Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I was a servant girl.

It started with the dimes.  I began finding dimes about nine months ago.  I’d find them in the craziest of places.  One rested on my car’s bumper outside a dim sum restaurant in Broomfield.  I found another while walking my usual three-mile loop with a dear friend.  I found several propped up on the lint collector of the dryer.  After an employee of a yogurt shop found three in an alleyway, he approached my table, said, “Are these yours?” and slapped them down in front of me.  I found a few on the sidewalk in front of my house and one on the street by my car.  People close to me began finding them, too.  I started a collection in my shadow box, a stack of little silver coins.  At some point during this time of dime acquirement, I remembered a story I had heard about a pregnant woman who lost her grandfather just before her due date.  She was devastated, for her baby would be the grandfather’s first great-grandchild.  In the hospital room, during the birth, family members kept finding dimes all over the place.  Lining the doorway, on the bedside table, at the foot of her bed.  The family learned that finding dimes is a sign that a spirit from the other side is present, offering support, encouragement, and love.  After a quick jaunt with Google, I found many other stories of deceased loved ones sending messages this way.  I shook my head toward the sky and wondered why my dad was so adamant that I needed to hear this message over and over again.  This message that I heard as his voice saying, “Everything will be okay.  You’ll figure it out.”

For the past four years I had identified strongly with the role of provider, nurturer, mother.  I had felt fairly grounded in this role and would have said I lived very presently.  But suddenly, even though I was entirely settled with closing my nursing journey with Kyle, I felt like something had been ripped away without my consent.  I found myself utterly lost.  I began to feel like a completely different person and wondered who it was in those framed pregnancy photos glowing, who it was tattooed with henna to commemorate breastfeeding.  In every area of my life, I was finding new meaning.  My relationships motivated me to look inward.  I shined light on dark corners by examining old patterns and pushing myself past the boundaries of familiarity.  I could not name a single catalyst for what came next.

Launch: “to throw something forward in a forceful way" 

The vessel that is my body, mind, and heart launched into a spiritual crisis, into what I’ve been calling my dark night of the soul.  I began to question everything.  It was a very intense experience to find myself in a storm of thoughts that extended even into my dreams.  I tore open all that I believed I knew about my life and stepped inside to wade through it all.  Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe it.  It was downright terrifying.  I thought about my path in this life, and fearfully asked, What if I am absent of true self?  What if I am just a product of something else?  I wrote about these things and opened like never before.  In therapy, I talked about my journey as a soul, my true purpose, and worried that the way I was living my life was not reflective of this.  My friends and family noticed my struggle because in many ways, I was not present.  My mind was busy sorting, wondering, fearing, and I didn’t have much room for anything else. 

During this time of turmoil, I participated in a past life regression, a practice that uses a state close to hypnosis to help people retrieve memories from past lives.  I am not sure whether I believe in reincarnation and didn’t know if I’d actually be able to experience a past life, but I hoped for a meaningful experience that would help illuminate my true purpose.  To say I was nervous would be putting it mildly.  With sweaty palms and a fluttery chest, I laid on a sofa in the comfortable home office of a psychologist and regression therapist.  She led me into the experience calmly, and soon I was opening a door into a supposed past life.  As I fluidly told the stories of a young servant living during pioneer times, themes of love and loss began to unfold that tied to my life today.  While that was indeed amazing, what really blew me away was that the story couldn’t have come from anyone but me.  I don’t know if I actually visited a past life, but what spilled out of me in the moment and how it did so without hesitation was like a little connector to something much greater.  At best, I can name it as a deep trust in the presence of an authentic and unique self.  It felt so good to know nothing and then suddenly know something, but in many areas of my life I still felt so afraid.  Fear seemed to be the antithesis of true self as it swept me up again and again into its storm and out of the present moment. 

And that’s when I “remembered” yoga.  It had always been there, a mostly physical practice that allowed me to access something I couldn’t quite name, but in the midst of my crisis, it was one thing that connected me spiritually to self.  I felt a strong calling to deepen my practice and searched for ways to do this.  My weekly physical practice created shifts in me that felt positive, shifts that kept me present and non-judgmental about my fear, but I longed for more.  I found a 200-hour yoga teacher training after expressing an interest in kirtan (call-and-response chanting) and connecting with one of the instructors of the program.  At first, I pushed it aside.  Teaching yoga was not something I ever imagined doing.  I taught middle-schoolers how to read and write.  Yoga?  For real?  I kept the page bookmarked on my laptop and kept revisiting it.  I cyber-stalked the instructors and watched the video from last year’s training at least twenty-five times.  I went to an informational meeting and experienced my first official “kirtan high.”  Finally, on a weekend away in the mountains with an unsettled heart longing for the answer, I registered for the training.  When I clicked “submit” on the application, my chest pulsated with nervous energy but with the contented feeling that something important would come from this training, perhaps even something wonderful.

The weeks prior to the first training day, I revisited my decision to register several times.  I doubted my choice after a flaring-up of an old shoulder injury occurred, as fate would have it, after a yoga class.  I allowed guilt to seep in at the idea of being away from my kids one weekend a month for six months not to mention asking Angus to single parent during those times.  I felt, in moments, that this was just another kind of grasping cloaked in the veil of wellness and spirituality.  But ultimately on the morning of our first day, I ripped the tags off a Lululemon tank my mom got me for Christmas, threw my stained mat in the back seat amidst cracker crumbs and ratty toys, hoisted an unnecessarily heavy fucking backpack onto my sore shoulders, and I showed up.

Yoga: "to join; to unite"

This first weekend of yoga teacher training was sort of like the feeling of sinking into a hot bath with chamomile and lavender salts, the kind of bath that soothes but causes the sweat to pour after a long soak.  Wrapped up in the weekend was an unmistakable feeling of being “home” combined with new challenges in many realms – mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual.  In the presence of other human beings on a journey different from yet very similar to my own, I engaged in three days of chanting, yoga history and philosophy, physical practice and alignment study, breathing, discussions, and meditation.  We spent time digging through the teachings of yoga (the sutras) and discussing real life application.  As we grappled with these ideas, I saw how love and fear drive each one of us and are in constant flux with each other.  I could see my life before me and recognize true self existed when I was in a space of love – the selfless, kind, compassionate love that has no expectations, special requirements, or attachments.  I could also see my false self and how it thrived on ego-based emotions like fear, anger, and jealousy.  One of our teachers suggested approaching fear as a call for love.  He said that we are all capable of extending this kind of love into a broken world by practicing kindness.  How powerful.  How…obvious?  How extraordinarily difficult.
Through the weekend, I didn’t find my self.  I rediscovered it.  Over the course of this lifetime, I have and will constantly rejoin with my true self.  What I started to process extended beyond the understanding of self and moved into appreciation for the journey.  I saw how everything, the entire mishmash of true and false self, brought me to right here.  Right now. The very moment I was in at the very second I was in it.  Releasing an “Om” from somewhere deep and intentional, feeling my body sink into child’s pose, looking into the dark eyes of one of my peers as she spoke, going home and embracing my 4-year-old who said, “I missed you, Mommy!”

The final day of the first weekend I was filling up my mug with water, and I had this moment of noting that the jug of water was just constantly full.  That two of the women helping with the training kept this thing full for us, and I had just now consciously noticed it.  I made a mental note to thank them for their work as I lifted up the jug.  I almost dropped the entire thing on the floor as my heart leapt and my eyes landed on a single dime that had been trapped under the container.  I definitely did not fill up my cup or thank the lovely women mostly because I was in a state of shock.  I actually looked around the room expecting to see my dad joking with one of my peers or looking at me with those smiling blue eyes of his.  With a shaking hand, I picked up the dime and tucked it into the pocket of my gray hoodie, and trembling in my words, I somehow managed to tell a new friend the short version of my story.  At the end of the evening, I came home and placed the dime in my shadow box at the top of the stack.

Maybe it did all start with the dimes.  Maybe it started with the death of my father.  Or maybe it began as soon as I emerged from my mother’s body and took my first breath.  Maybe it begins with life.  Maybe this journey to join, to unite back with the whole from which we are all a part of, begins with the first breath of life.  All I know is that I am nowhere close to living vulnerable, authentic to true self, all of the time or even most of the time.  It’s ever-evolving.  It’s a practiced awareness, a lifelong journey that can seem daunting, confusing, and at times impossible, but it is one I would like to sign up for.  I would like to commit to love.  Will you join with me?

photo by Katie Olson, on the day I clicked "submit"

I have always found comfort from the sound of a breeze moving through leaves, and this morning’s soundtrack draws my breaths to an even and steady place.  As I weave through trunks, stepping over bulbous roots wound together like tangled yarn, the sun reaches through the branches of tall pines sending its orange rays parallel to the earth creating a beautiful blanket of speckled light.  A thin wisp rises up from a dying fire, and the smells of amber and smoke are subtle, but hang in the cool air providing a kind of warmth that wraps me up and invites me to grow still, my feet planted on the earth below.  I am in a small clearing, under a great oak tree, one with a wide trunk that splits in two thick branches at the middle, shooting clusters of green leaves to touch the sky and neighboring trees.  I hear water nearby, water that comes from somewhere and goes elsewhere, and I imagine it as a torrent cascading down black rocks to flow smoothly into a large pool that eventually narrows into a trickling creek.

I close my eyes and feel into the surface below my body allowing it to support my aching muscles and stiff joints. I consider that my two hands turn into arms and then shoulders secured into a chest that contains my pumping heart.  Breath fills my body, and my ribs spread allowing my heart to open.  Now, I am home, in my sanctuary.  As I move with breath, I experience a kind of knowing and acceptance with all that is, as it exists in this very moment.  My mind, the part that so often threatens to break me, finally quiets.  It is here where I find comfort, truth, safety.  It is here where I can be exactly as I am in this moment, in this life.  Where I don’t have to be something else for anyone.  Where I can honor but not attach to the suffering and joy of others and myself.  It is where I go to bring forth the kind of inward stillness that allows new life to enter the world.  In this letting go, I am able to see my soul’s truth through a clearer lens.  To recognize that the journey, in many ways, is the destiny.  That I am a part of a never-ending cycle of existence where I can hear the stories held in every plant, tree, animal, and human being.  These things, before visiting them in this space, were just an audience for my own narrative, but I can now see how we are all wildly intertwined.

I open my eyes, and it is nighttime.  The wings of dragonflies, moving toward water, glisten under the curve of pale moonlight.  My feet move from this space, but I carry the quiet with me out into a life I can claim more as my own.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Step away; come closer.

While I was in Lancaster with Calvin last weekend, I took notes.

Of course she did! You’re probably saying.  And you might be inclined to ask, Why?

My answer is that it is my way.  It is the practice of a deep thinker, of a writer, to note what’s around her in hopes of it somehow weaving together on the page to form some kind of story that is something.  A story that really tells, really shows.

One of the most important notes I took on this trip was about the importance of breaking routine and providing experiences outside the norm for Angus and I as individuals and together as a couple and family.  It was really fitting when this thought came to me as I navigated the country roads of my childhood because the theme of our past few weeks has been one riddled with stress and anxiety, a battle for inner balance.  We have fallen into a sort of "grind,” a place I vowed a long time ago I would try to avoid.   Angus and I have had many discussions about how our lives have changed since having children.  We have been trying to renegotiate a life that is adventurous while still managing to be stable and predictable for the kids; we have been working hard to create something that fulfills everyone.  We've shared about what experiences we want to have, and while the talk has been great, there’s only so much I can talk about without doing.  The trip I took with Calvin was one of the first steps in our plan to “do,” and while I’m not saying traveling to Eastern PA/Amish country is an outrageous adventure, it did something to jolt me out of my funk and shed light on the fact that anything (well, almost anything) is possible.  I loved the entire, sometimes stressful, process of airport travel and revisiting special places of my past with a 4-year-old’s constant commentary.  It was simple stuff, but it was empowering.  It created a place inside me that felt completely alive and not the least bit like going-through-the-motions.  In moving away from our routine, I grew closer to an awake state of being.  Awake to my surroundings, to each moment, to my hopes and dreams.

Things I once considered unrealistic or ideas to save for later are starting to look possible, and my excitement has grown tremendously.  Some of the experiences on my own list, I’ve spent years talking about but have never scheduled.  Now, I am taking action, and have booked a weekend yoga retreat, signed up for a stand-up paddle board lesson, and bought a kit to learn how to create body henna.  The experiences on Angus’s list, one as simple as making more time for friends, are beginning to take shape, and I notice a visible difference in his mood when he comes home from these outings.  He is connecting in ways outside of work and our family, which is so important and often gets lost in the shuffle of life.  Some of the experiences we want for our family seem crazy to tackle with two kids under five.  We’ve been talked to about the horrors of camping and warned about taking toddlers to Europe.  But we are feeling optimistic and are in the mode of figuring out what we want to do and how to make it happen.  If it’s a time issue, we will wait.  If it’s a money issue, we will save.  But the issues aren’t stopping us from making plans, and even that feels more like true living than the grind.

