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Climbing A Mountain of Laundry

How many years I have done the laundry! First just mine and Richard’s. It was a mole hill then. It was a domestic romantic endeavor. I was doing this man’s laundry. I was nurturing and taking care of him. It was such a pleasure to give of myself this way.  Way back then. 

Then it was laundry for 3. I was still in such a state of bliss, that I used cloth diapers and washed them myself. Richard was supportive of me staying home, in spite of the fact that we had no money, at times, putting groceries on a credit card. I was so thankful I did not have to leave my baby with some stranger and go to work. Laundry? It wasn’t even a second thought. It was a privilege. 

Then it was laundry for 4. Then 5. Then 6. The years ticked away.  Laundry overwhelmed me. I dreaded, resented and sometimes just avoided that pile of laundry. It would follow me into my dreams.  It would pile up until we were in a state of emergency over socks, clean underwear or the favorite outfit needed for school that day. 

Richard and I divided the work of family in the most efficient way we could. He built a career and earned the money. I took care of the home and the kids. 

This work was 24/7, for both of us. The work of building and nurturing a family. The work of building income to support that family. There was now a mountain of work where a mole hill had been. A mountain of bills, boo boos, groceries, meals, bath times, bedtimes, school tuition and yes, laundry. 

It is hard to take care of others without time for yourself and each other. Disappointments build up. Resentment creeps in. Climbing that mountain sometimes seemed impossible. Richard and I dubbed those struggles for little pieces of sanity as “fighting over scraps”. We would bicker over the unfairness of it all. I was angry when he was home sitting down for 5 minutes when I was slaving away with dinner, bedtime and…laundry. He was resentful when I was having fun at the pool, lying in the sun with the kids on a summer day while he was stuck behind a desk. 

I am sitting here right now avoiding a mountain of laundry before me. 


Richard is sitting quietly enjoying a book. The old resentment still tries to take over. The old tape in my head tries to play the “it’s not fair” tune. 

But a softening has happened for me while climbing over 21 years of dirty laundry. 21 years Richard and I have been sticking it out, having each other’s back, holding each other afloat, and even tearing each other down. I am far enough up that mountain now that I have a different view. 

I see how hard we have BOTH worked. I see how much we have both sacrificed and, I see how much we have both gained from this division of labor. I see our 4 little start ups beginning to spin off into their own amazing futures.  I see how hard we still both work. I see we still have so much laundry ahead.  I see we are getting older. 

So as I sit here facing a mountain of laundry with an old tape playing, I drown it out with a new tune. Instead of thinking “how unfair for him to sit by while I do all the laundry”, I think how thankful I am to have this nice house, nice laundry, nice washer and dryer. It leads me to other gratitude. 

I feel gratitude for the few minutes of rest Richard can take to recover from a grueling work week. I am grateful I am to be able to focus on nurturing my family. I am grateful Richard is successful and smart and healthy. I am filled with gratitude that my children are well and safe and loved so deeply by both of us. 

Now, as a daily practice I gratitude my mountain of laundry back into just a small mole hill.  Each little dirty piece of clothing piled up into a mountain of blessings to count.  

Blessings I need to get folded so I can go to bed :) 

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made with love

Cocoon of Trees

Chicago 2014.  I sat listening to crickets in the trees one night before our move South.  So much unknown terrain stretched out in front of me.   I remember thinking that only in nature can the deep quiet be so loud.  That is when it happened.

God said to me, “It will be the same.”

What I thought?  What will be the same? It is such a surprise to be spoken to this way.  Not the way we speak to each other, but a knowing, a memory of the conversation.  As if you catch it just after the words are spoken.  It took me a minute to gather my wits.  What just happened?  And then I knew.  I was about to pick up my family and move to another planet.  God was tucking me into the roller coaster ride with a message to hang onto.

“It will be the same.”

The same trees, the same sounds, the same sky, the same.  God will follow me there.  With his majestic creation.  I will be starting over, a stranger, but I will be wrapped in a cocoon of crickets.  The same crickets.  They will sing me this very same song.  The one they have been singing forever.  Since the beginning.  A cocoon of trees.  The same trees.  Green and tall and solid, with roots that connect them in communal unity.  A cocoon of sun and sky.    The same sun filling me up with the essence of myself.  A cocoon of earth and dirt.  The same dirt reminding me of where I come from.  All familiar and the same.  This will be my blanket of comfort in the unease of change.

South Carolina, 19 months later, I stand on my back deck.  It is night and I am listening to the crickets in the trees.  They are the same.  A cocoon of trees tucking me in.

I go to say “good night and thank you.”

I look up at these guardians towering over me.  At that moment it happened again.

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God said, “It is here to take care of YOU, not the other way around.”

I said, “who?”  “what?”  There I was again trying to catch the conversation as if that is possible.

God said, “all of it, but especially the trees.”

I stopped chasing and let it sink in.  “Wow, that changes everything.  What fools we are NOT taking care of them, so they can take care of us.”

I got no response.  Just the wind blowing and the crickets chirping.  The same as always.

No wonder I feel grief when I see a forest felled in a single day.

Long ago, when God made the world for us, trees had legs.  They could walk and run just like us.  This is not in the Torah.  It was inspired by my daughter, Hannah, one day as we hiked through the forest.  Trees traveled from place to place.  Usually, they were making sure we were taken care of.  It was their job.   For thousands and thousands of years this worked.  We loved the trees and they loved us more.   Then about 10,000 years ago, we stopped living in small family clans and started figuring out how to farm the land.  We changed.  We started trying to conquer instead of collaborate.  Everyone wanted to be the boss and nobody wanted to compromise.

We began killing for meanness.  We fought just to fight.  The trees were extremely worried for us.  The Grand daddy trees called a council meeting of all the elders.  They came from all over the world for a once in a million year event.  They wanted to help us.  Trees know only peaceful protest and standing for what you believe in.  Period.  No exceptions.  They decided that they could only lead by example, and it had to be drastic.  That is when it happened.  They stood.  Still.  Forever.  The only travel now is a seed carried by wind, or bird or other avenue of nature.

They are waiting for us.  They stand still in their love for us.  They refuse to move until we change our selfish ways.  Of course, we didn’t get it.  Still don’t.  Will we ever?  We cut them down and they let us!  They just stand silent.  When they fall sometimes a groan slips out, but usually their thunderous fall is all that marks the tragedy.   Then the ones still standing  just continue their watch over us.  A loving example.  Waiting.

I am in a quiet place of my life.  It is hard lonely work to pull up your roots and replant them.  Is this how the butterfly feels?  Tucked into her cocoon.   Wrapped up tight.  Is she quiet and lonely?   Or does she know that it is loving protection for the work of change?   The only way transformation can take place.  Does she know that it is temporary?  Something to cherish for the restorative sleep that it is?  How I want to appreciate this silent stillness.  How I want to become the tree I already am.

I am tucked in my cocoon of trees.  They rock me to sleep and sing me to wake.  If you listen in just the right way, they will tell you things.  Ancient things.  They look down with love and look away with respect.  They hold me safe.  Protecting this time of transformation.  They never lose hope.  They are always the same.  I am the one who needs to change.

 

 

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February 2016

The Day the Angels Disappeared

They would sing to me.  A song with no words, and deeply familiar.  There were so many. Choirs of them.   I would sing with them, and other times I would just sit in awe.   Words fail to describe the power of them.  The closest I can come is JOY, and that is like describing a technicolor  3-D IMAX movie as an old black and white film.  Beautiful, glowing with light, enormous, ethereal?  These words seem insulting when describing them.  How old was I?  I was young enough that I didn’t have words to describe it to anyone, or even think to try.  I assumed it just was.  Didn’t everyone visit with Angels?

When I would go to sleep they would come to me.  Or I would go to them, I am not sure.  The memory is strong yet fuzzy.  Similar to how I see without my glasses.  I can capture most of it and imagine missing pieces, but it always seems to be at a distance.

As a small child, napping was a wonderful place to go.  Sleep something to welcome.  Maybe it was all a dream.  If that is so, then I only had one dream.  The same each time I fell to sleep.  There was no other.

And then one day.

I have two vivid memories.  They happened around the same time, but since memory is fluid, I can’t say for sure.

The first is standing frozen in front of the TV.  My parents had been so excited that a popular children’s movie was airing.  ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  They put it on and probably thought it would give them some much needed adult time to catch up.  They left me to watch by myself.  The witch and the monkeys haunted me for years.  The purposeful meanness, so hard for me to digest.  I couldn’t leave the room and I couldn’t bear to watch.  I was sweating and shaking.  I did not know that feeling before.  Unfortunately, I have known it many times since.  Fear.

The second memory happened chronologically after the first.  Yet, it could have happened the other way around.

