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being heard is its own balm

2021 January 4
by Rachel Turiel

It got snowy and cold quickly here, which has promoted a certain wholesomeness in all of us, the snow burying some measure of monotony-induced cynicism. Three of us are skiing and sledding, the other is tracking deer in the blue-black dawn. 

When the kids rise in the morning to find Dan not home, one of them will say, “Where’s Daddy – looking for deer again?” 

When I confirm, Col will say fondly, “Oh, Dad.” 

How sweet it is to be known. To have others know that for you finding the deer in the depths of December is to inhabit mystery, intimacy and awe. (Even if Rose says of the gorgeous buck which dropped dead in a neighbor’s yard and was later loaded into our Subaru by Dan and two police officers—long story—though turned out too decrepit to eat, please Dad, do you have to drive me to work with a deer carcass in the backseat?)

Sunrise on Sangre de Cristos

We made it though the holidays with everyone’s sense of integrity intact. The older Col and Rose get the easier it is to say, “I’m sorry but I just can’t in good conscience buy you that techno-whizzdoodle which is designed to dazzle you briefly before becoming obsolete in three eyewinks.” Or, “That mini waffle iron is cute but heating up food on lab-produced nonstick surfaces gives me the heebies. Can we talk about other options, darling?”

The flip side is that along with holding to my consumer limits I can also deliver truckloads of empathy about how hard it is to have me as a Mama. I can picture 20 other more palatable versions of myself. Each, like the talking baby dolls of the 80s when wound up, parrot some version of, “Yes, honey, you can have that thing without any conversations of downstream effects on your body, the Earth or oppressed people!” 

I found a bereft Rose on the couch one December day and asked, “Do you want to tell me about your disappointment?” 

“Other people just get what they ask for,” she sighed. “They don’t have to negotiate every item on their list.”

(And really, the phrase ‘on my list’ triggers me no end. Why has the birth of a radical humanitarian turned into list-making of consumer goods we believe we’re entitled to? See above: Not the funnest mom.)

“It must be hard to have a mom who is so oriented towards simplicity, practicality and meaning,” I offered. (And I meant it; I exhaust myself sometimes.)

“Yes! I’m a teen girl and I like fun gifts.”

“I totally get it. You wish it was easier with me, that I could just say yes to what you want, could happily buy what’s on your list, that I was just more relaxed about stuff and products.”

“Yessss. And other kids just get ski passes every year without having to count it as a gift!”

“Ah. Yes. You’re wishing we could get behind the whole holiday giving thing, that I could appreciate how much fun it is to receive gifts and how reporting gifts receieved gives you a sense of belonging, acceptance and mattering amongst your friends.”

We went on like this for a short while, her inching closer to me, both of us implicitly understanding that being heard is its own balm, different than having the world instantly orient to our desires. 

Because ultimately, when only 1% of consumer goods are still around in 6 months, it is not more stuff that we really want. It’s the relational needs—being seen and heard, knowing we matter, contributing to others, connection—that fill us up. And, really, these are the needs on which I can easily deliver: no guilt, ambivalence or compromise involved. Also, these are the needs that make a lasting imprint, long after the waffle iron has short-circuited and been tossed in the trash.

Eventually Rose sighed and said, “I know I have everything I need, and I actually just want to get better at feeling grateful for what I have.”

The world screeched to a halt as we both sat with these words for a moment.

“Ah. Feeling grateful would be a way out of the cycle of wanting and disappointment, and measuring yourself and your stuff against others? A way to have some peace?”

“Yeah.” She slid into me and I received her child self, simultaneously fragile and powerful. Like all of us.

She never mentioned the mini waffle maker again except to say, “I realized I didn’t actually need anything on my list – I just made one because that’s what you’re supposed to do. And I’m actually really excited to have a ski pass.”

Where have we *not* hacky-sacked?

Sand dunes

Dual family germ pod

We took a little trip over Christmas, which included skiing and hot springs, sand dune-sledding and 8 person hacky-sack circles. Christmas Day we took a hike with friends in a stunning valley populated by pronghorn and hemmed by unending ripples of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Later we soaked in hot springs under dark skies, clusters of stars arranging themselves into familiar constellations. Everyone seemed to know they had what they needed, and that it was enough. 

Holiday outtakes:

The kids decided that for the 8 nights of Hanukkah 2020 instead of presents (True Hanukkah miracle?) each family member would take turns making dinner and choosing a family activity. First night was a Mediterranean feast in honor of my Greek, Sephardic ancestry and newspaper snowflakes.

2nd night of Hanukkah Col chose: frozen waffles, Wu-Tang and art. Dan asked “where’s the vegetables?” “No vegetables,” Col replied cheerily. (We all made a pact to honor each others’ Hanukkah leadership). As we listened to Wu-Tang Clan, digesting our waffles and doing art, Col kept saying “The interesting thing about Wu-Tang is…”

Night 3 was potato latkes and a magic show by Dan which morphed into watching a pre-selected video of a church pastor performing a magic show for elementary aged children interspersed with bible verses! Later, Dan said to me “I guess I should have vetted that for skeptical teens.’

Also, in all the time saved from shopping for presents, I have read so many good books:

The death of Vivek Oji 

Writers and Lovers

The Vanishing Half

The Pull of the Stars

All the love to all of you,

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Ring Stafford permalink
    January 4, 2021

    Your writing is a gift to me always, but this one is especially wonderful and true. Thanks to you and your remarkable family for being real and honest, and always striving for your best selves.

  2. Pam L permalink
    January 4, 2021

    Some of us see this in our e-mail inbox and can’t put it aside to read after work. Work had to wait! Tears from this:
    “Ah. Feeling grateful would be a way out of the cycle of wanting and disappointment, and measuring yourself and your stuff against others? A way to have some peace?”

    “Yeah.” She slid into me and I received her child self, simultaneously fragile and powerful. Like all of us”

    Thank you, Rachel. Heart = full.

  3. Solyssa permalink
    January 4, 2021

    So many great little gems here! Here are a couple of my favorites;
    ‘I exhaust myself sometimes’ (I totally feel this! I am such a curmudgeon.)
    “No vegetables,” Col replied cheerily.
    I both love and dread the winter holidays, wishing it could be all about twinkly lights, dried orange slices, family and community, and cookies; without all the wish lists and consumerism.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    January 4, 2021

    I join the commenters above in applauding (standing) this post. Your kids are so in tune–thanks to you. Book recommendation on the topic of stuff: Fixation by Sandra Goldmark.
    She delves deeply into the plague of stuff we’ve created. On the surface, nothing that we don’t already know if we’re trying to live more sensibly, but her personal experiences and (footnoted)
    information casts some new light on this dilemma.

  5. Sarah Kmon permalink
    January 4, 2021

    Your writing is a balm for me. Thank you. Please keep going.

  6. January 5, 2021

    Each and every one of your post brings me joy, insight and a smile (on top of that great list of books that I proceed to reserve at the library every time). Being able to practice NVC daily with your children is such a rich and important way to raise healthy, compassionate adults who truly know themselves. It is very inspiring, Rachel!

  7. elizabeth permalink
    January 5, 2021

    Oh it’s been forever since you blogged! I am very happy to be reading you again, a soothing voice in the midst of a December hangover and covid misery. I have a lot yet to learn. I gave my children (6 and 9) everything I thought their hearts desired and yet they remained unsatisfied. When the gift season was finally over (we have 2 birthdays and st. Nicolas in December, besides Christmas…. it’s a marathon), they calmed down and were satisfied creatures again. I never thought I’d step into the trap and yet I did. Being counter cultural is more complicated than I imagined it to be when I held my first little baby. Thanks for your voice and strength.

  8. Sara Parks permalink
    January 8, 2021

    Thank you for being normal.

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