November 27, 2013 § 10 Comments
“If you want to be surrounded by angels in your lifetime, then teach.” – Rolf Gates
I wasn’t going to write a Thanksgiving post, especially after Kitch reminded me that tis the season when “bloggers around the nation will begin storming the Interwebs with gratitude posts.” Usually during the holidays, I try to lay low, as some of you know. As Anne Lamott says, “It’s hard enough to keep your balance and and sense of humor during the rest of the year. But the next 30 days are Grad School.”
I really wanted to stay in hiding this week because last Friday I got my hair cut and highlighted to camouflage the gray hairs that are sneaking their way in. “Lowlights too?” the woman asked, and I told her sure, which turned out to be a terrible idea as was the decision to get my lip waxed. By the time I walked out of the salon, my hair had violet streaks in it and the next day, my lip broke out so badly, it now looks like I have a communicable disease on my face.
A few weeks ago, I downloaded Bon Appetit’s Thanksgiving app, thinking that I was going to win at Thanksgiving for a change. My parents are here and I am making my first Thanksgiving dinner since I was 29 and single. Back then, the wine mattered more than the turkey (which turned out bloody in the middle and burned on the wings). Now, I am anxious about attempting to recreate the magic that Thanksgiving was when I was young. My mother made it all look so easy. On Tuesday I made cranberry sauce and felt ahead of the game until I checked my Bon Appetit app. According to that calendar, I was supposed to have already made two pie crusts, par-baked my stuffing, and whipped up a roux for the gravy. It appeared that already, I was losing at this.
On Monday and Tuesday I teach two yoga classes each day, which I love, but still find daunting. Before each class, I worry that I will forget the flow, that I will not be helpful, that I will be wasting someone’s time. Yesterday evening I walked into class self-conscious about my face and my hair and slightly dismayed about my lack of Thanksgiving prowess. But as usual, the students changed my mood around, in the way that they always show up and do their best. During the spinal twists at the end of class, I read some of my favorite words of Katrina Kenison’s which I rediscovered yesterday on Claudia’s blog (and recopied below.)
After class, a young Marine stayed as he sometimes does to ask questions. Usually he asks me about poses I can’t do. Last week, he jumped up on the ballet barre and pushed himself into plank. “Can you teach me to do a handstand on this barre?” he asked.
“Um, no,” I said. “I’m still working on handstand on the floor.”
“My roommate and I,” he said in his slow drawl, “We’re in a competition to see who can do the coolest yoga shit.” Then he jumped up into a headstand and I almost had a heart attack.
When he came back to his feet I convinced him that maybe handstand was a better idea and I showed him some things to do on the wall. As he went up and down, he told me that what had brought him to yoga in the first place was a chiropractor who told him his lower back was so injured he might have to leave the Corps. “That dude was an idiot,” Carter told me. Then he explained that his spine was compressed from wearing a 50 pound flak jacket for so long. “Yoga is working though,” he said. “Look,” and he bent over and touched his toes. “I couldn’t do this a few months ago.”
Last night, instead of asking me to show him how to do a one-armed handstand or more “crazy yoga shit,” he told me he really liked what I read. He spread out his hands and looked up. “That part about feeling the earth and looking up at the sky?” He smiled with the lopsided grin and mischievous eyes that most 24-year old boys have but that older men tend to lose.
“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I asked as I powered down the sound system and locked up the headset.
“I’m going home,” he said. “Me and my roommate are going back to Kentucky.” He told me that his grandfather is terminally ill with ALS and his mom is going to bring Thanksgiving to him. “My grandfather is so great,” Carter said. “Since he’s been sick, he’s raised all this awareness about ALS and it’s going to be a special Thanksgiving. Plus,” he added, “I’ve been deployed for the last two Thanksgivings and Christmases, so just being home is pretty awesome.”
We wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving and then Carter stuck his head back in. “Hey,” he said, “My buddy and I are going to that crazy yoga class I told you about back home. We’ll be doing some sick poses.”
“Excellent,” I said, thinking that it was kind of perfect that a Marine would be drawn to yoga as another way to compete. There are so many ways to get to the mountain.
I got the mop to sweep, and as Carter walked away – his step jaunty under his ridiculous haircut – I felt the surprising lightness of gratitude, which knocked me off-guard for a moment. All week I had been trying so hard to cultivate gratitude, to dredge it up, and now, here it was. If you had told me a year ago that I would be grateful to be here, smack dap in the middle of the South, on a Marine base for God’s sake, sweeping the floor with my purple hair, I wouldn’t have believed you. But life can turn on a dime, can’t it?
From Katrina Kenison’s blog, November 20, 2012:
For gratitude, as we all know, is not a given but rather a way of being to be cultivated. It doesn’t come packaged like the Stouffer’s stuffing mix nor is it ensured by the name of the holiday. No, real “thanksgiving” requires us to pause long enough to feel the earth beneath our feet, to gaze up into the spaciousness of the sky above, and to stop and take a good, long, loving look at the precious faces sitting across from us at the dinner table.
Life can turn on a dime. Not one of us knows, ever, what fate has in store, or what challenges await just around the bend. But I do know this: nothing lasts. Life is an interplay of light and shadow, blessings and losses, moments to be endured and moments I would give anything to live again. I will never get them back, of course, can never re-do the moments I missed or the ones I still regret, any more than I can recapture the moments I desperately wanted to hold onto forever. I can only remind myself to stay awake, to pay attention, and to say my prayer of thanks for the only thing that really matters: this life, here, now.
~ Katrina Kenisone
November 14, 2013 § 7 Comments
Sometimes, Aiden and Lindsey post about their favorite things, and I love these insights into what people love or a fabulous thing I have not yet encountered. To be honest, I feel a bit silly doing this myself, as I don’t quite trust my own tastes enough to think that anyone else might share them. Let’s be clear: I am not a fancy person. I am a grilled cheese and tomato soup sort of person. Maybe organic grilled cheese and tomato soup, but still.
Nevertheless, I thought I would do a Fall Favorite Things post about a few things I am loving lately.
1. These little boys: The first two favorite things are in the photo below, doing their homework, each telling each other how easy it is. Well, Oliver is doing his homework, and Gus – who doesn’t have homework because he only goes to school for 2.5 hours a day – is doing a kindergarten workbook I bought for him, mostly to keep him from doing disturbingly accurate Danny Divito impressions from The Lorax (which I love but which drives his brother crazy).
2. This recipe for tomato sauce which is the best I’ve ever had, and this soup recipe*, which I have adapted from Eating the Alkaline Way (see note below). For breakfast, I highly recommend this smoothie, which is fabulous, although you should probably like beets before you try it. (I also adapt this by nixing the ice. Brrr.) The reason I love these recipes so much is because I have been a bit stressed out lately and ate way too many sandwich cookies and Halloween candy last week, neither of which I even like. (Ah, emotional eating. Just when I thought I kicked you to the curb). The soup is like a big warm hug, which you might need in November.
3. This top from Prana, (which also feels like a hug) this top from Lululemon in aquamarine, and these jeans from the Gap, because I have no idea how to wear skinny jeans and I don’t like the way boyfriend jeans fit. Also, after buying tops from Lulu and Prana, I can only afford jeans from the Gap.
4. These books: The Good House, by Ann Leary and Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling, both of which I listened to on Audible. Oliver and I are also reading Rowling’s Chamber of Secrets, so I am getting a double dose of her fabulous writing, which is always incredibly soothing despite the dark topics on which she writes.
7. Country music. Whhhaaatt? But seriously. Having spent two summers in The South, I can now understand most of the words. I also love this song by Boy, which I sometimes play in yoga classes, and this song by Jeffrey Foucault.
9. These words from (the other) Pam. Last summer, when we were living in a crappy hotel, I lost my ability to read and watched 5 seasons of The Office, which I hadn’t ever seen (I warned you I wasn’t very cool). I know there are way better shows on TV, but The Office now has a permanent place in my heart.
10. This interview with Dani Shaprio on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. I love, love, love that she said what kept her stuck in the beginning was permission. So much of what I struggle with is whether or not I am allowed to have something.
11. This guy: I am doing my 500 hour teacher training with Rolf which is pretty magical. Although he now has me meditating for 30 minutes a day, and I swear, that stuff should come with a warning label.
Vegetable and Tofu Hot Pot (adapted from Eating the Alkaline Way), by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson
1 tablespoon vegetable or coconut oil or ghee
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 onion, diced
2-3 carrots, in rounds
2-4 new potatoes, in small cubes
1 cup diced butternut squash (or more depending)
1 cup diced red peppers
3 2/3 cups vegetable broth
2 sprigs thyme
4 ounces cubed tofu
miso to taste
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and sauté onions until translucent. Add rest of vegetables and sauté for a minute or two. Then add broth and thyme and bring to a boil. Then turn heat to low, cover pot and let simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add tofu and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Dissolve desired miso in some warm water. Serve soup into bowls, and then add miso to bowls. Don’t add the miso when it’s too hot or it will destroy the digestive properties. Enjoy!
September 9, 2013 § 13 Comments
Wake me up, when September ends. – Green Day
It’s September in North Carolina. The pool is already closed for the year, but stepping outside is like walking into a sauna while wearing flannel pajamas. Yesterday at the bus stop, it was 90 degrees with 97 percent humidity. The other mothers and I shaded our eyes with our hands and had to open our mouths to breathe.
September to me is a bit like March. It is a month of waiting for things to change but feeling that mostly, things are exactly the same. The leaves are turning brown and gold at the edges, but we are still in shorts. Kids are in school, but everything else shouts summer: smoothies and ice pops, Saturdays at the beach, fireflies and cicadas, and butterflies as big as baseballs.
September has never been a good month for me. Now it’s a month of transition and restlessness. In the past it’s been the month of breakups and disasters, and one year it was endless rain. When I was 28, I lived in Mission Hills, an old part of San Diego that overlooks the bay and Coronado. Our apartment was built into the hill high above the airport. My roommate and I used to sit on our faux leather couch watching the planes land and make those cumbersome, heavy turns once they were on the ground. The roar of their engines was comforting to me. It sounded like things happening.
On the morning of September 11th, the planes were halted. The airport was motionless for days, the stillness terrifying. For days I have been writing and rewriting this post, trying to tell my story of that day and what was lost. In the end I just deleted it because we all have a story of that day, and trying to tell it now seems a bit like hijacking a tragedy: Pay attention to me. Feel sorry for me.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do in my yoga classes this week. It’s been twelve years so perhaps I should just go about my business of telling people where to place their hands and feet. But that didn’t feel quite right either. A few weeks ago, in my own practice, I did one of my Seane Corn yoga videos in which she said, “The body remembers everything. And that includes hate, heartbreak, loss.” Loss. The thing I am learning as I get older is that time really doesn’t heal all wounds.
Perhaps time gives us some distance, maybe a little space, but time also makes things complicated in that we begin to layer our tragedies, or at least I do. September 11th is not just the catastrophe of a day but the sum of all heartbreak from a lifetime of Septembers, the same way that JFK’s assasignation now symbolizes not just the death of a president but the loss of a certain glamour and promise, hope and prestige. We remember the Challenger not just as a shocking tragedy but also as the sucker punch, the explosion of innocence. Now, it seems, rather than being united by a horrible day, we are united by our grief. As in so many other instances, the universal has become personal and the personal universal.
This past weekend I was irritable and impatient. On Sunday night, Scott and I were awakened by a deafening thunder storm, and when I fell back to sleep, I dreamed of tanks in the Syrian desert, dust and ash falling like ticker tape. And then I was in the ocean, and the tanks were shaped like humpback whales, diving and surfacing in the black water.
Fear, grief, and anger have been shadowing me since the beginning of the month and I am trying to dodge them because I don’t want to be afraid and sad and angry twelve years later. I want to be good. I want to be fine. Instead, I have this unreliable, calcifying heart.
I have been doing a lot of yoga videos this week because I don’t have the energy to do my own practice, or maybe, what I am lacking is faith. Luckily, I came across this one with Sienna Sherman, in which she reminded me that the antidote to judgement is curiosity; a sense of wonder, even for our faltering hearts.
On Sunday I read this essay by Pico Iyer, in the New York Times, entitled “The Value of Suffering.” In it, a Zen artist tells the author that suffering is a privilege, that it shakes us out of complacency. I am not sure I share this view yet, but that’s probably because I am more neurotic than complacent. I think the privilege is being alive, and suffering is its byproduct.
In my own class – miles and miles away from Seane Corn and Sienna Sherman – we did a grounding practice, full of lunar namaskars and forward folds. And I decided not to say too much except to quote the master of wonder himself: Mr. Rilke. May you too have patience with all that is unresolved in your own heart.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet,” 1903
August 5, 2013 § 20 Comments
It took a lot of living, and the culmination of much suffering, and turning 40 nearly a year ago, to make me start forcing my own hand. I believed that honesty was a way of acting or enacting. I now understand that it is something far deeper. It is giving yourself the space to actually feel your feelings and be true to them. At all costs. So in that regard, I still have a ways to go. – Gwyneth Paltrow
I have missed being here and writing on this blog mostly because I feel so connected to everyone I’ve met in this space. But what I am discovering about myself is I can’t put together a post – or something even remotely coherent about an experience – while I am still living the experience. And since I turned 40 (in January!!) my experiences have been sharper and more cutting than almost any other time in my life. Each day seems to bring in something new: a new revelation, a change in perception, another piece of myself held up to the light.
Probably the biggest question I am living into right now is that of teaching yoga, which feels an awful lot like standing in front of a crowd and stepping out of my armor. I am working on a post about teaching but I’m not even close yet to finding the right words. Each class still feels like a question, a doorway, a dark room I have to feel my way into by running my hands along the walls.
For the past few months I have also been working on a post about turning 40, which was a bigger deal than I thought it would be. (Proof that I am the slowest writer in the world!) Initially I was writing about an indoor track meet in Boston in late January of this year, where my college 5000 meter record was broken two days before my birthday. It had a very quintessential “40″ quality to it in that I was handing off the baton to the next generation of girl-women, who are just beginning to bound into the world. There was a big element of joy to the experience and excitement but a bit of sadness as well. It had that sunset feeling that something was over. Not just speed but youth itself; that smooth skin, those exuberant friendships, the security felt then, that life was just beginning to unfurl.
Halfway through that bit of writing, I became ridiculously bored because life is nothing like a race and besides, I don’t even run anymore. 40, it turns out, is not a neat succession of days that loop around a defined center. Rather, 40 has been a year of ripping the center out. It’s been an evisceration, an evaluation of what I believe and what I know and what I hope for. It’s been a lesson in how raw it feels to long for something, how gorgeous and heartbreaking it is to look at yourself and say: “More of less, this is who I am.”
A week ago, I took a road trip with my boys, from the very bottom of North Carolina, up to northern Virginia to see Oliver’s best friend, and then farther north to my parents’ house in the mountains of Pennsylvania. On the way home, we swung through Delaware to see my dear friend while she was vacationing at the beach. It seemed like such a simple, and well-thought-out trip, a week of people and visiting and time with my boys in the car.
Oliver and Gus are amazing travelers and I loaded their Nooks with books and movies, I stocked backpacks with Highlights, National Geographic Kids and stickers, raisins and Tangrams, and I filled my iPhone with audiobooks like Frecklejuice and Superfudge and Henry Huggins. Then we hit the 95 near Quantico where traffic stopped. Soon after that, the rain came down in sheets and I was hunched over the steering wheel somewhere outside Stafford on the flooded highway, desperately trying to follow the car in front of me, which was flashing its hazards.
I loved visiting my parents and my friends. I loved being with my boys, but it turns out, I am not someone who loves road trips. We stayed in hotels for three nights where the bed wasn’t like the one at home and the coffee was weak and burned. I don’t enjoy eating pizza two days in a row, I have a lousy sense of direction, and to be honest, I don’t even like driving. One night, after eating dinner in Virginia Beach in one of those fake town centers, I called my husband while the boys were throwing pennies into a fountain, and I felt as homesick as I’ve ever been.
I really want to be someone who digs road trips and adventures and surprises but guess what about that. I want to be someone who can have a glass of wine with dinner without wanting it to be two but I’m not that either. When I was 20, I thought at 40 I would have things figured out, that I would be confident and would make time to straighten my hair every day. I thought I’d have an office and wear shirts with buttons and watch my kids win ribbons in swim meets.
Instead, 40 is having a son who still doesn’t like to put his face in the water. It’s wearing cut-offs and converse most days, and having hair that is wild and turning grey around my ears. 40 is standing in my kitchen at two in the afternoon and realizing that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, whether I am thinking about dinner or parenting or marriage or writing. 40 is knowing I need watermelon juice instead of pinot grigio, walking rather than running, and a daily meditation practice. It’s finding out I am not very good at resting and that social events scare me. 40 has been a visit to a therapist to talk about the anxiety I’ve had since living on Camp Lejeune, it’s wanting to be a better friend to my husband, and it’s been the insistent thrum of truth that I am not as special as I thought I was.
40 has also been a bit of a relief. It’s been six months of molting, of shedding old skins, even though it means I walk around feeling fragile and lost half the time, and this is not something I could have done when I was 20. While I was at my parents’ house I got a massage from Ginny Mazzei, an incredible yoga teacher there. “How was it?” my mom asked when I got back home. She was filling water bottles for the boys because we were going to take them to Knoebels, an 87-year old amusement park in the middle of the woods.
“I feel awful,” I told her honestly. “I think I need to lie down.” During the massage, when Ginny dug her hands into my back, I jumped. Ouch, I thought, and then I felt a wave of grief break a levee somewhere near my heart and spill up and over the banks. While my parents and sons were riding an old-fashioned train and eating soft pretzels, I was drinking a cup of tea and sitting on my mom’s meditation cushion, with tears in my eyes for a sadness I couldn’t even name. Afterwards, I wrote in my journal and then wrapped a blanket around myself and watched “House Hunters” on HGTV.
This too is 40, this permission to do what I need to do in this lifetime, this permission to be honest. I used to be afraid of honesty, and now I see it as a gift, as a load off, as a big sigh of relief. At 40, we realize we probably aren’t going to be rock stars or Olympic athletes or supermodels. We are no longer going to three weddings each summer and our baby days are mostly finished. As women, we are out of the spotlight, elbowed to the side by those in their twenties and thirties and thank god about that.
In my twenties, I was too worried about what everyone thought to get much done and in my thirties, I was too busy with babies and little boys. Now that I’m 40, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
A few weeks ago, I woke up and wrote the word “Forgive” on the inside of my wrist, mostly because I wanted to forgive myself. Not for anything in particular but maybe for breaking all those promises to myself. I was tired of tugging guilt and shame behind me all the time and the way they pulled at my knees. Within hours, two people I never really ever wanted to hear from again called me. “Forgive everyone everything,” said the Buddha. “You haven’t forgiven anything until you’ve forgiven the unforgivable,” said Rolf Gates. Ha! said the Universe. You need some practice.
This too is 40, the knowledge that I will be humbled again and again, brought down to my knees by the devastation and beauty of life, and while I am there on the ground, I might as well pray.
My great-uncle Mart used to ask me riddles when I was little. “How far can a bear run into the woods?” he would say after I’d been in his house for five minutes. “Halfway,” I would answer with a grin, remembering the answer from the previous summer. This too is 40. Halfway, if I’m lucky.
If you haven’t read Lindsey Mead Russell’s “This is 38,” please do. I was inspired by her beautiful writing.
May 10, 2013 § 2 Comments
Today I am over the moon to be with The Kitchen Witch. When I first read Dana’s blog, I was completely bowled over by her sense of humor, her imagery, and her honesty. Reading her blog makes me feel as though we grew up together, went to the same slumber parties and hung out together after school drinking Tab. She will make you laugh until your stomach hurts, and in the next sentence, she will crack your heart wide open. And then she will feed you with one of her delicious stories about her little girls and a recipe that you can make from what’s in your fridge – and still impress everyone you feed.
April 17, 2013 § 14 Comments
I thought of you and where you’d gone and let the world spin madly on – The Weepies
I had something to post this week, but after Monday it was like, who cares. After Monday, I wanted to respond, but I was too angry to be helpful, too bewildered to even sit down, really.
On Tuesday, my son was in his first school musical put on by the most amazing bunch of kindergarten, first, and second graders I have ever seen, and I cried though most of it, the beauty and sadness coiling around me like a hurricane.
I read somewhere that what a hurricane wants most is peace, that it spins to resolve itself.
What has resolved my own spinning during these last few days are Lindsey’s words, Katrina’s words, and Jen’s words, this song by the Weepies that I have been listening to on repeat, and Anne Lamott’s words below.
In the yoga class I taught tonight, we did a lot of core work so that we could meet the present moment with integrity, exactly as it was, no matter what. And as usual, my students were braver than me.
Wherever you are, whatever you are feeling, I wish you peace.
From Anne Lamott’s Facebook page, April 17, 2013:
Frederick Buechner wrote, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
But it is hard not to be afraid, isn’t it? Some wisdom traditions say that you can’t have love and fear at the same time, but I beg to differ. You can be a passionate believer in God, in Goodness, in Divine Mind, and the immortality of the soul, and still be afraid. I’m Exhibit A.
The temptation is to say, as cute little Christians sometimes do, Oh, it will all make sense someday. Great blessings will arise from the tragedy, seeds of new life sown. And I absolutely believe those things, but if it minimizes the terror, it’s bullshit.
My understanding is that we have to admit the nightmare, and not pretend that it wasn’t heinous and agonizing; not pretend it as something more esoteric. Certain spiritual traditions could say about Hiroshima, Oh, it’s the whole world passing away.
