Friday, July 29, 2011


Amelia came into the bed at 3 AM and I could not for the life of me get back to sleep, so I figured I would get up and do something productive. This isn't like me, to have thoughts swimming in my head that keep me awake at night. Most of the time I am so busy doing, that any thought process I have is directly related to the very thing before me that I must try and tackle.

But I understand why I am feeling this way, as I have had this type of occurrence before, and I have a pretty strong sense of what it means. Though it is fairly difficult to capture it quickly in words, I am going to try and do so, as writing has always been the way in which I am able to process complexity and be able to happily get on with my day without that weighted feeling.

In 2006, my husband and I got married in the town where I grew up for most of my childhood-- Ocean City, NJ. And for the week before the wedding, we decided to be somewhat traditional and stay in separate houses, both of us living with our parents for the week before the big day.

Each morning, suffering from bridal nerves, and from jet lag, I woke up very early and would head out to the boardwalk for a long run. The first couple of days, the runs were amazing - I felt this jolt of excitement being in such a magical place, that represented the best parts of my childhood (the beach, the ocean, the boardwalk).

One morning, about the third day in, I headed out for the run, and about half way into it, coming up to Park Place, the street where my grandparent's house use to be and the street on which my husband's family were staying, I experienced this intense wave of emotion, something so unexpected, a sense of grief for the loss of a life that was gone, a memory of pain that I felt many years ago when the innocence of this place and this life slipped through the cracks.

I kept running through the tears, true to self, pushing through hard emotions through positive action. And I went through the day as any almost-bride would do, but there was something different under the layers, something surreal, this sense of self that once was many years ago as a child, and this sense of self now, as a person about to get married and start her own family, coming together in such an authentic way, that it felt almost like a collision.

Yesterday, something very similar happened. I went to the UC Berkeley campus for the first time in many years on my own. I have been to the campus with friends and family many times since graduation, but this was the first time I went on my own. And like the wedding many years ago, the journey started off very exciting, driving up University Ave, passing one of my favorite coffee shops, trying to take a picture from the car with my phone.

I smiled as I drove up the streets, knowing their ins and outs, all the short-cuts, as if I had never left. Walking up Telegraph Ave, towards Sproul Hall, seeing all the new students coming in with their parents, orientation, early arrivals, and I found myself wanting to reach out to them, to talk to them, share with them so many great memories about such an amazing part of my life.

And I went to the student cafe, bought a coffee, and sat down at a table in a back corner, remembering that the person that was me many years of go would have always sat at the front table, hoping to see someone I knew pass by and we could start up a conversation about our most-recent endeavors, be they intellectual, social, or just the normal stuff that happens to us as kids starting to become adults.

Almost like a scene in a JK Rowling book, this process of remembering while experiencing the physical sensations of that memory, allowed me to tap into that emotion that I felt so strongly, many years ago, to re-experience what was a lifetime back then in a brief 1-hour coffee break. It shook me, honestly, so I got up and decided to go and purchase a sweatshirt, which I have been meaning to do for awhile now.

In the shop, a young girl asked me to help her pick out a sweatshirt-- I was thinking that it could be her first one,  her first year, that nervousness, she reaching out to me, knowing I had come through it. And I recommended that the smaller size fit her better - in the long run, it would be the one she would treasure for the years to come - not the over-sized version that hid her young curves.

Walking to the car, in this contemplative state, driving back to the city in traffic, the tears finally came down my cheeks, that collision again of self, in the truest, most authentic sense. Each day I wake up and do what is in front of me, and as the years go by, the memories shift, even disappear, and there is an invisible veil between all the layers of activity going on around me in my current life, and the foundation that sits beneath it all.

That time of becoming an adult, of moving from the space of innocence into that space of reality, is still very much a part of the way in which I act each and every day, the way I treat my friends, my family, my daughter, the way I work, the way I think, the way I engage with the world. All those failed attempts at being a better self, until I eventually started to get the hang of it, started to find my voice, as a writer, started to realize the importance of balancing two sides of self - that relentless me that needs to get it done, with that gentler, kinder me, who is empathetic to the difficulties that all of us face sometimes when we are trying to do more than we did the day before, even if that is just putting one foot in front of the other in very tiny baby steps.

As I lay there in bed, with Amelia beside me, I wondered if there are people in this world who never experience this sense of colliding selves, as each and every memory is cherished, positive, shining, in an array of a happy life. I try and imagine my daughter Amelia as an adult looking across her life with nothing but fond memories, no struggles, no complex, grey moments in which she wasn't really sure how to match what she was feeling on the inside with what the norms were telling her to feel on the outside.

And here I am now, having spent a good bit of time writing, in a private space, closely examining the authentic self, and I feel a sense of contentment, that somehow all the bends and curves in life are much more interesting, beautiful like a spider web than any kind of Truman Show image that might replace it. I want this for my daughter, maybe a softer version than my own. But I want her to know what it means to be authentic, to experience life in all shades of color, including grey.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Our newest family member

For a couple of months, Amelia has been talking about 'Bably'. As my husband travels a bit, I had thought that Bably was an affectionate name for 'dad', that is, until this weekend.

On Saturday, we went to a picnic at my daughter's daycare. While changing her diaper in a small bathroom, we had a very interesting conversation that goes something like this:

Amelia: "Mammy, Bably is here."

Me: "And what is Bably saying."

Amelia: "Grrrrr (while making monster face)."

Me: "Is Bably a tiger?"

Amelia: "Yes."

Me: "Is Bably a friendly tiger?"

Amelia: "Bably is a doggie."

Me: "Was Bably pretending to be a tiger?"

Amelia: "Yes (with accompanying giggles)."

Very quickly, Bably has become an active participant in the Kearney family. Yesterday afternoon, Bably pushed Amelia down, and she was sad. We had a talk, the three of us, about not hurting people, after which, we had a group hug. Last night, Bably was in the kitchen (of the restaurant where we were eating). He was helping the cooks get Amelia's dinner ready as quickly as possible (she was hungry). This morning Amelia told me that Bably had an ouchy and he needed ice. I asked if it was OK to give Bably imaginary ice, and she said yes, as she held out her hand. I put the 'ice' into it, and she responded - it's cold.

Padhraic asked me if it was normal for kids to have imaginary friends, or if it was a sign of something wrong. I assured him it was a wonderful thing - that her imagination could be so alive, as to create a creature who can interact with us on a daily basis and help us work out what is going on in the world. And I can't help but feel that little bit of pride well up inside me, as I see a side of self that I have always embraced, the ability to imagine the world as she wants to see it, rather than feeling weighed down by a perceived reality.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

If you could sit down with superwoman and have an honest chat...

If you asked superwoman how her day went or how she was feeling, how do you suppose she would respond?

Let's say for instance that she nearly lost a child falling out of an airplane while she reached to rescue three other adults. As a consequence of trying to juggle the four people, one of the adults broke his foot in the fall.

And instead of hearing all sorts of praise and thank-yous for a job well done, she spent the evening in the hospital apologizing to the family for nearly dropping the child who is now traumatized and visiting the guy whose foot is painfully dangling from a swing, and he is crying out for more morphine.

Then suppose superwoman headed home, late enough, no groceries in the fridge, so she decided to get take-out. Only she lost her wallet in the fall, so she has no money on her. Hungry and tired, she decides to go to sleep, and her next door neighbor is having a huge house party, so she is up most of the night.

Would superwoman tell you about all of this, go into all the details of the last 24-hours?

She might tell you about nearly losing the child, about the man in the hospital with the broken leg and how her heart went out to him. But most likely she wouldn't burden you with the fact that she had no sleep, that she was starving because she lost her wallet - for sure, she wouldn't want to make you feel like you needed to feed her. She might also be a little hesitant to tell you about the rescue, as if it came off as boasting or else even worse, complaining about something that is the very privilege of being 'super' - able to fly and all that.

What if she did tell you that she hasn't slept and is hungry, and that she wishes every once in awhile people would recognize the work that she does, say thank-you, and appreciate that they are still alive, even if a little shook and a bone or two out of place?

Would you still consider her 'super'? I am guessing that you would still consider her 'super' if you weren't directly related to any of the above incidents, and if you were her friend and were genuinely out for her best interest.

Here's an interesting twist - what if we had the ability to observe a conversation between superwoman and her husband, superman. Suppose he too was out saving the world all day, and instead of going to the hospital after saving all those people in the train crash, he took some time to humbly accept their praise. One of the thankful train riders found his wallet. Another one invited him to dinner with the family. Say superman got home a little tipsy from a few pints and with a full belly - this meant that he slept fine through the neighbor's party. 

What sort of conversation do you suppose would be a healthy honest chat between two superheroes?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Big love to nurses and medical assistants!

I realize this is my third blog this week and you guys are probably sick of me by now, but right now I feel compelled to send some big love to nurses and medical assistants who help people in need.

Wednesday afternoon, I went with Suzana to Mt. Zion and met this very cool medical assistant who was wearing some bright purple shoes, which he shared with us he bought for 20 bucks nearly 5 years ago, and they are still hanging in there. And I left that place hoping that when Amelia gets to be a young adult, she will meet someone like that medical assistant - the kind of person who wears bright purple shoes in solemn spaces, and makes the air feel a lot lighter than one would think naturally possible.

Thursday Amelia caught a very bad vomiting bug. Yesterday (Saturday), my mom called to check-in on our week, and she listened patiently to me talk out the tiredness and worry. My mom is a hospice nurse - it is her job to be kind and handle tired people dealing with stressful illness. She reaffirmed that all I had been doing was great, and then asked me about myself, my own week, got me to talk out some of my own thoughts and feelings totally removed from the mom stuff.

This morning I gave Amelia a half a cup of soy milk, worried that it wasn't right, but wanting her to be happy (she really really wanted her soy milk). It didn't stay down and the poor pet was violently ill. So I range the emergency hotline for Amelia's doctor and left a message checking to see if the doc thought we should bring her in.

Then I rang Sharon, my step-mom, a nurse practitioner, pediatrics, who happened to be going up a ski-lift in New Hampshire when her phone rang. She asked me important questions, had me talk through all the details, and gave me very practical advice about being a mom with a sick kid. And part of her advice was to still keep on living, just to make sure to be careful, to keep Amelia comfortable, hydrated, and safe.

Shortly after talking to Sharon, a nurse-on-call rang me back and reaffirmed all that Sharon had said. She shared with me her own experiences as a mom, and made me feel so normal in my own skin. I did all the wise women advised, and Amelia fell fast asleep on the couch.

Just wanted to take a short moment to recognize the importance of caring people all around us - people who spend their lives giving good advice and kind words in a way that is effortless.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What a difference a day makes...

Last night, Amelia finally started to hold down food and we all got some much needed sleep. This morning, up bright and early, I finished a small project in work, looked outside the window, the warm sun shining on the lemon tree, and realized just how lucky I am.

While it is good to contemplate those moments of grey (like in my last blog on 'fairness'), I felt compelled this morning to embrace this moment of abundance, this feeling of good for goodness sake. 

I love the way we can feel so tired, so worn out in one moment, and then something as simple as sleep and sunshine can completely change our point-of-view, helping us to see the beauty all around us, pushing those 'grey' thoughts aside as if they never existed.

There is a balance here, one that is based on time, patience, and a bit of luck.

Friday, July 1, 2011

On fairness

Sitting across from a dear friend in the late afternoon drinking a pint in the Valley Tavern, we found ourselves in one of our many existentialist conversations about life. A little background - we don't normally go for afternoon pints, but it seemed fitting after finding out that there would be another surgery.

She said so many things that afternoon that stuck with me, but the one that I feel compelled to write about today in this blog is on the topic of fairness. In her mind, 'fair' is a word like 'guilt' - it is one of those feelings that no matter which angle you look at it, there isn't hope for a positive result.

And as the week continued, and moments of 'fair' crept into my head, I thought about ways in which I could embrace 'fair'. I tried thinking about fairness from the perspective of the classic Native American saying, "Don't judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins"-- that maybe there is a way to see things as truly fair, so long as you are thoughtful about the other person whose 'fairness' you are evaluating.

But as I tried to do this, I realized there are so many variables to consider in interpreting fairness from the multi-faceted perspective. If we were writing an algorithm, it would look a lot like the Big O notation - too many options to possible reach any sort of rational measurement for fairness.

And so I thought about relativity - that perhaps fairness can be measured from one perspective in isolation of another. In any given context, a 'fairness' value can be derived.

But what does it actually mean to feel that something isn't fair? How does one justify this feeling when there are so many other people in circumstances far worse than our own? At what point is life truly unfair for one person over another? And what the heck does this mean? What good is it to come to that conclusion?

So I think she is right, my friend - fairness is like guilt - there is nothing productive in holding on to it.

But then I remember back to those days as a child, when my father worked very hard to teach me the value of 'being fair'. It still holds very true in my heart that I need to treat people with a sense of 'fairness'. That I need to have balance in the way I approach others. 

Can I let go of the expectation that others need to be fair to me, and even more importantly, the disappointment that I feel when they are not? Is it possible to be fair outward while denying oneself the same measurement on the receiving line?

The very meaning of 'fairness' depends on equilibrium, or does it?