Ocean Wave Tattoo

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The first time I remember being at the ocean, I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. My family was at family camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we were at the ocean for the “Beach Day”. Today that meaning carries with it the image and expectations of the rides and hype of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, elaborate sandcastle contests, and competitive volleyball tournaments. But in the mid-70’s, “beach day” was simply the day you spent time at the water’s edge, digging in the sand, looking for hermit crabs, and eagerly running away from the oncoming waves’ froth.

My family never spent time at the beach other than this one designated day each year. So I hadn’t had a lot of experience with sand, or waves, or the stinging sea salt spray that the air seemed to be heavy with. Nor had anybody ever told me that waves could be unpredictable, unexpected, and unforgiving.

I, in my eagerness and zest for life, full of an extrovertism that would quickly vanish in ensuing years, I stood at the water’s edge, bucket and shovel in hand, turning to wave at my mom and dad who, not being beach people themselves, were grudgingly “taking one for the team” and hanging out at the sea for a day.

It was when I had just stopped waving, and started to bend down to dig up the sand to fill my pail with hard, wet globs to carry back to our dry sandy spot, that it hit. I didn’t hear the roar, amazingly, maybe because I didn’t even know what to listen for. I didn’t feel the ground pulse underneath me, probably because I was full of the pulse of my own heart beating happily with life, and I didn’t see the receding water in expectation for a gathering wave.

I only remember being knocked off balance, and pulled out to sea by the power and relentless pulse of the wave that fully engulfed me in it’s angry embrace, seemingly mocking me for standing in its way.

I remember everything going dark, being strangled by the water’s curling and curdling grip, and struggling to gather my tiny frame. I willed myself back to shore with every ounce of energy I could muster, frantically fistfighting the heavy and heaving riples, stopping only to cry when I was safe on the dry sand. It was then that I looked back at the now  darkly mysterious and fully alive sea, finally fully grasping what had really happened to me, realizing that the enemy had almost won; I had nearly been defeated.

And then I don’t remember the ocean again really, for another 15 years. Until I was on my honeymoon with my first husband, in the Bahamas. I was already on edge and not myself due to issues written about in other posts. And I vaguely remember there being a tipped sign, barely legible, warning of dangerous riptides. And, much like the rest of my experience with him, this barely 48-hour-ed wife believed him when her husband said that she would be safe, to just ignore the sign.

So I walked out into the seemingly never-ending shallow waters, beginning to relax from the warmth of the tropical waters mesmerizing me with their sparkle. Only to then all of a sudden have my feet sucked out from underneath me, like a quicksand presentation running in slow motion. The tide yanked me back from behind, submerging  me to it’s depths, slamming me into the ocean floor with a power that created a sand paper effect over the entire front of my body. And for an instant, I was paralyzed, suctioned to the ocean floor in a magnetic grip.

Again, I struggled to right myself, and free myself of the gale.  I gasped for hair and choked on salty froth that had ballooned in my lungs and nose. It wasn’t until I reached shore that the sandpaper effect began to show pinpoints of blood from where the sand had been engraved into my skin. And I remember sitting on the dry, sandy shore, shaking from adrenaline, wondering if in some weird way,  the ocean was sharing a premonition with me of what this marriage was going to be like.

And then I don’t remember any ocean or beach experience for another 12 years. This time, I was alone literally, not just figuratively. But at this point, alone was the safest refuge I could find. When I finally left my first husband, under 100 pounds, hair falling out in clumps, six different kinds of hives all over my body, bruises and scars dotting my skin from the war I had been in for the last 12 years, I desperately sought solitude. And the place that kept drawing me to it was the ocean, with a yearning that filled me equally with awe and comfort, surrounding me like a blanket on a cool winter’s night.

Instead of fear or anxiety, the sea called me to it. The pounding waves anchored my broken heart. The rough, warm sand seemed to exfoliate the scar tissue both on my skin and my psyche. The pungest salt-filled air seemed to cleanse the muck and mire from my very breath. The sea was calling to me, the ocean was welcoming me home. The waves, in their angry rhythmic song, sang to me a lullaby.

And it was another 15 years later that I realized the sea had made me. It had been preparing me, from the very beginning, to know how to not only survive, but to thrive, when everyone around me was simply surprised that I was alive. When I should have been terrified of being pulled out to the breadths, or slammed into its depths, instead not only did I rise on my own, and survive the defining comb, but I actually gathered strength and found my home, from what many would flee from and simply randomly roam.

So I learned that the waves, like so much else in my life, had tried to break me, but instead they made me. And this tattoo is to remind me, when I feel discouraged and weary and sad, that my life has been defined.  And over and over in time, I have learned to see from what once made me blind;  and rather than becoming bitter, these sands have made me kind. Not the type of kind that pats your head, or speaks platitudes, forever being cliche. No, it’s the type of kind, that sees the light in the mind, and is able to identify what most see a common, as actually the sacredly sublime.

Queen Anne’s Lace Tattoo

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My daughter was six years old the day I finally gathered the courage to leave her, and her brother’s, father. That day, with the cathartic seriousness of a therapist, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m proud of you. You’re finally growing up. You’re finally standing up for yourself, and us.”

She. was. six.

Growing up, all I ever want to be was a wife and mom. While I was a tomboy in every other way, and I had no desire to cook and clean, I DID want to be barefoot, pregnant, and save the world. Little did I know that the world that would need saving would be the one inside the four walls of my own home, and the people most in need of rescue would first be myself, and my two young children.

Because that’s the thing about being in an abusive relationship/marriage. While in hindsight you can look back and see a million red flags pointing to the oncoming storms, at the time, you simply feel the stillness in the air, and hold your breath.

And the deeply etched heartache in the abusive context isn’t just the victim of direct abuse, but it’s the children. The little’s that everyone thinks can’t hear, can’t see, can’t possibly internalize the electrically charged atmosphere; can’t possibly remember years later, if not in conscious memory, than subconscious muscle memory, the stealth terror which froze them in their beds at night, clinging to their stuffed animals; or the stealth fear during the day at not wanting to let their abused parent out of their sight for fear that they can’t protect them; or the stealth anxiety that eats away at their childhood, clawing away the simple joys of the newness of the world, and instead replacing it with the simple and singular focus of realizing that their world isn’t safe, and how do they defend themselves, and those they love, against it?

Which pops the bubble of yet another childhood idealism for children of domestic violence relationships, that of a child being able to trust that the adults closest to them will first and foremost protect them.

That’s where this tattoo comes into play. When I left my abusive marriage, and my daughter spoke the words that have haunted me to this day, I was NOT the person I was supposed to be. And yes, I can justify and explain, and even use solid research to back up why I was an absolute mess at that time in my life. And that matters. And it’s a million conversations for another day.

But today, it’s about her. My then six year old who lived in constant fear and constant anxiety. My six year old who chose to step in the middle of me and her father, because she wanted to protect me from his blows. My six year old who hated all dark colors because they were a sign of weakness to her. Why? Because I only wore dark colors at that time in our lives, and until the day I left her father, she saw me as weak. My six year old was my emotional strength, and what kept me sane, in those early years when I felt like my world was crashing, and spinning, and destructing, before my very eyes; but she carried a burden that was not hers to carry.

And another aspect of being a child of an abusive marriage is that they struggle to know who to “align” themselves with. While they want to protect the parent that is being  hurt, the survival mechanism kicks in as well. So their young and innocent mind decides that they better draw close to the abuser, as scary as that can be, because it’s probably safer than being closer to the abused; heck, the abused can’t even defend themselves, how will they be able to protect them? Their world of clarity and truth is obscured by the dense clouds of confusion, and fraught with the discordant rhythms of a childhood that has been stolen from them.

Then, besides having to heal from all the other trauma that we lived through, once the three of us escaped the situation, another challenge confronted us. I had to earn back the right to be respected, and the right to be the authority, and the right to be the creator of a safe and trusted place…… so that slowly my daughter could learn to be carefree in who she was….. a now 7-year-old. I had no voice, no commanding motherly presence ( still working on the commanding part), and I offered very little hope. And while my love for my children was large, and wide, and deep, and overpowering, it wasn’t expressed in the language where they could sense or feel it. So I had to heal myself,  heal my daughter, heal my relationship with her, and heal our home, all under continuing adverse circumstances. Our home was no longer a war zone, but many other places were still. And I had to learn how to fight for her in those areas too.

Which means that we kinda raised each other. Which means that there have been many days when we have been more like sisters than a mother and daughter. Which means that I have worked overtime to ensure that my daughter trusts my authority, feels safe with the boundaries I’ve drawn, and is secure enough to fall apart herself, knowing that I will be there to pick up the pieces.

We were discussing tattoo ideas a couple of years ago. She turns to me and says, “mom, I think you should get a Queen Anne’s lace tattoo.” I look up at her and ask her why.
“Mom,  the meaning behind a Queen Anne’s Lace is ‘haven, sanctuary, place of safety and rest’. You have been, and are that, for my brother and I. You need to have your next tattoo be that as it tells the next part of your story,  our story. We feel safer with you than anywhere else or with anyone else, now; and you don’t understand just how important that is. My brother and I would be involved in so much s*** if it wasn’t for you and your example. ”

And once again, like the raw emotion I felt the day she was six, I look at her, stunned,  in wonder and amazement.

All those sleepless nights, all those deep conversations, all those occasional yelling matches and slamming of doors, all those days when it took all the energy I had to physically cradle her through her rages, all those times I did not back down when she challenged me, the time I believed her when she disclosed the unthinkable abuses that had been done to her……all of the underpinnings of parenting that were magnified a zillion times in our case. All… of….. it….. mattered…. All of it made a difference. All of it created a world of order from chaos, hope from despair, and peace from what started as a war zone.

There are a lot of things I’ve failed at in my life. But being a mom evidently isn’t one of them. So while others toast to celebrate, I get inked.  Cheers!

 

Arrow Tattoo

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“Neither seek nor shun the fight.”- Gaelic proverb

Archery is a unique experience. It is somewhat counter-intuitive in nature. You have to pull back in order to release, you have to clench in order to liberate, you have to gather  in order to set free. And hanging in the balance of those two acts is that moment of tension, of unknowing, of what some call liminal space. Liminal space is time between the known and the unknown. It is a transitional moment of intensity when we stand in the path of the unknown. Richard Rohr says that liminal space is  when we have left one room and not yet entered the next. It is that graced time when we are not certain, or in control, but when the greatest growth and change can occur.

I kind of see it as the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter morning.

I have lived much of my life the last 15 years in this space. God made it clear where I didn’t belong, but not always making it clear where I did. belong And what is it about human nature that we want that space to claim as ours? We want to draw our line in the sand and say, “This is mine. Back off.”

But in this liminal space, it’s not always clear how we are to proceed.  Conflict, by it’s very nature, is conflictual. When conflict arises, I don’t know about you, but I tend to freeze. Then sometimes I “flight”, sometimes I “fight”, and sometimes I “fawn”.

The Celtics have a proverb that says, ” neither seek nor shun the fight.” It has resonated with me since I first heard it. Because it, like the tension-spun arrow, reminds me that it is in that moment of unknowing that is often times exactly where we are meant to be. I have had plenty of experiences where I have to shun “the fight” in my life. And I have had plenty of experiences when I have had to “seek the fight” in my life. I am far more comfortable with shunning than seeking. But the reality is that, ultimately,  I am learning to be the most at peace in the “neither” part. Forego the teachings of the “neither”, and  often times you overarch the seeking, or passively underestimate the shunning.

Life often calls us to advance. But before we can do that we have to retreat and reinforce our defenses. Sometimes we have to just “be”, when we don’t even know what we are “being”. But God does. And I’m learning that it’s far more important to be where He wants me to be, then to be where I think I am. ……if that makes sense.

And when I need a reminder, I have this tattoo as a memorial stone, harkening me back to times when I DID just “be”, and how that it’s far better to be in the plans,and hands, of God, than my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Barren Tree Tattoo

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The first time I ever recall “remembering” the leaves falling from trees,

their  autumn colors catching the glint of the early fall sun,

was the day my grandpa died.

For some reason his death reminded me of a tree.

Not the tree that is in full spring bloom, with aromatic flower petals perfuming the newness of the Spring air.

And not the tree, fully swollen, offering much needed shade on a hot summer day.

No. It was the dying tree, it’s leaves crisp and crackly, colored blood red, fire orange, and burnt yellow, that cocooned me that day, much like the flannel shirts he would often wear, me beckoning him to stay.

And seeing that I was cold, he would envelop me in one of them, a thousand sizes larger than what I wore….. surrounding me also with a warm, musky scent, the remnants of the aftershave he bore.

The tree reminded me of the colors of my favorite flannel of his, with it’s warm hues of late Indian summer…

The shirt that I then wore to bed each night, until months later, the worn raggedness of it, finally, was less of a covering, than no covering at all.

….And maybe that remembrance of the autumn tree, at so early a young age, was actually preparing me for winter trees, and the unprepared  deaths that lay ahead.

Trees, stripped of their fall explosions, standing stark and silent against harsh winter skies…..

Trees that once gave so much life, but now seem to have been shuttered, would become to me,  the strongest of them all.

It’s with THESE trees that I have felt the most companionship with, the most closeness with, in my life.

Many times in my  years I’ve found myself on dark, shadowless paths; journeys that most closely resemble the depth of the darkest days, and the months that stand silent, like timeless winter trees, even amongst the gales that scream.

These are the months, where seemingly nothing lives, nothing whispers, life seems to have been snuffed out before the night.

The days where there is no rustle, no ragged breeze, not one voice to be found  in life’s audience.

The haunting beauty of a leafless tree, seemingly barren of all life, standing silent in the raging storm….it draws me in, and holds me tight, and whispers it’s ok.

The beauty of a stripped tree, standing still , is that what you see is what you get.

There are no games, no hidden cues, no foilage demanding to help hide.

There are no lies. No cover-ups. No place for shame-blamed bruises to collectively reside.

So the winter tree, so plainly seen, helps me to breathe in, and just be.

It reminds me that, when all else fades, the root is what we see.

And the roots are made, not in the blaze of summer’s inviting gaze.

But insteaed they’re made, dug deeply down, through the piercing  of the winter’s glaze.

And it was in that season, one winter, or ten, that the tree gently whispered to me.

He said, “My dear, you stood on your own, unassumingly.

And you,through blizzards and freezes quietly grew….

And the best kept truth about enduring such pain, about being so gutted and thrown askew,  is that deep inside the tree, quietly, new life hibernates anew….

And not today, and maybe not the next, for the winter season is  not yet past….

But one day, the thaw will come, and the air will be birthed warm and new.

And that tree that stands, so silently, with seemingly nothing to show…

will one day, under the weight of it’s limbs, burst with a beauty that is fresh and aglow.

So stand strong, oh leafless one, when you feel most rejected, you’re not.

For much like a cactus, who stands dry and taut, seemingly dead to the uninformed touch..

Deep in your trunk, buried beneath, far from the external swell,

your life harbors a refreshing, lifegiving, drought-quenching,  well.

 

Kiddush Hashem Tattoo

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I have always loved linguistics. Not the grammar aspect, but languages, word origins, words themselves, how languages evolved over time, how a language reflects the culture around it, dialects, accents, etc. While being the hardest language in the world to learn, and spending YEARS learning it well,  I have  had quite a bit of learning English, thank you very much.

I love learning other languages, even if I’m about 42 years past where the human brain is programmed TO learn more than one language. Fascinating to me is the fact that our brain is created to learn more than one language, but….. if we haven’t learned more than one by about age 7, while we can STILL learn them later in life, the additional brain areas used to learn multiple langauges at that time in our life, either die off, or get pulled into circulation for some other brain function. In essence, those people who learned at least one other language as a young child will forever have access to areas of the brain that those of us who only learned one language, or learned more than one later in life,  will never be privy to.

The Hebrew language fascinates me. Much like several other non-western languages, whole thoughts and paradigm perspectives can be articulated and communicated in a couple of symbols or words….. concepts that would take the English language words….. and more words….. and still MORE words…. to convey.

This tattoo means “Kiddush Hashem”. Kiddush Hashem means,  “to live in such a way as to bring glory to God among those who do not know Him. To live a life of integrity; to do some heroic deed, or to be martyred.”

Ok. So I would rather skip the martyer part. Nobody wants to prematurely die around here. But the rest of it is deeply symbolic for me.

The rest of the meaning is exactly how I’ve chosen to live my life, and how I want to continue to do so. This concept harkens from one of my favorite books in the Bible, Isaiah, specifically 65:1, where Isaiah speaks words of God that have been revealed to him,

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call my name, I said, ” Here am I, here am I.”

I wrote a prayer for myself  on October 23, 2011, and posted it on my desk at work for years. It says,

“God, I pray that my life will reflect the intent of Isaiah 65:1, and of kiddush hashem. I pray that the ashes from my own brokenness will fill the air around me, like incense. And that people who don’t even know they have a need for God in their lives, and who do not seek Him in any way, and who don’t call out to Him with any voice, will come to understand, trust, and thrive in a relationship with God, simply  because I make myself a vessel through which there is less and less of me, and more and more of Him. Amen.”

So I inked this tattoo on my foot, symbolizing the desire that my hands and feet always be those that bring Good News, for the purpose of being a sampling of Jesus in human form. That my life is lived in such a way that if people meet me, and if they forget about me, they have lost nothing. But they will know, by interacting with me, that when they meet Jesus, and they forget about Him, they have lost everything.

Shalom.

Grief, Exhaled….. Tattoo

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This tattoo took me over the edge from being a person who had tattoos that were “cute”,  to a half- arm- sized tattoo on my left arm.

For a while I often wondered if it was “too” big, or “too” out there, or “too” much, quickly covering it up whenever I was around someone who maybe I  thought would judge me as having gone “too far”….

It even caught me off guard at first, startling me into thinking I had black marker on my arm from teaching…

But then…. as I’ve slowly evolved and grown as a person over this last year, this tattoo has become not only my life’s mantra, motto, but it’s the embodiment of how I’ve chosen to see life.

The impetus for me to formally verbalize my thoughts, cohesively turning them into the deeply etched phrase here, was in living through  the most recent of traumas in my life.

Without going into detail, after being a single parent for over 10 years, I remarried, only to find out that my husband of less than a year had been serial cheating on me during the entirety of my knowing him…. friendship, dating, engaged, married. To sum up one of  his mistress’s words, which he corroborated, he married me because I provided a good reputation for him, and I loved his children.

A whole different trauma. A while different betrayal. A whole different grief.

And from these ashes, these words took shape. While I created this for MY life, I choose to treat everyone who comes into my life with these life affirming beliefs as well,and pray that I can pay my pain forward, through being a vessel of transformed grace and hope.

So here is what I think….

BEAR WITNESS….Do you see injustice? Do you see abuse? Do you see oppression? Do you see evil? Don’t turn your head. Don’t shut your eyes. Don’t silence your screams. Don’t ignore the pain. Face the storm. Sound the siren. Summon the jury.

REVEAL TRUTH….The truth can’t set you free until you first unwrap it, unhide it, and uninhibit it. Truth speaks for itself. Don’t drown it out. Don’t shovel it over. Don’t bury it in and slam the door. Lay it down, and out, for all to see. Bare your naked soul. Call it for what it is. It is not YOUR burden to carry the sins of someone else. Lay blame where blame is due. And then step back, unburdened, and fret not anymore, the shadows no longer hold you captive.

HOLD SPACE…..Sometimes there is nothing to do, but sit with the grief, let the tears flow, tend to the shuddering silhouette. Grief bottled in is no mourning at all. Don’t rush. Don’t downplay. Don’t compare. Don’t rebuke. Simply……..be.   Light the candles. Rest in the refuge. Be silent in the sanctuary. Stand down.

EMBRACE PAIN……Life causes all of us pain. We either allow it to shape us, or we spend our lives fighting, as it swallows us. Before we can heal, we have to simply acknowledge it. Weakness isn’t in being betrayed, or in losing, or in being ripped apart. Weakness is in acting like it never hurt us to begin with. Let yourself feel all of the bitterness and rage. Let yourself be broken. Let yourself fall apart. Let yourself be real. It’s ok to not be ok.

CARRY GRIEF…..Never let someone tell you that you EVER heal whole again, unscarred, unblemished, unfractured, back to who you once were. You don’t. And don’t try. A part of your grief will go with you for the rest of your life. Own it. Respect it. Carry it. You are who you are because of the heartache etched on your heart. Make grief your ally so that, rather than embittering and imprisoning you, it creates a compassion for others you meet on your journey who need to know they aren’t alone. Because no one can walk this road solo. And no one is untouched by grief. And the darkness doesn’t discriminate, but it DOES fade to the corner when we light the path together.

HONOR JOY……There WILL be moments, even amidst the worst of the storms, when laughter will bubble over, the sun will beam bright, and life will kiss you with joy. Don’t downplay it. Don’t sabotage it. Don’t disgrace it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t destroy it. Don’t disown it. Honor it. No matter the cards you’ve been dealt, you’re  bound to draw an ace at some point. Hug it. Enjoy it. Grasp a hold of it. And….even if it’s just the eye of the storm, and the clouds are drawing nigh again, engrave those moments as memorial stones of what can be, what has been, and what will be again. Because the darkness and storms may rage for a night, but even the gloomiest midnight ends. And the sun comes up. And joy…..joy….. joy…. always comes in the morning.

 

 

Warrior Tattoo, and thoughts on Dating as Single Parent and Woman

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My first name, Carolee, is a derivative of Carol. My nickname is Carrie. The combination together means “song of joy” and “strong woman” depending on how you look it up. My middle name is Louise. Louise is a French name meaning famous warrior or renowned fighter. “Laoich” is Gaelic for hero or warrior.

I got this tattoo around the time that I made two intriguing discoveries as an adult single parent and woman. Don’t get me wrong. I could apply this tattoo to many areas of my life where I have had to fight for justice and for self-respect. But this tattoo, and it’s placement where I would see it as a constant reminder to myself , was inked as a reminder to me that it is better to be single than to lower one’s standards. And you never, EVER, put someone you’re dating before your children. EVER.

I have seen so many parents of students I teach, children of friends of mine, and just random people around me, who believe that their right to be happy trumps their children’s rights to have a safe and secure home, and the necessary attention needed from their custodial parent in order to grow into healthy adults; a feat that is challenging for any parent, let alone parents who are already navigating divorce or single parenthood for whatever reason.

Upon discussing recently with my daughter a couple of friends we have who AREN’T putting their children first, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I’ve said it before. And I will say it again. You might not have had the best luck with men to date ( true), but one thing I’m so grateful for is that you have ALWAYS put me and my brother first, no man has ever come before us, and I’m so happy you’ve always loved us,and parented, like that.”

And my son, he sends me text messages or Instagram posts, thanking me for being the best mom AND dad he could have:

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Which leads me to the second meaning of this tattoo. I have always wanted to be a person who was respected versus loved. I don’t know why I’m driven to that, but I am. People can love you,but still walk all over you, and not value you. Which I guess some people would say isn’t love, right? And you make a good point. Obviously, as I’m writing this, I realize I’ve pinpointed a place where I still need to heal and grow. But being respected affords you some protection and voice. And if I had to choose between being someone’s muse or their battle partner, I would choose the latter. I have never wanted to be anyone’s plaything, or their trophy, or their status symbol.

Which leads me to the games men play. Women play games too, I know. But since I’m a woman, attracted to men, I will focus on the games that men play. I am 43 years old, not quite as in-shape, or wrinkle-free, or young, as I once was. I am definitely past the “I yearn to have more children,” phase of my life. I don’t party, give the illusion of being a club girl, a casual date, and maybe even a “fun” date (sad, I know).

And I get that some people can construe my tattoos as being those that belong to an easy girl, a hard girl, a “been around the block a few times girl”, and maybe part of my attraction to tattoos is because they DO give an illusion of toughness. Because my whole life I’ve had to fight to be taken seriously, to not be seen as naive, and all sweetness and light. So maybe part of my attraction TO tattoos is that they provide a form of armour, a weapon if you may, to keep idiots at bay.

I’m not looking to date right now. I’m pretty burned by what my next tattoo blog will address. But my interactions with other single men, in general, is woefully depressing, and has been, across the years. Dating sites? Anybody can say and purport to be anything. I’ve tried several, and people just aren’t who they say they are. Church socials? Some of the crudest men I’ve dated have been from these circles. Random people you meet in life? All I can say is that I’m grateful for the internet. Everybody I meet who has a potential to be a serious date? I background check them. It’s worth the money, trust me.

But the most frustrating thing to me is that most men, no matter their age, have to be told the same things that my daughter has told guys HER age:

No, I won’t send you pictures of me other than pictures that I would also post on Facebook on Instagram.

No. I don’t want ANY pictures of you other than ones that YOU would post on Facebook or Instagram.

No. I won’t sext you.

No. I don’t want you to sext me.

No. I won’t have sex with you.

No. I won’t watch porn with you.

And no, I won’t be a casual text. I don’t have time for that. Either pursue me, friends first, as a serious commitment, to friendship, at the very least. Or move on to other pastures.

I know that there are good men out there. Godly men. Feminist men. Men of honor. And yes, the pickings get slimmer and slimmer the older I get. Or maybe they don’t. I think that pickings for real men have been slim all along.

But now? Now I know my worth. It can’t be bargained for, or traded in, gambled, or taken for granted. I am FAR from perfect. But for finally in my life, I know what I bring to the table, I’m not afraid to eat alone, and the romantic in me is willing to hide beneath the warrior in me, protected, unless someone strong and heroic enough wants to fight for the right for it to be seen.

Boppo’s Tattoo

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You left us two years ago. You would have been 103 this year. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about you, or something that is a representation of you.

My memoir of you is not one of a kind old grand-pop that doted on his family. No, instead, when you died, the nurses in your care home commented that you had been such a sweet, old man. My mom and I had looked at each other skeptically, and then checked the paperwork to make sure we were talking about the same man.

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Because of you….I learned to deal with difficult people, and maybe even a little alarmingly, created the false impression that difficult men can be won over by sheer love and affection simply because, in spite of the fact that you were a workaholic, game cheater, violent alcoholic, bully, and an irregular person with an acerbic personality to the rest of our family and the rest of the world, I was your sweetheart. I was the one who, even when you hated the words that were spoken to you, and the decisions that were made for you….when I was the one that shared them with you, you grudgingly agreed, and treated me with respect and admiration; and maybe even love, impressed that I didn’t let your bull**** intimidate me or push me away.

You truly were a self made man, and your extreme value of education fueled not only my love for, but also my expectation for myself, of being a lifelong learner. It’s why, even now, I have dedicated the next four years of my life to get my doctorate; because one day, in a drunken hush of yours, you told me that I would never max out my potential until I had a PhD after my name, that you would be proud of me if I accomplished that goal. Because you knew the value of hard work, having worked your way up from mailroom boy at Wells Fargo, to VP of Western Operations. 

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Your love for travel and for the Sierra’s, particularly the Stanislaus National forest, has become a key backbone of who I am. Whether we were playing our weekly Scrabble game, or you were treating me to Chinese food, the times we went “deer hunting” to count the number of deer we saw on some God-forsaken wilderness logging road, or me calling some investment company for you and being surprised that the receptionist greeted me with, “welcome to the million dollar club, how can I help you?” ( a millionaire? You dressed like a longshoreman), seeing that no matter how dysfunctional you were in some ways, you were still an accomplished man ( the gift of money and math you did NOT pass on to me) and as someone who only ever “paid in full with cash”, who you were, and who I was TO YOU more importantly, played a crucial role in me becoming the person I am today.

Sometimes, I have learned, that you become who you are meant to be not just from those around you who LIVE righteous, holy lives, but you grow by parts of you being forged by rubbing up against those who chisel and grind us rather than hold and bind us. 

Our family has always joked that you reminded us of a blue jay, cocky, always squawking, a bit arrogant, lover of pine trees…. and with your hair, when uncombed, cocked upright in a blue jay’s fashion. Ironic, since you loved birds, always had Audobon books laying around, and knew the scientific name of every bird between here and the equator. Of all the birds that could have been chosen, you seemed to embody the somewhat annoying character of the Stellar blue jay.

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The symbolism of the blue jay represents

  • Energy
  • Clarity
  • Vibrancy
  • Advantage
  • Curiosity
  • Faithfulness
  • Intelligence
  • Communication
  • Determination
  • Assertiveness
  • Loquaciousness

All of these reflect you perfectly.

….It was last summer, as I sat on the porch of mom and dad’s house, the cabin that used to be yours, that a certain blue jay seemed to be talking to me. Whenever I went outside, it would come and sit on the porch railing, yakking and yakking. When I went out to the front of the cabin, it would follow me, like it was trying to give me a message.

On three different occasions, over the course of three months, this jay would come to me. The third time around, something became aroused in my spirit, a sense of familiarity…. of home, an odd scent  of vanilla tobacco and Irish Spring soap; the comforting texture of frayed flannel; the vibrant blue of feathers, ironic being that since you were colorblind, the only color you COULD see was blue; and the taste of Chinese food and Baskin Robbins, all places I remember you taking me as a young child.

And then, out of nowhere, I knew it was YOUR spirit. It was you. You were there with me. In that fleeting moment. It was like I could reach out and touch you. In that one second, a lifetime of memories filled my psyche, making time stand still. And while I’ve never been a believer in those we love coming back to love us, between worlds, I know that day that I was in the presence of something far more embracing than a snarky neighborhood jay.

For whatever reason, I’m glad that you came to me that summer. I’m glad I had one last chance to sense your presence. For in the more time that has passed since you left us,  every day the more deeply your legacy imprints me.

So this tattoo is for you. A blue jay feather. On my wrist. So that no matter where I go, I am reminded that just maybe, you see me.

This song will always remind me of you, Carrie Underwood, “See You Again”.

My Son’s Tattoo

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I almost didn’t get pregnant with him. Abuse and drama grew to an all-time high.I had almost left my ex.  We had gone to marital counseling at our church, where my ex had finally acknowledged that he had a problem that he needed to fix.  We decided to give our marriage, and family, one more try. We went away for the weekend to “save” our marriage. And yowzers….. I was pregnant.

The “saving” died a quick death. With a cocaine addiction of his  that began spiraling out of control, so further did our lives. During this pregnancy, I was pushed down a flight of stairs ( 7 months pregnant), and held at knife-point, arched back over our washing machine ( 8 months pregnant).

I was under so much stress during these months,  that our son was born a month early. His eyebrows were nonexistent. His eyes were still sealed shut. His tongue hadn’t detached from the bottom of his mouth yet. He was born with bronchiolitis, a condition that has major ramifications to this day, manifesting in serious sinus allergies and asthma. He was also born with a skin condition covering much of his tiny body, a mix between eczema and hives.

Even though he had been scheduled for a routine c-section, he ended up being delivered emergency c-section, without initial medicine because it was too late in the process to give me the regular labor medicine.

I had to literally pump my milk through a special attachment, and then feed him through a preemie tube, in order to breastfeed. I did this even after I returned to work at eight weeks, pumping every recess and lunch break, for the final months of school. At home feeding him took twice as long. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed.

And yet, through all of that, he was my relational child. I remember the first time he laughed; the sound filled the room with joy. He enthusiastically participated in life. He gave love. He gave compassion. He gave fun, all from the moment he was able to communicate. He was full of hilarious antics and humor. His very personality screamed,” Love me! I love you!” He wanted to be held and he wanted to touch. He wanted to play and be played with. He was always on the move, rarely still, unless he was asleep.

He was also the child to see his father punch his mother in the nose.

He was the child to see his father push his mother into a bookcase, shaking loose the books.

He was the child to see his father spit in his mother’s face, block the door from her escape, and throw a glass cup at her head.

He was the one that could never live up to his father’s opinion of what it meant to be “a man”, even as a young child. He was called “sissy”, “mama’s boy”, “weak”, and every other form of derogatory  term a father could call his son.

It was this child of mine that didn’t want to be a boy, or black, when he was 4, because to him , male and dark were people who were mean, and scary, and hurtful.

It was around this time that he wrote this note to me, seen here on this tattoo. He was always writing notes, drawing pictures, leaving little gifts, reminders of his full-hearted love for me…..

It was this child, at 8, who told me that he had an anger management problem because of how mad he was at his father, and that I had better get him into counseling. Which I did.

It was this child that, unbeknownst to either of us, would establish at bond together, that would define how we each interacted with the other sex, for all future references.

It was this child that told off his father repeatedly in later years, telling him that he would never forget how he saw him treat his mom;  and, while he could forgive his father, he could never forget his actions. He would honor him, but never trust him.

He was also the great encourager, with a hero mentality far deeper and intense, than belied the youth in his years.

We would often go on walks together, and he loved to blow dandelion seedlings with me. His favorite colors were bright and strong and vivide, full of life like him, orange, red, and yellow; hence, the colors in the tattoo.

He is also my child that was diagnosed with depression, and who yet carries himself with pride, shoulders back, bringing awareness to the fact that boys can suffer from anxiety just as much as girls can.

He is my child who, now at 15, stands taller than me, his voice deepened, who calls me to always first pray when I’m upset about something; telling me that I taught him how, and I better walk it myself if I talk it.

His depth is far more complex than  his age.

He is an old soul in a young body.

He is a self-proclaimed feminist, who, having been raised by a mom and sister, fiercely guards the privilege of women to be seen as equals to men.

He’s the one who thinks I should take care of myself first,  before I can take care of anybody else, and reminds me of this when I forget.

He is my yin to his yang. And, like I always used to tuck him in at night, saying the same little phrase tattooed here…..the day he wrote it to me, this mommy heart was healed in places that I hadn’t even realized were ripped open .

The bond between a mother and a son is often a precious gift; mine has been a priceless lifeline of light in a journey darkened by shadows.

I love him, deeply, heart and soul.

 

 

Matching “Break The Silence” tattoos

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She and I have been like “Thelma and Louise” since the day I knew about her. I remember the exact day I got pregnant, it was a warm summer evening, a rare moment of peace….. Extended family arrived later the next afternoon. And with that, an onslaught of violence delivered “on the down low” in our bedroom, as was the usual case whenever family from either side was around. Only he wasn’t quiet enough that time….. afterwards, his family asked me if I was ok……. I couldn’t say “no, I wasn’t,” because that would leave me open to “asked for” retribution later that night. So I said I was fine, we all nervously laughed, and my habit of living a double life took on a new passenger.

I had always wanted to be pregnant. I couldn’t wait until the time came. But I quickly found out that, for ME, my growing bump meant yet another liability to try and protect, and detract attention from. With every, “you’re adorable”, or “how cute is that bump”, I would be splayed into the limelight, a limelight that only spotlighted yet another hurl of cutting remarks and accusations, never knowing why my pregnancy only drove his jealously and insecurities deeper into the abyss of illogic.

She arrived on a full moon night, three days after her due date. Later, she would tell me she was only being considerate, that she had been due on my 25th birthday, but wanted me to celebrate my quarter century for myself.

The L&D department was packed that night. The doctors were running around frantic.The wolves might as well have been howling in their packs, outside the waiting room door.

I was in hard labor for 18 hours. After the first doctor told me repeatedly that I “just wasn’t pushing hard enough”, a new doctor came on shift, took one look at “us”, and frantically rushed me into the OR, saying that her head was stuck in the birth canal, and that we were both about to have life-threatening issues and/or injuries.

Through an emergency c-section, she was delivered safe and sound. Everyone went home. An hour later, I was rushed into the OR again. My uterus had collapsed, and I was hemmorhaging. When all was said and done, I had to have an emergency DNC, and I was placed in ICU for a week. I had lost almost 5 pints of blood, necessitating numerous blood transfusions in hopes of saving my life….

Her father came to me the next day, threatening to take her out of the hospital away from me. I must have done something wrong, he argued,  in order to have all the trauma happen to me at birth. Oh wait, he said, he decided he knew what the trauma was. She wasn’t his child, but his brothers’. Repeatedly over our twelve years of marriage, he had pretty much accused me of having an affair with almost every person our age in our lives, including his sister, and a friend I taught with. If I had even LOOKED at someone a second too long for his liking, I was accused of being a whore. In fact, he compared himself to the Hosea of the Bible, and me as the one he “saved”.

But for this particular moment, it was one of his brothers. He was so mean, accusatory, and verbally abusive,  that the L& D nurse told him he needed to leave, that my machines were beeping abnormally, because my heartrate was skyrocketing, due to our argument.

It was there, in that moment, utterly physically and psychologically broken, that my heart broke fully in two. I had been hurt and angered and shamed at his abuse before. But this time, after just giving birth to our daughter, I was fractured in a way that would literally take almost two decades to heal from. And it was in that moment that I created a bond with her that was what propelled me six years later to be able to leave him, to protect her and her brother. Because at that point? I didn’t matter for me. I was nothing. All of my life, for MY life sake, left me that night in the hospital, the day after she was born.

But for my child, and, eventually children? With a more urgent burden than I ever imagined parenting to be, because literally our life and death lay in the balance, I decided that being a good and Godly mom would be THE driving force in my life.

So, 16 years later, when she wanted to get matching tattoos, representing all that we had had to fight through in our lives, just to get to where we were that day, how could I ever say no?

“Break the Silence” is an organization that was started to bring awareness to domestic violence, and how, unlike any other crime except for sexual assault, it’s the silent crime. No one talks about it. What happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. It’s family business. It’s protected by shame and denial and terror. It wreaks havoc and chaos on the one place that you’re supposed to feel safe, your home.

And she and I, we raised each other. She protected me, even getting hit once by her father when she was trying to intervene in a fight between he and I, when I couldn’t protect myself. She was my logic and backbone when I was silenced by fear. She was the fighter when I had no fight.

She was born stoic. I remember watching her as a baby. She would take in everything around her. No nonsense. No fussing. Missing nothing. Her eyes could pierce you with a simple stare. She sucked on her binky with an intensity that belied her calm exterior.

The few times she did let down her guard, and showed vulnerability of any kind, I held her dear to my heart like one would hold a fragile glass doll; the moments were rare indeed.  Little did I know just how important that strength and stoicism would be for her a few years later.

And when we did escape, and start to heal, I had to work hard, very hard, to earn her respect, and my rightful place has her authority figure and mom. We have often been more like sisters than mother and daughter.

But I know that now she can look at me, and model herself after me. If I’ve done nothing else right with my life, I have grown into a healthy, strong, woman, who fights for what she believes in, who protects her children, who speaks for them when they can’t defend themselves, and who holds them when they themselves have been broken in two.

This shared tattoo is about so much more than ink, and wrists, and letters. It repesents a bond between she and I that has been forged by the same molten iron, shaped by the same, unforgiving mallet, and cooled with the grace of the same God that has turned those ashes into phoenixes of beauty.

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And people wonder why I don’t get out as much as I could, or live my “own” life more, why I insist on being there for my kids so much. I remember when it was threatened to me  every day that they would be taken away from me. I remember what it was like for our house to be a war zone instead of a home. I remember what it was like when I had to literally fight for them, with every breath in me, some forty-five times in court.

So to say that I take parenting as my number one joy and priority, and that I’m even fanatical about it,  is to define me exactly as who I am. I will never be a hovering parent, but a warrior parent? Everyday.

Before you can break the silence, you have to have found your voice.