“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.” ~Helen Keller
This weekend, I learned a few things about myself.
First of all, I learned I am not yet ready to be a mermaid. The dive class Friday night went well for the most part, with my biggest stress coming when we were told we needed to sit underwater with our regulator in our mouth but no mask over our face. This was nearly impossible for me. I’m a fair swimmer, but not a great one. My first experience of swimming was being forced off a diving board into the deep end of a YMCA pool when I was 9. It did not go well. I swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated water, surfaced choking, and decided swimming was not my thing. I eventually learned to swim well enough. And while I passed the 10 minute float test with zero trouble, I remain a 54 year old who jumps into a pool holding her nose. I can swim underwater only if I exhale bubbles from my nose. So, yeah. Sitting on the bottom of a pool with air bubbles rising up from my respirator and hitting my nose was not my thing. I freaked out, inhaled more water up my nose and went home dejected. Still, I rallied and tried scuba class again on Saturday. I had no problem clearing my ears or learning to achieve neutral buoyancy. I loved swimming around underwater at 13 feet and diving for toys. But when it came time to take off my mask, hold it in my hands, swim around, then put it back on, I knew I was finished. I left the class early and alone. I will not be scuba certifying until I get my confidence issues resolved. My mermaid days lie ahead somewhere. Perhaps after a summer of swimming and some private lessons.
On the positive side of this unfortunate discovery, however, is the reality that when I realized I was not ready to meet this challenge at this time I was able to be honest with myself, tell the instructor I was out, and forgive myself for needing a little more time to prepare. I can’t be angry with myself for needing to learn to be a mouth breather. I can be proud of myself for recognizing my limits and being willing to step away until I can make progress with my swimming. This is big step forward for me. Even as it was a disappointment not to be ready to complete the scuba class, it was a growth opportunity I managed. Does it suck not to have achieved this goal as I planned? Sure. But I wasn’t ready. And I’m wise enough now to understand that “not right now” does not mean “not ever.”
Overall, the weekend was a mixed bag. It is difficult for me to admit defeat, even if it is temporary, but I am grateful I was able to acknowledge my current limits and step away. I will get my water issues sorted. I just need to trust the growth process and keep moving towards my goal. Someday I will pass my scuba certification and the accomplishment will be even sweeter for the time I spent working towards my goal.
I’ve spent part of my morning doing something I don’t do often enough, reading other blogs. I recognize that I am part of a community of writers on WordPress, but in my daily struggle to find enough headspace to write and publish one post of my own, I usually neglect to read others’ works. It’s not a great plan, honestly, because other writers can provide food for thought, inspiration, and unexpected wisdom. I recognize I need to employ the Ted Lasso way of being. I need to be more curious with regard to other people. I am already a curious person regarding most things, but I’ve never been very curious about others because my childhood taught me human beings are unreliable and not necessarily worth my time or trust. This year, however, I decided to take more risks and that includes taking more risks in my experiences with others.
I found this quote today while reading someone else’s blog, and I thought it was brilliant.
I wish I had seen this quote when our sons were young and I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t do what other children their ages were doing. Parents read the What To Expect series of books about childhood development and, if our children don’t measure up according to the charts and graphs, we immediately assume something is “wrong” with them. There is nothing wrong with our children. They are simply on their own path. Some will be on target with the milestones in those books and some will not. They are individuals, and individuals come to this life with their unique set of gifts and challenges.
Because my sons are mostly grown now, I am looking at this quote with a different perspective. I learned that lesson about my kids, that they would eventually find their stride on their separate and beautiful path. It never occurred to me when I was giving my children the grace to get where they were headed in their own time to do the same for myself. From the beginning, I’ve imposed unnecessary, stringent guidelines on myself with regard to what was appropriate in my life and when. I cried hard on my 25th birthday. Why? Because I was upset I reached that milestone without having my master’s degree. Shit. I’m still aiming for unnecessary and contrived goal posts. I wrote the other day about what a person my age “should” be wearing. I am an adult. It doesn’t matter what others think is age appropriate and acceptable for me to wear. It only matters what I feel comfortable in and what I feel makes sense for my life. I don’t even have a job with a dress code. I could wear a Disney Tigger costume every day if I felt like it and not get fired. (What would I fire myself for? Being too cute?)
We are all popcorn. Some of us don’t pop as children, however, so it’s unfair to put that expectation in place. We will pop in our own time or we won’t. There are those among us who will remain the same coming out of the pot as going into it. Maybe our goal should be not to worry about when the pop will happen but to believe instead we will reach that potential when we are ready. Some of us might just need a little extra time in the pot to get there. Patience is key here. Don’t count us out.
I’ve stopped watching the television news. I’ve also turned off the news notifications on my phone. It came down to what I saw in a tweet the other day regarding the constant struggle between “I should probably be more informed about current events” and “I would like to be a functional human being with at least a vague will to live.” I decided I would like to be a somewhat functioning person without a casual drug habit. So, I’ve tried as much as possible to check out in a positive way. And for good reason, apparently. Because today I checked in on the news for like two minutes and discovered concern over a new variant, the real potential to lose abortion rights for women in this country as the now conservative majority Supreme Court hears a case from Mississippi, and yet another high school shooting with multiple fatalities. Are you kidding me? I wanted to throw my phone across the room. It reminded me of a scene from the 1987 film Roxanne starring Steve Martin, where the main character buys a newspaper from a machine (those were a thing once), reads the headline, and then puts another coin into the machine to open it so he can put the paper back. I don’t want to know all this.
I went to my meditation group meeting tonight where the theme was gratitude. We talked about how we can practice gratitude to improve our lives. There is actual science regarding how being grateful changes us in a positive way. This is what I need more of in my life. I need to pay attention to all the things that make me feel loved, supported, safe, sane, and secure, all the things I am deeply grateful for. Focusing on a pandemic that has taken over 5 million lives and doesn’t show any signs of abating is not helpful. Watching footage of terrorized teenagers after another school shooting is not helpful. Ruminating on the potential rollback of women’s rights after 50 years is not helpful. I’m not sure there’s a news story out there right now that could make me feel better. So, I am going to give gratitude a try and focus on all the good in my small universe of concern. This is the place where the most important people to me are. This is the realm that matters right now. Yes. I understand that people need to be engaged in society for positive change to come about, but society is a mess right now, and I shouldn’t be around them anyway since they could be contagious.
The next time I get overwhelmed by something, I am going to try to see instead an opportunity in that stressor for gratitude. If someone is vexing me, I am going to be grateful for the space they are giving me to grow in patience and love. Okay. Okay. Maybe I won’t succeed in that last one consistently, but you have to start somewhere.
Gratitude may not be the answer, but it has to be more positive than focusing on our shared reality, which feels not unlike watching the aftermath of a 100-car train wreck. So is anyone with me? Is it time to start a revolution of appreciation for the good we know is there but are choosing not to focus on? I’m going to need some strong positivity warriors in my camp. I’m not known for being Sally Sunshine. Glennon Doyle likes to say, “We can do hard things.” Finding gratitude these days seems like it might be a hard thing, but if Glennon says we can do it, then we can.
I was rifling through a stack of papers on the counter yesterday and came across a holiday letter that arrived in a card from some friends of ours around Christmas. Okay. I feel your sneer of judgment. Yes. I still have holiday mail on our kitchen counter. Guess what? We still have a broken, faux Christmas tree lying on the floor in the rec room too. I’m leaving it there at least until Easter to prove how very zen I can be in the face of ridiculous things. So there. Anyway, I opened the letter and reread it. It was, as most family holiday letters are, a beautifully composed, loving tribute to our friends’ apparently flawless, exceptional, decorous, loving children. I’m a natural skeptic, so I’ve always assumed children like the ones outlined in those letters are figments of fantasy, like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and men who multitask…a charming idea, but a complete fabrication. Still, we get many letters just like that one every year, rife with phrases like Eagle Scout, straight A honor student, Varsity letter, State championships, class president, volunteer hours, and first place, which are aimed at making me believe that children like this exist in families all across this nation. It must be reality for some people.
Friends have asked me why I do not send out a letter with our Christmas cards. They figure that a writer should be at the top of the list of Persons Most Likely To Write A Holiday Letter. But I don’t because comparison is an ugly thing. We don’t have the kind of children who look good on paper. They’re off schedule and complicated and not in line with many other children their ages. In terms of learning, our children are classified as “atypical” and that doesn’t play well without lengthy and exhausting explanations. Even though we don’t write holiday letters, we think they’re awesome. We’ve just accepted that their beauty sometimes gets lost in the comparison game.
If I were to write a holiday letter, it realistically might contain paragraphs that read something like this:
Joe is thirteen and in seventh grade this year. He’s completely immersed in Pokémon and adores Japanese culture. He keeps asking when we can go to Tokyo. He used most of his Christmas money to buy Pokémon plush toys that he and his brother use in elaborate stop-motion video stories they are creating for their YouTube channel. Despite his ADHD and dyslexia, he’s making great progress at school. We are so proud that he’s using capitals and periods in his schoolwork on a more consistent basis these days. He’s still reversing his Bs and Ds, but we are hoping that he’ll have that mostly figured out by the time he’s writing college entrance essays. Joe has finally mastered the coordination and multiple steps to tie his own shoes now, which has taken one thing off my plate. He uses about 400 knots to make sure they don’t come untied, though, and that has created a different hassle as I now have to unknot his shoes each morning. Be careful what you wish for! After two years of private ski lessons, his core strength and coordination have improved enough that he has a mastery of most beginner slopes. We hope to have him exclusively skiing intermediate slopes by the end of next season. His favorite books are graphic novels, his favorite food is pasta, and his classmates call him “Puppy.” He never misses his nightly spa time, which mainly involves sitting in the bathtub while watching a continuing stream of Netflix videos on his iPad from across the room. Thank heavens he was gifted with great eyesight and the brains to know not to bring the iPad into the tub with him.
Luke is eleven now and in fifth grade. He is a talkative, class clown, and his teachers have initiated a rewards system to keep him reined in during class. So far it seems to be working because our last parent/teacher conference went off without tears. This year his decoding skills have gone off the charts and he is reading at a beginning of fourth grade level. He’s still struggling with fine motor skills and his pencil grip is downright bizarre, but his handwriting is bafflingly lovely. He loves to draw, write stories, build Legos, and watch episodes of Parks and Recreation. And, this year he began catching footballs successfully. He’s still two inches shy of being tall enough to ditch the booster seat in the car, but he’s getting there! His latest career aspiration is to be an entrepreneur/architect/engineer, but he’s planning to author books in his free time, which we think will make him quite well balanced. His sensory issues force him to sleep in a nest of blankets, pillows, and plushes, but he showers regularly, doesn’t eat in bed, and sleeps on the top bunk so we are reasonably sure there are no rodents up there with him. All is well and we are grateful.
Now, this holiday letter fodder might seem a bit hyperbolic, but overall it’s an accurate account of life with our exceptional sons. They are not straight A students. They are not athletes. They are not overachievers. They’re not on the Dean’s List. They’re not first chair in orchestra. They struggle a lot, work hard to catch up with other kids their age, and keep plugging away. They are, in every way I can see, damn near perfect human beings, emphasis on the human part. And I may never be able to write a holiday letter extolling the impressive scholastic or athletic achievements of their youth, but I could not be more proud of my young men.
I don’t begrudge any of our friends the joys of having children who are achieving at a high level already. After all, it’s a lot of work being a parent, and a smart, capable child who is excelling in many things can only do so with personal support and chauffeur services. My friends have earned the right to brag about their offspring. As for our boys, I suspect they are simply late bloomers. Sooner or later, all their hard work and dedication will pay off. And someday I’ll send out a holiday letter to share how far they have come. Our Christmas card with personal letter in 2035 might just blow your socks off.
“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” ~Eckhart Tolle
I got to take the boys to their ski lessons today. For me this meant a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a quick trip to Starbucks for a latte to help wash down my Lara Bar breakfast on the ski-traffic-heavy drive to Winter Park. As the sun was coming up, I sipped my daily dose of caffeine and listened to my sons discussing Pokemon…again. I looked up occasionally from the road to witness the sun tinting the snowy peaks the palest shade of baby-pig pink. Colorado is awesome. And, as much as I gripe when the alarm goes off at 5:30 on a weekend morning meant for sleeping in, and as mind-numbing as hours crawling along in round-trip ski traffic can be, I’ve accepted that ski lesson Saturdays are a miracle. They just are. They fill me with inexplicable gratitude.
I skied a few runs with the boys and their ski instructors this morning before taking off to do a few runs on my own. As I was waiting in the singles line for a quad lift at the base of the resort, I made a mental note that it wasn’t going anywhere fast. I looked to the loading area and determined that they had stopped the lift. If you ski, you know lifts get stopped all the time to help load or unload passengers who need extra time. Not a big deal. I looked away to take in the ski racers cruising down the run to the right of me. When I looked back, I noticed that the lines were getting longer and the lift was still not moving. Clearly, this might be something bigger than a stop for a person who had difficulty getting off the lift up top. I was confident it would start again soon, though, so I stayed in line.
While I was waiting, the guy behind me in line got a phone call. I got to enjoy every word of his not-so-private, personal conversation. It went something like this.
“Hey. Yeah, babe. I don’t think I’m going to make it up there in time for the next competition. I know! Well, don’t be mad at me. I want to be up there. The lift is STOPPED. I can’t go anywhere. No. Seriously. It’s stopped. They just brought over a maintenance dude so I don’t think they’re going to get it moving anytime soon. (He began to get more agitated.) What do you want me to do? I can’t fix the lift. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the competition. I’m so pissed. Yeah. This is bullshit. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t miss another competition! (Here he got really sarcastic and caustic.) Hey. I get it. You’re mad. I’ll get there when I get there. No. Seriously. What am I supposed to do? Yeah. Whatever.”
At this point, he disconnected the call, muttered under his breath a five-letter word for the woman he’d just spoken to, and started complaining to another person in line about the lift situation. He was animated, irate, and nearly ready to start a bar-level brawl with anyone who might be in charge of the lift. The lift was still not operational, and I could hear him huffing and puffing in disgust behind me. He could have been a toddler.
While he was doing this, I looked around. There we were. Healthy, fit, and privileged enough to be able to afford the not-entirely-inexpensive sport of snow skiing. It was a gorgeous, sunny, 40-degree day standing there in the unmoving line at the Zephyr lift at 9,000 feet. Everywhere I looked, there were people who were taking a day with family or friends to enjoy a fun activity in the beauty and majesty of the wintry Colorado Rockies on a nearly cloudless morning. It was a perfect day, even if the yahoo behind me couldn’t see it through the cloud of his righteous fury and the fog he had generated with his Big Bad Wolf heavy breathing.
Realizing that it was silly to wait when there was another lift 50 yards away, I backed out of line and skied toward the Arrow lift, kind of happy to be leaving Mr. Grumpypants behind. The Zephyr lift did get started again, shortly before I boarded my nearby chair. On my ride up, I thought a lot about the guy behind me in that other line. It seemed like such a waste to get bent over something utterly out of his control. He was so wrapped up in his world, in his disappointment, in his annoyance, that he couldn’t even take a deep breath and enjoy the situation for what it was…a nice muscle break in between ski runs. End of story. The competition went on without him. And I’m pretty sure everyone’s world continued to spin without him there. Even his.
I recently saw this quote I’ve been repeating as a mantra lately. Relax…nothing is in control. Seems to me one of our biggest flaws as human beings (and yes, I’m sure there is some perfectly rational psychological mumbo-jumbo to explain why it’s imperative to our survival) is our inability to accept that the vast majority of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. You can choose the perfect outfit to wear to the meeting, but not be able to help spilling coffee on it when the light rail lurches to an unexpected stop. You can choose your college major, but not the fact that ten years after you graduate with said degree it may be obsolete. You can choose your lovely suburban home, but not the criminal who decides its contents would look better as cash in his wallet. Relax…nothing is in control is the same as the old, tried-and-true shit happens. It does. And no amount of indignation, profanity, or foot-stomping is going to change that.
Take a look around you. How much of your time do you waste railing against things beyond your control? Where has that gotten you? Take a deep breath and take comfort in the fact that nothing is in control. When the unexpected happens, look for the gift there. You can usually find one. And if you can’t now, hopefully you will be able to someday.
I hate carrying change around in my wallet. My purse is heavy enough without my having to lug coins everywhere with me. So, for years, I’ve removed the change from my wallet and deposited it into glass containers we’ve kept in our bedroom. Every bit of change that hubby left lying around or that I found in the washer or dryer was collected and dropped into the jars as well. We’ve made a game out of it. After paying for the church we rented for our wedding with over $150 in spare change that we had saved, we understand that saving those seemingly worthless coins actually pays off. So, for several years now we’ve been telling ourselves that we will take it to the bank to exchange for cash when we have something memorable to spend it on, something we know we want to do but might not be able to afford to do otherwise.
