never stops teaching.
I had a dream the other night that I was rowing out on the ocean in a little wooden skiff. My youngest child was in my lap. The water was calm and all was well until the boat began to leak. Holes sprung up everywhere. One then another. The water was suddenly a powerful ocean with a deep darkness below it. I worked frantically to try to empty the water from the boat with the small scoop of my hands, not succeeding before I woke myself up.
It’s not like me to have anxiety dreams, but then the last couple months haven’t exactly been typical. They’ve brought about challenges that I haven’t been ready to write about before now. I guess it’s because the whole world is experiencing challenges, and as Humphrey Bogart says in Casablanca, the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Still, it’s the stories of perseverance that enable most of us to get up each day with faith that all will be well in a matter of time. So I guess it’s time to talk about my damn allegorical boat. It still has holes in it, but there’s time.
My seven-year-old developed neurological issues over the last year, primarily involuntary facial tics. At first we didn’t think too much of it; lots of children have tics. But the tics grew in number, severity and frequency, and by the end of August, my little guy was diagnosed with a chronic tic disorder. He couldn’t calm his body enough to sleep or settle his eyes enough to read. I spent every day doing medical research and learning about different forms of therapies and medications. I met with neurologists, psychologists, nutritionists, and herbalists. The doctors had conflicting opinions and widely varying advice; nothing was straightforward. And everyday that ended still without clear direction, felt like another hole in things. My child was growing frustrated and had questions without answers. Holes. Classmates made comments, the checkout woman in the supermarket stared, blameless children mimicked. More holes. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have hands powerful enough to patch things and keep him afloat. I held him and told him, “Don’t forget who you are and that you’re awesome.” I hoped for a miracle.
And there were miracles. Maybe not the kind that fix entire boats, but the kind that can patch one hole at a time.
I got to know a neighbor at a football game, and discovered that she has walked the same road I am on, her son now nearly grown. She was able to take me by the shoulders and say, “I understand,” and truly mean it. She was able to say, “It gets easier.” She patched a hole.
When my son’s teacher saw that it was necessary, she brought the class together to talk about everyone’s differences. As an example, she told the class that sometimes she shakes her leg under her desk when she’s nervous. My son heard this and it made him think of his tics. In that safe space, for the first time, he raised his hand and told his classmates what he was going through. It was a little miracle. Another hole patched.
Then I ran into a friend in town, and because that day the holes were too big, when she asked me how I was doing I couldn’t keep the water out. I finally let myself cry about it. Funny how when you open up you make room for the good stuff to get in. Not only did this friend have a referral for a doctor that I wouldn’t have to wait six months to see, but when I went to see that doctor, I learned that she not only has professional expertise, but personal experience with tic disorders. With a true guide, another big hole was patched.
Lying in bed with my little guy one night, trying to help his body quiet enough for sleep, I said, “You’re so patient buddy. Soon your body will be peaceful.” He put his nose to mine and said, “I know, Mama. My body may not be peaceful, but I am.” And my heart leapt. He reminded me that no matter what we go through, peace is a choice every day. It’s a choice even when you can’t control your own movements. It’s a miracle.
While tic disorders like this one are not the result of specific stress, symptoms can intensify under even benign stress. And in our culture where anxiety is in the air when you walk outside like the secondhand smoke of adult technology and distractions, we could all use a reserve of inner peace. So this mindful mama is on a mission for her family, and slowly my little guy is becoming the captain of his own ship. He asks me to take him to the high school track to run sometimes—he can feel when his body needs to get into rhythm. He asks me if we can meditate before bed. He’s listening to what his body needs. With the right doctors and my kiddo’s ever-positive attitude, we are learning how to navigate this ocean.
A month ago I was trying to figure out how to help my son look and feel like everyone else again. Was there a singular medicine with no side effects or a therapy that was the cure? No. But now my perspective is different. Maybe my son isn’t meant to look or feel like everyone else. He’s perfectly unique. And his tics, less severe now, are a reminder to me that we all need to be seen. It’s more important to be at peace with exactly who we are than to try to be what others deem as “normal.” Like many children with chronic tics, my little dude is extremely bright and creative. He has an active mind and a tender heart. I have no doubt that he will do incredible things in this world, knowing how to conquer hurdles with that bright smile on his face. Everyday I tell him and my other two kids, “Remember who you are and that you’re awesome.” That’s the whole thing really. This is not a journey to become something else. It’s a journey to become the best version of ourselves.
We all have holes. But they will not put us under. There are miracles.
Last week I introduced a new guided-meditation in my Soul Story Workshop, one intended to help us navigate our way through obstacles and find meaning within our experiences. The result was powerful. I share the meditation below in the hopes that it might help guide a few more out of the dark.
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes.
Begin to take slow deep breaths, in and out through your nose.
Allow your shoulders to relax. Allow your torso to soften.
Find the rhythm of your breath. Allow the breath to breathe you as you bring your awareness into your heart.
Call up an area of your life where an obstacle is present.
Imagine this obstacle as a dark room. Seat yourself in this place. Be present to it.
Think about when and how this obstacle began.
Are you alone in this place? Or is there someone else in here with you?
Acknowledge yourself and how you feel. Acknowledge that no one, not even those in this place or ones like it, can speak to your exact experience.
Can you name what you might need to move through this place?
Ask yourself if this is something you already have inside of you?
Here in the dark, call to mind a feeling of being loved.
Call to mind a feeling of experiencing compassion.
As you call to mind feelings of love and compassion, imagine you are now holding a flashlight in your hands. With love and compassion, you can now spread a beam of light around the dark room where you are present to your obstacle.
As you move that beam of light around the room, what is revealed? What details come to light?
Could there be something to find here?
As you move your light around the space, silently ask the question: What am I meant to discover?
Can this place reveal a gift or an opportunity that has been in hiding?
With light now in the room, can you see any purpose to this obstacle?
What perspective might there be to gain on your soul’s presence here?
Can you change your story, not by changing the circumstances, but by letting something touch your soul? By finding a new possibility within your obstacle?
Slowly begin to move your toes, your fingers, your shoulders.
Slowly come back into the room and open your eyes.
Today many of us scribbled into a notebook or said to a great friend over a bottle of wine, the top things we did over the last 12 months and what we want to do in the coming year. Gym recruiters and travel agents prepared for their biggest month of the year. On my flight to Lake Tahoe with the family this week, I too scribbled a few things into a notebook. Family Plans. Personal goals. The luxury and necessity of self-care, and how I might go about it all. I reflected on where each of my kids is in their development, joy, sense of self, and how I can continue to support them. I threw some minor health issues on the table and tossed some home renovations into the mix. Then I sat back and looked at how busy I was going to be. In the spirit of good health, and in an effort to be a human being over a human doing, I added, “rest more,” at the bottom of the page and closed the book.
We skied in Tahoe. We take our kids skiing every year. There is nothing like the fresh air, mountain views, and a world of white to glide down to make a person feel totally free. The kids have gotten quite good. When they first began they would follow behind me in a slow slalom like baby ducks following their mama duck. Now the older two can sail down on their own. I planned the trip several months ago, and I’d been looking forward to the time together as a family. But well laid plans are only well laid plans. They cannot account for the serendipitous or the accidental. Today, I lay in a hotel room bed contemplating how quickly things can change.
I was coming off the chairlift, one of my kids on one side of me, one on the other, when they each landed with their skis angled toward the middle, crossing over mine before pealing off in different directions, taking my legs with them. I fell into a splits, knees twisting. It was a fluky accident and must have been a sight. My kids had to help me down off the mountain. This time, they had to guide me down.
My knees are sore today, and one gives way occasionally when I walk. While it could have been worse, and I know with a doctors evaluation I will get it sorted out, I will certainly be slowing down as I start the new year. Self-care will begin with honoring my vulnerabilities and giving myself time to heal. I will be forced to let go and rest. It will not be easy.
While I tend to be an overtly positive person, I struggled with my situation at first—wallowed for a couple hours before I pulled myself up by my bootstraps (or, more exactly, knee braces). It was my kids who gave me the strength to laugh about it all. My ten-year-old snuggled me and named the best, funniest parts of our trip, ending with, “And accidents happen but they don’t change the good parts.” My eight-year-old boy (my tenacious one) whispered in my ear, “I prayed for you and God will heal you fast.” My six-year-old insisted on tucking me in before bed and singing lullabies. And my husband took care of everything. Took care of me in the most tender and protective way. There wasn’t a single thing I wanted to do then other than sit in that little room and enjoy the love and care from the ones I love and care for. It isn’t the kind of thing you scribble into a notebook on New Years Eve, but truly the highest points in a year are the ones of connection not accomplishment or adventure. The ones you can’t orchestrate because they unfold like quiet magic, like light that breaks through the cracks in things.
There have been so many blessings in this past year. So very many. There have been bumps too. For all of us. Some of us, like myself, might fight our way through. Focused. Productive. But sometimes we all need to be reminded (or even forced) to slow down and take the time to honor our experiences and give ourselves time to renew. Then we can stand up stronger, take charge of our resolutions and revolutions and pursuits and radical self-care. Whatever our challenges, whatever our goals and ambitions, I suppose the key to happiness and well-being is simply reveling in the ones who strengthen us on our adventures. The ones who make us laugh, who pray for us, who believe in us… so we can each get down the mountain. So we can then decide to surmount it again. Resilient. Free. And embrace the gift of a new year.
Tonight I raise a glass to the magic of friendship and wish you all a safe and joyful New Year! (mind the ski lifts!)
My friend Kim Gruenenfelder is a talented writer with a new book called “Love the Wine You’re With,” a story of friends who quit their jobs to sink their savings into a wine bar. In the book, Gruenenfelder writes about moments in people’s lives that have the power to change everything for the better. She calls this the Eciah moment, and she asked me to write about and share what this moment has been in my life. I’ve had a lot of life-changing moments—marriage, the birth of my children, exciting career experiences—but there was one simple moment that shifted my perception of it all. And it happened at home.
I once defined myself as a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. More generously, a renaissance woman. I was a decent writer with aspirations to work in film. I was a mediocre dancer, and I could sing. I dabbled in art and photography, loved to cook, and my holiday presents were well thought-out personally crafted pieces of my overly tender and enthusiastic heart. I wrote poetry (beyond high school age), I loved to sit and listen to other people tell their stories, and I knew how to throw a party (nearly everything deserved a party.) Still, I was not sure if I was quite enough of the good stuff. I decided that what I might lack in talent, I would make up for with determination. I put my heart into everything I did.
By the time I was twenty-eight, I’d already had a short but exciting career in the movie business working with A-list filmmakers. I’d danced around Los Angeles with a belly dancing troop on a whim, produced a show for charity at the LA Improv, written two screenplays and two books (none of which left my desk drawer), decorated my fourth home, gotten a masters degree and graduated at the top of my class, and there I was counseling young people to embrace their self-worth while quietly wresting with aspects of my own. Then I gave birth to my first child, and abruptly, my life fell rather still. While my husband continued to travel for work, my fast-paced life slowed to the rocking chair in the dark of sleepless nights, as I held my beautiful, colicky newborn. In the few quiet daylight hours I could find, I would write, only suddenly the subject was different. All I wanted to write about was this child and this stillness and everything I found in both. I was exhausted, even lonely, but for the first time in my life, I’d put my heart into something and not come out the other side feeling mediocre. I felt… meaningful. Now what?
My plan had been to continue working; I had the daycare all arranged. But somehow I couldn’t go back to who I had been before. Was my destiny to be the jack-of-all-trades turned stay-at-home-mom? Would other creative parts of me fall dormant? Become atrophied? Then one morning I found my answer.
I had been pacing the house, desperately trying to get my still-colicky daughter to calm down (using the Baby Whisperer’s shush pat method in combo with Harvey Karp’s five S’s method, but to no avail). When I thought my arms might actually fall off from hours of holding her, I put my wailing daughter in her baby chair, put on The Emotion’s Best of My Love, and started dancing. I was sure I was loosing my mind, but it was all I could think to do. As I danced, my stress slowly faded along with my daughters crying. She cooed and laughed as I sang, “My life has a better meaning; love has kissed me in a beautiful way! Oh oh, you’ve got the best of my love.” I gave one of the most memorable performances of my life, and that is when it hit me. I was not a washed up Renaissance woman; all those things I was kinda good at were now being called into action—my creativity, my spunk, my compassionate and imaginative nature, would be needed now more than ever before in the lead role of my life. I would forever have something to write about. I would certainly always have someone to cook for, a beautiful subject for photographs, and a recipient for handmade presents and bedtime songs. I would put my heart into it; I would put my whole self into it. This would be my parenting method. Creativity, love, and by golly, dancing! There would always be dancing.
My kids, now ten, eight and six, are my greatest project, my most creative endeavor, my most powerful poetry, and there has been no shortage of music and art in this adventure. I’ve even mastered a few things along the way, like calming a baby, hearing a child into understanding, and of course, hair lice removal. I will always work, write, create, but that simple day with The Emotions and my daughter, was my Eciah moment, the moment that shifted my perception of my life—I knew just who I was and that I was enough of the good stuff.
– Christie (writer, mother, kitchen-dancer, storyteller, lover of life)
I had my engagement ring cleaned recently. There seemed to be some residual play dough and lotion stuck in between the prongs. The jeweler was sweet, complimenting the setting and asking about how my husband had proposed sixteen years ago. She casually noticed a little flaw in the diamond and told me that if I ever intended to replace it, they could fit a new diamond into my existing setting. I smiled politely and bit back the urge to explain why that wouldn’t be necessary. My husband bought my ring at age twenty-three with his savings, and I couldn’t imagine ever replacing it. The moment felt similar to the time I had walked into the dermatologist for some hydrating cream and walked out with a recommendation for laser treatment. (Sigh.) I know everyone loves a good upgrade, but wouldn’t it be nice to find happiness in what already is without the ongoing scramble for perfection?
Forgive the symbolism, but in a way, I am my ring. Solid, pretty sparkly, a show of love, and… imperfect. If I were to go for every upgrade, I’d be living a stressful life, one set up for disappointment. My problem is that I have a tendency toward behaving like a human doing instead of a human being. I have a busy mind, I like to get things done, and for better or worse, I put my heart into everything—no half-assing over here. So it would be very easy for me to get on the perfectionism highway if I didn’t have a firm grip on my own compass. The reason I took up meditation was because I needed to make myself sit still and breathe, to appreciate a moment before anticipating the next moment. But it is difficult to be present and not try to improve upon every little thing, when the world is screaming, you should be doing better; you should be doing more!
I am amazed everyday by what people can accomplish. Professional business cards now done multi-hyphenates such as CEO – Interior Designer – Spin Instructor, or Sales Associate – Business Coach – Personal Closet Organizer. Parents balance careers and managing a household with PTA meetings, private lessons, game schedules, and talent show bake sales. (And I’m running around somewhere in there, in awe of the energy, creativity, and commitment of my peers.) I am so grateful for the hard work of my community, of my friends and family. But I’m okay if everyone takes one “should” off the to-do list—something that doesn’t bring them more alive or more at peace. There are so many things to strive for, beautiful things, and what if we made one of those things taking time to hold a mug of tea, to hold a child, to walk with someone in need of a friend, to laugh at our imperfections, and strive simply to be sparkling symbols of love. We work so hard, but do we notice what is at work? We strive to be balanced, but do we feel a sense of balance? We want to be accomplished, but are we accomplishing what really matters? We aim for radical self-care, to stay healthy, young and beautiful, but do we recognize the real beauty in our lives? And when the flaws become apparent, do we go for a trade-in, hoping it will be a better version? Or do we deepen in awareness and in affection for what we have, flaws and all?
Let me digress for just a minute. My son, six years old, is a little artist. He goes through phases with his art, often drawing a series of pictures related to one topic. I have collected six weeks of skyscrapers, four weeks of ships, and now we are on to sea creatures. This afternoon, while I drew a green fish, he worked meticulously on a blue whale. It had all the important details, but he couldn’t get the shape of the tale to match the image in his mind. This was frustrating for him. We talked about artists’ interpretation—how it doesn’t need to be exact—but he erased and drew, erased and drew. Finally it was good enough and he decided to color it in, but in the process he got a spot of orange where it didn’t belong. At that point, he was ready to throw the drawing away. It just wasn’t what he’d hoped it would be. I convinced him to let me hang the whale in the kitchen, but I noticed how he would look away from it when he passed through.
I thought to myself, it’s terrific that he wants to be great at something he loves to do, but what is that tipping point into taking it too far? Is it relative to when the inner critic takes over? Is it when we develop the need to be more than we are… to be perfect? And just what makes a flaw, a flaw?
I went back to the art table where my fish was laying among scattered pencils and markers, and I drew a bright orange mark on his back. Then I hung it on the wall next to my son’s colorful whale with the orange spot. When he noticed it, he said, “It has an orange dot, Mama.” “I know,” I said, “It’s my favorite part.” He smiled up at me. A few moments later, he was back at the table making a whole school of fish and whales with orange dots. His drawing’s flaw was no longer a flaw, his problem was no longer a problem; the orange dots became one of the most creative parts of his day.
This little moment with my kiddo is one I hope to learn from myself. I suppose the trick to warding off our cultural tendency towards perfection, is to celebrate the process, not just the outcome. And then to accept the outcome as a part of an even bigger process—growth that never ends. The roads we’ve tread, the lives we’ve touched, the story we’re writing as we step into one thing, and then the next, is a story to celebrate. Even the miss-steps. Because they set us on colorful new paths. The mistakes become beautiful. The spots on what we create remind us to think outside the box and carve new adventures. (And the spots on our faces can remind us of sunshine—they don’t all need to be lasered. Yes?!) The joy is in the journey, in the expression, in finding solutions to the challenges, and in embracing new perspectives!
We will never be everything until we can really be something—until we can be who we are. Not like all the others, but spotted with creative difference. I believe I’ve earned every nick, every wrinkle… and I am still enough. So I will not be upgrading my diamond. You see, that little flaw is my favorite part!