Wednesday, April 27, 2011

tonglen and the tree

Hanen asked me a question from my last post.

Have you talked to Bea about tonglen? Is it something you'd try with her?

It is a really great question, because tonglen became an important part of my meditations and a very healing part of my grief journey. I have not specifically talked to her about tonglen, mainly because the concepts and ideas are a little complicated for me to grasp, and conversely, I think I would have a really difficult time translating it for a four-year old. BUT, and it is a huge but, like my own huge butt, we do meditations for compassion and suffering. My daughter visited my father, who is in a nursing home and sick with MS, since she was born. And so we are around sick people, old people, lonely people, people squarely in the dementia stage of life fairly often, so she understands suffering. When we meditate, I sometimes say, "We are breathing out our love for the suffering today." Or sometimes I ask her to think about my father, or other sick people we know, before our meditation, then I guide a meditation like this:

Imagine that you have warmth and light in your belly and heart, now the light comes out of your fingertips, all of your hair, your nose, the tips of your toes. We are going to watch the light dance around us. It is filled with love and happiness and compassion. Now, let's see Grandpa in our mind, and send the light to him, like we are giving him a big hug with the light, and wrapping it around his wheelchair and his hair, and watch him smile.
It is simple, but hopefully, I am opening the doors to compassionate thinking and healing thoughts.

Thank you for asking your question, Hanen. And if anyone else has questions, I'd be happy to answer them. You can read my thoughts about teaching meditation to toddlers here.


I always envisioned Lucy's space, her tree and the surrounding area, to be some kind of meditation space or garden. But now the dog craps there, and I don't know, that reeking smell ruins the ambiance, even if Sam is an amazingly thoughtful poop-picker-upper. It all feels like not enough, and when it feels that way, I get a strong case of the effits. But still, it is there nagging, especially as Mother's Day approaches and the tree is two years in the ground, and I still haven't even quite managed to weed the surrounding area. I think I should just do it up, channel my energy, this weird sober/grief/creative block energy into the yard.

If my yard was a glorious yard, I would make a rock garden, plant a jizo and some hummingbird bushes and flowers, a bench and meditation spot, maybe a water feature. But as it is, it is feeble yard, all rectangular and barren, filled with oddly random plant successes surrounded by brittle skeletons of landscaping past. My black thumb of death leaving its mark in every nook and cranny of my swamp-like swatch of land. Sometimes I fantasize about ripping out all the grass and covering the entire yard in moss, but if I killed the moss, I couldn't live with myself.

I think I want a bench. I think I want a marker for Lucy's tree, but it is in our backyard. We all know why the tree is there, and what it is for. But then, I want to see her name there. I searched for memorial markers on Etsy, but there are two kinds--pet markers and park markers. As much as I could ask someone who makes pet markers to make something for Lucy, I also will always have this idea that it is for a dog, really, and my daughter was not the pet buried in the backyard.  And the park tree marker, while that isn't bad, I am convinced the dog peeing on it will make me burst into tears. He's a cute dog, but absolutely no manners in regards to his bodily fluids and sacred items. The yard is his domain, but it pisses me off irrationally when he craps under her tree. If there were pee pee stains on her marker, I possibly maybe could perhaps go ballistic.
Lucy's tree from my office. Yeah.

Then I kept thinking about when we planted the tree, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, and thinking maybe I should make some stepping stones towards her tree, or in front of it, like an actual place where the sidewalk ends, with mosaics and her name and date, or something. And so a few days ago, we bought concrete and glass mosaic to make stepping stones for each child for the backyard. I don't know. Could be cheesy, in which case, I will just use it somewhere that can handle cheesy. If it is special and cool, then I will use it by Lucy's tree. I asked this question in the Facebook and got some amazing answers, but I was curious what you have done if you planted a tree to mark it as a memorial tree, and especially if it is in your yard.

Here is the tree from my office. It does look a little Charlie Brown, I know, but it is getting there, hopefully. If anyone has any brilliant ideas. The wood pile is right next to her tree now, which is weird, and the area in front of that is wood mulch and connects with our front yard. Any ideas?

