When I first met Mark Nepo, it was at the legendary Sounds True Wake Up Festival in 2014, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit. He quoted the Talmud with the voice of someone who came from generations of an inherent connection with our shared Jewish heritage. I was moved by his warmth, his humor, and his humility in the face of life-threatening illness and challenges.
Mama told me there be days like these! I couldn't be more thrilled, honored, more filled with nachas (not nachos, although it is dinner time and my stomach is growling...)! My essay, "My Teflon Birth Plan" is part of the incredible collection of essays "So Glad They Told Me: Mothers Get Real About Motherhood" published TODAY by the rockstar The HerStories Project.
The essays range from hilarious to poignant and box of tissues worthy and all of them share one of the most important things we can bring to the ongoing conversation about motherhood - BRAVE HONESTY.
My essay is a meditation on the birth I had, rather than the birth I believed I would have. It's about sinking in and letting go. I dedicate this essay to my three daughters, who have taught me more than I can ever teach them.
The name of my blog is mother.writer. First and foremost, I am a mother and simultaneously, a writer. I wrote through the early days of mothering and it quite frankly saved my life and sanity. I found a way to express the intensely physical and personal experience of birthing and raising three amazing young women, as well as finding support and community, all of which is richly represented in this book.
But don't take my word for it, get a copy for yourself and dive into the essays!
The book is available on Amazon and as of today, the official release day, is ranked the Hot New Release in Motherhood! Booya! Get your copy today and support our valuable voices!
Some weeks just plain suck. I drag myself to get out of bed, the coffee is never strong enough, and any kind of communication, just seems to be side-stepping my keyboard, my brain and my mouth. It has been this kind of week. A difficult encounter with a co-worker that left me feeling diminished, stressed, and threatened. A sudden health issue for my aging mother. Three teen agers who live to challenge and provoke. A marriage that could use some time in the repair shop.
When I have a week like this, of course, I look to see who is at fault: my co-worker, my kids, the health care system. My spouse. My job. My life.
Luckily I’m able to interrupt this self-victim fest with the feast of Passover, where, if I can finally figure this shit out, will allow me to stop looking out the window and instead, in the mirror for the narrow places that create the obstacles to the life I so want to be in. And by looking in the mirror, I’m not talking about the one that reflects the hundreds of lip lines, or furrows between my brows.
I’m talking about the mirror of my soul. My neshama’s mirror. To help me through the narrow places of my self-destructive and self-sabotage habits, I’m turning to the wisdom of Rabbi Yael Levy, whose daily meditations have struck a deep chord for me. I’ll start with “Healing the Hardened Heart,” which discusses that the month of Nisan is a time for healing the hardened heart – tikkun halev. The rabbi instructs us to:
· Free ourselves from stories that bind us to anger, jealously and pain.
· Let go of habits that perpetuate isolation and fear.
· Free ourselves from reacting with harsh judgment and distain.
· Let go of ways of being that keep us from seeing the beauty in each other.
· May the healing of the heart help us enter into full and expansive connection with each other and the unfolding of all life. (https://mishkan.org/healing-the-hardened-heart)
Passover is a time of replacing the puffy food substances that we take for granted, and instead eating unleavened bread - in my case, unleavened gluten-free bread - as a way of digesting the meaning of the Exodus out of Egypt. That puffy-ness represents the place of habit, of ego, of behavior patterns that need attention and healing. For me, the healing exists in the conversations I have in my mind that perpetuate anger and arguments. Healing exists in my strange need to live and create drama. Healing exists in the behavior that keeps me from feeling true connection.
But I can't do that in a New York minute. I may not even be able to do it in the Passover week. But at least, with humility and hope, I can start.
Today, as I enter into Passover, may I start to shine some light into the narrow habitual places that only perpetuate loneliness, alienation, and isolation. May my freedom begin in my heart and extend out to my beloved children, my spouse, and my community.
To the work it takes to begin the process of personal freedom. May it heal our individual and collective hearts.
The day had started off as most do. I had woken up early and after my coffee, I decided to stave off the below zero weather by making banana, date, and cranberry muffins. Gluten-free, of course. I had both sides of the oven on and the kitchen was smelling delicious and even the ice on the windows was starting to soften.
I had just taken the muffins out of the oven and they were a perfect golden brown. I wanted them to cool off on the bakers rack that I had placed in the warming tray when I'd cleaned and organized the kitchen on Christmas Day. That's what this Jewish girl did on Christmas day - cleaned and organized the kitchen and laundry room and then cooked up a Chinese feast. But back to the muffins. I opened the warming drawer and something gray, furry, and fast ran past my fingertips. I stifled what felt like a volcanic scream into a small screech, so as to not wake the sleeping oldest child. I slammed the drawer shut and sent three frantic texts to my husband. Blech.
