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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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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the souls of my tribe

Cousins

When I was 17, I lived through a nuclear explosion.  My parents divorced.

Before that day I had lived my life full of family. Not just my sister and parents living our life in our little house together, but my enormous comforting cushion of 23 aunts and uncles, 27 cousins and 3 living grandparents.

Up until that day I spent many hours growing that connection, sharing experiences, creating memories with ‘my people’. People with whom I shared a genetic pool and a history.  My tribe. It wasn’t something I gave much thought.   I had the privilege of taking it all for granted.

After our nuclear family explosion, there was a black hole where that cushion of family had been.   It wasn’t really anyone’s fault.   Just the fall out of that type of war.  My uncle Andy was the only one close enough to walk with us through the rubble.

We left our home we grew up in and were taken to new homes.  We were handed a new family. Step family.  My sister and I tried to forge bonds there. We failed. Perhaps we were half hearted in our attempt. There was no shared genes or history there. There was instead, a shared wariness. A jealousy over the territory of our parents.

We decided to not need it. To not need family. To not need to be a part of our tribe. We had each other, it could be enough.  So my sister and I became an island. Shipwrecked and lonely. We didn’t admit this to any one but each other. It was our shameful little secret of isolation. Everybody else seemed to have that happy Thanksgiving  thing going on. That Rockefeller Christmas. It was just us. We were the tainted broken ones not good enough to be included any more.

Jelalluddin Rumi speaks of the Open Secret in his poems and commentaries written centuries ago.  This ‘secret’ that we ALL carry around in some form or another trying to hide from each other.  The one about how everyone else has it (life, family, etc) figured out except us.

I was amazed at the affection and longing my children seemed to be born with for their extended family.  Even very young they seemed to know that family was different from friends we had made along the way. This love seemed to be especially powerful towards their cousins. Watching this, I felt a stirring.

This deep love seemed to be there even when we lived far away and they saw each other rarely.  It caused me to reach out tentatively for my own, my people, my tribe. It had been so long. An email here and there. Finding and friending family bit by bit on Facebook. All from a distance.

Then there was an opening. A window. My cousin’s wedding.

I have not seen Patrick, Macon and Emily since they were very little.

That was a long time ago.

  Rumi writes that “When you do something from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy”.

I had no idea how much I missed them. I had not paid attention to the Open Secret they had been carrying all these years.  Each in our own worlds thinking we were the only ones not invited to sit at the family table.  Their suffering so much greater than mine.

My soul woke up and whispered, ‘pay attention, these are your people. You have been away too long’.  I felt the river moving in me. It was joy.

I spent the evening soaking them in.  Trying to catch up on our stories. Crying at the beauty of them. Missing their father. Touching them to make sure they were real. Wanting to sit them down on my lap and pet them and hold them close. Instead trying to use my words to say ‘i am sorry for all the time I have lost. I want to come back home’. 

We don’t live in villages with our families much anymore. We are spread out across countries and even continents many times. Our lives are hectic and some days I can barely keep up with my own children much less my sister or parents. I am not doing a good job of keeping my children connected to their cousins, in spite of their longing.

But this weekend I felt an opening of my heart. So many things came into focus that I had pushed down below the surface of my soul.

I reconnected with ‘my tribe’… my cousins.   

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The gift of a

Frisbee Summer

My oldest son, Noah, is coming home in exactly 5 days, 1hour and 32 minutes.  Yes, I am counting it down.  I have not seen him since August 28, 2014.  To be a first timer at letting go of my first fledgling, I think this is pretty hard core.   I went from the comfort of having him sleep at night under my roof, safe and sound, to an occasional phone call from another time zone, halfway across the world.

Last June 2014, I was still reeling from a surprise cancer diagnosis and immediate major surgery as I stood (and mostly sat) at his graduation from high school.

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It hit me.  I had a summer.  I had one precious summer left in my house with all my children living under my roof before it changed forever.  Sure, we can always count on change, but for the last 18 years I had been a stay at home mother with at least one small child not even in school yet.  I never had to adjust to life as they leave my nest.  My life had been about adjusting around these children who were always around me!  Now, my child was leaving for another country and I was moving away from Chicago.

At first, I panicked.  I will confess that I don’t do panic very well.  It looked something like me pouncing on my 18 year old son at breakfast with a guilt trip about not spending enough time with me.  It went from there to an angry tirade about ‘aren’t we important to you? We are your FAMILY!’   If you had a video camera, you would have seen him looking at me wide eyed and nodding, mouth open.   He then backed out the door slowly, breakfast forgotten, until he cleared the door frame, at which time, he RAN to the car and drove off as fast as he knew he could get away with.  I cried.

I knew I could not prevent the inevitable.  This child was leaving home.  It was time.  It was exactly what I knew was a successful outcome.  A child confident and independent enough to go out into the world and figure out his path.  But damn it sucked.

When I related the conversation to Richard, he laughed.  Then he shared with me the secret sauce.  “Michaux, if you chase him, he will run away.  He is an 18 year old boy.  Just find something fun to do with him, then make the time to do it. That is all you have.”

I knew he was right.  (enjoy that statement Richard, it is rare)  At first, I did the standard mother things.  I spent money on him.  I took him out for lunch, or dinner.  I took him shopping.  We went to the movies.  But that will only take you so far.

Then one day the answer came.  Noah was sitting on the couch frustrated that a friend had ditched plans with him.  I was, of course, secretly jumping up and down, clapping my hands at an unexpected chance to have time with him.  I went through the list of things I could think of to do and he ‘poo pooed’ all of them.  He was really not happy about being dumped.  I finally said in frustration, “Noah I just want to hang out with you!”  He sat there for a minute, and then he looked at me and said, “You know all I really want to do is play frisbee.”  (NOW WE ARE TALKING!!)

OH YEAH!  Noah and I played some FRISBEE.  We played.  All summer.

Whenever we could sneak away from the other kids, (they would always take over the game) we would grab the frisbee and go to the big field at the park and play.  It was pure play.  Neither one of us willing to call the game.  It became a friendly competition to see if I (old, broken down) could outlast him (young, strong).

One particular day, I was in bed suffering and sick, and Noah came home with a new official frisbee.  He bounded like a puppy into the house and demanded that I get out of bed!  I couldn’t imagine how I was gonna get out of bed at that moment, and yet, I couldn’t imagine how I was NOT gonna get out of that bed.  So I got out! I played for an hour  before the other kids realized I was outside having fun without them.

When Noah did leave home and we did pack up our house and move across states, it was pretty traumatic.   I didn’t get to go visit him, or even talk to him much.  I don’t know what his room looked like.  He hasn’t seen our new home.  I didn’t get to meet his teachers or his new found friends.  I will admit to some tears about all this.  Yet, I had that frisbee summer tucked into my heart to hold onto.   It was a gift that sustained me.

Now I am getting the gift of another summer.  I will have all my children under my roof for a short time.  This time, in August I have to face sending  TWO of my four children off into the world.  My daughter, Micah, 14 is leaving home to attend school back in Chicago.

This decision was obviously not made over night.  It was a tough trial and year for her here in SC.  I watched her suffer and prayed for the answer.  I was bothered that her brother had a wonderful Jewish high school education and I could not give her the same.  So when she came to us and asked to go away to school, I knew I had to take her seriously.  I listened with a heavy heart.  I felt angry and cheated just thinking about being absent from her high school experience.  She is only 14!  How can I lose another one!  I was supposed to have four more years before I had to do that ‘letting go’ thing again.  It felt so unfair and yet I knew it was what she needed.

I made the phone call to the admissions counselor and was sick to my stomach the entire time.  I got off the phone and bawled.  I laid face down on the floor and shook.  I called G-d a few bad words.  I could not get up for awhile.

Then I stopped.  I remembered last year this same time.  I looked at all the reasons I did not want her to go and knew they were my selfish reasons not hers.  I realized I had to figure out MY path separate from my children.  Because, dammit they are gonna grow up and leave you.  And that is if it all goes WELL.  I knew if I did not figure out my purpose in this world I would not survive this child rearing.  My heart was breaking.

So I let it go.  I pulled out my frisbee summer from my heart space and let it soothe me.  I began to look forward to the fleeting gift ahead.  A summer.  This is what I have.  I must embrace it and use it to create new memories to tuck into my heart.  I must enjoy my children while I have them.  That is all we really have.

