A Letter to My Sisters – Part 1

 

Sweetest Sisters,

I’ve wanted to write this letter to you for some time. And today, after much procrastination, I figured better now than never.

First, let me tell you that I’m sitting in a busy and boisterous coffee shop in San Francisco. It’s the 5th of a 7-day intensive with my yoga teacher. As always, Manouso has worked me over in all manners of yoga. I don’t understand why it seems that in a roomful of 80+ people of ALL ages and abilities, I seem to be the only one heaving and sweating like it’s a marathon in the Mojave!

And… fun fact for the day… the coffee shops in SF also serve beer! Who knew!

But, I digress.

The days you were born, all of you, were some of the best days of my life. I didn’t really know then what it would mean for me when you were born. I just knew that I loved you before you took your first breath and that life with you was going to be AWESOME! And I was right (maybe you’ve heard me say that before).

I’ve had so much fun watching you grow up and growing up with you. I know that the miles have separated us and the whole our-family-is-a-bush-not-really-a-tree has made things complicated. But, really. How much does all of that matter when I hold you so tightly in my heart?

So, now I have some things to tell you. Some things that I want to share with you about life. I’m your big sister, after all. I think that I’m supposed to do this. Here we go…

My biggest life lessons:

  1. Things are never as bad as they seem, nor as good.
  2. You are always, ALWAYS fully capable of handling whatever it is that life flings your direction.
  3. You are loved. By many. In fact, there are people who love you and think about your happiness and you might never realize it.

That’s the Cliff Notes version of this letter. You can stop here if you have something better to do. I’m going to drone on for a few paragraphs now.

You were all young when Ted was first diagnosed with Infantile Spasms. I don’t know if you remember how devastated and terrified we were. I was a wreck. And Travis was even worse than me! When I think back, I see that it was fear that tore through my soul. What would happen? Would he die? What did I do to cause this? His first treatment was a heavy-duty steroid called ACTH. We gave him injections twice daily in his little, pudgy, infant thigh. Travis would inject him as I held him and kissed his fat cheek. I tried to soothe him through those alligator tears. I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of his strength. I loved him so much and it was gut-wrenching to be part of the “treatment” that made him suffer so much.

It never took more than a few minutes after the injection when Teddy would erupt into laughter. You know, the big belly laughs that babies do. Well, Ted’s were always music to my ears and comfort to my heart. He cried in pain and then laughed with the joy that only that beautiful boy knew existed.

You see, the pain of holding him and doing my best to hold myself together was hard. It was terrifying. My only protection was to withdraw. I sucked my tears back and bound my heart deep within so that I didn’t have to subject myself to the uncharted waters of fully experiencing how bad things were. Yes, it’s how I survived. I needed to do that. It was the only way that I was going to make it through. But the result was that when Ted laughed and cooed and bubbled his spit and laughed again, my heart was still bound. I couldn’t expose myself to the pain or to the joy. Unfortunately.

I’ve only missed out on something A MILLION TIMES and look back now and want to experience it again, all because I was afraid. Truly, I don’t know what I was afraid of except the “what ifs”. I can think of so many times when I missed out on your lives because I was too scared to reach out and sink my teeth into our sisterhood. Trav’s family taught me a lot about how to embrace life. I am forever grateful for them.

It’s a lesson that I’ve also learned from my yoga practice. The ongoing lesson of Skillful Action. I don’t look as much anymore for what I want. I look for what’s best. What’s the best decision, action, response. It’s never an easy equation to solve. In fact, most of the time it’s quite simply impossible. Because there’s never a RIGHT answer, only the BEST answer for this moment.

Typically, what I want is to just look at the pool of water. Maybe I dip my toes in from time to time, but I certainly don’t dive in! What if it’s too hot, too cold, too deep, too shallow? What if there’s a MONSTER WAITING TO CHEW UP MY FEET! Worse yet, there could be dirty dishes, stinky bathrooms, or some other form of torture for me to endure. Hell no. I’m not diving in.

And yes, I think sometimes about the possibility that the water will be warm and that when I dive in my suit will conveniently slip off, revealing a Sports Illustrated hot body, just in time for my Adonis (in the form of Brad Pitt, Norman Reedus, or David Beckham, or Travis of course!). But let’s be honest, it’s likely a monster in that pool so I’m not going to risk it.

That pool of water is my life… your life… all of LIFE. I like to plan, to ponder, but I really have to force myself to participate. It’s something that I’ve learned to do and now I embrace it… or at least I try after I’ve thrown myself into it! You see, I finally figured out that if I’m really going to enjoy all the good that life has to offer, then I have to also be prepared to experience to low points. After all, we live by comparison. If I want the good, the bad is coming, too.

And at the end of the day, the bad is never as bad as I think it will be. And the good is sweet but fleeting. What makes it all work is also one of my life lessons (#2), that we are always FULLY capable of handling whatever is in that dark, murky pool of the unknown – good, bad, and ugly. We are smart, strong, and quite talented.

You can do it. I can do it. We can do anything.

That’s part one of my letter to you. I’ll write more on the rest later. For now, just remember that I love you all and I love you with all of my heart.

Onward!

Love, Sis

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Oh Well.

Life has been difficult lately. It’s like my heart is stuck in the mud and no amount of pulling and heaving could bring it to the light of day. The reading, writing, practices, conversations, and bubble baths that usually inspire me haven’t worked to change it. I haven’t been able to figure out why the funk laid so heavy on me. There was no crisis, no problem to solve, no dilemma to massage into passage. Nothing has really changed this month from last month.

I’m a generally happy person, so this moody weight is not familiar. But as much as I wanted to know Why and What, I decided to just let it be. “This, too, shall pass,” I kept telling myself.

Mostly, I decided to let it be because even the thought of trying to figure it out was just too much. Even thinking has been slow and painful.

It’s not fatigue because that would imply that I’ve overdone or worked hard – whether physical, mental, emotional. Definitely not tired.

It’s not depression. My life is quite perfect. I have stresses, anxieties, and things I wish were different. But I am grateful for the life that I’ve created.

I don’t think it’s seasonal. I love autumn! The leaves, the colors, the excitement over pumpkin spice lattes and sweaters. I love it all!

I honestly don’t know what’s been going on. There’s really only one way to describe it.

Bleh.

That’s it.

Well, I would add a BIG, HEAVY <sigh> to the end of that Bleh.

Bleh… <sigh>…

So, all month I’ve just been sighing. A few tears here and there. Plenty of laughter. But, mainly just… Bleh… and <sigh>.

Then I moved on to the next task, the next class, the next load of dishes.

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Somewhere mid-month. I decided that as terrible as it seemed that I was so… Bleh… it didn’t really matter. As important as my mood, my energy, my happiness FEELS… it’s not really that big of a deal. Regardless of the experience I am having, the planet would continue to turn on its axis, the sun would rise and set, and the local supermarket would have something new on sale this week.

So, I unloaded the dishes, packed lunches, analyzed numbers, studied and prepared for classes, and showed up for life. I didn’t want to. I wanted to wallow in my funk. I wanted to listen to The Smiths and write about how not-happy I was. (Just kidding… I hate The Smiths! They’re so depressing…!)

You get the point.

My mood was prime for me to withdraw from my family, my friends, my responsibilities, my life. But I decided instead to just shift into autopilot and carry on.

Don’t be confused. There was no bravado involved. It was a pathetic campaign to the outside observer. I just simply forced one foot in front of the other. It was grueling some days to roll out of bed. So many heavy sighs!

But whatever. And… Bleh.

I did it… Bleh.

And then, guess what happened.

I woke up this morning, pressed the snooze three times and dragged my ass out of bed (again). I sighed (again) and kissed my daughter good morning. I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to write and sighed (again). The words were slow from my pen (again). I sighed (again). And I continued to write (again). I didn’t really write about anything in particular this morning. I just wiped the dust from my brain and yawned.

But then, as I shut my notebook, it happened. The heaviness began to lift. Every so quietly, I could feel it easing up and a familiar lightness replacing what had been weighting me down.

I’ll be honest. I have NO IDEA what’s happening right now. Am I happy? Am I sad? Am I mournful? Anxious? I don’t know why I felt so Bleh, or what this new color of heart is all about. I don’t know if I should welcome the experience of the last month or run for the hills if it happens again. Likewise, part of me is a little suspicious about this strange feeling of lightness that I’m currently experiencing. What if it’s fake! What if it goes away again?

Oh well.

Does it really matter? No.

Oh well.

Yes. The big headline for today is that my Bleh has been replaced by Oh Well.

And that’s about as inspiring as a bowl of over-cooked spinach.

Oh well.

You Can Take the Kisa Outta Kansas…

But you can’t take the Kansas outta Kisa.

Every once in a while, I slip into conversation with people how much I miss the landscape of western Kansas. To which most respond with a look of disgust. How could anyone possibly think that the flat, empty nothingness is anything beautiful at all.

These photos embody my love for Kansas. It seems to me that beauty is having the space for amazing scenes to take place.

 

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Mammatus – Bolton, Kansas – Photo by Mitch Dobrowner, National Geographic

When I look at these photos, I see beauty in the drama that unfolds with an awe-inspiring play of power and stillness. I’ve lived those storms in person and I can feel the electric anticipation captured in these photos.

Can you imagine if a storm like these hit Glacier National Park? We would see the storm as a destroyer. And the truth is that meteorologically-speaking, a storm of this beauty can’t unfold with so many mountains and lakes and whatnot in the way, interfering with their moisture and majesty and stuff. It just can’t happen.

I will always love the open space of western Kansas. I will always appreciate that the landscape provides a clean canvas ready to be painted with the unique combinations of Mother Nature’s elements.

Truly. There’s no place like home.

 

#womensequalityday

I’m a lucky girl to have so many amazing women in my life. What usually leaves me both speechless and smiling ear to ear is this:
Every woman I know is working very diligently in her own way to make life a little better. 
We may disagree on the “how”. We may work in different ways, at different speeds, and with different results. But we work.
We work to open opportunities for women that were previously denied. We work to improve education for girls we’ve never met. We work for pay that adequately represents our contribution. We work for access to health care. We work for the right to have a say in our governments. We work for freedom to wear whatever the hell we want to wear.
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Most of the time, the work that I see women doing is actually very, very personal. It’s work that no one can really see while it’s happening. There are no big demonstrations or public campaigns. There are no commercials or news reports.
Most of the time, the work that we do is in our own thinking. And the actions that come about from that thinking.
And while no one may notice today, over time the world will notice. Because each microscopic change we make in how we view ourselves in the world, how we interact with others, how we think about challenge and celebrate success – they all add up to large, sweeping shifts in the human condition.
Look around. Women are working diligently every where to make life better for themselves and the rest of us. We don’t all do it the same, but we do it.
#womensequalityday

What Are You Waiting For?

“How do you do it all?”

That is the number one question that people ask me. Hands down. I usually downplay my response. “Oh, you know. I just kinda put one foot in front of the other.” Or sometimes, I turn the question back on them, “I didn’t realize I had a choice? How could I not do it all?” All of the time, my first guttural, instinctive response is a big “Ha!” But seriously, what does that question even mean!??!

The truth is that the question most people are really asking is, “Why do you do so much?”

familyiseverythingMy four children who are now teenagers were born in the span of 3 ½ years. My husband and I are entrepreneurs. We own several businesses and a handful of residential and commercial properties. I am a dedicated student and teacher of yoga. I train in jiu jitsu and exercise regularly. I am an amazing cook and diligent housekeeper. I don’t like dirty toilets or unkept yards. I have a very large, amazing family that I keep in close touch with. I have a very involved social life and a travel schedule that will make your head spin. I read voraciously and write everyday.
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And I’m always looking for a new project.

Why?

Because I can. Because I want to. Because I’m called by a whisper that sometimes yells loudly in my head. Because everyday I engage with the people, activities, yoga poses, and ideas that tickle my interest – AND especially those that terrify me – is a day that I learn more about who I really am.

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Everyday I am challenged by a problem, time schedule, financial quandary, or teenage hormone-fueled drama is a day that I inch closer to the Real Essence of Me.

In my opinion, we don’t get better with the typical challenges of life. We get closer to our true nature. And every challenge, problem, weakness, shortcoming is just a speedbump or a crack in the road. Some of them take a little more thinking, a little more effort to traverse. But at the end of the day, there’s no choice. Keep going. Acknowledge your challenges. Use your strengths. Be bold. Keep going. Even better – bring it on!

So what’s my response to that initial question? How do I do it all? My response is a question.

What are YOU waiting for?

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Grace? Don’t Make Me Laugh!

Just the other day, I was talking to a friend who is adjusting to life as her husband recuperates from a stroke. Yikes! As you can imagine, she was overwhelmed. She was navigating the ins and outs of supporting her husband’s recovery, relearning how to cook with a new and more restrictive diet, and somewhere amidst it all, her two young girls were looking for their mommy to feed them, hug them, and nourish their souls. But all that my sweet friend wanted to do was curl up and cry. Who can blame her!

I certainly can’t blame her at all!

But here’s the punch line in our brief conversation via text message… Looking for answers, inspiration, or maybe just a fleck of hope, she asked me how I handled my own life with such Grace.

Wait. Grace?

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Ha! I’m still laughing. Grace. Seriously, I’m crying in fits of laughter.

You see, I’ve been working for 15 years on Grace. Maybe it’s been 41 years. Who’s counting, anyway?

When our son was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms at 6 months old, Grace wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. The tears pouring down my face, my eyes poured over medical texts, research, test results, anecdotal stories from other parents, and everything I could find about how to help my son. The tears never dried, they just ran out. The feelings of pain, helplessness, guilt, fear, anger, never gave way to Grace or patience or hope back then. They raged, waxing and waning, as my energy levels would allow. But oh, they raged on.

Years went by. My son experienced reprieves from constant seizures only to have another wave of neurological trauma crash over him and the rest of us. There were good days even happy moments when the days were darkest. Joy was messy. Never clean cut. And never long-lasting.

But eventually, I began to find joy in those good days. His first words, his first arm farts, his absolute love of running, jumping, and pounding anything into whatever he could; it was all a joy to see and to experience firsthand as the mother of the boy they said would never talk, never walk, never attend school, and never find what we know as a normal childhood.

Some days were bad. Very, very bad. His second birthday when he had his first tonic seizure and lost consciousness. The night his friend slept over only to awaken with Ted mid-seizure convulsing having fallen out of bed. The day we met with his teachers only to discover how little they understood about his condition. Everyday I see his eyes heavy with neuro-fatigue, his speech slowed, and his head shifting to the side is a bad day.

Those days bring my blood to boil. Anger, hopelessness, sadness, exhaustion.  Yes, I can say wholeheartedly that Grace was never part of my operating procedure. Not even once.

So, what is it that my sweet friend sees that she thinks is Grace? (Still, I’m laughing at this thought!)

If I really think hard about it…

She sees me laugh. She sees me hug and kiss my kids (and every baby that crosses my path). She sees me putting dinner on the table for my family and then opening my door to many more friends. She sees me making jokes, dancing, and chasing toddlers while making monster noises. She sees me charting course to pursue my own dreams. She sees me hold my husband’s hand, everyday tighter than we used to hold each other because we’ve worked hard to be better to each other. She sees me clean (okay, that’s a lie. She only sees that my house is clean because I’ve hired someone!) She sees me read. She sees me write. She sees me play. She sees me work. She sees me living life.

And she sees me smile. Often the smile is accompanied by a glimmer in my eye. Is it sadness? Sometimes it’s hope. Fatigue is always a good bet. But there are moments of joy.

There are many moments of joy.

So maybe Grace is simply the act of living. The beauty of which is seen only when the act of living is pure, unplanned, honest, and yes… messy.

Yes, I think that’s my Grace. Messy but pure. Unplanned but honest. It’s real. And its value comes from the tarnish not necessarily the polish. Its beauty from the moments of joy that are strung together and broken apart then pieced together over and over and over again.

This is my Grace. And I’m thankful she sees it.

A Break to End All Breaks

I planned for months that week of sun and sand, swimsuits and sundresses, rest and relaxation. Maybe it doesn’t sound relaxing to take a family vacation to Puerto Vallarta with four teenagers, but it was my dream. I wanted to dig my toes in the hot sand, paddle board in the ocean, and quench my thirst with pina coladas. beach babies

The process to unwind would take a few days. I knew this going into the vacation. And, I knew that I needed rest. So I was willing and prepared to go through the process of unwinding. Much like I teach my students in Savasana.

Ah yes, Savasana. It’s often misunderstood and commonly avoided. While most of us look forward to lying down and resting our bodies after an asana practice, few people are ever interested in actually practicing the pose. We pretend to let go, maybe we sleep or dance between the dreams and waking. Rarely do we practice Savasana. Much like we rarely ever take a vacation. A real vacation.  A vacation from schedules, checking in, problem-solving, doing, trying, winning, losing, feeling, thinking, being anything other than what is in front of us at that moment.

That was my intention for this vacation. Go somewhere and let go. Just do nothing. People gave us suggestions for where to go, what to do, what to see, where to eat. I never intended to do anything other than wake up, sit in the sand, and see what happens. Truly, I was looking for Savasana.
And let me tell you. Savasana is hard to do.

On the first day we arrived, we checked into the condo and slipped into swimsuits. The rooftop pool was already bustling with happy hour guests. They swam, chatted, and admired the setting sun. My husband found a chair, tipped his hat over his eyes and quickly fell asleep. The kids dove into the pool and began their endless game of Marco Polo. And me? I tried it all. First I sat, then I swam, then I laid on the warm tiles surrounding the pool. I listened to the birds, the surf, and the chatterings of the social hour. I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes. I began reading my book. I closed my book. The spiral of anxiety over what not to do was mounting.

This is just like Savasana, I thought. Great. This is going to be more difficult than I thought.

I’ve always thought it was cute when yoga teachers describe and teach Savasana. Admittedly, I’m no better at teaching the enigmatic posture. But, when I hear descriptions like, “Savasana is a time to let go. It’s a time to absorb the benefits of your practice. Savasana asks us to surrender completely our ego. Savasana is about letting go and being present. Let go of tension, thoughts, distractions, and memories…” Well, I have to chuckle a little. Is anyone actually doing it? Or rather, is anyone really not doing?

But there I was on Day 1 of a 7 day vacation in Mexico with my family. I had to figure it out.

In the words of BKS Iyengar, “By remaining motionless for some time and keeping the mind still while you are fully conscious, you learn to relax. This conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both body and mind. But it is much harder to keep the mind than the body still. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.”

The next morning, I woke at 5AM in a panic. My jaw ached from clenching all night. My heart was racing. The sticky sea air was still cool. So, I began to practice. I breathed in and out. I softened my eyes, throat, and belly. I let go of the grip at the base of my skull. I relaxed my jaw. Or at least I tried to relax my jaw. I pulled in and let go of the thoughts that scattered in my mind. The kids. The bills. The coffee. Did we have any? The sand. Could I keep the condo clean? Let go. Let go. Let go. Just breathe. Breathe.

And I thought of my favorite Samuel Beckett quote:

“Try again.
Fail again.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.”

The practice of relaxing, vacationing, being in Savasana went on for a few days. Okay, let’s be honest. I practiced vacationing the entire span of my trip. Some days I looked to the ocean to help me relax. Some days, the pina coladas did the trick. Mostly, I tried again and failed again and then failed better.  I can’t say that I ever really vacationed in the ideal sense. I tried.

On the last morning, I pulled out my journal and reflected on the week. What happened, what did I learn, did I experience any marked transformation of any kind, etc. I couldn’t think of anything remarkable that had happened or any epiphanies that I experienced. I only had the sense that this was something that I needed to practice more often. I needed to vacation more. I needed to practice Savasana.

Over breakfast with my husband on that last day, I asked if he was ready to be home. He said, “Yes. It’s too hard for me to relax. I don’t think I’m cut out for this vacation thing.”

I smiled.

“Yes, I know. Vacations are hard to do.”

Maybe we’ll try again next year.

Hiking is Overrated

My kids were young when we first moved to Montana. I was thrilled at the prospect of getting them out of the city and into the woods. I read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods (an excellent read for city-dwelling parents to feel completely inadequate, on a side note); and, I made preparations for teaching my children all about the outdoors. I dug out my Girl Scout manuals and reviewed knot-tying, how to work a compass, and even dusted off my hiking boots. I was ready to show my children just how beautiful the natural world could be. 

On our third day in Montana, we ventured out for our first hike. Lone Pine State Park was a quick trip from our new digs in Kalispell and it seemed harmless enough for my kids’ first hike. Joe had just turned four, Stella and Ricky were 5, and Ted was 7. Easy peasy. This short hike would be the beginning of a new life in The Great Outdoors! 

Six hours, twelve bandaids, one bee sting, and four crying kids later, I began to rethink my grand plans.

I tried again a few days later and then once more just to be sure. It became evident that my children did not like hiking. They didn’t like trails, learning about trees, leaves, water sources, or anything involving dirt. I gave up and decided to look again at the library hours and then perhaps a trip to the movie theatre, and I sent the kids into the yard to play. 

Sometime thereafter, Stella and Ricky ran into the house asking for sandwiches and some string or rope or something to tie sticks. I obliged and sent them on their way. But curiosity led me to follow them. What on earth were they doing?

I followed them behind the condo, through the empty field, into a stand of trees. Lo and behold, they built a fort. Sticks, rocks, branches – everything they could find. They worked together, they learned to tie knots, they figured out which branches were stronger and which could be easily bent and tied together. Best of all, they were laughing.

Experts agree that play is an important part of child development. They weigh in often about the appropriate and inappropriate amount of screen time, as well as how and when children should be engaged in various forms of exercise. But what few experts talk about openly is the importance of “free play” for children. This is particularly important when it comes to playing in the outdoors. Play is critical. 

Play fosters creativity, social interactions, and forces children to discover the natural consequences of actions. There was a failure-success experience for my children when they figured out how to tie together the branches to form a make-shift doorway on their fort. Play is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that it is “essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them to manage stress and become resilient.” 

Experts also agree that outdoor activities are essential to connect our children to the natural world. A connection with nature as a young child gives a sense of belonging in the world and gives reference to education in the natural sciences, physics, math, and the like. But just like a playground offers a different outdoor experience than an open field, a directed hike through the woods deprives children of the opportunity and responsibility to use their own senses, reflections, and intellect to engage with the world. 

So what does that mean for us Montana parents who want to share the outdoors with their children? Nothing. Keep doing what you are doing. But in the back of your mind, remind yourself how you discovered what you know now about rocks and trees and leaves and dirt and animals. Remind yourself how you learned to climb a tree, skip rocks, and make forts. Was it because your mother showed you? Or was it your brother? Your cousin? Your friend?

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Yes, I want my children to eventually learn the beauty of the natural world – mountains, rivers, trails, trees, insects, plants, animal tracks, and more. But the most important skill I want them to learn is how to discover – the world and themselves.

Then maybe I will have done my job.

Sonata

Moonlight waltzes in
Between the sighs and short whispers
Of love and fear and hope.

Soft keys play but not like the children
When the light is soft and waning.
It hangs heavy. And lingers.

But it speaks. Not in a language
Of words or actions or gestures or sound 
That is ever heard aloud.

Deep within, it penetrates and haunts
Even the rooms that were locked.
The dance consumes.

As dawn arrives with full intention,
The song of the moon penetrates.
Deeper and fuller than ever before.