I was headed to the stands to find my seat for finals when a mom stopped me. She noticed my shirt with the name of our club on the front. Her family was moving to Washington metro area and they were looking for a swim team. Her kid, like mine, was a serious swimmer—having worked hard to make it to this National Age Group Champ meet. She had noticed our team. She commented about the talented swimmers, the great times, the relays but then she got to what really mattered, “What about the coaching?”
This is a special meet. Not only is it Max’s first national level competition, but, it is his last meet as a “junior” level swimmer. When this one last race is over, he will transition from his current coaches to a senior level coach. This is his last dance with them.
Max has worked with these 2 men for almost 4 years. He has spent thousands of grinding hours (many of them before 8am) doing endless laps while they stood over the lane with a watch, countless minutes standing together after a race with a clipboard between them. Max and I did the math one night coming home from practice—With 6 multi-hour practices a week, and a year round meet schedule, over the last 4 years he has spent more waking hours with these men than any other adult except me.
Over the last 4 years they have guided him as an athlete, helping him make huge strides in his stroke, stamina and mental game. He transitioned from a kid who liked to swim into a serious athlete. But something else happened. Because in the years between 10 and 14 Max also transitioned from a little boy into a young man. And when you are making that kind of transition the people you spend time with matter.
Stepping back and reflecting on Max’s time with his swim team, and the man he is becoming it occurs to me that Max learned something more than butterfly and backstroke from his coaches. He has learned the building blocks of character and strength. He has learned something about becoming a man.
Show up. Day in. Day out. Ready to work—and usually 15-20 minutes early. Max learned that men show up when they are tired. They show up when they are bored. They show up even if they have a better offer. They show up at 4:45 am, 6am, right after a long hard day of school. They even show up on holidays. Men show up.
Set goals. Hard goals. Reach for the sky goals. Impossible goals. Then break down those goals and chip away at them.
Fail. Sometimes epically. Of course not on purpose but accept it will happen. Failure is a part of reaching for the goals. But failure is never the end of the story. There is always a lesson to be drawn, and another race. Each time you get up on the blocks is a time to try again. Even if you never hit the mark, something good (and even unexpected) emerges along the way.
Be flexible. When something isn’t working, get feedback. Ask for advice. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Make tweaks. Try something new. Don’t give up. Figure it out.
Endure. Whether it is through a long hard set, a meet when every race falls apart, a month long slump or a personal hardship that rips the heart right out, strong people keep going, keep reaching for the wall. Breath by breath, day by day. If you can persist, eventually it all works itself out—often for the best.
Love what you do. It’s all an adventure –enjoy the whole ride. Get excited. Be passionate. Have fun. Be a little silly. Celebrate your successes. And when all else fails laugh.
Believe. Trust that everyone you work with will rise the occasion and met their goals. Remind them gently (and sometimes not so gently) when they have stopped working hard, but as long as they are working, trust the process.
She commented about the talented swimmers, the great times, the relays but then she got to what really mattered, “What about the coaching? Coaching matters.”
I looked over at my son. He was talking to his coach, getting ready to warm up. I saw how poised and confident he seemed and I knew that it was in part thanks to the example set by these men. “Yes,” I said. “It really does. It matters more than you could possibly know.”
Its 4:45 am. I am sitting at a pool watching you swim laps with your friends. Last night I said, “Its your birthday….Its OK if you skip practice.” But you turned to me with a smile on your face and said, “I love to swim and l love being with my friends…I can’t imagine where else I would be on my birthday.” This says it all kid. You go all in, you joyfully rise to the challenge, you do whatever it takes. You show up and do your work. You attack life.
I am so inspired by you. This is the year you decided you wanted to make it to Zones and then proceeded to put over 650 hours in at the pool to make it. Along the way there were meets that took up your whole weekend, practices so hard that you could barely get out of bed next day, missed sleepovers and parties and homework squeezed in between eating and swimming. But every time I said, “You don’t have to do this…” you looked at me with a smile and said,”But I want to…I don’t want to miss it”
This was the year that you discovered that optimism and positive thinking changes everything. When you felt like a rock star you showed up as a rock star. When we sat in complaint it all fell apart.