I remember going to take a nap.  As soon as my mother left the room a bee landed on my covers and began to slowly crawl towards me.  It was the biggest bee I have still to lay eyes on.  I could not move, or run away or even call for help.  I just lay there sweating and watching.  This horrible, terrifying, hairy monster walking up my covers to where I lay, helpless and horrified.

I don’t know how it ended exactly.  The bee did not harm me.  I just know what happened next.

My mother had to go back to work.  My sister and I were put on a bus in the morning to go to a day care center.   I remember the sick feeling in my stomach.  My younger sister just one and a half years old.  She was screaming and clinging to my mother’s neck.  They peeled her little arms away and strapped her in the van.  I watched my mother get back in the car and drive away.  My sister kept crying.  They told her to stop in a commanding  voice.  She couldn’t.  Her little chest heaving and hiccuping.  The woman driving the bus reached back with a ruler and spanked her legs, telling her more sternly to stop.  She cried harder.  She spanked her again.  It continued back and forth like this until the end of the ride.  Then they took us to separate rooms.   I did not see her again until later, as they put us on cots to nap.  I lay there missing our bright kitchen where my mother and sister and I would sit eating lunch.  I missed riding my tricycle up and down the sidewalk. I missed getting up from my naps to tip toe into the kitchen where my mother would leave fresh bread cooling.  I missed my mother.  I heard my sister crying.  I got up to comfort her.  I needed to get comfort as much as to give comfort.  They caught me before I got to her.  They spanked me and put me back on my cot.  My sister and I had never been spanked before.  No adult had ever struck us.  They told me to stay there and not get up.   I swallowed my sobs as quietly as I could.  I already learned what happened if they heard you cry.  I did not get up again.

The Angels never came back.   I have only seen them again in memory and imagination.

My mother did not stay home anymore.  Day care became our foster care.

The loss was gargantuan.  My whole body would ache at the missing of them.  What did I do wrong?  Why did they leave me?  Please come back!  Some how I knew it was over.  Going to sleep became something else.  I did not welcome naps.  I would run and hide to keep from going to bed at night.  These early memories have been a powerful force shaping my path and direction as an adult and mother.

It took a long time to put all the pieces together.  To understand what happened.  It was simple really.  I came to know forces we must battle here on earth, whether we like it or not; fear, doubt, hatred.  It takes innocent faith to see Angels.  You must trust completely.  Children are born in this pure state, and then life happens.   We spend the rest of our time searching for the way back.

This is not a story I have ever shared with anyone.   No one goes around talking about their experience with Angels.  How do you explain your grief at losing something that people don’t believe exist?   I am not sure if I was even able to share my grief of what happened to my sister and I at the hands of irresponsible cruel caregivers.  If my parents are upset by this I would tell them this was no failure on their part.  In fact, I would argue quite the opposite.  They did something so right.  They were able to protect me from fear and doubt until I had long term memory to store my Angels.

As powerful as those traumatic memories have been in my life, the memories of Angels have been more so.  I have cherished this memory of my Angels all of my life.  Evidence of a power so great and filled with light that words cannot define it.  I wonder if we all are born wrapped in this gift of love.  Meeting with Angels while we sleep.  Easing the transition to a physical world filled with fear and gravity.

In a rather low point in my life, I took a workshop called “The Illuminated Heart”.  One of the exercises within the meditations was to call your Guardian Angel to be with you on the journey.  Focusing on it this way, I felt the presence of something so big and familiar that it brought tears.   I recognized the Angel as being with me all my life, just out of focus and on the periphery.  This realization was a game changer.  I know I may never see Angels again as I did with the clear eyesight of innocent faith.  But I know they are with me always.

I had a conversation with my son, Zeke, this week before he fell asleep.  He had been listening to a story about witches and was having trouble sleeping.  As I searched for how to help him, I shared my story.  It is the first time I think I have shared it with anyone and it prompted me to write about it.  He listened and had many questions about the Angels.  I struggled for words to explain.  He immediately fell asleep.  He slept through the night and awoke to tell me how he had asked his animal friends to help him defeat the witches and bad guys in his dreams.  Maybe he connected with his Guardian Angels.  He walked taller the rest of the day.

In Judaism there is a bedtime prayer that calls 4 Angels to guard you.  It is ancient and meant for protection during the dark night.  I do not know the entire prayer in Hebrew.  Even though it is a prayer that is intended for you to say for yourself, I call the Angels to come guard my children before they go to sleep.  Then I recite, the Shema. I have done this every night for more years than I can remember.

I call upon you Hashem, put the Angel, Michael on the right, Gabriel on the left, Uriel in the front and Raphael in the back, and above my head the Sh’khinah (Divine Presence) (3x ) Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad) (Deuteronomy 6:4)

It is the last thing they hear before they fall asleep.  As I go to sleep, I call the Angels for my children that are now away from home and then myself.  This may not be religiously correct, but it is my way.

I want my children to hear me call the Angels by name, every single night.  In this world, there is a constant battle raging between light and dark.  Between faith and fear.  While we cannot insulate ourselves or our children from the forces of dark, I firmly believe that light and faith are the stronger force.  Just the memory of Angels can be powerful enough to beat back the dark.  Just the possibility of light can give us the hope and courage we need to face down fear.  May your Angels always be close, guiding you and giving you light for the way.

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More time in the woods Part 2

An Afterschool Program

What are your earliest and most powerful play memories?  Mine are outside playing with other children.  If there were adults there at all, they were on the periphery.

Many sleep overs with Debbie and Melody on their farm.  We would play ‘king of the hill’, work on our ‘house’ in the back of an old bus and run through freshly plowed fields of soybeans.  They taught me how to hit a softball.   I learned what an electric fence feels like when you accidentally touch it!  It was a small price to pay to hold the baby pigs.  I saw my first birth as a baby calf came into the world.

Countless days exploring the Sound with my best friend, Betha.  Her backyard was the Inlet Waterway.  Here we were also served up a large dose of freedom.  We were allowed to ride bikes as far as our endurance could take us.  We would take her boat by ourselves to go clamming.  It is the only time I liked the taste of clams.   Maybe dipping them in freedom was the secret sauce.  I felt the vastness of the ocean when the motor quit and we began to drift out to sea.  I lived to tell about it.  Turned out the gas line came loose.  We had the fear, nerves and exhilaration of saving ourselves.

I can’t remember all the weekends I spent playing with cousins on my family’s farm near Chapel Hill, NC.  Spending all day, getting dirty, building forts, climbing trees, playing chase.  Then riding home in an old pick up truck long after the sun went down, starving and unable to feel fingers and toes from the cold.

Then, just about the time girls my age began chasing boys, my Dad gave me a horse.  It was love at first sight!  I pined away for him at school all day until the bus could get me to the barn.  The only way my parents could drag me away was with promises of when I could come back.

And if I was not at any of those places, you could find me at Wrightsville Beach, 10 minutes from my home.  My parents were especially drawn to the ocean.  They took us there in the spring, summer, fall AND winter.  They went for themselves and we got to benefit.

I spent most of my childhood in some kind of natural setting, playing with other children and/or animals, unsupervised.  It was an age of freedom.  You must know deep in your bones what that feels like, before you will care enough to seek and protect it.  I would like to say that I am giving my children the same experience.  Frankly, it is not that easy now.  I have access to wild natural areas.   I take my children there to play.  I arrange play dates.  I would lean towards kicking my children out the door and saying “don’t come back till dark”, but they would be alone.  Those days of children roaming the neighborhood in their free time are over.  Most children are tied up with homework, their electronics or organized after school activities.  Present day parents, including myself, worry about the safety of children roaming unsupervised.  It is a slippery slope because now there are less children allowed to roam unsupervised which makes it less safe!

Has the age of freedom for children passed?  If so, now what?  I won’t accept my children growing up without tasting this delicacy.  Play, in nature, with other children, without adults hovering and directing.

This past fall, I tried an experiment.  Our school has access to a wild wooded area.  They believe in the importance of nature based play.  So with their permission and support, I started an after school program called the ‘Woods Exploration and Adventure Program‘.

I honestly figured it was a way to get what I wanted for my own kids.  I was hoping at least a few kids would sign up.  Much to my amazement it filled to capacity.   It has become the most popular after school activity.   Every single week, I have children asking me to talk their parents into enrolling them.

I am sharing it because it is easier than you think.   Call it a  grass roots movement to ‘re-wild’ our children and detox them from the sedentary virtual adventures of technology.  Let them have some real live adventures of their own.  Let them have at least a taste of the freedom most of us grew up taking for granted.

As I gear up for round two,  I am learning much along the way.   As I watch these children navigate freedom of the forest, I am wondering if we have romanticized the past a bit?  Did the complete freedom of days past come at a cost?  Did children get socially stuck and need help working things out?  Did that lack of a trusted mentor within reach leave kids stuck in roles of bully, bullied, left out, freak…?

I believe we are on the edge of a new age.  One that has the potential to be better than the past.  A hybrid of what was good about freedom for children to play in nature with other children, combined with the kind of mentoring and support that we know benefits their development.  It is free to organize and easy to implement.  Any caring parent can do it.  Here is all you need.

Ingredients:

l.  A wild playground.  Anything from a vacant lot to a backyard to a forest.  Not a planned playground environment.  A natural environment to interact with and explore.  The more ‘loose parts’ the better.

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2.  Mixed age group.  This is important for social emotional development.  Older children become more nurturing when younger ones are present.  Younger children step up to learn from older ones.  Competition is not as fierce as with same age peers.  Valuable learning happens in mixed age play that can not happen otherwise.  A ratio of one adult to 12 children is a good guide.  Yet, you can do it with just one other family on the block too!

3.  Unstructured play.  An adult present as a coach for relationship roadblocks.  The adult does not direct the play, but can participate or stand back and observe without interrupting the flow.  The adult serves as a trusted mentor for children to go to for guidance or comfort.  This is very different from structured activities that children spend more and more time in after school.  Those are adult led and children are told what to play.  They have an important place in teaching skills, but this is child led and created with adult support.  This is a crucial part of developing the ‘whole child’.  Body/mind/spirit.

4.  Enough time.  It takes about 45 minutes or longer for children to work through all the negotiations and whining and boredom to enter into deep play.  Often times, grown ups get annoyed or discouraged and give up too soon.  Two hours is not too long to plan for this activity.  I started with a 1 hour program and it is not enough time.

5.  Risk taking.  Children are allowed to take risks.  By having the freedom to practice taking risks, they learn to assess risk, manage their body in space and test their physical abilities in a way for which they are ready.  The adult is there to spot, if necessary, but not impede risk taking.  If a child is putting themselves or another child in danger, then the adult needs to step in.  If it happens repeatedly or with the intent to harm, this may signal a need for further intervention and removal from the group.  Most children become safer, by beginning to protect and police each other, when they have freedom to take risks.  Parents/teachers/caregivers involved should discuss what they are comfortable with ahead of time so that the group leader has clear guidelines to stay within.

6.  Rules.  Created by the children with help from the adult at the very beginning.  These can be simple.  Ours are:  1. stay safe and 2. have fun.  This covers pretty much everything.

For many thousands of years we have evolved and developed through play based connection with others in a natural world.  Only since the invention of agriculture have we come out of the woods, so to speak.  In the last 200 years we have made progress with lightning speed.  We do not yet know the unintended consequences of today’s sedentary/technology/achievement driven culture on our evolution.  What we do know is that our partnership with nature is a good one and, at the very least,  does no harm.  At the most, it can be therapeutic and reverse some issues that are on the rise in children.  Anxiety, attention disorders, behavior disorders, depression and obesity.  Some where in the middle, it can be preventive medicine.  Providing our children with unstructured play in nature with other children can be a way to take an active role in our very evolution,  balancing our minds and bodies, while we play catch up to our ‘progress’.  It is how we invite our children to fall in love…with nature and their own freedom.

“for we will not fight to save what we do not love”

-Stephen J. Gould

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 22, 2015

Dear Dad

Today, at age 70, you face surgery to remove the cancer that threatens your life.  I wish I could be there.  Sitting by the phone feels kind of pathetic compared to the endless ways you have been there for me in my life.  Your wish that we not crowd around you hovering and fretting is understandable.  In my helplessness, I  reach for pen and paper.

I just got word from, John (your brother and guardian in this adventure) that they let you WALK to the OR.  No way did they let me do that when I was in your shoes just 18 months ago!   They had me on a gurney whipping down the hall before panic could set in.  Smart, because I probably would have bolted.  This is symbolic of your deep strength to face whatever confronts you in life.  Even the doctors sensed that you would not run away,  no matter what lay behind those doors.

I recently heard Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks discuss what the Torah has to say about surviving trauma.    When Sarah died, Abraham was 137 years old.  He had already survived one trauma, the binding of Isaac.  How does a father survive almost sacrificing his only child?  Now his life long partner has died.  Two traumas involving the people he loves the most.  How did he have the strength to survive them?

The Torah says that Abraham, “came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her”.  Then the very next line says, “and Abraham rose from his grief”.  Rabbi Sacks goes on to say that from that point forward Abraham “engaged in a flurry of activity with two aims in mind: first to buy a plot of land in which to bury Sarah, second to find a wife for his son. Note that these correspond precisely to the two Divine blessings: of land and descendants. Abraham did not wait for God to act. He understood one of the profoundest truths of Judaism: that God is waiting for us to act.”

You are like Abraham.  At a very young age you began to carry others.  As much as we love to hear your ‘poor stories’, they are not what a childhood should be.  Then your father died.  All 8 of your siblings would agree that you carried everyone through a horrible trauma.   You let go of your own 20 year old life, dropped out of college, moved home and simply carried them.   How you were able to stand tall and move forward under the weight of this burden, I can’t imagine.

Rabbi Sacks points to modern day mentors who overcame tragedy,.. Holocaust survivors.  Soldiers who liberated the concentration camps talked about how it changed them forever.  How then, did the people who actually survived them cope?  How did they move past such trauma?

Many of them refused to speak about the horrors.  Not to their marriage partners, or children.  Instead, they began to build a new life and a new land.   “They looked forward not back. First they built a future. Only then – sometimes forty or fifty years later – did they speak about the past. That was when they told their story, first to their families, then to the world. First you have to build a future. Only then can you mourn the past.”

I knew growing up, without ever being told, that your father’s death was a forbidden topic.  Suicide.  Even saying it now feels like breaking a code of silence.  You did not speak about it until I was grown.  Mom remembers when you received the call that summer.  You were standing at the table in your apartment where you were both working 2 jobs to get through another year of college.  She says you sat down and dropped your head into your hands.   Then, as soon as your head hit the table you stood  back up and moved on.  You began to take care of what needed to be done.  She never saw you cry.  Not until 20 years later.

I think there may be trauma so great, that to stop and mourn is a luxury you can not afford at that time.  You run the risk of getting stuck there.  “Lot’s wife, against the instruction of the angels, actually did look back as the cities of the plain disappeared under fire and brimstone and the anger of God. Immediately she was turned into a pillar of salt, the Torah’s graphic description of a woman so overwhelmed by shock and grief as to be unable to move on.”    Abraham “set the precedent: first build the future, and only then can you mourn the past. If you reverse the order, you will be held captive by the past. You will be unable to move on. You will become like Lot’s wife.”

I think all these years, I didn’t really understand.  I didn’t understand that you protected us all from the horror and trauma that you had to face.  You did not allow yourself to become lost in the past.  You refused to dwell there.  You went about building a future.  You had to do this in order to survive.  In your quiet way, you and mom got your college education.  You kept your mother and siblings from drowning and brought your own children into the world at the same time.  Even when I went through eye surgery as an infant and you were told I was blind, you did not falter.  You and mom worked and went to classes while never leaving me alone in the hospital for a single minute.  In a time that parents didn’t stay with their children in the hospital, you didn’t leave me alone.

Then, when we were almost grown.  When all involved could stand on their own two feet.   When holding your silence was going to wreck you and the future you had worked so hard to build.  Only then did you look back.  Only then did you mourn the past.  For the first time in my life, I saw you cry.  You did not cry from anger or bitterness, but with grief of a boy abandoned by his father.

Your sacrifice gave me a childhood.  One that was wholesome and carefree.  You made sure I had a strong and loving father to lean on even in my 40’s.  You built me a future.  Then you taught me how to survive.

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We went for a long walk just a few days ago, and you were already listening for a ‘future calling to you’.  Something left undone.  Something only you could fulfill.  Something meaningful to leave behind.  Something that would secure a future for both your land and your descendants.   Something that you had to beat this cancer so you could build.

Rabbi Sacks explains, “Abraham heard the future calling to him. Sarah had died. Isaac was unmarried. Abraham had neither land nor grandchildren. He did not cry out, in anger or anguish, to God. Instead, he heard the still, small voice saying: The next step depends on you. You must create a future that I will fill with My spirit. That is how Abraham survived the shock and grief. God forbid that we experience any of this, but if we do, this is how to survive.”

I spent my day writing this to you.  (There were a few interruptions and loud children running around)  I can’t say it was my finest parenting hour.  My body was here while my heart was hovering and fretting outside the OR.   You made it through surgery and are resting comfortably tonight.  I am so thankful.  I honestly would not have been surprised if they had reported you walked OUT of the OR after surgery.

