Relationship Goals

Same day, different observation. The two pictured above walked from the sand toward the shore. He in his little bathing suit. She in her bikini. I would say they were in their 70’s. They stopped several yards from the waves and lifted their arms up toward the heavens. Then, they began what can only be described as calisthenics. Arms up and back. Swinging. Bending. Clearly a routine they both knew. Describing it to HT he said, “Like Jack Lalane?”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

There was vibrancy in how they moved.

They appeared to be reveling in being active. In being active under the broad sky, looking out at the ocean and the horizon. They did not care about what they looked like. They weren’t hiding or covering anything up.

After their routine, they went into the water. She hanging back a little, going slow. He, diving in.

Their whole ritual took maybe twenty minutes. And they were off.

I was happy for them.

And I hoped HT and I get there some day, free, and happy, and out there in tiny bathing suits, not giving a rip about anything but the joy we feel in the moment. Not caring who knows it.

They’re My Home

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.

Amen.

Witness

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.

Angelo Zuccolo

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.

Thank 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

Sometimes

people ask me

if I’m looking forward to Heaven. 

My reply is always

the same,

namely

that I have already been to

Heaven

every time that I walked down

our road

with you on

your little blue tricycle

on my left

with your little sister in

her little blue stroller

in the center

and

our wonderful family dog

strutting along on our right.

We sang marvelous little songs

as we went on our way,

laughing

smiling

calling out to the world.

Oh yes,

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.

Diving

This is my grandmother, in 1918. On the back of the photo it says her swan dive was 99.9% perfect. She was 16 at the time. She would go on to marry. Live in NYC for a while. Move back to her home town. Have twin boys, then another boy, then after many years, well into her 40’s, (44,45?)a girl. My mother. My grandmother was my age when she started over with a new baby. When that baby was 6, she would leave her drunk carousing husband once and for all, and venture out on her own as a single mother, before single motherhood was a norm.

She had an eighth grade education but she was smart. She worked as a secretary at a lumber yard for over forty years, hardly ever getting a raise, but she was frugal and managed to get me and my sibs one good pair of school shoes every year and a couple of articles of clothing.

When we would arrive at her apartment, unexpected, on school nights or weekends, at 10PM,  (bad nights when my mom didn’t want to leave us home with my father when she went off to work graveyard shift), my grandmother would fling the door open and exclaim,

“Oh Joy!”

She never made us feel like a burden.

She ate dandelions and pickled things, and loved to feed and watch birds. She was not a fan of cats, but learned to love our family dog, (secretly).

Recently, my sister and I discovered we both think of her whenever a red cardinal makes an appearance.

Soon after she retired at age 87, she moved in with my mother to become caretaker of my two preschool aged brothers, who had come along well after the rest of us, unexpectedly, a lot like my mother had. My father had left us, and did not pay support. My mom needed her to move in, to survive. Gramma cooked and did her best to clean, and did her best to raise the boys, though often she used shame as a method of keeping them in line. She meant well, and didn’t know better.

I was one of the closest people on earth to my grandmother. I was the last family member to see her before she died of congestive heart failure, staying with her in the ER until they got her settled into a room.

As we get ready to move south, and my whole world is up in the air, everything I think I believe has gone flying out the window, and I’ve been filled with panic at times. My faith in all things working out seems to have left me and I kind of see it off glinting in the distance somewhere, but I can’t quite reach it. Then my ego has a field day with this, a regular hootenanny, flagellating me, for being such a spiritual hypocrite. It isn’t enough to be afraid, but I then beat myself up over it too.

I know I don’t have life figured out. I often think I do, but my grandmother’s life serves as a reminder that I don’t.  At my age, she was starting her life anew, just beginning with my mother. So much was ahead of her.

Now…tongue firmly in cheek here, ……at my age, she wouldn’t even meet me, one of the closest people on earth to her, for another 20 years! (Yes, my grandmother’s life was all about me). Can you imagine? I might not even meet one of the people who will be there with me holding my hand, the day I die, for another 20 years?

But much to my amazement, my grandmother had a whole life before me too. There are photos to prove it. My mother gave me a whole envelope, years after my grandmother died.

Look at the photo above. She dove! What did it feel like to feel so free in your body Gramma? You never talked about it!  99.9% perfect.

And look at this one. Who is this Mabel Rodman, obviously a BFF…that you never once mentioned?And when by God, did you ever wear high heels or pose flirtily hanging off a train? Gramma? I knew ye only in orthopedic shoes. And who took the pictures?

