Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31, 2011 ~ Day 53
Lighter and Lighter


Image by Renjith Krishnan


I am on a roll. I've posted five things on Craigslist for sale in the past week and my email account is BLOWING UP with interested parties. I'm high on the success of sales, with cash in my pocket.

Sure, I'm selling things for a small fraction of what they cost us to buy. Things we bought for hundreds of dollars are flowing merrily out the front door for chump change. Funny what a big deal it is to buy things (Is it the right color? Does it fit there? Does it match the house? Can we afford it?) and how EASY it is to get rid of them. (You'll give me $50 for that crib? Sure, why not! We don't need it anyway.)

Surprisingly, my husband and I don't care that we are getting peanuts for our worldly goods. We're moving, we don't want to cart a bunch of heavy furniture that doesn't fit into our new house with us, and besides it feels a lot lighter to get rid of it all. We're selling what we can sell and giving away the rest.

I'm dancing in the empty spot where our kitchen table and bar stools stood until two days ago, feeling free.

How is it that we have ended up with so much STUFF anyway?

It wasn't too long ago that I owned a bed, a desk, a couch, some clothes and a thousand CDs. I had never heard of the "EvenFlo Pack n'Play Mini Suite", let alone imagined that we would somehow have FOUR of these portable cribs. I thought the birch wood bedroom set my husband purchased at IKEA was the height of elegance, being that it was much fancier than the hand-me-down box spring we had been using from my parent's old guest bedroom.

They say that "Two can live as cheaply as one" but (a) I don't think that is true; and (b) Five definitely can NOT live as cheaply as two.

One of the thousands of things we've learned about babies in the past six years is that these tiny little creatures come with an endless barrage of accessories which are both superfluous and seemingly indispensable. Strollers, for example. How can it be that in the course of six years (and three children) we have owned six strollers?

1 Peg Perego Primo Viaggio, 1 BOB Jogger, 1 BOB Revolution, 1 BOB Duallie, 1 Zooper Tango, 1 Joovy Caboose

...and in the course of owning said six strollers, we could tell you A LOT about plastic wheels vs. rubber tires, seatbelts, turning function, ease of use, folding down well to pack, and maneuverability. Each stroller has offered a world of learning opportunities about how best to cart babies and toddlers around town.

We're not even in the minority here! Most parents I know have gone through multiple strollers, and some have a stroller for every occasion!

Enter Craigslist.

If it's not your first kid and you aren't freaked out about a crayon stain here or there, Craigslist is awesome! The perfect place to find a second (or third) stroller that will live only in the car, or a pack n' play that will live only at Grandma's house. Given the state of the US economy today, Craigslist is probably the FIRST place most parents turn for certain items, rather than going to the store to look at the new ones. Especially if you're looking for furniture items are made of real wood, you're going to get the same quality for a fraction of the price.

Moving beyond my enthusiastic endorsement for second-hand sales... I'm really talking here about first-rate LIVING.

It feels better than I can describe to let go of the material trappings that have been tying us down. I'm remembering day by day that we don't really NEED any of this stuff. It is nice to live comfortably but honestly, the THINGS in our home are not important at all when compared with the PEOPLE in our home. As we pare down our belongings to a minimalist style, I am growing giddy with excitement over the fact that our family can be at home anywhere in the world as long as we are together.

Just last week I remember chiding my son for spilling paint on that same dining room table. "We're not made of money," I told him, "We can't just go buy a new table and chairs any old time you spill paint". Yet just a few days later, that silly hardwood table wasn't even in our home... or our lives! Which brings back my focus upon the things that actually matter ~ like the fact that I *have* a son, and that my son loves to paint!

In many ways, moving is rebooting our family priority list. I love it!

Don't get me wrong... there is nothing wrong with wanting to provide a comfortable life for one's children, and I think most parents strive to do so. We don't want to make it so comfortable that they never find inner motivation to discover their own talents and make something of themselves; but a comfortable sofa for them to sit on while they study, a good box spring for them to sleep on as they grow, a refrigerator full of healthy delicious food -- these things seem reasonable.

In the end though, it is so reassuring to know that we can survive without most of our belongings... we can thrive as a family despite the lack of (perhaps due to the lack of?) material possessions. It lends personal truth to the notion that as long as a person has their health and their family and friends, they are truly wealthy.

What does that ancient Persian poem, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, say?

A loaf of bread, a jug of [organic grape juice], and thou.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30, 2011 ~ Day 52
Busted


Thirty minutes ago found me sitting in the dark parking lot of our neighborhood grocery store in my mom-car, all alone for the first time in over 48 hours and stuffing my face with White Cheddar Cheese flavored Pirate's Booty snack puffs. As I furtively crammed handful after handful of the stuff into my mouth hoping that no-one I knew would notice me gorging on the tasty flavor of artificial cheese, these thoughts flickered through my mind:

(1) Ahhhhhh.... I feel better.
(2) Oh crud, is this what they mean by a life of quiet desperation? They'll be making a movie about me on the Lifetime channel in no time.

I am probably not the only 35 year old mother of three so exhausted by my tribe that I occasionally resort to hiding in my car to scarf down junk food in secret. There are probably other mothers out there somewhere who volunteer to run errands at night when their husbands get home, just to get ten minutes of peace for themselves.

Even though I know in theory that I am probably NOT alone in this... I still scrunched further down while polishing off THE ENTIRE BAG of chips and actually jumped when the person parked next to me unlocked their vehicle. I looked up from my snack food reverie to see an elderly man peering at me through my passenger window, God only knows what he was thinking.

There I sat, busted. A pathetic middle-aged Caucasian stay-at-home mom alone in the dark, hiding in her 3 car-seated vehicle, covered from ear to ear in white faux-cheese powder. Giving the man a feeble smile and a wave I pretended it was no big deal that he'd just caught me in this private act of self-centered indulgence... I put on my seat belt, turned my key in the ignition and backed away from my own humiliation.

How is it possible that I have gone from rebellious teen to rebellious parent?

Thinking this over, I think it is perhaps because I have lost all sense of independence and autonomy in the last few years. Here is a brief list of the things that have changed now that I am a full time mother:

  • No eating junk food or excessive amounts of ice cream in front of the kids

  • No cussing in front of the kids

  • No going out for late nights on the town

  • No live music. We used to go out 4 nights a week...

  • No going out spontaneously

  • Actually, no $ to go out at all!

  • No career

  • No uninterrupted conversations with my husband before 9pm

  • My husband now goes to bed at 9pm

  • No sleeping in

  • No sleep!

  • No Sunday brunch

  • No privacy

  • No using the bathroom by myself

  • Such a heavy weight of responsibility, all of the time

The list goes on and on, and it's probably better for my own mental health if I stop listing things because I don't want to concentrate too hard on all that I've given up to take this job.

Just last night my daughter was up screaming for about four of the six hours that I was supposed to be asleep, and I kept thinking 'I need a break, I need a break' but in reality there is nobody to give me a break because I am the mommy and the mommy keeps on truckin'.

All three children were home today thanks to a fever and the fact that I've lost my wallet so I couldn't drive the smaller boy up to his new school. The three of them spent over twelve hours harassing each other physically and mentally, interspersed with brief moments of truce and laughter.

This afternoon my three year old was rough-housing with his older brother outside on a wooden bench sitting on our cement patio. He lost his footing, fell backward, smacked his skull on the concrete. I saw the whole thing in slow-motion and just about vomited. Thank God he seems to be okay but honestly, I'm not sure how much more my adrenals can take.

An hour later, his older brother knocked him in the head again, on purpose, out of anger. It took all the self control in my being to send the five year old to time out without yelling.

So this is the confession of a very, very tired mom:

Sometimes, I just want to hide from my children. I want to vanish into a closet or a cupboard and sit in perfect stillness for an entire hour while someone else answers the call of their incessant crying. I wish someone else could carry this never-ending burden of worry for me, so that I could just be myself again for a short while.

Who is that self?

Honestly, I don't even know anymore. I'm not sure I would recognize her if we met on the street. I might even chuckle, in a conversation with my old self... thinking, "Wow, she still has SO much to learn". I'm sure I would envy her smooth skin and lack of gray hair; and the sheer optimism with which she looked at everything. I am jealous of her freedom. I miss you, Young Optimistic Me.

That said, I WOULD NOT TRADE. ONE SINGLE DAY WITH MY KIDS. FOR ANYTHING.

If I have to choose between them and me, I choose them.

I just wish I could have both. I'm really working toward a time when I can have my crazy-intense-wonderful-adorable-stubborn-lovable-exhausting children AND myself. I believe it must be possible... and I'm hanging on (sometimes with the deeply necessary assistance of cheese puffs) until I can find the way.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29, 2011 ~ Day 51
Praying to St. Anthony


In a feat of impressive personal ineptitude, I've managed to misplace

(a) My wallet
(b) My wedding ring
(c) The packing tape

...all at once!

