Do you ever become mildly obsessed with a song because it resonates with you or something you’re going through? I had been listening to Salt and Shadow by Thrice over and over again after hearing it for the first time the other day. I kept trying to understand what it was about it that was moving something within me because it didn’t really apply to my current situation or how I feel, other than being a beautiful, soulful song. Then it hit me, it’s because for the first time in my life I do NOT relate to this feeling and that needed to be acknowledged.
The song’s lyrics are beautiful and they express how someone can be physically present but just be ‘salt and shadow’ always so far away. I have lived most of my life as salt and shadow. Wherever I was I wasn’t really there, I wanted to be somewhere else and even if I got to be in the place I imagined, with the person or person(s) I thought I wanted to be with I wasn’t really there either. Where was I? I was ‘half a world away’ always. I wanted to love but never felt safe to do so, not truly. Even when I was loved, I could feel the other person holding back, projecting, hiding, or they simply just loved differently than I did so I stayed far away. This didn’t help any relationship issues obviously; tensions grew and I grew further and further away before physically removing myself.
This is all something I knew was happening. I spent so much time and energy protecting myself, keeping my guard up, I had no energy to invest in myself or anyone I loved including my son. I had never truly known myself and therefore had nothing to offer anyone else and the more someone tried to reach me the further I would pull back. Only recently have I been given the opportunity to shift this pattern. I spent almost 4 years alone to do the work I needed to do on myself so that I would never allow myself to be in a relationship again where I felt like I would be remotely tempted to pull away. In this new relationship I would witness those old patterns creep up and with his support I had to force myself to look at the pattern and step back to look at the entire situation objectively. I needed to see if my desire to pull away was necessary as it had been in the past. It wasn’t. I knew that logically, even in my heart, but my body… my body hadn’t caught up with my mind, heart and spirit.
Each time I was triggered by something that reminded my body of something from the past I would pull away, in a sense abandoning the man that just wanted to love me in that moment. Each time though, I would open up just a little more as he continued to prove his genuine, pure, honest and very real intentions. Part of me needed to see how he would respond to me when I’m triggered or experiencing a PTSD moment before I would open up. I went from shutting him out completely the first time this happened to most recently, feeling what was happening in my body and being with it instead of trying to escape it. Then I needed to tell him what was happening in my mind and body, no matter how ridiculous it sounded so that he could be part of my experience, being allowed to love me and not being shut out. This last time was the most powerful, I cried and he just held me and then it was over. It was as though I had always had chains around me and in that moment of acknowledgment and embrace I realized the chains were made of mist and they faded just as easily and mysteriously as they appeared.
This song haunted me because I needed to acknowledge how far I’ve come and that there are still moments when a part of me, usually my body, is triggered by something from the past and I can feel myself fade into just ‘salt and shadow’ ‘half a world away’ and I don’t need to do that now. What I need now is to completely show up and remain present, especially when it’s most difficult because now I am loved and supported as well as always accepted for who I am regardless of how that may change from moment to moment. I am able to feel empowered in my vulnerability, not taken advantage of, taken for granted, exploited, belittled or abused. Remembering when I needed to escape and knowing that I don’t need to feel that again is one of the most divine feelings you can imagine, it continues to leave me in awe.
Something changes in a man's heart when he becomes a father and the moment you become a mother you feel honored and blessed to witness this transformation. Of course both men and women begin changing their lives when they know they are expecting but the way men and women respond to the moment of birth is unique to their gender; completely raw and beautiful. For Father's Day let's celebrate men who step into fatherhood and being dads...
Obviously there are always exceptions to every rule but we can all agree that having a child demonstrates who someone really is; whether the parent truly shows up or runs away, they are still demonstrating who they really are. You see, the thing about kids is, they keep everything real. You will be forced to face who you are including all the imperfect, embarrassing and ugly parts of who you are, whether your child realizes it or not - your kids are the ultimate mirror.
I first witnessed the transformation of how a man can love in my then husband when our son was born. My son's dad was so in love with our little boy, even before he was born, the doctor had to kindly ask him to get out of the way because he was so eager to meet him. The moment my son's dad held our son nothing else existed in the entire world but the two of them. I witnessed his heart vowing to that tiny baby boy to do and be everything for him and to right every single wrong from that moment on. In that moment I knew that no matter the hardships of our marriage we came together for that little boy and we would do a hell of a job co-parenting him because we always would respect the love we shared for this tiny human. Not long after, I witnessed my younger brother start a family of his own; he too left me in awe of how devoted he was to his kids. My brother has an amazing talent in being constantly engaged, gentle and kind, even when upset or angry.
My standards were blind when I was young. I didn't get to see the change in my father when I was born, I only knew the gentle and kind dad that worked all the time. I only knew the man who was never violent and whose perspectives were more important to me than anyone's on earth. He has a way of staying silent until he has a very clear and direct perspective to offer and when he decided to speak, everyone would listen, and then he would retreat back into his mind castle. I was so in awe of him that I didn't understand how different men could be, I had no real frame of reference.
Recently I was telling my brother about the man I had begun seeing and my brother asked one question, "What does he talk about the most?" This question made my heart skip a beat and took my breath away for a moment because the answer was, "His kids". This question brought so much together for me. When you're a mother and you date any man who doesn't have children there is a void in every interaction. You can't explain to people who don't have children what that void is nor do you need to. This thing that happens when a man has a child, when he accepts and feels this sense of sacred duty for this new life, it expands him. He begins to learn a healthy balance of selflessness and self-care and remains continually challenged by this for the rest of his life. To witness a dad meet their child where they are at in life, from tenderness at birth, to getting silly and messy with them in childhood, challenging their growth as they become teenagers, and guiding them into adulthood with their wisdom - as a mother, I ask you, is there anything sexier?!
In only a few months of getting to know a man who is a devoted dad, hearing him talk about his kids and his family and all his hopes and dreams for them I remember why I set the bar as I high as I did. My dad and my brother aren't the only men who know how to love in different ways. My dad and brother aren't the only men who used fatherhood as an opportunity to become greater versions of themselves. My dad and brother aren't the only men that have learned to apply the lessons fatherhood offers into all manners of life. There is so much strength and courage in a love this powerful and when a man applies all of what he's learned into other relationships everyone wins.
For the first time in my life I feel home wherever I am because I know that only I can give that to myself but when I'm with this man, this father, I am reminded of that feeling because he carries it with him. He offers the wisdom and stability his family needs when they need it and he makes everyone he loves feel that sense of home and belonging. This is what dads do, no matter how much time changes things, they remind the women in their life what home should feel like, they are our bearing point, our compass, our constant.
So to all the fathers who do their best to be the best dads they can be, regardless of the family context as defined by blood, law or anything else, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Happy Father's Day!
The other day I found this article on The New York Times site, Our Mothers As We Never Saw Them and I thought it was brilliant so I decided to write something similar for Mother's Day. The above image of my mother at 16 is my personal favorite. She had told me that she took this image of her self and made a self-depreciating joke about her teenage angst quickly dismissing it. But I was in love. I would sneak a peek at this image whenever I saw the old box of photos or whenever I thought of it. I think on some level I worshiped her; her ability to remain so neutral. Of course I know better now, now that we have grown to be more realistic friends with one another and our relationship is, to my surprise, better than ever but back then I was this girl at 16...
When I looked at my mother before she had me and we were the same age I saw everything I wasn't. I saw a woman who already knew herself. She saw awkward teenage angst, her adult self judging how cool she once thought she was, but I saw how little she had changed and admired it. She took that coolness, that angst and became a successful artist, even teaching college courses by the time I was 16. I saw her dedication to her work, always knowing who she was and who she was always going to be. I looked in the mirror and saw a nervous, jittery, awkward loner type girl that dreamed of magic, not conjuring or spells but real life, everyday magic. I saw a girl who was just taking life one day at a time because I had no dreams of my future other than to be a good wife and maybe have kids.
Strange how I inherited my mother's imagination and father's wit but because it wasn't grounded it confused not only me but also my mother and I gave up on believing in magic and tried to learn how to be practical and fit into a box that had been defined for me, quickly married at 19 and becoming a mother six months later when I found out I was pregnant - because you are a mother the moment you become pregnant.
My life then became all about my son and I became determined to allow him to have life experiences I wasn't allowed when I was young so that his decisions could be based on awareness, knowledge and his own passions. As unhealthy as it may sound, at some point my son and I began learning about life together. I have recently started watching Gilmore Girls reruns because it helps me feel a little better about how I raised my son. It's ok, you can laugh.
The reason I share this is because now my son is married and I see how the generations after mine are waiting to have kids which I think is great but I also see how much they use technology and how temporary memories are becoming with apps like Snapchat. There is something to be said for documenting who you are, your own journey of self-discovery as you get older, your life lessons, your adventures. Even if you don't have children you will want (even need) to look back at your own progress and celebrate it. Life has a way of making us question our value, our worth, our purpose and having tangible things to reflect with helps. Document the fun but also document the pain.
Because of my mother's early selfie and other artists who paved the way to use their art to process pain, life experiences and reflect, Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali for example, I found different ways to document my own experiences through self-portraits, selfies, writing and vlogging. Don't be afraid to be who you are and document the process of figuring out who that is and how it will shift and evolve. Those who surround you, especially your children will thank you for it and it will help them have the courage to do the same.
Now I'm curious about what you know of your mother before she became a mother. Share if you would like!
My newly married son, Jayson agreed to do a video with me before leaving for Japan serving with the Navy for the next few years. We didn't plan or rehearse, I asked an impromptu question and he answered honestly with the first thing that came to his mind with one take. I hope you enjoy my son's insight on what he has learned about love and relationships.
My son leaves for Japan today to serve in the Navy. He will be there for three years. As I sent a message to him this song came back to me as I wished him Godspeed. During the toughest times I would listen to this song and cry because it made me feel as though I wasn't the only mother that sacrificed everything for the love of her little boy. Now he is a man more accomplished and wise than I could have ever imagined.
- Godspeed my big little man.
Micah's confessions and lessons that have helped with self-forgiveness, healing and acceptance.