I Will

I have disappeared.  It was not sudden.

Today in the shower it hit me like a boulder.  I have spent 20 years of my life trying to be someone I am not.

Eight of those with a boy-man who did not deserve my love, yet I threw it at him as if my life depended on it.  I started the journey with him so head-strong, confident (sarcastically so).  I ended it not knowing if I was worth being loved.  He broke me down to my most insecure parts.  Why?  I don’t think it was intentional.  He was unfaithful, but parts of him cared for me.  I stayed through it all.  I lost my spine.  I convinced myself that my only salvation was for him to love me.  I shut off all the pieces of myself that made me true.

I spent a couple of years after that relationship bobbing in a sea of numbness.  Uncertainty.  Edging towards healing.  I did not give myself enough time nor credit.

I spent fifteen more years with a man who loved me dearly.  He had a good heart.  He was a good father.  But I was still an imposter in my own head.  I tried (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to be a good wife, a good step-mother.  I don’t regret the children and family I loved then.  I do not regret the lessons I learned.  I regret least of all the beautiful gift of a daughter we made together.  I DO regret that I was still so lost, so far from myself.  Towards the end of the relationship, I started to find myself again; oddly, with chronic pain as the catalyst.  I had no more room for pretense, for hiding, for glossing over.  I became raw, and ran towards my damaged parts to cover and protect them.  I broke his heart, unintentionally.  He broke mine, unintentionally.  I pulled the trigger to end it, because he never would.  I made the decision to save us both.

I am now foggy.  I still haven’t found my way back to my soul.  It is hovering below the surface, protecting itself from – well, from what I don’t know.  I am still healing.  I am still learning.  I am working my way back up.  The mountain is sometimes so tall.

I will get there, I think.  I will not get there, I fear.  I will put one foot in front of the other.  Every god damn day.

In Reverence to Change

It’s an over-used adage: ‘Change is a good thing‘. It’s heard and read so often, sometimes, that you breeze by it without even registering it. The same thing can happen when you’ve been working towards a change for a long time; the results can fail to register as well. But occasionally something will happen so big and bold, it reminds you just how good change can be. And when you also realize that it’s your own blood and sweat and sacrifice that’s caused it, the reward is that much bigger…

A common change that we all try to make is to be ‘better parents than our own’, right? Well, the same is true for me, but in specific and measurable ways. I have, for the better part of twelve years now, been actively working on changing my own DNA when it comes to parenting. Reason being, I was raised by an impatient yeller (excessively so). Don’t get me wrong; this impatient yeller loved me (and still does) more than anyone else on the planet, and I have never doubted that for a second of my life. But yelling also came with the territory. We’re Irish: it’s in the blood – my Dad got angry and yelled; his Dad got angry and yelled; most of my Dad’s family gets angry and yells. We all do it. It doesn’t make it okay, but it’s how I learned to parent. And when I became a step-parent twelve years ago, it’s what I did, too; until I made the decision I was going to learn how NOT to.

Fast forward to now: my step-sons are grown and out of the house, and I have added an 8-year-old daughter to the mix. My ‘impatient yelling’ self is much more reigned in. She still pops out occasionally, but I am significantly more aware and in control of her; and most of the time, I can actively make a better choice regarding her reactions. Today, however, I was hit smack in the face with the distinction of choosing to make an effort to improve a behavior, and choosing to be present in the moment that you do it. It may seem like an odd insight; but I don’t think I have ever truly experienced the difference between the two – and I mean really FELT it – until today.

My daughter is amazing; healthy, brilliant, thriving. But she is also, at times, emotionally challenging, and has some things in that area we have to work on with her. This morning happened to be one of those times. I was clued-in when my husband, on his way out the door, popped into the bathroom with a desperate look on his face and said (after checking on our daughter’s ‘getting out of bed’ progress), “I’m sorry, she’s on the floor with her hands on her face saying she wants Momma…”. I took a few moments before I responded to her (I knew I would need them; I knew how this would go). And in those moments I was reminded of some advice I’ve been reading from an amazing blogger (Hands Free Mama) about being present – really living in the moment – and I made a choice. I decided then and there that, today, we would be late – late for school, late for work, late for everything – and that it would be okay. There was nothing monumental we would miss; nothing tragic would happen because of our lateness. And I decided to be okay with that, and let all the stress of rushing to get out the door go along with it. I stopped what I was doing to be there for my daughter because she needed me, and the moment needed me and, quite frankly, we weren’t getting out of that house if I didn’t. Once I was fully committed to my decision I took a couple of deep breaths, prepared myself for the long-haul, and headed upstairs.

As I entered her room I could hear her crying; she was already hiding in the closet. I walked over and knelt down in front of her and softly said, “You know what I noticed just now?” She shook her head. “I noticed that with all my rushing to get out of the house this morning, I haven’t taken the time to ask you if you need anything from me today, so I thought I would. So, is there anything you need, or that I can help you with this morning? I’m all yours.” At that she turned her big teary blue eyes to me and started lamenting about not being able to decide what to wear. From there, we moved into fears about going to school, then anxiety about cleaning her closet. None of it was really logical, but emotions rarely are. She then fixated on cleaning the closet floor, and I knew better than to try and avert her from it until she was done (she sometimes gets into modes like these when extremely overly-emotional or anxious). So I just settled in, calmly talked to her, and let her whirl until I found the opening to re-direct. I eventually got her focused on breakfast and getting dressed and moving a little farther forward, but not by pushing; more by letting her flow the way she needed to. We eventually wound back up in the bathroom (finally clothed and fed) with me finishing up my routine, and her brushing her teeth. She was keeping a close proximity to me even though she was done, and was sitting on the edge of the bathtub. I found myself, in that moment, making another choice. I turned to her and said, “Well, we’re almost ready to go, but you know there’s one other thing I have to do today first. I don’t know about you, but I could really use a big hug.” I then knelt down in front of her again (being on her level really helps out), which made her grin because at 8-years-old, she’s actually taller than I am when I’m kneeling. She just kind of gazed at me for a few minutes, gently playing with my hair, then she giggled, saying, “You have funny gray hairs on the top of your head, Momma”, with a big grin on her face. Then she leaned in for a big hug; long enough that I could still feel her with me even after she bounded out of the bathroom to go find her shoes.

Eventually we got out of the house (really late), got her to school (even later), and I got to work (later still). And I was right; nothing monumentally bad happened. In fact, probably the opposite. Because I took the time to get her in a better state of mind, she actually had the chance at a half-way decent day, vs. me forcing her out of the house in a panic-stricken state which would have ensured her day was a bust (and mine, as well). Lateness isn’t fatal. Stress and (seeming) failure and tears and grief are far greater foes. We would do well to remember that more often. As I drove to work I felt comfort in the knowledge that I had made good choices for the morning, lateness or not.

However, it wasn’t until the drive home that evening that the impact of my decisions really hit me. As I was on my way to pick my daughter up, I was wondering (for the millionth time) how her day had actually gone; what kind of mood she would be in when I got to her. I was replaying the morning’s happenings in my head. And it was then that I had a revelation; my memories of the events weren’t what I expected. Normally I would focus on my stress, her anxiety, the upset tears, my efforts to stay calm, etc. They would all be jumbled together in one big frustrating mess. But this time, the memories were clear and crisp, not to mention surprising. I remembered the feel of the carpet on my legs as I knelt down in front of her closet; the color of her blue eyes and messy blond hair as she looked up at me; the warmth of her hand as she took mine to go down the stairs; the sound of her voice giggling and feel of her hands on my ‘funny gray hair’ as I sat below her in the bathroom; the weight of her as she leaned into me for that huge, long hug. That’s what I remember about this morning. All those little moments, like snapshots in my head and heart. They are clear and sparkling in my mind because I was there; I was truly present for each of those moments today. And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t just choose not to be angry today; I CHOSE to be PRESENT.

I did this. I made this happen. No one but me. By consciously making a choice to be present, to give myself to the situation, to be different for my daughter and for myself, I created these moments today. I made this change. It’s several hours past when it first hit me and I’m still floored by the vastness of it. I’ve been working so hard at controlling the anger/yelling piece for so long, it astounds me that today I surpassed that in a way I didn’t even realize I was striving for. Just by choosing to BE IN THE MOMENT changed the whole game. Changed my whole memory of the event. It’s staggering, really, the impact of this specific change.

And it’s such, such a good thing.

Goodness Shines Through

Violence. It’s everywhere lately, isn’t it? On the news, television shows, the papers; you can find it without even having to look for it. It’s so prevalent, we almost get used to it, I feel. Reports of fights, murder, abuse, rape. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t encounter some sort of story on at least one of these items somewhere. What a world, right?

Even television; violence seems to be a central plot-point to the most popular shows today. How many “CSI” series are running concurrently now, anyway? And can you have a Crime Scene Investigation without first there being a crime? Well, no, you can’t. And it seems to be worsening; many of the shows that came out last year were pushing the envelope way more than just your run-of-the-mill ‘CSI’. I’m talking about things like ‘Hannibal’ and ‘The Following’. Sure, great drama; but if you’ve checked any of them out, they’re extremely heavy on the graphic from a violence perspective. And they’re not alone. Thing is, they’re huge hits. Which makes me wonder, why the desire for more?

I’m not innocent, here. I watch my fair share of crime shows; though I stay away from the graphic ones. I can stomach them, but I choose not to. They simply turn me off. But I also see violence in shows and movies that don’t necessarily have that as their central theme. Sometimes, it’s part of the purpose of telling a story, so I get it. It’s part of life. And as I mentioned, it’s everywhere lately. So you can imagine my surprise when it hit me in the face last night when I watched a movie and was completely caught off guard…

It was a great movie; lots of themes about fathers and sons, responsibility, etc. It was a quick scene about two high school acquaintances coming to blows, only one got the upper hand and really took it out on the other. I mean really went at him. The other one was badly injured, wound up in the hospital; it was rough. Even rougher on me was the fact that this type of violence has touched my life in the past, and this particular scene hit way too close to home. The age of the actors, the sounds of the fighting, the boy lying on the ground. I was instantly transported back to another time entirely, unsuspectingly; and what would have just been some random violence in a movie took on a whole different feel.

I remembered vividly the phone call about the attack; though this one wasn’t from classmates, it was unprovoked and unexplained from strangers, and more violent. I remembered feeling helpless, with nothing I could do until being allowed to come to the hospital. Desperately wanting to go there as fast as I could while simultaneously wanting to avoid it at all costs because I was terrified at what I would see. Once I did arrive, using every bit of strength I had to conceal my fear and worry so as to appear calm when he saw me so I didn’t upset him more. Gathering in that small room with rows of chairs and solemn faces while strangers with scalpels and sutures put him back together. Waiting to find out if it would all be okay, if HE would be okay, all the while knowing that no matter what magic they worked in that operating room, nothing would ever make it OKAY.

All of this rushed over me in a matter of minutes while I sat on the couch, movie paused, remote in my hand, tears running down my face. It’s been years since all of this took place; and yet it came back so quickly, like only yesterday. Since then I’ve seen someone I love break in more ways than just bones and body. Violence has a way of permeating everything it touches like a virus and spreading outward; like a dark cancer. Untreated, it will consume your whole being.

I would guess that’s partly why I struggle, at times, with being the overprotective mother to my now 8-year-old daughter. It’s difficult, as she grows, to let her have the wings she needs; to not hover so much. To let her ride her bicycle with her group of friends down the block as they laugh without a care; let her run through the backyards of sprinklers and games of ‘tag’ so freely. Because I know what lurks when you don’t watch closely enough; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s an image you can never remove.

But you can fight it. You can be vigilant. You can attack that cancer with light and goodness and send it back to its hole where it belongs. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen that broken boy heal. I’ve seen him overcome demons in ways I never would have imagined, and some he is still fighting. Is he unchanged? Not even close; nor are we. Violence leaves scars on everyone it touches. But if we let it keep us down, then it wins; the cancer keeps spreading. Only when we fight back – even when it seems hopeless – only when we dig out of the darkest pit and move forward past the broken places, that’s when the healing becomes the victor. That’s when the goodness shines through.

Put Away Your Scalpels

Tonight I went walking with my daughter.  It was great to be outside; strolling in the sun and the breeze.  It’s been some time since I’ve felt myself really move, felt alive, watched her laugh and live beside me.  I would have missed out on today as well, if not for a little white lie.

This morning I had an appointment with my dermatologist.  Just a regular checkup, though it seems like my checkups are never really “regular”.  I am blessed on my father’s side with a large Irish bloodline.  This also means I am somewhat un-blessed with very fair Irish skin; pale, burns easily, lots of moles.  I very frequently have irregular moles removed.  Almost always, they end up benign, and we’re good to go.  This past April, however, was my 3-year cancerversary.  Having a melanoma removed from your thigh at 37 is an experience, let me tell you.  So I take my checkups seriously, and when my doc sees something he thinks should go, I listen.  But today was different.

The reason?  I have just come out of the other side of one hell of a migraine cycle.  It was basically an entire month of pain, grouchy wife/momma, weekends trying to rest, meds, early evenings, rinse, repeat.  It happens; you take it a day at a time and get through it until it fades.  But while you’re in it, it’s crap.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it; it just plain sucks.  Not only for me, but also for my family.  It’s draining on all of us.  My husband carries the extra weight, my daughter (age 7) has to give up her Momma to this mystery ailment she can’t see or fight against, and I just try to endure while my body depletes until I feel like there’s nothing left for anyone let alone me.

Since I’ve rebounded, the last several days have felt like a cloud has finally lifted.  My energy has started to return, I’ve been able to exercise again, I’ve been enjoying time with my girl and my family, I’ve just been able to breathe.  So today when my doc said he wanted to remove another mole (from the top of my foot, no less, inhibiting my mobility for a couple of weeks to heal), I was surprised how my logic voice of ‘probably a good idea’ was so loudly drowned out by my inner spirit screaming out “NO CUTTING!!”  All I could think was ‘not today; not now; I need more time to feel good, more time to breathe, more time in between hurting and being the Mom who can’t play on Saturday because she’s trying to heal, more time to be human and whole and just….ME‘.

Thing is, I didn’t think I could explain that to my doc without sounding like a raving loon.  And at that point, he was already readying the scalpel and lidocaine; I didn’t have a lot of time.  So I blurted out the only other thing that came to mind.  “Uh, I have a wedding to attend this Saturday, and I think there will be dancing.  Is your concern level pretty high on this one?”  Not very smooth; but it worked.  He said it was only a minor concern, and that as long as I had it taken care of within 4-8 weeks, we’d be fine.  He then said it was probably better to enjoy the dancing and nice shoes without the foot incision, and to have fun.  That smarted a little more than the cut probably would have, but don’t fool yourself thinking I spent a lot of time dwelling…I hightailed it out of there as fast as my mole-covered legs would take me.  (After responsibly scheduling my return appointment for 4 weeks out; I’m not completely throwing caution to the wind here, people.)

I will say I fully enjoyed my walk this evening.  Guilt free, headache free, even if it wasn’t mole-free.  I’ll hold on to this one for a little while longer.

We All Need To Be Rocked Sometime

lion-hugWhen I picked my daughter up this evening, she looked tired.  It was warm here today; her face was flushed, as if she was overheated.  She seemed a bit standoffish, not greeting me right away.  Then when she spoke, she was speaking in baby-talk.  Regressed syllables, clipped sentences.  It took me a bit of time to get her moving towards the car.  She wanted to be silly; not follow directions, play games, dawdle, etc.  I had a feeling I was in for a long evening.

My daughter is seven.  She is bright, beautiful, curious, empathic, and extremely loving.  She’s been facing more than her fair share of challenges lately, which leave her more often than not wounded and wondering.  Not much different from the rest of us, really, though we have the luxury of life and learning and how to bounce back better than a seven-year-old now, don’t we?  The regressive speak is a product of feeling vulnerable, and a yearning for being nurtured.  I also gather it’s related to spending time recently at her grandparent’s with her 18-month-old cousin; watching him being coddled and cared-for in a way reminiscent of what she feels she’s needing, when she is expected to be the “big girl” in the room must be especially frustrating for her at the moment.

The toddler-talk continued for the entirety of the car ride home.  I did my best to calmly tolerate it, while also reminding her to use better words.  When I could tell her frustration level was rising, I tried instead to shift topics or distract with music rather than continue to correct.  There’s a time and a place, and an over-tired child won’t soak in the message anyway, so why hammer it in?

When we got home I focused on minimizing her stimulation level (no television), and maximizing her comfort level (giving her my full attention).  I put on some music and we played a game together while Daddy cooked dinner.  As she continued with the tiny words, I tried a different approach.  I told her that I knew it might feel safe to pretend to be little sometimes, but think of all the things she would miss if she didn’t grow up?  Measuring how tall she was against my chest, riding the bigger slides at the water park, getting to go on overnights with her Girl Scout troop.  Those were pretty cool things that only big girls got to do, and she surely wouldn’t want to miss out on those, right?  She answered back in her normal seven-year-old cadence and added a few of her own achievements – getting tall enough to no longer use a car seat, riding the cooler roller coasters, and tackling me when she hugged me, which she then proceeded to do.  After the tackle, she got quiet, looked up at me, and said, “But what about rocking, what if I get too big for rocking?”

I pulled her onto my lap and held her close.  I told her, “You will never be too big for rocking, baby.  We all need to be rocked sometime, even big people like Mama.  I’ll always rock you, no matter how big you get.  Promise.”  Then she clung to me tightly for what seemed like a moment in between worlds – where baby and big girl and Mama all blended together in one swirly thought – and we just rocked there, together.

I don’t even remember who won the game…

Into the Wind

Piglet-goes-against-the-wind

As I left my office building today, the wind was blowing.  Not just a slight breeze, but a real guster.  My hair kept covering my eyes, forcing me to readjust my load to clear them so I could see my way.  As luck would have it, I had parked quite a bit farther from the entrance than normal this morning, which only extended my path.  As I made my way to my car, I found not only was my view compromised, I was actually fighting against the wind just to walk, as I was headed directly into it.  It just so happened that also, at that moment, I was anxiously hurrying to pick up my daughter due to an issue at her day care.  I tried to walk rapidly, but every step I took into that damn wind seemed more and more arduous, like I was fighting against everything just to reach my goal.  My goal of getting to my car, getting out of that parking lot, getting to my daughter.

Honestly, most of this week has felt like that; like walking into the wind.  For the most part, my husband and I often count our blessings when it comes to our daughter.  We have markedly few complaints; she is healthy, brilliant, and thriving.  But we have had a particular set of challenges this year we’ve been working on improving with her that occasionally rear their head.  And when they do, they leave me feeling – as a mother – short-handed, confused, deficient and heart-broken.  Like that wind is relentlessly battering against all of us as we fruitlessly try to walk directly in its path, once again.

I know, overall, we are making progress.  I can see it in her, in us.  I know the wind does not blow all the time.  And I will try to remind myself that during those times it is gusting, and we are staggering against it, those are the moments we are becoming stronger; we are learning to weather it, together.  And we will, eventually, reach our destination; as blustery a path as it may be.  We just have to keep moving forward, even if it is into the wind.

I Am Not My Hair

Hair

Hair. Everyone has it. Short, long, straight, wavy, fine, thick, colored, grey. Some people have their “signature” style. Others are experimental, always switching it up. Often, it reflects a person’s personality. Or for some, it reflects inherited features (or a lack thereof).

For me, at forty, I guess you could say I have a certain style. (Well my sister, who owns her own salon, would say I have a boring style, but I digress…). I’m not one of the “switch-it-up” types, really; that’s not my personality. I’m used to how I wear and style it. I’m used to how thick it is, how long it takes to wash and dry. I’m used to how it feels when I run my hands through it, when I hold it in a pony altogether, and when I let it fall loosely against my bare shoulders.

What I’m NOT used to, however, is losing it.

It’s not uncommon for everyone to lose some hair every day. Particularly when washing, hair comes out. And when your hair is longer, as mine is, it’s noticeable at the bottom of the drain. But over the last month or so, the amount I’ve been losing has been steadily increasing. As you may have noticed by the photo with this post, the amount I’m losing as of now closely resembles a small forest animal. To say it’s unsettling is an understatement.

Causes of rapid hair loss run the gambit. For women, it can be anything from stress to thyroid issues to sudden dietary changes to bodily system trauma, and on. In my case, it is likely related to the shock to my body combined with the lack of nutrition experienced with my appendectomy/infection back in December (explained more fully here). Upon discussion with my med contacts, it’s the likely culprit. My naturopath actually likened it to the way animals react to severe sudden stress; they rapidly shed all their hair. Only they don’t freak out about it the way humans do, because it’s part of their normal cycle. It seems more acceptable when you think of it in those terms, though it’s still a little harder to accept for me, personally.

As I mentioned, I’m used to my hair. I like my hair. I’m fond of how I look with my hair. I’ve been trying to accept that we’ve resolved the reason for it falling out, and I’m fairly okay with that. But it’s not slowing down. And while I can see some regrowth in it, it doesn’t regenerate nearly as fast as I’m losing it. And I’m concerned with what I may see in the mirror a month from now. When I sit with that thought too long, I’m most certainly NOT okay with that.

All emotion aside, there is no arguing the reality I can see in front of me every day. My body has changed significantly over the last two months; I am continuing to heal. It is a process; and my hair, or current lack thereof, is a strong reminder of that. I am also reminded that embracing change is much easier than fighting against it. Which is why today I visited the salon for a much needed cut and re-style. Instead of hanging on to the old damaged hair that is quickly losing ground, I opted instead to cut a lot of it off and work more closely with the newer hair coming in. I was surprised how much I like my shorter, cleaner bob; it actually looks more like “me” than my older style.

When I think about it, though, I’ve been sinking into this newer “me” for a while now. Newer, starker, thinner, more awake to life, less hair, more clarity, me. No, I am certainly not my hair; but there are similarities. Because in a lot of ways, I am also color and thickness and curl and length and growth. Sometimes, I lose myself and fall. But I always find my way back.

Wounded

I have this image in my head of a little spider. It’s brown and small, and not too menacing. Mostly, it’s just trying to go about its business. But it’s not particularly successful at the moment, mainly because it’s hiding – in a small burrow on the ground, or maybe in the side of a hill. It’s been wounded, somehow, and its instinct is to stay unseen for protection. It moves gingerly, peeking its head out from time to time, checking to see if it’s safe to come out for food or gathering. But for the most part it stays concealed inside, sheltered, away from any predators or elements that may further harm it; away from the world outside.

I have to say, I know how it feels.

There have been many offenses on my own battlefield lately that have left several wounds, and I find I’m having a hard time recovering. Physically, my migraines (which, for the most part, are fairly manageable) have decided to go completely off the chart these last several weeks, and have been immensely difficult to control. Personally, there are relationships that are testing the limits of tolerance, for one reason or another. These are not the casual kind, but the bonds of substance that play the biggest part in our lives; the ones which, when they go even slightly off the rails, cause the biggest shift in our axis. Professionally, a wound that was inflicted a while ago that I continue to work on repairing seems to want to tear itself open again at the smallest but most inconvenient intervals; maddening, yet somewhat out of my control.

None of these, on their own, cause the earth to shift. None of them make me stand out from anyone else. We all have our hills to climb every day. Many have much larger demons to fight than I, and more massive gaping wounds than I will ever experience. Rest assured perspective is not lost on me, even when my funny little mind tries to push it out of my viewfinder.

Never the less, we do all have moments when our wounds, from different aspects, collide in our own world simultaneously; times when the wounds run a little deeper than usual. Moments when we find ourselves looking for that burrow in the ground we can retreat to where no one will find us; where we can crouch down and hover while we heal, softly and silently, away from the world and its harsh jagged edges.

It’s interesting during these periods of self-preservation that I find my creativity also hides away. No ideas bubble to the surface, nothing floats around my mind asking to be explored further. I wonder if, in my psyche’s desire to guard itself, it is also burrowing; not wanting to share any thoughts or creations with the larger collective. Not wanting to put itself out there to be seen or heard. Also wanting to keep itself safe; if it doesn’t create and produce, there is no risk of injury, per se.

I suppose it makes sense, in a way; the body does not wound independently. It wounds as a whole, regardless of what part acquires the injury. All areas will suffer, and all areas will gather together to protect and conserve while it heals. It knows how to defend itself; when to burrow, when to hide.

And it also knows how to heal. As well as when to come back out and look again for the light, even if it takes a little time.