- The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise. -Alden Nowlan, poet, novelist, and playwright (1933-1983)
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This meditation has been kicking around in my mind lately. I wrote about it back in 2008 on my old blog, and I repost it here, with love.
I want to tell you about a meditation I sometimes do. It is a modified version of something I read in one of Rachel Naomi Remen’s books (Kitchen Table Wisdom, I believe). She was working with terminally ill patients and using this to help with their fear. She is a physician who endured Crohn’s Disease, and has done much work to bridge the gap between our health care system and the spiritual health of our health care workers, particularly physicians.
You start where you are and go back chronologically in age.
I see myself now, then go backward in time.
To Virginia, to Maryland.
Seth is born.
Riley is born.
I envision what I looked like. What I felt like, at each stage.
When I lived in the DC area.
21. Fresh out of college. What did I look like? How did I feel?
I picture myself as a fetus.
6 weeks. An embyro.
A cluster of cells.
It is here I always hesitate, hovering for a while, unsure.
The question comes, “….and before that?”
Finally, the egg splits.
I’m still here.
I’m still here.
Before the egg.
Before the body.
Spoiler alert re: Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. Skip the second paragraph. There is also profanity in this post. Be advised.
Moving is no joke. Even when you land somewhere as beautiful as Florida, it is monumental. It is beyond draining. It is hard.
Two kids each with their own issues, and the near constant advocacy required to keep it all going in new schools(one with a teacher who is well meaning and doing her best but with absolutely no ASD training). A commute that has me in the car between 3-4 hours a day in crazy traffic. The “clean” diet the kids require to keep them functioning at their potential. Supplement schedules, new doctors, dentists, specialists of every variety. And the good news/bad news looming knowledge we’ll be moving again locally when our lease is up in August, in an effort to nix the aforementioned commute. Riley has flown through her specialized program this year and will be ready for high school next year. Seth will be in a different school as well, starting middle school.
I have not written. I have not blogged. I have not visited Pinterest. I have not been on Twitter (not that I was ever much of a tweeter). Worse still, I have only read one non-yoga related book in months. Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest. Seriously, great book, but poor Alma. Will someone please have sex with her?
Did I mention I became a yoga teacher? I did. Smartest decision I made and I didn’t even plan it that way, but hello instant community of the most wonderful sort. I adore these people and loved every minute of the training. I’m hoping to help autism moms with self-care. Yes, yes, we teach what we need to learn.
Before moving, I let go of so many material things. Things I didn’t need. Things that didn’t serve me or my family.
Since here, I’ve also been letting go of behaviors. The kind where I don’t speak up and I tolerate things that are hurting my feelings. The kind where I self-sacrifice and co-dependently give to the point of my own detriment. The kind where I take on other peoples’ stuff, often without them even asking, and bear it for them, because I can’t tolerate seeing them in pain. The move just pushed me to the point of such exhaustion, I couldn’t. Could not. Could no longer do it. I was flat on the ground, thyroid/hormones/adrenals out of whack, last nerve raw, empty…not a brain cell or heart cell left to offer.
And then I spent some time kicking myself for not being more spiritual than that. More evolved. Move giving. More loving.
And maybe a better person could handle things differently than me, but turns out I’m not a “better” person. I’m just me. And there is some relief in that.
And some strength in it too. But boundaries come with sadness and loss.
I’m cracked open. Limited. 45 years old. 13 years into this intense uber parenting gig, and I’m fucking tired. Moving is said to be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. Right up there with death and divorce. Moving with my kids? And doing it again in a few months?
The “perfect” mother friend wife sister is gone. None of you were fooled anyway, right?
So I’ve been doing tons of yoga, obviously, and it’s done its thing, filling me up with oxygen. Toning my muscles. Busting open my heart. Quite literally, a sternum injury the likes of which my teacher had never seen in 20 + years. It is better now, thank Goodness. My body seems to be re-knitting itself. Yesterday some weird thing happened and released in my legs. I could never touch my heels to the ground in down dog, and then boom…there they were, suddenly with no warning. On the floor. Grounded.
And I’ve been meditating religiously, just to stay afloat. To stay just barely on top of what could crush me. And I have the most beautiful man who adores me and for some reason finds me hilarious. And I have two pure hearted angels for children, and we four are so close. And my Hot Toddy reminds me I fostered that. I created this good family. And he reminds me I am good. And he gets fierce about anyone who says I am not. Even me. He’ll not have it. I say something bad about myself, he says, “That’s a lie.”
And I talk to God. I’ve always been good at meditating, and listening, but not so much at asking, and I’m asking God more and more, WTF? I’m so sick of working on myself.
And I breathe.
And I visit the ocean.
And the other day while walking on the beach with my family, I had a tiny glimpsy feeling that maybe I’d like to write something, a fleeting spark of me, coming back to myself, but then thought, no probably not.
But here I am and I did write. And I don’t know if I have it in me to do it again any time soon, but please know the kids are doing well. The weather agrees with Seth and his health is good. Riley is becoming more savvy and poised each day. Truly a young woman. Hot Toddy is sturdy and stable as ever. The dogs are fine, though it is a tad too hot for Jingle’s liking and her walks aren’t as long most days because of it.
And me? I am, as always, for good or bad, a truth teller, ever becoming. Older. Grayer. Hopefully wiser. Ten pounds lighter.
Speaking of truth tellers, the other day, Riley told me I have more wrinkles than I used to.
“Almost every one of them has your name on it,” I replied.
And we laughed! We are at the point where we can have that kind of exchange and laugh. She understands sarcasm.
She’s not so delicate. And I don’t need to be so measured.
I surrender to my own imperfections and limits.
And, I love.
“Ilonka loves.” That was my nickname at yoga teacher training. I’ve been using my first name, Ilonka, in Florida. Michelle is my middle name, in case you didn’t know that. And my teacher gave all of us Sanskrit names at our graduation, and mine was Anahata Devi (open hearted Goddess).
More and more, even her own messy self.
And that ocean.
She rocks me like a baby.
Driving in the residential neighborhood I live in, my eyes focus on the intersection coming up at the end of the street. Suddenly, there is a cop standing on the side of the road, with his hand up, telling me to stop, then directing me into the parking lot of a row of apartments.
There are two of them. Young bucks. One in a police car, one motioning drivers over. There are at least half a dozen cars pulled over. Speed trap.
He swaggers toward my car, sunglasses as armor. I roll down the window.
“Do you happen to know what the speed limit is right here?” he asks in a condescending tone, motioning toward the street behind him.
“I’m not sure,” I say.
“Where do you live?”
“I live just around the corner, but we are new to the area.”
“How long have you lived here?”
“A couple of months.”
“You’ve lived here a couple of months and you have never noticed the speed limit? You want to take a guess as to what it is?” He might as well add “you stupid shit,” to the end of his sentence.
He looks at my license.
“This is an Ohio license. Do you happen to know how long you have to obtain a Florida license if you are planning on living here?” (you stupid shit?)
I shake my head.
“30 days,” he glares.
I look at him, and nod, “Okay.”
“I’ll be right back. Don’t leave the car,” he commands. As if this mom in a ball cap and yoga pants is going to make a run for it.
As he walks away from me, his partner ushers another vehicle into the lot.
I have not gotten a speeding ticket or any other traffic infraction in 25 years. The last time I got pulled over was about 18 years ago. I had gone straight in a turn-only lane, on my way home from an intense therapy session. The cop was more hostile than today’s cop. He screamed at me, and I completely lost it. I was crying hysterically. To the point where he changed his tone and wondered if someone had died? Was I sick? Had I just come from the hospital with a bad diagnosis? He actually asked those questions. I couldn’t even respond I was so broken up. He let me go.
Today when the cop walks back to his police car, I close my eyes. Rather than taking in his attitude, I study it. The condescension is probably part of his training. It isn’t personal. It has to feel wrong to be setting up neighborhood residents who are really not going terribly fast, or causing any danger, just to get revenue. Or maybe not. Maybe the power trip is fully enjoyed, which is even sadder for his soul.
I think about the yelling cop from 18 years ago and a wave of sorrow passes through me for who I was and what I was going through at the time. I could not handle anyone being mean to me. Being mad at me. It’s still hard. But today I don’t crumble.
I start to “go there” with the victim thing. I don’t want to pay a fine. I am the victim of these cops and their unfair trap. Then I go somewhere else, where cops are total assholes. I breath that thought in, and then breath it right back out.
They are doing their jobs.
They are doing their jobs.
They are just doing their jobs.
I will not hate them.
I close my eyes and breathing, practice a mantra I’ve been working on.
My heart releases, my heart forgives.
My heart releases, my heart forgives.
My heart releases my heart forgives.
I think of Nelson Mandela who just made his transition. What he endured. I am getting a pinprick of attitude from these cops. And I likely was speeding. Mandela didn’t hate, even after being wrongly imprisoned for 26 years. I’m not going to hate anyone over a speeding ticket.
A spiritual teaching I value floats through my mind:
This is not happening to you. It is happening for you.
But why? Why do I need this? Why is this for me? What’s here to learn?
I remember me of 18 years ago.
I experience me right now in the present, with the calm heart. The me here, now, deciding not to be a victim. Deciding not to hate.
I am calm. So very calm. It’s strange, really. Take your time, young cop. Do what you’ve got to do. I’m good.
I have completely surrendered.
He comes back to my car and hands me the ticket. Hands me a flyer and tells me I can plead guilty or go to traffic school or plead not guilty, the whole nine yards. I look right at him, right though his sunglasses and into his eyes, with my calm.
“Be careful,” he says. I raise my eyebrow, because we both know this isn’t about careful. I was not a danger to society, and neither were any of the other cars lined up in the parking lot, awaiting their fate.
“Thank you,” I say, calmly.
He looks slightly puzzled, my reaction is unexpected. Then he walks away, politely stopping traffic so I can exit the lot.
Later, on the phone, I tell a friend about my ticket and, “I hate cops,” flies out of my mouth. But it’s hollow. It was just something to say. I can’t pull the hate up for trying.
This experience was for me. It helped me value where I’ve been, and where I am today.
It’s been some ride. I like where I am, and where I am headed (at no more than 25MPH).
On my morning commute, I was listening to a talk given by Eckhart Tolle. In it, he spoke of the concepts of patience and presence. He said if you are practicing patience, you are not being present. You are white knuckling through the now, to get somewhere else. If you are present, you do not need patience.
This felt important, and I rewound to hear it again. It applies to everything. The commute. Parenting. Standing in line. Holding a yoga pose. Not knowing where we will be a year from now. Anything I am waiting for.
Perhaps patience isn’t as virtuous as we’ve been led to believe.
My grandmother used to say she’d earned every wrinkle. Coming across this video I am reminded of her. Watching it feels like a meditation, and a celebration of every wrinkle, every age spot, every memory stored in the body, every sorrow and every joy.
Life. Movement. Breath.
“Simplicity. Work. Enjoyment.”
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to learn to love the questions themselves.”
—Ranier Maria Rilke
I always find it. Always, always. No matter where we live there are places, where nature is honored and preserved. Today I “took the day off” and went to Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. It was lovely.
About 10 steps onto the path, I could feel my heart rate begin to settle down. It had been a very stressful week. Flashbacks of some of our most painful days-gone-by were front and center. Of course we are not in that exact place, but the PTSD part of my brain felt like we were and I had to do more work than you can imagine, on so many levels, to get us all on track. On top of that, all of us but HT were sick. Having to bring your A game when you are sick, is awful.
But anyway, the Japanese Gardens. So lovely. Driving in I was just appreciating so much that someone made this. Someone saved this. Someone, lots of someones got this going and people maintain it, and keep it up, and there are sacred places like this everywhere if you look for them.
The brochure answers the question, Why aren’t there signs on the plants to tell you what they are, etc.
The answer is they want the gardens to be restorative. Oh, think about that word.
They don’t want to trouble our minds with learning all the flora and fauna. They want you to chill out and just be there. Just be. Enjoy it. If you are someone who’s gotta know…there is a library on site where you can find out every little thing, but for the love of God, when you’re out in it, just be. And people do. Most of the people I crossed paths with today were reverent, quiet. The place kind of commands that.
Despite my attempt at empty-minded reverence, I couldn’t help but learn a little. I learned that bamboo can be very, very thick. And noisy. It creaks and moans. And sometimes it sounds like a rooster when wind causes the trees to rub against each other. It would be very scary to be in a bamboo forest at night.
I can’t ever come across a purple flower without thinking of The Color Purple:
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
I don’t really think it pisses God off. I don’t think God ever gets mad at us or offended. That’s humans creating God in their own likeness. Period. But I love that book and I loved the movie. Whoopie Goldberg in pure brilliance. Watching her Celie grow from the most timid insecure thing into a being possessing dignity and self-love was so beautiful.
We could all stand to love ourselves more, couldn’t we? I know I could.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” - Buddha
The music of a waterfall is one of my favorite sounds.
Blessings, blessings, pouring down.
Every breath a chance at restoration.
HT and I had a wonderful experience this week buying a car at Carmax. We were left alone to browse a huge lot of cars, and then we came inside and used a computer to narrow down our search. We printed out pages of the ones we wanted to see, and they have the row #’s on the print outs so you can go take a peak. Not one person breathed down our necks during this.
Then, when we were ready to do some test driving, we were helped immediately by a guy named Eddy. He was polite. He didn’t try to steer us toward what he wanted us to buy. It is a no haggling place. The price is the price. What a relief. The salespeople do not get commission based on car price. They get one flat fee. Anyway, he was great! He even let us use his computer to do a little research and check out the blue book value, etc. And he left the room and gave us privacy to do it.
So now I have a new (used) car that rides like a dream for my commute to the schools. Our second car limped all the way to Florida and was about to die, so it was time.
But wait! That’s not why I’m here…. the reason I started this post is I wanted to mention, there was a sweet young man sitting in the waiting room at Carmax. I could not tell if he had a cognitive delay, or he might have had CP, but his speech was very affected. He was late teens/early twenties, I’d guess. He used a walker to get around. His mother went up to the counter for something and he grinned at me and said,
“That’s my mom.”
I smiled back at him and asked, “Is she nice?”
He said, “Yeah she is! And she’s beautiful too!”
I laughed, “You are right about that. She sure is.”
His mom came back and sat down next to him. He hooked arms with her, beamed at me, and said,
“And she’s alllllll mine!”
Every day, when I unload the dishwasher, the tops of these cups are full of water. And the water tends to spill out onto the other dry dishes. And it is irritating. Not a biggie when you think about the state of the world, I know. It’s so trivial I’ve been dealing with it for the last 15 years (except the non-dishwasher years).
Today, when I unloaded the dishwasher, and the bottoms of these cups (there are only two left out of a set of six, Pfaltzgraff, lovely really) the water spilled out onto the dry dishes and I suddenly thought….I don’t need to keep those.
I thought I had purged every household thing we didn’t use or love, but those cups. There they were. Every day.
So after dropping the kids at school I had to drop something at UPS, and right next door was a giant thrift shop and I went in and got new cups. Two to replace the two that will be leaving me, today.
I like the feel of them. I love the textures. Morning coffee or tea rituals are so much more than about the coffee or tea. It’s the whole feel of it. They were like, a dollar each. And the bottoms are nice and flat.
Just how I like ‘em.
What irritating thing are you putting up with?
Not every night, but often enough, after dinner, we head to the beach. Some days the waves are big, and Seth is happy. He lives for riding the big ones. Some days the waves are gentle and Riley is happy. She likes to leisurely bob and float. I never knew how varied the ocean was day to day, before living so close to it.
It is less work for me to go to the beach here, than it was to go to the public pool in Cleveland. I bring nothing but towels, and quarters for the parking meter. When we are done we hose off our feet at the outdoor shower, go home wet, sitting on our towels in the car. No worries. We change into pajamas when we get home. Easy.
What gets me every time is the evening sky. We are on the east side of FL so we don’t get the sunset directly over the ocean, but it colors the sky in glorious ways. The cloud formations are vast and just before the sun disappears, there are pinks so neon, it feels otherworldly.
Yesterday evening, Riley, Seth and I were bobbing on the gentle waves, kneeling so just our heads were out of the water. They both faced me, and behind them was a sky of such beauty, pink and white and blue and grey. I didn’t have my camera but the photo above was from another recent night, similar.
I had to shake cobwebs out of my head, is this real? The three of us turned slowly, 360 degrees, taking in the view. The clouds, the waves, the sand, palm tree silohettes, back around, and the sky, the blazing pink!
Their faces, so bright and happy, as beautiful and shiny as the masterpiece sky behind them.
The pink only lasts about ten minutes. Their childhoods whiz by.
Let me remember this time. Let me remember their faces, who they are, Seth at 10, Riley at 13.
Despite my tongue in cheek piece in The Imperfect Parent a few years back, I’d never cursed in front of my children for the first ten years of parenting, and even now it is a rare occurence. With Riley’s low frustration tolerance when she was little, I thought it would be a very bad idea for her to have those juicy words in her tool belt. That was my main motivation not to. I enjoy swearing. I do. It rolls off the tongue naturally for me, like an accent. The more relaxed I am around you, the more you’ll hear it. Guard down. Swearing up.
Riley does not swear and doesn’t feel she ever will. Seth is undecided. They still think “hell” and “damn” are potent words.
So anyway, the first day we had to be at Seth’s school I got lost. I was using my GPS, and had no physical map. The GPS hit a glitch, and kept taking me in circles, back and forth through a toll road, four times. A figure eight, with me forking over money each time. Lost and late. And hot, because the AC in our car was on its way to conking out completely.
Then, a car barreled down on me (aggressive drivers here are a topic for another day) and didn’t let me over to get off the exit I needed, and I screamed the F word. Twice.
This week whenever we get to that stretch of highway, the one where I need to get over and get off that tricky exit, Seth has been saying, “Stay left Mom! Stay left!” And I’ve been beating myself up over it because I feel like I traumatized him when I swore that day. Like, he’s terrified I’ll miss the exit again.
Oh I’m good at beating myself up. The best.
But yesterday, on my way to get the kids, 1.5 weeks in, I know the route. I wasn’t stressing. I’ve got this. And then I came upon the exit, and the guilt washed over me again, and then…. I remembered.
When I swore, when I said the F word twice, Riley, in the back seat, sucked in her breath, and in the next instant she took Seth’s hand and said, “Let’s pray for Mom.”
She didn’t say, “What a loser Mom is for cursing.”
She didn’t say, “I’m terrified of Mom.”
She did what I taught her. When you see someone lost and hurting and out of their mind, you hold space for them. You pray.
I taught her that. And if I taught her that, I must not be a loser.
I taught her that, but I also learned it from her. She was such a good and beautiful and sweet little girl, and then sometimes she was overwhelmed and out of her mind. Pushing back never helped. Being punitive never helped. Loving her did.
I loved her.
She loved me.
I love her.
She loves me.
Back and forth we go.
Figure eight, figure eight.
Borderline panic has been my baseline as of late. I barely know where I am. I am lost all the time, literally. I have not had to be in rush hour traffic on a major interstate in over a dozen years. BTW…My GPS is not God. My GPS is capable of really screwing me up sometimes. Just figuring out the traffic pattern in the pick-up line at school has my adrenals on DEFCON 5. My body can no longer determine what is truly a crises and what isn’t. It’s high alert, all the time. I know from previous experience this is typical moving stress and it will all calm down soon, when I get my bearings.
Yesterday driving Seth home from his terrific first day of school there was an accident on the Interstate. It took us 75 minutes to crawl home. I thought ahead to bring Seth a snack to eat and some water, thank goodness. The AC in my car conked out (as it is prone to do on only the hottest days) so it was bumper to bumper, super hot, and he’d had a long tiring first day. He started to feel carsick. I put Harry Potter on (book on CD) and told him to hold the ice pack I’d put in with his water against his skin. He did. He made it home. He bounced back quickly. I was a rock in the car, and felt wobbly when I got home.
Last week big issues came up with Riley’s orthodontia. We have to make some decisions that will affect her forever. Since being here I’ve had to deal with several blundering medical professionals who honestly don’t know any better. They know not what they do with their offhand remarks. They don’t think before speaking and scaring/scarring a child (or her mother).
My body is on high alert. High alert!
Where I am? What am I doing? How do I protect my kids? What if we do the wrong thing? What if moving was the wrong thing? My brain careens.
I spent four hours in the car yesterday, parenting duties, picking up forms and what not, and the traffic jam. In my mid-day travels I was listening to a book on my iPod when all of a sudden it switched to music I didn’t recognize, didn’t even know I had on there. It was nuns, singing. I know I must have bought it at some point, but don’t remember ever having played it. Which one of you recommended it? It isn’t something I would generally pick. And there it came on, right in the middle of my book, without even being asked.
The voices of the nuns instantly calmed me, and rather than trying to switch it and get back to the book, (I’m not good at fumbling around with electronics while driving) I let it go. And then after a few minutes, there was another Voice coming from within me and it said,
“You are doing just fine.”
It gave me a lump in my throat.
You are doing just fine.
You are doing just fine.
You are doing just fine.
The negative self-talk and worry can be relentless. But “things have a way of working out,” my grandmother winks in my mind. My spiritual mentor Barbara’s voice goes through my head, saying, “Darling, how is it you can’t see how good you are?”
How can we help each other remember this about ourselves?
The nuns sang me home and as I pulled into our driveway, in perfect timing, the chant/song ended with a beautiful, drawn out,
All is well. It’s all okay.
I’m doing just fine.
We are in Florida.
Putting our house on the market, keeping it spotless for months, selling it, and moving has kicked our butts. I feel like I’ve aged ten years in the last six months. I am feeling very off center. Our stuff isn’t here yet but will arrive this week and then we unload/unpack. I’m feeling very much like we’re too tired to do this “ourselves” again. We packed it all and loaded the container and will unload/unpack when it gets here. We’ve been sleeping on air mattresses too long, and eating on the floor, picnic style.
Anyway, we’re here. We’re safe. Todd starts his new job tomorrow. I’ve got a bazillion details to contend with around the rental house and schools and new doctors and orthodontists, etc. My head spins. Clothes piled everywhere because we have no dressers here yet. The disorder is unsettling. School will start later this month. All in all, all is well, but Mommy needs a break. I feel weepy for no reason. A lot. Today I went to a movie by myself, and that helped. Just to change the freaking subject.
The ocean is close and I can go there as quick as I could get to the grocery store in Cleveland. The other night I was heading to Target, but found myself going in the opposite direction. Found myself on the shore. I sat on the sand and watched the colors change until it became night. And it was like someone was breathing life into me.
As often as I can, I’ll keep doing that.
Problems seem so much smaller while looking at the ocean.
Some things about Florida: They have newts. Luckily the girl is charmed by them and not freaked out. Also…they allow smoking in public places. We’ve been spoiled in Ohio and also our home state of NY where it is outlawed. Nothing like breathing in that filthy poison from the next table while at a public pool or enjoying dinner out. And another thing, the driving is more aggressive. This ain’t the friendly mid-west. No, you go. No, you go. I’ll wait. None of that here. Let’s just say we’ve been honked at a few times.
We are renting a tiny house with a tiny pool, and the other night while trying out the pool, we noticed two parrots had landed on the telephone wire above us. We’d never seen any not in a cage. That was cool. Palm trees are everywhere. The days are brutally hot but the mornings and evenings are beautiful.
Did I mention the ocean? I always thought living near it was a dream out of reach, but here we are.
The past couple of months have been some of the most stressful we’ve ever experienced. We are now in the final stretch, and soon we will be in our new home (renting), in a new state.
We sold the house and closing is in a couple of weeks.
We are packing and I have gone through every inch of this house, sorting and sifting and doing everything in my power to make sure nothing comes with us that isn’t useful, or that we don’t love. It makes moving considerably harder. You can’t just dump drawers into boxes. You have to go over every drawer and nook with a fine tooth comb, and you have to be firm and unsentimental.
We are at a turning point in our lives, and we don’t want to be weighed down with things we don’t value or need. Interestingly, Todd is having a harder time letting go of some things than I am. Why the man would want to hang onto my paintings from high school I don’t know, but I am like…NO. Off to the curb.
Funny enough, a neighbor came by and took them. Hot Toddy feels so much better about it now.
I was talking to someone recently who had to go through her parents stuff after their deaths, and she said it was a terrible burden, to have to toss things she knew meant a lot to them. I’ve been using this stratedgy on HT, “So we’ll carry around this stuff, storing it for the next 30 years and then burden the children with having to get rid of it after we’re gone?”
The house we’ll be renting has much less space, so that is another incentive.
Anyway…it’s HOT out, and our current house doesn’t have AC. And it’s really only this hot a few weeks out of the year and we have window units for the bedrooms so it’s never been a problem, but we are doing hard labor. Up and down the stairs a million times. Hauling boxes to our POD, (we pack it and load it, they drive it and drop off in our new driveway, we unload ourselves. It’s much cheaper than hiring movers but it is a ton of work).
We are almost there. The attic and upstairs bedrooms, and basement and most of the garage are all cleared out. I’ve been scrubbing the bedroom floors because I want it to be perfect and clean for the new owners. All that’s left is piled into the dining room for more boxing and sorting. And I can’t really pack the kitchen yet with a couple of weeks to go. Not with special needs diets and needing to make most of our food at home. Though the kids are getting more processed food than they’ve ever had (and more TV and iPod).
Our POD is almost full. There is a treasure trove at the curb. We made the junk collector’s day. Seriously. He picked up so much stuff in front of our house and beamed and proclaimed he could stop work early today. Also, we live in a neighborhood that values recycling. Neighbors took away a lot of stuff too. A new family across the street got Seth’s train table, and a bunch of other stuff. Other neighbors took things from the garage. Another one took storage bins we no longer need. It feels good to give stuff away to people who can use it.
I feel like we’re in the final stages of labor. We’re pushing now. We are so close. It’s all going to be worth it. But I look around feeling overwhelmed, I can’t do it! There’s no possible way! Yet somehow I know it will all happen.
We are sweaty and sore. We have BO (TMI?). We’re limping along to the finish. Yes, I’m mixing metaphors now but I’m fried so cut me some slack.
And boxing things up.
We just finished the Harry Potter series. We started five years ago and have tackled one every summer, and some during the winters in between. I have read each of those 4100 pages out loud to my kids. The first book starts with such innocence and it perfectly matched where Riley and Seth were at the time. As Harry grew and matured, so did they, right in step with him.
The last book gets very dark, and it is appropriate that they didn’t read that book ’til this year. They can handle it now. They couldn’t have before.
The first one we started on a porch swing at a house we were renting when we first moved to CLE. The kids were 8 and six. The rest have been read snuggled together on our king sized bed, or I’ve read to them while they’ve eaten dinner on evenings that Todd worked.
I have loved reading aloud to my children. I am almost ready to be done with it. I am tired. Seth might have one more series in his future, he wants me to read The Lord of the Rings to him. We’ll see.
I’ve already read him The Hobbit and also the Indiana Jones series and a bunch of other less meaty books. Mostly while waiting for his sister while she’s been at various therapies. He’s become quite the independent reader, but the fact that he still wants me to read to him, still wants that closeness, I might not be able to resist. It won’t be much longer, I’m afraid.
When we finished the last words of Harry Potter today, he was on my left, she on my right. Spontaneously, they both hugged me, and in doing so hugged each other and we stayed there like that, in a group hug on the big bed for a thoughtful while and then Seth broke the moment with, “What’s next?”
We are moving. They are growing up.
A chapter is closing.
When they think back on their childhoods, I hope they fondly remember Cleveland, and the boy with the lightening scar on his forehead, and the mom that loved them so much.
Nice garage, but I don’t want to rent the place if that guy is going to be hanging around.
We are going to be renting soon, and I am looking at apartments and rental homes through a realtor and also seeing what I can find on Craigslist. What I’m finding are a lot of men in the shots.
It goes on and on and honestly, it ain’t selling the places. It’s kind of creepy. They look like ghosts.
Someone’s in the microwave…
Et tu Fido?
We found the perfect house to rent the other day, and we were about two hours too late. Our only hope is that the first applicant’s credit is lousy. And of course I would never wish that on anyone, right? Sigh.
The search continues.
We are losing our entire life savings in this move. Not that we had true “life savings.” Our life savings was our equity in our home, and there is no longer any equity. The market has dropped so profoundly since we bought it. Our sweet house doesn’t seem to even be worth what we owe on it.
We had one offer, and the deal fell through. A short sale isn’t too far off for us. Foreclosure is not out of the question.
I have been struggling. Struggling to keep the house “show ready” for two months. Struggling with the unknowns of where we will live, and when we will leave. The only sure things are the schools. Both are set. Todd has interviews next week which will narrow some things down as far as location for rentals to explore.
I’ve been struggling with feelings of victimhood. How is it possible that we who have been so responsible with our money, could walk away from Cleveland with nothing? We who have lived modestly, we who did not take out a mortgage we could not afford, we who have never been late with a bill in our lives, could be in this predicament? How is it fair that we’ve had to pay out of pocket for almost everything medical for over a decade and at the same time pay for medical insurance we’ve hardly been able to take advantage of because autism isn’t covered?
My ego is bruised when I see (or imagine) the cushy lives of friends, who have been in the same house for their childrens whole childhoods, who probably have it almost paid off, who have some semblance of financial security, who have community that sticks.
Off we go again.
I’m alternately ill and thrilled over the prospect of renting. Ill because it’s not what I expected at this point in our lives. I’m having to take a real look at myself and question any beliefs I have about my personal value as a person being tied up in what kind of home I live in. Previously I would have scoffed that I had any of that, but there it is. Right there bobbing on the surface. I’m not above it. HGTV doesn’t help. I have turned that channel off, for good. Having come from a place of poverty, I fear it. I never want to live in a shit hole again. I’m shit hole averse. As are most, I would think. Who chooses to live in a shit hole? I digress. Of course we won’t live in a shit hole.
Thrilled because no maintenance. Freedom. The possibility of living close to the beach. And thrilled for the very reason we are going. The possibilities for our darling girl. Big things in store for her, and for Seth. His new school looks to be fantastic as well. I know it is going to be a wonderful adventure. I know it is going to be good. I know we are so fortunate to be able to put our kids into two private schools, no matter where we wind up living. I know we are fortunate that it is relatively easy for us to find work. Knock on wood.
HT and I have had some of the dooziest fights of our marriage in the last couple of months, and we have weathered them and come through the other side. We’ve let go of a lot of fear in the process. We’re okay. We’re back on the same team, being gentle with each other.
I know financially we are starting over, but we have so much more than so many and I have to remember how truly fortunate we are to be able to uproot and do this. There has never been something we’ve wanted to do for the kids well-being that we have not figured out how to do. I really have no problems.
Lately in moments I least expect it, a memory keeps floating through and tapping me on the shoulder. We were on an Alaskan cruise. Riley was eight. Seth was six. It was night. We were in our cabin, no bigger than a shoe box. Seth was asleep on the bunk above us. Riley was on the little fold out couch at the foot of our bed. Todd was snuggled up spooning me. The ocean was rocking us to sleep. All of my loves were within an arm’s reach.
It felt womb-like. The love. I had everything I needed. I’d never been happier.
All was well.
All will be well.
All is well.
When Riley was three, I was attending a weekly meeting to discuss A Course in Miracles. I’d found the book a couple of years prior, and dabbled. I felt better every time I picked it up and read a little. It was at this challenging point in my life that I began studying it in earnest, and it got me through a very rough time and truly informed my spirituality. It still does.
There were anywhere from a dozen to two dozen who showed up at those meetings, and at least three of us (all women) had a kid on the spectrum, though I had not faced it yet. Two men had challenging sons. I don’t know if they were diagnosed with anything or not.
I would share my troubles, week after week, about this kid that screamed and cried for no reason, and finally one day, one of the women whose own son had already been through it said to me,
“Your doctor has not helped her. You need to take your head out of the sand. This kid sounds exactly like mine did, and she is hurting. You might want to see the doctor we see.”
Her son is a few years older than Riley and one for whom removing dairy and wheat had a transformative effect. He oozed pus out of his nose until his system cleared of it. He “woke up” from a foggy haze just getting those foods out of his system. They’d also done chelation and a bunch of other interventions that helped him even more. He was getting better, and she was transforming herself spiritually, working on deep forgiveness in every area of her life.
Our regular pediatrician had advised us to simply, “Tell Riley she’s making a big deal out of nothing.”
And, “Kids have tantrums, and it is up to you to set limits.”
He was clueless as to what we were really dealing with, what that little girl was living.
“She’s fine. She has advanced speech.”
At three and a half she was having panic attacks and had the self-care skills of an 18 month old, but whatever. She could talk.
“You need to take your head out of the sand.”