Monday, April 25, 2011

meditating with the childrens

I don't usually do posts like this, but I write fairly often on here about meditation and Buddhism, and meditating with my children, and so, today, I was thinking that maybe I should do a post about my experience with teaching Beezus to meditate and what that has been like. Teaching meditation to my children has taught me more about meditation. I like what Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it." So, if you struggle with finding a moment of calm, maybe this can help you too. I frequently use the same techniques when I meditate that I teach my children.

When Beezus was a year, I bought a book called Baby Buddhas, which is meditation techniques for children. And it has been an amazing resource. I just didn't even know why anyone would teach children meditation. Or really how they could do that. Meditation is difficult for most adults. But now I actually think it is much easier for children. If we can set them up for finding ways to deal with their stress later in life, awesome. Basically, know this starting out, you are not meditating, the children are meditating. So, you will guide them. It is relaxing, but not your meditation. You are helping them stay in the moment. So, think of this as learning how to guide meditation for your children. If I begin meditating with Beezus, and she is unfocused, I just stop and ask if she'd like to try again later, or what we can do to focus.

I had an adult colleague, who used to use similar techniques on herself. Guided meditations, that is. She read them out of a book. She recorded them on her computer with her webcam, then made mp3s out of them, then put them on her Ipod and listened to them at lunch. I think she did the same thing with yoga workouts for the gym, since in the moment, she felt silly and forgot which move was next. I always thought that was an awesome technique.

Oh, right, the childrens. We sit cross-legged on the floor in a circle, or Beezus sits on my lap. She most frequently sits on my lap when we do guided meditations when she is upset, or exhausted and having a hard time. Sometimes I guide her on walks through the woods, to meet a spirit animal. I know it sounds hokey, but kids love that they can be a player in a story we create, and she turns the corner and tells me the animal she is feeling most like. That meditation is incredibly insightful into the place my daughter is at mentally and emotionally. When she is feeling like a giraffe, or a panda bear, or a tiger, I understand what she feels like a little better. Alright, totally hokey, but it works.

So, here is a basic meditation. We often start with a meditation gong, or bell. The meditation gong we picked up at the new age bookshop in Philly, and it was less than ten bucks, and well well worth the money spent. I try to make meditation fun, interesting, a time of finding strength and renewal, not a burden. So, I have the meditation gong, which both Thor and Beezus ring. I often catch Thor at the altar, ringing the gong on his free time. Children are attracted to music and beautiful sounds, so that helps to get them interested in this time. I change who rings it, and sometimes they both ring the start of meditation. One right after the other. Who cares? There are no rules, so make it fun as you go through it. What works for your family is most important.

Thor is a little young, but he likes to climb on us when we meditate and it is fun to try not to move or giggle when he is exploring us. That is a form of meditation and focus that is good and fun for kids to learn too.

The guided meditation I use most frequently is just guiding her breath and learning gratitude. So, first, we sit in a circle with the gong. And I say something like this, "Let's cross our legs, sit up straight, smile, wiggle our toes. We are having a fun meditation for compassion and to give thanks. First, let's imagine ourselves like trees, our back extend down down down into the earth, the spine, which is the hard bone in your back, goes into the ground, and sprouts roots, and soaks up all the goodness and strength from the earth, and then your head will move upwards towards to clouds, to capture the rain. We are a big tree. sturdy and strong, and ready to watch the world around us. Now, we start to mind our breath and slow down. We will breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in love. Breathe out madness. GONG. Breathe in love. Breathe out sadness. GONG. Breathe in love. Breathe out badness. GONG. I am so grateful we are here together in this circle, listening to this bell. Let's breathe quietly for a few moments, then when you hear the gong, you can open your eyes." And in about a minute, I ring the bell. That is it. You can go as long as your child can handle it, but I try not to overextend my daughter's patience. Short and sweet, and sometimes she asks to do it again, so we do.

Today, we created mind jars, from the book Moody Cow Meditates. It is about a cow who has a bad day and his grandfather comes to help him deal with his anger and mixed up feelings. So, they create a mind jar, and use it to focus on meditation. It is really easy to make. Basically, you get a jar--spice jar, baby food size, or even a mason jar. First, put some glitter in the jar. Little glitter is better than like star glitter (which is heavier), but either works. Fill the jar 3/4ths full with warm water, then the rest of the way up (with some room for shaking) with glycerin. You can get glycerin for really cheap at the craft store, or grocer. It is used in baking to brighten up icing color, so they sell wee little jars of it, which is perfect for this craft. After the glycerin, add four drops of liquid soap. Put the lid, tightly on the jar, then shake it. It is essentially like creating a snow globe, but you can help you little one pick colors, make it their own. The goal is that when they are feeling out of control, they shake the jar, then sit and watch the glitter settle in the water. It is like our minds when we are angry, frustrated, things feel impossible--our minds and emotions are all shook up. I help Bea stare and not stare at the jar, that middle gaze. When the glitter settles, we finish our meditation. This one is a really great technique to use in lieu of timeout. When our minds are shook up, we can easily get shaken up again, and that is what the jar is useful to show, how our emotions can be shook up and crazy, but we don't have to shake the jar. Beatrice loves her mindjar, and it works great to help calm a crazed kid.

Hope that was useful for someone out there. If anyone has any questions for me about meditation, or anything else really, just put it in the comment section here. I am trying to write more and could use inspiration.

*This post was edited to add to add some pictures. After I wrote this, I thought maybe you'd like to see what a mind jar looks like and the meditation gong. We made two yesterday. One for upstairs and one for down. The shorter one was shook up right before I snapped this picture. You begin meditation with the gong, but gently hitting the side of the bowl, the bigger the bowl, the longer the ring. And you stay quiet until the end of the bowl's sound.

Friday, April 22, 2011


When I bought this house, I was pregnant with Beezus. At the closing, the selling agent was pregnant too, and as it turned out, she lived right next door to the house we just bought. We both had girls. And the day she told me she was pregnant with her second child, I called her to come and stay with Beezus. Lucy hadn't moved in a while, and I went to the hospital and found out she was dead. She walked every step of this grief with me. It wasn't the way we imagined living next door to one another would be, but I couldn't ask for a better neighbor and friend. She isn't sappy, but she doesn't shy away from conversation. When Thor was born, she gave me a necklace with all my babies' names on it. And  we cried together. Our boys are eight months apart, which seems huge right now, but one day, one day that won't be a big deal at all.

The girls, though, are becoming friends in a way that I couldn't imagine happening so quickly. They want to hang out all the time. I can already foresee them playing after school together. Beezus is four, and all she talks about is A. next door. If she hears a squawk from the girl next door, she is at the window, shoes on, wanting to get her bike out, or her rollerskates, or just to run alongside her while she plays. Finally, they are at an age where the girls play together without parents, call to each other from over the fence and just go play. No hovering. No dates. Just ordinary kids, kicking dirt, or whatever. I always wanted that for my kids. Just to have a space for them to be kids, and hang out with neighbors and discover whatever it is they are supposed to be.

Today, we were planting vegetables in the front beds when the neighbors pulled in. A. tottered over and asked to play with us, and I said sure, and her mama said, "Just send her home later." But I gave them tools, and watering cans. And they followed behind me like little goslings, and asked me questions. And we planted everything we bought. We dug out weeds. We watered. I wore Thomas Harry on my back in the Ergo, and the girls shared tools like they were growing up and trying to get along, and I felt this sense of deep serenity and peace being around both of them. Little girl energy is good. We talked about our favorite plants, and we all decided where to plant the zucchini--between the butterfly bush and the lilac--because why not, really?

When we needed to go in for dinner, she followed us. I texted her mother and told her that A. could stay longer, if she wanted. We all decided on food that we all like. They painted pictures while I cooked, and then they asked to play upstairs. I said, "Of course." And they scurried up the stairs, then I screamed after them, "Just please come when I call you for dinner, girls."

My heart was pounding and the room was spinning. I leaned against the island. Fuck. I had two girls, not just one perfect little girl who likes unicorns and pink and kisses on her eyelids. I had two girls.



I always imagined myself saying, "Girls, time for dinner." Girls, I love you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

after the fire

I am over at Glow in the Woods today talking about what happens after the fire. Or rather the strange phenomenon of being reminded of things that haven't happened yet, or rather reflecting on things that happened that remind you of what just happened. Well, just go read it your damn self and tell me what it is about.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

such is life

I must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.