This was a blossoming year for you–in so many small and big ways. You brought your A game to interactions with friends, and navigated some tough situations with consideration and kindness. You made some hard choices. You struggled with people who disappointed you but came out finding your way, always with kindness. Even with me. Even when you were angry beyond words, you kept at it until you could say what you wanted to say kindly, standing your ground, searching for words but telling me “I HAVE A RIGHT TO MY FEELINGS”. No matter how badly you wanted to win, you made friends with your competition, joking on the blocks, hugging before a tough race, coming home from each big meet with new buddies to text about sports and movies…and girls.
You are solution oriented. When I have been too tired to see straight, blurry eyed from studying you always have an idea to set things right–whether its cleaning the kitchen or ordering out food or curling up to watch a movie.
When life gets hard or we have a difficult challenge to face, you remind me that life is an adventure, a game to be played with gusto, a gift.
Some people think I am crazy for driving you to these early morning practices but what they don’t know is how much joy I get from watching you laugh on the deck and start the morning by jumping feet first into the deep end. Secret is, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Happy birthday dear Max. I love you so much.
The morning you were born and I held you in my arms, I knew I was all in but I had no idea.
I suspected that part of my job was teach you not to be afraid. But I had no idea that you would teach me to let go of my fear too. You taught me to ride a loop rollercoaster & to throw my head back and let myself feel like I am flying. I never would have had the courage to do that if it wasn’t for you. Being your mom, I have become braver than I ever thought I’d could be, speaking out, standing up, trying new things–all for the sake of you.
I thought it would be part of my job to teach you to never give up. But its you who taught me. This summer you worked with me patiently until I learned to do a flip-turn, encouraging me to stay with it even when I struggled, even when I thought it was no use or not important. It was because of you that I haven’t given up–even when life has gotten impossibly hard. You taught me to just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You inspired me to push on to keep going–all for the sake of you.
I was sure it would be my job to teach you to work hard, buckle down and have discipline. But it is you that gets me out of the house early so you can hit the rink or the pool in the wee hours, putting in your hours, breaking down your shot and your stroke so you can meet every goal that you set in front of you. And truth be told, over the last 12 years I have worked harder than I ever imagined I ever could without even thinking twice. It’s for you really.
I had no idea that the tiny child I held in my arm 12 years ago today would have taught me so much, given me so much, challenged me so much. I had no idea when I held you that I was holding in my arms this amazing potential–that the person I was holding would grow up to be the kind of person who patiently helps younger children with their butterfly stroke and their starting dives, the kind of person who gives his own money to the hungry, the kind of person who stands at the end of his friends lane and cheers his head off to keep him going through 200 painful meters of fly at top speed. I had no idea that the baby I held was the kind of person who would get in the pool and swim 180 laps straight the week of Junior Olympics (when everyone else with any sense was resting) to raise money to build an elementary school in Honduras. I had no idea that the baby I held in my arms would call me out when I was being a hypocrite or challenge me to think of things in a new way. I knew only one thing. Love. And truth is that is all I know now. That is the only thing to know.
I love you so much Max. I am so grateful for the hours we spend reading together, watching Glee, in the car chatting or listening to music. I am grateful that you talk to me when you are upset–especially when you are upset with me. They say these years can be the most difficult as you push away and establish yourself as a young man. I really have no idea–but that’s ok. Because I had no idea how much I would love you and how much that love has pushed me forward, no matter what.
I have no idea what the next few years will bring, but whatever it does I am all in.
Happy 12th birthday.
Ever since I was a wee child I have a thing for gnomes. Not the ceramic kinds that live in British gardens but the magical kind that ride on birds and build houses in trees. I spent almost 3 years of my life (between the ages of 8 and 11) tromping through the woods with field journals proving the existence of these little woodland creatures. Gnomes, it seemed to me, lived in a simple but abundant world full of comfort and love and nature and goodness. I wanted to live in that world. Proving their existence meant that I too could live in such richness. Close to the earth, with everything I need at my fingertips.
While I think about gnomes often, it is rare that other people do. So I had to pause when I saw the email from the Washington Capitals of all people advertising a “Nicklas Backstrom Gnome Giveway”. Normally I delete those emails from the Caps. Being in school now we have no budget for hockey tickets and I don’t like to be tempted. But I was curious. I mean, who makes gnomes that look like hockey players? I opened the email to see what it was about.
Nicklas Backstrom is Max’s favorite hockey player. Max loves the way Nicky passes and moves the puck around, elegantly setting up plays. When he is on his game it can be a little like watching the ballet.
Max said, “Mom, when the Universe combines my favorite hockey player and your favorite magical creature it must be a sign”. Or maybe a wonderful excuse to throw budgets and concerns about school nights spent in the city to the wind and instead do something joyful and spontaneous. Perhaps it was the gnomes calling us, but we miraculously found last minute tickets for a cheap(ish) price we haven’t seen in years. Yes–the tickets were high up in the rafters but we were going to see a hockey game!
Max and I rode the metro down to the game with delight. This unexpected hockey game, these wonderful little gnome dolls we would get at the door, it all felt like such a luxury, a miracle. We were royalty headed to that game, rich and carefree. We got to the game really early so that we could be among the first through the gates, collected our gnomes and headed down to glass to watch warm-ups. It’s such a treat, especially when our seats are in the uppermost tier to get down to watch the players so close up. What a guilty pleasure to be so close to such speed. We hung out behind the goal while they warmed, flinching as the pucks hit the glass, marveling at the strength and speed of the players. It was already a full night of juicy goodness by the time the whistle blew ending warm ups and the ushers moved us out into the hallway. How could it possibly get better?
We got in line to to ride the escalators up to the top tier to our seats so high in the stands. “Mom,” Max laughed. “Let’s act really crazy so we can win the Ameritel Move of the Game”. That’s a contest where the spunkiest of fans in the Upper Tier win tickets to move down to the the Lower Level. “OK” I giggled with enthusiasm. “Let’s get our silly on!”
As we turned the corner, about to step on the escalator, a stranger in the crowd touched my sleeve. “Are you on your way up to the 400s? ” he asked. And then, just like that, he handed me his tickets. “Take these for you and your son. They are great seats”. He was invited up to a meeting on the club level and didn’t want his tickets to go to waste. He wanted someone to enjoy them. He picked us. And suddenly we were rink side–just rows away from the glass.
“MOM…We just won the Move of the Game” Max said. “Not the Ameritel Move of the Game but God’s Move of the Game.”
Tears filled my eyes. God’s Move of the Game. So simple. Be joyful. And everything moves.
It is so easy to believe we live in a world of scarcity. In a world were there is not enough–enough time, enough money, enough love and support. It is so easy to believe that we live in a world where comfort and joy are things that are earned through hard work and struggle. Everything about the way our culture is set up seems to suggest it.
And yet, as a child, tromping through the mud searching for tiny footprints I learned that joy and goodness were right outside in my backyard. The gnomes’ world of abundance and simple treasures was always accessible–it was simply a matter of stepping into it. I could get lost for hours in that kind of abundance. And then I grew up.
It is a relatively new practice for me to learn to see abundance everywhere–to let go of my stories about struggle and open my eyes to goodness that arrives when we show up and do our work (whatever our work may be) with pure joy. To see the spontaneous meetings with friends as gifts. To see cancelled plans as a chance to finally catch up on a long neglected project.
Truth is Max and I would have had the night of our life sitting up high in the 400s. We would have screamed for the Caps, cheered their goals and mourned their loss with the same level of fury and abandon. We had already felt like we had won. And that I think is the secret.
Something from my childhood was calling to me this night. A message bubbling up–From the gnomes…From God…From the kindess of strangers and my own wise heart. A metaphor perhaps reinforcing this practice.
We live in abundance. Already. Right now. Not tomorrow when the house is cleaned and the homework is done. Not next year when the bills are paid. Not 10 years from now when my practice is busy and full. But now. Now. Now.
Open your eyes and step into it. The view is amazing.
Many years ago, a woman, named Odette moved into my house. She taught me about faith and courage, a special kind of faith and courage. See, Odette was separated from her babies. They were tens of thousands of miles away and they were held apart by immigration and economics and seemingly impossible obstacles. For the longest years, Odette didn’t have her own babies close but she helped me raise my baby. She was his auntie and favorite babysitter. She sat at my table and told stories and told him to eat his vegetables and cooked and sang in my kitchen while Max and I danced. And sometimes after we put him to bed, I’d hug her and we’d cry together, thinking about her girls so far away.
One spring night, in a fit of possibility, a group of us held a party of the most magical sort. The girls were sick but we thought, in a moment of optimism, we could get them here. We raised thousands of dollars that night as bands played and we danced and mamas and papas stuffed money into shoe boxes. Thousands that could pay for their care and would one day help bring them home.
It was a long way from that party to the homecoming, to the magical day that Odette wrapped her arms around the girls she missed so much. Odette never gave up faith. There were many more moments like that party. Small moments (and big pushes) that paid expenses we never would have thought an immigrant mother could bear. Through networks far bigger than those here in our little neighborhood, through the courage of a friend who used all her super powers, through lawyers who work miracles and through hundreds of people who gave something tangible and real, those girls found their way home to their mama. In the darkest of days, with the worry and the pain, Odette and her girls were being carried in the arms of all the mamas who loved their babies.
Yes, through that experience, I learned about faith. Not about a kind of faith that is ethereal. The kind of faith that comes when hundreds of people recognize that their own divine generosity and create the way forward with a dollar or two or ten, their talents, something tangible. Love enfleshed.
When I was deciding to go to acupuncture school, my greatest fear was that I would lose my job or my health insurance, for one reason, and one reason alone. I had visions of myself at Max’s bedside, unable to pay for care he might have needed, imagining that desperate, helpless feeling I know many impoverished mothers know, that feeling of not being able to help him get well, that feeling of having to watch him suffer for lack of resources. When he cut himself on a rusty fence, when he banged himself up in hockey, I doubled over in gratitude for the insurance and the money in the bank and I paralyzed myself from moving forward with questions about WHAT IF? In those moments, Odette’s story reminded me that there are no guarantees, other than that love shows up actively in some way shape or form. If I was faced with the worst, well, I would need to have faith in God. I knew that sometimes that God shows up as a network of mamas. I one-by-one counted my band of soul sisters who would stand fiercely with me if my boy was in danger and leapt. I haven’t lost my insurance or my job but I know if I did we would find a way.
If I had any doubt about this lesson, my first day of school, my teachers gave me language to understand it clearly. They taught me to not refer to my child as “mine”. They said, the children belong to all of us. It is their world that we are creating together. While Max he came to the world through me, he is not mine. He is ours. All the babies are ours. And we are all the mamas.
Yes. Faith is love enfleshed. And Love is not a sentiment. It is an action.
I have been recently reminded of these stories and faith that is love enfleshed by another story. This is the story of another mama, this one someone I do not know–though I love those who love her. She is living a version of that nightmare of mine. She is afraid for her child’s life. She cannot wait for insurance to kick in. She is not sure how she will get her the treatment she needs but she is doing everything she can. And yet, while she labors to birth a new life for baby, she saw that she was not alone. She spoke her prayers out loud, and the Universe answered not with a fancy big solution but with a simple network of mamas and papas, aunties and uncles, love enfleshed into action. Women and men contributing small amounts, in partnership with the mama who birthed her, building a path forward for her daughter, (our daughter) brick by brick. Creating, together, a world in which she can live. In the last few days, her friends, family and strangers have raised money for several days of the treatment that can save her life.
Watching it unfold gives me so much hope, so much faith, moves me to tears. And yet there is more to do.
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed thinking about all the children of the world who suffer and I think that I cannot help all of them. And then I remember if I just do what is in front of me, it is enough.
Right now, in front of me, there is a precious child named Asia. She is our child, brought to us through her mama, named Mani. If you have found your way here, she is in front of you too. She is yours.
This is a kind of faith. Love enfleshed. Love as action. I lean into it and want to see it grow.
I was born on the 18th day of September. I have always loved the number 18 and been delighted how it, through ancient Hebrew, connects to the word “LIFE”. I wonder right now what would happen if we all took whatever prayers we may be whispering and enfleshed them with LIFE in the form of $18 or some other multiple of 18. How many more days of healing might it create, not just for Asia but for but for all of us who will be healed when we see prayers answered in the most simple of ways.
You can be part of this here. You can whisper your prayers for LIFE and then answer them.
About a month ago, I was laying here in bed, listening to the sound of the rain, just as I am doing right now. And then over the comforting pitter patter that had me almost asleep, I heard a kitten crying outside. I checked to make sure it wasn’t one of my cats, rolled over, turned off the lights and went to sleep.
I really want you to think that I am the kind of person who ran right out, then and there and brought that kitten in. But I didn’t. It broke my heart to hear her cry in the cold and yet, I didn’t move. Fear masquerading as “common sense” struck. The last thing I needed was one more cat. I am already at the the human-to-cat ratio that puts me at risk for crazy cat lady status. What’s more, I immediately started playing the tape in my head that said “There is not nearly enough money in my life right now to support our merry band of humans and cats, let alone one more feline mouth”. I told myself stories that she was probably a new pet belonging to one of the neighbors and crying outside their door, having snuck out by accident. It made it easier to sleep.
The next night, Max came home from hockey practice and told me he saw a kitten. She was still shivering outside our door, skinny and cold. We could hear her meows as the dark set in. He broke down in tears. I posted to the neighborhood listserve begging the owners to come get their poor lost cat. I did my best to keep on going with my night, telling myself that someone else would step in. I told myself that by using my mad social media skills I had done my part. As I put my sobbing child to bed, I promised Max that if she was still there the next morning that I would figure something out and then secretly prayed like hell that she would find her way home.
I had no time to take in a lost kitten. The day ahead of me was packed full of far too many commitments and not nearly enough time, and I knew taking that kitten in would mean time spent making posters (“Lost Kitten”) and taking trips to the rescue league to get her checked out and money so we could give her shots and get her tested for all sorts of cat diseases so we could find out if its safe to let her mix with my cats, all the while balancing an impossible amount of work, school and mothering duties and a schedule that was already way too full. I knew taking her in would mean finding space for one more litter box and separating her from cranky older cats who don’t like change. So when I heard her cries the next morning, I was more than a little annoyed. Why my house? Why cry here? I fumed at the inconvenience. But then I remembered my promise to Max last night and a promise I made to myself a long time ago–that I would lean into love, and so I must even when it is inconvenient, even when it is messy and even when (especially when) it throws everything awry. And as I went outside and scooped her up and carried her in my house. And as I did it, I knew it was exactly what was needed. For the first time in days I felt right in myself again. I asked myself if there really was any other choice? No–not if I believed in love and the power of leaning into it.
She is curled up now next to me as I write this, purring. She cuddles up with me almost every night, defiantly pushing past the big older cats who claim time with me. Maybe she is listening to the rain now too, remembering that day she cried outside and wondered what would happen next. I’d like to say there is some happy ending to her sweet story, some Pollyana sweet finish about how we found her owner (we didn’t despite days and hours of trying) or how our home is so much happier with her here. It’s true, we have some moments of sweetness and joy thanks to her, (she is a funny cat) but in all honesty, our house is a little messier now. There is not a lot of peace in the valley with our older cats. There is a lot more hissing and broken vases. This is a lot more litter to scoop. Leaning into love isn’t always tidy or easy or warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it can be downright shitty.
And yet, thinking back, I remembered that feeling inside of me, that buzzy uncomfortable tight feeling in the center of my chest that came up when I was trying to resist doing what needed to be done. And I remembered how when I finally leaned in, the world seemed to conspire to help me get it done and that tightness disappeared.
There is a part of me that wants you to think (that wants myself to think) that this really never comes up for me, that I am the kind of girl who leans into love always. And yet, there are countless small moments when it happens. When I resist giving a compliment, or avoid a phone call, or walk past a person on the street, usually justifying it to myself that I don’t have enough time, that I am in a rush, or that something more important needs to get done, that I’m depleted. And I feel that same buzzy tight feeling in my chest.
This is the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. These have certainly been some dark times. I can barely get out the word Newtown without breaking down in grief. And the bombings, wars, natural disasters that have filled the news, they weigh on me, along with the mean-spirited, “I’m drawing a line in the sand” kind of negotiations that have been going on in Washington (& other places). Closer to home, I have been dancing with facing some of my own gremlins, the kind that beg me to be kind to myself. It can be overwhelming all this darkness. And to be honest, the thing I have felt most through these dark times is fear.
That thing that stands in the way of love is not hate, but fear. Fear plays itself out in so many ways, from greed, to prejudice and yes, keeping us, keeping me from leaning in and doing what must be done, in the smallest most loving way.
If my life has taught me anything it is that the only way through fear is leaning into love. Not the kind of love that is sweet and syrupy and sentimental, but the kind that has you pick up the phone and listen, or that has the hard conversation, or that says “Welcome, I will share what I have”. The kind that says “I don’t know what to say but I’m with you.” The kind that says “Thank you”. The kind that takes action, big and small, not matter how inconvenient. If my training has taught me anything over the past year and a half, it is that this kind of love is the most valuable tool in a healer’s toolbox.
I will walk through this darkness into the light through the practice (because its a practice) of leaning into love. I will slip up sometimes, I might resist. Fear may get the best of me as I practice. But then I can let go of that fear and begin again.
They said the world was going to end today. I say that the world is always ending and always beginning. That every breath we take is a new beginning and new chance to lean into love and away from fear. In doing so we will raise the sun and create warmth and safety where there was once cold and pain.
Just ask my new kitten.
On this day 11 years ago, a sun rose in the sky and shortly after you were born. The world has been brighter ever since. You illuminate things.
Every birthday is more poignant for me, your mother. I look back at the year and can see this slow march to adulthood you are taking and I am bursting with pride and aware of how little time a mother really gets with her child after all. When they put you in my arms 18 years seemed like an eternity and now…well now…I can see how it comes in a blink of an eye–a blur of moments. You are teaching me to pay attention to each one, each miraculous one.
This was a blossoming year for you–a year of stepping into your own and really showing what you were capable of. This was the year you ran for student government and became school vice president, when you took a leadership role in school as a patrol. This is the year you inspired so many of us by doing a “goals for charity” program and raised over $2000 for Back on My Feet. This is the year you surprised all your swim coaches with your hard work and determination and burst into an advanced practice group, striving and pushing yourself and making meets.
More than all of your accomplishments I am proud of your resilience. Proud of the moments when you failed and found a way forward anyway. Like when you were trying to qualify for Junior Olympics and your goggles fell off and you had a bad race. You got back in the pool and wowed us by qualifying in the very next event–the one none of us saw coming, squeaking in by one-hundreth of a second. I was more proud that day than I would have been had you made it in every event. You know how to step up even when things aren’t going well.
You are exploring the world and discovering new ways of looking at things. This was the year you discovered that newborn babies are really cute. This is the year you discovered that a break-down of the car can be an adventure. That there are few things better than a cozy fire, a good book and a nice warm cozy blanket. One day you shocked me when you told me that you are kinda glad that Papi and I are divorced because you realized you are learning life skills your friends aren’t learning because there are just two of us in the house. You are seeing the opportunities in things others might call difficulties. I tell you how special that is. Most adults don’t know how to see life as gift, but you, you are my bell calling me to recognize that each moment–it’s all gift.
I love you so much Max. From the minute you were born you have been teaching me–teaching me to take myself less seriously, teaching me to slow down, teaching me to keep going, teaching me to appreciate every minute together, teaching me that life is constant shift and change.
I am so grateful you were born to me. It is a privilege to be your mother and hold your hand through this time. Thank you.
I was looking for my book this evening. I set it down somewhere and it seems I can’t find anything in this newly clean house. One thing I find a lot of are these little orange Nerf gun darts. They live in every nook and cranny of my house and just when I think I have cleaned them all up, there is one more. They are ubiquitous. No matter how much I fuss at Max to pick them up, no matter how much he searches there is always at least one more lurking..
Just like the pillows piled at the end of my bed–the ones that kept my made bed from looking truly neat. Max had moved them in long ago so that he had pillows when he came and climbed into my bed. He he declared himself “too big” enough to climb into bed next to me and share my pillows. And yet, sometimes when nightmares came or his room got too cold he wanted to be near his mama so he insisted on placing a pillow (or two or three) at the foot of my bed–so he would have a home there. I would put them back on his bed but they always found a way back. They were ubiquitous.
Tonight was our last night of summer vacation–School starts back tomorrow. Max will be a 5th grader–his last year of elementary school. It will be our last first day of school at the little neighborhood school around the corner. I suppose then that it was nothing short of perfect timing when at bedtime Max came to me and said, “Mom–I am going to take my pillows back to my room now. I think I am going to sleep all by myself all night this year.” It was as though he was preparing himself, preparing me, for the shifts that will take place this year as he moves from elementary school kid to middle school adolescent.
Changing and growing. The transitions are ongoing, never stopping. I know that one day, I will clean up the last nerf dart and notice that he is no longer shooting them around the house. They will be gone, just like the pillows are now gone from my bed. Just like he will one day be gone from the house, out on his own, a man.
