I turn 45 Sunday. Last month my body began celebrating by throwing me hot flashes in lieu of a party. They’re like a personal, internal fireworks show. So I’ll be ringing in this birthday standing hot, alone, and naked outside on the deck, staring up at the stars at 3 a.m., trying to catch a breeze so I can go back to sleep. That may sound like a complaint but it’s not. This new body? The one who demands I strip to sleep and insists that I move open-eyed and naked like an animal in the darkness in search of breeze on my face? I like her. I like her a lot. She makes being a poet a literal breeze.
Here at 45, I’m done sugar coating things for myself and others.
Here at 45, I am enough. Just me. Just here. Sans lists. Without doing, fixing, stressing, worrying, or shopping to relax. Most days, I am enough now. Just me. The me that’s drinking green tea and taking Evening Primrose Oil supplements to cool down, turning loose pieces of paper into makeshift fans, and rediscovering star-gazing, sweatily, in the middle of the night. In fact, I’m more than enough. Here at 45, I’m totally bad ass.
In part, because I have to be. As youth fades, you become invisible to many of the parts of the world that you cultivated before. I’m making peace with that. Learning to cultivate new worlds, new friends, new ways of being. Learning to be as content moving alone in the darkness as I am moving visibly, collectively with friends in the daylight.
I used to avoid giving advice like the plague. I’m not a fan of receiving unsolicited advice myself. Bleh.
And, if you liked that me, this may not be the post for you…
In the fire of family pain and the death of friends this year, I became a dragon and I burned my to-do lists to ash. My daily to-do list now isn’t a list at all. It’s two interwoven mantras:
- I Love You
- Fuck This
I say I Love You to the world, myself, and others as often as I can now. And I say Fuck This (or Fuck That or Fuck It, I like to mix it up) almost as often now too.
Beyond these mantras and my writing (where I get to play with these mantras in infinite variety) everything else I do now is icing on the cake: great when it happens, not so terrible when it doesn’t.
At 45 I have failed. I have fallen apart. I have lost loved ones. I have broken down. I have looked like an idiot. I have not gotten nearly enough done. Regularly. I’ve learned that all these things are ok. I’m ok when they’re happening (even while sobbing or screaming to cope). I’m ok after they’ve happened. Often better than ok. It’s these things that have made me the bad ass that I am now: a person who fails, falls apart, receives loss, breaks down, looks like an idiot, doesn’t get nearly enough done, says Fuck It, I Love You, laughs with friends and family, and moves on.
- Say I Love You often
- Say Fuck This often
There’s my list for now. Possibly my last list. Who knows?
Writer Anne Lamott would call these words prayers. You’re welcome to do so, I Love You. And calling them prayers, for me, doesn’t feel genuine, so Fuck It, that’s not what I call them. For me they’re mantras: words I repeat throughout the day to remind me of my true self, my deep connection to everything, and my own freedom to choose disconnection in any moment, too. Some days I practice them. Some days they’re habit within me and keep me present despite myself. To pull/push them toward being habit every day, I’m learning to involve my whole body in them. I try to hear myself say the words, when possible. Try to use appropriate gestures, too. Or do my own special dances or songs, to accompany the words, when possible. I try to be present enough to witness the rippling impacts of my doing so.
Here’s one story from my life in which dragon-me burned away the To Dos until only I Love You and Fuck This remain…
Every day I log in to the human world as an indie author: a world that is chaotic, loud, demanding, contradictory, and often unkind. It tells me to get an agent. To do book proposals. To make business plans. To go to an endless stream of conferences and workshops and seminars and readings and networking events. To get degrees. To do proposals and pitches. To create an author platform. To live on social media, storytelling, and reader sites. To make friends with all local book sellers. To do in-bookstore readings. To visit book clubs. To teach. To grasp how to sell books and ebooks online on a dozen new and constantly shifting platforms. To read everything everybody else (who is really good) has ever written. To have a monthly newsletter. To work only with the best. To have perfect covers and keywords and descriptions and perfectly edited work and to pay for all this complementary expertise magically, somehow, out of pocket before I myself am making a living as an author. To get blurbs of praise to put on my book covers ahead of time. To never include color images in books. And good God never include color images in poetry books. To ask more for my books. To ask less for my books. To give books away for free. To never give away books for free. To have an in-depth Press page. To finish and publish covers months ahead of time. To create art beyond the written word, which is, we’re sorry, dead. To focus on just one genre. To build deep community within one genre. To ignore genre. To write for a cause. To never write for a cause. And most importantly, to be writing every day, all the time, and do nothing else.
Enough. Fuck This. You know, I think I truly, deeply learned this technique by watching my mom, who has Alzheimer’s disease, learn to do this first.
With Fuck This’ help, two years ago I moved to an island where I now spend hours in silence and hours in nature each day. I spend three days alone writing most weeks. I spend one night a week talking and eating and relaxing with close women friends. I spend two days working side by side with my partner Daniel and one or two days relaxing. Or some variation of the above. It was my own Fuck This that returned me to me. That returned me to I Love You. I’m finding that our Fuck This is wildly, uniquely our own and our I Love Yous look different too. Yet within us, they feel remarkably similar.
I Love You silence, trees, birds, whales, rocks, driftwood, wind, rain, sunshine, sand, warm days, sunsets, chilly nights, making things with my hands, talking with family, and meeting my people: the random people wandering in dog parks and on beaches and creative indie humans scattered around the world.
I Love You, reading books and writing books. I Love You, friends and family who help me create, share, gift, and sometimes sell books. I Love You self-publishing world that allows me to play with everything, including doing everything at a seasonal, tidal, poet’s pace and redefining what a book, a series, a genre, a writer, and an artist even is. I Love You, humans willing to be human together. People who look at what being “An Expert” or “An Artist” or “A Perfect Parent” or “A Teacher” or “A Woman” in the old world meant and say Fuck That.
I Love You, parents, who recently decided to move and join us here on the island, where we’ll all get better at saying Fuck This together.
When I wake up tonight at 3 a.m., in a puddle of sweat, neck on fire, I will begin by whispering Fuck This. Then I will rise, move out onto the deck into the night, look out at the ocean, up at the stars, and whisper I Love You.
We are one now—this ocean, these stars, and I—so one I Love You covers it. And when one I Love You covers it, it becomes easier to say Fuck It to everything else. Including to-do lists.
This post is by and for primary and secondary caregivers of someone living with mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
We’ve been living with mom’s Alzheimer’s disease for almost 9 years now. I can’t believe she’s still with us. Still knows us. Laughs with us. Helps where she can (teaching, for example, of the extraordinary joy to be found in folding warm, just-out-of-the-dryer laundry). We are so lucky. These days I occasionally receive questions from other caregivers and family members living with this disease too. I’ve decided to blog my answers here, as questions come up, to save time. Here’s the first one–actually four that are variations on a theme.
How do I make my other family members:
- help my family member with Alzheimer’s disease?
- help me?
- do their fair share?
- offer better/very different support than they’re offering now?
You don’t. You don’t have the time and energy to bother with trying to make other people do things. Welcome aboard the S.S. That Ship Has Sailed. I used to think I could make other people do things. That me spent hours, days, and, in some cases, years, trying and failing miserably at this. That’s not me anymore. Thank you, Alzheimer’s.
Try this instead. It actually works. Plus, it gives you precious time instead of taking it.
1. drop old expectations. If it helps, write them down on paper, crinkle that paper into a ball, and drop it on the ground. Step on it for good measure. Or toss it in the fireplace.
2. begin to surround yourself with people (and things) who are more naturally really good at helping you. For example, the friends who’ve been caregivers before, other caregivers online, social organizations that get it, neighbors who get it, books, blogs, dogs, cats, children, playful adults, trees, birds, sunbeams, local support groups, and professional help. Look at all the people/creatures/beings who can actually help!
3. let go, for now, of the people who drain your much needed, very precious, caregiver energy. This includes the old you. Say a fond farewell to them and to the you who thought she could make other people do things, failed, got disappointed, got angry, and then got tired. It was so strange. That day. The day I realized that mom’s disease wasn’t making me tired. My own expectations, anger, and disappointment–in myself and other family members–was. Most days.
4. use the time you receive wisely. Your heart knows what you need. What feels good? Rage? Rest? Reflection? Re-find you. Utterly surround yourself with you-centered energy creators. This might mean new people, fewer people, new things, and/or fewer things around you. Let your heart be your doorman. Your bouncer. People allowed in your door now are those who you create energy with. You literally feel your heart lighten up when you see them. Get over what you SHOULD be doing. The people who actually light up your heart are your people now. Find them. Stick with them. Or be your most-honest, true, vulnerable self, and they’ll find you.
In the early stages, for years, we tried keeping the whole extended family together, across thousands of miles in some cases. We’d been a close-knit loving family of 40ish sweet, gentle, and conflict-adverse mid-westerners. By mid stage, however, the care requirements for both mom Linda and for failing-health-primary-caregiver-dad Jim, grew time-consuming enough that we failed at extended family communication. We had to become ok with a rift in the extended family. Dad snapped, turned on some family members, and some relationships shattered.
Here at mid stage, for us to thrive, it takes three groups of people:
1. The A team. The 10ish-member caregiver improvisation troupe, willing to laugh together, work together and love each other no matter what. We call ourselves Team Jinda. Professional caregiving help has joined the team too.
2. The B team. The 20+-member love-from-a-distance team, the family who still loves us and checks in with us via Skype and by sending words of encouragement now and then. They boost our spirits from time to time in person and also when we think about them. They are providing support to both the A team and the C team now, so they, too, have their hands full.
3. The C team. The 10ish-member has-to-move-away-for-now team. These friends and relatives have enough heartache and worries of their own that they can’t handle us as we are right now and/or we can’t handle them. They have their hands full too. We love them and don’t blame them. And the A team had to break contact with them to focus on caregiving and keeping caregivers strong. Fortunately for us, a member of our C team loved us so much that she broke ties with us first, in a most loving way, at great personal cost to herself. Taught us that it is ok to do the same. This break freed us, and we are so grateful.
The year leading up to the break–trying to keep all 40+ family members together and communicating the way we used to be–was horrible. Horrible. Lawyers and judges became involved. Hearts shattered. But since the break, we are lighter. We have so much more time. Our hearts are being healed by different people now. People who can listen to us without being hurt by us. And we find ourselves with the time again to be ourselves, finally, and to wish the same healing for the C team.
Nothing prepared us for this reality. We were lied to by a voice in our heads (our culture? our own fear?) that told us we should be able to keep everyone together and that everyone should care equally and should contribute in similar ways or how we want them to contribute or in the exact same ways that they used to. That our wise, beloved father should be strong enough not to turn his fear and heartbreak on others.
To that voice of fear in our heads, we now say “Bullshit.” We have no time for shoulds. I learned that it’s perfectly ok, fabulous even, to let some people go for now. Some people offer us more by leaving, so we can focus where we need to. And we offer more to them by leaving, too.
Our small caregiver team can be more flexible, more free. We have to adapt to new realities daily now, sometimes hourly, sometimes by the minute. Much easier to do this as a lean, mean, caregiving machine.
Sometimes the most loving choice you’re left with is to let go of someone before anger hardens into contempt within you. If you are part of an Alz A team, or a lone caregiver without your A team yet, you literally don’t have time for contempt anymore. How cool is that? And if you’re really lucky, and you accept the break, you gain time to find new support.
It’s possible to love people with your whole being and still say “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” I love my C team members more now than ever and know that one day, after my parents pass, we will find and hug each other again. On the other hand, mom and dad have shut the door, likely for good, on the C team. It’s all they can do. It is what it is.
From my perspective, our A and C teams let go of each other several months ago now. In hindsight, I wish we hadn’t waited so long. I wish we hadn’t hung on to old hopes and expectations as long as we did. We could have saved ourselves a year of inadvertently being hurting each other. We could have opened this new time, this new rest, this new energy, for ourselves and our parents sooner. Found new companions and new help sooner. And began healing, sooner, too. After the break, life is still hard, but suddenly, life is sweet again.
Here at the center of the fire.
Here where we live out our worst fears, year after year, and cannot look away.
Here on Team Jinda, life is beautiful.
Shit. I’m just getting to write about all sorts of fun stuff these days. Woo frickin’ hoo, life, thanks. I’m not an expert on this subject, just somebody going through this pain right now.
When to unfriend somebody you love – pre-contempt
When you see that the next step you’re most likely to take together will be feeling contempt for one another, and you don’t want to go there, because you love each other, it’s time to part ways for a while. You’ll sense that if you don’t step back now, take time to process pain and heal separately, that it’s possible your relationship will never recover. Trust your intuition on this. Allow your heart/body intuition to override your guilt and your desire to fix things. The time to fix things is over. For now.
Signs that it’s time to unfriend a loved one
- You are going through a drawn out, painful, heart-wrenching life transition. So are they.
- For them to survive and begin to heal, they need one story to be true right now. For you to survive and heal, you need a very different story to be true right now.
- When you share what you’re feeling, you inadvertently hurt them, repeatedly. When they share what they’re feeling, they inadvertently hurt you, repeatedly.
- That hurt begins to feel like it’s on purpose. You begin regularly hearing meanness in what they say. And they hear it in what you say. Things that a stranger listening in on your conversation would never jump to such pain-fueled conclusions about. Your mutual pain is deep enough that you all begin to imagine slights that don’t necessarily actually exist.
- Instead of two (or more) equally valid perspectives, their truths become your lies, and vice versa.
- Every time you try to support one another, you fail miserably. It keeps getting worse, not better.
- When you speak your real, lived experience and perspective, you are told that you are wrong again and again and again. You never feel truly listened to or really heard.
- There is a wall of pain between you. You try repeatedly to holler over the wall that you really do see their side of things—and should be allowed yours—but it becomes clear that they’re having the exact same experience that you’re having (feeling that they’re being told that they’re wrong, feeling not listened to, not heard, hurt by you).
- The existence of your story is too much for them to bear right now, and vice versa.
- You create and/or share something—a drawing, a painting, a poem, a song, a saying, a video, etc.—to help you and your closest others get even closer and move through your loss and grief together, and you learn that they were devastated by what you created/shared.
- You stop sharing your whole self, your true self, your real feelings—to protect them or yourself—to the point that you become exhausted, or get physically sick, because right now you really need to be able to share your whole self and your real feelings. And Facebook is a place that you want to/used to be able to do that.
- You realize that time spent trying to hold up your old world/story/family together is unhealthy for everyone in your family. It is interfering with all of you finding and surrounding yourselves with the people you desperately need right now to create new worlds/stories/families for yourselves. Your heart breaks as you realize it’s no longer each other that will help you heal.
I wrote and shared a long poem about our family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease this week. This poem. We’ve lived with Alzheimer’s in our family for 9 years now, and for the first time as a poet and a writer and a human, I felt ready to talk about it. More than that, I need to share about it now because my immediate family needs boatloads of new ideas, stories, help, support, and heart comfort right now as my mom moves into the middle stages of the disease, and my dad crumbles completely under the weight of being a full-time caregiver.
And it worked. I got what I needed. Friends and strangers alike showed up to share their stories, offer their support, and surround my breaking heart with love, light, understanding. I felt less alone. Less helpless.
And then I learned from my aunt that what I’d written was devastating for her and my uncles. My story too much for them to bear. A story out of alignment with theirs. My truths are their lies. These are people I love to my deepest depths. People who helped raise me and played with me and who have loved me every day of my life. I adore them. And they live thousands of miles away, so Facebook has been the primary place where we’ve connected and shared for years now.
This aunt told me that she loves me but can’t take any more of our pain, and she unfriended me. Letting me know that she’d reconnect later. I sat with that for a minute. Breathed it in. I, too, had “hidden” relatives this year that have been causing me chronic pain. But it had never dawned on me to unfriend them. But when she did that, she freed both herself and me. I felt lighter and freer. I actually thought “Why didn’t I think of that? Why did I stay in this masochistic situation for a year? She’s is a bloody genius!” I was reminded how much I love her. I followed her lead and unfriended my uncles and her daughter—those who are being hurt by me and my story. Now, suddenly, after a year of trying to fix our family, I can just share my experiences without fear, and they can share theirs without fear! Hooray! I am at a point where I have to write about Alzheimer’s Disease and my experience of it. They’re likely at that place too. I want them to heal. I don’t want to cause these loved ones one more second of inadvertent pain. That’s not me. That’s not them. Not us.
Example: how to unfriend a loved one
This is not advice. This is way too individual, personal, and painful a task for advice. This is simply what my aunt did for me and what I, in turn, did for the family members I unfriended. I’m sharing it because although this was painful, in how we did it I also found a needed sense of closure (for now), peace, and a surprising freedom and lightness of spirit (in realizing that I can, for the first time in a year, share my whole self again on FB). And I want the rest of my family to be able to do this too, for themselves, as needed. And know that I’m 100% ok with them unfriending whomever they need to unfriend now, including me, to heal.
In a private message or call (wherever you feel safest):
- Remind them that you love them.
- Tell them you are sorry for their loss and pain.
- In one sentence, explain that you need to step away from them on Facebook right now so that you don’t inadvertently cause them pain again.
- Don’t try to explain anything about your story/side, causing both of you more pain. The time for trying to be heard over the wall of pain has passed.
- Optional steps:
- If it’s not forever, tell them it’s not forever. In my aunt’s case, she left it open ended. We’ll be back in touch again someday. And she reminded me that she’s always still there if we really need her. I decided to give my uncles and cousin a time span. I’m disconnecting for one year, while we go our separate ways to heal, and I hope to reconnect with them a year from now.
- If you want to, give them another way to connect with you if they really need you or want to talk further: your phone number, email address, Skype details, etc. If you don’t want to do this, don’t do it.
- If you want to, give them the option to reengage as Facebook friends. If you don’t, don’t. You may want to say, for example, “I know what I’m going through, my experience, is too hard for you to hear right now, so I’m unfriending you for a year. If, in the coming months you’d like to try reconnecting here, just send me a friend request and we’ll try again if we’re both ready.” Whether or not you make this offer depends on your heart, not theirs. The state of your heart, and what you want, matters most here. If you want to be apart for a whole year (or more, or forever), don’t make the offer to connect sooner.
- Remind them that you love them. So that the last words they receive from you are words of love.
- Unfriend them.
Give yourself a long time to heal. For me, this feels like cutting off my own hand. How kind to myself would I be if I lost my hand? How long would I allow myself to heal and recover? That’s how long I will be extra good to myself and surround myself with the best of the best heart healers for me right now. That’s how I came up with a year apart. I need at least that much healing time.
After you unfriend people you love (which happens in one second and so could be mistaken for a little thing when it’s not), sit and breathe deeply for a while, go for a walk, hug someone or some furry beast who loves you, create something, or do something else that brings you peace. Spoil yourself for a few days. Take comfort in the fact that you’ll all have more energy and time to connect with people who will truly help you mend your broken hearts without simultaneously also stomping on them.
In a workshop about fearless writing that I attended a while back, we began talking about memoirs. A memoirist in the class (sorry, I don’t recall his name) said something so profound that I can’t shake it. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the only pure, lasting truth in any family story is how people felt. To write fearlessly about your family, in a way that people will accept and connect with, you have to write and write, through many drafts, about how you felt. Don’t allow yourself to stop and publish when you are the victim in the story. Keep going. You must write and write and write until you become the protagonist – a spirit who others can relate to, see themselves in. Not a victim, not a braggart, but a life traveler, a story teller, a learner, a broken-heart survivor, a seeker of higher understanding. The things we all are. If you are writing yourself as a victim, keep writing, your story’s not done.
When we make the decision to unfriend beloved family members on Facebook so that we can all heal, we’re creating the opportunity for all parties to be able to come back again to that story one day on their own terms, with new found strength and abilities to stay with it longer next time, listen more closely next time, dig a little deeper next time, until we’re able to craft and live a new story together. Or part as cherished friends. The people we love deserve nothing less. Social media hasn’t changed that.
One day I will hear the voice of unease
before her tears fall.
I will take her small hand, slow down,
allowing the ample time she demands
to reacquaint us with this lucky life.
And when I do,
we will see a neighbor
teaching her dog how to dance.
We will notice nervous new bird parents
racing to feed crying baby.
We will shut our eyes and pull that warm breeze
into our souls.
I will stay with her until we relax
and breathe deeply:
until we stubbornly insist
on being the we
we want to be.
I love working with Bas. He’s part childhood pen pal, part imaginary friend, part work colleague, part informal cultural attaché, and part best friend. And the fact that we’ve both been writing about transitions for several years without fully knowing we were writing about transitions dovetailed so perfectly, the timing couldn’t have been better for collaboration on this book. So I came into creating A Travel Guide for Transitions overflowing with enthusiasm and gladness for the opportunity.
Then a whole bunch of real life crap happened. April was an unexpectedly tough month for me.
No, that was my grown up filter using the words unexpectedly tough.
April sucked, my friends. It SUCKED.
Daniel and I adopted an 8-week-old puppy — my first puppy ever — and I got to learn some hard truths about myself. For example, I become a shell of my former self on just 4 hours of sleep per night. And to be my creative best self, I really do need 4- to 8-hour chunks of empty alone time and space most days. When I don’t get them, I flail and plot my escape and I questioned all my life choices to the point that I saw fear in Daniel’s eyes. That made me want to weep.
No, that was my grown up filter again. Made me want to weep, geez.
I spent 2 or 3 days each week in April weeping. I pretty much became the anti-me.
As it turns out, I am not the amazing puppy mom that I imagined I would be. I hate much of it actually. There’s a fun pill to swallow: I hate being a full-time mom. She’s just a tiny dog, arrgh, this should be easy! For frick’s sake, I have friends who raise a gaggle of human children with laughter and smiles on their faces most days!
Guilt piled high and dug deep within me this month. At least I can take comfort in the fact that 20- and 30- and 40-year-old me were all correct to trust their own intuition on this whole mom thing. No actual children were harmed in the making of this blog post or this life of mine.
Also during April my neighborhood partner-in-crime, Knox, left the country for a month, leaving me in charge of event planning for a giant neighborhood-spanning summer event. Ugh. Bleh. I love my neighborhood, and getting closer as a community, and I’m really looking forward to our new event (Yay Hopscotch CD–1.8-miles of fun!). But a solo large-scale event planner I am not. I can do it, and I’m even pretty good at parts of it (like blogging about what’s happening–surprise, surprise). But most of the tasks involved drain me of energy. Presenting to large groups? Convincing faceless strangers at the Seattle Department of Transportation that a temporary hopscotch path of flour, sugar, and water won’t hurt people? Bleh. Draining.
And there wasn’t much energy to drain in April, since I was running on 4 hours of sleep a night and already drowning in guilt about being a terrible mother, and partner, and friend.
Message received universe.
Transitions help me learn about myself, and, wow, do I have a lot to learn.
On the up side, going through several transitions at once meant that I got to learn about myself in almost record Lori Land time. Didn’t feel like an upside at the time. Felt more like I was a bug being stepped on by a giant shoe and its deliberately nasty wearer.
I asked Bas for forgiveness for working far slower than I had planned. Instead of being upset, he drew me a funny “This Sucks” doodle, and checked in with me to see how I was doing more often, and then sent me an amazing map doodle of Lori Land (yeah, that’s going in the book!), and then he did an entire fun doodle trailer for the book so I could imagine the end.
I asked Daniel for forgiveness too, repeatedly, for dumping so much on him and being so entirely not myself for so long. Really, you’d have to go to reality TV to find a worse wife than I was in April. He of course was amazing. Doing more puppy parenting, working from home so I could get a little time to myself, picking up home and yard chores that I usually do, making me juice.
Asking for forgiveness comes easily to me now, it seems. But forgiving myself? That’s apparently what I’m working on now.
Sometimes life allows us to savor transitions, and other times just surviving them sounds pretty damn good.
Don’t beat yourself up if this is not your time to savor a transition.
Ask for help or at least allow yourself to be helped.
Make time for self care, even if this means allowing others to do a whole lot extra for you right now: people who will help you make time for yourself.
Forgive yourself and survive this time around.
“You can always savor the next transition, right?” I said to myself this morning. “And ditch the guilt, girl. It’s just not you.”
And in an instant, the moment I feared would never come again is back.
I’m back to savoring.
Back to wanting this exact life.
Back to work as play.
Back to me.
I even love that damn little puppy.
Eva moved in on March 27.
Expectations, meet 8-week-old puppy. Prepare to be dashed.
Eva likes to flip her food bowl upside down, scattering food across the room, most of it ending up under the heavy kitchen appliances. She likes to sniff around in the yard for 20 minutes while we all get soaked by the cold spring rain and then come inside and immediately pee in the media room. She prefers chewing on expensive chair legs and spendy catnip-filled cat toys instead of the huge box full of dog toys left to her by Sydney and Grady. When she does pick up a dog toy, it’s always one with a loud squeaker or one that plays Christmas carols when squeezed (thanks Grandma). She broke through a barrier to the basement and went truffle mining in the cat boxes. She pooped on my favorite pillow. She found a hole in the fence and escaped to chew on rusty bits of things in the neighbor’s garage.
These are her habits.
Then there are her needs.
Puppy needs to go outside every 60 minutes during the day to do puppy business. And she needs to have her mouth removed from a chair leg every ~20 minutes (and a chew toy placed into it at roughly the same rate). Ok, that one might be my need. At night, she needs to go outside every two to three hours, and she has the energy to play loudly for at least 30 minutes each time before she drifts back to sleep. These are not really negotiable things. They are what teething puppy, with little puppy bladder, needs.
And they are our new schedule now, whether we like it or not. And more often than not, I DO NOT. I do not like this schedule.
Last night some visiting friends said “Oh, she’s so wonderful! Has she brought a new energy with her into the house?!”
Um, yes, she’s turned me into an exhausted, half-brained, slow-moving zombie. I have zombie energy now. woo hoo.
Good Lord, how do you people with children do it? You all deserve medals and adulation and parades and buildings named in your honor. And spa gift certificates. I keep thinking about our friend who has two sets of twins. I would lose my entire mind.
Lori with 4 hours of sleep a night is a very different creature than Lori with 8 hours of sleep. Sort of like the difference between a Hobbit and Gollum.
I don’t think as quickly. I snap into anger more easily. I’m not as forgiving as I used to be.
And I’ve been burdened with a surprising new guilt that I’m not doing anything right anymore—not puppy parenting, not cat parenting, not being a good spouse, not being a good creative partner. Bleh. Guilt sucks.
Did I mention that the day Eva moved in was the same day that my partner on our brand new June 1st neighborhood event—Hopscotch CD—left for a month to visit Argentina? “Sure!” mid-March Lori said to Knox. “I’d love to cover for you. Will be no trouble at all!”
But neither of us had any idea how big the event would grow. How many neighbors would want to be involved. How many groups would like us to come and talk to them about the event. How many hoops our dear City of Seattle would need us to jump through.
How actually kind of hard it can be the first time around to co-imagine and create 1.8-miles of neighborhood family fun.
I’ve responded to more email in the past 3 weeks than I did in the previous 6 months. And again, these are kind of not negotiable things. They are what’s needed right now to make the event what the neighborhood needs it to be. I love my neighborhood, and this is what I am called strongly to do, and I’m doing it, and I’m grateful.
And I’m kind of a total mess right now too.
All of my dearly beloved, energy-giving creative work—the Collective Self blogging, our Different Office story gathering, and most importantly the new book Bas and I are creating about (irony anyone?) savoring transitions—has been unceremoniously dumped on the back burner while I’ve been trying to dig my way out of piles of email and meeting invites and washing puppy poop off a pillow again.
I thought I was managing pretty well until I had a full-scale meltdown to a wide-eyed Daniel on Sunday—sobbing and questioning every life choice I’ve made in the past five years. Not my finest moment.
And then yesterday this image for me from Bas, all the way from The Netherlands, showed up in my email Inbox, just in case I needed it.
That’s me in the middle there shaking my fist at the universe. Thanks for the image, Bas. Without it there would have been zero Collective Self blog posts this month.
Hmm, so not only have I not been holding it together pretty well, like I’d hoped, but the fact that I’m not holding it together well is so obvious it can be felt all the way to Zandvoort.
Good Lord. I’m writing a book about savoring transitions, and I’m too exhausted to write it because I’m going through multiple transitions at once and can’t savor anything right now.
I’ve spent three weeks angry that I can’t even write for the book, let alone finish it. A little angry because I fear I’m letting Bas down, but mostly angry because—while I cannot speak for the rest of you—I really need to read a book about savoring transitions right now!
My universe has a seriously weird sense of humor.
Surviving several transitions at once is what I’ve been doing the past three weeks. On Sunday afternoon, post meltdown, I thought, “Enough. Time to get to the savoring part already!”
So I began thinking about my own go-to question for moments like these.
What am I learning right now?
I think I’m learning what new parents and new event planners the world over must eventually learn to have even the remotest chance of thriving during transitions: how to find stillness in the middle of real life.
For at least another few months, I’m not going to get the 6-hour chunks of empty time that I’ve needed in the past for writing. I’m not going to receive stillness in the way my soul longs for. But I still want to write. I’m not me unless I’m writing. So what the #!$@ am I going to do? (Hmm, this may be my new go-to question.)
A few things are happening to me this week—good things, I suspect, now that I’ve had a nap and am willing to honestly admit it. I am…
Saying NO (thank you) even more. Letting go of anything that is an energy drain or that even has the potential to be an energy drain (well, except puppy, of course, and meetings with the City that we need to do for the Hopscotch event to happen: this is not my moment to let go of ALL energy draining things).
Asking for, or at least accepting, more help. Taking Daniel up on his offer to work from home on Fridays. Taking Ben up on his offer to come wear the puppy out a few times a week. Next week, perhaps puppy-play-time happy hour at our local dog center that Fisher told me about.
Learning to be ok with the mess. For example, I used to get the house into tip top shape for coworking Wednesdays. I used to empty my office of clutter before sitting down to dream and think and work. Now, 40% of puppy toys into the basket and the big pieces of food off the floor count as a thorough cleaning. I’m becoming adept at finding spinning galaxies of wonder within dust bunnies and deciding that it’s a better karma move to just let them be.
Accepting feeling like a mess and learning to share it. I’m tired, I’m cranky, and I’m on edge right now. This is what I am at the moment, not always. Do I really think all the amazing people around me can’t deal with that? Oh ye of little faith!
Learning what it REALLY means to offer my entire self and schedule to the universe. I’d thought I’d done this years ago when I said “I will move where I am pulled to move.” and then began giving ample time to listening and going in the direction of my energy and joy. But when the universe tugs at your pant leg and wants something of you every five minutes—and you respond with love most of the time—that’s giving yourself fully. Each time you respond in love that’s a selflessness guru in action. I’ve done it 70-ish% of the time for just three weeks. I’m exhausted. This is really hard!
Finding stillness in smaller moments, like…
In witnessing Daniel’s total-bad-ass puppy parenting skills.
In watching Bas become a world-class artist.
In watching our new girl grow confident in her fur and wiggle with glee as she makes friends with new people in the coworking space. As she goes out to explain to the birds in her yard who’s boss.
Or in the email messages from neighbors planning to have yard sales, and photo-snapshot stalls, and food stands, and glitter tables (glitter tables!) along the Hopscotch CD route.
Asking for forgiveness more. Bas, I’m sorry I’m so distracted right now—I had no idea what I was getting myself into this month. Daniel, I’m sorry I’m such a mess right now—I had no idea what we were getting ourselves in to.
Forgiving myself more. Instead of guilt, yesterday I began again to treat myself like I would my best friend. Giving myself pep talks and cheering myself on. Celebrating the little victories: no puppy accidents in the house for 3 days in a row! Holy crap we’re a bunch of geniuses!
Letting go of the guilt of not being the perfect mom, spouse, and creative partner. Guilt serves none of us well. Perfection is ridiculously overrated.
I am writing this as Eva sleeps below my feet, right where Grady used to lay. She got her first set of shots this week and the ok from the vet to be out leash-walking now. This morning I walked her in a circle up and down the block until she passed out cold.
I am a genius.
Because there she lies: stillness with a pink and black speckled nose.
Stillness in the middle of real life is a nap.
And it is a peaceful, forgiving, cracked-open heart.
It is an embracing of what is even when what is isn’t exactly what you had in mind.
An offering and acceptance of friendship instead of guilt.
It’s giving yourself over, in love, every 5 minutes. Forgiving yourself when you forget the in love part.
It’s a way of being, and then a daily practice, and then a way of being again, and then a daily practice.
I’m not making it to yoga class quite as often as I’d like to this month. But I caught myself chanting “Om shanti, shanti, shanti” as we staggered haltingly down the sidewalk, learning the feel of the new collar and leash, figuring out how to walk, in step, together.
It’s so easy to recognize the shakiness of now as me.
A bit tougher to recognize the stillness of now as me as well.
But the stillness is me too.
The stillness is us too.
To all you other busy humans and puppies out there.
Om, peace, peace, peace.