We’re All In This Together

I found our current home here in Ojai when I was staying with a friend of mine; think Ma and Pa Kettle, Green Acres and the Egg and I all rolled into one very old California Craftsman.  It wasn’t only the land, trees, flowers, vegetable garden, huge porch, peace and quiet, spectacular mountain views that sold me on this 103 year old dwelling, it was the adorable menagerie of animals that came with the house:  three bunnies, two guinea pigs and three hens a laying: Finally, instant fuzzy, feathery family for our empty nest.

As a child my neighbor had rabbits and I was given a guinea pig (instead of a cat in first grade) so caring for those critters was relatively easy.  Chickens, however, had not been part of my early life experience, but there they were — three hens happily residing in a lovely two story, indoor/outdoor coop near the vegetable garden.

The black and white hen was called Tina Turner.  Henny Penny was copper, and the Queen heir apparent was a fluffy, ample bosomed whiter than white hen named Marilyn Monroe.  Marilyn definitely strutted her stuff and was very, very vociferous.  She caught my attention, not just because of her incessant squawking, but also because of her story.  I had been told that Ms. Monroe had been attacked by the previous owner’s chocolate lab, who must have had a primal flashback of some sort in which he realized that he was not only a “bird dog” but a “retriever” as well.  With that a ha moment of what he deemed his ‘authentic self,’ he went after Marilyn with a vengeance.   Horrified, the woman of the house rushed Marilyn to her vet, and waited anxiously for several hours as the doctor struggled to save a chicken’s life; and so he did even though her chance of survival was next to none.  I felt a kinship to Marilyn, having had a ‘near death’ situation myself, and labeled ‘a talker’ since second grade.

Prior to all this, I knew nothing about chickens.  I’m a vegetarian from way back so I don’t even eat them.  The day after we moved into our home, I went to our local feed store and here’s the advice I got:  You feed ‘em, give ‘em water, collect their eggs, and eat ‘em.  First the eggs then the chickens, that is.  Not too helpful for a vegetable loving, novice caretaker. Then I went to Google to learn specifically how to care for them, clean their coop, and feed them.  Honestly, I felt a little out of my comfort zone.

But one day, I was tending my garden, and Marilyn was screaming at me.  I’m not kidding.  She was screeching at the top of her lungs and I think she was using profanity.  Seriously.  So I ambled over to her and found the watering pail completely bone dry.  And one thing I know, all God’s creatures need water.  It was a hot summer’s day, and she was right to get mad even though I thought that she could have asked nicely.  I felt terrible as she kept cackling at me even though I had filled the watering pail and put it back in its rightful place. Once Tina and Henny quenched their thirst, she stopped yakking and drank up.  I apologized saying out loud, but more to myself that I had much to learn here, and I swear she stopped guzzling, walked right up to me, cocked her beady brown eye at me as if to say, “You got that right, sister.”  And that’s when our friendship began.

Marilyn was talkative, opinionated and a fighter; she was also incredibly loving.  She cared for her girls, and she accepted me more easily as a caretaker, while the other two ran from me and paid me no mind.  She spoke to me when I fed them, and squawked at me whenever I passed the hen house, as if to say, “Take a moment and visit with me, you’re running the world.”  She was the first to take food from my hand, and although chickens are supposed to eat everything and anything, Marilyn was, well, downright picky about what she liked and she told you so.  She also made very appreciative clucking sounds when you showed up with good eats.  She was the first to jump out of the hen house when I swung the door wide open, and the last to go back in without a fuss, always shepherding her flock.  When I cleaned out the coop, she’d come up to me, give me a critical look, and then a cluck or two of thanks.

I’m sad to say that Marilyn died last week.  By the time my husband and I figured out that she just wasn’t herself, she was very, very sick.  We actually brought her to a vet who gave her a shot of antibiotics and gave us a prognosis of a 50-50 chance of survival.   But I knew she wasn’t going to make it.  We brought her into our home, made a special coop for her and I watched her, excuse the pun, like a mother hen until my husband insisted I get some sleep.  I awoke in the middle of the night and went into check on her.  She sat perfectly still, her breathing labored.  She looked so frail and so alone so I sat before her, opened the cage door, and gently stroked her silky, white feathers.  I experienced a deep sadness about the fragility of life, the wounds inside of us that feel as if they’ll never heal, and vulnerability beyond comprehension.  I told her that I loved her, that if she didn’t want to fight to live I understood, that I wanted her to live, but it was her decision, not mine.  I’ve been here before mind you, but never with a chicken.  I would have stayed up with her, but my dog, Eli, came in and interrupted our stillness, so Eli and I went back to bed. The next morning she was gone.  And I cried.  I cried because I felt responsible, I cried for the loss of her, and for the grief her hens would feel at losing her.  I cried for all the times I’ve lost someone I love; a part of my life one moment, and then not.

I know what you’re thinking…she was just a chicken, after all.  But here’s the thing; and I believe this with my entire being: we are all divinely connected, divinely guided, and divinely loved.  Each and everyone, everything on this earth is a unique gift; a gem, a jewel, some rough cut, some polished, but all a part of God’s Glory.

We buried Marilyn in our backyard.  I scattered rose petals where she was laid to rest and I was reminded of this:  that even in times of profound sorrow I am blessed by having loved, and having been loved.

Thank you Marilyn for reminding me that love is not lost through loss, but found more fully.

Our beloved Marilyn Monroe

A Marriage of Heaven and Earth

All you need is love...

The other day my husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary; we have been together for a total of 17 years.  Outside of my family, that’s the longest loving relationship I’ve ever been in.  Today, as I waited for our oatmeal to cook, I began to think about what my morning was like 15 years ago, the day of our wedding.  My six year old son, Jacob, was so excited about his tuxedo and bow tie, that he stood at the kitchen table, wolfing down his cereal, begging for a bath.  Skip was too nervous to eat and the only thing keeping me connected to my body was my inner dialogue with Mother Nature begging her to stave off the rain gods for just one more day!  Nine hours later, Skip, Jacob and I were married at the Hotel Bel Air; the swans gracefully skimming along the pond, our friends and family gathered together outside as the clear blue sky changed into a purplish hue of reverence — witness to our vows.  After 40 years on this earth, my brand, spanking new husband gifted to me a beautiful wedding and one helluva party afterwards.  I reference back to that magnificent day all the time for soulful nurturance.

So fifteen years later, I’m in our kitchen making oatmeal and I turn to my Prince Charming and this is what I see – a middle aged man, with a bit of a Buddha belly (good for rubbing), thinning hair (styled to mimic a cockatiel’s distinctly erectile crest also known as bed head), and a thin wad of tissue shoved into his right nostril, (a very functional and inexpensive way to eradicate the flow of mucous from one heck of a cold.)  Gerard Butler, look out!  I smile at Skip and beg him to allow me to photograph this beautiful image before me.  He studies me for a moment, letting me know with the blink of his hooded blue eyes that I’m a vision to behold as well, and says quite lovingly, “Yes, you may take a picture of me, but if you do, I’ll have to kill you.”  Please take note, this is my husband’s warped sense of humor; Skip ushers spiders out of the house via Kleenex or glass jar.

A friend of mine asked me if I see myself married to Skip for the rest of my life.  Had she asked me that last Tuesday, I would have said yes, but my fingers would have been crossed behind my back, but as I write this, 24 hours after we celebrated our anniversary, the answer is yes, yes, emphatically YES!  Has it been bliss?  There have been moments, long moments of bliss, but there has also been interminable moments of pain.

Truth be told, I really believed that once I found the right man, fell in love, and married, that I was set for life. I was going to live in the land of Bliss on a mountaintop overlooking a beautiful lake, called Security.  Growing up, I had a serious crush on John Lennon, so when he sang, “ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE, love…love is all you need, it’s EASY” I believed him. 15 married years later, a lot of tears, a lot of laughter, a lot of pain, a lot of pleasure, a lot of making love to make up, a lot of not making love to stay unloving and unlovable, well, let’s just say that belief is limiting; actually that belief sabotages the spiritual truth that love is – drum roll if you please – transformational.  It requires that we CHANGE.  It insists that we accept being VULNERABLE.  Why vulnerable?  Why change?  Because when you live with and love another in an intimate, conscious way, that person constantly illuminates those dark things that dwell inside of us; our worst fears, our habitual patterns, our neurotic ways of being that make us feel “safe,” but really limit us and disconnect us from our ability to love and be loved.

This is the good news, bad news bears …Our partner shines this gigantic searchlight into the very core of our humanness – our pain, our fears, our sadness, our confusion, our aloneness, but if all of that “stuff” isn’t illuminated, then how can we meet ourselves just as we are, find compassion for ourselves, flawed, imperfect, a work in progress, and develop a truly loving, kindness toward ourselves?  And that requires self-acceptance, which I believe to be the foundational building block for self-love.  Because if you’re not loving yourself, than how are you loving someone else?  And bigger still, how can you possibly feel worthy and open to the love coming toward you from another.

I read a beautiful quote from Wayne Muller that said, “No more is required of us than this:  that we love ourselves and one another with gentleness and mercy, for we each carry within us the tender heart of God.”

Happy anniversary, Skip.  You are a heavenly mirror for me to see – really see –who I Am in this exact moment of time and who I’d like to become.  With you asmy life partner, I hold a tremendous desire in my heart to be an unconditional source of kindness and love for myself and for you.

Perhaps my marriage to Skip is heavenly bliss manifested here on earth after all.

The way we were...

The way we are...

Could it be that the greatest perfection is…imperfection?

Shouldn’t your baby be a Gerber baby?

Since my blog is titled, rantings from a recovering perfectionist, I thought I’d speak about perfectionism.  I’ve spent many a decade perfecting my perfectionism.  I carry the genes of perfectionism, thank you mother, and I grew up in an environment of perfectionism, thank you mother and father.  My perfectionism is a nature, nurture honed diamond – no flaws in that baby.

The “aha” moment of not only becoming keenly aware of my perfectionistic tendencies but staring them straight in the eyes and owning them occurred when I was trying to stop my three month old son, Jacob, from drooling.  His drool leaked onto everything and everyone within a four-mile radius; I’m not kidding.  Exaggerating to make my point, but I am serious.  Finally, I took him to our pediatrician who I trusted with not only my son’s life, but mine as well — for reasons I won’t bore you with.  He explained to me that there was nothing to be done; Jacob was teething which stimulates drooling, which is often worse with some babies than others.  I began to study other babies in my mommy and me group.  Nobody, I mean nobody, was bringing forth copious amounts of that slimy, silvery, non-odorous ticky, tacky drool like my boy.  Here’s when the ‘aha moment’ hit.  I was breast feeding Jacob late one night, and I thought about trading him in for a non-drooler.  Seriously.  At three months I loved him, but there was a lot of things that I hadn’t signed on for.  One, he had a lot of hair on his head and he was long and skinny.  Gerber babies were bald babies who had chubby cheeks, and were pudgy.  Two, he was colicky and the only person who could quiet him seemed to be me.  Gerber babies gurgle and coo and are easily held by anyone with two arms!  Three, he peed and pooped bountiful amounts and the stench, quite frankly, was embarrassing.  Gerber babies pee and poop maybe three, four times a day sans stink.  Last but not least, Gerber babies sleep through the night and take nice long naps in the afternoon.  My baby slept in the early hours of the morning, napped a little, and never, ever slept through the night.  Which means, guess who else didn’t sleep through the night!

I shared the swapping-my-baby-for-another-non drooler-baby with my perfectionistic parents.  I was sure they’d understand, especially my mother.  She used to iron my twin brothers diapers and tiny t shirts.  They thought I was crazy.  My mother yelled at me and my father quietly slipped me the name of a psychiatrist he had taken my mother to see many years ago.  That night, as Jacob breast fed, his tiny, perfect fingers curled around my perfectly manicured pointer finger, I realized I had a serious problem.  I was considering a baby exchange program for this sweet, wonderful son whom I fought very long and hard to birth.  (I have an incompetent cervix but that’s another story.)

The next day, after another sleepless night in Sherman Oaks, I looked for the perfect Perfectionist Anonymous chapter.  Not only does the perfect Perfectionist Anon. chapter not exist, no chapter for perfectionists exists.  I was shocked.  Personally, I would have absolutely no problem standing up in front of a rather large group of people saying, “Hi, my name is Brauna and I’m a recovering perfectionist.”  Of course, I’d be wearing the perfect outfit, something casual but elegant, matching shoes, not sensible, but not come-f-me either, and for sure I’d have my hair done at my favorite salon.  Instead, I went to a therapist and started a recovery program for perfectionism.

Twenty odd years later, I think I understand perfectionism.  I can actually embrace it, be with it, but not let it take control of me.

Let me begin by defining ‘perfectionism’ in my language.

Perfectionism is a limiting belief that perfection is not only possible but achievable.  Anything less than perfect is, well, unacceptable.  And who deems what is perfect?  The hard-core judge (her name is Judy, and to be honest, she’s perfectly intelligent, perfectly righteous, and never, ever a hair out of place) and her hand picked jury (like an exquisite strand of pearls, are they) that lurks within the shadows of my soul.

After many, many years of therapy, spiritual workshops, churches, temples, yoga, near death experiences, healing and healers of all shapes and sizes, fasts, cleanses, colonics, bad hair days, I have had an awakening…

Let me digress a quick moment here.   In my world, an awakening is an, oh so very good thing, because it’s that moment when the demon EGO which works diligently to control and manipulate you, is quiet and the hushed wisdom of your soul, that divine spark inside us all, speaks.  (You can find it when you breathe; in between the inhale and the exhale, but that’s another blog, for another time.)

Back to the awakening…drum roll, if you please:

The fundamental reason I strive for perfection is because I have had a tremendous need to feel in control of everything at all times so that I could protect myself and feel safe.  (That overwhelming feeling of not being safe carbon dates back to my childhood, but that’s a whole different blog).  In the past, feeling vulnerable was unacceptable.  Now I know, that if I’m not feeling vulnerable, I’m not living.  I may be existing, but I Am definitely not living life.  There’s only one thing for certain in this life, and it’s not death and taxes.  Life is about change.  And change is transformational.  Norman Mailer once said, “Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less.  One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.”

It’s taken me over five decades, and not one but two near death experiences to let go of my need to control life, to simply accept each and every moment that comes to me without judgment, and live this beautiful gift called life, a little more…

Now that’s perfection!  (I said I was a “recovering” perfectionist,  right?)