Monday, October 28, 2013
Save for the year after being orphaned, this year has been the toughest of my life. I finished four years researching and writing my book, and I didn’t pay any attention to how completely burned out I had become. It certainly didn’t help that 40 was looming and, while I have no hang-ups with getting older in and of itself, it kicked off another cycle of grief.
At its core, grief is loneliness. Obviously you are lonely for the person who no longer shares life with you, but it is also lonely knowing there is no one else who misses her the way you do or remembers him the way you do. Even my brother and sister – the closest people to understand the early loss of our parents – have different experiences, memories and reactions as members of the Orphan Club.
In this place of exhaustion and loneliness, things that I thought were foundationally solid have been called into question. When you are forced to take a pit stop in life, you actually have time to survey your surroundings. Sometimes you like where you have ended up and sometimes you don’t. This is terrifying for someone who has built a life and career as the how-to girl. Slowly and painfully, I began to see the world differently.
During my soul searching, I realized how judgmental I have been. In my own defense, I honestly didn’t realize I was being judgmental – I thought very open to other experiences and perspectives. But I secretly thought I had it all together and when you think this way, it is seductively easy to slide into a condescending attitude. Over the last year as I have been shaken to the core, I realized that I don’t want to live like that anymore. I don’t want to be that person.
I think we choose to be judgmental because it makes us feel safe – we can hide behind the walls of our belief systems, our ideals, our routines, our absolutes, our decisions. Coming out from behind those walls to question those things is deeply frightening because we have to venture into no man’s land. The Franciscan friar Richard Rohr calls this place liminal space – when we have left all that we know but we have not yet arrived at the next place. In liminal space we cannot be sure where we will end up when we emerge. In fact, we fear we will get fully lost and never emerge at all.
I was chatting with a friend the other day about all of this “40 Stuff,” and he looked me dead in the eyes and said very calmly, “It is human.” Going through these times in life is part of our personal evolution. Learning to accept and embrace the process doesn’t always look pretty, but it is so very important. Somewhere along the lines, amidst all the how-to’s and rules and checklists, I forgot the beauty of being human and all the messiness and uncertainty that it entails.
So I am surrendering to this season and have stopped trying to control or rush it. I suppose it’s kind of like giving up the expectation that my life will look like a Renoir depicting clear images to the world, and coming to grips with the fact that it might end up looking like a Jackson Pollock with random paint splattered on a canvas. Or it could just end up looking like a three-year-old’s drawing. I suppose there is beauty in that as well, but it is difficult to see when the work is not yet finished.
So as I turn 40 today, I realize that I don’t know much. I don’t have a lot of answers. In the months of musing and reflecting, however, I have some thoughts.
I think authenticity matters because it is the only way we can hear the hearts of people who believe differently than us as well as the voices of our own tribe.
I think staying bunkered in “us vs. them” mentality – always defining ourselves by what we are not – leaves no room for our own growth as well as extending that same opportunity to others around us.
I think real change, revelation and connection takes place when we ask more questions and give fewer directives.
I think wisdom is mined in the dark places, and if we refuse to allow seasons of darkness dwelling, we miss out on some of the best stuff in life.
I think we only grow more tired, tattered, impatient and unkind when we do not create quiet places for our souls to rest and reflect.
I think vulnerability is worth the risk of getting rejected because when we spend our lives covering up what we truly feel and think, we only guarantee chasms of loneliness between others and us.
I think it is brave to ask for what we truly want and need from those closest to us rather than expecting them to just intuitively know.
I think it is only when we accept ourselves as good enough – not pinning that acceptance to elusive achievements but right in the here and now – that we can love ourselves and others well.
I think we all need intimacy – the connection between two human beings with the ability to say I see you, I accept you despite all your imperfections, and I love you.
I think cultivating patterns of forgiveness with others and ourselves is better than striving and failing under the weight of perfectionism.
I think having the courage to linger in the questions is more powerful and transformative than rushing to find the answers.
And I know it is scary as hell to take the leap to put all this into practice.
That’s all I’ve got.
ERYN-FAYE FRANS, Canada's Passion Coach®
Monday, October 21, 2013
I asked a client recently, “What amazing attributes do you have to offer your partner, just because you are you? How do you make this relationship great?” He didn’t have an answer. Another client said, “What do you mean by loveable? I don’t even know what that means.”
What do you think makes you worthy of love? Why would, why should, how could people love you?
Answering these questions taps into the core of our being, of whether – in the quiet moments when we are alone with our private thoughts – we actually believe that we are loveable.
When we fail to see our own value, it becomes far to easy to put up walls around ourselves to protect our hearts from being hurt…after all, once your partner finally sees you for what you truly are – unloveable – they will push you away or begrudgingly tolerate your existence. But this very act of refusing to be vulnerable undermines the intimacy we could have had if we had grasped a hold of our value.
If you don’t know why you are worthy of love and belonging – why you are loveable – then I would encourage you to take some time to think about it. If you are struggling to come up with answers, then summon up the courage to ask the people closest to you – your spouse, best friend, siblings or parents – and see what they have to say. They probably know exactly why you are loveable. Maybe it’s time for you to believe it too.
ERYN-FAYE FRANS, ® Canada's Passion Coach
Monday, October 14, 2013
It’s been called a “Modern-day Mecca.” Most North American families attempt a pilgrimage at least once in their life time. It’s billed as the Happiest Place on Earth. It’s Disneyland.
My parents hated it. The slick consumer culture, the crowds, the noise, the underlying thrum of excitement, but most of all, the price. They didn’t feel the magic.
My husband and I do. We love Disneyland! We’ve always loved it! The price is a stretch to say the least, but well worth it to us for the excellence in every detail, the nostalgia, the rides and the underlying thrum of excitement. Since we have family who live in the area, we’ve been able to go a lot more than the average family. It is a perk we don’t take for granted. Bringing our children, especially when they were young, remain some of the best family memories in our arsenal.
The First Visit
We took our youngest daughter as a baby, along for the ride while her older sisters gaped in amazement at the “real” Winnie the Pooh and screamed with delight on the Peter Pan ride. She slept through most of the day, but looked cute in pictures. We were just like everyone else.
The Second Visit
Two years later we were back. I had some misgivings about B’s ability to handle the day, so my parents (who love us enough to endure the park they dislike) tagged along. I had heard that there was some sort of accommodation for guests with disabilities, but resolved to avoid it. I was embarrassed to ask. I didn’t want to be unfair. I was sure we could handle it, just like everybody else.
Unlike a typical 3-year-old, my daughter wasn’t able to walk or even stand on her own. Desperate to be mobile, she would scoot on her bum at an extraordinary speed. As you can imagine, this was a filthy way to travel and terribly hard on clothes, and terribly inconvenient to adults who don’t expect a headstrong little speed bump to pop up unexpectedly.
She was okay as long as we kept her in the stroller, but her sisters were eager to go on rides and show her all the wonders she had slept through last time. The waits weren’t particularly long, but holding a squirming, screaming toddler can make time pass extraordinarily slowly. Not only was she dying to move, but she could see something exciting, just out of reach, and was enraged that we wouldn’t let her go to it immediately. As the lines wind closer and closer, then back around, farther away again, she must have thought we were playing a cruel trick on her. By the time we made it onto the ride she was almost inconsolable.
She LOVED being on the ride. She would squeal and clap and laugh with pure excitement. For 30 seconds. Then it would be time to get off; we would pry her fingers off of the bar and drag her away and head to the next lineup. By now, she really was inconsolable.
After a few hours, she had to go home. It was all too much. It was just too hard. The crowds. The noise. The heat. The waiting in line. She wasn’t the only one being punished for it; we all were, the whole family and everyone in her vicinity.
Third Time’s a Charm
Our next visit, I was prepared. We had been planning and talking about this day for months. B had been looking at her sister’s pictures and had become enamoured with the Disney Princesses (though she didn’t have the attention span to sit through an entire movie). I had documentation of her Down syndrome (in case looking in her eyes wouldn’t be enough) and after our last disastrous visit, absolutely NO compunction about taking whatever extra help Disney could offer us. After all, I’ve finally made my peace with the fact that we’re not just like everybody else.
There seemed to be a lot of confusion about where and what we were needing, but we finally found ourselves at the City Hall talking our way into a “Special Assistance Pass.” They didn’t give it willingly at first, but I stood firm: we just can’t handle a repeat of our last visit, not when she’s so excited to be here.
The Pass was intended not just for guests who have visible disabilities, but also those with cognitive, emotional or behavioural problems and need extra support to be able to enjoy the Disney experience. Usually, this meant using an alternative entrance (fast pass or going in through the exit) and waiting there. We didn’t cut to the front of the line right away, but waiting in a calm, cool, less crowded spot makes all the difference.
I’ll admit, it makes our ride experience much faster. That’s the only way it works for us. B can’t tolerate many different rides, so mostly we went on the tamest rides over and over again. But she was wild with excitement!
There’s an age, when adults are giants and characters in books/movies are real and that cool veneer of realism hasn’t yet begun to form. I love taking my kids to Disneyland at that age. They call it “magic” and it really is. My 5-year-old was there and we all basked in her wonder.
She’s still there. At 9-years-old she still believes. She is still amazed. She watches “Brave” at least once a week and if you can understand the words, she’ll tell you the entire story. She often stops and looks at the Disneyland pictures hanging on the wall. She asks to go back all the time.
There’s not much that our entire family, big kids included, can do and enjoy together. Outings are hard. Interests range wide and far. Attention spans are short. These days, B is quickly overwhelmed by new situations, especially ones involving crowds and noises. Even more so than 4 years ago,she needs support.
Now we have a little brother in the mix. He’s never been to Disneyland, and that just seems wrong when you consider how much our family loves it. He has his own blend of special needs: extreme hyperactivity, sensory processing disorder and general impulsivity to name a few. I’ve learned a lot over the years about our limits and our needs, and I’m no longer embarrassed to ask for help. He needs support.
We’ve begun planning (and saving) for a family trip to Disneyland. It’ll take a while, so we’ve booked a timeshare for December 2014. But that anticipation is half the fun for our crew. We’ll have our days mapped out, eateries scoped and show times noted.
That is, if Disney has a workable special needs Guest Assistance program available…
Right now, Disney is getting rid of their Guest Assistance program. It has been badly abused over the years, which has ruined it for those of us who truly need it. They are rolling out a new program on October 9th.
It sounds terrible.
I had hoped that this was one of those online stories that was wildly exaggerated, but my research has been discouraging. The Disability Assistance System is like a modified Fast Pass, which involves at least two extra lineups/waits, only applies when the wait time is more than 45 minutes (waiting that long is so far beyond our son’s capacity that it’s laughable), AFTER extra lineups, we’ll end up in the regular line anyway (which I’m sure will be fun for everyone)… oh, and it only works on a select few rides.
Without extra help, Disney isn’t do-able for our family.
Just one more thing that’s out of our reach.
There are other families with even more complex problems in the same boat.
As a company, Disney has a reputation of going the extra mile, making every effort to create an amazing experience for ALL their guests. They have certainly won us over in the past. I can only hope that they will hear what special needs families, and those who support them, are saying. I hope they will build a system which actually helps my children and others like them. I hope they’ll make it a priority.
If you want to help, please:
So here’s me, sad that so many people abused this system which worked so well for us. Sad that the new system seems so unworkable. Mostly, sad that we might never get to share a Disney adventure with our boy.
Monday, October 7, 2013
It’s that time again. Time for me to dust off my recurring role as the damsel in distress. I’m beginning to fear I’ve been typecast by fate. So far this blog has entertained… well, not millions, but many definitely ... my hero husband as I lock my keys in the car, get stuck in the snow and give myself a black eye, just to name a few.
I have no one to blame but myself. Or my children, and the significant sleep deficit which is definitely their fault. But what kind of Mom blames her own children for her frazzled, overwhelmed and far-too-often absent minded performance?
This one. I blame them. I love them, but I blame this crazy, relentless, exhausting life and my subsequent doziness on those adorable mini people. I don’t know who I’m going to blame when they grow up and leave me.
My latest drama begins in our local supermarket. I sped through my list as fast as humanly possible while the boy alternated between screaming at the top of his lungs (and he has some impressive pipes on him) and cheerfully pulling everything off the shelf as we rolled by. By the time I got to the checkout line I was frazzled and nearing defeat.
More than I’d like, but par for the course these days for the feeding, cleaning and diapering a family of 6, at least in our part of the world. Four of us don’t even need diapers, so that’s a huge savings right there.
Feeling a little smug about my foresight, I pulled out my newly activated credit card. My wallet was stolen last week and I’ve been slowly re-making my plastic identity. It’s one of those extra tasks which seems insurmountable in the face of our usual daily grind. But I did it. I called the number. I even signed the back.
I did not, however, take note of the new pin number which would be arriving in the mail also.
So here we are, with a fully loaded cart of groceries, a half eaten bag of fishy crackers (see above re: screaming), a grumpy three-year-old, and the Perry the Platypus sticker he just stuck on my chin. Embarrassed, but not unused to this position, I tell my story and ask them to hold my groceries until I can return with yet another new credit card waiting patiently at home to be activated.
I felt so bad for the man waiting behind me. He had a bag of oranges and a couple bananas. He was about my age, but polished, put together. The kind of guy who drives a nice car and goes to the gym a lot.
I wonder what he saw as I stood there in my second-hand boots, bags under my eyes and hair falling out of its clip. My son whining and grabbing me while sporting a wicked black eye and a runny nose. I was cringing inside. Feeling judged. Feeling humiliated.
As the checkout lady begins to wheel our cart away, he says, “Wait!”
He leans over and peers at my receipt. He pulls out his credit card. He waves his hand, like it’s no big deal.
“I’ll pay for it. Then you won’t have to come back. It’s my gift to you.”
“Uhhh… oh no, no.” I stammer. ”It’s, like, $200. Really, it’s okay.”
He insists. He pays. He acts like it’s no big deal.
This was an extremely rare moment for me. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know how to start. I was struck dumb. I hope I remembered to say Thank You. I hope I said it a lot.
As I packed my free groceries into the van, he began to drive away. I flagged him down, standing outside his window in the rain, so I could at least shake his hand and find out his name.
He told me that it seemed like I was having “a day,” plus having my wallet stolen and all… He said something about putting good out in the universe and it’d come back eventually.
His name was Nick.
I had a lot of feelings about this. My first was pride. I didn’t want to seem pathetic (though, let’s face it, I probably was), and I could take care of it myself. My second was practical, and just a little bit mercenary. I’m going on a trip this month that falls outside our budget and we are feeling it. $188.33 is a lot of money to us. My biggest feeling, however, the one that has followed me around ever since, was bone-deep, soul shaken, faith-in-humanity-restored, just got a-hug-from-God, giddy and amazed GRATITUDE.
It’s not the $188.33. It’s not the time, hassle and embarrassment saved. It’s the unexpected, unsolicited, unassuming grace of the moment.
I’ve been tasting it ever since.
And that’s worth a whole lot more than $188.33.
So here’s me, thanking Nick. Because I needed that.