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.

The One

This was written for the prompt,“When did you first understand the meaning of love?” It was an essay contest that I didn’t win (Real Simple) and I had to agree with the judges on their pick for the winner…it’s beatuiful. here

We’ve all heard the saying and probably found ourselves, at one time or another, stuck between a rock and a hard place. This was how I felt about my situation even though the reality was that I was stuck between two great guys. No, this is not a story of sexual fantasies, but of being surrounded by love, or at least potential love.

I was new to San Francisco. It was my dream-city except that I had just left Paris and was not entirely thrilled about the move. I left behind my French boyfriend (consistent with my love of all things foreign) of 4+ years and dreams of living in Europe indefinitely. Living in Paris is dreamy, but it was a stressful situation. I was 30 years old and had graduated the year prior with my MBA from London. My boyfriend and I had officially “moved in together” while I searched…and searched for a job. While my student loan funds dwindled, the 1-year grace period for pay-back was quickly ticking by. It was challenging. My mantra had become “relationships are hard” but still, our informal union held strong during this tumultuous time. One thing that bound us was our spiritual path into Buddhism, which we had gone down together. Coupled with a romantic view that “love conquers all,” we practiced cultivating calm and happiness despite life’s challenges.

Finally, I had to accept that I wasn’t going to launch my career in foreign territory. I visited San Francisco, my favorite US city, and miraculously landed a dream position in fashion retail. While gathering my possessions in Paris, the question hung in the air… “Are you coming?” His answer: A loving “désolé” (sorry) – he had too much at stake in Paris to leave. I put into practice all the Buddhist theory and enjoyed my final week in Paris, despite the impending end of our relationship. I frequented my favorite cafes and perused my favorite neighborhoods, drinking in the charm and beauty that Paris so generously pours.  Feeling torn apart by circumstance, Giles and I also savored each other.

I was surprised by the relative agility with which I let go, but San Francisco and a new job opened a new chapter in my life. Dating was the absolute last thing on my mind, but I seemed to be attracting men at every turn, and this was in a city with a notoriously difficult dating scene! I was suddenly the ‘interesting’ one, having just returned from three years abroad. However, while I felt I had successfully ‘let go’ of my prior relationship, I was not yet ready to ‘move on’. Then I met John.

We had a connection that could not be denied. “John?” my family questioned, “from Oklahoma?” They were confused, because the last eight years were spent with men of foreign origin with names they could not spell. John was funny, smart, and attentive, but thirty days out of my long-term relationship, we were both a little shocked by the intensity of our feelings for each other. On our first date I was up-front about coming off of a 4-year relationship. “So, I am rebound man,” he disappointingly stated. “I don’t think so,” I said sincerely, “I’m in a really good space with all of this.” We quickly sanctioned the relationship exclusive and I even asked my married sister, “How do you know when it’s ‘the one’?” This felt insanely different than anything before.

And then “the” call came – the one that most girls dream of. Giles and I were still friends, but I had not mentioned John – we weren’t that good of friends. This was the, “I realize my mistake” call. The “I want to move to the U.S.”, the “we should get married” call. I suspect he anticipated tears of joy or for me to run into his arms (metaphorically speaking of course, as we were across continents). Instead, there was silence…and a story about a guy named John. I confessed, although it seemed unlikely, that in three short months, I had moved on. “Désolé” I uttered.

He lived up to romantic French ideals and did not give up. He called regularly, pleading his case. He tried to set up meetings in neutral territory so I could be reminded of the love we shared. I declined all offers, but it proved perplexing. Part of me DID want to return to his arms – his arguments were valid – we DID share something remarkable –for over 4 years! The internal strife escalated to regular crying: on the cable car (true – I got to ride the cable car to work!), AT work and every evening. If I took Giles back, John would be hurt. If I stayed with John, Giles would be. I am a very nice person. I don’t like to hurt people. I knew I was going to hurt one of them. I had hurt people before –other boyfriends, other break-ups, but this felt different – it felt like I was between that rock and that hard place.

Of course, with hindsight and telling the story – it’s blaringly obvious. A life lesson was being learned – to make decisions based on my own feelings, despite what others want. It’s a little unnerving to look back and realize how torn I was, choosing what I wanted. Even after long hours of meditation, I was unable to see the writing on my internal wall -the inside of my very own heart.  I had muffled my internal voice for so long, that I couldn’t hear it. For someone who proclaimed self-awareness, I now think that that may have been the reason I cried for all of those weeks. In case you are wondering, John was playing the supportive, “I’m here when you need me” role, but I knew it wasn’t fair to cry on his shoulder over my struggle between him and another man.

