Wednesday, May 30, 2012

to thrive and survive

I've always considered myself a "glass half full" kind of gal.  Even when travel involves making a transfer in Chicago's O'Hare airport, an experience that definitely tests ones mettle when it comes to the power of positive thinking. Life though seems to be raising the bar higher and higher and I am feeling the fatigue. 

Lately Cowgirl has been posing the same question, in various forms, to me: If a car was aiming right at us, who would I push out of the way first?  Cowgirl? Daddy? or Moose dog?  My survival seemed to be a non-issue although now she adds into the equation me jumping out of the way after saving as the rest of the family first. 

I'm beginning to worry about that last minute leap to safety and whether I really will be able to pull it off without some kind of major abrasions and wounds.

My mother seems to have entered into a phase of seemingly minor, but continual, health issues.  Each one cropping up like so many weeds after a bout of rainy, then sunny weather.  As soon as we lean back and sigh a wobbly sigh of relief, something new manifests.  

We had family visiting over the holiday weekend.  My brother came out from New Jersey and cousins drove in from Colorado.  Just days before their visit, my mom spent an afternoon in the ER.  The challenge is not just the physical issues, but the emotional ones. Rallying her spirits, reminding her that the likelihood of something being horribly wrong has yet to be determined and that in fact, so far many things have been minor blips on her health radar.

The family reunion went well which is to say no sharp words were uttered and everyone seemed relaxed and happy to relive past gatherings, sharing stories and more recent adventures.  My mom was feeling better, eating and sleeping well and it seemed we had broken the cycle.

The last to go, my brother left early yesterday morning.  The house once loud and busy, now seem quiet and empty.  It felt a bit like being on a deserted island, the last boat heading out to sea but hopefully to return with help and rescue.  I found myself wondering if, of all the people I've known, more are dead or alive.   Just as I was about to step out the door for work, the phone rang.  The phone ringing before 8 am is never a good thing.  Sure enough, it was my mom.  

And so we here we are, entering unknown territory once again.  As I heave my tote bag full of waiting room supplies - journal, book, pens, tissues, mints - I find myself wondering about my survival and how to maintain a healthy perspective when it is apparent that the glass is getting emptier and emptier?  

Have I mentioned perimenopause is puberty in reverse and I am in the thick of it? Watching my mother toddle up to her door just about does me in and hugging my brother goodbye I felt like I was clinging to the only life jacket in turbulent water and I had to let go, but I did so with a strangled whimper.

I think about the prayers of writer Anne Lamott: "help me, help me, help me" and "thank you, thank you, thank you."  I try to remember to just stop, close my eyes, breathe, and think about what really matters: the gift of this time together, the gift of my family and friends supporting and encouraging me, the gift of being able to shoulder this task.

Even the gift of my crazy hormones that seem to be shredding any veils between my emotions and my experiences.  To be intensely alive is to experience intensity and I am reminded you often do get what you ask for, so watch out if you chant Om Namah Shivaya which is what we often sing in yoga.  I surrender to Shiva; I surrender to life. 

There is no choice, really.  The challenge is to do so with as much grace as possible. 

As I pulled up to the retirement center, my mother sat waiting for me on a bench.  As always, she was attired in a coordinating outfit: black slacks, white blouse, patent leather sandals and what I call her "don't give me any shit" black leather jacket.  She may not dress to impress, but she dresses to convince herself all is well.  Hair tidy, lipstick on, she was prepared for another CAT-scan. 

My mother without lipstick would signify defeat.

And so today I pulled out my blue bird skirt, placed JOY around my neck, daubed on some China Rain perfume and slipped my feet into my shoes.  I may not have Wonder Woman's wrist cuffs, but I have robin's egg blue clogs and in them I feel pretty indestructible. 

The Universe emailed me this morning and I realize here is the help I asked for

Life's magic is a lot like a swift flowing river, Lisa. No matter how long you've overlooked it or unwittingly swam against it, the instant you stop struggling you're back in the flow...

I'm doing my best not to struggle, but to flow.  To reach out and ask for support.  To acknowledge this is hard, I feel squeezed, I feel used up, and I need a moment to catch my breath. I come to this space to write my truth, knowing that my situation is not unique and in fact, things could be a lot worse.  

May we all find a smidge of comfort and peace within the tight spaces of our lives.  May we all know Hope and Resilience can be found in watermelon pink lipstick, a tiny hand upon our cheek, the smile of a dog, wild flowers blooming in an empty lot, the eyes of one we love looking straight into our souls and acknowledging without words that we are seen, held, and loved. 

May we all trust that when danger is imminent, we will know when it is time to jump to safety.  Standing still, waiting for the hazards of life to bowl you over only engenders isolation and suffering. May we know safety is just off to the side, where life waits to carry us back into the flow.  


Thriving and surviving do not have to be mutually exclusive states - I just look down and I behold this truth residing in two pairs of feet, against all probability, brought together and sharing a magical journey.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

in this moment ... (stories from the trenches of motherhood)


... I have been feeling pretty dammed edgy.  Chewing tinfoil kind of edgy.  Furtively looking over my shoulder and not sure whether I want to jump, or push someone off the bridge kind of edgy.

Part of my emotional exhaustion is due to the Husband being absent for the past two weeks.  Well, not completely absent.  I believe that lump that I kick in the bed ever night is him, but I could not swear before a jury that I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.  He's working on a all-consuming project which has him body and soul.  And that means the hyenas of life are circling around me, teeth barred in crazy, flesh hungry leers and they are moving in closer and closer.

There is this Far Side cartoon that very accurately captures my experience of life.  In it a white bearded figure, God, is standing before a kitchen table and on the table is a globe of the earth. God is holding a salt shaker over the earth and the caption reads "And just to make it interesting ..."  The salt shaker is labeled "jerks" and God is smiling that same hyena smile.  

In this moment, that is how my world looks and feels.  

With only one and a half days left of school, Cowgirl informs me a boy on the playground is telling her that he "hates China" and "hates Chinese people."  Now, for the uninitiated, unraveling and decoding the tales of a first grader is pretty tricky stuff.  What was said and what was heard occupy distant ends of a spectrum.  Notions of "always" and "never" are murky and fluid concepts.  What constitutes "telling an adult" is open for debate.  

But in my emotionally depleted state, I'm just not capable of tolerating any kind of shit. Saying you hate an entire country or group of people is just trash talk and I want my girl to know that while we cannot stop it, we will not tolerate it.  

It is the first time we've really had to deal with racism (and for the record, I do think the kid is just being a punk and doesn't understand the implications of what he is saying.)  I say "we" but it isn't we.  It is my girl.  As hard as I try, I do not stand in her shoes,nor understand what it means to occupy her caramel-colored skin.  I tell her kids made fun of me because of my red hair and because I was overweight.  It's not the same, but I want to reinforce to her the notion that people go for the most obvious things like skin color, hair, eyes, teeth when it comes to being mean.  I tell her people will always pick on other people.  That when people feel bad about themselves, they want to push those bad feelings out and onto other people.  I want to teach her compassion and forgiveness but in my irritation and exhaustion I feel only anger and frustration.

I say that to justify what came out of my mouth next.  Casting about for words to give her, I told her to tell the kid he was being hateful. "If he says it again, tell him 'that is a lot of hate' and then walk away" I counseled.  When she seemed unconvinced of that strategy, I added "Tell him what he said is hateful and Jesus heard him and is disappointed."  

Okay, so I might have said "Tell him Jesus is pissed."  I'm not sure.  I was very tired. 

This morning I had a little time before school to think while I walked the dog. (Have I mentioned I am the only one walking the dog these past few weeks - along with being the only one making dinner, doing bath and bedtime, school drop off and pick up, slaying the occasional orcs that pop up -  which accounts for a large part of my exhaustion and diminished mental state?)  When I got back I told Cowgirl I had been thinking about it and that there are people you just can't argue or reason with and it is best to not engage if at all possible.  I told her there are people who try to steal your power and engaging with them is just one way that they try to gain power and take energy you from you. (Having played many Lego Star Wars, Batman and Harry Potter Wii games, she understands this notion of energy or life force and the need to guard and replenish.) I said the best thing is to tell him he is being hateful and hurtful and to leave you alone. And if he won't leave you alone, then to go tell an adult.  And if that teacher doesn't do anything, tell another one. And if that teacher does nothing, tell me and I will go in and tell the principal.

