Custody of the Heart: A Letter To the Parent Really Missing Their Children on Thanksgiving

photo by Daiga Ellaby

photo by Daiga Ellaby

Dear Mommy or Daddy, 

I could see how painful it was for you to say goodbye to me today, knowing we will not be spending Thanksgiving together this year. I know how much you each care about me, and there are some things I'd like you to know...

I want you to know it's hard for me, too. No matter how old I get, I will always long for my family to be together for the holidays. I will always wish away the separateness. And the anxiety. And the tension.

The hardest part, for me, is knowing how lonely and sad you might feel without me. I don't like when you are sad. Please don't be sad. Promise me that you will call your friends and not spend Thanksgiving alone. I don't want you to be alone.

Maybe I'm too young to know this, but there is a fine line between what will damage you and what will heal you. Please let your Thanksgiving without me be something that will heal you- heal you from the loss of how our Thanksgivings used to be, as a family. Let this Thanksgiving be joyful, one that you can't wait to tell me about, the next time I see you!

Since I will be with my "other side" of the family, and because divorce is so tricky and complicated, I know I might overhear some things about you that aren't nice. But I want you to know that I know the truth. I know the truth about who you are and where I come from. I am so grateful for you.

I know you want me to have a good time and not feel bad, so I'll do just that. I will eat and play and giggle and get into trouble with my cousins. I will look at the finished turkey and remember how you like to take polaroids of your finished, cooked-to-perfection turkeys, because you feel so proud when its done. I will remember how you write the year on the polaroid: "Thanksgiving Turkey, '92". It'll be a little secret I can have a laugh about. Thank you for doing things that make me think if you when I'm not with you. 

I really, REALLY want you to know that while you may not have custody of my physical company today, you have custody of my heart. I mean, you helped to create it. And it's so strong, strong enough to know that there are many kinds of families. Unique in their own way. BOY! Are we unique! (And a little whacky.)

We will get through this, because Thanksgiving is both just another day AND everyday. And this is what our family is meant to look like. I mean, after all, birds have to fly, fish have to swim, Cookie Monster's gotta eat whatever the hell he eats and you have to share your time with me. It's really that simple. 

Most importantly, I want you to remember that, deep down, we're still a family. I am deeply loved and wanted and looked after. This, I know for sure. 

Happy Thanksgiving, I love you!


A note from Erica:

I do remember. I remember the look on each of my parents' face when it was time for one to take custody of me over a long weekend or a holiday. My heart ached for the parent that would be without me and I wanted to always make sure they would be okay. 

ivorced or separated parents, my heart goes out to you, this holiday season, as many of you share custody, where a piece of paper determines where your child will spend their time. 

Please know two things:

1. You are the EXACT parent you are meant to be today

2. Your children are okay. And if they're not, they will be...

May Grace & Peace be with you and your unique & dynamic family <3

An Epiphany about Grief

I didn't have an answer when she asked, "So how did you get through losing your Dad? No one has ever asked me that in the almost 10 years he'd been gone. 

And I forgot that just cuz someone asks a question about your life, doesn't mean you know the answer. 

I paused. I said I don't know. I said I went to therapy and smoked a lot of pot and had affairs with married men. Then I paused again and searched for how I actually got through it. The 'no, really Erica, how did you do that? Answer the girl'.

"I didn't get through it", I heard myself say. "It got through me. It did everything it could to transform me. Push me. Make me say yes when I want to say no. Make me say no when I want to say yes. The grief. It said, 'go home, my love', those 4 times I drove to my elementary school at 3am and waited at the child pick-up spot for my Dad. Because I was a fucking lunatic. Because what do you mean he's gone?  Because no I just want to talk to him one more time. I have a question." 

The grief. It's like an extra batch of intuition, on top of the intuition I was born with. It just knows stuff. Like, it knew to send me to art school so I could one day take pretty pictures for Instagram and decorate my home and my business in a life-giving way. 

It knew about the Institute for the Psychology of Eating and how I needed to study there. And heal there. It suggested I try yoga. Then it asked me to teach yoga. The grief. It said read this book. Talk to this guy. Call your mother. Call her again. It told me to go to an essential oil class and then make a career out of sharing them with people. Touching people. Reminding them they are worthy of love and belonging and physical touch. 

The grief. It's not grief anymore, actually. 

It's like, my "through-line". It's the connecting theme that follows my interaction with the world and my commitment to get out of bed each day. 

The grief. My through-line. This thing. I didn't get through it. It got through me. Or maybe it got through TO me? 

It'll transform you. If you let it. 


Grace & Peace,


Your Gym, Our Gym...My Gym


How lucky I am, to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard -A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh)

Dear Parents,

As we prepare to pack up our gym, and empty the space where incredible memories were made, I realize there are some things I'd like you to know...

I want you to know I don't need to dismantle brightly colored equipment or pack up toys and swings to remind me of my work. I don't need to write farewell emails, change our voicemail greeting, or give last stamps and last hugs in order to solidify my role as a My Gym teacher. I don't need to lose access to our online database, or cry in front of students and parents, to realize my whole heart has been here for a very long time. Bottom line, I don't need to lose this gym in order to know what a gift, pleasure, honor and privilege it has been to watch your children grow, because I've always known how rare and unique this work is.

Over these next few days, we will be burning and shredding the contracts you signed; proof that you are every bit as committed to your child as we are. We will be packing up the equipment we encouraged your children to balance, tumble, walk, climb, rock, flip, swing and hang on. We will, one last time, fold the mats where we taught your children to land on their own two feet. The swings your children couldn't wait to ride will be put into storage and sensory objects--referred to as "Surprises"-- traced by tiny fingers, balanced on precious heads, observed with inquisitive minds will end up somewhere, other than here. These are the elements that kept your children coming back. These are the ingredients, that gave you faith in our program and inspired me to be a lot more here and a lot less there.
And of course, the most important ingredient...Circle Time.

Circle Time really is the best time. Each time I called your children to join me around the Big Red Circle, a little voice whispered to me, pay attention. Hold onto this. Remember. It urged me to listen, with my whole body, to the experiences of being a My Gym teacher. As my students practically fly full speed ahead to plop themselves in a spot that speaks loudly to them, the voice encouraged me to not go through the motions, but to fully absorb children saying their name, sometimes for the first time, mirror my movements and laugh unabashedly. This voice asked me to separate myself from what is irrelevant and unite with what's happening in real-time. It wanted me to acknowledge that every Circle Time could very well be my last and that it ought to be cherished. Circle Time speaks the universal language of connection. It knows there are voices to be heard, songs to be sung, questions to be asked and ideas to be shared. Circle Time solidifies my place in the world as a teacher, and assures me that I'm not the only one who knows how special it is.

To the children, parents, nannies, Grandmothers, Grandfathers, cousins, siblings, Aunts and Uncles who've come into my life, I thank you. I thank you for allowing me to connect with you and your family, for allowing me to witness first steps, first words and bursts of confidence. Thank you for your willingness to engage with me and for allowing me to be so easy with my love. Thank you for seeing my passion for My Gym and for allowing me to show how proud, moved and softened I often felt, seeing your children step out of their comfort zone and move through their wild and carefree lives.

Most of all, I thank you for joining me around the Big Red Circle; for building community, creating intimacy, and for knowing you and your children are very much seen and heard.
How lucky I have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
All my love, Teacher
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