Archive for January, 2012

john o’donohue

good morning, friends. this is my hallowed sort of morning; the kind where i sit in a coffeeshop for a little less than an hour, and prepare a space for healing to take root in therapy immediately thereafter. i cannot overstate how much i cling to this hour. it is water. and when i realized i’d forgotten my wallet this morning, i panicked for half a minute, until the coffeeshop owner reminded me of why i come here: don’t’ worry about it, he said. i know you’re almost trustworthy. you’ll pick it up next time. and then he poured me a very tall cup of fresh, piping hot brew.

and so the ritual moves forward. i hope it is ok if i share it with you today.

[note: please let me know if these kinds of posts are uncomfortable for you as a reader, or if they don’t resonate with the reason you come here at all. i know this is confessional, non-momblog stuff, though it does translate into how and why i parent. at any rate, i’m exploring the possibility of creating a separate space altogether for the subject matter below. your input is welcome.]

i’ve been two degrees removed from the late poet, john o’donohue, for years now. my friend, gareth, was a good friend of his, and his poems have danced on the periphery of my consciousness like the psalms: i could nearly quote them. however, i have never put the effort into knowing the poet–or the man himself–until now. until my dear friend angela posted the following poem at the moment it rang truest for me:

a blessing for one who is exhausted

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

the following week, OnBeing aired the unedited interview between john o’donohue and krista tippett, recorded months before o’donohue’s death, and i’ve been listening to it with an achy, eager soul. you should listen to it too, here.

i listen to this conversational interview during my daily commute, in 25 minute chunks. and i find my soul waking up in similar increments. it is no secret to anyone who knows me irl, or who reads this blog, that i have a tentative, guarded relationship with spiritual belief, practice, and conversation–especially in the language of christianity, my native tongue. this tentativeness has been essential for rebuilding myself after being broken down by the theological constructs of my youth. but i am a woman now, a mother, and one with a great capacity for a rich spiritual life.

what i mean by “theological constructs” is the gnarled self identity i carried with me from the moment of self-awareness as a little girl until i was in my early twenties: i was a child of god, saved through the grace of jesus christ, i was an abomination, i was whole, i was broken, i was redeemed, i was a perversion of the image of god, i was damned, i was part of a holy family, i was alone. the existential insecurity and bipolarity was unsustainable; it eventually broke me down to the bare bones of soul, but i survived, and have spent the past several years rebuilding.

maybe a soul-as-leg metaphor will explain where i am in my journey a bit better: that faith of my youth–and oh my god it was strong and unwavering–was a broken leg kind of faith. my leg was broken as a little girl, and it formed itself into something withered and gnarled. i learned how to walk with this leg, and it was functional, but, as i said, unsustainable. actual healing could only come by re-breaking it, setting it properly, and going through excruciating physical therapy to strengthen it and learn to walk properly.

so here i am this morning, at this coffeeshop, and am at the place of resetting and gingerly putting a bit of weight on this leg of mine. i return to john o’donohue for this.

in his OnBeing interview, he offered forth a philosophy that i am deeply connecting with. allow me to paraphrase and then directly quote:

o’donohue posits that there are seven fundamental thoughts that structure and ground one’s foundation of meaning, and that the “mystery of thought” is where “otherness, strangeness, dislocation, intimacy and belonging come home”. he offers the challenge to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and find out what your seven thoughts are: “what are the seven thoughts that i really think and implicitly come back to?” leave that sheet of paper alone for a few months before revisiting what you’ve written, and then consider how faithfully married you’ve been to your seven thoughts, so much so that there are thoughts you’ve never flirted with, never had an affair with. what are those thoughts?

and then he goes on to say this:

And it’s amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you’re looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.

[emphasis mine.]

i will end this post with the tension between thought and meaning: resetting my leg means identifying the thoughts that broke it in the first place, and learning again to walk means truly exploring–without mortal dread–the previously unthinkable thoughts.

here i go.

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15-16 months.

dear sir isaac,

a little before christmas, you turned 15 months old. soon after, christmas happened, and then you got sick. with hand, foot and mouth disease. and then you didn’t eat for a whole week. you absolutely, and quite articulately, refused medicine throughout that week. for posterity, i wish to inform you that your stubbornness directly resulted in the frequent use of tylenol suppositories. and every time your eyes widened in disbelief that your parents were doing the unspeakable thing again, we reminded you that it didn’t have to be this way, that you brought this upon yourself.

thus far, you have not gotten the message.

you’re better now, for the moment. and am i ever grateful. because (and i promise i’m not trying to give you a time-traveling guilt trip, should you read this letter when you’re a grownup) you sure did direct your anger about being in so much pain at me. i will spare you the details, but let’s just say there was a lot of hitting, scratching, punching, biting, as well as one incident in which you seemed to intentionally give me the finger. i will also say that, in one breath, you’d kiss your mama, look at me, and growl fiercely.

…actually, you do that one all the time. at 15 months, you are a mama’s boy. she is your favorite grownup, the recipient of your best snuggles. uncle g is a close second. jude, however, tops all of us. she is the bar of all things awesome that you have set for yourself. you must drink from her cups, use her utensils, play with her toys, dance like she dances, etc. and so you pester her all day, ever encroaching upon her space and stuff, growling if she does not comply with your demands.

you are lucky: jude adores you. in fact, she loves you so much that she often asks if she can hold you on her lap. for a good 60 seconds, you cuddle together like this in the morning:

your big sister also sticks up for you. whenever your moms have to redirect you, jude is at the ready with a defense, or a case for why you should be able to continue doing x risky activity.

ziggy, you remain ever musical: you love to sing along with your favorite songs in an adorable monotone mumble, which is slowly evolving into discernible notes. when a good song comes on, you cautiously dance, you spin, you saunter around on tiptoe. you are a fan of gillian welch. you and i spend a lot of time listening to her together. (i think you’ve got a lot of tennessee in you.)

you love to cuddle soft things: blankets, the dog’s bed, stuffed animals – you are delighted by them all. currently, your favorite stuffed animal friends are bunny and giraffe. you can say “giraffe” now, in a menacing growl that happily reminds me of comic genius eddie izzard’s bit about evil herbivores.

you talk a lot these days, actually. Your yeses and noes are proper answers to questions now. you’ve got “all done” and pretty indecipherable “here you go” down. cat and dog and mama and milk and hiro (the only asian steam engine on sodor) are other favorites.

zig, you understand everything we say. your mama and i talk to you like we talk to jude. already, we negotiate when you are being unreasonable: if you take your medicine, you can have some milk. if you go to bed now, you can climb the steps yourself, and then see giraffe. it works. you get it. (but you are still stubborn; the most stubborn kid i’ve ever met.)

lest your grownup self thinks your toddler self hated me, let me close this letter with a moment–the moment i carry with me into my harried workday every day, in fact:

i put you to bed every night. (when i have to work late, mama keeps you up late so i do not miss this.) after you say your goodnights to the fambly, and finish your kvetching about having to go to bed at all, we head upstairs together. as we go through the routine of pajamas and new diapers and your nearly adult-sized sleep sack, i sing to you, and you sing to me: ABC’s, edelweiss, let’s go fly a kite, row row row your boat. i then pick you up and you snuggle into me, and i kiss your still honey-smelling head, until you stiffen and pull away. “are you ready for bed?” i ask, and, clutching giraffe, you enthusiastically reply, “yeah!” as i deposit you into your crib. you wave to me with your free hand, and say “night night!”
i smooth back your mop of unruly curls, and you grab my hand and kiss it like you were kissing the pope’s ring. i give you my other hand and you kiss it too. and then you give me a sleepy, dimply smile and say night night again. i say and sign i love you and walk out of the room, heart fuller than i knew it ever could be.

every night.

you are my joy, boy.


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happy new year, everybody!

has it really been a month since my last post? i’m sorry about that. as per usual, you can blame the following factors:

1. work
2. the plague

reason number two should have been because of all the traveling we were doing during my big fat holiday vacation, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. both the kids became very sick on boxing day, and over a week later, we all slowly began to emerge from our plague cave. what did the kids have, you ask? (because this is, officially, a mommy blog, so i have to write about all kid illnesses for posterity and frantic google searches for solidarity…) answer: hand foot and motherfucking mouth disease.

jude was able to get through the misery through her burgeoning logic. whenever we had to give her terrible, throat-burning medicine, we showed her how to do a “water chaser”. she’d slam a shot of ibuprofen, and then chug a cup of water for relief. but my son? we could not get the poor dude to take medicine for anything. our solution is best explained in a brief exchange with jude:

jude: why is ziggy not taking his medicine?
me: because he doesn’t understand he can take a water chaser to make the burning better.
jude: what’s that in your hand?
me: a suppository.
jude: what you gonna do with it?
me: put medicine up ziggy’s bum.
jude: WHAT?!?!

that poor boy lived on a steady diet of rice milk, suppositories, and a maalox/benadryl mouth relief paste for EIGHT days.

he’s eating like a champ now, thankfully. and we thought everything was looking up until last night at 11pm, when he woke up screaming like someone had circumcised him in his sleep. in reality, he’d had some massive diarrhea that scalded his bum and bits. he shook with the pain. we immediately put him in a baking soda bath, and i swear you could hear the hissssssss of his bum settling into the water.

after slathering him with copious amounts of cortisone, he finally fell asleep. i’m happy to report that his whole area is much better this morning.

i sure hope my kids aren’t superstitious about the auspices of new years’ beginnings. i don’t want them to feel like 2012 is doomed. if they must lean toward the superstition, i do hope they see they plague as the purging of an old year, in order to have a freer, healthier new one.

alright, my morning writing time is coming to a close, and i do promise another post sooner than a month. really.

in the meantime, here, have some seriously belated holiday fambly photos, in our intentionally cheese garb. [my mom thought we were sincere. when i explained the joke, she defensively asked, “well what’s wrong with turtle necks?”]

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