Feed People Love

Ram Dass famously quipped: “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

Recently, my first-husband’s 96-year-old matriarch (Grandma Lou) informed me: “There are no ‘exes’ in this family. Once you’re a part of our family, you’re always one of our family.”

(Which woulda sounded sorta Godfatherish, if not for her thick Wisconsin accent.)

And so, for the first time in more than a decade, I spent Thanksgiving week in WI with my family…and also with my ex-husband’s family.

The teens and I doused our Midwest road trip with delight: Pale Waves at a nightclub in Cincinnati; improv comedy at iO Theater in Chicago; a tour and tasting at Sprecher’s in Milwaukee; a visit to the curmudgeonly Chocolate Nazi; hours of late-nite gaming (pinball, arcade, 300 board games, 2000 console games, and a Virtual Reality room) at Victory Pointe in Pittsburg.

We connected with one of my dearest friends in Shorewood. We spent a few days with my folks in Slinger. We enjoyed a 20-person feast and sleepover with my brother’s family in Neenah.

1 family

And for the first time since his traumatic brain injury — which occurred on the last day, of their last visit, last summer – Josh and Xander saw their grandfather (Grumps).

They were nervous…but walked away feeling lightened. They’d imagined the worst…but witnessed his spark within. They’d dreaded what to talk about…but laughed so much, that they forgot to worry.

Our culture struggles with aging. People “don’t deserve” a difficult diagnosis. People “lose” their “battles” with cancer.

Dying scares us.

But the truth is, we’re all terminal. No amount of fundraisers or ribbon races will change that. The only control we have is over our willingness to be present to whatever is.

We visited Grumps on Friday, because Grandma Lou has been delivering her home-baked goodies to the same nursing home every Friday for the past 17 years.

Neem Karoli Baba once said: “Feed the people Love through food.”

Grandma Lou began baking when the facility first housed her aging mother, and she continued giving thanks via treats after her mom passed. Years later, her husband was admitted to their dementia wing, and she kept on baking after he departed. Now her son (my boys’ grandfather) lives there, following his TBI.

Her willingness to show-up and face life’s uncertainties, to be present with those in the midst of difficult realities, is an example I’m honored to be able to share with my teens.

Family relations can be challenging, burdened with unrealistic expectations…and undeserving disappointments.

None of Thanksgiving week with my family (or my “exes”) would have been possible without the passage of time and the grace of forgiveness.

I’m so very grateful for all of it.

19 Years

Nineteen years ago, I planned my first unmedicated, beautiful, blissful birth. I envisioned Zen music and deep breathing transforming my labor pains. I imagined my newborn gazing into my eyes, knowing that we’d already been together for all of his life.

But upon arriving at the hospital, after ten weeks of on-again/off-again preterm labor with a footling-breech, I was rushed into an emergency C-section.

That was my first lesson in “Letting Go.”

I used to think that being a good parent required anticipating every possible problem, strategizing to circumvent undesirable scenarios, vigilantly keeping my off-spring in-check.

I thought that parenting was basically being promoted to the position of Vice-God, that my opinions were given extra weight in matters of the Universe, that if only everyone would follow my directions then All Would Be Well.

Nineteen years later, I’ve basically learned that I don’t know jack.

Josh graduated this past spring with accolades and honors. He was accepted to every college he applied to and offered a spectrum of scholarships. But instead of venturing forth from my nest, he declined the offers and elected to attend FCC for the first two years of his four-year-degree.

That was lesson #18,999 in “Letting Go.”

Recently, I started a conversation with him:

ME: “Hey, I want you to know that if I *seem* distant or uninterested in your life, I’m not…it’s just that I’m trying to give you the same space you would’ve had if you’d gone off to the dorm rooms. You’re welcome to initiate a dialogue about whatever is happening in your world, but I’m trying (really hard) to not pry into your life.”

J: “You definitely don’t seem distant, Mom.”

<my heart sank at the thought that my attempts at unobtrusiveness had failed>

J: “But you also aren’t acting like a helicopter.”

He plopped down on the couch across from me.

J: “This feels good, Mom. We’re fine.”

Reassurance.

He noticed my book on the ottoman.

