Photo / Nick Stephenson
There’s this 34-year-old woman I know. She will be 35 very soon. She recently got married and became Step Mama to her husband’s 10 and 8-year-old sons. This woman has discovered that living with and caring for two children is a wild exercise in heart expansion, so she has been working on the art of surrender and the art of trust.
She has discovered that kids are amazing button pushers and that she sports a bunch of invisible buttons she never knew she had. All the buttons and the pushing, it’s part of the expansion, so she’s taking long breaths and looking for the medicine.
This woman is an only child who rarely fought and grew into adulthood convinced that conflict equals apocalypse. Witnessing sibling rivalry a hundred different times a day - as well as the infinite forgiveness that accompanies it - is what she’d call good medicine.
This woman is also an introvert. She thinks silence is delicious in the same way people think chocolate truffles or thick slices of cake are delicious. Although, to be clear, she thinks those things are delicious too and regularly eats the shit out of them.
When all hell breaks loose at the dinner table, because one of her stepchildren has to finish his broccoli, but he chooses to weep loudly instead and also kick his brother’s knee discreetly, she’d call this more good medicine. It invites her to loosen her grip and widen her comfort zone. It challenges her to be active versus reactive in moments of intensity.
Medicine, she is discovering, sometimes feels like pain. It sometimes feels like discomfort. Personal growth can be gritty. Discomfort wakes us up to ourselves. It shows us where we need to release control.
Yet regardless of her (obvious) wisdom and humility, this woman, who will turn 35 on the same day that her oldest stepson turns 11, would like to admit something to you now:
She LOVES her birthday with high expectations and giddy abandon and despite doing all this gritty personal growth work and claiming she’s down for sharing in a big way, that’s not so much true on her birthday. On her birthday she secretly wishes to be solely in charge of everything and showered with single focused attention. To share her birthday with her bright and beautiful stepson, who happens to be quite particular about his needs and likes, who is not innately a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, who is prone to melting down on special occasions when he feels overwhelmed by emotion or transition - it’s totally button pushing for this woman, (who is also prone to melting down on special occasions when she feels overwhelmed by emotion or transition, but has become good at stuffing meltdowns deep inside so they boil as resentment and despair, where as her stepson prefers a no-holds-barred-wail-at-the-top-of-his-lungs experience).
This woman is aware that it’s not appropriate to feel like you don’t want to share when you’re an adult, especially when said sharing is with a child. She realizes how extremely un-adult this is of her, but she’s trying to be vulnerable and honest and find the truer story of her discomfort.
I know your head’s going to explode when I tell you this, but I’m talking about myself.
The 34-year-old woman...is me.
If you’re still reading then I assume you don’t think I’m the worst person on the planet (or you’re just fascinated by my self-proclaimed birthday greed).
Either way, I’ll continue.
I’ve been digging for a new perspective that will infuse me with a pervasive generosity of spirit, so I never have to reveal to the world (because you guys can keep a secret, right?) my embarrassing birthday-sharing issues.
Don’t worry, I’ll get there. I’m good at finding the gem inside my own bullshit. There’s more to this story than a birthday.
My stepson, Ukiah, and I, we carry a similar wound. I call it the wound of hyper-vigilance. We notice everything people say and do and feel. This gets overstimulating fast and we easily short circuit. It is both a hidden super power and a heavy burden. When our vigilance is bigger than our trust, we see the world as unstoppably terrifying. We think that anything could go wrong at any moment and then we worry about the worst case scenario and over magnify our power to protect the world from it.
If you haven’t thought of it, we have.
We don’t stop at the common-fear stuff. We’ve got all the random stuff covered too, like some micro anxiety task force.
We’re sitting there, panicking about the potentiality of sinkholes and assuming more responsibility than necessary for everyone who may or may not be impacted by a hypothetical sinkhole crisis.
When we moved into our new house, Ukiah fervently told my husband and I that he was worried there was a hole in one of the walls and that my cat would get inside it and we’d lose him. Alec suppressed his laughter while he spoke reassuring words, then brought it up with me later, giggling hysterically.
I wasn’t giggling. Not even a little.
“Alec,” I said, trying to remove the tremble from my voice, “I’m worried about that too.”
Yes - I worried when we moved into our house that a covert hole in a random wall would mysteriously eat my cat.
Shit happens. You gotta be alert. Walls are no joke.
I get it Ukiah.
I don’t just worry about sinkholes and cat-eating walls. I worry about Ukiah too. I worry about his vulnerability and his resilience. I worry that he will suffer if he doesn’t know how to anchor some of his emotional fine wiring. I worry about his ability to see the whole picture and remember he’s not the center of it, (rest assured, my inner birthday monster sees the irony in that last statement).
I worry about my stepson because I recognize so much of his intense sensitivity. I know it well. I’ve walked with it my entire life.
Ukiah externalizes his emotionality in bigger ways than I did when I was his age, but the root issue is the same.
I didn’t know how to express my panic and my pain fluidly, so I learned the taste of resentment. He doesn’t know how to express his panic and his pain fluidly, so he’s learned the pattern of meltdowns.
We are both trying to discover how to alchemize our feelings effectively.
In the last two years, I’ve begun to understand the path of ease. It’s something I desperately want to teach my stepson.
I want to teach him how to trust.
I want to teach him that there is a wordless love beyond reason and it hunts us ceaselessly.
I want him to know the joy of surrender. I want him to know the benefit of choosing love amidst all the crazy-making of uncertainty and heartache.
I want him to feel his tension dissolve, his shoulders relax and his breath land.
I’ve heard other parents say that your kids hold up a mirror to all of your issues. I believe this is true in many close relationships and that’s why intimacy is so transformative. These reflections can be wildly triggering, yet in the triggering moments, a beautiful power is unleashed. The trigger point means the energy is charged. The charged energy means your being is primed for alchemy. The alchemy happens when you rewire your brain and your body through the repeated effort of new habits combined with the electricity of attention.
My birthday buddy and I, we are working on rewiring our tendency toward panic, guilt and blame. We are learning to use our hyper-drive mind to generate an upward spiral of creativity and action versus a downward spiral of fear and victimization. We are learning to relax our grip so we have open hands to share with others.
As we realize that we are only responsible for our own hearts and minds, we discover a new kind of freedom.
Even as I fret about the perfect way to teach him - I already know the answer.
By showing him.
By being this.
By doing the work in myself to create a transparent display of practical examples and a sacred well of energetic information for him to draw upon.
So when that fateful birthday comes - when candles are lit and experience is shared - I’m going to loosen my grip and widen my heart.
You see, my sweet friend, my cherished stepson, he has big work to do in the world and so do I. We are sensitive creatures and sensitivity is an asset.
Hear me now - all you finely wired souls - you are not broken.
You possess the capacity to tune into ancient stories below the noise of the world and channel these stories into the consciousness of humanity.
Do not disappear. We NEED you.
Harmony seeks us amidst the chaos and the clamor, while life offers us the gift of discord to activate our memory.
We know how to generate the elixir of resonance.
Breathe long and slow. Appreciate all the buttons and your ally’s keen ability to push them.
Trust me, there's good medicine here.
I am a Portland, Oregon based writer, filmmaker and choreographer. I believe stories dissolve the grip of isolation and return us to each other.