The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Revisionist History, Herstory, Mystory

I’ve been thinking about history quite a bit lately. In my classes with future teachers we’ve been exploring the way history is taught and how strange it is that we tell kids lies about the way things were and who came to this land first and why they came and what they did. The predominant narrative in most schools begins with “… in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Honestly, I don’t feel like adding a link to the poem for anyone reading this post because I don’t think the poem needs to be recited anymore. End that story. Period. That revisionist history is not a simple lie, but quite simply, a thick veil that has held this country back from progress as human beings. To tell the truth about the history and herstory and ourstory will be the beginning of the story of human beings who see each other as part of the same story.

But those are not the stories that I sat down to write this morning. The stories I’m thinking about are revisionist stories of my own life. I recently listened to someone who gave me a gift of seeing the word revision in a new way. Actually it was a way of seeing the word as it truly is and always has been. Revision. Re-vision. To see something again. To look at something in a new way. I got to thinking about the stories of my own life that I have told myself and told others many different times over the years. But when I took another look at some stories I started to wonder if there might be a way to revise…re-vision…them. One of the re-visions shook me up a bit.

You see, when I was six, I experienced something that left me with many feelings including shame and fear and smallness and helplessness. It left me with a story in which I was the person something happened to and there was nothing I could do about it and it was an awful thing to have happened to a little girl. The experience and the story led me to see myself as not much of a risk-taker and not very brave nor courageous, a play-it-safe and anxious person who didn’t like too much of the unknown and only took on challenges she knew she could complete successfully. Yep. It’s quite a sad, sad way to see yourself. But I did it. Even when nobody else could tell it was how I saw myself. I got very good at hiding fear and smallness and shame and I imagine few people could even guess at helplessness.

But then, upon re-visioning the story, I started to see another version…vision…of the story. The story didn’t end there with the experience, and what I came to believe about myself was not truly the way things were. When I looked carefully at what actually happened with that experience, I began to see a whole other story. A story of a little girl, who for years, lived with an experience she was too scared to tell anyone about so she kept it inside her. And she was so strong to keep going. She was so brave to keep her heart open and to keep being loving and funny and kind and to seeing people for who they were. She kept herself open to love and trusted people despite the betrayal of trust by another human being at such a young age in her life.

Pause.

Okay, so that was hard to write and I realized that I was writing about myself in the third person the same way I wrote about the experience sometime ago here. Let me try that again because there are these words that have stuck with me:

“This is, perhaps, the greatest risk that any of us will take: to be seen as we truly are.”

Cinderella, 2015

Continue…

When I revised and wrote my revisionist history, I realized that my story didn’t end there and much of what I had held on to was not even the truth of who I am. It turns out that I’m not really a timid, scared, worried girl only walking above safety nets. All along in my life story, I have been brave and daring. When I add up the pieces of how I have made decisions on a daily basis and lived them, the fears and worry were certainly there, BUT I DID IT ANYWAY. That’s exactly what my good friend (who knows nothing of my existence but we’re so close in my head) Brenè has been saying for a few years now and I’ve been striving to do. But I’ve actually been doing it all along. I could have, at age six, balled myself up and built an armor around me to protect me from hurt. I could have built an armor that told the world that I did not trust people. I could have closed up my heart and stopped letting people in because people can betray and hurt. BUT I DIDN’T.

Note to Oprah: Not trying to steal your friends, but isn’t Gayle enough for you? P.S. I love you.

I got on an airplane for a 48 hour trip on 3 flights at age 18, by myself for the first time, to come to a country I had never set foot on, and go to a college I had never seen before, with not a single soul that I knew. I met people and asked and answered all sorts of questions. I took on a teaching a job in a country I had not been to school in and I kept my heart open to people. I left teaching to finish up a degree and lived off a tiny babysitting job then took a risk in buying a townhouse while living off a meager stipend and some savings while working on another degree. And then I got up in front of college students and TAUGHT COURSES!!!

I even kept my heart open to love and fell in love…more than once…and then married the love of my life. All of it took great courage because nothing was safe about any of it. There really were no guarantees for success. And I continue to take great risks, to dare greatly. Heck, I even sometimes APOLOGIZE to my spouse and kids.

So there, I’ve written my revisionist history. My new stories are helping me make different decisions. I no longer accept that I am not brave enough. I no longer accept that I am too anxious or fearful. I plan to continue to show up and be seen as I truly am.

So what’s your revisionist story?

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

 

Advertisements
Leave a comment »

The Truth About Pants and Boxes

I had a moment of truth a few weeks ago when I was getting dressed and pulling up a pair of pants and coming to the realization that I would not be needing a belt that day for a pair of pants that have always required the use of a belt. They were snug. They fit just right on the waist and even a little too snug on the rest of the curves I possessed. Could it be? Might I really have grown my curves some more????!!!!

I stood there and attempted the usual mode of making sense of the situation.

Maybe it was because they had shrunk in the dryer? Nope. No reason for this to be the first time they had shrunk in the dryer after so many cycles of washing and drying.

Maybe it was because it was that more “sensitive” time of the month when my womanly body stores extra water? Nope. Not that time.

Maybe it was because they were just too old now so they had finally given in to the last wash and dry? C’mon, Rhina…

And then I accepted the truth of the situation.

This situation has been on my mind a whole lot since then. In truth, this situation has plagued me my entire life it seems. It goes way back into my childhood when my cheeks were constantly squeezed by all sorts of adults and I was told I had such cute chubby cheeks. Sometimes  I was told that I wasn’t fat, just plump. As a preteen I noticed with horror that my thighs filled out – especially when I was seated and looking down at them. I found myself looking in the mirror and trying to figure out just the right way to sit so that my thighs appeared smaller. As a teenager, it seemed that all my friends were slimmer and, thus, more ideal.

I swam and played a variety of sports and even competed in some sports in school. I participated in synchronized swimming, for heaven’s sake! I played badminton – and if you have played it seriously, you’d know it’s not a garden sport. I’d mention being an avid chess player, but I may be pushing my luck to make the point that I was sporty. Interestingly, I never saw myself as athletic, because my sister had that descriptor covered. I’m not sure what the obsession was, but everyone around us had to offer their comparisons of us out-loud and to us and we both took in the messages and kept creating and adjusting our images of ourselves without having the chance to actually see ourselves as we truly were.

She was the athletic one. I was book smart. She was the outgoing one. I was a homebody. She spoke her mind. I was peace-loving. She was adventurous. I preferred safety. She made friends easily. I had the hardest time making friends because I was shy. She was fun. I was sweet. She had a magnetic personality. I had a pretty face. And on and on it went. With each label, we picked up our paint brushes and changed our self-portraits just a little bit. Sometimes with a  heavy heart and sometimes with pleasure. But each time I did it, I felt a tad bit more fitted into something and therefore a tad bit less free. I suspect my sister felt the same way. Still, we grew into our labels and then remained there for the most part.

Until now. Lately. The last several years, even. The box in which I was fitted into, like my pair of pants, has gotten too snug and uncomfortable. The truth is that very little of the off-handed observations made by people who barely knew us were true. We didn’t need to take on their limited and limiting view of us and how I wish we hadn’t. We were BOTH capable and we BOTH possessed all of the qualities they noticed. My sister is also a book-worm and a homebody and peace-loving and sometimes afraid and shy and extremely sweet and beautiful. See her here…

Nancy

My beautiful sister, Nancy.

And I have been known to be a social coordinator who uses her voice and words to advocate. I went whitewater rafting down the Zambezi River into which the Victoria Falls spills. And I did that with nobody I knew on the raft with me. I also took my first solo flight at age 18 to a whole new continent with three connecting flights along the way which were delayed by hours and led to me missing flights and me having to command a taxi driver to get his hand off my knee while driving me to my final destination in Atlanta. For the longest time I did not even see this about me even as I did these things. I did not see that I was outgoing and outspoken and adventurous and a great friend, too.

And then came this little opportunity called motherhood that has taught me and filled me up in ways I did not know were possible. This has been the opportunity that truly showed me that the box I had fit myself into had always been way too small for the truth of who I am. Becoming a mother the first time around revealed the amazing capability of my body to make another human being. That’s some kind of power!

But it was the second time around, when I became a mother to a daughter that I realized just how small and tight that box had been all along. My daughter, Kaya, fills me with wonder and a deep sense of pride in the way she is in this world. I have often noticed her in quiet moments of wonder and admired the strong, independent, confident, free-thinking and carefree girl that she is. I realize that I can see those pieces of her because she is exactly how I wanted to be as a child. Well, all except for her ridiculous hot-messiness, but that’s for another blog post with a much more shallow message and lots of necessary humor.

Kaya on Mount Trashmore, VA Beach

Kaya on Mount Trashmore, VA Beach

 

The night before she started Kindergarten I had a conversation with her about goals and intentions. Yes, I am THAT mother who talks about these things in the hopes of creating memories and influencing their futures. I spoke for a while about the difference between goals and intentions. I explained that goals are the things you want to do but they have to be guided by your intentions, etc. After all of that I asked her about her intentions  for this year in Kindergarten. Her answer after thinking for a moment was simple and sweet and very matter-of-fact:

“My intention is to be myself, Mommy.”

There were no more words left for me to say so I kissed her on her forehead and smiled on the outside and nearly burst with pride on the inside, wiped away tears and said, “You do exactly that, my girl. Just be yourself.” Because what else is there to say when you realize that your 5 year-old daughter has learned the lesson that is taking you forty some years to learn?

My daughter teaches me how to be in this world. She is one of my greatest and most favorite teachers on how to climb out of the box and live in the world. I fear I may not be able to live fully until I climb out of the box and carefully and intentionally and bravely stay out of any other boxes. Who knows what I might do this year? I might participate in a triathlon if I want to. I might even join a team sport. Or perhaps I’ll write that book I’ve been wanting to write or learn to ice-skate well (as in without holding on to gripping the side bar) or climb the Tetons like my adventurous husband did. Okay so Tetons are out, but maybe the others. The world is mine and I am of the world.

Rest assured, I’ll keep my pants on, but it may have to be a different pair. For a while, anyway, until my new athletic ventures help me fit back into the old pair again.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

5 Comments »

Saying YES to the Universe

There is so much that needs to be written out of my head and heart that I feel I might burst if I don’t. I actually just began to write something quite profound and then in walked my 5 year-old with books to read. With the intention of going with the flow and accepting invitations from the Universe, I said sure and enjoyed a few moments with her and a couple of books.

I was then joined by my 8 year-old who wanted to quietly sit near me while his mind woke up and before his energy levels and vocal cords rose from 0-100 percent. Again I said yes.

Then, having sufficiently enjoyed the moments, I shifted to my computer to write. I’ve been itching to write. So much has been on my mind and in my soul and this is the way I let it out. This is my therapy (and it’s free, which I like).

So I sat down and returned to my profound thoughts…only to hear a piercing, high-pitched and very long drawn out sound from one of my kids. I don’t really know what it was and why right THEN, but there went my profound thoughts as I fell right back into my real world of trying to juggle the everyday pieces of parenting and working and living.

Except that this morning is quieter than my usual mornings and I took a moment to say yes to The Universe – to writing as well as to precious time with my children.

This blog post is short but a much needed therapy session with the Universe that I said yes to. As I write, in this moment, my two most amazing gifts are beginning to engage in “sibling love” that is escalating from…scoot over…stooooooppppp…I’m just trying to get comfortable…stop pushing me off the couch…I’m not touching you…heeeyyyyy…what are you trying to do???…I’m trying to sleep…stop!…you’re snoring…I thought we were trying to sleep…I don’t like it when you snore next to me…etc., etc., etc.

Life is good. As is.

That’s my prayer today.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

1 Comment »

The Big Bad Wolf

Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived simply and happily with her family. She loved her family and her family loved her. Then one day an uncle, who was not really an uncle but a friend of her parents and whose families knew each other well, came to visit. He played with her and her little brother and big sister and he seemed to be a lot of fun. He made them laugh. He gave them hugs and kisses. He made them all feel special. So the shy little girl opened up a little and played right back and laughed when he tickled her.

Then one afternoon, he offered to read to them all before he took a nap. Of course they all wanted to hear a story. So they gathered around him, eager to hear the story and see the pictures. And when he said he had to touch her while he was reading, she felt a strange new feeling in her tummy. Her heart and her throat hurt a little. But there seemed to be no questions about it and it seemed like a normal thing to happen. He was a grown-up after all and she was taught to obey her elders because they knew about things and they took care of you. So while he read the story and touched her, her mind took her away from her body. She became the character in the story who had an adventure and was running away from the big bad wolf. She ran really fast. Faster and faster, her little heart pounding harder and harder. Fear taking over her entire body. And the whole time she was not in the room in her house that was offered to her parents’ friend. She was in the woods, in an adventure. Running for her life and her sanity. She got away from the big bad wolf. In her mind at least.

And when the story was over, she walked to her room with a heavy heart and a puzzled mind. When she got to her room, she crawled up into a ball in her bed and cried and cried and cried. And she never told anyone about the big bad wolf. It was a story after all. And who would believe that she had run so fast and gotten away from such a big bad wolf? And who would believe that her parents’ good friend was a big bad wolf, anyway? She only knew that she would avoid that big, bad wolf whenever she was in the woods. Maybe she wouldn’t go into the woods again. She would stay away when he came to talk to her and play with her and pick her up to swing her. She wasn’t sure she could run that fast again. 

Wake up, parents and everyone else who takes care of young children! Open your eyes and keep them open! Talk to your children. Teach them to listen and pay attention to strange feelings in the pits of their tummies and in their throats and in their hearts. Be very clear about their beautiful bodies and teach them to protect their private and very special body parts. Give them and practice the words and actions they should use to respond to any attempt to touch them inappropriately. Without those tools, it’s far too easy for those who prey on children – boys and girls – to take advantage of their gentle, trusting and loving spirits.