J: “That looks different from what you usually read. Tell me about it?”

Letting go of my child’s path breaks me down. It requires grace and trust and faith…none of which comes with ease (for me).

But witnessing my baby grow into a young man who knows how and when to offer comfort…well, that fills the cracks in my heart.

Happy 19th Birthday, Josh.

Promises

Embarking upon a 3-hour drive, I overhear from the backseat of my car:

JOSH to GIRLFRIEND: “These are Sea-Bands. They help w/my motion sickness.”

*pause*

JOSH to GIRLFRIEND: “They also help with morning sickness!”

{I almost drive the car off the road.}

ME: “NOBODY BETTER BE HAVING MORNING SICKNESS!!!

Teens inform me that they’re just being conversational, and I’m overreacting.

48 hours later, they purchase rings for one another from One of a Kind.

(They are calling these “engagement” rings, while I prefer the term “promise” rings.)

Nobody is pregnant. And in light of that, my reaction to the rings is (mostly) defused.

Well-played, teens.

Well-played.

Love Fearlessly

It’s been more than 2 years since I first shared this story. Since then, my ex filed a $100K lawsuit against me for the pain and suffering I inflicted by breaking-up w/him; the State won its case against him for criminal harassment; and he landed in jail for repeatedly violating his restraining order.

I’m grateful that the drama has since ended for me…but I’m regularly reminded that others continue living in unsafe situations.

Re-posting my  story here for those who may need it. (Feel free to share as you see fit.)

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In 2014, I fell in love. Two years later, I filed for a restraining order.

That journey reminded me of a few important things to share with my teens, on the cusp of their own dating experiences:

There are no villains. There are no victims. We’re all flawed and struggling to do our best with each breath. Our best when tottering off-balance will look different than our best in centered-stillness.

Kisses aren’t contracts. Presents aren’t promises. And we all have the right to change our minds. That’s kinda the point of a relationship – figuring out what we want, who this other person is, and how that all fits together. Maybe we get clarity in a month, maybe in a year, maybe in a decade. We can’t rush the process of knowing…but once we’ve discerned our truth, we can’t deny it without betraying our Self.

Every single relationship we ever enter will end, either by death or by a shift in the relationship. Lovers become friends; friends become acquaintances; acquaintances become strangers; families become estranged. Or if the relationship goes well, someone will die. Take it one day, one kiss, one moment at a time. Be grateful for that, and forego the fairy tale.

Trying to force yourself upon someone else – whether by stalking an object of affection or screaming through a locked front door or incessantly texting and calling and emailing and messaging – is bullying. Learn to let go gracefully.

Shame is a wicked worm-tongue. Don’t listen to its lies.

If you feel scared, tell someone. You are NOT alone — reach-out to a neighbor, a co-worker, a Facebook friend. Call the Heartly House. Call 911. The acts of giving and receiving are what weave together the fabric of our community. Let someone in.

If you ever have a friend in a difficult situation and you want to help but aren’t sure what to do, offer to accompany them to court while dressed in your hired assassin outfit. Cuz even if you don’t really own a hired assassin outfit, the mental image alone is good medicine on bad days.

Ordering someone to never again wear anything which was gifted during a relationship virtually guarantees that they will garishly wear ALL OF THE MOTHERFUCKING THINGS to the courtroom confrontation.

After the dust has finally settled, we can either cower in a corner, bitter and broken, afraid of getting hurt again, trapped by analysis-paralysis. Or we can continue moving from one adventure to the next, curious about the quest, arms open wide for whatever life throws our way. We each have the freedom to make that choice.

Life is short. Love fearlessly.

Bikini Season

ACUPUNCTURE CAN HELP YOU GET A BIKINI BODY FOR THE SUMMER!!!

PROBLEM: I have a frozen shoulder, so it’s painful to reach around and fasten the straps of my bikini.

SOLUTION: Acupuncture helps increase mobility while decreasing pain and inflammation! Then you can put a bikini on your body.

PROBLEM: I am *very* pregnant, and my sciatica hurts too much to walk on the beach.

SOLUTION: Acupuncture is safe to use throughout all of pregnancy! Come in for care, then put a bikini on your body and head for the shore.

PROBLEM: I feel anxious about exposing my body in a bikini: “Did anybody see my camel toe?!” “OMG – my nip slipped out!!” “These stretch marks/spider veins/stubble/blemishes are SO EMBARRASSING!!!”

SOLUTION: Acupuncture helps reduce anxiety so you can put a bikini on your body, relax, and enjoy some fun in the sun.

PROBLEM: I have cancer, so I’m miserable from chemo…I’m not sure that I’m up for a bikini this season.

SOLUTION: Acupuncture helps decrease nausea, increase energy, and manage depression. Follow your oncologist’s recommendations for sun safety. Then put a bikini on your body and soak-up some Vitamin D.

PROBLEM: I feel uncomfortable in a bikini because I am gender non-conforming and fear being harassed.

SOLUTION: Acupuncture helps open your heart chakra and strengthen courage! Go put a bikini on your body, look at your beautiful self in the mirror, and (lovingly) tell the bullies to fuck-off.

PROBLEM: My belly is squishy and my thighs rub together…I want acupuncture to change that.

SOLUTION: No. Acupuncture is not useful for weight loss. Any practitioner who tells you otherwise should be filthy rich and have clients lined-up out their door to receive said magical weight-loss-protocol. At The Turning Point: Frederick’s Community Acupuncture, we value integrity and won’t sell you a lie…which is why we often have clients lined-up out *our* door for a $20 poke. (And that’s also why it’s better to make an appointment than to try walking-in!)

Besides, we don’t believe that all bodies should look the same…how boring would that be? Nourish yours with healthy, whole foods. Move it regularly with gentle exercise. Love it tenderly, and let go of what it looks like.

Any body that has a bikini on it is a bikini body. Got a problem making that happen? Maybe we can help. Call 240-405-7878 or schedule your appointment through our website: www.TheTurningPointAcupuncture.com

Pranayama

Twenty-five years ago, I took my first yoga class. I was a Sophomore at Loyola University in Chicago, had recently quit running (abandoning my athletic scholarship), and needed something physical to fill the sudden hole in my life.

Yoga was unfamiliar and uncomfortable for me. My body stretched in weird places. I felt vulnerable and exposed.

The semester ended, and so did my practice.

Ten years later, Crista mailed me Cyndi Lee’s “Yoga in a Box.” Crista was the first person I’d called after kicking my husband out of the house.

Crista had been my roommate at Loyola. We stood-up in one another’s weddings. I flew to Colorado with my seven-month-old (Josh) to sit with her after her marriage unraveled. She was the first friend to visit me after Xander was born, taking a 30-hour-train ride to arrive just as I was discharged from the hospital.

Concurrent to the arrival of Crista’s “Yoga Box,” my new therapist asked if I had a yoga practice. She felt that the alignment of breath and body would bring me back into my heart during that tumultuous time. Noting the coincidence, I bought a mat and practiced nightly after putting my babies to bed.

I wanted it to eradicate my suffering.

Grief caught in my body during asanas. Amplified. My chest felt tight in Fish Pose, a pose intended to cultivate resiliency. My throat constricted in Bridge Pose, meant to connect the pieces of my life. I collapsed in a puddle of tears during Corpse Pose, lying down to let go.

Gradually, life distracted me off the mat, and my practice diminished.

But then another divorce brought a renewed commitment. And those same tight spots resumed their discourse. Grief. Heartache. Anger. Anxiety.

I thought they might never let go.

Advanced physical poses never interested me. I just wanted to use yoga to heal my emotional wounds. I reasoned that if I could still feel deep aching in a simple spinal twist, there’s more work to be done at that basic level. So while I’ve taken some classes with teachers, mostly I’ve used the same at-home practice, thinking of Crista each time I roll out my mat: cat-cow, sun salutations, tree, staff.

Rinse. Repeat.

I notice how my body shifts when refining between postures. Lean into my thumbs…slide forward an inch more…feel each toe firmly on the ground. The micro-adjustments ripple into realignments

I notice the movement that isn’t captured in an Instagram snapshot.

I had once thought the point of yoga was to make each pose perfect before moving on. I thought of it as a thing to be accomplished, a check-mark on the to-do list. I thought if I could just get the asana “right,” then I would be “right” too. A tool to fix the places where I felt wrong.

But I’ve learned that yoga is not about doing…it’s about *being*.

Yoga is life.

I want to call Crista and thank her again for that long-ago gift, share with her how I finally understand that yoga isn’t about fixing something that’s broken. It’s about the grace of moving between messy moments and feeling a spectrum of emotions. Letting go of expectations and disappointments. Finding contentment with what is.

Yoga is about listening to the body’s conversation, instead of trying to silence it. Our bodies inform us of truths we’d readily set aside: that we are both strong and vulnerable. Always in need of kindness and compassion. We are wholly incomplete.

I wish I could tell Crista that feeling mired in a bottomless pit of despair is not an eternal failure…it’s just a moment.

But I can’t.

Four years ago today, my friend put a gun to her head.

I can’t share with her the insight that there is no arriving at a comfortably safe stasis. That life is lived – or slips by – between its peaks and valleys. Our years are amended with microadjustments.

Yogic breathing, pranayama, is for the spaces we can’t feel.

So in this moment, when memories and emotions float to the surface, I’ll simply sit and breathe.

That’s often all there really is to do.

Tree of Life

One of the realities of single-parenting (particularly w/o family or an ex in the vicinity), is that time to pursue my own interests has been almost nil for nearly two decades.

However, as my boys have grown older, and the necessity of my presence in their experience diminishes, that reality has begun shifting.

Last night, I took a painting class…the first art class of any kind since I was in high school.

It didn’t even *occur* to me to invite someone to join me, b/c I was more interested in the learning than the socializing. But what I found interesting, is that out of about 50 participants, I was the only one who arrived alone. The others all dragged friends, siblings, co-workers, partners or kids along to keep them company.

Almost like they couldn’t bear to be alone with themselves.

When the people around me realized that I was participating on my own, they had questions: “Is it your birthday? Did your friend back-out? Do you want to join our group?”

“No. This is exactly what I want.”

Later, they leaned in and whispered conspiratorially: “next time, I’m going by myself, too.”

Folks, it is ok to pursue your passions without a gaggle of groupies. You don’t need to offer an explanation for your chosen solitude.

Just do it. Learn blacksmithing. Go to a concert. Take Spanish classes. Follow your curiosities wherever they lead, just because you want to, without worrying what others might think.

(You might even inspire the same in someone else.)

tree of life

The Not Good, Very Bad Noise

In late September, I bought a new (to me) car. I loved everything about it: good condition, ideal specs, new brakes & tires, safety features for my teenage drivers, a few more years on the manufacturer’s warranty.

I loved everything, that is, except its 43,000 miles which were a *teensy* bit higher than I’d wanted.

Within a week, I heard the engine knocking.

“Oh, that’s not good,” stated every grease monkey I mentioned it to.

“Hmmm…hard to say if it’s good or bad,” I’d respond.

I took it to a trusted mechanic who concurred: “That is very bad.”

“Too soon to say if it’s good or bad.”

I returned it to the dealership. They listened. “That is a not good, very bad noise.”

“Let’s not judge it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’…let’s just call it a noise that needs attention,” I suggested.

They gave me a loaner and sent my car back to Subaru under its power-train warranty.

I waited a week: “Subaru agrees it’s a very bad noise. They’ll need to tear the engine down.”

I waited another week: “Subaru has determined it’s not your fault. They’re filing the paperwork to fix this.”

I waited another week: “They’ve ordered a whole new engine and are waiting for its arrival.”

And yet another week: “The engine has arrived. Now for installation. And then test driving.”

After almost five weeks with a loaner, my new-to-me car (with its shiny new engine) was returned to me.

“We are very sorry it took so long to fix this,” the manager began when I arrived to pick it up.

“Are you kidding me?! I basically got a brand-new car for the price of a four-year-old used one!”

“Huh,” he responded. “I guess you’re right. That’s a pretty good thing, huh?”

I sometimes think that the judgments we pass on the stories we tell weigh heaver than the events themselves.

