Life in the Slow Lane

Today I woke up feeling good. On 7/11/18, 2 months and 2 days ago, I had just one of the worst evenings of my life. The following few days were even more difficult. These last 2 months have been a journey that I realize is life-long and I’m in no rush to finish. I’m enjoying and embracing every step forward and every obstacle that prohibits steps forward, or that even sets me a few back. Obstacles and set backs are really necessary learning experiences.

Today I’m in gratitude. I might not be in an hour, but for now I am and I’m incredibly grateful.

I could write for hours about how I got here (I promise I won’t). The biggest contributor was my childhood and the mal-adaptive strategies [albeit very normal] I developed early on to deal with life while my brain was forming. One of my newly favorite psychology writers Van Der Kolk calls it Developmental Traumatic Disorder (DTD). This diagnostic explanation is fairly new in the world of Psych. It didn’t quite make it to the DSM 5 which is latest edition of the manual by which mental health clinicians diagnose and bill for disorders. For now the closest diagnosis is PTSD, which DTD is branch of. Particularly for me, for now it’s Delayed Onset, Complex PTSD. It turns out I’m just another statistic and if someone were watching closely, everything that happened to me could have been predicted.

I’ve been through a gamut of emotions the past few months. Many before 7/11, but even more, and much more intensely since. Crazily, but also not surprisingly this episode took place just 2 days and exactly 25 years after what was one of the most transformational days of my life at the time when I was 17. I’d written about it before in My Mom. It’s one of my trigger dates, something I don’t think I fully believed in until this summer. I didn’t consciously recognize the significance of how the date triggered me, but my body did. The Body Keeps the Score.It really does.

What I realized most profoundly this summer is that I have PTSD. I really do. Two and a half years ago I had my first panic attack. I was immediately diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Last summer the PTSD diagnosis was added. While I remember telling people about it, somehow I didn’t realize how important it was to my mental recovery to embrace and work on it. In fact, when the true awareness hit me like a ton of bricks just less than a week after 7/11 this year, I was surprised to realize that I’d been sharing and telling people about it prior to then. A few days ago I re-read something I added to my blog page in May “About Me”, and it was there too! Why wasn’t I working on it?

I wasn’t working on my trauma and PTSD for many reasons. Because it wasn’t urgent and didn’t seem important. Because no one tells you that it’s important. In fact, no one can; it’s something you have to discover on your own when your body is ready. Also because I didn’t have the time or the life style until now. That is why I’m in gratitude this morning. I’m moving in the slow lane and I love it.

From a young age I moved fast. I always had excessive energy. I never understood how anyone could sit at a meeting or in a class and not fidget. I was just always bursting out of my skin. Driving… I had to be in the fast line. I was constantly assessing for traffic, changing lanes with the flow. Heart always racing. Breath always erratic. I was always, always, always looking for more efficient ways to do things. From driving to folding laundry to cleaning… to redesigning whole work groups and even departments at my job. I was good at it. It was a great outlet for my energy. I was efficient and I helped others to be as well. A good use of my talents. Or so I thought.

Now I’m living in the slow lane. I still have the habit of moving fast, but I catch myself at least 80% or so of the time when I realize that for no good reason my heart is in a lurch or my breath isn’t steady. I stop it and slow down. I manage my breath. I smell the roses. I ground myself in the present and it’s SO much better. I think about that quote about how nothing or everything is a miracle, and see things as beautiful. Even ugly things. I wish we could teach our children this from a young age. Instead we are programmed to ‘succeed’, to do more & faster, to have it all, to do it all. We are programmed to think we are a failure if we don’t meet this criteria. On paper by this methodology I was a huge success.

Take two driven people like my husband and myself, put them together, and what do you have? It’s debatable. 7 years ago I would have thought a match made in heaven. In fact at our wedding we incorporated the Japanese term of kaizen (continuous improvement) into our vows. Ugh… how I cringe now. All I can think of is U2’s lyrics in the song ‘Moment of Surrender’

The stone was semi precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too smart to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

I do believe in continuous improvement, but not in the way it was taught to me (faster, better, do more, etc). I believe it the slow movement. That less is more. That slowing down and even stillness is where the magic of life lies. Take a look at the pets in our lives. They are content with doing less, watching the world outside the window for hours just as it is. Accepting us for who we are. Not caring about how we are dressed or what fancy letters come after our name. They are in a sense more human from a sense of connection than we are. I have four pets. I didn’t even have time to pet them before. I would shoo them away when they came to climb on me when I collapsed on the couch after 16 hours of non-stop movement. We had to have our dog in day care just to get exercise and go out because no one was home long enough to play with him or take him out. Picking him up and dropping him off was another burdened activity on the check-list. Why have pets, kids, a house (2 in our case), a garden, etc – when there was no time to put any love or life into any of it? It’s been a slow realization for me that none of this makes sense. That I was living by a clock and not a compass. It took even longer to do anything meaningful about it. I’m still on that journey and in no rush to any finish line. The unfolding is a beautiful experience that I’m embracing wildly.

I wrote a few paragraphs back that I could write for hours about how I got here. Everyone has their own journey, their own stories, their own level of awareness, and their own (hopefully) point in their life – more often than not in the second half of it, in which they proverbially “wake up”.

My own story started on March 1, 2012. At work I enrolled in a Franklin Covey industry based class for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was a 2-day seminar that set the path of a new life for me. At the time I was recently remarried and my husband and I were just finishing up the renovations we worked on non-stopfor 2 months in our new home. I felt SO alive during those renovations. I loved working on the house. We often stayed up until 1 or 2am in the morning on work nights and didn’t feel the least bit exhausted in the morning.

Once the renovations were finishing up I started to feel trapped, bored, and useless. Something I wasn’t accustomed to feeling. Since my husband and I moved in together with our kids the year before I felt like I was mentally unraveling. The renovations were a pleasant distraction. I began going to a bible study at the hospital where I work which one of my vanpool mates hosted. I hung onto many of the teachings and words, learning new language to explain what I was feeling. The Covey class used similar language but explained it in a different way that opened me up in a special fashion. Three things I really connected with was the concept of a paradigm that we see the world through, that I make my own independent choices constantly, and that to feel in line with who you are; we should be living by a compass and not a clock. Wow. This was mind blowing and life changing for me.

Shortly after I explored the bible much more. Then I ran into a Bishop Spong book quite by accident (I honestly cannot remember which one). I was never religious, but grew up Catholic and felt like it was a sin to question anything that didn’t make sense. As soon as my mind took me to those questioning places, guilt kicked in and I pushed it away. The John Shelby Spong book provided the freedom to question what made no sense and shift the focus to something that did in a more mystical, metaphysical way where it allmade sense. From there I found podcasts on the Centers for Spiritual Living to help time pass while having to drive to Bedford, MA quite often for work in 2 ½ hours each direction. Those podcasts prompted me to read the ghastly large book by Ernest Holmes called “The Science of Mind”. The world was opening and unfolding in ways I could have never dreamed. From there for some unknown reason I started taking yoga classes, which spoke the same type of language. Then I would listen to Alan Watts during my lunch walks and long commutes. All different words, but the same beautiful, timeless messages that make sense.

Years later in January 2016 I loved yoga and this way of thinking so much, I started yoga teacher training. My regular life with work, the kids, pets, blended family, commute, and constant RUSH was becoming unsustainable. Why was I adding a full weekend a month commitment to this training? I don’t know but I just felt compelled.

For some reason I thought in yoga teacher training I would learn more about the poses, teaching, and the actual class. Instead, like the Franklin Covey class years before it became a personal journey. I quickly decided that it was a necessity to meditate regularly. Once I started quieting my mind and relaxing regularly, I realized that is how a body should feel and how I lived for the previous 40 years was anything but calm. It started to become unbearable to not feel calm. Combine that with what I now realize is a few PTSD triggers from work at the time, it’s absolutely no surprise that I had my first panic attack exactly when I did and they escalated from there; completely out of control. My body was releasing 40 years worth of emotion that was bubbling just under the surface. The same energy that kept me moving, grooving and successful; was the same energy that was keeping me stressed and mentally unaware that I was damaging myself by not dealing with the trauma that has plagued my mind, body and spirit.

The past two and a half years since have been transformational. A lot of bad and negative things arose, but more positive, learning experiences than anything bad. You have to go through it to move through it. It sounds simple, but it’s much harder than it sounds. It wasn’t until now that I’ve given myself the time and opportunity to heal. But you have to make the time. Your life has to allow it. You have to slow down.

This past summer was rough. I spent hours upon hours writing and allowing myself to remember and experience the anguish of old memories. Many were the same memories that came up during what I now know as PTSD episodes, but I’d felt too ashamed, embarrassed or dramatic to explore. In writing, crying, thinking, gardening, exercising, waking up in the middle of the night, reading, etc – I started to explore my triggers and where they came from. It made sense. I learned more about how the brain is wired and why I seemed to lose control at times. I logged and shared trigger dates with my family. I allowed myself to feel all that I’ve always pushed away and thought I moved past years ago. It was always there waiting for me to deal with it. I just didn’t slow down enough to hear it.

Today I feel good. Over coffee this morning I saw my husband petting one of the cats who was purring where he shouldn’t be (on a counter). When my husband moved his hand away to finish getting ready for work, our cat Gilmore bipped him on the hand – asking for more petting, which Daren provided. We are in a place where we have time to pet our cats. I am thankful I am in a job where if I woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t sleep for hours that the pressure of getting dressed and driving to the office with a smile is not there because I can telework and I’m part-time. I’m thankful for the mental health breakdown this summer. I spent so much time on the days I wasn’t working living like my pets. I napped in the middle of the day if I needed to. I only ate when I was hungry. If I felt like the sun was calling me, I read and wrote outside. If I felt the urge to move I went for a walk, run or bike ride. Listening to my body helped me to attune to what it’s telling me in other ways too. Our bodies are a walking, living, physical communication device. It’s a compass of that path we should be on.

This summer I also listened to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People CDs that I was provided with from that class back in March of 2012. Listening to the late Stephen Covey’s voice felt like listening to an old friend with sound, sage, timeless advice. I also spent quite a bit of time doing those old exercises again. I created a mission statement, thought about my values and principles, my ‘rocks’, how I communicate with people, how I think and how I live. I thought about the life that I want to program. My own talents. Not the talents the world has barked at me – like designing things bigger better and faster, but what I wanted to be when I was a kid with no restrictions and what that meant. The imprint I want to leave on the world.

These aren’t overnight answers. If I thought for a New York second that I know them right now I’d be fooling myself. I’ll be working on them for the rest of my life. I’m trying diligently to listen to the compass. If we quiet ourselves enough, and ask our inner selves for advice, the most profound wisdom is all there, right within us. Our bodies know what we need. They keep the score.

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My dog Koji who teaches me all sorts of invaluable lessons without saying a word
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Bored at home after carpal tunnel surgery of my right hand this past Monday (9/10), I decided to try to open my right brain by painting with my left hand
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My left handed drawing depicting what is supposed to be a sunset
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This one started left-handed by I switched to using my wrapped surgical hand to clean it up (majorly). It’s a rendition of a little knickknack my step-kids gave me for the holidays several years back by one of my favorite fun modern artists (Miami artist Roberto Britto)

Lexapro Journal (Continued)

I’m writing this blog as an update to the Lexapro 100 day Journal one that I wrote back in 2016.

I don’t blog that often, but when I do check the statistics for the number of readers, I see that between 3 and 15 people each day read this article. It is the only article that picks up any traction after the first few days post publishing. I has received more hits recently, so I’m not sure if it show up higher on search engines; but in any case it’s amounted to a few thousand people who have at least opened it. Doesn’t mean they read it through though!

When I tried to go off Lexapro just a little over a year ago, I wrote another blog entitled Lexapro Rollercoaster. I haven’t written anything about it since. I’ve been approached by so many people (some I know well & others hardly at all) who have read my blogs. Folks have asked for advice, inquired how I’m doing, or wanted to share that they or someone they love has experienced the same thing. Because I see that a few thousand strangers have read some of this as well, I wanted to follow-up as Lexapro wasn’t my answer.

I didn’t particularly have a love affair with Lexapro. I started it in March 2016. It seemed at first to be to a miracle drug. After several months the side effects kicked in. Particularly they were the two I was most afraid of – decreased interest in sexual activities and weight gain. Initially I thought it was a fluke and both would pass. But as pounds kept adding on and I felt less and less inclined to indulge in carnal activities, I knew it was the medication.

In January 2017 I didn’t feel like I needed Lexapro any longer. I felt stable emotionally. My primary care provider talked me through tapering off. It was a little difficult because I felt physically sick, but that passed after a few days. A few days later I felt off kilter emotionally again. I went back on Lexapro the same way I went off, but this time I held the dose steady at 5mg to test out how that made me feel. I immediately felt better, as I had the first time I went on. At 5mg I didn’t have the unwanted side effects. Fortunately my BMI had always been on the low side, and even with all the weight gain I was still in a normal range. I didn’t lose any weight, but I didn’t gain more either. The other department I feared was also in check. But my moods weren’t steady. I could get hyped up at anxious about almost nothing, and angry at the drop of a hat. I felt off balance. Nowhere near as badly as I originally did, but not as great as I did at 15mg either.

I believed with some meditation and a deeper yoga practice I could keep taking 5mg, feel better and go off completely. I set a soft goal to go off Lexapro before the start of summer in June. But I didn’t deepen my yoga or meditation practices. I didn’t have time to, I was as busy as ever. Although I cut down my professional hours at work; I taught as much yoga as I could without being picky and I wasn’t even doing my own practice. My husband and I started renting out our second home in Branford and I was managing all the rentals and turnovers. Even though I changed the stressors in my life, I unknowingly added different ones back in.

In May that year I took a 50-hour training in domestic violence and sexual assault in order to teach yoga at safe houses in Connecticut. One evening during a presentation about PTSD, I realized with unbelievable clarity that the slide I was looking at described me perfectly. Until then I have prided myself for rising above being a childhood victim of domestic violence and putting it behind me. It wasn’t until that evening I realized I was indeed affected by my past. The ground slightly shifted beneath me, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

My emotions became more tumultuous after that. If I was more aware of myself I may have noticed Lexapro really wasn’t helping anymore. One evening in July I had the worst emotional breakdown I ever had. I knew I needed help in a different way. After a little research I filled out some FMLA paperwork and cleared my calendar so I could spend a month in intensive outpatient mental health treatment.

Under the care of the facility, I started to decrease my 5mg of Lexapro daily to once every other day until I went off completely. I felt great. I had no responsibilities during this month other than to care for myself. I journaled daily after my sessions. For the first time ever, I had the time and was willing to really think about how I feel, where my assumptions and habits formed, and how I got to be where I was mentally, physically and emotionally. I was able to sit and question whether or not I wanted to do those things or if they were just maladaptive habits I had from childhood. I made conscious, well-thought out decisions about what I wanted to do, what I wanted to keep in my life and what I wanted to let go.

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I needed follow-up after the program with some type of regular treatment. I’ve gone to weekly couch talk therapy for years on an off and never found it helpful. With the advice from the program I just completed, I researched local therapists that specialized in the exercises we used that I found most helpful. I messaged a few by reaching out and providing a short background about myself. It was easy to discern who I might have a connection with through upfront written communication. I settled on someone local that I thought might work.

When I finally met my new therapist, before she asked me anything about myself; she explained some practices and tools she uses and why. She described the energy and meridian lines that run through our bodies and explained that most people start to question their lives after they meet their goals toward success (or the second half of life). She didn’t need to go on any further, I was sold. Energy, questioning life and it’s purpose, Pema Chodron quotes on the wall, a jiggle jar on the table, a semi-organized non-dusty dank/dark room… This is the therapist I was looking for and never knew it. Additionally, since I had just finished a month long intensive therapy treatment, I knew exactly what things I needed to work on and where they came from. For the first time I felt like I had clear therapy goals and found someone who spoke my language and could help me.

Around the same time I started therapy, I started a 9 month advanced yoga teacher training. This training wasn’t all that different from the standard 200 hour teacher training, but it was far more in depth. This time, having a new-found goal of self-care and making time for myself, I was actually deepening my own yoga practices. I also started a daily sadhana (spiritual practice).

I was only in the training a few weeks and saw my new therapist a handful of times before taking several weeks off for a trip I had previously planned with my husband. I was off medication and only using some new techniques and my sadhana practice to keep everything in check. It was going very well.

Once we returned from vacation I had to cancel my next therapy appointment. I got busy and fell back into the older routine of not making time for myself. After just a few days of skipping sadhana and not doing the therapy exercises, I was completely off balance. It took a full week of being back on the wagon before I felt like myself again. Two more weeks passed and I again made the decision to skip my practices for a few days because I became busy with the holidays. Again, not shortly after I felt incredibly unstable.

For a myriad of reasons I didn’t have a therapy appointment scheduled for several weeks. One day during work when I felt like I was completely unraveling, I called my PCP for an appointment to discuss anti-anxiety meds again. I received an appointment for me the next morning. I spent the evening online looking up various medications that I might ask about. I didn’t want to use Lexapro again and was fearful about gaining even more weight or losing that loving feeling again.

When my provider asked why I went off Lexapro, she asked me to consider Effexor (Venlafaxine). It’s not for everybody, but most patients don’t report weight gain or sexual side effects. I had nothing to lose.

The first evening I took Effexor I felt incredibly sick and disoriented. My husband said I looked and sounded drugged. The next morning I woke up feeling like I had a really terrible hangover. I was groggy, dizzy and nauseous. Sometime around dinner the next evening I didn’t feel dizzy if I wasn’t moving. I was able to eat. I was almost feeling normal by the time I was ready to take the next pill. The next pill brought the same side effects, but they were about half as bad as the evening before. The following day by lunchtime I felt as good as I did at dinner the previous evening. On the third morning I had some vertigo for just a few short hours. I have since experienced zero effects.

Exactly one week after beginning Effexor, I made a nice dinner for my husband and I. We enjoyed it with some wine. As we were cleaning up and getting ready to watch a movie, I was dancing around doing silly kicks and laughing. My husband said I looked and sounded really happy. To which I replied “You know what? I am!” He said it must be the wine. I laughed it off but thought about how we have wine often but I often don’t feel that way. I considered that it might be the meds. I hadn’t felt that good in a long, long time. Before I started “waking up”, having anxiety, questioning the second half of life, giving myself time to contemplate the trauma that I made myself too busy to think about…. I felt like my old self, minus all the stress.

The next day I realized I felt just as good. I felt good the day after that as well, and so forth for the next several weeks. Sometime in January I became busy again and starting skipping self-care. Like the previous experiences, I wasn’t myself. However, this time it took just two days of practice to feel good again. Then again two weeks later I skipped my self-care and practices three days in a row. Not surprisingly I fell right back into the hands of anxiety and stress. It was then I realized that I need to continue to make self-care a priority.

It’s been approximately 2 straight months since I have felt balanced without excessive anxiety. I continue to take Effexor, go to therapy and do the “work” and self-examination it takes to improve mental stability.

Thanks to the program I spent a month in last summer, yoga, and therapy – I’ve received the reinforced message that it is not only ok, but necessary to take care of yourself. I know some people take that too far, but for me taking it too far was never even close to an option. It was almost a necessary survival tactic to stay so busy that I would never have time to relive some of the trauma I was trying to avoid until my body was ready to process it. Instead of running from it, I’ve learned it’s not going to hurt me and sitting with it is the only way to get through it. Sitting with [dis]-ease has only become easier and helped me in all types of other areas of my life.

I still don’t have a magic answer for anyone looking for help. Lexapro was my start. I have my own personal combined strategy that is feasible and working for the time being. For anyone struggling with anxiety or depression – there is no magic pill. It has taken me two years to find something I can keep up with and works. I had to look to where it was coming from. For me that was a strain of PTSD. I had to figure out what works for my body. And I had to find a therapist that I really feels can understand the issues that I struggle with. I hope to sustain some level of sanity while I heal and deal with old issues that have plagued me. I truly am happy and feel more better and better each day. I trust there is something for everyone and it won’t look anything like what helps me. Like I said, unfortunately there really are no magic pills.

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On Giving Gifts that Heal this Holiday Season

After food, shelter and clothing; true lasting joy and peace can ONLY come from within. No toy, car, phone, pet, room, house, grade, job, college, friend, significant other, anything… can ever bring true happiness. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true and sages have been saying it for thousands of years.

Advertisement and modern society tells us something different. A few gifts can help to bring this inner joy. This is my own concoction of gifts that can help bring forth that inner joy. The secret is that you have to be willing to give these gifts to both yourself and others.

 

  1. Acceptance

Acceptance of what is.

When I was 15 I found a Yin Yang charm on the beach. I didn’t know what it was, but I liked it. I strung it along some fishing line with black beads I somehow had, and held it together with a safety pin as a clip. I wore it for years around my neck, like a thin choker that was popular in the early 90s. A few years later one evening at my church’s youth group, I sat across a boy who was in my circle of friends but I had never talked to very much. We both sat backwards on some chairs off to the side while our friends chatted and danced. At some point during the conversation he reached over to my neck and touched the Yin Yang. He asked me if I knew what the symbol meant. I didn’t. He explained. I loved it even more. We dated all through my senior year.

It is my favorite symbol because it says it all with a simple circle. The world is made up of opposites, and they always circle back to one another at their extreme. We can only understand an expression through the existence of its opposite (hot/cold, dark/light, happy/sad, health/disease, love/hate, summer/winter, life/death etc). These things all exist naturally, are a part of the universe we live in; they ALL belong, and we should expect them to show up. That means there is nothing wrong with disappointment, sadness, anger, something not working, or any “negative” expression or feeling. It should come as no more of a surprise as joy, love, things going as planned, or “positive” feelings. There is no fighting this natural, universal law, and expecting anything different only causes disappointment.

How does that translate into real life? When we aren’t happy it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with us. When someone is grumpy or annoyed (even if it’s with you), it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them or you. Pretending a negative feeling isn’t so, or trying to change an outcome or a mood is unnatural; not to mention completely exhausting.

Acceptance of what is doesn’t mean accepting nonsense in your life OR that it’s ok to make the same mistakes over and over. Accept, learn, & grow. That means changing what you have control over, letting go of what you can’t and having the wisdom to know the difference.  Someone coined that long ago.

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  1. Let go

Let go of contempt and forgive.

Oh… so much easier than it sounds. Regret and lack of forgiveness can seriously block true inner happiness. Like a dam blocks the flow of water. This is true whether or not you are holding onto contempt for yourself or others.

Regret can be about anything that would represent ‘woulda’, ‘shoulda’, ‘coulda’. Lack of forgiveness for yourself is often about regret. Consider being compassionate with yourself and recognizing that you are human, but learn from the experience. Accept how it went and move on. If you don’t forgive yourself, you will often make the same mistakes over and over.

Lack of forgiveness towards others is often about being angry because another individual did not act in a way you wished them to. Consider accepting that it is about them, not you. and let it go. Holding onto contempt only stops you from being happy and wishing you could change a person you cannot.

Both forms of not forgiving will block you from being happy. Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It’s absolutely NOT about making the same mistakes over and over, or allowing certain behaviors in your life. Forgiveness is about acceptance of what is and not fighting against things you cannot change. Accept yourself, others, and the world for what it is. You don’t even have to let another person know you forgave them to feel the benefits of letting go.  Whatever you might be holding on to with anger, regret, or contempt: give yourself the gift of letting it go. It’s freeing.

Not everyone is ready to forgive. If you can’t, at least wish that you could want to. And if you can’t even do that, at least wish that you were the type of person who could wish they could want to. But be honest and reflective of where you are: ready to forgive, wishing you were ready, or wishing you could wish you were ready to forgive. The sooner you are honest with your  private self (you can’t really lie to your most private self), the sooner you will move on, come closer to forgiveness and the sooner you will set yourself free. But only you can do that.

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  1. Give

Give gratitude. We are human and as simple as it is, it’s hard! There are thousands of quotes, articles, podcasts, movies, songs, apps etc that talk about how gratitude can change your life. And I can attest to it. Living in gratitude makes life miraculous and SOOOOoooooooo….. worth living.

Look around. Stop living in lack. I listened to a Podcast on the way home from work on Tuesday about Oneness. To sort of, kind of, steal the lines from the person giving the Podcast, she talked about how we live and focus on lack constantly. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning we live in lack. Before another thought enters our mind; more often than not we think we didn’t sleep enough, weren’t enough yesterday (didn’t exercise enough, ate the wrong things, drank too much, didn’t do enough), and that we don’t have enough time in the morning to get ready to start the day. This is before we even get out of bed! This is the story we tell ourselves throughout the day. We focus on all that isn’t rather than ALL that is. Giving gratitude and being grateful for what is doesn’t come naturally.

Most of us are healthy and have several functioning relationships in our lives. We have food, shelter and way too much clothing… in fact we feel confused about choices on what to eat and what to wear when we are lucky enough to have those choices to actually make! But we focus on what doesn’t fit, the people who have slighted us and who we don’t have a relationship with, the poor food choices we made, the fact that there is traffic, a bill we didn’t expect to come… and then we beat ourselves up then for not being thankful.

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On how hard this is –

We are human. We are animals. In a totally unrelated, yet totally related story… I’m in a 300-hour yoga teacher training and there is a student who comes to many of the classes at my studio where I teach and train. He is in his 70’s, legally blind, and a retired psychologist. He is awesome. He will often stay behind after community classes that are open to the public and share some of his insights about yoga and the way the mind works. I’m going to share one of his stories. I will call him “Harry”.

Harry was involved in a study with chickens all not too long ago. Basically, they taught the chickens how to find a pellet in a maze. Before you read further, try to take a wild guess about how long it took the chickens to find the pellet in the maze. Flabbergasted? It’s normal! From the folks I’ve told this story to, they’ve all guessed between 2 and 50 times. I believe the answer was somewhere around 9.

Then Harry’s study changed something in the maze that required the chickens to adapt to a new pattern. The pellet came out in a slightly different way and the chickens had to learn that doing the same thing over and over didn’t work. How many times do you think it took them to determine the new pattern? Flabbergasted again? Again… it’s normal. Most of the people I’ve talked to and told this story to after learning it was 9 times guessed anywhere between 9 and 40. For all those folks I’ve told them it’s much, much higher and it would blow their mind moved their guess to between 50 and 500.

The actual answer is over 42,000 times. It’s mind-boggling. I would hate to be the person who counted that study! Harry told us about that study, and I share this study with you because it’s freeing to know that it’s very difficult to change patterns and the way our neurons fire and give us direction. There is nothing wrong with us if we can’t change a habit in a heartbeat. We aren’t failures, we are living creatures with wiring that makes it so. Again & again, not an excuse – but an opportunity to accept the nature of what is, forgive ourselves, and give gratitude that we have the mind power to change patterns since we have a little more thinking opportunity than chickens, and can be self-reflective.

It’s all good.

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Closing Thoughts –

So be good to yourself and others. We are just frail little humans. We think materialism, acquiring more things, brings joy – but it doesn’t. Use this season, this beautiful solstice, to learn something new. Focus on acceptance of what is, letting go of the past, and being grateful. These are some of the most beautiful gifts we can give ourselves and one another.

As I stated at the beginning of this blog:  true inner joy & peace can only come from within.

Happy Winter Solstice 2017.

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2017 Anderson-Messeder Holiday Greetings

2017

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The kids

I will start with the kids because when I see people I haven’t seen in a while, it’s the first thing they ask me about to break the ice.

Starting with the oldest.

Tom is now 20. He has been going to college at the University of Southern Maine for 2 ½ years, majoring in English. He met a sweet girl the fall semester of last year named Aisy. I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time on my birthday this year. Tom spent the summer with Aisy and her family in Rhode Island while working at a tent/party set up company. He says it was the best summer and job of his life. He’s had a myriad of jobs in college and is currently working in Whole Foods. But only temporarily. As of today he will be moving back home and finishing school here in Connecticut. Aisy is also moving back home with her folks to finish school in a more economic manner. We are very much looking forward to having Tom back home with us, Koji & Devin. It’s rather quiet in our house these days!

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Tom, Aisy & Koji at the beach in Rhode Island this summer

Gabby. She is now 18. She finished high school last June and is currently a freshman at the University of Rhode Island (URI) studying Geographical Oceanography. She is challenging herself the first two semesters with several lab classes and an intense course load. She is also in the Honors Program. The last days of senior year brought all kinds of fun and memorable activities like prom, award ceremonies, trips and of course graduation. Gabby worked at Panera Bread for the past year through the time she started college. She is still a seasonal employee and will be working through winter break. It will be nice to have her home for the next month too. Other than one of the cats, I’m the only girl left in our house. Gabby does add a nice feminine flair!

Kieran. He will be 18 in just 14 days from today. He is a senior at Hopkins High School and just got into Harvard! Yes, Harvard – wow! 3rd generation (both his parents & maternal grandmother). We found out just Tuesday evening after his winter concert while my in-laws were visiting. Kieran has many highlights this year. Most notably he made it to Nationals for singing. He was in Disney with the nationals group just a few weeks ago following the Thanksgiving holiday. He had many roles in school plays and recently was cast as the lead role in Heathers for the Spring 2018 Musical at Hopkins. For a variety of reasons he hasn’t been spending considerable time at our house, but we are very proud of his accomplishments.

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Kieran and his good friend Michele on the college visit circuit we took them on in March. On that trip we visited many schools including Brown where Michele learned yesterday she has gotten into!

Devin. He is now 14. He finished up IDS (the elementary/secondary school he has been in since he started school) this year in June. It was emotional as he said goodbye to teachers and friends he has known since he remembers pretty much anything. Of course in this day and age it’s not goodbye – as he is pretty much on a perpetual group chat with his old friends on a daily basis. Devin is now a freshman at Cheshire High School (CHS, where Tom & Gabby went to school). He is also in his last year of playing hockey with the Whalers. Next year he will transition onto the high school hockey team. He is still playing the trumpet and we were treated to yet another great holiday concert at CHS last night.

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At the Muse & 30 Seconds to Mars concert we went to at Jones Beach this summer. On the left is Anna Sara – beautiful relative from Sweden we had the pleasure of spending time with

Trips

Daren and I traveled quite a bit this year. We started the year on a work trip (Daren’s work) to Newport CA. In April we took Gabby and her good friend Kelly to Disney for their senior year. Devin and his friend Cole joined us. We also took some day trips & weekend trips to Long Island and around New England to Kingston RI, Portland, ME, Stowe, VT, Grafton, VT… to name a few. But our biggest trip was definitely to Africa! We went to Africa to celebrate Daren’s 50th birthday. We visited Cape Town, South Africa, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and then went on an overland safari that started in Zimbabwe – went all through Botswana; and landed us back in South Africa in Soweto.

The Hubby

Daren turned 50! He is still working at CHC (Community Health Center), rocking it with doing 3 jobs and writing grants and papers left and right. In the off time he still runs, reads and plays piano. This summer he spent quite a bit of time working on the lovely boat the Melanie’s parents (Melanie & John – our good friends) no longer wanted. After fixing it up he got down to Branford as often as possible to take her out on the water. And the ol’ piano needed some serious fixing. All the keys recently got replaced last month in a serious several day long event.

Me

I would say this year was even more about yoga for me than last year. I started the year out by opening my own LLC (Yograzia Balance). At first I was holding classes at a home studio. It was going well until someone complained twice about zoning. I’ve taught at a variety of places throughout the year. Most notably I became certified to teach trauma informed yoga at domestic violence shelters. It is the most rewarding teaching I do. Currently, I’m enrolled in a 300-hour yoga teacher-training program, which will finish in June. I’m loving every minute of it, as the material transfers immediately over to my personal life and practices. I’m continuing to work part-time at the VA. My job is not quite as challenging as others at the VA have been, but it works perfectly for our lifestyle at the moment. I also take care of the house & rentals in Branford. More below.

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Yograzia Balance space

Summer Island

The rental house in Branford has been a success to date! We had over 25 renters this year and got nothing but rave reviews on both vacation rental sites. We used the house ourselves for 2 weeks in the summer and almost every time it was empty. In 2018 we have it blocked for 4 weeks in the summer and hope to make it down more often in the off season. Turning it over and answering calls and texts on the weekends from the renters is not my favorite thing. However; I learned a lot this year, made many adjustments and changes, and hope to have a better handle on the rental process and turnovers  next year.

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The Reality

That’s all the good/positive stuff. On a more realistic note –

I’m still struggling with stress, anxiety and PTSD. Being 100% honest, it’s been the most challenging year I’ve ever faced with treatment, medication(s), and my own personal growth. Grades are a struggle for some of our brood. Work, school, and home challenges often get in the way of a mood, sometimes an evening. We’ve have blended & biological family struggles, hurt feelings, and harshness exchanged. We had a flood from our dishwasher into the basement this summer that knocked our kitchen and basement out of commission for a while. We had contractors in the house almost every day for about 6 weeks. Devin had emergency hernia surgery. Tom’s car broke down on the Fourth of July holiday.

My ex (John) moved away to Tennessee to start a new job and life. My brother Mario has been staying with us when he can while trying to start a new life away from Long Island. Our pets bring us so much love and joy, but they also destroy stuff, throw up, cover our homes in hair, scare away guests and delivery people…

But we are so blessed. We have food in our bellies, a warm place to stay every night, healthcare, clothes in our closet, JOBS, and as the late Dr. Seuss would say, brains in our head and feet in our shoes. No one likes a struggle, but I’m actually thankful for them. They bring insight and make the good times even more sweet. I’m learning that struggles are as normal and expected as joy, and to not be so thrown off when they show up knocking on the doorstep. Learning…. Not there yet – but I am enjoying the path to learning to be ok with whatever I wake up to face each day.

Here’s to the closing of 2017. Onto the next!

Please visit my other blogs at https://esterinaanderson.com

Don’t go back to sleep 


The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.


You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the door sill

Where the two worlds touch.


The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

~Rumi
This is one of my favorite Sufi poems by Rumi. The first line sits with me. It’s said the veil between worlds is the lightest just before dawn. I’ve felt that when I’ve been up early. There is just something light and magical in the air. At early dawn it feels as if the world is vibrant with possibilities. Shhh… listen to the breezes and enjoy this time. But the poem means so much more. 

In 2012; through a mix of rediscovering religion, turning off the radio, listening only to uplifting music, and discovering a myriad of podcasts on spiritual living – I proverbially “woke up”. Waking up means different things to different people. For the purposes of this blog, I am writing about spiritual awakening. 

I didn’t do this on purpose, and it wasn’t something that happened over night. It noticeably started when I went to a two-day work training on the Seven Habits of Highly people. It was on March 1st that year. Something seemed to deeply resonate in my soul from that training. There were quotes I may have otherwise looked past which the instructor stopped to explain. Those quotes seemed to make so much simple sense. 

After the first day of training when I got in the car, I made the rare decision to keep the radio off. We had just completed a journaling exercise, and I felt like I could have kept writing all evening. I really wanted to keep that sense of peace and pondering I was experiencing. I wanted to continue writing, and to contemplate the simple truths I leaned that day. I decided to keep the radio off the next morning too. Then I set a goal to keep it off for a week and avoid all media during that time. That week turned into two, then three. When I opted to listen to music again, I decided to first listen only to things I loved and made me feel good. I started with U2. I haven’t really watched the news or listened to the radio since. 

At first I wasn’t sure what happened. I just felt different and more subdued. Noises, people, work, media; they all started to really bother me. Not annoy me, but get under my skin and really eat away at me. I was more irritated than ever. During a period of a few months I only listened to U2 if I listened to any music at all. I was doing more thinking than I ever had. Thinking about why I felt so irritated by the world. Why billboards and convenience stores would turn my stomach. What was wrong with me? 

I started really hearing U2’s lyrics and began to understand the deeper meaning behind the words. Bono actually sings about waking up, being born again. Popular songs like ‘One’ and ‘Mysterious Ways’ took on a whole new meaning. Less popular songs screamed of rebirth – off hand ‘Unknown Caller’, ‘Moment of Surrender’, ‘Elevation’, & ‘Walk On’ to name a few. 

Waking up is about noticing what you hadn’t before. Discerning what is good for you, your soul, mankind and all living creatures. It’s about realizing that what we consume (through all senses) becomes our thoughts, cultural norms and even our physical body. How could it not? How hadn’t I thought about this before? And why is the predominance in the world toward things that aren’t good for us? Am I the only person who is noticing this? 
These questions lead to others. I’m sure it’s different for everyone. For me it raised questions about social injustice, the environment, consciousness, the power of the mind, animal rights, the products we put in our bodies… the chemicals in them. Questions I googled, questions I spoke to people about, questions I found; others before me have asked through art, poetry and song. 
“I’m waking up!” Imagine Dragons screams into our radios. Breaking out of the prison bus we all live in. Conditioned by the world to just follow unquestioning through life helping to possibly benefit the selfish and “privileged” that just hope the masses stay asleep. I started journaling again, drawing pictures of cogs in the wheel… wheeling us off to places that I didn’t want to contribute going to anymore. How to get off the bus? My whole world and life as I knew it before was on the other side of the fence I just crossed, pulling me over. I was happier on that side, blissfully unaware of what I didn’t know.

Others wrote, sang and painted about this too. The Dark Night of the Soul. Again, this looks different for everyone. For me it was about the fear of changing things. My family, friends, hobbies, job, life style- I couldn’t just walk away from it all. And even if I could, where would I go? What on this giant green and blue earth would I do? While I had some deep conversations with people that seemed to understand what I’m saying, they were living in the world in a way I no longer wanted to. The people and answers online wouldn’t provide that sense of community I craved. However, continuing to do what I did every day and being a cog to a world I don’t want to see seemed impossibly depressing. Just thinking about it made me want to absolutely crawl right out of my own skin. Although many of these same blogs I read about this topic promised that after living through the ‘Dark Night’ it becomes very possible to live in the world again with a new perspective. Live in it? I just wanted to run away! 

As I write this blog I’m on a two plus week trip with Daren to Africa. It’s one of the most exciting trips of my life, but I was truly nervous about being so close to wild animals, being with people who get some kind of high from getting closer and closer to more and more dangerous animals in hopes of getting a ‘like’ worthy picture on Facebook. Lots of people I know have done similar excursions and had the time of their lives. They reassured me I’d love it. 

Three days ago we went from the city of Maun in Botswana to the Okavango Delta for a two night camping excursion with no facilities or electricity. We were in the middle of the Delta with little to no cell reception, no toilets, no lights, no electronic devices and no showers. The only way off the island was an hour & a half makora (sort of like a canoe) ride that is done by a poler through reeds of the Okavango river. A poler is a native of the delta area who moves the makora with a long pole. We lived right on the land that the animals do. In the middle of the night I awoke to the loud sound of hippos mating. Zebras roamed the open grass. Birds sang loudly and landed on branches. Impalas roamed and hopped around. 

Yesterday when we left Okavango, we took a plane ride with the majority of our travel group over the Delta. Had I not been there, I wouldn’t have appreciated what I was looking at. I wouldn’t have know that those large grey objects were termite mounds, that the green land was actually reeds that spread apart pretty easily and provided life to frogs, hippos, crocodiles, lily pads and beautiful water flowers; or that the bushes spread nicely apart were perfect little private bathroom areas. We flew over a massive heard of water buffalos, tons of elephant herds, zebras, impalas, hippos, and even two prides of lions. 

It was a unbelievable experience that I’m still glowing from. We slept just outside the delta last night in the city of Maun again. While showering this morning I felt like I didn’t want to leave. Next week when I’m back home in the concrete, fabricated world; those lions will still be here. The polers will be poling their makoras through the reeds, and the natives will be singing and dancing their traditional customs in the evening. This world is more real. I feel connected to nature, the environmental balances and myself. I was also thinking about all the other people I know in the states that have done similar excursions and wondered why they didn’t come back changed. They seemed to know how it felt and told me how I’d feel. They were right! 

As I thought about it further, it seems like for a temporary period some activities “wake you up”. They wake you up to what is actually real. About what feeling connected really is. To our inner selves. To feeling truly and deeply present and alive. Lots of activities do this and it varies [again] for everyone. For me, I sometimes gain this deep understanding through hiking, writing, yoga, or having deep connected conversations. But why don’t we hold onto it? Why does it disappear? And then it hit me, because we go back to sleep. 
Most people probably wake up for short bursts in their life many times. Whether it’s through sailing, running, sky diving, or even through every day mundane activities like driving or putting a baby to sleep. Others wake up more harshly for longer periods like I did in 2012. Where the sense of inner peace clashed against the known world. At first it’s wonderful. It’s like you’ve gotten a taste of this delicious sub-world living right below the surface of the known world. Everyone has access it to, only most people are stuck in what they believe is reality. Sometimes because I don’t know how to handle going back and forth; I’ve gotten agitated, judgmental, sad or anxious. I’ve gotten through it by going back to sleep dozens of times and getting re-absorbed into the drama and superficial world I’m used to. It feels safer there. The community is larger and it’s fun to not care, close your eyes and go on. But the period on which I am comfortable staying there is getting shorter and shorter. I feel more off, and sooner and sooner I feel as if I’m not following my inner compass. It always feels right when I open my eyes, willingly wake up and go to the other side. I know deep down it’s the right side of the fence to be on. 
Humans have struggled with this very thing through the ages. A few hundred years ago Rumi wrote 

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

Take advantage of that light veil. Stay there, explore. Question things. 
You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You will be and experience what you consume. Be careful about what that is…. what you think, eat, listen to and surround yourself with. Take in what you actually want to experience. 
People are going back and forth across the door sill

Where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

We have the power with our minds to make decisions about which side of the door we would like to be on. The openness and roundness of makes it easy to cross back and forth. But if we stay awake we will stay on the right side.

Don’t go back to sleep.

On the Tangled web we weave 




Where to begin?

Daren and I have been in Africa for the past week. We started out in South Africa and are currently in Zimbabwe. The economic disparity between the first world and third world is almost inconceivable. The modern day effects of corruption and apartheid are prevalent with just a glance out the window. How can such an atrocity be in the year 2017? 

It’s so complicated. We have been having conversations with one another, friends, and locals about this very topic for the past week. I think we were both surprised how much the lower paid locals know about the US political system and have critically considered how to remedy an ugly situation created by our ancestors and governments. There isn’t an easy answer.
What has also surprised me is seeing first hand what South Africa looks like today and reading older media materials about their apartheid. From a brief glance, the population of mixed race was not enraged or agitated about one another; it seemed to be something the government was enforcing. Many citizens were recorded to have said even though apartheid laws were on the table, they didn’t think they would be passed. Then when they were, they thought in this modern day there is no way that can be enforced. Until people of non-white descent were suddenly removed from their homes. That was not but 50-70 years ago. AFTER WWII and all we learned as a human race. The same thing happened here in Zimbabwe but on this end the whites were forced off the land.

Then interestingly enough, I heard an entirely different perspective from the “white” side. We have some friends from the states that have been living out this way for the past 9 months who have met all types of locals. They have friends of Dutch descent that presented a point I had not considered. In essence the passed along viewpoint is that if we are forced to live together with two different viewpoints for living, it can make for an ugly situation. For example- if one party doesn’t believe in taxes, schooling, and maintaining the land and the other does; the party that doesn’t only makes it more difficult for the party that does. From their Northern European perspective, apartheid was meant to separate folks by their beliefs. They say when their ancestors arrived no one was on the land, they didn’t push anyone out (disclaimer, I don’t know the specific facts of the Dutch settlers particularly in SA, and we all know that it did happen in many other places). A few hundred years later, the cultural beliefs were still clashing. For instance, the Dutch wanted their schools one way, and other groups wanted it another way. So instead of trying to mix and mash when one party won’t have a conversation with the other about it, they felt it might be best to live apart and do what each party would both like in separate camps. So apartheid laws appeared. Since it was the European settlers who built the infrastructure and cities, they felt they had the right to keep that part and the others could have the land the way they found it when their ancestors were there. 

Wow… on the smallest scale within my own home, having a blended family I completely understand how trying to mix two backgrounds in a living situation is practically impossible. And in my family we are almost completely similar in color, believes, religion, education; not to mention a really small group of people. How can you mix communities, countries and cultures that have hundreds of years of history ingrained into their being and ask people to get along and work together? I do know apartheid wasn’t the answer. As I know Daren and I setting up separate homes or rules within our family wasn’t the answer either. 

The answer is that there is no easy answer. Some might point to education, but education doesn’t make you smarter or right about how living in the world should look like. What is wrong with living in a hut and dancing around in the bush? Is the ultimate goal to keep building and making things to make human kind’s life easier? What is wrong with just loving life, living with the land and passing away when and how the universe decides? Is spending your life looking for a cure to make someone else’s life better someday so noble that you don’t appreciate what is around you in your own life? Does that make you a better or more important person? If you believe that, does it give that person the authority to make decisions for others that don’t believe that? 

Let’s not forget about the people that were enslaved, killed, and removed from their land. This is still happening in 2017. What about those who were freed? How can their groups catch up and make a living and have the basics like food shelter and clothing when the commonly accepted mechanism to get a job is education. You need money for the basics. You need even more money for an education. You need a job for these. No job = no basics and education. No education = no job. A rather circular problem that one can’t escape. Their culture before enslavement didn’t require this, but they are forced to live in it now with little opportunity for a way out. In some ways they are still enslaved. Should those folks just get back some raw land to live as they did before enslavement now that we have introduced them to medicine and technology and act like there is no other civilized way to live but this way? That is what I believe apartheid tried to do. No one has even taught them to farm the land. And forbid they were given any where useful minerals and resources were abundant. 

Affirmative action is one solution with lots of complications in and of itself. It could be a whole other blog. It’s a conversation we have included alongside this one in the past several days. 

These are complicated questions. Questions we don’t consider often in our day to day lives. It’s so much easier to proverbially close our eyes to get on with the day, tending to our own small lives. That is important too. We need to keep our own house in order for any chance of success in happiness and being an asset to our communities. 

The scariest thing I believe I heard in the past week was the trust in government that all the free people in South Africa had when apartheid was announced. No one was scared because they didn’t think anything unfair could happen in such an advanced society. I shudder at how the US could easily fall apart if we allowed the differences in skin color, gender, sexual orientation, culture, country of origin, etc to influence any kind of law when any human can lose any human right(s). I know our government deals with absolutely nearly impossible dilemmas with limited resources and has to make decisions for the greater good. I wouldn’t want to be in higher office with the pointed fingers when most people have never considered how incredibly complex and tangled the web we have woven is. 

It’s almost too much for anyone to contemplate. But is it too complicated and messed up for an individual to make a difference? I don’t know. What I do know is that we have domain on how we show up in the world. Perhaps we should consider the following recipe for living: 

– Be kind to others.

– Don’t take more than you need.

– Treat everyone equally.

– Learn to think critically.

– Become informed about potential laws and take action as a voting citizen.

– Make decisions for the greater good in your own life. 

– Take care of yourself and your family (sleep, nutrition and movement) so you can be healthy and gain the respect of your community. 

– Make time to relax and play so you are the best version of your creative self.

– Find just one to two things you really believe in and feel passionate would make the world a better place. Direct your working energy toward that. You can make a difference.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead 

On #2 Leaving the Nest

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…THE DAYS ARE LONG, BUT THE YEARS ARE SHORT

 

August 29, 2017

Gabby leaves for college in a few days. Similar to when she was born and had a blank slate to life; she is now beginning a brand new chapter of her life with a blank slate. This time she is beginning with a host of 18 years worth of experiences created through childhood behind her. Anything is possible. Some of the potential possibilities are controllable, and others are circumstantial.

Two years ago I wrote my first blog about the experience of Thomas leaving for college (A Cold August Morning). It’s hard to imagine that half of his college years have elapsed and Gabby is now leaving the nest too.

It’s not any easier. It’s just as beautiful, yet heartbreaking. It is actually like a piece of me leaves with them. I feel emotionally like I’m giving birth again, and a piece of me is being taken away from me. There is an emptiness in my body. I know from the experience with Thomas that they pain goes away after a few days, very similar to the way a body heals itself after the birthing process.

I’ve spent much of this summer off the grid and taking care of a very intimate, private matter. Perhaps one day I will consider blogging about it, but for now it’s very personal and may always stay as such. It also happens to be a transformational time of my life with my youngest biological child morphing into an adult and going out into the world solo before my very eyes. I have spent some time journaling, contemplating, and thinking about the passage of time. Certain experiences will string together to create a future you cannot yet see or imagine. At the time you have no idea how important certain things are.

Gabby is beginning the journey cut off from the age and necessary schooling restrictions that kept her close to me and under my care for the past 18 years. I’m so excited, scared, and happy for her. I wish I could keep being there in the day-to-day, knowing when she gets home from work, what she is wearing, etc. But that is unhealthy. It’s time for me to let her use the wings I helped her to grow.

How did my experiences get me to this point in time?

 

October 1994 – One fine morning around 3am

I am 18 years old. I am freshly out of Coast Guard boot camp and on watch of my first duty station on the USCGC Boutwell. I am standing my first “mids” watch in port. It’s dark, I smell diesel, and I can barely make out the visuals of my new surroundings. I hear water lapping up against the hull and my feet hurt in these dress shoes I’m wearing in the middle of the night. I am on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, CA. It’s a little chilly and I’m wearing an issued jacket over my uniform that isn’t very warm. 

I’m standing watch with a BPOW (brow petty officer of the watch) on the brow of the ship. My role is that of the messenger. Sometime around 3am I am instructed to wake up the folks who are on the 4-8am watch shift. My thoughts become slightly fearful… wake people up? I thought about how I was woken up around 11pm, by a male voice. It is still a bit strange and new to me to be in close quarters with strangers; and even more so, to be exchanging such intimacies with males such as waking someone up. Until now it didn’t dawn on me that I would have to do that too. Earlier the BPOW walked me through who I was to wake up and where their berthing area was on the ship. I took notes. I have 4 people to wake up. One is a female and the other three are male. Of the three guys, two are in the same birthing area and one is in another. I plan to start with the female to get my feet wet, then the single male, and then the doubles. I glance at their names on the list. Everyone addresses one another by their last name. I don’t know many people yet and I don’t know any of these folks. One of the names is Messeder. He will be my direct replacement as Messenger of the watch. Messeder the Messenger I smile quietly to myself.

 

October 1994 – That same fine day around 1pm or so…

As the daily work is drawing to a close, I am assigned to sweep the port side of the ship with a handful of other Seamen. I am sweeping not far from someone I am pretty sure I hadn’t seen before. His hat covers most of his face since he is looking down as he sweeps. When I’m not paying attention I hear him say said “Hello DeGrazia”. I look up. He has a semi-confident/semi-nervous smile. I think to myself I haven’t seen this one before, I would remember him because he is cute. He has a nice crooked smile and eyes that seemed familiar, almost like I should know them. I look down at the nametag on his working blue shirt. Messeder.

 

August 1995

Messeder and I are out on a Sunday afternoon. At some point in the past 10 months, I started calling Messeder by his first name, John. We have been dating a few months. However, since dating is prohibited amongst shipmates; we need to stay clear of any places we may be spotted.

This particular cool, sunny August afternoon we drive south from my apartment in San Leandro toward San Jose. We have no plans other than explore the area and hang together. Somehow we hap chance upon a Zucchini festival in Hayward, CA. We walk around, eat fried zucchini and play some games. We walk toward the end of the festival and onto the side walked street. We continue to walk a few blocks until we find ourselves in front of a movie theater playing a movie called Nine Months. Since the movie is a few weeks old, it only costs a dollar. We decide to watch it.

In the movie, the unexpected pregnant main female lead reads the book “What to Expect when you’re Expecting” and wanted the baby’s father to read it as well. He wasn’t interested, they fought and broke up… and in the fairy tell end; he read the book and was there for her when she had their baby.

 

Nearly 4 years later

May 1999

It’s late in the afternoon on a weekday. It’s warm, bright and sunny. All the windows are open in our Cape Cod unit on Otis Air force base. John and I are now married for 3 ½ years. I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner and reading. We have a two year old named Tommy and I’m 8 months pregnant with number two.

I’m rereading the same book I read with Tommy “What to Expect when you’re Expecting”. Apparently this book is quite popular amongst parents to be. With both pregnancies each month I read the chapter that corresponded with my gestational timeline to learn more about what was happening inside my body and the baby.

Since I’m 8 months pregnant I decide to read the 9th month and the closing chapter as well. I don’t remember reading this with Tommy, but the book writes something to the effect of how crazy and messy the house and life will be once the bundle of joy comes home, and it will be like that for years to come. However, once that little baby grows up and goes off to college; and the house is in pristine condition and quiet once again – you will miss the sound of chaos and children running around. I tear up and get chills. That is so long from now, but it will be so sad.

 

18+ years later

August 26, 2017

It’s a bright, sunny cool day. The summer is drawing to a close. The sun is rising later each morning and setting sooner each evening. The air in the morning is far cooler than the past few weeks, and last night it was downright cold while I was sitting outside on the porch with Thomas (we call him Tom or Thomas now).

John, Thomas, Gabby and I are having an early lunch at Outback Steakhouse in Southington, CT. It’s only 11:30 in the morning and the restaurant is quite empty. It’s dark inside, but the sun’s light floods the windows. We haven’t sat together for a meal just the four of us since Gabby’s 12th birthday in 2011; soon after John and I divorced following 15 years of marriage.

Thomas spent this past summer between his sophomore and junior year in college working and living in Rhode Island with this current girlfriend. He came home last night and is leaving tomorrow morning to go back up to school in Portland, ME. John drove down from Pittsfield, MA this morning where he lives. He just accepted a new job in Tennessee and will be training in Germany for two months. He is leaving in just over a week. Gabby lives with me, but has been working at Panera nearly every night this summer. She is asleep when I leave in the morning and gone by the time I come home each afternoon. She will be starting her freshman year at the University of Rhode Island next Sunday.

John and I are on one side of the table. Thomas and Gabby are on the other. Thomas is across from John and looks like a younger version of his dad. Gabby sits across from me. For years people have commented that she is my little twin. We now have two grown children who are 20 and 18 years old. This is the nuclear family John and I started when we were not much older than these two in front of us. They very much look like we did back then.

What to say? There has been a combination of 23 years of laughter, fun, tears, pain, and growing together. Beginning tomorrow, the four of us are going our separate ways; farther apart than we’d ever been before. Sitting here during this meal, we have a lot of conversation about the mistakes we made in the past as individuals and with one another. There is a lot of apologizing, explaining and understanding. Gabby is the most cut off from the group – texting her colleagues about the evening’s coverage at Panera. John and Thomas are at the brink of potentially arguing a few times. I’m the one who probably feels the most surreal. I happen to look over at Thomas while he is talking to John. He has his father’s eyes. The same eyes I somehow recognized on the Boutwell that day.

While it’s incredibly likely we will be together again in the future, this is the last of the raising children part as childhood is officially over for these two wonderful grown ups sitting in front of me today. I didn’t know that first mid-watch on the Boutwell when I read the name Messeder that it would be my name for 18 whole years (as old as I was at that time), or that it would be the name of my future children. I couldn’t have possibly predicted what was in store.

 

Today

August 31, 2017

Tonight I’m sad and having a little difficultly coming to the realization that my time as a mom in the way I’ve known it is over. I still have an important role though I don’t know what it is yet. The uncertainty of the future stirs up a bit of anxiety. Life is uncertain. I want to use these experiences as reminders in my life that every moment counts. Some will shape the future and others will just be a blip in the passage of life. But every single moment has potential. I want to be present more and just enjoy what is.

The years with Gabby were nothing but a blessing. She has gone from a helpless little baby to a fully-grown woman. I can’t help but think back to some of the younger days when she needed me. Times when she was afraid of having bad dreams and I would dust her arms with “sweet dreams powder” before bed. She used to snuggle up next to me on the couch and often put her arms around me and tell me that she loves having a compact, portable mommy (for whatever that meant!). I coached her soccer team and while braiding her hair one day one home she said she imagined the other girls on her team would be jealous because she is getting her hair braided by the coach. She used to want to work at the VA with me and said she was going to buy a house next door and always live near me. Recently I came across an old mother’s day card from her where she said to do nothing but relax, if I need anything just look to my right and she will be there to do it for me. She always loved cats and McDonalds. Those little trinkets the kids buy at school Holiday fairs that say #1 mom and similar sentiments mean more now than they did then. When Gabby found out her dad and I were divorcing she was so sweet. We went to Hubbard park that day and sat on a picnic blanket. Once settled down she said she understood and even kind of predicted it. She was 11. She’s taken after me with planning, organizing and baking. She works hard but has a healthy balance of taking it easy when she feels stressed (I wished I learned that a bit earlier on). She’s also pretty stinking intuitive. I’m so proud of her.

I put a lot of heart into honoring Gabby on her 18th birthday (On This Day) just over 2 months ago. I knew the coming weeks were going to fly by and I’d be here, in this very place where the excerpt from What to Expect When you’re Expecting said it would be. Where the noise, chaos, laughter & tears will be missed once the house is back to normal and the car packed for college.

Though we aren’t back to normal quite yet. I am still a step-mother of two more that haven’t left the nest yet. It’s a more complicated, undefined role. Daren & I’s story is equally as complicated and full of what initially seemed like uneventful life experiences that shaped the circumstances that led us to where we are today. It’s just about time to shift gears and move onto the next stage.

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The reputation of Stepmothers

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I post a lot of happy photos and experiences on social media. I have a pretty good life. One thing I almost never write or post about is Daren & my biggest struggle. The largest hurdle we haven’t gotten over and continue to learn about and navigate is having a blended family.

 

I’ve written countless journal entries over the years. We’ve written hundreds of heartfelt emails to one another, our kids and our extended family trying to explain where we are coming from. I don’t really know anyone in real life with a current blended family to turn to for advice or to vent. There are little to no resources.

 

Over the years in complete frustration I’ve turned to the Internet. It’s been helpful in learning how we are not alone, but as with many things in life the ‘tips’ (if you can call them that) are much easier said than done. In the past week I’ve been a bit selfish and have only been looking up information about stepmothers. In the past I ran across information and angry forums where biological moms and step-moms posted and complained about one another. It was all a bit too Jerry Springer for me, yet I kept reading the same kind of stories and threads over and over. This week I tried to stick with peer-reviewed information only. There is little to none. The closest thing I can find that has a lot of information are Psychology periodicals. The New York Times and Huffington Post had some articles too, but on average 1-2 a year– and they are more informational for the public to be aware of the struggles that blended families experience rather than a help to the blended family itself.

 

What shocks me is how ‘textbook’ we are. We fell hook, line & sinker into exactly what normally happens.

 

Stepmothers generally have such a bad reputation. It’s often long into adulthood, usually after grandchildren/step-grandchildren are born; that the relationship between a step-mother and her step-children starts to flourish. Until then it’s often contentious and it doesn’t have to be. These are 3 things in order that a family could do to speed up that process.

  • The parents should work together to establish the boundaries, rules and consequences in their home (father and step-mother).
  • Both biological parents should work together to maintain as many commonalities as possible between both homes and back one another up or at least check-in when the children complain about one home or the other.
  • The biological mother should give her children permission to accept the step-mother in their lives.

 

This is the bare minimum to ensure success. Taking it further might look like all 3 (or 4 if mom is remarried) parents working together, especially if either stepparent has children living in their home. Mature adults realize this is in the best interest of all kids involved. Without the above 3 factors in place the situation is practically a perfect set up for failure. However we are so quick to blame the step-mother when anything goes wrong. Why? The world believes the fairy tale evil stepmother fantasy. She is the easy target because she is the outsider and no one feels any loyalty to her.

 

This is a very lonely feeling. As a stepmother you wonder what is wrong with you. You lose part of yourself. You question every word you say. I felt really alone for so long. It’s comforting to now know that research shows that there is a high incidence of anxiety and depression among stepmothers. They’re often the lowest member on the stepfamily rung, the P.S., the annoyance, the person that everyone in the family “puts up” with and often wishes would just go away.

 

 

Taken from the article (The Evil Stepmother: Myth or Truth?) “Simple… as a stepmother, I’ve been called names, blamed for things I had nothing to do with, talked behind my back, badmouthed, lied to and about, used and abused, mistreated, misunderstood, and all because I actually tried to be exactly the opposite of the common perception of ‘The Evil Stepmom’. I never demanded or asked for anything. I never made anyone choose. I never lied about their mother. I never treated her unkind. I never forgot their birthdays or a holiday. I never whined about how much money we spent on travel, child support, court costs, lawyers, or on the children.”

 

Wow how that sits with me. So it’s not just me? It’s not something I did or our special situation?

 

I’ve been accused of thriving on drama, needing my husband’s ex as a common enemy to save my relationship with him, being verbally abusive, making capricious rules, being childish, having an eating disorder, trying to make the children into something they aren’t, the list goes on. To anyone who knows me in real life this sounds so ridiculous. But if you didn’t know me and heard I’m a stepmother you really might believe it – because you know step mothers are evil & all that.

 

Why do so many women have the same experience?

 

From what I read recently, the stepmother is the first to notice something isn’t jelling and starts to do research about how to make her family work. She becomes the authoritative figure at home trying to educate herself, her children, her husband and his children about the topic. This often breeds resentment and alienates her as a starting point.

 

I’ve also learned that stepfathers don’t have the same experience as their counter-parts (step-moms) because usually ex-husbands deal with a divorce in a more healthy way. According to The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers it’s the ex-wife who is likely to hold onto anger, feel it for longer and have the kids act it out on her behalf. Additionally the mom usually will have stronger agenda about what happens in her ex-husband’s house “The stronger the ex’s agenda, researchers found, the more involvement across households–and opportunities for conflict. And high conflict situations between two linked households lead to greater resentment of the stepparent, who feels more expendable

 

The above is a real problem when the step-mom has her own children and is trying to treat everyone fairly. It’s so important that the kids feel at home – all of them. Due to ex-wives trying to exert control, the step-mother loses control of her own home, and if she has children of her own that live in the house; she can’t seem to make things fair for everyone – leading to a great divide between step-sibling.

 

Geez, if we could only all just co-parent that wouldn’t happen right? That takes maturity though. Sadly the one target everyone points to as immature, jealous, power hungry, etc is the stepmother.

 

These are some common myths that I find so absurd.

 

She is jealous of the children

That just such a weird accusation yet widely held belief. I’ve heard it long before I ever became a step-mother, I’ve heard it about myself, and see/read/hear about other step-mothers that are jealous of their step-children. They are so jealous in fact, that they do all kinds of crazy, secret, manipulative things to make the children look bad in the father’s eyes. Has anyone ever questioned this hypocrisy? Why would she be jealous of the children?

 

She tries to exert power over the blended family and make the children’s lives miserable

What kind of person wants to see children miserable? I really ask that with pure interest of what someone’s answer might be. Do you know many people like this? I can’t think of a single person in real life that ever exhibited signed of feeling such intentions (at least that I know of… I’ll give you that).

 

I think a lot of people know just a single story and are more apt to listen to angry ex-wives and the kids who have a distorted image of “what goes on in that house”. She isn’t super strict and making capricious rules when she asks the kids sit up at the table, not climb the furniture, use utensils properly and say please & thank you. These are common complaints (wow… again I’m not alone) 5 Good Reasons to be an Evil Stepmother.

 

In step-families where the husband is the biological parent, research shows that fathers are more likely to be permissive parents if their ex-wife is not remarried and works outside the home (The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers). The biological mother will often start to let little things go at first, then big things. When the children get to their father’s house they are used to not having rules and the father fears that if he is too strict the children will not want to come back. The stepmother inadvertently becomes the menacing authoritative figure for wanting to instill a few simple boundaries that others would normally not question. In turn people look at her like she is on a power trip and wants to make the children miserable and unwelcome into their dad’s house. After this happens a few times the stepmother will often feel like she has no control of her household and has to walk on eggshells when the children are around. It only makes the situation worse which is why most blended families on the surface seem happier early on. It’s not because the stepmother’s true colors have emerged that she has been holding in all this time until she got her claws deep enough into the family. Life isn’t that simple or sinister.

 

She shouldn’t have any say when it comes to the children

This is a partial myth. She has a lot to say about a lot of things and nothing to say about many others. Does she have a right to be part of a negotiation about what time something should take place when it affects her and/or her own biological children, or her household? Yes. Should she have a say in how holidays are celebrated within the confines of her own blended family, especially when she has children of her own? Absolutely. Should she be part of schedule planning for breaks, summers, and vacations if they in any way shape or form will be part of her schedule, her own vacation or anything related to her children? Without a doubt!

 

Does she have a say about where a child goes to the doctor or to college? Absolutely not. Nothing at all. Is it ok for her to be there to look at school options on the table? Why not? If I weren’t married and my brother or a good friend came with me and my child to look at schools, no one would blink or question their motives. They may even be able to say something like – hey remember that great cafeteria at that place, I had a fantastic burrito! But the stepmother accompanies her husband to the physician or a college visit and she must want to manipulate an outcome for her own benefit right? She must think she is their parent and has a right to be involved in this decision. Ya… ok then.

 

What about discipline? This is a tricky one. It depends. Did the child do something at school or get a bad grade? Then she should have little to no say. That is up to the biological parents if they are communicating well enough. Did the child break one of the house rules that she and her husband had in place? Then she does have a say. Many might disagree with me, but I think she has more of a say and should work with the husband closer when there are more than 1 set of biological children in the house. If there are stepsiblings or half siblings and something happens under your roof or in your care; the adults should work as diligently as possible to keep the same consequences for all the children in the house. Toxicity is created when the rules are different for one set of children than another. The stepmother has a say about what happens in her house, especially when it affects her or any children she birthed.

 

If she is kind the children will warm up to her

Not necessarily. The odds are stacked against her. She is putting up with a lot more than you know. People don’t look at her and smile warmly. When the family is out in public and strangers start asking questions where she has to explain they are a blended family, there is subtle shift in the conversation where she is looked at like she is just a bit ‘lesser than’. She can feel this hostility from strangers, the kid’s friend’s parents, teachers, etc. The extended family often quietly or openly resents or blames her because things aren’t just exactly the same as before. The kids sense all of this. How can they like her?

 

Throw in “loyalty”. Many stepkids–and adult stepkids–suspect that liking stepmom would be a betrayal of mom. So they keep her at arm’s length–or worse. And there’s nothing she can do about that. Only mom can release them from the torturous loyalty bind and pave the way to a healthy stepmom/stepchild relationship, by saying, “I wish you’d give Jenny a chance. I won’t be upset.” Too often, no such permission is given” (The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers).

It’s been found that the more warm & appealing a step mom is, the more conflict a child feels about liking her.

Culturally there is a double standard “Stepchildren are allowed to dislike and resent their stepmoms, while a stepmom must always show unconditional love for her stepchildren.


She isn’t immature and childish; she is human with little understanding on her part.

 

Are you a stepmother or know of any? Try looking at things from her perspective. Most little girls don’t grow up with dreams of marrying a man with children. Almost no woman on earth goes out seeking a man with children. Marrying a man with children means you really love him and accept all facets of his life, including his children. The day the couple says “I do” with smiles on their faces, she isn’t secretly plotting about how to systematically get the kids out of his life. I don’t disagree that there may be a few incredibly unstable females out there where this might be the case, but trust me in that they are the exception, not the norm.

 

 

On Lessons from the Garden

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We have a fairly large sized personal garden at our home. There are flowers, shrubs, veggies, trees, bushes and fruit. I spend a lot of time in our garden during the warmer months. I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for a while because I have some many thoughts when I’m out in the garden that I have wanted to capture in writing.

I’ve had a lot of time about this. Below are some beautiful universal principles that apply to most things in life. I learned in a Franklin Covey work class a few years ago that universal laws exist, operate, and govern our universe whether you know about them or not; and whether or not you believe in them. That’s something I do believe!

My own universal principles from the garden –

  • All life comes from the dirt.
  • Dirt is like a womb. If you plant something in there, it will try to grow it.
  • Dirt doesn’t care what you put in it, it just helps to grow whatever seed is planted.
  • You have the opportunity to create the garden you desire.
  • The garden needs a little bit of what we consider good and bad to adapt, grow, and withstand.
  • The sooner you deal with weeds, the better.
  • The deeper and more often more you tend to the unruly (weeds, branches, vines), the more beauty you are seeking will be free to proliferate.
  • It can be difficult to tell weeds from the good stuff if you don’t have experience, an natural born eye for it (which is rare), or just don’t care.
  • While things may look the same and come from the same place, it’s not necessarily the case.
  • If you do decide to grow something from the start, it consider how it should be nurtured and protected.
  • It’s so much easier to see the beauty in life when you care about something enough to tend to it, see the fine details of it, and also take a step back to appreciate it as a whole.
  • The more time you spend in nature, the more you feel connected to it.

The first time I spent a considerable time weeding as an adult was at the condo I lived at in Naugatuck. It was a really small little patch of dirt in front of the house, but I spent hours picking weeds and rocks from this small space that I “owned”. It was early spring and the first year I lived there, so I wasn’t sure what was going to come out of the ground and what might be a weed. It was incredibly therapeutic. What I loved about it was how I was able to let my mind wander and explore thoughts that were stemming immediately from the task I was doing. I remember thinking about good and evil and how difficult it could be to tell those traits in people, in the same way it’s hard to tell weeds from actual plantings. I went out there many times in a few week period to remove all kinds of rocks, turn over the dirt, and plant some seeds and flowers. The little garden took off from there and I only went out every so often to tend to it.

In my next house we had a lot more land, hence a lot more yard work. Starting in spring and all through summer it became a weekly chore to take care of the lawn and yard. This was new to me. I liked it, but was a bit surprised about how time consuming these tasks were. I quickly fell into a pattern of going out to weed, tossing the weeds into the grass, then lightly evening out the mulch or rocks with a little garden tool before trimming and mowing.

As much as I dreaded it each week, once I got outside and starting weeding; I could have gotten lost for hours with my hands in the dirt, noticing the changes from the prior week, watching the worms, picking the tiniest of all weeds, finding large rocks and deep old, long roots to dig up. If it wasn’t for needing to take care of the kids, or my ex-husband complaining about how long I spent in the garden; I could have stayed there all day. Whenever I was done, I loved to sit down with a book or glass of wine and admire the beauty from afar. I loved knowing intimately what the details close up in each flower bed and the veggie patch looked like, but I also loved seeing the big picture. The big picture at first blush always looked sharper, happier & more alive after I did even the most minute work.

Fast forward to my current house. Daren created a beautiful garden area with several flower beds and a large vegetable garden the first spring we moved to our home in 2012. I LOVE the garden. But it’s a lot of work. Like a LOT. For the first few years I hardly paid attention to it. It was too much work. We would go out to weed maybe once a month and pick these gargantuan monsters. Daren would often use a giant clipper for the really gnarly ones. The veggie garden where we ate from was full of weeds. Daren would use chemicals, newspaper, hay, and all kinds of crazy things to keep them at bay… but they were there, always – right in the midst of everything. When we were done, I have to admit it looked nicer; but I didn’t admire it with pride. And all I could do was look around at the smaller weeds and notice how bad they looked and lament on how little time I had for keeping up this “facade” of beauty. It was exhausting. The garden didn’t seem to be glowing when I stepped back and looked at it from afar. It seemed like an actual burden glaring back at me with sorrow for having been created – like it felt responsible for taking up my time. If it could – the garden had it’s head hung down low.
Last summer I started working part-time. I started to regularly go out in the garden once a week to take care of it. At first it was a lot of work. I wasn’t sure the best way to tackle it. But little-by-little, as I battled the largest weeds; I was able to keep up with the smaller ones more regularly – and before long I was able to tackle all of them every week. Not long after I was in a great routine where I would even out the mulch, trim back certain things, rearrange rocks, sweep the porches, wipe down the furniture…. bring the smaller outdoor decorations inside to be cleaned and washed with warm, soapy water in the sink! Like in the past at my last house, I started to look forward to my weekly yard work, and when I was done I would love to sit back and admire the scenery. It finally looked loved and smiled back at me with a head held high. I took immense pride in the work.

This year I am still working part-time and I was able to get out to the garden early. I’m taking even better care of it this year. I know the different corners of each area intimately. I know where the dirt is thick, where the water collects, where it’s easy to scrape small weeds with my fingers, when to leave the tiny weeds near the fragile seeds and when to remove them. After all these years I’ve learned to notice the ever so subtle difference between what is a weed and what is something coming up from the ground that I want there. To one not paying much attention it all looks the same.

In relation to my universal principles from the garden –

 

All life comes from the dirt.

I grew up Catholic. At the start of each start Lenten season on Ash Wednesday; while receiving ashes, the priest would anoint each person saying “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”.

Alan Watts is a famous philosopher that I love to listen to. In several of his talks he speaks of how we as humans have “appled” as a race. Without going into the fine details of one of his famous explanations – I’ll just use one of his quotes “We do not [come into] this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”

Unless we are astronauts; we don’t leave the planet. We have only come from the planet as far as science can tell and return to it when our journey on it with flesh is over. In the meanwhile the planet is like a merry go round souring through space. It’s our ancestor and such the dirt is our ancestor. It’s from which all life as we know it on dry land springs. So how could this thing (dirt) that hosts our life, not govern the laws of how things work?

 

The earth is like a womb. If you plant something in there, it will try to grow it. Dirt doesn’t care what you put in it, it just helps to grow whatever seed is planted. But it won’t grow anything that isn’t planted, and it won’t change the property of the seed once it’s there (you will not get a watermelon from a carrot seed). If you don’t care about the garden and don’t tend to it, you are going to get a mish mash of what nature throws at it.  

Dirt doesn’t do anything alone in and of itself. Neither does a seed. But put them together and nurture them with water, sun, and even wind that carries seeds and removes the leaves that are no longer needing the soil’s nutrient and WHALA!… Suddenly something is created out of seemingly nothing. Like a baby. Like our thoughts.

Thoughts are like seeds. Our consciousness is like the dirt. We plant, give those thoughts attention (sun/water) and the thought grows and shapes our reality. While it may sound a bit “new-agey” (there is a lot to it that is), there are also some simple truths that most people who grumble at new-age would agree to.

In the month of May and earlier in June since it was planting season, in New England; while teaching my yoga classes I used quotes around this concept and started my classes with the following poem.

 

Watch your thoughts

For they will become your words

Watch your words

For they will become your actions

Watch your actions

For they will become your habits

Watch your habits

For they will become your character

Watch your character

For it will become your destiny

 

After savasana (final resting pose for the non-yogis out there) when the class sits up and meets me in the seated position where we started, after a few closing lines I ended class with the quote: “The ancestor of every action is a thought”.

In essence if we catch our thoughts before they become actions and ensure that they are thoughts we want to have – we will be planting words, actions, habits and the character that we desire rather than living a life based on whatever nature threw at us and we blindly just ingest as what is. We become co-creators of our reality rather than passive receivers of other people’s thoughts.

 

You have the opportunity to create the garden you desire, just know that weeds and nature are inevitable.

When weeds grow we don’t cry about it. We don’t pound our fists to our chests and demand an answer from the heavens asking “Why me”. We don’t get mad at the weeds, think the garden is cursed, or that there is something wrong with it. It’s life. It’s a natural law. The same goes for us. Life is going to throw us curve balls. Things are going to happen that we will not like. It doesn’t mean we are cursed. We can’t blame anyone else for what happened that we don’t like. It’s life. But we can control how we react to it. We can either leave the weeds there and let them take over our beautiful garden, or we can work to remove them as necessary to create the garden (aka life) we want. You can’t clean your house once and expect it to stay clean forever. You can’t weed once and expect nothing will grow back. And you can’t have a perfect life one moment and expect that the next life won’t throw something right back at you to mess up that perfection. It’s not how universal law works.

 

The garden needs a little bit of what we consider good and bad to adapt, grow, and withstand (sun, rain, wind).

In life we need a little bit of good and bad to grow, learn, adapt and become stronger. A charmed easy life is not one worth living. A lot of people would disagree with that statement, but all life, including ours as humans; thrives by being challenged, overcoming barriers, and learning. It’s one of the few ways that help us to feel alive and satisfied.

 

The sooner you deal with weeds, the better. The deeper you pluck & the more you tend to the unruly (weeds, branches, vines), the more beauty you are seeking will be free to proliferate.

The quicker you pull the tiny weeds, the less likely they will interfere with your well-balanced eco-system. Even if it’s microscopic, if it’s hurting the invisible bacteria and germs; it will have an adverse affect. A beautiful vine? It looks nice up until the point it’s either pulling down your fence or choking other plants, crops or bushes that you would like to thrive. We can use these things (weeds, vines, etc) when we need them, as long as we are aware of their nature, keep them at bay, and use them for the good you want in your life (like drugs, alcohol, the partying type friends, etc). Problems that are not dealt with in life generally grow. What starts out in a relationship as any kind of a little “weed” will only continue to grow if it isn’t brought to attention and removed. Without tending to it, it may create a breeding ground for more weeds that grow… eventually destroying all we initially set out to create something beautiful.

Additionally, the deeper you remove unwanted root systems; the more prolific life you will see above the ground. Perhaps the deeper into the conscious we seek to remove negative, habitual thought patterns that don’t serve us or won’t assist in creating the life we want; the less likely there will be any adverse, even microscopic effect on our actions, habits, character, etc.

 

It can be difficult to tell weeds from the good stuff if you don’t have experience, a natural born eye for it (which is rare), or just don’t care.

For anyone who doesn’t get out in the dirt often, when you plant something, weeds mimic what the plant looks like almost from a seedling to maturity. To the untrained eye it’s hard to tell which is the weed and which is the plant. At some point the weeds replicate and take over the plant when unattended. If the plant even stays alive, it’s chances of thriving to it’s fullest potential grow smaller with each passing day. The weed is competing underground for nutrients and water, it might grow taller or in such a way that it blocks out the sun’s rays, or it may eventually choke parts or all of the plant.

It’s hard to tell good people from bad people. They all initially behave the same. But if you are looking, there are subtle signals and signs that alert us how to determine who has good intentions and who does not. Just look closely, their intentions are right there on their shoulders and in their eyes. We can actually see if the person is feeding the little angel or little devil sitting on each shoulder like the cartoons used to show back in the day.

 

While things may look the same and come from the same place they aren’t. It’s not the same leaf on the tree that was there last year.

The exact leaf on that exact tree is not the same one from last year. A whole lot could have happened to that tree from last year. It could have gotten a disease it’s spreading, weeds might have taken over it, something underground might be transmitting in a different way and harming the rest of the garden. You don’t know. People do change too. It might look like the same person you once know, but it might not be. The person you knew might have planted new thoughts and is living a different life. Keep an eye out for those who might be a bad influence and give people second chances as they may be able to better nurture your life and help you thrive in a well-balanced, functioning eco-system.

 

If you do decide to grow something from the start, it consider how it will be nurtured and protected.

Life is going to go on whether we live in it passively or with conscious intention. If you do want to go out and create the garden of your dreams with brand new seeds, you will need to nurture it. Like a baby, new kitten or small puppy; a seedling needs initial outside assistance. At first it needs a lot of attention and careful nurturing. As it grows a little bigger, you don’t have to be as careful when removing the same sized teeny weeds around it because it’s rooted into the ground more deeply and is starting to thrive on it’s own. It needs some regular of attentiveness until it can fully thrive on it’s own and have the ability to recognize the weeds from itself – not fall into peer pressure so to speak. At about this point in my garden my carrots are there. In my life, my 18-year old daughter Gabby and 20-year old son Thomas are pretty much there. But you can’t and shouldn’t leave these newly matured almost proliferating life forms alone for good. If it doesn’t rain for a few days, my carrots are still going to need water if I want carrots this fall. Weeds will still grow around them, although at a much less rapid pace since they aren’t trying to dupe me or the carrots themselves like they were when the carrot seeds just burst forth out of the ground. I still need to ensure vines don’t grow from out of the woods into the carrot patch. I still need to let Thomas and Gabrielle know I’m there if they have questions, need advice or start to flounder from the elements they aren’t used to weathering on their own just yet. Even fully-grown mature adults need love, validation and nurturing from other humans to thrive and put forth fruit in the world; albeit, much less than babies, adolescents and young adults. Those full grown plants in the garden can be left on their own most of the time to fight the elements and create their fruits, just like us fully grown humans. However with some love, nurturing and attention; it only makes it easier for us to thrive, provides us with more of a fighting chance to survive, and helps make our fruits all that much sweeter. The inherent properties of the dirt and us as creatures walking the dirt are mostly the same.

Of course things will grow without attention, love, or nurturing… – thrive and be fine. But in the absence of these things; the odds of growing to maturity, producing bountiful vitamin- rich fruits, and being a contributing member to the surrounding ecosystem are far less.

 

It’s so much easier to see the beauty in life when you care about something enough to tend to it, see the fine details of it, and also take a step back to appreciate it as a whole.

This seems like the most obvious but hardest lesson of all. I didn’t appreciate my garden until I was able to tend to it. I wanted it, but it was a source of stress and felt like a chore. We all want a lot of things we can’t tend to. Life isn’t endless, and our brains and bodies have a capacity to only deal with so much. There are however endless possibilities to pursue. You can try to pursue them all, but you will not succeed. You can’t tend and nurture too many things. Those things will not get the attention they deserve if your proverbial plate is too full. Whether it’s your garden, job, pets, kids, friends, partner, hobbies; whatever. If you can’t love it properly or in the way that you want it to love you back (a partner, a pet, or even the way the garden looks or produces) – don’t take it on. You won’t appreciate it and it won’t appreciate you. Sure you can pass the duties off to someone else like a pet sitter, babysitter, landscaper…. but it’s not really yours then. Without knowing the intimate details of it you don’t appreciate it or feel pride in its success in the same way as when you are putting the work in yourself.

Too many things on our plates often cause unnecessary stress – and who wants that? Even stepping back and looking at the big picture, we immediately notice at first blush which things have had the fine details tended to and which seem unloved. It’s HARD to slow down and only focus on a few things. Life steers us to do the opposite. I myself have cut my hours back in and attention the business world and took two part-time jobs teaching yoga and taking care of our rental home. My life is slower, I know all the fine details of these things, I see the results in my family and my life. I could not be more appreciative and have more pride in these fewer things than I was trying to juggle before. .

 

The more time you spend in nature, the more you feel connected to it, which only enhances and enriches your experience in life.

Get outside. Feel the wind in your lungs – the temperature of that air, the depth of the breath, where into your body you are breathing (belly, ribs, chest…. or somewhere else). Put your feet on the earth (gasp… may without shoes?) & feel that connection. Swim in the natural water. Turn off your music and listen to the birds, the wind, the crickets, that doggie bark in the distance…

Myriads of indisputable evidence show that stress is lowered when we connect with nature. The answer to every quandary is right there when we tune down the monkey chatter in our mind and listen to the quiet teacher inside of us. That quiet teacher is connected with our universe, which is governed by the universal principles of nature. It’s our friend and mother. We “appled from it” as Watts said. We carry the same qualities it does.

Shhh….. just listen and find the way to happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this day

On this day 18 years ago I woke up with a pain that I had never felt before. The sky was sort of light already. I looked at the alarm clock by the bed and it was 4:45. I wasn’t used to getting up so early, so the time in comparison with the light sky seemed a little strange.

 

I got up to use the bathroom and I noticed something else that was weird. Sign number 2 that something was happening. My pulse started to quicken as I crawled back into bed. Should I wake up my husband? It was a Sunday, a rare day to sleep in. What if I’m wrong? I tossed and turned but couldn’t fall back to sleep.

 

Before John woke up I had a few more pains, but still I wasn’t sure. The next day was my due date. Could I be in labor? I already had a two-year old, but he was a planned c-section, so I never experienced any dramatic water breaking, mucus plugs, or labor pains. I had no idea what to expect. John was convinced it was labor. I wasn’t so sure. The pain wasn’t bad at all. Just different.

 

That afternoon we had plans with Ned and Crystal who were friends of ours that lived around the corner of the Coast Guard base we lived on. They had a one-year old son named Frankie. He was just a year younger than our son Tommy. We went on a picnic somewhere in Sandwich, MA. It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day. John wanted to tell them that I might be in labor, but I didn’t want to risk being wrong. They were going to be watching Tommy when it was time, so John dropped the ‘news’ in the middle of the picnic. They were enthusiastic and supportive. I had pains all day, but it was so mild I was skeptical that I could actually be in labor.

 

After the picnic we went back to Ned and Crystal’s house for dinner and stayed until just after dark. We walked back home and put Tommy to bed. I was in the shower when the pain started getting slightly worse. It also seemed to be coming more frequently and timed perfectly apart. I got out of the shower, went downstairs and asked John to start the timer. It was around 10pm and it was dark out. 5 minutes apart. John phoned the on-call service for my ob-gyn and they advised we go to the hospital. We called Ned and Crystal who were still awake and excitedly awaiting Thomas’ arrival.

 

Falmouth Hospital on a dark, warm, humid evening. I can practically smell it. I went into some check-in area and was already 4cm dilated. Wow! This was happening. We got into a room and settled in. Somehow it was too late for me to get an epidural. I wasn’t upset by this information and decided to use the Lamaze breathing techniques I learned instead. I started with the first of the four breaths. Hours passed. The nurses and John kept offering all kinds of things to do, but I felt so comfortable and focused on the breathing that I was pretty darned content. Every so often I would ask what time it was. Midnight passed and it was June 7, 1999. My due date. John and I speculated about the sex of the baby. For some reason the physicians were unable to read the sex on my sonograms. Two weeks before that we paid $40 to a little ultrasound place in Dartmouth that specialized in determining the baby’s gender. They told us it was a girl. I was pretty excited because I did want a boy and a girl. But my spirits dampened when we told people and we heard story after story about how these places were wrong. John was pretty convinced it was a girl. I was remaining my usual skeptical self.

 

All of a sudden the nurses said it was time to start pushing. The pain did worsen, but never past the point where I felt I needed to start that next level of breathing. How could it be time? Not that there is ever turning back once you are pregnant, but at the time of pushing you really feel like there is no turning back now. No breaks – nothing… you just have to do this whether you want to or not. I don’t remember too much of this experience, but I do remember noticing it was starting to get light out again and realizing I had been up for 24 hours. I had the medical team and my husband all around me. I never felt alone and I never felt like it was more than I can handle. I kept thinking it will get worse, but surprisingly I was told that one last push was needed and tada – a baby girl was born!

 

5:00am exactly on Monday, June 7, 1999. Gabrielle Catherine Messeder. We decided on the name months before. We picked two names – one for a boy and one for a girl. We chose Gabrielle because we both liked it and didn’t know anyone by that name. Catherine was after my mom.

 

The next few hours and days were a reasonable blur. I remember distinctly feeling so good right after giving birth that I wanted to get up and walk around. The nurses warned me not to. It was so different than when I had Tommy and was under anesthesia and in a ton of pain. I was alert and able to hold the baby. Tommy came to visit and meet his new sister. He was excited. I used the hospital phone and my little phonebook I brought with me to call my family and friends. Visitors poured in. A day later I packed up and went home with this new bundle of joy.

 

We started calling her Gabby almost right away. Tommy adjusted pretty quickly. I was used to diapers and baby things so child number two was an unexpected breeze. I remember when she was 3 or 4 days old I was changing her clothes upstairs in her room and I put a headband on her head. I was so excited to have girl clothes and pink things to doll her up in. The headband looked kind of silly. While I contemplated whether or not to leave it on, I heard the hustle and bustle of my crazy family coming in the door downstairs. It was my mom, grandmother, aunt Fran and Uncle Joey; who was visiting from Italy. I don’t remember if I kept the headband on or not, but I do remember bundling her up and gently carrying her downstairs. When I came around the corner and started walking down the stairs, it was almost as time stopped. I saw my family standing there with their bags and purses looking up at me. For some reason I said, “Here she is everyone – Miss America.” I teared up when I said that, and I had a vision of a day in the far, far future when she would be all grown up and walking down the stairs in a prom dress. My standstill moment was interrupted when the family broke out into Ooohs and Aaahs and everyone wanted to look at and hold her. Time went back to it’s normal pace and I welcomed my daughter to her small, loud, extended, Italian family.

 

Those first few weeks were a complete blur. I was prepared for the worst, but everything was mild and well functioning to say the least. I got more sleep than I thought I would. Tommy adjusted better than I imagined. Things were no where near as hectic during the day while I was home alone as I was told they would be. Almost immediately I put Gabby on my lap while I read books to Tommy at night before bed. He didn’t mind. I would put her baby tub in the bathtub with Tommy at bath time so they bathed together and they both adjusted just fine. I think the routine we kept got her sleeping regularly pretty quickly. Before I knew it the familiar signs of the beginnings of rolling over started to take place. Then it happened! Solid foods were introduced in what seemed like a flash. Suddenly she was sitting up on her own. Then leaning forward to slither like a navy seal to chase after Tommy. In what seems like a moment in memory she started to crawl, walk, talk, run, and play. We celebrated her first and second birthday on Cape Cod with our neighbors and their children. When Gabby was 2 ½, John got out of the Coast Guard, and we packed our bags to head for Connecticut.

 

Gabby’s 3rd birthday was in our newly owned condo. We had only just been there a few months. I remember it so distinctly. It was the first of many parties we had there, so it was the first time we moved the table a certain way and bought and prepared food in what would become the pattern for hosting similar events. That same year Tommy started kindergarten and I went back to work full time. It was the first time that Gabby would be watched by anyone other than me or her father. She and her brother had to go to daycare. A few weeks into kindergarten Tommy was invited to one of his new friend’s houses for a party. The boy’s name was Justin. When John called to RSVP, Justin’s mom said it was ok to bring the whole family over. New friends were born for all of us. Justin was just about 6 months younger than Tommy. And his little sister Sierra was 2. She was 6 months younger than Gabby. Within just a few months, their mom Sherrie started watching our kids and they no longer went to daycare. The kids all became good friends.

 

Everyone knows how time flies. Birthdays came and went. Our friends moved away. We had a plethora of different day care scenarios intermingled with John on shifts and staying home with the kids as often as possible.

 

I remember the day Gabby started kindergarten. It was just she and I at home that day. She was enrolled in the PM session. We waited inside all dressed up for the bus that afternoon. She was SO nervous. One of our cats “Snickers” was sitting on the desk by the front door. She was kissing him and talking to him, telling him it was ok – that he will be fine without her. My heart melted. Finally the kids started lining up outside at the bus stop at the corner. We walked out there and I met some of the moms. Gabby wouldn’t let go of my hand. She was shaking. When the bus came and everyone lined up, she just let go and bravely stood there on line with everyone else, shyly looking at me. Then the girl in front of her started he started talking to her, and continued to do so while she climbed on. I knew she would be ok. I stood on the curb as the bus pulled away. She found a seat in the back and waved to me out the window with a big smile on her face. My little girl was growing up and away from me.

 

Whenever I was home (rarely), I made it a habit to watch the kids get on the bus from the storm door of our condo. They would sit at a window on the bus and wave as it went by. Now that seems so symbolic.

 

I miss those days. Gabby never had a problem making friends or her teachers proud. She fit in wherever she went. She got great grades. She ate well. We lived in a neighborhood with a ton of kids. She and Tommy got to experience that life that most of the older generation experienced as kids, which nearly no children have now. They played outside daily with the neighbors. The condo was up against a pond and the woods, so it was a kid’s paradise. They and their friends learned to ride bikes one at a time. They ate snacks from each other’s houses, had sleepovers, played manhunt, played videogames inside one of our homes when it was raining or too cold. They dressed up, played with sticks and swords, caught frogs, told stories, and spent hours in the woods with the trees, insects, and plants. They couldn’t wait to go back outside after dinner and had to be called in at dark. In those days John worked evenings often. I would call them in, have them shower and read them a story. Like I said, I miss those days.

 

When Gabby was almost 9 years old we moved to Cheshire. The kids were naturally nervous and didn’t want to move. I remember when we bought the house. Before we moved in we went in to meet a contractor one evening who would be finishing off the basement, and spent a little time in the house measuring that day. I distinctly recall standing in the living room measuring, and looking at the stairs. I flashed back to that day when Gabby came home from the hospital in Cape Cod and I walked down the stairs with her, imagining one day she would be all dressed up for prom. Again, tears filled my eye. I tried to picture her walking down those stairs. It made me sad, but some how I had a foreboding that she wouldn’t be coming down those particular stairs.

 

We moved at the end of 3rd and 5th grade so we kept the kids in Naugatuck at their old school for the last few weeks. Before school started in Cheshire, there was a little welcome day for new students. Tommy was completely confident (at least he acted as if he was), but Gabby was really nervous. The day we went to Chapman Elementary School to meet her new teacher she was a wreck. I remember walking up the stairs with her. Like that first day of school she was holding my hand and shaking. When we got to the classroom she held on until the teacher said hi. At that point she let go and walked in front of me into the classroom. Again I knew she would be alright.

 

Less than two years after moving to the new house, I understood why I had that foreboding about the stairs and prom. John and I were parting ways. I had a few living arrangements before moving into the house I now live in with Daren. Nothing seemed right or fit that prom image I had for Gabby until we got here. I never told anyone this weird feeling I had with the prom and stairs, but when I saw the stairs in my house now; I knew these would be the ones. It made me sad though because her dad and I weren’t together. How would that work? How would he see her? How sad that both of her parents wouldn’t be looking at her fondly.

 

Braces, glasses, puberty. It was a whirlwind. Suddenly Gabby turned 13, then 14, 15, 16. I took her up to the DMV right after her 16th birthday. Again she was incredibly nervous. Her friend Grace was there too. I was a prop along with Grace’s mom as they stood on line nervously laughing and giggling together. She was going to be fine. She didn’t need me. She walked out with her permit and excitedly asked if we could practice right then! We drove up to Home Depot and switched places for the first time. I took a picture to capture what I knew would be a fleeting moment. This was the second child that I was to teach how to drive. Naturally it was much easier knowing what to do. Everything with her was easier since she was #2. We went through the same practice cycles I did with Tommy up until the last day before the test. And before I could blink she was driving at 16 and 4 months old.

 

All of a sudden it was time for college visits and SATs. That next summer she got a job and had her own money. Senior year appeared. Senior Day for Cross Country. The last banquet. The last fencing tournament. Everything started swirling so fast. College was chosen. Then sadly 3 ½ weeks ago was the day I was able to see my daughter walk down the stairs for her senior prom. Her dad and I are on really good terms and he came to the house to see her and take pictures. I never knew how it would work, but I knew it would. That day I practically dreaded since I brought her home from the hospital has already come and gone. She looked absolutely beautiful and was glowing from the inside out. Now tomorrow she officially becomes an adult.

 

As with my labor I was always waiting for it to get harder with her, more than I can handle. But it never did. When Gabby was around 7 years I had that country music song “Suds in the Bucket” playing in the condo one night. Gabby was dancing around when she listened to the words and said mommy that will never be me. I don’t want to grow up and move away from you. I told her she would and she didn’t believe me. “That little pony tailed girl growed up to be a women, and she’s gone in the blink of an eye, she left the suds in the bucket and the clothes hanging out on the line”. I was always waiting for those famous mom/teenage daughter “I hate you” fights to happen, but they never did. Every year that passed I thought – it’s one year closer to that possibly never happening, but knowing darned well it could. As with my labor, it never did get harder – but I couldn’t stop the process of her growing up either. It was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.

 

On this day 18 years ago I was in labor with a little baby girl. I still remember exactly how it felt when she hiccupped in my belly. I can vividly recall watching my belly move on it’s own as Gabby moved around slowly in the little space my body created for her. I remember the smell of her skin after a bath and she was all swaddled and on my lap for a book with her brother. I remember wiping messy food from her pudgy fingers after a meal. That first day of kindergarten when she was telling Snickers he was going to be fine without her there. I remember the day she met Sierra back in 2002. They are still the bestest of friends. Lastly I can of course remember her very recent senior prom; coming down the stairs all dressed up to be taken out by her date. Tomorrow that little baby becomes an official adult. No longer protected by driving curfews or minor labor laws. She is released out into the adult pool with the rest of us.

 

She just came home from work and sat eating in the dining room, watching something on her phone as she often has done for the past year. Soon she will be in college and I’ll just have the ghost of this memory too. My heart is broken, but in the best way. I’m proud of so her.

 

Tonight 18 years later I’m going to sleep with a pain I’d never felt before. The last of my two babies is an adult. It’s nothing more than utterly and completely bittersweet.