I had an interesting encounter several weeks ago. There’s a woman in our neighborhood who walks her dogs off the leash. They run up into people’s yards, but they pretty much stay with her. I have mixed feelings about dogs off leash because while I am a rule-follower, I also love to see dogs galavanting without a tether. My opinion is beside the point, however. Let me continue with the story.
We live in the neighborhoodiest neighborhood there is. We have sidewalks and cul-de-sacs and an HOA. We wave to each other as we walk and drive through the streets, even if we don’t know the person we are passing. The neighborhood is comprised of a couple of loops, so when I walk my dogs, I almost always see other people walking their dogs. We have a lovely park at the center of the neighborhood and I will sometimes go let my dogs chase frisbees and each other in the large field there.
So this woman (and sometimes her husband and neighbor and a 3rd dog) walks her dogs up our street. Our dogs are often out on our front porch where they have full view of the street. They bark at passing dogs, sometimes passionately. Occasionally, the noises will escalate until I fear injury or death is a possibility. This started happening about once a week or so. I would run out to the front porch to find my dogs growling and barking and snarling at this woman’s dogs who have run up into our side yard so they are barking back at my dogs from right below the porch. Forget that they are on my property...they are on my dog’s turf. Not cool.
So this has been happening for several months now. I always run out, bring my dogs in, grumbling under my breath (but loudly enough for the neighbors to *hopefully* hear about how rude it is to let your dogs harass other dogs on their own turf.) The five dogs fronting with each other sounds terrifying, so my adrenaline gets pumping and I’m all shaky and agitated.
Well, it might have gone on like this indefinitely. However, several weeks ago, the brawl sounds were even louder and more obnoxious. I ran outside and these dogs had run up our stairs and were barking face to face with my dogs at the gate to our front porch. I see snarls and spit flying from the muzzles and I start yelling at my dogs to come in, but they are drawn to the conflict because they want to protect their family and their place.
Now, I think if all these dogs could meet in a field and romp around, they’d be good buddies. So I have no beef with the dogs. But they were clearly escalating, and coming up to the entrance of our house seemed like a hard line to me.
I started by reacting the same way. Pulling my dogs inside while talking to them, “I know buddies. It’s so rude for those dogs to harass you. You’re my good dogs, good dogs. I don’t blame you for barking.”
This time, 4 adults were walking these three dogs. I can’t say whether or not anybody yelled an apology or not because we were all too busy trying to get our dogs away from the drama.
I went inside and sat back at the table with my girls. My hands were shaking lightly both from the adrenaline of dealing with agitated dogs and my anger that I had to. I was so mad; I had that knot in my stomach and I couldn’t eat.
“You know what,” I said to my girls. “I’m going to have to say something.”
“You’re going to go talk to them?” my daughters asked, looking worried.
“Yep. I have to tell them that I’m not okay with this.”
Several excruciatingly long minutes passed as I waited for the walking party to stroll up our street, around our cul de sac and back down the other side. When they got close, I walked down my steps. One of the dogs saw me and ran into the street to greet me. I said, “Hey buddy,” and gave him a scratch behind the ear before the owner called him back. Then, as calmly and as nicely as I could, I said, “Hey there. Can you please stop your dogs from running up to our yard when my dogs are outside?”
One of the women looked at me and said, “That’s the first time they’ve come up there.” She meant directly up to the porch, and yes, that was correct. However, it seemed inaccurate to me in the grand scheme.
So I replied, “Yes, but they’ve come up alongside the porch into our side yard a bunch of times.”
She was not pleased with me. I continued, “I don’t even mind when my dogs aren’t out, but when they are out, I’d really appreciate it if you’d keep your dogs from running up there.”
The man walking with her who I assume is her husband cut off her next comment by saying, “We’ll take care of it.”
“Okay, thank you.” And I walked back up my stairs and into the house.
At first, I felt dissatisfied by the interaction. Perhaps I was expecting an apology or at least a recognition of culpability. Or perhaps I wanted to have more of a conversation or debate. I wanted to walk away with a feeling of neighborly understanding. Instead, I felt like the bad guy. I was outnumbered, and I got the impression that this group, especially the woman who talked to me, felt entitled to let their dogs run wherever they wanted. I didn’t get any sense of compromise or empathy for my dogs who are clearly driven nuts by the intrusion of theirs.
Let me be clear. I don’t like confrontation. This was not the easiest route for me to take. My heart raced and I felt agitated after I came inside. I related the story to the girls and I sat with it for a while before it became okay.
As a life coach, I find a few common themes in what I work on with clients. To name a few, they are 1)Set and keep boundaries. 2)Examine your assumptions and expectations. 3)Show up in a way that allows you to sleep at night. And this situation highlights all three.
First of all, this was a boundary issue. Clearly, this woman and I have different boundaries when it comes to our dogs. I could get frustrated every time she breaks my boundary (and I was!), but I can’t blame her because she doesn’t even know the boundary exists. Now, sometimes we feel that boundaries are obvious. For example, I think it’s pretty obvious that if your dogs are running free on someone else’s property, getting the dogs that live there all agitated and riled up, you should stop allowing your dogs to instigate that. I’m not saying this facetiously; I’m using it as an example about how we can be so attached to our own perceptions that we fail to realize that someone might have a different opinion. And this was the case for certain. I believed I was right to my own detriment. Every time the dogs had a confrontation, I was getting angry and incredulous, but I wasn’t saying anything (except under my breath, which is passive aggressive). So my decision to talk to these people was a conscious decision to verbalize a boundary.
Secondly, I had to examine my own assumptions. In my anger, I was projecting all kinds of stuff onto these people. I caught myself thinking that they are rude and unneighborly. I thought, “they probably let their dogs poop in other people’s yards without picking it up, since they let them run free and all.” I have not witnessed this, so it is an unfair assumption. I don’t know them except in passing, so it is easy for me to make stuff up, and it is oddly validating, too, when I can villainize them. We see that happening so often in our world today. We disagree with one aspect of someone’s character or belief system and we invalidate the whole person just so that we don’t have to have a real conversation about our differences.
But honestly, if I look at what I can safely assume about this person, it’s this: Lives in Golden. Loves dogs. Takes long walks around the neighborhood. That’s it. And honestly, that’s a friendship classified that I would likely answer. We probably have more in common than not, so spiraling into hate town over one difference doesn’t serve me.
Finally, I had countless choices about what I could’ve done in this situation. Once I decided I was going to confront the group, I still had countless choices. I could yell. I could threaten. I could cry. I could argue or beg or demur. Or I could ask nicely.
And I’ll be honest; in the moment, the result of asking nicely wasn’t very satisfying. I was amped up and I think I almost wanted a fight. Or maybe I wanted some apologizing and groveling. All I got was a bit of attitude from the woman and a “we’ll take care of it” from the man.
That was over a month ago now, and I haven’t seen those dogs on my street since then. I can’t know what the other party is thinking about the whole interaction, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I am proud of how I showed up. I was civil and neighborly, but I verbalized a boundary and so far it has been respected.
This was a fairly small thing. Even so, it was difficult. It was a lot to process. I know that everyone (including me) is dealing with challenging situations that leave us with a choice about how we show up and how we verbalize our needs and boundaries. And the more personal it is, the harder this process will be. But it's worth it.
If you struggle with setting boundaries, you have to practice. If something isn’t sitting right with you or if you are feeling challenged by a situation in life, start with a conversation. Come from a place of calm. Decide what you ideally would like to happen and verbalize that. And then be okay with it. Rest in the knowledge that you showed up with honesty and best intentions. If the conversation falls on deaf ears or if a verbalized boundary keeps getting broken, then that becomes a new decision point. But you have to start somewhere, and it could be as simple as a short and honest chat.
Last week was a little rough. My youngest daughter is brilliant...funny and smart and socially adept. She has always been the more organized of my two children. If we lost something around the house, we would say, “Ask Cici!” and more often than not, she would know exactly where to find the lost object. When she started preschool, without being asked, she would lay out her outfit for the next day in the shape of a flat little human, often complete with jewelry and other accessories. Recently, though, she has regressed. She’s not a morning person, so simply waking up can be challenging. She eats extremely slowly, which is a problem with every meal, but it’s especially frustrating at breakfast when our time is limited. The worst problem in the mornings, however, is socks. First of all, we have a very active sock monster in our house, so finding matching socks is nigh impossible. But Cici is also extremely picky about her socks. They can’t be too big, too small and definitely not too itchy. If the toe seam is too intrusive, forget about it. If they slump down in her shoes, she’s been known to sit down and cry about it. So even on the rare mornings when we are running on time and getting out the door without issue, socks become the bane of our routine and we spend precious minutes running around the house trying to find socks that fit. Then we are all flustered and annoyed and snippy and the morning is off to a less than ideal start.
Monday of last week was particularly bad. While I don’t think my daughter was consciously trying to make us late and drive me to the nuthouse, it certainly seemed that way. Everything was a struggle and all of my reminders and time checks fell on deaf ears. The result was a conflict-ridden morning and a walk to school in which I lectured about halfway and we all felt crummy about it, including my older daughter who had been on top of things that morning but got caught in the slow moving wake of her younger sister. “We are only as fast as our slowest person,” I said with a pointed look at Cici, who was by this time feeling extremely sorry for herself and visibly pouting and yes...walking even more slowly...to show it.
Not a pretty picture and certainly not one of my shining mom moments. At the door of the school, we gave hugs and said sorry and promised to figure things out. In fact, as part of my lecture series on pleasant mornings, I asked for ideas about what might work. We came up with three: 1)Set out clothes--including SOCKS--the night before. 2)No books at the breakfast table. 3)Cici will take it upon herself to check her attitude in the morning and try to be more pleasant upon waking.
I’m currently taking a Family Life Coaching class, and after that rough morning, I met with my peer group. Our task was to take turns coaching each other on a family life issue. I decided to bring our chaotic mornings to the group. It helped to process and solidify my plan of action. My coach agreed that putting in some more systems was a good place to start. I felt better and ready for the next morning.
Tuesday started well. Cici woke in a good mood, put on her pre-decided outfit with socks, ate her breakfast quickly and was on track to leave on time. At some point between taking her dishes to the sink and going to the bathroom, our well-laid plan started to unravel. I was again doing time checks and Cici was again mostly ignoring them. At one point, she was sitting on the kitchen floor and it seemed to me that she was brushing one strand of hair at a time.
Try as I might, I once again lost my cool. Cue the replay tape of the previous morning walk...lecture, pouting, grumpy faces, no fun, hug at the door, guilt and frustration for the rest of the day.
What the heck? Wasn’t our plan a good one? Hadn’t I done everything I could do to set us up for success? And yet....the morning ended in shambles.
What now? I know and I often tell my clients that if you keep doing the same things you will get the same results. So even though I thought the plan should work, it didn’t.
“I’m out.” I told my husband. “I’m done micromanaging the mornings. I’ll wake them up and make breakfast, but that’s it. They can tell me when they are ready to leave.”
I threatened to set an alarm to completely remove myself; that’s how done I was. But once my annoyance softened a bit, I decided I would continue to wake them up gently. I also made a chart that outlined the timeline of the morning. 7:00 Wake up. 7:15 Breakfast, etc. I showed it to the girls, told them the plan, felt a bit dubious that it would work, but knew it was worth a try.
Can I tell you what a lovely morning we had? Cici was a bit hard to wake up and she wasn’t exactly a ray of sunshine, but she came down dressed, ate breakfast, did what she needed to do and we were out the door at 7:45 sharp. I even sat down and had breakfast with them. We talked and smiled and I didn’t feel the need to speak one sentence of lecture.
The next morning was the same. It had snowed, and we even left early enough to swing by the sledding hill for a try. We made it to school on time and with our sanity.
What’s the lesson here? Well, first of all, it reminds me of one of the golden rules of education: “Keep standards high.” If you raise the standards and ask the students to step up, most of the time, they will. Likewise, I put more responsibility on my child and she stepped up. This is a bit counterintuitive, right? Doesn’t it make more sense to help her out and soften her load so that she can get out the door? Well, that didn’t work. She became reliant and then ultimately resistant to my frequent reminders. On the contrary, when I stepped back and gave her some independence, she took it upon herself to get everything done and we all benefited.
Secondly, I had to be creative. On Tuesday, I had a plan in place that felt right. I was confident it would work. And it didn’t. Part of me felt like a failure. How can I be a life coach if I can’t even help my own children get to school on time and in good spirits? (Yes, that thought actually crossed my mind). After our second crummy morning on Tuesday, I was stumped. I couldn’t think of anything else I could do to assist the situation. I had to shift my whole mindset to decide to walk backwards on my morning involvement. Again, it wasn’t intuitive, but it made all the difference. I had to change it up to get a different outcome.
I do not share this to brag or flaunt superior parenting skills. Believe me, for every moment of success, I have multiple moments that felt like failure. Parenting is the hardest and sometimes most demoralizing job on the planet, and I say this understanding full well that my children will someday be teenagers, so I ain’t seen nothing yet.
But I think that one thing we understand better as parents than we do as human beings is that failure does not mean we stop trying. As parents, we have a bad day or show poor judgment with our kids and we don’t give up being parents because we can’t. Fortunately, our obligation to and emotional bond with our children ensures that (most of us) will keep parenting despite the fights, despite the trainwrecks of mornings, despite the public meltdowns. We keep doing it and eventually, (most of) our children become respectable adults.
As parents, we see that each day is a new day. Heck, each moment is a new moment to try something different and to be a better parent. If we could translate this to our health, relationships and business endeavors, imagine how that “I have no choice but to keep trying” mentality could serve us! Didn’t get your workout in? Try again tomorrow. Ate 5 donuts in one sitting? Eat better tomorrow. Failed to land a client? Reach out to another client tomorrow.
Even if you aren’t parents, I imagine you can relate to this. In what areas of your life do you try again no matter what? In what areas do you give up too easily? Where does failure become a lesson, and where does failure become an excuse to beat yourself up? We do not treat all life endeavors equally. Some of us are great business people but struggle with intimate relationships. Some of us have great relationships but don't put effort into self care.
Take a moment to think about an area of your life where you have let perceived failure slow you down or halt you completely. What are you not doing because you are convinced you can’t? And then think about an area of your life where you have experienced success. How did you have to think, feel and act to reach those triumphs? How can you apply that process to the weaker areas of your life?
You have the capacity to be successful in all areas of your life. It just takes some perseverance, creativity and thought control.
A few weeks ago, I was having a session with a mentor coach as part of my training in Equine Facilitated Coaching. We were talking about something fairly benign...how to describe what I do for marketing purposes or how to pinpoint my target audience...and I started crying. Hard. I tried to swallow it and pretend I wasn’t having this upsurge of fear and doubt and anxiety, but it was too powerful. It had to come out. So I sat there in a public coffee shop across from a woman I admire and became a blubbering mess. I said, “I’m not sure what’s happening. I don’t know why I’m crying.” But it turns out, I did know.
You see, my life coaching practice is just me. I started a business and I am my own boss. As awesome as that sounds, I don’t have anyone to impose deadlines or assign projects. I don’t have a marketing team or an accountant or a secretary. Every aspect of the business is my responsibility and if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.
Well guess what? A lot doesn’t get done. Even though I’ve never missed a deadline in school or at work when I had to answer to a boss, when it comes to being accountable to myself, I don’t trust myself to get the job done. I hate that. I know I CAN do it, but I want to know I WILL do it. In that moment in the coffee shop, when we started talking about something in the business that should be fairly easy but sounded really hard, all the doubts and distrust and inconsistency surfaced. I want it to be easy. In fact, I realized in a flash that when things get difficult in my career endeavors, I start to look for a new shiny object to throw my passion at. When the reality doesn’t match up with the fantasy (and let’s be honest, it never does), I find my inner voice whispering that maybe it’s not meant to be or maybe there’s something better out there for me. This only happens in this part of my life. I’m totally trustworthy when it comes to fitness. I know I will work out hard and eat well and only indulge in moderation. And I’ve been married for 17 years and I’m committed to staying so even though it can be hard work sometimes. But with my career, I get stuck so easily, and honestly, I’m tired of it.
Here’s what I know: I want meaningful work. I want to leave a positive mark on my little corner of the world. And here’s something else I know, I believe in life coaching and equine-facilitated coaching. This is work that I’m passionate about, work that’s meaningful and powerful, work that ticks all my boxes for what a job should be. Yet the fear of not being able to push through the hard stuff to get it going threatens to stop me in my tracks. In that moment of self discovery, I felt so vulnerable and maybe a little ashamed. However, at the same time, I felt like I had opened a box inside myself, exposing this ugly nugget of resistance that I had denied was even there. Now that I see it, I can smash it. As I say so often in my life coaching sessions, awareness is always the first step.
I would’ve been more embarrassed about my meltdown if my coach hadn’t been so kind and so skillful at holding the space for me to work through that explosion of self doubt. But she was, and I worked through it and I’m better because of it...one more testament to the power of coaching.
Here’s what I’ve done as a result of that conversation:
-I sat down and pushed through the stuff I was hesitating to do out of fear or doubt. I found a place--an awesome place!--to do the equine work and I had the conversation around facility and horse fees. And guess what, it wasn’t so bad.
-I settled on a name and worked with an artist to create a logo.
-I defined my rates and put them on paper. Again, not so bad.
-I found an insurance policy. This was another small obstacle that I had made into a huge wall, but once I sat down and just did it, I stepped over the wall and moved on.
-I’ve started waking up earlier to write. I was already waking up early to meditate and keep a gratitude journal, but now I’ve added 15 minutes of writing. I listened to a podcast that recommended this. Just start a little bit of whatever creative endeavor you haven’t been making time for, and you will unlock a part of yourself that would’ve stayed shut up otherwise. Sometimes I write blog entries; sometimes I work on a coach yourself workbook I’m writing; sometimes I toy around with marketing materials. I’ve only been doing this for a couple weeks but I’ve written pages that I wouldn’t have gotten done while sleeping. And it’s getting easier to just write each morning, even when I don't feel like it.
-I’ve started to mind my mind, especially when I come up against resistance. I know what I want to do and I know how important it is to me. When I start to make excuses or feel those fears, I take note and I ask myself, “Now what is this all about?” That simple pause and question does wonders. Just noticing my attempts to self-sabotage (and we all have them) takes the power away and allows me to reroute my thoughts to more productive ones.
-Most importantly, I’ve started doing the equine-facilitated work. I’ve had a few clients. Even though I know I have a lot to learn, I’m doing it. And I love it, just as I love working with my current life coaching clients.
My trust in myself to get the job done is not where I want it to be, but I’m building it. From that moment when I felt so exposed and brittle, I have grown and changed and come out stronger. As uncomfortable as it felt to face that truth about myself, it opened up a door to a different way of being, and I have walked through it. So when you come up against a moment like that, try not to resist it. Feel the discomfort and ask yourself, “Now what is this all about?” Lean into the answer and really allow yourself to learn and grow.
I did something this weekend and I want to share it with you right away. I am feeling equal parts excited and scared and I’m afraid if I let it simmer, the scared feelings will bubble up and take over. So I’m capitalizing on the excitement and putting it out there.
Yesterday I graduated from the HERD Institute with a certification in EFL&C (Equine-Facilitated Learning and Coaching) after attending a 3-day intensive at the Medicine Horse in Boulder, CO. This was the culminating event of a course which also included two on-line modules.
The weekend, while not easy or relaxing, has me feeling like I’ve just returned from a retreat and consequently, I’m having a hard time finding the words to write about it. I was one of 5 students led by an amazing facilitator and teacher. We all came from different walks of life, but we bonded quickly over our love of horses and our excitement about the work. We spent three long and intense days together. We had to step into new and challenging roles. We often felt clunky and uncertain. In a nutshell, we were vulnerable, but we were met with support and authenticity and therefore, growth happened. I can’t remember the last time I learned so much in such a short amount of time. I also know I have made some life-long friends.
You are probably wondering what “the work” is. In EFL&C, we partner with horses to create a safe space for participants to experience connection and personal growth. What has drawn me to horses since childhood is at the heart of the power of this work. Horses are large and sometimes scary animals, but they are also sensitive and sentient beings who respond to us energetically, physically, and emotionally. In many ways, horses reflect who we are and allow us to move forward toward our better selves. The way we come into a space has a direct effect on how the horse responds to us and as a result, we can learn from our interactions with horses in ways we can’t in more traditional settings.
Participants of EFL&C do not ride and do not need any previous horse experience. A session can be as simple as observing a herd in a field. It might include working with a horse in a round pen or grooming. Ultimately, the activity is just a loose framework within which a relationship is developed. The relationship is what is important in the HERD model. In fact, HERD stands for Human-Equine Relational Development. So unlike some other models for Equine-Facilitated activities which can be more objective oriented, the HERD model is focused on what can be learned through our relational development, starting with the horse and further applied to real life.
For me, horses are a natural addition to my coaching practice. First of all, I love them and want more time around them. But beyond that selfish motivation, they are powerful partners to affect positive change. What I believe in my heart was richly illustrated this weekend. By nature, horses live in the present moment and react authentically. Working with horses might seem novel, but the benefits are REAL and lasting. Even our group of experienced horse people made discoveries that resonated into the bigger picture of our lives. During our practice sessions, many of us were moved to tears as the horses taught us these important truths.
It’s probably pretty obvious why I am excited about this. Horses! Coaching! Positive Change! What could be better?!?! I feel like I am on the verge of finding my life’s work, and my whole body is abuzz.
So why am I equally scared? As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I feel like I have this new-found power that I want to bring to the world. I want people to have these experiences. But to do so, I have a lot of hard work ahead of me. I need to find a fitting facility, establish a contract for a working relationship, screen horses for suitability, obtain insurance, create a new business plan, market myself, find clients and set the scene for participants. And then, only after all that, can the work begin. I want to start right now! Staring ahead at so many unknowns is terrifying and it brings up all sorts of doubts and insecurities. But I am determined and I feel passionate about this work.
That’s why I’m sharing this with you. I want the excitement to be my primary emotion. I want you to hold me accountable. If you see me, ask me how it’s going. If you think of me, shoot me a quick message to see what steps I’ve taken to make this happen.
I know from my coach training and practice that writing down a goal, sharing it with people and putting your intention out into the universe all increase the chance of success. So there it is. I’m going to do this. And I will keep you all posted as the journey unfolds.
In the meantime, if you want to move forward with your big ideas, I’m taking new clients. Contact me and let’s make it happen.
A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at a lactation support group. In a room filled with a dozen or so mothers and their babies, I gave a talk on mindfulness. The irony of this topic in this setting (picture babies everywhere--sleeping, nursing, rolling around on blankets, crying, gurgling) was not lost on me. The room was loud and full of distractions. Most of the women were first time mothers, and many of them were tired and overwhelmed. Still, I got through the information and passed on some strategies that I hope they can use at home. We even basked in a few moments of quiet. It was lovely.
I did not love the infant phase. I loved my infants, of course, but I struggled. When I had just one infant, I remember when she would go down for a nap, I knew my time was limited (20, maybe 30 minutes) and I would be paralyzed realizing that I desperately needed to shower, eat, sleep, clean, exercise, and call people, but that I probably didn’t have time to do any of it. When I had my 2 year old and 2nd infant, I was a full time stay at home mom. I remember telling my husband that I was stuck in a full time job that I hated. As my daughters got older and more independent, I started to enjoy motherhood more consistently. Now, with two girls who just finished 2nd and 4th grade, I feel like I am in my element. This is the sweet spot. I do not miss the baby phase, but I know I will miss the school-age phase.
So I was completely caught off guard when I walked into that room full of moms and babies and almost immediately got emotional. I was taken back to those days when my oldest was tiny and my body was not mine. I remember the anxiety...if the baby was making weird noises when sleeping, I worried about every gurgle and hiccup. But when she would go silent...well, that was even more terrifying.
And perhaps I had more reason to be anxious than some. When Aleida was born, she came a full month early. To say we weren’t quite prepared is an understatement, but we were relieved when she came out small but fully cooked. She didn’t need time in the ICU and she was absolutely precious. We were basking in her loveliness on day 2 in the hospital, when the pediatrician came in to check my perfect daughter. She told me she heard a heart murmur, but I didn't despair. "Lots of babies are born with murmurs that go away in a day or so, so I'll be back to check her tomorrow," she'd said.
My husband, Dave, was a resident in Emergency Medicine at the time. He listened to her heart, heard the murmur, but didn't seem worked up, so I calmly waited for the next check up.
On day 3, the pediatrician still heard the murmur, so she ordered an echocardiogram. The technician came in with a big machine and ran a wand over my baby as she lay sleeping on my chest. Dave was watching intently; he had some training in these mysterious images, after all. I just watched my daughter and occasionally glanced at the screen or my husband to see if I could make sense of anything. I couldn't.
The technician, knowing Dave was a doctor, said, "I can't really tell you what I'm seeing. You'll have to wait until the doc looks at the images," but he proceeded to point out major landmarks anyway. Words were tossed around between the tech and my husband that made little sense to me, but piqued just enough worry to raise my own heart rate. When the procedure was over, I asked Dave what he knew.
"Nothing really," he said. "It could be *insert gibberish words* and it could not be. We'll have to wait and see what the doctor says." I know now, he was protecting me. He knew that our little baby had a hole in her heart.
Those gibberish words were actually "tetralogy of Fallot." For a while, I thought they were saying "tetralogy of flow" which made sense since we're talking about the heart. But no, Fallot is the guy who defined the condition. Tetralogy refers to 4 key anatomical features of the condition, but my understanding is that only 2 of them matter. 1. A hole between the left and right ventricles. 2. A narrowing of the pulmonary valve. In a nutshell, oxygenated blood can mix with deoxygenated blood, meaning that not enough oxygen gets taken throughout the system. In an even smaller nutshell, this means babies can turn blue.
Our baby was not blue. She wasn't even purplish. She was pink and rosy and beautiful. The doctors called her "mildly affected." She had the same oxygen levels in her blood as any other baby. You looked at her and you had no idea that she had a congenital heart defect.
But she needed surgery. Open heart surgery. Some babies with this condition come out blue and have to rush into the operating room. We were "lucky" because we had time to let her grow. We started by going to the cardiologist every 3 weeks to check her stats. We watched for "blue spells." We waited and let get strong. We enjoyed her and forgot that there was anything wrong. Truly, as far as heart conditions go, this was a best-case scenario. She was otherwise perfectly healthy. We discovered the condition via the murmur- not a "blue spell" (can you imagine how scary THAT would be if you weren't expecting it?). We were a family with the means and resources and attitude necessary to get her the required care. We had good health insurance. Once she had the surgery, she'd be fine. Other than regular follow up appointments with the cardiologist throughout life, she’d have no limitation to her activities. Shaun White- the Olympic snowboarder- had this condition. So Aleida can be an Olympian if she wants to.
Still...open-heart surgery? On a baby? My baby. It took awhile for me to come to terms with the idea. But I had to. And I had to accept a few truths to get there. First, there is no known cause of this. It is congenital, but not hereditary. Secondly, this didn't define her. She was beautiful and healthy. Her heart needed fixing, but until then, she's just a normal (well...exceptionally adorable and smart and perfect) baby.
Of course I cried when I realized what had to happen to fix my baby's heart. I remember saying to Dave, "Now that I've met her, I wouldn't exchange her for a baby without this problem. I mean, she's pretty perfect, except for this hole in her heart."
I remember his exact response: “She’s pretty perfect with it.”
* * * * * *
Obviously, there’s a lot more to this story. Aleida had surgery at 3.5 months. The doctor, a British doc who specialized in pediatric cardiac surgery, assured us that he did this exact procedure on walnut-sized hearts on a daily basis. The scariest day of my life was just another day at the office for him.
And honestly, now that my heart-defect baby is a tall-for-her-age 10 year old who has a black belt and can fit into my shoes, it all seems like a long-gone bad dream, another life, almost like something that happened to somebody else.
Every once in a while, though, like when I’m surrounded by tired mothers and adorable babies, I am reminded of that time in my life. I’m taken back to the uncertainty, the fear and the agony of handing my 3 month old over to the nurse who would prep her for open-heart surgery. I’m taken back to that place and I am overcome with emotion and gratitude for my healthy, imaginative, sensitive, active child who was once a baby with a faulty heart.
Why tell this story? I’m telling you this story because it is a good reminder that all things pass. In that room full of moms, some were overwhelmed, many exhausted, but all of them clearly loving their babies despite the challenges. They reflected an earlier version of me, and the passage of time hit me harder than expected.
Remember this: The story line you are living right now, whether good or bad, will eventually be a closed chapter in your book of life. So if it’s good, enjoy it. Be grateful. Be present and savor it. If it’s not so good, honor that. Feel the feels and look for support and positivity where you can find it. Be present and know that all the ups and downs are a normal part of the human experience. No matter what is going on in your life right now, you will eventually look back as a wiser version of yourself.
Today, while I was running errands, I picked up a box of Bridge Mix in the check out line. As a personal rule, I don’t give into impulse buys, but I grabbed it on a whim. I took a picture and sent it to my sister with a text that said, “I bought this JUST because it reminded me of mom.”
My mother died over 16 years ago--the same year I got married. I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do justice to either the sadness of losing her or the elation of being in love. I couldn’t wallow in either feeling for too long; instead, it was a seesaw from one extreme to the other and back again. As I rode those peaks and valleys, I learned many lessons about what it means to be alive...what it means to be human.
Each year when Mother's Day approaches, I subconsciously think more about my mom (thanks Hallmark), and I usually have an a-ha moment when I realize it’s happening...like the unchecked urge to buy bridge mix. Sometimes these thoughts turn to grief, acute and surprising. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve often reflected on the contrast between the joys of being a mother and the emptiness left by the loss of my own.
Sometimes, I want to be sad. I will go take out my stash of pictures of my mom and look at them until I cry. I don’t want to pretend that it’s okay that she’s gone. I don’t want to pretend that it isn’t a total injustice that she never got to be Grandma June (she would’ve been GREAT at it) and that my girls will only know her through pictures and stories.
This week, in addition to the coming of Mother’s Day, we also lost a family dog (RIP Loki) and learned of yet another fatal school shooting just a few towns over. The weight of the world is heavy, my friends, and I want to feel the weight of it. I want to miss my mom, grieve our dog, and feel angry and scared about the violence in our schools.
And you know what? That is OKAY. I can feel sad and mad and helpless while still being grateful and present and loving. We tend to think of emotions as good or bad, and sadness, grief and anger come down hard in the bad column. We also tend to think of emotions as mutually exclusive. If we are angry, we can’t also be happy. We can’t be grieving and grateful at the same time.
What if we change our perspective? What if we just allow ALL emotions? What if we name them and wallow in them for a bit? What if we learn from them and use them to grow and change ourselves and the world for the better? What if we recognize and honor the complex web of feelings we are caught up in on any given day...in any given moment?
Because here’s the thing, if I pretend I’m not sad...if I hide from my feelings of grief or frustration, they don’t go away. They fester and arise when I am wholly unprepared, often converting to a more volatile emotion, erupting as anger or despair. Once I am angry or feeling helpless, I am useless. If I am in denial, I am not able to move forward. If I am repressing, I am not processing. And when I’m stuck, I’m not able to honor anyone’s memory or work toward positive change.
What can we do then, when these emotions come up? Here are some strategies to try:
Try these strategies, but also remember that you shouldn’t deny yourself the chance to honor all the feels. You are a human being and the full spectrum of emotions is normal and healthy. Take a moment to allow the pain. Remember that it will pass and you will grow.
One of my "other jobs" is parent lead of a supplemental science program at my daughters' school. I organize curriculum and wrangle parent volunteers to bring 5 two-hour hands-on science sessions to each classroom throughout the year. It's a fun and rewarding volunteer gig that is loved by students, parents and teachers.
A few weeks ago, I spent a morning working with some of the other parents to make training videos and gather materials for the different centers in our final unit. The theme is "Bird Songs" which is very apt for this time of year, when spring is springing, flowers are popping up, and birds are more active and talkative.
Later in the same day, I was out for a walk and I started noticing all the different bird songs. I was able to recognize some of the calls...the slow whistle of the chickadee and the melodic twittering of the little finches. I walked along, smiling and basking in the chorus around me.
Would I have noticed the birds if we hadn't just been creating the materials? Maybe. Would I have spent as much time listening and trying to decipher the different birds? Definitely not.
We are bombarded by stimuli at all times, more than our brain can process in any given moment, so our brain chooses what to notice...like a spotlight that only shines on one small part of a large room. What we don't realize is how much our thinking and patterns affect what our spotlight illuminates.
It's no secret that I am a horse person, so I notice horses every where we go. I notice if they look healthy, what breed they might be, how they are interacting, etc. My husband (not a horse person), will occasionally point out a field of horses, but usually just to joke by yelling, "Look...cows!!!"
My sister, who is a fire protection and safety engineer, notices sprinkler systems in buildings and notes where all the emergency exits are.
This idea has far reaching implications. If you harbor a negative mindset about yourself or the world, you will find plenty of evidence for that. If you think, "I'm clumsy," you will notice every time you trip or drop something, disregarding all the times you walked safely across the room or moved an object from A to B uneventfully. If you think, "People suck," you will interpret all of your interactions to prove that correct.
Likewise, if you are generally optimistic and good-spirited, you can have those feelings validated as well. You will take more notice of smiling faces and acts of kindness. If you think you are generally capable, you will be more likely to laugh it off when you trip over the curb.
If you don't believe me, try it. Start with something impersonal. Go on a walk and decide that you will turn your awareness to the flowers. My girls and I did this on the walk to school this morning and we saw dozens of new plants making their way above ground. Have fun and be creative. Pick a color and notice all the objects of that color. Sit on your porch and take note of how many different sounds you hear. Listen to a song and pay special attention to the drum beat or the instrument of your choice. Practice guiding your awareness so that you can start to apply the technique to the really important stuff, like your overall view of yourself, or people, or life's possibilities.
Once you've practiced on some easy stuff, take it to the next level. Choose a mantra and see what support you can find for it. Start simple: "Today is a good day" or "I see a lot of beauty in the world" or "I have a lot to be thankful for" or "I like where I live." Choose a mantra at the beginning of the day. Set an alarm at the top of the hour to remind you of your mantra. Repeat it often. At night, make a list of all the evidence you found throughout the day to support it. You will be AMAZED by what you notice!
You will also be amazed to realize what some of your default awareness-changing thoughts are...especially about yourself. Start to listen to your self talk and analyze how it affects your observations and interactions throughout the day. Are you generally kind to or hard on yourself? What thoughts do you validate by seeking out evidence? How is your spotlight helping you grow or limiting you?
One of the best things about running the science program is the learning and excitement that happens as we complete hands on activities with the students. Occasionally, a child will see me and stop me when I am at school to tell me something that relates to our latest unit. "I heard a crow outside my window today!" If more children stop and listen to the birds because of the science program, it makes me exceedingly happy. If one or two people reading this take some time to evaluate and improve their spotlight of awareness, then the work is well worth it. Change your thinking--change your awareness--change your life!
I did something terrible last week. I'm talking stuff-of-my-worst-nightmares terrible. Even though it was an accident, I have relived it multiple times in my mind.
My husband and I were enjoying a mutual day off, so we decided to tackle the garage. We put on old clothes, grabbed some trash bags, and let his parents' old dog, Loki, out to hang out with us while we cleaned and organized. You might remember that my word of the year is DECLUTTER, so I was excited to complete yet another project. We cleared piles, threw away a LOT of stuff, loaded up give aways, listed the old grill and an old bike on the local yard sale page, put gear in its proper place, cleared surfaces and organized shelves. It was glorious. And honestly, with the two of us working together and in the zone, the progress was quick and satisfying.
The final step was sweeping and spraying down the garage floor, which had built up a year's worth of dirt, leaves and gravel. We grabbed our keys. Dave pulled out his car first. A few minutes later, I climbed in my car and drove out. What happened in the moment is a blur. I remember sensing something was wrong. I heard some sounds that didn't make sense. I looked up and saw my husband gesturing wildly in the rear view. His expression brought me--literally--to my senses, and I realized with complete horror that I had run over the dog. (This is the part where you cringe...)
I jumped out and ran around the car. Loki was standing and Dave was with him, checking him over. I'm embarrassed to admit that I failed the "will you keep your cool in an emergency" test...because I absolutely DID NOT keep my cool. I was sobbing and hysterical. I could barely breathe, let alone be of any help in the assessment.
Loki was and is fine. Miraculously, he was laying directly in front of the car, so while the car ran over him, the wheels did not. I think it also worked to his advantage that he is old and deaf, so he probably stayed in his flat, soaking up the sun position until he got brushed awake by the undercarriage. I took him to the vet anyway, and she verified that he seemed fine, checked that he had complete range of motion in all limbs, gave me some warning signs to look for in case he had any internal injuries and sent us home with some pain medication should he wake up stiff and sore.
I gave Loki everything he wanted that day...extra treats, lots of cuddles and a bath. I called my mother-in-law to confess what I had done. Even though we have a loving, trust-filled relationship, and even though I know she is a rational person, I was still terrified to tell her. She took it extremely well, of course, and even sympathized with me for the the trauma it had caused. Still, I feel embarrassed and even ashamed that it happened. You have probably gathered that I love all animals, and causing any pain to them is the LAST thing I want to do.
This incident has also highlighted an unsavory habit of my human brain. Loki is fine...unscathed, in fact. He is back home with my in-laws and living the good life. I, on the other hand, cannot stop thinking about "what if?" What if he had been positioned just a few inches off center and I had broken one of his legs? I won't go into all the other scenarios that have crossed my mind because I'm sure you can imagine them and honestly, they are too dark to write about on this blog. The point is...the dog is FINE. Why does my mind insist on continuing to ask..."but what if it had been worse?"
The flip side of this habit might be even more pervasive. Something bad happens, often something we don't even have control over, and our minds always go to...but if only it hadn't happened. We bemoan our past decisions. We regret what we've said or failed to say. "If only I had taken the other job." "If only I had communicated with my spouse better." "If only I had stayed home that night." "If only I had ordered the chicken instead of the fish."
Do you see how futile and dangerous this thinking is? So much mental and emotional energy gets wasted on "what might've been." But here's the thing...the idea of what might've been is a false notion. There is only one path and you are walking on it. This does not require a belief in fate or destiny or God's will. This just requires a lack of belief in time travel. As nice as it would be to have a Groundhog Day scenario, the truth is, we only get to live each moment one time. You can let this idea paralyze you or you can find some freedom in it. You CAN'T change the past. Spending your time thinking about shoulda, coulda, wouldas is stealing valuable energy and creativity from more productive efforts of your mind. If you are stuck in your past, you cannot be enjoying the present or making strides toward a better future.
So what's the takeaway here? What's the strategy when past events come back to haunt us and taunt us with "what if...?"
If you have ever tried meditating, you know that it is the constant practice of catching your mind drifting into thoughts and nonjudgmentally bringing yourself back to your breath and the moment. This is not easy. I doubt I've ever gone even a minute without getting distracted by my internal racket. Thought awareness isn't just for meditation, however. The first step is to recognize when you dive into "what if" or "if only" thinking and gently remind yourself that the past is the past and therefore out of your control.
If the worst did not happen (like in my story above, thank goodness), take a moment to be grateful. Yes, it could've been much worse. But it wasn't. Instead of allowing my mind to imagine a much sadder conclusion, I practice redirecting my thoughts toward gratitude and awareness. I am so grateful that Loki is alive and uninjured and will live many more days to annoy me with his begging. And I am more aware. When I go to the barn, I know there's a cat who has a habit of laying under cars. Before the Loki accident I didn't always think to check before driving away. Now, I always peek under my car to make sure no critters are napping there.
If, on the other hand, you are regretting a bad outcome and find yourself thinking "if only it had gone differently," you might have to dig a little deeper to cultivate any gratitude. What did you learn from the experience? How did that experience shape who you've become? Is there a silver lining to be found? If you struggle to find anything positive, you can still focus on two important ideas: First of all, you CANNOT go back in time. What's done is done. There is a freedom there if you allow it. Since you cannot change the event itself, how can you focus your efforts on what you CAN change? Do you need to apologize to somebody or have a conversation about it? Can you improve safety to prevent a similar outcome? Can you share what you've learned to help others avoid the same result? Can you journal about it or seek therapy to help you process? Can you allow it to be part of who you are without defining you?
Secondly, you can change. People CAN change. Focusing on the past can be helpful if you do so consciously and with purpose. If your negative outcome was your own doing, how can you move on so that you are not beholden to the badness? How can you avoid repeat behaviors or vicious cycles? If your negative outcome was beyond your control, if you are dealing with loss or illness or abuse for instance, the goal is still to focus on what you can control. How do you want to show up during the struggles? What steps can you take to care for yourself and find instances (no matter how small) of joy? What meaning are giving to these events and how can you change your thinking so that it serves you better?
It is remarkably easy to be drawn into the "what ifs" and "if onlys." However, with mindful practice, you can catch yourself and reroute or reframe into more productive thinking. If you'd like to learn more about doing this in your own life, contact me to schedule a trial session.
Wednesday morning, I woke to the following message: In collaboration with other Denver-metro districts, all Jeffco Public Schools will be closed today due to ongoing safety concerns.
In short, an 18-year-old woman reportedly obsessed with the Columbine shooting (the 20th anniversary of which is on Saturday) made threats to some local schools, causing a lockdown of a handful of schools on Tuesday, and complete closure of 7 large districts affecting 600,000+ students on Wednesday.
After the message sunk in, I looked outside and gazed upon a beautiful spring day. Birds called in the trees and the sun was rising behind one of the mesa top mountains that frame my town. I thought about my girls who were still blissfully sleeping. This would be much harder to explain than a snow day.
I remember exactly where I was when the news of the Columbine shooting took hold of the country. It was shocking then...the first massive school shooting. Little did we know what would follow, that similar stories would become mere blips on our radar...that due to desensitization and/or the need for self-preservation we would be unable to give each tragic event the emotional energy it deserved.
What do you do when the weight of the world feels too heavy? When the helplessness overcomes you? When your lack of control over outside circumstances tightens like a vice around your chest?
For me, Wednesday required constant practice at being aware of what I do have control over. And despite the hard conversations and troubled state of the world, I wanted to make the surprise day off the memory that stuck with my girls. I couldn't control the outcome of the manhunt, but I could control the outcome of my family's day.
It didn't take long for me to decide to stay off social media and the news. The anger and fear, while wholly justified, was already leading to emotionally-charged posts and disagreements about everything from how much to tell the kids to whether the school closures were warranted to how gun laws needed to change. This is not a parenting blog although I was acutely aware of how many decisions I was making about what kind of parent I wanted to be. Likewise, this is not a political post because I am a life coach and this has surpassed any political disagreement. We cannot persuade our way out of this situation. We need a complete and cultural paradigm shift, beyond party lines, beyond us vs them. But Wednesday, with the fear and uncertainty surrounding the situation, I couldn't even think about that. The weight of the world had settled firmly on my shoulders.
As I explained to my children the reason they were not going to school, the weight piled on a bit more. As I considered a threat that would cause the closure of 7 large districts, I felt the weight bear down. When they found the suspect dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound, I did not feel relief or consolation, just another layer of heavy sadness and confusion.
My husband was not working on Wednesday, and we had planned to attack some long-awaited house projects. I also had a long to-do list for Golden Life Coaching, but with the kids home and the weight of the world settling in, I knew we couldn't just move forward as planned. Projects could wait. Making this day a happy memory could not.
We loaded up the dogs and headed to one of our favorite hikes. As I watched my family hiking on the trail ahead of me, I started to breath a little easier. As I watched my in-laws' old dog (who we were doggie sitting) totter up the trail looking 5 years younger, I couldn't help but smile. As we gained elevation, I felt the weight that had settled so stubbornly begin to dissipate. I took comfort in my daughters' laughter as they told make-believe stories as we hiked. We passed a high-centered Jeep left by an overzealous tourist who ignored "no motor vehicle" signs and consequently got stuck. I laughed at the silliness of that minor problem and imagined him walking down the trail, cursing his own lack of judgment. The day which started out full of uncertainty and fear suddenly felt carefree and fun. I knew my kids felt safe. As we rose in altitude, the weight of the world, both literally and figuratively gave way to love and lightness.
The fear and sadness that came with the threatening situation and its outcome are far from gone. I think about the school board's decision and the law enforcement's work and I am grateful, but I am also anxious. The power of one person to affect so many is terrifying. And unfortunately, I know this is not the last of these types of incidents. The threat of school shootings is but one of many anxiety-producers we face. But Wednesday was a good reminder for me. It was tempting to go down the rabbit hole of watching the news and hanging on the controversies over which I have little to no control. I am proud that I was able to turn my attention to what I could truly influence. That day with my family reaffirmed what is important, and having time to focus on creating moments of love and joy and safety also gave me time to process so that I can also work on influencing the bigger picture.
When I was a kid, my mother used to quote the serenity prayer regularly and I thought about it several times on Wednesday. I'd like to end with it here: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Friday night at karate practice, my oldest, Aleida, was complaining about nausea and a stomach ache but ate a good dinner and seemed fine at bed time. At 1:30am, yelling kiddos woke me and my hubby, and we found Aleida doubled over with stomach cramps. My youngest, Cici, had heard her crying and was calling us on her behalf. I won't go into the details, but that was the beginning of a long night. Aleida definitely had a stomach virus, and even with Imodium and anti-nausea meds on board, she was still up every 30-40 minutes until about 6am when she was finally able to sleep peacefully.
In addition to feeling helpless to ease Aleida's pain and exhausted due to lack of sleep, I was also taking an inventory of all the plans that were being thrown off course and how I would deal with that in the morning. I was also worrying about the transfer of germs as I cuddled my daughter through the night. I won't lie; it sucked. Now, a stomach virus is just a little blip on the "things that suck" radar, but still, when your stomach is cramping and you're bent over the toilet for the 5th time (or watching your child suffer through this), it feels like a major moment of suck. And of course people deal with much worse situations.
I have friends going through cancer treatments and painful divorces and messy custody battles. I have friends with sick parents and crappy jobs and financial problems and bodily injuries. It all sucks.
And let's be honest--the stomach flu sucks.
As I was lying next to my shivering daughter some time between the hours of 2am and 5am, feeling sorry for her and myself, I started thinking about the idea of abundance and particularly what it takes to cultivate it during less savory times in life. Abundance is one of my Big A words, but it's perhaps the hardest one to grasp. Put simply, abundance means that you look at the world from a lens of gratitude and positivity. It means that even when bad things happen, you realize that you have a choice in how you think about the situation and you have the resources to take action toward a more satisfied existence. An abundance mindset means that you don't resent others for their success or good fortune and you understand that for all the circumstances outside of your control, you have many options to live a life of your own design.
Living with abundance DOES NOT mean that you suddenly have to see the stomach flu or cancer or heartbreak as a good thing, as a blessing, or as a gift. First of all, your brain is smarter than that. If you try to tell yourself that getting the stomach flu is a blessing, your brain will call BS on that. No, you don't suddenly have to love all the suckiness in your life. The sugar coating or euphemistic spin on badness has always seemed false and unsustainable anyway. Ignoring a wound does not make it heal. Rather, it will fester and grow.
Awareness and acceptance are the keys to abundance during tough times. Denying, complaining, fighting against or worrying about situations beyond your control compound the problem. These habits focus on your lack...of health, of control, of love, of whatever...and feed a mindset of scarcity, which leads to feelings of helplessness and stuck-ness. On the contrary, accepting the truth of the situation allows an openness to learning from it and a resolve to take action to make it better. Again, acceptance does not mean you have to LIKE what's going on, but it frees up the mental energy you were using to fight against the unwanted situation so that you can channel your thoughts to creative problem solving.
I'll use my own experience with the stomach virus. I did not WANT my daughter to have the stomach flu. But spending my thoughts on wishing she didn't have it or worrying about the rest of the family getting it were futile...wasted energy. Once I accepted it, I realized that it would pass, and I was able to comfort my daughter better. Instead of resisting my reality, I was able to shape it into a more positive experience. Rather than trying to will away the illness, I focused on making my daughter more comfortable. Rather than pining for the end of the long night, I became more present and connected. Rather than hating the stomach flu, I spent my energy loving my daughter. It was still a long and sleepless night, but that shift made a huge difference for me and for Aleida.
When you find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation, take a few minutes to realign your thoughts toward a mindset of abundance, and I know you will feel the difference. Try this process:
For help cultivating a mindset of abundance, contact me for a complimentary session.