Last night at the theater watching Mamma Mia again, my youngest, Livy, reached over the seat in a poignant part to grab my hand and in the dark I looked to her and her mouth moved in words of gratitude, telling me that, as a mother, I’d always been there for her. And as the screen splashed fiction, we sat there and held hands, sharing our real story, and her eyes were misty and so were mine.
It hasn’t always been wonderful for my girls. One of the most painful memories from my life is after my divorce in 2007. Their dad had moved to VA (to live with Sarah and her young son) and the sudden revocation made both girls insane with anxiety—petrified that I’d somehow just vanish into thin air—until at one point Livy, then 6, wasn’t able to go to school without sobbing for me until she was gagging.
So I started sitting outside her classes to help her ease into stability and she was starting to feel more confident until, one random day, her first grade class were playing a game for P.E. when suddenly Livy broke off from the group, ran over to me—falling into my arms—and in the broken gasps of uncontrollable feelings, barely got out through her hyperventilating, “I (sob)…miss…my (sob)…daddy.” And in the seconds after, her little body convulsed with all the grief I’d lived to protect her from and somehow became embedded in my own, as if forcing me to learn about pain in a way I couldn’t ever understand otherwise.
And some moments stay with you forever. Are designed to. For at that time, on that day, in that gym, patting my baby’s back, telling her “I know you do baby. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry”—my own heart broken—I would have done anything to deliver her from that pain. Because I know the doubts that creep in to hurt us when the lights are out and my heart that day descended with her into all those nights. Into The Great Loss, where we become bound to an event simply because our hearts are too injured to allow expectance of anything better. Into the experiences which don’t leave, even when you ask them nicely, and are a good and “perfect” little girl. When fear shines like a search light, Discovering all the little pockets of emptiness, all the wounds, and tells that story over and over of running to mama because we can’t do this; there’s too much pain.
But There are secrets to life that the intervening years told the truth about.
Because that same child sat next to me in the theater last night, whole, intact, emotionally available— even at only 18 years old—and feeling and expressing realizations and resolutions, while not wasting any time living her authentic self and the consistent nurturance she has for this world. And that these two memories exist within the same life experience—within the same 12 year span—reveals that there are stories which resonate more deeply than The Great Loss.
For in the shadows of heartbreak, doubt, abandonment and running to mama, there lives “help me” and someone rubbing your back, until the colors of this existence are shades of rainbows and fall leaves that in the contrast creates the entire more-beautiful experience. Where Life waves at us as if from the shore and we calibrate to protect ourselves until blindly against rocks we’re hurled and from the chaos—stretching out and towards our love for one another—we get to rise Into and then out of the great loss into another story.
And I did not know that then but it’s been a magical unveiling I can see the irony of once wanting freedom from.
For from spontaneous unwritten moments and the shine of a movie screen, pain and heartbreak now can illuminate the story of deep love and empathy. The story where Livy and I hold hands in the potency of misty-eyed remembrance then, after, normal life continues, and as we drive home, we hum the same song in the breath of a summers night.
I’ve lost a lot of very good people to this truth. But first, I lost myself.
Because we’re not born into the education about how to flow with the growth of our own life. We’re born into the construct of the five senses, and instructed to bow to the mores of a society which we’re taught is honorable enough to honor when it really isn’t. Everybody’s just walking around in a fear parade or self-medicating (booze, shopping, porn, mindless ambition for money) so as to feel some measure of freedom or happiness, stepping one foot in front of the other without questioning the validity of any of it until we’ve ruined the planet, children are in cages (while people justify), and fighting so many wars the news doesn’t even cover them anymore. We assume all we’ve ever done is all we should ever do when clearly we don’t got all that shit covered.
And a few years ago, I was totally devastated when my girls were both sick, James blamed me for it, I was jobless, my car got totaled, I started fantasizing about driving myself off a cliff and asked my mom to please come help me and she removed herself emotionally. And I suffered greatly. But that was just how I saw it at that time. That’s how I saw it when I didn’t realize that every painful thing is an opportunity and that those antagonists creating trauma are often the same path towards inner reclamation of self-love you could literally never get anywhere else.
For when you get to see who will suffer your suffering, you receive clarity that the end game of all of this is that you can either stay in the same place or you can move and accept that what anyone ever does to us is Growth challenging us to fight for ourselves.
So if you are in pain right now—if you feel betrayed, if you cannot see anyone standing around you—remove the society inside you validating that you are stuck, know that it hurts because it works, and breathe that the loneliness is You inside one of the steps of your act of becoming. Then go and love on something purring or furry because that shit just feels good.
Or you CAN touch but you’re gonna pay for it.
Thank you to my oldest daughter for tagging me in this on Instagram because it’s a big moment in a parent’s life when they’re finally able to connect with their kids on the profound life issues.
I don’t know how I came to make my living as a pet sitter. I really don’t. I love animals but have an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters degree in teaching; after my divorce, I was committed to being a teacher. Went back to school, got a para job in the public schools; was a 42 year old student teacher (did my thesis on math anxiety in preservice teachers) and invested years trying to get a full-time teaching job in Utah—doing stints as PE teacher, testing coordinator, reading interventionist—sacrificing time, money, and my own peace of mind to do so. I saw myself as a teacher; my brain kept telling me that story over and over again: that starting a pet sitting business would be the supplement to my teaching income, helping me make ends meet for a single parent like myself.
But Life is sometimes like unwrapping a gift in slow-mo: the joy at the end is often part of an agonizing process of patience. Because I love this picture, I love Kora, I love the bark of this tree, I love how,—within a single shot—the snow unifies all of nature’s creatures, resting on Kora and trees and ground—leaves uncovered slightly as if through archaeological dusting another world is being revealed—and how the colors and texture mix and contrast until I feel—cold and wet though I was when I snapped this—a palpable experience of peace when I look at it.
And while it’s hard to back up from such a picture and not question why I was unable to see myself within this story, the questioning makes me wiser. For though unwrapping it was agonizing, the joy of finding myself here has taught me that it takes a long time to learn how to get out of your own way in order that you could more fully know yourself but in so doing, emanating from the wreckage of former certainty are often the most lovely things.
Like the calm of white snowflakes drifting towards the fur of a black dog slowing you down so you can more fully see what you are.
[I graduated in 2011–a tough teaching market anyways–and didn’t start pet sitting full-time until 2016, five very stressful and disappointing years later. Sometimes Life has to pound harder on the door for certain people]
I boogied home from a pet sit this morning before DD1 and her BFF embarked on their camping trip to Moab because I wanted to give them my pep talk about personal safety (gathered over my almost 48 years of being personally safe), but we hadn’t seen each other for a few days so when I got home we were all laughing and being silly, and Julia was complaining that she had probably broken her toe and I told Ellen that it wasn’t looking good for Julia’s survival so she had my okay to abandon (or snack on) Julia if it came to that so I got distracted and all I could remember was to give them a hunting knife, Continue reading “Crazy/effective”
Pic: My younger brother Jeff and I circa 1971; I was about 3.
According to the birth certificate tucked inside my baby book, I was born October 1, 1968 at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View California and my name was “Amy Brook Palleson”. I don’t remember any of the other fluff on it—height, weight, etc.—just that the birth certificate paper was black with white printing and hard to read and that the book itself was a mess of white out and scratch outs and corrections.
We can fast forward now, through memory lane, through years, through the solidification of who I was—Rose and Martin Palleson (dads parents; “grandma and grandpa”), Leeroyce and Deck Hogin (moms parents; gammie and gampie); through aunts and uncles and cousins; through my brother Jeff born in early ‘71, my sister Alex in ‘75, and Clancy and Cindy, my father and mother—Fast forward all the way to the couch in gammies living room where I lay quietly crying at age 13 (or 12? I can’t even remember) because solidity is often invented, and my real dad was dying, asking to see me and only knew me as “Sophie”.
In the way of regret and guilt, I’ve often been to that place where I must explain my choice, that day I learned Clancy wasn’t my dad and that the real one I never knew about was dying. For that was the year I was mercilessly bullied—had started high school, young for my grade; afraid to turn corners; lost all my elementary friends—and would the next year change schools because of it so I was mixed up and scared and insecure and didn’t have much to hold onto right then.
But the bigger truth is that children know what’s expected of them, and that secret was supposed to be kept. That’s why when I was one year old and she left him, Mom had changed my name, that’s why she crossed it all out in my baby book; changed my birth certificate, had Rose and Martin/my dad‘s parents officially adopt me and never mentioned anything. Because that was the new life she’d wanted and I loved her and was supposed to let her live this life. So in a heart bigger than my self, I knew she’d feel betrayed if I went to see him and I never wanted to hurt her—lived my life to protect her—even if that meant hurting someone else (and myself) instead.
And of course he died, and so then did his only memories of his daughter, Sophie Stuckey, the name under the white out.
And there are times when I’ve looked upon that day with judgment of myself for not going to see him. Because it is not like me to extend myself into such seeming-cruelty. To deny a man about to exit this life the chance to see what he had offered this world; deny him a chance to experience closure for a chapter which may have haunted him through health and illness, happiness and hardship.
But when my own child turned 13, I met my world from a different place.
For I didn’t know until then that one choice always speaks many languages. And that the guilt and regret of a young girl who didn’t know what to do was actually the wisdom of a human being caring for another. The wisdom of a human who wanted more for her mom than for her own self, who in so acting, would let her mom then live always inside the world where she doesn’t have to confront anything but the memory of her one year old baby with a new name and their brand new life together.
Sometimes in saying my own name— ‘Amy Brook’—I can hear my mother defining that new life, and the new hope she had for her and myself.
For that name means ‘beloved by the stream’ and in iterations of selves both past and yet to come, I believe that much of me has lived to bear out the truth of such a name. Beginning in earnest that day on the couch as a 13 year old girl.
Post script: In yet another facet of this, I have realized in these later years that I was also afraid she wouldn’t love me anymore if I went to see him. Because in the years after I found out Clancy wasn’t my dad—long after Harvey Stuckey had passed—mom would say things like “you’re just like your father!” when we’d argue. Of course I’d never met him so had no idea if what she said was even true but that she was talking about someone I never knew who was dead and who she had left when I was one it was messed up. I think mom had a lot of abandonment issues and that after I knew about my dad, I never really felt like I was just hers anymore, and it made her vulnerable.
Anyways, Please don’t do that to your kids. Say things like “you’re just like your father!” when your kid knows how much you despise their dad. Even if they ARE acting just like the other parent and it’s egregious, give them the space to self-correct and remove the language of shame so that they don’t struggle with the feeling that they aren’t loved or lovable.