Thursday, December 17, 2009

Please, make me look good

This is Theo's artwork from a school assignment. Isn't it cool? This is some British actor I don't know. I love the closeness with which he observed the details, as with the circle of the iris cut off at the top, and the lines in the forehead (and some hairs, which he repeated as in a mirror image--a little funny in this "complete the face" project.) As my husband said, that is what an 11-year old boy will do if someone asks him to do it . . .

this, however, is what he will do if left to his 'druthers. A little levity in an otherwise rocky morning--I needed that!

I had given him the recent New Yorker issue with all the portraits of world leaders taken when they were gathered in New York for a UN meeting in September. I found these pictures fascinating. Have a look if you missed them (Dec. 7 issue). I thought Theo was going to do the half-face completion thing again; I was humorously mistaken! But Netanyahu looks much improved here, no? (no offense intended . . .) Apparently before his picture was taken, and then stopping by several times later on, he asked the photographer "Please, make me look good." Was it just coincidence that his face was one of two that Theo chose to doodle upon? Hmmm.

I felt the panic that filled me upon waking and all during meditation recede with contemplating the chuckles he must have gotten out of this. I added one too many things to my plate yesterday afternoon. Luckily, my friend Sarah understood, relieving me of the task, and even flipped what I saw as disappointing inability to help as an important communication from my heart that I must respect. Took a Deep Breath. Went to Yoga. Found my way into that crink again, felt it give just a little bit more.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What if your joy is tied up in knots?

Last week in the evenings Theo and Dora and I were sitting around the kitchen table in the warmth of the woodstove making things with wire, beads, and hemp. I was looking for a way to slow down the sense of busyness that builds up with the season. It's reliably pervasive--even though we don't watch t.v. or live in a big city somehow the intensity (I think of it as the commerciality) of the holidays seeps into our days and eats any extra minutes up for a quick snack.

I remember when Steve and I went to New Zealand years ago, um, 11 1/2 years ago, to be exact, since that is the trip on which we conceived Theo. We sold our house in Seattle and set off, first to New Zealand and then Southeast Asia, to have adventures, see some of the places I had lived growing up, and perhaps find a new place to live. For at least the first two months of the trip it felt like I had a wire pulled tight up my back and neck and through my jaw. I thought something had happened to my teeth because my bite had changed and my teeth weren't meeting in the nice point-in-the-indent way that they normally do. I believe I was internalizing so much stress from uprooting ourselves, even though it was planned, that my body couldn't relax. Almost 6 months after we left, we returned to the States and went to my parents place to pick up our car. Some providence of the universe put a book on prenatal yoga in my path on a trip to town and after Steve helped me do maybe 20 minutes of it I started to cry and cry. Pregnant! In this huge, uncontrollable world! That was the beginning of this wild ride of parenthood we've been on together.

I've had a similar knot in my shoulder and neck for the last two weeks. As before, I wouldn't have said that I was particularly stressed. But as before, I suspect my body knows better. So I've been making a special effort to say no to extra things, to focus in yoga, and to pick up hand work and slow time down. Having my children do this with me is more lovely than I can say.

This morning I did a guided meditation for pain, focusing on the crink in my shoulder. Molecules of dissolving breath were racing in the manner of ants to a picnic. 20 minutes later, instead of crying, I'm glad to say my knot of joy to the world was a smidge smaller and the day of social festivities could begin. The tightness was still there, but I could actually feel it loosening as I envisioned the edges softening. Truly, mind over matter! I've always been a sci fi fan, especially when it's a mirror for real life.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remarkably clear to the horizon

No, I'm not in Hawaii any more. I'm trying to hang on to the feeling though. Sorting the mail, settling back into school and volunteering routines, yoga (thank goodness for yoga), the simple act of getting food into the house and onto the table has filled each day up completely, and for the past two weeks I wonder at ever having had any time to sit, think, and write about thoughts.

I do think it was easier to come back from such a supremely relaxing time away because of the routine of yoga. The way I love being in my yoga community is at least equal to one wild and dangerous memory of a slowly untwisting deliciously yellow hibiscus flower. Waking up, moving through the preparations of school lunch-making and breakfast and getting the kids to school, and then miraculously, compellingly, finding myself on my mat in Jen's studio is a recipe for a day riding with the hum of contentment.

Really, I am amazed I get to say that when I think of the disputes I had with myself over the worth of moving from bed a year ago. This is a vivid time for me, all the more intensely fertile after a fallow, barren period. As Jen says, "recover, uncover, discover something new about yourself. Be in your own good company."
So I take time for myself in spite of the struggles of the world, I attend to self care in the ways that I can, along with all the lucky and not so lucky women of the world, remembering when I felt ragged and worn, and then I allow myself to remember walking through a warm green palm tunnel as material for the glue with which I hold my family together.

I don't know what will come of it all. Sometimes it seems I could make a difference, that I'm gathering myself for something momentous. Sometimes just a glimpse of building a safe, peaceful corner of existence seems important, and sometimes the world is too big to bring into focus and there is simply the enjoyment of the textures of my life, my daughter's terrycloth hoodie moving away through the lushness, my son's voice saying "mom, I think I'm finally relaxed enough to go back to school."

Here we are once again dispersing to the four corners every morning and it's only going to ramp up from right here through the holidays. I am so glad we had a chance to be together and rest.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An offering

I see friends shaking hands
saying "How do you do?
They're really saying "I love you..."
--Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World

I woke up this morning thinking about my dad. I have been thinking about him a lot lately. For a week before Thanksgiving, he was with one of his best friends, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. John Paul had been through surgery and was going to start chemotherapy, his wife Barbara, also dealing with medical issues, was in the hospital, and his son Greg is not well either. My father went to see his friend, provide support for the family, and give another family member a break from caregiving.

This family was well known to us when I was younger, although as the youngest by a few years I have perhaps fewer memories than the others. We would visit them when we came back to the U.S. from overseas for summer vacations, staying with them in their fascinating house on a hilltop in beautiful West Virginia. Shaggy, wall-to-wall carpeting, the stepped up and down style of rooms, a kitchen with a spiral curving bank of cabinets, and built-in intercoms in the bedrooms all struck me as quite exotic.

My memories of the family members have been coming back, too. Greg and Lynette were like cousins to my brother and sister and I. Greg coached me on how to throw a frisbee, and made me laugh so hard I wet my pants once when we were playing a card game that involved saying "good morning, ma'am" whenever a queen turned up and "good evening, sir" whenever a king did, inevitably as the game sped up twisting the phrases into an hilarious muddle. I loved Lynette's long hair, her glamorousness, and her snappy way of talking.

John Paul and Barb's friendship with my parents cast a new dimension onto them, I suppose our life overseas meant I didn't see my parents with their friends that much, and the idea that they had a full history complete with steadfast friends and events that happened long before I was even a figment was a new idea. John Paul was a bottomless source of pun-, slapstick-, and double-entendre-ridden jokes, riddles, and stories, with an electronic marvel of a machine that, as you spoke into a microphone, repeated your sounds back to you in delayed echo, making it impossible to keep track of what you were saying. Barb seemed quietly wise, a fragile beauty with an absolutely earthbound, practical take on life.

So I was receiving updates by email about how these folks are all doing, and they were full of the logistics of when people got up and how they slept, medical appointments and medications, and the ups and downs of prognoses. They had to be detailed in this way as there will be a need for accuracy and consistency through the other caregivers that come to help. And I thought to myself, this is from the left-brain of my very left-brained father, and he does it very well. Also present in the reports, though, as I read them again, were bits and pieces stolen from the feeling world, an echoing of normality--making a cup of coffee, having a meal together, and who cleans up afterward--the effort of all concerned to take in gracefully a radical new version of daily life.

Unrelated but simultaneously I had a conversation with my father's stock broker and friend, whom I have only spoken to a double handful of times, and he responded to my question of what he was looking forward to in retirement with a statement of admiration for my father and the quality of the life after retirement that he has had. He said to me, and I can't remember the exact words--your father, both your mom and dad, love you so much. And the care that your father has taken with your financial future is rare and wonderful.

So many people we meet through life have an influence that can only be measured in looking back, and then there are those who are present throughout our lives, like our parents, whose love is offered sometimes in ways that are not fully appreciated until experiences of life open a window of understanding. I think of my father taking this time to be with his friend and his friend's family, bringing a measure of order in chaotic and challenging circumstances, as an offering of love. I think of Al the stock broker, fluent in the language of long-term investment and planning for the future, parsing the many visits and deliberations my father must have made about stocks as an offering of love.

I think of these examples and many others--the packages that I received from him that came protected by seven layers of bubble wrap (perhaps I exaggerate--but only a bit), or the times we visited museums or historical sites and he elaborated at length (it seemed to me) his detailed, arcane knowledge of art, architecture, or history, which fell on my young and unappreciative ears. I see now that his language of love was one I couldn't always interpret. So often the love people have isn't offered in the way we think we want it, or can understand it. It isn't always offered as a dialogue, or with instructions on how to assemble. So here is my insight of the moment: you just have to be interested, really curious, about what people's language of love is. It's probably different for everyone you meet. I'm going to look harder for it from now on, and try not to be distracted by the package it comes in, no matter how many layers.

And here is an offering, in my language, for my father, for John Paul, Barbara, Greg and Lynette Jones, and for anyone else who wants to receive it. This offering is for peace, beauty, comfort, and of course, love.