Ten years ago today was our first daughter's due date. I was 22 with a horrible haircut. It was so bad. In January of 2006, roughly 2-3 weeks before the due date, our baby was still in breech position. The OBGYN says, "No problem. We'll turn her. You'll go to the hospital and get hooked up to monitors. I'll force your baby around the right way by pushing on your stomach. I'll even get on top of you if I have to. Oh, and if she has a good reason for being positioned the way she is, like if there's a cord issue, we'll just do an emergency c-section"
"Hmm. Let me get back to you on that," I say.
We get home. We weigh the options. We Google it, and get completely freaked out by horror stories. Cord issues was a horribly cool acknowledgement of the risk factors of this particular procedure. We sit in the baby's room. I'm 22 and can barely take care of myself. He's 23 and hadn't planned on being a father. We are still in the insane stage of love. High on life love. Googly eyes, catch a shooting star and ride it to the moon love. We sleep in the twin sized bottom of the bunk beds I took to college.
And we are committed to this baby. Committed. Committed enough to get our lives together.
What do you think?
I don't know.
I need a cheeseburger, like, now.
What do you think, Baby? Do you want the doctor to force you around?
Baby says no. Let's trust her.
Okay, yeah, I agree. She knows what to do. Let's go get cheeseburgers.
That's how we decided. I mean, our faith in this kid was strong. She was wiser than us, this much we knew for sure. We were pretty confident that we could keep her alive. We were determined to, at least, do no harm.
Later, days past the due date, doc says, "I'm going to strip your membranes to see if we can get this moving."
Nothing moved. Except my eyelids which raised dramatically in response to the sudden ripping of inner flesh. If your doctor ever says she's going to strip your membranes, do not expect a massage.
Anyway, baby was not intimidated or impressed. Ha! You cannot make me come out, lady.
Then, days later, it's late, and I'm like, "Hey, something is happening."
The next morning I'm doubled over in pain saying, "I don't want to go to the hospital." Hospitals are for people who actually give birth to their children. Mine obviously wanted to stay in me for all time.
Pain or no pain. Having a baby inside for the rest of my life suddenly seemed like a better option than having a human to keep alive. Too bad. It was happening. He called my mom who agreed that it was really time to go.
The doctor on call was annoyed. She was fairly shallow, and I wouldn't be surprised if she was annoyed because I was a 22 year old mother with a bad haircut. I laid there imagining that if I were a mother with great big hair like hers and professionally manicured fingernails that the doctor would not have been so dismissive. She did not hide her disgust well. Everyone was yelling. It was the classic television scene with the doctor yelling, "Push!" and the mother screaming, "I can't!" Only, in Lamaze class they told us that wasn't the way it was actually supposed to work. "It's never like it is in the movies," they said. I was as angry as I've ever been that day. I felt unsupported, and bathed in judgement. But something clicked inside of me, and I think it was her.
Tap, tap, tap. Mom. I need you here.
I shut my eyes; shut out the noise, the regret, the anger, the disappointment, the shame.
Just you and me kid.
Those minutes were like magic. She was born and I was born and the rest is history.
As soon as she was born I started yelling at the doctor. Give her to me. I did not want her fancy, fake hands anywhere near my baby. But those hands were expertly unraveling the cord from my baby's neck. It was wrapped twice and tight. Once she started crying, the kid raged. Red as a tomato and loud as a lion. She was not amused by her birthing experience any more than I was.
It didn't hit me right away. Cord issues. Like an umbilical cord wrapped snugly around the neck? Yes, exactly. The cord wrapped around her neck was not the only thing threatening my child's life, though.
It took everything inside of me to stop listening to the expert in the room. It took everything to stop reacting out of shame and anger and blame. Dropping everything and listening, and being willing to stand up to my responsibility alone was the hardest thing I'd done up to that point. It was necessary for both of us. It made me a mother through and through.
I'm a big believer in miracles and angels and stuff like that. We've had too many divine interventions in our family not to be a believer in being rescued by Grace in big and supernatural ways. I'm also a believer in all the events of our lives being largely symbolic. If we're willing to look at our experiences from all angles, they're bound to teach us everything we need to know. Life is the most profound teacher. Some moments are so loud and raucous that it takes years to hear below the noise.
There was a cord around my neck that day, too. The two plies were disappointment and shame. I'd disappointed everyone, and the shame I felt about the direction my life was heading in was so thick I could have suffocated in it. Those moments, just me and her, were the first glimpse I had at my personal power. It changed me irreversibly, and eventually I gathered all the tools I needed to cut the cord around my own neck. She was my motivation every single day.
I once told someone that my daughter's conception had challenged my destiny. Would I lay down and die or would I rise up and live? Once she was born the question became: How will I choose to live? Big difference. Miraculous difference.
It's snowing again. Gorgeously. My heavy on the weather talk blog posts this week are reminding me of conversations I had with my grandpa. We'd get on the phone and the first thing he'd ask or talk about was the weather. I would humor him and try not to let my voice reflect my colossal boredom.
I mean, what is it with weather talk? It must be one of the signs of true adulthood when you begin to actually like talking about the weather. Also, when having bird feeders that are visible from the kitchen window begins to feel like a necessity for your heart health; this is more proof of adulthood. Is it a Midwest thing? I don't know. All I know is that I love talking about the weather with my parents. I tell them about the snow and the temperature, which they already know better than me, because they have a fancy set up on their television where they can (and do) watch the weather forecasts for all their children. This is so endearing to me.
Also, it's comforting. If a freak storm comes and buries us to the rooftop in snow, kills the internet and our phones and we're stranded, it'll be okay. Mom and Dad will have watched the weather. So they'll know we're trapped in our house.
It's the little things.
When life was starting to get busier for our little family, there was a sharp sense of longing in my bones for the slow, homey flow of the earlier years when everything moved to the rhythm of a baby's needs. Sometime in 2012, I picked up this book, The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox. I cried as I read about why our repeated actions matter so much, and about actions as metaphors and symbols. I'd thoroughly studied rituals as they pertain to religion and religious identity. Applying these rhythmic and repetitive practices to the art of family building transformed the way I approach my role as a mother.
The book is full of wonderful ideas, and we've adopted a few of them. Most of all, though, I revisit this book for a recharge. To be reminded that human beings need rhythm and rituals in each layer of their lives to create a sense of meaning, belonging, and place. When I'm getting frustrated by folks or groups that use their own devout practice as the ruler against which all others should be measured, I forcefully remind myself that that the ache to belong is at the core of their words and actions, as poisoned as that longing might have become. They began as a child who wanted to be nourished by the comfort of family.
Oddly enough, weather talk stirs the deep roots of my heritage. I grew up with two grandmothers who would burst into their own rendition of Harvest Moon when they noticed a full moon in the sky. We were all farm people, so the weather dictated daily activity to an extreme. Of course we're weather people. They needed to pay attention to the sky. Now I do, too. Not for my amazing farm (non-existent), but for my amazing heart.
There may be innumerable things creating separation in our families, neighborhoods, and communities. Enormous things that seem impossible to mend or even understand. Broken hearts and meanness and differences of the most fundamental opinions. At the end of the day, though, we rely on each other, even if only for a sense of place.
Rituals that seem lightweight are so often what carry relationships through the daily struggles and the big ones, too. They're the easy bridges over troubled water. They help us maintain connection in relationships that have been stretched a little too thin. I mean, truly, Friday night pizza night has given our family steady rhythm through 5 years of transplanting from one town to the next. It should not mean so much, but it does.
There are little things in every relationship. Keep doing the little things. Even when the big things get tough, and boundaries must be set to keep the relationship healthy. Even when your voice comes out patchy or strained, say, "It snowed again today." Even when making pizza dough sounds like death, just put the ingredients in the bowl and mix. Don't give up on what has proven itself to be good. It's how we save the baby from the bathwater. One intentional moment at a time.
By the way...I just got off the phone. Guess what we talked about?
Weather talk is everywhere.
ps - Abusive relationships cannot be healed with rhythm, traditions, or rituals. If you've read Fierce Solidarity you know how I feel about handling abusive relationships.
pps - Strained relationships, in my brain, are healthy relationships that are suffering for having been stretched too thin.
