At a little after 9 on the evening of October 23, 1989 I thought it was too late to call my dad. I had just gotten off the phone with my sister in Arizona — I had called to tell her I was pregnant. It was my first and I had just been to the doctor that day for my first ultrasound and was nearly through my first trimester so felt it was time to tell. But, I wanted to take my time in the telling — spending whatever time on the phone that was needed to honor the occasion. Remember, these were pre-cell phone and Facebook-was-not-even-a-thought days and so long distance phone calls were meaningful, and less expensive after 7 pm.
So, a little after 7, the next evening, October 24, I called my dad in Florida. He was not home and I left a message with his wife to call me when he got a chance. That chance never came because I had called too late. Because at a little after 7 on the morning of October 25, they found him. I would never have the chance to talk to him again because he had died by his own choice.
For the next 25 years I would ask, on this date, what happened today that made today “the” day. The day that became his last. The day that the worries became a war that he no longer cared to fight. The day that the phrase “at the end of his rope” was no longer a metaphor. The day that the certainty of death made that day a mystery.
For 25 years I carried the burden of “if”. If I had called one day earlier. If I had been better about calling in the months leading up to it. If I had been a better daughter or a better person or a better human being he would have hung on long enough to hang on to a phone for a chat, with me. One that would give him a reason to live in the new life I was carrying… his first granddaughter.
25 years is a long time. And time does not heal wounds. Time tells the truth. It took 25 years for me to learn the truth of that day and when it finally made sense I realized that I had spent all that time carrying a burden so heavy that it made me strong enough not just to withstand it but to use it for good. I realized that having dealt with my father’s suicide made me look it square in the face when it threatened my children. I was still standing, even if my father wasn’t, and depression and death was going to have to go through me to take anyone else I loved. In realizing that I had brought the circumstances of my father’s death to his life meant that I could remove it from my children’s.
For 25 years I beat myself up with the “ifs”. I hammered myself like a blacksmith shapes iron and over time, that cold, useless, weighty lump of guilt turned into a tool for purpose. Because IF I could have saved him, then someone else could be saved. If a connection on a phone or in my heart could have pulled him back into his life, I could connect in ways that could, just maybe, pull someone else out of that fire. Turning self-blame into personal responsibility didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen in those first 25 years. It happened because I learned the truth about that day. The day. The day that literally, ended all days.
Today is a new day. 28 years ago, today, I reached out to my father to tell him life goes on… in me, because of me. Because of him, our lives go on. Because of his death I was educated on suicide and vigilant about depression and willing to get myself and my children help. For me, hope was the hammer that shaped my molten grief into a tool of purpose. Purpose that says as long as there was this “if” there could have been a different “then”.
28 years ago, suicide was a word whispered at the back of the funeral home, ignored around a Thanksgiving table and unmentionable in wider circles and it is that stigma that amplifies its impact. If we don’t talk about it, and its myriad of causes, we can’t hope to prevent it. If we don’t accept personal responsibility for its existence in our lives we cannot begin to prevent it as a cause of death. There is not one place to place the blame. There is not one box in which to secret it away — not a person or a physical condition or a mental diagnosis — and to me, that is the problem. The physical health approach of strength through self-care and an arms-length antibacterial human interaction is a breeding ground for suicide. Suicide lives in the dark and is a contagious answer to a community problem. It is passed from one to another by lack of connection and an unwillingness to admit that you could have done something. That you should have done something. My hope is that you would have done something, if you had known.
So, get in the know about suicide. Saying the word doesn’t make it appear like Beetlejuice. Adding the word to your vocabulary and your conversations with your children or friends reduces the stigma and reduces the likelihood of someone you know becoming a statistic. Saying the word did not bring the idea into my home, it helped me acknowledge the truth of it and in doing so, act to prevent it. I know more about suicide than I want to, so I want you to know that there is help and connection and a community that will see you through it.
I now know the facts about “the” day that was my dad’s last. I have seen how they play out in front of you and how easy it is to miss the signs. But I also see how necessary it is to not let missed chances turn into choices that leave us missing someone important. You never know, today might be the day that hope gets formed by faith, rather than the fire.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
“Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
I don’t know who said that the first time and why it stuck but if that was the case, every woman I know would wear glasses, ALL THE TIME, to simply have a say-so about their bodies.
Because a say-so doesn’t just mean “no”, it means I know I get to choose. That say-so has been hard earned for me and so when the whole #metoo movement began I chose to take a little time to see where it landed IN me because I am way beyond trying to respond to what lands ON me.
Because what has landed on me and laid on me and lied to me was never about me. It was about you. And so #metoo didn’t really fit because it was #allyou.
It was all you when I was too young to know better and too naive to “no” better.
It was all you when you changed a sexual response into a control mechanism that then became an automatic “no” unheard anywhere but in my head.
It was all you when, in touching my body you touched every part of my life. Sexual abuse in a home or on a job or in a classroom isn’t just physical — it is emotional and academic and financial and so it becomes the bed that every future decision rests upon.
In feeling me up or putting me down I recognize that it was never about what I wore or what you swore you felt for me. It was all, only, always, about you. Because let’s face it… if you are bent on control and feel you need to bend me over to get it, it won’t matter what I’m wearing.
With glasses or without, I now see very clearly that this was YOUR pattern of behavior and while it happened to me, personally, it was really only personal to you. Except that in beginning so young, it superimposed a pattern over my life that didn’t really fit even though I carried it forward as my own. My #metoo is the shame and self blame and the tape of “unworthy” that ran through my head and over my mouth saying that my body, as your proving grounds, was proof I was loved.
The cross hatching of abuse that’s become a hashtag lives at the intersection of sexual control and self control. There is no body shape or gender or age or income level or item of apparel that drives it. It is not even about sex drive. It is driven by a pattern of power.
Since this pattern that usurped my power was not mine to begin with, I’m giving it back. To you. All of you, because it wasn’t just one. The pattern you imposed on me when you imposed upon me became mine only because it was familiar. And because you told me it was love and acceptance, and I believed you, I looked for more of you. When it still didn’t fit, even though it was familiar, I began to wonder “when does my life become about me, too?”
This girl, who wears glasses, now understands that sexual abuse and harassment became the lens through which she focused, inaccurately, on what she had done wrong. When turned the other way, the lens became a magnifying glass focusing on how she was wronged. The problem was that taking responsibility for healing got confused with taking the blame for the wound.
Unlike the mechanics of fear that the harassment invoked, this mechanism amplified the light of truth and burned away the fiction. This firestorm of story turned over the facts that became the friction of change.
And it has to change. If you have read this far and are wondering if my “you” is you, I bet you are feeling pretty pissed off. Yeah, me too.
But it is you that needs to change.
All by yourself.
Because this girl now takes passes on men who are asses.
Since this pattern was yours there will be more “me’s” for you even though it will never, ever be me, again. When sex is a tool in your toolbox of manipulation it only works when it has power over someone else and I have found my own source for that and it’s simply the truth. Because a funny thing happened when I thought it was me, too. When I was too powerless to speak out, I took in the words of authors and advocates that lead me to scratch at the surface until I could excavate the remains of my being. The one that didn’t just exist, it flourished without you.
You can flourish without that “you”, too. If you see you, in the you or the me, get help. Current events and headlines are providing an opportunity for public and private conversations that will change both boardrooms and bedrooms by challenging the blinders that our culture and conditioning provide. Take off the blinders and put on your pants and take advantage of something that will help instead of taking advantage of someone else. Understanding your lifelong patterns, whether your forged them or fell into them, will allow you to course correct no matter which side of the lens you are on. This means you. All of you. All of us. And me, too.
I don’t want you to GET it. I want you to get that everyone deserves a life without fear, even you. And now, most especially, me. Because empowering myself does not mean hurting or disempowering you. But that’s just me. That’s my power. Because I say so.
I don’t know what came over me. I just heard myself say… I’ll buy it. Without hesitation, I agreed to buy a 1996 Chevrolet Silverado Truck. I hadn’t been shopping for a truck. I never even considered considering it. But there I was, wanting it to be mine.
Was it the color? For sure. Bright candy apple red. Was it the brand? No. Not at all. It was a Chevy and I was raised in a Ford family so this move felt a little outrageous for more than just its circumstances. Because I am 55. And female. And I already have a car… or two. But something inside moved when the thought struck. This truck… with 130,000 miles and a couple of quirks… didn’t fit the previous owner’s life anymore. Ok, his garage. So it needed to move on so that he could move on. Like me.
I am on my 3rd move in the last year. The first one was out of my “big house” that I had gotten in my divorce settlement. We had built it together over 15 years ago and it took me over 2 years to sell it. The second move was from the apartment I had rented as an intentional temporary stop while I built a new house for my new life. But… my new house’s completion didn’t line up as expected with the end of my lease, so I moved everything I owned into storage and rented an even more temporary, furnished place. Every time I moved, I rented a truck. I took loads to storage and to Goodwill and Restore and to my grown children and that was my plan, again. To hire muscle and rent a truck.
But… sometimes life gives us what we need when we don’t even know what to ask for. While in this temporary place and head space, the prior owners of this truck contacted me to help them move into their condo. They had downsized from the farm house I had helped them redecorate 6 years ago and needed help making the new space work for them. And that’s kind of my super power… being able to see how to make things work. They had faith in my skills due to my prior experience with them and I needed a project to fill my time while waiting for my house to be done, so it was perfect. I had grown quite fond of this couple and so working for them again was an unexpected delight.
When I pulled up to their new home on that first day, I knew which place it was because there was the truck. It’s kind of hard to miss because of its color but it’s always been an iconic statement for the owner. You see, he bought it, brand new, about the time he was moving on to a new life in 1996 —and not by choice. His career had come to an end and so I am sure that the cab of this truck got a good “talking to” — and not because the speedometer is sticky. It has carried the load of his grief and his anger along with hay for his horses and “help” from his grandkids. But, I don’t believe he got carried away… his reputation for integrity and strength has allowed time to tell its truth and so perhaps he now gets the chance to stay put and enjoy the ride. So maybe that’s why the truck didn’t fit anymore — his garage may have gotten smaller but his life and his experiences just keep getting bigger.