 

 

There are so many chapters in the story of a life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are about to start a new one. It feels so frightening. So much appears to be on the line. We’re losing so much money on the house, it’s like completely starting over financially.

But…. we’re, “going in the light that’s given us.” Truly, we are.

and…

“Things have a way of working out.”

and…

God loves us.”

Beyond my fear, I know these things to be true.

I know it.

My gramma gave me that.

 

Love.

Uplifting things going around FB yesterday.

Here.

Here.

Here.

“As we are holding our brothers and sisters in prayer who were either maimed or killed in this latest act of violence, let us remember two things. One, lets allow this event to be a catalyst for the activation of compassion in our hearts & souls & learn to live in the questions of “how can I serve? & “how can I help eliminate suffering”? And two, always remember that the All-good always wins and regardless of pin pricks of violence that are experienced by many on this planet the GOOD far exceeds the appearance of evil. Life always wins! Stay prayerful! Stay Grateful! -Peace.”

– Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith, Agape International Spiritual Center

 

 

Uncle

There is a writing workshop I really, really want to go to coming up later this month. There are two people presenting I really, really want to meet in person. I admire their work and have received good support from them, and I would like to support them back,  and I just would love to immerse myself in their positive ju-ju for a day or two.

Plus there is another HUGE writer I would love to hear speak. Plus, there is another smaller panel and one of the writers on it I would just be thrilled to meet in person. I love her work and what she is about and she could be a very influential contact for my next book, a spiritual book on parenting children with special needs.

BUT

It is over eight hours away. And I am bone tired. We traveled six hours by car two weekends ago because Todd’s mom is sick and I’ve barely got my footing since getting back. And we will likely be doing it again soon.

AND

We are getting our house ready to sell. It is a TON of work. Clearing out. Painting. Hiring various contractors to do work we can’t do. Getting inspections taken care of. Meeting with realtors. Selling our stuff on Craigslist. Trying to get it “show” ready.

ALSO

Todd has been working like a demon. He’s been doing tons of shifts that start at 6AM, and he is tired too. We’ve barely had a moment together in weeks, and I miss him.

ANOTHER THING

I meet with some of my women writer friends here the weekend of the workshop, and this group is very important to me and I won’t be here in Cleveland much longer and I don’t want to miss it/them.

PLUS

I’d miss chorus. And I won’t be here in Cleveland much longer and I don’t want to miss it/them.

SO

I just have to cry uncle. I have to believe there is always another workshop. Always another ship coming in. Always Divine timing.

I could go to the workshop. But it would likely wipe me out. Writing workshops are great, but they are not relaxing. They are not retreats. They are often stressful, and emotionally draining, especially if you are doing real work. And why go if you’re not going to do the real work?

It’s all okay.

I can do everything I want in this life, just not all at the same time.

Damn it.

Let the Dogs Speak!

I first met Marianne McKiernan when she contacted me to do a story for the news organization she works for in Denver. She is a service dog puppy raiser as well as a reporter and her dog-in-training, Rocket, had a mad crush on Jingle. In addition to training dogs for Canine Companions for Independence, Marianne is an animal intuitive and she has offered her services a couple of times when our pets have been out of sorts.

In her new book, Let the Dogs Speak! Puppies in Training Tell the Story of Canine Companions for Independence, Marianne tells the story of four dogs she’s raised and she does it…in the dogs’ voices…thus the title.  Their names are Hudson, Parker, Ross and Mars. I started to read the book, and then Seth hi-jacked it and I didn’t see it again for three weeks. He took it to school for his reading time there, and he read it every night before bed. He really enjoyed learning about each dog’s story and also the personality and idiosyncracies of the many dogs discussed in the book. For instance, one dog is phobic of butter. When his person takes a stick out of the fridge, he gets really scared. We all have our issues, right? One dog liked to use his bone as a skateboard. One dog’s hobbies included rolling in dead snake.

I enjoyed learning more about what goes into the process of raising a service dog. I had an idea, probably a better idea than most, but I didn’t really know the extent of it.  In addition to the extensive work puppy raisers like Marianne and her husband John put in, the dogs at Canine Companions go through a rigorous program with prison inmates as well (Jingle also did this in her program with 4 Paws for Ability). As one of the dogs in the book states, “It takes a village to raise a service dog!”

Let the Dogs Speak! would be a perfect book for anyone who is considering obtaining a service dog. It would be especially soothing and wonderful and exciting to read for anyone who is actively waiting on a service dog. It would also be great reading for anyone who is considering being a puppy raiser for a service dog program. But truly, anyone who loves dogs is sure to get a kick out of it. Every question you ever had about service dogs and their role in society is covered.

You just can’t imagine the dedication and commitment on the part of puppy raisers like Marianne. They take puppy after puppy, love them, work with them, and then let them go, time after time. It takes a special kind of person to make that kind of committment and sacrifice.

On behalf of our family and those like us, we thank you Marianne, and we’re so appreciative for your willingness to do the beautiful work you do.

We are glad you Let the Dogs Speak! and we are so blessed to call you friend.

Marianne is busy raising Jeb, puppy #9, almost 8 months old.  Rocket, #8, is at Advanced Training and he’s a hopeful for a May graduation. Even after all the hard work and love put in, not every dog makes it through the program. It is nerve wracking for Marianne right up until the day of graduation.

Jeb is continuing Marianne’s DogBlog at The Denver Channel.com.

She says she gets more out of CCI than she puts into it, and feels it is a pleasure and a privilege to raise these dogs.

The Tallest Woman in the World With a Tail

I facilitate a book group for kids age 10-12, and Friday we discussed Betti on the High Wire. I loved the book so much. It is about a girl in a war torn country who gets adopted by American parents. She is a smart, brave, orphan girl. She is a survivor. She is also a story teller.

Betti is one of many “leftover” kids who lives in an abandoned circus camp. One of the stories she often tells is of her parents, The Tallest Woman in the World With a Tail, and her father…the Alligator Man. She longs for the day they come find her.  

I won’t spoil the book for you, but wanted to share something interesting. Out of the five kids (with me making six) all of us had a different picture in our heads of what kind of tail Betti’s mom had.

I envisioned an alligator tail. One child pictured a fox’s tail. One child thought it was a monkey tail. One child envisioned a cat’s tail. Another a lion. Another, a dog’s tail.

Isn’t that something? All of us read the exact same sentences. Each of us envisioned something completely different.

The same could be said for Betti. The author deliberately doesn’t tell you what country she is from and only gives certain physical characteristics. One child thought Betti was blond with a French accent. Some thought she was likely Asian. Of course none of us knew for sure.

Perception is an individual thing.

This book group for 10-12 year olds stays on task better than any adult book group I’ve been part of. Maybe it’s because there is no wine? Such thoughtful discussions we have. 

Two more meetings before our move. Two more books.

We’re really going to miss these wonderful reader/friends. Each with a perspective as unique as Betti’s mother’s imagined tail.

Easter

Yesterday I was so flat out exhausted. Todd knew it and offered to take over morning routine today so I could sleep. We’re good that way. I think it is one of the reasons our marriage is strong. We intuit when the other one needs help, validation, sleep. We do our best to give it to the other one. Whoever needs it most.

So I was attempting to sleep in, when my eyes popped open. Easter. It’s the Thursday before Easter, last day before break and my daughter goes to Catholic school. It’s her first year there.

Being a very sensitive child myself, I remember being traumatized by the story of the crucifixion. Why would God allow that to happen to His son? And, why would God give a crap about me if He didn’t bother to help Jesus? Riley is even more sensitive and certainly more literal than I was. We needed to talk. I hopped out of bed, rubbed my eyes and went into her very pink bedroom and shimmied under her covers. She stood there in her uniform, brushing her long hair in front of the full length mirror.

“Riley, they are going to be talking about Easter today, and they are going to be talking about the crucifixion and I want to offer you something to think about when you are hearing all of this.” She knows the crucifixion story, of course, but it hasn’t been hammered into her skull all her life. It’s been on the periphery. “God loves you” is mostly what she’s been told. It’s served her little sensitive Aspergian heart well over the last 12 years.

She stopped brushing and looked at me.

“The real story of Easter, the message of Jesus, is the resurrection. Beaten, tortured, Jesus said, Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

She gives me a beautiful, soft smile.

I continue, “On the cross, Jesus had every reason to hate, but he didn’t. He saw only love. He saw only love in everyone, even those who ridiculed him. Even those who were actively killing him. He was so tapped into God, he knew so adamantly Who He Was that nothing could make him stop loving. And he said he wasn’t special. He said we all have this power inside us.”

My throat tightens. I am not into religion, but Jesus moves me. He does. The love.

“The real story of Easter is that love cannot be killed. That’s why we’re still talking about Jesus today. The real story is the resurrection.”

Riley tipped her head to the side and thought about this for a moment.

“Thank you for telling me that, Mom,” she said.

In the kitchen while eating breakfast she reiterated our conversation to Todd.

“Nothing can kill love.”

Amen.

Now, I can rest.

Before the Healing Service

On Sunday we went to a healing service with Dr. Issam Nemeh. I recently read the book Miracles Every Day and wanted to experience his prayer for our family in person.

Earlier that morning, as we were getting ready, Seth asked, “Will he help with my PANDAS?”

“I don’t know, Seth. It’s kind of a Thy will be done thing. We don’t know spiritually what your PANDAS is here for. Are you to be cured? To be a testament of cure being possible? Are you to be a teacher with it? Will you serve many others because you have these tics, or are you to be done with them? What did your soul come here to do? I can’t say. All I can say is be open.”

Riley says, “Mom, he isn’t going to just cure anything instantly.”

I said, “Actually he’s done plenty of that. There is documentation of physical changes, before and after x-rays. Tumors gone. Diseases healed. Lab tests to prove it.”

“I’m sorry to be skeptical,” she says, raising her eyebrows.

“It is okay if you are skeptical. I just ask that you join us, and that you be respectful.”

She nods, okay.

I add, “I’m never going to tell you what to think.”

Riley replies sincerely,

“Thank you.”

When I was growing something wild and unruly….

I miss the Dixie Chicks. The kids and I have been listening to their CD’s in the car lately and my heart just soars with every song.

I read somewhere recently that Natalie Maines said she doesn’t think the Dixie Chicks will get back together. She kind of gave up, saying their last tour wasn’t a success because they lost their huge country music fan base in the whole calling out G.W. on his shit moment, and she’d rather go out on a high note than sputter.

What about the true fans that weren’t necessarily country music fans to begin with, but were Dixie Chick fans through and through? Don’t we matter? Aren’t we enough?

Natalie?

The Dixie Chicks to me represent a time in my life when I was falling in love. Big love. It was the first time I let someone truly care for me. Cowboy Take Me Away (pharmacist, take me away…it works). I had gone back to school for nursing. I was leaving behind a lifetime of pain and starting to fly. I searched that summer for a pair of cowboy boots, and after weeks of looking, I found them. Black. Had to drive an hour to find the right ones.

The Dixie Chicks are the soundtrack of that time in my life.

Todd convinced me to stop going at a crazy pace (I was on track to become a nurse in one year through an accelerated bacclaeurate program) and enjoy our first year of being married. It wouldn’t matter down the road if I completed it in one year or two. Don’t miss our first year. I dropped back to regular time and felt totally sinful for not being stressed to the hilt. Contentment? A concept so foreign to me. I made him dinners. We spoiled our puppy. For the first time in my life, I felt relaxed, and beautiful.

Oh those early years! I loved Natalie Maines and her feisty “let it rip” in your face, attitude. I could relate to that. I loved the soulful ballads and I loved the balls to the wall songs. Hole in my Head. Sin Wagon! Their humor, Good-bye Earl. Emily with her banjo was OMG before OMG. Martie commanding emotions with her fiddle more than words ever could. Natalie’s comment a few years later on the verge of the Iraq war didn’t surprise me. I didn’t see why it was such a big deal. It just got turned into this huge propaganda moment by the war machine and the un-thinkers in the country music world. Part of me is like, So what Natalie? Where’s your fight? Why do you care? Screw them.

And part of me knows that people like Natalie, such big big personalities are often very sensitive on the inside. The toll the whole thing took on her, had to be immeasurable.

She’s given us enough already, even if she never sings another note. She owes no one anything.

But I miss them. I miss their unparalleled synergy and talent.

I took it for granted at the time.

I’ll forever be appreciative to The Dixie Chicks for accompanying that sweet blip of time in my life when my only responsibilty was to study a bit, make a nice dinner for my man, and let him love me.

 

Surrender

~~

I surrender.

I’ve been pondering the difference between giving up and surrender. To me, giving up feels like abandoning a dream. Walking away from something unfinished. Not being brave, perhaps. Not giving it your all.

Surrender, to me, feels like handing it over to a power greater than myself. Acknowledging  I don’t know what  will happen if I let go, of an idea, of a dream, of a way of being, but trusting it will be okay.

With love, I surrender anything that does not serve my highest good.

I make room for light.

I let it be.

Some Things I Like About My Husband

1) He fixes my Kindle when it freezes up.

2) He often fills up my gas tank without me asking (I would never ask…I know how to fill up my own tank…but it is nice when he does it).

3)He gives me as much space as I need and I never feel him pining away for me when I’m holed out in my little office, but he’s happy to see me when I return.

4) He gets what I do. Truly gets it. Appreciates it. Validates it. I mostly don’t even know what the hell I do, but he does, and he gets it.

5) He loves our kids as much as I do. They are his #1 priority.

6) He’s very open minded.

7) He’s smart.

8. He thinks I’m smart.

9)He will eat pizza any time, as many days in a row as it needs to happen. And he’ll be happy about it.

10) He does not drink and is happy to be designated driver.

11) He does the garbage and the taxes and the lawn mowing.

12) He doesn’t notice, or blame me, if the house is a wreck.

13) He’s good with the one-liners.

14) He thinks I’m hilarious.

15) He’s a wicked hard worker, and he’s competent and efficient and responsible.

*This list was compiled after I was flooded with appreciation when HT fixed my Kindle. He’s magic like that. Amen.

Barbara Azzara,Teaching Excellence Not Perfection

A little background. Probably twenty years ago, my friend Anna mentioned something casually in conversation about Emmanuel’s Book: A Manual for Living Comfortably in the Cosmos. This was when I was living in the DC area. I filed it away in my brain because the concept she presented, or quote, or whatever it was, was quite beautiful.

Not long after, I came across the book in a used book store and bought it. It is a lovely book. It is one you can pick up, read one page, and feel lighter. It covers huge concepts in few words. I love it. I have kept my copy all these years. A few months back, I read it again and was delighted by it again. I checked to see if there was an author website. There was. There were links. One of the links was to Barbara Azzara’s website. She’s a friend of the author. I signed up for her monthly newsletter and have been very inspired by her words. I sent her an e-mail, thanking her for her newsletter. She responded. We’ve emailed back and forth some. I don’t know her well but she is a very loving person. That much I know already.

In last month’s newsletter she asked four questions. I answered them and learned some things about myself. I’m going to include the exercise and my responses here which is a little scary because it’s so personal. I wrote this last month and put it away for a while to let it simmer. To make sure it is something I really feel comfortable sharing. Fear would have me want to keep it locked away to protect myself further.

But I had a little talk with fear yesterday, and turns out while fear might mean well, (and that’s a big might) it’s basically full of shit.

This exercise helped me and maybe it will help someone else. I feel whenever we learn and share, it is a good thing. So here I go…it’s kind of stream of consciousness, but you’ll get the gist. I don’t know why my responses are all in caps, but I promise I’m not yelling. I’m just too lazy busy to go back and change them.

1. Name your images, and understand and name: “what is the fear and the defensive behavior that these circumstances created. ”  Another way of saying it is:  are you willing to ask yourself what is the belief that my ego is built upon?  (I must be agreed with, I must never be criticised, etc.)  Done in depth, this is a freeing exploration.

I MUST BE THE PERFECT MOTHER

2. What are your self judgments and your faults, that have created your idealized self image?  Another way of saying this is:  What about you will you “not accept” so that you will alter yourself and pretend to be other then you are.  You cannot be vulnerable or transparent if you continue to NOT accept your own “imperfections”. List these self limiting values, and see how you have distorted them into “idealization”.  (I must always be “understood.” I must always be generous of my time, money etc.)

I CANNOT ACCEPT THAT I AM OVERWHELMED. I AM LOST. I OFTEN FEEL LIKE I AM BARELY HOLDING MY HEAD ABOVE WATER TRYING TO PARENT THESE KIDS.

I FEEL LIKE I MUST ALWAYS BE PERFECT AT THIS BECAUSE I SUFFERED SO MUCH AS A CHILD AND CANNOT BEAR THE THOUGHT OF MY CHILDREN SUFFERING.

I MUST FIND ALL THE ANSWERS. I MUST FIND THE RIGHT SCHOOLS, DOCTORS, I MUST STUDY STUDY STUDY TO FIND WHAT THEY NEED FOR MEDICAL TREATMENT. I MUST DO IT ALL MYSELF BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE IS GOING TO FIGURE IT OUT FOR ME AND THEY NEED HELP. I HAVE TO FIGURE IT OUT. I FEAR LONG TERM EFFECTS. IT’S ALL ON ME. I MUST NEVER LOSE MY TEMPER. I MUST ALWAYS SAY THE RIGHT THING. I MUST PREPAVE EVERY SITUATION AND ANTICIPATE EVERY SCENARIO. I MUST MAKE ALL THE FOOD BY SCRATCH. I MUST PROTECT THEM AT EVERY TURN. I MUST DO IT NOW OR THEY WILL SUFFER MORE LATER. I MUST PREVENT THEIR SUFFERING.

3. Are you willing to be real, (What does this mean to you?) and then are you willing to risk being seen for all of who you are?  Are you willing to accept your own imperfections and not project them onto others.  Are you willing to take the time to write about this?  ( ex:  I am angry, but rather than admit this, I will tell you that you are angry.) 

I CANNOT TOLERATE EVEN A WHIFF OF JUDGEMENT ABOUT MY PARENTING. OVER THE YEARS, SOME HAVE BLATENTLY JUDGED. OTHERS HAVE OFFERED JUDGEMENT THINLY VEILED AS “CONCERN” OR “SUGGESTIONS.” OTHERS, STONE COLD SILENCE WHEN I’VE BEEN BRAVE ENOUGH TO BE HONEST ABOUT HOW BAD IT’S BEEN SOMETIMES. AND IT FELT LIKE A BRICK ON MY BACK THAT WOULD SINK ME. IT FELT MEAN. IT FELT WRONG TOO BECAUSE THEY DID NOT LIVE MY LIFE, OR KNOW MY CHILDREN OR KNOW WHAT THEY NEED OR APPRECIATE HOW HARD I AM ALWAYS TRYING.

4. Are you willing to do this as a spiritual practice and devote yourself to “excellence” not perfection?  Without this commitment to go beyond your frustration, without this commitment to go beyond your fear of rejection, your fear of exposure or criticism,  and without this ability to be objective, first with yourself, and then with other, you cannot be present in your heart, and therefore you will not be able to connect and to walk with another in true open heartedness. This is the way of Leadership, and this is the path of intimacy.

I HOPE TO BE ABLE TO HEAR SOMEONE’S CRITICISM. I HOPE TO BE CONFIDENT ENOUGH IN MY PARENTING THAT I CAN LOOK AT ANY CRITICISM CURIOUSLY. WHAT THEY ARE CRITICIZING ABOUT ME IS A FEAR THEY HAVE THEMSELVES ABOUT WHAT THEY DID OR DIDN’T DO OR WHAT THEY MIGHT DO. WHAT THEY THINK THEY KNOW ABOUT ME, IS ONLY PROJECTION. I AM STRONG ENOUGH TO ENDURE ANOTHER’S CRITICISM. IT DOESN’T MAKE IT TRUE. THOUGH IT MIGHT BE. I’M STRONG ENOUGH TO LOOK AT WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, WEIGH IT CAREFULLY AND DECIDE EITHER TO ACCEPT IT AND WORK ON IT OR TO REJECT IT AS INVALID PERCEPTION AND LET IT GO. I DON’T NEED TO LET IT THROW ME AND GET ALL UPSET ABOUT IT. I DON’T NEED TO PROVE ANYTHING.

I DON’T NEED TO BE PERFECT. I AM NOT PERFECT. I DON’T NEED TO BE SEEN AS PERFECT.

I CAN MAKE MISTAKES. I AM FALLIBLE. I AM HUMAN.

I AM VERY UNCOMFORTABLE WITH PEOPLE NOT LIKING ME. I DON’T HAVE TO BE LIKED. I DON’T HAVE TO BE APPROVED OF. RILEY HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE AT THE ORTHODONTIST RECENTLY, AND I STOOD UP FOR HER, BUT THEN WORRIED THE DOCTOR AND STAFF WOULD BE MAD AT ME. IT ISN’T MY JOB NOT TO RUFFLE ANYONE’S FEATHERS. IT IS MY JOB TO ADVOCATE FOR MY CHILD.

IT ISN’T MY WORK TO MAKE THE WORLD APPROVE OF ME. IT IS MY WORK TO BE ME.

I AM A GOOD MOTHER.

I AM NOT A PERFECT MOTHER. MY CHILDREN WILL SURVIVE MY IMPERFECTIONS.

I AM AN EXCELLENT MOTHER.

I AM NOT A PERFECT MOTHER.

I AM ENOUGH.

 

*If you would like to recieve Barbara’s newsletter aka Love Letters, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up.

**The Alden Nowlan quote on my sidebar came to me courtesy of Barbara too!

Boat Lift

I saw the video below on a friend’s Facebook page. At first I didn’t want to watch it, because honestly, thinking about 9/11 is still traumatic for me. I was half way across the country in the Chicago suburbs at the time. Riley was a baby. I watched the footage all day to the point of making myself crazy and sick. I didn’t know better at the time. I felt I had to be tuned in, in case. It made a housewife in Chicago tremble in fear, and I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be in NYC. Fear beyond fear.

Boat Lift is different. It’s what the news didn’t mention. A call for help was put out and instantly, boats showed up to evacuate people off Manhatten. Boats that were out floating around doing whatever, work, pleasure…they stopped all they were doing and drove right into the thick of it.

They helped. I always think of Mr. Rogers and his famous advice…. “look for the helpers.” When dealing with any type of problem, especially disaster, teach your children to look for the helpers. They are there.

Boat Lift (narrated by Tom Hanks). The perfect short film to renew your faith in humanity.

In My Mind We’re Fred and Ginger

Did I mention Hot Toddy and I are taking ballroom dance lessons?

For one hour on Wednesday evenings, we meet in the cafeteria of a local high school. Our instructor is Mitzi. She’s a senior citizen. She’s about five foot. She’s got an eastern European accent. She wears her hair in a bun at the top of her head, and a floral wreath encircles the bun. She often wears blue eye shadow. She wears sweat shirts and running shoes. She’s in better shape than any of the couples there. When Mitzi pulls you out of the group to demonstrate something, you discover she’s strong as an ox. When she leads, she leads. I adore her.

So far she’s taught us the basics to The Fox Trot, the Rumba (in which she complimented HT on his hip action…he beamed), The Cha Cha Cha, Swing, and The Waltz.

Since the class is in a cafeteria, and there are tables, and it’s only an hour, we bring the kids and let them sit at a table and play on their iPods.

I love dancing with Todd. We have so much fun. We have a long way to go before we aren’t looking down at our feet, or missing steps, or getting it wrong, but we are laughing. He doesn’t know this, but deep in concentration while we’re dancing, he presses his lips together and tilts his head. It’s cute. He’s discovered the secret of leading, which has a lot to do with a firm signal from his right hand on the back of my ribs. And oh…how I need someone to lead something. Someone, just tell me what to do, and don’t make me think, okay? I love it.

Every now and again, I look over Todd’s shoulder at the kids, and they are watching us. Riley smiles, Seth will give me a wink. On the ride home, they are still on their iPods and they are replaying “us” dancing. They weren’t playing games, they were recording. They’ve added special effects. They speed it up, and slow it down, and make us different colors, and they giggle. And I feel good about this family. I feel good about kids watching their parents dance. And mess up. And laugh. And love.

That I Would be Good

I was listening to a podcast

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recently of Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith’s radio show. He was interviewing Alanis Morissette. I wasn’t really into her when she hit it big in the 90’s. I think the full force of her anger in songs like You Oughta Know scared me. I had plenty of my own anger at the time, (so of course I was repulsed by her’s).

Listening to the podcast, it was evident that Alanis Morissette is a deeply spiritual person. She’s not pretending to be perfect. She’s tapped into all of her emotions and learning from all of them. They shared several songs during the interview. The one above is not new, but it was new to me. I thought it was moving and wanted to share it with you. To me it speaks of Divine love, which is never based on conditions. We never have to be “good enough” for God. The song sounds like a prayer.

Lyrics below:

“That I Would Be Good”

that I would be good even if I did nothing

that I would be good even if I got the thumbs down

that I would be good if I got and stayed sick

that I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

that I would be fine even if I went bankrupt

that I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth

that I would be great if I was no longer queen

that I would be grand if I was not all knowing

that I would be loved even when I numb myself

that I would be good even when I am overwhelmed

that I would be loved even when I was fuming

that I would be good even if I was clingy

that I would be good even if I lost sanity

that I would be good

whether with or without you

*For more of Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith’s archived Sound of Transformation radio shows on KPFK 90.7 FM click here. To Live Stream one of his services at the Agape International Spiritual Center click here. For more on Alanis Morissette, click here.