This Mom Has a Favorite Child

When Erin was home a few weeks ago she took the Red-eye in from LA and arrived in Philly at the ungodly hour of 5 am. I had worked late the night before and had clients scheduled well into the evening that night. Instead of forking out the mula for an airport shuttle home, she opted to transfer across a few different trains and arrived in our town at the more appropriate hour of 8 am where I excitedly and lovingly met her at the train station.

This past week, daughter Sara was headed overseas for a quick visit with Frank & Rosie. She has scored a great price flying out of Philly so even though she doesn’t live that close anymore, she drove *home* and then I took her to the airport for a mid-afternoon departure.

Apparently, this transportation arrangement led to a discussion between the two girls about which child was my favorite – based on the criteria of my willingness to drive to the airport. I believe it went something like this:

Erin: “That’s bunk, I’m obviously not the favorite child”.

Together in unison: “That would be Emily”.

Sara: “No, Frank is both the favorite son and the favorite daughter”.

I have always remembered – and recounted – a story I read in the Virgina-Pilot Ledger Star some thirty years ago, close to Mother’s Day. It was about a woman who had raised a few children by herself after the death of her Navy husband and when interviewed independently, each of the children had expressed that they always thought that ‘they’ were the favorite child. I recall thinking ‘what a gift she gave them’ as I… firmly believed that I was the favorite and I am convinced that it offered me a foundation of confidence.

My parents are gone now so we will never really know but I’ve strived to convey that same sentiment to my own children. I’m not sure it helped to tell them that I was trying to convince each one of them that they were my favorite. Perhaps it is kind of like your husband telling you how beautiful you are – we figure there is an underlying motivation and/or it is a fully biased statement; what else is he going to say?

In any regard, for most of my children’s lives – indeed, even now – my hope is that they know they each ARE my favorite for very different reasons

Frank – well, he’s my only son and the product of my first true love so he gets two very specific distinctions setting him apart from the girls; no doubt motivating their dialogue. He is responsible for my first gray hairs and my laugh lines. He is about to become a father for the first time and I am not only crazy anxious to meet that little critter but also excited for Frank to know parenthood and the enormity of love it manifests. Frank and I had several years alone together after his father died and became my reason for living; there is no doubt that a unique bond forms under those conditions. He IS my favorite son.

Sara – she is the manifestation of my childhood imagination as it pertains to what I ‘thought’ having a daughter would be like. Any time I played ‘house’ with my baby doll (aptly named Sara), I would imagine becoming a mother someday and when Sara was born she was it… She has always been my ‘little helper’, dependable and eager to please. Sara has yearned to learn since the day she was born. Her favorite pastime was to play school and she wanted to be the student. That desire has morphed into exploration and entrepreneurship as she matures, continuing her love of new information and even though it takes her far away from me, I am always so proud of her never ending curiosity. She is the peacekeeper and the unifier having adopted and now embodying the truest spirit of ‘family’. She wraps my heart in a hug with the simple words “Hi mom” and it feels like home. Sara IS my favorite oldest daughter.

Erin – she is my mini. She is headstrong and determined – creating a battle of wills from time to time that keeps her pushing forward. She is fiercely dedicated to her convictions and deeply emotional; traits that I admire as they remind me to stay true to myself and I honor that she acquired that knowledge so young. She is loyal and dedicated; maintaining friendships almost as old as she is. She loves with her whole heart, working to stay open and vulnerable; communicating through her fears. I wonder if Erin is an old soul, here to master a few lessons; focusing on perseverance. She lights my heart like a ray of sunshine every time she turns to look my way. Erin IS my favorite middle child.

Emily – she is the one that did all the things I said my children would never do and has consequently transformed my ideology of motherhood; I became less rigid. Her presence in my life has forced me to relax and reevaluate my priorities. I named her after an Aunt who personifies peace and humility and so it may be no accident that she was born with an elevated sense of compassion and soul, helping me foster and grow more of my own. She is equally fun and serious; diving headfirst into her passions with vigor and persistence. She fortifies and strengthens my heart with something as simple as a phone call. Em IS my favorite youngest child.

My children make me want to be a better person as they mature in their amazing individual traits and talents. I have believed from my first moment of motherhood that they are each unique and magnificent gifts to me and have as much to teach me as I have had to teach them. I am honored – every day – to be their mother.

 

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My March on Washington

There were more signs about Love and Peace and Hope than there was anything else.

A few days ago my daughter, who lives in Baltimore, called and asked me to make history with her by attending the Women’s March in Washington, DC. It meant that I would get up at 5 am, drive a couple of hours – walk all day in massive crowds – and then, tired… drive all the way home. Of course, I said “yes” – not because I was that invested in the march but because when your daughter ‘wants’ to spend the day with you… a day she will remember for the rest of her life… is there any other answer??

I say that I wasn’t all that invested in ‘the march’ mostly because I am not an overt activist. I have always chosen to change the world in ways that improved my little corner… working in my child’s school, raising money for the PTA, volunteering in my community, etc… I’ve not used my voice for anything on a national scale outside of casting my vote and so this was a first for me. I did not wear a pink hat – mostly because I didn’t have one – but even more so because I’m not a fan of the ‘p’ word and the hats were called p**** hats and even those the intention/message was important I didn’t want to promote the use of ‘that’ word. We didn’t carry signs because Sara was going to capture images and I was the photographer assistant; we needed our hands.

