Our First Team

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. ‘Pooh!’ he whispered. ‘Yes, Piglet?’ ‘Nothing’ said Piglet taking Pooh’s paw, ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.'” – A.A. Milne

After I landed at the airport on Friday night, I received a text from my nanny as I was making my way home:

“Lessons of the week:

  1. Big sisters make the world go round
  2. You can’t out-bargain a 3-year-old
  3. Sometimes you just gotta go out in your underwear”

Quite frankly, I was impressed that she was able to get Mr. D to go out in underwear when he has more often than not opted for the full on naked this summer.

And then she expanded on the role that Miss O played during the week.

“I’m just so thankful for and impressed by [Miss O]! There were some really emotional moments with [Mr. D] and she was there for a hug whenever he needed it! She helped me find things around the house, helped me interpret some of his words, and has a true talent for knowing exactly where Bunbun [D’s beloved stuffy] is at all times.”

It made me think of my family of origin. I have an older brother who always made me laugh and cherished me. And I had an older sister that was angry that I came along and was jealous of the easy way I rolled through life.

It seems to me that siblings are the first team that we join in life. Not surprisingly, I was delighted to be on my brother’s team when we were growing up. These days we don’t talk all the time – or even all that often. But if I need to feel better about something incomprehensible, no one can match the comfort I get from my brother.

And if I want to know how to do something, I watch my big brother.

When I don’t understand how the world works, the person I listen most to is my big brother.

He’s like a huge filter of the information I take in as if his context provides me a starting point of where I need to go next.

In my business, I frequently help companies turn data into information. That is to say, there is often too many sources of content and not enough time for workers to verify them. For instance, there may be so many versions of the company background sales presentation, that a new employee may not understand which one to use when her boss tells her to start with that. So I help build systems that tell people which content is trustworthy.

I suspect our older siblings are like that – the systems that help us to know where to start. Whether we learn to trust what they say or to do the opposite of what they say, either way they are a reference point. And when they are trustworthy sources, we have an advantage of using them to help us read the world.

I don’t always listen to my brother, agree with him or even talk with him – but I am forever attuned to taking cues from him. And I suspect little D is growing up to do the same with his sister.

When Mr D was first walking, Miss O decided to train him to give her hugs on command. She’d clap her hands and then yell “hug” and he’d come running (some of the time). When I came home after being away last week, it was like that bond they’ve been building for three years was that much stronger. I’m so grateful not only for the team I have with my brother, but that my kids are building their own team.

How do you feel about your siblings?

If you want to see a video of Miss O training D to give hugs, check out my instagram @wynneleon

I’ve also written about the split in my family of origin because I’ve come to see my older sister’s suffering as one that started when we were young as a feeling of not belonging. More on that at Forgiveness or Letting Go?

The Whole Mountain

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday, I was driving near an elementary school when I saw two school busses. My heart felt a deep pang of missing my children. Which is funny because my kids don’t even take the school bus. But I was driving in New Jersey, not in Seattle and since this is my first trip on an airplane by myself in 7 years, I guess that my heart isn’t being picky about what triggers it.

I once heard some very sage advice about what to do when we’ve grown weary around the people we love most – back up so you can see the whole mountain. And it spoke to me because often when I’ve climbed mountains, I’ve found them to be a lot of sweaty, hard work. And yet every time I see one, especially Mt. Rainier my “home” mountain, I am struck speechless, even for just a second, by my awe.

Back up and see the whole mountain to me speaks of finding the edge where our familiarity begins. And also of being able to trace the contours of the well-worn path where we often go with our dear ones. It calls me to picture in my mind the beautiful wholeness of my loved ones faces and the expressions that I most love to see on them. And when I’ve backed up far enough, I feel the pang of my ache for my beloveds deep in my body and know where they reside in me.

I’ve had three nights away from my young children. No one has spit half-eaten food in my hand or used my clothing as a napkin (and boy, wouldn’t that be weird if that had happened on business trip?). I haven’t been called in to witness grand accomplishments of using the bathroom and I’ve been able to sleep, eat and work out without interruption.

It all sounds great except I’ve had to do all that without my heart which remains at home with my beautiful children. Like climbing a mountain, my life is a lot of sweaty, hard work. But wow, I’m so glad I backed up enough to be able to see how much I love it, them and this beautiful inspiration called life!

How do you restore your love when (or if) it ever feels a little worn thin?

(featured photo is sunset from the airplane)

Called Out

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela

The other day I received a message from Mr. D’s preschool, “Good afternoon families. Since we have several new families who have recently joined us, I thought it might be a good time to remind everyone that our classrooms are parent free zones.”

Even though this message was sent to the about 45 families in the school and I’m not a new parent to the school, I knew this message was aimed at me. Because I love going in the classroom and getting to know the teachers, especially in the last couple weeks as Mr. D has moved up to a new classroom. These COVID years as a preschool parent have been tough and the drop-off at the door is the worst. Mr. D does fine but I suffer from lack of community and continuity when it comes to my darling son and the people important to him.

I could feel the shame creeping up my cheeks as I read the message. It was like I imagined they all got together and cooked up a message to nicely keep me out. Which is very ego-centric of me but I think not uncommon when we feel called out.

I think staying open to feedback is one of the biggest growth areas for me. Not shutting down with shame or defensiveness. Sitting openly long enough to feel the meaning and intent and then react. It’s a very meditative response to life for me instead of reactive.

As Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.

Freedom to find what need I was trying to meet, growth to expand into other ways to meet it, power to find my center and respond from that true space.

What I really want is to show affection and interest for the amazing people who are caring for and teaching my son. So I’ve written them all cards and put chocolate bars inside. It’s not perfect, but I find if I don’t wither from the shame of being called out then I can still engage and get to know them from afar.

How do you react when you feel called out? Any thoughts on the situations in which we can take our loved ones only so far and the rest they have to go on their own?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Monday Mourning

If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever.” – Paulo Coehlo

The other day I needed to drop off something at the church where my dad last served as senior pastor. It’s also where his ashes are interred so I stopped by the Memorial Garden and put my hand on his stone. Even now, almost eight years after his sudden death in a bicycle accident, tears immediately sprung to my eyes as I imagined all the things I want to talk with him about and even heard his answers down in my bones.

After I’d been standing there for a couple of minutes, someone that knew my dad and knows me walked by. She simply whispered, “Beautiful picture” as she passed.

I’ve been thinking about that moment as I’ve watched the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II. Grief for someone who has done life well or is touched our lives significantly has its moments of being so beautiful. It celebrates both our relationship with them as well as what they did well in life. For me processing my grief means that I can start to distill the most important lessons I learned from those I’ve lost.

Trying to get a perspective on the huge topic of grief, I turned to Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown. She quotes the work of The Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia on their definitions of grief which include both acute grief, which marks the initial period after a loss, and integrated grief.

Integrated grief is the result of adaptation to the loss. When a person adapts to a loss grief is not over. Instead, thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to their loss are integrated in ways that allow them to remember and honor the person who died. Grief finds a place in their life.

The Center for Complicated Grief

Specific to my dad, I feel as if the longer he’s gone, the more I embody him. It’s as if I relied on him as a source of energy and wisdom for all those years he was alive and now that I don’t have him to do it in person, I’ve had to become that energy source. There are also others who I’ve grieved and in that process have learned the lessons of what not to become so it’s worked both ways.

Despite that integrating, I still leak tears when I talk to my dad. And also ache for those going through acute grief in all those rending and earth-shattering emotions.  We stand on the shoulders on those who went before us – may we remember all their lessons, good and bad, and honor them in those beautiful still moments.

How Not To Be Mean

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

The other night my seven-year-old was being short-tempered with her younger brother and snippy with me. I asked her not to take out her mood on others and she replied “I don’t know what to do with the meanness!”

Wow, that stopped me in my tracks! It left me trying to tease apart all the ways we can quell our inner meanness and became the topic of my Pointless Overthinking blog today, What to Do With Our Inner Meanness.

Carrying Stuff for Others

I am becoming water; I let everything rinse its grief in me and reflect as much light as I can.” – Mark Nepo

Last week there was an open house at school so all the kids could meet the new principal and find out their teachers. Before we had a chance to check the official list, the 2nd grade teacher that Miss O wanted to have saw her and said, “Yay, you are in my class!”

This was great news – two of her best school friends were also on the list and she was thrilled. Except as we walked away, a dad of one of her good friends gently said to me, “There are two O’s this year and I think your daughter is in the other class.”

Devastating! We checked the official list and he was right, she was not in the class she preferred. Her body mirrored her mood as she went from elated to deflated. I watched in horror as she crumpled even as she tried to hold it together in the crowd.

Just bearing witness to this made me feel terrible. It was as if had taken on the disappointment for my daughter’s 2nd grade hopes dying. And this happens not just with my kids but in other relationships too – I feel the heart ache of my friend going through relationships troubles. Or the exhaustion of another friend who didn’t get the job she wanted.

I suspect I’m not alone in taking on the feelings of others that I care about. As I listen to their experience, I can feel myself take on the rise and fall of their journey. Long after I’ve left them or hung up the phone, I carry the echo of their experience. It goes beyond being an empathetic listener because I’m carrying an emotion that isn’t mine to carry.

Which is a bit ridiculous because it’s a feeling of how I would react to having the same experience which is more or less meaningless. That is to say, my feelings may or may not match those of the person who is actually going through it.

So, I don’t think this makes me a better parent of friend. In fact, I suspect it diminishes my effectiveness. Thinking about the Buddhist Tonglen practice where you imagine a specific suffering in the world and you breathe it in, there is also the completion of the practice where you breathe out relief for everyone experiencing that suffering. It’s a full circle practice. Looking at it another way, the river doesn’t hold on to the water that flows through it.

This reminds me of every mountain guide I’ve climbed with. First, their stuff is well-organized so that they can be efficient and also carry a lot of gear for the group. They don’t often carry stuff for the climbers but when someone is really struggling, they will take part of their load for a time. However, they always give it back when we get to camp. They don’t keep carrying it on top of their own load.

At the school event, Miss O was upset and her first reflex was to go back to that teacher she wanted to tell her that she wasn’t in her class. Once she did that, she was able to move on and meet the teacher she’s assigned to for 2nd grade. Her new teacher is also lovely and nice.

Miss O moved on much more quickly than I did as I still feel echoes of that disappointment. I’m trying to learn from her example and shake off the feelings that I don’t need to carry for those I love.

Do you take on the feelings of loved ones? How do you shake them off?

The Blossom of a Distant Crush

There is no remedy for love but to love more.” – Henry David Thoreau

When my friend Mindy got married over 20 years ago, I remember her remarking that she felt like finding her person freed up a space in her brain for other things.

It was an interesting observation but one I hadn’t thought about in great depth until recently when out of the blue someone I had a distant crush on sent me a beautiful email. In the one gesture, distant crush blossomed into a romantic possibility.

I haven’t spent much time actively dating since I decided to have kids on my own. In these seven years, I’ve had that space in my brain, as Mindy calls it, free to focus on taking care of these kids and more or less just cruising along getting things done.

So I’m a little shocked to remember all the space that having a little romance takes up in life, of which only a small portion is actually consumed by the lovely time spent talking to him.

First, I have emotions all over the place – excitement, fear, expectancy, impatience. They cycle through my day creating waves (often of elation and joy) in what to used to be a pretty calm (mostly happy) sea.

Second, I’ve spent all sorts of time making a music playlist called “Thinking of You” and listening to it instead of the podcasts and books I used to so efficiently consume. Granted, a lot of my podcasts have been on summer break so there’s that but to match my mood, all I want to listen to is The Cure, Cold Play, Leonard Cohen and so on.

Third, I wake up in the middle of the night now with my brain racing to think about what’s next, the last conversation we had or to wonder about all sorts of things I can’t control. I think about The Hot Goddess’s latest brilliantly funny snarky pie chart about communication in midlife dating and wish I had her sense of humor about all this. Or The Goddess Attainable’s list of Zen she’s found from dating disappointments and wonder if I can find my Zen again.

All I can say is that this makes for a very rich meditation practice. Finding the space beneath all the energy and excitement where the river of life still flows and will carry me regardless of what is to come seems both harder to do these days but also more important.

I’m also discovering that it doesn’t matter how old you are, the intensity of new possibility is electrifying. I might have lost that space in my brain but I’ve opened wide a space in my heart where possibility roams free.

(Quote from Mary of the delightful Awakening Wonders blog, featured photo is mine)

Love No-Matter-What

Love is God’s religion.” – Rumi

A couple of days ago, Miss O and I had a mother/daughter day of rock climbing at the climbing gym. As we were buying our after-climbing lunch at the neighborhood grocery story, Miss O dropped the glass bottle of soda she was carrying and it shattered right near the check-out lines.

Trying to ease her embarrassment and horror, I told her that it was okay. She hissed back, “It is not okay. Have you ever dropped something like that?”

And I replied, “Only all the time.”

Which is a phrase I picked up from a recent Ten Percent Happier podcast with Father Gregory Boyle . In it he suggested the most expansive view of love and the power of love that I’ve ever heard. Days after listening to it — twice — I clearly am still trying to ingest the beautiful view of loving people no-matter-what that he presents. So it’s the topic of my post today for the Pointless Overthinking blog: Expansiveness.

Finding What Hurts

I can bear any pain as long as it has meaning.” – Haruki Murakami

Last week, 3-year-old Mr. D had a lot of objections as we were getting into the car to go to preschool. “I don’t like those boots.” And “I don’t want to watch that on my tablet.” And “This isn’t the arm I put into the seat belt.” And “It’s too sunny.”

As I responded to each of the objections, I finally got the a-ha – it wasn’t any of these things that was really wrong. It was that he didn’t want to go to school. He’d been having fun with his sister at home and didn’t want to stop.

It adds to my long list of how confusing it is to be human. First, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is going on with us. In Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown cites a survey that she gave out in workshops asking people to list the emotions that they could name as they were having them. “Over the course of five years, we collected these surveys from more than seven thousand people. The average number of emotions named across the surveys was three. The emotions were happy, sad and angry.” Which is stunning that out of our nuanced ranged of emotions, we have trouble identifying many of them at the time we are having them. But I can affirm that it’s almost always on reflection after the fact that I have any emotional literacy.

Secondly, as friends, parents, partners, we try to respond to what our loved ones tell us that is wrong. And as I found with Mr. D, it’s an exercise in frustration as we solve problems that aren’t the problem. It’s like putting a band-aid on the knee that isn’t scraped – a little waste of resources that don’t stop the bleeding.

And finally, because accurately describing the wound is the key to healing, we have to keep unpacking the distractions and figure out what’s wrong. Only then can we hold ourselves and each other for what really hurts and matters. Only then can we find the meaning behind what is happening and as the quote for this post from writer Haruki Murakami suggests, it helps us to bear the pain.

So I left the boots off, turned off the tablet, got him settled in his car seat and we just talked on the way to school. About how sometimes we don’t feel like doing what we have to do and sometimes we just have to look forward to the next thing and it’ll carry us through. He wasn’t convinced but he wasn’t fussing. Then we were able to move forward into the day.

Freestanding and In Charge — Or Not

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway

I often think of myself as freestanding and in charge – only to repeatedly learn I’m not. I say that even as I know my best decisions, like the ones to have my beautiful children as a single person, came from a calling that was far beyond me. I read an amazing piece on that subject this week from Mark Nepo that I am posting here in case anyone else needs to hear the same thing.

Teachers Are Everywhere

Teachers arise from somewhere within me that is beyond me, the way the dark soil that is not the root holds the root and feeds the flower.

So often we think of ourselves as freestanding and in charge, because we have the simple blessing of being able to go where we want. But we are as rooted as shrubs and trees and flowers, in an unseeable soil that is everywhere. It’s just that our roots move.

Certainly, we make our own decisions, dozens every day, but we are nourished in those decisions by the very ground we walk, by the quiet teachers we encounter everywhere. Yes, in our pride and confusion, in our self-centeredness and fear, we often miss the teachers and feel burdened and alone.

In trying to hear those quiet teachers, I am reminded of the great poet Stanley Kunitz, who as a young man struggling darkly with how to proceed with his life, heard geese cross a night sky and somehow he knew what he had to do. Or how a man I know was slowly extinguishing himself, sorely depressed, when, finally exhausted of his endless considerations, he heard small birds in snow in unexpected song. He realized he was a musician who needed to find and learn the instrument he was supposed to play.

From the logic of being freestanding and in charge, experiences of this sort seem crazy-making and untrustworthy. But the soil of life in which we grow speaks a different language than we are taught in school. In actuality, truth and love and the spirit of eternity are rarely foreseeable, and clarity of being seldom comes through words.

In my brief time on Earth, I have felt the light of ageless spirit fill me unexpectedly when I thought I would die, and as water pumps its way up a slim root making that plant leaf out toward the light, I have found myself, against all fear and will, flushed with possibility in the direction of dreams I had hardly imagined.

Whether through birds in snow, or geese honking in the dark, the brilliant wet leaf that hits your face the moment you are questioning your worth, the quiet teachers are everywhere. When we think we are in charge, their lessons dissolve as accidents or coincidence. But when brave enough to listen, the glass that breaks across the room is offering us direction that can only be heard in the roots of how we feel and think.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo