Does God Send Buffalo?

Week 2 & 3: Sit Spot Report

20131114-161354.jpgDay 8-9: I forgot the whole point is to listen for nothing. Autumn sun, beautiful, wagging dog friend here with me. Mutual grins. Hum when my mind gets going. Old trauma’s voices are the only ones that break through.

Day 10: Check in with the 5 senses, as per usual. Last night’s campfires, yellow leaves, cold air, woodpecker, armor. I actually say “armor” out loud. I have been identifying things like “chilly nose” for the sense feel, not “armor.” But today I went deep inside, inspired by my husband who is a little more “woo woo” than I. He did the Sit Spot and came back with reports on his Chakras, and I realized I had been glossing over this sense, with intention.

Day 11: I go back to last week’s coyote lesson and picture taking off my fear and my urgent unders. I attempt to lift the armor. Its heavy.

Day 12: I cuddle Gebo in the sun. Death is coming; the vet has confirmed it. It looks like a warm yellow light. I remove armor; put it on a dressing form nearby in case I need it.

Day 13-16: Its quiet. Armor is back on. Mind is busy. I feel like giving up. Gebo seems happy in the sun.

Day 17: I feel like prey.

Day 18: Gebo limps to our spot. Its easier to stop thinking with the sun glowing on my closed eyes.

Day 19: I carry all 55 pounds to the sun. Gratitude for Gebo overwhelms me. God gave me one of the great ones. Armor is off.

Day 20: The crying starts. We share some goodbyes and knowing looks. He wags for me.

Day 21: We spoon in a sleeping bag in the grass, shivering together. Head is a traffic jam of thoughts. I take a deep breath and try pouring love into Gebo.

Day 22: I am frustrated and doubtful and busy. I practically shout at God that I’m done figuring out a purpose in life, a career, that makes me feel fulfilled. I’m sick of myself. I find a plastic buffalo in the same spot where I saw the coyote. Weird.

Day 23: Just us. He wags every time a child walks by. He wags at the geese flying south.

After 23 days, I write a letter of gratitude to Michael Trotta, the Nature Coach at Sagefire Institute who suggested the Sit Spot to help me on my urgent quest to “find my purpose;”

20131114-161124.jpgDear Michael,

Thirty days now feels short to me too and as you said, hardly enough. Its day 23 and I can’t imagine living without this practice. It has already been so grounding just to remind myself, “did you sit in nature today?” With that said, I haven’t been sitting in nature everyday. My heroic dog that has joined me throughout this is dying. I have followed him out into the leaves and sun to our Sit Spot over the last few weeks and watched him like a mentor, absorbed in nature. Eventually I started carrying him. This week I started criticizing myself for skipping days. Today, with death more palpable, I reversed that self-criticism. What could be more natural than sitting with the dying? The days I haven’t been out there I have been on vigil, riding the ups and downs of the end with him since about Saturday. Sometimes it feels silly to put my life on hold for a pet. Most often I thank Gebo for putting my life on hold for me. My guard is down; everyone including my mailman has seen me crying. And I feel like I must be the most special person in the world right now to have been given the world’s best dog. I feel like Pete saying goodbye to his dragon.

If I hadn’t started sitting in the woods with him, I would have no idea how to process his exit. With this gift of 15 minutes of quiet in nature everyday, his passing has become a gift as well. I am grieving the young me that raised him, the stay-at-home-mom years we were together most everyday, the tiny boys that love him so growing up too fast, and the deaths that are to come among our eldest family members. You’ve given me a trail for this journey, and I am so grateful.

You are so right; it doesn’t always work to quiet my mind. I have not yet felt free of thoughts. But I can see the value in the attempt. “Its about dropping the stuff (armor) that stops you from being awesome and as deeply connected with your intuition for yourself (as you are for others).” Thanks for this. I can hardly lift the armor to put it on now. I even called my mom the other day just to tell her I hurt; she is one tough cookie. My weapy call absolutely brought out the best in her, and let me be ME instead of what I have always been to my family; the tough one, funny one, light one, the easy one…in the armor.

“…Its in our vulnerability that we find what we are seeking…the tension and emotions you are experiencing…I see you embracing them or at least, acknowledging them. Perhaps, this is your job right now? Perhaps your exploration of stillness is your job.” This has allowed me to wait for the next track to appear, and trust that it will, without so much demoralizing effort. It also made me realize my question isn’t so much “what is my purpose” as it is “who am I now?”

I don’t know if you can relate to how my dog’s death has been such a poignant part of my experience. But remember what I explained after my first week? The first week the universe sent a loud truck, then a bulldozer, a coyote, an empty gas tank, a fierce wind, and that was easy. Then it sent some terrifying quiet and stillness. That was hard. When I was about to give up, the universe sent death. As you suggested, Michael, I could no longer see past “what’s real, right here, right now,” as Gebo began to die. Gebo translates, “a gift from the universe; partnership, forgiveness.” Gift, I acknowledge. Partnership, we’ve done. Forgiveness feels like the last step. I don’t feel like I have to go searching for what or whom to forgive; I just finally feel done with my armor. After he’s gone, which I believe will be eerily close to day 30, I have a feeling the quiet and stillness will be a whole lot less terrifying.

As I was leaving the place where I saw the coyote, I found a tiny toy buffalo on the ground. According to Lakota Shamanic Tradition, the bison symbolizes manifestation, courage, formulating beneficial plans and abundance.

In gratitude,

Shawna

Does God Send Trucks?

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If I were to launch into my recent self-discovery, my meditations, would you cringe? I feel a need to qualify sharing this with some excuses and jokes. I have always been pragmatic and scientific; one who blushes when asked to exhale audibly into a room. I like my religion grounded in hymns and history; and it takes effort to believe in that. I have a master’s degree in evidence-making. I like proof. Don’t get me wrong, I also like hugs and cards and deep conversations. I like sharing and caring and children’s books and Sarah McLachlan. I actually named my dog after a Norsk ruin stone. I like it when my intuitive cousin reads my cards. I like tears, other people’s tears, to flow freely. I just get uncomfortable when I am asked to let down my own guard. A friend recently told me I should try to be a little less tough. Pppff. Whaa? Me? Tough? That is so not…well…ok. I was raised by a psychiatrist and a teacher in a Lutheran family. Lots of communication, love, campfires, singing of songs we all knew. How I ended up valuing “toughness” and “evidence” is a topic for another day after a few more years of therapy. But, I decided she was right and I am going soft. Its soooo uncomfortable. And yet it feels so good (Blechy blechy). So I am launching…

I started an exercise a week ago called “Sit Spot,” suggested by personal coach Michael Trotta, from Sagefire Institute. I asked a panel of coaches in an online discussion for advice on how to quiet my busy mind and listen to my heart. Michael suggested sitting in nature for 15 minutes per day for 30 days, taking inventory with all 5 senses, which resonated. I trust nature. Its old. Historic. Deeply rooted. I think having static-in-the-attic is a fairly universal problem, so I am sharing a weekly update this month in the hope it will be helpful to some of you, too.

Day one: I picked the only 15 minutes out of every 2 weeks the recycling truck comes. Beep, beep, beep. Trying to hear dam bird. I had to work so hard to hear every squirrel for the shattering glass that I was actually distracted from my thoughts. Apparently I needed a serious challenge.

Day two: Bull dozer loading bricks. For real. I went through my senses over and over, switching every time thoughts crept in (which was often) but the constant kaboom helped, again. Does God/god/nature/Universe/whatever send noisy trucks?

Day three: Nighttime experiment under the stars. Very still. Distant roar of tarmac. Geese fly south at midnight?? The creek. Its so loud and lovely–how did I miss that before? Sleepy. Wee small voice says, “get more sleep.” Woah–was that The Voice? Wisdom? Heart speaking? Nah, probably chamomile tea.

Day four: I brought a mentor; Gebo the dog is a serious expert in sitting outside doing nothing. He is also a soul mate of mine, age 15, and dying. We need quiet time together. Someone walked past me, saying “I believe in the Universe. It sends lessons and then…” Huh. I am feeling more open to this whole nature/God/Universe/spiritual thing.

Day five: First thing in the morning, I ran out of gas on the highway at rush hour. Trapped. I knew the car was on empty. I didn’t take the truck. Didn’t stop to fill up. Too rushed. Suns coming up–the light in the car is beautiful. I decide this is my 15 minutes with “nature.” Cars and trucks speeding past me are terrifying. A MnDOT man comes and gives me gas. I stand there watching him step into traffic to fill my tank–his life at risk for my error. That would have been my husband had he not shown up first, less adept and not wearing a flashing vest. I’m here, tank empty, demanding someone else fill it, rushing to an appointment it turns out is tomorrow. Analogy is quite clear; “Fill your tank.”

Day six: I sit in sun for 5 minutes and then suddenly jump up. Behind me, coyote, 40 feet, happy and bounding. Coyote 20 feet, eye contact. Calm. Coyote 10 feet. Stare. Heart. Racing. Instincts say leap into tree! She recoils. I fall, she runs. Breathe. Laugh. Breathe. Adrenaline. The difference between the coyote and I glares at me. She wasn’t scared until she felt threatened. She owned urgency and fear and employed them like tools–I saw them enter every inch of her body as she turned coat and ran. I, however, put on my jeans, some fear, a shirt and my favorite urgency every morning. She trusted her instincts to stimulate fear at the right time rather than wearing it all day long. I have instincts. I stood before I knew she was there. A talk with a friend later helped me face there is a constant voice in my head saying “something is coming. Be ready.” Time to thank that voice for teaching me so much and giving me skills; I am not conflict avoidant. I operate keenly when distressed–eg: awkward painful leap into tree. Thank you for your service, fear voice, you may leave. Urgency; I have worn holes in you.

Day 7 (one week): Me and the mentor. Gebo can sniff one leaf for over a minute. 100 thoughts circulating. I even check my phone. Argh. Start the timer over. A voice inside says, “you’ll get better at this.” Again, is that THE VOICE? So unfamiliar and calm. Lots of sunlight and warmth; scent of last night’s backyard fires. Its loud out here. I cover my ears. Its sad in here. Vision of my mom in a hospital bed. I feel a little of that day months ago–ouch. Vision of life without Gebo. Double ouch. I do an inventory of my hurting family and friends. So many right now. I send them all love. Well, well, Universe. No motor vehicles or wildlife today?

IMG_3227 - Version 2Week one and I felt something new; I felt pain that I did not resist. I felt comfort. I felt pending loss. I felt safe without my armor and cloak. We all have a little warrior in us. But I’d like my warrior robes to be something I don when necessary, like the coyote, not a daily wear. I can’t say that after one week my mind is any quieter. And I certainly haven’t removed all of my armor. But I have realized it will take much more bravery to disrobe than it ever did to start wearing this tough-girl costume.

Tipping scale

imageThe orange light is on in my car. The bar is thin on my phone. The house is quiet. The chocolate bar I ate by myself last night at 9pm did not suffice. The sympathetic text from my old friend helped. A check-up from the neck-up with my therapist has sustained me. But I just made an appointment at the mechanic for a new battery for my car and the metaphor was not lost on me. I am on empty with a low charge today too.

For the last two weeks my husband has been working many more hours than he has been sleeping. A few days ago my brother, who was here to help with my mom’s stroke recovery, moved back to California. Yesterday I helped my dad begin to end his 40-year private practice in psychiatry. I was also asked to help with a legacy project for my amazing God Father. I assisted a friend through a crisis. I sent my middle son off to kindergarten in brave, hiccuping sobs. I listened, I nurtured, I supported.

When I carry my youngest these days I feel how soft his cheeks are next to mine and savor the curiosity in his eyes. I notice how tightly his little arm holds me around my neck and how big he is getting. Yesterday felt like that; full of nostalgia, obligation, honor and appreciation. I am incredibly grateful for all I carry, cherish and stand to lose. And, by the end of the day, the weight of it all, plus a two-year old, is heavy.

My energy is tapped. I don’t have a plan for refill beyond chocolate and hugs. I am sad that my brother is far away, my dad is aging, my God Father has cancer and my kids are growing up way too fast. I am trying to be brave and allow myself to be with my sadness, knowing it will be here for awhile. I am hoping that a few ounces of tears and courage added to the two sides of the scale will help Empty and Heavy balance themselves out over time. If I wait quietly, I will feel the scale tip as my heavy load begins to pour its contents, gram by gram, back into my empty heart. I am here now, with Heavy and Empty, waiting for the tipping point. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am grateful for all that I carry because its the same substance that fills me up.

Fail well, little one

imageToday my second child went off to kindergarten. He wore the blue plaid “kindergarten shirt” his big brother wore on his first day. When he boarded the bus and sat down, the window revealed only a blond tuft and his little waving fingers. My husband said “he looks so small” and his voice broke, eyes wet, he giggled self-consciously and had a little cry. This day did not sneak up on me the way it did my husband. I have been home with him full time for five years. I feel like I have given him all a mom can provide in these early years before school starts. That feels good. He is ready and I am ready. I admit, I am excited to have a little more help fostering and molding this guy’s life.

I did the follow-the-bus-to-school thing and when I met him there, he got off the bus with his big brother’s arm around him and did not acknowledge my presence. When Tenny went his own way, he peeked behind his shoulder to make sure I followed. I brought him to his hallway, took pictures and helped him find his locker. We met his teacher, put on his name tag, practiced his lunch number and found his miniature table. When his eyes were no longer glossy I said, “can I give you a hug?” “No.” “Kiss?” “No.” “Pat on the back?” “No.” “Can you squeeze my hand?” Big, tight squeeze under the table. I had my teary moment.

imageAll week we have been talking about kindergarten and his only concern has been “what happens when you get sent to the Principal’s office?” I am not sure how he even discovered this concept. Arthur, PBS’s biggest nincompoop? A poor, hastily selected movie? Big brother? But I have said over and over again, “you won’t.” I have said, “you are a good boy,” which is only a small stretch of the truth. But last night as I snuggled him to sleep he brought it up again, so I took a new approach. I told him “I expect you to make mistakes in kindergarten. We all make mistakes when we are learning.” He turned his head toward me, which this independent, non-auditory learner rarely does. “Kindergarten is for learning how to learn. Learning means trying and if you try really hard, you will fail sometimes. If you make a mistake and get sent to the Principal’s office, he will be stern but kind and help you to understand how to do better next time. You will learn something if you fail well.” He responded, “Faiw wewl?” “You got it, buddy. Fail well.”

When I got home I filled out the kindergarten paperwork. Plink, plink, plink. Tears on page as I filled in the blank “what do you hope your child will learn in kindergarten?” I hope he learns to love learning. I hope he learns that he is a very capable being. I hope he discovers his own awesomeness. But most of all, I hope he learns to try, fail, and keep going. Right now he has try, fail, and fall-apart-in-glorious-splendor down. But it’s time for something new; something sustainable. Which means, it’s time for me to let him go. Let’s face it; he will probably reserve fall-apart-in-glorious-splendor for his dad and I for years to come. And that’s why it’s time for me to squeeze his hand under the table, tell myself I have prepared him well, walk out of his kindergarten room, call my mom, and fall apart in glorious splendor.

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Madame Conductor

By 9am tophoto-1day, Sunday, my husband had spent 3 hours at work.  By 5pm he had spent 4 hours at work, parented 3 kids, rebuilt our fence and built a sandbox.  Within 4 hours today our amazing babysitter had prepared a healthy lunch, made cookies and inked block prints with all 3 of our kids.  By 10pm tonight my oldest had been an angel for said sitter, learned to wash dishes, solved our ant problem, put his brother down for a nap, helped the other little brother with his Legos, watered for the neighbors, swept up sawdust and attended the Murder Mystery Night at the Lake Harriet trolley.  And, by the time he fell into bed, Wesley had helped our neighbor fertilize 11 rose bushes, watered her gardens, weeded her flower beds, rode his trike around the block, cleaned up tools, unloaded a wheelbarrow of scrap lumber, helped build a fence, learned to block print, made cookies, “mowed” the lawn and consumed many pounds of food.  Wilder learned to block print, made cookies, finished a Lego train, watered for the neighbors, took a 2 hour nap, took care of our dog, road his bike around the block 8 times, and invented a laundry shoot pulley system for elevating items to the 2nd floor with his big brother.  The bathwater was opaque.  The floors were gritty.  The house was shredded.  The bar of soap, literally, had a bite out of it.  I don’t know what that’s all about but it somehow symbolizes this productive day.

By 8pm tonight I had made more messes than I cleaned.  All I did before noon was pay one bill and fine-tuned next week’s calendar.  I went on a walk with a friend.  I called my parents.  I talked with neighbors.  I did a load or two of laundphoto-4ry.  I weeded.  I supervised bike rides, gardening and watering.  I cleaned the toilets.  I wrote a blog post.  I took pictures.  I kept my 2-year-old away from the saw, the compressor, the nail gun and the creek.  I accompanied my son to Murder Mystery Night.  But nothing stuck out.  By 8pm I was eating ice cream I felt like I hadn’t earned.  “Where does the time go?” and “Why can’t I get anything done?” careened about my achy head.

My kids were little farmers today; outside, productive, dirt-drenched.  They had great days.  The dirtier the bathwater the better the day!  They were excited, proud and exhausted.  I was not satisfied.

When I was a working mom I proved to my supervisor that I could do my full-time job in 30 hours per week.  Done.  Productive; fast and finished.  Her feedback was positive.  Now that I am not a working mom, I have to convince myself each day that my time is “well-spent.”  I have a list of things to do a mile long, but somehow its never enough; my feedback is consistently negative, and there’s really no one else here to pat my back.  I spend most of my days putting out fires.  I prevent things from happening.  I reign in energy.  I clean up.  I chase.  I rarely create.  I rarely have products I could show you by the end of the day.  The list just gets longer and longer and the pile stacks up.  The parent I had the intention of being is still just an intention.

But then I look at the ring around the tub.  I eat one of their cookies and hang up their art.  I kiss their heads.   They are alive.  They ate quinoa today.  They got dirty.  Somehow taking an ounce of credit for their ingenuity, their health, their smiles, their manners, their activities, their compassion and their learning is NOT WHAT MOTHERS DO.  But the truth is, I made today happen.  I planned the weekend down to the trip to Home Depot, the babysitter, the naps and the illusion of free-time.  I bought the food.  I shopped for their jeans and the soap someone ate, dammit.  I took the pictures and I wrote iphoto-3t down when my oldest said “murder isn’t ok.  Its pretty much banned” because its funny.  So, I am giving myself credit for an itty bit of what THEY accomplished today.  Because I get paid in ice cream and kisses.  Because its hard to feel accomplished for keeping the poop in the bathroom and the food in the kitchen.  Because its hard to feel really, really great for buying everyone’s new shoes when I didn’t earn the money to pay for them.  Because I cannot survive this if I continue to devalue my own worth.  Because in truth, they appreciate me so much more than I appreciate myself.

Things are not always what they appear…

This week friends sent us a care package that contained bakery bread, brownies, snack foods, cookies, and coffee cake.  Most importantly, it was a big box of understanding and compassion.  Though I still haven’t gotten around to putting it in a card, the gift inspired an immense “thank you” and gratitude for my friends.  I have dear friends, which I bask in the glow of regularly at times like these.  Receiving sour cream and cardamom coffee cake in the mail the afternoon before the first day of summer vacation felt like I was being offered a deep breath; no thinking, no prep, no dish washing; breakfast, day 1, had arrived.  I slept well, secure in the future success of a morning made easy.

At 8am, I heated water.  So many of the best things in life start with boiling water.  I set out plates and napkins.  I hummed.  The kids asked for tea (adorable.)  We prepped our first-ever tea party.  Sun shined through the windows.  I put on classical music.  We beamed.  See photo.

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Tea party

I could leave it at that.  I could post this photo to facebook and other parents would “like” it with a little chagrin.  I could fool you all, like I fooled myself for the hours between the arrival of the box of peace, and approximately 7 seconds after the slicing of the small miracle of walnuts, brown sugar and white flower.  But here’s the truth; miracles don’t come in boxes.

I snapped the photo and before I sat down they skipped their forks and dove into their slices of cake.  Crumbs flew.  Their tea was “watery.”  I went for honey.  I swirled it into their cups.  I sat down and took a bite.  The cake was warm and delicious.  The tea was “too hot” so I went for ice cubes.  A teacup flew.  Upon my return one child was playing games on my phone (do I have games on my phone?) and another was crawling across the table to him.  The 3rd had evaporated.  I swept up the shattered teacup.  I said nice things like “its just a thing” and “I’m glad everyone is ok.”  I removed the child from the table lest he flew as well.  I took a 2nd bite; cold.  I warmed my tea.  I smelled dirty diaper.  Diaper sequence.  I re-warmed tea.  Chase sequence.  I re-warmed tea again.  Freaky mom sequence.  Children sit on bench in shock while mom tries one last time to consume re-warmed coffee cake and tea.  Dog throws up.

The reason my friends sent the care package is because I have been devoting lots of time and energy to my mom, her recovery, and my feelings about her stroke this month.  They wanted to make life a little easier for us, and it absolutely brings a little joy everyday it lasts.  Our 15 year-old dog is also not doing so hot (see next post).  The truth is I am sad, I am tired, I am irritable, and I am behind.  I am also grateful.  I’m grateful I have an amazing mom, even though it’s hard to take care of her now.  I’m grateful I found an amazing family pet at a farmer’s market when I was a single girl.  I’m grateful for my supportive friends and family.  I am grateful that I don’t remember the chase sequence, or the freaky mom sequence from my childhood, though I’m sure it happened.  In the end, or the long progression of ends and beginnings and the forging of memories, we filter.  For the rest, there’s therapy, nostalgia and some good laughs.

I think back to the photo; the one I shot before things fell apart.  Perhaps my kids will remember the 7-second tea party like it lasted for hours.  They certainly will not remember I never actually drank my tea.  Hopefully they remember I had enough sense of humor to document our entropy, broken teacup included.  And if I can look back at that morning and say to myself, “I am a good mom, too” perhaps miracles do come in cardboard boxes.IMG_0009

Mother’s Happy Day

IMG_0156My grandmother attended my wedding.  She held my first born and died 45 minutes later.  I believe she waited to meet him.  I know most people don’t experience the gift of great grandchildren, but I have always anticipated my parents would grow very, very old.  Watching my mom hooked up to tubes and monitors now numbs my brain.  Abandoning my routine to be here all day and much of the night has been exhausting.  Sounds like I am complaining.  But my mom is alive and she’s actually getting pretty good reports.  I won’t fuss.  The future still lies ahead of us, and I do not care so much about its length anymore.  A teacher at my son’s school wrote me a supportive email today, saying she understood because her mother had had a stroke.  She also lost her brother and her dad recently and reminded me; “what I take away from that is to live each day fully with as much love and compassion as you can muster-because it could all be gone tomorrow in a blink.”

I haven’t spent this much time with my mom since I was six, yet I miss her.  I keep picking up the phone to call her and tell her about how much I hurt and how scared I have been.  I think somehow my brain thinks the woman I am spending my days with right now is my grandmother who passed away at 98.  This couldn’t be my mom.  My mom sparkles.  Actually, my grandmother sparkled too.  I can see why my brain thinks I am with Louelle.  I was with her when she was diagnosed with heart failure and she looked at the doctor and said, “how dare you call my heart a failure after all these years.”  Now the tiny woman in the bed keeps waking up to crack jokes with her nurses in this low, distorted, slurred voice that is absolutely unrecognizable other than the wit in reveals.  Day 1 in the hospital she said, “I’m all for an adventure but I think I went too far this time.”  Day 2 she could really only open one eye, but I’m pretty sure she winked at me.  Day 4 we left ICU and when we made it to her room we shared our first post-stroke mother-daughter knowing look.  Day 6 the doc told her the MRI showed many strokes in her brain, like a shower of little lights; she said, “I’m a meteorite.”  Day 7; when I walked into her room she was sitting in a chair slowly talking with one of my close friends about fixing my brother up with her single friends so that he would move here to Minnesota.  My friend is a Reiki Master and I don’t know what she did, but I will be forever grateful to her for helping my mom out of her neurological shell for an hour.  Today my big brother and I gasped and squealed and clapped and hugged when we both heard her true laugh for a split second; just one twitter.  She was back.

But just for awhile.  When I leave the hospital the panic creeps back in through my pores.  The fear of losing her.  The terror of her being tormented by her body.  Back to Day 1.  The call from dad.  Seeing what I thought was her corpse in that E.R. bed.  Waiting for news.  Hearing the echoing voice of the neurologist say, “your mom’s health is very complicated and I can’t tell you yet which way this will go.”  Holding my husband.  Listening to my friend say, “breath, Shawna” on the phone.  Trying to breath.  Trying to feel the ground under my feet.  Trying not to throw up.  Crying, which I don’t do.  Feeling vulnerable.  Wanting to hide.  Holding dad’s hand.

In medical first responder training we learned about “core-shunting;” when the body sends blood to what is most essential in order to survive stress like cold, blood loss, shock.  I felt that way until we left ICU, and now I just revisit the feeling a few times everyday.  Its better because she is better, but there are still unknowns.  When I lapse back into fear my chest feels heavy, my arms feel tickly, my hands can’t grasp, my legs feel empty and awkward and my feet feel pins and needley on the ground.  On day 5 I felt this way as I left the hospital because I had determined the stroke was all my fault.

Luckily, I have a few friends who are doctors.  I sent a frantic, “what if I had known” text to one of them and she responded, “it wouldn’t change the outcome.”  I sent another and he said, “its not your fault.”  Another showed up in ICU like a bald, beautiful angel in nice shoes and said, “she’s going to be ok.”  Hearing that from someone who knew her before meant everything to me.  And one more just happened to have lit a fire in his backyard, scrounged his fridge for 3 beers, and had open chairs ready before my husband and I even called him at 10pm on night 5.  He talked me down.

The night before her stroke I pulled over on the way home from choir, ready to turn around and drive to my parent’s house.  Something felt wrong.  I talked to her.  She had a cold and this had been a tough month with a chronic condition she has battled; maybe just dehydration.  She and dad agreed; we’ll call the doctor again tomorrow.  We’re going to sleep–don’t come.  I didn’t follow my instincts.  By morning she had had “a shower” of strokes.  Panic.  My feet tingle.  I could have saved her.

But we sat by the fire and he told me about medicine and how it works and how it fails sometimes.  He gave me medical reasons why spending the night in the E.R. might not have kept her from having a stroke.  He gave me human reasons for not always being able to protect the people closest to me.  And we ate some chocolate and cheese and sat by the fire in the rain and felt better.  Blood returns to feet.  Hands grasp.  Strength returns.

I haven’t always trusted my husband to be the supportive type.  I figured he would fill many, many needs but my friends would supply the shoulders I cry upon.  And they have.  They have watched my kids, called, texted, shopped, hosted, prayed, sent light beams, prayers, cards, and watched my kids more.  I love, love, love my friends.  But it was good for me to realize that I was wobbly at the hospital without my husband there.  As soon as he showed up, I was grounded.  If something good comes out of this it is knowing I can be vulnerable, and “there is still joy,” as one of my very first friend’s wrote today.  In fact, my cousin watched my littlest guy today and took him to visit his horse.  He came home dirty and smelling like hay and I loved my cousin for the joy he rendered during a week like this.

Another cousin came to see us.  She brought a flower for mom and her beautiful smile and she brought me tumeric and ginger for my nervous stomach.  She has been here before.  She has been darker places, actually.  She gave me a teary hug that felt like a blanket I could hide under for awhile, and together we made mom laugh a little.  Actually, in truth, I think mom made us laugh.  And then she was tired and slipped away again.  She felt present for a little while when her dear friend visited.  And she smiled when I told her Teddy had come with flowers and when we told her that her brothers and sisters wanted to visit.  I read her the emails and cards and prayers everyone has sent and she cried, saying she couldn’t die yet.  And I sat in disbelief looking at her crooked face and one good eye and feeling the love she eminates.  All I could do was hug her and all her wires as tightly as she has always hugged me.

But our best Red-Tent moment came a few days later.  She had a painful test involving a needle being injected into her bone to sample marrow.  If I had any doubt in her strength before we held hands for this test, it vanished as she squeezed my fingers (unfortunately/painfully donned with the rings they removed from her fingers in the E.R.)  She had to lay on her side, and I sat at her bedside inches from her face.  We locked eyes and breathed together.  I am sure it was an awful point in time for her, but for me, it was a turning point.  I found my place as her support.  I found something I could do for her.  I found my role in all of this mess, and my blood returned to my limbs and my belly and my head.  Lesson learned; if I remain in my body I can be helpful to my mom.

So, here is the update; she truly is doing a remarkable job recovering from her stroke.  She is exhausted.  Her underlying health issues remain complicated so she will be in the hospital awhile longer.  For more and more of the day everyday, she is  her funny and sparkly self.  Everyday she is strong.  When I went to visit her on Mother’s Day my oldest said, “wish her Mother’s Happy Day.”  I started to correct him and then realized he had said it on purpose.  This year, my mom and I needed to celebrate Mother’s Happy Day instead, and he knew it.  So in celebration of Mother’s Day this year I hung pictures of her at carefree, outdoor times on her hospital room walls.  I want her to remember being her, but I also want her nurses and doctors to know what she will look like when she recovers, and who she has been to all of us.  I want everyone to know that she is special;  my mom is a meteorite.

Unpredictable

IMG_1283This morning in Minneapolis we expected to wake up to the unusual glow of spring sunlight bouncing off 3-9 inches of snow.  But the branches were bare and crocuses bloomed despite dire predictions.  I got up to make breakfast and cracked an egg into a blue bowl.  Two yolks poured out of one shell.  At the kids’ gymnastics school I went to pay my bill.  Hallelujah; my account was paid in full.  I smiled, embracing the unpredictability of this day.

I was not an ambitious mom this morning.  I left the house with 2 kids and no snacks, each of them just barely fed and minimally dressed for the chill.  We were late, we were crabby and we were hungry.  We hit McDonald’s after tumbling class.  I ordered chicken nuggets for my 2-year-old but had little hope he would be satisfied (fast-food is generally unpopular in my family).  I had to pull over 10 minutes later to decipher the out-of-control screeching “caniavsom morkickin?!!?!” in the backseat.  “Take your thumb out of your mouth and ask nicely, Wes.”  He responded, “Can I have some more chicken inside-voice please?”  I ended up at Burger King this time and 4 more nuggets down, he was still screeching,”caniavsom morkickin?!!?!”  I drew the line at 2 stops and he fell asleep still crabby, still hungry.

Which brings me to the most predictable element of life with kids; sleep.  If I stay up late the kids will get up early or puke in the middle of the night.  If I go to bed early they will sleep in and I will wake up anxious at 4am.  If I have something important to accomplish without my hands full that day the napper will not nap.  If I have nothing on the agenda everyone will nap for 3 hours and I will panic; paralyzed by the possibility of wasting precious free-time!  Sound familiar?  But today, Wes napped peacefully, I accomplished things, and the big boys played nicely; there is no possible way I would have predicted that outcome for any given day.

Our last event of the day was Kindergarten Round-Up.  Wilder, of whom you have read, was about 97% enthusiastic.  My oldest has been in school for 3 years so I jumped in without forethought other than a little uncertainty about his readiness.  Then I read his school supply list.  Something about Wilder needing his own glue sticks grabbed my heart and squeezed.  Simultaneously it was time for the yellow-sticker kids to go with the yellow-sign teacher.  His eyes got a tiny glossy and he held his breath in an adorably determined way like a kid on the high dive.  He went.  He followed her.  Lump in throat, grabbing the hand of his neighborhood buddy.  He looked so little to be so brave and I had to hide my tears from him.

So after class time and a bus ride, I asked him what he would like to eat for a special celebratory dinner with mom.  “Meat,” responded my kindergartner-of-largely-vegetarian-upbringing.  We went out for his first steak.  He dove into his summer homework packet while we waited–not prediIMG_1290ctable!  He tried his first hearts of palm, first curry, first onion rings, first pierogies.  He was voracious and adventurous and beaming.  We “cheersed” with our drinks, our forks, and pierogies.  He exclaimed “yehaa!” with a fist-pump.  He thanked me for the haircut to get him ready for school today–I hadn’t made the connection.  I offered a toast and he interrupted, “to King Wilder!”  When we were done eating and toasting and snapping pictures of our wonderful dinner, he walked out of the restaurant in his socks.  I laughed so hard I cried and told him, “Wilder; this has got to be one of the best nights of my life.”  He said, “me too mommy,” with a kiss; a joyful outcome to an unambitious day.

All aboard…

SanFranflappers_2Tuesday I published “All Aboard,” an account of our family trip to Chicago, despite a nagging feeling that our thoughts should be in Boston. I wanted to offer something lighter. I wanted life to go on. Then I read my own post and phrases like “8-year-old,” “marathon traffic,” and “at the wrong time” jumped off the page in an accidental manner. I tried to write something new but so much had already been said about terror and tragedy and heroism. So I’m re-posting “All Aboard” because it might just be about what matters: we enjoyed our friends and family. We made memories. We reflected on our past, we reveled in the present. And today, we are fortunate to have a future on this earth, despite all that is rotten and for the love of all that is good…

The love of trains has run resolutely in my family for generations; my husband’s too.  People have said my 8-year-old’s deep love of trains will be a phase, but I have no doubt his love will abide.  He is the nephew and grand-nephew of electric train collectors, the great grandson of a Milwaukee Road engineer, the great grandson of a Great Northern clerk and the great great-grandson of the Great Northern Rail Road Band Director.  When my grandmother graduated from high school, her father, the Band Director, bought her and her mother round trip tickets from St. Paul to San Francisco; quite an enterprise for a 17-year-old girl and a mother of 9 in 1924.

True to our legacy, we often travel by rail.  This weekend we took the Amtrak to Chicago.  When we disembarked at Union Station and walked the kids in tightly grasped hands between the massive Amtrak and Metra, we were all entranced.  The platform was pulsing with the energy of throngs of passengers and thundering engines standing silver and blue and nearly two stories tall.  The loudspeaker was vibrating with “Amtrakakakakak, trackackackackack 88888,” just like my dad recounted in his bedtime stories.  Train travel is legendary; like a magic carpet ride that works.  I’m not surprised trains were selected by authors to bring wizards to Hogwarts and believers to the North Pole.  Trains are a source of wonder and an engineering marvel.  Train rides can be cathartic, like the time spent in motion, the hum of the rails, and the mingling with strangers somehow routes us from here to there via dreamland.  Mind you, dreamland has icky bathrooms and poor ventilation.  Nevertheless, taking the train back and forth practically guaranteed our trip to Chicago would be a memorable journey.

The pinnacle of our time in Chicago was cavorting about the city with our 3 boys, our friends, and their 2 boys (who we have claimed as cousins by marriage of my Uncle to their grandmother).  They were a wrestling, jumping, bumping, boxing, climbing team of urban explorers.  Other adventures included a downtown tour on a double-decker bus, a sunny walk along the pier, dim sum in China Town, the Lego store on Magnificent Mile, the bean sculpture in Millennium Park, and the model of Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry.   The low point was most definitely getting stuck on city bus 6 in Shamrock Shuffle-induced gridlock traffic for 1.5 hours with no escape.  After we had drained the last of our phone batteries and ate the last Altoid, we kept busy with rock paper scissors tournaments, multigenerational thumb wars, conversations with young art students, cuddling, tickling, resting and snuggling.  Nothing paints a more vivid picture of our decline into claustrophobia than Wilder near the end.  At some point I absolutely drenched him while “helping” him drink water on our lurching bus.  He took off his shirt.  His pants were too big.  He cuddled up into a half-naked ball with a plumber’s butt in his seat where he hummed and moaned for the next thirty minutes.  By the time we stopped, he arose with pink cheeks and a blond fro, wrapped from neck to descending pants in my coral scarf, wailing, “go, go, go, mama, door!”

The funny thing about low points, however, is how quickly they become high points.  Between adults, there was some analysis of whether or not we should have taken the 10 rather than waiting for the late 6, or whether a cab or train would have been prudent.  For the kids, the only discussion warranted was the “adventure” of being “trapped” on a bus for “hours” while the “insanely crowded” bus waded through “epic” traffic just like “we were the soldiers under water on the U—505 submersible in WWII” that we saw at the Museum.  In other words, it was stupendous; in retrospect.

I am now writing from my quiet sleeper car on the way home from our trip.  I’m sipping complimentary champagne.  This is a lovely finale.  Our 8 year-old is playing chess with his cousin in the observation car, our 5 year-old is on a tour with the conductor, and our 2 year-old is struggling to stay awake.  One cannot craft the perfect trip.  Sometimes you just have to wander onto the bus at the wrong time and see what challenge bears the sweet, memorable fruit of overcoming an obstacle.  By the time we arrive in St. Paul, I anticipate our other memories will be similarly transformed.  Every misbehavior on my children’s part and every miscalculation on our part will be converted to golden memories impossible halcyon.

Although the bus trap is likely what my children will remember most about the trip, here is my list:IMG_0005

  • Lazing in a cozy white-sheeted bed watching the first thunderstorm of the season come up over Lake Michigan.
  • Walking the city with 5 little precocious boys, 2 of whom trekked by jump rope–see photo.
  • Leaving our collective kids with a family friend while we adults enjoyed margaritas and mole and discussed the raising of boys by candlelight.
  • Eating Giordano’s pizza.
  • Seeing the glow on Tenny’s face as we headed underground for his first ride on the subway.
  • Helping Wilder discovering the answer to his question, “what is a Chicago?”
  • Snuggling Wesley right now, while the pink sun glows over the tawny fields of Wisconsin spring and the clickety clack carries him home via dreamland.

Wilder, Age 5

IMG_0537On a snowy April morning in 2008, I awoke with little tiny pangs of labor.  Too much, in my opinion, to head to the hospital at 7 a.m. for my scheduled induction.  Wilder/Louelle was on his/her way.  My oldest son weighed in at 9 pounds, 4 ounces and was purple and breathless at birth.  He spent his first few moments with a NICU team ventilating him to life; something we would not chance repeating.  But on April 11, 2oo8, I was getting signals that this little one was only a day or two behind what the doctors ordered.  At 7 a.m. in a warmish and sparkling snowstorm, we decided a rigorous walk held better potential than Pitocin.  And it worked!  After a beautiful walk from our front doorsteps around the lake and a stop for hot cocoa, we were ready.  With subdued excitement and a call placed to our doula and friend, we were on our way to bring baby 2 into the world.  Eight hours later after a textbook labor (pain, water, yelling, water, pain, hand wringing, massage, pain, vomit, pain relief, rest, pushing, yelling, baby), we were a family of 4.  Between pushes I actually said out loud, “this is kind of fun!”  So far, that has been an illustrative metaphor for parenting young Wilder.

I can say now that Wilder was appropriately named.  Ironically, age zero to age one was a halcyon year.  This sweet child placidly tucked himself into my sling and stayed there minus one pudgy hand for hours every day.  He nursed, he slept, he laughed.  Wilder glowed; people could not pass him by without smiling.  I remember when I swaddled him at night and laid him in his crib Wilder would just turn his head to look at me and drift off to sleep.  He did everything short of saying “thanks for another great day, Mom.”  Then he learned to crawl.  He has not sat down for more than 17 seconds since.  His personality has always been game; charming, agreeable and adventurous.  He just has an intense case of the wiggles.  When he was 9 months old I came downstairs for breakfast to find him standing on the kitchen counter (escaped from the crib), naked (removed his own diaper), and opening cupboards (did not yet walk).  Wilder is industrious, zealous and passionate.  When he eats he involves every limb, sense and surface on his body.  He swims in his food and leaves a wake.  When he cries he falls to the floor and waxes prophetic about friendship, love and injustice.  When Wilder tells stories he gleans attention and delights listeners (perhaps baffles is more accurate, actually, but he woos the crowd).  Wilder has the same mischievous smile as my mother, which garnered her the nickname among her 3 brothers and sisters, “the foxy one.”maricktots

Until Wilder was about 3, I was happy to have him along on most any excursion.  We were very attached at the hip.  I hope that we are still attached, but he is a classic middle child and a little bit of an enigma.  He likes his leash long, but loves constant reassurance I adore him.  He has big, big feelings, but they never last long.  He longs to be treated just like his older brother, but occasionally steals my lap from his baby brother.  He spoke “cool kid” from the moment he could say  his R’s.  He winks at people.  He employs his eyelashes and baby blues at will.  He knows his numbers and letters and colors, unless you ask him.  He expects the world to be his oyster, but he is more easily crushed than I want for him when his world doesn’t provide pearls.  He is bold with a tender heart.  He isn’t easy-going these days, or easy to parent.  He sticks his fingers in his ears when I discipline him (even if I hold him and whisper).  His emotions ramp up from zero to sixty faster than Lightning McQueen.  He moves too fast and breaks things on accident and injures me inadvertently 5 times a day.  But he gives the best hugs.  He squeezes so tight.  And he says “mama mia love you” in his sleep.  He is a fantastic dancer.  His self-authored songs are insanely creative and his voice is cherubic.  And, perhaps best of all, he says “uffda,” and then all else is forgiven.

Wilder; you are 5 today.  Your first 3 years I was with you every step of the way.  Since then I have just barely kept up.  But I am always here, right behind you.  Your dad and your baby brother are too.  Your big brother is just ahead.  You are surrounded and we are all attempting to predict your next move.  I know you want to take this world on boldly on your own and I am so proud of you.  I can see you now in your sheriff’s hat, your blue leather fringed vest, and your duct taped sword racing to save the day.  I can see you because I am hiding behind a tree.  And I will always be behind that tree keeping my eye on you.  As much as I trust your wisdom and admire your courage, you were born into my love and my protection.  When you can dress without putting anything on upside down or inside out or on the wrong foot in time for school, I will grant you a little freedom.  Then when you can read books and write stories and figure equations and play drums on your own I will let you go a little more.  When are old enough to have your heart broken and mend it your own way, I will offer you a little more space.  I also know that you will always love my hugs, my cookies and my lullabies.  And I will always love your songs, your stories and your perspective.  Wildman, grow.  It’s gonna be awesome.  And I will be right here.

Addendum: when my birthday boy awoke this morning he sat in a chair upstairs quietly looking out the window at the snow and listening to the thunder.  I watched him for a moment and asked, “How are you doing, buddy?”  He lifted his shirt, rubbed his belly and said, grinning, “I don’t feel any bigger, but I am feeling right here kind of birthdayish.”