Well, I don’t know.
I wish I could do what spiritual teachers teach, and get my thoughts into alignment with purer thoughts, so I could see peace and perfection in Hiroshima, in Newton, in Boston. Next time around, I hope to be a cloistered Buddhist. This time, though, I’m just a regular screwed up sad worried faithful human being.
There is amazing love and grace in people’s response to the killings. It’s like white blood cells pouring in to surround and heal the infection. It just breaks your heart every time, in the good way, where Hope tiptoes in to peer around. For the time being, I am not going to pretend to be spiritually more evolved than I am. I’m keeping things very simple: right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe; telling my stories, and reading yours. I keep thinking about Barry Lopez’s wonderful line, “Everyone is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together; stories and compassion.”
That rings one of the few bells I am hearing right now, and it is a beautiful crystalline sound. I’m so in.
April 5, 2013 § 23 Comments
“Oh mother!” Beezus was all enthusiasm. “Just think. You’re going to be liberated!”
Ramona was pleased by the look of amusement that flickered across her mother’s face. “That remains to be seen,” said Mrs. Quimby. – from Ramona the Brave, by Beverly Cleary
I have two boys and we play a lot of Legos. What I love most about Legos is that they have a life of their own, that while they now come with instructions and in complete kits, they inevitably end up as something different altogether. Oliver recently designed and built two research ships, led by the genius Dr. Invention, and they search the Arctic Sea looking for sick and injured animals while also mining the ocean for potions that cure them.
What I don’t love about Legos is the sets they design for girls. They make me crazy. When I was little, we had a bin of Legos and I remember spending hours in my living room making boats with tiny rooms, spaceships, and little zoos. This was before Lego came out with people, so we even had to make those. I could have been the girl in the photo above with my red pig tails, rolled up Billy the Kid jeans, and Keds.
My sons always have enjoyed playing with girls more than boys, so we have a lot of little girls in our house, often playing Legos or some version of animal rescue or pretending they are cats. And the girls build things too, despite the fact that we don’t have Lego Friends sets, which the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood described as, “so jam-packed with condescending stereotypes it would even make Barbie blush.”
Of course, I am not the only one who wants to strangle someone at Lego and the debate over gender-specific toys has been going on for years. A little over a year ago, Peggy Orenstein wrote a fantastic Op-Ed for the New York Times on this topic and she writes about it frequently on her blog. But lately, my hatred of Lego Friends and all things Barbie and Disney has deepened. I hate that little girls seem to be running around in tutus and tiaras all the time. I hate that girls’ clothes so often have a ruffle or something sparkly. I hate when Oliver’s and Gus’ friends ask me if I want to play “princess.” No,” I want to say vehemently. “I don’t want to play princess. Why don’t we play CEO instead?”
Maybe it’s because I am growing closer to these girls or maybe it’s because they are growing up and I am deeply afraid for them. Let me be clear: this is not a post about parenting girls but about being a girl now, which I imagine to be excruciatingly difficult.
I was born in 1973, six months after Title IX was signed into law. And although my mother was about as traditional as it gets (she went to secretarial school and worked as a corporate secretary in Manhattan before marrying my father and then leaving her job to be a stay-at-home), she was also a bit of a closet rebel and and quiet hippie, even though she would probably say this wasn’t true. Way before Michael Pollen began writing about food, my mom drove us to an orchard 20 minutes away to get local fruits and vegetables, I don’t remember her ever not being politically progressive and some mornings when I woke up, she was doing yoga moves while someone on TV named Joanie wore a white unitard and lifted her knee to her nose. We listened to a lot of Carole King and Simon and Garfunkel growing up, and for a while, we boycotted grapes.
More importantly, she was a feminist, although she might say this wasn’t true as well. “Anything boys can do, girls can do better,” was a mantra she frequently repeated. She signed me up for swim team when I was four, telling me – as she would for years to come – “If you can jump in that pool (or run that race or take that job) then you can do anything.”
Once, I came home from school when I was eight or nine and told my mom that I wanted to be a mother when I grew up and she laughed at me. “Oh you don’t want to be that,” she said, while zooming one of my brother’s Matchboxes back to him. “You’re going to grow up to do something much more important than that.” It’s a testament to my mother’s love and devotion that I didn’t interpret this to mean she didn’t want to be a mom, but rather, that I was destined for a better lot than she had, that I was supposed to do something in the world.
We were also lucky, because in the 70′s and 80′s we had the Women’s Movement. I still have images in my head of women in jeans and tee shirts marching in Washington, carrying signs with the initials E.R.A. We had a force behind us, a maelstrom of protection and righteousness and passion for equality that spun around me and propelled me through an ocean of naysayers: girls can’t be doctors, girls can’t run as fast as boys, girls can’t build things. Those comments always lit a fire under me. Oh yeah, well just watch me.
I don’t think we have those women now and that makes me sad, both because I truly believe the Women’s Movement has completely stalled out and also because the girls who are eight and ten and twelve now are without the role models I once had. I am grateful for Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg (whose new book I have not yet read) and Oprah, but somehow the role models now lack the panache and passion of Geraldine Ferraro and Gloria Steinem.
I really loved Anne-Marie Slaughter’s essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” and of course I’m not new to the table on this issue either. In fact I’m about eight months late. But I just love how she seems to describe my life and my choices (although at a much higher level), that perhaps if I wanted to I could have kept the corporate gig going through my kids’ childhood, but I just didn’t want it badly enough. As Slaughter says, I knew I was replaceable at work, but not so much at home. Sheryl Sandberg would probably say I should want it more, that I let women everywhere down by not trying harder, and maybe I have. Maybe this is even why the women’s movement is so stymied. Maybe we don’t want it badly enough anymore. Maybe we’re too comfortable.
Or maybe it’s because we blame each other too much. Maybe it’s because we don’t respect each other’s choices. Maybe we are too busy arguing about whether or not Ms. Slaughter or Ms. Sandberg is right that we are completely missing the bigger picture. A part of me thinks this isn’t what men would do. If men were the ones who wanted to be “liberated,” I have a feeling they would gang up, form a team, order a pizza and then call a lobbyist in Washington or someone on Wall Street who played hockey with someone else’s brother back in high school. They would see that what we truly need is affordable childcare, flexible work hours, job sharing, and the ability to telecommute. They would start a movement with funny YouTube videos, interviews with Jimmy Fallon, and free beer.
Or do I think that solely because they are already in power, and we, as women, are not? And who is to say those ideas would even work? France, despite having affordable childcare and excellent healthcare is 57th on the 2012 Global Gender Gap Index, below Cuba and Uganda. (According to the World Economic Forum, the Global Gender Gap measures gender-based disparities based on: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment).
As I read this report, the word empowerment struck me particularly. We as women are just not empowered. As soon as a woman CEO makes a controversial decision, she’s all over the media, critiqued not only for her ideas, but for her suit and her haircut. Perhaps most destructive though is that we don’t have each other’s backs. We’re constantly criticizing each other’s choices, parenting decisions, how often we show up to the PTO meetings or the the happy hours at work.
Finally, here at the end of my rant, you would probably expect some answers or at the very least, ideas, but I am all out. Frankly, I often feel like a sell-out, because I gave it “all” up to marry a guy in the Navy, an organization which does not exactly advocate equal rights for women. As a commanding officer’s wife, I am also the one who organizes meal trains, hosts baby showers, and wears heels when a senior officer comes to dinner or for an event. On these occasions, I am the one who cooks the dinner, or orders the salad, and tries to keep my mouth shut. It’s not very empowering, to be honest, and I have a deep sense of letting Gloria Steinem – and maybe my mother – down.
For a long time, I’ve felt that if we could organize – no, empower – military wives, we could change the world. Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy changing diapers and making pb&j’s and trying not to think about too much about what this says about me.
And perhaps that is what is what I am upset about, that I am culpable. That by making a choice that was right for me, I haven’t helped the girls who have come after me. Or maybe it’s the other way around and true liberation means doing what is right for oneself, no matter what it looks like.
April 1, 2013 § 16 Comments
And the day came when the risk it took to stay tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin
Last week I began an Ayurvedic, 21-day group cleanse with one of my favorite and most influential yoga teachers, Laura Plumb. I realize that a cleanse is not blogworthy or even very interesting. And yet, I have always had such a strange relationship with both food and cleanses that have nothing to do with either food or cleanses*.
Ayurveda is a sister science to yoga and I could say a lot about it that may or may not be accurate, but basically, it’s about living closer to nature, eating foods that are in season, and practicing ways of being in harmony with natural rhythms, like getting up at sunrise and winding down at sunset. It’s very simple.
And yet, simple doesn’t mean easy, at least for me. During the first seven days of the cleanse, we eliminated coffee, sugar, alcohol, dairy, wheat, and meat. I don’t eat meat or much dairy or wheat, but still, without sugar or coffee or a glass of wine on those “hard days” I thought I was going to die. “When you want to reach for the sugar or the wine, or the coffee, ask yourself, who are you without the sugar or the coffee or the wine?” Laura asked us all on our group phone call and I didn’t like the answers: sad, overwhelmed, burned out, bored, frustrated, irritated. I just want to be happy and peaceful all the time and it feels wrong to have any other emotion elbow its way in and plop itself down.
I have written before about cleanses, about how, for me, it’s never about what I am giving up but what I’ve already lost. It’s about rolling up my sleeves and finally looking at the original wound, at the ways I was torn apart at the seams and the clumsy methods I used to patch myself together: an extra glass of wine, a pot of coffee at 3 pm, those five chocolate chips eaten with my eyes closed, standing in a corner of the kitchen. A cleanse for me is less about what I’m eating and more about removing the tight and messy stitches. It’s about looking into the open gash, the jagged scar, the emptiness in my heart that has nothing to do with the hunger in my belly.
One girl in our group posted so beautifully and honestly to our Facebook page about why she wanted to do the cleanse:
“I have begun to notice the ways that I outsource for guidance, minimize my own power, and fog-out when things become uncomfortable. Food is a major outsource for me and I want to reclaim the power of my body and what I put into it.”
I could completely relate.
Since I began teaching yoga less than a year ago, I’ve been profoundly aware of the ways in which I am not living my practice and the way I eat is one of them. For the most part, I eat a healthy, mostly plant-based diet. Except, when something tough happens and I outsource, mostly to chocolate. About a month ago, when I had my students move into pigeon pose, I felt like a fraud. I was instructing them to feel their way into their breath and then breathe their way into their feelings, inhale by inhale. And yet, in my own life, I was jumping ship when the sensations became too strong.
Last week, I read Anais Nin’s famous quote at the beginning of class when everyone was in child’s pose: And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. In class we did a lot of “blossoming” poses: vashistasana (side plank), ardha chandrasana (half moon), garudhasana (eagle) and then unwinding. Most of the people who come to my class are beginners, older woman, or young Marines with back and knee and hip injuries so I always give plenty of modifications. We do planks with knees down, side plank with the top leg in front, sole of the foot on the ground. Even so, I watched them stumble and struggle and sigh and giggle and then try again on the other side without a moment of hesitation. Tears filled my eyes and my heart ached with how fearless they all were, how remarkably vulnerable.
In pigeon pose, I had planned to talk more about unfolding, about being open, about blossoming, but it just felt all wrong. Instead, I shared something Rolf Gates had said in our teacher training, something that I didn’t really fully understand until I watched my own class so gamely lift their hands and hearts to the sky. “When I think back to all of my constricted states, all those times I was jealous or angry or afraid,” Rolf told us, “I realize that I needed all of those constricted states in order to truly open.”
As everyone folded into pigeon pose, blankets under their bums, I shared what Rolf had said and how exhausting it can sometimes be to be constantly told to unfurl! dream big! blossom! transform! grow! shift! evolve! When we look at the life cycle of a flower, how many days does it spend deep underground, coiled up, curled tight? Maybe the same is true for ourselves. Maybe we’re allowed days or even seasons of being colorless, tight, and protected; angry, jealous, and afraid. Sad, overwhelmed, burned out, bored. In the yoga DVD I do some mornings, Baron Baptiste says, “We can’t force a rose to open. We’ll just break off the petals.” And yet, how often do I do that to myself?
Spring isn’t for the faint of heart. Cleanses aren’t for punks. Learning how to open takes time. Sometimes it takes fear and anger and jealousy. Sometimes, it takes chocolate. Mostly it takes sunlight and warmth, kindness and true nourishment. For me, it seems to take a cleanse, a bare-bones diet and a balls to the wall process of self-inquiry and truth telling.
This week, as I started my (surprisingly delicious) mono-diet of kitchari and greens (and the dates I can’t quite do without yet), I walked outside and was stopped in my tracks at the tulips poking their green shoots through the dirt in my front garden, effectively giving the finger to my neighbor who said they wouldn’t grow. Yes! I said, doing a fist pump. Yes!
Kate is the winner of last week’s giveaway! I selected the winner through Random.org.
* I want to emphasize how important it is to do a cleanse with guidance and NOT to do a cleanse solely as a way to lose weight or to punish yourself for overindulging. Also, stay away from those ghastly Master Cleanses!
March 16, 2013 § 24 Comments
Often we have to break down in order to break through – Renee Peterson Trudeau
When a publicist emailed me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing a book on my blog, my first reaction was no, thank you. However, after hearing about Renee Peterson Trudeau’s Nurturing the Soul of Your Family, I agreed to at least read it and then decide.
And I was hooked after the first page.
Rather than trotting out a 10-step plan for perfection, Trudeau begins her book by talking about how chaotic her early years were and she freely shares challenges she had with her husband and son. Like many other books, she emphasizes the importance of self-care, but in Nurturing, it goes beyond pedicures and massages. “Nurturing yourself is not selfish,” she writes. “It’s essential to your survival and well-being.” What I loved was that Trudeau outs many of the ways our society doesn’t promote self-care and often shames mothers into feeling selfish if they put their own care on a par with their families’. Instead, Trudeau takes multi-tasking out at the knees by illustrating how much of our own lives we miss when we try to do too much: we react, we take things personally, we lose compassion, and we miss the good stuff.
This isn’t to say that Nurturing the Soul of Your Family is an easy read, however. While Trudeau is relentlessly compassionate, she is also relentless. The book is divided into five sections that focus on healing and supporting yourself, reconnecting to what you love, spending time together as a family, doing less and learning to say no, and finding support. Within each part are journaling exercises, new practices to try on your own or with your family, and really tough questions that demand honest answers. And I appreciate this so much! My own family is in a time of growth as Gus, my baby, is now four, and Oliver, seven, is in his first year of full-day school.
This winter has been a tough time of growing and molting for all of us. Oliver broke his arm in November while riding his bike and was in a cast for eight weeks. He’s already a sensitive kid, and being sidelined during recess and play time was devastating to him. Additionally, right after his cast came off, his entire school participated in a jumping rope fundraiser for the American Heart Association, which proved difficult with his arm. His seat was changed on the school bus, his new seatmate sometimes teased him, and his best friend from Washington, DC stopped returning his letters. One day he came home from school upset and told me that he doesn’t want to only have girls as friends but sometimes the boys are really rough. The months of January and February were difficult in our house, full of tantrums and unexplained meltdowns, tears and anxiety.
Added to this, I’ve felt my own unraveling this winter. It seems that the more yoga I do, the more I recognize unhealthy patterns and even unhealthy friendships that I’ve had to come to terms with. For years I’ve been able to bury my head in the daily tasks of raising babies and toddlers and preschoolers, but this winter, I’ve had more time to face my own fears and obstacles.
One morning last week, after the jump rope competition, and after Oliver reinstated himself on the recess monkey bars, he woke up upset and cranky, yelling at me before he had even climbed down from his bunk bed.
“Oliver,” I asked, feeling weary already, “What is it you need?”
He lay his head in my lap. “I want to stay home with you,” he said, in an uncharacteristic moment of vulnerability. “I want comfort.”
He wanted to read in bed, watch a movie with his brother, eat Starbucks lemon pound cake, build new Lego sets, go down to the bay and visit the “secret” cave. I explained that if he didn’t go to school that day, the following Monday would be that much harder, but we made a plan for a lazy afternoon full of Legos and reading, and even lemon muffins, which I adapted from Ina Garten’s supposedly “healthy” recipe (we all know better, Ina).
And I had Trudeau’s book to remind me that my to-do list could be put on hold for a day, that I could trust myself to recognize that my son needed comfort more than he needed to be reminded not to yell, and that I didn’t have to ignore my own needs in order to meet his.
Today, as I lie in bed on this gorgeous spring day, trying to recover from the bronchitis that won’t seem to leave, my husband glanced at Trudeau’s book, laying next to me. “Huh,” he said, “Maybe I’ll read that.”
Hopefully you will too. I’m giving away a copy of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family to one lucky reader. And you all get my adaptation of Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Cake, below.
1 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal (Bob’s Red Mill is good)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup almond milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
zest of 2 organic lemons (organic is preferable because you are using the rind)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
juice of 1 lemon
For extra lemony-ness:
juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tablespoons agave nectar
For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line muffin tins with muffin cups.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the almond milk, sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the coconut oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the muffins are set and a toothpick comes out clean.
Meanwhile, for extra lemony-ness, cook the juice of one lemon and the agave nectar until it boils and then simmer for a minute. Set aside.
When the muffins are done, pour a tablespoon of lemon/agave mixture over each muffin. It will be quickly absorbed.
For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice and pour over the muffins. My kids love the glaze because … well, obviously. But these are also great without the glaze.
March 11, 2013 § 17 Comments
Oh, I’ve missed it here and I’ve missed all of you. I wish I could give you a good reason why I haven’t been to this blog in a long time, but I don’t really have one, other than to say I’ve been digging. I turned 40 in January, and Scott and the boys built me a garden. Because I live in The South, we’ve already planted kale and mesclun, sweet peas and arugula. I’ve also tried my hand at flowers and on a cold and windy day last week, I ripped open a brown paper bag full of tulip bulbs. Supposedly they are late blooming, but my British neighbor shook her head at me and wagged her own trowel in the sharp breeze. “Nah,” she said, “You need a frost. They’re not going to grow.”
But still, Gus and I raked away the pine needle “mulch” base housing dumped all over our front garden beds last fall and we dug a few inches down, because that’s as far as you can go here before you hit sand. I had to pause and figure out which way to plant the bulbs because it wasn’t entirely clear which way was up. By the time I finished, my hands were cold and covered with dirt that seemed to be baked in, caked under my nails, streaked across my face, where I paused once to itch my nose.
I’ve been doing another sort of digging as well this winter, a much less interesting sort, so I won’t bore you with the details. I think maybe it had something to do with turning 40, with the realization that the days of waiting for my real life to begin were over. This is it, I thought, as I blew out the candles and then began to panic a bit. At 40, time isn’t as luxurious as it once was. Time now seems to be cracking a whip, stamping its foot, whispering in my ear in its dry, husky voice.
Or maybe it started with books: Katrina Kenison’s Magical Journey allowed me face my own looming compost pile and Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions dug its fingers into my shoulders and pushed me to the ground. I called my yoga teacher, Laura Plumb, and in our sessions, she has been encouraging me to sit quietly and then to push my fingers into the soil, even though I keep worrying about the worms and the bugs.
“Live into the questions,” she reminds me and still, I want only clear answers, a way to scrape the confusion away and wash it clean. But of course, there have only been more questions, which I think are probably the garden variety questions that stay-at-home mothers my age begin to ask. Questions mostly about what I can ask for, how much I am allowed to have, whether or not it’s OK to take something and claim it for my own. And there are other questions as well, the kind that come from living on a Marine base, surrounded by guards, an ocean, and a chain link fence. Questions about freedom and obligation, prerogative and service.
I’ve been asking questions that I’m not sure you can ask anymore in this age of competitive parenting. Questions about a purpose beyond making lunches and cleaning up spilled juice. Selfish questions about carving out time for myself, about an interior life, which has been limited since the birth of my oldest son. These are not questions about how to love my family less, but about how to love myself more.
In January I dug through shame, in February anger, and now, in March, I am stalking fear, with the help of Ana Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine. I have been practicing handstand again and forearm balance in the middle of the room, where I feel both hopeful and hopeless, clumsily hamstrung between gravity and flight. I awkwardly hop from my forearms, I plant my hands down into the floor and sometimes hover before I realize that I may actually be doing it, which causes me to come tumbling down onto the wood floor, the bedrock, the facts of my life that stand as they are, immutable as granite.
There is the fact that I don’t yet work, that we will never afford childcare or someone to clean our house or private schools. There is the fact that we move every two years, that I get frustrated because my choices are limited, that I am scrubbing the toilets with a brush and my Ivy League education. There is the fact that an almost daily yoga practice has not made me into a better person, but rather, revealed the ways in which I am selfish.
I have been trying to blast away the earth to clear a space for my life. I have been desperately clawing at stone in an attempt to build a foundation. I have been using a dull knife to scrape out a sacred space in the bedrock, an alter in the midst of the duties and the obligations. I have been trying to erase what is there so I can start again.
But maybe I have been going about this all wrong. It might be that while I have been railing against the boundaries in my life, they have been the walls keeping everything in place. It could be that I have to start building here, on these uneven rocks. What I should probably be doing, is not trying to bludgeon the earth, but drawing a blueprint of a castle that will fit in the land I have purchased. Maybe I should be learning how to live in narrow hallways and odd-shaped rooms. It might be that the duties and the obligations are the tight things that will grow, that maybe the flower is not more holy than the crust of the Earth.