Thursday, June 16, 2016

The answer is love

We're on vacation. Lugging all of our beach gear down to the shore the other day I see the flags are at half staff and I'm reminded of the 30 ... no ... 50 men and women murdered at that nightclub in Orlando. 

And my heart feels the weight of grief and ugliness and division bearing down on us. 

Orlando. I've never been there before. All I know of Orlando is that Disney World is down there. And Shaq. 

In my head Orlando is this pre-fab, plastic paradise that's home to talking mice and candy-colored annuals arranged into brand logos and pastel pants and fanny packs. It makes me think of that scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," where the knights are preparing to go to Camelot and then the Knights of the Round Table song plays and then the on says, "On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. 'Tis a silly place."

I've always thought of Orlando as kind of a silly place.

Though not this week.

There doesn't seem to be much silly about Orlando. It's lost its glitter. That innocent luster. As it turns out, it's just like the rest of the other places all bloodied by hate.

I'm at the beach, and I want to do something. To say something. To remind myself and my family and all the other vacationers that our lives are so precious and we need to stand by one another and stand up for one another. Hate seems like such wasted energy.

But I'm just little me. And we're all here on these nice vacations on this bright, sunny day. Orlando is probably on all our minds, but for this moment, we don't want it on our lips.

Despite that, I craved this moment of reflection. It was the least I could do on this day as the flag fluttered so mournfully. The very least.

I traced "love" in the sand with my fingers. But it didn't stand out enough. So I filled in the outlines with small stones I collected from the shoreline. Gathering the stones and filling the outline was a meditation. Digging through the sand, finding ones big enough, filling in the outline. Digging some more. I did this for a half hour ... maybe and hour. I'm not sure how long. It became a bit of an obsession.

I ruminated on the word love. 

I wrote it, because anything else in the sand seemed to long.

Love is short and simple.

I realized as I was writing love that it is something we should be doing every day. Every minute of every hour of every day even. And if we all did this the best we could, as often as we could the tide might start to shift.

We can write love with whatever supplies we have on hand. 

Write love with pens and pencils, with bytes and words and with paint and canvas. Write it with dancing and skipping and with smiling and giggling. Write it with hugs and kisses and with waving, shaking, holding hands. Write it with random acts of kindness and forced acts of kindness (because kindness isn't always easy on angry days). 

Write love to the people you love. And write love to the people you hate.

Write love by consoling. By supporting. By standing up for and standing by and standing sentinel. 

Write love by being present and alive.

Write love with gratitude.

And if there is nothing else, write love with sand and stones. 

Write it obsessively, compulsively and thoroughly.

The tide came in, even as I wrote love. 

And so I realized that we have to write love knowing it will be washed away at the next high tide. It is impermanent, so we have to write it again and again. In big letters and small letters. In big gestures and small gestures.

Love can't be legislated. It belongs to us. And it's up to us to use it to make the change we're aching for. 

And it it starts with writing love. Branding it in our hearts and on our brains so that it's our first instinct. Love over fear. Love over hate. Love over and over.

By the time we leave, the word Love has been washed away, leaving only a few stray stones and the impression that it once existed there. 

I'll just have to write it again tomorrow.

Because that is the only answer. The only remedy. The only solution to this dark terror. 

Steadfast, ephemeral, mighty, delicate, world-changing, universe-building love. Over and over again.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

When humble warrior helps center the universe

Earth, as seen underneath Saturn's rings.
Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Tonight's yoga class was a struggle. From start to finish. I was shaky and off balance and couldn't get a grip on my mat from all the sweat rolling off my underused body.

I found myself going toward a place of frustration and defeat, which would've only made the rest of the practice futile. It's so hard to find your center when you're busy telling yourself you're failing.

Then our instructor had us take this pose with one leg stretched out behind and the other stretched at an angle in front. Our hands were clasped behind our backs, our chests pointed skywards.

I didn't know what to do with my head, so I held it up. But the instructor told us our head should hang low and heavy. 

This is humble warrior, she said. Our heads should be bowed to the ground with our hearts raised skyward. 

"You can bow to your body. Or to the practice," she said. 

So I did. Head hanging low toward the Earth. Heart raised to the heavens. Bowing to enlightenment.

Because I experienced some of that.

Now, this is going to probably sound a little hokey to those non-yogi sorts among you (and potentially to those of you who've ever omed or Namasted or groaned getting out of half-pigeon) but the pose felt profound. It felt like a lesson. One of those rare moments of clarity about how to live more fully. 

Humility. From the Latin words humilitas and humilis, meaning "grounded" or "from the earth." (*cough* at least according to Wikipedia *cough*).

Lowering my head to the ground allowed me to be mindful of my roots. To acknowledge I am limited and impermanent. Something my brain encumbered by pride and ego and self-importance needs to be reminded of constantly. 

That's part of the human condition, right? Being the centers of our own universes. 

But the beautiful part of humble warrior, is that to balance out this moment of vulnerability and insignificance, your heart is raised toward the vastness of the universe. Opening itself up to the beauty of all that is and was and will be.  

It was this perfect limbo. The brain will not always allow you to find what the heart sees so readily. 

Faith. I mean that has to be what faith is right? Quieting your roaring psyche for the grace that comes with knowing you are who, who you are - no more, no less. (I'm rediscovering Pearl Jam. That guy knows what I'm talking about).

Humility is not a quality we seem to value much in the U.S., at least on a national level. We're raised to seek higher incomes and bigger houses. The things we do to unwind often results in a competition with ourselves and each other to run faster and harder and longer. To be better than the best. We don't find joy in the doing, so much. Just in the finish line. And when we can't make it to the finish line in time – we berate ourselves for failing rather than celebrating that we tried.

The people we tend to put our faith in, to put our trust in, to look up to as leaders and role models – they're not exactly humble. At least that I can see on the public stage. They know our attention spans are short and our humors easily swayed by things that are bigger, louder, flashier, more shocking. The things that allow us to raise pitchforks and wave torches at the next parent who allows their child to fall into a gorilla enclosure. So intoxicated are we by rage and self-righteousness, we often forget our own humiliation. The hard lessons we've had to learn.

But I think humility is alive on a smaller scale. I see it around me, in the thoughtfulness of my neighbors and in the sweetness of strangers. And maybe there's a reason for that. By its nature, humility is lowly, unobtrusive, meek, reserved. Asking for a huge act of humility seems like it might be an oxymoron.

At a cosmic level, the Earth is just a speck. And we're just the dust occupying that speck. So, I don't know, maybe its not too much to ask that we all try to embody the greatness of humility.

Tonight, as a balanced on the verge of falling, humbled by the enormity of existence, my heart felt as vast as the universe.

It's a relief to know I don't know a whole lot – I come across more mysteries that way. And can appreciate the questions just as much, if not more than, the answers. 

I continued to stumble and teeter for the remainder of my practice. Even falling on my face attempting a handstand. The only difference was, after humble warrior, I smiled and laughed about it. Sometimes you just need to let gravity win.

Monday, May 23, 2016

In search of tiny fragments of light

I've found myself sharing this quote by physician Rachel Naomi Remen from Krista Tippett's "Becoming Wise" with so many people:

"In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.  
Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world. 
And this, of course, is a collective task. It involves all people who have been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. That story opens a sense of possibility. It's not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It's about healing the world that touches you, that's around you."

I imagine this isn't the last reference to the book I'll share here. The book has become a bit of a manual on living right now.

Life feels like it's pivoting, right now. Transitioning into something new and unexpected and I've been struggling to figure out my purpose in that. The role I will play. The impact I will make. For a long time it felt like I was moving in a certain direction – I had a clear(ish) picture about what life could look like outside of freelancing and family. You know, the part where I accomplish the things I want to accomplish, or the things I thought I wanted to accomplish or whatever (it all feels muddied right now). 

