Baby Sarah

My daughter is telling everyone that I am pregnant with a baby girl named Sarah. (I’m not.) After the third person at her school congratulated me on this fictitious pregnancy, I asked her why she was telling people this. She replied, “Because it makes people happy when I say that.” Yeah.

My daughter loves babies. She draws pictures of them all the time. Her second word, after ‘hi’, was ‘baby.’ When I told her I wasn’t having anymore babies, she cried big fat tears and asked angrily, “How would you feel if you wanted a baby sister and someone said you couldn’t have one?”

I told her I would feel sad.

So. There won’t be anymore babies in my belly. The how and why of that is long, complicated, and personal, but unless a baby arrives Moses-style on our doorstep (speaking metaphorically), my child won’t have any siblings who share her last name. I feel grief about this. I feel relief at finally being able to let go of the two tons of baby-parphenalia in my house. I feel down-on-my-knees-heart-swelling grateful for my daughter and the life we have together.

So, I’m working on trust right now. I’m casting out trust into the universe, into the cosmic web of connection. At this juncture, I’m trusting that if our family grows (if we even have the time and space to grow!), then it will grow in another, surprising way — perhaps even in a way that doesn’t include babies. Perhaps our family will expand to include animals (rescue pets? chickens?! goats!!), or neighborhood kids, or my daughter’s friends, or adult friends, or people united by a cause, or wise elderly folks, or amazing teams of people working on creative projects. My sweet friend told me, “you will be surprised at the ways souls come into your life to fill up the spaces in your heart.”

The spaces in my heart are waiting to be surprised.

I’m going to trust that my daughter will find her ‘soul sisters’ and ‘soul brothers’ in her lifetime. I’m going to trust that she will find and choose a ‘sister’ like my sister and a ‘brother’ like my husband’s brother. She will find and choose a sibling-like relationship if she needs one, and people will find and choose her. Already, she is lucky to have some wonderful (though faraway) cousins.

We’ll just have to wait and see how she creates and lives into her extended family TBD.

These days, as I’m trusting-trusting-trusting,  I’m also working with the notion that we create our families. I’m considering the idea that the families we are born into, the families we chose, and the families who chose us, are a construction built by the people involved.

And I am comforted by the thought that there is some latitude in thinking about how this will work for us — for the current three-people-in-a-household-family that I have.

(Yes, I know I’m really late to the party on this.) These days I’m percolating on the idea that my-little-three-person-household might loosen up our narrow thinking around what a family can be. We can make the rules; we can tell the story. We can identify the players and the relationships and the boundaries. We can choose the words we’ll use to describe each other. We can make a compact (explicitly or implicitly) to love and care for those souls in our extended family of choice, as well as in our ’traditional’ family. We can locate our village (“it takes a village”) and choose to participate in that village-life too.

We might still have a ‘baby Sarah’ in our lives — she just might be someone else’s baby we love or she might not be a baby at all (see above). We can fill those spaces in our hearts in surprising ways. This is possible. There are possibilities I’ve never considered before.

And I love possibilities.

What possibilities do you see? What is the composition of your family? What kind of a life have you created together?

One more thing:
This post is a meditation for me and a challenge to confront my blind spots. It’s an effort to dive deeper in my Year of Clarity and dig into the life I want to actively create for myself and for those connected to me.
Currently, there are legal and cultural definitions of ‘family’ that constrict and impinge on people’s freedom to fully, legally realize the families they have created. This post isn’t meant to compare my family’s situation to families who are facing shameful laws such as  NC’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. My family and I are privileged in many ways — in this case, my husband and I are legally recognized as a married couple and we receive those associated rights and benefits (including parental ones). It is wrong and deeply disturbing that these rights/benefits/legal recognition are not extended to all consenting and committed adults. Hopefully, 2014 will see that change.
 

A discussion about death over orange juice

“You’ll die first.”

My five year old daughter said that to me about two weeks ago. It was 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I was leaning into the fridge reaching for some orange juice. She was between bites of her cereal, sounding chirpy and chipmunky as she usually does.

“You’ll die first.”

