in our world and how some of us use it to guide our every word and deed. I have been thinking about how our Supreme Court just made marriage legal for all people and I have been thinking about how I do not have a single black friend. I have been thinking about some painful family experiences and I have been thinking about the moments of grace I have been given and I have been thinking about how someone wrote, "I don't believe in gay marriage" as if that would do away with the fact that it is. I have been thinking about what I do and don't believe. I do believe in kindness and love and yet I also believe that I lug around anger and hate inside of me like an overstuffed backpack I constantly forget to take off. I have been thinking of how, despite the mass of imperfections we humans carry inside ourselves, we still find ways to make beauty and art and love and joy a part of our lives. I have been thinking that so much of what we do and say is a choice and with those choices comes a responsibility. I have been thinking about how the very best we can hope for is forgiveness when we fail because we humans so often fail.

I am a person who thinks about her story and how I have written it and how I have gotten it wrong in my own telling. I am thinking of how much one single action can change a story. Yesterday, this was true and today it is not.

I have been thinking that if we harnessed the power of our minds in conjunction with the capacity of our hearts to love we reallyreallyreally could move the mountains of people who cannot be moved from their place of THIS.IS.THE.TRUTH to their willingness to ask others, what is your truth?

I know I cannot move or change those who do not wish for it to happen. I know I cannot be rude and unkind and angry and mislead and judgemental and biased unless I allow for it to happen.

The truth is I have feelings and they change because I allow them to change. 

The truth is I can do as much as I dare. I can be half-empty or half-full and that choice is always mine. I can let religion dictate me or free me. I can let hate motivate me or paralyze me. I can let the world be or I can jump in and participate and act and talk and dream and question and question and question until it seems we are getting somewhere, at a snail's pace, toward an answer, towards a glimmer of imperfect hope.

The truth is never one thing or another. The truth is never just yours or just mine. The truth, I think, is constantly evolving and we have to evolve with it.

There is some annoying country song, which played all too often in the late 80's as I cruised the rural roads of northwest in Iowa. In it there was a line I could never quite shake. "You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything."  I used to wonder about what I stood for. I'd think about the rural economy because my dad was a farmer, and I'd think about Aids and gay people because when it was discussed, there was fear in people's voices, disdain in their look, an overwhelming "I do not accept this" attitude that ricocheted around their very being. How do people simply say I DO NOT ACCEPT THIS when something so clearly is? I'd think about the rural south because I'd read Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and wonder how a book written by a mute black girl who came of age in the late 40's and early 50's s could have such a profound effect on my world. I'd think about white my world was and how the racial slurs spoken in my family made me cringe.

There is so much out there that clearly is whether I stand for it or accept it or say I am for or against it. To say I don't believe in gay marriage. To say I do not condone gun violence. To say I am for this or not that when it is happening anyway and will continue to happen no matter the law or my personal beliefs....I do not understand how to work within this framework of “I stand for this and I don't stand for that” because the evidence suggests that it will happen anyway.

What I do understand is that I grew up in a white rural community inside a family with an alcoholic brother. What I do understand is that my parents did the best they could with what they had. What I do understand is that love can be messy and weird and complicated and also pure and honest and true. What I do understand is that I must dig deeper into not what I stand for, but what I believe will make the world more kind and loving and open and safe for as many of us as possible. I have to look for what we all agree on and it would seem that this a simple and universal truth:  there is pain and suffering in this world. There are people who live on the fringes and are barely hanging on for any number of reasons. And there are those of us who long to use our voices and our experiences so we can simply say, "We have to stop hurting each other. I don't care at all what you stand for or against. What I care about is that we stop hurting each other."

We don't have to debate gun control or equality or fairness. We don’t have to rehash every single sordid detail of our painful past. In order to move forward we have to simply start with, “It happened. I am sorry. I am human. You are human. We are woefully imperfect and we will hurt each other over and over again until we have the courage to sit face to face and say, Can we stop this? How can we stop this?”  

I am not Pollyanna. I am not a dreamer or a pie-in-the-sky thinker. I am real and hurt and confounded along with everyone else. But I also believe we can right so many wrongs if we could just sit next to each other and talk and hold each other’s hand and listen and create a shared space for all the pain in our hearts. It seems to be the only way to make room for the healing to begin.

And if we never start, we will never know if we are capable of making this world, our world, our lives, better.

I really want to know, don’t you?



A worthy pest.

"So," said Thing 2 after hearing the frustration creep into my voice yet again, "how can you love me and not my actions? I don't get that. If I were a serial killer and just plain evil, would you still love me?"

He was getting a little silly and unfocused as I had announced his need to get ready for bed, and I could not hide my annoyance.

Thing 2 likes to take me down the road of what-ifs.  At first it seems like maybe he's just delaying the inevitable (bed), but we have these types of conversations frequently at any time of day so I know my kid. He's trying to work out his worth. 

This year in middle school has found him observing that athletes are cool and kids who do well in every single class get awards. He finds himself lacking in these areas called out in our typical culture. The other night he was worried, at age 11, that he's not good at anything. I suggested that most people aren't good at much at age 11, but that is not what he sees. He sees kids with natural abilities in this or that and they get praise for it. 

So I went on to tell him that I knew his record within our family. I knew that he was funny, creative, and thoughtful. I had confidence in who he was and who he would become. I also told him the only person who could make him feel good or bad about himself was him. However, his pest-like behavior before bed was just plain annoying. I told him that I got cranky, sometimes yelled, often made mistakes, but I guessed he still felt like he loved me. He knew my record. I was there for him no matter what. Neither of us, so far, were serial killers.

He nodded his head, stepped off the pestulance train, and headed to bed.

But it made me wonder a lot about how we communicate in our culture to our youngest citizens that they have to perform at certain level to be worthy of love and attention and that mistakes undercut your worth.

Taken in this context, it's not so hard to understand my guy's confusion.

I guess I don't want Thing 2 to think he has to be anything more than he already is. I want him to know that being human means making mistakes and real love is not fragile. It is solid and deep and enduring and within it contains an endless well of forgiveness. I want him to know his value comes from simply being who he already is. I want to teach him at a much earlier age than I learned myself that he's good. Now. He and I get easily frustrated by the world- it screams at us to do more and be better. I really want to re-write the song that seems to be playing in his head and offer him a short-cut to peace. 

But real life has no short cuts, right?

Parents often want  to prevent their kids from making the same mistakes we made. We want to give them opportunities and lessons we did not have and yet I wonder if this simply derails our kids from taking the very journey they are meant to be on. Can we really make things easier? And should we?

I have no answers, but I know Thing 2 will have more questions and I will be there. That's for sure.





All The Light We Cannot Seee: Parenting in the Dark


From "All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr

    There has always been a sliver of panic in him, deeply buried, when it comes to his daughter: a fear that he is not good as a father, that he is doing everything wrong. That he never quite understood the rules. All those Parisian mothers pushing buggies through the Jardin des Plantes or holding up cardigans in department stores-- it seemed to him that those women nodded to each other as they passed, as though each possessed some secret knowledge that he did not. How do you ever know for certain that you are doing the right thing?

    There is pride, too, though--pride that he has done it alone. That his daughter is so curious, so resilient. There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That's how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.


I have been reading this book for some time. I can't help it; I read fast and then slow down because I don't want it to end. Set during the time when Germany occupies France, it's told mainly from the point of view of two characters who are observant in different ways. One is a blind French girl and the other is a German boy facninated with machines, particularly radio waves. Each character is attuned to the natural world in different ways. So real and so full of life despite evidence to the contrary, the book is really hard to stop reading. Though you know it can't end well, it certainly does not stop you from hoping. 

But the above passage did stop me because I have been turning over these two ideas in my head for quite some time.

Panic is something most parents feel if they are honest with themselves. So much of parenting is good intentions set up inside a crapshoot. Combine this with books and articles and recommendations from the world wide web, we can get locked out of tapping into our own gut for fear of doing the wrong thing. And yet this single dad living during WWII is expressing the very same fears simply from observing those who seem to know something he does not. 

I often look back to my park days, days that seemed so long. I'd spy happy moms and dads pushing swings, playing, always pulling out just the right thing when they needed it- a bottle of water, a snack, a band-aid. I never had the right thing. I thought so many times that other parents aways seemed to be wearing  an "I got this" look, but really who gets it?

The narrator was preparing to leave his daughter. He suspects he may not see her again, and he is wondering--have I done enough? have I done it right? Yet he feels enormous pride for who she is now. He thinks, I have done what I could and she is astounding. 

I have been pondering this myself. Now is the time of year where pride is on full display . My Facebook feed is ripe with soccer trophies, spelling bee awards, prom poses, academic achievments, graduation announcements, scholarship claims. This makes me think of what makes my heart swell. So often it feels like whenever my kids reveal to me little bit of who they may become, it has little to do with me. Pride feels like the wrong word--how can I possibly take credit when it seems so evident that I have very little control. I have joy in their discoveries and I watch with interest in how they develop. Of course I  try to pay attention and capitalize, but in end they are individuals who will eventually determine their own path. What I think I do is provide love and a safety net. Yes, you can practice getting mad or skulking in your room. You can make mistakes and you can try again and fail again and here I am still just loving you. I think about my son's insistence about understanding a situation clearly, his line of questioning to suss out details, his literality, his astute assessments of the people that often has me calculating his age, his ability to accurately interpret a person's mood simply by the tone of their voice. Or my daughter's dogged determination, her homework completed on Friday night, her up late and rising early to get it done. Or how she GLOWED like a blushing bride upon her trip to Japan, a trip I had no part of. Her once fluttering wings now seem to be beating madly- explore! Let me explore!  These kids are part of the same family and yet their desires and how they approach the world is  radically different. Often, I just feel like dumb luck landed in my lap, an opportunity to raise two children- each calling on different reserves in the parenting arsenal. Do I have pride? I struggle with that word- it suggests I have influence. I think, in the trenches, it never feels like I have influence. It feels like a battle every single day. And then when I sit back and do my own observing I see that maybe, somehow, some molecule of my most secret hopes and dreams has dripped into a small part of them and I see, yes! You are mine and I had some part of this person you are becoming.

I don't know, really.

What I do know is that when I read this passage, I was struck by the need we have to unravel how we feel about our parenting. Fiction writers create characters to explore the heartwrenching nuances of how to care best (what is best? is there even a best?) for a child. I don't know who or what inspired the father in Doerr's book. Maybe this father is compilation of life and imagined experience. In the end it doesn't matter because when I read those words, I knew those exact feelings.

This is the polar opposite of parenting, a place where I often feel like I don't know. After carrying tiny seedlings of doubt for so long, they start to feel like old friends, part and parcel of the course. When a blossoming occurs, when my kid reveals his or her character and passion and humanity, I am dumbstruck by my good fortune for simply being allowed this front and center seat. For a full minute, maybe, I feel pride but it is quickly replaced with love which is settled, constant, deep.  

It strikes me that the title of this book can be a metaphor for parenting:  we cannot always see what will become and so we wait and weather the latest storm knowing, trusting, believing the light will come even if it has yet to reveal itself. 










Roots and Wings

In the blink of an eye, parenting takes you from this


to this







and suddenly you are putting your baby on a plane to Japan and there she goes!

I am NOT freaking about her. She is the least of my concerns. It reminds of how protective my dad was when I first started driving the largest car ever made my any American company, the ever-lovely and oh-so-popular with teens of the eighties, Olds '98. I've talked about it before so I won't bore you again, but it was large and could seat eight comfortably. My dad wasn't worried about me as a driver. He was worried about all the other crazies out there he could not control and so that large hunk of metal was the only shield he could provide. 

Lucy has a shield. She has peers and chaperones and a rich fifteen year history between Misato and Winona. 

But what she doesn't have is me. She will carry my voice, one that whispers eat! sleep! stay hydrated! be polite!  The very act of sending her shows we believe in who she is and what she can do.  My girl will be forever changed by an experience that is uniquely hers and all I can hope for is that she carries the very best bits of our thirteen years together into this foreign land and calls upon them as needed.

I believe in all of what this experience is supposedly about- a cultural exchange that teaches young people what the world has to offer. But I have done some of my own travelling and what really happens is you learn more about who you are and how you relate to the world and what you are capable of doing outside your comfort zone.  It is hard and terrifying and exhilarating and wonderful. She will miss me and I wll not be there. She will get tired and have to push through. She will not know exactly what is being said and she will have to fight to just figure it out.

She can do it and I can do it because I believe in both of us. I believe that she can take off and I can let go and we will begin our separate journeys apart.

But I can also feel sad about saying goodbye. It is just the beginning, just the first step of many where we watch how our little girl become someone we couldn't even dream she could be way back when we were rocking her to sleep every night. I would read and sing and whatever dreams I may have had seem so far away. I don't remember when I stopped dreaming for her, but it is clear she has taken over.  And isn't that just what every parent hopes for? The desire not only for their kids to dream, but their willingness to act on those dreams? 

She is flying so high and so far away, and I am more grounded than ever.



























My March Madness

The other night Thing 2 was discussing teachers. He said, "You know, some like to capitalize on your weakensses. You go up to their desk, ask them a question, and then in a booming voice he or she announces to the entire class that you don't get something. Now why would I ever ask another question?"

Hmm....

So Thing 2 says that maybe, just maybe, that teacher is simply a loud person and maybe, just maybe, he or she is trying to teach the whole class. Hasn't that ever happened? she wonders to Thing 2. Teachers are looking for moments to teach. Maybe he or she is just trying to help the entire class.

This gets debated back and forth. They carry on so pleasantly that I keep sneaking glances to remind myself that these are MY kids.  This feels like a record exchange.....kind, conversational, thoughful.

I look around. Where am I?

I see the familiar piles and dust bunnies so this is most certainly my home.

In another stunning moment, they move on to homework and if I understood the situation correctly, it appears like Thing 2 asked help from Thing 1 and she gave it WILLINGLY. WITH A SMILE.

I have a rosy glow. I am so gobsmacked I can't talk. There is hope, I think. My kids like each other. They can talk to each other. I quickly take a picture because this is a day of days.

Here, take a look!


Suddenly the mature and forward thinking teen is bellowing like a stuck pig because Thing 2's stinky sock TOUCHED her pant leg and WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

My glow instantly fades because I know what is coming. Two gigantic steps forward, three hundred back.

Thing 2 is now pinching Thing 1 and her bellow now sounds like a mewl.

Seriously, after crying babies, I just didn't understand how loud kids could be. Maybe it's just mine, but the noises they emit are not only effing weird. They are loud.

"STOP IT!" roars Thing 2. As much as he just has to pinch, he hates loud noises. Sadly, the connection between those two things has never been made.

Thing 1 has decided retaliation is in order. She is flicking his ear as she tries to walk past him. He snaps his old blanket in her face and instantly the crocodile tears swell to dramatic (are there any other kind?) proportions.

I want to bellow because I am a stuck pig. Instead, I slink to my room and lock the door.

I have never smoked. The wine is in the fridge. Those littel fiends found and ate all of my chocolate and someone (me) has not been charging their phone. The walls aren't thick enough so I can still hear even without my hearing aids because OF COURSE I took them out. I decide to take a shower. It is in a room within a room. Maybe I can get far enough away.

Eventually I come out. I can't hear anything. It seems the dust has settled. I tiptoe back into the wreckage but all appears calm if not exactly bright.

The homework is done. They are both drawing and talkng.

I feel like I have survived some sort of emotional whiplash. I wonder how they feel?

I don't really want to know so I don't ask. Instead, I check the softener salt in preparation for my certain future. It's full and we have reserves.

Game on, as they say. My March Madness has clearly begun.






My First World Problems


I was discussing a problem with a friend the other day, something that on the surface seems pretty minor when you put it into perspective. I have never really loved the house we live in, and yet I am grateful for what I have because I have so much. 

Eventually I shrugged it off and said, "You know, it's a first world problem."

She responded in a way that took me by surprise. 

"Look," she said, "it's still your problem. I hate when people say that because you still have to figure out how to live with your feelings and thoughts about whatever it is you are living with-first world or not. You still have to make decisions and take actions and figure out stuff. It's your stuff. It's your life."

So I have been thinking about this a lot. I have been thinking about how to ride that space between being grateful for what you have and going for what you desire. I was talking to a different friend about why it feels really hard for me to take actions on things- especially when it comes to actions regarding my own self and she suggested Al-anon. I grew up with a brother who is an alcholic (He's recovered now. Three years! Go Kelley!) and this apparently, has left it's mark though I am only now piecing it together.

I wanted to blame my reticence on really taking action regarding my home to just not being grateful for what I have when I see now that it is a pattern developed at a really young age. 

A-ha!

I say all of this because it's mind boggling to me how it all fits together and how long it has taken me to see it.

I guess the best part of all of this is that I see because I am willing to look. 

And this makes me wonder about people who are unwilling to look- those of us who keep riding through life sort of blindly not willing to really look closely at our stuff. 

I know you might be sick of me now, always bringing up The Red Boot Coaltion like it's some sort of therapy. It's not. It's just that if you are willing to claim certain things about your own experience, you can't help but start to question how you have been living and how that comes out in all aspects of your life.

I find this sort of personal inquisition really wild and I can't help but think of how we might interact with each other differently if people were willing to pull a chair up to a table and get real about who they are. 

Neither of these conversations with friends occured within the parameters of my Red Boot meetings, but I have wondered if I would have had them were it not for what was going on inside of me because of the meetings.

So after a tumultuous 2014, I have to say 2015 feels, still, sort of crazy. I have a new job that I am still figuring out. I have kids who need me in much different way as teens/tweens. I don't have to dress them or hold their hands to cross the street, but taking their emotional temperature seems to never end.  I have a new mission in sharing more about The Red Boot Coaltion and how I think it can make our lives richer.

And apparently I have more discoveries to make about who I am and how I live in this first world life of mine.