To Live Gratitude is to Touch Heaven (Gaertner)
October 30, 2009

It has been a long and strange week.  An odd assortment of happenings and circumstances have occurred and my emotions are all mixed up and jumbled.  Kenneth had a bleed this week – always sparking worry for me.  Not because of the medical issue – I have dealt with hemophilia and hemorrhages all my life.  I just never know how Kenneth is going to do with it.  He hates needles and doctors and doesn’t handle pain very well at all.  He actually cooperated quite well with keeping ice and an ace-wrap on it Monday night.  He was still sleeping when I left for work on Tuesday and I was a little stressed because I had a mandatory meeting in the middle of the day.  Of course, he calls me just as the meeting starts.  I texted and learned that his knee was worse and was going to need an infusion.  If you are not familiar with hemophilia, or what an infusion is – a quick overview.  His blood is missing a factor that causes it to clot when there has been trauma to the body.  So, where most of us might bump into something and maybe have a red mark or scrape, Kenneth will have a massive bruise.  The more serious the trauma to soft tissue or organs, the more significant the “bleed”.  A minor bleed can be treated with cold and compression.  Moderate to severe hemorrhages require Kenneth to have concentrated Factor IX infused intraveneously – usually once or twice a day for 1 – 4 days.  So, the kid is already in pain, then has to be jabbed, not just into his arm or soft tissue, but directly into his vein.  He happens to have the misfortune to have small, mobile veins.  So, if the nurse is not exceptionally skilled, he is hard to “hit”.  I once watched as a veteran nurse stick him 6 times and still was never able to succeed.

So, one can’t really blame him for doing everything in his power to avoid an infusion.  Luckily, over the last year he has matured, learned to trust the nurses at clinic, and been more responsible about managing his disorder.  So, even though I had to take off work and bring him to clinic, he was not only cooperative, but told me he drank 4 glasss of orange juice to help hydrate himself and make his veins an easier target.  It was a bit nerve wracking balancing work and clinic, preparing the concentrate, getting Kenneth in and out of the house on crutches in the rain.  Not the worse case scenario, and I was still very tired at the end of the day.

That evening, I received a phone call from my ex.  He wanted to let me know that the mother of a friend of ours had passed away.  I know, it seems a rather benign situation – yet it put me into a bit of an emotional tail-spin.  Having experienced the deaths of 3 siblings and both parents – I am highly empathetic to others’ losses.  It can also bring a lot of my own grief to the surface.  The thing that caught me off guard though, was a wave – no more of a surge – of emotions  surrounding the loss of friends that occurred after the divorce.  This friend in particular, and his wife, were people I would spend time with nearly every weekend and sometimes during the week.  We would gather for baseball games, Mizzou basketball games, political debates.  We had dinner and went to parties and movies together regularly.  They were with me during the illnesses and deaths of most of my family members.  My dad passed away on New Years Eve and this friend joined my family that night as we pulled together and toasted the passing of a complex man and a difficult year.  I believed I was as close to this person as friends could be.  Yes, I met him through my ex – and they had been friends for a long time before I met them.  I thought, though, that we had a friendship that extended beyond the confined of mine and my exes relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not the only friendship and relationship I have lost in the chaos of divorce, death and raising 4 traumatized children.  It’s just this was probably the closest and the event of his mom passing away brought all of this crashing in on me.  I was overwhelmed by sadness for his loss, missing this friendship more than I had realized I did, and a high level of awareness of the many others that have disappeared from my life.  It is hard to say if these relationships have dissapated because of choosing which of us to stay with in the aftermath of the divorce, or because of the drastic change in lifestyle I under went when the kids came into my life.

This is by no means meant to place blame.  It just is.  And it happened to hit hard this week how much I miss some of these friends.

Wednesday was parent-teacher conferences with Megan’s teachers.  School is always a hot-button for all of my kids.  I have described in earlier posts how Kenneth has struggled with the authoritarian environment common to all schools.  The girls, also having Attachment Disorder, have issues as well.  They manifest a bit differently, but the end result is the same – unhappy kids, unhappy teachers, unhappy mom.  If Megan likes a teacher, or if there are minimal requirements (art, music) – she is typically a star performer.  Subjects that require her to put forth effort, do homework and pay attention – not so much.  She starts high school next year, and in order for her to get into one that is safe and will provide her with what she needs to go to college, she needs to really kick into gear.  So, I was absolutely dismayed to see that she had C’s and a D in most of her core subjects.  The good new is, so was she.  She actually teared up – where in the past she would just brush it off and make a joke about it.  She sat with me and participated in discussions with the teachers about what she can do to bring her grades up.  The teachers were great – reinforcing the difference they see in the effort she is puting forth and encouraging her that if she follows through with their suggestions she will easily be an A-B student.  So, another night of emotional ups and downs.  In the end, I felt good ab0ut the conferences and Megan’s performance.  And, I was exhausted when I got home.

Then, yesterday, after work, I brought my 18 year old cat to the vet to be put to sleep.  I have had her for 17 years – she was given to me by my ex when we first started dating.  I named her Shadow – as in Me and My Shadow – she used to follow me everywhere.  We had to put our dog down just a couple of months ago and every death dredges up the kids’ fears and unresolved issues.  Patsy, who has been on rocky emotional terrain already took it especially hard.  She wanted to be with Shadow when the procedure was administered.  Once Shad went to sleep, Pasty began howling and bawling.  Now mind you, she had not interacted with this cat for weeks, maybe months – and she was often mean to her.  I found myself feeling so angry and resentful toward Patsy that I could hardly bear it.

This morning I was so tired and emotionally drained that I considered taking the day off of work – but since the kids were off school I realized it would actually be less stressful to go to the office.  Luckily I had no meetings and it was a quiet day.  After work I finally made it to the gym – the first time all week.  Thankfully that did wonders for my state of mind – along with the fact that it is finally Friday and I now have the weekend to recuperate. 

I have been working to be aware of all of life as a gift and to live in gratitude.  It is an interesting exercise to open up to sadness, resentment, aggrevation and emotional fatigue AND do so in gratitude.  It feels counter-intuitive and contradictory.  I am sure it will feel more natural as I do it more often.  Even now, though, it is a much less desparaging experience than to lamblast myself with guilt, shame, and self reproach.

It is a new and wonderful experience to treat myself with the same compassion, patience and gentleness as I do with the kids.  I highly recommend everyone give it a try.

copyrighted 10/30/09

A Heroes Journey
October 21, 2009

September 28, 1993 – He enters this world with a loud cry.  He had been in a warm, dark, safe place and suddenly, after being pushed and squished he was in a very cold, VERY bright, and terribly loud place.  His little chin quivered between his cries of protest.  Soon, though, he was warm and felt cozy.  He could hear a soft voice cooing to him.  Kenny eventually calmed down and nestled into the soft, yet firm place in the crook of his mother’s arm.

After that first strange and frightening day, things got much better for Kenny.  When he made his hungry sounds, mom or dad would feed him – rocking him gently.  When he made his uncomfortable cry they would change him and coo to him.  When he made his lonely whimper they would play and laugh with him.  He felt loved and safe. 

One day,though, without warning and while he was still a tiny baby, everything got strange and scary again.  There was a bigger house with more people.  Daddy wasn’t there anymore.  And now, when he made his hungry sounds, or uncomfortable cry, or lonely whimper, he never knew who would take care of him.  The man and woman, called Gramma and Grumpa, didn’t seem to understand him, rarely getting what he needs without him having to tell them over and over.  They were kind and loving, but it was very stressful and frustrating.

Before long, Kenny was beginning to crawl, talk and walk.  One day, as he was trying to walk, Kenny fell down.   Gramma Pat put really cold and tight things on him where it hurt – it didn’t feel good and he wanted to take them off.  Mom and Gramma told him he had a “bleed” and they needed to take him to the doctor to make his “owie” better.   Only when they got to the hospital, people stuck needles into him and pushed things through tubes into his arms.  Mom and Gramma Pat lied to him.  These doctors DID NOT make him feel better, they HURT him even worse!  Kenny decided he would never let them take him to the doctor again!  From then on, whenever he had to go to the doctor, he fought, cried and screamed.  He would get yelled at, punished and spanked.  He could never understand why… didn’t they get it – that he did not want to be hurt with the needles and all the tubes and hospital machines scared him.

Fortunately, Kenny did not get hurt bad enough to need shots very often – maybe 2 or 3 times a year.  So, for a few years things were pretty good.  Kenny liked helping Gramma Pat fold clothes, and taking bubble baths in her big bathtub.  His very, very favorite thing was sitting on Grumpa’s lap in his big reclining chair reading or watching TV.  Grumpa liked to act like he was a grouchy old man, but he loved to play with, cuddle and tickle Kenny.  Grumpa let Kenny ride on the tractor, took him to the hardware store, and let him sit on his lap in the morning and read the comics to him.  Even though he was only 3 years old, Kenny knew that he and Grumpa had a special love and that made him feel like a special little boy.

Then everything changed.  Mom decided to move in with her boyfriend.   While they were dating he seemed nice enough, but Kenny really didn’t want to leave Gramma and Grumpa’s house.  Once they moved into his house, Kenny’s nightmare really started.  Whenever Mom wasn’t in the room, her boyfriend would do really mean thing to him.  He would trip Kenny when he walked by and then yell at him for running in the house.  Sometimes, when Mom was in the next room, he would hit Kenny so hard he would knock him out of the chair, then yell at him and accuse him of mistreating the furniture.  Mom would come in the room and yell at him too, and send him to his room.  Kenny tried to explain what happened, then he would get punished for telling lies.  Since Mom’s boyfriend was as sneaky as he was mean, no adult ever saw what he was doing.  Soon, Kenny was so mad and so sad that he never smiled or laughed anymore.  He was always afraid of getting hurt by Mom’s boyfriend and getting in trouble for things he didn’t do.  On top of that, he still hated getting shots and was always fighting, kicking and screaming when he would get a bleed and need treatment.

Not long after they moved in, Mom had a baby and married her boyfriend.  Kenny became even more despondent – as this cruel monster was now his stepfather and the dad of his new little sister, Megan.  With the new baby’s arrival, Kenny’s step dad seemed to become even more harsh and abusive.  Just a few months after Megan joined the family, Kenny’s beloved Grumpa died.  The only person that Kenny believed truly knew what a sweet, happy, smart, loving little boy he was – was gone.  Kenny felt all alone in the world.

As Megan got older, she saw what her dad would do to Kenny.  She was told that Kenny was bad and he deserved it.  Megan believed her dad and soon she too was blaming Kenny for things he didn’t do.  Before long he had a well-known reputation as a bad kid, a liar, a mean bully and a generally rotten brat.  Kenny decided it was easier to act like the mean kid everyone believed him to be.  If he got close to anyone they would just leave or die anyway.  Besides, no-one believed him and he couldn’t trust them.

Kenny spent a miserable six years in this situation.  He had no friends his own age, no adults he could trust – no real happiness.  He was most content when reading stories about mythical heroes or playing video games.  He could be in control and the good guy usually won.  Kenny spent as much time as possible in these pursuits in order to escape the reality he despised.

When Kenny was 9, his life went from terrible to tragic.  Just after Christmas, Kenny’s older sister finally broke down and told Mom about the bad things their step dad had been doing to her.  Mom brought Kenny and his three sisters to a safe house.  Even though he was relieved to finally be away from his step dad, Kenny was furious.  He had been telling Mom how bad this man was for years – Cristi tells just once and Mom immediately believes her.  Kenny was filled with a boiling, raging anger!  He hated and mistrusted everyone more now than ever.

The people at the safe place wanted him to talk about the bad things his step dad did to him, but Kenny didn’t see the point.  He wasn’t going to be around anymore and no-one believed him before, so why waste his time with them now.  He just wanted to read his books and play video games.  He was nearly obsessed with video games – he could be in total control, he had all the power, and he could be the winner.  Kenny learned early on that he needed to be in control because he couldn’t trust anyone else to take care of him or keep him safe.  When he wasn’t in control, that is when terrible things happened.  He came to the conclusion that he was not worthy of love.  He was caught in a vortex of self loathing while still feeling compelled to survive.  The easiest way to get by was to just check out of his life and spend as much time as possible in the safe world of fantasy.

By summer break, Kenny, Mom and his sisters had left the safe place and moved into a house.  Kenny now decided he did not want that name any more – and insisted he be called Kenneth.  He also really  just wanted to be left alone and to play his video games.  It was just too scary and overwhelming to have to think about the past.  He didn’t trust anyone.  He had come to believe all of the bad things people had said about him – he was just a worthless, rotten kid that no-one wanted, so he didn’t want to be around any of them anyway.

One hot, sunny afternoon in July Kenneth was playing his video games while his sisters played with the kids across the street.  Mom had gone to her counseling appointment.  Kenneth didn’t say goodbye before she left because he was busy trying to beat a level in his game.  A few hours after Mom left, her friend came over and said they all had to go to her house because Mom had a car accident.  The lady said everything would be ok, but it would be a while before Mom could get home.  Kenneth didn’t think too much of it, packing his games up to bring over to her house.  He didn’t start to worry until it was after midnight and his aunt and uncles showed up at the lady’s house.  They had come to tell him and his sisters that their Mom was dead.

The next few days and weeks were a blur.  Aunt Meg brought him and his sisters to her house.  Kenneth remembers being at the funeral home, but mostly stayed in a back room watching videos with his cousins.  When he did think about what happened he was really mad.  He was too mad to even cry.  How could Mom have done this to him?  Another person who just lied and left him.  He felt like his anger was 10 times bigger than he was.  Even if he wanted to wrangle with it – it was far to overwhelming.  It felt like it had swallowed him up.  He wanted to hurt everyone around him and he swore he would NEVER trust anyone again.  He was the only person who could take care of him, and he wasn’t about to let anyone else even try.

Kenneth has now been with Aunt Meg for over 6 years – longer even than he had lived with his cruel step dad.  He learned a couple of years ago that he has an Attachment Disorder.  He understands better now why he has such over powering feelings and why he was always on high alert, on the verge of crisis, ready for fight or flight.  He and Aunt Meg have figured out some ways to help him repair some of the damage that happened to the part of his brain that affects his emotions, how to calm down when he is upset, and how to start trusting people again.  Kenneth has learned a lot since then –  He is bigger than any of his fears or anger.  His Mom loved him immensely, even though she made mistakes that lead to him being hurt.  He can be mad at her for that and still love her and forgive her.  He has learned he is actually pretty smart and there are a lot of ways to learn and grow.  He is starting to remember that he is a good person who is fun, silly, lovable and valuable.  He has talents and gifts and it feels good to use them.  He is also learning how rewarding it is to do nice things for the people he cares about and how good it feels to be recognized and appreciated.  One of his greatest learnings is that there is suffering in this world – and it happens to everyone.  It is not a punishment, it is just a part of life.  And that sharing those experiences with others who are kind and loving make them bearable and create the opportunity to learn and grow.  Kenneth is learning and growing everyday.  He sees that his past cannot hurt him.   There will certainly be challenging times ahead, and he is ready to meet them head-on. 

Kenneth is realizing that he doesn’t have to play a character in a video game to be the hero.

copyrighted 10/21/09

Happy Anniversary, Mom
August 26, 2009

August 24th is mom’s anniversary.  I used to say that it was the anniversary of her death.  I used to mark the occasion by bringing flowers to the grave.  I always expected it to make me feel better.  But it didn’t really.  I just resulted in dead flowers at the site where her shell of a body is buried.  It usually just left me feeling more alone and empty.

Missing my mom hit an all-time high about 2 years ago when I shattered my ankle.  I had to have it surgically repaired with a metal plate and a total of 10 pins.  I was not able to bear weight on it for two and a half months.    For as long as I can remember I was “The Caretaker” – making sure others’ needs were met.  Suddenly, I  became totally dependent on others.  I could not transfer to or from the wheelchair without help.  I couldn’t bathe myself or wash my hair.  I even needed someone to bring me cups and water so I could brush my teeth.  Not a role I was use to having or that I accepted gracefully.  I was constantly frustrated and developed separation anxiety – sobbing everytime Tom had to leave to go to work and being furious at my mom for not being here to take care of me.  At first I could just use the pain killers to knock myself out thereby avoiding my emotions.  It was when I eliminated the pain killers that I started becoming depressed.

I berated myself for being weak, for wanting my mom, for being stupid enough to walk down a grassy hill in high-heeled sandals (ok, I admit, I deserve to be scolded for that).

After being in this dark and foul mood for 8 weeks, even I got sick of myself.  I was tired of being so unhappy.  One night, after taking 20 minutes to get upstairs to my bedroom by scooting on my bottom, I crawled into bed and cried.  But this time I didn’t just cry.  I prayed too.  I prayed for happiness – more than happiness – for joy.  I wanted to remember what joy felt like.  It had been so long since I felt that tingle in my heart, butterflies in my tummy, glee just for the sake of being alive.  I asked God to help me find joy in my life again.  To no longer live in the darkness I was in, to find light.

I woke the next morning to my phone ringing.  I was still in bed, snuggling tightly with Self Pity, and didn’t feel like talking to anyone, so I ignored the call.  Later that morning, I listened to the voicemail.  My friend Judy had called to invite me to a workshop she was going to attend.  I swear to you that this is the truth – the title of the workshop was Finding the Light in your Life. 

Of course, recognizing this as my prayer being answered, I signed up for the workshop.

My life changed that day.  The workshop was facilitated by Blair Knies.  One of the most radiant souls I have ever met.  I learned more because of that day spent with her and the other amazing people who attended than I could have imagned was possible.  There was one key concept, though, that lead to everything else I have come to learn in these last two years.  The concept is both simple and mind-blowing.

Joy is not “out there” – it is within.

In fact, joy is our pure essence.  It is the Spirit that is our true self.

Blair helped me to find my way back to Me.  I was able to glimpse my Joy that very day.  It took patience, practice and time and now I am fully engaged with and connected to my Joy, my Spirit.  There are still plenty of distractions, and times that I lose my focus – but I have not lost my way to the Light – I can’t because it is always and has always been within me.

One of the issues that was preventing me from fully connecting with my Light, with Joy, was my grief over the loved ones I had lost.  I missed them.  I missed them terribly. 

As continued my focus on finding Joy, I kept coming back to this grief.  After many conversations and much reading and reflecting I finally found the answer.  Just as my Spirit is my true self, so must theres be.  Whenever I tried to connect with them, I usually would focus in on their face.  But that is a part of them that belongs to the physical world.  That is not a part of what they are now.  If our Spirit is our true essence, then that is was remains when we leave the physical world.

I started by remembering each person’s energy – then I focused on that.  It didn’t take long to feel it.  It’s not a matter of if they are around, it is whether we are tuning into them.  I actually feel more connected to Mom, Dad, Jim, Jeff and Mary than I was when we all lived in the physical plane.

So, August 24th is not the anniversary of Mom’s death.  It is the anniversary of her transition.  Of her new life without physical limitations.  The day she left her shell and expanded into her Pure Joy.  And that is why I celebrate.

copyrighted 8/26/09

Life is Perfect!
August 13, 2009

It is true – life is ALWAYS perfect.  Both of my parents are dead and life is perfect.  My first husband left me and life is perfect.  I had to sell the home of my dreams and life is perfect.  My job is not what I expected it to be and life is perfect.  My kids struggle against the monsters of their past and life is perfect.

About now you are likely thinking that either I am insane or in complete denial.  The amazing thing is – it was when I came out of denial that I learned that life really is perfect.  My friends Blair, Judy and Tessa all helped me come to this realization.  I came to understand that I was so entertwined with my ego, that I was blind to the pure poetry Spirit orchestrated in my life. 

Ego resides in the shadows.  She wears night-vision goggles that search for the dangers she believes are all around her.  Her primary language is Fear and she speaks fluent “should-ish”.

Think about it – every “should” statement has its foundation in fear.  When we are at peace and are fully aware of the perfection surrounding us, we have no use for “should”. 

My kids should study, get good grades, stay out of trouble and be promoted to the next grade.  That is Fear – what will people think of me if my kids struggle in school, don’t do the work, have to repeat grades?!  I must be a terrible mom!  How could anyone love someone that fails so absolutely?!

When I know that life is perfect, I look for the opportunity – what is Spirit trying to tell me here?, what does this tell me about how I can be present and loving in my kids’ lives?, what might this be preparing me to do better or be wiser about in the future?

Ego rarely goes quitely into that good night, though.  She often argues back that I am just being lazy, avoiding confrontation, being a push-over, looking for excuses for people to give me attention and notice my struggles.  Sometimes Ego still has control.  Sometimes I get very angry at my kids, at their schools, at the educational system, at myself.  Even this is perfect.  My anger helps wake me up and reminds me I can make a conscious choice.  Sometimes my anger gives me the motivation to consider doing something differently – and that different thing leads the kids and I to an AMAZING new place.

So, if my sister and parents were still alive, I wouldn’t have my kids and have learned so much about life, purpose, joy and family.  If my first husband had stayed, I wouldn’t have the amazing man who shares my life and is my complete partner in healing and raising these kids. 

It may not be obvious in the moment, and it may take years to see the beauty in any given life experience.  I do promise you – when you change your lens and look for it,  you will see perfection everywhere.

copyrighted 8/13/09

Hello world!
August 11, 2009

I would imagine that after the opening of Julie and Julia this weekend the number of blogs has sky-rocketed.  I, like many others I am sure, was inspired by the story and the powerful impact blogging made on Julie Powell’s life.  I started thinking that maybe I could blog about my life.  I have been doing a great deal of inner, spiritual work – especially in the last 2 years – and have signed up for several inspirational daily emails.  Today I had 2 that made either direct or indirect references to blogging and sharing life experiences.

So I have decided that I shall blog and today is the day I will begin.

First, a bit of a prologue for those readers who may not know me.

Six years ago my sister was in a fatal car accident.  She was the single parent of 4 children, whom she had only months earlier learned were being sexually, physically and emotionally abused by her husband.  At the time of her death she was not yet divorced – waiting for the final report substantiating the abuse so she could be sure that he would not get custody or unsupervised visitation.

My clearest memories of that day are 1) being so glad that my mom had died 11 months prior and would not have to be around to bury a 3rd child and 2) seeing my life flash before my eyes and knowing that every experience I had had prepared me for what I knew I was meant to do – raise my nieces and nephew.

The past six years have been filled with more love, frustration, joy, loss, tears, growing and learning than I had experienced in my entire previous 41 years.  I hope my stories of life with these amazing kids help you to find joy and meaning in the everyday relationships you share with the children in your life.

copyrighted 8/11/09