Do not underestimate the creepiness of hearing your kid say that to you. Even on a bright Saturday morning while you are in your bathrobe and she is in her snowman pjs and all is right with the world — it was super creepy**. I admit I laughed, snorted and gulped at the same time wondering if I was about to have a kindergartener-exorcist-experience and marveling at how unexpected this parenting stuff is.

I aimed for an attitude of nonchalant curiosity as I emerged from the fridge with the oj. “What do you mean, honey? Can you tell me more? Do you have a question?”

Turns out that she was just confirming a logical sequence that she’d worked out in her head….it goes a little like this:

When people get really old, they die. Mom is older than me. Mom will get really old before I get really old. Therefore, Mom will die before I will die.

Mom will die first (before me). Right, Mom?

Yeah, and it was only 8:00 a.m. 

I agreed that she was right, that I would die first. Yep, yep, you bet, don’t worry about that. Knowing my kid as I do, I know she was looking for comfort and the standard assurance that if I did something first than it wouldn’t be so scary for her. That is her clear preference for how things work in our little family world — her dad and I pave the way, act things out, model behaviors, act as examples, then she feels safe enough to try for herself. On that Saturday morning, her little brain whispered something unsettling about her own mortality; she wanted to make sure that someone else was on the hook to figure that out first. That would be me….on the hook.

It is a sobering thought that your kid is looking to you to model how to approach death — even in the simplest-five-year-old understanding of that concept — yes, that is a sobering thought over Cheerios and coffee and orange juice and slippers and snowman pjs. I didn’t know I was signing up for that when I saw the double pink line on the pregnancy test, you know?

It’s not surprising though, when I consider that this kid is watching me all the time for clues about how to live in this world and how to interpret the events and the people in it. She is all the time looking for indications about what is frightening and what is not, what is safe and what is not, how to treat people/guests/family/friends/neighbors/strangers, how to express herself, the rules of society, the rules of being female, the rules of being a child, and more…She is looking to me and the other adults in her life to model very complicated ways of operating in the world — so she knows how to be and, more importantly, what to expect.

What can she expect? What should she expect? She wants to know. Geez, so do I.

So, death. It comes up from time to time. We see dead birds or dead animals in the woods – we attended my grandmother’s funeral – her grandparents’ dog died – she hears some snippet of news or adults talking or conversation at school about people dying or getting killed. Fairly often, she comes to me with questions about people who died and what that means for them and for us and for her.

I don’t know the answers to any of this. I don’t know what it all means. Once she learns how to read my blog, she’ll know that.

So, we talk about death. We talk about how the body stops working when you die — no more breathing, playing, moving, eating, sleeping, etc. We talk about the permanence of that bodily change (she doesn’t believe in the permanence — not one bit — that’s ok). We talk about our souls and what a soul might be and where it goes after death. Once we get beyond what happens to the body, I answer almost all of her questions about death with my own question “What do you think happens?” Because I’m curious. Because I want her to think it through in a way that makes sense to her five-year-old-mind. Because I don’t know. Currently, she is certain that all souls go directly to Mars to hang out after death. Alright by me. Alright for now.

Mostly, when she comes to me with questions, she’s really asking if she’s safe, if we are going to leave her, and if anything bad is going to happen in the immediate future. I have spent a great deal of time googling ‘age-appropriate conversations about death and dying’ — what the hell, I don’t know how to talk about this — and I’m doing my best to comfort her without feeding her misinformation. I’m doing my best not to make it all sound scary (like how much it scares me) and instead to frame death as a transition, as a mystery, as an aspect of life that we all have in common. I’m doing my best to make sure that she understands that no discussion topic is taboo whether it’s dying or sex or bodies or whatever, and that emotion-laded topics are not to be feared.  In this family, emotions are not to be feared, they are to be shared…even grief, even fear, even confusion, even courage, even love.

Even as I try to comfort her and remind her that she is safe, I know that life and death cannot be controlled. Bad, sad shit happens — wrong and out of order and out of tune and way too soon. I know this. I can’t control it. I can’t anticipate it. One day, she’ll come to me with more questions that I cannot answer about life, death, meaning, fairness, fate, and the f-ed up turning-wheel-of-fortune. In those moments, I will try like hell to hold space for her and her questions, and trust that she will find her own answers over time, as we all must. (Deep breath, deep breath)

In the meantime, I guess I’m showing her how to approach life as well as death (even as I’m figuring that out for myself in real time). I’m engaging what is frightening and what is not, what is safe and what is not; I’m considering how to treat people/guests/family/friends/neighbors/strangers, how to express myself, the rules of society, the rules of being female, the rules of being a child, and more…I am wrestling with the very complicated ways of operating in the world in the presence of my daughter knowing that she can see me and she is watching me live my life. 

We talk about living during this living-alive-portion-of-my-life. Daughter, let’s talk about life! I do my best to comfort her without feeding her misinformation. I do my best not to make it all sound scary (like how much life scares me) and instead to frame life as a series of transitions, as a mystery, as something else that we all have in common.

Like death, life still happens, even if we ignore it. I don’t want to ignore either one.

Yes.

Yes, I want her to be right about me ‘dying first’ (there’s something I never expected I would say).

Yes, that is ok with me.

I plan to live to hit the triple digits. If my soul goes to Mars when I’m 100, she’ll still be a spritely 65. As far as I’m concerned, ‘first’ doesn’t mean anytime soon.

Triple digits, baby.

** Unless you are a five-year-old innocent, please be cool and refrain from repeating this statement to me.

The Year of Clarity

It’s been over a year since my last blog post.* Much has happened since then including two birthdays for me, a new job, four shows, a trip to Disney World, a kiddo in kindergarten and other stuff that’s too boring or too juicy to mention here. 2013 was checkered with life’s crazy cocktail of events and emotions — growth, discovery, loss, joy, love, sadness, laughter, friendship, friction. An amazing, exhausting blur. Now, I find myself poised at the beginning of this new year with questions, intentions, and an urge to write myself thru what is yet to come — to lean into the wind of 2014 and let my writing catch me and carry me away…

THE YEAR OF CLARITY

My hubbie and I sit together every New Year’s Eve to reflect on the previous year and write out new goals for the coming year. It’s a tradition that I have come to deeply appreciate as a way to mark the passage of time and the progress of our lives, as well as charting our future. This year we even included our five year old in the goal setting exercise. Her goals were refreshingly simple and surprisingly similar to some of mine — take walks, see friends, have a birthday party, enjoy treats.

On this most recent New Years Eve, I declared 2014 to be THE YEAR OF CLARITY. (Yes, I’m geeking out with the New Year’s goals by giving my year a theme in addition to setting out a list of things to accomplish.) I went with a theme because many of my goals were related to this idea of finding clarity, and quite frankly, I gotta figure stuff out.

I have questions. (I said it in a little voice just then, but it’s really I HAVE QUESTIONS!)

We all have questions, right? They are likely the same ol’ standbys — Who am I? What am I doing in this life? Why? How? What needs to change? What’s going to happen? How can I be happy? Where are the balance points? What is important? How can I love better? How do I hold life loosely and tenaciously? How do I get better? Why is this happening? What does my life mean? What does it all mean? Questions. Questions. I have questions. (I HAVE QUESTIONS!) The questions are mostly the same each year — have always been the same as long as I can remember — but I find them harder to ignore as I grow older. In fact, my questions seem to be mating and multiplying like little over-sexed rabbit-questions. I have more more more questions and fewer fewer fewer answers. My answers are evaporating, slipping away. I used to have more answers, you know? Perhaps I gave them away or lost them or perhaps they weren’t answers at all but something else entirely (maybe recipes for a life I thought I should have?).

And don’t get me wrong, I love questions. Questions are beautiful springboards to creative exploration. Questions are awesome. But life is turning up the heat on my real big questions like the ones listed above — questions alone aren’t cutting it anymore — I mean, I gotta get some answers, people! Did I mention that I started working in a hospital last year? Did I mention that I turned 40, my kid’s in elementary school, and life is rolling forward and speeding up and getting real in a way that I haven’t experienced before. There’s an urgency to answering the big questions for real that increases every year. Or at least there’s an increased urgency to try to answer them — I know, I know some of these questions might be unanswerable — but my life needs to be about trying to find the answers in a more intentional way. For me, life has become wrestling with questions in the hopes that I can gather up tiny, unexpected, bracing bits of clarity like snowflakes in the palm of my hand. The Year of Clarity is me diving into the wonder of it all and coming up with some meaning. The effort that I make to understand life, to consider difficult questions, to examine my existence fully — to me, making that effort is a goal I must accomplish. Then, when I find some answers (or at least gain some rockin’ insights), then I can really fly and spin and gallop gracefully thru life with purpose, with gratitude, with fortitude. Then I can get some real good meaningful stuff done. On purpose.

So I tell myself anyway.

Because I do want to fly and spin and gallop gracefully thru life with purpose, with gratitude, with fortitude. I want to get clear, gain clarity, figure things out, and then do some real-good-meaningful-stuff-on-purpose. Somehow I think/hope this blog can help me do that.

So, I’m back. Want to join me?

*Yeah, so it’s been over a year since my last blog post and I barely remember how to use WordPress. It’s going to take me awhile to figure out how to do fancier stuff and make it look pretty –but don’t worry, that’s on my goals for 2014. Also, I don’t know how regular my posts will be. TBD, friends.

31 questions and then some…

I love questions. In particular, I love making lists of questions. Perhaps that’s because life seems like a series of questions strung together over time [What are we doing? Where are my keys? What’s next? Why did I say that? Who cares? etc.] Making lists of questions feels really empowering to me. I guess that’s a positive way to re-frame my general confusion about the world. What do you think?

When I’m all muddled up and frustrated, I start pushing really hard for the solution to my problem. Thinking and churning and turning those wheels in my brain. However, almost without exception, I’ve found that find the ‘right’ solution is really about finding the ‘right’ question first. Easing up and focusing on the questions has been so helpful — not easy, never easy — but helpful.

Questions are my all-purpose tool to help expand my imagination, sharpen my focus, sort my thoughts and priorities, stimulate creativity, delve deeper into an issue, and occasionally arrive at an answer. Of course, questions are excellent for generating art too. For me, questions are the first step in getting things done. A better question = a better solution (or a better result or a deeper conversation or a more specific plan or more focused art or etc.) Has that been your experience?

What’s your relationship to questions? Do they help you?

To celebrate the month of August — or rather, to celebrate questions during the month of August —  I offer you a list of 31 random (hopefully, thought-provoking) questions, one for each day of this month. [I realize we are a little behind since August started last week, but you can double up for a few days. Hee.] The questions below are in no particular order and have no particular focus. Just good ol’ jumping-off-point questions for self-discovery and conversation. If you want to, use them as writing prompts, conversation starters, or opportunities for getting to know yourself during a meditative walk. Let me know how you do with them. I’m so curious! If there’s a question that you find particularly intriguing, then let me know that too. Perhaps that could be the focus for a future blog post.

For more content-specific questions, check out Story Corps’ Great Questions List.

Questions:

  1. Where are you going?
  2. What is the next book you would like to read? Why?
  3. How do you feel about your name? Would you like to change it?
  4. When people see you walking down the street, what do they think?
  5. What is your favorite place? Why?
  6. What makes you feel invigorated?
  7. What was your last nightmare?
  8. What do you forbid yourself to do or to feel?
  9. What can you let go of?
  10. How do you greet people?
  11. How do you spend your evenings?
  12. Why did you make that choice?
  13. Who do you wish to be?
  14. Where do you want to live?
  15. How do you feel about food?
  16. How did you learn to think?
  17. What is your biggest pet peeve?
  18. Who makes you feel important?
  19. How would you spend a day by yourself?
  20. What is the elephant in the room?
  21. How are you different now than 5, 10, 15 years ago?
  22. What is the first thing you disclose to a stranger?
  23. Have you ever been in danger? How so?
  24. What is your fondest memory?
  25. How do you feel about wildlife?
  26. Who makes you smile?
  27. What makes you laugh?
  28. What situations make your stomach churn?
  29. When do you feel authentically yourself? What does that feel like?
  30. What are you planning to do 5 minutes from now?
  31. What is the best gift you’ll give this year?

Bonus Question #32: What will you do now that you know something you didn’t know before?

Bonus Reference to 32: If you were an undergraduate female in the 1990s obsessed with the song 32 Flavors by Ani DiFranco (um, me), then this list might have triggered a yearning for that song. If so, for sentimental purposes take a look at the YouTube video of Ani singing that song, And Lyrics to 32 Flavors by Ani DiFranco.