Entries Tagged as 'love'

Unnecessary Terrors

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Baby Rowan, 11 days old

He told me one time he forgot himself & his heart opened up like a door with a loose latch & he tried for days to put it all back in proper order but finally he gave up & left it all jumbled up there in a pile & loved everything equally.
–Brian Andreas

When my son Rowan was born almost two weeks ago, I was nothing if not prepared. I’d gathered all the essential gear and several non-essentials, too. I’d cleaned the house and shopped for groceries as if I would never have another opportunity shop or clean again. I’d frantically bought last minute baby care things from Amazon Prime, thinking I probably wouldn’t have time for that, either.

And, I’d collected stories. Lots of stories.

Stories is a nice way to put it, because most of the stories I’d gathered were nightmares. Nightmares about breastfeeding, infant illness, postpartum depression. Nightmares about failures to bond, loss of selfhood, the horrors of endless sleep deprivation and the unshakeable exhaustion that comes with new motherhood. Nightmares about c-section deliveries and what could go wrong during and after surgery. Lots of stories.

My husband says this is my personality; I’m a worrier, and worriers tend to prepare for the worst. This is true. But plenty of other people, in-person and on the internet, played their part. I’m not on social media anymore, but still the internet is full of narratives about how hard it is for new moms, about the inequities between men and women raising children, about our awful society that doesn’t support families. I added all of this information to my file of nightmares. If motherhood was an endless hardship, an epic sacrifice, then at least I wasn’t going into it alone.

***

Leading up to the birth, many people asked me how I was feeling. As in, was I feeling prepared? I never knew how to answer this. If I said I was feeling prepared, they’d tell me I could never be truly prepared. If I said I wasn’t feeling prepared, they’d say the same thing, only with a more ominous tone.

So I tried to express ambivalence, which I certainly felt; I gave a guarded, cautious response that covered as many bases as possible. “Sort of prepared. As much as I can be, you know, given that I can never be prepared.” While I said this, I secretly fingered the worn corners of my file of nightmares, knowing that all manner of struggles awaited me on the other side of pregnant. I guess there was comfort in this, the thickness of that file, growing like the mysterious baby inside me.

***

My parents had their first kid in their late teens; the next two came shortly after. I was born into poverty to two parents who had traumatic childhoods and no time to heal, find themselves, or go to college before they married and had a family. Times were different then; they were just following the social clock laid down for people with their cultural, socioeconomic, and familial backgrounds. As a result, my childhood was its own nightmare; I have very few memories that aren’t tinged with the deep dread of when the next fight would break out, when the other shoe would drop. A worrier I am, but I came by it honestly.

By the age I am now, 38, my parents had finally called it quits on their unfortunate union. Mom and Dad then began what I’ve had my entire adulthood to work on—healing past traumas, learning new ways of relating to myself and others, and becoming a reasonably well-functioning person. Somehow, when I gathered stories of what to expect from early motherhood, I failed to factor in my current circumstances. Unlike my own parents, my husband and I have a stable, healthy relationship. We are middle class. We have decent careers in jobs we find rewarding. We know ourselves fairly well. We’ve both been to therapy. I quit drinking entirely, and Thomas almost never drinks anymore. We have hobbies and interests, and a lovely, peaceful home. We can be trusted to water our yard and houseplants. We keep our cats alive. We get routine dental care.

We are privileged, lucky, fortunate–all of it. Unlike so many people, we do not live from crisis to crisis.

***

The logistical preparation I did for the baby was helpful. When we brought Rowan home, I had a serious surgical wound in my abdomen. The pain was milder than I’d predicted, but I was still limited. Strategically placed baby beds, diapers, wipes, swaddling blankets, and burp cloths eliminated unnecessary trips up and down the stairs. Frozen food made for simple meals. A clean house was just plain nice.

But as for the nightmares, so far they have proved untrue. For all my preparation, I never once considered it could actually go well.

Yet going well it is. I’m recovering quickly from the surgery. Rowan arrived a little on the small side, but he’s perfectly healthy, and he’s gaining weight quickly. Nursing has been easier (and so much sweeter) than I anticipated. The whole experience of taking care of his little being feels natural and just…right.

***

I was so scared to get married, and a hundred times more scared to have a kid. I didn’t think I could do it, and on some level didn’t think I deserved to. I certainly didn’t think that freedom, joy, belonging, and connection could come from such massive family commitments.

Tomorrow marks two weeks since Rowan was born. Since we brought him home, I’ve cooked several yummy meals. I’ve started a new painting. I’ve taken a few trips to the grocery store and a couple walks around the neighborhood. I’ve spent precious time with friends and family. Sure, I’m leaking breast milk, but I’m also taking showers every day. Occasionally I even nap.

Admittedly, my relationship to time is different now. While Rowan sleeps, I can accomplish in an hour or two what used to take me several. And yeah, I know it won’t always be this way. Babies change quickly, they need more things, they motor around, they make bigger, stinkier poos, they get sick and get their parents sick. Eventually we’ll have to teach him about climate change and institutionalized racism and cancer and death. We’ll try our best to expose him to wonder and prepare him for our difficult world.

That being said, I was wholly unprepared for feeling an unbearably big and deep love for my baby boy. Nowhere in the stories I collected, at least not the ones I noted or archived, did I expect to experience the kind of overwhelming love for Rowan that I continue to feel.

***

The other day, when I tearfully shared my impossibly vulnerable joy with Thomas, he looked in my eyes and said, “Good thing love isn’t something we have to prepare for.”

I’ve lived most of my life with a lot of unnecessary terrors, and the guards that come with that kind of fear. Now Rowan is here, and I’m starting to think my husband may be right.



All This Time

Friday, August 7, 2015

40 x 60"

All This Time (40 x 60″)

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”
Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.
-Hafiz

The Return

Saturday, July 25, 2015

 Overlook

I head up for a week in the Great Smoky Mountains with my nephew Mason, who is almost 10 years old. I’ve rented a cabin that we discover, after our 12-hour drive, is country kitsch: Chock-full of bears holding up hearts inscribed with saccharine sayings.  “What’s the deal with all these bears?” Mason asks.  “I don’t know, it’s beary weird, isn’t it?” I say. He puts his arm around me, looks in my eyes and says, “Don’t worry, Aunts make things bear-able.”

During our week together, we settle into a routine. Early mornings, I have coffee and do yoga while he sleeps. Mid-mornings, we hike. In the afternoons, we swim in a cold clear river, and at dusk, we lounge in our balcony’s hot tub and watch the sun set. As it gets dark, we each take a rocking chair and quietly sketch with pastels and pens. Later, we curl up and talk about life and death. “I don’t want you or anyone I love to die,” he confides. “When I think about death, I get sad.”  “Yes,” I say, “we all die. But this is also what makes our time together very precious and beautiful.”  Mason turns his back to me in the dark and cries softly. I feel my own face wet with tears. I put my hand on his back and say, “I’m sad, too. But you know, when people really love us, we can feel their love even after they die. We get to keep their love inside.”

We drive through a dense forest. I’m thinking about our conversation about death. “You know,” I say, “some cultures and religions believe that we live many lives. We aren’t just here one time, we are born into many different bodies, including animal bodies, until we’ve learned everything we’re supposed to learn about being here. It’s called reincarnation.”

“Hmmm, I think I’ve heard of that,” he says. “What do you think, Aunt Sara? Do you believe it?”

“I don’t know what to believe,” I say. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been here before, but mostly I just enjoy the questions. I like wondering about it, more than anything. I like the mystery of it, you know?”

“Yeah,” he says.

Later on the hike, Mason requests that I ask him questions. He likes it when I ask him, “If you could…” questions, like, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”  His answer is, “To live forever.”

I try another question. “If you could come back as anyone, at any time in history, and live their life, who would you want to come back as?”

He gets quiet for a few minutes, thinking.  Then he says, “I bet you know who I’d pick. Take a guess.”

I don’t know. I think of the president, or wealthy people, or famous athletes, but none of these feel right. Then, it hits me. “Yourself?” I say, “you’d want to come back as you?”

“Yep!” he says cheerfully, and offers no further explanation.

I’m deeply touched.

“That’s cool,” I say, when I can find my words again. “You know what, Mason?  Me too.”

Mason is on the edge of pre-adolescence. His body is changing, and each day he speaks with more maturity, but he still retains much of his boyish innocence. Often during our hikes, he slips his smooth little hand in mine. We walk like this for awhile, sometimes miles. Teenage boys and their fathers who are definitely not holding hands cross our path, but Mason doesn’t let go. I wonder if it will ever be like this with him again, which makes our time together precious and beautiful indeed.

Mason sketching

I weave the car down a mountain road, my eyes alight with the scenery, big clouds atop bigger mountains. “Aunt Sara, you’re smiling again. You’re always smiling. Why do you smile so much?” Mason asks.

I am not aware of smiling.

“Because I’m happy,” I answer, realizing it’s true. “I know that life can be difficult, but I love being alive, Mason. I love that I get to be alive.”

We walk the same trails I walked when I was here alone last summer. As we walk, I catch glimpses of who I was last year, when I came to these woods falling deeply in love with the man I was sure I’d marry. Time passed; we parted. It was necessary to let go.

The hikers

“This is my favorite part of the path,” Mason says during one of our long hikes to a waterfall. He stops me and gestures to the trees that form a low, dark tunnel over us. “It looks like a wedding,” he says.

I smile. “That’s one wedding I’d want to attend,” I say.

“Walk along, kiddo.” He does, and I take his picture in the dark tunnel of trees.

The Wedding Path

Mason springs up the path ahead of me. I watch his deft feet and wonder who he will become. Highly creative and sensitive, deeply introverted yet a hilarious entertainer, it’s impossible to know from here. Most everything is, in fact. I wonder how he’ll record this summer vacation in memory. I wonder if he’ll return to these memories for comfort, to remember a time when he was really at home in himself and loved so completely. I wonder if he’ll have to lose himself and find himself again, like I did in my painful teenage and young adult years. I think about the people who have helped me get back to myself when I’ve been lost, and wonder if I might be such a person for Mason.

Trees have always done this for me, wrapped me in their green blankets of light until I remembered myself and could open back out to the world. I wonder if I can be a kind of forest for Mason as he grows up, an earthy place he can return to, even just in memories and dreams. In this forest, whoever he is, whoever he becomes, whether he finds himself on or off his path, he can know he is loved just as he is.

These woods, too, tall and verdant with their wide arms above us–we walk and we are held, by branches and leaves, by sticks and legs and careful steps over water, in an improbable world of connections and partings, a world that, just this morning, was declared to be on the edge of total climate collapse.

As we walk, Mason and I make plans to return to these woods each summer, to make it an annual tradition.

I hope we do.

But life is uncertain. Next year, will we both be alive? Will we have the resources and the time and the desire to vacation with each other? We plan to return to the woods, but perhaps what we most want to is to know we can return to a place where we are wholly ourselves, where we belong to and can participate in a sacred world, a world in which we don’t have to question if we are loved. Perhaps this is a place we can return to anytime, always, because we carry it inside.

Green sky

On the drive home to Florida, we don’t talk much. Last year, Mason called me out for making idle conversation just to feel connected to him. Since then, I’ve learned to trust the silences between us, to rest into the connection they hold.

Occasionally we listen to music–Eminem (his choice), Josh Ritter and Krishna Das (mine). We find some common ground with the band Phoenix, and jam out together. While he half-sleeps, I listen to Mickey Singer’s audio version of his new book, The Surrender Experiment. (Mason informs me he “already knows all that stuff,” and perhaps he does.) We also listen to Eleanor and Park, a tender adolescent story of love and loss that a client recommended for the drive.

Mostly though, we sit in silence. Time passes. We cover distances. We look at the road and we breathe.

“Ask me some spelling words,” Mason suggests to break the monotony of the drive.

“Fantastic,” I offer.

“Fantastic,” he says. “F-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c.”

“Yes,” I say. “Fantastic.”

Path

LOST
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner

The Teacher

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

the teacher

The Teacher
(Pen and India Ink)

* * * * *

“Life in the classroom is real, adventuresome, thrilling, and demanding. How do we get ourselves out in the open? How do we wake up?…Let us acknowledge that a school is more than a place or a staff or a student body; it is a process: of bringing to birth, of awakening.”

–excerpts from Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, & the Person, by M.C. Richards

* * * * *

Ninth grade was a difficult year for me, as it is for so many ninth graders. I’d started a new school, my parents were divorcing, and that thing called adolescence was underway. But it was also the year I met someone who forever changed me, the year I took my first art class with Dr. Dianne Skye.

Dianne was the art teacher at P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School for many years, and I recently attended her retirement celebration. She was a tireless instructor, a strong artist and potter, and also had trained in the same counselor education program from which I later received my PhD. Other teachers had loved me before, but Dianne was the first who loved me openly, without apology. While I believe that she loved all of her students, I know that her love saved me.

Sometimes I’d arrive at school unable to compose myself. The divorce was painful, and I engaged in a good bit of uncontrollable sobbing. I’d stumble into Dianne’s classroom before the first bell and take refuge in her tiny office, where she’d light a candle, position tissue, and quietly close the door before leading students through home room. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, but we gradually became close.

Later that year, Dianne gave me The Artist’s Way, a book that has since become very popular. At thirteen, though, I’d never seen anything like it, and I was profoundly impacted. Dianne had inscribed kind words on the inside cover and signed her name, “Love, Dianne.” Those gifts, the book and her love, are still with me today.

I devoured the first chapter and immediately committed myself to Morning Pages–three pages of stream-of-consciousness long-hand writing every morning, first thing in the morning, without fail. On weekdays, this required waking up at 5:30am, which I did.

I filled hundreds of pages while I worked my way through the book. It’s a big undertaking, and not necessarily one I’d opt for at this age or stage of life. But back then, the book meant survival. I’d always kept a journal, but writing each morning formed a lifeline, a way to consistently put overwhelming, chaotic life experiences in a safe container. My journal became my own candlelit office, my own refuge. I wrote Morning Pages for the next fifteen years, and I still revive the practice when I need new direction and guidance.

 I took art classes with Dianne until I left for college, most of which I spent in the potter’s studio throwing pots. Sitting at the wheel and centering clay, I learned to center myself, too. Periodically, Dianne would check on me, give me a few tips if I needed them, and then return to teaching her classes. When I’d leave for the day, she’d hug me and tell me she loved me.

I never tired of hearing those words, and I carry her influence inside me. She’s there when I teach, when I open my office as a refuge,  when I encourage my students and clients to write or paint or otherwise express their overwhelming experiences in the safe container of creativity. In this way, her love continues to multiply.

Perhaps at the heart of every great teacher is love.

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