While out shopping (so cliché-retail therapy), yet another call came – one I had sort of been waiting for. Giles had just arrived to the San Francisco airport. He had flown from Paris and was determined in to win back my heart. I had approximately one hour to cancel my date with John, get home and prepare to be swooped up in a grand romantic feat. This could have been the fairy tale story for our wedding album! He rang my apartment from the call-box outside. I slowly descended the stairs and our eyes met through the pains of the thick front door glass. He smiled and waved with his boyish charm that I always found endearing. His eyes were teasing me – he was riding a wave, euphoric from this amorous drama. And that’s when I heard it. I heard her – the voice that spoke to me from within. She wasn’t crying, or even sad. She was no-nonsense and loving at the same time. Suddenly, I knew this wasn’t the relationship I wanted for the rest of my life. I realized that I had known that all along, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of letting someone get away who promised to love me forever. This voice inside of me told me that I didn’t need Giles or John or anyone else to love me, because what was most important was that I loved me. With years of hindsight I also understand that I wouldn’t have been able to truly love another without recognizing and nurturing love for myself. All of my Buddhist ideals of love and compassion were for naught, if I couldn’t cultivate those things for me.

Twenty-four hours later, after a lot of talking, crying and very little sleep, Giles boarded a return flight to Paris. It was strange – I felt sad and relieved simultaneously. It felt so good to have listened to that voice! My explanation was a bit cryptic, “I can’t explain it, but I just can not get back together with you.” How do you explain the voice that tells you something against all logic – a loving four year relationship, unforgettable experiences, and promises for the future? I guess, that’s the funny and wonderful thing about it – love has nothing to do with logic. Love resides in the heart, logic in the mind. I had been trying to make a decision using the wrong part of my anatomy!

As it turns out, John was rebound man. Shortly after my revelation, our connection fizzled and we amicably parted ways. He was clearly sent into my life to teach me the lesson of my own heart. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the next man I dated, a few months later, eventually became my husband. For the first time, a relationship was born from a space of love that I already held for myself. I no longer felt that “relationships are hard,” and I didn’t have to ask my sister what it felt like to find ‘the one’. I knew how to listen to the one that mattered most. Me.

A Different Speed

I’ve been thinking about speeding and thinking about writing about speeding for a long time. I get that it’s kind of a strange thing to think about speeding – it’s more something we DO, than something we think about, but if you haven’t gathered this about me already, I think a lot. To a fault, for sure. I wonder what that says about me that I find over-analyzing fun? 

Anyway, the reason I’ve thought a lot about speeding is because just over five years ago, I moved to this lovely city of Austin. Where weird is good, where gluten-free is the norm, and where people drive really fucking slow. I can be a little weird – that’s certainly relative. I DO eat gluten (gasp!), though I know enough about food and health-food lingo to be accepted. But the driving? I immediately wanted to write about it because I found it so frustrating – but that just seemed darn-right rude. Move to a city and then publicly criticize most of the drivers? Who does that? So, instead, I’ve just been thinking about it for five years. And in the last month, I’ve officially forked over $410 in speeding fines for 2 tickets (I had another one at the beginning of the year for which I forked out another $200 and 6 hours of time for a defensive driving course), so this issue has come to a head. Specifically, I’ve had to admit that maybe I have a problem (deep breath, still kind of hard to write). 

First, let me explain the backdrop on my belief about speeding. I think everyone is wired, like in a biological way, on a few key aspects in life and so it’s very hard to go against these things. I have developed this theory because I am a person who is wired one way, but grew up in another way. For example: Climate preference. I am wired to live in HOT climates – 85 degrees is my sweet spot, I am cold in anything less than 70 degrees and I think anything below 50 is absolutely intolerable. The astonishing thing to most people is that I grew up in Wisconsin. It was 23 years of seasonal hell. Sure, I appreciate the beauty of the first snow-fall and crisp, cold sunny days where the snow crunches under one’s boots, but you better believe that on the finest of winter days, I am wearing at least 5 layers and honestly, I just don’t think one needs to live where one feels the need to be is so heavily protected. 

I also think the wiring comes into play in the big city/small town choice. Linked, clearly, to the central nervous system, I think people are wired for the lively energy, loud buzz and constant magnificent moving machinery of a big city OR the slow-pace simplicity of a small town. I’m a big-city gal and I grew up in a town of miniscule population (3,000 people). I remember my first trip to Chicago when I was in middle-school. I went with a friend who had cousins that lived in the suburbs. We all went into the city for the day and I was speechless from the beauty of the skyscrapers, the sophistication of the inhabitants and the abundance of things to DO there. I felt at home. 

All of this is to say that I think how fast (or slow) one drives is a hard-wired attribute as well. The climate gene, the urban gene and the speed gene. Perhaps not identified yet, but I’m pretty sure they exist. I say this because I think there is a certain speed that everyone is just comfortable driving at and I’ve been, in the past, an advocate of people driving at the speed they are comfortable at, EVEN (deep breath) if that means they drive below the speed limit. While this drives me nuts when I’m behind these people, if I think about it, I don’t want them to speed up if they don’t think they can handle driving at the speed limit. I MIGHT be inclined to make the argument that the speed limit be sort of a barometer for whom we let on the streets,  but as my clearly slow-driving neighbor argued, it is a speed LIMIT and not a speed minimum. Hmmmm. Yes. Semantics will get me every time. Not to mention I have a harder time making the opposite argument because there certainly is something like ‘excessive speeding’, which of course, no speeder thinks they do, present company included. 

On my first draft of this post, this was the section where I was going to justify my speeding. I felt it was part of getting to acceptance of the problem. I was right on that, but much to your benefit, I have been talking about all of this among friends, and I’ve realized that my arguments sound pretty ridiculous when voiced out loud. My whole ‘drive at your comfort level’ argument really sounded obnoxious when I presented that one in front of my book club – 12 highly intelligent women who all presumably like me a little bit on some level – but who were happy to put me in my place. That was like a sweat-lodge: I had to purge a lot of beliefs and notions I had about it as I ranted like a crazy person. The book for that month was “In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.” In all other areas, I agreed with the author, I still wasn’t with him (yet) on the speeding.

There were actually other speeders in that group, and over the last 6 weeks (since court) I’ve bonded with others and we all concur on one point: we are APPROPRIATE speeders. I really want to cling to this idea because I really think I AM an appropriate speeder, but I do recognize that enforcing ‘appropriate speeding’ is a little trickier. And so when I finally dropped that argument, and with countless hours of scoul scraping (it’s been painful) this is where I got to with staying within speed limits: I don’t like people to tell me what to do. I’m not sure anyone does, but speed limits, in particular, seem a tad arbitrary – where I’ve been picked up twice, the speed limit changes from 30 to 35 within blocks of each other and it’s actually faster downtown, which makes no sense to me. It really bugs ME to follow rules that don’t make sense to ME – because I am so important. Or so my ego believes. Interestingly, I ask my children to do this every day. I can reason that my rules make sense (I am not a strict mom by any means), and they DO to an adult, but to my children? Not always. So, the speed limits are arbitrary to me. To a police officer? To the judge? The people who actually matter here? Not so much. It’s pretty simple. It’s their rule. Follow it. 

While following arbitrary rules is slightly painful, it’s more painful for me to be paying these exorbitant ticket prices (in TX, you can pay more money to avoid it going on your record, an injustice for sure, but one that has been working out for me), so I have been working on re-wiring. That’s right. Just because I believe we have the climate gene, the urban gene and the speed gene, doesn’t mean I believe we can’t live another way. San Francisco, for example is the town closest to my heart, but it is arguably downright chilly for much of the year. I know plenty of people who prefer small towns, but live in big ones and vice versa. No one DIES from this. And then there’s this big one: As a Buddhist, it does seem a tiny bit contradictory to insinuate that happiness is tied, even in the slightest, to our external circumstances or constraints. And in fact, this is much what a spiritual path is about: re-wiring our habits and thoughts that create our unhappiness. It just took an interceding party (the police) to make me unhappy about speeding, otherwise, it suited me just fine. It takes an interceding party (the police) to keep people from doing lots of things that suit THEM just fine. Yes, I get it. 

Back to the night of book club, a self-proclaimed slow-driver (she told me she uses her cruise to ensure she stays at the speed limit when I told her I was having to use mine a lot to stay at it) and I were arguing back and forth about speed limits and she kept saying, “it’s fast enough”…”that area? 30 miles per hour is fast enough”, “65 is more than fast enough on a highway through town”, etc. etc. Her words were like a slow-working esthetician, annoying and painful. However, as I’ve been working on the re-wiring, staying conscious of my speed at ALL times (I took an oath in court to not be picked up again within 6 months, so paranoia has been high), using my cruise control in particularly challenging areas, I keep hearing her words in my head. I know the re-wiring is working because lately I’ve been answering her, even as other drivers speed past me, saying yes, it is. It wasn’t that I was in a hurry before, it’s just that I was just trying to get everywhere faster; going my own speed. But I live in Austin now. It’s a small-ish town, relatively speaking from where I and so many people who have moved here come from, and it’s a great place to be. And yes, it is, indeed, fast enough.

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.

Death by Steve Jobs

I’ve alluded to this before, but I think a lot about death. I sometimes attribute this to being Buddhist, but really, I’ve always thought a lot about death. About my own, about losing those that I love, about how lucky I’ve been to be sheltered from it because I also often reflect on the heartbreak and tragedy it brings. I’ve written very long blog posts about death, never to publish them because death is… messy. It is so simple and yet, so complicated. One of the most interesting things about death, I think, is that we call the ones who are left behind the “survivors” when, in fact, I am certain that these are the victims. Dying is easy* – dealing with death is hard.

It seems appropriate, however, today, of all days, to write about death – the day that the world lost an incredible one of us. I also find it interesting that when people are great in life, their death seems to have as much, if not more of an impact as their life. I say more because death is the one thing that truly humbles every one of us. In this humility, we are acutely aware of own humanity. It forces us to reflect on our own lives, on the lives of others. “We” lost a public figure – a man who did think differently and whose ideas changed our material world, whose character may have changed our emotional one. But a few lost a father, one lost a husband. Their grief is the same grief shared by every person who has ever lost a father or a husband. Or a wife or a sibling or a child. So then “we” empathize with those most affected by the loss of an individual, and we can look at the ones we love through the lens that lets us all see what’s important. That we are alive. It’s the tougher of the two options, but wow, isn’t that great?

Perhaps reflecting on the loss of a man such as Mr. Jobs, whose life has impacted our world so greatly inspires us to be better,  but I think that what better means is that it actually inspires us to be us, more human, more connected. Death is happening all around us, every day, but when it happens to someone like Steve Jobs it reminds us that life, no matter how big and boldly it is lived, is fragile. It is said that the reason the Buddha chose to die was to teach impermanence – that no matter how enlightened one is, they are not free from the cycle of life. Steve Jobs was a great man – but really, his life was no more precious or valuable than our own. The same potential resides in us all. Thanks, Mr. Jobs, for reminding us of that. He did change our lives and how we use technology, but perhaps his greatest gift is right now, our collective nod to one another and our appreciation for life.

*clarification: I don’t think the process of dying, of leaving this physical world, is easy at all, I think it’s very very hard. What I meant here was more the after-math of death.

Anger and Other Emotions

Anger. Anger. Agh! Anger! What to do with you!!?? I would say, as a mother, no, as a human, anger is my “issue” to deal with in this lifetime. Pride, jealousy, all of those other ‘icky’ emotions got noth’n on me, but anger, oh Lord, may the world be protected from the wrath of me. It’s not what people expect from a Buddhist, from me. People I discuss this with are always shocked, “you seem so laid back!” they proclaim. It makes it all the harder for me to reconcile myself.

I’ve always dealt with anger, but honestly, as a single working person, there just wasn’t THAT much, on a daily basis that could trigger this ugly emotion the way that, now, motherhood does. It’s what drove me to my therapist for the first time – I had so much anger and resentment built up towards my husband and my life in general, that the silt was way past my neck – it was clouding my vision – I was drowning.

What my therapist has helped me see, and where I have made teensy bits of headway, is seeing that anger is just another emotion. When I heard that the first time, I guffawed in sarcasm, like the Taj Mahal is just a building, was what I thought. Or like Hell is just another place to whittle away some time. Because sometimes I feel like when my anger comes to visit, it takes me, temporarily at least, to a whole ‘nother place. And it aint pretty. (don’t know where all of this redneck language is coming from.)

