Visit me at www.bookbirthing.wordpress.com to see what I’ve been up to!

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This is a photo that I took on Ellis Island, the portal through which almost all immigrants were processed as they came to America. It seems very hopeful to me, as the goal is in sight, but still: you have to cross an expanse of water to reach your final destination.

That has been my experience for the last three years; although this blog has been mostly silent, it’s been for good reason. I have finally reached the other side of a lifelong goal, which is writing, completing, and then pitching my own book!

My book is about vocational transitions and grieving (in short: vocational grieving), a process that most of us can relate to. It’s that awkward transition between a known country and an unknown one; that expanse between “the devil you know and the devil you don’t”; that chasm between what you had wished for and what you actually ended up with. About Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes: An Introduction to Vocational Grieving, Recovery and Transition.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing 48 ordinary (and extraordinary!) American workers, some of which are immigrant university students. 48 distinct, unique portraits of people from diverse backgrounds: male or female, married or single or celibate clergy, ex-priests and university professors, stay at home parents and blue collar and white collar workers, small business owners and entrepreneurs; Christians, atheists, agnostics. Each describes their journey to their dream jobs (or good-enough jobs) and back again, in their own voices and reflecting their own values, describing their awkward transitions, their triumphs, their tribulations, and lessons learned.

This is, in many ways, my dream job. To give voice to those who have suffered in silence, who have sacrificed for their families and their dreams, who have learned things the hard way and sometimes, through tremendous suffering. To observe the quiet dignity and honor with which people handle transition stress, and how their support systems loved them into, through, and around these experiences.

Because none of us has done this alone! Not even me.

Kudos to my loving and supportive husband, my patient and understanding children, and every friend who believed in me and supported my craft. Creativity is the language of the spirit, and every person who bolstered me while I wrote this book: I will be forever grateful to you!

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Valerie

coffee

Yesterday was pretty funky.  I got almost everything done that I had planned, arranged for a neighbor to pick up the girls at the bus stop, and was at my son’s cross country meet, fully intending to attend the senior rec party afterwards.  A storm was rolling in, and I suddenly got a wicked bad, tumory headache that came on so fast that my eyes were watering.  I had to leave as soon as he passed me, near the very end of the course.  I felt like I was in a Stephen King short story – you know, one of those ones that starts out so optimistically and then becomes ominous.  I went home, picked up the girls, curled up on our old armchair and just cried for awhile.

Yes, I am grateful.  I am grateful that I don’t have a cancerous tumor.  I am grateful that my husband and all four of my kids are very healthy.  I am so, so grateful that as hard as parenting multiple children can be, and as hard as marriage can be sometimes, that I still have them all.

But I am still pretty ticked off that I have plans that can get ruined last minute by something that is so completely out of my control at this point.

I am tired of waiting for the “next” MRI.  I am tired of grieving my (previously) healthy life.  I am tired of looking positive on days when my head feels like it could roll off of my shoulders.  I am frightened of scheduling radiation if my MRI at the beginning of December comes back with the same accelerated, unexpected tumor growth.  I am sick of seeing doctors.  I am annoyed that I can’t just have a saintly, “ah well” approach to my suffering.  I am upset that I can’t really multi-task anymore, and lose the ends of sentences while I am talking to my kids.  I am embarrassed when I mix up the names of objects – or for goodness’ sake, the names of my kids! – when I am looking at the thing that I am asking for or describing.  I am pretty pissed off that this Space Invader is in the very part of my brain that controls language comprehension.  Of course!  of course it is.

I am not normally an anxious person, but I have claustrophobic feelings about this tumor.  I have named her Valerie.  She is intrusive, obnoxious, nebby and often ruins my good times and my plans.  She makes me impatient (when I mix up words), and snippy (when I go to a room to do something, someone talks to me or a song comes on and distracts me, and BOOM!  I’ve lost what I was going to do).  She makes me frustrated (when I am writing and I mix up words – like just now, when I wrote “miss” instead of “mix”, when I thought “mix” the whole time).

