never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
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!
Each day that I drop you off at school, I say to you cheerfully, “Go learn something and have some fun.” And everyday when I pick you up, I look at you to check and see if your heart is okay. This week you came home one day with heavy steps and slumped shoulders. You said you were fine. You weren’t ready to talk. Later at home when the tears collected and brought out the green in your eyes, my heart whispered to yours, don’t swallow them back; let them fall. You’ve been through some bumps before, but this was new. This was bigger. You told me what happened, expressed feelings of pain and sadness, and I knew this would be a moment that you would always remember. It is a moment that I will always remember too. You see, my darling, I may have given birth to you, but you continue to give birth to aspects of me. And this week the Mother Warrior was born. I have always fought for you—I was a fighter getting you into the world; I have been a hero for your health and safety and a liberator for your feelings and ideas—but I now find myself called into a profound new position. I will be the warrior for your heart.
I know I cannot hover above you, propellers spinning, and shield you from all pain. Nor can I just sit back each day and watch you march off into the glorious battle of growing up. So I will put on a suit of armor glitter-glued together from every gift of kindness you’ve ever given me—popsicle sticks and feathers and love—and I will fight for kindness in your world. There will be days when I will want to bundle your joyful spirit in bubble wrap, but I know I cannot. Instead I will draw from every experience of heartache that I’ve had—every time I was pushed down, left behind, treated unfairly, emotionally bruised or beaten—and they will become bandages in my pack, saturated with understanding. When you fall down, I will wrap your pain in loving awareness. I will listen to you and help you turn your pain into wisdom. I will celebrate your incredible compassion and forgiveness, your power to heal yourself, as you too grow wildly into experience. I will be a warrior for your heart.
You are strong. You will weather many storms on your own. Still there will be days when I will want to run like a banshee into the streets, screaming, “Do not hurt my child.” Some days, I might have to. But my greatest defense will be gentle and will come from a treasure trove deeper than any hope chest, where I’ve stored every kiss you’ve ever given me, every I love you, your every spark of light and bounce of joy. And I will reach in and grab hold, and with my bow, I will sail your light across the sky like fire. I will reflect the light you have given me right back to you, and I will help you find your way by reminding you of who you are. I will whisper to you softly (and sometimes shout across a great distance), “You are precious!” I will remind you that you deserve love. I will be a warrior for your heart.
You may remember this week for a long time to come. But please also remember this: I may have wrapped my arms around you, but it was your own inner strength that returned your laughter. I may have sent a flair of light up into the sky and demanded kindness from your world, but it was your own light, and it guided you back onto your path. You are strong, my darling. And you will never be alone. I will wear my beautiful, glittery armor proudly, because it is you who gave it to me—my reminder that one can only fight for kindness and beauty in this world with kindness and inner beauty. I will carry my pack filled with bandages of understanding and pints of ice cream, and no pain will go unattended. Nothing will bring me greater joy, because you are my heart. And I will be a warrior for yours.
I had a dream that I was a bear. I often have vivid dreams, but I’d never experienced myself as an animal before. I was running from hunters in a wooded camping site—scaring everyone with my bear-ness. I saw my husband Kevin (still human), and he said, “Get behind me and I’ll hide you.” I tried to make myself small behind him, but the hunters saw me and chased me further into the woods. Again I saw Kevin, and he said, “Get behind me.” It felt hopeless; it would never work. But then I saw my grandmother—my beloved grandmother who’s been dead for two years—and she said, “Chris, get behind us both.” And with that she linked arms with Kevin and they made a protective barrier that I could hide behind. The hunters did not see me. I woke moments later, very happy not to be a bear.
The dream stayed with me for a few days. I decided it made sense that my husband, my protector, and my grandmother, my angel, would be the ones to keep me from harm. But then a wise friend reminded me that the people in our dreams all represent an aspect of the self. And I began to wonder if there was something more to consider. Was there a quality within Kevin and within my Grandmother that I needed to own in myself in order to feel safe, not hunted? I chewed on that one for a while.
Kevin and I have been married fifteen years now, and I’ve been reflecting on that journey quite a lot this month. It still blows my mind that at such a young age I found a man that I could be compatible with for the long haul. Of course, as with most couples, it took us a little dancing before we found a steady groove. In the first month of marriage, I came home from work one day, ran to jump into Kevin’s arms, accidently kneed him in the crotch, and got dropped on my tailbone. Painful. Metaphoric. We knew we wanted to take a leap into love. We just hadn’t mastered the grace in which to connect.
We grew. Unevenly at times, but overall, more closely together. Perhaps the beauty in getting married young was that there were no great discussions of compromise. Neither of us had to ask the other to give something up. (There was no wagon wheel coffee table to try to put out to the trash.) We simply started from scratch. We had nothing to build on other than the things we loved and respected in each other—things we needed from each other in order to find balance. When one of us had a surplus of intensity, the other was overflowing with gentleness, and so on. And when we stumbled and felt deficient, there was the other to help us recall our strengths.
When I chose Kevin to co-author this life with me, I had no idea what our story would hold. In many ways it has already surpassed dreams, but it has also presented challenges we couldn’t have possibly anticipated. Those moments become some of the most important—the times that force us to deepen when we want to stay above the edge of change, that require us to stay strong when we want to fall apart. They are the times that invite us to connect with grace. They teach us who we are and just who we can be.
I have learned a lot about who I am and who I can be over the last fifteen years. I have grown wildly into awareness and grown madly more in love with life. I have recognized where I’ve fallen short and have put in work to become more balanced as a person. One quality that I have felt deficient in at times is a quality my husband has never seemed to have a shortage of: resilience. The definition I like for this word is from Webster: the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc. Let’s just say that Kevin can bounce back to his original shape in no time at all. He brushes himself off and moves on. My grandmother also knew resilience; she weathered many storms in her life as a single mother. Perhaps she and Kevin are some of my greatest teachers of resilience. It seems perfect that they would have been the ones helping me in my dream—one male and one female (the anima and animus) collecting me into a state of consciousness, inviting me to step into my own great capacity for resilience. When I feel like a scared bear—strong in character, but perhaps a bit too vulnerable—I can draw from the strength of those who love me in order to find my own strength. The dream reminds me that in my marriage, I can stand in my own vulnerability and be invited to find the strength within that. And what a gift that is.
There are going to be bumps and bruised tailbones occasionally as we go along. But we continue to take great leaps, because the other has made it safe to do so. We continue to reach out and catch, because everyone feels like a scared bear at some point. We continue to deepen, reminding each other how beautifully resilient we are together. That is love. That is the grace. That is the story we can write with every day of our lives.