Last night I had an “episode” like I haven’t had in a while. One of those where I get pushed to the point of breaking – the point where I let go of all “appropriate behavior” (two words I’ll usually be using with my children shortly before demonstrating my own lack of it). I am finding it useful to recognize my triggering points so that I can start to see the warning signs, but also hoping to go to the source of this spark.

(totally skip-able paragraph if you are not interested in my own personal triggers)

My personal triggering point is two-fold, and it can happen with children or anyone else, but honestly, children are adept at these particular 2 points. The first trigger – something rooted and wired in me from who knows when – is someone not listening to me. Interestingly, something children must feel a LOT. Then, when someone (again, often children) are not listening to me AND I start pulling out all of my parenting tools (I find my order tends to be something like this: I try compassion and listening, then playfulness, then firm kindness, then play the “consequences” card) and then when none of my tools work, I promptly lose it. I see as I write this that screaming is my final way to get them to listen to me. Perhaps throwing around some pillows or pounding on the bed really hard will get them to pay attention!! Although, really, at the point I lose it, they are so upset that they can’t “hear” me anyway. It’s scary to watch the person who is in charge of your entire life completely lose their minds – there are a lot of scary implications within that. But to be honest, IN that very moment, I am glad they are scared. I am scared too and my child-self is still blaming them for pushing me to this point. Last night it was when I was screaming at my child that HE needed to pull it together (it was his horrendous whining and complaining that got us to this point) that shocked me back to reality. The irony of that statement actually triggered my sanity to return. And almost as quickly as I flare, I can take a deep breath and regain my calm. OK, not always – sometimes it takes a minute of breathing and talking myself off the ledge. It depends. But the point is that I recover and then my new sane eyes look to my children who are either crying and scared or just staring in bewilderment (this was my 3 year old, observing as I ‘lost it’ with her 5 year old brother). We then gather on the couch and this is where I bumble through with everything I want to say about the situation.

But here is where I get all confused in spiritual / conscience parenting analysis. I want my children to know that it’s ok to have big emotions. That it’s normal. Human. But, of course, I want to teach them appropriate ways to handle their anger. This sounds really really good on paper: Appropriate Ways to Handle Anger. Rational. Calm. Anger as part of a pretty floral arrangement of emotions. But anger doesn’t show up like this for me. If it did, it wouldn’t be anger. My anger is raw and messy and bloody (not literally), oily and hot. When I give in to it fully, I revert to something virtually unrecognizable – it eats the floral arrangement of emotions. And I have to tell you, it feels kind of good. In the moment that is, but only in that moment of letting it out. The aftermath is a killer. One does not even get to bask in the glory of letting it out for a few moments before the hangover sets in. This hangover is not of headache and nausea, but of shame and regret, embarrassment and guilt. How in the WORLD can I ever espouse those two words – ‘appropriate behavior’ again after this display, I think, every time. It makes me want to throw in the towel. Give my kids a hug good-bye and wish them well, but explain that it’s best that I’m not their mommy. I can’t handle it. I’m not cut out for it. I’ll be finding a suitable replacement and sending her shortly.

But as it turns out, I might be hard pressed to find the mom who doesn’t occasionally lose it. The more I talk to other moms about this, the more it seems we all do it. It doesn’t make it right (or does it?), but this is where I get lost and confused (two states I find myself in so often these days). I’ve read lots of parenting advice that says it’s OK to lose it, it’s the clean-up of the after-math that is important. But as I fumble around with words, explanations (what mommy did was NOT appropriate), and apologies (I used to apologize for getting angry, now I apologize for the behavior and for ever hurting their bodies – while I have never hit my children or done anything intentionally abusive (though I fully get that this is the point when people do), if I am taking them to their rooms or some other consequence, my hand is not as gentle as I would like it to be when I am angry ), I wonder if and how this can be good for them. And this is where I am with anger. I can now at least say that and sometimes see that it IS just another emotion, I can also see that it is my fear of it that makes it something bigger. My therapist pointed out that I still can’t give myself permission to ever show anger – to really treat it like another emotion. And this could not be more accurate. While I can now put it in a list of emotions and see it as one of the pages in my children’s books that illustrate different emotions (how I wish anger just showed up as a mad face), I would actually like to asterisk that one with the caveat at the bottom that says, *while anger IS another emotion and it’s fine for you to express appropriately, it would be best if mommy just didn’t go there.

So, the reason I am even writing this is to drag you through, once again, my thought process and to work this damn thing out. I feel it, as I write, that it’s a little bit unrealistic to not have anger at all. It can be just another page in the children’s book. Just because it’s trickier – more difficult – is all the more reason to start talking about it early. It’s just interesting b/c it’s not like any other emotion. I can’t think of other emotions that need to be “handled” in the same way, that need to be explained with appropriate means of expressing them and then PRACTICED. But maybe this is just me making it big again.

Even with the bumbling, I am starting to see that maybe this IS ok. That it’s better they see me struggle with emotions, just like they do. And when my son emulates my behavior sometimes, by screaming at his sister, it’s OK…we are BOTH learning…together. But it’s hard to show this vulnerability to the people in your life that you most want to impress. And impress upon. And so this is where I sign off, still in my struggle to find the balance of sharing big feelings and searching for that “appropriate” way to do it. I’m having a hard time summing and wrapping up. It has haunted me for years and I’m sitting in the middle, looking for that ray of inspirational conjecture to leave my other moms out there with. But maybe, like I’m doing with my children, I’ll keep it real and just ask your forgiveness for not having the answers. If you have some, please send, or at least send me your address and I will look you up the next time I’m looking for that replacement mommy. Kidding. Kind of.

Another g-word

Tonight was a very special book club because we had the author of this month’s book come and speak to us. We read I, Too, Have Suffered in the Garden, by Jennifer Hritz. As a writer , though in a different league, I was compelled to attend and ask her all kinds of questions about how to write, despite the fact that I am leaving on a 10 day international adventure tomorrow and had not yet packed a thing. This is really not so unusual for me, I have been packing, or not packing like this for a good 15 years (since my first international trip where I got bit by a fierce travel bug and haven’t really stopped since), but still, as a mother now, there are a LOT more things to organize before leaving town. Before I digress on the trip, which is taking up a lot of my brain-space right now, let me get my point out about the book.

First point: it’s really good. You should read it. Jennifer is a local author (plus), she self-published (really supporting HER when you buy it more about this in a sec), and you can support the local and independent bookshops by purchasing it, unless you buy it on amazon, which is fine too, because you are still getting a great book and still supporting a lovely author.

Second, and actual main point: We heard Jennifer’s trials of finding an agent for her book, which had actually won a good handful of awards. Under normal circumstances, a book that wins a bunch of awards is an easy sell to an agent. But the circumstance around this book is this and just this: the book’s narrator is a gay male. It’s about his life and yes, he’s in a gay relationship. Shocking? No, not really, right? Well, due to this, she was not able to find anyone who would represent her and her book – some wouldn’t even read it. I know – I read the papers, well, no I don’t, but I hear things and see headlines about continued discrimination, but that’s for policy / marriage kind of stuff (and it’s maddening, btw). Are we really still in a space that, as the agents say, not many people are interested in even reading about gay relationship? I am of very liberal mind and San Francisco is my kindred city, so perhaps I don’t have the most secure grasp on the ‘average’ person’s feelings around sexual orientation, but I can’t help it, I am still shocked. I get that it might take someone to take a little risk in the publishing business, but it feels like we are at a point where someone might be willing to do that. Nope. Not even gay agents.

So, she self-published, and I think the world is a better place for it. The book, while centered around the gay narrator and his life, is about human struggle – death, honesty, self-destruction…but also about life, hope and moving on. The fact that two men are going through all of these themes together seems almost secondary, but not. It’s like Bill Cosby wanting people to notice that the Huxtables were black. I think Joel (character in book) might have wanted people to notice that they were gay. Getting a glimpse inside a gay household, even or especially set inside a fiction novel, may make people realize that it’s shockingly similar to their own. And commonalities are what, eventually, brings everyone together. So, yea Jennifer, for putting the book out there. Now go read and be merry and accepting and bright.

Ps. Leaving for a 10 day trip (London and Norway. Yes, I am spoiled). I really really really hope to be writing and posting along the way, but I know better – the world is not AS wired as we would always like it to be (hmmmm, kind of a theme here), so if you don’t hear from me, I have not abandoned my blog, I am just soaking up more of life’s adventures so I have something to blog about later. Thanks for understanding.

The Perfect World

I went to a movie last week, in the midst of my blahs. I went to see I Am – The Documentary (not to be confused with I Am – the Movie). It’s a film by Tom Shadyac (movie director who ‘discovered’ Jim Carey), who, after an injury to his head, came out with a lot of clarity about what is important in life. There is something kind of funny about, literally, being hit over the head here, but it was very serious, so I’m going to refrain. He realized that making gobs of money was NOT the important part. It didn’t make him one iota happier. So he did what he does best, and he made a movie about it. He approached the documentary setting out to answer two questions: What is wrong with the world and how do we fix it?

It’s not exactly original, if you’ve seen What the Bleep Do We Know, or dare I mention, The Secret (I know, I know, lots of controversy around that one, but there was a definite ‘connected’ theme), and he uses a lot of similar sources – examples in nature, spiritual anecdotes and a lot of quantum physics – to come up with answers to his questions. But what it might lack in originality, it more than makes up for in the importance of the message – especially being put out there from a Hollywood funnyman icon, like him, in order to attract a wider audience. The movie starts broad – pointing out the insanities of our society and whittles down to the idea of connectivity – that we are all (everyone on the planet) connected, and how we live, how we have set up our societies tends to be very disconnected. Agreed, Mr. Movie Maker. By the end, the message is boiled down to one word: Love. All we need is love. (I think I’ve heard that somewhere before). Well, love and a little action. Not action as in snogging in front of the television, but action, like, show love and compassion to your neighbor. To everyone, really, but at least to your neighbor.

With messages like this, not only as a Buddhist, but also just as a human, I have to give the movie a thumbs-up. But here’s where I am potentially finding a tiny bit of fault. And this is where I am going to go into some pretty crazy philosophical musing, so bear with me.

What if there isn’t anything wrong with the world? What if where we are at, as humankind, is actually – now brace yourself – perfect. On my own spiritual quest, I have come to understand that everything is perfect. Me? Perfect, in my imperfect way. Life? Perfect, in it’s imperfect way. So, if we project this out, and everyone is perfect in their imperfect way and everyone’s life is perfect in it’s imperfect way, then isn’t everything perfect, in it’s imperfect way?

Wait, wait wait! Before you close your browser or flip over to something less crazy, like, Desparate Housewives of Orange County, give me one more chance to explain. I see it. It’s not right. The greed. The poverty. The violence. The wars. The killing…oh, the killing (my heart bleeds). The insanity. The abuse. The illness. The disparities of basic living comforts, let alone living luxuries between countries. Between people. The homelessness. The gluttony. Lord, do I see it. And it pains me. And it must change. But you know how, in life, when you go through some tragedy? When things are so hard, so heavy, you think you might break? When you feel hollow and think that you are being testing on that ‘God/The Universe only gives you what you can handle’ piece of advice (I love that one of my closest friends has dispelled that one by pointing out that plenty of people have nervous break-downs, though, admittedly, that isn’t dying so maybe it is still, technically, ‘handling’ it)?  Well, I talk to or read about very few people who don’t come out transformed on the other sides of those tragedies and rough times. Not that they would ever want to re-live them or anything like them, but that they can see how that period in their life changed them. Usually, they report that, in the end, it opens their hearts. And that, I am going to argue, is always a good thing.

So maybe, just maybe, global humanity is going through a really freak’n hard time right now. Like, we are really being tested here – the pain, the suffering, how can it be?? It definitely looks like we are headed to a breaking point. Sometimes, it SEEMS like people are turning a blind eye. BUT are they? Didn’t Mr. “living the life” movie-maker see the light? There is more and more out there, raising our consciousness. I mean, Oprah just created her own NETWORK to espouse this stuff. Right??? Even the natural disasters? Lordy, this stuff makes my heart hurt, but doesn’t it also open our hearts? Empathy drives home at least one thing: that we are all… connected. And so it goes. One of these days I think we’ll get it. All of this heinousness is leading us into really really getting it. People are changing, and even if it’s one person at a time, eventually that makes everyone. We will save ourselves and I think we are going to come out on the other side a transformed, globally connected society.

You were warned – crazy philosophizing. I could be totally wrong here and we are all headed for hell in a handbasket. But in case I’m not wrong, in case I’m right, remember where you heard this first…from the Bumpkin. Then put me on a pedestal and throw gobs of money at me. Just joking.

Waiting for Change, I mean Godot, No, I mean Change!

I have been working on this post for a couple weeks…it’s so complex and so wrought with emotion for me, I’ve had a hard time getting this into any kind of thoughtfully articulated observation. So, bear with me as I just rant….

My husband handed me an insert, a special report section out of his WSJ over the weekend. It’s title? Women In The Economy. The Journal report headline is this:

A Blueprint for Change: At a Wall Street Journal conference, business and government leaders examined what’s holding women back in the workplace – and set out an action plan for creating new opportunities.

This may seem an oddly bitter reaction to a seemingly well intentioned conference, but bear with me for a moment. In one month’s time my husband and I are traveling to London to participate in our business school’s TEN year reunion. Why this is significant is that while I was at the school, I was the founder of a “little” club known as Women In Business. I say “little” because it’s become a big part of the school, which I am very proud of. In our first year of existence as a club, we held a Women In Business conference (now held annually) called “Breaking the Mould”, and it was all about, in so many words, and I quote from above, “what’s holding women back in the workplace.”

Arguably, 10 years in the history of our country’s economic history is nothing more than a drop in the bucket. I could even go back 9 years from that, when I began college, and this topic was covered in women’s studies and business classes alike. So, 10-20 years? Maybe it’s nothing…but it just seems like more would have changed in that time. How life-long activists do it, I am now wondering. 10-20 years in and I already don’t want to hear about this any more. Or I should say, I would at least like to hear something different. Sometimes I wonder, what does it say about things in “the workplace” when the founder of the Women In Business club dropped out of !?

OK, not entirely true, as I gently come ‘back in’ by starting a small marketing consulting firm. This fits what I’ve often read – that women are often working part-time or under the radar. I can certainly appreciate that the reasons for this are being looked at – I just feel like that this is all that must have been happening over the last 10 years – looking. Corporates (not meant to be derogatory, I was one for a long time!) want to keep studying the issue, but where is the change – the real change? There was nothing promising in this ‘report’. Mentors and company supporters…yes, yes…we’ve heard it all before. The numbers do not indicate that it’s working.

As a founder of a Women In Business club AND as a woman/mother who dropped out of corporate America, it seems kind of simple – corporate life as we know it is not particularly conducive or appealing to women who are juggling family and home responsibilities as well. Women are still paid less, on average, than men (someone else who shares my sentiment, Another Equal Pay Day? Really?), so the economics of the family unit usually lean towards men working, women staying at home or taking another career path. Given all of the demands, I think many professional women choose not to work because they CAN (like said founder of WIB club). I say all of this both a) acknowledging that I come from a privileged class of highly educated, professional women so I GET that this choice is actually a luxury, and b) greatly hesitating to project my tattered career path choices onto other women who may be perfectly happy with the choices available and the ones they have made. But from what I have seen, many if not most women I know would like to be working to some capacity, but when the choice is current corporate world plus most family responsibilities OR just family responsibilities, the stressful life of a full-time working mother often just is not a very attractive option. For the record, I have friends who are making all kinds of choices – from staying home for the first years of their child’s (childrens) lives to those to working full time. Clearly, different things make different moms happy. I don’t mean to insinuate that all full-time working mothers are miserable, but I do know that whether it’s full or part-time, what most moms are looking for is a great deal of flexibility.

Isn’t this really what it comes down to? Flexibility? And is it so much to ask? Perhaps this issue is still being addressed – that there are not a representative number of women in powerful positions – because the systems (both political and business) don’t allow for much flexibility and still attaining these powerful positions? There is a company that I have found through my own search for flexible working, called Mom Corps (www.momcorps.com). It’s gnawing at the edge of this huge mountain of hope called, “flexibility”. My experience with the site, however, is that the part-time opportunities are few and far between. There is even a video on their website that suggests that it probably is better to look for full-time work that has a lot of flexibility vs. limiting oneself with the availability of part-time positions. At the end of the day, it’s still easier for a company to hire one person to do one job. And ultimately, there are enough people available to work full time. Otherwise this would change. So, I hate to admit it, but I do not feel optimistic about things changing any time soon. I imagine this “talk”, this “analysis” to continue for my lifetime.

My one beacon of hope in all of this? We just had a woman, a mom, almost run for president…so perhaps strides have been made. I will believe this when it becomes a trend. I also can see that what is positive is that my generation has choices that other generations did not – that working or not working is a choice, even if I am not fully satisfied with the range of choices. Perhaps I am just spoiled. But it’s really not just me – because what I, or presumably the Wall street Journal folks are not satisfied with are the numbers of women running this country. Or the numbers of women not running this country. What will it take to change? I am really looking for answers here – please comment.