Meditation, running, Yoga

All the good advice you ignore…

I regularly ignore good advice.  We all do.  How many times have you flipped passed an article about how much we need regular sleep, or tuned out a news story on the benefits of stretching? When I make a choice that I know is not the healthiest one, it is usually because I am taking the path of least resistance, sticking with a habit rather than making a change.

There is inertia associated with change, even positive change.  Sometimes, if you have been doing something one way for a long time or developed a habit that doesn’t seem harmful in the short term, you even forget that change is possible.  I was reminded of this last week during a run.  These days I am running every morning on trails near our house that stretch in every direction for miles.  Rather than turning to head back home on the usual trail, I decided to head left on a trail I had never been on before.  I figured that it looped up at some point to a road I would recognize.  It was a beautiful morning, and as I ran farther and farther in this unknown direction I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t lost.  I could turn around and re-trace my steps at any moment.  I had no phone and no water with me.  I never take those things when I run, I like to be as unencumbered as possible during that brief period of my day.

After a long time I realized that if this trail did have an ending point it was not going to be near my house, so I turned around and retraced my steps.  It ended up being a five hour run.  I am not exaggerating when I say that by the end birds of prey were slowly circling the sky overhead.  I was so thirsty when I got home that I felt like I could have stood outside with the garden hose to my mouth for the rest of the day and still want more.

It is not as if carrying water when you run is hard to do, or that hydration being an important component of exercise is a carefully guarded secret.  Every running book and magazine expounds the benefits of proper hydration.  It’s just that I could run without it, and since I could manage fine it didn’t occur to me that hydrating during a run might improve the experience.

After my adventure on the trails I decided that I should run with water and was amazed at the number of devices they have created to make that as easy as possible.  I chose the one that was right for me, a nifty handheld situation which I barely notice at all.  The kicker is that running with water is way better.  I find that I am faster and much less beat up when I come home.  Again, this is not a newsflash; just a small change that vastly improves a good experience I was already having.

Our lives are filled with things like this, things as ordinary as a tree branch that hangs into the driveway or a purse strap that is slightly too long or bigger things like not getting regular exercise or not sleeping enough.  We become accustomed to ignoring changes that we could be making in our habits and simply adapt to the situation. Some adaptations are about survival but many are simply due to inertia.  I have been reminded by this experience that a small change in behavior can yield big rewards.  Instead of ignoring the tree in the driveway, go trim it and you will feel better every time you drive by; instead of staying up to hit “refresh” one more time on the computer at 11 pm, head to bed with a book at 10.  There is plenty of good advice we all ignore, sometimes it is as simple as deep breath or a softening of the jaw.  I think really the best advice is to pay attention to your habits: are they really serving you, and if they aren’t, can you make a small change? As simple and obvious as bringing water on a run. 

Family, Parenting, Special Needs, Uncategorized

An Autism Vacation

Sky is the limitI have often wished that Autism took weekends off, and federal holidays.  One of the hardest things about having a special needs child is that it is relentless.  This can feel true with the other ones as well.  Occasionally when the boys are bickering, I think to myself that having a child who doesn’t speak really isn’t all bad.  However, on many Sunday mornings when your body wants a break and you want to chill on the couch with coffee and the newspaper, you can’t.  Sometimes you can, maybe she is feeling mellow and just wants to hang out, or maybe she wakes up at 5 and bangs on her door until you put her in the car which is where she likes to go first thing in the morning.  You just never know, and the not knowing means that even if you can chill on the couch on a Sunday morning you have one ear open the whole time.  In fact you never really relax because at any moment a tantrum can start.  Mae’s tantrums are like summer storms — they can come out of nowhere, rain furiously and stop as quickly as they started.  She bangs her head and bites her hands, she twists her body and kicks her legs, I can barely imagine what the internal storm must feel like for her because the outside is so dramatic.

 

This weekend was different though, this weekend we took an Autism vacation.  We were home, we were with Mae, we were in fact sanding and prepping the walls of the kitchen for paint.  Hardly a trip to the Bahamas, but we even managed to fit in not one but two trips to Home Depot.  It is glamorous around here these days.  Mae was calm, she was joyous, she happily joined us as we cruised the now familiar giant aisles.  When the sander was loud she did not attempt to drown it out with screams but went up to her brothers’ room instead and lay down in Pete’s bed.  There was not a tantrum, or even a complaint lodged.  I feel this strange sensation in my face and realize that it is my lower jaw relaxing for the first time in a while.  Yesterday, when I went running, I realized that I didn’t feel a moment’s guilt because I thought Mae might be home melting down.  I felt free.  It’s been a long time.

 

This change in behavior is due to a new protocol Mae is on.  When we made this move to the West Coast, part of the motivation was that really interesting research is going on in fields related to Autism.  Mae is part of a study on the effects of a new drug on mood regulation.  I had some serious concerns about taking this step.  I love that Mae bounces in and out of rooms like Tigger.  I don’t care if that’s a sensory seeking behavior.  To me it is part of who she is.  The thought of giving her something that would affect her personality made me uncomfortable.  It is hard for me to know what is Mae and what is Autism and can you love one without the other? I have worked so hard to accept and love her for exactly who she is that I was worried that this could change all that.

It is way too early to say whether this is a long term solution or simply a break in the clouds.  Either way I feel like we had a vacation from Autism this weekend.  Like all vacations, I didn’t know how badly I needed it until I felt myself wind down. Mae has taught me to adapt to anything, to enjoy the smallest victories and to love the people in my life for who they are right now.  I know that I am a better mother and a more compassionate person for the experiences she and I have shared, but this weekend reminded me that just because I can endure something doesn’t mean I have to.  It reminded me that we can normalize anything, and that is a survival mechanism that I depend on.

Mostly it made me remember how good a Sunday morning feels.  I am cautiously optimistic that we have more Sundays in our future and maybe we are really onto something.  For anyone who deals with an illness of their own or that of a beloved family member, the hardest part is that it doesn’t take weekends or federal holidays off.  I am reminded that no matter how grim things may be it is important to take a break: a walk around the block or simply a cup of coffee, but to try for some small period of time to find a Sunday morning.  Beach vacations in exotic places are great, but these days nothing feels more luxurious than than the quiet that comes on a Sunday when everyone feels safe and loved and knows where they belong.

 

 

Family, Food, Parenting

Remember Olestra……

kale salad 2Last night I watched the documentary Fed Up which was produced and narrated by Kate Couric.  It is a fairly detailed account of how we have found ourselves in a situation where obesity is now a bigger health crisis than starvation. The whole low fat craze started in 1977, and as food companies removed fat from food they added sugar — lots and lots of it.  Since we were all trying to avoid getting fat, it seemed to make sense to remove the fat from our diets.  However, once you remove the fat from a food it is really no longer recognizable to your system; and when you add a bunch of sugar it actually sends your system into overdrive, raising your insulin levels and ultimately turning all that excess sugar into fat.

Say the words “Olestra” or “Snackwells” to anyone my age and they will laugh.  Almost everyone I know remembers those cookies that all at once appeared in the pantry.  Who can forget the thin outer layer of chocolate that in a not unpleasant sensation would give way to a vaguely dry and cardboard middle.  I even remember peeling the outer chocolate off and leaving a stack of the icky middles on the coffee table as I watched The People’s Court after school.  As Judge Wapner handed down faux justice I ate faux cookies although at the time I believed in both.  Only a few years later Olestra appeared, this new chemical was going to mean that you could eat bags of Doritos and potato chips and not gain weight.  The only catch was that each package came with the warning “May cause anal leakage.”  These two products disappeared off the shelves after a few years.  I guess that even the thought of guilt free Doritos wasn’t enough to make people overlook the anti-social consequences.

What becomes clear in Fed Up, and what we all are realizing, is that a lot of the things sold in the grocery store are not food.  In fact most things that have been processed are not food.  That doesn’t mean they don’t taste good, or that we don’t want them, but it does mean that our bodies don’t benefit from them at all.  Coincidentally, I am reading a book called Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.  It is an easy read all about how to get maximum nutrients from our food. For example, if you crush fresh garlic put it aside for ten minutes before you heat it.  Only after a little rest does it release all its powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals.  She also points out that given the sad state of what passes for a tomato in most grocery stores we are better off with the canned variety.

Ultimately, we all want to feel good about what we eat.  I am a believer in moderation in all things. Except for dessert…I am an all or nothing girl when it comes to whipped cream! The point made in both the film and the book is that real nourishing food is rarely available in a package. I knew it wasn’t all healthy but some of it bears a closer relationship to the lego on my playroom floor than what we should be eating. For those of us who grew up thinking that fat was bad and low-fat was good, it’s time to reprogram ourselves.  As food journalist and author Mark Bittman says “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it you probably shouldn’t eat it.”

Meditation, Parenting, Special Needs, Uncategorized, Yoga

It doesn’t just happen….

Buddha courtesy of www.lotussculpture.com
Buddha courtesy of http://www.lotussculpture.com

In her book A Heart as Wide as the World Sharon Salzberg describes “effort” as the “unconstrained willingness to persevere through difficulty.” She goes on to say, “Effort is the willingness to open where we have been closed, to come close to what we have avoided, to be patient with ourselves, to let go of preconceptions.”

I love the phrase “unconstrained willingness to persevere.”  I think for many of us in our lives we are many things to so many people and we have taken on many different kinds of tasks.  Sometimes a kind of automatic pilot can kick in.   We understand how to make our lives work and so we move forward, effortlessly. There is nothing wrong with being good at what you do, or having an established work or parenting pattern.  But when something is effortless, are you connected to it? In yoga when we teach the very first pose, Tadasana, people will almost always say “you mean I just stand here?”  The answer is “sort of.”  If you are really thinking, however, about your balance and engaging the muscles of your legs and the position of your spine and shoulders you will find that it takes effort.  You will even start to build some heat in your body, it is important to figure out the alignment in that first standing pose because it will be relevant to every other pose you do, including even the fanciest of arm balances.

The same is true in our lives.  If we construct our lives in such a way that they require very little focused effort, we start to feel disconnected from ourselves and the people and things we care about most. One of the reasons I believe that having a special needs child has been an incredible gift is that her unpredictability and the effort it takes to be her parent mean that I can never really slide towards autopilot.  She is the ultimate reminder to wake up and pay attention because life is happening, and of course if you take your eyes off her for a minute she is hanging from the rafters…..So that is motivation to stay present.

The word “unconstrained” is perfect to describe the effort we should put into our lives and relationships.  It implies that unlimited potential is possible if we let ourselves live fully.  We all have lists of things in our heads that we would like to do. They don’t have to be lofty. They can be as mundane as cleaning the kitchen or as vast as enlightenment for all beings.  They both take effort, attention and mindfulness. It is tempting when we meet people we admire, such as great teachers, writers or artists, to imagine that they were born with skills we were not.  It is true that someone who is destined to be seven feet tall because of their genetics is more likely to play professional basketball than someone who never makes it to six feet.  However, there is enormous effort, and concentration that goes into being an athlete even if one is born with some of the cards stacked in your favor.  When I have met great meditation and yoga teachers, I am always amazed and maybe a little envious of what they know and how easily they seem to convey their knowledge.  What it is important to remember is that this wisdom took effort and discipline. It took focus and perseverance. Wishing for knowledge or clarity but not undertaking the learning is like wishing to be in the NBA and never picking up a basketball.

Right Effort is part of the Buddha’s Eightfold Noble Path.  It is the fundamental belief that it takes effort to wake up to the full awareness available to us all.  In my mind it is the difference between being able to drive a car so spaced out that I don’t even notice that I have been listening to commercials, and driving a car with full attention to what I hear, what I see and what I am doing.  From the outside both experiences are identical, but inside they are completely different  Yoga and meditation are two ways we can practice mindfulness and attention, but any activity can become a mindfulness exercise.  It just takes effort and perseverance and the unconstrained willingness to believe that every moment is an opportunity to practice being awake.  It is this practice, this effort of returning our attention repeatedly to where we are and what we are doing, that will help us realize that we have everything we need for real sustainable, wakeful joy.

Meditation, Parenting, Special Needs

Wrestling the Fearosaurus

Anxiety is an extremely unpleasant sensation.  It is the place where fear of the unknown meets fear of the future, and they throw a huge fear carnival that can affect your whole system.  There very specific physical responses we have to anxiety, a sense of elevated heart rate, a dry mouth, an inability to be still or think clearly.

These are real physiological responses to what your body perceives as a threat.  Even if that threat is manufactured in some internal fear factory that is busily creating scary scenarios, your body cannot tell the difference.  It responds to anxiety that is generated internally with the same enthusiasm as if it were an external attack.  The problem is that our sympathetic nervous systems were designed to quicken our heart rates and slow down all our functions so we could escape from animals that were going to eat us.  It was a system that was designed for short bursts of lifesaving action.  Instead, for many people they have found themselves living in a state where this system is always on.

There is no question that we live in stressful times.  Reading the headlines right now is enough to make anyone feel vulnerable and scared.  When you add into it the day to day headlines of our own lives, filled with the regular victories and tragedies that befall us all, it can be hard not to feel overwhelmed.  Our incredibly, amazingly well designed bodies, however, come equipped with a second system to counteract the effects of the sympathetic nervous system.  It is the parasympathetic nervous system.  It signals to our body that we are safe, that we are at ease, that we can digest our food and our heart can beat normally.

The thing to remember is that both these systems are triggered and controlled by our perception of danger. If I am sleeping peacefully and am attacked by a dinosaur before I ever saw it, then I never had the chance to perceive it and become afraid. My sympathetic nervous system never went to battle stations, accelerating my heart rate and making me strangely alert and focused on getting away from the attacker as my only goal.  The reverse is also true.  If I lie in bed thinking of terrible scenarios that I perceive to be real then my body will respond as if they are.

The key is to look honestly at what messages we are sending to our body.  Are we running around all the time, claiming we are incredibly busy and extremely stressed and then wondering why our body is in a strange nervous overdrive?  Perceiving that there is never enough time, or that everything is going to fall apart at any moment is a habit.  It is a habit of mind with serious ramifications in the body.

The only way to break the habit is to look at our thoughts, honestly, gently and with compassion for ourselves.  Can you identify thought patterns that don’t serve you? Do you have habits that feed your anxious state? If you find yourself in an endless cycle of stress then try introducing new habits as a way to break it.  Instead of waking up every day and immediately checking email and the news, maybe go for a walk or sit for meditation.  Stress is a habit we reinforce without meaning to.  Sometimes the most effective remedy is just to change our routines a little; maybe then we can see more clearly what is triggering our anxiety.


Seeing clearly can come from setting aside a quiet time every day, seated in meditation, going for a walk, riding the subway, when all we do is watch our own mind. I have come to think of my meditation practice as a kind of internal eavesdropping, listening to the conversation that goes on in my head all the time, even when I am unaware of it.  What are the topics I am returning to?  Are they serving me, or are they keeping me stuck?  I cannot learn to let go of them until I identify them.  

If you are feeling like you are in overdrive spend some time just listening to your thoughts.  Are you spending your days in a cycle of what ifs? If you find that you are trapped in a cycle of repetitive and anxiety-producing thoughts you need to work to break the cycle.  The first strategy is to notice the signs, the accelerated heart rate and quickening of breath.  Go for a walk, take 10 deep breaths, call a friend.  The key is to recognize that you are safe, that this feeling you are experiencing is a product of your own perception.  It is a thought that seems more real because it has a physical presentation, and fairies and unicorns don’t.

Listen to your own mind.  Listen carefully and without judgment.  Pay attention to your habits and start to see if you can change the ones that don’t serve you.  There is no magic to mindfulness. It just means learning to listen to our thoughts and know the difference between the real dinosaurs and the ones we breathe life into ourselves.

Meditation, Yoga

My not on purpose no yoga experiment

photo (1)You know when you read about scientists who set out to do an experiment where the outcome sounds obvious? I recently read about a study where scientists had one group of overweight sedentary men change nothing about their diet, and another add an apple a day.  The expectation was that the apple group’s cholesterol and overall health would be improved with the addition of the fruit.  Instead, the Granny Smith apples that the test group added to their diet had enough sugar to spike their insulin and create further mayhem in their bodies —  really the opposite of what you would imagine.

I have done a not-on-purpose experiment this summer on my body.  I have barely been doing yoga, I have made it to a handful of classes; instead I sat in the car for not one but two drives across the country and carried a gajillion boxes.  My shoulders have certainly suffered as I have used them to hold the tension of all the what-ifs of our move.  I would think to myself almost once a day that I really needed to get to my mat to relieve some of this tightness and tension that was building in my body.  But carving out an hour or an hour and a half to make it to a class just wasn’t happening.

So last week, I finally rolled my mat back out.  I actually was kind of afraid to get on it.  I thought my body would hurt and really resist.  I believed that no yoga for a whole summer was going to wreak havoc on my muscles, which would scream in agony at the first stretch, because that seemed logical, the same way an apple a day would improve health.

It didn’t hurt.  In fact it felt great.  It was my mind that was resistant not my body.  I was really hung up on the time it would take to practice.  I just didn’t feel like sacrificing an hour and a half of my day to go to a class with the result that I wasn’t doing any yoga.  I think we all do this in some form or another.  We create obstacles or resistance instead of scaling down our expectations. There is no reason to practice for an hour and a half.  I can practice for twenty minutes and that is way better than nothing.

I have been practicing consistently for the last week.  Sometimes it is a couple of poses and sometimes it is an hour.  I feel much better.  The hard part was getting back on the mat, not the yoga.  I think that so often I don’t take action because I am convinced that I don’t have time or bandwidth for the outcome.  I often put off reaching out to friends because I think that I will need to be on the phone for hours to catch up when often a simple note saying I am thinking of them will do, and is certainly better than nothing.  If you don’t have time to clean your room, make your bed.  If you don’t have time for yoga class that’s fine, do a pose, or two, or three.

I thought my not-on-purpose no-yoga experiment would leave me with an aching body.  It didn’t really.  It actually showed me that getting on my mat is not actually about my body at all. My body was fine.  It got right back on board.  What I learned from the experiment was that my resistance is all self created.   I don’t always have to do the whole task, project or class, but I can start somewhere and do something…..which is almost always better than nothing.

Family, Parenting, Special Needs

A small act of real kindness goes a long way….

mae every dayThe last few weeks have been jam packed with errands. Boring ones like the grocery store, hardware store, bank. Before the kids started school they tagged along. For the most part they are fairly well behaved and they always hold out hope that there will be lollipops at the bank.

Mae has a shorter fuse than her brothers and at least once during these days of vaguely tedious drudgery she will completely lose it. Before I met Mae, I used to believe that when children fell apart it was because they were hungry or tired or there was some other situation a parent could have influenced or predicted. Public tantrums were some indication to me that a parent was asleep at the wheel.

Sometimes Mae’s tantrums are that, but most of the time they are like flash storms. They start up out of nowhere, rip through the peace of the day and leave us both spent and a little shell shocked. The older and bigger she gets the harder they are to defuse, especially in public. As she hurls her body around, screaming and crying, biting her finger or banging her head it’s all I can do to keep her from hurting herself.

Inevitably, as soon as one of these colossal expressions of displeasure begins, a “helpful stranger” appears. They are typically older than I am and female. Usually they spend a few minutes assessing the situation and then they offer advice or commentary like: “she needs more sleep,” or “maybe she is hungry?” Or a personal favorite: “my children never behaved that way.”

The “helpful stranger” has been on every airplane with us, in every grocery store, bank, even at the play- ground. She is masking her displeasure at my child’s behavior in the form of some sort of parenting tip, as if I were enjoying the sight of my red-faced screaming child and restraining her was some sort of hot new arm workout.

I have never been nasty to the helpful stranger. It wouldn’t solve anything, and I am usually too focused on Mae to do anything else. Occasionally, I will make eye contact and say loudly enough for the other people around to hear, “she is autistic.”  Just the statement of the fact hangs in the air and is mortifying enough to shut the helpful stranger up without me doing or saying anything that I would regret.

Last week, we were in Safeway and my cart was a mountain of groceries. I could barely push it. As we reached the checkout line Mae’s goodwill came to an end and a tantrum ensued. It was a doozy; arms and legs were flying everywhere. The helpful stranger was right in front of us in line. I could feel her watching us. I could feel her getting ready to offer me some parenting tips. I could also feel myself fragile and exhausted, getting ready to take my frustrations out on her. If Mae was having an external meltdown I was as close as I get to an internal one, and the helpful stranger was going to bear the brunt of it if she opened her mouth.

When she had finished paying she turned to look at us, me with one hand emptying the cart, the other arm holding Mae on my hip and trying to prevent her from throwing herself to the floor. She said “my grandson is autistic, I am so sorry it looks like she is having a hard day. I hope tomorrow is better.” That was it, then she walked away. It took a minute for me to register her kindness. I was so prepared for the false concern of the helpful stranger. Real kindness is without judgment, it is simply an acknowledgement that you see someone. It is the difference between eye contact with a stranger behind a counter or looking away. Real kindness is about connection.

I know that sometimes I can be the helpful stranger, jumping in to tell the woman with the screaming newborn to try the football hold or maybe bounce up and down a little… I won’t do that anymore, it doesn’t help.  It’s about me and not about her. I will remember what real kindness feels like, and just hope for her that tomorrow is a better day.

Family, Marriage, Parenting

I owe an apology…

photo (16)I owe an apology to every friend I have who has undertaken a house renovation.  I now understand that it really is all-consuming.  When you would talk to me about counter tops or which kind of door you should put on your bathroom, I was as bored as I appeared.  In my head I would be thinking that you should be grateful for the house you have and wish that you would stop talking about faucets.

I am sorry, I get it.  As we undertake the never ending project of this house I find myself compulsively reading magazines with titles like “Best of Kitchen and Bath” or losing myself for hours on www.remodalista.com I am on Pinterest so much that Colin was teasing me that I needed a pintervention.

It is of course a totally escapist pursuit.  We can’t help but imagine that the right flooring will lead to total familial bliss; the right arrangement of cabinetry and furniture and lifelong happiness will ensue.

Being able to organize or reorganize one’s space is a sense of control that in our chaotic always almost-slightly-out-of-control life I rarely experience.  Intellectually I know that there is not a renovation under the sun that will cause my child to speak, or make any one of us better or happier people.  We will just have a nicer more functional kitchen.  That knowledge, however, doesn’t make the planning less consuming.

The next time a friend asks me to admire her counters, or wants to discuss faucets I will do it with enthusiasm.  I will make every effort not to be impossibly bored but instead will recognize that the kitchen, living room or bathroom in question represents more than its four walls.  Right or wrong, it feels like an opportunity to shape your family’s experience of their day.  It is a luxury beyond measure to even dream of these things. It can feel ridiculous when many people in the world don’t have access to clean water to realize that you are falling asleep wondering if brushed nickel was the right choice for your faucet.  It’s important not to lose sight of that.

Like anything it is about keeping it in perspective. It is about remembering that your fixtures are probably not a subject of universal interest, while at the same time enjoying the process of creating a space for your family. I will not miss the tangerine walls of our current family room, or the crumbling cabinetry, but when it’s over and I have created what feels like the perfect space, I know I will miss the dreaming about it.  I will miss the possibility for improvement that these ugly rooms represent.  They are problems with solutions.  When I have solved them I may be forced to address the more complicated, less straightforward problems in our life.  I will miss the conversations about oak vs. pine when I am hiring a behaviorist to potty train my 6 year-old or I am sitting through tension-filled school meetings. But every time I put my hand down on my counters I will know that there is one problem I was able to solve; every time I see my family gathered in our kitchen I will smile and know that in some small way we have won that round.

Family, Marriage, Meditation, Parenting

Can we ballpark it?

photo (16)I love routines.  I can happily eat the same breakfast for months, run the same route for years, and in so far as it is possible make each week similar to the one before it.  When I first met Colin I was fascinated by his disregard for routines.  He actively avoided creating them.  He would wake up at different times and some days eat breakfast and some days skip it.  He might exercise once a week or not at all.  The thought of living without routine exhausted me.  How do you know you can fit everything in? The reason Colin was able to live happily without routine was that he wasn’t especially concerned about fitting everything in.  He knew that each day would contain some meals, some work and some sleep and beyond that things could happen or not happen and the world could continue to turn.

This summer we have been in constant motion and maintaining my routines has been impossible.  We have driven across the country twice, the first time in two and a half days, and definitely a situation that does not lend itself to long runs, healthy breakfasts or quiet meditation. In the whirlwind of moving and traveling I have had to let go a little bit of my regular approach to life.  I remember once reading an article about a guy who ran two miles every day no matter what.  This meant that he had done laps in Newark airport, and would sometimes wake at two in the morning to fit his run in.  Clearly for him this had enormous value but I can’t imagine how tightly gripped he would have to be around the daily run to make it happen regardless of circumstance.

We are starting to settle in our new house, the kids will go back to school in the next few weeks and I will be able to return to some of my regular patterns.  There is certainly a part of me that is craving a return to an organized day — to know before it starts that there will be a time for play, rest and work.  On the other hand, I have learned a lot this summer about just going with the flow of each day.  I have taken some of the Colin approach: some days there is time for exercise, some days there isn’t.  If you don’t make it to the grocery store on Saturday morning, or wash the sheets on Sunday, it’s OK; the world will continue to turn.

Families need structure, Colin’s more free form approach was perfect for him before we had kids, but after kids it led to enough “tardies” that we got a note home from the school district.  When it comes to structure we have to meet in the middle.  Were it not for him I would probably be unabashedly running in Newark Airport or doing down dog on the train platform.  He has learned that when it comes to our kids the schedule can’t really be ballparked.  If school starts at 8:20 that doesn’t mean any time before 9….

In Buddhism we talk about the middle path, “not too tight, not too loose.” I think this is the perfect approach to the rhythms of our new life.  We can fit everything in, but we can also fit in some space.  Somewhere in the middle of my highly structured tendencies and Colin’s free form is the middle path. The middle path means that there is time for work, time for play and time for rest.   It just doesn’t have to be the same time every day — except for the 8:20 part.  They aren’t kidding about that. If you are too tightly gripped around your routine it becomes a crutch, you may be fitting everything in but to some degree you are just checking boxes.  If you are too loose, threads get dropped, kids are late, dogs go un-walked, and you can actually lose time scrambling to fit in the basics. So we are hoping to steer our family on the middle path, not too tight, not too loose.

Parenting, Uncategorized

What city are we in again?

photo (11)This year, I have traveled a lot. There have been some trips for work, some for play and roughly a zillion associated with our move.  I have spent so much time in airports that I actually have opinions about where you can find the best snack options (SFO) or how the cartoonishly surly barista at the JFK Starbucks actually makes a fabulous cup of coffee. I am not a nervous traveler, I find it enjoyable.  When I was growing up, we used to get dressed up to fly on planes.  Air travel was a different animal then. The staff was attractive and courtly and the food and booze were free.  Now they may be attractive and even courtly, but that doesn’t seem to be a requirement for the job and absolutely nothing is free.

It doesn’t seem like people dress up for travel anymore, particularly the early flights that we have been taking to maximize time at our destinations.  People roll out of bed and head to the airport.  Some even walk around the airport with those funny U-shaped neck pillows draped over their shoulders, like hemorrhoid donuts for their ears. You half expect to see them dragging their comforter behind them.  There is something so unself-conscious about the way people behave in airports. Somehow the experience of travel becomes so personal that a level of decorum that we typically reserve for public situations falls away.  Rarely do we head to our local grocery store with our pillow and pajamas despite the fact we may be sleepy.

Years ago a performance artist put himself in a cage at the zoo and people watched him, sleep, eat, brush his teeth. I can’t remember about the bathroom but maybe they watched that as well.  It was a wildly successful exhibit. I love being in airports because it is a little bit like that.  People’s public faces kind of fall away and they behave as if they were at home.  They lounge, they eat, they play with their children, even when they appear to be trying to get work done they look a little more at ease then they do in an office.

Even though I think it is a little strange to wear your pajamas on an airplane, or walk around with your pillow as if at any moment you may be overwhelmed with the need for a nap, I love watching people just do their thing in an airport. There is something comforting about how similar we all are.  I may not want to start my day with a large curry filled burrito, as my seatmate did earlier in the week, but I admire his lack of concern for potential gastric distress.  I love the “wasn’t me” expression on the face of a passenger when the stranger next to them is snoring with gusto. Or the two women behind us who shared intimate details of their lives with each other over the course of a 4 hour flight.  They covered topics from back injuries, dating, Costa Rican sailors, shuttered New York clubs and sushi, a friendship started because they had randomly been assigned 32E and 32F.

I think there is a sweetness about the fact that on airplanes people sleep next to strangers comfortably.  There is something trusting and very human about looking over at someone you have never seen before with their eyes closed and their mouth open.  I know lots of people think that air travel is nerve racking or expensive and incredibly un-glamorous. I understand their point, but I love what an equalizer it is. I love how people get in airports and just become travelers.  One may be a wealthy businessman and the other a struggling student, but they are both just trying to get to Nashville, Chicago, Tampa, or wherever.  To do that though, some of them just need a portable pillow and a spicy burrito for their journey…