Tender age

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In my mother’s arms.

Once when I was six years old, I thought I would never see my mother again. It was a feeling that only lasted for about 30 minutes, but even after all these years later, it’s still a memory that can make my throat close.

I can remember it as clearly as other historically upsetting events in my life – the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion, and Donald Trump’s election. Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but it is a memory that is firmly etched in my grownup brain.

It was my first day of first grade in Petersburg, VA and it was my maiden voyage on a school bus. My elementary school was near Fort Lee – a large Army base – and because of an influx of students that year, we had to go to school in shifts. I was assigned the morning shift which made for a dark pickup at 7:00 AM and dismissal before lunch.

old bus

It looks a lot bigger when you’re only 42 inches tall.

I recall being nervous about riding the bus for the first time, but my mom stood with me in the dark and told me she would have my favorite lunch – tomato soup and grilled cheese – waiting for me when the bus dropped me back off after school. To this day, a grilled cheese can still serve as an incentive for me.

So, I climbed up those big steps on to the bus clutching my Beany and Cecil book bag and was greeted by the driver – a burly man who already seemed a little grouchy for so early in the day. I quickly found an open aisle seat and steeled myself for the ride. I nervously scanned the other rows and realized that I was one of the youngest kids on the bus. A lot of them seemed to already know each other, but I kept my game face on. I was, as my mother had reminded me – a big girl now.

bennyandcecil

Beany and Cecil were as big as SpongeBob Squarepants in their day. Really.

The school day was unremarkable. My teacher, Mrs. Westinghouse, was at least 78 years old – or so she appeared to me. She was rather portly and pretty no-nonsense which is perhaps the most strategic approach for facing a room of 30 six-year-olds. We read and had a milk break. I never enjoyed the milk break – the milk always seemed to be curiously warm. A few months later, I would throw-up during milk break, forever unendearing me to Mrs. Westinghouse.

milk

It was never meant to be served at room temperature!

The morning passed quickly and it was time to board the bus for the trip home. Once we got on the road, burly bus driver told us he was learning the route for the new school year and that we should just shout out in advance of our house so he would know when to stop.

I could feel my tiny palms start to sweat. Do you remember how loud your school bus was? The thought of yelling over that thunderous noise in front of a bunch of older kids terrified me. I decided I would just see how other kids did it and copy them – only they were almost all older kids so the bus driver already knew where they lived.

I practiced silently in my seat and as we neared my street, my heart began to race. Then the countdown began – 30 seconds, 10 seconds, five seconds… I choked. Actually, I froze. Nothing came out of my mouth as we sailed by my house. Now before you judge my mother (that’s clearly my job) for not being at the bus stop waiting for me, you need to know that she was inside the house tending to my three-year-old brother at the time. And she was getting that grilled cheese ready, too.

My heart sank. Now what? I thought about walking up to the front of the bus and telling the bus driver he passed my house but, let’s face it – that was not going to happen. I’d like to tell you that I did some masterful six-year-old problem solving but the truth is – I just sat there quietly – knowing that not only had I ruined my academic career on my first day of first grade, but that I would never get home and see my mom.

school bus

The wheels on my first bus came off pretty quickly.

The last kid besides me got off the bus and the driver looked back at me quizzically and said, “Where do you live?” Gulp. I did not know my address. Again – no judging – it was a simpler time. My heart was pounding so hard and I wondered what would happen next. The bus driver was aggravated, and I wanted to cry, but I figured that would aggravate him more. I just wanted my mom – even more than that grilled cheese – so I swallowed those hot tears.

The bus driver sighed and told me he was taking me back to school to see if someone in the office knew where I lived. That sounded like a good plan to me, but I still felt so alone and scared. We got back to the school and I followed him into the office and he presented me to the secretary like I was a juvenile delinquent. “She doesn’t know where she lives,” he grumbled to the seemingly nice lady behind the desk. “What’s your name, dear?” she asked sweetly. I did know my name – so I had that going for me.

She pulled out a big notebook and turned a few pages and came up with my address. I was the only Addison Ore in the directory. “Confederacy Drive,” she told the bus driver.  (Yes, Petersburg was big on Civil War references.) He sighed and told me to get back on the bus. That was way before I knew about The Walk of Shame, but I’m sure I did the elementary school version. I got back on the bus and sat in the front row by the window. I was not missing my stop this time.

By now, my mother was getting worried – knowing I should have been home by now. This was long before cell phones. Little did I know that she was standing by the end of our drive with my brother in tow waiting anxiously for me to arrive. The bus driver slowed to a stop and I stood up and said, “This is MY house.” Okay, a little late, but it’s always good to stick the landing.

I came flying down those giant steps and fell into my mother’s arms. All was right with my world again. We walked down the driveway to the side door off the carport and into the kitchen where there on my little table was my lunch – steam still rising from the tomato soup.

I was home.

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Waiting for me.

All these years later, it may read as a silly story, but I was reminded of it again this week as I watched in sheer horror the images of immigrant children being separated from their parents – some for days and months – some perhaps forever. How can this be happening? I know how. We all know how. This isn’t a political post. It’s a human post. The question now is how we fix it. We must fix it.

cages

America the Beautiful. Not so great.

Over 50 some years ago, I was separated from my mother for half and hour and the memory of that fear can still quicken my pulse. I can’t imagine – I don’t want to imagine – the kind of fear those children are experiencing now. I worry, as most of us do, if they will ever get back home – which for most of them means their mother or father – not a physical place any longer.

Everybody Lost Somebody is a haunting song by Jack Antonoff of Bleachers. He wrote it about his younger sister Sarah, who died of brain cancer several years ago. The song is about death but it’s also about finding our way home.  I’ve been listening to it a lot this week and thinking that for these kids, this separation must feel like death. Click here to listen.

I think pain is waiting alone at the corner

Tryna get myself back home, yeah

Looking like everybody

Knowing everybody lost somebody

I’m standing here in the cold and

I gotta get myself back home soon

Looking like everybody

Knowing everybody lost somebody

Everybody lost somebody

Everybody lost somebody

I don’t have the answers. Most days I simply rant and rave at the cruel absurdity of what’s going on in our country courtesy of the current administration, but this is different. I don’t have kids. I never really wanted kids. I’m the person that doesn’t want to be seated anywhere near kids in a restaurant. But I have cried for these kids and I know many of you have, too. Hell, even Rachel Maddow cried.

rachel

This is us.

A grilled cheese isn’t going to fix this, but we gotta get them home soon – even if they don’t have an address.

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“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35  Photo: cnbc.com

 

 

 

 

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Being comfortable with the uncomfortable

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Photos by Carla Kucinski.

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about the idea of being uncomfortable, accepting where you are in your life and making peace with it. In my yoga class, my instructor often talks about this because it’s a huge element in the type of yoga I practice – yin. In yin yoga, seated postures are held for three to five minutes at a time, which forces you to surrender to the pose and allow your body, mind and spirit to just “be” no matter how much your body, mind and spirit fight you. It’s an exercise in letting go.

I’ve been practicing yin yoga for a little more than one year now, and it has helped grounded me in situations and periods in my life where I’ve felt groundless. February was one of those months. Sometimes life hurls at you one big explosion that pulls the ground out from underneath you. In one moment everything changes. That’s how my February started. It forced me to have to process a lot of difficult things and emotions all at once. Feelings I sometimes didn’t know what to do with. Every day felt like a freight train of raw emotions plowing into me.

After taking a brief hiatus from yoga, I returned to my practice last week to help find my footing again. Coincidentally, the lungs were the focus of class that night. The lungs represent courage; it’s also where we hold our grief.

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During the class, my instructor talked about a YouTube video she posted on Facebook earlier in the day. The video features a rabbi talking about how lobsters’ bodies grow, but their shells do not. When the lobster is ready to shed its shell, it retreats under a rock, casts off its armor and then re-emerges to begin growing a new shell.

I feel much like a lobster these days. For the last three weeks, I’ve been in hiding and spent a lot of time reflecting and processing. But something has shifted in me recently. I’m starting to shed my shell. With each new day this past week, I felt the ground returning beneath me. The chatter in my mind quieted. My emotions began to find balance. I started to make peace with this uncomfortable place I’m in. I’ve accepted that this is where I need to be right now, so I can grow, like the lobster.

“Times of stress are also times that are signals for growth.” I keep coming back to those words from the rabbi. They grabbed my heart.

A friend remarked over brunch this morning how good it feels to see pops of color beginning to emerge outside, after enduring a bleak, grey February. Winter is starting to let go, and so am I.

Spring is a transitional season. It’s a time of growth and renewal. It’s a new beginning. Letting go is all about moving out of something, so we can move into something else — another wise observation from my yoga instructor. (Are you noticing her pattern of awesomeness?)

I do not know what I will be moving into, but I do know what I’ll be leaving behind (fear and grief) and what I’ll be taking with me (hope and promise).

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Facing my fears

Photo by Carla Kucinski.

Photo by Carla Kucinski.

Public speaking terrifies me.

It frightens me more than heights or roller coasters or swimming in the ocean — all of which are real, deep fears for me.

I will never jump out of a plane or dangle from a bridge on a bungee chord, suspended above a rocky river. Nor will you ever see me riding Six Flags’ Goliath – I can’t even handle the ferris wheel. I am not adventurous in that way, and instead get my thrills from discovering simple things like a new cupcake shop.

I realize that the basis of my fear is a little thing called death. But there’s a deeper layer rooted in the fear of surrendering all self-control and putting my trust in whoever is at the switch. There’s a “letting go” that needs to happen, and I am not a “letting go” kind of gal.

With public speaking, you have to surrender yourself to the audience and hope that they will be engaged and kind and forgiving. It also requires being in the spotlight, something else I do not enjoy. I prefer to work behind-the-scenes.

My earliest memory of this fear was in preschool. A few times a year, our teachers would make us perform a bunch of songs for all the parents. When it was showtime, I was the kid in the back row rubbing my eyes, crying. There’s a photo of me holding hands with another little girl with a Kool-Aid stained mouth, trying to comfort me. Situations like that overwhelmed me even at such a young age. When there’s too much stimuli, I shut down or meltdown.

So then what would possess me to voluntarily get up on stage two weeks ago and tell a personal story, without notes, to a roomful of strangers? Fear. Or better yet, confronting my fear.

This is me with Jeff, the creator of The Monti, after I performed my story. Jeff is an incredible storytelling coach and helped me craft my story every step of the way. He also believed in me, which helped me believe in me, too.

This is me with Jeff, the creator of The Monti, after I performed my story. Jeff is an incredible storytelling coach and helped me craft my story every step of the way. He also believed in me, which helped me believe in me, too.

For a few months, Jeff Polish had been trying to get me to tell a story at The Monti, a storytelling event where people from the community tell a true 12-minute story based on a particular theme. Jeff is the creator, and an all-around good guy. He also looks a lot like Ray Romano. Jeff launched The Monti in Chapel Hill in 2008 to a sold-out crowd, and occasionally he would bring The Monti to Greensboro. That’s how I became a Monti junkie.

As a writer, I love a good story. But live storytelling, I discovered, offered a much deeper connection than words on a page. Every time I attended a Monti performance, my face would hurt from laughing and my eyes would burn from crying. Each story moved me in a different way.

The night I walked away from my first Monti I thought, “I want to do this.” Followed by my second thought: “But I’m terrified.” For years, I attended The Monti as a spectator, trying to envision myself telling a story and thinking that over time I would muster the courage to step onto the stage. But fear paralyzed me.

It took three invitations from Jeff before I finally said “yes.” The theme “Animal Instincts” spoke to me, but aside from that, I’m not sure why I finally agreed. In fact, it was almost like someone else had spoken “yes” for me. But once I committed, I knew there was no turning back. I was all in. And I was petrified.

Someone told me recently that sometimes life throws challenges at us, stretches us beyond our comfort levels, to prepare us for something greater. I did not realize until now that in the months leading up to my Monti debut, I was tested in ways that I had never been tested before — and it all revolved around public speaking.

Six months before The Monti, my aunt asked me to deliver the eulogy at my grandpa’s funeral. I cried so much throughout the funeral service that I worried I wouldn’t be able to pull myself together. My entire body trembled. But when I stepped up to the podium and looked out at the mournful faces gathered in the church, waiting to hear my words, the tears stopped, my voice was steady, and I just did it. How? I’m still not sure.

Two months later, a colleague asked me to present at a conference. I was afraid, but I said yes. Two months after that, I had to give a group presentation to the president of the college I work for — and all the directors. Afterwards, people told me I was a natural and to walk in my gift. Me? I kept glancing over my shoulder, thinking they were talking to someone else.

That's me debuting my story on The Monti stage. It's kind of surreal looking at these photos. I still can't believe I got up there.  Photo by McKenzie Floyd.

That’s me debuting my story on The Monti stage. It’s kind of surreal looking at these photos. I still can’t believe I got up there. Photo by McKenzie Floyd.

The day of my Monti performance I felt like I was going to throw up. It started at noon, and only got worse the closer it got to showtime. Jeff assured me this was normal. In fact, when I saw him that night, he actually seemed proud that I had reached this critical point in the Monti storytelling journey. This is what’s supposed to happen.

That night, I told a story, a love story about my first dog Yoshi — our beginning, our middle and our end. It was just me, and a mic and roomful of listeners. And it was the most vulnerable place I had ever stepped into. Willingly. But when I took the stage and I spoke my first line, all my fears evaporated. It was like someone flipped a switch inside of me, and it felt incredible.

When I returned to my seat, Addison leaned over and told me to look around, “Everyone is crying. Not a dry eye,” she said. I scanned the faces in the room, wet with tears. In that moment, I experienced the power of storytelling. That night my words connected with the people in that room and they felt something. And I felt something too, an overwhelming amount of gratitude. I was grateful for an audience who was kind, attentive and open; for friends who cheered me on that night and surrounded me with support and comfort and lifted me up; and for Jeff for seeing something in me that I didn’t until now.

Photo by McKenzie Floyd.

Photo by McKenzie Floyd.

How to push through a creative block

Hello, world.

I feel as though I’ve been absent for some time now. The thing is, September and October were a complete blur for me and my need to write was extinguished by a series of, well, craziness.

We packed, we moved, we unpacked. Then, I discovered I had not one but two ovarian cysts. This news was followed by a brief walk through a patch of woods that left me covered front to back with poison ivy for three weeks; it was a nightmare. And then, my dog chased a squirrel into the woods and got speared by a tree branch in the process, resulting in a puncture wound and emergency surgery. My poor girl.

In retrospect, these series of events could have been great fodder for blog posts, but I’ve been unable to create lately. I’ve been feeling blocked. And if I’m being completely honest with myself, I haven’t been feeling like this for just the past two months; it’s more like the last year – or longer. I’ve journaled about it, reflected on it, read books and articles on the topic, but I could not figure out what was at the heart of this creative wall.

To help me uncover what was at the core, a few weeks ago, I turned to an online writing series facilitated by friend and poet Jacinta White. Becoming Undone: Unpacking Life’s Weight helped me identify the things in my life that are weighing me down and keeping me from moving forward. My “A-ha” moment came during the first writing prompt, where we had to write a list poem that began with the line: “Daily I carry … ” Without hesitation, guilt was the first word I scribbled in my notebook.

Photo by Carla Kucinski.

Photo by Carla Kucinski.

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