Ok, summer. Maybe I don’t actually hate you - maybe it’s just July with whom I have a bone to pick. June plays host to the longest day of the year and there’s something celebratory about that. It feels like an achievement, a goal reached, an ideal attained. Summer! In its full glory! The freedom from school-bound routines, the little bit of spaciousness that past-me cleared out for future-me in order to take off and enjoy some of those lazy days of summer… that was all good. Glorious, even. But also very short-lived.
July just felt like excess: too much heat, too much light, too many waking hours. There’s something to that month that feels like burning out - like the earth has built up its scorchedness, holding onto the heat of the sun, even overnight, never quite cooling off, and it just compounds and grows until everything feels out of balance, manic, and so very sweaty.
Then August arrived, and with it, the reminder that fall is only six weeks away. That blessed season, in which balance is restored. In which the sun recedes, little by little each day, and darkness returns with its invitation to rest. As a kid in school, I remember August feeling like a bonus. Those final weeks of freedom felt sweeter, slower, more luxurious. In the shift to working from home I’ve become more familiar with my neighborhood - taking walks every day to maintain my health and sanity. I’ve come to notice the floral microseasons, the parade of blooms that marches us from spring to fall. In August, the vivaciously audacious Dahlia's begin to decorate those walks. “Dinner Plate Dahlias” are my favorite. They take up so much space! They explode into the world, letting their faces radiate color, and shape, and texture, and beauty. And, they are the last of the blooms to do so. In stark contrast to the low-growing, hollow-stalked, diminutive crocuses of spring, the Dahlias and their late summer counterparts are tough-stalked, water preservers. They blossom as a result of the brutal heat and dryness of this late season.
What can I learn from these audacious blooms? How do I want to show up for these last weeks of the season?
I want to be slow and steady. Resource preserving. Even-keeled. There’s a freedom in knowing that something hard is coming to an end. Even though it is still hot (and now humid - ew), I know that it won't be in a matter of weeks.
Mine is a spirituality of time. A mindfulness of moving through the years, seasons, and micro-seasons and allowing myself to be moved by them. To feel what is available in each one. To harness the learnings and lessons of each moon. Each floral season. Each harvest. This one says: “it’s ok. It’ll all be over soon. Hush, now, and take each moment as it comes to you.”
It reached and it grew
and it reached and it grew
and it carried so much
that it broke in two.
My Tree has a broken heart.
I noticed something was wrong today as Nelson and I approached it from the south. Its boughs are usually heavy in the summer, but they never touch the sandy ground beneath. In the winter its skeletal frame reaches up towards the sky, and one bough in particular hangs down towards the earth, offering itself like a proffered arm of support against the blustery beach winds. In summer, I snuggle my shoulder up underneath the same bough, as it hangs lower, and give it a moment or two of support in return. But today, it was reaching all the way towards the ground.
It took my brain a moment to register what my eyes were seeing: something was very wrong with my tree.
I followed its limbs up towards the trunk, and there it was, a raw, ragged, fresh-looking gash right between where the two trunks of the tree grew apart. I stayed with the tree a while, crying for its brokenness, hoping that this rift is just another bend in its growth, and not a harbinger of the chainsaw.
My heart breaks for my tree. My heart breaks for me. For us. For everyone who holds up their arms towards the sky, heavy with their burdens, until we, too crack, and tumble, and fall.
Summer is just too much. I am a creature of the Northwest. My preferences tend towards a temperate habitat. Grey is my favorite color and sweating makes me mad.
The Hebrew calendar has it right: the two months at the height of summer, Tammuz (last month) and Av (this month) are all about destruction and excess and chaos. I used to have a hard time making that connection, but now I get it. The first 18 years of my life taught me that it was a season of adventure, of freedom, of fun. As a teen and emerging adult, summer became synonymous with Camp, and I loveloveloved Jewish summer camp. SO much freedom, to just be myself with people who accepted me for who I was (awkward, silly, and intense), and didn't care about what I wasn't (namely all the things my mother wanted me to be.)
My love of summer continued as I became an educator, and then a rabbinical student, and even as a rabbi (a break from Hebrew school is a mechaya - a life giving force - for everyone). But now summer just means regular old everything without regular old childcare/school.
Too. Much. Everything.
I am, admittedly, late to the realization that summer kind of sucks, but it's here now, and it's a lesson I am learning.
Summertime Sadness is a real thing. (Cue Lana Del Rey). Seasonal Affective Disorder wreaks havoc not only in the winter months, but in this season of the endless sun, too. "About 10% of people with S.A.D. get it in the reverse - the onset of summer triggers their depression symptoms." (WebMD) The heat. The cost. The sheer number of people out and about and getting in each other's way - especially now that we no longer remember how to not-be-assholes on the road... Sure, I posted beautiful vacation pictures on Instagram, and indeed, many of those moments will live in my memory as sweet ones, but ugh.
As my neighbor and I chatted this morning in the full 7:00am sunshine, we fell into this exact commiseration. "This is right about when some folks start counting down to fall," she said. What a grand idea, I thought. (Currently it is 64 days, 7 hours, 25 minutes and 40 seconds).
My Dr. tweaked my meds, and I'm trying to take things more slowly, and am researching ways to keep my dog from waking me and the child and the downstairs AirBNB guests at ungodly hours. I'm lounging in bed as I type these words, because it just feels right, and a bit transgressive.
If you're still reading and you love summer, by all means, it is yours. Love it away. Just know that not everyone around you is having such a grand time (and that when you're all bummed out in the Winter, some of us will be happy and hyggelicht in our hovels).
I have 11 minutes to write, which is when my oven timer will ding and my tofu will be done. After which I will feed myself a fuller dinner than the snack-sized one I ate with my kiddo at 4:30.
Nothing feels right to me right now. Nothing makes sense.
I adopted this wonderful dog, Otto, he's truly a good pup, but now I worry about the added stress that having a young pup in my life has brought into our home. I worry about my senior pup, Nelson, who has a hard time getting up from lying down because his hips are so arthritic, and the way that Otto bulldozes over him. Nelson then retaliates with pee on the kitchen floor, which I then get to clean.
But this pup is so good, for a puppy. And EB loves him. And it was such a thrill to be able to get this dog for my child. Just say to myself "yes. this dog. I'll adopt him. I'll give him a home."
This is a thing that I do. I can be impulsive. 9 times out of 10, I listen to my gut and it is right. I know that the universe conspires to help me move in the direction of my yearning, but sometimes I just think that I'm an idiot, my life littered with bad decisions.
I know that's no way to live, beating myself up constantly, but that critical voice is always in my head, dormant, until something stressful happens that triggers my central nervous system into a fight/flight/freeze response and then I think, "you brought this on yourself, you idiot." Don't worry - I'm working on that negative self talk in my coaching and in my own mental health practices. Truly, I'm fine, but damnit, my brain can be a real piece of shit sometimes.
These messy thoughts just need to get out, need a place to live other than inside of my head, and in my text thread with my beloved.
Glennon Doyle, one of my spirit guide mamas, started her writing career by doing just this: setting aside time every day to write out the messiness in her head. I'm going to give that a try, too. I don't know that I'll get up at 4:30am like she did (although the dog has me up that early anyway, so maybe?) but this is what's happening: I'm going to write, and hit post, and then not worry about what becomes of it once it's out there. I do hope that my messy brain can help your messy brain feel less alone, though.
Written on 5/6/2023, this is a longer reflection on finding myself back inside of Jewish community and figuring out what that means for me now.
Took Nelson down to the beach for our morning walk. We don’t usually go on the weekends, or evenings. There’s just too much humanity at the beach on the evenings and weekends; more stuff to notice and contend with. More people taking up space rather than reveling in the surroundings.
Anyway, Nelson has had a tough week (I guess I have too?) and so I told him that we could go at his pace (slow) and he could lead the way. This would have been less of an issue with fewer people there, but I prioritized my promise to him, and paid no mind to the inconvenience I was causing others by walking on the left hand side of the path, where all of the good smells were.
When we got past the beach, he pulled me straight to the brick bathhouse and now-empty Miri’s Cafe. We shared a sad moment about the missing dog water bowl and toy library and other delicious smells, and kept walking. He pulled me along the wall of the brick building - which is not a path that we usually take. As he did, I felt, more than heard, the sounds of Judaism happening within. My brain registered it as “Siman Tov U’Mazal Tov” & I couldn’t believe my ears. I peeked in the window and saw a rabbi friend joyfully leading a Bar Mitzvah ceremony.
Nelson pulled me towards the open door, and even tried to go in. Of course, my Familiar would gravitate towards a room full of Jews. The Shabbat smells must have been too much for him to ignore - and more tempting than the various picnic- and bbq-smells we had passed along the way there.
I say “of course,” because last night was the first time that I have engaged in physical Jewish community since I stepped away from my career as it had been. Also “of course,” because yesterday’s Eclipse was all about ending an 18 month cycle of sloughing, dismantling, unlearning and relearning. Ending my exile. At least that’s how it seems.
It was a self imposed exile, and I return changed. Last night I brought EB with me to a friend’s synagogue for Tot Shabbat, dinner and then a Shabbat service that she invited me to lead with her. He was a bit discomfited to see me up there. Whereas my friend’s kiddos are super used to interacting with their mom as the leader, EB wanted me to just be his mom. It was wild to see him shrink into himself in that place. He’s not like that at parties. He’s not like that at school, or in camp situations. There’s something about being in Jewish spaces with me as the leader that makes him recoil and cling to me.
He warmed up & by the time Tot Shabbat was over, he was playing with his friends and some other kids - sharing his toys. I noticed that the one kid with the least amount of self-restraint and the least-present parent making a bee line for EB’s toys. (He had actually tried to take one out of my hand during the Tot service, so I already knew he would need extra eyes on him). I could see EB was upset, so I went over to help him hold his boundary. With sinking suspicions that things were going to go awry while I was leading, I took my place at the front of the room, next to my bestie, and re-entered the role of shaliach tzibbur. I just had to hang a bunch of worries on an imaginary hook behind me as I sat down to do the thing.
Just as we were finishing up I saw my friend’s husband bring their daughter and EB back into the room from the play area. EB’s shoulders were heaving with silent sobs, head down, red faced. I could see the tears from where I was at the front of the room. As soon as the song ended, I leaned my guitar against the wall and went to go check on him, giving my friend a nod - she, too, had seen that entrance. Poor EB. The same kid who had taken his toys had now smacked him in the face with a tennis racquet - twice. His face hurt, but so did his feelings, and his sense of justice; he had shared his toys with that kid, had kindly asked for privacy, and the kid didn’t back off. Nor did the kid’s parents intervene.
At that moment, my role was clear: to be Elliott’s mom. He wanted a cup of water, so his friend showed us where the water was (she didn’t leave his side once, which was so heartwarming). I asked him if he wanted to come back up with me to sing the last song, and that was a hard “no” - so, I didn’t.
At that moment, I made a choice that I don’t think I could have made when I was working at a synagogue. The only times EB came to synagogue, or saw me rabbi, was when he was a babe in his dad’s arms. I remember once, before a big Friday night service, he saw me in the foyer and started crying and reaching for me. I had to go, so I pried him off of me and handed him over, red-faced and wailing. It felt awful.
I can’t do that anymore.
I had a lot of big feelings about that when I got home from leading this service, but ultimately, I felt 100% in alignment with the actions I had taken. My first priority is as a mom, not a rabbi. I’m not that community’s rabbi, so it was easy to do. But it raised the question: could I even *be* a single mom & a congregational rabbi? I know that there are folks who do and they make it work, but for me, right now in realigning my actions with my priorities and purpose, I couldn’t do it.
Which I knew 18 months ago when I withdrew my name from consideration for a local position. And again, when I outlined my boundaries around time with my child during the interview process for another, and didn’t get the job. Given the way the systems are, and the way that I am determined to lead my one wild and precious life, I cannot be a congregational rabbi. At least not the way the role is structured now.
My present learning is of a “so now what?” kind of nature. Now how do I engage with Jewish community? As a leader within the community? The good stuff that drew me onto this path in the first place: using our voices and the teachings of our tradition to lift us up for a moment, to remind us to slow down, to notice, to experience our lives and to revel in the opportunities that we create for rest. But. When I saw my child crying, there was no question as to what was my most sacred: holding that little person through the pain.
I hate a binary, so this is clearly a both& situation. The new way forward for me combines boundaries around my time with my child, and my role as a parent, above and beyond that of leader. Sure, now I will take weddings on my EB days - primarily because he loves hanging out with his babysitters (and I finally feel safe enough about COVID to broaden the circle of people we let into our house). That’s a boundary I’ve figured out. Leading worship on EB days is still a TBD. There’s also a lot happening for me around the idea of community in general; building with the people who I want to spend time with, connecting the folks on the fringe, like myself, to each other and to That Which Connects Us All.
At any rate. I find it hilarious that today, the day after all of that my dog, my familiar, that little piece of my heart who led us on our walk today, took me straight to the smells of Shabbat lunch and the Jews.
Written on 10/12/2022 in the midst of a depressive spiral that had me disassociating and keeping myself small & avoiding building my business. It's a raw one.
Do not self sabotage, C. B. You are stronger than this. Follow the flow. Walk more. Move more. Do all that good self care you know how to do. It’s winter. Dig into the wintering stuff. Read. Write. Germinate. But be awake for it. Stay keen to it. Maybe there haven’t been any breadcrumbs b/c friend, you haven’t been looking.
Oh. damn. Tweaked my neck while typing that one. Neck pain. Hard to turn.
I’ve done it before. The stakes were high. I suppose they still are, really. Parenting is fucking hard. Perhaps it’s harder when I’m not all here. I am all here. Today I didn’t know what to do with myself while EB was playing - afraid that as soon as I started anything significant he would come in and interrupt and pull me away from it. Leaving me with a mess to clean up and a lost train of thought, etc… Today I decided to rest with him. It helped that both of the dogs were keen to join us on the couch. EB watched cartoons and I closed my eyes. For about an hour. I’m not sure I truly slept, but I was resting. And it felt good. He didn’t need me to be awake, he just needed me to be present. Napping, resting, is a form of presence. You’re not going anywhere when resting. No phone to draw the eye away, no sensory stimulus. Just resting in that exact moment. How vulnerable. How beautiful. How scary.
Rest is resistance. Tricia Hersey. I was thinking about this back in San Mateo, with the musar stuff. Change yourself, change the world. The only way TO change the world is to change yourself. BE the change, and all of that. Did that muse fly away b/c I let it just sit on my shoulder without giving it any attention? Without diving in with both feet?
Nothing to lose now, though, really. “Me, myself I got nothing to lose.”
Thinking about that song, “you and I will both get jobs, finally see what it means to be living.” Work is directly tied to living. To survival. This is the first time I’m experiencing that, I think. My privilege has run very deep and continues to. I am so grateful for this house, that is mine. I am so grateful for this roof over my head and this piece of land in the place that feels most like home to me. This is my home, has become my home. The road between my house and the beach is so well-trodden. I’ve driven it countless times. Walked it. Run it. This is my home. Finally see what it means to be living, for me, I think that means finally existing to exist.
Written on 5/9/23, another post-that-never-was, until now. Looking back on these musings, I remember the hesitancy I felt about posting them, but now, re-reading them, I feel confident that they are worth sharing.
Parenting is bullshit. That’s the message that I send to my partner when things aren’t going so well. Parenting is bullshit, but in the same way that hard things that turn you inside out and upside down are. Being cracked open again and again by this tiny human who I cannot control, don’t want to control, just want to go the fuck to sleep… is bullshit.
Towards the beginning of infertility treatments, one of my many doctors said, “this is your first lesson in parenting: you cannot control the outcomes.” I definitely thought that was a bullshit answer back then, but it was humbling, and clearly stuck with me. I try to remember it in these times when parenting is really hard. When every single one of my triggers is pulled and I’m fighting the urge to flee/fight/freeze/fawn all at once. When my kid tells me he hates me, over and over again. When he says, “I wish today was a dad day.” In those moments, I want to disappear. And I do, emotionally. That’s when some song from my adolescence comes into my head and I start to disassociate, into some place of safety deep inside.
I never thought about this part of parenting. I was so focused on the challenge of getting pregnant, achieving that goal, doing that thing that my body was supposed to be able to do. I knew parenting would be transformative, and usually I’m all about that. But I often forget that transformation is not fun. That caterpillar has got to turn into ooze in the chrysalis before it can rebuild itself and fight its way out as a butterfly. I can’t tell if I’m in the ooze stage or the fighting-my-way-out-stage, but either way, it’s hard and gross and it hurts.
Reparenting myself at the same time as I’m trying to figure out how to parent my child is fucking hard. The abundance of swears points to the level of rawness, the existential pain, the absolute desperation of what parenting is often like for me. I’m trying to undo generational trauma here and it feels like I’m caught in the eye of a chaos storm, and doing everything wrong.
I know this is hard work. I know that I am building the plane while I’m flying it. I know that this age will pass, I know, I know, I know… what I don’t quite know is how I am going to get through it. And yet, at the end of even the bullshittiest day, when that little human falls asleep, and I feel the rise and fall of his little chest, I am filled with love and a dreadful kind of awe at the weight of the responsibility that lies in my arms.
Written 3/30/23 I sat on these words for many months, and the reflections therein are of Spring. Now that I find myself in the full flush of summer, the heat and intensity and imbalance, I look back at those words of just a few months ago and feel reassured that I'm on the right path - namely: my own.
Going to the beach in the evening does not feel the same as morning beach going.
The energy is different. There are more people doing social human things and making the noises that such gatherings of people make. There is none of that in the morning. Or very little. We morning beach goers are solitary types. There are more people walking in the mornings. More dog companions. Even the evening-time dog energy is different. More enthusiastic and full of play.
Nelson’s pace matched that energy tonight. I had to hop-to to keep up with him as he trotted along the path. The place where the concrete turns to gravel is where the sanctuary feeling starts. The crunchy gravel underfoot, the crsshhhshhh-crshhsshh that gives voice to my steps.
Thoughts begin to clear when the crunching gravel welcomes me. My body moves with more ease. This is where I feel myself relax into the experience. Which prepares me for what’s to come.
Tonight, the High Holy Day melody of “Mi Chamocha,” sung by a full choir atop the drone of pipe organ came to mind while I gazed upon the distant mountains-across-the-water, illuminated in soft sherbet hues by the last of the sun’s rays, cutting through a blanket of lavender cloud.
“Who is like you, God, among the Gods that are worshiped?” Awe. Wonder. Deep Breath.
I return back to my body, on this side of the water and my feet take me to “my” tree (Elliott refers to it that way, which tells me the tree and I must have a relationship, if my child can see it). I visit it every time I come here. It invites me to listen. First, to feel held (I usually wrap an arm around it), and then to breathe in its smells - still wet but now with more green in it. The tree has sprouted bright green stalks and is beginning to show buds and even a few small leaves. It’s in its awkward phase, but soon its branches will be lush and full of oxygen to trade for my CO2.
Awkward. Spring is… awkward. Muppet, the neighbor’s ridiculously adorable and aptly named puppy has forgotten all of the manners she learned in her first seven months of life. Exuberance is her current mode as she flopsily tries to jump up in greeting.
I feel awkward, too. Coming out of winter feeling like I need to have it all figured out after hibernating for so long. Spring is here and it's time to come back out into the world. “We all look a bit silly,” the tree reminds me, “when we’re first showing signs of new growth.”
The parts of us that make us feel that way will soon turn into lush, rich greenery, and blossom and fruit. Blossoms contribute to the awkward bare-limbed feeling. How is it that they are so full of expression, while the rest of us still seem so naked, our growing places just beginning to bud.
Back to the tree, though.
These insights come mostly from the relationship with this dynamic being that is the tree. The tree does not give me these thoughts, but our relationship inspires and empowers me to be courageously conscious.
Nelson is ready to go and I’m ready to get home and end my day. We head back to the car the short way, walking back on the pavement. Hard surface shifting my awareness back to what’s in front of me. I think of the meal I will prepare for myself when I get home and Nelson picks up his pace. How linked are we, I wonder, that my thought of food motivates him to move faster.
We watch the people and dogs doing their thing. I delight in the flight of tiny legs across the field as a Welsh Corgi chases after a ball. I laugh to myself and think of maybe making a quick remark to the other folks watching the display of dogginess, but they aren’t there for that, and in truth, neither am I.
I guess I’m just accustomed to some light human interaction after worship.