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.

Release The Bunnies

This rose is a symbol of my renewal and my promise to myself to be brave...even in the face of family.
This rose is a symbol of my promise to myself to be brave…even in the face of the scariest things in life…like family.

This afternoon, we hosted my family for Easter dinner. With my sister Julie tucked in safely in her new life in Connecticut, there were 9 of us, including my sister and her husband, my dad and his wife, and my mom. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would ever intentionally host a gathering with these guests invited at the same time, I would have laughed in your face. But time has a way of softening things or giving us enough distance from past mistakes to think that even questionable things might be wise choices.

The funny thing for me about sharing a meal with family is that it’s like having dinner surrounded by mirrors. Everyone at the table reflects something I am or do. I see myself everywhere I look. I see myself in the passionate way in which my father speaks, in the way my mother perpetually plays devil’s advocate, and in the way my sister sneaks in a comeback on the sly. Mostly what I see when I look at my family, though, is how we’re all struggling and we’re all trying. I see our common humanity. I recognize that we all have learned so much over the years, yet we have so far to go.

It got me to thinking about this Bunny Buddhism quote:

One must be kind, for every bunny is fighting a hard battle.

It’s easy to be hurt by members of our immediate family because they’re the ones we instinctively believe should never hurt us. Even when they do hurt us because they know our kryptonite, we often stick around because we’re invested. Sadly, it’s far too easy to be with family and inhale the negatives and fall into old patterns. Our communal bad habits creep in like skunk smell through car windows on the highway. Our family ties don’t so much bind us together as box us in. Our shared past becomes the basis for all current dealings, and with our common history comes baggage we can’t set down. Every mistake we’ve ever made, every misstep we’ve ever taken, has been cataloged and inventoried by these people. And we think we have each other figured out. We bring up past transgressions and trade them like stocks on the NASDAQ. None of this is good, helpful, or right.

So tonight as I sat with my family, when words felt hurtful or I wanted to judge, I tried to remember my bunny quote. I listened to what was going on behind the conversation. I paid more attention to the subtext. Every person on this planet is fighting their own battle. I have no idea what their journey looks like, and I can barely begin to imagine what they might need. What I can do is remind myself that we’re all battling a demon or twelve or twelve hundred. We’re all being the best bunny we can be in the moment. If we ask for more than this from each other, we’re asking too much. As I worked to set down the trunks of history between us, I heard an entirely different conversation than one I might have heard otherwise and I learned more about my family than I have in a long time.

To grow, we have to let go of our preconceived notions and open up to new possibilities. If I don’t want to repeat my history with these people, I need to give them room to be different. A caged bunny may be safe, but she’s not exactly free to experience exponential personal growth. Every bunny has a struggle. I don’t need to add to it. Perhaps if I free other bunnies from the cages of our shared history, my cage door will swing wide open too. The world could use more free range bunnies.

 

 

Mondays Are For Practicing Grace

I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.
I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.

Monday. Not my favorite word. Not my favorite day of the week. At 6:40 a.m., before my alarm had the opportunity to interrupt my sleep, youngest son busts into my room ready to beat his brother to the first shower of the day. I knew this was trouble because the first shower has traditionally gone to our unusually early-rising Joe, but honestly I was in denial that the weekend was over and not quite awake enough yet to deal with him so I let it slide. I remained in bed, trying to savor the last few minutes of relative peace before my week had to begin in an official capacity. After about five minutes, Luke exited the shower still giddy about his triumph.

“I can’t believe I beat Joe to the first shower. I’m going to hurry and get dressed before he gets in here. I want to beat him downstairs,” he announced to me from the bathroom.

“It’s not a race,” I reminded him.

“I know,” came the rejoinder. “I just never get to be first.”

This is true. He’s the youngest. He’s acutely aware that he is forever behind the curve of his older brother. He’s been in second place his entire life. He gets the hand-me-downs. He has to wait until he’s bigger to do things his brother is already allowed to do. Any chance to be first is a treat. I get that. I also knew Joe would be annoyed because the first shower of the day is a big deal to him for some reason. Sure enough I was right. Just a minute later, Joe burst into my room, saw Luke fully dressed with wet hair, and started yelling.

I get first shower of the day. I always get first shower, Luke! Why did you do that?”

At this point, the boys began bickering loudly and I began slowly coming into reality. Lovely way to start a week. I rolled out of bed, hoping to minimize the damage to the morning. I told Luke to get downstairs and out of the way and snapped at Joe to get over it and get into the shower, which he did. Less than 30 seconds later, I heard the water shut off. Was he kidding me? All that fuss for a 30-second shower? There’s no way he actually used soap. The kid barely had time to get wet.

“What are you doing?” I asked, striding into the room in full-on, overtired annoyance.

“I’m done,” he replied.

“Oh no you’re not. No way. You didn’t wash your hair.”

“Yes, I did,” he retorted.

“That’s not possible,” I said, raising my voice and upping the ante.

“I did, Mom,” he insisted.

“You threw a complete fit because you didn’t get the first shower. You started my morning with screaming, and now you take a 30-second shower after all that commotion? Nuh uh. Get back in there.”

From there, things rapidly shot downhill like an Olympic bobsled team gaining momentum. Joe was mad I thought he was lying about washing his hair. I was mad that he had made such a huge issue out of his shower time and then didn’t even bother to take it. He began crying and I was beyond irritated that this was the inauspicious beginning to my week. I sent him downstairs while I worked on my frustration by stomping and banging around upstairs. Childish, I know, but I was exhausted. I thought everyone in my house understood that you don’t wake this sleeping dragon beast by screaming in my lair.

When I had finally chilled enough to arrive downstairs, Luke was busily getting water bottles and lunches ready (feeling a bit guilty, I suppose, for knowingly starting a war for the sake of being first). Joe was sitting on the living room sofa crying. I tried to pull myself together and regain control of the situation. I could not understand why he was making such a big deal out of missing the first shower. Then I started to wonder why I was making an even bigger deal about his big deal. I certainly wasn’t helping anything with my histrionics. I stopped, took a long, deep, yoga breath to the count of ten, and went over to hug Joe. I told him I was sorry for yelling at him and for not believing he’d washed his hair. He hugged back and told me he was sorry for starting our day with a fight. He was starting to calm down. I looked at the clock and realized we had 15 minutes before we had to leave. I went off to fix him some breakfast, satisfied that once he had some food we’d get beyond the ugliness. Quietly I berated myself for acting like such a brat.

When breakfast was ready, I called Joe into the kitchen. He came to the counter, sat down to the gluten-free waffle in front of him, looked up at me with a smile and pleasantly said, “Good morning, Mom.”

My 12 year old was schooling me in how to deal with setbacks. He’d decided to leave the mistakes of the morning behind. Yes. Monday had started out badly, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t change it. We could simply declare a do-over and move on. So, we did. I decided right then that do-overs should be my theme for the week. This came in handy a bit later in my Monday morning when I got to the Corepower studio for my flow-yoga class only to discover I’d gone to the wrong studio. Oops. Guess I’d be attending afternoon yoga instead.

Of all the days of the week, Mondays rejoice the most in providing me with multiple opportunities to practice grace.

Step Away From The Rhino

Step away from the rhino...well, maybe not this rhino.
Step away from the rhino…well, maybe not this rhino.

A few weeks ago I was perusing the news online when I came across a headline about a rhinoceros attack. I normally find the news either incredibly infuriating or simply plain boring, but this article piqued my interest. On January 12th, a woman from South Africa was gored by a rhinoceros while on her honeymoon. She and her husband had been vacationing in a nature reserve and were out on a jeep tour when the tour guide told them to pop out of the car so he could get their photo with some rhinoceros standing nearby. The couple was apprehensive, but the guide assured them it would be fine. Just after the guide snapped the photo, the woman was gored from behind by the male rhino. She was hospitalized for a collapsed lung and some broken ribs but will recover. She was lucky.

These type of incidents are teaching moments for me. I’m continually telling my children that wild animals are wild animals. I recently showed them a video of tourists in Yellowstone who were walking on a boardwalk too close to a bison. Now, perhaps they thought that bison understand the right of way implied by a boardwalk and that this bison, therefore, would yield the way with perfect etiquette. The bison, however, not giving a flying fig about the human-placed boardwalk in the middle of its territory, charged at them. They all escaped unscathed, but at the end of the video an adult is shown laughing at the whole chase, as if it’s just a cute story. I shake my head.

I wonder about humanity sometimes. I wonder whether we’re bright enough to survive. My children hear me comment to this effect quite often. They hear my tales of rhinoceros attacks and charging bison and understand my disdain for the truly inane things people do sometimes. First thing this morning, Joe came into my room carrying a small, model rhino, which he set on the bathroom counter.

“I was just thinking about that lady who got attacked by that rhino. What was she thinking?” he said. “I mean, seriously. Why would you even get that close to a rhinoceros? They weigh over a ton and have two sharp horns.”

“I don’t know, Joe,” I replied.

“They’re not house pets. They’re wild animals. WILD animals. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”

At this point I was feeling proud that Joe understood the point I had tried to get across by telling them that story. I was patting myself on the back for a job well done.

“I just don’t know what she was thinking,” he went on.

“Well, I guess that because the guide said it would be fine the couple assumed it really would be. But, I’m with you. I would not choose to stand within feet of one of those animals. I like to think I’d know better,” I said.

I’d know better,” he said. “She was just stupid,” Joe announced.

When he said this, it at last occurred to me that Joe was repeating verbatim what I had said out loud to myself when I was reading the news story that day. I was blown away by the complete lack of common sense this couple had shown. I know that people have a difficult time with perceived authority in situations when they feel they are being pressured, but isn’t there a point when you realize the danger and simply step away from the rhino? Still, I’m not teaching the right lesson if along with the animal safety tip he’s hearing my commentary that people who stand with rhinos might not be the sharpest knives in the drawer. So, I attempted to correct my misstep.

“Joe, maybe you should try to be more kind? It’s not as if she set out that day to be gored by a rhino. It just happened. Someday you might do something stupid and need some understanding,” I suggested.

“Probably not that stupid,” came his instant reply.

I didn’t know how to respond to that comment. On the one hand, he obviously missed my point about being kind, and that’s not good. But, on the other hand, I agree that he is clever enough to know you don’t get within feet of a rhinoceros. I have high hopes that he would be on the winning end of a Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest contest. In the end, I decided that all I could do was drop it for now and try to do a better job of not constantly commenting about humans performing stupid human tricks.

When I see in my children the worst of myself I am reminded that, especially when I’m not paying attention, I’m setting an example for them every day. I teach them as much with my snarkiness and impatience as I do with my generosity and love. If I could only figure out a way to get them to tune me out when I’m not at my best, I might be able to raise children who would be forgiving and kind and who also would know well enough to just step away from the rhino.

 

My Very Unpopular Opinion

Even this could not keep my mind off Newtown, CT.
Even this could not keep my mind off Newtown, CT today. And, I love this.

I’ve struggled for days now trying to find an appropriate place for my mind to rest regarding the events in Newtown, Connecticut. Alas, no matter in which direction I turn, I cannot find my zen about this topic. There is not a thing about it that is right. I’ve done my best to avoid too much detail in the news, to acknowledge the miserable facts without becoming morbidly curious or rushing to judgment or conclusions. At the end of the day, as cold and as hard as it seems, I need to live my life in the wake of these all too common violent attacks. So, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been trying to distance myself from the news to keep from losing my entire holiday season to a dark abyss of the unthinkable. It has not been easy. Even my guilty escape, Facebook, has become a non-stop editorial column about the event.

Because I can’t seem to escape it, despite an entire day spent on a ski slope, tonight I would like to offer just this one comment. As we continue to think about the families who lost loved ones on December 14th, I hope we don’t forget that Adam Lanza left behind a father and a brother who are innocent of his crimes. They lost loved ones too. And, worse than that, they will have to live with the the anger, the scrutiny, and the unanswerable questions. I can’t imagine facing both the loss of my mother and brother and the non-stop judgment of the American people. My heart goes out to that family. They will never understand what happened or why, but they will always be held somewhat accountable via guilt-by-association. That’s a tough road to walk.