He came home on his break and proceeded to tear apart the kitchen in search of the mouse. No mouse. Are you sure? I questioned him. He took the flashlight on his iPhone and searched in every drawer, behind the refrigerator, and under the sink. No mouse. He had to get back to work, I had to pick up the twins at their sleepover.
I didn't expect my final post of 2014, let alone my final day of the year, to be about buying a mousetrap at Home Depot. And I add, I didn't expect to experience the shame I felt in the pest control aisle. I was really hoping my husband would handle it, but as I was already going out to get goodies for our stay-at-home New Year's Eve sushi dinner, and he wasn't sure when he'd be home, I bravely agreed. This year has been about doing things that take me to the edge and trust me, buying mousetraps definitely falls into that category.
I walked into Home Depot and asked someone where the mousetraps were. A long pause and then a direction - where the rest of the pest control was, which in this store's case, was anchored to a south facing wall. Good, I thought as I strolled over, lingering by a flat-screen TV fireplace. Less of a chance to be seen.
My stomach began to tighten as I looked up and down the aisle. There were solutions for ants, centipedes, gophers, and not in alphabetical order. I didn't want to have to ask for help again. Then I saw them. Nestled into the corner of the shelf were a variety of lethal weapons suitable for rodents. I kept my distance. My heart began to race as I peered at the ones that promised rodent genocide. If that was needed, we'd be moving into the nearest hotel.
It took a while, but I finally found them. A pack of four mousetraps for $1.97. I picked the package up with my gloves still on (and which are now in the laundry) and held it an arm's length from my body. My sense of shame was close to making it difficult for me to breathe and I became desperate to find something else to buy, so that no one would think that I was there just for the mousetraps. I stumbled into the light bulb section and found four 40 watt bulbs, which we really needed. Really.
As I checked out in the self-service lane, I felt like I did the first time I ever bought condoms, or rolling papers, or how my husband feels when he has to buy tampons and pads. When buying these items, they are never a solo purchase, and always with other essentials, as if my list went something like this:
I've never been a fan of rodents. As a child growing up in Southern California, we had tree rats the size of possum and for a while had a family living in our attic, which made for lots of terrorizing by my brothers. When I lived in New York City during college, I shared a dingy apartment in what was truly Hell's Kitchen and slept for two weeks in the bathtub when the mice took up residence without paying rent. For a while I thought I'd gotten over my fear when I began to volunteer at the Longmont Humane Society for the small paws, which was the only group the twins could help with. Our time mostly consisted of tending to the rabbits and guinea pigs, but when those lovelies were scarce, we had to help out with the rats. Or I should say, I sat as far away as I could while the twins played with them. I held one and it peed on me and that was enough.
The shame is not just mine. When our oldest announced to her sisters that we had a "mouse problem," one of them burst into tears as if we were living out scenes from Les Miserable. But I also felt such a sense of shame in the pest control aisle at Home Depot. Why? We live in the world with lots of creatures and rodents are among the most plentiful of them. I have no answers, but will have something to ponder as the ball drops in Times Square tonight.
But as the year ends, I can proudly say that I've purchased my first mousetraps and I'm waiting for my husband to place them strategically in our kitchen. And while we wait for those to work their magic, I'll be searching on Amazon for a high-frequency mouse detractor.
We really know how to live it up on New Year's eve, right?
Here's to always finding humor, in 2015, and beyond.
Va’ahavtem et ha-ger: You shall love the stranger.
It was the first night of Chanukah. We'd stopped at the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine. I waited in the car with the girls, staying warm and giggling at how delicious the latkes smelled, resisting reaching into the back to steal one. And then I saw her. She looked to be about 75 years old and she stood on the corner in a light blue parka holding a neatly written sign: Disabled. Homeless. Gas. Food. Money. I saw a walker and an oxygen tank. I signed deeply, deeply enough to get the girls' attention. "What, Mama?" Then they all looked out the window and saw the lady.
"What does her sign say?"
One of them read it aloud and we sat there.
I unlocked the door.
"Mama, what are you doing?"
"I'm giving the lady some latkes." I wrapped up two potato and two apple latkes in some foil. And then I remembered I had a little bit of money in my wallet. I reached back into the car and took out a $5 bill.
"Hi," I said as I tried to approach with respect. She looked up at me as I offered her the foil wrapped package. "It's just some potato pancakes, and here's five dollars."
She smiled. "Thanks, I love potato pancakes."
"Please tell me you have somewhere warm to sleep tonight," I asked her. The temperatures in Colorado have been below zero for the past two weeks. She assured me she'd already called her sister. She thanked me and I wished her well.
We had no room in the car and our family was waiting.
As we drove away, I broke down. All the tears I'd been holding back all day, just came forward. I told Jack we had to do something; that I couldn't bare the idea of that lady being on the street in the cold. I got on my phone and called the local shelter, but their warming center wouldn't be open for another hour. I called the Boulder Homeless Shelter and cried on the phone as a sweet woman tried to figure out how to get this woman to some warm shelter. She finally suggested I call the police and they'd come and get her without making her feel like a criminal. I called the police and told them about this lady. The dispatcher told me it could be someone who makes her living doing this, but when I told her the woman's location and that she had a walker and an oxygen tank, she promised to send a car and see if they could help.
We got to our family gathering and had a beautiful, embracing evening. Presents, lighting the candles, five varieties of latkes, soup and homemade sufganiyot. Playing dreidel and lots of laughter. Everything I remember my first night's of Chanukah always being. And everything I want my children's first nights of Chanukah to be.
As we were driving back home and approached Longmont, we came to a red light. I turned to Jack and asked, "Can we see if she's still there?"
Without blinking an eye, he moved into the left lane and started driving in that direction. The girls woke from their car-drive-home sleeping and asked, "Are we going to see if the lady is still there?"
We crossed Main Street, then Hover, turning right. Turned left into the King Soopers parking center and toward the liquor store. None of us said a word.
She was gone.
I took Jack's hand and he turned the car toward home.
"The lady is somewhere warm?"
Yes, my darlings. The lady is somewhere warm.
The funny thing about a long term relationship is that you get to experience the great pendulum swing that happens when two people share a space and a life for a period of time. Sometimes the pendulum swings in the direction of deep connection, humor and passion. Sometimes the pendulum swings in the other direction and it's not very much fun. Add in some financial instability, parenting and lots of daily stress and sometimes the pendulum seems to get stuck in the polar opposite of the sweet space.
Last night, the pendulum got a little stuck in that other direction. Well, more than a little stuck. More like super-glued.
The details of how an argument gets started are rarely important. A look misinterpreted; a too long pause before responding, a simple gesture taken too personally. It doesn't really matter what pulls the pendulum away from the love at the center of a relationship.
In our case, it was a plastic bag. A plastic bag filled with glass beads and other items that had been left on the coffee table. I was working on my computer and Jack picked up the bag. I asked him to leave it and that I would put it away when I was done. Jack picked it up again and then kind of crumpled it. I responded with annoyance in my tone. "Please don't, there are glass beads in there and you'll break them."
See? The details are insignificant and really dull. But the result was a heated hour that followed the case of the crumpled plastic bag with words thrown back and forth at rapid speed and with little thought. Sigh.
The thing about our relationship is that we are talkers. Or, as we've been labeled, "verbal processors." For close to 30 years we've been verbally processing and we especially love to talk when the pendulum swings in the other direction. We will talk an argument into at least five other arguments with so much speed that we have a hard time remembering with the originating argument was even about. Kind of funny and really silly.
After lots of years of this, we decided it was time to get some professional help. One of the first things our therapist told us was that we both talk too much. That was quite the moment, when our therapist, a person trained to help people like us talk through their issues, tells us that we talk too much. It was probably the only quiet moment in our time with this therapist, as we all sat there dumbfounded.
But back to the crumpled bag argument. We did realize we had lapsed into our habit of talking too much and that we were both invested in not only trying to be right, but in proving the other person wrong, a pretty universal condition of arguing.
Maybe it was because it was really late, or perhaps something inside of me had just shifted, but I blurted out, "We should begin every argument with one question - do I need to be right?" Again, not an earth-shaking realization, but in that moment, saying those words stopped these two world-class talkers in our tracks.
We asked each other that question and the answer for both of us was NO. Neither of us needed to be right and the argument could be let go of without feeling like we'd given in. There was nothing left to say.
I'll never give up being a talker, no matter what any therapist or anyone else says, and certainly not in my relationship. Our talking has taken us to the deepest places in our imagination and in our love. Our talking has shaped us as parents and in our children's high level of articulation. Our talking represents how much we care about our relationship and how hard we will fight to keep intact.
If our talking is the way we swing our relationship pendulum back toward the passion, the humor and life-long connection, as well as to the everyday center it usually settles at, then so be it.
I'm happy to give up being right. Just don't expect me to stop talking.