It is amazing what a small break in the routine can make us realize about our lives and what experiences we want to provide for our families and ourselves.  Aside from the new understandings about what we want, what I love most about breaking the routine is that once you come back to it, it feels better.  It feels right.  Upon returning, I felt completely different – more present and open to receiving the pleasure of the day-to-day with two kids.  (OK, so it didn't last long, but I actually found Kyle's ear-piercing shrieks cute.)  Overall, I found that seeking a little something different helped me appreciate the same. 

The notes I take aren’t earth-shattering and may seem like little bits of insanity to another’s eye, but they matter.  They are little pieces of me, a way to speak the whole truth, to make observations, to document my journey.  They are notes about driving in storms and how the lightening flashed capturing a photograph of white knuckles and wheels on water.  They are summaries of weird recurring dreams where I lose someone or something and beg for its return.  They are jottings of travel bits like “download more to iPad” and “get a new car seat roller – one that doesn’t bruise my leg.”  They are notes about my soul’s connection to the country, to the endless rows of corn, towering trees, and open land.  They are documentations of Calvin’s new phrases like, “What are you laughing about, ladies?”  Woven together they are the song of an experience, a little gem of a ditty that just might change a life. 

Break the routine – you will love that you did.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Can't wait to smell the cow shit.

Last weekend at the Farmer’s Market, I saw a necklace on a pretty college girl working at a food stand.  It was a string of random numbers hammered into a metal plate.  It reminded me of a tattoo I saw once on the forearm of a waitress, displaying the same kind of array.  “The numbers are coordinates of my hometown,” the girl explained when I asked.  Her food stand was busy, so I didn’t inquire more, but I stood there wondering what was so special about this place she called home.  And that waitress – she had a permanent reminder of where she came from.  But, why?  I asked myself whether I would ever sport a tattoo or necklace displaying the coordinates of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a place I stopped referring to as “home” many years ago when the mountains embraced me like no place ever had before.  What would drive me to ever want this kind of reminder?  Would it be the fond memories of this place I grew up in?  Or would it be to honor the challenges of being me then, of being in a very different place – mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally – from where I am now?

When we think of our hometowns, we experience a wide spectrum of emotions, don’t we?  I am sure some people want nothing to do with the place they once called home.  And others of us feel something deep and unnamable when we conjure up images of our childhood place(s).  For me, Lancaster evokes a mixture of emotions.  I remember the landscape and being outside a lot.  The smells and the memories.  I see a lot of laughter with family and friends.  I see a place where people knew me then, and that brings a kind of comfort only poetry (if I could ever learn to write it) can describe.  I appreciate where I began and am grateful of the evolution of my self since my days of living there.  I often reflect on the experiences that began to shape me, change me, shift me.  These are all parts of what drives me to return. 

This weekend I am taking Calvin back to Lancaster during my favorite season to be there.  I have hopes for this time in my hometown.  I would like to find the ways in which my current home is inspired by my past one.  I would like to be able to show Calvin where I grew up and expose him to a little bit of the magic.  I fear, however, that maybe I’ve romanticized the details and it won’t appear for us.  Or perhaps the places will be so different that as I introduce Calvin to all of it, I will be introducing myself too.  I have these expectations of what landing at these coordinates will bring us, and I don’t want to be disappointed.  Obviously, at the surface of it all, I won’t be.  I will love to see my mom and Pop-pop and the friends we happen to run into.  I will love the time in a special place and to show Calvin the simplicities of growing up in farm country.  But, I wonder what will rise up for me while I am there.  I wonder whether anything will – of course it will – and when it does, what I will allow it to teach me.

Above all, I am excited to be there with Calvin in this season, for it is the time of humidity and a constant layer of sweat.  Of the bugs that are awake both in the thick mornings and sticky nights.  Of the sweet smells of cow manure and honeysuckle.  The season of rich green lawns and rolling fields of tall corn.  The time of creamy Pine View Dairy ice cream and calves trying to steal off the top scoop.  Of hazy sunsets and driving back roads with the windows down that is like being in a dream.  It is the time of my childhood, of bare feet and neighborhood hide-n-seek and catching lightening bugs until our mothers called us in for bath.  Of lifeguarding and swim meets that ended with the House of Pizza.  Of sitting on the deck, swatting flies, and drinking a cold Yuengling Lager.   It is the season of admiring the flowers and bitching about the neighbor spraying pesticides.  Of walks and hikes and trickling creeks under old railroad tracks and swimming in the pools of family friends who are like family themselves.  It is the time… Of my dad’s most vibrant life and most dreaded death.  Of being young again and telling old stories.  It is a magical season, a season that invites me to call 40.0397° N, 76.3044° W “home.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sorry if I hurt your feelings.

A few days ago I was at the dentist getting an old filling replaced.  I’ve never loved the dentist, but I also don’t have a strong aversion like some people do, so I go every 6 months like I’m supposed to.  This time, the dentist showed me a clear mouth guard-like piece of equipment that he’d use to keep my jaw open.  It suctioned and did other fancy things, and he told me to think of it like a snorkel.  I didn’t think much of it until it was taking up every bit of space in my mouth, and I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe.  Or swallow.  Or talk or tell them it was uncomfortable and I wanted it out, out, out, out.  Out!  As my mind raced away from me at an unstoppable pace, an image of my shivering, still-intubated father freshly out of surgery on the stretcher invaded the space of my brain.  It was so sudden that I can’t help but imagine that it was some kind of PTSD-related image, something my brain tucked away in a dark corner but in that moment of panic and association chose to bring forth.  I ripped the mouth guard out shocking the duo hovering above me with their masked faces and abruptly sat up breathing rapidly, shaking, and crying.  Between breaths I tried to explain myself and definitely sounded like a lunatic, but I like to make people feel at ease and work hard to do so.  Even in the midst of a panic attack, I apologized and did my darnedest to justify my behavior.  They were both super cool and understanding and even mentioned that the dental chair can bring up a lot for people (who knew?!).

The first time I ever was able to identify a true panic attack, Angus and I were walking the paths around our neighborhood in midday summer heat.  This was before kids, and we were having some stupid argument when suddenly I stopped mid-step, felt what seemed like my heart threaten to beat out of my chest, my head spin with dizzy light-headedness, and my limbs go tingly and numb.  Assuming next I would pass out, I immediately knelt to the cement and sat down breathing as deeply as I could under the blazing sun and discomfort of what I thought was heat exhaustion or some kind of blood pressure shift.  It wasn’t until later when these episodes started happening more often, and mostly during exercise, that I realized I was having panic attacks and that I had felt them before.  I recalled a morning in Baltimore while driving to work when the same thing happened.  I managed to make it into the front office of the elementary school where I worked and broke down into sobs thinking I was having some kind of heart attack.  In the ER, after a battery of inconclusive tests, the doctor suggested anxiety, and I pushed it from my mind as a possibility.  Anxiety couldn’t cause such an out-of-the-blue physical response, could it?  It wasn’t like I was overly upset in either of these situations.  The full body experience of anxiety was unpredictable, and this started making me more anxious, which in turn obviously sent my body into a tenuous space where the unnerving energy existed close to the surface just asking for a trigger to set it off.

Over the years since that walk there have been many chunks of time and experiences that have thoroughly challenged my ability to cope, to ward off the part of me I know has a tendency to spiral out of control.  Death, injuries, pregnancies, births, postpartum.  Life.  Anxiety manifests itself in different ways in both the positive and negative.  Lately, I’ve been having a lot of anxious dreams, many of which are recurrent in their themes and plots.  I am sure many of you can relate.  Teaching a class of unruly students who refuse to listen.  Waking up to an intruder with a gun standing over the bed ready to shoot.  Losing my spouse or children to any number of tragic situations.  Being chased through a maze of a house knowing the entire time I will be caught.  It is a hefty list, a weighty one.  These dreams deliver me to morning shaken and plagued with the lingering feeling that things are not all right.   

Many of you might judge the inner experience I share as worthy of prescription medication, but I have never gone down that route.  I will if I feel like I need to, but for now my coping strategies are sufficient.  Most of my life isn’t lived in this space, but some of it is.  When life gets stressful, I have a tendency to plan.  Plan a trip.  Plan a date night.  Plan, plan, plan.  But if I really peel down the layers of what is good for me, what can lift me out of the overwhelming spin, it ends up being pretty simple:  Moving my body over the earth or water.  Committing myself to a weekly practice of yoga.  Traveling to new and old places.  Writing and painting.  Cooking.  Spending time with the people I love.  Making time for spirituality.  Talking it out.  Being present.

Besides coping mechanisms, I’ve learned to see the positive in being blessed with a tendency toward anxiety.  Being more introspective and analyzing of life has improved my creative process.  I am a better artist and writer because I get to process the uncomfortable.  I get to write the hard, and that is something special because it touches a deep part of my own soul and hopefully the souls of others.  Also, I’ve realized that worrying makes me more attune to other peoples’ feelings.  It has provided me with an intuitive sense of knowing when someone else is in pain.  I don’t always know what to do or say to make him or her feel better, but I like the way genuine empathy feels.  It opens me to a deeper understanding of what it is to be human and the processes we all go through in spaces of love and loss.  Having anxiety has also made me ask questions, important ones, about life and what it is I truly want.  The awareness I have found in times of unease have often been the most moving.  Opening myself to answering the questions (and different ways of doing so) and being okay with what I discover is an ongoing process that is moving me closer to spending larger periods of time as my authentic self, which is pretty freaking rad. 

One of my best friends and I joke about our anxiety all the time.  We often call each other needing to talk out a spiral or receive assurance that everything will be okay even though we might have potentially, inadvertently, maybe, just maybe done something to hurt someone’s feelings or ruin a chance at a career or scar our kids for life.  It is good to know we are not alone and to help each other stop from slipping into an irrational place that will benefit no one.  Anxiety can be a beast, but it doesn’t always have to be.  If we allow it to – if we allow discomfort to flow through us – we can often discover much more than we ever knew possible.

What have you learned about your self when you open in this way?  Where do you find inner peace?  In perceived weakness, what goodness have you found?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The left one was bigger.

Breastfeeding my children has been by far what I am most proud of in this lifetime so far.  For those of you who don’t know my story, I’ll offer the short version.  With Calvin, nursing was extremely difficult to the point even a very Boulder “breast is best” lactation consultant shook her head and told me she wouldn’t blame me if I quit.  Later, when I stuck with it and came back to visit her when Kyle was a newborn, she told me that I was the worst case she had ever seen then proceeded to snap some photos of my nipple scars with her iPhone camera.  Nothing like scrolling through your camera roll of grandchildren and pretty scenery and coming across those puppies.  (I am all about education though, so of course I let her.)  With Kyle, nursing came easier at first, but then I started to make A LOT of milk.  At first I was received mostly with, “Wow!  You are so lucky!” and porn star boobs, but soon I realized I was not so lucky after all.  My supply was so robust that it choked my baby, clogged my ducts, and sent me spiraling into more breast infections than I’d like to remember.  And when trying to care for both a toddler and newborn, being out of commission isn’t really an option.  The hard of nursing is part of what makes me consider it among my greatest accomplishments.  My personal choice was to do everything I could to nurse through the challenges, and I am both grateful and proud that I was able to.

When it came to weaning Calvin, I didn’t give it much thought. I was working full time and didn’t have a lot of time to think about my emotions amidst the stack of ungraded essays that grew and grew.  But with Kyle weaning has been a whole different experience.  We started weaning a few months ago when my supply seemed to drop and he needed more fluids than I could provide.  Honestly, that step came with relief because it really freed me from being chained to him or the pump at specific times of day.  We were nursing in the morning and at night, and it seemed perfect for a year-old baby and a mama who was rediscovering the joy of happy hours and yoga classes.  I knew that I’d make the 14-month mark our quitting time because my brain just works that way.  Calvin weaned at 14 months, so logically Kyle would too. 

As 14 months drew near, I genuinely started to feel more ready.  I knew that we were near the end, especially because Kyle, given the choice between a bottle and breast, began to whine and point at the bottle adamantly.  He was ready.  This was right.  Before officially weaning, I decided to honor and celebrate my journey breastfeeding by doing some body henna with the same lovely woman who painted my belly during both pregnancies.  My journey with nursing evoked feelings similar to natural birth, a real connection to the earth and the passing of time, and her art expresses this wonderfully.

I nursed Kyle for the final time on a Monday morning, just the two of us in bed together, me adorned in symbolic henna, him with hair a little too long and a urine-soaked diaper.  I didn’t really know it would be the last time, which was probably for the best.

On Tuesday morning when he woke, I asked Angus to give him a bottle.  I said, “I think we’re done.”  And I rolled over in bed and enjoyed the quiet of the morning alone.

Fully awake, some new thoughts took hold.  This is it.  Is this it?  Wow, this is really it, it.  No more babies to nourish.  No more breastfeeding.  28 months on my resume.  Attachments formed.  Bonds established.  This is it.  And then the tears came.  Heavy at first, the shoulder shaking kind, then slowing to a gentle kind of weep.  I wept for the moment each of my babies emerged from my body, were placed upon my chest, and found my breast without much help.  I wept for the middle-of-the-night feedings with Calvin when Angus and I, young, delirious, and so much in love, made up silly nicknames for our firstborn and snacked on trail mix and chocolate covered pretzels.  I wept for the quiet moments with Kyle, when Angus was taking care of Calvin, and getting to fall asleep next to him in bed after nursing time and time again.  I remembered a long nap in a bedroom in Telluride with the windows open to the cool mountain air.  I wept for the complete adoration of being able to look into the eyes of my babies at my breast and for our closeness.  I wept at the closing of one chapter and the opening of another.  I let the fear seep in and let myself feel the purpose in nursing and wonder what it’d be like without it.  And then I smiled.  I laughed as I remembered the size of my left boob was often double the size of my right.  At the pool last summer, I filled out one side of the bathing suit while the other gaped open.  I laughed at the one time I squirted milk from my breast straight into Calvin’s eyeball and how he squealed.  I smiled at the evolution of my modesty.  Privacy with Calvin; who the hell cares with Kyle.  The image of me nursing for the first time in public, my boob a spectacle for many around us enjoying their brunch still makes me giggle.  Gosh, it’s been quite the ride.

And now, we are done nursing.  Kyle is officially weaned at 14 ½ months.  I am no longer lactating.  My breasts have done their job.  They are scarred and squishy, yet I am so grateful.  Here I am on the other side of nourishing two children staring “never again” in the face and moving toward feeling OK about it.  More than OK.  I am moving to a place of honor, remembrance, and excitement for what’s to come.

This morning when Kyle woke up at 7:20 a.m. cooing in his crib, I made a quick bottle of milk and went in to find him.  In the back of my mind I thought maybe he’d glare at the bottle with angst and pull my tank top down to get to my breast.  What are you thinking woman?!  Gimme the goods!  Instead, cradled in my arms, he happily sucked down the bottle of milk holding it with one hand and moving his other hand over my arm, shirt, his own sleep sack –  the “raking” reflex I am in love with.  After the bottle was empty, he sat up on my lap and looked into my eyes.  Instinctively, I took out my right breast and offered it to him and thought, well if he goes for it, I guess we won’t be done.  He looked right at me and shook his little head back-and-forth.  No, mama, he seemed to say.  Thank you, but I’m good.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Jumping the creek.

The destination was unknown, as it always is with adventures.  Trekking through the dry, dusty cornfields that surrounded my childhood neighborhood in neat rows of swirls and lines, our ten-year-old selves passed over land that was meant for a farmer’s boots alone.  I liked walking on the tractor prints, hopping across the raised bubbles of wet dirt on my tiptoes, keeping my hand outstretched to feel the crinkly husks against my fingertips.  We scurried under barbed wire fences and walked past no trespassing signs.  We ran through a pasture where cows stared at us with their beady black eyes and picked through a pile of junk speckled with bullet holes.  But then we came to a creek.  One about 4 feet wide.  I stood back and watched my friends swiftly leap over the gurgling water to land with both feet planted in the long damp grass on the other side. 

“Come on, Ker!” they chanted urging me to jump.  I did that thing where you start to propel your body forward then at the last second hold it back at least two dozen times.  Close to tears, I listened to them tell me how easy it was, and I shook my head vigorously.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t.

“I will make a bridge for you with my body.  You can walk across me to the other side,” one of my friends offered generously. 

I agreed without a thought, and so she lay down, outstretched, her hands against one side of the creek bank, her sneakers planted on the other.  And I stepped onto her body.  Onto her back between her shoulder blades, down her spine, onto the squishy flesh of her butt.  And she sank into the cold water, belly first, my feet to follow.  We squealed and scrambled out of the creek in a frenzy, my fear lingering in the air above us, chilling my feet, her body, the entire march back home.

The fear I felt on the creek bank that day as a child was real despite the fact that even if I had jumped, the worst outcome would have been landing in the water like we did anyway.  It was real for me in that moment, a feeling I let paralyze and trick me into sacrificing my friend just to feed it.  That day, after we made it home, I didn’t think much more about the creek and my fear.  And in fact, the next several hikes we did, I managed to somehow avoid jumping whether it was leaning on my friends or walking the long way around to a narrower spot.  I succumbed to the fear and didn’t ask questions and simply moved on.

Over the course of my life, I have collected all kinds of fears.  They are moments, feelings or experiences I store in little capsules, some in my body, others in my heart, many in my mind, a few small but potent ones in my soul.  This year, from 32 to 33, has been quite a pivotal year in my collection process because this year, I have ripped many of my fears from their comfortable resting places.  I’ve shuffled them, tossed them in the air, torn them open, dumped them in front of myself, and waded through the mess.  It is the start of a long piece of work, but I’ve started challenging old and new fears, interrupting patterns to pay attention and ask questions.  By no means have I conquered my fears, but I’ve created a (messy) map toward doing so.

Part of my journey this year has involved saying goodbye to my twenties.  I haven’t been there for a while now, but I was still feeling the spillover of the protective bubble.  In my twenties, I wouldn’t have ever admitted it, but I felt somewhat invincible.  Now, I am faced almost daily with stories that rattle me to the core.  Stories of infant death, school shootings, and abductions.  These are stories that are dangerous for a person like me who spends a lot of time in her head spiraling about this or that.  What I know now is that the protective bubble is an illusion and that pain is something that everyone feels.  And while we may do our best to avoid inner friction and pain at all costs, feeling it, truly allowing it in, may open up moments of clarity about our inner world we would have never known otherwise.  Pain has taught me valuable lessons in living in the present moment, something I struggle with every single day and every single time I am with my phone and kids at the same time.  Instead of fearing it, can we embrace our own pain?  Or the pain of others? 

In opening a painful wound and exploring it, I have learned about one of my deepest fears.  This is a fear of dying from cancer.  Of experiencing what my dad and so many others are forced to.  It has always lurked within, but it resurfaced this year after having a health scare I won’t go into too much detail about.  Within this particular scare, there was a period of “unknown,” as there is with most health-related situations.  Have the tests, wait.  Wait.  Wait some more.  During the waiting time, I found my mind spinning to the worst possible scenario.  It barely even touched on “everything will be just fine” and went straight to “holy shit, I’m dying.”  I stopped eating, writing, sleeping.  I holed up, clung to Angus’s body every chance I got, and prepared for the cruelest possible fate.  And then after the waiting time, I found out answers.  Answers that in no way were even close to what my imagination had conjured up.  And this is when the work began.  There was no way in hell I could live my life how I did in those two weeks.  I had to get some kind of grip on this fear because it threatened to ruin me.

Since, I’ve spent a lot of time with this fear, learning about why it might exist and who and what inspire me stay alive even while dying – a stranger being one of the most powerful examples.  I’ve chosen to talk about it instead of stuff it somewhere deep and let it eat away at me.  I’ve been open about my dad’s experience and understand that his process does not have to be my own.  I’ve been working on trusting my body, the same body that endured two natural childbirths and nourished two children, to understand its vulnerability but also its strength.  I am being proactive with the food I eat and the way I move, but trying not to make these things obsessive weapons against cancer but more a positive way of life.  In the opening and receiving of my own narrative and the stories of others, I have healed in many ways especially in understanding that this fear deserves to be acknowledged but does not warrant a leading role in my life. 

In facing the unknown, by inviting fear to course through my veins, I have grown to understand what fear looks and feels like.  I can recognize it a mile away.  And even when I don’t, when it sneaks up on me and takes hold, I can better negotiate with it.  Instead of moving through my days fearing what my kids will one day say about me, I am generous and loving with them and notice beauty in the simplest of moments.  I try (key word: try) not to beat myself up for having a bad moment or day, for exploding with rage when Calvin pees in the trashcan instead of the toilet.  Rather than letting the darkness of my past haunt me, I write about it or speak it to listening ears, small victories I can revisit and feel proud of.  I fear often that I will be misinterpreted through my writing as “too this” or “too that,” but I keep writing, because it’s what keeps me alive.  Even as simple as in my yoga practice, I’ve let go of some fears.  I’m most definitely not the inversion type, but through the meditative flow, I’ve pushed my body and mind to find new places of growth or fall into child’s pose without judgment.  This year has been about facing fears and getting real with myself, and it’s a massive work in progress.

Angus and I went to dinner on my birthday and talked (uninterrupted) about what this lifetime is for each of us.  “What do you feel your soul has to learn in this life?” we asked each other.  We both agreed that this feels like a significant lifetime.  (Goodness, I hope everyone feels this way.)  But beyond that, for me, this life feels like a passage to something else, a discovery of some kind my soul yearns for.  I have been given so much, and what I choose to do with it all seems significant.  The thing with adventures is that the destination is unknown.  I understand that there will be more barbed wire and warning signs and glaring bystanders and junk to sift through.  And that one day, I will come to another creek, a really wide one with water that rushes fast and loud.  And instead of letting someone else be a bridge or taking the long way around, I will take the leap and cross it myself.