It felt a bit like destiny. 

And ain't that a heavy word.

So now the future is blurry. As it probably always was. And I'm trying to center myself onto things that feel doable and purposeful. And this story ... the story about finding the hidden light – about healing the world that touches me, well, that resonates. It seems more possible than all the other impossibilities. 

It feels like an anchor. One of those negative words that's actually kind of positive. But its really the thing that moors us and gives us the security to grow. I don't feel capable of big things right now. But the world I touch? I mean, it's right there to mold. To change. To better.

And in the midst of the endless ugliness, well, that's beautiful, right?

If I can locate the missing shoe. Track down the lost Palace Pet. Tape torn picture of Rapunzel and super glue Queen Miranda's head for the 40th time, I can find one of those thousands of thousands fragments of light. 

I mean I see them already. In Jovie's hugs and the times Lily handing her favorite toy to her little sister and how my little brother grabs his little niece's hand to cross the parking lot. 

Everyone transforming what they are touching through small acts of love.

Last week I interviewed a woman who works for Bell Socialization Services, an organization that helps individuals with intellectual disabilities, mental health problems and homeless families. I asked her about how individuals and organizations can help, and I loved her response.

Averie said that inevitably, when they bring up the needs of the family shelter Bell runs, someone will suggest they call Oprah.

But she said we don't really need Oprah to fulfill our needs.

"There are people in our community who can help us solve this problem right now," she told me.

Then she told me a story about how one year when she was a young single mom, she came home find a couple bags of groceries on her porch right around Thanksgiving or Christmas. She said the impact of the gesture was huge. They left it on her porch so she didn't have to be embarrassed. They didn't expect a thank you, but they knew she would've been appreciative.

And anyone of us can buy the bag of groceries.

It's easy to be daunted by the enormous amount of need facing us. But Averie suggested that even if you just buy an extra bottle of shampoo or a toothbrush every time you stopped by the grocery store, you'd make a difference for the people she serves.

She said the next time you had a girl's night, if you asked everyone to bring a box of tampons, you'd make a difference.

If you have the drive and the means to change the world in a big way, then change the world in a big way. 

If not, then change the world in a small way. 

There are 7 billion of us. Surely, we can all find a little light.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Fish and fish dreams

Back in January Brad and I decided we didn't have enough chaos in our life. The girls had been asking about getting another pet, so we gave them a choice: They could either get fish or a kitten.

In an unexpected move, the girls chose fish.

So, a couple days before that big blizzard, we bagged a couple of fish – Jovie picked a black Molly and named her Anna and Lily got an orange and black Platy and named her Eliana. 

The joyful day.
When Anna and Eliana survived a week, I decided that Brad and I needed fish, too. So I picked up a sunburst Platy for Brad (he named it D.W. for Darrell Waltrip. Because NASCAR) and I picked out a beautiful golden-finned Molly that I named Kelly Taylor. Because 90210). 

From, left, Eliana, D.W. and Kelly Taylor.

Well, it turns out Kelly Taylor probably should've been named Steve Sanders, not only for the fact that the fish is obnoxious and annoying and pesters poor Anna all day, but also because she is, in fact, a he.

Jovie's fish Anna did not appreciate the ceaseless attention from Kelly Taylor (whose name I stuck with because it makes me giggle). While she did get bigger, she also seemed, well, anxious. You know, as anxious as a fish can seem. I became convinced that she was pregnant because her belly was growing and, well, Kelly Taylor. One day I found her at the bottom of the tank, alive but not really swimming around. Today is the day! I thought. Fish babies!

As it turned out it was a landmark day in our little aquatic realm. But not because Anna was having babies. During one of my many visits to the tank to search for little Molly babies (they're called Fry, according to the internet) I found Anna not moving, and as it turns out, not alive.

Jovie took the news well. Mostly because I told her she could get another fish.

So, I took the girls and one of their friends to the pet store to find Jovie a new fish. She selected another black Molly and named it Anna (we called her new Anna for a while, but Jovie, figuring the memory of Anna I had been honored long enough, decided we could just call her Anna. Interestingly enough, Lily still refers to the little boy who arrived in her classroom part way through the school year New Mason because there was already a Mason in the class. When I suggest that he could just be "Mason" she tells me he has to be New Mason because they already have a regular Mason. So much for self actualization.)

And because I like the idea of a fish that picks up some of the tank maintenance duties we got a Plecostomus (the garbage disposal of aquariums worldwide). I told the girls' little friend that the Pleco could be her fish, but that it'd live at our house (I really like her mom and didn't think it would help our relationship to force her into the weighty responsibility of fish ownership). 

So that's how we got Winter:

Tee hee hee. Sucker.
Brad mentioned that maybe I should stop going to the pet store because our tank wasn't big enough for my new-found love of fish. I promised I wouldn't purchase any more fish (unless, of course, we had any more floaters).

And I kept my promise. 

The problem was, that Anna (i.e. New Anna) didn't know I'd promised that there would be no new fish.

As it turns out, she thought there should be, like, 20 new fish.

New Anna's babies!

It was a very exciting day. Until the internet told me that unless I separated the fry from the other fish, they'd probably be eaten or sucked into the filter and suffer horrific deaths. Something I didn't want the girls to witness. So we collected the babies and sent them back to the pet store.

Correction, we collected most of the babies and sent them back to the pet store. 

Anna wasn't quite finished having babies. So now we have a Pleco, two Platys, two adult Mollies and four baby Mollies. Scratch that, three baby Mollies. I recently discovered that one of the babies – despite months of survival – got sucked into the filter. It was horrific.

So why am I share this fish tale? 

It seems as if they've swum their way into my subconscious. The fish and the fish tank have become symbolic somehow. I know this because I keep having dreams about them.

In the first one, Kelly Taylor and crew kept jumping out of the water. My friend and I had to frantically put them back in. And they'd jump out again.

In the next one, the tank was enormous and contained extra fish and a turtle and shrimp and other critters. But I forgot to clean it. It became algae covered and filthy and I found the turtle, dead floating upside down (do turtles even do that when they dye) and the fish struggling to survive. I felt awful – frantically attempting to clean it while faced with obstacles.

Then last night I had a dream that I was cleaning the tank, trying to suck out one of the dead babies from the bottom but I wasn't paying attention and sucked out all the water, leaving the fish buried in sand (for some reason there was sand, not gravel at the bottom of the tank). I raced to get fresh water for the fish but was stopped by a kid who was either one of my nephews or my brother (when he was a teenager) -- I yelled that he needed to leave me alone because the fish were going to die, but I couldn't get the water fast enough.

I told Brad about the dreams, and he suggested that maybe because the fish are totally dependent on us for their survival in their little closed environment, that my dreams were somehow related to feeling like I'm not meeting the needs of things that are dependent on me. Which feels kind of true.

I told my friend about the dreams and she suggested that the dreams were related to stress. That the fact that I put the other fish in danger by trying to clean out the dead fish somehow meant that I should be focusing less on the dead (or past?) and more on the living (and present). Which also feels true.

They are both very wise I think.

But it could also just be that the fish are in actual peril...

Oh right, we ended up getting a cat, too.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

That time I pretended I didn't need my antidepressants

Jovie and her pink blank-let.
Recently, I'd been thinking the grass might be greener over in the magical land where I don't have to take an antidepressant.

I'd been feeling as if I'd become too complacent about things I would've normally felt justified in being angry, anxious or sad about. Not having these authentic reactions made me feel as if I weren't really holding the reins of my life (well, I'm not sure I'm ever really holding the reins of my life). It's seemed like there were issues that I should take action on but wasn't because. Meh. 

In addition to this omnipresent air of "meh" I started feeling like I was missing emotional cues in my interactions with others. Like I was hearing them on that deeper level.

I understand this all sounds very vague and perhaps not grounded in reality, practical thinking or sound medical. 

But that's how I felt. 

So when the family was tackled by a stomach virus last week, all the nausea and vomiting seemed as good an excuse as any for a self-prescribed cleanse of my antidepressants. (I.E. I just sorta kinda stopped taking them for a week).

And the grass was greener. It was lush and springy and filled with wildflowers. You know, metaphorically speaking. But very quickly it was overtaken by prickly weeds and brambles and those shrubs with the giant thorns on them. My idyllic wonderland transformed into the Fire Swamp from "The Princess Bride." It was all very adventurous and wrought with emotions. 

And while I didn't run into any ROUSes, I did become convinced our family should adopt this cat:

His name in Pretzel ... because in our house,
we prefer to name our pets in such a way that
we would be comfortable eating them in the event of an apocalypse.
That was a joke FYI.

This all came to a head Tuesday night. 

One minute I was raging to Brad about how awful the kids had been during a playdate I'd hosted earlier in the day (the pièce de résistance was Lily hissing at and scratching her friend like a cat and spitting on me. Like, for real, actual spit. On my face). Then I turned to philosophizing about how ideas shared in Mark Ronson's TED Talk on how sampling transformed music, could be used for integrating communities and businesses in York. Then I was lit-rally* laughing so hard I snorted over this raunchy video on Tosh.o (don't watch it, Ma!) about a video game called "Genital Jousting" (seriously, Ma, just don't.). 

Then Jovie wandered out of her bedroom bleery eyed and ruffle headed with her pink blanket, so obviously, I started bawling.

"She won't do this forever," I sobbed to Brad. She won't be little forever. She won't carry that greying, fuzzy pink blanket everywhere she goes. She won't need me to tuck her back in. She won't grab my face between her two little hands and kiss me on the nose.

It wrecked me.

You seem to be a little all over the map tonight Brad observed.

It was a gentle observation on his part. 

An emotional map of my day would've resembled one of those "Family Circus" panels where Billy runs hither and thither all over the neighborhood, except mine would've had stops at screaming at my kid in the kitchen, giggling at stupid-funny internet memes and flopping on the couch in tears while the girls stare in confusion and concern.

I wasn't just all over the map. I'd crumbled up the map, torn it, stomped on it, spilled chocolate milk on it then used the remnants to blow my nose.

The map was useless.

I confessed to Brad and to a friend that I'd accidentally on purpose sorta kinda forgotten to take my antidepressants for almost a week and that I had a strong suspicion that my epic journey through the mystic realms of all the emotions ever was an unintended result.

I don't know what the answer is here. I don't want to take antidepressants for the rest of my life. But I also can't afford to jump aboard a nonstop emotional roller coaster every day either. I have two little kids to take care of. A dog. Nine fish. Two cats, one of which is currently attacking my fingers in vain attempts to stop me from typing (should I take this as a sign to give up the dream?)

It can take up to a year for antidepressants to help your neurotransmitters to reset (i.e. restore the nerve pathways that were broken down by stress and depression). So ... what's that? Five more months? Maybe six. 

I can do that. 

The grass isn't so bad here anyway. Winter's gone and it's getting greener every day.

I took my pills. And you know what, Jovie and her blanket is still one of the sweetest things ever.

I'll end with this cuz it's pretty and a little sad (H/T to Beth for finding it):

*If you get this reference to "Broad City" than you and I are automatically besties for life. I will send you tickets to my celebrity cruise as soon as I secure the boat, book the the celebrities and get over my unjustified hatred of cruise ships.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Goats and other tales of calamity

Lily: Much better suited for managing Annabelle the Sheep and Izzy the Goat than I.
The barn was calm Saturday morning.

It was overcast, but there was no chill in the air. The horses were slow to come in for breakfast, so I took my time. Stopping to scratch the soft spot behind Jenni the pig's ear. Snapping pictures of trees in bloom. Chatting with the hens who always seem to be fussing at me for unknown reasons.

I enjoyed the cacophony of song birds rejoicing at the new season. 

OK, maybe that last part is a little generous. Really what those birds are doing is advertising their availability to certain female birds. And reveling in all the tail they're hoping to get.

But this is a family blog. So it's much more pleasant thinking that they're just out there cheering on the hyacinth pushing through the dirt and reveling in the warm breezes.

This pastoral jubilee along with the assuredness of having nine months as a part-time farmhand under my belt, allowed me to stop and really appreciate the simple life. What joy! What satisfaction! What happy industry marked my hours there!

I even found myself waxing poetic about the worn metal notch on the water pump that allowed me to hang up my bucket instead of setting it on the dirty ground. How thoughtful of that resourceful person generations ago who thought to add this handy detail when forging the pump. I found myself thanking the unknown inventor of the water pump notch out loud – recognizing that seemingly small deeds can span decades, maybe centuries even, tethering us all in this web of human connection. 

Farmer Jim would've appreciated that.

If you find yourself rolling your eyes a little right now, don't worry. My little detour to bucolic bliss town ends here. 

The culprits? 


Who else?

See, the water pump notch inventor inspired me to think ahead about the chores to be done. Rather than rush around to make up for things I forgot to do, I decided to be more deliberate. 

This started with opening all the stall doors – which would make it easier when it came time to let the horses in. 

Only Ally was ready for breakfast at this point, so I opened the paddock gate for her.

She walked right into her stall. And because I'd already opened the door, I didn't have to race ahead of her to open it while she wandered over to the other horses' food buckets, nabbing breakfast wherever she could get it.

The other horses still weren't ready to come in, so I visited the sheep and goat enclosure. As usual, Lola and Izzy were bleating at me. The sheep were in the back staring expectantly. I refilled their water bucket and got breakfast for Fiona the goat, who is older and skinny and in need of a little extra TLC.

I couldn't feed Fiona in the enclosure though. Why? Because the sheep and goats always act as if they don't spend their entire day grazing on lush grass and clover and the crackers farm visitors share with them. Whenever there's the slightest whiff of food activity they attack the bowls with a fury and militancy I've only seen exhibited in my children when given access to a bowl of ice cream. 

Had I brought the food to Fiona, there's no chance she would've gotten to eat any of it. 

So I had to get her out. 

I was stunned when she rose calmly and followed with only a gentle prodding of her collar.  I was even more stunned when the others stayed back, allowing Fiona to exit without a lot of hullabaloo.

I was just about to close the gate behind us when the hullabaloo struck.

Annabelle, the willful karakul sheep rushed the gate, squeezing past me despite my best attempts to block it. I pushed it closed against a growing tide of wily livestock. 

The sheep raced to the feed room and was attempting to root out any delicious morsels she could find.

Meanwhile, meek, mild-mannered Fiona was in a horse stall (you know, because I'd had the brilliant forethought to leave them open), helping herself to a bucket of horse feed.

I grabbed a bowl of grain and lured Annabelle back to her enclosure. Lola and Izzy were climbing the gate. I opened the latch, pushing them back. Shaking the bowl of grain in one hand I tried to get Annabelle back into the enclosure while holding the rest at bay with my other arm. I was like Chris Pratt with the raptors in Jurassic World. Minus the Jedi mind tricks. And the ability to maintain control.

The gate had to be wide enough for Annabelle to feel comfortable to get through, but not wide enough to allow the others to escape.

Annabelle came in lunging at the bowl of food. Izzy and Rosie the sheep got out.

I guess the gate was too wide.

Now Izzy was snacking on horse feed. Rosie wandered nervously up the barn aisle. Unsure of what to do with her newfound freedom.

I got Rosie back into the enclosure easily enough. Let's be honest, she wasn't sure she wanted to be out to begin with.

As usual, Izzy was a bit more of a challenge. I grabbed a half-eaten bucket of horse food (no thank you Fiona) and enticed Izzy into the horse paddock (she squeeze under the fence to get in there anyway). I closed the gate using the metal bar, but not the latch. This is important to note.

I got Fiona out of Tessa's stall and gave her breakfast in the barn aisle. 

The rest of the horses started coming in. I'd just put Sonny in his stall when I heard the metal bar thud.

It was the thud of idiocy on my part. 

Because there's a reason for the additional latch on that gate. That reason is goats.

Specifically goats, who let themselves out of the paddock by nosing back the metal bar, which allows the gate to swing open, given said goat access to whatever feed and hay they want (which is all of the feed and hay).

Izzy was out again. This time eating Fiona's breakfast. 

Another bowl of feed. More food shaking and pleading with the goats to go home. Another onslaught of sheep and goats, punctuated by being horned in my posterior by Annabelle. 

I escaped. Closed the gate. Latched it. Stopped to take a deep breath. Wipe the sweat from my brow.

The horses were stomping and whinnying at me. Asking what was taking me so long. 

Back when I was admiring the simple ingenuity of the notch on the water pump, I wanted the lesson of the day to be about the benefits of being purpose driven. Of identifying a thing to be fixed or improved and improving or fixing that thing. Of being thoughtful and deliberate. 

There's a quote Brad likes to share with me periodically when I'm bemoaning his constant list-making.

"If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail."

I tried it his way at the barn on Saturday. And I'm pretty sure I still failed.

Which leads us to that other quote, "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray."

To this canon, I'd like to add my own reflection:

"When goats are afoot, plan for the apocalypse (or, at least a minor headache)."

For the record, I still love goats.

Which is maybe the real lesson in all of those: Sometimes the things you love, are also the things that drive you crazy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What I learned sitting at the kids' table

This past weekend I took Jovie to the fourth birthday party she'd been to in a month (her social calendar puts mine to shame. Hell, it probably puts the Kardashians to shame). She's met Elsa and Anna, jumped in bouncy castles, made futile attempts to master skee ball and eaten various Disney-character-themed confections and one badass leopard-print cake

And because she's only 3, Brad and/or I have gotten to attend every party, too. 

For all you single, childless readers who are forced to spend their weekends toiling through endless mimosa/Bloody Mary-filled brunches before taking leisurely bike rides or binge-watching entire seasons of whatever show is so hot right now (my guess is, it's not "PJ Masks" or "Paw Patrol") that feeling you have right now? It's called envy.

Who wouldn't want to spend a Saturday afternoon making small talk with the parents of your preschooler's classmates between sneaking bites of your kid's half-eaten cupcake and praying you're not being judged for sugar and white flour consumption or some other breech of etiquette (like maybe having your fly down for the entire party ... which you were mortified to discover when you got home)? 

Usually, I'm the parent accompanying the kid to the birthday party. It's not that Brad won't do it (in fact, he went to two recently), but he gets anxious at the thought of making small talk with his stylist at the Great Clips. Meanwhile, I've been known to seek out random strangers to chat with when we're out and about. The child's birthday party is clearly more in my comfort zone.

But I've been a little burnt out lately. So I wasn't feeling especially social when it came time to go to Saturday's party. I didn't feel like asking about Easter plans or sales on kid's clothes or what developmental stage which kid had reached at which time. You know, all that typical mom stuff. And the mom's in Jovie's class are lovely. Really, all the one's I've met are friendly and warm and engaging. 

But I just couldn't muster up the energy to converse.

So I sat at the kid's table (the kids said it was OK).

One of the little girls seemed like she was in the same mood I was. So, I kept her company. The two of us anti-socialites agreeing that it was perfectly acceptable to skip the pizza and apple sauce and go straight for the cake and ice cream. 

At one point I was turned into a frog (one of the girls used her arcade game winnings on a plastic wand). She later turned Jovie into a moose – at Jovie's request. We weighed the merits of various jelly bean flavors and how smart it was of Fiona to use her tickets for ALL THE CANDY, which she generously shared with her friends. 

It was a nice break. Not having to be on. Just being silly.

I think sometimes we need to sit at the kid's table. 

Maybe all the time. 

At the kids table, there's no shoving down feelings or standing on ceremony or performing (unless, of course, you're performing a made-up song about being turned into a moose). You're just there eating your pizza (or not because the cheese is too slimy) and begging your parents to go back to the indoor playground or inviting all eight of your best friends over to a sleepover that night. 

If you're cranky, you don't pretend not to be cranky simply because you're at a birthday party and birthday parties are supposed to be fun. Sometimes you don't feel like being at a birthday party. Even if it is with all the friends you love chasing around on the playground.

These days it seems like I'm having a lot of conversations with people (including conversations with myself) who are kind of bummed at the birthday party. Only, unlike a 4 year old, they're ashamed to admit it – because we're grownups and showing that you're kind of bummed, much less talking about it openly isn't socially acceptable.

So we're shoving all that down with and putting on a smile. 

But it doesn't quite feel right, does it?

Because there's a reason we feel kind of bummed. And feeling guilty about feeling bummed isn't helping us feel better. And rationalizing the reasons why we shouldn't feel kind of bummed isn't helping.

And telling ourselves that we're not refugees or starving or living under a bridge and therefore shouldn't feel kind of bummed isn't helping.

I mean right? We're still kind of bummed.

And it's OK. Because nobody is judging you for being bummed. They're all too busy being bummed about their own shit or enjoying being not bummed. And if they're going to question you for feeling how you feel, well, those aren't the people you need to be spending time with anyway.

It's not that I recommend you wallow or anything. 

Even a 4 year old knows that you might arrive at the party and be intimidated by all the strange grownups and be a little freaked out by how it's kind of dark and maybe there's a weird smell and maybe you didn't sleep because you had a dream about being force-fed green beans that are absolutely the worst thing you could possibly ever have to eat – where we we? Oh right, you come to the party with all this baggage and it doesn't feel great, and you kind of want to just sit by yourself somewhere. But then all of the sudden you're offered some vanilla ice cream and things start looking a little different. And because you're 4, you don't hold on to the fact that you felt bummed before. You let that feeling go and you celebrate the vanilla ice cream. 

There are a lot of people I know (myself included), who don't feel comfortable feeling certain emotions. We're so divorced from our instinct that we question why we're sad or why we're angry or why we're afraid and then deny the validity of that feeling because it's not socially acceptable. 

But you know what? It's really OK to feel how you feel. And maybe if we allow that feeling to play out how it needs to, then it goes away. And we can start feeling more like ourselves.

Lily is a fantastic example for this. She's a raw nerve of a person. Her reactions to any given scenario – hair brushing (OUCH WENCH! WHY MUST YOU TORMENT ME?!!!), Panera's macaroni and cheese (HUZZAH!! YOU HAVE GIVEN ME THE RAREST TREASURE IN ALL THE UNIVERSE!!!), absentee relatives (i just miss grandma and grandpa so much (lots and lots of tears)) – are absolutely genuine. And mercurial.

Her emotions are real. And immediate. And intense. And then they're gone.

And she's back to pestering her sister and pretending to be a talking Saint Bernard puppy and begging to watch YouTube videos.

I'm not suggesting we all scream and flail in the back seat of the car at the mere suggestion we go to a park after school even though our leg really, really hurts because of a mortal (relatively speaking) wound acquired the day before that required treatment with a Band-Aid. 

We are grownups after all. But it's OK that that we revert back to childhood. At least by allowing the emotion to run its course. Be angry. Be sad. Be scared. Be lonely. Be frustrated. 

Be all you need to be. 

Maybe don't scratch your little sister after hissing like a cat.

Though hiss like a cat if you need to.

Then, when the time feels right (or someone hand you ice cream), let it go.

Be happy.

And the moments when you feel like you just can't be happy, go sit at the kid's table. 

They'll show you how it's done.