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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Spirited

August 7, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

Sometimes traits that are valued in others are the hardest ones to live with when they show up in your significant other. It could be said that I am a challenge to live with.

When my siblings and I were young, the word spirited referred to a plucky horse, a full-swing party, or a lively debate — but not to children, especially a shy one.

The term “spirited child” was coined in 1992, with Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s eye-opening book, “Raising Your Spirited Child”. In 1997 I married a man with two children, at least one of whom was spirited. I would graze the words in Kurcinka’s book as if they were the appetizers I needed to make it through to supper.

The word spirit comes from the latin word spiritus, which means:

breath,

spirit,

soul,

courage,

vigour.

Sounds like something to aspire to, doesn’t it?

However, “the word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is the word more. They are normal children who…..possess [certain characteristics] with a depth and range not available to other children.”  –Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Raising Your Spirited Child

Spiritedness has to do with temperament—an inborn (not learned) behavioural style. It conveys MORE in the areas of activity, intensity, irregularity, moodiness, perception, persistence, sensitivity, and adaptability to change. I don’t remember what I was like as a child except that I did get sent to my room for my big emotions . . . on occasion.

As an adult, I am MORE in almost all of those areas.

A few nights ago I played a rousing game of cards with my cottage neighbour and her daughter, my daughter, and their friend (two adults and three 15-year-olds). A night or two earlier my teenagers had said, “You don’t even like cards, do you mom?” HORRIFIED, I  stared at them, and then in my Minnie Mouse voice I said, “I love cards.” Then, I went to bed.

But the next time they asked, I showed up. Big time. (Embarrassingly BIG)

Adults who have known me since my twenties would immediately recognize the arrival of my spirited self at the card table, or on the dance floor, or in the kitchen. But the more recent additions: my children, their friends, and my new friends have rarely seen the intense side of me. She has been hidden for a long time, which brings me (finally) to the point of my letter Cherished Heart.

For what feels like A Hundred Years I have justified the self-imposed gagging of my MORE in the name of being GROWN UP. Hear me loud and clear . . . That Was A Mistake.

Through working and being a responsible employee; through marriage and being a loving wife; through parenting and being a dependable mom; through friendship and being a reliable friend—I gave up the essence of myself.

WHY?

I thought there was something wrong with me; and I tried to make it right.

Sometimes we change so slowly, it is as if we are only losing dead skin—but then the pain of walking around without skin finally hits and we must make a change.

My partner-in-marriage seemed completely able to accept my flaws and imperfections over our many years together; it was my gifts he had a harder time with. And so I behaved in ways that were MORE tolerable.

Sometime in the last decade I watched the movie called, “A Walk on the Moon”. It was set in 1969, the period of history which claims Woodstock, and also the first moon landing. In the movie, the female lead—a married woman on summer holidays with her family—has an affair with the “Blouse man”.

There is much going on. Love. Risk. Faith. Family. Rules. Change. Loss. Reckoning.

The husband finds out about the affair. Eventually, the wife chooses to stay with her husband. There is a scene near the end that sticks in my head (I purposely did not check the internet for accuracy)— The wife is trying to explain her actions to her husband on the porch of the summer cottage. The radio is playing. When she tells him how much she has had to change herself within the marriage, I could feel the pain on the edges of her words. The husband says something like, “But I never asked you to change.”

Those words hit me hard.  Are we supposed to change FOR others; are we supposed to live to an IDEAL the other holds; are we supposed to be THANKFUL for all that we have, and bury the dead?

I knew I had changed; I could see and feel the missing parts like apparitions in-waiting.

What I realized after the card game, and as I slowly see the spiritedness return throughout my life, is that he never asked me to change, but he also didn’t welcomed all-of-me to stay.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

Who Am I

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January 29, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

It is easy, if NOT accurate, to figure out who you are when you are immersed in an activity-defining role.

I was a child.

I became a teenager, a student, a girlfriend, a high school graduate.

In my twenties, I changed into a respiratory therapist, a clinical instructor, a supervisor, a policy maker, an advocate. I lived with independence. I protected my heart. I hurt others.

At thirty-one I got married. I became a wife without even feeling a shift; I had been heading there the whole time.

Through twenty-one years in relationship I believed I had maintained my independence despite shelving many elements of my self. But the moment we separated—unhitching my person from my husband’s felt like an emotional amputation. My heart split, my lungs compressed, and my mind—a silent soliloquy of blame, sadness, and confusion—burst with thoughts. The what-ifs and the Oh-my-Gods swept through me like stolen breath.

In a single moment, I no longer knew who I was or what my purpose in life could possibly be. So resolutely had I attached myself to my role as wife that nothing seemed possible without the anchor of marriage. Nothing.

I felt as though I had single-handedly broken up the dream we ALL had of family. Sitting in the melodrama of failure and shame is not an ideal place from which to recognize truth, opportunity, or strength.

Months later, THIS month, I arrived in California for my annual seasonal break. Through reading, writing, and walking I hoped to refresh myself, and maybe reboot my system in order to get in touch with who I AM now. It’s strange to be so uncertain at this age and stage of my life. I have focused on the needs of my family for a long time. My role as parent is intact, but changed. While my husband’s life goes on, mine seems to have paused…not pleasantly, but uncomfortably—in the midst of Triangle Pose or Warrior 3.

I brought the book, “the untethered soul” with me to California. The initial sections dealt with the exact question I had: Who am I? It reads like a philosophical conundrum—“Who hears when you hear? Who sees when you see? Who watches the dreams? Who looks at the image in the mirror? Who is it that is having all of these experiences?⁠1

The answer of course is ME. Moreover, we cannot define ourselves as wife, mother, worker, or friend because to do so would be to say that we can not exist before or after marriage, children, and so forth.

That’s a little esoteric for me. I yearn to know myself in order to live more authentically—I want to be true to myself, so that I can show up. In. My. Life.

The role of wife was something I long imagined fitting into. When I chose to step away from it, I inadvertently lost my compass point. I don’t know where true north is. I still feel the magnetic pull to connect with my husband when we are apart. Text. Call. Check in. Problem-solve. Talk. Align.

I am a runner with no finish line, a boat without a moor, a person without her person.

The magnet has merely moved. The ocean. The beach. The hills. Nature.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

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1 Michael A. Singer, the untethered soul

Bruised Ego

January 14, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I just noticed this week that my ego is feeling bruised. I wasn’t particularly aware that I had an “ego”, but my inner voice kept on saying…Why not me? How could he not be enthralled with ME? WTF? It warranted further thought.

When I was in my early-twenties, I dated and then lived with a guy who was an avid cyclist. Consequently, I did what many 20-something girls would do—I bought a bike and took up cycling. One day I rode from our little house to the corner grocer, all downhill. I had been practicing curb hopping, so I would not have to stop and lift my front tire over the curb. I had some speed built up when I reached the square curb in front of the grocer; I lifted out of my seat and did a quick down-and-up motion that, in a perfect world, would have floated me onto the curb like a Canada goose breezing in for a landing.IMy world was not perfect.

I squarely hit the curb, which brought my bike to a sudden—and dare I say, unexpected—halt. I flew straight over the handlebars and landed with the UMPHF of a WWF wrestler on the concrete sidewalk. Directly across the street at the neighbourhood ice cream parlour, I imagined a collective gasp as all eyes turned to me. I bounced back up as if enclosed in rubber, instead of a fragile and now bleeding layer of skin. I picked up my bike and hobbled away in the direction I had come from. My unspoken words and head-down retreat said, “Yeah! I totally meant to do that.”

Many times we adults trip and fall. “It can seem worse when other people see us, and the pain is so much greater when it comes with a bruised ego. We start thinking we are the only ones struggling so much. We fail to understand what’s happening in our life and what to do about it. In short, we feel like losers.”⁠1

Bingo!

Remember in “Mr. Not-So Right” I spoke about being embarrassed to speak the words, “My husband and I have separated”? Yeah, that.

Now I am splayed on the cement after a big fall, like Wile E. Coyote “beaten” by the Road Runner again! Peering over the cliff-edge are scads of witnesses, saying, “Damn, that’s gotta hurt. What’s she gonna do now?” And then they call out, “Hey, do you need any help? Is there anything I can do?” I lift one bruised and battered arm into the air and say, “No, I’m good. I got this.” (Note to self: must reflect upon martyrdom.)

I have been an easy bruiser my whole life, but with a big bounce-back factor. I regularly got knocked down on the soccer field, but before the ball even hit the ground I had bounced right back up and into the fray. Somehow I could fall off my bike when it wasn’t even moving. I’ve had bruises that I couldn’t account for. It may also be said that I’m emotionally sensitive. However, I live a life of resilience, perseverance, and growth. I have (mostly) managed to stay stronger than the hurt-provoking words and actions of others.

You know what I mean? Laura Croft  merges with Dorothy.

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But. . . face-down makes breathing difficult, let alone getting up.  Three of the most important people in my life are witnesses to the fall—my kids. In order to heal and move back into myself, I am going to have to acknowledge the bruised and seemingly mortally wounded parts of myself. I have to realize the experience of separating has bruised ME—not my EGO—I am not less valuable, or less important for the fact that I have stumbled.

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Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

1 http://tinybuddha.com/blog/dont-let-your-bruised-ego-keep-you-down-when-you-fall/

Anchors Away

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January 7, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I have lost my way.

We had but one tradition. Each anniversary we would buy the other a gift that somehow symbolized the past year. One year I bought my husband a set of plastic child-sized tools and he bought me a 500-piece puzzle of a lighthouse. For what we spared in price, we made up for in thought.

Some years ago I bought my husband a pendant of an anchor. He had been a steadfast, logical, and clear-headed partner for most of our relationship. In moments of emotional stress, self doubt, or catastrophic thinking, he became my anchor. His wide shoulders absorbed my disharmony without getting caught up in the emotion. His deep voice reassured me that things would get better. The upright, balanced manner in which he carried himself gave me confidence when mine faltered. His sturdiness became a bedrock upon which I stacked my struggles and inadequacies.

Somehow our lives moved from thrive to survive, capable to chaotic, and unified to disconnected, without our noticing. It was as if a course had been set and we only noticed once we had already arrived. My struggles stacked ever higher, but the anchor stayed fixed.

A few years ago, I read an article that referred to an anchor as a negative thing, something that holds you back. I was gobsmacked. An anchor—something that stabilizes and supports—could not be bad. No way.

And yet?

Over the last decade I have unceasingly engaged in professional and character development, in the hopes that my role as wife and mother would become easier. As if by bettering myself, those that I was in relationship with, would also be better versions of themselves. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Moreover trying harder made me lose touch with what it was I wanted to achieve. I realized that using my husband as an anchor made me align with his values, and conflict arose when I could feel myself drowning my values in order to maintain much-needed peace. I compromised to stay attached.

Exhausted and with little left of myself, I left the boat, slipped off the anchor, and swam away.

Becoming untethered is a form of release. However, being afloat in a sea of memories, emotions, and decisions while feeling alone, makes the release bittersweet indeed.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

The Arena

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December 30, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

Who knew?

That separation was an event—a main event that other people would feel the need to attend, in voice or thought, with opinions for or against.

We have been married for a long time— together for twenty-one years. Some people came to be my friends and family through him, and some people befriended and loved him because of their connection to me. So it goes, each person a ripple in the pond of their community, touching a myriad of people. I thought that my ripples created concentric circles that would not be broken.

I am by nature naive and most often believe in the inherent honesty in others, and that people are offering their best. So my legs get kicked out from under me when this basic notion is challenged or flipped on its head. Some people are mean. Things get said that are hurtful, whether intentional or not.

I didn’t know that separation meant my husband and I would stand in an arena, staring through all the joy, debris, admiration, disappointment, confusion and heartache, like an ever-changing weather system. How could I have known that there would be people who would stop cheering for “us” and only cheer for him? The fact that my presence in the arena still contains elements of loveliness, commitment, intuition, uncertainty, success, failure, and grace, no longer conjures up thoughts of my inherent goodness—for those few.

I am fifty, and I have only once felt the need to choose between him and her in a divorce. People may move closer to one side of the arena or the other, given their history with and affinity for one person. But to support one does not mean to condemn another.

As a teenager, I chose my mom—who stayed, over my dad—who walked out. And though I may have originally condemned him, I’ve kept the hope that my dad would one day turn back toward me; in other words, I continue to believe in his goodness whether he choses to act on it or not.

Right now, I don’t believe my husband or I have given anyone a reason to choose victim or villain. Our mutual admiration and respect continues, despite all else. Separation was not part of the master plan for either of us. Who—after all—gets married with a notion that “growing old together” will not come to pass? We got married with the conviction that it would last forever.

So when those that I have known and loved turn toward my husband and unnecessarily against me, it hurts a lot.

I’m sitting in a Cochrane coffee shop, Dejà Brew, and a song by Jim Croce has started to play. “Time In A Bottle”—a song I have long loved. Today its melancholy lyrics have slipped out of the bottle, and smashed all over the arena floor.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

Looking Good

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December 11, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

During these times of difficulty my friends and family regularly ask me how I am doing. My answers vary. “I’m okay,” I might say; or I’ll sigh, “One day at a time.” Rarely will I admit that I am not doing well, or show any outward signs of the pain I am experiencing.

People commonly respond to me with, “Well…you look really good.”

Looking good is my sub-specialty.

In my twenties I travelled from Calgary back to my home town of Sherwood Park, to gather with extended family for the wedding of one of my cousins. The day after the wedding we gathered at my aunt’s house for lunch. At twenty-four-years-old, I still fit perfectly on my Grampa’s lap. I felt like his favourite, even though I was one of fifteen grandchildren. Grampa gave me a hard time about the fact that my younger cousin had gotten married before me. “You better find someone soon,” he chuckled, “you can’t fool ‘em with your good looks forever.”

Walking to school after lunch one day, a friend of my sister’s told me that my mom and dad were separating. She assumed that I knew. I didn’t. I felt certain that she was playing a mean joke on me, and I didn’t give her ‘insider’s scoop’ any merit. That night therefore, I sat in horrified silence as my dad told my brother, sister, and me that he would be leaving. I was twelve-and-a-half and I had never heard or seen my parents fight. I distinctly remember thinking, “Couples don’t split up after this long”. After all, they had been together a lifetime—mine.

Being in grade eight at the time and growing into some new curves, boys began to take notice of me as I participated in the gymnastics club during lunch. Not only had my dad left my mom, he decided that parenthood was not his bag, and he pulled out of the family unit. It would take me years to work through all of the rejection and abandonment issues that sprung from that action.  While the pain of being rejected and unlovable sunk to some part of my sub-conscious thought, I found that I could play my physical beauty like a trump card. It seemed for a time that all I had were my good looks. So my grampa’s words, years later, opened an old wound.

My grampa had died the same summer as my cousin’s wedding, and so he did not see me married seven years later. I wanted to speak at our wedding luncheon, if only to reassure my Grampa that I had managed to keep my good looks just long enough to snag a mate.

Something so painful cleaves through my heart at the thought that I am loved for beauty’s sake. And of course, Cherished Heart, that is not the whole truth of it. I have so much more to offer. However, many of the other aspects that make me a most authentically beautiful and amazing being, reside in a locked chest of my own making. In courtship, I dance and I sing and I reveal every colour of the rainbow, but, since the twelve-year-old girl who was not loveable enough to hold the heart of her father, still exists inside of me, the risk to be vulnerable eventually outweighs the benefit, and the lock snaps back into place.

The point is not that I don’t want to hear that I am looking good despite what I am going through, for that is a challenge worth noting. But, I also want to know that there are eyes looking beyond my finery, and resting upon that which cannot be seen.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott