Surrendering to Spring

Shortly after a late winter storm blanketed our region with snow, someone tipped off Mother Nature about the arrival of spring.

In a matter of days our backyard went from a smooth expanse of crystalline white, to big messy swaths of slush, to sopping pools of mud and flattened grass. The thick slabs of ice I thought would never disappear drained back into the earth.

icy leaves

The night before the seasonal shift, after an entire winter virus-free, my daughter succumbed to the stomach bug. Within days the virus spread throughout our family, picking us off one by one.

While my son slept feverishly, I stayed in his room, fighting off my own growing nausea.  In the morning when I told my husband about how I literally willed myself not to throw up, a feat he unfortunately did not share, my daughter pointed out my hypocrisy.

“Mom, you always tell me it’s better to let it out.”

It’s true. I do say this. In fact, I just doled out this advice the day before when she was sick. She’s like me. We both fight it.

“You’re right, honey, but I needed to be okay to take care of your brother.”

But this wasn’t entirely true. I also needed to be okay because I hate getting sick. I’m terrified of surrendering to the will of my body, even if it knows best.

There was a moment in the night, at the peak of nausea, when I had to look away from my son’s lava lamp because the rising yellow bubbles made my stomach roil. I closed my eyes, breathing slowly, hyper aware of every internal rumbling, when a sentence popped into my mind.

We’re all just our bodies.

I felt a sudden nostalgia for all the nights I simply went to bed, without pain, without worry of being sick. Like many people, I take my health for granted until something goes wrong. We’ve all had this kind of realization. When we’re sick, or watching over a sick loved one, when we’re battling an illness, or facing a new diagnosis, we suddenly understand what’s at stake.

Without our bodies, we don’t exist. I suppose this is up for debate, but for me, that’s how it feels.

During my sick vigil with my son, his body was restless, and he moaned a little. I put an arm around him and my palm ended up against his chest. I could feel his heart beating quickly, every surge, every whoosh, almost as if there was no barrier between my hand and his most important organ. Under my hand was the sheer preciousness, and precariousness, of his life.

little guy

When my mother died, one of the strangest, and most painful things to come to term with was the fact that I no longer had access to her body. I couldn’t hug or sit beside her. One day her body was there, lying on a bed, struggling to breathe, and the next, gone. I didn’t just miss my mom. I missed her body. I had taken it for granted.

It’s been almost a full week since my daughter came home from a birthday party feeling nauseous and our family viral saga began. In that time, the snow has melted. While we’ve been recovering, winter has surrendered to spring. Uncurling its cold claw, making room for warmth, for new life.

The backyard is muddy, the trees remain bare, but there is new green grass sprouting, and one of the daffodil buds by our mailbox has a distinct yellow casing.

daffodil bud

I point it out to my son, warning him not to open it. He touches it gently with his finger as we marvel at what’s wrapped tightly inside.

Only Love Today

It’s been quiet here on the blog, as perhaps you’ve noticed. I’ve had a hard time writing since January’s presidential inauguration. While the Women’s March the following day was a balm, and a tremendously positive experience, my world felt unhinged with the onset of the new administration.

Writing, which has always been my anchor, suddenly felt frivolous. How could I focus on my memoir in the midst of my newfound activism? I also found it hard to read anything longer than an article or a Facebook post. By the time I turned off my phone at the end of the day, my brain was oversaturated, my heart overwhelmed.

Luckily, I received a book on January 23rd, and it’s been the only one I’ve been able to read.

only love arc

Only Love Today
Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, and Choose Love
by Rachel Macy Stafford

I’ve been hooked on Rachel for years, ever since I stumbled on her blog, Hands Free Mama, which, by the way, you don’t need to be a mom to love, and then reviewed her second book, Hands Free Life.

I was honored to be selected as part of her launch team* for Only Love Today, her beautiful new book, which is organized by season and written in both short poignant essays and prose poems.

