I am MOM

I am MOM
If I knew then what I know now . . .
"I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: 'Checkout Time is 18 years.'"
Erma Bombeck

Thursday, October 5, 2017


This isn’t about motherhood, but it is embedded in my journey as a mom; so it is firmly placed in my Mumfullness Blog. 

Where do you find the words to describe the indescribable? 
Grand Canyon. Havasu Falls. 
… in every sense. 

I didn’t know I was going to the Grand Canyon until I arrived. 

Unlike other parts of the Grand Canyon, we did not stay on American soil but hiked through the lands of the Havasupai people—Native Americans who have lived southeast of the Grand Canyon for the last 800 years. Nor was this place a never-ending expanse of open canyon. My friend Faye called it the womb of Mother Earth. For me, its arms rose up out of the ground in fantastical shades of red, orange, pink, black, and tan and engulfed us protectively, while almost always giving us a view ahead and a memory of what was behind. 

Havasu Falls marked the destination point, but that wasn’t the whole of it. 

In the 1880’s the Havasupai people lost much of their land to the federal government. The once fertile land suffered because of many ambitious projects. For nearly a hundred years the Supai fought to have the land returned to them, and in 1975 the majority of the land became theirs to manage once again. However, the losses were immeasurable and the tribe has turned to tourism, attracting thousands every year to the magic that is Havasu Falls and streams. 
Havasu means “blue-green water”.  It was way more than blue-green; it was aqua with a shimmer; it was bubbles of champagne through ice-blue; it was souls and spirits and guides with a depth you felt a part of. 

Ever since my kids started school, September has been the beginning of the year. Moreover, two of our kids are from Ethiopia and their new year IS celebrated on September 11th. But this September marked the end of “the year of firsts” in my separation from my husband. 

The ever-present red walls, the fine sand and hard rock we walked through and across, and the people that I shared the journey with filled my soul to comfortable capacity. My new friend Lisa said, “My heart feels full.” Ditto. 

Our umbrella came in the form of our guide Karne. From the get-go, she was with us not for us; same-aged and with a breadth of life experience. Her spirited presence was large enough to fit each one of us easily inside; her playful 16-year-old self welcomed the wonder to ebb and flow in magical ways; she fed, nurtured, and got to know us on the inside—a pretty hard task in such a short time. She positively bounced, not in a Tigger kind of a way, but in an I’m-thrilled-to-be-with-you-and-show-you-my-playground kind of a way. 

We fell in love. Old school. By enjoying the same things, expressing ourselves authentically, and delighting in the presence of one another. 

We spent four days in the canyon, and three days in Sedona—a mecca of all things spiritual. This group brought out the best in me and I am a better person for having adventured with them. (I only knew one person in our group of five before the trip).

For seven straight days I had no pain. Not physical. Not emotional. A heart that had cracked over the past few years, leaned in on itself and began to heal. I smiled so much my face hurt; we laughed so hard that not only did I pee my pants, but I also got an abdominal workout in the most natural of ways; and we walked, talked, climbed, swam, ate, and slept with the kind of tender-hearted care a person knows so rarely in a lifetime.

I could not have imagined the joy that would fill my heart alongside these people of the earth.

Monday, July 17, 2017

One Howl of a Spring

A few seasons ago, after a twenty year relationship, my husband and I called it quits. It hasn’t rolled out quite as easily as those letters unfurled on the page. 
I chose the path and then felt every aching step upon it as if it were the last few miles of a marathon—when one is painfully aware of the road beneath, the air within, and the space above. Marathons are for those with a strength of spirit not measured in miles but in capacity to endure and persevere. 
Deciding to leave my marriage left me feeling vulnerable and unprotected. 

I walk in the remote and wilder off-leash areas because I have a fundamental need to climb. The flats don’t help me re-build. The emotional hills dotting the landscape of my living are dragging me down, while I am giving all my effort. Conquering physical hills gives me the courage to carry on with the emotional ones. 
I have walked at Nose Hill Park, a natural environment park spreading over eleven square kilometres, for over twenty years, and until this year had not seen another living creature besides man and dog. I knew there were coyotes, deer, porcupines, ground critters, and high flying northern harriers and hawks.
A slice of open country right in the midst of our urban enclosure. 
Late this spring, I went into the ravine at the northern end of the park, a place I love to explore for it is ever-changing. Both of my dogs wandered freely. I had just stepped onto the path at the bottom of the hill when I heard a scuffle through the trees. My two-year-old Wylie had gotten ahead of us, and a second after my whistle I heard the half-crazed, frantic bark of a dog in battle. 
I ran. 
I rounded a corner and saw Wylie entangled with a coyote. The billowing fur, as each dog snarled and lunged, captured my momentary attention. I screamed, “Wylie Come!” He turned toward me with the coyote on his tail. I threw my hands in the air and yelled an unintelligible series of words and the coyote halted. Wylie placed himself between me and the coyote, and my eleven-year-old dog Abby joined him. I backed away to a chorus of yips and barks. When we had put several feet between us and the coyote, I scrambled out of the valley. The hair on my arms pricked—part fear, part exhilaration, part knowing.  When I got to the top of the hill I looked back. 
He sat in the grass, watching us retreat and protecting his pup-filled den. He stood illuminated—his tawny fur catching the light of the sun as the wind pushed its way through his soft coat—yet hidden in the swaying straw-coloured grass engulfing him. 
Tears filled my eyes; I gazed tenderly across the hillside. 

Protection became a muted theme in my living thoughts. How on earth would I manage to care for and protect my young, while I stood on my own? Who would provide protection and security for me so that I could be brave with my life? Who would stand on the hillside and guard us while we slept? 

Just days later, on a morning that rose up on the edge of a fog, my dogs and I had our next coyote encounter. I stayed to the well traveled path—straight out, and straight back. Not fifty feet from the parking lot on my way back, three coyotes skittered toward and away from my dogs with playful ambition. Wylie chased after a coyote toward a small cluster of bushes. I yelled, and just as the coyote darted into the bush my dog returned to me. 

A few weeks later, I leaned into the desire to get away and hide and walked down into the ravine again. However, I stayed to the periphery and avoided the treed area where Wylie had gone into battle. Nonetheless, Abby was out-of-sorts right from the get-go. As Wylie and I moved forward, she circle back toward the parking lot. I have a suspicion that she suffers from a bit of dementia, as she has taken to wandering in the opposite direction more often these days; I slowed down to wait for her. Something was off in her whole demeanour, which got my dander up. But, we carried on. I love to walk, need to walk, must walk. So very reluctant to stop walking. 
At the bottom of the hill, a recessed area had filled with water and Wylie went for a swim. I stood and watched him. All of a sudden Abby ran past me and I followed her with my eyes. A dozen feet behind me, right on the trail, a coyote stood, teeth bared, and back hunched up. 
Abby came within inches of the coyote, growling and nipping. I lost my shit. I may have screamed a rhymed phrase that ended with “duck”. I yelled Abby’s name over and over like some hyped-up lunatic. She finally came. Wylie meanwhile was enjoying some “spa-time” in the make-shift pond, totally oblivious to the goings-on. I called him. 
With both dogs to-me, I flapped my hand like a duck’s beak — that’s right — it is the hand signal my daughter taught the dogs so they would bark on command. Just as they started barking, while I screamed stuff like “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” and “WTF?” and “I’VE HAD ENOUGH!”, I saw two people and their dog across the tiny pond. They simply stared at me. 

Nights later, I sat enjoying the company of my neighbour and friend Michelle; I relayed my coyote encounters to her and mused aloud, “I wonder what it means for a coyote to be so much in my path?”
She pulled up a website on her iPad about spirit animals, and she read this, “ If Coyote has come skulking across your path, you are being reminded to laugh at yourself. Things have been entirely too serious of late and you simply need to let loose and get on with it. Stop dwelling on your worries and stresses and let them go. You have asked for the help you need so just let go and allow your spirit helpers to do what they need to do. Do something that gives you pleasure and joy and focus on the positive for a change.” 
I read that over and over for days. 

Just last week, I walked at Nose Hill with my friend Maria. “What would happen if we turned here?” she asked, and we ended up in a section of Nose Hill I had never been to before, heading downhill. At the end of the descent, we heard an ambulance siren in the distance. The siren triggered a lone coyote to rise up out of the grass—a distance in front of us—and warn all within earshot of the danger perceived in the wailing siren. His head pitched backward and his mouth opened in a perfect arc and he howled a staccato Ow-Ow-Owww. A thing of piercing beauty that could freeze your blood like a waterfall in winter. Across a field to our right, a pack of coyotes appeared as if pulled right out of the grass by their howling snouts. Back and forth, rooting us to the spot for an elongated moment. 

The coyote is part of a pack, and though we humans are not pack animals, the symphony of “Ow-Ow-Ow” on that day made me realize that I am not alone. I find myself surrounded by those who love me, and would call out a warning, walk alongside of me, listen to my stories, and use their instincts to protect me when I am in danger, and reassure me when I am not. 

All I need to do is howl. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day

I was super thrilled today to be invited on my second annual Mother’s Day ride by Laurèn. 
We warmed up in the indoor arena. Laurèn is an amazing and patient teacher. We mounted our horses—her with grace, me with a jump-jump-jump heave, fall, repeat. 

You know how horseback riders often look like an extension of their horse; they move with fluidity; they are at times one motion, one intention? I did not embody that. Turning the horse is a combination of synchronous movements (and thoughts I’m convinced). One leg on, one leg off, shorten reigns on one side, reign to hip, look where you want to go, “And for God’s sake, DON’T LEAN—IT’S NOT A BIKE!” I’m pretty sure that when I executed a turn I looked like a person having a seizure, and my horse maintained his position until I was done. 
Eventually—when Laurèn felt confident I could leave the fenced-in area—we went for a ride up the hill and through the trees. That was cool, except for the fact that the girth of Laurèn on Muffet was not equal to the girth of me and Little Joe and I lost a few chunks of my knee caps on the edges of trees. 
We came out of the trees and Laurèn said, “How do you feel about trotting down hill?” 
I said, “I feel great.” 
She turned Muffet with just the use of her legs — show off — and I struggled to tuck in behind. She started off down the hill. Little Joe began to follow. 
“Oh no!” I screamed (still at a walk); Laurèn wheeled around just in time to see me riding “side saddle” — the saddle had pitched over the right side of the horse and I remained firmly seated in the saddle . . . right up until the moment gravity took over, and then I hit the ground, landing on my forearm. I’m pretty sure I heard a snap, it could have been one of the tendons or ligaments in my arm, or possibly just a dead branch catching the bulk of me. 
Laurèn trotted over. Both horses looked really big from down there. Little Joe looked at me with a slight smile—Nice one—and Laurèn burst out laughing. 
“What are you doing Mom?” she said.
What does it look like I am doing? Weeding? 
“Why didn’t you just put your leg down?” she asked. 
I conjured that image: Saddle on the side of the horse, my left leg in the stirrup—on the horse’s back—and my right leg on the ground. Imagine how many muscles and tender bits I may have torn if I had done that!  
Laurèn dismounted. Between fits of laugher and yelling out to nobody—“You FELL off Little Joe!”—she managed to straighten out my saddle. 
“Technically I didn’t fall off,” I murmured, “My saddle fell off, and then I merely fell off the saddle.” 
Ba-ha-ha “You FELL off Little Joe!”
The rest of the ride was almost uneventful. Due to my propensity to lean when I am executing a turn, my saddle started to pitch over again; but I stood up, while still moving, and put all of my weight on the other side, and straightened things out. 
At one point I told Laurèn, “I can’t feel my feet, my knees feel as though they are splitting, and I think all the bones in my pelvis have come unhinged.” 
She looked me over carefully and said, “Okay, let’s head down into that pasture, then we can race back up the track, cool down in the corral, and then we’ll tack down.” 
I stared at her wondering if I had actually spoken out loud. And then like a drugged fool I said, “Okay.” 
I’m not gonna lie, I loved the ride. It felt pretty good on Little Joe’s back. But the best part was being alongside of Laurèn as she does this thing she loves and excels at. The role of teacher and student is reversing more times than I care to admit as my kids hit their teen years. 
In the end, I felt every bit my age. The outer edges of my baby toe joints throbbed and pushed against my boots; the shins on my left leg felt as if I’d played a whole game of soccer with no padding; my knees felt dislocated, and the muscles in between my shoulder blades pulled so tight that I think I went up a full cup size in front! 
Thank goodness Mother’s Day only comes once a year. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Owl Be Blessed

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I think this stuff happens all the time. 
Spiritual activity. 
We have to be somewhat broken-down to notice. Slowed in action and thought. So mentally fogged-up that a sudden noise attracts immediate attention. 

Walking through the coulees at the ranch I heard the close by hoot of an owl. 
I’ve never seen an owl, except at the zoo—and that doesn’t count because as soon as the owl turned its eyes on me, I screamed and ran pell-mell through the enclosure leaving my brave animal-loving four-year-old Laurèn behind. 
It had rained overnight. I slopped and slid down the path through the trees, my two dogs bounding alongside. With the owl’s call, the hair on the back of my neck pricked and I stopped, sinking into the mud-slop stew. In my peripheral vision large wings flapped between the trees. I strained my neck, but I couldn’t tell what it was. It landed in a tree, some twenty feet in front of me. I stared, in complete amazement.
Large, dark eyes seemingly carved into a tawny white mask stared back at me…unmoving. Freaky. I pulled out my phone to try and take a picture. The trunks of the naked trees provided camouflage enough, and I could see no owl on my phone screen. I looked up, searching; her head swivelled; she spread her massive wings and lifted off. She flew an arc that passed just beside me. Time held me captive to only her. 
She was massive. Her wings, a greyish-brown, angled in the middle as if hinged. Her face, soft but intense. Her eyes like the centre of a wheel, the strands of which had been combed out and away. 
Somehow I had managed to take one picture without moving my eyes from her. 
When she had gone past and landed in the distance, I checked my phone. I saw only the ruler-straight lines of the birch trees. Damn. I looked over my shoulder as if maybe she’d be hovering for a photo op. I glanced back at my phone; a feathery lightness in the middle of the screen caught my eye; I expanded the photo. Oh. My. God. There she was—her wings a shimmering contrast against the dark branches, and her body moving in one direction while her face swivelled toward me. 

I continued walking slowly—affected by the owl fly-by and also the slippery conditions. Holy cow! What does it mean? An owl! I love her.  
And then suddenly I heard the sound of a high-pitched human-sounding voice behind me. “Hell-Oh,” it said. Being somewhat skittish, I jumped clear off the path and stumbled. I regained my footing as the owl flew overtop of me. Once was magic, but the second time with the eerie human-like “voice” scared me a bit and I hustled out of the woods and into the pasture, where I sat on a log to reflect. 

Two nights prior I had done a guided meditation and visualization. The mediation was on healing. I entered a healing temple and sat down by an altar of my imagining. A luminescent healer sat down beside me—she had the physical and soulful likeness of my good friend Faye. Among other things, the luminescent being gave me two gifts. The first was a twig with leaves on it. A branch extended, I thought. The second was a shawl, folded and placed on the table before me. Arms to comfort me during this painful time. Yes.

I looked back toward the woods where surely the owl was still watching. It felt like the visualization and the attention of the owl went together. They created more than a sum of experiences. I thought of the soft and ample shawl that had been my Grama’s, that we brought home with us after her funeral. Do those who have died support us in our struggles to live? The owl kept fluttering inside my skull. An owl’s wings—substantial, sturdy, and strong—create warmth, harbour protection, result in camouflage, and provide flight. Some people have reached out to me during this time, I have been reluctant to burden them with my feelings or troubles. Though the pain at times feels too much for me to carry, I hold it against me on piggy-back—behind, so no one can see.

Ancient mythology has much to say about the Owl; it has the dual symbolism of wisdom and darkness. It is fascinating to read about, and you will find any opinion that you are looking for, whether for good or evil. 
The Owl:
- is a harbinger of change
- is the seer of the whole truth
- connects to the wisdom of the soul, not the intellect
- protects, warning that evil / death / change approaches
- symbolizes death and renewal
- has wings of comfort and healing that spread to give solace to those who seek her
- signifies the Devil, powers of evil, bad news, and destruction

Here’s what resonates for me. The owl showed up TO ME after months of personal suffering, deep emotional pain, and confusion around my own resilient spirit. I have never seen an owl in the wild before. This wasn’t a random thing—it was the middle of the day. Moreover, through visualization, prayer, and reflection, I created a balm for myself that not only resides within a physical object—my Grama’s shawl—but also in nature, the place I feel most at home. 
She is me.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Fallen -

A pane of sunshine opens as my fourteen-year-old daughter Laurèn and I drive onto the ranch. The rain, a continuous shower over the past week, necessitated that I buy myself a pair of rubber boots, reminiscent of little girl boots. Not a memory of my childhood—when the style was either boys or girls—but of little-Laurèn boots with two-tone pink stripes, and polka-dotted splendour. 
Given the mud-slop stew of the ranch on this July day, Laurèn decides that she’ll work with her horse Pita in the sanded corral. Without any other adults nearby, I need to stay close, rather than ramble across the pastures and down into the coulee, as I usually do. As Pita steps over the barn door, our dog Wylie slips in behind and runs a semi-circle near Pita’s hooves. Given our dog’s natural herding instincts, I decide to take him out of the corral. Although Pita has shown amazing tolerance for our one-year-old Australian Shepherd, I don’t want to spook or irritate him, and endanger Laurén. I pull out the dog toy I’ve been hiding in my pocket, and walk away with Wylie following.
So keen to work, he alternately walks and spins at my side. I stop, and he freezes in a classic Aussie half-crouch with his muzzle tipped up toward me; eyes focused on his toy. “Ready?” I ask. He waits—a statue of rigid contemplation. I throw the toy through the air, and he takes off. With eyes forward, and ears perked, he zeroes in on the landing site of the toy and plucks it from the grass, already carving an arc back to me. I whistle and call, “Wylie, bring it!”—my voice like the chorus of a song.  
We share the pasture with some forty horses, who graze in scattered groups. At the moment, neither horse nor dog seems to notice the other. Over and over, Wylie retrieves his toy and returns to me. As he races away, my eyes travel across the hills rambling away from the ranch, and stumbling into the Rocky Mountains. I linger there, if only for a moment. I take a deep breath. 

Just two weeks ago, we brought our seventeen-year-old daughter Faven home from the hospital—her third admission to psychiatry in the past year. The steps and mis-steps I have made in my journey as her adoptive mom weigh heavy on my heart. We did not want to bring her home this time. I know that sounds completely horrible. It feels horrible too. 

I throw the mud and slobber-covered toy again and Wylie zips down the hill with unwavering enthusiasm. The fuzz-covered barbell bounces and tumbles close to a grazing horse. An elegant and lean, blue-roan horse lifts his head slightly. Just as Wylie dips to scoop his toy, the horse startles and snaps his head up. Wylie abandons the toy in happy pursuit of this new challenge. The agitated horse prances as Wylie barks and nips at its hind legs in frenzied enjoyment. The horse, with pinned ears and wide eyes, alternately dances and darts, in an attempt to lose its predator. I sprint down the hill. “Wylie Come! Here Wylie!” As I close the distance between us, I see the horse’s left hind leg lift. “Oh Shit!” 

Every one of Faven’s admissions has involved the police. Each one has been shitty and hard, in a different way. Faven ran away from us, over and over; we didn’t always know where she was. Without the comfort and safety of home, Faven returned to a mode of survival that she had presumably learned in Ethiopia as a young child. She trusted no one, and yet became vulnerable to everyone. Her mild cognitive disability along with a great desire to belong and to be loved, made her susceptible to “predators”. 
Once she turned sixteen, the police would attempt to find her, but they would not bring her home against her will, and they wouldn’t tell us where she was—for our own protection. But who is protecting her?

The horse’s leg bends in and snaps out so fast that I can’t even see if it connects to its target, but I hear a startled yelp and Wylie falls into the grass. The blue-roan takes off. Two horses join him, flanking each side, and they stampede toward me. I put my arms in the air, as if signalling a landing aircraft, and they curve away from me. 
“Wylie!” I scream, and sprint toward his prostrate white form. He slowly lifts his head, ears flattened, and eyes reaching toward me. I arrive within metres of him, but my way is blocked by a cluster of horses that have inconspicuously managed to surround him. He lies chastened, in the middle of a group of ten, twelve, fifteen horses. 
I. Am. Panicked. 
“REALLY?!” I scream to a God I’m sure is close by. “Don’t you see what I’m already going through?” I cry out. This is my place of peace. With two reddish-brown horses facing me, I grab the dog leash hanging at my neck and begin to spin the end toward the horses, in an attempt to move them. “It’s okay,” I say, with the bravado of a fly. It’s okay.

When we made the decision to adopt, in 2005; I told myself that I could love a child born to another just as much as I could love one born to me. Absolutely! I already had experience as a step-parent and a birth parent, and I loved all of our children. Faven joined our family in 2009, three years after her brother Yohannes. We didn’t know about her when we accepted the “proposal” for Yohannes. But, after finding out about her…the hand of fate?…we made the decision to adopt her and bring her into our family. I can say for certain that we have offered her a different life than the one she would have experienced in Ethiopia—we have provided a home, family, love, stability, and opportunity. Meanwhile, she lost everything that was familiar—language, country, food, culture, friends, and family. Indeed, we provided a different life, but I cannot say that we have given her a better life.
Through no fault of her own, Faven has a grocery list of mental health and developmental issues. Trauma resides beneath the skin—invisible. It can undermine a person’s willingness to do well for themselves. Some of their behaviour, learned as a means of surviving a harsh environment, is programmed in, like notes in a player piano. Love becomes more difficult under these circumstances.

As the circle of horses closes in on Wylie, I realize in an instant that I am the protector and must act. I swing the leash with enough vigour that the two horses creating the gate, stretch their necks upward, and away from me. I crouch down, between their muscled shoulders, and whisper, “Wylie, come.” Without taking his eyes off of me, he crawls through the grass like a canine soldier. As soon as he is behind me, I reach down and clip him into his leash. We slowly start backing away. I am chanting incantations: “It’s okay. We’re all okay. No one is going to get hurt. Everything is fine.”  The tears began to fall as I finally turn and head toward the corral. The horses, threat removed, go back to grazing. 

Faven is my daughter, but I am not her mother. She will not have me. She has a mother, one who failed her, because she died too young. Faven believes I will fail her too. I have lived with her assessment of me as a “mother” since our beginning. She could not communicate her disappointment right away, without a shared language. However, she often sat in the back of a room and watched me with reproachful eyes. 
My husband and I knew that it would be more difficult to adopt an older child, so in the months before her arrival we went for counselling together. I called it our “proactive parenting” approach. It’s not that it didn’t work, we covered many possible scenarios and we learned a lot. But knowledge of something hardly prepares you for the expression of it—right up close, and in your face. We could not undo the damage done in Faven’s life prior to our entry into it. We were powerless against such experiences. 

I slump into the sand in the corral, and begin to cry in earnest. Laurèn, who rides Pita close by, asks, “You okay Mom?”
“Wylie just got kicked,” I say. 
“What! Is he okay?”
“It looks like it.” I run my hands over his body. He lay pressed against my leg. My tears roll like bowling balls in an automatic ball-return machine; one and then another crests my lid, and slides down my face.
“Mom?” Laurèn says.
“I’m supposed to protect him. And I couldn’t. He just ran behind the horse, and I was too far away. I didn’t know. And Faven just got out of the hospital. I don’t know where she is. What mother can’t find her own daughter? And Dad. . . And me . . ” I lost my voice in a sob. “I ca-an’t do it.”
Pita, an immense black horse, stands absolutely still. Laurèn’s jean-clad legs drape across his bare back, and she holds the reins loosely in her right hand. Pita’s head tips slightly in my direction, and his ears pivot toward me—a replica of Laurèn’s head. Horse and rider connect above me as I puddle into the sand, at their feet. 
What can she say? Managing Faven within our family has taken a toll on everyone. “It’s going to be okay Mom.” I sit and stroke Wylie’s soft fur. 

We met for family meetings every Tuesday during Faven’s three-month stay. Each and every time, Faven entered the small conference room wearing clothes that were not her own, clothes she had taken from her peers on the unit, ones she would encompass into her own wardrobe, and later bring home. Her face was concealed in heavy make-up, and vibrantly-coloured fake eyelashes. She often looked like she was heading out on a date, or even—at times—to the streets. It broke my heart to see her desperation. She always chose the chair farthest from me, and closest to the door, in case she needed a hasty escape. Sometimes she sat beside Ward, and draped herself across his lap. For her entire hospital stay, she cast me in the role as “bad guy”, and I could do nothing about it. I was in fact kind of glad; it gave me a break from the role of being her primary attachment figure and dealing with her scattered emotions. 
Faven refused to come home for weekend or overnight passes. Truly, she hadn’t been home for some time prior to her admission—she had even spent a night at a youth shelter downtown. Nonetheless, it seemed odd to me that she chose a locked up psychiatry unit instead of home. On two occasions, during her quiet weekends there, her emotions built up to the point of tsunami-like waves, which uncontrollably crashed out of her. Security, a constant presence on the unit, had to hold her down while the nurses administered haldol, an antipsychotic that caused drowsiness. “This” was preferable to home? 
During one family meeting, near the end of her stay, Faven remained on the unit while the psychiatrist told us that she had lost her privileges over the weekend. Along with two others, Faven had participated in body piercing. Not your ordinary piercings either: one nasal septum, one belly button, and one eyebrow. They clearly didn’t think it through—the new piercings shone like beacons from a lighthouse, and the staff noticed immediately. The doctor was unsure if they had shared the needle. Faven would later tell me that she used a contraband lighter to clean the needle between piercings. I sat stunned. How could this be going on, on a psychiatry unit? Moreover, how could we manage her at home? 
The discharge happened on a Monday, the last day of school. After I dropped off Laurèn and Yohannes, I went to the hospital where I met with Faven, her psychiatrist, and her family therapist—the glue that had held us together through this process. I could hardly breathe. They laid out the plan that we felt forced to agree to. Not forced because the staff at the hospital didn’t agree that home was not Faven’s (or our)  best option. Everyone knew that our home environment, and the people in it, triggered Faven and flipped her into fight or flight. No other reasonable option presented itself, despite many people searching the city for viable solutions. In good conscience, we couldn’t leave her in the hospital: it wasn’t good for her, and she occupied a bed that others lined up in emergency to fill. 
I listened with barely contained hopelessness. The doctor passed me a paper with Faven’s prescriptions. I took it, knowing that Faven would (once again) refuse to take the medications that kept her healthy. The family therapist gave me a sheet with referral information, one for a centre that counselled children who had experienced trauma, and another to a facility that specialized in assessment and treatment of young adults with developmental disabilities. They told me Faven agreed to go to both; she obligingly nodded. She had no idea what she was agreeing to; she just wanted to get the hell out and knew from past experience that she had to agree to everything.
I imagined the relief another mother might feel at taking her child home after months of specialized care in hospital; I pictured the “Welcome Home” sign the siblings might have made; and I tasted the celebratory supper that the family would gather around, thankful that this experience had been survived. Was I a bad mom? I didn’t experience any joy. 

