Someone’s Been Sleeping in My Bed

Over the last 6 months, we have started renting out our house, our primary residence that is, on (as a marketing professional, I feel obligated to tell you how much I abhor their name, although I do recommend their services). We started because we happen to live in a town that has quite a few huge events (SxSW, ACL & the inaugural year of Formula 1) and some smaller events (usually UT related) and not nearly the hotel capacity to meet the demand during these times. We also happen to live centrally, an attractive proposition for renters. Due to the supply-demand ratio mentioned above, this has turned out to be quite a lucrative opportunity. In addition, we love to travel and love that our travels or weekend away ‘splurges’ are no longer splurges because they are paid for. Since we started this, I’ve been asked lots of questions by people who are rental-curious and also by those that think we are absolutely nuts to allow perfect strangers into our home. So I thought it might be helpful to create the definitive resource of “things to consider if you think you want to rent your home out to perfect, or not-so- perfect or you-want-to-believe-are-perfect-but-really-aren’t strangers.” Here’s what I’ve learned in the first 6 months of this adventure:

  1. You are probably more attached to your things than you think you are.

It is true that I do not feel particularly attached to my things. The first question people ask me when I say we are renting our house is “where do you put your valuables?” and my first question back to them is “like what?” I do not possess family heirlooms, I do not buy unique one-of-a-kind antique furniture pieces and I do not own fine china. I can hardly think of anything that the $1,000 deposit we require wouldn’t cover to replace or fix. While I have refrained from making circles with my thumbs and pointer fingers and staring into the distance with a meditation-induced trance, what I usually say next is, “I’m not very attached to my things.”

Well, upon arriving back to our home this last time, I opened a drawer and noticed a piece of my pottery was gone – a bowl I picked up at an Iranian pottery market in Kuwait during a trip in my 20’s. I rarely use the piece, but I do like it. More than I realized, in fact, because the moment it wasn’t there, my brain went a little frantic –   What happened to my bowl? That is a UNIQUE piece….I bought that in Kuwait! I can’t replace THAT! How inconsiderate – breaking my pottery without letting me know?? What a shame! My pottery! Woe is me…my beautiful, forever lost bowl! Until I opened the dishwasher and found it in there. I’ve never put it in the dishwasher, assuming it not dishwasher safe, so that was risky, but there it was. It was fine. I was fine. I had to blush, even just to myself, thinking back to the “I’m not attached to my things” comments. OK, so I AM attached to my things. One just doesn’t realize until they are gone. So, you’ve got to be good with this. One day, my bowl from Kuwait may disappear or get broken by someone other than myself or someone I love. Now I’m at acceptance (yes, I am making circles with my thumbs and pointer fingers and staring into the distance with a meditation-induced trance), but this is part of letting others use your space.

After the ‘valuables’ questions, more often than not, the next question is, “what about artwork?” which frankly, I find an odd question. Fair enough – we have a couple pieces that couldn’t be replaced by the $1,000 deposit, but really, I can’t imagine this being the ploy for an art thief to disguise himself as a UT parent attending graduation on the off-chance the Miro he saw in the house picture is real and he plans to replicate/replace each item exactly, during the weekend he’s here. And a piece of art is actually something even I, the notoriously unobservant, would notice if it was gone. That seems awfully nervy for anyone to try to pull off. So this might be where some of my naiveté comes in handy because,

2. People do inexplicable things, and more than likely, you will never get an explanation.

We let a friend/babysitter stay in our house once while we traveled for the summer. We came back to some strange goop in one of the showers we never used that clogged up the drain. It was fairly easily cleaned up, but when we asked about it, she claimed to have no idea. That was someone we knew and trusted, so left it at that. But when it’s not someone you know or trust, you also have to be fine with leaving it at that. One of our renters left a door to the outside open – not just unlocked, but open, and also claimed to have no idea how that happened. Four of our forks and 2 steak knives (separate occasions) have gone missing. I’ve lived in my home for 6 years and never managed to lose any silverware or cutlery – how someone does this in a weekend is perplexing. These are things you don’t notice right away, and by far, the profits made from these ventures allow for the replacement of forks and knives, but it does make you wonder what people are doing. Which brings me to my third point.