After enjoying the lovely introduction, I started Part One: Spring. But something felt off. I quickly realized it had nothing to do with Rachel’s wise words or keenly wrought sentiments – I was simply in the wrong season. I flipped ahead to Winter and fell headlong into passages like this one:

only love hope

 

Most mornings I’d try to steal a few pages before the kids stampeded into the kitchen, or at night after they were in bed. A few minutes, a few pages, is sometimes all I had time for, but often, it was all I needed.

In the midst of a particularly challenging news cycle, when I felt swallowed up by despair, wondering if anything I was doing could possibly make a difference, these words appeared, rising up off the page and pressing into me with a tenderness I could almost feel:

“Maybe the bravest thing you could do right now is just decide this will not defeat you.”

Yes. Oh, yes.

Then a week later, I read this passage while calmly sipping my morning coffee, not knowing that later in the day, these words would serve as a lifeline:

only love fighter

The thing I always receive from Rachel, whether online or in her books, is love. Sounds kind of cheesy, right? But I mean it in all sincerity. Because Rachel is sincere. She genuinely wants to help people, and she does, through her writing and her actions.

She lives out her mantra, only love today, or at least she tries to. What makes Rachel and her books so approachable is that she does not profess to be perfect. She hasn’t figured it all out. Every day, every hour, is a choice. To choose love – not just for others, but for ourselves.

Sometimes I forget this. I put on my Only Love Today bracelet, and think, today I’m going to be better. I’m going to be more patient, more kind. I won’t yell at my kids.

only love bracelet

And then, I lose it. Maybe not even an hour later. My go-to reaction is disgust and self-loathing. I might even take off the bracelet, as if I’m not worthy of wearing it.

only love purple minion

This is what I feel like on bad days.

Then I remember – I’m the one who actually needs it.

The more love I offer to myself, the more generous I can be with others.

*Give-away update! The winner has been selected and informed. Thank you all for your comments here and on Facebook. I wish I had more copies to give away, but it’s worth checking out for yourself if you are so inspired. I hear Target is selling it in droves! xo

only love and pix

Cat not included.

*I was given complimentary copies of the ARC and hardcover as part of the Only Love Today launch team, but the opinions here are entirely my own. 

 

Choosing Discomfort: Time to March

hear-our-voice

Recently my husband complained about the weather. “I’m done with winter,” he said, glancing out our kitchen window at the muted gray sky. All the snow had melted leaving behind the messier side of the season.

I agreed. Winter without snow looks, and feels, especially dreary. But I know the monotony of these cold spare months will eventually turn into spring, and the contrast between the two will be a gift.

I’ve always felt this way about seasons, about life. How we need the light and the dark, grief and joy, to feel fully alive. If we want to taste all the flavors, we must drink out of every cup, even the less appetizing ones.

Choosing the cup of discomfort, for example, instead of ignoring it. This has been on the periphery of my mind for years, but it rose swiftly to the surface after my country’s recent presidential election result.

What a wake up call that was, to many people I know, in particular, white people. Getting more particular, white women. Even more so: Myself.

Women of color, people of color, were not surprised. There was a scathing and funny Saturday Night Live sketch about this “phenomenon.” A group of white liberal city dwellers (in a neighborhood that looked suspiciously like my old one in Brooklyn) choked on their glasses of wine watching the election results while their two black friends rolled their eyes and howled in laughter at their ignorance.

It’s uncomfortable being called out as a rube, even more so as a perpetrator, but that’s what you are when you stand by and do nothing. When you’re even a little surprised by the widespread virulent and rampant racism that has been around for decades, centuries, that people of color live with every single day.

A writing friend wrote a short and fiery post entitled, MLK Isn’t A Holiday. “It is a call to action,” she said. But more often than not, for white people especially, it’s a day where many Instagram and Facebook feeds are rife with hopeful images and love filled quotes, mine included. Then, nothing. Until next year, Dr. King.

I squirmed in recognition. I have been that person. I am that person in some ways, but I’m changing. It’s a daily practice. It takes effort, and often, it’s uncomfortable.

This Saturday I’ll be attending the Women’s March on Washington. I signed up in November, a week after the election. Early on there were rumblings of discontent. About leadership, about the proposed name (The Million Woman March, which had been an African American women’s protest in Philadelphia in 1997).

Some white women couldn’t understand why there was a controversy at all. Why they were being asked to “check their privilege” and let women of color lead the way (literally and figuratively).

But the women who sowed the seeds of this march knew why. As momentum gathered, it was clear that after an election where 53% of white women voted for Trump, they alone could absolutely not lead this march.

I was relieved when minority activists took the helm and the march was renamed. The Women’s March on Washington is a respectful nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington in 1963, and came with a blessing from his daughter, Bernice King.

Racism within feminism has been a sticking point for decades. Transferring the bulk of leadership to minority activists was a chance for this march, and feminism, to go broader and deeper than the core concepts of equal pay and reproductive freedom. Those rights are vital, of course, but they are not the only ones that matter.

This quote from a recent Vogue article explores the layers of meaning behind the march:

“Where past waves of feminism, led principally by white women, have focused predominantly on a few familiar concerns—equal pay, reproductive rights—this movement, led by a majority of women of color, aspires to be truly intersectional. So though the Women’s March has partnered with organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America—and though second-wave feminist icon Gloria Steinem is now an honorary co-chair [along with Harry Belafonte] —the march’s purview is far more sweeping. Women are not a monolith, solely defined by gender; we are diverse, we represent half of this country, and any social justice movement—for the rights of immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, for law enforcement accountability, for gun control, for environmental justice—should count as a “women’s issue.”” 

Women’s rights are human rights, to quote Hillary Clinton, and on Saturday, January 21st 2017, the day after the presidential inauguration, women and men are coming together to raise their voices and their fists in protest.

womens-march
Can’t make it to Washington DC? Check out this incredible list of sister marches across the country – wait, let me amend this – across the globe.

https://www.womensmarch.com/sisters

A Light Goes Out

“As women, we are told that to be the guest is to receive. We are told that to be the host is to give. But what if it is the reverse? What if it is the guest who gives to the host and it is the host who receives from the guest each time she sets her table to welcome and feed those she loves?”

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

For many reasons, 2016 has been a year of loss. Politically, for the majority of Americans, and also literally, regarding so many notable deaths. But as the year wound down to a close, I found myself haggling over a life with a higher power I normally don’t believe in.

Don’t take Ray, I pleaded, thinking of the little boy I’d known years ago. The one his mother, Lucie, called “My Special Little” because he came years after her first two children, and really, he was special.

The sweet boy who my parents doted on like a grandchild, who spent many afternoons of his baby and childhood in my parents’ house while Lucie cared for my mother.

Little Ray, we called him, even after he grew up. It was a fitting name, because he was such a beam of light.

I didn’t know how to pray, but I did it anyway.

That’s what you do when the outlook is grim, but you dare to hope. I dared to hope and every night before bed I’d imagine him as a young man, approaching my mother.

They’d embrace, he’d play her a song on his guitar, and then she’d send him back to earth, back to us.

***

The day after I visited him at the hospital, we drove upstate. I checked my phone constantly for news. Nothing. We arrived to so much snow my husband had to drag our luggage from the car on a toboggan. I felt anxious. Fear folded and unfolded in my heart, but I ignored it. I made dinner. We put the kids to bed. I prayed again.

Midmorning the next day, I checked my phone. A message appeared. I took one dragging deep breath and then dropped to my knees on the floor.

It was the day before New Year’s Eve and he was gone.

***

We are all novices in grief. Each time we experience a death, we begin again.

I mentioned this to a friend and she asked me to explain. The only way I can is through parenthood. It’s like having a second or third child. You think you will remember everything. You have the experience stored in your body, in your mind, but with the new child you marvel at every detail, at all you’ve forgotten.

Ray was eighteen years old when he died. I knew him mostly as a baby, as a little boy, and only in passing. I was living in Manhattan when he was born, in Brooklyn when he was growing up. I’d see him on occasion when I’d come home to visit. I’d hear about him from my mother often. She loved talking about Little Ray. He brought her joy, made her smile.

mom-and-ray

When she was dying he came to visit with his mother. I watched him run around the rooms of a house he knew well.

He was a breath of life for her. For all of us.

***

New Year’s came and went. It was 2017 and I realized I never picked a word for the year as I had in the past. A couple days before the funeral, on my drive to therapy, I went through a dozen words. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing worked. It was a raining and the sky was a leaden gray. The wipers squeaked across the windshield.

Life can turn on a dime, Lucie said at the hospital, and I knew this was true. I wanted my word to act like a sponge. I wanted to soak up my life. The good and the bad.

I knew the right word arrived when I felt my eyes prickle with tears as I sounded it out in my mind. Receive. Yes. That was it. I thought about the quote from the memoir I was rereading, When Women Were Birds.

“What if it is the guest who gives to the host and it is the host who receives from the guest?”

If I looked at my life that way, maybe I wouldn’t feel so drained by my children’s incessant needs. Instead of feeling emptied, I could be filled. It’s a choice, I realized. A flip-flop perspective. Receiving love while offering it.

snow-heart

But I knew it wasn’t just love I’d have to be willing to receive.

You don’t get one without that other, messier package: pain, sadness, death.

***

The funeral was terribly hard. In some ways, it hurt more than my mother’s. He was 18 to her 58. Maybe it’s because I had a cushion of shock for hers, or perhaps I shouldn’t compare it because pain can’t be quantified.

I struggled to remain composed during the service, but sobs bubbled up my throat the moment it began. The packed room was muffled with weeping and the occasional gasp of disbelief, all of us wondering the same thing: how had this happened? How could Ray be gone?

Several times I had to remind myself to stay present. I wanted to check out, buffer the pain, but I kept going back. I told myself to stay. To receive.

Listening to his friends speak about him, his girlfriend, his family, it was like meeting him, and losing him, all over again. As I covered my mouth with my fist, I watched the people who loved and knew him best stand up at the podium and honor him with words and music, through tears and laughter.

Many said they could feel his presence in the room. Grief and love washed over me in equal measure.

At one point, a woman silently offered me a pack of tissues. Thank you, I whispered, and she nodded. In that moment I loved her.

We were all connected in that room, every one of us, strangers, friends, family, because of Ray.

From behind the podium, Lucie implored us to hold onto the love and peace her son embodied. Love each other, she said, and we did.

I weep for our loss, and the world’s.

I love you Little Ray.
Thank you for shining your sweet light on my family.
We will always hold you in our hearts.

me-and-ray

Speaking Up

It’s a cold and windy day. In so many ways, the world feels completely unhinged. Aleppo. Trump. Russia.

I stare out my office window, my fingers hovering above the keys. What to write? What to say? How to help?

We’re in the weeds, I said to my therapist the other week, meaning my family, my kids. Things are hard. We yell a lot. We yell about not yelling. In calmer moments, and even in the not so calm ones, I see the irony, but not enough to stop.

Yet, we’re lucky. So damn lucky.

“Aleppo!” I said to my husband this morning, when he asked if I’m stressed about the kids. “They’re supposed to be busing them out today.” Too little too late. Streets littered with blood and bodies. Children trapped in rubble, humans being slaughtered, saying their last goodbyes on social media.

The world is falling down, like the sky in the Chicken Little story I read to our son last night. But in some countries, it actually IS.

There is a rope hanging from a tree in our backyard. I see it from my office window. It dangles like a pendulum from a high branch. It used to hold a yellow wooden swing that my husband built over the summer. It was beautiful. But days later the paint began to swell and buckle. Eventually he took it down, but the rope remains. It hangs ominously. It reminds me of everything but the swing.

rope

No liberty is safe.

I said these words to a friend and my husband a couple weeks ago while our children played. We were talking about abortion rights. My husband said of course Roe v Wade was safe. I disagreed.

For the first time in my life, I don’t feel safe. My liberties don’t feel safe. I’ve been sheltered from this because of my privilege. Being white, upper middleclass. I’ve spent my life in comfort, both materialistically and psychologically.

While I am Jewish – and I’ve been reminded my entire life about my religion’s persecution, past and present – I’ve never had cause to feel worry.

