The Line Between Holding On and Letting Go

My one day road trip to Santa Ynez this week had me facing an all too familiar task: dealing with stuff left by my mother when she died. It's been almost nine years now, and many of her keepsakes and photos are still waiting to be addressed... what to save, what to toss, what to preserve for our kids as remembrances of her, their grandmother they never met.

There we were, my younger sister and I, standing in front of a dusty storage unit, feeling hot in the humid, 90 degree weather and totally perplexed by the fact that we had to, yet again, decide the fate of more of our mother's things. As my sister had moved and was ridding herself of this unit for good, those items of mom's for which she had been the custodian all these years needed to be relocated. Just how much of it was going to land in the trash bin this time? Which items had time rendered less vital and easier to part with? Which items were going to move on to a new home where dust and cobwebs would rest upon them once again?

And for God's sake, HOW, after all these years, are we still doing this?

When the accident happened back in 2006, there were things my three siblings and I had to face immediately. The need to go through our mom's daily belongings - clothes, paperwork, personal effects - was unavoidable and painful, but necessary. Her home and the large storage space she rented were filled with antique furniture, film/tv memorabilia, press kits, VHS tapes with recorded "Entertainment Tonight" segments and Academy Awards ceremonies, and an extensive lineup of framed, celebrity autographed pictures and movie posters... all vestiges of her former lives as an entertainer's wife, an event planner, a celebrity personal assistant, and a Hollywood publicist.

The boxes upon boxes the four of us had to go through, jam packed with keepsakes, photos, mementos and random clutter, all reflected and symbolized her passions, her obsessions, her professional successes and personal accomplishments. She held on to A LOT, which made everything even more stressful and time consuming... I mean, we found stacks of unused personalized notepads from public relation firms she worked at twenty years prior. The firms were gone, the clients gone, but those notepads sure survived!

We knew we didn't need or want to keep most of this stuff to remember her by, yet all of it still had to be sorted through, passed on to friends, donated, sold, or thrown out. We soon discovered that disseminating sixty years of a person's life in one fell swoop was incredibly overwhelming, especially a life as unique and interesting as hers; and that doing so while grieving was even more so. I was also pregnant when she was killed in that car, and so was my brother's wife.

Our two sisters tirelessly helped with our newborns when they arrived shortly after the accident; and although these babies brought such joy to a time of darkness, we were all still hanging by a thin emotional thread. Nursing my daughter post partum with crippling grief, I found the reality of sorting through the remnants of my mother's life in the past tense totally surreal in the worst possible way. WHY did she have to die with so much stuff stored away and so many things unresolved? It was all just too much. 

And as such, her most treasured memories and valued earthly possessions were simply put aside. Those things that, right when she died, we just could not imagine parting with, yet still didn't know what the hell we were going to do with either. So we each took a portion of these "invaluable" valuables, agreeing to deal with them later when it wasn't all so fresh... when the pain had somehow lessened, and when time had put some distance between us and tragedy. Call it avoidance or procrastination – none of us were ready or in any shape to decide who was going to keep the family photo albums or inherit the heirloom china and silver.

So these put aside things were put aside, stored and untouched, for years. Most of them are still in "put aside" mode, as our lives of having more babies, parenting toddlers, and changing careers have been stretched so thin that making time to revisit the burden and the pain hasn't been a top priority.

This past Tuesday in Santa Ynez changed that. My sister could no longer put aside her lot of mom's indispensable treasures and together we were forced to finally deal with it. And as luck would have it, she seemed to have gotten the most priceless commodities of all - only a small portion of what we found was disposable. Damn. There I was, the chump who agreed to drive up there and give what needed to be saved a new home. After all, I still had my own portion of mom's priceless bounty to unearth and deal with at some point, and now I was agreeing to take on more... big chump.

We packed five cumbersome and dusty plastic storage containers into my car and went to toast a chapter being closed with a glass of wine from one of Santa Ynez's finest. It was still 80 degrees outside at 8:00pm when I stopped to take a breath and enjoy the sunset before continuing my long journey home. Although I knew what we did that day needed to be done, I was now weary of the work ahead to figure out what to do with it all.

The question pondered on the drive home? Where do you draw the line between holding on to material things to honor a life and preserve a legacy, and letting those things weigh you down, trap you in the past, and hinder your ability to thrive in the present or move forward in the future?

Here I had spent another day of my life sorting through her possessions. THINGS. Things that weren't even mine. Heavy things. High school and college yearbook heavy. Sorority scrapbooks, multiple 3-ring binders full of slide film, endless envelopes of photo negatives, stacks and stacks of unsorted 4x6 prints, loads of photo albums, a framed newspaper article from when she was crowned homecoming queen in college, and a myriad of old film reels and cartridges with home movies that were made before I was even born.

Stuff. Not people. Memories of people. Memories of times and places. Of loves and experiences that, for the most part, weren't mine. Of a life that wasn't mine. A life that was now gone, but that supposedly lives on because of the mere existence and proof of these "things"? These things that are now occupying my time and taking me away from living my life, being with my people, experiencing my loves. 

All I could think was, IF she had just lived to meet her grandchildren, maybe she would have hugged, kissed, and loved them so much that she would have no longer needed so many reminders of her past to comfort her. And IF she had just lived to find peace and happiness in this life, maybe she would have discovered that all the material things she held on to so tightly were not that important after all. And IF she had lived past sixty years old, maybe she would have grown into a wise old lady who would declare that none of it amounted to a hill of beans in this crazy world, or some other nugget of wisdom a wise old lady would spout out, and would have resolved to purge her life of the clutter, downsize her most precious mementos to a manageable collection, and pass it on to us before dying a peaceful, natural, non-tragic death. 

IF.

If anything, at least she would still be here and we wouldn't be saddled with all of this.

Yet, it is less the gaining of her stuff and more the loss of her herself that troubles me. She was my mom... a daughter, a sister, a friend... a woman who created, enhanced, and affected lives. Five dusty old containers full of sentimental pieces of film and paper does not a legacy make. It may seem like the essential elements of her life are encapsulated in those old bins, but the truth of her life, of HER, lives inside of every person she touched. 

My children could comb through all of that stuff when they are older and they still won't know her. They still won't see her smile up close, hear her laugh in person, feel her arms around them. None of her kept things can replace what those kids have lost - what we all have lost.

So where does that leave the line?

Maybe it exists somewhere between holding on and letting go... between honoring a loved one's memory while not allowing their memories to suffocate us... between preserving their legacy by sharing their stories not recorded on film or paper while still saving the tangible items that best represent them and their life.

As for us? We exist somewhere between the sadness of losing them, the peace of acceptance, and the healing passage of time.

Why Dads Are Not Mr. Moms

Yes, I was one of those moms that started out believing that my husband should do and say and be just like me when it came to our children. When they were babies, I thought I held the premium on knowing how to care for them and I wasn't shy about making sure he, and everyone else, knew just that.

My mother died in a car accident when I was six month pregnant, just three short months before I was set to welcome our first child and her first grandchild into this world. So not only was I a postpartum and sleep-deprived new mommy, but I was also a severely grief-stricken one that desperately needed to feel in control of something in my life. Taking care of my newborn baby girl was that something.

daddy with daughter on his 1st fathers day back in 2007

daddy with daughter on his 1st fathers day back in 2007

As a result, I was very controlling and overbearing in relation to how my husband dealt with her. I believed I reigned supreme on all baby duties... from feeding, diapering, burping, rocking - you name it - I just knew better. From that skewed perspective, I expected my husband to take his cue from me or he was just going to be doing it all wrong.

It was a tough beginning to what was supposed to be a magical time. We got through it, and the rough times made way to healing and easier states of existence, enough so to want to have a second child. Yet surprisingly with the second, I still seemed to hang on to the idea that I was boss. Now we had a baby boy and a four-year-old girl, and a new sibling dynamic emerged that gave way to even more challenges to contend with. Good grief... it was almost worse the second time around!

Yet this time, I was not mourning the loss of my mother nor was I flying blind, now a seasoned veteran of motherhood... kinda. Blame it on the ever present lack of sleep or postpartum hormones run amok, but something in me still held strong to the idea that, since I was the one who gave up so much of the day-to-day reality of my previous life, and I was the one who stayed home ALL day, EVERY day with these children, then I deserved some sort of free pass to dictate what my husband should do in relation to them. After all, he was gone all day! I figured that acknowledging this truth would be obvious to him and perfectly reasonable since, of course, I knew best.

Great in theory... disaster in reality.

As you can imagine, he didn't appreciate or agree much with my ideology.  As a committed new dad, he wanted to do things his way, on his time, using his instincts and opinions, and he resented me trying to micro-manage his parenting. Conversely, I felt his blatant disregard for my "expertise" and insight into the kids' behavioral patterns and preferences was egotistical and irresponsible.

I tried to control everything to such a degree that I ended up getting the opposite of what I was seeking. Instead of heeding my advice and guidance, he firmly protested against it, and turned a deaf ear to most anything I had to say about the kids' care. He approached dealing with them on his own terms with little regard for my opinion. Not the best way to nurture a "we're in this together" team vibe as parents or to display a united front to the kids. It didn't do wonders for our marriage either.

Today, over eight years into parenting, I have since conceded to the fact that my husband has his own unique gifts and attributes that he brings to the table that aren't intrinsic in me - and that's a good thing. I see how some of his strengths can benefit my children as much as certain strengths of mine can. I recognize how the things that don't come naturally to me seem to be instinctual to him, and vice versa. He too has been able to see that there is method to my madness; and we have both come to accept that conceding to the other in certain situations is for the greater good. 

daddy coaching daughter's softball team this spring

daddy coaching daughter's softball team this spring

You could say we are two halves of the perfect parent, if there is such a thing, which I know there is not. And even though we still butt heads at times about how to do things regarding our children, we try to be respectful of each other's opinions and feelings even when we are on opposing sides of an issue. 

Even so, I don't conceive it ever to be completely smooth sailing for us; and I admit I envy those couples who are more compatible when it comes to their parenting ideologies. However, I now see that his freedom to experience parenting authentically for himself and to contribute his own thoughts and ideas to the mix is vital for our family's harmony. I also know that not allowing him that freedom, but instead continuing to demand he behave like a carbon copy of me (a Mr. Mom of sorts), is not in anyone's best interest, least of all the kids.  

I feel there is greater benefit for them when we both are able to be who we are: and for us, it's mom and DAD. And them discovering and accepting that not everyone thinks alike or agrees on everything... well that's a lesson in life that is never too early to learn.

*Article as featured on the GoodMenProject.com

Eight Years With, Eight Years Without

Eight years ago today my mom died. In an instant, a car crashed into another car and she was gone.

I had just spoken to her a couple days before. She was on a road trip with her best friend celebrating her 60th birthday weekend and had called me from a baby shop, excited to tell me about the crib bedding she had found for my soon-to-be-born baby girl. Using verbal imagery, she exuberantly tried to sell me on this expensive, over the top crib set from a store hundreds of miles away; something that I could not return or exchange if I didn't find it as perfect and dreamy as she did. As she was not known for her practicality when it came to shopping, I gently declined it before a bad cellular connection ended our call prematurely. No goodbyes were exchanged. I didn’t bother trying her back, figuring I would just talk to her the next day, not knowing that would be the last time I would speak to her.

I couldn't reach her the next day on her birthday, and had to leave my wishes in a message. She didn’t call back, probably having too much fun to bother. The day after her birthday, I got a call from the road, but it wouldn’t be from her. Instead it was from the officer on the scene of the disaster she had just been in, saddled with the duty of telling me “your mother didn’t survive the accident.” Six months pregnant and shellshocked, it was the darkest day of my life.

I’ve now lived the past eight years without my mother, and those same eight years with the void she left… Eight years with my daughter and the overwhelming happiness, intense love, and joyous fulfillment of being her mom, and eight years without my most loyal supporter and eager babysitter-to-be… Eight years without hearing my kids call my mom “Grandma,” and eight years with a pervasive sense of loss… loss of the vision of how I expected my life to unfold, loss of the delusion of control over my life and what may happen in it, and loss of an emotional bond that was so embedded in the fiber of my being that I have had to fight and flounder to find my way to live without it.

Yet, my mom was not my hero. She was not someone I emulated or wanted to be like. She was fragile, she was damaged, and she was, at times, hopelessly hopeless. Her life disappointed her in a way that she found hard to manage, hard to accept, and hard to overcome. She had an extremely rough time of it, not because she had a wholly rough life, but because she perceived it as rough and received it as rough. Her perspective skewed heavily to the glass half empty and try as she might, she rarely was able to get that damn glass full. 

My siblings and I grew up under the weight of this, which shaped us and cursed us with ingrained habits and programmed behaviors developed throughout our childhood that we have had to work (and still work) to overcome as adults. It is the reason that, in my 20’s and 30’s, I focused my energy on how not to be like her. I have since realized that the more you concentrate on what you don't want, the more you draw it to you. So I don't do that anymore.

But it wasn't until my mom died that I fully realized most everyone else she came in contact with had a very different perception of her. I know they had to have seen her dark side, but I think most of them chose to focus on her more endearing qualities, maybe because she often was just so fun to be around. She was cleverly sarcastic, generous to a fault, wickedly daring and inappropriately funny. She was always up for a drink, a smoke, a laugh, a party, an adventure. Adored by her friends, treasured by her colleagues, and loved by her family, my mother succeeded more than she failed in lighting up the lives of those around her with her charm, beauty, and intoxicating likability. This was never more apparent than on the day of her memorial, when the chapel was bursting at the seams with people from all stages of her life, all there to mourn the loss of one of the kindest and most lovely spirits ever to walk this Earth.

I wish she could have been there to see it. To see all the people whose lives she had forever touched. She would have loved it; and for a day or so afterward, she would have felt like the luckiest woman in the world. 

Sometimes I feel she was laid to rest when she was to spare her of all the pain and disappointment she so often felt. I like to believe she was truly happy in the moment she left us... on an adventure, discovering new places, escaping her troubles and enjoying the present - free from the pain of the past and worry of the future. Just living it up. Living it up to the end. If you knew her, you would agree that that may have just been her perfect ending.

A Loss for Words

Life had been extra challenging these last two months for a myriad of reasons, all of which have to do with various degrees of love, loss, and the challenge of acceptance. 

Oh, and a day at Legoland.

It's not that I suffered some big, horrendous tragedy. There was no monumental disaster to overcome - nothing catastrophic to bear. No, life simply began unfolding in new and unexpected ways and started to move through some previously unchartered waters. This required some skillful navigating on my part, especially since I didn't have the map.

In these times, staying anchored in what was true and authentic in my heart was precarious, and the effort to do so was totally exhausting. I went to bed every night too tired to write and too drained to do much of anything else. A seven and four-year-old alone will render you flat at the close of the day, without the help of anything else; but that coupled with additional issues and external conflicts was just too much to take at times. And although I held my own through most of it, I did inevitably falter into a jumbled mess of tears or a potent mixture of frustration and bewilderment here and there.  

But that's ok. I'm cool with that. Tears don't equate weakness any more than frustration equates failure. I have always been one whose tears flow easily, just as I've always been one who never let that fact define her as weak or fragile. Being challenged in life is a given, and we all deal with it in our own individual ways. And even though sometimes you may not handle it as skillfully as you'd like, it's through those challenges that you learn more about yourself, more about others, and more about how you relate to one another. You also discover what you can manage, recognize what you need to work on, and identify how to best come out the other side better and even stronger.

As it stands now, I am still me, imperfect in my perfection, but fully intact at the heart of it all. And really, isn't that what matters most? Being YOU, at the core, unapologetically, while simply learning and evolving into a more enlightened version of yourself?

Surviving a day of my son celebrating (or NOT celebrating, as it were) his fourth birthday at Legoland makes me a pretty safe bet for getting through whatever else life decides to throw at me.

We Are Not Alone...

A couple weeks ago, my sister sent an email to me and two girlfriends, our childhood best friends, with the subject "we are not alone..." and included the link to a blog post that she had just read on Scary Mommy entitled Motherhood: The Big Fat Fuck You. She accompanied the link with a simple message: "nothing left to say. enjoy. xo"
I read the blog that night, and found the poignancy and candor with which Lisa Morguess wrote it to be brilliant. I didn't immediately reply to my sis or my friends to comment, while the three of them wrote back and forth, all expounding on the blog and what was currently going on in their lives as moms that made them relate to it so much. While reading and taking in all of their thoughts and anecdotes, I sat there silent. I didn't have anything to add to the conversation; yet I had TONS to add to it. The sad truth was that I just didn't have the energy to do so. I felt exactly as the other Lisa did in her truthful blog - that motherhood was giving me the middle finger and all I could do was sit there and take it.
I finally hit "reply all" a week later and let whatever was gonna to come out, come out. What I wrote that night was sent off to these three women I've known, loved, and trusted for more than forty years, and was not originally intended to be shared here.
As I sit here now doing just that, I am not sure why I am, if I should, or whether or not I will regret it. Perhaps it's my way of giving the finger right back to motherhood. Even when I'm on the ropes, battered and bruised from fighting the good fight of keeping it all together, I am here to say that it hasn't gotten the best of me... yet.
"The Evolution of Zombie Mom"  by JC Little   of  the Animated Woman

"The Evolution of Zombie Mom" by JC Little of the Animated Woman

Girls-

I am a “stay at home” mom whose two kids complain that I don’t play with them enough.

The reason: I am always “working”.

WHAT???

I work a minuscule amount of hours compared to “career” moms, having given up my full-time career, along with so much of my own time and my own personal freedoms, to be their mom; and I am still constantly told it is not enough. It is NEVER enough. They don’t understand. I guess they aren’t supposed to. They just see what they are missing. They aren’t aware of what I am missing… what I don’t get. They just want me - my undivided attention - like I gave to them when they were younger. I set a precedence with my presence that I can’t deliver on anymore.  

There is only so much time between school pickup and bedtime, and homework, violin practice, and preparing/eating dinner take up most of it. On the days we have a violin lesson, soccer practice or ballet class after school, there is even less “at home” play time. Laundry, dishes, and, god forbid, CLEANING the house pretty much NEVER happen around here. And getting in some sort of ME time, in the form of running or yoga for exercise/stress relief so I don’t completely lose it, only happens when they are both in school three days a week. But if I take that time for me, I sacrifice time for work. So some days I DO have to work at the computer when they are here. Usually they just play together in the backyard or on the front deck, and maybe watch a couple PBS episodes. Although they seem to enjoy doing these things, they still complain that I work too much and didn’t play with them that day. It seems my love, attention and presence is always their first choice, and that is awesome and annoying at the same time.

So most nights, after they are finally in bed, I sit at the computer late (like I am doing now), with the kitchen still dirty from dinner, and I work. I chip away at the things I need to get done, and I end up going to bed too late and getting too little sleep.

I am just tired. Tired, drained and fed up. There are some days I find it in me to be positive, empowered and motivated to accomplish a lot. I wish I could find that every day. I am working hard on that, but it is an uphill battle. I know I could, and would, do so much more, have a more positive attitude, and be able to better approach the challenges if my husband and I saw things eye to eye more often. Unfortunately, we just don't, and improving that aspect of it all is beyond my ability and energy right now. So I am left muddling through the rest of it, at times disheartened and weary from living in this exhausting reality.

I have never felt in my life as I do now… so lost, yet so sure of myself too, in contrasting ways. So I don’t want to meet with you all to talk about it in depth for hours and hours, as I think that would drain me and possibly leave me even more deflatted. I don’t know if you can relate to this, but these days, when I get the chance to take a whole day away from them (my husband and kids), I want to do anything else but talk about or think about them. I want to do what I enjoy while alone — go running, take a yoga class, read the books I never have time to read somewhere quiet and peaceful, or go mindlessly browsing around places and shops I like — taking in and enjoying a side of life that is not the norm for me these days. Just be ME and feel like me as an individual, unhindered by my duties and my challenges. Not to run away or be in denial of anything, but just to get a clear break from it sometimes - a reset button.

I know we all will get through this hard shit eventually. We just have to be diligent to always look forward in the direction of good rather than get caught up in the past and debilitating thoughts. Those negative habit patterns will get you every time. I know I have so many of them that I am constantly fighting to break free from. I succeed only when I am mindful and disciplined enough to take time and nurture myself in the ways I know will give me peace and hope, that will uplift me and help me to feel positive, empowered, and strong enough to persevere. And I remind myself often that I AM NOT A VICTIM. Say those words to yourself as much as you need to to remind yourself of it too.

So I will be over here working on it, looking for inspiration within myself, and finding reprieves from the troubling aspects of it all when I can. I need to rely on myself a bit more these days and not fall into the trap of looking to others to help make me feel good, which has been my weakness of late; and just have faith that this stage of my life is something I need to go through to get to a better “other" side.

My deepest love to you all.

xo-
Lisa

Booby Trap

As a new mother, many of the decisions I had confidently and unequivocally thought I made while pregnant were turned on their heads by LIFE.

Life happened, as it so often does, in such a way that unexpectedly altered the course of my existence, and my mothering journey, forever.

"I Belong With You" by  Katie M. Berggren

"I Belong With You" by Katie M. Berggren

In my previous post, Milk & Cookies, I briefly touched on the fact that one of those self-assured decisions I made during pregnancy was to breastfeed. I wrote that as a self-proclaimed, "post-partum, hormonally-imbalanced, sleep-deprived, and geographically-isolated newborn mother," nursing my two kids was very challenging for me, especially the first time around. What I didn't go into in that post was why.

When my baby girl was born, nursing didn't come as naturally as the naive and enthusiastic pregnant version of me had hoped. After a couple weeks, I was in over my head, completely at the mercy of the most demanding, albeit precious, task master.

My daughter's unrelenting need for mother's milk, and my unrelenting sense of duty to provide it for her, left me feeling (and looking) like the walking dead. Although no one but she was expecting me to keep it up, it was my fervent, almost maniacal, penchant for following through with my intention, coupled with my need to maintain control of as much as possible at the time, that kept me from quitting early, despite my many notions to chuck it all and buy a big tub of baby formula.

Riding the waves of latch problems, breast engorgement, nipple soreness, plugged ducts, and monotonous pumping, I vowed to stick with it, despite the extreme discomfort. Fighting in the trenches, I was winning and losing battles left and right; but committed to the war effort as a whole. My breast pump became both my nemesis and my salvation. I was not going to shirk giving my baby this gift of my abundant milk supply, even though no one would blame me if I did. No one, that is, but me.

I can see how this may sound like a dramatization of the facts, or simply a case of a really negative attitude on my part; especially to those whose nursing journeys were enjoyable or even just moderately challenging. But I assure you it is not, at least not from where I was existing back then.

Living in a very rural coastal area, just feet from the ocean but miles from any conveniences, none of our close neighbors were home during the day nor did any of our family members live nearby to help or relieve us. My husband, who worked all day, five days a week, and an hour drive away, helped me as much as he could. Yet I ended up fending for myself and my baby most days, isolated and alone.

This rough situation was made a thousand times harder by the unexpected and unthinkable tragedy that had occurred just a few months earlier. I was six months pregnant when I got the phone call that my mom had been in a car accident. A couple frantic calls later, the officer on the scene informed me that she had not survived the crash, having been killed instantly on impact.

Being the first in the family to hear the news, I was saddled with the responsibility of breaking the news to her three other children, her mother, her sister, her entire world.

How was I possibly going to do this amidst my own shock and disbelief? After telling my younger sister and older brother, they agreed to disperse the news to the others. Still, those were the two worst phone calls I have ever had to make.

The remaining three months of my pregnancy were somewhat surreal. I grieved, but not much. I consoled others in the face of their overwhelming grief. I spoke at her funeral... composed, resolved, and shedding little to no tears. I was mostly numb. I was so afraid that if I really let myself feel the depth of my sadness, my baby's well being would be compromised; and I just couldn't take that risk. So, I didn't feel it. I wouldn't. I couldn't.

When my daughter was born, I was elated. A sense of happiness and purpose I had never experienced enveloped me. Then quickly, as the days went by and the nursing challenges, exhaustion, and hormonal shifts set it, all bets were off. Finally.

I started to cry. A LOT. And loudly. I got angry. I yelled. I screamed. I couldn't understand why my mom, who was so excited to finally become a grandma, wasn't going to get to be one after all. My grief, juxtaposed with my joy, together created the most imbalanced reality I have ever lived. Grieving the loss of the woman that nurtured me my first months of life, while I nurtured my own daughter through hers, left me jumbled.

I found it difficult to fully embrace and enjoy my new role amidst the sorrow. I was a motherless daughter living in a world I didn't recognize - one with my daughter but without my mother. Their lives never intersected on this Earth, and they never would. This truth was difficult to accept, and the pain of it made that first year both a blur and one I will never forget.

That's the why of it. It isn't pretty. It isn't sunny. But it's a big part of what makes me, me, today. It shaped me in ways I don't think I would have been otherwise. My mother's death continues to challenge me to this day. When it comes to not living in fear of suddenly losing those I love, or not being afraid of taking risks for fear of something bad happening… I am still a work in progress.

Although not always successful at it, I strive to let go and surrender to what comes - no matter what comes - and to live with joy, hope, positivity and fortitude. I think motherhood is the ultimate teacher of these things; so I guess I am in the right classroom.

 

*POSTSCRIPT: The circumstances surrounding my breastfeeding challenges were unique to me, and as you read above, I have many specific and varied reasons why it proved extremely difficult for me.  I got through it hope and perseverance; but mostly by just plain, day-to-day surviving. 
However, this description of my personal experience does not in any way reflect my opinion about breastfeeding as a choice.  It is important to make this clear because it was such a significant thing for me to accomplish; one of which I am still very proud. Also because, truthfully, I would do it again, hands down, no question, if I had to do it all over again.
Even as hard as it was the first time around with my daughter, I was committed to giving my son the same benefits of my breast milk, no matter the challenges I would possibly face. I am happy to share that it did go much smoother with my son, although I had to contend with a toddler while doing it!
So if asked, my advice to any prospective mom that is considering breastfeeding is to DO IT. Just try it, be patient with it, persist with it, find the joy in it if it is in the cards for you to be a nursing mother. And be sure to enlist the help of as many people as you can to assist you in any way necessary to help you accomplish your breastfeeding goals.  
I believe it is worth it, and that it will be something you will be happy you did. Even with all my issues, I am SO glad I did it! 

For more information and support on breastfeeding, please visit bestforbabes.org.

Woe is Me

woeisme.jpg
We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.
— Carlos Casteneda

I just saw the new film Begin Again. Simple in its plot, but not simplistic in its message, this film explores its two main characters' lives as they go through separate relationship and career crisis' and how their paths intersect to affect each others journeys. The way these two people cope and react to the hurtful actions of those they loved and trusted who betrayed them, lead both to discover how hard challenges can either debilitate or empower you, leaving you to either self destruct or reinvent yourself.

Both the film's tagline: "You're only as strong as your next move" and a lyric from its song "Lost Stars": "Woe is me, if we're not careful turns into reality" support this notion of your destiny being dictated by what you do NOW; and your survival being determined by your ability to rise up in the face of adversity.

If you find yourself the victim of someone else's cruelty, betrayal, insensitivity, obliviousness, or just plain selfishness... then what? What do you do? How do you react? Do you sulk, beat yourself up, get depressed, drown your sorrows, deny your pain? Or do you go over and over in your mind what you could have done differently to make things turn out, well... different?

It's an interesting question: How responsible are we for the poor treatment that others inflict on us and for the undesirable things that occur in our lives?

With the exception of those specific times where others screw us over because they are just evil or severely flawed beyond hope, there are very few things that just happen to us without some sort of direct involvement by us.

As our feelings guide our behavior, our behavior affects our choices, and our choices lead to outcomes that we either welcome or regret. And when an outcome befalls us that we aren't so thrilled about, one that we wish would just not be true, very often we find ourselves in a state of disbelief, stepping up to inhabit the role of the victim who must now unwittingly suffer the consequences of an unfair result. A result that we believe (or want to believe) we had no responsibility for causing or made no contribution to making happen.

Even though I try to subscribe to the adage "Don't look back - you're not going that way," I still believe it is useful to recognize and reflect on your past behavior at times if the goal is to learn from your mistakes and grow as a person. So what would it look like for you to sincerely ask yourself if you can see the paths taken that may have led you to the places you wished you hadn't arrived? If you're really honest with yourself, you probably could retrace some distinct and obvious choices you made that steered things toward the results you didn't know you would get and might not have wanted, but nevertheless ultimately had to face.

It's tempting to place more blame on the other people involved, and there are probably times that that is warranted (like in the cases of the aforementioned evil and flawed). But usually, everyone is responsible, as people will do what they do, people will act as they act, and we all will interact and react to each other in ways we sometimes would never have expected. And as much as we wish we could, we do not have the power to predict or control other peoples' behavior. All we really can do is know what we want, follow our hearts, be who we are, and then be mindful in managing how we allow others' behavior, and their reactions, to affect us. But above all, if nothing else, the most important thing to do is not let the respect you have for yourself be tainted by the disrespect others' display toward you. 

When suffering a great loss, or even simply coming to the realization that things are not what they seemed or what we expected or wanted them to be, you often feel like you just have to start over, move forward as if from scratch, often adopting an attitude of powerlessness and a feeling that things are now suddenly going in this new direction and you have to just accept it and get used to it with no choice in the matter.

This idea and even the simple phrase of "starting over" always seems to have a kind of negative connotation to it.  Sure, that may be the appropriate overtone for it when, to put it very plainly, things just suck at the moment. But it is a disservice to yourself to look at your circumstances as just something you must suffer through. Instead, I would rather you look at it as an opportunity. A chance to improve things, to make things better for the future. If your circumstances are leading you to a major change in your life - the proverbial fork in the road - you will be much better off approaching it with an equal dose of resilience and fortitude rather than with victimization and defeatism.

So don't merely start over, begrudgingly, weary and war torn from a battle not won. Instead, do your best to begin again, wholly and purposefully, with the knowledge you've gained, the lessons you've learned, and the strength you've developed as you weathered the storm. You are not starting from scratch. You are moving forward with courage, perseverance and hope to forge a new path and find an alternate reality that works for you; one that just may suit you better and lead you to a more fulfilling life than you could have ever imagined.

 

*POSTSCRIPT: When I wrote this post in the summer of 2014, I was in the midst of dealing with issues in my life that I didn't quite know how to process - some in relation to conflicts of my own, and some pertaining to family members and the tough times they were going through - all of which were affecting me greatly. And although I have learned over the years not to run away from difficult feelings, I also know that sometimes you just need to take a break, stop thinking, and let life play out a little bit. Sometimes you need to get out of your own way and trust that the answer will come to you. At least, that is the hope.
So I took a break. I escaped... and went to the movies. This is something I did a lot in my youth, most often to deal (or not deal) with the drama of my parents' strained marriage and eventual divorce. I believe it's what ultimately began my love affair with filmmaking, and what eventually led me to major in film when I went off to college.
Now a full grown adult with kids of her own, I felt more like the teenager I once was as I headed off to the movie theatre alone - to escape into a film, get lost in someone else's story, and avoid my own reality for a couple of hours. 
I didn't care if I was avoiding. I didn't care if what I was doing was immature. I didn't feel like behaving like the emotionally healthy grown-up I usually aspire to be - one that faces her problems head on and doesn't run away. All I could think was, "SCREW THAT. Just let me escape for a bit. I need this."
I knew nothing about the movie I chose to disappear into that day, except that it starred Mark Ruffalo and was about music. That was more than enough to sell me. The message I took away from the film was exactly the one I needed to hear at that time. I was inspired and I knew I wanted to write about it, especially in relation to my circumstances; but I wasn't sure how to do so without revealing too much of other people's business or betraying certain confidences.
So I decided to approach it in a more detached, analytical manner, drawing on my years as a film student who wrote a ton of film theory essays and term papers. To earn my BA in Film Studies, I had to watch, study, and read about films constantly, finding in them both the obvious and hidden metaphors for real life; as well as write commentary and theoretical papers analyzing narrative structure, sociological messages and themes.
I LOVED THIS. Writing those essays and term papers was my absolute favorite part of film school. As such, it's no surprise to me why I no longer work in the film industry and instead am now a writer.
So although I don't specifically mention in this post how it all relates to me and what I was dealing with at the time, I was writing it to myself just as much as I was to others that may need to hear the message.