Getting to Washington proved to be a challenge and yet for Sara and I, the perfection of the mistakes and uncertainty made the adventure that much more memorable. This was the plan… I would pick her up in Baltimore, we would drive to the Halethorpe MARC station and catch the train to DC. We picked that location because the large downtown train station in Baltimore didn’t have the greatest parking. Well…. When we got to there we couldn’t find the entrance to the massive parking lot. It was a shame because it was practically empty. We weren’t the only challenged ones, the street parking was filling up fast and we saw people flowing into the station. One local resident, standing out on his lawn with a cup of steaming coffee (which I desperately wanted but was afraid to drink because I knew porta potties were my only option) let us know – in no uncertain terms – that we could (should) be parking there.

We were at the station in plenty of time to catch the 7:40 train but as we arrived, a woman in an official looking yellow safety vest was making the announcement that the train from Baltimore would NOT be stopping as it was completely full. It had filled in Baltimore. Crap. We should have gone to Penn station. The next train wasn’t for another hour… Saturday schedule. (MARC apparently has a good reason for not adding lots of extra trains for this historical event.)  She informed us that our best bet would be to drive south to the Greenbelt Metro station and take the DC Metro to one of the Washington Mall stops.

Sara and I took a minute to berate ourselves for just not going downtown in the first place and for a hot minute we thought about waiting for the northbound train – taking it back up to Baltimore and then coming south again… remember, I hadn’t had much coffee – which is the fuel for clear, rational thought. We opted for the southern option and headed down toward Greenbelt. It was an uneventful forty mile drive but the traffic was definitely building as we got closer to the city and there were an extraordinary number of busses on the freeway. When we got to the exit for the Metro station, it was blocked by a police car and there was a massive LED sign letting us know that the parking lot was full. Now, Sara had been telling me all along about how big this parking lot was “like a football stadium” she had said and so I was bowled over when we saw that it was full… As we drove by we could see what looked like THOUSANDS of people standing in line, presumably waiting to board the Metro. Holy cow, now what??

We went to the Marriott to get some coffee and use the facilities. There were lots of women there, many in pink hats and we asked a couple how they were getting downtown. “the hotel has a shuttle over to the Metro station” they said. We quickly described what we saw as we drove by just minutes ago, and then commented that it may be better to Uber down and get as close as possible. The two women we spoke to were quick to join forces with us and while we took care of nature’s calling – they arranged for a Lyft driver. It was going to cost much less per person than had we taken the train!

Our driver was awesome! SHE was happy to be making some extra money that day and even more so to be helping out in the way that she was able in the formation of such a historical event. We guided her into town, around traffic and she got us all the way into Union Station with very little delay. It was such fun talking to her and meeting our new friends (who were from Salt Lake City, Utah). We were counting our blessings at how the whole thing turned out… here we were without riding a train and/or standing in a line. As we got out of her car we were immediately swept up by the sea of people coming out of the train station, making their way over toward the Capitol building and it was both overwhelming and incredibly exciting to feel the energy of what it is to UNITE.

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Photo by Sara Kantner

There were all kinds of signs. Some were anti-Trump, many were pro-women’s choice, some were specifically for equality. I’ve read that the crowd in Washington, DC is estimated to have been over six hundred thousand. I never had a vantage point that allowed me to view the entire mall area. In fact, most of the time we were simply in a sea of moving people – and for part of that time it was – quite literally – full on, packed, body to body, people. We accidentally got ourselves over by the main stage – behind the American Indian Museum – in a hive of human beings that were so tightly packed together I finally understood the mechanism that activates panic in claustrophobic’s. Not for me. We spent an hour moving ourselves across the mall to the northwest side. After four hours of standing, walking, and watching… we started the march toward the Washington Memorial. When we got a chance to look across town – down the side streets, it was apparent that people had overflowed from the mall onto Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues. They filled Madison, Jefferson, and Independence… all moving west toward the Monument and President’s park. By then… I was over the crowding. I was cold… the weather report had not fulfilled its promise to reach 55 degrees… and I was sore from not sitting for more than five hours. It was time to find coffee… food… and warmth!

We kept moving until we found a street with moving traffic… hailed a cab and went to meet my youngest brother for an early supper.

It was amazing.

It was heartwarming.

It was breathtaking.

It was enlightening.

It was empowering.

It was more, too.

Sara began her day by intending to visually document the March from the perspective of mothers and daughters – motivated in part by her presence there with me. Certainly, one of the most inspiring parts of the March for me was how many children were there. THEY are the future of this country and they were experiencing firsthand how to respectfully demonstrate – how to use their voices. There were NOT just mothers and daughters… there were fathers and sons… entire families. These children were learning how to disagree in a loving spirit… I saw it with my own eyes. There were more signs about Love and Peace and Hope than there was anything else.

