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Put A Little Pep In Your Step

 

A friend recently confided that her daughter, a high school freshman, had been slogging through her days like Willy Loman. With a mountain of homework and more with each passing day, she questioned the point of it all. She’d be prepared for college in three years but she had nothing within reach to look forward to. Everday life just sucked.

I recalled when my daughter Jane had felt daunted in this way. It had intensified during the year and a half of Covid house arrest. Up until then, the reward of a celebratory senior year had served as motivation. Instead, fun was cancelled until further notice. She then had to put one foot in front of the other in cement boots.

Channeling Tony Robbins, I delivered the only pep talk I had in me:

“Visualize exactly what you want for your future in the clearest possible detail. Imagine yourself doing exactly what you want, where you want, with whoever you want. Feel how amazing it is to be right there.”

 

In Jane’s case, all she wanted was to end her days as a shut-in and live like a real teenager. She pictured herself at a big fun college, taking in a football game, having a blast with a bunch of new friends.*

I passed the same advice on to my friend, but her daughter’s dilemma lingered in my mind. Her situation was different than my kid’s. The timing was off and, as we all know, timing is everything.

 

Her dilemma brought back how I felt about having written a book. I finished the draft and thought, it will be published, badda bing badda boom, I’m done. The dream played on the big screen in my mind: author Mary Karr introducing me, looking very bohemian in a black turtleneck, at the cozy bookstore, Three Lives & Company in Soho, a beaming crowd of readers, each with a red-jacketed copy of Scrappyin their hands.

 

The first draft was completed last August. It is currently in slow-going revisions. The work is emotional and hard, but rewarding and necessary for the story arc. There is no badda bing badda boom about it. My friend’s daughter and I have that in common—no gratification coming anytime soon.

 

As luck would have it, I happened to catch The Gathering Pod by Martha Beck*, a weekly Instagram/Facebook Live at 4:00 p.m. each Sunday that becomes a podcast. Last week’s topic, How To Keep On Keeping On addressed the difference between what Jane went through and what my friend’s daughter and I are currently experiencing. Jane was months away from realizing her goal, so motivating herself with that visual made sense. Staring down four long years of high school and writing a book required something else.

Martha’s advice went against not just my own instructions but against our entire cultural conditioning. Our whole lives we are prodded to gogogo! Reach for the stars!  Martha says no. When the only thing worth living for is in a galaxy far, far away, the present moment looks bleak.

So how do you re-energize with no end in sight? She offers three ideas.

  1. Build the goal that speaks to you, then put it to the side of your consciousness. It’s hard to keep pace when your one goal is years away. Keep it in the periphery, but focus on what means something to you right now. For me, it’s these Friday Stories—they are a delight to write. It’s like my own personal high five every week. Yes, spend time working towards the far off target, but nourish yourself on the beauty that surrounds you, the art at your fingertips, nature outside your window. Whatever you love, be present with it.
  1. Leave some gas in the tank. Don’t work until you are depleted. It may sound funny but Martha literally says don’t try too hard. (Can you imagine?) For real though, some of us do go overboard. It reminded me of my daughter’s junior year of high school when she continually suffered from two major illnesses together (strep and mono, etc.). She worked until she had nothing left. It’s not about today’s accomplishments, it’s about every day persistence. Leave yourself some space to be a human.

  1. Put more reward than punishment in your life. It’s the same as training an animal. When you offer rewards, the animal learns and also loves you. With punishment, it won’t do either. Martha puts rewards in two categories: disconnecting from others and connecting with others. Introverts may gravitate to music, nature, drawing, and solitude to nourish themselves. Extroverts can watch dramas with lots of human emotions, read memoir, or enjoy a call or get together with a friend. However you refuel, do that.

My default is to be pretty stingy with the rewards. I could work all day with a break just for exercise and food. Disconnecting comes easily but connecting with others not so much—it requires a mutually convenient plan. I like to combine as many of the things I enjoy together to make the experience that much richer. My favorite is a long walk/run with a friend out in nature or inspired yoga under a tree with my precious yogis. I have set the intention to do more of what I love. The book will be done when it’s done.

When you find small ways of rewarding yourself and see the beauty in the present moment, no matter how far away your big goal may seem, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: Do you have more reward than punishment in your life? What do your rewards look like? What are some ways you enjoy disconnecting from others? How do you like to connect with others? Tell me. I’m interested.

Do you subscribe to these stories? If not, you are invited at elizabethheise.com. Tell a friend! You can also come find me on Instagram @elizabethheise.writer where I post essayettes and announce my IG Live series Tell Me All About It. There’s a super fun one coming up this week with author Vanessa Leigh King! You can also follow me on Twitter @heiseelizabeth1 for random musings. Thanks for reading.

*Ya. Martha Beck will be featured a lot over the next months so please excuse the already overused references. We love what we love!

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Stories

One Compassionate Witness

 

Your Friday Stories turn one year old today and boy have we covered a lot of ground!

The impact of doing this work has completely taken me by surprise. First, I didn’t expect to be writing almost exclusively about personal growth. I have long held the belief that self-help is not my thing and that admitting I didn’t have it all together was somehow weak. Before I started telling you everything, my former therapist was the only one who knew the truth about my life. After I wrote the book*, something cracked open and the truth flowed out. If reading my stories has done anything for you, trust that it has done far more for me. And I am working on a way to thank you for being here.

To honor our year together, I have chosen a dozen insights from the last year. For those of you who have hung in there with some of my longer pieces, these Cliff’s Notes** are for you:

  1. If you want deep connections with other humans, there is no way to avoid your own vulnerability. You must let people in. No skipping the hard parts.(https://elizabethheise.com/it-was-the-moment-i-had-been-waiting-for/10/16/20)
  1. Self-knowledge is the greatest power you can harness. (https://elizabethheise.com/want-more-joy-in-your-life-yes-please/10/23/20)
  1. To keep sane, we need a daily practice. I share my rituals of meditation, journaling, movement in nature, breath work, and gratitude.(https://elizabethheise.com/six-tips-to-save-your-sanity/11/6/20)
  1. Living in times of uncertainty requires giving ourselves a little grace. It can help to laugh, listen, accept that we all handle hardship differently, and make future plans with stubborn optimism. (https://elizabethheise.com/how-do-we-live-with-uncertainty/ 11/20/20)
  1. We can’t have equality in the world without fostering it in our homes—this continues to be a WIP around here. (https://elizabethheise.com/welcome-to-the-2020-sexual-revolution/11/27/20)
  1. We can tame the inner critic by becoming keenly aware of that mean voice and then making the sweet voice LOUDER. (https://elizabethheise.com/silence-the-inner-critic/2/5/21)
  1. We learn far more when we don’t get what we want than when we do. (https://elizabethheise.com/take-a-chance-on-me/2/2/21)
  1. Our greatest growth comes through freedom. (https://elizabethheise.com/feed-your-soul/  3/8/21)
  1. It is possible to let things go. The chemical cycle of a feeling lasts only 90 seconds. After that, suffering results from our need to attach a negative story and hang on tight.(https://elizabethheise.com/let-it-goooo/5/28/21)
  1. Healthy boundaries are essential self-care.(https://elizabethheise.com/housesofdreams/ 7/9/21)
  1. Byron Katie is the most effective work I have ever done and this piece gives a detailed description of it. (https://elizabethheise.com/come-home-to-yourself/9/10/21)
  1. After a year of personal growth, I managed to let go of the core story that has brought me misery for forty years and it is total liberation. (https://elizabethheise.com/the-only-truth-is-love/, October 8, 2021)

I am grateful beyond measure for how transformative this year has been and I heard something this week that explained how it all could have happened this way. I truly have never felt better and, according to Martha Beck, here’s why:

All it takes is one compassionate witness to create the conditions for healing. All we need is for one person to see us and hear us. In my case, all of you, dear readers, have done that for me. You have given me far more than I could have ever given you. There are no words that could adequately express my thanks.

