Browsing Tag

family

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts

On Brothers and Other Solar Systems

April 13, 2018
brothers

By Jen Fitzgerald

Flagstaff, AZ feels like a place where it is safe to be in between. Maybe not between any two things as tangible as a wall and a bear, but in between way points, between jobs, between mountains, or in between a question and the possibility of its answer. The geographic placement of the city mirrors the position of Megrez, the star that marks the end of the Big Dipper’s handle; Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff then pouring into the deep bowl of the Hopi Nation and branching out into the entirety of Ursa Major.

Those from Flagstaff don’t stay in Flagstaff for very long without feeling some sort of way about it. The reasons are varied, but all seem to loop back into, “Flagstaff has got a lot of problems but it’s better than where I was.” I could like it there until it became too familiar. I could like it until the novelty wore off and I was the only stationary creature. I could enjoy the train coming through until the first fatality, the first near-miss I witnessed— until it solidified as a place where things happen.

There is much to love about this Dark Sky City, one of our rare 13 in the United States. The come as you may and are vibe is a holdover from the golden days of Route 66 and the Santa Fe Rail Line. Almost everyone there is from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is mostly Phoenix, with Tucson at a close second. This is a city that prizes movement—and I know what it means to move. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Finding Home

December 24, 2017
school

By Kathleen Siddell

The air conditioning hummed white noise throughout our 15th floor apartment. My boys zoomed cars on the slick marble floor. “We’re going to move back to Connecticut,” I announced to everyone and no one. One cannot make such an announcement to a four and five year old who are busy driving in an imaginary world. I asked them to put down their toys and sit with me on the couch.

“We’re going to be moving from Singapore back to Connecticut.” I tried to read their faces.

“Oh, to our home country,” my five year said. “Jens’ home country is Denmark.”

“Connecticut is where we go for Christmas, right?” My four year was trying to read my face.

“Yes.”

“So it will be snowing,” they cheered.

In the next few weeks, I fielded many questions about the logistics of toys traveling halfway around the world (what if they get broken), the realities of seasons (it won’t snow in July), and the abstract concept of time (will we live there forever).

I didn’t grow up traveling to faraway lands. My parents always chose the roads well traveled. When we left our Southern Connecticut home, we’d drive up I-95 through New Haven, cross through Rhode Island and land in Southern Massachusetts to “the homeland.” (My mother’s homeland, to be exact.) “Going West” meant a trip to my other grandparents, up I-91, through Hartford, landing in Springfield. Once a year we’d make our way up the familiar eastern route out to the elbow of Massachusetts on Cape Cod.

My parents always kept several maps in our coffee table drawers. None of these tangled roads reached further than the New England states. Even then, I could find our usual spots by the way the map folded, almost instinctively, into well-worn creases. Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine made up the untouched, barren abyss of places we might go.

I liked to unfold the maps and spread them out on the floor. I’d trace my finger along the snaking highways and byways and guess how long it might take to cross each state border all the way to the grey of Canada. I liked to read the names of towns I’d never visit. The web of lines, colors and various symbols felt like a secret key, even if I had no idea what it might open.

For almost the entirety of their lives, my kids had lived in Asia. My husband and I struggled to know when was the right time to tell them we would be moving. I spent weeks worrying how to answer questions about when they might see their friends again, what their new school would be like and what would happen to our Singapore home. Those questions never came. Instead, I packed my unspoken worries and the memories my kids were too little to carry.

We settled back in Connecticut like leaves drifting through an autumn sky. We landed softly but I was unsure if we’d till back into the soil or blow away to another season.

We found a preschool for my youngest that appealed to my belief that preschool shouldn’t be much like school. They placed a heavy emphasis on nature so when we were invited to an outdoor ceremony for the Winter Solstice, I wasn’t surprised.

While the kids prepared inside, the parents stood in two parallel lines. We stretched our arms overhead and joined them with the hands across the aisle to make a human tunnel. Barren trees clawed into the dusk.

Our children emerged from the glow at the entryway to the school, each carrying lit lanterns. They followed a path around the yard, illuminated by even more lanterns, crunching their way through leaves and under our arms. The teachers recited poems.

It was all deeply symbolic I’m sure — darkness, lightness, and the slumber of life in the coming winter — but I was too focused on the cold air and impending inferno. The early winter chill rippled down my spine into my limbs while candle flames bounced. I seemed to be the only one ready to shout, “Four year olds walking with fire?! We’re all going to go up in a blaze of tragic irony!” We didn’t.

Our parting gift was a bulb, to be planted as a reminder of life that returns in Spring. As we walked hand in hand to the car, my boy and I talked about planting it. I thought we might put it in the pot that boasted a wig of disintegrating mums.

I intended to, but the bulb sat, slowly dying on our kitchen sill, as good intentions are wont to do. For a while, I thought the hearty bulb might still blossom even after all the weeks that passed. Then one day, in a rare fit of Marie Kondo organizing, I rolled the bulb, slightly brown with peeling skin, around my palm. Did it bring me joy? It did not.

My son has never asked about it. If this should bring me comforting reassurance or a questionable lack of attachment, I am not certain. At 4 years old, how can I know if a more nomadic life will suit my son or if he’ll want to feel rooted.

By all measures, a nomadic life is not one that should appeal to me.

“China? Who the hell would want to go to China?” My grandfather’s voice echoed from behind his newspaper.

My mother’s friend was planning a once in a lifetime trip to China. I think what followed was a conversation about how long, expensive, useless, tiring, inconvenient such a trip would be. What if you couldn’t communicate? What if you didn’t like the food? What if you got lost?

Even though she had not lived in Massachusetts for decades, in her distinct Boston accent, she often talked of places outside of the greater Boston area as foreign lands. There was the dismay of ordering a lobster roll only to have it appear warm and buttered, the wonder of touring Pennsylvania Dutch country or the confusion when asking if someone was going “down Maine.” Whether her attachment was more for old New England or for a bygone era, I was never really sure. The two seemed to easily conflated for her.

My grandmother instilled much of this kind of nostalgic thinking. As a young girl, my grandmother had outlived all her siblings and became an unplanned only child. As a result she was completely devoted to her parents. Whether she felt grateful or burdened or some combination of both, she never said. For me, this legacy manifest into a deep attachment to staying close to home. The measure between love for family was directly proportional to distance one strayed from home. Closeness begets closeness.

These are the legends I use to navigate the map of my family’s history.

My parents are delighted to have us living back in Connecticut. We visit them on a Saturday morning. They live a few towns away, in the same house where I grew up.

My eldest loves that our regular FaceTime calls have been replaced with regular visits to their house. He asks if we can move into their neighborhood. He loves riding his bike up and down our winding driveway and running outside in our suburban playground. When prodded he says that he misses living in Asia, but without saying it, I know he is happy here. I know it in the same way I know, without him saying, he still fears dark rooms and too much attention.

Sitting in my parent’s living room, I’m struck by how small this house I know so well feels. The rocking chair I once wasn’t able to rock with my feet, the shelves that once seemed so high, the room itself feels like a miniature version of where I grew up. Im unable to settle snuggly here.

My kids find the familiar yellow Lego carrying case. It clicks open to reveal a sea of battered mini bricks. These relics from the past dot my parent’s raised ranch. “You played with these when you were little?” I can’t tell if my son is more surprised that I was little, or that we have the same toys. “I wish we had these flowers in our Lego cases,” he whines. I remember building miniature houses, making sure the colors were evenly matched and the windows were symmetrical. The flowers were always the last detail.

My parents planted. I flew.

I was 20 when I first traveled abroad to France. While most of my peers were in their junior year, I was a senior. Shy and uncertain, I had listened to friends talk about their study abroad trips in a way that made me feel not only like I could do it, but like I had to do it. It was the first time I’d associated risk with reward.

My parents drove me to Newark airport. We wandered the international departure gate and filled the mindless noise with more noise. We used small words to try to quell big emotions. I’d never been that far from home. On the wings of a Boeing 767, I flew into the cloudy unknown.

“You are very quiet,” my host father said at dinner one nights, “do you not like it here?” My French was not good enough to explain that he was right, and he was wrong.

I walked barefoot in the cool grass of a Parisian park, saw a bullet hole in the wall of a cement building in East Berlin, and breathed the thick air in the Sistine Chapel feeling that though billions of molecules separated me and Michelangelo, we are all connected.