Yesterday inspired me, it was impossible to leave Washington without an imprint of that experience on my soul but it was more than that. We were not alone in that city… if you are connected you already know that many millions of people marched in over 30 countries and in every single state. How inspirational is it that people across the world came together unilaterally in support of simple humanity?? Literally…. Across the entire world. My deepest hope is that we all continue to use that spark as only the ignition of continued support for global human dignities.

This March was NOT about the American president. It was about HOPE that the Universal progress we’ve made regarding basic human integrity’s will be sustained and promoted throughout the world; at least THAT is why I marched. THAT is the lesson I hope those children took home and THAT is what I will continue to promote if only in my own little corner of the world.

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Roadtripping

I didn’t have any phone conversations and I can already feel a bit of relaxation starting to settle into my psyche.

“…you are my rainbow to keep. My eyes will always be watching you; never will I lose sight of you.” ― Vesna M. Bailey

I’m on a road trip. My middle daughter is moving to Los Angeles with a dream of becoming the next Shonda Rhymes. Consequently, we are driving from the east coast to the west so that she can wedge herself into the television industry as quickly as possible. It has been a dream of hers since she was fifteen and she’s worked extremely hard to make this happen. When she pushed the GO button we were all really excited for her but knew immediately that she would be really missed.

I kind of made the assumption that I would be driving with her as I knew her sister and boyfriend were less flexible with their work schedules, plus… I offered to pay for the hotels. And then – for a brief minute I thought that it may make more sense to ship her car out to LA and have her fly… less wear and tear, etc. I looked at all the options but quickly realized that it would be in exchange for an opportunity to spend a weeklong adventure with my daughter who may very well become a California gal. I hung up on the next auto transport person who called me.

Before long we had a roadmap outlined and I realized that almost exactly forty-three years ago (less a week) I made the same trip with my father, aunt, and siblings. I remember parts of that trip extremely well as it was the first time Dad let me drink coffee – and of course, I had to drink it black. It was the first time that I could remember that I had stayed in a motel and when everyone else was asleep, Dad let me sit up front and stay up late talking to him. We had lots of adventures on that trip and as I recall, they were predominately things going wrong so I’m hoping for less ‘adventure’ and more ‘memory making’ on this journey.

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Both Erin and I have made a couple of Facebook posts today about starting the trip – ok., maybe I made more than a couple – but there are people living vicariously through us!! One of the comments was so apropos to us from a woman who knows us well… “Be safe and remember that you still love each other at the end of this!” I had to laugh because out of all my children, she is the one most like me. People have been telling us this for years. It’s our demeanor that makes us the same… We are bossy, confident about what we want, assertive when we are going after it, and stubborn about what we know. We both like to be in control and we each get a certain kind of ‘hangry’ when we need food. Erin may be a little rough around the edges yet but I see my young self in her and know that she will mellow even if it is because the world beat her down a peg or two. Until then, she will fire up any pile of kindling that stands between her and her goals.  Would it be narcissistic at this point to say I admire those attributes? Even so… I am intensely proud of her and feel confident that dropping her into the center of Los Angeles and taking (literally) the next flight home – is an OK thing to do.

In the meantime, we are traveling across the United States in a little car that is the same color as the pavement and even though we have the headlights on, I’m a bit nervous that the thousands of semi-trucks on the highway may think we are nothing more than a reflection of a speed limit sign. It’s good to know that there are logistics systems continuously at work as I imagine that the trucks are mostly full of goods that need to get from one point to another (what else would they be?) but it’s a bit nerve-wracking.

We got through the first day without arguing about anything at all. Yesterday I practiced all day by repeating over and over… “ok Erin” and I used the technique successfully a couple of times today with great success. We have downloaded the audio version of the new Shonda Rhymes book to listen to when we run out of things to say to one another but we didn’t need it today. Actually, it was great to have her to myself for such a long stretch today. For the last year and a half, as she was living at home and working, I didn’t see her much. She worked in the restaurant business and as a bartender so we had vastly different schedules. Mostly, we saw each other in passing and communicated via text message. I got the chance to ‘catch up’ with her a bit today about the things we were ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’… much deeper topics than ‘please replace the milk you drank’ and ‘can you put away the dishes’.

It’s a funny thing about my children being so independent and adventurous… Frank is living in France… Sara spent a year overseas… Emily is talking about going to Australia to work for a summer after college. It’s easy to think that they are running away, fleeing home and getting as far away as possible although I know- logically – that’s not true. I have to remind myself, though… it’s that I did a good job. They grew up with the confidence to fly and isn’t that what we are supposed to do as parents? Let our children fly? What a mixed bag of blessings it is really. Earlier this week I was reminded of what I always considered a ‘Hippie’ mantra… “If you love something set it free. If it comes back it’s yours. If not, it was never meant to be. (Richard Bach)” I guess there is nothing more fitting about that sentiment than motherhood.

I took the time to specifically be ‘in the moment’ today – I didn’t pull out my laptop or my phone other than to look at maps and ‘check in’ at the various places we stopped. I didn’t have any phone conversations and I can already feel a bit of relaxation starting to settle into my psyche. I may or may not post over the next couple of days as we explore a few places off the main highways (she has a bit of a bucket list) and we are stopping overnight twice to visit with extended family members.