If it had been anyone else to tell me to “take my head out of the sand,” I would have been offended and might have turned in the opposite direction. It was shocking. It stung.
“You need to take your head out of the sand.”
But it opened a door.
I knew she was coming from a place of love. I knew she cared about me and my child. I knew her kid had gotten better. I knew he used to be “just like Riley.”
Sometimes, it’s just the thing we need to hear.
Last night was the 8th grade graduation at Riley’s school. Riley is in 7th grade, but she really wanted to go. It was her birthday yesterday…13! And she wanted nothing more than to spend her evening seeing her 8th grade friends graduate. It was a very beautiful and emotional ceremony. Every one of the kids had faced challenges due to their learning differences. Every one of them had walked a very long and brave road to have come this far and be off to high school next year. The graduates each created a power point presentation set to music, including baby photos and photos of when they first arrived at the school(some were so tiny), and shared some of their favorite memories there. Being in a room full of special needs parents, knowing how hard they have worked to get their children to this point in their lives. Teachers were crying. Parents were crying. At one part of the ceremony, each student took a single rose and presented it to their parents. Be still my heart.
In the row in front of us, left to right, there was what appeared to be a mom, a ten year old brother, a step-mom and a dad. Mom and dad, furthest apart from each other. When their daughter approached the row with her rose, they all stood up, and the step-mom backed up ever so slightly, allowing the mom to get in there. She was respectful that this was the other woman’s daughter, and bowed out for the moment. And the mom and dad hugged their child, who had come so very, very far.
And then, not two seconds into the hug, the mom turned and reached out her arm and pulled the step-mom into the circle, and they all embraced.
And then the girl was off and back to the group of graduates at the front, and the row in front of me sat down, and the mom held her long stemmed rose. And she smiled and inhaled it.
And then, she reached across little brother, and offered it to step-mom’s nose, and she too inhaled it deeply, and they just kind of acknowledged each other again with their eyes, and then the moment was over and it was on with the ceremony.
The whole transaction was between the two women. The dad was kind of oblivious to it, his eyes focused on his daughter, up front.
Love for a child.
It’s a powerful thing.
If you read Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar, you know there was a teacher who changed my life. He was the theater director at the community college I started out at. One of the reasons I decided to “go public” with the book was because I wanted teachers to read it. I wanted them to know how much power for good they hold in their hands. How far and wide their ripples extend. How much some kids truly need a kind word, or a little extra support. How truly transformative it can be when we get it.
Over the last 25 years, Angelo Zuccolo has been the teacher I’ve stayed in touch with. He rallied the troops for the benefit concert we held to raise money for Riley’s service dog. He’s written me glowing references for every job I’ve ever had. He has a way of puffing up one’s accomplishments, and forgetting about your failures.
My dear friend and teacher Angelo Zuccolo left this earthly plane quickly and unexpectedly yesterday. He leaves behind his two beautiful daughters, just little girls when I met them. He leaves behind so many friends and students whose lives he changed for the better. One person who read my book emailed me in March and said, “That exercise your theater teacher had you do…the one you mentioned in the book….I just did it with my students and it was amazing!”
25 years later, a teacher all the way across the country, her students, benefitting from his ripples.
He made me feel like I was worth something. Like I mattered. And you know what? He did this for everyone. He parented his two girls, and then had enough left over to parent the rest of us some, just enough to see us on our way.
I will miss him.
Below, I am re-posting a piece I wrote about him in 2010.
Angelo, it was an honor and a privilege to be in your circles.
I love you.
It is always such a treat for me when my former theater professor writes a new book of poetry. I was fortunate to do a work study in the theater, and we worked side by side for a couple of semesters. In all that time, he never talked much about his personal life. He was a single dad. Sure, he gushed about his daughters, but not a peep about his love life.
His romantic poetry is so very personal. It almost feels like I shouldn’t be reading it! Like I happened upon his diary and took advantage of the situation!
Still, it’s the poems about his daughters which get to me most. Angelique and Marielle. Just little girls when I met them. Both grown now. Gorgeous dark haired beauties, making their way in the world as successful adults.
Looking Forward to Heaven
people ask me
if I’m looking forward to Heaven.
My reply is always
that I have already been to
every time that I walked down
with you on
your little blue tricycle
on my left
with your little sister in
her little blue stroller
in the center
our wonderful family dog
strutting along on our right.
We sang marvelous little songs
as we went on our way,
calling out to the world.
I’ve already been to Heaven
many times, and
it’s as incredibly joyful
as people say.
See why he’s so special?
Everyone should have such a teacher in their lives.
Here’s hoping we all look around and see a little heaven in our own lives today.
Angelo Zuccolo is the author of At Nighttime’s Bedside, New Year’s Laughtears, The Ocean Rose, Forty-Four Poems in Search of a Long Black Dress, and numerous short stories and playscripts.