I'm not sure if quoting Beckett before 8am is one of the twelve danger signs that you are taking yourself too seriously. I feel like I must write, but I cannot write, but I need to write, but I don't know what to write. So, writing is my Godot right now. (Yes, I know Beckett is rolling over in his grave saying, "As for thee, fuck thee."*)

This is the thing, I used to drink and write at night, after the kids went to sleep. Then in the morning, I would edit, tweak, rewrite. So, night was inspiration. Morning, perspiration. I had an abundance of thoughts, topics, novels, poems and paintings and never enough time. Now, I stare at the screen. *crickets*

I have things to write about, I guess, but none of them feel imperative to write about. Nothing feels inspired. I don't know which came first the writing or the drinking. I don't know which I did for which purpose. Did I drink to write, or write to drink? It is all muddled together. I fear my office at night now. I wasn't someone who went to the bar. No, I went into my office, and sipped on a nice bourbon on the rocks, while I leaned back in my office chair and it came out. The words, the ideas, the projects. Liquor loosened my emotions, which I keep in a tightly wound ball of yarn. The bourbon pulled on it gently until the emotions tumbled down the screen, following the trail to my truth.

I don't really know how to feel. I am too analytical. Too think-y. My therapist used to get frustrated beyond words because I had parsed out all my emotions, dissected them, but I didn't feel them. In the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, I tested with almost all Ts and no Fs. Actually, it was all Ts, according to the therapist. I have to learn how to feel. It sounds more fucked up than I thought it would to see that on the screen. And more important.

I have dreams now. The dreams are of me drinking and forgetting I am trying to stay sober. They are dreams of throwing it all away, of losing everything. And I wake up in a panic, spending the day in a vague fog feeling the shame of drinking even though I didn't drink. I still wonder if I can control my drinking, even though that is the most exhausting part of drinking to me. Controlling, or trying to control, my drinking. My alcoholism manifested in an extreme obsession, like Fatal Attraction. Come to think of it I should make a t-shirt that reads Bourbon Boiled my Bunny. It was just this obsessive thinking--am I drinking too much? When can I have another drink? Why isn't that person drinking their drink? Am I drinking too fast? When can I drink without seeming like an alcoholic? Is it too early to drink? Should I have another? When can I have another? Do I have enough booze in the house? Maybe I should quit. Should I quit? How should I quit? I won't drink tomorrow if I can have another now. Maybe I am an alcoholic. How do you know if you are an alcoholic?

Fuck. The best part of sobriety is the silence in my head. The peace of not having to figure it out. I couldn't do it. I couldn't figure out the right formula for drinking healthily. The obsession was exhausting. Taking it off the table at all is liberating. It is liberating not to be expected to drink correctly, or non-alcoholically. I am not capable of it. 

Once you open this door, you cannot turn around and walk back in comfortably. I have ruined my relationship with drinking. I guess that it exactly what I wanted when I wrote about it. There are only a few reasons to break the anonymity of alcoholism and one of those is to keep yourself sober. I knew that if I outed myself, I was less likely to drink with any of you one day when I was feeling destructive. Or to drink at all. I am a prideful, ego-driven animal, but as long as I don't drink that first drink, I am fine. It's the first drink that kills you, you know, because without the first drink, I am sober. It is impossible for me to turn down the second drink, and very easy to turn down the first .

It's not that I want to drink, even. I don't crave it. I just want to be normal. I don't want to have dreams that I am drunk. I don't want to worry about how I will be on vacation with my in-laws and not have wine. I don't want to wonder how I will tell my drinking friends if I ever see them again. I don't want to worry about being angry, or frustrated or sad and wonder if it is a gateway to drinking again. I don't want to never step into a bar again, because it is dangerous, and yet, it is dangerous for me. I have no business being there, except that I just want to be like every other person who doesn't think twice about it.

