A Royal Epiphany

To be completely honest, I didn’t care much about Kate or William or their wedding. I was a little turned off by it all. I didn’t have anything against Kate or William, it was the hype. The couple, their plans, their pasts, their futures, their choices, and then all the “controversies”…the guest list, the dress, the hairdo, the speculation about all of it and what it meant. And then the speculation about the speculation. I haven’t even watched a lot of TV or paid much attention to current events lately, but somehow I knew all these things were brewing, and I decided I just didn’t care. So, I didn’t plan a Royal Wedding Viewing Party. I didn’t set the DVR to record the wedding. I didn’t set my alarm to wake up to watch the wedding. I didn’t plan on regretting my lack of interest. Worst case scenario, I’d watch highlights on YouTube.

When I returned home from the morning drop-off routine yesterday, I had a very rare opportunity to enjoy a cup of hot coffee in front of the TV (alone). I turned on the TV and sat down with my coffee and within seconds, despite my best efforts to avoid the hype, I was watching Royal Wedding highlights. Before too long, I was sobbing.

I am laughing right now because it all seems so ridiculous. So there I was crying, and of course I couldn’t just cry, I had to stop and analyze it. Why was I crying? I decided that there were two possibilities: 1) in a past life I had my own royal wedding and seeing William and Kate in HD triggered those cell memories; or, 2) I was uncontrollably, undeniably, and very unsurprisingly moved to tears. It was all very beautiful. That goes without saying, but what struck me, as I tried to figure out what was so moving, was the connection. Here were hundreds of thousands of people gathered outside Buckingham Palace to catch a glimpse of the Prince and his new Princess, maybe millions of viewers watching on TV, and then the actual couple and their true friends and family who were very clearly celebrating love and a new beginning for all involved. In every replay of each lovely moment of that day, we are connected. We are united. We are one in love.

So then I tuned in to the commentators…some British woman sharing her predictions for a dark, lonely, and difficult transformation from commoner to Princess for poor Kate. Sure William loves her, but her life is forever changed and it could get really ugly. She will need to surround herself with friends. Let’s all hope she asks Pippa to serve as a Lady in Waiting… (I’m paraphrasing). This woman was turning a breathtaking moment into mush right before my eyes. And then something clicked.

I have had the privilege of working with a fantastic life coach for the past month or so (grief therapy was great, but a girl has to move on at some point). One of the references he has made over and over is to the question of whether I will stand in choice. I have heard it and theoretically, I get it. In fact, I constantly talk to my kids about choices. “It’s okay to be angry, it’s not okay to punch your brother in the gut when you are angry, what are some other ways to deal with your anger? You have a choice… Your choices have consequences… Nobody can hurt you without your permission (Eleanor Roosevelt)” and so on. I even knew at the beginning of this journey, that at some point, I would need to make a choice about whether or not I would spend the rest of my life wallowing in grief over the loss of my dad. I would always miss him, I might often be sad, but then what? Would I be bitter? Choices would need to be made.

It sounds very simple at first, but in that moment I had a choice too. I could either allow myself to get sucked in to Lady Buzzkill’s analysis of all that laid ahead for the Royal couple, or continue to bask in the glow of the Radiant Kate and William on their wedding day. Simple. I went to the light. My epiphany though, was that this choice mirrored all the others I can make in every matter big and small. The jerk who cuts me off on the highway. Do I let him get me down? In the past I have. There have been days in my life where that careless jerk sent me on a downward spiral and I was stuck there for the rest of the day. I might have even gone as far as to blame him for everything else that wasn’t going right in my life. And then I’d have to order pizza for dinner that night because nobody could really expect me to cook in my fragile state. I was shaken up and it was all the jerk’s fault.

The jerk is just the beginning. Choices get complicated. I could go on for hours about all the injustices in the world. I am not a Saint, but I don’t get hate. I get acceptance. That is who I am. We don’t have to agree with each other, in fact it would be boring if we did, but because of that connection, that oneness that I feel with humanity, I do believe we need to treat each other kindly. And we don’t. And that hurts. I often take it personally. I don’t need to though. I can choose to let the hurt flow through me, or to be transformed by the hurt, and I can choose whether that transformation will be for better or for worse. Kate and I have at least one thing in common.

So often we allow ourselves to get caught up in the hype. Most of it isn’t even real, by the way. I am fighting the urge to run in several different directions here. There is so much to say about injustice, the media, the hype, and so on. I don’t see that as part of this journey. Not now. This journey is about creating a sense of balance in my life. Thank you William and Kate for sharing your extraordinary day with the world. We all need a little more love and light in our lives. I completely understand now, thanks to a few highlights from the Royal Wedding and Ken the Angel Life Coach, that the love and light is always available. Truly. The choice is ours about whether or not to access it. Whether or not to spread it.

Lost and Found

When my dad passed away last year, I lost my mom too. I also lost my sister. My husband and my children lost me. Since then, we’ve all resurfaced for the most part. I had forgotten about these losses until today after a difficult conversation with my mom. When we were finished talking, I had a good cry. I thought a lot about what we had said and the way we had said it, and how I felt about all of it. The little girl Anna, who resides deep inside me, wanted so badly to crawl into her mother’s lap. She longed for the safety she found there after a disagreement. She wished she could be comforted by her mom’s hand stroking her little head as she sat there, releasing the hurt with every pass through her hair.

I, grown woman Anna, am slightly jealous of that little girl. It seems like life was so much easier when anything that ailed me could be cured in the arms of my mom or my dad. As I thought about what had transpired, I wondered why resolving conflict seemed so much more tenuous now, why it seemed so hard. And then I remembered that Wednesday is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 64. I can’t help but to think that no matter what we said or thought, in the depths of our hearts, we were feeling the weight of an upcoming birthday void of its birthday boy. First, I wanted my dad back. Then, I wanted my mom back.

I live within 30 minutes of my mom in one direction and my sister and her family in another. My dad, bless his heart, came to my house several times a week in the last year of his life. He helped me with my babies like only a Papaw could. I rewarded him with leftovers. When he died, I lost my number one go-to guy. In a pinch, I always knew I could call my dad and he would do whatever he could to help me get through the day. My husband, my mom, my dad, my sister, and her husband, each of them has talked me off the ledge. Each of them has rescued me from some degree of parenting disaster. They are my village. It took a long time for me to adjust to my dad’s absence. At some point my husband, who was practically a saint from the moment my dad died, had to switch his focus from grieving wife back to his work. My village had disbanded. I wasn’t always sure where to turn. Forget maternal disarray, I was a grieving mess. How could I call my sister to come and scoop me off the floor, when she had her own floor to tend to? It was hard.

Slowly but surely, my mom, my sister, and I came to life again. My husband and my sister’s husband were no longer on their own. My children looked up to see tears in my eyes less frequently. In times of deficient coping, thank God, I was blessed with fabulous in-laws and superstar babysitters who saved the day on numerous occasions. As my mom and my sister and I came to life, we returned to each other. Since then, I had forgotten about those early days after my dad’s death. Outside of simply being together, we didn’t have a lot of energy to do much else for one another. We were in survival mode. When I turned to my mom, her body sat before me, but her mind was often elsewhere. I haven’t mentioned my dad’s birthday to my mom. I’m sure the fact that April 20 is coming this week is already on her mind. I don’t know for sure that heavy hearts were involved in our conversation today, but rather than trying to analyze it, I am thanking the Universe for the gentle reminder that I am not the only hiker on the path.

Each and every human being on the planet is on a journey. Sometimes we travel together and sometimes we travel alone. We often travel together in silence. In the midst of giving voice to our stories, we can’t be sure who is really listening. We are bound to lose each other along the way. I know that even when I lose my mom, when our paths part or our attention gets diverted, she will eventually come back to me. I may not fit in her lap anymore, but I’ll always have a place in her heart. And her in mine.

Heavyhearted

It’s the last day of Spring Break, 2011. As I was enjoying the peaceful promise of early Spring in Northern Michigan last week, two of my dear friends were facing life-changing losses. As I read books, snuggled with my children, and navigated road trips up and down M-22 and US-31, one of my friends had to say good-bye to her beloved grandmother, and another watched and waited as her father’s battle against cancer came to its heartbreaking end. A grandmother, a father, two people my friends have known for as long as they can remember. These are two of the people who have helped to shape my friends’ lives and to guide them into the beautiful, compassionate, intelligent women they are today. My heart is heavy for my friends.

As I waited for updates on my friend’s dad, a little tornado of panic rumbled in my chest. It became clear that he might die, but I hoped along with her for some kind of miracle that would spare her and her family the pain of losing him, and keep him alive. I hated the thought of watching another friend lose a parent. This is an inevitable developmental milestone, but one that I think I could do without. Once I received the news of her father’s death, I began to relate what my friend was going through to my own experience. Her dad had been fighting cancer and mine died suddenly, so the circumstances were very different, but the outcome was the same. In the end, we both lost our dads.

As my sense of panic gave way to sadness for my friend and elements of my own grief began to surface, I again began to think about death and how we relate to it. If you believe in a human spirit, you might also believe that the Spirit doesn’t die. And even if you believe that everything dies when a body dies, there are parts of a person, anyone who is close to you, that stay. Like memories, I still have memories of my dad. I also have some of his personality traits. Some of his likenesses and traits have been passed on to my children. So, really, as long as we have our memories and each other, our loved ones stay alive in some way. It’s just not in the way we came to know them. This is why, even though we may believe that they are still with us, we still miss them. We come to know everyone we meet as a physical being so we can’t help but to miss that being when it no longer walks among us. And I think we miss them even more in every instant that we realize the finality of it all – that we will never see the being we loved again on Earth.

This all brings me right back to the issue of how to deal with losing someone you love and how to address grief that is triggered by another’s loss. And, of course, I know there isn’t a prescription for grief or guidelines to follow. I completely understand that. So the answer, as always, is just to let it be. To feel it, to express it, to let it flow through you. That sounds logical to me. I would tell anyone to do the same. But in my case, over the course of the week, I needed more guidance. I began to question what I knew to be true. I lost faith in the inner wisdom that told me to do nothing, to let it be. I needed more, like a flow-chart or something, mapping out how to proceed when I stumble on my path.

And then my five year-old son, Alexander, started screaming at his brother. His screams are ear-piercing and they usually scare the crap out of me. Beyond the screaming though, is an example of how to let it be. He is angry so he screams. And then he moves on. He doesn’t hang on to his anger. He doesn’t feel guilty about it later. He doesn’t question whether it is okay to be angry. He screams and POOF! he is fine. Then my three year-old daughter walks right into a table and starts to cry. She is hurt so she cries. I pick her up, I give her a kiss and a squeeze, and she is fine. She gets back on her feet. She doesn’t even try to avoid the table on the next run-around. Then my eight year-old son is told that it’s time to stop playing Wii and he is not happy with that news because he wants to finish all 200 laps (uh, what?!?) so he throws the Wii remote thing. He is frustrated so he throws things. He may pout for a little longer, but within 20 minutes he is laughing with his dad. He is fine. No looking back.

I am left with two lessons: 1) Kids are geniuses at expressing their emotions. They serve as examples of how to let it be. I want to be more like my kids. I may even start screaming along with Alexander instead of wishing him out of his screaming phase. Heck, if it helps him to cope with whatever life throws his way, I hope he always screams. 2) I am beginning to imagine that the people I love are more like wind. In the same way that I don’t need to see the wind to know that it is there, I will try to trust that I don’t need to see my dad to know that he is with me. In quiet moments, I feel my dad, like wind. I do have one caveat though, and that is that when the knowledge I have that he is with me just doesn’t seem like enough, I will go to lesson #1 and let whatever I am feeling flow through me. And looky there, I have my flow chart.

mind-BODY-spirit

In sharing my journey toward a deeper mind-body-spirit connection, I guess it was inevitable that I would need to address my body at some point. This is a little tricky for me. You know when girlfriends are hanging out together, pointing out perceived deficiencies on their bodies? Comparing muffin tops? I don’t have a lot to say. Not because I am without muffin top, but having dealt with body-image issues for as long as I can remember, talking openly about my muffin top presents some problems for me. (Men, I imagine you do the same when you’re hanging out with your buddies, right?).

As soon as I had a concept of “larger” and “smaller” I knew I was in the larger group. Sadly, I see in hindsight that this was probably because I was taller than most of my other friends. Of course I was larger, but I didn’t know how to differentiate between larger-taller and larger-wider, and honestly, I’m not sure that would have made a difference anyway. I thought I was too large and I went with it (looking back, I feel so sad for that girl who thought she was too large because she was damn skinny!).

While I’ve reconciled my body-image issues for the most part, I am still pretty sensitive to sharing, even with most of my beloved girlfriends. In the spirit of this journey, I think it is time to change all that. Please bear with me as I take a few steps outside my comfort zone.

In the midst of muffin top discussions, it never fails that I wonder: What exactly are we striving for? What are we comparing ourselves to when we decide our bodies are too much of one thing or not enough of another? Usually, it is some ideal or another, like when we think that someone we saw at the gym last week has a perfect body. Or we see some gorgeous mom breeze through the pick-up line at school. She is fit, stylish, friendly, and she smiles and hugs her children tightly when she sees them. She looks like she has it all. We want her body. Even worse, we want Gwyneth Paltrow’s body or Jennifer Lopez’s body – bodies we don’t ever even see in their natural states. We can all dream, we can work-out, we can starve ourselves, or eat healthy, well-balanced meals, but at the end of the day we have only one body. Our very own, unique, individual one and only body. And we must work with it.

The body I’m working with is definitely in the larger group these days. I think my body and I have developed a relationship much like an older couple who has been married for many years. We’ve been through a lot together. We love each other, but we’re not always in love with each other. Other than a gradual explosion in body size when I started college, and then again when I first started taking “the pill,” my weight was never truly an issue. I could have lost 5-10 pounds here and there, but for the most part, I felt good in my body. Right before I became pregnant with my first son, I even felt great. I was in pretty good shape, I exercised regularly, and I ate well. Then I gained 15 pounds as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I’m not kidding. I have no idea how it happened, but it did, and then it happened again three more times. I have heard there are other women who have had the same experience. It is just another prenatal phenomenon, I suppose. I didn’t over-indulge too frequently, but I ate whatever I wanted to whenever I wanted to while I was pregnant. I didn’t obsess over weight gain and my doctors didn’t either.

I enjoyed answering my crazy cravings (lots of citrus) and overall, I simply loved being pregnant. I was in complete awe of my body while I was pregnant. I loved knowing that while I sat watching a movie with my husband, someone was inside me growing ears. I loved watching my body grow and change. I thought it was fun to wear maternity clothes. I loved the butterfly flutters I felt in my belly as my baby grew and started to explore and I marveled at the punches and kicks I felt as he got bigger. I was not as fond of the sensation I had during the fully-reclined-with-foot-in-my-rib phase of pregnancy, but he came out soon after that so there are no hard feelings. I felt like I was a living, breathing miracle of life. If I hadn’t developed a deeper love connection to my body and its capabilities by the end of my pregnancy, I fell head over heels in love with my body when I gave birth to my son. It was the most exhilarating, empowering experience I had ever had in my body. Once my sweet baby James was out safely and I held him close for the first time, I knew my body and I could do anything.

As life went on with my new son, I slowly got back into shape. I was almost to that major milestone in a new mom’s career – pre-pregnancy weight – when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I was elated! In keeping with tradition, I gained 15 pounds instantly. And then I had a miscarriage. I was devastated. One of my friends described her experience with miscarriage as feeling like a little girl whose balloon got loose and floated away into the sky. It’s funny how my mind works. As soon as I saw that positive pregnancy test, I was flooded with hopes and dreams for our second child, and for James as a big brother. I asked my husband to meet us for ice cream at a diner near his office and dressed James in a “I’m the Big Brother” shirt I had been keeping for this special occasion. It was all so sweet and dreamy. Our family was growing…I was so confused when I realized none of those hopes and dreams would be realized for this baby. I became very depressed. As I reflect on that time in my life, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some level I felt like my Superwoman Mama body had failed me. Maybe that is when I stopped taking such good care of it.

A year later, almost exactly a year later, we learned that I was pregnant again! I gained fifteen pounds instantly and many more pounds after that. Alexander the Great was born. And then, almost exactly two years after that, I found out I was pregnant again! Another 15 pounds instantly. I swear to God! And then Sophia Pearl, our baby girl was born. And somewhere in all of that, I completely lost track of my body. I distinctly remembering trying clothes on at a department store while I was pregnant with Sophia and noticing for the first time that I had back fat. I was mortified. I wondered how it got there.

When Sophia turned two I started training for my first 5K. Running was something I never ever thought I would do, but I loved it! It was liberating. I had a blast making playlists on my iPod and running with the wind. The night my dad died I was running on the treadmill. I felt this surge of energy, like I had never felt before around 8:30 p.m. I think that must have been when he died. A couple hours later my mom called and you know the rest of that story.

A few months after my dad died I stopped running. I became addicted to yummy coffee drinks. I tried to fill the hole in my heart with chocolate and pastries. I gained back all the weight I had lost since I started running and then some extra weight, just for good measure. When I realized that I had gained additional weight, I was really disappointed. I think I again felt as if my body had betrayed me. Who could blame it though? I had completely disengaged from everything I needed to be doing to care for myself in a sometimes desperate effort to care for my children. I cut-up apples for them and then ate cookies myself. It was ugly.

I started practicing yoga more regularly in an effort to reconnect with my body (and quiet my mind and lots of other things) and that has worked beautifully. I feel much more in tune with this vessel that carries me from playdates to pre-school pick-up and back again. Slowly, but surely, I’ve begun running again. We’re on pretty good terms, but my body is asking more of me now. We both want to be as healthy as possible in the coming years of motherhood.

So, my body and I are starting a new “plan” next week. I’ve been thinking that this feels different. This is an effort born of love. I love my body, even though it’s large. I love my muffin top and the stomach below it in all of its stretch marked glory. I am especially fond of my deformed belly button, compliments of Sophia. I love how the right side of my stomach sticks out a little farther than the left side because it reminds me how each of my children seemed to prefer snuggling up over there in utero (maybe the other two had no choice after James stretched it out for them). I love my large breasts even though, well I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that nursing three babies was a very transformative experience for me (and my breasts).

In Martha Whitmore Hickman’s book, Healing After Loss, she says “I care for myself in honor of my life and all who have shared that life with me.” It’s really that simple. Out of love for myself, my body, my life, and all those who share it with me, I care for myself. This isn’t about wishing I had a different body or making changes because I don’t measure up to an ideal. For me, this is a journey about taking better care of my body because this body is truly a gift to be treasured. I hope, or I trust, that made in the spirit of love, this journey will take me right where I need to be.

Wish me luck!