I wrote letters to my parents and grandparents. Partly I wanted to assure them that flying across the ocean hadn’t severed any familial ties. Partly I wanted them to know It was precisely because I had gotten lost, had trouble communicating and sometimes didn’t love the food that made me love the experience.

Distance hadn’t pulled me away, it helped to give me perspective so that I could see myself more clearly. Six months later, I flew back feeling like home is everywhere and nowhere.

I met my parents at the arrival gate amid halls decked in holiday greens and reds. “You look different,” my mom said. I was 21 and just beginning to understand traveling was an inevitable character trait. I’m sure I shrugged sheepishly though I wish I had responded, “so do you.” It was the first time I’d see my parents as the North Star.

Traveling hadn’t made me feel lost, it made me feel found.

We’re entering the Spring thaw — one last icy cool breath in before a warm exhale out. There will be no sturdy stems sprouting from buried buds in our pots (still prickly with dead stems). Instead, in this seasonal shift, new worries sprout. I worry I would have killed the bud from that December ceremony regardless, but I didn’t even give it a chance. I worry that my reluctance to plant it is a not-so-subtle metaphor. I worry that my oldest son will never want to leave. I worry that I will never want to stay. I worry we might not share the same view of the world.

And yet the earth softens, like it’s made to do.

It is in the softness of Spring that I watch my son playing on a grassy field with his friends. We are at a birthday party. The host gives us a small gift to thank us for coming. My son holds it up. It looks like a plant without soil. It is tagged with instructions on how to care for an “air plant.” The instructions are minimal: once a week submerge in water for 15 minutes.

It’s growing long and sturdy, with leaves like thick blades of grass. It currently sits in a small jar where the skinny green fingers reach upward.

I think back to that December ceremony. I can still feel the way my son’s tiny fingers intertwined with mine, rooting us together with the North Star shining above.

Kathleen Siddell is a teacher and writer living (for now) in Connecticut. She and her family have returned from Asia but are feeling ready for the next adventure. You can find her drowning in the Twitterverse @kathleensiddell.

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Guest Posts, parents

Fathers

October 11, 2017
fathers

By Acacia Blackwell

My mother told me that my father had the sweetest breath in the world. This was a man who chews tobacco and has been known to go for weeks at a time without brushing his teeth. “And you have it too,” she said. She leaned her face close to mine. Millimeters. The kind of proximity reserved for mothers and lovers. She said, “Breathe on me.” My mother closed her eyes and inhaled my breath like she was breathing in a part of my being. The way I inhale my lover’s armpits, craving the raw, human intimacy of sweat. “Yep,” she said, opening her eyes, “sweet breath and too much gums in your smile. You are your father’s daughter.”

Father’s daughter. Fathers’ daughter. Fathers. Daughter.

Once, when I was almost but not quite yet a legal adult, I managed to piss my mother off in the way that only teenaged daughters really can. She seethed but for the first time I didn’t back down from her rage. I raged back. Her glare receded—a softening—and she offered only a resignation that, “You are me. And your father. But you might be more of somebody else than both of us combined. He didn’t bring you into the world, but he clearly brought you up in it.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

A Good Marriage

August 11, 2017
marriage

by Marlena Fiol

We’re sitting around a Formica table at a booth in one corner of the Café in the Galesburg, Illinois train station. A faint stench of rancid grease hangs in the air. Barry Manilow’s otherwise velvety voice whines from a tinny speaker above our heads. Part of a rusty spring hangs out of a gash in the brown vinyl seat cover next to me.

Without looking up from her tray, the waitress places four tall plastic cups of water on the table in front of us.

“Can you please bring him a smaller cup?” I ask, nodding at our 4-year old. Only Stefan’s blond mop of hair and greenish-blue eyes peer over the top of the table. His sister, four years older and always his little mother, is trying to convince him to sit in a booster.

“It’s OK, Shareen, he’ll reach his food,” Steve says, gently laying a hand on our daughter’s arm.

Steve and I place our orders and ask for hamburgers and fries from the Kid’s Menu for the children.

“Look, Stefan,” Shareen says. “See how you can make airplanes with these napkins?” The two of them, heads bent over a pile of paper napkins she has ripped out of the rusty metal container, enter their own make-believe world.

