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.

 

Posted in Meditation, Mindfulness | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Meditation, Mindfulness | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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 .

 

Posted in Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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

Irish Times

Ireland, Easter Uprising, Irish Times, travel abroad, life lessons

The kids and I went Adventuring. We actually spent 7 days in Ireland, but we’ve come to call living life “Adventuring.” We took off with plans to see and do a lot of fun and beautiful things. The Boy had heard the food was good, so he was banking on that too. I however, like to keep my expectations low. I just wanted to survive travelling abroad with two children so I packed a lot of protein bars and trail mix. La Chica hoped to see puffins. Or penguins. Because I like to keep my expectations low and because I just don’t understand her sometimes, I just ignored her.

We learned a lot about Irish history and geography and customs, especially since it’s the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising. We learned most of the police in Dublin are not armed, the tearooms are superior to American cafes, and that cheese salad is a thing. The kids discovered what hitchhiking is, that people top off their coffee with warm water, and you can’t flag down a cab in Belfast (Dublin yes, Belfast no, I learned the hard way). I discovered it’s against the law to serve alcohol on Good Friday, but desperation and American charm can convince a bed and breakfast proprietor to break laws. 

We also learned a lot of important life lessons too, which is a large part of why I find such great value in world travel for my kids. We learned:

Old habits die hard: Driving on the left doesn’t sound so difficult. I was OK on the motorways and roundabouts. What I was not so good about was making right turns. Or left turns for that matter. The kids quickly learned to scream “WRONG WAY!”  The kids also learned to remind me that I had an entire half of a car on my left side. I drove for 7 days and over 1600 kilometres, but I only got the hang of it all by the end. The left side mirror decided it had enough of me and lept off the door by the second day after it had kissed a lot of poles, cars, and walls. This leads to our next lesson.

It’s OK to die: I know, this sounds morbid while we’re vacationing. But there was a certain understanding and resignation that with my driving, there was a fairly reasonable possibility that we may very well die there. And the kids were really  OK with that. We’ve lived a good life with people we love, and we all end up dying in the end. Where and when isn’t up to us. The luck of the Irish brought us back stateside safely though.

An open mind and flexibility makes a difference: We had a list of things we wanted to see and do in Dublin, County Meath, Belfast, Bushmills, Carrick-on-Shannon, Renvyle, and County Clare. I made sure we didn’t have timed tickets for anything. I made sure we had a car, knew how to get a cab, and had money (and those protein bars). I made sure we all understood we didn’t have to check everything off the list. So off we went every day. Due to certain sites being sold out, or getting lost, or noticing a certain sound or smell, or talking to people, we ended up adding so much more to our trip. We discovered 13 castles, 9 rainbows, 7 street musicians, Ireland’s only fjord, and 1.5 gazillion sheep. We ended up crashing the procession of the cross with the Archbishop of Dublin on Good Friday. We celebrated Easter Mass in Belfast of all places. We ended up with the most breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. We ended up remembering my fear of heights when driving on the edges of cliffs on muddy roads and no road barriers. 

The kids learned life need not be planned to the last detail. The kids learned to create their own experiences based on their guts instead of experiencing what others want you to see. The kids learned that keeping an open mind to all possibilities expands your life exponentially. The kids learned there are no wrong turns in life or on the road, and you can always find your way back. The kids learned that it need not be a bad thing when things don’t go as planned. The kids learned to say “Why not?” more than “no.” The kids learned it’s a wise decision to ask for help.

So much of the week was spontaneous or unplanned, that we learned to scream “Adventure!” with glee and jazz hands instead of screaming expletives with dread and anxiety when we missed a turn, or got caught in a hail storm at the top of a cliff, or when the car refused to start. The kids learned that if one of us screamed “Adventure!” we were to start looking for something unexpected that we could make the most of. And we were always rewarded with amazing surprises. We were rewarded with rainbows, castle ruins, a sky full of stars, the discovery that sheep sleep on the sides of roads that have no shoulders (The roads, that is. The sheep all had shoulders). We were rewarded with the kindness and grace of strangers, homemade chocolate cake, experiencing Daylight Savings time twice in a month.

Compromises: There was no way we could do only things all three of us agreed to, even though the kids could sit at the bar in Ireland. So we did Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, New Grange and Knowth for The Boy. We searched for castles and sheep for La Chica. We toured the Guinness Storehouse, Kylemore Abby, several chapels, and pub after pub for me. We rode horses on the beach, climbed rocks and more rocks, hiked and hiked and hiked. We perused through museums and browsed through shops. With each activity, one of us was bored. The kids learned to take turns getting what they wanted. They learned despite not wanting something, they can support and find enjoyment of what loved ones want.  They learned just because you thought you wouldn’t like it, you can.

Perspective: Turns out people were tickled by my American accent. “You do it so well. It’s all class, love.” I forgot I do indeed have an accent to the rest of the world. I forgot also that the rest of the world has a very different view about America. I ended up apologizing for our country every day. People are just confounded with Donald Trump. And why, oh why, was he even such a thing. 

Your perspective is also different when you walk versus when you drive versus when you’re in a cab or horse-drawn carriage. By walking, we stumbled upon bagpipers in St. Stephens Green, which led to the voice of an angel named David Owens singing on Grafton Street, which led to cobblestone alleyways of funky stores and homes with doorknobs in the middle of the door, which led to a meandering river with ducks, which are sort of close to puffins, if you close your eyes and suspend reality. If we had taken a cab, it would have been efficient and nice. But we made our time interesting.

Persevere and courage: For several days, I drove hours each way to see a sight. People remarked how brave I was for driving so far in an unfamiliar land, and in the dark. I didn’t think I had a choice if I wanted to get back to the hotel. I had to keep going, no matter how tired or unnerved I was. We didn’t fly to Ireland to experience things only within a convenient distance. There’s an entire world out there. We’re here to live it. We’re not here to remain in our comfort zones. My kids have learned we don’t live in convenience. They’ve learned to trudge through some discomfort or work to get to magnificent experiences.  

So the kids are thinking about where our next trip abroad will be. They know however, that “Adventures!” are to be had everywhere, and always. Sláinte!

 

Posted in Mindfulness, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Secret to a Successful Relationship

relationship, dating, successful relationship, shared values

My friends finally conceded it is difficult to date me. I’m a little complex, a bit of an overthinker, and not very conventional. I’m an acquired taste. My friends declared I needed to date my equal, and I shouldn’t waste my time with someone who was inferior to me.

We had some interesting conversations about what makes a relationship successful. How important was it to have a lot of common interests? How important was it to have similar maturity levels? How important was it to be from similar social/socio-economic classes? How important was it to come from similar backgrounds?

I used to think those factors didn’t matter very much, that each person should be evaluated on his own merits. But then I noticed I’m 42 and single. I’ve been divorced for nine years. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should be paying more attention to those factors instead of letting my feelings lead. Maybe I’ve been playing Goldilocks for too long, trying on different dates looking for someone who feels just right. Maybe I discarded people who were a little too hard or a little too soft, a little too hot or a little too cold, when I should have given them a chance if we were of equal standing in maturity and station in life. Maybe the men I felt a connection with should have gone through more scrutiny instead of given allowances for their flaws.

So in typical fashion, I over-thought it all, because why not? Maybe I should stop dating someone who makes me swoon. Maybe I should intellectualize this match-making thing more. Maybe I’ll have better luck building a relationship that lasts. I tried really hard to figure out what increases the likelihood of a relationship working out. I scrutinized what happened in past relationships; who they were, who I was, what ultimately ended the relationships.

And then I realize what the answer is. A few years ago, we attended a lovely party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a couple I am good friends with. The husband has said many times in the past that he knew she was the one he was going to marry because they shared the same values. He didn’t say he knew she was the one he would marry because she was the smartest or prettiest or funniest woman he’d met. Don’t get me wrong, she’s pretty and smart and funny. But he knew because they share the same values.

The first few times he said that, I remember thinking “Huh.” I sort of understood, but not really. I didn’t know what that looked like. But I’ve had some time to sit with it, and I’ve had some time to date a lot of men who verbalize one thing, and through time, show that their actions aren’t consistent with the verbalized values.

And I get it now. That’s the most important thing that increases the likelihood of a relationship lasting: If you share the same values.

There were multiple reasons I divorced my ex-husband. But all the issues come down to one overarching theme. We did not share the same values. I thought we did when we first met. He said everything I wanted to hear. We dated for years before getting married. And every time his behaviors belied his verbal values, I ignored the red flags. Every time I would confront him with this contradiction, there would be an explanation or apology, or not. And I would give him another chance. Which is the right thing to do. Once. Twice. Three times a fool? For years I did this.

Because I valued the relationship more than I valued myself. I wanted to be in a relationship more than I wanted to be with myself. I valued the relationship more than I valued reliability, accountability, integrity.

Reliability is doing what you say you’re going to do. Accountability is owning your mistakes and making amends. Integrity is living your values instead of just talking about them. These are the things that matter. Will you do the hard work to practice your values?

I realize I need to focus on those shared values. Do you believe in grace and kindness? Do you believe in using your words, even if it disappoints someone? Do you believe in owning your mistakes and showing both remorse and attempts at different behaviors? Do you believe in not judging others? Do you believe in being kind to yourself? Do you believe it’s better to be kind than right? Do you believe we’re on the same team? Do you believe in taking action if you aren’t happy, rather than just complaining? Do you believe in doing hard things?

It’s a continual assessment of seeing if behaviors align with professed values. Just because you say it, doesn’t make it true. Even if you really, really hope. Even if he apologizes and says it won’t happen again. It is the long, slow, continual getting-to-know someone to see if our values align, and if the behaviors match those values.

I remember a moment before we were married. We were engaged, and in that moment, my gut knew it would not last. I remember making a conscious decision to not honor my gut, and instead, tamp down this red flag. I’ve gone back to that moment more than once through the years.

I have an unhealthy love for seahorses, I think they’re magical. The local aquarium had an exhibit for a very short period of time. My ex-husband promised we would go together. He knew how much I loved seahorses. I found out he went without me, and he wasn’t going to tell me. I confronted him with this, and he said he went because he had been mad at me.

There was no empathy or understanding of my hurt. There was no remorse or apology. There was no kindness. There was no clear communication. There was fear, passive-aggressive behavior, lying. There was an intent to hurt me. They were just seahorses, but it was a betrayal. A betrayal that we were on the same team, even when we’re mad. A betrayal that we use our words, even when we’re scared. A betrayal that we are kind, even when it’s hard.

It was a relationship built out of mismatched values, and I chose every day to stay in that space. Until one day I didn’t. Every day I chose to believe what I wanted to believe. I chose to believe what I heard him say. Hope is a powerful thing, and I hoped and hoped and hoped the behaviors would eventually reflect the values.

I’m getting better at recognizing this now. I’m getting better with noticing if someone lives his convictions or if it’s just lip service. I’m getting better with being a little more patient and giving someone chances to demonstrate we have shared values. And I’m getting better with using my words to let someone know if what I’m noticing just isn’t working for me anymore. I’m getting better with accepting I may feel sad about that, and sadness is a better alternative than valuing a relationship over myself.

So should I be dating my equal? I don’t like to think of it in that way. Equality feels like a measurement of judgment. I should be dating someone with similar values. Sure, common interests and engaging conversation and laughter help bring people together as points of connections. But it’s the shared values, and the continued assessment of behaviors reflecting values that make a relationship work. This is my story, and I’m sticking to it. I’ll let you know how this goes.

Posted in Dating, Relationships | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Messy, Beautiful Pies

responsibility, pies, Sara Bareilles

“I became a little more responsible and dependable today,” La Chica whispered to me as she walked through the front door after school.

Her wonderful 9-year-old little brain operates a little different than mine does, than many other brains in fact. She forgets things, gets distracted, and gets overwhelmed more than the average bear. She’s been practicing how to follow through with things. She’s been practicing strategies to remember what she needs to do. We talk a lot about how as she gets older, she’ll be offered additional privileges and freedoms if she can demonstrate increased responsibility.

She tells me that on her walk home from school, she encountered a classmate who is new to the school. She said the new classmate looked scared and lost. So she asked the girl if she was OK. The girl said she was indeed lost. She didn’t recognize how to get home, and she was scared. La Chica asked where she lived, and walked her home.

La Chica was so proud of herself. Someone depended on her. And she came through.

“What is her name?” I asked.

“I have no idea. I forget. But I know where she lives, and how to get her home. That’s more important,” she said.

Thank you for the reminder of what’s important in life. So here’s the thing, it quite honestly drives me insane to find a random sock on the deck, and an errant hanger in my bed, and her beloved giraffe lovey in the pantry. Every day there’s a surprise trail documenting where she’s been through the house. She’ll make a horrible thief, but Hansel and Gretel will appreciate her. Every day she forgets to bring home part of her homework assignment or outfit. Every day there is a face-palm moment and her despair, “Oh WHY do I always forget everything?!”

But she knows home is where little girls are safe. And she knows how to help someone get home. She knows how to help someone feel safe. That’s the important stuff of life.

She heard Sara Bareilles’ song “She Used to Be Mine” on the radio the other day:
She’s imperfect but she tries
She is good but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up
And baked in a beautiful pie

She whispered, “Mama, I think she’s talking about me. Except I’m not lonely.”

And that’s how she graciously reminds me that we’re all messy beautiful pies, and she’s working hard to be responsible. She’s reminding me that Grace lives with us too in our safe home, and that Grace likes messy, beautiful pies.

Posted in Mindfulness, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

How to Die Happy

self obituary, drummer, writer, courage, brave, death, happiness, die happy, contentment, fulfilled, satisfaction, satisfied

We all curate our personal brand on social media platforms now. As authentic as I proclaim to be, I admit that there is definitely some curating going on. Like I clear the clutter in the house before people come over, I clear the clutter before appearing out in public on the interwebs. You only know about the messes I ‘fess up to. Imagine that, I get even messier than you are aware of. Trust me, it can be ugly.

