Missives from the Mat 13 — Children and the Adults Who Still Are

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I’ve been inordinately blessed. I used to think it was luck but then I realized that it was not quite that simple, it has been more than me showing up at the right places at the right times. I don’t know who came up with the phrase, “make your own luck” but I like it.

When I roll back to look at the groundwork that has been laid out to bring me to this moment it’s a little astounding.

I harken back to my first yoga teacher, Vicki, whom I’ve always respected and admired. After being in her level 3 class for a year or so, I asked her, “Do you think I’m ready for vinyasa [flowing yoga, more aerobic]?” I didn’t want to leave her class, but she didn’t teach a vinyasa. She was honest and kind and said, “Yes. I do.”

I garnered the guts to attend one on a lark; I intentionally missed one of my Vicki classes at the studio to squeeze in a vinyasa class as a make-up on a Saturday morning. The standard teacher for that class was one Vicki had used as a sub for her class, and I really enjoyed her, so I was excited to see her again.

When I opened the door to the studio and stepped in, I saw that the teacher I expected to be there was not there, but rather another teacher.

I was confused. I almost considered leaving. People don’t like surprises I’ve found, and I’m a people.

But I carried on and took down a mat from the shelves, reached for a strap, grabbed a couple felt blankets and a pair of blocks. I didn’t know what I was in for, and with this new person, I really didn’t know what I was in for.

I loved it. I instantly loved the teacher and the class, as soon as it began. I loved the challenge of the flow which demanded both concentration and meditation, the marriage of breath and movement in a more fluid and contemplative way — there was no getting attached to any one pose in vinyasa, that was the best part. This substitute teacher had an impishness, kindness and an energy about her that I was so pleased to encounter.

So I was hooked. I returned to my Level 3 classes with Vicki, and dreamed of adding the vinyasa to my life. But then the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008 and $240 for 12 weeks of once-a-week yoga was a luxury; it was time / I had no choice but to buy some DVDs and learn on my own.

“I like you better when you practice yoga,” my husband has come perilously close to saying. What he’s actually said instead is, “I can tell when you’ve not practiced…”

It was also around this time of year when I first taught the sixth graders at the elementary school for eight weeks as a volunteer, so I was definitely feeling stressed because, natch, sixth graders totally know more about yoga and breath than I did at that point in my life after practicing yoga for ten years. (I sit here eyerolling with contempt at my inadequacy issues… how they cripple me…)

As spring grew longer, the pool season was opening and I procrastinated on getting out ducks in a row for the early bird prices (I swear I don’t know how this family would function without me sometimes). Usually I mailed it all in early but that year I didn’t. On the last day, I went to our neighborhood central office to submit my family’s pool registration and as I was leaving, there on a table beside the door was a flyer, “Spring Yoga with Kelly…” held in a location that was in walking distance of my home, and not in a studio in a creepy parking lot between a 7-11 and a loud restaurant. The classes were half the price, offered during the day when the kids were at school and then… THEN … I saw the picture of the yoga vixen on the sheet and I just about flipped, “THAT’S THE VINYASA SUB!!!”

OOOOOOOOH I was thrilled.

I dashed home and sat down to tap out an email to her to learn more about her classes and to also ask her if she was indeed the vinyasa sub.

Yes! The classes were ongoing and she was the sub!

OOOOOOOOH I was so excited.

But I was sad too. I loved Vicki. But I needed to save money. But I loved Vicki. But she was the sub… I needed to make a change.

I changed. I wrapped up the classes with Vicki and then jumped ship like a coward and started going to yoga TWICE a week near my home (I even walk[ed] to class every now and then!) and was still saving money. I was like velvet. My husband was so pleased.

Fast forward several years, a blossomed friendship with Kelly, a maintained friendship with Vicki, a mentorship with both of them, and too many downward facing dogs to count and I’m now a bona fide certified yoga instructor who put forth an intention, made a few shifts and have become the manifestation of what happens when you get out of your own way. (If I could just get that writing a book thing to feel better…)

So what have I learned? With teaching little kids:

1) they will point at you and then burst out in unmitigable laughter at you when you make the mistake of wearing a shirt that reveals your belly-button during tree pose. And there’s nothing you can do about it. They absolutely will not stop and eventually, you get over your self-consciousness, you figure out that it’s pretty funny, and keep things moving along.