I’ve never been afraid of getting pulled over by the police. No one gives me shady looks or denies me entrance when I’m shopping. For the most part, I’ve managed to slide through the world unscathed, except for the whole being a woman thing.

I know what it’s like to be taunted, heckled, threatened. I know what it’s like to be demeaned, intimidated, attacked.

But still, I’m lucky.

The other day at my daughter’s school, a boy at lunch said that anyone who likes Hillary Clinton is weird. They’re in third grade. Kids. This is a boy I like, one who stood up for my daughter when she was being bullied.

I was surprised, and yet not. There has been chatter among the children. They repeat what they hear at home.

Before I could ask what happened next, my daughter told me that she spoke up. Used her voice. I gripped the countertop with both hands. “What did you say?”

“I told him it was offensive to me,” she said with a shrug and a hint of a smile. Like no big deal. “But I said it in a serious voice,” she added.

I was stunned. My daughter who is terrified of dogs, getting up on stage, and walking to the bathroom at night wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. To stand up for her feelings.

Squealing with delight, I gave her a high five. “You spoke up for yourself, and you defended Hillary Clinton.” I beamed with pride. So did she.

Want to know what my next thought was?

Fear.

I was afraid. Because I know what can happen to people, girls, who speak up. How quickly and ruthlessly they can be cut down.

“What did he say?” I asked, trying to sound casual, bracing myself.

“Nothing.”

Relief. But she had another story to share. A different boy had made up a song about building a wall. She said it was funny, and started singing it. It was a song about a wall, and violence, all sung to the tune of Frozen’s, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”

I asked if she thought he was referring to Donald Trump’s proposed wall. She didn’t know. I told her not to sing the song, gently explaining how scary it could be to kids in her class with families in Mexico. How offensive and hurtful, even if it wasn’t the intention.

Words matter. Oh, how much they matter.

She agreed, and then asked me if she should tell the boy not to sing it.

My first instinct was a big fearful NO. I took a deep breath and said she didn’t have to, but it was up to her.

Clearly, it’s me who should be taking lessons from her, because the next day she spoke up AGAIN.

She asked him if the wall in the song referred to Trump’s, and it did. Then she asked him not to sing it. She explained what we had discussed at home. At first he laughed, and then he agreed not to.

“He could’ve been mean,” my daughter said thoughtfully, “but he wasn’t.”

I know that one day someone will be mean, but I can’t silence her preemptively. Out of fear. She is strong and brave. I will encourage her to speak up, teach her how to face both kinds of responses, and I will learn from her at the same time.

The world is coming apart at the seams. Our liberties are at stake.

And I’m through being quiet about it.

hand-microphone-mic-hold

Links for helping refugees in Aleppo and in the world:

https://app.mobilecause.com/form/gux8IQ

https://preemptivelove.nationbuilder.com/aleppo

Links for battling hate and discrimination, fighting for our liberties:

https://99waystofighttrump.com

https://www.womensmarch.com

http://www.thedreamcorps.org/lovearmy

https://www.facebook.com/TheGoodFightsOn/

 

Going to Work

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work… There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
– Toni Morrison 

A few Sundays ago I woke up to the sound of my daughter rustling in her room. I glanced at the window. Dark. Not a drop of light.

I crept next door and handed her my phone. “See you at seven,” I said reminding her about our deal. After a quick kiss, I closed the door softly behind me.

Coffee was waiting. The house silent and still. It was already 6:45, my time limited. I began to write.

When my daughter came downstairs, the sun had risen. The backyard was bathed in watery autumn light. It was 7:30. I had written almost 500 words.

Full disclosure: I began this post before the election. Before the world seemed more unhinged than ever (to me). Before Standing Rock, before Trump’s appointments, each one just as bad (if not worse) than the one before.

It’s hard to write during times like this. Write my own story, I mean. How can it compete with the global stories happening right now?

Well, it can’t. But writing is what I do, it’s how I survive. In times of struggle, my own and the world’s. My other work, helping to create a community that is inclusive and safe for all people is something I will continue to do. But I must also write. I can’t let myself be paralyzed or muted by my own feelings of helplessness, despair, or fear.

It’s easier, so much easier, to stay in bed. When the world feels safe, and even more so when it doesn’t.

staying-in-bed

But I won’t. I’ll get up instead.

I’ll go downstairs and write. Watch the birds at the feeder, maybe catch a glimpse of my favorite red fox, or watch the squirrels and bunnies nibble on leftover clover. I’ll be grateful for my privilege to do this.

I used to think I needed hours to write, but it’s not true. Becoming a mother turned me (by necessity) into an incredibly efficient writer. I have no time to waste, so I wring out every available minute. I’ll write in scraps when I must. Scraps add up to hours. Hours add up to pages. Pages to manuscripts.

It’s taken me years to understand what is most crucial in my writing practice – staying present. Not leaping ahead to the unknown.

The only thing I can do is wake up. Sit at my desk. Greet the screen. Put my fingers on the keys. Follow my story for as long as I can.

We all have our own version of this, whether we are artists or not. Being human is enough to make this vital choice. To see light when the world seems so, so dark.

 

I’m pleased to be linking up with Writing Bubble’s What I’m Writing 

What-Im-Writing-linky-badge

Woke Up To This

Tears are forming just looking at the first line of my last post.

“Today I voted in what I believe is the most important election in my lifetime.”

Still believe it. More than ever.

I’m about to take a social media hiatus right now for sanity’s sake, despite feeling tremendous gratitude to all my friends there – both the ones I know in real life, and those who live oceans away. It’s just too much for my senses right now. I need some quiet to think, reflect, and weep.

It’s funny, I never thought I’d love and treasure Facebook the way I do. There is so much freaking love and solidarity and compassion in my feed it’s unreal. Maybe in part because I came to the FB party super late, and most of the people are actual friends, or people I’d like to be friends with, and almost all of them share my views about things like, for example, politics and feminism. It sure makes easy reading, let me tell you.

My friends on FB got me through this election. They got me through those train wreck debates and all the ugliness that came before and after. I was on FB during the 3rd debate and I can’t tell you how much it helped. My husband and I were in the room together of course, but I also felt like I had dozens of friends whispering in my ear and passing me notes.

We’re in this together, you all said to me via funny jokes and serious commentary.

I felt so understood and cared for and seen. Just like I did last night and this morning.

Thank you.

Stepping away is not about that, but about taking care of myself during this grief.

Because I am totally grieving right now.

It started last night, around 11pm, when I shut down the internet and tried to fall asleep. I felt like someone had scraped all my insides out. My heart and chest felt hollow, empty.

The feeling was familiar because it’s exactly how I felt the morning after my mom died. When I shared this with my husband he agreed, saying that his emptiness feels similar to the global grief he felt after 9/11. The world is different. Or actually it isn’t. The world is the same, we’re just seeing it differently.

Regardless. My heart is broken. Having to tell my daughter this morning broke it all over again. Her hopeful face crumbled. I watched it crumble and then she cried. I had spent the previous hour practicing what I would say to her after reading an article online, but before I could open my mouth I started crying again.

I hugged her tightly. I said, “I know, me too.”

hillary-for-president-poster

My daughter made this the other day.

We talked after our tears slowed, and we’ll talk more tonight. Really, our conversation is just beginning. My husband woke up soon after and found out the news from our faces. He was just as crushed.

All day I’ve been cycling through sadness, disbelief, and anger. I’m also crying, a lot. In the car I screamed  so loudly my whole body went rigid. My heart keeps on breaking.

I told my husband that we cry now, and then we fight. I believe this. I’m not down for the count. But I am down. I don’t want to hear a thing about giving Trump a chance right now. I’m also not ready to put on my gloves and get into the ring, yet.

So, for now, I’m just going to grieve.

Sending love to everyone else in the trenches, or wherever you find yourself in the aftermath of this election.

P.S. Thank you to whoever took down the Trump signs near the intersection by my house. I literally was ready to pull over and rip them out myself (I just can’t bear to see them so close to home) but you beat me to it.