Unfortunately, the people who do this NEVER look like big bad wolves to children. They look like uncles and family friends and good neighbors. They think about and plan and create friendships and build trust with you first, knowing that your children are so much easier to get to when they go through you. You are their protector. You are their gatekeepers. And listen to your children when they tell you they don’t like particular adults. Tune in to their subtle reactions to the people you bring into their lives. Don’t get me wrong. I love people and I love having lots of good people in my life. And I believe MOST people are good. But even if it’s to protect my children from the one out of the one hundred or one thousand, I know I have to do everything I can to protect them, including having uncomfortable conversations.

And if your children are brave enough to tell you about something that happened, please, please don’t brush it off in the hopes that it’s not true or to avoid an awkward situation. Address it head on. Our children deserve that from us. And it’s time we started talking about this openly with each other. I am constantly amazed by how many people I know in my circles who have been molested or abused and who never told anyone. There is no shame in having been a victim! Tell the story. Tell everyone – especially if the predator is still out there. Chances are that predator is preying on some other child. It’s not okay. And while we’re at it – can we please get serious about how we feel about it in this country. Committing such crimes on our young children deserves more than a mere couple of months in jail and an early release back into the world. The problem is that we simply “frown upon” but don’t really, really detest and abhor the crime enough.

The little girl grew up and one day her father called her to tell her about the death of the uncle that had read to her when she was very little. She was silent on the phone as she felt her heart get lighter and her tummy unwind. She took a deep breath and said, “Oh,” to her father and added silently as she looked up, “Thank you…”  

The End.

Last week while helping my daughter to wash her hair, I, once again, took the opportunity to remind my little girl about her private, special body parts and talk about when it was okay for someone to touch her there (the doctor while one of her parents was with her). She brought up a variety of other scenarios and we discussed them until she was satisfied and clear about what she should say and who she should tell immediately. A few minutes later, dried, lotioned and dressed and playing with her baby doll, I watched her cradled her baby doll close in her arms and whisper, “Ava, don’t let anyone touch your private parts. Okay, Ava? Mommy loves you so much!”

I giggled and my heart swelled with pride and gratitude that I could talk with her and teach her these things. And then I felt the usual ache of fear that she might, one day, need to use her skills.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

4 Comments »

Nine Lessons About Marriage From My Nine Years In It

A year ago, Brian and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. I stumbled over the word celebrated because we didn’t really celebrate the day in any dramatic kind of way with bubbly and balloons. We did go out to eat with the kids and it was a beautiful evening at 246 in Decatur, GA. We exchanged special words in true 21st Century style on Facebook and received many, many beautiful greetings and wishes that warmed my heart and made me feel so loved and celebrated. However, there were a few comments made by lovely people that left me feeling a little off. I couldn’t quite understand the comments and didn’t feel quite right accepting them. So I decided to write about them in the hopes of making sense of them.

The comments that stopped me and sat like bricks in my gut were these:

“Happy Anniversary!! Thanks for being such a great team & giving hope & love to us all!”

“May God continue to shower blessings on both of you. You are a shining example of marriage.”

“What a beautiful example of marriage the two of you are!! Happy Anniversary! Continued blessings!!”

These sorts of comments puzzle me. They feel good to hear and are beautiful sentiments, but they leave me feeling puzzled. You see, I don’t view my marriage this way. I am aware that Brian and I have many great things going for us – things we have in common, amazing family, cute kids, humor, a shared Alma Mater, degrees and place of employment, love for travel, etc. And we’re very lucky in this way. But when I think about where we are in our marriage, I think about how the hard parts have been a constant through all the beautiful parts of marriage.

I want to feel like I truly deserve those comments offered enthusiastically by loved ones. Somewhere in my being I can see a truth in them. I can see how the universe really has conspired to bring us together and we really could be “a great team” and give “hope and love” to others. We really could be “a shining example of marriage” someday. But I haven’t earned this yet. I guess that’s why those comments don’t sit well with me. I love them but I want to earn them. I see the possibilities for our marriage, but I want to get there.

Fast forward a year and we’re celebrating 9 years of marriage on May 21st, 2014. I choose to honor this day by recognizing 9 lessons I have learned in my 9 years of marriage. Here goes:

1. He is NOT my everything. Contrary to the messages that bombard us about finding your one person that will fulfill your every dream, Brian has never been that for me. I’ve never actually believed in the possibility of one person that will be everything for you and this has been confirmed in my marriage. In fact, it would be too much of a burden on him (and on me for that matter) to be everything to each other. No, we are two people on our own journeys whose paths are intertwined. For each of us to fulfill our dreams, we must have spaces between us and interests and joys and friends that are our own. When we got married, we chose to include one of our favorite lines by Khalil Gibran in our wedding program.

“Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Little did I realize exactly how true this would be for us. We are meant to live big and wild and free next to each other and not in each other’s shadows. And if one of us were to live in the other’s shadow, we would never be able to see exactly how beautiful the other is. He is not my everything and I love being able to see everything about him that is beautiful.

2. There is a very, very thin line that sometimes fades to invisibility between love and hate. This is real. This is truth. My truth at least. There have been moments in which I have loved and hated everything about my spouse. These have been extremely confusing moments in which I have wondered if this might be exactly what it feels like to be have a split personality or if indeed I really could medically be labeled so. For me, the struggle to communicate well frustrates me to no end. The pride and stubbornness and incredible measures we take to protect our egos break me down sometimes. In those moments of brokenness I find it hard to imagine even one more day with him in my life while in the same moment unable to imagine a life without him in it. It is exactly in those moments of being a fragmented soul that I realize I am no better and no worse than any other human being on this Earth. It is exactly when I see all I am capable of in the mirror of marriage and I realize how fragile I am. How fragile we all are as human beings.

3. Teamwork is necessary and you can’t keep score between team members. This is a lesson I KNOW to be true but one I still struggle to implement. There was a time when I would put off cleaning up the kitchen or folding the laundry because it was HIS turn to do so. I would pretend not to see the piles of dishes or clothes in the hopes that he would get to them. It would mean that he was holding up his end of the deal. Lately, mostly for my own sanity, I take a deep breathe and do it anyway and remind myself that he picks up in other ways.

Parenting together requires teamwork. REQUIRES. This is hard for me. My constant battle to preserve my independence while knowing that a serious amount of co-dependence is necessary in a marriage is confusing and exhausting. I depend on him and he depends on me for our lives to happen in a less than chaotic manner. And teamwork does often mean giving the best you are able in any given moment and trusting that your teammate will do the same.

Apparently, we’re doing it. We’ve played our lives well enough that our kids are well-nourished, generally happy, loving, joyful and adventurous. We have a home and jobs that we like and we keep showing up for the game with our game gear on.

4. It’s all about me.This is the ultimate truth – it IS all about me. When I’m happy or sad or mad or frustrated or just pissed off, it’s because I have some stuff to work through. I’m on my journey (see #1) and everything in my life is here to teach me lessons that will get me to the end. I have a purpose and it is to love wholeheartedly. And I have to learn to love and then I have to practice, practice, practice. This is why my partner is in my life. He is here to be part of my learning and he is teaching me to love. What he brings to the table is lessons and practice for me to learn to love wholeheartedly. I must learn to be wide open. Forgiveness is about me. I must learn to love. I learn to do this by looking in the mirror that he holds up for me everyday. When I see something in him – good or bad – and it causes a reaction in me, it’s because I am seeing what’s actually in me. If you can spot it, you’ve got it. Get it?

5. It’s all about him. I realize that while he is here to teach me, I am also here to teach him how to love. I play a role in his life and in his learning to love wholeheartedly. I have choices in how I respond to him in any given situation and each response is an opportunity for him to love better. There are many times that I don’t know what’s going on for him but I have to trust that he is doing his soul homework. I don’t have to take on his stuff when it doesn’t feel like mine. He’s able to handle whatever comes his way. I know this also means that I have a deep responsibility to God to love in the best way I know how at any given moment. He’s on his journey and when stuff doesn’t feel like mine, there are times when it’s really NOT mine and I have to let him have it.

6. Chilling out is necessary. Translate that however you will – chilling out as in a chilled cocktail with girlfriends or taking a chill pill along with some deep breaths. Chilling out means those things along with the laughter that accompanies it. Laughter is good. Laughing at myself and not always trying to save face is necessary. Chilling out with Brian is even better and sometimes I have to take the initiative and pour the Patron or figure out the babysitter and make time to be together away from the everyday busyness that can blind me from the fun guy with whom I fell in love. There’s nothing that takes me back more quickly to those falling in love days than doing something new and laid back with Brian. And being reminded of those days is necessary.

7. We are not with the person we married. I have learned that, while life does not change the truth of who you are, life changes how we are in the world. Along with most cells (but definitely not my neuron in my cerebral cortex) in our bodies being replaced by new cells over the past nine years, we have also changed based on what we have learned about being in this world. This means that I have to let go of seeing him the way I did years ago and expecting him to be the way he was years ago. I don’t expect (nor do I get) an excited and captivated man who cleans up his entire house prior to my arrival.

This also means that I have to try to see him for who he is today and notice when he makes an effort to do better and be better. I know I have worked hard to get better at speaking my truth and forgiving more quickly and NOT resorting to the silent treatment when it gets hard to talk about hard things. I know I’ve worked immensely on daring greatly by being vulnerable (thanks, Brene!). And I want him to see me this way and not expect me to be how I used to be. I have to keep looking at him with fresh eyes so that I don’t miss out on who he is becoming. We are not the people we married and that’s a good thing.

8. We stand alone but are supported by a village.The success of our lives and the state of our marriage depend, ultimately, on us. We do the inside work on our own and mostly in the privacy of our life together (except for this blog post, maybe). However, we are held up by a village of people who love us. People who encourage and challenge and listen and pray and cheer us on in our marriage. This village includes our parents, our siblings, our extended family members, our children, our friends and our colleagues. This is our community.

This village matters so very much to me. We live on a big, big planet with so many millions of other people, but this little village that surrounds us and supports is precious to us. There are days when I am carried almost entirely by the people in my village who believe in us and care deeply about our marriage. I feel a deep gratitude for this village. If you happen to be in our village – THANK YOU!

9. We ARE part of a Divine Design. This lesson and truth has been seeping into my being on a daily basis in my nine years of marriage. The universe really has conspired to bring us together and the Design has been in place from the beginning. I dreamed this life with Brian into being because it was already in place to happen. And I don’t write about this in an “up in the clouds” sort of way. I write it with the understanding that life is serious and sometimes seriously hard when it come to learning the truth of who you are and loving from that place. Growing into love and in love are a part of my spirit growing towards Spirit, God, I Am, Source (insert whatever special names exist). I believe without a doubt that Brian is intended to be with me and me with him in this way. The Universe is relentless in growing us in love and we must be open to the lessons.

There. Those are the nine lessons I’ve learned. Perhaps they are not new to anyone but me. Perhaps they are not glamorous enough. Perhaps they reveal too much truth about me. Perhaps nobody else can relate to any of them and all other marriages are butterflies and rose gardens free of thorns.

This year, unlike many other anniversaries, I looked up appropriate gifts according to the number of years married and bought him this piece of pottery (what is to be given at 9 year anniversaries – yes there is such a list and I found out about it a couple of years into my marriage). I’ve seen a few Facebook posts about this Japanese art form and love the story behind it.

The Japanese art of Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, repairs broken pottery with seams of gold. This repairs the brokenness in a way that makes the object even more beautiful than it was prior to being broken.

Isn’t it beautiful? The pottery becomes more beautiful because it has been broken and repaired. The breaking of the pottery is the beginning of it becoming more beautiful. It’s the perfect story of marriage for me. It gives me hope that in the hardest of times when we get broken is exactly when we have the opportunity to become more beautiful. And this is what I see in my marriage to Brian – not that we have a perfect marriage but that we have the perfect opportunity to keep becoming more beautiful. And this opportunity is one I receive with open hands and an open heart.

Happy 9th anniversary, Brian. I look forward to continuing to break and mend with you as we journey on.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

 

10 Comments »

Sweating the Small Stuff – My Messy Beautiful

Today I’m struggling with embracing the mess in my life so I thought it was the perfect day to write about how beautiful it all is. At least, I’m trying to convince myself of that. I like a good challenge and I am definitely sweating the small stuff.

EVERYTHING is ridiculously messy at this moment because it’s been exactly 7 days since the two women who bring me joy every two weeks last came to clean this house. Every flat surface has been claimed for old and new mail, back packs, dirty dishes (that I keep telling the kids will not be picked up by the servers who quit a long time ago), random boxes, science stuff, cut up pieces of paper, crayons, cards, remote controls, shoes, clean and dirty laundry, and also art. Yes, it’s definitely art when it’s your child’s. And it’s a lot. And it looks nothing like the beautifully organized and displayed art I see on Pinterest all the time. They don’t tell you what to do with all the REST of the art once you’ve displayed the ones you’ve managed to display. I have this set up in my laundry room:

And I thought I was winning and reveled in that smug sort of way I just KNOW those Pinterest-posting people feel. I felt, for about 3 days that I was one of them. It’s impressive, right? Okay, so I didn’t actually use the leveler nor did I drill holes into the wall or hang the wire. I could do all that if I wanted, but someone else around here loves levelers more than I do so I sacrificed my opportunity to bring joy to this man that I love.

After the 3rd day, the other MILLION works of art proved to me that I was not Pinterest-worthy because what do you do with the rest of it?! I’m not one of them. The Pinterest-posting folks are still on my pedestal and I’m not on it with them. Oh – and please don’t notice that those masterpieces have been up there for 2 years now.