I try not to let this situation control my life, ruin my good time, distract me from my real obligations, tasks, responsibilities, but it has become very difficult to separate my tumor moments from my Mommy moments.  My two youngest children haven’t been told (and we won’t tell them until I have to schedule radiation, so that they can be ignorant of everything until then and not be upset or think that I am going to die because of this, some kids always leap to the worse case scenario), and so I plug on, only talking about Valerie once a week to my husband, while in private.  I don’t identify myself as a tumor “victim,” but with how my writing and cognitive abilities have become moderately impaired, I can’t just ignore this.

This. is. happening.

So, I steal little opportunities to squeeze all the worry and poison from me before the kids get home from school, so that I can concentrate on Them and not Valerie.

I pray.  I meditate.  I write.  I listen to music that reminds me of positivity, like Matisyahu and Dave Matthews and Feist and Bjork and She & Him and Matt & Kim.  I blast music while I’m in the shower and sing at the top of my voice.  When I feel restless, I go out on the back porch or go walking.

I have learned how to say “no” to things that I can’t handle, and to say “yes” to new experiences.

I have learned to let go of unrealistic expectations for myself.

I enjoy the things and moments that might get clouded once I do radiation treatments, and the recovery afterwards.

I thank the Lord that I have health insurance, a patient husband, and kids that are willing to help out around the house when I feel overwhelmed.

I try to be grateful.

 

Describing my mother

ImageMother                                                                                                                                                     5/8/05

 

My mother, the beauty –

She is small hands

Spotted with history,

Bouncy red hair that used to flash,

Now shot through with gray.

She is distinctive,

Judges a person by character,

Not color or size or flaw,

Compassions herself constant

And sometimes runs out of

Steam or caring –

Oh! The energy it takes to

Worry for ten children

And scores more of their offspring;

And then the trees!  Who will speak for them

Or for the orphans of the world –

Now that Mother Teresa is gone

My mother prays twice as fast

And twice as often and

Oh! Soon we will worry for her, instead…..

How to avoid comatose parenting

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     My father-in-law asked me once, “How do you and Brad have such a good marriage, when you are so young?  We were just busy trying to survive at your age.”  Immediately I said “We stay awake.”  Puzzled, he just stared at me.  I explained that early on, I had gone for a year of therapy, to try to disentangle my visceral reactions to stress, to gain more coping skills, to consciously control my anger, to make a better marriage.  Brad and I spent a lot of time having husband and wife “meetings”, in which we discussed relationship issues, budgeting, future plans, etc.  We became “awake” in our marriage, and made a conscious decision to never fall into that sleepwalking stage we see many couples fall into, where they subconsciously act and react, instead of staying awake, paying attention, cherishing each other, and calling each other on to improving our selves.  And we prayed – a LOT.  We prayed for our marriage, our selves, and as each child was born, for that child. 

     Parenting should be like that.  Nowadays, some people either practice helicopter parenting, where they self-consciously attend to every decision for their child – and as a result, create children who are narcissistic extensions of themselves and their egos; or absentee parenting, where they kind of float along watching other people “raise” their children, under the premise that children just “find their own way” – which creates children who grow up without direction, focus, or purpose.

    Awake parenting is neither of these approaches, it is a dance.  You learn by experience when to fall back, and when to step in.  When to guide a child through choices, or when to let them make mistakes and face natural consequences.  When to discipline and when to let life discipline. 

     How do you figure this out?  Take time, add self-education of child development through reading, subtract ignorance and selfishness, multiply by the offered wisdom of parents whose children grew up to be confident and personally successful – and then EXHALE.  A lot.  Always remember to give yourself a break – a time-out! – by self-care, such as walking, yoga, or other relaxing activities.  Forgive yourself when you screw up, but then make mental notes about what did – and didn’t! – work with each child. 

     Don’t Blanket-Parent, which is to use the same affection, discipline, instruction and guidance style with every child under your care.  Attend to your other relationships: your marriage, your friendships, your work buddies; when you can.  It is important that you not pour every ounce of energy and attention into your children – they WILL suffocate.  And then will resent you later. 

     Children are not pods that just pop off our trees and then bury themselves, to create genetically identical shoots that then just develop into willows that look exactly like us.  They are unique, individual created beings who have their own minds, souls and life paths.  Try not to throw boulders onto those paths by sleepwalking through your parenting.

Why I Quit Smoking (and other random Thoughts)

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Mother Thoughts

I sound like laughing and reprimands, 

                Cajoling and orders. 

