Running on Empty

September 24, 2012

Serenity Stewart sang in her minivan. Occasionally, she’d step in front of a choir and do the same. But for years she hid her secret gift of song, in which she had been classically trained, just to get by.

With four children to raise on her own, she kept her creative self locked away while she did what she needed to do. Working as an office administrator for a busy health care practice, Serenity ran a tight ship, always looking after others.

But that creative self needed to live. It took Serenity’s nearly dying to breathe life back into it.

In July 2005 she suffered a brain aneurysm that left her bleeding out of her nose and even her eyes. As she lay on the cold ER table, her last view was of the gorgeous doctor with tan, tight arms scrubbing up for surgery.

“God, this can’t be my last vision,” she spoke to the sky. “Look at how beautiful this doctor is. I’ve got some unfinished business to do!” It was this sense of humor that got her through the next months of recovery. For the first time in her life, she started to strip away the layers of “mainstream” as she calls it to really live. In an act of self-discovery, she began to realize that an empty vase has the most potential.

“Every possibility starts with courage,” she told me over the phone. She took a year off and sailed around the world. She discovered her passion for deep sea fishing and even caught a marlin off the coast of San Diego. She literally emptied herself out to start anew.

Serenity now sings jazz reminiscent of the 1940s. Hers is sultry music that speaks of a long-lost era of community and togetherness. At the end of September she will start her P.S. I Love You tour, which will land her in Paris next March (yes, I’ll be going!).

Music helps her and her audience tune into the healing energy that only music can bring. It is a meditation, and a dedication, to life.

Listen to one of her songs today. You will be glad you did!

On What’s Most Important

September 20, 2012

Fame. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.


I work with famous people on occasion when I’m on a film or TV set. And what I’ve observed is the pressure they endure on a daily basis, trying to uphold a standard that the public has set for them. It is tiring, taxing and at best, unnerving. Everyone has an opinion of you and if you aren’t in the best of moods, it somehow lands in the tabloids the next day.

My sister once said, “I’d like to be just left of the limelight. In the mix, but not in the public eye.”

I see what she means now.

The other day I had the chance to drink champagne with several celebrities, but after a day’s work in a dusty studio that smelled of manure and pyrotechnics, I was ready for a shower and some pizza with the kids instead. So I drove the hour home, racing through the door with a heightened level of excitement to see everyone again, only to find my family busy with their iPods, laptops and television sets.

Enter the feeling of let down. It’s what my friend Donald calls the moment of doom right before you enter your familiar space at home. You know it will be different than you hope it to be, but hope dies last, as they say.

It wasn’t until we had assembled at the dinner table an hour later that I realized why I had run home instead of sipping the bubbly with the stars. It was a moment of belly laughs and connection and jokes with the kids that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. It may have been slower in coming than I had wished, but the love was there all along beneath the distraction of our digital world.

Fame can’t give you that. Family can.

A Love Letter to Alanis

September 19, 2012

Every once in a while someone comes along to change your life in surprising ways. You don’t expect it. You don’t anticipate the vastness of their effect on your life. And then there it is ~ a newness you never thought possible.

Alanis Morissette is one of those people. And because I love her so much, in all her frailty and grace and honesty, I thought I’d pen a love letter just to say it to her too. So here goes.

Dear Alanis,

It may seem strange to receive a letter from someone you don’t know, but I’m sure you have had some practice. How did you jump inside my head, read my thoughts, then sing about it like that? You recorded seemingly every painful, joyful, messy, divine experience I have ever had. And you belted it out like you had experienced the same thing too.

I love you for your honesty. I love you for your courage. I love you for showing me your authentic self.

Your latest album Havoc and Bright Lights once again hit a nerve. At first I was a bit skeptical as your sound seems to have ripened with age. Maybe it was the years between this album and your prior one, Flavors of Entanglement, which I played until the CD gave up cough and wheezing into retirement (I burned a new one – totally legally of course!). Maybe it was motherhood, which is bound to change anyone, but your lyrics, once digested, are as profound and moving as all your other work. As a fellow writer, I am left astounded by your keen ability to squeeze multiple human experiences into tiny words.

Listening to your voice gives me the sense that all is right with the world, even as you sing of the things that are not.


There is another reason why I am writing you. You give me courage. You give me the feeling I can do anything. And while you sing, I think you are simultaneously listening to my reaction. It is as if you know how I feel. That is your art. That is your talent. That is the beauty of you.

You sing of empathy and how you appreciate that in others. You speak of the creative spirit in Magical Child that carries us forward. You recognize how powerful women are (and love them for it). You ask if we have found our own true North, that direction in life that keeps us centered and on task.

I’m not sure I have yet, but I am trying. With your help I may just get there yet.

With love,

Christine

I have been known to say “I used to be a nice person…until I had children.” Now that I’ve been at this parenting gig for well over a decade, I realize that children bring out everything in us that is unresolved, unattended or carefully hidden from view.

And so it was recently as I found myself blowing my top at my teenager publicly. For the first time. Ever.

It was an uncool thing to do, yet it seemed nothing could stop me in that moment. The fuse had finally burst. I had been pushed to a precipice never seen before. But to admit my weakness is the first step in recovery.

Or so I hope.

The shadow side is as much a part of us as our light. And as much as I’d like to dance in that light 24/7, I have come to realize ignoring those parts of myself that are mean, ugly and hateful simply doesn’t work. Sending those pieces love is the only thing to do.

Raising a teen in this world of escapism through video games, television and other digital media is harrowing at best. I’ve not yet figured it out, but one thing is for certain: where shadows lurk there is also light.

I hope to keep mine shining, even in the darkest of my days.

Let’s embrace the shadows, invite them to dance and not be fearful in their midst. They make us whole. They make us real. They make us feel the entire spectrum of humanity.

And that is worth something indeed.

Motherhood is as sacred as Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Yahweh combined. People often have specific notions about it so most people don’t address the topic with much neutrality.

Motherhood is a state of being. It is a relationship with others. And it signifies the perpetuation of humanity.

Therein lies the challenge.

When we start to dissect contemporary motherhood, different lines of thought emerge. There are those who think mothers should care primarily for their children (and lay succinct judgement on those who opt not to), while others believe mothers are people too who don’t stop being people once they push that baby out into the world. In their view mothers should be allowed to lay claim to things beyond childcare. Then you have a grey spectrum of people who have super ideas about what a mother should be and either aren’t one themselves or can’t remember how hard it is to raise them.

According to a recent report by the Motherhood Recuperation Society (a loose translation for Müttergenesungswerk, a German group that support moms to return to sanity in the throes of motherhood), the number of mothers in Germany who suffer from a psychological illness has increased by 33% in the last eight years.

I’m not surprised.

The increased pressure through the school system that syphens out “low performers” by age nine sets up an expectation that you, the parent (read: the mother, really) are solely responsible for the child’s ability to either make it in this highly competitive world or not. The added crush of little to no childcare available before the age of three leaves many mothers scrambling for less than ideal solutions.

Life is full of compromise. Indeed that is true. But when left alone mothers are getting sick by the thousands.

If we are to perpetuate humanity, how about a little more help? If you are a mom reading this, know that you are doing the best you can. Let’s support each other and remove those taboos.

It really is okay to be human, just like the people you are raising.

 

Remember when phones were large and looked like this?

A replica of my first telephone

 

We have moved on from the early 1980s when rotary was the norm and push-button was for ultra-modern folks. I had a phone just like the one pictured above. I paid $1.50 a month and shared the phone with my sisters. Those were the days.

Today our kids clog the talkwaves wherever they are. Only they usually aren’t talking, but typing.

According to a Vondane Mobile survey, texting and calling habits vary drastically between individuals ages 13-24 and 25+. Here are some highlights:

  • Nine percent of people ages 13-24 send over 1000 text messages a week. (My thumbs hurt just reading this, much less typing it.)
  • The majority of teens/young adults age 13-24 only make between 1-5 calls a week. (And usually not to Grandma, but to their friends ~ at least at my house!)
  • Seventy-six percent of parents keep track of the number of calls/texts their children make. (I wouldn’t go near my daughter’s cell phone. “It’s like my diary, Mom. Hands off!” Okay…)
  • The majority of those surveyed say cost is the most important consideration when deciding on cell phone service. (Agreed.)
  • Seventy-five percent of those surveyed own an iPhone or Android phone.

Below is the state of telecommunications today. Where do you land on this spectrum? Text like a teen? Are you a Scrooge on Skype?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some days it’s all you can do to shuffle across the floor. The art of slow movement takes practice. You need to learn to release the expectation that it’s going to go any faster than this.

I don’t know what expresses this sentiment better than this three and one-half minute video.

Bear with me. It sounds complicated, but really, it’s not.

My e-friend Bernadette Noll, who is friends of friends of my friend living in Munich, is the co-founder of the Slow Family Movement, the idea of investing time in our families instead of the activities that keep us away from them.  It is incredibly encouraging that mainstream media outlets such as yesterday’s USAToday have embraced the idea of the power of slow in so many areas of our lives.

And here’s the thing. It works.

This morning our kids were calm, centered and ready for their school week. It wasn’t only because we opted to do virtually nothing this weekend. It wasn’t only because my husband and I joined them in doing, well, nothing. It was also because the kids are firmly rooted in the understanding that we want to be with them whilst doing nothing. They built a fort out of chair and blankets, then slept under them at night. They played horse on their bikes and gathered walnuts that had fallen from our tree in the yard. They were happy just being. And it was beautiful to watch.

At the risk of sounding pious (and I really don’t mean to), you reap what you sow. And lately I’m beginning to understand what Bernadette Noll means when she says less is more for families too.

I spend a lot of time with my kids. Sometimes toooooo much time, if you know what I mean. But the truth is I wouldn’t change a thing. Their time at home is limited to a handful of years. That’s all we have before the comings and goings and laundry drop-offs begin. It is a precious time of instilling how valuable they are as human beings. If we didn’t invest time in them, what would they think about themselves and the world they inhabit? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the one to show them the way than to leave it to chance…or television and YouTube.

Investing in your relationships, whether with children or other loved ones, is the best insurance policy life can give you. It is time well-spent, or in the eyes of Bernadette and myself, invested ~ for the future is tomorrow’s present and your time is a present too.

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Work with What You’ve Got

September 18, 2011

As autumn returns to the Northern Hemisphere, I always get extreme nesting symptoms to the beat of the descending leaves that blanket my lawn. It is also the time of year in which local communities hold children’s bazaars to earn money for schools or charity projects. In return, we get a stand somewhere on an auditorium floor to sell our kids’ old things.

“Time to batten down the hatches, mates!” I bellowed with mop in hand recently. The kids got that fearful look in their eyes.

“Oh no. Mom’s on another purging spree.”

After an entire year of toy domination in one particular part of our house, I was ready to reclaim the space as the reading nook it was meant to be (and has never been). My daughter wanted to earn some cash for a new cell phone so I asked her what skill sets she had and how she planned to earn the money to buy one. She came up with some impressive ideas, including pet sitting, baby sitting and helping around the house more. Then she eyed her most valuable toys that had done a great job gathering dust over the last twelve months.

“Let’s sell all my Playmobil stuff.” And so we set about putting all the hundreds of pieces in their right order, each belonging to a specific set, and put them on eBay. People are bidding like crazy and my daughter has well exceeded her financial goal.

“Work with what you’ve got,” I told her as we manned the bazaar booth that showcased her old clothes. She worked the people, offering fashion advice and giving away a free children’s magazine for every purchase made, no matter how small. I was quite proud of her for her slow crawl to financial freedom.

As I cast a view across the dozens of tables that overflowed with things, I realized the less we possess, the more we have.

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Celebrating Time

May 23, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Image via Wikipedia

No other time of the year is quite as remarkable as your birthday. It’s the anniversary of your coming into full being on the planet. If that’s not reason to celebrate!

The best part is when others are joyful and congratulate you for another year as the person you are. And that’s pretty darn special.

The truth is birthdays wouldn’t be possible without a team of people making sure you make it here.

And so to my mom, my dad, my sisters, the doctors and nurses on staff (not to mention the people who made sure the place was clean), I say thank you. Because without you, things wouldn’t quite have worked out as they did.

Life, from beginning to end, is a team effort.

Here’s one for the team. Thank you all for making my birthday (yesterday) a most incredibly special one. I was overwhelemd with the number of people on Facebook alone who took the time to wish me well.

Blessings to you all!

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