One day, while working to hang the memorabilia from this big life on his office walls, I happened to overhear him talking about trading it in on something smaller. That’s when it hit me… I was supposed to buy the truck as a vehicle for my moving on. Yes, in a physical sense — but also in a spirit-of-independence sense. Because whether it’s an experience or an education, a good book or a good cry, or a really great pair of shoes or a really bad rebound relationship, we all need a vehicle for moving on. We need something in which to encapsulate those things that either have to go or stay and then just head out into the unknown.
That unknown became clearer for me the day I took the truck home with me. In the days leading up to the transaction, he changed the oil and washed it and then put it into the garage to keep it nice for me. As he handed me the keys, he gave me instructions on the lock and unlock buttons, then he showed me how the tailgate needs a little lift to open it up and how the speedometer needs a little whack now and then if it sticks. I looked in the back seat and there were ice scrapers. He had left his Garmin navigational device in it for me to use. And then he made sure I was buckled in before I drove off. I looked in my rearview mirror to see him and his wife standing in the street watching me drive away. Yes, I was taking his beloved truck but I think he knew it was time. What he could not have known was what that time meant for me.
I had never gotten a moment like this from my own dad. My parents divorced when I was 12 and then my dad committed suicide when I was 28. While I had been allowed to take my grandfather’s truck and my mother’s cars – my dad had been basically absent from my life and so we never had one of those paradoxical parenting moments when you don’t know if someone is feeling protective of you or their truck.
All I know is that driving this truck has made me really happy in an unexplainable way. I just like it. And I had no idea I would enjoy it this much. It’s been a “where have you been all my life” kind of thing. I realize I may look a little crazy to my new neighbors but I am used to tuning out what people are saying about me after growing up in a small town. I mean, I realize that I must have been a little grouchy over the last couple of years as I have been dealing with moving and moving on. And I am used to “mis-hearing” things — like when I was 5 and my mother told me that the letters F, U, C and K were just “duck” spelled wrong. So that must be it… what people have been saying. What people say about women of a certain age who are not it a relationship. And now I agree. I am so much happier…. because all I really needed was a good… truck.
“Tonight there is a war going on, 10,000 miles away, but for me the day was pretty much like any other day.”
I wrote those words in a journal in August of 1990 – at the start of the Persian Gulf War. I remember that day more because of the events in my own life – like the birth of my first child. These are the moments in time, like birthdays and graduations, that we mark time with. They document the passing of a precious commodity in lines on a wall showing the growth of our children or the lines on our faces.
There are moments in time, though, like 9/11, that we mark time against. How long it’s been since and how life has changed. It is both a “because of” and “in spite of” moment revealing how far we are willing to go for one another yet how far we still need to go. We now measure things with a different yardstick – whether it’s the height of a building or the depth of our sorrow. It’s the stories within, that count, with details that can never be erased. So much has changed, and yet, it hasn’t. As reflected in that full journal entry…
“Tonight there is a war going on 10,000 miles away, but for me the day was pretty much like every other day. I made the beds, and washed the dishes, and rocked my baby to sleep. But then I said a little prayer for the peace we could not keep”.
It’s interesting – this circular nature of time and the times of our lives – because 16 years ago, when the war on terror came to our door, I was literally, building a new door for my family. A house under construction and in its final stages and,today, I am in that exact same spot. Putting finishing touches on another house – yet nothing is the same because of the battles that took place behind closed doors.
Just as I did in 2001, I stopped and listened and prayed when the news of the attack was broadcast. This time it was a moment of silence for those we had lost instead of the gasping, grasping, unknowing of what we were in the midst of losing. I am different now, too – because of these world and personal events and it’s right that I am not the same. The things I lost in my divorce and what we lost as a country were security and dreams for lives that will no longer be. But we still have hope. To rebuild and rethink and reimagine because of what we’ve been through, not in spite of it.
So, hold your babies tight, no matter how tall they have grown and keep building your own piece of peace. In spite of everything and because of everything, sometimes all we can do is all we can do.
Last night I attended a hot-air balloon festival with my 10 year old daughter and some friends. It was a beautiful, balmy early-September-in-Indiana evening. You could say it was perfect. We had taken camp chairs and our cameras (my daughter is a budding photographer) and set up a spot near the end of the field so that we could have a view of all the balloons for a single photo frame of that nights main event… the “glow” where they keep the balloons on the ground and use the burners to light them like huge lanterns. While we waited for dusk, we munched on ribbon fries and lemon shake-ups and snapped photos of some lazy children’s balloons (lazy balloons, not lazy children) bouncing in the breeze and a woman who had brought her pet lizard to see the sights. While my daughter and a buddy rolled around in the inflated “hamster balls” and played frisbee in the open spaces, I watched and waited for “those moments” to come. Those moments when something in my life makes sense. Those moments when the current colors and music and, indeed, mania, align with current events to bring perspective.
I knew the night was about things of beauty rising to the occasion. More than occasionally, as a human, I, too often, rise to the bait. Over-inflated egos and heated social media exchanges coupled with repeated weather woes that make me a basket case with worry. Instead of going with the flow I react and retaliate and place a strain on the ties that connect me to others. I witnessed this dynamic as a team filled a balloon with air, filled the basket with people and strained against the very thing they had worked toward –the lift. Strong men used their whole bodies to weight it down while hopeful women looked skyward to wait it out. It was all a paradoxical dance of light and heavy that worked together for that moment where the balloon hovers, reverently, honoring those who had held it before carrying away those whose fire had made it rise.
Ok. I get it. I admit to too many times, when I have risen to the bait. Defensive and demanding… feeling pummeled by the winds that should have been carrying me. I focused, perhaps too much, on the strength of the ropes that had tied me to my life — until I realized that the ropes were tied to me, not the other way around. They were my ropes and they were only held onto by the people around me, who I had chosen for that task. I could not have come this far without my ground crew. Like the balloon teams, the people who held me back were a part of my rising. Maybe they were waiting for me to be steady. Maybe their resistance just made me stronger. Maybe, just maybe, they were hoping to get a lift, too, but there just wasn’t room in my rise for them.
Wow. Talk about a lemon shake-up. That balloon that had just given me an a-ha from on high was now just above me and I was delighted to get shots straight up through the balloon and I noticed that the fires that made it rise were still cycling on and off. I got it, again, that we have to keep our finger on the passion that set us free, Keep feeding the fuel to go higher, now that you’re unbounded.
Setting my sights now on my earthly responsibilities, I found my daughter and friends and we went to walk around to kill a little time before the next event — the “glow”. I was looking forward to this as I thought that the picture opportunities would be spectacular and I had set up our chairs to save “space” for me to get them. And upon returning to this area, the epic battle of occasional bait rose in front of me like a… giant scarecrow balloon… flat on its back. All we could see from our place in the grass was the top of his 30 foot hat, his huge carrot nose and a limp black crow dangling off his shoulder, head down. We could step to the side to glimpse the traditional balloons behind this monster but all we could see from where we sat was him. Another sip of the shake-up… and another aha… I could not see beyond the obstacle to the beauty and grace beyond unless I moved. And then, in a scene that seemed too cinematic to be real, he rose. Lifting his chest as if his head and arms and… crow… were just too heavy, he began to become upright until he was full and light and off the ground. I admit that his fire within looked more like heart burn than a glow but it was amazing to see what was once a huge obstacle now tower over his terrain and all that work and all that waiting and all that dismay over what I may not see was worth it. Right there and then, the scarecrow became full with just enough burn in his heart to courageously stand.
Unlike other balloon events where the balloons are launched into flight, the glow at night requires that they go up and come down in the same place. The scarecrow balloon was the last to go up and the last to come down. After the field was cleared of the other balloons, they laid him out, folded him up and then a crew of at least 20, rolled him into a ball and loaded him in a trailer. What had first been an obstacle became an object to admire and then became cargo to load in a way that could be unloaded, once again. How many times have I done that? How many times did I take my gifts out of storage to give them a moment in the sun before I loaded them back up again. How many? Too many.
Too many times, I have allowed myself to remain tethered. Chosen to remain on the ground. Instead of taking to the winds? How many times did I lay back down and roll myself back into a ball to be shoved in too-small a container to only be taken out to be laid out? I own the fact that these were my choices as an adult but I acknowledge that just as I was conditioned to believe that was my role I may be conditioning my daughter to believe that, as well. That’s a deflating thought. Until I realize that in that realization, I am lighting a fire… in me and in her… that has OUR hand on the fuel. It moves, like her hamster ball moment, based on her movements, her struggles, her joyful, spastic dances. Just like mine did at her age.
This week, I will be moving, finally. After 4 years of packing and storing and sorting and selling and transporting, I will move into my first house that is all mine. The divorce, itself, was only the beginning of a process that has taken years to actually launch myself, untethered, into this life. And this morning, looking at the photos I had taken I realize I cannot contain my joy any longer and allow myself to be packed back into a too-small box for someone else to unfurl. I will control my flight with moments afire and moments adrift so that I can navigate and nurture, at once. There will be flat-on-my-back moments where I will appear to be a roadblock but then in my gawky-awkward way I will rise and not only will you be able to see past me to where I am headed, you may want to give chase and follow.
“It’s time to go!!” I shout from the bottom of the stairs. We were headed out, again. If it was to a swim meet, one child would already be in the car, fuming that we were making her late, again. If it was to baseball or volleyball or summer job or volunteer work, then the 2 children who were not participants in that activity would be dragging their feet. Why was this so hard? Weren’t they DOING what THEY wanted to do? So, again, I shouted “It’s time to go!” but I followed with “Or I will start singing!!!” Because my children were never motivated by my anger or distress or exasperation or expletives. They were motivated toward faster feet by the innate desire to NOT listen to me sing.
Perhaps it was my repertoire… A favorite of mine was one of their fairy tale favorites, “Once Upon a Dream” from the Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Inside my head this sounded just like the quasi-operatic, 50’s-era, beautifully tressed, but ultimately distressed, damsel. I also frequently called upon the show tunes from the high school musicals I performed in. There is nothing like seeing me start into the “Anything Goes” finale, complete with choreography, along the deck of the swimming pool to get them out of the water and in the car. But it was my stylized rendition of the “Milkshake” song that moves them — and scars them, still— the quickest, so I saved it for when the clock was really ticking. Like now. Why were they BEING so difficult?
It was just to a movie. So, while I like to sing, I shouldn’t have to. This was fun, right?
Suffice it to say, it was August… a calendar anomaly in between “end of season” and “start of school” when I would go from being ridiculously busy to busily cramming moments that you hope add up to memories into a small pocket of time. “We are going to have a good time if it kills us!!” Kind of mentality. We were headed to the beach the next week but I thought a light hearted flick would do the trick so I took an afternoon off and we went to see the movie “Click”. In it, an architect, played by Adam Sandler, finds Christopher Walken in a Bed, Bath & Beyond and is given a magical remote control. With the click of a button, he can fast forward through those mundane moments of life so that he could focus and take care of business. He moves through his wife’s conversations and children’s activities in a blur to find, at the end, that he has all of the success he ever dreamt of, but he didn’t have them. He didn’t have his children or his wife as they had gone on with their lives without him. And all he wanted to do was go back. Rewind. Undo the decisions that he thought had been magnificent and redo the mundane.
As the credits rolled, we sat, rooted, in our seats. The blur that had been our summer became a blur of tears as my children were just as caught up in the message as I was. We had spent a lot of time in the car together on our way to our activities not realizing that we were actively avoiding the best part. It wasn’t where we were going and what we were going to do there, but being together. Managing our lives that way meant the schedule was the master and we were only remotely connected, logistically, to each other in the service of that schedule. Ironically, we were connected, at that moment, by our lack of connection.
I had taken my kids to the movie for the easy laugh that Adam Sandler body function movies usually provide, but the laugh was on me. Click. Breathing in the fake butter smell and breathing out the ego-mystical faith built on Oprah’s aha moments and protestant hallelujah’s, I prayed. I asked God, I kid you not, “to give me someone who would allow me to focus on my family next summer”. Right there, while the credits for the movie “Click” scrolled up the screen, I prayed for remote control. Of my schedule. And of people, of all things.
“Dear God, please put the people in my life that need to be there to do the things I need to do”.
Those of you versed in the power of prayer probably think you know where this is going. But, I had been pretty successful with that prayer. I was always delighted and grateful with the result of this… I would think of someone or need expertise on a project and then “poof” there they were. Out of context. In a grocery store or airport across the country. It was wonderful, this synchronicity. I realize now, that was like a teaser. A movie trailer for what was to come. A gateway prayer that pulled me into the ritual of praying because I thought I had some measure of control over the outcome. But with one click on that remote control, my life was rewound. I thought I was asking for an assistant in my business so that I could take time off for all of my kids activities the next summer. What I got was pregnant. At the age of 44, with my same husband of 18 years and with children who ranged in age from 10 to 16, God pushed the rewind button in a way that forced me to wholly refocus on my family in a holy way.
It was immediately apparent that my biological clock was broken and that I had no control, remote or otherwise. The new life that was growing within me could not grow without me and so I set about letting the clocks run down on the parts of my life whose time had come. My business as an interior designer filled my schedule and my head but not really my heart. My children’s activities filled their hearts but broke our days into such tiny fragments that our lives, not just our summers, were as fragile as a pearl necklace. Pull too hard and then, when it breaks, you are on your knees desperately trying to find something of value. I was on my knees, knocked up and knocked down in the very same moment by the very same force. At the time, it felt like it was being forced upon me but it didn’t take long to see that it was the beginning of something sourced through me. It wasn’t over, but I was about to be the fat lady singing. I was not just late, I was 14 weeks along.
It was time to get going… but, to where? To what? I felt choked by the changes and my willingness to humiliate my kids into action with my antics now was about to be turned back on me. This did not fit into my life plan anymore than I could fit into my jeans. As my growing belly slowed my step, the steps I was to take became more evident. The more obvious my circumstances became, the more obvious the choices I needed to make became. The remote control was not in my hands but I used it to push the pause button so that I could gather my breath and strength for the new life that was coming. The baby’s, yes, but also mine.
I would love to tell you that it played out like a fairy tale. But it didn’t. And even though I’m going to fast forward through it right now, that’s the good part and I will get back to it. Because getting back to it is the point. That year at the beach played out like a horror story of control as I was the one between the illusion and truth. I was forced to see what was truly out of control. I was going to be bringing another child into a home that was already broken. I got what everyone who prays is asking for. An answer. An immediate fulfillment of my “order”. I prayed for “someone” who would allow me to “focus on my family” by the next summer. While I didn’t understand it, in April, of 2007, I got exactly that, an unscheduled child who added grace to my life. At first I thought she was a reason to stay and work on my marriage. Instead she became the reason to leave. I could not do what I needed to do as a wife and be the mother I needed to be.
In duality of being and doing according to plan, I had prayed to the God of Productivity to help me fit it all in.
Its been 10 years since that visit to this beach and a new understanding of the doing of being came when we went back to that familiar place this summer. My children had grown up going to this beach several times a year. As wonderful as our memories were, there were ghosts there, too. When marriages and families are falling apart there is no place you can go to escape it and there were years that the beach was simply a beautiful backdrop for some truly ugly scenes. The divorce process had caused an “elimination diet” where we cut out all places and experiences that poked us in places that were still raw and painful. We had stayed away from this place because we had loved it so much. We also stayed away because we feared it would be a repeat of what we hoped was past.
What we found when we returned were new ways to play in that old, familiar setting. We ate at our favorite restaurants and found some new. We rented bikes, like always, but took different paths. We found a new stretch of beach that rewarded us with a bounty of hermit crabs, herons, leisurely sun rays and leaping manta rays. In zip lining, we found that the gravity we felt in ghosts of our past was now necessary to help us “fly”.
“Make me who I need to be, to do the things you need me to do”.
My journey back to this beach was possible because of the work that sprung from that original prayer. The request for the “someone” that I thought would be an assistant but was a child? It ended up being me. And the work I thought I had to do? It ends up not being mine, at all. The duality of choosing between the “do” and the “be” that I had fought against was already within the person I fighting for, all along. The struggle wasn’t between them, the struggle is what brought them forth. I was the one who was moving too slow, doing too much, to see what I needed to be.
My last morning on the beach, I slipped out of the house for a walk. In feeling pulled back to this beach I felt I had been pushed forward with grace and integrity and gratitude and I just wanted to revel in it a little longer. It was low tide and as I walked along the edge of the water I knew the lessons of the week had lessened my fear and deepened my faith and I was toying with, yet, another evolution of the prayer. I was no longer questioning the whether of it, I was questioning how. How do I do what I need to be? And then the answer came. As I was walking, deep in thought, I heard a noise to my right. There, not 10 feet away in the surf, was a dolphin. We had witnessed dolphins playing in the surf all week — mothers and young and multiples of up to a dozen — and had encountered them as closely as we could while jet skiing — but here was one, joining me on my walk. The noise that had startled me from my reverie was her breath. Dolphins are a symbol of duality as they dwell in water, yet breathe air. They do what they have to do to be what they have to be without thought. The rhythm of this magnificent creature as she dove into the depths only to rise for a breath matched my stride and my steps as if to say, “Just roll with it. And breathe”.
“Make me who I need to be, to lead others toward being who they need to be, to do the things you need us to do”.
My prayers had led to a relentless review of “how I got here” but always ended with a “but now what?”. Well, I have to come out of my shell. From those lessons I have been able to create a map that not only represents past events but provides a framework for
going forward. A framework that is a blueprint for crafting your own journey. It is not only how this mama found her bearings, but how you can, too. This is the process that birthed MamaBearings and I must share it in order to keep it. By speaking up and advocating on behalf of the abused as a CASA. Toward innovation and education on ADHD, learning disabilities, bullying, depression and suicide. Toward helping others understand the patterns of behavior that underly every system around us as an Archetypal Consultant. Through story and workshops and community engagement through a spiritual center. Even hermit crabs live in a community so in the coming weeks, I will begin reaching out. Rolling with it. And breathing.
Join me. There will be stories of anger and desperation and exasperation, with, quite possibly, expletives but there will also be lessons of joy and insight with humor and yes, singing. Because, as the leader of the junior church choir, my mother, used to say “I would rather hear a loud wrong note than a soft right one, because it means someone is willing to sing”. I am willing. Bear with me. It is, most definitely, time to go.
Adding the letters i, n, and g to all kinds of nouns has got to drive the people who make a living “teachering” all kinds of crazy. I, for one, embrace language enhancements of all sorts. If you have read any of my other posts, you’ll find made up words and made-over phrases because, sometimes, the proper wording just doesn’t properly convey meaning. And today, of all days, conveying meaning is the point. Today is Mother’s Day, the day my reasons became my reasoning for all of the “ing’s”.
The first “ing” turned expect into expecting. Becoming a mother was more than an expectation of me… it was an underlying knowing that I would simply be one and so the question was never “if” it was merely when. As expected, I graduated college, got a job, got married and then had 3 great kids. And when I found myself unexpectedly expecting, again, at the age of 44, when my first three were 17, 14 and 11, I knew that plans had nothing to do with planning. Plans defied planning, once more, when grounding myself in my love for my children became grounds for mothering on my own.
The process of becoming a single mother after a 26 year marriage was a blur of legal and logistical and relational obstacles that began blurring the roles that I had always carried. My adult children began filling in the gaps with their younger sister when I needed a break. They assured me of their love with their presence and consistence and gave me space to grow and change. They honored who I was and who I was becoming. Their caring for me became the care that I needed to give birth to a new life that was mine. Somehow I had mothered my son and daughters in a way that the mothering came back when I needed it most. My children had learned the “ing” that turns love into loving.
Mothering mostly comes down to doing what you need to do and one thing I didn’t do very well through this process was be a daughter. A wise friend once told me that a mother can only be as happy as her saddest child and so while my focus was on my children, my mother’s focus was on me. I needed to move through this and figure things out for myself and I was so grateful for her support and listening ear. But I pushed back when she pushed too far. The push that brings a child into your life is just the first pain, among many pains, you will willingly bear in pushing your child into their own lives. Our job is to make them not need us but when they are needing help it is natural to pull them close, hoping to close the wounds simply by closing the distance. But letting a little distance between our hands teaches them to stand on their own. A little distance when they are playing or learning or leaving teaches them that you have faith in them. The faith that what was once umbilical becomes an umbrella that you pray will shelter them as they walk through life’s storms because just like the storms, a mother’s protective instincts will always come.
My mother came when I needed her. She also came whether I wanted her to or not and that was hard for me. Because when I was hurting, the last thing I wanted to worry about is whether I was hurting her. But, how do you recognize when you need daughtering when your entire adult life has been about being strong and independent? She mothered me into strength and independence and at that moment it was her response as a mother that made me feel anything but. But now I see something differently. Now that there is some distance between those moments and these moments I see that she wasn’t needing me to be the daughter. She needed me to be the mother she taught me to be.
The one who soothes the hurt by seeing the one who is hurting. The one who connects and corrects with a look or a touch. The one who knows it doesn’t matter who is holding the handle of the umbrella as long as the other hand is free to be held. She needed to see that my pulling myself through this situation was not pushing her away. I did not need to hold her hand to walk on my own but I forgot that maybe she needed to hold mine.
I come from a long line of strong women. The photo here is my mother’s mother and the strength of her love is present in our lives even though she left us when I was just 8 years old. Her way-to-soon death means that my mother hasn’t been mothered for 47 years. Yes, the gap has been filled by a step mother and my mother’s aunts and friends but I can’t imagine how hard it has been for her to mother without her own mother. And more than that, right now, to ask for what she needs, even if it means she has to stop mothering and daughter, a little. We shouldn’t care what the nouns are that are attached to the ing’s when it comes to caring and loving and living. Mothers and daughters share rocky relationships but the woman who created boat rocking waves during my childhood became baby rocking ripples of influence and support.
Let me mother you, mother. When it comes time, drying your tears and calming your fears means that my love is just loving you, well, like you. Until then it will take forgiving each other in a seemingly unforgivable world, blurring the roles of who is mothering and who is daughtering with the only reasoning being unreasonable love. Because even if mothers go away, the mothering comes back, on the days, like today that we can always expect and hopefully, faithfully, in all the ways we weren’t expecting.
We were THIS close. It was her one birthday request. DanTDM. She will be 10 in a few weeks and her response to the announcement for his national tour was, well, Donny Osmond-ish, for those of my generation. To her and her friends, he’s a rock star. I had scored seats in the 2nd row. Row B. For this moment, as we settled into our seats in the bygone-era beautiful Egyptian Room of the Old National Murat Theater in downtown Indianapolis, I was her hero.
Dan Middleburg, known as DanTDM, is a 25-year-old YouTube personality and professional gamer from England who has over 14,000,000 (yes, 6 zeros) followers and parents, pay attention…. he makes a living doing this. His eyes did not go bad from staring at a screen. His face did not freeze “like that”. And he has the good fortune of a future in media, publishing and, get this, motivational speaking. To those ever-elusive attention-span challenged adolescents.
We were here, today, because my daughter faithfully follows him and his online YouTube channel. She likes playing Minecraft and I like watching her play Minecraft. In a nutshell, it is pixelated problem solving with pugs and humor and harmless pranks. It requires engineering and creativity and quick thinking in the midst of digital chaos. It is this digital chaos that became the basis for this show and as he stepped onstage to chants of “Dan T-D-M!” over and over at a surprising consistent decibel and cadence, children waved cartoonish cardboard swords and pick-axes. Yes, weapons. Used to fight “creepers” and caricature enemies in a squared-up digital world that is anything but “in the box”.
Kids were focused on seeing this personality in person and the parents in attendance were, surprisingly, not fidgeting. Because as his message rolled out, we recognized it. It was the classic “hero’s journey” of high school english and Star Wars and Wizard of Oz. The formula that underlies every myth and fairy tale, ever. But, his message and manner made it new. His updates included not only the timeless pick axes in the hands of the dwarfs, but digital devices that nearly every child has at hand. It began in the normal fashion… the hero’s call to action, the denial, the overcoming of challenges against all odds through the pure love and power that he had, all along, within, and yet… his enemy with a shock of bright red hair was actually his evil…..
“We interrupt this program for…. a calm and controlled evacuation.”
Yeah. At a critical juncture in Dan’s story, someone from the venue stepped onstage. No words, no drama, just the slightest of hand gestures for Dan and his co-star to exit, stage right. The lights came up and the auditorium of over 2000 parents and children stood to try to figure out what was going on, looking toward the back of the auditorium. Listening for alarms. Sniffing the air. And following the Mr. Roger’s mantra of “look for the helpers”.
The helpers appeared but they were not accompanied by sirens or badges or bullhorns. Slowly, security personnel from the venue began, quietly, evacuating the room. Starting at the back. Low volume murmured conversations were taking place around me but the cacophony of excitement from minutes earlier gave way to a collective calm.
It was going to be a few minutes before we could fall in line and so I took the opportunity to formulate a plan with Addie. Since we didn’t know what the nature of the issue was, we had to talk through what we did know. And that was that she could trust me, even if we could not trust the situation.
I glanced toward the back of the auditorium and saw that they had opened a set of doors, slightly toward the right, and I could see light flooding in. I told Addie that we were going to cut to the right, through the seats, and head toward daylight. The unknown meant heading deeper into the building through the lobby doors was not a good idea. The idea was to get quickly to where we wanted to go and it this case, it was outside.
At the moment this began to unfold, we grasped hands. I told her to not let go but to not worry if she had to. My job was to keep track of her. Her job was to keep moving and since I was taller, I would maneuver around her. If I needed to block for her, I would step in front. If I needed to follow her, or grab her shirt or push her back, to just respond like we were dancing.
We were just about to the door and I looked back at the auditorium and nearly everyone was out. Except for one family. They were still standing in front of their seats. I heard the mother exasperatedly ask one of the ushers “Do we at least get to know WHY this is happening?” Addie heard her, too, and looked at me with a “really?” look on her face because she knows. She knows like everyone else in the auditorium knew. The “WHY” doesn’t matter in the moment. The only things that matter in the moment are WHAT we need to do, WHERE we will be safe and HOW we will get there because the WHEN is already answered. It. Is. NOW.
We got out the doors to find that the crowd had not gone far. They were actually jammed at the bottom of the short flight of steps and so I told her to make her way through because we were going to cross the street. We did not make it to daylight to get THIS close and be blown out of the doorway like a scene in Hawaii 5-O. We made it to the curb and there was typical downtown afternoon traffic, even though it was Sunday and so I pointed her toward the corner where the crosswalk signal was, thankfully, in our favor, so we crossed. I assure you, I would have jaywalked to safety, if necessary, but again, we were THIS close to safety and I wasn’t going to now leave our fate up to oncoming traffic.
We stood on the street corner and watched. I texted one of my older daughters to see if anything was in the media. It was still remarkably calm. And uncharacteristically silent. No alarms were going off. No firetrucks or rescue personnel or “helpers”. The crowd began to move, en masse, around the left side of the building. My daughter began to follow suit and I held her up. I told her we were not going to follow the crowd but follow instructions and we were going to wait here, a safe distance from the building, until they came.
At that moment, a woman in a security shirt with a headset and a walkie-talkie came out on the steps and informed the crowd that the doors on either side of the building were now open and we could come back inside. In a re-entry that was as calm and controlled as our exit, everyone returned to their seats. Intermission was over. The show must go on.
As we resettled into our seats, I could not help but think about the mission of this interruption. There were probably 1000 children in the age range of 6 to 12 in this room and there were no cries, no melt-downs and no fear. Except from the one mother. “Do we get to know why?” The literal why was pretty simple, actually… a light fixture had been sitting on a chair and it began to smolder. The air did smell faintly of “crisped pleather” but it also smelled like the smoke machine that gave Dan’s opening an air of drama. A drama that was most definitely lacking during our intermission of interruption… and that was the question my mind went to work on. Why was this so…. matter of fact?
The fact is, children are now normalized to the drama. When you live THIS close to a culture that seems to thrive on temper tantrums and meltdowns by the people we elect to be in charge, the children don’t become numb to it, they become immune to it. They are being vaccinated on a daily basis by conflict and we, as parents, must take time to talk them through it and walk with them in it, calmly, even in the midst of potential chaos. The children in this room, especially, had already bought in to heroes who respond to “evil” with creativity and innovation… on the fly. And the parents who bought them tickets could not know that they also bought them a real life lesson in how it unfolds.
They are being educated by a voice of their times through an innovative device that teaches them to innovate and it comes from a slightly built powerhouse of creativity that, in placing the power of the devices, not in these children’s hands, but in their heads and heroic hearts, is pushing the evolution of innovation. Using the authority of the creative force within all of us to not follow crowds but to lead a crowd of over 14 MILLION young souls who will, together, calmly and collectively, move us toward daylight.
At the conclusion of this interrupted and spontaneously intermissioned program, Dan asked that we not reveal the details of his show. That he wanted us to honor the delight of the children who had yet to see him. I won’t betray that request — but I do want to reveal one element that defied the formulaic approach that underlies every “heroes journey” epic. Whether its Homer repackaged as “O Brother Where Art Thou” or the parallel story lives of Harry Potter, Frodo or the Little Engine that Could, the magnificence of the metaphor muddies the message. We merchandise the character to the point that we forget the character IS the point.
DanTDM didn’t just get THIS close. He was spot on. That we are not only the hero, but our own worst enemy. That we must be brave enough to confront the most brutal of inner fears. That we have every weapon, within, to chip away at our doubt and create a future for all the right reasons… for the unreasonable evolution of innovative love and faith in ourselves. These children, normalized into “this is not a drill” everyday occurrences are facing the truth that generations before them haven’t. They don’t have the time or luxury to escape into hero mythology. They must craft their own hero muscle to escape the cultural mythology they will inherit from us by first confronting their own truth. In an era where the possibility of a hijacked election via cyberattack, who are we to criticize what device our children choose to prepare for this journey? They see the truth of their future rising before them in epic proportions.
It’s a universal truth. Chaos always comes before order. And the “why” only matters in hindsight when we must either learn from history or repeat it. If need is the mother of invention, the necessity for a new way of doing business will create the need for evolved, awakened innovation. This cultural and political moment in the life of my daughter is an unpleasant and potentially dangerous interruption. But, like the intermission that has now been woven into her story, it’s a teaching moment that even the branding genius of DanTDM could not have envisioned. It may be my job to ensure that she is safe. But… in this whole hero’s journey thing? I’m going to follow her lead. She’s my “why”. Because her generation’s show MUST go on.