This is what I felt after Lucy died, wanting to crawl out of my new reality.  I didn't want to think about how to answer "normal" conversational small talk questions like "How many children do you have?" The feeling of wanting to be "normal" coupled with the understanding that I can never be the person I was before again. So wanting to be normal with the realization that I am not normal. Funnily, now, I don't really think about those things in regards to Lucy's death. I don't worry about betraying her memory if I don't mention her, or feel like I am dropping a grief bomb on the party if I do mention it. I integrated her death into who I am. This is normal. Not new normal, or old normal, it is just normal. And that is what I will grow into with this sobriety. Normalcy. Until then, I guess I will sporadically write, and awkwardly broach the topic with quotes from my favorite absurdist play. Because really, that is exactly what it feels like.

Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be? (Estragon, having struggled with his boots in vain, is dozing off again. Vladimir looks at him.) He'll know nothing. He'll tell me about the blows he received and I'll give him a carrot. (Pause.) Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) I can't go on! (Pause.) What have I said?  -Act II, Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett.

*Quote from Mercier and Camier.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


We recently bought new home phones. It took me weeks of losing people in mid-trauma, batteries running out when I was in the middle of "Hello." I searched for an old dial phone. Did you know that they really don't make those anymore? I don't usually use wtf, but really wtf? Using a dial phone means that when you call someone you really mean it. You don't dial without being committed, especially because it might take you three tries. My pocket frequently calls people. Today, it called a plus sign. I put the phone to my ear and half expected to hear a cheerful Southern woman say, "Stay positive, honey."

Pockets and purses should not be given the power of dialing.

I went to Target to buy a walk-about phone. And it was like an IQ test trying to figure out which was proper phone for a family of four with two floors and napping children. I don't have the necessary time to devote to purchasing a phone. I have a cell phone. I pick out my father's phone. I really invest too much time to a technology I don't really care to use most days. So I employ this method of choosing items that are beyond my real knowledge base. I don't pick the cheapest. I don't pick the most expensive. I pick the C+ item. Something like the Fair to Middling Method. The side of the box has a modest bulleted list of attributes that includes Makes Calls. Takes Calls. For some reason, that option came with two phones. You really didn't have any other option but the two phone option, and so now I have two phones (one upstairs and one downstairs). And then, I had to pick which "ring" I wanted. On two phones. I usually go old school and pick the ring that sounds like an old dial-up phone anyhow, but for some reason, I decided to do a song just to shake up the househole.

It has an unexpected advantage not mentioned on the side of the box of transforming Thor into Lord of the Dance everytime someone calls. Even in his sleep. It is so dang cute that I rarely answer the phone in time. I just let it ring and ring, the smile spreading across his face. He starts bouncing. The phone stops and he goes back to whatever he was doing the moment before, as though he didn't just get down. I then pray the person calls back. So I don't have to answer again.

He turned one. One. One year. Three-hundred and sixty-five days. I was extremely emotional on his birthday. In fact, I think I had a mild nervous breakdown/crying jag, because nothing seemed celebratory enough. I boycotted dinner, or something ridiculously immature. I don't know. I blocked my bad behavior. Okay, I didn't. I just felt like there was not enough...oomph. We worked hard for him. His pregnancy nearly broke me. Nothing would have been enough, I realize it now. She died. He lived. He brings me a kind of joy I can't really explain, not just because of the dancing, and the smiles, and the kisses and all the little things that makes Thor Thor. Maybe it is because she died. Maybe it is because he lived. I don't know. All of it gained momentum as the day drew closer, like it was a small snowball rolling up every emotion I have felt in the last few years since I last held Lucy growing into an avalanche eventually, sweeping me under, and over again.

We had two parties this weekend for our children since Thor and Beezus are born in the same week. Thor the first and Bea the sixth. So, Saturday was a family party and Sunday was Beezus' Tea Party with her little friends. I set up a dress up area, bought girly things from thrift shops around the area and served all kinds of tea party things. It was the party I could never have as a child, and she seemed to love it. I loved celebrating my children. I needed it more than anyone. I don't really go for those traditional milestone celebrations. I didn't have a wedding. Or a graduation thing. Or whatever most people do to move into the next phase of life, but for some reason, I wanted to mark the occasions of my daughter's fourth and my son's first birthdays.

Happy birthday, my babies. I love being your mama. I love watching you dance.