Thanks for reading… thanks for following my journey and please keep letting me know when it is helpful… I love reading those comments!

Remembering Ruthie

She practiced appreciation in a way that we all can learn from.

In loving memory of Ruth Elaine Rought 11/30/1949 – 12/13/2016

He who praises another enriches himself far more than he does the one praised. To praise is an investment in happiness. The poorest human being has something to give that the richest could not buy”. ~ George M. Adams

Today, I am thinking about death and its impact on the living. The day before last, an angel was born of an earthly soul who was my Aunt. My mother’s youngest sister, a vibrant, sassy, stubborn, and gracious woman who was just eleven years my senior. One of my distinct memories of her was when she was pregnant with her first child, I would have been ten I think… she was standing in front of a large laundry basket that was in front of the television and she was ‘allowing me a treat’ to be in the room while ‘Love is a Many Splendid Thing’ – a popular soap opera from the late sixties / early seventies was airing. Back then, things were aired live and you had to watch it – or miss it, there was no in between. Consequently, I was abiding by the instructions of ‘be seen – not heard’.

Ruth drank coffee and smoked cigarettes most every day of her life and my memory of that day includes those smells. I idolized her. She was the big sister that inhabited my fantasies when I was lonely. We were blood sisters. A couple of years earlier, before she was married, she and her friend Tony included me in a ‘swapping of blood’ that we obtained via pinprick. While that may seem gross and quite unhealthy in today’s world, back then, it was a ‘rite of passage’ for me, meaning that I could be in the room while they talked about high school and boys. I, of course – now that I was a blood sister – was sworn to secrecy.

I recall times when she was babysitting us and she would settle us into a booth at a diner located across the street from a gas station where this special guy worked. She would go hang out with him, leaving our waitress with orders to feed us as much as and for as long as we wanted or at least until she returned. We couldn’t see her but we believed that she could see us and she warned us that everyone was watching so we behaved ourselves and waited patiently for her to finish her flirting. Sometimes, she was an ‘overnight’ babysitter and I remember one summer when she stayed with us for a week where she would let us get fudgesicles from the corner market. She would eat two and I wanted to grow up so that I could too.

She and Barry (the boyfriend from the Gas station) eventually got married and Ally and I were her flower girls. I thought she was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. Her waist was Gone With The Wind small and I envied her petite frame and exotic look most of my life. Uncle Barry was a human teddy bear with a small round belly and a soft smile that enticed you to crawl up into his lap at a moment’s notice. Some of my fondest memories come from the weeks that I would stay with them in the summer. By the time she had several children, I was the perfect babysitter and it was time for karmic balance. My weeks with her entailed changing diapers and folding clothes while she did the other half of the daily chores, some of which included chatting with friends on the extremely long corded telephone while I ran around the yard chasing a bare naked two-year-old.

Ruth and Barry were young lovers and self-proclaimed soul mates. She loved love. She was passionate about him, about her children, family, and her beliefs. She would argue a point – if she believed it – until you were torn and tattered; not to tell you, you were wrong but to be sure you had heard that she thought she was right. I may have learned some of my talent as a result of that exposure. She taught me that I didn’t need a bra until I could hold a pencil under my breast and proceeded to demonstrate her point. By her standard, I was forty when a bra was finally necessary.

I moved away and began my own adult life but each time that I went back to ‘the farm’ to visit my grandparents, Ruth was there, wanting to know everything there was to know. We began to build a friendship that was based less on the big sister image and more as contemporaries. When I brought my son ‘home’ for everyone to meet, her daughter Renee took great interest in him – wanting to help me – picking up where her mom and I had left off.

Ruth moved to Cincinnati where my Dad and Stepmom lived with my little brothers – mom’s sister but family nonetheless. When I would go to visit, we ALL got together and my brothers grew to call her Great-ex-Aunt-Ruthie. She and my step-mom even developed a semblance of a friendship – you couldn’t resist the energy that Ruth extended.

Sadly, in 1990 her husband suddenly and without warning or cause, passed away. I will never forget the phone call. I imagine I was on her list because she had become a member of the ‘widow’ club and she needed console from someone else there. We commiserated together on the woes of widowhood, the pain, and the emptiness. I had remarried by then but she struggled to move away from the depth of heartbreak. For a time she lived life hard, I think to escape the anguish that overshadowed her spirit. She floundered for a while and then headed home to the comfort of what she knew and where she belonged. She returned to the home place and found comfort in being near her parents.

She met a guy – loved – and lost again. Not by death this time but it was equally difficult because the disappointment was deep and razor sharp. She wasn’t ready to cope with being alone and in the midst of that ache, she lost her parents and sister. Her adult life was also – filled with loss.

Her spirit was immensely strong though and she persevered. While I was settling my grandparent’ estate (she lived next door) we would often talk and she believed in positivity. She worked diligently to build upon and emit optimistic perspectives. Everything she knew was being challenged but she persisted and pushed. The stubborn stance that had proven maladaptive in historical moments now provided her courage and tenacity. She fought with a daily dose of affirmation and gratitude. Indeed, she became one of the most gracious women I’ve known – always offering words of praise and encouragement; expressions of hope and confidence.

