These are my daughters. They are 12 and 10, more young women now than little girls. They are far and away the best thing I’ve ever done.
Being their mom is a dream job. It hasn’t always been an easy one (those early years, especially the newborn and toddler phase, nearly took me down), and I know I can’t coast forever (teenager-dom looms), but right now it feels like we’re in a sweet spot.
They are interesting and interested. They are smart and beautiful and confident and adjusted, and it makes me proud to know I had something to do with that.
They like to hang out with me and listen to music — what I love as well as what they’re finding and appreciating on their own now. They like to share books and talk about them. They’re hilarious and clever. They tell me how they feel and what’s happening in their lives. They hug and kiss me at random times, just because they feel like it, and they let me do that too. The younger one, Sara, still climbs into my bed to snuggle every morning.
And even when Kate, the older one, acts like the brooding preteen she is, I don’t get that bothered. I remember it well, and she deserves her time wallowing in it too. (It’s kind of beautiful to watch.)
As aware as I am of this being a time of suspended sweetness, it’s also clear that a shift is happening — not for them, but for me.
My role is changing. They don’t need me as much as they used to. We are not in literal physical contact all day, and we truthfully once were, a decade ago. Now, they spend more time away from me than with me. They can do a lot of things for themselves (almost everything, really) that I used to have to do for them.
There is some sadness in this, yes, but it’s that bittersweet kind that actually feels really good.
I’m starting to find swaths of time and space for myself again. Not just stolen hours.
And the poise I see in the two of them feels like a thank-you from the universe: You did a good job. You are released.
I realize I’m not, not really — not by a long shot. They are only halfway through the time it takes to become an adult. Middle school, high school, and college await. And even after they are grown up, they will be mine and I will be theirs.
But there’s an easefulness in our relationship right now that I appreciate and savor. And I feel things starting to open in a new way.
I work at home, in a suburb of New York City. The people here like to think of our town as “city facing.” It’s got a train that takes you directly to Midtown, often in less time than it used to take us to get there on the subway from Brooklyn.
I don’t commute regularly by any measure, and when I do have a reason to go into the city, it’s usually at an off-hour. This week I went in two days in a row — for dinner and a concert, and for a meeting with a potential client the next day. When I came up the stairs out of Penn into the stir of Seventh Avenue, I realized it had been a while.
Not that it didn’t exhilarate me, as usual, to be part of the flood of people pouring out of the station and going in all directions, like an exploding star, once they reached the street. It still feels impossible that so many people in so little space can fairly easily get where they need to go and do what they need to do.
The thing I love about New York is that, once you know what you’re doing and how to get around, you can truly be anonymous. Even in that crush on a street corner or in a crowded subway car, you are your own small universe.
When I commuted from Brooklyn, I followed my routines like dance steps. The same route to the subway station, the same not-so-good coffee from a street vendor. The same grubby staircases and subway doors. (Even my place on the platform was a constant; I could just barely see the Statue of Liberty.) I worked for a different magazine every week. For each office, I had my subway plan — the best places to sit and stand to easily get to the door that would take me to the station exit that would get me to the corner I needed to be on, or even right inside the building I was working in. It sounds obsessive, but it didn’t feel that way, and it didn’t cause anxiety — it smoothed things out. The rhythm was such that I could get through a crowd practically without ever bumping up against anyone else.
New Yorkers know how to act in a crowd. They understand personal space and coexistence without any obligation to interact. It’s not that they’re unfriendly; they know when and how it’s appropriate to engage, and they will do it genuinely, looking you in the eye. If you need help, 10 people will be there before you even hit the ground after tripping. They also know when not to engage or get involved, to let the things and people that might seem insane to an outsider be.
I liked being able to slip into Manhattan to work and then sneak back home to Brooklyn. Maybe it speaks to the introverted part of me that I appreciate this so much — it turns out this big, glamorous, pulsing city is perfect for cave dwellers.
It’s a little different taking a commuter train in and then going back out to Jersey; you’re really leaving it behind, just sampling it for a while. It makes me a little nostalgic and homesick for Brooklyn, though I love where I live now. I like the quiet and space. I like to drive. I like seeing people I know on the streets and in the stores. The community feels good.
But it’s nice to reconnect to anonymity every once in a while.
Did you ever read the last chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses? It’s Molly Bloom’s chapter, and it features a generous helping of that word: Yes.
We’re often taught that we need to learn to say no. But it’s just as important to your mental health, I think, to know when to say yes.
I was in yoga this morning. My teacher Emma’s 10:45 intermediate class is really fun. It’s small, and most of the people who come are pretty experienced yogis, so she challenges us.
Today we sat down and right before we closed our eyes she said we were going to practice handstand against the wall, with a chair, and we were going to backbend so our feet touched the chair.
I fear that I gave her an incredulous look before I closed my eyes. But once I did, I thought, Okay. We’re going to do that.
A few years ago the mere thought of having to do an inversion (the dreaded handstand, which I’ve since made friends with) or a backbend would fill me with dread. It would harden me up instantly. I’d start saying to myself, No. I can’t. I’m not strong enough. I’m scared. No.
Today, even while in the back of my mind I thought, Won’t that hurt my back? What if I fall? I also said to myself, Okay. I’ll see how it goes. I’ll do what I can do.
While we sat there opening and softening (which is what you do at the beginning of each and every yoga class), Emma talked about how being vulnerable means taking a risk. Is it scary to think of getting into a handstand and then sending your feet down the wall toward a backbend? Hell yes. It means dipping into the unknown. The question is, do you want to? Are you willing to try? Do you feel capable of trying? Do you know how far is far enough for you, where it still feels safe, and do you know where to stop?
My answer now is: Yes.
I’ve never particularly had a problem with being vulnerable. I actually adore backbends, which scare a lot of people because the intense opening through your chest can let a lot of emotion bubble to the surface. And once I figured out that they are about bending through your upper back, not your lower, and gained strength in my upper body, I became a lot less scared of full backbends.
My issue was always with reining in that openness — with finding the boundaries, slowing down, engaging before opening. (Yes, in life, not just yoga.) I’ve since learned a lot about engaging and grounding, about opening up from a safer place. I used to throw myself into a handstand attempt and hope for the best. Now I know how to properly get there, and to ask for help when I need it, and to move slowly, step by step, and see where the opening feels good.
So we did a lot of backstand prep. We did a thigh stretch, and I felt myself deeper in it than I used to be — I’ve made progress there (yoga is the very best way I’ve ever found to see and feel your progress). We did a handstand against the wall with bent knees and open heart, which I’ve done lots of times before and feel fine about. We did ustrasana, my very favorite pose, with our pubic bones pressed against blocks at the wall. We held it a long time. It felt great.
Then it came time to try. Emma helped me up. I bent my knees and pressed my feet against the wall. My arms felt good, strong, firm — not at all like they would buckle, as I’d feared. In fact, as I started to think about my legs, about letting one move down toward the chair back, I completely forgot about my arms. They didn’t need my attention.
They were a big, strong yes.
I was afraid the pose would strain my back. But as I let the toes of one foot move down toward the chair, I realized that my back felt fine. In fact, it felt good. I touched the back of the chair with my foot and breathed. Then I moved that foot up the wall and tried with the other.
Got it. Yes.
Both feet down? Not this time. That was my boundary for today. But I felt exhilarated.
Well, it’s April, and I’ve finally come up with my word/concept/idea for 2013: gratitude.
It seems like such a simple little thing, practically a cliché. Why exactly did it take me so long to come to it? I sat with a few other things: softness, stillness, here-ness. I’ll come back to those again in the coming months.
But something about the spring sun and some purple crocuses I saw blooming in an ordinary suburban strip-mall parking lot this morning made me think: I’m grateful.
I’m grateful for the health and happiness of my loved ones–especially my daughters, who are smart and funny and thriving and simply glorious creatures. I’m grateful that I get to have something to do with their lives and their upbringing.
I’m grateful that my husband likes his new job, enjoys being a part of community theater, and just seems more content lately than he has in quite a while.
I’m grateful for the amazing community I live in, full of some of the smartest, coolest, most interesting, talented, engaged and committed people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. I’m especially grateful for the network of fellow parents–if ever there was a village, SOMA is it.
I’m grateful for friends who let me be myself, who truly get me, and allow me to give the same gift back to them.
I’m grateful for my self-awareness, which I’ve cultivated with a lot of blood, sweat and tears over the past five years or so. I’m especially grateful for the realization that physical awareness and wellness makes a huge impact on psychological, emotional and spiritual awareness and wellness.
I’m grateful that I have a beautiful, natural place where I go to run and enjoy the weather (good or bad) and the quiet and the light and the stillness and the familiar faces I pass regularly each time I’m there.
I’m grateful for yoga and all the ways it’s helped me to fall into place.
I’m grateful for words to read and write and for music to hear and sing and dance to.
I’m grateful to be more clear than I’ve ever been about what’s important.
Be not afraid of growing slowly; be only afraid of standing still. — Chinese proverb
I’ve reached a new place with running. I’m back down to about a 10.5-minute mile, and when I’ve gone a few miles I just start to feel…good. I’m in the flow of the thing, my breath feels steady and consistent, and my posture feels upright and aligned. The energy feels like it’s streaming upward. I’m moving from my center, using my core to keep my legs going forward.
It’s always most difficult getting started, and now I know that. I know that after three quarters of a mile or so, I’ll start to settle into a rhythm. I usually run the same course, so I know where the downhills are, and the uphills don’t feel so horrible anymore, maybe because they’re expected, or maybe because I’m fitter, or I’ve simply hit a kind of stride.
I’m never going to be a fast runner. But I think I can run farther. I can tell that my body can handle it, and my lungs can, and my head seems to be on board too. Summer is challenging — I need to figure out the humidity and hydration part. But the idea of running a half marathon in November in Princeton does not seem quite as crazy anymore.
When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. — John Ruskin
I’ve been thinking about how we are each responsible for our own care.
So often, so many other things and people come first: boss, kids, spouse, parents, friends. We beat ourselves up for not hitting the mark, for not being everything we can to them, not realizing that we can’t even come near that (unrealistic) goal if our focus veers so very far away from ourselves.
We pay lip service to the “Take some me time” concept. But in general we put ourselves at the bottom of the to-do list. “Me” is the line item we let slide, the one that can wait.
We treat hearts, our minds, our bodies like a tin can or a paper bag: disposable, temporary, unimportant. We should treat ourselves like a masterpiece — fragile, rare, special — and care for ourselves in kind.
This takes two things: love and skill.
The first step is being kind to yourself.
Most people are used to being hard on themselves, noticing every flaw and every slip-up and then punishing themselves for it, over and over and over. They’re so willing to let other people pile on with their actions and comments — so willing to let other people’s issues cut to their quick. They eschew boundaries completely and leave themselves open to any hurt that might float their way, or they build a wall so tall and strong that nothing is getting in or out. They dismiss their feelings and opinions as worthless, not valuable. They work so hard to make others happy that there’s nothing left for them.
Being kind to yourself is a choice. You can decide to take care of yourself, to love yourself, to know yourself better. There are lots of ways to do it. Eating better. Exercise. Therapy. Meditation. Books. Music. Friends with a ready shoulder and ear. Taking real, quality time away from work and other responsibilities. Considering what you love and what makes you happy, and making it a priority to get more of that into your life. Making all of these things a priority — scheduling them in like you do everything else, all the meetings and errands and things that don’t matter nearly as much.
Then you need skill. Tools for creating the proper boundaries — ones that leave space around your protected center, your heart, but that are also porous, allowing you be open to other people, to life. Tools for identifying your emotions and learning how to engage with them and move through them instead of letting them control and hurt you. Tools for learning how to let go and believe that the universe has your back. Tools for learning to engage with yourself, the people around you, and the world, so that you can feel real joy and freedom.
The most important part? Engaging with yourself. That’s what we let ourselves look at the least, what we’re least practiced at.
It’s a huge responsibility, but we need to take it on if we want our experience here on earth to be as full and deep as it can be. And truth be told, shouldering it is not nearly as exhausting as avoiding it.
You don’t have to do it alone. There are people around you who love you and will be happy to remind you of it, who will tell you in minute detail exactly what’s amazing about you, whenever you need them to. (To that end, I highly recommend a regular Dharma Dinner.) All you need to do is reach out and ask.
All the work will be worth it. Feeling yourself transformed into a masterpiece is true bliss.
It is easy and obvious to see a beginning — you feel nervous, excited, awkward, sometimes downright terrified. It’s a new year, a new relationship, a new school, a new home, a new career. It’s huge and momentous and heavy with meaning and the thrill of the unknown. You’re embarking on something new and different and potentially life-changing. You’re putting something out there. You’re taking a risk.
It’s not that beginnings are necessarily easy, but they’re easy to see, to mark. They’re black and white. Endings are harder, hazy, often grey. Sometimes things end abruptly, when you don’t expect them to, before you’re ready, and you’re surprised by how difficult the change is, how much it feels like a loss. Sometimes they end organically and sweetly and it all seems right and good. Often an ending is hard to see — and hard to accept — because something you don’t want to end is coming to a close, so it’s difficult to witness. And beyond the ending lies the unknown, again — that space where something new can begin.
I’ve never been particularly good at beginnings or endings. Growing up I was generally afraid to venture outside my comfort zone, so there were probably many things I never tried or experienced because I was actually scared to attempt them (how I regret that now!). Change always threw me for a loop — I think I came home and sobbed on the first day of school every single year, even years that ended up being fantastic, like my senior year of high school. When things were different, new, when I didn’t feel completely and absolultely comfortable (as if you ever can), it threw me, in a major way. It upended me every time.
As I get older and wiser and more experienced, more self-aware, I’m able to handle change — beginnings and endings — more gracefully. I’m also more willing now to embark on new things, which means I also encounter more endings.
Almost four years ago I first stepped foot into South Mountain Yoga. It was 30 seconds from my daughters’ preschool, and my younger one was starting her first year. I could finally go back to yoga. I was a mess in just about every way. I desperately needed a new beginning; I didn’t even have the energy to be unnerved by that fact. There was nowhere to go but forward.
I thought I simply wanted to stretch and de-stress. Instead I found a life-changing method of moving my body and healing my mind and heart. It was like the teachers were speaking expressly to me in those first classes, and I felt all the wisdom course through me as I learned to move into the poses in such a way that I created boundaries and freedom for myself in ways I’d never even known I could. I can remember lying in savasana that first week plotting out how I could get myself back into that room again as soon as possible, as often as possible.
So, about two and a half years ago, I signed up for an immersion at the studio. I did it all on my own, without knowing whether there would be a familiar face in the room. Now my fellow immersion-ers are some of my dearest friends (see Dharma Dinner), and we’ve just finished teacher training.
These past few days were our final weekend together, and it was sad and wonderful at once. Over the past several weeks we all taught one another, and it was really fantastic to witness the way all these wonderful people had transformed into wise, masterful yoga teachers. All the trauma in the yoga community over the past several months did something for our group — it bound us together in a unique way. I think that’s actually been a gift.
It’s hard to see this ending, because my weekends in my yoga studio have been a steady part of my life for almost three years. I’ve looked forward to them, to spending time with my fellow trainees, to the way yoga and learning more about it makes me feel: strong, centered, content. Though this ending is really a beginning — now we can go out and actually teach yoga to other people, which is a bit mind-blowing, honestly. I didn’t go into this thinking I’d actually teach. But amazingly, I’m feeling like I want to. I want my friends and loved ones and people I haven’t met yet to feel this way too.
Perhaps it’s hard to see this ending because it’s really a beginning. I know there’s a lot of promise in that, however scary it might feel. So I’ll try to flow gracefully into whatever’s next.