Recovering from emotional bankruptcy

Grief, by Kris Wiltse, for the Mixed Emotions card deck

Last Tuesday, while my son was at his father’s over spring break, I broke down. I came home from work, crawled into bed and cried, fell asleep, woke up, and then cried some more. My eyeballs felt like unhusked chestnuts from weeping, and I felt utterly depleted emotionally. It was a good thing it happened while my son was gone, because if he’d been home, I would’ve made it about him, somehow.

The problem? Maybe it’s the hormonal train wreck of my son’s adolescence and my menopause. Maybe it’s matters of the heart. Maybe it’s because I not only parent my son alone, but have started Whidbey CareNet, a nonprofit organization that provides free care for a hundred or more emergency responders on Whidbey Island. Maybe it’s because I have a 30+ hour-a-week day job, as well as two businesses (the Writer’s Refuge and Heron Lake Press) in addition to the nonprofit. Maybe it’s the fact that in providing care for a lot of people, I completely neglected to care for myself.

In any case, I had a week to pull myself together. Fortunately, several Whidbey CareNet providers have “grandmothered” me in and extend free care to me, even though I’m not an emergency responder. I received free craniosacral therapy and counseling, then went to a naturopath, who gave me a vitamin IV and prescribed supplements as well as dietary changes. I also spent time with three friends who make me feel nourished, one of whom offered me some CDs about the law of attraction.

I’ve been bah-humbugging the law of attraction since going through one of the most painful periods in my life several years ago, but I love my friend, so I took the CDs she offered. As I began to listen to them, I was reminded that when we feel good, it’s easier for good things to find their way to us. I had completely forgotten this, and made feeling good a higher priority.

When I awoke the next morning, I could barely walk. It was incredibly painful to put weight on my left ankle, even though I hadn’t injured it. An EMT friend checked it out, but it wasn’t a break or sprain. It felt like someone had taken the bones of my foot out, shaken them up in a paper bag, and then done a bad job of reassembling them.

I committed myself to feeling good that day anyway. We headed to the home of friends for Easter–friends I enjoy spending time with, and whose family I feel privileged to be part of. They lent me a pair of crutches to make it easier get around.

Then my son and I went to see a movie at our small-town theater, which is one of our favorite things to do together. When we purchased our tickets, we were told to hold on to the ticket stubs, because there was going to be a drawing for six dark chocolate truffles made by a local chocolatier. I knew those truffles would be mine, and I was right. They were a cosmic wink that let me know the law of attraction was working.

When I went home, I looked up “ankle” in Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body and learned that “Ankles represent the ability to receive pleasure.” Surprised? I wasn’t.

The next morning, I woke up in no pain whatsoever and was able to take a two-mile walk with a friend that afternoon.

Point made. Point taken. Thank you, Universe.

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Destiny, boys, and men

How I failed to meet my Destiny

As I was washing dishes in my teens one day, I looked out the window and “saw” a joyful little girl on a swing, her pigtails flying behind her. Perhaps, I thought, this was a visitation from a child I will have someday. I named her Destiny and thought of her often through the years.

I always wanted children, but married a man who didn’t, and it took us years to come to a compromise. He finally agreed that we could have one (and only one) child if I could conceive it without the aid of fertility drugs or in-vitro fertilization. In spite of the fact that I was in my late 30s, I conceived easily. But I knew in that intuitive way mothers often do that this baby was a boy. Since I had only one chance at motherhood, that meant I would never meet my Destiny.

Over time, however, the baby I carried managed to communicate with me in various ways, and I warmed to him. In fact, by the time I miscarried two-and-a-half months later, I would have been disappointed if he had been a girl. His purpose was clear. Like John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus, the first baby I carried prepared the way for the son I bore about a year later.

How having a son turned out to for the best

The fact that my child was male turned out to be a brilliant cosmic move that ensured that my family history didn’t repeat itself. My mother and I were completely enmeshed. I didn’t know where she ended and I began, I just knew that my purpose in life was to meet her expectations. I worked constantly to stay within the target area of her love—because falling outside it was life-threatening. Would she care for me if she didn’t love me?

My son and I will never become enmeshed because we are so different from each other—that Y chromosome is our continental divide. In this otherness, my boy has given me a new understanding of and respect for men. He has unwittingly taught me this:

Girls are born women. They begin nurturing soon after they can walk, and there is nothing remarkable about the fact that they eventually become mothers. Boys, on the other hand, are born boys, and thanks to my son, I know what an enormous metamorphosis it takes to turn armpit-farting, BB-gun toting megaburpers into daddies.

Today, witnessing daddies who deeply, compassionately, and meaningfully engage with their children sometimes moves me to tears. These men bear a message from the future that helps put my troubled mama-mind at ease.

“Don’t worry,” they seem to say while wiping their child’s nose with their shirttail. “Your son’s going to turn out just fine.”

A prayer to Phoebe

Phoebe (August 28,2005-March 15,2011)

Dear Phoebe,

I have never witnessed greater pain than I did at your funeral on Friday. I felt it in my body. There were times when I could hardly breathe. And Phoebe, I barely knew you. How much worse must it have been for your parents, who loved you more than life itself?

Please stay near them. Be obvious about it. Be clumsy about it as they adjust from the warm tangibility of your physical presence to the wispy subtlety of your spiritual being. Help them know you, not only as the five-year-old girl you were, but as the powerful spirit who loved them so much, that you agreed long ago to draw forth from them greater love, devotion, effort, and courage than anyone thought possible.

For more than two years, they tapped in to reserves that they didn’t know they had in their fight to keep you alive. And now they are empty. There is little left with which they can care for themselves or each other.

They must’ve concluded by now that the source of their strength was not entirely their own. It couldn’t have been, because caring for you in your illness required more strength than human beings typically possess. Assure them now that that source of strength is still there. Show them in a tangible way that you are still there. Remind them that we are still there to hold and support them.

The world as your parents knew it has ended. Help them deal with the absolute sacrilege that life will go on. Help them now to do the most courageous thing of all: to live without you.

Amen

Bedtime questions from a 9-year-old

Tonight at bedtime, my son Adrian asked, “How big do you think God’s turds are?”

“What kind of question is that?” I asked. “You know God is spirit.”

“Yeah but if he were real, how big do you think they’d be?”

What do you say? “As big as a school bus, now go to sleep.”

Comforted

Kris Wiltse’s illustration for “Comforted” from the Mixed Emotions card deck.

The heart-expansion project

You know that part in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where the Grinch’s heart, which is originally two sizes too small, grows three sizes, and everything changes? That happened to our hearts this weekend.

Our hearts didn’t seem small to us before–they were your normal, average-sized vessels. But now that we’ve brought home four baby goats, our hearts feel much bigger than they were and that has changed our lives. My son Adrian quickly decided that he didn’t want to go to school anymore, and although I find it challenging to write with a baby goat asleep on my lap, I’d rather type slowly and inefficiently than forgo the experience. We are virtually incapacitated by our love for these little animals.

Adrian with Pandora, Rhea, and Pan

That has me thinking. Isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to increase our capacity for love? Won’t the compassion my son gains from this experience enable him to engage more compassionately with all living things? Won’t his ability to intuit these babies’ unspoken needs make him more sensitive to the needs of others? Won’t his willingness to take responsibility for their physical well-being make him more willing to engage in the work that makes any relationship thrive?

My hunch is that the answer to all of these questions is, “Yes.” As Adrian’s mother and “childhood designer,” I sometimes imagine who I want Adrian to be when he grows up, and then reverse-engineer experiences that I think will lead to that result. Our little farm is one of those experiences.

Loving (platonic)

Kris Wiltse’s illustrations for the “Loving” card from the Mixed Emotions card deck.

Emotions as messengers

I have wrestled my son to bed for the night, and am sitting on my own bed, ready to do some work on my laptop computer.

“Mama,” he calls down the hall, “I’m sad.”

“About what?” I ask, trying to determine whether this is just another ploy for a “sleep-over” with me.

“I don’t know,” he says.

“Well, your sadness is just a feeling you’re having. It’s a messenger that has some information for you. What is it trying to tell you?”

After a long pause, he says, “Connor gave me a stick and made me hit Tunji with it.” (Tunji is Connor’s dog.)

“I’m your mother,” I say, “and I know how hard it is to get you to do something you don’t want to do. There’s no way Connor made you hit Tunji.”

Long pause.

“So, you’re feeling sad because you hurt Tunji?” I say.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Tunji forgives you,” I say, knowing that he’s just one tail-wagging ball of love and fogiveness. “Now you need to forgive yourself.”

“How do I do that?” he asks.

“You need to love yourself,” I say.

After a bit, he says, “I still feel sad. Can you tap?”

“Sure,” I say. And after two rounds of tapping, he goes to sleep.

Adrian was born with an instinct to provide and defend by killing, which we don’t really value or create a natural outlet for in the 21st century. Being male, he is the result of thousands of years of natural selection, in which only the best hunters and warriors survived. He loves animals, though, and is often conflicted. One minute he wants to hunt rabbits and deer to provide meat for us, and the next minute, he wants to help a local farmer’s beef cattle escape so they won’t get slaughtered. Sometimes his wires get crossed and he hurts an animal he cares about, such as Tunji.

When Adrian feels sadness and doesn’t know what to do about it, he talks to me. Sometimes, he refers to an undefined jumble of negative emotions as a “clump,” and we sort through it to figure out what he’s feeling and why. This typically happens at bedtime, when he begins to reflect on his day.

Sad

Kris Wiltse’s illustrations for the “Sad” card from the Mixed Emotions card deck.