Listen To Your Mother Providence 2014

It’s with a mountain of joy in my heart I share I’ll be producing and directing the 2014 Providence production of Listen To Your Mother! Bringing the show to Providence last year, touched my life in ways I could never have imagined and expanded my heart in a million different directions. Aside from my daughters, birthing them, raising them, witnessing them, Listen To Your Mother stands as one of my greatest and proudest accomplishments. That I get to do this on a yearly basis is a gift.

Some people run marathons, others go yoga, others create with their hands or even cook. Me? I produce and direct Listen To Your Mother Providence. It’s my high, my bliss, my cloud 9. Why? I’m first, second and last a storyteller/keeper. I want to tell my story. I want to hear your story. I want to SEE you. I want vulnerable and honest and real. Most of all, I want everyone else to bear witness to you.

Take a moment to take in the incredible movement Ann Imig has created. This video is a perfect example of what happens when you unleash your passion into the world. It grows and grows and grows. From a one city performance in 2010 to 32 brave cities in 2014, here’s to another life changing season of Listen To Your Mother!

Be sure to visit the official announcement on the Listen To Your Mother site to welcome the new cities of 2014!

 

Welcome NaBloPoMo 2013

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As Ernest Hemenway said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Here’s to a month of a month of bloodshed!

Telling Kids About Divorce: More Than Words

About a month ago my husband and I decided to separate. It’s the hardest decision of my life and the most painful. I’ve had to watch my daughters’ delicate hearts suffer and I’ve been unable to give them any answer they can truly grasp or accept. Don’t get me wrong. Ninety-five percent of the time we go about our days as usual, brave faces on and smiling. But hovering just beneath the surface is a wound that still bleeds.

When we broke the news, both girls were initially unfazed to the naked eye. Their father and I prepared as best we could, scouring the Internet and library books for the best language to use and the positive angles to highlight about their imminent new normal.

Not your fault, we love you, not your fault, two of everything, not your fault, a lot will stay the same, not your fault, we love you, lots of special time with each of us, not your fault.

We shared with them all the “right” things to say. They nodded, asked what would happen to our brand new puppy, then went off to color. For a split second, I foolishly believed it would be that easy. Five minutes or so after they left the room, I went in to see if they had any questions. And then the floodgates gave way. For the next hour and a half I cradled my babies as they sobbed. Questions were lost in their breathless, teary mumbles. No words of comfort from me soothed them. Finally, I massaged my oldest daughter’s foot and pulled out a book to read.

As I rubbed her toes and read that book, I was struck by the power in that moment. Would she hate foot rubs for the rest of her life because she would associate them with heartbreak? Or would they be a way to calm her as it did at that moment? Would she cry every time she read the particular children’s book we were reading through tears? Those tiny actions seemed to have more impact, provide more comfort than any of the words I had used minutes before.

While we said all the right things, that’s precisely where we went wrong. Words failed us. Sure they gave a name to what was happening but the warm fuzzy of “not your fault, we love you” fell on deaf ears once we ripped their security blanket out from under them. More than words they needed to be shown they were still safe, loved, and part of a family.

In the days after, I held onto the power of those tiny gestures that comforted them. I observed. I listened. I realized how much more we could have done. We did our best and I’m proud of how we handled it but given the opportunity to do it again, I’d add a few kind gestures to show them what our words could not.

I’m no expert, far, far from it. Like the woman who kindly apologized at the news of my separation and then again for not knowing the right words, I’m navigating this territory for the first time. I have no idea what words I’m supposed to be using. But I’m no stranger to kindness, to rituals, to actions that comfort. Here are a few things I wish I had thought of before sitting down with our daughters. Some I have implemented, others are in the works. None are of my devising; they’re completely inspired by my daughters’ needs and what they’ve shown me their hearts need right now to heal.

Photo Album
After lunch on the day we broke the news to our daughters, my oldest found a photo of her father holding her as an infant. She carried it around the entire day and the next. It was a reminder of happier times. My youngest, being second born and all, could find no pictures lying around the house of her infant days. I took an hour to find any and all pictures I could of us as a family and of each of them alone with myself and their father. I sent them to be printed and within the hour we were holding 100 pictures in our hands. My daughters have looked at those pictures everyday since. They have a stack of favorites. Some are tucked under their pillows. It’s on our agenda to get a small photo album for on the go comfort. What’s happening now shouldn’t diminish the importance of their past.

Family Meal
One day my ex had to give us a ride and suggested we go out to breakfast as a family beforehand. The idea had never occurred to me but as soon as I mentioned it, my daughters lit up. It was a wonderful reminder that we’re still a family. Some of you going through a separation might think it’s madness to go out to eat with your ex, but if it’s amicable, then I don’t see why not. We won’t be doing it all the time but it might become a special occasion habit. My girls are begging for a movie night so this ritual might take on different forms as long as we’re doing something together.

Photo Locket
My oldest is enamored with lockets. After putting together the photos for them, she’s been begging for a locket to put a photo of myself and her father. It’s officially on the to do list. It’ll keep us close to her heart.

Tell Stories
My youngest will sometimes get hit with a wave of sadness, missing her father and the way things were. I never tell her to stop crying or to think about how great things are now. I believe in being where you are so I try to honor her feelings by helping her remember what she misses. Sometimes I’ll tell a story about her younger self, other times I’ll ask her to tell me three things she really misses. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have a plan for when my girls find themselves having a tough moment. Storytelling heals.

A Phone Call Away
Just because one parent moves out doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of their child’s daily life. A friend of mine is currently separated from her husband and they have a schedule that flip-flops who has the kids on certain nights. On her off nights, she loves to Facetime with her kids to say goodnight. It’s being there without being there.

Memory Box
Inspired by my daughters desire to keep happy memories close at hand, I’d like to create for them a memory box with more than just photos but tokens of special days or events. I have tickets from a trip to The Nutcracker, a program from another show, a trinket from Disney on Ice, movie ticket stubs from the many movies we’ve gone to see. It’s something they’ll hopefully turn to when their hearts need it. It will also be something to add to as we create new memories in our new family structure.

In hindsight, I wish I had come to the table with all of these in my arsenal when we broke the news. Really, though, I needed to see through my daughters’ eyes how significant these tiny salutes to our family are. We don’t get a do over. But we can move forward knowing we need more than words to make it through tough times. In everything, words are never enough.

Suddenly Single

books on divorce

In 2006, at the ripe old age of 25, I was amongst the first of my friends to walk down the aisle. Today, seven years later, I’m amongst the first to get divorced. It’s all kind of new. Like less than a month new.

It’s a case of two people, good people with good intentions, grown apart who couldn’t find their way back to each other. As amicable a split as there can be when hearts, dreams, and promises are broken.

Nothing I type even begins to do justice to the heartbreak of it all. But it’s words that bring me solace, so here I am.

What I know is that I have an incredible circle of friends. Listeners who are willing to envelope me in their care. They’ve lent their patient ear and stolen time from their lives to devote to me – on their lunch break, after bedtime, driving home, at all hours. I am ever grateful.

What I know is that well meaning friends and family, even strangers, have questions, lots of them. I know everything and nothing. That’s how we got here after all, isn’t it? And there is no right or wrong story. Just perspectives of the same truth. If I had better answers to the questions, I’d imagine this post unnecessary.

What I know is that what began as a promise between two people has morphed into the heartache of many. The purity of that promise is not diminished by it’s demise. I am certain it’s with the same values we took our vows that we venture forward into our divorce, honoring ourselves, what we believe, what we desire for our children.

What I know is the hurt creeps up on you. It all creeps up on you. It sucks but it’s deeply necessary. I welcome it. It’s the bridge to the next door.

What I know is that my two little women are resilient and brave. The wails once reserved for nonsensical tantrums are now very much rooted in loss/disappointment/heartbreak/confusion/fear/uncertainty…need and wanting. It’s this that pains me most. I’m grateful for all the work through the years put into making them little women with words for their emotions, tuned into matters of the heart. I take lessons from them in being where I am, feeling what I’m feeling as it comes. They know no other way and for this example, I couldn’t be more thankful.

What I know is that it takes a village to raise us all, to get us through. A wise lesson for a woman hard bent on asking for help, for reaching out.

What I know is that while Penny Lane had music, I have books. As evidenced by the photo at the top of the post. I’ve wiped our library clean of all books on divorce. They are useless and eye opening at the same time. They are reminders that this is an ongoing process, one that  must unfold as it will.

What I know is that this is my new normal. I’m a single mom, co-parenting with a good man. I’m a mother on watch for the signals of needy hearts. I’m a woman who knows a whole lot and nothing at all.

This is my current chapter. I have to get all the way through it to get to the next one.

I’ve never found it so hard to write about something. It’s necessary for me to put words to life. And still this post seems all wrong and perfect. This is one area of life I’ve rarely written about but here I am and it feels right. I welcome your stories, your experiences, your wisdom. I’m learning, more than ever, that it takes a village for so much in life.

Stepping Up To The Plate

“Mom, why are there so many people in New Jersey who speak Spanish? Why do so many of them have black hair or white hair?”

My 6 year old asks this after an exhausting 4.5 hour drive in torrential downpours. I have a mild headache. I have to pee. My youngest won’t stop asking if we’re there yet. I need food and a nap. My parents, who we’re visiting, are asking a hundred and one questions when all I’m trying to tell them is I’m almost there.

A few minutes later, having moved only a few feet in traffic, she ponders out loud, “Why do some people have dots on their heads?”

Nothing has changed from moments before but my mom radar alerts me this is one of those moments when I need to step up to the plate. While I’m experiencing frustration and exhaustion, my daughter’s having a moment full of wonder and curiosity. Her questions require me to set aside my own needs and focus on acknowledging and nurturing her hunger to understand the world around her.

I tackle the first question. I explain how many people have immigrated here from other countries, some of those being Spanish speaking. I define what it means to immigrate. I ask her to tell me why someone might choose New Jersey or any place for that matter . We brainstorm answers – family, work, dreams, opportunity, just because. I explain how communities form, like drawn to like, feels like home.

She reminds me, “And the dots on the head?”

I begin to dig a hole bigger than I can climb out of. My initial response, “Many people wear them because it’s meaningful in their religion.” Which turns into, “What’s religion?”

Religion, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christmas, Jesus, death, reincarnation, heaven, God, good people, kindness – I hear these words shooting out of my mouth and confuse myself as much as I do her. The voices in my throbbing head issue reminders about raising daughters who embrace and advocate for all the world’s people. My common sense nags me to be careful not to incorrectly describe the tenants of each religion. My memory is thumbing through the files of my freshman religions of the world notes. I’m getting caught up in my head and the question and my answer are getting a bit blurry.

I stop talking. I breathe and think of the best analogy. I tell her religion helps people see the world in a unique way. Religion is like binoculars that let you see in specific colors. Red binoculars let you see in red. Blue ones, in blue, etc. Even though they each look at the same thing the view is different. And while each is different, they’re all rooted in inspiring people to do good in the world. Completely oversimplified but my daughter is satisfied for the moment.

We agree to Google more later and make a trip to the library. I may not have nailed any nails on the head with my answers but I gave her food for thought. I reminded her I will always listen to her and do my best to help her figure out the answers. I will always be her ally in making sense of this world. 

Her inquisitiveness reminded me of my daughters’ deep inner life. The inner life my little women, and all children, are constantly cultivating while riding in the back seat, holding my hand walking down the street, staring into space when I’m rushing to check off my to do list. Every seemingly mundane detail in a day is up for grabs for my young curators. And I am guilty of sometimes forgetting to pause and slow down to honor my daughters’ very important work of discovering. It’s easy to let the important questions slip through the cracks when they fall so easily disguised with the other whiny questions of the day. 

As a child myself, I remember more clearly than I recall what I ate yesterday, the swirling and sweeping intensity of my own inner world taking shape. Light bulb moments, frantic curiosity, all consuming fascination, bursting emotions, a world within a world. In those moments, I recall reaching out to the grown-ups in my life and being most often met with a friendly, unintentional brush off or a half listening reply. Sure there were also plenty of times my  grown-ups took the time to answer me in earnest but those other moments held a valuable lesson as well. It was those interactions that solidified for me the huge divide between children and adults. I could see and they could not. And here I am, working hard everyday for vision that once came so easily. 

Now as a mom I see each of my daughters piecing together their own world within a world. I want nothing more than for my girls to have a rich inner life from which to draw self-knowledge, self-love and that unshakeable thirst for life that makes the journey always so fascinating and worthwhile. So they’re questioning and probing and silence, all of it, is a gift to me, reassurance, comfort.

So, when a question has a different tone or when their eyes more than their voices ask the question or the silence or stare into space weighs heavier than usual, I step up to the plate. Despite my grumpy mood or explosive migraine or agenda for the day, their wonder trumps all. It doesn’t mean I’m Fred Rogers with each and every single one of their questions. I am human after all. But when the wind changes direction, I try damn hard to notice. I step up to the plate with the best I’ve got. And more than just a Q & A tennis match, I give them my inner life. I let them witness self-care. I verbalize (age appropriately) the things with which I struggle. I verbalize the things that make my spirit soar. I draw attention to the intangible riches in life, how to find them, share them, celebrate them. I pour into them words to fill them up, to set their souls a flight.

And as time goes on, I hope they’ll find in me a kindred spirit. Find someone to sit and ponder life with, ask the big questions with, sit in silence with, celebrate life with. Heck, in building an inner life and in all things, I hope they find in me someone who knew them once and still, who nurtured them and their wonder and, who after all this time, will always be willing to.

inner life of children

So much of parenthood is a surprise that shouldn’t be surprise, a reminder of our own journey. I’d almost forgotten about those backseat meaning of life questions I used to ask. But they remind me and I’m grateful for that. I’d love to know two things – First, do you remember your own inner life taking shape? And then, how do you nurture your own child’s inner life?