Archives for posts with tag: awareness
Grandpa Joe, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only Grandma Gracie

Grandpa, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only “Gram”, Florida, 1983

My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was a fierce Italian woman who hugged too tightly and never hesitated to tell you what was on her mind. She fed us too well and despite the fact that she was only 4′ 11″, her footsteps were like that of an elephant’s (she was always in heels), and I swear that they based that TV commercial on how she would call my brother in for dinner (“Annnthony!”). She passed away last October, five days before I left for Nepal. I returned to NY to celebrate her life and then boarded the plane for a journey that would change my own.

In my backpack, I carried two of her prayer cards: a laminated version with a picture of the Blessed Mother looking down with love upon three children, and a paper one with a solitary image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was my grandmother’s lodestar, her namesake, and in her final years, who she remembered her own mother to be. It is because of my grandmother that my daughter carries the same name.

Two days after my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crouching on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, the gateway to The Beyond for the Hindu community in Nepal. A continuous stream of funeral pyres burn here, releasing into the waters the remnants of the dead, and are then re-lit over and over again, burning at the base of the Shree Pashupatinath Temple. In my hand was the paper prayer card, Mary looking out into an unseen distance. I thanked my grandmother for her love and devotion. I promised to always remember that “blood is thicker than water”, and to keep my eyes out for a “decent” girlfriend for my single brother—and then I let the card be carried away with the ashes of so many others in the waters of the Bagmati.

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015 – photo credit: Sahadev Panday

Despite the fact that I was able to perform my good-bye ceremony in one of the most sacred places on the planet, it wasn’t until I was hiking through the foothills of the Himalayas that I encountered my grandmother in the afterlife. As we marched through one tiny village after another, we came across so many lovely, yet somewhat solemn individuals. Always smiling, they kept mostly to themselves, a resultance of not speaking our language I’d assumed. But rounding the corner one warm morning, we came across an ardent, ageless crone who we heard before we saw. We met what could only be described as my Nepali grandmother.

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

Also a nonagenarian, this woman called us over to show us her broken eyeglasses. Her fingers, bent by time and arthritis, pointed at each of us with aggression, while she animatedly explained to our guide that her daughter had left to go breed a bull in another village and she needed new glasses. She was hard of hearing, but sharp as a tack and had something to say about each of us. She had the same demanding attitude, the same crooked fingers, the same “what in the Hell do you know!” gestures as she waved us away, annoyed that we didn’t have any glasses to give her. I quietly sidled up to her and held her hand as she talked, expecting her to impart some wisdom or have a spark of recognition for me—for clearly she was my grandmother in another time and a very faraway place—but there was none. She took no notice of me and barely registered that I was touching her at all. I was okay with that. I had received far more than I ever expected and was grateful for the opportunity to see that my grandmother could live on in unexpected ways.

This past week, my grandmother’s cousin and her closest friend, also passed away. It was no surprise when I received the call. Nonina, as she was known in the family, was as fierce and Italian as Grandma, and together they had so much deliciousness to offer the world, and a lot to say about it too. Where Grandma held expertise in food (though Nonina was no slouch), Nonina knew her fashion, and thanks to her, as a kid I was dressed in the very best chiffons and polyesters that the 70’s had to offer. Her children were her life, as she would tell you over and over again, and there was not an award, a performance or a Halloween costume that would pass without her inspection. Now that she is gone, the world is a little dimmer, but I can only imagine the party happening now that she is home.

After Nepal, I am excited to see how Nonina will show up again. I look forward to the unexpected moment when I hear two older ladies arguing and instantly think of Grandma and Nonina. And I’m curious to see where I’ll encounter someone who refers to me as, “Doll”. While I miss them both very much, I can’t wait until they visit me once again.

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002 – photo credit: Joseph Schuyler

 

 

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Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.

 

lifevest

(Journal Entry from October 17, 2014)

My mother-in-law once told me that when you pray for patience, you don’t actually get patience. Instead what you get are experiences that workout your “patience muscles”, helping to expand your ability to remain calm and endure.