But. But here’s the thing. I cannot stop staring at my current Facebook profile (minus the pink ‘stache covering my last name for some modicum of discretion/privacy for this essay). This isn’t about curating or vanity. I can’t stop staring because I can’t believe how much this silly social media profile IS ME. Sure, I’ve led with my trapeze pictures, my glitter, my glam. I’ve led with my good side, with sucking in my stomach, with vacation pictures. I’ve led with what I want to show people. But this. This is ME.

The pure, unadulterated joy. The moment my soul settles. The moment my soul realizes it’s home. I look at my cover photo, my profile pic. And I see peace and joy and contentment. I see courage. Somehow two blurry pictures an 8-year-old took of me captured who I am in this moment.

And I realize I can die tonight and be ok. I realize I’ve made it. I realize this is all I ever wanted. When I was a kid, all I ever, ever wanted was to play the drums and write and be brave. It never occurred to me that these were possible realities. These aren’t realistic goals for an Asian kid of immigrants who sacrificed everything to give their children a better life. And yet I write now. And I’m a drummer now. Sure, I’m keeping my day job, but today I write and drum. So I’m a writer and a drummer. Because I was brave. When I die, I will have died a roaring success. No one can ever take this away from me. I’ve had failed relationships, I’ve had missed opportunities, I’ve made my share of mistakes.

But I will die happy. I worked really hard to be kind. I tried not to hurt people. I tried to make a difference in this world. I did hard things, and that’s how I fulfilled my passions. I write for me. But I think my musings have helped people, my words have touched people, inspired others. I drum for me. But I think my courage to drum clumsily and so publicly inspires others. I hope the music I create makes someone happy.

So if I die tonight, here’s what my obituary will be:

<Insert age and cause of death>.

She died with a full soul. She moves on to a perpetual Happy Hour with a heart full of joy and contentment because she totally won in this game of life. She has no idea how her friends and family will take her passing, but she hopes it involves laughter and celebration and glitter. Lots of glitter. And wine. Because she lived her life full of laughter, celebration, glitter, and wine. She lived this life after she got out of her own way and finally accepted and embraced who she really was, cracks and bumps and bruises and stretch marks and all.

Susanna leaves behind two conflicted but empathic children who can tell you many tales of questionable parenting, but can also tell you an equal number of tales of fierce parenting rooted in deep passionate love that some days were misguided. She leaves behind trusted therapist friends who have committed to providing therapy services at reduced rates for my two loves.

Susanna lived the first third of her life in fear, in the shadows, mired in shame. She spent her mid- life swimming in guilt as she inadvertently hurt people in her quest for authenticity. She sends her genuine apologies to these lovely people caught in her path. She however, did not regret her path. As it brought her to this last chapter in her life.

And this is what she was most proud of. Her authentic self. Please reference photo above. Susanna leaves behind memories embedded in numerous dear friends who will recall silly drunken escapades, deep mindful conversations, angry recollections of selfish decisions. She leaves behind countless patients who shared their most intimate fears and failures, and she hopes to God she had a positive impact in their growth and development. And quite honestly, she knew that to be a truth. She leaves behind a legacy of colleagues and friends who now know anything is possible, who know not to accept “no” as an answer, who have seen what Hope and Perseverance can accomplish.

She had many flaws, but she was damned good at a handful of things: she was a damned fine therapist, writer, friend, baker and cook, supervisor and mentor. She was a mediocre parent, drummer, house-cleaner, and a piss-poor runner. Patience was not one of her virtues. Subtlety was lost on her. She had a complicated relationship with Grace.

Susanna was prone to excess. Too many shoes, too many purses, too many drinks, too much passion, too loud, too overbearing. Too opinionated, too self-absorbed, too impulsive, too absurd. She also loved too much, felt too much, and gave too much of herself away. Extremes were part of her charm. She aged well though, like the fine wines she so loved. She became kinder and gentler with each passing year.

She hopes you’ve been able to hold a piece of her in your soul, and that the piece you choose inspires you. Because she was mindful in ensuring those in her life were good to her and for her, that those in her close circles inspired her to be a better person. She posthumously thanks you, though she hopes she let you know this while still alive.

So please, in lieu of flowers or tears, do these things so you can die happy too: Please, live an authentic life full of soul-filling things; go beat your own drum. Please, be brave and do hard things and be scared; go tell someone you love him. Please, do what resonates with you instead of what others say you should do; do something reckless just because it feels right. Please, be and give grace; you can never have too much grace. Please, remember it’s better to be kind than right; you automatically win when you’re kind, so doesn’t that make you right? And please name a strong cocktail after her; an intense, fierce cocktail that will make hair grow on your chest and cause instant regret the next day.

Posted in Empowerment, Mindfulness | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments