The Big Three

Because I am breastfeeding a growing 9 month old who isn’t very interested in other foods, I have been feeling really run down, physically. I hate to complain because one of my first signals that something was off was that I have lost too much weight. Before anyone hates me, please let me just say that I do recognize how ridiculously lucky this is. And in fact, between the fact that I weigh the same as I did in High School (though I think this is not necessarily healthy) and I now have big (big is relative – for me, B cup is big) nursing boobs, I probably look better right now than I will again. Ok, now go ahead and hate me. But there is something not right about me weighing the same as I did in High School, and between that and the fact that I have not had a full nights sleep in over 9 months, I am very, very physically drained. So I recently started going to this Nurse Practitioner, who is ½ western medicine trained and ½ into the ‘alternative’ medicine. This suits me, as I am always looking for ‘the middle way’ (a Buddhist reference, for those of you who wouldn’t otherwise catch it). The appointments have been helpful in determining that I am, in fact, deficient in several vitamins and minerals, but this has led me down a path of a full-time supplement regime. I literally have 2 things I am supposed to take twice a day, 3 things I am supposed to take three times a day, and 3 more things that I only have to take once a day. 4 of these things I am supposed to take while standing on one leg, 2 of them while standing on my head and 2 more while I am on the toilet, simultaneously shitting out the prior six. Ok, slight exaggeration, but this how it feels. I am willing to try this for a short period as I am desperate to feel better. The other things that she ‘suggested’, I have been in denial about up until now. You can probably guess what they are, but she has suggested that I cut out the 3 pillars that get me through my daily life: coffee, sugar and alcohol. While there are 4 recognized food groups, these are my 3 recognized supports. Though they are maybe not really beautiful supports, like the columns in Rome, but more like the crooked, knarled tree branches that one sees holding up one of those make-shift tents on the desert. These things prop me up when I need it – coffee to wake me up, sugar to cheer me up and alcohol to ease me down. So, to remove these ‘props’, is more than a little scary, but I recently decided to give it a try – because I really, really, really want to feel better. Feeling desperate may be a call for desperate measures.

Coffee (must be said in a cookie monster voice the way he talks about his cooookiiiieeeeessssss). Like any addict, and I am one, I fully admit, I am putting myself on a mental program around this. I first out flatly rejected the notion of having to give it up. I didn’t think it was necessary and more frankly, did not want to. My 3-year old uses this argument all of the time: “Why didn’t you put your toys away Max?” – “Because I didn’t want to” – it’s a good answer – straight forward and honest. But often I reply with, “Well, sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to, Max”. Yeah, yeah, I know. Since the supplements alone are not working, and to be fair and give this health-plan a fair shake, I am giving up coffee. I decided 2 days ago. I can still have caffeine in the form of tea, just not coffee, so this most certainly has made it easier. I like tea, I just don’t love tea like I love coffee – it doesn’t inspire me like coffee does. On my first day I actually made myself a cup of coffee and let it sit on the counter while I drank my cup of tea. The cup sat there, as a mental back-up. If any point I felt I could not handle it, I knew I could, at least, take a sip of that coffee. That was comfort enough, and I never did take a sip. On the second day, I didn’t make the back-up cup of coffee. Today, I am at a coffee shop. I started to convulse at the cash register to keep myself from ordering a cup of coffee and instead ordered a chai latte (yes, full of sugar). But in between convulsions, before I even knew what was happening, I ordered a huge cinnamon roll – the ones they place right next to the register so that the proximity alone produces a sugar trance. I effectively replaced one pillar with the other. But it’s a start, right?

Sugar (go ahead and use the cookie monster voice again). I have always had a sweet tooth. It’s so much a part of me that I honestly think that people who say they don’t like sweets are lying not only to me, but to themselves, and that this inner conflict will surface in some sort of heinous act involving, possibly, an axe. I have given up sugar in the past – cold turkey – and I know that if I get over a hump, I don’t crave it so much, but honestly, life is better with chocolate. And since my metabolism has been turbo-boosted due to nursing, I feel it’s a gift from the universe that I can eat chocolate, ice cream, cakes, and all sugary goodness in any quantity I desire without gaining a pound. I know, I know, sugar makes our system crash and blah blah blah, but I am Linus and my love of chocolate is my long blue blanket, being dragged with me everywhere I go. I have also vowed, in a rather uninspiring way, to “reduce” my sugar consumption this week to see if it makes a difference. That means that due to the cinnamon role I just inhaled in one very gratifying and satisfying minute, I can not have any more desserts today. Not any “real” desserts that is – I can still have my organic, all natural, ginger snaps because they are healthy and aid in my digestion. It says so right on the box. Before you worry too much about my children – we are a ‘minimum sugar’ household with our kids. My family felt sorry for Max because his first taste of ice cream was not until he was 18 months old. He only discovered candy, really, since last Halloween, when he was 2 ½. But I myself have to laugh at the parental advice not to say things like, “eat your broccoli and then you can have dessert” because it “teaches kids that dessert is better than broccoli”. If anyone has a child that needs to be taught this, then please show yourself and sign your kid up with the circus to travel with the bearded lady and 2 headed snake. I LOVE vegetables and broccoli is my absolute favorite – but I dessert is just better. My “poor Max” is being taught that dessert is a treat that we get after our bodies are well nourished. I know – I’m a real parental rebel.

Alcohol (no need for cookie monster voice, but do use your most refined British accent, to give this one it’s refined stature it has in my mind). I lived in the UK and hung out with tons of Europeans and then I moved to France for a year. I had a French boyfriend for 3 ½ years. I lived in San Francisco (close to wine country) for another 4 years. If these things don’t give me some license to pour freely, then what does? I am not talking about getting bombed, or even buzzed, every night. I am talking about a glass of wine with dinner. But let me assure you, stating that you have 7 – 10 drinks a week at the doctor’s office raises an eye brow (well, there is a glass of wine with dinner plus the couple of cocktails on girlie night, plus that one night where a second glass of wine was really necessary). This is actually the easiest one for me to give up, but like chocolate, I just feel life is better with wine. All of my European friends, and most of my American ones, agree, so there. And the Mediterranean Diet – hello, anyone? But, again, I am ‘cutting back’ for a couple of weeks to see how it goes. I really, really want to feel better.

Because I have been struggling with parenthood recently, I find myself living for these daily ‘rewards’. My other rewards are a workout, a 20-minute meditation session and a nice seared halibut with steamed veggies and rice (outside of my sugar addiction, I eat pretty healthy), so I still fall into a reasonable world of balance. I need water and air. I love chocolate cake and espresso. I also love big salads and a 5 mile run. Most of all, and I am working on this with my therapist, I love me. Since I am getting some help to cope, mentally, I can concede that my current state of diet-like things isn’t really working, and I am willing to start chipping away at a few of my pillars. Stay tuned for this could be the fall of Rome.

In rowing, as in life….

I recently took rowing, or “sculling” lessons on Town Lake, oh sorry, I mean, Lady Bird Lake (sorry – Austin changed the name of the lake that I live near and while I am not one to resist change, I just can’t call it the new name – I personally don’t think landmarks should be renamed). If you are not familiar with sculling, think Oxford vs. Cambridge. It is a long skinny boat where one faces backwards, making one of the challenges of the sport craning around periodically to see where you are going. The sport, or at my level, the activity, is all that I had hoped. It is extremely beautiful and an amazing experience to row on Town, oops, Lady Bird, Lake. Though right in the middle of a city, and downtown none the less, I feel more at one with the river (actually, this lake of multiple names is a damned river), than with the city itself. The birds are my companions and not the people who are circumventing via the path that surrounds us. The cranes and other wildlife that are hiding below the brush peek out at me – but are never to be seen by those above. We share secrets that neither one of us will tell. I am now to a point where I don’t have to worry about falling over, so I have been able to contemplate life while skimming over the surface of this water world. Through my contemplations, I have realized that sculling is like a big life lesson, wrapped up in one sport. I will save you the sculling lessons (though I do recommend it), and share with you the gentle life reminders that the sport has brought to me. You can start out each sentence with either “In sculling”, or, “In life”… (just remember that peeking over your shoulder, here, is actually looking forward)

  1. …you can not see where you are going, but only where you have been.
  2. …where you have been does not guide you to where you are going.
  3. …you need to peek over your shoulder periodically and make corrections in your path to get where you want to go.
  4. …if you don’t peek over your shoulder periodically, you will run into things and end up in a bit of a mess. You may hurt yourself or others.
  5. …when you go off course, you can always get back on course. Sometimes it’s more difficult than others. Sometimes you might even need some help.
  6. …if you spend all of your time peeking over your shoulder, you don’t really get anywhere.
  7. …if you spend no time peeking over your shoulder, see #4
  8. …even when you do stay your course, little adjustments are always needed.
  9. …sometimes it is very bright. Sometimes it is very cloudy. Both are extremely beautiful.
  10. …shallow is not safer.

Help

As a very independent person, asking for help is something I have struggled with in the past. How and when to do so has been, and continues to be, a life-long lesson. Is it human nature to not want help or is this something born of our culture? Or is this just my nature? I was once told that in my last life, I was a poor, lonely woman with no one to turn to. While I certainly question the validity of this tale, it seems plausible that this ‘independent spirit’ I live into in this life could just be an anecdote for my feelings of despair in my past one. In any event, I have many people to turn to now, I just find myself struggling sometimes to do so.

I spent many years in my 20’s thinking and living into the fact that I didn’t need anyone. I had graduated from college and moved from Madison to Houston to embark on life’s journey. I felt the wonderful flavor of the independence that comes with one’s first job, first apartment and the first time there was no financial support whatsoever from my parents (while I worked during college, my parents generously paid for tuition). Outside of college, where I knew a few people from my hometown, this was my first time moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone, other than my sister, who is 9 years older than I am, so her social circles were not my own. I lived with her and her family for ~ 6 months while I found a roommate and then an apartment, but still, I didn’t think that I needed anyone. Very quickly, however, loneliness set in. It was a lot harder to make friends than it had been in college, where everyone was automatically looking for friends and the dorms were set up to bring people together. In Houston, the only thing I had was work, where I eventually did make my friends, but it took a while because most of these people had already lived in Houston or knew a host of people from their respective Texas colleges. While I had looked forward to being the ‘odd one out’, I was looked at a little more oddly than I had expected – it didn’t help that I was in the middle of growing out a really bad haircut. I had a boyfriend, but he still lived in Wisconsin – he was trying to get into medical school and taking classes there. In the beginning, when I encountered loneliness, I missed him so much it physically hurt. I did a lot of shopping because it was a good distraction and shopping malls were filled with people. They were strangers, but they were still people. I went to movies by myself….on Friday or Saturday nights. I was a true loner. Even I recognized the difference between independence and isolation. I didn’t really fit in to the conservative accounting-firm-culture of Arthur Anderson and this did not help my confidence in my decision that I made to move to this city. There was also a business slow-down and most of us new hires were sent to the infamous ‘fishbowl’ – a computer lab that was all windows – to wait for the senior accountants to come prey on us when they needed some menial help. So work life was not a busy distraction, but a very slow demoralizing practice of counting down the minutes.

What I did figure out, however, was that it was up to me, Ms. Independent, to dig myself out of these depressing trenches. And I did. I first started looking for friends. I signed up for classes – wine tasting and money management. I hung out with some interesting characters for a while in the search for true friends. One was a dubious male, who seemed nice enough, but who was always running errands during out outings together. To this day I don’t know what they were, nor do I think I want to. I had a bad feeling in my stomach about him, but he seemed nice enough and it was someone to hang out with. I eventually stopped hanging out with him when I called him one evening and his WIFE answered. He had never told me he was married – and this woman, rightfully, wanted me to know that he was. He tried calling me one other time, but I acknowledged the gut feeling I had had prior, and moved on. I needed friends, but not that badly. It took a good year, but I made friends – good ones. I became very busy with work and also traveled a lot. The boyfriend and I were still together, but now I enjoyed the long-distance relationship because it gave me my space. I had successfully navigated a big move to a big city. Not bad for a bumpkin.

Maybe this is what our 20’s are for – mastering independence. I had prepared my family for the fact that I was not going to have a ‘usual’ life. I didn’t know if I would get married, and if I did, I was not having children. I was far too independent for such things. Paradoxically, I almost always found myself in a long-term relationship – while some friends have always been looking for love, I’ve only had a few brief stints out of it. While seemingly contrary to my independent ways, my relationships, conveniently, always were or became at some point, long-distance. While my accounting career led me to a dream opportunity with a job for which I traveled the world, I couldn’t take being an accounting for one moment longer, and in my late 20’s, I moved to London to go to business school. My then relationship became long-distance, first London-Houston (I was taking the long distance relationship notion a bit far), then London-Paris. As I exited my 20’s I started softening. I realized that, for me, a relationship was all about the little things – having dinner together, seeing movies during the week, doing nothing in particular, but together. Something was shifting in my independent self. So after business school, I moved to Paris to live with my boyfriend. We had been together for 3 years, and it certainly felt time to actually be together. It ended, however, 9 months later, when I could not find a job in France or the UK, and I moved to San Francisco for a dream job there. He didn’t want to come with me, so I shed him like an old skin. In one dramatic cab ride from our apartment to the Paris airport, I balled my eyes out and then vomited (luckily the cab driver had a plastic sac, and had understood my request for one, despite the bad French spoken between sobs), and then I was over him.

In San Francisco I quickly found myself in another relationship. By this time, I had mastered moving to new cities, and I found friends – BFF’s – right away. San Francisco is my favorite US city, so nothing was for wanting. And then Ms. Independent had a defining moment. After about a year and a half in San Francisco, I had moved on from that first San Francisco relationship and was now living with someone else. I was still uncertain about marriage – and not yet thinking I wanted to have children. I had just purchased and started driving a scooter to and from work each day and loved it – I didn’t have to depend on the frustrating “muni” (municipal transit system). I got places faster than ever before, and parking was no hassle. But it got cold, especially riding home at night. I would come in and my hands would be red, chapped and icy for a good hour. My boyfriend (now husband), asked why I didn’t take gloves along with me and I said, “I don’t know – I don’t think of it until I’m out and need them, and then it’s too late.” The next morning I got up to go to work and sitting on top of all of my things were my gloves. I almost cried (I don’t really cry much, otherwise I probably would have really cried). And I realized in that moment that I really liked having someone take care of me. Of course I didn’t “need” that, but it was so, so nice. Ok, maybe I even needed it a little. I am human, after all. Sigh.

Around this same time I was going through a series of Landmark Education courses, which also really drove home this point that I now live by – or strive to, at least. It is the point that we, as human beings, NEED other people. We are not independent beings floating around in our own universes. We are, in fact, interdependent beings floating around in the same universe. And I got from this course that it’s OK to want, or need help and to actually ask for it – for anything, whenever you need it, from whomever you think you might need it from. Sometimes, it’s from the universe itself (ok, I learned this one from the book “Eat Pray Love”). I still tend to float into my independe-dance – my term for when I get into a mode where I think I can handle everything on my own (note my entry last week about finding complete and total happiness on my own).

Well, three years and another city later (we are now in Austin, TX), my daughter, now nine months, has never and still does not take a bottle. So for the better part of a year, I have not been able to leave her for more than 4 hours so that I am available to nurse her. She is only now starting to eat some regular food, so I am just now starting to see a light at the end of a tunnel. The universe has sent me someone who is going to teach me a thing or two about independence…. and letting it go. So now I’m asking back – show me the way to do this. I first turned to my spouse, then babysitters and nannies and then family and friends. I am still struggling so I am finally getting some professional coaching and therapy and I am reaching out to the Buddhist community too. I know that I will figure it out – but with a lot of help.

Action

On International Women’s Day, which was March 5, I went to a showing of A Powerful Noise (www.apowerfulnoise.org). The event was inspiring in terms of making a dfference in the world – 3 women who have made a tremendous difference in their communities (in Bosnia, Mali and Veitnam) by making a stand in the areas of local economics, education and healthcare. This is something that I grapple with on an almost daily basis. How is it that I get to live in a beautiful home with every convenience to make my life as easy and comfortable as possible, in addition to not even thinking about having clean drinking water, plenty of food and access to great education and healthcare while there are so many people suffering in so many parts of the world. The questions of global poverty are absolutely so interwoven between these things – living conditions, healthcare and ultimately, education, that it’s often overwhelming to decide how to take action or what causes to fight for. I say “ultimately, education”, because this does seem to make the biggest long-term impact, but certainly, if one is not in good health, it is not possible to learn. But then there is also the question of whether to address our global problems or to focus locally, where poverty and misfortune resound in their own ways. While I don’t have any answers for myself right now, and definitely none for anyone else, I will leave this short snippet with the quote that the movie left me with, which stroked my heartstrings with the delicacy of an orangutan strumming a mandolin, and let you ponder for yourself what you will do next…..

You may never know what results come from your action.
But if you do nothing, there will be no results.
Gandhi

Practice Makes Perfect

As a proclaimed Buddhist, I feel that I have an obligation to be happy – all of the time. A tall order? Perhaps, but when one does a lot of reading about mystics, master, gurus and monks, it seems absolutely plausible. Even though I am not a mystic, master, guru or nun, I still KNOW all of the same concepts as they do. And, as all Buddhists know, I am an enlightened being. We all are – we just have different levels of obscuration from living this enlightened state. People who know me comment on how “calm” I am all of the time (it’s clear that some people think this is terribly boring), and compared to what I was when I was younger, I must agree. The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism (paraphrased – I hope this doesn’t get me in trouble) state that there is suffering (ah, yes), and that we create our own suffering (yes, that would be me!), and that the suffering can be stopped (great news!) and The Path (while this is Buddhism, this path is as varied as there are people) is how we stop it. Simple. I understand it. I even understand, intellectually, all of the ideas on the path in how to stop it? So why do I find myself feeling, well, miserable, so often? I think part of it is that when I’m not feeling centered or particularly happy, I immediately reprimand myself for feeling bad. How can I with countless hours of meditation retreats under my belt? What good were they if I can’t withstand a screaming child at 2:00 a.m.? Why do I still “lose it” when I understand the workings of my own mind? I guess it comes down to what my piano teacher started telling me way back in the 4th grade – practice e, practice, practice. Ugh. Can I just say that I now fully understand why monks are not allowed to have sex, i.e. children? Because if they did, no one would be reaching enlightenment!

Ok, not true. I actually go two ways on this – in some ways, I feel that parenthood, and in fact, mommy-hood specifically (well, let’s call it primary caregiver-hood, but mommy-hood sounds better), is an opportunity for a fast-track to enlightenment, but in a very, very different way than the meditating, contemplating, silent life of a monk. If enlightenment is practice, practice, practice, not just in meditation itself, but in integration into real life and in actually overcoming adversity, then motherhood is absolutely stuffed plum full of practice opportunity. In terms of ridding of oneself of the ego, mommy-hood strips one of almost everything, thus, either driving one crazy or driving one towards enlightenment. I think my problem is that along this road to enlightenment, I think I may be going crazy! I can’t think of much else, other than living in a cave doing an 18-year retreat where one is so ‘tested’ on a daily basis. I mean really, whose ego can actually survive against a 3-year old? I starting working for my husband after our first child was born and then stopped “working” entirely after our second daughter was born (9 months ago now), so any identification I might have had with career is completely gone. I have to “let go” on a daily basis of, well, everything. I first give up the notion of having a shower first thing in the day, or often in any part of the day. I have also given up on the notion of slowly waking up and transitioning into day. This is sometimes the hardest part – waking up into ‘on duty’ mode immediately. Imagine waking up, sitting at a conference table with the CEO of the company, demanding the results of your latest round of testing. Sometimes you may feel prepared, other days you may want to cry and request to go pee first or to have a cup of coffee – especially after your CEO called you 4 times during the night, “just wondering” about a few other items on the agenda – or to let you know his tooth was hurting. Even with a lot of nanny help (otherwise this blog definitely would not be happening), I feel “letting go” is the mantra of most my days.

Another guru-friend of mine imparts the wisdom of ‘going with the flow’. Well, I have never had to ‘go with the flow’ more than now. I can provide the overall structure of the day, but I feel that how each activity goes and if some of them go at all is up to the universe. What seems like chaos, I tell myself, is part of a grand and perfect plan. Even when I plan fun activities – a favorite park, for instance, that doesn’t mean my 3-year old won’t decide that he doesn’t want to leave the house and either I have to drag him there, kicking and screaming, knowing he’ll have fun eventually OR I decide it’s not worth the battle and we stay home and play what he wants to play, which is always one of 3 things: 1) trains talking to one another, 2) cars talking to one another, or 3) animals talking to one another. And frankly, I have trouble keeping any of those dialogues going for an entire afternoon. Luckily, my second child does not yet make demands on activities. I have no idea what it’s going to look like when she does, but I am not sure how much more ‘flow’ I have in me. But I will be tested, that is for sure. Enlightenment, here I come.