Tent Associations

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir

When my daughter told my mom’s 83-year-old gentleman friend that we were going to camp out in the backyard this weekend, he turned to me and said, “After I got out of the army, I told myself I’d never spend another night in a tent.” It seemed like a reasonable vow for him.

My friend, Phil, who was the first American to climb the north side of Everest quips that bivouac is French for mistake. It isn’t – it’s derived from a French word that means “by guard” according to Merriam Webster but since Phil had to once bivouac high up on Everest, he’s earned the right to that joke.

My association with tents comes from the first time I spent an extended amount of time in them. It was 5-week trip through Ecuador I did in college with a group. We lugged the tents up there in our backpacks and then huddled in them to stave off the cold of the Andes. I remember one of my tentmates, Ted, retelling the entire movie of Dead Calm with no interruption since we had nothing else to do. Then we sweltered in the humidity of the Amazon jungle in tents where we squished ants and spiders and talked about our dreams of what we’d be when we were full-fledged adults. I can still replay my tentmate, Lisa, talking at length of how great an ice cube would feel sliding over her forehead. We’d take to our tents every afternoon on a beach near the Galapagos that had no shade and told stories about things we’d seen on the trip.

So for me, tents are not only a base for adventure but also a safe place to lie on your back and just listen. Listen to your tentmates, listen to the wind and the rain on the nylon, listen to your heart beat in a new place where nothing is familiar.  To me they smell like hard work, feel like closeness, look like a kaleidoscope view of the world outside them, taste like crappy food that you are just so grateful to be eating and sound like everything you can’t hear when you are too close to life as usual.

No wonder I’m excited about back yard camping with my little ones even though the ground feels a little harder than when I was young. It was hard to go to sleep with all the excitement and the steady rain on the tent and we only made it til 4:20am and the birds woke us up. And maybe they’ll need their own adventures before we’ll really know but I can’t wait to find out what they associate a tent with!

How about you – how do you feel about tents?

The Right Thing To Do

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

After I dropped my daughter and her friend at school yesterday, I kept driving towards my toddler’s daycare while an inner debate raged over whether I should take him to school. He had a cough that he’s 85% recovered from and never had a fever. I tested him and it wasn’t Covid. He was mostly fine but cranky enough that he’d likely not have an easy day. I could drop him off and still be within the guidelines of the school.

But I kept hearing my dad in my head saying, “If it’s the right thing to do, often it’s the hard thing to do.”

Not taking my son to daycare would definitely be the hard thing to do. It was a Monday morning and I had a day packed with work and things to get done. After spending a weekend primarily focused on my children, I was more than ready to switch gears to productivity.

Pondering why the right thing to do is often the hard thing to do, I think it’s because it requires a sacrifice. We give up our plans in order to help someone else. We give up our pride in order to say we are sorry. Or we are giving up the expected path in order to find a deeper answer.

But on the other hand, we gain a freedom of spaciousness within ourselves. It’s a little like telling the truth all the time and then you don’t have to remember all the lies you told. It’s also like forgiveness – where you free up that energy that you no longer have to hang on to. It’s got a payoff in inner unity and less worry.

When I turned the car for home instead of his daycare, I felt the reward immediately because I was listening to my inner voice. In this case it was the voice of my dad but it was also the voice of the wisdom within.

Listening to that voice is never easy because it always makes me wonder if I’m crazy to give up my plans to follow it. But I’ve found when I do, it always puts me into the Heart of life where I can be surprised by the joy. In this case, the joy of an uncomplicated day with my son.

What about you – is the right thing to do is often the hard thing to do?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Looking for Evidence

Remember it is who you are that heals not what you know.” – Carl Jung

Yesterday I came across some notes I jotted on my phone of books that my brother recommended the last time we were together.

I adore my brother. He’s 6-years-older than I am and has been the sibling that I’ve looked up to since I learned how to look up. I’ve lived near him my entire adult life, I was very close with his daughters when they were growing up and now he’s very close with my kids. There was even a time 20 years ago when I worked for my brother at his company.

So I think it’s safe to say we have a natural affinity for one-another – we have lovely conversations, enjoy our time together and have stuck together through the ups-and-downs of life.

But I can’t name a single book that I recommended to my brother that he has read. And he reads all the time so it isn’t because he doesn’t like to read. Same goes for podcasts, tv shows (back when I watched tv) and spiritual practices like meditation.

It’s taken me a lot of growing up to be able to say with certainty that it isn’t because I’m his younger sister. I know he thinks I’m smart and he respects me.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has looked for evidence that they matter in the lives of the people close to them. I’m thinking of a comment I once heard a husband tell me that his wife had to vote exactly the same way on a ballot which surprised me for an independent couple.

When my brother eulogized my dad he described my dad’s ability to “meet you where you were at without leaving where he was at.” Coming back to that helps me remember that hearts are the center of friendships, not heads. The work of love is to meet each other so we all know we aren’t walking alone. Instead of looking for the ways I’ve influenced my brother, perhaps I should just count all the miles we’ve walked together.

 I ended up not checking out any of the books on the list from my brother. Not because he doesn’t read mine, but because I like it when he tells me the stories of what he’s read and where’s he been. It gives us something to talk about when our hearts meet.

Do the people in your lives read the books or content that you recommend? Does it matter?

Selective Hearing

The years teach much which the days never knew.” – unknown

Have you heard the advice that Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave to Jennifer Lopez about relationships? It was something like, “It’s good to be a little deaf sometimes.”

I’ve been working on practicing that lately. My daughter snapped at me yesterday first thing in the morning for waking her first or not getting her brother up first, I can’t remember which. Whichever it was, I’m quite certain it needed no response.

Here is the list of times that are usually the best candidates for being deaf in my house:

  • First thing in the morning
  • When anyone is hungry, cold or tired
  • Anytime someone is sick
  • When excitement because a friend has arrived is at its fevered pitch
  • Last thing at night

I’m working on my own balance of when things need to be addressed. Maybe it’s 10 days of being together with no interruption but I’m finding less retort and more love is more effective. It’s not that I’m abdicating in my role as a parent, just that I’m saving my breath for our quieter moments.

My beloved dog, Biscuit, went selectively deaf as he got older. Somehow he couldn’t hear me calling him when he was sniffing something with great interest. But he never failed to hear the sound of the food hitting his metal bowl. I’m starting to think that deafness might not an infirmity that comes with age. Instead it seems it’s a sign of wisdom.

Shared Activities

Things are always in transition. Nothing ever sums itself up the way we dream about.” – Pema Chodron

On weekdays, my toddler and I have a precious half hour alone together between when I drop his sister at school and when I take him to daycare. What we do in that time is continually changing. First it was going to Starbucks and then sitting outside to eat popcorn. Next it was touring parking garages and then we had a short time where we went to a shopping plaza and rode the outdoor escalators. Currently, we go on the freeway a short distance to check on diggers and construction sites. My mom asked me how I know what a 2-year-old wants to do.

That question makes me think about how we negotiate shared activities with any friend, partner or family member. Generally speaking, don’t we watch what they like to do, check to see if it’s something we’d be willing to do and then ask? It’s why I do yard work with my mom, lunch with my friend Melinda, bike with Eric and hike with Sue.

And what might be more interesting is how we change what we do with people when it no longer suits us. Do we say it directly? Or just make what feels old impossible? Or do we listen to all that isn’t said and somehow negotiate a different pattern?

I answered my mom that I’ve changed up what I do with my son based on the clues he gives me. Sometimes it’s a word, he points at something, gives me a “no” or expresses curiosity. And it’s filtered through what I feel is reasonable and doable.

Every once in a while I feel a shudder of fear for what I’ll do when the thing we are doing doesn’t work any longer. But I get over it when I realize that we are infinitely creative and will work something else out. Once I accept that it will change, I’m much more open to listening to the clues of what we should transition to.

It feels to me like the fertile ground we negotiate with everyone in our lives. It works best when we create a space that interests and engages both parties and that leaves some space for change.

Say More

You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life and what you’ve become yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The other day I was having a conversation with an acquaintance that I know professionally. She was sharing her concerns for her younger son who is starting his freshman year of college 3,000 miles away. Trying to find the balance between listening well and not prying, I remembered a prompt that I’d picked up from a Brene Brown podcast, “Say more.”

It works like a can opener! I’m a pretty good listener but since I think the art of listening always can be improved, I’m always trying to expand two things to make me better: curiosity and space.

My acquaintance was telling me that her son got a nose ring and was trying out partying. Her story had two threads. One was a little bit of a mother’s grief because she thought she knew who her son was and thought that he did too. And who he was, a smart geek, didn’t match with his freshman year antics.

The second was her effort to be open supportive of her son as he grew and changed. As he texts her updates about what he’s doing, she is trying to find the right balance of how to respond. In many ways, she said she wished he wasn’t telling her because she was having to walk the line of condoning what he was doing.

Curiosity and space. It’s what her son is experiencing in these first months of college. It’s what my friend is trying to give her son. It was what I was trying to give her so that she could vocalize her story. Two gifts that allow us to change and to still say more.

(featured image from Pexels)

Substitutes

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” – Rumi

The other day my 6-year-old was uncharacteristically quiet so I asked her what she was thinking about. She said, “I’m counting the number of times I’ve had a substitute.” Given that she only attended in-person Kindergarten for about 10 weeks last year, the number is low (four but it was the same one twice so I count it as three 😊 ) but this is the scares her about school.

It makes me think of all the times when I’ve either expressed my fears to someone else or been the person listening to a loved ones fears. It seems like there are three possible outcomes for me when I communicate what scares me: I can feel better, feel not heard or feel worse. Generally speaking, I feel better when I can tease out what is really bothering me and see it in a bigger context, I feel not heard when my fears are dismissed and I feel worse when the person I’m talking to adds their crap to the pile.

On the other side as a listener, I feel like I’m on the tip of understanding something monumental about how we hold each other. I’m pretty naturally and also by profession a good problem solver. But if I go to that, I often miss the point when someone expresses a fear. Because aren’t our fears often teaching us something about what is coming next for us or what we are presently learning? Like when I fear a bogeyman, it’s because I feel powerless and when I fear failure it’s because I’m taking a meaningful risk.

So when I’m listening these days, I try to imagine being a lake. Big enough so that when someone adds their load, it doesn’t overflow the edges. Clear enough so others can see the bottom. Accepting enough to hold someone when they need to float.

School starts tomorrow for my daughter. Given that COVID it brought added awareness that when we are sick we need to stay home, she’s probably going to have a substitute more than 4 times this year. Knowing that, all I could do was listen to why she doesn’t like having substitutes and tease out what it means. It’s the unexpected, it’s a fear of having to prove herself to someone new, it’s the fear that there might be expectations that she might not know. Put like that, it’s what I fear too, so we made an agreement to hold hands and face our fears together.

Listening, the Next Generation

The art of conversation lies in listening.” – Malcom Forbes

I’ve been discovering the joys of carpooling 6-year-olds this week. As we’ve driven the 25 minutes to camp, my daughter and her friend have been sitting in the back telling jokes and commentating on the things we see.

Her friend, a boy she went to both co-op preschool and now elementary school with, isn’t as quick with words as she is. So early in the week, we were playing a game where we were naming things in a category (like name how many places you’ve been to on vacation) and I found myself continually jumping into the conversation to remind him of words and answers he might have been searching for. I was afraid he wouldn’t ever get a fair chance given my daughter’s ability to rapidly pounce into any silence.

This phase of parenthood where I don’t always have to be the entertainer is both restful and fascinating to me. It seems so sudden that it’s upon us even though that’s probably just because we missed a good part of a year and a half being with other kids. As I pondered this, I realized I was struggling to just listen to my daughter figuring out how to listen.

It’s taken me a good part of 50 years to learn how to listen and I’m still working on it. To delay that part of myself that wants to jump in, ask questions, prove I’m listening, prove I’m worthy, or tell my story long enough to let my heart soak in what the other person is saying before responding. And also to find the quiet in myself so that I can hear the small insistent voice of the Divine when it speaks. Now, in the insidious nature of life taking lessons to the next level, I have to learn to just sit back and listen as my kids figure out the same knowing it could take them equally as long.

Yesterday as we drove, my daughter came up with this game where she put a ring in each of her hands and her friend had to guess which one was in which. After she’d done a couple of rounds, I so badly wanted to jump in and tell her to give her friend a turn but I stayed quiet. And a little while later her friend spoke up that he wanted to a chance to do the hiding. I’ve found a new delight in the art of listening: creating space for others to find their voice.

Privilege

The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.” – Mother Teresa

On many nights, my almost 6-year-old daughter comes in the middle of the night to climb in bed with me. I have a big bed so it doesn’t bother me. From what I can tell she isn’t scared or having trouble sleeping, she’s just woken up and decided that it would be easier or more fun to go back to sleep in my bed. Then we came back from a vacation where we’d shared a bed she wanted to spend that first night home starting out in my bed. One night stretched to three nights and then it happened – the night where she didn’t even ask before she assumed she could start in my bed.

In less than a week a privilege became a right, or at least an assumption. I think about this as I grapple to identify my white privilege. It’s something I’ve had for my whole life so naming what is so endemic to my experience is difficult. Until I start listening to experiences of black people and realize that the access, the safety and the assumption of equity I have had are privilege. I’ve heard from other white people that they have worked so hard for what they have and don’t doubt that’s true, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t privileged. I’m starting to see that it’s so many things in the day-to-day experience that I don’t have to worry about so that I can just focus on education and work that is privilege to name just one. I don’t imagine that my ponderings are changing the world or that I’m even getting it right. But it seems like I have no hope of being a part of changing this unfairness or the dialogue unless and until I see the system. The way I figure it’s like in relationships, good happens when we are willing to look at what isn’t working and start to say “this has to change” and the more people, the better it goes.

I asked my daughter what her brother who sleeps in a crib thinks about her getting to sleep in my bed. She said that he probably doesn’t care. I told her it’s not fair for her to start in my bed if he doesn’t too. Today I can, at the very least, start the conversation for this next generation to understand that unless everyone gets it, it is not something we can assume, it’s a privilege and we have to figure out how to share it.

The Power of Curiosity

“If you see the soul in every living being, you see truly.” – The Bhagavad Gita

My five-year-old daughter kills snails. Let me pause here and say that it’s not a serial-killer-in-training kind of thing where she tortures and then decapitates them or something like that. It’s very well-intentioned interference in their life where she builds these very elaborate snail houses with pools and vegetation and then stocks them with snails. But then she’ll put them directly in the sun or forget to refill the water and oops, another snail is dead. One of my friends gave her a Bug Hotel terrarium and she put so many unfortunate snails in there that I started to call it the Bates Motel.

I have a friend who does a similar thing with humans (the help thing, not the killing thing). She doles out well-intentioned help to people that she believes need an upgrade in their circumstances. Unfortunately it sometimes backfires when people feel like they are projects and don’t absorb the help they are given.

I recently listened to this Dare to Lead podcast with Brene Brown and Michael Bungay Stanier that talked about the pitfalls of giving advice – the person with a problem may not accurately know what the problem is, any solution that you offer might not solve the root issue and even if you have the perfect solution, it can undercut their ownership of solving the problem themselves. Michael Stanier’s advice was to stay curious a little bit longer.

This seems to be a common theme in the content I’m listening to and reading these days – the power of curiosity. Asking open-ended questions like “how can I help?” and “what makes you think that?” and “say more” changes the nature of the conversation. Curiosity brings the power of mindfulness to an interaction and is a gateway for openness, an antidote to judgment. If we believe that we don’t have enough time to have these conversations, think about how much time it takes to solve problems again and again because we didn’t get it right the first time.

I’m finding curiosity a great tool for parenting because kids have so much of it. I could continue to slip out at night and free the snails or I can flat out tell her not to capture them but both of those solutions undermine her ability to see the soul in everything. Because of course this is not just about my daughter and snails, it’s about our agency in this world and learning not to destroy it. I’m hopeful as we research about whether snails grow out of their shells, what leaves they like best and how long they usually live that we can connect more deeply with compassion for others and retire the Bates Motel.