such a good boy

Two years ago we said goodbye to the best dog we could imagine ever having. T lived a full 15-1/2 years. So long for a big boy of 85-pounds.

He was our first kid.

Our first combined love.

And, our first companion through life’s largest milestones. Condensed into one lifetime.

Our first home – a sweet, incredibly tiny rental in the darling craftsman filled neighborhood of the Lettered Streets.

Our wedding day in the darkness and peace of full winter in February.

Our first home, to the tune of a mortgage payment three times our rent. The one that was “perfect” because it was fully fenced and already broken in by the previous owners’ pups.

The birth of Pepper. His constant impatience with her consistent reappearance every time we returned home offset by the constant droppings of food bits and overturned dishes from the highchair.

The birth of V. His appreciation for her awareness of his personal boundaries. Her quiet nature to be close by sharing toy after toy and placing them gently on his bed near his head.

The growing of kids with personalities deeply grooved since before birth.

His death was beautiful. It was as perfect as loss can be and just the way it should be. Pain free. A clear and very deep reluctance to just go and be done living. A choice to stop getting up and a companion’s mutual understanding of the time that it was. The grief was incredibly deep and raw. It is still there and moving forward. With time, the muck is less sloggy and gripping.

With T’s memory, we put him up higher on the pedestal he already lived on.

He was my best boy.

His life was a string of perfect memories from a perfect dog.

One year later, we made the decision to love again. It was both rash and over analyzed. We were constantly nagged with pleas from Pepper and V. It was not just a foolish childhood desire, it was a deep need to have one of their own. A dog who loved them as much, if not more, than me and Thor. A dog who was part of our family of four and did not view the kids as an awkward tangent from the young pairing.

G was just that pup. A humane society litter born to a mom rescued from a kill-shelter in California. He was the shepherd mix we wanted. Our serendipitous meeting with the 5-week old fluffball took our hearts and sealed the inevitable deal. Summer ended with full on puppyhood and all of us engrossed in this new adventure.

We were ready. Fully and completely. Prepared and set. All the logistics were organized and handled.

G was everything we wanted and simultaneously, not at all what we expected. We were aware of the 180-degree shift we were doing from an aging senior to an immeasurably energetic pup. We were not prepared for the effect of our pedestal. The goal that a slighted memory made impossible.

G barked all the time. T never did.

G was overly excitable and a manic greeter of other dogs. T had the wise demeanor of a Buddhist monk and was content to just “be”.

G jumped with exuberance on all visitors. T laid on his bed and waved hello with a calm tail wag and raised eyebrow.

G chased and lunged at any and all small creature that crossed his field of vision. T coexisted with chickens and loped along with the wandering herd of neighborhood cats.

As time stretches, I wonder how accurate these memories are. How ill-defined the pedestal is as a piece of reality.

With all of this “different”, the image was the “same”. Eerily similar.

T was adopted at 5 months old. He was long and lean with scrawny legs and flippy flop ears that were undecided about whether to stand up or splay sideways. He was a gawky puppy moving into teenagerhood. His humane society advertisement was “shepherd/collie mix”

G was a round ball, a dark face dotted with lively eyes, and a fitting nickname of “big chunk”. His shelter provided DNA profile was overwhelmingly german shepherd with the catchall “mixed breed”.

At a year old, G is nearly identical to T. The only disparities being erect ears and a darker muzzle in G. Weight, body coloring, coat shaping and feel. All the same.

In every look, I see only G. But, in the shadows and the shift from the corner of my eye there is a ghostly recognition. It is not creepy or strange. It is oddly comforting. And, also a constant reminder of how different the contents of the package are from the wrapping.

Death has a way of glossing over the imperfections of life. Post mortem offers a glimpse of perfectionism. The memorial services rarely touch on the absent father’s years of missed activities and family functions. Or the grandma’s fastidious organization that could bubble into angry outbursts. To remember the dead in anything but positive light would be tantamount to social suicide.

Over the last few months, I have fallen hard and fast as a victim to this mindset. The pedestal we had placed T on has not given any space for uniqueness of G.

There has been no grace for him.

And, consequently a self inflicted judgment on my own vulnerability in raising a less than perfect dog.

It is through purposeful actions that I am changing this injustice. An injustice for both T and G. And me.

I am pulling from the memories and talking about the imperfections of T. To remember his apathy for children is not a slight on his overall fabulousness. And, markedly, it leaves room to highlight and fully embrace the adoration and patience G has with our children. They are his people. Walks may be a struggle in this moment with G, but they were not without discord for T either. The walk in the park is a figment of my mind’s tricks. A very cushy and soft outline of the truth.

I was blessed with a once in a lifetime dog with T for 15 years of life. My girls are blessed with their once in a lifetime dog with G.

And, he is my good boy.

Such a good boy.

lack of love

Self love is a nagging buzz word/phrase right now. It is what acai berries were a few years ago to the good eating industry. My writing is evidence of its prominence with a post just a year ago focusing on the same eight letters. It reminds me of an affirmation that bears repeating until its message is ingrained in the psyche.

But, I wonder what is truly means for me as an individual. And, perhaps to the larger audience, too.

Is the word love the best choice or a pressure laden script that forces an unnatural mindset?

Can there be authentic self love without love in its all encompassing entirety?

Is another adjective better suited to fill this place and give grace as a place holder?

Swirling thoughts that float and drift with no definitive answers.

Love for me is unconditional.

It is the truest of full acceptance with no doubts belied by judgment. It is the reason for deep embrace when words are lost. It is the ability to pull the physical outburst and emotional maelstrom of a tantruming child in to a safe harbor.

It is the tears, the joy, the laughter, the pain.

It is everything. A non-descript melting pot capable of holding it all.

With this definition in mind, these characteristics paramount to love – can you love your self with loving your whole self?

The baggy skin that hangs below my belly button with a distorted cesarean line cutting across is not loved. It is accepted. It is tolerated. It is held and embraced. But it is not loved.

This imperfect bisection and squishy pooch are loved by husband. Fully. In all the ways that I define love. Does that not exemplify love? When we find ourselves most unlovable and least worthy, the true ones rise up and give love. During the fits, there is the embrace. In the fog of the storm, the unwavering lighthouse.

Can I stand tall, shoulders back – a full physical embrace of myself as a whole while still saying the words “I don’t like this. Or this.”

Because I don’t. Can there be love without like? A non-mutually exclusive one without the other.

Is the desire to change something and its appearance mean that love is absent? Does this desire for different, by definition, mean that it is powered by dissatisfaction and self doubt?

I am working through these questions and trying to narrow them into more answers.

I am trying to see myself for who I am – right now, in this moment, a culmination of all that came before. I am trying to give grace to all those imperfections and dimples. And, acceptance for what is here.

I don’t feel like love, in all its truest glory, is possible for me right now. Life is a whole lot of gray. There is not “love” or “no love”. Or love or hate. The spectrum is wide and varied and doppled with personal definitions.

Right now I am accepting.

I am honoring.

I am giving grace.

I am bringing awareness to spaces, places and parts that were too long ignored.

I am looking at myself as a whole being, body and spirit and saying “I am”.

And, I am working to sluff off the guilt and pressure to love fully with the authenticity that I cannot embrace.

And, perhaps as a side goal coin a phrase that does not have the love in self love.

all of me

There is part of my body that does not exist. I do not touch it. I do not feel it. It is not a room in my sacred temple. A black hole of non-existence.

Like most things that do exist, but remain ignored, it is not a quiet place that has backed away from view. It is loud. In your face. Demanding of love, attention and energy. It is there. Always. In my mind, my view, my thoughts. Screaming “I am here”. And, yelling it loud. It will tantrum. It will rattle the cages. I will make itself known and in bold, embarrassing ways.

My belly.

This sacred core. This energetic life force. A womb of desire and divinity.

It has never felt like mine or been a part of me.

Until now.

This center is where health blossoms and grows. Where flora multiply and create webs reaching far into the body. Where nourishment sits and processes. It is the deep grounding that is solid.

In this place lies my fears. My sadness. Aches. Pains. Histories. Memories. Anxieties. Worries. A mixing bowl of muckiness behind a great wall of cement. Block upon block with a mortar I have mixed and molded. There is great strength in this wall. A fortified fortress.

But behind it there are rages. The deepening realization that its greatest enemy is from within not beyond.

So, the wall is working its way down.

It is being breathed into and filled to capacity with air and imagination. It is being given the freedom to express itself and the open arms to accept what it shares.

It is being given touch and caress. It is being treated with honor through my fingertips and loved with a new light.

It is being given creativity. Memorialized with artwork through touch. A promise of acceptance and love sealed and tattooed on its surface.

All the work I have been doing will continue, but it is now being fueled by love. There will still be kombucha and probiotics. Healthy food and abundant water.

The love is tender and new right now. An innocent interest in what is there. What has always been there.

A determination to be whole. In physical appearance and in my mind. In my body and my spirit.

In me. All of me.

protecting me

Empathy is a huge part of who I am. It’s always been my go-to reflex and it seems that becoming a mother only magnified its intensity. A part of me was now growing beyond my bosom. As the years go by, the distance grows with their independence. Out of my arms reach.

Everything I am. All my memories, my histories, my wounds, my joys are part of my parenting. I am fully invested and present with all of me coming to the table for mothering.

Caring. Giving. Nurturing. It is all my default.

The depths of this and how far I could fall to my own detriment were something I was oblivious to. There was a moment. A critical turning point. A parenting guffaw and awakening that brought awareness from the outside.

I was called on the carpet and told to shut my gates. Start reigning in instead of constantly spewing energy from my core. I was depleting myself. Slowly carving a shell that was self made.

It was bold and big and morphed into a growing lesson on boundaries. Creating fences. Malleable and shifting based on the need, but firm in their creation and self awareness.

These boundaries and my growing ability to set them saved me. It pulled that essence of me in tighter and closer. In my bosom. At my heart. It gave me the capacity to give with readiness and choice and preservation.

My self awareness is a skill that is continually honed and refined. Made clearer with time. Cobwebs that are cleaned but remnants that linger because they are part of the structure that is me. The blocks that are created to build the house and all its stories that I have become.

My empathy can be a vacuum. Sucking the energy. Pulling from the darkness and crevices. Grabbing hidden bits. All within me. It has the capacity to flow with well intentioned abandon. But the effectiveness is greatest when it is guided and secure.

The bullet point of my lesson is this. I can be all that I am, give all that goodness I want to give and still be wholly me. Full of energy with a keen mindfulness for self preservation.

The situations where it has been hardest to maintain this stamina is with my own children. I give. Day in and day out. I am their rock and tender of their nest. Their safety. But, they are on their path. A walk uniquely their own. I am raising independent people who will hopefully bring goodness and kindness to this world.

But, creating my own space and my own place for my thoughts, time and energy is a critical need of mine. It is what makes it possible to give. Fully and without grudge or dissatisfaction. Making the boundary that having “mine and only mine” is okay. That does not negate the other. The giving. The sharing. The constant presence.

That is my thesis.

To be able to say YES and GIVE, I in turn must be able to say NO. My heart will not shrink or shrivel. My gifts will be no less valuable or important. They are mine to give with my whole heart.

where are my words

It is strange how words work. I feel like when I need them most, I fail to find them. When my brain is in overdrive, they are whirring around and I cannot snatch the ones I need. Writing is my expression. A way of taming the runaway thoughts and pulling them together. My process.

The last two weeks have been a discombobulated heap. Life threw us a wonky curveball when Thor injured himself pretty significantly. We immediately jumped into auto-pilot mode. Living the motto of “Do What You Gotta Do”. Get to the appointments. Argue with the insurance company. Make the phone calls. Arrange the sitters. Fly by the seat of your pants and keep moving.

The immediacy of the needs was doable. Make the list. Check things off. Adjust as needed.

It was the bigger picture that was fuzzy. For an athlete, a guy who is everything active and competitive, this meniscus injury was terrifying. A mental game of stillness and waiting. An uncertain future. And, an insatiable need to move and challenge and compete and play that was no more.

What does it all mean? Where do we go from here?

We say thanks a thousand times over for Thor’s incredible employer and their flexibility and willingness to support us as he works through this.

We find the best damn orthopedic surgeon in the Pacific Northwest. Who specializes in sports related injuries. We drive down to Seattle at a moment’s notice and walk the halls of NBA jerseys and meet the man who repairs professional athletes.

We rely on friends and family and hear the words “We got this. You do what you need to do.” over and over.

We cry and fret. And, worry and hug. We ask questions we have no answers for.

We eat meals prepared with love and dropped in coolers on front porches.

We set our sights on “healing” instead of existing and get the surgery on the calendar.

We remember that self care too often falls by the wayside and is of critical importance right now. The very serum that makes dealing, juggling and doing possible in these moments.

We put one foot in the front of the other and keep moving. Because there is no other way to go except forward.

We shift our energies and make peace with the unknown that is the here and now.

And, I find the words. The words that spill fast and reckless like a broken bag of marbles, but bring great settling as they shift and splay on the floor.

Tomorrow is surgery.

And, so begins the healing.

old scars becoming new fears

Pepper is authentic.  Fully, unabashedly herself.  Her drum beats differently and she stomps her feet to its rhythm with gusto.  This has always been her operating state and it is mix of fear and inspiration for me to watch.

Being eight is different than being three and it seems the world is less forgiving and kind to uniqueness as we grow older.  The crazy patterned outfit of a preschooler is not greeted with the same endearing looks when you are in middle school.

But, is that just my perception?  Slighted, swayed and altered by the lens I wear from my past.

One of my favorite parenting gurus/advisors/writers talks about the history we bring to the task of parenting.  The unique role that our upbringing and life experiences contribute to how we parent.  And, how we have healed, or most importantly – not healed – from these experiences.

I was raised by great parents.  There was divorce, mixed families and step-parents.  There were struggles and demons of addiction.  But, cemented, rock solid in the middle was love.  Always love.  And, that never faltered.  The acceptance of who I was as an individual was paramount and the assumption that I was loved was a given.  My firsthand example of parenting was a true mix of love and imperfection.  Faults and forgiveness.  Patience and emotional intelligence.  It so much a part of who I am and how I parent.

My deepest darkness sits hard when it comes to social interactions and being authentic to myself.  My pre-teen years are a hazy memory of constant bullying.  Daily fear and a desperation to “belong” and overcome the cause of my strife to become something I wasn’t.  Something who wasn’t teased.  Something that wasn’t ridiculed.  Someone and not something.  I was so busy trying to change myself to the impossible mold that any thought of authenticity was completely foreign.

So, I struggle to watch Pepper’s interactions.

I see her surrounded by a handful of peers.  Her energy is big and all consuming.  Her creativity bursting.  She pounds the sidewalk chalk into colorful powders and begins to mix and dabble them together.  Soon the powders are on her arms and traveling up.  At first it is a delicate and deliberate application to her eyelids and cheeks.  But, the energy becomes unhinged and the canvas covered with a crazy array of color.  After the work is complete, the movement jumps to a higher gear.  The legs begin flailing, the arms swinging and the voice a few decibels higher.  It is a performance art that is manic and wild.  And, she is thrilled.  Her smile is magnificent.  She is a joy to watch.

It is her peers that cause me pain and concern.

Some become enraptured by the maelstrom of energy Pepper is whirling in.  They jump in and join.  The fine line of personal comfort is danced as Pepper works to cast her net wider and bring color to others.  I remind that we ask before we touch, we seek permission before we include and never assume that curiosity means interest in inclusion.

Others watch.  The behavior is like a show.  A performance.  One that is incredibly interesting, very colorful (literally and figuratively).  But, there is unhinged energy that can be unsettling in its unexpected nature.

And, many pull away.  Quietly shuffling aside and finally dropping from view completely.  The radiance was too bold.  Too bright.  Too big.

I am a bystander. On the sidelines but ready to intervene if needed. I ache as I watch the reactions of others. I see her in all her intensity and boldness and wonder.

I wonder if she sees their reactions. My guess is she doesn’t. Another hiccup that her sensory issues cause.

I wonder that if she did see their reactions, would she care? Would it diminish her joy and exuberance? Would it dampen her authenticity?

I wonder if I am reading too much into it. Am I pulling from my history and turning my self-consciousness and struggles of inadequacy into a false mirror of what I see?

Do I warn her of the possibility of “friends” causing deep hurt and pain that isn’t easily soothed? Wounds that are deep and aching. Holding your cards close protects the heart.

Or do I have faith in the process? The child with skills beyond my own. Coping mechanisms that are innate and learned, a seemingly perfect fit for her needs and issues. A hope in the goodness I have witnessed in the children who surround her.

Faith in the drumbeat that hers alone. Faith that someday it will find its band, its accompanying rhythm.

an opportunity for self care

Sometimes there is an opportunity, a decision to make, that has the potential to be life changing. A kind of reality shift that makes everything, from the minutiae of daily routines to the seasonal changes different.

Fourteen months ago, life changed drastically for us. Thor and I made the decision, in a very non-me like way, to go big. We put our house on the market and decided to move into the city.

Thor and I are true opposites in many ways. I hate change. It goes against every cell in my body and I silently, or not so quietly sometimes, rebel. Thor dreams big and aims for off-the-cuff changes that can create BIG waves. He plans, but doesn’t let the hiccups and inevitable unexpected bits stop him or discourage him. I prepare the path with incredible attention detail and exhaust myself preparing for the change.

We have a lot in the bank of our relationship. Fourteen years of marriage, twenty-plus year together and a few years ago we swung over the tipping of being together longer in our lives than we have been apart. We have ridden through incredibly difficult times, tested our limits and fought tooth and nail for the life, love and people we believe in.

Despite all this history, we had a lot stacked against us in the here and now of our decision.

The real estate market was hot but not nearly as HOT as when we bought our house ten years ago. We were also selling in a lukewarm locale with our sights set to buy in the tropics. We were upside down equity to mortgage. We were getting the house prepped to hit the market in the off-season; the dearth of the holidays when people are celebrating, being merry and hanging with family, but keeping their pocketbooks tightly closed. We had a special needs child who wanted nothing to do with any sort of change. Our savings was minute and our financial movability was sluggish.

But, we wanted a change. A big change. The kind that does all the things I mentioned. Changes life in so many ways.

So, we jumped. Two feet, hands held tight and eyes wide open. We risked. We rolled. We sweated.

And, by golly we did it.

We sold that house. We broke even with pennies to spare. We weathered the storm of Pepper as she processed this enormous change. We held and supported V’s tender heart has she said good-bye to her special places. We ached for our beloved willow tree and its majestic swooping branches. We laid to rest the memories that were woven deep of T.

We landed right where we needed to be and waited. The simple life of a one bedroom condo with only some 700 square feet to share got us one step closer to that place. That life. That goal. It shrunk our budget to manageable and allowed our savings to swell. Help flowed. Energies shifted. The hunt began.

Two weeks ago marks the one year anniversary of finding that place. The place where we are sinking our roots deep. The center of this support system that is now in our lives, on our sidewalks, in our schools and part of our friendships. The web is growing bigger and stronger.

Tonight I walked a long time with the pup. Out my doorstep, down the sidewalk and into the welcome smile of a friend. A like-minded fabulous momma who is walking this parenting road with grace and humility. And incredibly tender support.

This is a new life.

A new way of growing in my myself as a momma, a wife, a friend. A new form of self care.

Shutting the door on isolation and close-minded communities. Stepping into this place.

This beautiful opportunity that came from a risk, a massive change. Nothing is perfect and there is no ideal marker to meet, but this place, this home, this life we created, we changed and we are building feels so damn right.