Apple of My Eye

Image courtesy of pixabay

Image courtesy of pixabay

It’s apple season. And apples really don’t fall far from the tree. I have always said La Chica is an apple that didn’t fall far from the Momma tree. It’s clear she’s stubborn, fierce, and feels things much more intensely than the average bear. I always used to think the Boy had pieces of a younger me, the anxiety, the shyness, the quest for perfection. I saw shades of me in the Boy, but I never thought his apple fell that close to me.

Now, I’m reminded I always underestimate my children. This Boy, I used to think he was who I used to be when I was a child. He started his life slowly, hesitating, unsure. Afraid to try new things. Afraid of his own shadow. Afraid and uncomfortable to be in his own skin. He slowly dabbled in things to see if they’d fit: fencing, horseback riding, robotics, soccer, lacrosse, scouts, orchestra. He’s slowly learning to feel what resonates with him.

As he knocks on the door of Teenhood, he has outgrown and discarded his former shell of his youth like a molting crab. I turn around and suddenly there’s this Man-Child. And I’m both simultaneously proud of him, and exhausted. You see, I pack more into a day than the average bear does in a lifetime. I realized long ago that this one life we are given is one hell of a life, if you make it one. So much to see, so much to do, so much to feel. The possibilities are endless, if you see opportunities instead of hardships and obstacles.

So I venture out and explore the world, I give my time and efforts back to the community, I create relationships with others to feel feely things. I work hard, raise my family fiercely, and fill my soul intensely. I am always making, doing, being. I do hard things. I am scared and brave. I believe that I can do anything, and I do. Anything. And everything. Sometimes not well, but I do them anyway. The kids have always seen efficiency at it’s best, and worst, in me. I am mindful to do and be as much as possible to fill my soul and be a good citizen to this world. Sometimes I’m successful at the juggling act, sometimes not so much. Sometimes I’m cranky, sometimes I’m at happy hour. They bear witness to this every day . I do all of those things not only for me, but because having children forces me to be a better person because there’s always someone stalking me.

And someone’s been taking notes. I can’t get mad at him for that. But my God, I don’t know how I’m going to manage our schedules. The Boy has suddenly decided he’s hell bent on leadership positions in scouts for both altruism and self-improvement. He’s also decided he’s volunteering, a lot, at a horse rescue shelter, which happens to be very, very far away. And he’s decided he’s improving his self-defense skills by adding another class to his schedule. All while attending Chinese school on weekends, playing the cello, working towards his Eagle rank in scouts, and doing well in school. And yes, somehow he still finds time to complete his chores, read for pleasure, fight with his sister, and play like a Boy should.

And I was just calling him lazy yesterday. And in many moments, he is. In many moments, I am too. I had no idea this little apple had been watching me grow and reach for the light. I turned around last night after he begged to be able to volunteer in a leadership position, and I realized he’s taking root and reaching for the light too. I caution him about being overscheduled, he nods and continues to reach for the light. In that one moment, I see that he has goals for his life, and he’s working towards those goals. I see that he’s developed the perspective and attitude that we prioritize and do what we need to, just do it. I see that he’s willing to do the hard work it takes to achieve. I see that he’s choosing to fill his moments with activities that fill his soul. I see him settle into his own skin. I see him making calculated decisions to be an active participant in this world, instead of just sitting and being, hiding in shadows, in my shadow. Just in time, he’s starting to bear fruit.

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Timing Is Everything

7/8 time signature, timing, life lesson, expectations, timing is everything, shoulds

There is something you must know about me. I hate math. And math hates me. I hate numbers. They confuse me. The only numbers I understand are the number of shoes I own, and that gives me great comfort. Otherwise, numbers give me great agita. So when my drum teacher sat me down, very excited about teaching me a new song that has both 4/4 time and 7/8 time, I tried really hard not to throw a chair or my drum sticks at him.

So instead I threw glares at him, because I love him and am allergic to restraining orders and assault charges. He explained what 4/4 and 7/8 time meant, and I made him explain it again. And again. And again. And again. He told me not to think about this as math, that it’s not math. They’re not fractions even though they look like fractions. It’s about counting.

And this is when I got pissed, and uncomfortable. What do you mean you can have two different time signatures in one song? How can you just shift tempos in one song? And what is this 7/8 business? This 7 beats in a measure business? I told him I needed a minute.

See, up until now, my drumming world was in 4/4 time. Those were the parameters and rules and expectations and shoulds of my world. I knew what to expect. I knew how it sounded. I knew how to count it. I knew what to do and when to do it in a 4/4 world. This, this 7/8 business, shook my world. I didn’t know it existed. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or how it sounds in the end.

Life continues to provide opportunities to learn, continues to provide gentle reminders. I need to be reminded that I like having parameters, expectations, shoulds; and that just because I like something, doesn’t make it a reality. I grew up thinking the world is one way. And in that one way, everything fit neatly into compartments, boxes. And each of these compartments had clear operating rules. You go to school, work hard, get a good job, and live a comfortable life. You date, you get married, it’s hard, but everything works out in the end because happily ever after. You get the picture. Every box had a formula, standard operating procedures, and a clear story ending. That was my understanding of life.

Until I started living my life. I dated. I got married. I had two kids. It was hard. I got divorced. Wait a second. That was not supposed to happen. Let me tell you, that shook my world off its axis. That made me realize everything I ever understood about life was not true. The expectations, the shoulds, the formula, none of that was true. I didn’t know what to expect anymore. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I didn’t know what to think or want anymore. I didn’t know how to be anymore. I needed a minute. Or two. Or five years. I had to make sense of what no longer made sense. And in this, I learned there are no shoulds or expectations. There is only doing the next right thing, gently, kindly, graciously.

And then I fell off the trapeze and hit my head. I work in a biomedical research field. My career has been submersed in research findings, data, evidence-based best practices. We have a hypothesis, we gather data and discover things and new understandings, we publish papers about it all, we tell others, we provide treatment based on this knowledge. Except each specialist over three and a half years swears by a different theory and diagnosis, and thus a different treatment plan. And each of these specialists can provide research and data supporting this theoretical framework, diagnosis, and treatment. Wait, how is this possible it seems like no one knows what they’re talking about, or that everyone knows what they’re talking about but no ONE person is right? How is anyone supposed to get better? How am I supposed to get better? I needed a minute. Or two. Or three and a half years. I had to sit with the reality that no one really knows anything definitively, and that our knowledge and understanding of something, of everything, shifts through time and additional data points. Science may be written in sturdy textbooks, but it’s not written in stone. And so I learned there is no one right answer, and that I needed to choose what felt right in that moment in time.

And so I’m learning that a song can have more than one time signature, in fact it can have many. Tempos change, it feels odd, it feels like there are stops and starts. And as a whole, it sounds beautiful, interesting, and just the way it should. Learning how to play it can feel awkward, difficult, even painful. Learning to really live can feel awkward, difficult, even painful. But in the end, it’s just the way it should be–both music and life–and it’s beautiful and interesting. There is no one end, there’s just the next right thing. The understanding of our realities shift through time. Timing is everything.


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Full of Fear


fear, brave, courage, scared, bravery, afraid

I am full of fear. And that’s a good thing. It’s all the rage now to proclaim oneself “fearless.” I understand the sentiment behind that proclamation, but I don’t think it’s the right word. It means “free from fear, lacking fear.” A healthy dose of fear is, well, healthy. Otherwise, we’d all be completely reckless and make impulsive decisions and never learn great life lessons. And let me tell you, I was reckless and impulsive when I was younger, and I was still completely consumed by fear. Bravada about being fearless doesn’t actually take the fear away. You just ignore it and believe it doesn’t impact you, which isn’t true. We need to understand how fear drives us, how, why, when.

We need fear to guide us, to warn us, to keep us safe. We should be afraid of tigers, tornadoes, stalkers. These things will hurt us. We should be afraid of love, judgment, failure. These things will hurt us.

