Find Your Tribe

When we traveled in Costa Rica, we met a family from the Bay Area. When Guy and I celebrated our anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, we enjoyed conversation with a young couple from the Bay Area. On both occasions, we found something in common with strangers simply by being in and from the same places on the planet. But sometimes we go through hardship and the only people who truly get it are others who have shared a similar experience. Those experiences can connect us in ways we’d never imagined.

Guest Post: Donna Schweitzer

When my oldest—born three-and-a-half months prematurely—was three years old, I discovered an online community for NICU parents. I never thought I’d be one of those people who talks to people online but, in that community, I found people who just got me, people who understood the journey we’d been on and were still traveling.

I found a place to share my grief, fears, dark moments, awful memories. It was also a place where people understood my great joy in the smallest milestones. I could safely let it all fly—and I finally began to heal from his premature birth and those long months in the NICU. I’d had no idea that I needed to heal but, in this community, I learned that I wasn’t crazy, or paranoid, or a horrible mother for letting my body do that to my son. We began having regular Sunday evening chats and, soon, these women became what I would call friends.

A few months later, the director of that online community brought five of us together at a volunteer leadership conference. I arrived wondering if those online conversations would carry over. I had no reason to fear. Seeing each other in person, we picked up right where we’d left off. Over the course of a few days, we shared so many hugs, stories, tears, and gut-busting laughter.

We decided the rest of our community needed to meet in person as well, and planned a “Union” (we couldn’t call it a “reunion” as we’d never been all together before). The Union—a beautiful gathering of so many people who understand the language, the pain, the guilt—became an annual thing. I’ve traveled the country to spend time with these NICU parents. It’s always an emotionally-charged event, but also so healing and hopeful.

As with any large group, you find your smaller group—the ones you just click with. I have my people. I couldn’t tell you when exactly we gelled but, for years, we’ve texted on a near-daily basis. We try to get together for a long weekend every year. We nicknamed our crew “the MoomSquad.” The text tone assigned to our thread never fails to bring a smile to my face.

I rely on these four women, and I wouldn’t be the mother I am without them. We met because we had one thing in common: our pregnancies and the births of our children went horribly wrong, and we all did NICU time. When one of us has a freak out, we’re all there. We don’t judge because we know what’s behind it. But I believe we were brought together for a larger reason.

We’ve walked each other through so much…autism diagnosis, illness, loss of parents, subsequent pregnancies…all the ups and downs of life, marriage, and parenting. When something amazing or horrible happens, they are my go-to people. They have my back, and I have theirs. I couldn’t do life without them.

They each have their “specialty” in my life…the Nurse also has mad-Cricut skills; the Educator helps me with IEP/special ed situations for my youngest; one Mama has an autistic daughter older than my autistic kiddo (and they totally speak the same language); one serves as our personal Cheerleader/story teller/voice of reason/jokester…

I’m prone to try to make sense of my life’s events. Sometimes, it takes the perspective of years before I can see the purpose. When we spent three months in the NICU with our oldest, I couldn’t believe I would ever understand why, nor what good could come of it. I believe in a Grand Plan, and now I believe one purpose of his prematurity was to bring me to these incredible women. Through his prematurity, I connected with a group of women who get me. I now almost count his early arrival as a blessing. In that online community, I found my tribe.

When someone I know experiences hardship, I always tell them to find people who have been or are there. It makes whatever you’re dealing with that much easier when you can talk with people who get it. Among other things, my MoomSquad taught me that reaching out to those who’ve walked the journey can lead to more than just a support group. You might find your tribe.

 

Donna Schweitzer (pictured with the Moomsquad) has been married to her husband, Michael, for almost 20 years. They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.

One in Three

The college counselor at our high school shared what seemed like an astonishing statistic: one in three students don’t graduate from the college they first attend.

We thought: That won’t be him.

We were wrong.

He only ever wanted to attend one school, and he only ever wanted one major with one career outcome. We asked all the questions, of him, of everyone; we visited the school and attended orientation; we took out the loan, proving we would do everything possible to back his dreams.

He called, sobbing, after his first class: “Mom, I’ve made a terrible mistake!”

It should have been the perfect school for him. Instead, he weathered the perfect storm of all the things that could go wrong–the roommate from hell with the toxic girlfriend who essentially moved in; the injury that kept him from playing his sport, his physical and emotional outlet; the advisor who suddenly seemed less supportive; the “friends” who proved to be anything but… We weathered the storm with him as he called several times a week, sometimes crying, other times, just to talk.

We listened. We prayed. We sent more mail than ever before in our lives. But we couldn’t change his circumstances. He needed to learn to advocate for himself, to set his own boundaries, to work harder, to develop persistence.

It was difficult for all of us, but he stuck it out. At one point he said, “I should have listened to you. I should have gone to community college.”

I responded, “No, this was your path. If we had insisted that you stay local, you would have been angry at us. You needed to discover some things for yourself.”

Today was Day 1 of Year 2, now at our local community college. Leaving his first choice also meant leaving his major, not readily available elsewhere. Instead he will experiment with classes in different majors as he explores what he might like to do with his life. The low cost of community college plus living at home equals low risk.

Over breakfast, he had only the to-be-expected first day jitters: traffic, meeting new people, and hoping for enjoyable course content. After school, he seemed relaxed, even happy. He had quickly established a relationship with both professors and engaged in helpful ways with the material, something that doesn’t easily happen when you have 500+ classmates. He immediately got online to order books, then ran out to purchase a few supplies. He jumped on homework like he never did in high school.

Did he make a terrible mistake? Absolutely not! We are grateful for his out-of-state freshman year. Do we wish things had worked out differently, that he had stayed at his first choice? Of course! When he went back for second semester, I challenged him to do everything necessary to redeem the situation so that, at the end of the year, he could say: “That was hard, but I did it. Here’s what I learned, and here’s how I’m a better person for it.”

He did it. He learned a lot–about himself, what he likes and wants and doesn’t; about others with different interests, personalities, and backgrounds. He learned he could stick through overwhelming circumstances, and that his family will always have his back.

Are we glad to have him back? For sure! He is stronger, more mature, differently centered. Our relationship has changed as we function less from the driver’s seat and more as passengers. We have become advisors offering encouragement rather than supervisors offering direction. And we will continue to cheer him on as we watch to see where he goes from here.

Reading: Summer 2018

Summer has come and gone and I read a measly six books, probably a new low record in my life. But, as they say, life happens while you’re making other (reading) plans.

Monterey BayMonterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book in Monterey as a gift for my mom on our annual family vacation. She read it that week and gave it back so I could read it. Two years later, I finally read it on this year’s Monterey vacation.

I rarely read a book twice because there are so many great books to read. But this book… Hatton’s subtle prose is so rich and nuanced I imagined going immediately back to page one after reading the last word.

Almost two decades of vacationing in this one place, Hatton tied together all the loose ends, the past and present, locations and landmarks, and characters real and created.

I held off on starting over immediately–the anticipation of a good read builds enjoyment, after all–and decided to save it for next year’s trip. I’ll also read Cannery Row (have I read it? If so, it’s been too long), and I expect the two books and the location will all have something to say to one another and to me.

Everything, EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I typically try to read the book before seeing the movie, but that didn’t happen this time. And, surprisingly, I preferred the movie, which rearranged and edited scenes for a tighter presentation. Though obviously there wouldn’t have been a movie without the book, and this is a fun and creative read with a surprising twist. The Sun is Also a Star was a better novel, though.

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one sat on my shelf for years waiting for the right moment, but once I opened it I could not put it down. I spent an entire lovely day wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, lost in its story. I cried when I finished, not because it was so sad, but because it lived up to the beauty in its title.

It always fascinates me when I read back-to-back books, entirely different yet hitting the same theme. In this case, Everything Everything and Beautiful Ruins which, from varied angles, preach the distinction between existence and living.

“I’ve been thinking about how people sit around for years waiting for their lives to being, right? Like a movie. You know what I mean?…I know I felt that way. For years. It was as if I was a character in a movie and the real action was about to start any minute. But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start. Do you know what I mean, Pasquale?” (54)

“Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story…your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.” (62)

The Secret Zoo (The Secret Zoo, #1)The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If you have an animal-loving child under eight years old, this might be a fun read-aloud. I think we got this book for my son at about that age for that purpose. But he decided to read it on his own (obviously fine), and then, years later in a coming-of-age moment, put it in my hands when he saw I was between books and the library was closed.

Mostly, it seems like a good idea poorly executed–awkward sentence structure, oddly used verbs, plot and even scene inconsistencies, and an almost irrelevant villain.

At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Money and poverty; family politics; war; friendship and romance; betrayal and abuse; adventures and monsters and mythology… This book has it all. At certain points I wasn’t sure about this one, but I kept reading.

When Life Gives You Lululemons (The Devil Wears Prada, #3)When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Sometimes you just want a fluff read… But I didn’t love this one. Andie is a more likeable character than Emily, so making Emily one of the main characters may have done this in for me. As chapters rotate between three main characters, I had to keep reminding myself which one was which. And while I could commiserate with each in certain ways, I didn’t love any of them. I did, however, dive in and finish the book in less than a 24 hour period.

Friendship Quilt

As a young adult, a dear friend introduced me to Anne of Green Gables. Anne pines for a bosom friend, a kindred spirit, whom she finds in Diana Barry. Maybe you have one Best Friend. Maybe you have a Friendship Quilt. Either way, we can be grateful for the friends in our lives.

Guest post: Kristi Grover

Many years ago I endured a hard season. I’d been quite ill and, even as I was recovering, doctors couldn’t give me any assurances that life would go back to the ‘normal’ to which I had become accustomed.

Additionally, my trusted inner circle of friends—small in number but strong in their support for me—had disappeared. Every single one. Each had moved away due to changes in work, family needs, or a sense that they needed to go now to pursue their life’s dream lest their window of opportunity forever closed. I could support each in their individual decisions and celebrate what they had contributed to the lives of those impacted by their unique gifting while here…but deep inside I felt (irrationally, I know) betrayed by their departure when I especially needed them.

On a long drive together, I finally shared this feeling with my husband—even though I was embarrassed by it and acknowledged how narrowly focused it was. And then I segued on to how I had always longed for a “best friend.”

In the books I read as a girl, the protagonist always had a best friend, someone who understood everything and was always loyal and stayed in their life for keeps. In childhood and early adulthood I heard others speak of their “best friend”—someone who was, even if they now lived miles apart, worth the effort to keep close and share life. Was it me? Was I somehow unworthy of having a “best friend”?

This was long before Facebook and cell phones and frequent flyer miles and email—all ways to keep in touch now (or keep others at a distance, but that is another story). My heart ached with lifelong accumulated losses. Perhaps it wasn’t a big deal when viewed from a distance: I kept abreast of national and international news and knew this was not a cosmic problem and was quite aware of how much I had for which to be grateful. And I was grateful. But it still touched a hurt place in my heart.

My husband, a very good listener who thinks before he speaks, heard and considered my outpouring. He responded: “Perhaps another way to look at it is as a friendship quilt. You treasure your grandma’s old quilts and value the stories behind each scrap of fabric. Maybe friendship is like that. Think over your life and all the friends you’ve been blessed with and the ones currently in your life, too, even though those pieces in your quilt won’t be as large as you’d like. In the end, don’t you have enough pieces now, and in the years to come, to piece together a friendship quilt? Maybe you won’t have one single blanket, a forever ‘best friend,’ but still, it will be enough to wrap around you and keep the winds of loneliness from chilling you.”

I was stunned—not for the first time and certainly not the last—by his wisdom and perspective. A friendship quilt. Instantly, my mind filled with new thoughts: from what I was losing as dear friends moved away to profound gratitude that they had been in my life, in rich and deep ways, in the first place. Thoughts of other friends through the years crowded my mind. Focusing on what I had, rather than what I had lost, changed my perspective.

A friendship quilt. Even then I could imagine the loving warmth as I pulled it close around me. And it gave me a sense of adventure about friendships to come, people I hadn’t met yet who would delight me and challenge me and deepen me in ways I couldn’t even imagine. A lifelong friendship quilt that would continue to grow throughout the years.

*****

Friendship Quilt: First occurring midcentury 1800’s, constructed with blocks (or stars or triangles or other shapes) made up of bits of fabric salvaged from worn out clothing. Individual blocks were created and often signed by each quilter as a way to express the love they felt for the person who would be given the finished quilt. Frequently given at times of change such as weddings or births or when someone was about to move away, they were a way to (literally) stay in touch with the circle of women who made such quilts. Until recent times, such a quilt given away at the time of a move was a way of recognizing that they might never again see one another. Sometimes fabrics from family members no longer living would be incorporated to remind the recipient that such precious bonds always remain close. A gathering to stitch together the individual pieces and quilt the top through the filling to the reverse side would be a time of joy and storytelling and often include hints of grief as participants realized that an era of life had ended. But the quilt would remain as silent, ongoing testimony to love and shared history.

some things that are true about me

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller.  I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends, working in various ways for justice, hiking along high mountain ridge lines and walking in the woods and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean, hearing people share their life stories and affirming them, writing and reading, rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat, listening to music and singing and dancing, intelligent conversation and laughter, making a home. These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.

 

Ready Not Ready

Our youngest starts high school tomorrow. So obviously we cleaned out his school backpack this weekend.

What? You had your child clean out their backpack in June? Yah, that would make sense. That’s not how we roll, and definitely not how this summer went. Although Guy did sneak a peak in, oh, July, and discovered the remnants of at least a week’s worth of lunchbox remains. Gross…

At least I knew we wouldn’t encounter food junk. Just papers and school supplies. We recycled/tossed most of it, and restocked a fresh binder with dividers, paper, pens and pencils.

Among the few papers we saved, I found this poem:

Teenagers
by Pat Mora

One day they disappear
into their rooms.
Doors and lips shut
and we become strangers
in our own home.

I pace the hall, hear whispers,
a code I knew but can’t remember,
mouthed by mouths I taught to speak.

Years later the door opens.
I see faces I once held,
open as sunflowers in my hands. I see
familiar skin now stretched on long bodies
that move past me
glowing almost like pearls.

I read it, then read it again. I put it aside to read again later.

It is and isn’t my experience. With one in college and another beginning high school, I am chest-high in the waters of parenting adolescents. My kids have shut their doors and spoken in code, and yet I’m glad to say we haven’t become strangers. Even in the worst of C19’s angsty periods, we still found ways to communicate.

The last step of high school registration took place last week, earlier in the morning than school starts tomorrow. I didn’t sleep deeply during the night, fearing I’d oversleep. Instead, I jolted out of bed and woke the household an hour early, sure our friends would arrive to pick us up in ten minutes. Only I laughed at myself when I realized we had oodles of time…

He is anxious, but he is ready. He knows he is loved. He has good friends. He is a curious learner, and he has the band room as a safe space in which to shine. The next four years will be a blur of all the good High School Things and hopefully the bumps won’t jostle any of us too hard. He will be fine.

None of us do transitions well, and some of the Big Feels about tomorrow have to do with just that: summer ends tonight and a new season–and a new school–start in the morning. But there’s more to it than that. He knows it, too: we met friends in the grocery store parking lot today; as they gasped that our ‘baby’ is entering high school, he looked directly at me and said, “Yah, I’m leaving you soon…”

We all laughed, but oh how this kid sees me!

I just noticed that he answered questions about the poem on the back of the sheet. His summary? “My kids are growing up and won’t snuggle with me in bed anymore.” Thank God he still snuggles with me. Not nightly as we once did, but occasionally. I think I will make it a point to be available for chit-chat and snuggles tonight.