Thursday, January 20, 2011


As the parent who is here most of the time, I spend a lot of time with the kids when I am physically but not mentally present. Too often, when they ask for my attention, the answer has to be, "I'm working on something," or "I would love to, but I have to get dinner started."

Even when one of those things is not true (and one of them usually is), I have a hard time shutting down the ever-present litany of I should I should I should ...

Tonight, like every night, Sprout wandered into my bedroom long past the time he should be sleeping.

"I can't sleep!"

"I know, buddy, but ... but you just have to. It's time."

I could tell he was tuning me out. He'd heard what he had to do one too many times today, and he had gotten too little in return. Without some payback in time and attention, this was going to get ugly.

"Do you want a hug and a kiss?"

"A song!" he demanded.

For years, I sang him to sleep every night. The kids each had their special song; ours was "Mockingbird." Lately, it's less often. Some nights he's not interested. He wants a different song, or he wants to sing one to me. Some nights, I think I am too tired. "It's Daddy's night for bedtime," I say. "I'll sing you one tomorrow."

Tonight was "Daddy's night." But tonight I said, "OK. Get into bed. I'll be right there."

Instead of letting him climb into my lap, where he rocks and baby talks and gets crazy-silly, because he is a big boy, after all, and is starting to feel he "should be" too big for this, I had him stay under his covers. I rested my hand on his cheek and looked right into his eyes while I sang.

He can look away if he wants to, I decided. I won't.

It was a little awkward at first. He looked at me, cracked a grin, looked away. I felt a bit silly, too, and thought about how rarely I look deeply into anyone's eyes anymore. But eventually we both relaxed into it.

It was a rare moment of real intimacy: touch, eye contact, and our special song about a mother's promise to give her son everything he wants.

In the end, I changed the words a little. I often do this, and it makes him giggle. Tonight's version didn't even make sense:

And if that horse and cart fall down,

You'll always be my baby boy in town.

But he didn't giggle, or roll his eyes, or remind he's not a "baby." He just took it in, gave me a quiet hug and kiss, rolled to his side, and went to sleep.

For tonight, at least, this mom kept her promise. For tonight, he got everything he wanted.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Caffeine-less in Seattle

I know, I know ... the last thing we need is one more play on this obscenely over-referenced movie title, but it makes my point perfectly because ...

It's January in the Northwest, and I honestly can't remember the last time I saw the sun. It probably wasn't that long ago, but this is the effect of the heavy wool blanket we call Seattle winter. Even when it's dry, it wrings damp with weather-memory.

What I want most at the moment is to sleep. When I wake up, it's dark (even if daylight has arrived, it's dark) and my eyelids are leaden and I want to go back to dreaming. In the evenings, my mind is heavy and dull. I watch TV even when there's nothing on, casting an occasional glance toward my office, right next to the TV room. It's filled with projects I could be working on, projects that once seemed exciting, urgent, necessary ... but the distance seems too far and tiresome to cross.

My mind sends up an alarm: Where's my motivation? Could this be depression? I've been told I have seasonal affective disorder (such a stretch, in this part of the country). And this year I am attempting a winter without chemical antidepressants or Seattle's version, coffee. Trying instead the approach of optimal nutrition, a few critical supplements, very little sugar, plenty of exercise.

So I run through my internal checklist: I am not weepy or overly negative. I do not feel short-tempered and irritable. I am sleeping and eating in healthy amounts; going out with friends or to exercise does not seem to require a superhuman effort. No, I am not depressed.

I am just ... sleepy. My mind does not feel as alert as it did a few months ago, after a few months of sun. I am firing on fewer cylinders. I am, perhaps, more inclined to pluck the low-hanging pun than to reach for a sparklier, more original blog-post title. I am feeling a little less ... um ... perfect. Most days, a little less inclined even to try to "do it all."

But I am up, and moving, and working, and a casual observer probably wouldn't know the difference. So the question is, just for now, can I accept my greyer, fuzzier mornings and evenings? Can I accept that I might need a full eight hours of sleep (OK, nine) instead of seven, just for a while? Can I set aside those "extra" projects without guilt? Just until they call to me again?

Must I curse the weather and pathologize my inner response? Call it a sinister name, vow to defeat it with harsh chemicals, artificial light, and caffeine? Or can I just accept what is, today, for now?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Wall

This week, things didn't happen when I wanted them to.

I'm not talking about the little things, either, like waiting too long in line at the supermarket or wrestling a child into the car for school. I'm talking about the big things, like health insurance, and finding work, and getting paid for work I've already done. Things non-self-employed people don't have to think about.

When I made this choice to work for myself, I knew there would be less stability. I also knew I could handle some degree of uncertainty, at least better than I would have in the past. So on Monday, when the things I wanted didn't come, I said to the universe, "OK, I get it. I'm learning patience. It's hard, but I can do it."

Except. Then I said it again on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I said it to some friends, too. "Look how well I'm doing! In the past, this would have been really hard for me, but I'm hanging in there."

By Thursday, I was saying it louder. With gritted teeth. "OK, Universe. Great lesson! I think I've got it now."