I glance at my husband sitting next to me, slightly slouched, hands in his lap. The dark gray sweater, the one I gave him for Christmas four years ago – or was it six? – bags at his elbows.

In the booth next to us sits a couple carrying on an animated conversation. I watch the young woman leaning in toward her partner, laughing brightly. “I could hardly wait to tell you about …” I turn away, swallowing hard against something that remains stuck in my throat.

The waitress brings our food. Shareen breaks Stefan’s burger into little pieces. Steve cuts into his steak to check for doneness. The silence between us feels like air in a coffin, and I wonder when it was that we ran out of things to talk about. I stare into my bowl of chili, pushing the clumps of beans around with my spoon.

We met ten years earlier. I was 19, and had just arrived in the U.S. from Paraguay, South America, where my parents were Mennonite missionaries. Seven years older and wiser, Steve guided me through the strangeness of American flush toilets and traffic lights. I was safe with him.

The sixties were coming to an end, but we continued to ride the wave of their spirit. We filled our home with the sounds of Dylan and Baez, but also Brubeck and Brahms and Coltrane. Despite our relative poverty, we traveled to India, Europe, and South America. He sang opera. I studied French. Our kitchen was a favorite among our friends, always simmering with the latest gourmet recipes coming together. We made two healthy babies. Ours was a good marriage. Everyone said so.

But is good really enough? Is it asking too much to want a life partnership that provides more than safety and kindness? To want a partner who has the courage to put his hand into my heaped-up heart and, passing over all of the pathetic things that he can’t help but see there, draw out into the light all of the beautiful and radiant things that no one else has looked quite deeply enough to find?

I watch my husband now, contentedly chewing on his steak in the booth next to me; and our children who, having lost interest in their hamburgers, are back to making paper airplanes. They are my world, these three. The family I dreamed of as a child, when my parents were busy doing the Lord’s work.

My precious family.

Steve notices me looking at him and slowly raises one brow. His kind brown eyes seem to ask, “Is there something wrong?”

A shudder crawls down along my spine and I shake off the almost unthinkable, terrifying notion that in the midst of all of this serenity, something really is wrong. Almost unthinkable because, after all, ours is a good marriage. Everyone says so.

I shake my head. “How’s your steak, honey?” I ask, taking a small bite of my chili, which has grown cold.

Marlena Fiol, PhD, is a globally recognized author, scholar, and speaker specializing in personal transformation. Her significant body of published books and articles on the topic, coupled with her own raw identity-changing experiences, makes her uniquely qualified to write about deep change. For more information please go to www.marlenafiol.com

 

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Family, Guest Posts

Through the Sand: A Driving Lesson From Dubai

July 7, 2017

By Kathryn Streeter

I posed a million-dirham ($272,260.72 in today’s US dollar) question: “Do the children of Dubai play in sandboxes?” Our family, newly transplanted from the Washington, DC area where sandboxes had provided our children with hours of fun in earlier years, mulled over this question the summer we moved temporarily to the desert metropolis of Dubai. Even with all of Dubai’s development, if one catapulted high enough above the impressive skyline, Dubai seemed not too unlike one massive sandbox with ribbons of various roads lying thickly near the coast and rapidly thinning out in numbers the further away from the sandbox’s edge of the Arabian Sea, until only interminable sand remained.

The subject of driving, however, quickly claimed our attention as it rapidly morphed to the level of top priority. This critical arena of living required quick-study because learning this new turf involved navigating Dubai’s roads, roads which often betrayed the foundation they were laid upon: sand.

