My Tibetan Monk Cupcake Lesson

Image
They were necessary and then they weren’t. Om.

Tomorrow is our youngest son’s birthday. Don’t ask me how it’s possible, but the little guy will turn 12 at 11:18 tomorrow night. When I was pregnant with him, Denver was hit with a massive, March snowstorm. We were trapped indoors with a toddler for three days with 54″ of snow in our yard. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, dying to get out, and stubborn as a mule, I refused to let my husband do all the shoveling and my fat, reflux-tortured, pregnant self landed a sentence of five weeks on bed rest. While I was reclined on the sofa, I would rub my belly and tell the little being in there that he (I was determined he was a he) could not be born before May 21st because I had been promised another Gemini son and this Gemini mother was determined to get what she was promised. I repeated to him over and over the date of May 21st and told him I did not want to meet him before that date. Luke, being a natural-born pleaser with minimal patience, arrived as ordered on May 21st just before midnight. Since then, I’ve spent my days ensuring I am as good to him as he has been to me.

Yesterday, Luke requested birthday cupcakes for his classmates. Noting that one classmate is allergic to gluten, Luke asked that I provide gluten-free cupcakes so George could participate in the party too. I thought about heading to the bakery to purchase cupcakes, but decided that today was a perfect day for baking. It was cold and rainy yet again, and our house would benefit from a hot oven and the smell of baked goods on such a gloomy day. So this morning I headed to Target and swiped up gluten-free yellow and devil’s food cake mixes, butter, and powdered sugar and headed home to commence baking.

I ended up with 48 cupcakes and, while they cooled, I whipped up some homemade, vanilla buttercream icing. I pulled out the natural food coloring and tinted the frosting Luke’s favorite color. Using my pastry bag, I lovingly piped beautiful swirls of orange. I stood back to survey my work. For someone who bakes as infrequently as I do these days, I thought I’d done quite well. As I was getting ready to pack them into cupcake tins so I could haul them to school in the morning, an unwanted thought began knocking on my brain. I tried to barricade the door so it could not get in, but it was powerful and the door came down under its weight. Due to food allergies, no homemade baked goods will be permitted in the classrooms anymore. Son of a bitch.

That was the first of a plethora of expletives that escaped my mouth as I stood there facing 48 cupcakes that could neither go to school nor in my mouth. I had spent three hours mixing, baking, transferring, cooling, measuring, monitoring, beating, coloring, and decorating this confections. Three hours I could never get back. Three hours I could have used wisely on other necessary pursuits. My chagrin escaped in a semi-controlled, adult tantrum, witnessed only by my dog who decided it would be in her best interest to vacate the vicinity post haste.

The meltdown moved on like a fast-moving thunderstorm on a hot summer’s day, and I took a deep breath. I remembered the Tibetan monks who create and destroy sand mandalas as part of their symbolic meditation on the transitory nature of material life. The monks use colored sand to create intricate works of art. For days and sometimes weeks, they work tirelessly as a group on these stunning creations, chanting and meditating over them to bring out the healing energies of the deities represented within the mandala. Once the mandala is finished, in an equally ordered and painstaking manner, they dismantle their work of art, pour it into a jar, and release the sand into a river so the healing powers held within each grain of sand can flow toward the ocean and disperse their positivity.

This afternoon, the cupcakes were my mandala. I diligently created them. And during their birth, I had been fully present in the moment, incorporating all my love for my son into my task. The cupcakes were not about me, and they were not for me. They were an act of love, positive energy, and goodwill. I chanted a mental Om, scraped the superfluous icing into the disposal, washed the dishes, and wiped down the counters. I packed up 24 cupcakes and launched the rest into the trash lest they end up in my belly. We will share the spoils with friends tomorrow. But today I will recognize this experience for what it is, a sticky-note reminder that life is full of discomfort, disappointment, suffering, and change. To find peace, I’ve got to learn to let go and let my inner Tibetan monk guide my thoughts. I wonder how I can get him to the surface more often? Maybe he likes cupcakes?

Relax…Nothing Is In Control

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise
A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What A Wonderful World

A glimpse of our wonderful world
A glimpse of our beautiful world

On the way home from school today, Joe began talking about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. He was curious if the shooters had been found. I told the boys about the attack shortly after picking them up yesterday because I knew they would hear about it anyway. Today Joe garnered more information about it while watching a youth-focused version of CNN at school, and he needed to talk about it. Joe is a facts-based person. He seeks to understand things, and sometimes his understanding leaves him concerned. He processes news differently than his brother, who is far more touched by the emotion of human tragedy. For Luke, it’s not the fear of something happening to him, but the sadness of something happening to someone else.

