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On Delight

August 8, 2020

I have been reading Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights these past few weeks, after reading his book of poetry, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.  His beautiful insights into the nature of delight, of what Brené Brown would call “wholehearted living” and what Thich Nhat Hanh would call “paying attention,” inspire me to notice what delights are all around me.

Here’s my list from today.

  • How happy my friend is to have her house painted for the first time in many years of home ownership.
  • Yard decorations.  From glass spheres and spirals to rainbow pinwheels.  Even gnomes.  Especially brightly colored planters.  This family has tiny plastic dinosaurs and other animals in scenes on the wall by their sidewalk.

  • Kids’ art in the windows.  Other signs displayed to make someone’s day:

  • A large uneven crack in the sidewalk that someone painted bright blue so others won’t trip on it.
  • Wood carvings.  Near our house there is an 8-foot-tall bear holding a salmon.
  • A woman walking her 8-week-old puppy asked if I wanted to pet him when I cooed over his adorableness, which of course I did (who would not want to pet a wriggling furry ball of love?).  His name is Boris.  He is all black with a white chest and white around his eyes.
  • Public art:
  • Little Free Libraries, which have been saving our reading life during the public library closure.
  • Good smells coming from others’ cooking.
  • Contemplating the subtle distinctions between delight, joy, and gratitude.  Ross Gay makes excellent observations on this in his essay, “Joy is such a human madness,” which you can read here and listen to him talk to Krista Tippett in the podcast On Being.
  • How my walk this morning (from which these delights spring) reminded me of being a kid and “walking the hills” after dinner with my dad and sometimes my brother, up and around the house we grew up in.
  • Kitty toe beans:

  • The Babysitters Club is now a live-action show on Netflix, and I have ugly-cried at several episodes, which are sweet and simple but not simplistic, modernized and true to the characters.  It’s nostalgia and current and exactly what I need right now.
  • Also what I didn’t know I needed:  Tiffany Jenkins and her YouTube channel Juggling the Jenkins.  Her series on “If My Brain Held a Morning Meeting” is so funny because for me, it’s true.  (And why I need meditation and mantras and medication to manage all that.)
  • The voices we use for Jamie’s bears.

Food is a constant delight.

And so, dear friends, I would love to know what delights you.

 

The Whole Truth: Me and my parenting fail

July 27, 2020

“Go ahead and hit me,” said my kid.

This kid had just shouted (for the whole beach park to hear) to their siblings a “warning”:  that there was a dog in the water.  A dog on a leash with its owner, obeying all the rules of the park and not interfering in any way with the kids swimming there.

I had rushed over to my neurodiverse kid, hyper-aware of that kid’s aversion to dogs.  We had been through years of their announcing at top volume “I hate [insert offending being]” whenever they even saw a dog or a baby,  due to some prior negative experiences.  Kiddo’s therapist had even told us a few weeks ago that people on the autism spectrum not only feel emotions more intensely than neurotypical people, but also that those memories elicit the same intensity of emotion as the original experience.  But the dominant narrative for me at this moment was how the other people at the beach were perceiving my kid, and by extension, me.

“That lady and her dog have a right to be here just like you,” I had said.

And then: “You’re being embarrassing.”

Jeez.  I had let my very old internal narrative bleed into my interaction with my kid: the internal narrative of not offending, of being considerate above all else, of not causing a scene.

My kid stormed away toward their siblings, yelling at me not to talk to them like that (which, obviously, I should not). I turned back toward our spot and when I turned around again, the kid was standing in front of the dog, who had gotten out of the water with its owner, shaking off excess water.  The kid growl-hissed at the dog.  Thank goodness, the dog was older and super calm and didn’t do anything: bark, lunge, twitch an ear, not a thing.  The owner said sternly to my kid, “That is not nice.”

My internal narrative kicked in again:  All these people staring at us.  We’re that family.  Who can’t control their kid. My kid had just done something both potentially dangerous (what if the dog wasn’t so even-tempered?) and super rude.

I pulled my kid toward our spot, speaking angrily and hoping the surrounding people could hear me reprimanding the kid for their irresponsible and inappropriate behavior.  I don’t even remember what I said before my kid spat back at me:

“Go ahead and hit me.”

“What?!”

They repeated it.  More narrative:  Now everyone here thinks I hit my kid when they act out.  Even though I know that all three of my kids, two especially, have to talk to their therapists every week about their habit of hitting themselves on the forehead when they think they deserve punishment:  when they’ve made a mistake, or been called out on a task undone, or forgotten something.  No one else at the park knows that.  My adrenaline level continued its rocket trajectory.

“I’m not going to hit you, good grief.  You can’t growl at dogs like that.”  I don’t remember what I yelled at the kid next, but it was loud and angry and profoundly not helpful.

Fed-up, flustered, agitated, humiliated.  I turned this whole exchange into being about me:  my shame, my embarrassment, my unskillful parenting, my need for approval.