I’m still searching for beautiful in the mess. Still sweating the small stuff. I’m also feeling a little miffed that I came home and spent an hour planning and cooking what I consider to be a nutritious, delicious, veggie-packed, made-from-scratch, natural, mostly organic and definitely no high-fructose corn syrup nor Blue no. 7 nor Red no. 40 meal only to have it all negated by a giant-sized cookie packed with an entire bag of M&Ms – and the kids tell me that Daddy is so nice because he sits and watches TV with them (I was cooking, remember) and also lets them eat the stuff they like to eat (said cookie containing a bag of M&Ms each). Seriously, we should have a rule about this. The rule should be that you can only destroy what you built. I think they have this rule in Kaya’s pre-K class. It’s not fair to be the one putting time and effort into the good-FOR-you stuff and also be the unfun parent.

I was quite hurt. When the dinner was all ready, they were not excited enough to come eat. They requested longer in front of the TV (with Daddy). Then, when they finally came to the table, they looked suspiciously at their plates and poked at the few beets I placed on their plates – just to try – don’t judge me. THEN they argued over whose plate belonged to whom, i.e. the plate that looked like it had the fewest veggies was most wanted. Then there was crying. Well, I did take away a plate and muttered something about the food not needing to be eaten because there were other kids in the world who would appreciate even a bite of what was on the plate. No need to force anyone to eat this great meal was my rationale. So the crying was sort of expected. Still, don’t judge me.

And I was still searching for the beautiful in the mess and still sweating the small stuff.

So then I left the house in the hopes of getting some retail therapy. Retail therapy is real. You can’t convince me otherwise. I drove all the way to the closest mall, enjoying the first quiet moment in my day. And then when I got there and opened my door to get out of the car, I shut it again quickly because it was way too cold and windy to step out of my car and walk in for my therapy session.

So I drove back home thinking about it all and wondering how to stop sweating the small stuff and how to truly live out all the beautiful quotes and stories and messages I have received from the universe my entire life through the Glennons and Oprahs and Freires and Brenes and Mayas and many, many self-help and spiritual books. The truth is I know so much more than I live out in my everyday life. I could stop reading all of that and know all that has ever been written and all that will ever be written about truth because it’s all inside me and it’s also all inside you. I know it  and you know it when we come across it because we recognize it.

Living out these truths is my quest in life. It’s my journey. It’s our journey.

And I realized another truth and that is that there will only be one time in my life when I will have arrived at that place of perfection and it will be when I take my last breath. Until then, I must keep at it.  The mess will always be there whether physically or emotionally or socially or mentally. The mess is part of life and if we didn’t have it, we would never see the beautiful that exists in it all.

And then, while writing this post amidst the mess on my desk, because I contribute to the mess, too, of course, I see this:

IMAG0917

Do you see it? There, in middle, but not entirely hidden was a See Beautiful sticker from a remarkable woman and friend who started a movement to get the world to See Beautiful. If you haven’t come across her website or blog or Facebook page, you must. She has encouraged and challenged and pointed out the beautiful in this world at all the right times and in the best ways and sometimes when she doesn’t even know it, e.g. the sticker showing up at the bottom of my messy desk on a day that I was struggling to see beautiful in my messy life. See Beautiful is all about spreading beautiful through messages, projects and sales in the same way that Monkees do. And since I’m writing this post as part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project by Glennon Melton of Momastery (one of my favorite blogs), it seems appropriate to spread the word about the See Beautiful movement.

I’ve stopped sweating the small stuff for now (as in just for today until my slightly neurotic PMSy self returns). And I can see my messy, beautiful life again.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

To learn more about the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

6 Comments »

The Big Reveal

I found myself watching an old episode of What Not to Wear recently and, as always happens, I went through all the emotions of 1. worrying about the ego of the woman that was mauled into a makeover, 2. feeling mildly guilty for judging her poor taste in clothes, 3. impatience at her inability to see how she really looks to others because of her clothes, and 4. a growing excitement as Stacy, Clinton, Carmindy and Nick (or Ted) work their magic. #5 is the kicker…

The show does not vary much. After the magic is done, there is a Big Reveal of the “new” woman who is radiant and beautiful. This is my #5 where I always, ALWAYS have to wipe away tears. ALWAYS. I love makeovers and I absolutely LOVE the moment of the Big Reveal. I savored every Oprah and Dr. Phil makeover show. I take it all in while watching the transformation – particularly the very beginning where the person’s story is told of who they are and how they got into the state they’re in. And, of course, the Big Reveal is the very best part for me.

Today I thought about why it is that I love makeovers so much. I have very seriously considered this career path for my life. I’m not even joking. Friends who know me well would confirm it for you. This may have been the career that got away. Anyway, as I thought about why I love makeovers so much, it dawned on me that I love makeover shows because throughout the show, the makeover magicians are actually people who are really good at seeing past the outside of the person and right through to the inside of the person. They see the radiant, beautiful person on the inside that is just yearning to be seen and to be free.

That radiant, beautiful person has always been there at the core, the truth of who the person is. And the makeover people just have that gift of seeing that truth through all the other stuff. All they have to do then, is to simply remove those things that diminish the radiance and uncover the beautiful person that is on the inside. What a special gift to be able to do that! To be able to SEE right through the ridiculous clothes and makeup and crazy and/or neglected hair.

Stacy and Clinton see it almost immediately and then spend some time trying to understand more deeply by talking and showing and questioning and listening to the person. They really listen to the experiences and desires and fears and dreams of the women they makeover before they ever tell her what not to wear. It seems their main goal is to help the woman see what’s on the inside by holding up a magic mirror. And I love it.

And what I love EVEN MORE is the look on the face of the woman when she is revealed to herself. The routine is that she puts on one of her new outfits and walks out without ever looking in a mirror until she’s with Stacy and Clinton and on camera. Then she looks in the mirror and, often for the first time in a long time, she sees HERSELF again. She sees HER SELF. She recognizes the beautiful, radiant woman that she knows as herself. She recognizes herself and can suddenly see her dreams within reach because she looks like the woman in her dreams. She had lost sight of her self and someone else had to find her for herself and help her SEE what was always on the inside.

We’ve all been there, I’m sure, where we have lost sight of the truth of who we are. There are times when I don’t recognize myself and the dreams I dream for myself don’t seem to fit the woman I see in the mirror. She sometimes looks so strange and foreign to me.

And here is where I am pausing to filter and deciding that I must keep typing. I’m sort of in that phase right now. In and out of it. Some days I see myself with such clarity and I look exactly like the woman destined for my dreams. But then there are days when the mirror reflects back to me a very blurry, distorted and diminished image of the truth of who I am. And it is in those moments, when I am least recognizable to myself that I wish the most for someone to see me – SEE ME. I want a Stacy & Clinton in my life to hold up the magic mirrors on those bad days when I am most blurry and distorted.

And what a gift it is when someone who loves me – the truth, the core – of me so deeply and so openly that it is the only way they ever see me. None of all the outside ridiculous stuff ever matters. That stuff is always a transparent mask that means nothing. It is during those times, when the image in the mirror I look into is blurry and distorted that they hold up their shiny, magic mirrors and I see my SELF in all my radiance and beauty that I also know most certainly that I am loved. That’s grace. That’s love in its truest form. In the end, isn’t this exactly the kind of love we all seek? To be loved at our worst. To be loved when we are furthest from the truth of who we are. To be reminded of our selves when we are blurry to ourselves.

Inevitably, this kind of thinking about how much I love what others do for me always leads me to ask myself how well and how much I do those kinds of things for others. Because it’s a hard thing sometimes not to get distracted by the ridiculous outsides of people. All the ridiculous masks can get me all judgmental and impatient. Sometimes it’s just too hard not to look at their blurry, distorted images and believe that’s all there is. Sometimes it’s easier to take the masks seriously and focus on and criticize the mask rather than see through it and love deeply and openly. More work for me to do, but I continue to strive to live out that career as a makeover artist for people – at least the part where I can see their insides first, just like Stacy & Clinton. Because this is also true…

As for me, I’m not even sure where I was headed with this post except I’m still chipping away at the armor and trying to get to the truth of who I am so that I can live from that space of always seeing myself in plain sight and always remaining true to my SELF.

And still, always, trying to live as the woman destined for the dreams I dream.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

P.S. If, based on the title of this blog post you expected a naked picture of me….my sincere apologies.

4 Comments »

My Girl. Our Girls.

There’s a little girl I know. She’s 7 and bubbly and smart and precocious. She joined me on a walk with my dog and our friendship grew to where she’d come knocking on my door whenever she could and bring her friends to meet me. She staked out a very special place in my heart and I happily welcomed her in. Her family came here from Iraq as refugees. She’s one of the most delightful people I know. She could light up any room with her smile and her bright eyes that dance when she looks at me. I love this little girl.

Except she’s not 7 anymore. She just turned 19. And she’s been serving time in prison…a two year sentence. Long enough to smother her bubbly, smart, precocious personality. Long enough for her to learn lessons that could harden her for life. Long enough to see and hear things that could change her forever. Long enough to slow down her path to college and independence and a happy life.

How she got there through the ridiculously flawed justice system sickens me to my stomach. The punishment far from fits the mistake (NOT crime) she made as a teenager. Far from fits it! The fact that the juvenile system left her case sitting long enough for her to be tried as an adult is beyond problematic in itself. The fact that the prison system is using her as a means to profit is despicable. Have I said enough about how I feel. To protect this young woman’s privacy, I will not delve into the details of her case, but trust me when I say that SHE DID NOT DESERVE ANY OF THIS. ANY OF IT. If you knew the details, you would agree with me. I have no doubt.

I am deeply disturbed about the path of girls like her, who live in a world where the right opportunities are just enough out of reach so that the wrong opportunities get taken. It’s girls like her that can change the world. Girls like her, who are bright and lovable and precocious growing up in a community that bears the brunt of poor decisions we’ve made as a society, can make a big difference. Girls like her grow up to become mothers who make choices about the education and care of their children and about the things they tell their children about the world. Mothers who have to teach their children how to know the difference between the right and the wrong opportunities. Mothers who could know about the opportunities that are available and how to get access to those opportunities. Instead, our system, more often, leads girls like her to grow up to be mothers like her own mother whose heart is a little broken because, no matter how much she loves her children – and she does – she did not know of or have access to all the opportunities that could have helped her along. There is a way and a need to change the systems that aim to punish rather than teach our young people – systems that capitalize on the mistakes of some teenagers knowing that they cannot afford to pay for a good defense. We have to change the systems for girls (and boys) like her.

This is what “the girl effect” is all about globally. This girl – my girl – is one of many girls. We have to start seeing them as OUR girls. I’ve said before how much I believe in the power of women – in the way we know and nurture and love and make wise decisions for the people around us. I believe in the power of us women and I also believe it’s our time. Our innate nature and the wisdom of that nature has a purpose on this earth and it’s our time. It’s our time to say STOP and to begin tapping into the wisdom of our nature. Time to listen to that voice, which for some of us has been been quieted down to a whisper that’s barely audible.

The louder voices that silence us often come through the media. We are told that we are not strong enough or smart enough or creative enough or tough enough or able enough to change the world. We are told that we are here to be pretty – not even for ourselves but for others. We are told that we are princesses who live in castles and get saved by knights in shining armor and that our purpose is to do all we can do to be ready and recognizable and pretty enough to take on the role of a princess.

Kaya Pirate

Yes, we’re in a bit of a princess-free zone around our house and whenever talk about princesses comes up, I find a way to have educational discussions about royal families and monarchies and freedom. I try not to lay it on too thick. Really I try. But I do have an aversion to princess talk and I am bored by the big eyes and long hair and feet that remain pointed even while barefoot. There’s just too much else in this world to occupy my children’s minds to let them get stuck on princesses. I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a twinge of doubt and guilt when I pretend not to hear my little girl’s request for a princess doll. But I still mostly believe I’m doing what’s best for her by holding off on the princess and Barbie dolls and teaching her to question the meaning and value of beauty.

But I digress. I believe, with more conviction everyday, that women are the answer to today’s human problems. There’s a certain kinship and consciousness brewing in the last few decades that’s preparing us to change the world. And it’s going to take us tapping into our womanism. It cannot come from understandings of power in the way that our current society has established. It cannot come from the historically male-dominated society that we are in. And let me clarify that womanliness is not exclusive to people born with the physical body parts of women, but is open to anyone who is truly in touch with that other side of “manliness” that has become the standard by which we measure power and success and strength.

-Sojourner Truth

I believe change will have to start with women. Change will have to start with womanism – a way of being and knowing that has been around the world for hundreds of years. Womanism is an idea that differs from and precedes feminism. We need to reach back into the wisdom of our woman souls. Layli Maparyan wrote about this in her book The Womanist Idea. Womanism reaches back into the nature of who we are, into our core spiritual nature, and calls us into activism. Womanism is what drew women together to care for each other during birth and celebrations. It’s what drives women to do impossible things in the name of love for our families. It’s the no-nonsense, go-getter, put-up-with-bullshit so we can take care of what needs to be taken care of wisdom and strength we carry inside us. It’s what makes us fierce and phenomenal when necessary. We need to understand and tap into our womanism. And we need to teach our girls about the womanist idea when they are young so that they know better than we know about the Divine feminine force within them.

Hindu Goddess Shakti: The Feminine Divine Force

The kind eyes of a little girl whose face could be from any part of this earth watch me from a vision board that hangs near my desk. She represents my girl. Our girls. She beckons me whenever I look up and reminds me that the work needs to begin. This beckoning may just be another truth of who I am. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my girl. Our girls. I know there’s something brewing in my heart. It’s a wish and a whisper I’ve carried in my heart for a while now. I may even have been born with this wish that refuses to quiet down. The little seven year-old girl that joined me on my walk and chatted up a storm right into my heart gently awakened the dream in my heart. Her last two years have beaten up my heart. It’s to the point where I can no longer ignore the dream.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

4 Comments »

Color Me Beautiful

When I was a little girl, I often looked in the mirror and wondered if I was pretty. I’d stare at my reflection and study my features and my full eyebrows and wide cheeks that had been squeezed by aunties and uncles often. It’s a bit embarrassing to write about this because I have never told anyone about this insecure or maybe superficial side of my past self. It’s a truth about me that I don’t want to shed much light on, but I’m willing to bet that if I had such thoughts, then someone else out there has had similar experiences.

Pretty was not something my mother ever talked nor obsessed over. In fact, I could count on one hand and not need all my fingers how many times I remember my mother wearing makeup. She was a firm believer in Vicco Turmeric Face Cream and some Pond’s Talcum Powder. That was it. She noticed, and still does, beautiful fabrics and designs and took pleasure in wearing eye-catching saris and dresses, but I never got the impression that my mother was overly concerned about being pretty. I believe she has never needed to concern herself with being pretty because people around her connect with her gentle, no-nonsense, joyful, spiritual self.

My mother and I. Can you see how she delighted me?

So I’m not even sure why I would look in the mirror and wonder if I was pretty. I’m not entirely sure what in my world set me on a quest to be pretty. I’m not even sure what I was looking for in my reflection that would confirm pretty for me. My ideas of pretty developed in the midst of African people with a side of Indians and Europeans. While I’m not sure exactly how I developed my ideas of what pretty looked like, I do remember the only two Barbie-knock-off dolls that we somehow acquired looked pretty to me, as did the White paper dolls and Snow White and the golden-haired, freckled dolls that my father brought home from various work trips. I used to hold my dolls and stare at them and study their features and blue eyes and think how pretty they were. My best friend in Grade 4 was Vanessa with red hair and pretty freckles and my best friend in Grade 5 was Caroline from Canada. I think the fact that they looked like my dolls and the stars of the fairy tales I liked made me partial to them. They looked pretty to me. But I did not look like them. And I sort of knew that.

I just finished watching Oprah’s Lifeclass on Colorism and I’ve already experienced a range of emotions from sadness to irritation to frustration to anger. So what’s a girl to do but write a blog about it. Colorism is defined as discrimination based on skin color, skin tone, or skin complexion. The discrimination happens within the group and also from outsiders to the group.

Before going close up into colorism, let me take a step back to acknowledge the ridiculousness in the fact that we humans are so hung up on the color or shade of the skin that covers our incredible bodies. Take a step back with me and think about it. Of all the different and amazing, fascinating pieces that make up who we are and how we function and LIVE as human beings, how trivial and ridiculous is it to focus on our skin tones as a marker of anything important? ???!!!  We are ALIVE and able to breathe and move and communicate and connect and aspire and create and LOVE!!! How could the complexion of our skin possibly matter to anyone in deciding how valuable or worthy or beautiful one is? In the midst of the incredible way that humans came to exist on this planet in this solar system, how did we figure out a way to place so much importance to any one organ of our body?

Back to the close-up of colorism…

Colorism is not a new topic of discussion for me. At some point in just about every course I’ve ever taught, we talk about colorism. This video A Girl Like Me starts off the heated, painful, liberating, confusing, frustrating and empowering discussion well. There are 3 seconds of the clip that move me to tears EVERY SINGLE TIME I watch it. The clip cuts deep for many as we try to make sense of the phenomenon.

One of the differences between the discussion on Oprah’s Lifeclass and my course discussions, however, is that her show had an audience of only Black women of varying skin tones while my courses include men and women of varying races, nationalities and skin tones. In both situations, I feel sadness and frustration, but there was far more irritation and aggravation while watching Oprah’s Lifeclass because that discussion centered around why light-skinned and dark-skinned women “do it to each other” and how this is a phenomenon that is now considered a mental health crisis!!!! What????!!!!! Seriously????!!!!! A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS????!!!!!

I don’t often get indignant when watching Oprah-led shows, but this infuriated me just a bit. I watched another 45 minutes of the show and it continued along the same lines of how the light-skinned women felt and how the dark-skinned women felt. I cried a little and continued to get more annoyed that the focus and the blame seemed to remain entirely on the Black women (and other groups such as Indians and other Asians who got honorable mention for participating in colorism).  The take-away was, basically, “You have to love yourself and stop judging each other, women of color.” As in, “It’s all on you, women of color. Stop doing this to yourself. Just see beauty in your skin color the way it is.”

Do you hear the message? Do you get it?????!!!!!! I’ll tell you why I’m so irritated. The problem seems to be placed right back on us, women!!! This phenomenon is not something that Black or other women of color “do” to each other. We didn’t get born and decide on our own free will to judge ourselves and others based on the color of our skin and the texture of our hair and the shape of our lips and hips and breasts. The show did discuss the roots of the problem being in slavery and colonization. Thanks, Oprah and crew, that was the HISTORY of it, but can we talk about the CURRENT structures that support and promote colorism? Can we change those structures, please? The media with a capital M, for one – and not just what’s on TV or in movies, but EVERYWHERE – magazines, billboards, children’s books, advertizing, comic books,  catalogs, commercials, even porn (which I don’t study deeply). And then there’s toys and and make-up, beauty products, hiring processes and employment opportunities, language-use, tracking and re-segregation in schooling.

It’s no wonder that we can’t just “love ourselves and stop judging each other” because all the other messages seem so loud and consistent and ACCEPTED by everyone. The problem goes far deeper than simply a history that started it. The problem is perpetuated heavily by current structures in our social and professional worlds. It’s NOT us doing it to ourselves. Although we can teach our sons and daughters to be aware and critical, it’s not enough to stop there. And until we bravely explore and challenge and dismantle those structures that influence our minds from a very young age, we are going to make very slow and little progress in solving the problem of colorism. It’s time to stop taking in messages about ourselves blindly and to open our eyes and our souls and notice and refuse to accept the messages we receive on a daily basis.

Since my people only got honorable mention, let me share from my own experiences of being told to avoid the sun so I wouldn’t get “too dark” or watching many, many Hindi and Malayali movies with light-skinned Indian women as the good and beautiful and wanted ones and the darker-skinned women in the evil and undesirable roles. This is still true of Bollywood movies. In fact, with the arrival of a few popular westernized Indian movies, most people’s impression of Indians is that they are light-skinned. The truth is that Indians come in every shade and most are much, much darker than the majority of Bollywood stars  – who happen to get their starring roles BECAUSE they are lighter shades of brown. Lighter skin is what you hope for when you’re having a baby. I remember hearing people ask, when they heard about the birth of a baby (girl in particular), how dark she was. To be fair (no pun intended), all other features were always about the same – brown eyes, black hair, definitely hair. The catalogs and magazines and books I read did not depict characters like me. Skin lightening creams were easily accessible and advertizing like this were and still are accepted as truth:

I let go of looking for pretty in the mirror a while back in my life. I’ve seen so much beauty in women (and men) that looking for pretty felt trivial and boring. Glennon Melton said it well on her blog post, Don’t Be Pretty – Be Beautiful in 2014. She wrote just the words I want to use with my own daughter as she tries to understand pretty. Pretty is something defined for us everywhere we look and sometimes when we are not even looking. Beautiful is what we get to define for ourselves every single day. I leave you with a little timely video snippet from the Golden Globe Awards show (which has been on in the background while finishing up this post). When I learned of these women this past year, I saw so much beauty that it brought tears right out of my heart and soul. And I can see beautiful in each image because it’s me and it’s you and it is US. How we are colored is not who we are nor what we can do in this great big world. Let’s forget pretty and let’s color ourselves beautiful.

Now let’s get to the work of questioning and creating and imagining and doing and loving and changing our world as we know it.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

7 Comments »

Cabbage Ball Wins and a Tender Moment

There are moments in parenting that have left me at a loss for just the right thing and the right words to say. And in those moments, the best thing I’ve learned to do is to lean in until the lesson is learned.

This past weekend, we went to Charlotte for a family event of cabbage ball (softball with a cabbage-sized ball – a New Orleans thing, I’ve heard). It was the Young ‘Uns v. the Legends. Let me just say that it was quite a moment of realization to discover which team I was on! It didn’t seem to alarm anyone on the team when I asked about the rules of the game, nor did they appear concerned when I asked what to do if I happened to catch the ball while the other team hit the ball (referred to as batting, I believe). It turned out I was on the winning team so nothing else really mattered. And it also didn’t really matter that the winning team MADE the decision that they had won and walked off the field WITH the trophy. Winning isn’t everything, but it was everything on that day. That day, I also won a special opportunity to open my heart a little bit more.

So I was sitting there with my husband, talking and watching and laughing over crazy family talk when our 7 year-old son came up to us with a look on his face that I had learned to recognize over the years. There were no tears flowing, but I knew they were stuck in his throat and that his throat hurt. But not as much as his little heart was hurting. I have come to understand that, for David, the louder the cry, the less hurting there was. This was an inaudible cry. He stood there silently, sniffing and fidgeting with his fingers and then a few tears brimmed over as we asked him what was going on and offered him a hug and a hand. No response from him. He continued to fidget and sniff and try to hold the tears in his throat. After about 5 minutes, I took his hand and suggested we walk away somewhere. He walked with me, digging his face into the side of my waist as we walked. Still holding back his cries and his words. I tried asking questions creatively and from different angles, hoping that he would cave on one of them and then tell me what happened. Still nothing. We finally got to a bench and he sat on my lap. I asked a few more questions.

I REALLY wanted to know. I NEEDED to know. My heart was hurting like it was his own little heart and yet I knew it was not and that, no matter how much I was hurting for him, I could not make that hurting go away. I could not take his pain away. This was another growing up moment for me as a mother. I realized in that moment that he was growing up and that there would be many, many more times when I would not be able to take his pain away. That I would have to step aside and know that his pain, his lessons in life would be for him to get through. Often by himself.

I stopped asking him questions then and pulled him closer to me and just held him and tried to make my love tangible and healing for him. I leaned into this hard moment in which I knew no more questions nor answers. I simply leaned in. It was a tender moment. He was very tender. We sat that way, the two of us and I allowed visions of him, a teenager, a grown man, a father, a spouse feeling pain in his life and having to work his way through it by himself. I prayed that he would always have love surrounding him through his painful times and I felt grateful for this moment of the opportunity to surround him with my love. His breathing slowed down after a while and his hands pulled my arms tighter around him.

I asked another question and explained that I wanted to know so that I could maybe understand and help him think through what had happened. He finally told me. He was playing with his best buddy in the whole world and a few other boys and he (playfully) hurt his best buddy with a hockey stick and one of the other, older kids said he didn’t want to play with him. And they all went off and played without him. Best buddy included. Even though he understood David didn’t mean to hurt him and was not mad at him. The other kids were playing a game he wanted in on and he went off to play with them. David was hurt. Mostly because he felt betrayed but also because he was excluded by a kid who didn’t know him and didn’t understand the special relationship between him and his best buddy. He knew he had made a mistake. He didn’t know how to fix it and he was hurt that his best buddy went off to play with the kid that told him he couldn’t play. Regular kid stuff. But I hurt for my little boy who was hurting and trying to make sense of it all.

David Stop Bullying Sign

David made this sign on a dry-erase board while waiting on his little sister to finish dinner.

And that’s where my experience that has sat with me since my childhood came into play. It was as if the Universe made sense for a moment. I reminded my son of the story I had told him about the two little girls that came over to play with my older sister and I often. About how they came over once and gave my mother an invitation to a birthday party. I was just outside the room and I could hear the older one say to my mother, “We want only Nancy to come. Not Rhina. Just Nancy.” My 6 year-old heart sank to the floor and every doubt I had about my ability to make friends and be loved by people who were not family and, thus, not required to love me, was confirmed in that one instance. I pulled my son closer still and told him that I knew that feeling he was feeling right then. And it seemed okay to me then that I had ever felt that feeling because now I could be there with my beloved son and sit with him and know, really KNOW, what he was feeling. Somehow, being able to have empathy for him made the painful experience I’d had completely worth it in that moment. Maybe all the hard stuff I had ever felt were lessons to prepare me for moments such as this one. That nothing I had ever endured was in vain.

We were eventually able to talk a little and I threw out a few reminders of how wonderful and amazing he is and how sometimes he would meet people who didn’t see his beautiful spirit – his Divine spirit. The same Spirit that was a part of them, too. I reminded him that he needed to try to see their Divine spirits no matter how angry he felt. He didn’t buy much of what I said. He picked up a stick and wrote in the sand, “He is mean.” He wasn’t on board with the idea that he shared the same spirit with the kid who hurt him. Not in that moment. But I hoped that someday he would remember and give the idea a fair chance. We continued to sit there for a while longer as he grappled with what to do with his feelings.

When he was ready we held hands and headed back to the rest of the family and the games and the trash-talking. He was able to salvage the rest of the afternoon and he and his best buddy found their way back to each other as magnets often do. I watched him and felt the joy I often feel when I see him happy. The world returned to normal again. But the little piece of my heart that was opened up to the realization that I would not always have the opportunity to know and console and love my son stayed open. And I was reminded once again of the depth of pain and joy that is mothering. After all, my children are my teachers and opening my heart up is what I’m here to do. They teach me every day.

We won in more ways than one that day. Cabbage ball may have hurt a little as I, literally, slid this legendary body into first base after getting over my surprise at making contact AND hitting the ball a reasonable distance in the right direction. But winning an opportunity to lean into a painful moment with my son was priceless.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

6 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: