I’m Banana-Seat Bicycle Years Old

4th grade: Linda, Taryl, Me, and Christy

When I was a kid, back in the Dark Ages, we didn’t have the Internet. There was no YouTube. No Nintendo. No TikTok. No Snapchat. We couldn’t text friends. We didn’t even have answering machines or voicemail, so if you tried to call your friend and they didn’t answer you had to ride your banana-seat bicycle blocks to their house to talk to them. We didn’t have homework that took hours. We walked to the local school by ourselves, walked home with friends, and hung out. We didn’t spend our nights in front of screens. Instead, we ran around with our neighbor friends playing Hide and Seek or Kick the Can until our parents yelled from the front door or flickered our porch light to signal they wanted to go to sleep so they were required by law to make sure we were home safely.

With all that free time and parents who really didn’t care what we were doing or where we were just as long as the house was quiet, we were “free range kids.” We would yell that we were going to ride our bikes, the screen door would slam behind us, and no one would have a clue where we were for hours on end. No one had an app to track us. They did not care. So, we did stupid things. We made mistakes. We were creative. We had endless hours of unstructured play and not a parent around to check up on us. It’s how you learned about life in the days before you watched “content” from the security of your bedroom while your parents yelled at you to get off your iPad, monitored your electronics usage, and turned off the Wifi to get your attention.

Here are a few things I did between the ages of 9 and 15, which should illustrate how innocent life was back then:

I would walk to the end of the block to see my friend, Amy. In the basement of her split-level home, we would listen to Gypsys, Tramps, and Thieves by Cher. I am pretty sure we made up a dance routine to that song. I have no idea why we chose that particular song, but I’m going to hazard a guess it was because her parents owned Cher’s record. I believe it might also have been at Amy’s house where I sang into an ice-cream-cone-shaped candle that served as a microphone. Sadly, we sang was Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You.

Back in the days before caller ID, my best friend, Kerry, and I would call the house of a cute boy we knew. He was a mall rat we also knew from church. He had brown, curly hair, and we thought he was adorable. We would ring his house repeatedly, hoping he would answer. He often didn’t. So we would hang up. Sometimes, though, he would answer. We would still hang up. We just thought he had a cute voice. After a while, they stopped answering their phone altogether. One day we discovered the number was out of service. His parents had changed to an unlisted number because they had grown sick of getting hung up on.

My sisters and I would walk to the local swimming pool, which was two miles away. We would stay there for hours, swimming with friends. buying Cokes and Big Hunks from the snack shop. One time while we were walking home, we got caught up in a heavy thunderstorm with lightning. As we were running through the park parallel to the road, a police officer pulled up and asked if we wanted a ride. He drove us the last few blocks to our home. Our parents worked, so no one was home when we got there. No one saw us arrive in a squad car, so there were no questions.

In elementary school, my friends and I all had Drooper dogs. They were toy dogs with soft, plush fur, stuffed heads, plastic eyes, black pompom noses, and bean-filled bodies. My friends and I had many of these dogs, as they were one of the “in” toys then. When Grease came out, we decided to recreate the movie using the stuffed dogs as the characters. We used fabric scraps to create dresses for the female characters and vests for the male characters. We had an 8 track tape of the soundtrack, so we choreographed dance numbers for the dogs and worked out the entire performance.

A lot has changed in thirty-five years. Kids are more carefully watched. Parents are more vigilant. We have phones that can track everywhere we are. We aren’t really free range people anymore.

The One With All The Memes

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the memes they save to their phone. So, here are some of my favorites. Enjoy this harmless peek inside my weird little brain. You’ve been warned.

This is groundlessness
My first love was an oxford comma
Sometimes Piglet’s inspirational wisdom is just annoying
Cheeses, this one is probably in my top 3
Story of my life thus far, but I am working on it
The hill I am willing to die on
It is possible to be an anxious person but not a worrier
Yes and yes
The older I get, the more this has proven true so now I do the things I don’t want to miss instead of overthinking it
This is so clever…and true
All the feels about this one
If you want to call, you have to text me first
My current mantra
yep
My prayer to the football gods every single football weekend
Definitely true
Hahahahahaha

There are so many good ones, but let’s not go overboard, am I right?

Diffusing The Power Of Shenpa

Indeed

Yesterday I wrote about learning to deflect when something or someone triggers me to act in ways that run counter to what is healthy for me. And then, in a wonderful act of serendipity as I was doing homework for the Midlife Mindfulness class I attend, I discovered that our topic completely ties in with the work I did yesterday in therapy and then in my blog post from last night. Talk about the Universe wanting me to succeed! Everything is lining right up.

This meeting’s focus was on the concept of shenpa, which Pema Chodron, world-renowned Buddhist nun, describes as “the hook.” The hook is what I would call a trigger; it’s the sound, the person, the scent, the comment, the situation, the whatever, that sets you off into a negative pattern of self-censure, jealousy, blame, anger, or frustration, which leads you to actions or words that may seem to comfort you in the moment but that ultimately lead you away from peace rather than towards it. I feel this is my life in a nutshell. I grew up in a highly reactive household, so I learned to be reactive to everything. Because of this, I have long admired people who seem to roll with things, who accept the reality of the situation without an emotional meltdown. I have not known many people like this, though, so I am certain that reacting to shenpa is common for most of us.

The experience of shenpa immediately removes us from the present moment and sends us into a spiral of destructive thoughts and behaviors. The way I most often experience shenpa in my life is through my verbal outbursts or my desire to escape a situation that troubles me. Both are an overreaction, usually as a result of a comment or action taken by another person. Instead of quietly sitting for a moment with the thing that has hooked me and deciding how or even if it requires reaction from me, I am off and running and the hook sets. So, this is my next big challenge: I need to recognize the hook before taking the bait. Pema Chodron says the best way to stop this cycle is through meditation because it is only by observing our thoughts that we are able to change them and our actions around them. Through meditation, we slowly gain control of the monkey mind that will make off with us if we don’t see its little game.

I am setting my alarm for 6:20 tomorrow morning so I can get in ten minutes of meditation before I begin my day. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like much until you have to make sitting still with yourself and chasing away distractions a priority. It’s more difficult than you might imagine. I was thinking I can still use the Wonder Woman golden wrist cuffs, which I wrote about yesterday, to deflect what triggers me. I can still cross my arms in defiance of the shenpa that appear. And then I can use my meditation skills to stay present, experience my discomfort, and then either let it go or react calmly from a place of peace in the present moment. I am already better at putting distance between myself and many of the people and stimuli that trigger me. I am also better at seeing where things are going, even if I can’t always find the brakes. I’m heading in the right direction.

I’m grateful for the small things in life that line up for me when I am on the right path. I suspect, though, that it is less about messages lining up than about my openness to seeing them as they fall in my lap.

I’m Not Crazy For Wanting My Nuts In Order

“Just because you are a little squirrelly, doesn’t mean you are nuts.”

The day has gotten away from me. Most days I keep this blog in mind, trying to plan for what I will write since I promised myself I would write something every day for a year. Most days I have an idea long before 10 p.m. Today, I was so busy I forgot about it completely until 10:40 p.m. I was up at 7:30, fed the new fur baby, did a training and play session with him to wear him out. Once he was secured in his pen, I threw some clothes on and drove Thing Two to school before shopping at Costco and then rushing home to let the fur baby out once again. Then I did some cleaning to welcome my mother-in-law back for her four-month stay in her home downstairs. Immediately following that, I ran to Walgreens (which ended up having too long of a line at the pharmacy for me to get through in time) and then drove back in the opposite direction to pick up Thing 2 from school. I escorted him home, dropped off one car that needed gas, got in another one and drove an hour to the airport to pick up Thing 1 who is visiting for the weekend to meet the new puppy and see his grandmother. After circling the airport a couple times waiting for him, he hopped in and we made the hour-long trip home for a quick dinner. Then we ran back out to Walgreens, which was still too busy, so we went grocery shopping and got gas for his car. When we got home, we exercised the fur baby again, and I finished up some holiday decorating. Now it is 11:08, and with puppy finally worn out, I am writing so that I might actually get to bed before midnight so I can wake up at 6:30 and face another busy day.

Fall is a good time for accomplishing tasks with winter on the horizon and quieter days at home ahead. Our fall is even busier this year because we are in transition, welcoming house guests and helping a high school senior get through his final year, cross-country season, and the college application process. Add a brand new puppy to the mix and you have the foundation for Crazy Town. This is what motherhood is. Still, I would rather be busy than bored when the weather is still warm. It’s a good time to be out and about, taking in the beauty this season of change both in the weather and in my life. I know someday the days will pass more slowly and life will become more routine. So, I am all about reveling in the busy-ness, while looking forward to the day when I can collapse on a sofa, watch the cold weather blow in while I leisurely sip my coffee in front of the fire, and enjoy all I have worked so hard to secure.

I really am a squirrel. I am just trying to get my nuts in order before winter arrives.

When “I’ve Fallen And I Can’t Get Up” Meets the 21st Century

TikTok. Two tiny words (or is it one medium word?) that represent the biggest time waster in my life right now. When I don’t want to clean the house or cook the food? TikTok. When I am waiting at school pick up? TikTok. When I can’t sleep? TikTok. TikTok is there for me 24/7. When I am down, TikTok always makes me laugh,. Sometimes I think TikTok is the best friend I’ve ever had.

I fall down an endless TikTok hole at least once a week. My sister told me that there were people who will pop into your TikTok feed and tell you that you have been on the app too long and it is time to find something else to do. I thought she was joking. Until it happened to me. Because I have PTSD-level anxiety from my childhood about behaving and staying in line, I try to get off TikTok before I get scolded by one of those random people. I can’t handle being caught. It brings up too much shame and remnants of Catholic guilt.

Recently, though. I’ve started a new game with myself. I’m becoming a TikTok risk taker. I’ll be on for like an hour, watching funny dogs running around while a sound clip from The Office is playing a bit about parkour, and in the back of my mind I start wondering if I am about to be called out. But then I decide to push my luck. This is how I live on the edge these days. I flip up one more time. Certainly the next video won’t be the one. Maybe I’ll watch another four, five, or even six videos, tempting fate. Sometimes I see how long I can go before one of those videos comes on to tell me to get a life. Most times I get tired of videos before that person appears, but it’s fun to see what will happen first: will my stamina give out or will I get chastised?

So, yeah. This is my life now. This is what a year and a half in relative social isolation has done to me. I hope we put Covid-19 to bed soon. Otherwise, I don’t know what stage of mental decline I will be in next year at this time. For now, I will try to believe that maybe my TikTok time isn’t anything to worry about. We all need an escape from the insanity we are currently living through. I’m trying not to drink too much or to rely on THC to check out, and at least TikTok can’t nip at my liver or destroy brain cells. At least, I don’t think it does. Maybe it is a fair, if childish, pointless, and mindless, escape. But, if I ever send you a video of me performing one of those TikTok dances, please take my phone. I have to draw the line somewhere.

The Power of Storytelling Without Fear

“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you DO choose.” ~Michelle Rosenthall

Everything changes when you finally decide to divest yourself from a toxic relationship.

Some people judge you for your choice, especially if the relationship you leave behind is one involving a parent, spouse, or sibling. Those people tell you to reconsider because “life is short and you might be sorry when they are gone.” Those people used to get to me. They would reacquaint me with the gaslighting I have experienced my entire life. I would feel guilty and small and cruel for choosing myself. With time and practice, though, I’ve learned to listen to those voices less because those people don’t and can’t understand the emotional damage I have worked so hard to grieve, dismantle, reassess, and then release. They don’t know that every day is a battle to trust others, to feel safe in my skin and like myself, and to move forward carrying less baggage. They can’t understand how much it hurts a child to have a parent tell you multiple times, “You have a face only a mother could love,” only to realize she doesn’t love you or she would never say things like that. Birthdays, holidays, and family events are not joyful, but instead produce physical symptoms of anxiety. Walking away is not what you want. It’s not what you ever wanted, which is why it is so difficult. But, in the face of acknowledging there is not now nor will there ever be true acceptance and appreciation from the people who made you question everything about yourself, the best thing to do is move on and do better for yourself.

I still feel guilty sometimes about putting myself first, about choosing to skip out on that toxic person’s birthday party or holiday gathering. I never want to feel I am acting intentionally to hurt another because I was constantly told that I was selfish and thoughtless. Looking out for myself only proves that hypothesis. But what if I test that hypothesis against the reality of what happened rather than the illusion of what I was told happened? Then, magical things begin to occur. I have learned to have empathy for my abusers, to feel sorry they were incapable of doing better, to be grateful they taught me what not to do with my own children, to feel sad they will never know the truth about love, and at the same time to understand I do not owe them a relationship at the expense of my own mental and emotional well being.

For decades, my brain protected me by blocking awareness of the abuse. It had me believe that I was treated the same way everyone else was by their parents. It wasn’t until I started talking about my youth and seeing the shock and horror on other’s faces when I told them stories about my childhood that I understood what I knew as “normal” was actually neither normal nor healthy. It was a shocking revelation. My brain had for so long worked to legitimize the abuse to protect me that I was unable to comprehend that what I experienced was abuse. When I finally could not unsee the reality any longer, I began to grow. I have fought since then to tell my story more often, to give voice to what I was conditioned to believe was only my imagination, my “over-sensitive” nature.

“You own everything that ever happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~Anne Lamott

Six years ago, I composed a blog post around the above quote, asking other writers for permission to tell my stories even if doing so would potentially hurt someone else and cause rifts in long-standing relationships. Six years ago, I wasn’t yet brave enough to speak my truth. But, six years of weekly therapy and hard work have at last brought me to the place where I am able to choose myself and let others deal with their emotions about that their own way. I’ve learned that if telling my truth is problem for them, maybe they should address that in their own heart, that I don’t owe them protection when they didn’t protect me, that I don’t have to put them first when they didn’t put me first. It’s a powerful place to live when you finally decide that you are not responsible, despite what you have been told, for other people’s reactions to your choices. It’s not vindictive to tell your story. It’s life changing to give yourself permission to protect yourself from the people who have hurt you and to tell your stories because if they wanted to be remembered warmly, they should have behaved better.

I am not afraid of my past anymore. I’m not afraid of people being angry with me for telling my stories about it. I’m only afraid of living another day bound by tales about myself that were passed down to me by others that don’t define me and never did. Tell your stories, especially when they are controversial and difficult. Eventually, they will set you free.

I had been deceived. The only thing that was ever wrong with me was my belief that there was something wrong with me.” ~Glennon Doyle

Groundlessness: The Path To Emotional Freedom

This quote embodies the concept of groundlessness

“Let go or be dragged.” ~Zen proverb

Last night at the Midlife Mindfulness group I attend we discussed the concept of groundlessness, which is the notion that life is in constant flux and we can never be fully grounded. As beings, we want to be on solid footing and constantly seek security, when in reality the firm foundation we crave and occasionally feel we have achieved is an illusion. Our resistance to the fluid nature of our existence causes personal suffering because when a change occurs that rips the rug out from under us we feel as if our life is falling apart. Even the term “falling apart” implies that at one point everything was together. But every day our lives are upended by changes. Something as simple as a driving detour can send us spiraling. We become frustrated, worried we will be late, annoyed at the inconvenience. Our discomfort is not caused by the detour, however, but by our resistance to the change placed in front of us. If we choose to regard the detour as nothing more than an unexpected hiccup, we accept that these things happen and our anguish subsides.

I have been considering the suffering I have felt because of the stage I am in with my sons. Joe is off at college, and Luke will graduate in June. As a woman who has devoted two decades solely to the care of my children, I have been experiencing groundlessness. The entire day-to-day reality of my life is changing. They are moving into their lives without me, which is how it is meant to be and what I have always wanted for them. It was only when I began to embrace the pain of letting them go without resisting the accompanying sadness that I was able to move through the grief and towards the point where I can now be at peace with this next phase in all our lives. Do I miss spending time with them? Absolutely. Does my acceptance mean I no longer shed tears about it? Nope. I still do that. But I am able to view this flux in my life now with gratitude for what has been and interest in how this next phase of life will unfold. I don’t have a clue what it will look like, but I don’t need to know that. I simply need to welcome the groundlessness. After all, everything I am now is a result of the changes and adaptations I have had to make in my life thus far. Who knows what personal growth this latest upheaval will bring us?

When I think about groundlessness, I remember one of my favorite scenes from the Ron Howard film Parenthood. The family is attending a school play in which their daughter has a part. In a scene in the play, her character is being pushed to do something she doesn’t want to do. When her little brother witnesses her struggle from the audience, he is compelled to run on stage to save her and chaos ensues. While many people find this interruption an amusing disruption, one woman yells with agitation towards his parents, “He’s ruining the play! He’s ruining the whole play!” The mother tries to stop her son but then decides to let the scene unfold, while the father remains visibly uncomfortable. The camera then films the scene as if the parents are side-by-side on a rollercoaster, the mother relaxing into the innocent pandemonium with smiles and laughter while the father looks frightened, tense and concerned about what others think, anxious about the ride he doesn’t want to be on. Eventually, he notices that most people are laughing as kids on stage have gone rogue and the set is falling over and what was probably a mildly amusing production has turned into an event they will never forget. He releases his desire to control the narrative and begins to enjoy the ride too.

I try to think of life as that rollercoaster ride. We can either choose to focus on the exhilaration of the inevitable peaks and valleys of being alive or we can tense up and feel queasy about them. The ride stays the same, only our attitude about it changes our experience of it. Choosing to live in acceptance of groundlessness can become our new solid ground and free us from the illusion of security along our journey. With some practice, I am improving my muscle memory around being secure within the insecurity of life. Let go or be dragged. Am I right?

How You Become One Of Those Dog Owners

We don’t even have the puppy yet. We are picking him up this weekend, but I have been on Etsy looking at dog paraphernalia. I have become that person. I did not plan for this to happen. I turned on the news earlier, which was an epic mistake that sent me into a negative spiral. To claw my way out of the crevasse I slipped into, I started looking at clothing items for dogs because nothing says “I need to get out more, but we’re in a global pandemic and not everyone is willing to get vaccinated” more than a puppy in a knock-off Burberry bandana. So apparently I have stopped myself from focusing on the miasmal political nightmare our country finds herself in by losing my mind in a treasure trove of puppy merchandise.

I suppose, however, if you’re going to lose your mind, indulging in puppy Burberry is preferable to going on a murderous rampage or drowning yourself in a river, right? At this point, bandanas, Halloween costumes, and personalized toys for our new family member seem like a healthy mental escape given the alternatives. At least that is what I keep telling myself while simultaneously shaking my head at the notion that this is where I am in my life.

So when you see me walking down the street with my dog dressed to the nines and cute as a button, be nice. Just remember I haven’t lost my mind. This is how I saved it.

Photo borrowed from @hughcollinsdavis on Insta with full credit to Brian Davis

Kids Are Only Exhausting Until They Become Adults

The dog on her daily W

While taking the dog for her nightly “W” (that should be read as the sound of the letter W), I wandered by a house where a toddler was whining heavily in a garage. I heard a parent sighing and trying to coax them into the house. It took me back to the days when my sons were young and when I was that exhausted. It feels like a lifetime ago, and it kind of was. I realize now that what was so exhausting back then was the being fully responsible for someone else. The kid is covered in dirt and is also somehow sticky and he needs a bath, and he’s never going to stop playing long enough to use soap on his filth. That, unfortunately, is my problem. It makes me tired thinking about it. I felt for that neighbor with the whiny toddler. As I passed by, I sent him some silent encouragement. “Don’t worry, buddy. You’ll get through this.”

Tonight, my oldest son called from college. We don’t talk often on the phone. When he started school in Washington, I told myself I would let him have his space. He was free to call me when he wanted to, but I would only reach out via text. It was both a good way for him to start his own life without parental interference and a good way for me to accept that his life was his alone now. Putting some distance between us was difficult at first, but it was crucial. How could I expect him to adult if I was checking in, making him feel he had to worry about what his mom thought of his choices? Plus, it has given me space to consider what’s next for me in my life. And it’s always a fun surprise when he calls.

As Joe was updating me quickly on his life, talking about feeling overwhelmed with papers coming due simultaneously, I gently reminded him about the syllabi and how he can figure out ahead of time when these things might happen. Then I told him that I know he will get it worked out and next time he will probably manage his time better. College is about learning, and that learning isn’t only done in classes. It’s done in figuring out how to manage your workload, how to balance friendships and extracurricular activities with obligations, and how to step out of your comfort zone to find out who you are and who you might want to be in the future without anyone else telling you what that should look like for you. Once he had chatted with me long enough to realize that it’s his problem how he chooses to complete the four papers he has due this week while not falling behind with his assigned readings, he said he was going to go for a bike ride to clear his head so he could get down to it. “My work here is done,” I thought.

The thing about letting your kids go is that it is hard. You cry. You miss them. You slowly come to understand that your life with them will never be the same. They are no longer yours. They are free and they are their own people. And that can be hard to wrap your loving-parent brain around. Where once you really were the boss of them, now you are merely an advisor, and that is only if they award you that position. What I’ve come to embrace about this new dynamic is that giving my sons their freedom also gives me mine. So, yeah. I miss the hell out of Joe. Ninety-five percent of the time, that grown kid is a goddam joy. I don’t, however, miss being his keeper. I don’t miss cleaning up after him or keeping him on track with deadlines or making sure he has everything he needs for school. Those are his issues now. And my issues now are making sure I have ordered my favorite espresso beans, taken time to give the dog her W on a gorgeous fall day, and gotten tickets to that comedy show I wanted to see. My new responsibilities are a lot more fun than bathing a whiny child at the end of a long day and then falling into bed exhausted so I can wake up and do it all over again.

If you keep moving forward, you eventually come out on the other side. It’s not so bad here.

Back when our kids wiped us (and themselves) out

Young At Heart

“And if you should survive to a hundred and five, look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive,
And here is the best part, you have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart”
~ Frank Sinatra

Tonight my 13 year old puppy did not want to stop playing with her squeaky squirrel. I finally had to take it away from her because she was panting like crazy. Over the past couple months since we learned she was in kidney failure, Ruby has become more puppy-like than she was, even as a puppy. She walks 2-4 miles a day. She’s finishing all her food in record time. She’s rooting through the trash can. It seems she is Benjamin Button dog, aging in reverse. She’s clearly unaware of her age and condition.

Once again, this old dog seems to be teaching me a new trick. Age is just a number that only matters if you are a cheese or a bottle of wine. The young at heart never truly get old.