Monday, December 20, 2010

A Christmas Horse

When I was a little girl, every year I asked Santa for a horse. Every year I believed wholeheartedly that he would bring me one. I knew, from the age of 4--thanks to 5 older brothers--that our parents, not Santa, brought gifts. Still, part of me believed there was a Santa, and he would bring me a horse. That part of me still exists, except now it believes when I buy a lottery ticket, I am going to win.

Each Christmas, though I was happy with my toys and clothes, I harbored a secret heartbreak that Santa didn't bring my horse. One year my dad must have glimpsed my disappointment and asked me why I wasn't happy. I told him that I must not have been good because Santa didn't bring my horse. My dad, who could be a scary and intimidating person a lot of the time, pulled me up into his lap and said that Santa couldn't bring me a horse because we lived in the city, and it was illegal to have a horse in the city. I understood then and was no longer disappointed. In fact, I never asked for a horse again. I didn't want to break the law.

This was the same dad, who once walked in from work, found my brother's gym bag lying near the back door, and threw it across the kitchen knocking a boiling pot of chili all over the kitchen floor. Lazy nincompoops just drop their shit wherever they feel like. The dad, who after I had burned my feet on the still-burning-hot charcoal he'd dumped into the driveway, beat me soundly for walking outside without shoes. What kind of idiot goes outside without shoes? A four-year-old. My dad, who beat each of my brothers so consistently and so severely over the years that on many occasions they plotted his death.

That same guy told me Santa couldn't bring me a horse because we lived in the city. He also went on a mad bee-killing spree, determined to drive bees into extinction, because one stung my brother. And once, when I had a high fever and was hallucinating that there were tigers attacking me, he went to war armed with a pillow and a handkerchief to slay the tigers only I could see. My mom held me and told me the tigers weren't there, while my dad leaped and swung at them, telling my mom, "You can't tell her they aren't there. She SEES them!!"

Over the years I found it difficult to reconcile the two different people my dad was. I spent a lot of years being angry with him. But now, I understand him better because I see in myself the same two people. I love my children so much I would slay imaginary tigers, lie awake worrying about their broken hearts or broken arms, sleep next to them when they're sick, spend every dollar I make to give them everything they need and want. Yet, last week, after witnessing her boyfriend's family in a fight, Chloe laughed and said, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure my mom would put all of them to shame." That's my claim to fame: My mom's crazier than yours. And she's right. On any given day, despite my overwhelming love for them, I am fully capable of throwing a gym bag across the kitchen and knocking the chili off the stove.

I wonder if someday my kids will try to reconcile the crazy mom with the mom who loved and comforted them. I hope they remember the times that I held them and cheered for them and encouraged their dreams more than times I yelled and screamed. I hope they remember the fun we had decorating the cookies more than my cursing and throwing the imperfect ones. I hope that they know that despite my shortcomings I tried not to be good, but to be the best mother. And mostly, I hope that living with and loving a flawed mom helps them to look at people with kindness and empathy. Because I think that everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have. I'm grateful for my flawed dad. Knowing and loving him help me to look at others--and even on rare occasions myself--with compassion.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The dead horse called...

I didn't want to write any more about smoking. But that's really been all that's on my mind. Not smoking affords you a lot of extra time. Time that you can use to think--or write--about smoking. I used to think if only the day had a few extra hours: My floors would be spotless, my laundry clean and folded, each child satisfied from "quality one-on-one" time.

Since I have had enough spare time to figure out just how much time I spent smoking (approximately 2 hours a day, in case you were wondering), my day now has a couple extra hours. Still, my floors are dirty. My laundry is in piles and hampers. I have eaten nearly all the kids' Halloween candy. But since I did it while they were at school, I don't think that counts as quality time.

However, I have analyzed a lot of things, made a lot of lists, and followed lots of scents around the house with my newly discovered bloodhound sense of smell. My mom told me, "That's why people gain weight when they quit smoking, because they can smell so much better." I nodded politely and muttered under my breath. Mostly I've been on the trail of phantom vile smells that don't make me hungry. And mostly I've been eating because the pantry is on the way to the garage. Since I can't go to the garage and smoke, I stop at the pantry and eat.

I didn't think too much about all that pantry eating until two days ago when I put on a pair of jeans that were too tight. They've never fit right, but I hold on to them. And they're not the kind of jeans that would fit right even if I lost 10 pounds. They are just not designed for my body type. So I don't really know why I keep them. It is not as if my body is going to change that much. At the very best shape of my adult life, after 90 days of Tony Horton hell, they still didn't fit right. "THROW THEM AWAY!!!" But I keep them. Put them on occasionally so they can kick me when I'm all ready down. Wow, there's a whole case study worth of issues going on in those jeans!