It's days like this that I'm grateful I do everything from home. This cold and flu season has been particularly harsh on our daughter. There hasn't been a week since before break that both girls have gone to school every day. There's no scrambling to get my bases covered on mornings when sickness disrupts the plans. I'm just here. Home base. I feel lucky about that now that both girls are in school. Of course the quiet, work filled days are amazing, but so are these days when someone is home watching cartoons while I get a little work done. Between illness and growing pains, last night was a classically sleepless night of motherhood. You think those are going to end someday, but they just don't. Though, mercifully, they are fewer and farther between than they used to be.
Lack of sleep means two things: great creativity in my writing and a 50/50 chance that tomorrow my amazing creativity will look like a mess rivaling the one in the craft room. It's worth the gamble.
Just sitting is one my mothering tactics when the girls are sick, so I'm looking forward to an afternoon of setting everything aside and reading or watching a movie. Either activity will involve a little excitement and a little mystery for this particular sick daughter, which sounds just right on this beautiful winter day. We had gray, we had snow, and now we have sunshine. Speaking of sunshine, we're gaining several minutes of daylight every day. This year I can imagine that winter is not actually eternal. Perhaps because it started softly toward the end of December instead of like a raging maniac at the beginning of November.
I keep pinning pictures of foxes jumping and diving for their prey. I can't for the life of me get the widget to embed, so here's the link.
It's fascinating me right now. I mean...the height! The verticle-ness! I don't even know if I stand that straight on my feet, and they leap from the ground and come back down vertically. What is that? Amazing.
Anyway. It's sitting time. Me sitting. Fox leaping. I guarantee I won't be sitting as strait as that fox is diving.
Alas, the snowstorm missed the Sault. I was watching the radar, and the storm did one of those fancy moves where it creates a pocket of nothingness in the middle of its gigantic self. No foot of snow meant that all the little children went grudgingly to school this morning. Ours drug their feet through the new inches (1-2-3? I don't really know. I've never been great at estimating measurements), letting the last of their dreamy snow day dreams melt away. I suspect a few teachers (bless 'em) were dragging their feet as well. We were all hoping for a snow day. It makes me chuckle to think that here we are surrounded by more snow than any other place we've ever lived, and not a snow day to be seen all school year. People don't stop up here for anything, and I kind of love that. This morning I was ogling the fresh, light snow thinking of course winter is depressing everywhere else. Winter in the Upper Peninsula is a sight to behold. Watching snowflakes fall never gets old. Until April.
Some feedback on Fierce Solidarity has been trickling in, and what I'm hearing right now is that it's beautiful, but hard. That's what the work felt like. There wasn't a day I worked on Fierce without tears in my eyes at some point. It never got easier. I'd get up and pace the house and listen to music and cry my heart out. Then I'd get back to it. Reading it won't be any easier for people who've lived through anything close to the stories in this book. There were moments, though, during the writing that I had to pace the house because the hope was too powerful to sit through. I'd pace the house and listen to music and cry my heart out. Then I'd get back to it.
Writing this book was an exercise in bearing pain and hope. It's only natural that the reading would be similar for the sensitive hearts out there. The good news is that the book ends with big hope, and big purpose. So, please don't give up on your way to the conclusion. The hard pockets are temporary and interlaced with gems and jewels of soothing goodness. It doesn't hurt to take a mindless breather every now and again. These things aren't meant to be done in a day.
On that note, I'm off to tick another item off the Flowchart of Action, so I can feel accomplished at the end of the day.
I've been sitting here, as usual, at my table by the window clacking away on the keyboard. It's freakishly still outdoors. One of the first things I realized about Sault Ste Marie is that there is nearly always wind. The winds vary from monstrous gales to pleasant breezes and everything in between. Still trees were something I quickly began to find odd after we moved here. There's barely a quiver in the branches around our house today, though. All's still, except for the ravens swooping by every now and again. It's an expectant stillness.
The storm that has been raging across the U.S. is heading our way. Soon I'll go fetch the girls and we'll be wrapped up tight for the night, and this reminds me of our earlier days. Back when the gratitude soared high over things like electricity and 500 square feet of living space paid for by sweeping halls and washing windows. Five hundred square feet has a way of feeling exuberantly cozy and manageable. Though money was tight, life was simple, and so much time was free. I think I'd find it unbearable to look back if we hadn't enjoyed ourselves so thoroughly and squeezed every ounce of life out of those years. Everything we wanted to be then we are now. On top of that, we're still cozy, and we're learning how to funnel the busyness into its appropriate pockets of the day.
I've always imagined that on days like this, when the little birds are tucked away, that they're sitting somewhere all serene and cozy. It's sweet to imagine, but I'm wondering why I've always imagined things this way. Maybe the birds are panicking on the inside. Maybe they're too afraid to speak or move. I've been in that state so many times. It's my go to pose when anxiety strikes: hold my breath, and don't move a muscle. Wait for the blow. Conserve all the energy for survival, even if, unlike birds bracing for a winter storm, the threat is far from life threatening.
A while back I was talking to someone who said one of her go-to phrases is be like the raven. Ravens don't panic she said. They stay alert, and calm. They move away from danger and watch it pass, and then they go on with their business. It's a good method. Alert. Calm. Aware. Easier said than done, but a good practice for anyone that struggles with anxiety.
Side note: Earlier today, while I was warming up chili on the stove, I thought I saw a wild turkey bobbing it's head on top of our neighbor's house. This would have been more likely (but still odd) in Almont, where we used to live. I once ran for my life (carrying art supplies and a 3 year old) from a mother turkey protecting her baby at Camp Skyline, the lovely wooded camp near Almont. Unfortunately, today's head bobbing turkey was actually a raven pacing on a dish. The lace in the window was obscuring the view.
Anyway. Alert. Calm. Aware. This is what I'm aiming for as Fierce makes its way out into the world and I get better acquainted with the business side of writing and publishing. I think the calm before the storm of Fierce was had in those early years of soaking in the life I was building on purpose. Back then all the energy was going to survival. We instinctively laid low and soaked up all the goodness. These days, life gives and asks for more. Naturally, adaptation is in order, and this particular learning curve has been just a tad clunky. Fortunately, one day at a time is as fast as anything can go.
Sitting here, writing like old times, this little house is getting woven in with our used to be homes. Old memories don't feel so far away, and breathing is easier right this second. And where else is there to be that's real?
Alert. Calm. Aware. I'm feeling it.
Last week, Fierce Solidarity was published. The anxiety of publishing a book is fairly specific, and I'm not even going to try to explain it. What I will say is that this book is exactly what I intended to write. Four years ago I had a vision of a book that would be accessible, heart-driven, and grounded. It would act as a window to the real possibilities of relationship abuse for those who had not been exposed, it would shed some light on practical ways to prevent long term relationship abuse, and it would offer some gentleness and healing to those who have already suffered. It would be a beginning woman book. A resting spot on the way toward womanhood where teens and young women could arm themselves with some knowledge and encouragement for the journey ahead.
I set some firm boundaries at the outset. I was only going to write what my experience has informed, and I wasn't going to hold any worthwhile truth back. I was not going to ask for permission from anyone. I would not be swayed from my original vision. I was not going to rely on research, which is worthy, needed, and useful, but really can only take us so far. The researchers have been standing up and speaking out, and so have the writers of memoirs, the counselors, the mental health professionals. And yet, the statistics are still ugly as ever.
There was a gap that I felt rather than saw. I did, literally, no research at the beginning of this project. I didn't look to see if something like Fierce was already out there. I just started gathering stories and writing. Later, I was encouraged to look at the field. There are multitudes of books on relationship violence. Scads. Hoards. Masses. Most of them are written by people who are far more educated than I. Most of these people have counseled countless families and individuals in crisis. I read a few. They confirmed that I was sniffing out the right trail. Their value was real, but still, Fierce was gnawing me from the inside out. I had to get it out of me. Also gnawing was the thought that the books I read would not reach the most at risk population: teens and the youngest women.
Some books that are geared toward the same audience as Fierce have been brought to my attention. But, seriously, a handful of books directed toward the most at risk population in a sea of books on relationship violence? We need more.
I'm so proud to have added my voice to the mix. I hope many, many other writers will do so as well. No one speaks in a way that reaches all people, so the more of us there are, the better.
The first purchased copies of Fierce are landing on doorsteps today. The work is just beginning, and I could not be more hopeful that someone, somewhere will be well served by this book.
Little Hearth has been a dream in my head for so long. Like most dreams, it's been hazy around the edges, lacking in realism, and more like a puzzle needing piecing than a plan to be executed. The name Little Hearth came to me in 2010. I had two small children that kept me busy, but I longed for a vocation. I've always been a visionary type of gal, so Little Hearth coming in a sort of mystical fashion into my mind isn't shocking or unusual at all. It's the action that's been surprising. Learning how to move. How to take a vision and run with it right down to the ground and make it real.
Two years after the idea of Little Hearth came to mind, and after studying an array of seemingly unconnected topics both independently and through alternative schools and state universities, Fierce Solidarity started unfolding itself. Now it's nearly 2016, and I have run with Fierce right down to the ground. It's real now. Four years later. Real can be hazy, too. I've written Fierce, but I have the sneaky suspicion that it isn't done with me yet. I don't know what it's going to ask for next, except wings and freedom. Just a few weeks more, and it will be set free. As soon as Fierce flies the nest Little Hearth will be a little less dreamy--a little more real. Right now, it's serving as my publishing company. Me being publisher, writer, editor, and marketer of this particular book.
In early 2012 I secured this url, because I knew my future was wrapped up in it somehow. Obviously the writing here has been patchy. It is the evidence of false starts, desperate grasping at forward motion and a tangible identity, and the eventual surrender to the harder work of actually doing the right thing instead of the easy thing.
This webpage is being gifted with a new purpose. All Fierce souls are welcome here. All souls longing to unleash their fierceness are welcome, too. All souls aching for healing. All souls lost and confused. All souls bruised and battered. You're all welcome here. We can be comrades. We can cultivate empowerment in willful solidarity. Gathering is a good beginning.
And just like that, the snow is gone. In a week we went from having piles well over 3 feet in our snow covered yard to having tiny white patches interspersed here and there in a sea of matted brown grass. It feels like some sort of voodoo. Certainly that much snow cannot possibly melt that fast.
I just had a memory from my Senior English class. Cannot was a spelling word. With great boldness, I told half the class that cannot was most assuredly two words. The memories I have that fill me with the most anguish are memories of leading others astray. Half the class missed that word on the test thanks to my assurance. I stuff my feelings when those memories come creeping out of their hiding places. Shame forms a ball in my throat and makes my arms and heart shake. And so often, the stakes were much higher than a missed spelling word.
Most of those memories were made before any major changes had occurred in my life. I'd never experienced a great undoing of habits. No safety nets had disappeared. The struggles had never changed faces. It's so easy to be certain when you only know one version of what life looks like.
The greatest gift (and tragedy) of having life unravel several times over is that assurance begins to feel more like quicksand than solid ground. I think it's because the only things that survive are the things that bend to life the most willingly. Love, relationships, work, faith, hope--they survive only if they adapt. This appears to be so true that looking back on what seemed absolutely true and unchanging can be excruciating.
Exchanging hard, fast truth for supple, living truth is no simple task. And there are many days that I wonder if it was worth it--if that girl who was so sure the of multitudes of things that she hadn't begun to master was not better off than the woman who is sure of so little.
But these are just today's thoughts. Most days I recognize intentional suppleness as an ally. Otherwise, this winter would have been a complete misery.
It's amazing how something as beautiful and longed for as Spring can be an assault on the senses (another surprise from this climate). A reminder that everything I thought I knew, everything I expect to experience, and every way I expect to experience living hinges on life being the same as I've known it to be. But it never is, is it? Eventually a cog is thrown in everyone's wheel. Hopefully, when we address the shakeup of change we come out on the other side wiser, a little more flexible, and, maybe, a little less of a badly informed know it all.
Because, certainly that much snow can melt that fast. In fact, my neighbor just informed me that the spring melt was slower this year than last, hence the dry basements.
I'm wondering now, if snow that I thought could not melt away so quickly can do just that, then what of the shame I carry? The Sure Girl can't carry shame forever, can she? Even though I can't imagine shame melting away, it must be possible. Shame over the Sure Girl has stopped Supple Woman dead in her tracks time and time again. In fact Supple Woman is peaking around corners and worrying over her next move in a big way at the moment.
When I shine a light on it, it's not so much that I led others astray, it's that I was (and remain) wrong with such boldness. . .chronically.
But this is something I would admire in you. So maybe that's the truth for now to melt the shame away. Or maybe it's something else.
We've been here for nearly a year now. Long enough to live through all four seasons.
A year ago today we were driving further North than we'd ever been. Before we even got in the car I knew we wouldn't be returning as the same people. I knew I might as well start thinking about the packing up of all of our lives again. Transplanting, and such.
Spring in the Upper Peninsula is an experience. I've been bewildered by the birds. We're so far north that even the ravens leave us for the winter. By last weekend they were back to squawking and building their nests from tree bits they dug out of the mounds snow in our front yard. Weeks ago the tiny birds were back, doing their spring dances. I'd stand wrapped in my favorite triple thick flannel blanket and gape through the window at their audacity. Hearty doesn't begin to cover these birds. They didn't seem to notice the snow. It was still taller than my tiny daughter when the birds declared it to be spring.
I've never understood the importance of the position of the sun until now. The teens in March feel different than the teens in January here. The 'depths of winter' in the Upper Peninsula means you cannot feel the sun's warmth no matter how bright the light is.
Even so, I stand by my consistent statements that the weather has been the least of the adjustments moving to the Upper Peninsula. When you go through months of seeing but not feeling the sun it makes you see the world differently. I am sure of this now.
And like all lack, you either learn to create within you what is lacking on the outside or you compensate with things like spite, alcohol, resignation, or loathing. We are surrounded by both kinds of people now; to a degree of polarity that matches the extremes of the weather here.
I've had some truly faithful friends seeing me through this winter, saying things like, give yourself some grace, over and over and over again as I stretch the muscles that create inner warmth, belonging, home, beauty, and unwavering faith. Friends who have listened through the months of figuring out who I am and who our family is here. I'm so grateful for the people who can bear the sight of me at my most unraveled. I am floored by their eternal and unwavering faith in me. In my head I call them my seeing people. There are four of them. I am the best kind of wealthy.
While I unpack everything I thought I knew about Spring (the last of the unpacking to do here as our transition year is winding quickly to a close), I'm taking notes from the birds and the trees. They are budding though their trunks and roots are still tucked tight under thick blankets of snow. If our proximity to the sun matters more than the temperature of the air to the birds and the trees, then what does that mean for us? That life just goes on no matter what? That immediate conditions matter less than the grand scale conditions?
I'm really not sure.
All I know today is that completing the circle is a good thing, and I have not become a worse person in the past year. This feels like a minor victory.
Our lives are peppered with everyday grief. The kind that comes along with the wonder and celebration of watching your children grow right before your eyes. The kind that brings the bitter to the sweet of everyday things, keeping us grounded and reminding us of our humanity.
Advocating for the acknowledgement and processing of every day grief is part of what I do. As we learn to sit with and truly release everyday grief, the better able we are to embrace everyday joy--that beautiful, beautiful stuff of life.
The other grief, the just as natural, but so often unexpected big, heavy, suffocating grief that comes with death or sudden, life-altering change--what do we do with that?
I sit. Sit and knit with a box of tissues nearby until my joints ache more than my heart does. I do what is absolutely necessary and then I sit.
Fresh grief is really a gift full of wisdom and reflection. Often our first reaction is to distract ourselves--get busy, watch a movie that will make us laugh and feel like the world isn't changing. But doing that would be like slapping a bandage over a dirty wound and expecting it to heal properly.
But there has to be some time spent to allow the wound to wash out. While this may look like or feel like emotional shock. If we take time for it to naturally pass, we will have done ourselves a gigantic favor.
Usually when crisis situations come up, they bring with them a load of history that wants to be flushed out. Acknowledging the grief and making space for all that comes along with it helps all that old baggage to flow out. This alone can be painful, since it so often feels as though we are loosing a part of ourselves. And in a sense we are.
We are allowing our past self become a part of the past instead of carrying her around in our present.
It is a little bit miraculous, really. Grief and grievous situations invite us to do deep work just by being still. They transform us without having to intentionally dig into our depths. Like a hot summer wind, grief blows through and purifies. It feels suffocating, and brings out emotions that have long needed acknowledging.
Speak them. Speak the anger, the confusion, the bitterness, the ache. Wail the wails. Let the tears fall. Sob without inhibition--do not judge the sound of your voice in pain. It carries history, and it creates a sanctuary in your present where instant maturation is available if you are willing to receive it.