There is no easy walk to freedom

At this very moment eleven years ago, at the age of 31, I was in a hospital bed, waiting to be born.

I, a 31 year old woman, was waiting to be born.

People around me were waiting for a baby girl to be born. They didn’t know that she was not the only one entering the world, though. They didn’t know what my insides looked like, because I didn’t tell them. I guess I didn’t really know that I was dead inside either. I only knew that I was a vapid, insipid human being–a person who knew nothing and felt very little. Feelings were painful and scary, and so disassociation had become my normal state of being. I was going through motions just enough to keep the peace, but not enough to actually show up in this world as fully human.

Until I saw her.

They pulled her out of me at 7:50 am on June 15, 2008. She tilted her head to one side, as the nurse held her up to my face. For the first time in such a long time, I felt something. Something about those mocha eyes staring at me caused me to almost want to stand up, even though I had literally just been cut open a few minutes ago in a Caesarean section surgery.

I took her and held her. This was an inexplicably important moment. It wasn’t just the birth of my child. It was the birth of me. Somehow I knew that. I just didn’t know how it would quite play out. I didn’t know what that meant. I only knew disassociation was no longer an option. I had to start showing up in my own life.

Every day of the first two years of Aliana’s life, I knew that I would need to leave my marriage in order to become me again. This truth grew into a massively strong tree that continued to grow inside of my soul as it was revealed to me, day in and day out. This tree of truth became so mighty and strong that I felt shame for not watering it. I felt shame for noticing it, but not taking care of it. While I didn’t act upon it, I felt this ominous feeling inside that I needed to do something or that tree would actually pop out of me and I would be exposed for being a fraud.

I somehow made baby steps of action. I found Bible verses that spoke to me and read them every day. Every morning I read the magnet on my fridge that said, “Be strong and courageous and do the work.” -1 Chronicles 28:20. As I read that verse over and over again, I hoped the words would eventually cause my feet to act on what was growing inside of me. I wrote down a quote in my journal by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “Our lives begin the end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I knew this was the truth. That until I spoke up about what was happening in my life, and acted on that truth–that I would continue to choose a life that was rooted in darkness instead of in light.

Silence creates shame. Ironically, the more we don’t act on changing things that we know need to be changed, the more the shame seems to grow.

I knew the work I needed to do was to leave my marriage. The more I knew it, the angrier my spouse seemed to become. The abusive episodes escalated until a moment in February 18, 2010, where my daughter witnessed something that no child should ever see. I felt my heart jump out of my chest as I called the Julian Center the next day, “I need help,” I told them.

I began to call attorneys. I began to interview attorneys in secret. I began to go to the Julian Center for a women’s support group.

And then I told my family. I started with Uncle Roy. Uncle Roy was patient and kind and truthful. He helped me to begin to not be ashamed of my experiences but to actually own them. I began to understand why “responsibility” is the fourth stage in the cycle of violence: for it is when we take responsibility for stopping the cycle, that it can finally end. Ownership of truth leads to responsibility.

Abusive relationships are addictive. People become addicted to each other during the cycle of trauma. There’s something called trauma bonding that happens-which is why the average woman tries to leave an abusive relationship multiple times before she actually does it with finality.

People ask me all the time: what causes some people to finally leave abusive relationships, and others to never leave? And I used to say all the time, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I just know I somehow did it but I’m not even sure how I got there.”

And while I still don’t completely know, what I do know is this–there is a connection between humility and courage.

My parents always acted on the extreme side of teaching me humility. Sometimes I felt that they aimed so hard to teach me that vanity and pride were a load of crap, that I actually almost had none.

But this trait they worked so hard to instill in me–a sense of humility–was ultimately what caused me to change my life.

Humility is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” When you are humble by nature and are facing difficult challenges, you can start to say things like, “Hey, I don’t know how to do this. Let me get some help from someone. Let me listen instead of speak. Let me admit that I’m jacked up right now. Let me sit with this and know that God will lead me out of this if I listen hard and surrender to the fact that I cannot control my situation, but I can take responsibility for it.”

There is something to be said to listening to your inner compass. But when your inner compass is not working, there is wisdom in listening to and following the advice of others who love you and who are professionals. When you are blindsided with fear and anxiety, your inner compass doesn’t even work. It’s like a compass on steroids, spinning and spinning and freezing up.

So that is when you find the following two people:

-a very wise, professional well researched individual who is an expert on what you are going through (like a psychologist or doctor)

-a wise friend or family member who always wants what’s best for you and loves you more than you love you

And then you sit down and listen. Filter out what sits better with you than what doesn’t. But trust that they know things you don’t.

We don’t know it all. We can be experts and read books until we are dead, but when we are experiencing something keeps us stuck in a shame cycle, anxiety spin, or is just painful as hell, we will need help.

We will need help. We will need each other. We will need truth, that is borne from love.

For me, my rebirth was the road to freedom. I still have pain and difficulties in my life, but I have ME. I know how to be me and it’s safe to be me. I am free from abuse, and just like an addict who becomes sober, I will never go back “there.” I will not become entangled with someone who abuses me, uses me, and confuses me.