But that wasn't the point. Yesterday, I put on a pair of my regular comfortable jeans, and they were tight and uncomfortable. First thought: a dryer conspiracy. Then I stepped on the scale to see a number 5 pounds higher than the number I normally see. Shit. I guess my body did register those 800 mini chocolate bars even though I was standing up when I was ate them and barely chewed.

So, I guess there are pros and cons like everything else. Everyone says there are no cons to quitting smoking, but this growing-bigger-by-the-day ass of mine begs to differ. Yes, I'm being vain and trivial, but it's my ass. I put a lot of stipulations on this whole quitting smoking thing, so I have high hopes. I still can't run without getting winded; I had expected that within a week. I still have wrinkles; I was expecting them to vanish. I can still see my pores; I had expected them to shrink.

Yet I plug away. Because I am so happy that I can smell Chloe's perfume lingering in the air after she leaves for school. Comforted by the shampoo and toothpaste smell of freshly showered P, when he snuggles up with me. Grateful for Lily's warm milk and sleep smell, when she first wakes up. Coffee brewing...well, I could always smell that, but now it almost reaches into my bed with it's warm fragrant arm--like that old commercial?--and lifts me out. Not happy about all the stinky things I was blissfully unaware of before. But the good definitely outweighs the bad.

And today, this minute, the good outweighing the bad, is enough to keep me from smoking.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Spinning Heads

Today I am not smoking. That's premature. This minute, I am not smoking. I figure my blood pressure is probably close to normal because on any other given morning I would have had at least 4 cigarettes by now. One when I first get up, with my coffee, another before I wake the kids up, another after the kids eat breakfast and go upstairs to get ready, another after they leave for school. This morning, I have had none.

Over the last 16 years, I've probably tried to quit smoking 20 times or more. Using various interventions. Well, the only physical intervention I used was the patch, but I've played lots of mental games to try to quit. I've cut back, smoking only on the weekends, only when I drink, limiting myself to a certain number of cigarettes a day, not smoking in front of the kids, etc. etc. etc. Since I'm writing this, it's needless to say none of those approaches have been successful.

Pregnancy worked once. It made me sick to smoke when I was pregnant with Chloe, so I stopped easily. With Peyton, it did not make me sick. I cut back but didn't quit. Before I got pregnant with Lily, I had quit smoking for 6 months. The stress of the surprise pregnancy led me to start smoking again. Ashamed. Hiding it. But smoking. What kind of monster smokes when she's pregnant? Only a horrible, horrible person, right? I don't think I'm a monster or a horrible person. I love my children with every ounce of my being. I smoked when I was pregnant. How do you reconcile that?

I am very honest with myself. I no longer say, "I could quit whenever I want. I just choose to smoke. I enjoy it. It helps me relax." That may be true for any number of "social smokers;" I am a full-blown addict. As I sit here writing, my brain is saying, "You could have just one cigarette..." I imagine this must be what it's like for all addicts. Lured by a needle, a line, a bottle, or in my case a cigarette.

The last time I tried to quit, I read a book, because that's what I do. Most crises in my life drive me not to church or to a bar but straight to the library. Anyway, the book talk-therapied you through the quitting process. Examined all the bad things about smoking, reminding smokers that those "good things" are just a trap to keep you addicted. All true. All good points. I didn't smoke for several days and decided that I'd overcome my addiction to nicotine and would reward myself with a cigarette. Really? Addicts everywhere just laughed at me, with me, whatever.

My kids have given up on me. They used to beg me to quit, come home after anti-smoking programs at school begging me to quit, fearful that I was going to die. Several years ago, Chloe left a butterfly-shaped post-it on my steering wheel that said, "You have a beautiful heart but black lungs." It hurt my heart. I hung it in the kitchen among other motivational quotes and notes and continued to smoke. Feeling ever more guilty about it. It still hangs there. I still smoke. And every time I see it, it stabs me in the heart.

People talk about how they just quit. My best friend just quit. Brad's grandma just quit. Lots of people you ask, "How did you quit?" Their response is, "I just quit." No intervention. Brad is talking about getting Chantix, but he said he didn't want me to take it because of reports that some people have developed suicidal thoughts while taking it. That simultaneously pissed me off and made me feel very cherished. I would hate to think I'd kill myself over a cigarette, but I understand his concern. Sometimes things get blown out of proportion in my world.

So I'm writing this, thinking I'll have a cigarette when I'm done. Just one before Lily wakes up. That will be okay. No, it's not okay. The talk therapy book stressed that once you make the decision to quit, you can never have just one cigarette. Never. Ever. Makes sense. Alcoholics can't have just one drink. They don't quit being alcoholics and become social drinkers.

Still it makes my head spin like when I was a little girl in Catechism. The teacher spoke of eternity: If you're good children, you spend eternity with God in paradise. That scared me, not God or paradise, but eternity. Going on and on and on and on without end.

Never. Ever. Smoking. Again. Makes my head spin.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I never much liked statistics

Once I fell in love with a boy, who looked so long and so deeply into my eyes that he found tiny brown flecks I didn't even know existed floating amidst the blue. A boy who chased me when I ran, held me tightly when he caught me, and trudged painstakingly beside me with a flashlight through the dark. He showed me what love felt like, and when he walked away smashed my heart into jagged shards.

But then I fell in love with another boy. He didn't notice the brown flecks, or the dimple that appeared only when I made a disgruntled face. He didn't chase me or hold me too tightly.
He didn't fight for me and despite my antagonistic nature tried not to fight with me. But he slowly picked up the pieces of my heart, and painstakingly reassembled them like a puzzle, lovingly smoothing out the rough edges. He didn't need a flashlight because his own spirit shone brightly enough to lead us both through the dark. And when I get lost, muddling around to find my way, he stands patiently and silently shining until I find my way back.

Now when people tell me that my daughter shouldn't "get too serious" with her boyfriend, I understand their concern. She's young and should live life and have fun. Enjoy different experiences so that she doesn't feel as if she missed out on anything. I understand, from a detached perspective, because though I only ever loved two boys--and still love one of them--I don't feel I missed out on anything.

When our friends were partying through college, we were working, paying rent, going to school at night, and raising our daughter. Sure our experiences were different, but I wouldn't trade mine for theirs.

When some of our friends were experimenting with drugs and different sexual partners, we were Ambesol'ing sore teething gums, changing diapers, and getting up in the night to soothe a cranky baby. I don't feel my life is any less gratifying because I never snorted cocaine or contracted chlamydia.

When some of our friends were meeting people in bars, looking for the right one, we were snuggling on the couch watching movies, content in having all ready found each other. I do believe people come into your life for a reason, and we all should experience new and interesting people. But I have a plethora of interesting and inspiring people surrounding me, and I didn't meet any of them in a bar.

So when people tell my baby that she shouldn't get too serious, I understand their concern. But I also know that finding the person of your dreams in high school is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe in everlasting love. I have it. Do I want her to take the same road I did? No. It has been a hard, bumpy road filled with potholes and sharp curves, and I want her to cruise through life on Easy Street. Do I think it would be tragic if she did follow my path? No. Your experiences may help describe you, but they don't have to define you.

Statistically speaking, high-school-sweetheart-marriages don't last. Statistically speaking, having a child before you're married significantly lowers the chances of your marriage lasting. Statistically speaking, children born to unwed parents under the age of 25 will do poorly in school. Twenty years, and three smart, happy, healthy, amazing kids later, we may be rare--though I do know a few other families just like us--but we are not a statistic.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Just Be

When I look in the mirror the person I see doesn't really resemble my actual appearance. My mirror reflects an awkward girl who was "too tall" ever to be a decent gymnast. Obviously, I'm not tall, but I tower over Mary Lou Retton, my childhood idol. Looking back at me is a woman who is "big-boned" and "doesn't have the eating habits of a thin person," because my freakishly tiny mother unwittingly instilled those beliefs. There is frizzy hair with roots needing highlights--okay, everyone sees that. Eyes that aren't blue enough, a nose that isn't small enough, lips that aren't full enough, thighs that aren't thin enough, breasts saggy from nursing three babies, a quick temper, too little patience, and the list goes on and on.

But when I look deeper, I see love. My heart overflows with love for my friends, family, and especially for my husband and children. Unconditional, passionate, protective, unapologetic love. The kind that brings me to tears sometimes because I just don't know what else to do with the overwhelming emotion other than to let it spill from my eyes. And empathy. So strong that sometimes I must consciously ask myself if it's my feelings plaguing me or someone else's.

Many people don't see that when they look at me. Some call me a bitch or a snob. Say that I'm superficial, mean, nasty. I admit to being all of those things and more at one time or another, but I've tried very hard to right my wrongs. Apparently I haven't succeeded, or I'm not as self-aware as I strive to be, since I don't understand what drives people to these perceptions. So I try harder to show them what a good person I am. Strangers, acquaintances, PTO moms, other drivers. Why do I need their approval?

Most of my life, I have tried to make people happy. To be whom I thought others wanted me to be. I succeeded in many ways, but not at the expense of losing pieces of my identity. I could be a chameleon fitting into whatever environment I was thrown: soccer mom, party girl, student, professional. And to some degree, we all do that. But several years ago when I stopped working, stopped going to school, and became "just" a wife and mother, I was left wondering: With all these supporting roles stripped away, who am I?

I'm not sure. I'm not sure I need to know anymore. I try to be who God put me here to be. I try to be a good mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, and person. I try to be kind and compassionate and non-judgmental. I fall short all the time. In this moment, I am trying to quit focusing on who I think I should be, who others think I am, and trying just to be. Just be me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

There, I said it.

Suicide, a noun, meaning to take one's own life, is one of those words that provokes very strong reactions. Like vagina. Simply say vagina in "polite" company, and people become noticeably uncomfortable, avert their gaze, fidget and so forth. Really? If you say arm, leg, even penis, people don't react that way, but vagina...oooooohh, that's dirty.

Vagina, vagina, vagina. Suicide doesn't sound that bad now, does it? Over the past 13 years, since my brother committed suicide, I have said the word many times. My brother died. How? He committed suicide. Most times, that is followed by an uncomfortable awkward silence and the abrupt end of the conversation. Unless I'm feeling particularly antagonistic and continue to engage the person squirming to get away from me before they catch the suicide virus, or whatever they're afraid is going to happen.

So, when my friend posted about writing LOVE on your arm in support of Suicide Awareness and Prevention week (September 5-11) I leaped at the opportunity. I wrote it on my arm, the kids' arms, and some of my friends even wrote it on their arms. A few people asked me about it, I explained, and mostly, they squirmed.

Raised as a Catholic, I was taught that "suicides" go to hell. In the movie, What Dreams May Come, after her suicide, Annabella Sciorra goes to a dark, scary place. Once someone asked me how I could live every day knowing my brother's soul was in hell. I don't, by the way, live that way. And it's probably one of the worst things you could say to someone who lost a loved one to suicide.

It's just not something "nice" people talk about, my mom told me once. What about if "nice" people's sons commit suicide; then can you talk about it?

In my counseling classes, we were taught to identify suicidal ideology in clients: to see the signs, to hear the clues, to gauge the seriousness of the situation. Ask how much a person has thought about it; find out if they have a plan, if they've attempted suicide before. In fact we talked a LOT about suicide. It wasn't a dirty word there.

When my brother committed suicide, the worst part for me was imagining his being so sad. Feeling so lonely and desperate ... as if he had nowhere to turn ... as if we, and the world, would be better off without him. That ate at me for years. The fact that we were all right here loving him was not enough to save him. The thought of his sadness overwhelming his coping mechanisms, waves of depression washing away the lifelines we held, nearly destroyed me.

I've heard when someone you love commits suicide, they die once, and you die a thousand times. Asking why, wondering what you could have done to prevent it, analyzing every conversation for signs you missed, over and over and over until you're nearly crazy. When I hear of someone committing suicide, I want to hug their family. I want to tell them they're not alone. I want to say: There are more of us who understand and share your pain, and to us it's not taboo.

For all those who write LOVE on their arms in remembrance of a lost loved one or in support of someone who lost a loved one, thank you. You did a brave thing. And for those of you who did it for me, and for my brother, I love you and cannot even express how much that means to me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Look Up

Lots of experiences in life can change you, if you let them. The simplest event can make a huge difference. One person, one place, one conversation can set your life on a different path. This past month, I am grateful to have experienced several life-changing moments.

Visiting Lilydale several years ago, I was tingling with excitement. Getting a reading with a medium, drinking wine, having philosophical conversations with really bright women and one super-brilliant man was a great experience. This visit, though still filled with the above elements, was life-altering, in a different way.

Most mothers agree that having a baby is one of--if not the--most life-changing moments. Once you have a child, nothing is ever the same. But almost before the afterglow fades, you're off and running breastfeeding, changing diapers, recording first steps, taking pictures, kissing boo-boos, having more babies, shuttling to cheerleading, football, basketball, soccer, and so forth, and enjoying most moments along the way. Unfortunately sometimes in the midst of this, you switch to auto-pilot. You do and do and do and do and don't look up.

This weekend, I looked up. And I saw my beautiful daughter in a whole different light. Where there had been a tiny precocious child, there was now an elegant young woman. Where there had been bones, there were curves. Where there had been dancing excitement and giddiness in her sparkly eyes, there was now a quiet look of knowledge and experience. Though there are still glimpses of that little girl, giggles and bursts of excitement and the occasional lapse in judgement and naivete, she is mostly grown. I still hold her on my lap, but now I have grown up conversations with her. I still snuggle up in her bed with her and smoothe her hair, but now I ask her opinion on important subjects and trust her guidance and advice. She will always be my baby, but she has become my best friend too.

This weekend, I looked up, really looked up, and saw my first-born child, almost grown, and it made me wonder who hit the fast forward button on my life. Where did the time go? In just two years, she will go to college and start her own life. While I am so proud of what a wonderful person she has become, the thought that she's only mine for such a brief time hit me in a gut-wrenchingly real way.

So today, I will hug all of my children a little tighter, because they are and will in the blink of an eye be teetering on the edge of adulthood, poised to start their own lives. And I hope that I continue to remember to look up while they are still right here where I can see them.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Do you take this person to be your spouse...

in good times and in bad? Through mental breakdowns and suicides? Through graduate school and dying cats? Through unplanned pregnancies and job loss? Through fights and disagreements and angry words and offhand accusations? Through potty training and dating and breakups? Through broken glasses and broken vases and broken bowls and broken rear view mirrors and broken air conditioning?

in sickness and in health? Through Alzheimer's and broken hips? Through broken baby arms and broken teenage hearts? Through dialysis and parasites? Through vomiting and diarrhea and pneumonia and rsv? Through spinal headaches and blood patches? Through PMS?

for richer or for poorer? Through two incomes and one kid? Through frivolity and crazy spending? Through maxed out credit cards and cash advances? Through bill collectors and bankruptcy? Through crazy repo-men? Through, "We only have $20 for the next two weeks"?

Probably if the late minister had laid out just a few of the conditions behind those all-encompassing vows, we would have run as fast as we could in opposite directions. Who would knowingly sign up for that? The bottom line is we did sign up. And we keep at it every day, knowing that the future holds more good times, more sadness, more trials and tribulations that will test us and make us question our choices.

Today, I question nearly everything I do, say, wear, decide, dream and so forth. I don't question saying, "Yes," to all the knowns and unknowns that came along with marrying Brad Bell. That is one--perhaps the only--decision I know with absolute certainty was right.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reconciliation

Most days, I think of myself as a pretty good person. Not in an egotistical way, but in a doing the right thing most of the time and feeling more than the appropriate amount of guilt when I fall short way. I strive for selflessness, to put others' feelings, wants, and needs before my own, and try to be kind and compassionate to everyone with whom I meet and interact.


Unfortunately, under certain circumstances, I find myself feeling--not necessarily acting--completely contary to this persona I have worked so hard to build and maintain. Usually, these episodes are brought about by family of origin interactions. It takes but one simple action or statement, and I have regressed from the evolved and educated person I have tried to become to the spoiled, bratty, youngest child I was.


Growing up the youngest of seven children, with older parents, I learned not to be too needy, as no one really had the energy to deal with me. While I wasn't really one of those hey-look-at-me kids, a big part of me really wanted someone to look at me, and that has caused all sorts of turmoil my whole life.

Even now, as I aspire to put my own needs second to my husband's, my children's, even my friends' and extended family's, there is a part of me that still struggles with "Hey, Look at ME!" I repress that, ignore it, and occasionally engage it, only to feel terribly guilty afterwards.

So what to do about that? Selfishness is and always has been a big trigger for me, and I have read and studied enough to know this is because I'm unable to address my own selfishness. But I'm not sure how to address it without destroying all the work I've done over the last 10 years to make myself a better person. Even now, if I do something that I've designated a selfish act--buy something frivolous, go out without my husband or kids, sleep in, go to the library by myself--the guilt that wracks me afterward isn't worth the small thrill I felt while engaging my id.

Apparently, I just need to keep trying. I have noticed that over the past several years, fewer things and people trigger this reaction in me, but when they do...it's colossal.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Boys, you might just want to stop here...

Have you heard of a miraculous procedure known as the uterine ablation--codename Novasure? Chances are if you are a woman in your late 30's you have, at least once. Perhaps by someone who said, "I had this procedure, and it's wonderful, and I haven't had a period since!" At least, that was how I heard about it.

Having suffered through crazy cycles, and anemia-inducing heavy periods, on and off for more than 20 years, I checked into it. After examining my issues--at 35, I was down to about a week per month without either pms or a period--my doctor gave me the options of hysterectomy or ablation.

Hysterectomy scared me. Abdominal surgery at 21 was one thing, but at 35, I'd never have a flat stomach again. And, I apologize to anyone who has been through this procedure, as I certainly am not trivializing it. That was just my initial thought.

So I opted for the ablation, after assuring the medical staff I didn't want any more children. Three's good, thank you. Actually two was perfect. Three pushed me dangerously close to the edge. Four would most likely put me in an early grave. I digress. The whole procedure was a breeze. Basically one day of downtime, no pain--actually the uterine biopsy was the most painful part, and that was very mild--and I was free from periods forever!

Or not. My doctor had advised that periods might continue for the first few months. And they did. They were much lighter, mind you, I no longer felt as if I needed a bi-monthly transfusion. But the first few months ran into a year. And the year has now turned into two and a half. Most women would have called the doctor by now. I don't want to rush into anything. After all it's a big improvement, and I am really grateful for that. And I know that the next step is a hysterectomy, which now scares me for reasons beyond the flatness of my stomach.

So for the past two days, I have eaten nearly everything in the house, preparing my burned up uterus for a fetus that won't be moving in. I have downloaded a period tracker app to my iPod and begun carrying "supplies"--always good for an uncomfortable giggle at the baseball field when Lily pulls a tampon out of my purse. I have contemplated calling my doctor but have not. I have listened to the stories of several friends, who had the same procedure with great success and shamefully felt a slight "why didn't it work for me" pang. And now, I have written about it, making it, in fact, real.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm Mary, and I'm a _____aholic

Insert your word of choice; I have been a lot of them: shopping, nicotine, caffeine, chocolate, Facebook--with all its alluring virtual reality. None of my addictions have been particularly serious. Some may argue about nicotine, but trust me, if you haven't experienced addiction up close and personal as I have, watch a few episodes of Intervention. Smoking ain't that bad.

However, I've often wondered why I don't get addicted to positive things. Have you seen those dedicated runners? They are out there plugging along in inclement weather, defined calf muscles glistening in the rain, snow, sleet, whatever. They are addicted. Not me. I've tried, albeit halfheartedly. Running, as most forms of exercise, holds no appeal for me. Sure I make myself move sometimes, to put off aging, to prevent the backs of my arms from swinging in the breeze, to keep my husband looking at me longingly, to avoid having to buy new clothes, but I do it begrudgingly and as moderately as possible. If I could sit on the couch with a book, a cup of coffee, and a pack of Marlboro Lights and get the same results, you'd know where to find me.

Most recently, my addiction has been self-improvement. My husband said the other day, "You work more on bettering yourself than anyone I know." Never one to take a compliment at face value without turning it around, tearing it apart, and analyzing it from ever possible angle, I began to evaluate the fervor with which I devour self-help books. I'm not really that messed up. Well, we're all messed up in some way or another, but really? I check out books by the dozen to teach me how to face fears, drop baggage, find out my true purpose in life, analyze the hidden meanings of my dreams, build my children's self-esteem, have more patience with my aging parents...get it?

So what do I do about this? I mean all this work isn't bad. I do feel as if I've improved myself in some ways. But at my core, I still am who I've always been with moderate alterations. Is it bad to do this? Is it dangerous? Is it counterproductive? I don't know, but I will definitely try to find a self-help book to figure out if I need to stop helping myself.

Monday, June 21, 2010

In the peaceful still of morning...

The sun creeps through the blinds, and the only audible sound is the steady hum of the ceiling fan or my own limbs rustling quietly against the sheets. In these moments, I sigh, stretch, and check the clock to see just how much time I will have to gather my thoughts, drink my coffee and debrief before the chatter and banter of children explodes down the steps and brings my solitude to an end.

But wait, what is that? Someone else is rustling the sheets. Ahhh, my husband, who has decided to go into work late this morning. Some mornings, I would welcome his loving caresses, happily turn into him without a second thought to my quiet time. But this morning, after a family togetherness filled lovely weekend, I feel invaded and annoyed at his presence. This morning, I was almost giddy at the thought of drinking my coffee and lazily reading about people's weekends on Facebook with no responsibilities but refilling my coffee cup or sliding the purring cat of the keyboard.

Exciting morning, I know. But I long for the few stolen moments of solitude to refuel my soul and silence the chatter in my head or at least focus long enough to hear what the chatter is about. Instead, here I am beating myself up. Who wouldn't be thrilled for a few extra, unexpected moments with the man of their dreams? Me. So instead of being welcoming and tender, I am cold, withdrawn, pouty, and he leaves for work sullen and disappointed. And I sit here in the deafening silence of my longed-for quiet time drinking my guilt-filled coffee, reading my uninteresting book, listening to the clamor of the cats knocking various and sundry objects off the needing-to-be-cleaned counters, waiting anxiously for the increasingly urgent calls of, "mmmaaaama...MaaaaMa...MAMA!!!" and wishing I had snuggled up with my husband and enjoyed the few moments of we time rather than fighting for this unsettling me time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Divine Guidance

Years ago, my sister taught me the technique of asking for divine guidance in choosing books at the library. She said, "Simply pray as you are walking in for God to lead you to the books you need." Since then I have practiced this with surprising results. Once I was led to a book called Farm Sanctuary. Though I couldn't imagine why I would need to read a book about factory farming, trusting my intuition, I picked it up and read it. It spurred my decision to become a vegan, which has made me much more compassionate--not to mention healthier.

So a few weeks ago when I was drawn to the book Falling Apart in One Piece, one woman's memoir of her struggle through divorce, again I questioned, "Why?" And on that trip to the library, I picked it up and put it back down, thinking, "My marriage is good; why do I want to read about someone's divorce?"

However, on my next trip to the library, again I was drawn to this book. Trusting intuition instead of logic, I got the book and read it. It's not too often that I feel "Aha!" moments, but literally halfway through the book, I did. The author says that when she began telling people about her husband's leaving her, they peppered her with questions, "Is he having an affair?" "Did you see this coming?" "Were there any signs?" Eventually, she wrote, she realized that these questions were not related to her crumbling marriage, but to people's desire to protect their own marriages from a similar fate. Instinctively, people withdrew from her, she says, as if divorce were a contagious disease.

In reading that passage I realized that I was doing just that to a dear friend, who was experiencing marital problems. She had confided her issues to me, and I had listened, advised, shared my own issues with her, and finally withdrawn feeling complicit in the knowledge I had and afraid to be a partner in her crumbling marriage. For days, I avoided her because I felt guilty. However, in reading this book, I realized that her marriage is not my responsibility. My role in her life is as a friend--to listen to non-judgementally and to offer unconditional compassion and love.

While no one's marriage is perfect, and yes, divorce is hard not only on the couple, but also on everyone around them, it is not contagious. Their marital issues are not ours, and by showing her sympathy, I am not jeopardizing my own happiness. Although it is always my initial reaction to withdraw from conflict into the safety of my own family, I realized in doing so I was withdrawing a potential lifeline from a friend adrift in the sea. And that...well, that just is not who I want to be.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Be Still...

In times of chaos, my natural instinct is to retreat into what I like to think of as the stillness of my mind. Unfortunately, there is nothing still about my mind. Reckless, chaotic, spontaneous, devoid of stillness might be better words to describe it. Definitely not still.

But there I go, to the familiar voices questioning, thinking, analyzing, judging, criticizing. And there is comfort in that familiarity. All the books I read about centering, listening to your intuition, calming your mind, and so forth refer to quieting the voices in your mind. I think that sometimes the voices whisper instead of shout, but they are never quiet.

When you are meditating, imagine the thoughts that come into your head as being wrapped in a bubble and floating away. I read that. I tried it. My thoughts, however, fight back. They try to pop the bubble with pins. They want to be heard. They are very self-important.

So my retreat is anything but restful. My escape is not a sanctuary of stillness and calm but rather a loud rock concert. I put nature sounds and meditation music on my iPod, but the voices creep around the restful sounds. They vie for attention, each speaking over the other like toddlers, "LOOK AT ME; LISTEN TO ME."

Yet, I continue to add Feng Shui elements to my home. Make myself physical sanctuaries. Practice the simplest of meditation techniques. Breathe. Count. Be. And sometimes, for a moment or two, I think my mind is quiet. And then I realize that I'm thinking about it being quiet. And I realize my mind sounds like a bunch of little kids who have been reprimanded at a slumber party. The voices are shhhhh'ing each other.

I guess that's progress.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

impermanence

could the beauty of things be in their impermanence? surely that's a crazy thought. since i was a little girl, i have experienced many blissful moments. moments that i wished could last forever. moments that my catholic upbringing made me wonder, "is this what eternity will be like?" a warm embrace, a kiss, a soft baby head sleeping on my shoulder, a tiny infant nuzzling, suckling at my breast. peaceful, quiet, each and every moment. capture it. freeze it. make it last forever.

but what if it did? surely its beauty would fade. as a fabulous new pair of shoes loses its luster after the 4th, maybe 5th wearing. so try not to cling, try not to hold on, try not to capture it and freeze it and make it last forever. that seems to work against everything i find logical. if we are enjoying something, why not try to make it last or at the very least try to recapture it at every possible opportunity?

because it's impossible. that moment, that experience, that nanosecond of life is beautiful because of its fleetingness. because of its spontaneity and uniqueness. recapturing it, freezing it, capturing it...well, all of those things minimize it. take away from it. even strip it of the beauty and specialness it originally brought.

so what? what to do? i don't know. enjoy it? live in it? thank it for being? be blessed for the experience? i guess. but don't try to hold on to it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

driving in the snow

as a driver for more than 20 years, and the parent of a child in driver's training, i know--and have recently relearned--a few things about driving. i'm not bragging. i tend to be nervous. i have been in accidents. i'm cautious. i don't text and drive. if i talk on my phone, it's always on speaker, and i rarely do. i usually have a minimum of two children in the car and often four. so i pay attention while i'm driving.

my dad always preached "drive defensively." i don't really do that. i try to anticipate when people are going to pull out in front of me, change lanes without looking, and so forth. i watch my husband--road-rage-aholic--try to punish people for their driving errors, "should have gotten in the right lane, asshole, i'm not letting you over." and many many more, but i digress. i disagree with that. i try to be a compassionate and forgiving driver. i make excuses for most people. i decide they must be in a hurry to pick up a sick child, or something that i can understand. i figure if they're wrong and i'm right it doesn't really matter, i don't want to any of us to end up dead.

now, all that said, in driver's ed, which we all have to take in ohio, one of the first things students learn is that in adverse weather--snow, sleet, rain, all of which we've had daily for the last month--you should 1. decrease your speed 2. increase your following distance. so. WHY DO PEOPLE INSIST ON TAILGATING? i've seen bumper stickers about it. they're generally lewd and profane. i mostly agree with them. i advised a tailgater yesterday via the rearview mirror exactly what i would do to her in no uncertain terms if i did not have two small children in the car. i did not use profanity or hand gestures. but for a brief moment i did contemplate following her to her destination and punching her in the mouth. that would not be compassionate though. so i went home. intact. and i pray that if i have to drive my children to school tomorrow i will have the good fortune of again driving with the slow, safe pack of drivers i was blessed with this morning. all but that asshole behind me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

excess

i just finished reading have a little faith, by mitch albom. i would highly recommend it. i'm considering converting to judaism as i fell completely in love with the rabbi. course, i should mention that i recently considered becoming a buddhist after reading a few of His Holiness the Dalia Lama's writings. apparently i'm easily swayed.

anyway, my point--easy to see the overthinking tie-in, right?--maybe i should have called this blog adventures in adult adhd, or adventures of a scatterbrain. oh, yes, my point. i got so angry after reading this book that i wanted to personally confront every excessively wealthy person in this country and ask why they weren't doing more to help the underprivileged. why was a reformed addict/drug dealer, turned preacher/saint helping the masses in a church with a whole in the roof when oprah's out spending $3000 on a set of false eyelashes. i know, i know that oprah does lots of good work. i know the jolie-pitts do lots of wonderful things. guess what? they still have multiple multi-million dollar homes. they still spend millions on their clothes and shoes and make-up and so forth. they could still help more people than they do.

i understand that oprah worked hard to get where she is. i don't begrudge her her wealth. i'm just saying that these filthy rich celebrities don't understand what just a little bit of that would do for a family in need. i was so angry about this that i considered writing letters. to whom? i don't know. i decided to write here about it instead. and i decided that i can't change them. all i can do is do my best to "be the change i want to see in the world," thank you, mr. gandhi. so, i'm going to donate some old clothes and shoes to the homeless mission. i donated some toys. it's not much. but it's made me feel that today i've done something. it's made my mind stop spinning for a little while in delusions of winning the megamillions and single handedly housing all the homeless in my community. start small. but start.