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For these last days in December, I am participating in a blogging challenge http://www.reverb10.com/, which is an annual event and online initiative to reflect on your year and manifest what’s next.  Reverb provides writing prompts to elicit my reflections on 2010 and to generate my intentions for 2011.

December 20 – Beyond Avoidance

PROMPT:  What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

Oh crap.  I signed up for this?  I mean, do you all have a few hours?  Because the response to this prompt could be long.  Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine because my mind is already racing by categorizing all the ways that I fell short…let’s see…every day I make choices in my mothering that I regret because I am too busy.  Sometimes I throw pizza at my daughter instead of showing her ways to incorporate beautiful, healthy food into a meal because I am returning phone calls or rotating laundry or…you name it.  We all do.  And the truth is, those phone calls never really do get made, the laundry is never quite done, and so it is something that has the nutritional value of pizza again for dinner!

Even now, I cannot give what I want to this post because I have a conference call in an hour.  And I feel horrible.  Scattered.  Like everything only gets a fraction of my attention.

So what should I have done in 2010 but didn’t?

FORGIVE MYSELF.

This is life.  My life is going to be in a thousand directions at times and I perpetuate that momentum with my guilt.  The lists only get longer.  I SHOULD, I SHOULD, I SHOULD…

No.  Stop. Forgive myself.

Stop.  Forgive yourself.

Be joyous.  Make a mark on the wall that indicates how high the laundry piled this week.  Who knows?  Maybe next week it will be even higher.  Consider it a gain, not a problem.  Consider the abundance in that moment.  We have all of those clothes, and loving family members to wear and dirty those clothes!  I need to tell myself:  You are not short on time, you are just rich in life.

So if you did not do that in 2010, the forgiveness part, do it in 2011.  I intend to.  The laundry will get done, I promise.  Well…maybe not mine.

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Tomorrow we head to South Carolina to spend two weeks on the beach.  I assume it will take me less than a day fall into South Carolina time–the way the minutes just drip into hours with relentless and heavy slowness.

My family needs to slow down for a bit.  We are going to sit on the porch and let sweet tea slide down our throats as we watch dragonflies marionette through the air.  I am going to teach my daughter how to rest on the shoreline to let the waves offer a foamy baptism over and over while we take deep, salty breaths.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is, Mary Oliver says, but I know how to be idle and be blessed.

[Image from here]

Happy 3rd Birthday.

On our way to daycare today, we were stopped at a traffic light long enough for me to notice a man on Rollerblades.  An old man.  I mean old-old, probably older than 80.  On Rollerblades.  He was not so much Rollerblading, as he was hanging onto the chain-link fence that ran along the sidewalk.  He was looking down at his feet and moving them back and forth as any person would their first time on Rollerblades.   I thought, “is he crazy?  Any kind of fall at his age could have fatal consequences.”  After I let my judgement pass, I realized what I was seeing:  An old man on Rollerblades.  What a profound blessing to witness this person doing something just to do something, not because he was told, not because it is right by any standards, but because he probably just wanted to try Rollerblading.  He was not about to stand in the way of himself, not stand in the way of learning this skill.

I have been thinking a lot about standing in my own way.  Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to explain to you just how I have been doing this for a while, and how this act stopped working for me.  It is all too much to share with such a tender three-year-old mind, but someday I hope to use the dark corner I have been living in for the past six months as a way to help you out of or avoid your own dark corner.  Sophia, a couple of days ago I got my nose pierced.  Why?  Well, everyone is asking me this right now, and my simple and true answer is that I have always wanted to do this.  I don’t know, I think nose piercings are pretty, the same way someone thinks red nail polish is pretty.  And I wanted one.  So why did I wait until I was almost 32 to get one, well…I stood in my own way.  I could engage in the old-standby dialogue about how most people in my life would see this as weird or gross or not socially appropriate.  I can already hear what people are not saying:  what kind of example is this for your daughter?