The kid wouldn’t talk to me when we got home–they finally had snack and some restful activity after swimming and being out in the sun. I tried to talk to the kids about it at dinner but was upstaged by a ladybug on someone’s chair and the kids flocked to it, ignoring my attempt at vulnerability.  I finally was able to have a quiet moment to apologize at bedtime, and the kid forgave me.

Prior to that incident, we had been at the park for two hours, in and out of the water, laughing and splashing and jumping and floating.  It was the stuff of Insta posts and Facebook stories, the curated and prettified partial truths of our existence.  Until it wasn’t.

That internal narrative about what will others think of me? and I need to be in control here came in so fast and so clear that it drowned out my intentions around parenting, especially parenting an atypical child: to lead with empathy, to focus on what’s best for the child and ignore others’ opinions, to act from love rather than fear.

These default beliefs and priorities about “who we are in relation to others” transcend one scene at a beach park.  It is so clear to me why I keep interrogating my automatic and instinctual responses toward my children, my students, my family and friends, and strangers.  I’m reading Me and White Supremacy right now–slowly, because it’s heavy and a lot and there is fear around what I might unearth about myself–and I can see even in the first 6 days of journal prompts how deeply ingrained these internal narratives are.

We all have our areas of possibility: where courage is needed for us to grow and do better.  One of mine for sure is around staying true to myself and my values and protecting my kids instead of acting like I assume others think I should act.

Listen. Learn. Love.

May 30, 2020

This blog is a way for me to process Big Things in my life, from parenting Differently Wired kids to the joys of teaching to family events big and small.  But this post has been started many times:  the Raging version, the Grief-Stricken version, the Pleading version, the Professiorial and Pedantic version.  None of them were right.

Instead, my very small readership, I want you to read mostly other people’s words on this post.  Words of Black activists and thinkers, words from people who carry generations of suffering in their bodies and souls.

My purpose is not:  to engage in debates about riots or law enforcement tactics or “bad apples” or the existence of racism.  It’s not about how woke I am and how much moral high ground I hold.

My purpose is:  to develop my own awareness of how I participate in individual and systemic racism, to question my assumptions and habitual thought patterns, and to contribute financially and energetically to anti-racism work.  One of the ways I contribute is sharing what I’ve learned, especially from those who speak from lived experience.

Here they are, in their own words.  This is their suffering.  We have the opportunity to help, and it starts with listening.

Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race and keynote speaker at my school’s Equity Summit in 2018, tweeted on May 28:

We are not “overreacting”. We are not “playing victim”. We are being terrorized.

The constant, growing, unbearable trauma of being Black in a white supremacist country lies in the fact that you cannot heal from things that keep happening.

I am so hurt and so tired.

My friend Tianna posted this on Facebook and gave me permission to quote it here:

I’ve tried to take some time to gather my thoughts after a few days of heightened racist acts in the news. I thought I would have words at some point, something to say to further the conversations that should be happening, that need to happen. It turns out, I am nearly out of words. I appreciate the words of others, decent humans from all walks of life posting articles and information to help create more human decency. The trouble is the outrage is as real in this moment as it has been in so many moments in the past, but still no change. Why so many Amy Coopers? Why so many Derek Chauvins? When will black bodies stop offending the delicate sensibilities of so many? When will the system that allows this to continue change? As a black person in America, there is no breathing easy. In fact, it is getting harder to breathe at all.

Ally Henny, of The Armchair Commentary blog, posted on Facebook:

Honestly y’all, I don’t want your apologies and white tears over George Floyd. I appreciate the sentiment. I really do. Weep with those who are weeping and all of that. I appreciate the desire for lament. But a lot of us are past the stage or lament.
My question for people of whiteness is this: When are you going to see the white folks you know’s knee on George Floyd’s neck? When are you going to see your uncle’s knee? Your cousin’s knee? Your pastor’s knee? Your spouse’s knee? Your kid’s knee? YOUR OWN knee? Because I can guarantee that black people are seeing our loved ones in George.
When will you see your own complicity? When will you break the code of white solidarity? Are you willing to lose friends? Not communicate with family? Get kicked out of your church? Lose your job? When are you going to see that you have skin in the game?
Your knee is on my neck and I can’t breathe.
What are you going to do? Will you deflect and say that you’re not “one of those kinds of people,” when you are a single incident from being exactly one of those people. Will you ignore people like me? Will you weaponize your black and brown loved ones against people like me? Will you get defensive?
Or will you listen to the truth?

