By ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser’s photostream

This was written several months ago; things are better now.

Right before I took the Buddhist precepts last year, after months of preparation, study, and personal reflection, the founder of our Zen temple visited our group and imparted to us such simple advice:

Trust yourself.

You have all the tools you need to protect yourself from what the world throws at you.

You have all the tools you need to protect the world against what you throw at it.

How often have I ignored my gut feelings to spare someone else, to avoid an ugly scene, or a uncomfortable moment? How often have I pushed away the clear idea that a person or an action was wrong and should not be pursued?

I spent much of the first third of my life saying and doing as I pleased, with little regard to how it affected those around me. At the same time, I ignored an inner voice that said: run. tell someone. don’t believe it. Instead, I painted flowers over pictures of rotting corpses and rewrote scary stories as funny fables.

Later, when I became aware, really aware of that lack of filter, I overcompensated in the other direction. I kept quiet for the sake of peace and harmony and to further the idea that I was a nice person on the outside as well as the inside.

Often I felt like that repainted picture: a flower to the world, a rotting corpse underneath.

I mention this in the context of the last few months. If you’ve been reading here long enough you know I’m trying to do some deep writing, some exorcising, some healing. (Not much of it sees the light of the Internets.) What’s resulted is that if I open myself wide enough to scrape the contents of my soul, I become physically ill. I have been sick three times in five months. Flat-on-my-back-and-slow-to-recover sick. Aside from a weakened immune system, which has led to less time at the gym and out and about in general doing healthful things, I’ve been on a bit of  a downward spiral.

I’ve been haunted by a frank conversation I had this winter where I blurted over tea, “I need to be in therapy. I know I do. I’m just too cheap.”

Ouch. That was my excuse. I’m too cheap. Therapy is not cheap. But somewhere along the way I decided it was too expensive for me. I talked with a few close friends who kindly suggested: What about your husband? your children? Don’t you owe it to them at least to help yourself to be a better partner and mother? Think of yourself: In order for you to launch a job search (which is all about self-esteem and selling yourself) and move forward with our life, you need to be healthy and stong. Think of it as an investment.

Really, I couldn’t argue with that logic. So I contacted a therapist recommended by a person I trust.

It did not go well.

It’s hard to say what went wrong. Was it me, so resistant that I found fault with everything about the therapist? Was it the therapist, who just struck me as too harsh, especially for an initial consultation? I don’t know. I haven’t been in therapy in 20 years. And then? It was a kindly older woman, who always seemed on the verge of serving tea and cookies on a silver platter.

This appointment was more like going to the principal’s office after being caught throwing a sloppy joe at the lunch monitor’s back. By the time the appointment ended and I was alone I found myself on a train without brakes hurtling toward despondency. I cried all weekend long. I was totally alone. My husband was away on business. I came up with excuses not to attend two social gatherings because my poker face was at the dry cleaners.

For days I wrestled with my thoughts, pushed away the self-blame and pity and anger and frustration and finally I heard the faintest of whispers. The smallest of voices, like a pure musical note, cut through cacophony of chain saws, bulldozers and dusty, swirling debris:

Trust yourself.

So I did. I canceled my next appointment.

I didn’t cancel the idea of therapy.

Just that therapist.

This I know: What lies beneath is no different from a swelling tumor. My denial and lack of trust feeds its cells. Listening to my heart, trusting myself, speaking up, telling the truth, and not allowing myself to be led down dark paths, that’s my chemotherapy.

I won’t give up.

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Pictures of my life, Part 2

Sometimes a sticker is just a sticker*

I’m working on quieting the noise inside my head otherwise known as obsession.
Who am I?
What is this?
Where did it all come from?
When did it start?
Why me?
How will I know the answer?
For a lifetime I’ve been amassing great files of questions and answers to someday assemble in a big book.
I doubt I’ll ever read it.

I’m learning to let it go. Piece by piece.
Everything I need to know I already do know.


*I’ve walked by this sticker two, three times a week for years. It’s on a light pole outside the local Trader Joe’s.
I laugh every time.

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Other people's kids

Photo via Wilmette Library History

I didn’t particularly like other people’s kids before I became a mother. That might sound odd considering I worked as a babysitter for many years.

