Rainboot Mindfulness

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In the span of a few months, the only full priced pair of shoes I’ve ever bought Potamus, has failed. True he’s worn them threadbare, with all his tromping and climbing and sliding. But I wasn’t prepared for the rain boot replacement, and then I showed up to school today and the gash in the side of the boot (that I had, perhaps, frugally thought I would repair with a big swatch of duct tape), and a ripped strap, and just general disrepair. And I realized, “dang, it’s time to replace these boots.” As it so happens, we live in Seattle, and it’s January, and it’s…RAINING.

Thank goodness I let my students out early today, so Potamus and I headed down to Fred Meyer by our house to pick out new rain boots. He was thrilled. The whole ride there he sang a little song that went something like “rain boots, rain boots, new rain boots,” and then included things like “mommy, me, scrummy, me, house, rain boots, new rain boots.” The melody is hard to translate, but it was adorable. When we arrived at the brightly lit shelves of the toddler rain boot section, I realized…good thing I only have one kid, because a) DANG THESE ARE EXPENSIVE and b) DANG THIS TAKES FOREVER.

I squatted down, frantically looking for a replacement size 9, which we  bought a size too big four months ago. And only finding one pattern (which he quickly rejected) we opted to try on some size 8’s that actually fit really well, but make me nervous that he’ll grow out of them in 3.4 seconds. He tried on butterfly boots “like aubrey,” and princess ones “like bella’s,” and didn’t want the sharks because they were “like madden’s,” and finally, after digging through all that rubber, he decided on the one pair of dinosaur boots that fit. Phew.

But wait!

The hemming and hawwing began again.

“They’re too big mama,” he said, which I protested because there’s no way they were too big. Too small, maybe, but definitely not too big. So we tried on the shark pair again. And then looked at the butterfly pair. He rejected the ladybug that was sorta ‘like aubrey’s’ but not exactly the same. We looked at plain red, plain yellow, you get the idea.

Oh the toddler indecision.

But after about five minutes into the haggling with my tiny, I was actually enjoying myself. I remember going to get shoes as a kid and feeling so stifled by the choices because a) I was gigantic and had gigantic feet and b) my mom was cheap on a budget, and c) there were 3 of us and we were always in a rush from one thing to another. I know that the luxury of spending 30 minutes hemming and hawwing over the perfect pair of rainboots will not be something I can do forever. But in the world of hurry up, where I’m always hustling him out the door in the darkness to school, or coming home and slamming things down to start dinner/snacks/tv show/cleanup, it felt nice to simply notice all the designs available for him to choose from.

And when he strutted out of the store, and on his own said, “thanks for buying my new rainboots,” I smiled and drank in the sweet moment that passes all too soon.

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New Year Resolutions?

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For the past few weeks I have been struggling with my motivation for yoga. I initially attributed it to the end of the 30 day challenge, that had taken a lot out of me emotionally, but as I processed with Mari yesterday, I think I’ve come up with some interesting reasons why it’s been hard lately. I mean, really there are probably a million factors, like I’ve been doing it consistently for a year, I’m not seeing any more weightloss or health benefits, some of the initial newbie growth has slowed down, and the premature dark weather has left me wanting to just sit around eating bon bons. But in processing, there were a couple more things that trickled do the surface and seem a little more substantial. Namely, the idea of fitting in to a community, and that reasons/motivations for doing things change.

Fitting in is exhausting.

I’m not sure people think about fitting in as exhausting, but for me it is. I typically self-identify as other in a lot of ways, sorta dancing on the edge of the campfire, rather than really getting in to the fray. I figure there’s a bit of adoption trauma and some personality traits at play here, because this idea of fitting, of being ‘home,’ or comfortable with people puts me on edge. Because if I’m ‘in’ then I could be ‘out’ and it’s easier to be ‘out’ when it’s by choice rather than fucking up and getting kicked out, ya know? It’s easier to be seemingly ‘less predictable,’ because when I do things a certain way for a certain amount of time the routine starts to stick to me in a way that makes deviating from it difficult. Like being the ‘funny one,’ in a group of friends. I am funny (despite what Boof things), but I’m also a really deep thinker. I like playing the fool as an archetype, but I don’t want to live there permanently. So part of my hesitation for even starting a yoga studio was because I knew it would fit me. I knew I would like it. And then what? What do you do when you find your place? Settle in? Get into a rut? That rebel part of me wants to bail before I get too comfortable. I love my yoga studio. I love feeling a part of something. And yet, feeling a part of something is also exhausting.

My other thought was about how much I’ve grown and changed in the past year. I think if I’m to do new year resolutions, or old year reflections, I should honor myself and the rhythm I feel in the academic calendar year. Fall feels like newness. Fall feels like the time to look back and see, who was I this same time last year? And the answer surprised me. Because last year I strongly advocated for myself to have 2-3 nights off for ME time. I went to therapy on Mondays, and Tuesday/Thursday was about yoga. Boof had worked a crazy busy season as an accountant AND THEN worked a second job all summer at the Mariners, and with long home game stretches left me alone with an 18 month old toddler and little sanity. I forcefully took back time for myself and treated my yoga as a body and spouse empowerment exercise. I got sexy in the weightloss department, finally shedding those baby pounds. I felt like an adult and like I mattered in my relationship because I wasn’t just being a doormat martyr whiny wife. It rocked.

But this year? This year feels different. Rather than wanting time away to feel empowered, I crave those connecting quiet moments with Boof and Potamus. And yet the consistent routine getting me out of the house twice a week is actually a good thing for my mental health. Otherwise I’ll want to go to sleep at 5pm when I get home. So I realized that my perspective had to shift in order to enjoy yoga again. That I was clinging too tightly to the old reasons and not allowing it to change to embrace my new reasons. Like introvert time after a long day of teaching. That rather than driven empowerment competition with myself, it was more about relaxation and fun and simply being present in the moment.

The instructor, halfway through the class, as we were lying in our first round of savasana, read a quote about happiness. That happiness needs to be allowed to come in many forms. That it needs to be allowed to grow and change like a child would grow and change. And that seemed to fit and make everything click inside me. It felt right to be in the studio even though it felt different than last year at this time.

So that’s my new academic year resolution. To simply allow happiness, or my yoga practice, to be different and change and grow to meet the present moment. It feels right that way.

How Boyhood the movie is changing my life

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By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of the incredible feat of a movie in Boyhood, which was filmed with the same actors over a period of 12 years. Having simply seen the previews, and hear a review on the radio, I decided to take myself out to see this 2 hour and 45 minute film that is being touted as an award winning movie with very little action. It, by all accounts, has broken many cinematic rules. There’s no plot, besides simply watching a boy grow up, and the actors (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke) committed over 12 years to make this film. The main character, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, was only 6 when he started the project. 

So there I was, sitting in a dark movie theater for a matinee showing with five other people. A young couple, who I judged to have no children yet, and older couple who seemed like grandparents, and a guy about my age. The five of were there to see the magic. 

But it wasn’t magic. Not at first. It was cute seeing the six year old boy’s antics, and how he related to his older sister, and his mom, and the scenes from life that unfolded before my eyes. Halfway through I felt bored. There was no action. Tiny episodes of drama, but mostly interpersonal relating. Scenes from year to year were marked by Mason’s haircuts. I was sitting in this theater thinking “what? what? this is it? this is what I paid good money for? Really? This is all there is? The cinematography isn’t even that spectacular. And the soundtrack? Is there even a soundtrack?”

These thoughts were much like the thoughts I have when meditating, or halfway through yoga. Monkey mind. I sat back for the rest of the film, followed the loose plot, and then BAM. (uh, spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the film…do not read on…)

BAM

Mason graduates from high school. His mom, played by Patricia Arquette, is sitting in her new apartment with her now-grown son, in that awkward teenage-almost-college-student-scruffy way is packing up his belongings. And she starts to cry. She says, “I just thought there’d be more.” At least that’s how I remembered it. She might have said “I just thought there’d be more time,” but nonetheless, I started to cry. Little tears rolled down my cheeks, not a full on sobbing mess, I can keep it together of course. 

The final scene is Mason hanging out with some of his new college buddies, and he has this conversation about the idea of ‘seizing the moment,’ rephrasing it by saying, “I think the moments seize you,” and suddenly the movie was spectacular. I think that was the magic in it. That I couldn’t tell how beautiful it was until it was over and I looked back, remembered earlier scenes and saw how the tied in to the ending. That life was unfolding and no matter how mindful in the here and now, there is something powerful in that moment of reflection, introspection, nostalgia. It was pure magic. 

And would it be crazy to say that a movie could influence me to want another child? No, that’d be totally daft, right? But I found myself, as I was watching the scenes unfolding, and the nostalgia I felt at the end when she said ‘I thought there’d be more time,’ that the reason I have only wanted 1 kid is not because I am afraid another will distract me from BIG life goals like curing cancer (or travelling to India) or doing a career I love…but that it will distract me from doing things like Buzzfeed quizzes. Now that might sound silly, but it’s true. When I get angry with Potamus for ‘interfering’ with my time, or not going to bed because I ‘just want a fucking minute to myself,’ It’s not because I want a minute to myself to do art or yoga or spend time with friends. Because I manage to find time to structure into my life to do those things. It’s that I want him to ‘go the fuck to sleep’ so I can scroll, scroll, scroll through Pinterest on my phone. 

I was asked once if I would get to be that 80 year old woman if I would regret not trying to have another kid. And I know the answer would be ‘no,’ if it meant I could be the best parent to 1 kid while pursuing my amazing life goals. I will regret not trying for another kid if it’s because I wanted to pin recipes to pinterest that I know I’ll never use. You know? 

Parenting is my mindful meditation. I get to drop into something deeper beyond buzzfeed quizzes and the monkey chatter of my thoughts. This isn’t a pregnancy announcement, or even an announcement that we will be trying any time in the near future (soonest will be next summer), but something settled in my body and heart when I watched this film. I realized that it is hard, and amnesia sets in at some point and I will say to myself, “I just thought there’d be more time.” 

A little less Hillary Swank, and a little more Khloe Kardashian

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notice the pearls…

I teach a community college class for 16-20 year old students who have dropped out of high school. This quarter my students comprised of:

A 17 year old recovering heroin addict.
A 19 year old who checked themself into the psych hospital for three days mid-quarter for suicidal thoughts that they hadn’t had since they were young and their dad hanged himself.
A 16 year old celebrating the year of life anniversary after recovering from an Oxy overdose in a suicide attempt.
A married girl who’s pregnant with her first child.
A few homeless students.
A student who was drugged and date raped at a party midquarter.
A student who narrowly escaped a juvy-life (until they are 21…so 4 years from now) sentence for a crime.

The list goes on, and on, and on. Each student with their own story. Their own life. Their own path to success and happiness.

And I got to witness it all.

In this line of work I come across people who have the mistaken impression that I am somehow saintly for doing “that kind of work,” with “those kind of students.” I’m no saint, believe me. And I think they have it wrong. Because, I don’t really teach these students. My goal, as an educator, is to provide a safe place where community and authenticity can happen. The students teach themselves. They inspire each other. They say, on our final presentation day, things like “before this I didn’t talk to peers, because highschool drama was just so intense, but you guys…you guys have become my family.”

Every quarter there are students who say they wish I could teach their classes forever. And I say that I don’t get funnier or better looking the next 10 weeks, and that they will be glad to move on. And I will be glad, in the first few weeks of the next quarter, to have them visit my class to let me know how they’re doing. They will fly on their own wings toward their own definition of success.

So what does this have to do with Hillary Swank? Or, if we want to go even more old-school, Michelle Pfieffer? These movies were ones I watched in school and thought, “I’m glad there are people who do that kind of work, but what are uppitty white women doing going into that kind of environment thinking they’re going to save the world?” I had ambitions to be an AP English teacher at a high school level. Graduate to the community college level. Then on to a prestigious university, perhaps, immersed in academia.

Maybe I left my pearl necklace at home on the first day of class JUST BECAUSE of watching Freedom Writers in college. Or maybe, somewhere along the way I got in touch with myself and that’s what my students can see. Maybe they notice the confused teenager longing for connection and understanding and a path toward success that lived inside me and informs my everyday actions with them. Maybe they notice that I don’t have to have it all figured out.

I have so far to go. But today one of my students, in her shoutout slide in her final presentation, said “Monk-Monk, I just want to let you know…I think you’re just like Khloe Kardashian.”

She meant it as a high compliment. And in reference to me saying that as an introvert I often come home and drink a glass of wine and watch The Kardashians on TV. I am their teacher, and Khloe Kardashian would play me in a movie. I kinda dig it.

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I wish you could all meet my students. Maybe someday you will. When they reach their goals of tattoo artist, trauma nurse, civil rights lawyer, software engineer, animal trainer, makeup artist. Their future shines so bright I’m gonna need shades to watch them soar into the sun.

Compassion for Difficult Family Members?

Last night my mom left a voicemail to call her back. Assuming that a voicemail like that was bad news, I called back pretty immediately. And she proceeded to say:

“Your Uncle Matt is currently in the hospital. He lost his voice last week, and they went in for a checkup and turns out he has a really large tumor in his neck. And two tumors at the base of his skull. And so they’re operating on the one in his throat, first, because it’s the biggest. They’re not sure if it’s cancerous, but it’s probably a side effect from the radiation he had as a kid for that tumor in his face.”

I tried to muster some compassion. This is my mother’s youngest sibling, twelve years her junior, and she was calling to ‘keep [you] in the loop so you don’t hear from the grapevine.’ But honestly…honestly? I couldn’t muster compassion. I tried to imagine my mother’s perspective, caring for her younger brother, especially since she was a mother figure to him growing up, but I just couldn’t do it. I thanked her for letting me know, and got off the phone quickly to head into my yoga class.

And before you start labeling me a horrible human, for taking this news so lightly, I must explain:

My uncle is an asshole.

I mean, not your average run-of-the-mill asshole, but like a certified ASSHOLE of asshole extremes.

It’s hard to put all the stories into one blog post. But he’s 50 years old (ish?) and lives next door to my parents…in the upstairs part of my grandparents house. He hasn’t worked a job in 30ish years, and spends his days sleeping and his nights playing pool tournaments. He is the angriest person I have ever met, and has done shitty things like strangling my parent’s pitbull (not to death, but still), calling and cussing out my family on their voicemail, dispatching the sheriff to the school my mom works at to complain about ‘noise’ (aka the dog barking…note, my parents live in the countryside), disowning his daughter because she married a black man, screaming obscenities at his 3 year old nephew for not shutting the door quick enough, etc. etc. etc.

These incidents have been happening since I was a child. He is angry, probably mentally ill, and has caused HUGE tensions in the family. The most difficult part is seeing my grandparents enable his bad behavior, and justify it, though now as a mom I wonder if I should be less hard on my grandma, specifically. And while his ASSHOLE behavior is no reason to wish cancer, or tumors, on him, I am still having a difficult time mustering up any compassion for his condition.

I am wondering what to do about this feeling. Not going to lie, there have been times in the past that I wished ill upon him because of how awful he has treated members of the family. But lately I have mostly felt neutral. Like, if I don’t have to think about him, or experience him in any way (can you believe it, after 8 years of being together, Boof has still never met him?) then I am much happier. At the end of the day, though, he is my mother’s brother, and she is worried about his health.

 

Thoughts? How do you have compassion or empathy for assholes difficult family members?

Alcohol as Mindfulness?

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When I met my biological mom, she was wearing a bathing suit and a skirt. It was 10am and she was clearly drunk and had a beer in her purse. I had been warned that she was an alcoholic, couldn’t function without it in her system, and hadn’t held down a job forever because of the detoxing seizures and her inability to drive.

Last year my biological dad got a DUI, and felt shitty about it because I had recently told him that I was so glad that he was a ‘normal’ grandparent for Brewer. His daily drinking of a few beers was more on par with a blue collar norm than a ‘problem,’ though maybe there’s some justification going on…because anyone can have a problem once and not have an overall disease. But, I digress.

They say alcoholism is genetic.

I didn’t drink until I was 21 because of my ultra religious upbringing and my fear of the adoption unknown. I actually remember telling someone when I was younger that the reason I wouldn’t do drugs or alcohol is because I think I would like it too much. That’s deep for a tween, ya know?

All across time and space, people have been using substances to alter their experience. Beer has been around since cavemen, and has its place historically in so many ways. Little kids spin around and get dizzy, altering their experience, and we daydream or smoke pot or take peyote or chew chat or sniff poppies (yes, I know that’s not exactly how it works) to alter our experience.

And then there’s mindfulness. Meditation. To alter our experience of the moment, our relationship to the future and the past and our thoughts. It’s a mind altering way of being in the world. And one that I really intend to embrace in my life.

But can I be honest here? It’s busy season in the accounting world, and I haven’t seen my husband for close to 8 weeks because of it. He leaves at 6:30 and gets home at 8, except on Saturdays when he’s home by 6. I’m exhausted. And with only 1 kid, and a full-time(ish) job, I am often one straw away from the camel’s back breaking and crumbling all over itself.

The other day, Boof was teasing me about all the mimosas I’ve been drinking. And I got butthurt. Because it’s a sore spot for me. When I started drinking in college I had zero tolerance and would get blackout drunk. But I hated the feeling and so it only happened a handful of times. It’s been years trying to figure out how much is enough to just have a buzz and not obsess about wanting more and more and more.

His comment hit a nerve. I don’t like that I am excited to pour the OJ and champagne on a Friday morning with Potamus. I know enough about mental illness and alcoholism to know that I should be careful. And I am. I think. The nervousness and monitoring of my level of tolerance, desire, defensiveness as a coping mechanism are healthy. But it’s hard. Because alcohol is like mindfulness. There’s that sweet spot, when I haven’t overindulged, and I can focus on the present moment. I tell my students about the ‘beer goggle’ effect, and how more suicides and other issues happen under the influence, because we don’t have the ability to long-range think. But honestly, that’s kinda what I’m going for. Because I don’t want to sit on my couch watching another episode of toddler TV and think “3 more weeks of this.” That’s so fucking overwhelming to me. The fact that he was running 45 minutes late last night was so fucking overwhelming to me.

And mindfulness is good and all, but honestly, alcohol is quicker. Maybe someday I’ll be a mindful yogi who doesn’t have a glass of wine, or a few beers, at night to try and hang on for the next few hours until bedtime and daddy’s home. I know I’ve been there before. I know this is a difficult time for us as a family.

Drinking is a hot topic among the parenting community. Do you imbibe? Know others who do? What influences your decisions to drink or not?

Take Time to Stack Rocks

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With an hour to kill before dinner plans, Potamus and I took advantage of the Seattle sunshine to get out for a walk. There’s this housing development one street over, and at the end of the cul de sac is a drainage pond where some ducks congregate. Potamus loves the ducks, and got really excited when we headed in that direction. He kept shouting “duck! duck!” (which actually sounds more like ‘duh! duh!’).

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Halfway down the block we came across a pile of rocks. Fascinated, Potamus spent the next 20 minutes stacking and unstacking rocks. And I let him. This rock stacking is actually a zen practice that you can google (and see amazing pictures) from around the world. But it was hard for me to stop and just feel the sunshine on my shoulders. I kept thinking ‘but, we’re on a walk, to see ducks,” because that’s my personality…goal oriented (mostly) and not always about the journey.

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I’m trying to slow down. Because when depression and anxiety ramp up in my life I usually try to fill myself up with a lot of things that actually numb me out. And so instead of focusing on the ducks and whether he’d be disappointed if we had to turn around for dinner after only walking 100 feet to the rock stack, I let myself be in the moment. There was nothing more exciting for him than that moment. He was right where he needed to be. I was right where I needed to be.

Take some time today to stack the rocks my friends.