Some of you may recall that several weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking (for the first time in a long time – hence, the nervous reading of much of my talk) at The Seattle School’s first ever Alumni Symposia. The talk, titled The Healing Art of Making Meaning was primarily about the use of writing as a means to processing trauma and (of course) it was a shameless plug for this very blog of ours. I’m posting the talk here in the hope that it inspires a few more of you to write (and share) more of your stories too!
My sister came out for a quick visit a couple of weekends ago. She visited us several times during the three years we lived in the vicinity during my graduate school training previously so we didn’t feel the need to do any of the touristy jaunts in the city. Plus she was here for exactly 48 hours and half of that time revolved around a speaking gig I had while she was out here (the focus of why she was here to begin with). During the remaining half of her time we attempted to give her a crash course in what our life and dreams look like now in this new chapter. It wasn’t enough time for that really, but it was just enough time to re-rip out our hearts when we dropped her off at the airport.
The week that followed was pretty brutal. Faith, our 15 year old, cried herself to sleep nearly every night. Her tears held both loss and resistance as she expressed her desire to “go back home” over and over again.
I’ve released a few similarly expressive tears in the months that have passed since we loaded up that giant yellow truck (read: I’ve cried more tears than I’d like to admit). On the surface, the longing presents as a desire to return to a red house that held our story for four years, our lengthiest stay in any dwelling we’ve had together. The girls miss having their own bedrooms. I miss my kitchen and my bathroom. I miss my floors. I knew every inch of that house, the places where the floorboards came unglued from the steps into the front room, where we had to patch up the holes from Briella’s baby gates, where the wall was dented from a water bottle that miraculously flew down the basement stairs. This house held some sacred stories too. Like when I ran down the stairs to greet Brian and the girls holding a positive pregnancy stick as they walked in from the garage. It held our family as we recovered from a couple of bouts with the flu, a broken arm, 3 concussions, countless sprained ankles and knees and of course my six months of recovery after Briella’s birth. Shortly after moving in, we finally answered the girls’ unrelenting requests for a puppy. Jaxson grew into a dog (for better and for worse) in that very house. There were Christmas mornings, family feasts, birthday gatherings, movie nights and family meltdowns.
As I tear up at the sight of any photos taken in our old house, I understand that it was how we filled the space and how we hoped to fill the space that made it what it was and what we hoped it one day would be. But spaces matter too. So the longing is about the house. But it’s also about more. It’s about how we’re not sure what stories this new chapter will hold. We’re not even sure about what kind of dwelling we’ll land in as we’re renting for this first year as we get familiar with the area. So there is no real place to call our own, no defined space to hold our new stories yet. We are each feeling the lack of a physical and stable container and sustainer of our lives. We’re in flux, in transition. And that’s a really hard place to be, so we struggle with a desire to return home often. That’s part of moving. That’s part of leaving and now seeking for a new space to call home. It’s all part of growing through transition.
Featurette: A guest piece written by one of our readers. A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment. You can submit your short story for consideration here. Today’s guest piece is written by Beth Bruno.
In this Mediterranean climate, the air is still warm. The open-shuttered windows let in a refreshing rustle through the newly turned leaves. Though my kids donned costumes and gathered sugar late into last night, my husband and I are half way around the world celebrating 20 years of marriage. The Italian guests congratulated us with “bravo!” this morning at breakfast. Indeed, we know it is something worthy of no small bravo.
It is a monumental passing.
But this week while we traipsed around medieval hill towns, I missed my oldest daughter’s monumental passage. She sent me a brief, “It happened” on kik, the wifi messaging app we are all communicating with, and we struggled to talk around her school schedule and a 7 hour time zone. I fought back tears at the thought of being absent for such a significant week, yet at the same time, thankful for all I had already done.
I have been on a journey with my tween daughter, intentionally ushering her into womanhood through a year I call “becoming.” I have been searching for core, intrinsic attitudes of women which supersede culture and history and that far surpass the more traditional focus on periods and purity.
Of course, periods and purity are conversations worth having. But we’ve been having them for years. The only way to normalize a thing is to talk about it casually and frequently. I’ve been prepared and preparing my daughter for the onset of her period increasingly over the past months. We knew it was coming.
Unlike some 30 years ago when my own first began.
We are a full day’s car ride from home and surrounded by all the relatives. My Grandparent’s house is nestled in a wood with corn fields behind and a mortician living down the lane. The small town feels isolated, stalled, and like their home, frozen in time. The baby blue toilet with the padded seat cover is my hiding place. I am 12 and something is happening.
In the kitchen, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and the mortician neighbor enjoy happy hour. It is Christmas and we are all together. There is no privacy, though I pull my mother down the hall to the baby blue bathroom next to the 13 inch TV with Miss Piggy sitting atop. I am horrified. My underpants are brown and sticky and I have absolutely no paradigm for this. My mother pauses. An embarrassed smile is gone as quickly as I detect it and she brushes it off, “too much chocolate” she says.
Six months later it is Spring and the sticky returns red. Now, from health class I presume, I know what this is. I know what to ask for. I know what has happened. Years later, on the eve of my wedding, when the same smile returns to her face, I will recall the baby blue toilet. I will remember that at age 10, I had asked what French Kissing was and she said she had no idea. I will remember another toilet at age 14, from which I received coaching from a friend. She handed me a tampon and mirror and closed the door, not letting me out till I was successful.
And though I managed despite my mother’s embarrassment around intimate and feminine topics, what I recall her telling me that Christmas at my Grandparents, has framed the bulk of my parenting: there will be no topic too intimate to discuss candidly (and age appropriately) with my kids.
So my daughter and I have been having body talks for years, whenever her curious mind pops a question. In 5th grade, I bought her a little coin purse, put some sanitary pads in it, and told her to keep it with her. She has been prepared and knows what is coming. There will be no public celebration, but I will try to muster excitement (tell me a woman who actually enjoys this reality! We aren’t spending 5 days out of the month sequestered in a red tent with our friends and sisters after all!) I will do my best to welcome her to this life-giving gift we have of bringing babies into the world.
At the same time, she is joining the ranks of women from all time, from all over. I want her to know that though she’ll continue on as a kid who now has pads in her backpack, still getting tucked into bed at night, some of her global sisters are experiencing a radical change of life. At the same age, a young girl in Afghanistan or Yemen is now declared eligible for marriage. A peer in Uganda may stop going to school at this point because she lacks sanitary pads to keep her clean. In fact, maybe our celebration of her first period will be to sponsor a year’s supply of pads for a girl of the same age.
These are all thoughts I’ve been having leading up to this reality. But here it is and I am not even with her! By the time I return, she’ll have endured her first cycle. In all my determination to handle this differently than my own mother, in the end, it was out of my control. And in the greatest irony of all, my mom is the one with her right now.
In God’s great sense of humor and grace, my mom gets redemption.
I have contended from the beginning of this process that ushering our daughters through a process of becoming touches our own story and soul. It is as much about the mother as the daughter. It can be both painful and restorative to rifle through our narrative. But what a delightful surprise that my mom is included. Removing me from the picture allowed her to do things perhaps the way she always wanted to, but wasn’t free to at that point in her own process of becoming. We’re journeying together, across generations.
And for now, across oceans.
It’s been a little while since we let all of you sit in on one of our happy hour conversations. In this chat we explored the topic of transitions as each of us are STEEPED in change! Between my big move, Krista’s shift in jobs, and Sarah transitioning her 3rd child (who also happens to have Type 1 Diabetes) into kindergarten in the midst of undergoing treatment for her Lyme disease – we are certainly 3 therapists in major flux.
I (re)introduced the gals to a model of transitions by William Bridges explored in his book, The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments. Essentially he breaks down the experience of transition into 3 stages (we kinda like the number 3): The Ending, The Neutral Zone and The New Beginning. Listen in as we process these stages together…and laugh a little along the way too.
Featurette: A piece written by one of our readers. A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment. You can submit your short story for consideration here.
I have been binging on Anne Lamott. I read Operating Instructions when a friend mailed it to me while I was going through the new baby stuff in the very foreign country of Cambodia. I would get up in the middle of the night to nurse my daughter and not mind so much because I had a few minutes to read the hilariously crass words of another new mother. She wrote things most wouldn’t admit to, and honestly, she had worse thoughts than I ever had, but I could relate to so much of it, that I gobbled it up. I had no friends in Cambodia, no other mothers I could ask for advice. Just a great many dark hands touching my baby and holding her every chance they got, but not able to utter even one word to me in English. Operating Instructions, mixed with this very difficult start of our little family in a hot, corrupt country was a funny induction into motherhood.
This weekend I got time away from my now family of five, and I brought along Anne’s book on becoming a grandmother. Not that I am at all close to that stage, but I like her voice and I wasn’t in the mood for her fiction stuff. So, I feasted on Some Assembly Required with some voracity, and found having reached the end, two sentences that stand out. I think Anne is remarkable because she is terribly honest, and hilariously funny, so her anxiety seems survivable.
At one point in the book, she writes,
“We as parents have the illusion that we make our kids stronger, but they make us stronger.” – Anne Lamott
I try so very hard to make my kids strong and confident. I feel like that will help them escape a lot of the crap the world hurls at them; they will be able to stand up under it and smile even when things are tough. But as I lie on this hotel bed in the middle of the afternoon and enjoy my space, I can’t help but understand deeply what she means by this. I have been so exhausted with my parenting duties that I thought I could not possibly take another step, or cook another meal, or clean another butt, and then, the need arises and I just do it. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and love the people entrusted to me the absolute best I can. I am really stinking strong.
I am quite brave also. I know this because I have moments where I fear the worst happening to one of my kids, or an illness befalling them, or perhaps even losing one, and I can’t even manage to hold the thought in my brain anymore, but I have to. I have to think through it, and rationalize my way back to sanity and realize that although we haven’t had any terrible loss or hardship, they may come, and I have to be able to face it. I will be able to face it. I know that. I have literally cried over things that have not happened. That sounds crazy now, but fear is like that, it takes hold and you have to push it back out to where it belongs. And because I am able to do this I know I am brave, and I know I can stand when something does happen. Don’t test me, but trust that I know it with great confidence. Just don’t test me, please.
The second line that caught my attention has a natural connection to the first.
“You love your kids way too much to ever feel safe again.” – Anne Lamott
I remember when I finally gave birth to my first daughter, as I already mentioned, living overseas, I realized once my water broke and we had to take a Tsongtau to the hospital that I may have been naïve about this whole thing. I really wanted to splurge for an American-style taxi, but none were around, so I managed to hulk my large belly onto the back of the converted truck.
But 28 hours later my daughter appeared blue and cone-headed. That scared the shit out of me because I had never seen a baby that new before, and didn’t realize it was perfectly normal after the hours she spent hanging out in my birth canal. It was almost instantly that I knew I was screwed. I mean really in trouble. Because I now had my husband, who I could not stand the thought of losing, and my daughter, who literally took me captive. I now had two people in the world that were living lives I could not control or protect indefinitely. They were at risk all the time. I was too but who cared about me now. I only had half a heart for him and another half for her, so they were all that mattered. Imagine how messy my heart and mind were when we added another beautiful little lady into our family and our handsome son. Five halves of a heart gets exhausting to carry around in one’s chest all day.
Therefore, I repeat, I am brave and strong.
My second born loves to say that same thing while flexing her little twig-like arms in an exaggerated strongman pose. “I am brave and strong.” She was right all along. Because I have a family, which I work tirelessly for, and I am able to hold them in the proper space that recognizes how much I love and adore them, while also knowing they are not mine to control or protect. I can only ever do so much; I have to let them go a little, which makes me crazy. That risk, though, is what makes the reward so much richer. The reward of seeing their smiling faces when I return, or holding them when they are sad, or celebrating with them when they are happy. It all goes together in one big messy life.
Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott