this blog is a ghost town. it’s been a year and a half since i was here last.

i think sometimes when a blogger hasn’t blogged in awhile, the biggest obstacle to returning has to do with explaining the absence. and, like, apologizing. you have to justify why you’ve been gone in an attempt to convince people who read that they should give you another chance.

well, this blog has only ever been for me. i share it because recovery is so, so tricky, and i have read a few really obscure things on the internet that have saved my life, and one good turn deserves another. or whatever.

as for my absence: the baby died.

that’s really the whole thing. she was born and died on april 13th, 2011 at 32.5 weeks gestation. she lived for nearly an hour, but not quite. she weighed 14.9 ounces. (when you lose a person before you can know them, you cling to this type of information, i think. it’s her life story, these throwaway details.)

i have never had grief like this before. i have lost a few people. but it has never been like this. it has never changed my life so much for so long in ways i can’t even track, can’t name.

her name was ivy.

and i can talk about her. i can talk about her endlessly to anyone who will listen. dates and times and measurements and medical procedures and who was where and who said what and phone calls and requests and sleep or not. i can tell you every external detail.

but it’s so hard to talk about anything internal. not because i am unwilling. because i am unable.

i had one vomitus session on facebook about six weeks ago. i sobbed and pounded my keyboard and got this:

it’s been over 16 months. recently i posed a question to myself: which kind of day is more difficult? the days when you can’t stop thinking about her? or the days when you suddenly realize you haven’t thought about her all day?

the answer is “yes”.

sometimes i feel ashamed of my grief and i want to hide it and pretend everything is okay. sometimes i feel like i don’t deserve to grieve because she wasn’t my biological or legal child. sometimes i feel like i shouldn’t have to grieve so much for so long because i can’t really miss her. she was here less than an hour.

sometimes i want to just scream at people: can’t you see i’m grieving! no, i can’t help you! i can’t even help myself! i can’t do anything. i can’t cook the food and i can’t drive to the museum and i can’t weed the garden and i absolutely can’t be socially normal. because i am grieving, and it’s so hard, and i can’t do anything except miss her.

and i’m just now realizing how hard i have pushed people away. and i am too tired to repair my relationships. i am too tired to apologize. i want you to just forgive me. i understand that you can’t, but i want it anyway. i want you to understand and forgive me.

and i want to not feel so ashamed of the fact that i stopped making plans when she died. and that i don’t have a direction anymore, a plan, a goal, a future. my future died. i lost my future. my future was helping to raise this child, and collaborating with my family to break down the dumb stupid barriers that tell us how we can have a family and how we can have kids and how we can raise them and who does that work. and that plan is gone. and you can say i still have my son and nephew and living niece. of course i still have them, and no one should doubt how important they are to me. that’s not the point.

and i love her. and i am still learning how to love her. and in that way, in that one tiny way, she is not different from a child who lived.

i want to be better. i want to be a better person and a better friend. i want to be a better writer and a better communicator. i want to do her justice.

and i can’t. i just can’t. so now i guess i’m in the place where grief is not about doing someone or something justice. the shape of my grief is not a measure of my love. you can’t even measure them with the same tools. you can’t even speak about them in the same language.

so i think this blog entry is a vow to myself to try to stop manipulating my grief to make it look the way i think it’s supposed to. and to stop waiting to talk about it until i know the right thing to say.

probably i will never know the right thing to say. it’s okay. i have plenty of wrong things to say instead, and i’d like to get back to writing some of them down here. there’s some humanity in that, i think.


i can’t speak for folks who live in more temperate climates, as i’m a born-and-raised minneapolitan. but for those of use who have, uhm, let’s say very distinct seasons, february is in a category all it’s own.

february is the last month of winter. it’s the last month (for us here in minnesota) of average daily high temperatures below freezing. it’s the last month of waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel.

take the above paragraph and substitute each “the last” for an “another”, and make that “another” really emphatic and voila! february in a nutshell. it really is the longest shortest month of the year.

but. it’s over now. we all survived. we don’t want to think about how we survived (february definitely calls for extreme measures), but we did. whew.

some february scenes:

children get away with a lot of things they wouldn’t have earlier in the season. like monster make up. several times a day. who cares? whatever keeps them quite for a few minutes.

desperation drives us outdoors, no longer able to remain cooped up despite subzero temperatures. (we were at minus two, without windchill, when this photo was taken. the kids had just come off the snow tubing hill. did we care? no, we did not care a bit, so happy were we to not be inside our houses.)

washing wool gets put off, because maybe, just maybe, we don’t really need wool long underwear anymore. but, of course, we do.

cooking with massive amounts of animal fat. for me, a winter thing. we went through about 18 pounds of rendered bacon fat this winter.

any time the temp rises above 25, which does happen occasionally in february, teenagers forsake their winter gear. snow ball fights in tshirts? not an uncommon sight in the strangeness of february.

there are a lot of car deaths this time of year. people regularly talk about the quality of their cars in terms of how many more winters it can get through. my old (old like 1993 old) honda wagon pooped out a few weeks ago. this is my new van, and it makes me very happy.

a lot of scenes like this. beds. bottles of warm tea. novelty inside toys (like fabulous thinking putty from crazy aaron’s puttyworld). digging deep into my own childhood to try to come up with movies the kids haven’t seen before (like this one, the three lives of thomasina. poppy approved.)

sowing the first seeds of the year. which is the number one thing that keeps me from going totally seasonal affective.

passing out in the car after one of the first big outdoor romps in a very long time.

i have been wanting to blog about unschooling, but needing to blog about grief. and when not about grief, about daily life, just this bit right now.

just this bit, and not a big, vast future. not uncertainty, or feeling challenged.

grief has been using up all my faith, is what i feel like. there has not been much left over for unschooling. and though grief is still with me, no smaller than it has been for these last 10 days, i must begin shifting the balance of my faith.

or finding more. faith is one of the few things i can think of that may not be finite.

so, from the top:

we are new unschoolers.

well. my child is a new unschooler, and i have just recently put that label on a way of living and learning that has always felt right in me, and that i’ve finally (finally!) been able to really engage in since i have been in recovery.

up until the beginning of last december, so not quite three months ago, my kid attended school. it wasn’t exactly a “regular” school. it was a charter school with a grassroots history going back to the 1970’s, and very small class sizes, and a social justice based curriculum.

the school, southside family school, is beloved in my community. i decided when my child was four months old that this was the place for him come kindergarten time. we lucked out in the lottery, and he began kindergarten there in september 2009, and he and i were both in love.

first grade was more difficult. my child was no longer happy about going to school. i met with teachers and staff over several months to try to remedy my kid’s bad feelings. but, in the end, i figured out that it wasn’t this school that my kid was feeling unhappy about.

it was school. period.

so, we quit school.

unschooling, as a concept, wasn’t a leap for me. it made total sense. i had to look up a few laws and fill out a few forms to make it official and legal (and i did this, though i disagree with needing to inform the government about the education of my seven year old). feeling totally certain i had just made one of the best decisions of my life, we were off!

now. i realize i should know better, and i am laughing at myself and anyone is welcome to join me. but, when finally school was off the menu, i really, seriously, absolutely thought, “everything will be so easy now!”

yep. go ahead. laugh.

the reality is that the novelty of not having to go to school lasted about a month. and then some truths about unschooling came up to the surface.

truths such as

-kids get lonely when they spend a great deal of time not in the company of other kids.

-knowing what to do with ourselves in not innate. and if it is, it’s trained out of us, in this culture, under mainstream circumstances, at a very early age.

-if you have a seven year old kid who has been traditionally schooled for a significant amount of his life (mine did two years of preschool prior to kindergarten) and you allow him to quit school, flinging open the door to freedom and opportunity and self-determination and getting-to-do-pretty-much-whatever-you-want, very often the response from said child will be, “i’m bo-ored.”

-if you are parenting a young unschooler, you will likely be with that kid all. the. time. and it will take a toll. school, whatever else it does or does not do, provides a typically much-needed break for parents, allowing them to do something besides parenting every once in awhile.

so, here we are. unschooling. kind of not really knowing how to do it. being frustrated a lot. being unsure a lot. having to reframe a lot. being bored and lonely and not getting parenting breaks a lot.

i think i was only able to write this entry because there was a little glint of unschooling light last night for this mama. my kid, as we curled up together at 3am to go to sleep for the night (oh, also? unschooling will really impact your sleep schedule if you let it), told me he was feeling very happy and hoped to have great dreams about going on archeology adventures.

archeology is a new interest around here. my kid is really into it, and it’s opened doors to subjects such as tools and tool-making, ancient eqyptian history, some anatomy (embalmment, of course), and a bunch of other stuff. i’ve been aware of, and, to some extent, involved in the trend, but as we talked archeology together last night (this morning?), i realized i couldn’t remember the origin of the interest for him. something to do with indiana jones, but how did he get into that?

i asked him, and he said, “well, you bought me that lego indiana jones video game for my nintendo ds, remember?”

i did remember, and chuckled a bit and relaxed a bit. my faith, a tiny slice of it anyway, was restored. of course i didn’t buy the video game because i hoped it would lead to vast exploration by my child of the subject of archeology. i bought it because he wanted it.

this is how unschooling is supposed to work. let the kids do want they love, and they will be intrinsically motivated to explore it to its furtherest regions.

some things i need to see to believe, and i understand and accept that about myself. but maybe allocating a little more faith the way of this unschooling process wouldn’t hurt, either.

photo by poppy

photo by poppy

photo by poppy

one of my most insightful friends, emily ryan, remarked during a visit last night that we don’t, as a culture, have much in the way of collective wisdom or ritual to help us through a loss like this.

“loss like this” denoting an unexpected fetal demise in the seventh month of pregnancy, which is what my sister madelene is experiencing now, and what i and many others have been grieving since we found out a week ago.

this loss is further complicated in that the demise has not yet occurred, but is inevitable. it could happen today, tomorrow, two weeks from now. but it will occur. the baby will die.

photo by poppy

so. without a map and carrying heavy hearts, we journey, every step an act of faith.

and, collectively and individually, we try to do the work required to set this little soul free.


do you ever wake up and know, before you have even opened your eyes, that this day is really going to suck?

this happens for me sometimes. it’s often a sudden rushing back of unresolved stuff from the day prior. stuff that didn’t get resolved before bed because i couldn’t figure out how, and now it’s morning and i’m not any closer to the answers.

sometimes it includes a strong gut feeling that i know is not my recovery gut, but still demands an emotional response. (even if that emotional response is “i’m not going to listen to you because you’re not my recovery gut. you are hijacking my instincts and trying to trick me into acting from a place that has nothing to do with health or love. fuck off.”)

sometimes it includes not getting my way about something that feels really important to me. and it’s not even really that i wanted to get my way, it’s that i feel unseen and unheard and unloved, because if i were seen and heard and loved, more attention and consideration would have been given to my feelings. (which is valid. and at the same time is a symptom of the wretched disease called “i truly believe it’s all about me”, which is one of the things i am recovering from.)

and sometimes it’s the combination of all the above added to sorrow and grief and the toll that work takes. the way that work floats so many emotions to the surface, like when a pond thaws in the spring. emotions that are not very protected and thus respond to even very small bits of stimulus.

in preparing to write this entry, i didn’t think i’d be able to get so much down regarding my feelings about today, but now it seems i have written quite a lot. this is what this blog is really for. nearly every time i create an entry, i discover something that i was aware needed discovering but couldn’t figure out how to access.

however, since i really didn’t think i’d be able to articulate any of the above when i began this entry, i took pictures illustrating why today doesn’t suck. and because pictures are nice and i haven’t posted any in a few days, and also because tangible reminders are so very helpful, here are some visuals to illustrate that today doesn’t actually suck.

1. i am drinking coffee from my favorite mug.
1. i am drinking coffee from my favorite mug

2. i'm reading john taylor gatto and sandra dodd, and even though they sometimes depress or annoy me (respectively), they always help things click in my brain.
2. i’m reading john taylor gatto and sandra dodd, and even though they sometimes depress or annoy me (respectively), they always help things click in my brain.

3. i'm making naked balm and lip balm.
3. i’m making naked balm and lip balm.

4. in a couple of weeks there will be homegrown salads.
4. in a couple of weeks there will be homegrown salads.

5. i have something tangible to do with my grief. i will blog more about this later if i'm able.
5. i have something tangible to do with my grief. i will blog more about this later if i’m able.

6. my kid put this up on the gratitude wall yesterday.
6. my kid put this up on the gratitude wall yesterday.

7. the first broccoli sprouts are up.
7. the first broccoli sprouts are up

8. this guy. naturally.
8. this guy. naturally.

steps. there are twelve. if you want, you can go to a group to get support related to how to work these steps. support groups can be really great.

i realize the above is somewhat noncommittal. that’s on purpose.

however, i don’t want to blog about my noncommittal feelings having to do with twelve step groups today. maybe a different time. what i do want to do is a quick breakdown of the steps. why? because these steps are potential tools.

also, because there is a mystique around these steps that just really doesn’t need to be there. at all. when there is a mystique around something, it makes that something less accessible, and i hate that. these steps are for anyone who wants them, to use however they like.

in addition, the original language of the steps assumes a certain level of education and a fluency in certain dialect of english. again with the accessibility.

and finally, i ditched the part about god. i have spiritual beliefs, personally, that are not incompatible with some form of god/higher power. but not everybody does, and if you don’t, all the god stuff can be a real deal breaker for the whole twelve step process.

so, here’s my version of the twelve steps. have at.

step 1: your shit is busted and you know it.

step 2: you know you need help with your busted shit.

step 3: you figure out how to stop being so high and mighty and accept help.

step 4: now you’re a little bit humbled, and it makes you start thinking about all the times you fucked people over in the past.

step 5: you ‘fess up about the fucking over of people you’ve been doing to someone you can trust.

step 6: you decide you want to change your ways.

step 7; you believe you can change your ways.

step 8: what exactly will you have to change about your ways? make a list of shit to work on.

step 9: call up people you have fucked over, tell them you’re sorry, and try to make it right.

step 10: go on with your life. if you fuck someone over by accident, say sorry right away and do what you can to make it right.

step 11: keep working on the stuff you put on the list you made in step 8. use the process to get in touch with yourself.

step 12: if you see folks struggling, let them know there are handy steps to get them through. if they’re interested, give them the url of this blog entry.

seriously. that’s it. i know, right?

if you want the original wording for the steps, go here.

note: this was not my road to recovery. these steps provided a couple of paving stones, but that’s about it. in different entries, i’ll break down some other popular recovery tools that haven’t really worked for me. fun, yes?

i have a complicated relationship with to-do lists.

i didn’t discover to-do lists until i was 20 years old. a friend of mine, who was my roommate at that time, was fantastic at being effective with to-do lists.

as is typical of the way i learn, there was never a moment, never a lesson, never a time when i said, “okay, charlotte, teach me about this to-do list thing so i can implement it at once”.

instead, i observed, over that year we lived together, her to-do list habits. i asked occasional questions. “do you have to do the things in order?” “do you make one every day?” “do you always have to cross off all the stuff?”

charlotte is a good teacher. a very, very good teacher for learners like me. she would answer my questions with short, casual, concise answers. she didn’t preach or expound. she provided the information sought and left it at that, trusting that i could and would determine exactly what other information i might need and when, and ask another question when the time was right.

and so my introduction to to-do lists was gently, gradually born. i played with the concept. i played with the format. i played with the execution. and, eventually, i had honed a skill, and became a daily to-do-lister.

and a to-do-lister i remained, until i began recovering.

during the first two months of recovery, i didn’t need a to-do list. it wouldn’t have contained any tasks other than breathe, eat, sleep, go to therapy, don’t die.

sometime in months three or four, however, i started feeling more able to do things–not many, but a few–other than surviving and going to therapy. along with the ability was interest. i was interested in doing things for the first time in a long time. much of my time was still earmarked for eat-sleep-don’t-die, but, some days, i had a little bit of myself left over for something else.

but what?

i decided it was time to brush off my to-do-listing. the to-do list tool had always helped me organize my tasks in the past. it had given me focus, direction. it had grounded me and helped me to be my most productive self. with pen in hand, i readied myself for my inaugural recovery to-do list.

and…nothing. i couldn’t do it. something in me resisted. hard. i didn’t know what or why.

i know now something i didn’t know then: one of the gifts of recovery is that you get a gut instinct you can trust. i’d always had a gut instinct, a strong one. but i’d never been able to trust it. it was not a trustworthy gut instinct. it was diluted by codependency and trauma responses and ruled by triggers. my gut instinct, pre-recovery, provided a lot of misinformation.

in that moment, however, my recovery gut told me to put the pen down, and i unquestioningly listened. next, my recovery gut said, “do what you are moved to do. the important things will get done.” again, i unquestioningly listened.

and so, this became my modus operandi. i discovered that sometimes i was actually moved to do housework. sometimes i was moved to read philosophy for hours on end. sometimes i was moved to be outside. sometimes i was moved to learn a new skill. for a couple of months in early recovery, i was moved nearly every day to bake. i baked and baked and baked, pawning off cakes and muffins and scones and bars and cookies on anyone who would take them.

some days i felt moved to make a to-do list, but every time i readied myself to do so, i felt moved to resist. i was confused by this. why the back and forth? how could i be so moved to do something over and over, and then, every time, at the last minute, be so moved to halt and shift direction? my recovery gut said, “you don’t need to understand this right now. you will understand it when the time is right. for now, just listen.”

okay, recovery gut. i’ll hear you out.

i did this hearing out faithfully and abstained from to-do listing.

then, one day, fully six months after i’d begun the confusing to-do-list-or-not-to-do-list dance, i saw this entry in a blog i read sometimes:

achieving, via zenhabits.

my recovery gut said, “well, see? there you go.”

i’m not trying to make a case against to-do lists. my friend charlotte still uses them and is seriously one one the happiest, most functional people i know.

but for folks like me, folks whose daily trajectory is muddled by things like perceived outside expectations, and abuse by authority figures, and major anxiety and guilt related to our doings, there is a recovery gold mine available in giving up the to-do list and doing instead what you are moved to do. really, the important stuff will get done. that is, the stuff that is important to you. intrinsic motivation is powerful and wonderful to feel and answer.

the stuff you just can’t make time for? well, now you know that it doesn’t matter very much to you at this time. and that’s fine.

what if it does matter? well, if you’re consistently neglecting things that really matter to you in favor of other things that matter less, you have some serious work to do. i don’t think there’s any way to happiness in that scenario.

just in the past couple of weeks, i’ve reinstated a to-do list of sorts. it’s an oversized post it note near my computer. i don’t check things off. it’s not a list of today’s tasks. it’s a short list of projects or ideas i am feeling interested in devoting time and energy to in the near future.

right now, my list is this:

seed bomb workshop
seed starting and garden calendar
making soap molds
love letter basket

i also have a list in my mind, which is more a set of reminders for myself. because i’m doing so much work with greif and sorrow right now, that list is, more or less:

be gentle
seek balance
go slow
spend time with people you love, especially the kids

in recovery, these are the only guides i need. and if i go off track, or if i need more, my recovery gut will let me know.

most of us are familiar with the concept of comfort food.

i would assess that, as well, most of us extend the concept of comfort food beyond actual, consumable food.

some of us have comfort clothes. some of use have a comfort movie, something we’ve seen a million times that always calms us somehow. we have comfort people, those friends and family members who we turn to when we are in pain. we have comfort rituals: hot bath by candle light, reading out loud to our kids while wrapped in down blankets, hitting the clubs on saturday night and dancing until nothing is wrong with the world any longer, journaling, meditating, cranking the music.

i have a comfort blog.

soulemama is, for me, the mashed potatoes of the blogosphere.

soulemama, a.k.a. amanda blake soule, in addition to going-on-six years of blog archives to troll for inspiration, has published two books. (and there’s a third on the way!) they are the creative family and handmade home. i happen to have both these books out from the library right now (neither for the first time, i assure you), and have spent ample time paging through them here and there over the past several days.

see, i have been wanting to do something with my sorrow and grief. i have been feeling restless, and at the same time heavy and exhausted, and at the same time unable to focus, to keep my mind on anyone project or task. with grief comes reprioritization. things that seemed important a few days ago seem less so now, and i am also able to see places where i haven’t been putting enough of my attention and time and energy.

so i decided that, today, i would finally put up a gratitude wall for kid and i.

i read about the idea in “the creative family” a long while ago, jotted down a few notes about it, and then something else came up, as it always does. every time i have gotten the book out from the library i have been drawn again to the concept, and every time i put it off.

today i decided that gratitude can’t wait. many things can wait. nearly anything, really. but not gratitude. not for me.

so, the beginning of our hallway of gratitude, as kid is calling it. the thoroughfare of our little house, housing now a growing collection of tangible manifestations of our gratitude.

sometimes, i misjudge recovery.

sometimes i think that recovery is about healing wounds that occurred in the past. period.

as though a line could be drawn down our lives, down ourselves, and there could be then and now without any bits of blur in between.

as though difficult things happened then, and don’t happen now.

today i am exploring how to be sorrowful in recovery.

this is maybe the real meat of the process. it’s all fine and good to be mindful and grounded during good times. for some (for me), it may not be easy, but when you finally figure out how to do it, how to really be with all that joy, it is certainly lovely. once i get a taste, i am fully committed to doing whatever work i have to do to continue tasting, gobbling it, nibbling it, lapping it up, licking the bowl clean.

being mindful and grounded in sorrow requires different skills. i taste it and want to recoil. i want to deny. i want to be inauthentic if that’s what it takes to not feel so sad. i want to pretend that things are fine and that i feel fine.

i do not want to really be with my sorrow. but this is my work today, and maybe will be my work for awhile. recovery is asking it of me. i am asking it of myself.

here is what is helping so far:

making the edges of everything soft in my mind.

slowing way down on purpose, but not stopping.

letting my loved ones know that i am experiencing sorrow and need space to be with it.

being open to the comforts available, ready, waiting for me. clean sheets. cuddles from my son and niece. sunshine. sprouting tomato plants. the feel of soft wool yarn in my hands and on my lap as i knit, and knowing someone i love will be wrapped in that very softness soon.

being gentle with myself and everyone and thing i interact with.

being outside, where the air is not saturated with my sorrow.


letting the joy seep in, even if i cannot bring myself to become saturated in it right now. i can observe it and recognize it, and i must. it is there, will be there when this work of sorrow is ready to be put aside. sorrow does not ask exclusivity of me. it doesn’t wish to tuck me away into darkness, into a place where my senses know only it.

sorrow is my tool for integrating a sad life experience. sorrow is my friend, my ally. sorrow has carved a space for me to be still inside, to be sheltered a little from all else going on in the world around me. sorrow has offered this space, not mandated it.

sorrow. thank you. thank you for being here now, when i need you, unconditionally.

joy. thank you. thank you for letting me know that you will still be here when i am ready to spend more time with you again.

yesterday was a day earmarked for doing one of my least favorite things: visiting the welfare office.

if you have never visited (read: spent hours upon hours at) the welfare office, i don’t think i can explain to you why it is such a soul-sucking experience. if you are familiar with the the welfare office, i don’t need to tell you.

however, mother nature staged an intervention. yesterday turned out to be one of those sunny, dangerously-close-to-fifty-degree spring preview days we minnesotans live for.

even minnesotans like me, who love the winter and don’t mind the cold, cannot help being overcome with relief and joy when days like this come around. they are rare and precious promises of something warm and green and flooded with sunlight that is just on its heels.

so, into the fuckit bucket went the welfare office. there was no way kid and i were going to spend a day like yesterday in a depressing, windowless building.