To be sovereign is to acknowledge reality with all of its disruptions and injustice, with all of its loss and inconsistencies, and to still remain rooted in who you are.
To be sovereign is to be able to respond to the day, not matter when it starts.
Conversations with my daughter enliven and exhaust me sometimes, especially when we’re trying to sort through stories about our beautiful, brutal, complicated world. Trying to put things into words she can understand when I realize I don’t even have the words...
Ultimately, these conversations offer the best stories and make me a better storyteller.
My current work in progress describes how the Celtic Sovereignty Goddess guides women through the transitions of modern life. Why write a book about crowning the queen within if you can't rewrite a few rules along the way? Especially when I'm taking these moments to write to you and the rest of my beloved community of healers, writers, and creatives.
My little one is home with me today, and it might make more sense to hit the grocery store and put away all that laundry so I can empty the baskets and start the whole process again. But, instead, I'm giving myself permission to let her watch Moana for the twelfth time and I am using this stolen hour to do the dream.This is new for me. Until just a few weeks ago, I'd never allow myself to sit down and work on my creative projects before the kids' bedtime. It seems the Sovereignty Goddess is whispering: it's time.
Dreaming Time and Doing Time
This life I lead, as a mother and a creative entrepreneur, it offers ample time for dreaming.
Driving the kids around, throwing together yet another soup, dealing with all that laundry... When the girls amuse one another and when I remind myself that it's ok to turn off NPR (the madness in Washington will go on whether I listen to every news report or not), I find new vast new territories within my own mind.
Yes, this life with small children may give me time to dream, but it often leaves very little time to do. I have time for my clients, of course. I have time to co-create the podcast. But time to actually do my own writing? That has often seemed impossible...
But then, this book project awoke within me. Re-awoke, I might say, but I am not 100% sure that's a word.
With the spring rains, with the rising tides of my own life, and the churning waters of these tumultuous times in the collective, the Sovereignty Goddess rose out of the earth, out of the past, and out of my own past studies and told me it was time. (Get a taste of her magic here.)
And so, the S.G. gets my creative doing time every Friday, and she gets lots of dreamtime in between. And I feel more alive than I have in long, long time.
Out of the Barren Territory of "Just a Dream"
I'm realizing how much effort I have put into dreaming the dream, and how little I devoted to doing the dream. This long time habit has left me feeling barren and lost... I was terribly accustomed to the bitter cycle of feeling inspired and then feeling disappointed as all those ideas just faded into the ethers.
What about you... are you able to dream the dream but just don't have the time and space to do the dream?
I'd love to talk with you about how I can help you capture that creative energy and turn it into words on a page that touch the hearts of your readers and potential clients.
“Women can have it all, but not all at the same time.” Brilliant, successful people from Betty Friedan to Madeline Albright to Oprah to Anne-Marie Slaughter are credited with this line. I don’t think anyone is irritated about plagiarism because truth is truth and amplifying shared wisdom raises everyone up.
I need to come clean: right now, I’m not occupied with writing a seminal feminist text or running the State Department or establishing myself as the ultimate media mogul.
Nope, my reality isn’t nearly as high profile or quite so life and death. It’s just as real though. I’m dancing with the daily truth about the choices that must be made: “this, not that.”
My “thises” include mothering sick children and tending to my own wintertime ailments. When I’m not tossing tissues in the trash, I’m taking on copywriting work and writing coaching commitments for healers who are changing the world, one client at a time.
On the podcast, we talk a lot about the various roles we play as individuals, as professionals, and as change agents. Often, it’s about “you can do more than one thing, but let's think about how that will feel...”
That’s what we explored in the recent discussion we had about Resistance & The Princess-Rebel Role Model. You can be both princess and rebel because, let’s be honest, we often want to be saved just as much as we want to change the world. But what does that really look like in practice? (Listen in and decide whether it’s something you can really do at the same time.)
But the act of podcasting - and doing all the behind the scenes work it takes to make it happen - creates a whole new bunch of “thises” and excludes a whole lot of “that.”
As you may have noticed, blogging about writing and the creative quest have been in the “not that, not today” pile for some time. That’s due to the concrete realities that contain our boundless universe and give our lives some kind of reliable shape. I assume you know these - very real the constraints of time and energy?
All this has me thinking about time and energy more than ever. I’m thinking about as discernment too. And I have a couple of resources for you to check out that speak right to what I know is a very common concern for so many of us - particularly those who try to fit parenting and entrepreneuring and client supporting and creating and self care all into one day.
Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder invited me to write about my tango with time. It felt good to offer up some of my finite number of hours to Stop trying to make time. Enter into relationship with time.
In the post, I talk about how “I enter into relationship with time so that I can see the relationships between my ideas and the work I want to manifest.” The patience and the resources it takes to enter into such a productive relationship rely on one essential thing: rest.
Karen Brody’s work with yoga nidra has long been a source of solace and support, and I’m thrilled to tell you that she has a nine-month immersion in yoga nidra coming up.
This sleep-based meditation is radically necessary and powerful, but that isn’t the only reason I am so excited to share the program… Daring to Rest: Wild Woman Writer is specifically for women who know they have a story to tell. A playwright and author as well as a yoga nidra expert, Karen is the perfect woman to combine story, sleep, and personal revolution.
It's as trendy to scoff at balance as it is to strive for it. When the contemporary tussle over a word becomes too much for me, I look to the ancients.
This is the latest image in my #365MagicWords series. As I am thinking of shaping time and prioritizing rest, and I am also thinking of the Eqyptian Goddess Maat who was the keeper of universal balance. The daughter of the Sun and the wife of the moon, she had great wings and always wore an ostrich feather headdress. She was the embodiment of justice and the grounding of reality.
A fine spirit guide for these tumultuous, over scheduled times, yes?
These roads are like grooves in my unconscious mind. They’re direct routes into who I really am, but they exist just a few degrees beyond the coordinates of my everyday reality. My daughters and I are driving through my hometown, but I’m not sure they know where they are. They’re focused on seeing friends and the promised ice cream cones and eventually getting to “Neana’s bench.”
I don’t live here anymore. That’s nothing new, of course. I left Cape Cod when I was eighteen just like every other kid with the means and the desire knows to do. But my family doesn’t live in this town anymore either. Strangers dwell in the house where I grew up. All that’s left of our name in this town is etched into my mom’s memorial bench in the church garden.
When we cross into Barnstable, I stop worrying about the most direct path between point A and point B. I trust that I still know seven ways to get everywhere (essential knowledge when you grow up in a tourist town). Soon, I realize I am not choosing streets, I am navigating time.
The lane to my elementary school. Lindsay DiPesa’s old house. The soccer fields that used to be a farm. The rec center where I was a camp counselor. My ex-boyfriend’s parents’ historic home. (Curiously, I ended up passing that place twice, but then, I always ended up back in that relationship even when I tried to leave!)
Every residential area, every sand strewn road has a memory rolled into the pavement. There are hundreds of stories I could tell my girls. Instead, we listen to the radio station that served as the soundtrack to my childhood, and I say nothing.
I’m hoarding my stories. I don’t trust my voice and I don’t trust the tears that threaten every time I remember what the parents of thirty years ago looked like when they stood with their kids at the bus stop on fall mornings. I don’t have the energy to weave these reflections into something that matters to my kids.
If I point out the library, I would feel obligated to say how sad I am that the tree where my mom and I played Piglet and Pooh was cut down to make more parking. If I describe how we used to rent videos from that village store they’ll want to watch something on the iPad.
My girls are still young. For now, I generally get to craft the container of their reality and control what influences their understanding of the world. The goal is to protect them, of course, but I also get to protect myself - especially when I’m lost in tender pockets of grief that are much too much for them to bear.
Telling them more about where mama played and worked and biked and learned might have added to their carseat experience, but it would have cost me too much.
I talk a lot about the Story Triangle and how you need to balance the needs and interests of your audience with your own needs and interests all while keeping an eye on what makes a story meaningful and compelling.
The Story Triangle is your guide as you tell a story. It enables you to appeal to your audience and honor your authentic voice and make the narrative work. It can also help you decide whether you can tell the story at all.
In an attempt to be a “good” mom who gives the gift of my own history to my children, I could have seized the moment and played tour guide. After all, every kid loves to know what things were like for mom and dad so they can squeal at our primitive ways and also feel connected over all the things that feel just the same. The commentary about seaside suburban life in the 80s and 90s would have filled the whole drive.
But that would have pushed me further off balance than any mama should have to bear, however.
The Story Triangle would have been pushed off kilter and, because these things have real life consequences, when you’re a family in tight quarters, someone would have ended up in tears.
The same is true when you’re a writer telling a story meant to build online community and attract ideal clients. Telling a story that’s too intimate and exposes raw wounds doesn’t serve you or your ideal clients. You get a massive TMI hangover and your readers aren’t so sure you’re the person to help them heal.
The good news: my family still gets to go to the Cape frequently to visit my Dad and my stepmom, though it’s to a different town I’ll probably never really get to know.
I trust that next chapter of my story will be a cheerful one, and one that I’m able to tell with a strong voice. There will be many more chances to take that trip down all the lanes of memory when the girls are older and when my wounds are more fully healed.
There's something to be said for seizing the moment and telling a story when it's timely and fresh. But remember: the story, the audience, and you, the storyteller, are best served when you wait for the right healing moment.
In a third floor loft with giant skylights opening on the fading summer dusk, two small children closed their eyes and fell asleep. This isn’t much of a story until you understand that it’s Independence Day on Cape Cod at a condo just a few blocks from the beach.
The mother watches the glow of fireworks on her children’s slack cheeks before she slips into her own oblivion. There are families saying “ooooh!” and “ahhhh!” all across the neighborhood, but the booms and cracks are just a lullaby to everyone at 19 Grove Lane.
This two year-old and this six year-old have come to their grandparents' house to be stuffed with marshmallows and wrapped in red, white, and blue dresses. This is the week when bedtime is a fairytale and adults hurry kids to get to the beach to catch the tide, not to get out the door to catch the bus. We are a family who believes in much of the patriotic excess of July 4.
But just not this year.
Vacation only has 8 letters, but it has a billion different meanings. For some, it’s hammocks and lemonade. For others, it’s mouse ears and princesses. For some it's hanging off a cliff or shooting down the rapids.
Then there are those who use the word to describe packing up the kids and throwing them into a house with a bunch of people who share the same gene pool but enjoy vastly different daily lives. We then add in some sand, salt, sugar, and pour adult beverages on top of it all and V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N spells emotional and physical marathon full of the joys of victory and the agony of defeat.
Vacation looks a lot more like survival (another 8 letter word) than relaxation.
In our case, July Fourth fell on the fifth day of our holiday and we were too worn out to care about sparklers or bonfires or the rockets red glare.
If my kids and I could drift off during a huge fireworks display set off a few thousand feet from our beds, your ideal readers could definitely miss your blog post. Heck, your audience may well miss the fact that you’re blogging or podcasting or newslettering at all!
We live in a world of distraction. We live in a world of too much stimulation and too little human stamina to take it in - even when it’s wonderful, even when we said we were coming to town just to experience it, even when it’s part of being happy enough 21st century Americans who hold out some hope that Washington will look like Jed Bartlet’s city some day.
Yes, it might occasionally be you, the storyteller, who needs to shift the story to meet the needs and interests of the audience.
But it’s likely that you’re telling a splendid tale and pitching it at just the right people but they’re just too full or too tired or too preoccupied to absorb it.
You can always try again next year when everyone is a little older and wiser, but the good news is that you probably don’t have to wait 365 days to try to put on the show again.
If you’ve got a story that you believe in, keep nudging it into the world. Not with pyrotechnics that wake the neighbors. Not in some annoying, spammy “read my post, dear Facebook group I never participate in unless it’s for self-promo!” sort of way.
Share it in a way that feels like an invitation to learn or enjoy something really meaningful.
Remember that a lack of response isn’t necessarily a judgement on the quality of your story. It’s timing. It’s overstimulation. It’s proof that we’re all just fragile humans trying to balance FOMO (that's "fear of missing out") and a wee bit of self-care.
Do you have a story that you're really proud of that your ideal readers missed out on? Leave a link in the comments below and I'll do my best to share it with my community.
It is more difficult than we imagine to hold space with the ultimate power of the sun and the full revelation of the moon. But here we are on June 20, 2016. I’m so grateful to summer and thankful for its lush splendor. My eyes fill with tears that dry instantly on my cheeks in the face of a solstice sun at noon.
Is this what abundance feels like?
This first day of summer decorated by a full moon feels like a full belly and a hunger to show gratitude. It feels like being anchored in the light-drenched earth and flying into the air all at once.
Tonight, I know I will not sleep. I’ll curse that bright-as-day orb even as I long to dance through the yard, bathed in her silver glow.
My toddler and I just spent a leisurely hour picking plants that promise to be drought resistant. (I am assuming I can translate that into “hearty enough to survive the care of a gardener who is better at describing the act of planting and tending than she is at finding the watering can.”)
It’s time to rescue the flowers from the car and find my widest brimmed hat and start preparing our rocky ground. But all I can do is squint from the shade of the porch, dizzied with the luster of this Summer Solstice Strawberry Moon June day.
Today, the sun reaches its zenith. Tonight, the moon shines with her fullest glory. To be alive is to know such brilliant illumination - almost more than you can stand. And it is to remember, somewhere in the overwhelming bliss, that there will be a darkness as bountiful as the light. That is how the heavens teach us about the cycles of living until we die. The loss, the dissolution, the shadows we must cast if we want to make a home in the light.
I still want to cry. With joy and thanks. With the ache for all the lost friends and departed family who will never walk east with me at sunrise, chasing our shadows into a new morning.
I still need to weep with all the potential I feel too full to hold. All the love to give, the stories to write, the healing spaces to create.
In this day of all possible illumination I see that I am afraid of becoming parched, sunburned, bleached. I am in love with the light, but I am wise enough to name and allow my fear.
What does it mean to be so visible, to have every laugh line and squinter’s crease and typo brought into such sharp relief?
“Is the back door locked?” I ask my husband, and he nods. He doesn’t remind me that I’m the one who locked it. He doesn’t mention that I’ve already checked it three times because the rule is only odds, only odds, never evens. After two years together, he knows better than to question the invisible manufacturer’s warning seared into my flesh: may contain irrational fears and compulsions. I don’t know if there’s ever been a time when I didn’t have to count to prevent imagined disasters, didn’t have numbers running in the background of my mind like the radio static of a channel that won’t be ignored. Checking and counting and tapping and counting and checking are the only ways to keep the uneasy ghosts of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder at bay.
Now that I’m pregnant, I find myself reciting appointment dates over and over, and I seek out stillbirth statistics in an effort to quell the endless feelings of dread. Though the odds are in my favor, the numbers won’t leave. They won’t quiet.
“What if our baby’s first words are ‘Is the back door locked?’” I ask my husband.
“That,” he says, “is an awfully complicated sentence for a baby.”
“But what if he or she is anxious?”
He presses his cheek to my shoulder and kisses it five times. “It won’t matter. We’ll do everything we can to help them be happy and show them they’re loved.”
This isn’t enough, and we both know it. There are so many pieces to this, so many questions and fears and hopeful wishes that I can’t possibly begin count them all.
This thought soothes me.
When my husband falls asleep, I press my hand against the smooth, hard skin of my naked stomach and count the baby’s kicks. One, two, three, four. Four tiny, wordless promises.
Although the language is an alien morse code, I’m somehow fluent -- so, with the tips of my fingers, I gently reply.
One, two three, four.
Kelsey Rakes is a writer who enjoys poetry, picnics, and poetry about picnics. Her life is a constant work in progress.
What's your story? Please submit to the #365StrongStories project.
This year, our snow days are being used to honor the beauty of May. We get to celebrate our freakishly warm winter with bike helmets and sunscreen since we didn’t need to use those days waiting for the plows to come around. My six year-old learned how to ride a two-wheeler this week, so we’re heeding the siren’s call of the rail trail. As I push the toddler in the stroller, my big girl stays close. She wobbles as she tries to match my walking pace because, unlike the evening before when she gleefully peddled ahead, she seems to need to be in my orbit right now.
There’s a sweet jolt when I realize “this is one of the perfect moments.” I sense I’m reliving a scene from thirty years ago. It’s a different setting and there are new characters in the starring roles, but here I am hoping one daughter will fall asleep and praying the other doesn’t fall off her bike, just as my mother would have done.
There’s a thread through time, braiding us together. Our connection will never snap, even if my mother and my daughters will never walk the same trail together. I feel my own first-grade memories entwine with this moment, and my pace slows with the weight of my gratitude.
Of course, there’s one vital element that separates this particular idyllic scene from what my mother might have experienced. It’s not 1986. It’s 2016. This mama has an earbud plugged into her head and occasionally has to say “wait, what did you say?” as she fumbles with the pause button.
I’m not even sure why I think I need the extra stimulation. My phone is on my hip (the better to count my steps) and it seemed like a good idea to multitask and keep up with the “you must listen to this!” recommendations from colleagues.
Of course, I am only able to open up to the grace of my children’s magic and my mother’s blessing when I stuff the wires in the stroller and decide to be present. I’m not surprised that being there with my girls is more fulfilling than one more grown up filling my mind with more stuff to do and consider and change.
If I’d still been walking in two worlds, in this perfect spring morning as well as someone’s basement recording studio, I can’t imagine I have exuded the welcoming, present energy that invited my daughter to say, “Mom? I have a boyfriend…”
I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to take a breath and respond with a few gentle, open-hearted questions if I were half listening to something else. I am sure I would have squawked “what!?!” and crushed the moment flat.
Thing is, this experience probably isn't going to change my behavior - at least not completely. There will be many more bike riding/ stroller pushing outings this year and I am sure I’ll take headphones with us most of the time.
I want to be honest with myself as much as I want to be present with my kids. That means I need to balance the feeding of my mind with the caring for my children. It means reflecting on my own needs and those of my family, making conscious choices, and practicing compassion through it all.
It also means getting the support where I can get it. If there isn't a loving grandmother or a village of other moms around to help us deal with the tough moments (ahem, MY FIRST GRADER SAYS SHE HAS A BOYFRIEND), the advice and comfort may need to come through that nice recorded voice from my iPhone.
An important note: that podcast I was listening to was Laura Reagan’s Therapy Chat. Do check out this brilliant, vulnerable episode called Worthiness, Perfectionism, and Self Compassion when the moment is right for you.
Sometimes the best way to strengthen your storytelling and feed your writing practice is to take a time away from the page. When my husband asks me what I want for Mother's Day, "time to myself" is always near the top of the list. I was looking forward to an hour with my journal to write and mourn my mom and follow a thought from beginning to end without having to play referee or ask anyone if they needed to use the potty.
But then, as he started to pack everyone in the car, it became clear that I needed to savor an even rarer pleasure - time alone with my older daughter.
As a rule, she asks for more of my focused attention than I could ever provide. Today, however, as we explored the acres of awakening woods behind our house, just the two of us, we met unfathomable abundance. Amidst the unfurling ferns, the scattering of wild strawberries, and the countless fairy dens, I could give her all she asked for and more.
Was it the magic of the date on the calendar, when the ubiquitous celebration of mother love made me a better mama than usual? Can I think Nature's May display of infinite enoughness? Was it simply that my relationship with my daughter makes sense when we have time and space enough to hold it?
On Sundays, the #365StrongStories project is devoted to offering up a writing prompt. This week, I invite you to take part in a BEING prompt.
Go out and explore. Break a writing date with yourself and wander with eyes wide open. Say "yes" and spread your arms wide to the unexpected. When it's time, come back to the pen or keyboard and start something new.
Why write? Because sometimes you give yourself the gift of scribbling down a fervent prayer. And then, years later you get to read it from the other side when you're living an answer.
Six years ago, I used to pour my earnest, new mother's heart into a blog called The Girl Who Cried Epiphany. (Heavens! I was a babe in the blogging woods - I use "one" like the academic I used to be!)
On this Mother's Day Eve, I discovered what was essentially a journal entry. I wrote the post as I looked at my newborn and worried over what would happen at the other end of my maternity leave.
Prayer is a word I have and flirted with and danced around and fled from. I used to worry about the term’s religious baggage. Also, I have worried that I did not know how to do it properly.
Now, I know that no tradition has a monopoly on prayer and I am aligning myself with Spirit, not with a specific tradition when I talk about the practice. As for concerns about whether I am doing it right, well, I want to say I really don’t have time for that stuff any more.
Motherhood makes you appreciate each activity a little more because you have less time to spend on everything. Every breath in downward dog is deeper because you don’t know when a wail from the next room will pull you from the mat. Every chance you get to type with two hands because baby is sweetly sleeping in her sling is to be treasured and exploited fully. Even though a huge part of me is dedicated to simply experiencing Moira each day, the other side of that equation means that efficiency is more important than ever. This applies even to talking Goddess or God, or whatever I am calling the Divine on a given day.
Like I said, I do not have time to worry about whether I am crafting perfect prayers, I just have to unleash my soul’s dialog and hope the ideas organize themselves.
And yet, I am left to wonder, how literal is Spirit? What matters more, the intention of one’s petition or the way one words the prayer, the way one might craft them into mantra?
My deepest prayers as I look into my baby girl’s great blue eyes are that we may find a way for me to stay home with her full time. I always knew I didn’t want to be a working mom, but I thought that was because it would be too draining to do both and because I never liked my job that much. Never could I have imagined the all consuming love that would make being with my daughter a need not a simple desire.
And so I have found my days and nights filled with a constant refrain: “Please, please, please let me stay home with my baby.”
But then, I wonder about how true “be careful what you wish for” really is. What if the Universe decides to answer my most fervent prayers through a lay off? You see, it’s economics that is keeping me at work. Not only do I need the courage to leave the security of my job, but I also need to find another source of income to make staying home the idyllic portrait of mother and child that I dream of.
And so, here I write, six and a half years later, a second child born and weaned, several lean seasons survived, a business built and growing.
I'm left to marvel that I did find the courage to leave that job and to feel sick at the "how." Then, I didn't know anything much beyond the mystery of prayers and their answers. Turns out, it wasn't a lay off but my mother's unexpected death a few months after my daughter's birth that broke my heart even as it allowed me my heart's desire.
As Mother's Day weekend approaches (ever bittersweet for a motherless mom), I'm looking back on what I've written on the subject of motherhood. This was drafted in 2014 when my second daughter was an infant and I felt like my business had been chucked in the diaper pail. But you're a great mom!
I hear these words like a curse.
Not all the time, certainly, but these words can diminish and dismiss even as they are are intended to applaud and support.
Like many women of my generation, I was raised to be anything I could imagine. Top of the class and pick of the litter... there were no obvious limits placed upon the ambitions of hard-working, middle class smart girls who came of age at the turn of this century.
In the rush to get the best grades and apply to the best schools, there was no whisper of motherhood. Our mothers may have been our role models, but being a mom was never really the goal. There were too many other things to prepare for.
And now that I find myself in the midst of motherhood, I feel wildly underprepared.
I know I couldn't have prepped for the love or the exhaustion. But I was also unready for the way that all those past priorities would slip away and "be your best mama self" would be the most important thing.
Not my ability to write or speak or make an income. (Though, paradoxically, those things are still vital since being "just mom" isn't a choice due to the economics of 2014.)
In the original version, I tied everything up in a nice little bow and talked about how great it was to "just" be mom for a while. Considering the fact that I still struggle with all of my roles, I know my pat ending was wishful thinking at the time, not an actual resolution.
These days, no one says "but you're a great mom!" to me to soothe my worries that I'm not doing enough or accomplishing enough. That has nothing to do with how much I'm publishing or the new way I'm teaching about story. It has everything to do with the fact that I am no longer seeking that kind of validation. Amazing how time and sleep and writing into the beautiful pain of motherhood can restore lost confidence and begin to heal the wound of "I'm not enough."
But do think twice about telling a mother to look on the bright side of motherhood when she's telling you she's lost sight of her career, her creativity, and herself in the midst of all the mommying. Listen to what she really needs from you and support the woman, not just the role she's playing.
One day a cat was playing in its back yard.
A dog saw the cat and started chaseing after it. They chased eachoter all over town.
The cat did not get tired and the dog did get tired and the cat ran all the way home safe and sound!
By Moira, age 6
(Mama added paragraph breaks, but flawless punctuation and terrifically cute spelling errors are the author's own.)
Besides the fact that cat rule, we learned that all good stories have a beginning, middle, and an end.
The status quo (playing cat) is disrupted by conflict (dog appears on the scene), rising action (the chase!) takes you to a climax (cat triumphs) and a satisfying resolution (home again).
Next time you worry that you're not a storyteller, remember that you wrote the perfect stories when you were in first grade.
“You working? I so proud of you.” Sticky palms move from my cheeks to lock around my neck. I still marvel at how much strength is in those tiny arms and how much hug that two year-old body can muster.
It is all childhood trust and wonder. Her words outweigh her in an awesome way. Of course, she is mimicking a phrase my husband and I have offered her and her sister a thousand times in a thousand ways. But in this moment, she is so much more than a sweet-faced parrot. She is offering up the gift I needed right then. She is injecting meaning into yet another morning spent tapping keys and pushing against the digital tide.
At the same moment, Terry Gross’s familiar voice introduced the day’s Fresh Air guest. A man - Charles Bock - had written a novel inspired by his wife’s two year bout with leukemia. Soon, the author was talking about what it was like to throw a birthday party for their three year-old just days after her mother’s death.
I’m making lunch and sipping “tea” poured from a tin pot into a plastic cup. I miss every other sentence of the interview, but I promise myself I will catch the podcast later. But I know I won’t. I know I do not have the time or the strength to listen again. All I can do is spare some splintered attention to entertain one of my darkest fears - that lurking cancer demon that might be destroying this perfect life this very minute.
Even though this story hurts a heart that already feels too sodden and tender today, I do not change the station. After all, there’s nothing special about my pain. My family cancer stories are not so close as to make this conversation unendurable. It’s my childhood friend’s mother who died before 60 and a brilliant woman (who I long to support with more than prayers) who is in the brutal thick of it right now - these are the women I think of as the fear seizes my chest.
Listening began to feel like some sort of test of honor and endurance. Can I hold the exquisite tenderness of my toddler and the terror that we might not always be counted amongst the lucky ones, the healthy ones, the “touch wood all is well” ones?
No amount of prayer or gratitude or pride will guarantee any of our stories have a quiet ending at the conclusion of a one hundred year journey. Switching off NPR and singing along to a forgettable song will not weaken the monsters of accident and disease that might lurk around the next corner.
There’s no way to assure the safety of everyone I love. I cannot force my own cells to behave themselves. But what I can do is make sure that my fear doesn’t steal the sweetness of the next giggle or grown up pronouncement from that little girl’s lips.
All any of us can do is control whether we lose today wondering about an unknown tomorrow.
“Oh honey, let’s not tell that story.” The words flowed easily from my lips but they were terribly hard to hear, hanging there in the air. I’d delivered them as kindly as I could in the voice of a woman with too many worries and too little sleep. All I wanted was the oasis of a quiet shower and to make it to my first cup of coffee before anyone pulled hair or screeched or required a bandaid.
But I know that silence and distrust and disconnection are born of distracted admonishments. This was a tiny sin that hinted at a deeper darkness.
My six year-old was remembering the beach house that the family rented for several summers. Her memories of eating a dozen clementines gave way to remembering when one older family member had fallen and knocked out a tooth.
I don’t like that memory. It was upsetting and it wasn’t pretty. I felt the pain and the worry of that Cape Cod morning. The guilt that I hadn't been very helpful at the time was (my excuse was morning sickness, but that seems paltry now). None of these thoughts were going to ease me into what was going to be another challenging day, so I shushed her and kept moving.
As I dive deep into what it means to tell stories, I'm learning just as much about how to receive and keep stories. Stories need to be held and reviewed when they bubble up. When they are stifled they become the monsters of shame and doubt and fear.
In trying to protect myself from unresolved hurts, I create new ones for my daughter. In trying to stifle the pure, spontaneous sharing of memories, I am creating new ghosts that are bound to be much more ghoulish the next time they come around.
I am a storyteller. I ask people to walk into the shadows with me so that we can appreciate the light. That means I also need to allow others to tell me their stories - even when I find them unsettling or inconvenient, even when I want to wish the memories away.
Learn how to tell your own stories with greater sensitivity and awareness. Join the free online class, The Story Triangle, on April 5.
It's spring break week here. At a playdate today, my friend asked how I was going to have the time to get out today's #365StrongStories installment. While we spoke at three this afternoon, I had absolutely no idea. I just knew or would happen somehow. This yearlong writing project has forced me to get even more vigilant about carving out for "me time." But trying to make time to work and create isn't a new problem - it's as old as the concept of women with stuff to do even with kids underfoot.
This story is excepted from last year's post on the trials and tribulations of meeting writing deadlines even during spring break:
My stepmom kindly recommended I take off my coat and get some work done while she took the kids for a walk.
Clearly I was exuding deadline stress, and I risked infecting everyone around me.
How could I be surprised that I couldn’t get clear on my writing and I felt choked with “bad mom” guilt? I wasn’t asking for the dedicated creative time I needed and so I was spreading myself too thin as I tried (and failed) to dot it all.
I felt like a fraud, offering advice from and “I’ve got this” blogging pulpit when I was actually just being a terrible, distracted house guest with a couple of needy dependents.
Gratefully, I took that gift of thirty minutes free of mom responsibilities to check back in with my real message, my lived experience, my own imbalance.
I think I found a story worth telling and I drafted a new container to tell it. And then I discovered the space to walk to the beach with my girls – twice.
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“But how can it be a good story if it’s so sad?” It was hard to make out the words because she was burying her face in my belly, but I understood exactly what she meant.
It seems impossible that we could love something that awoke our darkest fears and left us in a weeping puddle. It seems like madness that we would subject our children to such pain. But, like countless parents since the beginning of humanity, I’d merrily offered up some entertainment that would terrify as much as it delighted.
Within thirty seconds I figured out the basic plot of The Song of the Sea, the fantastical animated Irish film about the silkies - those seals who came to shore and became human women for a time. This is another mystery of story - why would we devote so much time and lavish so much emotion on something so predictable?
Well, I could predict that the pregnant mother singing so sweetly to her young son wasn’t going to make it into scene two. What I couldn’t predict was that wondrous journey and the magical images that would pull us along for the next hour and more.
These tales of otherworldly parents and children on a quest for happiness in the real world pretty much always end up the same. When I kept reassuring my six year-old that it was all going to end well I was pretty sure I was telling enough of the truth. After all, everyone was smiling in a sweet family tableau at the end. But my daughter couldn’t see all that through her tears.
While the credits rolled I reminded her of how much she’d loved the rest of the movie. I told her to think of how the children were so happy with their daddy even if their mama was off with the other fairyfolk in the sea. Most challenging of all, I tried to make her understand that the best stories are those that open our hearts to experience something powerful and meaningful. Considering that now, two days after that initial viewing, she wants to see it again, I can only assume she heard me. More likely, it’s just a testament to our devotion to stories that transform our everyday view of the world and make us feel.
On the way home from Girl Scouts last night my first grader and I had a chat about "the inner critic." Well, I thought it would be a good conversation topic because I was all jazzed up after chapter one of Tara Mohr's Playing Big. Tara wrote something about how it would change the world if girls knew how to change their relationship with that nagging voice of self-doubt before it constrained them. Our sunset drive inspired me: clearly this was the perfect time to transform the future.
Turns out, my six year old didn't really know what I was talking about. She didn't understand that there could be a voice in her head that said yucky things about what she could and couldn't do. Instead, she told me about how she and her Confidence worked together to do hard stuff like reading really long chapter books.
This Confidence creature sounds pretty amazing.
I know I have my own redhead version who got me through those very same books and lots of really big challenges since then. Clearly the trick is making her my best friend just like a six year-old would.
My Confidence and I are busy at work on my new course, Tell Stories that Matter: Write Online Content that Your Readers Care About.
Guess what? One of the things I promise to help you do is “confidently and easily tell stories that connect.” Please click below to join the interest list to get all the details and the VIP perks.
Last week, my daughter and I lay together and wrote the last sentence of a sacred chapter in my mothering story. Without any sense of occasion, I nursed her to sleep for the very last time.
When she woke before dawn expecting to slip back into our routine, I was sad but resolved. Watching your baby get lost in the delirium of a being weaned against her will is its own unique kind of torture.
This must be doing irreparable harm, I worried. I was withholding mother love and sustenance and introducing her to a cruel world of deprivation and lack.
Less than a week later, I realize that I was in my own state of dramatic delirium. She did recover and she did it fast. Now, when my 25-month-old wakes from a nap she asks for a snuggle and a book. With a child’s gift of living in the present moment she has adjusted and found a new way to connect with me and with her world.
In this midst of this very personal transition, I have been busily crafting my new online course and outlining webinars and fussing over Facebook ads. I’ve been immersing myself in entrepreneurship. All this work is a worthy way to support the family, of course, but it’s also been a handy place to hide from grief.
Only today, when I sat outside with a cup of tea and my journal to draft this story, did the tears start to flow. Great, heaving sobs echoed off my neighbor’s house, but I didn’t care. The sorrow caught up with me as I realized my body would never be called to mother someone in the same way again.
My breasts have nourished and nurtured two children and, since we do not plan to have any more children, their work is done. I am mourning this ending, but I am also humbled and grateful. Because I paused to write this story, I was able to feel all the feelings and heal the wounds left by this rite of passage.
I can see that there’s no accident in the timing of all this. The new beginning can be as exciting as the ending is sorrowful. Freed from having someone depend on me at such a visceral, physical level, I am able to reallocate that energy and serve the world in a different way. My mothering commitments are every bit as intense, but I know that energy has a way of shifting and amplifying in ways that stretch time.
Now that I’m no longer performing the magic act of making milk, I can help more people practice the alchemy of turning ideas and dreams into stories that matter.
In April I’m launching my first writing and storytelling course, Tell Stories that Matter: Create Online Content that Your Readers Care about. Please click below get on the interest list to get VIP perks and special pricing.
What if every weekend was a three day weekend? Sounds like an ideal life, right? From my experience, that isn't necessarily true.
Theoretically, Mondays are a mother-daughter day and I don't work except for during nap time. That never really serves anyone.
Today, I tried my best to write my way through the "I don't like Mondays" blues. I tried to write a story of how I just couldn't show up as a mom when I felt like I "should" be working. I ended up in the worst of both worlds, neither present nor productive.
Every story I tried to tell about the day came out in a tangle. I sounded like a whiny victim or a preachy blogger. After all, the easy solution would be to hire a sitter for a few hours and just get to work! I'm going to get on that. Promise. In the meantime, here's the Facebook Live quickie for your #365StrongStories shot of video storytelling.