I walk with Wylie to the car and put him inside. Then I join Laurèn and Pita inside the barn. She tacks down, and spends some one-on-one time “sharing” a meal with Pita—a Higher Trails bonding practice, and I prepare to muck out the stalls. This part of our ranch time feeds my soul in an indescribable way. The barn holds a silence that brushes over me like a soothing hand. My breathing relaxes, and I grab the broom from the wall. With rhythmic motion, I lay the broom on the sodden wood and pull it toward me, collecting the debris from under the long trough. And then I turn 180 degrees, and push the bristles away from me, clearing the planks of mud and hair. The dust rises in applause at my efforts. 

Faven and I walked out of the hospital—she, the little girl that she often becomes in times of stress. She called me Mommy, and held my hand, leaning heavily into my side. Tears formed at the corners of my eyes, and I slipped my sunglasses on. 
What more could we offer?

 “Of all the things trauma takes away from us, the worst is our willingness, or even our ability to be vulnerable.” Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Friday, February 26, 2016

Heart. Beat.

Palpable . . . like a heart beat.
Crushing . . . like a juicer.

Emotional pain is real.
Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. It simply turns it into an insistent shadow: following, mimicking, and overtaking you . . . following, mimicking, and overtaking you.

Emotional pain is a hard thing to quantify. A doctor, or therapist might ask, “On a scale of 1-10, how painful is it?” But that is only useful if you have felt the full scale. Moreover, even in the midst of life-altering, decision-hampering, breath-catching pain, one is reluctant to call it a 10. Surely others have dealt with and survived deeper pain than this. Comparison finds us at the most absurd times.

Each person has a unique threshold, one they can’t be fully aware of until the pain shoots past it like an arrow sprung from a bow. 
It feels as if something has knitted itself around your heart, lungs, and ribs, pulling them together asynchronously, so breathing becomes an impossible task.

Like each of you, I am acquainted with pain through my life experience. Injury. Loss. Trauma. Change. Relationships. Parenting. The wounds become like a scab over a scrape, initially protective and healing, and then suddenly and without warning, ripped off.

Practicing pain does not make it easier to tolerate.

We are all wired for connection, but ironically, we think we can handle “it” alone. Even when the pain is a product of our own decisions, the intensity of it pierces our armor.

I have been through a thing or two over the last number of years, and have learned about my high threshold for emotional pain. It isn’t something to brag about, because I don’t believe we are meant to develop a tolerance to pain. Unfortunately, I also buy into the notion that I should be able to handle my problems and struggles on my own. Admission of a perceived inadequacy is something I would prefer to “take to the grave” than share—out loud—with others.

But here I am.

People live with pains that I cannot even imagine. Some of those people courageously step forward and advocate for themselves (and others) through education, and personal story-telling; we are all better people for it. 
Sadly though, we still live in communities where the myth—that silence and secrecy create safety—is perpetuated. Silence and secrecy create isolation and shame. 

A line exists between pain that is tolerable, and that which is intolerable. The line is indistinct until the moment you’re sprawled face down on the other side of it. And then you can’t figure out how to get back to the place of tolerability. In that moment, it feels as if you are unable to endure, because you can't even take a deep breath—breathing is involuntary for God’s sake—and you think that it would be okay if a rock fell from the sky and landed where you lie. It is super scary to exist in that place, because you really don’t know what is going to happen next. It sounds crazy. It’s not. We are not meant to carry those burdens on our own.

When there are people you can reach out to, they will be your guiding light back to safety and security, and then you will wonder how you ever got to that other desperate place. But, at least, you will know the way back.

Why would I share this painful stuff? Because I am someone that you know to be good, reliable, loving, smart, funny, strong, athletic, and capable.
But, I am MORE than what you know or see.
No one can side-step suffering. The only ointment for emotional pain is feeling like we belong. 
YOU are my belonging. I feel blessed because of that.