Monday, June 27, 2011

Who Am I Today?

I know that I am many things to many people: mother to my daughters, daughter to my mother, sister to my siblings, wife to my dear Bubba...I could go on, but you know the drill. And, I suppose to some extent, I rely on that. I appreciate the ability to use those personality traits that fit best in any given situation in order to accomplish certain tasks, and then change when necessary. But I always assumed that I was only one person to me, and that, even if others saw vastly different sides of my personality, at least I always knew who I was at my core.
I have recently realized, however, that it is possible to really dislike who I am when I am in the company of certain people. And I thought I was done with that. Like most people, I tried out different personas in my teen years; I was a smoker with the rebellious girls, a goody-two-shoes with those who eschewed rebellion for a while, and, depending on the stage or year of high school, I could be known as prudish or outlandishly flirtatious. During those times, I often found myself feeling distinctly uncomfortable in my own skin. Asking hard questions of myself when I was all alone in the dark at night. And actively choosing to change my actions or distance myself from certain people. But as an adult, I thought I had all of that figured out. I was pretty sure I had solidified my personality like that cup of bacon grease that sits out on the counter until mid-afternoon. Not so.

There is a group of people in my life whom I love dearly and with whom I imagine I will be associated for the rest of my life. And I decided that I don't really like who I am when I am with them. While they don't call me on it (either because they are lovely, compassionate people or because they don't know any different), I noticed that I am often whiny or defensive or something-not-quite-me when I hang out with them, and that makes me decidedly uncomfortable.

It turns out that when I first met this particular set of people, I put them all up on some sort of pedestal. Although, at the time, I wouldn't have been caught dead admitting that, I was certain that they were certain I wasn't good enough for them. And, truly, we couldn't have been more different. But I was determined to justify my existence and show them just why they needed me in their lives. And I felt righteous about it. Sometimes. Often I felt judged and that made me angry and all the more determined to show them.

And so I established this pattern of behavior that led to me proving in subtle but varied ways that I am intelligent and witty and caring and good enough. Because if they were going to judge me, I was going to prove that I was worthy of a good verdict. And now, over a decade later, when I know they love me and I love them all for their quirks and imperfections (turns out we started out very different but are really much more alike than we all thought), I am still armoring up with my good enough suit and slathering on my 50 SPF judge-screen before meeting up with them. Once begun, it seems that the habit of being "something special" in their presence is a difficult one to break. Only the motivation is that this armor is beginning to feel more like something I'm using to conceal the authentic me than something I need for protection from these people who may or may not hurt me, but who deserve my trust. And so I have decided that it is time to feel good about who I am all the time, no matter who I am with. I know it won't be easy, but having left a gathering of us all where I felt as though I worked harder at crafting a persona than I ever did in high school, I felt as though I didn't know the woman I saw in the mirror and that made me sad.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Softer Side of Me

Two years ago we moved out of the house for a few weeks while my brother-in-law ripped up all of the carpet on the main floor and replaced it with hardwoods. Two children under the age of ten, an 80-pound dog, one cat and two and a half acres had led me to the conclusion that clean-up would be a darn sight easier with hard surfaces. True, the dog hair sashayed in tumbleweeds across the wood floor to settle in the corners, but when the kids slopped chocolate milk over the sides of their cups or flung a handful of rice or pasta to the floor, spot-cleaning was a breeze.

This morning as I dragged my Dyson around by the extension, sucking up fluffs of fur and dust, crumbs and dirt from everyone's shoes, I ran up against the carpet square in front of the kitchen sink and groaned. The swath of hardwood behind me was clean, suctioned bare by the vacuum, but this rough, nubby throw rug was knotted with black dog hair, stained by food coloring and pasta sauce and food crumbs were pushed down into the texture and weave. Ugh.

It is so much less satisfying to clean the various rugs scattered around the house than it is to simply swoop the vacuum cleaner around the hardwood once a week. To truly get these clean, I am often forced to toss them into the washing machine and confront just how much I miss them when they're gone. As someone who avoids wearing shoes and socks whenever possible, I have been teased about my odd dance steps across the cold wood floor in search of a soft warm haven by my family members. But the truth is, they prefer them, too. And so does the dog.

The soft fluffy areas are more forgiving when I am standing to do laundry or cook or wash dishes. They are more comfortable on my bare feet when it's cold and I like to squish my toes down in the fibers and feel the softness brush against the skin between my toes. They are more pliable and just feel good. They do pick up more crumbs and fur and spills and hold on to them longer. They are higher maintenance and won't last nearly as long as the hardwood floors. But there are more important things than being clean and shiny. So I've decided to take down some of my "hardwood" barriers and make a concerted effort to show more of my soft, fluffy side. Maybe people will start doing funny little dance steps in my direction just to experience some of my warmth and accommodation. Maybe I'll become more attractive to those who are seeking some pliable support. And I'm certain I'll get a little dirt and muck on me, but maybe someone will spill some good, dark chocolate on me, too. That might be worth it...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Anyone Else Pissed Off at Justin Timberlake?

I am. And my kids don't even really listen to his music. But I'm pissed off for the kids that do. And their parents.

One of the headlines on MSNBC today announced that, in an interview with Playboy Magazine, the boy band wonder turned actor admitted he regularly smokes marijuana and justified it by saying, " gets me to stop thinking....Sometimes I have a brain that needs to be turned off. Some people are just better high." Huh. You know, there are other ways to accomplish the same thing. More challenging ways, I admit, but other ways. Fully legal, free ways to clear your mind. Like physical exercise. Yoga. Meditation.

Just last week I saw a special on television produced by our local NBC affiliate that featured a panel of pediatric specialists fielding questions from parents of teenagers. Not surprisingly, one of the topics that came up was drug use. The doctors unanimously agreed that marijuana is known as a "gateway" drug - one that has seemingly few negative consequences and is cheap enough that most kids feel okay trying it. The 'gateway' connotation comes from the known fact that many of these kids are emboldened by their experimentation with pot and begin using other, more dangerous drugs as a result. For a number of reasons, pot seems fairly innocuous to many teens. It comes from a naturally occurring substance versus being manufactured in a lab, it is relatively inexpensive and easy to acquire, and doesn't require needles or fancy equipment to get high. Even kids who don't want to smoke it can simply ingest it in baked goods and get high.

Unfortunately, these physicians also universally agreed that marijuana has been shown to affect the brains of teenagers by impairing their brain development. "Studies of normal brain development reveal critical areas of the brain that develop during late adolescence, and our study shows that heavy cannabis use is associated with damage in those brain regions," says one brain researcher whose findings were published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. Some of the functions that could potentially be damaged by marijuana use? Memory. Attention. Decision-making. Language. Executive functions. (You can find the report on this study here). These are fairly important, no?

So I'm pissed off. At someone who, while getting publicity for himself, would say something so irresponsible. Something that could prove so harmful to so many of his fans. I don't care if he smokes pot. I don't care if he shoots up. I don't care if he engages in any other kind of illegal activities so long as they only cause harm to himself. But I do resent him justifying his immature behavior with such a lame excuse when it could provide just the justification a teenager needs to either begin or continue using drugs, "to clear my mind." Do what you want in your own time, JT, but don't pretend that your desire to get high stems from some Zen-like need for clarity. And don't give my kid an excuse to follow in your footsteps.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Yoga Wisdom

Camel terrifies me. The yoga pose, not the cleft-footed, cleft-mouthed desert beast.

The first time I ever tried it was about eighteen months ago in my favorite yoga class. I was feeling pretty jazzed because I had been coming two to three times a week for about a month and was beginning to notice some subtle changes in my body shape. I was also pleased that I seemed to be able to hold some poses longer or get into them easier and deeper. Camel hadn't been a part of this class, but I had seen it demonstrated and illustrated in yoga magazines, and I was pretty sure I could do it without looking silly.

I moved my knees to the top of my yoga mat, shins flush against the floor along with the tops of my feet. Knees bent, I faced the instructor at the front of the room as he asked us to sit up straight and tall. So far, this was good.

"Rise up through the crown of your head and expand your lungs, shining the beacon of your heart to the front of the room. Now, pull your shoulder blades down and together, letting your chest rise up even more. Gradually begin to reach your hands back to the small of your back and arch into it. If you can, reach your hands to your heels and rest them there, shining your heart up to the ceiling."

I had my palms to the small of my back for less than a millisecond before I had the sensation of not being able to breathe. My esophagus slammed shut and I literally flung my upper body forward into a neutral position. What the heck? I shook it off and tried again. It took three attempts like this for me to accept that if I pushed myself into this pose I was going to have a full-blown panic attack right here in front of everyone. Tears knotted in my throat and I slid into child's pose.

Back at home, I did a little research. Camel pose is aimed at opening up the heart. Nearly everyone gets an endorphin rush after being in camel pose and it is supposed to help with lymph drainage, massage the internal organs, and strengthen the spine. I am apparently not the only person who gets emotional or experiences difficulty performing camel. According to one site, LexiYoga, camel pose, "represents the ability to accomplish the impossible and to go through life's challenges with ease. If you feel disconnected from the world, family/relationships or are struggling with forgiveness, practicing camel pose can help you express your feelings and find compassion towards others."


The thing is, I don't feel disconnected. In fact, I feel more self-aware and compassionate than I ever have. Even without my antidepressant (woohoo - going on three months, now!!), I feel centered and grounded and pretty joyful. So WTF?

I began to think about the poses I do enjoy. The ones that feel effortless. The ones I feel strong and accomplished at. Like Happy Baby and Pigeon and Warrior 4. Oh. Those are all hip-openers. Happy Baby is great because it releases any tension in my sacrum. Oh. What about that?

As someone who has been molested, I personally find it a little disturbing that, despite the years of therapy and the absolutely honest belief that I have forgiven the boy who perpetrated the abuse, I prefer a hip opener to a heart opener. Poses that, while not remotely sexual, have the potential to open up my hips and "offer" that part of my body more readily.

At yoga today, I was dreading the possibility that the instructor might have the class do Camel Pose. I had my excuse ready, "It scares the sh*t out of me." 'Nuff said. Only she didn't include it in today's class. And I was relieved. I got into Full Pigeon Pose and reveled in it. Imagining the tendons and muscle tissue in my hips releasing with the breath and relaxing into extension.

And when I got home, I decided to try Camel Pose on my own. In my bedroom. With the door closed. As always, just before my hands settled on top of my heels, the bile rose in my throat and I began to hyperventilate. I quickly pulled out of the pose, breathing heavily, and felt tears build just above the notch in my throat. A tingle in my nose was all it took for them to begin falling in a torrent. I feel utterly out of control in Camel. Utterly helpless. Utterly useless and worthless.

I am beginning to wonder whether my issue with this pose has less to do with my connection with others than my connection to myself. Perhaps my heart can't shine that way because I don't feel as though it is worthy of letting its light out into the Universe. I don't know for sure. But, once again, I am grateful to my yoga practice for showing me the way to the next hurdle.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Go, Fight, Win!

Eve is a stubborn girl. Has been from the moment she was conceived, I'm certain. And yet, she is loathsome of conflict and confrontation. As a toddler, she didn't like to be touched or hugged by those other two-year-olds who long for physical contact. You know - the ones who hug every other kid they see? Eve hated that and would often see them coming a mile away and make her way to me as fast as her chubby, drunken little legs could carry her to hide behind my legs in fear. She had one friend in particular - her dearest, most cherished friend - who was very physical. And from time to time, as kids of that age are prone to, they would both covet the same toy. Miss Flower would see Eve playing with something she wanted and head on over. Eve, anticipating the conflict, would close her eyes, stretch her arm out in Miss Flower's direction and turn her head away in mute acceptance. You want what I've got and it's just not worth it to me to fight for it. Here, take it.

Now, that's not to say that Eve can't put up a fight if there's something she wants. But if something isn't going her way in a social situation, it is pretty rare for her to speak up. I'm trying to change that.

A few weeks ago I had coffee with a friend who was talking about her distaste for confrontation of any kind. She described a housemate who never does her own dishes and, while it was clear that it makes her crazy, she doesn't feel that it is worth it to have the difficult conversation it would take to change the situation. So she goes on doing this person's dishes and fuming about it, looking forward to the day when her housemate moves out. Since then, I've been noticing so many other instances like this in the lives of people around me.

Why are we all so afraid of conflict?

There are times when we all just lose our ability to contain our frustration and an argument or nasty fight ensues. But how often could those major issues have been avoided if we had spoken up sooner?

As a child of the 70s, I was taught not to make waves. Be polite. Accept what you're given. If you don't have anything nice to say, keep your trap shut. Don't hurt anyone else's feelings. I took it all to heart. It got me into a lot of trouble. I found myself in places I ought not to be, in relationships with people I didn't want to be with, all because I was too shy or fearful to speak up. And I wonder, looking at both sides of the equation, if I didn't do more harm than good.

A few weeks ago, Eve was having trouble sleeping. She had been working hard on her final project for school and was stressed that she wouldn't be able to finish in time. She tiptoed downstairs when she should have been fast asleep to snuggle in my lap and tell me that she felt like she was doing more than her share of the work on this project. That some of the others in her group were letting her take all the responsibility and it was weighing heavily on her shoulders. She agreed to talk to her teacher about it if I came with her. And, to her credit, she did. In front of the other members of her group. Not in a mean, spiteful way that accused others. Not with tears or whining. She simply said that she felt overwhelmed with the amount of work she was doing and wanted the others to pitch in some more. A few of the other girls acknowledged that they were letting Eve do most of the work and the teacher agreed to sit down with them and outline equal responsibilities for the remainder of the work.

Last week, after the girls presented their final project to their peers and family members, I pulled the teacher aside and thanked her. Since that discussion, Eve had not said a word about the issue, and had clearly been able to relax and complete the project without further anxiety. I was thrilled that the girls had been able to have this conversation without anger or hurt feelings.

"I think Eve learned a little something about herself, too," her teacher confided. "One of the girls spoke up to say that the reason they let her take over was because she seems to want to be in control. She is vocal, has good ideas, and volunteers to take on a lot of responsibility. When confronted with that, Eve responded that she feels panicky if she isn't in control and we were able to talk about how she can deal with that without it becoming a problem."

Hmmm. That apple didn't fall far from the tree. Maybe with examples of frank, honest discourse like this under her belt, Eve will begin to get more comfortable with confronting difficult issues. My suspicion is that, had she let this simmer a bit, she would have ended up feeling resentful and angry with her group members instead of relieved that the problem had a good resolution. In the end, the girls did some amazing work and Eve was able to articulate out loud her need to be in control.

I know that it was hard for her to talk to her teacher and her group members. I imagine her heart was racing and her palms were sweaty. But, for all of them, this was the best possible outcome, and I hope that the lesson here is that sometimes you've gotta make a few waves to rinse some of the junk off.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The One That Got Away

I knew it was a stretch. But I didn't think that rubber band was going to snap.

By the time I was a junior in high school, I had been to a ton of rock concerts: Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Yes, Rush, ZZ Top, Depeche Mode, 10,000 Maniacs, OMD, and Tom Petty, to name a few. I was lucky to be the younger sister of a completely devoted music fan and an indulgent mother. We lived on the Oregon Coast, less than two hours' drive from Portland, and for some reason, my mom figured that my brother would get into less trouble (ie. refrain from smoking pot) if he was accompanied to concerts by his little sister. Drugs were not my brother's scene, but I wasn't about to disabuse my mother of the notion if it meant I got to tag along to such cool shows.

So when U2 announced a concert and my boyfriend's older brother managed to get a block of ten tickets, I figured I was golden. Asking was simply a formality. Oh, did I neglect to mention that the concert was in Vancouver, BC? Roughly an eight-hour drive and requiring an overnight stay? But my boyfriend's brother (who was at the Naval Academy and, by all accounts, a very responsible semi-adult) was going to drive and chaperone. It all seemed perfectly innocuous to me. They were my favorite band at the time - idealistic, with powerful lyrics and songs that were also fun to dance to. They were also my boyfriend's favorite band and that would probably have been enough on its own, but I was desperate to go. This was the closest U2 had ever come to Portland and, with the intense conviction that this was probably going to be the ONLY chance I would ever have to see them LIVE in CONCERT, my mom had to say yes.

Only she said no. I was stunned. But not for long. I quickly went into negotiation mode, followed by anger, pleading, more negotiation, utter breakdown, and hatred. I'm pretty sure those are the seven stages of teenage angst: stun, negotiate, anger, plead, negotiate again, tearful breakdown, hate your parents. Yup, that's it.

For some reason, she thought the drive across the border into another country to see a rock concert attended by tens of thousands, followed by an overnight stay in a hotel chaperoned only by my boyfriend's college-age brother was a bad idea. Huh. I can't say I saw her point. In fact, I don't think I spoke to her for a week. And when my place got taken by another of our friends and I had to suffer through the description of the entire weekend they had all together without me I was certain I would dissolve in my own churning stomach acids. And my only consolation was that my mother would feel really bad if I did.

I held that grudge for about a decade. Honestly. I am certain that until the moment I first held my newborn baby girl on my chest at the hospital, feeling that fierce mother-love slip its tentacles into my every morsel, I still hated my mother for not letting me go. And now I look at Eve and get it. What the h*%# was I thinking even asking? What the h*%# was my mother thinking letting me and my brother drive to Portland alone together to go see KISS in concert? There were people sitting in the row in front of me whose gallon-sized popcorn bucket held both the salty treat and their drug stash, tucked inside a plastic baggie. They had purchased said baggie just outside the coliseum, along with several dozen others in the crowd. Am I likely to let my girls go to concerts alone? Insert snorting laughter here. Not. Bloody. Likely. I'll drive them, drop them, and pick them up right outside, yes I will. And I won't give a damn if they hate me for it.

But I digress. Last year, U2 announced another concert tour and, having heard this story several times before I forgave my mother, Bubba rushed out and spent a fortune on tickets for the two of us. Ahh, sweet redemption. And a sweet husband. And then, one month before they were to be in Seattle, Bono threw out his back and they cancelled the rest of the tour. WTF? Was I destined to be denied U2?

Until tomorrow, anyway. Tomorrow night, barring any magnificent horror the Universe throws at me or the band, I will be sitting outside at Qwest Field in Seattle grinning from ear to ear and soaking it all in. I'm sure there are more devoted fans. I'm certain I'm not the most fanatical U2 groupie (nor do I aspire to that). But I will finally get to see U2 live in concert, more than 20 years later. And, Mom? I forgive you.
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