I smell like cinnamon and coffee, 

                Tiredness and tears. 

I look like spring morning, seven days of hard road, 

                Something about to happen. 

I feel like good advice well-taken, 

                Sorrows advanced 

                And yesterday’s rain-soaked paper sitting on the lawn. 

I think like Oprah, Freud and Socrates combined, 

                And also 

                Blank mind. 

I am

                Fierce mama.

 

       I wrote this poem a few years ago, right around the time that I quit smoking (again).  I started smoking the first month of my first year in college, right around September of 1990.  I was so stressed and everyone else drank on the weekends, but was not (and still am not!) a partying drinker; coming from a background of extended family alcoholism, I thought it best to drastically limit any alcohol intake; but had few coping skills when it came to stress.  Some random girl was smoking outside of the student union on Pitt Campus and I thought – “Wow!  She looks so relaxed!” and asked her for a smoke. 

     And for twenty years (except for when pregnant and nursing), that was my main stress reliever. 

     Am I smart girl?  Sure.  I knew that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, bladder cancer, mouth cancer, esophageal cancer, tongue cancer, breast cancer, and wrinkles.  I knew that smoking causes social separation (especially at parties where you are the only person doing it), family conflict, marital discord, anxiety in your spouse, and bronchitis in the winter.  I knew that I hated getting bundled up during winter to smoke on the back porch; furtiveness (because who wants their kids knowing that they smoke?? what a bad example); sneaky behavior that can be misinterpreted as something else; and disappointment in the people who love you, and really root for you every time you quit.

     Quit.

     That’s such a final word.  But for most smokers, it takes an average of EIGHT TIMES before they are successful.  EIGHT TIMES.  Not even 15 years ago, it was four times. 

     What has happened in the meantime??  Well, cigarette producers have gotten crafty.  They have bred tobacco plants specifically to increase the level of addiction in consumers (which is what you do to cigarettes, you CONSUME them.  What’s left of a cigarette when you are done?  just the filter.)  They have changed the additives that they put in their product in order to make them more appealing, tasty, increase their shelf life, pleasant to inhale.  They spend millions of dollars a year to keep you hooked.

     To keep me hooked.

     So when I had decided to change my tact, to really create a quit-successful internal atmosphere (in my brain.  in my SOUL), I went whole-hog.  I recruited two lifelong friends to be my accountability partners (thanks Su and Lisa!) – aka BABYSITTERS – who I knew would consistently and usefully guilt me.  I threw away all lighters.  I changed up the back porch furniture configuration to make it an environment hostile to smoking (removed my “favorite” chair, threw away the coffee can under the bush so that I wouldn’t have a safe place to hide butts, and I set a date for final quit.  New Year’s Day. 

     I also “came out” on facebook. 

     Now, normally I am not a fan of shaming.  But when it is for a good cause…. 🙂

     And it worked!  IT WORKED.  Knowing that all the people that I loved (or even casual friends) could hold me accountable for my actions; that my best friend, my husband, was quietly and cautiously rooting for me – he had watched me quit SO MANY TIMES BEFORE and was very gentle and nonjudgmental; reading all the research on how you increase your health, lifespan, and quality of life, and decrease your chances for every type of cancer and other horrible diseases; and actually watching online videos and looking at photos of people who had whole parts of their bodies cut away in order to remove cancers that smoking had caused; IT WORKED.

     How does this connect to my children, my motherhood? 

     I couldn’t sit by and continue to do something that I would smack my teenager for if I caught him doing it. 

     I couldn’t sit by and do something that contributed to my maternal grandmother’s death at the young age of 42 (one year older than I am right now!)

     I couldn’t sit by and continue to justify the selfish act of lighting up every time, and saying to myself, “Well, this is my ME time.  I am a hard-working mother and I deserve it!” 

     I couldn’t let myself continue to do something that might kill me before my parents passed away; leave my children motherless; leave my husband wife-less (is that even a word); leave a legacy of people tsk-tsking “She was so young” at my funeral.

     Or even bear the thought – the imaginative thought – of having to face my God, trying to justify my passive suicide by cigarette, and saying to him:

     “Well, this is my ME time.”

When you are a mother.  There. Is. No. Such. Thing.