ode to teachers

French Kids

Kindergarten, 1976

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If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Those words have followed me since I was my daughter’s age. They are now infused in every cell of my being and I have probably said them – to myself and out loud – hundreds of times. I wonder if Mrs. Peters, my fifth grade teacher, had any idea all those years ago that I would carry her guiding motto, the one she reminded us of daily, with me so deeply.

I adored Mrs. Peters. She is the teacher I remember the most. She is the one I stayed in touch with long after college. I have no idea how old she was, but to my ten year old self, she felt ancient. I’m pretty sure she was only in her late fifties, maybe her early sixties. Certainly far from ancient, but just as certainly very wise.

Mrs. Peters loved to sing, and she was probably the most patriotic person I have ever met. Each morning we would pledge allegiance to the flag, then sing patriotic songs. Three years into living in America after moving from Europe when I was seven, I learned every American anthem ever written. I loved to sing, and those mornings were my favorite part of the day. I still remember every single word to every single one of those songs. The Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, America the Beautiful, Home on the Range… On Fridays we sang other songs, songs we could choose. I don’t remember those as well, except an Irish song about cockles and mussels called Molly Malone.

Mrs. Peters read to us in the afternoons when all of our work was done – long chapter books that taught us about history and would take weeks to finish. Johnny Tremain, The Endless Steppe, and one about a stork in the steeple of a church. I would close my eyes as she read and imagine the scenes she described. It amazes me how vividly I still remember these stories, more than three decades later. Mrs. Peters taught us about the indigenous history of California, and we built a teepee in the classroom and ground acorns into flour. When the boys and girls were split into groups one afternoon, Mrs. Peters taught us girls about puberty, about our periods. She must’ve been teaching for a few decades by then because she still had a maxi pad belt in her teaching bag for that class.

Mrs. Peters was undaunted by bullies and obnoxious behavior in class. She was firm when she needed to be firm, loving when she needed to be loving. She loved books and would let us sit in the book corner during recess if that is where we wanted to be. She knew I loved to sing and invited me to be part of a small group of fifth graders who sang Sunrise, Sunset for the eighth grade graduation.

When I visited Mrs. Peters sometime after college, she had been retired for several years. She showed me a closet filled with shoe boxes – one for every year she had taught – and pulled down the one from my fifth grade year. In it were cards from students, essays we had written that she had kept, artwork we had made. I felt so loved as I sensed how deeply she cherished these memories. How deeply she cherished the hundreds of students she had known throughout her years of teaching.

I thanked her, that afternoon, and reminded her that I had carried If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well with me all the years since she had been my teacher. I still do.

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Today is the last day of fifth grade for my daughter. To celebrate, we had a class party, which means the kids ran around outside and consumed and burned off the sugar from cupcakes, donut cake, popsicles and juice boxes. We had a little ceremony where the students encircled their teacher and each of them told him why he is special. Her teacher has been teaching for over 20 years, and I can tell he loves what he does. I love being at my children’s schools – there is nothing like the aliveness of the energy in a school. There is nothing like children when they are learning and growing into increasingly conscious beings. There is nothing like watching in action the teachers I know my child will remember for the rest of her life – her Mrs. Peterses.

I don’t know if I could be a teacher – I get exhausted just raising my own two kids! But teachers are the human beings I respect and appreciate the most in the world. They are the ones my children spend most of their time with in a day. They are the ones who challenge them and stretch them and push them and guide them and cheer them on. They are the ones who prepare them for the next steps in their lives. They are the ones who find a way – no matter what – to teach each uniquely individual learner within the parameters of all that is expected of teachers by schools, districts and states; by teaching standards and testing requirements; by each child’s parents. Within the parameters of what each student needs during a year of their life.

It is sacred work. Holy work. To give a child confidence as a learner.

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To all my teachers, to all my children’s teachers, and to all my friends who are teachers: THANK YOU. Thank you for the HEART you give to your incredibly sacred and holy work.

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the way we birth

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When I was preparing to give birth for the first time more than 11 years ago, I made a birth plan with my husband and our midwives. I deeply believed in my birth plan. I was going to have my baby naturally and at home. I was going to eat and drink if and when I wanted to. I was going to walk around my apartment freely, unencumbered by an IV. I was going to trust my body and my baby to know how to do this. I was going to breathe, as I’d learned in our homebirth class, for as long as it took. I was going to avoid bright hospital lights and cold floors, doctors I didn’t have a relationship with. I trusted myself, I trusted my baby, I trusted my partner, and I trusted my midwives.

And none of that trust changed. But the plan did.

I did labor at home – for 32 hours. In between contractions, which were all in my lower back, I took occasional bites of bagel with jam and drank juice diluted with water. I sat on the exercise ball in the shower with scalding water aimed at my back for so long that I had scars afterwards. An acupuncturist friend came around hour 28 and put 16 needles into my lower back for the pain. I got to 8 centimeters but no further, for hours.

Then I looked at my husband and our midwives and said with 100% conviction and clarity, “I want to go to the hospital.” It was noon on a Tuesday.

I left the dark cocoon of our bedroom for the first time since the previous day at 5:30am to get into the car. It hurt. And the outside world – going about its business as usual all around me – felt surreal, like it was moving full speed while I was in slow motion. My sister dropped us off, my husband got a wheelchair that I didn’t use because it hurt too much to sit and I’d already been sitting for 20 painful minutes. I walked into the room and lay down on the hospital bed. I got an IV and a monitor was wrapped around my belly.

When the anesthesiologist walked in, it was as if an angel had just entered. “You’ve been laboring for how long?” “32 hours,” I replied. “Let’s get you that epidural. We’ll skip your blood work and get on with it.” All these years later, I can’t begin to describe the sensation when the medicine began to take away the pain I had been in for a day and a half. All I remember is relief, and the colorful woven hat that the anesthesiologist wore on his head.

Finally able to relax, I dilated to 10 centimeters and the doctor said I could push whenever I felt ready. Then she stepped back and let me do the work, guided still by my midwives. My daughter came out an hour later, pink and beautiful, head covered in black hair, right hand coming out “fight the power” style immediately after her head. She was pregnant herself, the doctor, 32 weeks with her first. She was a third year resident so less experienced than my midwives, who had between them attended so many births. She watched the whole thing, respecting the relationship I had developed with my midwives during my pregnancy, and the work I had done already at home.

My daughter almost did a flip off the little metal table as they checked her Apgar scores. They gave her tens, clearly this one was just fine. Four hours after she was born, the three of us were back home in the bed where I had labored. Parents. A radiantly healthy energetic baby who hated swaddles and slings and anything constricting from the second she was born. We were a family of three.

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With everything I’ve experience related to birth since then, I can’t help but view my first daughter’s birth through rose colored glasses. It wasn’t what I had planned, but it had turned out so well. Immediately following her birth, however, I gave myself a tremendous amount of grief that I had given up” and stopped laboring at home, that I had chosen to have an epidural and go to the hospital. I told myself that if I had just kept going, I could have had the homebirth I had planned.

I held this disappointment for two and a half years, until I took an 8-week midwifery course with one of the world’s most renowned homebirth midwives. I sat with her during one of our lunch breaks and told her my daughter’s birth story, and I asked her if she could tell me what had happened – why I hadn’t been able to progress past 8 centimeters no matter what I did, no matter how much time went by and how many contractions I endured, no matter what my midwives tried or what position they guided me to labor in. And her eyes got wide and her body got really still and then she popped out, “Deep transverse arrest!” “Deep transverse arrest?” “Deep transverse arrest! Go home and research that this week and you can teach the class about it when we meet again.” And I did.

A deep transverse arrest is when the baby’s head is engaged a little off in the pelvis so that its head doesn’t hit the cervix quite right. This means that the cervix, which relies on the pressure of the baby’s head along with the mother’s contractions to open fully, can’t open fully. My daughter’s head was turned just slightly, and her right hand was next to her left cheek for most of my labor (causing the painful back labor). Her head was engaged enough to get me to 8 centimeters, but no further. And with each contraction, instead of relaxing to open and create space for her to move, I literally contracted and tightened and she got more wedged in.

“You were right to go to the hospital and have an epidural, because then you could relax and make space for her slightly turned head to shift into the right position. Your body knew what it needed and you listened,” she told me, this decades-long experienced homebirth midwife. In that moment, all of my doubts and disappointment in myself dissolved and I felt peace.

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It amazes me how much we are capable of torturing ourselves as mothers about the ways in which we failed to follow our birth plans, our supposed hopes and dreams for the beginnings of our babies’ lives. It amazes me how deeply my ego was invested in the outcome of my plan – and how much of it all is just that: ego. The idea that we can actually plan how our children’s births will go, that we have any control.

I planned two homebirths and had none. A few years after my daughter was born, I miscarried another pregnancy at 10 weeks. A few years after that, I was pregnant again with Tikva, and again I planned to birth at home. And again the universe laughed. Tikva was diagnosed in utero at 21 weeks with a life threatening birth defect. She would not only be born in the hospital, but she would be born in the operating room, so that a team of neonatologists, obstetricians, anesthesiologists and nurses could be prepared for anything she needed. So that she could be put on a ventilator within minutes of her birth because she wouldn’t be able to breathe on her own.

An hour into my labor, I asked for an epidural. My labor was short – just a few hours long – and for weeks after Tikva was born I second-guessed myself again, thinking I had not needed that epidural, could have birthed her without it. But this is the thing: In that moment, I was terrified. I was about to release from the safety and warmth of my body a baby I knew would not be able to breathe or eat on her own. Inside me, she had been safe – I breathed for her and ate for her and could hold and protect her; outside, she was not. She could live for just a few minutes after her birth, or she could live a whole lifetime – none of us had any idea what was ahead, and I was scared. And I was stressed. And I did not want to be distracted by the pain of labor. And I didn’t think this through in actual thoughts, I just knew. And I fell instantly in love with that anesthesiologist too, an amazing third year resident who was so gentle and precise, and who gave me just enough medicine so that I was still able to feel the moment when Tikva came out.

The second she was out and the cord was cut, she was whisked away through a window in the wall into another room where she was put on a ventilator and given paralytic medication so she wouldn’t destabilize herself. I would really see her about an hour or two later for the first time, intubated, feeding tube in her nose, IV in her arm. My beautiful girl.

And then, our real story together began. 58 days long and every day since she breathed her last challenging breath almost 7 years ago. For those few months we were a family of four.

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Three years later I was pregnant with twins. Twins! Twins that came to us with help and with work. Twins who were all promise, all hope, all healing – for their mother, their father and their sister. Twins who would bring a beautiful whirlwind of baby energy into our home. Twins who would be closely monitored to ensure a safe pregnancy, ultrasounds and amnio and bloodwork and frequent appointments. Ten weeks in, one of them stopped growing. At 18 weeks – on Valentine’s Day – I no longer felt the other one move. A few days later, I went to the hospital to be induced and 24 hours later I delivered my very small babies-to-be. And a few hours later, after holding the one who had grown enough that he was fully formed, only just the size of my hand, we left the hospital without our babies. These beings I had also labored to birth, whose ashes I would sprinkle on the same beach where I had walked during the very beginning of my very first labor so many years before.

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I birthed my son in my heart, and another woman that I will forever be grateful to conceived and nurtured and birthed him from her body. He came out 6 weeks early by C-section. He was tiny and he was perfect. He always breathed on his own and he learned to take a bottle in a few weeks and we brought him home. He never breastfed, but I nourished him with my love and formula till he was ready for food. Two years later, he eats like a teenager and is so heavy I can barely carry him.

And we have been, once again since his birth two years ago, a family of four, surrounded by the beloved spirits of the babies we lost.

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This is the thing: You may be able to set an intention for how you’d like things to go, and you may be lucky when it all goes “right,” but it’s all just so random and out of our hands. I thought I was responsible for how healthy and strong my first daughter was, that it was all because of how well I had taken care of myself during pregnancy. But then that means I was also responsible for how fragile and sick my second daughter had been. I have no idea why her diaphragm didn’t form correctly, and neither do the doctors. I have no idea why my twins didn’t make it, or why I miscarried all those years ago and again before we adopted our son. What I know now, though, is that when it does work out well, and that healthy baby is born – it’s an incredible amazing miracle of life. And that miracle is as arbitrary as when things go another way.

I cry tears of joy and relief every time I learn about a baby who has been born healthy. If I know a friend is in labor, I take a deep breath and I exhale when I hear that all went well.

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There’s a way we talk in our culture about birth after it’s happened, and I think that way is skewed. I’ve heard it from men who have witnessed and supported their partners’ labors, referring to the women as warriors because they labored naturally, at home in a birthing tub, without pain medication or medical intervention, and gave birth to a healthy 9 pound baby that immediately knew how to suckle and nurse. I’ve also heard it from women who have been through labor – talking, like I did, about the ways in which they felt they had failed – because they hadn’t been able to do it naturally, because they had needed help, or because their babies had died. So we are warriors if it goes one way, and we are failures if it goes another. Or we are warriors in the eyes of everyone but our own critical selves.

But this is the thing: We are all warriors. We are warriors when we birth, however we birth. We are warriors when we need help to birth. We are warriors whether or not we nurse. We are warriors whether we wear our babies or sleep with our babies; whether or not they sleep through the night. We are warriors when our babies are conceived with assistance. We are warriors when we are not able to conceive or carry a baby to term. We are warriors when someone else carries our babies for us. We are warriors when we miscarry. We are warriors when our babies are born still. We are warriors when we mother by caring for our babies’ graves. We are warriors when we choose not to have babies and we love in other ways. We are warriors when we are allies for other women. We are warriors in how we nurture the world.

We are warriors because, in some way, we choose to love. Whatever that love looks like. However it is birthed.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the warriors out there. I hope you know who you are.

opening the ivory tower doors

Ivory Tower

Deeply imprinted into my psyche, the Ivory Tower from my favorite and most-viewed movie from adolescence, The Neverending Story

When I was in my mid-twenties, I began my career in the social sector working in philanthropy. I worked in a foundation that helped progressive individuals give money away to social change organizations all over the world. The internet was barely a thing back then – I think I had an AOL email address – and I got the job looking for an administrative assistant position in the newspaper. When I was called for an interview, I asked if they could send me information about the organization so that I could learn more about what they did. I didn’t know anything about foundations, about donors, about non-profit organizations and NGOs, or about grantmaking. A few days later a packet arrived in my mailbox – it was a grants list of the organizations the foundation’s donors had supported in the previous year, but it only listed the name of the donor funds and the names of their grantees. That’s not a lot of information to explain the work of an organization if you don’t have the ability to look them up online, and online didn’t really exist yet.

So off I went to my interview, and I sat in a small room with two of the foundation’s program officers – I didn’t know what a program officer was, either, and they were kind of intimidating. I was 24. The intimidating program officer who chose me to be her assistant has become one of my closest friends and most cherished mentors. From her and my other colleagues at the foundation – over four and a half years and afterwards when I branched out on my own – I learned everything I know about the world of giving and the incredible non-profit organizations that do so much to sustain and balance out our world. By the time I left the foundation to start a consulting practice working with non-profit and philanthropic organizations, I had become a program officer. Talk about the school of life.

During one of my first weeks working there, I was asked to contact a list of past grant recipients to ask for their reports on how they had used their grants so far. I left phone messages for the ones who didn’t answer, telling them I was calling from the foundation and could they please call me back. In under an hour, all of my phone messages had been returned. I was stunned, and when I shared this with my boss, she smiled and said, “That’s because they know you have the money.” “But I don’t have the money,” I replied. “I’m just an assistant.” “But you’re connected to the people who do, and money = power.” And she explained to me that, in our work, we were trying to redistribute some of that power to make things more equal – at least that was the goal of philanthropy.

We had a staff training during my time working at the foundation, and the theme was privilege. I’d worked there a few years by then, and I was aware of the incredible privilege of the philanthropists we worked with. But we weren’t talking about their privilege, we were talking about ours. It was uncomfortable. We were asked to think of the ways in which we had grown up with privilege, and no matter how rich or poor each of us were, just by virtue of being there, gainfully employed doing meaningful work managing great resources, all of us were privileged. And my list of privilege was so long, I realized, especially after listening to some of my colleagues share the challenges they had grown up with in disadvantaged communities or as immigrants or as people of color.

Privilege: I grew up speaking two languages. I went to schools with small classrooms and brand new textbooks. I grew up around technology years before technology was in every home. I grew up in a town influenced by a major university. We owned our home. I got to travel all over the world. I had a doctor and a dentist and a retainer for my overbite. My mom took me to her hairdresser to get my hair cut. My dad helped me buy a used car when I turned 16 by getting me a summer job filing receipts in his company. College was paid for and my grades and activities got me into every school I applied to. I grew up in a home filled with books and art and music. I had piano lessons and saxophone lessons, tried ballet and jazz dance, took art classes. I grew up in a safe place free from violence where I could ride my bike or take the bus all over town without a care. I had friends whose families came from all over the world – doctors and professors and researchers and tech executives. I had an allowance. I went to summer camp. I am white.

Privilege.

What an ivory tower I had always lived in! And what an ivory tower did I now find myself in, giving money away to communities in need. Those words: In need. They made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like the dynamic – that some people have and others don’t, and no matter how much we might try to redistribute the resources, there are always some with privilege and some without. And there are levels of privilege – we each fall somewhere on a continuum.

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I still think a lot about privilege. I think about it as the white mother to a black son. I think about our choice to move to a town with higher property taxes and excellent public schools for our children. I think about it every time I go to a doctor’s appointment or to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and I am able to afford my co-pay. I think about it as I make the monthly payment for our mortgage, for our cars. I think about it as I look at the packing list for my daughter’s summer camp.

As a child, my favorite subject in school was social studies – that wonderful topic that encapsulated all things having to do with human beings and societies: history, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology. The things I was most curious about. I wanted to be a psychologist, and I would watch Afterschool Specials and any Nine O’Clock Movie that had to do with a social issue: mental illness, addiction, homelessness, school reform, runaway teens. It was the eighties during Reagan, the years of This is your brain (camera zooms in on a whole intact egg). This is your brain on drugs (camera zooms in on egg frying in a pan).

I entered college as a psychology major, at some point changed to anthropology, changed again to sociology, and finished with a BA in history; so I got a nice well rounded liberal arts education and have done absolutely nothing related to my degree. But what draws me, what compels me, hasn’t changed since I was my daughter’s age. Social studies is still my favorite subject; it’s what I think about, read about, write about and try to teach my children about. It’s what I’ve been blessed for 20 years to have as the focus of my work.

I spent time in my daughter’s fifth grade class this morning, helping a group of kids with their end-of-the-year presentations about community and global issues. I was in social studies heaven. 11 is an incredible age because you can start to talk about the grey areas, the nuance in between black and white. You can start to talk about the complexity of issues like gang violence and global responses to natural disasters. You can start to talk about privilege.

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I thought about privilege a lot last night. I was the moderator for a local UNICEF event about the Eliminate Project, whose goal it is to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus worldwide through UNICEF’s incredible immunization and health programs. We watched a video and listened to first-hand stories about babies dying – 140 each day – from this vaccine preventable disease. I moderated a panel of speakers who spoke about how entirely possible it is to completely eliminate this disease – and how this has already been achieved in 36 countries, with 23 remaining. I thought about places where babies die each day from poverty and violence and lack of health care and sanitation. I thought of my own baby who had died, and all of the resources we were able to rally to give her every possible chance during her two months of life.

And I thought about tetanus here in the U.S., where babies don’t die of this bacteria that lives in soil. I remembered getting my tetanus booster as an older child, again as an adult. I thought about a conversation I had with a friend when my daughter was a toddler, how this friend who had been a pediatrician explained to me that tetanus isn’t just in rusty nails, but also in the dirt all around us.

I thought a lot last night about how privileged we are in this country to even be able to have a conversation about whether or not it is safe or necessary to vaccinate our children. We don’t see on a daily basis the diseases that kill children and adults in developing countries; some, like polio, which used to exist here. We don’t see an infant suffering from or dying from tetanus, so we have the luxury to actually consider whether or not our children need that vaccine. I know how much I wrestled with those questions when my daughter was little.

I just felt privileged, and I sat with that feeling as I drove home last night. And I’m sitting with it today. It still makes me uncomfortable – things that are unjust, unfair, unequal make me uncomfortable. And to be honest, I hope that never stops, because the moment I get too comfortable is the moment I stop caring, and I don’t plan to stop caring.

It makes me feel grateful, too. Grateful for my health. Grateful for clean water and a warm bed and my home and abundant nourishing food that is refrigerated. Grateful for the washing machine that spins my bedsheets as I write. Grateful for my children’s pediatrician, always available. Grateful for my safe neighborhood. Grateful for the school bus that picks up my daughter in the morning to take her to her wonderful school. Grateful for green space. Grateful for the community and culture and diversity I get to be a part of.

And grateful to be able to play my very small part to make things just a little bit more just, fair and equal.

the myth of perfect, or: you are not alone

GalFlying

I sat down to write yesterday, laptop on a pillow on my lap, in the armchair in my office space off the kitchen. The house was quiet and the birds sang to the spring outside. It took about 3 minutes before I surrendered and let my eyes close, because that is all they wanted to do. I wasn’t completely asleep, but I wasn’t completely awake either. Catnapping with my reading glasses on, laptop now closed on its pillow, half aware of how good it felt to just rest, half aware that I should be doing more with my precious time. I dozed for about 15 minutes, then went to take a walk around the block. That will wake me up, I thought. As I walked, I wondered why I was so tired at 11 o’clock in the morning. No answer came except, Just tired, no reason. No need to figure it out.

I’m going to be 44 in a month and a half. Not much different psychologically than 43, I am still officially middle aged. But I am aware of the process of aging in a way I don’t think I have been at other times in my life. The grays in my hair and the tiny lines around my eyes are not new, but their presence is in sharper focus, consistent. Sometimes I still get pimples, which feels like a cosmic joke, my body saying, Hey, at least you’re still a little bit of an adolescent. But what’s different at almost-44 is this: I don’t really trip out about it all very much anymore, not in the way I used to.

A wise friend who is now in his mid-seventies once told me – as I bemoaned the auto-immune challenges I have lived with for 20 years – that it is an illusion to think that it’s possible to attain perfect health while occupying a physical and very human body. Think about that: There is no such thing as perfect health. Bodies are machines, and machines get old and slow down and start acting up. And some act up long before they are supposed to – like my Tikva’s fragile little body that struggled so hard simply to get enough breath; like my friends who have courageously battled cancer in their thirties and forties.

It’s liberating, though, the idea that I don’t need to get to perfection because perfection doesn’t exist. Liberating to accept that I can still feel good – even thrive – within the container of an imperfect, fragile and slightly beat down body. I look at my 11-year-old daughter and see myself at her age, before the regular beat down of life had begun and I never even thought of the state of my health because it simply was. I think of that time and realize just how lucky I am that I could take for granted what is not always guaranteed – healthy and abundant food, warm clothing, shelter, safety, community, friends, family, love. Health.

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I used to search for solutions, grasp at ways to heal from all that ailed me, ways to achieve the mysterious perfect, radiant health I was convinced everyone else around me had attained. I haven’t given up on the idea of radiance, the idea of thriving. But I’ve let go of perfect. And I no longer attach my wellbeing to a specific way of eating-being-living. I get annoyed, now, at the thousands of messages all around that promise complete healing of fill in the blank if only you eat fill in the blankavoid fill in the blank and do fill in the blank every day, because if it worked for fill in the blank it will definitely work for you and me, guaranteed. I don’t trust it anymore, not simply because I’ve tried it all, but more because the only thing that’s been consistent for me no matter what magic bullet I’ve tried is that I get neurotic and obsessive and end up feel deprived because I can’t enjoy the things I love. I used to follow a doctor and author on Facebook who wrote about hormones and health for women. Once she posted on her feed the five things to stay away from in order to feel great and be healthy. They were: sugar, caffeine, gluten, dairy and alcohol. I had to laugh because… Really? Honestly, what is the point of life if you can’t enjoy chocolate and cheese? I stopped following her feed.

I can’t help but be in awe of just how fragile we are in these temporary vessels; how incredibly miraculous it is that so much works when it works; how impossibly difficult it can be when it doesn’t; and how every single one of us – when we are truly honest with ourselves and with each other – struggles with something. There have been stories out there lately, brave coming out stories where people of all ages write about their struggles with illness, sharing on Buzzfeed or HuffPost or Salon about what they have always kept private because they thought they were the only ones struggling – because we can feel so much shame about being sick. The thing is, there is no failure in struggling in our bodies or with our emotions, and there should be no shame. Our culture is afraid terrified of death, and so we shy away from looking illness straight-on. We deny it, we chase after the illusion of perfect health – the magic cure that will bring perfection – and we feel like failures when we don’t achieve it. We keep our illnesses to ourselves, we feel alone. Until one brave young woman posts a picture of her colostomy bag on Instagram, leading hundreds of other young people to come out publicly as courageously as she did; and hopefully some of the shame dissolves and we feel less alone in our fragility. Did you see them, those posts? I couldn’t take my eyes off them – these gorgeous young people who have struggled, some since childhood, with irritable bowel disease, a lifetime of hiding their shame and their challenges with a hidden illness while they struggled to simply feel well. And did you see the incredibly badass pictures of women baring their mastectomy scars; turning society’s shame on its ass, turning it into pride, into strength?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: The moment I have honestly and compassionately shared my own struggles with another person, I’ve let that person know that it is safe, acceptable and normal if they are struggling too. I’ve let them know that struggle is easier when you aren’t going through it alone. I’ve let them know that shame has no place where there is compassion.

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I am not an athlete. I’ve tried many things, some for extended periods of time – boxing, rock climbing, dance, pilates, yoga, resistance training, running – but I’m not someone who craves exercise and keeping at it is not where I am most disciplined. In spite of this, though, I still feel active. At 5’5″ and 118 pounds, I can lift my 28 pound son up and down the stairs with one arm, full laundry basket in the other. Don’t get me wrong. I am entirely capable of tripping myself out with plenty of I should exercise more, my legs are flabby, I should eat more leafy greens, the pimples are hormonal and I need to get my hormones in balance and eat less chocolate, I’m scared of what the medications I take might do to my body long-term, etc. etc. etc. All that goes along with the house is dirty and I need to mop, I should be writing every day instead of a few times a week, tomorrow I will be more patient when my children are whiny, I need to make more time to be outside, there’s nothing in the fridge for dinner, etc. etc. etc. I’m human and the nag of perfection still whispers in my ears too.

I try to be gentle, though – something I hear myself asking my friends on a regular basis: Are you being gentle with yourself? What did you do today that is good for you? I try to remember to praise myself for all I do, for all I am. I try to express gratitude for my health even when it feels tenuous. I thank my (flabby) legs for carrying me (and my son) up and down the stairs, for walking me around the block. I try to let myself nap in my chair if that is what my body needs, and I enjoy a cup of coffee on those mornings when my son decides to wake up and stay awake at 4:30am.

To my friends and those I don’t know who are struggling, who want nothing more than to feel better in your bodies, who are fighting for your lives, who are feeling in a deep place all the pain that is everywhere around us:

I honor you.

I honor your struggle.

I honor your wellbeing.

I honor your good days and your shitty ones.

I honor the shame you long to release.

I honor your deep desire to feel better.

I honor your perfect imperfection.