Saturday, September 28, 2013

Reframing Fear

This post is a part of the Summit Blog Tour, which leads up to the Soul*Full Summit hosted by Catherine Just. I’m thrilled to be a part of an event that empowers entrepreneurs, artists and creatives to take action toward their dreams while helping create more opportunities for people with Down syndrome. You can join the movement by signing up for the Summit HERE.

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The day before Ben and I left for Los Angeles for his big surgery I got together with some friends for a little blessing ritual. They held me physically and emotionally as we talked about what was coming. We sang, they gave me blessings, they hugged me, and sent me on my way.

All of the blessings were powerful and comforting. But there was one I called upon more than the others throughout our time in LA. I think I didn’t actually really believe it at first, but I kept it like a mantra, in the back of my head, and reflected on it whenever I needed a reminder.

“Please remember not to worry about Ben. There is nothing more focused and clear-minded than a patient with the mission to get well. The way is crystal clear, the path laid out. So, remember to allow him to heal himself and love him and offer support by continuing to love yourself...”

Susan’s message caused me to take a step back from Ben and do some observing. She was so, so right. My moments of stepping into his personal space with worry or fussing always caused him to push me right back out. He knew what he needed to get himself up and out of the hospital. He was very focused. And what he needed from me was to trust him, love him, and love myself.

Ben is doing so well these days, moving with ease, walking longer and farther, looking beautiful in his new tall, straight self. (We go back to LA for his 6-week follow up appointment on Monday and I’m sure he’ll get rave reviews.) I’m not worrying about his health these days. Now I have time to worry about everything else!

So I was a little surprised when Susan’s mantra came to me as I felt the fear rushing in around parenting my teens. I realized that what starts as fear becomes a tug-of-war between trust and control.  

F.E.A.R. Fear of everyone falling off the cliff if I don’t make sure they are all safe and sound. Fear of a car crash if they aren’t paying attention. Fear of lives or limbs lost because I haven’t done everything in my power to avert that disaster. Fear of all the things out of my control, heck, out of their control, that could happen.

If I frame it as “What we want for them,” it’s a bit more positive: We want them to be safe. We want them to thrive. We want them to be successful at whatever it is that they decide they want to do with themselves. We want them to be happy. We want them to find meaningful work. We want them to be able to be independent, live out in the world on their own and pay for the needs and luxuries that they choose to have. We want them to have confidence in their own abilities to move forward, to make life choices, to deal with the challenging situations, decisions and people that they will most definitely encounter. We want them to be good, responsible people, to have fulfilling lives.

I don’t need to conduct a poll to know that my fears are common ones. And my fears are just the contrasts of those wants: What if they aren’t successful? What if they never can leave home because they don’t make enough money to pay for a car, gas, apartment, food? What if they can’t find meaningful work, whether because they don’t make smart choices or because they can’t find their core? What if they don’t have self-confidence? What if they crumble or storm out every time life gets hard? What if they are unhappy and unfulfilled?

I can see what those fears are: my own personal anxieties talking loud and clear. When I look at my boys I see three good, strong, amazing people. Three smart, creative, and handsome guys. (I could go on...but I'll spare you ;) I know that how Mark and I have parented them has made an impact on them yesterday, today and tomorrow. I don’t know what their time frame is, but in moments of clarity I’m not afraid of them not finding their true north. Even if today they don’t know for sure what they want to do with themselves, can’t picture themselves as adults, or don’t behave like adults, that is just today while they are still becoming.

I also know: Shit happens. Look back at most of the posts in this blog. Of course I know that. You would think that I’ve learned that living in a place of fear does absolutely nothing to avert disaster. AND at the same time it doesn’t impact the future either. FEAR just makes you unhappy in the moment. It just takes away the joy and gratitude you could be feeling right now. It clouds your perception of your life so that all you see is this distant frightening Future...and Now is actually very dark. You can’t see it.

Parenting teens seems to bring this all rushing up to the surface. I think that parenting teens engages this fear in a bigger way than even parenting small, seemingly more fragile children. The teens are on the verge. The verge of blooming, launching themselves into the world. And as they start to spread their wings we feel our own insecurities aroused. Are they prepared? Are they smart enough? Are they going to handle it all well? Will they survive? Have we done enough?

It isn’t all about reflection, but it is about where our boundaries lie. Where I end and they begin…that line is so important in our relationship because when I can see it and hold it, I am honoring them as individuals.

The worst thing I do is step over the boundaries into their space and share my fears with them. It’s the worst thing because all it does is show them that I lack trust. They think it’s a lack of trust in them, and even I think it is for a while. But the longer I look at the fear, the more I realize that it’s actually my own lack of grounding in right now. I am someone who spends too much energy envisioning an apocalyptic future. A terrible, terrifying future.