A year ago, last summer I picked up the phone when she called to say hello. It was a foreboding conversation and I didn’t understand. She was emotional, loving, and supportive – asking for an update on my kids, work, Harlan… there was something in that phone call that sounded like she was saying goodbye but I didn’t question it until later.

Within a couple of days, her daughter Renee called to tell me that Ruth had been hospitalized and she was headed up to the farm. Long story short… Ruth had small cell lung cancer. After stabilizing her and understanding the diagnosis and prognosis better, the decision was made to move her to North Carolina so that she was close to premier medical facilities and family. She underwent treatment and responded well. She used the accumulated emotional resources she had acquired to adjust to this new space, a ‘new normal’ and adapted in an environment extraordinarily different from the rest of her life. It was a new world for her and yet, she captured the hearts of people everywhere she went because gratitude and love oozed from her no matter her condition or position.

November 30th, 2016 was her 67th birthday. I called several times but she didn’t pick up. Finally, I texted Renee and asked if they were together – figuring they might be having a birthday lunch. “I will be in 30 minutes”, Renee replied. “Great – please tell your mom Happy Birthday from me,” I said. “Give her a big hug”.

Through the years, Renee and I had become tremendously close, developing a relationship much more like sisters than cousins – carrying on the tradition of her mother and me– handing down the baton through the generations… “Will do” she texted me back.

I thought I’d try one more time though and with the next phone call, Ruth answered and listened patiently as I sang her my rendition of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song…. “Oh thank you honey, it’s a wonderful day,” she says.

She was full – overflowing really – with exuberance and gratitude for the blessings she had already received and was eagerly awaiting lunch and a short shopping expedition with Renee. She listed several people who had already called, remarking that even RZ had wished her a happy birthday and she was so very pleased. She exhibited, vocally at least, intense satisfaction with how her day started and sounded full of boundless appreciation for my short call, for all of the people who had remembered her.

The next day, for no apparent reason, she fell, collapsed. Over the subsequent twelve days, her body deteriorated to the point that it was no longer supporting her life on its own. Her decision to be removed from life support was honored and she passed peacefully into the space that is not here, into the space where her lover, her parents, and her sister had gone before her. God, how we will miss her.

I have thought about death today. I’ve thought about how much death hurts the living. No matter our beliefs, the idea that someone we love is no longer available to touch or to hear or to listen… it’s a sad thing. We weep for ourselves, for what we want and can’t have. I want to console Renee, Chris, and Julie but there is no consolation for losing your mother. None. I want to say something that is smart, funny, sassy, or profound to eliminate their pain but it doesn’t work; there is nothing to say.

I’ve been writing about life lessons, reasons for living, and what is it – HERE, right now – that I can learn to further my own life’s work. I know that I want to learn gratitude the way that Ruth used it. I want to be grateful – openly grateful – not just in my mind or in my prayer – but with my voice – All. The. Time. Like Ruth. No… she wasn’t perfect and she did occasionally allow her humanness and sorrow to sprout through the cracks but she learned to weed and to let gratitude grow. She practiced appreciation in a way that we all can learn from.

Perhaps Ruth was part of my family so that I could learn more about gratitude – I know about gratitude, I practice gratitude but not like that. I like how she did it. As I look at her life in the way that it crossed and impacted mine, I realize that I can learn from her. Ruth I am grateful for you. I appreciate you. I hope to experience another lifetime with your soul as it was always a gift to me in this one.

HUGS

Jay’s Lesson

There were so many expectations, hopes, disappointments, and potential for rejection that it took more courage than I thought I might have for now.

Continued from Consider The Possibilities

Sometimes life doesn’t want to give you something that you want. It’s not because you don’t deserve it, but because you deserve more.  ~ Unknown

A few days ago I talked about dating again and mentioned meeting a great guy on an arranged ‘lunch date’. His name was Jay and we had a second date, and then a third. We met for lunch a few times as it was a better in both of our schedules. He had four girls but they were mostly grown or almost there. He talked about them like they were amazing, making me believe that he was an amazing dad and that excited me.

There’s always a question when dating after divorce about when to introduce the person to your children – if ever. I wasn’t especially excited to have the girls meet Jay but they were curious and so I didn’t wait long… they knew we were seeing each other and they knew I liked him. I told them the basics, what he did for a living, how many children he had and what I knew about them, and I shared the general details of how we spent time together. It seemed to be going pretty well and so I invited him to come out for dinner. Awkward!! There we sat, at the dinner table that we used to share with their dad. I don’t know exactly what they were thinking but I thought it was weird… to have a different guy sitting there having a conversation with my children, someone other than the man with whom I had been sharing them with for twelve years.

He was pretty cool though… as the father of girls, he knew all the right shows – had seen and could talk about – The Gilmore Girls. He was friendly and conversational, knowing just how to fit in and when to sit back. They thought he as ‘weird’ – as any teen / preteen would typically think and perhaps he was – a little.

We continued to spend stolen pockets of time together, each of us taking turns driving the fifty-minute span that separated us. We took a weekend and spent it on a boat that he shared with another family member and I learned that he took fish oil supplements. Good for him – bad for anyone that got close enough to kiss him. I’m not one hundred percent that it was the fish oil, perhaps it was another issue, but that man’s perspiration was one of the most unpleasant smells I’ve ever experienced. I’m not convinced he wore deodorant and even if he did, I’m not sure there was a perfume strong enough to mask his personal scent. I don’t mean at all – to be unkind, simply descriptive of an attribute that was marginally manageable.

I struggled as to whether or not it would be a deal breaker for me. How do you tell someone … they smell and not be rude? How can they not know? Is it highly intolerant or critical of me to ‘not’ date someone because of an odor? I realized it wasn’t all of the time and hadn’t spent enough time with him to decipher what prompted or initiated it.

When I graduated with my undergrad, he slipped into the mix of celebrants – in fact, he was front and center… something that I was really questioning at the time but didn’t know how to ask him to ‘sit back’. Sadly, I don’t have any photographs of that day without him in it. He escorted me home that day to my surprise party and consequently, met many family members and friends… in retrospect – it was Way. Too. Soon.

Jay was unapologetically himself and I loved that about him. I envied his ability to be authentic regardless of the circumstances and I made a note to investigate that quality / feature about myself. It was a new and exciting proposition for me – to just be me. He didn’t apologize for his peculiarities or idiosyncrasies – he accepted himself – completely and I noticed. I liked that about him. I wanted to be like that.

Jay wasn’t divorced yet and since – at that time – neither was I, it seemed to be a bond between us … our ‘almost’ ex-spouses were somewhat thorns in our environment. We had each been ‘separated’ for over a year but the divorce piece was complicated. He began introducing me to a couple of his daughters as ‘a friend’ and then braced for the backlash from their mom. We had custody of our children on the same weekends so that worked, but there is SO MUCH to navigate when you are forced to maneuver through a dozen different personalities just to spend time together. We were attempting to finalize our plans for the upcoming July 4th weekend – whether or not to take all the girls someplace, my kids, or his, and it was just too complicated. He was firmly planted in his community – and I in mine. To that extent, we were either unable to unwilling to compromise. We were on the phone one afternoon and he was unambiguous with his words “I can’t date you anymore, it’s too hard”.

He tried to explain that there were just too many complications with his wife, his girls, my kids, the distance… I recall being somewhat stunned as there was no warning. I had never realized that his skin was that thin – or perhaps (giving him the benefit of the doubt) there was much more under the surface that I had not been privy to. In either case, I could feel myself shut down instantaneously … here it was again – rejection. Oh well… at least I hadn’t let my heart out – had I? Nope… it didn’t hurt, not really – I was just surprised. I hadn’t loved Jay. I realized that I hadn’t even let myself consider loving him. It was fun to be liked, to be wanted – for a while.

I walked out of my bedroom after that phone call and into Sara’s room. “Jay just broke up with me”, I told her. She looked at me with big eyes, wondering and waiting for more… “are you ok?” she asked. “Surprisingly… I’m good – it’s all good”, I say.

_____

On the drive home from the mountain I thought about Jay – what purpose did Joe have in my life? Why did we meet? I loved his authenticity. I needed to consider why it was such a strong element for me and how could I embody more authentic-ness? (um… duh – in every way!) I realized that Jay demonstrated that I could still get butterflies. Good to know. I also noted that I could be found attractive to a man. As crazy as it sounds, for someone with low self-esteem, coming out of a marriage to a man who preferred the company of other (many) women – this was somewhat of a revelation for me. I was desirable – at least to a guy who smelled like fish oil. I considered Jay practice but also acknowledged that dating sucked. There were so many expectations, hopes, disappointments, and the potential for rejection that it took more courage than I thought I might have for now.

I filed away the introspection about dating and organized my life. It was time to start grad school. I was excited with the idea of learning more.

Digging Deep

I was so startled at this realization that a tear spontaneously formed and released.

Continued from Transcendent Study

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” ~ John Banville

If you’ve never spent a week with people focused purely on love and transcendence, you’ve missed an extraordinary experience. It was easy to wake up and shower in a two-foot square cubicle knowing that my day would be spent in a room full of that amazing energy. I got better at talking to the people sitting in my immediate vicinity but I ate most of my meals alone – only because it was the comfortable thing to do in the absence of someone else specifically encouraging me to join them.

I met a Shaman from Colorado who told me that my Solar Plexus (third) chakra (where confidence and the perception of who you are) was full of dark energy and blocked – basically confirming everything that I had been experiencing in my life regarding self-esteem. I was only vaguely familiar at this point with the chakra system with limited exposure to Eastern philosophies. Even with as much meditation, I had engaged in, I had learned it more as an extension of what I knew of prayer versus true Eastern traditions. How had he seen into my core by merely assessing my body’s energy?

He offered to clean my abdomen of the energy blockage and promised it wouldn’t hurt and so… I let him. I laid flat on the floor fully clothed as he moved his hands softly across my belly in a gesture that implied he was wiping something off and then he started a pulling motion. I have no way to accurately describe what happened next. He was pulling at air – not touching me – but I instantly felt nauseous. Within a moment or two, I wanted to cry and eventually tears flowed freely across my cheekbones and into my ears. I experienced a gagging or choking feeling and wanted to roll over to make it stop but he gently touched my forehead with a comforting stroke to keep me flat. He spoke soft and encouraging words in between others that was I unable to interpret. I have no idea of how much time elapsed while this happened, only that it felt like it was but a moment in one minute but an eternity in the next. I couldn’t stop crying although it wasn’t a balling, or a shoulder shaking cry. It was more like the remnants of that… an ending cry – the kind that comes when you know something is over.

Sometimes it quite difficult to believe in things so mysterious, the things we don’t understand and may not be able to see. And yet, we believe in God. There are people who believed in sub-particle physics long before it was proven and so, I chose to allow for the possibility that this man whom I had never met, could ‘clean’ an energy center in my body that would allow me to ‘flow’ and become more balanced. As the day went by, I distinctly remember how calm I felt. Perhaps it was psychosomatic but it didn’t matter, it was great. I again was intrigued by this new experience and I didn’t want it to end. I felt like such a baby – an infant in my lack of knowledge about these ideologies surrounding me. They were so far out of the mainstream of my Mid-Atlantic suburban existence that I was at a loss of how I would foster more growth. It was a challenge I was excited to embark upon.

We continued to practice our hypnosis training. Dr. Weiss demonstrated a number of induction techniques (getting people into a hypnotic trance) and had us practice them on each other. Hypnosis is simply a state of focused concentration and I find, highly misunderstood. Under hypnosis, you are totally aware – just not judging or questioning. It’s the purest state of ‘observing’ that I know of. And “no” – you will not take all your clothes off if someone directs it, unless of course, that is something that you ‘want’ to do. Your subconscious is still very active and you are still completely – you. If you wouldn’t do it in day to day life – you won’t do it under hypnosis.

It was time to break into small groups and do regressions. This time it was my turn to be regressed…

I came ‘out of the mist’ to see trees – everywhere. There was a river in front of me, actually… I was on the river but standing up high. I realized I was on a ship – I was on the upper deck of a ship on a river with vibrant dark green trees on both sides and I could feel the movement, a slow roll from side to side – very gentle and barely noticeable. I was directed to look down, at my feet and the first thing I became aware of as I glanced down is that I was wearing an open white shirt. It was open to my waist but … wait, I realized I didn’t have breasts… what? There was a lot of chest hair and I was sweating. I could see perspiration running down my skin. I saw my shoes and they were large, black, dirty, and they had buckles – square buckles. I noticed that my pants were short and I looked up again. I could see the ship now, the planks and banisters. The sky was blue with a few clouds and I could see birds – practically everywhere. I could hear their calls. There was a dock, seemingly way down there… people were unloading crates of something and I could see barrels stacked on the edge of the pier. There were a lot of sounds… voices, yelling, but no machine noise. I was asked to identify the year but it wasn’t clear to me.

Then, I was asked to move forward in time and suddenly I found myself in a small room. I could see it as if I was there, looking straight ahead. There was a huge fireplace to my right and I could see sunlight coming in from a window. It felt as if I could move my head and I saw two children sitting on the floor. They were sitting on a round rug – much like the rag rug that had been in my old house; a boy and a girl. The boy was young, maybe five or six and I couldn’t see his face clearly. The girl was older, perhaps eight or so – she had her back to me. I could see that her hair was long, past the center of her back and she had on a small print dress – something you might see in the 1800’s … I could see a taller woman, again her back was to me and she was also wearing a long dress, small print. She was off to my left in what appeared to be another small room although the doorway was large. She was wearing an apron, I could see the bow at her waist. Her head was bent down as if she was cooking, or working with her hands. I knew that this was my family.

The house was warm and I realized that I was in a rocking chair… now I could sense the movement – back and forth – back and forth. I realized that I felt tremendous satisfaction and comfort there. It was peaceful. There was a discrete awareness that this was my home. I believe the children on the floor were mine. The girl turned toward me and I could see her face. It was young but something tugged at me… there was a familiarity there – in her eyes. It only took a second but I knew instantly; without hesitation, I was immediately cognizant that I was looking at the same soul that I know today as my oldest brother.

I was so startled at this realization that a tear spontaneously formed and released.  The profundity of this understanding was instantaneous and resonated intensely and genuinely deep within my being.

 

Accomplishments

I was still five or six years away from being able to call myself a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Continued from Finally Free

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”  ~ Edward Hale

Now that Hubby wasn’t at the house when it was his time with the girls I had the house to myself. There is a certain confusing pleasure about having every other weekend to yourself. I didn’t usually like to be in the house when the girls weren’t – it was a big house, meant for family and walking by their empty bedrooms was almost disheartening. However, being a single parent is undeniably the most difficult job I’ve ever known and so, on those weekends, I recharged – rejuvenated my energy. I did homework and spent time with friends. I was usually fielding a few phone calls from the girls, predominately the youngest one who was more dependent on me but encouraged them to turn to dad – I wanted ex-Hubby to develop his own relationships with the girls and be the dad they needed on those weekends.

This goal worked in total conflict with my ‘control’ needs and my ‘fixer’ genes… it was a true learning process to ‘let go’ on the weekends he had the kids. I had so much to learn about letting go – even though I thought I had done a lot already. I practiced opening my hands and counted on my meditation routine to help me. I wrote … and wrote… I didn’t call the writing I did ‘journaling’ back then but that’s what it was… I was just writing the thoughts that came to my mind, emptying my head onto the paper. I think I had been trying too hard to journal something specific. I found that just writing from the mental prompt of ‘I’ve been thinking about…’ or ‘I worry about…’ was most effective in parlaying what was on my mind to the paper. I often burned or shredded the words I wrote as I was a little paranoid that someone would read them. I wasn’t yet ready to experience the vulnerability associated with letting others view my internal reflections.

It’s hard to be patient and allow change to take place when we are in a hurry to ‘be better’. Sometimes it feels like a cruel Universe joke to need patience when we perfectionists are generally ‘not’ patient people. It’s often coupled with the need to remember – bring into our constant awareness – our inability to change others. And then, there’s the frustration of recognizing that even if ‘we’ make changes, the entire situation may not… leaving us needing to either make concessions or decisions.

I successfully settled my grandparent’s estate but only after addressing a lawsuit that had been initiated by Abee and Emma. Receiving that announcement in the mail was mind boggling because it created a direct conflict of interest for me. Essentially, the language of my grandparents will was unclear and ambiguous regarding the distribution of assets – whether or not Mom’s share of the estate was to be distributed to her siblings or to her direct heirs. Initially, the attorney advising me stated her siblings but the lawsuit contested that decision and I had to hire another legal opinion. Essentially my sisters were suing for a share of Mom’s share – taking money out of the mouth of their less fortunate relatives. I will never understand that motivation but in the end, I benefited because the ‘third perspective’ ruled that it was to be distributed ‘per stripes’… Mom’s share would be split among her children. It wasn’t a ton of money but it felt weird to award myself part of the estate. Our aunts and uncle were rather salty about the ruling as it diluted their distribution and frankly, with one exception – they needed it more than we did.  I’m afraid to think what my grandparents would have said / felt over that whole ordeal.  To fight it further would have just wasted more money from the already reduced estate. We paid the funds out and called it a day but not without further splintering of our extended family.

In the fall I returned to school. I loved learning about human behavior and continued to be amazed at how much about myself I was learning. In many aspects, I used my own life as an observational laboratory for the information I was acquiring; a rich environment of detailed data. I also learned to research. One of my ‘classes’ was apprenticing with a professor who was conducting studies. I chose Dr. Brown, the professor who had taught me about emoting. Her area of expertise was how environmental and socioeconomic stressors affected children. My job was to search the bowels of EBSCOHost (the academic database of research papers) to find other studies to substantiate the work we were doing and/or to find measures that we could use in our work. As strange as it sounds, I loved this job! It was a little bit like looking for puzzle pieces and finding something useful or affirming was the reward. Additionally, I would see something interesting and read, read, read. I learned to love reading journal articles about the ways we think, act, learn, etc. Learning this particular skill – research – was particularly helpful when I got to Grad school.

It was also my goal this year to make decisions about Grad school. I had several professors urging me to go on… Another suggested I forgo the graduate degree and become a Life Coach. I knew by then that counseling was the direction I wanted to go and that I would more than likely just open a private practice. My state didn’t require counselors to have any – actually none – credentials as long as they didn’t put themselves out there as ‘licensed’ and so I didn’t ‘have to’ get an advanced degree but… who would go to a therapist that wasn’t educated?? I don’t believe that most people are aware of all the different routes there are to obtain counseling certification – I certainly did not. There are several designations that allow people to eventually qualify for state licensing. First of all, most states require at least a Master’s Degree either in Psychology, Counseling, Social Work, or Mental Health. Certainly, there are also doctoral programs in each of those areas as well as the newer Psy.D. – a Doctor of Psychology (as compared to a Ph.D. which is a Doctor of Philosophy), then there are licensing exams and post grad supervision. I was still five or six years away from being able to call myself a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Since I wasn’t entering academia, a Master’s would fit all the requirements. I didn’t want to take the Social Work avenue (LCSW) although many counselors have that designation. I wanted to focus on Counseling and clinical components within the Individual, Family, and Marital arena. The only program within driving distance for me consisted entirely of night classes. Being a single mother of three made that completely impractical. Even though Sara would be leaving for college in the fall, Erin and Em still depended on me and I didn’t believe that leaving them alone for three nights every week over a two-year period was truly an option. That left me investigating newer online Universities that specialized in Psychology degrees. I left no stone unturned in understanding accreditation and the rigid standards that my state expected their counselors to complete.

In the meantime, I finished my undergraduate degree – finally – at the age of forty-seven. I wasn’t the oldest person to graduate that spring but I felt like it. I managed to leave there with a 3.8 GPA, having received only two B’s. My family celebrated with me on a scorching hot May afternoon by throwing me a surprise party (that wasn’t really a surprise thanks to someone’s well intended big mouth) and I felt accomplished and happy roughly twenty-eight months after discovery day.