Does this potential for hurt mean we never go on safari, spend time outdoors when it’s cloudy, partake in online communities? No, of course not. That would make us paranoid recluses. That would make for an isolated, cold existence. These fears tell us to appreciate the majesty of tigers from afar, respect Mother Nature and head down to basements when tornado warnings are issued, and to use proper precautions online while enjoying the ability to meet people you’d otherwise never have access to. We also should not ignore our fears and play tag with tigers, run through fields during a tornado warning, or over-disclose to strangers. Otherwise, Darwin demonstrates yet again he was on to something.

Does this potential for hurt mean we should put on protective armor and be emotionally unavailable, aim for perfection, or shy away from risks? No, of course not. This would make for a lonely, boring, small life.

It is in the midst of these fears AND failures that life really happens. It’s in the falls and mistakes and messiness that real life occurs. These things WILL happen regardless of if you acknowledge the fear, if you name it, or not. People will judge you, people will condemn you, people will disappoint you. Hurts will happen. Again and again. And yes, one more time for good measure. Even when you don’t get too close to someone. Even when you try to be who people expect you to be. Even when you underachieve.

So when you find fear, you are in a place that matters. You can only be afraid of something if there’s a potential loss. This place where fear lives is a place that matters. There’s a good chance you might lose your dignity, your heart, your reputation, so don’t be fearless. You should be afraid. This fear makes you human, makes you real. Sit right there in this space. Because when you lose these things, it doesn’t mean you’re lost.

It means you’re found. The pain and hurt that accompanies losing your heart and your pride and your perceived security, that’s what makes you who you are. And who you are is someone brave and courageous. It is the brave who continue to get up every day, show up every day, to do the things that scare you. That isn’t a loss. That’s a gain.

The problem with fear is when we allow ourselves to be dictated by fear. When we say, “You’re right. I’m not good enough.” When we say, “I can’t, I just can’t bear to get hurt again like that.” When we say, “I can’t risk trying, what if I fail? What if I look like a fool?”

When we give in to these fears, when we let them control our behaviors, they control how big or small our lives are. How bright or dark our lives are. How full or empty our souls are. We think giving in to these fears keeps us safe. You’re not safe. You’re just scared. And that’s OK.

Because you can be be brave and courageous AND afraid. We can’t ignore the realities of judgments, rejection, loss. True courage is acknowledging those realities, and risking in the face of those realities. Courage is saying I am full of fear, and I am also full of life and light.

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Hello From the Other Side

tween, teen, individuation, growing up, teenager, parenting

I call home and a strange man answers, “Hello?” I’m silent for a moment, unsure of what to say.

“Hey,” I say, as I wonder if I’ve dialed the wrong number.

“Oh, Hi Mommy!” my 12-year-old son answers cheerfully. As he tells me about his day, I am only half listening to the content. I’m listening to his voice–the pitch, the tone, the cadence. Every now and then, I can recognize the eager, innocent little boy that once lived in my house. But mostly I hear someone growing into his own skin, growing into his confidence, growing out of my house. This has been happening daily for months now. Without fail, the deep “Hello” is still jarring and unfamiliar to me.

His voice is deep and rich now most of the time. I had been watching out for the squeaky, awkward voice change that’s a tell-tale sign of puberty. But he seems to have bypassed that and went straight to deep baritone, as he has hair sprouting everywhere like a Chia pet. Every now and then when he gets super excited, I can hear my little boy.

Most moments now, he’s pensive. He’s a thoughtful one, in that he ruminates and examines ideas in his head silently until it’s time to ask a question or make a proclamation. He’s a planner, he has long-term goals and over-thinks his plans to achieve them. He’s a dreamer, he loses himself in books for most of his waking moments. When he was little, I told him about this magic aspect of books. I had no idea he’d be so taken by the spell of losing oneself in another world.

Every now and then, I look at him in my rearview mirror or from across the room, and when his head is tilted a certain way, I can still see the 2-year-old version of his face. Every now and then, when I catch him playing with his Lego minifigures or Pokemon, I can still see the 7-year-old version of him.

This weekend I sent him off to scout camp for the week. Last year was his first away-camp, and I was fine with it. This year, I’m not sure why I’m having such a difficult time. Maybe because everything points to the fact that I have a man-child living at home now. Last year, he was still a child.

Maybe it’s because we live in a very polarized world right now, and I’m not ready to release him into it. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough with how to cope with sadness, anger, frustration, hope. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough to try to remember we belong to each other, and that love and kindness are always the next right thing. I don’t feel like I’ve taught him to see the greys in life instead of holding on to false, mutually exclusive certainties. I don’t feel like I’ve equipped him well enough to be a better person than I.

Sure, I don’t want to release him yet because time did fly by too quickly and I didn’t appreciate all the moments everyone told me to. But I’m also sad and scared for him, that this is the world I’m sending him off into. A world where it’s so easy to judge and criticize each other. A world where it’s so easy to follow or friend, but so hard to truly connect. A world where posturing and filters are more important than authenticity and vulnerability.

It’s in these moments that I find myself not knowing who he is anymore as he grows into his own self. It’s in these moments that I find myself not knowing what this world is anymore as people react from fear and hurts instead of acting mindfully and carefully and empathically. It’s in these moments that I find myself wondering how he’ll choose to navigate this world.

It’s all too fast, too much. I much prefer my illusion of certainty and safety when he was an infant and toddler, when being held by me was enough for him to feel safe. Enough for me to feel safe. When no matter how bad the day was, ending it with a story and lullaby made the world OK again, and we knew tomorrow was another day.

So tomorrow is another day. And tomorrow brings him one day closer to leaving this house, brings him closer to being someone completely independent from me. And yet it feels like with each day that he steps away from me, his home in my heart grows .


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She Said Stop


rape, rape culture, sexual assault, no means no

One of my favorite sounds is the laughter of my children. When they’re tickling each other, when they’re chasing each other, when they’re wrestling with each other. The infectious belly laughs and squeals warm my heart. One child tickles, the other screams and laughs. The tickler laughs too. The tickle-ee screams “Stop!” and keeps laughing, and tickles back. And this continues, over and over, until the tickle-ee screams, “I SAID STOP!”

I said Stop. But she was laughing, and tickling back. She was playing along. Until she wasn’t.

I see kids, not just mine, play out this scenario every day. When boys are wrestling. When kids are teasing. When kids are pestering each other, following each other around on the blacktop, in the cafeteria, in the backyard, playing one more video game. It starts out with a mutual agreement to have fun. Then one party starts to tire of it, and verbalizes a “No,” or “Stop it,” or “Please go away,” or “Not now.” But these seem like feeble attempts, because the tired party continues to engage in some fashion, or doesn’t scream it loudly the first time, or doesn’t disengage and flee.

I see adults cajole kids in this similar fashion as well. By “adults,” I mean me, and you. Granted, a lot of this is used to reframe or negotiate an issue to get a child to finish homework, or eat their vegetables, or take medicine. But adults do it too. To kids, to each other. “Oh come on, stay out a little longer. One more drink.” or “Oh come on, cut out of work early to play some golf.” 

It’s usually harmless, and we all do it to some degree. There’s a fine line between persuasion and pesky. A fine line between negotiation and coercion. Kids don’t naturally know where this fine line is. To them, positive reinforcements can be seen as bribing. To them, a parent pressuring a child to finish his vegetables can be generalized to it being OK to pressure other people into doing things. And so it becomes even that much more important that we step in and discuss these interactions in real time. 

Now, more than ever, we are outraged at our current rape culture, this understanding of the world that permits the entitled taking of something not yours to take; this disregard for boundaries; this inability to understand where I stop and you begin. This is a good thing, this outrage. Outrage will only take you so far though. We need to teach our children how to negotiate this world, and with each other. We need to teach our children that this rape culture starts years before one is sexually active.

Girls and women are taught at an early age how to try to prevent rape and sexual assault: we shouldn’t wear short skirts or cleavage-baring tops, we shouldn’t get too drunk, we shouldn’t walk alone at night. You know, because otherwise, you’re just being stupid and not being safe.

What are we telling our boys and men? Now, more than ever, we’re telling them to respect women as humans. Yes, we need to do that. We also need to start teaching our little babies that no matter what, No means No, and Stop means Stop. Even when they’re five- or seven-years-old, and it’s a raucous pillow fight or tickle session or wrestling match or freeze tag. Adults too often ignore these innocent squirmishes because they’re having fun. Their squeals and protests are background noise. It’s innocent play. Adults don’t intervene until someone gets hurt in that pillow fight.

It’s innocent, until it’s not. We need to teach boys and girls early on that no matter what the circumstance, no matter how the game started out, the second someone says No or Stop, it’s Hands up, Walk away. No cajoling, no negotiating, no pressuring. It doesn’t matter if he or she is still laughing and engaging. We need our children to understand this concept in all forms.

We need to teach our children to respect everyone’s boundaries in all aspects of our lives. Sure, we tell kids that, we tell people to respect each other. But those directives are so abstract, they don’t know what it looks like, what it feels like, how to do it. We need to teach them what it feels like to be disappointed when her playmate no longer wants to play that game, and that’s OK. We need to teach them what it feels like to have his boundaries respected, so that he knows what it feels like when someone’s not respecting his boundaries. We need to teach them to honor and respect others, to be honored. We teach these concepts through the games and interactions they know now, not just by talking at them.

We have a rule in our house: I better not hear “No” or “Stop” more than once. But do I? Of course, they’re children, and human. We all need opportunities to practice. And we do, every day. Because she said Stop. And we need to honor that.

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

How to Stop Your Own Suffering

meditation, mindfulness, quiet mind, hope, grace, coping, sadness, anxiety, be still

When people ask what benefits I derive from my meditation practice, I find myself at a loss for words. Imagine that, me of all people not able to provide a sufficient answer. I know what it feels like, I know how it feels to experience life differently. I just couldn’t find the right words. Until now.

I used to tell people it was an additional coping skill for dealing with hard times and feelings. I used to tell people that it helped remind me to breathe, to be present, to be grateful, to be grace. These are all still true. But today the words found me. I don’t think it was so much an issue of finding the words, but instead finding my way to this space of a different understanding whereupon I can draw upon these words. This truth has always been there, I just needed to be in this space to feel them.

Yes, my mindfulness meditation practice reminds me to quiet my mind. But it’s not just the quieting of the mind to ease anxieties. It doesn’t stop there. It quiets the mind so that my mind doesn’t continue to scurry about, examining every single What If….? If Only…? But Why…? My mind, my soul, now understand that the answers to those questions don’t matter. In fact, the questions themselves don’t matter. My head knew that. But it wasn’t a truth for me yet. Until now.

True acceptance of the present moment, the present circumstances as-is, requires the mind to be still. I’ve finally learned to stop the Intellectualization Train. Because there’s no destination, and the journey on that train didn’t feel good. This train doesn’t even have a cash bar.

The over-thinking ad nauseum, the quest to better understand, the examination to determine what happened, the desire for an explanation–they do nothing but create suffering, ennui, confusion. I used to want to know why. Then I wanted to show I was right, I could fix that, or you, or me. And it would all be better then. I thought if I could understand and fix it, then my suffering would end.

I understand now that it only hurts when I want that person to be someone he is not, to be someone else. It only hurts when I want the current circumstance to be something different, to be somewhere else, to live another life. The details, the back stories, the explanations, the possibilities–none of it matters. What matters is what I decide to do when presented with current circumstances, when faced with the truth of who someone is.

And it is in the quietness of this space that I can make decisions that honor me, that are kind to me, that allow me the space to draw upon past lessons to make different decisions. Or, because I’m human, make the same decisions and be fully aware I’m choosing to suffer again, one more time. For old time’s sake.

Before, quieting my mind offered moments of peace, of silence, of tranquility. It helped me insert pauses into my day. It helped me put the brakes on freaking out. It helped me stop the anxiety for a moment, until it came back. Because it always comes back. Because anxiety and sadness and confusion are always part of life.

But this new understanding provides a different quieting of the mind. This is quieting my mind from the outset, of understanding the over-intellectualizing IS the suffering The suffering is the wondering Why he did this, or Why she didn’t do that, or if Only things were different.

He did do that, she didn’t do that, and things aren’t different. That’s all there is. I am in a space in life now where that’s all I need to know to make my decisions. And there will be accompanying anger or sadness or frustration. But there isn’t the suffering. There aren’t any story lines, which are the suffering. Sadness and anger and frustration is very different without the suffering.

