Connection

The urge to write is unbearable, yet the words, the arc, the pretty package is escaping me. So today, just the raw words. Credit card points are a beautiful thing. We thought we were clever when we paid for IVF with our hilton honors card, joking that we would use the points one day to sneak away for a night or two in chicago after our second baby was born. It is one of those things we have been fully committed to since Henry was born, we would find time for just us, preserve our marriage, our foundation. We wouldn’t look at the calendar one day and realize it had been 2 years since we got away. And thanks to my amazing mother in law and brother, we do get that time. We were certain we would have another baby and committed to preserving our time as a couple. Weeks later, we got the news we were going to have twins. The hotel would have to wait for a while.

We were thrilled and scared out of our minds, and we laughed, and we cried, tears of joy and absolute terror. Adding one baby at a time is daunting enough, how would we possibly prepare for two. We needed to buy a new car, make some changes to the house, and mentally and emotionally prepare and pave the way for extreme love and chaos.

As the months passed Twin A and Twin B transformed to baby boy a and baby boy b and then to Jackson and Finn. And we met them and held them and loved them so fiercely so immediately that my heart was bursting from my chest, and as they clutched our fingers with their tiny hands we whispered in their tiny ears that they were perfect and we would never forget them. And just like that they breathed their last breaths in our arms and were on to the next life.

A year ago today we did find ourselves in that luxurious hotel in Chicago, paid for with IVF points. We were home to celebrate my sister’s wedding, and to bury our baby boys ashes next to their grandfather and great grandparents, to be looked after, to honor their short lives in the place we both grew up. We sat in the hotel wrapped in each others arms, in a cloak of heartbreak, beauty and simplicity, in pure indulgence, just 54 days after our sweet boys passed away in our arms.

Amanda went for a run, desperately trying to transform her postpartum body back to the way it was. Sitting on the balcony, drinking my coffee and sleepily overlooking the city street below, my phone rang. It was my brother Mat, his voice shaking, “Hey, what’s up, I have Kristin here too. I don’t know how else to say this. They found dad. He’s dead. I love you.” Dead silence….”No. Way. When did he die, where did they find him?” “They found him dead in bed, covered in bottles of booze, in an apartment in Bangkok. Suspected suicide.”

I couldn’t breathe, my mouth agape, i shut down. “Ok. Are you ok? I love you both. I am so sorry.” It was his 63rd birthday, almost 20 years to the day that he disappeared.

We all have those moments in our lives, before and after moments, where things change forever, anchored by an event. While most of my life had been marked by the disappearance of my father, the birth and death of our sons marked an almost unbearable new line.

Most of my childhood and early adulthood years were spent in survival mode, and to accomplish that I shut down emotionally, compartmentalizing my life. To let any of the pain in would have shut me down, so I moved forward, head down, got shit done. My compassion and empathy for others overflowed, crying walking by a homeless person on the street. My empathy and compassion for myself was non existent. Marrying Amanda was the beginning of my exterior cracking, real vulnerability showing its face, slowly breaking down. Then Henry was born and my heart oozed, the foundation crumbling.

After his first 17 days of life, in great health, he almost died. 6lbs 9ozs and he had rsv. They told us to prepare for him not to make it. And I broke open completely, like i had never done before, feeling the full blast of all my emotions. Aching for the life we were going to have with him, that after 2.5 years was finally here and now we were losing him. And we stayed strong and let our friends and family in, to love us and care for us and help us believe he would be ok. And then suddenly he took a turn for the better, and he lived. He is our miracle baby, no doctor could explain his quick recovery, inches from death to a healthy, happy, nursing baby.

Jackson and Finn’s death ripped my heart out, i felt like I was walking around inside out. The depth of our love for them in the short time they lived was astounding. We held each other and were cradled and loved by all of our friends and family. And I was open, and in touch and not putting up the walls and the facade. I didn’t hold it together and I didn’t need to. I was finally the vulnerable person I teach others to be.

Somehow, the death of my father triggered me back to being 13 years old again. Feeling unsafe and compartmentalized. All the opening I had done, all the undoing of those habits, all the work, one instant shut me down again.

So hear I sit in our small town coffee shop, on the heels of my Dad’s 64th birthday and anniversary of his death, watching 9 month old twins scream in their stroller, yearning for that chaos. Tapping into my practice, my heart, my family, my foundation, trying to find my way back to connection, to wholeness.

Cracked Wide Open

Truth, vulnerability, love, loss, envy, fear.  We play the highlight reel, even with those closest to us, rarely talking about what is really going on in our lives, our hearts and minds.  We grin and bare it, keep our tragedies and sad stories to ourselves, quietly suffering, quietly overcoming.  Living in deceptive collusion.  And we are alone roiling in our pain.  We share our successes, and our love, and our happy moments forgetting that without suffering there is no happiness – we are all human, none of us immune.  And one day you whisper, you leak, you share, and find you are not alone.  Here’s to love and pain and heartbreak and vulnerability – we are not alone, you are not alone.  You are just like me, and I just like you.  Maybe not in this, but in some suffering.

All hospital rooms are not created equal. This room left us feeling dirtier just for being there. Left wanting for assurance that everything was going to be ok. The white board across from the bed below the clock was mostly erased remnants of the previous patient’s doctor and nurses names. Scratched and cracked, mostly blank, it gave me the eery feeling that no one was taking care of us. We moved across the hall, the cleanliness was luxurious. No longer under observance in the Maternity ward we were back in labor and delivery. Liz, Betsy and Jodie had just left, a small smile still on your face from the laughter. J arrived from Chicago and the mediocre indian food delivery was a feast. All was quiet – the nurse loved us and moved us to the biggest room. We all had room to rest, your chromatic bed with extra blankets just out of the warmer, me in the chair next to you, J across the room, curled into a tight ball, snoring lightly. I yearned for the filth and neglect of the maternity ward. There was no going back, we were in it for the long haul, 90 more days or 1 more hour.

As I drifted I heard the soft closing of the bathroom door – your constant urge to pee, the easier part of this pregnancy.

Too much time had passed, even at 3:30 in the morning, it felt too long, you couldn’t still be peeing. Peering through the door, your were quivering, white faced. I knew it was time. I woke J, told her to get the doctor.

They arrived in a flurry, prepping the room and you for birth. I sat by your side, holding your hand, prepared to be the best partner I could through the births. Trying to match your strength and support when Henry was born. I am good under pressure, this is my strength, and yet I couldn’t shake the fear that I would let you down.

And then all of a sudden you were pushing. You were so brave and so strong. the words “push push push… push, breathe” came out as the tears rolled down my cheeks. Your strangle grip on my hand gave me strength, this was for you, for Jack, this was our family and our path. There was no going back. After about 10 minutes of pushing, there he was, head crowning, he came out peacefully. There was no screaming, no Apgar, his eyes were closed. The rush of the NICU team hurrying him to the warmer, cleaning him off, checking his vitals. and there it was, his first, ever so slight, breath. his beating heart visible through his delicate skin. 4:48am – Jackson Vincent was alive. I carefully cradled him, taking him from the doctor. we held him, and in an instant loved him so deeply – weeping. taking in each tiny detail of his perfect face and body.  So tiny, yet so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Our perfect moment abruptly interrupted by the attending physician. The contractions had stopped, your cervix stopped dilating, there was hope for Finn. A fleeting moment of hope. But Jack’s placenta hadn’t delivered and was torn. If it didn’t deliver in the next hour you would be induced. The Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor confirmed that their was no decision to be made, if the placenta didn’t come out you would die.

We drank up every second we had with Jack, snuggling, kissing and loving every little bit of him. His short life so peaceful and so full of love, until his last breath in our arms. Your mom held him so gentle and firm, so protective, no longer breathing forever alive. and we waited. no placenta. Finn was still kicking and moving when they started the epideral and pitocin. Tears streaming, no turning back. Your life on the line, your body refusing to budge – refusing to let go of the beautiful life moving about. Your eyes empty, your body strong – your soul exposed. 4 hours later – the contractions finally started, our worst nightmare coming true. How do you push when all you want to do is hold – knowing that each painful contraction and push means coming closer to losing our sweet Finnie boy.

But you did it, you did what you were told, i held your hand and coached you again… to push, push push…almost there, push…and there he was -10:06am Finnean Mathew, bigger than Jackson, rounder, more muscular. Sweet love, mouth open, tiny little breaths. Deep love and adoration, It was over and yet it had just begun.

“Sometimes I feel like I never been nothing but tired.. Sometimes I lay down, no more can I do, then I go on again, because you asked me to. Some days i look down, afraid i will fall. and though the sun shines, I see nothing at all. and I hear your sweet voice, oh, oh, come and then go, come and then go. telling me softly, you love me so. The peaceful valley just over the mountain. I may never get there in this lifetime, but sooner or later, it’s there I will go. Sooner or later, it’s there I will go.” Patty Griffin – Just over the mountain, MLK’s song

Moths to a flame

We are all like moths to a flame, looking for happiness. Tempted by the feeling of fleeting relief only to further embed our bad habits. My tongue is all too pleased with the sting of a hot, salty french fry, satisfying in a primal way. The trouble is the next bite isn’t as good as the last, but I believe in the promise of the possibility, so i burn my tongue and add to my girth with another. And on I go, chasing the familiar relief of the first bite that can’t be matched. Only to further embed the habit loop, the well worn path in the deep recess of my brain that tells me this is going to provide relief.

Less obvious are relationships. A relationship begins, the intensity of the courting, the lust, all the firsts, they enrapture us and we are in the pleasure vortex. The phone rings and our heart races, we can literally feel the adrenaline coursing through our veins. Researchers say that falling in love is akin to being addicted to a drug, in the way our brains respond. Dopamine is released and that state of pleasure feels endless. And this goes on, in some cases for as long as 2 years. That is the point at which scientists say we have psychologically adapted to that state of being. We are an adaptive species after all, and are hard wired for variety. The first kiss, the discovery of all we don’t know thrills and drives us, and when the passionate love transitions to compassionate love we mistake it for loss of connection. The spark is gone, we feel like the relationship is “work,” sex changes, is more predictable. Somewhere along the way we were told that true love is easy – or at least I was. The key here is to stick in, to create variety and surprise, in order to stimulate our brains and keep the relationship fresh. It would be impossible to maintain the state of being of the first six months of a relationship, we would never get anything done much less be able to raise families. After all, it will be the same adventure with the next person, it is biologically determined that the lust will wear down, if not off. So revel in each moment accepting that feelings ebb and flow – where there is compassionate love there is a future. You just have to work at it a bit more.

For most of us this state of being is relatively harmless as long as we catch ourselves. At least it is relative to drug addicts and alcoholics, however it still gets in the way of our general sense of happiness.

So what? Is life then hopeless and happiness not a realistic goal? I don’t think so, for me it has been about accepting what comes at me, knowing that the pain and suffering, the crappy tasting meal or the bad cup of coffee all allow for the next moment to be appreciated. Without contrast we cannot feel happy or content.

The key for me has been awareness, cultivated through meditation. Catching myself in the moment, of chasing the pleasure and recognizing its futility – fully being able to appreciate an extraordinary moment for what it is and letting things come and go.

The next time you have a bad meal or are bored with your partner, let it be the foundation of contrast in order to enjoy the next moment.

“When any situation is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution.”
~ Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Standard Edition

Bigger than this

I often live my life in a bubble, bumping around into other people’s bubble’s. My world is saturday morning pancakes and the smell of coffee breath tainted with last nights one too many beers and cigarettes from the commuter next to me, little dump trucks and dirt boxes, big city offices and the hum of white collar workers with low morale, toddlers crying because underwear must be worn and there hasn’t been time to practice liking the sound of the vacuum yet, hands in flour water and yeast yielding warm bread and hot garbage stuck to my shoe.

Maybe you are like me in that you float around in your life, mostly seeing things from your bubble, feeling the grind of your job more than the person next to you, your back pain hurts a little more than your neighbors, the rain even makes you a bit more wet than everyone else? And we all bump into one another, holding our breath and hoping the bubbles don’t break. Comforted by illusion of safety and warmth of the blanket of our self deception.

And then, if you are lucky, there are moments when your bubble bumps into someone else’s and you are breathing the same air, having to look at things from the space of their bubble, and a glimpse of real life tip toes in.

Life is bigger than this, we are bigger than this. My bubble had the opportunity to collide with so many at once that my reality exploded in an instant. Nothing makes this reality more clear than moments of birth and the process of death.

The danger is, that the moment trails away, the grief lessens it grip, the joy of birth turns into sleepless nights and spit up and the bubble slowly starts to reform. I am a better person, better off than I have been before for this moment that has lasted longer than the others. Suffering is universal, and it is experienced in degrees, if we can see suffering as a collective ailment, share in the pain, we can share in the glory, in the breath of life, it gets a little easier. There is so much more space and air in a bigger bubble, more room for freedom and happiness and for sharing in the unavoidable pain of life.

It takes practice, you may not be ready to burst your bubble completely, maybe start with joining one or two other bubbles, share in their pain, see life from their hearts, and slowly expand. The key is to be aware as often as possible as to where you are in relation to the rest of us – and make a choice, don’t float in your bubble obliviously.

Stolen with love from Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun” and words changed for the purposes of my intentions:

When I walk beside them
I am a better person
When I look to leave them
I always stagger
Once I built an ivory tower
so i could worship from above
when I climb back down to be set free
they took me in again

there’s a big
a big hard sun
beating on the the big people
in a big hard world

There’s a big hard love
that is bigger than us
in this big love world

Go on, go do it.

Intersection

my mind turns inside out and my heart unravels, an invitation to let go and just be – she is there and then gone, so willing to see – the truth that is exposed, warning and free – leaning in i hold her, whispering all i know – follow your breath, in your nose and out, follow it all the way, don’t look back, you will be ok. The pain will stay behind and the love will follow, lightness and ease – she relents and resists, banging her fists, tears streaming – why are you doing this to me, you promised.

Its ok baby, you can go now, don’t let the burdens of the past hold you here

the pain can flow like wind through the trees

the cancer overtook her – no hope for a cure, no treatment, just left to live the last moments void of pain. This beautiful woman, strong, gentle, vibrant mother of two – The intersection of suffering and pleasure is life, you can’t escape the reality. We sit with her, breathing and hold space for weeks…

5 bright sunny days pass and the rains began…

Stay

Escape, it is what saved my life, whether through thoughts or actions. I grew up in a house where each moment was unpredictable, my father was an alcoholic, my mother a pill addict, and they were young. They did the best they could at the time, they were both broken. I am the oldest of three kids and took on the parental role early on. My father externalized his anger and moods, screaming, yelling, our house was like one giant land mine. Though it wasn’t giant, it was a tiny bungalow that we all packed ourselves into, my brother sister and I all sharing a room, there was no where to escape in the house. We typically found ourselves outside, wandering the prairie path, climbing trees that weren’t ours, playing at friends’ houses, anything to escape the terror that was our house. We also learned to escape emotionally. I developed a habit of walking outside and counting my steps, it took me out of the moment of pain and suffering, I never stayed with an emotion for more than a few minutes before I transported myself to another world. I would walk through the neighborhood and look into other people’s homes. I created a perfect reality for them, their warm cozy house, dinner in the oven, mom and dad helping the kids with their homework and the dog curled up on the rug in front of the fire. Laughing, smiling, a sense of lightness, ease and safety. I imagined what it would be like to be in their family, live in their house, sit and have dinner, be hugged and loved and tucked into bed feeling safe and secure, unafraid.

