Loss and Its Silver Threaded Lining

123rf stock photo

123rf stock photo

A fews days ago I heard the unfortunate news that someone from town had passed away. Moments after hearing the shocking news, I picked up my phone to call my mom.

As quickly as I picked up the phone, I put it down. I sat there even a bit surprised at myself.

I can’t call my mom. She died in December. I am surprised that sometimes I still forget.

After months of her valiantly suffering, a long hospital stint, a wake, a funeral, sorting through her things, discussing her estate, and talking with my widowed dad every single day, I still sometimes forget.

Maybe it is because she was my Go-To Person. When I have an incredibly good day at work, when I have some exciting news about my writing, or when I have something funny to share about my daughters, I still pick up the phone.

31373191_sPerhaps it is because we often think of loss as a date on a calendar. We think of death and the loss we experience as a moment in time on a certain day at a specific hour at a precise minute when a loved one left this world.

Loss really isn’t a thumbtack pricked through a calendar date. Loss is more of a thread that is stitched through our lives, sharply shredding through the fabric of our lives at a certain point in our existence then slipping below the surface and re-entering again.

The truth is that we don’t lose our loved ones on a set date. We lose them again each time we awake from a dream. We lose them every time we celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, or a milestone that we had believed they would be a physical presence at. We lose them while strolling down the sidewalk at 3pm on that random weekday afternoon when a sudden bittersweet memory rushes to mind. We lose them each time we begin to place a call that cannot be answered in the way we had become accustomed to.

11038897_sLoss and all of the sorrow it carries with it have a way of entering our worlds and tipping the axis of our reality on its side. And maybe this is a good thing.

Maybe the realignment is much needed. Perhaps we need to pause and look at the still shot of life and ask what is part of the real picture and what is the negative.

The opportunity to look at what is real and what is an illusion is valuable. The chance to question what matters and what is backdrop is there for our taking. I suspect the things we often prize as priorities matter less, and as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry suggested, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

flickr.com/photos/sarahbaker/425992892

flickr.com/photos/sarahbaker/425992892

Perhaps each death is actually a beam of light. Perhaps death and the sobering moments it carries with it are actually beams of light cracking through a stormy, charcoal clouded sky to let us know there really is a blue sky above. We just cannot see it.

It is peculiar how words and messages can work like beams too. They seem to have an energy. They have a idiosyncratic force behind them. They have a way of finding us through the thick storm clouds.

In the midst of my own storm this past week, I found myself sorting through a box full of mementos. I found a card that my mom had sent me several years ago. She had mailed it to me right after my first miscarriage after the birth of my second daughter. My mom was no stranger to miscarriage as well. We spoke little about it but I knew that she understood.

flickr.com/photos/ambroo/8150931225

flickr.com/photos/ambroo/8150931225

At the time, I don’t remember thinking much about the card. Perhaps I was too sorrowful. Perhaps life with two toddlers, three dogs, and work was just too busy.

Years later, like a thread stitching its way across the years, this note has re-entered the fabric of my life at the most peculiar of times. Its message resonates deeper now. It speaks on a unique level to her mortal life and my loss.

It gracefully answers the questions that I have thrown up to the heavens in the darkness of the night. It quells insecure thoughts. It softly hushes doubt. It brings with it a peace that inspires and persists.

Here is the card and her message below. May it speak to you too.

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Front of card: “When you come to the edge of all the light you have known & are about to step into the darkness, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen…there will be something to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”

Inside card, ” Dear Ann Marie,   Been there, done that…and I can guarantee what this is saying on this card is true. God’s plan for us somehow eventually reveals itself. What would we do without faith? My heart, love and prayers are with you.    As ever,  Mom”

I love you Mom. I miss your voice even though you continue to speak to me, as ever.

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Patricia Ann Jones O’Rourke

1941-2014

 

 

 

Forgiveness: An Essential Practice For Your Soul’s Sake

photo 1-3After dropping off our two oldest daughters at camp, my husband and I packed up our cooler and our two-year-old daughter and walked past the dunes out to the beach. That is what people do on vacation. They make an effort to relax.

Eight-hundred miles from home on a vast, vacant shore, we scooped up shells, built lopsided sandcastles, returned living sand dollars back into the sea, and swam with our daughter.

We floated in the calm seas under the balmy sun taking in the wild air. We were in paradise.

We were in paradise yet I was somewhere else. To the untrained observer, I was a mom peacefully floating along the Atlantic Ocean at low tide. Inside of myself though, there was a looming tempest swirling about.

I wasn’t floating in the calm, warm sea. I was re-living a week ago in my mind.

My husband and I recently had the experience of being deceived by someone we trusted – a person we trusted with our household, our rescue dogs, and our children. The feeling was awful.

I was angry. I do anger well. The letting go of anger part – not so well.

I was angry at being lied to. I was angry at being played for a fool. I was angry at myself for not trusting my gut and not confronting the lies earlier out of convenience or comfort. My head was bursting with shoulda-coulda-woulda’s. I replayed conversations in my mind and second-guessed events in my head. I was torturing myself.

Once the deceit was revealed, I had tried to take the high road. I just didn’t expect the high road to feel so low. I just couldn’t seem to let go of the anger and the hurt.

I then realized this: It is not about my response or the expected emotional outcomes of high and low roads. It is about forgiveness.

The thing about forgiveness is that it is noble in theory yet difficult in practice. In conceptualizing forgiveness and truly grasping what forgiveness is, it is perhaps best to acknowledge what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not a free-pass. It does not mean we return to the same circumstances. Forgiveness does not mean we will trustimage that person again. We can learn from a moment and not return to it. We can forgive but not forget and that is acceptable. Forgiveness must not always accompany forgetfulness. Forgiveness, however, most always tends to precede forgetfulness. The memory, nonetheless, does not dissipate. We just must not wear our hurt around our necks, on our sleeves, and on our skin. We must acknowledge it and then tuck it away.

Forgiveness is not an eraser. It doesn’t wipe away the hurt. The practice of forgiveness doesn’t minimize what has happened.

Forgiveness is not a do-over. It doesn’t change the facts or alter the past but it does change every moment forward. It alters our future.

Forgiveness even alters our present. Forgiveness forces us to be present in the moment. Forgiveness releases us from reliving the past. It removes us from the future and our forethought into getting even or setting the matter straight. It returns us to the present which is the greatest and the only gift we have.quotes-forgiveness-tony-robbins-600x411

Forgiveness is not a one-time action. It is an attitude, a continual practice. Forgiveness is a state-of-mind. When you truly contemplate it, most all of our journeys in this life are adventures in forgiveness.

Forgiveness isn’t exclusively offered for those who are sorry. We must forgive others even when they aren’t remorseful – especially when they are not remorseful. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person’s True-forgiveness-is-when-you-can-sayacknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing but about our ability to accept apologies we will never get and to move forward. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”

Perhaps experience is at the root of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness. Forgiving oneself may be the hardest type. Although guilt is one of the most purposeless emotions, it remains one of the most paralyzing. Yet in the midst of our own tempest of regret, we must look to the anchor of experience. Experience sheds meaning. Although we are powerless over the past, we are not powerless over our perspective.

Failures can be our greatest teachers. Our missteps can be some of the most important steps on our life journey. If we allow the anger of others to teach us forgiveness, the apathy of others to spark compassion, the cruelty of others to give way to kindness, the deception of others to ignite flames of truth, and the violence of others to birth peace, a greater transformation has occurred only on the other side of a struggle whose summit was marked by unbridled forgiveness.

imageForgiveness is not for the weak-minded. It is so easy for most anyone to uphold a grudge and to hold on to anger. Anger ulcerates the soul. Holding onto anger is corrosive. Holding onto the hurt is paralyzing.

Anger is a sneaky thief – robbing us of present joy and stealing our precious time.  Anger slams the door to hope. Anger constricts the senses cutting off our ability to perceive, to connect, and ultimately, to thrive.

Forgiveness is indeed an attribute of the brave. It is releasing yourself from the chains of hurt and allowing all that the universe has to offer you at the present in.

Forgiveness is abandonment of a past that could not be any different. It is the act of ceasing to re-read a chapter that will not read any differently no matter how hard we try. Forgiveness is about moving onto the next, new, unwritten chapter Unknownilluminated by hope, by potential, and by an unburdened perspective to allow the opportunities of the present into your soul.

In the calm seas of that August morning, I floated along with my arms outstretched and earnestly prayed to a forgiving God and an all-knowing universe to release the burden of failing to forgive and witness me in offering up my forgiveness fully.

In that moment of transformation, there was no parting of the sea, no tidal wave, no dark storm clouds, no lightening bolt from the sky, or burning bush in the dunes but I had magnanimously returned to the humble sea. No longer was I living in the past but I was right there in the water. I could taste the salt air. I could see the pelican overhead flying underneath a brilliant, open sky. I could feel the coarse sand of photo 3the ocean floor beneath my feet. I could hear the laughter of my husband and daughter’s chuckles flutter through the air. I could see paradise for what it was – not necessarily an external place but a state of peace within.

I had returned to the present where I hoped to stay. I knew though that it would require more than hope alone. It would require hope coupled with practice.
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Clam Shells, Bicycles, and the Ride of My Life: Seizing the Present and Changing Course

shell`I play the clam shell game. I am sure you have heard of it. It is that age-old carnival game where there’s a coin under one of three or four shells. The player guesses which shell it is under. By the time the shell is lifted, the dealer has slyly moved the coin. It is about illusion and confusion. It is chaos and excitement and the probability of being right all shell-game-flashspun into one.

The problem is no one ever wins.

I am the mom of three daughters, three rescue dogs, wife of one, and work full-time. I work at our own family-operated company so that we can afford a life for our family. Working with a spouse can be challenging at best, rewarding every so often, and maddening most of the time. Despite the uphill climb, there are wonderful freedoms. The liberty of staying home with my child when she is sick, the ability to attend a school function mid-day, and the pleasure of working with a small group of committed, inspiring people. These are liberties I do not take for granted.

I also work as a writer. This is the job that I work at all hours of the day and night. I plod forward constantly and steadily working towards the moment that I will be able to write always all the time. This is who I am in the pit of my soul. I write at 3am, accept all sorts of interviews and assignments.

I do this knowing that each opportunity is a preparation for the future. I do this knowing that you never know exactly where an opportunity will take you. I do this knowing that opportunity only comes to those that sign up and show up.

My best job is being a parent. Being a mom of three girls makes me a better, more thoughtful, deliberate person. Knowing I am their roadmap for a parent and for a person makes me want to accomplish more, love more deeply, and be more enlightened. The rate at which my children grow serves as a bittersweet reminder that time moves so rapidly and there are no do-overs. It reminds me to be present in the moment.

But back to the clam shell game.shell5

I have a problem. I keep moving the coin under each shell. It gets tricky but don’t be fooled. When my kitchen is clean and all coats are hung up and toys put away, I may look like I’ve got it together. You might say, “well Ann is getting organized.” What you don’t know is I have two massive piles of work, eleven voicemails to respond to, and eighty-four new emails in my inbox.