I pray. I pray a lot. Every morning I stand at my little makeshift altar…

(Side Note: To the best of my knowledge, there is no “Altars for Dummies” book, so I just made up what sits on mine. It lives right inside our front entranceway. So if you see a candle burning next to a chocolate chip cookie please don’t assume that we pray to the Keebler elves.)

…and I say thanks for all that is in my life. Sometimes I tick off the big ticket items, sometimes I just stand there and wrap myself in a feeling of gratitude. I send blessings to those that I love, those that need assistance and generally all that exist across time and space (didn’t know that you were prayed for every day, did you?). I don’t usually ask for anything specific, mostly just a general, “Hey, thanks for keeping me from doing anything monumentally stupid lately” kind of a prayer, but there is one thing I do pray for, every morning and every night before I go to sleep. I pray that I live a higher life, one that brings me closer to enlightenment (whatever that means), where I live mindfully and in a spirit of abundant love. I pray that I become more aware or “awake” to what is truly unfolding before us, and to have the wisdom and the strength to live in a place of presence and light, so that my light might shine and reveal the way for others.

I really should rethink that prayer and start asking for a road bike or something.

I am currently sitting on an Emirates flight to Dubai, where in another four hours I will get on a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Yesterday, I was back in NY with my family, burying my grandmother, the matriarch of our family. The past two months of my life have read like the script to a Malick film. I have been consciously breathing through weeks of watching The Universe lay before me life event after life event, one more breathtaking after another, some filled with joy, others with heartbreak, and all filled with grace. I am utterly exhausted and shell shocked, as these events are the kinds that grab you by the collar, shake you back and forth and shout in your face, “Wake the fuck up!”. And now I’m on my way to one of the most sacred and spiritual places on the planet, without my husband or children, but a friend of twenty years, one that has known me through two decades of relationships, bad decisions, and realized dreams. She is on her own quest, which is crazy and inspiring since 15 years ago (almost to the day) she and I were simultaneously in the biggest upheavals of our then just forming adult lives. And here we are again feeling vulnerable and raw and trying hard to stop our knees from knocking as we stand here ready to take whatever comes next.

This is going to be one hell of a trip.

loveletter

We all walk a path. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can see the path shining before us, riddled with potholes and muddy puddles that give us some indication that the going will be slow and arduous, but not impossible. (There are also rainbow bridges attended by handsome Cosmic guides handing out maps, along with soothing cups of mint tea on the path, but we gave up trying to look for them sometime after our college years.)

Then there are the days when everything feels dark and suffocating, and we aren’t even sure the path is in front of us anymore. Hell, we can’t even feel our feet.

It is these times, when we are desperately clawing into the pitch black reaching out to touch anything that will give context and meaning to what we are spiraling through, that we can feel God reaching back. I believe that if we pay close attention, and work hard not to drink in the fear, we can feel Her putting a gentle hand on our head, wiping our tears with Her sleeve and whispering, “Shhh. Take a deep breath. I’m still right here.”

Recently, I was in that sinking hole. I knew that the path was there, but my feet could not stay underneath me, and over and over again I found myself crashing through the air and landing hard on my ass, knocking the breath from my lungs and making my head crackle with fear. And when that happened, I saw stars.

There were the two stars that slipped me unexpected notes filled with love, reminding me that I am brave and strong.

There were the stars that dropped off food for my family as I left them unattended to bury my grandmother, then journey across the globe.

There was the star that took the time to help me get my possessions safely home, at a time when I was having difficulty trying to remember who I was and where I lived.

And there were the stars that called me, one from so very far away, during my darkest hours, just to tell me that they loved me, to hang in there and “You’ve got this.”

There were so many that together these stars carried me out of the darkness. Like the lights on a darkened theatre aisle, I just followed one to the other until I was able to make my way back into the light. Their small moments of kindness rippled my world back towards positivity, and for that I can never repay them. But now that I’m back in the world of “seeing”, I can collect the light, and shine it back for others.

Thank you my stars. Thank you for shining the light of Her grace upon me. Thank you for returning me home.

 

fiercetrilove

As my daughter and I got ready for the swim around the pier, the final test prior to graduation from the Junior Lifeguard program, she confessed to me that she was terrified. “Please Mom, don’t leave me,” she begged as we walked with 50 others into the shore break. I promised that I would not, that I would never.

As we crossed the surf and started kicking through our first 100 yards, she started shouting encouragement.

“Come on, Mom! You can do this! Just imagine we’re dolphins and this is where we live.”

I’ve never smiled through a swim workout, but I did that day.

Afterwards, I thanked her for her inspiration and told her it was the best part of the entire experience. I then asked her why she decided to cheer me on for the entire swim.

“Did it help you feel less afraid if you concentrated on cheering me on?”

“No, I just wanted to help you make it through to the end.”

“But I was fine. I wasn’t in trouble, that’s just how I swim”

“Sorry Mom, but you swim like you’re in trouble.”

Three weeks later, and a week after the triathlon, I was in the emergency room waiting for the results from the first of two chest xrays. Seems eating garlic, breathing in the equivalent of an entire eucalyptus tree and imbibing in every other natural remedy under the sun will never prevent what is meant to be. The day of the tri, I had a full blown chest cold where I sounded like someone unwrapping candy from a cellophane wrapper every time I breathed in. But I had come too far and tried too hard. I was fine, it was all fine, I could do this.

My daughter came to me the night before the race, and declared herself able and ready to participate. Despite the fact that I was fully prepared to race solo, she felt compelled to be by my side, to not let me go it alone. She wanted to take care of me. I was so proud.

The only reason that I finished is because my daughter helped me to do so. During the swim, the fluid in my chest overcame me and it was all I could do to take a single breath. My confident and incredibly brave 10 year old talked me through all 500 yards, shouting encouragement and guiding me when I was swimming off course, since I had to resort to swimming on my back. Her spirit buoyed me physically as well as mentally.

The rest of the race was a celebration of us. We sang as we biked up hills, high-fived the traffic cops and shouted, “We’re doing a triathlon!” as we zipped past racing down the other side. We talked about life as we walked the final two miles, even though I kept secretly trying to get us into a jog, because yes, I’m just that insane. And we sprinted across the finish line, crossing it together.

I have learned so much from this experience of pushing myself beyond my boundaries and trying to take my child along on my journey with me. I learned that I should always examine my motives and then let it all go and just do what is right for me… maybe others will follow suit, maybe they won’t, but in the end if I do it for myself then I will never be disappointed. I learned that maybe we just look like we’re struggling, but really that is how we get ourselves to the next point, and rather than needing someone to swoop in and save us, all we need is a little encouragement.

I was sick with a respiratory infection for four weeks after the triathlon that kept me from taking even as much as a long walk. The first day I was able to exercise I tried to take a little jog, just one mile. I couldn’t even make a half mile, gasping for breath with aching legs, it was as if the four months of training never existed. I was back to square one. I was overcome with disappointment but I kept at it, and over the next several weeks I was back to running two miles again, shopping for a real road bike and researching upcoming sprint triathlons. You know that indelible spirit of my daughter’s? I think I know where she gets it.

Recently, a friend asked me, “Why do YOU want to do this challenge?”. Initially, I agreed to participate in this triathlon in order to prepare myself for an epic journey that I will be taking in the fall. This adventure is going to challenge me both physically as well as mentally, so jumping in and accepting this challenge seemed like the promise at gunpoint I needed to make myself actually get off of my ass and do something. Not one to ever feel comfortable wasting money, once I paid my $100+ registration fee, that was it; the deed had been done.