I ended up email her teacher about the situation and copying the school counselor.  The danger in contacting the school is similar to making one too many claims on your home owner's insurance:  they'll honor the first claim, then drop your coverage when they believe you've become "a problem."  The counselor responded immediately so I think we're in the credible camp, for now.  

Cowgirl greeted me after school with an immediate update on the situation: the boy and his friend continued with the "I hate China" taunts (which are beginning to sound like "I hate the New York Yankees" kind of rants) but now the situation has taken on a kind of science experiment vibe.  "I told him he was being ignorant mom."  (oh yeah, I guess I did say that as well.)  "What did he do then?" I asked.  "He didn't know what it means" Cowgirl responded, with a hint of a smile.  "Well," I said, " that proves he really IS ignorant."  

It's like we are testing various hypotheses upon him, trying to figure out what is driving his behavior.  "Maybe he does like me," Cowgirl suggested after I mentioned sometimes when boys like you they act all stupid; or maybe he is jealous of her mad monkey bar skills. (After the initial sturm und drang Cowgirl casually mentioned he is smaller than her and she is small compared to most of her classmates.  Of course I've been envisioning a beefy midwest football player with a crew cut when in reality he may be more an Owen Meanie squeaky voice pasty faced squirt.)  "He may be jealous of my lovely brown skin," she suggested. (I kid not - she did refer to her skin as "lovely" which proves she is listening even when she is rolling her eyes at my declarations of her talents, intelligence and beauty.)

Later that night Cowgirl had martial arts class.  She is in the advanced class now which means she is sparring with much taller and somewhat older kids.  When she suits up into her sparring gear, she looks very much like a Stormtrooper from Star Wars except she is the Lego version. This night the instructor had the kids sparring with the older boys who have their black belts.  It was ludicrous at first; Cowgirl came up to the waist of one boy who could hold her off by placing his hand upon her helmet.  Her usual tactic is to run circles around her opponent.  It looks like a baby Stoogies routine.  

So Cowgirl was using her usual tactic which is to run away when suddenly, above the blast of the music, there came a voice.  "Go Cowgirl! You can get him!  Kick Cowgirl, kick him!" 

One of the students who has known Cowgirl for years is an autistic boy just a little bit older than her.  His family is the sweetest family from Africa and the changes in this boy's behavior over the years is awe inspiring.  He is one belt ahead of Cowgirl.  He always greets her, his voice just a wee bit loud and insistent and she thinks nothing of his sometimes aggressive behavior.  She will always high five him even when he doesn't raise his hand to meet hers. This night he was her cheerleader. 

He really got into it.  His voice louder, his commands more precise.  "Roundhouse kick!"  "Side punch!" And the beautiful thing was, she began to follow his instructions.  She punched, she kicked, she added a couple of flying leap kicks which usually had her landing on her bum.  But she got back up and his voice guided her. "You've got him!" he yelled triumphantly when the older boy was finally disarmed by the enthusiasm of his mini opponents.  


I know the playground incident is the first of many such events.  I tell myself I survived childhood and my teens and I was not nearly as strong-willed, determined and fearless as my girl is. I try to remember that it was through challenge that I discovered my strength and gifts.  That being an underdog taught me compassion and adaptability. And the most important lessons are ones we are both learning: that not everyone will like us and that's okay because we don't need to like everyone either.  But we do need to like and believe in ourselves enough to stand up and give voice to what we need, what we believe is right and say how it is we want to be treated.  

More importantly, we are both learning to ask for help. We are discovering support is all around us and that we can never predict who will come to our aid, but if we ask and if we trust, someone will always be there to cheer us on. This is the gift bullies unknowingly give to us: knowledge of our real friends. Our friends may be a raggle taggle group, but they are loyal and true and they are there, by our sides in support. Ultimately, it is the bullies who hurt themselves, hurt their hearts and spirit with every mean word they utter.  We talk about this and I truly believe it.  My girl's heart is strong and brave and true.  And this mama  and her friends will be there to remind her of this truth. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I seem to find myself drawn to revisiting the past as the school year draws to a close and summer plans begin to take shape.  As I shift through possible fun projects for more spacious days, this memory presented itself in response to this interview with Maya Donenfeld whose Story Scarves class I will be attending this coming fall at Squam.

still having lots of fun painting these colorful girls from Paint Your Story

Remember when adulthood hovered
an exciting castle in the air of our expectations?
I imagined it to be a magical transformation into something fuller,
more complete and self-contained

When I was a teen the rite of passage was a hippy denim skirt.
I took a pair of old levi’s
and painstakingly ripped out the inseams
each stitch another childhood worry released
and my teenage self liberated one golden thread at a time
from who I had been
who I no longer could bear to be

Harder though
was the reshaping something new
from stiff and worn denim,
floral print fabric used to fill in the gaps
pushing needle through dense layers - miles of hand sewing!
A thimble used when fingertips became sore
It was an act of determination to complete the thing

I remember the toll
but also the thrill
skinny girl legs stepping into maidenhood
adorned with Love’s lemon fresh
Bonnie Bell lips
Covergirl and
New armor and allies

And I remember the surprise -
a floor length denim skirt being very heavy,
and hot to wear

I may had shed some childhood fears,
but I was unprepared for the weight of new ones

Still, I wore that skirt triumphantly,
my badge of adulthood
independence declared one painful stitch at a time.


 Happy summer dreaming. It's almost here ...

Monday, May 14, 2012

i didn't know ... (mother's day surprises)

I didn't know ...


I was such a tuna fish fan.

I didn't know ...

when you hit 48, you start aging backwards (hey, I'll take it!)

I didn't know ...

my cooking was so appreciated (although I would appreciate anyone else cooking!) 

I didn't know ...

Twilight is now a television show.  Which means I have the books, the movies and the t.v. series yet to enjoy.

I didn't know ...

I drank that much wine but hey, if my girl says so then who am I to argue with her? I must fill my glass more often now.

I didn't know ...

We panted so much nor that it is an especially pleasurable activity.  I suppose we both breathe a little heavy and fast when enthralled by the painting muse.  I 'll try to listen more carefully next time we pull out the brushes and the paints and report back.

Just goes to show, as a mother I really have a lot to learn about myself from my girl.

but what I do know with certainty is ...

this girl loves eating her daddy's ribs 

and she loves giving presents about as much as she loves receiving them.  She makes me the best presents - ever. (I know I am a little biased ...)

It was a great mother's day.  And every year I pinch myself for it is a privilege for me to be celebrating gifts. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

i love this woman!

I think I'm well on my way, but I still have work to do:

Is she not a kick in the proverbial creative pants?  I want to grab my ukulele and play along ... after I've wrestled with the three paintings who have a few hundred tricks still to teach me.  I think I can strong-arm them into revealing their secrets ...

Except I can't right now.  Besides sitting and pulling my hair out  -

no, really I do that whenever the pressure of ideas within me is unable to find suitable release. I had a nice bald patch after writing my master's thesis but I digress ...

No, there is the inconvenient obligation in my life, also known as my job ...

And I know you all see the writing on the wall, but my mind only sees hieroglyphs and cuneiform which are beyond my willingness to decipher never mind accept.

So I turn to my stand-by practice of sitting (on my hands; to keep them out of my hair) and breathing and checking in with the wiser part of myself which is my body and when I feel calm and present I drop this question into the field of my awareness:

What is true for me right now?  

I don't want to be at my desk, pretending to work ...

I want to be home making messes
grabbing for a cup of cold coffee when I hit that first creative snag
surprised to find the dog sleeping peaceably at my feet while I thrash about
wreckage of tubes and crayons and pencils, open books and journals, scraps of paper 
the crime scene of my inspiration
that damned clock at long last halted as I descend into
chaos? madness? rapture?
the paradoxical meditative state
myself gliding forward upon the vast lake of 
just being 
at home
welcoming gods and demons
to my dining room table of art

I am this { } close to either a break down, or a break through.

In the words of the Beastie Boys (r.i.p. MCA)  no time like the present to work shit out

Right now, this sustains me:

Thank you Lynn Whipple.  I don't know you, but you are either my angel or a temptress. Either way, I'm headed down the trail, destination uncertain. 

Be sure to tune in next time to see how our heroine fares in this perilous situation ... 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Scrying (future perfect)

You love your kids way too much to ever feel safe again.  - Anne Lamott 

Once in a great while - usually when I am distracted by something mundane like boiling noodles or sifting through the junk mail - I will glance over at Cowgirl and in a flash see the young woman she is slowly drifting towards becoming. 

It is a bit disconcerting but also thrilling.  Kinda like coming upon a wild animal and experiencing that frisson of awe and instinctual fear.  The image jarring in that the memory of her needy, wispy-haired, mouth-gaping-in-perpetual-want, baby bird self is still very vivid for me.  

But here is the evidence of my girl slowly orbiting away from me. The separation not yet visible, but imminent.  

Her being is as close to me as my racing pulse; at the same time she baffles, excites, delights and frustrates me to no end. 

I was talking with a friend I had not seen in a long while.  This friend is someone I view as a mentor when it comes to mothering.  A professional and a professor, she has a resumé long with achievement yet her focus has always clearly been centered upon her family.  So I was surprised by her reaction when I relating to her my struggle to determine what it is I wish to cultivate within my life.  I was telling her how I admire people like Julia Child (did I throw you with that one?) who so passionately devote themselves to something they believe in and how I have been seeking my whole life to find that one thing - my thing - for myself.  I enjoy too many things I explained to her and I feel the pull to go deeply into something and see where it takes me rather that continue to graze upon the surface of my life.  

The gist of my friend's response was "You are a mother and that occupies your time ... isn't your child your thing?" For a split second I could feel the relief of slipping into that belief.  To heap upon tiny shoulders the responsibility for my meaning and purpose.  It is a tightrope walk - to balance upon a thin wire of being  totally present for and focused upon my child while maintaining our separate identities, our separate needs.  I do not want to make my child a vessel for my longings and aspirations.  I do not want her to believe she is to fulfill the dreams I was too fearful to pursue.

I want her to be her own person and to be able to hear, trust and follow the urgings of her own heart, her own mind.  And as painful as it feels to me now as I witness these first forays into independence, I want her to slip into a life of her own choosing free of any  guilt over pleasing or completing me.   

I tried explaining this to my friend.  I told her if nothing else, I want my daughter to see me as a complete person empowered by knowing it is within my ability and my right to seek that which brings me joy and fulfillment.  When she is in her adult life - a race car driver or a paleontologist as of this week - I want Cowgirl to think of her old mother as an interesting if somewhat eccentric person.  

And perhaps she is witnessing clues to my future self for her school essays about our family always read "My mother likes to paint. I like her paintings."

 And so we both grow.   A thrilling if somewhat dangerous and uncertain process. May we always hold space for the other to be who they dare to be.   

Saturday, May 5, 2012

playtime ✻


On the last day of Flora Bowley's Bloom True workshop, she asked us to re-word a thought loop or critical chatter that may have been plaguing us during our painting process.  She suggests a similar practice in her new book Brave Intuitive Painting in the section titled Recreating Your Story. If every action has its ancestor in a thought, then I've been recreating a whole family of new thoughts -  new realities -  for myself.    Here is the freshened up speech I wrote while sitting on the lawn at the Chautauqua Institute and I've playing in my head every since: 

I joyfully and playfully embrace the unknown as an exciting adventure ...

filled with endless possibilities ...


 Today I pulled out all of my favorite art toys and played.  I made some lovely messes and met some new friends who have been patiently awaiting their time to shine on the page.

having The Best time in Mindy Lacefield's Paint Your Story ecourse

  I got paint up my arms, in my hair, and I even got paint on my toes ...

two layers of paint a la Flora-style ... more layers to come

After such undiluted fun, the only way to conclude this day was to honor the spirit of a   true Joy Warrior ...

 and enjoy a sonic fruit slushy with my favorite girl. 

 It was a very good day. 

After many years of following my heart, I now understand that the very act of pure expression does change the world.

It changes the world by changing each and every person who is brave enough to pick up a paintbrush, open themselves up to the unknown, and express themselves honestly and intuitively. It is through this kind of heartfelt expression that truths are revealed, lives transform, and new worlds are born. - Flora Bowley, Introduction, Brave Intuitive Painting

What new worlds lie waiting within your thoughts?  Do we dare to see what lies behind those doors?  Why would we ever say no? 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

we all should wear our medals proudly

Last weekend was Cowgirl's belt graduation for her martial arts class.  She has been attending classes for over 3 1/2 years now and is now in the advanced class which seems crazy as she is half the size of the older kids in attendance.  We have weathered some serious storms in martial arts including the session when she did not test for her next belt; tests where she had to go home and practice more; and now new curriculum which seems to have some sort of progress check every week along with check sheets and forms to be completed in order to receive attitude stripes. 

New to the program are medals given out for attendance, participation in book club and self discipline and attitude.  I have to admit, the paperwork alone is a nightmare and it is only the most dedicated and probably uber over-achiever parent who follows through thoroughly on all of it.  Which is to say, me although in my defense I may regularly remind Cowgirl of her forms, but she fills them out and I believe my standards are pretty high when it comes to deciding what constitutes form-worthy acts of self discipline and winning black belt attitude.

The faux-Olympian style medals seemed a little anti-climatic after all my book-keeping and Cowgirl seemed fairly blaisé about the whole affair.  But later that day I had friends over to our house and when Cowgirl appeared she was wearing all of her medals. 

She wore them to dinner with my mother and again the next day when she accompanied me to my yoga class.  As the sound of all of them together is a bit loud - I keep thinking the dog is up on the counter but no, it's Cowgirl sitting there - she has been instructed to only wear one medal to school.  So every day this week she has wore a different medal to show her class.

In other words, she is extremely proud of herself and her achievement and she isn't shy about letting others know.

Which has got me thinking about how I don't feel comfortable sharing my medals or in my case, my achievements.  I can think of all the medals I won't be stringing over my neck: patient mothering award, efficient housekeeping, healthy and taste buds satisfying meal prep or most attentive daughter.  And don't ask the Husband for an evaluation of my wifely duties.  

If I had to claim any real success, I suppose I might say "snazzy dresser" because I do put effort into looking pulled together even if I don't always feel that way.  (My one legitimate reason for staying in my day job is the fear that if I didn't go to work, I might never get showered or dressed ever again.) Despite the lack in my general housekeeping I am a Paper-Clutter slayer, keeping the tsunami of random bits of mail, school memos and  arty doodlings from drowning us.  I keep on top of the recycling.  I manage Cowgirl's social and school calender.  I monitor the dog's input and output.  I floss and gargle and am attempting to change the bed sheets weekly.

pages for Paint Your Story by Mindy Lacefield

No, none of these is really medal-worthy material in my opinion.  If I were to receive a medal I suppose the one I would be proud to wear would read "Never Gives Up" which may make me sound like a cancer survivor or a special olympics athlete but there it is.  I fumble my way through the difficult moments with Cowgirl when she really really tests my patience, love and endurance (if there anything snarkier than a 7 year old girl with napoleonic attitude, I haven't met it yet ... unless it is said 7 year old at 8 or 9 or - god help me - as a teenager!); I begin over and over my yoga and meditation practices; I paw through and occasionally add to any number of written, photographic and art journals; I gather new sewing, knitting and gardening projects.  No matter how badly these things may go, I begin anew by dusting off my attitude and wiping my psychic slate clean of past disasters and flops.  

And being totally honest, I would include a medal for whatever part I may have in shaping the attitude (sassy but independent) and ideas of the girl who can create this:

Most committed to practicing self love.  Maybe that is the medal I aspire towards ... one I would proudly wear.

the most powerful word is ♡ Love ♡