Monday, January 2, 2017

Snow Day Survival Guide

They are the two words every child wants to hear in the winter: "SNOW DAY!" But having kids home all day can be a challenge for parents. Here are a few ideas to get you through the day.

First and foremost, get the kids outside! If you don't already have child-sized shovels, they're a great investment. Snow toys like brick builders and snowball makers come in handy as well. One of our favorite things to do is to fill a squirt bottle with water and food coloring, and use that to make snow art. It's a great way for little ones to practice letter formation as well!

We also love to bring the snow inside...to make snow ice cream! The recipe is simple, the results are delicious!


And who says you need to go outside to make a snowman? No offense to Elsa and Anna, but the only ones I wanna build are made out of marshmallows.


Snowflakes are fun to make this time of year- they will take any adult right back to their childhood! For the simplest version, just use a coffee filter (what else are you going to do with that stack, now that you've switched to a Keurig?). If you're ready to get a bit more sophisticated, try a 3-D paper snowflake. They only require paper, tape, and scissors, and older kids can easily complete them. You'll find the instructions here.

Our final snowflake was a fun science experiment- it takes 8-12 hours, but hey- it's a snow day so you've got nothing but time! My oldest loved making these Borax rystal snowflakes, but we also made other cool shapes, including his initial. Instructions are here


I'm a big fan of projects the older kids can do with the younger ones, and homemade playdough and finger paint both fit that bill. With a little supervision at the stove, older kids can mix these up and then the whole crew can create...because you're never too old for arts and crafts! Both of these are made with common pantry ingredients and are non-toxic. 

A snow day is also a great chance to help your fine feathered friends...birds actually have a much harder time finding food when the snow hits, so take the opportunity to make a few easy bird feeders with your kids. You and the birds will reap the benefits all winter. Here are some ideas. 

Another great way to pass the time on a snow day is with some simple games- we keep busy with indoor obstacle races, and the many "Minute to Win It" style games you can find on Pinterest. One of our favorites is this one where the kids have 1 minute to move as many M&Ms as they can from one plate to another using a straw. 


Thanks to WDIV for having us on to share these ideas- happy snow day to all! 


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Finding My Voice: From A Chance Encounter Years Ago To A New Year's Goal

Most broadcasters get their start in small markets- places like Glendive, Montana; or Alpena, Michigan, but my first gig was international.

It was 1994, I had recently graduated from college, and I was stranded in the Australian capital of Canberra. How I got there is a long story that involves first love, first heartbreak, and an overnight bus ride, but I'll save that for another time. Suffice it to say I found myself with several hours to kill in an unfamiliar place.

The sun was barely peeking out of the early morning sky, and in my teary, weary, travel-ragged state, I was hardly in the mood to tour the sights. Still, part of me knew this was quite possibly the only time in my life I'd have the chance to see Canberra, so I'd better pull myself together and take advantage of it. Surely there were national treasures, museums, and galleries that I should visit so that I could broaden my worldview and deepen my understanding of that great nation on the other side of the world.

Just one problem: it was 7am on a Sunday morning and all the bastions of Australian culture were closed. I had about 5 hours to kill before my next bus, so I stashed my backpack in a locker, grabbed a cup of coffee from a corner deli and wandered the streets.

About an hour into my aimless jaunt, I stumbled across a large building that looked interesting, and by that I mean it appeared to actually be open. It was the Australian Institute of Sport.

I walked up the steps, pushed open the door, and found myself face-to-face with a dark-haired, red-nosed man sitting behind a desk, surrounded by a pile of Kleenex, a manual of some sort, and a telephone.

"(Sniff) Well, good morning (cough cough cough)," he sputtered, and then continued in an extremely hoarse voice. "We're not quite open (sniff sniff) but now that you're here, I'm going to need to you do something..."

"Umm...what??" I replied nervously, as headlines of international kidnappings and trafficking rings flashed before my eyes, and I wondered why I couldn't have just wandered right past this place. It's not like I even understood cricket. Or rugby. Or Australian men. (oops, I digress again...)

"We just got a new phone system (GIANT COUGH) and I need to record (SNIFF) the outgoing message on it, but as you can see...or well, hear...(SNEEZE), I'm a bit under the weather. Could you do it for me?"

Relief flooded through me. "I guess I could, but in case you can't tell, I'm from the United States. Shouldn't the official message for the Australian Institute of Sport sound a little more....Australian?" I asked.

He looked right at me said, "You have a voice- that's what matters."

So right there and then, I scored my first paid job in the industry: I recorded the outgoing answering machine message, giving the days and hours the Institute was open in exchange for free admission and a refill of my coffee.

Shortly after my splashy debut on the international broadcasting scene, I caught a bus back to Sydney, and eventually a very long flight back to my regularly scheduled life in the US. I think it's safe to assume that my message has long since been erased from the phone system of the Australian Institute of Sport, but that random stranger's message to me was permanently archived on my brain: You have a voice- that's what matters.

I thought about it in those emotional, jet-lagged days upon my return to the States, where I felt lost and silent.

I thought about it in the years that followed, as I tried different career paths and countries; all those years when I said too much, struggling to fit in.

I think about it now, as I grow deeper into motherhood, when it often feels simultaneously like no one and everyone is listening.

It's no coincidence that "voice" and "vocation" come from the same root: the Latin "vocare," which means "to call." When I think of what it means to have a "voice," I think of the bridge that connects our inner and outer worlds. It's the sweet spot where body, heart, mind, and spirit overlap. It's not just the sound that comes from our mouths, but the one we make in the world.

As this new year begins, those words speak to me once again: "You have a voice- that's all that matters." Will I be strong enough to be a voice for justice and a voice for love? A voice of truth and compassion? A voice that says what it means, and isn't afraid to say no? A voice that is unafraid to speak alone? Because that's what matters.

About a month ago, my daughter gave her first book report of the school year. Despite being a voracious reader, and the daughter of a broadcast journalist, she's a shy flower who breaks out in a sweat at the mere thought of speaking in front of her class.

"Mommy- I don't want to do it," she cried that morning, her voice shaking with fear. "Why can't I let someone else read my book report for me?"

I took her on my lap, held her hands in mine, and looked right in her eyes.

"Because there's only one YOU," I told her firmly. "You don't have to be the loudest, you won't always have all the answers, and not everyone will always like what you have to say. But nobody, NOBODY can speak for you, sweet girl."

"You have a voice- that's what matters."

Friday, December 23, 2016

Have Yourself A Poopy Little Christmas: Finding Light In A Time Of Darkness

If love means never having to say "I'm sorry," then loving two little boys means never having to say "I'm sorry, this bathroom is just too clean for words!" Oh, there are plenty of words to describe the typical state of a bathroom in our house, but most of them are not fit to print.

I can't even identify some of the things I've found in the kids' bathroom, because quite frankly I don't want to get close enough to try. Let's be honest: boys are a symphony of gross, and the bathroom is their masterpiece concerto of yuck. And I don't want to completely let my little princess off the hook, since her bedroom could easily be featured on an episode of Elementary School Hoarders. Given that anatomy is on her side, she does generally manage to keep the toilet seat clean, although actually flushing the device is apparently frowned upon in her kingdom.

That goes for all the kids in the house; that's because right now we are three kids deep in one of the poopiest phases of parenting. Everyone is out of diapers, but now they're gripped with a fascination with all things excrement-related. Bathroom humor is the only kind of humor in our house. When they do Mad Libs, I can be relatively certain that the choice of nouns and verbs will fall into just two categories: bodily functions or the parts that produce them. My daughter, if given the opportunity to play with my phone, will bypass all the sweet, smiley faced emojis and head right for the picture of the toilet or the brown lump of poop. And the first time we traveled to Mackinac Island, Michigan's storied getaway where cars are not allowed and horse drawn carriages are a main mode of transportation, the bulk of the 4-hour trip north was devoted to the topic of horse poop. Do they just poop in the ROAD? Who cleans it up? Where do they put it? What happens to it after that?

So it should come as no surprise, given their obsession, that one of my children would find a way to bring poop into the picture of one of the most holy, divine moments in all of religion: the birth of Christ.

It was shortly after Thanksgiving and my youngest was setting up the nativity scene by the fireplace while I worked on the tree in the other room with his siblings.

"Mom, what's a manger?" he called out.

I peeked in to see him tossing the plastic manger in the air (we purchased a kid-friendly set after the unfortunate year where several donkeys were decapitated during a Bethlehem brawl).

"Umm...it's that thing in your hands...you know, the place where Mary laid baby Jesus after he was born?"

"But what IS it when He's not in it? Is it a bed...for a sheep?" he wondered, his chunky kindergarten fingers not finding success at shoving a plastic animal into the manger.

"Well, not exactly," I replied. "I think it's more like a food trough- the place where the animals ate. Remember how there was no room for Mary and Joseph inside? They had to stay out with the animals. Then Jesus was born, and Mary wrapped him up and put him in there.

He considered this thoughtfully for a second and then his face lit up with excitement.

"So all these animals were there?" he gestured to the plastic menagerie.

"Yes..."

"So was there...(sharp inhale of excitement)...POOP? When Jesus was born? WAS THERE POOP EVERYWHERE? BECAUSE ANIMALS POOP!  I'VE SEEN THEM AT THE FARM AND IT SMELLS SOOOOOO BAD REMEMBER WHEN WE WENT ON THAT FIELD TRIP IN PRESCHOOL AND THAT COW POOPED AND THEN ALL THE CHICKENS WERE POOPING IN THEIR HOUSE AND THERE WAS POOP ON THE GROUND AND I STEPPED IN IT AND YOU MADE ME WIPE MY FEET ON THE GRASS BEFORE I GOT IN THE CAR..."

Clearly, the poop train had left the station. He became so engrossed in his recollection of barnyard poop (and reenacting it with the nativity scene animals) that he forgot he had even asked the question, so I took it upon myself to walk away and not have to deal with another poopy conversation. But his question stayed with me, and not just because I had to scrub the toilets that afternoon.

Though it's my most favorite time of year, I'd been having a hard time getting in the Christmas spirit. Despite the holiday lights all around, things just hadn't seemed very bright. Between the never-ending political drama in our country, the unthinkable atrocities unfolding in Syria, the bombing of churches in my family's homeland, the suffering of loved ones, and my own chronic pain from an injury that just won't heal, light had been in short supply.

Maybe that's why I started wondering- WAS there poop when Jesus was born?

I guess there probably was, both literally and figuratively. In our minds, in images, and in the songs we sing this time of year, the birth of Christ is such a gentle, magical time. We think of Christmas as a time of light, which of course it was (and is), but we often forget to mention that Jesus was born in the middle of a time of great darkness. The people of God were under oppressive rule. The nation of Israel was fracturing. Riots were common. Persecution was the way of life. 9 months pregnant, Mary and Joseph made an arduous, 100-mile journey by DONKEY over hills and streams, only to deliver the baby outdoors, without family or hospitality. These were very dark times, or as my kids my say, poopy. And that's not even talking about the animals.

I am no biblical scholar, but I do have to believe that was no accident. There's a reason the Son of God didn't arrive on a calm, clear day, with Mary and Joseph comfortably registered at the Labor and Delivery unit of their local hospital, birth plan in hand, with a crowd of family and friends in the waiting room as lavender essential oils were diffused into the birthing suite.

No, He was born into a world that I can't help but think was very similar to the one we're living in today: a broken, dark, and poopy one.

And that's where I guess this year I find the meaning of Christmas: in the poop. Christmas is about waiting for God to break forth into our world, despite the poop. It's waiting for the reassurance that hope is alive, that peace will prevail, that joy will be found, and that love will always win. It's the belief that nothing we can do as humans is so dark- not even the poopy condition in which we've left the world- that it can separate us from that light, and I've never found that thought more comforting than today.

Our world is a tough place to live in, but the Christmas story reminds us that just as hope, peace, joy and love started with an innocent child born in a humble manger surrounded (I surmise) by poop, it also starts at home in our poopy lives every single day. Christmas starts here. Christmas starts with us. It starts with cleaning up the poop.

Later that day, I found my sweet five-year-old, put him on my lap and asked him, "Buddy, do you remember earlier when you asked if there was poop when Jesus was born?"

After the requisite 10 minutes of laughing because MOM SAID POOP, he settled down. "Yeah..."

"Well, I wasn't there, and there's nothing written about that in the Bible, but I think we can guess there was. Like you said, there were all these animals, and animals poop. But that's not all. There were a lot of people behaving in a pretty poopy way back then. The world was dark and scary. And God wasn't afraid of any of that. Not the poop or the dark. He still isn't. He sent us light. That's a big part of Christmas- we need to look at all the ways we are poopy- not just in the bathroom, but in the way we talk, behave, and most of all, treat other people. We need to look for God, because he's here. We need to look for him in each other, in strangers, in people we can help. We need to look for that light, and we need to BE that light. And we REALLY need to clean up the poop in our lives."

I wanted to tell him so much more. I wanted to tell him how guilty I feel when I look around at all the poop that surrounds us- the politics, the pain, the suffering-  and realize how lucky I am that the majority of the excrement in my life is confined to the bathroom.

I wanted to tell him how every mother, of every creed and every color, in every part of the world, has seen the great light that's been passed down through history with the first glance into in her child's eyes.

How sometimes my heart simultaneously aches with equal parts joy and guilt when I think about how whole our life is in the midst of our very broken world.

I wanted to tell him all of that, but it seemed a bit heavy for a 5-year-old, so instead I just kissed the top of his curly head, held him a bit too long until he squirmed out of my arms, and told him to go clean the bathroom.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Angel: Seeing The World Through A Child's Eyes


Holiday celebrations are some of the best parts of living in a small town, and my town does not disappoint. As Christmas approaches, our Main Street. is decked out in wreaths and ribbons, with beautiful storefront window displays glittering and gleaming in the soft white lights.

Early in the season, the entire downtown closes to traffic for an evening to make room for Santa's sleigh, where, after several hours of music and merry-making, the crowd gathers for a countdown at the end of which Santa magically turns on the Christmas lights that surround downtown's centerpiece, the Millpond (we won't dwell on that one year we counted down like six times but the lights still wouldn't go on- even Santa has technical difficulties). It's a pretty big deal around here.

Many of the homes leading into downtown take their celebrations just as seriously. There's the house with the nearly 50-foot pine tree that is adorned from top to bottom with ornaments the size of watermelons. Smiling snowmen on every corner. Enough reindeer to pull a dozen sleighs. And my favorite- a giant lighted angel which stands in front of a quaint, brick gingerbread-style home on Main St. I look forward to seeing its warm glow every year, and then I forget about it until the next. Christmas angels aren't there when it's not Christmas, right?

Unless they are and you just don't see them.

Fortunately, someone in my world does.

I think it began around sometime around February or March. We'd be driving through downtown and all of a sudden, my then 6-year-old daughter would nearly leap out of her booster seat with excitement.

"Mama- there's the most beautiful angel standing there, and she's holding a present in her hands! What do you think is in it? Do you think it's for me?" She'd breathlessly blurt out as we navigated the roundabout in the middle of town.

"Mmm hmm...," I'm sure I muttered distractedly, the first few times, glancing up about 2 blocks after the fact, which is typically the time it takes a verbal message to trudge through the muck of my overloaded brain, and to trigger some sort of a response. Of course by then, I saw nothing.

But she wouldn't stop. Whether it was on the way to ballet, coming home from the grocery store, or heading to a friend's house, she saw an angel. I saw nothing but places to go, errands to run, and time ticking away on the clock.

Though she only mentioned the angel when the two of us were alone together in the car, on those rare occasions I was a passenger, I'd try to remind myself to look for it. Unfortunately, by the time we got close to downtown, my attention had been pulled away by a beep or a buzz or a tweet or a tap or a swipe. But never an angel.

Finally one day, I remembered. As we made our way downtown on the way to dance class, I told her to tell me when we were getting close to the angel. I slowed waaayyy down until I heard her gleefully  squeal: "There she is!"

Sure enough, she was right- there stood the frame of the giant lighted angel I so look forward to seeing each Christmas. I'll be honest- in the light of day, she looked a little shabby- just a twisted shell of metal and wires on a soggy, bare lawn.

"Oh, you mean the Christmas angel!" I said. "I didn't see her because the lights aren't on this time of year."

"She's not just a Christmas angel, mama- she's there all the time," she insisted. "It doesn't matter if the lights are on. She's an angel- she's always shining. I see her all the time. You just didn't LOOK for her. "

DUH.

And just like that, my thought process sped through the roundabout and took a hard right turn into the oh-so-familiar parking lot of Mommy Guilt. Between work, activities, obligations, and the pressure of getting everyone from Point A to B (and points C-Z), what else had I been missing?

But then I realized- maybe we're not meant to see it all alone. Sure, my little girl sees things where I don't- she looks at a puddle and sees nothing but joy. I see a stealth mess that's looking to attach itself to a host so it can spread entirely new messes throughout the house. She sees cotton candy dinosaurs on a cloudy day, while I mourn the absence of the sun. And she sees angels shining even when the lights aren't on.

But I know it works both ways- it's my job to see things that she can't yet understand. To shield her as best I can from harmful germs and harmful strangers, bumps on her leg and bumps in the night. To guard her heart and raise her to see the world with both wisdom and joy.

Light and dark.

Angels and demons.

Between the two of us, I think it will work out just fine.

She'll be my angel and I'll be hers.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What Happened To the Magic Words? A Mom's Plea For More "Please" and "Thank You"

I've heard it said that parenting is a thankless job. The hours are awful, the pay is terrible, and the working conditions often include high-level HAZ MAT situations involving various forms of human DNA.

Sure, raising children is certainly difficult, often physically and mentally exhausting, and occasionally downright disgusting. But thankless? Hardly.

My kids are currently 9, 7, and 5 years old, and from the very beginning, we've done our best to instill in them the power of the "magic words" and the importance of a grateful spirit. They are far from perfect, but more often than not, they say "please" when they ask for something, and "thank you" when it's been received. So not only are we verbally receiving thanks multiple times per day, but we're "paid" in frequent hugs, deep belly laughs, and the cautious optimism that we're not raising entitled brats. Even with the 24-7 on-call shifts, I'd call that a hefty payoff. OK, a decent payoff. OK, fine- but I would still not call it "thankless."

Now dealing with adults, on the other hand- there's your thankless job. Actually, it's more like a "thanksless" job,  as in a shocking lack of use of the word "thanks." It can also be a "pleaseless" job, sometimes a "you're welcomeless" job, and almost always a "sorryless" one.

At least once a day I am shocked by the most basic lack of manners among adults, and I'm not even talking about the level of incivility that passes for discourse online. Believe me, I'd sooner put my bare hand in a blender than read the comments section of any news article, especially during election season.

I'm simply referring to what it feels like the almost total extinction of "please" and "thank you" in everyday life. You're probably familiar with the scenario: someone provides a service for another person. This could be anything from holding open a door to simply providing information via email, text, or other messaging means. Whatever the details, the response is often the same: Crickets. Nothing. Nada. AND IT MAKES ME CRAZY. When did saying "thank you" become optional? And when did so many people decide to opt out? The mom in me constantly fights an overwhelming urge to prompt people with a sugary, "What do we say?" or put a friend/acquaintance/total stranger in time out for what I consider abhorrent behavior.

Want some examples? The other day I was in the checkout line at the grocery store, when I noticed the child in the cart in front of me had dropped her toy. I picked it up and gave it to her mother, whose  only response was, "Oh geez, did she drop that again?" You're welcome. Later that same day,  I was out to dinner with my family, and I couldn't help but notice that when the waitress set down plates of food at the table next to us and they immediately said...grace. I'm all for that- really, I am. But shouldn't the process of giving thanks for one's food include thanking the person who brought it to the table? Directly, and not just through the intercession of a higher power?

Before you accuse me of being over-sensitive, consider what those words actually mean. Saying "thank you" isn't just a trivial throwaway. On the most basic level, it communicates acknowledgement of the act that took place, or receipt of the information that was communicated. Those things are rational, but saying "thank you" is mostly an emotional act. It connects one person to another. Saying "thank you" doesn't just acknowledge someone's effort, thoughtfulness, intent, or action. It acknowledges the person himself. And that is our basic responsibility as human beings living in community with each other. It's part of the unwritten contract we sign as co-inhabitants of the planet. And we're violating it right and left.

I often see "open letter" style thank yous, where people offer their profound gratitude very publicly to someone they often failed to thank privately. I'm sure you know the type of post I'm referring to- it usually has a title like: "To the Kind Woman In The Trader Joe's Parking Lot," or "Dear Lady Wearing The Black Swimsuit at the Splash Park." In the tradition of grand intellectuals like Emile Zola and Martin Luther King, Jr., the writer clearly feels his or her communication should not be limited to the mundane reality of either personal one-on-one missives. These letters often go viral, but they change nothing, and serve mainly to put the focus on the writer. That's not really what gratitude is all about. You know what I'd love to see go viral? Good old fashioned thanks.

A few years back I made what ultimately ended up to be a very brief stop in corporate America, taking a job in public relations. It was one of those "too good to pass up" opportunities, so even though I had a feeling it wasn't quite the right job for me, I gave it a go. A few days into the job, I needed to email a senior vice president for some information, which he promptly provided. "Thanks so much!" I replied. The same scenario played out over the next few days, and each time I replied with my thanks. Later that week, Mr. Very Important Senior Management Guy paid an unexpected visit to my desk.

"Hey, I get that you're new here and you're trying to be friendly," he boomed, loud enough for the entire cubicle farm to hear. "But you're clogging up my email with all your replies. You don't need to say 'thank you' for everything around here- we don't have time for that."

My jaw hit my my desk. "Umm...OK..." I stammered to his back as he importantly walked away. "Thanks...I mean, not thanks...I mean I'm sorry...wait, do we have time for 'sorry' here?"

For the record, I did thank him for the opportunity when I submitted my letter of resignation not long after that.

Contrast that to a day 35 years ago this month- one of my earliest memories of the power of the magic words. I came home from school to something my 8-year-old eyes had never seen: both my parents in tears. Anwar Sadat, the president of their native Egypt, had been assassinated as he marched in a parade commemorating the anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel. For days to come, we watched the footage over and over again, with audible sobs heard over the whir of the VCR in rewind mode. My parents and their Egyptian friends poured over news clippings taken from papers around the world, and discussed the implications in hushed voices.

I did not come close to understanding the nuances of the situation at that time- heck, I hardly do today. On the one hand, Sadat was a man who had not made life easy for Egypt's Christian minority, to which my family belongs. He had gone as far as to imprison the church patriarch in a remote desert monastery after accusing him of inciting sectarian unrest. On the other hand, he was the first Arab leader to sign a peace accord with Israel, a feat for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and which ultimately lead to his death at the hands of extremists who considered him a traitor.

As my parents struggled to digest all of that, what rose to the top on October 6, 1981, was that the leader of their beloved homeland had been killed, and from thousands of miles away, they mourned the piece of their history that died along with him.

In the days that followed, one of our closest family friends paid a visit. A devout Jew, she had been my parents' very first next door neighbor, and their relationship seemed a testament to the amazing possibilities this country held. No doubt, she was working to reconcile her own jumble of emotions over the events that had unfolded. But this was not the time for debate.

She walked over to my mom, took her hands, and held them to her heart.

They stood that way for some time, not speaking, both with tears streaming down their cheeks.

"Thank you," my mom eventually said.

And it was more than enough.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beach Memories: A Vacation To The Place Where Nostalgia, Love, and Loss Live On

Some people find peace in majestic mountains, others in wide open plains. My source of calm and comfort has always been the ocean.

Within the first few breaths of that salty ocean air, I feel my lungs tingle, my muscles relax, and my heart finds a familiar rhythm in the waves.

Because we've been coming to the beach since I was a child, those waves hold memories that churn up against each other, the past and present getting tossed together like tiny seashells. Over the years, the force of the water and time whittles them down and eventually deposits them back on shore. As I walk the beach, I see glimmers of those memories sparkling like shells in the sun. Sometimes, I can grab them before the next wave comes rolling in, but other times they retreat into the sea, teasing me with their barely visible edges.

My kids are beach creatures as well, easily spending hours jumping up and down in the waves, body surfing back to shore, and digging for shells in the wet sand. We walk together down the same beach I visited with my parents at their age, and the memories stretch out in front and behind us as far and wide as the sea itself.

I sit down to watch them splash in the water and in the crash of the waves against the shore, I hear the crack of the dice against the side of the backgammon board, my dad and his best friend locked in a heated game more than three decades ago, the afternoon sun gleaming off the intricate, mother-of-pearl inlaid tiles.

As the waves retreat in a fizzy farewell, I can almost taste the icy cold cans of Fresca we'd drink by the case, the citrusy bubbles soothing our throats in the midday heat. I hear laughter and sometimes I can't quite tell where it's coming from- past or present? My kids or my childhood? In the end, it doesn't really matter.

Every trip to the ocean reminds me of the one my own parents crossed, of what they brought with them, and what they were forced to leave behind. The water gives so much life and joy, but it also separates and divides, carves canyons from rock.

Just a few weeks before our trip this year, our close-knit Egyptian community was rocked by the sudden, unexplainable death of a bright, young star. Just 34 years old, his light was extinguished before it even had the chance to dazzle in the way everyone who knew him knew was his destiny. His loss felt like a giant tidal wave that swept over us, uprooting everything in its path, including destiny. The normal order of generations was undone as a mother buried her son, and children held their parents close. Feelings ran to extremes but words held no meaning. How could love hurt so much?

I longed to let the salty ocean water wash over all of us and carry this grief back down to its depths. I needed reassurance from the pull of the tides that the forces of nature were still in their proper places. I ached for the beach.

One night during our trip we went for an evening walk under the full moon. I held my daughter's hand as the surf tickled our ankles. My legs were heavy as the grief was still there, holding on, refusing to be cast off into the sea. We stood for a long time letting the waves roll in and out and eventually, I did feel its grip loosen slightly. I watched our footsteps appear and disappear in the sand, and said a silent prayer that the beach would hold them forever just below the surface.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Thoughts On Pain And Its Purpose: The Surprising Upside Of Injury

I've been thinking a lot about pain lately, mainly because I've been experiencing a lot of it. Not just the usual heartache that comes with being an oversensitive, exhausted, working parent of three young kids, but actual physical pain.

It all began about eight months ago, when the usual post-run stiffness and soreness in my right hip simply wouldn't go away, no matter how much I rested, iced, or stretched it. The pain got so bad it literally stopped me in my tracks mid-run one day, and I ended up limping 4 miles home.

Several trips to the doctor eventually lead to a round of physical therapy, which lead to an MRI, which lead to an orthopedic surgeon, which finally lead to a diagnosis of a labral tear, bursitis, bone spurs, and a condition called Femoroacetabular Impingement, which basically translates to the ball and socket of the hip joint not fitting together properly.

In layman's terms, that means a structural issue with my hip, combined with a family history of arthritis, combined with two decades of high impact exercise have made for the perfect storm that is currently raging in my right side. Surgery is the only option to fix the myriad issues, and in my case, September (when the kids are back in school) is the only option to have the surgery.

So that means two more months of dealing with the pain, which is increasing by the day. Sometimes by the hour. Two more months of feeling every single step, never knowing which one will land safely and which one will lead to the entire joint buckling under me. Two more months of carefully easing down into chairs and using my upper body to compensate. Two more months in which everyday tasks like putting on socks, going up and down stairs, or reaching for an item on a shelf are oftentimes impossible, and almost always excruciating.

Running- my stress reliever/sanity saver/social outlet/source of inspiration has been taken away, indefinitely. Walking for any significant time is also too painful, and on any given day the same can be said for sitting, standing, and even sleeping. The fickle nature of this particular injury means that even on good days, one wrong move in any particular direction can throw the entire joint out of whack, resulting in a shooting pain so strong it brings me to my knees...figuratively, since I have nowhere near that range of motion right now. Only the pool and its delicious weightlessness offers a temporary respite from the pain and a vague sense of normal movement.

But I don't tell you all this so that you will feel sorry for me. I'm not looking for sympathy or a pat on the back. While I wouldn't wish this particular condition on anyone, I guess I'm not sorry it happened.

The pain has made me walk more slowly, talk more slowly, and to think before I move. This internal injury that can't be seen has profoundly changed the way I see everything around me, and caused me to retreat into myself in a way I have not done before. As a result of feeling so much in one part of my body, I believe I have become more sensitized in every area of my life.

And that's a real blessing, because it sure seems like we're living through times where no one wants to feel a darn thing. When tragedy hits- a shooting, a bombing, a toddler ripped away from his parents by a wild animal- we react. We judge. We criticize. We take sides. We insert our personal politics where they don't belong and throw verbal arrows from the comfort of our computer screens. Anything to keep from feeling the pain.

I get it. I get that when life hurts this much, when there is so much chaos and loss in the world, it's tempting to armor up, to shield ourselves from the intense vulnerability of the how much we, ourselves, have to lose. In other people's tragedies, our own are always present, as the instability of life reveals itself. Rather than face the possibility of something similar happening to us, of how many loved ones could be lost, how many cherished places destroyed, or how many dreams dashed, our instinct is to try to protect it all- to grasp it tightly and keep it safe- to control it, so that there's no chance we can be hurt.

But sometimes, we need to be hurt.

Medical professionals will tell you that pain serves a purpose. Acute pain, for instance, is protective. That's the kind of pain that lets you know that something is wrong and that you need to get checked out. For example, if you have chest pain when you're having a heart attack, that's a good thing if it makes you go to the hospital. If you touch a hot stove and feel pain, even though it's severe, it's a good thing because it makes you move your hand away.

Pain also serves a unifying and correcting purpose.  It tells us that something is wrong. If we didn't feel pain, we wouldn't know we were sick, and we wouldn't seek an answer. It's a healthy body that responds to pain, after all.

Emotional pain, I believe, can serve a similar purpose. We can't take care of what we do not feel, so if we anesthetize ourselves from every possible hurt, how will we ever address the root cause? We've become so fragmented as a nation, perhaps as a world, so hardened, that we feel almost nothing but anger...or worse, indifference. If the health of our society is measured by the way it responds to pain; to the hurting, the helpless, the broken, the bruised, the battered, the bleeding, and the impoverished among us...then we are in big trouble.

You may be telling yourself you feel fine. You're not in any pain. I guess I'm not sure that's enough anymore. Before I hurt my hip, I wasn't walking around rejoicing over its functionality. I didn't really have any feelings toward the joint which now occupies so much of my time and energy. But you'd better believe that once the surgery, rehab, and recovery have come to an end, I will feel differently about the ability to move without pain. The absence of pain is not the same as the presence of joy.

I don't mean to suggest we all need to go out and injure ourselves just to find meaning in our lives- there's plenty of suffering in the world to go around. But the next time you find yourself in or near a painful situation, whether it is physical or emotional, whether it is yours or someone else's, before you do anything else, take a moment to sit with the pain.

Ease into it, and allow it to serve its purpose.

Take a moment to pray not just for, but in solidarity with those who suffer, to mourn with those who mourn.

Remember that pain softens the heart, as fire softens iron.

Feel someone else's pain, and allow them to feel yours.

And maybe together, we will begin to heal.