In thinking about her question, I realize that there is so more…

1. I am becoming addicted to being uncomfortable. Sounds totally odd, I know, but I had this realization while pushing out 15 miles on the bike the other day. Moving to California turned our worlds upside down. Plucked from our cozy little farm life in upstate NY, and a lifetime spent on the east coast, we flung ourselves across the country from everyone we knew, and plopped ourselves into a time zone, culture and surroundings that we had very little knowledge or experience with. After the shock and adjustment period was over, we looked around and felt like superheroes. We had done it! We took on Goliath and kicked his ass. We steamrolled over our fears and are now doing the Rocky dance on city hall’s steps. If you have ever attempted rising above a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and find yourself the victor, then you know the feeling of euphoria and immortality that just such an experience casts off. That feeling is addictive, and I wanted more. I wanted another adventure that scared the crap out of me, one that made me feel alive (like I was DOING something) and would push me to see the world differently, awaken me to new perspectives, conquer more of my inner darkness. (A part of that darkness is the ego boost that comes with telling people, “I’m doing [insert exciting adventure here] ,” or bitching about something that makes me seem big and important, and the illumination of how addictive that boost can be. Still working on that one.) I have learned so much more about myself when I was uncomfortable, freaked out and just plain terrified, and from those places I have found more strength, discovered more abilities, and enjoyed more inner peace. Let’s just say that I like pushing out of the cocoon only to learn that I can fly.

2. I want my girls to know that they can conquer anything, and the only way to teach that principle is to live it. I want my girls to grow up saying, “I’ll try”, rather than, “I can’t”. And so, for them, I’m going to push myself to do things I’ve been scared of my entire life and I’m going to be honest about it with them. Essentially, I’m tri’ing.

3. When I was enjoying a recent lament over the training (with a heaping dose of sarcasm, ego and some humor) another friend reminded me that it isn’t that I “have to” do this, it is that I “GET to” do this, and she is right. When I’m out there sucking wind, what an awesome reminder it is that I am blessed enough with the health, the means and the opportunity to challenge myself in this very friendly, easy way. I now carry that gratitude with me and send it back out into the world as best as I can.

4. I’m ready. It is hilarious and pungently ironic for me to type this as the race is 4 days away and I’m ingesting every cold remedy known to man in order to prevent the inevitable race day wake up with blown out sinuses, but I am, I’m ready. I feel that I have finally arrived at a point in my life, where I have acquired the confidence, insight and tools that help me to conquer just about anything tossed my way, and the realization that I can do it with a smile. Doesn’t mean I’m going to LIKE whatever it is that I’m up against, but I highly doubt that it would break me, as it could have or even possibly has in the past. I decide what it means to be in this triathlon, and I’m not only going to rock it, but I’ll be the one sporting Sharpie marker tattoos and glitter from her kids, singing and smiling all the way.

The other day, while on a training ride, I ended up biking amidst runners completing a marathon. At first, I didn’t say anything, and just rode past, handing out the occasional smile but not wanting to intrude on their concentration. Yet it seemed just too serendipitous that I was put in the midst of all of these people pushing themselves to live better lives and not help them along, so I started cheering them on, shouting out, “You go, Ladies!” or “Keep going! You’ve got this!” as I pedaled. Not annoyance, but gratitude is what I got in return, time and time again. After I left them, I continued to shout greetings to the workers in the fields, who all happily replied in turn.

And in that moment, I knew what I would say as I cross the finish line this weekend, and yelled it above the traffic on the highway as I peddled,

 

YAWP!

 

photo

I had it all figured out. Add the fun into the training and she wouldn’t even know that we were working out. I could even incorporate the 7 year old and by the end of the run, we’d all be laughing, holding hands, eating ice cream and planning our outfits for our first Ironman.

I am a dumbass.

My first attempt to try to get us out training for the run part of the triathlon was disguised as a quick explore around the neighborhood. The littlest one took her scooter, and me and the 10 YO would just walk… maybe even do a little warm up jog. I figured we could try some chasing/racing games that would get us running but not Running… you know? The 10 YO was skeptical, as she usually is, but the 7 YO was totally on board. As we headed out, I even tried to inspire us with Pharrell William’s song “Happy”… but that was about the last time we heard the word that day.

Immediately, there was pouting, stomping and whining. The 7 YO, finally feeling faster, shot off like a rocket. I tried to increase our pace to keep up. The 10 YO decided to teach me a lesson, and also in a fit of pre-adolescent rebellion, ran off as fast as she could. “Great! I can use this!” I thought. Except she got about 3 car lengths before she stopped, defeated and even more angry. I tried to coach her into pacing herself, how to slow her breathing down, how to make her steps count… blah, blah, blah. “Why can’t I ride the scooter?” she whined. I was frustrated, tired of the whining, feeling like I was pushing a broken school bus with flat tires up a hill, and all of it vaguely familiar. “Fine!” I shouted and made the 7 YO hop off of the scooter and handed it over. We hadn’t gone one driveway length before the 7 YO, in a text book little sister move, sidled up  next to me and started to jog. And then I did the second most idiotic thing since signing us up for the triathlon. I fell, deep and instantaneously, into the trap that is my ego and crushed my daughter in the process.

So happy to finally have someone eager to participate and actually listening to me, I said these horrible words,

“Great job, Dew! Maybe you will want to do this triathlon instead.”

You know that moment, right after you’ve climbed the biggest hill on a roller coaster, just as you hit the peak and you’re done looking at how wonderful the scenery is, and my aren’t all those people so tiny down there, and you eventually realize how horrifying the drop is and that there is no other way down? That same moment when your stomach is clenching so hard because it knows it is about to end up in your shoes? Yup, that moment.

And… cue the 10 YO tears. Many, many tears. So many tears in fact that we had to sit down curbside because she could no longer see to scooter. She didn’t want to run, and she certainly didn’t want to do this triathlon, but most of all, she didn’t want to disappoint me. She was devastated that I would so easily toss her aside for her little sister. She was trying, but she just didn’t like this at all. How could I have said such a thing? And who was this evil little creature that would just throw her under the bus like that and push herself into my good graces?

I sat there feeling like Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot, Lando Calrissian and every horrible traitor in history. How could I have just committed the crime that I found most vile and had raged a war against FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE?!?  I wanted to crumble into ash and be blown away with the wind.

And then, the 7YO started to cry.

“Wait! Why are YOU crying?!?”

I just sat on the curb, a girl sobbing on each side, and took it all in. What happened? How did I get us all here? I knew that this was another one of those AFGO (another fucking growth opportunity) moments that The Universe loved to shove at me… and, admittedly, I actually ask for from time to time, in order to better myself and the world around me, but COME ON! Why can’t I just be handed with misplacing a winning lottery ticket? Why must I foul up so badly that I scar my children for life?

I took a deep breath and grounded myself. Again. I released a lot of energy that I had been holding onto around wanting this to work, my relationship to being fit, my needing a fit daughter, my issues with my own childhood… as much as I could figure out to release. Then I asked to release that which I wasn’t even consciously aware of, but was holding me back. I took a couple more breaths, then moved on.

“Alright, everyone up. If we’re all going to cry, we might as well walk while we do it.”

Together, we cried and walked. I apologized to both of them for trying to force my version of this experience on them, rather then let them participate. I apologized for making the 10 YO feel inadequate and less than her sister. I apologized to the 7 YO for putting her in that position. Both said that they accepted my apology, but were still shooting anger arrows at each other… which really were meant for me. I made them walk together to work it out, holding hands. They still had a lot of anger that they didn’t know how to get rid of, so they just kept fueling each other’s fire. I walked ahead telling them to work it out, not wanting to sit in their stew (because it hurt more knowing I caused it).

Listening to them still stabbing at each other with their words, I stopped, turned myself to face a field of flowers and closed my eyes. I breathed in deeply again, feeling sadness and helplessness. I could hear the girls watching me. I opened my eyes and started picking flowers.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m picking flowers.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know what else to do.”

So we started off training for a triathlon, and ended up crying and picking flowers. They stopped hurting each other, and the tears stopped too, until the littlest one got bitten by ants…  but up until that point, it finally became a lovely, if not difficult, experience.

I know that I’m training. I just think that the triathlon is the least of my worries.

****POSTSCRIPT****

You might have noticed that this post initially started out “My first attempt…”. Yeah, you would have thought that I would have learned my lesson… but I didn’t. If incorporating games and a little sister with a scooter didn’t work SURELY adding in a public run with an outfit theme and cousins would certainly work this time! Rather than drag you through our pain let me sum up:

1. Outfits matter enough to get us into trouble, but not enough to get us out of it. The “fun run” invited everyone to wear neon. The 7 YO, so obsessed with matching, insisted on wearing a pair of neon running shoes that were a size too big. At the start of the race, she almost took a header and ended up crying and walking the entire run.

2. No matter how much “fun” they promise, no amount of music, balloons, costumes and kid’s snacks turn uninterested kids into running fanatics. The amount of whining increased (although it was slightly less pronounced since neither kid wanted anyone to notice them) and the amount of “I hate this” only diminished because they were busy shoveling tiny Cliff bars into their mouths.

3. Apparently it takes a public shaming event to get it through my thick skull that this isn’t happening. Both girls ended up crying and walking over the finish line. Ok, I get it, we’re done. A few days later, my sad and apprehensive 10 YO came to me and hesitantly told me that she didn’t want to do the triathlon. She confessed that she was scared to tell me because she didn’t want to let me down or have to do it alone. I promised her that I was ok with whatever she decided, and that she didn’t even have to decide now if she didn’t want to (she still had 3 weeks of Jr. Lifeguard training to endure and I was hoping (Really? Still?) that she would change her mind). She looked as if I had dug a mountain off of her back.

Perhaps now would be a good time to take a long look at why I REALLY want her to do this triathlon. You think?

Thanks to SunshineMomma for the pic.

Thanks to SunshineMomma for the pic.

“So, why are you doing this? I mean, what is the reason you have decided to train for this triathlon with me? I have a bunch of different reasons why I am, and I’m happy to share them with you, but why are you doing this?” I was eager for my 10 year old to tell me how excited she was to have some one-on-one time with me, to share in a crazy new adventure together, and to learn how to become a team.

“Because you are making me,” she shot back.

I burst out laughing. Here I was, due to some rip in the space time continuum, talking to my own 10 year old self, and she was annoyed and sarcastically funny. My daughter smiled in spite of herself and immediately tried not to. Memories of summers spent hauled off to aerobics classes, herded on bike trips, thrown into tennis camps flashed through my mind; I had injected into my daughter everything I once upon a time hated about my own childhood. In the best trick the Universe every played upon me, I was my parents and my daughter was me.

That was the moment I understood why I swallowed a heaping dose of insanity and signed us both up for a triathlon.

“You don’t have to do this with me,” I countered. “You are welcome to stop at any time. I want you to know that this isn’t about competing, this is about just being together as we make a journey. If we walked, floated and coasted the whole time, I would be ok with that.”

But I knew that deep down, this wasn’t necessarily true. I wanted her to love exercising so that she would never be overweight. I wanted her to lose the weight that her already pudgy pre-teen self was starting to gain. Deep down, I wanted to protect her from becoming me.

As we jogged along together, my mind spun trying to sort out if I was giving us a memorable experience, or condemning my daughter to relive the frustration and failure that I grew up with, as adult after adult forced me into exercise programs trying to help me lose weight.

“Mom, did you do this as a kid?”

“Yes. When I was a kid, my dad would get me up at 5:30 every morning to run with him. I hated it,” as the words came out of my mouth, it was as if I was standing on the sidelines watching both of our reactions simultaneously. I knew that what I was telling her was what could very well be happening in this moment. But I could change that.

“He would yell at me whenever I wanted to walk. And when I couldn’t run anymore, he would run off and leave me to walk by myself.” The words sounded harsh coming out of my mouth, but they weren’t emotional, they were simply true.

“Why did he make you run?”

Somehow I never saw this question coming. I paused, wondering if I should protect all three of us and create some trumped up reason about his love for the activity, but ultimately I decided that this very same truth about how my father felt about me, was an evil reality about what I feared for my daughter.

“Because he thought I was fat,” I explained.

“Sometimes Nonno can be mean,” she replied.

My father has a passion for teasing, and not always in the most gentle and loving way. This was a truth that even she had experienced as a very small child, so she immediately accepted that this is how he would treat his young daughter.  But for me, in that moment, I knew better. He wasn’t mean. He was scared. He was terrified, in fact, of his daughter growing up heavy and struggling to be loved and accepted, as he once had in his teens. My father was doing everything that he could, as were all of those pushy adults in my life, to protect me from the cruelty that gets handed to you when you aren’t perfect in the eyes of society. They didn’t realize that the damage that they were inflicting, as I continued to fail and feel conditionally loved, was worse than what they were trying to prevent. I knew this about them in my head, but in that moment I fully understood this with my heart; and for the first time in 30 years, I loved them all for it.

I made the commitment then and there to have fun on this triathlon adventure, no matter what. I am working on letting go of my unrealistic standards for myself as I train, and all I need to do is to look to my daughter and determine if our goal of having fun is being met. Once again, she is leading me rather than the other way around. Already, I have gained so much from this experience, that if we never run a single step, I would still be so much better for having started. Once again, it is not about the destination, but all about our journey.

SkycoasterThat is the crazy thing about letting go of the side of the pool. You become enamored by, even addicted to, the freedom. (Wow! Look at me! I can swim on my back! I can float while looking at the sky! I can somersault in the water! I can… cough, hack, choke… get water up my nose.) There is a feeling of empowerment that comes with an almost unrealistic edge of invincibility. Almost.

When my now ten year old was seven, we took her to a Six Flags amusement park. Tall for her age, she was able to ride all of the adult rides, but I never thought that she actually would. To be honest, I never even gave it much thought since I was terrified (and could still be classified as ‘deeply concerned’) when it came to anything higher or faster than a tea cup. So when she decided that she needed to ride The Skycoaster, I wasn’t too happy about it.

The Skycoaster is a new and interesting way to test your ability to not wet your pants in public. Up to three people are strapped together into a harness and hooked to extreme bungee cords, then they are slowly pulleyed to the top of a 175 foot steel arch (15 stories into the air). Once at the top, they dangle precariously until given the go ahead via bullhorn, at which time one of the individuals releases the securing line and the three bodies, like eggs knocked off of the refrigerator shelf, drop straight downward at 60 mph until the line catches, somewhere around 150 feet, and the remaining guide lines swing the cascading bodies (possibly in cardiac arrest at this point) up between the arches into the sky. Free falling. And flying. At a seasonal amusement park. With my seven year old baby. And we pay extra.

My daughter was instantly hooked the moment she saw people whizzing above our heads. “Come on!” my husband pleaded. “You go with her and your brother because you’re all about the same size! It was fun! She’ll love it!” I had never suspected that my husband had taken out an insurance policy on me, but now…

As my brother, myself and my daughter were slowly being pulled to the top of the arch, I could taste the nacho and snow cone flavored panic rising up into my throat. What if she loses her mind? What if we need to stop and get down? What if I throw up on those heads in the bumper cars? What if this all goes very, very wrong?

“I realize I only have a broken truck and a dog, but I don’t have all of my affairs in order,” my brother whispered, not really joking. My daughter looked up at me with question in her eyes. In that moment I realized, we were the adults. It was our reaction that would set the precedent as to whether this was going to be a thrilling adventure, or an event that would cost my daughter years in adult therapy.

“Fairies,” I blurted out, as we climbed high enough that the peaks of Vermont looked like hilltops we could run down not far in the distance. “We could turn into fairies. I bet, if we think hard enough, wish for it with all our might, once that cable lets go, we can really fly. Come on, say it with me, ‘Fly. Fly. Fly’.”

Our arms linked together, for the last remaining feet of climb, the three of us — me, my brave seven year old daughter and my terrified 34 year old brother chanted, “Fly. Fly. Fly,” as we were pulled to the top of the world. We were given the signal, my brother pulled the pin, and we dropped, head first, towards the ground. As the cables caught us and we swung past the arches, I was still chanting in my head as we let go of each other, spread our arms and flew.

This week, I have let go of the side of the pool again. I realize now that leaving my life in NY and moving to California was a huge step, but still the first of many others. In August, I will compete in my first triathlon — a mini — and I will have the bravest person in my life, my daughter, by my side. Together we will conquer our hatred of running, overcome our fear of ocean swimming and learn what it is to be a team. And in October, I am leaving my brave girl and our family to take a spiritual trek into the Himalayas, an incredible experience that will change me and return me to those that I love who have also changed in my absence. Like falling out of the sky, I know that I lead the way in terms of expectations and reactions, so I take these new adventures not only as challenges that will elevate me as a person, but also as a mother, my highest honor. I am excited, nervous, happy, terrified and blessed.

Time to start swimming.

elfsam
Perhaps it is because I’m the farthest from home I’ve ever been at Christmastime, or because I’m still trying to wrap my head around decorating a palm tree, but all of the Facebook back and forth over why we should continue to propagate the myth of a mischievous little creature in our homes has left me pensive and nostalgic. And frankly, a little bit freaked out.

First the nostalgic. Don’t you remember when you were a kid, how you would just fill up like a water balloon, in the days following Thanksgiving, with the excitement of the holidays? Whether it was driving around looking at lights, or the anticipation of what treasures were held in the brightly colored packages, everything around us as kids screams wonder and happiness. Then, on Christmas Eve, we would practically pass out (literally, I remember trying to hold my breath in the back seat of our car to make myself go to sleep faster so Santa wouldn’t catch me awake on the ride home from my grandmother’s house) from anticipation that almost reached anxiety levels, just waiting to see what Santa was going to accomplish that year.

The Elf on the Shelf simply brings Christmas magic, the possibility of catching a glimpse of the extraordinary, into a kid’s home nightly. For the parents out there that are exhausted and frustrated with having to perpetuate this myth, particularly for their older kids, I beg you to keep going. This isn’t about them wanting to force you out of bed in the night, give you one more thing to add to your already overloaded and toppling list of things to do or challenge your abilities as a creative and caring parent. This is about them just wanting proof that there is magic still in the world. This is about them holding onto the innocence of childhood for just one more year. This is about keeping our jaded, meat and potatoes world at bay with just one more season of cupcakes for dinner. And for us parents, this is truly a moment when the lists and the ‘I wants’ are erased from the holiday equation, and what we are left with is children that are filled with wonder and joy.

Now the freaked out part. Our elf Sam has been visiting us for the last week, and it has taught me many things about my children (ages 6 and 9) but mostly how trusting they are in us and the world. There is no hesitation, there is no questioning, there is just acceptance that intentions are pure and actions are good. As a parent, this scares the crap out of me because I know, and have experienced, different. But I also know that those experiences, are my experiences, and coloring their world with my experiences removes entire spectrums of possibility for them. So, as a parent, how do I foster this beautiful innocence and wonder, while teaching them to be safe and discerning? The best I can come up with is to just enjoy each moment as much as they do, like playing the Elf on the Shelf game as long as they’ll have it, and take each life event for what it is while giving relevant instruction along the way. And, most importantly, to be inspired to reclaim my own wonder and joy around the season, so that I may see the world as that child once again (although I now know I’ll always breathe in before passing out). Sampling some of that magic will help me to understand and therefore communicate better as a parent.

A friend recently commented that the Elf on the Shelf was “a daily opportunity to fail as a parent,” which made me laugh out loud. Rather, I would like to propose that in addition to stealing from our candy stashes and tipping over Christmas trees, our elves are giving us a glimpse of being a kid at Christmas and an opportunity to connect with our kids in a way that is lost most of the rest of the year. I would even go as far as to say, our elves are helping us to be better parents.