Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 12

A letter to Kaitlin

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Dear Kaitlin,

It’s been a while since we’ve written. So much has happened in our family–and in yours, too, I’m sure!

Congratulations on Reese and Brooke’s graduation! And even more congratulations on their wedding!

And, is it time yet to congratulate you on your divorce? (Does one even congratulate a friend on a divorce or offer condolences?)

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Well, since the divorce paves the way for you and Leroy to get married , I will offer congratulations. So, congratulations!

Norm feels terrible because he really laid into Newt when he found out about Newt’s past with you. He was furious when he answered Newt’s letter. I told him maybe it’s best to work through the feelings first, and then correspond, but that minor detail hadn’t occurred to my brother. I hope that Newt is OK. I mean, he’s got enough to deal with without having to deal with my raging-bear mode brother on top of it!

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How are all your kids and grandkids? Everyone healthy? Everyone happy? How is Ben doing?

We are great. Jena has grown into a big, confident, know-it-all five-year-old–and we love so much that our hearts burst! She has a terrific attitude!

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Nothing can stop her. I’ve read a lot about how girls lose their confidence when they enter middle school, and Mizuki Suzuki and I are already doing research to find ways to beat that trend with our girl. I hope she carries this strength with her all through her life.

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Remember when you first wrote me, years ago, and my house felt confusing and full to me with just one little two-and-a-half year old in it? Well now our home seems to be always full of children!

Jena is so out-going and friendly. She brings home loads of friends after school! It keeps me busy making cookies, slicing apples, and brewing hot chocolate! I love it.

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Mizuki Suzuki loves it, too.

Sometimes in the evening, I’ll see her sitting in the living room with one of Jena’s toys.

“Our house has space for more children. Don’t you think?” She used to always say.

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I always thought of your old two-room apartment, and how you filled it with children and teens. And I have to agree: Our home does have room for more.

And it looks like we just may be getting another!

One of my other pen pals told me about another group of refugee children who need homes. She’s sending me the contact information for the agency in charge of placing them, and I have a feeling that within a few months–if not sooner–we will have another little toddler, originally from somewhere very far away, filling our home with laughter and cries!

My life has changed so much, dear Kaitlin, from knowing you. You’ve shown me how to look outside of myself and notice others. I have always cared, but I have never known how to be caring. Now, all I need to do is think of you and how you are, and the road is clear to me.

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Thank you so much for changing me, Kaitlin. When the person I am now looks back on the person I was when I received your first letter, I can’t help but chuckle wistfully, the way we do at our younger selves. I have grown so much, and so much of it has come from knowing you.

Wishing you all the best, and sending you so much love!

–Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 10

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

meadowdove107

Dear Kaitlin,

Thanks so much for your words of kindness! You know what it’s like to be a busy working mom–sometimes we’re moving so fast that we don’t even get a chance to stop and appreciate all we do each day! Your kind thoughts helped me pause for gratitude!

Jasper believes that gifts are to be shared–I’ve always known when he’s said that that he’s referring not just to the traits and talents we’ve been blessed with, but to our privilege.

You’ve got a big, loving heart, so you share it with all your kids and grandkids, and with Leroy. I’ve got a nice house and plenty of resources–and I used to have time!–so I share those with Jena, and now with Mizuki Suzuki.

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I don’t have much free time anymore, with going back to school. But it’s a three-day weekend, so that brings me leisure to write to you!

I’m so glad you find Ira inspiring. I do, too. She’s kind of a nut, actually. Well, she’s a great match for my nutty brother. Do you know they both still play with toys? It’s funny, but why not? It makes them happy. They’ve created this entire imaginary universe that they populate with characters based on their favorite toys. You’d think that Aari, Ira’s daughter, would be part of that, right? But she’s far too practical. She just rolls her eyes and lets her parents talk about Miss Meowness’s adventures and the llamacorn’s escapades.

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It works for them. I’ve been reading a lot about play therapy. Most of the research is on play and children, but, especially with someone as childlike as my brother, I can imagine that the findings transfer.

Landreth (2002) notes that “play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego” (as ctd. by Lilly, et al. 2016).

Ira and Norman seem to use it as a tool for communication and bonding: they can say things through play that they might not be able to approach in a more direct fashion, and this shared communication style connects them in a healthy way.

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Mizuki Suzuki is big into play, too! With her, I think it’s how she relieves stress and boredom. She’s taken on the house-cleaning chores while I’m in school, but really, I think this is just an excuse for her to “pick up the toys,” which is her code for “let’s play with all of Jena’s stuff!”

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Jena does a great job of playing with me, Jasper, and Mizuki Suzuki, but she has yet to learn how to play with kids her own age! Well, that’s what preschool is for, right?

The other day, one of her little friends came home with her. Immediately she started asking him, “So, what do you want to be?” When he didn’t answer right away, she shot out all these suggestions: “A panda bear? An abominable snowman? A sloth? You could be a sloth! And I’ll be an aardvark!”

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He just looked at her, confused.

She’ll learn to leave space for other people’s ideas, right?

Speaking of space, it sounds like you could use a little space in your life. So many things happening! So many connections between all the people you care about, and even between those you’re trying not to care about!

But I know you: Even those people you’ve had challenging relationships with–even those people you don’t want in your life anymore–you still care about them.

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And when we care, that’s when the tangles can happen. Your situation sounds complicated now–family complications, legal complications, professional complications, romantic complications.

It must have been a real shock to run into Newt. I can see why it felt like a betrayal that you hadn’t been told he was in town. You didn’t have a chance to prepare yourself.

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You know what? I’m glad you took a few weeks’ break from Leroy and Dr. Shea after all of that. I can understand the jealousy. I wonder, too, if there was a feeling of lack of control: It seems that they were making all the decisions for you, rather than sharing information with you so that you could make your own decisions for yourself and your kids.

That must have been hard. And even though you had a break from Leroy, you still had all the kids to care for, so I’m sure you felt like you had to keep it together.

Through all this, do you ever get time for you, where you can slow down to feel your own heart beat? Maybe you find your heart as it beats for others.

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I have faith that everything will work out. Things are messy now, but things don’t stay perpetually messy, do they? Or rather, new messes come to take the place of the old ones that get cleaned out!

I’m so sorry to hear about Reid. That must challenging, especially for Ben. When someone we care about is in trouble, it can feel so devastating. I can imagine that Ben is feeling that way about Reid, and now you’re feeling that way about Ben. I wonder if it would help him to know how much it hurts you to see him feeling unhappy and worried. He’s pushing you away right now, but maybe it’s because he really needs you, and this feeling has him scared, especially when so many other people, big and little, need you, too.

It sounds like you’ve thought through your situation with Dr. Shea. You have such good intuition that if you feel she’s your best choice, then I’m sure she is!

Do you know that Jena has decided that her favorite game is “Therapist”? I guess it’s like how some kids play doctor. She knows that I’m studying to be a therapist, and when she asked what a therapist was, I told her that it’s someone who guides people to find their strength, especially when they’re feeling scared.

So when we play dolls, she has her doll be the therapist.

“Are you scared now?” Her doll asks mine.

“Oh, yes!” Mine replies. “Very!”

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She giggles at that, and then we talk through all the things that might make a little doll scared, which, coincidentally, are all the things which make her feel scared.

Right now, her biggest fear is the Void Monster which comes out of the kitchen faucet in the middle of the night, when the water is turned off.

The Void Monster’s kryptonite are bubbles. So when she does the dishes, she feels safe all night.

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When I told Jena tonight that it was a three-day weekend, which meant an extra day at home and extra time to play, she said we should have Ira and Norman come over.

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“That way,” she said, “if we run out of things to play, they can give us new ideas!”

So I guess Sunday will be a big Family Play Day. I’m hoping Jasper will come, too. He said he picked up some kites in the Spice District, and I think Jena’s almost old enough to learn how to fly a kite.

Amazing, Kaitlin! Remember when we first started writing, and both our daughters were such little things? I really owe it to you to helping me through those confusing early days! You’ve been such a great role model and such a great Mom coach!

Sending you lots of love–I know you’ve got so much strength already, so instead of sending strength, I’ll send peace.

So much peace,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 9

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Dear Kaitlin,

Thank you so much for writing! I’ve been wondering how therapy has been going, how you are, and how the kids are.

You know me by now: I always have to get to the tough parts first. It might be silly, but I always think that if you only read the first part of the letter–you know, if you get interrupted or if something important comes up–I want to make sure that I’ve written the part that needs saying.

I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy reading that your therapist has a long and close history with your fiancé. In my coursework, the professors have been emphasizing the importance of professional distance as an element of ethical therapeutic practice.

If you feel comfortable with Dr. Bailey, and if you notice continued improvement, then all is well and good. Just remember that you have options. Every city has many qualified therapists, including ones who specialize in trauma and PTSD and who didn’t grow up with the man you plan to marry. You have options.

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PTSD has the reputation in some professional circles of being “untreatable.” The program I’m studying takes the opposite view: people can heal their trauma and PTSD. The approach we use is called Somatic Experiencing, and, through allowing the body to complete the movements that were interrupted during the traumatic event, the brain is able to resolve and renegotiate the trauma, resulting in health. That’s a bit of an over-simplification, and we include many other steps in the total approach (including the art therapy that I’m involved with at present), but that’s the essence of the approach.

It works. I’ve seen it, and I’ve met people who’ve been through this course of treatment–and they’re healed. My friend Micah is one, and Ira is another.

Ira worked with an SE therapist before I met her. I always wondered how, experiencing what she did, she has managed to be so confident, funny, happy, and able to love.

I interviewed her for a paper I wrote on SE, focusing on the experience of those going through the therapy. She told me, “We get stronger. When we crack and then we heal, we touch life. We become more alive.”

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Knowing Ira, I believe this is true.

I can hear that energy coming through your letter, too, when you write about the property and all your dreams for the future. We’re resilient, Kaitlin! All us humans are resilient and full of goodness at our core.

Speaking of the resilient, little Jena is doing great! She is not so little any more. She just turned four! Can you believe it? She loves pink and jewelry and little bows and frilly, twirly dresses!

And she is quite a mischief! Sometimes I catch her with a certain expression, and I just know she is planning something. It usually involves Uncle Jasper–either as partner-in-crime or butt-of-the-joke!

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Jasper doesn’t mind. He is so proud of Jena. Can you believe it? He’s already teaching her how to use the computer to play reading and math games!

I’ve been encouraging them to wait. Jena starts preschool next week, and that’s plenty soon for her to begin formal learning. But Jasper says that Norm and I were both reading, writing, and solving simple math equations by the time we entered kindergarten. And Jena begs to get on the computer and whines when I suggest she shut it down. When I think of how much I love to learn, I guess it’s all right if she enjoys learning, too.

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We got to meet a famous poet the other day, Bucky Duckson. Have you heard of him? I was so thrilled! He’s one of my favorite poets! He’s been traveling and my uncle is putting him up for a while.

Jasper asked him to write a poem for me–a birthday present. I’m embarrassed by the poem. It’s beautiful and so well-written, and if it were written for anyone else, I know I’d love it. But that it was written for me makes me feel shy ten-times over. Fortunately, when I met Bucky, he hadn’t even written the poem yet, so I wasn’t self-conscious and we had a wonderful conversation.

Jena enjoyed meeting him, too.  They had a bit of a discussion about poetry.

“I don’t think poems do have to rhyme,” Jena said.

“No,” Bucky answered. “You’re right. Of course. But just because they don’t have to, that doesn’t mean that they can’t. Some of the best poems employ rhyming couplets.”

“I like them when they go ‘splat,'” Jena said.

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Youssef is still our nanny. I can’t imagine life without him! Even after Jena graduates from high school and enters college, I think I will still have Youssef as our nanny. He just makes life better.

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And I hope that Mizuki Suzuki will live with us forever, too. She’s been a huge help while I’ve been busy with school. She’s a student, too, but she always seems to find time to pitch in with the chores. She calls it a good study break. But I think she’s just got so much energy that she can’t sit behind the books for more than twenty minutes at a time!

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I hope Reid’s trial isn’t too stressful for you and your family, Ben, especially. I’ve been surprised at the ways that children seem to be able to make sense of adults’ complicated lives–they sometimes seem to look past the complications and right into the person. I think that sometimes children can handle a lot more than we think they might be able to. At least that’s what Mizuki tells me, and she’s studying childhood education.

I’ve been so slow in answering your letter that I’m sure that many things have changed already! I hope that each change brings you closer to your dream of your home for you and your family on your beautiful property!

Take care, Kaitlin! And tell all your children and grandbabies “Hi” from me!

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With lots of love,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 8

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Dear Kaitlin,

It felt so good to talk to you. I’m glad you called. It didn’t feel weird at all, as I thought it might, because you sound just like you, and I feel like I’ve known you forever.

How did it go with the therapist?

I hope you have someone who reinforces a sense of agency and helps you create your boundaries and rediscover your strength! Remember: there are so many therapists out there, so if for any reason, this one doesn’t seem to be effective at this time, you have the right to find someone else. You’re the client.

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I might have not been clear when I told you about going back to school: I’m not going back to study art (I’m an artist already); I’m going back to study art therapy!

I’m training to become a trauma specialist, using my background in art and folklore to help with healing. Well, that was the original intention. What’s happened is that learning about healing from trauma has become an over-riding passion for me! Now I want to be more than an art therapist: I want to be involved in all the aspects of trauma healing.

Everywhere I go, everyone I meet, every news story I hear, every novel I read, every work of folklore I tell, every painting, every play, every piece of music, every dance, every yoga pose, every tremble, and every shake–it all seems to rotate around the story of trauma and how our amazing, resilient and wise bodies help us to heal from it.

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I must admit that when I first made the commitment to study trauma therapy, I felt a bit of trepidation: I was worried about the stories I might hear about the terrible things that have happened to people. I didn’t know if I would have the internal strength to bear witness.

But what has happened instead is that I have come to learn about the incredible wisdom of our neurology and physiology in helping us to survive both as individuals and as a species. And this is something that we share with all mammals!

I’ve come, too, to learn that there are deep paths to healing, within the very coding of our bodies and our cultures.

Rather than feeling defeated by what I’ve learned, I feel hope.

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Ah! I’m trying (always) to restrain myself from talking on and on about this too much! Mizuki, who has endless patience and indefatigable interest in all things theoretical, tells me with a laugh on a nearly daily basis that my efforts with restraint are ill-fated. I will never succeed! But watch…

I’m moving on to new topics!

In your last letter (which, I know!, was months ago! I’m sorry! I had no idea being a full-time student and a mom and doing an internship would keep me so busy!), you asked about Mizuki and Youssef and if marriage were on the horizon! Let’s just say, they are interesting–and mutually interested–friends.

Our lives are so much the better for having them in it.

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True, getting needed time alone is a challenge, but there’s always a long solitary walk through the hills! And the rewards I see in Jena’s flourishing make up for having traded in my solitude for company.

Jena loves having Youssie and Mizi around.

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How are your children and grandchildren? Did you enjoy the holidays?

We barely celebrated–we’ve just been so busy with everything. Plus, since we’re all from different cultures, we’re not really sure what we’d celebrate–maybe everything! Or maybe we’ll invent our own celebracion de familia someday… In the meantime, we’re celebrating the everyday.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the full spectrum of life. I think that for most of my life, I felt that “the bad things” were something to avoid. They were evil intruders that tried to rob us of our happiness. But as I learn more, I discover that the full scope of life–and that includes challenges, disaster, and hardship, too–contribute with all of life’s beauty to helping us live richly, fully, and with vibrancy. We are wired to survive–and wired to thrive. Look at all the good that has come to both of us through all the challenges we’ve embraced.

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Kaitlin, fill me in on all your news, especially on your hopes and dreams and new discoveries!

Happy belated holidays! Let’s talk again soon!

Much love,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 7

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

meadow07

Dearest Kaitlin,

There’s so much in your letter that I want to respond to, but let me put first things first.

I gather from your letter that you’re not feeling safe in regards to Newt, or Reid, either. It also sounds like you are ready to begin to take steps to divorce Newt.

It’s very important to have safety measures in place before you begin the procedures.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.thehotline.org, is a great place to start, even before you begin filing any paperwork.

They can let you know how to develop a safety plan. Another valuable resource is  WomensLaw.org, which offers information about how to file a restraining order, if needed (and don’t dismiss this possibility, just because you know and care for these two brothers). WomensLaw can also connect you with programs near you, including free and low-cost lawyers. Both of these resources are great first-stops as you begin your plans.

They offer free online chats, too, so when you feel you need to talk with anyone, 24/7, they’re there for you. My friend Micah told me that she would often call the hotline (1-800-799-7233) when she started feeling panicky. She said for the first dozen times she called, she wouldn’t even speak. She just held the phone to her ear and listened as the advocate stayed on the line with her. Knowing they were there, Micah said, gave her the strength she needed during the roughest times.

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So I wanted to bring that up first because it’s the most important thing. You need to be safe. These resources can help.

I’m so glad that I can be on your support team! I know I’m not very good at giving support–like you say, I’m analytical! And my empathy doesn’t seem to translate into comforting words but into action-steps or intellectual theories.

Those websites I linked to also offer references to services near you that offer free support–nearly every town and city has a place like House of Hope, where those who have experienced domestic violence can go get support from others. This would be support that’s actual support–not like what I offer!

Guess what, though? I have exciting news! I’m ready to learn to be better at all of this! I’ve enrolled in a graduate program to get a master’s in art therapy! Classes start next month, but I’ve gotten a head-start on the readings and research. Oh. Man. Do I have a lot to learn! My dream is to be able to offer art therapy at HoH and the refugee center. I suspect that art offers a way to heal from past trauma, and so I want to learn how that works.

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The best part is that as I learn more, I’ll be able to be a better support person for you!

You are already in my top-tier support! You’re so kind, so sharing and giving, and… just you! It makes me smile to think how everyone who has you in their life benefits.

OH! The other important part! Congratulations on becoming a new grandma! Jordan sounds lovely, and Brooke does, too.

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I loved hearing about Dakota. You know that I’ve got a special spot for adopted kids. Ben sounds like such a good big brother. I know how valued a big brother can make a little sister feel!

Your feelings don’t sound like they are a mess to me, Kaitlin. They’re feelings! We have all sorts of feelings! And I can understand how you would still think of Newt with fondness and even love. It’s OK to do that and to also feel afraid of him and hate him, even, at the same time. We don’t have to have just one set of feelings! We feel what we feel. Our feelings don’t have to make sense.

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I don’t think you need to force yourself to open up to Leroy more than you feel ready to. It’s evident that you love him and that he’s there for you. You can just take it as it comes, sharing what you feel ready to share without pushing yourself in ways that make you feel unsafe. Sometimes talking helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. Trusting yourself to know what you need in the moment might be the best approach at this point.

Well, some big changes have come into my life in conjunction with my decision to go back to school!

First there’s Youssef! He’s our new nanny. Since I wanted to be able to have time to focus on my studies, I decided I’d hire him. We both felt it would be good for him to start right away so that Jena could get used to him before I had to leave for classes.

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She loves him! And he adores her! I feel so happy when I come home from the library to find them playing together or to see him reading her a bed-time story.

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When Jena first came to me, it seemed best for it to be just the two of us. That let us form close bonds. And now, it seems right for Jena’s sphere of care-givers to expand. This is helping her to build trust as she sees that more people than just me can offer her love and nurturing.

It’s been a big help for me, too. Youssef is wise, kind, and has a wealth of experience. Being able to talk with him about the things I’m learning provides me with every bit as much as what Jena gets. We’re so happy to have him in our lives.

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Just like with you, when you get one you get two, and our home circle seems to be expanding!

Did I mention my friend Mizuki Suzuki to you? (Don’t you love her name?) We met when she came to repair a broken stereo, and we became friends that first visit! Since then, our friendship’s deepened.

She is also going back to school when the new semester starts. She’s going to become a teacher! Because she lived all the way out in San Myshuno, and because she’ll be quitting her repair job to return to school here in Windenburg, and because Jena and I have this huge house all to ourselves, I invited her to move in with us.

And she accepted!

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I’ve been amazed how much it helps having another adult in the home. Mizuki is so thoughtful, too, always looking to see what needs to be done and pitching in with a smile.

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I think you would love her–she’s funny, childish, and creative. She will make a perfect primary school teacher! She’s focusing on the Waldorf method because, as she says, she wants to “educate the whole child!”

I joke that it’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want just half a child educated! Or just a third! And how would one decide which third? Shall you educate the right leg and stop there?

Whole is much better!

It turns out that for Mizuki there’s another benefit in living with us: She and Youssef have become an item!

I was so surprised to come home one day and find them in each other’s arms!

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I felt a little awkward at first. Then Mizuki said that it simply happened quickly. They met here at our place, when Mizuki would come to visit. Then one day, before she even moved in, she dropped by while I was out and Youssef invited her in to wait for me, and they got talking and felt they had a connection. She hadn’t mentioned it to me when she moved in because at that point, it wasn’t romantic. But in the days after she moved in, it became so.

I find it sweet, and I’m happy that Jena can be around a loving couple.

I don’t seem to have any interests in romance, myself, or any romantic feelings towards other people. So I am happy that Jena can have a model of a healthy romantic relationship without my having to provide it!

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Well, it seems there’s so much change in both our lives as our circles expand.

I want you to know that I’m always here for you. I’m enclosing my phone number, in case you ever want to call. It would be amazing to hear your voice!

Take good care of yourself, Kaitlin! I treasure you!

Lots of love,

Meadow
555.555.1212

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 6

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

kaitlin603

Dear Kaitlin,

Hi! Oh, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could meet sometime? I wouldn’t stop smiling the whole time! All the hugs!

I’ve had so many thoughts in response to your last letter, and I’ll share them with you. But first, I want to tell you thank you!

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In association with my volunteering at House of Hope, I’ve been examining my support system. And do you know what? You are one of my strongest points of support!

We’ve been using the materials available at the Soul’s Self-Help Central, an online resource center. I filled out a grid listing people I know that I thought could be part of my support team and their capacities to offer support. You came out so strongly in every category! I’m not surprised. You are an amazing person, Kaitlin–brave, kind, generous, and insightful! You’ve got a great sense of humor, too. I’m guessing that everyone who knows you has you on their list of support people.

And that makes me wonder. Who’s on your list?

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I would be honored to be, if you felt I had the skills and capacity. I am so inexperienced when it comes to life, and I’m discovering that my interpersonal skills are woefully undeveloped. I’m starting to suspect maybe I’m not very mature emotionally. But, you know what? I am eager to learn and grow and develop capacity! So, maybe if I’m not a very good support person for you now, I will be later, after I’ve developed more skills, maturity, and abilities with people.

At any rate, you can know that all my good wishes and gratitude circle you!

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Congratulations on Leroy’s proposal and your conditional acceptance! I hope soon the circumstances allow you to accept for real. Congratulations, too, on his adoption of Dakota. I guess, in a way, she’s a new daughter for you, too. Adoption is such a wonderful gift–I’m really happy that you get to experience it, too, and what a lucky girl she is to get to be part of such a big, loving, supportive family. See all the good things that have come out of your brave actions?

I can understand your not wanting to claim the word, “victim.” That word carries so much baggage–and none of it good! I’ve discovered that the women in my art group don’t like the word, either. During one of our painting sessions the other day, the topic came up.

Some of them use the word, “survivor.”

Ira says, “I don’t like labels, anymore. I like saying, ‘I’m a person who’s experienced trauma.'” She says that, since all of us living on this planet have experienced harsh situations, and the trauma resulting from those situations, that descriptor connects us with everyone. I like that insight.

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Jasper’s organ teacher uses the word “hero.”

“It’s what we are,” she says. “I am a female hero who’s made it through my journey of trials and tribulations with the help of all my helpers, and now, I shine brighter.”

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She says that when she read Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, she wept.

“This was my story,” she said. “All the patterns and steps of my journey, described here in archetype.”

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She and I are going to lead a workshop on “The Hero’s Path,” along with one of the counselors. I’m excited that we’ll be leading it together, because that means we’ll be colleagues, and we can become friends! When I only knew her through the painting group, I had to limit our relationship to “service-provider/client” due to policies of HoH, since I’m the leader of that group. But that restriction stops when we lead a group together!

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I’ve learned that when we’ve experienced trauma–and domestic violence is trauma–that any emotion can trigger it, causing us to re-experience all the fear, anger, and danger-signals we felt the first time we experienced it. It’s because when we feel deeply again, all the emotions can come rushing back. So please be gentle with yourself when you think about all you felt during your recent exchange with Leroy. It takes time to learn to trust again, and letting yourself feel whatever you feel seems to be one of the important steps to get there.

I don’t know much at all, but I’m learning. I’ve been researching trauma, grief, and shame and have discovered that they are very interconnected.

As best I can understand from what I’ve read, when we experience a trauma, our mind switches into survival mode. In that state, the focus is on survival–life doesn’t feel safe. In survival mode, the mind focuses all our energy on getting us out of danger, and so the painful emotions associated with the trauma are split off. We just don’t feel safe enough to deal with them.

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When the system works, later, when we’re safe, we’re able to feel and process the emotions, at a time when our very survival isn’t threatened. But what if we don’t feel safe again? Sometimes, we never reach that point, and the emotions remain split off.

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When that happens, we can sometimes develop guilt and shame, especially if the traumatic event left us feeling helpless. Guilt at least offers some illusion of control.

I didn’t really understand what I read about trauma, guilt, and shame, until I began to apply it to the most significant trauma I’ve experienced: the death of my mom.

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It was my first year in college, during finals week, when she died. I just couldn’t deal with it. I remember thinking that if I felt the pain, I would drown. I’d drop out of college and I’d die. I didn’t think I could survive it.

So I didn’t feel it. I focused on my finals. I aced all my tests.

Then, when I got my grades the next semester, and I saw all those A’s, I felt so guilty. “I shouldn’t have studied. I should have gone to the hospital more. How could I earn A’s when that happened? I should have been with my dad. I should’ve stayed with Norman. I should have dropped out of college.” I thought I could’ve prevented her death if I’d just been there more–if I’d dropped out and taken her to chemo. Or if I’d stayed with her in the hospital. Or if I’d brought her flowers. Or if I’d worn red tennis shoes, instead of black ones.

Then the shame came. “I’m a terrible daughter. I’m a bad sister. I’m such a selfish person.”

For about two years, I didn’t grieve, but I was guilty all the time and I felt so ashamed. I could hardly see my dad and brother because of the shame.

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What finally brought me out of it was in junior year when I took an Intro to Comparative Folklore class, and I discovered fairy tales from every culture dealing with the death of the mother. My favorites were about girls who lost their mothers just as they were coming of age. There are hundreds of these tales! I lost myself in them, and then I found myself.

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Around that time, Norman came to visit. We went to the botanical gardens on campus. When I saw a bromelia in the greenhouse, I began to weep. It was my mother’s favorite plant. Norm hugged me, and he began to cry, too. We slumped onto a stone bench, holding each other, nestled in the humid hothouse air, and we finally felt safe enough to grieve, and we cried until we hiccuped. And then Norman looked at me, and he said, “It isn’t 42.”

“What isn’t?” I asked.

“The answer to life, the universe, and everything,” he said.

“What is?” I asked him.

“Damned if I know.” We laughed so hard. We laughed as hard as we’d cried, and then we laughed some more, and then we cried again, and then we ate ice cream in the tea shop, and my eyes hurt and my chest hurt, and I had a knife through me. I cried a lot during the next year. And then my dad died. And I cried a lot more. But I stopped feeling guilty, and I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt safe enough to feel, especially when I was with Norman or Jasper, even when it was hard.

I’m not saying that grief is the same as domestic abuse. I’m just saying that I’ve experienced the splitting off of emotions and the guilt and shame that follow.

Feeling guilty is nothing to feel guilty about, and there’s no shame in feeling ashamed. It’s all part of how our minds and bodies are constructed to help us survive. Call it socio-biology. And when we understand the process, maybe then we can create the safety that we need to be able to move through the process and back into our healthy selves again, to find our own paths back to being the heroes that we are.

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I hope that I can help to create a safe space for you, Kaitlin, so that you can share with me how you feel. I would like to be able to do that. Maybe our letters can be your hothouse, with bromelias and orchids and roses blooming, smelling sweet, and safe, and calming. And then we could drink tea and cry and drink more tea and maybe even laugh.

Speaking of laughing, I have no idea what’s up with Ira and Norm. She calls him “Babe.” He calls her “Cupcake.” And he told me yesterday that they haven’t even yet shared their first kiss. At any rate, it’s plain to see that it’s love.

Kaitlin, I’m sending you all my thoughts and feelings of admiration, gratitude, and friendship.

Love, love, love,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 4

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

doveex204

LOL, Kaitlin! And OMG! Hahaha!

Oh, I’m so relieved that you don’t think it’s your husband that my brother is writing to!

I’m really sorry for causing any worry. I guess I really over-reacted, didn’t I?

After all, there’s bound to be more than one Newt in this wide world, and my brother seems to think that his pen pal is a really nice guy.

My brother is a nerd, just like you say! He’s what he refers to as “nerd-cool.” By that he means that he’s so much of a nerd that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, and that makes him cool!

He actually is pretty cool. He’s made the list of  “Windenburg’s Most Eligible Bachelors” for the past five years. It’s funny. I think he’s cute because he’s my brother.

He has this crazy style: like he wears this dapper suit with Oxford shoes, but then no socks.

And he’s always carrying in his pocket this little llama toy he’s got, and he pulls it out and talks to it when he thinks nobody is looking. His front is that he’s a collector, and these antique toys are highly collectible. But the truth is, he’s a kid at heart. Always will be.

So I’m sure you’re right: even though he’s a CEO, he’s really not the kind of guy that a truly cool, athletic guy like your husband would associate with.

One good thing that’s come out of my brother being so happy to be true to his own self is that he’s now with a woman who loves and appreciates him for who he is!

My friend, for it’s a good friend of mine who’s hooked up with him, already knows he’s childish, nerdy, and ironically pretentious, and she likes him anyway!

In fact, she and her daughter just moved in with him.

I met up with them at a karaoke bar in San Myshuno the other night, and they both looked so happy.

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While we were talking, I told my friend that I was surprised that she and Norm got together so quickly. They’d only met a month ago.

“Well, I’m not sure we’re together together,” she confessed. “We’re best friends. And I trust your brother. I know he’ll always be good to me.”

It turns out that she and her daughter moved in with him because they could use a more permanent place to stay. They’d been living in a transitional shelter for women and children escaping domestic abuse.

I hadn’t known that! All the time that she’d been friends with me, she’d never shared that bit about her life.

“I’ll tell you about it sometime,” she said, and we made a date for her to drop by in a few days.

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Before she came, I had a visit from someone else.

One of the employees of the refugee services center that helped bring Jena over here stopped by for a regular check-in. You asked when Jena’s birthday is–it’s in four months. She’s two years and eight months, which is one of the milestones when the social worker is scheduled to come.

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I put Jena down for her nap, and then Marissa, the social worker, arrived.

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She wanted to look in on Jena first.

“She’s gotten so big!” she said. “And she looks so healthy. So peaceful.”

She liked the way we’d set up Jena’s room. “Lots of art!” she said. “Lots of books!”

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We had a long talk.

Kaitlin, you’d asked about my concern that Jena might have PTSD and what trauma she might have experienced. I’ll tell you. It’s harsh, so cover your heart.

Jena was born in a refugee camp. I think I mentioned this in my profile. I met one of the men who was in the same camp with her. He knew her mom. Not long after Jena came to live with me, I invited him over. I’d hoped that he would speak Urdu with Jena.

His attitude was strange. He told me that Urdu wasn’t the native language of Jena’s mom, nor of anyone who’d lived at the camp. I guess it was sort of seen as the neutral language, or the language of bureaucracy. He said hardly anyone has it as their birth language and that, culturally, it meant nothing.

That saddened me, but that’s not the sad part.

The tragic part is that Jena was conceived–here’s where to cover your heart–as the result of a gang rape. Her mom died from complications of the birth, but before that, she was shunned by everyone else at the camp because of the shame of the rape.

I get so mad thinking about it–it’s one of those “blame-the-victims” things that just burns me up!

Anyway, I’ve always wondered how much of a burden from that Jena carried.

So when Marissa and I were talking, I found an opening to ask her insights into this.

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Marissa got real quiet and thoughtful for a long time. Then she closed her eyes and smiled.

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“I don’t think she carries any burden,” she told me, “not even a psychic or karmic one.”

I couldn’t believe her!

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“It’s like this,” she said. “From birth, Jena was removed to the nursery. She wasn’t with those who would feel her birth was shameful. She was surrounded with the other infants and toddlers, and she was cared for by loving physicians and care-givers. I even hear that each baby has their own wet-nurse, so they’re able to gain the nutrients and other benefits of nursing.”

“Do you think she bonded with her nurse and the people who cared for her?” I asked.

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“She may have,” replied Marissa. “I’m sure she did. But that’s a good thing. That developed the potential for secure attachments.”

Marissa explained that the first months here with me were probably hard for Jena–and they were! She was so sad and had those awful nightmares.

“But look at her now,” Marissa said. “She’s obviously a thriving, well-adjusted, happy and healthy little girl.”

I was so relieved, so grateful! Immediately, I started asking all these questions about Windenburg Rescue and the work they do, and if they needed volunteers, and if there was any way I could help out.

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Marissa said that I’d already helped in more ways than I could ever know, but if I was serious about volunteering, they could use someone who could commit to twelve hours a week.

I gave it some serious thought.

Then, my friend stopped by, the one who’s living with my brother.

And what happened next has changed my plans.

My friend began to tell me about her past, about all the emotional abuse she experienced with her husband.

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As she talked, her usual smile faded, and her face looked worn down from the bad memories.

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She told me about the other women who came there, too.

“We’ve all been beaten down,” she said. “You don’t just pick up and move with your kid for nothing. It’s when you can’t take it anymore. When it’s worse staying, and when you feel that, no matter what, you can’t let this happen to your kid. Do you know that poem by Warsan Shire, ‘no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark‘?”

I did know that poem.

“It’s like that,” she said.

And then I realized that women and children like my friend and her daughter are also refugees, for Warsan Shire wrote that poem to describe the refugee experience. It’s a poem about Jena’s mom, but it’s also a poem for every woman who’s ever had to leave an abusive situation and choose danger and the unknown in order to escape the worse danger of the known.

My friend spied one of my unused easels then.

“Enough talk,” she said. “Think I could paint?”

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So I set her up with a canvas and paints, and let her got at it.

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While I watched her work, I saw a change come over her. That weight she was carrying left her shoulders. She began to move freely. She hummed. And she painted the most beautiful, expressive painting I’ve ever seen, full of hurt, pain, doubt, but also full of joy, inspiration, hope. It looked like life.

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“This is what you should do,” she told me.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You should teach art. To the women and kids of House for Hope.”

So, Kaitlin, I think that’s what I’m going to do!

Two afternoons a week, while my uncle babysits Jena or she goes to daycare, I’ll go to House for Hope and paint with women and children who need the confidence of feeling their own expression of their own beautiful spirits.

doveex203

I wanted to let you know that I was so touched by your story of Leroy’s thoughtfulness in setting out a new toothbrush for you the night you had to stay over. That type of gesture: that’s the thing that builds up spirit! I am so happy you have Leroy in your life.

Oh, my. This letter is tome! I only meant to write a little bit, and I’ve nearly shared everyone’s life story with you except my own!

Do take care of yourself, Kaitlin! I hope you have lots of moments of happiness with your family and with yourself. 🙂

Peace, my friend.

–Meadow

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