Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Abracadabra...We Have a Graduate!

 " 'Abracadabra' is actually from the Aramaic (before Hebrew) phrase "Avra kehdabra" which means literally 'I will create as I speak.' " - Medium

On Friday, Daniel's Literature teacher said kind words about him on stage and then the principal of his small high school shook his hand, handed over a diploma and moved his tassel to the "graduated" side of the cap.  Our family cheered loudly, William's bellowed "Atta kid!" bringing a smile to Daniel's face as he posed for the final graduation photo.

Our third high school graduation brought familiar feelings of joy and pride and gratitude for the teachers and tutors who helped our son along the way, and also an unfamiliar sense of surprise and delight. Far from assuming that this graduation was inevitable, I had many low moments in the past 16 years when I doubted the possibility. In tough times my thoughts and vision would drift forward; I would "play the movie" about Daniel's future, and the tape would lapse, blunt cut ends flapping in my mind.

With its time management, peer pressure, sophisticated topics and group interactions, high school can lay a minefield at the feet of it's initiates. When students layer in emotional and learning challenges, high obstacles loom over the mined ground and a path forward seems impossible. But speaking expectations aloud, "You are smart, you will graduate, we just need to find the right place" helped fuel our collective belief and determination to move Daniel forward.

When I heard Kerri Walsh Jennings say on a podcast that her favorite word is "abracadabra" because it means "I create as I speak" I stopped my walk and replayed it.  We all know that words are powerful and that our brain believes what we tell them, but this "I create as I speak" mantra jolted me into a higher plane of awareness.  Daniel and I went to many classes together and as we drove to and fro, we worked to speak positively about his potential, his ability to do good things, graduate, go to college. And, well - to oversimplify - it worked! 

(It's interesting, too, how familiar the Aramaic spelling is to Avada Kedabra in Harry Potter, which actually means "I kill as I speak" but that's a post for another time.)

I believe more in the power of speech than I ever have and I am trying to watch my words and how I speak about my own difficulties and opportunities, as well as those things confronting my husband and my children. Our brains believe what we tell them and the more I say good things, the more good I can create.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Kinkeeping in the Month of May

"A kinkeeper is someone who cultivates a sense of 'family solidarity or connectedness'."  - Carolyn Rosenthal in the New York Times

"When researchers sought out kinkeepers for a 2017 study, more than 91% of the volunteers were women." - New York Times

The counter holds a stack of graduation announcements and party RSVP requests. Our calendars are filling with parties and reunions trying to elbow work aside. Many extended family members claim a birthday in May (seven at last count) and birthday cards, texts, and phone calls need to be sent (on-time if possible, but often lagging). 

The signing of checks, scrounging for cash, mailing of cards, represents work that I gladly complete, enjoying the thought of our family member opening the letter or spending birthday money on a favorite treat. But it does constitute effort and take up mental space, which is at a premium these days due to age and busy-ness. I was delighted when I saw the New York Times article on kinkeeping, lending a name and weight and honor to these tasks.

In my family it's true that women do the heavy lifting of kinkeeping, organizing Zoom calls, sending the cards and gifts. It's work that was not assigned or explicitly recognized in our house, but I wanted to do it and so it fell to me. I have excellent role models in my mother, mother-in-law, aunts, and good friends - they illustrate the means by which a large family, geographically dispersed, can stay connected.

Rob does a fair amount of kinkeeping, himself. He remembers gifts and anniversaries, particularly for his extended family, and created a family tree for both sides. He even printed out enough paper copies for each family to hang a tree in their home. In this joint effort I am blessed; I married someone who rates family connectedness as high as I do.

I think kinkeeping also refers to dear friends and chosen family. Graduation cards and gifts are part of recognizing important milestones for this wonderful group, and attending graduation parties a piece of being present to witness this moment in the life of a young person - and their parents. Though my introvert heart skips a beat when I see the calendar for the upcoming week, I remember that this work is old and hallowed - and important. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Love is Not Guaranteed

 A few days ago I read a quote in The Sun Magazine that slapped me across the face. The words that leaped off the page - "Love is not guaranteed" - were simply stated inside of another poem. I gave the magazine to a friend but that quote will not leave me alone. It echoed through my head on Mother's Day, as I spoke to my mother, opened cards from my husband and children, and exchanged texts with my friends.

My mom's love for me and for my siblings provided such a strong foundation in my life that I was virtually ignorant that love wasn't present and active in everyone's life. As an adult I knew I was extremely fortunate and that not everyone had an equal experience of being mothered, but my thoughts never descended to the ground level.

I can't find the original author of this statement, but when I googled the quote the internet offered up a little more: "Love is not guaranteed.We are not owed love. That's why, when we get it, we know how lucky we are and hold on for dear life." A stark realization - that people out there do not have love in their lives. Love as both necessity and luxury - as gift and good fortune of the highest magnitude.

The idea reminds me never to take loving relationships for granted, to hold up my end of the bargain and make the special people in my life know my love. A poignant reminder on Mother's Day and every day.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Trauma Recovery Handbook

 About a year ago, I went through an experience in which I felt excluded, humiliated and betrayed. It took me months to be able to write about it in a coherent fashion - that first sentence is a product of introspection, many discussions with close friends, and recent work on trauma recovery. Guilt stabs at me for even using the word "trauma" about this experience when other people go through so much more painful and difficult circumstances, but I'm learning that comparing my life history to others' (and feeling like I should feel lucky and blessed all the time) does not work.

A good friend recently loaned me a book titled Trauma Recovery Handbook for Survivors: A Simple Guide to Understanding Complex Trauma, by Rachel Walker, LMFT. The page on Instinctive Defenses in adults blew out the lightbulb above my head. I knew about fight/flight/freeze responses but I didn't know about the variations of each, and it helped to know that other people experience the same range of emotions and reactions. For example, under Fight, emotions and behaviors include 'controlling, full of rage, judgmental.' Yes, yes, and yes. Under Flight, 'lost in fantasy, spacing out, urge to escape.' You mean other people do that, too?  And under Freeze, 'guarded, paralyzed.' Check.

So. my behavior is in the range of a normal instinctive defense for adults, but why was it happening? To the outside world, the triggering event was not such a big deal. I could recognize that fact logically but it made no difference to my body. As it turns out, the feeling of exclusion, humiliation, betrayal - and shame for feeling all of these for "no reason" - was triggering earlier memories of similar experiences.  The most recent event reached back and pushed multiple buttons in my brain, gaining momentum with each successive button. The result was an outsized instinctive, physical response to multiple incidents.

Discovering this took a year, and a conversation with my good friend helped me complete the picture. She helped me talk it back to the first experience I had of stinging betrayal, which happened at a sleepover when I was 12. I had left the room with three or four girls in sleeping bags behind me to go find the upstairs bathroom. When I came back down, quietly, I heard my best friend talking about me behind my back (or around the corner in this case.) Her words were not complimentary. The hurt and shock made it impossible to breathe. I never confronted her about it, just waited a few extra minutes to recover and inhale before re-entering the room and pretending that all was as before.

Obviously that pain exists somewhere in my brain, and that angry, confused and hurt 12-year-old girl lives within me. She got really angry about being re-injured and re-provoked, and was determined to defend me from the people and the situation that hurt me.  I've had to learn to talk to her and explain that we are not in danger, that the threat has passed, and that we are going to be OK. I even thanked her for looking out for me but let her know she can rest. 

I'm grateful for the insights provided by friends and by this wonderful little book while recognizing that therapy might be needed to go any deeper. I certainly don't prescribe my self-reflective methods to anyone else or pretend to know what any other individual experiences in their life, but I thank you for letting me write this out and for reading.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Racing Masters with my Daughter

The onset of nerves before I swim a race roils my gut and sends my heart rate sky high. I can tell myself that no one cares (true), that at my age it's silly to get nervous (debatable), and that everyone will still love me even if I fall flat on my face (hopefully fair), but no matter. Over the past weekend I learned that one thing can calm me down - racing next to my daughter. Aden and I were seeded in the same heat and in lanes 3 and 4 for the 50 freestyle at the Arizona State Masters meet, and that was so fun I almost forgot to be nervous.

At the start I closed my eyes, which is typical, and opened them in the water with a focus on the wall ahead for the turn, but when I flipped I pushed off on my side toward Aden and she towards me. For a split second we stared at each other between outstretched arms - and then I reminded myself to get going since she's a powerhouse on the back half of any race.  Aden pulled ahead and finished four-tenths before me, but she carried me to my best finish in a few years. We got out and staggered behind the timers into a bent-over, leaning high-five, smiling even as we gasped for breath.

We swam together in the 100 free, too, but Aden was two lanes away and ahead the entire duration of that race. On less than 20 hours of pool time this spring (she's a working woman now, after all) she propelled herself to four national top-ten times in her age group. Her will and determination inspired me into one (hopefully) for my much-older age group. Away from the blocks we had fun in the warm up and warm down pool, chatting with always-friendly Masters swimmers from Arizona, and particularly with our new friend Rich, who remembered our names and asked about all of our races.  

Tucson in the spring is glorious, with flowering cacti, happy birds, and bright blue skies. The high temps and bright sunshine scared us into multiple applications of sunscreen and flight to the shade but the vistas of saguaro and barrel cacti lit up our vision. We listened to Beyonce's new album, which was strangely befitting to the Western setting, and tooled around town looking for acai bowls, gluten free baked goods and smoothies.

I'm reminded again why I sign up for meets and force myself to train for them - it's for the adventure, the shared time with friends and family and the occasional reminders that I still have something in the tank. Dealing with the nerves as the price of admission makes it all worthwhile.