Well, with our sights set on kayaking the Wailua River in Kauai with the boys in a couple months, we hauled all our change to Wells Fargo yesterday to cash it in. When we came in carrying our heavy jars, I expected the tellers to close their windows. I worked at a credit union when I was far younger than I am now, and I remember how much I dreaded the customers who took me away from my window to feed the change converter. But, they were very accommodating and, in just 10 minutes, they had our grand total. Steve’s estimate was $392. Mine was $429. We were both wrong. After socking away spare change for a few years, we’d saved a grand total of $468.20. Sometimes it pays to be patient. We will now be able to afford our river paddle excursion and a two-hour whale watching expedition. And, we will feel great knowing that our little effort yielded a big, memorable result.
I’ve been thinking about how often I am unwilling to acknowledge that it’s the little things that add up to create the big things. I, like most people, forget the value of patience and perseverance because I want it now. But, the best things in life aren’t the ones that come quickly. They’re the ones that we work on day-by-day, and they don’t seem like much as we’re doing it. Consider Michelangelo’s statue of David. At one point, that 17-foot tall statue was nothing but a large block of untouched marble. Only with steady patience and dedicated effort over a period of three years was Michelangelo able to create the glorious sculpture people still marvel at over 500 years later. It takes vision to acknowledge that effort rendered in seemingly miniscule amounts will inevitably enumerate over time, and only when we’re willing to settle in and commit ourselves with patience will we realize real accomplishment and self-satisfaction. You can’t cash in your change jar after just one day, one week, or one month’s worth of efforts. You have to hang in there because some day it will add up and you will understand that some change is definitely worth working for.
When we traveled to Norway a few years ago, I had a phrase I uttered repeatedly to my children: The first rule of travel is “Hurry up and wait.” It seems whenever you travel, the trip is filled with an inevitable ebb and flow. You rush to get to the airport to check in, then you wait in line. You hurry to get through security screening just to sit idly at the gate. When it’s finally boarding time, you rush to get on the plane only to sit in line waiting for take off. It is the way it works.
So far today our experience is proving my first rule of travel to be absolute. We woke up at 5:15 to get our luggage out for the tour company by 6. We were exhausted after only four hours of sleep, but we soldiered on, had breakfast, and waited for our 7:20 departure to the airport for our flight from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. At 7:20, though, we were informed that the plane we are taking is still in Quito because it is damaged. So, now we must wait on another plane. Sigh.
It amazes me how different my boys are. With the flight delayed, my more laid back Luke promptly fell asleep in a couch in the lobby. Joe, however, began to stress out, afraid our ship would leave the islands without us, annoyed that we were stuck at the hotel. I just keep repeating the travel mantra to him and reassuring him that we will get there eventually. And we will…even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.
I used to hate the tides of travel, but now I don’t mind “hurry up and wait” as much because it forces me to live in the moment. There’s something incredibly freeing in having no choice but to sit and be, to exist in the present and wait for the day to unfold rather than bullying your way through it. Still, I admit that, like Joe, I think I’d like “be” a lot happier if I was sitting on some white sand near some playful sea lions. What can I say? Old habits die hard.
I’m on the light rail train waiting for the doors to close so we can travel back to the Mineral Station where we parked before heading downtown to the Rockies baseball game. As I sit here, my ears are being assaulted by the whines and whimpers of two obnoxious kids who apparently don’t understand what it means to wait. They can’t sit still. They keep pestering their parents with inane questions about when the train will leave and how long it will be until they get home. They’re driving me crazy. I’m thinking about going over and asking their parents to quiet them down. I should totally do that. But, wait. I can’t. They’re mine. Dammit. I hate it when that happens.
Patience has never been my strong suit. My mother berated me repeatedly for my inability to wait for something. I remember once I was so annoyed with her for hounding me about my lack of patience that I told her I was going to pray for it. I thought that would placate her and keep her from bothering me about it for a bit. Instead, she told me that when you pray for patience God merely gives you more opportunity to practice it. That’s right about the time I became much more selective with my prayer requests.
But, my mom was right. The only way to learn patience is to practice it. So, as much as the boys are driving me crazy with their antics and questions, this situation is exactly what they need. And, in putting up with their impatience, I am given the opportunity to practice my own. For every minute I go without smacking them, I am becoming a better, more peaceful person. At least, that is what I am telling myself. I 100% believe that I ended up with these two impatient little monkeys because I once was silly enough to pray for patience. Remember, sometimes when God wants to punish you he answers your prayers. The plus side is that at this current rate of practice, I might end up somewhere on the zen scale between Yoda and Gandhi. That would almost make moments like this one worthwhile.