Yesterday afternoon, when it was 5 PM everywhere and my inbox was still empty and my mailbox held nothing but bad news; when it was clear that the things I thought I had to have this week, that I would certainly have by the end of this week, were not coming ... I hit the wall like a child learning to ride a two-wheeler.

It's not that I couldn't have seen the wall in front of me. It had been there all week, just waiting. All I had to do was turn, or stop. But I was holding on to those handlebars so tight, working so hard just to stay upright, not to fall, that I hit it anyway.

Like a kid learning to ride a bike, I went into business for myself for the freedom. I'd seen others do it, and man, it looked like fun. I had an image of myself cruising along, feeling every bit as carefree as they looked. Legs out. Hands off the handlebars. Flying downhill.

But then I got on the bike. And suddenly it all seemed so ... improbable. Suddenly, all I could see were the forces working against me, the pitfalls, all the ways I could fall, at any minute, to the left or the right.

Staying upright, moving forward? At the moment, that seems like a miracle. A kind of grace.

I can't be sure, but I'm starting to get the idea that it (like other forms of grace) will happen only when I loosen my grip on the handlebars, forget all the 'what-if's, and keep my eyes focused straight ahead. My job is to avoid that wall. I know the universe will take care of the rest. When it's time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Belly, Breathing

Last week I saw a woman who practices visceral manipulation, a kind of deep tissue massage for the organs. I had originally made the appointment for some acupuncture and craniosacral therapy, but Asha identified tension in my abdomen and suggested we try this instead. Not that I was surprised; this journey keeps bringing me back to my gut.

For the next 45 minutes, she gently probed, pushed, and pulled at my belly. As she worked each new area I felt little at first (she has a strict "no pain" policy), then a slow stretching, and finally a profound release. Each time I would take a deep, almost-involuntary breath as my body let go of tension I had not realized I was holding.

That night was difficult. My body was clearly adjusting to the changes and letting go of some ... well ... "stuff" that had been released in the process. Stuff I didn't need anymore. But in the days since then I have felt comfortable, and much more aware of my relationship with my belly.

For years, I have been at odds with that area of my body. More often than not, it's the first thing I see when I look in the mirror. Nice legs? Pretty manicure? Good haircut? Whatever ... what does my stomach look like? I defined myself as fat or thin by whether my stomach looked bloated or flat, how much I could "suck it in," how much hung over the top of my jeans. I defined myself as "good" or "bad" by the same standard.

But this treatment made me wonder: What have I really been holding in all this time? For whose benefit? At what cost?

In the last 8 or 9 months, I have re-learned to eat by listening to what feels good to my belly. I pay little attention to calories, fat, carbs, or even quantity (aside from feeling hungry and full). Ironically, I have lost weight as a result; I finally have the flat(ter) belly I longed for all those uncomfortable years. But it is a side effect, not the goal.

And since last week, I also remind myself periodically to stop, fill my belly with air, allow it to expand, take whatever space it needs.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Conscious Imperfction

*pokes head up like a groundhog*

Is it safe to come out now? Is everyone gone?

It's so strange to be writing here again after all these months. At first I just planned to be away for a few days. (Or, more likely, I didn't plan to be away at all ... just got busy with other things.) But the longer I stayed away, the harder it became to come back, until I thought maybe it'd be best just to let this go.

It's a new year, though, and I have a new idea. It came out of a conversation I was having the other day, sharing some of my pre-holiday stress that comes from wanting everything to look just right, wanting everything to be ... perfect.

My friend suggested that whenever I felt that familiar anxiety that comes from wanting things to be perfect, I could do the opposite: fly in the face of perfectionism. An image sprang to mind immediately: Instead of the scrubbed, shining holiday table, with its matching cutlery and store-bought centerpiece, always falling short of my Martha Stewart intentions ... a crazy holiday table with all mismatched plates, placemats, and silverware. The image made me giggle. It felt warm and friendly. To my surprise, I liked it.

I started to think about all of the other ways that being consciously imperfect might feel warmer, friendlier than the alternative. Which is not perfection, of course -- because perfection is impossible for us humans -- but unconscious imperfection. Striving for perfection, and falling short. That striving feels tight, like a smile when you don't mean it. Conscious imperfection feels like a belly laugh.

What does it look like in practice? I honestly have no idea. I've spent so much of my (almost) 40 years practicing unconscious imperfection, that I can barely wrap my head around what the opposite would be like. So I'm making it my mission to explore this in 2011. Maybe it's as simple as ... Messing up the dance steps in Zumba, because my way seems like more fun. Leaving the dinner dishes overnight, so I have more time to play. Hitting "publish" on a blog post before I've edited the life out of it. Ordering dessert first, eating it with my fingers, and getting the tip wrong.

Doing something--anything--instead of being paralyzed by the fear of doing the wrong thing. Knowing that I'll get it wrong, but missteps are still steps, they usually lead you somewhere you need to be, and hell: life ain't about standing still.

When I thought of blogging about this, my first impulse was that announcing my plan was a bad idea. I'm too inconsistent, I thought. I lack follow-through. Why start something (again) I might not get around to finishing? But then I thought ... Perfect!

The goal is imperfection. How can I fail?