2) they will tell you that they hate a pose and instead of trying it, they will opt for child’s pose on their mat. They don’t care, they are pure and real: if they think your proposal of cobra is a stupid idea, they’ll tell you that it’s a “dumb pose” and just curl up and wait.

2a) they will also learn to say, “it’s not my favorite pose, I’ll sit this one out” when they call poses “dumb” after a few instances.

3) they will start giggling when you say to them (when finding a scowl upon their faces) “Don’t smiiiiiiiiile. Donnnnnnnn’t smiiiiiiiiiile….” it works every time.

3a) they will also test you by frowning just to get the “don’t smile” challenge going.

4) they love to be sniffed out of svasana by a chocolate Labrador puppet named “Teddy Dog” and if you request that they not make a peep when they rise, to respect their friends, they will keep their sweet mouths zipped.

5) they like to partner pose. They have absolutely no issues or social bullshit on their minds; they’re all about the fun.

they are building a tent for their carnival.

they are building a tent for their carnival.

6) they seem to make no connection whatsoever to breath and calmness at first. They look at you like you’re speaking crazy talk and then a few weeks later will tell a classmate who’s having a hard time because he didn’t get the mat color he wanted to “breathe deep and slow… you will feel better and then you can have the mat next time…” and you will find yourself blown away and they will have to fetch Teddy Dog to rouse you from your unintended svasana.

7) they will completely lose their minds if you forget Teddy Dog.

8) they “love to play musical mats because only the poses get eliminated, not the kids!” When the last mat is “safe” they all have to squeeze on to it or at least touch it. When this happens, it’s all about making room and fitting on instead of squeezing out and “fitting in.”

Making room for all during "take-off" for airplane pose after a game of "musical mats."

Making room for all during “take-off” for airplane pose after a game of “musical mats.”

9) they will come to the rescue with their stuffed animal in their backpack when you forget Teddy Dog. Then all of them will dash off to forage in their own gear to show you their each respective special buddies they have in their backpacks and you will smile so deeply inside with the memory of your own long-lost buddy you brought with you everywhere. It seems so far ago…

10) they get it. When classes end, they bum out because they really enjoy them, and when the session ends, they cry because they love you. They give you pictures of yourself with them that they drew because they wanted you to remember them. “Because you helped me learn how to feel good when I am feeling all spazzy or want to punch my brother.”

Teaching kids keeps me grounded. I love teaching both sets of ages, and each presents its challenges. Adults won’t necessarily pout if they don’t get the mat they want (they bring their own) or if I instruct tree pose. But some adults pose their own challenges and that’s mostly where boundaries are involved. I would be absolutely leading you astray if I said that some adult practitioners don’t confuse the “kumbaya / namaste” vibe of a yoga instructor with loose structure or lack of policies.

Also, some peoples’ appreciation of yoga (“whatever, it’s a social thing for me”) might not be mine (“can be life changing, I’ve learned so much about myself on the mat”); regardless, i will always prefer mine.

Case in point: I had a student who’s missed a few classes them decide to “gift” a class (that would be missed due to a conflict) to friend based on the premise that the classes were already paid for. I had no such policy nor had I ever heard of the concept. If I were a dentist, and a patient came in for a scheduled root canal but decided to bring along a friend who needed a cleaning “seeing as how the visit is already paid for” I think I’d consider giving the wrong tooth a root canal. I wasn’t thrilled with this “gifting a class” proposal either (and SINCE WHEN is “gift” a VERB?!), but to keep things kumbaya, I let it slide, along with the shot across the bow, “this class only; I won’t do this again.”

And would you believe it: the student ARGUED with me, “I already paid for the class… what do you care? You’ve got the money…” and so then there was this part of me that was “Yeah, I see that…” but the other part of me that said, “No, that’s not how it works. Your tuition is for you; there is no ‘sharing’ of tuition… “

It got worse. The student triangulated and went to the guest who then was so moved by my reaction (calm, professional yet firm with the scofflaw) that she apologized for coming to class… (Yeah, because that was what I definitely saw coming…) But this triangulation didn’t happen until after the student sent me an email starting with “I didn’t mean to upset you” and closing with “I won’t bother bringing any friends to the new teacher in town…” so you tell me, which was the dig?

