Aren’t You Done Yet?

Nope.
Not “done.”
Not “over it.”
Past the designated year.
Long passed.
I’m learning to live with “it.”
Yes, still.

If by healed you mean finished and forgotten,
I’m not that.
Not healed, but healing.

I’m learning
to live with joy, passion and light.
To love
Despite the obvious risk.
To laugh out loud
Even if that offends as well.
To cry
To dream
To celebrate
To be faithful notwithstanding
All of it.

It’s not a bad thing, you know.
To love someone so completely
That he becomes a part of me
like a dialect.
That I laugh at what he would have found amusing,
That I hear his voice, even now heeding his advice,
That I see his children through his eyes,
That I call his family mine.
That I wear him like a favorite sweater.
That I remain crippled by his wounds.

This love – and this loss – shape me
Into who I am,
Inseparable from who he was. And is.
It’s not a bad thing,
To let my heart open and stretch,
Because love is not static.
Love changes.
Love grows.
Love heals.
Love doesn’t end.
Love remains.

He is the part of me that I gave over to love,
And his love granted me
my whole self.
I will not delete our story
to suit your (in)sensitivity.
Love brought me here.
My story.

I do not flinch
As I speak his name
Sam.
Still healing.

I’m living
With confidence
With clarity
With pain and beauty and tears and truth and laughter and hope
And gratitude,
All together.
With love.
Still.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And love.

53 Minutes

Tuesdays are my day for me, a dedicated time to tend to my own heart. I started this practice as a newly-widow because I knew intuitively that if I set aside time to be present to myself, I would be able to be present to my sons in their grief. I continue the practice – though not as religiously – because I still find that I meet the demands of my family more effectively if I have nurtured my own heart first. This will undoubtedly prove essential as I gear up to teach yet another teenage boy to drive.

Sometimes, my “day” only lasts a few precious hours, or even just 10 sacred minutes, but in general, I keep my Tuesdays clear of JD’s, CPA’s, BFD’s and related BS. This consecrated time gives me the wherewithal to deal with the shtuff that the other days dish out. My so-called Charlotte Shabbat is not about ignoring the challenging, crappy parts. On the contrary, it is taking time to integrate both the woundedness and vibrance so that I can navigate life’s storms with a modicum of intention, strength and grace. And so, I make my weekly reservation: a table for one.

When I named the blog Sushi Tuesdays, I didn’t notice a certain four-letter word in the middle until it was too late to change. My kids, not surprisingly, embraced this turn of events wholeheartedly. In fact, they have long referred to my blog as “The Su-shit.” Only recently did I realize that when I pull up the Sushi Tuesdays site on my phone, the web address actually shows as: “sushit…s.com.” I guess it’s official then.

Looking at the dark shadows, the hard truths, the painful reality is key to healing and progress. But it’s critical not to get stuck in the noxious stew. There’s a difference between acknowledging the suffering and marinating in it. You could ignore the unpleasant business entirely, but you won’t make any significant progress. You might instead choose to replay that last dreadful birthday dinner for the next 28 years, but then you will remain firmly stuck in the past. In order to heal, you have to keep moving forward, which is painstaking work, usually slow and occasionally disagreeable. Being open to heal also means being willing to change, which can be exquisitely painful when it requires giving up resentment and self-righteousness. There is no magic healing potion, but the resulting sunshine and light are spectacular.

I have a particular fondness for the simple elegance of children’s literature. There’s a short chapter in The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) featuring a “salesclerk” who sells pills to quench thirst. “They save so much time,” the salesclerk said. “Experts have calculated that you can save fifty-three minutes a week.” Fifty-three minutes no longer wasted drinking water. Fifty-three minutes to invest in some other opportunity for self-fulfillment. Fifty-three minutes, which is about as long as a good therapy session. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I function best with a balance between motion and stillness. I need time set aside simply to be, to soak up approval, acceptance and love, whether by means of therapy, prayer, meditation or coffee with a friend. And then I need to move – a walk, a run, a stretch, a hike. I start to wonder whether fifty-three minutes well-spent might be the magic pill.

But I’m still practicing. I sit down for a moment of quiet on my meditation pillow, and my prayer bursts out like this: “Okay, Jesus. Here I am. Inspire me. You’ve got 5 minutes. Go.”

To show Him I mean business, I set the timer.

Jesus doesn’t say much, and I enjoy the silence. Surrounded, as I generally am, by kids, electronics, cat, and dog, silence is a scarce commodity. I settle in and find a sense of calm and stability. I sit, I breathe, I soften.

The timer goes off, and I stay sitting, immersed in a sense of belonging and unconditional love. Finally, Jesus seems to have something to say: “Don’t you have someplace to go? And lots of somethings to do?” I don’t flinch. I’m not yet ready to go. I sit another minute.

Then another message: “Okay, Charlotte, that’s all the time you get. Let’s go.” Pause. “I’ll go with you.” Sometimes I invite Jesus into my sacred space, and sometimes He invites Himself. But that’s what I needed to hear, the promise of presence. Now I’m ready to go.

I am not afraid that the bad stuff Life throws around is going to outweigh, outlive, or outmaneuver the good stuff. I am not afraid to call it by name. This must be why I’m so amused by the serendipitous “shit” in the middle of my SushiTuesdays. There are times when acknowledging the hard stuff, calling it out, takes away its momentum, its mystery, its sway. Then it’s easier to move on. I’m not afraid of a few choice words. Sometimes commandeering such a word takes the wind of out its sails. I recall, for example, the evening that my then 7-year old stood at the back door, following a rock-smashing grief session, and demanded, “Mommy, what’s for fucking dinner?”

I briefly considered delivering a lecture on the use of expletives or the appropriate respect one should have for his mother. For a fraction of a second, I thought I might laugh out loud, because he was so stinking adorable. But he wasn’t trying to be funny. He was furious, he was suffering, he was heartbroken. Plus, he was hungry. So in what turned out to be one of my more inspired mothering moments, I told him what was for dinner, “fucking mac and cheese.” Which is to say, “I hear your pain. I’m with you, baby. Let’s eat.”

Life tends to feel a lot better after some snacks and a nap.

And then we’re ready to go.

***

Wishing you light & strength on your healing path. And 53 minutes for yourself.

Stretch Marks

My kids call me a crazy church lady, because I actually enjoy attending Sunday services. I need the fresh inspiration, the sense of community, the weekly reboot. I love the music and the liturgy and communion. I am delighted on those increasingly rare days when we have all four boys with us in church, and I am deeply grateful to sit side by side with my husband, in silence, in prayer, in song.

But we don’t go to church on Mother’s Day.

I cannot abide another insipid sermon admonishing a child to admire his mother, citing the pain she endured in childbirth as an obligation for such reverence. I resent the implication that it’s somehow the baby’s fault for all that pain and now – through guilt and other misguided motivation – the baby owes the mom and must make amends. It makes me tense when the minister excludes or discounts step-mothers, foster-mothers, adoptive-mothers, friends, aunts, sisters, grandmothers and many who happen to be female who “mother” children that they didn’t give birth to. I cringe when I recall the ache of women who long to be mothers but aren’t yet, and might never be. Or the weighty grief of mothers who have lost children and pregnancies. I bristle at this inadequate definition of motherhood on behalf of children whose mothers have neglected, abused or abandoned them. And my heart breaks for children whose mothers have died and who feel the loss of her keenly on a certain Sunday in May. I am thinking of two children, in particular.

I love these boys, I support them the best I can, but I do not believe for a minute that I “replace” their mother. There are days when I so wish I had known the boys as babies and toddlers and little kids, and moments when I desperately wish that their mother could see the young men they have become. Believe me, I am extremely grateful that Debbie gave birth to these two children-who-are-no-longer-children, and I’m especially grateful that she did the laboring for the 10-pound bundle of boy. I call them my sons, not because I gave birth to them, but because we have our own relationship.

Yes, childbirth is painful, but the pain of not giving birth can be excruciating. Yes, motherhood is beautiful and amazing, and even so, moms make lots of mistakes. Sleepless nights will have that effect. As do mental illness, addiction, poverty and selfishness. Or simple ignorance. The fact of giving birth to a child does not necessarily engender respect.

The most excruciating physical pain I’ve endured was not when I gave birth but when I had a tubal pregnancy. The most searing emotional pain was the several years following that life-saving surgery with its resulting reduction in my fertility, along with two more miscarriages. The pain of losing of these pregnancies and the fear that I might never have children branded some very dark years. The pain of actual childbirth paled in comparison. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the anesthesiologist looked like Denzel Washington. When that doctor walked into the room, I looked at my husband and said “You got me into this trouble, but he’s going to get me out.”

I’ll tell you what else is painful – showing up and sticking around. Pain is watching your child suffer. Pain is lying awake, panicked about the results of a blood test, or an aptitude test, or an MRI or a biopsy. Pain is knowing your child didn’t get the nod, the invitation, a spot on the team, an acceptance letter. It is beyond agonizing to watch your son’s spirit breaking, knowing the only thing you can do is to be here for him, which seems unbelievably small and insignificant in the face of so much heartache. It is the look on my sweet mother’s face – lined with anxiety – watching me make a decision she disagrees with. Pain, not just from biting her tongue (although she is expert at that, one of the qualities I admire about my own mom), but fear for me and whatever consequences I might rain down on my own head.

Yet these are not the only aspects that expand a mother’s heart (and her hips). There is unprecedented joy and gratitude. Delight with a child’s successes and steps toward independence. A passion, a graduation, a healing. The privilege of a front row seat to his achievements. The child is a gift. I call him my son, not because he was created in my womb or made in my image and likeness, but because we journey together. Although we do find it amusing when people think he looks like me, because in fact, he looks like his mother.

Several years ago now, my son and I were sitting together in the pediatrician’s office, chatting and laughing. I look wistfully at the young mom with her infant and toddler, also in the waiting room. She looks exhausted and harried, but also blissfully in love with her young sons. I’m sure I look wrinkled and gray, and relatively short next to the young man whom I call my son. She smiles at us and says, “I hope my sons and I have what you two have when they’re teenagers.”

My boy and I look at each other and smile, both thinking the same thing. But we don’t say that out loud. Instead, we grin conspiratorially, and I say, “Teenagers are a lot of fun.” Which they are much of the time, notwithstanding their reputation.

Once we are safely in the car and out of earshot, we look at each other and laugh, finally saying our mutual thought out loud: “We are only here because somebody died.” Neither of us had the heart to tell the young mom our specific parent-child history. But she is right; my son and I do share something special.

Our relationship has not always been not an easy one. The poor boy desperately wanted his mother back, and I wasn’t her. It was that simple. The fact of my existence caused him excruciating pain, and all I could do was to dedicate myself to the relationship. Sometimes I looked toward the heavens, tired and teary, and prayed for the strength to love these little beasts. It is not always easy to love teenagers up close and personal. They do not smell like heaven any more. We spent several harrowing years in the Teenagers-are-the-bane-of-my-existence/Charlotte-is-proof-that-the-devil-is-alive-and-well-and-torturing-me stage of our mother-son relationship. With patience, humor and commitment, we have grown genuinely to love and admire each other. But it did not come about because I gave birth to him. Thank God, because by the time he came into my life, he was nearly 5 feet tall and weighed much more than his 8 pound birthweight. Not even Dr. Denzel could administer an epidural for that.

Motherhood is more than biology; it’s a connection, a presence, a shared journey.

Which is why we will not be going to church on Father’s Day either. I cannot abide another unimaginative sermon on death as the ultimate sacrifice a father can make for his child. This oversimplified interpretation of fatherhood misses the unconditional quality of paternal love. Death may be the ultimate sacrifice, but presence is a sacrifice with an altogether different depth. There is real power in sticking around.

On those days when hearts are particularly tender and vulnerable, we let the children guide our day. We fill them with the messages that we want them to hear, that we will be by their side, that we love them. Our celebrations usually include bunches of grandparents, which is a blessing. I suppose if they really wanted to go to church, we would go with them.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a gentle Mother’s Day.