Parenting teens well requires setting aside my own fears and worries and believing in “the patient” and that he will know what he needs, what he wants, and how to get it. Parenting teens well means sitting with the discomfort of today, including sitting with their discomfort when they don’t know what they want or how to get from point A (today) to point G (their future) and not doing anything about it. It is a tug-of-war between being content with not knowing and doing some planning, and being content with not knowing and not doing any planning!

The discomfort causes me to want to soothe it all away. And Soothing is doing so I start to work hard to come up with a plan, a healing path, an idea or list of ideas, a schedule. What I really need to do is be quiet and patient and see what comes. To trust in my kid to figure himself out.

So today I’m going to put my fears aside. I’m going to trust my sons to get themselves where they need to get. I’m going to keep on loving them, supporting them and loving myself. And, I'm going to focus on today and all the beauty each of my young men embodies. It’s a much sweeter place to be.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Picture Him

I picture him lying in a bed, a hospital bed, incapacitated. His wife sits nearby. He is asleep or unable to speak, or move. His essence ebbing away.

I picture his little girl at school wondering what has happened to her vibrant, handsome dad.

I picture his older daughter making her way through her flour dusted restaurant kitchen, heart aching as she is about to lose another parent, too soon, too soon.

I picture his phone, laying dead amongst his belongings. On his dresser at home, or maybe his bedside table. The sheets are all in a jumble, the bed has not been made for weeks. The table top is dusty, evidence that no one has looked at it in days and days. His watch, some change, a business card with rubbed and curled edges, a bottle cap are also there. Nothing too important, just the detritus of a pocket in a pair of pants once worn around town.

The phone’s answering service says it’s full, no more room in the memory bank. The texts pile up, undelivered or delivered, it makes no difference if no one is reading them. His email account also is stacking up with unanswered emails from people wondering what happened to this man

Who used to sit across from them in a cozy office. Beautiful paintings on the wall, a soft throw on the back of the sofa. A hand-hewn coffee table with a speckled gray granite top against the wall behind him. He made that table with his own hands. Shelves line the west side, covered in baskets and boxes of little toys and trinkets, all set out neatly for play and processing in the sand tray nearby. I used to wonder if he dusted everything off frequently, if anyone ever played with them any more. I never did. Did my kids, when they were in there with him?

Where has he gone? Where is he? What are we to do when this man who has held our hands through some very tough times is suddenly gone. Poof. Not available, no sign of life. What are we to do with no answers, no definitives, no closure?

I see him everywhere. I can’t tell you how many tall, handsome men I’ve seen in the past few weeks who look just like him, remind me of him, hurt my heart with their close cropped hair, strong cheekbones, and lean frames. I wake in the night, every night and he is there in my head. I worry about him lying in the hospital bed, or worse, as dust in an urn. I worry that my last time connecting with him was a brief text about Ben, a few months ago. I worry that we have lost such a lovely soul.

And if he comes back, oh I’ll be mad. How dare you leave us like that? How dare you just be silent when I was so concerned. But boy, will this be fodder for the therapist’s couch. Where I go with my worries. Where I go with silence and no answers. I wish, I wish we could have that session. But god, I really don’t think we ever will.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


In the Jewish tradition, the new year is preceded by a month of preparation called Elul. It's a month to take stock and prepare for the two Biggies of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I believe you're supposed to make your apologies to those you've wronged, consider your missteps, think about your sins.

One day maybe I'll observe it, do it right. This year, though, I was distracted.

Rather than prepare for the High Holy Days, I was worrying about Ben's surgery, trying to breathe, and then watching him recover. That seemed like enough to occupy my consciousness.

On second thought, maybe that was my preparation.

With my anxiety about our MIA therapist, I was further distracted and dislocated from the Days of Awe. In fact, I was so fractured that up until I arrived at shul yesterday evening I wasn't even sure I wanted to be there.

And then a shift happened. Reb Irwin talked beautifully about longing and belonging (I recommend you read his sermon, he is so wise) his theme for these holy days. Everyone is longing for something and our people has a history of, in fact has made a cultural art form of, intense longing. Are we not the people longing for the Promised Land? Longing for freedom, for peace, for justice, and safety. He asked us to consider what we were longing for: was it love? a partner? some ease in our lives? He talked about what those longings signify: a lover = to be loved, money = safety, a good job = to be useful. He spoke of belonging,, connection, feeling comfortable in our own skins. All of this resonated with me.

Today in services, Reb Irwin asked us what was something we'd longed for and then received...and what the upshot was. Was it worth all that longing? What were the lessons we learned?

This has been quite the year. Ben underwent five surgeries. I had a spiritual awakening. Toby began ballroom dancing and preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. Harry began to take the reins of his life more firmly in his hands. And Mark kept us all afloat.

I asked myself: What have I longed for?
I asked myself: What have I learned from my longings?

Calm. Health. Happy, productive boys. Connection with my husband. A feeling of being awake and alive. To be able to use my voice to move people spiritually. To have some ease in our lives, some room for silliness and fun and play. Relaxation. Motivation. Contribution.

This month of preparation for the Holy Days was a month of worrying and breathing. Longing and reminders to be present in the moment. To trust in myself as a mother to give solace to my child, to trust in my child to know how to move forward in his own life.

This afternoon, I stood on a bridge overlooking the Laguna de Santa Rosa on the edge of Sebastopol. Mark and I were there for Tashlich, a part of Rosh Hashanah, a metaphorical shedding of what is holding you back, keeping you from being your truest self. (Originally, I believe the practice symbolized tossing away your sins from the previous year, but we cast it in a somewhat different light.) We stood on the bridge and sang "The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the only thing is not to be afraid." We stood there and thought about our personal impediments to happiness and ease.

I asked myself: What do I want to shed? What do I need to shed? How can I belong more to myself than in this past year?

And what came to me were these three things: Worrying, Self-Doubt, and Lack of Trust in Others.

Yesterday afternoon I felt raw and disconnected. I felt myself spiraling into a place where I could not sing or meditate or stop perseverating about things out of my control. And then today I stood on a narrow bridge and cast seeds into the water saying: Goodbye worrying, Goodbye self-doubt, Goodbye lack of trust. I am done with you all. Get out of my way. I surrendered to where I know I have been and I resolved to let those weights sink into the waters of the laguna. Letting them go. Letting them go.

When I got home I felt relief. I truly felt lighter and happier than I'd felt in days. I went out on the deck to take some self-portraits and I twirled around and threw my hands in the air. YES! I felt YES and YES and YES.

I welcomed in the New Year with an open, lighter heart. Yes, 5774. Welcome.

L'shana tova u'metuka v'shalom. May we all be blessed with a year of happiness, health and peace.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Worry and surrender

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”
 ~Maya Angelou

Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. We all know that. But does that stop us from worrying? No, not usually.

I sat down last night to write about what I’d learned about worrying (and the futility of it) while I was in LA. Wow, look how far I've come. Look what I've learned, I thought. And, boy, that's when I found I had unleashed a monster.

"Nature abhors a vacuum."
~Mark Miller

While my worries regarding Ben are over and done (and none of them came true, by the way) I suddenly had space in my life for a new worry to move in. And the Universe did not disappoint. This worry makes my heart clench and my stomach lurch. I spent all of last night tossing and turning and dreaming sad dreams about it. I woke up with intense upper back pain and felt sick. I was in the hot tub soaking it all away two times before 2 pm. I meditated on it over and over and, finally, I had to surrender it, surrender myself.

I give up. I’m coming out with my hands up. I’m here right now. There’s nothing I can do about this worry. It’s not something I can change. I can imagine all sorts of horrible endings to the story, but there’s just nothing I can do right now that will impact what it is. So I have to let my worries go. 

“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; 
if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.”
~Dalai Lama XIV

I know they’re there but they aren’t on the forefront of my vision. They’ve gone into a sort of uncomfortable slumber state.

About three weeks before Ben’s surgery I texted our family therapist to see when he’d be in town so we could make an appointment for Ben. Steve moved to Boulder, CO with his family a few years ago but has continued to come out here for long weekends of office hours about every three weeks or so. We’ve been seeing Steve since Harry was eight, that's 12 years now, and he’s been there for us through some very hard times: our move to Sonoma county, Mark’s father’s sudden death, Ben’s brain surgeries, and on. Steve is an amazing therapist who thinks outside the box, encouraged Harry to try meditation, has extended sessions, and works with us however it feels right at the moment, individually, or in family clusters. He’s even come up to our house for a family session, taken Harry target shooting, and taught Harry how to ride his bike 12 years ago. Steve is unique and caring. He’s quite beloved by each of us.

Even though Steve told Mark he’d be in town before we left for LA, he never got back to me about when he’d be there. I still hadn’t heard from him even by the day of Ben’s surgery. I texted him again, saying Ben was about to roll in. I texted him again when Ben came out.

And then I forgot about it, ensconced as I was in the here and now, Ben’s pain levels, my own breathing, recovery.

At some point I called him, thinking, Maybe he’s not getting my texts for some reason. Maybe I should see if his phone is working. When I didn’t hear back I sent him an email. Maybe it is the phone.

When we were out of the woods, surgically speaking, I started to think about how odd it was that I hadn’t heard from him. Mark had told me Steve said he’d be in town and also that he and his family were finally moving back to the Bay Area. That’s all Mark knew, so the rest of my scenario is conjecture: they’d be coming back in time for their daughter to start school some time in August or early September.

Maybe he’s just super busy. Maybe the move got crazy. Maybe he lost his phone in a packing box and still hasn’t found it.

My mind, when I gave it the space, started to whirl about what would be the reason Steve would not call or text or email. At the same time one part of my mind would chastise the other part: How can you think such thoughts? You're making this into a big drama!

Honestly, it’s not that I needed to talk to him. Ben was doing great, I was doing great. All of it went well. It’s just that Steve has been there for us and with us for so many of these huge hurdles and he’s cared so much for each of us. It is hard to fathom how he could just miss it. Just not check in. Not remember. Not see it on his calendar. I saw him write it on his calendar.

There’s another piece of the story that fits in here and that’s that Steve’s had his own medical issues to deal with over the past two years. It was mysterious for quite a while and finally was diagnosed as ALS. He’d suddenly lost muscle tone and use in one arm and shoulder. He went through a million tests and treatments, all the while still flying out to the Bay Area to see his patients every few weeks. And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped and he started to regain some muscle strength. The ALS diagnosis was rescinded. Who knew what it was, but whatever it was it seemed to be in remission.

While all this was going on we were so worried. Our sorrow for Steve, for his family, for us. He was young (Mark’s age) and healthy otherwise. How could this happen? And then, of course, we were so happy to hear of the reversal. What a relief!

But, I still haven’t heard from Steve and it’s now been over two months since the last time he texted me back.

My worrying mind was gearing up in the past week as we returned home, Ben’s situation smoothed out and I had room to think other thoughts. I’ve tried to contact him in the only ways I can, but all of those lead to him…and there isn’t any sign that he’s there. I’m now so anxious about What Might Have Happened. I’ve even googled his name a million times. Nothing. I can’t think of another way to get information about him and so my worrying mind is going pretty crazy with stories. Here are some of them:
  1. He died from complications with his ailment.
  2. He was in a terrible accident.
  3. Someone else died…
  4. He is wrapped up in the move.
  5. He’s on a vacation and forgot to call us.

“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
~Benjamin Franklin

Ok, yeah. I’m a catastrophizer. I go directly to the Worst Possible Scenario. I think I mentioned that in a previous post or two. But wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you wonder why this person hasn’t contacted you at this time in your life? And the problem is that if it’s any of the catastrophic options it’s TERRIBLE. And if it’s that he just has been so busy that he forgot to contact us, well, (I'm embarrassed to admit) I think that’s sort of terrible too, I mean, seeing as what we were going through. But granted, it’s not nearly as terrible. Not nearly. I’ll take that option (but I might want an apology).

I’ve been in knots worrying about the possibilities. And last night I started to dream about him and I was a wreck by morning. Steve has been a part of our lives, has helped us heal and find greater clarity for so long. I’m not sure what to do.

And I can’t say anything to the boys. I can’t tell them what I’m worrying about because I don’t have any answers and I don’t want them to worry like I am…worrying with no foreseeable end in sight.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” 
~Leo Buscaglia

Finally, today I had a long talk with myself. I thought about what I had planned to write here on my blog just last night. Worrying is so pointless. All night I tossed and turned. You know how much worse a worry is at night. And all day I felt engulfed by sadness, the what if’s and oh please no’s. And then I had to tell myself (several times, because at first I couldn’t really hear it): You are here today. If the answer is A, then you will deal with it when you find out. If the answer is B, then you’ll deal with it when you find out. If the answer is C…and on and on. The story is that I can’t worry about why we haven’t heard from him. I can’t worry because there’s just nothing I can do about it. Eventually, I imagine he will contact me or someone will contact me. But until then, how can I just make up a story? What good is that?

When I was finally able to listen, when I was finally able to surrender to the reality that I am just here in this moment, I felt my tension ease. Surrender. Acceptance. It made a difference for the rest of my evening. I even laughed and had some fun.

I said it before, about Ben’s surgery, it’s not like I won’t worry about any problem that arises when (and if) it does in fact arise! I’ll have to worry then. I’ll have to DEAL with it then. And until then, all I’m doing is sapping my life of its power and its peace.

What a waste. And hopefully, a lesson learned.