Oh No! She’s Gone Full KonMari!

IMG_4015Let go or be dragged.  ~Zen Proverb

A few weeks ago while I was out of town, my husband messaged me and told me he had been watching the popular Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I rolled my eyes. He’s always loved the idea of simplifying, even as he continued to purchase new travel bags and backpacks, the latest home automation gadgets, and new paraphernalia for his hobbies. It’s quite a conundrum for him, the desire to pare down while feeling the pull of shiny things. Still, he said he was cleaning out his closet using the KonMari method, going through boxes of old sweaters and t-shirts I have been begging him to jettison for years. That had to be good, right?  

When I got home and witnessed the magic Marie’s art of tidying up had brought to his closet and office, I got a little inspired myself. Although I twice yearly empty my closet of items that didn’t see the light of day over the past few seasons, I emptied my closet of everything, setting it neatly on the bed, and appraising each item in terms of joy. In some cases, the decisions were easy. Love the details on this top. This makes me look ten pounds heavier. This dress gets so many compliments. Pretty sure I’m never getting back into this pair of pants. In other cases, I struggled. Eventually, I unloaded two full kitchen bags of items whose existence caused me a tiny discomfort when I opened my closet, either by being too small and therefore a reminder of how my body has changed or by inspiring guilty feelings knowing I had wasted money on them. And, in the end, when I looked at the closet filled only with items I can and will wear, I felt lighter. I told my husband I was grateful he jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon. 

This notion of evaluating things for how they make me feel has set me on a new path. What if I took a critical look at my life and assessed what areas are bringing me joy and commit myself more fully to those? Wouldn’t my joy exponentially increase if I said goodbye to obligations I accepted long ago when they fit me but which no longer make me happy? Could I eliminate some bad habits, like playing Toy Blast on my phone when I need to get out of my brain, and make space for activities that foster growth rather provide mindless escape? What if I off-loaded some limiting thoughts that arose as a necessary protection mechanism but that now only chain me to an outdated version of myself? If removing items from my closet made space for mental tranquility, what were the possibilities if I examined the people and relationships in my life? I could start by reducing my social media footprint. From Facebook I could drop those who aren’t in my life in any substantive way, people whose posts and comments don’t align with the life I want for myself. Through that process, I would gain greater understanding of what is valuable to me and then I could consider the personal relationships in my life. Which ones make me better and more joyful? Which ones support and encourage and which ones frustrate, sadden, and tether me to past negativity? Where can I find peace and space without judgement by acknowledging my gratitude to people and situations I’ve outgrown and then taking a deep breath and moving forward purposefully without them? 

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” ~ Marie Kondo

I’ll be honest. I’m nervous about undertaking this gargantuan mental and emotional cleanse. Tidying my house is a safe undertaking. Tidying my head space is discomfiting. But, like every other life on this planet, I am daily running down the clock. I can either let go of what doesn’t serve me or I can spend whatever time I have left in this beautiful world being dragged behind it like a water skier who has fallen yet hasn’t realized it’s time to let go of the tow line. It takes a special kind of stupid to keep repeatedly making the same mistakes. So, I’m letting go of what has been dragging me. I’m going to go KonMari on my life so I can wrap my arms around better things. 

 

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?

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.

 

 

 

The Tale of Two Bunnies

These two bunnies may resemble each other but they are unique in their bunniness.
These two bunnies may resemble each other in form, but at the end of the day they are unique in their bunniness.

I have two sons. Although there are some similarities between them, mothering these two boys forced me to acknowledge the universal parenting truth. Parenting is not a case of nurture versus nature, but rather a case of how you choose to nurture your child’s nature. Now the fact that I know this to be true should in no way imply that I understand how one actually achieves this goal of parenting differently in the best interest of each child’s personal growth. I struggle with this daily because, like most parents, I would like to believe that in a nod to fairness I love my sons in the same way and treat them equally. It’s just not true on a day-to-day basis. They’re different people. They have different strengths and weaknesses and present unique challenges and lessons to me as their mother. They are both easier to raise than their brother in some ways and more difficult to raise in others. It is what it is.

My oldest son, Joe, has moderate ADHD. What that means for him is that he is impetuous, has a hard time focusing on anything, and even though he often knows the “right” way to do something he usually forgets to do it. As a parent trying to teach him to function in the world, his struggle with working memory has been a plague upon us both. When he was very young, his lack of follow through was something I did not think much about. I wrote it off saying he hadn’t yet reached that developmental milestone. But by the time he was six and his four year old brother began following through on things and completing multi-step directions where his older brother could not, I knew something was amiss. Still not aware that his brain struggled with working memory and processing speed, which was why he could listen to me rattle off a short list of things to do and then not remember to do them, I wrote it off as his personality. Joe was forgetful. It was his nature. It was my job as parent to correct this error in his way of doing things. I hounded him. I repeated things until I was hoarse. I followed him around, riding rough-shod over every single thing I asked him to do to make sure he would do it. About this time in my parenting journey, I really could have used today’s Bunny Buddhism quote:

I cannot impose self-discipline upon other bunnies.

I cannot force Joe to behave the way I behave because he is not me and he never will be. His brain does not work as mine does. It is as unique and interesting as he is. And no amount of badgering, belittling, or begrudging will make him act in the disciplined way I wish he would (if only for the sake of his own well-being and sanity). Even if I nurture him by providing charts and introducing him to life hacks to work around his memory issues, this is his dragon to slay. He will take from me what his mind is willing to accept and use and in time he will find his own way through trial and error, peaks and pitfalls. Likewise, I will never be able to stop his brother Luke from chewing on his shirts and leaving holes as if a goat has been wearing them. I don’t understand why he does it, but I know I can’t make him self-disciplined enough to cease and desist. It’s just not happening.

Perhaps someday Joe will remember to hang up his towel and put his clothes in the hamper. Perhaps not. He is his own bunny. He needs to find his own way in his bunniness. I can nurture his nature, but I can’t affect the outcome. And to try to do this only damages the relationship we have. I have made my own bunny peace with Joe’s memory issues. Oh. I still make him come back upstairs to hang up the towel he left on my bathroom floor because, well…I’m not his slave. But I no longer think it is my duty to turn him into the towel-hanging kid his brother is. He’s a different bunny than his brother who chews shirts who, in turn, is a different bunny than me (the one whose mother tried unsuccessfully to stop her from biting her nails).

My journey to zen is aided daily by my children who are teaching me more than I will ever be able to teach them.

What To Expect Is The Unexpected

My most unexpected expected things

A week ago tonight, my husband and I were not in a good place. We were grappling with the knowledge that our youngest son (our easy one) might be severely dyslexic and in need of a lot of help. We couldn’t decide which news was worse…the fact that he was dyslexic and would struggle with language, writing, spelling, and reading his entire life or that perhaps the best thing we could do to help him in the long run was to move him to a “special” school that caters to children with learning disabilities. The whole thing stunk worse than a dead mouse in a car’s heating duct.

When you find out you’re pregnant, you run out and get a copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting because you want to know what you’re in for. You’re excited about what the future has in store. Last Monday night, after we’d received the less than positive news from the dyslexia specialist, we took the boys out to fulfill a promise we’d made a couple days earlier. We went to Target to buy more Skylanders because, well, why not? While browsing around in Target, I saw a copy of that ubiquitous pregnancy bible. I suddenly hated that book. I stared at it with contempt.

“That book is worthless,” I told Steve.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it doesn’t matter what happens when you’re pregnant. When you’re pregnant, you believe everything is going to be perfect. You’re going to have the delivery of your dreams where everything will go exactly as planned. Your child is going to be born healthy. He’s going to be strong and flawless enough that he can do all the things you hope he will do. He will speak two languages by age 5. He will make the winning catch in the baseball game. He’ll take calculus in 10th grade because he’s just that smart. He’ll get accepted to five, Ivy League colleges and give the commencement address to his high school class as valedictorian. When you’re pregnant, you can see no other outcome. What they need is a book called What To Expect Is The Unexpected,” I said quite bitterly. I was in a very bad place.

The past week of my life was far longer than I wanted it to be. Last Wednesday night I remember looking at Steve and asking him how it could ONLY be Wednesday. Hadn’t we lived a lifetime since Monday? I wasn’t sure how I would make it to the weekend. But, I did. And with each passing day and with each little bit of additional information about dyslexia, we began to feel better. What had looked so bleak was beginning to look palatable. On Saturday after we saw the James Redford film, The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, we understood that dyslexia is no longer the brick wall that it once was. There are programs that can help a dyslexics greatly. And, we’re in the position to help our son. No matter what he needs, we’ll be able to make it work. They say knowledge is power and they are right. The more we learn, the more we recognize that this diagnosis does not equal doom. Luke’s already on the road to getting the help he needs. With some hard work and a little perseverance, Luke will still be able to do a keg stand at college someday. And, unlike most parents, we’ll be proud because he worked hard and made it there on his own.

When my boys struggle, and they do it a lot, I remind them that every single hardship they are enduring while they’re young will only make them stronger and more resilient as they get older. I tell them that the kids that have it easy now one day won’t have it so easy and, for those kids who’ve never had to fight to overcome an obstacle, life will seem suddenly, incredibly, and insurmountably difficult. For my boys, though, and for all kids who have to put in longer hours, life’s hardships will just be another day at work. My boys may have it rough on the front end but once they get through these challenges, they will know they can tackle anything. And, although it does not seem like it to them now, that experience is a gift.

Twelve years ago I was expecting my first child. I had the book. I thought I was ready to go. What I realize now is that even with the book, I had no clue. What I thought I wanted for my sons was the wrong thing. The universe corrected me and, as hard as I took it sometimes, it was absolutely the right thing. Life is not for sissies. And if there’s one thing I know now about my boys for certain it’s that they’re not sissies.

You Just Never Know

It really is the little things.

I struggled this morning trying to decide what to use this platform to say on this somber day. Every adult has their own personal memory of what the morning of September 11, 2001, was like for them. My story is unremarkable. It was 7 a.m. mountain time, I was holding my then three month old son, Joe, and I turned on the television to NBC to watch a few minutes of the Today Show. I remember standing there looking at the footage of the first tower on fire, listening to the broadcasters, and being naively confused about what I was seeing. How could a pilot accidentally fly a plane into a building? A few minutes later I was watching the live footage as the second plane hit the second tower, and my confusion dispersed like the smoke rising into the clouds. The rest of my day was spent crying while watching the news footage, holding my infant son, and wondering what kind of world I had brought him into.

I was one of the lucky ones. I lost no one that day. I knew no one who was there. I was 1800 miles away, removed from the terror except for what I witnessed on television. On YouTube, I can watch that same video footage from NBC that I saw that morning. I watch it in tears every single time. I can’t fathom what that day was like for anyone in New York, anyone who was looking for a loved one, or anyone who lost someone. My still visceral reaction to the video tells me that those who were directly involved with the events of that day must suffer the reopening of wounds and the revisiting of horror on this date. I can’t even imagine.

I was out on my inline skates this morning as I struggled to think of what to say about the unspeakable. The sky was dotted with light clouds. The leaves on the cottonwood trees, now both green and gold, were whispering in the breeze. There were snowy egrets and cormorants on the river. I was at peace. There is nothing I can say about that morning that hasn’t already been said. I spent years reliving the terror of that day on its anniversary. This year, though, I’ve decided to approach it from a different place. I need to focus on something positive. I have everything in the world to live for, and I won’t waste a minute more of it being depressed about the things I cannot change. What happened that day was horrific. I will never forget it. But, recalling the paralyzing fear and stomach-churning agony of that day doesn’t change a thing. 2,977 innocent people died that day. I did not.

So, starting today and going forward, I am going to recall the events of September 11, 2001, pay my mental respects to those who sacrificed that day, and then find something positive to live for in the moment. Every life comes with a death sentence. To honor the thousands who died this day eleven years ago, I am going to hug my kids, take a walk, savor a piece of cake to help celebrate the birthdays of those who happen to have been born on September 11th, and cherish the now. We never know how life might unfold or how death might unravel our life. Take some time today to thank a police officer or firefighter. Hug those you love. Find something beautiful and life-affirming to enjoy. Savor what you have. Never forget, but live wisely because you just never know what a day might have in store for you.

 

 

No Big Deal

Yep. Ready for camping, all right.

We’re leaving tomorrow for three days and three nights of camping in the mountains west of Aspen. You could not tell this by looking at our camper right now, buried in the garage under unsold garage sale rejects and boys’ toys. In theory, we will leave in the morning. In theory, after we dig out the camper, hook it to the car, put all the superfluous stuff back into the garage, and load the camper, we will be on our way. In the meantime, we’re having friends over tonight for game night because I don’t like to be bored. Well…I got my wish.

I have learned to slow down a bit. It’s hard to tell on days like these when I am being pulled in a million different directions by things I willingly took on before analyzing their potential impact on my mental health. But, I do a lot less these days than I used to. It’s true. It’s simply hard to tell.

I’m trying to make memories for my boys. Memories of happy summers playing with friends, exploring, camping, traveling, and trying new things. To accomplish that, there is a lot of planning, coordinating, preparing, and cleaning up to get out of the way. Things get a little hairy for me as the at-home parent. But, I know I am making progress toward becoming more zen…if not in the way of scaling back then definitely in the way of not stressing out as much as I used to.

I’ve learned that things have a way of working themselves out. I play this little game with myself to remind myself why life is not worth stressing over too much. For whatever it is that is standing in front of me like an impenetrable road block, I ask myself what is the worst that could happen. For example, what is the worst that will happen if we don’t get the camper cleaned off tonight? Answer: We’ll do it tomorrow and get to the campground a bit later. No big deal. What is the worst that will happen if I forget the boys’ swimsuits for playing in the river? Answer: They’ll swim in their shorts. No big deal. What is the worst that will happen if we don’t get our stuff together to go camping? Answer: We won’t go camping and we’ll lose the $70 in camp fees. The world won’t stop revolving. The kids won’t die. We’ll truly be not much worse for the wear. No. Big. Deal.

We’re still busy. I still overload our schedule with “fun” things to do that will cause me oodles of extra work I didn’t need to take on. But, I’ve taken my harried, stress-over-every-little-detail behavior down about fourteen notches. Oh. I still stress. My husband can verify how snippy I can become when he forgets the camp chairs and that was the only thing I asked him to remember. But, I am less uptight than I used to be. Sad, but true.

Unwinding is a process. And, for some people like me, it’s a lifetime’s worth of work. And, for some people who have to live with me on a daily basis, my unwinding process isn’t moving nearly fast enough.

Let It Be

This is, for me, one of the faces of inner peace.

“We are not animals. We are not a product of what has happened to us in our past. We have the power of choice.”  ~Stephen Covey

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what a shame it is when people can’t bring themselves to let go of unpleasantness in their past. Often, those memories from yesterday prevent them from enjoying a more productive and healthy present. I know people who are living daily with the negative reverberations of actions that happened decades ago. When I think about the brief time we have on this planet, I can’t fathom why anyone would willingly choose to waste a second of life stuck on past slights. Perhaps these people fail to grasp the downward, miserable spiral that is perpetuated when you let your past seep into your present? When you spend today reliving the pain of your past, you’re merely making today into a continuation of the very thing that is vexing you, which then means that your future will reflect more of the same misery, disappointment, and pain. Why would anyone make that choice?

Then it occurred to me…these people don’t realize they have a choice. They are so cut off and unaware of their response to their world, so convinced that all that is wrong in their life is the direct result of other people’s actions and not their own thoughts and behavior, that they are unable to comprehend the power they have to change their lives. Of all the human conditions, the lack of awareness regarding personal power is the saddest one I can imagine. Some people spend dozens of years convinced that their entire unhappy life is the result of what has happened to them. There is no acknowledgment that the only power we have in this life is over our reactions to the situations we encounter. The easiest way to perpetuate personal misery is to believe you are a victim, to live from that paradigm, and to refuse steadfastly to move beyond it. Indeed, some unfortunate things will befall you, but you choose whether those heartbreaks will break you or whether you will move forward unabated.

A while back I read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It was a life-changing book for me because it pointed out truths I long knew in my heart but was refusing to acknowledge in my mind. One of the most powerful messages I got from the book came from a quote by J. Krishnamurti, and Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher, who offered up his secret for contentment. He stated simply this: “I don’t mind what happens.” How powerful that statement is. When you don’t mind what happens, when you let it wash over you and accept it for what it is, when you remove your emotion from it, there is stillness and peace and the room to let it go. It certainly is not easy achieve, but it’s worth the effort to keep it in mind.

I wish I could impart to those people in my life who can’t let go of the past the beauty of not minding what happens. Of acknowledging it, accepting it, and not owning it as anything more than another event in a hopefully long life. When I was a child, my mother and father owned The Beatles’ Let It Be album. I played that record (yes…record) until I thought I would wear it out. The lyrics from the title track have stuck with me. And when my children were infants and I would rock them in the middle of the night when they could not sleep and needed comfort, those are the words I would sing because they brought me peace in that moment when I was exhausted and too was seeking rest. So, as you go through the remainder of this week, my hope is that at least once you will stop reacting when something unexpected and unwelcome is happening and let it wash over you and see what peace comes from letting it be and not minding what happens. I promise to try it if you will too.

Folding Up My Map So My Kids Can Unfold Their Own

Yes. That’s my 11 year old wearing a swim mask in the zero depth pool. He’s cool like that.

You know how you want for your children all the things you never had? I cannot tell you how many times that has screwed things up for me and for my kids. You would think somewhere along the line I would figure it out and stop trying so hard to give them what I missed out on and focus rather on helping them find what they want or need. You would think that. You would be wrong.

One thing I always wanted for my kids was for them to be able to swim well. By “swim well,” I mean the kind of swimming where your face is in the water and you know how to time your breaths and you don’t hit the wall with your head. Basic stuff. I simply wanted them to swim better than I do because the best thing I can say about how I swim is that so far I have managed not to drown. Knock on wood.

To ensure that my kids would be able to swim well early, I had them on a swimming time table from birth. I enrolled in Mommy and Me swim classes with them when they were infants. They were both in regular swim classes when they were 3. They loved the water. Loved it. Yet, they each failed to pass the first level class two times before I decided that the community pool was the wrong place for my kids to learn to swim. I reasoned that the large class sizes, the too cold water at the rec center, and the myriad distractions there led to their lack of swimming success.

Next, I enrolled them at a pricey, private swim school. The water was warm (90 degrees) and the classes were only four students. This was just what they needed, right? Wrong. After a traumatic incident where Luke fell into water over his head during class and bobbed for a while before being safely recovered by his teacher, he refused to go back. Honestly, my confidence was then shaken too. I figured my dreams for them to become great swimmers were just dreams. I tried to move on, determining they would learn the way I did…over time with lots of informal practice. It wasn’t what I had envisioned. I pretended to make peace with it.

For the past four and a half years, our boys have been allowed to view the water as fun. They’ve slowly gotten braver and a bit more skilled at swimming on their own. We didn’t push them. They merely began to figure things out. Still, they have not become truly proficient swimmers. So today, once again pushing my luck, I enrolled them in a different swim school. This move was precipitated by our upcoming trip to the Galapagos where being able to swim and snorkel will be a really good thing. They’re 9 and 11 now. I was certain they were ready, but what is more important is that they were certain of it. You know what? They LOVED practicing in the pool with their instructor today. As we were leaving the school, they excitedly mentioned they wished they could go back again this week. I smiled as they told me all about the class I had witnessed via video camera from the lobby. Finally. Now we’re getting somewhere.

It’s okay to want things for your kids. It’s even okay to set them up to discover more about the things you want for them. But, it’s not okay to push them into what you want according to your time schedule or your plans for them. When my kids failed to pass out of swim class that first time, I should have backed off and realized they weren’t ready. I didn’t do that. Instead, I forced the issue, which then led to a worse situation from which we spent years trying to recover. We all want the best for our kids. Sometimes, though, we forget that what’s best for them will only be uncovered when we allow them to decide what interests them when they’re uniquely ready for it. If your child gets accepted into Harvard because you nagged, pushed, and henpecked them into living your dream, I suppose you can count that as an accomplishment. But, wouldn’t it be better if your child got into Harvard because it was what he wanted and worked incredibly hard on his own to achieve? I guess that if I want my kids to find their own way, I’d better stop handing them my map.