What I can do is develop a streamlined way of achieving this for you, if you like. We all need to be seen and heard, to have that one compassionate witness. (Maybe you already have this, in which case, skip to the writing prompt below!) As you saw over this last year, the way I did it was through journaling—digging into my subconscious for what was bothering me—then exploring it through writing and sharing it. The sharing part was the key. Being seen and heard is EVERYTHING.

So. From now until July 13, 2022, I will be learning from Martha Beck how to help others uncover their inner wisdom and take inspired action, with the belief that each of us holds the key to our own right life, our own true destiny. Her methods have been called “simple, practical, and incredibly powerful.” I chose her program because her literary and religious references deeply resonate with me, plus she is very funny and that is my whole entire jam. Will it be a workshop, a course, a book or individual coaching, I don’t know! But I do know it’s going to be amazing and super useful.

So psyche up for all the insights that will come your way during this training and stay tuned for what takes shape next!

When we act as a compassionate witness for one another, we achieve true healing and are left with the certainty that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: Do you have a compassionate witness in your life? (Thank you again for being mine!)

Do you subscribe to these Friday Stories? You are invited at elizabethheise.com. Come follow me on the gram @elizabethheise.writer and Twitter @heiseelizabeth1. If you know others who might be interested, feel free to invite them too! Thank you for reading.

*SCRAPPY is in revisions but it COMING!! Much sausage making in writing a book as it turns out. What is true in writing a book is also true in life. There’s no skipping the hard parts.

**Happy Friday dear Randye! And I refuse to call them Spark Notes—Cliff’s Notes is the OG.

 

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Stories

The Only Truth Is Love

The day before my birthday, I received a mysterious email from my husband.

Letter from your mom arriving today.

It had been nearly a year since we had spoken. I clicked on the attachment to find the mugshot of an envelope addressed to me.

How did you get this?

He had registered for a daily digest to track important correspondence coming to the house.

After a terrible argument nearly a year ago, she’d decided to cut ties. From then on, radio silence—the emotional bookend to what I’d felt as a kid when my parents divorced and she moved away. In the decades since, that cavernous ache had dulled. But here it was again, weighing me down anew.

In the many months since we last spoke, I’ve come to accept that this pain was mine to process. I was responsible for cleaning up my own energy and figuring out how to heal. In the pre-dawn hours each morning, I set out on foot, gathering strength from the towering trees and expanse of sky. I breathed in the infinite power of the universe, took it into my heart and sent love to my mother. Friends and family who needed some too flashed across my mind. I sent it to them as well, keeping a big poof of pink cotton candy love for myself.

On her birthday last July, I’d replied to a group email of other family members wishing her well. I sent a lighthearted story about our babysitter making me a sugar sandwich without her knowledge. Back then, my mother had insisted on only the healthiest food for her four young children. At the time, she would not have been amused, but she was now. She’d liked it well enough to share it with guests at her dinner. We’d exchanged good wishes but nothing after that.

In the week before my birthday, I had decided, as a gift to myself, that I would reach out to her with the following message:

After holding onto hurt feelings about you for forty years, I have finally figured out how to let them go. Over time, I have made many attempts, all unsuccessful. The need to protect that little girl inside me persisted. I somehow felt that if I left the past behind, I would abandon her along with it. After carrying the burden for so long, I finally realize it serves no one. I have chosen to shift to a more beautiful perspective in which I might offer you an apology instead of expecting one for myself. I am sorry for dragging past hurts into the present and not allowing you to move on from a difficult time in your life. For as far back as I can remember, it has been more important for me to be right than to be free. I have finally decided I want to be free. I want us both to be.

Before I got a chance to send the note, however, her card arrived in the mail. The pretty pink envelope didn’t look at all like the mugshot. It was the same color as the love I had sent her every day.

We tell ourselves stories about why people do what they do to make sense of what has happened to us. It’s human. But we don’t really know. We sometimes don’t even know why WE do what we do. I have finally let go of the story that my mother doesn’t love me. I have let go of the old story to allow her the dignity of her own journey. And I am enjoying my new found freedom.

When you finally choose to let go of old pain, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: Have you been able to let go of past hurt or are you still hanging on? How have your feelings about it changed over time, if at all?  

Do you subscribe to these stories? You are invited at elizabethheise.com. Feel free to share with friends you think might enjoy these as well. And come check me out on insta @elizabethheise1 and Twitter @heiseelizabeth1.

 

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The Cure For Birthdayphobia

Since TODAY is my birthday, I’ll ask my questions up front: how do you feel when your birthday rolls around? Has it changed over time? Mine sure has.*

My problem with birthdays has had nothing to do with wrinkles, getting “old,” or any of the usual crap people fret over. It started early—way before those concerns would have applied to me. In my family of origin, I was the outspoken kid, ticking off my list of needs without reservation. But there were four of us. When I unfurled a scroll of requirements, the weary look on my mother’s face told me I was too much. When she left, I stuffed those needs all the way own into my big toe.

In my adult life, the feeling of  too muchness has crept in during the days ahead of my birthday each year, registering as a hollow ache. I dreaded the one day a year I was forced to confront my unmet need to be singled out as special. It has always felt childish to me so I never shared this with anyone, just attempted to quietly deal with it on my own. The task to fulfill this demand has resulted in the most unfun, unfestive pressure you can imagine. Knowing it was an ancient wound didn’t mitigate the damage.

I’ve tried to meet the need for the right kind of celebration and the perfect gift in all the ways. It sounds so awful and spoiled, now you know why I never told anyone! I’ve attempted to slay this beast with a big gathering out at a restaurant, a spa day with a pal, even a big party once. I found a way to ruin them all without indicating to any party goers that this was going on in my head. At the table full of friends, I obsessed over the mix of groups and forcing them all to engage in my most hated form of communication: small talk. The guilt! The amount of work I had to do for the big party had me wallowing in self pity as I hung red lanterns up on a ladder in my living room—barfily pregnant—for my Chinese-themed fete. I finally gave up and tried to spend it alone, asking my husband for a day free of all humans. That way I would be prevented from expecting anything from anyone and avoid the inevitable disappointment. That one resulted in crushing invisibility: my worst idea yet. I couldn’t soothe the annual ache, no matter how I tried.

When you carry around old pain from the past, people in your life find themselves fighting your demons with a blindfold and both hands tied behind their back. The battle is lost no matter what. Even my former therapist joked that I required a “cake, card and coronation” to enjoy my birthday. Show of hands whose had a coronation thrown in their honor. That’s what I thought.

