Thursday, September 30, 2010

Split Shift

Graveyard shift - aka the "night shift." Most often seen when children are under the age of two and require night feedings and diaper changes, but can stretch in to the toddler years if a child is prone to night terrors or has other special needs. Can be revisited multiple times during childhood colds and fevers.

Swing shift - Can be employed during the same time as the graveyard shift if a child's parent is lucky enough to have a partner who is willing to help out on a regular basis. Stretches from birth through adolescence.

Split shift - Welcome to my world.

It has taken me the first month of the school year to work this out. Well, the first month of the school year plus the previous four years of school where I occasionally found myself with several "free" hours during the day while the girls went to school. This is another "re-inventing the wheel" moment for me as a parent.

Since I left my part-time job in June, after getting the girls off to school in the mornings, I am most often faced with six or more hours that stretch in front of me where I can do pretty much whatever I want. My plan was to use the bulk of these hours to write and work on selling my book, knowing full well that I would also go grocery shopping, do laundry, take the dog to the vet, prepare meals, exercise, get the idea.

Since September 1st, my days start at 6:00 AM in the way millions of other parents begin their day: waking children, getting breakfast, packing lunches and locating desired items before we run out the door. I figured out a system last year to do most of these things without losing my mind and more often than not, I pat myself on the back for a job well done when nobody leaves in tears or tells me they hate me.

Several times in the past few weeks, I have hit the mid-day mark and realized that, even though I could probably find other household things to do, I don't want to. What I really want to do is sit down on the couch with a handful of dark chocolate covered raisins and a book and read for an hour or so. Last week, I finally succumbed to that temptation, but I kept wondering when I was going to get busted. I was paranoid that a neighbor would stop by, Bubba would come home to get something he forgot, or someone would call and ask what I was doing and I would have to admit that I wasn't. Doing. Anything.

Yesterday it hit me. I work a split shift. I don't get the opportunity to sit on the couch with a book at night like some other people. I don't usually have hours of free time on the weekends to indulge myself in relaxing. The first part of my workday starts at 6AM and ends around 9:30, and the second part begins at 3PM when I leave to get the girls from school and help with homework, shuttle to after school activities, talk about difficult issues, cook our main meal, clean up the kitchen, and shepherd the girls through their bedtime routine.

So maybe it is okay to take a couple of hours in the middle of the day to do "nothing." Even if there is laundry or shopping to do or the dog "ought" to be walked, I need to start treating my mid-day free time as a much needed break. A way to recharge before I ramp up again at 3:00.

This may be a total "DUH" moment for most of you, but for me, it's one of those things that I needed to be hit over the head with before I realized it. For now, I'm working the split shift. It may not always be like this, but I made it through the graveyard shift and I'm lucky enough to have the swing shift when Bubba is in town. I'm taking my breaks when they come so don't be surprised if one day you walk past my house and see me lounging on the couch with a smile and a book. And if I'm under a blanket taking a wee nap, leave a note and I'll call you when I'm up.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Reviews Have Moved

Feminist Review, an organization that provides reviews on all sorts of things - books, movies, music, and theatre to name a few - has moved their website here. My latest book review for them can be found here<.

If you like it, please comment at the site. They like to know people are reading the reviews (and so do I).


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The image above is the Abraham Hicks Emotional Scale. This is a concept put forth by Esther and Jerry Hicks that essentially says that different emotions have different vibrations and the closer we can get to the top of the scale where joy, love, and appreciation reside, the closer we are to being in touch with our true selves and in touch with the source of all energy and love.

Whether or not you believe in the vibrational scale, we can probably all agree that spending our days in the top two portions of the list looks pretty good. The trick is supposed to be finding ways to jump up one or two "feelings" at a time when you are dealing with a difficult situation. So if you are feeling a lot of fear about a particular incident, you would do well to find some anger about it. If you're angry, see if there is a way you can simply be frustrated or irritated with it, with the hope of eventually becoming bored with the situation altogether.

One of the things I find most intriguing about this scale is that anger is higher up than fear and despair. As women and girls, we are taught that being angry is generally unacceptable. Guilt is a better alternative to lashing out, as is sadness about something. As a teenager, I actually sought out situations where I could be justifiably angry because it felt so good. When it was clear that I had been wronged and I didn't need to explain away my rage to anyone, I felt powerful and righteous. Maturing brought me back around to thinking that anger, even if it feels good to me, is not a useful tool and I ought to find less volatile ways to express myself.