When dinner is cooked, dishes are washed, teeth are brushed, stories are read, and we lie on the floor together looking up at the stars on the ceiling from their projector, you mights say “Ann is really taking this parenting thing to heart. She’s got it together.” What you do not know is that I have about four loads of laundry to do, haven’t blogged in four days, and have two letters for work to send out.

When I work until 8:30pm and the sitter has put them to bed, my voicemail is back to empty and all issues are resolved for today yet I haven’t spoken to my mom in three days, you might say “Ann is balancing work and home quite well”. What you are unaware of is that the playroom is a minefield of legos and every room in my home lucille-balllooks like a playroom. I feel like Lucy on the assembly line with the chocolates and I forgot to go the gym again for the last two weeks. I am up another six pounds on the scale.

When I post a picture to Facebook of myself down eleven pounds on the scale, you might think “Ann has really gotten healthy”. What you don’t know is that I went to the gym for the last hour and a half and fed my kids processed chicken nuggets, skipped baths, bypassed story time, and put them in bed. And my weight loss formula? Anxiety.

This is the truth. So many of us play the clam shell game. No one has ever had a perfect score. And sadly, the game is not what it is about. Playing the game merely makes us fools wasting time at life’s carnival.

All of those voices remarking on “Ann” aren’t really everyone’s ideas on what they observe. They are the voices in my own head that I have assigned to others. They are the voices of insecurity that if I do more, I am more worthy. If I do more I am better. If things look better, they are better. This is all part of the illusion and the missing coin.

We need to stop the games and start thriving. We need to stop tricking ourselves. We need to be kind to other moms and to ourselves. The reason I most often don’t take issue with my spouse, friends, or others isn’t because they are perfect. It is not because I can’t find a problem or a weak spot. It is that it doesn’t matter. We need to be more forgiving especially to ourselves.

The problem with the shell game is that there are no winners. There never will be. We need to quit being the player and the dealer. We need to walk away from the carnival. A win is possible but not in this way.

We need to redefine what winning is. Winning is not a matter of ‘busy’ or intensity but a matter of moments. Winning is not in appearances. Winning is not in other clam3people’s opinions of us or our own opinion of ourselves as reflected back in their eyes.

Winning is about seizing moments. Winning is sometimes about losing and taking the lesson. Winning is sometimes about losing with dignity. We need to taste sour to know the sweet. We need darkness to see the stars.

Winning is about cracking open the hard shell of failure and extrapolating that lesson of truth from within and ingesting it. It is about taking a dose of brave and standing up for what you want. Winning involves championing your priorities.

Winning is about building resistance and strength from falling down. Winning is always about getting back up. Winning is about treading through the fear not walking around it.

Winning is about assessment. We need to recognize the amount of life we are exchanging for things and deciding if its really worth it.

Winning comes in silencing the naysayers not because they have ceased to be loud and incessant but because you have found the silence and calm within and that calm drowns out all of the other noise.

clam1Winning is about mindfulness. We need to be present at each precise moment or we lose. If we are washing dishes and dreaming of a meeting in two weeks, we have lost that moment. If we talk to our spouse before bed and are on our IPad answering emails, we are not really in that conversation with our loved-one. That moment is lost for eternity. These moments will eventually add up to a lifetime of loss.

With that in mind, winners sometimes quit. I am not quitting the work, the family, or what I work for. I quit the game. I have decided to leave the carnival and ride a bike.

clam4I have decided to go through life’s journey and all of its beaten paths, downhill coasts, and uphill climbs on a bicycle. I am riding a bike to keep moving and keep balance. I am riding a bike to enjoy the scenery.

I may get there slower but with a more meaningful ride. It is the closest I will get to flying. It is celebration in motion. It is movement without excess or waste of anything. It is movement of the being and stillness of the soul in unison. There is progress is each revolution of the wheel.

clam2I have decided to quit the games, cut my loses, and enjoy the ride. As Rumi points out, “life is a balance of holding on and letting go”. I choose balance over madness, movement over judgment, and to enjoy the ride of life.

In advance I ask you to pardon the state of my home and my appearance. I have pardoned myself and that is perhaps all that matters. Sometime things need to fall apart to be put back together correctly. Sometimes, we need to seize the day, the sunshine, and the wind. We need to remember that life is not a sprint. It is not a marathon either. It is a series of small races. Sometimes we fall and pick ourselves up. Sometimes we pick up a fallen friend, drape their arm over our shoulder, and finish the race together.

clam7 My ride begins in faith that I am where I need to be. Nature is a testimony to this. As Tzu taught, “Nature doesn’t hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Slow down but keep moving. You will never enjoy the ride if you’re still at the carnival.

 

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A Year of Gratitude and The Endless Thank You Note (Courtesy of Rumi)

ann4444bIt was a year ago this week that I told a friend a secret. I told her that had been writing and I had written a novel. Looking back on it, it is seemingly strange to keep such a secret. At the same time, it is challenging to put ourselves out there. It requires grit and vulnerability to be transparent and real.

My friend and fellow author suggested I join the writing team at nj.com. She went to bat for me. Out of her suggestion a beautiful springboard appeared. It was a tremendous gift. A year later, I have authored fifty nj.com articles, started this site with another dozen posts, had a couple of articles published in The Star Ledger newspaper, and am a part of some extraordinary projects that will come to completion this year.

On all fronts it has been an amazing year not necessarily because of any accomplishment but rather because this journey has been transformative for my soul.

In pure writer’s irony, I am at a loss for words  so I thought I would offer one big explanation and thank you in the words of famed poet Rumi:

I felt that there was something else calling me regarding my calling in life…

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With three small children, three rescue dogs, a busy home, and a business to tend to, starting a new project did not make much sense on the outside. On the inside, not only did it make perfect sense, it resonated with who I am.

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The most frightening part about setting forth on the journey is that failure suddenly became an option or so I reasoned.

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I foolishly never realized that failure was the only option had I not stepped forward on this path.

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With fortuitous opportunity presenting itself, it seemed like I owed it to the integrity of my soul to pursue what seemed to be calling me.

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It seemed like what I had prayed for and secretly hoped for had found a way into my life.

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It was now up to me to do the work.

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I am eternally grateful for all of those who opened my wings a bit more…

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I am thankful for my fellow writer and friend, Jamie Utitus, who offered me the chance to join nj.com and conspire in illuminating our dreams.

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I am grateful for my mom who has always emphasized the simple yet extraordinary fact that words change things. She has been a lifeboat, ladder, lamp, and shepherd.

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I am blessed to have my sister, Mary, help me with hours upon hours of proof-reading.  I recognize that the act of  proof-reading is akin to withstanding the blistering heat of the netherworld. Mary, your work is not forgotten.

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I am grateful for new inspirations and collaborations. Denise Constantino you are a  talented soul and a gentle spirit. I have had such meaningful conversations and interactions with so many individuals, Senator Cory Booker, Maria Cuomo Cole, Stephen Powell, Paul Giampavolo, Mary Williams, and many others. These conversations have been so valuable in shaping perspective and affecting change.

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I am thankful to my husband, Joe, a thousand times over that he supports my dreams which are not his dreams. Our individuality has brought greater appreciation for one another, our separateness has brought us closer together, and our gratefulness more appreciation for life.

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I am grateful for my readers: new friends, old friends reconnected, cousins, relatives, coworkers, people in our community, and individuals seeking awareness and a brighter, more meaningful future. To my cousins, Noreen and Patrick, you never disappoint with your comments. To my extended family, Lisa, Cathy, Tricia, Diana, and Jay, you have always supported my writings and I am thankful for your positive vibes. To my friends, Dean, Marisa, Cathy, Fran, Judy, Heather, Joel, and Bob, I appreciate every time you share your thoughts and perspective. You inspire me to be a better writer.

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The writing is not about being recognized but about being connected. In so many of our stories there is that common thread of bravery, of vulnerability, and respect. With this commonality, comes a flood of compassion, meaning, and action.

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As an introvert, my writing has connected me to others in conversations I would never had had any other way. I am thankful for these exchanges, connections, and more meaningful relationships. In people knowing who I really am and what I think, it brings new connections closer and those who do not share any likemindedness to move on quicker without wasting time.

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Whatever your own unique gift is, using our gifts  shed light on darkness.

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Using our talents empower us in a profound way.

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It offers a deeper dimension of meaning and understanding to each moment.

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It rids us of conventional nonsense that cluttered the way.

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It forces us to put on our big girl pants, be brave, and act with grit.

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It forces us to believe in ourselves and what we are saying while taking a risk immersed in faith.

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It raises our expectations to higher, more extraordinary levels.

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It excludes the unimportant.

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It brings what is essential into focus.

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And while we are not paying attention, it answers our questions.

It also reminds me that being a great writer is about listening long before it is about expression.

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It is about observation before expression.

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It is about understanding with humility and reverence both the temporal and timeless nature that exist within yourself and being able to feel both of those seemingly conflicting natures existing in harmonious unison.

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I know the upcoming year holds mystery, challenge, and I hope to use those gifts to enlighten my journey and that of others. Thanks for the gift of attention and time and encouragement to get off of the ground. Best wishes to everyone who believes in the beauty of their dreams and has the courage to follow them.

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The Silly, Embarrassing, and Profound Things Our Children Say

little2 One of the best gifts I received lately was a journal from my cousin, Maura. It is entitled My Quotable Kid. The inside pages are blank and there is room to jot down the memorable things your children say. I have always been meaning to do this. Life is so hectic and it is easy to forget these gems of honest truth and observation. They are some of the most remarkable mementos of their youth and worth a revisit in the future.

With this in mind, I thought I would share:

Children often think of their family first.

Haircuts have been a big thing in our home. Thanks to Disney’s Tangled, no one wants to trim their hair. Sonoma finally decided she wanted to cut her hair and donate it to little girls that need wigs. Before her haircut, she seemed upset. I asked her if she had changed her mind. She said, “No, Mom. I’m just not sure if I should give my hair to those kids that need wigs or maybe Daddy and Pop Pop Joe can split it.”

val6They show prudent caution. 

Sonoma: “Does my shirt say I am the big sister?”

Me: “No, it says ‘I love Santa.'”

Sonoma: “I do love Santa. Do you love Santa too, Nennie?”

Nennie (Sienna): “No, I don’t love Santa. I don’t even know him well.”

They show keen, sensory observation.

Sonoma was running. My dad worried. He told her to slow down. His warning remained unheeded. He then yelled to her, “Sonoma, walk like Pop!” She started walking slowly with a slight limp (the way my father, with a bad foot, does.)

They use their keen, sensory observation to warn. 

“Mom should I call the firetrucks? = Never something you want to hear while your cooking (Sonoma’s response to the garlic I had singed).

They are compact, human litmus tests of truth. 

Our 12 year-old dog had digestive issues and had defected all over the living room floor. Before I called the professional carpet cleaners, I spent a good hour shampooing the rug, applying chemical solutions made specifically for pets, opening windows, and deodorizing the house with the hopes of solving the problem. I asked Sonoma, “Don’t you think its better now?” Sonoma: “Oh Mommy. The poop is so strong. I can taste it in my mouth.”

val12They have a unique way of phrasing things.

Sienna’s hand was dirty: “Wait mom! Help! My hand. I have stink on it!”

They are enterprising.

At school, they asked Sonoma  if she could give Santa one present what  it would be. She replied, “wrapping paper to wrap more gifts!”

They are worldy. 

Sonoma asked me what our dinner was called. “cavatelli with broccoli”, I replied. She asked, “Is that Spanish or English?…because that’s all I speak.”

They offer unsollicted advice. 

I took all three daughters to the grocery store and we learned about the foods and what they are used for. My two oldest girls asked me many great questions. I was feeling proud. We arrived at the cashier. He had a long, Mumford & Sons style beard. Sonoma said, “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” In my mind, I thought what intelligent, nutritional question is she going to pose now?

Sonoma replied, “Don’t you think its time to shave?”

They ponder the beginnings of life.

Sonoma: “Mom, Scarlett came out of your tummy and that’s why it is so big.”

Me: “Yes.”

Sienna: “Mom, did I come out of your butt and that’s why it is so big?”

val9They ponder the origin of life.

Sonoma: “Mom, I know God made us. right?”

Me: “Yes, that is correct.”

Sonoma: “But who made God?”

They ponder the end of life.

On New Year’s Eve:

Me: “Listen up everyone. I want to tell you something exciting. Do you know what happens tonight at midnight?”

Sonoma: “I know! Are we all are going to die together?”

(I know…a bit morbid! In my defense they don’t watch sci-fi and we’re not dooms-dayers.)

They ponder the capabilities of the elderly.

My 4 year-old daughter Sonoma asked me this past December if this was going to be the “last Christmas”. I asked her why she would ask that. She said, “Because Santa is getting very old and I’m afraid he will be too old to do it next year.”

And then there was this:

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Meet our Buddha statue, a left-over remnant from my apartment when I was single and my life was Zen-like, and there was time to worry about Feng Shui.

It sits by our fireplace.

Sonoma used it as a cup rest.

Sienna would often pat its head and call it ‘Baby”.

Scarlett kisses its head and calls it ‘Pop Pop Tom’.

And then there was that:

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This is a picture of the three and a half -foot tall, wooden butler that stands in our office and holds business cards. When Sonoma was two, she insisted this was a statute of her Pop Pop Joe. She’d walk around waving it at it and sitting by it.

She told her sister Sienna and now she too believes the painted carving is an ode to her paternal grandfather. She asked why he only has one leg.

Just like us, they fear germs. 

Our entire household was sick with the flu. The kids recovered and  I was finally on the mend. Sienna climbed in bed with me in my room and snuggled up to me.

Sienna: “Mom are you still sick?”

Me: “Yes.”

Sienna: “Okay, then I need you to find somewhere else to go and lay because I don’t want to get sick again.”

They fear zombies, too.

On Halloween while Trick-or-Treating, an elderly woman approached our path. Probably for the sake of balance, she was walking with her arms outstretched. My 3 year-old started yelling, “Look it Mom! It is a real Zombie!”

val1They are our cheerleaders and mini life coaches. 

I was tired and had been up with our eighteen month-old daughter, Scarlett, because she was sick. Half-awake, I burned the eggs for breakfast. My 4 year-old,Sonoma, asked me to re-make them. Her 3 year-old sister, Sienna, agreed they were not edible. I took out the eggs again and was standing over the stove in a daze. Sonoma said, “What’s wrong Mom? Are you afraid you’re gonna cook bad again? It’s okay….just give it a try.”

They sometimes doubt us.

Sienna came into my room with her dress on backwards. I told her. She returned to her room. I heard her whispering with her sister, “Mommy said this is on backwards. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  You think she’s right?”

They favor their fathers. 

Sienna: “My Daddy works so hard for him family at work. I not sure what my Mommy does.”

They set boundaries.

We spoke about a friend who lives with their grandparents.

Me: “When I get older and you have a family, can I come live with you?”

Sonoma: “Um, I am not sure that is a good idea but I can build you a house and make you a good dinner.”

little1They seek privacy.

Sienna, “Mom, I don’t want Santa and Jesus watching me everywhere I go. I need privacy.”

They often have an alibi. 

When the toys were strewn all over the room, I asked who did it. Sonoma, age two at the time, replied “Caillou” (the fictitious cartoon of a precocious 4 year-old).

When I asked who drew in crayon on the wall, Sienna replied “Sweetie.” (our precocious Beagle-Basset Hound, who last time I checked, does not have opposable thumbs).

val11They say what we are afraid to. 

We had relatives visiting our newborn baby. By nature, I have always been a ‘people pleaser’. I see some of those traits in my eldest, Sonoma, while my middle-daughter, Sienna, seems to hold steady to her own convictions. Although I try not to assign any personality traits to them, with my clinical background, I find the observation interesting.

The relatives had been over quite some time and announced they were leaving. They walked to the door. Sonoma responded, “I wish you wouldn’t go. I love when you visit.” They continued to chat for another good 4-5 minutes at the door. Sienna then piped in, “It is time to go. Can’t you see Mommy is tired and baby needs to sleep?”

Out of embarrassment, I tried to quiet Sienna by correcting her manners but it just made it worse. “It’s not bad manners for me, Mom. It is bad manners for them.”

They have their own convictions.

On Thanksgiving, Sienna passed by the oven while they were checking the turkey. The oven was eye-level and I saw her reaction. I could see the fret and confusion. She turned to me and said, “They cooked a turkey, Mama?” Lost for words, I responded ‘yes’. She replied, “well I will never eat it.”

She didn’t eat it. Future PETA activist.

They keep us conscientious of our hygiene and appearance.  

Sienna (to me): “Mom, do you forget to comb your hair for everyday?”

then

Sienna, who has an incredibly keen sense of smell,  to a smoker: “Did you forget to brush your teeth for forever?” (We followed that comment with a lesson in hurting people’s feeling)

val2Sometimes they soften the blow. 

Sonoma to me a few weeks later. (After crawling in my bed when I woke up.): “Mom, I love you but can I ask you something? Did you eat a dumpling because it smells not so good?

Sometimes they butter us up.

Sonoma: “Mom, you’re the best cooker, and a princess and I love you. Can you take us to the movies?”

They spill our secrets. 

Two relatives were visiting and became involved in a heated discussion. The one adult told the other adult to “Shut up!” Sienna heard this. She put her hand on her hip and finger in the air.

Sienna: “Now wait everybody! We don’t say ‘Shut-Up’ in this house. It is a bad word and only my dad and mommy sometimes can say bad words. I don’t know why.”

They rat us out. 

Grandma: “This garage needs to be cleaned out and organized.” (commenting on our garage)

Sonoma: “Yes but Mommy said it’s like that because you stored some of your stuff in there when you moved.”

And just when you are about to get mad at them, they mishear things in the most adorable ways.

val5Sienna playing in her room with Mr. Potato Head…

Sonoma: “What are you doing in here?”

Sienna: “I’m playing with the tomato….Mr. Tomato-Head.

They make simple yet profound observations.

At the marina at dusk:

Sonoma: “Mom, stop what you’re doing and come here. You have to see this now.”

Me (walking over to her): “What is it?”

Sonoma: “Look at the sky and this sunset. It is too beautiful!”

They see life brighter. Colors are bolder. The air is crisper and the world has more sparkle.

After collecting shells and sand dollars on the beach all day, Sonoma came up to me and hugged me. She said, “Thanks Mom. Today was the very best day of my life!”

val3And just as fleeting as a pink sunset, their  little, endearing nature is fleeting. Embrace it. Soon they will grow and it will be gone.

Sonoma: “Name of the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit,

The End!”

(rather than Amen)

One day Sienna will outgrow the way she pronounces “sang-wich” or “Bubba Guppies” (for the show Bubble Guppies). One day she will stop pluralizing Coco- Puffses. One day their blunt observation will be masked in what is socially appropriate. One day I won’t be the first person they come to with each and every observation they make and thought that they think. For now, it is a privilege. I will miss these days.

Knowing A Blessing From A Curse: And Why It Really Doesn’t Matter

farmer1An old Chinese parable tells the story of a farmer and his horse:

An old farmer was working in his field with his only horse. Somehow, the horse broke free and ran away from the farm. The farmer could not find the horse anywhere.

In hearing of what happened, neighbors from the village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame.  Now your only horse is gone.  What bad luck. How will you live, work, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.

Less than a week later, the farmer’s horse returned. He returned to the farm with a pack of eight other wild horses.  The farmer and his son corralled the horses.

The news traveled throughout the village. The neighbors came to visit the farmer. “You are fortunate!” they proclaimed. “What good luck.”  Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”

The next morning the farmer’s only son set awoke to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. He quickly became sick with fever and pains. One by one villagers arrived to visit the sick son. “Oh, what a tragedy. What bad luck. You must be very sad”.  they said.  The farmer calmly answered, “Who knows? We shall see”

5226587_sAcross the country, a war began. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army.  As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg and poor health.  “What very good fortune you have!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You have good luck.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”!  But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”

The war ended but the other young village boys had died in battle.  The old farmer’s son was the only young man to have lived. The neighbors said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!” 

In my own life, there are those days where everything seems to fall apart. Although I am aware that I leave little marginal room for error or adjustment in a tightly-packed schedule fully, the slightest shift in planning can ripple throughout the day.

Yesterday, I had a huge deadline and a few hours to accomplish my goal. I arrived at work with three hours to accomplish that work, about five hours of work ahead of me, and anxiety in the pit of my stomach. About forty-five minutes into my work, I get a text and a phone call. My sitter is sick. I have to return home to the kids.

Driving home I felt this sense of defeat. My defeat and negativism was wrapped firmly in a sense that I knew best. My day was crap. I hadn’t accomplished anything and I was feeling sorry for myself.

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I arrived home. The sitter left. I began to wash dishes and reason inside my head that these things happen. About twenty minutes into my time at home, there was a horrendous noise. It sounded like twenty-toilets running at once coupled with a train approaching our house. A pipe had burst and began leaking down through three floors of our home. Water poured from the recessed light fixtures, out the air-conditioing vent, and down the brick fireplace.

I was able to shut off the water in our basement in less than ninety seconds from when the leak started. There was damage but not the catastrophic kind. It could have been worse, much worse.  I had this overwhelming feeling of thankfulness that I was home. Had no one been home, the damage to our home and danger to our three dogs could have been significant. Had our sitter been home, she wouldn’t have known where the main water valve was and how to turn it off.

I shouldn’t have been home and yet I was. I couldn’t help but feel that someone or something was looking out for me. What I had foolishly thought was a curse (in having to return home early) was a blessing.

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This blessing in disguise was a much needed kick in the pants to my ego. In this fast-paced, technology savvy world where we believe so much of life is within our control, this is not always the case. And perhaps this is a good thing. The day was a reminder of faith.

Although we can’t foresee what God or the universe has in store for our days ahead, it isn’t our job to be all knowing. In my life, concentrating on what will happen and what it all means robs me of joy in the presence. Having faith allows me to do my best in that moment.

What may seem like a curse may be our greatest  blessings. And the inverse is sometimes true. Sometimes the universe saves us from ourselves and our own choices. Sometimes we walk down the wrong path of romantic partners, career choices, life choices, and the powers that be redeem us. We are spared from short-changing ourselves.

For me, not getting caught in the trap of interpretting that moment-to-moment significance in my own life is about relinquishing control. It is about falling back away into the safety net of faith.

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Within that safety net, there is a plan. It would be maddening to attempt to try and figure out that plan. It would be impossible to understand all of its detailed connections and meanings but having faith that there is purpose in each event, seemingly bad or seemingly good, is key.Faith doesn’t mean we will be spared from suffering. It simply means that suffering is for a purpose and that purpose may be something we do not fully understand.

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Life speaks to us in our blessings. Life shouts to us in our setbacks and tragedies. Sometimes things in our life are multi-faceted. They are both good and bad intertwined and infinitely joined but fully coated in purpose.

I recently listened to Amiira Ruotula-Behrendt speak about faith and the universe. She suggested what if the universe had three answers in store? And those answers to any of our prayers or questions were: 1) yes, 2) yes but not yet  and 3) I have something better in mind for you.

In the year ahead may your sorrows be short lived and your joys be infinite and may you always have a sense of purpose to hold strong to and enjoy the present.

Easter Gratitude: Putting My Blessings In One Basket

eggsAs a young girl, every Easter I was sick. I would eat too much chocolate or catch the flu or suffer from a combination of both ailments. Easter was more about pastel marshmallow treats and my love-hate relationship with them. As I grew older, Easter presented an opportunity to visit with my West-Coast cousins in Seattle. I traveled cross-country on a plane with my maternal grandparents to celebrate family tradition, to embrace the true sense of holiness, and to celebrate our blessings. I soon learned that a rainy Easter spent with family out West was better than most anything. I learned to make sticky-buns and even more importantly, we made memories that will shine in my heart forever.

As I now prepare for this season of rebirth, I think about sacrifice and I think about my many blessings. It’s a powerful and important thing to reflect upon after a week full of such ups and downs.

As I feel the impulse to complain about what is trivial, I more fervently feel compelled to be thankful. I am blessed that my husband’s business is busy enough that he works from 7 am until 8 or 9pm each night. I am blessed that I have three daughters who turn my house upside down in a matter of moments. I am glad that have each other to be in cahoots with, and I’m grateful that we have a home. I try to earnestly appreciate the sour with the sweet, to find the lesson in what is difficult, and to take each obstacle as a lesson for what lies ahead. Sometimes it is easier said than done. Sometimes I am able to focus on the journey better than the destination.

I am thankful for family, even when we are fighting and when we agree to disagree. I am thankful that they are there and for their love that remains unconditional.

I am thankful for the half-dozen pills that we have to give to our twelve-year old dog, Sweetie. I am glad that she made it through a medical scare this week. In Easter irony, she ate a rabbit (not a chocolate one, rather a furry one) and didn’t fare well after the fact. My heart is full of gratitude that she is there to squeeze between my husband and I in our bed tonight, and evil-eye us when we invade her space. We have been granted the gift of time with her for now. Dogs have a way of reminding us of all that is good and wonderful in this world without saying a word. Just their presence can sum up joy, lightheartedness, and loyalty all at once. Sweetie and our two other rescue pups suffered abuse before they came into our lives. Sweetie, Finn, and Jake, continue to teach us so much about life through their daily example of simplicity. Their ability to forgive, reconcile, trust, and care for one another and us is amazing in itself.

I am thankful for my husband and the many differences we have between us. They are reminders of why we got together to begin with, of why we get along, of what we have to offer each other, and of how far we have come. There are truths in our disagreements, these small little bits of honesty filled with light, that seem to rise up to the surface. Sometimes things need to be said in order to move forward.

I am thankful for humor. It is a saving grace and God-sent. When I stand in our kitchen and watch our eight-month-old daughter laugh hysterically at the funny sounds and faces her two sisters make at her, I am instantly reminded that God is present in her laughter. It serves as such a poignant reminder of the importance of keeping a sense of humor and perspective in this whirlwind life. My children remind both my husband and I of how necessary it is to take life seriously and not to take life too seriously all at the same time.

I am thankful for friends. People travel in and out of your existence. Life always seems to surprise me though. It is such a beautiful, startling shock to have someone in your life gift you with the most generous gift of time, the most enthusiastic present of their presence in your life, and the reward of their honest feedback. These are the sweetest gifts and I am thankful for true friends. You are the many reflections of the face of God in my life.

I feel those who are no longer with us, who have departed this earth still walking beside us. I feel them with us on the other side, guiding us and rooting us on. Every now and then they whisper into our hearts. I miss them and hope as this new spiritual year commences to make them proud.

Blessings to you and your loved ones this Easter!

Bumpy Milestones and Mean Kids

parentsignAs a mother, once your child is born and sometimes long before that baby was even expected, you dream of celebrating your child’s milestones. Since the very moment I held my first daughter, Sonoma, I imagined what it would be like when she said her first word, ate messy cake at her first birthday party, went on her first family trip to Disney World with us, and understood what the excitement of Christmas morning was all about. I vividly imagined every moment from walking her into her kindergarten classroom to her walk down the aisle with her father on her wedding day, and all of the future memories in between. Maybe its a bit cliché but that is what I did and I still continue to do every so often. As these early milestones come and go, I have rejoiced with my enthusiastic daughter and secretly wished that I could slow down each minute. It all seems to goes by in a blink. What milestone I did not anticipate was the first time she would encounter mean kids at school, and that milestone came last night.

When I was putting my soon-to-be four-year-old to bed last night and helping her put on her x-small blue princess pajamas, she woefully asked me, “Mama, am I too small?” Sonoma is one of the sweetest little souls you may ever encounter. She is in the first percentile for weight, the seventh percentile for height, and 110th percentile for energy. When I asked her as to why she was asking me that, she explained. She said that two girls in her preschool class told her she is “too small” and cannot play at the workbench with them. She added that they called her “tiny”, pulled all of the toys away, and told her to “go away”. The words and tone coming forth from her petite frame crushed my heart.

For all the hours of therapeutic graduate study and practice that I have offering the “right answers” to children and adults alike, I was at a loss. I remain still at somewhat of a loss. I know the preferred answers in theory, yet the Mama Bear in me wants to stomp through the sandbox and yank these little bullies by their pigtails* and tell them to stay away from my daughter. Better yet, I should really be yanking the side-ponies* of these girls’ mothers. It is more an issue of what they have learned, where they have learned it, and what is permissible. A  four-year-old learned that acting this way towards a fellow peer is okay from somewhere or someone. It’s an age old case of falling apples and trees.

Sonoma shares a room with her younger sister, Sienna. For as every bit gentle as Sonoma is, my middle-child is headstrong and spirited. As Sonoma told me about this rude, exclusive playground duo, Sienna sat there adamantly shaking her head in disapproval and telling her sister, “Noma, I no like the girls!” Somehow, I imagine my fiery-redheaded daughter wouldn’t have handled it the same as her older sister. Sienna can be a pusher and a fighter. I know that as a mom, encouraging a shove is not the answer by any means, but I would be lying if I told you it didn’t cross my mind. It is interesting how you have children born a few months apart and believe to be raising them the same way and they each develop so differently with such unique responses.

My response was a bit botched. I said something to the effect of  “great things come in small packages.” Sonoma looked at me quizzically and told me she “didn’t want to come in a package” but wanted to just “get along” with everyone. After I encouraged Sonoma to talk to her teachers and reaffirmed how truly wonderful she is, I retreated to my bedroom and began whispering about it with my husband. The debate began.

I was never popular in school. I was labelled Dork-O’Rourke (O’Rourke being my maiden name) and still remain a nerd in many aspects. It became worse in high school. Well over fifteen years and countless hours of self-introspection later, I’m so very okay with who I am. I can say with ungarnished honesty that I am glad high school was not the highlight of my life. I am happy I didn’t follow a herd mentality. Undoubtedly, some of the friction I faced helped to shape me into a person who is unique in my perception of things, to shape my voraciously competitive spirit, and to mold me into an individual who is sensitive to others. The strife that I faced was truly a boot camp for my sensitivity, helping me to shed my victim skin, and metamorphosis into a strong soul. All that said though, I’d like my daughters to avoid many of the struggles I endured.

In direct opposition to my humble experience, my husband was always popular. He excelled in sports, attended all the parties, threw the best parties (according to local legend), and was one of the last ones to leave the party. He had and continues to have a close group of loyal, lifelong friends with whom he grew up with. My husband has unabashed confidence and a fiery strong will. To him, words from his critics and quips from naysayers are like water off a duck’s back. I, on the other hand, always had trouble sloughing the harsh words of others off. At times, I envy my husband’s self-assurance and his refusal to overthink each step of the way. He often plods forward where I stumble over my own trepidacious feet.

I realize it’s all a trade-off and there are benefits of each experience but I struggle with what the right answers are. This is just such a hard topic and I ponder how so many other parents deal with it.

When it comes to parenting, my worst preoccupation is that I just don’t want to make crucial mistakes. I wholeheartedly want to give all three of my daughters the best answers, the best choices, and the best direction. I’d like to take the best of my husband and the best of myself and offer it to them so that they can become their best selves and aspire big-time. I want the world to be kind to my children. Although I don’t intend to ruin my children by making their lives easy, I also don’t want to watch them struggle.

I can’t help but think of that scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall when Alvy walks up to the fashionable, smiling young couple on the city sidewalk and asks them how they account for their happiness. The young, trendy woman replies, “I am very shallow and empty, and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say. ” Her attractive male counterpart adds, “I am exactly the same way.” Perhaps being too sensitive and too aware of the world around you, adversely effects your happiness. Maybe ignorance, and insensitivity,are often bliss.

I also wonder whether this is actually an issue of my daughter’s feelings or my feelings. I can’t help but feel that maybe I am the one who is too sensitive on the matter entirely. I do not want to clout this matter with all of my own magnified issues of the past. Am I making this too big a deal? Maybe this moment is more pivotal for me than it is for her?

I intend to go speak with her teachers. From a positive perspective, she seemed very enthusiastic about going to school and spoke about how much she enjoys her time with her other friends in the class. Let me know your thoughts. I am interested to hear your strategies and the lessons that you have learned and insight you may have. Input on this subject is very much appreciated!

(*and please don’t write me about yanking anyone’s hair – it is an expression and not an intention – I’m not an aggressive person or a hair-puller by any means.)