From our company apartment’s location, we easily realized that we were isolated without a car. As urbanites, we had associated walking with city living. Going to a coffeeshop or grocery didn’t require a car. Walking the kids to school? No problem. Bike trails and sidewalks connected neighborhoods and ultimately, people. Not so in Dubai, where pedestrians were merely walking to their cars, that in and of itself often life-threatening because Dubai was built with cars, not people, in mind. Continue Reading…

Child Birth, Guest Posts

Postpartum Bleeding and Power Chords

June 25, 2017

By Bess Vanrenen

It was a Friday, six days after the birth of my first child, Marcel, and I was bleeding. Almost every nurse, doctor, and aid who had come into my hospital room told me that while postpartum bleeding was normal, I should tell them if I filled a pad in under an hour or passed a clot larger than an egg. After Marcel and I were discharged from the hospital, I kept a running list in my head of symptoms I should look out for in him and in me. We had already dealt with weight gain issues in him and had bought formula to supplement my breast milk, and six days later, I thought we were beyond the intensity of the postpartum period. Then I started bleeding. The kind of bleeding they tell you about. Though I hadn’t filled a pad in under an hour, it was a heavy flow. Pacing our tightly woven living room rug, I called the advice line at Kaiser, and the nurse who answered the phone ran the all-too-familiar questions by me. No, I hadn’t filled a pad in under an hour and no, I hadn’t passed a clot larger than an egg. So far, my situation was within the normal range.

An hour or two later, I sat on the toilet changing my pad yet again when I felt something substantial slip out of me. Fear coursed through my body, and I jumped up from the toilet. I knew what it was—a blood clot significantly larger than an egg—but I had to be sure. I could only manage a quick peek in the toilet. There, I saw what looked like a baseball-sized clot—impossibly large, red, and viscous. I called out to Jared, my husband, “We have to go to the emergency room. Now.” Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts

Not My Happiest Place on Earth

May 26, 2017
divorce

By Heather Grossmann

Mickey Mouse ears and divorce. Probably not an association the relentlessly family-friendly Disney would appreciate, but — with apologies to Walt — one that was cemented for me during a summer years ago and resurfaced recently, when my dad unearthed some architectural drawings of the prenatal Epcot Center.

My complicated relationship with Epcot — well, to the extent that a geodesic sphere and a 5-year-old girl can engage in a “relationship” — began in the early ‘80s. Epcot was a pretty young thing on the eve of its international debut, a stunning 160-foot diameter dome hovering 14 feet in the air in Orlando, Florida. I was a cute pre-K kid on a post-divorce junket, a little thing awash in dreams of pirate boat rides and spinning teacups, 3,000 miles from my hometown of Oakland, California.

I had only just joined the ever-growing ranks of the “children of divorce.” This was the trendiest club in town at a time when the U.S. divorce rate hit its all-time high. But in an age when many parents followed up their separation announcements with a balm of Cabbage Patch dolls and Barbie playhouses, I had something going for me the other members of my not-so-exclusive fellowship did not: My father was the project architect on Epcot.

When my parents sat me down at our kitchen table in the summer of 1982 to say that their marriage was over, there was major upside to the news — the next day, I was going to the Magic Kingdom. I knew something “bad” was happening, but a trip to Disney World? Come on! What could be better than that?

As it turns out, a lot. Continue Reading…

Adoption, Family, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Living the Mother

December 28, 2016

By Anne Heffron

My mother asked for me to read Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes at her funeral. I cried when I got to the last stanzas, not because they rang true, but because I felt devastated that, even from the grave, my mother wasn’t telling the truth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

 

This is the story I grew up with: after my mother had gone to Smith, she’d gone to New York and had gotten a job as a fact checker for Reader’s Digest. She listened to Kennedy give his “ask not what your country can do for you speech” and was inspired to do something she felt would help the world, and so she joined the Peace Corps and went to Nigeria. Shortly after arriving, she wrote a post card to a friend that described the conditions of Ibadan:

Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.

 

The next day there was an uprising because my mother had dropped the card instead of getting it into the mailbox, and a Nigerian student had found it. The Nigerians protested the Americans and my young mother almost brought down her beloved President’s cherished organization.

My mother was sent into hiding and then flown home where my father met her at the airport and asked her to marry him. And so supposedly that was her happily ever after moment.

Continue Reading…

Child Birth, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

After Birth

October 28, 2016
birth

By Marissa Korbel

I remember it as a cold morning, but I don’t trust my memory; my early 30’s are rife with cold, gray fog that is less fact, or metaphor than sense. I was bundled up in multiple sweaters, picking my feet through street debris, while standing, aware of my clean hair, in the San Francisco Free Clinic line.

Months of crying and sleeping the afternoons away had brought me here. I was 31 years old, and 3 years out of law school. I was an overworked, underpaid adjunct professor of paralegal studies and criminal justice at a local college. My job didn’t offer health insurance. I could barely afford my therapist’s “low end” sliding scale. I had decided to try taking psych meds to feel better. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Home

I’m Not from Here

October 23, 2016
home

By April Vazquez

I can’t tell if my husband’s unmarried cousins are lesbians.  Three or four of them put pictures of themselves on Facebook with other girls, faces pressed together, with posts about their undying love.  But in this country, where women friends hold hands in public and dance together at parties, I’m not sure what it means.

I’m the only one angry that the house is in a state of perpetual dust and chaos because the builder, Raúl, doesn’t work on Mondays…  or other days, sporadically and without notice.

I can’t understand why to get residency here I’m required to provide a letter from the Consulate verifying my citizenship when, at this very moment, the Immigration official making the request is holding my United States passport in his hands.

I can’t make out why my two-year-old’s shoe was stolen within five minutes of falling out of the stroller outside the the park.  I know the shoe was stolen because when I went back for it, the lady who sells food there told me she saw another woman pick it up, but what I don’t understand is why, what she thought she could do with it.  Or is the impulse not to let anything–anything–go to waste so strong that it extends even to one tiny shoe? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Race/Racism

I’m Worth More

October 21, 2016
race

By Emma Burcart

My earliest childhood memory is a lesson about race. My dad was going to the local YMCA to work out and I wanted to go with him. As a young child, I had been a swimmer. It’s not something I remember, but I’ve seen enough pictures to prove it: the bikini on the field trip to the fire station, the one piece worn over tights and a turtle neck in cold weather. I wanted to swim and my dad knew how much. When he told me I couldn’t go, it didn’t make any sense. He said we’d have to go with my mother; she could explain our connection. He told me that people wouldn’t believe he was my dad because he was Black and I was white.

Before that day I knew about race; I wasn’t blind. I saw that my dad and grandparents were a different color than my mother and me. It didn’t matter that we weren’t related by blood; there were enough step-parents and blended families that my situation wasn’t unimaginable. What I didn’t understand was the importance of race in the world outside of my family. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Shame

Ancestry of Shame

September 25, 2016
shame

By Elloa Atkinson

I am a descendent in a lineage of shame.

I grew up in a house and a body filled with shame of various colours and flavours, from mild blush pink to angry blood red. The generations who came before me passed the shame along from parent to child, wrapped carefully in the folds of pivotal childhood memories like it was a precious family heirloom.

The shame was toxic and suffocating, yet never spoken aloud.

To name it would have provoked dismissive scorn and mocking tuts, whispered judgements of being “over dramatic,” “ridiculous” “selfish” or “stupid.” Those messages — messages which are as intense as I am — reverberate around inside me even as I write about it.

The first time I remember feeling uncomfortable in my skin was when I was very young. I’ve thankfully remembered over the last 14 years of personal inner work that there was magic in me, but there was also strangeness too — a wariness, a watchfulness, a mistrust in the world and the people in it, a belief that I didn’t quite fit, that I didn’t belong.

By the age of seven, I had begun to feel distinctly awkward in my skin. Stick thin and lanky, I was all bones and angles. I had experienced the gut-wrenching heartbreak of begging my alcoholic mum not to go to the pub, pouring my tiny heart out all over the floor, and her not staying. I had experienced head lice that made mum shriek in disgust, and had been at the mercy of my awkward, jangling limbs kicking a football the wrong way up the pitch at school, prompting my classmates to get angry with me.

I became inwardly rigid, scared and nervous and watchful around other people. There eventually came a point when all this stuff couldn’t just keep building up anymore; it needed somewhere to go.

From the age of around 11 onwards, my life was like a chaotic cocktail of anorexia, social anxiety, uncontrollable blushing, binge drinking, blackouts, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, perfectionism, achievement, chaos, stealing, under-performing, over-functioning, bingeing, spending, self-harm, recklessness and fear.

My body became the enemy, especially when I entered puberty.