Watching my girls argue with such passion on a regular basis, I have come to realize (and point out to them on many annoying occasions) that their disagreements generally focus around two things: power and misunderstandings. Whether or not they're buying my logic, I don't know, but it hasn't seemed to change their behavior much. On Sunday, Eve was particularly cranky and sensitive, crying one moment and railing at the unfairness of her life the next, and Lola was at her wit's end. As we sat at the dinner table and Eve spat out yet another snarky comment across the table, Lola crumpled into a ball on her chair, hair dangling over one side and toes poking out the other. She gasped and choked and dripped tears on the floor beneath us, her back rising and falling dramatically.

Lola is particularly sensitive to her older sister's bad moods and Eve knows it. She rolled her eyes and asked to be excused from the table. Bubba and I waved her away, both of us too irritated with her to risk opening our lips to speak. When Bubba had moved into the kitchen to stack the dishes in the sink, Lola scooted over into my lap like a giant tortoise and gradually rose up until her face was right in front of mine.

"You know, I never get angry, Mom. Sometimes it might seem like I am, but underneath I'm really just sad or confused. I don't think I can remember a time in my life where I was truly mad at anyone. It's just really sad." I smelled the milk on her breath and felt my heart stop. This sweet, sensitive, little girl who leads with her heart says the most profound things and sometimes I just don't know what to do with them.

I hate the thought of encouraging her to turn her sadness into anger, especially if it has to be directed at her sister. I don't know enough about this model to have a truly enlightened conversation about it, but I think that my discomfort with the anger vibration is that it is outward - directed into the universe. Not that I want Lola to direct it inward. I want her to be happy and joyful, and I truly believe she has a handle on her own feelings, more than most adults I know.

We sat together, holding the weight of her sadness until she could release it. By bedtime she was just slightly melancholy and insisted on giving this message to everyone in the house: "Goodnight, I love you, I'll see you in the morning." And with a salute, she went off to her room.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Breathe, Relax, Align

This summer in Hawaii I made a promise to myself to get up and go to the yoga classes offered on the beach every morning. Bubba hung out with the girls, playing in the sand, and jumping over waves while, 50 yards away, a group of 20 or so of us stood on hotel towels in the soft, dry sand and followed a yoga instructor.

Because of the mix of abilities, the class itself was pretty low-key and, while it wasn't the sweaty, intense hour and a half I'm used to at home, even at 7:30am it was 80 degrees outside and the instructors each brought their own flair.

The first morning, our leader was a man somewhere in his 50s or 60s who peppered his poses with anecdotes about boxing (seems he was a boxer in the military), ballet (took classes as a teen), and meditation. Truly a renaissance man, he had moved to Maui to semi-retire and find a new relationship with the natural world. Many of his quips were groan inducing and I rolled my eyes more than once, but some of the things he said were so simple and true that I find myself recalling them often.

"The word yoga literally means 'union.' This is the union of your body and mind. That doesn't mean your mind dictates and your body follows - that's not union. Your mind listens to what your body is saying. Not judges or bosses. Just listens."

"Breathe. Relax. Align. Do this over and over again. Yoga is more about breath and feeling than movement and exercise. Start from the base and build up. Build a strong foundation. Breathe. Relax. Align."

He wasn't kidding. Yoga on soft sand is all about alignment and having a strong foundation. It turns out it isn't about pushing yourself to stay up when you think you will surely collapse. It is about listening to your ankles to see if your feet are aligned before you move up to your knees. I found myself setting and re-setting my foundation, seeking a strong, solid base and looking in my mind's eye to make sure that both feet were pointed forward, my hips were on equal planes, my knees weren't twisted. I can't say that my body was pushed much during these classes, but the calm grounding that comes from truly listening to my body and making sure it has what it needs was more than I thought I would get.

I think about how often I expect my body to put itself into positions that aren't comfortable in order to accomplish something on my mind's agenda. The years I wore high heels to work (not a chance you'll find me in them now) punished my hips and lower back. The hour or so I sit working at my laptop in the front seat of the car without enough room to rest my wrists because it doesn't make sense to go home and come back to get the girls from school mean sore shoulders and tingling fingers at bedtime.

Since that class I find myself occasionally closing my eyes to check in with my body. Breathe. Relax. Align. Hips? You okay? Feet? Where are you now? Shoulders? Do you need to let go? It doesn't happen as often as it should, but I'm certainly more aware that my body has spent an awful lot of time catering to the whims of my mind and I'm trying to even the score a little.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

That Hollow Sound

"When a book and a head collide and there is a hollow sound, is it always from the book?" Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Not when it's my head. The trouble with learning to be present and mindful is that it illustrates just how often I am not present and mindful in my daily life. When I find my mind wandering as I slice carrots for the curry and sip my glass of wine or when I arrive home after driving the six-girl carpool on Wednesday afternoons and don't really recall any details of the drive itself, it is pretty clear to me that my head was the one thumping hollow.

I am truly in awe of how many tasks I can perform without really thinking about them. I often find myself disappointed in my girls for choosing the path of least resistance in their daily lives (doing a quick, sloppy job on their homework, dropping their plates into the dishwasher without rinsing them and tossing clothes in the laundry bin without removing the notes and rocks and house keys from their pockets first), but it occurs to me that my brain does the same thing. It has become so attuned to taking the same path time after time that I don't even have to be aware in a conscious way to put a salad together or drive home from the supermarket or fold the laundry. Our brains are wired to be efficient and effective which is why it is hard work to stay present sometimes. I am so accustomed to typing and petting the dog and listening for the UPS man simultaneously that to try and focus on just sitting with the dog and giving him my undivided attention takes real effort.

I'm pretty sure that I would not get much done if I tried to remain present in everything I do, but I am trying to find a few moments every day to stop and truly immerse myself in one activity at a time. Even if it is just smacking myself in the forehead with a book and listening for the hollow sound...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ahh, The Gifts That Dogs Bring

Loyalty, unconditional love, comfort, moments of disgust so complete they stay with you for hours...

I am not a squeamish person. I spent years as a surgical assistant seeing things like face lifts and liposuction, third degree burns and genital warts the size of small, organic cauliflower heads. I do not shudder easily or often.

I am, however, a very visual person. I form pictures in my head when people describe things to me and fix images I've seen in my mind. Yesterday I came to regret that.

Eve had her first-ever cross country meet yesterday afternoon and I decided, since it involved running along trails in the park, it would be cool to bring the dog along. We could cheer Eve's team on and the dog could get a mini-walk and some fresh air out of the deal. It was pouring rain, torrential rain, but we could handle it.

The meet went off without a hitch. Eve came in at about the middle of the pack, wet ponytail slapping against the back of her neck with every footfall, her cheeks flushed and a huge smile on her face. I waited under a nearby tree with her coach and some other parents for her to get her official time and join us for a snack and some water. The dog, who believes that social outreach is his most pressing duty, was using every ounce of his 80 pounds to strain at the leash in an attempt to get to the other dogs in the park, but this was nothing new. I planted my feet and stood fast as I chatted with the other parents.

A few minutes later, I noticed a distinct absence of tugging on the other end of the leash and looked down to see CB's head dip to the ground as he snatched something off of the leaf litter underneath his feet.

"What are you eating?" I figured he had gotten ahold of some child's leftover granola bar or, at worst, discovered some bunny poop (AKA doggie M&Ms). I heard him crunching something and looked down to see a long grey form protruding from the left side of his mouth.

"A stick! Drop it! Drop it, CB!" I bent down and reached for the piece that was sticking out of his mouth and in that time-altering thing that happens when your brain finally catches up to your eyes, the split second before I grabbed it, I noticed it had claws. The thing poking out of the side of my dog's mouth had claws. I reared back for a moment as I tried to remember whether I had actually had that glass of wine with lunch or just thought about it, and the coach yelled, "He's got a crow's foot in his mouth! Eeew!"

I wish.

A struggle ensued for the next several minutes as CB realized he was busted and did everything possible to hang on to his prize. His jaw strength is only slightly less than the holding power of Crazy Glue, so even with both my hands clamped onto his muzzle, I was completely unable to pry his mouth open. I finally realized that it was going to take a trade. I needed something he wanted more than that thing in his mouth to make him open up. Of course, this was the first time in recorded history that I was wearing a jacket without a pocket full of dog treats and the only thing the coach had was Eve's post-run snack, a Fruit Rollup. I tore a piece off and waved it in front of his nose, begging him to release his treasure but he just rolled his eyes at me 'duh' style and kept on gnawing.

Somehow I finally managed to wedge the sticky fruit snack past his teeth and up on to the roof of his mouth and that shocked him enough that I got a finger hold in and was able to open his mouth. I felt like the Crocodile Hunter! Now, the only problem was that it took both of my hands to hold his mouth open and the claw wasn't coming out. It was stuck.

Eve had finally shown up, no doubt to berate me for causing a scene and ruining her social standing forever (at this point, I'm pretty certain I won't be invited to the next meet, if she even tells me when it is or where). I hollered at her to yank the thing out of CB's mouth but she squatted down, took one look and said, "I'm not touching that thing! Forget it!"

Thank goodness for mothers. Mothers who are used to spit and pee and vomit on their hands. Eve's teammate's mother came to my rescue, bent down and pulled the claw out of his mouth. We were all surprised (and disgusted and appalled) when that claw came out attached to a three inch length of leg bone.

After about five minutes of compulsive hand-washing we all came back together underneath the tree and surmised that the foot belonged to a possum at some point. It didn't take much more than a nanosecond beyond that conclusion for us to all tilt our heads back and look up into the tree, expecting to find a very pissed off possum hanging above us. I have no idea where that leg came from or how it managed to get there and I'm pretty sure I don't want to think about it much.

As for the dog, he sulked all the way home. How dare I take his fairly discovered treasure and toss it in the trash and think that a postage-stamp piece of Fruit Rollup would be an even trade?

I am still shuddering at the sight of that thing in my mind's eye. Bubba didn't even want to hear the story, he's so squeamish, and he was thanking his lucky stars that he missed the entire thing. As for Lola, she was disappointed she wasn't there and asked me to draw her a picture of the foot/leg after dinner. I gladly did. I can still see it perfectly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Go For the Gusto

This week's positive intention class was focused on identifying and honoring the little victim within. We all have one (mine is a little green gremlin with warts and pointed ears who is so ugly he is cute) and their job is to continually warn us of all the dangerous things out there that we need to watch out for. He doesn't forget anything and has this way of linking every negative experience to a few major traumatic events in the past and worrying that if we dare to set one big toe out the door again, we will certainly be run over and squashed flat.

The meditation for this morning involved acknowledging his presence, listening to his fears and reminding him that he is safe and heard. The goal is to disarm him and keep him from ballooning into an enormous source of energy and reactivity whose whiny chatter causes us to do and say things that aren't authentically us. I can recall many instances in my life where I allowed him to take over and I began feeling entitled and pathetic, blaming anyone and anything around me for the situation I found myself in and giving away my power to control my own responses.

After that, the instructor asked us to recall a time when we felt victimized. Observe that moment and think about what that felt like. What emotions does that moment prompt - anger, frustration, fear, sadness? The ultimate goal is to be able to separate those feelings from the person you are now and recognize that that moment no longer has any power over you. Release the negative energy, forgive the perpetrator(s), and truly feel free.

True to form, I didn't choose a squabble between myself and my mother or a time when Bubba sprung a business trip on me out of the blue. Nope, I went straight to the heart of things. In my defense, I didn't actually mean to; it was just that when I sat down to do the meditation, my mind and body went to the most visceral place it could. I was instantly eight years old, lying on a dingy mattress on the floor of a dark, dank bedroom, being molested by my babysitter's teenage son.

I couldn't finish the meditation. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't get past the fear and hatred. My fingers began to go numb, my sacrum felt made of cement, and my jaw tightened. I can't forgive him now. I can't let go. It's clear to me that I have to and I want to, but right now, today, it isn't going to happen. Nothing like jumping in with both feet!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect (I Hope)

I've learned some new 'exercises' in my positive intentions class and am diligently attempting them daily. Some are easier than others and I find that there are two that consistently find me struggling to focus and complete them.

The first is called "Shower." In this exercise, I am supposed to find a quiet moment and visualize myself in my ideal shower, covered with a grey, sooty mud. This muck represents all of the negative energy I've picked up during the day, from witnessing a stranger's struggle to helping the girls settle a fight to hearing bad news from a friend. None of this 'mud' is mine and I simply need to wash it away and restore the golden glow to myself, acknowledging that my love and light sent out to anyone and everyone who is struggling is the best I can do.

I am fully in favor of this exercise, but when I find myself standing in my shower (a wooden affair in the middle of a gorgeous green pasture with a rain-shower head and a view of the hillside) under the spray, my mind immediately begins to catalog all of the things I'm washing away. Within seconds, I'm bogged down in the minutiae of the negative energy and it stubbornly refuses to rinse off of me.

At the suggestion of a friend, I tried a different approach. She calls it the "cheesecloth." I simply run an enormous piece of cheesecloth up through my body, catching all of the negative particles and packaging them up in a tidy bundle which I then discard. I can even tie the bundle at the top with a gold ribbon of love. For some reason, this is much more effective for me, not to mention faster, and when I'm done, I feel literally lighter. The cheesecloth is full of little black, sticky bits and I am free.

The other exercise is called "Eject and Replace." Essentially, it gives you the opportunity to observe your reactions throughout the day and when you have one you don't particularly like (snapping off some sarcastic comment to the girls when I'm rushed and annoyed), you simply tug on your earlobe. This has the effect of 'flushing' the nasty thought out of your mind and leaves a space for you to replace it with love and light. My problem is that my mouth is faster than my mind and once those words are out, it's too late to flush them. I have discovered that these negative thoughts come much more often when I am doing seventeen things at once and I resort to habitual responses. Ultimately, I suppose that this is the entire point of the positive intentions class - to slow down and be aware of what I am saying and doing and INTENDING instead of just reacting.

Guess it's a good thing we meet again tomorrow.

Friday, September 10, 2010

An Embarrassment of Riches

The gifts just keep on coming this week. It's a busy one, with the beginning of the school year and Eve and I both adjusting to the rhythms of a new school, so I will share with you the quick-and-dirty list of lovely things the Universe has flung my way recently.

  • Last Wednesday, my sister-in-law called to invite us to go camping with her and her kids for two days before their school year started. For some reason, we accepted on a whim and spent two glorious days walking in the woods, swimming, floating the river and meeting two other families who have kids with special needs. What a lovely, fun way to see these kids - outside a classroom, riding bikes and talking on walkie-talkies and sitting down with mothers of other kids with sensory processing issues. They get it. Lola and I shared an innertube and bounced and rocked our way down the river and saw a juvenile bald eagle, two vultures and a great blue heron along the way.
  • When we got home, we learned that our bear is back. The one who visited our backyard nearly every night between September and February last year paid us another visit over the weekend and, while he wreaked havoc on my birdfeeders and the compost bin and left me some enormous piles of bear poo, I am so excited to have this gentle giant wandering through my back lawn again. Rather than frightening me, it makes me feel safe and relaxed to know that my yard is a haven for this amazing creature. I suppose I would feel differently if he wasn't nocturnal!
  • On Monday I had a phone interview with a small publisher in Montana who may or may not be able to help me, but for nearly an hour we talked writing and publishing and it didn't take us long to figure out that she knows Bubba from a previous job and the teeny tiny town she lives in in Montana is the same one where my favorite aunt and her husband live.
  • With Bubba out of town for three days, I managed to get both girls to and from school and their various activities with no hiccups, despite the fact that it is a logistical labyrinth. We did it! And in the process, I have met some lovely people who are willing to help us out whenever they can - I need only ask.
  • On Tuesday I started a class with four other women (total strangers) on positive intention. The four of us immediately bonded and one of the participants brought copies of her book to distribute at the end of class. She gave me her phone number and encouraged me to contact her if I want to talk about publishing my own book.
  • The teacher of this class sends daily emails to 'check in' with our progress and remind us to engage in certain exercises she taught us on Tuesday. We are all encouraged to dialogue (through email) about our experiences and the feedback she has provided so far has been amazing. I feel physically lighter.
Next, I am going to the post office to send out a packet of information on my book to a publisher that was recommended to me. I spent yesterday polishing it, filling it with positive intention and sitting with it. Today, it heads out surrounded by golden light and the knowledge that the manuscript is better than good enough.

Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Quiet morning. Girls both at school and Bubba's off to California. Dishes done. Laundry put away. Email answered. Dog walked. It occurs to me how long it has been since I sat in a quiet room and meditated, so I head upstairs, settle down on a cushion, cross my legs and begin breathing.

The cat, however, has different ideas. This cat, who is very aloof and has never sat in anyone's lap in the six years we have had her, has decided she needs to be touched. I can hear her soft pads as she makes her way across the carpet toward me, and I hear her begin to purr just before her silky head crashes in to my left hand. Eyes closed, I am determined to ignore her until she goes away. This is one more distraction - a chance to practice focusing on my breath and letting everything else slip away.

She paces between my hands, angling her head so that the soft space between her ears bangs into my knuckles as she walks in front of my folded legs. Back and forth. Insistent.

The longer I ignore her, the pushier she gets. Now she is stopping for a second at a time in front of each hand, pushing and nudging and purring and as she makes her U-turn to walk to the other hand, she rubs her flanks against me.

I can't help but smile. She knows what she wants and she is going to get it. For what ever reason, at this moment, she needs to be touched. I open my eyes and indulge her, scratching behind her ears and underneath her collar as she melts into me. If I don't see this as a power play, if I don't resent her for 'winning' or 'getting her way,' I can simply acknowledge that she knew what she needed and set about making it happen. I can stand in awe of her ability to make this the most important thing right now. I can wonder about my own self-awareness in a quiet moment and whether I am able to pinpoint that one thing that would feel the best to me and go after it.

I am grateful for this lesson and this quiet moment. And the truth is, even though I didn't meditate, this touch is fulfilling for me, too. Feeling her thick fur fill up the spaces between my fingers and listening to her pure purring pleasure is satisfying and grounding. It gives me hope that the next time I am in need of touch I can let someone know.
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