I'm confident that I did not manage to leave them all in the same place. Unfortunately if I don't find at least the wallet, the kids and I will be stuck in the house for the rest of today and beyond. Without a Drivers License or ATM card, we're fairly well stranded in the island town where we live for the foreseeable future.

Have I mentioned how FRUSTRATED I am?

There is only one thing I am truly grateful for in this situation, and that is that at least I have the good fortune to be at home right now. The last time I lost my wallet about a month ago, I didn't realize that it was gone until I was a 40 minute drive away from our house at the gas station with a fuel tank on Empty. I went to pump gas, realized the wallet was not in the car, and then it dawned on me that without my wallet I was truly stranded. No identification, no AAA card, no ATM card, nothing. I had a spare checkbook but the gas attendant would not take a check without ID. Nor would he allow my husband to give him a credit card number over the telephone.

Adding insult to injury it was raining hard and growing dark. Ultimately my poor husband had to drive north in heavy rush hour traffic to pay to fill up our car with gas so that I could follow him home to our house where my wallet was sitting cheerily on the kitchen counter.

I learned that time around just how scary it is to be without any proof of identity and no funds. As I waited in the car for my husband to rescue me, I thought about the fact that this is how people who live in and work in our country illegally must feel all of the time: Terrified!!!

Without a Driver's License or access to money, what happens if you are illegal and get pulled over by a police officer, need medical care, or run into an unsavory character but don't feel that they can alert authorities for help? I'm not a fan of illegal immigration but I understand why folks do it and I have a lot of compassion for how vulnerable they must feel every second while here... in many cases thousands of miles from friends and family who could help them.

I'm grateful then, to be home this time, so that at least if stuck without identification or money I am in my own home surrounded by my children, photos and belongings that prove I do have a place in this world. I have my house keys and plenty of food in the refrigerator, access to a telephone and relatives and friends just blocks away. I'm vulnerable, but also safe.

I wonder where my wallet will turn up? Where could my wedding ring be?

This brings back memories of our wedding reception when my brother lost his own wedding ring while helping to bake homemade lasagna for the guests. "It must have gone into the ricotta!" he exclaimed, and we all tried to imagine how it could slip right off of his hand into the mass of creamy cheese.

That evening at the big party, it was my job to announce to our guests that we were seeking a lost platinum wedding band. I could barely keep a straight face. I can't remember now exactly how I told our guests that somewhere in their dinner was a luxurious metallic object but I likened our dinner to a Mexican Wedding Cake and said that whomever was lucky enough to find the ring in their slice of vegetarian lasagna was sure to have a long life full of love.

Our 150 guests laughed kindly and ate carefully, looking through even the scraps of their dinner before handing back in their plates to the catering staff. By the end of the evening we had consumed all but three of the vegetarian lasagna, yet no wedding ring had turned up. My brother was a great sport about the whole thing and resolved to get a new ring made when he returned to his home in New York. Life continued.

Many months later my mother pulled the final vegetarian lasagna from our reception out of her freezer. "This has surely gone bad by now," she thought - and decided to thaw it out before disposing of it. "What are the odds that ring is in here?" She decided to go through this one last lasagna carefully before throwing it away.

You've guessed it! Sitting for all of that time inside of a frozen lasagna in my mother's garage - my brother's original wedding band!!! She found it! (Mom, you'll be lucky in love for the rest of your life!)

The story of the lost wedding ring has gone down in family lore as one of the funniest moments from our reception, and also as an example of "Anything is possible" and "If something is meant to be yours, you cannot truly lose it no matter how hard you try". Saint Anthony, patron of lost items, would be proud.

With my brother's ring as an example then, I have a lot of hope that my ring-wallet-tape will all turn up today or sometime soon... perhaps in the unlikeliest of places.

Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28, 2011 ~ Day 50
Sleepwalking

Image by Graur Codrin



This afternoon I entered the home office where I typically write and was surprised to discover my five year old son sound asleep on a futon mattress. Given that it was naptime, perhaps the biggest surprise should have been that he was sleeping at all... something five year old boys are not typically very excited about. This boy, however, is the best napper in the house.

I was surprised then not by the fact that he was asleep, but rather by the fact that I'd just seen him sound asleep 20 minutes prior in his bedroom. Snoring away, totally and completely out. How did he get from one room to the other? I wondered. (Obviously, he walked.) Why did he switch beds?

I sat down to write and not long after he opened his eyes and stared at me as though he'd never seen me before in his life. "What am I doing here?" he asked. "Why did you move me to this room?"

A cold chill settled into my spine. "Don't you remember how you got here?"

"No. I remember when you put me into my room for my nap. Why did you put me here?"
He stared at me a little longer and collapsed back onto the mattress sound asleep.

So, do we have a little sleepwalker on our hands? That could be a problem down the road. I recall knowing a girl in college who walked in her sleep to the extent that they had to put locks all over her room so she wouldn't accidentally walk right out a second floor window while sleeping.

Always one to consult Google first (my husband teases that it is my personal oracle) I decided to investigate sleepwalking. Thousands of pages popped up right away and I was somewhat relieved to read on Wikipedia that sleepwalking 'events' are common in childhood, usually decreasing with age. The article cited a study that found the peak age for sleepwalking is between 4 and 8 years of age, and typically fades away as children grow older. My son at age five-and-a-half falls right into that time frame.

Luckily we are moving from our current two-story house to a one-story home just two weeks from today. I won't have to worry about my son falling out of windows anytime soon, so for the time being this new behavior can be just one more cute thing that makes him uniquely special to us.

With my worries about sleepwalking assuaged and my son once again snoring by my side, I started to think about the concept of sleepwalking in general. It's incredible that a person can do things with their body and even brain of which they later retain no memory.

I myself am a sleep-talker. (Of course I am! My husband calls me a born-communicator which is his very kind way of saying that I never shut up. Heehee!) I have been known to answer questions while asleep, hold one-sided conversations and even awaken crying from some sad thing I've just 'discussed' in a dream. Once when I was a teenager a best friend spent the night at my house and in the morning we realized we'd had an entire conversation about pizza while sound asleep.

When I was fifteen I woke one day while on a family vacation in Switzerland to see my parents peering down over my bed giggling, because apparently I'd just been talking extensively about broccoli. "There are no vegetables here!" I'd cried. Years later a boyfriend confided me that in the middle of the night I'd thrown my arm over him and shouted, "I will protect you!"

The nature of consciousness itself is such a fascinating mystery to me... where exactly does our spirit go while we are sleeping? How is it that our minds become so totally untethered from our bodies during those hours? What are we capable of during that time? (This fascination explains why I loved this year's Academy Award nominated film Inception.)

If humans can literally walk in their sleep and talk in their sleep, this raises profound questions about what it means to be awake. After all, how do we know what it means to be truly awake? What if everything we perceive to be concrete each day is actually a dream in itself? What if our dreams are the reality, and what we perceive as reality is actually the dream?

Following that circular idea, I have to wonder about an ever-changing dream to which we would purposefully return day after day... re-creating all of the same characters, relating to them, aging with them. Are my husband and children merely recurring characters in a grand illusion that I have created within my own consciousness? Or, is what I perceive to be my life just a figment of some other being's imagination, or merely a speck of dust on their cosmic broom?

Countless stories and screenplays have been written on this topic, from the Dr. Seuss classic "Horton Hears a Who" to "Being John Malkovich", "Stranger Than Fiction" and even "The Truman Show". I am clearly not the first human to have fantasized about a reality much broader than the one which I appear to inhabit.

Taking the argument one step further... if life IS a dream, I wonder why we as humans would choose to dream something so imperfect. If we were truly able to create our own reality with our thoughts, why wouldn't we create something more elegant and beautiful? Why would we choose to co-create a world that is seemingly full of nightmare? Today the headlines in the paper are all about revolt in Egypt, a murderous mother, gun violence in Arizona and a train crash in Germany. Why would anyone *choose* even subconsciously to invent a dream like that?

Agent Smith tackles this question in the cult classic film The Matrix as he discusses 'reality' with its protagonist, Neo...

"Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program, entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from."

Is this kind of thinking by the script-writers genius or madness? Or, are all of the conscious thoughts of humans so limited that we cannot even get our brains around the larger questions?

I have no answers to any of this. I think there is value in thinking about it though, and I spend a lot of mental energy (while doing mindless tasks like washing dishes late at night or folding laundry) pondering the nature of existence. There must be *something* important about the division between alert/awake and unconscious/asleep. Certainly many people have tried to explore that ethereal realm in between the two mental states through the use of psychotropic drugs and other perception-enhancing experiences. I haven't tried any of that stuff so my understanding of reality is likely more limited than for many.

Still, even with my limited view I deeply suspect that there is a lot more going on all around us than we consciously know. Ancient wisdom about the semi-conscious state has been handed down through cave paintings and oral histories, creation myths, mathematics, music... even in the fairy tales and nursery rhymes I read at bedtime to my now-sleepwalking children:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream


Can the meaning here be as obvious as it seems?

In the end, even if I am just sleepwalking through the existence that I call my own, I - like the humans in the Matrix - choose to continue the charade. I love awakening every day to this family, these friends, this city. I embrace this dream called life, even with its glaring flaws.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 27, 2011 ~ Day 49
Responsible


Image by Anankkml


Today was my younger son's last day at preschool. He'll start up the new school on Monday, a thirty minute drive from our community. Due to circumstances beyond our control (tuition agreements and school calendars) he will be the guinea pig for this new family adventure we are embarking upon... the first of us to cross the threshold into our new life. For the first two weeks of February he will straddle the divide between his old world (home-school-friends-community) and a new world (home-school-friends-community). He is our astronaut, heading into a place that we as a family have never been before.

This is a lot to ask of a three year old.

We've tried not to make a big deal about the ending of his time at the only school he has ever known; acknowledging the change and asking him how he feels about it, but not spending too much time on the topic. After all, he is so young that all of life still seems full of change and adventure to him - he hasn't had time yet to become set in his ways.

Over the course of the week we've prepared a little bit every day for his "new" school - gathering the materials they require (lunch box, plant for watering, place mat and cloth napkin).

"What are you excited about at the new school?" I've asked, to keep him focused on the excitement of the future rather than thinking of all that he will lose in the move.

"I like the bikes. And the play house. The sand box. I like that silly boy named Sam*."

"Great, buddy! I'll bet you and Sam will have a lot of great times together riding those bikes."


Toward the end of his last week at school, my boy asked me if he could bring a treat for his friends on the final day. I agreed and we went together to pick out store-bought cupcakes this morning (which turned into wide sugar cookies with thick yellow frosting and sprinkles when he decided that they looked tastier than the cupcakes).

As he walked into his school this morning, he did so with the swagger of one who knows he is bringing a gift for which all of his friends will be thankful. "Today's my last day. I've got COOKIES!" he sang out as he entered the building.

"Bye, honey!" I called after him just in time to catch him flash a brilliant smile.

Four hours later I went to pick him up and found a totally different child.

With the corners of his mouth turned down, he was sitting somberly by himself waiting for me. "Hi little man!" I called, and when he saw me he jumped up and wrapped himself around my legs.

"How was your day?"

"It was ok."
(Very small voice.) I am sad."

"Oh no, why?"

"I don't want to leave my friends."


All of the radiance had left his tiny face, and instead I saw only worry and sorrow.

"I don't want to leave my teachers. I want to stay."

This is a perfectly natural reaction for any human being, child or adult. Of course he doesn't want to leave his comfort zone to try something new. Logically I knew that this could be coming, and I even half-anticipated it.

Still, my heart fell through my shoes like an asteroid upon hearing his words. It felt pretty bad to know that my little sweetheart was suffering, and even worse to have to face the fact that I am the one making the decision that is causing his sorrow.

I never fully understood before becoming a parent just how heavy the weight of responsibility is in this job... how you always know in the back of your head that your choices are shaping your children and having a real affect upon the course of their lives; even upon their world-view.

Even though I have over 90% confidence that this move will be wonderful for our family, I still remember how it felt to be eight years old and told that I would be changing schools because my parents thought it would be the right thing for me. (They turned out to be 100% right.) I even vaguely remember crying and holding the telephone while talking with the principal of the school I was leaving, telling her how much I didn't want to go. I remember how hard it was to walk into a new classroom with all new kids and find the courage not to turn right around and head back to my mother.

I can't believe I have become the mother, and now I'm sending my own little boy into a brave new world.

Parenting is the hardest job I have ever had, and also the most important one. My decisions on a minute-to-minute basis actually do have a real affect on my children that I can usually see right away. If my child asks me for a bottle of ice water and I don't get it for him right away (which often I don't, because I'm juggling ten chores and besides, I'm not the maid!) I can actually predict how quickly he will do something naughty to get my attention.

When this same child sliced his thumb nearly off at his grandfather's house while I was on hospital bed rest at the end of my pregnancy, I couldn't help but feel that if I had just been there - been at home with him - none of it would have happened. My urgent sense of responsibility for him actually prompted me to unplug all of the wires that connected me to the fetal monitors, take off my hospital gown, dress and discharge myself despite the urgency of my own situation so I could go and visit him next door at Children's hospital as he got stitched back together.

(Unfortunately I fainted as soon as I got there and they put me in a wheelchair and sent me right back to bed rest... so I had to wait until my husband brought him to my hospital bed to see for myself that he was okay.)

All of this to say that even when I am not physically present with my children, I feel this intense sense of responsibility for everything that happens to them. Is this a mom thing? A parent thing? I don't know. Maybe it is simply my Type A personality shining through.

On Monday I will drive this darling little boy up to his new preschool, take video as he marches through its front door with his little lunch box and plant, leave him with a hug and a big smile... and hold my breath for the rest of the morning until it is time to pick him up.

Will he love it there? Will he hate it? Will he make new friends, or come home crying for the old ones? Will he tell me he can't wait to come back on Tuesday, or that he doesn't want to move at all?

Whatever the result turns out to be, I am responsible for gently guiding him through this transition ~ a major life change in which he had no vote.

I can't determine whether or not he will be happy at the new school, I can't make friends for him, I can't alter the relationships he develops with his new teachers. I can be there for him though. I can listen to him, I can provide a stable home for him to return to from the wide world he is still discovering. I can love him with all my heart.

I am reminded every day that choices my husband and I make for our own lives make a meteor-like impact upon our children. It is heavy to know that you are personally responsible for the health and welfare of another human being, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Despite the weight, I wouldn't trade being a mother for anything in the universe.

I strive to be worthy of the tremendous blessing of my responsibilities.





*Name changed to protect the identity of the child in question.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26, 2011 ~ Day 48
Balls In The Air

Image by Salvatore Vuono


It's 5:39. Time to make dinner.

Except that it is also time to pack more boxes.

Oh, and it is also time to get started on my content writing work, because I have 16 hours of writing to get done by Monday and a full weekend ahead with the kids.

Hmmmm.... but then again, my 20 month old daughter has a fever. So it's probably time to rock and cuddle her, and try to entice her to drink fluids.

When I'm done with that though, I'd better get back to Craigslist where I'm busily selling furniture we don't want to bring along on our upcoming move... and also focus on purchasing trundle beds.

I forgot! I need to pick up cupcakes to bring to my son's preschool tomorrow since it will be his last day. I wish I could bake them from scratch but,

instead, I'd better work on the list of 21! items our current landlord wants us to fix before we leave the property. Just got his email this morning.

And then of course, there is this blog... so dear to my heart. My active daily work toward fulfilling a promise I made to myself and my children on my 35th birthday. A search for the meaning in life, from the very limited perspective of this optimistic middle class caucasian stay at home mother.

So there you go. Seven things to work on at once! The balls are in the air and it's time to juggle.

When I first became a stay-at-home mother, my working friends would ask me, "So what do you do with all of your extra time now?" At the time, pregnant with at toddler at home, I was still surprised by how quickly my days filled up.

"Well, by the time I have my son bathed and dressed - changed any diaper accidents - and in the car, it's about 10am and then we head to the park, the library, sometimes the grocery store. Home for nap, and while he sleeps I write content. Then when he awakens it's time to stroll, cook dinner, get my boy bathed-storied-ready for bed and then spend time with my husband. You'd be amazed at how fast the day goes by."

Four years and two more children later, I have to laugh (a warm, full-bodied, appreciative laugh) whenever a friend or new acquaintance asks me what I do with all of my 'extra' time.

The reality is that I consistently have between five and ten things to be doing at any one moment. Which is why I am currently holding my daughter on my lap while boiling pasta and sauteeing broccoli, helping my son with his homework, and typing this blog one-handed.

The surprise in all of this is how much I love my life, and how great it is to be this busy all of the time. When I have multiple things to do at once, I seem to be more productive and more focused upon each task. It's also a wonderful way to get into the state of "flow".

I first heard of flow a few years ago when talking with one of my mother-in-law's dear friends about the way hours would seem to fly by when I was teaching in the classroom. "I swear, I don't know what happens," I told him. "I get so involved in every moment, I'm so fully engaged, it almost feels like time itself speeds up. Before I know it, it's 5pm and time to head home."

Her friend told me about the ideas of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a Hungarian professor of psychology (former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago) who defined FLOW as being "the mental state... in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity".

Csíkszentmihályi went on to identify ten things that characterize flow:

  • Clear, attainable goals

  • Deep concentration

  • A loss of self-consciousness; action and awareness become one

  • Distortion of time... the subjective experience of time passing is changed

  • Immediate feedback within the activity

  • The activity is neither too difficult nor too easy

  • A sense of personal control over what is taking place

  • The activity itself is by its own nature rewarding, so that participation is easy and enjoyable

  • One forgets about bodily needs such as hunger, thirst, exhaustion - without even noticing

  • Becoming so absorbed in the activity that you are aware of nothing else

You don't need to experience all 10 of these for your personal experience to qualify as flow.

I just love the whole idea of flow, and it applies so well to motherhood. Whether I'm baking brownies, bathing babies, strolling, organizing drawers or reading bedtime stories, I can always get a good sense of how fully present I was in any activity by assessing how deeply into the flow I got. Folding laundry, for example, is a zero-flow activity. Time drags and drags. Whereas, singing Christmas carols with the kids or decorating the tree together are 100% flow activities.

Flow extends into all spheres of life - athletics, live performance, artistry, cooking - even sex. Just about anything you truly love doing, where you lose all sense of time, is a great example of flow.

Since I started writing this blog over two hours ago, I've fed and bathed my children, baked them a homemade dessert, cooked a separate gluten-free dinner for myself, read a bedtime story, packed two boxes for the move and spoken at length with both my husband and sister on the telephone. I actually can't believe it is 8pm already, seems like 5:39 rolled by only a second ago.

It's true that I have many balls in the air right now. Honestly though, I couldn't be happier. As it turns out, I love juggling.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25, 2011 ~ Day 47
Spoiled


Credit: Free photos from acobox.com


Sometimes in life decisions seem clear cut; easy. You make a choice and everything about it feels right.

Other times, things are not so simple. You have to leap over chasms fully aware of the darkness below and the possibility that you might end up falling.

I am so confused right now about the house we are supposed to move to. The neighborhood is right. The schools are right. The proximity to dear friends is right. The price is right. I can list about 30 things that are right about this both in the short and long term.

It's just the house.

I'm having a problem with the house.

And I think the problem is, I'm spoiled.

My house problem is the kind of problem you would only find a middle class stay-at-home mother whining about. There are plenty of countries where five families might share a single house of this size and still feel so grateful to have a roof over their heads.

Despite my awareness of the baggage (entitlement) I bring to the issue of the house, I'm still grappling with my own discomfort. We're about to make this huge jump and I have to negotiate the problems that I foresee before we get there, so that I can fix them and make things function for my family.

Or, if I can't fix them... then I need to be perceptive enough to let go of the house before we actually make the move.

Here are the problems as I foresee them, having spent about an hour inside of the house this afternoon:

  • All three of my children will have to share a fairly small bedroom, which is flush with the ground outside and so a bit damp and cold. It is located on the shady side of the house. I am worried that they will be very crowded and chilled in there.

  • The bathroom has a very old school low-to-ground heater that I fear could easily burn my daughter and will take vigilance to keep her away from it.

  • The uber-palacial house next door features a large swimming pool with a loud motor (filter?) that runs all day and is annoyingly located about 10 feet from the master bedroom of our house. So much for peace and quiet. My husband went by their house this afternoon to ask if it runs all night as well. Apparently they do turn it off at night.

  • There is a huge shady (old) tree in the back yard that has so much foliage hanging down, it has created a dark wooded kingdom below where there are certainly a wide variety of insects and I am guessing also rats, mice and possibly (although perhaps not likely) snakes. Possums for certain though. It will definitely need to be cleared out.

  • There are about five gazillion black or brown widow eggs located all along the eves of the downstairs level of the house (which is storage for the owner). Which is especially a problem for me when you add it to this next one:

  • All of the screens on the windows of the house are broken, falling out of the windows, leaving large gaps for insects to come into the house.

  • My allergies weren't great there this afternoon :-( and I do have a very strong allergy to both dust, mold and grass. A modern condo without a yard would probably be a better fit for someone with my allergies.


and yes, I know that widow spiders are EVERYWHERE in this city because we've had them at our last 3 homes. So that really can't be a deterrent in moving...

I am worried that there will never be a moment of peace for me living in this new house. It is so small, I can hear my children talking in the back yard from the front door. If I am always anxious about them getting hurt or bitten in the back yard that takes away the best part of the entire home, because the yard itself is vast and definitely the most attractive feature of the home.

But then I have to ask myself, does it really matter where we live if we are in the right community? As long as we have walls and a roof, and a heater that basically works? Does it really matter where we live if we are actively saving money toward a new home of our own? If we know this is only temporary, can't we just work it out, no matter what the problem is?

Which brings me back to my original confession, which is that I am so spoiled.

Can I just confess that I love living in our current beautiful house with its stainless steel appliances and its gleaming wood floors? That I love the quiet whirr of its forced air heating and the elegance of its recessed lights? That I adore having an actual dining room to eat in with company? And an actual toy room where I can send my kids to frolic while I peacefully cook dinner?

I'm 35 years old and I like living well. I like things that are clean and easy to maintain, without mold or dust. I've gotten used to the easy life and it's hard to go backward, even when we're going backward in order to ultimately move forward.

Part of me also thinks that maybe we should make this move *because* I don't think I'll be fully happy there, just to see if it turns out to be a lovely surprise. We've certainly made moves in the past that I thought would be amazing but they turned out to be a real challenge. Maybe it's time to take the bull by the horns and do something I'm not that excited about, in order to see how great it might actually be.

My husband and I have discussed it all at length. In his heart he just wants to buy a home, so whatever we can do to get ourselves closer to that goal is what he wants to do. From that standpoint, moving is definitely the right thing - we stand to save a lot of money each month by moving. That said, he is so busy with work right now the entire move is up to me... including making the actual decision of when and where to go.

I talked all of this over with my mother tonight and she said that before I go to sleep I should try to visualize my family at the new house and set the intention that when I awaken in the morning, I will know the answer to this question.

I really hope she is right. I feel so much pressure to make the correct decision here, a choice that will bless my family and also our neighbors and friends. When I used to have a career I loved collaborating with other people to make a shared decision, because it seemed like collectively we had a broader perspective and made sensible choices. Going it alone is liberating, I guess, but also really scary and pressured. What if I make the wrong move? Literally?

It is late at night now so for the time being I have to turn this over to a higher power and let go. I pray for guidance, I pray for grace. I'm grateful to have the opportunities that we do... I'm grateful for the blessings and miracles we are surrounded with every day. I'm grateful for my children and husband... and if you're reading this, whomever you may be, I am sincerely grateful for you too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24, 2011 ~ Day 46
Procrastination Is My Middle Name


Credit: Free photos from acobox.com


Buzz Lightyear and I are sitting here staring at a half-empty cardboard box. I think we may be staring each other down.

"So.... are you going to fill it?" the Space Ranger asks.

"I was thinking maybe if I stared at it long enough, the box would pack itself."

"My intergalactic wisdom tells me that is unlikely to happen."

"Can you pack this one, Buzz?"

"Negative. That would be in violation of the Space Ranger Code of Conduct."


Sigh.

Have you ever faced a task that seemed so daunting, you didn't want to get started at all? I am a perfectionist by nature so when I realize that a project isn't within my personal capacity to accomplish with ease, I tend to shut down. The way I see it, this project is ME vs. 2200 square feet of clothing, furniture, glassware, toys, food and supplies. Not to mention thousands of books (literally). All to be accomplished while tending to two sick children and their daddy who is also feeling under the weather.

I look around and don't even know where to get started... which in turn makes me want to go back to bed. Oh dear, it's only 2:24pm. Bedtime isn't an option.

So it's time to give myself the BIG PEP TALK full of cliches and platitudes. Here goes:

One foot in front of the other
You can do it
Just take one step at a time
Pack one item at a time
Keep moving forward
Slowly but surely, the job will get done.


Hmmmmmm....

Buzz and I are still staring at each other. In fact, I have only for the first time just noticed that Buzz Lightyear has bright blue eyes. Who knew!

I remember the days of being single when I could move an entire apartment by myself - just blasting loud music and singing along, enjoying every second. I even bought a truck for my first "real" vehicle (not co-owned or formerly owned by parents) just so I could haul my own possessions around without having to depend on others for help. I love moving and I think this may be the 26th? move of my life, so the procrastination isn't for lack of enthusiasm about the move itself. I love changing things up, embarking on a new adventure, getting out of my rut and starting fresh.

Packing for one is a far cry though, from packing for five. The kids and I spent an entire day on Saturday (8 hours!) just sorting toys in their toy room and doing laundry. We have more LEGOs than LEGOLAND does, I think. So far I have gotten together eight full trash bags worth of toys and clothing to give to AmVets, and yet barely made a dent in our masses of belongings. How does one family accumulate so much STUFF over the course of six short years? How did we get the mini-chopper that no longer works but continues to sit in the cabinet... and really, how is it possible that we have FOUR pack n'plays? How many portable cribs does one family really need? It isn't like we have quadruplets.

The main ingredient I'm lacking right now, along with motivation, is adrenalin.

As a lifelong procrastinator, I find it sooooo difficult to get motivated to do anything until I'm down to the wire on time. Every paper I've ever written and gotten an "A" on was put together at least in part the night before it was due. Every work project, every time I've had to get ready for a trip, all of my big transitions - all planned and implemented right at the last minute.

I am not proud of this, in fact, it is likely the reason my adrenal glands are exhausted and not working at the normal rate. A person can live only so long on no sleep and high stress before his or her body goes kaput. (Which makes me think, "Maybe instead of packing right now, I should take a nap! My adrenals would like that. I can always pack later... after all, there are two full weeks until the move!") Can you see how I am? The Queen of Best Intentions, also known as I'll Do It Later Girl.

Maybe I should make a list. Lists motivate me, because there is always something you can check off. I may be the only person on the planet who writes things down that I have already done on my list of things to do, just so I can check them off and feel like I've accomplished something. Which is, weirdly, self-motivating.

That being said, I think I hear a crying baby upstairs letting me know that naptime is rapidly ending and I will now have a mini-packing helper. Or rather, a mini-unpacking helper. When my daughter and I pack a box I have noticed that for every item I put into the box, she takes one item out of it. This is her way of helping. If I put the item back in the box that she has just removed, she bursts into tears and gets angry at me for not appreciating her help. She then takes yet another item out of the box. Sigh.

We don't have a dog, and no-one ate my homework. I know it is time to buckle down, that it is all up to me to get our family show on the road... literally. I would hate to find myself 13 days from now pulling an all-nighter to get the boxes done. That said, I'm feeling hungry. I wonder what my kids will want to eat for dinner tonight. I wonder if we need to go to the grocery store. Ice cream is sounding very appealing right now...

Packing? What packing?
(I can always do it later, right?)

Rats. I just remembered that this blog is devoted to finding the meaning in life; which implies that I can't just walk away from my boxes and procrastinating ways without searching for the meaning of it all.

So here goes:

Sometimes a quest for meaning leads us to knowing when to buckle down, while other times we have to learn how to relax and let go ~ trusting that whatever is meant to be will happen. I have the sense that if I can just let go right now and trust that the packing is going to get done on time, I will free up my own stifled energy. Maybe if my daughter and I take a short fifteen minute walk outside to get some fresh air and a new perspective, I will return home reinvigorated and ready to assemble and fill those boxes in style. After all I am a committed and responsible person at core, so one way or another the boxes are going to be filled before moving day.

Then again, maybe Buzz Lightyear will generously pack them for me while we're out walking. Here's hoping!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23, 2011 ~ Day 45
What Happens Next?


Credit: Free photos from acobox.com


I can't really explain why this is on my mind because things are going well and overall my health is stable right now. Perhaps it is because I woke today to the news of the suicide bombing in Russia that killed over 30 at a major airport, or because I am still shaken by the news of that little girl being hit by a car here in our town last week.

I am thinking today about reincarnation. I am wondering, as we all do, what happens after we die and also why our lives are so easily snuffed out. When I was a child teachers told me that I was pretty smart, which I believed at the time. Now that I'm an adult I recognize every day just how limited my brain and body are (perhaps it is only my heart that has any true intelligence or ability). One of the many things I have tried for decades to wrap my head around, without luck so far, is the question of whether we get only one crack at life... or if we cycle around and around again.

I think people with deep inner faith and conviction already have their answers to this question, and I envy them that. My husband and I go to church regularly with our children and we are deep believers in kindness, generosity, compassion, equality and social justice. (Yes, we're Unitarians... how did you guess? Such a cerebral faith...) Despite my devotion and spiritual quest, though, I lack the deep inner belief to feel (as many of my best friends do) that I am in God's palm.

I'd love to see some proof. Proof that there is an afterlife, that our spirits are not truly limited by bodies that grow old, frail, disabled. Proof that we go on.

Obviously my desire to figure all of it out intensified significantly when I hit my own major health crisis last year. Things are much improved at present and I feel that I am on the mend, however while I hang in limbo not fully knowing where my autoimmunity will take me as the years pass, I continue to wonder, "Is this all there is?"

Which is why I have been closely following the international scientific study taking place at 25 hospitals in the United States, Canada, Britain and Europe led by Dr. Sam Parnia, a Fellow in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. Dr. Parnia's project, called AWARE (AWAreness during REsucitation) studies the brain and consciousness during clinical death to discover through science what actually happens when we die.

The mechanism of Dr. Parnia's experiment is pretty simple. In each of the hospital resuscitation wards there are images placed upon high shelves that can only be viewed from above.

The hypothesis: If it can be scientifically proven that consciousness continues after the brain switches off, this opens up the very real possibility that consciousness is an entity separate from the body. If there are some cases where the patient sees the pictures on the shelves, this would be a crucial moment in human history - changing the way we view life itself. If no-one at any of the hospitals sees the pictures, it will lend further support to the notion that Near Death Experiences are just illusions or inaccurate memories.

Dr. Parnia's project began in 2008 and is set to wrap up this year, 2011. I don't know how long it will take after collecting the data to publish results, but I believe if there is "good news" it will leak out sooner than later. After all, this would be arguably the most important discovery of all time.

I've got to admit, I'm really hoping some revived patient is going to say, "I heard the nurse say that they should contact my next of kin... and then, what in the heck were those crazy naked pictures doing on the shelves up there? Seriously, what kind of joint are you folks running in here anyway?"

If you're into this kind of subject, the best non-fiction book I have come across about this topic in my many years of researching is "Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives" by Tom Shroder, a journalist and editor for The Washington Post. In the book Shroder recounts his travels with Dr. Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist and researcher from the University of Virginia who spent his lengthy career investigating spontaneous recollections by children around the world of their past lives and reincarnation experiences.

Over the years Stevenson collected and documented this kind of past life recollection by over 3000 children, noting birthmarks on the child's body that correlated with site of injury on their past life counterpart. Recollections were then compared when possible to factual data about the real people who had died, in order to see if details matched up.

Shroder started the book project as a skeptic and ended it, based upon what he had seen with Stevenson, quite open to the possibility that reincarnation is real.

Jealously, I wish I had embarked on that journey with Shroder and Stevenson - in person, rather than through the pages of a book. I would have loved to have seen any of it for myself, and imagine that was a very transformative trip.

I do not know anyone who has personally experienced a Near Death Experience (or at least anyone who has shared it with me). There are, however, two people very close to me who have passed away and I wonder all of the time where they are, if they can hear me when I talk to (or think about) them, if they are pure energy or actual embodied form.

My husband has also lost two people very close to him, and this is one of the many things that brought us together early on - we both know very personally the anguish of losing a vibrant friend who was just our age.

Our children are very young but they have already been exposed to the concept of death, thanks to the loss of a grandparent, an uncle and other stories they have heard at school from their friends. My five year old son has a classmate whose mother was "shot with a gun, mommy" last year (Afghanistan?) and she did die. My kids ask me a lot of questions about why we die and what happens after.

Ironically, their questions are pretty much the same as mine.

This is what I tell them, at least for now. "I do not know what happens after we die but I would like to believe that life goes on and that in some way we continue. What I do know for sure is that LOVE is the one thing that never dies. My father died but I still love him, and I know that he still loves me. Love lasts forever."

My three year old has taken to parroting this back to me when I kiss him goodnight and tuck him into bed.

"Mommy, I love you."

"I love you too, honey. I love you and your brother and sister more than anything."

"Are you always going to love me?"

"Yes honey, always."

"Even when you die?"

"Yes honey, I will love you all forever. Mommy will love you even after I die... which I don't think will happen until you are a very, very old man."

"Because love lasts forever."
He smiles.

"Yes honey, it does."

"Mommy, even when you die someday when you are an old lady, I'll love you forever too."


I think any parent would agree that the intensity of feeling we develop for our children transcends anything else we have ever felt. Surely, such strength of emotion must outlive even our flesh and bones. The fact of their mere existence is miracle enough.

Still, selfishly, I really hope I will be seeing that sweet little soul (and his darling brother and sister, along with their handsome daddy) again and again throughout the millenia.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22, 2011 ~ Day 44
The Most Beautiful Woman
In The World


I felt a surge of excitement as I kissed my three precious children and my husband good night and headed out into the cool darkness. I was late for a date with the most incredible woman in the world - my mother.

Since my father passed away in June 2009, I have taken very seriously the importance of spending quality time with my mother. I wish I could say that I have been strong for her since his death, but in reality she has been strong for me. When I look back upon June 2009 through August 2010, my immediate and overwhelming impression is of juggling three children - including a premature newborn, stress and autoimmunity. During that time, my mother was for me (as she has always been) a rock of kindness, generosity, love and compassion.

She is the mother who makes all of my sincere attempts at excellent mothering look, well, feeble.

Despite my many failings as a daughter, my mother still manages to overlook my self-centered, exhausted monologues about how challenging it is for me to be a mother and how I don't know how she managed to make the job look so easy. She continues to give me unconditional love as only a parent can... seeing in me all of the promise of my past and all the potential of my future. She expresses pride in my life choices, which is especially gracious considering how stridently my former teenage self frequently vocalized opposition to her chosen role in life - homemaker and writer.

"I will NEVER turn out like my mother. I will NEVER be a financially dependent, stay-at-home wife and mother! No house frau for me!!!" (Me, age 17-21)

How my mother must have chuckled quietly when I ate those words with a big slice of humility a decade later. To her credit, she has never yet uttered the words "See, being like me isn't so bad..."

My mother is so much more than just a homemaker. She is the strongest woman I know, always there to lend an ear or a hand to her friends, family and even folks she has never met. She is a gifted artist ~ the woman beads jewelry so elegant it is sold in local stores; she embroiders, sews, sings, paints in oils and ~ before becoming a mother ~ she acted and modeled for almost 20 years in Hollywood.

She is the woman who will singlehandedly paint and wallpaper a bedroom by herself, at age 70+, because she likes working hard and "It beats aging". She is the matriarch that wove our Yours-Mine-Ours family together to the point that my father's sons, who were both adults when our parents married 36 years ago, now call her mother and mom and truly think of her that way.

Mom is the verbal 'heavy hitter' of the family that we unleash upon insurance companies trying to deny payment for medical claims and all other bureaucratic nightmares. She handles them with such grace and savoir faire! Mom always reminds us that "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" but wow, can she pour on the respectful vinegar when it's needed. She is one heck of a strong woman, especially when defending her family. A tigress!

I am really nothing like my mother. She actually reminds me much more of my husband. She is calm, laid-back, confident, connected to the world and full of faith. I take after my cerebral, anxious dad. Mom has always been the force of reason and optimism propelling our family unit forward into gratitude and peace.

We are all human though, and there are a few things that have been a few decisions my mom has made over the years that were bitter pills for me to swallow. For the first four years of my oldest son's life she wasn't around much as a grandmother, due to the highly understandable fact that she was busy caring for my dying father as he declined rapidly from Alzheimer's.

In the few moments of free time she had to unwind from his very intense need for high-level care, mom wasn't that excited about spending time with my often-fussy toddler and infant sons. "I have been a wife, mother and grandmother for over 50 years," she told me candidly. "It's important to me to spend at least some of the time I have left learning and growing; writing, traveling and doing a few fulfilling things for myself."

I understood this, and still do. Still, I would have loved my own children to benefit from the incredible mothering and grandmothering ability my mom possesses. Since my dad's death though, she has been a lot more available to us as a grandmother, which I really appreciate. My kids adore her.

The most difficult time I have ever had with my mother came when she agreed to move my father out of our family home and into 24 hour nursing care. There were a million reasons to do so and his physicians were pushing her.

For months and even years, my father had stopped sleeping through the night ~ and would wake up and do strange, potentially dangerous things while she was sleeping. He hallucinated and fought with imaginary creatures. There were lots of messes to clean up, messes of all kinds. He needed help using the bathroom, dressing, eating. He jumbled his words and sometimes made no sense at all. Taking care of him alone was horribly debilitating and at times my siblings and I wondered if we would lose mom before we lost dad.

Despite this, I was crushed beyond belief when my father was moved permanently out of his home. My mother had been told by his physicians that once out, he could never return to the house without it causing tremendous pain and psychological hardship for all involved. I don't know what I think or feel about this, but it was the advice she received from his neurologist.

My bewildered, cantankerous, lost father left his home one day to go to the doctor's office, ended up briefly hospitalized and then sent to assisted living. He never returned. He literally never saw his home again. Thinking about this continues to break my heart a little. Dad spent the next year or so in two group homes, where I visited him almost every day with my sons until I was placed on bed rest with my last pregnancy. My mother also visited him daily, spending most of her day with him each time.

At the time I was so angry with my mother for agreeing to move my dad away from the house he had worked two jobs to afford, away from the ocean view of which he (a Nebraska farm boy) was so proud. I was so angry in fact, that I boycotted Christmas that year. "If Dad can't come home for Christmas, I'm not going to be there either." We spent Christmas that year with my brothers at their hotel near Dad's new home.

Despite my frustration with the situation though, I always remained close with my mother. She, my brother and I were a team sharing the most intense experience possible, the protracted loss of someone we all loved deeply.

Eventually my father passed, which is another story for another time. Since his death almost 20 months ago, it has been a genuine joy to watch my mother's health - physically and emotionally - spring back into full blossom. She is a superwoman once again. She is the same vibrant, gorgeous soul that my father first fell in love with. I love any chance I get to spend time in her company, to benefit from her wisdom and also her absolute sweetness. She is teaching me by example how to age with spirit and zest.

Yesterday evening, I spent a wonderful four hours with my mother... cooking, chatting and watching a chick-flick, just as we might have done when I was growing up. I love our conversations which range from the philosophical ("What do you think happens after we die, Mom?") to the practical ("When did you start getting grey hair?").

Now that I am an adult and a mother, my mom often surprises me with anecdotes from her youth and acting career. She has stories about the time when she was briefly a Vegas showgirl running with a crowd that included the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. or about her best friend who married David Wolper, the creator of television sagas like Roots and The Thorn Birds. There seems always to be something new to learn about my mother's unusual life, and I never fail to be amazed and delighted.

At the end of the evening, my mother sat quietly at the counter while I finished clearing up the dinner dishes. Out of nowhere she spoke. "I only wish," she said, "That your father had been able to stay in this house. I don't know though. I loved him so much ~ I think it would have killed me to watch him die here."

Like a burst of light illuminating some dark recessed part of my heart, I finally understood - fully - why my mother had not fought to keep Dad at home. The many years of caring for him physically and emotionally had at the time made her fragile, vulnerable. Now that she has returned to full strength, it is easy to see the toll his sickness had taken.

Looking over at my mother with her soft brown hair and sparkling eyes sitting at the counter and staring into the void beyond me, I realized that having her still HERE, NOW is the most crucial thing. I am so grateful that mom *didn't* become one of the many caregivers who are outlived by their patients. On the spot I finally forgave her, 2000%. My mother is human. I love my mother.

Having a mother and being a mother. Arguably the two most important things that have ever happened to me. I am grateful for every moment and every conversation we have left.

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21, 2011 ~ Day 43
Hands Off That Switch!


"DO NOT PUSH THE PANIC BUTTON"

A friend gave me this gentle advice today, and it really helped me to laugh and calm down. I pride myself on being at least somewhat rational and laid back but the past few weeks have really wound me up. Here are some of the things currently giving me palpitations ~

  • A few new autoimmune symptoms have popped up, despite my rigorous healing protocol

  • My son has a fever which spiked at 104 degrees F last night

  • My daughter just got over pneumonia

  • Funds are tight

  • We've just signed off on a move to a new neighborhood, house, schools, etc.

  • I have to get my house fully boxed and ready to move in 21 days, while still caring for my 3 kids and writing content for my husband's company

  • I am woefully behind on content writing at the moment because when I have a free hour to write, I prefer to use it for this blog!

  • A fourth grade girl in our neighborhood got hit by a car this morning while riding her bike to school. The schools sent us a message to explain what happened and I started to cry, especially when the email noted that her mother had gone with her in the ambulance to Children's Hospital. I don't ever want to understand what it felt like to be that mother today.

  • One of my best friends has recently been diagnosed with cancer. I believe she will be okay after the surgery but have been praying for her 24/7 anyway. She is such an incredible woman and mother. I don't want to lose yet another friend to cancer.

  • My thyroiditis is really flaring which causes anxiety by itself. The doc wants to wait a month before treating it though, so I can work on building my adrenals first. So, biology is working against me.


I imagine that many people in my community, city and country are feeling panicked today. I'm sure it isn't just me, sitting here at the kitchen table, stressing out. Our friend posted on Facebook yesterday that 150 people had been laid off at his company. Those folks have got to be feeling pretty darn panicked today as they look for new employment and try to figure out how they're going to keep groceries in the fridge and the heat on until they find a new job.

This afternoon I saw a huge group of parents surrounding our local elementary school waiting for a status update on the little girl's condition. They looked quite panicked as well. Whomever had the bad luck to be driving the car that hit her must also be horribly panicked. I wonder if they are in jail right now, for reckless driving, or if it was another parent who had just dropped his/her child off at school.

I imagine that Barack Obama feels panicked about what will happen if nations like China decide to suddenly call in their marker for the 40 cents they collectively own out of every one US $dollar$. For that matter, I'm pretty sure that Sarah Palin regrets using the whole target map when discussing elected politicians like Gabby Giffords. Career politicians probably panic as much as the rest of us, just secretly.


What is the biological role of panic?

I recognize that it is in some way attached to "Fight or Flight"... and that when I begin to panic it is usually my body giving me the signal that it may be time to self-protect.

I've also read that there may be environmental cues that cause folks like me to panic. For instance, I probably noticed too well when my over-protective father panicked frequently while I was growing up. Unwittingly he may have modeled his anxious parental behavior for me, and without meaning to I may have internalized the lesson. Dad was quite the worry wart, especially when it came to the health or welfare of his wife and daughter.

Other things thought to provoke a panic disorder:

  • overprotective parenting ( check! )

  • High levels of stress in the home ( check! Boys, please stop fighting!)

  • Hypersensitivity to harmless physical sensations or changes, with the notion that they represent danger ( check! )

  • Major stressful life events ( check! )


How does one avert or soothe a panic attack?

Beyond what I covered previously in my article about waiting, I think just knowing that we are all going through it together really helps.

Maybe panic is really just our individual or collective fear of the unknown.

If I knew for sure that we were going to be happy in our new house, I would give or throw away our jumble of furniture and clothing with ease and even joy... because as long as we are together and happy, that is all that matters. If I knew for certain that my best friend would be healthy and strong for the rest of her life after going through surgery, I would relax about her newly discovered cancer. If I could see with certainty that by tomorrow night my son would be fever-free and ready to return to school on Monday, I would probably be able to focus more on cleaning, packing and laundry.

My husband would probably say that we should just act, as if... also known as the Fake It 'Til You Can Make It principle. "Act as if everything is going to be okay, and it will be okay," he reminds me. He believes that if you operate under the assumption that everything is going to be fine, it probably will be.

There's something very beautiful about living with that kind of faith. Which reminds me that panic is probably the opposite of having true faith.

Perhaps then the best antidote to panic is to think about all of the miracles we have each personally experienced or witnessed in our lives which have given us reason to believe.

I'm going to take a moment now to re-center and remember the miracles from my own 35 years on Earth, and write them as they pop into my mind:


MIRACLES

(1) When I was 26 a skateboarder going too fast down a hill actually skated right into the side of my car as I was driving down the perpendicular street. To stop himself at impact he actually ripped the side view mirror right off my car. I felt the force of his hit, and stopped the car mid-street right away. As I got out of that car, I remember my heart felt like it was beating in my ears and my shoes -- I was so convinced there would be a body laying on the ground next to my truck.

Imagine my surprise when there was no-one and nothing on the ground. I was still scanning the street when I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. Turning around I saw the early-twenties skater holding his board in one hand and my side view mirror in the other. "Sorry!" he said as he handed it to me. He then jumped on his board and skated away.

I was so grateful that he was okay, I actually didn't care at all about the side view mirror. Material things can be replaced.

(2) About a decade ago I left the apartment I absolutely loved (that I'd inhabited for 18 months) to attend graduate school in a different part of the state. I wept as I left it, because it had become such an integral part of my identity as an independent adult.

Graduate school did not turn out to be what I was looking for at that time, at least not that particular grad school. Within a month of arrival I was 100% sure that it was not the city or school for me (I left behind an awesome roommate though) and I headed down to Los Angeles to try to break into A&R... the branch of the music business that signs bands. It was a heady, exciting time and I was young and full of magic. Yet despite 4 months of diligent temping, taking interviews and going through my life savings, I never found a job. I grew steadily more despondent and prayed for help.

One day out of the blue, I received an email from an old professor in my hometown saying that she had just heard I had dropped out of grad school and would I ever consider coming to join her credential program again. She said based on my transcript and her prior experience with me in the classroom she could arrange a fellowship to pay for part of my tuition and fees.

My mom always tells me to walk through the open doors. The doors in Los Angeles were shut tightly... but the doors in my hometown were wide open. "Where will I live?" I wondered, and I decided to call my old landlord to see if any of his cronies had a vacancy.

"Well," he answered slowly, "It's odd but your apartment is actually available again. The guy I rented it to after you left just gave me his notice yesterday."

What a joy to return home! I hugged the walls and even the camelia bushes outside the front door. Sometimes life gives you second chances in the most unlikely of ways. I remained in that house for another three and a half years, until my darling husband came along and brought me into his world of lofts, fixers and urban living.

(3) I'm here.

In 1975 when my 37 year old mother was just over 30 weeks along with her pregnancy, I kicked a hole in her bag of waters. My mother began to leak amniotic fluid and went to the hospital, where they told her that I needed to stay inside as long as possible to keep developing. They sent her home to sit on towels with the hope that the sac would re-seal. My mother did the best she could to take it easy while taking care of four other children, but there came a point when she cooked dinner, put on her makeup and announced, "Take me to the hospital, I'm having the baby tonight. Don't worry, we're BOTH going to be fine."

Talk about living "as if"! If my mother was faking her confidence and faith, she never let on. This took place in the mid-70s... long before the giving of steroid shots for infant's lungs or specialized hospital equipment for neonatal wards. They assured my laboring mother that we might both die. My father paced anxiously in the waiting room and wondered if he would lose both wife and child in a single evening. But that tough, determined, spiritual lady gave birth to me - DRY - in a grueling labor.

35 years later, we're both still here ~ each of us with our fair share of white hair. I've gone on (weirdly) to deliver my own six-week premature daughter by c-section who ended up in the NICU for two weeks... just exactly as I myself lived in the NICU for three weeks when I was born. A strange, strange symmetry with two miraculous endings.

***

I feel so much better after remembering and recounting these three distinct miracles from my own experience. The panic has abated and been replaced by a sense that life is rich with miracles and blessings. Maybe the sensation of panic is really just a divine way of reminding us physically that we have much to be grateful for in this beautiful world.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20, 2011 ~ Day 42
Downsizing


It's time for a garage sale.

The house that we are leaving offers over 2200 square feet of living space. It is the nicest home either my husband or I have ever lived in since leaving our respective parents after high school. With French doors leading onto the patio, a lovely bright dining room, backyard patio and two car garage we have enjoyed more space than we actually had furniture to fill. It truly exceeded all of our expectations. Built in 1988, the home is dry (not damp or moldy), clean and modern with an incredible six burner stainless steel stove and all stainless steel kitchen appliances.

Today we put our deposit down on a sweet 1951 home that probably hasn't had much real maintenance since 1970. The bones of the building and garage are amazing - if we were buying the house, we would feel so lucky! It represents a treasure trove of opportunity. As renters though, we will experience the intractable reality of its old school gas heaters (I'll have to watch like a hawk so the kids don't get burnt...), an enclosed kitchen area (no more chatting with friends from the kitchen when we have guests to dinner), and the awful pink bathroom tile. Pink is actually a generous term. I would actually liken it more to pomegranate. Or puce.

The new house is just over half the size of the one we are leaving. I believe Zillow.com lists its square footage around 1410. Not shabby but a far cry from 2200. We'll have to get rid of 800 sq feet worth of toys and belongings just to fit.

Does this make me at all anxious? I'd be lying if I said it didn't. The sum of our experience as a family of five living in a teeny home comes from seven days spent living in a two room beach cottage while on vacation. We had a great time, but the children barely slept when they were all sharing the same room. On the first evening of that trip our daughter had a bad stomach ache and kept the entire family up with her crying until 4am, as there was no place in the house to escape the sound. This will be tricky.

We are already scheming about how we can make it all work out, since my husband will need to use one of the three bedrooms as his home office. We're thinking our oldest boy can sleep in the office room at night, and the little ones can share the second bedroom with all of their LEGOs and dolls. Sayonara, toy room!

So the house is a little dodgy, yet in many ways a wonderful move. Perfect neighborhood, perfect street, absolutely incredible enormous back yard. Hello soccer games, bike riding and gardening at home!!!

The best news though, is that we managed to get our younger son signed up for the top rated Montessori preschool in the area (the same school with a waiting list of 13 kids for a single spot next Fall) beginning in two weeks. I took him there to check it out today, and as soon as he saw the large grassy field, play gym, swing set, and row of bright red tricycles, he was sold.

"I think you are really going to love it here honey," I said as we walked toward the front door.

"Mama," he replied with an ear-to-ear smile, "I think I already DO love it."

(My heart melted into a puddle on the spot. Have I mentioned how much I adore that child?)

The teachers and classrooms could not have been nicer, and my boy already knows the Montessori method very well from having attended Montessori school since August - and from having watched his brother attend for the two years prior. He fit right into the room and began quietly working with the wooden puzzles and looking through the magnifying glass. He was very shy with the other kids but warmed up quickly, participating in their circle time and even chatting up two girls on the playground at recess: "Mommy, they asked me if I wanted to bake a cake with them in the sandbox!"

"Wow honey, that's your favorite sandbox game! How cool that they love to bake cakes just like you do!"

"I like this school!"


My favorite part of the school interview today revolved around a taller blond boy with (adorable) big ears, freckles and a winning, mischievous smile... who continued to try to impress the class with fart noises and raspberry/zerbert sounds. He ambled over to the table where I sat filling out forms and introduced himself.

"Hi! I'm three years old! But my birthday is in April. April third. I am going to be four. I am a big boy. I went to see Mickey. (He pauses.) I didn't see Mickey though. I was too shy."

"It is very nice to meet you. This is my son. He is three years old too, just like you."

"When is his birthday? Is his birthday in April?"

"His birthday is in June. Then he will turn four."

"I am almost four." (He is dancing and almost shouting.) "I am very shy." (He then makes a large raspberry sound with his lips, giggles hysterically,
and points at another boy pulling a woolen hat over his own eyes.) "That is Damian*. He likes to get in trouble. He is a bad boy. He hits the teachers."

"Oh wow, well that is not a nice thing to do. My son does not hit." And it's true! My son doesn't hit. Instead he throws the mother of all holy tantrums when he has been hit.

The boy began to hop up and down on one foot and make more raspberry sounds. He was laughing so hard, it was very difficult to keep a straight face. One of his teachers intervened and quietly redirected him... but as he left, he sang out "BYYYEEEEEEEEE!" and gave us a hearty salute.

My boy looked up at me and grinned. "Mama, that boy is funny."

"Buddy, I think you're going to make a lot of friends here."


So, that was the best part of the entire day. Knowing that both of my boys are excited and contented with our upcoming move, and that they will each enter outstanding schools in the neighborhood right away with other friendly children... it really helps the small older house in the best of all locations to seem extraordinary and livable. After all, what is a home beyond a warm shelter that supports us in a healthy lifestyle and our family relationships? The house need not be large to provide access to a really great quality of life.

We may be downsizing, but we're not downgrading.




*Name changed to protect identity of the child in question.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 19, 2011 ~ Day 41
Cold Feet


About an hour ago I was sitting in the dreary grey afternoon watching my three children run like crazy around a grass field. For the most part, they looked pretty happy. The oldest one, whom we sometimes affectionately refer to as Mr. Moody, was elated that we were going to the park UNTIL we got to the park and he saw all of the children there. Then he reverted into negativity (Nobody is going to play with me, Nobody likes me, I want to go home) mainly due to shyness. Even he, however, ran around the grass like nuts. Sometimes it just feels good to run.

We've just made a big commitment to move to this new neighborhood, the neighborhood surrounding this aforementioned grass field and playgym. I submitted the rental application this morning and we are set to give them a deposit tomorrow. There are so many solid reasons to make this move, I should be thrilled right now.

Instead, I'm feeling anxious.

Is it the grey weather? Maybe.

I think it's more than that, though. As I looked around that same park, I didn't see a single mother that I thought "Hey, maybe we could be friends". The handful of mommies there were fashionable and well-coiffed, with professionally styled hair-dos, makeup and jewelry. They wore fancy sandals. There I was with my scuffed leather boots, blue jeans and flowered thermal shirt - sweating and thinking, "Where am I? Who ARE these people?" Like a three year old, I was overcome with the "I want to go home" feeling.

Except, this will BE our new home - at least for the next year.

Maybe I should get back to our reasons, then, for moving. I feel the need to justify the move, probably because the telephone just rang while I was with the news that our application was accepted and the house is ours for the taking. I should be thrilled and I was, temporarily, before my husband started to stress about how hard it is to move and the best way to give notice to our current landlords. Now I'm back to feeling blue and anxious.

What are we doing? Why are we doing this?

Here are the reasons:

  • My husband really wants to buy a house, but with a family of five living on his single income, it is hard to save money at the end of each month toward a deposit. We rarely have anything left over. This new house will be almost $400 cheaper per month than what we currently pay. For the first time since having children, we will be able to save.

  • We thought the schools in our community were the very best in the city until I started to volunteer and teach in them. As I began to talk with other parents and teachers, I quickly realized that test scores are high here due to parents and not thanks to the quality of the schools themselves. I want my kids to get a great education and to have access to the many charter and bilingual schools in the larger city district

  • We chose our new neighborhood because it houses the best elementary school in the larger school district. I know this not just by reputation, I have seen it with my own eyes - both as a volunteer and also when touring the school last week. I guess that will sound confusing to anyone reading this blog who doesn't know us personally, or our town. Basically we live in a city just outside of a big city. We are leaving the little city to head back into the big city and its larger district.

  • $850,000 in our current town will buy you a falling down tiny house (probably 1000 sq ft or less) with no yard or land to expand on. $850,000 in the new neighborhood will buy you a much bigger house with up to 8,000 sq feet of property. And yes, I know that $850,000 is an ungodly large sum of money no matter how you look at it. Unfortunately, that's the way it goes in our state.

  • The kids will be able to keep riding their bikes to school. The new neighborhood has a main street and is strollerable

  • We will still be only blocks from the ocean.

  • The new neighborhood is more ethnically diverse (believe it or not!) with a high population of Latino and Asian students in addition to Caucasians like us. I'm guessing the African-American population is about the same as it is here... but you never know. When I went on the school tour one of the daddies in my group was a distinguished professional black man who teaches at the local university.

  • We'll be able to walk everywhere (just like we can now) - bank, post office, homemade bread shop, bakeries, ice cream parlors, tons of restaurants, the beach. There are three local parks.

  • I am very excited that we will be living in close proximity to the major university in our city. I would really like to take more classes there at night through their extension program. I am excited to know that when my children get to the local public high school, they too will be eligible to take classes through that same local university

  • My husband and I both lived in this new neighborhood for years when we were first out of college - before we knew each other - and we each loved it at the time. I actually lived in the same house there for five years 1999 - 2004 until my husband whisked me off my feet and half a city away, into the more urban and arty downtown area. Had I not met him, I'm sure I would never have left.

  • It is a good time for us to make a move. My son's best friend just moved to Australia weeks ago and he is desperately sad and missing her every day. He is hoping to make a fresh start and meet friends, which has proven difficult to do at his current school. He is hopeful that with a new school will come new opportunities.

There are more reasons, but I think I've justified enough... typing it all out helps to remind me why we are taking the plunge.

Like a kindergartner though, I am still scared that I won't make new friends... that I'll stick out like a sore thumb among French manicures. I've been lonely and isolated in neighborhoods before, and I don't know how long it will take for us to adapt to the new environment. I also have some big fears. Here they are:


BIG FEARS OF AN OPTIMISTIC MIDDLE CLASS CAUCASIAN AMERICAN STAY-AT-HOME MOM WHEN MOVING

  • MY HUSBAND AND CHILDREN WILL HATE THE NEW NEIGHBORHOOD AND BLAME ME FOR MOVING THEM THERE.

  • MY SONS WILL BE OSTRACIZED AT SCHOOL, ESPECIALLY THE SHY ONE. AS AN ADULT HE WILL TAKE TO DRINK TO EASE THE PAIN OF HIS LONELINESS....

  • OUR NEW NEIGHBORS WILL SHUN US.

  • WE WILL BE TERRIBLY HOMESICK FOR OUR OLD HOUSE AND FRIENDS.

  • WE WILL BECOME SAD AND FRUSTRATED, CAUSING THE 5 OF US TO TURN UPON EACH OTHER AND BICKER ENDLESSLY.

  • MY CHILDREN WILL SPEAK OF THIS MOVE IN THERAPY SOMEDAY AS THE EXACT POINT AT WHICH THEIR RESPECTIVE LIVES BEGAN THE TREACHEROUS DESCENT INTO INFAMY AND DESOLATION.

  • IT WILL ALL BE MY FAULT.


To which, I have an elegantly simple solution:

We can always move back if we don't like it.

Sometimes to win big, you have to risk big. I hope by maintaining genuine enthusiasm and joy about our upcoming change, I will manage to infuse my kids with delight and excitement over life's many surprises and adventures. We've got every reason to be optimistic and to jump right over our fears. My mom always says there are no wrong choices in life, every decision just gives you more information about what you *do* or *don't* want.

The new place is truly wonderful and we are so lucky to have found it. Maybe if we take our shoes off and dance together in our new clover-filled back yard, my feet will begin to thaw.



Photo by bonitajamaica.com