It got worse. I basically wrote back to the student and offered her a refund, but not until I told her that her tactics were offensive and her triangulation dysfunctional; that things had reached a whole new level of weird because of what she did.

Then, only then, she wrote back telling me “this is awkward now.”

Now.

Not when she basically pooped on the drop-in fee, and me professionally by treating a guest “on her” (me) without asking about it first.

Not when she decided to triangulate and spew her self-embarrassment and project it all over me and her friend (nice) by trying to justify what she’d done by telling me I’m unreasonable.

Not when she closed her note with a non-smear of my classes.

Only when I called her out on her deplorable behavior and her non-smear. Then. Then it was awkward. Awkward as ass.

We agreed to part ways. I offered to refund her fully, but she said I could keep the money. Ok. She owed me $15 of it anyway for the drop-in of her guest.

She should come to my children’s classes, she’d feel more at home. They can act like children and not feel weird about it; and then when she acts like them, they can call her on it.

So that’s what I’ve witnessed and I’ve learned. That children are children and some adults are still children.

Last weekend, I went on a glorious retreat with Kelly. It was really nice. I noticed a few things about myself: that I go inward with lots of new people around me in an intense environment; that I used to be really codependent and I’d feel awful if I stood up for myself, I’d be afraid that by asserting myself that I’d offend someone else and I’m thrilled to report that I’m not codependent anymore; that I bond with lots of women a lot faster than I thought I would, and it’s a subtle and deep bond; and that I’m grateful for all the bumps, cracks, detours, pitfalls, traps, and more I’ve endured because it’s all part of my story, and that story has made me who I am. I waver on this, it’s still pretty new, but I think I’m finally there.

Thank you.

Guilty Pleasure: Secret Music of My Misspent Youth

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I have a confession to make.

I secretly love soupy 1980s ballads of the Richard Marx, Kenny Loggins variety.

I know.

This shreds your image of me as a cool, SUV-driving, mid-to-upper-40s suburban yoga-teaching mother.

Egads, or does it confirm it???

WAIT! I went to The Black Keys concert a month ago! My neck hurt the next morning from all my native, white, twerk-free, head-bang dancing. I drank a beer while I was on a diet cleanse! I HAVE PICTURES!!!

this is me and my boyfriend from New Jersey during one of his sets. I had to rush the stage. he's playing it cool. pretending i'm not there. ... so typical.

this is me and my boyfriend from New Jersey during one of his sets. I had to rush the stage. he’s playing it cool. pretending i’m not there. … so typical.

I blame iTunes Radio.

Apple’s iPhone friend, Siri, and I have a personal relationship.

One day, I was feeling all … stupid and I asked him (I made Siri a man — hell, I’m surrounded by them, no sense pretending to have a female always on hand to hang with and help me with anything…) to play me some soft rock from the 1980s.

After we got through

(Which is a song I would play again and again and again [rewinding the tape with the "sound gap search" setting on] in the darkness of my bedroom during my pre-senior summer in high school after I was dumped by a boy who lived across town. I remember my mother coming into my shaded room and sitting at the foot of my bed while I nursed my pity. She put her hand on my shoulder. I opened my red-rimmed, tear-soaked eyes and she said to me, “Oh honey… How is Brad?” and it was like a freakin’ stab to my spleen. There was no support from her in these moments; it was all too tempting, too delicious for her. I had no secrets: I would come home overwhelmed with the Hate of the Day and talk about it to her. She could hone in on my pain like a bloodhound seeking a predator but she was always impassive. Nevertheless, interested in connecting in some manner, I’d spill my guts if I was dumped by a guy (which was infrequent because not many boys liked me) or passed over or rejected by a friend for another person. Days later, in the depths of my rejection, she would ask about these people. She’d fix her eyes on me, set her jaw and say, “How is Bipsy Carmichael? I haven’t heard from her in a while…?” I will never understand her, my mother.)

Sigh.

So hearing that song by Phil these days has sort of a different effect on me; I don’t pine for Brad anymore — I’ve got three boys and a wonderful husband. Besides, Brad is dead now. Ten years ago he wrapped his car around a tree somewhere in Georgia after a night of drinking leaving behind a young wife and two little kids. Bummer, I know. I was saddened by the news.

Next, on iTunes I heard this:

And my reaction is visceral. I’m suddenly in my best friend’s basement watching Friday Night Videos and wondering if I’d ever meet a guy like Richard Marx: who could sing with a smoky voice and play piano and have lots of hair like that (which I even knew at the time was a little too much hair…).

Get with me now — at 2:40:

To stoppppp feeeeeeling this waaaaay-ahaa-heeey-ay’haay….

Hold on to the niiihhiightssss….

Hold on to the mem-orieeeeeees….

If only I could giiiiii-iiiive y’ moooooooor-huh…

Oh…. that hair. Too much. But he was so cute and talented. That piano. That voice…. those arms…. WAIT!!! BACK UP…. 2:36… HIS ARMS!!! 2:56 … My God! Give that man a sandwich! My biceps are bigger than his! I think my wrists are bigger than his biceps.

And then there’s a chord change at 3:06 and I have to say: It ruined it for me. It went from a power love ballad about staying young and lovers and then … it developed into a strange mix of minors and sharps leading down a path of narcissism, codependent awareness and self-help.

Well I think that I’ve been true to everybody else but me-eee…

And the way I feel about you makes my heart long to be free …

WAIT! You just said HOLD ON TO THE MEMORIES!

Every time I look into your eyes I’m helplessly aware

That the someone I’ve been searching for is RIGHT THERE !!!!!

(guitar scream!!!)

And then it just confuses the hell out of me because I can’t tell if he’s coming or going… but he continues to sing and we get lost in the meaning of it all and decide it doesn’t matter anymore. ARMS UP, PEOPLE! SWAY WITH THAT GUITAR!

Wooooah woooha aaaaaaaaaa oooohooooo ohhhhh….

Hold on to the niiiiiiiiiights….

So then there’s my ultimate favorite, the one that really needs no picking apart (other than at the styles of the 1980s…) the one thing I will say about these early days of mockumentary videos is that I bristle now about the supposed fakeness of this moment being caught, “for real” this time. And I HATE synth drums and the insistence this video imposes upon the viewer and the listener that the drums are anything but synthesized… but let’s not bicker and argue, for Kenny is waiting… in a gigantic charcoal-smeared jumpsuit suit…

Now here’s the thing. I LOVED this song. I remember in whatever grade I was in, attending a dance with my friend and swaying in the dark, alone, by myself, to this song. And watching all the other students make out on the dance floor to the complete sensual, provocative ballad Kenny Loggins would just belt out of his little body.

I never appreciated Kenny Loggins as a MAN in those days. I used to think, “Gah. What a poser [or whatever I would've said back then .... wait, I'll channel] … What a lame-o. Such a hoser, his music is too froofy [whatever the hell that meant] for me.” But I was secretly IN LOVE with this song. I didn’t ever appreciate “Footloose” or the styles it ushered into our collective consciousness: shoulder pads, leg warmers, headbands worn on the forehead, too much eye make-up — but I will say this: I had big short hair.

Anyway… Kenny brought it.

Say what you want about his shoulder pads, I’ve said plenty (and that terrifically horrid suit he’s wearing), but the dude has pipes.

There are other songs I’ll recall after they’ve been foisted on me by iTunes. I will probably save writing about them for my book that I’m pretending I’ll never write.

Thank you.

ps – thanks for swinging by and reading anything I write these days. I admit I’m out of practice and I really miss it. My life is abundantly busy these days with the yoga teaching, family life and the dogs, so when I manage to squeak something out, it’s because I really want to share it with you (and my kids, should they ever stumble upon my blog one day when I’m dusty and old…).

 

A Tasting with Thing 3: Dragon Fruit

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Last night, we went to Wegman’s for dinner. Each kiddo selected his vittles from the food court buffet.

It was all my fault. I was just there Tuesday and mistakenly bought four bags of sliced turkey breast and two bags of roast beef but no bags of maple ham.

Either way, I had to go back, so I decided to make it all one deal. It being Wednesday, my busiest day, I suggested to my husband that we simply eat there. On Wednesdays I teach yoga to adults in the morning, then come home to sit on my ass fold laundry and tidy up the house and then I teach yoga to children again and then I come home to take Thing 2 to piano & voice and then careen through my ‘hood drive home to pick up Thing 3 for soccer practice. By the time dinner needs to be consumed, I am consumed. So Wednesdays are typically “take out night.”

