Happiness

It’s a word we see everywhere and yet we never manage to grasp it. It’s our human quest to find it. But what I’m realizing is that the more important lesson is to really hold onto it when you have it, because, like everything, it won’t last forever. And that’s not a bad thing.

When you live in a sunny place, as I did for the first half of my life, you acclimate. You like it, but you don’t cry with happiness when you wake every morning with the sun shining through your window. But when you live in a dark and rainy place, as I have for the last 16 years, you deeply appreciate it, knowing that it won’t always be sunny.

And it’s not a bad or sad thing. It’s rather beautiful. To understand how to be inside of a moment. To feel the sun’s warmth, to smile, to appreciate it. Not to take it for granted. It’s not about planning for tomorrow’s sunny day, it’s about enjoying the sun today. And now that I live in the Netherlands, where yesterday it was 90 and today it’s cloudy and 64, it’s never been more apparent. Also, I think heat makes people angry. At least that’s what it seemed like being around all of those sweaty Romans for the past two weeks.

Happiness is fleeting, sun is fleeting and being afraid of when the happiness or the sun go behind a cloud is useless. Fear does not prevent us from dying. We will die whether we anticipated death and were fearful of it or whether we were oblivious with our head in the clouds. Either way it will find us.

I don’t like being afraid. I don’t like being anxious. But somehow those have been the dominant feelings in my life for awhile now. I’m not even sure how long, but it feels like a really long time.

Yesterday I took a run along the canals. At first, I was running in the middle of the busy morning commute (bike commute that is), unsure of how to get myself to a more open area with less people. But I made a quick turn, and there I was among lavender fields and water, on a path for walking, with no bikes. And I could breathe. I didn’t feel nervous. I didn’t have to picture women’s bodies being found in the woods (i.e. Forest Park). I didn’t have to wince at creepy old men staring at me (i.e. Rome). Or run quickly past young homeless dudes riding bmx bikes with dogs who turn around to follow me (i.e. Overlook Park). I didn’t have to keep my eye on the neighborhood to ensure a wrong turn wouldn’t land me somewhere dangerous (i.e. Buenos Aires).

I just ran.

Without fear.

I’m happy and living without fear. And it’s confusing to me. I keep questioning how it could be possible that someone who is known for being emotional, for being anxious, for being afraid, could feel happy and content.

Someday the other shoe will drop. Someone else I love will get sick. I will feel sad again. But I won’t live in fear of that day. I know it’s there, but I’m here. And I will enjoy here for as long as I can.

 

So it begins…

It feels less like a new chapter and more like a second book. We are finally here after planning and packing and working and sweating and crying and more packing and endless hours sitting upright 35,000 feet in the air. We have both arrived at our destination and started a new journey. And for the first time in my adventures, I’m committed. I didn’t leave a foot in the door. It’s unlocked and ready to be opened, but I have walked into this with both feet. And I’m happier for it.

Outside of a nine month stint in Rome when Luca was a baby, Portland has been my home for 16 years. To put that into perspective, I moved away from my parent’s house to college when I was 17. Portland has earned its right to be called home. It is now the placeholder city for “where are you from?” Except here in Rome people have no idea where Portland is so I say Seattle, i.e. “Do you know Pearl Jam”?

The main thing running through my mind at this moment is gratitude. Not only gratitude for Lorenzo and I being able to manifest this adventure through a series of lucky breaks and flexible jobs, but I am extremely grateful for our last weeks in Portland. We had some of the most wonderful, heartfelt moments with our friends. It feels funny to be expressing gratitude for the people I just up and left, but they all have given me so much over the last few months, when life felt so difficult and dark.

When I returned to Portland after my mom’s illness, I felt isolated and alone. I didn’t know how to talk about what I had been through. And over the following few months some amazing people came through for me. I also met new friends who I feel I may be tied to for life. Which is an incredible feeling.

And family. I spent a week reliving the loss of my mom when I visited my dad in May. It all came flooding back. After two days of pure anguish, my extended family, swooped in. They made me laugh, kept me up late talking and walked me through breathing yoga. Justin and I played music together, dad motivated us to go to the gym every morning and we did what we do. We cooked, we ate, we talked, we walked, we mourned. And it was beautiful.

Life is beautiful. Yes, right now all of our hearts are aching. The world is bad and scary. The world is also full of amazing, compassionate, caring, loving people. I am lucky to have known so many of these people that I am infinitely grateful. Infinitely. I dearly love the people who have supported me and encouraged me to take this path, even if it means leaving them. One thing my mom’s death has taught me, is that connection between people is limitless. It isn’t stopped by distance or space or time. I feel loved and connected to a special group of people and I am so grateful for all of you.

Now plan your trip to visit!!

Getting Unstuck

IMG_4201As much as writing is my main outlet, lately it’s been tough to write. Not only because it’s been snowing and finding time around school closures to work and write has been hard to find, but it’s been tough to share the feelings I’ve been experiencing in a public forum. It’s awkward to figure out both how to share and how to keep my boundaries. Because, as people who know me know, it’s hard for me to keep my feelings to myself. And the more I read Joan Didion, and lately, Cheryl Strayed, the message I keep hearing is, “Cut yourself open and let your heart be exposed.” The reason I do write in a public forum is because of how much I rely on other people’s writings, hoping to find people who might share this island with me. And in this public forum, I feel an obligation to be honest. But I also know that people are looking for hope, not despair, and reaching for hope has been tough for me lately. I’ve shut down instead of reaching beyond my comfort zone to pull myself out of this purgatory I’ve landed in.

I decided that it might be time to try to pull myself out of this grieving, nihilistic funk, artificially. I talked to my amazingly compassionate general practitioner (one of the last doctors left with a real bedside manner – last year she played Beyonce on her phone for me while conducting the rather uncomfortable procedure of IUD removal and re-insertion), and asked her about anti-depressants. Me, who used to be fanatically opposed to anything that would give pharmaceutical companies money, the person who would try every herbal supplement before resorting to chemical options. I asked and she agreed, the way my mid-wife prompted me to take the epidural after 40 hours of labor, the way she asked me not to be a martyr for a useless cause, my GP assured me, these are the times when people need to lean on extra help the most. And she promptly wrote me a prescription both for an anti-depressent and for Ativan. My first experience with Ativan was this summer. Knowing I would be on twelve flights between July and November, and after more than 10 years of suffering minor heart attacks the week leading up to each flight and through the entire duration (sometimes over 10 hours), I decided to ask, for the first time, for help. Experiencing traveling without panic retrained my brain. I was able to get through the last three flights, one International flight, without drugs and without issue. For me, someone who travels A LOT, this is huge. Really huge.

I’m not advocating pharmaceuticals, but I’m trying to take the shame away from asking for extra help. I’ve been a mess since my mom died. I’ve pushed through, as I always do, trying not to let the grief slow me down, but I finally hit a wall. I lost motivation and my endless goal setting and future planning screeched to a stop. Everything overwhelmed me. Even the simplest things, like doing the dishes. Of course doing the dishes is when I hear my mom’s voice the loudest, telling me to give the dishes a better rinse before putting them in the dishwasher. And when the kids needed my extra attention, I couldn’t handle it. I just couldn’t give. And I started hating myself for being so short and impatient with the people I loved the most.

So I asked for help. And it’s helped. It’s not a silver bullet. I’m still human and I still need to put in the effort. I need to exercise, I need to eat well, sleep for at least seven hours each night, and I need to give hugs when I’d rather run away. The drugs haven’t made me into a different, happier person, but they have provided the ladder that will get me out of the dark pit. It’s not an elevator, it’s still up to me to climb up the ladder. And it’s not a modern ladder, it’s a long, creaky ladder that will require concentration, determination and motivation to climb, but I see the light up there and I’m ready to bask in it.

Allowing myself to ask for the ladder was a big step. I’ve struggled with moments like this in the past and have always pushed away the help. Not this time. Why the fuck wouldn’t I ask? This is not a battle worth fighting alone. In fact, no battle is worth fighting alone.

That’s why I’m writing again. Because we’re all in this together, we all deserve a ladder, and no one should be afraid to ask.

 

Notes from the Anxiety Well

In all great stories there is a third act where it is clear the protagonist is going to lose. But in the stories I like, they don’t lose. They get close. They move to the right side of rock bottom. But first, their suffering needs to go so deep, that it appears that not even a small ray of light could push through the depths of their darkness. But then one does, it gets through, and the protagonist realizes its just the flashlight of a cop who has come to arrest them. And they are pushed deeper still, to that final last sip of breath that makes everything feel more hopeless still. 

And they sit there, the universe challenging each individual firing neuron. They sit there like David Copperfield enclosed in a coffin, with handcuffs and a timer on the clock noting when his oxygen will run out. People watch and experience the cacophony of someone who won’t allow themselves to die. Someone who fights, who struggles to get out of the darkness, to free themselves from the trap. Some secretly hope they will fail, others couldn’t bare to see failure. Others know Copperfield’s too good to fail, and others just approach everything with a sense of hope. 

And when you’re in the trap, none of those thoughts cross your mind. There are no words, only feelings. Fear, exhilaration, hope, fear, grave fear, excitement, uncertainty, fear, elation, surprise, confusion, fear, exhaustion, elation again, excitement, hope, happiness, success.

Inside of the hamster wheel you feel trapped but instead of darkness, you are able to see through the transparent plastic. But no one can hear you. They stare but they can’t understand the movement of your lips. You could go forward, but you also know that if you move you could go spiraling downhill. So instead you stay as quiet and as still as you can so as not to rock the boat.

I wrote that on July 24, 2016, in the throws of anxiety. It was two days before my mom would go to the emergency room for the second time since my visit began on July 12th, and five days before her 72nd birthday, which was spent in the hospital. And for the first time, I gave this sensation, this feeling of being trapped, of being able to see but to not be heard, this feeling finally received a name, the self-diagnosis of anxiety.

Anxiety is different from depression, which is something I also struggle with, but somehow anxiety is easier to talk about, perhaps has less stigma attached to it and is easier to explain. Anxiety creates fear, but there is always a movement forward, towards the fear. Depression stalls you out, stops the momentum and paralyzes you. Fortunately, although depression sits within me and sometimes feels like a cold I just can’t shake, it rarely stops me. What anxiety does is to make everything feel overwhelmingly scary, even simple things, like driving to school.

I have an innate ability to push myself. And over the last six months, I pushed. But I never felt like I was pushing towards any success metric, which I typically set for myself to see mile markers. Instead, I pushed forward as a means of survival. And as I’ve begun to reconcile death and loss exactly four weeks since my mom passed away, I am faced with a new challenge. How do I create mile markers again? Or is it a better way of life to give them up entirely?

Let me back up, explain a little more, this bit of nihilism that rose from fear and anxiety, which is now a visitor that I can’t convince to leave.

On Tuesday, November 8th, we buried my mom. On that same day, the Argentinian company I had been working for told me I needed to return immediately or forgo the opportunity. I told them that I was fully capable of working, but that I couldn’t return immediately, considering I had just buried my mom. I was numb to giving up the opportunity and also couldn’t understand how people could be so heartless as to not give someone time for bereavement. And then, on Wednesday November 9th, at 2:30am Eastern time, unable to sleep because of the unanswered question that had plagued America since the beginning of the night, I checked my phone to see what the election results showed. And then, all of the momentum I had used to power myself forward over the previous months and days came crashing to a halt. It wasn’t enough to lose my mom, to lose a job and an opportunity to live abroad, but now I had also lost hope, and faith, and humility. The world shifted under my feet, the ground unstable, I woke up in a panic. Full blown, couldn’t breathe, felt my heart-beating in my chest and in my ears, recognized it as a panic attack, tried to breathe, then started sobbing uncontrollably, which got me breathing again.

That same panic which engulfed me on the morning I woke up to receive a text from my mom letting me know she had a brain tumor.

And so here I am, stuck in Act 3, unable to make a move for fear of awakening another beast. Imagine Die Hard, McClane just can’t get a break. You don’t think he’ll ever stop spiraling downward. But you so desperately want him to win. Now I’m McClane, afraid to make a sound that would alert the terrorists that I am still in the high-rise of the Japanese company where they are holding hostages. I am hiding under the desk, having come through battle, still bloody, and I’m waiting for a great idea to surface, an idea that will get me out of this mess.

I also know that I’m not alone. This unstable ground is something a lot of people are feeling throughout the world, particularly as they read tweets from the President-elect like this one that was posted on his account on Thanksgiving: “Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving. But get ready, our country is in big trouble!”

Thank you for the vote of confidence Mr. President-elect. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for making the world a safer, more peaceful place. Thank you for being an example to my young children, inspiring them to want to be the President, the way their young obsessions with Lincoln had done previous to your election.

I am ready to come out of the darkness, to win after the hopelessness of the third act, I’m fired up. As soon as that plan surfaces…

Finding Words

Six days after my last post, my mom passed away. It’s still hard to say it out loud and to admit that it’s real. My mom, who went to the gym, who walked up to seven miles in a stretch, who ran around playgrounds with her grandkids just four months ago. My mom, who is the life of the party, is gone.

There are layers of lessons, things that I need to take with me on my journey forward. Things about love and relationships, and staying positive. Things about family and making the effort to be there for people when they need you and accepting help when it’s offered. Things about death and what it means to our fragile human existence, how to understand and rationalize it.

So many lessons. And over time I will digest and assimilate them. But right now, the second Monday since she’s left us, all I can think about is how much I miss her and that I’m not ready for her to be gone.

My mom was only seven years into grandmother-dom. She came to Portland two weeks before Luca’s birth, anxiously anticipating her new role and she held him right after he was born. She cried when I told her I was pregnant with Sabina and she came to my first ultra-sound and heard her heartbeat. She was supposed to help me navigate the teenage years with helpful advice and stories about me that would make us both laugh and sigh thinking about that time for us. And she would have given me words that would make me feel like I wasn’t as far off the rails as I thought.

But I can’t call her anymore. I can’t ask her for advice about the kids. Luca can’t text her emoticons early on a Saturday and get funny responses. I can’t get on the phone with my dad and then have him say, let me grab your mom, we’ll put you on speaker. I will no longer get annoying texts on Sunday at 4:30am when my mom wants to Skype but forgets that I’m on a different coast.

No more glasses of wine, no more baking Christmas cookies, no more hearing stories of how she was raised compared to how she raised us compared to how I’m raising my kids. No more powdered Italian dressing mixed with rice vinegar, no more broccoli in the microwave, no more waking her up from in front of the t.v. No more hearing her brag about us and about her Italian son-in-law, no more asking for her help when Lorenzo goes out of town and asking if she could stay for more than a week. No more mother’s day adventures, no more encouraging her not to wear sweatpants and no more pressure from her to move to the east coast.

The notes of her voice have ceased to ring and all I want is to hear her voice. In the end she couldn’t speak, and for my mom, that was a bigger tragedy than anything else. She talked and shared and asked questions. Her voice was her tool for building her community.

There is logic and reasoning in all of this, and I’ll get there. I’ll put things into perspective and perhaps I’ll be more prepared for this the next time it happens.

Or maybe I won’t. Because even though we all know we will die, on some date on which we have no control, even though we know that every person we form a relationship with will die, I will never stop loving the people in my life with my whole self and my whole heart. And when a piece is ripped off, it will always hurt. Always. Knowing the hurt will come will not stop me from loving. It makes me want to love more, knowing they won’t be there forever, and I never want to regret that I didn’t love the best way I could, despite the future pain that will come.

I loved my mom and I also treated her like shit, and she also knew, because she’s a mom, that kids take their shit out on their parents. That too is a sign of love. We take our shit out on our mom’s, because they keep us safe and love us unconditionally. This has been the hardest thing for me to reconcile even though none of the stuff between us was serious. It was just normal mom/daughter stuff, but it took time away from me appreciating her, with all of her quirks. I do believe that we were closer than most because we had arguments and worked through them, we talked about everything, even if it was hard. She absolutely knew how I felt about her, and as a mom, I now understand more about her unconditional love for me. I don’t hold anything against my kids. Even if they act like idiots sometimes. They are allowed to throw tantrums and yell at me and even bite me (Luca used to bite me when he was a baby), and I’ll still love them more wholly and more unconditionally and more fully than anyone else on this planet. I will always protect them the best that I can.

I will always do my best to listen for my mom’s voice when I need her guidance. And I will always miss hearing the real thing.

 

 

 

 

Hope

What I’m learning here, amongst the thousands of lessons the universe is piling on top of me, is an appreciation for people. I’m learning to have hope for humankind. I’m also realizing that if you ask for help, you will receive it. And I now trust that if people offer it, they are sincere and want to help.

My mom makes friends. That’s what she does, she’s a professional maker of friends, with everyone and anyone. No judgement. She sits on a plane and is exchanging phone numbers with people in her row by the end of the flight. You go with her to the theater, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, and by the time you return she’s made friends with the people sitting in her row. She asks a lot of questions. She truly wants to get to know you, and people are drawn to that quality. I never understood it growing up. I was shy and introverted and socially awkward. But as I get older, I try to embody this quality. My mom’s ability to make friends has resulted in a huge community of people. In this difficult time, these people have not only surrounded her, they’ve surrounded all of us, and I am so grateful.

My mom has two cousins who I am incredibly lucky to have as mentors in my life. They are two of the most intelligent, strong and interesting women that I know. They have both reached out and have spent time on the phone with me, talking through everything. The conversations I’m having with them now, as an adult, are enlightening and empowering, and it’s in all of this that I have the opportunity to feel closer to them. And besides the fact that I have so much respect for both of them and the way they’ve lived their lives and raised their kids, the fact that they know my mom so well, makes me see her in a different light as well. One of them looked to her as a mentor. She talked to my mom through every difficult parenting milestone she faced. She wanted to emulate my mom and her parenting style. And now as a parent, I want to emulate her parenting style as well. She was always so open and respectful of our ideas and opinions. Even when she didn’t fully understand our ideas, she let us explore them.

When you’re a kid, you don’t see your parents the way you do when you start to understand their lives and the choices they were faced with. My mom had to deal with a lot while we were growing up. There was a lot of change and transition, being away from her family, money ups and downs, business ownership, other shenanigans my dad put her through. And through all of it, my mom had hope and optimism, she made friends and she maintained her composure. Only a few people know the full breadth of the things my mom had to deal with in her life, and these two women know and continue to remind me of her strength.

Other people in my mom’s circle have reached out as well. I’ve talked on the phone with old family friends, I’ve received emails and texts from people my mom met when she moved back to Pennsylvania, and also, old friends of mine and parents of friends of mine and new friends of mine, they are all reaching out. The social circle is so large that it’s hard to keep up with. And what I realize in all of this, is that community and family and people give me hope. I have always felt like good people are few and far between. That’s not true. We are the majority. People who care about other people have the power to change something horrible into something inspiring.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out. Who has dropped a note, who has called, who has brought food, who has talked me through hospital stays, who has given me spiritual advice, who has let me cry, who has walked in my shoes, who has been honest and open and loving.

I want my mom to know what she’s built and how by building this community she was protecting us. She was making it possible for us to navigate this moment.

She is giving us hope.

Fuck This Year

I would be lying if I said this hasn’t been the hardest year of my life. To be fair, let’s say, year and a half. Eventful and amazing, but incredibly difficult nonetheless.

Let’s set the timer back to March 2015. I will never forget, after ten hours of flying, and a layover in Minneapolis, walking through the duty free shop in the Paris airport looking for a specific perfume that Jeanine had asked me to buy, and seeing her text message come in. Glenn, her husband, had passed away while I was in the air on my way to see him. I called Jeanine and we cried. We literally exchanged no words. I found a place outside of duty free to sit on the floor, my knees too weak to hold my weight. And then I had to sit in the bloody airport waiting for my connection to Montpelier for another 7 hours before I could hug her.

There was only one person to call after I hung up with Jeanine. It was 11pm on the West Coast and Lorenzo was already fast asleep. The person who I can always rely on to answer the phone at any hour is my brother. He will always answer and he will always say the right thing. Just like yesterday.

I called Justin to tell him that I was about to ruin his Thanksgiving plans. I told him that instead of meeting him in Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving as originally planned, that I had bought a last minute ticket to leave on Saturday. I’d been in Buenos Aires for three weeks and hit a wall. I couldn’t wait to see Lorenzo and the kids until Thanksgiving. It was making me claustrophobic and anxious thinking of waiting three more weeks. And there was so much guilt preparing to call him because I’m the sister who fucks up everyone’s plans because of my half-sane life. He knew this would happen.

Justin was sad. But, he also said he was glad I’d be there sooner for dad. And that in reality, as much as we want a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, it will be very far from it. Yesterday Justin was sad because for the first time in this awful, violent, four month journey we’ve been on with mom, he didn’t feel confident that she was going to make it out of this forced silence, this forced handicap. Progressively since her surgery, she has declined at an insane pace. After her surgery in early July she could talk and laugh and argue. She told me I was mean for trying to get her to take her medications. She had personality. Then she started slurring her words, she started sleeping more, she started losing her balance and falling often. Then steadily she stopped communicating altogether, she couldn’t walk, feed herself, or use the bathroom. And my mom, my cute, petite, vibrant, young mom, looks like a 90-year-old in hospice.

There’s a picture we all have in our minds of the day when my mom will come out of this hell. When she will drink a glass of wine, maybe two or three, when she’ll get sassy, when she’ll drop her spiritual wisdom on us and then suggest we go on a long walk. Usually to visit someone, to meet friends at the pub or to see her 50+ friends at her book club. Or maybe we’ll wake up early, eat breakfast and go for a long walk through the woods or in the cemetary. Four months ago my mom was my mom. On July 8th, she sent me a text message while I was in Italy, telling me she had a brain tumor. She wasn’t worried, she would get a biopsy to rule out cancer and then she’d be on her way.

Justin wanted Thanksgiving to be the time when we were altogether, possibly for the last time. And writing this, in the airport, in this well-lit crappy airport restaurant, in Houston, on my way to Philly, I’m crying. Tears are streaming down my face as I drink awful coffee with hazelnut creamer. I’m crying because all of this travel, all of this work distraction, all of the shit I’ve put in my own way, is there because I couldn’t face losing my mom. And tomorrow I’ll be holding her hand and trying to tell her everything I need her to know. I have a feeling the tears will be uncontrollable over the next ten days. But Justin also knows that our family doesn’t tie things up in a bow. We’re all emotional, we argue, we get grumpy and all being in the same space would quite possibly add a level of stress to a situation that has no room for additional emotion.

I’ve been tired, exhausted, and in a spiral of spiritual growth since I boarded the plane three weeks ago to Argentina, alone. It was bound to happen. I was bound to get bulldozed by this awful truth. That my mom isn’t ok. And that my dad needs help. My dad is fully capable of handling the physical and tactical details related to my mom’s care, but what he needs is us to support him emotionally, to help him push forward through this quicksand of uncertainty. He also needs us to help him perfect his pot brownie recipe, that’s just not something he can share with the rest of the family.

My dad is a reflection of pure love. Despite everything my parents have been through over the last forty + years, and the last few years of classic old couple bickering, my dad will not leave my mom’s side. He is truly loyal and dedicated like only a real life-partner could be. Friends, if you don’t think you could picture yourself giving up everything in your own life to care for your spouse, if you already feel trapped, get out now. Marriage is giving everything up to nurture your partner’s health and well-being, because no one else will dedicate the level of love and support that a spouse can. No one. I have three dear friends who have had to dedicate this level of care and support to their spouses, all before the age of 40. I love you all for being the best humans I know, because unless you’ve been through something like this, you just can’t really know the depth of your love.

I’m stepping out of my spiritual journey, to hold my mom’s hand, to go on long runs with my dad, to cook, to clean, to organize and to face this tragedy. And this is life now. I don’t love it any less, I still see beauty and love and magic all around me (minus this horrible business man sitting next to me watching videos on his phone turned up at maximum volume). But the reason I see the world that way is because of my mom. There has never been anyone more optimistic or hopeful, no one more willing to give her time to people. Her mantra has always been, “Jame, everything happens for a reason.” Logically yes, there’s a big story behind all of this that will make sense when I sit down to write a year from now, but in this moment, it’s pretty fucking awful. Fuck this year. I’m ready to get on to 41 and for things to change.

 

So much writing

Clearly my outlet. And having access to this outlet has been a relief to my soul. When kids and work and doctors appointments and logistics get in the way, particularly for us mothers, we stop listening to our hearts. Our family and friends take up so much room in there that we have to push for our piece. Today, my heart is singing.

My heart is singing because the sun is in the sky, because I am in Argentina, learning Spanish, relying on myself, and listening to my heart. And because, in 7 days here, I managed to make the kind of friends who come to your house with food and wine, because they know you are having ATM issues. I talk so much about friendship. Good friends really do make or break you. In 7 days these guys made it to top 10. A little longer down here and I’m sure that will shift up.

I’m also happy because, despite the distance, despite the debates we’ve had for years about where our lives our going, despite everything, my husband wrote me an email this morning that made me realize how completely locked in and connected we are in our hearts. We are on the same page. After years of feeling like we were denying ourselves something by slowing down, we realized we are exactly where we want to be. And my heart is swelling with relief and love and, did I mention relief?

I can ask for what I want in this work situation. Just because I’m a woman, often intimidated by what’s on the other side of things, I can ask, with honesty. I don’t need to prove my value anymore, I’m too good at what I do. It’s time someone chases me. And if they don’t chase, then I’m too good to compromise.

This summer I read The Alchemist again, for the first time since college. It was in the Rome apartment just calling out to me. Through this journey I have referenced it a few times. How the shepard boy stops along the way, in pursuit of his dream to find the pyramids. He stops, he gets comfortable. He makes a good living at one point. He meets the love of his life. But the Alchemist reminds him, if you don’t go to the Pyramids to find your treasure, you’ll always wonder, you’ll always regret and this will take a toll on your life and marriage. So he leaves his love and faces danger and finally makes it to the pyramids. He digs for the treasure. But instead of the treasure, he finds a map to the treasure. The map leads him right back to where he started. And when he digs, the treasure is there.

For whatever reason, I’m in an intense moment of learning and evaluating. If I slow down, I can actually enjoy the process too. As painful as it can be at times, the sun is shining, I’m in Argentina and I’m surrounded by good people. Life is amazing.

 

El ángel Nestor

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Some days are just harder than they need to be. Today started as a very relaxing, sunny and warm day. I messaged my new best friends and told them we should go on an adventure to Tigre, a small town outside of Buenos Aires. Casually I suggested that I research hotels and since the trains run every 10 minutes, we could take our time. They came over for lunch, I booked the hotel and we headed out to the train stop in my neighborhood – Chacarita.

This is where our adventure begins. Obstacle #1: We weren’t sure how to buy a train ticket. When you’re in a country you’ve never been to, and you’re in a neighborhood where no one speaks English, any obstacle could be enough to paralyze you and send you back home. But instead, I found a man traveling with his son and proceeded, in my strange mix of Spanish/Italian, to ask if this was the train to Tigre. He told me kindly that no, this train went to Retiro and we would have to change trains there. I caught every three words or so and then I heard, “peligroso”. Obstacle #2: When someone in Latin America uses the word dangerous, you second guess your gringo plans. I asked if there was another way we should go, to avoid the area “peligroso”. He said no, it’s ok, just stay with me and keep your eyes open.

Let me back up. My new best friends are not single, mobile, travelers. They are a family from Atlanta, Georgia with 3 kids: 9, 4 and 14 months, and they just moved here. Going to Tigre required luggage and a stroller, and little Wesley is the only person whiter than I am. If we were about to go into a Villa (the worst kind of barrio), we were going to be targets.

Also, let’s remember, the last time I took a Spanish class was my first year of college, and also, I don’t know this guy from Adam, and also, according to statistics, it’s very likely he’s going to rob us. But instead, I choose to trust him and my Spanish, I choose to risk the lives of this kind and generous family who is now trusting me to bring them safely to a hotel outside of the city.

This is Nestor, and his 11-year old son, who is not only exceptionally polite and kindly trying to help translate our conversation, but he is also very street smart. The little boy was whispering to me not to look at the guy with the white hat, sitting across from us, in the face. He told me he has a scar which means he’s someone not to trust. Nestor let us know that the only reason he was on the train was because their car was having issues. He didn’t want us to associate him with the rest of the people on the train. He told us only poor people take the train.

When the train arrived, like any good dad would, Nestor started driving the stroller onto the train. He ushered us into the seats quickly, and reminded us not to speak English. While on the train he told us that he was a professional body builder and that it was his biggest “sueño” to go to Estados Unidos. He told me he wanted to go to Florida and California and open a training gym like Golds Gym. He seemed happy to talk with us and not at all inconvenienced to usher a bunch of white gringos around like a tour guide.

When we got off of the train, it felt like we had just entered a war zone. We walked silently as a group, me holding tightly onto the four-year-old’s hand. As we rounded a corner and a man came close to me, Nestor pushed me to the side and put his arm around me. His son looked concerned but not worried, his dad told me that was a close call, that the man was trying to grab my bag. Nestor saved me.

Once we got into the second train station, we stood in line to get tickets. He and his son were going to a Rugby game in San Isidro so they’d be getting off a few stops before us. I offered to buy Nestor’s train ticket. He looked moved that I would offer. But instead, he ordered us our tickets and then bought them for us. He looked at me and said “we in Argentina are good.” Not just good, Nestor was our guardian angel. And I couldn’t be more proud of the Georgians and their amazing kids for getting through that moment.

Relief came once we were on the train to Tigre. Until the moment I looked up the address to our hotel on my phone. Somehow I had booked a hotel not in Tigre, but in a neighborhood at the edge of the city. It had come up as Tigre on the hotels list but the exact address was not even close to Tigre. And now, this wonderful family, who trusted me enough to follow a stranger into a Villa and onto an unknown train, was forced into another state of mind as we found ourselves facing Obstacle #3. Where would we go once we got off of the train with three kids, luggage and a stroller?

The answer: helados. We went to get ice cream, we poured a milkshake into Wesley’s bottle and we reboarded the train back to Buenos Aires before dark.

It was a day.

The Morning After

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Airplane travel never ceases to amaze me. On a Sunday night I entered an airplane in Houston and on a Monday morning I was in the southern tip of the world. My brain is just barely catching up to my body.

If I’m being honest, my brain hasn’t been attached to my body since July 9th, the day my mom told me she had a brain tumor. Texted me. Life hasn’t been the same since.

I can’t be held responsible for any decisions I’ve made between then and now. I’ve been like a feather, floating, following the currents of the wind. Things have been happening to me and I feel like I have no control over them. Fortunately for the feather, it’s light and can ride the wind without any fear of falling. Once the wind commences, feathers float gracefully to the ground. I’ve been following the wind, but with a fear that has a grip on me that I can’t unlock.

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The view from my apartment.

Needless to say, I’m here, in Buenos Aires. How I ended up here is still a mystery. I feel like I got drunk and woke up in an unfamiliar bed. There’s that regret that hangs on after a wild night of drinking. Even if you had fun, you rack your brain wondering what mistakes you made, if your behavior was appropriate or what people must think of you. But if I embrace this moment, if I let myself be empowered by it instead of wondering what I “should” be doing, then it’s pretty fucking sweet.

On the other hand, as a mother, homesickness is truly a sickness. Other friends are so good at it. They travel with their husbands to Thailand or France, leaving the kids with grandparents. Either I’m not acclimated or trained well enough, or my heart is just too weak to sustain the distance. Particularly in this moment when my kids are incredibly sweet and interesting and actually fun to hang out with.

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But for now I have to embrace this moment. I’m exploring and remembering who I am when I’m not a mother, or a daughter in mourning, or a business owner or a wife. For some reason the universe put this in front of me. I have taken the invitation and now I have to show up to the party. Ready to eat.

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