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Blood, sweat, {onions} & tears

October 22, 2014

onions

I watched the knife descend in slow motion. The blood that followed looked like an homage to a B-rated horror film.

And in that moment, I realized that I forgot. I forgot all that I had learned about anger and people. I forgot the moment, years ago, when I learned about the power of choice, and the ownership of rage.

I was a young teacher. Married, no children. And the principal where I worked said something outrageous, painful, horrible in a meeting. And I stewed over it for days. I stomped. I moaned. And I told my story over and over and over, each time stirring the pot, nurturing my anger, encouraging it to grow. I was self-righteous and I was pissed.

Then wisdom stepped in.

A senior member of the history department, who had taught for decades in Asia, pulled me aside. “Emily,” he said very gently. “There’s an old proverb that states those who anger you, control you.” Then he looked at me kindly. “You have been carrying this issue for days, and I can assure you that he hasn’t once thought about it since you left his office. It is time to put this down and take your power back.”

It was one of those moments. A marker in time that divides space into before and after.

So I practiced. Over and over. And over. I learned how to see my anger and how to put it down. This practice is now part of who I am. It is something I talk to clients about, something I model for my children.

But a few nights ago, I forgot. I forgot that a true practice must be well practiced.

Someone threw something at me passive-aggressively and instead of dodging it, I caught it. I reached out and trapped it to my chest. And held on. Tightly. I squeezed and squeezed and encouraged my anger to grow. I was self-righteous, and I was pissed.

And, I also happened to be slicing onions. You can guess what happened next.

Now it means I shower wearing a latex glove, rotate my wrist in odd ways while typing with only nine fingers, and swear more often under my breath.

And it means I am gently taught. Again.

It all seemed rather poetic that night as I lay with my arm propped up on pillows, my heartbeat throbbing in my fingertip. The places I lead my heart hinder or help me. It wasn’t the instigator who did harm, it was me. It was my choice to grab on when the better path was to step aside.

When we forget what we know it comes at a cost. Luckily, mine did not require stitches.

What have been those life-shifting moments for you? What did you learn in the turn of a single sentence? And when have you faltered? When has the knife-wielding ninja turned out to be you? Then once cut, how do you heal? I’d love to know. Keep me posted.

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House Calls

October 4, 2014

housecalls

My mother likes to say I was hers until I discovered science. And when I hit chemistry in high school, I became my Dad’s.

And that is partially true.

Pediatrician and his fledgling science geek, our animated conversations covered covalent bonds and chemical formulas. We discussed how to ask questions. How to problem solve. How to apply the scientific method to everyday life.

The other part of the truth is that he taught me other things as well. Because underneath his scientific mind, lies a tender heart.

In college, he taught me how to speak.

To present my point of view. We’d sit at the dining room table during school holidays and he’d say something deliberately outrageous. It worked every time. My strident-20-year-old-self would explode. A tirade would follow. Ideas spewing everywhere, trying to bludgeon him to believe in my worldview. {which, of course, he did. I just didn’t see it at the time.} He’d wait for me to finish, and as I was trying to catch my breath for the next wave, he’d calmly interrupt. And remind me that I may have valid points, but if I didn’t say it in a way that invited people in, it would push them farther away.

Early in my parenting journey, he taught me how to listen.

Not to the voices around me, but to my own. I would call and ask for his advice. “Dad, what would you do?” “It doesn’t matter what I would do. The question to ask is what’s the best thing for you to do?” He would happily provide information, but he wasn’t going to give me his wisdom because it was exactly that, his. What he wanted me to do was hear my own.

He taught these lessons not just to me, but to our whole community. His philosophy as a pediatrician was to help parents make the decisions that were best for their families. Inviting them in, helping them grow. A philosophy that is the ground for my work, now, too.

I know this because after living far away, we now live back here. Just minutes away. People ask what it is like to return to my hometown. And while, yes, Archibald Sisters is still located on Capitol Way, I wasn’t paying attention as a child to the location of the organic dry cleaners. So while it is the same city, I am not the same girl, and I see it and live in it in different ways. But one of the best parts of being back home is listening to stories.

Stories told by strangers. Who, when I meet them and they realize I am his daughter, stop. Reach out and touch my arm. Tell me about how he changed their lives.

Stories told by neighbors. Memories of him crossing the street or walking down the road to attend wrenched elbows, dislocated shoulders, sprained ankles. Even first on the scene at a tragic home shooting.

Stories my children tell. Because they now call him. And he dutifully arrives, black bag in his hand, twinkle in his eye. Knowing that, 90% of the time, they have called just to see him. To be with him. It isn’t medical attention they need, but emotional connection. Because they adore their grandfather.

Just like everyone else.

And so, on this day, I’d like to speak for the town, the neighbors, the grandchildren. Thank you. Thank you for being a man of wisdom. A man of truth. A man of science. A man of heart. Thank you for inviting us all in. And teaching us all how to grow. Thank you. Happy birthday. With all of our love.

 

name

 

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chocolate pudding moments

September 23, 2014

sunsetThere is a harmonica playing.

Somewhere, nearby, a neighbor is playing out on their porch. Just as I am sitting watching the sunset on mine.

And it reminds me of chocolate pudding.

The story of The Chocolate Pudding has taken on mythical proportions at our house. It stars my Mom, who has more patience with children than anyone I know. She who has a song or game or distraction or story up her sleeve for every parenting situation.

I was a toddler. My Dad was in med school. The four servings of dessert from the night before had one dish remaining. And my Mom, who defines selflessness, ate it. By herself. But not before she, first, locked herself in the bathroom and, second, lied to get it.  “What you doing?” asked the curious toddler {because, really, why on Earth would the door to the bathroom be closed?}  “Nowthang” replied the voice around the spoon. My mother reasoned that allowing me to roam freely in the apartment unsupervised while she enjoyed the last pudding without sharing a bite was a great idea.

To that I say—brava. Good for knowing you.

We all have it. Pudding. Or playing. Or watching. Things that feel our soul. Things that are important not because we deserve it, or have earned it, or are owed it. Just because. Just because we love it. Savor it. Just because it’s you.

These are the things on our to-be list.

Which is very different than our to-do list.
The exercisesleepeatwellflossyourteeth list.

How can you tell the difference between the to-do and the to-be lists? When something is on the to-do list and we to-don’t, it feels like we just got busted. By a favorite teacher. We feel heavy with guilt. But if we skip the to-be list we don’t feel weighted down. We feel hollow. Not grounded. Drifting aimlessly. Not sure of who we are.

Feel familiar?

One of the hard things {and there are plenty} about parenthood is that we spend so much time starring in the role of Parent, that we kinda forget. What do I like? High heels? Pick-up games at the park? Dancing? Late movies? When we surprisingly find a moment or two, {or, gasp! a whole hour!} to ourselves, we look a bit dazed, we don’t know what to do. We have forgotten how to-be.

So this week, on your to-do list, add time to reflect on your to-be’s. What’s your chocolate pudding? Do you get enough? Has it been too long between servings? Grab a spoon. Maybe two. Come sit on my porch. We’ll laugh. Listen. And watch for the stars. Check your calendars for open dates, and keep me posted.

name

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. Does the idea of a to-be list feel great, but a little lost on how to start it? Feel like it would be wonderful to have a map, a guide book, directions to get back to you? Come join us. The online class Return to Me has doors wide open, and class beings mid-October. For all the details and to sign-up, click here. xoxo.

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ping. pong. score!

September 4, 2014

pingpong“How was school?”
Fine

“What happened at school today?”
Nothing.”

“What did you learn in class?”
I dunno.

And so it begins. The WhatHappenedTodayAtSchool? ping-pong match.
We try. Oh, how we try. But the thing is, we are asking them about what they did. And that isn’t what our brain thinks is the important stuff. What gets to the heart of the matter? What they felt. It’s true. Researchers from the University of Toronto published study results that showed that how deeply you feel about an event “actually influences…how vividly you can recall it later.”

I’ve had this idea swirling in my mind for a few weeks, and I thought I’d better try it out on my guinea pigs own kids before suggesting it. Tonight at dinner was our first trial.

“Did you see anyone today who was embarrassed?”
“Ooooh, yes! There is a new student…”
“You’ll never believe what happened to my friend…”
“I had a colleague who…” {my husband joined right in}
“I was embarrassed when…”
“As we were running in cross country, I…

And even though I had asked if they had seen someone else who had felt embarrassed, both kiddos went on, unprompted, to tell a story about when they were embarrassed today, too.

Through the retelling of the emotions, we heard all about the events of the day.
Parenting score #1.
We also made it through an entire meal without any bickering.
Parenting score #2.

Want to join me and give it a try? {worried you’ll run out of feelings? Here’s a list of over 250}. At the end of the week, tally your score. And keep me posted.

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V.A.H. {value added happiness}

May 22, 2014

 

paddle

This is one of my favorite ways to see my city.

I can quietly paddle the shoreline and observe the real in people’s lives. Because let’s be honest, the street-side of our homes? While not all Martha Stewart-y, we are definitely aware of curb appeal. But the backyards? That’s where we live. No one invites people over for a front-yard BBQ, do they?

 

And the houses I see from my water perch vary wildly in architecture and expanse. Some are big. Some are pretentious. Some are sweet. Some are haphazardly designed, function clearly trumping form. Others are gorgeous. And sometimes I get distracted, wishing they were mine. Then I remind myself they are all homes. Places where people live. Each lovely in their own way.

But out there on Saturday the spectacular houses didn’t hold my attention. Instead what I saw was their V.A.H.

Their Value Added Happiness. The small things that create big joy.

A rope swing. Well worn and frayed.

Three Adirondack chairs, bleached by the sun. A brick chimney abutting a tree-covered roof. Four posts, no walls. Yet a dining table. A set of useful stairs.

chairs
chimney
stairs

 

 

 

 

 

 

It isn’t Life’s Big Things that charm us. It’s the little ones.

 

 

 

And no matter the size of our house, or our family, we all have them. Our own V.A.H. Yet the speed of life is often exhausting, and we forget to stop. We think {or, at least, I do} that the faster we go, the more we’ll get done, the better it will be. Turns out, I’m wrong. It is the full stop that holds value.

Remember getting lost in a book as a child? V.A.H.

The teen joy of splashing shriek-ishly cold water on summer’s hottest days? V.A.H.

The adult laughter shared over the flavor in a glass? V.A.H.

 

What I learned from those houses wasn’t about wealth. It was about wisdom.

About stopping. And noticing. About getting down on hands and knees and looking under the big stuff. Figuring out how to hold still enough to see the dancing dust motes. The delight that waits patiently at our feet.

We think of childhood as being a time of enchantment. I think it is. Because, if our children are lucky, it is filled with V.A.H.

So. Let’s join them. All we need is a moment, maybe two. And the presence of mind to pause. To see the small. Because it turns out, it surrounds us. What’s your Value Added Happiness? Keep me posted.

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time change.

May 9, 2014

Image

It is 11: 28 p.m. We should all be asleep. Instead my toes are damp and chilled from standing barefoot on the front porch.

23 minutes ago Eleanor fell out of bed and hit the floor hard enough that it rattled a lamp, woke me up, and gave her a bloody nose. She never does things halfway.

But it wasn’t the bonk or the blood that grabbed my attention. It was her breathing. And the moment I heard that sound, my heart paused. Not out of fear or compassion. Oh, no. I went straight to you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me. Now she’ll end up staying home from school.

Not a very motherly moment, was it?

I was ready for times to change. Cole had come down with a vicious crud mid last week, and had been in bed, and needy, ever since. But this evening he had seemed to rally, ever so slightly. I had been so hopeful. So ready. So relieved at the thought of returning to our regular schedule.

To the return of me.

Instead, still half asleep, my husband and I responded to the raspy wheeze of croup with the well-practiced drill. Get outside in the cool, moist air.

Times have changed.

A few years ago we would be listening. Exchanging glances. Call the doc? Head to the E.R.? Now her trachea is wider and the threat from the sound of a barking seal is gone. Our role is to simply sooth and comfort.

In the doorway our son appears. “Are you okay? Ella? Will you be alright? I love you.” An unexpected sweetness to the moment. Our bedraggled band of four, huddled together, standing in our mismatched robes. Listening to the frog chorus and the endless drizzle of rain.

11:42 p.m. Tucking her back in bed. So close to escape. But not being able to breathe easily scares her. So it looks like the two of us are in this together tonight. Next is a request for the red ladybug. I search by Braille for the nightlight. An old ritual, mostly forgotten. Reserved now for emotional emergencies.

The ladybug shines its faint red stars, casting shadows on my college nights. Evenings spent huddled in the dark during astronomy class night labs. Our flashlights wrapped in red cellophane to keep our pupils from contracting- allowing us to see the subtle patterns of constellations.

11: 49 p.m. The dog peers up at me in confusion. I know, I silently tell her. I’m not where I’m supposed to be. And I resent where we are. Where I am. “Stress”, says Eckhart Tolle, “is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there’.” Aren’t we there yet?

11:53 p.m. and I am sitting in the reddish dark, scribbling tomorrow’s new-to-do list: Notify. Reschedule. Cancel. Rearrange. All the while fielding questions about Quidditch penalties.

11:57 p.m. I shift in her bed and hear the faint tinkle of a baby’s rattle. This weekend while looking at pictures, Eleanor spotted her silver rattle. And wanted it. Immediately. My eyes grew wide with a panicky glance to my husband. Where could that thing possibly be? He found it. Good man.

The raspiness has left her breath. Yet her legs are still restless under the sheets. My sleep will be fitful at best, curving myself around her body in an awkward L. Wedged between a stuffed animal elephant and an eight year-old.

 

12:09 a.m. We should be asleep. My feet are still cold. She reaches for my hand. “Just making sure you are still here, Mom.” I am. Right here. Right, I realize, where I want to be.

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ever after

February 28, 2014

This piece is not about parenting. It is personal. All of you have shared so much of your personal stories with me, I wanted to honor that by sharing one of my own. It has also just been published in a magazine, and I figured if I were about to have it read by complete strangers, I would want it read by my peeps, too. The topic is painful, the result is hope. So please be mindful of any extra sets of eyes looking over your shoulder as you read. Yet if those eyes are old enough for these conversations, I absolutely invite you to share it with them as well. Maybe it about parenting after all. 

I don’t regret holding his hand.

It’s taken a long time to reach this place.  But my heart is sure.  I do not regret it.  Not a bit, not even a little.

I was 13.  He was the older brother of a friend.  I recall the feelings of a carefree afternoon.  I don’t remember which movie we saw.  By the time it was over, the summer sun had set.  As a gaggle, our group of teens and tweens emerged from the theater and meandered slowly home.  In twos and threes we splintered, but with my hand tucked in his, I stayed.  Stayed by the pool, in the plastic lounge chair.

I was naïve and full of innocent wonder. The movies-in–my-mind were Disney-esque: you fell in love, you kissed, you lived happily ever after. That was how I imagined life to be. After that night my world was different. The characters that played the roles of good and evil were no longer so clearly defined. The Prince turned out to be not so charming.

I had no name for what had happened to me. I had no words, no ideas, no understanding.

Rape is a heart-shattering event that sprays shrapnel across your life.  In my late teens I would check each room I entered for multiple exists, no matter that my assault took place outside.  In my early twenties I wore two-dozen extra pounds as misguided body armor in an attempt to protect myself.  In my thirties I wrestled with wondering how and when to tell new friends.  Because my survivorhood doesn’t define me, but it is a part of the fabric of my soul.

I was late for my curfew that night, and I was never late again.   Being on time, well let’s be honest, being early, is a personality quirk my friends love to sweetly tease me about.  It is funny.  I can’t seem to help myself.  I don’t wear a watch, yet you can set a clock by my ability to arrive five minutes ahead of promptly.  But it is rooted in the mistaken belief that if I am on time I will keep everyone safe.  The boogieman can’t reach you when you aren’t there.

I have a fabulous husband, a wonderful marriage, a lovely family.  I have a son I adore and a daughter who delights me.  I have picked up the pieces of my heart and constructed a beautiful life.  And yet.  And yet I wish it weren’t so hard some days.

For many years my head and my body were separate entities, in spatial proximity only because they were physically attached.  I lived like the magician’s lovely assistant- her body trapped in the impossibly small box, her head floating free.  I am slowly still returning.  It is an awkward dance between intimate and disgruntled partners.

Where have you been?  My body asks. Why couldn’t you stay?  I am the house for your soul.  Why didn’t you trust me?

Because hindsight can be haunting.  For so long I thought it was my fault.  That I was to blame for what happened that night, the night I was only 13.  I believed that by wanting to hold his hand I was responsible for all that followed.  And so I fled.  As far away as I could.  Into my head.

And in my head I have finally realized I would not change the moment our palms touched.  Survivorhood is about acknowledging the string of events and knowing knowing in my bones it wasn’t my fault.  What do I hope?  That his memories of the night were as painful as mine, and his remorse led to another life forever changed.  His.

I weep each time I read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to my children.  My voice cracks, my tear ducts open, and small rivulets of salt water snake down my cheeks.  My kids roll their eyes, reach for the box and hand me a tissue.  I cry in recognition, for this is the story of me.  We are the charactersmy body the tree and my mind the boy.  My body is incredibly forgiving and kind.  She does so much without asking in return.  Now it is time.  Time to nurture my roots, stabilize my trunk, re-grow my branches so that I may blossom once again.

Blossom and be.  And not regret holding his hand.  Not a bit, not even a little.  No, not at all.

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