Threads

Dear Cherished Heart, 

Fire up the DeLorean, I’m going back in time. Maybe I can find the thread, before it unravels.

Sept. 1997 – The day dawned with full sunshine. I put on my grandpa’s purple dress shirt, worn right through at the elbows. I was sitting in the salon chair beside my sister by 9 in the morning—a full hour before they opened. When we walked out, we each sported a version of Ivana Trump’s elaborately coiffed hair. 

I stepped out of my bedroom draped in a crisp white, fully-beaded sheath, and my three-year-old nephew stopped in his tracks and said, “Wow.”

My entire body quivered as my mom walked me down the aisle toward my husband-to-be—the man I began to refer to as my soul mate some twenty months prior. 

Fall 1999 – The pieces of my life, which had a created a vision of happy-ever-after two years prior, began to blur. With work and step-kids and a busy husband and difficulty getting pregnant — I guess I fell apart. 

“What do you expect me to do?” my husband demanded as I lay immobile across our bed, feeling a sadness I couldn’t articulate or get rid of. I closed my eyes and cried. He walked away and flung the door closed behind him. I packed a bag and went to stay with a friend. 

Summer 2000 – Naramata ran right to the edge of Lake Okanagan. The family camp lay under broad-leafed trees tall enough to provide an umbrella and short enough to embrace those directly beneath. The sun shone every day, and the temperatures pushed what we Albertans were comfortable with, and we spent every afternoon in the cool crispness of the deep lake. Side-by-side. Playful. Family. 

Our weeks, over the years, at Naramata provided a place where we could have fun with the kids, explore spirituality, relax on our own, say goodbye to cooking, and re-connect with one another. Couples counselling in the previous months had revealed that we would have to be intentional about staying connected, given the busyness of life. We agreed that our relationship needed to be a priority, and as a natural organizer I thought I could handle the planning of our togetherness. 

July 2001 – I went into the bathroom and peed on the white, plastic stick. My husband sat on our bed waiting. I came out, “I can’t look. You do it.” He waited the one or two minutes required for the colour to change . . . or not. 

“It’s positive,” he said, and I burst into tears. 

I had given up on getting pregnant many times over our few years together. He had two children when we got married and I loved them; they loved and accepted me back without question. But, I yearned for the full experience. 

March 2004 – Motherhood turned out to be all that I imagined. Just before our daughter’s second birthday, I longed for another child. As my husband and I soaked in our hot tub and re-connected, I brought up the topic. 

“Honey, what do you think about adopting a child from Ethiopia?” I asked. We had previously talked of adoption as a back-up plan to failed pregnancy.  

He leaned back and pulled his arms out of the water to cradle the back of his head. He stared at me. “I think . . . I think we are already so busy we can barely manage,” he said. 

“But, our lives are filled with abundance. We have a lot to offer a child.”

“Abundance? It looks to me like we have no margins. We barely have any time together.”

You have no margins,” I said. “Look at this,” I gestured toward our house, “we have so much. I feel like we have lots of love to offer a child without a family.”

“Why can’t this be enough for you?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s just…”

“I don’t think I can do it,” he interrupted. “I’m already running full speed ahead. We are busy, and…”

“Never mind,” I said.

April 2006 – The Ethiopian smog spiralled in the sunshine and threatened to steal my breath. My husband stood with his hand on my low back as we waited to meet our son. A caregiver walked around the corner. In one hand she held onto two girls who tripped over one another; in her other hand two-year-old Yohannes walked toward us. I crouched down, smiled, and opened my arms; he shyly sidled into my lap and slung his scrawny arm around my shoulder like an old friend. I leaned into him and took a breath; he smelled like dust and soap. 

“Look at him,” I said. We sat together in the grass as Yohannes chased his new siblings. They laughed and hugged one another. “I don’t get it,” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“Yohannes . . . he seems happy. Why is he happy, he doesn’t even know us.” 

“What’s not to like?” he playfully answered. 

January 2007 – As Yohannes adjusted to our family, to Canada, and to a whole different way of life, he grew stronger and more confident with the rising and setting of the sun. I aged and wilted. Depression seeped under the edges of closed doors all over my life. My husband told me that he felt like he had lost me to motherhood, and he had. 

Yohannes had a strong sense of justice, and when I served up a helping of injustice, he wailed until the wrong was cleared. Whatever his sister Laurèn got, he wanted, even when it didn’t make sense. At supper one night, I served Laurèn a large scoop of mashed potatoes. He screamed when I passed him by and served potatoes to my bonus-kids Kristin and Fraser. 

