Stormtroopers, Squirrels, and Skiers…oh my!

I traveled to NYC for a work-related workshop this past weekend. I’ve been there before with the boys, and also with Gerry, but this was my first time in the Big Apple by myself. After class dismissed on Saturday, I spent hours walking all over the city, watching the HONY.

I ran into this trio of characters up near Time’s Square:

I chattered with a squirrel who’d climbed onto my shoulder while I took a break on a bench in City Hall park. (He fled when I tried to snap our selfie.)

I watched a man propel himself on wheeled skis thru Seaport Market:​

​And then I saw a bro at Federal Hall angle his cell phone directly at the ass of the woman in front of him. It didn’t matter that her pants were practically painted on. Or that her young body was “perfectly” proportioned. Or that she would never be the wiser.

He had no fucking right.

I felt the fury of a protective mama bear who’s witnessing an attack on one of her cubs. I raged for friends who’ve been subjected to catcalls. I was angry on behalf of all the women who don’t have someone to stand up for them, or with them, or are just too broken down to stand up again.

I cut thru the crowd to reach him in a few long strides, aimed my mental diatribe, and grabbed for his phone.

But then I stopped short.

He was taking a selfie. (With a statue of George Washington looming over him in the background.)

Sometimes a scary “Stormtrooper” is just a goofball in a costume.

Sometimes an “asshole” is just a judgey story in our heads.

Grateful for the reminder to always check my stories. Or as Byron Katie likes to ask: “Do I know this to be true?”

I’ll try to sift thru my own stories more gently today.

Scientia potentia est

You know those people who are super excited to buy a new house, get a new car, grab the latest phone, upgrade anything and everything?

I am not one of them.

Which is why my cute little Jetta has lasted 16 years. Despite its rear driver door that hasn’t opened in 10 years. Despite the “check engine” light that’s been on for 5 years (my mechanics have assured me it’s a blip). Despite the front bumper that’s been falling off for 3 years. The front passenger window that doesn’t go down properly. The shards of compost from compulsive gardening which I can’t get out of the trunk (no matter how many times I vacuum). The faint smell of rancid butter which melted into the car’s upholstery when I drove it from Wisconsin to Maryland in the middle of July so very many years ago (don’t even ask…I was an idiot). The bodywork that is banged-up and scratched-up and rusting off.

Last weekend, while driving up a mountainside on the way home from Frostburg, my car seized: it began losing acceleration, the engine started smoking, and the whole thing shook. I pulled into the nearest gas station, and although the oil light hadn’t illuminated, I found oil all over my engine and leaking below.

(Or rather, the very kind police officer — who pulled up right next to me, right after I parked, and was undoubtedly sent by my guardian angel — helped me to sift thru the mess.)

oil car

The tank was bone dry. The line may have broken. The engine block could be cracked. I added oil and (eventually) arrived home…but the car was a shaking, smoking, stinky, hot mess.

I needed a new car.

Which is how I found myself touring dealerships a few days later:

Car salesman approached me.

HIM: These Souls are so cute, aren’t they? What color would you like to look at first? Red? Green? Black?

ME: Actually, I’d like to feel the difference between driving a 1.6 and 2.0 liter engine.

HIM: You know, this car sells very well b/c it’s rated highest in it’s class. You’re lucky we have any left!

ME: Actually, the popularity of boxy cars has declined, which is why the xB, Cube, and Element are no longer in production. Plus, Soul’s sales are down 22% from this time last year. So really, you’re lucky I’m even here looking.

Knowledge is power.

(And I’m now a new member of the Subaru family!)

subaru

Back to School

MOMMY’s FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN: “Ok Honey. I’ve filled your ergonomically-designed backpack with glitter pencils, superhero folders, power puff notebooks, a box of crayons (well, two boxes…just in case), extra glue sticks, and an apple for your teacher. There’ a gluten-free-dairy-free-nut-free lunch (b/c someone in your class might have allergies) in this Bento box. I also picked-up a dozen boxes of Kleenex for your community of kindergarteners. But you can’t carry all of that, so I’ll just escort you to your classroom on the first day of school (or maybe all week, since I don’t want you to get lost). I’ll miss you so much, baby!!!”

MOM SENDS BOTH TEENS TO HIGH SCHOOL: “Ok Dudes. You can reuse your backpacks and lunchboxes, since they’re still in good shape from last year. Your lunches kinda suck cuz I haven’t had time to hit the grocery store…sorry ‘bout that. We have so many extra school supplies from years past that I’m not bothering shopping until I have each teacher’s syllabus in my hands. I threw an old folder, your schedule, some loose leaf paper, and a pen in each of your bags, cuz that’s all you’ll need for the first day (or week) anyway. Oh, Xander: I stuck a map of the ginormous high school in there too, just in case you get lost. Good luck, men.”

back to school

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.