I’m reminded of Stacy Hoch’s essay (Let Go Of What You Want) in which she wrote about quenching her thirst for life by staying open to whatever arises. What struck me was her radical acceptance of the people, things, and situations in her life: “I could take it or leave it. If it came, I’d find a way to see it as a blessing. If it didn’t, I’d find a way to see it as a blessing. If it left, I’d find a way to see it as a blessing…I remained open to how things would come and how things would go.”

I’m inclined to think that even Trump being elected President is a blessing (of sorts). His presidency has sparked an incendiary reaction, the likes of which we’ve not seen in decades. Thanks to Trump, apathy has been overtaken by activism, people in power are using their privilege to advocate for the disenfranchised, and communities are creating sanctuary cities around the country. California has vowed to keep the Paris climate accord intact, Maryland’s Republican governor has guaranteed funding for Planned Parenthood, and Maine just voted to expand Medicaid coverage. Our judiciary system has repeatedly upheld the rights of the tired and poor huddled masses.  Trump has inspired women to run for office in record breaking numbers. An openly transgender person became the first to win a statehouse seat anywhere in the country. And Democrats stormed the polls yesterday to elect minority candidates in Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Virginia. (Plus, Frederick’s Democrats swept the city ticket by electing a new Mayor and a full slate of Aldermen!)

Trump has fueled progressive patriotism like no one else before him.

Maybe we’re too quick to judge. Maybe things are neither “good” nor “bad” …maybe they’re just a part of our story. And in telling our stories, maybe we grow a little closer to someone else who has a similar story, which is how our friendships, our community, the web that weaves us together, grows — strengthens — too.

Maybe it all just simply IS.

Funambulism

Today, I am grateful for a great many things: our close-knit community, divine-timing, and that my child doesn’t need an amputation.

Last week, one of my boys asked if I had anything in my pharmacopoeia which would ease the itch of poison ivy. It seems he’d tangled with some weeds while helping a friend’s family clear their backyard of debris. I brought forth a handful of supplements and salves, explaining to him how to use them.

Over the next few days, I noticed that he was showering more often, presumably to cool the inflamed tissues. He asked for another bottle of Calamine lotion. And yesterday, his discomfort prevented him from walking around the store with me.

But he’s an older teenage boy, and in trying to be respectful of his body, his desire for privacy and independence, I maintained a hands-off attitude.

Last night, I dreamed that it had worsened, had spread and was infected. I asked him about it over breakfast, and he laughed: “I’m fine, Mom. That was just a dream.”

This afternoon, wearing shorts, he flopped down on the couch across from me. For the first time, I saw his leg:

cellulitis

“Holy-fucking-shit, what the hell is THAT?!”

“That’s my poison ivy,” he replied.

“Oh fuck. OMG.” I put my head in my hands, trying to think clearly. “I should have been more vigilant. I am the worst parent ever.”

I sent a text and a photo to a nurse-friend: “I need help triaging this. Do I cancel my evening schedule and take him straight to the ER? Is Urgent Care enough? Can this wait till after work? What do I do here?”

She called as soon as she saw the swollen, blackened, infected limb. “Yes, that looks bad. Yes, he needs to go now. But he’s old enough to sign for himself…you don’t have to clear your caseload.”

Clear-headed advice from the Village.

We arrived at the clinic together, and the staff knew me from my practice. “Don’t you have patients?” they asked.

“Not until 3,” I replied.

It was 2:25.

He was promptly ushered in, evaluated, debrided, injected, and prescribed a handful of pills (all in time for me to see my own patients). “It’s not in the joint…yet. But if that gets ANY worse, or if it isn’t improving in 48 hours, get back in here stat.”

Parenting teens is tough: letting go, checking-in, detaching, remaining present. We walk a tight-wire act together.

“I’m so sorry, Mom. I was just trying to take care of it myself. I didn’t know…”

“It’s OK. I know. You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Sometimes we fall off the tight-wire. Sometimes they do. Maybe most important is that we help each other get back on it and find our balance again.

Grateful for subconscious nudges to take a closer look at his limb, for the clear-headedness of community, for the perfect timing in which my boy was able to be cared for.