“Mom!” he yelled.

“What’s wrong Yohannes?” I asked.

“Why you not give any to Yohannes?” 

“Because you don’t like potatoes.” 

He looked at the plate to the right and the plate across from him. “Kristin, you like potatoes?” She nodded. “Fraser, you like potatoes?”

“Yes, I do like potatoes,” Fraser answered and then changed the subject. “Hey guys, guess what I learned in school today?” 

“What is it?” Yohannes asked.

“I learned what the opposite of love is,” sixteen-year-old Fraser said. “Do you know what the opposite of love is?” he challenged.

“It must not be hate,” I said, “as that seems too obvious.”

“Correct,” he pointed his finger at me for emphasis. “Love and hate are both filled with passion and therefore cannot be opposites,” he informed. “Anyone else?” 

Between bites, Kristin answered, “Indifference.”

“Ha!” he said. “You’re right”.

Indifferent, I thought, of no importance one way or the other. I glanced at my husband, who seemed oblivious to the conversation. 

We consistently struggled with our perception of his work-life. I felt he spent too much time working, and he felt he spent the time necessary to do the job. One of a lucky few, he loved the work he did. However, the amount of time he spent working interfered with our relationship. When I had worked alongside of him, I watched as one patient after another fell in love with him. His competent and straight-forward manner, coupled with compassion, made him a spectacular bedside doctor. I was proud of his many accomplishments, but the sacrifices felt great. My complaints—whether spoken or not—undermined my ability to truly appreciate him, and certainly made him reluctant to engage with me. After protesting for several years, and trying to find workable solutions together, I gave up. His work life became “of no importance one way or the other”.

February 2008 – I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia under the cover of night, twenty-six hours after I stepped out the front door of my house. I needed a travel visa, so I joined a line-up to the side. When my turn came I walked to a woman in a dark grey uniform, her hair pulled tightly away from her face. She sat behind a long wooden table with colleagues on either side. I handed her my form. She looked at it and then up at me. 

“Occupation?” she said. 

“I am a mother,” I answered. 

“That is it?” she asked. 

“Yes,” I said. 

“You are very fortunate,” she said, and stamped my form. 

I thought of my kids. Leaving them, at the airport, had been difficult. Six-year-old Laurèn gave me a hug and kiss, “Have a good trip Mama,” and four-and-a-half-year-old Yohannes kissed me goodbye and said, “Say hi to Faven”. My husband held me against his chest, “Stay safe,” he said. “I wish you were coming,” I replied. 

On the 2006 trip we had found out that Yohannes had a birth sibling he had been separated from, her name was Faven. We met her briefly, and some months later decided to proceed with another adoption. With the adoption stalled, and one complication after another, I decided to go to Ethiopia and visit her. 

 

Spring 2009 – My husband and I went for pro-active parenting counselling to prepare to bring ten-year-old Faven into our family. I had studied attachment before we adopted Yohannes, and he didn’t have any problems with it. But, we assumed that Faven’s age would provide more challenges. Our psychologist taught us about attachment disorders, trauma and loss, and basic adaptation, as well as pointing out that we would have no history on Faven’s life, other than what she brought with her in memory—and she would have no english skills. Faven joined our family in September of ’09.

June 2011 – Before we’d made it through our second year together, Faven’s inner turmoil began to drive her behaviour. She often refused to eat what we provided, didn’t like the family rules—and liked the consequences associated with not following them even less. She was regularly having tantrums and hurling accusations, insults, and objects at us. She seemed to be in pain all of the time, and we awkwardly juggled her needs, often finding ourselves incapable of guiding or soothing her …(Or, quite frankly, coping.)

Most of the parenting strategies we had used successfully in the past with the other four children, failed or created more chaos. Faven often required one full parent and it became difficult to do anything as a family. 

Her behaviour affected all of us. 

Spring 2012 – We sat kiddie-corner to each other at the rosewood kitchen table. How many different times in our fifteen years of marriage had we gone for couples counselling? I couldn’t remember. I had started personal counselling in 2008, and hadn’t stopped since. 

“Maybe we would be better of apart,” he said. 

I studied the pattern in the wood grain table, and shook my head as a stream of tears fell into my lap. 

 

Winter 2015 – Turmoil turned to chaos as Faven hit high school. We careened through the weeks like summer tires across sheer ice. Oddly, we became a formidable team under the most stressful circumstances. But hands gripped to the steering wheel and eyes wide-open are hardly conditions under which one thrives. 

February 2016 – We began to live apart and go for counselling in the hopes of re-building our relationship, while knowing that the possibility of figuring out how to separate with dignity was a reality. 

***

If there was one thread to hang onto, I dropped it trying to pick up the other threads that needed to be woven into the fabric of our lives. 

I still can’t see the exact time or event that led to our decision to separate. The unraveling came from different directions simultaneously, across the years and through many experiences. 

Yours Truly, 

 Mona Lott

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Umbrella Grace

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Dear Cherished Heart,

When I got married I took my husband’s last name because it represented the umbrella under which we would exist as a family. I was thirty-one and fully independent. However, tradition felt like a comfortable bedfellow and I sunk into my new last name as if it were God-given.

Now, friends have asked me why I changed my name so quickly after separating from my husband of two decades. I think most mothers presume they will keep the last name of their children regardless of marital status. I thought that too.

I have had protective coverings for my kids and myself throughout our lives. When they came to watch me play soccer, I threw a pop-up tent into the air and we watched it land softly on the sidelines creating a little house, safe from the elements and filled with pillows, blankets, snacks, and games.

Whether the kids watched me play soccer from their nylon haven or I watched them play in rain, sleet, or snow, we were protected. At one game the rain fell as if the pipes in heaven had burst; if not for the over-sized golf umbrella I kept in my vehicle year round, we would have been soaked. My husband and I stood side-by-side underneath the wings of the canopy, held momentarily secure and dry.

But with separation, someone has to move out from underneath the umbrella.

*****

When we gathered our kids together after a seven-month trial separation to tell them that the counselling, date nights, and attempt to re-build had fallen short of its goal, and that we were separating for real, our thirteen-year-old son had one question, “Will Mom have to get a job?” 

The air paused, I mean it COMPLETELY stopped swirling. 

“Your mom’s job hasn’t changed,” my husband said, “She is still going to look after you guys. Because of my job your mom has had to work harder. She does her job and part of mine because I have to … no, I choose to work so much.”

We had decided long ago that I would manage the home-front; I wanted to be a full-time mom and it made everyones lives more manageable if I “stayed” home. My husband appreciated how hard I worked and often applauded my efforts given some difficult situations. Never had he spoke of his propensity for work as a “choice” before, nor had he stated that I covered for him.

My take-away was that we all understood my “job” would not change. The umbrella of support would remain. 

Six months later we sat across a large glass table from each other working with a financial divorce specialist. In the middle of the table sat a small mason jar filled with red heart-shaped suckers—a caustic joke. Beside that, a magazine, Divorce: Is Your Life Changing? flashed like a beacon, lest we forget why we were there. 

This place of discussion would not provide a legal document but one that would reveal our intentions and sort through twenty years of shared living. Over four meetings we catalogued assets and debt and then divided them like pieces of a rich chocolate bar, neither of us wanting to part with the goodness but knowing that sharing was the right and only option. 

My heart’s position beneath a plate of armour allowed me to stay emotionally balanced. My has-band* came dressed in a jacket of starched professionalism. Given our long-standing ability to get along no-matter-what, conflict retreated to the corners of the room until the final moments. And then my has-band leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands together at his chest and spoke to the financial divorce specialist about me and my job. As each syllable rounded and fell from his lips, time slowed down and I became aware that everything had changed. 

The ribs of the umbrella snapped as if a fist crushed them from above. My head and heart slammed into the wall of my own denial. I never imagined a life without him. I knew that separation meant we would no longer be married, that we would not live together, but I had no idea that I would lose the backbone of him in my life. I felt like a fool. 

*****

I see the family name as an umbrella that guards and protects as well as creates a secure base from which to fly out from and return to. When I realized that this was no longer my base I had to step out into the elements, feel the full force, and then open up my own umbrella.

Part of that was changing my last name.

Yes, our family unit has been shaken—something every parent tries to avoid. I spoke to my teenage kids about changing my name and they understood. In re-claiming my maiden name, nothing has changed my connection to my kids. A new canopy opened in my life and at first if felt pretty lonely; all the people connected to my previous name have changed or moved in other directions. But I find that I can invite people in or leave my sanctuary and move safely under the umbrellas of those who care about me.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

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*has-band= has been + husband

Full House

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October 24, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

“Don’t you miss him?”  my mom asked me months ago.

“No,” I said and shook my head.

But my heart pulsed — Almost. Every. Day.

I miss the coming and going.

I miss having someone to bear witness to my life.

I miss the sweetness that used to exist between us.

I miss having someone to talk to about the kids.

Surprisingly, one of the hardest things is not to be tethered-together-by-technology. I know he is out there doing stuff and I have no link to him or to the kids when they are with him. (Of course he hasn’t changed his cell phone number! -but it’s no longer acceptable to text him every day and ask how he’s doing, or for that matter, what he’s up to.)

With alarming velocity I move between relevant and obsolete every week.

The volume of missing him has fluctuated over time, and other equally strong feelings flood in and replace this with that. But when the missing gets loud it reverberates off the inner edges of my skull and no other signal gets through. It is as if I have put my fingers in my ears—my inner voice becomes a flattened echo.

Maybe this is just another transition in a series of unplanned changes.

I underestimated the pain of letting go of our family home.

All seven of us lived there, though not all at once, as the oldest had started university when the last child arrived. But the walls held stories, and a few repaired holes; the floors supported us, and mapped the journey we’d been on together; and the ceiling created an umbrella that protected and contained us in the midst of struggle and chaos. We had built it all together.

I didn’t love our home even though it was spectacular. But, it provided a compass point to stretch out from and return to. It had fine bones and a solid foundation.

I feel so blessed now to have a new home—but I don’t know where the hell I am in relation to the lives we used to live. I feel lost. For weeks my car drove on auto-pilot and I found myself on familiar roads back to the “old” house again and again. The making of new pathways, finding new keys, and sustaining connections is way harder than I thought it would be.

Our house represented the cup in Yahtzee, and we—the dice—have been thrown end-over-end across the playing field.

Who will scoop the dice for the second and third rolls?

It is rare to throw a full house on the first try.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

 

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Shell

 

August 17, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

When house shopping, people ask you — “But did the house have good bones?” I love metaphor but I have a really hard time seeing the bones of a house when they are covered up. Let’s say the bones are the things that hold the house together; they create a structure to wrap the sinew of our lives around.

This week, after months of laborious work alongside of loving friends and family, our spacious home emptied completely over a three-day period.

Movers came and carried out our boxed-up and wrapped possessions.

Mom came and helped me re-purpose (more) items to Goodwill and to random strangers.

We loaded a truck of all the miscellaneous crap and recyclables that were no good to anyone and headed to the dump. (This was the fourth and final trip to the dump over the months long process.)

We took two car loads of stuff to a friend’s garage so that I can fill the kitchen and organize the office in our new house next week, before the moving truck arrives.

And all through these three days we cleaned. I touched each and every surface of the house as if preparing a daughter or son for marriage. Tender loving care.

Yesterday my mom and I careened through every room—touching up and making sure we had everything. Our remaining goods poured out the front door, draining the house  of our essence.

I met my first hermit crab years ago when my kids went to preschool, guided by the creature-loving, animal whispering Mrs. Dobler. Hermit crabs are crustaceans but have a soft and vulnerable abdomen that they need to protect – at all times – by carrying around and living in a vacated seashell. As they grow they abandon one shell and move to another. Theirs is a physical growth but I would suggest that we humans need to do this too, change shells as we grow.

As our house moved from a living home to a shell that had held us, the sound inside changed from whispered memories, to creaks of relief as the burden lifted, to the hollow echo of a seashell.

It reshaped under my hand like a sculpture that takes its own form. Not my plan, some master plan.

Late in the day we walked through the house with our realtor before closing the doors for good. I felt pride in the care I had taken to prepare this shell for the next hermit crab. I felt sad walking through the emptiness with the person whose life I had shared there. Leaving the house was like the ending to the end of our marriage; a waxed seal irrevocably sealing our separation.

There can be no doubt that the waxed seal, empty shell, and strong bones signify an ending. It hurts and I think I will stay here for awhile. But my new home is being transformed into a shell right now, and soon we will fill it up and rattle the bones of it.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

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Which one shall I feed?

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April 20, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I chose separation over marriage. It was a decision that took months or maybe years to make. Therefore I assumed this would be easier than that.
I imagined I would handle the change with internal grace.
External grace? Yes. Nearly always.
But internally—there’s a freaking war going on.

I am reading the third book in the “All Souls” trilogy—“The Book of Life,” by Deborah Harkness, which is an historical fantasy novel depicting a life where creatures (vampires, witches and demons) live alongside humans. While reading, I was reminded of the legend of the Two Wolves.

Native American Legends: Two Wolves: A Cherokee Legend
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

In “The Book of Life”, one of the characters asks, “What if I can’t stop feeding the bad wolf? What if I fail?”

What. If. I. Fail.

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I have heard and seen the story of the two wolves many times, but the message has always been the same. Feed the good wolf; starve the bad wolf; maintain order. How does one actually do that when the vibes of the bad wolf are so strong? My life seems messy and out of control at times. It’s a feeding frenzy.

The message in the Two Wolves story seems a bit too tidy to me…it reads well and it’s logical, but it hasn’t resonated. So after reading it again in “The Book of Life”, I did another search and found this by Teaching of the Ancients.

“In the Cherokee world, and in the original story of the two wolves that has been passed down through Native American tribes, the story ends this way:

The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right they both win.” And the story goes on. 

“You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities: tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong will and great strategic thinking that I have need of at times and that the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength, and the ability to recognize what is in the best interests of all. You see son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will soon become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. 

Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention, and when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing. How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.” 

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Later that week I read a post on “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta entitled, “Find Beauty in Every Freakin’ Moment, No Matter What.” He writes about the human habit of “rejecting the experience”.  This is me. I don’t want this to be happening to me, therefore I am going to push it away and dream of something better. I’m going to HOPE for a different past, and “what if” myself to death. 

Babauta writes, “The problem isn’t the situation. We’ll always face difficult situations in life, some dire and drastic, others small and irritating, but we can’t rid our lives of difficulty, pain and struggle. The problem is that we reject whatever we face. It’s not good enough, it’s not wanted, it’s not welcome. I don’t want it that way . . . I want it that way.” (Zen Habits)

What is the answer in all of this? What wolf should I feed? How can I find beauty when life sometimes looks like a sculpture carved out of shit? How can pain reflect goodness?

For me, it is nature, it is yoga, and it is a community of “yeah, me too” people. Pause…Be honest…expand…be mindful…and then accept this life, in pieces, one at a time.

“The future is completely open, we are writing it moment by moment.” Pema Chödrön

“When we reject pain, sorrow, anger and loss . . . We are saying we don’t want all of our lives. We only want the good parts.” (Leo Babauta)
The white wolf.

“What if I fail?” (The Book of Life)
We won’t let you.”

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Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

Composting Death

IMG_7024March 23, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I have suffered an emotional death. That sounds so melodramatic. And no such thing even exists. I have not died, for I still  breath. But . . .

If you could see me—really see me—you would see a hole right through my chest. How can that be explained?

The day we got married was filled with sunshine, love, laughter, and promise. Something inside of me opened up to a soul-filled kind of love. I leaned in. I am on a search for that blessed day, the one where we created affirmations of love and authenticity, and an intention to be together for a lifetime. Our people filled the pews and cheered for us as Handel’s Hornpipe, Water Music Suite,  danced on a breeze.  Hornpipe for God’s sake: optimism amidst playful banter.

But what was my point Cherished Heart?

Oh yeah. Living and dying simultaneously. Waking. Cooking. Driving. Crying. Walking. Loving. Eating. Aching. Washing. Buying. Petting. Playing. Flailing. Talking. Listening. Smiling.

Can I not curl into a ball on a feather-bed and sleep until the edges of the pain have softened?

Can I not be held up by others and shuffled through life like cattle in a chute—moving to a rhythm outside of myself?

Can pen and paper not manifest a set of agreements that are fair to all, and written with kindness and lingering admiration?

Can I let go and float wherever the current is meant to take me?

How can emotional death compost and support growth, when I am rooted to it?

When will the weight of it ease up? I am strong but weary.

Who am I outside of this grief and felled marriage?

Beside my writing chair sits a solid wood table holding the accoutrements of writing. Coffee. Candle. Cross. Cards. I had pulled a card earlier, which I immediately disregarded as bullshit.

I’m taking a second look.

You can recover from anything. You can heal from anything. There is nothing that has fundamentally damaged your spirit, your will, and your heart, no matter how broken those parts of you feel at times. They have only ever been broken to heal stronger. They have not been broken beyond repair, and never will be. You are breaking out of something, rising above it, trying to transcend a pattern within yourself, or one in relation to another person— and you will succeed. Focus on your integrity and truth. Be yourself. If you have forgotten who that is, don’t worry—that true self has not gone away, and never will.  It is ready and waiting to rise up, in original gorgeousness and glory, and be alive. It is never too late for you.” Wild Kuan Yin, Alana Fairchild

It is with utmost relief that I learn I am not going to die or be permanently broken by this experience. My soul will compost my pain, and that is a slow process indeed.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott