Many years ago, just before my second son was born, I fell down pretty hard. It was a challenging time for me as a human and in my role as Mom. I was nine months pregnant. I was due to deliver my second bundle of love in a few weeks when the unexpected happened. It occurred shortly after Thanksgiving.
As with any holiday, life eventually returns. The happiness had settled, the joy had become normalized and I was back into my daily work as a teacher, waking up feeling the bliss as the day approached to welcome another love into my world.
Karen was my cousin and my confidante. Growing up in the same family and sharing so many of the same experiences left us feeling more like sisters. She had Cystic Fibrosis, a disease of the lungs, since birth. We grew up inundated by the disease. We overcame many hurdles, breathing and coughing through it all, and laughing—always.
The lurching truth always lingered in the back of our souls. We knew that life is precious and so we agreed early on to live it fully, never taking anything for granted, hence the incessant giggling. You could find us cracking up when we should not be doing so. It did get us into some trouble here and there. No matter what was happening, we could find our way to the hilarity.
A few days before this particular Thanksgiving day, it wasn’t like that. It was hard for her. She was not feeling well, yet did not want to miss the huge family ordeal that the day brought for all of us. She came and she sat. It was nice to have her there, but I knew something was terribly wrong. In all of our 31 years together, this moment was the worst I had seen her. We felt it for each other. I knew she forced the smiles, that it took true grit to remain in that seat. Maybe she was proving to us, the family, that she was still her, that we were still us, or maybe she was proving to God wanted that, like a powerful prayer. There was nothing short of bravery that day, at that table, in that chair, and with that smile on her face.
Soon after that day, she was back in the hospital and, this time, she didn’t come home.
I remember the day I drove into my driveway to find my mom and my husband waiting for me. It was particularly odd that both were there, so instantly my heart knew what they were going to say to me before they even had a chance to speak. She would no longer be with me at the table at those family events. She would not be laughing with me, over one inside joke or any another.
Two weeks later I delivered my beloved amidst love, joy, excitement and intense pain. The tears ran daily and my role of mom had to take precedence over the growing heartbreak and sorrow I was feeling.
Christmas and New Year’s came and went. My pain remained. I found myself numbing the ever-increasing sadness that came each time I held this precious life and, desperately wanted her here with me, sharing.
So I numbed, and numbed, and numbed some more.
I cried. I ignored. I drank pain. I drank agony. I drank grief.
I also held my dear child tighter and tighter. I nursed him for a year. There was no pride in that effort. It was survival. He kept me alive in my drunken pain and grief.
There was shame and guilt that followed as I watched him grow. The intense grief had become a way of life because you never fully let go of that kind of love-gone, but you do move forward remembering the fun, the love and—you guessed it—laughter. I did anyway.
It took years to let go and forgive my drinking escapade while nursing my baby boy. Forgiveness was key in my realization of the heart. It is what allowed me to grow from shame and guilt. It led me home.
Years later, when my son was a lot younger than he is now, he did something at school that was mortifying to me as a mother. The school had called to inform me that he was not being allowed to participate in field day for calling another student (who happened to be a girl) the “b” word. Can you imagine my embarrassment? Not only was I a mom, I had been a teacher for more than fifteen years. I was supposed to know how to raise a good and decent kid who would never choose a behavior like this—right?
Well, when my son returned home from school, we talked. I didn’t begin our conversation with the usual entrance. I decided to begin with why. I had learned many years before that every behavior has an underlying reason, and I wholeheartedly believed that aspect of raising young ones.
I asked, “Honey, what happened today at school?”
Like any good kid he didn’t hold back, “I got in trouble.”
I went in for more, “I know. You called the girl the ‘b’ word.”
He looked at me with every bit of seriousness on his young face and said, “I don’t get what the big deal is.”
You can probably guess how I was beginning to, not only get incredibly irritated at his nonchalant attitude, sink deeper into the abyss of natural shame that comes with the projection that our identity in the public eye is reflective regarding that which our children do, and that their actions speak volumes as to who we are as parents.
I was not expecting his response. It was the golden nugget into his way of conducting himself.
I stared at him for a few minutes and claimed in a stern tune, “It is sooo not cool to ever call someone that name…especially a girl.”
He quickly replied, “Why? Joe called his brother Tom that name the other day. They just laughed.”
This is the reason we have to take intentions into account.
My young seven-year-old overheard two middle school boys call each other that name. They laugh and he immediately thinks among peers this is an okay behavior to choose. After all, we, as humans, do learn by example.
I sat silent in his reasoning for days and months as I internalized what it meant for me. Slowly, as I began to understand and allow myself to believe in him as a whole person and a wise one, I also peeled the layers to the dark place I had entered when the initial call came from the teacher. The links I had made did not really match up. His behavior choice was not a reflection on me as a person and my role as a mother.
This identity crisis did not need sifting. It needed a sustainable restructuring that would outlast the tests of time.
My stories are not really about how to raise a child or how to speak with children. They’re not about forgiveness or the numbing devices we might choose when the unexpected shakes our heart. I share my adventures in child-rearing to demonstrate that what was most important came after each moment as a way of learning: learning through the discomfort and becoming more of who I am as a result of such acquired lessons.
Both experiences brought forth shame, embarrassment, guilt, and a vulnerability to a greater sense then I had ever felt before. The immediacy of such emotions whirled in like a sudden tornado on an otherwise pleasant spring eve.
The emotions felt during both experiences enveloped with such fierceness and yet, I stood in the silence of all of them. I stood strong. I felt each one, and I slowly gave each one permission to leave.
When we can withstand an experience that would have otherwise knocked us over, we are homegrown.
One of my favorite artists, Erasure, sings these lyrics: “Home is where the heart is.” Homegrown is our essence of living from that heart-centered existence and surrendering to the struggle, knowing it will always lead us home.
As humans we are intelligent, capable of living through experiences and weaving a story to fulfill what we think is our natural tendency to eradicate the intensity of emotions that seem to arise from within.
In both experiences, I could have woven a story that would have revised my grief-stricken choices into a norm-fulfilled parental obligation. Instead I chose to own my shame and guilt and take control over my vulnerable emotions. In doing so, the power to ward off the evils of shame and guilt, revolting against my sense of self, was strengthened.
Being homegrown is more about knowing who we are and trusting that experiences are not what knock us down—it’s how we cling to the story, as to what knocked us down, that circumvents the truth.
Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Being homegrown is an organic awakening wherein you begin honoring all of you and all of what you do, whether it was for survival or to thrive. Being homegrown is having the trust when experiences come our way to help us see who we are more deeply. Being homegrown is knowing that only who we are on the inside is what matters and outer behavior does not define us.
Curiosity naturally grew from the sacredness of the emotional upheaval. The questions percolated within my heart, mind and soul: “Who are you? Where do you go for safety? Who can help you get back up when you fall?”
As the inquisitive voice got louder, I grew more silent. I really did not know the answer to these ripening mysteries; and suddenly, one day, in the midst of my daily work, it hit me like a flash of lightning during a storm—the dialogue:
“Who are you? You.
Where do you go for safety? Home.
Who can help you get back up when you fall? Your heart.”
Each time life challenges us with experiences that have the potential to do us in, we can retreat to our home. Home is within you. It is your sacred space of safety and pure love. It is where you can hear what to feel, what to do next and. ultimately, who you are. It is where you do the sense-making that connects you to a higher consciousness, the power more expansive than anything here on earth. It is where you can hear the voice of wisdom and truth. That voice is your wisdom and your truth.
When those unexpected moments come your way, be homegrown.
Build a sanctuary in your heart
Find solace in the quiet and stillness. Too often we hurry away those darn negative emotions because we do not believe in our own capacity to heal and grow from grief and sadness. Our strength lies in our weakness when we can own that proverbial struggle and abide by the power of a higher existence to pull us through.
Your choice: pick a place that makes you happy and smile. This could be a bedroom, a nook in your residence, an outside spot or a park. Just sit—no phone, no to-do lists, no movement. Begin small if you’re a beginner. Add more time as your heart finds the peace within.
Let your heart do the guiding in your growth
Listening is crucial to any relationship. Actually hearing, beyond the words, and deepening a sense of knowing, to reach into the depths of full understanding, is where the energy of the voice lives. Being able to fully grasp the messages, the direction and the vision of one’s heart requires the willingness to surrender to such foreign influence.
Talk to your heart as if that beating is really the pulse of an answer. Listen for the response. Hear what it is telling you about your next right action.
Link your heart rhythms
Pay attention to the patterns of happenings. The more we tap into the presence of the heart, the more the vibration lures to us simple signs, symbols and synchronicities. These might come as pictures or images that you begin to notice appearing frequently when you are connected to your heart. It might be words or language that you hear repeated from various sources. Then you might see events or occurrences happen repeatedly. These are rhythms of your heart linking you to the exact vision, the exact focus and the exact next step for you to embark on. The heart will bring loving adventure. Don’t resist your journey and follow your heart every step of the way.