Dear Boys: If I Were Dying, Here’s What I’d Want You To Know


Dear Boys, 

I didn’t want to do this, to write a post about mothering before mother’s day because I felt it was self-indulgent, that I would be promoting myself through your existence or making you my “muse.”  Vaunting myself through your experiences. Trust me, it happens. I’m also not gonna lie, this is a long one. It’s really three posts in one. 

That said (Ha!), I had the most remarkable morning because I consciously changed my intention last night. I hope you’ll understand by the end. (And remember: my ring size is 6 and my birthstone is sapphire.)

It’s clear I love to write; it liberates me, enables me to say things better than I would with my mouth. I have a tremendous fear that I’m not good at it. People tell me I am, but maybe one day I’ll believe it. That doesn’t matter. 

Here’s what matters: Your uncle Alb has a friend whose wife died of cancer quite suddenly. About six years ago, she was diagnosed one day at stage four (it had spread through her body, it was inoperable and terminal) and six weeks later she was in heaven. That story broke my heart. It still does. 

When she knew she was dying, she gathered her four children by her bedside and told them what was happening. She left them video messages and they filmed their lives together as they always had, but obviously, these newer moments had a different tone to them. She wrote them numerous handwritten letters and notes and they all savored every moment. The youngest was so wee, maybe two because she is around our youngest’s age now, she had little comprehension. They were a family and of course they bickered, I’m sure. They laughed, I’m sure. They loved and they lost each other in one another’s embraces. They stuck together. 

Their mother had tremendous, I mean awe-inspiring and humbling, faith in God and her love of God helped her be strong and a mother. I’m not here to preach in what you should believe in; that’s a private journey, but I will say that if you don’t believe in something, you only believe in you and while that’s cool and all that, it’s pretty bloody selfish too (sorry, had to go all Mom on you there). I also know in my own heart that her maternal love and her commitment to her children spurred her on. There is no greater love. 

So during her final half of a spring (essentially) she even more actively mothered them as best she could. She was a homeschooler so she was with them all the time anyway. (I love you very much, but I can’t home school. Can you imagine?!) 

She inspired me to create this blog. I think of her almost every time I strike a key to write my blog posts. 

It’s hard to talk about death. We talk so much about life and so much about what we haven’t done with it that I wonder why we don’t talk about death more often, in terms of what we would do if we knew we were dying in order to live richer, smarter lives. 

So almost 18 months ago, I started this blog with the complete intention of leaving you slices of me: what I thought, what I saw, advice on how I messed up and how to learn from it, and how I expressed these things. I love you all so much, it’s really hard to quantify, so I won’t bother. After all, “It’s the quality, not the quantity” right? 

About five months ago, my intention with writing got confused; it was affected by outside influences. It’s not the outside influence that gets “blame” rather than myself (if there is any blame to go around, which there isn’t) for straying and not adhering to my main intention. I lost myself in flights of fancy, thinking beyond the moment, thinking of fame, which is ironic because I’m pretty private. Trust me: peer pressure exists when you’re 44. And when people tell you the world can be a cold place, brush it off. But when they tell you that only you can make your own happiness, believe them. 

It was all messed up, guys. Those vainglorious thoughts stole from my spirit to simply write, create and enjoy: God did not give me talent to write to simply achieve status or fame. God gave me talent to write to communicate. But I lost my way and I started some fiction and started doing things to “keep up” with someone else’s ambitions; I have no doubt that experience inspired me and stretched my wings, but in the process, nothing became good enough, everything had to have an angle, I couldn’t simply just write for the sake of writing anymore. This went on for about three months. 

This has been a hard transition. A difficult lesson to learn. But an important one because it brought me back in.  

About three weeks ago, when I was in the tail end of this transition, and when I’d sort of passively decided that while what I was writing was actually OK to do, I was still wrapped around the thoughts of it still being “not enough, do more, do better, do all the time…” I woke at 1:18 am on 4/18/12 to a phrase in my head and it wouldn’t stop repeating until I recorded it. 

I don’t want you to think I’m having psychotic breaks, I’m not. But I know that phrase came to me because I’d been thinking a lot about how to get back to center; I’d been waiting for a sign of how to get back to you. How to get back to me. How to just . . . y’know, get back. Y’know? Do you ever get lost like that? Like that you love what you’re doing and that’s great, but then you start to lose focus of why you’re doing it either because someone suggests you could do it differently or promote it (more)? If you love what you’re doing, does there have to be a reason? I don’t think so. I think love is reason enough. (I have to go all Mom on you again: the things I’m talking about when I talk about what you love to do must be legal, good and harmless to yourself or others.)

Ok, I’ll stop. Do you want to know what the phrase is? Well I’m gonna tell you anyway. I’ve never written it publicly. I feel though, that based on how my morning has gone, that maybe it’s time and that maybe it will help you and anyone else who could be feeling lost and who reads this post (maybe they’re lost because they read my stuff!). 

“Do not stray from your initial motivation and essence of what you excel at doing what you DO do. Keep the flow to a trickle until you know that the world is ready for what you have to offer. You will know when it is time.” 

That “DO do” was pretty emphatic like that; ALL CAPS and whatnot. It was purposeful. After all, how do you argue with a thought like that? Especially at 1:18 in the morning? It wasn’t meant to say the things that you do that are someone else’s idea or as a reaction, like your homework or picking on your brother(s). It meant the things, the essences that you EXCEL at DOing, like for Thing 1: play and love your guitar or write your wonderful stories and how you have a keen sense of how things go as you laugh at irony; or for Thing 2: how you can make people think about themselves and feel good inside and share how you actually feel and be real, so real with others or how you love small things and love to create and aren’t afraid to stand on a stage and sing, act and create; or for Thing 3: to be dreamy and soft and cozy and be OK with being alone and who you are and not make excuses for who that is and how you are always so honest, sometimes painfully so, but it’s up to the grown ups to deal with it because you’re still so young. 

Lots of people talk about how much they might have learned what to be from their parents . . . but once you become a parent, it’s what you’ve taught me: HOW to be that is more important. How to live with integrity and honesty and honor, how to be present, and how to be careful with my words and your beloved tender hearts. 

Bahhh. I’m crying right now because I feel so humble for how you’ve taught me already and you’re only so young still! You mean I have more to learn?!

. . .

Wayne Dyer, a wonderful present-day philosopher talks a lot about spirit, intention and living with intention. It sounds sort of lofty and highfalutin I suppose, but actually it’s quite simple. My midnight message reminds of what he says. 

What he says and what my message means is: get back to basics, to our essence of what it means to live honestly and purely for ourselves today, now — not in a selfish way, but to live for ourselves so that we don’t live for others and the past or future. Ok, I could be doing a better job of explaining this. Here goes: the life we have is abundant and robust on its own. To live with other people’s troubles, or joys (in our minds) detracts from the power that is in our own lives; we simply don’t have the bandwidth. Let mother nature be the ultimate multi-tasker. 

Need an example? Ok: yesterday was a hard day for me. I’m not going to parentalize you and tell you what went down. Parentalize means to make you my parent and tell you my adult stuff: you’re my kids and I really should never tell you adult stuff because well, it’s inappropriate and it steals your right to be a child, a dependent, not a supposed adult; my troubles are not yours to “hold.” (I’m going there again, all Mom on you: “infantalize” means the opposite: to treat you as infants and be all cutesy talk and coo-coo to you because that also robs you of your achievements and growth and puts you in a box where I’m most comfortable.) 

It was a hard day because I lived outside myself and I let my reactions spool up my EGO (not my spirit, which was probably hiding in a corner) to a point where I was literally shaking with anger and I could feel the adrenaline (which is so unbelievably powerful a chemical, holy crap, I can’t believe we make this inside our bodies) literally flood and heat my body and amp up my heart rate which geared up every muscle I have to fight a tremendous physical battle.  All I can say is your dog is a wonderful buddy and speed-walking while talking to our friend behind the fence on the phone was essential for stage 1 of my recovery. 

The thing is, guys, you’re gonna get like that. You’re gonna let ego-driven reactions and stuff that other people do get to you and you might feel so incredibly offended, violated even, that you’ll want to hunt down and hurl an Army tank 50 yards in no direction at all (“HULK SMASH!”) just to make you feel better. But you know what, it only helps a little. What helps a lot is just letting it go. Letting it all just blow away… 

It was a hard day. But then you all came home, and well, my distraction didn’t really stop. I was still pretty miffed. I banged on my keyboard and wrote and wrote and wrote. Even though I called that wonderful friend and she helped me so much, I was still miffed. Still in that moment. Then a cousin called, and she helped me a lot too to get back to me. That was the beginning of stage 2 of my recovery.

So I did. I came back to me, but that wasn’t enough. I had to cut the cords that connected me to that negativity (real or imagined) so I put down the smartphone. I logged off the mac and I came back to you all. I lived with intention to excel at the things I DO do. Thing 3 and I inadvertently made three batches of brownies (I know, nice problem to have, huh?) because he said to add 3 eggs and a cup each of water and oil to one packet. The result of that was fudge drink (I’m gagging at the thought) so we had to add two more packets; I know, we’re champions because we took one for the team there (I’m just glad we HAD two more packets…). Then Thing 2 and I played Appleletters on the floor beside the barstools and had a laughingly good time because neither of us had any vowels for a while and then finally in the end we did, but not enough consonants (life is like that) to do anything. Thing 1, you were jamming “Stairway to Heaven” in your room and making progress. It was all very good to be alive. 

As I put my head down on my pillow last night, I resolved to not pick up the smartphone or log on until after I come back from walking you to school. 

Remember this Rockwellian walk to school; we did it rain or shine, almost every day. 

I thank God, T3, that you needed to go in late today to write your reader’s response and for my pledge to not take my phone because if I had, I would have surely missed the following: the talk we had about playing Bananagrams later today and the mommy fox we saw in the woods as we walked up the hill behind the Sullivan’s. Do you remember seeing the breakfast in her mouth for her kits? I think it was a chipmunk (maybe our cats caught it for her and left it somewhere). If I hadn’t stayed with you to unpack your stuff and walk you to Spanish, I would’ve messed up the timing of: seeing the deer eating new weeds near the ravine. I would have missed the fox again, as she left her kits to look for more to eat. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to stand on the new wooden bridge to watch her silently trot with her fluffy white-tipped and rust-colored tail bouncing as she scanned her beautiful amber eyes to follow the sound of squirrels until they met me. Her head was perched just so, revealing her lovely white chest and black outline of her mouth and whiskers. She came closer and when she was about 20 feet away, I cleared my throat. (I love nature and all, but well… c’mon, she’s a wild animal.) Our eyes met. She stopped and she lifted her left paw to just hover above the path. We stared, regarding one another and I was grateful I was alone without Murphy or your dad because our talking would have surely scared her off. I wish I had a camera: The fox right in front of me, the deer still nibbling in the sun about 40 feet behind the fox, oblivious to the din of traffic above and I heard only the birds and squirrels leaping from tree to tree. The fox stood totally still, for what seemed an eternity, but was only 20 seconds. I never looked away. She did, I won. 🙂 She turned right and trotted. Stopped, looked at me again, looked ahead again and continued on her way.    

. . .

I’m almost done here… 

A great (and excellent published author – I try not to give names here) and longtime friend of our family’s, said to me about three months ago when I was feeling quite down about myself and my own family of origin, that it doesn’t matter anymore if the family that made me loves me or honors or aids me. What matters is that I have the family I made with your father, us, to do that — that we are here to do that for each other. Her loving words were forcefully delivered, to wake me up I think, and they slammed me like a fierce wind. I can still feel it now. What’s done is done. What’s now is ours. 

So it’s about balance: stay on task at what you love to DO. Don’t compare yourself with others, compare yourself with you. Don’t live for someone else’s dream (even if it’s for you), live for yours. 

There are wonderful mothers who grow their own food and mill their own wheat. They are good people and I am not one of them. So it doesn’t matter that I cook home-made anything, what matters is that we eat it together. 

It doesn’t matter that I write a book or a blog or a movie; I’m not in this gig to get rich. Sorry, but you’ll have to buy your own Lamborginis. What matters is that I do so purely and with love of the craft and intention to stay grounded. While ambition is good and can keep us on the job, active authentic intention keeps us focused which ultimately helps us get the job done.

Always, always come back to center. Figure out what why you’re doing what you do (but it must be legaland stay there.  

Oh, and if I can’t complete whatever I’m doing online while you’re at school, it’s not meant to be. I gotta get off the grid when you walk through the door. 

Thank you boys.  

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