Turn your face to the sun

flowers plant spring macro
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

”Like Spring secretly at work within the heart of Winter,
Below the surface of our lives
Huge changes are in fermentation.
We never suspect a thing.
Then when the grip of some
long-enduring winter mentality
begins to loosen,
we find ourselves
vulnerable
to a flourish
of possibility
and we are suddenly negotiating
the challenges
of a threshold…”

Thresholds, John O Donahue

The snowdrops came up this weekend. Their reappearance every year brings a shock of hope so unexpected and intense it’s almost violent. It only took a few hours of sunlight on a warm brick wall and there they were.

It’s easy to forget, when things are hard, that there are forces waiting just below the surface. Dormant, gathering strength, looking for their moment. Not just in nature. Remember the snowdrops, Idealists, and turn your face to the sun.

 

 

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Recombobulating

Last spring I shared details about the epic adventure my family and I were making as we moved ourselves and our 61 boxes of prized possessions across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden.

At the time, I noted how the journey was feeling like a real adventure, a rite of passage, with all the classic phases of disintegrating into some sort of gooey mess, crossing a threshold, and then becoming recombobulated in some new (if not improved) format on the other side. I was pretty impressed with myself.

Well, it turns out that I did not nail the landing as crisply as I thought. recombobulation areaApparently, moving yourself and your family to another country, finding jobs, navigating a new healthcare and school system, finding a place to live, moving again, figuring out where to get your hair cut, how to pay bills on-line, and finding a new groove takes time. There is no rushing it. There are no shortcuts. You just have to get through the day over and over again until it becomes less new feeling, like wearing in a pair of shoes.

It has been a summer and fall of unsettling change. Of being disembodied, despite my hopes for a swift entry into everyday Swedish life. You would think that that would have provided excellent blogging fodder. Au contraire, mon frère. Despite my secret dream to be able to produce a steady, pithy and hilarious commentary about our new life à la David Sedaris in France, I got nothing.

Writing a good blog post for me has always been a formula that looked something like this:

 interesting situation + new or clearer insight = new point of view

These last few months have been so topsy-turvy that while there have been plenty of interesting situations, the pace at which they’re happening is so fast that the insights either don’t stick or just slip through my fingers. As a result, the writing just hasn’t been there. And the living thing is just so time consuming. When would I have time to write, between figuring out how to re-load my public transportation pass and how to recycle used lightbulbs in a new land?

The trick with living with this rate of change has been to be patient and to let go, something I’m not always good at. Considering how much change parenthood has put me through, I should be an expert by now. But I’m not.

This evening when I head home to my new house, I will hopefully not accidentally walk past it. When I go to cook dinner, I will hopefully only need to open three drawers or less to find the spatula. And please, someone, let there be enough toilet paper. Maybe I’m asking for too much. Patience.

Greetings from the other side

“I sing the body electric, I celebrate the me yet to come, a toast to my own reunion…”                      –Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford

Oh, to be a stranger in a strange land. My family and I sold our house, said good-bye to our jobs, our friends and family, and about 90% of our stuff and crossed the Atlantic by ship in a sort of 21st century reverse emigration from the US to Stockholm, Sweden, where my husband is from. We landed a little more than a week ago.

In earlier posts I shared how this experience has been both an adventure and a rite of passage, divided by the anthropologists into three distinct phases—a preliminal phase of ending some aspects of my old identity, a liminal phase spent in a metamorphic trans-continental boat ride, and now, this final post-liminal phase of coming out the other side a new and different person.

And new and different it has been.

We arrived in Sweden to festive pomp and circumstance after disembarking our ship in England and hopping a short flight to Stockholm. Flags, streamers, champagne, hugs, dinner in the garden, even the cherry tree blooming on cue for our arrival…it was a reception in the truest sense of the word.

Reality hit the next morning like a hammer. I was startled awake in a disorienting free fall while my mind attempted to locate my body in its mental GPS. Yes, dear, down there in that long skinny country on the top of Europe, that’s where you are. Thud.

The disorientation lingered like a hangover. Insert confused woman montage sequence here: confused woman working the coffee maker (weak coffee being grounds for deportation in my new homeland), confused woman figuring out the dishwasher, the washing machine, the shower. Each moment left me stymied.

The pinnacle of ridiculousness–at one point I stood for several minutes, swearing under my breath, trying to open the front door by turning the deadbolt lock to a variety of positions. Finally I realized that unlike my American front door, which opens in, Swedish front doors open out. Duh.

Given that I spend several weeks here each summer and even lived here many years ago, I’m surprised to be this disoriented. I see now that on those vacations I somehow skirted around many of these domestic chores. Determined to be a thoughtful house guest, last weekend I pragmatically attacked each task head on.

The remainder of the week continued to offer a real sense of seeing life with fresh eyes and beginner’s mind–not necessarily bad, just curiously different. Can I take my daughter from the schoolyard at the end of the day or do I need to tell someone? What do I need to ride the bus? What radio station should I listen to? What brand of hot dogs should I buy? (And these are just the little things.)

The confusion fog will certainly hang around while I continue to find some sense of self, or as the rite of passage model suggests, a new embodiment. There is a definite feeling of rematerialization as I go about my new life, like vapor turning into liquid, liquid turning into solid. With each day, I feel a little less like a cloud with feet.

This afternoon someone asked how I was doing. They asked if I was overwhelmed, using a phrase in Swedish which uncannily translates into “being in a state of disintegration.” I smiled and was able to reply honestly. “No, quite the opposite.”

What a difference a year makes

I’ve had an active, entertaining weekend. Yesterday I attended a Special Needs conference hosted by a statewide consortium of agencies that serve families and children with special needs; this morning I joined 6,000 festive folks to run 5K through our town.

Because both events occurred on the same weekend last year as well, I found myself playing “Compare and Contrast” with my life as it is now and how it was one year ago. 

I can see now that a year ago, I was in distress. For a couple of years (yes, years) I had been ignoring a gnawing suspicion that my special needs child’s school placement was ineffective. He was happy, he loved his teachers and he seemed to be making progress, but that nagging question of whether he could be making more progress and whether this progress was enough to get him ready for adulthood was always churning in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. I had no idea who to ask for help, and I was busy running a successful niche consulting and training firm, tending a marriage, helping to care for my sick and aging father, raising two kids, unloading the dishwasher, juggling, balancing. I was keeping things at an even keel, so something must be going right.

A year ago, the bubble burst, the mirror cracked, the wool was pulled back from my eyes, whatever you want to call it. During a conversation with my husband about the possibility that he could switch jobs within his company, I spontaneously and without warning floated the idea that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that this new job would pay a little more so that I could sell my business in order to focus on taking care of our family.

I have no idea where those words came from. I had never even dared think them. But once they escaped my lips, I knew that I could never get them back in again. Raise or no raise, I knew that all I wanted to do was to focus full-time on what our family needed. I even felt physically different. I told friends at the time that it was as if every single cell in my body celebrated the fact that I was ready emotionally ready to do whatever needed to be done. 

Fast forward a year and much has changed. Next week my child will start in an out-of-district school that we are confident will effectively meet his needs. (Don’t worry, suppression is no longer my MO.) His cardiac issues, which were so severe as to require two interventions in seven months a few years ago, are so improved that he no longer needs medication. He started private speech and OT therapy to fill some gaps while we waited for our school district to catch up with us. He’s grown several inches and even a few pounds.

He’s not the only one changing. I’ve taken trainings, joined list-serves, found financial help, made some new friends, started therapy, read books, lost nearly 20 pounds, sold my business, de-cluttered most of the house, and started a rigorous kundalini yoga practice.  My husband and took a first vacation, our first without the kids, to a Greek island. I turned 40.

Not all of the change has been good. After many years of struggling with a chronic illness, my father passed away six weeks ago. It was an intense and sad process and the effects are continuing to unfold. The fact that I could spend much more time with him during this past year is something I’m grateful for. He knew of my intense relief that his grandson would be starting at a wonderful new school. I’m grateful for that too.

A year ago if you had asked me “What’s new?” I might have answered “Nothing much.” Same old routine doctor follow-ups, same old bills, same old dishwasher to unload and re-load. This year, that’s just not true. Things change. So what’s new? Everything.