Quote of Inspiration
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Friday, June 20, 2014
I have been actively working on my kindness for 7 days plan.
It is hard. I can't explain why it's hard. I guess it's hard because it takes focus, in-the-moment focus. I am not so good with in-the-moment focus. I am always thinking ahead, planning, dreaming, wondering. This means that I miss a lot of right now. Frankly, I'm okay with that. I know. I'm not supposed to be okay with that, but I love my dreaming and thinking and planning.
The focus on kindness, however, brings me to the here-and-now. Because I am now thinking about what I can do today, in this moment, to be kinder and gentler to the people I love.
Some of the things I've done:
Turned off the radio in the car and let my kids ask me all of their questions….which normally overwhelms me. As an introvert/highly sensitive person, a lot of information coming at me at once time overwhelms me. I literally have to think about driving. Maybe some people don't, but I do. So, when I get ten questions thrown at me in a 5-minute span, I get anxious. But yesterday, as I drove my son to school, I turned off the radio and just kept the window open for questions, comments, etc. It was lovely. I learned that if the radio isn't full blast, the questions aren't so overwhelming after all. It helped that I only had one child with me, too. I learned about a new friend at camp my son likes. I learned about his idea of how the day might go. I learned about a certain snack I've been packing in his lunch that is not very much appreciated. I hope he felt heard. I hope it was a better way to start his morning.
* I have been setting the coffee each night instead of waiting for my husband to do it. This is his last week of work before we move, so I know he's stressed and has a lot on his mind. This is just that last thing he does at night, and when the clock hits 9:30, and we're getting ready for bed, it's been nice to say: oh….I set the coffee already.
* My husband was late for dinner last night. He let me know ahead of time. Instead of holding dinner, I fed the kids and myself at our normal time, cleaned the kitchen up nicely and ordered his favorite Thai food. When he got home, he had a hot meal, a clean house and kids in a good mood because they weren't waiting for dinner.
* I have taken my daughter to the library several times this week. I was tempted to say no because we'd already been, but I thought: I have the time. Let her go explore. She has read about 10 books this week so far, which thrills me. Instead of trying to watch TV or get on the iPad, she has been reading. A book. In her hands. Turning pages.
* Saying yes. I've been trying to do this more. I don't mean that I'm permissive and letting it all hang out, but when my kids ask me for things, my usual response is NO. It's just become a habit, really. These past few days, in a gesture of kindness and thoughtfulness, I've stopped, considered the question and often said yes. I said yes to ice cream yesterday afternoon. Then, when they wanted to walk to the train station to eat it, and while I was already comfortably enthroned on a bench, I said yes and we walked to the train station. These aren't big things. It's not a grand gesture. But those little 'yes' moments give kids a feeling that the world, in that moment, is sort of going their way. The yes moments also help balance out the no moments.
* I have a friend going through a hard time, and I read a book that I think will really help her. I suggested the book, but I know how hard it is when you're feeling down to do something like remember a book, go online, order it and all that jazz. So, I ordered the book today, off Amazon, and it should be here in a few days and I'll drop it by her house. Even if she doesn't read it, I'm hoping the gesture will let her know I'm thinking of her and sending kindness her way.
I have already learned a lot through this process. It is harder in some ways than I thought it would be, and in some ways it's easier. Some of the hardness is just thinking of ways to be nice that aren't contrived or unnecessary. But all the thinking has been the best part of all.
Happy Friday. The weekend is nearly upon us.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
I have to begin again with 7 days of kindness. Can you believe that? If you know me, you can.
It started out well enough, but then I got lazy. I began to end the day looking for ways I'd been kind, so that I could count them. Instead of being intentional and thoughtful, I just kind of hoped I'd done something nice for someone, so I could continue on to the next day.
There were days I didn't think of it at all.
And some of my 'kindness' was a little stretched…not yelling at my kids? That's kindness?
So, I'm back at Day 1. I had no idea this would be so difficult. But it reminds me that living thoughtfully and with intention is important. I think it's more important, perhaps, than anything else.
I saw this video the other day. If you can get past the somewhat dodgy rhyming poetry, I think the whole point of it is relevant. I am so one of those people…on my phone, on my computer, keyed into the virtual world while my real life passes by. This is especially sad when I think of what I'm missing with my kids.
So, I'm sure some of my intention and kindness will focus on lack of media and toning down my virtual life, especially while my family is with me.
Here is the video:
With that….Day 1 begins again.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Yesterday, my son woke up begging me to look at something called a Beyblade.
He'd asked for at least 24 solid hours, and we'd fobbed him off time and again, busy with other stuff. I promised that if he got dressed for camp early, he'd have time to look for his Beyblade.
So, we looked. Then we tried to come up with a way for him to 'earn' the money to buy one.
We finally settled on using his old year's school backpack for another 1/2 year rather than getting a new one. In his defense, the zipper is wonky on that backpack. But…it's still totally usable.
I thought of this as kindness on my part, because I am very settled on a few things as a parent. They are:
1. Our kids have too much stuff.
2. Our kids are spoiled.
3. We, as parents, have done this.
4. Society's consumer slant and mass marketing campaigns have helped us.
5. My kids (and we as adults) are happier with less.
6. Toys these days are junk.
7. Our perspective (as Americans) is horribly distorted when it comes to the reality of daily life for most people in the world, and I am afraid to reinforce this idea (and teach it) to my kids, who will then go out into it and one day be responsible for it.
But….and here is where the kindness comes in…..I remember being a kid.
My kids have so much less than their friends/peers. I can't believe what people will buy for their kids these days. A child in Maggie's class did a few chores around the house for a new Kindle Fire/HD. That, to me, is a gift you get at Christmas, having forgone any other gifts, it being a super-special year and all.
So, my kids have much less. I grew up this way, falling squarely into the much less category, and while I'm thankful for many of the lessons we were taught, I remember the utter embarrassment I felt when my jeans were too short, my clothes shabby, our house 'boring' and so on. I think our cars were the greatest source of shame, and I always hoped my mother would be late in picking us up.
I know my feelings as a child were selfish and small, but that is how my world was, and I don't think that we, as adults with much wider perspectives and the maturity to see things differently, can necessarily share this perspective with our kids. Not in the meaningful way we have experienced it. Because, after all, we experienced it.
So I am trying really hard to strike a balance. We don't get stuff just to get stuff. We think about it. We decide if we can afford it. We decide if it's worth giving up something else for it (a new backpack). We think it over.
Maybe I'm fooling myself. Maybe my kids will only learn value if I take them off into the woods and make them forage for their own food. I don't know. But I am hoping that little decisions will add up, that little lessons on thankfulness and gratitude and not getting what you want will come together in some sort of amalgam experience, so that when they go out into the world they don't do so thinking it will be easy, that the world is their oyster, that life is without hardship, suffering, sacrifice or goodness.
I read the Beyblade reviews and I'm pretty sure that thing will break in a few days. I was tempted to say something to my son about it, but I didn't. Let it break. Let him feel the disappointment when it breaks and then, when school shopping comes around, let him remember that he traded a new backpack for the new toy. He may realize it was a bad trade. Or….he may think to himself: that thing was totally worth it.
My kindness wasn't in buying the toy for my son. I think of the kindness more as stopping, slowing down, looking at it with him and helping him think it through. How could we afford it? Was it worth it? Did it matter?
As a parent, I think about 95% of the time I get it wrong. But I am comforted in the fact that I'm trying. Really hard.
We even went to Walmart before camp to see if they carried this fancy new toy. While there I thought I'd throw in a couple cartons of donut holes for the office staff, who are so sweet with my kids. They each picked a box and were excited to get to school. Once there, the school's fix-it man took one look at the donuts and said he didn't need those in his belly and told the kids to go on and take them to their classrooms.
This was not the intended end-result of my random act of kindness! I wanted the adults to have the donuts, not the kids! I wanted them to see that we were thankful, that we were making a gesture.
But I just smiled and said we appreciate all of his help.
Maybe the biggest lesson of all is this: You can't micromanage kindness. :)
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Yesterday was Day 1 of 7 in my attempt to perform Random Acts of Kindness.
It was harder than I thought. It felt a little forced. It didn't really feel random at all. But then I thought about my experiences with meditation (which I still have not done for 30 days straight), and I remembered that the hardest part of meditation is that it, too, feels forced at first. We fight against it, resist, have numerous expectations, feel uncomfortable and so on.
It is part of the process. For a long time I thought that it was getting in the way of the process, that mediation would begin once all of that other stuff settled down and took up residence in someone else's life. I was wrong, of course. Meditation is the whole enchilada. All of it.
I am learning this to be true for all of life.
So, rather than obsess, I just looked for open windows throughout the day to be kind to the people around me.
I did all of the family laundry, and instead of stacking it on the dryer and having everyone put their laundry away, I put it away for them.
This was a big deal for me because I am often very worried about teaching my kids responsibility and teaching them that I am not the maid and teaching them to appreciate me.
I am not sure I can so directly teach those things. I am not sure a 9 and 7 year old are going to 'get' those lessons by putting away laundry or making their beds or clearing the table. And if they do learn through these experiences (and I think they do), it is a long time coming, a very slow process, which likely never includes a lightbulb moment at which they stop, look at me and say: wow…you do so much for me. I'm so lucky and appreciative of you.
I thought, yesterday, I'll just put their things away, neatly, in their drawers. They will have freshly folded shirts and underwear, which they will take for granted. But tomorrow, when they have to go get ready for school and they are deciding which of their shirts is the coolest, they will have all of them tucked neatly away. They won't think of me while they sift through them, but I will have put them there, and the process by which I did it will have been a kind one.
Does that make sense? Is there a difference between slapping some clothes on a kids' bed out of duty and expectation and setting them down lovingly, with intention?
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I'm just looking for easy outs. But I will say that as I put their things away and made their beds, I looked around their rooms in the quiet of mid-day, without their little bodies and big voices trailing in and out, asking for snacks and if they can ride their bikes without a helmet, just this once. Their rooms were quiet and peaceful. I saw all of their beloved objects strewn about, and what seemed half-hazard and cluttered and messy at first glance suddenly made more sense to me. Dolls weren't tossed on the floor; they were lovingly put in tiny little doll beds made of stuffed socks and sewing scraps. A map wasn't left on the floor; it was put there, with little pieces of paper detailing vacation trips for said dolls. Books were stacked not randomly but according to fiction and non-fiction. There was a tiny bit of rhyme and reason to all of the madness. In my son's room, air planes were lined neatly on an imaginary runway. Football uniforms were heaped in a pile, ready for action. Shoes were tossed at opposite ends of the room, victims of his rush somewhere else.
Perhaps my act of kindness wasn't putting away laundry but slowing down a little bit. Getting out of myself and seeing my kids.
For my husband, my act of kindness was two-fold. First, I made sure to thank him, sincerely, for helping me out yesterday when I didn't feel well. I didn't offer it in passing but looked at him directly and said, "Thanks for helping me out this morning. I really appreciate you taking the kids to school."
It's sad how often those little sentences get held up between intention and every day life
The second opportunity I had was after dinner. I still didn't feel fabulous but I got up and did the dishes. My husband and I have an on-going debate about dishes. I think he feels I should cook dinner and clean it up, since I'm a housewife. I feel that if I cook (and shop and plan and prepare the table), he should clean it up. It's a classic domestic squabble. But last night, instead of waiting for him to do the work and then being silently (and sometimes not so silently) disappointed in what he leaves undone (wiping down counters, cleaning pots, putting food away in actual containers instead of leaving hunks of cheese to dry in the fridge), I got up and quickly did the dishes myself. He came in and thanked me.
I thought it was such a small gesture on my part, but it likely made his evening a little bit better.
I get so caught up in what is fair and equal. I did my part, which was a level 7. You need to do your part, and it needs to be a level 7 or higher. It needs to be equal. Fair.
But equal and fair and very subjective terms. And the ebb and flow of life is never quite so clear.
The winner in all of this, of course, is me. I enjoyed doing these little small things for my family. It didn't rock our world, but I felt calmer inside. And I feel excited to see what can be done today.
I am a believer in cycles. Good and bad. Either one is easy to begin. Cycles of good lead to growth of good. And cycles of bad lead to growth of bad. I've been in both in my marriage and with my kids. Perhaps ending it is as easy as making the choice.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
When I wrote my list of 52 Figs, a lot of them were hair-brained, off-the-top-of-my-head ideas that just came to me.
Performing a random act of kindness every day for a week was one of them. It just sounded good. I really had no fear of not doing it, and I wasn't sure what I would get out of it. I just threw it on the list.
But I feel that this is a perfect moment to embark on this fig, because life is difficult right now, and when life is difficult, kindness matters.
We are about to move…again. I am somewhat apathetic about this move, perhaps because I don't want to fully admit how upset I am to leave North Carolina, how afraid I am to live through a Northern winter and how nervous I am to know that we will move again in another year, to parts still unknown.
As has been a theme throughout this blog, fear plays a central role in all of this. I am afraid I will become depressed without enough sunlight. I'm serious about this. Rainy, gray days really do a number on me. We're also in a city (small though it may be) and sometimes gray city life is worse than gray country life. So, I am afraid I will slowly become unable to get out of bed, stop working out, stop eating well and start slowly disintegrating.
So, this is a time of change and transition, which means everyone is on edge. We are on edge with excitement, anticipation, fear, curiosity, sadness…you name it. We are on edge.
I have experienced this before, and my usual MO is to just plow through it. One day, I'll be on the other side. It will be over.
Isn't that sad? To plow through it? Even if it's difficult (which it will be), the plowing means that I miss the goodness of it too. And anyway, at 38, I've learned that even when we plow, when we think we're passing it all by, we absorb it, all of it. I'd rather not plow this time. I'd rather just let it be what it's going to be.
I don't want to try to focus on the positive, either. That's kind of a sham, and I dislike it when people try to do that and, worse, try to make me do that. Neither, then, do I want to focus on the negative. What I'd like to do is simply focus on the moment, without judgement, so that I can experience it without needing to label it.
Easier said than done.
This is all coming to my point, however, which is I feel this is a lovely moment and opportunity for kindness. Rather than stress about the filing system being under control, how many unpacked boxes are still in the basement or whether I should hire someone to clean the baseboards when we move, I would like enjoy these last weeks in a place we love, and I'd like to be kind to the people around me. All of them. The checkout ladies at Walmart who are always so kind to my kids. The neighbors. The school administration. Our friends.
Most of all, though, I'd like to be kind to my family. I'd like to come out of myself a bit, to stop thinking about how all of this is affecting me, and treat my children and husband with kindness. Not syrupy kindness. Not of course you can have two ice cream cones today kindness. Just random kindness, gentleness, calmness. Instead of ramping up to depart and head north, I'd like to slowly wind down, enjoy the last days we have in a place we love, be open to the feelings of my children as we start again and be patient with my husband who carries a lot of weight on his shoulders.
When I was in China, I learned that the Chinese are kindest to their family and close friends. They are more brusque with strangers. We are the opposite, I think, in America. We are friendly, warm and kind with strangers and can sometimes be indifferent, selfish or rude with our loved ones. In a perfect world, we'd be kind to everyone. But for now, I'd like to focus my kindness and love toward my family.
What would happen if each day, rather than totaling up my husband's misdemeanors and perceived failures, I just treated him kindly, regardless? What would that look like? What would little moments of kindness look like with my children? I do them now, of course, but in the back of my mind, I have expectations of behavior or appreciation. My kindness is loaded. And when I don't get back what I think I'm due, my kindness turns quickly to discontent and/or meanness.
So, it wasn't really kindness after all.
I am a score-keeper and tally-taker. I keep a mental list of atrocities and hardship. I don't forget. I often failure at forgiveness. I prepare myself for the worst and when it happens, I cynically remind myself: told you so.
I would argue that the only person I'm hurting is myself, but that is not true. I hurt the people around me, and while the cuts aren't necessarily big, they are deep.
For the next week, I will be practicing kindness to all but with a heartfelt focus on my family.
I have no idea how this will go. Will I still expect something in return? Will I want to say to them: look…look….I gave you something! I did something for you! Don't you see? Don't you appreciate me?
What will happen if I simply engage in acts of kindness without an expectation of reciprocity? Or acknowledgement? Will they notice? Will it change anything at all?
I have no idea. But I'm about to find out.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
I have been gone a long time, nearly two years. One of my last posts regarded horse-back riding, which is what has kept me from nearly every other endeavor I have attempted over the past three years. Not only have I fallen in love with horse back riding, but the cost and time involved in committing to this hobby means that I have nothing left for any other.
It is that myopic.
In fact, of all the women I know who ride, I know of not one who has another hobby. Seriously. They ride. They live for it. They come out daily and care for their horses, tack them up, ride them and care for them more. It is expensive to the max. It takes hours a day. It is a full-time hobby that leaves you simultaneously, breathlessly happy, invigorated, exhausted, frustrated, re-invigorated and dumbfounded.
I can't believe I've done it, consistently, for three years. What I have learned could fill a book. It would, however, be a book only interesting to anyone who rides, so I won't fill this blog with all of the details, anecdotes and woes of the riding life. I will only say that the entire endeavor of 52 Figs has been worth it…if only for the riding.
But we are now leaving this small southern town, with all of its charm, muggy summer heat, friendly Wal-Mart workers (who call me 'baby girl') and endless hours of devoted horse trails.
I am torn. Do I ride in our new place? Or do I look back at my list and begin to think again of the rest of my Figs and slowly begin, one at a time, to embrace new experiences?
I am tempted in both directions. On the one hand, the horses are lovely. They are familiar. They clear my head and take me out of my mind, and if I need something in life, it's that.
On the other hand, they are (as noted) expensive and time consuming. The horse world is both big and small. It's big in size, but it's small in terms of much else. Most riders ride. That's what they do. For them, it's enough. I have to ask myself: is it enough for me? Because I can't devote several hours a day, several days a week to riding and get much of anything else done, including (apparently) cleaning my bathrooms or writing my long-over-due novel.
I feel the answer is very clear and very difficult to commit to, the answer being (of course) to set aside a bit of time from horses and try new things. I know, intellectually, that I can come back to the horses. I know what I will find if I continue riding, and while I love the idea of what lies ahead on that well-ridden path, I don't know what lies ahead on the others. I had no idea at all that I would end up loving horses, that I would make life-long friends, that I would learn more about myself and my 'issues' astride an enormous German warmblood than I have through any other experience in life with the exception, perhaps, of motherhood.
So, as we pack up our home, enroll our kids in public school and head north, I will say a fond and hopefully brief farewell to horses and look forward to the year ahead, during which I embark upon many new, unexpected adventures. I have learned, through this whole 52 Figs, that what I thought might matter the most didn't (buying a luxury item and using it with abandon) and what I thought would be a fleeting, three-week endeavor (riding a horse at a solid gallop) wasn't fleeting at all.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is this one from Zora Neale Hurston:
Isn't it true? I feel that my years here in North Carolina have been years that answered. I feel that life has shifted in many ways during these three years, from having little kids to having grade-school-aged kids, from being at home most of my day to being outside most of my day, from wearing skirts and ballet flats to wearing breeches and boots. I feel more confident now than I did when I came here, and that is a new feeling for me. I typically leave a place with feelings of apprehension, confusion, sadness and fear. But these years have been good years, and while I definitely feel apprehensive and sad, I don't feel any fear.
It feels like the right moment to look for questions.
With that….I'll be blogging again. Part of the joy of this journey (that word has forever been tainted for me as a regular viewer of The Bachelor) has been writing about it, reading about it and letting it all sink in through this blog.