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Ingredients

  1. Presence

  2. Enoughness

  3. Letting Go - of shame, guilt, expectation 

I’ve spent my life as an over thinker, which are just other words for anxiety prone.  I have learned though, that while anxiety lies in the future, and depression with an over focused eye on the past, joy lies in the present moment.  In the present moment I am free. Free to lift my gaze and connect with the people around me, free to move and breathe and make decisions based on my own intentions for my days.  In the present, nothing is too hard or too scary and nothing needs to be controlled.  The present moment holds no shame, guilt, or burden of the past. In the present I get to be me, and it feels good. It’s the space that taught me that I was tough enough to endure heartbreak and disappointment and still see so much beauty in every day.  The present moment is where flow is possible, when my brain and my body have the most seamless connection and my ability to move keeps the perfect pace for what I want to achieve. The present merely unfolds in front of my eyes and teaches me to separate action from emotion. I don’t always nail it, but I am grateful that I am so much better at it than I used to be. 

I never knew the term “emotional regulation” until I started working my way down this path of questionaires and surveys that raising Matthew has lead me.  Before him, developmental milestone questions at the pediatrician were automatic answers…yes she babbles, yes, she rolls over, crawls, and walks. When Matthew came along, I fought a gut feeling from day one that something was different and his responses to everyday life situations like whistles at the soccer game (he would practically flip his stroller over) or the sobbing child that couldn’t handle people singing happy birthday to him on his 1st birthday broke my heart confirmed my gut instinct. How we take in, interpret, and react to information and stimulus in this world is directly related to our ability to learn and form relationships. Our ability to appropriately react to situations or sometimes not react at all, is paramount to the ease we find in our days.  

Matthew’s nervous system is on high alert all the time, I can literally see him struggle to sit still, not fidget, and slow his mind to be able to tune out certain stimuli and be able to focus on what matters for him to learn. It’s also impossible to find presence in this state. I try and model it for him.  I show him how to breathe to activate his parasympathetic nervous system and try and find longer moments of calm, but often he fights it like his body just wants to feel what it knows.  Truly the only place I have seen calm presence for any length of time with him is when he’s in the water alone, boogie boarding, body surfing, or surfing. I have always had a special relationship with the water. I understand intimately the sensory deprivation it provides and have no doubt that is what draws him to it. What I see when he finds calm in the ocean only deepens my belief in the water’s healing power. 

On land these days, he is seeking a deep pocket of self awareness for a 12 year old that I am proud of, but is also difficult.  He is desperately trying to figure out why he struggles and put a name on it.  How do I teach him that none of us can be summed up by a label, and that certainly isn’t the place to let a story end?

For anyone who has any experience with the autism spectrum, it’s very broad! Just like no two neurotypical people are the same, the same can be said for the autism spectrum. The quote that explains Matthew’s struggles best was coined by his amazing kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Bateman.  She was the kind of teacher who saw her job as a vocation and she was so good at it.  

“My best advice is to talk to parents who have had kids like Matthew and see what they are doing.” 

But then she laughed…

“Good luck finding another kid like him.” 

She said this in the most endearing way, and I understood exactly what she meant.  The truth about Matthew is that not a day goes by that I don’t think how lucky we are to have him here with us, that he is here to teach big things. In my mind, on my best day, when we are connecting at the highest level, he is the quintessential example of being, not doing. His EQ is off the charts and he has a connection to the spiritual world that I swear is mystic. He takes to some people like he has known them for a lifetime and will trust them with the deepest conversations, but others he wants nothing to do with.  His intuition is almost always right. He picks up on everyone’s vibration and can feel the tension or ease in a room. Knowing this, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make him feel safe so that he can focus and learn. I have failed in many respects over the years since I pulled him from the bottom of the pool though, because my anxiety over never being in a similar situation with him for any reason rears its ugly head way too often. Until him, I was not a hovering parent, maybe that contributed to his terrible accident.  My favorite quote whenever I had a disagreement or a frustration with Ryan, a therapist, or one of his siblings though is 

“If I knew what to do, I would just do it.” 

There are no easy answers, no silver bullets, and no quick fixes.  The answer lies deep in the unraveling of a very tight nervous system and from the time I came to understand this, I have sought information tirelessly for what would help him achieve this level of inner peace.  It’s what mom’s do for their kids, it’s impossible for us not to. What I didn’t know when I started down this path was the tension it would cause in my life…this mom thing can be an overzealous path. 

“A soil separate consisting of particles <0.002 mm in equivalent diameter. See also soil separates. (ii) A textural class. See also soil texture. (iii) (In reference to clay mineralogy) A naturally occurring material composed primarily of fine-grained minerals, which is generally plastic at appropriate water contents and will harden when dried or fired. Although clay usually contains phyllosilicates, it may contain other materials that impart plasticity and harden when dried or fired. Associated phases in clay may include materials that do not impart plasticity and organic matter.” - Soil Science Society of America

One of the characteristics of a heavy clay soil, the kind of ground where the ranch house sits, is that it holds very little organic material on its own.  Farmers have to add organic matter and amendments to the ground to make it fertile enough to grow crops and my family has been doing that for almost 70 years. As I see it, life gives us our own organic material to work with. Our organic matter are the things that add depth and meaning to our lives…babies born, hearts broken, the big fights and the better make ups.  Learning to sit with these moments and see them for what they are, without getting caught up in the fear they can instill, helps us to see the journey clearly and take the next step forward without asking questions of why or what if. We were meant to be strengthened to bear more fruit by the challenging moments, and then experience the joy when our choices carry good things it our way.  But the heavy clay can make our roots feel stuck and seems to come with an overburdened sense of duty, or even worse, shame and then the human spirit can’t move freely under this weight. If we don’t feel free, our feet are stuck like the tractors when it rains and we find ourselves entrenched in experiences that are not part of our most productive story. As it is with this life, there are no perfect answers, we are a population of humans doing the best we can with what we know, but the stories of this place have added to the fabric of my life in a way that could never be replaced or forgotten with the passing of years and the incredible people who have come through them.

************

I can still hear the hushed whooshing sound of the pressurized door. No matter how hard you threw it open, it would close slowly and quiet as a whisper. It was as if no matter what was going on outside, the chaos would turn to calm and quiet when you walked through the door. Some of my earliest memories were watching her six foot tall willowy silhouette move with quiet purpose from room to room. She played the piano, collected leaves and flowers and pressed them into art, and when Tiger Woods sprang on the scene in 1996 she was taken by his game. She seemed to enjoy the solitary life in the most peaceful way. There were hard back books lining her bookshelves on the living room walls and the staircase to the basement, so many that she created her own library by putting up a notepad at the top the basement stairs. We were allowed to check out two by writing down a title and a date and could only get more after we had brought those titles back.  She would read to us from the same book every time - The Tall Book of Make Believe - so much that I had the poem “The Swing” memorized before I was three.  For my sister, she would read the story of “Bad Mousy” over and over again without ever once asking her if she would please pick something different.  

Her kitchen was always warm, with its copper hooded stove, double oven, a fireplace and two sturdy green leather chairs. It always felt orderly and inviting at the same time. It’s where I learned the beauty of routine and the creativity that can be found in simplicity.  Everyday breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served at the same time.  For my entire life, my grandpa napped after lunch everyday. Not a long nap, but a siesta for sure.  To me, the ranch kitchen was the calmest place on earth and was filled with the most beautiful celebrations over my lifetime. Thanksgiving turkeys with perfect gravy and stuffing, always a vegetable tray and homemade apple sauce (a nod to her Placerville, Apple Hill roots) were staples at every gathering. The way I saw it, she did it all and expected little in return.  She was always the most gracious hostess, whether for 3 or 30 and nothing ever seemed to rattle her. I always wanted to be just like her. She was probably the biggest reason I got my degree in Agribusiness, so that I could step into her shoes and have the knowledge that she learned by doing every day. This was my grandma, the epitome of grace under fire.

May 2017

Sand generally refers to the coarse-textured (less than 2-millimeter) mineral fraction of soil. ... The large pore space found in sandy soil is also poor at holding water. This makes for good drainage, but can also make for sad-looking, nutrient- and water-starved plants in the garden. - Soil Science Society of America *(yes, this exists)

The springtime California sun was shining, my muscles were tight and tired from my adventure, and George Strait’s Amarillo by Morning was blaring from my speakers as I made my way slowly through the Friday traffic. Waze had detoured me on my way back from Malibu, off the always nasty 405 freeway, but especially so Friday’s, and I found myself in Venice Beach, home of the trendy and offbeat, and pretty much everything that I am not. As I headed back toward Hermosa Beach, I was feeling strong and revived from three days of activity at XPT Malibu where I exercised in my favorite element, water,  ate the most delicious and healthy food, heard from thought provoking speakers on longevity and living the good life, and was inspired, strengthened, and educated on the benefits of breath work and recovery by legendary big wave surfer Laird Hamilton and his wife, the stunningly strong mom, athlete, and powerhouse in her own right Gabby Reece.  

Hermosa Beach was the place we had called home for the past four years, even though we had been spending summers there since 2006. Now it was 2017 and I was divorced, and headed home to a quieter house without a husband, to get ready for my oldest daughter’s Confirmation that evening at St. James Church. Oh, the irony in that statement. How did my rule following, country music loving, Catholic, married for almost 20 years with four kid self end up here with my feet in the sand? I remember saying in college that I wouldn’t date anyone from south of the grapevine because I hated LA. But here I was, with this sense of absolute dread for the mistakes I had made, but also with a burgeoning sense of purpose that was fighting it’s way through - movement by movement and with each growth mindset podcast and writing session. Thanks to Soho Yoga, Finding Mastery, beach volleyball, weekly trips to church and daily dips in the Pacific, I was seeing a light that I hadn’t ever seen before. My saving grace at this point was that I knew I had four kids who were exactly who they are supposed to be and I could never receive a greater gift in this lifetime.

My mind drifted back to another springtime, 1996, sitting on the Good Stuff patio at 21 with Ryan, people skating by on the Strand, volleyball just beyond that, chatting with his friend that had just made an extreme sports movie, if I remember correctly it was about skiing.  I had never been around this type of energy - free flowing and intoxicating - and I wanted to be a part of it.  To look at the Pacific Ocean, or better yet swim in it, and feel your feet in the sand everyday… was this real life? But I remember even then, as a six foot tall, tan and strong girl in her early twenties, I looked the part, but didn’t feel any sense that I belonged.  There was that inadequacy that always seemed to rear its ugly head.  That feeling that I had to prove myself and yet simultaneously told me to let whoever I was attached to at the time step in front to shine, while I played second fiddle and observed and organized from behind them.  Why didn’t I even take up the space that was physically mine back then, youth on my side and a world full of infinite possibility? Short answer, because my insides didn’t match my outsides and 21 years later I had finally identified that crippling problem. 

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