Rock On

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

As my six-year-old daughter and I walked in the rock climbing gym yesterday she pointed to a corner of the bouldering room and asked, “What are they doing there?” I responded that they were redoing all the routes in that section of the gym and she exclaimed, “But I was working on that one! I really liked it!” And then we went upstairs and commiserated with the camp coaches who were feeling the same thing.

I totally understand that sense of loss. In order to make room for new things, old ones have got to go. But sometimes I’m not ready to move on and the Universe does it for me. I’m talking about rock climbing routes — and also relationships, phases of life and things I find comfort in. Like my pajama pants that are exactly perfect so I’ve worn them forever and I loved them until they are almost in tatters and will likely disintegrate if I wash again. I’ll probably put them in the wash only to find they have “been disappeared” by some Divine force.

When I was little I had this blanket that I carried with me everywhere, my binky. We lived in the Philippines but came to the United States on extended vacation every two years. It was on this trip when I was five years-old that my mom decided that I shouldn’t need the blanket anymore, hid it from me and told me it was lost. I have a vague memory of looking for it everywhere – even in my parent’s luggage. Sooner or later I moved on but not without a lot of grief for Binky.

I think about this as a parent because I try to have infinite patience for my kids to grow out of things instead of creating timelines and thresholds. I seem to be doing a lot of work so that they won’t experience grief and I wonder if I’m doing them any favors. After all loss and renewal is one of the most elemental cycles of life.

When I went to pick my daughter up from rock climbing camp yesterday, I brought my climbing shoes with me so we could work on finding a new bouldering route together. We grieved for the great routes we’d lost like that purple one where she was just one hold from the top practicing her lean back technique. Then we climbed, fell and laughed together trying out new ones. It was a great way to experience resilience in the aftermath of loss. I left feeling so strong and inspired, I may actually get rid of those pajama pants myself. But don’t hold me to it…

Parenting Review

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

As my daughter celebrates turning 6 this week, I thought some introspection of what six years as a parent has done to me would be fitting. This very demanding job has filled my heart with wonder at the design and spirit of children who are learning machines that laugh so much while they tackle some impressive skills. Here are some of the marks parenting has left on me:

Being a mother has made me a better daughter because I see more clearly how we ride on the shoulders of the people we come from and we write our stories based on the characters they were.

Helping little people manage their emotions has made me better at emotional Aikido because I’ve learned not to block feelings but instead move their energy past me.

Seeing the unmarred canvass of babies has made me want to be a better human because I want to heal all my wounds and oddities so I don’t pass them along.

Witnessing the miracle of birth and children has strengthened my faith because I’ve seen that so much is outside of my control and I don’t have the time or energy to worry about it.

Creating a home with children has helped me understand what the comfort of a home is beyond cozy blankets and soft pillows. It’s the place where we unpack all our junk and sort it out with those that love us so that we don’t have to carry it with us anymore.

Raising children has made me a better citizen because I can see who is inheriting this country and earth.

Finally, becoming a parent has made me a way worse friend (because I can only listen to half of sentence without being interrupted), a terrible house cleaner and poor editor (because I only have time to write) but I’m hoping those are correctable over time.

The one last thing is something that encapsulates all the ups and downs and particulars. On one level, I wanted to have a family and because I was single and old (for motherhood), went to a fertility clinic, underwent IVF treatment and had a baby. But bigger than that, I had a dream and I began it. Now I see the power of taking a leap – the Universe does in fact make it happen.

The What If Game

The real happiness of life is…to enjoy the present, without any anxious dependence on the future.” – Seneca

I was dropping my daughter off for an outdoor class the other day and she was already a little nervous because her friend that is also signed up for the class wasn’t coming. Then we arrived and she saw that there was a substitute coach that she didn’t know as well and he had an Eastern European accent that made him a little difficult to understand. The perfect storm. Her anxiety was real and she started with the what if questions: What if he asks me to do something and I don’t understand? What if I say something and he can’t hear me because of my mask? For each question I answered, there were at least two more.

When I awoke this morning, my mind was filled with it’s own what if’s. Questions because it’s August and as I mentioned in this post listing the lessons I learned over 20 years of owning my own business, my work is always slower in August. Questions because the school year is about to start for my daughter. Questions because the Delta variant is surging.

All valid questions and the anxiety is real. But as my mind raced through all the troublesome scenarios that could happen, each of them scarier than the previous because they were building, my foot started to itch. As I reached down to scratch it, I realized that it was the only thing that was happening at that moment that I needed to attend to. From there, I just needed to find the next thing to do which was to make a cup of tea and meditate. As I write this, I still have all the questions about what the future will bring but the awareness that in this moment right now, life is actually just fine. In a few minutes I will wake up the kids and keep finding my way through the day by identifying the next thing to do.

When I was dropping my daughter off and the questions kept coming, I said to her, “I’m not going to play the what if game. You are resourceful and capable of handling this class and no matter what, it only lasts one hour.” It worked and she had a great time. I’m finding it works when I give myself that speech too.

A Safe Place

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. ‘Pooh!’ he whispered. ‘Yes, Piglet?’ ‘Nothing’ said Piglet taking Pooh’s paw, ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’ “ – A. A. Milne from The House at Pooh Corner

The other day I picked my son up from preschool and my daughter from spending an afternoon with my mom and from the instant we were in the car together, the fussing started. My daughter was covering my son’s eyes and he didn’t like that, she didn’t like her attempts at play not being well received and the crabbiness mushroomed from there.

As a mom with two young kids, I’ve thought a lot about being someone’s safe place. My kids fuss, fret and freely object with me in a way that they don’t with anyone else. Often it’s after they have been somewhere else and behaved marvelously according the reports I get, that they fuss the most. It’s as if holding themselves together comes with this letting down of the hair with me. I’m pretty patient but whining gets my goat. I don’t whine (not out loud at least) and I hate (thinking about whether there is a less potent word to be used here but nope, hate is accurate) when my kids whine. Crying, having a fit, objecting strongly – all of that I can handle but whining, especially symphonic whining that moves from one kid to the next and ARGH!!

It’s the idea of being someone’s safe place that both fascinates and saves me. In a world where it’s not possible to be happy all the time but not acceptable to express anything but happiness, safe places are where we get to act out that shadow side. Our safe people are the ones who can help us process the grime that collects during the day and practice shaking it off, sometimes by creating friction and rubbing up against others who help us shine again.

When my daughter was about 3-years-old she became very interested in the Narrator in the Winnie-the-Pooh chronicles. She wanted to know who the voice was that was providing context and integrating the story. She’d want me to pretend I had a microphone and narrate her activities. I’ve come to think of being my kid’s safe place like being that personal narrator – someone who helps them understand the bigger story around the things they are seeing and learning when out and about in the world. Someone who helps them figure out how they are feeling and reacting to it all.

Once I learned from Mark Nepo that the German root of the word friendship means place of high safety it changed how I think of that hallowed ground between friends. Because I believe we do the same thing for our friends that I do for my kids – we help each other work out our stories. We listen to the bumps, bruises, moments of awe and renewal again and again if necessary until we work out our narratives.

When I see it that way, I feel less abused by the acting out. While I’d prefer that I bring out the best in my kids, I can handle when it seems I bring out their worst. I can find grace for the fact that I’m allowing the authenticity of my kids to show and opening the opportunity to talk about our values, respect for others and ways of handling things when we are overloaded with information and activity. And when I sometimes growl, “Stop whining” which isn’t my best either I’m glad I get to work that out in my safe space too.

Out in the Open

“One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art in conducting oneself in lower regions by memory of what one has seen higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” – Rene Daumal

Last night we sat on a picnic blanket eating our umpteenth meal outside and on the go, I marveled that my kids rarely fuss when we are outside. It reminds me of a story I once heard about a Hindu sage and his apprentice.

The apprentice was constantly complaining so the sage put a handful of salt in a glass of water and said, “drink the water.” The apprentice took a drink and when the master asked how it tasted, the apprentice said, “Bitter.” Then the master took a handful of salt and put it in a lake. He asked the apprentice to drink from the lake and when the master asked how it tasted the apprentice said, “Fresh.” The master then said, “Be the lake, not the glass.”

Sitting on the picnic blanket with my kids leaning against me, a gentle breeze keeping us cool, looking up at the vivid blue sky, it was easy to be the lake. Reminded me of Ella Fitzgerald singing, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” It must be why God made summer. Having these times to practice easy living and the expansive view makes it easier to remember being the lake for all the rest.

Living Life

Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

This morning as I was enjoying my treasured quiet moments to do yoga, meditate and write, I saw that we still had the croquet wickets set up in the back yard. Before I sat down to write, I thought I’d better go pick them up. I went out the back yard, triggered the house security alarm, woke the kids up and caused the complete opposite of quiet.

So as I was cursing my stupidity and ruing that I had cut my own quiet time short, I picked up my toddler and we went into my daughter’s room and spent a delightful half hour, snuggling, calming down, telling stories, playing peek-a-boo, thumb wrestling. And once I forgave myself enough to accept the change of plans delivered directly from the Universe, I experienced a moment of pure truth that no experience is wasted.

It reminded me never to get too busy writing about life so that I miss living life.

Difficult Compassion

It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” – Mother Teresa

Recently my kids and I have had a couple of encounters with apparently homeless people that along with the proliferation of tents in the parks that came with COVID have my almost 6-year-old daughter asking a lot of questions. In one encounter, a man with a belt still tying off his arm for shooting up was hollering and trying to take off his pants and another man was threatening him with a baseball bat to emphasize that he should keep his pants on. In another, a man was crawling down the busy street near where we live with a look of sheer agony on his face and one arm outstretched.

I often am confused about how to talk with my daughter about these matters. She may only be going in to first grade but she talks like she is a 9-year-old, is very observant and asks a lot of good questions. To top it off, the homeless problem is so apparent and pervasive that I certainly don’t have any great ideas about how we are going to fix it. But we came up with an idea that she could draw something and we could make some care packages for people that we see.

Yesterday she wrote this note without any help from me:

We nowe you are homeless but we care. Sorry you are homles.

Do not smoc. Do not take drugs becus they make you feel bedder for a few minets but wen it goes a way it makes you feel wurs.

My daughter – age 5.9 years

She then started taping on extra pieces of paper so that she could continue. In addition to being fascinated about what content she’s taken in from our many discussions, I noticed how hard it is to stay in empathy before moving to advice or judgment.

The other day my friend, Doug, asked if I could remember the name of a guy we used to work with. He said something like, “You know, the guy who’s wife left him, house burned down and his dog died?” “Oh my goodness,” that’s terrible I thought and still had no idea who he was talking about. But it wasn’t long before the thought crossed my mind that this poor man really must have pissed off God.

So I know first-hand how hard it is to stay in empathy. I start moving to judgment or advice because it feels like having an explanation of why bad things happen makes me feel safer that they won’t happen to me. Understanding that tendency has helped me practice a better kind of compassion, one that tries not to presume to know the journey another person has walked but is willing to help. It haven’t gotten any less confused about how to talk about these huge problems with my kids but I think it has helped me to have more open-ended conversations with them where we can recognize the humanity of others and be curious about how we can help.

In that spirit, my daughter and I settled on just drawing hearts that say “we care” on the back. I don’t think they will solve homelessness but I do hope that they bring a moment of being seen.

Good Grief

I am becoming water; I let everything rinse its grief in me and reflect as much light as I can.” – Mark Nepo

We had to say good-bye to our beloved nanny yesterday. She is moving on to the next phase of her education and experience as it should be for 21 year-olds. But we shed a lot of tears and by we, I mean primarily me and the nanny. My toddler wasn’t dialed in to the import of the moment and my 5 year-old seemed to be distracted by the cards and posters we’d made for the nanny until the very last minute when the dam burst and all the tears came spilling out and she clung to us.

As I held my daughter in our tears, I had an instant of insight about grief that this pure grief that wasn’t tainted with any anger or regret allowed me to see. In that instant I saw how beautiful grief can be as a recognition that we all move on every day and there is something freeing about allowing that growth. It felt as if it was an act of letting go of who we all were yesterday so that we can be wholly we are today.

For me it held another aspect of grief. For almost 5 ½ years I’ve had people coming in to my house to help take care of my kids and now that they are returning to in-person school and full-time preschool, I don’t need that. But this beautiful collection of wonderful people that have cared for my kids have been my partners in parenting in so many ways – in observing my kids’ growth, in laughing about their antics, in ooh-ing and aah-ing about what they learn. I feel as if I’m grieving that community that has helped me grow as a parent. But that insight about grief holds for this too – I’m simply letting go of that so that I can lean in to the new communities we are entering.

My nanny is the daughter of my best friend from growing up. One of the bonuses of having kids when you are 50 years-old is that you have a built-in babysitting pool of college-aged kids from your beloved friends. While she isn’t going to nanny for me any longer, she isn’t going far. And that was the other thing about this grief from yesterday that I noticed. It included a recognition that this beautiful relationship that my kids have with this amazing young woman will outlast me. In the way that grieving my father has allowed me to grow into a person that inhabits him more on the inside, this relationship my kids have with my friends’ kids will carry forward without us but will always hold us near.

You Have to be Present to Win

I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” – Vincent Van Gough

When my nieces were in middle school, they went to a charter school that had a lot of fundraising events. At one auction event they invited me to, the older of my two niece’s was selling raffle tickets that were $50 each. That was really expensive but I didn’t have kids at the time, it was for a school and of course, it was my niece selling them so I bought two. The clincher was that, as if often the case with raffles, you had to be present to win.

I think of that phrase a lot in parenting – you have to be present to win. When I bought the raffle tickets I knew I’d never make it to when the raffle was announced, I wasn’t the type of person to stay long enough even before I had kids. Now I don’t have any choice but to see to the end of each day with my kids but I can choose whether or not to be present.

I know that I must not the only parent that takes an extra long time to roll the garbage can to the curb because I’m pausing in the quiet and looking up at the sky. My central nervous system gets overloaded from the activity, amplitude of emotion and state of vigilance so it feels like I can’t stay present one more moment. I just want to check out because I’m spent. My daughter is a master of asking open-ended questions right before bedtime like “What mistakes have you made, Mama?” so my strategy is to just keep things simple with one or two word sentences so I can get to the finish line. But the other night, while I was racing to the end of the day so I could have some grown-up time where I could check out by having a glass of wine or mindlessly scroll through Instagram, something reminded me of “you have to be present to win.”

My daughter was snuggled next to me in bed as I was reading Harry Potter and it was a section where Hagrid was saying that his dad taught him not to be ashamed of who he was and she asked what ashamed was. I explained it’s that feeling of not wanting to talk about something because it makes you feel yucky inside. And she said, “Like Ahti [her aunt that used to nanny for us] taking a job and not being with us any more?”

[Wow, wow, wow] I told her that I was so proud of her for telling me that she felt that way. Then she asked why Ahti had to do it and I explained that it was because she found a perfect job. And she said, “It isn’t because we were too bad and she didn’t want to be with us?”

There are moments when I absolutely need to check out and breathe and I’m trying to learn to give myself grace when I do. But I’m also trying to practice staying present so that when I’m with my kids, I’m truly with my kids. Because unlike when I bought a raffle ticket for my niece’s school, I do care about winning the prize. Not two hours with a lawyer to do estate planning or a wine tasting with five friends, but to be the person my kids trust to help them unpack the burdens they don’t need to carry.

Life at the Lake

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix

Going to the lake as a kid and going to the lake with your kids are two different things. I’ve been lucky enough to do both with a family I’ve known since I was 7 years-old. Their lake place has been for all these years the perfect place for kids to adventure, swim, inner tube, find treasure in its many forms until like my son did the other night, you can’t even keep your eyes open to read books and just want to dive into bed.

What is most remarkable to me was the way this family has made their lake place work. The parents bought it in 1973. They come back every summer as do their three daughters in my generation and their families for as much time as they can. I’m invited too as an honorary member of the family because I lived with them my senior year in high school when my dad took a sr. pastor job at a church on the other side of the state. They have created a compound where everyone can chip in according to their strengths and politely ignore each other’s weaknesses and all the members of the family have chosen to so because life at the lake is more fun together.

Every morning we were at the lake I got up early and went down to sit by the water. The scene holds so much more than just liquid. It’s all the dreams I had of what life would be when I came there as a kid. It’s all the hope that I have for my kids to grow up in a beautiful world. And it’s all the love of the family that owns this lake place – both in caring for it and for each other. It’s also a hub of connection for grandparents, parents, cousins, sisters and extended family like me. Just sitting by a body of water that holds so much filled me with the peace that comes with all that perspective and love.

I get so choked up thinking of the lifetime of friendship I have had with my dear friend and her family. And now her incredibly delightful and talented daughters have both nannied for my kids so the love spreads through the generations. Nothing better than going to the lake with my kids and discovering that it holds them as it did me, in complete awe of the way one place can hold delight for so many!