Someone once told me that motherhood is an exercise in never getting used to anything–as soon as something begins to feel normal–or maybe drive you over the top crazy–it shifts. So I smile when I see the darts in the corners. They tell me that Max is here–that he is playing–that he is in a sweet phase of childhood and imagination. No matter how much I want to cling to that sweetness I know it will shift and so I breathe it in now while it is here. These orange darts are my bell calling me to pay attention now while it is here.
Many of my friends have sent children off to college this year. Some friends are sitting with a truly empty nest after watching older children step out on their own. Others are just starting the journey of transitioning their children out–where there were once 3 schedules to juggle there are now 2. I watch these families with teary eyes–knowing how short the years are before Max spreads his wings and I can make my bed as neat as I want and look for books without finding orange foam bits in the corners.
My cousin Jackie told me that when her youngest son moved out of the house, the thing that she missed most was the non-stop sound of a bouncing basketball. She never really noticed how it was the soundtrack to her life as the mother of teenage boys that constant thud-thud-thud. Yet, the sudden absence of it reminded her of what it was like with a house full of boys and no milk left in the fridge. That steady beat of a ball bouncing (in the driveway, in the kitchen, upstairs in his room), it was the soundtrack of love–as clear as a heartbeat.
These transitions are glorious–they are what I want for my son. I want to see him big and strong and independent. I want him to flourish and feel capable of moving out of our little nest. And yet, I pray for me, that I can sit back and watch and marvel as these changes, resisting the temptations to grab hold of his childhood and weep as it passes through my fingers. Instead, these darts tell me to open my eyes NOW and see him as his is NOW. Enjoy these moments while they last–we will never know when he will tire of little boy games. These orange darts remind me to wake up to the sweetness before it shifts and I realize I missed it.
Dear Jay Beagle–
You most likely don’t remember him, but he remembers meeting you.
The first time he met you was at an arena in Newark. Max and I traveled up to New Jersey to see the Caps play on the road. We made the trip up and back in one night because Max was playing in his championship hockey game the next day. You were on the ice warming up before the game and my little guy had wormed his way into a restricted section to watch–a lone Caps fan in a sea of Devils fans. He banged on the glass and when he thought you were looking at him he told you, so earnestly, about the championship. Maybe you heard him, or maybe you just saw that he desperately wanted to tell you something. You flipped him a puck, pointing to make sure all the New Jersey fans knew exactly where you meant it to go. Max carried that puck in his hockey bag the next day for luck. They won. That puck now sits on our mantel and Max tells the story over and over.
Fast forward to this past Wednesday. Thanks to a magical gift, Max and I had tickets to see the Caps play your rivals the Penguins. Our tickets were right behind your bench, right on the tunnel that led to the ice. As you all marched out onto the ice, so many of your teammates were doing what they do to get ready, getting their head in the game, eyes intensely focused forward, seeing nothing but the ice, blocking out the arena and making only space for the game. It was thrilling simply to be so close. Yet everytime you came out, (or for that matter went back into the locker room), you, Jay Beagle, you high-fived my boy, or bonked him on the head with your stick. Every time you smiled at him. All eight times. Yup. We were counting.
You may not think it was that big a deal Jay Beagle but I am saying that it is. For you did something magical. You, with all your NHL hero status, you took a minute to with your eyes, your hands, your smile to see an individual in a thumping, throbbing crowd. You saw him there with his face all painted red and his sign and his mardi gras beads. And then, with a simple gesture you told him over and over that he mattered. You let him know that his energy, his presence, his excitement meant something to the world, that it changed things. And with that gesture you changed the world. For Max. For me. For every little boy who wants to grow up to be like you one day.
You are a very young man Jay Beagle, just 26 years old. You don’t make nearly what your superstar teammates make. And yet you are wise beyond your years and richer than those whose salary dwarfs yours. You know something that many old men do not. You know that the most important gift you can give is your presence, your acknowledgment. You know that seeing is indeed everything. If I was your mother, I would be very very proud of you, not for your NHL contract but for who you touch now in that role. I would be so proud of how you noticed that little boy who just wanted to touch your hand.
Jay Beagle, thank you. As a hockey mom, I hope all those little boys reaching out their hands across the years, to touch you, to touch the possibility that they too might one day play on the big ice rinks, I hope they all grow up to be wise like you.
Not that long ago in the treatment room, my acupuncturist took my pulses and told me that my chi was stronger and more balanced than she had ever seen it. And its true, I was feeling more full, more peaceful, more aware of the great abundance in my life than I have perhaps ever. The situation of my life was not all that different than it had been a few months ago, but I am so fully aware of the gift of it all, it was not a surprise that my body began singing that tune. I felt so blessed that the Universe and I had worked together to heal some cracks in my heart so that I could begin to store a reservoir of energy to face whatever life would throw at me next.
You know what happened then? I immediately began to wonder when the next shoe would drop and tragedy would strike. I was certain the Universe had brought me to this pinacle of joy, only to rob me of it. I admit this sheepishly, but to be honest its true. I have programmed myself to believe that opening up to goodness means a sure fire punch in the gut is coming. I sat with that a while and got curious about it.
Max went on a long planned overnight trip this week to an indoor water park a few hours away with some of his best buddies from hockey. The trip is well chaperoned by people I love and trust deeply. For him, it was a holiday dream come true–an amazing adventure laid out before him.
Over the holidays Max and I had lots of opportunities for mom/son time. We spent hours reading together all snuggled up by the fire. Just as I would sink into the goodness of being his mother, fear would start to creep in. Foreboding Joy.
With this trip on the horizon, this trip so exciting and marvelous laid out like a gem I got fixated on the fact that this trip–this beautiful gift of a trip would be the thing that did us in.
I was certain that something was going to go wrong–horribly wrong. A car accident, a drowning, a bully or a sick man who would lure him away. He would bump into sharp corners of some sort and be wounded horribly. He would not come home. All these things do happen after all to families every day and the truth of the matter is we never know when life is going to shift and change or throw us a curve ball. We don’t know when we or our loved ones will breathe their last breaths. I tried to hold these facts without dwelling on them. I breathed and focused on the present moment. It seemed to help.
One night Max crawled into my bed, his room was so cold. I was awake and as I snuggled him and watched him sleep I felt that fear start to rise again. That panic that he would be taken from me. Visions of firey car crashes warred with my internal reassurances that he was traveling with a paramedic. I wondered whether it was my mother’s intutition that was telling me to not let him go, to slam the door on this opportunity and keep him safe by the fire with me. I then wondered whether this was my own difficulty sinking into the kindness and the adventure presented to him. This war was taking me nowhere good.
So late that night, I made a different decision. Instead of stepping on that rollercoaster, I stepped back and asked myself what on earth could this fear be pointing to. As I looked at his giant puppy ten year old self sleeping in heap and stealing my covers it was clear.
I love this child so very much, so deeply, so completely and with such abandon that my heart is completely and utterly exposed. And that is a very blessed thing. Being Max mom is the greatest joy of my life, a job that has new challenges and new twists and turns, a job that is ever changing. It is a job that I love with a passion so great, I sometimes think I will explode. And that is a blessed thing.
It was not his trip with the long list of possible (though not probable) tragedies that could occur that was scaring me. It was being this vulnerable. I sat with this fact for a long time. I wrapped my arms around my boy and I slept on it.
When I woke up, I realized that my vulnerability is what is saving me, what is healing me. When I sit, open in the classroom, letting myself be moved, I am practicing being vulnerable. When I marvel at all that I have, kissing each ordinary blessing in my life, I am being vulnerable. This vulnerability is terrifying and it is a treasure. It is what is opening up the deep well of energy and chi and goodness that I am drawing from. It is what is allowing me to sink even deeper. Its not a surprise that as I wake up to vulnerability I found myself struggling with it too.
What a treasure it was to stumble upon this. I have bumped into the work of the marvelous Brene Brown before and yet as I sit in my pajamas waiting for Max to come home, it resonates at a level so much deeper than before.
I am aware of how I protect myself from this vulnerability by refusing to open up entirely to the love and goodness in my life. How quick I am to slam the gates around my heart and what it has cost me. And I am making it decision, right here, right now, to practice vulnerability, over and over again.
The Ted Talk takes 20 minutes but it may just change your life.
**Thinking with love of K. and others who are sharing this journey with me. We are all walking it together. Holding hands will make it easier.**