Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nutcracker, Part II

I JUST wrote about how great a storyteller God is, and here I am already with another piece of story to share. You cannot make these things up (well, actually, I totally could, but I'm glad I didn't!).

The story starts a long time ago. I wrote a bit about it in this post about how I feel about The Nutcracker. Obviously, God is doing some major housekeeping in this heart. My feelings about ballet have been a jumbled mess: bitterness cobwebs, boxes of joy buried deep in the crawlspace, righteous anger stuffed behind rubbermaid tubs full of a dancer's grin-and-bear-it decorum, wells of sadness. Yesterday after reposting my commemorative post on my life changing accident, I said to Brendan, "Do I seem like I'm just hung-up on old news? Am I obsessing over something that I just need to get over?" "NO! Not at all!" he answered. "Well, it seems that way to me..." But, here's the thing: that life change happened 12 years ago, and I'm pretty sure I spent the first 6 years just trying to survive it. The next 3 or 4 were spent trying to tell myself it was time to be over it without ever having explored how to grieve. It took 10 years for me to be able to start really looking at the whole thing, and it is only through regular counseling sessions (that I began to attend for help dealing with the current disruption of my illness) that I am finding how greatly effected I am by it all- as in daily effected. I use this analogy a lot because I think it is so true: ballet and me as ballet dancer were like a major influential person in my life- like a special aunt, teacher, or sister, and losing ballet was like experiencing the death of that person. I struggle to give myself credit for that loss because it wasn't really a person, and I guess I behave as though only some kinds of losses deserve compassion. But, I need compassion. The moment my body hit the floor, I knew I needed compassion, but I began steeling myself against that need. Deciding not to be needy works for lots of people. It worked fine for me for a long time. Of course, "works" should be in those quotation marks because I don't think I was able to be fully myself. I worked some things out here and there (ALWAYS in connection with spiritual growth through the work of the Holy Spirit through his Word and his people), but I did not try to engage the work of healing. Rather, I tried to tell myself that healing wasn't required.

I know this all too well now: you never quite know how sick you were until you start to feel better. I remember being in the third grade and having a cold that I was trying to fake my way through during the holidays (probably so that I wouldn't have to miss any Nutcracker rehearsals). I had a bad, scratchy cough and was in the back line of my little Christian school choir performing some songs for an elderly bunch at a nursing home. I was miserable, and I recall thinking, "What was it like to feel well?" I looked at all the other kids who were managing to sing while I tried not to gag-cough all over the row in front of me, and I just couldn't picture what they were feeling like. I think this memory stands out to me because it was one of those times as a kid that you realize something that you know you need to carry along with you. I wanted, when I was well, to really be glad that I was well. Having been sick now for a few years, I don't remember what well really, really feels like. I see it on other people and it conjures memories, but I can't remember it viscerally. But, I had a couple of weeks during the summer when my symptoms improved and my beloved methylphenidate was supplying some clarity and energy, and I realized then, "Wow, I have been really sick." Thus with the ballet stuff: once I started admitting that healing was required and started unpacking everything I saw that I have been a mess!

Writing out my feelings, about Nutcracker revealed to me how much I really love it. I honestly didn't know. I didn't know that I had more love and joy over it than depression and animosity. Just expressing through writing my conflicted heart was like cleaning out that closet. A wealth of joy was hidden behind just a few, though large and intimidating, boxes of pain. And today I learned that people are willing to help me with my boxes! (I should have known...)

So, here's the story:
A few days ago I posted a mini-version of all this sentiment about The Nutcracker on Facebook and confessed that I actually would truly love to go enjoy it. I only could enjoy it fully, I feel, with my children in tow. My children are my lenses through whom I see things afresh, and that is what I need: to see the Nutcracker like I did when I was a kid. So, I started looking for tickets for my family of 5 to attend the show only to discover that there is NO WAY we can afford to go- especially during the holidays. I followed up my mushy post with a somewhat defeated post about how pricey it all is (we're talking $500+ for my family to sit in good seats). Here's a confession: I was really, really hoping that some PNB contact of mine would see my plight and be able to help somehow. But, after a few days and no bites, I just told God that if he wanted me to go, if he had business for me in that theater at that show with my family, that he would give me tickets. I felt total peace in surrendering my heart to the Lord. I was excited to see what he might do, and I was relieved to know that if I shouldn't go for some reason that I was being prevented. God did not work a miracle; he used his people. Sometimes he does work miracles when they will help his story, but mostly he just uses us. More than one person who loves the Lord decided to love Him and to love me by pooling money for our family to go to the show. And we are sitting in the ROLLS ROYCE of seats! All these people are incredible.

Here's my favorite part in this story: Today was the first Sunday of Advent. So, what did we learn and talk about today? The Light. My pastor preached about our opportunity and privilege to live in the Light- to be a community that chooses to bring each other into the Light and genuinely love each other. What a joy for me, a doer, to be a receiver today! Not to say that I'm not given much, but just to say that I'm more likely to be bending over backwards to help than I am to be asking for or accepting help. I feel the Light, people! And I had a week of fighting darkness. This pregnancy is doing a number on me so far, and I have been battling physical weakness and pain as well as spiritual distress and fear. A dose of kindness goes SO FAR.

Even more than the tickets and the opportunity to begin my life as a joyful ( I hope!) ballet patron rather than participator, as extremely meaningful as that is, the great prize to me in all this is knowing more of God's love and feeling that love through his people. God. loves. his. people, people! And so do I. Today I learned that a lovely woman (this is your shout-out, Elizabeth) whom I really just barely know, has been loving and blessed by my writing here to the point that she reacted in love to my plight. What a joy to me to have this outlet of writing when I feel locked up in so many other ways! I can't be the hostess I once was. Heck, I can't even carry on a very long conversation anymore! BUT, once again, God has his own ways of writing the story. I have spent time feeling guilty at not being able to reach out hospitably to this very woman, and yet God was allowing us to get to know each other anyway. She, and so many others, are doing exactly what we heard about today in worship and are bringing me to the Light. Thank you to all of you who are sacrificing some extra holiday cash to help me! I need your compassion, and I'm so grateful for your responsiveness to the Lord. I love you very much.

You KNOW there will be a follow-up post...

And one last thing, Bethany Robbins. This TOTALLY reminds me of you coming into town for my 6th Day Dance performance. What wonderful people God's people can be when they walk in the Light.

I hope Advent is filled with hope for all who wait on Jesus, and I pray that you would see him for the first time if you have not yet. This is a story you want to be in!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Below are some words I wrote to share for my Thanksgiving Eve service at church. I have a good story to add:
Our pastor had emailed 4 of us who were asked to share beforehand with the order of worship for the evening, so I knew the point at which I was expected to step up. This blessed pregnancy of mine has been making me very sick these days. I'm not usually very nauseated during my pregnancies, but it has been pretty bad! On top of that, my OB's predictions are proving true, and my POTS symptoms have been terrible; it almost feels like my meds are not working at all. I'm halfway through the 1st trimester and am hoping that the other predictions of low symptoms in the 2nd and 3rd come true too! Today I felt AWFUL. As I sat there in the service waiting for my turn, I went into full-blown POTS mode- shortness of breath, tachycardia, dizziness, painful, heavy limbs, etc. I was struggling with what I should do! I knew that if I tried to stand up there I would pass out. There was not a graceful way to pull out a chair or something, so I thought I'd just sit on the front pew and try to lean over into the aisle or something. But even with that plan, I was afraid that my breathing would be too ragged for me to manage reading my little story. I had written it down because my brain hasn't been too reliable lately thanks to my brain fog- another POTS symptom. I was praying, praying, praying for God to make a way for me to share! I was trying to decide if I needed to just give it to Brendan to read for me when the pastor accidentally skipped over me. I thought they may just skip me altogether, and I prayed that if God wanted for people to hear what I had written that they would bring it up later in the service. I also prayed that God would not allow Satan to keep my words from people if God wanted them to have them. While I sat and rested, the POTS episode passed. After the homily, the pastor called me up. Although my tremulousness was pretty bad and I did feel pretty weak and short of breath, I was able to stand through my whole reading and my heart beat normally. Even in sharing about God using me in his own ways during my times of weakness, I experienced him using me in his own way in my time of weakness!

When I was invited to be up here tonight, I was very excited because I love public storytelling- especially telling stories of God's faithfulness, and we got to see God do a lot of amazing, kind work in the past year. But, as I tried to choose which story to share, I decided that I couldn't do any of them justice in three minutes. I'm going a level up to share the overarching view, and you can just trust me that the supporting details are there. 

So, my big thank you to my God for this year is for HIS amazing storytelling. The closer I look at Scripture, the more romance and beauty I see. I see the art in going through Levitcus and now Hebrews in our sermon series. There are so many overwhelmingly beautiful analogies, characters, foreshadowing, and intertwining, generation-spanning plot lines that I stand in awe. If you spot a theological hole in this next point, you can set me straight after, but I like to behave like we are living in Book Three- like God is writing a trilogy. There's the history in the OT, and then the NT, and then here we are living in the last installment leading up to the grand finale of Christ coming to establish the New Kingdom. We all get to be God's characters in his story. 

18 months ago, my character's storyline took a twist. I was diagnosed with a mysterious, currently incurable, chronic illness, and my family and I did not like what was happening to our story! My illness came with life-changing levels of exhaustion, pain, and weakness. It leaves me faint. I was afraid that I was being written off to the sidelines of the Story, but, of course, that's not how God treats people who love him- he's never going to drop me. And, you know, a great writer spends time on character development. I know that I have become richer, and I hope for his sake, more compelling, because now I can appreciate promises like these from his story: "He heals all your diseases... he satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." And this from Isaiah 40: "Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not grow faint." God has me praying for and looking for this kind of work to happen in my life. And, funny, the more you pray the more you see. One way that he has renewed my youth and strength is by giving me desire for and then blessing us with another baby- one we are expecting in late July and who at this moment is making want to throw-up. He renews my spiritual strength every day through his Word and increases my faith by using some of my worst days to encourage others. He even has used me to bring people here to Green Lake. So tonight, I am thankful that I get to be in this story and thankful that I get to be in it with you. I give all glory to The God Who Sees, The God Who Heals- my most beautiful, romantic storyteller.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Beginning

One of my favorite things to do in a new house is to see what kind of plants grow in the yards through the first year. There are always surprises, but usually not much. Although I am a novice, I enjoy gardening, and I love plants. I like to know what they are all called and at least the first thing or two about them. Here at our new house, not many things have grown. However, in late Spring I was doing some weeding and hesitated to pull a little guy growing right by my front steps. It just looked like something special that deserved to live compared to all the oxalis and dandelions that I was ripping out by the roots. Over the next few weeks the little plant got bigger, and I was glad that I had left it. I wasn't sure, yet, if it was something I should have left, but I was still curious and willing to let the little bit of nature take its course.

During that time in May, when the dogwood trees are in bloom, I love to celebrate the birth of my second son who was born on the twelfth. It was such a lovely birth, and the beautiful dogwoods always remind me of walking the blocks in my old neighborhood with my husband and then my friend while I was in labor with him. I started to be a little sad that I wasn't walking those blocks since we were at our new house. I think it was then that I felt my first little pangs that none of my babies were born in the house we now "owned" (with our good friend, BANK).

If you look back at the posts on this blog from the Spring and Summer, you'll see that most of them address self-care and my simple pleasures. I was finally feeling like I was having a break in the shallow end rather than desperately treading shark infested waters! I had started taking a medication that was really helping my fatigue and brain fog, symptoms of my POTS and autoimmune disease that were still really keeping me miserable and struggling even though some of the other more debilitating things were already controlled by other meds. I had reached a great new place in which I felt some hope that I could still have good days, even some great ones! In that new place, I looked up, finally, at the state of things. I had a baby girl who was no longer a baby, a beautiful guest room and master suite that were just begging for a baby and a birth, and sons who were wondering when we'd ever have another kid in our family. I could not believe I was thinking this way! My switch just suddenly flipped. I was completely happy to NOT have a baby each time I helped at a delivery or saw my breastfeeding or pregnant friends, but now... Oh, man, I was in trouble.

I was afraid this little growing idea in my heart was a weed, and I didn't say it aloud to anyone for a while. But I did start asking God to rip it out if it was a weed. I was afraid that this was a little seed of discontent. Things were feeling so much better; I was basking in my blessings, and here I was wishing for more and starting to be sad that I didn't have, probably couldn't have another baby. My endocrinologist had been pretty clear when I began seeing him that I should probably cool it on the childbearing since reproductive stress (you can say that again!) is a strain on the thyroid. I was afraid that it was just silly and selfish for me to want another kid, and I kept imagining all the doctors (and everyone else) shaking their heads at me and thinking, "Leave well-enough alone, lady! You already have THREE!!! You even already have both sexes!" Friends, those thoughts were the weeds, and they almost choked out that other little plant. It took more effort to control those thoughts than it takes to control these dang northwest dandelions. The first time I floated the idea to my husband, he was very surprised, but agreed that having another one of these crazy people would be awesome. When I talked to my counselor about it, I walked out feeling for the first time since I'd noticed the thought like it was OK for me to have it. So, I decided to protect it. I decided not to try to root it out. I prayed about it everyday and watched it grow. I could see that it probably wasn't a weed, but I wasn't sure if it would be OK to keep it forever.

I wasn't sure that I could keep it forever because I was still so, so afraid that I was being selfish. I knew that a pregnancy would make me needy, potentially VERY needy. I do not like to be needy, and I was terrified that I would just be burdening our family and all the people we love by adding another person. My family already feels unwieldy, and here I was thinking about making it even more so. I'm sad for myself now that these fears were so big, but I'm grateful that they did make their way through my heart and mind. I needed to see how much I still needed to grow in my willingness to just be loved. I decided that I wanted to start talking about it with my friends and the family members it would most immediately effect if we did it.

While this idea began to grow so big that I had to decide to make room for it, the little plant by my front steps was doing the same thing. I moved a couple of other things I'd planted out front because obviously this little guy was meant to be there and loving the spot. In August, just before our big church camping trip, the plant made a very interesting little head of buds. It was about to show itself! I would go out and check it first thing each morning. As we packed up the van, I decided to talk to my friends and brothers and sisters-in-law to get a read on whether my fears had any place. The whole drive there, I was running baby names past Brendan. On our last day, sitting in the sun on the grass near the beach, I finally broke down and cried and shared all that I was terrified by. I was received with love and more tears by people who were willing to encourage me and give me the outright declarations of love and loyalty that I was really, really needing to hear- not because they ever gave me reason to doubt it, but because I struggle to believe that I'm worth any trouble. I was relieved and excited to keep giving harbor to my little growing idea. And when we got home, my plant had bloomed with a beautiful cluster of pink, peachy little precious flowers. I did a little investigation: it was a Verbena.

I didn't yet know what this baby idea was yet. Was it the first steps towards having someone new in my body and in our lives? Was it the prompting I needed to start saving for an adoption? Or, was it the beginning of my need to grieve the loss of my ability to have more babies? I was so scared that the last option was the case that I didn't do the google search that I knew could answer most of my questions and would be Step 1. Through prayer, I finally arrived at a day when I felt ready to enter the words "POTS pregnancy." Lo and behold, there was a recent study showing that POTS symptoms improved during pregnancy and that it posed no additional risk to mother or baby. Well, that was the boost I needed. I emailed my neurologist who, very kindly, called me to say that he thought it was a definite possibility, but that I'd need to see a high-risk OB to make sure things would be OK with my meds.

By the time I saw the OB, I was not nervous. I had read the research on everything and figured I just needed her approval and agreement to all the conclusions I'd come to on my own. It was the very best doctor visit of my life. She was a lovely person, and everything went as well as it possibly could have. Compared to the visits I had had over the past two years that were so full of fear and confusion, this visit was such a joy. I knew what I was talking about, and the room was so full of hope. She said we could start trying whenever we wanted and that there was "no reason you can't have a baby." Even the meds I was on were the exactly right choices for a POTS pregnancy. I had anticipated that this would be my moment of truth. That moment when you've ordered the chicken only to suddenly and clearly realize that you wanted the beef. I figured that once all the other barriers were cleared Brendan and I would know if we really were brave enough, willing and excited enough, to accept the reproductive stress. We both immediately reacted with a resounding, "YAYYYY!!!!!"

Two weeks ago, though, off my med that was finally giving me energy (the only med not cool for pregnancy) and at the end of a week of me and three children being quite sick, I was exhausted and second-guessing the whole thing. "I can't do this!" I cried to Brendan. "At the end of the day, it all comes down to whether or not I can handle this, and I'm scared that I can't. I'm afraid of being an inconvenience! I'm afraid of being alone in the difficulties. I'm afraid it will take too long, or maybe I won't get pregnant at all." We just kept praying, and I prayed that if God wanted me to do this baby thing, that he would make it quick. Well, he answered that prayer, and he answered it quickly, kind, gracious, generous God that he is. We only found out on Friday, but I'm telling everyone and their mother. I find it a kindness of God that I got a positive test the morning before our church's women's retreat. I got to go with so many of my fears already relieved. And just like I needed to be with God's people on that camping trip to share my fears and think things through, it was great to be with God's people to share the joy. It's a break from the social norm, but I'm telling you I'm pregnant at only 4 weeks (probably) along. I know how it feels to lose a baby, and it does suck to tell everyone. BUT, your knowing means that maybe you will remember to pray, and I want to enjoy every possible moment of this child's life with us. Already, in only three days, he or she has brought joy and healing to me.

Around the time my Verbena starts to get buds, I will, hopefully, be giving birth. Praise be to God who "satisfies your desires with good things, so your youth is renewed like the eagle's." POTS has made me feel old, but this baby makes me feel young!


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Leaning into Affection

I have the privilege of attending births as a doula. A doula is an educated perinatal professional who specializes in comfort measures and labor techniques. I don't deliver babies or assist in deliveries like a nurse or midwife does. I do try my best to be a cheerful, calming, encouraging, creative presence before, during, and after a woman's labor and delivery while staying focused on protecting and considering the mother's (and partner's) psychological experience of the process. I am not at a birth to promote any kind of agenda or revolutionize the way birth is handled in this country (though I support those efforts by doulas and other birth professionals and advocates when they are not serving the needs of a client). That means: if you want an epidural, I want an epidural for you. If you want a homebirth in the water, I want a homebirth in the water for you; but, if at any time I begin to see that choices need to change to protect your heart, body, or mind, then I am gently encouraging you to make decisions that make you feel most safe and in charge. I love being in this role for women and their growing families. It is a job that requires a lot of my favorite parts of myself, and when I say it is a privilege, I mean it! I get to see babies being born! I get to see women and their partners being the most amazing, vulnerable, selfless they may ever be. I watch people turn into mothers and fathers. I have a store of precious images in my mind, little snapshots of what true love, true grit, true trust, true power look like, and I indulge in recalling them when I need them for myself or for the encouragement of others (though identities are protected!). Because I don't have to be focused on charting or medical details, I really can be fully engaged in the emotions of the whole thing.

Through watching these emotional experiences so closely and somewhat regularly this year, surprise, surprise, I've learned something- or at least, I'm sensing a pattern. Better, much more experienced professionals than I have observed the same thing, but I love that my own experience is adding to the body of evidence in this concept's support. Love and affection are powerful, powerful tools. Before I get into this, I should first share a word for those who haven't, or maybe can't, experience what I will describe. Some people hate being touched, and there are probably reasons for that. Some people have been trained by experience to only rely on themselves. Others are easily overstimulated (especially during times of intense stress) and can really only feel at peace by going to a deep, quiet place inside. So, as I discuss this, know that I do not think you are doing things "wrong" if you don't agree or jive with what I propose. My proposal is this: If you let people hug you and show you affection, you will feel your burdens lighten. I see this in L&D situations, and I definitely saw it in my own births. The harder the contraction, the more I would tightly cling to my husband (he may argue that it was a little TOO tight at times...). The more discouraged I got, the more I would force myself to ask for some encouragement. "Am I going to be ok? Is this going ok?" "Yes! Yes!" they cry. "You're doing so well!" It's amazing what a simple pat on the back, foot rub between contractions, eye contact, stroke of the forehead with a cool rag, or hug (oh! the power of hugs!) can do. I've used all these and more for myself and my clients. Because of the usefulness of these "tools," I do all I can to establish trust before the labor. I've seen some nurses very quickly establish themselves as safe people to receive touch and intimate encouragement from, and I have done my best to learn and steal their tricks. I went to a birth very last minute as a backup doula for clients whom I had never met. It was a challenge to do my very intimate job well without any history, but I find that just doing what I know is right usually works (as long as I'm watching very closely and am sure to back off when I get "Back-off!" cues).

The context of birth has been a great lab in which I have worked with this theory. Birth is SO hard and SO challenging emotionally, mentally, and physically that people are easy to observe. Their real feelings are much easier to suss out because there isn't a lot of time or mental space for concern over social norms (like not hugging strangers and not saying directly what you want or need). It is incredible, though, how strong those norms are! Women still worry about things like their house being pretty enough, or their (MY) very strong desire to not inconvenience anyone. Thankfully, I have not been to a single birth in which there wasn't at least one moment in which I saw all those fears fall away. That is usually the moment that ends up on my shelf of memories worth keeping. I feel strongly that most of us are at our best when we are inviting others into our struggles. It may feel like a huge risk, and it can certainly BE a huge risk! That is a lot of why I'm a doula! Too many birth professionals pay no attention to any of these emotional nuances and railroad over moments that could be formative for a new mom. Am I right? Isn't it nice, or at least, wouldn't it be nice to be able to look up for love, help, support and get it? Doesn't that help you look up for help the next time? Instead, sadly, many people are left looking for help, finding nothing and concluding that either they don't deserve it or it's not worth asking for. This is tragic.

I've been thinking about this whole thing a lot. In labor, I am at my best because that is one context in which I have, thankfully, seen and believed that other people are truly THERE for me. So, I am able to let go, be vulnerable, and enjoy the strength of the people I've invited to be around me. (Another great reason to hire a doula, by the way, is that she was invited by YOU and is there for YOU). I now am able to return that strength and affection to others when I am at their births. At least that's when I do it as a doula. I hope, though, that I'm trying to do it all the time. Even more difficult for me, though, than giving strength and love, is receiving it. I want to be enough for myself all the time. When I feel vulnerable, I don't want to lean into the hugs that are offered. I get spiny and hard instead. Those ideas in my head about how I want to be or should be perceived are too strong. I think I'm afraid to lean into the affection and support that is offered because that would imply that I needed it! But, boy, do we ALL need it.

There is a scientific explanation for affection and it's efficacy in labor. The hormone that dilates the cervix, oxytocin, is found in higher levels in people who are feeling loved and supported. So, the more love and support that a woman is experiencing, the more relaxed she will be, and the more oxytocin is available and effective for getting the job done. This is not a perfect explanation, but I'm confident that the core point is accurate. Stress hormones, like adrenaline, slow down labor and keep us feeling uptight- tight is no good in labor. Oxytocin makes you feel good. Adrenaline makes you feel bad. So, like I said, I've been thinking about this. When I'm "in labor" in my regular life, when I'm struggling to overcome a challenge or fear, isn't it best to lean into the affection? Wouldn't that help in the same way it does in labor? That oxytocin is in all of us, not just laboring women. You know the feeling, that feeling of relief that comes from letting yourself hang in a good hug. The release of letting out the tears. I've got to work on this. It's so obvious to me when I see a laboring woman mentally or emotionally running away from relief, and I think it's just as obvious when I'm doing it in my day to day life.

Sadly, there are reasons why we run away from the hug, just like there are reasons some laboring women don't want to be touched. There have been times for all of us when we let ourselves be vulnerable and looked up for some support and found none- or, worse, got some kind of smack-down for even looking. I'm so, so sorry those things have happened, and I will offer no trite phrases for the pain. I just think we have to make ourselves try to learn that sometimes we will get the help we're looking for. This brings me back to the idea of who we invite to be around us in our stress. I know that the people I invite to my births are there for good reason and have proven themselves to be my loving friends and supporters. I don't expect people to willy-nilly cast about for love and affection. I think we all know that can have some disastrous results. But, I do think we, or at least I, need to be quicker to seek love and affection from the people we have purposely included in our lives and have invited into our stresses. Maybe it starts with just "hiring the doula," with making sure someone is around who cares to watch over the heart. I, for one, think I've made progress in sharing the struggle and letting people "be there" to see it. But, sometimes I'm like a writhing person in labor who just won't let anyone come in to help!

I may be pushing the analogy too far, but bear with me. When these women, when I, lean into the available support and affection at birth, a baby is born. A good, good thing results. And in addition to a new life, a new story is added to the volumes of that family's life- a birth story. Maybe we are having such a moment of cultural obsession with birth stories because it's one of the few situations left in which we allow ourselves such high hopes and become vulnerable. This is why couples go into their births clutching a birth plan! We know that we want a good birth story, and we know that we don't want to walk out of there with a story filled with regret and painful memories of mistreatment. The specifics of the struggle, the method of delivery, the hours of labor, do matter in the story, but no matter how rough the details are, the story can be, WILL be, a good one if the owners of that story felt loved and empowered on their way through it all. They will walk away with some stats ("oh, my babies are big; my labors are long/fast/stop-start/etc.; I had x number of stitches; I pushed for x hours"), but those aren't the parts of the story that will visit them for the rest of their days when they least expect it. They will remember things like this: "my husband loved me so well; my doula could tell that I was afraid, and I was able to talk about why; when I looked at my baby, the product of all my struggle, I knew that the struggle was worth it."

So, that's what I'm going to start going for the next time I'm "in labor." I'm going to try to sink into my husband's hugs. I'm going to call that friend for some encouragement because maybe on the other side of the struggle, I'll have more to my story than just the facts, and maybe I won't come out feeling quite so battered.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Sleeping Beauty

When I was a little girl, my mom and dad would sometimes let me rent a movie at Video Warehouse. We would occasionally go for Follow that Bird, but I didn't actually like that one. Ms. Finch really freaked me out because she wanted to take Big Bird from his peeps on The Street. She misunderstood his situation entirely. I still hate when things are misunderstood. Most of the time, though, I wanted to watch another movie full of danger: Disney's Sleeping Beauty. When it became available on Blueray several years ago, Brendan bought it for me. Watching it recently a LOT with another little girl who claims SB as favorite film, I've recalled loving it so, so much. And now I appreciate so much I never saw before. It is a beautiful movie. I love the look of all the characters and scenery. The trees look like those in medieval paintings. Understanding what I do now about childhood influences and experiences and their future effects, I see that the story of The Sleeping Beauty has been an informing narrative, and score, in my life.

I think as a little girl I liked SB the best because Aurora was my favorite princess. But, watching it as an adult I realize that the music, all adapted from Tchaikovsky's ballet version of the tale, and the fairies were really what I loved. And Philip. I loved Philip. My romantic dreams somewhat developed based on Philip (and Mighty Mouse, ahem... but that's a different post...). Here was this prince who did two things that I still find attractive: 1) He asserted himself, showing confidence and bravery, and 2) He sang and danced. I loved dancing even as a tiny little thing, so a prince who knew how to just walk right up and join in your dance seemed like a great thing. He also cared more about "love" (I do NOT want to have a discussion about whether the instant-infatuation model of early Disney was good for kids or not) than position. After all, as he pointed out, it was the 14th century. Later on in the movie, Philip is a real-deal hero. He has to slay the dragon, Maleficent, who employs "all the powers of Hell." He uses a "sword of truth" to do it. Christ-type, much? Of course I was attracted to him. I want a hero who will slay all the powers of Hell for my sake.

Then there are those empathetic, celebration-loving, gift-giving, thoughtfully planning, sacrificial, virtuosic fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. Greatest names ever. I realize now that those fairies were who I really patterned after. And they are there in the fight against evil with Philip- turning arrows to bubbles and boiling oil (how very 14th century!) to rainbow archways. I wanted to be Aurora in my play because she was the star, of course, but I think deep-down I wanted to be those fairies! My little list of adjectives for them became my own character goals for myself. I was never much of a romantic, princess type. I was never the Beauty among my peers. There were other girls to play that part (a fact I was regularly reminded of every time some boy that I liked would come to ask me if some friend or another of mine was into him!). But, I was the fairies. I was a mastermind, a mascot, a planner, a little eccentric, a lover of Flora and Fauna. And I sure did love to flit about.

And when I would flit as a young, young thing, I would hold Tchaikovsky's themes in my head and heart. One day, the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty was shown on PBS. OH. SNAP. You mean this is a BALLET?!?! You mean that music is BALLET music!?!? I was deleriously happy! The choreography I saw on the screen gelled in my head before I even knew I was trying to learn it. My dramatic heart loved the scenes with Carabosse (Maleficent) casting her curses and Aurora's death-throes dance around the stage, but who did I love the most? The fairies. SO MANY FAIRIES, all with adorable choreography and music. If there was any part of me left that didn't want to be a ballerina, it gave in completely upon sight of Sleeping Beauty. A few years later, at Summer intensives around the country, I learned lots of solos from the ballet, and I still know them all. I especially loved the giant envelopes for Bluebird.

My dreams continued coming true when I arrived for year-round intensive ballet instruction and perfomance at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. The first ballet I was cast in was, you guessed it, Sleeping Beauty. It was the first time PNB would present the work, and Ronald Hynd and Annette Page came from England to stage it. They had both been dancers in the Royal Ballet. I read that Hynd had a similar experience to mine- falling in love with Sleeping Beauty as a young, hopeful dancer in the 1940s. Of course, I had very small bit parts, but I got to be on stage while that wonderful music played and add to the scenes my little smile and body and was therefore in Heaven. I was on stage for all the fairies' variations. I loved every minute. I also got to learn the part of nymph, a baby fairy in the corps de ballet. I laid on stage as a sleeping nobelwoman while the awaited kiss was planted, and I sometimes got to harass the Prince with a rubber snake in the much-coveted, flattering role, Hag #1. That Spring, for our student production, girls were cast to do the fairy variations. I understudied the Fairy of Beauty and struggled with the pointe work but always nailed the pirouettes at the end. I never danced it on stage, but at least I got to rehearse it.

Three years later, after my injury, I was struggling to make it through what I was slowly realizing were my final weeks as a ballet dancer. What was the last ballet of the season? Sleeping Beauty, of course. One of the better, older dancers in the Professional Division by that point, I was cast to learn and even perform some much more respectable roles than wet nurse and hag. I was learning Lilac Fairy Attendent- a tutu and wing wearing part that I loved. I would dance a lot during that beautiful prologue with all those fairies. But, one terrible day at my doctor's office, he let me know that my injury was clearly not healing and that, yes, that pain was dangerous. I discussed with him that this part I had that I loved so much was hurting me and that it was probably a better long-term decision to let it go. I had to go to the Ballet Mistress' office and confess that I couldn't hang. I was afraid that I'd hurt myself or make too many mistakes because of pain. Boy do I kick myself for that decision now. I don't know that there really was an alternative, but I wish I had just pushed myself to do it anyway. Instead of dancing my way through my favorite ballet scene of all time for my last performance, I stood on stage as a member of the court in a hideous gown and wig and watched everyone else dance everything I had ever hoped for. I hated every moment and would silently cry through the whole thing. I didn't even try to hide it, but of course, no one ever noticed because no one was watching me.

Last year, a friend of mine gave me some free tickets to see that same production. I knew enough to bring along a best friend and our husbands. It was a lovely evening, and the pain of watching it all was somewhat mitigated by time, my own progress, and being able to at least use my knowledge to fill my girlfriend's ear with top-notch, insider commentary! I don't think I even cried. I might have later at home. I was surprised that I didn't get upset while we were there, but I think there are a lot of reasons for that. First, I'm Flora-Fauna-Merryweather type. I want it to be fine for everyone else, and I'm excited, truly excited, to have my experiences, even the really, really crappy ones, make things better or more interesting for others. Also, I have stuffed that ballet pain down with an iron tamp, and it only comes out in very extreme circumstances or when I want it too (although, even then it's hard sometimes). At any rate, I enjoyed the night with my friends and was reminded how much I still love Sleeping Beauty, even if now I have some really painful memories of it that I really could do without. I see the art in my story. I love the running Sleeping Beauty theme. I see the artistic intention in Sleeping Beauty being the first and last ballet I ever danced professionally. Do I understand it? No, I really don't. Or I didn't, but I'm starting to see it.

I was inspired to dredge all this up while watching the Disney Sleeping Beauty with my daughter a couple of weeks ago. All the tears I should have cried that night at the ballet with my friends came pouring quietly out during the movie. I cannot watch it without dancing all the parts I hear and feeling all the hopes of my childhood come raring up. My sweet little daughter dances along to the movie, and she doesn't even know my history with the whole thing. I watch the fairies now with more identification than ever as they play the role of little mommies to Briar Rose. I see my husband and my God in Philip and am more in love than ever with them both. I cried when I felt the pain of the King and Queen as they hear their daughter being cursed, watch her taken away as a baby, and wait for her safe return, "never knowing." I don't think I would get so much out of the movie if I wasn't watching it with a heart that is so inflamed by the music. I don't think I'd look at my daughter and marvel over the fact that she is here and that I have the stories I have to pass to her and for her to use. People ask me all the time if I'm going to put Hazel in ballet and my heart leaps every time. "Why would I do that to her?" is always the first thought that races through, but it is followed up with all my sweet memories of dreaming and hoping, of waltzing and spinning. I do hope Hazel will find something she loves as much as I loved dancing, as much as I love The Sleeping Beauty. Maybe it will be something horrible like basketball. I shudder to think! But I do hope that I will be a good little Flora to her and plan and help on her behalf as she uncovers whatever it is that she loves. I hope that she will have the Sword of Truth. I hope that she will plunge headlong after her dreams and stay in the story. I can't wait to see how Sleeping Beauty continues to come up. I am sure that it will.
My Blurry Little Dancer

My Princess Aurora
See? Hideous.

Cutey Peasants (and my friend in the nymph costume)