In yoga, Satya means Truthfulness. In the oft read book by Debora Adele, The Yamas & Niyamas, Satya demands “integrity to life and to our own self that is more than not telling a simple lie. When we are real rather than nice, when we choose self-expression over self-indulgence, when we choose growth over the need to belong, and when we choose fluidity over rigidity, we begin to understand the deeper dynamics of truthfulness, and we begin to taste the freedom and goodness of this jewel.”
There many different places this particular story could begin. It could begin with a #911 call I made about 8 years ago. It could begin when my parents decided to leave a lifetime of living in Washington DC for a farm in rural Ohio to raise a family. It could begin on the day that my father convinced me that it was good policy to give away the very things that could hurt me most, and to put those things in the hands of the people who might want to hurt me with them.
About a week ago, in the lobby of Flex Yoga, a dear friend of mine told a story to several of us hanging out in the front room after class. Most of us (but not all) were mothers. Someone was talking about kids: things were tough with her pre-teen… that sort of thing. This friend of mine mentioned that she had just been out with some friends who were also talking about motherhood and parenting and someone had said “Emily has the best story, she once called #911.” Hilarious, right? It is funny. I get that. And the funniest thing is, I have told this story myself and I have tried to make it as funny as I can: Hahahaha… I was buried so fucking deep in my kids I once had to call #911 for help. What did they do? Nothing. What could they do? Hahahhahahahah… I don’t mind, and am not surprised that this story came up, as I have told it myself. This particular person in the lobby of Flex was absolutely not trying to hurt me, of that I am sure. But, as she mentioned who had been at the gathering I knew immediately from whom the story had surfaced, and the pain from hearing this come back to me in a circuitous route was so acute that I drove straight home and sobbed until I was spent. This incident happened 8 years ago and yet the memories and pain attached to that single statement “Emily once called #911 because she didn’t know what to do with her kids” is still fierce. I’m not ashamed though. It is all true and anyone who wants that information can have it. You can have it if you want to hurt me with it. You can have it if it makes you think twice about judging a mom screaming at her kids in a grocery store. You can have it if it helps you think for just one second about being snarky towards a fellow mom or dad about their kid’s unwashed clothes or ratty hair or pouty face. I don’t care what you do with it, but know this; I don’t give a fuck if you have it because I handed it to you.
To be sure, my early childhood was pretty blissful. My sister Leah and I were born in Virginia Beach where my parents were working; dad as a teacher and bus driver at a friend’s school and mom as an artist. They lived in a one room “house” with no running water and I have photos of my father giving Leah and I showers with a garden hose. Deciding that a more simplistic (!) life was their calling they bought a farm in Ohio and packed us up to begin a life of sustainable living as farmers and gardeners. Things quickly got more complicated: money was tight, my mother had two more children and dad realized he would need to supplement his farming with some other work. He began to work as a carpenter, but in true Moorefield form, too quickly decided he should strike out on his own. He began a carpentry business with almost no experience. At first it made very little money and their dream of living sustainably was proving difficult. I was still blissed out though. My siblings and I had everything we could have wanted: my parents believed wholeheartedly in letting their children learn from mistakes and we ran around like free range chickens. My parents worked hard: they tried to raise real free range chickens and sheep and goats and beef steers. They grew wheat and corn and alfalfa. They gardened like nobody’s business. Often they were in over their heads and we spent many winter nights with newborn lambs on the kitchen floor or soaking in a warm bath. We also buried lots of animals because of our terrible husbandry skills. I got used to all of it. The first time I remember realizing that not every family was like ours was when Elementary school rolled around. Discovering that most people had a shower, a dishwasher, a clothes dryer, a microwave, a television set and reliable/consistent heat was interesting. And, as kids are prone to do, our differences quickly became fodder for elementary school nastiness. We were often asked if we were Mennonite (not true, but many of our childhood friends were) or poor (very true, but my parents didn’t lament about it to us so we were relatively unaware). My dad had a beard and wore a bandana. My mom’s clothes were constantly covered in clay and glaze. They were Democrats in a sea of Republicans. They wanted to try composting and organic farming. They didn’t go to church. We were asked about all of these things. The questions escalated in Junior High as the three local Elementary Schools merged into a single school and we had to answer the questions all over again. Now totally and utterly distraught by the fact that my father didn’t believe in or allow labels on clothes, makeup on our faces, junk food in any form, parties, TV, or wanting people to like you, I was fucked. We fought. A lot. He worked hard to convince me that I should tell my friends that actually I was the lucky one! I didn’t waste my life watching television shows, I didn’t put poison into my body, I didn’t put chemicals on my face to attempt to look different than I was, I didn’t need to be invited to Sophie’s house (fake name) with the other cool girls because whatever, that in the end I was living a life worth living and they were just wasting away and they didn’t even know it! (He apparently never went to Junior High School.) It should also be said that I still loved my life on the farm. We had a wonderful time with the neighbor kids. Many of us had horses and we spent most summer days riding horses and swimming in the pond, many evenings camping out in the woods. We had a massive garden and worked all summer canning and freezing the fruits and vegetables from that garden. My father was farming about 80 acres of hay and we worked together as a family to do that work and I loved it. I loved the rhythmic “chunka-chunka” sound of the rotating spikes gathering up the windrows and I liked the cross hatch pattern we used to stack the bales on the wagon. I even enjoyed the dusty, dirty work of putting the hay in the barn. All this to say that some of what my father was telling me about being “one of the lucky ones” actually felt right to me. The problem was, my friends weren’t buying it. We were odd. I started to keep secrets. I stopped inviting friends over. As my social standing refused to improve I went to my father in desperation. At the time it was all about a pair of Jordache jeans I wanted more than air. I begged, I cried. It was then that my dad told me: “Emily, they can only hurt you with it if you let them”. I was even more pissed. I just wanted a pair of designer jeans. He then sat me down (as he was prone to do) for a several hour philosophical discussion where he would go onandonandonandon about something and then he would say “Now, what did I just say?” and I would have to repeat it back to him like I actually believed it. I was a good little parrot and the quicker I acted like I believed the bullshit the quicker I could escape Moorefield Philosophy class. He had this particular session where he talked about how being scared of the truth was silly. That if a truth was evident: we are the only non-Amish/non-Mennonite family around without a television set or a shower or a clothes dryer or designer jeans… you might as well brag about it. Put the poison in the very hands of those who can hurt you with it. Pretend like you like it. It was the same “I’m so lucky I don’t have a television, shower, dryer, cool friends and I feel soooo bad for you because you do and you are missing so much of life…” story that I had heard before. Here is the thing. It kind of worked! I began to work hard to be less ashamed of the life my parents had chosen and to actually admit that I kind of liked a lot of what we spent our time doing.
Another thing happened around this time that certainly made Junior High, and on into High School drastically easier: my sisters and I began to have some success on the track. I used to believe that it was just because we were born good runners, but now I know that we were also fantastically healthy. We had spent many summers working on the farm, and we had spent a lifetime eating food that had been grown and raised on our farm. My father was fascinated with organic farming and my mother was a fantastic cook and food processor. As much as you might not like it, athletic success can influence social standing and things were looking up. I became less insecure about my differences and often used the “I’m not afraid of the truths you can see” philosophy to protect myself. Of course, I twisted/tweaked the philosophy to fit my needs and when dad insisted we drive shitty beat up cars that barely ran, I acted like I was lucky to drive a Pontiac Ventura. (My sister had an El Camino and I made fun of her all the time!) When I didn’t get invited to my Junior prom I acted like it was stupid and I didn’t really want to go anyway. This philosophy didn’t always work, but I was getting some good mileage out of it. Beyond that, I was less afraid of what people could do to me with the truth. I began to really understand that if I could admit the “truth” to myself first, things often got easier.
Of course no one gets to float through life after discovering one small philosophical truth. At this point though, I had begun to think about “truth” as a yoga practitioner. Satya was especially interesting to me, and I liked the idea of working hard to be truthful in all ways. On down the road many years, my husband and I decided to have kids. There is nothing that more swiftly delivers a kick in the ass than this. Interestingly, we also decided to raise our kids on a farm and to work hard to grow as much of our food as we could. Intellectually we decided we did not want our unborn, but very well behaved, children to spend their days in front of a television set, and we wanted them to learn from life experiences. This was all fantastic philosophy until I actually had my first kid. We bought the farm, put in the garden, and got to work making children. Ian was born. Before Ian was even born he rolled around in my belly like a raccoon trying to get out of a burlap sack and he has not stopped. He has never been an easy child. Somehow, I wanted another. My “bunch of kids on a farm is the good life” philosophy was pulsing through my veins. Unfortunately, conceiving the next one wasn’t so easy and we went through three rounds of artificial insemination to have our second son. Believing our chances for conceiving again naturally (and out of money to do it artificially) were slim, we decided to complete the adoption we had started before Vincy was conceived. Here is where things got tricky. Mike and I decided that we needed to make some major life changes if we were going to have three kids and a farm. I closed my 15 year strong Pottery Studio and Gallery and moved my workspace into our home. I would sell my pots though a different venue and would scale way back. We moved into a single room in our pole barn until we had time to renovate the original, unsafe house located on the property we had so eagerly purchased before kids. It was a stupid fucking plan, but somehow we thought it was a good idea at the time.
Mike got to work opening his second restaurant and renovating the second and third floors of the building that had housed my pottery shop and his first restaurant. This would make us slightly more financially stable and Mike would be able to get out of late nights in the kitchen of his small restaurant. He would be able to move to a daytime managerial role so he could be at home in the evening with the kids and I. I adjusted to working from home, finalizing the adoption and bringing our third child home. That was all awesome-sauce until we discovered that I was pregnant. Within four months, Mike finished construction on four apartments in our building, opened a new and ambitiously large restaurant, we brought Annie home from Guatemala and Melia was born. I was in deep shit. So was Mike. But… like a true Midwestern farm girl, I was sticking with the plan. Mike and I were miles apart as we both worked as hard as we could to keep our heads above water. Ian was still risking his life every chance he got by jumping, climbing, tumbling, questioning, wanting… Vincy was just 2 and half and already trying to help me. Annie was having an immensely hard time adjusting to the change and so was I. I had an infant and I didn’t have enough time to hold her. Looking back, I don’t see how I didn’t know how close I was to trouble. I think Mike and I were just too tired to even ask the question. But here is the truth and here is the real story of this blog: I got myself into deep shit and I put it out there. I told everyone what happened. And here it is, here is what happened in a nutshell: I had spent many years running a business downtown and being in control of my life. I was now “stuck” (I know I chose all this) at home with four kids and a husband that was working dawn to way past dark to keep the restaurants running. We were short on money and sleep. We weren’t connecting. I needed help with the kids. My yoga practice had gone to shit and had reduced itself to me trying to stretch out on the floor after I had put four kids to sleep, and instead falling asleep flat on my face in a forward fold. Hence, I felt awful. As things got worse I began to act in ways I am still ashamed of. I would scream at Ian for needing my attention, I began to ask Vincy to help me with chores better suited for another adult, I began to ignore Annie as she cried for the 5th hour in a row over something that she couldn’t even begin to express because as an 18 month old she didn’t have a single word to communicate with, and I spent hours trying to get her to just “SAY YES!!!” “SAY NO!!!”… But, worst of all, I began to have dreams where I hurt my daughter Mia. It makes me physically ill when these incredibly vivid dreams come back to haunt me (and they have- over and over again). I would wake up in a sweat, physically sick and utterly panicked. I would spend the following days empty and desperate. I tried to hold her and make it up to her. I did everything I could to appear as if I had things under control. My mom had raised four kids, my mother-in-law five. Both of them had done this without family in town. And then one day, in gray-dreary-damp Ohio winter I sat in the house in a rare moment of silence. Shockingly rare. Vincy, Annie and Mia had all fallen asleep at the same time and Ian was just a mile up the road at preschool. I sat down heavy on the couch and immediately began trying to talk myself into doing one of the thousands of things I thought I should do: cook, laundry, pottery, garden… And still I sat. I looked behind me at the clock on the wall and understood I had 20 minutes until I had to wake the kids, put them in the car, and pick Ian up from school. I couldn’t do it. Beyond that, I couldn’t breathe. I began to sob. To shake. Like really shake. Uncontrollably. I tried to call my husband. My parents. My husband’s brother. I called #911. The woman who answered the phone asked me what was wrong. “I don’t know” I cried. “I can’t do this.” “Do what?” she asked. I couldn’t even answer her. I truly didn’t know. I told her that I couldn’t pick up my son from school. I told her that I was shaking uncontrollably. I told her my other three kids were asleep and that I was afraid they were going to wake up and that I didn’t think I could take care of them if they did.
In the end, I was offered some Prozac. I took one pill. It was awful. My husband and I had a come-to-Jesus conversation where we finally admitted that we were in too deep. I needed some help. We asked our families. My mother and my mother-in-law pitched in more than they already had been, and I hired some help for a couple of hours twice a week so I could make pots in my studio while they kids were supervised. My father began to show up at my house twice a week and he insisted that I take a walk or go to a yoga class to clear my head. “No work” was his only rule. Slowly, I began to heal. The terrible dreams slowed, and eventually almost stopped. I kept the extra help at home and, most importantly, I began to tell the truth. I let all those who I thought might judge me (and new moms are often terribly judgmental towards other new moms- don’t deny it!) have it: I was a hot mess. I decided they could hurt me with the truth if they chose to do so. I decided I couldn’t be much more hurt than I already was- the dreams alone were enough. I had fiercely punished myself for those and anyone else who wanted in on that game was going to have to sit the bench until I was good and done with it. The hardest part was finally saying out load what had happened in those dreams: I was sitting in an Ultra-Light that Vincy was driving and I let Mia slip out of my lap. I watched her fall. We were all hiking together in the mountains and I knew Mia was too close to the edge. I watched dispassionately as she slipped from the edge. I put my daughter in a frying pan. That one was the worst. I watched it all. Her hand curled up first. I forced myself to tell my husband the specifics of these dreams. I feel physically ill as I sit here now writing these words. I try not to let myself feel like an awful human being. I know now they are dreams and I know they were telling me to get some help. I allowed myself time to suffer because of these dreams. And the truth was so shockingly simple: if I had told the truth from the very beginning; if I had let the people I was scared of have that truth, they could not have hurt me with it at all. “I’m having a difficult time raising four kids under the age of five. My husband is working hard to make some lifestyle changes for our family. I could use a little extra help”. That easy. You can have that. Judge me with that information. Try to hurt me, but know this: nothing you do or say will come close to the pain of the dreams I’ve had. Here are your choices: judge me or empathize. Isn’t this always true? I also felt great kindness from people. People who loved me could not wait to help me. My parents, my husband’s parents, my sisters, my good friends… They were kind. They worked hard to lift me back up. Together, we moved beyond a very terrible time for our family. It started with truth. A forced truth to be sure, but still, it was Satya.
In Debora Adele’s book she goes on to say that, “Real” comes from the center or our unique essence and speaks to the moment from that center. Real has a boldness to it, an essence, a spontaneity. Real asks us to live from a place where there is nothing to defend and nothing to manage. It is a contact with the moment that is not superimposed or prepackaged. Real is something we might not always like in another, but we come to know there will be no surprises. Real, though not always pleasant, is trustworthy.”
This single sentence runs through my mind now as much as those terrible dreams used to: “Real asks us to live from a place where there is nothing to defend and nothing to manage.”