I can’t wait to play frisbee.  I look at the long golf hole number 3 out my back yard and see the game in my imagination.  I am excited to discover what else?  What gift will I get with Micah to sustain my heart this fall?   Maybe it will be the foraging for wild blackberries after dinner in the vacant lot nearby.

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Maybe it will be the kayaking down the Saluda River.  Maybe it will be the silly dancing in the kitchen while I cook.  Maybe it will be all of the above!  Maybe it will be something from G-d’s great imagination that I can’t fathom.

I am trying to figure out what else I am, but right now I am a mother.  A mother getting used to my children leaving home.  A mother learning how to let go but not despair.

A mother looking forward to another frisbee summer 🙂

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A reflection

Mother’s Day 2015

I took a look back at my words from Mother’s Day last year.   I love writing because it paints a picture, not just of what I did, but how I felt.  Reflection is a process I find a necessity of my life.  (When there is time)

Reflecting on my post (re posted below) I realized, that WAS the gift of last year… More time

Invasive cancer caught, in time, through a miraculous sequence of events outside my control.

What a gift of Grace!!  A double gift.

More time…AND

The knowledge that I was given more time.

I don’t know exactly how much, no one can know that.  But I know it was more.

WOW  I did nothing to deserve more time.  I know there are many others without more time.

I am not sure I lived this, more time, fully enough.  I have had good days and bad days, but mostly I have had MORE days!  So many more, that I took some for granted.   Some, not all.

Not the day I gave birth to myself.  The part of me that had given life 4 times, now giving life to me.

https://notthemaid.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/this-womb/

That was kind of a big deal.  I was the mother recovering from a difficult birth and baby beginning all at once.  One year old now, I am starting to stand on my two feet and walk a bit.  Shaky still.

Not the days my Mom came to take care of me.  Healing not only physical wounds but emotional ones.  Not the week Richard spent with me in the hospital.   I treasure those days.  There is more:

The day I got to sit, so proud, and hear my son give one of the commencement speeches at graduation.  The days last summer I played frisbee with Noah.  A whole field to ourselves of green grass and clover.  Running barefoot, at risk of being stung, by offended bees accidentally stepped on.  Too tired to play, too much fun to quit.  The day I watched him walk away to board a flight to Israel for a year.  Instead of tears, just sweat pouring down his shirt.  Tall, strong and young.  Goodness wrapped around him like a warm yellow light.  Knowing I would be here to miss him.  Knowing I would be here to see him home.

My wedding anniversary, celebrated by Richard, myself and the United Van moving team cleaning out our house.  Homeless and moving to a new land.  Unforgettable and perfect, as it highlighted the teamwork we have hard earned through our 20 year journey together.   A very surprising and unpredictable path trying to love each other, and raise good happy kids without losing ourselves and each other along the way.  The day I bought this dress.

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In spite of all the good reasons I shouldn’t.  Because I could.  Because I was still here, standing in this store liking how it looked on me.  Even with an endless number of more days, you only get a handful of those!  The day I wore it and my husband kissed me like that.

The day we were all sick, homeless, the temperature dropped to 10 degrees and all I could do was cry.   The days I was so mad at my kids I started screaming at them!  Until I said something stupid and we all started laughing.  The days I have had to say “I’m sorry” for being grumpy, grouchy, snappy and impatient.  The days I belly laughed so hard at my family telling stories and acting out skits around the dinner table.  The day I cried to the ‘uber’ driver all the way to the airport, because we were moving and leaving our dear friends.  (No one else will give my kids THAT experience).

The weeks of days I spent with Zeke at his new school.   Witnessing and waiting and supporting his struggle to stand on his own two feet in a foreign land.   Me, the only one who could see him through in just that way.  The day he hugged me and walked away.  No tears.

Hannah’s first day at her new school.  The joyful surprise when she got to the classroom and said, “Mom I got this, you can go”.