Alicia Garza, founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, posted on Twitter on May 27:

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what we can do right now. Some food for thought.
First, Black people are exhausted. I’m exhausted. Angry. Devastated. Scared.
There is not *one* easy thing you can do right now to make you or anyone else feel better about the fact that this country allows black people to be hunted and killed like animals. There is not *one* easy thing you or anyone else can do to make this go away.
I try really hard not to be enraged at these kind of inquiries. Protest for too many is a performance for someone else’s benefit — rest assured people are not facing tear gas to perform for you. They are sick and tired of being stripped of humanity and no one doing anything.
Ending police violence is a long game. It takes organizing. Protest to up the ante. Public and private pressure. Electoral organizing strategies. Telling new stories about us and what we are fighting for.
Imagine holding all that and watching as time and time again a black life is extinguished before our eyes, and the laws protect the killers.
So when I say change the laws and change the people who make them, I’m serious about this. Police should be held accountable for crimes they commit. So should this country.
I don’t have easy answers for you. And honestly I want us to stop looking for them and start supporting the organizing work people are doing and have been doing.
Follow@Blklivesmatter for updates and to get involved. Get involved with@ColorOfChange to hold prosecutors and police accountable. Support the hundreds of organizations that work to fight this every day.@ActionSTL. @byp100. @Mvmnt4BlkLives. There’s a lot of them.
We gotta stop looking for easy answers and instead join the hard work. Please and thank you. Be good to yourselves. This is a marathon that no one wants to run. #BlackLivesMatter#GeorgeFloyd

Meditations: For Mary

May 27, 2020

I have never known my family without the Marys.

Three aunts, one by blood and two by marriage, each named Mary Elizabeth (and the response to “how Irish-Catholic is your family?”).

One Aunt Mary (auntie by marriage to my uncle and godfather) died a week ago.

She was sweetness and generosity. Great with kids, free with hugs and laughter. She had two sons and so many nephews that I could count on her to give birthday and Christmas presents of Barbies and dresses and any girly-girl stuff she delighted in shopping for.

She called my grandparents, her in-laws, “Ma” and “Da.” She helped take care of them and her own parents as they aged and died.

She had cancer for eight years. It took her weight, her ability to eat, her energy, but it did not take her sweetness and love.  My cousins and I (pictured below) sent her a care package when she was sick a year ago, and she wrote us individual thank you notes.

She was a core part of my childhood.  I grew up surrounded by aunts and uncles and grandparents who, just as much as my own parents, made sure I knew I was loved unconditionally.  This family was the foundation for my identity, the roots of my own parenting, the secure place I could always come back to.

I have experienced grief before. Grief is an absence with density. It has mass and shape. This grief perches at the top of my ribcage. Grief takes the world you are sure of and punches a hole in it. It tilts the floor you stand on. It takes time to rearrange your worldview to accommodate this shift.  When each of my grandparents died, it was fitting:  they were elderly and sick and their deaths were expected.  For Mary, she is gone way too soon.  My family is not whole without her.

Auntie Mary, you’re with the angels now.  May they welcome you with arms as open as yours always were.

Two of the Marys with my kiddos in 2016.

What’s going on, Day 64

May 14, 2020

Comic from Sunday, May 10 (Mother’s Day)

I have thought about what to write since my last post, and have heard the same old voices:  “Your story doesn’t matter.  You have too much privilege.  No one wants to hear you whine.”  I’ve had to use Jedi mind tricks like these to tell those voices where to go.

And what would I say?  What kind of cohesive narrative could I make around this strange experience?  That we have some good days and some not-so-good days?  I kept asking myself, Why does this feel so hard when I have great kids and a steady income and a supportive partner who also has a steady income?  When I’m watching our neighbors complete backyard projects and my colleagues tell us that people have gone through hard times throughout history and why do I feel like I’m the only one struggling here?

The answers crystallized in conversations or emails with some of my dear friends. Katie told me in a text today, when I asked her how she was doing:  “Honestly, I feel like I am hanging on by a thread, but good things are happening every single day, so I am trying to focus on that.”  <–EXACTLY.

I finally drew the wild vacillations between “fine” and “impossible” that I seem to experience.

It’s hard because, as Jen said, “it’s relentless.”  Andrea said, “I have what feels like NO time when I’m not ‘on’ or crowded by people and it is really Really REALLY hard. I hate that the most. It’s immediately accompanied by guilt and shame about all the comfort and security we have and all the more I could be doing.”

There are no breaks.  No moments where grandparents or neighbors (or grandparent-neighbors…hi Kathy!) can swoop in and say, “Let me take the kids for a bit so you can have some time to yourself, or so you and your partner can have some time together.”  I am so grateful that Alan prioritizes my exercise as much as his own–he asks me what my exercise plan is every. single. morning.  My half-hour walks after dinner are the only time I have to process, to gain perspective, to have quiet in my mind.  For those of us who are, by nature, introspective and quasi-introverted, being around our families all the time is exhausting.  Even when we love them and have otherwise good relationships.

Someone posted these in our neighborhood. ❤

It’s hard because, as Kristin said, “all of our armor is off.”

Our supports and coping strategies are mostly unavailable for an uncertain period of time:  hanging out with friends, coffee shops, parks, libraries, church.

