Peru Adventure – Cusco

July 9, 2014

Cusco

Cusco

Before we could begin our Inca Trail trek, we needed to spend some time acclimatizing to the higher altitude. We were already fortunate enough to be coming from the Mile High City, but any Coloradoan can tell you there’s a big difference between physical exertion at 5,280 feet and physical exertion at 14,000 feet. We needed some time to get ourselves ready. So on Wednesday morning, we headed back to the Lima airport to board a flight to Cusco, which sits at 11,200 feet. A combination of Inca and Spanish culture, a blend of old and new, Cusco did not disappoint. For starters, landing at the airport there was more eventful than I was prepared for. As you descend toward the city, the Andes rough you up and force you through sharp turns as the pilots maneuver to land in the narrow, high valley where Cusco rests. I’d like to say that regular flights over the Rocky Mountains had prepared me for this, but they didn’t. But then I’m not sure anything can prepare you for the wonder of Cusco.

Our G Adventures guide, Ray, was waiting for us safely outside baggage claim. He efficiently loaded us into a large van for the 15 minute trip from the airport to our hotel and began briefing us about the rest of the events for the day. After a couple of free days wandering around Lima sans guide, I was looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about Peru from a local. A guide will make or break a tour, and immediately I knew we were in good hands with Ray. He was born and raised in Cusco, spoke Quechua (the language of the local natives), and finished his degree in tourism at the university in Cusco by completing his thesis on the Incas. And if his expertise were not enough, Ray’s impeccable people skills carried us from that first van trip through our last night in Cusco. He somehow managed to keep us motivated and on track for our entire tenure with him without ever making us feel rushed. I later discovered that he’s a Gemini like me. I knew I liked him.

Grains available for purchase from local farmers in the San Pedro Market

Bags of grain in the San Pedro Market

We had a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up before heading out for a walking tour of Cusco. Ray first took us to the San Pedro market. We wandered the aisles of this packed, open air venue where you could buy produce, grains, meat, herbs, textiles, and other assorted items. I marveled at the size of the Inca corn, which makes our corn nut snacks look piddly. We stopped occasionally to make food purchases from several local vendors so we could sample traditional bread and some tropical fruits that we can’t find here at home. It was one of those things that we might not have experienced without a good guide. We might have found the market on our own, but the likelihood that we would have felt comfortable purchasing and ingesting unknown foods is slim. The most interesting fruit we sampled was the granadilla, which had a hard outer shell similar to a gourd but which was very similar to a passion fruit. The flesh around the seeds was gelatinous (think chia seed consistency) and you had to suck the fruit from the outer shell. It was a fun experience. Nothing like getting to know your new friends by mouthing fruit on a street in Cusco.

Looks like a good time to walk your alpaca

Looks like a good time to walk your alpaca

We walked from the market toward the main plaza. Along the way I took time to marvel at the architecture. The bottom portion of many of the buildings was fashioned from different materials than most of the top parts of the same buildings. Ray explained that over the course of hundreds of years and dozens of earthquakes, the Inca walls remained in tact while the Spanish buildings erected on their ruins crumbled. Consequently, Cusco has a very new, old feel. I marveled as we walked near one of the old Spanish churches erected by the Conquistadors. Outside there was a street performer who had painted himself gold and was posing as a living statue for cash, a scene I could easily imagine any day of the week on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Passing right in front of the church at the same time, however, was a woman in traditional costume walking an alpaca. That was when I knew we were in for something special over the next week.

Noting we were hungry and a bit worse for the rapid altitude change, Ray directed us to a spot to grab a late lunch. He told us that our best bet was soup. Better not to overburden your system when your body is already struggling to acclimate. I was definitely feeling somewhat off already, so at Ray’s suggestion I tried the quinua (quinoa to us North Americans) soup…just the right amount of protein and comfort. Perfecto!

Later we met back at the hotel for a briefing about our journey into the Sacred Valley of the Incas and our Inca Trail trek. We were at last introduced to the whole of our hiking group. There were fourteen of us, six Americans, four Brits, a Swiss couple, and two Danish twenty-somethings. We quickly surmised that we were older than most of our fellow travelers by at least 20 years. We tried to imagine our advanced age would not be a handicap but, just in case, I began referring to us as “the old folks.” (It was what “the kids” were thinking anyway.) We covered logistics and were reminded that our packing limit for the next five days was 6 kilograms (about 13 pounds) and that had to include our sleeping bag and ground pad. They gave us the trip bags to pack for our porters and sent us back to our rooms to begin the arduous task of packing, weighing, and repacking. I was thrilled to realize I’d estimated well at home. My first time to the bag scale left me a half kilo under the allowed weight. Woohoo! I got to add in another shirt and the portable battery charger for my iPhone. All was right with the world.

Comfort food of potential destruction

Comfort food of potential destruction

Dinner was at a quaint, well-reviewed restaurant called Nuna Raymi’s. While my friends all went with more traditional Peruvian food, I was still feeling not quite 100% so I opted for the comfort of pasta. And I was enjoying my spaghetti with olive oil and chunks of delicious, locally crafted cheese until I thought for a second about the fresh basil and tomatoes in the entrée that I’d happily been gnawing. My mind did the inadvisable and considered that they may have been washed in water that hadn’t been boiled. I am not much of a worrier, but for about thirty seconds I entertained the horrific idea of uncontrollable, unscheduled, and just plain ugly potty breaks in the presence of 10 strangers with no proper toilets, limited foliage, and pack-out-your-own trash. I considered the swamp ass that would certainly follow such episodes and the irreparable damage it would inflict on my limited undergarments and two pairs of pants over the next five days. I imagined sleeping in a tent with these clothing items and my unclean self. I shuddered. Too late now. There was a reason why I purchased and packed Imodium AD and filled a prescription for Cipro. Why borrow trouble? One way or another, it would all be fine, right? I’m not much of a praying woman, but I’ll admit that on that note I sent some positive energy out to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to encourage her to look after me, just in case.

 

Peru Adventure – Lima

Last week we returned from an 11-day trip to Peru. The impetus for the trip was to hike the famed Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, something we’d been talking about doing since we were in our twenties. It was then one of those distant, maybe-someday, sort of things, a long-term bucket list item that we shelved once we had children and the notion of traveling 4,000 miles away to hike 27 miles without them would have raised some eyebrows. Then, late last year, my friend Heather reintroduced the idea. Turns out we aren’t getting any younger, and the strenuous nature of the trek made the feasibility of postponing this adventure much longer a little sketchy. I mean, here at midlife we’re still reasonably fit and healthy, but you never know what’s right around the corner. So we took a chance on ourselves, put down a wad of cash on the trip of our dreams, broke the news to our children (who were less than thrilled to be left behind), and started working out the logistics. Seven months later, we were winging our way to Lima in coach, fingers crossed, trusting that we’d return home safely to children who discovered they could survive without us.

I want to share something of our adventures, so I am going to spend a week or two writing up some memories of the trip. Thanks for indulging me.
July 7th, 2014

Larcomar with the Pacific Ocean in the background

Larcomar with the Pacific Ocean in the background

After a decent night’s rest at the Tierra Viva Hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima, we were anxious to explore. First stop, sadly enough, was to Starbucks to access reliable, free wifi and to satisfy an intellectual curiosity about the international cost of a Starbucks vanilla latte. (The latte was comparably priced to our local haunt…approximately $4.33 for a venti.) With no desire to sit after a long travel day, headed out armed with a map and a little blood in our caffeinestreams.

We walked to Larcomar, an upscale shopping mall built into the sea cliffs in Miraflores and listed as a must-see attraction in the area. While its location and architecture are worth noting, at the end of the day it’s just another mall with a Pinkberry and a Gap. We were hungry, though, and decided to eat lunch there at a local chain that specializes in pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken). Not eager to encounter stomach sickness before our long hike, we eschewed the salad we might have had at home and filled ourselves with chicken, fries, and Cusqueña, the local lager. With full bellies, we headed away from the coast and walked blocks back into town in search of something that felt a bit more unique.

Yoga cat in Parque Kennedy

Yoga cat in Parque Kennedy

We found it at Parque Kennedy, which is home to dozens of feral cats who have been adopted by the city’s residents. Local citizens set out bowls of water and food for them under trees in the shade. The park was designed with built-in seating where people can relax with their lunches and smartphones (free wifi in the park too, who knew?). Once you settle into a seat, a cat is likely to find its way into your lap for a warm, cozy nap. I found this local custom perfectly charming. The cats seem to be well-cared for and not at all mangy or unclean. We even saw one with stitches in its leg, which leads me to believe that they are getting medical attention when necessary too. The park serves as a de facto library system for cats. You stop by, borrow one for a while, and return it when you’re ready to leave. I was missing my dog and wanting some animal attention, so I sat down near a cat who was not spoken for and waited to see what he would do. After sizing me up for a minute, he decided I was acceptable and crawled into my lap. There he napped for about 20 minutes while I petted him. Made my day. Pet fix achieved, we returned to our hotel to mull dinner options.

Peruvian sampler platter at Panchita

Peruvian sampler platter at Panchita

We landed at Panchita, a large restaurant that was more populated with locals than gringos. There were no menus in English, which boded well for an authentic experience. We attempted to conjure up any Spanish-language remnants from high school for about fifteen minutes before our waiter realized we were out of our element and sent over another waiter to offer suggestions in English. Good man! Eager to try some real Peruvian food, we ordered a sampler platter and four different entrees. There was not a thing we tried that we didn’t enjoy. We tried Peruvian Anticuchos (beef hearts), papa relleña (fried, stuffed potatoes), causa (a layered dish with mashed potatoes, meat, and avocado), and some local giant corn covered with huancaina sauce. Steve ordered the lomo saltado (grilled beef with peppers and onions) and I had tamales and arroz verde. For dessert we shared some picarones (Peruvian donuts). You could stick a fork in us because we were so done. Not exactly sure how we ate that much or how we managed to waddle back to our hotel. By far the most unexpected thing about Peru was how wonderful the food was. Everywhere we went we found new delicacies to enjoy. The Peruvians take great pride in their cuisine, and it shows in the flavor and presentation of every single dish. We thought we’d head to South America and lose weight. Tell that to my now tight pants.

July 8, 2014

Dismayed Brazilians watching Germany massacre them in the World Cup

Dismayed Brazilians watching the World Cup

After transferring our bags to the hotel where we would meet our tour group later, we walked back up one of the main streets in Miraflores to look for our next great food adventure. We apparently planned to eat our way through Peru. We stopped into a sandwich place and somehow lunch became more dessert than anything else. Tres Leches cake and churros dipped in chocolate, anyone? Desperately seeking exercise, we walked toward the sea cliffs to stroll the boardwalk that connects Larcomar to several local parks. Along the way we passed a restaurant where Brazilians had gathered to watch their World Cup game against Germany. It was not pretty. My blonde hair made me feel like sore thumb for some reason.

Winter in Lima

Winter in Lima

We strolled toward the boardwalk, which in truth is more of a sidewalk than a boardwalk, with the intention of making our way through several parks. This part of Miraflores is called the Costa Verde because despite Lima’s status as a coastal, desert town, things actually grow green here. There were tons of flowers and bushes, along with cactus, green grass, and palm trees. It was hard to believe Lima was in the midst of winter because it didn’t seem like winter to these northerners. It was never under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and most daytime temps were closer to 70. While the locals walked in boots, coats, and scarves, we strolled in light jackets. It was chilly, but not a Colorado winter by a long shot. I had read that winter in Lima was grey and dry, and that was no exaggeration. It was continually overcast, but rainless, and still quite tolerable.

El Beso

El Beso

Our walk down the Malécon landed us at El Parque Del Amor. There resides a sculpture by Victor Delfin called El Beso (The Kiss). Surrounding the sculpture are walls filled with bright mosaics. There are more built in benches where lovers can hang out and enjoy the sculpture…or not. A local tour guide told us that every year they hold a kissing contest beneath the sculpture. The longest kiss was over 9 hours. That’s more dedication than I have. I honestly can’t think of anything I’d like to do for 9 hours straight. Not a thing. Further down the boardwalk we came across the place where paragliders launch themselves via updrafts over the cliffs. We watched them for a while and, for a few seconds there, I almost thought it would be worth the $60 flight cost. Then I decided that since my main goal in traveling to Peru was to hike the Inca Trail I might be better off saving my flight for another bat time, another bat channel. No need to risk breaking my ankle landing from paragliding the day before our trek to Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the Inca Trail, and finally Machu Picchu. We walked back to our hotel to meet our G Adventures representative and get the skinny on our flight to Cusco in the morning. We were finally on our way.

 

Under Construction

Still on the merry-go-round and working on my exit

Still on the merry-go-round and dreaming up a great dismount

I haven’t felt like writing much lately, so I haven’t. I’m in the midst of some unsettling discoveries, which aren’t as much discoveries as admissions about myself. There are things that I haven’t liked for a long time. I knew they needed to change, but I was so paralyzed by the thought of admitting my weaknesses and so adept at focusing on other parts of my life that I kept pretending these negatives were invisible. They weren’t. Other people saw them. And I still knew they were there. They were like the mess you shove in a spare room right before guests arrive. You think you’re fooling everyone by having everything in order, but deep down you know what lurks just behind the closed door. And you remember it with nausea when someone asks you, “what’s in this room?”  You are vulnerable and imperfect and mere seconds away from someone discovering what a pretender you really are. It’s a terrifying place to live.

Human nature reacts strongly against what it sees in others that it suspects and fears in itself. It’s a predictable pattern. We chastise others for lack of compassion while we ignore that it’s our lack of compassion that allows us to criticize them. We accuse others of being selfish when it’s our own self that feels neglected enough to point out that we’re not getting enough attention. The thing that most deeply annoys me about others is the victim mentality…people who whine about the bad things in life, as if bad things only happen to them and not to others, and who stay stuck in their quagmire because it’s easier to be the victim than it is to leave that role behind and go forward boldly and change. I know many people who suffer from this affliction, so it’s something that makes me shudder regularly.

As I’ve been navigating this bumpy and unsettling road to Future Me, I’ve paid particular attention to how vehemently I react towards particular failings in others, knowing that my reactions towards them likely hold a mirror squarely back on me. So I’ve been sitting with that thought for a while, letting it bubble its way to the surface while I was able to grow in acknowledgment of it. With some introspection, I’ve had to accept that as much as I despise victims, I’ve quietly lived as one among them for years. The only difference between me and the victims who get under my skin lies in their honesty about their misery. They’re more in touch with their emotions, so they complain about it readily. Me? I’m an emotional stuffer. I’ve sat quietly while layers of shame and self-loathing accumulated like sediment at the bottom of a slowly dying river. Now I realize I’m too filled up to function as I have in the past. It’s time to have my own Frozen moment, dredge up the muck in my way, and let it go.

They say the only way out is through, so I’ve been going through. And through. I’ve been sitting, thinking, and crying in some sort of rinse and repeat cycle for weeks. And it sucks. What will suck more, though, is if I squander my ephemeral time on this lovely planet without finding a way to love myself for who I am, emotions, weakness, messy rooms, and all. I need to live with my whole heart free and my mind open and aware. I can’t forgive others their failings if I can’t forgive myself for my own. Pain happens. We grow up with the hand we are dealt, but where we ultimately land is our own responsibility. And while complaints and ignorance are strategic coping mechanisms, they are not useful to us in the long run. This is where the victim becomes the victor. I need to put in the hard work. Do my time. Eventually, I will be improved for my effort. In the meantime, when I’m not here, please know that I’m under construction. As with most construction projects, it will probably take longer than the first-promised deliverable date. I’ll be back and better than ever in time. I can’t wait for my grand reopening.

Chrysalis

IMG_8293

There’s a ray of hope. I can see it.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ~Maya Angelou

I am a first class stuffer. I think it was my Catholic upbringing that started the whole thing. Through charming phrases like “offer it up,” I was taught that when I don’t like something my job is to shut up and live with it anyway, to suffer in silence. And so I did…to the point that even a simple, honest act of speaking up for myself, like returning the wrong meal in a restaurant, became impossible. It’s not that I was happy about putting up with things my spirit told me not to put up with. It wasn’t easy. I complained. I complained a lot to the pages of countless journals that would hold all my enmity without ratting me out. It was my silent rebellion. Externally, I sucked it up and kept my mouth closed because that is what a good girl does, and arguing requires confrontation and confrontation is scary. Internally, I was becoming a roiling, seething caldron of should haves and unfulfilled wishes. (It’s really no surprise to me that I needed to have my gallbladder removed at age 33, so full of bile I was that my body rebelled against me.) Still….I kept right on stuffing because old habits die hard and change, especially with regard to one’s now-ingrained habits, is difficult.

Recently, though, I’ve realized that I am so full of all the stuff I have stuffed for decades that there is no more room for stuffing. It’s time to let go. Deep down I’ve known for about eight years that I needed to change. The notion has been fluttering in my head like a miller moth trapped inside a room, banging about the walls, flapping with an ever more urgent need to be free. I’ll be honest. I made excuses. I focused on other things so I could ignore what I knew needed attention. That needs to stop. Now is the time to do some serious excavation, to dig up the me that I know is under all that pent-up crap, the me that has a spine and can speak for herself. The work must be done because what I want more than anything is to find a way to keep from passing this stuffing habit on to my sons. I want them to be able to walk around the hole I fell into. To bring them around it, though, I must crawl out of it first.

I read this quote in my Bunny Buddhism book the other day: “The bunny who tries not to suffer only suffers more.”

The road ahead of me, unpacking all that I have stuffed, is going to be uncomfortable. There’s no doubt I will suffer, cry, and feel weak during the journey, but I’ve already seen what trying not to suffer has done for me. I no longer believe this internal change could make me suffer more than trying to endure in silence even one more spirit-dampening blow. In the end, I want to be that beautiful butterfly that Maya Angelou was talking about. With that in mind, into my chrysalis I go.

Self-Portrait of the New Me

The forties have been an interesting decade for me. I started them with some sort of vendetta, something to prove to myself and to others. After a few years of tearing down my comfort zone and boldly going where I had not gone before, I began to get restless in a different way. I began to feel like none of it mattered. Like everyone else on this planet, I was simply getting older, and no amount of fighting the aging process was going to stop the clock or stop time from marching across my wrinkling, sagging body. Why bother? I mean, we’re all going to die anyway. Who cares if I do it ingesting chia seeds or peanut M&Ms? Most recently, though, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’ve hit upon a new phase. It’s a whole new thing for me, something I’ve not yet experienced. I’m trying to find softness, to forgive myself for what I’m not and to appreciate what I am. After a life of being a perfectionist and being unfairly hard on myself, I’m starting to look the other way on my shortcomings and focus instead on the good.

As I begin this new phase of self-discovery, I’ve found that there are people in my life who are determined to derail me. They remind me of what I’m not, rather than celebrating what I am. It’s a constant battle to remain ahead of the naysayers who want to throw sand on my picnic. Last night, I was sharing something Luke did at school with someone. I was particularly proud of this project and was excited to show it off for him.

Luke's self-portrait

Luke’s self-portrait

One of his teachers had him draw a self-portrait. Around the self-portrait, he’d written ten statements about himself. All of the statements were positive. I asked him if he’d had a hard time coming up with ten nice things to say about himself. He said he hadn’t. I was so proud of him for having a level of self-worth at 11 that I know I don’t have at 45. The person with whom I shared the artwork had only one statement about it: “Well…he’s cross-eyed.” I looked at the drawing again. It’s true. Luke had drawn one of the eyes toward the center edge, and I guess it does look a bit cross-eyed. I hadn’t noticed that earlier because, well, I was so impressed with the wording around the drawing that I simply hadn’t noticed. Guess my pride in my son clouded my critical, artistic eye.

Today, I spent a bit of time reflecting on the negative comment on my son’s sweet piece of artwork. Putting yourself out there like that is a bold move. Letting your mom share it with others is even more bold. If he could be that brave, I could to. I decided to put myself to the test. I decided I would draw a self-portrait and see if I could come up with ten positive statements about myself. I wanted to share my page with Luke because he’d allowed me to share his page with others. I also shared it with three other people just to get used to the idea of having confidence in my own self-worth. Tonight, though, I am taking it farther still. I’m going to share my self-portrait with the Internet.

My self-portrait

My self-portrait

I’m no artist, and this activity was difficult for me. As hard as it was to try to sketch myself, harder still it was trying to find complimentary things I was willing to say about myself. It took less time to draw and color my sketch than it took to compose ten positives, and even then I felt very uncomfortable owning everything I’d written. In my head was that little voice spewing self-doubt, saying Who are you kidding? and A lot of folks believe they’re good writers so you’re not special. It was a good exercise for me, though, and one I desperately needed today. It’s not easy for me to find positives because I’ve fairly well breathed a steady stream of negatives through outside voices and disparaging self-talk my entire life. I’m more likely to look in a mirror and find five things wrong than I am to find even one thing right.

When Luke got in the car after school, I told him that I’d spent my afternoon drawing and I was hoping he would critique my work when we got home. Luke, being the kind-hearted kid he is, appraised my art and told me that he thought it was pretty good. Considering how much I had struggled with it, I thought pretty good seemed really great.

It’s a long road I’m on, this path to self-love and self-acceptance. It has to start somewhere, though, and I’ve decided that somewhere is here and now. Some people will approach everything from a point of cynicism and negativity. I don’t have room for that anymore. I don’t want my children growing up with a mom who has nothing nice to say about herself. I don’t want to be that model for them. The world will beat them up enough. They don’t need to be experts at it too. As for me, I am making changes. You’re entitled to your opinions about me, about how I live my life and how I’m doing it all wrong. You can even share your opinions with me if you want. I’ll hear what you’re saying, but I’m not absorbing it or changing to meet your expectations. I’m happy with the life I’ve built and the person I am continually becoming. I’m not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes. Point them out if you must, but know that I’m kicking negativity to the curb. If you have nothing positive to say, you can go with it.

What Difference Does It Make

Something British that I truly enjoyed last night

Something British that I truly enjoyed last night

“One must hop toward the light rather than sit in a shadow and wonder why it’s dark.” ~Bunny Buddhism

I’ve been a regular concert goer since I was a teenager. I saw my first concert (The Police on their Synchronicity tour) when I was 15 years old. My friends and I were in the rafters in seats labeled on the printed tickets as “Possible Obstructed View.” It didn’t matter. When Sting took the stage and I saw the tiny dot that was HIM, the magical concept of the concert was solidified. I was taken in hand by the spirit of live music. Game over.

Last night I had the opportunity to see in concert an artist I’ve followed since I wore black on the outside because black was how I felt on the inside. As much as I adored Sting and The Police (and I’ve seen Sting, either with or without The Police, approximately nine times), The Smiths were my anchor, Morrissey my preacher. Need a pithy lyric? I’ve got an entire cache of Smiths’ lyrics stored in my brain, the same brain that can’t remember my own phone number some days. After two failed attempts to see the Moz (he cancelled the shows both times), yesterday afternoon I started to believe it might be my night. I crossed my fingers and hoped the third time was a charm. Please, please, please let me get what I want. Lord knows, it would be the first time. To celebrate the evening’s potential, my friend Heather and I had dinner at the British Bulldog. We were taking this experience as seriously as Morrissey takes his PETA affiliation.

When he finally took the stage last night in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, all the self-inflicted misery of my teenage years resurfaced. The show started out better than I could have hoped with Hand in Glove. His voice was spot on, clear, smooth, and without any hint of the ill effects of high altitude. Having resigned myself long ago to the knowledge that I would never hear a Smiths’ song live, I could not have been more happy to be wrong. As the concert progressed, however, I found myself becoming increasingly agitated. A steady dose of morose songs are the norm with Morrissey, but his solo catalog also includes musically upbeat tunes…even if they are accompanied by lyrics that are she-was-found-face-down-in-a-bathtub-of-vodka level of depressing. I kept waiting for the uptempo songs. They did not arrive. Worse than that, I was seated next to an aggravating couple that included a gentleman who believed he himself was Morrissey. He sang each and every word quite loudly and with the utmost conviction of his own vocal talent. I wanted to kick him in the eye. I was not surprised when Morrissey performed Meat Is Murder while onscreen a graphic, five-minute long film of the industrialized food machine abusing and murdering animals played for our edification. I gave up hope and focused instead on my double vodka and soda. At least there was a chance for temporary mental respite at the bottom of my plastic cup. I checked my phone for the time and found myself disappointed that it was only 10:11. All I could think was heaven knows I’m miserable now.

Toward the end of the show, Heather and I checked out. I think we might have left if it hadn’t been for some sort of misguided optimism that perhaps Morrissey would come out of his self-indulgent drama long enough to play something lively and redeem the show. I know Morrissey was simply being Morrissey. It’s not his fault that I didn’t get the concert I had hoped for. He was the same Morrissey he has always been. I have changed. My mentality has caught up with my biology. I’m older now and have less tolerance for intentional misery. I am weary and wary of wallowing for wallowing’s sake. Life is short, and our thoughts determine our relative level of joy. Based on that notion, Morrissey must be the most disconsolate man on earth. Don’t get me wrong. I will always enjoy his songs because they are wry, poetic, and clever. He rests on the other side of the scale from brainless, pop fluff and creates a necessary balance. Somewhere along the line, though, I decided that choosing to live in misery doesn’t make you deep. It just makes you dark. I will never see another one of your shows, Morrissey, but I’m still fond of you.

Pigs in Pink Aprons

Little pig indeed

Little pig indeed

I had all kinds of really good intentions today to get a lot done and not rush my way through a blog at the end of the day like I usually do. That was my grand plan. But then something unfortunate occurred. My nearly teenage son reminded me this morning that he needs another costume item for his school play. And he needs it by tomorrow. You see, Joe is a pig in a fractured fairy tale, performance next week. Last Wednesday when we were both suffering from colds and should have been home in bed resting, we went on a grand excursion to the costume store thirty minutes away to spend $15 on a pink snout, ears, and a curly piggy tail for his costume. (We did not, however, make it make it to the market, have roast beef, or cry wee-wee-wee all the way home, in case you were wondering.) These items were such a hit with his drama teacher that she decided to reward me for my fine work by adding another costume item to really bring the cuteness home. A pink apron. Was she kidding me? This is not exactly an item a mother of two boys would have in a drawer or closet. Pink is verboten in this house, you know. Sometimes I think teachers just do shit like this to test me.

Despite my relative annoyance, I asked around. I could not locate a pink apron that would fit Joe. So today after getting in my workout (3860 stairs at Red Rocks), I began the grand search for a pink apron. My only stipulation was that it had to be under $10. I was not spending real money on a pink apron that I would never wear. Truth is that I already have a good apron that has been my tried-and-true buddy for 15 years, and I am faithful. I started out by going to a couple of discount stores. I got a little distracted in Gordman’s for about an hour (didn’t find an apron but I did find a 24-ounce sippy cup to hold my wine incognito at the pool this summer). Then I moved onto Ross. There I found a full pink apron covered in cupcakes but I thought Joe might balk at the frilly ruffles so I left it. From there I headed to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but all their aprons were over $20 and I would have had to dye a white one pink. No thank you very much. I hit Party City. I was beginning to get a bit desperate. I found a full paper apron that was only $3.50 but it was white, which meant my son and I would have to spend our evening coloring it with pink markers. And, let’s face it. Joe would color for five minutes and then use the excuse he always uses when he’s trying to get out of something (“I have to poop”…you want to mess with that if you’re wrong about his faking it?) and I’d be coloring that dang thing alone. Nope. Not gonna do it. I finally gave up and ran to Target. While they didn’t have an apron, necessity became the mother of invention and I found a pink hand towel and pink, fabric ribbon totaling $8 and decided I would make my own pink apron because why not? Isn’t that what moms are for?

I had planned to sew the ribbon on but realized that the bands on the corner of the towel were capable of breaking multiple needles. (I realized this after I’d broken multiple needles.) I resorted to my glue gun. My glue gun and I worked magic again, and in short order we had a makeshift apron for my little pig. I made him try it on to verify its efficacy. It was perfectly functional. He seemed satisfied with my handiwork and, well, he should be because I’m a talented genius who can pull pink aprons out of thin air. I ironed it, put it in a gallon-size Ziploc to protect it from boy hands before the dress rehearsal, and handed it to him. That was when he told me he doesn’t actually need it until Friday because that’s when the dress rehearsal is. I would have choked him if I hadn’t been so tired from the stairs and the shopping. He’s a lucky boy.

Some days being a mom is a whole lot of pointless work. You finish the laundry, and someone drops a sock into an empty hamper. You clean the kitchen and before you put the rag down someone has crumbs on the counter. You go to five stores to find a pink apron, end up making one, and realize that it’s an exercise in insanity because it’s only going to matter on a subconscious level for less than two minutes of your life and no one else will even notice it for that long. On days like these, I try to remind myself that this is how I earn my keep. I am the behind the scenes miracle worker. What I do is invisible. If I didn’t do it, though, someone would notice.

The Littlest Teachers

Me and my little teachers

Me and my little teachers

Thirteen years ago, I was about one month away from becoming a mother. Back then, I thought I had a fairly decent grasp on who I was. Thirteen years and two children later, I realize that I had no clue who I was or what things I was capable of. Becoming a mother is one thing. Being a mother day in and day out is another thing entirely. Mothers (and fathers too) are capable of incredible things, things far beyond what we imagine ourselves capable of. Back then, I thought the biggest obstacles to overcome with parenting would be cleaning up puke and missing out on sleep. I laugh at that now. All the things I expected would come easily to me did not. And from out of nowhere came new lessons about myself and about life. Tonight I want to share three things I have learned because I became a mother:

1) I am really good at reading aloud. Considering how much reading aloud in school caused near panic attacks that could only be lessened by mentally practicing every part of the story in front of me in class while waiting for my turn to read, this is a shock. Lately I’ve been reading The BFG by Roald Dahl to our boys. I do a voice for the Big Friendly Giant. It’s different from the one I did for Willy Wonka and the one I did for the Fantastic Mr. Fox. I have fun finding the character’s voices and acting out the books like plays. I look forward to reading aloud to our sons, not just because I enjoy it but also because they enjoy it. They may not be amazing readers themselves, but they love hearing a good story. We don’t read together every night, but on the nights that I read aloud I find that I feel pretty good about this talent I never realized I had.

2) I am actually quite okay living in a pit. Before I had children, I had things in my home under control. Everything had a place and everything was in its place. Bathrooms were cleaned regularly. My kitchen was spotless. In college, I would pick light-colored lint off the brown rug in my dorm room. I exchanged my sheets for fresh ones weekly on the assigned day. I would scrub the bathtubs in friends’ homes because the soap scum and filth bugged me. After having two boys, this monkey is no longer on my back. I get around to cleaning eventually, but I’ve learned that a clean house is overrated. If at my funeral someone says, “She kept such a nice home,” my life will have been a failure. A clean house is a sign of a dull person. Clearly, I am not as dull as I once was. This does not mean our house is up for condemnation or is overrun by a large colony of rats or anything. I’m just not losing any sleep over unmade beds or dusty ceiling fans. Life is too short to sweat these small details. I’d rather play Battleship with my son than wash his sheets, and I have to believe that is a wise choice.

3) I am wrong a lot. Before our sons were born, I believed I was fairly intelligent and was right a fair percentage of the time. I thought I had answers and my job in parenting was to share the answers with my children. Parenting has been for me, therefore, a thirteen year lesson in how little I actually know and how much I have to learn. Luckily for my personal growth, my children are gifted at pointing out how adept I am at making mistakes…like the time my three-year old son went on and on to anyone who would listen about how I got on the highway to drive them to school when, in fact, their school was nowhere near the highway. He told everyone. At first, these little lessons in my humanity were hard to swallow, but in time I realized that not having all the answers (or needing to have them) is a huge weight lifted. I’ve gotten good at admitting that I don’t know. Letting go of my need to be right has given me great freedom to be a goofball. And I’ve learned that goofball is far preferable to know-it-all.

I went into motherhood under the assumption that it would be a great education, and that it has been. I like myself far better now than I did thirteen years ago back when I thought I knew myself and had it all under control. Chaos is much more interesting, and so am I.

 

I Got My Report Card

So proud of these little monkeys

So proud of these little monkeys

A bunny can only learn what he has the humility to admit he doesn’t know. ~Bunny Buddhism

About five days ago we received a large and rather heavy envelope from the Havern School. From the cumbersome nature of the package, I sort of figured it was something dull (like an Annual Report) and I have no energy to deal with things like that. I’m lucky if I read all the way through the weekly email newsletters that have information I need to know (the same information, incidentally, that gets printed out and sent home in our sons’ backpacks but that I don’t get for three months because they forget to share anything that’s not a cold, a booger, or a piece of trash ). On the counter that large envelope sat while I went about my usual routine of ignoring the mail until it overwhelms the space and I am forced to reckon with it. Last night I finally opened that bad boy. Lo and behold, it was an annual report of sorts. It was the boys’ annual Academic and Therapy Reports.

As I’ve mentioned before, the boys’ school doesn’t provide traditional letter grades because students with learning disabilities typically struggle with standard assessments. Included in this large envelope was a cover letter from the Head of School explaining that “the faculty at Havern takes delight in the many other ways we observe and experience a student’s growth during the year — academically, emotionally, and socially.” In place of an online report card comprised of impersonal and mostly comment-free letter grades, I held 58 printed pages of precise information on my sons, what they have been studying, their strengths, their struggles, strategies that have helped them to improve, and recommendations on what we can work with them on over the summer. Fifty-eight frigging pages. I started to imagine that perhaps their school knows them better now than we do.

This was the first report card that reflected our sons back to me. Sure. Letter grades can offer a sense of a child’s success, but they can also mask problems. Luke had mostly A and B grades last year despite the fact that he was in third grade and had tested somewhere around a first grade reading level. These new reports, while overwhelming at first glance, provide an accurate picture of how far they’ve come and what’s next for us to tackle. The Havern School prides itself on seeing the whole child and, after flipping through the report pages, there is no doubt that the boys’ teachers, speech therapists, and occupational therapists understand and appreciate them as individuals. If you’re lucky, this is what a private education affords you.

For years while our boys were struggling and coming home with less than stellar grades, I felt like I was failing too. I mean, this is my job. I don’t work outside the home. I have no paying job. The boys are my job and, dammit, I take my job seriously. Letter grades don’t accurately reflect the amount of effort a parent puts into raising their child. Last night, though, as I leafed through the pages of the boys’ reports, I felt some validation because in with the information about how our boys are doing were words about who they are: respectful, well-mannered, reliable, hard-working, good sport, and conscientious. Admittedly, there were also some things in the reports to have a good giggle at. Luke’s report, in particular, mentioned his “enthusiasm” quite a bit. Enthusiasm is a teacher euphemism for talks-too-much-and-can’t-sit-still. And I had to smile at Joe’s occupational therapist’s mention of his  “mild gravitational insecurity” when it came to climbing the school’s rock wall at the beginning of the school year. I too suffer from mild gravitational insecurity. Joe’s classroom teachers mentioned what a deep thinking young man he is. Luke’s teachers mentioned his affinity for “cute, fluffy puppies” and his tendency toward being too hard on himself.

While I may not possess the unique neurological differences that our sons have, after reading the reports there’s no mistaking that these apples fell right under their family tree. I’ve often felt sorry for our boys. Having a hyper-critical, tough-minded, perfectionist mother when you’re struggling with dyslexia probably seems like a cruel joke. I see now, though, that my drive and determination to conquer whatever I attempt has filtered into my children in a way that might actually help them in the long run. These days, I make accommodations for my sons when they reach their threshold with school work, but along the way our boys learned from me that their issues are not an excuse for lack of effort or a bad attitude. I’m beyond proud of them for coming as far as they have this school year. It seems like just yesterday I left them on the school steps in August and crossed my fingers. All year I’ve been telling them to work hard and to believe in themselves and they will land squarely where they need to be. Turns out I should have taken my own advice.

I got my report card this year and I finally believe it’s one worth celebrating.

 

Son of a Beach

Joe at the top of his hill

Joe at the top of his hill

As we began our descent into fall last year, we spent one perfect afternoon on our friends’ pontoon boat on the reservoir near our house. It turned out to be the last swimming day of the year, and all the kids enjoyed fishing and splashing while the adults sat around drinking wine. While cruising along on that fun day, from across the lake, Joe (the same child who can’t find his shoes when they are on his own feet) spied some kids sledding down a steep, gravel embankment into the water. We had no idea what they were sledding on, but Joe was convinced it looked like fun. Ever since that afternoon, Joe has been pestering us to help him find that exact spot. We got away with not taking him last fall because the weather turned, and the good beach days were over. Then winter hit and, although he knew he would not get us out there, he still mentioned it from time to time. When spring rolled around this year, I knew I was screwed. I knew that as soon as the weather got warmer he was going to make me hike through brush and cacti to find that spot so he could investigate further. That kid, while being exceedingly easy to distract, is like a pit bull with his jaws locked when he happens upon something that interests him. He cannot let go.

This past weekend my time was up. He asked again, and I could not see how I would be getting out of it. I know that in these situations the only way out is through. So Joe and I headed into the state park to do some exploring. I figured that, at most, I’d have to put in about 30 minutes worth of walking and this was a small price to pay to toss this monkey off my back once and for all. I parked near the heron overlook, and we began walking down the paved pathway. The temperature was hovering near 80 and, because it was the warmest day of the year so far, it felt stupidly hot. We walked for about a mile until we came to a spot where Joe decided it was time to jump off and begin our big explore. He found a dirt path that led down towards the water, reasoning we could skirt the shoreline until we found it. It was a good assumption, but it ended up being more difficult than we had hoped.

On the way down, we dodged prickly plants and kept our eyes out for snakes. When we reached the shoreline, we began walking along the gravel. It was about at this point that I began to wonder what I had been thinking. I was one day straight off a spa-quality pedicure and here I was wandering through brush and rocky gravel shoreline in my flip-flops. I clearly hadn’t thought it through. The whole way, though, Joe was ridiculously excited. He was talking non-stop, thoroughly enjoying the time to explore and investigate. I have to give it to him. He was doggedly determined and incredibly upbeat. As I struggled over the rocks, trying my best to avoid soaking my new leather flip-flops, he up-talked me. He walked ahead, telling me the best way to go, trying to help me out. I think he was afraid I would give up.

In the end, we found the spot. Or at least I was sure we’d found it. I took a photo of it and sent it to Steve for verification. We jointly decided this must be the place. Joe seemed satisfied with the discovery and we beat a hasty retreat to the car, all the while searching for an easier way to get to where we had just gone. Joe was already asking when we could bring Steve and Luke to the spot. And here I’d thought we’d get it out of his system and would move on. Ha.

There was a time when our boys were younger, when I was exhausted from the everyday business of being their mother, when I would not have made the time to wander around the reservoir in search of a fabled place in my son’s memory. I would have made excuses. I would have decided it was a waste of time. I wouldn’t have gone for the folly. But as we’ve gotten older together, my boys and I, I have realized something very important. If I don’t make time for them, they’re not going to make time for me. If I don’t show them that I care about what they care about, they will stop talking to me. How can I expect them to lean on me later when I don’t offer myself to them now? I knew that spending an hour traipsing around the reservoir, more likely to find a snake than a sledding hill, would pay off eventually. And the most amazing thing happened on the six-minute drive home. My not-always-on-top-of-it son thanked me for taking the time to go with him. He apologized for messing up my new shoes and asked me if my feet were okay. Most importantly, he talked to me, really talked to me about how happy he was to find the place he’d been wondering about all that time.

The smallest amount of bunniness dedicated to others is more precious than anything dedicated to oneself.

How true that statement from Bunny Buddhism is, but how hard it is sometimes to make the effort. My poor landlocked son is a beach kid at heart. I don’t share his excitement about the reservoir and I never will, but going on this explore with him was something I won’t forget because these moments with my nearly teenage son will soon become fewer and farther between. Don’t tell him, but I honestly enjoyed that hour with him and I’m glad he dragged me along on his little adventure. It was worth messing up new shoes and a pedicure. Every day with my sons is a gift. And even if some days I feel too tired to unwrap the package, I’ve got to remember to make the effort because the gift is always much better than I thought it would be.

 

 

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