Connection, Compersion, and an Aneurysm

Things I learned this weekend:

  • If you have a family cell phone plan, and one of your children dials 911, you will receive an alert about it…even if they are several states distant from you.
  • Sometimes, when our children are breaking the things we think of as “the rules,” they are actually doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, so that they can be exactly where they’re supposed to be, when something happens that demands their immediate attention.
  • Xander saved his grandpa’s life Friday night.

I would prefer that my boys not spend ALL OF THEIR TIME on electronic devices. And I would like my growing teenagers to get a *reasonable* amount of sleep…as much before midnight as possible.

Which is to say that Xander watching Netflix on his cell phone at 1:30 am defies both of my mandates.

But because he was doing exactly what he “shouldn’t have been doing,” he happened to be the only one awake to hear his grandpa collapse in the kitchen in the middle of the night. And when Xander entered the room to investigate, he realized he needed help. So he woke his dad, who groggily tried getting his grandpa into a seated position, thinking that this would solve the problem.

But the youngest person in the family recognized the futility of his elder’s gesture and took control of the situation: he called 911.

Those precious few minutes gave his grandpa the urgent medical attention needed to see him safely through a cerebrovascular accident.

And while the rest of the family slowly woke from deep sleep as the paramedics announced their presence with noise and commotion, Xander climbed into the ambulance to accompany his grandfather to the hospital.

My marriage with Josh and Xander’s dad ended in 2003, but the relationship with my ex’s dad (Grumps) has continued long beyond that shift. Grumps has driven out to Maryland from the Midwest to spend time with his grandchildren in my home, and he has hosted them in his home over long summer vacations. In the past 14 years, he has never forgotten my birthday, follows my Facebook posts about the boys, and has always maintained a non-judgmental stance of unconditional love in my life. Grumps has remained connected to me over time and distance and emotional turmoil.

“Connection” is a curious thing.

I recently talked with my mentor about attachment and connection and shifting dynamics. About the stories we tell around abandonment, estrangement, and isolation. How relationships ebb and flow. How we can remain connected on this side of the veil, or with it floating gauzy between us. Maybe there isn’t an on-off switch to beginnings and endings, but rather a dancing closer and then further apart from one another. Perhaps we’re all on the same dance floor, whirling like Sufi dervishes, sometimes to shared music and other times to our own…maybe even to someone else’s.

Last week over dinner, a friend shared with me how he feels about his long-time, domestic partner having experiences without him. He talked about how she returns changed, and then he has the chance to rediscover her. Where some might feel jealous at being left out or sad that things are suddenly different, he is delighted to fall in love with her all over again. Seeing her anew in each moment brings him joy, keeps him present, unattached. Compersion.

On the heels of that conversation, I was prepared to discover my boys having changed ever-so-slightly from their month in the Midwest without me….but finding their Grumps lifeless on the kitchen floor is a life-altering experience.

I was Xander’s age when one of my young track coaches was killed in a car accident, and I was Josh’s age when one of my classmates suffered a fatal aneurism. Each event rocked my world, altered my trajectory. The piercing awareness that our lives are time-limited shocked me awake. Into presence. (For a heartbeat, at least.)

These teenagers are not the same people I drove through cornfields with a few weeks ago.

And maybe it’s important to remember that we are ALL never the same person we were a few weeks ago. Or even the same person as yesterday. Each *breath* is a rebirth.

Each breath is one of a finite supply.

I’m eager to hold these beings close again. Rediscover who they are. Fall back in love with their tender, courageous, broken-open selves. Maybe my distant teenagers will even dance near me.

(For a heartbeat, at least.)

Letting Go

Xander got his learner’s permit, but he wouldn’t let me take a pic. In lieu of that, I drew this sketch.

xander driving pp

(My first foray into illustration!)

In talking with my friend, Tatau, about teaching his seven teens to drive, he reassured me: “You have to trust that their survival instincts will kick-in and keep them out of harm’s way…but their instincts can’t kick-in, if you always grab the wheel.”

Letting go doesn’t come easily for me, whether in the car or on the road of life. I sometimes think my teen’s years are more about teaching ME that lesson, than about anything THEY might be learning right now.

MCOM

My alma mater, the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine (MCOM), reached out because they wanted to feature me in their annual report. This was my reply:

I practice community acupuncture, which is *not* what MCOM taught when I earned my degree a decade ago. (Well, it was mentioned *briefly* in Practice Management, but simply to state that low-pricing “devalues” the profession…as if “The Profession” is more important than the patients.)

A quick glance at MCOM’s website leaves me with the impression that community acupuncture is *still* not being taught there…in spite of many people (myself included) requesting that you teach it.

I know that MCOM recently failed the Dept of Ed’s gainful employment test, calculated by its students’ debt-to-earnings ratio. 

And so I understand why MCOM would want its annual report to highlight a graduate who has one of the busiest caseloads in the country, who received an economic department’s award for a business plan which makes healthcare accessible, who was voted “Best Acupuncturist” in town….but this would not be an honest representation of your overpriced, boutique program.

So unless I am mistaken — that is, unless the reason you want to feature me is b/c MCOM has done a 180 and now teaches students how to run high-volume/low-cost community clinics, enabling acupuncturists to provide affordable care in their communities while securing a living wage for themselves; and unless you have also lowered your tuition rates — then NO, you may not feature me or my practice in your annual report.

Sincerely, Jessica Feltz

 

Gotta Be Game

My teens haven’t had many opportunities for extracurricular enrichment. As a single parent, money has often been tight, preventing me from sending them off to summer camps or on fun adventures. As the sole provider in a small service business, I’ve needed to work evenings/weekends for years, preventing me from taking them to sports practices or extra classes.

So when Josh qualified to attend a weeklong leadership conference in Kentucky, and the school helped the kids to fundraise all of the expenses, my heart exploded for him.

But when I learned that parents were invited to attend the final night’s awards ceremony, I balked.

“I wish I could go, but it’s impossible.”

Gerry, whose mom taught him early on that you’ve gotta be “game” for life’s opportunities, was quick to ask why.

“I’d have to close the clinic.”

“It’s the summer slowdown. You can close for one day.”

“I can’t drive that far in one day.”

“I’ll come along and share the drive w/you.”

“There aren’t any hotel rooms even left in Louisville.”

“Here’s one just outside of the city. We can check-in on our drive out.”

“We are doing *so much* this summer. I’m not sure another trip is really in my budget.”

“I’ll spring for the hotel.”

“I don’t know.”

“You can wait until the last minute to decide. Think about it.”

I left Frederick as the sun rose.

Racing west, we stopped at an Amish shop in WV and found cheese curds (the first I’ve seen since leaving WI!). We drove thru Hurricane Cindy’s inland storms. We listened to playlists G had put together for our road trip. We made note of the places we wanted to see on our return trip home. And we arrived in our seats shortly before the ceremony began. Soaking wet. Exhausted. Excited.

Josh walked into the Expo Center just minutes after we did. He happened to sit a few rows above us, in a crowd of six thousand people. We texted throughout the event. He and his two teammates placed 7th in the nation for their presentation on Art & Communication in the Architecture Industry.

All my life, I would’ve regretted not going.

On our (much more sane) drive back, we visited a distillery for a tour and tasting. We sampled bourbon chocolates. We petted “Thunder,” a buffalo carved from the trunk of a 300-year-old tree. We wandered thru used book stores and antique shops, where I found the exact lunch box that I’d used in first grade (don’t ask me what it’s worth today). We cashed in a gift certificate at a winery/restaurant, and we enjoyed our dinner as the sun set slowly over the mountains.

I’m ever grateful for life’s reminders to be “game” for the “impossible.”

The Difference

Yesterday, my man-child took the car to see Wonder Woman with his friends. En route, he noticed the tank was low on gas, so he stopped to fill it up for me. After the movie and dinner, he returned to the car.

It wouldn’t start.

First he googled. Then he called me.

“Did you accidentally fill the Diesel engine with regular gas?” I anxiously asked.

“I’m pretty sure not.”

A security person tried to give it a jump, but the battery was fine. Per Gerry’s suggestion and with John’s help, I arrived and added a bottle of HEET to clear the fuel line of any debris.

Nada.

I began to suspect he was mistaken.

“Are you certain you added diesel?”

“Yes. Definitely. Pretty sure.”

I fell asleep imagining the worst.

At 9:00 this morning, I enrolled in AAA. By 11 am, I’d bicycled over to meet the tow truck.

“I fear that my well-meaning son may have added regular fuel to my diesel-engine,” I began.

“Well if that’s the case, I’ll just tow it to the scrapyard.”

I tried the ignition.

“Hmmm…” he said.

He tried the ignition. Then he tried it again.

“It wants to start,” he muttered, cranking some more.

“I want it to start!”

And finally it caught. Curmudgeonly. Noisily. Painfully.

“I can smell the diesel,” he began. “Your kid did no wrong. That sounds like the fuel injector.”

At which I almost cried.

A decade ago, I would have overreacted and blamed my boy the instant I sensed his doubt, lashing-out and judging him…later doubling-back to shamefully apologize.

This weekend, I held my reaction inside: angry and fearful, questioning my parenting, holding my breath on the car’s verdict.

Outwardly, I told my boy how grateful I was that he’d filled the car’s tank, proud that he’d known when to ask for help, pleased that he’d learned how to jump an engine…while quietly cringing that he may have destroyed my only vehicle at a time when I can ill-afford to replace it.

My favorite teacher always says: “The difference which makes the difference is where we place our attention.”

I’m looking forward to the day when I can relax and trust that it’s all unfolding as it should, that we are supported in exactly the ways we need, that all will be well. I feel like I’m on that path…but nowhere near the end of the trail.

And that’s ok.

The view from here is better than it was a decade ago.

 

A Very Difficult Thing

I have a friend who is going through a Very Difficult Thing, and so today I and some other friends sat with her and her family at the Frederick Friends Meeting house. We showed-up, held hands, and shared tissues together. If you haven’t attended a Quaker meeting, you might not know that the service is conducted in silence, much like an hour-long meditation. Members listen for the quiet voice of God and will occasionally stand to speak what is on their hearts. These spoken words pierced me today:

“You are sad, and so we are sad. You are hurting, and so we are hurting. You do not have answers, only questions, and so we are waiting for answers with you.”

Feeling all of the feelings together. That’s often all that any of us can do for one another.

It’s often all that’s really needed.

9 Things

Nine things you probably don’t know about me:

  1. I was an extra in the movie “Major League.”
  2. The week before my senior portraits were to be taken, I thought it would be a good idea to bleach my hair for the very first time using an at-home kit. It wasn’t.
  3. I have attended a Tantra class (not the kind about sex – get your minds outta the gutters) on and off for the past decade. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, and has enriched my life in immeasurable ways.
  4. I was almost held back for missing nearly 80 days of school in kindergarten and again in first grade. Perhaps in part b/c I missed so much early schooling, I had a very lonely childhood.  I can count on one hand the number of friends’ homes that I played at while in elementary school.  Middle school was even worse.  So it’s no surprise that I can still be pretty shy, but is perhaps ironic that I now find myself in the midst of a high-volume service business.
  5. I carry needles everywhere. Getting hundreds of them past airport security is not a problem…but TSA will confiscate my hair products.  Every.  Damn.  Time.
  6. My senior year at UW-Madison, I entered my apartment and turned on the radio in time to hear the words “Caller Number Nine at xxx-xxxx.” Feeling lucky (but not knowing what kind of contest I was entering), I dialed and was it.  Hundreds more listeners were entered over the next month before we were all to meet at a pub for a single winner’s name to be drawn.  The night of the event was an icy, bitter, windy, Wisconsin blizzard.  I did NOT want to go out…but I changed my mind at the very last possible minute.  I won.  I scored a trip to San Francisco for New Year’s weekend; a year’s worth of groceries, gas, and Sam Adams beer; a CD a month for a year; and gift certificates to dozens of local businesses.
  7. I was married and divorced twice before my 40th (Because I’m such an overachiever.)
  8. I was one of the first girls to play soccer in our little farm town of Slinger. I use the word “play” loosely, because mostly I hoped that no one would kick the ball towards me. I know my coaches wished the same.
  9. Becoming an acupuncturist required a leap of faith. I had never received acupuncture.  I didn’t know any acupuncturists.  I knew that the boutique model (high prices/low volume) wasn’t practical, but I had no other conception of how else I would structure my business.  However, I knew in a way that I’ve never known anything else: if I simply started down the path, everything would be made clear in due time.  And it was.

soccer pp

 

Love, Drugs, and Rock’n Roll

This weekend, I dropped-off my 17-yr-old at Merriweather for a progressive electronica show that he’d excitedly bought a ticket for…the very first ticket he’s ever purchased using his very own money (from last year’s summer job).

He went to the show alone, because no one he knows listens to the same music as he. (I offered to join him, but he was unenthused about his 43-year-old mom hanging with him on a Sat night. Whatev.)

Unlike the drug & alcohol talk which I *received* in the late 80’s, the one which I *gave* to Josh wasn’t so much, “just say no” as it was: “there’ll probably be some pot or psychedelics being passed around; don’t be (too) surprised by that. But if something makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to a security person. Since you’ll be alone, this is probably not the best time to experiment…but if anything goes sideways, just text me. We’ll figure it out together.”

Saying that scared the hell out of me.

But thinking about him having a problem, feeling isolated and fearful of a judgmental reaction from me…well, that scared me even more.

Which reminded me of the driving talk we had recently (or rather, that I lectured at him): “Listen. You’re going to have an accident at some point, some day. I have insurance to put the car back together. I have insurance to put you back together. I sometimes get anxious about what *might* happen, but I won’t be surprised when it *does* happen…because I was once a teenager, too. Whatever you do: don’t flee the scene. Stay present. And talk to me about it. We’ll figure it out together.”

I’m learning that parenting is more about acknowledging that our kids are going to fuck up — repeatedly — than it is about expecting them to have an unscathed journey. Our task isn’t to prop them up, but to teach them how to get back up. How to fall down, without falling apart. To show how much we love them, when they show us their scars.

(And also to be gentle with myself when I fuck up, fall down, and get hurt from my own imperfect parenting.)

I think maybe our task is simply to stay present. To them. To ourselves.

To love as is.

Earth Angels

In yesterday’s episode of Earth Angels:

For the first time in my life, I miscalculated my car’s fuel & drove her tank to empty. Barely. She ran out of gas just as I pulled into the station, and then coasted to the diesel pump without even needing a push.

But (as I soon learned) the problem with (accidentally) running a diesel to empty, is that the fuel line goes dry. And I couldn’t get her primed to restart. Which left me & the boys stranded over 500 miles from home. Not knowing a soul in town. At 7:30 on a Saturday night.

I didn’t have AAA. The gas station didn’t have mechanics on site. The tow truck would have been happy to tow her to an auto shop, but she’d sit there until Monday morning. And I had busy, important things to do in Maryland on Monday! In desperation, I started googling “mobile mechanics Indianapolis” and leaving voice messages.

Someone called me back: “I just got the strangest voicemail,” he began in a slow Midwest drawl. “I don’t know how you found this number, cuz I’m not a mechanic, but I know a thing or two about cars. Tell me what’s going on. Maybe I can help.”

I explained & texted him a photo of my engine. He thought about it, asked if the gas station sold starter fluid (they did), then explained how to get at the engine intake so I could spray some near the air filter.

“Are you sure I’m not interrupting your night? Maybe I should let you go & try it on my own first…” (Nonsense. Stay on the phone. Let me help you.)

“There are a lot of black boxes under my hood! Which one did you say I need??” (*chuckling* I bet there are. I’ll talk you thru it.)

“I don’t think I can get it out — I’m afraid I’ll break it!” (Relax. You won’t.)

When the engine finally turned over, I whooped with joy.

“That would have cost me a pretty penny to have had towed & serviced…you spent all of this time on a Saturday night patiently helping me. There must be something I can do — how can I thank you?!”

“You just did,” he gently answered. “Have a safe trip home,” and then he hung up the phone.

I read somewhere that the miracle itself isn’t about something amazing happening…the miracle is when we stop being surprised that it did.

Ever grateful for the reminder.