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I’ve been busy this path month. I finished the first draft of my manuscript at 2:05 pm on July 9, 2014–just one day shy of my 44th birthday. At present, the manuscript comes in at just under 100,000 words. I completed the first draft at the itsy-bitsy cabin that I rent on the north shore of Lake Superior. After completing the manuscript, I danced all wild and crazy, alone in my hermitage, to DMB’s cover of Watchtower. I danced to celebrate a goal achieved. I danced all a burn with the fires of creative energy. I’ve worked three years writing this first draft and there were many times I almost quit writing (and I did, sometimes, for months at a time). Even if this particular book never publishes, at least I did it. It is written. The story has been told.

While up north, I was also gathering together the final pieces of my application for graduate school. It’s now official. I begin my MFA in Creative Nonfiction on August 25. Not sure if I’ll begin the editing process before I begin my MFA. I am sure my MFA program will be all encompassing for the next two years and so, if I don’t get back to revising this book until I graduate, it’s okay. I am sure it will end up being a better book for the time spent further developing my writing craft and skills; sculpting my editing and rewriting legs.

Unlike my previous attempt at graduate school in art history (Jan-March 2013), I really believe this is the right program for me at the right moment in my life. My writing never releases me to other endeavors; it’s had me all along. I just had to sit up and recognize that I cannot run from this path. I am both terrified and excited for my encore career. Bring it on.

Gratitude. Immense gratitude.

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Abandoned building in Grand Marais, MN.

I cannot do it anymore. Really. 4.5 years (5 if you count the sick, tumultuous pregnancy) of worry. Unremitting worry over Josh’s health. I just cannot live this way anymore. And, in any event, this is not really living.

I was listening to an online program today where the speaker talked about his mid-life exhaustion working at a nonprofit. He said, when exhausted, one just starts to work faster and faster, and you become unable to relate to anyone who doesn’t vibrate at your same frenzied pace. He said that the ultimate humiliation was when he walked into a meeting and asked where “Jim” (his own name) was. At that moment, he realized he was completely tapped out; completely exhausted. That night, he got together to read poetry with his friend, a benedictine monk (yes, I know–a quite different level of exhaustion than the one I am encountering) and he asked the monk what he could do about his exhaustion. The monk said to him:

The remedy to exhaustion is not always rest. Often the remedy to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.

And this quote spoke to me so deeply. When I am running around worrying about Josh’s lack of growth, the color of Josh’s feces, the IgA levels in his blood, his ear drainage, the potential of metal toxicity from his sliver crowns and titanium ear rod, I am not living wholeheartedly; as a mother or as a person. It is as if I won’t let myself really enter this life of mine as long as there are outstanding health issues with Josh. But, in 4.5 years, there has never not been any outstanding health issues.

In the end, Josh’s blood tests came back “normal,” however, our OT and pediatrician talked on the phone and I left J’s OT’s office with a whole bunch of literature on the food pyramid and the correct amount of serving sizes for a 4-5 year old. It was really really a slap in the face. I still love our OT, but I have the feeling that she is not right on this one. She knows that I know far more about nutrition than most moms and yet, I left the office with this literature? Was it our pediatrician or our OT or both. It reminds me a bit of the time that our genetic doctor told us to just put “noodles and butter” in front of Josh and he’d eat. Insulting at a time when he’d only eat vanilla yogurt and cheerios. Ironic though now because Josh would exist on macaroni and cheese if I let him. But, he had to come to the discovery of macaroni and cheese in his own time. No amount of prodding would have gotten Josh to accept noodles and butter back at age 16 months, when we got this comment from the genetic doctor. And with this literature, the OT suggested that I show Josh the food pyramid to try to get him to incorporate more foods into his diet. But she is well aware that Josh enjoys human anatomy books and science books. I have to tell him he is only allowed one science book a day because I like to read stories. Anyway, Josh has been looking at the food pyramid since he was 2.5 and it hasn’t done a bit of good. He knows that meat is supposed to be healthy for him but it doesn’t allow him to tolerate it.

But last night, I was feeling the pressure and feeling “judged” as a parent and so Josh and I had a stand-off about the grass-fed bison crumbles on his plate. In the end, Josh left the dinner table without eating any food, even his “go to” food–which, last night, was a cheese tortilla. Then, he couldn’t fall asleep because his anxiety was through the roof (and likely he was hungry). In fact, his baseline anxiety level has been off the charts for the past two or so months and now that I think about it, this uptick coincides with the point at which his OT started pushing him heavily on meats.

Chris and I both awoke this morning with the same thought–that is; this is more of an anxiety issue than a food issue. And even if it isn’t, we are turning it into an anxiety issue. And being all anxious about his health is certainly modeling anxiety for him, even if he was born with some innate baseline anxiety. And whose to say that the congenitally high anxiety is not from the overly anxious pregnancy, with me sick and unable to eat (now I am convinced that was just Josh’s genetic code inside me already expressing it’s extreme food selectivity issues) and numerous bleeding episodes. Whatever it’s from, Josh is using his food preferences to provide something calm and predictable in his world. He likes to have strawberry kefir with a black straw, purple Cliff Z bars in a purple bowl, a pink probiotic pill with 8-9 macadamia nuts in a separate bowl and has now added in cheerios in a third bowl each morning before school. He likes macaroni and cheese at night, every night. And when he doesn’t get his mac and cheese, his world is turned upside down and he has difficulty going to sleep (sometimes a cheese tortilla will suffice).

And you know what? I am not a bad mother for providing these staples. I am a mother doing the best I can (the new tagline on my blog). I am from Minnesota, the state of Garrison Keillor, so maybe I can just say I am a “Pretty Good” mother. And that is going to have to be good enough. Moreover, I am a mother who raised two “normal” eaters, who ate everything without any need for negotiation. Ever. And so I know that Josh’s issues have little or nothing to do with my parenting. At least not until I received the food guidelines from our OT and I became all self-conscious.

I am a firm believer that you find what you need, when you need it. Thank God I found the blog mealtimehostage.wordpress.com this morning. In particular, Chris and I both read this entry about manipulation and about cried. We (really me) were being manipulative with Josh last night. And it felt so wrong.

I am done. At this moment, I do not know all that this entails, but it does mean that, going forward, I am on a mission to be as wholehearted as a parent as possible to Josh.

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Yoga isn’t keeping me in Jennifer Aniston-shape and she even has one more year on me (although she hasn’t birthed three children and until recently she smoked–and I consider that cheating), but it’ll do. I am grateful to be alive, walking amongst the beautiful people of this earth, as I consider my now 42 years of life. And it is good. It is real good. My heart swells with gratitude for all I’ve met on my path, my journey.

Photo taken by my lovely niece/photographer Phoebe 6 days before my 42nd birthday

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything & your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies & little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, from “The Four Loves”

This lesson just keeps coming up on my path–perhaps it circles through on everyone’s path–time and time again. If you want to love deeply, you will, at one time or another, experience a broke-open heart. No other way around it. Maybe just maybe you have an option of whether to be vulnerable in your adult relationships, but the moment you open your heart to a child, there is no option but to be in this place of love and vulnerability. Being a parent is one wild ride but I would choose this ride again and again. It is the place where I have learned to open my heart; where I’ve learned to bleed in the name of something higher than my own selfish needs.

Hannah is in Japan once again. And Josh is not “out of the woods” for another month or so. We are living on the little island of our own home, as if each day were a winter storm, shutting us in the house as we try to spare Josh any unnecessary germs. There have been moments over the past few days where I realize I am holding my breath, no longer breathing freely. Ah, but this does little to protect my own heart or my children. I must learn, once again, to let go. I am vulnerable. My children are vulnerable. It is our human state. The lesson is to make peace with the fragility and vulnerability of life and still breathe deeply, open wide the heart and yell “yes, yes!”

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