Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Blankets, Burrowing & Being There
February 13, 2015 at 8:51 am 5
This week’s Reader Story comes from Tammy Perlmutter. She’s proof that Twitter can be a force for good, since we met through a Twitter conversation, and have since become good friends. I’m so happy to have her here at Circling the Story. She’s a poet, preacher (on occasion), writer and visionary. She lives communally with Jesus People USA in Chicago. See, she’s fascinating! To check out more of her work be sure to visit Raggle Taggle; she’s also the force  behind the new collaborative blog, The Mudroom. You can also catch her in real time on Twitter. Here, she writes beautifully about daily life with her daughter on the autism spectrum.


Mornings are hard. Half the time I'm dressing her myself, the other half she is crying about being Tired and Cold. She is mostly immobile. She's only 50 pounds, but with a weak back I could throw out at anytime, dressing this child is like trying to put a full body leotard on a sleeping hippo. I confess, I bribe her with TV and chocolate. I'm not proud of it, but it gets the job done. Most of the time. This particular morning she was Freezing and Tired and Could Not Get Out of Her Blanket. She cried and fussed and crawled under her comforter, declared it her habitat like she was claiming the New World for herself, and refused to come out. tammyguestpost   I had no choice but to go in. I burrowed underneath the blanket with her as she held up her soft ceiling emanating light through the fabric. You could see shadows of Pikachu and Polywhirl overhead, like stars in negative. I snuggled in and stretched out lightly on her legs. She likes the deep, heavy pressure. I asked her if she had any food in her habitat. She had already eaten it. I asked her about where we would go to the bathroom. She pointed in the direction of the door. But we'd have to leave the habitat to pee, I reminded her. This gave her pause and she thought about it while I shared the warmth and muted light and the primal closeness of two bodies occupying the same space, radiating heat and comfort. We are quiet for a moment. Then she speaks. "I love you, Mommy." I am undone. I can't remember the last time Phoenix has uttered these words of her own volition and not as a response to being told she is loved. Also, she rarely calls me Mommy. It's usually Mama or Mom, which is funny because I vowed I never wanted to be called Mama. It sounded pretentious and babyish to me.   Circling the Story Reader Stories The truth is, the word "Mommy" unsettles me. Both of the families I lived with the longest called the mother Mommy, but it never felt right to me. It didn't matter whether it was a foster mother or my birth mother, I couldn't call any of them Mommy. It implied a closeness and intimacy I didn't feel I had a right to. I didn't even use the term when talking about them. I used Mom mostly, or as you do on the East Coast, "Ma!" That was simple and innocuous, it held no baggage. Phoenix called me Mommy. Mike uses that name with her when referring to me. And it fits. It works. It applies. What I never felt for the various female parental units in my life, Phoenix feels for me. It implies closeness and intimacy and she has every right to it. And so do I. I get a bit weepy and smile. My heart skips and lurches and celebrates. This child on the spectrum, the one who hugs you by backing into you and returns your I love yous robot-like with a lilt at the end, recognized an emotion, was fully present in the exchange, found words for it, and expressed it. The right emotion, at the right time, in the right context. Do you know how hard that is for a child on the spectrum? I translate her I love you into a hundred meanings:
Thank you for burrowing in my habitat with me. Thank you for entering in. Thank you for your playfulness. Thank you for helping me navigate this life that is too loud and so bright and smells funny and feels weird and gives me panic attacks I can't explain. I love that you love me. I love that you get me. I love that you let me be me and find it endearing and engaging and endlessly entertaining. I feel safe. I feel secure. I feel valued. I feel everything so big that I can't even find the words sometimes. Thank you for giving me words when I need them, and for staying with me when my words are screams, shrieks, whimpers, and whines.
I love you, Mommy. Four words that hold so much more meaning and experience and history and emotion than they might for other parents. I relax on her legs, easing more weight onto them, her love language understood and executed. I squeeze her arm, then her leg, and I find her hand. I love you too, baby girl. We are naked mole rats in our habitat. And we are not coming out.       *Photo courtesy of Tammy Perlmutter
At other places, Celebrate
Those numbers are people
December 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm 4
I ride a roller coaster almost daily. Letting numbers define me -- whether it's on the scale or my blog stats as I check them constantly to see how many are reading, is the number growing, and do readers stick around to read more than one post. It's exhausting and defeating and I know I want no part of that, and yet, I keep hitting refresh. What's that Bible verse about the dogs returning to their own vomit? Yeah, lovely image. IMG_1493.JPG It's time for a reboot. But those numbers? They're people. You guys have entrusted moments of your day to words that I type out with faltering hands. Words that offer refreshment, or ask questions or fumble gracelessly towards truth. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading. Every number on there is a person. A real flesh-and-blood person that I might not even know personally. Someone who believes, like me, that stories matter. That your story matters. That together our stories can heal as we say the scary things out loud to one another.


So, what is your story? What dreams are you dreaming? What are you hoping for this Advent season? What's the big thing that you're afraid to say because once it has a name, you have to acknowledge it? I've already spilled the beans over here, what about you?
Space + Place
December 9, 2014 at 12:33 am 3
Home. Such a full and throbbing word. As I sit in silence with the Christmas tree lights lit, I wonder what my children will take with them of this place. Will they remember the climbing wall in their bedroom and the light saber battles across the kitchen? Will they remember the creaking wood floor and the circles they ran between rooms? The little geographies of their days. Will they remember piling on couches to read together and gathering around the table and sharing their stories? Or will it all be a blur? A pile of feelings about a place, but without the specifics. Will they enwrap themselves in their inevitable hurts and failures, carrying them close to them, or will they lay them at my feet one day as they consider how I've messed up? And will I have the grace to say, "Tell me more"? Will home ultimately be healing?  Home | Circling the Story We have such meandering paths to home -- circuitous routes where we leave, resist, long for, and perhaps return home. I think we all long to enact those hero journeys where we re-emerge at the end, victorious yet chastened and changed. The hero of our own story. But it's a rather simple plot line. The problem with coming home is that through the process of leaving and returning, you can never really return, never get back to a moment of unconditional acceptance, without feeling the lurking presence of anxiety or shame. Those two things that tell us, perhaps more than any other, that we're grown up. We can't return to a state of blessed self-forgetfulness, to unadorned childhood. But we continue to itch for home. We fill up our the loss that invariably comes with knowing with socially sanctioned forms of distance -- with busyness and our phones and food and sex and soccer schedules. Because it doesn't ask anything of us, distance feels safe and home feels like a fairy tale. A good story, even delightful perhaps, but not true. Home | Circling the Story Yet, we keep circling, trying to land, trying to come home. We push and pull between wanting home and being fearful of what it might ask of us. There is though, a deep-seating longing to be a part of internal and external spaces that say, "No matter what, you're okay, I love you." Home perhaps is more than just a space or place, though it is anchored firmly in our tactile experience. A blanket, the smell of baking bread, the touch of a friend, the kiss of a spouse, the hot mug of tea shared weekly. Home, ultimately, is about belonging. It's about vulnerability without shame.  And I think we wonder, in this day and age, if there's any space or anyone that will embrace our shame and give us a hug anyway. So we test out the waters, we travel, we move on from people and places because we long for transformation. And transformation is always just beyond our reach, always "out there." So we think if we just moved, or tried something new, or read more about it, then, then we'd...what? Be safe? Be loved? Be important? Be successful? Be free? But home, it sneaks up on you. A place, you realize, suddenly becomes dear to you, or has been dear to you without you realizing it. And almost in the realization, its preciousness is gone. It's tinged with melancholy as it is thought about and analyzed or quite consciously created. I suppose this is part of what it means to grow up, to age; we reach back to a "golden age" that never existed or we place our hopes on future adventures, never experiencing the moment in front of us. Home is always "out there." Home | Circling the Story We're all longing for home. We're all longing for safety. We're all longing to come home to a place where we are cared for and held dear. And we're longing to not have to hide in order to be embraced, but to lay down our burdens, to own up to our shame and fear. And to take a deep breath and to be welcomed in.
Around the Table
Red cup righteousness
November 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm 14
It promises to make a challenging day better -- that combination of caffeine and sugar, all tied up with the festive bow of a red paper cup. It promises a relief from the everyday as if the "season" has arrived and magical feelings will flow from the peppermint mocha I just ordered. It's hidden in plain view on fashion bloggers' Instagram accounts. red cup righteousness starbucks I don't even like Starbucks coffee, but it calls to me. Today I gave in. We want something special. A treat. That's why we pay a ridiculous amount of money for it. We think that the red paper cup holds out relief, or validation, or just respite from the weariness of the daily. As I walk around Target holding my red cup that matches the color of the cart, wearing my skinny jeans tucked into my riding boots, I suddenly can feel that all is right with the world  -- unless of course my children are howling during this pleasant experience. red cup righteousness starbucks Though we've been given all good things, so often we use food and drink to make up for our lack. We buy and consume to fill up our own scarcity.  It's the American way, or the American dream, at least. Sweets or alcohol or caffeine or any number of "comfort foods" promise something that they can never deliver. They promise that everything is going to be okay; that holding on to a red coffee cup makes up for the harried morning where you yelled at your kids to get their coat on and out the door; that it makes up for your lack of inspiration at work; that it will help get your through the monotony of your desk job; that you deserve it because you need it. It's true, we are all needy. But a red paper cup can never fill our holes -- it can never fill up our sadness, or confusion, or lostness that we feel when we think that surely by now we should have this life thing a bit better figured out. But we keep reaching for the same things -- polite socially sanctioned forms of addiction -- because they feed our desire (if only for a moment) to be told we're okay. That we still love you even though you yell or are bored or just plain exhausted. But instead of telling our stories to one another where we confess and yearn for redemption, we buy Starbucks holiday drinks. I do it, too.  Perhaps because it's easier to fork over $4 than to take the time to look deeply within ourselves and see our need for repentance and restoration. Perhaps because caffeine and sugar make us feel good again, if only momentarily, and so we buy so we can forget all the bad feelings and guilt and shame. By all means, go and enjoy your red cup, but do it with someone and decide to share and be vulnerable while you sip your mocha. Because we can never be made right as we cling to things to cover up our shame -- whether it's excuses, or our own reputation, or a coffee cup; we can only be made right when we own up to our brokenness, see it for what it is, and ask for grace in the midst of the mess. That's why we're all here anyway. -- This month I’m writing on life Around the Table. I hope you’ll join me, cook with me, and invite others in to your real and virtual spaces. Please take time to comment below and share this post if it resonated with you.
Beauty in the Mundane
Vulnerability and the question we’re all asking
October 24, 2014 at 7:00 am 15
This was going to be a lovely post about enjoying your children -- or anything really -- before she/he/it grows up and changes into something entirely new and different. I was composing this lovely piece in my head as I cradled my 10-month-old daughter, touching my lips to her soft head, but then she started whimpering. And then she threw up all over me. Down my shirt. All over the bed, so that I had to change her and the sheets at 1:30 in the morning. There is just no good way to recover from that. Then later the next day, my 5-year-old son started looking a bit queasy and was starting to freak out that he was going to vomit as he was within 3 yards (3 yards! Almost there!) of the toilet. And then it came. And I caught it in my cupped hands. Because what's a mom to do -- just let her son vomit all over the carpet? And I thought of all the crazy fluids and mess that we catch as parents. Of spit-up and puke and diaper blow-outs. But you don't even have to be a parent -- there's mess inside each of us and it comes pouring out in this crazy world we live in. Shootings and killings and deadly viruses. And the more insidious ones we try to hide like retail therapy and comparison and shame.  We're all just covered in the mess and junk of this world; we try to keep hiding it, trying to stay picture-perfect. But there's stuff that comes flying out from who-knows-where and we're all waiting and wanting to know this: Is there someone who will see me and take my mess with outstretched hands, ready to catch it? yHGM3p1414118224 Do we run from the mess of life because it reminds us too much of our own shame? Do we tell our friends they're okay (when they're not) and keep stuffing the mess down like a dust bunny you see form under the couch and never get around to dealing with? Or do we show up with cupped hands, ready to catch whatever it is that spews forth, because we know that we, too, are filled with vileness, and one day we'll need someone to be at-the-ready with cupped hands for us? We'll need someone to hug and console not turn up their nose at the smell. Someone to take us to living water to be refreshed, restored and made clean when all we have to offer is a retching stink. But then, oh, what comfort and what truth and what grace in outstretched hands. -- flower photo1 This is the twenty-fourth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.