So what finally filled this bottomless pit? It had nothing to do with cake or parties or anything external from anyone. We never get enough of what we don’t want.** I finally figured out how to give myself the gifts I so desperately needed to feel whole. I went to work on my mindset and examined the story I told myself about who I am. It worked. I now expect nothing but the air I breathe. No pressure on anyone, not even me. FOR REAL. I have cultivated a garden of these precious blooms:

  1. Saying NO to the rest of the world is a YES to myself. I am living so much more of my life in the present moment where there is no regret for the road not traveled or anxiety about the future. Right here is where the peace is and I am finally enjoying it.
  1. I accept myself and others for where we are right this minute. Before I began questioning my thinking, I spent all day every day judging people and situations right and wrong. We all do it. It’s how we learned to survive as a species—is this plant good or bad to eat? Is this animal friendly or dangerous?Neuroscience has taught us that the survival brain is useful but it’s no place to hang out all the time if we want to connect with other people, with our own creativity or access our personal potential. Right brain living is my jam and now I know how to get there. Meditation, breath work, cleaning my energy and sending love to everyone who needs it from the unlimited supply of the universe. If that sounds kooky to you, try it sometime. And I always reserve a heaping helping of pink love energy for myself.
  1. I have learned to speak from the heart, share truth with compassion (the majority of the time). I am not afraid of revealing who I really am. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a lawyer paying cash at therapy to avoid insurance records of mental health counseling. I’d sneak out of my building and drive twenty-five minutes to Broward, leaving the office for ninety-five minutes. I ate at my desk most of the other days. My secretary probably thought I had taken a lover. I now share my life unreservedly. I can’t care what anyone else thinks.
  1. I no longer feel guilty. In years past, when my eyes popped open in the morning, I did a gut check for what I had regretted saying or doing. Instead of my morning cup of dread, I wake up excited for the day (4:08 a.m. today, people!). A dear friend talked about how she’s found freedom from being ‘the pleaser’ by listening to her own voice for the first time in her life instead of projecting other’s opinions onto her decisions. Her intuition has rewarded her by becoming LOUD and CLEAR. How freaking great is that?!
  1. I can apologize to my children and own up to what I did wrong. That is so huge and has changed everything. I would have killed to enjoy that kind of empathy, but clearly I got what I needed. It lead me here to this beautiful life. The work I have done took time. Luckily, I did it before every last bird had left the nest. (All thanks to Byron Katie and her foot soldier Melanie).

  1. I have stopped being critical of my appearance. I remember when I had just finished undergrad and hitched a ride up from Santa Barbara to Sebastopol where my mother lived. I had plans to leave the country and needed to stow some things at her place. When I hoisted a box out of my friend’s trunk, a graduation photo fluttered to the pavement. My mother picked it up and considered it. She complimented me. I’m too embarrassed to repeat her words. Until then, I didn’t know she thought I was pretty and I certainly didn’t feel it. I only started to really see myself when I began to override that critical voice who picked me apart so quietly and systematically. That voice is now silent because I made the sweet voice MUCH louder.
  1. I am an equal in my home and marriage. From the moment I stepped into Mark’s professionally decorated Coral Gables home as a law student with garage sale couches back at my apartment, I felt like a charity case and considered avoiding him all together. I didn’t want to merge my identity with someone already established. I didn’t want to disappear myself. All these years later, I finally realized that his accomplishments don’t make him better than me. He’s lucky to have found ME too. I have learned that if I feel resentful, it is about an unmet need of my own, not about him. Those thoughts don’t serve me. I question them and let them go. I am no longer the source of my own misery and I don’t give other people that role in my life either. I stand guard at the gate of my mind. Plus, I have one more degree than Mark, so. 😉
  1. I have found my true voice and share it with the world. Thank you. I love you, dear reader.
  1. I have stopped emotional eating and feel so much better. The insatiable need for something outside myself drove my stress-snacking at night. Feeding my soul satisfied my hunger for brownies. Who knew?
  1. I no longer feel the need to be sure about everything. I change my mind. I realize there is no such thing as knowing something for sure. We have our theories, but for the first time ever, I hold my beliefs lightly. (Therapy taught me that.) I have so much to learn and I am here for it.

Honestly, the list is endless. These are just my top ten. Thanks for coming to my celebration. I look forward to 52 more years of growth and expansion and you are invited.

When you take stock of how far you’ve come, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love, Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: how do you feel about getting older? What are the gifts it has brought you? Thanks for showing up to my birthday story and happy birthday to YOU the next time around!

 

*Let me preface this piece with an acknowledgment that even having this discussion is a tremendous privilege during these insane times. I could say that about every piece I’ve written in this space over the last year, I suppose. It just dawned on me to bring it up because this is so focused on ME today and I feel self-conscious about how lucky I am to even give attention to this topic.

**My friend Gabi reminded me of this Wayne Dyer quote this week, thanks mama!

Do you enjoy this Friday series? Know of someone else who might too? Consider this your friend’s personal invitation and send it on over! And if you don’t subscribe, you are invited to join me at elizabethheise.com. Come check me out on Insta @elizabethheise1 and Twitter @heiseelizabeth1.  Thanks so much for being here and sharing this great space with me.

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Stories

A Flash Of Anguish

 

When my first child was born, the days stretched out before us, interrupted only by nap time. Fast forward to the ramp up for college and every moment was consumed by preparations: the studying, the volunteering, the stressing. It all culminated in one momentous drop off. But what came afterwards was a little mysterious. I mean, I’ve had people I care about disappear from my everyday life, but zero of them left under happy circumstances. And none of them were my own kid.

To me, summer camp didn’t serve as a useful simulation, although I hear it does prepare the kids. We parents are all so different that the ‘first kid to leave for college’ experience doesn’t have the same impact across the board, but I’ve been open to pointers.

Usually, I turn to books and experts when I find myself in new territory. Whole forests have been flattened to supply the pages of parenting books. So what did I find for this stage? In the words of my nana, bupkis. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but the only two books on this topic were one from 1999 that reviewers criticized as outdated. The other was Christian faith-based which is fine but if I hadn’t asked myself what Jesus would do about my problems until now, I wasn’t about to start.*

So, I went old school and relied on the advice of smart friends.

 

“Whatever you do, don’t go in her room when you get home. Trust me on this.” -Ingrid

I noticed her door ajar from down the hall and asked her dad about it. I know her brothers didn’t open it because they’d been threatened with bodily harm.

“I wanted to see her room,” he said.

“She told me she wants the door closed.” She did say that, but I didn’t walk backwards down the hall and reach behind me for the handle to close it necessarily for her. (This photo was taken years ago btw.)

“It will hit you in unexpected moments. Like when you find yourself ordering one pound of turkey breast instead of two, because she’s not there to eat half.” -Odette

I didn’t remember the grocery store thing until I stood in front of a display of pickles, Jane’s latest obsession. A sob rose in my chest. The muffled effect of my mask and the covid disguise provided good cover. I let it out and it passed. I have never experienced such intense moments of sadness only to have them depart in the next minute. Like I could totally wail like a baby and then just stop. It’s truly bizarre.

After the flash of anguish I smiled, reflecting on the pediatrician’s advice to use more salt after she’d had a bout of fainting. He added that she shouldn’t skip meals and recommended an earlier bedtime. From then on at dinner, she reached for the salt before she’d even tasted her food. “Doctor’s orders,” she’d chirp, with no acknowledgment that this was the one piece of Dr. Floyd’s advice she ever followed.

