While You’re At Home…

Hey there y’all — during this time of uncertainty, I want to urge y’all to take time to connect with yourselves. It’s incredibly easy to get sucked into the news cycles, (not that you should be uninformed…but it’s also a risk of becoming addicted to and overwhelmed by it, so take breaks) and if you’re like me, your routine, schedule, rituals, and finances have all spun out into the abyss.

But please don’t lose yourself in it. Take the time — MAKE the time — to turn your phone off, go for a walk outside, hike in the woods, chop some wood, plant some herbs, play frisbee with your dog, or do some yoga.

Speaking of yoga…I know there’s a ton of content out there — like a TON of videos — so I don’t want to add to any burnout, but for anyone who might be interested, I do have two little online yoga classes available on YouTube. For years, teaching yoga was my full-time job and although I rarely teach these days, it does remain a part of my routine (which yes, is off kilter right now but dammit, I’m trying to stitch something resembling a schedule together).

Here’s the first: a 40-minute vinyasa class for y’all who want to get sweaty.

 

And here’s the second: a 20-minute gentle yoga (with a curious baby Bodhi!)

 

And finally, while I’m sharing videos, I made one just the other day of myself reading my latest book, “Will You Be My Val-Equine?” with my donkeys as little helpers. For y’all who’ve got kiddos home from school, I thought they might enjoy!

 

Happy social distancing, y’all. Please, please, PLEASE take care of yourselves. Slow down when you can. Breathe deep. Relax your shoulders. Unclench your jaw. Unfurrow your brow. Check in with your loved ones. If you’re struggling with your mental health, reach out for help. Times like these, people may not be able to afford their medication. Job loss, financial stress, isolation, etc can be incredibly triggering. But also, y’all who are doing alright, check on those who you know might be struggling. Remind them that they’re not alone. Ask what you can do to help. Though we may not be able to embrace each other right now, we are still all in this together. We can’t forget that.

Much love.
Jess

Brakes

I’ve no idea the time of day. Through the slits in the shutters it’s light, but dim. Maybe it’s cloudy or maybe we’re dipping towards the evening. I really have no idea. Although I can’t see them, I know my eyes are swollen because even that dusty blue light trickling in burns the backs of my eyeballs. I’m not a cinematically pretty crier. Blotches. Snot. Puffy eyes. Real-life, y’all. I let out a long sigh (something I haven’t been able to do for hours now), adjust the heavy comforter around my neck and close my eyes once more. My throat is sandpaper.

However many hours ago it was (more than 4, I know this much) my body snowballed into a full-blown panic attack. Snowball might not be the right term…more like instantly transported. Appeared then reappeared like a subatomic particle. Was not and then *poof!* was. Anyway, I say my body and not my mind because throughout the whole episode, my head stayed surprisingly in the right place. Instead, my body and primal instincts completely overwhelmed all of my systems and nothing my brain, sense, or breathing could do or say was enough to be heard by my instincts. The bullet train had left the station and there was no catching it.

I’ve had panic attacks before. Real panic attacks. Real, crippling episodes of utter chaos. They’re almost always random and not in response to some in-process circumstance. They’re always terrifying and they always take time to realize what’s actually happening. Being someone who was diagnosed with a panic disorder years ago, I’ve learned that it’s damn near impossible to explain the realities of panic attacks to those who’ve never experienced (or witnessed a loved one experience) them. They’re often written off as just being anxious. Overreacting. Being dramatic. Hey just breathe. Just try and breathe. 

I’m not laying in my own bed which in a weird way, I’m grateful for. On the one hand, my own bed would offer the safety and seclusion of home, the view of my donkeys outside the bedroom window, the chattering of ducks and chickens in the yard (all my critters which tether me to the planet), and the knowledge of being completely alone which my ego would certainly prefer. Panic attacks are not pretty. I hate to use the word humiliating but laying in this bed with a swollen face and wearing an old t-shirt of my little brother’s because mine is somewhere on the floor in the bathroom covered in vomit is, well, awfully vulnerable and difficult to have anyone else witness. The loss of all rational function and contrast between mind and body is…what’s the word…otherworldly. An out-of-body experience but also weirdly, deeply, internally intimate. 

On the other hand, had I been alone, I’d have believed I was having a heart attack or a breakdown and no doubt would have called an ambulance and ended up in the ER. Thankfully, I’m at my parent’s house. If there’s one person who has seen me at my absolute worst, raw, and real, it’s my mom. Fate, I suppose, held off on cutting the wires of the elevator sending it plunging to the ground until I was with her.

With my eyes closed, I try to relax all the little muscles around my eyes and the lines along my neck but just as soon as I consciously let them go and jump to thinking of something else, they’re tense again. My jaw. My brow. Even my guts. All of my insides have banded together. I imagine all my organs clenching one another to try and keep safe from an imminent attack — see because that’s what my body has told them to do. Danger is near and we are either going to run or battle. There’s something calming in imagining they all have little arms so they can group hug. Sweet body. I imagine my liver is scared not having her gallbladder friend to hold onto. Maybe pancreas has stepped in. She is known as the most empathetic organ, afterall. 😛 

Here’s what a panic attack is NOT:

  • Worrying too much
  • Overreacting
  • Overthinking
  • A sign of weakness
  • Just your anxiety
  • Being scared
  • Being dramatic
  • Something you can just relax away from
  • Something you can just distract yourself from
  • Something you can talk your way out of or breathe deeply to make go away
  • Something WRONG with or about you
  • A sign that you’re too emotional
  • A sign that you’re too sensitive
  • And let me repeat: A PANIC ATTACK IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS

Here’s what is actually happening during a panic attack:

  • Your body & mind have triggered its “fight or flight” response which is not a mental function but instead, a physiological one
  • Something has triggered this response. It could be something real-time (a near-miss car accident, being mugged in an alley, someone jumping out of a dark room to scare you etc) or it could be something stored in your brain somewhere. Maybe it’s a response to long term and unrelenting stress. Maybe it’s stored up trauma. Maybe it’s a phobia you forgot about or didn’t realize was there. Maybe it’s a suppressed event which you can’t even recall but physiologically is still quite active in your mind.
  • Your instincts (and subsequently entire body) go into survival mode which triggers a complex, impressive, and instant hormonal chain reaction
  • Your brain sends signals through your sympathetic nervous system which pumps your body full of adrenaline (imagine flooring the gas pedal in your car) so everything speeds up. Heart rate. Breathing (because literally your airways widen). Blood pressure. Blood to the muscles. Senses become sharper. Even blood sugar reserves are released. And keep in mind, this happens instantly before your eyes and ears have even processed any sort of threat.

What SHOULD happen after a panic attack (or once the threat has been mitigated) is that the parasympathetic nervous system (the brakes, if you will) should return your body back to homeostasis. But where I guess the disorder kicks in is in the imbalance of these two systems: the gas and the brakes. Someone cut the brake lines (much like the below video for you Always Sunny fans.) Dammit Charlie. Wildcard! 

 

I flip over in this guest room bed and pull the blanket over my head. This has been by far the worst attack I’ve ever had. Most of them last no more than an hour. There’s not a specific thing or ritual that pulls me down from them. I think it’s usually just within an hour (or two) my parasympathetic nerves start to breathe and a bit or normalcy returns. This time was different. It wasn’t until I eventually passed out from pure exhaustion that I suppose things were able to begin resetting. For the hour before I fell asleep / passed out (whatever may have been the case) my mom told me over and over to try and sleep. “You need to close your eyes. Try to sleep. You don’t need to go to the ER. You’re not having a heart attack.” She kept her hand on my wrist feeling my pulse the whole time.

But that adrenaline. That uncontrollable response Would. Not. Cooperate. That van was going to crash.

My mom must hear me stirring because while still under the blankets, I hear her footsteps. I pull the covers down to peek out with my swollen eyes and she asks how I’m doing.

I don’t know, I tell her. But I’m really sorry you had to see all of that.

She reassures me that it’s okay. That she was glad I was here instead of alone. That she hoped she hadn’t upset me by trying to convince me I didn’t need to go to the ER, but she’s seen me do this before and knew we could get through it. We could get through it with grounding.

Moments before I ended up in the guest room bed, my mom filled the bath with a few inches of water and told me to sit on the edge of the tub with my feet in the cool water. The idea of sitting still felt out of reach but I must admit that within a few minutes, I did finally feel like there was ground beneath me. Though I was still sobbing and shaking and trembling, and feeling like this must be a mental break, this can’t just be a panic attack, I need to go to the ER, my heart is about to explode, I can’t see straight, I need to run and jump but I also can’t move what do I do what do I do what is happening what is happening—the cool water on my bare feet did something.

Or maybe it was that my mom ran a bath for me. I’m in my 30s and my mom ran a bath for me. As an independent adult there was something both embarrassing and reassuring for me about this. How did I get here and why am I like this are questions that bubbled up like a newly opened Coke. Why do I need my mom to take care of me. Why can’t I just calm down. Dammit body, what the f*ck. But also, my mom is still here for me. 30 years later and my mom is still here. She still knows. She’s around and we have a solid relationship and I know that if the tables had been turned, I’d be putting her feet in water. Reassuring, indeed.

It was shortly after that that I changed my shirt, crawled into bed, and slept.

You’re not shaking anymore, my mom tells me.

I think my insides still are, I say, but yeah, it’s not as bad.

She runs her hands through my hair like she used to when I was sick as a little girl and says, you got through that, honey. You got through that on your own.

I tell her that I wasn’t on my own, that she’d been there to help me like she had so many times before.

For the rest of the evening, I don’t eat but I do drink Gatorade. I sit in the living room with both of my parents now and we reminisce about my childhood. That it’s funny to see me in my brother’s shirt and how when I was a teenager, I raided my older brother’s closet all the time. Remember my goth stage? There’s that picture from that one Easter where I look like I’m about to sacrifice a small animal in a pentagram. We laugh about my mom having never been able to handle us throwing up and I applaud her for not abandoning me as I, an adult, upchucked over and over to the point of dry-heaving in front of her. I thank her again. I ask them if I’ve always been like this and they say that this is the worst they’ve seen it but that I made it through and if it happens again, they know I’ll make it through then, too. That they’re glad I was at their house. And honey, you’re safe. You’re safe.

I tell this story because panic attacks are real. They are real and I’ll say again, they are not a sign of weakness. Being in the storm is terrifying but you will get through it. You will, I promise, and when you do, instead of letting your mind fizz with self-deprecation for being someone who has these episodes, thank your body for doing what it’s wired to do. Your body is trying to protect you. Even if there’s an imbalance in your systems where the brakes have been cut, still, it happens because your body, even without your consciousness’ control, wants you safe. In time, it will pass. Maybe stick your feet in the water. If you’re alone, maybe call someone you trust to just be on the other end of the line while you’re crying. Try anything to find the ground. But most of all, love yourself. Love yourself for everything that you are.
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A final note — if you do struggle with panic attacks and are not confident in your ability to get through them or want help to start digging at the roots, please contact your doctor, counselor, or therapist. I do. I think that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to even type a post like this. Take care of yourself. Lean on others when you need to. Seek help before things are out of control. There’s zero shame in that. Instead, there is a lot of strength in doing what you need to do to feel supported, whole, and seen. Whoever you are, I love you. Truly, I do.

Talk to Them

They say that talking to
Plants helps them grow,
That the exchange of
Voice (regardless of tone)
Encourages broader bloom.

I believe the same works
With each other: That
Brighter, bigger, more beautiful
Growth rides the waves
Of our thoughtful voices.

Talk to them. Talk to them all.
Build base for understanding:
For learning, for seeing, for hearing,
And for loving.

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Strong Heart

I should note to my followers that this post is neither ranch nor donkey related. This is a piece I’ve written as a way to look for answers for myself. After all, writing is a tool to discover things. Although I do personally journal things that never make it to the public, this one, I wanted to share. 


 

Thick skin is an idiom used to describe a tool for survival. It’s something you’re told to have when someone insults your cooking or reveals that you didn’t make the cut for the dance team because well, you just weren’t good enough.

As a hyper-sensitive person who seems to be affected by almost everything, thick skin is both a foreign concept and a source of deep frustration for me. Thick skin has become this passing grade that most of my peers seem to have reached while I’m still shuffling through all my chicken-scratch notes trying to make sense of what the hell it even means and how can one create it if they’re not just born with it? It’s this idea that has turned into a solution for my sensitivity problems—if I can just cultivate thick skin, then life, as I have known it to unfold, will be so much easier. After all, my sensitivity, I’ve been told, makes people pretty uncomfortable sometimes. It’s a weakness I should work out.

It was 6:30 in the morning and in Texas during the summer, that means that it already approached 90 degrees outside. On my cell phone was a notification that I’d received an email from another publishing company to whom I’d recently submitted a short story. The subject of the email was too ambiguous to know its contents, but after many recent rejections, I decided to wait a while to open it. I didn’t want to risk starting off another day with a “no.”

These days, in addition to brushing my teeth and washing my face in the morning as the coffee is brewing, I also liberally apply SPF 50 all over my body knowing that any amount of time outside will result in a burn otherwise. I used to try to tan, but I’m a girl whose pink skin freckles. Tanning is a painful process that always ends in blisters that pop and peel. I also come from a long line of scarred, fair skinned relatives who warn me of the dangers of the sun. They ask if I can see their scars and do I know that they could have prevented it had they just worn sunscreen?

Of course, when you’re young, skin cancer is something that happens to people much older than you, so you don’t seriously consider the consequences. Two months ago, however, I noticed that one of the larger freckles on my right arm had grown and changed into a strange shape—more like a splat than a spot. And also, today, I turned 30.

I stood in front of the mirror in my bathroom topless and slid the sunscreen all over me. Despite my attempts at protecting my skin recently, I’ve still managed to form a farmer’s tan: a slightly more red than pink U-shape on my chest and fair caps on my shoulders. The farmer’s tan was inevitable living on a ranch because I spend most of my days working outside in the Texas sun.

In the middle of my chest, in this light, I can actually see my breast bone and the inside edges of my ribs. Skin is so thin there. Beneath the freckles are faint, blueish green lines pumping away in and out of my heart.

I think of my heart beating—blood rushing in and pulsing out. It’s been nearly 5-years since I had heart surgery. I’d developed an arrhythmia when I was 24 years old that the doctors said was probably a preexisting condition, although it was nothing I knew to run through my family. It had gotten out of hand for reasons that doctors could not figure out to the point where I’d pass out walking up stairs or if I got too hot. The morning I went in for the surgery was when I found out that I’d need to be awake for the procedure so that my heart would behave as “normally” as it had been—not affected at all by anesthesia.

It wasn’t open-heart surgery, luckily. Instead they’d go in through my femoral artery with a snake like tool and burn off the nerve endings in my heart that they found responsible for the arrhythmia.

I’ve been asked before if the surgery was painful and my response is always, shit yes, it was painful. It was beyond imaginable. I guessed that back in time, this was what it felt like to have a sword slide through your chest during a dual several times, only, I didn’t get the opportunity to protect myself. I just laid naked under stadium lights with 13 doctors and nurses around me as nerve endings in my heart were literally burned away. For days, my heart was swollen. I discovered that balling up pieces of bread into dense balls of dough and slowly swallowing them whole was a cheap and easy massage for the swollen walls of my heart.

I placed a hand over my chest, the sunscreen cool in my palm, and rubbed in circles. Since that surgery, I’ve kept an open dialogue with my heart. I have pep talks with her. I remind her what she’s been through when she’s down. After that procedure, heartbreak meant something completely different to us. I ask her sometimes if she’s doing alright. For the most part she is, but she worries.

For example, she worries about our kid and how we’re supposed to mother him in a way that sets him up for success. Her and I were bullied as children and we just took it. We didn’t like confrontation and I suppose we still don’t—us still avoiding it at almost any cost. Standing up to bullies or even telling grown ups about being bullied was a sure fire way to end up in a big confrontation. So we kept quiet and waited for the day to end when we could go home and play with our beagle and dig holes in the yard in search of dinosaur fossils.

She worries about men with guns because there are many days where that’s the only news story. She didn’t want to go to the movies to see the newly released Finding Dory with her husband and kid on father’s day because she just kept thinking about Pulse in Orlando—it having happened only a few days prior. She thought about Aurora. Sandy Hook. San Bernadino. She couldn’t shake the thought of it happening in the large theater in which they’d purchased tickets. She hurt for the young man who texted his mom right before he died. She used to hang out at clubs like Pulse with her friends. That was a safe spot to dance and drink and play and become lost in the sounds and light so that you could feel the pulse in your veins and beneath your feet as the music swallowed you.

She worries that things like mass shootings and bullying and distant wars are so common these days that we’re all becoming calloused to them and somehow, we’re supposed to raise a kid in all this. Thick skin, I suppose. Perhaps that’s the answer. But thick skin doesn’t take away the mother’s grief whose son texted her right before he was killed. Thick skin doesn’t feed and house and embrace the hundreds of thousands of people displaced from distant wars—wars that we could never, ever comprehend. But what, besides thick skin, can we do? What are Syrian parents doing for their children who don’t even know what home means? Bullying is the least of their worries. But then again, I’m sure it happens, still. And hurts, just as badly. All those hearts beating and beating.

I glided across the pale caps of my shoulders and down my biceps, which I flexed to remind myself that there was strength there. I avoided that little spot in the crook of my elbows where I can very clearly see my veins because for some reason, when I touch that spot, I feel a tickle deep down in my ears.

I don’t know how to make her, my heart, stop worrying. I don’t know how to grow thick skin. I’ve tried meditating. Medication. Therapy. Even prayer. But still, she worries, so I try my best to trust her strength and remind her of it when she’s lost sight of it. She has, after  all, survived torture under bright lights in that surgery. Good girl.

In the bedroom, my phone buzzed with some new notification and that reminded me of the email I hadn’t opened. Every single aspiring writer on the planet who wants to make anything of it is told that they have to have “thick skin” and that rejection is all a part of it. They’re told that even J.K. Rowling was rejected with Harry Potter over and over again and now, look at her success! They’re told that you just keep going. Buck up. Move on to the next. They’ve all been through it and so will you. We all need to have thick skin. It’s good for you.

In my reflection, I remind myself of this. Buck up, girl. You keep going. Thick skin. Think of that anonymous message you got on your blog telling you that your words touched this random person you’ve never met and that she loved the way the world looked through your eyes. Remember how you cried in that grocery store parking lot after reading this anonymous person’s message and you called your mom to tell her about it? That’s got to mean something.

That was the same parking lot that I called my husband from a week earlier because as I walked out of the grocery store with my toddler in the seat of the cart—paper bags tumbling over with bread and vegetables and milk—my eyes were drawn to the large muscular calf of a man in front of me. He wore red and orange plaid shorts and a gray shirt that fit his muscular build too tightly. On his left calf, wrapping around the entirety of it, was a red and black swastika. It growled from his leg, flexing with every step he took. My kid was facing me, luckily, not that he’d know what it was anyway. But there it was, oozing out of his leg like oil pouring from a leaking rig in the gulf. I realized then that I’d never seen a swastika outside of books or films.

I stopped, there on the ramp out in front of the grocery store, and watched the four-legged creature attached to the man in shorts march angrily out into the lot. The hair on my neck tingled at the roots. I looked around nervously to see if anyone else in the parking lot had noticed it too, but if they had, I couldn’t tell. It, along with its host, cut through a few aisles of cars and sank down into a white Mercedes Benz. A new, stark white Mercedes Benz with chrome rims and a tall ornament on the hood.  They drove away quicker than parking lots typically allow, the engine booming in my bones.

Into my squeaky, rusted truck I climbed—my kid in his rear-facing car seat. I called my husband and upon hearing his “hello?” I crumbled and cried heavy, heaving cries. It was painful to see—that sort of pain that makes you quiver under your rib cage. It makes the air heavy and that space where the base of your skull meets your neck tense. Then the nausea sets in. Then tears, when they feel safe to escape.

A real-life swastika on a real-life person. And he was displaying it. He wanted that tattoo to be seen. He wanted no confusion as to what his views on certain things were, so much so that he’d have it permanently illustrated on his body. And would then walk through a grocery store with it. And growl in his car with it.

In the bathroom, I tried to reach sunscreen as far down on the backs of my shoulders as my arms could reach. My rib cage lifted when I did this and I could see straight through it. Looking closely enough, I could see my pulse right above my collar bones—a tiny little bump, bump, bump.

The man with the swastika, from behind, seemed like a younger man. I’d guessed he couldn’t have been much older than me—today I am 30—and truly, I thought that that kind of hatred was dying out and that my generation was bringing love back into a torn apart world. I’d wanted to believe that so badly. My heart did, too. We were children after segregation. We were children who learned about the holocaust and about slavery and about how we’re all equal and how wrong humanity had gotten it before. We learned in school how power and money can corrupt world leaders and so it was our responsibility to do better. It was our obligation, as a human race, to love as hard as we could. Otherwise, we’d fail. That man in the parking lot made me feel like we were failing.

Done with my application, I pulled a shirt over my head, walked into my bedroom and glanced over at my phone—the green light in the corner calling me to come check the notifications. I thought about just getting it over with, but decided I wanted my coffee first.

Thick skin, remember? Just keep going.

But I don’t have thick skin. I can see right through it.

I sat on the velvet, purple couch in my living room that an old friend who no longer talks to me gave to me several years ago. The pillows match it and over the back of it, hangs a quilt that was made by a friend’s mom: another friend, to whom I no longer have a relationship. I sipped my coffee and watched hens peck for bugs in the yard. They scratched and nibbled and I wondered about those two, old friends: the purple couch and the mom quilt. Neither of those relationships ended well or mutually. Then again, when friendships are declared over by either party instead of naturally decaying with time like a browning banana, it’s usually not for peaceful reasons.

At the bottom of my cup of coffee, a few coffee grounds looked back up at me. I wondered how they’d gotten through the filter and felt bad that they seemed to be hanging on for dear life. They were so vulnerable there in the bottom of the cup. Damp. Cold. Confused. With the tip of my finger I wiped them from the bottom of the coffee mug and onto my shirt before heading back to the bedroom to check my phone.

I looked at my home screen momentarily—my phone’s background being a picture of my wide-eyed donkey named Bunny—as the email envelope in the corner called for my attention. Bunny, I’d decided, was smiling in this particular photo. On the other side of that picture was probably me dangling a carrot that she could already taste, although I can’t quite remember. So close.

I clicked the notification.

“Thank you for your submission, however, this piece is not for us…”

I stopped reading. I closed the email and looked at Bunny. I imagined she said, “It’s okay. Buck up. Be better. Be stronger. Keep going.” Tears stung my eyes, but quickly, they stopped, as the reel of “you already knew this would be the answer” ran through my mind. I did. I did know it was the answer. Buck up. Thick skin. 

From his nursery, Little Foot started to whimper, so I tossed my phone onto the bed and went to pull my kid from his crib. He smiled at me sleepily when I walked in, reaching his arms for mine. I picked him up and he rested his curly head on my shoulder. I still love his smell. It’s no longer new-born. But it’s Little Foot. Just caring for him sometimes makes me cry, although I couldn’t tell you why. He’s just so…so….gosh I don’t think there’s a word. He’s my son. A piece of me. The very best and most beautiful piece of me.

My heart reached for his, as she always does. Sometimes, I think they actually communicate through our chests. I carried him back into my room and stood over my phone. It no longer blinked green in the corner, but instead was black and blank. On my shoulder, Little Foot started to fall back asleep, so I laid on my bed, holding him against my chest. His breath moved quicker than mine, yet deeper. His breath moved all the way down to the bottom of his belly and I wondered at what point we, as adults, stop regularly belly-breathing? It’s just so shallow these days.

I forced my own breath down into my belly, allowing the heart to thump three full times before I’d start to exhale. She liked it after she got used to it. So did I.

I reached for my phone and opened the email again.

Thank you for your submission, however, the piece is not for us. Don’t feel bad, though; this is a reflection of our aesthetic, not your quality.”

I laid back then, tossing my phone to the side. It slid off the mattress and landed on the carpet with a soft thud. I laid there and I cried, although I wasn’t sad. It was just another no and one that I expected, anyway. But still, I cried, wishing I knew how to form thick skin to make the disappointment go away,or at least, not sting so much.

My heart played in the depth of my deep breath as Little Foot rose and fell on top of them. I do not have thick skin and I’m beginning to wonder if I ever will. I still don’t like confrontation and I am intimidated easily by things like hateful tattoos and guns.

I suppose I do have a strong heart, though. I know that because I can see right through my skin and into her. I can see all her scars from all those burns and she really does wear them proudly. They’re the strongest part of her. And I suspect, they’re the strongest part of me.

She worries, but she hasn’t stopped yet. And she hasn’t stopped enjoying things like deep breaths and donkeys and writing and hard work. And the things she loves, like Little Foot and King Ranch, she loves fiercely and infinitely. She keeps going. My god, sweet heart, am I grateful.

30 years, little heart. It’s you who’s brought me this far. It’s you who’s held onto the relationships that matter. It’s you who doesn’t lose hope even when we’re hurt, when we’re rejected, or when we’re intimidated. It’s you who reminds me that there are good people in the world and that fear is only what you allow. It’s you who is the strong one and who will continue to lead the way. I’ll follow wherever you go just as I always have.  

Little, strong heart, perhaps if I’ve got you then I can stop worrying so much over thick skin. Maybe we can rest softly in our sensitivity and be grateful for the depth in which we feel things there. At the very least, if we’re still around 30 years from now, we can revisit the topic and see what you’ve learned.

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Black Chicken Bloomed

One year ago today, I posted this story on my blog. This was the story of the Unicorn and the first death of a chicken here and how King Ranch refused to let one of his own die in vain. It poured and it broke our hearts.

This morning, I decided to wander over to the spot beneath the rosebushes to pay my respects. I found this:

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Black Chicken is alive. She lives in her blooms.

Across the yard, White Rooster crowed on the fence. I don’t think he’s forgotten. Neither have we.

 

You’re Done, Dead Weight

On our property are several pecan trees. During the fall, literally 1000’s of pecans fall with the leaves — some crack open and some don’t. Pecans that do crack open are quickly discovered by hungry donkeys who look forward to the tasty, autumn treat.  

During the summer time, however, the pecan trees turn into massive, mushroom clouds of bright, thick green with heavy and far-reaching branches. They’re lovely for shade from the hostile, Texas sun, but do quickly overgrow into forces that are difficult in which to reckon.

The overgrowth also makes it particularly hard to mow the grass. More often than I’d like to admit, I have found myself riding the mower through a low hanging arm of one of the pecan trees that leaves a long scratch across my arm or face.

I needed to do some trimming.

When I have tasks like this, instead of trying to keep up with a very curious and exploratory Little Foot, I strap him into his toddler hiking pack and hoist him onto my back. We both wear sunscreen and hats and I’ve found that he actually quite likes the sometimes hours-long piggyback ride. My excuse to get out of having to do a proper workout enjoys it, too.

I stood underneath the welcoming shade of the pecan tree that sits farthest back on our property as Bunny and Tee wandered up to see what we were doing. When Bunny noticed I had a tool of some sort, she trotted away, likely assuming that I was planning not to trim the tree, but her hooves instead. Tee stayed a few steps away, mostly curious about the companion riding upon my back.

I began trimming. The branches were more tangled than I imagined they’d be. I assumed this would be a pretty straight forward chore, but instead, found that the smaller and older the branches became, the more they weaved in and out of one another. They reached down with curiosity as if they were trying to touch the ground. None of them actually did, so I wonder if they talked about it amongst themselves. Maybe it was a competition. Who could reach the ground first?

Bunny decided that my shears were, in fact, not a threat and followed closely behind me to nibble on the leaves of the branches that tumbled down to the ground. Over my shoulder, Little Foot’s glossy, blue eyes watched my chore intently. Sometimes, he’d snort.

Branch after branch, I chopped. Some were easy and some required more might. Sweat accumulated where the straps of my Little Foot pack wrapped around my hips and chest and had even started to run down my forehead, stinging my eyes. Still, I chopped.

I began to notice that many of the branches that hung down lowest were actually barren: dry, prickly sticks not producing anything but weight. I felt bad for them. They were sad. I felt guilty for chopping them away having worked so hard to get here.

From the lowest hanging stick’s point of view, I could imagine that I was quite terrifying. A sweating, two headed monster wielding a long, bright orange and black pair of shears whom, without warning, chopped off the arms of these innocent branches. Behind me, my noble steed dined on the remains of those fallen.

But it was my duty to chop. I had to. I swore an oath to protect my land and that included trimming the trees so that I could properly mow. Otherwise, our land would become a breeding ground for snakes and even more mosquitoes than there already were.

So I continued to chop as Bunny (and now Tee) continued to chomp.

Some branches went down easily and without a fight while others struggled until the end. The more I chopped, however, the more I realized the way the blooming bits of the branches would spring far up towards the sky and even bounce a few times having lost the weight of the bare sticks.

Perhaps these sticks, instead of holding on, were actually looking to be let go.

The pecan trees — nutrient producing and life sustaining beings don’t have the capability to remove their dead bits. They need assistance. My, how the branches perked when I removed those parts which were bare.

I chopped more, but this time, triumphantly! I was healing a hurting tree!

This took just over two hours. Little Foot actually fell asleep on my back. I decided to take the extra time of his nap and clean out the donkey’s water troughs. They were grateful. All that noble-steeding left them quite parched.

Of course this made me wonder what it is that I’m holding onto that I just can’t bring myself to release. I know there are things. I know that there are memories that creep around in the dusty parts of my mind that feel exposed and raw whenever something shines their light on them. There are people who, when they pop into my vision, my heart hurts. Literally, it hurts. There are angry bits, too, that when poked or prodded explode in a fury of 4-letter words and end with tears.

I know they’re there. I know it. But I don’t know how to chop them off.

Sure, I still bloom. I still do my job. I mostly look nice. But my insides, in many ways, are quite heavy.

King Ranch pulls barren branches off from time to time. He sees them. As does my mom. As do most people who get close enough and who care to notice. Then again, I suppose we’ve all got dead stuff lingering around. Even when it’s all chopped and cleared away, next season, there will be more.

What I’m finding now is that it’s a much harder task to go through and release the pecan trees of their dead weight when I’ve let it get out of hand. If I’d have kept up with it, this chore would have been done in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the effort.

Still, it needed to get done. No matter the time or the effort, it needed to get done. It will again next year, too. And it’ll be worth it to see how proudly the pecan trees stand after they’ve been released.

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Little Foot’s Little Books

We are nearing the end of the usual soaked, Texas spring. Soon, the clay will crackle in devastating dehydration and the treetops and rosebushes will be broiled. I give it another month until we’re begging for relief from the heat.

I sat on the floor in the living room sipping my coffee, watching Little Foot flip through his ‘Peppa Pig’ book while it poured in sheets of rain outside. From his point of view, the pages were actually upside down, but still, he flipped through each cardboard page, one-by-one, and studied the pictures. He flips the pages with his left hand and holds his right hand out for balance, even though he sat steadily on the floor.

I’m so grateful that he loves books. All day, when we’re inside, he brings book after book from the bookshelf in his room to me so I’ll read it to him. We read them 3, 4, sometimes 5 times in a row before he retreats to grab another.

I’ll use funny voices if there are characters, some of which make him laugh and some of which make him turn the page faster. I’m not particularly good at voices.

I’ve heard so often that “I don’t have time to read” or “what’s the point of reading fiction?”

The point is simple: you learn things. You learn about worlds that often, you cannot visit. You learn that there are other “me”s out there. That everyone is a “me.” Neil Gaiman talks about this in his most recent book (which I am obsessing over slightly) called ‘A View From the Cheap Seats.’ He talks long and emotionally about how reading fiction helps readers become empathetic. It teaches you how to see the world — real or otherwise — from someone else’s point of view. Young children learn very early on that they’re not the only “me” out there. We are all “me”s.

Little Foot stood up from his book, ran as quickly as he could back into his room, and came back out carrying my copy of Don Quixote. This made me laugh and I told him that I think this might be a tough read right now. He is, after all, only 17 months old. Come to think of it, I wonder from where he grabbed my copy of Don Quixote in the first place.

I thumbed through the thick paperback as Little Foot backed himself up into my lap, through the hundreds of pages with the tiniest, single-spaced print, and picked out a few lines to read aloud for him.

In my best, silly Spanish voice I read:

“Did I not tell you so?” said Don Quixote. “Wait but a moment, Sancho; I will do it as quickly as you can say the credo.” Then, stripping off hastily his breeches, he remained in nothing but skin and shirt. Then, without more ado he cut a couple of capers and did two somersaults with his head down and his legs in the air…

…at this point, I was laughing which made Little Foot grin and scrunch up his nose…

…displaying such arts of his anatomy as drove Sancho to turn Rozinante’s bridle to avoid seeing such a display. So, he rode away fully satisfied to swear that his master was mad…”

I couldn’t read anymore because Little Foot had started laughing hysterically, I think, because I had giggled so much. I’d also gotten louder, my Spanish accent more ridiculous. So I tickled Little Foot who squirmed onto the ground, gasping for air between belly baby laughs.

I gave him a break and stopped tickling so that I could finish my coffee before it got cold. Little Foot scampered into his room and returned, this time carrying his ‘Big Book of Animals’. The book, almost as big as him, is colorful page after page of zoo animals, farm animals, birds, house pets, and a few more categories. We go through this book, Little Foot flipping the pages while his blue eyes jump from shape to shape and me listing off the animals and making their sounds (side note: what does an Egret sound like? Besides the picture, I don’t know if I really know what an Egret is.) I skipped Egret.

This went on for sometime — I drank coffee and tried to get things done around the house and Little Foot chased me with various books, sometimes bashing me in the legs with them, sometimes plopping himself on the floor and flipping through them on his own.

I’d been thinking about books a lot lately, partially because I’m working on one of my own and partially because of the aforementioned Neil Gaiman book I’ve been working my way through. I’d been thinking that books were very important to me growing up and I was very encouraged to read as much as I could.

Where I get sad and a bit regretful is how, as a kid, I was so shy and so insecure that when I did have a book out at school or otherwise and was made fun of (because kids do this – they make fun of other kids for the silliest things) I would, instead of find a safe place to read or tell the bullies to buzz off, I just stopped reading entirely. For years, I didn’t read, even if I wanted to. I just stopped.

I watched Little Foot on the floor now flipping through a lovely kid’s book called ‘The Pout Pout Fish’ by Deborah Diesen and I want, so badly, for him to always love to read. I want him to go absolutely everywhere, reality wise and fictionally speaking. And I don’t want him to worry at all what other people say or do.

I want for him to do what he’s meant to do. Whether that’s read or build things or fly planes or drop different chemicals into test tubes to try and solve critical problems. Or if he wants to splash odd colored paints onto canvases to convey his feelings or if he wants to dive deep into the ocean to learn just a bit more about life down there — I don’t want for him to feel like he has to make those choices based on someone else’s permission or approval.

How, as a mom, do you instill confidence in your child when you, yourself, struggle so much?

I don’t have the answer to this. I don’t have a lesson that I’ve learned on my ranch yet to answer this question either. I’m hoping that I figure it out. I suspect I don’t have that much time to do so.

What I do know is that right now, more than his stuffed animals, his blocks, his trucks, and his dinosaurs, Little Foot is enamored with books. He can’t get enough of them.

And I can’t get enough of that.

Outside, the rain subsided. I thought about going outside but by the time I pulled on some pants, the Texas heat was pulling the rainwater off the ground outside in blurry waves. I would need to wait until the ground was fully cooked outside because it’d be impossible to breathe that steaming air right now.

Instead, I pulled Little Foot into my lap with our copy of ‘Love You Forever’ by Robert Munsch which, for him was a great choice because of the colorful pictures and over and over song of “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

But for me, it was brutal. I bawled — big, sloppy, swollen crying — because how is this all moving so quickly? This season is ending and then on into the next. One day, Little Foot will be the one to tell me what an Egret says.

 

 

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