Matryoshkas, or, “There Be Dragons”

We think we know people. We spend our lives being surprised in ways little and large, when we discover newly observed things about them, or when our projections are revealed as coverings which prevented us from seeing who was actually on the other side. We cannot know anyone fully, but practicing openness and observation, learning not to personalize other people’s being, their actions and their words, can help us know them and us better.

Then there are the coverings we make for ourselves, the layers of person-like substance used to shield or project, to interface or to confuse. Sometimes they’re consciously designed; often they are the accretions of childhood experience, created in parts of our subconscious mind for defense or role-fulfillment, enjoyment, necessity.

I think of Matryoshkas, Russian nesting dolls. I think of dolls made not to blend, but a different personality in each layer, showing the complexities of which we all are composed.

The unexpected revealing of such layers can be a cause of celebration, of trauma, of delight, of pain, of confusion, etc. In any long-term relationship such reveals are inevitable, and can result in anything from rupture to consolidation.

A huge part of my current grief and pain is the shock I feel at discovering that my ex-fiancé was capable of doing things I would have sworn he would not. I feel betrayed, but I have to keep compassionately reminding my inner child that though some of his actions did betray our relationship, the reveal of more of his personhood is not about me at all. And really, as a grown-up I know that people are capable of all kinds of destructive action, as it is part of our human nature. When I look at the first sentence of this paragraph I realize that rather than grieving the fact that he *could* do X, Y, and Z, I grieve that he *would*, and did.

My loss is real, and not real. I did not have what I thought I did. But none of us ever do, quite. Because what we know of ourselves and of others is incomplete.

I am in the middle of a sea-change. I can’t see the shore behind me, and I don’t know where I’m going.

But I believe that we spend our lives creating ourselves, through thought and action, through the choices we make. And so as I open this self-doll to see the next one, I know I have some choice about who/what she is/will be.

As does the man who has been my beloved.

Self-care, modern and ancient

Some things of note in this time, during which I have been grieving the loss of an important relationship, my engagement to my ex-fiancé R.

The other day I was feeling quite uncomfortable in my body, walking home, feeling swollen and blistered and heavy in that self-hating way. So, I started enumerating out loud my body parts and sending them love: “I love my nose, I love my toes,” etc. When I said, “I love,” I meant, “I am sending love to”, and thus making the distinction between “I love = I feel good about”, which is not always possible for me, versus, “I love = I am treating myself with love”, which I can do even when I’m feeling self-disgust or self-hatred.

After several minutes of this, I started feeling better, more comfortable in my body, more at ease. I have to note this for the record so I remember to do it again later.

My friend Z showed me an app last night called, “Habitica”. It is meant to help you stick to your tasks by turning the whole thing into a game where you can go on a quest and get points for carrying out your list. It seems super fun, and has already helped me get this morning’s stuff done more completely than usual. You can also go on joint quests with other people, and we are going to do that. Therefore, you get community and mutual support, communication about your day, etc.

One of the things that I need and want to do, but with which I have been having a hard time getting into the rhythm of consistent practice, is my meditation/breath class homework. This class is based in Sufi traditions, and the homework includes saying repetitions of mantras. It is amazing to me what doing so brings up. This morning I actually did my homework, and it brought up for me the alienation and othering, and the sense of permanent inferiority due to my gender I feel in any context that has a religious element. “God” is portrayed as being masculine in fundamental nature. Therefore, being female, I am other, and I am lesser. This ties in with family of origin stuff. It affects me deeply. As I repeated the mantras, however, I was able to sink beneath the level of gender and access the meaning of what I was saying differently. By the end I was feeling more connected. Like any significant practice, it’s all about the long-game, and not my current mood-reaction, but I appreciate when it helps me in the moment, too.

I have been to a degree not aligned with improving my health and well-being, because getting better means (to that part of me) that it’s really over with the man who has been the love of my life. So I’m trying to treat all parts of me and my heart with compassion. And I know that no matter whether I ever get to have a powerful and mutual romantic relationship again, I am responsible for my own life and well-being, including how I approach things like food and sleep, as well as remembering to reach out and stay connected to my friends & family and wider community.