Thirty years’ perspective has taught me that my own miserable childhood colored my view of children and childhood. I’d like to think I was a capable babysitter. If you paid me, I’d keep your child safe and entertained, fed and bathed. But on my own time? Shrieking babies and troublesome tots sent me over the edge. Once on a trans-Atlantic flight, I asked to have my seat changed because I could not bear six hours of a baby fussing and kicking at me while the oblivious parents thumbed through magazines and stared out the window.

Once I had my own shrieking baby who became a fussy toddler who became a quirky kid who then morphed into a mouthy tween, I understood. I changed. When you need milk and eggs and diapers, you need them, regardless of baby’s mood that day. You can’t always wait until you have a babysitter to take care of daily business.

While I may be deaf to the hounds of hell in Home Depot, I am not blind to the actions of other people’s children. Just yesterday I was at IKEA and had to speak up because the family seated in front of us in the food court thought putting two toddlers in a shopping cart and parking it behind them constituted child care.

At one point the drooling, whining little girl leaned so far out of the shopping cart she almost toppled onto my crepes. After I protested loudly but politely to the family, the father apologized and guided the baby cage on wheels to another table. Momma Mia, Mea Culpa’s post about an unruly school-aged boy reminded me of one of the most upsetting incidents I’ve ever had involving someone else’s child.

I was in college. My boyfriend and I lived in off-campus housing. It was a rectangular complex with a huge courtyard that held a swimming pool, lots of trees, gardens, and picnic tables. I loved to haul my books, some spiked lemonade, and my blanket down to the pool and study.

During one such poolside study session, I was joined by a 10-year-old boy. Despite posted rules against children swimming alone,  it was just the two of us. I think I may have inquired about his parents, noted the posted rules, and commented on his refusal to leave. Several times I looked around for a nearby adult, but none was present. I felt anger brewing inside of me toward whomever was in charge of this boy. How dare they assume I’d play lifeguard.

I tried to study. I sipped on my drink to soothe my nerves. I tried to ignore his splashing and shouting. Something tugged at my conscience and I looked up from my notes.  I saw one hand reaching out of the deep end of the pool, fingers curled into a claw.

I tossed my book and stood up. The boy surfaced, let out a little yelp, and went under again. Thinking back to the time when we were camping and my brother nearly drowned had my father not been nearby to leap into the murky depths and pull him to the surface and how my brother must have vomited a gallon of pond water before we declared him OK, I began to panic with the certainty that this boy was dying.

I let out a half-hearted, “Hey. You OK?”

I looked around for some reinforcement but the courtyard was deserted. I ran across the deck and jumped in the water. When I touched his back he surfaced,  smiled,  wiped the snot from his face, and started laughing.

He was faking.

I think.

I wanted to strangle him.

I grabbed his arm and pulled him to the edge of the pool. I made him get out.

I marched him over to his chair, told him to get his towel,  and then asked him where he lived.

Silence. Dripping water. Sniffling.

Where do you live? Which apartment is yours? Who are you visiting?

Drip. Drip. Sniff. Sniff.

I looked around the complex, scanning the balconies and walkways.

What the hell? Hadn’t anyone noticed this?

Like I said. I was not the nurturing sort. I needed him to go somewhere safe so I could get back to my homework. I coaxed him out of the pool area and toward the building manager’s office.  Just then a door opened somewhere above us. A voice shrilled from inside the threshold. Responding, the boy bolted from my grasp, flip-flops slapping, water drops marking a trail.

I never saw that boy again or ever found out to whom he belonged. I followed the quickly evaporating droplets to the second floor, but no one answered my knocks of inquiry.

What was I after anyway? An apology? A chance to rant?

Did that kid really fake drowning to get attention?

Did he have a medical condition/behavioral problem?

Did he speak English?

Was he lonely and bored? Did he have an inept caregiver?

I’ll never know.


Pictures of my life, Part 1












spoon + fork





This is the first of what I want to be an ongoing series of random observations of my life.

Today I pay homage to a humble spork, which Girl from the East will not let me throw out/recycle. While on vacation in California, we frequented a deli near our hotel. It was our delicious little ritual to walk there, peer through the glass to decide what we’d have that day, then take our bagged food and utensils outside for a picnic.  It didn’t matter what we had, it all tasted so good as we sat on the grass or a park bench, under an unmarked blue sky with sunlight warming our skin. So this spork came back to Michigan with us and serves as a wonderful souvenir of a series of picnics in January.

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