Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Getting Right With Me

Ahhh, the holidays. That magical time of year when all of the family dynamics, good and awkward, are laid bare and magnified. For years, it began before Thanksgiving when Bubba and I would square off to pitch our respective holiday preferences to each other. My family or his? Or neither - should we just stay home?

Over the last fifteen years the discussion has evolved from a careful, quiet waltz to a quickstep. We know each other well enough now that we can state our case without hurting feelings and we know when to offer compromise and when to dig our heels in. Whew! Some things do get easier with time.

Others, not so much. Like the inferiority complex I get when I begin to envision the holidays with Bubba's family. This year we are hosting Christmas dinner at our house and, while I have had an enormous amount of fun decorating and planning the menu and shopping for gifts, when I woke up this morning, that same old feeling sprouted in my gut and took hold. I have 24 hours to feel it, acknowledge it, and yank it out, roots and all. In the past, I would have eaten Christmas goodies to bury it and watered it with wine and coffee and mulled cider. In the past, all I got for my efforts was an acid stomach and a sore jaw. This year, I'm trying something different.

I'm going to spend some quiet time listening to all of the reasons I feel as though I don't measure up. I will anticipate certain gestures or phrases that I know very well fertilize that seedling of self-doubt in my gut and think about how to shield myself from them. I will do my best to remember that this is my Christmas celebration, too, and that while I am now part of this family, I am under no obligation to do things as though their blood runs in my veins. My house, my rules:

1. Gratitude
2. Honesty
3. Love
4. Generosity of spirit
5. Openness
6. Self-respect

Those are my rules for this holiday. Anyone who wants to break them is welcome to step outside until they can honor them once again. My gift to myself this year is to take the time to get right with me before everyone comes to celebrate with us. I have a good feeling about it.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mind. Full. Ness.

Had an hour to kill yesterday and I was captive in the mall without any shopping to do and I'd already had my coffee. Luckily there is a very cool newsstand in this particular mall and the Starbucks employees were only too happy to get me a free cup of ice water upon request. I wonder if it was the simplest drink they'd made all day, what with the expanded holiday menu of eggnog, caramel (salted and not), peppermint, chocolate and various other festive flavors.

Sorry - took off for tangent-town there. Anyway, I purchased a copy of the latest Yoga Journal and Shambhala Sun magazines and settled down to read for a bit. I came across an article that perfectly fit my frenetic needs for the moment (short, easily digested, impactful) on mindfulness and was instantly hooked. I am afraid that, while I love food and drink, I sit squarely in the center of that camp who uses both to self-soothe. I have also cultivated the habit of multi-tasking for no particular purpose whatsoever. Example: unless I am at a table with other people, I never eat or drink without also reading or surfing the internet or dashing off an email or twelve or talking on the phone. None of those activities are time-sensitive, so it's not as though I need to be doing them while simultaneously eating or drinking. It is also rare for me to sit down to do something (write, read, perform surgery on a beloved stuffed pet, watch the latest episode of "House" or "Parenthood") without having at least a cup of tea or coffee or fizzy water or a glass of wine next to me. I have come to equate the acts of eating and drinking with doing other things. In other words, I am completely UNmindful when it comes to eating and drinking.

Now, read this excerpt from the article I read and tell me how much you want to stop and be mindful the next time you put something into your mouth: "After writing for a few hours I'm ready to reward myself with a [lemon] tart. The first bite is delicious. Creamy, sweet-sour, melting. When I take the second bite, I think about what to write next. The flavor in my mouth decreases. I take another bite and get up to sharpen a pencil. As I walk, I notice I am chewing, but there is almost no lemon flavor in this third bite. I sit down, get to work, and wait a few minutes. Then I take a fourth bite, fully focused on the smells, tastes, and touch sensation in my mouth. Delicious, again! I discover...that the only way to keep that "first bite" experience, to honor the gift [of the tart] my friend gave me, is to eat slowly...if I do anything else while I'm eating, the flavor diminishes."

The glands at the back of my mouth began releasing saliva with the description of the first bite. But when I began following her thoughts and movements throughout the next few sentences, the sensation was lost. That's exactly how I eat. Anticipate. Realize that first bite. Move on mentally and shovel the rest in until the plate is empty. Be sad that it's gone because I only really enjoyed the first bite and forgot to savor the rest. Decide I want more. Get more. Repeat the entire sequence.

It occurred to me that when babies are taking their first tastes of food, they are a captive audience to the mindfulness of eating. They are fully experiencing the smells, tastes, and textures of the food that is going into their mouths and, one one hand this is awesome and exciting, but it's not all that strange that they reject some foods entirely because of this overwhelming experience. As adults, we have learned to dismiss most of the sensations associated with foods after that first bite, but babies aren't reading or writing holiday cards while they are tasting food. They are simply eating and experiencing that entire process and all it brings with it, for good and bad.

I am taking Lola and her best friend out to lunch today for their holiday "date" and while I know the table will be loud and giggly and rambunctious, I am going to do my best to eat slowly and mindfully and be present with each of the sensations that accompany my lunch. I'm willing to bet I will eat less but feel more sated at the end of it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere...

Ahh, the irony. Too much water means that I can't use any. The rain has been coming down for days, forcing motorists to push their wipers to the limit and bus riders to wait a few feet back from the stops to avoid the deluge coming from the streets whenever a car goes by.

3:00 AM Monday morning: Lola appears at my bedside, "Mama, what is that loud buzzing noise?" Oh, crap. Her bedroom is directly above the septic alarm. The backyard has absorbed as much rain as it can and the septic holding tank can't push any water off into the drainfield/pond. Bubba slides out from between the flannel sheets, pushes his feet into his slippers and pads outside in his underwear to flip the switch that shuts the screaming alarm off.

6:15 AM Monday morning. Reality hits us all. No showers. No dishwasher. No washing machine. No flushing toilets. We can't afford to put any more water into the system. Bubba's on his way to the airport for a business trip, so he jumps through the shower as quickly as he can, but the rest of us pull our hair up into ponytails or under caps and get dressed.

With my low-flow toilets, front-load washing machine and low water usage dishwasher, I generally think of myself as being pretty conscious of the water I use, but this puts a new spin on things. At least once a year I find myself in this situation and am reminded that too much water in the yard means no water for me. The three minutes it takes to get the water in the sink warm enough to hand wash something is an absolute no-go. Instead, I pour water into the teapot and warm it up to wash the thermoses out for the girls' lunches. I am more careful with what I touch so that I don't need to wash my hands every few minutes.

Just getting through a morning having to think about every task in terms of whether or not it will add water to the septic tank taxes my brain. And it makes me feel incredibly grateful to not live in a place where this is a daily chore. By this time next week, I will be able to flush toilets with wild abandon and Eve will dawdle in the shower for an extra few minutes of warmth. We will have a houseful of guests for Christmas and I won't follow them around reminding them to turn the water off when they're brushing their teeth like I do with my kids.

For now, there are puddles of standing water in the yard that the dog is enjoying immensely and I'm going on two days without doing a load of laundry (not exactly bugging me, I must say). Throughout the day I find myself wondering how many new ways I can find to cut our water usage and hoping they will stick with us all long after the septic tank is back in working order.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

This Blessing

Blessings are not hard to come by, especially in times of turmoil, but it often takes me a while to discover them. And sometimes when I do, I feel conflicted. As though I ought to be angry or frustrated or hurt like some of the people around me. In solidarity. But instead I can't stop smiling because I feel like I've unlocked some hidden door that lets out light and warmth shining toward me.

A member of my family has been hurt by another. Someone she trusted and relied upon has been taking advantage of her for a good long time and, when confronted, had the audacity to admit it without showing any remorse. The waves are widening out and touching many people and for a while, the betrayal seemed to grow by the minute as additional evidence was uncovered. Those of us closest to her are pitching in to understand the depth of the mess and begin to clean it up and, from the beginning I've pitched and rolled between two poles.

I was upset and sickened by the acts of this person. Almost immediately I heard a voice inside me calling for compassion and forgiveness and understanding. Right on the heels of that voice came another, "It won't change anything. Or fix anything. And it's disloyal." I felt as though I needed to show my anger in order to support my family. I decided to sit with all of this for a while and see what settled.

Yesterday a page from The Four Agreements came to me: don't take it personally. What a relief! The things this person did weren't about me. Or my family. Any of us. They have nothing to do with us except that we caught the fallout. Flashes of sadness for this person came throughout the day - what terrible lessons and circumstances led her to this? I hope that she is able to find some help. Some relief. Some understanding and compassion for herself some day. I still hesitate to speak these things out loud, knowing that many others in my family are still reeling from the pain and anger, the practicalities of cleaning up the mess left behind.

This morning I wondered: what if this person had been family? What if she had come to one of us and asked for our help? What if she had admitted her bad behavior, acknowledged her weakness and asked for forgiveness and assistance? If she were family, it would certainly have been granted. Not necessarily without anger or regret, but she would have been held in love, stayed within the circle of the family, and had people to stand by her while she worked through her troubles.

I don't mean to say that I think anyone ought to reach out to her and offer this. It is not my betrayal to recover from, not my mess to clean up. I am not prescribing any particular set of actions. But I am not angry or seeking "justice" or retribution, either. That simple shift, the question of 'what if she had been part of the family' gave me a vantage point from which to open my heart to pure understanding and compassion. I no longer feel any pull to go back to the other extreme of anger or betrayal. I am sad for everyone involved, but am free to hold them all in love and hope without feeling disloyal to anyone.

And so tonight, I will carry a smudge stick of sage to the house, ask permission to light it and walk through the house with only the purest of intentions and love as my guide to cleanse the space and offer hope. My family may think I'm nuts (okay, they definitely will), but I will know that, for me, this experience has been a true blessing and I am ready to accept all it has to offer.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Days are Packed

With book reviews, visits from family, and birthday celebrations.

We had a houseful over Thanksgiving and it was pure joy to watch my girls play with their cousins in the snow. The two-year-old twins got to experience their first glimpse of the white stuff along with their family's puppy and my girls and CB were only too happy to introduce them to snow angels, snowballs, rolling in the snow and hot chocolate to warm up afterward. The house was full of noise and a clutter of dishes and coffee mugs, snow boots, jackets, board games and truly creative Lego creations and I was sad to see it end, but exhausted and ready for a break. At least until we do it all over again in four weeks.

My mom came up this weekend to help us celebrate Eve's birthday, a tradition she started eleven years ago when the little monkey was born. Capitalizing on the tween girl attraction to everything shopping mall, I created a scavenger hunt for Eve and her friends that had them sleuthing through stores to find things like the ugliest pair of shoes, a sweater they all would wear, something with more than ten buttons, Hannukah decorations, etc. They were armed with digital cameras and had to snap photos of each of the items on their list and they only got kicked out of one store for taking a picture of "copyrighted information." I'm pretty sure that they weren't trying to re-create the stinky perfume they were photographing...

The final item on the list was to find a gift for a child in need to put underneath the giving tree at Lola's school. Bubba and I gave each team some cash and it was so sweet to watch them pick up the toys that they used to covet not so long ago and all talk at once, lobbying for the gift they wanted to choose. They made excellent budgeting decisions and were sure to pick things that, as Eve put it, "kids really want, not NEED." We finished off the evening gorging ourselves on Thai food and hot fudge sundaes and the girls played tag and hide and seek until they finally fell into sleeping bags around midnight. I'm certain that every year I think Eve is at my favorite age, but the rapid chameleon shifts from child to young woman that take place before my eyes are so miraculous. One moment they are rolling their eyes at the grown-ups tailing them in the mall, insisting that they're old enough to be left alone, and the next minute, they're oohing and aahing over a cute stuffed animal in the shop window. They chatter about how cute some celebrity boy is and then pretend-vomit as they catch sight of lacy underwear in the store, wondering who in the world would wear something like that!

Saturday, Lola had her first basketball game of the season and these girls are firmly in the land of little-girl. They are still working out how to be aggressive with each other, too timid to put their hands up to block the other team's shots and trying to figure out how to politely dribble around their competitors without knocking into them. When someone makes a basket, the entire team stops to scream and hug the lucky girl before running down to the other end to resume play, and often they cheer on the other team when they make a basket as well. Lola's cheering section consisted of Eve, Bubba, myself, my mom and both of Bubba's parents. Every time she glanced into the stands and saw us with our eyes attached to her she grinned that grin that warms you from the inside out.

Today, everyone is back at work and school and CB and I are here alone listening to Annie Lennox sing Christmas songs and wrapping Christmas gifts. I will slowly put the house back together, stopping to reminisce about the last two weeks with every turn. These moments more than any other are filling me with peace and love and hope. When the house is back to its normal state, I will light a candle and send out my wish to the Universe that everyone can experience some measure of family connectedness and joy today and every day.
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