Monthly Archives: January 2012

About Stories

From a wonderful book called The Story is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories, by Bruce Jackson. It says so elegantly what we’ve said before in Sharing Family Stories and other posts.

“In time, how we tell our story depends not so much on what happened then, but on what we know of the world now. And that is why the story of that time told at this moment means at least as much, and perhaps more, about this world now than that time then. And that is why these stories we tell again and again remain forever new.”

Turning Blue

I recently shared this story over dinner at a restaurant with Lisa’s family, and my daughter’s delight at my absurdity and my fear was very gratifying! As we have said on this blog many times, sharing stories of our own mistakes and comic misunderstandings normalizes mistakes for our kids. We all make them. Nobody’s perfect. And hopefully we can laugh about them afterwards.
So, one cold winter day a few years back I had been reading in a cozy chair, rubbing my hands together to keep warm, sometimes rubbing them between my knees or hugging myself against the chill. I wondered at one point if I should turn the heat up, as I noticed my normally pale skin was looking slightly blue. I hugged a blanket around my shoulders and continued reading. As the sun shifted and came through the window onto my lap, I noticed my hands really looked blue. Definitely blue. I rubbed them together again, thinking I should take a walk and get my blood circulating. I made a cup of tea to warm myself, and tried to quell the tiny voice in my head that was saying, “That does not look normal.”
I subdued my anxiety by diving back into my book, but couldn’t resist taking a peek now and then. Still blue, even though I had turned up the heat and done a few jumping jacks. The tiny voice was louder now, and my thoughts began to stumble in alarm. My daughter, the Lovely K., would soon be home, and I began to sketch out an action plan in nervous jerks of thought – hospital, am I cyanotic? am I not getting enough oxygen? am I losing circulation? emergency room? call someone so I can drop her off in case – I went into the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror, my mind now racing with fear. My face seemed normal, my gums pink, it was just my blue blue hands! I was as close as I’ve ever come to freaking out, staring at my blue hands, when I happened to clench them into fists, and that’s when I noticed that where the skin stretched over my knuckles, there was my normal pale color in the cracks. Suspicious now in a different way, I grabbed a bar of soap and began to wash my hands. My mouth gaped in surprise as the soap suds turned dingy gray and my horrifying and mysterious medical condition swirled down the drain.
At this point in the story Lisa’s daughter broke in like Sherlock Holmes. “Your jeans! It was your jeans!”
“Yes,” I confessed with chagrin. “I was wearing brand new jeans, and when I tried to warm up by rubbing my hands between my knees the dye rubbed into my skin.  Every time I rubbed my hands on my legs to get my circulation going it just got darker and darker.”
My daughter was giggling. “You thought you were turning blue!”
What I didn’t share was that I’ve noticed whenever I am sick that she becomes very anxious. My adopted daughter lost one mother already, and whether it’s conscious for her or not, I think she fears it might happen again. Why wouldn’t she think so? Where she comes from there are millions of orphans whom fate has left parentless, and she knows it. So the thoughts that had been racing through my mind, the fear that had been making me so stupid, was not fear for myself, but for her. No! It wouldn’t be fair, life is not that cruel! was what had my heart in my throat.
But no. Not quite dead yet, to quote a favorite line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
“Pretty dumb, huh?” I asked her. She just laughed and continued with her dinner.
So that’s why I’m here. It has been almost a year since Lisa and I started this blog, and I began sharing stories with our readers. My daughter’s courage in starting her life over again at 8 years old continues to be my inspiration, and I’ll keep telling stories until I turn blue in the face.

Courage to Survive

This video of concentration camp survivor, Alie Herz-Sommer, is a marvelous example of human courage!   She is interviewed by Anthony Robbins on the eve of her 108th birthday. 

We particularly noted:
1. the role that parent-child attachment played in her ability to withstand this ordeal,
2. her attitude of gratitude (“everything is a present”),
3. her life-saving optimism.

All things we can teach and model for our children, or that they teach us, that help develop our courage and resilience in life! Enjoy!


One of the members of our church choir is a dedicated peace activist who has been arrested more than once for her protest work; from time to time she reports on the status of charges against her. When my daughter first understood that this woman had been put in jail because of her beliefs, she was intrigued. This led to a discussion about democracy and civil disobedience, and to the stories of the Civil Rights Movement. The stories about Rosa Parks and Dr. King have become part of American mythology, and I was proud to tell her some of those stories.
I quickly found myself in rather deep water, however, since explaining the background of the struggle required discussing racism and its destructive manifestation in our history of African slavery. Imagine the squirming I suffered inside as I (a white woman) explained to my newly-adopted Ethiopian daughter how white people went to Africa to steal black people and bring them here against their will, their heritage stripped from them. The growing look of baffled alarm on my daughter’s face finally resolved itself into a gut punch of a question. “Am I your slave?”
How else could it look to her, after all? She had had no choice in the matter of her adoption and emigration to the U.S. When I regained my composure I tried to point out the many differences, all the while knowing in the back of my mind that, in truth, children are as powerless to control their fates as the captured Africans were.
All I could offer was the promise that I would never force her to do anything against her will or raise a hand against her, that I would protect her from harm, and that I would show up on time. From that moment my job was clarified for me: I had to parent through moral authority alone, by earning her love, respect and trust through my own actions. Anything else would be tyranny. If parents must be dictators at times, they must at least be benevolent dictators.
Besides, the cat is out of the bag as far as resistance to unjust civil authority is concerned! I’ve shared with her the courage stories of civil disobedience, and encouraged her to think of resistance to tyranny and injustice as a good and important thing, a hero’s quest if ever there was one. I have, in effect, put myself on notice.

If I ever have to post bail for her for an act of conscience, I will be proud to stand up in church and make that announcement. I think that will tell me I did my job well.

What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.  To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”
~Helen Keller

It’s New Year’s Day and I’m taking a different approach to planning my 2012 New Year’s Resolutions.  I’ve tried and failed many times in some of my previous vain attempts at perfectionism disguised as self-improvement.  In fact, when reading Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, The Happiness Project, the only commandment for happiness (submitted by one of her readers) that resonated with me long after finishing the book was: “I am already enough.”  These days I prefer books that open my mind to possibility, rather than filling it with worry about all the ways I am not YET enough.  I’m trying to adopt a more relaxed, hands-in-the-air-less-white-knuckle-approach to riding this roller coaster called life.  I like books that are more bucket list than to-do list.  Though goal-setting is important and empowering, mining our dreams often requires getting fear out of the way first.  Diane Conway’s book What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?:  Living Your Dreams While Quakin’ in Your Boots, for example, is filled with stories of folks who mustered the courage to conquer their fears and follow their dreams. 

Take my friend Heather, for example.  Like most people, she is afraid of public speaking.  She’ll belt out a tune in the privacy of her own shower, no problem.  In fact, she happens to be a talented singer.  But she had no intention of ever performing publicly and freely admits that public speaking is not one of her strengths.  She’s also not one to let fear get in her way.  She’s a big believer in facing fear and not letting it stand in the way of her own, her children’s, or clients’ personal or professional growth.  Like me, she’s also a mental health therapist and knows that free-floating fears can play havoc with our lives.  So, when the drummer in her husband’s band asked her to sing for an upcoming gig, she decided to use it as an opportunity to overcome her fear.  She’d turned down other opportunities before.  But she recognized she wasn’t getting any younger and, despite her fear, typically likes to push herself outside of her comfort zone.  She was afraid, no doubt about it.  But she channeled all that nervous energy, reframed it as excitement, and most of all (as she later reflected to me) was willing to be uncomfortable and even embrace the discomfort.  She also consulted a voice coach and practiced A LOT in the couple of months leading up to the performance.  Basically, she said “Yes to life.  No to fear!”  She normalized her fear and thus defused a great deal of it in the process.  She was, according to many in the audience, a total rock star the night she performed. She’s also learned to deep sea dive, which makes her even more of a rock star in my books. Learning to snorkel without panicking, in addition to believing I’m already enough, is an example of what’s on my 2012 list of Fears to Conquer and Dreams to Live.  

Fear, as I’ve written about before, can be our teacher or our enslaver.  Courage is not the absence of fear, but harnessing fear’s potential and using it to guide us not only to safety but success!  Fear can be a healthy neurobiological response to danger to help us survive, driven by our fear command center amygdalae.  It can also be induced through the perception of an uncontrollable or unavoidable threat, resulting in the psychological phenomenon called “anxiety”.  Avoiding what we fear has a nasty way of causing anxiety. 

Conway’s premise is quite simple really: imagine you felt no fear, now what would you do?  Not all of us, especially with kids in our lives, can chuck it all and go live on an ashram in India in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment (my own personal fantasy some days around dinner time).  But we can pack our kids in a second-hand RV, telecommute for a few weeks, and travel the country (my family’s reality a few summers ago).  If that’s your dream, that is. Conway’s simple question helps open the mind to possibility. 

When I asked my kids recently what they would do if fear wasn’t an issue, my son said, “I’d become a pro snowboarder and do more parkour.”  For those not yet familiar with this hair-raising (for parents) activity first spawned in France, check out this linkMy daughter responded, “All kinds of crazy stuff, like gymnastics or things to do with heights.”  Not only does posing this question help us identify some of our dreams, it can also help us recognize the fears that may be in our way.   

What will you do in 2012 if fear is not an issue?  What do your kids want to accomplish or at least try?  Post some examples from your 2012 Fears to Conquer and Dreams to Live list in our Comments Section. 

Remember: the best way to unleash your inner courage is to harness your fear in ways that ensure not only your survival, but even more importantly your capacity to thrive in life!  Check out our Six Types of Courage resource to help you and your kids brainstorm the type(s) of courage you might like to develop in 2012. 

Happy New Year!  Blessings to you and your family for 2012!
Thanks for reading and continuing to share your courage stories and parenting insights.
Enjoy the ride!