Tuesday, November 29, 2011

b r e a t h e

b r e a t h e

My yoga practice begins not with a stretch or even a down dog, but when the yoga instructor cues us: Start following your breath. In Sanskrit it’s called Pranayama and in vinyasa or flow yoga it’s as integral to the practice as the poses.

Prana“ is the breath and “ayama” is the ability to control, extend or restrain. (and yes, I got that off of Wikipedia)

= breath control

It sounds simple. Compared to the inversions, the arm balances that follow, you would think this should be easy, right? But my practice on the mat didn’t really evolve until I tuned into the breath, paying attention to what it was doing on it’s own and then slowing it down, evening it out – equal on the inhale and the exhale. The physicians in my family would argue that breathing is involuntary and this is all new agey fluff. But I, on the other hand have found the breath to be a bridge between the body and the mind. And frankly, sometimes, we forget. How many times did I twist into a pose, or balance on one foot, concentrating so hard, teetering, and ready to fall over only to realize that I was holding my breath. Breath is indeed a life force and so often we deny its full potential whether we are aware or not.

Early on, I became fully aware of my breath when I decided to hide in my parent’s linen closet during a game of hide and seek with my brothers. I tucked myself into a ball on the floor under the last shelf and tugged at the door to close it a bit. It refused to close easily – instead scraping against the thick, extra plush carpet. I gave it an extra hard tug and finally the door clicked shut. I immediately pushed on the door but the latch wouldn’t give. I stretched for the knob but the shelf above me blocked the way and my 8-year old arms were just not long enough. I panicked and pounded on the door but my hiding place was too good. My brothers gave up and moved on to another game. And when I needed my loud mouth the most, it failed me. I tried to scream and a feeble yelp was all I could manage. I’m not sure you can suffocate in a linen closet, but remember feeling that way. I bent my head low to the ground to suck in air from under the door but the damn carpet was too thick. I’m not sure how long I was in there but it felt like an eternity until finally my brother heard the thud, thud of my fists and he opened the door. The cool air hit my face and I swear the oxygen tasted sweet.  I haven’t taken a breath for granted ever since.

The breath is iconic in that it signals the start of life in a newborn’s first desperate gasp for air – a moment etched into every mother and father’s minds.  My first words when my son was born? That is soooo crazy. I don’t know if it was the drugs – it was an emergency c-section, after all, but I remember how surreal it was seeing him suck up all that oxygen for the first time on his own, his whole body turning incredibly pink and then letting it all out in an incredible wail. Of course, there’s a last breath, too. And, well, besides my pet hermit crab, Macho, dying on me in the 3rd grade, I can’t say I’ve witnessed the precise moment someone passes on. I’m sure that day will come. I wonder if that last breath will taste sweet?

So it makes sense that when life gets too outta hand I need to remind myself to follow my breath. Everyone goes through his/her share of hard times. I realize that but I like to think that I'm getting through about a decade's worth in six months. Might as well get it all over with so I can coast for a while, right? Have you ever felt pain so intense, it takes your breath away? So I reach for my ear buds to tune out the chaos. And when I feel like I’m about to be swallowed up whole, I find myself going to this song, a mantra of sorts. I give myself a minute and the only thing I ask of myself is to: 1) breathe in 2) breathe out and 3) repeat.

Keep Breathing

Written by Ingrid Michaelson

The storm is coming but I don't mind
People are dying, I close my blinds

All that I know is I'm breathing now

I want to change the world
Instead I sleep
I want to believe in more than you and me

But all that I know is I'm breathing
All I can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing now

All that I know is I'm breathing
All I can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing

All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing now

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

to wii or not to wii

This morning was a first. First time I've had to literally drag my son into school, kicking and screaming. It was not pretty.

It started this morning when I woke up to find him playing his wii surreptitiously in the dark. He knows the rules: No wii except for weekends. This is the third time in the last three days he's blatantly broken the rules. Second time I changed the input on the TV so he couldn't get the feed from the game console. He figured that out. So last night I changed the input and hid the remotes. And he still figured it out -- I have no idea how.

In some ways his perseverance and technical problem solving capabilities are impressive. Images of the Little Dude at MIT flash through my brain but I shake it off because I need to get him on the bus.

The logical consequences I imposed were working initially (every time he broke the rule meant one less legit opportunity to play on the weekend) but then that started to lose its effect so I tried to up the ante and took away his play date today. So now I have an upset kid, refusing to get ready to go to school. He fought me valiantly every step of the way: from smearing toothpaste all over his face to fighting me on every article of clothing. I put on each sock and shoe more than once because of those flailing and kicking legs. All the while, I'm trying to be firm but trying to affirm his emotions and stay calm while he was escalating. But it was not working. So like a desperate poker player, I was naming every privilege, treat, and special I could think of, counting to three and giving him the choice to comply or not but making it clear that he HAD to go to school.

No dessert today...1, 2, 3. Poof!
No cartoons this weekend... 1, 2, 3. Poof! 
No computer this weekend... 1, 2, 3. Poof!
No movies this weekend... 1, 2, 3. Poof!

(I must confess here, that these were pretty easy consequences for me since he's with his dad this weekend. Oh well.)

At this point we've been to the bus stop and he refused to get on-board, refused to get into the car (the old foot-in-the door trick), refused to get out of the car at school, and now I'm chasing him around the car in the parking lot afraid he's going to run into traffic. What now? I'm concerned for his safety so I know it's gotta be big.

I'm going to disconnect your wii and give it to some other little boy.

At this point, it's a standoff. He's standing on one side of the car and I am on the other side. Our eyes meet and for a second there's a bit of panic in his eyes.

Nooo, not the wiiiii, he's probably thinking.

It's like a spaghetti western and we walk slowly around the car doing our little dance.

Now I'm thinking, aww, man, he probably thinks I'm bluffing. I've hit the point of no return now. I need to throw all my chips in.

I take one last step, repeat the consequence and I give him his final warning:

onnne... twoooo...threeeeeee. POOF. 


Later that morning,  I'm pulling cords, disconnecting the wii. And then it dawns on me,  

Oh sh@*t! I forgot about my wii fit plus/yoga workout.

I'm not sure who won the battle or the war.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Button up

Have you ever stopped to think about why "nerds" are stereotypically portrayed in pop culture buttoning the top button of their shirt? It's not part of an unwritten geek handbook. In many cases, it's a tell tale sign of someone with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

As many of you know, my 6-year old son who I affectionately call my "Little Dude" was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism (HFA) when he was 4-years old. In school, one of his goals is learning how to button and snap. His occupational therapist (OT) reports that he's making progress. I've noticed him persevering just a minute more than he used to in fastening his pants, shirts or coat. You see, usually he gets exasperated and relies on me to do the finishing touches. Since he is trying to do it on his own now, he insists the top button should be buttoned.

Now you may think that on the priority scale of parenthood, this is no big deal. "Pick your battles," you might say. But I'm not giving in on this one. It may just look nerdy to most out there, but amongst those in the autism community, it's a dead give away for a person with autism or Asperger's. My chief concern is not that he will be labeled with an ASD but rather that he will not pick up on these social nuances - even if they seem completely useless and ridiculous. When I tell him to leave the last button undone, his overwhelming desire for order and finishing the pattern leave him extremely unsettled. I want him to form those pathways in his brain which allow him to to be more flexible in his thinking.

To the Little Dude's defense, he's made me wonder why we don't button that top button on a shirt or the last button on a suit? I mean the button is there -- so why not put it to good use? Maybe one of these days, like the flipped collar on the Izod or Polo shirt, it will be cool to button up.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

OneRepublic - Secrets

Tell me what you want to hear
Something that will light those ears
Sick of all the insincere
So I'm gonna give all my secrets away

In homage to my new blog, I thought this music selection was a good one since I've been giving all my secrets away lately. As a newbie blogger, I must admit that publishing a blog entry is like being out on a high wire - it's really a very vulnerable position to be in. I remember attending a poetry reading and being so impressed with this man's ability to put into words some of his innermost secrets for all his readers to consume. He detailed incredibly beautiful moments but didn't hold back on the most painful and sometimes shocking experiences in his life. Perhaps in poetry or for that matter, music, a soft veil covers the poet and the composer protectively. Not so with the writer -- it's all out there in black and white -- stark naked. 

That's probably why I've never been able to keep a diary. Believe me, I've tried. I've loved the idea of a diary since I was 13 years old and my mother bought me one. It was blue with pink flowers on it and it came with a sturdy leather strap and a lock with an itty-bitty key that I wore around my neck. I wrote for awhile but then months later would go back to my entries, read them and then rip them out and tear them into pieces. I don't recall what was so damning in those entries that necessitated me to shred them so completely. Maybe I'd written down my angst because mom wouldn't buy me the Calvin Klein jeans which were considered a staple in 7th grade? Or perhaps my sadness when my brothers stopped letting me play football with the guys because it just wasn't proper? Was it my confession that I was crushing on the cute boy in Spanish class who always wore plaid shirts and teased me relentlessly?   I mean what exactly is a 13-year old girl so afraid to reveal?

But it wasn't maturity that stood in the way. The habit of demolishing my diary entries persisted. I graduated to bigger journals, swearing that this time, this time around I would write and keep it for posterity. But it never happened -- ultimately my writing would find its way to the shredder. So here I am, feeling pretty unprotected right now because blogging is not for my eyes only. It's sending all your thoughts and feelings out their for the world to see. And I do mean world -- just noticed the other day that the blog tracker indicated that someone in Russia opened my page. And no, I don't know anyone in Russia. I'm sure I will also be getting a message from a frantic study abroad student traveling in Russia who wants me to wire her cash so she can buy a plane ticket home for Thanksgiving.

In any case, here I am, nothing to hide just giving my secrets away. 

(Musical note: I love, love the strings in this song and how the cello really drives the melody throughout. Enjoy.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

brand new life

My little dude found this artwork given to us by some good friends to mark the blessed day he was born. It's a lovely drawing depicting mom and dad standing in front of a little colonial not unlike our own and all different modes of transportation: train, truck, tractor, plane and rowboat with passengers and drivers waving and welcoming him home to his brand new life.

He stared at the picture intently. "Mom, this is a funny picture."

"Why is it funny sweetie?"

"That's not our family."

At this point, I'm thinking to myself:

Oh no, here we go, he's going to get upset because this picture is a painful reminder of what his life was like before his mom and dad split up. Will this be the first time he cries or gets angry or pleads with me for his old life back? What will I say to comfort this sweet little wide-eyed boy looking to me to make sense of all the upheaval in his life? How do I assure him that it will all be OK, that his mommy and daddy while living apart now, still love him and will always love him. Will I come up with the right words and more importantly can I say them without falling apart myself? Stay strong.

"Why don't you think that's our family?" I ask, as I nervously twist my hair around my fingers. (my big tell by the way)

Long pause.

And then I make the calculated decision to let him do most of the talking, to follow his lead.

"Well, first of all, that's not you, mommy. You don't have a long blue dress. And we don't have a plane either." He gets up, grabs his monster trucks and crashes them into each other.

"You are absolutely right, sweetie."

Big wave of relief washes over me. I know that we will have that conversation eventually. But not today. And just when I think he's moved on, he runs out of the room, driving the monster truck down the treacherously steep hand rail and he yells, "plus that picture doesn't show daddy's house. I've got two houses now."

And I've got a really smart kid. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

Weed Whackers*, the Terminator and McMansions 

A friend asked me recently, "what is the hardest part of what you're going through right now?" I thought it was a more novel approach to asking the question, "how are you doing?" when you know that person is going through tough times.

Divorce is hard. Becoming a single mom is hard. Going back to work after many years is hard. Taking care of a house by yourself is hard.

I'm still afraid to use the weed whacker* for fear of accidentally cutting my feet off at the ankles. The ex took the tool box with him. Have you ever tried to screw something together with a butter knife? Not easy. And when one of those million legged hairy creatures runs across the floor, I now have to step up to the role of the (ex)Terminator. I preferred running out of the room with the little dude and sending reinforcements in to deal with the problem.

But really, here's my most honest answer to that question. The hardest part of what we're going through right now is the uncertainty. The hardest part is not being able to picture our lives not only one year from now but even in the coming weeks/months. I try really hard to see the silver lining in all this. When you have to reinvent your life and come up with new dreams, the sky is the limit. Every dream should be that way regardless but when your life suddenly becomes unrecognizable and you have to rebuild from the ground up, the possibilities seem endless. Although I'd like to think of myself as an old home restored rather than a tear down/McMansion. But then again, I digress.

And when all else fails, I recall the yogic mantra of:

You are exactly where you should be, where you need to be ... (or something like that)


* I will admit that I am a stickler about spelling and when I looked up weed whacker vs. weed wacker, well, let's just say I entered into a whole new world of meanings I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I should have just used the term weed trimmer but I liked the alliteration.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Fast forward 3 years since last post...

Say goodbye to the world you thought you lived in
Take a bow, play the part of a lonely, lonely heart
Say goodbye to the world you thought you lived in
To the world you thought you lived in
"Any Other World lyrics"
Songwriters: Penniman, Michael
The smoke hasn't cleared yet but picture a 40-something year old woman, newly separated, previously known for perfectly iced Christmas cookies, overflowing window boxes which changed seasonally from autumnal gourds and ornamental cabbage in the fall to overflowing petunia grandifloras and sweet potato vine in the spring. Now throw the Martha Stewart wannabe back into the work force during a double dip recession after an 8-year hiatus and watch as she navigates a world that went hi def and digital while she was breast feeding, burping and tending to her veggie garden. Throw in her loveable and quirky 6-year old boy who loves monster trucks, girls, belly buttons and identifying broken stop lights around town (in that order) and slowly you get a taste for what is yet to come.