It betrayed me on a daily basis, as inescapable as prison. I was powerless. Things kept happening to it, things I couldn’t direct or make sense of. My friend Jenny’s boobs appeared out of nowhere but mine were nowhere to be seen, unless you count the tiny ‘breast buds’ that promised so much and delivered so little. Instead, my body cut countless stretch marks into my inner thighs, then my bum, then behind my knees and even onto my calves. When mum told me they were irreversible, I was so horrified I nearly vomited. How could this be happening to me?

It wasn’t just my body that I hated though; it was me. I hated the way I behaved around my friends. Desperate to fit in, yet never feeling like I really did. Wishing I had the cool, calm confidence of some of the girls at school, yet knowing that the only time I ever felt like that was when I was intoxicated and even then, I couldn’t avoid making an idiot of myself. Aching to feel something other than the perilous uncertainty I felt when I turned the smooth round doorknob of my tutor group classroom each morning, never knowing what would greet me on the other side. Just like at home. Never knowing if the kitchen door would be open (meaning mum would be there), or if it would be closed (meaning the wine would have already started and the monster would be there instead).

On and on it went, layer after layer of shame building up within me like grease and grime accumulating on a kitchen counter until one day you can no longer tell the original colour and texture of it.

I didn’t know back then that I had been born into a family that had, for generations, produced functioning alcoholics, mother-daughter abandonment, secrets and abuse. I knew the odd story here or there about certain family members, and knew about the abuse my mum had experienced as a child, but I had no idea that I was sort of predestined to have a bunch of ancestral crap land on my shoulders, crap that would become beliefs, which would lead to behaviours, which would shape a whole way of life.

Recently I learned that the egg that was to become me was inside my mother’s body when she was inside her mother’s womb. The pioneering work of epigenetics is shedding a whole new light on the concept of multi-generational transmission of trauma. To think that what my grandmother was experiencing when pregnant with my mother could have a direct impact on me is quite astonishing.

Of course, as a little girl I didn’t have the words or concepts to begin to understand what I was experiencing. It leaked out through stories and drawings and phobias and feelings: a crippling fear, a haunting sense of being fundamentally flawed, the sick feeling in my tummy and my bones that something was terribly wrong with me.

For a long, long time, I didn’t know that anyone else on the planet felt like this. I thought it was just me.

And then, aged 18 and three quarters, I hit my first real rock bottom and entered recovery.

Recovery taught me a new language. It was the language of connection, identification and belonging. The relief of discovering that there were people — a lot of people — who felt the way I felt, was incredible. I listened intently and poured my heart out in darkened church halls, the tears never seeming to end. The first twelve months were the hardest, but each stage brought its own challenges and rough seas.

I learned about this strange new thing called “boundaries” from Melody Beattie, Pia Melody and my therapist. I cried thousands of tears in workshops and groups run by Clearmind International Institute. I stepped up into leadership within that organisation, learning how to hold the space for others to process their childhood wounds. For a number of years, my relationship with my family grew distant as I did the daily work of coming home to myself — work which I will write more about in the next three posts. There were months, years even when I barely spoke to my mum. There were times when I felt greatly misunderstood by my family, times when I felt desperate to get away from them, and times when I longed to connect even though I didn’t fully know how.

In the last few years, learning a bit about my family history has played a huge and pivotal part in my journey of coming home. I’ve discovered a family I never knew I had, both in terms of actual people I had no idea about, and in terms of the people I thought I knew but didn’t: both my dads (biological and my dad who brought me up); my mum; my five amazing half-siblings; my grandparents.

I’ve learned that the generations that came before me had their own great triumphs and breakthroughs, but also that my family history is full of loss, sadness, pain, and more loss — as are many people’s families. The endurance of the human spirit is truly astonishing.

Studying my family history for a genogram presentation (essentially a family tree — births, marriages, deaths — plus losses, addictions, neuroses, abuse, dreams, hopes, wishes and relationship patterns) during a counsellor-training program gave the experiences I’d lived through context.

The study helped me see that everything I lived through as a little girl and a young woman, right through to today, did not occur in a vacuum and was not solely of my own making. That in turn helped me forgive myself (something which I have found is both a process and a series of events).

Learning about my mother’s childhood, and her mother’s childhood, and catching a glimpse of her mother’s before her helped me integrate the realisation more deeply that I am truly not alone. Learning about the abandonment on my father’s side of the family helped me understand why he had left my mum when she was pregnant with me.

Gaining the awareness that I am part of a great tapestry of interwoven human lives has paradoxically given me enormous freedom from the bondage of what I inherited.

Today I feel connected to all the women and men who had come before me, and right there, in a state of true connection, is the one place where shame cannot survive. As I uncover the secrets in my family’s legacy, I come to a deeper understanding of the places in my own life where I was driven to secrecy through shame.

And as the days, weeks, months and years pass, I continue on my path, deepening my connection to myself. For me, that also means deepening my connection to my family, coming to see that what is not an extension of love contains a cry for it. I understand and respect that many people cannot be in relationship with their family of origin. For me, being an active member of the system is the right decision. It is one of the gifts of adulthood to be able to exercise the right to make this decision. Today I choose to be part of a new legacy and a new lineage, breaking the chains that bind.

I no longer identify as being “in recovery.” Today this is simply how I live: as consciously, honestly and lovingly as possible. And bit by bit, I continue to learn how to come home to myself.

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Elloa Atkinson is a life-changing coach, an inspiring speaker, and a writer whose work has been featured on the home pages of the Huffington Post and the Good Men Project. A certified life coach, Elloa also has over ten years’ experience of assisting, supporting and leading emotionally intense personal development work. She is a long-term student and teacher of A Course In Miracles and believes that we are all inherently whole, innocent and worthy of love and that our core problem is that we have forgotten that. Connect with her at elloaatkinson.com and via Facebook: facebook.com/elloa.atkinson.miracles
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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 2 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in London Oct 1st and Dallas Oct 22. Click the links above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!

Family, Guest Posts, Home

Home

August 18, 2016
home

By Pam Munter

It takes some planning to get into the correct lane for the right turn off busy Sunset Boulevard to Hartzell Street in Pacific Palisades but I’ve been doing it since I was 16 so it’s automatic for me – even now. Hartzell is one of the “alphabet streets,” part of a grid developed early in the history of the Palisades, all of which were named after the founding Protestant missionaries.

I haven’t lived there in more than a half century. But whenever I’m in the area, I feel an irresistible cosmic pull to make the pilgrimage to the house where so much of my childhood and adolescence unfolded, the repository of my earliest self. Now when I drive the four blocks up Hartzell to the house, I hardly recognize the street. Almost all the cute little bungalows in this formerly working class neighborhood have been converted into multi-story McMansions. Luxury cars are parked on both sides of the street, allowing only one car to move through at a time. Gone are most of the prolific eucalyptus trees that proudly stood guard, no longer flooding the area with their rich, herbal redolence.

The house has been updated over the years but many of the external changes were accomplished much earlier by my handyman father – filling in the front porch to create a dining room, adding a large wing with a bedroom, bath, laundry room and garage. Subsequent owners have had a better eye for landscaping, which was an area that never interested my father.

Whenever I make that right turn on to Hartzell, I feel my heart start to race. It unfailingly takes me by surprise. When I was coming home to visit from college, it was due to hungry anticipation for a square meal. After I married and drove cross-country from Nebraska for vacations, it was longed-for relief from the fatigue. But even now I feel that jittery twinge of – what could it be – anxiety? Apparitional dread? Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Tough Questions

August 11, 2016
mother

By Joanell Serra

One night my eight year old niece and I find a quiet moment, and she springs a question on me I don’t see coming.   Which shows the depth my own denial.

We are two weeks into a long summer visit, my niece Molly and her six year old brother Ryan have travelled across the country to visit with myself, my husband, and our two children.  It is a chaotic but fun summer, a mixture of Northern California beach days and trips into foggy San Francisco.  I evoke the ghosts of my own childhood in New Jersey, as I drag the four children through city art museums and Shakespeare in the park. And avoid talking about the certain topics, even in the face of obvious evidence that something is very wrong. 

Tonight Molly and I are alone, doing her hair before bed. It’s a complicated process, that requires just enough (but not too much) conditioner in the shower and liberal use of detangler after a quick towel dry. Next I pull the brush carefully through the mass of her thick brown hair and braid it tightly so she doesn’t wake up with knots and frizz. This morning’s tug of war and tears as I tried to tame her locks motivates me to get it right this time. Continue Reading…