Raising Memories

  
I grew up on along the Jersey shore. Not literally, but close enough. So many summer memories from childhood right up through college and beyond involve those hot, sticky sand days and boardwalk nights. They are memories that define me, candle scents I search for and harshly critique, and rolling ocean sounds that I can still hear in my head.

I didn’t expect to grow up and move 2,000 miles away. And more than that, I didn’t expect those memories to represent home to me for the rest of my life in the way that they do.

That said, I’m raising my daughter in the desert. Not literally, but close enough. And sometimes I feel palpably saddened for her to think that she isn’t growing up… well, the exact same way I did. 

Which is of course, ridiculous. Because they don’t. Not completely anyway. Times change, things ebb and flow. She’s growing up in an entirely different world. Faster paced, sure. But that’s not quite what I’m getting at. She’s growing up in the world of Spring Training up the street, fire pits and marshmallow roasting during the winter, and “driving to the snow.” 

She can look in through the gates at Sloan Park and see the next Cubs pitcher warming up on the practice mound; like it’s Little League practice. She can look off into the distance in literally any direction and see mountains just a few miles away. And on a lucky winter’s day, some of them white-capped. 

She can ride “up north” to visit any season at all, and see fall trees and sledding, skiing and mittens. She can pop out back any evening from October through May and ask if we can “do a fire tonight.” 

Maybe the grass here in the desert isn’t always green, and when it is; maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe our front yard is gravel and our summer heat scathes the paint off her backyard toys. Maybe she’ll never wake up to a snow day. Maybe she won’t grow up with cool summer nights.

But she’ll have high energy Spring Training crowds up the street and all over town. And beautiful winters and campfire marshmallows out back. She’ll grow up understanding only certain shady summer trees can grow in the desert, and that they’re special and rare. Maybe it’s not about giving her my memories, but making space for her to make her own.

  

How to Parent when Life gets Hard

  
Man. That’s a great title. I never write the title first. I have to half-admit I did so hoping it would lead to some incredible insight to put down on this paper right here. 

So.

Alright so. 

Let’s start with what I do know. I know that life gets real, much to our dismay, and that ultimately our children bear witness to it. And I also know that they are impressionable, and they’re sponges, and that they tend to save up stuff for when they’re grown and can tell us how hard their life is and that it’s all our fault.

But like, it’s real. Life is the real deal. Emotions are the real deal. And sure I’d love to tell you that every time I have an emotion slightly left of center that I sit my daughter down with the sunlight streaming in softly through the window and explain it with such eloquence and ease that she shall never be impacted.

But…. no. I mean, I do my best. And I know you also do your best. But it’s hard. Home is where we are the most ourselves, and the most emotionally messy when it gets hard; and alas, it’s also where our kids live. (Why is that? Doesn’t grandma need a sleepover?)

So, here’s what I’ve come up with- thou shall not torture oneself with worry about how the children will be impacted by our grief and our sadness. If we’re aware enough to worry about it; we’re probably already doing a good enough job (that sentence was more for me than for you, but you’re welcome to wear it if it fits). 

And if they are acting bonkers because we are standing slanted like we haven’t had our V-8? Toss our your arms to offer a hug. Get down on the floor and listen about Shopkins or BB-8 for thirty minutes or so. They’re pretty good about living in the moment. Maybe they’ve got some good stuff we need to learn. 

Above All Do No Harm

I was ten years old, standing on my cousin’s bed in New Jersey. For the record we were only standing so that we could see our slouch socks in her mirror, carefully layering them to make sure they were perfectly fluffed. The pink on top and yellow on the bottom on the right foot, and then the yellow on bottom and pink one on top on the left. We wobbled a bit, balancing on the twin sized bed. The sun was setting behind us in the window, casting a shadow across the bedroom that forced her to turn on the light. There was still time. 

We looked up. Ran a quick check on our bangs, and we were good.  “I’m going to be a doctor or a scientist or a mathematician,” she said to me with confidence, “What do you want to be when we grow up.”

I plopped back down onto her bed, “I’m going to be a psychologist,” I told her. I imagined myself brooding over textbooks and autobiographies of famous psychologists. She leaned back on the pillow and probably envisioned drawing complex math problems on a university wall.

We looked at one another and nodded in agreement. It was a plan. 

Before I go forward; the funny thing, the funniest thing of all- is that it turned out we were exactly right. 

I dragged my dad to old bookstores and begged him to buy me books on psychology. He showed me names I had never heard of, who created theories I would soon rattle off of my tongue for the rest of my life. I read as we walked out of the store. I read on the car ride home. I read with the rain pouring down the window in my own room, and I felt the stirrings of something good. Something real. Important. Admirable. Brilliant. Dusty worn out pages do that to a young kid. It had been decided. I was going to spend my life thinking about thinking. But really- thinking about people. And my heart soared.

I could spend pages talking about heartbreak. But I don’t need pages. I only need one.

Psychology was my first love. And it broke my heart. What began as a beautiful thing got so quickly watered down. Now, ok, hang on. Everyone who has ever wanted to help others knows that their heart is true. It’s why you’re there to begin with. But as the years rolled by and the pages turned and my coursework piled up, it didn’t become stronger, it became looser. By the time I got to college my love had strayed so far from its original roots. And my heart ached for the loss. Do I think Freud had it right at go? Ha. No. Not even. He just took a stance and helped us get the ball rolling. I wrote papers upon papers agreeing and disagreeing with every God given theory I had ever come across. That was the journey, it was the process. It was to make inroads in my mind until I found the place where it all made sense for me. And it was beautiful.

But we shredded it. We watered it down. We supplied no money for the field to grow to accommodate the changing times the way we needed it to. And now, I’m not proud of it anymore. Now I hear myself saying condescending things, I hear myself echoing vacant comments when loved ones are going through the worst times of their lives. I find myself using the verbiage and the theory to shield myself from the real time pain others are feeling. 

A grief counselor told my husband last week, “Now just remember…!!! You need to be modeling how to grieve, for your daughter!!!” 

In medicine they say, “Above all, do no harm.” 

Now that statement up there two sentences ago, no matter how well-intentioned; did harm. 

We talk about taking care of our bodies, but our minds deserve to be taken care of with equally careful measure. 

I stepped away from this work because it had been my first love, and it had broken my heart. I didn’t grow the way my clients deserved. I didn’t feel that I was doing justice to this work in the paperwork high, insurancely motivated world we live in now. And I stepped away. 

But we know the truth- our hearts and our minds ACHE. And our hearts and our minds impact our bodies. We know this. And we have got to do better. Because this work isn’t just for the early traumatized child anymore, it’s for every damn one of us. 

Good Grief

The things I’ve learned about grief. Not an exhaustive list. Just a few things.

1). When you bring food: it’s not just about getting us fat, or taking something off the plate of the mourners. It’s about something even deeper. When you bring a meal to a grieving family, it gives them a space to come and sit down together at the table. If you give a grieving wife a meal, she’ll share it with her kids and her grandkids. The kids and the grandkids may come to the table. Sitting together, they’ll talk. And cry. And laugh together.

2). When you send cards or well wishes: it helps fill a bowl of comfort near those mourning. Maybe you don’t know what to say. Do we ever know what to say? But when you say something, anything, it’s heard. It’s felt. It gets added to the refilling of the heart pile. You know and they know it replaces nothing and no one. But what it does do is spread love, and holds space.

3). Mourners are scary to the outside world. They are a walking reminder of the thing we all live in fear of. And for a moment in time, they are living it. Their homes become places we used to love to visit, now are maybe doors we find ourselves shaking while knocking upon. The tasks they have to do, the phone calls they have to make all remind the outside world what we know; it’s inevitable. And someday that pain will be mine. And someday after that, that pain will belong to my loved ones. But if they let you in; go. If they want to share pictures and stories and empty spaces in closets; go. Grieving exposes a gaping wound; take a deep breath, and join them.

4). Grieving makes you miss everyone and everything you have ever lost. It’s cumulative. I believe that’s why the wave it brings roars only louder and louder as the days pass. It reminds you of all that loss, of all the unexpected change you’ve had to face. I guess that’s just part of the process of it all, and there’s no use fighting it (there’s no use fighting anything, really). You lean in. And you hang on. And you cry.

5). And also; don’t try to stop the mourner from crying. Crying is a bizarre gift. When I was a kid I was somehow put under the impression that it was bad. That it was holding onto pain. But my gosh, crying releases pain. It’s just so hard to watch sometimes. So keep an eye on each other. Comfort the loved ones of the ones who can’t stop crying. Comfort the ones who can’t seem to start crying. Whatever goes. Not being able to soothe your next of kin is the hardest thing I’ve ever faced in this life so far. So take care of the mourner and also take care of those taking care of them.

6). And finally- grief is surprisingly stupid silly in the moment when you realize sometimes it includes a crap load of laughter. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard before. Or cried so hard. Or felt more loved. Or felt more sad. It’s just, all of it. It’s all of it. Just make sure no one you know is having to do it alone.

Your Legacy

Today we lost my father in law. He had been battling cancer for such a long time now that I truly mean it when I say that I am so glad his pain is gone. To quote my mother in law this afternoon, “I’m not sad for him. I’m sad for us.”

He left behind a family, extended family, god family, and lifelong friends who will forever love him so dearly.

When I first met him, he asked me what I did for a living. I said proudly, “Infant/Toddler Mental Health!” and he just looked at me. And I looked at him. 

And he looked at me. And I looked at him.

And then he smiled. And I shrugged.

We never talked about our differences. Our viewpoints, our distinctions. And why? Because quite frankly, it never mattered. Without words, he solidified for me the one thing I think I’ve always known; it doesn’t matter. Because when miss Lily was born, he took to her like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. They laughed together, played together, caused trouble together, and napped together. He loved her with so much sweetness that I finally surmised that there were in fact no differences between us at all. It was all about family. And always about love.

He bragged about all four of his grandkids endlessly, even and especially behind their backs. He poured his heart and soul into teaching them everything he could; whether it be building or gardening or fixing something up like the visual genius that he was. 

He raised two of the most loving, honest, and loyal children of his own. He held to the standard of till death do us part, and he lived two lifetimes of all this before I ever got to meet him. 

My deepest personal sadness is for Lily, that she will not have a thousand more memories of him smiling at her, hanging her upside down while she shrieked, or holding her tightly in his arms until she finally succumbed to naptime. 

Thank you for living your life with such zest and honor that it makes it so hard to say goodbye. Thank you for raising my husband to be such a good man, and for showering our baby girl with the sweetest and most genuine love.

Please go on over and meet my grandparents. Tell them I miss them so much.

The way you loved and nurtured your family is your legacy. And I’m honored to have witnessed it. 

First sit deeply, alone.

I feel too much. Everything around me echoes through my heart on its way out into the world. Sometimes I hide it well. I think. Sometimes it takes me down. I don’t even know what its purpose is. 

Sure, I love people. But it’s not that simple. I feel everything. I feel the changes in energy in the room like vibrations along the floor board. If I notice it, if I breathe and take a moment, I’m more likely to separate it from myself and ride it out. But life moves so fast. Emotions swirl endlessly. And sometimes it’s hard to see them before I’ve become a part of them. Like melting into the background, except that the background becomes the foreground, and I’m swallowed up unknowingly by the sadness or exhaustion or hyperactivity that surrounds me. 

At some point, when I was around 9 or 10 years old, I became acutely aware of this. And I decided then and there that I would surround myself with the energy of others, and work to soothe us all.

When asked at a conference a few years back, what is your purpose, I decided that my purpose is to create a space for others to be their most genuine selves. 

But really. I’m not so sure. 

I think what I meant was to create a space where others could be themselves so that I could be my most genuine self. Sounds manipulative; it’s not. It’s self-preservation.

Out there the world moves so fast. Every day. Every second of every hour, and it keeps speeding up. And all I can do is breathe. And search for the intersection between myself and everyone else, so that I can sit deeply; alone. Securely. With confidence. Without reservation. Sit deeply, alone. Once I do so, the line between myself and others becomes clear. And I can let go of what does not belong to me. 

A bleeding heart is a gift. But it carries a sandbag around it. 

Sit deeply, alone. So that I can find a way to sit deeply with the loved ones who need company right now. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be. I’ve not been who I expected to be. But my heart is right here. Just, afraid.