I will tell you, angel, what kind of example this is.  I want you to do what ever you want to do.  Do not stand in the way of doing whatever you like, whatever brings you close to your bliss.  Now, at age three and many years to follow, you will be a bit confused about what you want to do because you still have no grasp of the consequences that could harm you or harm others.  We have plenty of time to experiment together with those.  I know you have no intention of hurting yourself or anyone else, so I may have to guide you with my own grasp of these consequences.  For instance, throwing sand is great fun, but throwing sand in a 2 foot by 2 foot sandbox you are sharing with five kids, well…

As for worrying what people think about the things you choose to do, I can only let you figure out for yourself the many ways this does not work for you.  My hope is that you will realize it does not matter–that there will always be one person whose heart will fly when she sees you doing exactly what brings you delight.  This is the exquisite reward of being a mother.

When I drove home after dropping you off from daycare, the Rollerblading old man was nowhere to be seen.  In my mind I saw him releasing his grip on that chain- link fence and soaring down the sidewalk with a stupid grin on his face.  The morning sun was pressing gently on the back of his shoulders, and the wind filling his ears with the simple word “go“.

Love,

Mama

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I try not to be someone who looks at the calender and thinks, oh April is here, we are out of the woods in terms of winter weather. Here in Cleveland, we are usually in for some sort of short but heavy snow storm that buries our hopes of planting anything outside until May. Still, I could not help letting the bulging green buds on my lilac bushes lure a small smile out of me this morning.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and if you are not Catholic and have ventured out in public, you have probably seen someone that made you think, “Dude. Did you look in the mirror this morning? Who leaves the house with a head that looks like you have been doing yoga in a coal mine?” I am sure that it did not take long for you to remember that this is how Catholics start their Lenten season. I know, it could not get any more Catholic-weird than this ritual that marks us as a reminder that we are sinful and need spiritual cleansing. I do have to reinforce a truth that I live here: no one is sinful, only fearful. Fear generates all wrong doing, every unkind word that escapes our lips, every judgment, every type of harm.

Spiritual cleansing on the other hand, is something I can stand behind…and I love Lent as a time to redefine my relationship with my spirituality. I have a hard time listening to other Catholics who choose to give something up, such as some food to propel a hidden weight loss agenda, or some habit that was on their New Year’s resolution list and fell through the cracks. By doing this we focus on ourselves and our ability to what? Turn your head when confronted with a bowl of Hershey kisses? I can speak for the universe here and say BIG.EFFING.DEAL.

(Deep breath)

So seriously, what will make this Lent a time to develop a closer relationship with God for me? Are you ready for this? NOTHING.

No-thing.

In a world full of lists and agendas that is fueled by the self-battering, er, I mean self-help industry, how many of us stop to do no-thing? Have you ever cleaned your slate? Erased what you decided you were that day and just let yourself be defined by the moment? By noon of every day most of us have decided that we are fat, lazy, unproductive, tired, overwhelmed and ready to check out until the next day. Have you noticed how the universe responds to this? By piling on more things that make you feel those ugly things. Our relationships with others even strain to meet this realm of negativity. This is where resentment enters into the cycle, including judgment and gossiping, leading to an eventual spiritual exhaustion.

What if you woke up each morning and said, “I don’t know who I am, but I am going to allow each moment to tell me?” I have a feeling that life and God would seize this opportunity to show you things that have been hiding in your perfect soul all along. Perhaps you will discover that you are an artist because you noticed that green things are starting to peek through the snow. Perhaps you will discover that you are a terrific mom because you took a moment to build a purple Play-Doh giraffe. Maybe you can cook, when you decide to throw those questionable pea pods into a simmering pot of broth. The moment may even inspire you to stop and stroke the cheek of your partner as a way of saying, I am a person that radiates love and notice that you are a essential part of my life.

What a way to live a day! By doing any form of these things we have been cleansed, redefined, and lifted to a exceptional existence. Despite what the self-help gurus tell us, we do not need to be improved, we need to slow down our doing and our thinking.

I invite you to clean your slate with me. Let us start each day by expecting nothing, no-thing, of ourselves and the people around us.

We are blessed. Happy discovering.

Not because it is a monumental day in your life or anything, but because I am avoiding all the other things that I want to write. These things take actual thought. With you, there is no thought, just simple being is all you want, and sometimes I don’t realize how good this actually is for me. What therapy! To dismiss everything that awaits my attention in the corners of my mind to simply spend time throwing a ball in your arms that are making a bit O to resemble a basketball hoop. You make a lousy hoop, by the way. The circumference of your arms is too small, so the ball just lands between that O and your nose. Tonight this made you crack up at the 1000 times I threw it, though. Good enough.

You seem unsettled lately, and I am positive it is because I am unsettled. Despite my efforts to pretend that all is well with bags of valentine candy and new videos, I still notice that you stiffen when you hear my voice crack when I say even simple things, like “want juice?”

I am sorry, but life forces us into periods when they days seem heavy, and I will never be able to shelter you from this. You have been such a bear when I try to put you to bed and I cannot help but wonder if it is because you are afraid to leave me alone, that I will somehow break under the heavy day and fail to come get you in the mornings to say, “want juice?”

Tonight I could not handle the devastation you displayed when I told you it was bedtime–the tears falling from your large, scared eyes, and the mumbly something or other about not wanting to be in your bedroom. I forced you sit in my lap and tell me about it, about what was wrong with the bedroom. I reminded you that there were butterflies hanging from the ceiling that bring good dreams about all of your favorite princesses and friends. Through your sobs you managed to tell me that tonight you were going to dream of you, me and daddy. This made me realize that our tiny family trumps all of those princesses and friends, and bags of candy and new videos cannot mend that part of your life that seems broken and unstable most of the time.

I don’t know what to tell you. That one day you will be so embarrassed by your parents that you will hope the ground swallows us whole? That we are going to anger you more than please you with our constant “no” and “too dangerous” statements? Right now you want us all together, and that is all you know.

I am sure daddy is thinking of us from whichever part of the crap-hole called Michigan he is in, and I am thinking of him and of course, you. From where I am sitting, I can hear your tiny breathing and random rustling over the baby monitor. I am mustering every restraint to not run upstairs and snuggle us together in my bed. I hope your dreams have started, and I hope they take you back to our many family hugs, where daddy and I pick you up and squish you like a marshmallow between our tired but grateful bodies.

I would not label this state that I am in as “speechless” because if you really asked, I could talk your ear off about something or other. Simply put, I am wordless to describe what has been going on in my life and in my days and in my head. There are periods in my life when I am afraid to write about something out of fear of changing it. Ultimately this is what happens to the poet; his poetry is unraveled by the failure of words to describe what is observed.

Perhaps this is why I tried my hand at science for so many years. The idea of pure observation and quantifying this observation was exciting. The joke was on me as it has been on the scientist for years. Numbers fail. Observation and quantification fail. Logic ALWAYS fails, and I will argue that point with words and numbers until I die of breathlessness. Ultimately the scientist finds herself out of the lab and at her desk hand waving with the same tool as the poet: words.

The number of blog posts rolling around in my head are driving me insane: I would like to write about celebrating my parents’ 60th birthday on a cruise ship. I would like to describe my dear friend who has gone through loss and health problems, and her mental and physical recovery. I need to describe the bravery of another friend who has stage 4 breast cancer and cannot catch a break in the physical realm, but somehow found the time to read this blog and let me know that she loved it. I would like post some advice to my newly engaged best friend. I would like to post some advice to a friend not far from giving birth to her first child. I would like to write another letter to my child, because she fills me with the kind of anguishing love that takes over my whole existence. I want to write about a country that is shaking itself free of the evils of torture and automatic weapons. I want to write about how fear of change, even if it means turning away from these evils, is guiding the tongues and hands of so many people.

Right now, I am humbled by the failure of words to describe these events that have me swimming or wading on my knees through my days. The truth is, no matter what form you take, poet or scientist, the key is to not miss a moment. If you are watching close enough, the words eventually gather at your feet.

I just finished mopping up a pool of tears after rereading an excerpt from Patti Digh’s book Life is a Verb entitled, Just Help Them Get Started. On the surface it is about her struggle to realize that her toddler daughter is giving up her afternoon nap. It seems at first that her daughter is wailing and screaming and scratching at things in protest just to hurt her mother. I have a toddler. I can relate.

In a way that only Patti Digh can open our eyes, she turns the tale around by realizing that she was ignoring the fear of her daughter, a lack of the ability to get to sleep at that time of day, a fear of being left alone in the room to try and try and try to sleep in the boundless dark. As she is storming out of the child’s room, she finally hears her words through the screaming, “Just help me get started!” This is kid-speak for “stay with me, I can’t figure out how to do this myself.” I am an insomniac. I can relate.

In a follow-up challenge to this story, Patti encourages us to examine our own hall of fears. The ones that make us stop listening to the cries of fear from others that are so often disguised as hurtful actions. I hurt people around me when I am fearful. I can relate.

My big, glaring fear is loneliness. This is almost a joke because I am not a people-person at all. As a stay at home/work at home mother, I am debilitated by isolation when it hits me that I have not spoken to an adult in many hours or when I have not accessed a spiritual outlet such as hospice or church. This fear can often make me seem like I resent the people closest to me, the ones who live with me. My husband and my daughter…not the cats–I honestly do resent the cats most of the time.

Yesterday my husband’s company decided it was time for him to move to Michigan, with or without me, whether or not our house has sold. Because we are not making the type of money to carry two mortgages, this will leave me ALONE during the week in an old house in Cleveland, with a toddler that I love but is prone to drive me insane and two cats that I resent. He will rent a small apartment in Michigan.

To summarize with an understatement: I am afraid.

My husband is super-man. He puts my needs first. He puts our daughter before all of that. He notices when I am too exhausted to bathe our daughter and get her in her PJs. He notices when I need a break and gives me the day off. Basically, the way I live my life is because I have him in it most every day.

Now who will I be without that? I will examine this fear. For now, I am forgiving myself for being stuck in the stage that has me clawing and screaming, “Help me get started!”

Oh, it is time to admit that this season has control over me. Deep winter envelops every part of me that I like and freezes it over. It hurts to walk outside, it hurts to get out of bed, it hurts to fall asleep, and it hurts to crack a smile. Cleveland is especially brutal because we see the sun this time of year about once every 30 days. We are at the point where the icicles spend the day weeping as the thermometer approaches 30 degrees, but freeze into rigid points by 4 pm, when the temperature dips back into the teens. Or as they are predicting this week–below zero.

The worst part is, my best friend named guilt seeps into every crack of my frozen self. I know there is no tragedy in my life. I know I am not going to starve in the next week. I know I can control the thermostat in my house. I know I can walk 2 miles down the main road near my house and stumble over someone who will surely freeze to death tonight–and that person is not someone I know. So I feel horrible AND guilty for feeling horrible.

In a month I will start flipping through the phone book for a shrink. Or light therapy. Or I will spend a week on a diet of chocolate cake.
I am old enough to know that spring always comes.

I would like to note some progress on my part here. This time of year, it is so easy to fall into the traps of societal craze, and I just don’t do it. Every year I get better and better. I wrap less, want less, bake less, decorate less, and therefore stress less. I have no expectations about what Christmas should be, I just let it be, and each Christmas that passes transcends the magical.

This is because I am watching and not doing.

While there may be people in my life that feel they received something small from me when they expected something bigger–a gift, a greeting, or glitter pouring out of every orifice on my body–I hope they notice that not getting “caught up” allows me the space I need to give what I want to give: the time to be the ear on the other end of the phone and not the voice, the Mom who says, sure, let’s read that book for the fifth time today, the person who stops to listen what God is saying and not the advertising industry.

After closing this post, I am going to drink strong coffee and sloppily wrap some gifts. When my daughter wakes, we will eat the last piece of waxy chocolate from her 49 cent Advent Calendar. I will turn on the Christmas lights that are so ill placed they look like they should decorate a frat house. Then I will think and sing and dance and eat with my family, because today we celebrate abundance of spirit. This abundance will be just as exciting in August as it is today, and next year, if we choose, it will still fit.