On and off the mat

I know I’m supposed to settle zen-like into any spot, but every Wednesday, I subtly scan the studio while getting my mats and blocks and the strap I hate, trying to ascertain which of the remaining openings will best allow me to work and breathe and flow.

Mouth breathers and moaners try my nerves as do the chatterbugs. Except for the teacher’s even voice and some swishing as positions are adjusted, yoga should be silent. That is one reason I go. To work hard and practice mindfulness and revel in some damn peace and quiet.

I choose the spot near the door and under the fire alarm, stacking my props neatly behind me in the space between mat and wall. When I’ve acclimated to the warmer room, I bunch my socks into a tiny parcel, and tuck them under the folded-four-times blanket.

I find, in yoga, that different moods during different weeks draw me to different blanket colors. Today I choose the festive new orange and green one, both shades bright but not obnoxious. Happy and soothing like fiesta decor or sun-kissed Greek facades.

I brought some fiery red angst into class with me this morning. Fresh off of a Facebook joust with an acquaintance of my sister, I’d gone through Trump’s proposed budget cuts and stood up for the arts, LGBTQ rights at the federal versus state levels, public transportation, and effective anti-poverty measures before 9am. The acquaintance values none of those things and cares not if they are tossed out with the bathwater.

I cannot see how we can be in community with others who only wish to support and fund the exact things THEY care for while refusing space for any other values or passions to enter the mix. That is not community. That is a bunch of exclusionary islands, all sharp angles and squared corners, bashing into each other before settling at cool distances, no unity in sight. 

I am ten minutes early to class and so, after unrolling my two mats-two because of my bony back body-I lie down and shut my eyes, exhaling the ugly parry and inhaling Om. The sizzle in my chest is quieting when my hair is brushed aside by the ungainly tossing down of mats, blocks, straps, and Grip-Itz next door: that last spot has been claimed by someone with a generous array of accoutrements.

The intrusion into my limited rectangle of personal space continues for the next 75 minutes. I take this as a yogic challenge. 24" x 68" plus change is plenty, isn’t it? Is it?

My minds sweeps back to a book I first read more than a decade ago: Appetites. It is profound in many ways, changing and helping me evolve each and every time I make my way through the now worn, notated, fading pages. In it the author, Caroline Knapp, discusses how we, especially women, do not feel our appetites, our desires, are worthy. And so we rein them in, mashing and folding and constraining them into the tiniest boxes possible, regardless of the costs of doing so. Which are usually great.

I think about how I’ve so neatly and thoughtfully tucked my props behind me, not wanting to intrude into or steal from my wing-women’s spaces. And yet the mate on my port side does just that. Does she notice? Care? Should I applaud her? I don’t. I’m annoyed. And as class unfolds, I casually, gently, forcefully push her strap off of my mat, her blankets away from my thigh, her panoply of blocks away, away, away.

Should I then applaud myself? For claiming my meager space in this studio? For having stood up to a white guy who hates the arts and thinks the EPA and the Department of Ed should be abolished and who’s irritated by funding public transportation (because “no one subsidizes my commute”) but supports the building of a huge fucking wall on our southern border? Why should I subsidize his fear and bigotry?

Class is underway, and I square my hips toward the front wall as I am instructed. I think about how often I so neatly and thoughtfully tuck myself around others and what they want and need, most always leaving the bitty leftovers to fill in my own contours. I am hypermobile and must balance my Gumby tendencies with more demure positions that “protect and further” my stability. This irritates me, and I consider it a second yogic challenge: how can I be so open and flexible in some respects while so rigid in others?

I consider again my body, front and back, the boundaries, the extent of my skin, my breath, my arms in various positions: robot, cactus, T (for which there is no space today). Are my ribs constrained by my hands taking in their extension and shrinkage? Or are they limited by fascia and physiology over which I have no dominion? Or both?

Can I feel as if I’m lying flat on the mat but still melt more? Like butter through a grate? Can I extend beyond my bit of space without shrugging into what I want versus what I deserve? Is it worth sternal friction to try in some way, any way, to stand up for the values I think are right for this country?  For myself? Those that are most inclusionary and expansive? Those that feel selfish but are anything but?

On Friday, I am taking my boys to my homeland: Louisiana. Door to door, from my house to my parents’, it’s about eight hours and includes two plane rides. The kids are great travelers, but we are leaving the house well before 6am, and this week has been many things. Easy is not one of them.

I am tired. My interest in Minecraft and made-up story lines is waning, but I am forever the literal, rule-oriented mother aware of both optimal screen time and the direction towards which my toes and knees should be pointing. This elicits what could be called yogic challenge 3: the degrees to which my borders and boundaries should be malleable and are versus aren't.

Being a hypermobile person, I have experienced rubber band ligaments as well as silly putty bounds. I have learned that while both feel quite nice, neither is actually too healthy. I consider that consistently stable positionality is a worthy goal. Even when it pushes the tide against my bow and is uncomfortable and frustrating. It is possible that more stringent limits might actually lead to greater liberation. Of self. In life.

And perhaps that’s really the constraint and emancipation offered by the mat. What seems to be a bounded bit of rubber is in fact only the launch pad. But before lift-off, you must stand up for but question yourself, set boundaries but accept some overreach and erosion of them, stretch but focus on a stable core. Otherwise? The noise muffles the peace, and the middle doesn't hold.

Reentry: a mom leaves, returns, and restructures family life


In mama parlance, the week following any child-free getaway is known as reentry. Every time I go away, I receive a flurry of friendly check-ins in the days after my return: "How's reentry going?" "How are the kids behaving?" "You ok?" I also send these notes to my girlfriends following their no-kids travel.

Sometimes sweet, at other times, reentry sucks.

When I first glimpse the boys after any multi-day separation, I find myself death-gripping them in loving embraces and also looking over them with some remove: do they look older? more tan? have longer hair? any missing teeth? It's funny how a relatively short time can look as if much more time has passed.

Return strategically

What looks long often feels very short, and before you know it, you are back.in.full.bore. For this reason, I urge you to return home from your vacation after the kids are asleep and, for a bonus, when they will go to camp or school the next day.

This realization was thrust upon me last Sunday because it takes most of a day to get to the east coast from its western counterpart. I left California at 9am pacific time and walked into my home at 9:30pm eastern. I was tired and felt grimy. I needed food. Because of all of that and because I was still hanging on to the peaceful zen I'd acquired en vacances, I was fully aware, pretty much immediately, that I was grateful the timing had worked the way it had. 

I could settle back in, cuddle with T and Nutmeg (both fairly quiet), get some sleep and then wake with the boys, rested and ready for the reunion. Rested 6am hugs and squeals and the inevitable sock in the face by some flailing little boy limb is definitely something I can do; it is preferable to hugs, squeals and the inevitable sock when also dirty, tired, and strung out from air travel and fellow passengers.

Consider that a return might be an opportunity for a dynamic shift?

That first morning, I hugged and nuzzled and packed lunches and kissed my bigger/taller/tanner/longer-haired/teeth intact children goodbye as they left with T and headed to camp.

And then I exhaled and looked cheerfully upon the eight hours of solitude ahead. 

A carpenter arrived to do some work, I unpacked and did laundry, caught up on emails, grocery shopped and showered, all the while musing about what felt so good about being away and on my own besides the relative novelty of it.

  • I engaged with interesting, funny, inspiring not-related-to-me people for a week straight.
  • I had alone time when I needed it and stimulation and new opportunity when I needed that.
  • I learned stuff, used my brain, thought deeply.
  • I slept more than seven hours each night.
  • I took time to read and exercise and also to sit and do nothing. I felt no guilt associated with any of that.
  • I didn't do anything I didn't want to do.

On the one hand, all of that seems like Vacation 101--or, Seeing Best Friends and Attending a Neat Conference 101--but on the other hand, it doesn't seem like a laundry list of Xanadu pipe dreams (the Olivia Newton-John Xanadu, y'all, not Kublai Khan's). 

In other words, it seems like the sort of living that daily life could more closely approximate.

I sat with this a-ha wonderment all day. In the garden, in the shower, while buying toilet paper, and while transferring darks from the washer to the dryer. And I became determined, hellfire determined, to point our family dynamic (or my dynamic within the family?) toward the vacation-at-home north star.

I picked the boys up at 4:45, overjoyed to see their happy, dirty faces. They're at Calleva right now and are outside all day- fishing, kayaking, rapid swimming, rock climbing, pony riding, shooting bows and arrows, traversing ropes courses, and working at the farm. They come home filthy. Filthy!

Their ankles are ringed with dirt, toe cracks stuffed with nature's detritus, faces painted with a blend of river water, sweat, and muck. Their lunch boxes, oh lord, y'all should see and smell their lunch boxes. And I think of all that is just the sort of thing kids should do and be during the summers. I love it!

We headed to 2 Amys to resume our after-Calleva tradition of Monday dinner there.

Avoid overcompensating

Often after I return from time away, I overcompensate. I "make up" for leaving, and within a day I'm exhausted. 

Not this time. I walked slowly, I did not rush. I did not answer every question shot at me, nor did I look at every line drawn in real time. I was present and engaged but I kept some for me, not least by refusing to look out the restaurant window when they went outside, pretended to be dogs by crawling on the ground, and lifted a leg in faux-pee. I cannot encourage that, y’all.

On Tuesday, J was talking a mile a minute while simultaneously asking me to engage in 85 ways, and look and respond and see. I could feel my heart quicken under the onslaught, but instead of freaking out as the tidal wave approached, I took a deep breath and with love in my voice and eyes said, "Sweetie, I'm not going to interact like this. I'm not going to be on, on, on all the time."

He said, "Ok, Mom. Right!" because this is not the first time I've said all of that but it might be the first time he could hear how much I meant it. The tidal wave petered out.

He (more calmly) told me about camp and I told him how great my trip was, how good for me it was, what I learned and what I enjoyed. He quietly built something in Minecraft, and Ol expanded the Lego base he's been working on for two months. 

For the second day in a row, I didn't even consider going upstairs to ensure that they bathed. I said, "Sweeties, go on up and shower, and then we can have dinner and start our movie."

Wednesday and Thursday, same song third and fourth verses. I taught a class and registered for a multi-month writing class I've eyed for a while now. I worked in the garden and got a mammogram (tip to all who've not yet entered this stage of life: Don't, under any circumstance when you're in the vise-grip, look down. You do NOT need to see your breasts in that state of being.) When the boys are home, I give them a lot but I keep some for me.

Leave and Let Everyone Shine

My week away (a must for all parents who can fly the coop for a bit) and my determination to hold on to a good amount of that way of living has been wonderful for me but also, I think, for the kids. Tom is a great dad but he does not consider doing, and never has, some of the things I do in terms of parent-child interactions. There's a lot to be learned from that.

He also likes to do some things that I really don’t, like taking the kids swimming for two hours and painstakingly building light saber hilts from wood and PVC.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve let him keep the reins he took hold of while I was gone. I mean, if I don’t let someone else help drive, how can I fault them for not doing so? He has gotten up with the kids every morning, done breakfast, made coffee, and driven the boys to camp. Jack jumped on the bandwagon two days ago and packed his and Oliver’s lunches on his own accord. Excuse me, did someone steal my child and replace him with an engaged-in-household affairs doppelganger? I accept!

The thing is, T feels good when he knows he’s helping me. As well, it is meaningful for him to be equally involved when he’s home because of how the kids respond. They establish their own relationships on their own terms, not on mine.

When Jack steps up and receives truthful, thrilled praise, he beams, learns a lot about giving back and helping, and is inclined to do more.   

As I did by virtue of leaving (and let me say that a week may sound long, but it really reset everything in the best way), I also need to step back when I’m here. I need to ensnare my Take Care of Everyone in the World compulsion and toss away about 30% of it because not only does it take agency away from others but also it’s just too much to shoulder.

When the dynamic has shifted, don’t turn back!

There have been moments this week in which I or the kids have reverted into patterns I really don't want any of us to return to. Fortunately, because I am still rested and zen and they are at camp from 8am - 4:40pm (these are really good hours, y'all), I've had the reserve to both realize what's happening and alter course, back toward the vacation-at-home north star.

Quantity of time spent together really isn't as important as the quality of it. Equally true is that each of us must honor and make time for all of the facets of our lives that make our souls sing. When we starve a few, the whole is weakened.

I came back from my week away as a happier, more fulfilled mother and Tom and the boys were thriving. Here's to this being our new normal!

40 in forty

I remember when my parents left their thirties behind. There were black and white paper plates and napkins, festooned with tombstones and screaming “Lordy, Lordy, look who’s 40!!” First was the party for my dad and then, six months later on his half-birthday, one for my mom. The celebrations were happy, full of laughter and clinking flutes of bubbly. Everyone still looked young.

But I also remember the distinct sense that forty marked the pinnacle of life, the top of the mountain that, once reached, meant there was nowhere to go next but down. Wasn’t that why all the decorations were black and marked with graves? Essentially, forty was a milestone but also one that steered all who reached it toward a single, one-lane path to decline.

That’s a pretty grim birthday present, really. Celebrate the big one and then start marching toward the horizon. If you’re a woman, cut your hair; short, like a practical teacher. And pick a highlight color; you’ll need it soon as the grays grow in. Reading glasses will become necessary, and one-piece bathing suits and longer shorts will replace their skimpier kin. Menopause is nigh.

As you might imagine, I thought the big 4-0 sounded old and not particularly fun.

Fast forward twenty-five years, and I’m forty days shy of 40. I did recently find my first frizzy, wiry grays, and although I know it's not recommended, I plucked them immediately and went to get highlights.

My vision isn’t as strong as it once was, and several glasses of wine really wreck my sleep, but minus the physical declines –that which I already notice and those I anticipate- I haven’t a single qualm about my quickly approaching birthday.

You see, I clearly remember many years of feeling out of place. Between the seams. As if I sat precariously on a fault line.

I haven’t forgotten how we middle school girls had to dress out for PE in the middle of the school day (those horrible, awful, poly-blend maroon shorts!), get sweaty during dodge ball and THEN try to prettify ourselves again. All in fifty minutes. We discovered portable curling irons and it was as if we’d discovered Atlantis; our tri-layer bangs were saved from the destructive forces of Louisiana heat and gym humidity.

Because I had my Units outfit (who remembers Units?) and matching bows, I managed to recover. At least I think I did. Those bangs defied gravity. What was the name of the hairspray we all used? It was like shellac.

I haven’t forgotten how much I disliked high school. How my deluge periods made me feel anxious and tubby and hormonal. Do you know how mortifying it is to be playing tennis with your boyfriend, you in a cute crop top and floral-print shorts, and for him to say, “Um, I think you have something on your bottom.” Blood. Everywhere. We didn’t have cell phones then. I had to wait for my mom to come at the appointed time. When she drove up and I stood up from the hot pavement, I’d left my mark. Was my face as red?

Was it worse to stand out or feel invisible? I wasn’t comfortable with either, so who really knows? And now? Oh, thank god for the passage of time, for the gauntlet of one’s twenties in which you learn what’s important and who you are, whether you want to or not. What a challenging, painful, exciting time of enormous growth.

I love everything about getting older except the physical losses. Those can go to hell. But I haven’t forgotten feeling itchy in my own skin, and I’ll take a frozen shoulder or plantar fasciitis or the inability to enjoy more than two cocktails without paying for it sorely the next day. I’ll take glasses and knees that no longer allow me to sit cross-legged on the floor for more than ten minutes without getting stuck there for knowing and using my voice.

I’ll take it for finally feeling comfortable enough. For having grown out my bangs and refusing the presence of poly-blend shorts in my life. For having surgery to deal with my overactive uterus and finding enough peace in myself to feel what I think must be happy. For standing up for my beliefs and for others. This is worth a hell of a celebration, and I intend to do just that.


In honor of the forty-to-40 countdown, I've decided to post daily, a tidbit of wisdom or knowledge I've come across in my decades.

Day 1 (T minus 40): Always wash your feet before getting into bed at night. Who wants grit, odor or dirt in their sheets? Not I! Use a sweet-smelling soap and warm water and then climb into the sack happy.

happy feet

happy feet