For your reading pleasure

I recently had the honor of having a piece published in the local weekly newspaper, Flag Live!

Here’s a link  – “To the mountain, again and again”

Here are a few images to accompany your reading pleasure.


4 o clocks Cosnino Exit dirt road to peaks distant peaks

Letting go

How do we learn to give our children up to the care of the Great Spirit? When they’re born, we know we have to let them go eventually, but we might not realize we have to start doing it sooner than we expected. The first day of preschool, a babysitter/daycare situation, and later, sleepovers that result in a midnight call to pick them up.

How do we relinquish our hopes and expectations for them? What I wanted when I was in high school was a school like the one portrayed in the TV show “Fame”.  When we started discussing where my 14 year old would go for high school, I wanted him to go to the local arts and leadership school.  Much to my dismay, he wanted to do sports, which that school didn’t offer, so my dreams of living vicariously through him were dashed, and I had to let go, again.

As time goes on they grow further and further from the Island of Mom.  Pushing off from the shoreline for a trip to a neighboring island and graduating to day trips, then out for days at a time. My teenager just got back from a five-day river trip.  I had gotten used to texting him during the day, and just the loss of that small bit of connection made me weep, I’m not sorry to say, more than once. Even the days that he spends with his Dad, every other weekend, are opportunities for me to let go. ( I wrote more about that here)

My children rise, I imagine, of their own accord, up toward their own fate, their own path – the one we can’t walk with them. We aren’t privy to where that path will take them.  We can provide access to tools and strategies, as far as our own capacities will allow, but the path itself, is a matter between them and their God.

How do we let them go with grace? Most of us were never taught these skills, although there have been other generations that valued that connection with their children and ultimate letting go enough to learn to do it well.

Where is the best place to learn this letting go, now in this day and age? Who do we even talk to about it?  I know I’ve shed more than one tear over drinks with other moms, but that is commiserating, not learning so much. I don’t know the “best” place to learn these skills, but many people turn to their religion/belief systems, counseling, parenting books, etc. I have engaged with a number of those way, and find that I look to the universal, cosmic even, ways of letting go.  Breathing, noticing how the light moves or doesn’t move in my sons’ eyes, and listening – ever listening.

First, we have to let go of how we were let go.  How we moved into the world, transitioning from youth to adult became our programming. I for one, have had to do a hell of a lot of unlearning to make room for these questions.  And, I’m still unlearning, returning to a Beginners Mind, over and over again. Being reminded of returning to Beginner’s Mind is one of the gifts of Householding.

How do we give our children up to the care of the Great Spirit?  We listen.  Our children are the experts of their own lives, and it is our job to listen to what they say, not only with words, but with their bodies, with their silences.

What I have heard, like a rainstorm I thought would be a virga, but it indeed reached the parched ground of my listening ears, is my sons telling me, sometimes cryptically, sometimes point blank, how to let them go. This teacher becomes the student, over and over again.


Painting by A.N. Schuller, 1994

Beginner’s Mind, A.N. Schuller, 1994


One of the Last Taboos

In reading Edward Marriott’s article When a Bough Breaks – Volcanic feelings of love and hate are part of being a parent: it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise, I finally found a word for the frustration I’ve been experiencing –  Ambivalence.

“What is distinctive of our times is how few parents — still, even in our post-Freudian age — will openly admit to feelings of ambivalence towards their children. In an age where very little — from sex to money — is left a mystery, parental ambivalence remains one of the last taboos.”

When the bough breaks

It is the unfamiliarity with ambivalence in relation to my kids that has surprised me more than anything.  I really didn’t know that the feelings of conflict inside of me were normal, common, and have always been so.

As Marriott contends in the article, ambivalence is more than just mixed feelings.  It’s the end-all-be-all of mixed feelings – nothing short of love AND hate. Loving is the easy part – it is the word “hate” that has caused the most distress for me. Actually more than distress.  Shame.  The “s” word.  

I am ashamed of the number of days that I have completely resented making dinner for my family.  If I am stuck in the negative sway of ambivalence I no longer want to be involved with people, much less care for them domestically. No laundry, dishes, cooking – I just want to quit.

I am ashamed of my thoughts of violence or abandonment of others – specifically my children. Left-brained rational thought says my feelings are dangerous and should be eradicated.  Right-brained emotional thought wants to rage and scream and get recognition for the depth of my feelings.

The shame compounds itself because I feel powerless, completely immobilized sometimes, to do anything but sit in negativity, for the simple fact that I don’t feel I should be having these horrible feelings in the first place! I hold onto a common human/parent lie (that we must love without interruption), so each incidence of anger and the resulting shame grows into a mountain.

I have felt this ambivalence when someone will say “What a cute little guy!” about one of my sons.  “Sure”, I say, “cute as the devil’s spawn!” Then I reply with something like “Yeah, but he’s cute so I keep feeding him!” I watch myself say these things knowing that I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I could say something cute and cuddly, and deny the negativity, or I can make a negative comment that could get me into hot water. This culture seems unready for  wholly honest responses that are less than loving and attentive.  Responding to a stranger’s passing remark is probably not the best time to let the honest rage and anger out – best to keep the loving facade up – but finding ways to embody and acknowledge all of me is important.

Bradley Olson, Ph.D., also talks about ambivalence and its tendency to make us “supremely uncomfortable”. Many of us then turn that uncomfortable feeling into a soap box to lecture others what they’re doing wrong, or passive-aggressive games with family, or, blog posts about our kids that start out honest and raw and end up in a heap of hugs and love – but never giving full attention to the deep, inner feelings, other than socially acceptable positive ones. 

Our culture has created a command that we always look like we love our children. The heresy, to use Olson’s term, of not buying into that command is supremely uncomfortable, but also exhilarating. Exhilarating because as I see it, heresy is essential to growth. We must step outside of convention if we wish to grow.

As Marriott talks about, the repression of the ambivalence can be “risky to others”.  I agree, and I would point out that heresy of thought is not the same as heresy of action.  I can have thoughts about my children that are not loving, but the moment I act it out, I have crossed the line. And, as Marriott also mentions, no one wants to be put in the same group as the abusive parents that we read about in the headlines. If I repress the darker parts of our myself, I am much more likely to try to repress the darker parts of my children, others, and myself. We in effect transfer our own negativity outward, committing heresy of action. 

I have found myself transferring that negativity outside of myself more often than I like to admit. I have put my children, husband, and most often myself at risk, more than anyone else, when I haven’t acknowledge all of the feelings caught up in my ambivalence. I rage not only about the feelings I have today, but all of the ones from yesterday that I suppressed.

Now that I can recognize that I have ambivalence, the full spectrum of feelings, toward something or someone, I have a stopping place for my emotions and breathing room to figure out how my actions can be appropriate and my thinking and feeling might come from a deeper place than before. The idea of a stopping place reminds me of Using Mindfulness Practice to Deal with Negative Urges by Shinzen Young. In a quick nutshell, we are to divide the components of the negative urge up into manageable pieces. Uncomfortable body sensations, memories, plans, judgments, beliefs are all bound up in us, getting stuck if we let them. I find that loud music and dancing, or taking a walk are two physical things that I can do to dissipate the negativity.

A friend of mine wondered if we would have less ambivalence if we raised our kids in line with the “it takes a village” concept. I don’t know that we would have less ambivalence, but I know I sure could use more loving support when the pendulum swings toward the negative end of ambivalence, and that might soften my reactions. The strength of having a village support us while we stumble through parenting could be found in the ancestral knowledge, experience, and stories of ambivalence. We would come to understand that ambivalence exists inside all of us. We might just create a moral fabric for our village that includes the depths of our being, thereby negating the need to commit heresy against the old repressed ways, for the old repressed ways would leave us. 

Only a little crash at the finish line…

When I said I would help with scenery for the local theater’s next play I did not fully comprehend what I was getting into.  Set painting, picking out vases and chairs are some of the tasks that came to mind.  What entailed was 4 weeks and 4 days of hard physical work, strategic thinking, and chaotic family schedule…and painting.  Lots and lots of painting.  What began as 8 X 10 backdrop panels ended up being 12 X 12.  And there were four of them.

Set design for the Opera Judith by Alexander Serov. 1907

Naima did not paint this!    Set design for the Opera Judith by Alexander Serov

I painted deciduous trees and pines in two seasons. Now, I am not a landscape painter.  Abstract realism is closer to my style.  So,  they came out more amateurish than I had hoped.  I use the excuse that I was painting on cheap drop cloths, using housepaint from Home Depot, with shitty brushes, while backstage folk regaled me with tales of yesteryear, all while working against a seemingly impossible deadline…but that isn’t much of an excuse. Did I mention that I have a chronic pain and fatigue condition?  Fibromyalgia is no joke.  It may not be well understood, but it is real and often daunting. I told no one at the theater about how I dealt with the pain of working so hard for a month.  So. Throw that in the mix.

One week before opening night the Technical Director called in a young college student to help out. I’m grateful for her help because it meant that I finished all four paintings in time

Set design for the opera Moïse et Pharaon, Par...

Naima did not paint this!  Set design for the opera Moïse et Pharaon, Paris, 1827. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

for opening night.  She asked to paint some details.  I went through many emotional responses and finally I said yes, feeling generous and grateful.  I may not have done it the way that she did, but again, I was grateful for the help.

Jump to opening night.  I went out with a friend for dinner then we went to see the play.  It was the first time I had seen it all the way through. The musicians did a great job, cramped like they were in the hot cave that is the jump on stage right. The singers/actors belted out their songs with gusto.  It was a right nice play.

The cast made short announcements at the reception afterwards.  They gave small gifts to the Director, some of the technical folks and then…they gave a gift to “the girl that helped with the backdrops, painted trim and lots of other things backstage”.  That’s right, the girl that had been around for a week, and added grass-looking slashes to my paintings with her fingers was getting acknowledged for her work on the backdrops.  The ones that I labored over for almost 80 hours.

Boy did my ego have a hard time with that.

Did I not work hard enough? Long enough? Was it like my friend said and it was just that the cast didn’t know me (I worked during the days so that I wasn’t interrupting their rehearsals at night).  Was I lured into thinking I did something special because I was told numerous times that in 40 years, no one had painted a backdrop for that theater before, much less four of them?

Did I crash at the finish line?  No, not really. The paintings were finished before opening night.  My ego was bruised at the finish line but I need to remember that it wasn’t my ego that was painting, so the bruising was ultimately self inflicted. I had an attachment to the outcome, rather than realizing the moments spent painting were all the joy I needed.

Photo credit George Breed

Panel #3, Day 1  –  Photo credit George Breed

Crashing at the finish line of Birth

English: Lisa J. Patton and her newborn LaVerg...

Very Lucky Momma:  Lisa J. Patton and her newborn LaVergerray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A woman faces everyone else’s denial when she attempts to say how a traumatic birth has affected her.  An uncomfortable sense of isolation and a fear of being crazy results, as loved ones, friends, and co-workers do not acknowledge her pain or how her world has changed.  This separation from others in viewpoint and experience is often more difficult to heal than the physical wounds of birth.”  Lynn Madsen, Rebounding From Childbirth

Sometimes I think I value the first time a woman holds her newborn more than I value all the other times she gets to hold them. Let me rephrase.  Sometimes, I disgust myself  for not being able to hold my newborns, more than I appreciate all the other times I’ve held them.

I was steeped in, and steeped myself in, a warm fuzzy cup-o-delusion about that moment when I would finally get to hold their tiny bodies, on the outside of my belly.  You’d  think, that with all I’d been through, that I would have known better – that there are always curve balls and unforeseen circumstances and that I might have entertained the idea, especially during my second birth, that I might not get to experience that moment. You know, that glowing moment that so many happy mammas post all over the internet of them holding their 2-seconds-old baby.