Many of my old unhelpful habits of mind have come back during this time.  Anxiety and uncertainty welcome the “not enough” and “should” and “failure” voices.  Because I’m staying off of Facebook (for good reason: my habit of negatively comparing myself to pretty much everyone has less ammunition without Facebook), I also feel more isolated and, like blogger Janelle Hanchett wrote about her own experience, “a particular pandemic loser.”  I end up looking at life through the “what’s lacking” lens instead of the “what is” lens:  how my yard could look nicer, how my kids could be participating in their class Zoom calls, how other families seem to be getting their kids to do actual teacher-led assignments on time.  I’m learning how to trust our judgment on how our kids learn (which their absolutely wonderful teachers have given us permission to do), because kids with IEPs and 504s and anxiety, who are grieving the loss of friends and familiar structure of their own school day, need a lot of individual help to learn.  A lot. 

Credit: @_happyasamother, Instagram

It’s hard because it is psychologically and emotionally depleting.

While I am using every strategy I know to maintain my own emotional and mental health, I also have three kiddos who need a substantial amount of coaching and support through their own emotional and mental health.  The meltdowns.  The self-injurious behaviors.  Fears morphing into compulsions.  Each of my kids has some mental patterns or wiring that is very much like mine.  It is a strange blessing, to handle my own anxiety, fear, and negative self-narrative while they watch.

I found a Circle of Control from a therapist online and made my own. Audrey made one too.

Obviously these do not happen 24/7 and occasionally I have, like today, 40 blissful minutes to listen to Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast and fold laundry while kids played happily outside.  Occasionally, I even have, like today, one child who asks, “How can I help?” and chops veggies for dinner, sets the table when it’s their sibling’s turn, and wonders when they can start cooking dinner for me (and yes, I was grateful, and I also wondered who this child was and what alien ship they arrived on).  There are gifts of this strange time.  That’s for another post.

This post is an explanation of why I feel so bone-tired by the end of the day, even on generally good days like today.  I’m not depressed, as some people worried about after an earlier post.  It’s just that everything I struggle with seems condensed, intensified, magnified during this time.

Maybe that is the lesson I’m supposed to learn, the Work I have in front of me.  I realized as I wrote down instructions for my kids, who were struggling with Hard Things during homeschool, that I could probably follow them too:

As Mo Perry writes on Medium, I want to “emerge from this different from how I entered it — more able to be present in my life, better able to relax into groundlessness.”

Whatever your Work is, may you find strength, courage, and compassion to face it.

Going better

April 5, 2020

Since last weekend, I have returned to my “one day at a time” and “accept uncertainty” mode of being.  Gratitude and grace are the words of my week:  gratitude for the small moments of light; grace to myself and to others as we navigate this previously uncharted space.

Mostly, here are some photo updates of our week, plus some non-photo-opportunity moments of light.

On Friday night I had a Virtual Happy Hour with some of my teacher friends: strong, funny, resilient, empathetic women whose presence I am so grateful for.  We sat in our respective living spaces, in our sweatshirts and fuzzy blankets, showing off our various cats and dogs, sharing the hard things and the good things and the batshit crazy things about this quarantine.  One woman’s daughter, now in her first year of college, knows many of us, and her mom showed our Brady-Bunch-esque grid of waving photos to her.  The daughter burst into tears, so happy was she to see all of us who know and love her.

I bought these affirmation rainbow cards, Positive Programming Cards, having seen them at my yoga studio and really appreciating their thoughts.  Plus, who doesn’t need more rainbows?

I’ve been collecting some rocks to paint, having borrowed shellac from Abbie and acrylic paints from Lisa.  This was my first one, written in Sharpie.  I thought it looked nice.  Then I shellacked it again before the Sharpie had dried and it looked like bad mascara run:  all the letters smudged into a drippy mess.  A lesson I shared with my own kiddos:  I worked hard on this.  It came out well.  Then I ruined it.  So? Now I repaint it and start over.  (My children, all three of them, may have some teeny issues around perfectionism and not tolerating mistakes.  No idea where that came from.)

My girls have been using their outside time for bubble blowing.  Like rainbows, who doesn’t need more bubbles?

Jamie’s teacher responded to his letter and told him that she has been playing a lot of cribbage at her house.  Alan taught Jamie how to play, and he was immediately enchanted. The following morning, he played a “championship” of cribbage with Aux Bear.  “What happens if you don’t win?” I asked my intensely competitive son. (Again, no idea where he got that from.)  “I’ll probably win,” he told me. “Bear sometimes makes mistakes and then he doesn’t get as many points.”

Our dear friend Cleo dropped off some puzzles, some fabric for a craft project idea I have (which may or may not turn out…see kindness rocks above), and a book she thought the kids would like.  We spent a delightful several hours on Friday putting together the puzzle.  I noticed that even though quality time with my kids is one of my most favorite things, I started mentally calculating how to implement the rest of my Plan for that day, including when to get outside.  I scrapped the plan (though we eventually did get outside, just not on my original timeline).  I was present with my kids.  It was a much better choice.

I have been trying to walk in the neighborhood two or three times a week by myself.  The other day, I walked by our regular bus stop and saw the snails that Theresa and I always check for when we are getting to the bus in the morning.  These snails made me think of two things:

  1. That I love how Theresa notices the smallest things outside.
  2. That it will be very strange to go back to regular life:  hustling for the morning bus, making lunches for school, commuting, scrambling to get everything done in the time available.

And that made me think about how we might change:  how can we take some of these surprising gifts from this time and shift our world so that it can contain and embrace these gifts?  Of slowing down, of noticing, of being okay with uncertainty, of sacrificing things that we like so others may have their health.

One of my very favorite bloggers, Beth Woolsey, mused about these possibilities in a blog post about the delight of actually getting to sleep until one’s body is rested and wakes up of its own accord for days on end:

So much so that I’ve started to wonder how I’ll ever manage to go back to the Way Things Were.

So much so that I’ve wondered not just Which Things This Crisis Is Highlighting in Our Broken Society That Simply Cannot Continue (*ahem* I’m looking at you, healthcare-for-profit *ahem*) but also Which Things This Crisis Is Highlighting in ME That Simply Cannot Continue.

I have no answers yet, Diary. I suspect it will take a Very Long Time before any of us really understand the ramifications of what’s happening currently.

But I do know I’m in a better mental space for allowing myself to rest.

Finally.

 

On we go

March 27, 2020

I’ve been like this kitty this week.  Paws over eyes.  Hunkered down, napping until this is all over.

Anxiety and migraines (working together, because they’re that good a team) hit me this week.  Every day.  I would take medication, have some up time, and then…the next day it was back to lying on the couch, or in bed, hands over my eyes.

Nobody need anything from me. Nobody require me to do anything. Not my kids’ teachers. Not my district. Not even my students.

Today I took a shower.  First one since Tuesday. (Sorry for the TMI.)

And it reminded me of those days after I had my babies, when everything was falling apart in my head and I thought I should shower but never seemed to make the time and ended up in my bathrobe or the same pajama pants and ratty t-shirt at 4 pm, having not brushed my teeth either, thinking, “Well, it’s not like I’m going anywhere, and nothing matters, so eff it.”

Over the course of the week I slowly crawled my way out of strange labyrinth of thoughts.  They sounded something like this:  I should clean my whole house!  I’m letting down my students.  How am I going to teach full time and online while parenting and homeschooling?  Don’t people quit their jobs in order to homeschool?  Speaking of homeschool, why is writing so hard for my kids–why do they resist it so much?  Why can’t my creative ideas help them?  Do they have too much screen time? I feel like it’s too much screen time.  Why are there so many dirty dishes?  Good Lord, is there More Laundry to do?  I just did a load, or four.  The fish bowl needs cleaning.  What if we run out of food?  There weren’t any paper products left at Safeway when I went to get our prescriptions; what if someone in the family gets the sniffles and we run out of Kleenex and then we have to use toilet paper and that’s on backorder for who knows how many months…?

My rational brain, in there somewhere, managed to find supportive things to say to other moms.  Things like “Because the reality is that we’re not going to fit it all in. We just can’t. Not with working and parenting and keeping a household running and ourselves moderately sane. Our kids will just lose out on some academic education, and their education instead will be experiential.  And that is okay.”

There have been bright spots, moments of goodness so immense I almost wept, if I could have felt more than the two-ton weight on my temple squashing any other physical sensation.  While I lay on the couch, Audrey covered me with a blanket, then Jamie covered me with a giant stuffed zebra named Doug, then Theresa gave me a stuffed cat and rubbed my back while singing “You Are My Sunshine.”  I mean.  How lucky am I that I got these kiddos?

Audrey and Theresa are willing hiking buddies. We stay away from anyone else on the trail.

Despite the writing challenge, they have been so good.  Playing well together.  Having fewer than normal fights.  Riding bikes around the neighborhood and to the empty church parking lot.  On Tuesday when my migraine medication gave me a burst of energy, I taught them how to clean a toilet and bathroom sink, and Jamie even volunteered to vacuum (and then declared himself Chief Vacuumer of the house).

Really, all the stress and anxiety that fuels those headaches comes from in me.  Comes from the nagging knowledge that I am not doing enough, am not being enough, am not fighting hard enough for those who are being harmed by the business closures and loss of services.  Which is why I wanted the whole world to just go away and leave me alone.

So today I showered.  And realized that showering, or walking, or commuting (who does that anymore?) are spaces of time and place where I can ruminate, process, think things through.  They are not luxuries to get to once everything else has been done, as I once thought when my babies were new.  This introvert needs alone time that is not Trying to Sleep Off Migraine time, or Work on the Computer Time, but mental and emotional breathing space.

When I checked in with my students to see how they were doing, some of them are fine, but many (of those who responded, which is not even half) are struggling to deal with how upside-down their lives are right now.  They are isolated, some in troubled family dynamics, anxious, unmotivated, and sad about their second semester of senior year going down the tubes.  In short, they are grieving.

Maybe we all are.  Maybe we’re all grieving the present and pre-grieving the future:  those who will die from this disease, and those whose lives will not be the same in ways we can’t fathom.

I read a brief article from some teacher newsletter about the importance of teachers connecting with their students right now.  That kids need to see us reacting well and not freaking out so that they don’t freak out.

But what if we tell them that it’s okay to feel what you feel, and these feelings are real? (Shout out to one of the best lines from Frozen 2)  What if we show them that sometimes we get sucked into grief that looks a lot like lying down and staring at the ceiling, knowing that we always complain there’s not enough time but once we have all this time to be productive, our ability to channel our energy into productivity goes way down.

Yesterday I did yoga from a video that my studio made.  Theresa did a few poses with me, but mostly she helped Kermit and Robin do some yoga.

Last week when I went to Trader Joe’s, I saw a car in the parking garage with this message on the back:

On we go, figuring all this out, lowering our expectations, soothing our unmotivated and grieving souls, adapting and evolving and working through the feelings we feel.

What’s going on

March 21, 2020

There is so much.

So this post will be stream-of-consciousness, in part because people keep texting to ask how I am and my response is too long to write as a text, and in part because I am still processing the chaos of it all, and in part because I have so little time to write that editing time seems luxurious.

Two things I struggle with most: uncertainty and lack of control.  Both of which have slammed into our collective lives with a fury I have only sampled before:  on and after Sept. 11; during pregnancy and after the birth of my triplets.  Both of which I have had to figure out how to manage or sink under.

I write my coping mechanisms with the full awareness of my abundant privilege:  to choose what to pay attention to and what to ignore; to feel confident in our supplies and our ability to procure more if necessary; to live in a place with delivery services and walkable neighborhoods with parks; to navigate homeschooling and working from home and having two stable paychecks.

  • I have stopped reading all news and almost all social media.  (I snuck a peek at Instagram tonight to see if my cousins and friends with babies had posted any new cute pictures. They had.)  I get enough updates–daily from my as well as the kids’ school districts; periodically from every. single. organization I’ve ever connected with–to fill me in on what I need to do to protect my family and know what’s going on for my job, my immediate community, and my kids’ schooling.  Everything else, I ignore.
  • I choose to ignore what’s going on around the world or even in other states because I cannot bear the suffering of individuals, mentally and physically and financially, as well as the suffering of communities via the economic devastation this virus brings.  I cannot bear the ineptitude of leaders, the lack of preparedness or consistency, the tone-deaf messaging, the inequities that I have worked to address blown into huge relief.  I cannot listen to guesses as to how long the virus will so dramatically impact our lives, when our state or county will choose to shelter in place, when we might return to school.  I shut it all out as much as possible.
  • So I turn inward.  My world has gotten very small.  I don’t reach out to many people, except two of our older friends plus some close friends working from home with young children.  I focus on what each day brings, and the people I live with.
  • Alan had to start homeschool without me, since I had to work two days after the kids’ school closed.  He nailed it: arranging technology for the kids; prepping and executing science experiments exploring Brownian motion; finding Quileute stories of Raven to supplement the Pacific Northwest Native American unit that the kids had been working on in school.  I took two days after his initial two days, and since then we have tried to share the workload of preparing and managing school.
  • Since a week ago Thursday, each day has brought some skeleton of a schedule emerging.  Morning meeting of our home’s school starts at 8 am, after breakfast and teeth brushing and changing out of pajamas.  We do math, writing, snack and recess, science or social studies or art, and coding.  Then lunch, and school is over so we can be outside for “p.e.” (which is playing baseball or tennis at a park, or riding bikes through the neighborhood, or climbing the trees in front of the neighbors’ house).  We stay outside as long as we can without coming into contact with anyone.  Some of our retired neighbors started “Social Distancing Happy Hour,” to which each of the three of them bring their own chair and drink, and they sit on the front lawn across the street from us and chat with any one walking by.
  • Field trip Fridays commenced with a day trip to Vashon Island.  One of our crew did not enjoy themselves.  I am stumped as to why.  But the other two and I reveled in the sunshine and sea air and quiet of the island.  We got cookies and doughnuts on the way back to the ferry.  I think it made up for some of the grumping.

Point Robinson Lighthouse

  • I have never, never wanted to homeschool my children.  But it’s going okay.  The number of resources available for kids to learn online is staggering, and wonderful, and massively overwhelming.  My kids’ screen time has shot up, merely from doing the online learning their teachers have provided for them plus what we supplement.
  • I have never, never wanted to teach an online class.  My district is still figuring out what my students’ learning and expectations should be, so right now I have provided some guidance on finishing the units we were about to finish anyway, and that’s all.  We might start using video-conferencing, or not.  We might start giving assignments to be graded, or not. I will do what they ask of me when they ask it, because it’s so likely that whatever I attempt to plan for now may be irrelevant later.

Despite the fear and disruption and adjustment, there are blessings to be thankful for.  Here are some:

  • Slowing down has been my goal for at least the past year, and the opportunity has been thrown at me instead of my trying to make it happen.  We have nearly zero time constraints.  Therefore, one of the biggest stressors in our family’s life–trying to get three kids to move quickly to meet a time goal–is virtually gone.  We have far less stress.
  • Mindfulness has also been handed to me:  I have to take one day at a time, one moment at a time, because if I think too far beyond tomorrow, the panic and despair set in.  I am finally able to be present with my kids because so many other distractions, from my commute to Instagram to errands to appointments, have vanished.
  • My kids are independent enough to do some math games on their own, to read on their own, to play together and invent games like “cliff diving” (jumping out of the neighbors’ tree onto the attached swing).  I can do some dishes, or laundry, while they do their thing and thus keep the household running so we at least have clean underwear.
  • My district’s inability to figure out their plan has bought me some time, time that I can spend organizing our “school” space or reading the dozens of emails I get every day about various aspects of the virus’ impact on different elements of life.
  • We had gone to the library and checked out a ton of books before it closed.  My wonderful school librarian (shout-out to Kris!) offered to our staff that anyone could check out any books we wanted as long as we left her a list of titles and barcodes.  I took my three on Monday afternoon to get some things from my office and classroom, and we left campus with 22 additional books.

Outside reading time, just like we used to do when they were little.

  • Alan and I have good communication with which to navigate the dance of Who’s on Kid Duty and Who’s Working or Working Out or otherwise Getting a Break.  The days that I am 90% on Kid Duty, I am exhausted and wanting to be in bed by 8 pm.  The day he took 60% of Kid Duty, I felt so refreshed…and he was exhausted.  We’re re-evaluating every night or every other night.  I am grateful that his job is flexible, and he is willing to sacrifice as I am to make this work.
  • Our kiddo who struggles with school is really, really happy to be learning at home.  More choice, more self-direction, less pressure…this kid has had a huge drop in stress and anxiety.

And here are some highlights:

  • Chemistry experiment video conference, learning about the difference between baking powder and baking soda, with Dr. Aunt Karen.
  • Getting outside:  Beautiful weather allowing us gorgeous afternoons at various parks, or even just in front of the house.  Early morning walks by myself in my neighborhood, noticing birds and squirrels and gardens.  Growing seeds from an old packet I found in some drawer.

  • Kids’ renewed interest in baseball (i.e. I pitch and a kid hits, while another kid plays catcher and the third kid fields) and tennis (i.e. I hit a ball to a kid, who misses and then chases after it).

  • The kids’ writing:  Jamie’s poem to put over the kids’ “HQ”; Audrey’s letter to Nana and Grampy; Theresa’s letter to me; their stories they are creating.  Even though Writing Time is less fun for them than coding time on code.org, which they love.
  • Alan and I started watching The Mandalorian, and Baby Yoda is my new favorite thing.

Image result for baby yoda

For now, things feel strange, like living in a scifi movie, but manageable.  One day at a time.

Faith, hope, and cherry blossoms.

Gratitude and Grace

November 24, 2019

Call it cheesy, but I have been noticing things to be grateful for all over the place the past couple of weeks.

Which is good, because there was a decent stretch of time in October where I felt stuck, spinning our wheels, doing the same things with the same ineffective results and no time or energy to step back and reevaluate or plan anything else.

In no particular order:  recent moments of grace that inspire so much gratitude.

  • our kiddo who was in the principal’s office over and over again came home to a note from their teacher:  “Amazingly great week!”  We who have been cheering for this kid through their struggles collectively hoorayed.

  • a long-term sub in my office told me the reason for her vibrant rainbow leggings, rainbow combat boots, and rainbow-painted scalp:  she is subbing while undergoing chemo treatment for a recurrence of ovarian cancer.  As she gushed about how supportive and kind her students have been, we shared in the deep satisfaction and joy that teaching is “the best job ever.”
  • in this vein:  our kids have such wonderful teachers and therapists and supportive adults in their lives.
  • fabulous aunts (and uncles too) who knit for us, send us library sale books or brownies in the shape of pumpkins, who love and care for us with a depth and loyalty that humbles and strengthens me.

Aunt Mary sent us a treasure trove of books

  • I am listening to Fr. Greg Boyle read his testament of working with gang youth in L.A., Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. As he shares what unconditional love can do for the teens he works with, I am reminded of why I have let go of so many rules and judgments pertaining to my teaching.  I want to offer a safe space for kids to fail, to fall apart, to ask for what they need, as I was grateful to do earlier this week for several students going through their own difficult time.
  • for the laughter my kids elicit, such as the following:
    • Audrey, doing Mad Libs:  Jamie, I need a body part.  Jamie:  Kidneys.  Audrey:  Exclamation.  Jamie:  Oh my goddess!
    • Karen, examining Theresa’s finger knitting:  “How neat!”  Theresa:  “Correction: ‘How knit.'”
  • we discovered Pusheen the cat, who is really my soul twin.  We have the same birthday, the same favorite things (to include sleeping, food, family and friends, and blogging), and the same sense of humor.

  • today (a Saturday), Alan went to a race in Portland and the kids and I did not leave the house.  All day.  They never changed out of their pajamas.  #mamawin
  • sunsets and college architecture and libraries and fallen leaves and other spots of beauty.
  • so much gratitude for being on the receiving end of others’ grace.  I have messed up so many times these past few weeks:  Forgotten to cancel a babysitter’s job so she showed up when we didn’t need her.  Forgot to write things in my calendar and not shown up to my commitments.  Did not exercise the “think before you speak” axiom and had to ask forgiveness from a displeased colleague.  In these and so many other instances of my humanness (i.e. imperfection [to which my inner voice always adds, “dammit”]), people have been gracious and kind and (hopefully) not held grudges.  Thanks be for that.

One kiddo’s list. The last reminder is one that I need so often.

Stretch, Balance, Release

October 20, 2019

A few years ago, a friend who was going through a tough time shared that one of her friends had asked her, “If you had to describe your life in a yoga pose, what would it be?” My friend immediately answered, “Child’s pose”–a space of centering, resting, restoring.

If I had to describe my current life in a yoga pose, it would be downward dog.

When I first started yoga, the pose I hated above all else was downward dog.  To turn my body into an inverted V, all the blood rushing to my head, my legs unable to straighten?  No thanks.

Image result for downward dog

from Yoga Journal (and obviously not me)

Now, my body craves downward dog, a pose of strength, flexibility, and balance.  When I do it in the morning, the stretch along my back, cracking and popping whatever needs to be cracked and popped, is what I look forward to most.

***

Almost exactly a year ago, I got out of a toxic relationship, one that I had been in for a few years.  The toxicity messed with my head and my heart.  The person I thought was a close friend, whom I appreciated for their wit, charm, kindness, and encouragement, also turned out to be manipulative, selfish, and a huge energy drain.  There were moments when I sensed this dissonance and ignored my instincts.  After all, am I not a good and kind person?  Don’t good and kind people stick with friends even when they’re difficult, forgive hurtful comments and actions, and care for those who are lonely and in need? I thought I was doing the right thing by continuing the friendship even though the signs flashed that it made me unhappy in a variety of ways: questioning and doubting myself, taking on the responsibility for someone else’s happiness.

I tried to distance myself gradually.  I wanted to convince this person that their behavior was not good for them or for me.  Every time, they said they understood; they apologized; they promised to change.  And they did not change.  Maybe they couldn’t.  I don’t know.  Eventually, I realized that I had to release them, because they would not release me.

So I wrote them this:  “It is healthier for me to not have any contact with you. I wish you well.”  And haven’t talked with or seen them since.

Part of me felt guilty for a long time afterward, because although I knew it was the right thing to do, I still cared about that person’s well-being.  I had felt such a strong connection and affection for them, gotten to know them so well.  And because they had told me that I was their lifeline, their “breath of fresh air,” I knew that they would be profoundly unhappy.

I also felt embarrassed.  The social correlation between “kind” and “weak” is hard to fight against, and I was ashamed that I, a smart, aware, well-adjusted adult, could have been so blind to this unhealthy way of being.  How could I have been so foolish?

Time has helped the guilt and the shame lessen.  Time has also shown me how liberating it can be to say No to toxicity, to hold my own space, to put my well-being first.  I know social media has a bad reputation, often rightly so, but one Instagrammer, Alex Elle, inspired me with her self-affirming messages of love and forgiveness.  This one in particular was powerful and reminded me that I was doing the right thing by letting this person go:

and even with your soft &

generous heart, you do not have

to break for those unwilling

to bend for you.  –alex elle

My family life has not gotten less crazy–it’s still really, really crazy–but I feel less stressed.  I don’t cry as often, or yell.  I feel generally more stable than I have in years.

I have learned to interrogate my impulses, and discern which problems are mine to fix, and which are not.  That being in a good relationship means doing my best and letting others own their issues.

Plus, I feel more and deeper empathy for others in similar situations, those who are abused or mistreated by people in their lives.  One of my goals from this whole situation is to figure out how to teach my children how to both be kind and be firm in their values and boundaries.

***

So. Downward dog it is.  Strength.  Flexibility.  Balance.  A pose to stretch and center my whole being.  A pose of groundedness and lift.  A pose to reflect how far I have come in body, mind, and soul.

 

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