Dad, you have faced both tragedy and miracle in your life.  You have faced each with grace and quiet strength.  You have the survivor instinct to get after building a future when faced with trauma.  You are like Abraham.   I will always carry with me an image of you WALKING to the OR today.   It sums up how you live your life.  Walking forward on your own two feet, with quiet dignity and courage to face whatever comes.

Your loving daughter and greatest admirer

Michaux

 

 

 

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making my case for more time in the woods

A Mother’s Manifesto

I want my children to spend more time playing in the woods!   I want them to build forts and climb trees and play wild games of chase and hide and seek.  I want them to co-exist with bugs, ants, spiders and snakes without hyperventilating.

Here is why and what I did about it.

Their school has access to a natural wooded area with a creek running through it.

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Last year Hannah’s teacher took them out here to play.  Not all the teachers felt so comfortable doing this.  The teachers at this school love the children as their own.   A wild wooded area where children run free is intimidating.  The fear of them getting hurt is unbearable.  I understand and appreciate this.  Finding the balance between safety and the need to explore is not always so simple.

So this past August, I helped coordinate an in-service for all the teachers with a naturalist.  We took them out to play and learn in this outdoor classroom.  The following is my letter shared with them, making a case for more time in the woods.

I, Michaux Shaffer, mother of Hannah and Zeke, am here today as a parent representative in full support of my children spending time each day in the woods, regardless of weather, mud, bugs and risk.  I will give you 3 good reasons I feel strongly about this.

  1. Nature is the original multi-sensory learning experience.  It’s got it all.  Children can access, engage and feed all their senses.  It is a full body experience.  This forest is a natural library.  It contains an endless and untapped supply of multi-sensory learning opportunities children can explore at their own pace.  I want my children to have full access to one of our most valuable teachers–mother nature.
  2. Spending time in the natural world benefits not only learning, but the development of the ‘whole child’.  In Chicago access to outdoor movement and play is consistently limited at school by severe weather.  Many times, we begin to better understand the value of something when we see the effects of its absence.  Each winter we lived there, I watched my children grow pasty and weak, losing muscle tone and getting sick often.  My last winter there, the children did not go outside to recess for 3 months straight during an especially cold winter.  Sensory Integration issues, mood, attention and behavior disorders in children that require therapeutic intervention are on the rise.  There is a connection between this rise in serious disorders and children spending less time outdoors.  I saw this first hand in my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist.  It was not just my children who were suffering from lack of outdoor play and movement.  There were many other children who were suffering even more severely than my own.  I saw everything from lacking the core strength to sit up in class, to phobias of, not only dirt and bugs, but the very ground itself!  Not to mention, severe anxiety and depression in younger and younger children.  More and more research is focusing on extended time in nature as a therapeutic intervention alternative for these disorders with amazing results.
  3. My children, Zeke and Hannah.  Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods” tells us that fear of the  natural world comes when we disconnect from it.  When children develop a personal relationship with nature, they become stewards of the earth.  One of the core values in Judaism is Tikkun Olam (repair the world).  I would like to find as many ways as possible for my children to uncover their power to repair the world around them.  I want my children to learn about habitat restoration and benefit from the therapeutic effects of spending time in a natural and wild habitat.  Last year, Hannah loved going to school more than I have ever seen her.  I asked her what gave her that spring in her step?  She thought for a minute and replied simply, “the woods”.  So I joined them one day at recess to see first hand what she was loving so much.  I witnessed a high level of imaginative play and movement in all different planes of motion.  Running, jumping, balancing, lifting etc.  I tried to keep up with them to video their play.  I run on trails regularly.  I consider myself somewhat fit.  I could not keep up.  They were able to move quickly over and under very technical terrain and through tight spaces.  Aside from being a workout that could stand up in any ‘cross fit’ gym across the country, these are all kinds of movement and sensory experiences that an OT would prescribe for children with sensory issues.  In a country where childhood obesity is on the rise, I can’t imagine a more beneficial way to get children moving.  I also observed that the freedom to take risks, climbing and jumping had significantly developed their judgment and ability to navigate this natural space, therefore, making them safer in the process.  When they were showing me how they climb on a ‘climbing wall’ of vines, I asked if they could go any higher?  They responded, “no” that they had learned through experience that to go higher was to risk pulling the vines down and falling.  Play researcher, Peter Gray, in his book, “Free to Learn” writes that when children and animals are given freedom to take risks in play they don’t just jump off rooftops to risk their lives.  They become scientists.  They systematically take calculated risks that they can handle, exposing themselves to levels of danger and fear that test themselves, and then incorporate what they learn.  This means that they will get dirty and fall down.  But it also means they will develop safer judgement and increased body awareness and control.  Allowing children to take risks makes them safer!  Zeke is a great example of this.  He has already had 2 concussions, a broken foot and stitches in his chin.  In his stuntman personality he takes more physical risks than most children.   I  have learned through experience, that if I do not let him learn HOW to fall, he will be in much greater danger down the road.  He is, by far, the most skilled ‘mover’ in our family.  He has astounding skill, body awareness and control of his body in space that makes him more coordinated, mobile and SAFE than most children his age.  I want my children to have access to this natural playground so they can take these calculated risks, test themselves and become safer in the process. 

We know that it is crucial for children to have time to move, play and explore.  But when we give them this, in combination with the natural world, we take out an insurance policy of sorts for the future.  For their future and the future of their world.

I want my children to spend time in the woods getting messy, taking risks, repairing their world and experiencing ‘full body learning’.  I believe this is how we support the development of safer, smarter, happier, healthier kids. 

Please share this with anyone and everyone that you feel could benefit from it. 

Yours Warmly–Michaux Shaffer

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My Mom used to say

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

My Grandma Myles lived with us when I was a little girl.  One of my earliest memories is of her standing in the kitchen making some yummy treat to take to the beach.  I was standing behind her watching and waiting to go.  She had on a beach cover up and my eye level came right up to the back of her legs.  I remember studying the blue and purple veins running like highways up and down her legs.

The strongest part of that memory is the overwhelming feeling of love as I looked at her.   She was the most beautiful woman in the entire world.  I remember thinking “that is the most beautiful color purple”.

I was a little girl.  I was beholding true beauty.  It was powerful.

Then I forgot.

I learned that varicose veins are ugly, unsightly and something to be fixed.  I learned other things too.  Things little girls learn as they grow into women.  I learned anything different about you that doesn’t fit the ‘ideal’ shape or size of the women on TV or in the magazines is NOT beautiful.  I learned that anything about you that doesn’t fit the ‘ideal’ is something to make you feel shame or embarrassment.  Regardless of how many times I heard my mom say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  It didn’t matter.  I had unlearned what it meant.

I love to watch people.  I looked everywhere but couldn’t  find the ‘ideal’ woman walking around the grocery store, dropping off her kids at school, playing at the park, beach or shopping at the mall.  Where was she? Where did she dwell?  I only saw her in the magazines when I checked out with my groceries.  I am guessing those magazine women were thankful for the technology required to make them look ‘ideal’.

My hands are old.  They are at least 100 years old.  They have thousands of wrinkles, elephant knuckles, age spots and big veins popping out.  I never paint my nails because it would look weird on such old hands.  My hands will never be found in a magazine of the ‘ideal’.  I was embarrassed of these old hands.  Until…

I was joking about them one day with my family and my daughter said, “I love your hands.  They are one of my favorite things about you”.

What???

The rest of the family chimed in, “Yes!.  We love your hands.  They show how hard you work.  We love them”

Then I remembered.  The things about you that are different are the best things about you.  The things about you that don’t fit the ‘ideal’, make you, You.  You NEED those things.  I am guessing God gave them to us on purpose.  A gift to us and to the people who love us.  Because the people who love you and me, inside and out, love those things the most.  If we were just an ‘ideal’ then there would be nothing unique to cherish.

Sometime during those many years of birthing 4 babies a Dr. noticed the many purple varicose veins running up and down my legs and asked if I wanted to fix them.  I laughed.  His eyebrows shot up and he looked at me with his head to the side.  I just said, “No I need them”.  He shook his head and rubbed his hands through his hair.  I didn’t explain further.

But I want to make sure to fully explain.  I tell my girls frequently that their beauty is something that shines from the inside out.  That each act of loving kindness increases your beauty.  My grandmother had a lifetime of these piled up by the time I knew her.  “I need them” these big purple veins and these old hands because I want to earn that kind of beauty.  Not in spite of them but because of them.  Because they represent me.  My children and husband loving my old hands is a sign I am on the right track.  And who knows?  Maybe after a lifetime of working at loving kindness there will be a little boy or girl who looks at the highway running up and down my legs and says, “That is the most beautiful color purple”.

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