Yesterday was somewhat of a break due to weather (so no soccer practice for the field was a marsh) and the piano & voice teacher was away. Nonetheless, we can’t let these little conveniences knock us off our imbalance to exist in a chaos-free existence… I had to stick to my guns and not cook.

So we headed into Wegman’s.

There it was:

Dragon Fruit. I do believe in dragons. And these are their eggs.  For if "fruit of thy womb" is referring to a baby, then this is a dragon egg.

Dragon Fruit. I now believe in dragons. And these are their eggs.
For if “fruit of thy womb” is referring to a baby, then this is a dragon egg.

“What the what….?” I asked. I was immediately drawn in, like a zombie to an inorganic rustling. “…Forget the buffet, I want the dragon egg…” 

“Can we get one? Can we get one?” T2 asked.

“But if we get only one and we like it then Mom has to trek all the way out here again to get another one, so we may as well get two.” T1 declared.

“But we don’t even know what it tastes like…” I said.

“It says here, it’s a combination of pineapple and kiwifruit…” T1 said. “We like those; I like pineapple and T2 likes kiwi …”

I’m thinking the back of my mind, “And T3 doesn’t like either of them…”

“But it’s $5.99 a pound. That dragon fruit better be loaded with gold. It’s heavy.” I said.

We selected two. The ones you see above.

Here’s some data from Wikipedia on dragon fruit:

Pitaya

A pitaya or pitahaya is the fruit of several cactus species. “Pitaya” usually refers to fruit of the genus Stenocereus, while “Pitahaya” or “Dragon fruit” always refers to fruit of the genus Hylocereus.

WHAT?

What the what is a hylocereus? “Stenocereus.” Sounds prehistoric.

Professor Jedediah held up the Pitaya, a sunbeam cast its way through the clouds, on to the earth and through the glass of the observatory. The students were enraptured, eyes wide and staring at the ruby, scaled egg-shaped form, a red hue reflects off the fruit onto Jedediah’s face. His mouth agape, drool stemming from his lower lip…

“Behold … pitahyah, not the pitaya from the Hylocerus….”

All eyes and heads turn upward as Jedediah raises the oval form above his head. The light in the room vanishes as the door cracks open.

A man in a dirty shirt, dusty and sweaty leans into the classroom, “No time to argue. Throw me the fruit, I throw you the whip…”

Oh… wait, back up… I see a word I recognize: “cactus.” Got it. No. If we read that again… we’re missing the part when Betsy gets to Chicago on the train heading east. Hylocereus … is that a cactus?

Fuhgedaboudit.

Anyway, we bought them. We didn’t eat any last night; we were too busy having family time in the hot tub. I decided to wait until today. I wasn’t convinced it wouldn’t have hatched overnight.

So Thing 3 and I discussed it this morning.

“You did buy it. I wasn’t sure,” he said.

I asked him if he wanted to try some. “The card near the fruit said it tastes like kiwifruit and pineapple.”

“But I don’t like either of those…” he reminded me.

“Let’s just try it.”

So I cut it open. It’s supple. The skin is dense and soft, like a banana. I was surprised by this.

It sorta looks like kiwi on the inside... in a random, unorganized, unkiwi-like way.  Right?

It sorta looks like kiwi on the inside… in a random, unorganized, unkiwi-like way.
Right?

Upon opening it, I found that it’s a very succulent fruit (hence, the cactus part… )

T3 backed up.

“Woah. That’s NOT what I was expecting,” he said.

“What were you expecting?”

“I dunno. Just not that. Maybe something red inside? You know, like strawberries. But they have their seeds on the outside.”

“Do you want to try it? Let’s smell it.” I suggested.

So like a couple of apes encountering a slice of pizza for the first time, I took a slice and sniffed it. I restrained myself from listening to it, rubbing it on my arm, patting it, throwing it on the floor or banging it into the counter.

T3 leaned in,  sniffed and grimaced, a little confused. “It doesn’t really smell like anything. I guess it smells like water.”

So I decided to try some.

Instinctively I decided to not eat the rind, which upon further research turned out to be a good idea because if you eat too much of the rind, your excrement will turn pink. Note to self…

Taste the rind, but don't eat the rind.

Taste the rind, but don’t eat the rind.

It was a very gentle taste. Benign and innocuous almost and T3’s description of “water” wasn’t too far off.

“I don’t taste anything. It’s really mild. I think you should try it…” so he took a bite and as he took his bite, the dragon fruit gave me its bite.

“Oh… It has a little bit of tang … toward the …” I started, as he was chewing on his piece.

“Yeah, it’s when I’m finishing it…” he said, with his mouth turning downward.

“Interestingly enough, that part of your tasting anything is actually called, ‘the finish'; so if you ever hear us talk about wine, juice, coffee, or a new food, sometimes we will say ‘fin–‘…”

His face contorted and he interrupted. “Yeah. That. I do NOT like that tang at the finish.”

Crestfallen, I said, “Ok. Would you like to try it again, now that you know?”

“What part of that tang is pineapple or kiwifruit?” he asked.

“Ummm… both of them…?” I squeaked, smiling with eyebrows raised, vainly hopeful yet acutely aware that any notion of his trying pineapple or kiwifruit as a grown child, not a helpless victim tied down in a high chair was now with the taste of the dragon fruit: toast. I’ve tried for a few years to broaden his fruit options. It happens slowly and usually with his friends or cousins, completely out of my earshot. I sang, “it’s high in fiber and water… I think you’ll come to like it later…”

But at $5.99 a pound, it’s a pricey risk, and I have to learn to be ok with my kid not loving everything I do. I have to be ok with not forcing him to be something he’s simply not.

I didn’t look at the receipt, but those fruit were not light, it’s pretty dense in that scaly red skin.

I don’t know how the older boys will do with it. If tradition holds true and T2 likes it, he’ll eat all of it in one sitting and then spend the rest of the weekend in the bathroom. The placard beside the fruit said that it can be used in quick breads and things of that nature. So maybe I’ll do that.

TIP: I have learned that the action of freezing pineapple removes the tang from the fruit; it’s quite creamy tasting, and my older two love it (but they love pineapple anyway). So if you like pineapple but your kids don’t like the sour aspect of it, slice it up and freeze it by placing the slices on wax paper on top of a cookie sheet or cooking rack and then putting it in your freezer. I usually take those slices and put them in a bag for smoothies.

So that’s it… nothing else to say here about the dragon fruit.

Thank you.

ps – i did remember to get the ham this time.

 

Make Each Moment Yours

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I am so glad to be back here. Typing away. I have been very busy, of late, tending to several things that have either brought me great satisfaction or consternation; sometimes both.

The quote in yoga last week was along the lines of choosing a life for yourself. That no matter how laudable the pursuit, that if it’s not your idea or it doesn’t set your heart on fire, then it’s not for you, and pursuing it may very likely leave you feeling empty.

I have been faced with several situations which fit right up that alley, a few of them lately. Most of them were foisted on to me as a child and then I just learned that fighting someone else’s battle or managing someone else’s business was just the way the world worked, even though I was rarely the benefactor, nor did my life advance much because of my involvement.

When one parent is unavailable for one reason or another, the other parent will likely enlist a child to either manage the deficit or solve the problem, sometimes both. If that scenario rolls out enough times, the boundaries get blurred so much that it’s like wiping Crisco on a windshield. The only way to cut through and see what’s going on is to eliminate all the smears. If you’re in a situation where that simply didn’t ever really happen, then the wipers just glide over the haze and the boundaries are never really established or even imagined. You can’t see what isn’t clear.

That’s how a lot of my life went for many years. I took on way too much because I thought I was there to solve everyone’s problems. Adult responsibilities were abdicated on to me (I can’t speak for anyone else so I don’t) and slipped and slid through the Crisco.

The boundaries and responsibilities aren’t vetted and established until someone with a clear mission in mind and a strong sense of advocacy comes along and wipes down the glass with a really firm hand, soapy water and a brand-new squeegee. There it all is, laid out before you: what’s yours and what’s not yours.

Suddenly you are lost. The sun is too bright. The air is too cold, clear. The ground is too stable. The items are to large. The items are too small. The items look totally different than they used to. The items don’t fit anymore. The items aren’t familiar. You want your old items back: at least they were predictable in their unpredictability. You want the grime and the haze. You miss the instability it all assured: at least you could count on the crazy. You miss the confusion because now, you aren’t a fixer or the blame or the cause or the cure. You are just … you. Responsible only for your Self and the choices you make, and you’ve made all along for your life.

Yikes.

So you get used to that after a while. Sometimes you even enjoy it, this not having to apologize for the weather if it rains on a picnic day; or if the store is out of the requested ice cream; or if there are no close-enough parking spots outside the movie theater / restaurant / boutique / bookstore / psychiatrist…

I used to feel responsible for stuff like that. When you grow up with a parent who says you’re the reason s/he gets up every day, then the algebra would also dictate that you’re the reason s/he DOESN’T get up every day… It’s a double-edged sword.

The relevance any of this has to my current life is that I’ve recently attended to some things and made a few choices that have not always been “mine.” I have not always chosen them with My Interest in Mind. I chose them because it felt socially appropriate, or I wanted to Be Someone to someone else, or because the void existed and I didn’t have enough guts to say “no.” PTA vice president, PTA president, Sports Club President, rowing partner.

Always a recipe for disaster: following through on someone else’s plan because you don’t want to let them down. HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I DONE THAT?!

IMG_4704.JPG
That’s me on the left.

You learn who you are real quick when you’re in a tiny boat with another person in the middle of a river committed to a six-mile row, three miles of which are dedicated to competition. The good news is that we came in second. The could-be-better news is that I likely lost my patience and sacrificed an otherwise amiable friendship because I wanted to stick to my commitment and see my way through the race because I was not going to let any static take me under: either I was jumping out or we were going on.

My therapist would tell me that blending personalities in a confining space (be it a racing shell, a marriage, a dorm room or an airline cabin) is a tricky endeavor no matter the context. That blending is ok as long as respect is shared and the work is doled out fairly. In a rowing shell, it’s possible to not do your share of the work, but it’s unlikely if you make good time (and we made good time, we could’ve gone a little faster, but seeing as how we’d only been together six times previous, I’m pleased with how things turned out). It’s also possible to confuse your perception of the work due to stress or in my case a conscious effort to counter the stress load borne and expressed by the other person in the boat.

I wanted to row in a race this fall. I didn’t get to last year because Mom died and I was overwhelmed with grief. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to this year because I didn’t get on the water very often, so when the chance popped up to row a double with someone as equally interested and dubious of her own performance, I was nervous, but grateful for the chance. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Ruh-roh…

The thing is (and here’s where we get back to the yoga quote and the lessons I had to unlearn earlier in life by not taking one someone else’s program): just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.

When things get crazy in my world now, I tend to go quiet. I used to jump in and lose my mind and amplify the craze (i.e., act like an idiot) because it was easier and way more fun than rationality, but those bells can’t be unrung. So now, after years of couch time and a ton of mat time, I just breathe deeply, sit on my hands and do my best to wait.

The first day we sculled in the double I chalked up the chatter to jitters and newness. I thought a few things about some of the drills we did right after warming up and I wondered about the near-constant outflow of commands at me. It had been a while since I’d been coached, and about four years since I’d had a coxswain, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to always be about drills and racing starts and other things so early in our pairing — after all: this was casual; we’d not even discussed a race yet. (We’d discussed plenty else.)

The second day, the chatter continued and I have to tell you: as a yoga person and someone who’s used to being alone a lot in a shell, the talking became unnerving. I didn’t mind talking while we stopped for breathers and breaks, but it wasn’t like that. I decided I could do a race, hopeful that things would ease down.

I also started to fall into a creepy and familiar place, the Crisco. The boundaries were getting blurry and I started to feel responsible for this person’s ease and I also wanted to be liked, be trusted and be considered a help. (Bad move.)

So I talked to my husband. I described the scenarios and conversations. He told me he was getting antsy just hearing about it. He noticed I started ramping up too, taking on the anxiety / jitters I was steeped in in the boat. “You have to get to a place where you’re comfortable, Mol, or this is going to be a disaster.” I noted internally that I felt like I was with my mother when I was in the shell with this partner. She expressed so many verbal observations, too many issues with the rigging, the oar locks, the slides, the water (it was too dark), the position she was rowing, the footstretchers, the boat itself… Ordinarily, I’d consider what I could to make it all better — make it stop, just make it stop! — solve the problem. Be the fixer. But not anymore. Something switched in me and I knew the difference between what was mine and what wasn’t.

