Archive for May, 2011


soupe à l’oignon

May 31, 2011

I had a minor crisis this morning.  In the middle of a lovely guided meditation at the end of my yoga / tai chi / pilates class I was not floating away from my body, releasing the tension in my limbs.  Oh, no.  What was I doing?  Thinking about French onion soup.  I am not proud of this.

I am a failure at meditating.  I want to meditate.  I try to meditate.  I go to the library and check out books about meditation and read articles online citing all the research hailing the benefits of meditation.  I believe in meditation, I just can’t actually do it.  I’ve tried  – at the end of the day it feels like a chore; during Eleanor’s naptime I inevitably fall asleep, drool, and awaken with a jolt worried I have missed Cole at the bus stop; in the early morning (are you kidding?) my kids are awake and engaged with the day by 5:45 a.m. and I am unwilling to get up any earlier.  These are but a litany of excuses.  The real reason?  I get stuck on the breathing.

Observe your breath.

For me, this means holding it until I nearly pass out.  Have a mantra.  My mind wanders.  In through the nose.  It feels like I can’t get enough air, as if the oxygen, nitrogen and other atmospheric gases don’t fully inflate my lungs.  Each stilted attempt reminds me of the forced inhalations that accompanied the physician’s cold stethoscope as they listened to heart, lungs, life.  Breathing, one of our body’s most fundamental functions, intimately coupled to our beating hearts.  Good thing I don’t have any control over that.

Three.  Is the magic number.

When our kids are strung out we remind them to stop and take three deep breaths, counting in another language.  It is novel enough to interrupt the behavior, long enough to create a disruption, and focused enough so their minds must concentrate on something other than the previous obsession that sent them spinning out of control.  In fact, they have adapted it and I now observe Eleanor taking three exaggerated breaths while staring down her brother with beady eyes whenever he has pushed her emotionally too far.  Not quite the Zen moment we had been hoping for, but forward progress, right?  It works for them.  Not for me.  Still.  Too.  Many.  Breaths.

Clean up in aisle seven.

Big box store, big pregnant belly, big preschooler.  Classic vignette.  Trying to cram in one more errand between then-five-year old Cole’s gymnastics class and afternoon preschool.  All the while fully neglecting to take into consideration that it was noon and we were both starving.  Ultimately, I wretched him out of the cart, left it completely full in the middle of the store, and carried him out under my arm all the way to the car.  My mortification of ineffective parenting was further augmented by the fact that we had to pass in front of the entire food court where every single person stopped to watch and judge and not one offered to help.


The experts say it is simple.  Focus on the breath.  What if, instead of diving into the deep end of meditation I stay right here in the warm shallows, focusing on ‘the’ breath, the single one I am taking right now, and then letting go?  What if, in the middle of conflict we took one singular intentional breath?  What if the sacred in me had taken that breath allowing me to acknowledge the sacred in Cole?  One deep inhalation that could wash away the tension and leave me in a state ready to hear him again?   And in that moment, my beating heart, tied with such a primitive connection to my lungs, could change from pumping blood furiously to a slower rhythm flowing with compassion?

So the next time I find myself (metaphorically) stuck in aisle seven, I’m going to close my eyes and imagine my French onion soup.  I am going to slowly inhale as if just under my nose was a warm, fragrant bowl.  I will continue this in-breath until it has filled my olfactory senses, and I will exhale with the satisfaction of the satiated.

Each of us has a journey that returns us to center.  It may seem contorted, unorthodox.  It may take some exploring to find it.  But what if we can?  What if we can find the way into our breath?  Into our heart?  And from there, once we have found our stillness, reach out to our children?  It is often that when we embrace the mundane that we reach the sublime.  Apparently my path to Namaste begins with a bowl of French onion soup.  And how do you get there?  Keep me posted.


Death of a Salesman

May 16, 2011

Death.  A bug.  A bird.  A fish.  A friend.  A pet.  A parent.  A cat.  A child.  Death touches us all, in elongated illness, in capricious accident, in shocking surprise, in pain and sometimes as a release from suffering.

It may seem an unusual time to discuss death when spring in the Pacific Northwest is still valiantly trying to blossom, and so I thought of tucking this away until the vibrant, fledgling leaves of today had withered, discolored and fallen to the ground.  But, really, death has no season.

‘Mama, when I die I want to be buried in your heart.’

This is the wisdom of my daughter.  Head turned, looking out the window, Eleanor stated it very matter-of-factly as we drove past a cemetery a few days ago.  I briskly wiped the tears from my cheeks and tried to keep my eyes from filling so precipitously that I could no longer see the road.  She is not sick, she is not dying.  She is simply stating her truth as she works through the big issues of life.  The thought of her dying before me sits on my chest like an anvil, and I struggle not to placate her sentiment with unkeepable promises.  And then I remind myself that she, in fact, needs no reassurances.  She is not the one with water leaking out of her eyes.  I am.

Often as adults we believe that children really don’t understand death.  It’s immensity.  It’s finality.  Yet I wonder if actually they fathom it more deeply, more clearly, more naturally.  They don’t have to unravel it, for they experience sorrow and mourning each day.  A lost stuffed animal, a friend’s betrayal, love’s first broken heart.  Each disappointment is felt unreservedly, openly, fully.  Whether through the flailing feet of a tantrum or the wrapped arms of a hug, they communicate their anguish from head to toe, brain to soul.

And how do we respond?  By slowly eroding the permission for them to express pain, often times by unintentionally belittling their feelings with commentary we think is reassuring, telling them they are fine.  When Cole was little and we still didn’t have an accurate diagnosis for his chronic illness, I always portrayed the positive.  He was in permanent discomfort, and in response I had affixed a frozen smile.  I utilized the façade to disguise my fears, my feelings of being overwhelmed and lost.  I manipulated my mask to project a perspective that life was sweet, gentle, kind.  And thus I began to silence his voice around loss, suffering and bereavement.  This is then compounded by the messages from our culture that grief should be experienced privately, personally, away from the eyes of others.

We are born knowing death and it is only as we age that we forget its absolute connection to life.  Our children are able to embrace the heaviness of death as equally as they experience the lightness of joy.  As adults we need to return to the place of out loud, to express our hurts, our disappointments, our heartaches.  When we speak these truths we practice the acceptance and courage our children have already mastered.  And so I work to relinquish the veil of a one-faced parent perspective, for a true theatre mask reflects both comedy and tragedy.  Death of a salesman.  Birth of a troubadour.  How well will I strike the balance?  I’ll keep you posted.


guilt / association

May 6, 2011

There is a specific sound from childhood that still echoes through my ears.  It is the squelchy slurp of short-clad legs lifting away from the black vinyl seats of my family’s 1972 orange Volvo station wagon.  A vehicle that I later, as a 16 year-old newly minted driver, named ‘The Great Pumpkin’.  But the sound reminds me of my early years, and the seemingly endless hours we spent in the summer heat travelling the length of the west coast to reach my grandparents in southern California.  Growing up in the 70’s meant a car with no air conditioning, and a back seat devoid of any electronic entertainment.  And so there was a litany of imaginative offerings designed to try and stave off the inevitable ‘he’s looking at me’ or ‘she crossed the line’.  We played the license plate game, I spy, the alphabet game, first to see the ocean, all manner of distractions were employed in an attempt to preemptively avoid the chain reaction meltdown of three small children.

The diversion that captured our interest the most and held us the longest was ‘Who am I?’.  Whomever was ‘it’ became a person we all, in theory, knew.  It was then up to the rest of the occupants of the wagon to try and guess their identity through a series of questions to which the only reply could be yes or no.  The initial inquires followed a fairly predictable path.  Dead ? Alive?  Famous?  Man?  Woman?  Girl?  Boy?  Relative?  Live nearby?  Far away?

Who am I?

For the past decade I have been a stay-at-home-Mom with the occasional foray into the paid workforce.  And because my primary role is defined through the existence and needs of others, I find myself wondering, who am I?  For mothers who spend considerable time in the paid workplace, they can be plagued by the demons of guilt.  For others, those who are home, it is the darkness of missing identity, the lack of association to ourselves that present as the monsters in the night.

Who are we?  In a culture that identifies us by our occupation, who are we?  Laundress?  Dish washer?  Short-order cook?  Referee?  Taxi driver?  Mediator?  Health care provider?  Academic tutor?  Mais, oui.  We are all of these.  But these monikers describe that which we do all day.  It doesn’t address the existential angst of all mothers, working at home or away.  Who are we?  How do we define ourselves?  How can we express this?  Nurture it?  Honor it?  It is critical to our heath and to our family system that we know who we are.

So on this day filled with flowers, cards, phone calls, burnt breakfasts, and accolades aimed at your parenting abilities, take time for the rest of you.  See if you can slip outside, look at the sky, and remember being seven.  Riding in the backseat with the window down, the wind whipping your hair into your face as your hand, extended beyond the confines of the car, flew effortlessly on the breeze.  Envision that girl.  Embrace all of who she was, and how she has grown.  Find her voice within you, and listen to her whispered dreams.  Invite them to float through you, displacing guilt / association.  And just before you step back inside, to the pandemonium of parenting, let her know you’ll return next year, to tell her of dreams fulfilled.  Keep her posted.

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