Why is the loss of that moment so deeply devastating to me? Because I put it on a pedestal.  A gilt covered and tall pedestal that was initially constructed when my mother talked of having her 4 children naturally.  She indoctrimnated me into the idea of natural childbirth from 6 years old, onward.  The alternatives to natural childbirth became repugnant to me.  Non-natural childbirth was only for weak women, or women with physical abnormalities, I surmised. After my first son was born, I realized my wrongdoing  – that I hadn’t tried hard enough.  I had given into the c-section because I was weak.  That’s what I internalized. When I became pregnant again, 10 years later, I resolved to not be weak this time. So, when the c-section happened, I was only somewhat relieved to hear the surgeon say that my pelvis was deep and narrow.  So, I wasn’t weak, just physically abnormal. But that didn’t help me feel better about it either because I had also been steeped in the stories of doctors telling their csection patients that they were narrow, or whatever, but that midwives don’t really believe all that.  Midwives have seen all kinds of babies born from all kinds of women. That’s how I filtered what midwives say. I had a midwife for both pregnancies and deliveries.  And still, I failed.

The pain I endured and the hope that I had, didn’t make one bit of difference in getting me that moment that I longed for. My attachment to that imagined moment has stolen many moments since then, from my experience. Just because I crashed at the finish line of the marathon of birth doesn’t mean I didn’t run the WHOLE DAMN THING.

Mourning must commence.  I have been letting it slip slowly out of my eyes for years. I think I’d like to be done with it, at least the bulk of it, so I can finally move on.
Move on to seeing the two amazing humans that have been in my care for years now, with only my one eye on them, and the other looking back to a moment that never happened.

poem about householding

As I attend to my children
As I attend to my partner

As I attend to my community
As I attend to my home

I attend to All That Is.

When I get frustrated with child, partner, community or home,

I am not seeing what is Real

I know this and yet, I am given the opportunity many times a day to know it again and again

I am stubborn, and learning

Seeing what is Real
I have all the time in the world
I have all the patience in the world
I am the world

I chose this path
This path chose me
We are on it together

All of us, Householders

Self discipline 101

Recently I said my new motto was “Shut the Fuck Up and Keep Going”.  That was in response to the difficulty I was having keeping to some new, healthy, good for me, commitments. It would seem that it is a little harsh.  Maybe, but I’m telling the voices of contrariness and fear to go take a flying leap, and my Inner Being to keep going.

Two nights ago I had to get out of the bathtub to go write this down:

Self Discipline is:

  • Being able to tell myself ‘no” without being cruel, or unreasonable.
  • Setting boundaries that encompass good things for me, and keep unsavory forces at bay.
  • Being able to say ‘yes’ to things I want, even if the way there may sometimes be a struggle.
  • Requires a depth of self-understanding, and flexibility because of that understanding, to fine tune my way forward.
  • requires psychic earplugs, as in:  ” I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love, and abundance. “Then, whenever doubt, anxiety, or fear try to call me, they will keep getting a busy signal and soon they’ll forget my number.”  – Edith Armstrong

  • a sense of self love and regard is a precursor to self discipline

This last one was really my stumbling block.  Until I come to regard myself as at LEAST as important as the other people in my life I take care of, I have no chance of acquiring self-discipline.  It was out of desperation and agony that I came to look at myself in a loving way.  I had to get some objectivity and that came as I embraced the titles that I embody each day.  When I am a Wife, a Mother, or Friend, of someone I care about, I found it was easier to look at myself objectively.  I came to know that if I can take care of my husband’s wife, my son’s mother, etc….that I could more easily love her (me).  After that phase, my small successes such as starting to change my eating and movement habits, really propelled me toward more.

Previously as I pondered what self discipline is to me, I would instantly conjure up the image of a drill sergeant yelling and screaming at me.  Now, my drill sergeant is acquiring a great sense of humor and even more compassion, as well as needing to embody a coyote in his wily says, to keep up with my ability to manipulate and cajole.

I have come far enough toward my first small goals to realize that the benefits of breaking old bad habits far outweigh anything I could get from them now.