The following week, I asked my coach to observe us in a launch, it was great. She was super helpful and really got us to work on some of our stroke habits and errors. She said, “No talking in the boat. When you talk in the boat, you screw everything up; you lose place of your hands, where your breath is, where your blades are, where you are on the slide… just be quiet. Eyes ahead and no talking.”

‘No Talking!’

I WAS SOOOO HAPPY!!!

A funny moment occurred between my partner and me after a row later that week. She expressed her awareness of her chatter and said kindly but without apology that when she gets nervous she talks a lot. “I understand,” I said, because I did understand. “I used to be like that,” I said.

She asked, “Oh? What do you do when you get nervous?” I laughed a little and paused. I said, “I just get nervous. But I don’t talk anymore. I get quiet and try to focus. My nervous chatter is wasted energy,” and I finished to myself, “I still seek a moment to learn to be OK with the silence.” There was no comment.

A couple more days of practice and she made a few more asides about seats we rowed and inquiries about the shell. I took on one request which made sense for safety and fitting concerns and that was taken care of. I also took on another request, despite my better instinct to let it go. I paid for that one. After that, I was out. I realized they weren’t mine. (There was that old Crisco lurking again: solve someone else’s problem.)

I decided ahead of time that regardless of how the event was going to end up, that I was going to hold fast to whatever fraction that belonged to me: that I would make it mine and I would make it good.

The night before the race we had a disagreement because of a late-night email she sent me which I considered an unnecessary distraction / spill over from her continued apprehension about the class in which she registered us and boat we’d rigged and were promised. I was done. I offered to drop out and let her go in a single. I was determined, even at this late juncture that I was still going to brand for me whatever I could of the training and of the moment: the choice was going to be hers because the problem was hers. I had to leave her with her stuff.

This was a big moment for me. I’ve been faced with many of them before and I know this won’t be the last. The more experienced I become with familiar personalities and Crisco moments, the faster I’ll be looking for the squeegee to cut through the muck and show me what’s mine.

We spoke by phone the next morning and agreed to race. We smoothed over what we could. There’s a song “Loving a Person” by Sara Groves which starts out, “Loving a person the way they are isn’t just a small thing, it’s the whole thing …” and it goes on to say “it’s the beauty of seeing things through…” and that was the message for me in this situation. I was going to accept how she was and how things were, but I didn’t have to own what wasn’t mine and I was going to see it all the way through — we’d worked hard to get here in a short amount of time and if parlayed properly, we were both going to be each others’ teachers.

When we pushed off to row the 2.5 miles to the starting line, my further (Crisco) attempts at smoothing things over were received but brushed aside; she made it clear, there would be no group hug. That’s the part about being in a small boat in the middle of a river that teaches you about yourself: just get it done (seeing it through). Sometimes you gel, but not then. It felt pointy and perfunctory for the most part, but I can’t own that. It was never mine. What’s great for me is that I realized it and we had no choice but to work together to get it done. To me, it was a success!

It was a “head race” which is a longer distance and thus is usually following the curves of a river. You’re also racing a clock. The starts are staggered to allow for room on the water. We came in second of three boats. Although we were the first to start, we had our asses handed to us by the boat which started immediately after us. It passed us in the first two minutes but we kept the boat which started after that one where it belonged. I knew we wouldn’t likely win, but I didn’t want to finish last. That was my intention.

And I’ve decided that it has to be this way for all of my life. That if I grew up with dysfunction, that I have to find a way to make it worthy and valuable: mine. That if I have a crappy time at a party or event, that I find something about the occasion that makes it mine, so that it doesn’t belong to anyone else: I wore my favorite shoes or scarf or the weather was gorgeous that night or I heard an old favorite song I’d long forgotten.

So it was with the race: I made mine what I could. The weather was perfect, the water fair and I had a great workout. Are you wondering? The chatter in the boat continued but I just did what I could to listen for “need to know” content and I want to say we kept our spirits up even though we were both pretty raw from the previous night’s discourse.

We made good time, about 25 minutes and docked well “That was very professional!” the dock master said and he was right, she’s a terrific bow seat even though she is convinced she’s terrible at it. I disagreed once and moved on.

So I guess this is a long-winded way of inspiring you to know the difference between what’s yours and what isn’t yours. What’s yours feels good and it fits. What isn’t yours feels forced and might cause you some struggle — but you can always make it yours when you find the beauty in it.

Thank you.