When they were very young, we shielded them heavily from the news. Our ban on television reporting began late in August, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Joe was 4 then, and I knew that any video of flooding after the levees broke would send my safety child into a panic. I pictured him poised at the top of the stairs, climbing to higher ground for the rest of his natural days. Steve and I began taking our news in primarily via the Internet, where we could quietly absorb the stories and determine what to share with our children. When a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in nearby Aurora, Colorado, we carefully explained what had happened to our boys as soon as we could because we didn’t want them hearing about it from anyone else.  Two years later, Joe is still hesitant to see movies in the theater, and he never saw one iota of television news coverage about the story. If he had, I imagine he’d never want to leave the house. (On a side note…that would save us a cool fortune in dining out costs.)

Today as Joe was talking about the news from France and Luke was trying to understand how anyone could take satire for anything other than satire, I stopped them. I reminded them that the world is full of good things that never get reported. We only ever hear bad news, which is why we spend an inordinate amount of time online trying to get cheerful by watching videos of cute animals or cute children. We’re constantly bombarded by the bad, the ugly, the scary, the repulsive, the unexplainable, the ridiculous, and the pointless. The news continually pits us against one another in a contest to determine who is the most wrong and who is the most righteous. Imagine if the news were instead filled with stories of people shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor or friends pitching in to cook dinner after someone’s surgery or a teenager buying a meal for a war veteran seated nearby. Small acts of peace, friendship, gentleness, generosity, and goodwill occur every day in a frequency we don’t see. So instead of allowing the hope of those good things to penetrate our lives, we become consumed with negativity and pessimism about the world that is presented to us.

Bad things do happen. Extremists murder journalists. Children get cancer. Soldiers leave and return in coffins. But if we spend our time in this life focusing solely on the tragedy in this world and looking for answers that will never come, we change. We become fearful. And with each act of violence and hatred, we lose a little bit of our souls. I work every day to show my children why life is worth living and why you can’t let the bastards get you down. When I got home, I showed the boys photos of the vigils in Paris where locals held signs that read “Not Afraid.” We need to be brave, I assured them. Everything is going to be all right. We can never make sense of the dark, but we can light a candle and pass it on.

 

 

Sometimes Hot Water Is A Good Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Note To Self: It’s Not About You

Truth.
Truth.

It’s not about you.

I tell my sons this all the time. Trust me. They are sick of hearing it. But it’s a mantra I hope they will embrace sooner than I did because this simple statement is life altering. Although we humans are hard-wired to be egocentric (and our current social media epidemic does little to abate this situation), our self-obsession causes us the greatest amount of emotional stress. There are times when you need to be self-centered…like when you’re in a throng of people and in danger of being crushed to death, for example. Then it’s probably a good idea to be proactive about your survival. Most of the time, however, our unwillingness to recognize how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of planet earth and its long history entangles us in self-doubt, worry, anger, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and sadness. Acknowledging that the world doesn’t revolve around you can be liberating.

It’s not about you.

I’ve been struggling with some personal revelations, dark things that I had buried so I didn’t have to deal with them. As these thoughts have risen to the surface through a fissure that recently appeared, I’ve suffered emotionally. This is what I was hoping to avoid with the whole stuffing process in the first place. But now that these thoughts are in the forefront of my mind and I’m feeling the negative effects of their presence, I have a choice to make. I can become angry or upset about what my ego perceives as slights, injustices, and infractions, or I can accept that none of what I’m blowing out of proportion is about me at all. It never was.

It’s not about you.

When someone else says, “It’s not about you,” well…it really isn’t. It’s about them. You just feel it’s about you. But that feeling is a choice. We choose to feel hurt, betrayed, belittled, and injured. It’s a mental decision we make. We could just as easily say, “It’s not about me? Well, that’s a relief. I wish you luck wherever you land,” and move on. We’d be much happier if we could accept that most times others’ seemingly negative comments or actions have more to do with them than they do with us. They’re hurting, lost, searching, damaged, or antsy. They need a change. They’re insecure. They’re frightened. They’re simply not able to be open and give. We can’t help them in their struggle because their struggle is not about us and their journey is not ours. They’re doing us a favor by picking up their bags and moving on. We need to let go and take a step forward.

It’s not about you.

At the end of the day, we create and hang onto more than is necessary in this life. We do this because we’re not conscious that we have another choice. We absorb others’ negativity instead of accepting that it’s not about us. We don’t have to own someone else’s snarky comments. We can acknowledge them and let them go. It is possible. I’ve been storing junk that doesn’t serve me. I’m sorting through it now, determining what positive information I can glean from it and use to make myself a better me, and hitting the delete button on the snark because it’s simply not helpful. It’s a daunting task, but I suspect it will be worth it. My next step will be to move away from taking everything personally in the first place and to venture toward keeping things in perspective so I don’t have to go through this process again somewhere down the road. Life has given me as much luggage as I can handle. It’s time to leave others’ bags with them and move on with a lighter load because what really is all about me is my attitude. That’s all I’ve got, so I’d best make it a good one.

Mondays Are For Practicing Grace

I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.
I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.

Monday. Not my favorite word. Not my favorite day of the week. At 6:40 a.m., before my alarm had the opportunity to interrupt my sleep, youngest son busts into my room ready to beat his brother to the first shower of the day. I knew this was trouble because the first shower has traditionally gone to our unusually early-rising Joe, but honestly I was in denial that the weekend was over and not quite awake enough yet to deal with him so I let it slide. I remained in bed, trying to savor the last few minutes of relative peace before my week had to begin in an official capacity. After about five minutes, Luke exited the shower still giddy about his triumph.

“I can’t believe I beat Joe to the first shower. I’m going to hurry and get dressed before he gets in here. I want to beat him downstairs,” he announced to me from the bathroom.

“It’s not a race,” I reminded him.

“I know,” came the rejoinder. “I just never get to be first.”

This is true. He’s the youngest. He’s acutely aware that he is forever behind the curve of his older brother. He’s been in second place his entire life. He gets the hand-me-downs. He has to wait until he’s bigger to do things his brother is already allowed to do. Any chance to be first is a treat. I get that. I also knew Joe would be annoyed because the first shower of the day is a big deal to him for some reason. Sure enough I was right. Just a minute later, Joe burst into my room, saw Luke fully dressed with wet hair, and started yelling.

I get first shower of the day. I always get first shower, Luke! Why did you do that?”

At this point, the boys began bickering loudly and I began slowly coming into reality. Lovely way to start a week. I rolled out of bed, hoping to minimize the damage to the morning. I told Luke to get downstairs and out of the way and snapped at Joe to get over it and get into the shower, which he did. Less than 30 seconds later, I heard the water shut off. Was he kidding me? All that fuss for a 30-second shower? There’s no way he actually used soap. The kid barely had time to get wet.

“What are you doing?” I asked, striding into the room in full-on, overtired annoyance.

“I’m done,” he replied.

“Oh no you’re not. No way. You didn’t wash your hair.”

“Yes, I did,” he retorted.

“That’s not possible,” I said, raising my voice and upping the ante.

“I did, Mom,” he insisted.

“You threw a complete fit because you didn’t get the first shower. You started my morning with screaming, and now you take a 30-second shower after all that commotion? Nuh uh. Get back in there.”

From there, things rapidly shot downhill like an Olympic bobsled team gaining momentum. Joe was mad I thought he was lying about washing his hair. I was mad that he had made such a huge issue out of his shower time and then didn’t even bother to take it. He began crying and I was beyond irritated that this was the inauspicious beginning to my week. I sent him downstairs while I worked on my frustration by stomping and banging around upstairs. Childish, I know, but I was exhausted. I thought everyone in my house understood that you don’t wake this sleeping dragon beast by screaming in my lair.

When I had finally chilled enough to arrive downstairs, Luke was busily getting water bottles and lunches ready (feeling a bit guilty, I suppose, for knowingly starting a war for the sake of being first). Joe was sitting on the living room sofa crying. I tried to pull myself together and regain control of the situation. I could not understand why he was making such a big deal out of missing the first shower. Then I started to wonder why I was making an even bigger deal about his big deal. I certainly wasn’t helping anything with my histrionics. I stopped, took a long, deep, yoga breath to the count of ten, and went over to hug Joe. I told him I was sorry for yelling at him and for not believing he’d washed his hair. He hugged back and told me he was sorry for starting our day with a fight. He was starting to calm down. I looked at the clock and realized we had 15 minutes before we had to leave. I went off to fix him some breakfast, satisfied that once he had some food we’d get beyond the ugliness. Quietly I berated myself for acting like such a brat.

When breakfast was ready, I called Joe into the kitchen. He came to the counter, sat down to the gluten-free waffle in front of him, looked up at me with a smile and pleasantly said, “Good morning, Mom.”

My 12 year old was schooling me in how to deal with setbacks. He’d decided to leave the mistakes of the morning behind. Yes. Monday had started out badly, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t change it. We could simply declare a do-over and move on. So, we did. I decided right then that do-overs should be my theme for the week. This came in handy a bit later in my Monday morning when I got to the Corepower studio for my flow-yoga class only to discover I’d gone to the wrong studio. Oops. Guess I’d be attending afternoon yoga instead.

Of all the days of the week, Mondays rejoice the most in providing me with multiple opportunities to practice grace.

Queue George Michael’s 1990 Hit…FREEDOM!

Harry Flufferpants, Esq.
Harry Flufferpants, Esq.

One of the best things that has come from our sons’ beginning at a new school is the stress it’s taken out of my life. For years our boys were struggling to keep up in class, an issue that was never more obvious than when they would pull out their homework. Every night was a battle. Homework that, according to their teachers and reports from friends whose children were in the same class, should have taken no more than an hour or an hour and a half each night took our boys upwards of three hours. There was non-stop whining, pleading, bargaining, and crying, and that’s without even mentioning how hard the boys took it. Five evenings out of the week (because, let’s face it, the weekend’s homework was not worked on slowly over two days but was instead busted out in one heinous rush on Sunday night), there was no peace in our house. Math assignments, book reports, and spelling troubled me more than any other thing in my life, including midlife crisis and the amount of time I had to wait for the next season of Downton Abbey. Those days are gone.

In their place, we have creativity, laughter, and family time. Because the boys work so hard all day at school to overcome their learning disabilities and because the school understands that, our boys currently have a manageable hour’s worth of homework each night…with a little extra time needed when special projects are assigned. And as if the one hour limit didn’t provide me with enough solace, the school also offers a homework club each day after school. For a reasonable fee the boys can stay an hour after school and complete their work in a teacher-supervised classroom with other students. It’s pure genius. When I pick up my boys at 4 pm, they are finished for the evening. We are currently mulling over which outside activities they could do, like music lessons and tae kwon do, because they will at last have the time to partake. I’m giddy simply thinking about it. They are finally getting to experience what life has been like for their friends. I’m excited for them. It’s about time.

In the meantime, our boys have taken their extra time to try new things and exercise their imaginations. Joe has been discovering graphic novels (books with more pictures than words that are perfect for dyslexic kids…get your minds out of the gutter, people) and Luke has been engaged creating the Museum of Cute. He’s using his iPad to print out photos of cute things, like teacup-sized Pomeranian dogs and mini pigs wearing rain boots, and organizing a collection, which he plans to tour our families through in a few weeks on opening night. Tonight there was an explosion of cute when he brought me this picture of a tiny, white Pomeranian with a mustache. The photo is labeled, “My Lawyer, Harry Flufferpants, Esq.” I can’t make this stuff up.

I also can’t seem to get the chorus from George Michael’s 1990 hit Freedom out of my head. Normally, this would be a problem for me, but I’m so relaxed after my new nighttime ritual mug of chamomile tea that I can’t even find the residual daily angst to care. I think my zen just got a bit closer.

sNOW Day

Snowball and dog hang time
Snowball and dog hang time

Saturday, I heard rumblings that we might be expecting snow. This is not unusual for Denver. At our mile-high elevation, we receive April snow showers instead of the April rain showers many other American cities receive. Sunday night, though, I started hearing the word snowstorm bandied about. Although I’m completely okay with the spring snows we get here that tend to be quickly followed by a nice warm up back into our regularly scheduled warm temperatures, I’m a little less than pleased with the thought of a snowstorm on a school day. So far this year, we had not had one snow day and my boys (knock on wood) have hardly missed a day of school. With just a little over a week’s time passing between the end of Spring Break and now, I was not interested in more together time with my boys just yet. After all, we’ll be together all summer break and that starts for us in about six weeks.

On Monday night at 9 p.m. as I was getting ready to leave a friend’s house, an email alert popped up. It was an advance school cancellation by our principal. After reviewing the weather reports, she had decided to call school off because of a predicted 8-12 inches of blowing snow. Ugh. I headed home as heavy, wet snowflakes began to fall, appalled that just that morning I had walked four miles with our dog on a dry hiking trail in nearly 70 degree weather. When I walked in the door, I told our boys the news. They were beyond thrilled. And as the reality of the situation began to sink in, I relaxed a little knowing that at least I would not have to make lunches or trudge out early in the morning. I told the boys not to even think of waking me up before 7:30, and we all went to sleep.

At 5:25 the door slammed behind hubby as he headed to catch the early morning train into the city, and I was up. It was one of those morning alarm situations in which you realize you will not be getting back to sleep. Resigned to my fate, I picked up my iPhone and checked my messages. By 5:50, both boys were up. I looked outside and snow was indeed falling. We had barely three inches on the ground and I wondered if all the school administrators who had cancelled school (every district in the Denver metro area had cancelled school by late Monday night based on the forecast) were drinking their morning coffee at home and kicking themselves thinking about a summer vacation that would now start one day later for no good reason.

Throughout the day as the snow fell off and on, the boys played quietly with their iPads or the Xbox. We worked ahead on school work a little together, enjoyed a laid back lunch, and then we settled into my bed to watch episodes of Arrested Development. We did very little all day. It was quiet. We were restful and mellow. We never got out of our lounge clothes and pajamas. We decompressed. Around 4 p.m. Luke ran over to play in the neighbor’s house, and I sent Joe out into the backyard in his snow clothes to amuse the dog who had refused to step foot outside in the inclement weather all day. As Joe played with Ruby in the yard, I sat on my bedroom floor looking down on him from the upstairs window. I was completely in the moment. And as my now almost 12 year old son played in the falling snow with his border collie, tossing snowballs that she tried to catch, I got teary eyed. In my yard I could still see the three year old who would play in the snow long after his friends had become too cold and gone inside. Where has the time gone? These precious days with my boys, the ones where they actually want to curl up and watch television with me or roll around in the snow with their dog, will likely become fewer and father between as they get older and become more involved with their own lives. So yesterday I stopped and made a conscious choice to soak up the sights, smells, sounds, and peace of the snow day I had not wanted so I will be able to savor it forever in my memory when Joe and Luke have moved on.

Although I had gone into the snow day with a firmly resonating noooooooooo echoing in my head, it turns out that it was exactly what I needed. Three or four years ago, I would have grudgingly made my way through the day, upset that I’d missed my workout and my peace and quiet, counting the minutes until school started the next day. Luckily, I am an older and wiser person now. I’m grateful that I’ve finally gotten to a place in my life where I can soften a bit and appreciate the here and now in full knowledge that in another minute it will be just a memory.

I Don’t Miss Sleep Anymore

Safe haven
My three men…all wiped out together

The other night our double bedroom doors burst wide open at 1:03 a.m., startling both hubby and I awake. From the light in the hallway, I could make out that the perpetrator of our early morning wake up call was our youngest son, Luke.

“What’s up, Luke?” I asked, although I already knew the answer to this question.

Luke is our “good” sleeper. While his brother tosses and turns in the top bunk, Luke slumbers peacefully. He sleeps in cars, on planes, and in restaurants. When he’s down for the count, you usually don’t have to worry about him again.

“I had a nightmare,” he replied as he quietly closed the door behind him with sudden politeness.

“Really? What about?” I said.

As he began to climb onto our bed, he started recalling a dream wherein he was being chased in Roblox, which is some new video game he and his brother have been playing. He sat on the end of our already cramped, queen-size bed telling us about snakes (like Indiana Jones, he hates snakes) and death. He was visibly unsettled. Often he will just tell us about his nightmares, and then head back to his room. Sometimes, though, he needs real comfort. I could tell this was one of those times. Finished with his story, he finally crawled toward the top of the bed, pulled back the covers between me and hubby, and began to insinuate himself between us.

“So…sorry about this, guys,” he told us as he nestled in and began to settle down to get some more sleep.

When Luke was small, we experienced periods during which the only way he would fall asleep was in our bed. He slept in a bassinet in our room until he was four months old. He slept with us again off and on from 9 months to roughly 14 months. Sometimes he would fall asleep in our bed and we would transfer him. Sometimes we were so tired he ended up staying with us all night. When we would tell other people about Luke’s sleeping habits, most would cluck their tongues and tell us what a mistake we were making. We brushed it off.

In the house I grew up in, we were not allowed to sleep in my parents’ room. Ever. It simply was not done. My parents gave us our own rooms, and they expected us to be in them. End of story. When we had our children, I assumed that our kids would have the same experience that I did. But, our kids are not like my sisters and me. Our kids have vivid imaginations and stressful dreams. Joe sleepwalks. Luke, if aroused from sleep by an unexpected noise, is often unable to calm down enough to go back to sleep. We do what we can to get sleep when we can, and sometimes that only occurs when we let the boys sleep in our room. It is what it is. We have made our peace with it.

I flipped around as Luke was in our bed the other night, unable to go back to sleep. I could not get comfortable because what was once 20 pounds is now 55 pounds and takes up a lot more room. I was about to resign myself to taking Luke’s place in his bed while letting him rest peacefully with his dad when, out of nowhere, the announcement came.

“I think I’ll go back to my own bed now,” he said, grabbing his stuffed animal and climbing carefully over his father and out of the bed.

I walked with him down the hall and tucked him back into his bunk bed underneath his sleeping brother to make sure he was truly ready to settle down. He pulled his stuffed Husky dog, Shasta, towards him, curled into a little ball on his side, and closed his eyes. He was calm, and I knew I would not be seeing him again until the morning.

I’ve thought a lot about the way we “spoil” our kids by letting them do things like sleep in our room on occasion. Truth is that I don’t feel the slightest bit of remorse about it. I don’t think it’s undermined their confidence or made them any less capable of handling their fears. Instead, I think it’s allowed them to believe that when things get scary, they can turn to us. When they feel confident and relaxed, they always move forward without us. Sure. We’ve definitely lost some sleep with restless boys in our bed or on an air mattress in our room, but I think the trade off of knowing that they know they can count on us is worth it. Besides, these days are numbered. Someday they will be out of the house, and I will miss hearing that door burst open in the middle of the night and knowing that they need me. I’ll catch up on my sleep then.

Find Your Bliss Any Way You Can

Guess which set belongs to the lone female in this family.
At least I will be easy to spot.

“If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge.”      – Deepak Chopra

Yesterday, in the peaceful falling snow of an early evening in January, the UPS delivery truck stopped in front of our house. As it pulled away, it left behind a box filled with things not meant for the snow at all. The large box contained snorkel gear for our entire family. I laugh at the absurdity of our family purchasing snorkel gear when we live in the middle of an already landlocked state, 1o00 miles away from the nearest beach which is a nearly 17-hour drive away in Malibu, California. We selected the gear while we were in snowy Steamboat Springs a week and a half ago. In spite of the wintery landscape there, we were absorbed with the notion that in two months we will be in Hawaii. So, in between cross-country skiing and trekking through a castle made entirely of ice, in front of a glowing fireplace we perused travel books and made mental notes of beaches we wanted to stand on. And, we ordered snorkel gear.

This morning, after an icy drive to deliver the boys at school, I took the next step in preparing for our upcoming spring break trip. I stopped to try on swimsuits. Buoyed by weeks of relentless work in yoga class, I felt fairly confident about my chances swimsuit shopping. I have a little less than two months left to finish whipping myself into vacation shape, and a swimsuit is exactly the motivation I need to keep my eye on the prize. I know it will be a bit odd to have it secured into place on the door of our stainless steel refrigerator in the middle of winter, but you do what you have to. For me, it’s yoga, fruit, and the fear of the suit.

And, as I stood in the fitting room today staring at my half-naked figure in the mirror, for the first time I faced the truth. My body is what it is, and what it is is a vessel that carried two children. It is strong and healthy. With nearly 45 years behind it and with a steady exercise routine, it endures more and is more flexible and balanced than it has ever been. It does things now that it couldn’t do a decade or two ago, like push ups. My body is powerful and capable. What it is not, however, is 20 years old. No matter how hard I work or how well I eat, I will never look the way I used to. Evolving over time, enduring childbirth and abdominal surgeries, my body has morphed to become something entirely different. It’s not bad. It’s simply not the same.

On the way home, I battled the negative self-talk that was bullying me into believing that I’m too old for the bikini I had just purchased. I told myself that as old as I am, I will never be this young again. And, if I am going to Hawaii for the first time and want to swim and snorkel in a two-piece suit, well…the rest of the world can suck it. I want to find bliss, and I will never find it if I’m judging myself or worrying about what others judge in me. I have only so much control over how the aging process will affect my body. Despite my best efforts, things will pucker and wrinkle and head in a southern direction. It’s inevitable. But, if cleaning grains of sand out of my navel makes me feel alive and happy, then that is what I must do. With each passing year I’m closer to peace and self-acceptance than I have yet been in my life. Maybe it’s blissfully naive of me to assume it’s not positively gauche for a woman of my mature age to appear in public in a bikini. At this point, though, I’ll take my bliss any way I can get it.