“When I set the table and it’s only the three of us—that’s when I miss her.” -Rosana

 

Our set up is weird now because we have a narrow, six person table. When it was our full family of five, the vacancy had provided a spot for guests or a place for serving dishes. We now have a sitcom arrangement so the studio audience can enjoy an unobstructed view. I am going to suggest we do a four top in the center. This configuration bums me out. We need to make eye contact with each other for Pete’s sake, especially now that one of us won’t be showing up.

I wondered what other intel I could gather by word of mouth that would help with this experience. Another wise friend had recommended the parents’ Facebook group for my daughter’s university. I thought about that, but I didn’t do it. I tend to feel like an outsider around that level of parent involvement.

 

Most of the time, I have wondered if I’ve provided my daughter enough support while she grew up. Due to how I was raised, I bucked the trend of over-involvement. At the age of ten, I walked a good ways to the city bus to get to school each day. At dismissal, I roamed through downtown which worked out fine, minus the time my six grade friends and I were flashed by a guy in a trench coat. Not great, but also a reality for women and girls no matter where you are.  I worked food service jobs throughout high school, paying for most of what I needed myself. At seventeen, I became financially independent, paid my way through college, grad and law school, taking out the minimum student loans. Sometimes I held down multiple jobs while I studied. On occasion, this caused paralyzing stress which I would never wish on anyone. I think the angst was more a function of missing the emotional support than the financial, however. That aside, I became a woman who had proof she could handle anything.

 

During her childhood, I felt like I had to manufacture experiences to foster independence. Given the hovery state of modern parenting, it’s more the norm to infantilize our kids. Jane reported that many of her college-bound friends don’t know how to gas up their own cars, that the parents do it for them. I wanted her to gain competence handling her own problems. I sent her on elementary school trips I didn’t chaperone to deal with her nut allergies herself, with an Epipen. It was a little scary but necessary. She had to be vigilant about what she ate and the only way to do that was to understand it is her responsibility alone. Despite my attempts, well-meaning parents stepped in and informed restaurant staff for her, robbing her of the chance to take charge. Of course I am grateful for any kindness shown to my child, but still. Everything takes practice. As a teen, she has traveled domestically and internationally on her own, even to pistachio and cashew-loving Israel. I know she understands that her own choices, not mine, dictate her health and safety. And she is prepared for any contingency.

I recall my former therapist mentioning how many kids of clients came for a session during college when they should have been away at school.

“They are depressed because they can’t manage life on their own. The parents have been handling everything and once they were left in charge, the life skills weren’t there. They have no agency. They are like feral cats, not responsible to anyone or even to themselves.”

My kids’ piano teacher said the same thing. He was having to make room in his schedule for students who’d left for their first year of college and returned home after a few months.

Since my kid decided to go to school 2,376 miles away, I know she feels ready for everyday life without her family. I only hope I have shown her the love she needed as well as the opportunities to grow.

In the week before she left, I completely abandoned my “do it yourself” attitude. A little rash you say? Let me text my dermatologist friend and ask her to squeeze you in RIGHT NOW so my precious baby girl doesn’t have to make her own appointment or wait even one day. You don’t love your highlights? How about I pull some strings with a master colorist to create the blond halo of your dreams.Want to binge watch a show even though I have a sh!t ton of work to do? Sure! Anything for you, kiddo. All the things I’d usually say, do it yourself, pay for it yourself, handle it yourself, I did it.

I have to say, it was a delight to finally be that parent!!! I got to dote on my girl ’til my heart’s content. Maybe this is what grand parenting will be like. (Not that I intend to find out for MANY YEARS.) You just shower them with everything, caring not one whit about what they are learning of the world. It’s the best.

So, now I understand that sometimes parents do all the things because THEY LOVE THEIR KIDS SO MUCH. I finally have some empathy around that. I’m sorry I judged you, hoverers. I was one of you for like two weeks. It was really fun but now I have two boys I gotta put through the school of hard knocks. It will be a different kind of challenge now that I’ve learned so much from my first guinea pig. (Sorry Jane, along with all the attention you get as the first kid comes the unenviable task of breaking in rookies.)

When you finally let go of all the parenting angst and self-judgment for not doing right by your kid and just love them up before they fly the coop, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

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Stories

‘Twas The Night Before College

It’s an odd phenomenon when your kid hits a major milestone. Vivid pictures of that time in your own life run through your head.

Our firstborn is starting college college. It made me think of what it was like for me, the advice I got, and the wisdom I planned to impart on my own child.

We flew her across the country—Miami to Los Angeles—five hours direct. At her age, I also made a break for California—Chicago to Santa Barbara—chasing a better life out on my own. I couldn’t wait to be done with our family’s post-divorce chaos. My sendoff looked nothing like hers. And to that I say WHEW.

In the ramp up to closing the book on my childhood, I wasn’t checking off a list of college supplies. And my dad was not repacking luggage because he mistook my “definitely going” with my “still deciding” pile. No shade intended, that’s just not how our family did things.

Back in 1987, on the night before I boarded a plane to college, my top priority was one last epic night out at my favorite bar. My friend Julie and I planned to hit the dance floor until we shut the place down. The fact that I still had a box to pack and an early takeoff didn’t concern me in the least.

 *this is not Julie, it’s my older sister. To protect the innocent, there are no photos of that night.

Julie and I skipped dinner to arrive early. We entered the dimly lit space, the odor of stale beer lingering in the air. Few patrons had beaten us there. We hopped on stools and greeted Hondo, the Hawaiian-shirt clad bartender, as he wiped down the counter.

“She’s going to college tomorrow!” Julie announced loud enough for the bouncer to hear, forgetting this admission could put our fake ID’s in question.

“Let’s get this girl a shot!” Hondo said with a smile, turning to the bottles behind him.

“Make it a double on me,” came a Southern drawl from the billiard room behind us.

I rotated my stool to catch the sly smile of some hot guy as he leaned across the pool table, the taught curve of bicep illuminated by the overhead tiffany lamp.

“Who the heck is that?” I asked Julie who made it her business to keep track of all available men in town.

“No idea but you should definitely thank him properly,” she said with a grin.

I slammed my shot and pushed off the bar.

“You’re coming,” I said. Julie saluted and followed me.

He swaggered over, chalking his pool cue.

“My name is Teedon, but you can call me Sweetness,” he said, stretching across the table to sink a ball in the side pocket.  

Julie made friends with his brawny crew and I tossed back a few more tequilas with my cute new friend.

Club music rose and the bar filled to capacity. Teedon and I claimed our spot on the dance floor and became one gyrating unit, taking breaks only for more drinks. The early morning flight faded from my mind.

At whatever time, I grabbed for Julie’s shoulder and gestured to Teedon and the door, as in, I’ll be leaving with this stranger.

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, missy!” she screamed from the dance floor after me.

At some ungodly hour, a phone rang in the distance. I lifted my head, peeling a moist cheek off Teedon’s bare chest.

“It’s your friend,” Teedon said, passing me the receiver.

“Liz, your dad called. You have no idea how many people I woke up to find you. You better get home,” Julie said, no trace of fun left in her urgent tone.

I jumped out of bed and hit my head on the loft, the receiver bouncing off the floor with a clatter.

“I have to leave,” I said, pulling on my skirt and stuffing my feet into sandals.

“Whatsa matter?” he asked, not moving.

“Dude, I need to get my ass home NOW,” I said.

“Slow down, cowgirl,” he said, picking up a pair of Levi’s off the floor. Denim flapped as he jumped into his pants.

On the way to the airport, still in my smokey bar clothes, I listened to my dad’s first fatherly speech of record.

“You have to live your life in moderation,” he said.

A smile crept across my lips. It did seem like good advice. In the years since, I have made the most of it.

 

As my husband unloaded luggage at the airport, Jane announced that she’d be sleeping the entire flight. Late bedtimes over the last few nervous days had taken a toll. She grumpily wondered aloud why the entire family was coming to LA. I told Jane my story (the PG version for the younger ears), explaining that a kid who has an involved family makes better choices than one who doesn’t. We have seen it in some of the kids’ friends and they all know my history. Her level headedness and good judgment far exceed mine at her age. My behavior during those years could have gotten me into serious trouble. As it was, showing up to the airport at the last minute, skidding into my seat meant that the luggage didn’t make it. My one outfit for sorority rush was a pair of pink shorty pajamas. Instant conversation starter to be sure, but less than ideal.

As for the advice, I passed on grandpa’s “live your life in moderation” speech because every college kid should tuck that one in, especially a social girl like mine (I have no idea where she gets it) who’s been cooped up with her meddling parents for 18 months straight. I threw in three additional reminders I thought might do my girl and anyone starting a new adventure some good:

 

  1. Remember who you are. That little person with big dreams who saw no limitations is still you. Speak sweetly into her ears. Anything you wouldn’t say to the little you, don’t say to your big self now. You are smart and capable. You are beautiful. You can do this. You deserve only encouragement. She will keep a childhood photo of herself up as a reminder.

 

  1. Remember what you can do. Starting a competitive program is intimidating for anyone, especially students who have been at the top of their class. Now everyone is a tippy topper. I gathered a few photos from Jane’s substantial highlight reel to post on her bulletin board. My favorite memories were the speeches her educators and coaches have given about her over the years. Her soccer Coach Biggee most of all.* Even if you weren’t cast as the lead during your first year at a new school like this kid, there is a superstar in each of us. Let her SHINE.

 

  1. Remember who loves you. Having three teenagers in the house is a whole different vibe than when they were little and played together like a pile of puppies. Occasionally, there are slammed doors, harsh words, and early departures from dinner. I gathered some shots from simpler times, when all three of my teens weren’t in full on age-appropriate individuation from their parents during a freaking pandemic. And she knows her dad and I love her beyond measure.

 

On move in day, I will leave a little gift for my girl: a self-care journal, Dr. Michael Brues’ Good Night, and a family photo of us skiing, i.e., the one remaining activity no one complains about doing together. I’ll also leave a bag for the roommates with some essentials, a little tape measure for each girl, a pair of scissors and a sage stick for each of them when the energy needs a scrub.

 

Is this everything she needs to know? I have no idea. Julie Lythcott-Haims sent us her book “How To Be An Adult” which should cover the rest.

I am super excited for her. Sometimes a deep sadness rises up and I sob to let it out. It’s usually at the first traffic light after I drop my youngest at school in the morning. I know my body will eventually realize we are in a new stage of parenting. And many friends who have been through this have offered encouraging words and an ear when I need it. All good.

When you do your very best to launch your kid into the big beautiful world with as many tools as you can stuff in her bag, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT:  How did your milestones shape you as a person? If you have kids, how were your milestones different from them?

 

* Coach Biggee didn’t understand why the third Heise kid (Finn) wasn’t given a “J” name. He fixed the obvious error by referring to them as Jane, Jackson and Jerome.

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Come Home To Yourself


A quarter century ago, my boss Dave tried to set me up with his opposing counsel. I’d said no. A bad breakup with a cheater had put me off men for good, or at least that’s what I went around saying. Then Dave made plans to meet up with the guy at my regular hangout. Every Thursday, my entire law school class drank and danced our stress off at Murphy’s Law. When I spotted Mark standing at a high boy with Dave in a chambray shirt that matched his blue eyes, I couldn’t believe my luck. With an easy laugh and a jaw line that could cut glass, he changed my mind in an instant.

Within days, Mark and I morphed into lovesick zombies, staying up all night to fill each other in on everything that had happened to us so far. We had been found. One day during that time, we woke up early, began the conversation where we’d left off and by the time I looked at the clock, it was 5:00 pm. Days passed without us.

Having dropped off the planet, we veered into dangerous territory. Mark had recently been made partner, the youngest at his firm. Stopping by the office whenevs was not part of the deal. I got a ‘D’ in Criminal Procedure, decimating my GPA. The fear of not getting a job as a lawyer with all that student debt brought me back to earth with a thud.

We cleaned up our acts and here we are, celebrating our wedding anniversary, twenty-two years ago yesterday.

All this time later, we are like a lot of couples. We play the same handful of fights on a loop. Through my writing practice, far better than all the expensive therapy, I realize that these frustrations don’t match how I feel beneath the surface. Journaling has unearthed a sense of unworthiness for our beautiful life, for this love I had been so lucky to find. I do a lot of pushing away and a fair amount of nit-picking. It’s time I dealt with that.

If you have been around a while, you know I am constantly on the hunt to improve how I do life. Admittedly, this also stems from insecurity but it does lead to progress so that is a net gain. A dear friend who has heard every grievance about my marriage from its inception has recommended a program of Byron Katie’s where one partner works out a conflict with the other by making a series of inquiries, then turning the questions around on themselves.

To give you a frame of reference, here is one of our handful of arguments from a couple of days ago:

Me: Remember I told you I wanted to go see Kat in Atlanta? The only available weekend is the last one of the month.

Mark: Jackson has his drivers license appointment that Friday.

Me: Since it’s already in your calendar can you take him? Consider it a lunch hour maybe?

Mark: (heavy sigh) It’s at 2:45 during the work day. You time is flexible, mine isn’t.

Me: You were away the whole holiday weekend. I have to do things to take care of myself too.

Mark: You do that a lot. And it’s usually for more than a week at a time.

Me: If you add up all the times I’ve left town, you’ll know the exact number of hours that I could count on my own plans going forward. When I am home, they are often derailed by someone else’s needs. Conversely, when you make plans, there is a high likelihood they will happen. Imagine not being able to make solid plans for eighteen years.

Mark: An out of town trial is not a leisure activity.

Me: I don’t consider taking a weekend to be with my friend optional. It is critical for me to do something for myself. By the way, I don’t appreciate your attitude, like my needs are such a burden. That being available for this one Friday afternoon appointment for our son is such an unreasonable imposition.

Mark: Don’t you think that maybe this is your problem?

Me: I guess if I thought it over, sure. But I am letting you know that when you huff and puff over your precious schedule, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me. My hair becomes a raging inferno.

Mark: I feel like we both have expectations of each other that neither of us are meeting.

Me: What am I doing?

Mark: Criticizing how I am responding, I can’t say anything right.

Me: Well I can’t not say what is bothering me, so here we are.

End scene

I would like to drop this argument loop and the others on our hit parade, if that’s not too much to ask. Happy anniversary to me.

Friends have made some interesting comments about Byron Katie’s approach. She can be very polarizing. I’m glad that stuff works for you—it doesn’t for me. Some of it is totally out there. I’ve also heard that Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle are the most enlightened spiritual teachers of modern times. I was ready for it.

