5/22/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I am a hyper-organized person. When people ask me how I manage to get so much done, the answer is in one word: organization. Things are in their place, and their place is set in cement. My desk calendar is meticulous. I don’t use an online scheduler, either via my phone or my computer, because there’s too much chance for a screw-up. I know where I’m supposed to be when, and what I’m supposed to do when I get there, and I’m prepared.  Things. Get. Done. I was that person everyone hated in college – my papers were always done at least two weeks in advance of the due date. I don’t write papers anymore, but I do have deadlines, and they’re met well in advance.

Until today. From now on, I have to add “almost always” to my sense of organization. I have to add “usually”. I have to add “typically” and “probably”.

I knew I was in trouble this weekend. I organize the work for the week ahead around a Saturday night outing. But this weekend, everything went crazy. There was the sudden interruption of a dentist appointment early Saturday morning, followed by my once-a-month three-hour workshop. Followed by my having to take my daughter into Urgent Care because she couldn’t stop coughing. Followed by my falling asleep (as the result of no sleep the night before because of nerves for the upcoming dentist appointment) during meditation, which led to an unplanned nap, which led to dinner out, which meant I didn’t even sit down to do any work until almost ten o’clock Saturday night. This led to Sunday, which had two extra activities: my daughter’s violin recital and going to see the play Jane Eyre at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, where my husband works. I brought folders with me to the play and I read during the twenty-minute intermission.

But ohmygod. Organization plans all awry.

Then came today. I deliberately got up early, so I would be showered, dressed, and fed before my morning phone clients. That way, I could hang up the phone and get right into my own writing and still get my own creative work done while trying to catch up with my teaching work. Instead, my coughing daughter was still coughing. So I had to take her to the doctor. At 12:45, the only time available. And he was running late and didn’t even get into the exam room until 1:30. I only got an hour and fifteen minutes of writing in, and then I decided to sacrifice the rest to meditation, to try and calm myself down. After meditation, I was in the process of signing on to Skype for my 5:00 client when I realized I couldn’t remember what my client wrote this week and what I said about it. And a chill went flying up my spine.

BECAUSE I NEVER READ HER WORK.

I read the two clients before her and the client after her and the class after her. I checked her off as completed on my calendar. But I completely leaped right over her.

I had to show up a few minutes late to our appointment so I had time to wipe away tears of absolute frustration and failure. When you’re as organized as I am, perfectionism is, of course, right there in bed with you. It’s a threesome: Me, Organization, and Perfectionism. We don’t have room for a fourth: Failure. But it felt like Failure was all over me. It was Armageddon.

But I got on Skype and I told my client what happened. She was gracious, kind and forgiving.

And you know what? My world didn’t end. I am back in my chair, trying to get my ducks all lined up in a row again, my cats all herded. And I know they will be. I also know now that if one wanders off, if one of my things isn’t in the place it’s supposed to be, if I drop a ball…I’ll be okay. The world won’t suddenly hate me.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/21/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Years ago, when my big kids, now 33, 31, and 30, were getting ready to make the choice of whether or not to participate in their school’s music program, I had one rule. No violin. Absolutely no violin. I couldn’t stand the sound of a new player, smacking a bow to the strings, squeaking, squawking, scratching. For me, it was akin to the sound of fingernails on a blackboard – something that never bothered me, but made the greater population cringe.

No violin.

My oldest played the trumpet. My middle played the drums. My youngest (then) played the flute. They had their share of rude noises too, but I was always relieved that it wasn’t the violin.

Then came my fourth child. My baby, when I was forty years old and the three big kids were 16, 14, and 13. She let me know very quickly what she thought of my rules and expectations. I thought I’d seen it all by the time I had her; in reality, I hadn’t seen anything yet.

In fifth grade, she came home from school, put her hands on her hips and declared, “I want to play the violin.”

Oh, no, no, no, no, I thought. Come on, really?

But there is one word that describes Olivia best. Determined. Whatever she chooses to do, she does. If she wanted to play the violin, she wasn’t going to let it go. There would be no substitute.

And so she went on to prove me wrong. The squeaky, squawky, scratchy phase was over so fast, I don’t even have any memory of it. I only have memories of that little girl, tucking her first instrument under her chin, drawing the bow across the strings, and smiling.

That smile.

Today, I watched her perform in a recital. She stepped up to the stand, placed her bow reverently on the strings the way she did so long ago, smiled, then leveled the smile as her whole body became involved with the music and with concentration. She played a slow movement, rich in emotion. And then she flew into a fast movement, so fast that I thought her violin was going to burst into flames from the friction.

I am so happy that she insisted on breaking one of my rules. And I am so happy to have been a part of the squeaking, squawking and scratching. What I hear coming from her now is music at its purest. And what I see is better than any vision.

Her smile.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/20/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Fear is not a fun thing. And an irrational fear is worse. Your mind tells you to stop being ridiculous, but your entire body gets caught up in a raceway. Run! Run! Run!

Today’s moment of happiness occurred after I had to run through one of those fears and I came out the other side mercifully intact. But I know I will face this fear again and again, and I know I have to do something about it.

A little history.

From 1966 to 1972, when I was six years old to twelve, I lived in a tiny community in northern Minnesota, tucked between Duluth and Cloquet. I didn’t lose my first tooth until I was six, and then I lost four at once, at the hands of a dentist who didn’t have much going for him but an ether mask. Baby teeth are supposed to fall out when the roots dissolve, but mine never did. It was time to lose a tooth when the permanent tooth began coming up behind. Each one. Except for a few, every one of my baby teeth was pulled by a dentist. And for every one, I was knocked out with ether.

What is ether like? The mask was black rubber and it fit snugly over my nose and mouth, tucking up under my eyes. The smell was like gasoline, but a little bit off. It threw me into a wild black cyclone, swirling round and round, sucking me down. Flashes of light accompanied a bizarre sound, like a cross between maniacal laughter and a whoop-whoop-whoop siren. Sometimes voices broke through. Sometimes the crunch of a tooth being removed broke through. Always, my screams broke through. When I came to, I was nauseated and dizzy for the rest of the day. My mother always complained of being embarrassed in the waiting room, knowing it was her daughter who was screaming. My mother had no clue what I was going through.

I was ethered for the first three of five eye surgeries as well. To this day, I have ether nightmares.

When I was twelve, we moved to Stoughton, Wisconsin, and the dentist there introduced me to novocaine. Which had no effect on me. The dentist would give me five or six shots, then declare me a baby and go ahead and either fill the tooth or pull it out. More screaming. It wasn’t until I had my first child at twenty-four that I realized my immunity. My doctor was stitching up my episiotomy and I felt every stitch. He stopped and asked me if I had issues with dental procedures. He then told me I had an immunity and that for future children, he would order ahead a special anesthetic.

But by then, even armed with the immunity information, my terror of dentists ran through my veins and psyche. I couldn’t even watch it on television. Tim Conway’s dentist comedy skits had me either leaving the room or covering my eyes. Taking my kids to their dental visits was excruciating.

So on Friday morning, when I brushed my teeth and my tongue discovered a crack in a filling, my reaction was immediate. Cold sweat. Legs turned to noodles. Tears. But I reached for the phone and made an appointment.

For years now, I’ve only seen a dentist when I’ve absolutely had to. They’ve been kind. They haven’t hurt me. They’ve used special anesthetic. But it’s been no match for the fear.

This morning, early (yuk), I went in. Michael, bless him, came with me. I cried all the way there. The staff was wonderful. The dentist was kind. He told me immediately that the fix was easy, releasing me from visions of drills and needles and pain. For the entire visit, Michael sat at my feet, one hand on my ankle. For comfort, for sure, but probably also to keep me there. At one point, while the dentist touched all my teeth and talked in code to the hygienist, tears ran freely down my cheeks. He kept his voice soft. She put her hand on my shoulder, a gentle touch. And then he fixed me. He took what he called dental spackle and filled the crack. No drills, no needles, no pain. He told me to come in for a cleaning and then he would fix the tooth more permanently with a new filling. He said that would take no more than fifteen minutes and wouldn’t require an anesthetic.

