Sage advice from the 4-yr old

“Sometimes the bee stings, and sometimes it makes honey.” Z, age 4, tiny Buddha (and recently stung by a bee for the first time.)

Watercolor pencil, pen and water

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Alert, alert: off-the-chart parental stress detected. Seek Peanut Butter immediately.

Imagine a parental stress continuum. At one end is the mythical and totally unatainable smiling happy family lounging on a white couch.  At the other end: stress-eating peanut butter out of the jar at midnight.

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Folks, you can guess which end I’m at right now. (There may or may not be a sticky peanut butter spoon in the sink from last night.)

Ever since Irma decided to come to town –which I am now realizing was nearly three and a half weeks ago (HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE)–life has been something, let me tell you. We had a lovely labor day where we were like, huh it looks like maybe a hurricane is forming or something, anyway, can you pass me some chips? And then Tuesday we we were like, huh, we should stock up on water shouldn’t we. Oh everyone is sold out? Cool, cool. From there it was off to the races.  Should we stay or should we go. Will there be enough gas to get us where we need to go. Will the sharknado destroy our house? (No, because there was no sharknado, sadly.) Will we all be stressed out and tired of living in a series of hotel rooms? YES YES WE WILL. Will daycare be closed a super long time? (OF COURSE IT WILL.)

And–this question needs no answer–will all this in some way impact my four year old??? 

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Why yes, all along this journey there was a bright-eyed and sensitive four-year old absorbing it all like a tiny little sponge. OH MY DEAR LITTLE SPONGE WHO NOW REFUSES TO SLEEP. And has been acting out, angry, defiant, and in one especially low moment spit her toothpaste foam onto my feet. 

It’s been a trying week to say the least. She hasn’t wanted to sleep, insisting that mama be with her. All week we were trying to solve the puzzle. What is UP with our kid? We asked her, are you scared to sleep? No. Are you afraid of monsters? No. (Spits on my feet.)

Meanwhile in adult-land, I’ve talked with several friends who agree with me that we (ADULTS) are just now starting to feel back to “normal” after Irma. By the way, you should get a load of my crazy kid, what on earth is up with her?!

Funny how hard it is to see what is often right in front of us.

And then, last night. Nearly midnight, I sat on my daughter’s bed with her, not saying much. Just chilling out. I’d finally surrendered to the situation. It was what it was. She wasn’t going to sleep, she wanted me with her, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.

Guess what happened. As she flipped through a book she started telling me that she’d been having nightmares. She couldn’t remember what exactly, but she was scared to go to sleep. Simply by being and letting her be she was able to let it out. Shake it off, shake it off (to quote the wise Taylor Swift). She went to sleep shortly after that.

Maybe she needed a week of letting off steam before she could reveal the fears underneath it all. Maybe I was too wrapped up in my own stress to be able to just sit and be with her until that point. It doesn’t matter in the end. We did what we had to do to get through it. We’re doing our best to get back to normal.

Regardless, I’m happy to report we’re no longer at peanut-butter-eating-out of the jar status. We have lowered several notches to the piled-up-laundry and copious-coffee-consumption levels–definitely an improvement, and definitely another inch closer to ‘normal.’ For that I’m grateful.


P.S. Shameless plug alert–  speaking of hurricanes, I’m donating 50% of the proceeds from Etsy shop sales through Sunday to support Puerto Rico recovery efforts. The funds will go to the Sierra Club’s Maria Fund that supports just and sustainable rebuilding for the most vulnerable communities in Puerto Rico. You can donate directly here as well.

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One yellow crate

Really, it is all I need other than my husband, daughter and dogs.

The crate contains my wedding album, a photo from my grandmother I never met of her on her wedding day, the rosary my mother held in her nerve-damaged hands as she witnessed my marriage, and a few other precious keepsakes.

As I surveyed my house, taking photos that will serve as the “before” pictures in case of damage from Irma’s rain and wind, I’m surprised to find myself strangely liberated. The end tables, the stacks of political memoirs and bird identification books and computer programming manuals, the shoes that should have been replaced long ago, it can all be replaced. We will be okay no matter what unfolds.

What would you bring if you had to evacuate?* Would it fit in one yellow crate? I think you’d be surprised to discover that it would.

(*We aren’t under mandatory evacuation but we are most definitely in the “cone of danger” as a Southwest Florida resident. Stay safe one and all. Thank you to all the fire fighters and rescue crews who are sticking around to help others. You are true heroes.) 

A song for my mother, a year later

Tomorrow will mark a year since I sang a song for my mother, an experience that still gives me goosebumps. Everything about that experience was infused with loving grace. I’m writing another post for tomorrow, but in the meantime I thought I’d share that post from last year.


There I was, palms sweating, all eyes on me. My heart was racing. Around me, new friends (very new)—most of them twenty, thirty, even forty years older than myself—urged me on.

“Will you consider it?” They asked.

Would I consider it?

I knew in my heart the answer was yes, even if my sweaty palms said no.

I was at choir practice, and these new friends were fellow members of the choir that I recently joined, which is part of the church that I recently joined. (You know, working on building my village and all that jazz.)

In the way that only deep, deep pain can motivate us, I recently came to the realization that I can’t do this life-gig solo. I need a village. Comrades. Partners on the path of self-actualization

I needed a faith community .

Seeing as I’m liberal-but-leery-of-organized religion, I naturally decided to check out our local Unitarian Universalist church.  Their mission statement is “Love. Grow. Serve.” Who can’t get behind that? They describe themselves as an “open-hearted multi-generational community” and that is what I found the instant I walked through their doors. love-grow-serve

The people I’ve met in this faith community include a baby-boomer hippy guitarist, a young physics professor, a Jewish grandma, a seventy-year old blue-bird enthusiast, a musical theater professional, and more. (And, they literally greet you with homemade muffins and coffee. In fact, they give new members the yellow mugs, so they can find you and say hello. It just so happens the yellow ones hold the most coffee, which also makes me love them.)

I immediately knew I wanted to join the church choir. Their Director is young and talented. The choir is small and half their members are snowbirds who return north for summer. In addition to needing more warm bodies, I had a hunch they would also benefit from having a few more members who could read music.

So there I was, at the second practice of my new choir at the new church I joined.

There are precisely four sopranos including myself. Judy, who carries a Monet Water Lilies tote and a tin of cough drops, sits to my right and watches out for me. She found an extra binder of music and shared her post-it tabs with me.

I was enjoying the practice. We were rehearsing the old Appalachian hymn “Bright Morning Stars” for Mother’s Day.

Our Director announced she would need a volunteer to do an a capella solo for the first verse, then we would add another part with each subsequent verse.

I absentmindedly scanned my music. I wondered who she had in mind to sing the solo. I was sort of relieved, in fact. Thank goodness I’m new, for surely she didn’t have me in mind, I thought to myself.

And then Judy tugged my arm and pointed to me. My palms started sweating. A lot. 

“Will you? Will you consider it?” she asked?

I looked up and all the others were smiling kindly. Wait, what? They were serious? Several altos nodded and smiled at me. I looked at the choir director who was smiling, waiting for me to reply.

It was then that I heard myself say yes. 

It is hard for me to describe how much this moment stirred me. I have always loved singing. From as long as I can remember I have sung in a choir. In middle and high school I took voice lessons and competed with other awkward pre-teens in various music festivals, singing with girls’ ensembles and honor choirs and on and on.

Recently, the most singing I’d done was in my shower or dancing with my pre-schooler to Yvis’s Yogurt Song.

And here I was, nonchalantly saying yes to SING A SOLO. In church. My voice, alone. What on earth was happening?

I was still wrapping my head around this fact as our Director paused to tell a story about this particular hymn. She explained how she had performed the song with a group of inner-city youth, most of them living on public assistance of some form in a very low-income area. She said how she talked to them about the meaning of the lyrics, how the song is about a parent’s sacrifice for their children.

It as at this point in the story that she said, that one of her high school students began whispering. Being the great choir director that she is, she cleared her throat and asked the young woman, “Excuse me, do you have a question?”

The student looked up and told her, “My parents are dead.”

At this point my eyes welled with tears. It turns out, of course, that the song is actually a metaphor, and it was about the eternal love of a parent toward a child even beyond death. The choir Director said she explained this to the student, how the song wasn’t literal but in fact about how the love of your parents goes beyond death, and perhaps this young woman’s parent’s were watching over her. Loving her still.

Well, at this point I didn’t know how I was going to sing this song about dead mothers. On mother’s day of all days. With my own dead mother up in heaven like that precious child’s. 

None of this mattered. I seemed to be carried by the energy of this group, and I suddenly found myself moments later singing the solo it out into the empty church. I finished and heard the choir members begin to clap.

Judy turned to me and said, “that was beautiful.”

The choir director wiped a tear away.”I don’t know why I’m so emotional today but that really moved me.”

Not only did I get through the song about dead mothers without crying, but I sang the whole thing fairly effortlessly.

And here is the crazy thing: I have always dreaded and hated solos. I have a traumatic memory of me singing at a competition when I was maybe fifteen years old, totally breaking under the pressure of performing in front of others. (I was perfectly fine in the comfort of the pianist’s living room when we had practices.)

Singing out loud, alone, used to be too vulnerable. I was fine blending my voice with others. Exposed and in the spot-light, I would wither and crack. My outsides didn’t match my insides. Or maybe they did, because I felt cracked inside too, I hadn’t yet embodied my voice, and was many many years from that being the case.

And so I circle back to today. This weekI sang effortlessly. I suppose you could say I found my voice. 

Today is Mother’s Day. I will put on my pretty blue dress, my heels and my mother’s jewelry. I will go with my daughter and husband to my new church, where I will sing a solo in front of my new, multi-generational faith family.

And I will sing out about how the love of our mother’s transcends death.

I will sing a song for my mother. 

Bathed in moonlight

“The night comes and we give ourselves permission to dissolve into the rest of darkness. We let go of all the valleys and rivers we wish to cross and our dreams for some distant future.” -Sarah Blondin, Live Awake.

Tonight I stretched out on the living room couch in the dark, earbuds in my ears and ready to listen to a guided meditation. I looked up, there was the moon peaking through our skylight. 

I meditated bathed in moonlight. I was brought to tears by a deeply moving meditation about learning to surrender. It was just what my soul needed. 
 

Peering into the closet

Sometimes we need to dig into the closet. What is in there that scares us?

I’ve read that the Chinese New Year’s FIRE ROOSTER brings with it the energy of tidying up, letting go, and being fastidious. 

Recently I fully embraced the rooster energy and decided to spontaneously empty and organize our walk-in closet. To the untrained eye the room was full of assorted piles of crap. Not so! I had fastidiously sorted each and every last content into items in need of repair (buttons sewn on, stains removed); items to donate–with sub-categories including the items to take to the domestic violence shelter thrift store (clothes mostly) and items to donate to a home for young mothers in foster care (for them, only the nicest household items, some children’s clothes and toys and don’t ask why those things were even in my closet in the first place.). And then was the pile of trash. The pile of random mementos that needed to put tucked away. The pile of clothes that no longer fit but maybe if I lose those last ten pounds? The pile of office supplies (why were they in there….?) You get the idea.

SO. MANY. PILES.

A week later and the project is complete, including the addition of a new plush rug inside the closet that my daughter and I gleefully rolled around on, all the while absorbing the beauty of the clean and orderly closet! 

I thought my Fire Rooster energy had run its course. It turns out, no so fast.

Alas, it seems there were other dark spaces that had slow and steadily collected items out of view. Left in the dark but ready for light to be shined upon them. 

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting as much recently. Mostly this is because I have been doing a lot of artwork, and also keeping busy with my little project #100daysofhope (mostly on instagram).

You could say I’ve been consumed by my art. Every spare moment I seem to be in front of the watercolors. I’ve been posting them on Instagram…and then something started to happen.

Within the span of days several people asked to purchase prints I had made. Did I have a store?

I think the best way to describe what happened next would be paralysis. 

I know, it makes zero sense. This is awesome, people want to buy my artwork! How wonderful!

Yes, yes yes. But it meant getting my act together. It meant collecting and properly scanning and uploading and editing and printing and….and….all the excuses you can imagine. Know what it really meant?

It meant shining a light on my creative work. IT MEANT VULNERABILITY.

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Image found online

The universe was giving me so many nudges, it was ridiculous. And then my sister called. She urged me for the thousandth time to setup a damn online shop. And after I told her about the inquiries she jokingly and lovingly scolded me, WHAT? Sarah get your butt in gear!

I was a tad defensive. Do you know how busy I am? Blah blah blah. Well, in talking to her, I decided to cut work early yesterday and at least get started on the project. 

So yesterday afternoon, dragging my feet still, I slowly assembled the artwork until every last piece was laying on my bed.

My jaw dropped. There was SO MUCH ARTWORK. I had created all this? All this time it had been tucked away in the dark, in need of fastidious sorting and cataloguing.

And it needed light.

At this point in the afternoon I realized I needed to make a call. I left a message for my sister and I told her she would not believe how much artwork it turns out that I had! (Oh, I think she knew.) I thanked her for the nudge. The loving nudge to push the baby bird out of the nest. The bird who was more than ready to fly.

I’m sorting, scanning and fastidiously editing and preparing to print the artwork. I will gleefully-and fearfully-share with you when they are posted online for sale. And if I drag my heals, you officially have permission to nudge this baby bird once again.

What about you? What is hiding in your closet, in the dark, in need of light and air? Are there things you need to let go of? Are there things that need to be seen? Who can hold you accountable and gently push you out of the nest? The fire rooster calls!


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