First, I listened to The Work in Relationships* to hear how this is supposed to go down. Truth be told, it’s pretty radical. I mean, for a blamer like me, I had to listen to several others go through it before it started to sink in. Basically, it facilitates taking personal responsibility for your own garbage to a degree you never imagined. There is no pointing fingers at anyone, ever. I’ve had zero luck trying to control anyone so far anyway.

Then I tried it myself. Katie’s website** supplies all the instructions and materials for free in every language imaginable. She recommends completing the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet*** about anyone you have been in an argument with or a stressful situation. She teaches that judging someone else is the easiest way to see what you really think. I completed them for Mark and for my mother. I also had a conflict with a friend but after I listened to Katie’s book, A Mind at Home With Itself,**** it was clear that I was no longer attached to any negative thoughts about what had happened between me and my friend. I texted her and bygones became bygones. I don’t think I have ever let anything go as easily in my life. And it was one of the worst friend breakups I have ever had. It was downright freaky.

To preface this next part, the friend who recommended I do this work flat out refused to explain it to me. She tried a little and I resisted what she said straightaway. If you are dug into the belief that the other person in your life is to blame for the issues between you, you may need to wait a while to do this too. I had to give it a while. But I’m going to let you in on how it went for me, in case it could be helpful to anyone else out there.

Katie recommends doing The Work for breakfast everyday, metaphorically speaking, for as long as it takes for the questions to become part of your automatic internal inquiry. I completed the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet a couple times and the results were pretty immediate. I know this isn’t over by a long shot, but I’m off to a great start.

If you are curious, go ahead and click on the worksheet*** yourself. A series of inquiries help to dig up all of your resentments and stored up emotions about one person, one conflict at a time.

 

I answered these six questions about my husband.

  1. In this situation, who angers, confuses, hurts, saddens, or disappoints you and why?
  2. How do you want him/her to change? What do you want him/her to do?
  3. What advice would you offer him/her? “He should/shouldn’t ____?”
  4. In order for you to be happy in this situation, what do you need him/her to think, say, feel, or do?
  5. What do you think of him/her in this situation? Make a list. (It’s okay to be petty and judgmental.)
  6. What is it about this person that you don’t ever want to experience again?

In Katie’s relationship workshop, people were super uncomfortable answering the name-calling question, probably because they had to say all those mean words out loud in front of a crowd. Here in my quiet writing space, no one heard me call my husband self-important, dismissive, rude, condescending, negative, elitist, arrogant, cold, curt, stressed-out and unappreciative. I got to keep that to myself. What a relief! 😉

After you excavate all the hard feelings, you then ask each of the four questions about each one of your answers above. It’s a little confusing explaining it this way, but if you listen to the examples and then do it yourself, it won’t be.

  1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to question 3.)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Yes or no. (This requires a level of honesty that escaped me until I did this work myself, not just heard about it anecdotally btw.)
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who or what would you be without the thought?

The last question is the real kicker. WHO WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT THIS THOUGHT? Who would you be if you didn’t think this awful thing, this thought that plagued you every day, made you feel bad about yourself, about your relationship and judgmental of someone you care about. Think about that. Who would I be if I didn’t believe my husband thought I should have no time to take care of myself? I’d be enjoying the crap out of my life, that’s what. I would unburden myself from the weight that drags down our otherwise beautiful life. How great is that?! And, not for nothing, letting go of the thought of my mother rejecting me is huge, whole other subject but not unrelated. Just saying, that is freedom.

The last step is also a doozy: The Turnaround. All the statements you make about the other person are then turned on you. You ask yourself if they are as true or truer than your original statement about the other person. My statements went from accusations about my husband to revealing how I project my feelings about myself onto him. Again, sounds confusing but it’s really not. Here is my turnaround:

  • I hurt myself because I think every second of my life should be taken up by kids’ stuff and I should have no time for me. Also, I hurt Mark because I think every second of my life should be taken up by kids’ stuff and I should have no time for me.
  • I want to respect my own need to take time for my work and welcome taking breaks as necessary sanity time. I should fully support it. Also, I should respect Mark’s need to take time for his work and welcome his taking breaks as necessary sanity time. I should support that too.
  • I shouldn’t give myself a hard time when I want to do something just for myself. I shouldn’t give Mark a hard time when I want to do something just for myself.
  • I need to be positive, light and loving, not judge myself or the kids if they haven’t measured up. I want to work on myself and stop putting my issues on everyone else.
  • I am self-important, dismissive, rude, condescending, negative, elitist, arrogant, cold, curt, stressed-out and unappreciative. That is true or truer. SHEEEESH.

This story has functioned as my own personal torture device over the course of my marriage. During this work, I laughed and cried at the same time. I knew it was exactly what I had been waiting for. Until now, it had been far more important to be right than to be free.

“The truth is that your partner is your mirror. He or she always reflects you back to yourself. If you think there is a flaw in him, that flaw is in you. It has to be in you, because he is nothing more than your story. You are always what you judge him to be in the moment. There is no exception to this. You are your own suffering, you are your own happiness.”

-Byron Katie, A Mind at Home With Itself

I know Mark and I are still those two people who couldn’t believe our luck on a random Thursday night back in 1996. He is home to me. And I am finding my way home to myself.

When you are finally ready to take responsibility for yourself, when you value your freedom over your self-righteousness, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: Do you have a hard time handling conflict? How’s it working out? Do you think you will try doing this work?

*https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Work-on-Relationships-Audiobook/B002V0RC76?asin=B002V0RC76&source_code=ASSORAP0511160006

**https://thework.com

*** https://thework.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/jyn_en_mod_6feb2019_r4_form1.pdf

****https://www.audible.com/pd/A-Mind-at-Home-with-Itself-Audiobook/B0741G363M?asin=B0741G363M&source_code=ASSORAP0511160006

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The Skill Set of Wellbeing

 

I crack a wry smile every time I do the exact thing I said I’d never do. I will never let my kids eat junk food or I’m never going back to the United States, and best of all: you’ll never catch me at one of those dorky programs for self-improvement. I would have put good money on that last one.

Turns out, one of the best things I’ve ever done was attend a dorky program for self-improvement. My former therapist mockingly called them “weekend miracles,” and I assumed they were strictly for suckers. My whole persona was much more ‘cynical know-it-all’ than ‘personal-growth-loving optimist.’ The old version of me wouldn’t even do lunch with this new version. In truth, that ‘weekend miracle’ put me on a path to becoming someone who lives a far better life.

 

Making room for the notion that we cancultivate a positive outlook and that it makes a difference to our wellbeing was a huge shift in mindset. I used to think our baseline happiness was a fixed thing, simply the result of the way we are. It’s now clear to me that the thoughts I hold onto determine whether I live in a state of low grade misery or peaceful contentment. I’m not suggesting we pretend to have no problems. I simply mean that when you condition yourself to operate from a calm, positive place, the physical and mental benefits are profound. It doesn’t work with Swiss watch precision, but it does work.

 

In our head-centered culture, we value ticking off our to-do list far more than increasing our positive experiences throughout the day. According to author and world-renowned researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, cultivating positivity is more important than happiness. She teaches that finding more ways to have micro-moments of connection is just as critical to physical health as exercise and eating your veggies. All day long we have the opportunity to connect with others in a positive way. Saying good morning to a stranger, laughter with loved ones, smiling at a baby—doesn’t even have to be your baby! I notice a boost in how I feel after I’ve said thank you to the traffic cop who saved us from arriving late, chatted with my neighbor Bob and helped a kid find her chile lime at the grocery store. Most of the time, our brains are being shaped unwittingly. Looking for ways to bolster our outlook makes a difference.

Choosing moments of connection is known to increase our wellbeing. It is just one example of a simple habit that builds our overall positivity. We now know there is a formula to wellness and any one of us can shape our brains through training. Lucky for us, all these neural circuits exhibit plasticity. Wellbeing is an actual skill set to be learned. It’s like playing the piano. If you practice, you get better.

So what skills should we target to improve our wellbeing? According to Richard Davidson, Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, there are four components that can be improved with practice.

  1. Resilience. After experiencing an adverse event, we can return to baseline more quickly when we focus on the things we can control instead of the multitudes we have nothing to do with— our own goals, for example. It’s helpful to recognize that the problem likely doesn’t pervade every aspect of our lives. For more tips on how to bounce back quicker, check out: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/resilience.htm
  1. Positive Outlook. If you are someone who has the ability to see the good in others and to savor positive experiences, you lower your risk of all sorts of mental and physical illness.  Developing the habit of focusing on the good to come out of a challenging situation, being able to laugh, even when times are tough lowers stress, anxiety and depression. Spending time with positive people raises your self-esteem and helps you see the bright side too. Speaking sweetly into your own ears doesn’t hurt. If you start the day on a positive note, you increase feelings of peace and positivity.  https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-think-positive
  1. Paying Attention. “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”  A shocking 47% of the time, American adults are not paying attention to what they are doing. Being present and deeply listening is critical to wellbeing. You can learn to maintain focus through mindfulness or other cognitive training. Most obviously, maintaining good sleep, nutrition and exercise is key. For more, Harvard has some tips: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/tips-to-improve-concentration
  1. Generosity. When we engage in altruistic behavior, it has a ripple effect. If someone else sees us do something kind or generous, it makes them more likely to be generous too. This has a direct effect on our feeling connected to others around us, like what we do matters. It helps us feel less lonely. All these wellness circuits are interconnected. The more positive we are, the more full of joy, the more we want to share it with others.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201902/what-is-generosity-and-how-be-more-generous-person

When we understand that we are the ones responsible for the quality of our lives and that the tools to improving them are at our fingertips, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth


WRITING PROMPT: Would you say you have a positive outlook on life? What do you think of the “weekend miracles?” Ever been to one? What was your experience?

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Start Fresh In Covid 2.0

Back To School Season is upon us. Whether you are a student, teacher, parent or just an innocent bystander at Target, you cannot escape the message: it’s a fresh start, people! It may feel more like Covid 2.0 than a sparkly new school year, however. But we are wiser and more prepared for whatever this is going to be. In my home, we are fully vaccinated, masked up and ready to go. The question is, after all we’ve been through, combined with lingering uncertainty, how do we start over?

  1. We begin by taking stock. At the beginning of the pandemic, author Elizabeth Gilbert joked that if aliens came to earth, it would be off the front page by Tuesday. We adapted, it’s what humans do best. Granted, many of us, including my own family, had the privilege of having our needs met and access to the support we required. Not all of us ended the Covid school year without lasting scars. Battle weary though you may be, you can acknowledge yourself for the effort. It wasn’t easy, but you did it anyway.
  1. Experience is everything. The confidence we gained to handle the next iteration of this pandemic is a tremendous comfort. Masks indoors again? A pain yes, impossible: nope. On the bright side, no colds or flu. I personally dug that part. Random cancellations? It happens, but for the love of all that is holy, please don’t. It’s really horrendous on the kids. I’m going to visualize lots of safe fun over the coming year.

  1. How ever we’ve weathered the Covid storm, it’s tempting to tick off a list of regrets, wishing we could have done things better, somehow. Try giving yourself some grace, resisting the urge to judge. It’s impossible to steer your life in a positive direction while staring into the rear-view mirror. We can’t change anything back there. This year showed us how resilient we are. We are stronger for whatever is around the corner.
  1. When time stopped, it presented a unique opportunity to prune away some activities, even some relationships that didn’t serve us. It provided insight into where we derived fulfillment and what felt like a drain. I stepped back from roles I felt pressure to take on but that sucked up my time and sapped my energy. When asked again to recommit, I drew a healthy boundary and said no. Obviously, we all have responsibilities that are non-negotiable. I don’t mean those, I mean the optional stuff. No need to fill your calendar with people and activities that drag you down.
  1. Why not DREAM BIG? Eckhart Tolle advises to use your imagination only for what you want. Your mind is the most powerful tool you have. If you don’t actually wantthe worst case scenario, stop visualizing it. What you focus on, you get more of.The more vivid a picture of your big, beautiful life you place squarely in front of you, the greater power you give your brain to make it happen. Now’s the time to do more than just dog paddle. Caution around Covid is a long term necessity. Pursuing our dreams and taking action despite the pandemic is imperative.

 

  1. Choose happiness. When awful stuff happens that you can do nothing about, do not allow it to dominate your thoughts. If you are taking concrete steps to solve a terrible problem yourself, wonderful. You may feel compelled to spend time hand-wringing but it is a false productivity. Making yourself miserable helps no one. If you don’t know how to choose happiness, take a look at Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. Yes, I know I’ve recommended it before–it works! He teaches neuroscientifically-proven techniques to direct your mind towards a state of curiosity, calm and collaboration rather than stress. Building healthy neural pathways can be detected in an MRI. Choosing happiness is real.

7.  Mind your business. According to Byron Katie, there are three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours and what simply is. You can call the third one God or reality. It’s basically anything that is totally beyond our control. Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When you think, “I want you to be happy, you need to take better care of yourself, you could do so much better,” I am in your business. When I’m worried about the spread of disease, hurricanes or when I will die, I am in God’s business. To think that I know what’s best for anyone else is to be out of my business. Even with the best of intentions, it is presumptuous, and the result is tension, anxiety, and fear. My only business it to decide what is right for me. It’s on me to work with that before I try to solve your problems for you. If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in your own business, it could free your life in a way that you can’t even imagine. The next time you’re feeling stress or discomfort, ask yourself whose business you’re in mentally. (P.S. How Katie came to these insights is an extraordinary story: https://thework.com/about-the-work-of-byron-katie/​)

When we acknowledge ourselves for our efforts, focus on what we really want and resist the urge to judge, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What helps you to start over again?

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Put Down The Burning Coal

 

 

‘Holding onto anger is like grasping a burning coal to strike another’— so goes the ancient proverb.

This week, the thing I most dread in the world happened.

After a few bites of a shrimp burger she had prepared on the stovetop, my teenage daughter fanned her face.

“Mom, something’s wrong.”

She leaned across the kitchen island from her barstool and grabbed the container of mustard she had just squirted on the bun.

“Nutmeg,” she said, scanning the ingredient list. She hadn’t reacted to nutmeg since she was little. I’ve baked with it for years. This didn’t make sense.*

“Call 911, I can’t breath,” she said. I swiped my cel off the counter and phoned for help.

