The Beginning

(11-9-16)

Last night I held energetic hands With Every Woman I’ve Ever Known.
So much red. Blood spill. In the darkness I laid still between my
Young Daughters. I sung to them for a miracle. They sung with me.
In the night, I woke up, knowing. God, I can’t see the miracle.
All I see is red. Trapped awake writing poetry in my head.

No waking from this nightmare. Feels like. Grief.

I have to tell my brown baby. Someone told her Trump
doesn’t like brown people. I don’t want her to know about
racism. I know she knows about racism. First grade. Loves
Hillary Clinton. L-O-V-E-S. She doesn’t believe me. I was wrong
before. Two year-old sister knows his name now. Pink lips innocent
to hate, fledgling voice violated by this bigotry embodied.

At school, public/urban/diverse, see a gay dad but not the
mothers in hijab. Don’t look at anyone too long. Sunglasses.
Closed slash of mouth. No crying in public. Children chattering
his name. Shame. The liberal bubble. Popped. A hush over
San Francisco. My daughter interviewing my husband for answers.
Meanwhile, a gas station in suburban Cleveland, someone to a
Young Black Woman: “soon enough you and all your family will be
eliminated.” Eliminated. This isn’t fiction. My cousin knows the
mother of the victim personally. I said, This isn’t fiction. This
happened, is happening, and what the actual fuck have we done.

I have gray hairs and fine lines and children and this morning damn
how could I be so naive, positively smug. We have seen too much
come too far to let this happen. Don’t I have enough reasons to worry
about my husband? Now half of our country condones the man
endorsed by the mother-fucking KKK. I don’t know what to say
anymore. Trump doesn’t love you, America. He loves power.

Extinction burst: a sudden and temporary increase in the response’s
frequency, followed by the eventual decline and extinction of the
behavior targeted for elimination. Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. Xenophobia.
What else. Millions awakened by the cold truth, corruption revealed.
People talking about rebirth, evolution and revolution. No more time
for distractions. Conserve energy. Heal. Hope. Fever burns away the old,
clearing space. This isn’t the end of the story. It is the beginning.

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3 Reasons Modern Life Makes Parents Crazy

A 24 year-old mother of three injected her children with heroin to make them sleep. The horror of this headline is enough to pull otherwise contented mothers into an abyss of despairing solidarity. Because we cannot un-see this evidence that our own kind, at this moment, are desperate, alone, unsupported, deranged. All humans are suffering deep wounds and fighting dark demons. We are winning and we are losing, fragile and gritty, attached and dynamic. No matter how disconnected we feel, we are forever members of the same universe, our joy and pain transmuting into frequencies that wrap the earth with love and fear.

Though I cannot imagine doing what this mother did, I know the ways she felt trapped, the impossibility of motherhood without a magical solution. Though I do not know the pain of her childhood that shut the doors in her heart, I know how it feels to have children who don’t fall asleep or stay asleep, and to be desperate in this way. I cannot understand what she did, and yet in a way, I do. How many steps are there between a mother feeling crazy and going crazy?

Her children live in foster care now. They are very young, very tender. Their struggles and their suffering have only begun. They have messes to untangle, a world to be-friend. Will they ever believe the universe to be a friendly place? Will they find adults for meaningful connection before it’s too late? Will they process the abuse or will they become addicted to whatever numbs the pain? Will they forgive or will they try to forget? Will they find God or will they find heroin?

Stories like this do not make me feel better about myself as a mother. Instead, I am humbled. How easy it is to lose everything, including your mind. I had and have good parents and still I struggle to parent my children to the best of my knowledge and abilities. I make mistakes while knowing they are mistakes. Did Ashlee Hutt know it was a mistake? Does she know now? Does the guilt eat her alive at night or is she beyond guilt? How did she get this way? Why is madness so common to parenthood? Reproducing seems like a basic component of being human, something that should be instinctual and natural, but for many of us, it doesn’t end up that way.

Why? The list is long and never-ending, but worth exploring because awareness always precedes change. Here are a few ways we’re getting tripped up:

  1. The decentralization of family. We are a transient species. Immigrating, Emigrating, following jobs and money and new experiences. We live without the village. We live in single family homes, in detached cocoons. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins are mostly too far away, or too busy, or too preoccupied to help regularly.
  2. The individualist perspective. America, founded on the individual’s right to the pursuit of happiness, raises us to value our individuality. We learn early to ask the question, “what is best for me?” a mentality that does not serve us well when we become parents and must learn selflessness on the fly. On the other hand, parents in collectivist cultures view themselves as members of a community first and foremost. They value their work as parents as it ensures the survival and progress of the citizenry.
  3. An unsupportive government. Mothers in the UK are required to take two weeks of maternity leave, and permitted to take up to a year. Ireland’s tax code gives generous breaks for children. In Denmark, day care is readily available and heavily subsidized. The Swedish government provides parents a monthly allowance to help with the costs of raising a child. Considering our vast wealth, the United States is famously stingy in our support of parents.

And still, despite the madness we are driven to, the desperate measures we take, the guilt we harbor, the sleep we lose, every sane parent I know agrees that above all, it’s always worth it. Which may be the craziest part of all.

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Three Rules for Self-Actualizing

the new SF MOMA

Life offers vast possibility. This is the compensation for our suffering. Expansion becomes our catharsis. Happiness has been described as the movement towards fulfilling our potential.

Abraham Maslow, the psychologist who taught us about the hierarchy of needs, called it self-actualizing. He made it the tip of his pyramid. He said, “what a man can be, he must be.” This is how we occupy heaven on earth. The practice, the discipline, the mastery of recognizing one’s potential and growing to fill it. We need not achieve perfection nor possess wealth nor earn fame to self-actualize, we need simply to try our best. We need to be in it for the process. We need not wait, we can have it today.

Wayne Dyer outlined Maslow’s rules for self-actualizing in this talk with Deepak Chopra. He said there are three things that separate self-actualizers from the rest of the population:

  1. They are independent from the good opinion of other people.
  2. They are detached from outcome.
  3. They have no investment in power or control over others.

Personally, the first principle poses the biggest challenge. When I feel that uncomfortable unease regarding the judgments of others, I repeat: I am independent of the good opinion of others.

The second is a necessary reminder. I can write without expecting a certain outcome. I can post without hoping for a certain number of page views. I can parent without expecting society (or my kids) to give me recognition for my hard and heartful work.

With humble gratitude, I believe I’ve mastered the third principle; evidence that I’m on my way somewhere good.

Do you feel challenged by any of these principles? Which one(s)?

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Summer’s Last Hurrah in Sonoma

A vintage cabin in the redwoods, straight out of a Ralph Lauren catalog, a delicacy of a vacation home. Rustic luxury. Time machine. Splintered feet. Mosquito bites. Record player. Nigerian funk. Dance parties. Game nights. Dolls and books. Barbecue. Popsicles. Bedtime battles.

Then, a small place in the hills of Sebastopol, surrounded by rolling vineyards, fecund apple orchards, fairytale houses. Rusted tractors turned to sculpture. Rich food and vivid wine. Abundance of everything. Unexpected art. Blackberry trails. Purple tongues and teeth. Gravensteins. Apple fair. Deep fried fritters.

Unlike our previous trips of the summer, we didn’t do much. We hardly got into the Russian River. I thought I would run every day. I ran once. We ate out in exceptional restaurants, but more often, we cooked. We passed the time reading and playing. And when it was time to come home, we were ready and rested for a new school year, for fast mornings and short weekends, for deadlines and extracurriculars and routine.

I’m already planning Spring Break.Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

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Saying Yes, A Parenting Experiment

At some point, I decided that saying “no” to my children could make me a good parent.

I said no to lollipops. No to television. No to going. No to staying longer.

No, you can’t have that toy. No, you can’t snack on that. No, we don’t have time for one more. No, we can’t make [something elaborate] right now.

Of course, I’ve spoiled them here and there, but I did say NO more than YES. I wanted to be strict, prudent, disciplined.

I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t want them to look at the world and see no. I want them to be unafraid of asking for help and taking risks and asking big questions and treating themselves. I want them to look at the world and see yes.

What else? The no’s don’t seem to be adding up. Yes, I clean their room more often than I should. Yes, they have cavities anyways. No, they’re not asleep most nights by their [my] ideal bedtime. And if they can figure out how to sidestep my no’s, they do.

I think I avoid yes because it brings guilt, as if a shot of processed sugar could make me a bad parent. It seems more likely that the no’s are undermining my authority. I am tired of power struggles and battles of the will. If I learn how to bend, will my children learn the value of flexibility?

As I’m making the conscious shift towards Yes, I’ve doled out more scoops of ice cream and boxes of juice than before. I’ve permitted slightly more iPad time. I’ve stayed in their room longer at night, because they want me to stay. I’ve bought more [educational] toys. I’ve taken them on more adventures and to more cafes. Best part? We’ve had more new experiences.

When my big girl asked to go to Toys’R’Us the other day, I took her. A miracle transpired and she didn’t spend any of her hard-earned $28. She left the store disappointed, but dignified and determined to hold onto her cash to save for a doll that cost $50.

In the car, she started begging for half the money. I said no and I gave her the reasons, but I did (and continue to) offer her myriad opportunities to earn the money. I seek a balance between Yes and No, I always have. The difference now is that instead of leaning towards No, I’m rooting for Yes.

Thank you to Shonda Rhimes’ book “Year of Yes” for the inspiration.

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In Spite of Rejection

This morning I received another rejection from a literary magazine. I’m at the point where rejections dig deeper under my skin than they did in the beginning. They lead me to question my purpose and all the hours I’ve spent writing fiction, all the minutes I’ve chosen writing over my children, my husband, my loved ones. What was the point, you know?

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Lucky for me, I believe in the virtue of persistence. I consider myself a persistent person. Yet, in those moments after receiving a rejection, the persistence flickers. Why am I putting such effort into a calling that’s so far from guaranteed? Why am I taking precious time from my life (and life is, inevitably, short) and spending it on a gamble?

Sometimes, I wonder about putting my youngest in daycare and getting a job. I’ll have to start at the bottom again, but I’ll be both a career woman and a mom, and maybe I won’t feel the need to write. So I go to Craigslist and I browse the jobs, and I fall deeper into despair because every employer wants experience I don’t have. Since becoming a mother 6.5 years ago, I haven’t held a job and I’ve never worked harder. I’ve started and run a tea business, I’ve written many short stories and several novels (one of which I’m currently re-writing, one of which needs more work, one of which I’m chalking up to a learning experience, and one of which I’m still undecided about), I’ve blogged, I’ve written freelance, I’ve composed poetry, and I’ve taken care of my kids.

I. Am. Burnt. Out.

Aside from this slightly neglected blog, a poetry blog, a few links to published work, a few manuscripts, a few old tins of tea, and a long string of rejections; what do I have to show for all this work?

I don’t have passive income, years of post-college employment history, or a book on the shelves with my name on the cover (yet). But I have what I value most. I have my children. My beautiful family. If I scrapped all of my writing projects and “just” took care of my family, would it matter to anyone but me? Would anyone care that I wasn’t writing or making money? Would anyone miss the potential growth my words may or may not bring?

If I didn’t write in stolen moments, I would be a more present mother. I would play more with my kids, read more to my kids, teach more to my kids. And yet I’m holding onto the notion that writing, in its delayed-gratification way, makes me a better mother. Even if they don’t know it yet, someday they will understand that I did what I loved, against all odds, in spite of rejection, without anyone else’s help. I did it out of pure love for the art of literature. No matter what happens to my unpublished manuscripts, I listened to my heart. I followed it. This is the legacy I want to leave.

 

“But that is the book that I am writing. That we try and we fail and we try again. That we dust ourselves off and continue on. I am writing the book that I need to read. That despite my fear of failure, despite the fear that I am somehow a fraud, despite the suspicion that I am less than, I will keep trying. I will lean into what is good and hard and terrifying. I will turn to my better angels and sojourn on. Because the other option? The other option is only an approximation of life and not really life itself. And I want a really big life.” – Meg Fee

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The American Dream V2016

When I run, I feel free. When I fly in an airplane, I feel free. Yet my legs always tire and the earth always pulls me back to her. I am at her mercy, my wings powered by the energy drawn from her center. 

When I travel, I feel free. Yet I always return home, to the one country who will keep me. When I write, I feel free. Yet my expression is stunted by my inhibition and your interpretation.

A country can stand for freedom, but it will fail. It will fail by indoctrinating our minds and seeking control over our bodies and breaking our spirits with its own brokenness.

What is true freedom? I dare say it is not a place on a map, but freedom from judgment and expectation, from anxiety, depression and despair.

Because my country provides me peace, I am free to seek inner-peace. Because my country grants me freedom of speech, I am free to speak my voice. Because my country believes in dreams, I am free to dream. Because my country seeks progress, I am free to progress. Because my country allows me choices, I am free to choose non-attachment. I can choose freedom from attachment.

But that’s the light side, the reaching-for-sun side. Beneath the surface, these roots run deep, dark and gnarly.

I was helping in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom two days before summer vacation. The teacher gave a lesson about the origins of our country. He explained that people left their homes and took boats to “the new world” because they no longer wanted to be “owned” by a European king and America was “the land of the free.” I nearly cried for the bittersweet hope of it, the dream of it, the epic failures and successes of this country built for dreams, by dreamers. For the promise of the future, held in the hands of those 22 young Americans, a true melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, on the cutting edge of Now.

But I cringed as the teacher had to repeat the assignment to a little black boy who wasn’t following instructions. The children were to draw themselves on the boat, coming to America, the land of the free.

We know people came to this land to be free. We also know they came in chains. They came to steal and kill and make fortunes and live the dream. They wove the fabric of our nation with discrimination, racism, and hope. This country has never not broken hearts. But, a country is essentially made of humans, and so, like the human body, we can heal. But we have to want and work to heal, we have to cast our votes accordingly.

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