May You Live All The Days Of Your Life

The beast enjoying the fresh snow

The beast enjoying the fresh snow

“May you live all the days of your life.” ~Jonathan Swift

I love this quote. It’s so simple yet eloquent and profound. I mean, every day that you’re alive, you could argue that you’re living. But are you truly living? What does it mean to live versus to be alive? There have been plenty of days in my life when I’ve gone through the motions. I existed. And I was alive in only the most basic sense. I wasn’t living fully, deliberately, or honestly. Living honestly lies in experiencing the senses, feeling your emotions, promoting your consciousness. It lies in the awareness of the present moment and in appreciation for it. It lies in a daily choice to be open, enthusiastic, and mindful.

A few weeks ago, we were buried under February snow. It was cold. I spent most of the month of February this year as I do every year…holed up in my bed under blankets, sipping tea, binge watching shows on Netflix, scarcely moving from my spot, trying to convince myself I was not depressed. February is my annual, 28-day hibernation. One day, though, we had a lovely respite from overcast skies. The snow had stopped, the clouds had cleared the way for swaths of blue, and something called to me to live.

It was 10 degrees when I left my house, bundled in my ski gear, wearing snowshoes, and hauling additional gear. I had no problem coaxing the dog who had been housebound with me out onto the open space for an expedition. Her enthusiasm and joy kept me moving on each time I stopped to catch my breath, enjoy the view, and question my sanity. I was alone and, with no one to challenge me, this walk that would normally take me 15 minutes on a summer day took me close to 25. I was in no hurry. I had no plans other than this one.

Just a girl, her dog, and a sled

Just a girl, her dog, and a sled

When I reached the first hill, I kicked off my Crescent Moon snowshoes and began climbing. Against all logic and better judgment, I’d hauled my son’s bright yellow Zipfy sled out there with me, fully intent on some perpetrating some childlike behavior. You see, the day before school had been cancelled due to snow, and I had watched longingly from my kitchen window as some neighborhood children climbed that normally silent hill and put their mark upon the pristine landscape. My sons sled a lot in our neighborhood during snow season, nearly every afternoon when the weather allows it, but I have never joined them. I’m the mom. I have responsibilities. They would think it was too weird. And I am getting on in years and might break some bones, right?

Upon reaching the top of the hill, I threw the sled down and climbed on. My dog was poised in front of me. She’s a border collie. She loves to herd things. She planned on herding me all the way down the hill. When I finally summoned the nerve, I inched forward with my feet and began sliding down that very steep hill. If it felt steep on the climb up, it felt steeper on the ride down. The dog bounded in and out of my path as I careened down the slope picking up speed. Before I realized it, I had neared the bottom of the hill and noticed what I had not seen before. Those little stinkers had built a ramp. I hit it at full velocity, whooshed into the air, and dropped some obscenities as the sled and I collided with the ground with enough force that I wondered if my neighbor felt the tremor in her home. My face was covered in snow. I felt snow down my shirt. I surrendered into the earth and laughed at the absurdity of a nearly 47-year-old woman collapsed by herself on a deserted sledding hill at noon on a Friday. What kind of crazy woman does that?

I stayed on that hill for about a half an hour longer, hiking up repeatedly so I could retrace the path the children had carved out for me as well as fashion a few lanes of my own. The dog challenged my efforts, lunging at me sporadically while I lurched and swayed my way down the hill in an attempt to avoid running her over. Each time I wiped out. Each run found me increasingly covered in snow. When I’d had enough, I sat and began petting the dog, noticing the chunks of snow in my soaking wet hair, breathing steadily and consciously, feeling gratitude for the time, energy, health, and means to spend an hour of my day outdoors, frivolously free from the mundane.

Seeing that quote today reminded me of my sledding adventure. We adults don’t indulge in living often enough. Swallowed by routine and obligation, we stagnate. We place responsibility over fun, whimsy, and novelty. To make this earthly journey worthwhile, though, we need to remember to let go on occasion. Joy is not just for children and border collies. We need to have our own sledding days, to bear witness to the beauty of nature, to smell the moisture in the air, to feel the sun on our face and the snow down our shirt, to taste the blood from our lip when we bite it on a hard landing, and to laugh out loud at ourselves. That is living.

The Gremlin and The Missing Ski Sock

One lonely, Smartwool, shark-festooned ski sock. Just one.

One boy’s lonely, Smartwool, shark-themed ski sock. Just one. It breaks my heart.

Last Wednesday morning, before our son left for his three-day adventure at Outdoor Lab, we unpacked and repacked his gear bag a final time. I wanted to make sure that he knew where everything was and to verify again against the packing checklist provided by the camp that he had everything he needed. I also secretly hoped it would increase the chance that he would come home with everything that was originally packed in the bag. The probability that Joe would come home sans at least one item was high. This is the kid who has famously come home wearing only one shoe. One shoe. Don’t even ask. But hope springs eternal, and I am always optimistic that the kid might just surprise me someday. And I like to set him up for success, so we discussed the bag, its contents, and my expectations.

“Listen,” I said, “The only things in this bag that I really care about are your ski socks. I mean, I’d prefer you come home with everything, but the ski socks are at the top of my list of items I’d like to see returned on Friday, okay?”

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure why I was telling him about the socks. They weren’t the most expensive item he was packing or the most important. I suppose I was thinking about the plans we had to ski early on Saturday morning and simply hoping to avoid a last-minute, Friday-night trip to REI before closing to replace yet another pair of ski socks.

“Okay,” he replied, messing with the flashlight he was packing.

“I was thinking that one sure way to make sure the ski socks make it home is if you wait to wear them until Friday. Then they will be on your feet when you return. Just keep them in your bag and wear them Friday.”

“Okay,” he answered again, clearly listening to me with a quarter of his left ear only. Teenage boys can be such great listeners and even more impressive conversationalists.

Having given him what I envisioned were adequate tools and preparation, I sent him off to Outdoor Lab with relative peace of mind.

Friday afternoon when he arrived back from camp, exhausted and disheveled, the first thing he said to me before even getting into the car with his gear was, “I’m not sure I have both of my ski socks.”

I glared at him.

“I mean, I think they both might be in the bag, but I only remember for sure seeing one of them.”

I glowered.

“You’d better hope they are both there,” I said.

“I’ll check while we’re waiting for Luke,” he said as he began rifling through his belongings in the back of the car.

Of course, there were not two socks. Why would there be? It had been my only request. If you say you want something, you’re about 100% certain to miss out on that exact thing. Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it a jinx upon yourself. Whatever. I’d set myself up for certain disappointment when I made that request. You’d think by now I would know better than to verbalize anything like wishes.

Now, I’d like to say that I was totally zen about the revelation of the missing sock. I’d like to say that I took it in stride, like a patient, understanding, and loving mother. I’d like to say that my yoga training reminded me to take a deep breath and have the presence of mind to realize it’s just a damn sock. I’d like to say those things. I can’t. Truth is that, after I too checked the bag to substantiate the missing sock, I went the teensiest bit ballistic. Let’s just say that my response was less Buddha-esque and more Godzilla destroying Tokyo. I’m not proud of it, but after 46 years I’ve had to admit that I am actually human and capable of a great deal of ill-advised moves. This was one of those times.

After my little meltdown, I left Joe to sit in his corner and stew while I retreated to mine. I’m sure he was mentally shoving dirty socks in my mouth while I sat indignant, annoyed, and pouting. It was the principle of the thing, right? Sure. It was one sock, but these kids have cost us a fortune with the vortex they’ve created into which one sock from each pair of socks they own continually seems to disappear. As I took some deep breaths and let go of some of my righteous indignation, perspective began to creep in. It was a sock. What was I doing? Why did I care so much about it? I tried to ascertain what the loss of one, grey, Smartwool, shark-emblazoned sock represented because clearly it went way more than wool deep with me.

I walked to Joe’s room, knocked, and waited to be invited in. I sat down and told him my truth.

“You see, Joe, the thing is that part of my job as Mom is keeping things in this house together for our family. I’m Chief Equipment Manager. I’ve spent fourteen years doing things like making sure each deck of cards has 52 members, each DVD and video game is in its case, and each person has enough basics like socks, underwear, and pants without holes. It sounds crazy, but someone has to do it. Every time a sock goes missing, it’s like someone’s chipping away at my efficacy as household manager. At the end of the day, when you take off two socks and toss them aside because you don’t care and can’t be bothered to put them together into the hamper, I feel like there’s no respect for how hard I work to keep us all together and functioning. I’m sure it doesn’t make any sense to you. It is just a sock, but somehow it’s more than that to me. I am sorry for yelling at you, though. I overreacted.”

He looked at me thoughtfully and apologized too.

I’m not sure he completely understood what I was getting at, but he was making an effort. He might be a little more careful with his belongings…at least for a few days while the memory of my tirade is still fresh in his mind and the loss of two week’s worth of his allowance to buy a new pair of $20 ski socks is still stinging a bit.

A wise friend of mine has taught me that most of the time when we lose our shit over a little thing, like a sock, for example, there’s a gremlin hiding there. The gremlin is a much more dangerous but largely unacknowledged beast that takes that little thing and through the magic of mind-trickery and shadow puppetry turns it into deceptively larger but illusionary creature. My gremlins often creep out when I feel undervalued, invisible, and inadequate. This sock monster was a perfect illustration of how much work I have yet to do on combatting and ultimately containing my gremlins. Sooner or later, I hope I will learn not to give my gremlins water, feed them after midnight, or expose them to light.

Getting Schooled

All geared up for adventure

All geared up for adventure

Our son, Joe, has been counting down the days to his first-ever Outdoor Lab excursion with school. Outdoor Lab is sleep-away science camp for middle schoolers. Students head to the mountains for some outdoor education that involves daytime field work in science-related topics followed by nights spent sleeping in cabins with teachers and classmates. Joe class would be studying “snow science.” For most kids in our county, Outdoor Lab occurs in 6th grade. Joe’s private school sends kids to Keystone Science School during 7th and 8th grades. Joe has had to wait this extra year to attend. He’s heard his friends talk about it since last year and he was dying for his chance to go.

Weeks ago, he started telling me that he was afraid he would get sick and not be able to make the trip. He worked in extra hand washings every day. As his teachers prepared the class for what to expect, what to pack, and what would be expected of them, Joe would come home filled with details and brimming with expectation. Yesterday afternoon he and I pulled out the packing list, found an appropriate duffel bag and backpack, and located a mummy sleeping bag. Then we set about picking out the right clothing and gathering up gear. 1 pair long underwear. 1 pair ski goggles. 1 pair sunglasses. Sunscreen not less than 35 SPF. Lip balm not less than 15 SPF. 2 water bottles. 1 flashlight. 2-3 pairs synthetic or wool…not cotton..socks. Systematically, we crossed each item off the list as we placed it into the duffel bag he would have to carry from the bus drop off point to the cabin. He was adamant that it all must fit into one bag and that it would have to be easy for him to carry. At the end of the night, we had a medium-sized duffel jam packed with every item on the school’s list, a backpack loaded with sun gear appropriate for hiking at 10,000 feet, and a child who was complaining that time was moving too slowly.

I tucked him and his brother in for the night and fell exhausted into my bed. Of course, Joe woke me up three times between midnight and 4 a.m. and only on the third wake up call admitted to being the tiniest bit nervous about sleeping away from home without his family. We chatted a bit about how everything would be fine, about how being nervous was normal the first time away from home, and about how amazing it would be. I told him I would miss him but he’d be home with us soon. He fell back asleep quickly after we spoke. I stayed awake for another hour and a half thinking about him. My little family of four is my entire world. I was struggling as I tried envisioning us as a trio and not a quartet.

When Joe woke me up at 6:35 (ten minutes before my alarm clock would have summoned me and less than an hour after I’d finally fallen back to sleep), he had already showered and dressed and had played on his iPad for an hour. He spent the morning rushing around, talking excitedly, ready to get out the door. I dragged my feet a bit as it sunk in that he was actually leaving. I packed his lunch slowly, drawing out our last bit of time together for three days. I gave him some cashews to try in his lunch. He chewed one, swallowed it, and then began panicking, imagining that he was going to have an allergic reaction to it and not be able to go. I reassured him that if he had a reaction to the nuts (which he wouldn’t because he’s not allergic to tree nuts or anything else for that matter), the teachers would give him a Benadryl and he’d live another day. I started to wonder if his ingenious plan was to drive me insane so I would not miss him.

When we got to school, we saw many of his classmates had already checked in. The drop-off space was filled with all manner of packed items. There were rolling suitcases, sleeping bags packed in square, plastic, comforter bags, and large, garden-sized trash bags filled with supplies. I started to wonder if I was the only one who had obsessed to ensure my son had all the requested gear neatly packed exactly as specified. The principal came over and told me that Joe won the award for Best Packed Bags. I guess that means I am still a prize-winning rule follower.

I gave him a big hug and snapped a quick photo of him weighed down by his perfect bag. He looked so grown up just then, standing there squinting in the morning sun on the east side of the school. I watched him as he walked toward the stairs for class, quietly sending him all the positivity and love in my heart. I held it together as I had promised him and didn’t even tear up until I was exiting the school parking lot. I breathed a sigh of relief when the school messaged that the group had arrived safely at Keystone.

I’ve been wrong thinking of this as Joe’s adventure. It’s my adventure too. After thirteen years, Joe is off learning how to be Joe without my help. And I’m here learning that he’s not mine. There’s genius in this Outdoor Lab concept. The kids aren’t the only ones getting an education and important life experience. Looks like Joe and I are both getting schooled this week.

Beyond The Winter Of Our Discontent

“Our winters are very long here, very long and very monotonous. But we don’t complain about it downstairs, we’re shielded against the winter. Oh, spring does come eventually, and summer, and they last for a while, but now, looking back, spring and summer seem too short, as if they were not much more than a couple of days…” ~Franz Kafka

Winter with my boys (2005)

Winter with my boys (2005)

Parenting is an intriguing journey. When I think back on my life to a time before I was someone’s mother, it is barely recognizable. I feel I’ve lived an entirely new life since those days pre-children. I’ve come to realize that parenting is not unlike a 365-day trip around the sun through the seasons. And just as you turn the calendar on a new year and suddenly find December on the next leaf, the important job of parenting too passes in a blur.

When we were expecting our first child, the freewheeling fall days of our life as married couple floated off, crisp leaves gathering under our feet, and we braced for the brisk change parenthood would bring. We geared up. We prepared for rough weather. And when our sons arrived, we immediately found ourselves housebound in a snowstorm of diapers, feedings, and nap times. A trip to the grocery store alone was my sunny day. A date night was a beach vacation with umbrella drinks. Most of the time we were holed up at home, trying to dig out from under Thomas the Tank Engine, wooden blocks, and plush animals. We uncovered solace in movie evenings with Nemo and Mr. Incredible and Lightning McQueen, which were followed by family sleepover nights in our room where we would hunker down and take long winter’s naps together. Those were some of the best nights of sleep we got during this period in our lives, and good nights of sleep were few and far between back then. We were perpetually tired, surviving on caffeine in the morning and sugar in the afternoon, and trying to find time for ourselves when we could. Everyone tells you to cherish life with your little ones but, like living through a seemingly endless, difficult winter, that was easier said than done. Continually exhausted and struggling to figure out the dynamics of our new family, we prayed for a thaw.

Gradually the boys grew, and days seemed less bleak. Toddlerhood ended. Full on youth arrived with all its exuberance and light. We emerged from our hibernation and began to go places because, well, going places was easier. Gone were the bottles and sippy cups and diaper bags and extra changes of clothes for blowouts and Baby Bjorns and strollers. We were no longer bundled up and weighed down with paraphernalia. We marveled at the ease with which we traveled. We walked to the park as they raced ahead and sat uninterrupted while they cavorted.  A garden’s worth of handmade, paper-flower bouquets sprang up, accompanied by colorful paintings and creative tales. They started school and we appreciated engaging with them as they discovered the little secrets of life we’d long since taken for granted. We introduced them more and more to things we loved. We grew as a family, figuring out who we were together and how life worked best. Sure…there were occasional squalls, and brief deluges reminded us we hadn’t reached summer yet, but I knew things were getting better when we stopped complaining as often about the weather. We breathed in the freedom and exhaled with peace.

The moment when spring ended and summer began wasn’t even distinguishable. One day we were praying for an extra fifteen minutes of sleep and the next we were waking up at 8:30 and wondering if the boys were dead. The boys began exploring their independence with sleepovers at friends’ homes and hours of Capture the Flag after dark and afternoons on their bikes at the park. Suddenly, we had something we hadn’t had in years. Quality time alone in our own home. This weekend, we had not one but two nights consecutive nights during which we got to be grown adults without responsibility for children. We weren’t even on vacation. We had lovely meals, conversation about topics other than Pokémon, and a rearview mirror glimpse of the winter years fading in the distance. We’re walking around in flip-flops with Mai Tais in our hands now compared to the days we experienced when the boys were toddlers, when we were buried under the daily tasks of wiping butts and spoon feeding. We’ve settled into this fairer weather and summer is in full swing.

With all this free time on my hands lately, though, it has begun to occur to me the added peace we’re enjoying in this warmer season heralds the earliest moments of the permanent quiet that lies ahead in our next season. The boys are growing older. They don’t hang out with us as often. They have their own interests. Their independence gives us our freedom but it also decreases our involvement in their lives as they begin to separate and form their own lives and identities. In the quiet over the past two nights, we’ve discussed how weird it’s going to be when we’re alone again. As slow as time seemed to be moving back in the early days is as quickly as it seems to be moving now. They’ll be gone before we know it.

And we now understand that this is why people tell you to enjoy your children while they’re young. As much as it sucks hearing it when you’re sleep-deprived, covered in baby puke, and dying for a minute alone in the bathroom, the universal truth of the eighteen years of parenting is that it flies by like seasons in a year. The parents who tell you to cherish the moments you’re wishing would pass a bit more quickly don’t mean any harm. They’re simply beyond the winter of their discontent and wishing they’d understood how quickly spring arrives with summer and fall nipping at its heels.

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To the woman who tutted at me using the disabled toilets…

Me:

We need to do a better job understanding how little we understand about the lives of others.

Originally posted on So Bad Ass:

Dear lady who loudly tutted at me using the disabled loos,

I know you saw me running in, with my able bodied legs and all. You saw me opening the door with my two working arms. You saw me without a wheelchair. Without any visible sign of disability.

You tutted loudly as I rattled the handle with my hands that work perfectly and my able voice call to my kids that I’d be out in just a minute.

My lack of wheelchair may have suggested to you that I was some lazy cow who didn’t care. Some inconsiderate bitch who was using something I wasn’t entitled too. (I actually carry a card to explain that I’m entitled to and have a disability key if you’d have cared to ask). You may have seen my face blushing as I caught your eye and assumed I was showing guilt at blagging the…

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The Ponce de Leon Syndrome

Ignore the facial hair and focus on the balayage brilliance.

Grey? I don’t see no stinking grey. 

“If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated. I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile. I think that the older I get, the more yoga I’m going to do.” ~Jamie Lee Curtis

I was sitting in the chair having my hair guru, Danielle, work the miracle of balayage on my way-too-quickly-greying tresses when I came across an article about a growing trend of women shaving their faces. One of my joys in going to see Danielle is that I get to check out all the latest copies of People, US, and In Style without actually having to buy any issues. It’s how I get to act like a typical female without having to admit to a grocery store clerk that I am typical. But I am going to have to stop reading these publications if articles like this continue to pop up. Why can’t I just read in peace about Bruce Jenner’s transformation to woman without realizing I’m failing as one when I already have all the right parts?

As I battle the march of Middle Age, a battle that becomes more arduous and gruesome as my forties pass, I can barely make time for whitening toothpaste, moisturizing sunscreen, and a daily appointment with my Clarisonic (which is really more of an every third or fourth day meeting if I am being honest). Now I’m supposed to add shaving to my already overtaxed routine? Apparently, this is the latest resurgence of an old exfoliation trend. The article claims that mens’ skin is much less wrinkly and smoother because they shave, thereby removing dead skin cells each time they drag a razor across their face. You can have this dermaplaning done at a dermatologist’s office or spa for between $85-150 a month or you can buy razors and attempt to master the technique yourself and repeat it every four weeks. The more I thought about it, the more it began to make some sort of sense. Most men age pretty darn well. But, still, are you kidding me? Is this what it’s coming to? It’s almost like there’s someone out there trying to see what wild things they can get American women to buy into. The beauty industry does quite well for itself.

I’m not thrilled about getting older. In a few months, I am slated to hit 47. Forty-freaking-seven. And as much as I am trying to be all zen about it, I am not even remotely there. Am I glad I’m still on this planet after nearly a half of a century? Absolutely. Living is much better than dying. But long life comes with aging and aging isn’t pretty. I struggle with the reflection in the mirror. I notice the wrinkles, the blossoming jowls, the dark circles, and the skin imperfections earned after too many days at high altitude without sunscreen because when I was a kid it was SPF 4 tanning lotion on my redheaded body at the pool. It freaks me out. Maybe I should skip the shaving? Honestly, I might be better off with a full beard, now that I’m thinking about it. A beard could hide all sorts of stuff. Wonder if I can grow enough chin hair for that?

I’ve tried all sorts of things to make myself feel like I don’t look my advancing age. My latest insanity is micro needling to improve skin texture, but even poking myself in the face to increase collagen production doesn’t seem to be helping. No matter what I do or how much I invest, time’s gonna keep right on marching across my face. And even if I enlist every treatment known, from Botox to fillers, from laser skin treatments to facelifts, I’m never going to look 20 again. I could spend the GDP of Lithuania on anti-aging treatments, but it won’t stop the inevitable. The years will take their toll.

So I am now trying to discern what aging gracefully might look like for me and how I might achieve it. I think every day about my friends who are on the backside of 50 and who assure me that all my insanity over my appearance will decrease. Eventually I will become more comfortable in my own skin and won’t care as much how I look. I won’t give a second thought to staying younger looking by adding a close shave to my routine. I’ll strive for good health. I’ll focus on drinking lots of water, eating my greens, getting restful sleep, practicing more yoga, and cultivating bigger smiles. And I’ll stop reading stupid articles about how shaving will make me look younger.

Truth is that I am much happier with myself now than I ever was at 20. Would it be nice to have my 46-year-old wisdom in my 20-year-old body? Sure it would. Just like someday I will wish for my 70-year-old wisdom in my 46-year-old body. But I’m not a Disney fan and I don’t live in Fantasyland. This idea we have as a nation about staying and looking young into our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond is a bit Ponce de Leon. If we’re smart enough to acknowledge that the Fountain of Youth doesn’t actually exist, we should be smart enough to know we can’t wish it into existence either.

We spend our youth looking forward to being older and our adulthood wishing we were younger. It’s a horrible paradox. I’m working on becoming more zen about aging, but I have a feeling I’ll be working on it until the day I die.

The Sky Falls…Get Used To It

When the sky gives you snow, go snowshoeing.

When the sky gives you snow, go snowshoeing.

Denver was expecting a big snowstorm this weekend. On Friday, the weather forecasters on all the local channels had everyone in full on survival mode with Winter Storm Warnings posted for counties all along the Front Range. Ahead of the storm, grocery stores were packed with people and short on food. There were lines at gas stations, and events were cancelled in advance of what might possibly be up to 18 inches of snow over 48 hours. (Go ahead and laugh at us, Boston and Buffalo. We deserve it.) While all the preparations were going on, I shook my head and made plans to see a movie. I knew we had enough food to survive weeks even if it meant we would have to eat canned tuna and white rice, so I went back to watching Season 2 of Scandal. After a lifetime in Colorado, I don’t spend much time worrying about snow. It’s cold. It’s white. It happens. Every single year. Many times. We own shovels, all-wheel drive cars with snow tires, and skis, for sweet baby Jesus’s sake. I’m not exactly sure why snow surprises people. We freaking live here at a mile high where it can snow pretty much any time between September and May, and it does. While it can be annoying when the first flake of snow falls before summer has officially ended or when we’re halfway through spring and our tulips and daffodils get crushed under a heavy, wet, spring snow, it’s hardly shocking. It’s par for the course.

It’s Sunday evening as I write this. Most of the storm has passed, and we have about 8 inches of snow on the ground, which is not surprisingly less than was forecast. The snow continues to fall lightly, but the roads are plowed. They are icy in spots but not impassable. Even when the heaviest snow was moving through last night and the visibility was diminished, hubby and I were able to return home from an afternoon viewing of American Sniper without incident by driving cautiously in the blowing snow. So far it appears, to the great chagrin of our sons, that most schools will be open tomorrow. And after two snowy days, the sun is even scheduled to make an appearance. As I predicted, the sky, while yielding snowfall, has not itself fallen. The world will go on.

What I’ve been puzzling over all weekend is the way we Americans get ourselves in a tizzy over everything these days. We’ve come a long way from the American pioneers who drove wagons pulled by oxen over unmapped territory, encountering new landscapes and sometimes grumpy natives, without assistance from the National Weather Service, CNN, and global positioning systems. Sadly, we’ve become a nation full of Chicken Littles who thrive on drama. Perhaps it’s because we live in the cushiest time yet experienced that we’ve become completely paralyzed by the notion of adversity? You’d think with all the information available to us we would find ourselves at greater ease. Instead we experience the opposite. The news overwhelms us. Everything we hear causes panic. We live in fear of everything from Ebola to measles, terrorism to random acts of violence, natural disasters to run-of-the-mill snowstorms. What I can’t decide is if we are so conditioned as human beings to endure calamity (fight or flight, you know) that in the relative absence of it we can’t help but continually ready ourselves for it. Is it because of our human makeup that we are unable to relax or have we with our non-stop, 24-hours-a-day news cycles created a relentless culture of fear?

I’m sure I don’t have the answer to these questions. I simply know that we become stressed far too easily these days over things that aren’t really worth the worry. And if I get to the store tomorrow and find it devoid of milk, eggs, and toilet paper because the storm crazies preparing for a veritable Snowmageddon snarfed it all up on Friday when I was binge watching Scandal, everything will still be fine. I just won’t be making any omelets.

 

 

 

A Belated Holiday Letter For All The Late Bloomers

On their way to becoming awesome…someday

On their way to becoming awesome…someday

I was rifling through a stack of papers on the counter yesterday and came across a holiday letter that arrived in a card from some friends of ours around Christmas. Okay. I feel your sneer of judgment. Yes. I still have holiday mail on our kitchen counter. Guess what? We still have a broken, faux Christmas tree lying on the floor in the rec room too. I’m leaving it there at least until Easter to prove how very zen I can be in the face of ridiculous things. So there. Anyway, I opened the letter and reread it. It was, as most family holiday letters are, a beautifully composed, loving tribute to our friends’ apparently flawless, exceptional, decorous, loving children. I’m a natural skeptic, so I’ve always assumed children like the ones outlined in those letters are figments of fantasy, like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and men who multitask…a charming idea, but a complete fabrication. Still, we get many letters just like that one every year, rife with phrases like Eagle Scoutstraight A honor studentVarsity letter, State championships, class president, volunteer hours, and first place, which are aimed at making me believe that children like this exist in families all across this nation. It must be reality for some people.

Friends have asked me why I do not send out a letter with our Christmas cards. They figure that a writer should be at the top of the list of Persons Most Likely To Write A Holiday Letter. But I don’t because comparison is an ugly thing. We don’t have the kind of children who look good on paper. They’re off schedule and complicated and not in line with many other children their ages. In terms of learning, our children are classified as “atypical” and that doesn’t play well without lengthy and exhausting explanations. Even though we don’t write holiday letters, we think they’re awesome. We’ve just accepted that their beauty sometimes gets lost in the comparison game.

If I were to write a holiday letter, it realistically might contain paragraphs that read something like this:

Joe is thirteen and in seventh grade this year. He’s completely immersed in Pokémon and adores Japanese culture. He keeps asking when we can go to Tokyo. He used most of his Christmas money to buy Pokémon plush toys that he and his brother use in elaborate stop-motion video stories they are creating for their YouTube channel. Despite his ADHD and dyslexia, he’s making great progress at school. We are so proud that he’s using capitals and periods in his schoolwork on a more consistent basis these days. He’s still reversing his Bs and Ds, but we are hoping that he’ll have that mostly figured out by the time he’s writing college entrance essays. Joe has finally mastered the coordination and multiple steps to tie his own shoes now, which has taken one thing off my plate. He uses about 400 knots to make sure they don’t come untied, though, and that has created a different hassle as I now have to unknot his shoes each morning. Be careful what you wish for! After two years of private ski lessons, his core strength and coordination have improved enough that he has a mastery of most beginner slopes. We hope to have him exclusively skiing intermediate slopes by the end of next season. His favorite books are graphic novels, his favorite food is pasta, and his classmates call him “Puppy.” He never misses his nightly spa time, which mainly involves sitting in the bathtub while watching a continuing stream of Netflix videos on his iPad from across the room. Thank heavens he was gifted with great eyesight and the brains to know not to bring the iPad into the tub with him.

Luke is eleven now and in fifth grade. He is a talkative, class clown, and his teachers have initiated a rewards system to keep him reined in during class. So far it seems to be working because our last parent/teacher conference went off without tears. This year his decoding skills have gone off the charts and he is reading at a beginning of fourth grade level. He’s still struggling with fine motor skills and his pencil grip is downright bizarre, but his handwriting is bafflingly lovely. He loves to draw, write stories, build Legos, and watch episodes of Parks and Recreation. And, this year he began catching footballs successfully. He’s still two inches shy of being tall enough to ditch the booster seat in the car, but he’s getting there! His latest career aspiration is to be an entrepreneur/architect/engineer, but he’s planning to author books in his free time, which we think will make him quite well balanced. His sensory issues force him to sleep in a nest of blankets, pillows, and plushes, but he showers regularly, doesn’t eat in bed, and sleeps on the top bunk so we are reasonably sure there are no rodents up there with him.  All is well and we are grateful. 

Now, this holiday letter fodder might seem a bit hyperbolic, but overall it’s an accurate account of life with our exceptional sons. They are not straight A students. They are not athletes. They are not overachievers. They’re not on the Dean’s List. They’re not first chair in orchestra. They struggle a lot, work hard to catch up with other kids their age, and keep plugging away. They are, in every way I can see, damn near perfect human beings, emphasis on the human part. And I may never be able to write a holiday letter extolling the impressive scholastic or athletic achievements of their youth, but I could not be more proud of my young men.

I don’t begrudge any of our friends the joys of having children who are achieving at a high level already. After all, it’s a lot of work being a parent, and a smart, capable child who is excelling in many things can only do so with personal support and chauffeur services. My friends have earned the right to brag about their offspring. As for our boys, I suspect they are simply late bloomers. Sooner or later, all their hard work and dedication will pay off. And someday I’ll send out a holiday letter to share how far they have come. Our Christmas card with personal letter in 2035 might just blow your socks off.

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Good Writers Ruffle Feathers

“As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and working toward it while letting go of how it comes to pass.” ~Jim Carrey

Last week, I made a big decision. I decided it is time to start taking myself more seriously. Now I absolutely do not mean that in the way where I plan on losing my sense of humor about life on this planet. I am working toward levity and whimsy in my life. It’s part of my path toward zen. I want to be able to laugh at myself easily and get my panties out of a bunch with greater speed when something goes wrong. In fact, my goal is to avoid getting wadded up in the first place, but that is going to take a lot of personal growth. I am working on it. What I mean is that I want to start taking myself more seriously in terms of what I can do. I want to have greater faith in myself. I want to act bravely, to take risks, and to give myself room to achieve things I’ve always wanted but have been afraid to ask for.

So, with that singular goal in mind, I visited my therapist on Thursday. I told her what I want for myself and together we brainstormed ideas to help me move toward my goals with courage, conviction, and purpose. I am ready to promote myself and see what may develop for me when I admit, without hemming and hawing, that I am a writer. We discussed my self-defeating habit of apologizing for and belittling my own work. We discussed that there is room for all kinds of writers in the world. My work doesn’t have to be for everyone, and merely because it isn’t for everyone doesn’t mean that it is without merit. I left her office feeling buoyed by intention and clarity of mind.

And then yesterday, less than 24 hours after I had spoken my dreams aloud and vowed to move in the direction of my writing goals, the universe sent me my first test. No warning. No time to work on a mission statement. Land mine. Boom! You have to love how that works. To give a long, hairy story a crew cut, something I wrote profoundly upset someone and suddenly I was in a maelstrom of self-doubt. Although I hadn’t intentionally been hurtful, something I had written caused duress. For awhile I felt so badly that I thought about taking the post off my site. I spent the morning and part of the afternoon cycling through emotions, rolling between incredulity and chagrin, frustration and trepidation. I had really stepped in it now. I was making enemies with my mommy blog. How was that even possible?

I reached out to a couple reliable friends, hoping they could stop my tailspin and rein me back in. And in the midst of my mental turmoil, one of them made this simple statement. Good writers ruffle feathers. Just like that, things stopped spinning. She was right. While I can do my best to avoid damaging personal relationships by composing mindful articles, at the end of the day my primary responsibility as writer is to my audience and my craft. Words, whether spoken or written, can hurt. If I live within a paradigm where I own others’ reactions to what I say, I will never be able to write anything meaningful to me or anyone else. And that is not the writer I am nor the writer I wish to be.

So thanks, Universe, for the test. I get it now. While I am sorry that someone was hurt because that was not at all my intent, I stand by my article. It was part of my blog, and my blog is an honest account of my stories. Not everyone is going to appreciate them, and I’m okay with that. I don’t always appreciate their stories either. There is room for me in the grand posse of writers, and I am going to keep diligently working toward my goal and stop worrying about the path my journey takes. There will be stumbling blocks and paralyzingly moments of self-doubt, but I am finished letting others dictate what is appropriate for me. If you get me, great. If you don’t, that is fine too. Life is too damn short not to be true to myself, whoever I happen to be in this moment.

Hey Kanye…Get Off My Beck

Kanye needs to go stand in a corner.

Kanye needs to go stand in a corner.

“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.” ~Birdman

I didn’t watch the Grammy Awards. I never do. But I was nosing around in the news yesterday and saw that Beck won for Best Album, which apparently felt like an upset win to some people. I like surprise wins because they mean someone unsuspecting earned something they deserved at a time when no one believed. It’s a small correction in the balance of the universe. It’s a beautiful thing to pull the rug out from under those who expect without humility or gratitude.

Full disclosure: I like Beck. I have for decades. I think he’s incredibly talented and intriguing. His music shows a range of creativity and depth at a time when our external lives are becoming increasingly superficial. There are those who have criticized him on his latest album for shifting from edgier, quirky pop anthems to slower, quieter, more introspective ballads. They say this album isn’t “Beck” (as if they know him better than he knows himself) and that he’s lost himself or sold out. Those critics haven’t experienced enough of life to embrace the process of personal growth. I believe Beck is Beck but in a different place and time. We all deserve the opportunity to explore who we are in our entirety and not merely to live the roles others ascribe to us.

At the Grammy Awards when Beck took the stage to accept his award, the annoyingly ubiquitous Kanye West had another one of his now infamous, tantruming-toddler moments. He approached the stage in a huff, seemingly prepared to pull another scene like he had with Taylor Swift after her 2009 VMA win, but he pulled back at the last moment and sat down with a smile, a clown simply wanting to draw attention. After the show, however, Kanye let loose, embarking on the epic, diarrhea-of-the-mouth tirade we knew he wanted to play out at the awards ceremony, chiding the awards committee for “disrespecting art” and saying that “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.” I worry about Kanye. He’s a child living in a world of grown ups. I’m not sure he has people around to tell him not to run with scissors. But, wait….perhaps running with scissors while sporting an enormous head and an over-inflated sense of self-importance might be a positive thing for Kanye and every other person on earth? There’s more than one way to burst someone’s bubble.

I had already purchased a couple of songs off Beck’s winning Morning Phase album last year, but after hearing Kanye’s inarticulate and attention-seeking rant I went ahead and purchased the rest of the album. Seemed like it was the least I could do to support the humble, affable Beck after his “shocking” win. I haven’t listened to Beyoncé’s nominated album because, well, I am not a Beyoncé-type-music fan. But I have listened to Beck’s album quite a few times since my hasty download yesterday morning. Morning Phase is a solid, hauntingly beautiful, cohesive work, an album that the Grammy voters were right to recognize whether or not Kanye West agrees. And Beck, recipient of five Grammy Awards from his sixteen Grammy nominations spanning his twenty-year career, is not some obscure, talentless hack who is barely worth the notice. You would hope that Kanye and Beyoncé, with 21 and 20 Grammys respectively, could graciously acknowledge that sometimes other artists should get to take home a gramophone trophy. It just makes the whole awards ceremony idea a little more sporting, don’t you think?

I may not be his biggest fan, but I understand that Kanye West is an important artist. Certainly the Grammy committee believe this as well by nominating him 53 times. No one but no one, though, believes in Kanye’s importance more than Kanye. And, dear sweet Lord baby Jesus, Kanye thinks he’s so important that he’s begun talking about himself in the third person. His bombastic arrogance makes me tired.

I can’t say if Beck’s album is less deserving of a Grammy than Beyoncé’s but I do know this. Kanye West is the kind of self-aggrandizing artist that gives all creative types a bad name. So, yeah. I’m glad Beck won and accepted his award with class and decency while Kanye looked down his nose at him. I’m glad Beck won because it’s refreshing to see an alternative music artist get a little spotlight time in such a public forum. Most of all, I’m glad he won because the world needs a whole lot less Kanye and a whole lot more Beck. Sunday night, Beyoncé may have lost out to the original Loser, but Kanye was the big perdedor.