Jane dug in her purse for the Epipen, lifted her arm high and jabbed her thigh, holding it in place to drain. Despite the full dose, she continued to gasp for air, nearly passing out between labored respirations.

I took her by the shoulders and locked eyes.

“In through your nose, out through your mouth,” I repeated, assuming panic was making it worse. Trying to calm her breath accomplished nothing. Her throat was closing.

Seventeen interminable minutes later, the ambulance arrived. Masked up paramedics filled our living room. One of them swiftly fitted an oxygen mask over Jane’s face, another attached a monitor to her finger and started an IV. She fought for every breath.

Stepping back to give them room, I willed the epi to work. I aimed my phone at the scene and texted her dad a photo.

Nutmeg in the mustard, I wrote.

“Ma’am, her oxygen number is low. We need to transport. Covid protocol doesn’t allow you to ride with us. Do you prefer Baptist or South Miami?”

Going to hospital, I texted.

If you go to Baptist, remember Radha works there, he wrote back. The wife of Mark’s former partner was an ER doc.

Is she there today? I recalled her describing a three day on, four day off shift.

He didn’t answer.

Jane would arrive at the hospital alone. If she had a friendly face to receive her, it would make all the difference to her and could improve her treatment. I had heard some terrible things about ER visits without an advocate on staff. My friend’s son had nearly died waiting for someone to notice him.

I waited for an answer from Mark until they insisted I make a decision.

“Let’s do Baptist,” I said.

They strapped Jane to a gurney, I kissed her head and they wheeled her away.

She would be cold.

I ran down the hall to her bedroom, grabbed a sweatshirt, swiped books off the nightstand and took off in my car.

Still no word about the doctor. The ambulance would be pulling into the hospital any second. I called Mark at the office, openly frantic now that Jane was no longer watching me.

“Is Radha there?”

“Let me check.”

“YOU HAVEN’T ASKED?”

“I’ll call you back,” he said.

 

 

 

Pulling up to a red light, the memory of the first time I had felt like this flooded my thoughts. Fifteen years earlier, I lay on the wood floor, very pregnant with my second child. On my way to the bathroom in the wee hours of the morning, my back went out and I crumpled to the floor. Mark was out of town. With a toddler due to wake up any minute, I chucked a pillow at the landline sitting on the desktop. It clattered to the floor next to me and I dialed my husband.

“What am I supposed to do from New Jersey?” he asked. I don’t know, say something comforting to your hugely pregnant, incapacitated wife maybe?

“I’ll call Dr. Mike,” I said, stung by his lack of concern. Our chiropractor had mentioned house calls under special circumstances.

“You can’t call him at this hour,” he said.

“So, you have no suggestions and I shouldn’t bother Dr. Mike.” He hadn’t mentioned calling his parents who lived in town.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. I hung up.

The light turned green and I snapped out of my reverie. The phone buzzed.

Not sure if she’s working today. Trying to find out. 

Two minutes later Mark texted that Radha had Jane’s date of birth and knew she was coming.

 

 

At the hospital, the lot was jammed. From my faraway parking spot, I traversed the distance of a football field to get to the entrance. Rushing through the Covid gauntlet, I searched the halls for ER Room 49. Through a glass window, I spotted Jane, slumped on a mobile bed with her eyes closed in a room by herself. The nurse followed me in and mechanically ticked off a list of meds. Jane opened her eyes halfway.

“I thought I was going to die alone,” she said. I held her hand and smoothed her hair away from her forehead.

One of the EMTs who’d transported her came by to check in.

“Can you tell Dr. Radha Jane is here?” I asked.

“You know Dr. Radha? She’s just next door,” It had been an hour and a half since I had asked Mark if she was working that day.

A few minutes later our friend entered the room.

“I missed seeing her come in or I would have asked to be assigned,” she said.

The EMT injected a steroid ordered by the doctor. Jane began to convulse.

“Just flush it out,” Dr. Radha told the nurse. “That one has really bad side effects, like fire in your veins, burning and itching. I am so sorry,” she said. “We have another one that doesn’t do that.”

If only my kid had been assigned to someone who worried about side affects.

Over the next few hours, Jane stabilized enough to go home.

We were too exhausted to share much with the family about the experience that night. We crashed early.

 

 

 

The next morning as I washed my face, I glanced up at the two baby pictures I’d recently displayed next to my mirror, one of me as a wide-eyed one year old and one of Mark as a toddler on a tricycle. I had read that keeping images of yourself as a child serves as a reminder that you are worthy of unconditional love and empathy, just like you were as a kid. The you before the walls went up. Before you tried to protect yourself and pushed people away. Keeping childhood photos of loved ones around also helps locate that unconditional goodwill for them too.

 

 

 

My husband’s sweet photo brought back a story he’s repeated over the years. As a third grader, he’d raced through their apartment building with a friend while his parents met with movers. When he reached the end of the hall, he stuck his hand out to avoid slamming into the wall. He didn’t see the window. As pulled his arm back from the shattered frame, a thick piece of glass lodged deep into his forearm. Not wanting to disturb his parents, he went for help at the friend’s apartment, leaving a trail blood on the white shag carpet. I could relate. I didn’t feel comfortable telling my parents when bad stuff happened either.

That evening after dinner, I pulled Mark aside and told him I wished he’d reached out to Radha sooner to make sure Jane had received the best care during the scariest moment of her life. How awful it was to find her in a huge room of cold equipment all by herself. How it reminded me of how I felt when he didn’t do or say anything to help me when I’ve needed him over the years. It felt far worse when it was our child.

“But Jane was the one going through it, not you,” he said.

“As her mother, this experience was terrifying. I am allowed to have my own feelings about it.” There was nothing more to say. I left the room to go read.

I stared blankly at my book. We didn’t see this situation in the same way, that was obvious. And then I recalled something from a recent relationship class we had taken. Oftentimes in couples, we think, “we are one and that one is me.” I know that I am prone to overly identify with my emotions. Intellectually, I know that we are not our emotions but rather the awarness behind our emotions. In the moment, I forget this. Mark’s way is to bury his emotions. Both ways are trouble.

On his way home from the office the next night, Mark texted me and Jane with the contacts of his former law partner in Los Angeles where Jane will be at school in a few weeks. This woman also happens to be the mother of Jane’s good friend, a wonderful coincidence. Jane leaving home after this experience concerned us most.

Save this number. She is available if anything happens when you are out there. 

He had asked for help for his daughter. A little while later he forwarded a text from another parent out there who also has a son with serious allergies. This other mom offered to supply contacts and anything else we needed. Jane had some people she could ask for help if she ever needed it. That was everything.

When you realize we are all just doing the best we can with good intentions, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

 

WRITING PROMPT: Do you hold onto past hurtful experiences or do you easily let them go?

 

*If you are reading this footnote, you are probably concerned about allergies. This is how it happened, according to Jane’s allergist. She’d had a mild allergic reaction a few days prior to this event. For thirty days after an allergic reaction, the body produces a heightened response to even the slightest allergen. In Jane’s case, to a seed (nutmeg is a seed, believe it or not) she hasn’t been sensitive to in years. In other words, after you suffer an allergic reaction, hyper-vigilance is a life-saving necessity. Also, it was the first time she had administered the Epipen. Her continued labored breathing indicated that she should have had another dose. From now on, she will always have two on hand.

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