Now I am going to go buy a printer cartridge so I can print out the music for my next concert (after first tackling my intimidation and figuring out how to install said cartridge in said printer).

One step at a time.

Grief and Stress

Tonight, as Ted and I sat watching a TV show (something that is a pretty rare event for us), I worried. We hadn’t seen one of our cats since the day before, and this cat never spends more than a couple of hours away from the house. He is a home body. Earlier, I had called the Animal Control line and listened to the descriptions of the cats that were being held. I felt guilty for sitting and watching TV, thought about Pepper out somewhere, hurt or dead, thought about telling my kids, felt agonized.

After the second episode, we started getting ready to close up for the night, talking about our difficult feelings about our cat. I went out the back door and called for him, and was entirely astounded to hear his meow. I looked over the stairs to the path between our house and our neighbor’s house, and there he was. I called again, and he slunk under their gate and came, slowly, around to our stairs. Normally if he’s been out a bit longer than he wants, he bounds up the stairs, shoots up them like a four-footed bullet.

I let him into the house, came into the kitchen, and started to cry.

My dad died in December. It was a shock. Though he had major health challenges for decades, he’d been relatively stable for a long time, and was not in an obvious health crisis at the time of his death. I headed back home immediately. The day after I got back I had rehearsals, since there were multiple concerts coming up. The second rehearsal included a Corelli piece I know he would have loved, and I felt a passionate wish he could be there to hear it. In the break I stood up to thank the orchestra for its caliber, its feeling. And, talking, I cried. I felt stabs of grief for the loss of my dad.

Mostly, since then, I have not been able to access that grief. This year has been so incredibly stressful in various ways, and though it has also been a lot of other things, I am learning another lesson in how stress can inhibit the experience of other emotions: it can undercut joy, certainly, but it can also block grief. It commands one’s system, demands attention, demands appeasement. And when it goes on for long enough, it frays nerves, depletes resources. And yet, as it does so it refuses to give way to anything else.

But sometimes things can slip in anyway. One grief can be a conduit for another. We were just in my hometown last week, and seeing my kids play in the house where I grew up does bring into focus my dad’s absence. He loved to read to his grandchildren. He loved to see them, to talk with them. I can see the smile on his face now. The house has been changed quite a bit since his death, due to my siblings and I rearranging it for my mom, who was hospitalized in January (and who is doing much better now). The changes in the house bring my dad to mind, thinking about how he would feel about them. I felt his absence acutely that first morning we were there. And then, one thing I did while I was in town was to go pick up my dad’s things from his university, a place he taught for decades. I had a wonderful conversation with a couple members of the administration, and with a former colleague of my dad’s. Talking about his professional life, about his love for his subject and his colleagues brought him back to me freshly.

So it was up and present when, tonight, I feared that this week we’d be grieving the loss of our cat and attempting to help our kids process it. And when Pepper came into the kitchen, I felt undone, that I can’t take any more.

Lately I’ve felt the impulse to beg the universe for a break, because I’d love to have a few months free of major challenging events. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way. I feel like all it’s possible to really ask for is support, help, love. And there is a lot of love.

For me, stress is often about worrying about things which feel out of my control. I fear negative results or events, and so I worry about them. Stress can sometimes be an attempt to handle that which we cannot control, which is to say, life. It is often about the future, and an indeterminate future at that. It can be about worrying about what other people think or feel, about what may happen or may not happen. It can involve projections, incomplete information. It can be a habituated response to the circumstance of not knowing what is going to happen. It’s very noisy, internally. And, as noted above, it takes up a lot of my resources.

So, today I have received another lesson in the necessity of practicing staying in the moment, accepting my feelings whatever they are, and trusting myself and the universe that whatever happens I will respond to it. Not that I will handle it, not that I will be able to control it. But I will respond, and I will do the best I can.

If I can remember that, I can dial back the stress. And then it’s easier to feel. And it’s easier to act.

So, I miss my dad. I miss his intelligence and thoughtfulness. I miss his love and delight in his subject, and in the art of teaching. I miss his love and joy in his grandchildren. I wish I could see him again. And, somehow, I do not believe that he doesn’t exist any more. But I cannot frame that in a rational/logical/mind sort of way. It is a feeling.

And tomorrow, instead of making signs with which to plaster the neighborhood, Ted will dig out the tracking collars we’ve previously used for the cats. And I will teach, and then I will take Hazel to her piano lesson, and then I will practice, and then I will go see a movie. And I will, when it feels right, have a dialogue with my dad about what I’m doing in my life. And I’ll look forward to playing music on the sound system he and I picked out together many years ago, and I will remember him.

And I will try to make time in my days for remembrance, for reflection, and to give my heart a time and place to feel what it does, in the present moment, without the incredible racket of stress. I don’t know whether it’s time to say goodbye or hello or what, but I don’t need to know or understand that, either.

zoo, friends, wedding photo prep, family, global tragedy, gratitude

This morning I met my friend/nanny C at the zoo with the two kids of the family she’s working for this summer. As I was changing diapers right after we arrived, she showed up to say that my sister, niece, and friends of theirs were there too. We had a really great time there, sometimes all together in a big group, sometimes separating out. Hazel got on really well with the boy C is taking care of, and who’s about a year and a half older than she is.

On a day when I’m tired and feeling a bit uninspired, it’s wonderful to meet up with friends, to have a chance for a bit of adult conversation interspersed with all the interactions with the kids. And it’s awesome just to have another pair of eyes and another pair of hands.

This evening I had a good conversation with my friend whose wedding I am going to photograph next month. My 50mm lens is ready for pickup, all fixed and happy. I am getting excited about this, doing something new, focusing my brain on a different set of challenges. We’re going to meet at the venue next week so we can talk through what she and her fiancé want for the day.

This evening when I got home from work and came upstairs Hazel launched into things she was sad about. I asked if she wanted to sit in my lap, and spent some time listening to her, not trying to jimmy her out of the mood. Eventually Joanna came and plopped down on my other leg, and we moved pretty naturally into reading books. The twins did not, however, fall asleep while nursing, so we then did our old bedtime routine for the first time in a while. We sang, we read more books. When we turned the lights out Joanna went down pretty easily (I only had to plop her back in her bed once) but Emily resisted. We’ve known for a while that we’ve needed to do a bit more sleep training, so tonight after a couple long soothing sessions, we agreed that Ted would do that, putting her back down as soon as she was quiet and walking out, only coming back in if she got really upset. He did. It worked. We shall have to persist, but I think it will help that we’re realigning ourselves to the same practice. When Emily starts crying, “Up, stairs [go downstairs], Hazel,” you know that she’s sad, yes, but mostly she wants us to agree not to put her to bed. And her will is already very strong.

This afternoon I read an article about one Dutch family that lost all three children on the Malaysian Air plane that went down. It is very difficult even to contemplate that sort of loss, a loss suffered by families all over the world all the time in wars and conflict that takes lives. This paragraph was particularly difficult:

So far, every moment since we arrived home, we’ve been surrounded by family and friends. We desperately pray that this continues, because this expression of love is what is keeping us alive. We want to continue to know about your lives, all the good and all the bad. We no longer have lives that we want to live by ourselves. So we’d like to take the chance to thank everyone, all our incredible friends, family and communities, and to tell you all that we love you very much.

Today is a day I’m poignantly grateful for my life, and those of my loved ones. When Emily clings to me with her whole body, wrapping her arms around my neck and gripping me with her legs, I am glad to feel the strength of her body, the love in her heart and in mine. Faced by the world’s tragedies, sometimes the only thing I can think to do is to practice gratitude for being alive, able to love, able to move, able to make music, able to feel the sun and wind on my skin. Sometimes even that gratitude feels selfish, but it is something I don’t take lightly. Love does not cancel pain, erase loss, or vanquish hate. But it manages to continue to exist, to find root and make meaning even in the very dark times and places.

I hope someday we will be able to practice love as a species, to put as much energy as we now do into war and mutual destruction into understanding and mutual support. This is my prayer.

The nanny returneth, going to the funeral, awesome neighbors

Today my nanny came back from her trip. We were all so glad to see her. The twins smiled and smiled when she came in. She and I spent quite a while talking about how the two weeks went for us, and then we walked over to pick up the car. By the time we got there it was time to go pick Hazel up, so I didn’t get any of my tasks done. But it was a really great morning. When we picked Hazel up we spent some time talking with her teacher, who is personable, friendly, clearly awesome at what she does, and very affectionate with Hazel. That was so wonderful. It also turns out that there are after school programs offered there, so if Hazel doesn’t get into the elementary we want, we could have her do one day a week at the Spanish school, art or something else non-academic in nature, and she could in that way keep a toe in on the language. That made me happy.

This afternoon I found a much cheaper fare than I had seen previously, and so I have decided to go to my college friend’s funeral this week. I’ll be gone from Wednesday afternoon to Friday night. This means rescheduling my longest work day, which is too bad. And it’s a big chunk of money for us. But I want to be there with the group, to honor my friend’s memory and all the connections she made and had within the friend group. I really appreciate Ted’s flexibility in making the family schedule work so I can be gone for a couple of days.

After nap I took the kids for a quick visit to a spray park, where Joanna stood and watched for quite a while as Hazel and Emily ran around. They all enjoyed the water. I think we might go back tomorrow. It’s been pretty warm here.

This evening I had a chiropractic appointment. Meanwhile, Ted took the kids and did a grocery store run. When I got back they were still out, but my neighbor was sitting on her porch with her daughter, grandkids, and a glass of wine. She offered me one. So I sat and had a glass and a good conversation. What a lovely moment. I love my neighborhood.

newborn, parents’ group meeting, processing loss, “Phooey!”

We went to see our friends K and J today, who have a very new baby, 7 days old today. He’s the size Emily was when she was born, and it was rather staggering to see such a tiny tyke and be reminded of what it was like for us two years ago. Hazel got to play with their older daughter S, with whom she’s good friends, and a good time was had by all.

This afternoon we had our parents’ group meeting. Tonight was Dads’ Night Out. They went to a pub and we hung out talking about how parenthood has been as compared to their expectations, what sort of Mom role models they have had, etc. It was a good meeting. I love how well they’ve cohered as a group. I am sure they’ll stick together after the 12 weeks they’ve paid for are up.

Then Ted and I had an hour off while our nanny was still taking care of the kids. I went and sat in the sunshine and had a bite to eat, and worked on relaxing. It’s been a tough week in terms of the developments in my social circles. I’ve been struggling, wanting to go to my college friend’s funeral, not being able to swing it right now, glad that a lot of my other friends are going, missing them, missing the chance to see them.

My throat’s feeling sore. I think tonight is a good one for going to bed early.

Oh, I wanted to note that Emily is now saying, “Phooey!” and “Humph!” It is hilarious.

missing friends, change, kids growing, Jasmine outside

My brain feels too sludgy to come up with anything to write. Last night it took me a long time to get to sleep, thinking about my college friend’s passing. I wish I could wave a magic wand and see all my friends, not all at once, but soon. I cherish every friendship, every connection, and there are times I feel the pain of separation more acutely. It’s a big country, and it’s been years since I’ve seen some of the people I love.

The WordPress UI has been changed. I resist and resent some sorts of change, and I wish it weren’t quite the constant as it is in the digital world. Why “fix” something that works perfectly well? Change for the sake of change is just stress-inducing, doesn’t seem useful. Ok, that’s my curmudgeonly rant for the day.

This afternoon Ted had the brilliant idea that we should put the kids’ cubby shelves in the entryway instead of the pink room/office, since that’s behind a gate to protect the cat litter and the twins from each other. The twins are definitely old enough now to get their own shoes, even if they need help putting them on. So, I did a bit of swapping things around, and the pink room is now looking better, and soon, after we get through the Everest-sized piles of C-R-A-P on the desk and the floor, will be quite respectable.

The kids grow and change at an astonishing rate, but at least that’s change in the interest of growth, so I can, more or less, deal with it.

Oops, that was a return to the rant.

I shall end by saying that Jasmine has taken to her GPS tracker, and is very, very happy to be going outside. She rolls in the dirt with glee and abandon. She also comes to the back door and meows to be let in. That makes me very happy.