Friendships and Foot Bridges

A friend forgave me once. It was about 3 years ago. I married her husband’s best friend and so by default we became friends. We visited a couple times a year and started sharing minor life experiences. We had instant connection, instant friendship chemistry. I considered myself so lucky to genuinely like my husband’s friend’s wife. There was a recognition that we could be real with each other. The honeymoon phase.

A couple years into this newfound friendship I had my 2nd daughter, it was a vbac (vaginal birth after cesarean). I’d done a ton of research and spent countless hours and tears changing my paradigm on what the birth experience was intended to be. I won! Vindication happened at 7:36 a.m. when I pushed a human little girl into existence and knelt over her. That high lasted for months, years.
Less than a year later my friend was pregnant as well. She too had suffered the injustices I had. So I called her in a panic, having heard through the husbands that she was considering a repeat surgery. Our friendship was still a shaky footbridge connecting two unexplored mountaintops. It was rarely traversed and only in good weather. It was uninformed, undefined. I reached through the phone and diplomatically made every case why my friend should follow in my footsteps. She agreed! She saw my logic. She saw the injustice. I passionately encouraged her, rattled off the numbers to boost her confidence; informed every misconception she knew she was being fed. Exhausted, she thanked me and we finished the call.

Months later she had her sweet son. Through the husbands, I heard it was a repeat cesarean. Completely confused I went to visit and celebrate her little babe and perhaps understand better what had happened. It must have been a necessary surgery because she knew better. That conversation didn’t really happen. Two moms and 5 kids running around can’t have a heart to heart. We hugged, I left, never to speak of it again. The footbridge lost a few planks. I was unsure about this perceived rejection of my advice. I was unsure what exactly was being rejected, an experience, or me.

Four children later, and perhaps 3 years ago, we went for one of our annual visits. The topic was long since forgotten. The foot bridge friendship handled holidays beautifully, a welcome high point in contrast to many perfunctory visits. Laughing at the craziness of life with someone who sees it from a similar angle relaxes you and lasts longer than the finest wine.

During the evening the mood shifted and we mentioned heart aches, things we were learning about ourselves, our marriages. We dared to speak ill of the husbands in hushed voices in case they came in from the deck. Then she said it. She brought up the births of her youngest two children, (the cesarean and a vbac) and talked about how healing they were. I stepped onto the foot bridge, shakily. I told her I was sorry for having been so overly zealous during that phone call so many years before.

And she forgave me. She told me it was ok, that she knew I didn’t mean to stress her. She knew I’d only tried to help. She said she knew now that she simply didn’t know what she didn’t know. I had grown some too. Having become a doula I’d learned that we all have a journey to walk and we can’t dictate another person’s learning path. I told her so. I told her that if I could do it over I would never have taxed her with my passion in that way.

She smiled. She laughed. She accepted my clumsiness and loved me anyway. She knew my intent and allowed that to be enough. She had never held a grudge. She opened up and let me see what her journey had looked like. She trusted me. She made it safe to err and therefore give me the freedom to be myself and never wonder if a misstep would lose her. She didn’t hesitate to state her case. She did not negate her own views. She found the connecting points of our different choices and didn’t allow the details to injure our friendship. She taught me that friendship meant talking through the awkward moments, not ignoring them.

The foot bridge was not only mended, it now had trusses, arches, and posts. This one is going to withstand whatever weight we cross with.

 

written: 1/23/16

Regrets

Something hit me yesterday while driving and talking with my 16-year-old. We do our best talking in the car. Often we’ll get home but decide to pass the house and drive randomly until our conversation is spent. She’s 32 weeks pregnant. Needless to say, there is a lot of extra driving going on these days. We all have hurts, (thank you, R.E.M.) Hearing your kid articulate her hurts though, is a disembowelment in slow motion.

I was an old soul from a young age. At 6 years old I found where my grandmother hid some of her grocery money. It was in the lid of a small porcelain jewelry container on her bedroom dresser. No one would have ever found it there if she were being robbed. I found it because I liked to play with the little bit of makeup she kept. From that time on, anytime I had money with me from Christmas or birthdays I’d sneak into her bedroom and add my money to her stash. My grandparents are extremely generous souls, always donating large percentages to church and those in need. They have very, very little and they are totally content. (As of this writing they are 99 and 93 and still giving). So something in me wanted to take care of them in a way I knew they couldn’t refuse. I kept that up for years, until there was never money there anymore. She must have moved it.

The month I turned three, we left my dad. He hadn’t bothered to maintain any heat or electricity in the house, and it was autumn. Decades later he admitted that he regretted letting us go, kinda late. We went to live a few blocks away from my maternal grandparents. They became my full time daycare, and eventually, my before and after school care while my mom was at work. They are wonderful grandparents and we became very close. When I was 8 years old we moved an hour away and would visit at least twice a month. Even as an 8 year old, though, I would cry every time we drove away from their apartment. It wasn’t an emotional separation anxiety at the door. It was pulling away from the parking space, waving frantically from our car to the shadowy figures in their window, until we couldn’t even see the building anymore, truly grieving the thought that we might never see each other again. I knew they were old and anything could happen and I was going to hold on to every second of time I had with them. If they passed before we could see each other again I would know I had done my best. No regrets.

At age 10, my step-grandmother took me along on her weekly visits to a nursing home to play her guitar and sing for the residents. I made real friends.  One was a man named John who had had a stroke and become paralyzed on one side. He was “young,” only in his 70’s, but since he had no family able or willing to care for him in their home, he had moved to the nursing home a decade earlier. He was such a kind man and everyone liked him instantly. I’d listen to residents tell stories, laugh, whine, complain, cry. I practically took notes.  Perhaps spending so much time with my so many grandparents made me an old soul. Either way, by the time I was 15, I was ancient. I made resolutions to “never do this, never that”. It was easy to see how foolish choices caused so much regret.  I made a powerful resolution to live my life in such a way that I would never make regrets. Notice I said, “make” regrets.

“I’ll never have regrets” is a common promise, but people say it preemptively so they can be reckless and not apologize afterward. College students binge drink and party then solemnly defend their experimentations and vow to “never have regrets”. Twenty somethings travel the world and quit their jobs, racking up debt, and defiantly declare that they have no regrets about pursuing their dreams. In the end though, most people are just afraid of feeling sorry for their stupid choices. So they either declare it in advance or later over a beer, “no regrets” as if the phrase itself absolves them from responsibility. At 15 I would specifically differentiate *my* commitment from the common one. I was never going to make the choices my dad (or others) made that clearly had been selfish or unwise and had later caused them grief. It wasn’t about being a good girl (though I got that reputation). It was about being scared spit-less of following in my dad’s footsteps or being as miserable as some of those nursing home residents were. The combination of an old soul who witnessed a decent amount of “didn’t live up to potential” at a young age will create a very “safe,” “walk the line” approach to Life.

So to hear my daughter talk about our home life of the last ten years – to hear her tell me how alone she felt – how left out, brought me to that old promise I made. I revisited my promise to never make regrets like an old dusty sign that once hung in a doorway but is now being lifted from the clutter of an attic. I realized that honest mistakes, “tried my best,” “didn’t know what I didn’t know” mistakes can cause just as much agonizing regret as anything volitional.

I wind up telling her exactly that and asking her to “please know that nothing I did was ever malicious.” “Do you believe that I never intended for you to feel that way? I thought I was being responsible.” She’s able to make eye contact which is about as close to a confirmation as we can muster.

The large intestine is complete, outside and removed from the body. There is no fixing this. We drive home quietly and calmly.

 

written: 1/23/16

Irreducible Complexity of Being a Mom

I homeschool 5 kids and my husband now travels for work nearly 75% of the time. My oldest is 16 and pregnant. Days are way too full and perfectionism is threatening to kill me. I’m not obsessed with having a spotless floor or perfect nails. I’m a relational perfectionist. If I don’t have harmony, I’m a failure. The problem is, Harmony and Chaos don’t exactly play well together.

Anyone who has been a server in a restaurant knows what it means to be in the weeds. It’s usually the peak of the dinner or lunch rush. More than that though, it’s when there are so many tables being seated that you don’t have time to greet and bring beverages to one table before the next is already waiting too long. So you could be “double sat” (totally recoverable); but getting into “triple sat,” or quad sat” – you’re talking temporary brain malfunctions.

That’s where I’m at. You know when people say, “Plan ahead the night before by packing meals and such”? You think I didn’t think of that? You know what I’m doing the night before? Catching up from the morning. If I had time that was entirely discretionary, there would not be the reason for panic. Instead I’ve got to cut into real activities. I can work from midnight until 2 a.m. and still manage to function the next day, but I can only sustain that for a couple nights and then I’m spent. I can get my shower down to 3 minutes, but there’s an irreducible complexity to the shower that requires 3 minutes, otherwise it’s no longer a shower.

I can get the kids “dressed” and not worry about whether they match, or are sparkly clean or detangled. Eventually though, it still takes 20 whole minutes to physically leave the house and get them all strapped into car seats without leaving my keys on the kitchen counter. There is always a minimum amount of time everything takes. I’ve cut so many corners, my days are entirely round.

So when mini-implosions happen – I’m trying to have a few minutes alone at dawn, and get a call from the teenager (in her bedroom) to help take her boyfriend to school because he missed the bus (I didn’t), and the 3-year-old tries to help by letting the dogs out but now they have run away and woken up the baby, who is now crying because of the slammed door, and I’m getting a text from a loved one in a different time zone who is cutting into her sleep just to tell me she loves us and I manage to shorten my shower to 3 minutes and throw in a ponytail for our doctor appointment at 10am, yeah, I’m quad-sat, don’t talk to me about planning ahead. The only way to prevent that kind of chaos is to hire people, but we all know that’s not an option.

That sounded angry. Did it? I didn’t mean to sound angry per se. Just a bit tired of the same old advice. No one wants to constantly feel like they’re screwing up. Servers know they are going to get crazy busy at the peak of the dinner rush on Friday and Saturday. They also know that it’ll be over, just hang in there and the tips will be worth it. The rest of the time they practically dance through the restaurant to the rhythm of the guests flowing to and from tables. There is pride in seamlessly meeting each need. As a mom, in the never-ending dinner rush, it’s a constant barrage of perceived failure. Broken dishes, disgruntled children, and burned lunch add up to a message from the Universe telling me I can’t hack it and my incompetence causes discord. I am my own boss and maybe deserve to be fired. Once in a while, though, when I’ve had a minute to pee alone and think about real solutions, I double down my efforts to problem solve this logistical nightmare. Except, instead of planning the night before, I’ve got to do it a month before because that’s how freaking backed up I am! It literally takes a week of forecasting everyone’s basic needs to guarantee that we’ll make it out the door in time for each appointment every day and actually eat as well.

Planning ahead is not even close to a perfect fix, remember, “The best laid plans”? Eventually there is just too much going on. Something has to give. It might be sleep, it might be sanity, but hopefully it’s the perfectionism. This toxic misbelief that I am only as worthwhile as my successes must be purged and replaced with the truth about why I matter. Perhaps the Chaos is my teacher, placing this load on my unsure shoulders, allowing me to break open and release that lie that hides inside. My worth is not found in the sum of meals I cook, bodies I bathe, or schedules I maintain. The goal has not been to prove myself masterful at these tasks. It’s tempting to move on to loftier misbeliefs. Perhaps my worth lies in successfully modeling for my children how to love well, and to fail gracefully but continue on in the good work of raising them. Even that falls short, my worth lies not in whether I have loved them well. Blasphemy in this age of Child Worship. Instead my worth comes from the One who inspired the love in the first place. Just as my children do not earn my love, but are freely washed in it, day in and day out; I too, am loved unconditionally by the One who formed me and instilled in me this inherent, irreducible worth.

written: 1/20/16

Changing Spaces

It’s 12:35 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Kids are asleep (and will hopefully stay that way), husband is traveling for work until Friday. I’ve toyed with the idea of blogging for years now but never could justify it, considering how much internet “noise” there is. Then I slowly accepted that the world is big enough for a few more blogs. With the population in the billions, someone is bound to read my blog while sitting on some bidet in a Belgium hotel room, practicing English.

I am a 1st-generation Spanish girl from New Jersey. My mom moved here from the Dominican Republic when she was 16. She is the oldest of five kids. Her parents were supposed to go on furlough back to Cuba, but it was 1966, too dangerous, so their governing organization, World Team, brought them to the U.S. instead. Needless to say, they stayed. My dad moved here from Ecuador with his parents when he was 21. He had an accounting degree and a young first wife (my mom came along 11 years later when dad was 32 and divorced). My parents eventually met while working for Merrill Lynch in New York.

Technically, I was born in Brooklyn because that’s where the hospital was, (apparently it burned down) but my parents lived in Jersey City. I spent 3 years there until Mom took my brother and I away, to a place where the utilities were actually paid for, because electricity and hot water are things wives and kids typically need. So we got to live in a 5th-floor apartment in Hoboken for the next 5 years. Those years were the best. Our grandparents lived nearby and we saw them all the time. It was a cozy. My mother, brother and I all shared 1 bedroom. For a while, we all slept in my mom’s bed. Eventually, she got us twin beds. Remarkably, 2 twins and a double all fit in that bedroom along with one dresser. Still, though, the best home we’ve ever had. Downstairs was “Benitez’ Bodega” where we’d get a buttered roll and a Huggie for breakfast if there was time. Other days I’d wear my footy pajamas down the 5 flights of steps, all the way to the car, and up 6 blocks to my Abuelos’ apartment because my mom was running late for work. She had an hour commute by then, so she’d drop us off at our grandparents’ most days. From there I’d spend the day watching my Abuela sew, sell catalog items, balance her checkbook, and cook. Of course, it’s also where I watched the latest shows like Little House, Woody Woodpecker and The Dukes of Hazard. My brother was already in school, so Abuelo walked him there and back every day. A couple years later, I joined them. Still we would return every afternoon and do homework and have dinner, waiting for Mom to get home from work. Between the commute and the fast-paced office, she was a classic 1980’s working woman, getting home around 7 each night. She’d try to make it back in time to eat dinner with my Grandparents. Afterwards, we would head home to cuddle in bed and stay up late to watch Dallas because she missed us and wanted to be together. Like I said, good times.

When I was 8, my mom’s company had already moved its headquarters from Manhattan to Princeton, so they paid for us to move as well. That’s how we ended up in Plainsboro, NJ. Sure, it was a two bedroom and I had to share my room with my mom, but I learned how to fall asleep to crickets outside my window instead of public buses’ air brakes. There was grass, a lot of it. Our apartment complex had a playground that wasn’t cemented over! I could count on 2 hands the number of times I’d been to the playground in Hoboken, maybe not even. I could not remember running in a field of grass, except on a camping trip to Sleepy Hollow. It was like finally coming up for air but not knowing I’d been suffocating. I played outdoors unsupervised for the first time in my life at age 8. Heaven. Since Mom was at work and the Abuelos were now an hour away, I was a latch-key kid. I didn’t know it wasn’t ideal. It seemed great to me! I actually rode my bike outdoors (not just in the hallway of our 5th floor apartment) and with other children! When you’re a compliant child, you don’t fight for things that you don’t know are o.k. to want. You just accept reality. You don’t know there are alternatives.

We lived in that glorious place, Quail Ridge Apartments, for 2 years. My mom then met a decent man and remarried. We moved to, get this, a single-family home, another opportunity to blow my mind. I had my own bedroom and it was everything. Not only did we now have our own driveway, we even had our own yard, a garden, and a playground right across the street that had a huge field connecting it to a canal and, in my eyes, The Woods.

The expansion of my world from a 1 bedroom apartment to the “Woods”, roaming freely, is a journey I am very grateful for. Nature will always be a healing balm. Yet there will always be a yearning for the security of that little apartment on Washington St.

written: 1/20/16

Prequel Post

People!
Hello and thank you for clicking on my blog! I promise to make good use of your time. Plain and simple I’m here to share stories of my life.  At age 28 I had my 3rd child and began working as a doula. Watching a baby emerge from his mother, watching parents be born, watching families survive brought a whole new layer to introspection and how our experiences shape us. The complexity of our biology speaks to the soul’s journey. Every moment feels like a crumb trail leading to wisdom.

I hope my stories will make you smile or cry but always help you learn and be encouraged. There is a lot going on in my life. Writing is how I process. So that’s my disclaimer; just because it gets written doesn’t mean it is my conclusion on the subject. It’s just a way to figure out what I think or feel about things that are slowly being revealed.

Some of my posts were written months ago when the words were just bubbling out of me. Now that I’ve finally gotten the technical side set up, I’ll upload my old entries. That’ll explain the slightly out of sequence dates.

Anyway, I hope to hear from you philosophers, encouragers, warriors, as you interact with the tedious or the terrifying!

Sincerely,

Heidi

4/18/2016