The day I saw Micah walk through Security on her own to fly to Chicago.  Watching her not watching me.  The day I took her to the airport to fly to Israel on her own and she wanted me to stay with her through Security.  Me, being able to offer ‘security’ just a bit longer.  Knowing she was going to see her brother.  Knowing they were excited to see each other.  Knowing they didn’t have the burden of missing me yet.  Knowing, even when my time is up, they have each other, and I am still here to nurture that.  Reminding myself why it was OK I didn’t get to see Noah this time.  I have more time.

Time.  More of it.  Lots more of it.

This Mother’s Day, one year later, I am here.  I am healthy.  My whole family is healthy.  Richard, Hannah, Zeke and I played at the beach.   I watched them squeal and ride the waves.  I took a long walk barefoot in the sand and savored every sweet step.  Steps I could not take last Mother’s Day.   I gave myself permission to let go of any need for fast or far to be a part of my progress and recovery.   I enjoyed simply… progress.  We splurged and stayed a night, in spite of all the good reasons why we shouldn’t.   Because we could.  Because we are still here.    Because we know we were given more time and we are thankful

Time.  More of it.  I was given more days.   I was generously and lovingly given the knowledge of receiving more days.  Then I was given the hope of looking forward to even more days.  A rare and precious gift.

I fully let go of my expectations that ‘Mother’s Day’ look like a greeting card.  I did not need anything from my family to make the day special.   I got to be a mom for another year.  A year of more days.   I take the good days and the bad days with a grateful heart.  Because at the end of the day.  I have been given MORE. 

Happy Mother’s Day

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A spiritual journey

A Walk In The Woods

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Money has been a little tight at the Shaffer house for the past year or so.  I am restarting a career and Richard is changing direction within his industry.  We have been putting 4 kids through Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School and then Ida Crown Jewish Academy for many many years.  So things are tight.  I get accused of making understatements, but let’s just leave it at that.

I am starting to wonder if there aren’t some real blessings in this for all of us.  As a free activity this week I took my kids to the forest preserve by our house.  It is actually a place I love to spend time running.  I call it the path to Eli’s house.  Eli is a name I have for God that comes from my favorite children’s book by Max Lucado.  It is where I feel Eli the most.  But I haven’t been taking the kids there so much.  And if money weren’t so tight, we probably wouldn’t have been there this week!

I packed a picnic, herded my 3 younger ones to the car and off we went.  It was one of my favorite experiences this summer so far.  We found a perfect spot to practice balancing, bear crawling and jumping on and off a log.  We climbed trees.  They were wild, loud and joyful.  I didn’t have to say ‘no, don’t’ even once.  After a few face plants in the dirt from all the jumping, we recovered and proceeded to spend another hour exploring the trails.

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There were squeals and shouting every time we came across a bug, spider, dragonfly, or any other little creature.  They picked up rocks and threw them into the river.  We passed lots of dogs with their owners, and horses with their riders.  Their little bodies jumped, skipped, raced, ran and moved in every way they knew how.  It was like they had been set free from some type of bondage we don’t even know we are in until we are out.  When they began to get tired, they took off their shoes and walked, ran and carried each other the rest of the way back.  There was not a single whine the entire time.  It seemed to meet each child’s needs regardless of age difference.  There was no gift shop at the end to cause conflict.  We got in the car to go home worn out and peaceful.

Not having money to spend whenever I want is teaching me a lot.  I have been learning what my parents went through at this same time in their lives.  I had no idea.  I thought they just didn’t want to have heat in our bedrooms growing up!  That we didn’t eat out because they loved their own cooking.   I thought my mom made all our clothes because she just liked to sew.  I never thought we were poor.  I actually thought we had more than most.  I am learning that having or not having money is not a character judgement.  The two things are not related.  And I am being reassured that it is temporary.  Money ebbs and flows in our lives.  What we do with that information is character development.

So maybe we are walking this path in our lives right now for good reason.  Maybe we are learning how to “be” and be thankful for what we have.  Maybe it is us parents that need to learn this more than our kids.  Maybe we just have to keep our kids from unlearning it.  Hopefully we can hang onto this lesson of what we don’t need…to always accumulate more stuff, when money is easier.  Maybe this is the real path to Eli’s house.  We are definitely becoming more humbled in our shoes.  Our worn out one pair of shoes.

Maybe my kids will look back and think that their mom just liked taking them to the woods instead of the mall.  They will be right.

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