Letting Go

Wouldn’t Take Nothing

FullSizeRender

Experiencing the Great Salt Lake

Back to school has changed me. When my sons were younger and full of ill-advised helpings of sugary treats with food coloring, I could not wait for the school year to start. Sure it would mean I’d have to wake up early, cart them across town in my SUV school bus, and go through the dreaded rigamarole of homework, but the house would be quiet all day. I would have time to myself again. I’d be getting my life back, jumpstarting my summer-neglected workouts and my writing, and revisiting my peaceful hours in SuperTarget wandering the aisles of things I didn’t really need but felt helplessly attracted to all the same. Lately, though, my mood about back to school has gone from Yippee to Oh crap.

I was perusing my news feed this morning and found myself buried in a wave of photos of moms jumping for joy (quite literally in some cases) at the prospect of divesting themselves from their offspring for six hours each day. I was that mom once, gleefully depositing my children at school before heading for the hills for the first transcendent hike of fall, feeling liberated at the prospect of rediscovering the me I had left behind when school let out in spring. So while I scrolled through the endless display of children in first-day-of-school photos this morning, I remembered all too well that joy of potential freedom. I just didn’t identify in quite the same way.

My sons start 7th and 9th grade next week. And, as enticing as the notions of getting our house and my life back on track are, I feel like the mom dreading dropping her child off at full-day kindergarten for the first time and acknowledging the impending loneliness. My buddies are leaving me. It’s an end-of-days feeling. I spent my summer staring wide eyed at my sons, floored by their minute-by-minute growth both in height and in maturity. They are the same kids who once left me for kindergarten, but they are so much more now. They are their own people. They are no longer mine. And it sucks. Well, it’s great and amazing and incredible and awesome and it still somehow sucks. Life is weird that way.

When I decided fifteen years ago to quit working my paying job and focus my plethora of natural energy on my infant son, I didn’t give much thought to where it would lead me. I only knew that I had a newborn who seemed hell bent on never sleeping or napping or giving up colic who would probably drive me to an early grave if I attempted to maintain a career and figure out his sleep schedule if he even had one. He didn’t. I had no idea where this journey would take me. Today, though, as I sit here contemplating back to school with a middle schooler and a high schooler, my chosen path makes sense. All the sleepless nights, endless testing, and struggles to figure out how to help them, all the missteps, flubs, and pitfalls of parenting, all the little milestones, the small steps forward, and the minuscule personal triumphs, they were all worth whatever sacrifice I made in savings, earnings potential, and career advancement. I’ve got the tears of gratitude to prove it.

How lucky am I to have had this experience, to have been able to stay with them, suffer alongside them, search for solutions with them, and monitor their progress? To have been able to catch them in the first few minutes after their school day and see their disappointments and triumphs before they faded? And how fortunate am I that I have had them for 13 and 15 years and been able to witness their transition into actual human people when some parents are tragically robbed of that opportunity? I have no idea what path I will take if I get to see Joe graduate from high school in four years. No clue what career I might find or how I might re-enter the workforce after a 20-year hiatus. No sense of who I might yet become. All I know today is that I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. I don’t just love my children. I actually like them, even when they are acting like little creeps with skills I am positive they honed while watching me not have my best moments. I’m going to miss them in the coming weeks when I am once again wandering aimlessly through SuperTarget in a dress rehearsal for my life without them. Still, I wouldn’t take nothing.

Ripping the Band Aid Off Slowly

Sunset over our big backyard

We spent most of our weekend cleaning out the home we lived, loved, laughed, and lazed in for thirteen years as we witnessed the growth of our young boys. The home lists for sale this week. I like to think of myself as a thinker more than a feeler, a pragmatic philosopher and not an emotional romantic. I am, after all, the self-proclaimed Queen of Rationalization. But everywhere I looked in that house this weekend I saw the breadth and depth of a time in my life that I sped through, head down, focused on the step in front of me like a marathon runner on Mile 20, telling myself I could get through if I just kept moving forward. All the moments, all the memories crept back in as I tried to harden my heart and make conscious decisions about what to pack and what to deposit in the gargantuan roll-off in the driveway. In a word, it was, well, suck. There was an overwhelming, unwelcome deluge of emotion. And it kind of pissed me off because, Christ, dislodging over thirteen years of your life isn’t difficult enough without tears weakening the brown paper boxes you need to move? As I worked, my head tried to distract my heart. It’s good to clear through all this junk. We’re lucky to be doing this consciously and over time. We were long overdue for a cleanse. And this slow, intentional adjustment has been good for the boys. They are so happy in and committed to their new habitat. Still, the goddam tears welled and I cursed while I imagined Luke lying on the kitchen counter under a tanning bed of bilirubin lights, Joe sculpting his own sandbox Pangea in the backyard for his plastic dinosaurs, Steve sprawled on the basement carpet causing “stormy seas” for the young sons who were passengers in his imaginary boat, and me sitting on the back patio on a spring day with a coffee and a constant soundtrack of meadowlark songs. This is suck.

 

Buddy and the boys on his last camping trip

Towards the end of the day yesterday, Steve brought me a box. This particular box had been sitting on a shelf in his office for six years. The box contained the ashes of our sweet Lab/Springer mix, Buddy. I’d like to say we’d held onto the box and his ashes out of a soft-hearted inability to let him go, but the truth is we’d always planned to release him back onto the open space where he occasionally stole an afternoon frolic by jumping our fence, an act that left me in a pickle with toddlers in the house and a dog too far away to capture with a shout. Time got away from us. We never seemed to find the perfect moment. It was too cold, too muddy, or the concern over rattlesnakes was too great. Or we were just too damn busy. And so Buddy languished in a plain, wooden box for years, buried only in good intentions. Yesterday, as the acknowledgment of limited time in this space surrounded us, we decided it was time to say goodbye and set him free at last.

 

Small memorial service

So, on a cloudy, cool, dry day (devoid of snake business), with the exhaustion of moving and daylight savings time mellowing us out, the four of us hiked out onto the open space a ways behind our house, found a lone yucca plant that looked like a spot where Buddy may have once relieved himself, and said our final goodbyes. I watched as the lighter ashes swirled and drifted in wind, the heavier remnants of his bones spilling onto the soil. It brought me a beautiful peace in the midst of all my sadness, a sense of closure not just to our time with Buddy but also to our time in this house that holds so many of our memories. While I intellectually appreciate the idea of ripping the band aid off wounds quickly, I guess I have always been more of a slow, painful band aid puller, someone whose penchant for overthinking causes long-lived and painful goodbyes that I suffer without a peep, wearing a poker face and telling anyone who inquires that I am fine.

We all grieve in our own way. We spent years mentally preparing our sons for this change. They have at times over the past few months expressed their sadness about leaving. We’ve made sure to let them know that sadness is to be expected. We’ve talked as a family about the last memories we would like to make in our old home. All the while, we’ve been pointing our noses in the direction of our new home, creating a space we love and can fill with new hopes, dreams, and memories. There have been times when I wondered if all this dragging on was a wise choice, but after our memorial service yesterday I no longer doubt our decision. We’ve had the perfect amount of time to make our peace with change and to allow our hearts to grieve and to grow. We are ready to say goodbye. And while there certainly will be tears shed in our last few hours in our old house, it is now our old house. Let’s hope it sells for a lot of money. I could really use a trip to Maui!

The Silence That Gave Me A Headache

 

When five days became five years…

 
I dropped our boys off for summer camp high in the Colorado Rockies this past Monday. It was a first for all of us, their first time going away alone (although they did have each other) and our first time being home without them for a week. When I drove down the dirt road away from them, it was bittersweet. I was excited for their adventure but already aware of the hole their absence was creating in my life. For fourteen years, these two beings have comprised the entirety of my reason for living. I hardly recall who I am outside the mantle of motherhood. And it’s at times like these that I feel most vulnerable and exposed. Who the hell am I anyway?

I enjoyed an oddly silent, solo lunch and a peaceful ride home without constant chatter about Halo and Mario Kart. I stopped at the store and bought groceries for two, cooked a meal for grown ups without having to omit ingredients, and enjoyed a drink with dinner. Hubby and I slept uneasily that night in a house that was too damn quiet, as if we noticed the missing heartbeats of the two neighbors who usually reside in the next room. I spent most of my week cleaning like a woman desperate to reclaim her once spotless home. Over three days I made a sizable dent in the clutter and bit by bit the house began to look like no one lived in it. It was a hollow victory. The cleaner it got, the emptier I felt. And that’s when, for a split second, I pondered my loss, not having a career to fill my days and fulfill my life. To derail that train of thought to nowhere good, I popped the cap on a bottle of hard cider because, well, I don’t have a job and 2 pm is 5 pm somewhere, and I smiled for my good fortune.

Big changes are on our horizon. The boys will be heading to a new school in 2016, which means a move back to the city for us. While I am dying to escape the suburbs and the HOA and the insipid neighborhood banter I never felt comfortable around, there is melancholy in my soul as we prepare to sell the only home our little family has ever known. And directly behind the gate we will walk through as we move forward, the gate through which all the possibility and potential of the future exists, lies the burial plot of things we’re leaving behind…sandboxes, playgrounds, slip and slides, and snow forts. Saying goodbye is part of moving on, but I have always been better at hello.

It’s been a rough week for me as I cleaned house physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am glad to be leaving some things behind, happy to explore new options and reinvent myself. Some things I thought I could count on, though, have evaporated while I stood in disbelief, grasping as they morphed from liquid to gas before my eyes like water vanishing of a scorching, summer sidewalk. I am better and stronger for this trial experience of life, once again, without children. Steve and I have talked about cashing in on our house and using the money to travel more with our sons before they move on to their own life adventures without us. The past fourteen years have been a blur, and we want to eradicate any potential for a Cats in the Cradle ending in this family. I will miss the things that are no longer part of my life, but I am curious what I will concoct to fill the vacant spaces going forward. 

We will claim our handsome, capable sons on Saturday and be grateful once again to have a disorganized house filled with bedlam. The time for permanent quiet is not long off now, and it’s approaching much more rapidly than I ever could have anticipated in June 2001 when Joe was born. But before it hits I think I will buy Luke that electric guitar he wants. I might buy that drum kit I have always wanted too and knock percussion lessons off my lifetime to-do list. If there’s one thing I have learned this week, it’s that silence leaves me way too much time to think. I should probably focus on doing things as noisily as possible from now on. Maybe I can get some pointers from our sons?

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.

Relax…Nothing Is In Control

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” ~Eckhart Tolle

I got to take the boys to their ski lessons today. For me this meant a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a quick trip to Starbucks for a latte to help wash down my Lara Bar breakfast on the ski-traffic-heavy drive to Winter Park. As the sun was coming up, I sipped my daily dose of caffeine and listened to my sons discussing Pokemon…again. I looked up occasionally from the road to witness the sun tinting the snowy peaks the palest shade of baby-pig pink. Colorado is awesome. And, as much as I gripe when the alarm goes off at 5:30 on a weekend morning meant for sleeping in, and as mind-numbing as hours crawling along in round-trip ski traffic can be, I’ve accepted that ski lesson Saturdays are a miracle. They just are. They fill me with inexplicable gratitude.

I skied a few runs with the boys and their ski instructors this morning before taking off to do a few runs on my own. As I was waiting in the singles line for a quad lift at the base of the resort, I made a mental note that it wasn’t going anywhere fast. I looked to the loading area and determined that they had stopped the lift. If you ski, you know lifts get stopped all the time to help load or unload passengers who need extra time. Not a big deal. I looked away to take in the ski racers cruising down the run to the right of me. When I looked back, I noticed that the lines were getting longer and the lift was still not moving. Clearly, this might be something bigger than a stop for a person who had difficulty getting off the lift up top. I was confident it would start again soon, though, so I stayed in line.

While I was waiting, the guy behind me in line got a phone call. I got to enjoy every word of his not-so-private, personal conversation. It went something like this.

“Hey. Yeah, babe. I don’t think I’m going to make it up there in time for the next competition. I know! Well, don’t be mad at me. I want to be up there. The lift is STOPPED. I can’t go anywhere. No. Seriously. It’s stopped. They just brought over a maintenance dude so I don’t think they’re going to get it moving anytime soon. (He began to get more agitated.) What do you want me to do? I can’t fix the lift. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the competition. I’m so pissed. Yeah. This is bullshit. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t miss another competition! (Here he got really sarcastic and caustic.) Hey. I get it. You’re mad. I’ll get there when I get there. No. Seriously. What am I supposed to do? Yeah. Whatever.”

At this point, he disconnected the call, muttered under his breath a five-letter word for the woman he’d just spoken to, and started complaining to another person in line about the lift situation. He was animated, irate, and nearly ready to start a bar-level brawl with anyone who might be in charge of the lift. The lift was still not operational, and I could hear him huffing and puffing in disgust behind me. He could have been a toddler.

While he was doing this, I looked around. There we were. Healthy, fit, and privileged enough to be able to afford the not-entirely-inexpensive sport of snow skiing. It was a gorgeous, sunny, 40-degree day standing there in the unmoving line at the Zephyr lift at 9,000 feet. Everywhere I looked, there were people who were taking a day with family or friends to enjoy a fun activity in the beauty and majesty of the wintry Colorado Rockies on a nearly cloudless morning. It was a perfect day, even if the yahoo behind me couldn’t see it through the cloud of his righteous fury and the fog he had generated with his Big Bad Wolf heavy breathing.

Realizing that it was silly to wait when there was another lift 50 yards away, I backed out of line and skied toward the Arrow lift, kind of happy to be leaving Mr. Grumpypants behind. The Zephyr lift did get started again, shortly before I boarded my nearby chair. On my ride up, I thought a lot about the guy behind me in that other line. It seemed like such a waste to get bent over something utterly out of his control. He was so wrapped up in his world, in his disappointment, in his annoyance, that he couldn’t even take a deep breath and enjoy the situation for what it was…a nice muscle break in between ski runs. End of story. The competition went on without him. And I’m pretty sure everyone’s world continued to spin without him there. Even his.

I recently saw this quote I’ve been repeating as a mantra lately. Relax…nothing is in control. Seems to me one of our biggest flaws as human beings (and yes, I’m sure there is some perfectly rational psychological mumbo-jumbo to explain why it’s imperative to our survival) is our inability to accept that the vast majority of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. You can choose the perfect outfit to wear to the meeting, but not be able to help spilling coffee on it when the light rail lurches to an unexpected stop. You can choose your college major, but not the fact that ten years after you graduate with said degree it may be obsolete. You can choose your lovely suburban home, but not the criminal who decides its contents would look better as cash in his wallet. Relax…nothing is in control is the same as the old, tried-and-true shit happens. It does. And no amount of indignation, profanity, or foot-stomping is going to change that.

Take a look around you. How much of your time do you waste railing against things beyond your control? Where has that gotten you? Take a deep breath and take comfort in the fact that nothing is in control. When the unexpected happens, look for the gift there. You can usually find one. And if you can’t now, hopefully you will be able to someday.

Sometimes Hot Water Is A Good Thing

Somewhere in an alternate universe...The predictability of established routine is a sedative in a tumultuous world. There’s comfort in the monotony of the mundane, a sense that we have a modicum of control over something in a world that is largely beyond our control. This morning, I found myself engrossed in the necessary routine of cleaning the kitchen. I wiped off the stove, scoured the sink, washed the counter tops, wiped off the window behind the sink, hand-washed the wood floor, and polished the stainless. In the midst of doing these chores, it occurred to me that sometimes I bore the living crap out of myself. Yawn.

I needed to do something to break routine, something unexpected and out of character. I put the rags from my morning’s work into the washer and sat down on the sofa to figure out what I should do. You know what? I had no clue. My mind was empty. I’ve become so routinized that I could not imagine one truly unusual thing to do. I needed something that was out of the ordinary for me but that could be completed in under three hours. It needed to be something that I would never think of doing, but if I would never think of doing it how could I generate the idea? Suddenly, I was in stuck in analysis paralysis. (Analysis Paralysis should honestly be my middle name.) I was flat-out stuck.

In times when I forget myself, I seek counsel from a friend, the kind of friend who will tell me truthfully when I’ve walked around all day with spinach in my teeth because no one else would tell me that I had spinach in my teeth. I texted my friend Heather with the simple request to find me something I could do that was uncharacteristic for me. Her first response was swift.

Go to church. I laughed out loud at that one. I had to hand it to her for her quick wit. I asked her what else she had.

Run down the street scantily clad. I’d probably do that if it weren’t just 20 degrees instead of the 60 degrees it was yesterday. Plus, I’ve already done a polar bear plunge twice. I’ve been there and done that. Next.

Take a long, hot bubble bath with a glass of wine.

That one hovered in the air for about five seconds, but I knew she had me pegged. Ding. Ding. Ding. We had a winner.

I am a rare breed of woman. I do not take baths. When I’m in the tub, I feel like an ingredient in a soup consisting of dead skin cells, random germs, and dirt. Worse than that, eventually the bath water goes cold. Then I am in cold soup and need to warm up, which requires a shower, which is clearly where I should have been in the first place. And don’t get me started on the whole, great-now-I-have-to-clean-the-tub thing. No. Thank. You.

But today was about changing my routine, so instead of going to my usual yoga class I filled the big bathtub in our room, the one that I’ve only sat in maybe twice in the 12 years we’ve lived here. I added bubble bath and this fizzy bath ball thing I bought eons ago for who knows what reason, lit a couple of candles, and poured myself a glass of wine at noon because, dammit, it was 5 o’clock somewhere. Then I grabbed a book and eased myself into the tub. In the middle of the freaking day on a Wednesday for no good reason.

The first few minutes felt bizarre. My mind could not let the me who needed peace break away from the me who was secretly wondering how much of her own filth she was sitting in. But as one minute eased into five, then fifteen, then thirty, and then beyond thirty, I discovered something. I had become a shriveled fruit. But then, after that, there was peace, quiet, stillness, and solitude. Time for me to just be. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. So I decompressed while I was decomposing, and I felt better. The busy-ness of the morning had given way to tranquility in the middle of the day just because. It was an incredible luxury.

As I continue to practice kindness with myself (and it’s going to take me a lot of practice), perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to be kind to myself in other ways, like eating better, taking long walks, and maybe occasionally indulging in a mid-day, relaxation bath for no reason. Maybe over time I can get myself out of hot water with myself by getting into hot water more often.

 

 

 

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.

Game, Set, Match

Can you see my bunny mind working?

Can you see my bunny mind dwelling on this blog?

Yesterday my sister sent me this Bunny Buddhism quote from the back cover the book:

What the bunny mind dwells on, the bunny becomes.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Heather convinced me to sign up for tennis lessons with her. Neither one of us had taken a lesson since middle school. With the end of the kids’ school year approaching, it seemed like if we were going to do something for ourselves the perfect time was dwindling quickly. So we signed up for Beginner Tennis 1.0, relieved that they didn’t name the class Beginner Tennis 0.0. Heather suggested that our motivation to complete the class should be earning a darling tennis skirt for future lessons and impromptu games. I liked that idea because it seems pretentious to show up at a court wearing a tennis skirt when you’re incapable of hitting the ball over the net. My real reason for signing up, though, was not clothing related but age related. I believe that we stay young by trying new things. I’m comfortable with aging, but not so comfortable with the idea of becoming old. Tennis lessons and a cute Athleta tennis skirt seemed like a good way to practice being actively alive and in the moment, open to life and its possibilities, and not the least bit fearful of being old.

Of course, as I drove to the lesson this morning, I began to revert to my typical thought patterns. I was becoming nervous. The negative thoughts were creeping into my bunny mind. I have wonderful friends who don’t have this problem. They approach every new adventure with enthusiasm and excitement. They are never disappointed because they don’t take everything seriously. They know how to laugh at themselves and they possess the fortitude to keep on trying even when others might think they are embarrassing themselves. They are my heroes. So today as I drove to class, I centered my thoughts around those friends and that bunny quote. If my thoughts are negative, I am negative and negativity consumes my actions. What if I approached the lesson with a can-do attitude and no fear of failure? What if I housed reality, rather than faulty assumptions, in my back pocket? Reality is that I haven’t taken a lesson in 33 years. There will be foibles, flubs, and faults. I’m going to miss the ball sometimes, but it doesn’t matter because I am a 46-year-old newbie. It’s not only acceptable, it’s expected. I kicked the self-limiting thoughts to the curb and confidently walked toward the indoor tennis courts thinking, My bunny mind dwells on fun.

The instructor wasted no time getting us hitting balls. In the first three balls he tossed to me, I missed two of them. Normally, this would have put a serious chink in my confidence. Today it did not. I’m a beginner, I reminded myself and got back in line to get ready for my next opportunity to take a swipe at the ball. Midway through class, I knew my attitude of fun was working. I was having a good time. I wasn’t hitting every ball, but I was hitting most of them and they were going where they should be for the most part. As the balls were lobbed at me from the machine, I noticed I wasn’t tense or stressed about hitting them. Instead I was focused on my set up and on the finer points of my stroke. I kept my attitude light and shut down my negative self-talk. It worked. Class flew and by the end I honestly felt as if I’d learned something. What was even better was that I wasn’t over thinking or second guessing anything from the past hour. I’d had a great time. That was all I’d set out to accomplish. No need to rehash missed balls or worry about how goofy I looked. I’d tried and I’d enjoyed myself. It’s all good.

What the bunny mind dwells on, the bunny becomes.

I’m going to keep working on this bunny mind thing because initial results confirm that it’s true. Where my thoughts go, I follow. Unchecked, my mind conjures all kinds of ridiculous, untrue assumptions about who I am and what I’m capable of. I’ve got to train my bunny mind to focus on possibility and positivity. When it wanders into clover fields filled with manure, I need to turn my thoughts around, step over the crap, and head back the other way. My goal for this year was to lighten up and have fun. I am working on it each day. If my bunny mind keeps dwelling on it, I’m sure this year will be game, set, and match for me.

 

 

 

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.