But I wouldn’t have gotten to that point without learning to listen, and without a humble heart. The challenge with raising a child is aiming for humility AND self love. It’s hard-it means you must do a lot of talking, modeling, and building understanding of healthy relationships.

I feel so much gratitude today. Gratitude for my 11 year old baby, gratitude for humility, and gratitude for freedom. The other day, I saw this quote from Nelson Mandela, posted at a school I was in:

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again, before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”

May we remember this: that no one, not even God, has promised us an easy life. But we have the ability to be quiet, be still, and listen. And within that stillness, we just might find a new path or new way of being. I am so thankful to this child, whose birth was a reminder that it’s never too late to change your life. And it’s never too late to become free.

The Softness that is Forgiveness

If anyone again asks me what it means to forgive someone, I will tell him or her this story.

It started when I was 32, in the summer of 2009. My husband, at the time, was from the Dominican Republic. We decided to make a trip there so his family could meet our daughter right when she was turning one year old.

We arrived in the hot month of June. The Dominican Republic is near the Equator, and from the moment we stepped off the airplane, I could feel the heat of the sun percolating on my pores. I had lost all my baby weight, but now was almost too thin due to not eating. My marriage was falling apart at the seams and I was unraveling too. The only thing holding me together was my focus on my child and her wellbeing.

“I’m so glad you finally lost weight,” my mother-in-law said to me in Spanish, with a widely genuine smile when I greeted her at the airport. While I knew that a person’s weight is not as taboo of a subject in the Dominican Republic as it is in the United States, her words etched a streak on my already decrepit spirit.

My mother-in-law never seemed to like me, but I could not ever seem to deduce why. Sometimes I thought it was due to the fact I was a foreigner. Other times I thought maybe I was unknowingly breaking some cultural rules or wasn’t submissive enough, in her mind, to be a good wife.

But ultimately the reasons behind her perceived dislike for me weren’t really worth spending time analyzing. I just had to deal with it.

During this trip, I tried to keep my daughter on a nap schedule. My mother-in-law told me this was ridiculous and that no child needed such a thing. I didn’t want to argue with her because I felt that would be a sign of disrespect, but I continued to put her down for a nap everyday at the same time, even though she would blast merengue music in objection to my decision.

I loved the Dominican Republic for so many reasons: I adored the welcoming nature of its people, the love I felt from my host family when I studied abroad there, the hospitality of strangers in the community, and the kindness and resilient spirit I witnessed in its people.

But I did not love my mother in law. I could not love my mother in law, no matter how hard I tried.

I looked at her and I saw pain. The pain of being an abused wife. The shame of being left by her husband. The guilt and oppression she suffered from so many losses.

And yet, I couldn’t find it in my heart to accept her in her brokenness.

The entire time we were in her home, I was belittled and criticized for being overly focused on my daughter. I was confused by the criticism that seemed to be contradictory at the time: one moment I was being told my schedule was ridiculous, but the next moment, I was called disorganized for not getting my daughter’s bottle ready quickly enough.

It was gaslighting behavior, except for it was my in-laws doing it, instead of my then husband.

As for my then husband, he remained silent most of the time, choosing not to intervene. When he would intervene, it was to side with his family as they were telling me what I was doing wrong in my mothering.

The last night we were there, I felt relief that we were finally going home. As I was rocking my daughter to sleep that night, my mother in law called for me to come talk to her. When I was done putting her to bed, I went to find my mother-in-law in the kitchen.

“I need to tell you something,” she said to me in Spanish, “something I should have told you before.”

I had a moment where my heart softened. She’s going to apologize, I thought. She feels badly for criticizing me.

But before my heart could soften any further, her words quickly transformed into daggers that were aimed at my heart, my self worth, and my ability to love.

“You are an awful mother and wife,” she said.

I gulped down air, feeling like I needed to run away, but instead froze.

“Do you want to know why?” she asked.

I didn’t answer, standing there without moving. Apparently I was now an ice cube, stuck in my tray, unable to transform back to fluidity.

“You have paid more attention to that child than your own marriage. So if my son cheats on you… if he has other women he wants to sleep with–that’s no one’s fault other than your own,” she said.

“You deserve however he treats you,” she stated, and finally stepped aside so I could walk away if I chose to do so.

I suddenly felt my legs melting. I bowed my head and exited the kitchen. I went upstairs and wanted to cry, but couldn’t. I didn’t have tears. I felt as if whatever bubble of dignity was still present in my spirit had been popped by a sharp needle and had oozed away.

Despite this terrible emptiness, I somehow realized a small push of determination to fight for myself was still present within me. I imagined myself putting on armor, lying down in it to rest, knowing that this was temporary. I just needed to remember that the armor was there to protect me.

The next morning we left the Dominican Republic. One year after that, I left my husband.

And then nine years after that, I walked into my ex-husband’s house to pick up my daughter, and I saw her face. When they told me she would be there, I was scared. Scared I would not know what to say. Scared she would take her anger at me out on my daughter. Scared that she would take me back to that day nine years ago in her kitchen when I last saw her.

But when I saw her face, I instead felt the strangest thing. I felt something weird, as she walked over to me and cupped my face in her hands and side kissed my cheeks, as is the custom in the Dominican Republic.

I felt a tenderness. I felt empathy. I felt respect. I felt seen.

I don’t know how that happened. I have no FREAKING idea. But I know that’s what forgiveness is. It’s a softening. A turning towards. It is not reconciliation. It is simply understanding. It is letting go. It is loving from a distance. It’s gratitude from learning the lessons the pain taught you.

Time creates space. Space creates room to see the truth. I know that without the gift of time and space, it’s hard to learn to recognize the truth. And the truth is that you never need closure for anything. Things fall apart and the only thing you need to remember or try to do is put yourself back together. And once you do that, you may see that in your brokenness, you are strong. In your pain and bitterness, you have lessons. And one of those lessons might be that you may one day, after time and space, find yourself looking back on everything, with a very different softness about you.

And that softness is forgiveness.

What it’s Really Like to be a Single Parent

The other day I went to my doctor’s office for an appointment and was making small talk with the nurse. I told her about an upcoming solo vacation I was going on for a weekend, and the nurse asked me if I was taking my daughter. I told her no, she was with her dad that weekend.

“Oh,” she said. “So you can like get away and do things by yourself when she’s gone. Man, I wish I were divorced so I could get a break from my kids!”

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I thought of a couple sarcastic, semi humorous possible responses in my head, but chose not to verbally respond to her statement, knowing that it was probably more of a commentary of her sentiments about her own marriage and responsibilities, and less of a statement about divorce.

Because no one who has ever been divorced says stuff like that.

And what the nurse didn’t realize is what it’s REALLY like to be a single parent.

Preface: This is my perspective, based on a few different factors pertaining to my individual situation listed below.

    I am divorced and have my daughter alone about 75% of the time.
    For various reasons, I do not co-parent with her father. We have more of a “business relationship.”
    I do not have a partner in my home. It’s just me and my kid.

So in essence, I’m about to give you my take on single parenting from someone who is truly single parenting 75 % of the time to one child.

Here goes:

Single parenting is like living inside a computer that never turns off. There are many different tabs and programs open and only you can close them because you’re the one with the username and password and operating instructions. Oh, and the operating instructions are ones you have developed yourself based on your own experiences as a child except for you have to keep tweaking them as you realize your childhood and even your child is quite different than you. People may try to help you and sometimes you’re like oh my goodness, thank you for your help, YES, because your computer is so warmed up from running all the time, and you have all these different tabs open, like a tab for meals, clothing, homework, cleaning, extra curricular activities, one for trying to figure out tweens or toddlers, and not even mentioning the tabs for your own life.

In contrast, many homes with two involved parents have a computer they share. They exchange operating instructional notes. They both know how the computer works. And they can divide up the endless tabs and responsibilities. And sometimes one of them can say to the other, “I’m losing my patience with this kid we are trying to figure out. I need to walk away from the computer, so can you keep tabs on it while I go to the grocery store and get a mental break?”

But the single parent has to keep all the tabs open even when she or he wants a break. Any breaks taken from the computer are never, ever spontaneous. No one just randomly shows up at her door at the exact moment she needs a break. That doesn’t mean she or he never receives technical support to keep their computer up and running smoothly. But it does mean she is the only one responsible for running that computer. It is she who must make decisions and decide how to fix it most of the time.

It is the times when my child is most emotional that I feel the greatest responsibility of single parenting and running that computer. When she is devastated about a loss, or extremely excited or nervous about an upcoming event, or angry with me because she didn’t get her way, I feel her feelings and I hold space for her and I realize that THIS IS IT. I’m her emotional support and I have to be present. I have to help her process.

It is in those times that I sometimes literally fall to my knees and say, “Lord, lead me, because it’s just me and my heart leading this kid, and I don’t know what in the heck I’m doing. Give me wisdom and strength to bear this great responsibility.”

Here’s the thing, though: I cannot bear witness to the challenges of single parenting without bearing witnesses to the beauty in it.

I am no more proud of anything than I am of the work I do as a single parent. I am not doing it perfectly, but I am doing it. I know that there are times she wishes, as many children of divorced parents do, that her parents were not divorced. What she doesn’t know, and may never know, is that I fought very hard to save my marriage to the point that I had lost myself completely in another person.

However, I found myself as a mother when I had the freedom to be me. I found myself when my daughter was two years old, woke up vomiting in the middle of the night, and cried for me. I found myself when she was three years old and fell running at the pool and got a concussion, and I scooped her up off the ground and rushed her to the doctor. I found myself when I took her to a child psychologist at the age of four because I was so worried I had no idea what I was doing raising this strong willed, vibrant little girl. I found myself when she received straight As all year long and won an award, and I was the sole person there to support her. I found myself when she got in big trouble in first grade for throwing her shoe over the fence during recess and she went the rest of the school day wearing one shoe.

In a million and one ways, I FOUND myself due to parenting my daughter alone.

And while I do not wish the challenges that come with divorce or single parenting on anyone, I am grateful for the million and one ways that the experience of single parenting has forced me to find myself.

With great responsibility, also comes a great reward, if you are simply willing to find yourself in the midst of the hard stuff.

One decade ago today

One decade ago, I was lying in a hospital bed in great physical discomfort as I was birthing my daughter.

This day is sacred to me unlike no other. My child’s birth was my rebirth. For this reason, her birthday is even more special to me than my own. She woke me up to the possibility of a new life and a new way of being.

She ignited a fire in my heart that I followed: a fire which burned through

injustice,

darkness,

and fear.

I took the ashes from this fire and buried them. I built walls to prevent me from veering off the path. I knew the new pathway I was creating required a significant commitment to growth, courage, and love–both for myself and for my child. I knew it was going to be hard, but that the reward would be great.

I am not being dramatic when I say Aliana saved my life. That statement is both a beautiful and ugly truth for me. It’s beautiful because it was because of my love for her that I took responsibility for my life. It is ugly because no child should have to enter the world, bearing a burden of such consequence.

The world of domestic violence is a dark one. People who live in it experience warped realities and emotional and physical trauma. There were three things that saved me: my love for my daughter, getting professional help, and about two people who knew my story and never gave up on me. Those two people told me everyday that I was strong and smart and that they believed in my capacity to do hard things. They reminded me of who I was when I forgot.

But if I hadn’t had that trifecta–I may not have left.

I feel that I am one of the lucky ones. Some people live their whole lives in an abusive relationship. Some get out, but they never heal or understand how they got there in the first place. They continue to repeat the patterns or form new addictions.

When you decide to take the pathway to healing, you will discover that it is simultaneously incredible and also brutal. You must be willing to be ripped open and dissected and put back together. Not everyone is willing. But I do believe everyone is able if they allow it to happen.

But they must really allow it to happen. All the beauty and all the terror– to allow it to wash over them, as Rilke says.

Today, people sometimes write to me and ask me for advice about how to help a friend or family member who is experiencing abuse and what I usually tell them is this:

  • Listen
  • Affirm their feelings
  • Accept their decisions
  • Set boundaries when necessary
  • Encourage the victim to get professional help
  • Acknowledge that leaving is very hard but it is the only way their children will know the love of a parent who has the capacity to love with her whole heart.

I am not a therapist nor do I know if the advice I just gave is the best or not. But I do know that conquering an abusive relationship is similar to conquering an addiction. That’s because all these crazy neural pathways are formed in your brain during trauma bonding. Research it. It’s a real thing. Stockholm Syndrome and stuff.

But if you actually DO it–if one actually leaves the abuse, the amazing thing is how quickly one can heal when you

  • Take responsibility for showing up in your life
  • Allow justice to be served by setting boundaries like you’ve never known before.

I am so lucky. I am so grateful. I will never ever EVER stop feeling grateful for my trifecta: my daughter, the professional help I received, and my two people who believed in me nearly a decade ago.

But it all started with my daughter. With me looking into her eyes and me saying to her, “I don’t want you to live like this.”

Beauty and truth. It’s what’s being served in our home, one decade later.

I love you, Aliana.

‚ÄúWell, it depends.‚ÄĚ

One of the most bizarre things a mother can experience is that she can birth a child into the world who has a personality completely different than her own.

My mother did just that.

I came into this world, very quickly (my dad barely made it to the hospital in time) and very loudly, according to my father. I was a horrible sleeper (a trait I passed on to my own child) and sensitive and fearful. I was wired for anxiety and phobias and seemed to be driven by my emotions.

From the time I was two years old, up until adulthood, my mother spent a lot of time sagely advising me to slow down. To wait. To be patient. To think. I didn’t like that she was telling me these things, but I mostly listened because something inside of me knew she was speaking wisdom to me.

But the best piece of advice my mother ever gave me of all time was simply two words, or sometimes three, depending on how she framed it:

“It depends.”

That’s right, folks. Two words: IT DEPENDS. Sometimes she added in the extra word, “well,” at the beginning, and in that case, she said:

Well, it depends.”

If I had a dollar for every time my mother said, “It depends,” I would be rolling in the dough. To this day, she says it frequently in response to people making “should” statements that are filled with emotion. The following are a list of statements to which my mother has responded with her adage, “Well, it depends.”

  • Our culture: “Follow your heart.” Mom: “Well, it depends. Sometimes the heart is just a bunch of feelings.”
  • Our culture: “Be fearless.” Mom: “It depends; sometimes fear is there to protect you.”
  • Our culture: “Live your life with no regrets.” Mom: “Well it depends. Sometimes regret can teach us things.”
  • Our culture: “Stand up for what you know is right.” Mom: “Well, it depends. You may not be right and may just be being stubborn.”
  • Our culture: “Take the bull by the horns and act quickly and efficiently.” Mom: “Well, it depends. You can take your time and be efficient as well.”

You see??? IT JUST DEPENDS. That is what I have learned from my mother.

My whole point in sharing how my mother’s phrase has helped me, is because I realize today that it has caused me, despite the fact that I’m wired to be emotional and even anxious, to choose to be OPEN to multiple perspectives. To be OPEN to multiple ways of existing, and feeling and thinking.

And while there are definite moral truths that cannot be argued with when it comes to equality and justice for humanity–no matter who you are, where you live, or what you have done– beyond those universal truths lies the world of “It depends.”

No one has this freaking thing called life figured out. We are all going to make independent judgments based on our experiences. However, there is great comfort in knowing that feelings are just feelings and, as a wise yoga teacher once said, “I am determined to see this mountain as just a mountain. It’s not a statement on my life,” (meaning not everything we perceive as terrible that’s happening to us has anything to do with us).

Pastor Rob Bell says our culture is all treble and no bass. People get their news and develop their thoughts from what they are exposed to on social media. Through the lens of technology, we have begun to believe there are quick answers to everything. In the craziness of all of this, my mom has been my bass, my voice of reason, by asserting that we cannot depend entirely on feelings, or easily swayed by new voices simply because they sound good. It just depends.

I close with a photo of my Mom, telling everyone to chill out, because no one knows what’s going to happen. “It depends,” she probably is saying. ‚¨áÔłŹ

For the People Who Care the Maximum Amount

This one is for the people who care the maximum amount. Those of us who care about others, what others are thinking, if we offended others, suffer from social anxiety, perfectionists in our relationships, etc. If the aforementioned describes you, lend me your ears.

Many years ago, an incident happened with a friend, that I felt was a betrayal. Others perceived it as a miscommunication. I wanted to give the person the benefit of the doubt, so I communicated to her that a boundary had been crossed in our relationship, and I then restated my boundary (which happened to involve my child).

My friend said, “No problem, I understand. This will not happen again.” So, I carried on in the friendship until, one day, she became very angry with me about the boundary I had expressed and it was stated to me by both her and members of her family, that my boundary was unrealistic.

I spent a night agonizing over this. Was it unrealistic? Was I wrong? Was I… being stubborn ūüė≥?

You see, I had spent most of my life, believing that people who could not come to an agreement on things were exhibiting pride and/or were operating purely from their egos. I didn’t want to be a person who was so caught up in “my beliefs” that I couldn’t compromise.

Until one night I was talking to my friend Melanie about this incident, and she said something profound:

“This is one situation where you can’t budge. It’s beneath your dignity to do so.”

“Dignity?? Like, what does that even mean??” I asked her. (I mean, I knew the word “dignity,” but its meaning felt so foreign to me in this context that I needed to hear an explanation.)

“You know… dignity. Like, you’re worthy of respect.”

“Dignity. Okay. My dignity,” I slowly said, taking it all in.

Within that particular moment, what I was beginning to realize was this: my boundary that had been violated was an extension of my values. So I just couldn’t bend–or I would break and be compromising WHO I was. I would be compromising my self worth–what I value, who I am, and my dignity.

And here’s the thing–for some people, this wouldn’t have been a big deal. But for me, it was. Because I’m wired to care THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT about my relationships. Like, on a continuum of caring about other people, where zero is literally “IDGAF” (don’t google that, Mom) and ten is “I really want people to be happy with me and not hurt their feelings,” I’m pretty much a 12. While saying no to others may come easily to some, it does NOT come easily to me.

And this situation was a hard one. I ended up disappointing a lot of people: people who I loved and people who my child loved. I had to take time to grieve the loss and work through this betrayal.

But the one person I didn’t end up disappointing was myself. I had not betrayed my values. I had spoken from my heart, and from a place of truth. This was not pride–it was dignity. And dignity is the very ONE THING we cannot compromise. Our lives will never be easy, but we can at least know we are living in integrity when we speak and respect our values through our decision making.

I’m talking to YOU–the one who cares the maximum amount. Don’t forget to care about yourself.

Photo: My friend, Melanie, who has been teaching me about dignity since the third grade.

Robert Earl Whitehead

Yesterday, my dad turned 77 years old. Like I said in my last blog about my mother, who just turned 79, it‚Äôs so hard to believe that my parents are almost in their 80s. In my mind, they are still like 62 or something. But as I discovered the other day, my parents are older than some of my friends’ grandparents. They are aging, and that is a reality which has somehow never been easy for me to grasp.

But, back to my dad. My dad has always been an unusual character. Out of my two parents, he’s the most like me, in personality. He’s extraverted, works better with children than adults (he still teaches Sunday School to preschoolers), enjoys adventure, and tells the most interesting stories of ANYONE I’ve ever known.

When I was a child, I remember one of my cousins describing a man in an airport she had observed that reminded her of my father.

“Did he look like my dad? Like bald and kinda short?” I asked.

“No, she said. “Not at all. But it wasn’t the way he looked that reminded me of your dad… it was the way he moved around.”

“Moved around?”

“Yeah, like he stood there with his hands on his hips, turning his head in every direction, frenetically observing everything happening around him. And his face had a look on him like this ūü§®.”

Yep, that sounds about right, I thought to myself.

My dad has never known a stranger. He has always spoken to everyone about anything and everything. If my dad were a cat instead of a human, curiosity would have killed all of his nine lives before he had even made it to adulthood.

My father’s stories have always intrigued my friends and I. His stories include some of the following: the time the nuns made up a lie about him in order to kick him out of the choir in Catholic school, the time he almost drowned in the ocean when he kicked off in an inner tube from the north shore of Oahu, the time when he got fired in the college cafeteria, the time he dropped a mercury thermometer and infected large quantities of tomatoes at the canned tomato factory, the time he failed sex education class IN COLLEGE, and the time he was thrown in jail in Florida on spring break.

Despite his animated storytelling and unique way of carrying himself, he always struck me as someone who perhaps has been misunderstood. People have mistaken his kindness for weakness, his ADHD nature for being unobservant, and his sense of adventure for fearlessness.

When I was in high school, a mentor of mine told me that every nuclear family tends to have a scapegoat–the person who gets blamed for everything or is picked on more than others. Upon hearing this statement, I immediately thought of my father, and realized that he was our family’s scapegoat. Something missing? Dad surely misplaced it. Forgot the one item on the grocery list we needed? Dad’s fault. People are laughing at us? Dad must be doing something ridiculous. Happy birthday rendition sounds like nails on the chalkboard? Dad tried to sing.

Everything wrong? Dad must have done something.

And here’s the thing about scapegoats–they often play along in their role. And my dad did just that. He had no problems being the brunt of jokes or being blamed for crap for the most part. He just went with the flow.

But here’s the other thing about scapegoats–they are often misunderstood.

I want to tell you a story about my father that only I can tell so that maybe I can show a side of him that not everyone knows. When I was about eight years old, we were walking out to the car together to go to the grocery store and I said, “Oh my God!” about something, and my dad froze in his tracks. I looked up at him in that moment, and the outrage I saw in his eyes made me truly afraid of him for the first, and possibly only, time. You see, my dad would get mad here and there, but I never took it too seriously because I knew he was just pouty and a little emotional. But this time, I had apparently hit a nerve. He was angry, but he didn’t scream. He got down on his knees, eye level, and told me, “Don’t you ever take the Lord’s name in vain again. You know I don’t spank, but I will spank you for that.”

And I don’t think I ever said, “Oh my God,” until I was like 33 years old after that. My dad wasn’t strict with me (that was my mom’s job in our home,) but he was apparently strict about invoking the name of the Lord.

A couple of years ago, I gave my dad a book that had questions in it that I wanted him to write the answers to. The questions were mostly about his life, and the experiences he has had. When he was done, he gave the book back to me to have as a keepsake. I am a sentimental person when it comes to my aging parents, so I didn’t open the book up until yesterday because I was afraid it would make me cry.

But it didn’t make me cry. Instead, it made me laugh a little. Mostly, it made me feel profound gratitude for having had my dad as MY DAD.

Here are a couple thoughts he wrote in the book:

“I would like everyone to remember me as a person that loved his family and tried to do everything I could to create a happy family.

I also want people to know I tried to live a life that I felt as a human could follow the love of Christ. I also tried to make life better to others that I related to. I truly wanted to not hurt others and tried to create a life that Jesus wanted me to live.”

What stood out to me is that he said he wanted to follow the LOVE of Christ. Because an awful lot of people these days are talking about Jesus as if he were some conservative dude who supported the wealthy and those in power. I am not an expert on Jesus, but one thing I learned from my dad is that Jesus showed love to those who were OUTCASTS. To those who were poor. To those who were underprivileged and not accepted by mainstream society. To those that were the antithesis of popular and respected.

And that’s the Jesus my dad modeled his life after.

So Dad, even if you are the scapegoat of the family, one thing you can be sure of is this: you will be remembered as you want to be, because that is WHO YOU ARE: someone who loved his family, always quick to forgive and the first to apologize, and someone who loved the outcasts of this world: the homeless, the refugees, children in poverty, the drug addicts, and I could go on and on.

I learned how to love others from you. And I learned what love IS from you.

Thank you for your unconditional love, Dad.

Should I Stay for the Kids?

When¬†a couple is in a¬†committed relationship, and one of¬†them is contemplating leaving, he or she may ask¬†him or herself questions¬†such as, “Is this bad¬†enough for me to leave or good enough for me to stay?” However, when¬†that same¬†couple¬†is in a committed¬†relationship with children, there is a much more disconcerting thought that may enter his or her mind: “What would leaving do to my children?”

I am 41 years old.¬† I am divorced.¬† I am clearly not a psychologist or a relationship expert.¬† I am not going to furl¬†data or research¬†at you.¬†¬†However, I have had the privilege of witnessing profound personal growth in people who were willing to dig deeper into the layers of this aforementioned question:¬† What would leaving my children’s father or mother¬†do to my children?

When I hear people ask this question, I also hear the following underlying/interconnected  questions:

  • What would it do to me to see my children suffer through this pain?
  • What would it¬†mean for my children to come from a broken home?
  • What will happen to me¬†as I explain this to other people?
  • What will people think of me for leaving a marriage or partnership that doesn’t look “that bad?”
  • Shouldn’t I be able to¬†tolerate it, at least until the children get older, so that I can give them a “stable” home life?

These are really hard questions that I am sure many a therapist has heard in their offices. These are questions that have been written into journals and secretly tucked under people’s mattresses where no one else can find them.  These are questions that are whispered in quiet corridors where lovers meet to have affairs that feel more comfortable to them than leaving the status quo.  These are questions that people ask themselves as they drink a bottle of wine every night in order to go to sleep, because numbing out is easier than answering these questions.

While IÔłŹ don’t know the answers to these specific underlying questions, what IÔłŹ do know is this: OUR CHILDREN NEED US, NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.¬† And when I say “need us,” I mean need US–the real, most true version of ourselves.¬† If we are in a relationship that does not offer us the opportunity to be the most REAL and TRUE version of ourselves, then staying in¬†that relationship¬†CANNOT¬†be what’s best for our children.

When¬†a mother¬†walks into her home, and feels like she can’t be herself, that has a negative¬†effect on the little people in¬†her home.¬† When a girl looks into¬†her daddy’s eyes and¬†sees a person who does not love himself, that actually has a negative impact on that little girl’s mental health. When anyone walks into his or her own home, feeling broken-hearted because love doesn‚Äôt live in his or her marriage, his or her children will FEEL the effects of this sadness.

I know kids.¬† When I come to school to teach, and I seem frazzled for whatever reason, one of these insightful little people will come up to me and say, “Have you had your coffee yet?” BECAUSE THEY KNOW THINGS.¬† I don’t really wear makeup much anymore to work, but the first day I stopped wearing it, a five year old asked me the minute I stepped into the building, “What happened to you and where did your pretty eyes go?”

These are children–some of the most¬†curiously perceptive people on our planet.¬† They FEEL things in the air and see between the lines.¬† They know when we¬†are trying to¬†distract ourselves from our lives in order to avoid living it.¬† And they definitely know when we don’t love ourselves.

They can also sense when our lives are unfulfilled.  They can feel when there is an emptiness in our hearts.  Our children know when we are pretending, and if we continue to show them that pretending is okay, they will begin to start pretending and stuffing their feelings down, too.

And one of my mantras for this year has been: there is no power in pretending.¬† We do not want our children to believe it is okay to behave like someone they are not. When we push down who we are and what we want, in order to avoid causing other people to experience pain, we aren’t actually LIVING, and are in fact, BETRAYING our truest, highest selves.

We must start to understand that there is a way of being that is authentic. And in this space of authentic living, we will find that what is good and true and right for us (and I got this line from Glennon Doyle, because she’s a genius) is going to be what is good and true and right for “our people.” And our people include, but are not limited to, our children. Now, this does not mean our children will not suffer pain. Divorce is painful. Painnnnnnnful. Heartbreaking, in fact, for adults, children, and members of the extended family. But–and IÔłŹ cannot ask this question enough-is it our job to protect our children from ever experiencing pain and heartbreak? Is that truly what being a parent means? Or, does being a parent mean to hold our child’s hand and show them how to be their truest selves, even when it’s hard and not popular or right?

Could it mean that we are actually doing our best parenting when we teach them that they can walk through pain and come out stronger and more resilient?

IÔłŹ don’t know about you, but for as much as IÔłŹ hate seeing my daughter in pain, what IÔłŹ would hate even more would be for her to never know the lessons that pain can teach. That grief can teach. That heartbreak can teach.

Perhaps if our children can learn to withstand heartbreak and grief and pain, they can learn to sit with others and have empathy for them, too, when they see them walking through the same. And when our children can learn to hold space for each other and practice empathy and compassion, they can change this very world.

I am a Pokémon 

It is 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I am lying here in darkness and typing this blog on my phone on the eve of my 41st birthday. 

I am contemplating who I am and how I want to evolve. I’m like a Pok√©mon or something. (I don’t really understand Pok√©mon at all, but I know they, like, evolve, right?)

I want to continue to evolve and change who I am by changing what I do. In honor of my 41st year of life, I am sharing 41 truths I’ve learned as I have changed my thinking and my actions over the years. 

I love to elaborate. People who know me know that I’m the queen of elaboration and talking too much and overexplaining things.  But I will refrain from doing that in this instance because I only have a few minutes to write before my yoga class.

So here we go. How to evolve like a Pokémon, a.k.a, 41 random things I have learned:

1. Kids pay more attention to what you do than what you say.

2. A daily practice of meditation and prayer will change your life.

3. Judging others is not good for your health. It’s also a negative “low vibrational energy” way of thinking. 

4. Choose being truthful over being nice. 

5. You don’t have to be nice.  Like, really, you don’t. 

6. It is your responsibility to practice loving kindness, but this does not equate with being “nice.” It simply means you act in love for others and for yourself. 

7. The most courageous people show up even when they don’t feel ready. 

8.. That still, small voice inside of you will never let you down. It is there to protect you. It is the voice of God, speaking to you in quiet moments of truth. That is the voice that reminds you of what you need in this life, what to do next, and who you are. 

10.  When you are laughing you are healing. 

11. Practicing yoga helps you develop an understanding and compassion for your body.

12. Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love. 

Geesh, I can’t think of anything else. Maybe I don’t know 41 things. I’m going to yoga and then coming back.

13. It is not our job to make everything sunshine and rainbows for our kids. It is okay for them to experience pain and discomfort, and we walk beside them in this experience without trying to take it away. This is how they become resilient, kind, empathetic adults.

14. You don’t have to wear underwear. 

15. Processed food can make you ill. 

16. Meditate and pray. I know I already said that but that one needs to be on the list twice. 

17. Do not be afraid of pain.

18.  When you feel sad or anxious, go outside and breathe in the outdoor air. 

19. Let people be who they are. 

20. Do not assume what others are thinking. Ever. Ask them instead. 

21. Things that matter are going to take some time. 

22. You deserve happiness, respect, and peace of mind. 

23. What we cannot see, we cannot heal. 

24. There is no power in pretending. 

25. When you’re angry, ask yourself, “What needs to be protected?”

26. We can do hard things. 

27. Drink lots of water. 

28.  It is beneath your dignity to maintain relationships with people who do not honor your self worth. 

29. Relationships that you have to keep a secret are not relationships that contribute to your freedom. 

I can’t think of anything else. I lied about knowing 41 things.

==================================

Hey! I’m back four days later, and I’m now too legit to quit, which brings me to my next truth…

30. Don’t quit on your goals just because they are hard or you’re having a brain freeze.

31. If you want to find your tribe, you must first find yourself. 

32. When choosing a life partner, consider first and foremost if the person is right for you (and your kids, if you have them). Family members and friends love to give their two cents, but when it’s all said and done it is you that must live with the person. 

33. Ask for help when you need it. 

34. Set boundaries with people. 

35. Get your “news” and facts from reputable books and research–not television news channels. 

36. Don’t write lists like these. 

37. I know nothing. 

38. Only you know what’s best for you. 

39. After all, I’m a Pok√©mon. 

40. When trying to decide whether or not you should stay in a relationship or marriage “for the kids’ sake,” remember that you being in a state of unhappiness is not healing for you or your children.  You being authentically YOU is what your children desperately want from you. 

41. You are what you love. So make sure who or what you are loving is good for you. 

We are in this together

I’ve been writing a ton recently, but all of it feels too personal or too fresh or too dark or too much to share with the internet at this moment. 

And yet, here I am now, in my bed, trying to sleep, and I suddenly feel the need to write something. So I’m typing this blog out on my phone, and I guarantee you there will be typos and awkward sentences because I may not even proofread it. 

You guys, my students come tomorrow as I am entering my 18th year of teaching. I am excited. We (the teachers) are just as nervous and have just as much adrenaline as the kiddos who walk through our doors. And it’s because of one reason: we want to make this year their best, and we know how important that first day is for setting the tone of the school year. 

So here I am, thinking about those kiddos, and thinking about my own kiddo who is nervous.  She doesn’t want to go to school because she’s kinda wired like me in that she is a ball of nerves. But she’s doing it anyway, and took photos of all her school supplies because she absolutely loves school supplies, and she’s thinking of how this new school year is always a chance to start something new. 

Every school year, I am nervous, because it is new. And every school year, I am excited because it is new. It’s a rebirth. It’s a new opportunity to show up and hone my craft. It’s a new chance to be real and loved instead of shiny and perfect (Glennon’s words, not mine). 

This summer I participated in the Hoosier Writing Project and met a group of teachers who inspired me to keep writing and to keep teaching. I also traveled to Mexico for a yoga retreat in a remote location that was only reachable by boat.  At home, I went to the farmers’ market and went to the pool with my daughter. I cooked and I wrote a lot of stuff that was the darkest and deepest stuff I’ve ever written. I met some interesting men who weren’t right for me. I argued with my daughter but also let her sit on my lap as much as she wanted to. I let her watch a ton of television and I didn’t feel guilty about it. I took my dad who has Alzheimer’s and my child on a vacation to California and I felt so many emotions during that trip that I had forgotten how it feels to be so up and down. I cried at the airport when two TSA agents didn’t understand why the airline needed me to walk my dad back to the gate. A TSA agent named Svizak came over to me, and said, “We will make this situation work. We are in this together,” and showed me such kindness that I cried even more with him because I felt safe and understood.

That was my summer. It was lovely and beautiful and hard. And now, I am ready to begin again. 

We have got this. We can make anything work. We are in this together. ‚̧ԳŹ