3. You must have the stomach for never being fully informed of the goings on in your home

One of my pro-renting arguments was that you have conversations with the people. They contact you, you call them, they tell you about their plans, who they are visiting, who is staying in the house, their family history including which relatives came over on the Mayflower, etc. etc. One of our future renters just e-mailed us a picture of their family after discoving how much we have in common. With some, by the time they show up, you feel you’ve forged some sort of friendship, especially because you are letting them stay in your home! Yes, BUT, they do not necessarily feel the same about you. They may just see you as a home they want to stay in. So, one of my “friends,” while she shared details about her life (3rd and final daughter graduating from UT), what they were going to be doing at the house (small get-together of family to celebrate), she never did mention that they were going to have a band in the backyard. Now, there is no problem with this, exactly. We have ‘house rules’ set up that say no entertaining or noise after 10:00pm and they followed this rule. But when a neighbor told me about the sound check coming from our yard over the weekend, I felt embarrassed and frankly, betrayed that Renee never mentioned the band. Clearly, she didn’t want that idea of hers shot down so she just failed to mention it. I felt odd that a concert was held in my backyard and I didn’t know anything about it.

The other part of stomaching strangers in your home is just to know that every time something is misplaced, temporarily (or not) missing or broken, you will find yourself immediately damning the renters. Even if you live with small children that easily could break things and not tell you. Even if your husband puts the blender behind the cereal boxes on the opposite side of the kitchen. Even if you forgot that you lent that copy of Hunger Games to your mother-in-law. It’s all the renters fault. And this isn’t the best of feelings because, even for just one moment, you feel a little betrayed that someone didn’t tell you they broke something, that they didn’t care enough to put things back where they found them, that they didn’t respect your stuff enough not to take it. Until you realize the truth. Or not. At the very least, consider these little reminders that strangers have been in your home, so just make sure you really are OK with that. It’s kind of an emotional roller coaster that is not that big of a deal if you’ve got the stomach for it. If you think these things would upset you greatly, or even a bit more than a little, renting may not be for you.

For us, for me, I’m actually OK with all of the above. Otherwise, we would stop doing it. Like a scene from a Brady Bunch episode, my son once threw a ball in the house and it broke an antique vase that I bought on one of my travels to China. I was really sad about the broken vase, but I got over it. I was mad at him for throwing the ball, but I got over that too. Stuff happens – you just have to decide how much ‘stuff’ you can tolerate and by whom you can tolerate it. In short, Know Thyself.

To answer the very first question, we put all of our ‘valuables’ in our master closet, which is then locked. Everyone we know that rents has a locked space where they put the belongings that they don’t want people to have access to or to see. For us, more often than not, these items are training toilets and other kid accessories that our non-kid renters may not appreciate having around. Perhaps my list of items I put in that closet will grow as we continue to rent our home. Perhaps we’ll get the art-thief in disguise renter who ‘teaches us our lesson’ and we stop forever. In the meantime, and until Austin’s hotel supply increases (doing so as we speak) I’ll be enjoying our paid-for vacations and lump sums to put towards our mortgage. If you’ve been on the fence, I hope this helps. If you choose to do so, from one to another, happy renting!

The Gift of (Alone) Time

This is my last evening without kids. And now, without husband (snafu with contractor/ ripped out bathroom), so I am trying to absorb the alone. Absorb the silence. Absorb the absolute freedom. This is silly, of course. It can’t be absorbed and saved for later, though it would be so great if it could. In the middle of a tantrum, either mine or the kids, whip into my messy handbag, rifle through the old receipts and pamphlets from the last museum visit to find the container, hidden in the far depths of the bag, further than I knew it to go. Then to open the container..drink it in. Slather it on. And then this incredible calm could sweep over and through me and give me the clarity I need in that moment to ride it through the storm with a little less debris left behind. Maybe one less apology to make.

This ridiculous amount of alone-time (5 days totally alone + 7 days with hubbie road tripping out here to Park City and settling in), was a gift out of nowhere. While I was a part of the plan-making…grandparents wanted to have the kids for 2 weeks, Mark flying them over, him deciding to stay…I never even really asked or DREAMED that I could ask for so much. It’s been heavenly. It helps that I know that my children are having so much fun that they have refused my daily phone calls. I hate to gloat, knowing us mothers rarely/ever see this much freedom, but I’m not really gloating, just sharing. Example: it was day 3 when I was home alone. I woke up and I felt…get this…a little lonely. It was superb. When was the last time you actually felt a lonely? When did the silence feel like a bit too much? That day, I went about my day and it was never sad. It was just a forgotten sensation, remembered. Appreciated.

The connections with the hubbie have been wonderful. Talking in the car. Not talking in the car. Holding hands. Laughing. Remembering. Kissing. Kissing. Kissing. Hiking. Snuggling. Sleeping  in. And tomorrow the two wee ones that were produced out of the love we have for each other will be welcomed back in, where the connection is stronger to hold them in. A big, long deep breath has been taken in. A long languid exhale has been released. And my heart and arms are open.

Despite my romantic rhapsodies, I know that our transition may not be all as smooth and easy as it sounds. The children will re-adjust to the ways of Mom and Dad instead of Oma and Opa. Mom and Dad will re-adjust to the sounds, the early mornings, the negotiations over food, TV and ‘what we’ll do next’.  I will adjust to being needed. A lot. Quickly it will seem like this period of calm was a long time ago. But I like to think that somewhere, perhaps not in my handbag, but maybe in my heart, I’ll keep a little pool of this place…the silence. The time of reflection. And I’ll remember that every moment of life is a choice. And I’ll take a quick dip in that calm, take a deep breath, and I will happily dive back in to where I’m needed. A lot. 

A Perfect Mother

It took me a long time to become a mother. Well, I guess it depends on the moment that you want to start that clock. Perhaps it only took a matter of seconds at the moment of conception when two cells become one. Perhaps we become mothers when the baby actually arrives, in which case, it took me ~ 9 hours. For me, motherhood has felt like more like a slow metamorphosis. Skins have been shed. New life has occurred.

A few days after my first was born, my mother-in-law came to help. That first evening, after he had been fed and she was blissfully holding him, she suggested I go out for a walk, “just around the block,” she said, “it will do you good.” By myself?  I thought.  It seemed impossible to leave him for even a minute.  But she convinced me and when I stepped outside I knew she was right. The chilly San Francisco air awakened my senses and I started to walk around our block. We lived in a commercial area, so three quarters of the way around the block, I walked by one of my favorite card shops. I remembered that my first wedding anniversary was in just a couple of days. I had brought my purse because, of course, I had my phone with me, and I was pleased that I was going to have a card for the occasion.  I went in and before I knew it got lost in the shop, finding just the right one. As I neared the exit of the store, my phone rang. It was my mother-in-law and Max was wailing in the background. I was mortified when I realized that I had not had phone service in the store and I had been gone for 25 minutes! A part of me couldn’t believe that I let the time get away with a brand new baby at home. Another part of me was in shock that 25 minutes were no longer my own. There began my first struggle with motherhood:  the loss of independence.  This struggle seemed at odds with the perfect mother I had planned to be.

I slowly adjusted, but I also went back to work, albeit from home and part-time, when he was 3 months old. I hired my first babysitter. I loved my time to myself as much as I loved the work. It was something I needed, though I felt too guilty to admit that at the time. My in-laws continued to be very involved, so that provided another avenue of freedom. When Max was 10 months old, I had a 6-day trip to Germany for work, so they gladly flew in to take care of him. I fretted like any mother would…but the fact that I was even going was controversial amongst my new-mom friends. “I couldn’t do it” some said. But I was doing it. I was even looking forward to it in a fretful sort of way– I have always loved to travel.  From the airport I called my own mother. I broke down on the phone, wondering if I wasn’t the worst mother on the planet. Once I got onto the plane, however, I was fine for the rest of the trip. My independent-self still stood strong.

When Max was 2 1/2, his baby sister was born. I wanted to have two children, but it wasn’t that I was “ready” to have the second; it was more that I was 36 and knew the clock was ticking. I was worried. I didn’t understand how life, already hectic with a 2 year old, was going to work adding a newborn into the mix. As it turns out, I had reason to be nervous. After the initial stage when she slept most of the time, things got crazy. Then when we tried to introduce the bottle, she wouldn’t take it. That began a 6-month adventure of trying every tactic you can find on the internet and every bottle on the market to get her to use one. She never did. So the universe sent me, Miss Independent, a child that would not allow me to leave for more than 3-4 hours at a time for a year. Perfect.

By the time she was 9 months old I felt myself often wondering why I had ever decided to become a mother. And the guilt I had for ever feeling that way was killing me. It was either clarity or desperation that led me to my therapist. Therapist and parent-coach, she provided me a non-judging ear and some words that were the sweetest I had ever heard.  She confirmed that it really was hard; it wasn’t just hard for me. We narrowed a lot of our work on one notion that I was struggling with: being the perfect mother. I felt very far from that with regular crying and temper-tantrums of my own.  I worked with her for the next year and as my children grew, so did I.

I recently turned 40 and have been doing a lot of self-reflection. My kids are now 6 and 3 and one thing that struck me is how much I finally feel like a mother. Something has become clear. For a long time I was trying to make me into the perfect mom instead of realizing that who I am is already the perfect mom for my kids.

My son has recently internalized the idea (whether from school or from us) that “nothing is perfect.” I threw him for a loop recently when I told him that we are all, in fact, perfect. “But nothing is perfect” he reiterated to me, getting increasingly annoyed. “I know,” I said, “and that IS perfect. Everything is perfect, imperfections and all.” I don’t think he was convinced, but maybe for the first time, I was. 

What A Journey

I wrote this last year for an event where it was to be read out loud…so, while reading, you can just picture that. I kind of forgot about it….but decided to publish it now… it’s kind of an odd follow up to ‘Bacon, please move over’, but then I can be kind of odd.


Motherhood, oh ye, Motherhood!

Who KNOWS what you are getting yourself into when you enter this realm, this state, this unknown territory? Certainly I did not.

I wasn’t going to have children…”Motherhood” was not for me. I insightfully stated that I had ‘given the matter a good deal of consideration and concluded that my personality was not suitable’.

Then I met the father of my children – and I saw a fantastic partnership. Children…this was an experience we should have! Motherhood! Fatherhood!

How had I not known the difference then?

But Motherhood, you fooled me, just a bit. I thought that you would step in to show me what to do. What did I know about having children? Certainly a better version of me was needed to bring a tiny being into our world. And while you brought me a deep love, a wonderment for life, an enthrallment for this one little life, in particular, you also left me – little ‘ole me – to figure it out!

I studied my subject diligently. I read books. Many, many books. More importantly, I studied my subject – his tiny fingers and toes. I knew every inch of his body and noted every time something changed. I marveled and celebrated those changes. And I did the thing that came the most easily…I loved him with all that I had. But it was not all celebrations and smiles.

Motherhood, now I didn’t know much, but there were a few things I did know. I knew that mothers were not to yell at their babies. They are only babies! And yet, I yelled. I cried when he would not sleep. I cried when I could not. I didn’t always handle him as gently as you, Motherhood, were supposed to allow. So often I felt I might be losing my mind. Motherhood?  Where were you?

Five years and another child later, I I am beginning to understand. I am an introspective person. A spiritual person. An always trying to be a better person, person. Little did I know that this same trait that makes me a great mother is the same trait that would judge me the hardest. I thought it was you, Motherhood.

With two small children and very little sleep, I was holding onto the shreds of what I thought I had entered this journey for – “The experience.” Like a new roller-coaster ride at the local six-flags, rightfully named, “Motherhood!”, tagline, “the experience.” I thought I wanted off. But you can’t get off the ride once it’s started. And you know what that means – trapped. I was trapped by all of those that I trusted: my husband, the other one who wanted “the experience” but it turned out, Fatherhood was a different ride. I was trapped by you, Motherhood. You betrayed me too.

And then I turned to these small, beautiful people – their shining eyes, their angelic faces. My heart gushed with more love than I knew what to do with, but somehow, I wasn’t sure that the love was enough. And then I heard a voice say, “I told you that you should not have become a mother. How can you feel trapped in such a beautiful life, with two such beautiful gifts?” I retreated under these words and fell into a hole. A black hole that I thought maybe was you, Motherhood?

When my husband asked, “what standard of perfection are you trying to achieve?” I could not answer. Motherhood was supposed to know. His words gave me some solace, but still, I found myself yelling at my beautiful babies, screaming into pillows, kicking walls. This, I knew, was not the standard I was going for. It was scary for me, for them. Where were you, Motherhood?

I finally knew I needed help to climb out of my hole. Motherhood clearly was not doing her job. So I summoned the help of an expert, aka, a shrink. If Motherhood was not already working for me, then certainly she could give me the pass code, the bugle call, the summoning light to beckon “Motherhood” to me.

The first thing she did was to tell me how many mothers sat in her chair, guilt ridden for yelling at their babies. “Motherhood had failed them too?” I thought. I was in disbelief that anyone else could have such foul feelings towards Motherhood, towards their children, no, really, towards themselves.

And that is what I saw. After a few weeks of talking and crying, confessing and swirling, out of it all, I came to understand. I was introduced to Motherhood.

She looks very different than I was expecting her. She looks remarkably like, no, exactly like, me. Me…. huh…. Motherhood. And as it turns out, I need to care for her in all the same ways I need to care for me. Loving her, loving me.

I still struggle on some days that I don’t always look like the mother I would like my children to have. I wish for that “Motherhood” who could step in and save the day. Who would be as present with them as I would always like to be. Who would have the patience with them that I would always like to have. Who has a limitless amount to give without “needing a break.”

Motherhood, oh, ye, Motherhood, what a journey we have endured. What a journey we have before us.

I couldn’t have said it better, part 2

Ok, Ok, so I’m doing it again. I’m cheating, but here is another essay I just have to share…and I haven’t quite gotten my sh*t together enough to start writing again. But it’s coming. Cool things are coming. Promise. In the mean time, I love this essay on parenting. I actually want to send the link to my last post to this woman and say, ‘hey – you were present enough. It WAS hard. No regrets’. Then again, I think she has things figured out pretty well for herself. This essay makes me cry at least 15 times every time. If it’s too lengthy for what you have time for now, here’s a few lines from one of my favorite parts:

When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.

I look at the date of this post and I realize that the lessons on parenting, the real lessons, and not ‘what the experts are currently saying’ lessons,  they are timeless. 

pretty sneaky, sis

Little sister (3) has been watching her big brother (almost 6) learn to read and sound out words. The other night she asked me to come over and ‘help her with some of the words.’ I obliged, of course. It was a Read-and-Seek book, and this page had pictures of some of the items in the book with the words next to them. 

She pointed to the first one, “B (b-sound) –  Air –  Bear.” She looked at me for my approval. Since there was a picture of a bear right next to it, I wasn’t all that impressed, but entertained that she was doing this ‘sounding out’ routine, so she was encouraged.

Next picture, “B (b-sound) –  Ell –  Bell.” I nodded, but she didn’t care what I was thinking anymore, she was just impressed with herself. 

Next picture, “B (b-sound) –  Ike –  Bike.” Ok. My curiosity was tweaked. That could have been one of several words next to the bike. It could have been bicycle….

She noticed me sit up and really pay attention. She proudly pointed to the next picture,

“S –  wan –  Swan.”

uh-oh, busted. The word was bird, but I most certainly applauded her effort (and in her defense, who puts bird next to a picture of a swan? You use every-day birds like swallows or finches for that, not swans! geesh.) And I’ve enjoyed the recurring chuckle every time I think back. so great. 

Smartie Pie

A few weeks ago, my daughter (3) was sitting on the counter. She and dada were having a bonding moment and he gave her three big smooches in a row on her head. She giggled and inquired, “Dada, why are you giving me so many kisses?” He replied with, “Because you are sooooo cute!” 

Part of me cringed inside. I didn’t want to cringe – it was a beautiful moment. He was saying what he felt. She loved the attention. I didn’t say anything then, deciding I would just let it be. But it swirled around my head for a couple weeks and I knew it had to come out. I brought it up (you know how husbands love this – when you bring up some moment, like, “remember 2 weeks ago when you said xxxx?”) and explained to him that it accentuated the importance of being cute in winning her fathers love. “You could have said, ‘Because I love you.’” He, perhaps rightfully so (?), looked at me like I was a little crazy. “You don’t get it, do you?” I asked, but didn’t need to. “It’s just that I don’t want her growing up thinking that being cute is the most important thing,” I continued, “but maybe I’m just being a bit overly sensitive.” “Yes, I think you are” he stated. It is not the first time I’ve been told I’m “too sensitive”, I “think too much” or I am “too feminist.” 

I can’t help it. I am sensitive. I think a lot about the things happening around me (thus, this blog). I am a feminist. And my family can benefit from all of these things. Or be driven crazy by them. Or both. 

I dropped the topic with my husband. I call it “planting a seed.” It will not be the last time we talk about it, but truth be told, I also didn’t push it because I am really trying to figure this one out for myself: the role of beauty in my children’s self confidence. Both of my children are beautiful and they have both garnered a lot of attention from passer byers for their looks, especially Eliana, who is so petit. She is a miniature version of miniature and her fine little features, coupled with her big brown eyes are remarkable – she is “beautiful”, “cute” and “gorgeous.” I, myself get overwhelmed by her beauty, but then, I am her mother. They are both blessed to be so beautiful – being attractive provides for a lot of advantages in our world. I want them to know they are beautiful and I want them to feel beautiful and I want them to own beautiful – something I have struggled with (clearly). 

When we are 3, or even 5, knowing and believing we are beautiful is easy. It gets harder. So, in particular, I want my daughter to also own smart and funny and feisty and fill in the blank with whatever she wants to own. Max too, but society is better set up for allowing him those things. For her, I just don’t want ‘pretty’ to top her list of priorities. I, of course, tell her all of these other things, along with being beautiful, but there just seems to be something very important about that father-daughter relationship, if you want to believe anything about psychology over the last 50+ years. So I guess I just want Hubbie to say the right things. I want him to do the right things and to promote the right things. I guess I want to….um…..control things. I know, I know…I can’t. And I shouldn’t But I can absolutely educate, which is how I see my role in this. I’ll present my case to him, he can interpret and do what fits for him. After all, he married a feminist, so he kind of knew what he was getting himself into. I think. 

Then in the middle of all of this thinking about beauty and self-confidence, this film popped into my space: Miss Representation. Part of me is sad because I feel like this movie could have been made 20 years ago when I was in college, and it’s still, if not more relevant today. I do, however, think there have been some positive strides and attention for women too, just not enough. I also think that a very big part of being a parent is allowing my children appropriate doses of media for their ages and when I can’t control it anymore (because that time will come quickly), helping them understand the media and all of it’s images and personalities. To help them understand what it is and what it isn’t.  But I also think there is something to the responsibility of those producing the images in our media. I think the messages we send out in our world affect a collective consciousness which, in turn, affects how we see and treat people. And how we see or treat ourselves. 

So, I’ll go to the movie. I’ll blog some more. I’ll make a difference however I can. The biggest difference I can probably make is for the two little beings in my house, who provide even more inspiration for me to change the world we live in. Even if it’s one kitchen-counter conversation at a time.

Tae Kwon Don’t

I walked into parenthood admittedly blind and without knowing what I was getting into with virtually no baby/kid experience. Regardless, I had some pretty lofty ideals around food, TV and electronics and how our life would look, overall. What I’ve learned after 5+ years is that parenting is a lot about ‘letting go’. Letting go of a lot of things, like, a life resembling anything like it was before kids, but also letting go of a lot of some (somewhat) arbitrary standards.

When discussing and deciding extracurricular activities for our kids, one that we both agreed would be a positive thing was a martial art form. An Eastern disciplined sport seemed a good match for a Buddhist and an athlete. However, I stated in no uncertain terms that I did not want him in Tae Kwon Do. One of my nieces had been into this martial art form since she was a small child – she excelled at it and won all sorts of state and national tournaments as she grew into a lovely, charming adult. So why the harsh judgment? Years ago, I went to one of her practices – always living far from my family, I never managed a trip to see her at an actual competition. At the practice, the instructor was using phrases like, “imagine your opponent in front of you…imagine crushing his chin,” he hissed as they moved into their next gesture. Crushing his chin? THAT seemed awfully harsh for a young child. I don’t recall his whole monologue, but I remember being a bit taken aback by the violent nature. So, when it was Max’s turn to possibly start in a class, I made it clear that I didn’t want it to be Tae Kwon Do or Karate. We settled on Aikido, which hubbie had done for a while as an adult and it was exactly up my alley. Wiki says it best:

Aikido is often translated as “the Way of unifying (with) life energy“ or as “the Way of harmonious spirit.” Ueshiba’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

By comparison, Wiki’s definiteion of Tae Kwon Do includes:

Thus, taekwondo may be loosely translated as “the art of the foot and fist” or “the art of kicking and punching.”

We were having our initial conversation when he was ~ 3 years old, but the Aikido place that Mark had his eye on didn’t start until 5. We waited for 2 years. Recently, as we were exploring new activities for the fall, we looked up their schedule – we are now 5 and we were sure he would have a great time with this (it has been a challenge to find extracurricular activities that he actually likes). But the schedule didn’t work for us at all. Mark was being rather picky about the place to take him, feeling he had found “the” pure Aikido place.

And then his school after-school activities calendar showed up. Right there, on Mondays, right after school, he wouldn’t even have to leave the building, was a Tae Kwon Do class. I resisted at first. We looked for other Aikido classes. But nothing seemed to work very well for us. Welllll, I thought, how bad could it be? These classes usually have a tight affiliation with the school and it’s philosophies so THIS instructor probably won’t be talking about crushing other people’s chins. Right? 

And we promptly signed him up. He has only gone two weeks, but he actually really likes it thus far. And might I add something here? My tendency for ‘non-violence’ has been completely lost on this young boy who makes up violent scenarios about people’s heads coming off and gross things happening with eyeballs. Oh god, the eyeballs. I think he’s in for a career in horror films. And then there was this: Evolution Anyone?

So, this is what I’m talking about. Letting go. Going with the flow. I find parenthood challenging so I’ve found that my ideals get a little whittled back in the name of simplicity, ease and yes, sometimes just plain laziness (may I interject TV here?). My lofty ideals extend to lots of things – food, electronics including TV, cleaning up – and in all of these areas, compromise abounds. Interestingly, in many areas, I had ideals that were higher than my own that I live by – so those were probably not realistic. Over my lifetime, I have really settled into an ‘everything in moderation’ lifestyle, so I’m not sure why I ever thought it would be different with how I raise my kids. I guess because we see our kids as a way to make a better us. It’s our chance at redemption for our own vices. Or at the very least, we don’t want to impose our own vices or lack of self-discipline onto an innocent being. But the reality, I have found, is similar to how I end up feeling after moving. I have loved moving from city to city throughout my adult life. Each time I got a rush from the POSSIBILITY of finally being the person I always meant to be. And a short time after the move, I would realize that I was still me. I wasn’t going to fool anyone, including myself, that I wasn’t. So I think the ‘compromised ideals’ are more an acknowledgement that I am just me. I can’t be a different kind of parent than I am a person. My kids get a lot of treats. They watch more TV than I thought I would have been comfortable with. My son LOVES our ipad (my husband is hugely into computers and technology). And cleaning up? My husband is still working on training me in that. So, Tae Kwon Do it is! If this is the worst I do for my child, I think we are in OK shape.

Painful Pleasures

Lance Armstrong completely changed my perspective on cycling. Not because he is an inspiration of what a human can accomplish when they set their mind to it, which is true, but because of one line of one of one of his books, “It’s not about the ride”, which my husband recommend I read. I would not otherwise have read it – professional sports and athletes are really not my thing, but I had started road-biking a couple years before, so had gained a new appreciation for the sport and for him, the name with which it is so synonymous. I both loved and hated cycling – I found it to be often times grueling. Living in San Francisco, hills were everywhere and made every ride challenging. Even understanding that the terrain was difficult, I often had the thoughts that I was doing something wrong…that I should not be so hard…that I wasn’t in good enough shape…that I hadn’t been riding long enough…you name an excuse for why something might be hard and I thought it while pedaling out of the hills of Sausalito to cross back over the Golden Gate bridge to San Francisco. And then I read the book.

I often think to myself, when reading a book or a newspaper – “oh, this is why I’m reading this today” – something will answer a question that recently came up or spark an idea for my own writing. This was the thought that I had when I read the couple lines at the end of one of the chapters that was telling about an interview that he had with a reporter after one of the stages of The Tour. The question was around what kind of pleasure he got from biking so hard and for so long. He said that he had been perplexed by the question, and then he responded, “I don’t do it for the pleasure. I do it for the pain.”

And then I understood cycling. And I didn’t berate myself anymore when I my legs were burning or I started to feel nauseous or I wanted to cry when pumping up a huge hill. A cycling friend of ours, who had road-raced during college, confirmed this again when we were talking about the quote and he reiterated, “if you don’t enjoy suffering, you have no business cycling.” I had never thought of myself as enjoying suffering before, but as a long-distance runner, I realized that part of me sort of did. Perhaps not enjoying the suffering in the moment, but enjoying the feeling of having pushed through the suffering to complete something anyway. The whole ‘that which does not kill me” thing.

I have been reiterating this experience (the transformative effect of the quote in the book) for years now to other cyclists or often, to other people starting out who say things like, “I don’t think I can cycle, this is too hard.” But only the other day, did something dawn on me…as I was speaking with a fellow-mother friend of mine at a particular low point for me. It was an end-of-day, “I don’t know what I’m doing oh my god my daughter is 3 and I don’t know if I can make it and I’m feeling bad because I don’t think I handled it very well today” kind of days. I heard myself talking and the analogy was so clear. “This is just like the cycling quote!” and I explained. “If you don’t enjoy suffering, you have no business being a parent!” I continued and it was true and funny and we had a good laugh and it was exactly what I needed.

And my perspective on parenting changed just like that. I don’t mean to sound mellow-dramatic, but it really hit me at that moment – how I resist the unpleasant moments (it’s hard not to resist a 20 minute, 130 decibel melt-down at a public pool. I could tell the lifeguard felt that he should somehow get involved – a child screaming that loud activates something within those trained to save lives.) But it pulled me out of the “why did I ever choose to become a mother?” moment because I realized I was just pumping up a big hill. That everything has its ups and downs. Parenting, I think, often has some doozies thrown in there, like the big hill you are pumping up and just as you crest, you see that it’s followed by another hill. By the third one of these, you kind of feel like throwing the bike down and stomping off the road, i.e. giving up. I actually did this once – a lifetime ago – in high school – when a girlfriend and I decided we were going to start cycling for exercise. I pulled out my what seemed like 100 pound Schwinn, which was about the same that I weighed then, dusted it off, and away we went. It was an incredibly windy day, and I don’t think I ever really knew how to change the gears on my 10-speed back then, so I had a moment – I tossed my bike to the side of the trail and walked off saying it was too much, that I couldn’t go on. My friend remained calm and in a half-sympathetic, half “oh brother” kind of way, reminded me I didn’t have a choice, and if I wanted to get back home, I better get back on the bike. Right. And such is parenting. Breaks. Good nutrition. Lots and lots of water. Bouts of suffering followed by intensely joyful periods. Pretty much the same.

(ps – if you are thinking there’s something more to my ‘suffering’ to transform and that this term might seem particularly interesting coming from a Buddhist, I think you are right and I think there’s another blog post about this in the near future. But for now, they are the same).

Mother’s Day In

Mothers – be prepared to be jealous.

Today, my husband took our kids out of the house for 7 hours! They went off and did some sort of fun involving water slides and lazy rivers, but I have little interest in that. The point is that I had hours…..HOURS to myself IN my very own home!! This SO does not happen, um, ever, in our house. My husband works from home and my kids are not back to school yet, so we get plenty of each other all day long. Yes, I can hole up in my room / office when the nanny is here and I get to be ‘alone’ (except when the kids think of something really important they have to tell me, like, some of the rocks have been moved in our front yard or they have apple stuck in their teeth), but to be free to wander at my hearts delight with no one to distract me, but my own ADD’d self…glorious. Here’s exactly what I did:

  1. I was on a bike-ride when they left, so technically, I first rode 40 miles with a fun group of ladies (Austin Flyers) – girlie time AND exercise in one!
  2. Came home to an empty, SILENT home. aaaahhhhhh
  3. Took a shower with no one sitting right outside the shower asking, ‘when are you going to be done?’
  4. Meditated for 15 minutes. aaaahhhhhhhh
  5. Napped for 5 (I remembered that I left the garage door open just as I was dozing off. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?)
  6. Made coffee and my 2nd breakfast of the day, or maybe it was my third, but I think it also counted as lunch. Coffee…..aaaahhhhhhh. Read a MAGAZINE while I ate. Simple pleasures, y’all, simple pleasures.
  7. I then tackled a project that has been on my list and growing for over a year. I kid you not – I had a year and a half worth of art projects for both kids to organize. Anyone who has pre-schoolers knows what a mountain this was. I had not kept everything, but it was enough. It took me 3 + hours, but it’s all sorted, tossed (neighbor’s recycling bin), and organized into 2 tidy binders so they can peruse and analyze a chronological progression of their toddler to pre-schooler art skills.
  8. Patted myself on the back. Sang the praises of me. Smiled smugly.

And then they came home. And I was SO HAPPY to see them all! I felt rested and great from accomplishing a HUGE task that’s been on my list forever. Now, I hate to be greedy, but I’m just eyeing my other humongous projects on my list (can anyone say, ‘baby books’?) and I’m seeing more daddy-time in my kids’ future. It’s for them. In the end…really, it is.