They don’t feel good. But they’re not overwhelming. I used to have difficulty feeling negative emotions because I experienced them so intensely, so fully. So I tried to avoid them. I felt like they would consume me, that I would drown in them. But feeling sadness as sad; feeling anger as anger, feeling frustration as frustration–these I can do.

It’s easier to acknowledge these, and sit with them, and let go. It doesn’t cut quite as deep. It doesn’t tie me to the past as much. It lets me move forward. It doesn’t keep me stuck in this quicksand that is suffering, where I feared it would consume me. This new truth allows me to invite Anxiety or Sadness into my home, because I know they’re here for just a short while before they go calling on someone else, and they mean no harm. This new truth allows me to be a good host because I know Grace and Hope will come calling again soon too.

Posted in Empowerment, Meditation, Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Grace, Hope & Lebenslüge

grace, hope, Lebenslüge, life lies

Lebenslüge. Life lies. What a great German phrase  a new friend shared with me. She asked me at the end of our first meeting, why I tell myself life lies, lebenslüge. I couldn’t answer her immediately because I fell in love with that word and had to hold it and examine it for a while.  I realized that in this particular instance, it was about self-effacing jokes. And there’s always a kernel of truth in jokes. So I threw out little self-effacing funnies as a protective disclaimer, as a justification to the world, a defense. It’s a little bit of posturing to someone new who couldn’t believe I could have glitter in my hair and also be credible as a consultant.

We all do this, tell life lies. It varies, how big your life lies are, how much you believe your life lies, how tightly you hold on to your life lies. The stories we tell ourselves about our circumstances and our selves matter, because it’s these story lines that create our suffering. And suffering is optional.

I used to tell grand stories, tall tales of woe and misfortune and despair. Until I met Grace. Grace and I have a complicated relationship. She is patient and kind and wants to be an integral part of my life. I would like this as well, but I don’t let Grace in my life as much as I should because sometimes I’m grumpy and don’t want to be patient and kind. I’m learning that it’s particularly important for me to ask Grace over for a playdate in those grumpy, impatient, unkind times.

Grace taught me to be kind to myself. Grace taught me that these life lies and story lines I told myself were merely lies. Stories. They weren’t truths. In fact, it was rarely ever about me. I used to think perhaps I wasn’t smart enough, or attractive enough,or witty enough to get the job, or keep the boyfriend, or have all those cool friends. Lebenslüge.

Hope is another friend I have a complicated relationship with. Some days I hate Hope because she shows up with the potential of wonderful things. And I am ambivalent about Hope because she’s unreliable. I never know when the potential is realized, or if I’ll be disappointed. Hope is a beautiful friend, so full of light and love. But half the time she brings beautifully wrapped boxes that only hold disappointments and sadness. She needs to learn to bring better hostess gifts like wine or an Edible Arrangement.

Oprah (not a friend, but I think Grace and Hope are her close friends) said “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” And even though Oprah is not a personal friend of mine, I feel close to her because I grew up with her in my living room on the TV. She is a wise sage, and I’ve come to learn to believe when someone tells me who he is despite my desperate desire for a different reality.

And so recently I started to prepare for a pity party and began to send out evites to a few close friends. When I realized I was Lebenslüging (yes, I totally made that German word a verb). I had started to feel anxious and all feely about someone. Someone who I liked a lot, someone I had introduced to Hope. I was feeling anxious because I didn’t like acknowledging the person he was showing me he was. I didn’t like the realization that this person was no longer good for me, or good to me. And so he had no place in my life. Grace reminded me that I need to be kind to myself, and continuing to allow him in my life was not kind. Grace kindly asked Hope to leave the room.

So as we’re apt to do with a loss, I started to feel really sad. And I may or may not have started to catastrophize and generalize. Then I remembered this isn’t about me. The part that was about me is the part that decided I’ve given enough Grace to try to make this work through time and chances. The rest is about him and his decisions. That’s really all there is to the story. Everything else is the story line, the life lies, lebenslüge. Suffering is optional.

Posted in Dating, Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments