Joe decided after his successful foray into track last spring that he would go out for cross-country this fall. A couple times during the summer, he received emails from his coaches encouraging training plans and providing workout schedules, emails which he deleted because denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. Once August hit after an entire summer of remaining exercise free, I suggested he do a few weeks of a Couch to 5K training app to dip his toes into the water again. Being a teenager dripping with disdain for anything requiring effort, he had less than zero interest in or enthusiasm for such an endeavor.
If there’s anything anyone who truly knows me knows about me, it’s that I don’t run. I think you should only run when you’re being chased by something bigger and heavier than you, like a large carnivore with sharp teeth or a runaway grand piano. While I have participated in a plethora of 5k events because I enjoy doing fun activities with people I like, I have not finished even one race where I ran the entire course because, as I mentioned, I don’t run. I. Don’t. Run. If you know anything else about me, though, it’s that I am doggedly determined once I set a goal. And this goal was to get Joe on his feet again.
To that end, being the super annoying mother I am, I downloaded the Couch to 5k app to my phone, waltzed into his room at 8 a.m. one oddly cool morning, tossed some socks and his running shoes onto his chest, and told him we would be leaving in 10 minutes. That was two weeks ago. I have been running with him every other day since then because it turns out I love complaining about running while running with Joe more than not running.
Today we were finishing up the last minute of our brisk-walk warm up when I noticed an elderly couple traveling side-by-side on the narrow path in front of us. He was moving along unsteadily with the aid of a cane while she held a walking stick in each hand to assist her. It was a bittersweet scene, at once a charming vision of long-term commitment to a life partner and yet a heartbreaking exhibition of the difficulty of aging. I couldn’t decide how I felt about it.
The gentleman heard us approaching, turned to verify our presence, and slowly moved behind his wife to allow us room to pass. Billie (our annoying, imaginary running coach) barked from my phone that it was time to jog. Joe sprinted off with his long, sixteen-year-old legs. I plodded along behind him and offered a polite greeting as I prepared to pass the couple. The gentleman replied in kind.
Then as I hit my stride next to them and began to leave them behind the way Joe had left me, she sighed and spoke.
“To be that young. Oh, to run again.”
That hurt. I mentally clutched my heart with my hands.
We spend a lot of time bitching about what we must do. Our monkey minds run a non-stop chyron of obligations through our heads, preemptively sucking the joy out of doing. I’ve spent considerable time the last two weeks bitching about running, mainly while running. It didn’t make the running any easier.
Life is not about what you have to do. It’s about what you can do, even if you haven’t found your way to enjoying it yet.
(Snapped this photo quickly on my way out of my first Buddhist meditation class tonight. It’s not an impressive photo or anything, but I was drawn to these glass offering bowls from the moment I saw them. How did they fill them so precisely? They remind me a bit of the offering candles in the Catholic church we attended while I was growing up. I’m not sure if the intentions are the same behind both, but I find it intriguing where different traditions intersect.)
The idea of physically attending meditation classes, rather than attempting to learn meditation solely through an iPhone app I bought, came to me through my incredible drum instructor, who also happens to be a Buddhist monk. He is a calm, centered person who listens intently, thinks before he speaks, and is a perfect antidote to my nervous personality. He has talked to me about how mindfulness can help me get into a better mental state for my drumming, and I certainly could use any help I can get. But, beyond that, I noticed recently that I have been letting my mind run away with me too often. It’s embarrassing what the lawless monkeys in my head will get into if I leave them unattended.
Before Christmas, I was speaking with my father about world religion and he said, “Buddha is good for personal improvement, but I don’t need it.” While I appreciate his self-assurance about not needing help with personal improvement, I don’t have that same certitude. I openly admit that my head is a mess in need of a maid. If I want to overcome negativity and increase happiness, if I want to foster the mental fortitude for writing a book, then I need to rein in those damn monkeys and harness their energy for later use. Given how active they’ve been lately, this may prove a harder task than I imagined. And given that I was also born in the Year of the Monkey, perhaps I was doomed from the start?
Still, hope springs eternal so Steve and I drove to the Kadampa Meditation Center downtown where tonight’s theme at the beginner’s class was New Year, New You. Ruth first spoke a bit about New Year’s Resolutions and how people (myself included) think that by changing external things in our lives, like getting a new job, finding a significant other, or getting fit, for example, we will find happiness. She then burst our bubble by telling us something we probably already knew…happiness only comes from within. So, all our work running around trying to establish new habits or make changes to create a better sense of self are more or less worthless if we don’t change our minds at the same time. We can create the illusion of happiness externally but, the minute something derails, our minds will still freak out and remind us we aren’t really happy after all.
After speaking to us for a while about meditations and Buddhist teachings, she guided us through a short meditation. I have meditated before, mostly for short periods of time, and I’ve some experience with conscious breathing courtesy of yoga practice, so I didn’t find the exercise altogether impossible. I was able to redirect the monkeys that began jumping around when my legs got twitchy and even shut up the ones that started chattering when my phone vibrated in my bag courtesy of an unexpected, ill-timed Facetime call from my sister, although Steve did mention he could hear my yoga breathing get louder during that episode. Hey…wait a minute. He shouldn’t have been focusing on my breathing. He was supposed to be paying attention to his own breath and keeping his mind on his meditation. Hmmmmm….guess it’s a good thing we both attended this class.
Before we left, I took a moment to notice where my mind was. I felt relaxed, focused, and confident, which is the way I usually feel after a yoga class. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and learned a thing or two as well. I’m ready to train my mind not to fly off the handle or to become overwhelmed by negative thoughts. I think I’ve got the timing right on this journey too. If the current media reporting is any indication, this country is on the precipice of major upheaval. I’d best begin taking lots of meditation classes and getting a lid on my monkeys. 2017 may be a bumpy ride.
To start our new year, hubby and I spent the day in our fixer upper. We will be spending most of the weekend there to get things ready for the wood floor guy who is starting on Monday and will be adding in new boards in the entry way to replace the outdated tile, as well as sanding off the old, oil-based stain and putting down a colorless, waterborne finish for us. To save money on the floor work, we agreed to pull out the worn carpet, remove the tack strips and staples, and take off the baseboards. There is no love lost in these changes. The two-inch baseboards are unimpressive at best and the carpet is the physical equivalent of a perpetual yawn. It has been fun slicing it up and yanking it out. There is something oddly cathartic about ripping up the old on the first day of a new year. As I slashed that beige carpet and its companion pad and tossed it unceremoniously into the garage, I thought about the things that didn’t go the way I had hoped in 2015. I imagined ridding myself of last year’s mental baggage as easily as I jettisoned that floor covering. A fresh start is therapeutic and invigorating. And, in my case, about six months overdue.
The first task of the day was finishing grouting the wall and the tub surround in the hall bath. We squeaked by on the bag of grout we had, just barely completing the job by literally scraping the bottom of the grout barrel. Although the end result didn’t pan out exactly as I imagined it in my mind, it feels good to be moving on. As a learning experience, tiling this bathroom has been exceptional. I can now say that I have the know-how to remove tiles, pull out a toilet, operate a wet saw, lay tile, use a grout float properly, and tell you the difference between porcelain and ceramic tiles. I also know what rectified tile is and why you might want it. I will never look at another tiled surface in the same light again. Everywhere I go lately, I am finding it far more interesting. It’s amazing what a little education can do to your world view.
As much as we’d love to take all the credit in this latest installment of Little House in the Mid-Size City, the biggest improvement this week came courtesy of our contractor, Simon. He transformed the tired, dated fireplace in the living room into the modern focal point we envisioned. One of the things that stood out to us when we first found this house was the two fireplaces, one upstairs and one down. Both are wood burning and use their own flue. We decided early on to add a gas insert to the fire box upstairs and leave the basement fireplace as is so we can enjoy the occasional crackle of an old-school, indoor fire. Before we could schedule the install of the gas insert we selected for upstairs, though, we had some remodeling to do to create the sleek, streamlined look that will match. The brick facing needed to go, and the faster the better. Early on we settled upon a look we had in mind and set out to recreate it as closely as possible. We found some tile that fit the bill perfectly and were smart enough to leave its install to a professional.
I have to say, I think Simon rocked it. He found the best configuration for the tile and created a custom, walnut mantle that is taller and deeper than the previous one. Our taste in living room furniture leans toward modern contemporary, so we will at last have a room that suits us completely. We’ll be mounting our television over the mantle. We debated this for quite a while after reading myriad articles about this placement on the Internet. There are a lot of opinions about this practice, but ultimately we decided that for the furniture configuration we wanted this was the best option. Setting the television to the right of the fireplace would put it too close to the eight-foot wide window and create too much glare. Besides, we’ve always wanted a spot for cozy reading chairs, and they belong in front of that expansive window. We bought an angled mounting bracket for the tv so we can reduce the potential for neck strain looking up at the screen. With the can lights we added back in October and the flawless hardwoods that had been hidden for decades finally exposed, this room is coming together better than we imagined. I’m beginning to see the potential hubby saw in this house while I was still dragging my heels and clinging to my doubts.
Looking back to when we first took possession of this home on October 5th, I wish I had kept track of how many hours we have logged working on it. We knew when we bought the house that this would be a growing experience for us both. We’ve stepped way outside our wheel house here. I’ve never had an eye for design because, frankly, it’s never mattered. We don’t spend much time in our home. Our house is a big container that holds all the crap necessary for our exploits. We like travel and the great outdoors, and we don’t spend a lot of time hanging out at home. We come in, drop our stuff, grab new gear, and head back out. Our home is a place to do our laundry, eat, sleep, and wait for our next adventure. With this new home, we’re becoming invested in a way previously unprecedented for us and not just through the ever-increasing budget necessary to turn a 1964 house into a 2016 home. We are committing blood, sweat, and tears here every day. I am sore, bruised, and banged up. Today I cut myself three times in an hour, each time running a mental check on the date of my last tetanus shot. 2010, I think. At least I hope that’s right.
Who knows? Maybe when we’re done grouting tile we really love and hanging doors we’ve chosen, when the wounds from nails we’ve impaled ourselves on have healed, we will decide to stay put more often in a new, old house that fits our family, dreams, good intentions, quirks, missteps, and all.
“To try and fail is at least to learn; to fail to try is to suffer the inestimable loss of what might have been.”
― Chester Barnard
When our boys were little, we did what all suburban parents did. We enrolled our kids in class after class, letting them try out countless activities to see what might be their thing. We tried swimming, soccer, baseball, tumbling, and multi-sport camps. Nothing clicked. I can’t tell you how many times our sons did not advance from a basic swim class. I can recall four different swim schools that could not teach them. We were beating our heads against a wall. I used to complain that if I could get the money back for every class they attempted and found no success in, I could fly to Europe and back. Twice. Yet, we persisted in our parental folly and perpetual money wasting because we felt they should be able to do these things other kids could do. Our expectations told us to hang on. If we threw enough money at it, sooner or later something would have to stick, right?
When they were 4 and 6, they were diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which affected their fine and gross motor skills. They had very low core strength, as well. This explained why swimming and tumbling were nearly impossible for them while other kids their age breezed through without any trouble, but it did not make us feel any better. With assistance from occupational therapy twice weekly, they both learned to ride bicycles after they turned 8. They still had difficulty throwing a ball. Catching one was nearly impossible. Over time and with continued therapy, their core strength improved. They made progress, but they were still years behind other kids their age physically. We accepted it for what it is, and we stopped enrolling them in activities that made them feel slow, incapable, and defeated. We figured there was no point pushing them when they physically and mentally were not ready to be successful. We made the choice to let them just be kids. Time would take care of the rest.
Tonight, we made a big leap. We decided it was time to try again. I drove them to Apex Movement, a parkour gym, and enrolled them in an introductory class. I’d heard about parkour years ago from a male occupational therapist who worked with the boys and thought it might be a great thing for them. At the time, I showed the boys videos of professional parkour to pique their interest. They thought it looked cool, but weren’t totally on board. I talked about it the last two summers, telling them I could register them for parkour camp. Still…no interest. I reminded them of their successful work on the climbing wall at school and told them they were ready to take this step. No go. Then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago both boys come to me and tell me they want to try it. I thought I’d finally gotten through to them. Nope. Turns out their friends are doing it. There you go.
On the way to the gym, Joe was nervous. He began telling me that maybe he could start next month instead. I told him that you’re always nervous the first time you do something. It’s that nervousness that tells you that you’re actually growing. If you go through your whole life, never putting yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable, you never progress. I reminded him of some recent times when I had been nervous about something and how it worked out without incident. You can’t have success if you’re afraid to risk failure. I reminded him that his success rate so far in surviving uncomfortable, new experiences was 100%. All of the times he’s tried something new, he survived and was better for it. This would be no different.
When we got to the gym, the boys could barely stand the waiting process while I filled out waivers and verified payment and class information. They were dying to get out and jump around. When they got the all clear, they went into the open gym time and started trying out every obstacle they saw. When class started, they listened and tried everything that was asked of them without concern about failure. As I sat watching them make honest attempts at new things, some successfully and some with definite room for growth, I was so proud of them for being willing to move forward and try again, for facing their nerves and taking a chance on themselves. I was a fearful child. I did not learn how to take risks. I instead learned that failure is not an option. I hid behind excuses so I didn’t have to try anything. I left important things unsaid and undone. I avoided opportunities to make mistakes or do goofy things until I was in my forties, when I finally realized that I was letting life slip by unlived.
Most of the time, I feel I am an adequate parent, just good enough. I try. I make mistakes. I apologize. I try again. Tonight my boys showed me something. They’re braver than I was at their age, which means we are all making progress. We’re learning to give ourselves a chance. Seven years ago, my kids weren’t ready for the opportunities we gave them. And seven years ago, I made a conscious decision to begin work on my own risk-taking skills. Now here we all are together. The stars and planets have aligned. We are still nervous but trying because it’s better to try and fail and at least learn than never to know what might have been. Who knows with a little parkour and seven more years where we might end up?
Last week we returned from an 11-day trip to Peru. The impetus for the trip was to hike the famed Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, something we’d been talking about doing since we were in our twenties. It was then one of those distant, maybe-someday, sort of things, a long-term bucket list item that we shelved once we had children and the notion of traveling 4,000 miles away to hike 27 miles without them would have raised some eyebrows. Then, late last year, my friend Heather reintroduced the idea. Turns out we aren’t getting any younger, and the strenuous nature of the trek made the feasibility of postponing this adventure much longer a little sketchy. I mean, here at midlife we’re still reasonably fit and healthy, but you never know what’s right around the corner. So we took a chance on ourselves, put down a wad of cash on the trip of our dreams, broke the news to our children (who were less than thrilled to be left behind), and started working out the logistics. Seven months later, we were winging our way to Lima in coach, fingers crossed, trusting that we’d return home safely to children who discovered they could survive without us.
I want to share something of our adventures, so I am going to spend a week or two writing up some memories of the trip. Thanks for indulging me.
July 7th, 2014
After a decent night’s rest at the Tierra Viva Hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima, we were anxious to explore. First stop, sadly enough, was to Starbucks to access reliable, free wifi and to satisfy an intellectual curiosity about the international cost of a Starbucks vanilla latte. (The latte was comparably priced to our local haunt…approximately $4.33 for a venti.) With no desire to sit after a long travel day, headed out armed with a map and a little blood in our caffeinestreams.
We walked to Larcomar, an upscale shopping mall built into the sea cliffs in Miraflores and listed as a must-see attraction in the area. While its location and architecture are worth noting, at the end of the day it’s just another mall with a Pinkberry and a Gap. We were hungry, though, and decided to eat lunch there at a local chain that specializes in pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken). Not eager to encounter stomach sickness before our long hike, we eschewed the salad we might have had at home and filled ourselves with chicken, fries, and Cusqueña, the local lager. With full bellies, we headed away from the coast and walked blocks back into town in search of something that felt a bit more unique.
We found it at Parque Kennedy, which is home to dozens of feral cats who have been adopted by the city’s residents. Local citizens set out bowls of water and food for them under trees in the shade. The park was designed with built-in seating where people can relax with their lunches and smartphones (free wifi in the park too, who knew?). Once you settle into a seat, a cat is likely to find its way into your lap for a warm, cozy nap. I found this local custom perfectly charming. The cats seem to be well-cared for and not at all mangy or unclean. We even saw one with stitches in its leg, which leads me to believe that they are getting medical attention when necessary too. The park serves as a de facto library system for cats. You stop by, borrow one for a while, and return it when you’re ready to leave. I was missing my dog and wanting some animal attention, so I sat down near a cat who was not spoken for and waited to see what he would do. After sizing me up for a minute, he decided I was acceptable and crawled into my lap. There he napped for about 20 minutes while I petted him. Made my day. Pet fix achieved, we returned to our hotel to mull dinner options.
We landed at Panchita, a large restaurant that was more populated with locals than gringos. There were no menus in English, which boded well for an authentic experience. We attempted to conjure up any Spanish-language remnants from high school for about fifteen minutes before our waiter realized we were out of our element and sent over another waiter to offer suggestions in English. Good man! Eager to try some real Peruvian food, we ordered a sampler platter and four different entrees. There was not a thing we tried that we didn’t enjoy. We tried Peruvian Anticuchos (beef hearts), papa relleña (fried, stuffed potatoes), causa (a layered dish with mashed potatoes, meat, and avocado), and some local giant corn covered with huancaina sauce. Steve ordered the lomo saltado (grilled beef with peppers and onions) and I had tamales and arroz verde. For dessert we shared some picarones (Peruvian donuts). You could stick a fork in us because we were so done. Not exactly sure how we ate that much or how we managed to waddle back to our hotel. By far the most unexpected thing about Peru was how wonderful the food was. Everywhere we went we found new delicacies to enjoy. The Peruvians take great pride in their cuisine, and it shows in the flavor and presentation of every single dish. We thought we’d head to South America and lose weight. Tell that to my now tight pants.
July 8, 2014
After transferring our bags to the hotel where we would meet our tour group later, we walked back up one of the main streets in Miraflores to look for our next great food adventure. We apparently planned to eat our way through Peru. We stopped into a sandwich place and somehow lunch became more dessert than anything else. Tres Leches cake and churros dipped in chocolate, anyone? Desperately seeking exercise, we walked toward the sea cliffs to stroll the boardwalk that connects Larcomar to several local parks. Along the way we passed a restaurant where Brazilians had gathered to watch their World Cup game against Germany. It was not pretty. My blonde hair made me feel like sore thumb for some reason.
We strolled toward the boardwalk, which in truth is more of a sidewalk than a boardwalk, with the intention of making our way through several parks. This part of Miraflores is called the Costa Verde because despite Lima’s status as a coastal, desert town, things actually grow green here. There were tons of flowers and bushes, along with cactus, green grass, and palm trees. It was hard to believe Lima was in the midst of winter because it didn’t seem like winter to these northerners. It was never under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and most daytime temps were closer to 70. While the locals walked in boots, coats, and scarves, we strolled in light jackets. It was chilly, but not a Colorado winter by a long shot. I had read that winter in Lima was grey and dry, and that was no exaggeration. It was continually overcast, but rainless, and still quite tolerable.
Our walk down the Malécon landed us at El Parque Del Amor. There resides a sculpture by Victor Delfin called El Beso (The Kiss). Surrounding the sculpture are walls filled with bright mosaics. There are more built in benches where lovers can hang out and enjoy the sculpture…or not. A local tour guide told us that every year they hold a kissing contest beneath the sculpture. The longest kiss was over 9 hours. That’s more dedication than I have. I honestly can’t think of anything I’d like to do for 9 hours straight. Not a thing. Further down the boardwalk we came across the place where paragliders launch themselves via updrafts over the cliffs. We watched them for a while and, for a few seconds there, I almost thought it would be worth the $60 flight cost. Then I decided that since my main goal in traveling to Peru was to hike the Inca Trail I might be better off saving my flight for another bat time, another bat channel. No need to risk breaking my ankle landing from paragliding the day before our trek to Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the Inca Trail, and finally Machu Picchu. We walked back to our hotel to meet our G Adventures representative and get the skinny on our flight to Cusco in the morning. We were finally on our way.
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.
Tonight I am celebrating because today I did something way out of my comfort zone. And I survived!
A few weeks ago, the boys’ school hired a company to make a promotional video that would be used on its website. The company planned to interview teachers, administrators, and students. They also wanted to interview some parents. Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand to be on video. I hate it. Emphasis on the word hate. Did I mention hate? It makes me so uncomfortable I want to puke. I loathe video chat. I wholeheartedly believe Facetime was invented solely as a torture device. If someone brings a video camera within 20 feet of me, I disappear faster than a case of cheap beer in a college freshman dorm room. I would honestly rather have a full on Brazilian bikini wax by an aesthetician student than appear in front of a camera. When I first saw the email asking for parent volunteers, I immediately resigned it to the Trash folder. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at the school, I reasoned. There’s no need for you to jump in on this one. I was not going to do this. No way. No how.
But as the week wore on, that email vexed me because I knew I was exactly the kind of person that should be talking about that school. With not one but two sons with learning disabilities there, with our six years’ worth of struggles as we tried to discern how best to help our boys, with the exponential growth we’ve witnessed in them over the past eight months, I was a poster-child parent for this project. I was being a coward and I knew, that like Emmett in The Lego Movie, the self-doubt that plagued me was keeping me from reaching my true potential. I opened the Trash folder, found the email, and responded that I would be happy to help with it. I clicked send knowing that I was doing the right thing. The minute I heard the whoosh sound, I felt the bile rising.
I put the whole thing out of my mind because I figured there was no point stressing about it for weeks. Deep down I knew it would all be fine and that I was doing my usually brilliant job of making mountains out of mole hills. Over the weekend, with the video date rapidly approaching, I made a conscious decision not to think about it. I would not pick out an outfit or practice speeches. I was going into this with the most laissez-faire attitude I could muster. I’ve been working on this skill lately…trying not to borrow trouble. It would all be fine, even if my hair wasn’t perfectly coiffed and I stumbled over some words.
Today was video day, and I went in more or less off the cuff. I had an inkling of things the interviewer might ask. I prepared myself for those questions. I was feeling fairly confident…right up to the point when I walked into the room with the big video camera, boom mike, and lighting set up, and saw a single wooden stool in front of it all. I did my best to give useful answers, but found it challenging to be articulate while I was simultaneously reminding myself not to slouch, touch my hair, or look anywhere but at the interviewer. I’m not sure how long I was on that stool, but it felt like forever. As the minutes wore on, I felt my cheeks turning pinker and rounding the corner to full-tilt-embarrassed red. Finally I gave an answer that seemed to satisfy everyone, and my time in hell was over.
As I was walking to my car afterward, I found myself somewhere between needing a drink to relax and needing a drink to celebrate. I’d done it. And, despite the fact that I was now rethinking every single comment I’d made (on camera about my children in front of school staff, nonetheless), I was proud of myself. I had gone out of my comfort zone and faced a dirty, rotten fear. On the drive home from school, I quizzed the boys about their fifteen minutes of fame and then I talked about mine. I told them how good it felt to do something I really didn’t want to do but knew I should. They asked me if I was glad I did it. At the next stoplight I grabbed the Bunny Buddhism book (I carry it everywhere these days) and shared this:
Bunniness is not learned in safety. One must seek unfamiliar ground and hop without fear.
Like the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, I go forward prepared to leap upon any challenge that darkens my path. There are no fluffy bunnies here. Bring it!
Like many people these days, I practice yoga. My journey began a little over four years ago and, even in the times that I don’t practice regularly, I find it is always with me. Yoga is a hard thing to explain to those who haven’t yet experienced it. Before I practiced, people who knew me well would tell me that I needed it. I resented that statement, but mostly I resembled it. I moved from one thing to the next without stopping to be present in my own life. I didn’t know how to sit in stillness or look around in awareness. A hamster on a perpetual wheel, I rarely paused to notice or enjoy anything. I was too busy looking ahead to see the little moments slipping by in my peripheral vision.
In vinyasa yoga, you flow through the different postures syncing one breath to one movement in a moving meditation. You breathe in to settle into one pose and breathe out to transition into another, consciously aware of each inhalation and exhalation. So when I found this quote in my Bunny Buddhism book, I knew exactly what it was for. It is a mantra for meditation.
Breathing in, I know I am a bunny. Breathing out, I know a bunny is all I have to be.
In my late thirties, I was somewhat depressed. Not in that can’t-get-out-of-bed-and-need-Zoloft way, but in the way that I was unhappy without being awake enough to realize it. I had young children who had boundless energy and myriad personal struggles and I didn’t have a clue how to help them settle and grow. I was continually exhausted, surviving on caffeine and mindless, reality television. I was stalled out. When my early forties hit, midlife began urging me to shake off my slump and make something out of my life. This was both a good thing (because I began to wake up and seek out life-affirming events, which made me buck up a little) and a bad thing (because in seeking out new experiences I managed to remain too busy to truly enjoy anything).
That was when yoga found me. I began to understand that I didn’t have to become anything to prove anything. Through yoga, I began accepting that there are things that I am good at and things that I will never be good at. It doesn’t matter. It’s part of the uniqueness that is me, and it is enough. That thought continues to blow my mind. I am enough. Period. If I finish the book I’ve been writing in my head for years, great. If not, that’s fine too. I’m exactly where I need to be, being the person I am becoming. At the end of my life, a full and well-rounded curriculum vitae will say everything about what I accomplished but nothing about who I was because we are not the sum total of what we do. Good thing too because on most days what I do is laundry.
Breathing in. I know I am a bunny. Breathing out. I know a bunny is all I have to be.
Can you let go of what you think you need to do to be important and accept that you already are?
Everything you can imagine is real. ~ Pablo Picasso
Today we took the boys to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I won’t ruin the movie for you if you’ve somehow managed to escape the myriad trailers this holiday season, but I will warn you that it may make you want to travel. After the film on our way home, our boys who, like Walter Mitty, have very active imaginations, began having crazy phone conversations in the back seat of our car using some old telephone handsets they found in the cargo area. I was only half listening while talking about the film with my husband, but at one point I believe Joe was a shark and Luke was Justin Bieber. I love my sons’ imaginations, and it’s in precisely those moments that I deeply appreciate our left-brain dominant boys and their non-stop creativity. The other night we were discussing what life might be like if we had to exist in the present with Tyrannosaurus Rex looking into our second story windows as we were getting ready for bed. Adults never have conversations like this. It’s a shame too because it would make dinner party conversations far more interesting and it would keep us from bickering about politics and religion.
Thinking about Walter Mitty and his daydreams I keep coming back to one thing. Creativity and imagination are far too underrated in this world. You have to dream it before you can do it. Someone imagined flying before the Wright Brothers actually flew and someone envisioned walking on the moon before Neil Armstrong ever did it. American society praises innovation and creativity as if we were the first upright beings to employ them. One look at our schools today, though, and you see that we talk a good game but we don’t play it. There is little room for imagination, creativity, and out-of-the-box thought at our public schools, which are instead consumed by standardized tests meant to make sure all kids measure up to the same rubric like faceless automatons. We’ve somehow determined that this is the best way to get ahead in the world, by engineering our future generations to a measurable standard. It’s sad, really. The kids who think differently are passed along because no one wants to deal with them. Their skills are undervalued and lost. We are systematically eradicating they very things that make us uniquely human…artistry, creativity, and independent thought. We squash imagination in the name of forward progress, but imagination is the one thing that allows progress in the first place.
My dyslexic kids might not fit into traditional schools because they think differently than other kids, but because of them I see possibilities. I see life and the world differently than I used to. I think “why not” instead of “we can’t.” And, maybe it’s crazy, but I sure would like to see that conversation between Justin Bieber and a great white shark realized. Somehow I think that could only make the world a better place.
A few weeks ago I watched an internet video made by a young man who spent 10 years traveling around the world on a shoestring budget. In the video, Benny Lewis discusses 10 lessons he’s learned while circumnavigating the globe. While all of the lessons he discussed were relevant to my life, one especially called out to me. In lesson #2, Benny invited me to “be an imperfectionist” because the possibility of failure too often keeps us from trying new things. But, dang it, life is too short to forgo new experiences. The older I get the more I realize how many precious opportunities I’ve squandered by playing it safe and the more I recognize that I’m too old to play it safe any longer.
So in keeping Benny’s words in my head this weekend, my hubby and I set out to do something I openly admit I was not entirely sure I could do. Last month I registered us (in a moment of supreme overconfidence) for the COCO Century ride. (For you non-cyclists, that term implies exactly what it suggests: you complete a 100-mile bicycle ride in one day.) I’d been optimistic originally about our chances to complete this particular ride because it was touted as a “flat” century without the climbs you might expect from a ride in a state with over 50 mountain peaks towering above 14k feet. At least there wouldn’t be any mountain passes on the course. This should be easy peasy. Or at least not brutal, right? After I registered, someone reminded me that no hills means constant pedaling and no opportunities for coasting. Funny how that little detail had slipped my mind.
On the drive down to the hotel we were staying at the night before the ride, hubby and I discussed our lack of preparedness and our intentions for the event. We opened ourselves up to imperfection. We were going to do whatever we could. If we couldn’t finish it, no big deal. At least we would get in a nice ride somewhere new. We were going to embrace the day for whatever it would bring. And we determined to forgive ourselves if we could not complete the full 100 miles. Our best was going to be good enough because our best was all we could offer.
When the starting gun went off at 6, we were off. We were in small-town country filled with friendly, helpful people and a relaxed attitude. We weren’t four miles into the ride before I first suspected we’d missed a sign and made a wrong turn. We were following a few local riders, though, and they seemed to know where they were going so we pedaled on. Sure enough, we eventually crossed paths with the rest of the riders who’d taken the correct route. Oops. We shook it off, fell in line, and joined the herd. Around mile 22, we realized we’d missed the first of eight rest stops with our little detour. At mile 45, we were feeling good and completely skipped the fourth rest stop in favor of keeping up our good pace. Around mile 50, I pointed out to Steve that we hadn’t seen any other riders recently, and at about mile 55 I at last decided to consult the ride map on my iPhone. Lo and behold, we were on the right course. We were, however, going in the wrong direction. We’d missed another turn and where the others had headed east, we’d continued south and consequently missed the fifth rest stop. Oops yet again. We discussed it briefly and decided that backtracking 10 miles was not a reasonable option. We’d just ride the course in reverse. A ride official found us a few minutes later, verified our error, gave us her cell phone number, and supplied us with water for our continued against-the-grain trek.
We made the best of our two person century ride, cruising another 20 miles through Rocky Ford and Swink before finally landing in La Junta where we decided we would turn around and head down the course the right way back to Ordway with the other riders. At mile 86, though, we noticed we’d missed the final rest stop of the ride. We were 4 for 8 on the sponsor-provided rest stops. Still doggedly determined we stopped at a local farmers market, bought some fresh fruit and some bottled water, and continued on. At about 10 miles before the finish line, we calculated we had 13 miles to go. Oops times three. Our course snafu had wreaked havoc. It was nearing 3 p.m. and the last section of the course was a long and steady, albeit not Colorado difficult, uphill climb. It was about 95 degrees. We’d pedaled for over 7 hours. Although I’d been eating every 10-15 miles, I hadn’t consumed nearly enough calories to cover the 4000-plus calories I had burned, and I was fading fast. At mile 96, I resigned and told Steve I simply could not finish the full 100, as ridiculous as it sounded. I was weak, nauseous, and about to hit full on heat exhaustion. I was disappointed, but I am smart enough to know when to stop pushing myself. And so I rolled across the century finish line with my bike computer at just over 97 miles, 15,840 feet short of the goal.
As a recovering perfectionist, it’s taken me a couple days to process this shortfall. Three miles short is not technically a full century, and there are plenty of people (including an earlier version of myself) who would tell me it doesn’t count. But we did what we set out to do, which was our best. We overcame obstacles and kept on rolling despite setbacks. If we had stayed on course and been able to take advantage of more of the ride-sponsored rest stops for nutrition, we would have completed the last three miles without struggle. It simply did not work out that way. With some time behind me now, I understand that this is exactly the lesson in imperfection that I needed. Do you know how difficult it is to have spent most of your life as a perfectionist and then come within 3% of completion of a goal only to walk away? But I did it and, miraculously, I feel great about my accomplishment. We enjoyed our ride and would do it again, but I don’t even feel the need to repeat it simply to prove I’ve finished. If I do this century again, it will be for fun and not accomplishment. And trust me. That’s progress toward a future filled with more rewarding episodes of imperfection.