I started calling my father Jeff at the age of ten, unapologetically telling him he didn’t get to be called dad unless he behaved like a dad. And then I would cringe, close my eyes and wait for the explosion. He just walked away. I was scared to death, but wouldn’t let him see it. I often would gather my brother and sister and leave the house when arguments would start heating up – his thundering voice trailing after us to get back in the house. We found our peace and our quiet, outside of the home.

My tactics served me in that I survived, I didn’t give in to drugs or alcohol and I lived my life as if I was just like everyone else. Sports saved my life, I lost myself in basketball, volleyball and softball year round. I balanced school and sports with taking care of my brother and sister, leaving no room to feel any of the emotions that come with living in a house that if it could, would swallow you whole and spit you back out into pieces. And I kept a damn good secret, I thought that no one in my Pleasantville like town (other than our immediate neighbors who heard the screaming and saw the police cars) had any idea what our reality was.

The trouble is, while the escape and the emotional Berlin Wall served me well and sheltered me through adolescence, I don’t need it anymore, but it still pops up. I am in a healthy place in my life, years of therapy later, happily married with a lovely son, a great job, and I have excellent boundaries with those in my life that are destructive. It is a constant battle to stay, when something comes up, big or small, not to smooth over it or move on, but to stick in. Whether we are talking about a small disagreement with my wife or trying to get my mother into rehab, I am trying to stay in the sticky discomfort that is life. And trudge through, going around just gets me back where I started. And after all, my house is the home I dreamed of, where it is warm and cozy, where we laugh and smile and hug and are safe and happy.

Pema Chodron captures this beautifully:
““The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic…getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.”

Excerpt From: Chödrön, Pema. “When Things Fall Apart.” Shambhala.

So that is what I am leaning into these day, staying with the shakiness, big and small and accepting life, love, feelings as they are, not as I want them to be.

What are you escaping from in your life? Is there a spot that you could stay, even just for a moment and open your heart – allow things to just be, as they are?

with love.

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No fault

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

– Rumi

When I live in the moment with this in mind life is simple – not easy but simple.

Jam Baby

A random smattering of ideas and events all melded into one in my mind this weekend. Berry picking, farm to table, neil young, making homemade jam and Father’s Day all collided into a beautifully sad day.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of my father’s disappearance. He was never found and probably never wanted to be found, but we will never know for sure. The last we heard from him he had dropped my brother and sister off from a short vacation to the Wisconsin Dells, he left to go back to his job as a line cook on an oil rig off the coast in Louisiana. Shortly after my mom received a crude hand written note saying he had run into some trouble.

I don’t know much about Jeff because even before he was missing he was missing. If you have an addict in your life you know what I am talking about, they are never really present. He worked for the Northwestern Railroad as conductor/ticket taker, his routine involved walking to the train, bringing people into the city, two round trips, playing poker, drinking and smoking in the break room until rush hour hit, two more round trips and then home to continue the drinking. You always knew he when we was home, he would bound through the door either yelling and screaming or laughing – you never knew what you were going to get mood wise. He would take off his rancid shoes and socks and the room would immediately fill with the smell of hot rotting trash. If he was in a good mood he would grab you and hug you a little too hard and hold on a little too long, the smell of bourbon and cigarettes sticking to your face. If not it was a good idea to get the hell out of the house.

It’s funny, because after all these years I rarely think of him anymore, except when I smell him, the combo of bourbon and cigarettes triggers me every time. And then there is Father’s Day, it is never the first thing on my mind, but as the day goes on and I notice my restlessness sometime before the day is i over, I slow down enough to remember that it is Father’s Day and that brings it all back. The good memories that I have of my dad mostly involve food. We were poor, but during his manic episodes you would never know it. He would take us out for extravagant dinners, allowing us to order whatever we wanted. I was introduced to oysters, crab, lobster, grilled filet mignon with bernaise, rabbit from traditional german restaurants, you name it. He had an obsession with good food and was the skilled cook in our family, but he rarely cooked. Instead he would butcher my mothers cooking every night, complaining about every little detail.

When you grow up with such a force in your life you do what you can to differentiate, to separate, to detach – at least I did. I spent many hours of my day standing at my kitchen counter, painstakingly hulling 4lbs of strawberries that my son and I had picked fresh the day before, measuring out organic pure cane sugar and juicing the organic lemon before measuring out the 35 year old balsamic vinegar. I sliced the strawberries and added the sugar, allowing them to macerate for a few minutes before plunging my bare hands in to mash them and release their juices. With the stove on I slowly added the lemon juice and stirred methodically until it had reached the jell point, when I added the magic touch, the perfectly aged balsamic. I finished it off by canning it and setting the pints on the counter to rest until the next day.

Rye bourbon in hand with not just any cherry, but a luxardo cherry I moved out to the deck to rest when “old man” came on…”old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you, I need someone to love me the whole day through…I have been first and last, funny how the times goes past”.

Happy Father’s Day, for just when we think we are so different we realize we aren’t.

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Habit

We are our habits, whether we like it or not.  Many neuroscience studies indicate that our brains are made up of about 40% (the low estimate) habit.  Meaning that as we do an activity over and over again, the decision making part of our brain starts to shut down and the routine is automated.  The good news is that this frees up our brain to do other things – the brain takes up more than 20% of oxygen, blood and energy to function, so in order to allow up to do higher functioning tasks it needs to automate as much as possible.  The bad news is that it doesn’t differentiate between good and bad habits.  That is where awareness comes in.  In order to change or shift any habit we first have to be aware we have it – the excuse that I just am the way I am doesn’t fly.  We are changeable adaptable, malleable beings.

I will be talking about this subject a lot in the coming weeks as I am working on a project that i think will eventually change the way people look at their behavior and provide the necessary tools to make sustainable change.

As I was doing my research I started to think about all the ways in which habit effects our lives and I immediately thought of my three year old son.  I realized that all the conscious and unconscious decisions my wife and I make in his life are forming habits that he will keep for a lifetime.  Whether we are talking about the basics such as eating and sleeping, or we are talking about how he interacts and thinks of himself, how he interacts and thinks of and treats other people.  Many of you have children, think of how quickly something can become part of their routine, how quickly they come to expect something to happen the same way everyday…

For example, Henry has a bedtime routine, as I am sure your child does.  He takes a bath, brushes his teeth, we read three books and sing three songs, he sleeps with his favorite love thing (he calls him baby E) turns on his lantern and goes to sleep.  We have been following this routine most of his short life.  He expects it and can rattle it off, he will even correct a babysitter if they miss a step.  This isn’t a rant about what routine any child should have, it is about being deliberate and fully aware that whatever you are doing, you are creating a routine and creating a habit – good or bad.  And if you aren’t following a routine than the non routine becomes the habit.  It is about realizing that every choice we make, in our lives as well as the lives of our kids could result in a habit.

So, as you ponder this I highly recommend taking an inventory, maybe just starting with yourself or if it is easier, think of your kid(s) or your pets.  What habits have you cultivated without realizing it?  Write them down, the good and the bad.  Now what habits would you like to cultivate?  Write those down too.  It is the start of creating awareness around how we behave.  Pick one habit from you list – good or bad.  And think back to when the first time was that you did that thing…

It helps me if I do a short meditation before I do the reflection.  Set a timer for 5 minutes –

Arrive – get comfortable and be where you are

Awake – start to hone in our your breath – breathing in on the count of 4 and out on the count of 6

Just breathe – when you mind wanders to the next thought as it will, come back to breath and start counting again

Aware – continue breathing – allowing your self to only have to do this one thing – let go, let be

Back to the breath, counting in and out

When the 5 minutes are up, take out a piece of paper and try the exercise above, you may have opened up some more space to remember more details.

We are all imperfect beings, with good and bad habits.  For change to happen we first have to come to know ourselves.

stay tuned.

 

with love,

kelley

Simplicity

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