This is the part in a dental visit where I typically smile and nod and then say I’ll check my calendar and call in for an appointment and then I get the hell out of there and plan to never visit that clinic again. But today, I took a deep breath and felt something shift. I made the appointment. June 6.

Now we’ll see if I keep it. We’ll see if I can face this thing.

I think I can. Maybe, at almost fifty-seven years old, I can leave that screaming little girl behind.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/19/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This week, my moments of happiness have included thoughts on bullying and a soul-stirring moment while leading a book club for female inmates in jail. Today, I was lucky to experience something even more profound.

Rainbow sherbet.

We’ve had some lovely weather this week. It seemed like spring and summer finally arrived, in tandem, holding hands. Temperatures in the low 80’s. Abundant sunshine. Winter clothes were thrown aside, capris, sandals and sleeveless shirts came out from hiding in my cedar chest. When I walked, I was accompanied by the gentle smack-smack-smack of sandals, leaving the sidewalk to meet my heels and turn them into the drumbeat of summer. We had thunderstorms too, but you’ve gotta take the bad with the good. I’ll take thunderstorms over a blizzard any day.

Then today. Temperatures in the forties. Sneakers, pants, long-sleeved shirt, jacket. Gray skies. Cold rain.

This afternoon, I meditated under my heated throw and I fell into a half-hour hibernation, the sleep of winter. At this very moment, I am sitting in front of my turned-on-high spaceheater. My daughter is soaking in the Jacuzzi tub. I’m contemplating the furnace.

But right before that, there was dinner. As if Michael knew the cold was coming, he threw a pot roast into the crockpot this morning. Complete with cooked-all-day tender carrots, potatoes, little onions and gravy, it was a meal that filled the condo with a scent of winter that warmed, but was still welcome on this cold spring day. Then I went looking for a little dessert.

In the freezer, I found three small containers. Rainbow. Watermelon. Three Citrus.

SHERBET!

I chose Rainbow. Oh, summer. There you are. The bright colors of a passing storm sky, the taste of sweetened fruit plucked from no tree in reality, but a tree of the imagination, a tree with fruit the color of crayons, the perfect dessert to a day spent on the beach, in the sun, in the heat, after a meal of hamburgers on the grill, corn on the cob, potato salad…

Or a perfect cold day dessert melting summer on my tongue, dreaming of June, July, August…

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/18/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I returned today for the third time to the Waukesha County Jail and the book club for female inmates. This time, they were to have read my story collection, Enlarged Hearts.

But here’s the thing with a book club housed in a jail. The members tend to move on. Either they’re released back into their lives, or they move to a prison. There’d been a large turnover recently, and the majority of the women I’d met before were off on their paths. Just a handful were still there that I knew, and there were many new attendees. This meant that most had just gotten the book and hadn’t read it yet; those that read it moved on before I got there.

So I looked at a bunch of new faces today. New stories. New lives behind the stories.

This was the final day of their “semester.” I watched as they exclaimed like children over “treats” – two small pieces of candy, a juice box, a bag of chips. And I wondered how treating women like children helped them to learn to never be in such a place again.

It’s hard to talk for two hours about a book that hasn’t been read, so we moved on to other subjects. They talked to me mostly about my life and about writing. I was asked to describe all my books, and so I did. When I got to Rise From The River, my novel about a young single mother who becomes pregnant as the result of a rape, one of the women suddenly shot out of her seat. She ran to the door, lifted the receiver of the phone beside it and slammed it down – this alerts the guard that someone needs to be let out to use the restroom. Yes, we are locked in a room while I’m there. I kept talking while this woman shook and the tears flowed without sound, but she kept her back to me, so I didn’t address her directly. After several phone slams, the guard came and this woman took off.

I wondered if it was me that made this woman cry. I felt horrible.

Several of the women asked if they should go check on her when she didn’t come back right away. They said a sensitive spot had been touched. But they aren’t allowed out more than one at a time. I couldn’t leave them, and my escort couldn’t leave me.

Helpless.

Eventually, she came back. Several of the women whispered to her, asking if she was okay. She nodded. I wondered if I should apologize, but I wasn’t sure what I’d done, so I just kept on going.

When the conversation slowed, I asked if anyone else had any questions. And the same woman turned and leveled me with her eyes. There was no place else in that room I could look. “Have you ever,” she said slowly, “gotten to the point where you wanted to give up? I mean…just give up?” She took a breath, and then amended, “Writing, I mean.”

But every part of me knew that this wasn’t about writing. Her intensity spread over me like paste. Paste doesn’t like platitudes. I knew I had to answer honestly.

“Yes,” I said. And then I told her the story about the sand dollar.

After the release of Rise From The River, I went into a slump like I’d never sunk into before. I no longer believed I had a purpose. I believed I wasted my entire life. People wanted 50 Shades Of Gray. They didn’t care about literature. They didn’t care about fine writing. They didn’t care about words.

They didn’t care about the treatment of women. Even women didn’t care about the treatment of women. Reading or watching a movie about the abuse of a woman was entertainment. Couples night at the theatre.

I retreated – literally – to the state of Oregon. The day I arrived, I stood in the Pacific and I yelled, at God, at the Universe, at the ocean, to show me if I was on the right path. To show me there was a reason for my life. When I wasn’t surprised by a bolt of lightning or the sudden ability to walk on water, I went specific. “If I am on the right path, let me find a whole sand dollar while I’m here. A WHOLE sand dollar.”

And a week went by.

One night, it was foggy, and the fog on the Pacific is like nowhere else. It sparkles. My daughter and I walked in stars and stardust and glitter. In the distance, an older man came toward us, and no matter where I stepped, he moved himself so he was directly in my path. We stopped when we were practically nose to nose. I noticed I wasn’t afraid.

He looked right at me. He didn’t say hello or how are you. He said, “Have you found a whole sand dollar?”

I could have dissolved right there. “No,” I said. “I’ve been looking, but –“

“Choose one,” he said, and he pulled three out of his pocket.

I did. Then he told Olivia to choose one too. And he walked on his way.

When I finished telling this story, the locked-up room in the jail was silent. One of the women I’d met before whispered, “I have goosebumps.”

I looked at the woman who asked me the question. Have you ever gotten to the point where you wanted to give up? I locked her in the same gaze that she gave me. I hope she felt my paste. I didn’t know what to say, but I did.

“Don’t you do it,” I said. “Don’t you do it. I know it hurts like hell now. But it’s worth it. You keep walking.”

Well, you know. Dissolve. Tears.

I went into writing to make a difference. Today, I made a difference through writing with a woman who hasn’t even read me yet. I hope she does. I bet I know which book. And I hope my paste sticks.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/17/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

As sometimes happens, the moment of happiness came in three parts today (not nearly as dramatic as yesterday, I’m afraid, but…still a moment of happiness).

Yesterday morning, I had an email from a student. He received a contract for his novel and he wasn’t sure it was real.

It was.

Today, he signed it. His novel, a dream, is going to be published.

This morning, before I heard that my student signed his contract, I had an email from another student. A publisher is calling her tomorrow about her novel. I’ve dealt with this publisher before. His acceptances come with a phone call.

Her hope is through the roof. So is mine.

This afternoon, I went through the drive-thru at Dunkin Donuts. Not Starbucks, but don’t worry, I haven’t gone crazy. I wanted chicken salad, and DD makes a great chicken salad croissant sandwich. And during the summer, they have iced butter pecan lattes. As the person behind the counter handed me my order, she recognized me. She said, “I have a friend who took class with you once. She wants to be a writer.” She told me a name that I recognized – someone I had years ago in creative writing camp, when she was just a little bitty young’un. Now she’s a college age young’un. My DD person said, “She said she learned so much from you. And she is going to be a writer. You taught her she could be.”

I drove off with way more than a chicken salad croissant sandwich and an iced butter pecan latte.

Three. Not three strikes. Three…what? I don’t like baseball. Three…oh, just THREE! Three dreams made, and when their dreams are made, so is mine.

I had a student a few weeks ago tell me that I was different because I honestly want my students’ successes, I honestly feel them, they are as exciting to me as my own. Well, yeah. Of course! I can’t imagine it any other way.

I guess today, the three, bing bing bing, added up to this. I’m happy to be myself, and I’m happy that brings success to others.

(Oh, and by the way…I’m thrilled that the word “impeachment” is appearing more and more often. But this isn’t about the news.)

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/16/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This one’s a rollercoaster.  Ride with me, please. There is a steep loop-de-loop.

Every day, I receive a goofy little email that contains a digital fortune cookie. I click a button, the cookie cracks open, and I get a fortune. Today’s was, “You will soon witness a miracle.”

I smiled. I mean, haven’t I already witnessed miracles? A business that should never have survived is thriving. A writing career that almost matches my dreams (where the hell are you, Oprah?). A child who was nonverbal is now so verbal, she doesn’t use periods when she talks. I’m sleeping, for heaven’s sake. Yes, there’s been a few miracles. But I acknowledged I’d be okay with more.

Then a book read at lunch set off a series of chain reactions. Dominoes going down. I’m reading Marjorie Maddox’s story collection, What She Was Saying. In the story, “Learning To Yell”, I first read:

In such silence, she wrote a life, tried on the words that fit, and erased the others.

And I instantly felt a deep strike. Then I read, on the next page:

“This is how you do it,” she read in the kit she ordered over eBay. “Open your lungs and lips. Let the past pour out.” But in the midst of those bruises on 5th and Park, she had been too scared to practice. Something got caught behind her teeth. She thinks it was her soul.

And I felt more than a strike. I felt run over. Plowed into.

A few days ago, on Sunday, I walked by the river and tried to listen to a walking meditation tape. It was filled with ominous music and I found I just couldn’t listen. There were few vocals, but the line I heard before I ripped off the headphones was:

I can’t say what my eyes want to say.

And now I was reading a story called “Learning To Yell”. And I thought of all the years I’ve been silent. With that, those years took me over, and the sound that came out of me wasn’t silent at all.

In that moment, I realized why these last months since November have been so hard. So hard that they made me, me! a skeptic who writes dark, try to find some light by writing a moment of happiness every day.

In November, we elected a bully to the White House.

Two days after that, I was assaulted by a bully who threw me off the sidewalk after he attempted to kick my dog. He told me it was time to “put you back in your place, woman.”

And since then, I’ve been watching my daughter get bullied, by a now ex-boyfriend, by now ex-friends. I’ve watched what she’s going through. I’ve watched the school being ineffective, despite posters about bullying, programs about bullying, books about bullying. The school subscribes to policies put into place to protect itself, not those being bullied. And I’ve felt like an ineffective parent, despite fighting it with everything that I have.

I was born quiet. Introverted. Shy. I was also born with strabismus, or crossed eyes. The quiet and the crossed eyes and the sensitivity of a soon-to-be writer made me a perfect target. From day one of school, when I was dubbed Clarence, after Clarence the cross-eyed lion on the Dakatari television series, until I graduated, I was bullied. I was teased, tripped, thrown into lockers, my face slammed into water fountains, I was pantsed, my clothes ripped, gum in my hair, hands on my body, whispers in my ear, shouts in my face, and excluded, excluded, excluded.

A line I read in this same book last week, from the short story “Weeds”:

We hoped we were singled out, not left out.

I was left out, except when I was singled out by all of the above.

I was told, at home and at school, that I had to fight back. I had to stand up for myself. It was my responsibility. It was my problem, my fault, if I was pushed around.

I was a quiet girl.

So I stayed quiet, and quiet turned into silence. I couldn’t say what my eyes wanted to say. My soul got caught in my teeth.

And since November, and then December, I’ve been silently screaming as I’ve relived it all over again, but watched the new bruises form not on me, but on the tender skin, the tender heart of my daughter. My girl. My quiet girl, with the sensitivity of a soon-to-be writer, a violinist, an artist.

I was born in 1960. My daughter, in 2000.

We haven’t changed a bit. We even put a bully in the White House.

And so today, the primal sound as my soul finally broke through my teeth. And the realization as to why this has been the worst winter of my entire goddamned life.

So why is this my moment of happiness? Loop-de-loop.

Because. When you let out something that has been so heavy in your heart and your mind and your memory, when you at last acknowledge what it is you refuse to speak about, refuse to write about, what you refuse to draw attention to or pay attention to, there is an instant new lightness of being. And even when it leaves you weak-kneed, you are stronger.

I’m learning how to yell. I’m letting the past pour out and I’m acknowledging it and I’m letting it go. This is my miracle.

I am also making sure that my daughter knows she doesn’t have to be silent. She doesn’t have to yell back, she doesn’t have to fight those that torture her, it’s not her fault, it’s not her responsibility, and most of all, she doesn’t have to be who she isn’t. She can come home. She can talk to her parents who know exactly who she is, how amazing she is, and how amazing she’s going to be.

There’s no silence for her. There are only open arms. And a soul, no longer trapped behind teeth, who understands.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/15/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

The internet is an amazing thing.

I suppose for the younger generation (and I can’t believe I’m old enough to say that), it’s a given. Something that’s always been there. But I still marvel at it, even on days when I swear at it because it’s not doing what I told it to do. Which I did a lot today. But I’m still marveling anyway.

Today, I sat down to meditate for a half-hour at 4:30 in the afternoon, central time. I stroked on my app, reclined my chair (no walking meditation today), put on the headphones, and disappeared.

But when I came back, I found that while I disappeared, I was not invisible. Others who also disappeared sat quietly by my side. When I tapped a button to log my time, I found a variety of “thank you for meditating with me” messages from:

Cape Town, South Africa

Jakarta, Indonesia

Shorewood ,Wisconsin

Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Stamford, Connecticut

Birmingham, United Kingdom

Bay Area, California

The Philippines

Exeter, United Kingdom

Grayslake, Illinois

New York, New York

Greenville, Mississippi

India

Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

And that’s only those who messaged me. All in all, there were 3604 people sitting and meditating at the same time I was.

So I was all alone in my headspace, but I wasn’t. I was surrounded by like-headspaced people. Some who have “friended” me. Some who just wanted to reach out. And at the same time, were willing to offer their company in a silent, nonintrusive, noninvasive way.

Unlike a certain cat who insisted on climbing on my lap and kneading my thighs with her pinpointy claws. I very peacefully, very Namaste-y pitched her to the floor.

How nice to know you’re not alone even when you’re alone. That you can choose to be alone, but have fine company.

I like that.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

 

5/14/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, of course, Mother’s Day. That’s the positive side. And on the negative, there was the news break that told me that North Korea has announced its missile testing shows that it can reach US targets with nuclear warheads. Oh. Good. I’m sure the Orange Asshat will soon be thumping his chest and saying, “You just try it! I’ll sue you!”

But enough of that.

I needed to meditate today, and I wanted to take a walk on the Riverwalk, and I didn’t have time to do both. Sundays are always full of preparing for the week ahead and I was already behind for Monday before the sun went down on Sunday. I didn’t want to throw both goals away so I decided to give walking meditation a try.

I drove to my usual starting point on Waukesha’s Fox Riverwalk. Then I plunked on my headphones, searched my Insight Timer app for walking meditations and found two that lasted an hour. I started the first and headed off.

I lasted about five minutes before pitching that one into internet ether. The woman on the tape wanted me to walk so slowly – to not move my left leg before my right came to a complete standstill. Not only was that uncomfortable, I didn’t even know if it was possible. Maybe meditation can be about teaching patience, but I didn’t have any. Not today.

The second tape was all music and so I hit play and began to walk again. This one lasted longer – but not with expected results. Instead of allowing my mind to slow, to open, to quiet, the music began to lead me down thought pathways I didn’t want explore. The notes were ominous, even creepy, but I stuck with it for fifteen minutes, waiting for redemption. It didn’t come. I turned it off. I took the headphones off. I turned my phone off. I tried to shut me off. And I just began to walk. I figured meditation was a wash for today.

I was on the side of the river away from the playgrounds and the park. This was the quiet side. And it wasn’t long before my breathing and steps evened out and then my mind evened out too. I discovered there is meditation in the river. In the trees. In the steady sound of my shoes against the bricks, the whisper of my sleeves against my sides, in the sound of a distant train to my right, the distant traffic on my left. Birdsong. The splash as ducks landed, the flicker of their wings as they took off again. It was all a simple rhythm, strong, steady, my heartbeat, my breath, my footfalls, the blinks of my eyes, the riverflow, the leaf flutters, the birds, the train, the cars, the squeals of children, the squeak of the chains on the swings.  Even as I kept moving, kept pressing forward, I felt my shoulders release and drop, and my thoughts, while they still occurred, just hovered for a second, then floated away.

I’ve been walking on the Riverwalk for years now. Turns out my walks were about meditation before I even knew how to meditate. I just didn’t realize it.

Relief. Release. Rhythm.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/13/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

My daughter Olivia is on an overnight field trip with the orchestra. I decided to take advantage of her absence and strip her bed, wash the sheets, blankets and bedspread, and in general, neaten up the chaotic room of a sixteen-year old.

At first, as I worked, I flashed forward, to two years from now when she will be off to college and I will stand in her room and not know where she is or what she’s doing. But my mind didn’t dwell there long. Instead, I moved backwards.

As I smoothed the sheets onto her bed, I was the mother who brushed her hair every morning, marveling at the waves, tugging them into a simple ponytail or a set of braids.

As I neatened her desk, putting scribbled papers into a pile, I was the mother who was mortified and filled with laughter when her daughter clearly said her first word – “Dumbass!” – to a complete stranger in the men’s department of Sears.

As I found a place to store her stacks of sheet music, I was the mother whose mouth dropped open when her fifth grader came home from school, stood with her hands on her hips, and declared, “I want to play the violin!” I was the mother who brought her daughter to a poetry reading that weekend, because it was preceded by a violin quartet, and I watched as my daughter, the wiggly one, sat perfectly still on the edge of her seat and listened. She wiggled through the poetry, including mine. And I was the mother who a month later, watched her daughter open the violin that was hidden under the Christmas tree, tuck it under her chin, play her first squeaky notes, and laugh for joy, for found language, for communication. She’d found her voice in the sleek curves of a violin and the round notes of music.

As I replaced her stuffed animal bins with new bins, I was the mother who watched her daughter’s imaginary family grow through a variety of obsessions. There was the Care Bear phase, that lasted forever, the turkey phase, the chicken phase. And then I found a little stuffed rhino, purple, created after the artwork of John Lennon. Michael and I bought this for our baby, newly discovered, newly confirmed, still tucked away deeply inside me. We named the rhino Lennon and put it in the crib that our child would sleep in, long before we knew our child was Olivia.

But I think we always knew our child, Olivia Grace.

As I found and marveled at her artwork, I was the mother of a preschooler taking a class in an art studio, a preschooler who refused to follow the teacher’s orders and instead of being faithful to Van Gogh’s blues, painted her Starry Night in pink. Her dog in pink. Her trees and grass and sky in pink. I celebrated my girl’s insistence on a pink world, and today, I hung the painting of a delicate flower she had tucked away in her closet. I celebrate her still.

I hope my daughter doesn’t mind that I straightened her room today. At sixteen, privacy is important. But when you’re the mother of a daughter who is that sixteen, it’s also important from time to time to remember that child you used to hold, to ease into sleep, to comfort after a night terror, to tell stories to, and sometimes, just to hold. Because of the sheer joy of her life in yours.

Today, I held on tight.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.