My Midlife, Middle School Experience

Hello, stark, college dorm room!
Hello, stark, college dorm room!
This past weekend I traveled to Baltimore for the BlogU Conference I impulsively signed up for months ago. As I was packing on Thursday, loading my suitcase with business cards, business casual attire, and an awkward middle school costume for the Saturday night party, I was cautiously optimistic. From the exchanges I had with a few of the attendees on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the conference, I had every reason to believe that new friends were on the horizon. I was looking forward to learning, networking, and growing my blog. I knew that masquerading as a successful blogger would be tough. Some of the attendees have readerships in the hundreds of thousands. Last time I checked, I had 1,549 followers. And that number seems shockingly high and inaccurate to me. Still, I was up for an adventure, so I boarded my flight and practiced my “I can be an outgoing introvert” mindset over and over for 1,500 aeronautical miles.

Upon landing in Baltimore, I learned a couple other attendees had arrived late after delayed flights and had missed their rides. Because I had a rental car reserved for myself, I offered to be their shuttle, figuring it would be a chance to make some friends before even getting my official name badge and conference schedule. One of my biggest reservations about attending the conference alone was an image I had of myself wandering around lost and friendless in the cafeteria like a middle school outcast. Perhaps offering a ride would keep me from that fate. Alas, that was not the case. When the three of us arrived and checked in, we went our separate ways. It’s okay, I told myself. There are a couple hundred folks here. My tribe is here somewhere. I shall find them eventually. 

I went to dinner on Friday night alone. The cafeteria at Notre Dame of Maryland was packed when I got there midway through meal service, its large, round, communal tables filled with chattering ladies of all shapes and sizes. I grabbed a plate, threw together a Caesar salad, filled another plate with halfway overdone-halfway underdone roasted vegetables, and began the hunt for a place to sit. I was overwhelmed. It seemed every person at the conference was there and successfully friended. I began to feel the fingers on my right hand forming the L-shape I knew belonged on my forehead. Conspicuously unfriended, I hastened to a nearby table where three women were engaged in animated conversation while a fourth woman sat to the side. Here’s another lonely soul just waiting to be my tribe, I imagined. We introduced ourselves and struck up polite conversation. Because she had finished her meal, she carried the lion’s share of the exchange while I scarfed down my veggies. As mealtime began to wind down, I realized I hadn’t had much opportunity to share about my blog. I was out of time, though, so I excused myself to prepare for the evening session. I kept telling myself that the introductions would become easier and my next meal would be at a table filled with new friends. It was early. There was plenty of time.

Perhaps I am as unfriendly looking as this sawtooth shark?
Perhaps I am as unfriendly looking as this sawtooth shark?
That night the conference hosted a pep rally. Writers who had won the submissions contest got to read their poignant and emotional pieces. During the break, I had the opportunity to touch base with a couple more bloggers. It felt good to share mom and writing experiences with women who could relate. When the program ended, I headed back to the dorm for the Open Mic session where we would put our names into a bowl and take turns reading our work. By the time I got to the lounge where we were meeting, though, it was standing room only and women were already sharing. The bowl to add your name to was at the front of the room through a maze of women seated in chairs and on the floor, placed on the floor directly in front of the gal at the mic. I didn’t want to be remembered as the rude woman who interrupted the speaker by stepping over other people to drop my name in the bowl, so I stood at the back sandwiched between a wall and a table for a while, just listening, before finally accepting that I had missed the boat on this event. I went back to my dorm room, mentally exhausted and ready for some introvert, alone time.

After a restless and wretched night of sleep on a squishy dorm bed, I hauled myself into the bathroom I was sharing. The other gal had left her Sonicare, her empty coffee cups, and a gob of chocolate-tinted toothpaste spit in the sink for me. I chose to assume this was because she didn’t realize it was a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. I locked the door, donned my shower shoes, and washed the dorm room off of me before driving to Starbucks for the most highly caffeinated latte imaginable. As I sat through the first two lectures of the morning, I eyed my fellow classmates looking for a like-minded soul. I suppose that would have come in the form of a carefully hidden yawn or a surreptitious glance at an iPhone. I saw none of that. Everyone was engaged, taking notes, and asking questions. The classes offered useful tips and I hastily scribbled just-barely-legible notes into my notebook, but the feeling that I was way out of my league persisted. I began to wonder if perhaps this wasn’t the best conference for me.

I stumbled into lunch in a state somewhere between dread and resignation. I once again wandered around alone, looking for a friendly face to welcome me to a table. No such luck. After sauntering casually with my food for a minute that seemed to be ten, I found an empty table and settled in alone. I checked my flesh for signs of leprosy and found none. Still, I had to wonder. I sniffed my armpits. Yes. There was deodorant there. I finished lunch and went back to the dorm room to freshen up just in case. On my way back to the classrooms for afternoon sessions, I set off a fire alarm on a poorly marked emergency exit. As I sped up my pace, praying no one would realize I was the goof who caused the ruckus, I decided my transformation from middle age nobody to middle school loser was complete.

I finished the next two sessions in a daze. In the 24 hours I was there, I made zero new friends despite putting myself out there as much as my reserved self could. The thought of sleeping in the dorm bed and sharing the bathroom again depressed me. I pulled up Expedia on my smartphone and booked a hotel room 15 minutes away. I didn’t need a Middle School To The Max party to feel any more unpopular than I already felt. Some takeout, a bottle of wine, and a private bath were all I needed to remind myself I was a grown adult and not a middle school reject.

Sunset on the flight home…all is right with the world.
Sunset on the flight home…all is right with the world.
That night while I was relaxing at the hotel and finishing up a blog post, against all odds, another attendee (one whom I hadn’t even met yet) reached out to me on the conference Facebook page wondering where I was. I was shocked. You know that scene in Pretty in Pink where the cute girl at prom motions to Duckie and he turns around to see if she’s talking to him? That’s how I felt. I quickly responded, telling her only that I was “out of sorts” and offering to meet up at the closing session the next morning. That’s what we did. As the conference drew to a close, my new friend, Martha, another blogger about mindfulness and zen, and I decided to drive into Baltimore to visit the National Aquarium and consume a crab cake lunch. The conversation was effortless and affirming and exactly what I needed. I pulled the thumb and forefinger L away from my forehead. I had found my tribe. That it was a tribe of one seemed perfectly fitting for this introvert.

My experiences at the conference were, I’m sure, vastly different from most of the attendees. Most of them are successful and gifted writers, humorists, and mommy bloggers on a mission. The conference, while not quite my milieu, offered loads of helpful information I will be able to incorporate into my publishing experience going forward. My blog may never have hundreds of thousands of followers. I may never make a living from it. What I realize now, though, is that those things don’t matter to me and they never really have. My plan from the start was to use writing to learn more about myself, to share what I experience with others to prove our common connections, and to find greater peace and stillness in my present. In those ways, I’m already a successful blogger.

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.

Bunny Bifocals

The best things in life are free.
The best things in life are free.

Simple things can be extraordinary to the bunny who chooses to see them.

As part of our training for the Inca Trail, we took a family hike today in advance of the changing weather tomorrow. I wasn’t all that excited about going, but I knew I wasn’t getting out of it. When hubby sets his mind to a plan for exercise, there’s no stopping him. I tried stalling by nursing my latte and spending most of my morning tucked in bed playing on my laptop. But when he came back upstairs at 10:30, fully dressed, and carrying his backpack, I knew I was doomed. I sucked it up, pulled on shorts, a t-shirt, and the hiking boots I need to break in, and made peace with the situation.

We planned a 6.5 mile hike at a nearby state park but had to regroup when we got there and were turned away because it was “full.” On a gorgeous, spring day in Colorado, this wasn’t surprising but it was disappointing. We fell to our back up and headed toward another hike approximately three miles due west of our home. We told our boys we’d do the 3-mile hike we usually do at this spot, but when we got there I decided on a trail we hadn’t taken before that would take us a bit farther.

Along the way on our new sojourn, we enjoyed colorful wildflowers, numerous birds, and the gurgling of spring run-off filling what is usually an empty creek bed. Small spiders scurried across the path underfoot. Squirrels barked their warnings at us from the trees. In one particularly breezy spot, I watched a fuzzy caterpillar alternate between creeping along under his own power and tumbling along windswept. I hoped the wind was carrying him in the direction he was trying to go. A small insect landed on Joe’s shirt. It was something akin to a box elder bug. It had a simple and perfectly symmetrical criss-cross pattern on its back in red and black. I examined it for a minute, sharing its magic with the boys before it flew away. For such a seemingly insignificant creature, he was impeccably adorned. The diversity of creatures on this planet and the spectacular ways they are put together are nothing short of miraculous.

I so often rush through life without looking around and noticing the simple things. A hike is an ideal opportunity to acknowledge the intricacies of our planet and to appreciate the wonder around us. Even when I am forced to drag my reluctant and sorry butt out of bed on a sunny, Saturday morning, I inevitably find awe in and gratitude for what I have seen outside. Being in nature reminds me that I am part of a much larger picture, no greater or lesser than any other creature, just a part of the grand scheme. I like that thought. It puts my life and my struggles into perspective. I mean, it’s a little humbling when a small, flying insect has a cooler outfit than I do.

Looking out our eyes day and in and day out, it can be an epic challenge to remember that we are not the center of the universe. When we are open to things outside ourselves, however, we can discover through the countless natural miracles around us that the things that vex us are unimportant. The only way to take ourselves less seriously is to realize how many smaller things are truly great. To get the best view, sometimes you have to take the focus off the immediate and look around you at the bigger picture.

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.

 

 

 

Closer To Buddha…Sort Of

This is as close as I've ever gotten to Buddha.
This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to Buddha.

Other bunnies are probably not trying to make me suffer. I choose to react compassionately because they also suffer.

Since starting my journey with the Bunny Buddhism book early last week, I’ve read and reread the book several times. Some of the bunny wisdom is immediately accessible and applicable. Some requires deeper reflection for absorption. And then there are the quotes that vex me because I understand what they’re asking for and I know they are going to require some additional effort on my part. Today’s quote is one I have been working on for quite a while because I find opportunities everywhere. Every time another person’s actions negatively affect me, I have a choice: take it personally or realize that this is probably not about me and react compassionately.

This morning I was driving home after dropping the boys at school when a guy in an older model, full-size Chevy pick up came barreling up in my rear view mirror. I was doing the speed limit in the right lane of a three-lane, city street, and he was coming up fast on the car in the center lane. I knew he was going to try to squeeze in front of me to pass the two cars driving side by side in the other two lanes. I thought about speeding up and blocking him in, just because sometimes it’s fun to do that to obnoxious jerks even though it’s not very zen, but I decided that would not be the safest choice. So I let him squeeze between my car and the center car so I could be rid of him. I watched him weave in and out of traffic, cutting other people off left and right, for at least a half a mile up the road until he at last turned into a mall parking lot. The whole time, I tried to be a good bunny. I tried to be compassionate. I tried to envision that perhaps he was late for an important job interview or was running out to get his very pregnant, very cranky, donut-craving wife some breakfast. Then I decided that I should have compassion for him because he is clearly missing the big picture. He doesn’t understand that he’s not the center of the universe, and it’s a burden to live life that way, devoid of inner peace. Yes. I actually had that thought. I know, right? I felt it was pretty evolved of me too.

I could not get that guy out of my head all morning. I kept wondering what his burden was. What was it that made him that impatient, aggressive, and obviously not at peace? What was he suffering from? Finally after recreating the scene this morning in my analytical brain, in a not very bunny way, I decided he was merely suffering from being an asshole. That could be the true depth of his problem. Many people behave nastily because they are carrying a bigger burden than they can bear…the unexpected death of a loved one, the loss of a job, depression, loneliness, poverty. Then there are those people who simply are their own problem. Somehow I’m certain that guy in the truck is the same guy who would yell at the little old lady in the express lane at the grocery store because she was one item over the limit. He’s the same guy who would hog both arm rests on his airline seat. The same one who would repeatedly drop the F-bomb in front of a bunch of Cub Scouts at a hockey game. He’s that guy. And when I look at the quote again (and excuse me for getting technical here) it asked me only to react compassionately, which I did by letting him cut me off so he could win whatever Indy 500 race he was imagining in his little pea brain head. The quote didn’t say I had to like him, so there’s no moral obligation there, right?

Yes. I know. Not very zen. I told you I have been working on this quote for a while. Apparently I still have a way to go before I can say I nailed it. While I’m working on it, though, I suspect Buddha would suggest I find a quote about forgiveness and letting go. Apparently I can’t drive the road to inner peace aggressively…you know, the way that guy was driving this morning.

 

Look Out, Nemo! Dory’s Got A Twin Sister!

It's too bad my inner zen is not quite ready to be my outer zen.
It’s too bad my inner zen is not quite ready to be my outer zen. It’s also too bad I’m not quite flexible enough for lotus pose just yet.

In moments when I cannot access my inner bunniness, it is enough to know it is still there somewhere.

I am wiped out. A week after I started writing again every day, I’m officially down from an average of 8 hours of sleep per night to 6. You see, I am a night writer (not at all related to Night Rider) and a morning person. I often am up past midnight writing, but I have a six a.m. wake up call. Now if I miss two hours of sleep on one night, it’s not a big deal. But, cumulatively speaking, sleep-deprivation damage on me is plain ugly. Today it became glaringly obvious that I am not functioning on all my cylinders.

Case in point…while scrolling through Facebook on my iPhone, I saw a recipe a friend had posted that I wanted to try. I thought about sharing her link on my own wall so I could find it later, but I try to avoid that type of visual noise in my personal space. So I copied the web address for the recipe and pasted it into an email to myself. Later I’ll be able to open the link, bookmark it, and then I will always know where the recipe for Buffalo Cauliflower Bites resides. So I composed the email and hit send. I put the whole process out of my mind and moved on. Not two seconds later, I heard the telltale ping of a message hitting my Inbox. I got an email! I thought to myself, like a squirrel giddy over the discovery of a new nut. I opened my mail, anxious to see who was checking in with me. Guess what? It was me. Of course it was me. It was the message I had just sent to myself. I shook my head and rolled my eyes. I am losing my mind. Talk about short-term memory loss. I know I will be turning 46 soon, but I think that’s too young for these pervasive senior moments.

I hate it when I do brainless things. I pride myself on being an intelligent, capable, and self-aware person. As important as these little reminders of my humanity are to my humility, I’m growing tired of their frequency. So tonight I am composing this short post so that I can get to sleep earlier and hopefully return to my mostly full-brain self tomorrow. On my trek toward zen, I am learning to be more accepting of my shortcomings. It is a process, and I know that recognizing, acknowledging, and then being able to let go without judgment are all crucial components of my personal growth. I am working on it. I swear I am. But, holy mindless mayhem, Batman! I hope my brain checks back in soon. I miss it. Inner bunniness…if you’re listening…send me a reminder that you’re still out there, please. An email on my iPhone might help. 😉

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.

Beginning Bunny Buddhism

I don't patronize bunny rabbits.
I don’t patronize bunny rabbits.

Late last week, my sister introduced me to a book I knew was a game changer. The minute I saw it I knew I needed a copy for myself because it fits right in there with two things that appeal to me…working towards my zen and coveting fuzzy things. (Yes. I know to be truly zen I would have to not covet things, even soft, fuzzy things, but this is why I said I am working towards my zen. I am not there yet, people.) The book is Bunny Buddhism by Krista Lester. It is an adorable tome filled with wisdom about life and illustrations of darling bunnies on the path to bunniness. As soon as I got the name of the book, I was one-clicking my way through Amazon to get it here as fast as humanly possible. (Yes. I know instant gratification also goes against my path to zen, but I can only make this journey one step at a time.) Today the book arrived, and I devoured 186 pages of bunny thoughtfulness, carefully marking statements that resonated with me. Fifty some Post-It tabs later, I realized I have a lot more travel ahead on the road to zen than I originally thought.

Last week, a fellow blogger (and all around kind gal) commented that she missed my blog postings. She told me she was planning to write every day in April. I was tempted to join her on her journey, but ultimately decided that after all this time off I’d gotten too lazy to commit to a whole month. That seemed like an awful lot of work. Then Bunny Buddhism arrived in my mailbox, and with it came my inspiration. And so for the next couple weeks, or until I am plumb bored with cute, fuzzy things or deep, life-changing wisdom, I am going to pick a thought from the book and blog a bit about it.

Today’s Bunny Buddhism mediation is this:

Even a reliable bunny misses a hop sometimes; then the important thing becomes simply to return to hopping.

That is what I am doing right now. I am returning to hopping by blogging again. Once I was a reliable writer, composing something every day for a full year, but I lost my way. I decided other things in my life were more pressing. I reasoned that because writing is not a paying gig for me, I had best focus on my primary job as wildlife manager (aka “mom to two sons”). I thought maybe all the time off blogging would give me more time to focus on writing a book. It didn’t. I found other ways to occupy my time when I put writing on the back burner. I rewatched all the seasons and every single episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and LOST. I read way too many articles about our food system that scared the bejeezus out of me. I spent appalling amounts of time on Facebook. And through it all, the only thing I learned is that I am a first-class escape artist. But at the end of the day, no matter what I do or don’t do, the one thing I can’t avoid is the knowledge that I am a writer. I may not be a world-class writer or a published writer or even (gasp) a working writer, but I am a writer. It is what I do. Writing is as much a part of me as my blue-hazel eyes, my constellations of moles, and my stubby fingernails. Denying it doesn’t make it less true. It only takes me further away from my true self.

My writing is not unlike my path to zen. I have a great deal to learn and a lot of room to grow. But I can’t make any progress by freaking out and freezing up when I miss a blog. Life will continue whether I write or not, but every day I skip writing I miss an opportunity to be my most authentic, wonderful, flawed, and yet-somehow-still-perfect self. And so I begin again. They say a journey of a thousand hops begins with a single hop, right?

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.

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.