You are six years old. You live in a trailer park on the hill. Sometimes the rats and mice chew the noses and fingers off of your dolls. Your mom found a dead one in a pot one morning and cried. Your friend has told you there is a witch that lives in a house up a side holler that has a graveyard in it. It scares you when you walk passed there with your dad at night. This friend is a little older and right now she is drawing pictures of nude people and tying them to these puffy white flowers that grow on a bush. You call them snowballs. She takes the flowers with the attached pictures and throws them through the opened window of the trailer where the new boys moved in. They're teenagers. She's ten. She wants a boyfriend. Suddenly, as you both are ducked behind the bush, one of the boys pokes out his head and invites you and your friend in. You go in and they direct you to a room. The room is empty all but some boxes and a mattress on the floor. Before you know it, one of the boys throws you down on the mattress, climbs on top of you and begins kissing your mouth. "You want to kiss little girl?" he says. "Here's a kiss." That's how you learn what boys and men think about girls. It won't be the last thing you learn in that trailer park. Far from it.
Across from you sits your sister. She has a different mother and father. She belongs to your stepdad, but you feel like you were cut from the same cloth. You've been best friends since you were eight. You're 14. She's nine months and three days older than you. She says, "I don't know what to do." "What?" you answer. "I'm pregnant." Her boyfriend was much older. She began to cry. "What do I do?" she asked, beginning to punch her fists into her lower belly. "I have to make this go away." "It'll be ok. We'll figure this out," you say. You don't know how, but you know that you won't let anyone do anything to hurt her. You would risk your life for her. No one. No one knows you like she does and never will. You both manage to keep the baby a secret until at 5 months along your sister becomes very ill and the pregnancy is discovered. She spends the next several days on the couch at your house in and out of a fevered delirium. Everyone is really quiet and somehow you are relieved. Later on, when you ask permission for her to come to one of your eighth grade dances eventhough she attends a different school, you are excited when your guidance counselor says yes. As you begin to go in the building for the dance, this same counselor looks at your sister's stomach and asks you to call your parents to come back because they can't let your sister in. The night ends with alarms, cops, a ride in the police car, accusations, and your boyfriend trying to save the day. You are a straight A and B student. Always have been. Always will be. Yet, you and your friends are treated as if you are a problem. You realize that day what people really mean when they call you a "freak". In November when your sister has her baby, your parents make you stay at school. You feel like throwing up because you told her you would be there. You thought you'd be there. When you go to the hospital, they won't let you see her. They won't let you see the brand new baby that you were the first to know existed. There wasn't anything to save you from. Why were they keeping you away? Your sister breastfed and had an unmedicated birth at fifteen. That day you learned the power of a woman from a teenager. From that day on, she has been your hero.
You find yourself stretched across an unmade bed with your friends half dazed in a trailer heated by a coal stove, covered in what can't be just simple mess - it has to be debris? There are places where the daylight seeps through between floor and wall. Cats are on the counter eating some foul smelling leftover chicken. Something has to have happened here. Right? Nothing happened there but life, the life of teenagers unsupervised by a mentally ill middle aged woman who very occassionally raises her head and mumbles incoherently from her place stretched out on a couch as you and your friends pass through? This is normal and every day here. The boys who live here write poetry and think deep thoughts.
Working at McDonalds pays your rent. You've been working there since you were 16. Now, you are 18 and living in a house with four other people and paying your way through your general education courses at the community college to save money. You got a Rotary Club scholarship. It paid for your books. You'll spend the summer wondering how you will emancipate yourself from your parents so you can use only your income on your FAFSA and actually receive enough financial aid to pay your way through college. No one is going to pay it for you The only college money you had was from your great grandmother who took it from you and allowed others to spend it when you decided to move in with your dad in order to get away from a bad friend situation when you were 15. Now, you pay for everything. Medical bills keep coming from where you cracked your tailbone and realized after going to the hospital that your step mother really wasn't going to help you pay for it. In this moment you are sweaty. You smell like french fries and dehydrated onions. Your manager has had you and another female co-worker scrubbing the stainless steel and baseboards with toothbrushes to prepare for a health inspection. You both are begging him for a break. With a greasy smile, he says, "No, bend back over there and keep scrubbing so I can see that ass." Your heart burns, but you don't know what to do. You can't walk out of there just yet. You have bills to pay and want to go to school.
At the trailer park where you live a bleach blonde woman is your neighbor. She listens to the same Uncle Kracker song over and over so loud that you can hear it inside your trailer. It drives you nuts and makes you laugh at the same time. Her husband is a Mexican man. He's nice, but seems inebriated most of the time. They have twin boys. One of them has fetal alcohol syndrome. His mother shares that with everyone she talks to. He's sweet and reminds you of a wolf. The boys push their bikes up and down the lane and in circles instead of riding them. They did have motorized riding toys, but they got reposessed. You didn't know those kinds of things could be reposessed. You are studying English Literature at one of the closest state colleges to your hometown. You just got married. You are twenty. You had been dating your husband for five years. You both hated your off campus living situations and wanted to live together. You both came from families who would look down on that. It didn't much bother you, but you didn't want to disappoint your dad. Your husband gets some school money from his parents and they helped you get emancipated for your financial aid, so you definitely didn't want to offend them. So, one day, when he was helping you dye your hair burgundy, you asked him if he wanted to get married. He said yes. So you'd have an engagement ring, your sister talked a guy who was in love with her into buying one of the $99 diamonds at Wal-Mart. You wore it long enough to show your parents. Now, you have a nice little trailer all your own. $178 payment every month. But, it's yours and you can relax a little that there is no one. No one. No one you have to answer to anymore... but your husband.
Our family gathered to wait with us. It was snowing, and all the local buses were on calls. Our drivers came from Elkorn City to Prestonsburg to pick us up. We waited over two hours after getting the news. I had time to explain to Ivy about surgery. How most of the people she is close with have had surgery. How she was born and alive because of surgery. How she's strong, and I won't leave her side. I would never leave her side.
She slept on the ambulance ride. I texted with some of my mama friends and family a little, but I mostly watched her sleep. It was hard to reach her where I was belted in, but we had the kindest EMTs with us, and the man in the back also had three daughters. He'd reach over and run his fingers through her hair every now and again. He won't know how much I appreciated that he wasn't afraid to touch her for me.
Like I said, I planned. What would this look like? I had only been with my job since October 2015. I guess they'd just have to let me go. I had been a stay at home mom for 10 years and nothing like this had every happened to us then. Now, I had made the decision to change our entire lifestyle so I could find fulfillment and a purpose beyond parenting, and this happens. As my mind is always analyzing, I asked - What is Universe trying to tell me? Have I become a neglectful parent in my pursuit of engaging work? Am I a selfish mother in even considering how this all will affect me?
Thank God, it wasn't cancer! Ivy is on the mend. University of Kentucky Children's Hospital and her surgical team were amazing. She had a 6cm vascular abonormality that was a total bizarre fluke. They removed it all, and now, almost two weeks later, you can only tell that she was operated on because she has four little incisions covered with surgical tape.
We got home on a Monday evening late. I went directly back to work the next morning. I didn't want to go. I wanted to stay, but now, we are dependent upon my income. My income pays for all the new things in our life. A house that meets our spacial and privacy needs, tuition for cottage school, babysitting, food, insurance and my medical bills, my supplements and medicine, and gas money. I can't not work.
Again,because we can't do without this income, I thought, what have I done? I had to think on it awhile. I came to a conclusion that I had come to months ago as I was making the decision to go back into the workforce. It doesn't matter if I am a stay at home mom or a working mom, I'm going to have guilt placed upon my shoulders by myself and by society for all the things I'm expected to be and cannot. We cannot be everything - even to our children. Becoming a parent shouldn't mean we are expected to. Then, I realized, being at work was a kind of relief. I wanted to be both places, actually. At work, I could breathe. I could focus on something a little less heavy for awhile. I could see something through from beginning to end.
I remembered an essay in _Brain Child Magazine, online that I had read back in September before I knew I had gotten my current public affairs position. Aubrey Hirsch writes:
I’m learning a lot, too. The big revelation for me came the first time he woke up on a Saturday morning and, as we were lazily playing in our pajamas, said, “I want to go to Melissa’s!” Movies and mom blogs had prepared me for this moment to be heartbreaking, but it wasn’t. It was totally fine.
Before she ends the essay this way, she wrote, "Watching another woman cuddle and comfort my son didn’t feel bad; it felt great. I knew he would be fine and that Melissa would take good care of him." With those lines, I was reminded how I'm not a natural nurturer. When my own mother was caring for my dying grandmother, she broke down in her stress and grief and said, "I'm not good at this stuff. If I had wanted to be a nurse, I would have went to school and become one!" I realized so much watching my mother caring for my grandmother, and when she spoke those words so much acknowledgement poured through my soul. Hugging, rubbing, touching, holding... it all wore her out too. She too had to make an effort to do it in an extended way. I realized it wasn't that she didn't want to hug me growing up, but she got tapped out quickly. It didn't mean anything was lacking in her care of me or her love for me. It just meant she would show it in different ways that aren't typically associated with the act of mothering, and she did.
I hadn't thought I would be a mother up until a few months before I began trying to become pregnant with my first child. My plan was to be a writer. For various reasons, plans change. In this season of my life, I'm revisiting the dreams of my early twenties. Some would call that a mid-life crisis. Others might say I'm finally accepting myself. The biggest point is that I don't have to feel guilty for it. In fact, I have come to understand the huge contribution working mothers make, and how it actually is more difficult in many ways than being a stay at home mom. Mentally and emotionally, being a stay at home mom almost devastated me. It brought me to a very dark place after years of denying to myself that I really felt the way I did about not pursuing my interests.
You DO NOT have to be a martyr to be a mother. I wish for the life of me that society would help us convey to our daughters that you DO NOT have to be a martyr to be a woman. For if you find yourself a mother with a career or job, you may also find yourself holding the brunt of household chores, cooking, bill paying, errands, and outside family commitments. Going out and finding yourself is just another thing to add to the plate that is already spilling over the edge. Yet, it might be the most important piece in being not simply a caregiver, but a role model for your children. Being a role model can be achieved in the home and outside of it and will be particular to any given woman.
I'm still trying to find the balance of being both in the home and out of it. The truth is, I'm going to give up most of the yoga classes I teach so I can be home a few more hours in the evening. Mothers need rest and cuddles too. Even mothers who get tapped out quickly. We all need self care, but from what I see, especially women. Pursuing the interests and hobbies that help us nurture ourselves so that we can nurture our children and loved ones.
Hillary Clinton, back when I was younger was known for saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." She is right. Back in the day, the whole holler watched after your kids while they ran from house to house and hill to hill. Only since we have become nuclear families and neighbors with closed doors have we lost the village mentality. That doesn't mean that it still doesn't take a village.
Things happen, and I will be the mother who deals with them as they come. I will be the mother who seeks and finds herself. I will be the mother who shows her daughters that a woman can be whatever she wants without the permission of anyone. I will be the mother who knows and understands that we are each unique and being a good mother simply means providing an environment where your child is nurtured, safe, fed, warm, and loved however that may appear.
