I began wondering about this particular year of our life when I was still pregnant with our youngest daughter. Roughly six years ago, a few casual calculations were made during the dinner hour that left me wondering if this would be the exact year that I’d experience a midlife crisis. We determined then that this would be a year of unparalleled transitions as we’d send our oldest off to college, our third (who was our baby for the first eight years of her life) would start high school, and the life that was still forming in my belly would enter into Kindergarten.
I’m calling it The Big Shift. The dynamic of our family is shifting as greater independence is making itself more explicitly known on multiple fronts. The rhythms of our family are shifting as school schedules better align allowing more space for me to sort out and pursue vocational wonderings. The shift is understandably manifested in my body too – my final year before I hit the big 4-0 and all of a sudden my gray game is super strong. I’ve resisted dying my hair mostly because I feel more whole when my body tells the truth about my life. And the truth is – this year has aged me more than most.
When I anticipated this big shift way back then at our dinner table, I obviously had no idea the many twists and turns of life that we would encounter in the years ahead. These disruptive years involving a series of medical issues, a job loss and relocation, more medical issues, and even more medical issues have only increased the likelihood of my own midlife crisis. I have felt it approaching one wave of transition at a time. And the biggest of big waves (thus far) has finally arrived.
All of this shifting has felt relatively forced – forced by uncontrollable circumstances, forced by the passage of time, by the universe’s evolutionary mandate. I’m not someone who likes being forced to do anything so I’m trying to take some deep breaths every step of the way. Trying is the operative word in that last sentence. If left to our own devices, I’m not sure many of us would elect to grow, to change, to transition. It’s too awkward, uncomfortable, unsafe and unpredictable. So maybe this forcing of things is for our own good. Or maybe not. I guess it doesn’t really matter because whether I like it or not, my life is evolving. And my identity is shifting or expanding, hence the impending crisis.
As is often the case in seasons of uncertainty, I’m drawn to this practice of writing to illuminate my way, to find my way or illuminate my “self” perhaps. After a long hiatus, a retreat from releasing words out into the wild wild web (I mean the world wide web), I feel a writing surge coming on with ferocity.
But THIS is us right now…on the very cusp of the big shift.
“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness.” ~Rachel Naomi Remen
When I was on the road to recovery from Briella’s birth, I had a series of stints placed within my body to aid a few of the organs damaged in her delivery and subsequent emergency surgeries. My body was not very happy with these long vessels extending from my kidneys through my ureters and into my bladder. I read somewhere along the way that some people don’t even notice the presence of these implanted foreign objects. Other people have bodies that make it known that they are not happy at all with the intrusion. My body was in alignment with the latter camp. I was in near constant pain as my nerves shouted and convinced my brain that the insides of my organs were being perpetually stabbed by these straw-like vessels that allowed urine to flow through my impaired bodily system. And then there were the constant infections, the evidence of my bodily resistance to it’s need for assistance. I would take three to five baths a day in an effort to minimize gravity and relax my confused and frustrated body. Every single day was a struggle and it left me completely depleted.
My mantra, repeated over and over again in those days, “This too shall come to pass,” carried me through. And that’s just it – I knew that inevitably the pain, the infections, the tubes both in and out of my body, the fixation on my injured urinary system, that it would all move toward some semblance of resolution. But I often wondered in that season about people who experience chronic pain. What must it be like to accept that there may not be an end to the pain? What must it be like to know no cure? What mantra could carry one through the open-ended days of pain? I shuddered at the thought back then. I felt my heart grow heavy and weary with empathy for those who carry such narratives. And I would marvel too at the realization that so many humans find the strength and resilience each day to bear their own stories.
As life would have it, those months of unrelenting pain and those wonderings that increased my empathy for individuals who contend with chronic pain were a clearly a primer for this current season of life. I am cautious to share too many details in this space, mainly because it’s not really my story to tell, though it undeniably intersects with mine. What I can share is that much of our life over the past 16 months has revolved around sorting out and tending to the health issues of our 15 year old daughter, Bailey. Though we seem to have ruled out any life threatening conditions at this point, chronic and unrelenting pain has been a significant part of this chapter in her life, and ours as we all bear the impact day in and day out.
We are trying to figure out individual and family mantras to get through the hardest days. Instead of anticipating and hoping for the passing of a season (because we’re not sure that will ever be the case), we are learning how to search for beauty, and laughter, and delight even in the midst of the cloud of pain that follows her everywhere she goes.
Some days are way harder than others. Somedays the cloud pisses me off. Somedays the cloud rages and pours down on her…and us too. Somedays I remember that a cloud that rains periodically and diffuses our access to the source of light is not the same as having no sun at all. The sun is still there even if I can’t always find it, or feel it. The clouds and the sun can coexist. Maybe that will be my mantra.
It’s true. We have a 16 year old in the house now. I haven’t been able to write much about what that feels like as a mama. The words are still trying to find their way to the page. But I wanted to share the words I was able to share with her this last week on her special day.
You are 16 today. When I take in the breathtaking beauty of your now almost-adult-face, I see all of those earlier and squishier versions of that very same face too. I see the very same eyes that captivated a room when you first came out to greet us. I see the playful toddler who loved to dance and sing the Barney theme song (Lord have mercy). I see the three year old grin that could fill an entire room with it’s hint at mischief. I see the observant four year old who always took in everything and everyone around her. I see the six year old who’s heart broke when you discovered and then attempted to remedy how the world could be crueler to some than others. I see the nine year old that was profoundly impacted by the very human pressure to perform and be perfect. I see the 11 year old girl who started to recognize her own capacity as an athlete. I see the 13 year old who began to experience the complexities of relationship with the opposite gender. I see the 15 year old who endured an enormous amount of loss and transition all while facing the frustration of having a physical body that can be fractured.
And here you are at 16. I know you are as anxious as you are excited about approaching adulthood and the responsibilities that come with the freedoms. I know that when you look around the world today you are often confused and disheartened. But YOU, my daughter, are braver than you have yet to realize. And you bring more light into this fractured world than you have yet come to believe.
Lately I have imagined that there is this ticking clock looming in the background of our relationship. It’s as though a part of me believes that my time as your mother somehow ends when you turn 18. Yes, I know – it’s a little nutty. But I’m sure that’s not shocking. Maybe every mama feels this way while her heart is racing to catch up with the metamorphosis of her daughter rising into womanhood. Sometimes I think my relationship with time is more complicated since that day three and a half years ago when we all wondered if my clock had run it’s course. So I am daily reminding myself that what we have is today. And today you are 16. And we are both here to witness this moment right now. You know your mama loves words, and so I wanted to mark this day with some very intentional words. I want to bear witness to you and the woman you are becoming with each passing year.
Just a few weeks ago we sat together and watched the Democratic National Convention declare Hillary Clinton as the first female nominee of a major party for the 2016 presidential election 96 years after women won the right to vote. In one of the introduction speeches, actress Meryl Streep mentioned two characteristics that all notable women throughout history possess: GRIT and GRACE. You, daughter, know something of these words too.
GRIT is the stuff of fierce women. You’ve had it since birth. And thank God because you will need it still in the journey to come. Sometimes life is going to kick the shit out of you. I know you have seen this already – but I assure you, the shit will continue to fly. Harnessing grit isn’t about becoming hardened or learning how to fight back. It’s about learning how to still STAND even when life tries to knock you down. It is about toughness, but not the kind of posturing of strength we see so often today. It looks more like a sticky, grainy, gritty resolve than it does any form of violence. It’s about holding on to who you are and claiming your value in the face of a culture or system that at times will attempt to diminish your worth. It’s about always knowing and declaring that you matter because you are not because of what you may or may not ever do in this world. Grit is the stuff of real women who stand against a world that tells them they’re never enough. So grit is necessary to stand in your own two feet and fill up your share of space in the world.
GRACE is the stuff of honorable women. It’s about how you move through this life, how you see yourself and how you see those around you and beyond you. Grace is knowing that you are worthy and so is EVERYONE else. And I really mean EVERYONE else. Even those who live as though they’re not worthy. It’s about accepting your limitations and not believing that they diminish your light. Living with this kind of grace is as much about offering it as it is about knowing it deep within yourself. It is the place I’ve seen you return to time and time again. May you continue to know GRACE and be GRACE as you move through your life.
Beyond your GRIT and the embodiment of GRACE, there is something else that has carried your heart through hard times and planted your feet on scared ground. My dear, you’ve been able to embody a spirit of GRATITUDE. I first saw it in your four year old eyes as you would often take in the beauty of those Colorado sunsets. This one word, really this one posture toward the universe has been my own life raft many times over. Choosing to employ a lens of gratitude even when it felt impossible never failed to lead me to the well of a life force larger than any heartache I’ve ever encountered. And I’m not talking about a contrived, shallow, dishonest sentiment here. No. not. that. I’ve heard it said many times that when tragic things happen, we should look for the helpers. When dark things happen, look for the light. Not because the helpers remedy the harm. Not because the discovery of the light means the dark no longer exists. But we must hold space to see both the good and the bad. The practice of gratitude helps us see. all. of. it. I love that even as a young girl, you’ve always been profoundly moved by the beauty of this natural world. May that kind of awe extend always to all of life and all it’s complexity and creativity.
So on this day, your very sweet 16 indeed, I give you these words and reflect back to you the light you bring forth day by day.