Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 9)

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I drive toward the neighborhood gate passing the frozen pond and ghostly trees that line the road leading to and from the place I call home. I pull over near the “mansion with the lion statues” as my kids call the house by the bus stop and wait for my middle school girl to climb in.

She gets off the bus with a smile. This year has brought me to my knees, and from this perspective, just the sight of my girls often overwhelms me. The love that wells inside me feels like it might just melt me to a puddle of holy water made of tears. It’s hard to keep any emotion inside, especially love. “Hello, Honey Bunny! How was your day, Ellie?

“It was fine. Can I sit in the front seat?” She assumes so and heaves her backpack with every book and notebook from every class on the floor, climbs into the front seat. I haven’t let her sit in the front except within the neighborhood, afraid of getting in an accident and she is only recently tall enough—mostly the former. Their requests wear me down faster than they used to. The unfortunate part is they are aware of this new power they have.

“Of course, we need to run to Target before we pick up Abbie and Lexie.” We drive out the gate and down the hill past the new hospital before stopping at the roundabout. Even though there’s a car ahead of me I see an opening and assume that person does too.

“What are we having for dinner tonight?” Ellie asks. I look over at my daughter who is next to me instead of looking in the mirror to see her in the backseat. I let my foot off the brake and start to pull out… My head slams the headrest, my foot already on the break, and then I hear what my spinning brain can’t comprehend. Like the delay of thunder after the lightning, I hear the CRUNCH! Ellie screams. I snap back together, turn off the car, and fly out of my seat into the road where there’s a short woman with angry eyes and flailing arms ready to fight me. It smells like burning oil and cars are lining up behind us.

“Are you kidding! What were you thinking?” She continues shouting at me but all I can see is the damage to my new car. The front end is bashed in and there is tan fluid pouring out all over the pavement, steam. I look back at her and instinctively touch her arm.

“It was an accident. This is a brand new car. Do you think I wanted to wreck my brand new car?” I say in a softer than normal voice still touching her arm. “I’m so sorry. This has been a very bad day. I just got served divorce papers. I’m a little disoriented.” She looks startled by my response and stops making noise. We both look toward her bumper. It might have been bent in, but clearly, I took the brunt of the impact. I get back into my car to get the insurance information and a piece of paper and pen.

“Are you okay, Ellie?” She nods. “Everything is okay. No one is hurt. We are okay.” I rub her leg and give her a hug. Ellie’s skin is a shade paler than a few minutes ago, maybe ghost pale. Her blood has been redirected to her heart and muscles, ready to run, but she sits and waits. One more hit is registered in my poor child’s nervous system log. My daughter who is wired like me when it comes to handling stress is too full. With every event, her true self gets shoved further and further to the bottom of a dry canyon. I can count at least ten stressful events, good and not so good, in the past couple years, not to mention the all out trauma of losing her dad as she knew him to be, her family. Every stressful situation becomes overwhelming and gets stuffed down to deep places out of my reach. Her cup is already spilling over and letting go is as hard for her as it is for me now and certainly when I was a kid. Drip…Drip…Drip. It’s an inverse relationship: the more change, stress, and emotional trauma, the less curiosity, openness, and joy. Children need to “grow where they are planted,” says my therapist. When there’s too much change and stress children can’t grow like they’re supposed to grow—from the inside. A stable life gives a child the time and space to change from within, to do what they innately know how to do—become. This requires both sides of the brain to be integrated like fishtail braids.

Traumatic events, like divorce, and the cascade of stress that follows for everyone, causes kids to become unbalanced in more ways than one, but especially inside their growing brains where one hundred billion neurons are busy connecting based on life experiences. The growth of the right side of the brain, in charge of emotions, creativity, sensuality, movement, imagination, sensations, color, peacefulness stagnates under traumatic experiences, chronic emotional and physical stress. However, school provides ample fertilizer for the left side of the brain where language, reading, math, music, strategy, analytics, drive, goals, logic, and organization play central roles. If the right and left sides can’t wire together during adolescence, traumatic memories get stuck in the body and not connected to a narrative about their life; over time an unbalanced brain can achieve whatever it desires in the outside world, but long-term health is affected, our ability to have healthy relationships is affected because learning to love and be loved cannot be studied in books or taught at school and that is the secret to life. There is nothing more important for my child to learn than to love another and to know what it feels like, on the inside, to be loved. If your emotions are locked down in the deepest caverns of self, life will have far more challenges within your body, mind, and spirit than a child growing into an adult who experiences safe, stable, loving relationships from the very beginning.

Depending on the depth, length, and age of the trauma, a cascade of emotional and physical health problems in adulthood can result and it’s very difficult to reverse, as I know. Researchers have found strong correlations with trauma and toxic stress during childhood and health consequences later in life such as depression, unexplained anxiety, suicide, addictions to food, alcohol, drugs, work; and then there are things like cancer, cardiovascular, liver, and auto-immune diseases, chronic migraines, unexplained illnesses and on and on. You will also be more likely to experience post-traumatic stress as an adult while others traverse the same treacherous waters but are able to let go much easier. It’s called The Adverse Childhood Experiences study or ACEs. Sixty-four percent, two-thirds, of Americans have at least one adverse childhood experience. I have six out of ten. I know the long term effects of toxic stress in childhood all too well even though nothing catastrophic happened—just chronic, unpredictable everyday traumas throughout my childhood and adolescence, stemming from my parents getting a divorce in the 1970s. I am the Forest Gump of adverse childhood experiences; every year was a box of chocolates, I never knew what I was going to get. And now, life has been an earthquake in my small family’s life for too long already. And this is happening at the very worst time for my oldest daughter.

Thanksgivings for a Beautiful Life

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Twenty-eight things I am grateful for:

1. My three sweet, kind, exuberant, beautiful daughters. My forever family…

2. My Village, my Tribe of moms, friends, mentors, guides and confidantes that have provided the safety net, for me and my girls, that I have relied on this past six months.

3. My family whom I have spent my whole life celebrating life’s most treasured days.

4. My home, filled with life memories, is my sanctuary of love, serenity and goodness.

5. My dog, Sage and cat, Apple, who follow me around the house just to be close and remind me that a heart connection to others, furry or not, is all that matters in life.

6. My camera for the thousands of photographs I have taken to keep every life experience fresh in my memory. This will be helpful when those memories are not as easy to come by…

7. Music that fills my soul with peacefulness and reminds me that we all feel the same emotions but come by them individually.

8. Beautiful, colorful art, especially of nature.

9. My body that has allowed me to do everything from ski down double black diamond runs, jump out of an airplane to carrying three beautiful babies for 9 months inside and another year in my arms.

10. The experiences of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, four years in the fast-paced NY Metro area to the serenity of the Rocky Mountains hiking, skiing and living in the original North American ski town.

11. Books, books, books, and my infinite curiosity to read as many as I can. Without question, books are the foundation of my life.

12. Facebook for reminding me that the Universe is both large and small, that I am not alone in the world and have many kindred spirits…

13. My life experiences that have given me courage, resilience, curiosity, compassion for myself and others, ambition, and most importantly, the ability to love and be loved.

14. All four of my grandparents who have and continue to teach me the meaning and purpose of life is not found outside home but instead, right in the middle of everyday life among family and friends.

15. The sounds of happy children playing.

16. Peaceful mornings spent with a cup of coffee (with cream and cocoa), a book and happy girls.

17. My new car complete with streaming music, although Taylor Swift gets way too much airtime.

18. To be a stay-at-home mom while my girls are little. I am equally grateful to have spent more than a decade in my career and for the opportunity to resume my career shortly.

19. The opportunity to go back to college for an MFA in Creative Writing.

20. That God has been by my side directing my path for my whole life. He has given me very clear signs (crystal of late) that it is time for a new direction.

21. My GIRLS! (I know that was number one but, oh my goodness how grateful I am!)

22. Traditions, whether birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Halloween. As a younger person I didn’t always want to follow the crowd but the older I get it becomes so clear how those traditions comfort and bind us together as one.

23. The abundance of opportunities, comforts, and love that I have in my life.

24. My soft, fluffy bed with six pillows, pillow top mattress and book light.

25. Flowers of all kinds in a garden, window box, vase or wild on a mountainside. In college I used to spend $25 a week on groceries that included a bouquet and magazine. I still love to come home and unwrap a beautiful bunch of flowers to set on my counter.

26. Bob, for giving me the time and space to figure out who I am and what my purpose in life was meant to be. Most of all, for giving me the life to which I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

27. My GIRLS!

28. My beautiful life.

Can a Place Change Us?

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It is all so clear to me, as I look at these three different places. Can you feel the energy of the cold, arid mountain range of Idaho, the fiery precision of Times Square in New York City or the sultry warmth of the Hawaiian Islands where the water hangs over the Pacific Ocean, not a rain cloud in sight? The energy of a place infiltrates all 75 trillion cells in our body. The energy of a place has the power to alter what we accomplish, how we sense the world, how we feel about ourselves, understand others; it has the power to change who we are.

My family has been living in Ketchum, Idaho at 5,853 feet above sea level for almost a year. The annual rain/snow fall of 18 inches compared to our hometown, Seattle, which has an average of 65 inches of rain, has had a bigger impact on our family of five than the daily vitamin D surge. The sun shines seventy percent of the time, but most months of the year it is either cold or icy cold without a droplet of water to spare – the pouring rain will bring the humidity to seventy-five percent on a relatively warm day. The winter months are dry and frigid, the air thin and constantly moving. The punishing climate causes people, plants and animals to draw inward to their core. We huddle together in our home with the fire radiating the warmth we crave, but it is never enough. Even writing is letting go of too much. Maybe that is why Ernest Hemingway fled to the Florida Keys when the temperatures and moisture in the air plummeted.

When I think of New York, my home for four years, it is the sultry, hot summers and the fire in those that thrive there that I envision. The people of the Northeast are not drawn into themselves; instead they seize the opportunity life presents with sharp focused achievement. There is no time for contemplation or second guesses.  Relationships are strong and loyal but there is an identified reason for the attachment – family, work, customer, neighbor, friend – and all others are suspect. The fire within you generates the warmth you feel. Of course, the danger is in the excess. The bright, strong, action-oriented leader thriving in NYC can step over the line into aggressive, critical, inflamed, and angry. The village they lead might get scorched. In balance, the energy of New York City is invigorating.

Kauai is the oldest of the Islands. Life moves slower and the warm air surrounds you like a whisper. Nothing is too important. You are surrounded by the waves lapping the smooth sand and the breeze lulls you with utter contentment. Mt. Waialeale in the center of the Kauai rainforest is the “wettest spot on Earth” with 450 inches of rainfall per year. My family explored Kauai for Spring Break this year. As we drove around the Island we passed one of the most beautiful beaches we had seen. Across the street was a dilapidated hotel with trees and weeds growing through the windows, the roof weathered and caved, and in complete disrepair to which a bulldozer is the only option. My husband remembered going to that hotel as a kid on vacation. It is the Coco Palms Resort, where Elvis Presley filmed the movie, Blue Hawaii and famous stars from Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra to the von Trapp Family Singers vacationed.

On September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki ravaged the beautiful hotel and it was closed with no plans to rebuild. This happened twenty-one years ago, on one of the most famous beaches in the State and everyone said, “Oh, well,” and walked away. There it sits, home to plants and critters, as well as a tour company that will walk you through the jungle that has grown inside this famous hotel. The picturesque cove, on one of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean, is as pristine as if it were deserted. Although, there is the possibility of an Elvis sighting on the tour.

The difference in place is striking – Idaho, New York, Hawaii. We feel different in each of these places; the people have a different collective energy. In our transient society we often find ourselves in places that are worlds apart from our origins. When on vacation we marvel at the differences and it feels good to balance out our own natural energies, but what happens when a person from Kauai moves to New York; a New Yorker moves to the Rockies?

I have experienced my own energy shift when I moved from Seattle to New York and back again. My Northeast life was fast and focused. I worked sixty-hour weeks, went to business school at night, traveled for work and pleasure and planned our wedding. When we moved back to the rain, it was with a baby and without a job.  That fire within, which kept life humming along in New York, began to smolder and build like a bonfire on a Northwest beach. The outlets that kept me balanced disappeared into the gray clouds and fog. It took awhile, but slowly I came back to steady, balanced contentment that I experienced growing up in the soggy Northwest.

Living in Idaho has caused another shift that seems more light and breezy. I don’t feel as rigid or stuck in situations that in Seattle felt like quicksand. Here, moods move with the wind, routines are not as important, and ideas – not actions – are fast and furious. The future is more interesting than analyzing the past or sticking to the schedule of the present. I hike in these gorgeous mountains and I am alive with energy.

Too much of the energy from this arid, mountainous region, however, causes some to have sleepless nights, get dehydrated and anxious about the future. They don’t thrive because the energy of place filters through our cells like the water fish swim. When we stay in one place we can no longer see that energy and might assume that our very happiness or unhappiness is either ‘just how we are’ or, worse that there is something wrong with the people in this particular place – depending on our own mixture of elements.

Only through living in three distinct places have the differences revealed the impact on myself, on my family. My oldest daughter and I share similar energies and have loved the dry climate of the Rockies. In Kauai, we felt like a ship stuck on the beach as the tide recedes, but my husband and middle daughter could not have been happier surrounded by the warm, thick air where the moisture hangs like a hummingbird lapping sugar water. In New York, I would get wrapped up in dramas, wore them like a cloak. The details and schedule seemed ever so important. The question was, “What am I doing right now?” In Seattle, damp like Kauai, the question was, “What happened in the past that causes me to feel like I do today?” And finally, in Sun Valley, Idaho, I ask, “What is my purpose in this life, how can I help?”

These questions are my questions, which have been revealed by immersion into a place. They also come because of my unique makeup of natural energies – comprised of ether, wind, fire, water and earth – and how that place stirs us in it’s own energy.

The Power of Nature. The Power of Us

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The absolute power of the ocean waves takes me by surprise as soon as I reach the end of the trail. The waves crashed on the hard surface of the lava rock at the same time as the soft, malleable sand beneath my feet. Every breath of the salty air, heavy with moisture grounds me a little more. The sound of the waves so loud that I have to get closer to hear the voices of my children. You can feel the sheer power of nature standing on an island beach in the Pacific Ocean. The waves collide with the earth, while the aftermath trickles in covering and taking anything left behind.

In the Rocky Mountains of the West, there is another example of nature that appears more delicately but equally powerful. Springtime brings new life into the hills, only a few weeks ago covered in snow and ice. On a recent hike I was struck by the familiar scents of summertime. Sage plants have new growth to which I pluck a small piece and rub between my hands to release the vibrant, invigorating smell that I have come to love so much. At the top of the mountain, smooth silken grass has muscled its way through the dense, rocky earth to bask in the rays of the afternoon sunshine just as I am. This power is slow and steady. A person cannot witness the formidableness of these tiny plants coming to life from a meer seed but instead we can imagine the potential of what is to come. A seed was planted and had to wait in the frozen, rocky ground through the unrelenting winter months until the temperatures rose and moisture was able to penetrate the earth. Only now can we witness it’s sheer potency.

I have recently been learning about Ayurvedic Medicine and went to a conference led by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Andrew Weil. “Ayurveda is the most ancient natural healing system of India . The word Ayurveda means the science of life. It is to do with healing through herbs and natural means. This system is a part of Vedic science and goes back to more than 4000 years B.C.” (http://www.ishwarcenter.org/) We, as in all of us on earth, are a part of the natural ecosystem, we are powerful in our own right. Although sometimes (or quite often) our inner voice gets drowned by past scripts playing through our minds, marketing campaigns aimed at convincing you that you need something to be who you already are, and even our friends and acquaintances at the ready to recommend what worked for them. We have forgotten that we already have all that we need, that our grandmother’s wisdom and remedies are our most important methods of healing, that we are whole. But we have to pay attention because rarely is our power as obvious as the crashing ocean waves but instead it is the potentiality that exists within us and that requires patience, strength and fortitude, just as the mountain grasses coming to life in the springtime.

To be continued…

Letting Go of My ‘Before Children’ Life

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I had about 50 suits hanging in my closet for TEN years.

They were beautiful, they were (mostly) a size 4, there were skirt suits, dress suits, pant suits and even fancy dresses that I wore to big parties in NYC. I loved how I felt when I wore them. I can still feel the ‘flow’ of being at just that place where there is enough adrenaline to work at your peak but also enough calm to be comfortable in those high-heeled shoes. I loved who I was when I wore them. I remember buying each of them and I remember being in them when speaking to large groups of business people. I LOVED my suits.

I had just finished three years of graduate school while working sixty hours a week and was preparing to receive my MBA when my husband and I were going to have a baby. I had visions of having our beautiful child, spending 3-4 months at home and then returning to my career just as I had planned since I was thirteen. I would get up in the morning, dress for work just as Mary Poppins would glide in and provide my baby everything they would need and then some. My husband and I would come home from work and we would sit down for a family dinner lovingly prepared by Ms. Poppins… We would stroll around town on the weekends stopping in to get a NY bagel and a Starbucks. Ahhh life was going to be AMAZING.

Then Ground Hog Day began. My daughter cried for a year. We moved back to Washington State into Suburbia. My husband was traveling at least 60 percent of the time. Mary Poppins was nowhere to be found and my job was back in New Jersey. My suits would have to wait for a year or two. That will be okay. I was sure that I would be back in them in no time. We won’t speak of them being a size 4.

Two more children and suddenly eight years has gone by. My beloved suits and high-heels are covered in dust – actually I think it transitioned to dirt by this point. I resolved to send them to a charity for professional women and so I gathered half of them and put them in another closet for removal when I got all the information together. Two more years go by. Now it has been ten years. My rational brain is looking at the size 4. My rational brain understands that I will not be going back to work in the same capacity as I did before. My rational brain understands that these suits aren’t even close to current style. My rational brain reminds me that the hundreds of dollars that I spent on them is way past sunk cost. Why was it so hard to give them away?

Then I received an email about a women’s charity that would be collecting women’s professional clothing in my home town. I gathered every bit of resolve to finally remove my old life so that I could make room for the new. I loaded my suburban to the top and started driving downtown. My stomach seized and by the time I got there (15 min) I didn’t know if I would be able to get out of the car. I went into the store that was collecting the clothing and the woman gave me a rack to hang my clothes. I stumbled in and out of the store and literally filled the rack with all my beautiful clothes. My professional life before children. Afterwards I went back to the woman to get my receipt but she had me sit for a minute while she attended to another customer. I thought I was going to lose consciousness. I started to sweat and became clammy. I needed to just hold it together to leave the store before ‘something’ happened. By the time I left the store I thought I might need my husband to come and get me. After sitting for a few minutes, I was able to drive home. I walked in the door and went directly upstairs to lie down. Fifteen minutes later I was absolutely fine.

Letting go of my before-child life was really, really hard. So hard I believe that I felt that loss physically. I did it though and there was no going back. That day I tried to remember all the clothes that I had just donated and if I really wanted them back. I didn’t. I haven’t missed them at all. I love my new life. I love being a mom. I love the opportunity I have to figure out what I really want to do when I grown up.

Ahhh. Letting go is so liberating in so many ways.

I am grateful for health

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I am grateful that I have learned how to be healthy.

Three and a half years ago my family cut out gluten, dairy, citrus and soy after taking food sensitivity tests through my naturopath. The changes in my three girls were miraculous. The changes in me were life changing. I started living life instead of simply getting through each day. It didn’t happen over night and it was very stressful to change three kids’ diets with the snap of my fingers. I think I had my first panic attack when I went to the grocery store searching for foods that my kids could eat AND like. Maybe they could survive on grapes, strawberries and rice milk??

My girls were ages 2, 4 and 6. They liked fish crackers, pretzels, chocolate milk, tortellini pasta, pizza, orange juice, toasted cheese sandwiches, and of course chicken nuggets. These were the typical foods you would see on a children’s menu or for snacks at school, church or playdate. All of the foods they liked were now out. One of the pediatricians scolded me for restricting my 2 year old’s diet so early in life. I was on a mission though. The lab reports gave me the conviction that eating a donut was akin to running with scissors. It was as dangerous as swimming in a shark tank – which is how I felt at the time. Suddenly there was danger everywhere we went and other moms looked at me like I had lost my mind – and I probably had.

Meanwhile I was reading The UltraMind Solution by Mark Hyman among about 50 other books on the topic including Detoxify or Die… I always go a little overboard when something suddenly hits my consciousness like a ton of bricks. Mark Hyman’s book has questionnaires for you to identify areas of deficiencies and I had a lot of them. His book was a paradigm shift in me that became borderline obsessive.

I grew up with my dad who had been a cook in the navy. When he cooked it was things that he liked – t-bone steak one night and Hamburger Helper the next followed by several days of Godfather’s Pizza, McDonalds, or Skippers. Lunches were Wonder Bread with Velveeta Cheese and bologna sandwich combined with a ding-dong or hostess cupcake. Super healthy… So many things make so much sense now. As a young teen I just stopped eating and took dexatrim (when it was essentially speed) so I could stay thin. By college I had traded diet pills for a short stint with an eating disorder and then became obsessed with not eating any fat. The no-fat diet was in every magazine and in every book store. I was very good at it. I also did step aerobics for 2 hours a day. I thought I was in really good shape after all I looked great but little did I know that eating no fat was ruining my ability to detoxify, make needed hormones and traded high quality protein needed by the body for so many things for a low quality bagel or rice or pasta – essentially sugar.

So fast forward into my twenties where I did calm down a bit and was a healthy weight without being obsessive. I had 3 children in 4 1/2 years, every one of them I was sick 24/7 and had been working for pharmaceutical company to which I adopted the mentality of taking a pill for every ailment not to mention living 10 miles from Ground Zero in New York. I was CRUSHED. I had chronic migraines, ADD, memory problems, I would get a stomach bug just by looking into a preschool and generally grumpy most of the time. I literally had all I could do to just make it though the day without incident.  My children were either crying or bouncing off the walls and were sick so much that year that it became traumatic. I was on a crash course to the asylum.

I still didn’t understand the idea of ‘putting your own mask on first’ and started looking for help for my kids. My girls had about 12 ear infections that year between the three of them and my 1-year-old had just gotten tubes inserted. The pediatrician was of no help beyond “waiting it out” and I was beginning to learn about the connection between food and health. I found my naturopath (who I credit with saving my family’s life) and made appointments for them and myself. WOW! After reading Mark Hyman’s book and all the tests that I took through my naturopath it was no wonder I wasn’t dead. Although now that I think about it, I was practically dead just still moving…barely.

Within a couple of months of eating healthy, natural and organic foods and taking a few supplements, the changes were unbelievable. I had a moment when my husband was gone where I was quietly cooking dinner and all three girls were occupied with coloring or a game. It was peaceful. It was heaven. I felt clear and in control and my girls were the same. Amazing. Even my husband who had many doubts during all my changes was blown away by our girls and how they were able able to be their true, peaceful, fun-loving selves. The ear infections went from 12 the year before to 1 that year. I was able to have a complete thought, I could remember more and my migraines had been reduced from about 15-20 days to maybe 1-5 days. Real results through changing my families food and adding a few vitamins. Truly a blessing.

I am so thankful to have learned how to keep myself and my family healthy.