“The moment you touch your soul, you become fearless." -Yogi Bhajan
This past summer and early fall, I gave myself the space I needed to get in touch with my soul. I found there a fire burning so bright and asking me to change my whole life to feed it. I made some significant changes. I went from homeschooling to working mother. That was the biggest. I decided to move on the grid. I'm packing today. I began teaching yoga, and I applied for and received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women to finish an essay collection I'm working on concerning events in my own life as a rural mountain woman. I feel the essays will illustrate the universal experience of being a woman. My 3 year old goes to a babysitter 3 days a week now. Between yoga work, driving, and my work as public affairs director at WMMT, I'm doing this thing 50-60 hours a week.
Another gift I gave myself during this time, was to be honest with me. I searched my heart and let myself be free to experience things my heart longed to experience. We don't have this freedom all the time, and when we do it is intoxicating. I'm 37, so maybe what I experienced some would call a mid-life crisis. I'll be a lucky person to get another 37 years, so maybe it is. For me, it held real meaning. For the first time in a long time, I gained the feeling that there was something to hope for, not just for my daughters, but for myself. I felt like I woke up and had decided to come out of the shadows to live.
However, there were some moments for those who were attending to my needs that became frantic. What I was experiencing while they were assessing my bleeding and getting it under control was bliss. My body grew warm and fuzzy. My ego retreated. I felt whole. I didn't care if I continued on in life in the physcial body. I felt like I was completed. It is very hard to describe, but I haven't felt anything as good before or since. What makes it even stranger to talk about is, if I hadn't been tended to. If I had been alone to care for myself, I likely would have bled too much and passed on. In the moment where the veil between worlds grew very thin for me, I felt most at peace. That makes people uncomfortable. That makes it hard to share because there aren't many who understand.
This summer, I began finding a way to live and recreate those feelings of letting go completely. It isn't as easy to replicate in life as it is when your body actually is letting go of its life blood. Life is complicated. I'm a realist. I fought to keep that energy going, but it became just embers and I've had to accept that for now. I couldn't control the death of it and I've taken that in a hard way. I've sunk into a dark and grieving place. I'm not a crier. I've been crying a lot lately. The hope I built has been put away. I'd say it is gone, but there's always the possibility she will return. She stayed in Pandora's box after all. I just have to not wish for her anymore. I find myself thinking more and more about those moments. "Kelli, stay with me," she said. I thought, why? I decided I didn't care to stay and if it was meant that I go, I'd let it happen. "Just a minute," I said. Another minute in complete surrender. I long to go back there. I'd happily go back there unafraid.
I was fighting tears Monday while driving the girls out of the holler. Right as we were going into the creek, I noticed what appeared to be an old weathered bone on the flat rocks in the shallow part of the creek. I collect bones, skulls, and other natural oddities, and I stopped to get a better look. I opened the car door and discovered this very heavy statue. It's been either buried or in the water a long time. It was painted at least twice. Once red and once black. It had also been mounted to something. Maybe a fence, entry way, or gate. It looks like it is holding a staff or spear. A resting warrior. The Universe had sent me a gift with no explanation of how it made it there on that day for me to find. Universe told me to rest. To be patient. It's ok.
Then, I get word from the artist Bonita Parsons that someone who wished to remain anonymous had bought this piece of art from her and asked her to send it to me! I adore this piece and when I found out I cried. I feel so unworthy of such a gift. I socialize very little. I don't talk on the phone even with family and friends I want to talk to. I forget to answer some messages I get on Facebook. Very few people really know me. I am as a ghost and very alone. I have no idea why someone was compelled to gift me this. It makes me feel very thankful and at the same time sad. When I write about my own life, I write it honest. It isn't a bad kind of sad, but it is a type of sad. I've cried several times over the receipt of this gift. I simply don't feel worthy of it and would like to understand why it was given me.
The Universe has gifted me twice in a week when I just wanted to completely give up. I don't want to stoke the embers. I want a lobotomy. Yet, Universe is telling me that my life is a gift. Don't squander it. It is ok to be sad, but it isn't ok to take yourself away from the collective before it is your time to go, whether you do it metaphorically or physically.
I discovered with certainty this summer that my totem animal is the crow. Crow medicine and those who carry crow as a totem can be intense. It's true. It's not a thing we can help and it comes to use by nature. Crow crosses the veil of existence on the regular and is thought to live outside of time and space. Crow carries an honest message and doesn't care to deliver it. Crow is lonely, a loner, but never without work. Crow has magic. People come to us in private to hear their secrets. It's kind of like what I imagine a priest in the confessional to feel, except we don't absolve or give penance. We acknowledge, accept, and help the processing begin as best we can while still being what we are.
I had a dream this week. A woman with a clipboard met me at a convention and said, "You've been idealized." I got so mad at her I could have hit her. I turned around and went back to the room I had just left instead of entering the convention. I've been worried about what she means. I hope that isn't true of me, and yet, when I receive anonymous gifts, or am told I inspire. It is hard to swallow. I'm struggling with my inner light. I'm just living life as best I can right now. Nothing I'm doing is special or beyond what any other human is capable of. I've been called by some younger women a "hero." That makes me very uncomfortable. I don't understand where it comes from, or what I'm supposed to do with that fact. It's hard.
This week though, Universe told me I have a job. My job as the holder of crow medicine will include these things and it will include them whether I am experiencing the light or the deepest darkness. I hear the crows cawing as I'm writing this now. I can't not accept it. It's what I am. My heart won't let me say, no, as long as I am living. It's just that I don't feel that character in me. That sage hermit woman in the woods who holds the secret the adventurer hopes to find. I've not gotten the ability to fully stand in my own light. Maybe I never will. How can I be anything to others? How can I do what I'm asked while at the same time feeling I have no outlet for it myself? Words though powerful are never enough and that is all I have. Typed or written words.
Two days after I accepted a position teaching on an emergency certificate at Henry County Middle School in northern, central Kentucky, I received a call for a job offer as an editor and reporter for the Flemingsburg newspaper. I had put in my resume with the career center at Morehead State University where I had graduated just a few weeks before with my Bachelor's in English and Creative Writing. Both of these offers came from that. When I turned down the newspaper offer, my heart sank. I had taken the teaching position because I felt like I had to. How could I turn down $25,000 a year? It was more money than we had ever seen. I might not get any other job leads. Working at Big Lots furniture department couldn't last forever. Yet, I had never seen myself as a school teacher. I come from a family that have devoted their life to education. I was confident I could do the work, but I didn't really want to from my heart's standpoint. So, when I told the newspaper I was already employed, I could have cried. Patience and trust in Universe is a hard lesson to learn.
Teaching middle school taught me a lot of important things. I also have a $35,000 Master's Degree in Teaching that I'll be paying for the rest of my life. I won't ever go back to teaching in public education unless it is at the college level. I could have taken the newspaper job, potentially been happier, and in a lot less debt now. Hindsight. It must have not been for me to do right then.
I hadn't planned on being a mother either. I've written about that before. Everyone was shocked when I changed my mind and began trying to get pregnant. When I finally did give birth, I didn't go back to teaching. I had always thought that if I had children at least one parent should stay home to raise them. I had always felt like motherhood was a thing only those who are ready to sacrifice everything to be a deeply devoted nurturer should embark upon. I thought that, for me, it would have to look a very particular way in order to work. I knew me. Why have children if you have to pay someone else to raise them? I've held so many strong ideas as golden. It's a beautiful thing how life teaches us even when we are mule-headed.
That same little girl was always more at peace outside of a child's world. I didn't play much with toys, choosing books, chemistry sets, long hikes, and arts/crafts instead. I wanted to hang around the adult table and listen to their stories and talk. As a mother, I have been present and attentive, but not the mother who sits in the floor and plays for hours with toys or watches many cartoons. I'm still the me I have always been. I'm a good mother just as I am. I have a good relationship with my children. They know I love them and find my lap home. They know my words, my food, my stories, and my songs. My lap and arms will always been their home.
I still ascribe to the dream of homesteading, homeschooling, and living off the land. It just isn't doable with small children as a solo project. So, my plans have had to adjust. There are so many ways a good life can look. There are countless forms of good parents. Each of us are unique and important. I have to be open to all the possibilities. I have to be willing to learn and change my ideas based on experience and new information. I have to see myself and my fulfillment as an important piece of what it takes to be a good mother and a good example of what a woman can do in her life for my daughters. I am me and I am their mother. That is fact.
What I also am is a capable, literate, educated, backwoods, mystical, yogi, mountain woman who loves to read, have long and meaningful conversations, philosophize, study the people of the world, and to listen and share stories. I have a contribution to make and the opportunity to do it with a great group of people in a place dedicated to making sure the stories never die. Taking this job sets our family on a new path. I am having to change everything about our life, and that is a little scary. It is the right decision though. I am making it from a place of hope and I will not feel failure or guilt for making it. It is a decision I am making as my heart has opened, come to understand, and forgiven my own mother. It is a decision I am making in honor of my paternal grandmother who was a proud working mother and reminded me not to martyr myself for an ideal that was not manifesting. This decision holds in memory my maternal grandmother from whom I first learned the feeling of nurture and who was a single working mother of three. She was also a working grandmother who provided a roof for many years for five adults and three grandchildren. They all were good mothers. They all loved their children and did their best. That is all we can do. Give it our all and move forward from a place of love.
I start full time next week. I have a lot to do to prepare. There's a great deal to be excited about. My efforts will allow us to begin the process of coming off of welfare, get a more reliable vehicle, find a home that has more space for our daughters to come into their own, travel more, not have to worry as much about money, and provide a well rounded education for the girls. I need to celebrate.
This was the last morning of September. I woke easily and early, did yoga, and prepared breakfast. Deladis, my oldest daughter, woke before I had finished my yoga practice. She turned on the light in her room and began making a music video for her YouTube channel. She's 10 and very into movie making. She's learned the technology on her own. Rarely does she ask for help.
After breakfast, I offered to help her fix her hair. She agreed and we chose a wooden and leather hair piece that I've had since high school. I took my time, feeling her thick, sandy hair between my fingers. Somehow, we had extra time this morning. I made her a lovely little bun. The clasp accentuated it beautifully and set off her navy shirt. She looked so grown up. For a moment, I glimpsed the young woman she will soon become, and I wasn't the least bit nostalgic. I was proud.
In 24 days, I will turn 37. I'm less than 5 years to 40, and according to some standards, in the midst of middle age. If I'm still waiting to reach the pinnacle of adulthood, I'm out of luck. I don't think there's a such thing. That's fine with me. I'm satisfied here. No one could convince me to turn back the clock and moving forward has to happen in its own time.
My great Papaw Johnson owned the Cowshed Trading Post in Isom, Kentucky. I spent most of my early childhood there tending the store with him and keeping my Mamaw company. Papaw was one of the wisest people I will ever know. One day, while we sat at the kitchen bar, he told me, "The seasons of the year are like life. In the spring, you are born. In the summer, you mature. In the fall, you grow old; and in the winter, you die." I may have been 7 when he shared that analogy, but I knew exactly what he meant. I knew too that he was the winter to my spring.
In that case, when looking at the totality of a life span, I'm existing in late summer. Yet, in every phase of life, I think there are cycles within cycles. Time isn't linear. The theory is complicated, you can take Einstein's word for it. You can also consult the Doctor.
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.” -Steven Moffat (for Doctor Who)
This passed spring began a time of radical transformation for me. Feels silly to admit it. It felt sometimes like I was losing my grip and would drift away in some random state of magnified chaos. I felt out of character, but I was in the process of acceptance. I was accepting who I am in relation to the life and relationships I was experiencing. Dare I say, I was opening the door to the possibility of peak maturity. Pretty laughable. Some might even call it a mid-life crisis. The process continues, though it is more peaceful and grounded these days.
Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that makes great use of mantra (sound vibrations) in all aspects of the practice. It is my chosen practice on most days. One of the mantras used often is Sa-Ta-Na-Ma. Birth. Existence. Death(Transformation). Rebirth. You can also see the mantra as one of the many names for the God/Source. In its essence, it is the same idea my Papaw shared with me thirty years ago. The difference is Sa-Ta-Na-Ma forms a complete and perfect circle. Birth and life are familiar to us. It is death and what, if anything, comes next that intrigues or terrifies us. We naturally resist death as we resist change. We fear it. Stepping into the unknown is risky. There's so many questions that can't be answered until you are in the midst of the action or transformation. Old patterns, concepts, relationships, habits, and rituals fall away as they no longer serve us. What will there be to cling to for comfort? Who are we if not familiar?
Winter can be a cold and bitter time. We tend to dread it. It's difficult to keep the inner flame lit when all seems so starkly contrasted as snow against skeleton, dark trees and gray sky. Yet, because the spent leaves gave themselves over to new form, earth, literally becoming our foundation, new life springs forth. The cycle begins again. Ma - the mother. Rebirth. The next step. The death of anything is nothing more than a Divine renewal. It is the force that brings form, experience, or wisdom. Like birth, death opens the possibility of creation. No matter what our belief in afterlife, we can agree this is a transition from physical form to energy. We know energy cannot be destroyed only transformed. Sarah Bernhardt said, "'Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich."
I remember when Oprah Winfrey turned 40. She had an on air birthday bash. She talked about how 40 was the new 20 or something like that. The theme regardless was her readiness and openness to experience the fullness of life. It was 1994. I was almost 16. I understood that the struggle and hang-ups of her younger years were refined and she was moving forward in a spirit of freedom. She was unapologetic. A goddess. I remember thinking when I watched the program that getting old was relative and not something we have to do.
In times when we can either let go to make room for our truth and grow, or continue to cling to the things that have arbitrarily kept us going, we must choose to be courageous or give up our meaning. Lately, I'm doing my best to be brave and honest with myself. Saying it is hard is understating. Deladis isn't a baby or even a little girl anymore, but there's so much to look forward to as she grows. I will never stop being a witness to her beauty, laughter, creativity, fire, and tears. I'm always the birthplace and the place she can come to be safely reborn. I can hold her and give her space. I am the energy. As my life becomes more truthful, and able to reflect the light I hold within, I recognize further that time is a formless container, meaning nothing more than a context for our history. What we do with it matters.
In the last few years, I've noticed that there appears to be a "gratitude movement". At least, social media, television, podcasts, and blogs would have us believe it. With Thanksgiving coming up, I'm sure we'll all see the 30 Days of Thanksgiving posts on Facebook and Twitter. In the past, I couldn't help but feel somewhat cynical at the thought of people asking me to stop focusing on what is wrong and the problems of life and instead dwell on the things I can be grateful for. I resented it because it felt as if they were saying because I was upset, sad, angry, or really wanting to fix things that I was in my essence an ungrateful person or a whiner. Of course I was grateful, I have three beautiful daughters, a long lasting relationship with my partner, family and friends who love me, food on the table, and a roof over my head! Why were people insinuating that negative aspects of our lives should not be given as much attention as the things for which we are grateful? To me, being grateful was a given. If you weren't grateful for something, you had a big problem for we all are blessed. It was the problems that needed my attention. Being publicly thankful felt like bragging. I don't like to brag.
It's been over the last two weeks that something inside of my being has shifted and I understand what it means now to live in gratitude. I've been a fighter all my life. I've always had a crusade, a cause, a depression, or something to overcome. In always approaching my life with the fighter in me, I had grown accustomed to feeling the cloud of gloom behind everything. I couldn't rest. I couldn't experience myself for trying to fix myself, my situation, or some injustice befallen someone/s I care for. I carried the world on my shoulders and I could never be enough. I grew tired. Lonesome. Invisible. Eventually, my fight began to fizzle and I wanted the darkness to win so I could just stop. I didn't have the faith to think I'd ever have a victory. There would be always something else to fight and my principles wouldn't let me give up.
We every one have and will have hard battles in this life. Somehow, we have to become aware of our own strength and how to utilize the love we have available to us during times of trial. It refines us. It heightens our sensitivities and brings forward the areas in ourselves and our lives that need attention. However, we don't have to let the battles define us. That is what I had done. In becoming the embodiment of the battle, my "self" was caged away. I had become a thyroid problem. A migraine. The lonely wife. The scary and sad birth story. The warrior victim. The thing that just won't die for all the pain it's in.
A month ago, I went completely grain free (all gluten free, of course). I gave up nuts and most cheese. I cut way back on all other dairy. I went soy free. I, also, gave up chocolate! It's recommended for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disorder to try eliminating common food allergens and foods that can cause digestive upset. For the first week and a few days, I felt like CRAP. I was angry and sure it wasn't going to work. I have a rock gut. It wasn't food that was causing my issues to worsen.
I think I was wrong. While I haven't gone completely toward the autoimmune protocol paleo approach to nutrition, I have noticed a tremendous difference with these small adjustments. I'm still waking and going to sleep very tired. At this point, you'll have to pry coffee out of my cold dead fingers. But... I'm not having huge emotional ups and downs. I'm not having any pain or headaches. My face hasn't swollen in a month. I'm still having some digestive issues, but I have a plan for that. Keeping up with a hectic schedule doesn't stress me out nearly as much as it did before. I have heart palpitations regularly, but they don't seem to be brought on by stress or anxiety anymore. Truly, the difference in my ability to cope emotionally has increased 100x.
About three days in, I was about to call it and go back to my normal whole foods diet which included all food groups aside from processed foods and refined sugar. A friend encouraged me to stick with it. I had been complaining of the lack of food options, meaning my favorite foods. He said, "You won't know unless you try." Curious me, I have to know, and I have to be able to say I tried. It was a challenge and I took it. Here I am. It's like I've emerged from a fog. As cliche as that picture is, it is true.
Now, my heart is filled with gratitude for things I didn't even notice before. It hasn't been a effort on my part. It is like it has happened along with this emergence. At the same time, so many things are falling into place. My spirit is being freed from the fighting and allowed to be and do with all the strength it once used to fight endless battles. My dreams are revived to be chased and earned. I'm realizing that I will be okay in whatever path my life takes as long as I am remaining compassionate, open, available, aware and caring of my body, and embracive of my truth by actively knowing and living it.
This week gratitude has taken the form of finding tremendous joy in being welcomed into a new yoga community through Evolation Yoga Kentucky in Pikeville where I am teaching yoga. Enjoying a 7 day a week yoga practice and having the ability to practice/teach up to 3 hours of yoga on 4 of those days. Hearing the new expressive vocabulary my three year old, Gwen, is adopting. She's so full of spunk. The 100% my oldest daughter got on her math test. Seeing the excitement that she and my middle daughter have when going and coming from their school every day. I'm finding myself growing more and more thankful for the time several of my friends take in their day to send me little messages to laugh at, poke fun at one another, or to share burdens and triumphs. I'm wonderfully thankful for my husband being willing to coordinate his schedule with mine and the childcare my friend has been willing to share with me, so that I can take a few hours every day to follow my bliss as an adult woman.
I could go on. It's easy to be grateful when you are feeling good. It's easy to notice the joy filled moments when you aren't managing with pain or feeling muddled. Right now though, I feel like I'm breathing in gratitude. The scary part is that a little voice in my head tells me it all could be a fluke and the next debilitating headache is around the corner, the next big crisis is imminent, loneliness will overwhelm again, or another tragedy will be brought upon a friend or family member. There are some who I know would tell me to ignore that voice, or to actively direct my thoughts to the good. However, I know good and well that it is more than very probable that any or all of those things are true. What I think I've learned with this go around is that I don't have to go into the ring punching and kicking with all I have. I simply have to have my gloves on, my guard up, and be there. Present. Alert. Knowing where my heart lies, what I am capable of, and that winning or losing is nothing compared to the process and the time we take to be there in it.
As neat as that scenario sounded, it never really happened as I pictured it. It wasn't long before my husband was deeply involved in making a more cemented career in art and music, while also spending his free time doing both. Those were his dreams. I found myself gardening and tending animals mostly alone. We never got to the point where grocery and department store trips were only a few times monthly. Then, it became difficult to travel with small children. Sleeping in a truck bed for days at a time makes for irritable babies and mothers. John started travelling alone. After awhile, he opened his tattoo shop in effort to create a more steady income, and we all know that having a business requires an incredible amount of time. Homesteading alone while mothering three little girls and homeschooling them as well was just too much. It wasn't at all what I had dreamed.
There isn't a place beautiful enough to trump the necessity to create a day to day life that works for you and brings you joy. When I chose to live in this lonely holler, I didn't think I'd actually be alone most of the time, meaning away from other adults. I didn't know that often I'd be literally trapped behind a swollen or frozen creek, unable to get out with my children without much difficulty. I expected a shared experience. A dream built by two. Through no fault of either of us, it just didn't come to be. The idea was great, but the application wasn't for us to do together. I realized this year, in part due to the severity with which the Hashimoto's had changed my ability to cope with the emotions and stress I was experiencing, that it was time to make adjustments. For my well being and vicariously for that of my daughters, we had to change what this dream had actually become. I've written quite a bit about my inner process on this path here.
This summer was spent drawing up a plan for the girls and I. How could I give them a kind mommy who felt joy, a rich and stable childhood experience, prepare them for independent womanhood, and also give myself a fulfilled life? I knew it was going to be tricky and look nothing like I had planned our life to be for so long. This past week, the oldest two of my girls began going to school away from home for the first time. They are attending a small cottage school on a family farm. This idea had only been a few months old, but it fell together with ease, and they both enjoyed their first week immensely. They are very happy about going to school. Over the last few weeks I have completed freelance writing work, began teaching yoga at Evolation Yoga in Pikeville, and applied for a couple of other interesting work opportunities. My plan is coming together. It is intimidating and freeing all at the same time, but it seems to be affirmed by the Universe, and that is all I need to move forward.
Someone who advises me spiritually told me this spring that my spirit is like a penned up wild horse. I had a hard time believing that at first. I felt so dull and uninspired. Once I picked back up the dreams that were personal to me, just as my husband had always pursued his own independent of our marriage, I realized how much I had become stifled by limitations I had put on myself regarding what I thought I had to be as a wife and mother. I didn't want to fail at homesteading and homeschooling. I had thought it would be such a joyful life for all of us. I still think it would have been. This isn't a grass is greener thing. As nothing happens in a vaccum, I had to adjust what I allowed for myself to be in order to see my spirit freed. It has been imperative that I change my definition of what it means for me to be a good mother and drop any guilt associated with what I had always thought it should look like for me.
Honestly, this whole time, even as I was making these changes, I had felt as if I was failing as a mother. Not failing or neglecting my daughters, but failing to find everything I needed to be fulfilled by being a mother. It was as if I was somehow defunct in comparison to women around me who seemed so satisfied in the role. I've learned motherhood is so very different for all of us. There isn't one of us doing it - right. In loving and providing for our children, putting their needs first, and considering our own well being and fulfillment as an essential part of giving them the childhood they deserve, we are each doing it very well. I read an article on the Brain Child Magazine website that helped me put what I am trying to do for my daughters in perspective, the way I am choosing to do it now.
After all, isn’t this movement away from us and toward independence the central goal of parenting? Isn’t this what sets parenting apart from gardening and cat ownership? That we want our children to leave us? That we don’t want to be number one in their lives forever?
I'm still okay. I'm still a loving mother. I am also working very hard at making myself a more emotionally available and present mother. A mother that is alive and not simply going through the motions. A mother that has dreams and acknowledges their validity. I'm a mother who doesn't need permission or approval to seek a varied and colorful life for myself or my daughters. If we believe we have one go around in this world, then right now is the time to be alive. I can't wait any longer to grow if I am going to raise bold women capable of growing as individuals and nurturing a planet of sacred situations and souls. That takes a goddess in the flesh. That is what we are. I am a warrior mama. I'm fighting for my free and wild spirit. I'm fighting this disease for my health. I'm fighting the fight for the full expression of all women for the sake of my daughters. And... I got a faux hawk today in order to mark my realization that I'm a warrior and a rebel at heart... always.
Yesterday, I told a friend that I felt like I was about to be shot off in a rocket to the moon. I had just finished my yoga practice trying to ground myself, but at this point in time, that might be impossible. I alternate between wanting to cry really hard, laugh and be light, have very serious conversations with people I like about life, and punching a wall. It feels very discombobulated.
I've often wondered when I'd feel truly grown up. Lately, I feel more of that girl I was at 15, who I did like a whole lot. I feel her wanting to come out and be the adult that she so longed to be all those years ago. I'm doing my best to get to know her again, but I suppose part of being an adult is doing that kind of thing on limited time. Responsibilities have to be considered and the love I have for the lives I've created will forever influence my next movements.
When you've been shot off in a rocket to the moon, there's falling involved. For the first time, I'm reading the novel written by Gurney Norman - Divine Right's Trip. He's a Kentucky author and former poet laureate whom I've taken some writing workshops with. Back when I taught public school, I thoroughly enjoyed sharing his story "Fat Monroe" from his collection Kinfolks with my seventh graders. (Dang, I'm old enough to have taught school and that be 10 years ago! My students are now getting married and having their own babies.) There's a segment I read a few days ago that made my heart ache tremendously.
from Falling: When D.R. felt particularly tired, and dirty, and locked up in his mind, it was like he was the one who was falling, with Estelle being dragged along behind. That wasn’t accurate of course. That was just stuff in D.R.’s head, a product of the same weary fever that produced the sense of falling in the first place. There was a way in which Estelle had already fallen further than D.R. had, already knew stuff that he had yet to learn. In a way, she was coming up as he went down, and reaching out a hand to save him from what she already knew. The thing that overwhelmed D.R. when he thought about it that way was how utterly generous that was of her, and how dangerous for her.
I identify with both characters here, but I do feel like I'm doing my best to climb out of the hole. It is strange that I so want company in the climbing. I'm used to dealing with personal conflicts almost completely on my own. This time, I don't want to.
I also wouldn't have thought that at nearly 40 years old, I'd be blogging about personal growth. I know one day I'll get back to posting more about my interests and my daughters. I'm simply thankful this point in my life is happening in summer as I am nearly totally consumed by experiencing it. I can feel all this while my girls play outside at dusk. I can take long walks with my Gwen on my back and the dog on the leash. I can have conversations without worrying about the time even though I will always worry that my desire to have people I appreciate along for this ride will be a bother to them. Historically, that has been true. I'm trying to let go and know that those who want to be with me, will be there for me. I will return the favor. I truly always do.
I keep trying to ground this rocket because I don't want to end up alone on the moon. I do yoga. I write. I say sappy things to friends who I'm convinced I aggravate like the plague. Despite all this effort to stay on my own two feet, it only takes minutes for the fires to burn again. I get the jittery feeling around my heart, the butterflies in my stomach, and the ache to cry and laugh while someone holds me and I actually do take off to the moon - alone or otherwise.
I’d like to share some thoughts on an aspect of our lives that does not get nearly the attention and respect it deserves. As women, we have a unique ability that has been so demeaned by modern culture that we have no idea how to approach it in a positive way. Our menstrual cycle is that ability, that “superpower” that we carry. Think about how powerful it is, considering that without it there would be no humans on earth! Our cycle carries a regenerative, life-giving force, and yet we have been told nothing positive about it. We’re encouraged to suppress it, medicate it, tolerate it, and ideally act as if it is not even happening, as if it were a weakness, and we would be better off without it!
What if, instead, there were a model for menstruation that was based on positive associations and images? Instead of being a joke, a burden, or an embarrassment, what if your monthly cycle could be a personal rhythm, a meaningful experience, or even a blessing?
It’s hard to imagine, given the fact that modern culture so thoroughly demeans and dismisses this aspect of our lives. Really, though, distancing ourselves from our own experience, and trying to ignore something so central to our lives, is what causes much of our distress. We are literally fighting ourselves each month! When we think about it, it’s obvious that this is not empowering, or healthy. There are a few simple ideas, shared by many cultures throughout the world, that present the menstrual cycle in a very different light, and can help you have a much easier time each month. Believe it or not, you could even begin to look forward to your period!
• You can learn to anticipate your needs and optimize your time, so that you approach different projects when you have the most energy for them.
• You can learn to take loving care of yourself, with “time out” when you need it most!
• You can also learn to interpret your menstrual challenges in a more holistic way - looking for ways to balance your energy and expectations, instead of blaming yourself for not being able to do it all, all the time!
It’s really about getting back to the basics: learning what our cycles were designed to do, and how we can support them so that we can feel our best. This is a rhythm, after all, that operates at the center of our bodies and lives for several decades. Our cycles affect everything we do, so wouldn't it be wonderful to learn how to live in harmony with them? We ourselves, and everyone around us as well, would benefit from that!
I’d like to share, today, how using the seasons or the moon as a model for our own rhythms makes it easy to visualize an entirely different way of approaching the changes that we go through from week to week. In Part 2 (to be published in June), I’ll go into further detail about the premenstrual and menstrual times of the month, which tend to pose the most difficulty for most of us.
I have found that observing the similarities between the menstrual cycle and the rhythms of nature changes everything. The moon and seasons have phases that are easy for us to visualize and relate to. Looking at the rhythm of the moon, or the seasons of the year, we can easily see how the light grows and brightens, expands into fullness, and then decreases and wanes again.
Once you begin to interpret your own experiences similarly, in terms of “seasons” or “phases” that have a natural, predictable rhythm throughout the month, your own month makes much more sense. You’ll have a reliable pattern to follow and will finally be able to work with your cycle instead of against it! You’ll begin to develop a personal practice that takes advantage of your own optimal times for different types of activities. You’ll anticipate your needs and make plans for self care. Your month will become immeasurably easier and you’ll probably end up wondering why you did not learn this long ago!
Let’s take a closer look:
This model shows the 28-day cycle of the moon’s phases, as the moonlight grows brighter until it reaches full moon, and then returns to darkness again before the new cycle begins. The wonderful thing is, you can place any other cycle onto this same model and see the same pattern of expansion and contraction. This is how everything in nature works, from the inhale and exhale of a single breath, to the circling of the largest galaxies. Everything has a pulse or a rhythm of movement.
When we place the four seasons of the year onto this model, we easily see that summer is similar to full moon, while winter, at the opposite end of the cycle, resembles the dark of the moon. Springtime is similar to the growing light after new moon, and Autumn corresponds with the waning light that occurs after full moon, as the light descends toward darkness and the completion of the cycle.
It is a predictable rhythm of expansion and contraction, and it has much to teach us about ourselves, as well! This pattern of growing outward and returning inward offers a balance of energies, and it also allows for different types of expression, and different perspectives. If things stayed the same all the time, nothing new would ever happen! So, when we apply our own menstrual cycle to this model, we can see how it reflects the fact that we go through profound rhythmic changes each month. Remembering how our cycles resemble the wise design of other rhythms of nature can help us appreciate our own different types of expression, and different needs.
It’s easy to see, when looking at the model of the moon and seasons, that full moon is very different than dark moon, and summer is very different than winter. In a similar way, something very different is going on within us, depending on whether we are ovulating or menstruating! Why would we expect ourselves to act or feel the same from week to week, when we are in a completely different personal “season?”
Our menstrual time is like our own winter or dark moon, when we retreat more into ourselves. Our ovulation is like our own personal summer, or full moon, when we are more radiant and social, and our energy is expansive and focused outward. (These are generalizations, I realize, but most women will find that they have a personal rhythm that is somewhat similar to this model. The thing is, when we approach our cycle with curiosity and interest, we can discover what our own rhythms actually are!) For half of our cycle, our energy is building toward ovulation, and most of us will tend to feel more social and capable at this time. These are the qualities that are rewarded in modern culture! But for the other half of the cycle, our outer focus tends to wane as our attention naturally turns back toward ourselves, toward our own feelings and needs. This tends to be a more introspective time, a time to re-balance, to catch up with ourselves, to notice what is not working so well, and to correct anything that needs our attention before it gets worse!
This knowledge of the value of our cycles is a “wisdom teaching” that women have shared with each other in various ways for thousands of years. But as modern culture has divorced itself from nature, these wise traditions have also lost favor and been forgotten. The expectation for women to be agreeable, available and productive at all times, entirely negates our own need for self-care, rest, creativity, and time alone. We need some deep introspective time, from which renewal and inner guidance can emerge, for the good of our entire family and community. We need time for balance and self care. We can’t be focused on others all the time.
I love to think of trees as such a great example of this cycle of self care! Most trees lose their leaves or become dormant in some way in winter. They are not in full bloom all the time! They withdraw underground and descend into their roots. Does this mean that they are lazy, unreliable, or selfish? Of course not! They withdraw into their roots to gather strength from the nourishing soil, so they can emerge fully in the coming season of flower and fruit and have energy for the year to come. Anything else would be a recipe for burnout!
It is easy to see the value of this rhythm in the lifecycle of trees, but can be harder to see in ourselves! But we, too, can take time for ourselves and give ourselves the time to recharge. Our cycles are actually designed to help us do this; to create these healing practices in our own lives.
I look forward to sharing more with you in Part 2 of this guest post to be published next month, about specific tools, perspectives and practices that you can begin to incorporate into your life. Many blessings to you until next time!
My Foundation Class, Welcome Your Rhythm, begins on June 22, for 5 weeks, by phone. If you and a friend wish to enroll together, you may each receive a $30 discount. Please let me know your names and I’ll send you each a discount code to use when you enroll! This is a great way to take the class, since you’ll be able to compare notes about your experiences. www.WelcomeRhythm.eventbrite.com
The first four women to enroll will also receive a complimentary Cycle Comfort Coaching Session with me, which can be used either before or during our 5-week course! You can discuss any aspect of your cycle, or work on creating more healthy habits in general.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide