Mindfulness and Mayhem, mmmmmm

In my twenties, mindfulness practice seemed impenetrable.  All that sitting, and focusing, and what the hell was I supposed to practice anyway? Seriously, I let the word “practice” get in my way much the same way I let the word “metaphysics” derail my first philosophy class.

Now in my fifties, DBT has come in handy as a good practical introduction to mindfulness.  We start off each group with a different mindfulness exercise.  Mindful observing, mindful knitting, mindful counting, mindful candy eating.

Folks, you can do it with candy!

I was clearly reading all the wrong books in my twenties. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing your mind of all thoughts, it’s simply recognizing what you are thinking about and not hanging on to it.

This, along with my deep-seated need for survival, has brought me deeper into mindfulness.

At home I sometimes practice mindful dish washing (getting better), and on the road, mindful driving (lost cause).  It has really opened up my idea of what mindfulness is and how I can use it.  Almost in spite of myself, it has become a real tool.

In my current life-as never-ending-crisis cycle, I find myself reaching for this tool more and more.  Recently I have tried to incorporate it into my weekly routine, grasping for even the barest bit of sanity.

3 days a week of mindfulness practice at the beach a week—that’s the goal.

Waves of Mindfulness

Now before you get too far into imagining me sitting peacefully in lotus position on the beach in some sort of flowy garment smiling the Mona Lisa smile of a true practitioner, I should remind you that I reach for mindfulness to help me function.

Function minimally.

If I was together enough to arrange a quiet, pleasant mindfulness on the beach session, I wouldn’t need mindfulness.

No, my mindfulness consists of stopping off at the beach parking lot on my way home from carpool.  Sometimes I even manage to change out of my pajamas before I leave the house.  And as much as I would enjoy having a quiet moment to myself, usually I’m sharing the lot with a sketchy RV on one side and someone who is blasting hate radio on the other.

The goal is to do 30 min to an hour of mindfulness practice, or writing, or thinking about gratitude.

Yep, you got that right, mindfulness in my car, that’s the best I can do.

It usually turns into 15 minutes of me checking Facebook then another 15 trying to find a meme I really wanted to share with someone, 15 minutes of wondering if I’m doing it right, and maybe 5 minutes of actual mindfulness.  The ratio has been changing in the last few months, to the better I might add, but it’s roughly 5 minutes of mindfulness.

Don’t judge.

But today was different, today I went beyond mindfulness.  Today I was full on communing with nature.  Today it was dolphins!

Pulling into the parking lot I could see what I thought looked like dolphins moving close to the shore.

Remember, I always want dolphins at the beach, but I don’t always actually see them.  And when I do, it’s usually just one or two and I only see a glimpse of their back and maybe some spouting.  Maybe only 6 out of every 10 visits do I get full on, whole dolphin sightings.

I know, sometimes I hate me for living here too.

When I reached my parking spot, placed strategically between the industrial trash can and the recycling bin, I confirmed the dolphin sighting.  Lots of dolphins.  A small pod moving north.

I never even made it to checking my Facebook.  Still in my jammies, I jumped out of the car to get a closer look, noticing they were swimming toward a group moving south.  Today, I decided, watching dolphins was going to be my mindfulness practice.

Leaning back onto the hood of my car, I focused on them.  I focused on the color of them, the slide of them through the water, the arc of their backs as they surfaced. I noticed when one would surface, I absorbed the closing distance as the two groups moved toward each other. I breathed in through my nose then breathed out through my mouth (not required for mindfulness, but I do try to incorporate all the clichés I can). I was so totally rocking this mindfulness shit.

I didn’t actually take this picture

OMG there was a baby!

Not that it takes a lot to distract me, but this was total dolphin pandemonium—a couple of babies and more than a dozen other dolphins.  The two groups met up and then all began moving south together, showing off lots of flippers and tail flukes and breaching. Some were running into each other and then chasing each other.

Mindfulness evaporated, my mind was in full flight imagining what they were up to.

It was almost like the adults were going back to look for the teenagers that were lagging behind.  Teenagers trying out independence and being awful about it.  I saw the eye roll one of the girl dolphins gave her mom when asked why she wasn’t staying closer to the main group. I felt the mom’s relief and simultaneous frustration at finding her daughter safe, then realizing there was no reason to worry to begin with.

I’m sure one of the tween dolphins was bitching about having to look after his baby brother.  I imagined teenage dolphins flirting, showing off.  I saw the boys daring each other to do totally dangerous things to prove they were “cool”.  I imagined a great white shark following them around like the schoolyard bully.  An octopus trying to give them her words of wisdom, while trying not to be eaten.

I saw the whole ocean being dwarfed by the energy of the teenage emotions they were desperately learning to manage.  And the parents struggling to keep them safe while realizing there is no way to control them or their environment.  I could hear their grandparents sigh, those damn kids, where have they gone off to now?

These dolphins were living my life, I swear.  And they were doing it better!

I don’t know how I knew they were better, but it could be because they were not at all terrified of open water.  Or not.

They were clearly doing it better because they had created a community of strength and support.  It takes a pod to raise a dolphin.  The mother and father aren’t in it alone, and they’re not afraid to accept help. It was like these dolphins were speaking to me.  Directly to me.  Reminding me that I don’t only find my strength in independence, I find it in interdependence as well.  My community, my tribe, my relationships.

I wondered how dolphin parents would handle cell phones.  How do they deal with depressed teenagers?  Is it easier to manage teenage sleep when you sleep with half of your brain?  Are hypoglycemic dolphins as volatile as my daughter?  DBT talks a lot about rational mind, emotional mind, and wise mind.  But I don’t remember it talking about metaphor mind. My life works better in metaphor mind.

Realizing I didn’t make it to even 5 minutes of mindful practice, I noticed an adult break free from the crowd and take a moment to ride a wave before returning to the pod. That dolphin gets me, I’m certain of it.

 


More dandelion moments please

My daughter’s away. Off on an east coast adventure with her cousins. Her aunt keeps sending me pictures of her hiking in the woods, swinging on swings, playing with bugs. Doing all sorts of things that my almost grown daughter would never do around home.

I miss her.

I mean, I miss her physical presence, but I know that she will be back in a few weeks.

But what I really miss is the old her.

several feet above the water
several feet above the water

I miss her uninhibited spirit that is becoming more and more hidden as she grows up. She went from the girl who skipped everywhere to the girl who points out how silly it is that a little girl is skipping on her way to school. She went from the girl who is happy in her own skin to the one worried about what strangers will think.

From the girl who never minded making a ruckus to the one that shushes me.

She shushes me.

I never thought I would be the one getting shushed.

I miss that she is showing a little, tiny bit of that spirit again, and I am not around to see it. To breath it in and capture it in the way I was too careless to do when she was four.

Back then, I told her I was going to write down all of the wonderful words she made up and call it her Fantabulous Fictionary. But I got busy and I knew I would remember them because they were all so wonderful.

We all know what happened.

I only remember a few now. Beesgusting: means even worse than disgusting, Gianormous: a little mixture of giant and enormous for extra emphasis, and Tinky: same as stinky.

Ok, the last one wasn’t really a made up word, she had a speech impediment and couldn’t say the ST sound. She also couldn’t say the TH sound so she pronounced it as S.

And that is how she came up with my favorite noun:

Me: Please don’t blow dandelions all over the lawn, daddy works hard to keep our lawn dandelion free without chemicals.

Her: But mommy, these aren’t dandelions, they are wishing sings.

Wishing sings, wishing things, dandelions. I’ve never looked at a lawn full of them the same way since.

And when I see one now there is always a little girl in it.

With a halo of blonde curls. In a pink seersucker dress and grey eyes busy, busy, busy taking in her world.

This vision is as clear as a photograph. Seared in my mind along with the words of the conversation. Because it was one of those events that hurled me right into the moment. Like a cable was hooked to me and I was physically dragged to another place.

The right place.

I can’t imagine what my state of mind was when I told my 4 year old not to blow a dandelion. But I know that after that moment I looked at the things she did through a different lens.

It was one of those clear moments of parenting when you realize what you are doing and what you should be doing.

But I’m a slow learner it seems and I wasn’t always able to recognize those moments when they came.

not dandelions
not dandelions

Yet, now I see this girl in the middle of a field of flowers and I know it will be gone soon as well. I want more dandelion moments, but it’s too late.

She is only 15, but she has flown away. I have to focus on the moments now, knowing they are what I have.

They are all I have.

And if I pay attention, they are enough.

Adult in the making

So the boy turned 18 and the earth didn’t end.  Or shake.  Or change at all really.  It just went on spinning, taking several more turns around the sun, and the son seemed to take it all in stride.

A few weeks later he graduated.

It seems a milestone has been reached.  I’ve technically lived up to my parental responsibilities.  Although practically, I’m fairly certain you are never done as a mother.

grad 5
the son took it all in stride

I think he may have been expecting something more definitive. Myself, I was just sort of relieved.

So he is an adult now.  But there wasn’t some magical switch thrown that will allow him to make “adult” decisions.  It didn’t come with an extra tool box filled with “adult” tools.  He still has what he had, still is what he was the day before, and yet he is different.

The perspective is different.

The expectations are different; the social contract has totally changed.

He has rights that he can exercise if he chooses.  He has responsibilities that he must take on now, and some he can let slide until he is in college.  The Selective Service reminded him of one of these with a letter that arrived on his birthday.  The county registrar of voters reminded him of another when his first official election ballot arrived in the mail.

I see him picking up those responsibilities, and more, in fits and starts.  I’m hoping that he takes them a little more seriously than he takes his responsibility to clean is room.

Currently, it appears that he does.

When he was signing the consent forms at a post birthday doctor appointment, I could see him come to the realization that he is now in control of his health decisions and his information.  He had a detailed discussion with the doctor about what would be disclosed to me if he chose to sign the consent and what would be the practical implications if he didn’t.

He joked about sending me out of the room.

He really meant it though.

grad 7
funny, they don’t look like adults

I’m glad he resisted.  He is an adult, but we are still on this journey together.

He has a new lens for viewing his decisions, and I can see it is empowering to him. It’s exciting to see him finish one journey and prepare for another with this new view, and watch him adjust to what he expected and what actually is.   I can also see the Pandora’s box aspect of it, but that is something that I gave up thinking about a while ago.

We have never tried to protect him from the real world and real world consequences, figuring that learning from them is the easiest way to go about learning to adult. Although, we have tried to incorporate mercy into the process as well.

His journey has been more fraught with danger and more torturous than we would have ever wished for.  But he has risen to the occasion that no child should have to (and yet so many must) with more resilience and fortitude than I could have imagined.

My sister is in the same temporal place with her son, but she told me she has been crying lately.  I understand that, but I’m not there.  It is an amazing thing about trauma, it drags you into reality—ready or not.  It challenges ingrained behaviors and pushes you to see other perspectives.

I guess I would have preferred the slow, dawning realization.  Perhaps I would have found myself crying gently at the thought of his next adventure and tiptoeing cautiously between his 18th birthday and his graduation date.

Melancholy and excitement sharing the same space.

But that was not to be. I’ve already had to say good bye to so much during this recovery process, I feel like I have already done a large portion of the work of leaving the boy he was behind.

And at the same time I am able to hold on to that boy and realize, he is who he has always been.  His diagnosis doesn’t change who he is, it doesn’t define him.

Like all of us, only this moment defines him. And in a second, it will be a different moment. His actions will demonstrate his heart, his inner light, his joy.  As he has done in the past, he will make mistakes and, hopefully, he will not let them define him anymore than he allows the labels people try to attach to him.

And although his childhood has come to an end, I find myself hoping that he won’t totally lose the childhood perspective on life.

The possibility, hope and anticipation of his four-year-old self.  I want that to stay with him, to be in a place where he can find it when he needs it most.  I know he is going to need it.

A few years ago he asked me what I wanted him to be when he grew up.  “I want you to be happy” I replied.  “I may have some ideas about what will make you happy, but in the end, you don’t have to do them, you just have to find your own way to happy.”

I probably could have given more specific hopes and goals but I couldn’t have given more honest ones.  I truly don’t care what he does with his life as long as he finds fulfillment and meaning.  As long as he creates joy and lives happy.  Accepting that sometimes you have to slog through the hard to just even taste the good.  As long as he makes his journey count.

Although I know those are all subjective and judgy, I’m pretty sure I will know

taking in the moment
taking in the moment

them when I see them.

He has the advantage (or perhaps disadvantage) of knowing that life is not always easy, things are not always fair, sometimes you get dealt a bad hand, and you just have to go with it and make the best of it.  He is farther along the road to happiness than many adults I know just having that simple building block.

My aspirations for him seem to be crystalizing.  Not so much because of his birthday, but because of the journey he has selected.  And because I have let go of what I wanted or thought I wanted.  I have followed his lead and am just taking in the moment.

Mom’s Little Jar of Sunshine

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend and instead of getting all maudlin and melancholy because it’s kinda the last “our little family” one, I decided to think about the things I love about mother’s day.  Mom is just one of the hats I wear, but the one I have worn the most in the last almost 18 years so I guess it’s ok to sit back occasionally and see how it feels.

I usually get taken to a wonderful garden for mother’s day.  I remember plenty of them at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and a few at the Huntington in Pasadena.  But sometimes it has been kite flying at the park, or sandwiches on the beach.

Small or elaborate, my perfect Mother’s day needs to include just a few things:  I don’t cook, I don’t clean, and all four of us spend some time together.

I believe my first mother’s day I asked for a card, maybe flowers, but frankly that was jar of sunshinekind of a high bar for a husband that spent most of his days in the lab finishing his Ph.D.   I have been perfectly content with the no-cook/no-clean version for a while.  I was never one for presents, not on mother’s day at least, but I have always been excessively fond of tokens of affection.

Handprint flower bouquets the kids brought home from school have always been my favorite.  If both of the kids got together and made one with their now adult hands, I would keep it beside the one I got from my daughter when she was 5.  I still have them all, the handmade cards, the decorated poems, the handprint hearts.

They are some of the things I can’t get rid of no matter how much I try to declutter.

One of my favorites is the little jar of sunshine the boy made for me in second grade.  I have a sneaking suspicion that his teacher knew that when things got a little rocky in the teenage years, it would be lovely to have this little jar to look back on and remember the simpler times.  She was pretty awesome that way.

It’s so simple.  A clear jar, the lid covered in a cute floral print fabric and tied with a ribbon (now lost to the ages) and filled with a bunch of rolled up pieces of paper where he wrote things he liked about me, thank you notes, and other random things to make my heart smile.  I’m pretty sure I laughed and cried the first time I read them.

He could barely read and write in second grade so some of them took a while to figure out.  What I really noticed at the time, however, was how hard he must have worked on them.  Phonetic spelling aside, spaces between words and motor organization were things that he struggled so hard with in elementary school, the fact that they were as clear as they were indicated an intense amount of effort on his part.  That he was willing to put in that kind of effort has always been the best part of this gift.

Later, though, I realized that it was a coded message.  Road signs to point me onto the path of being the right parent for him.  I still look at them sometimes when I need some perspective, or reassurance, or even a laugh.  I don’t cry as much anymore, but they can still get me teary eyed.  I don’t like to be pensive about them so I usually come up with light translations that keep me grounded.  And so I will share them with you in that spirit.  Happy Mother’s day to all who are mothers or have mothers.

Special things about my mom and thank you notes written by my son in second grade age 7:

You like foods I like:  Meaning probably I usually cook things that he will eat, this made things easy for him and easy for me.

You are good at remembering:  I guess I used to remind him to bring his jacket so he could go out at recess.  This one is actually pretty funny because about 20 minutes ago as we were on our way to  an AP test, I stopped the car just past our driveway and asked if he remembered to bring his ID to get into the test.  We had to turn around and go back to get it!  I guess I’m still good at remembering things.

You are nice:  I probably had coffee that morning so I didn’t yell as I was rushing him to the school bus.

You support me in school:  This is when I still reminded him to bring his homework to school.

You are a queen:  Obviously, but not the Snow White queen or any Disney queen for that matter.  Hmm, not much in the way of literary good queen’s either, definitely not Gertrude from Hamlet.  Maybe I should just skip this one.

You can do anything:  Anything that he asks, at only 7 he didn’t ask much yet and didn’t understand the limits to my mommy super powers.  Cuter still because he made “anything” 2 awesome words—in ething.

You are the best mom ever:  Self evident.  I belong to him, therefore I must be the best.

You are funny:  I laugh at his jokes, sometimes I even make funny ones myself.  Q: where do cows go on Saturday nights?  A: to the mooooooovies.

You are good at cooking:  I guess he likes my food.

I love you mom:  I start crying here.

You are happy:  I am actually, no joke about this one.  He apparently likes to be around happy people.  If this was all there was to motherhood, I would be golden.

I hope you like it:  Just a little validation goes a long way.  Now I cry at this one, I wish I had paid more attention to it.

You are a great cook:  Again with the food.  Either he was running out of things to write or his obsession with food was foreshadowing some problems down the road. I’m thinking the former.

Thank you for taking me to dinner:  Perhaps I’m not as good a cook as he thought?

Thank you for helping me with problems:  This is the time, before he becomes a teenager, when he thinks that my insights and opinions have some value.  Either that or I brought him homework he left on the floor of his room.

You get me things when I need them:  I take him to Michaels at 8 pm to get poster board that he just that moment remembered he needed for a book report due tomorrow that he hasn’t started.  This is still pretty much standard practice around here, although less so with school work and more so with everything else.

You read me stories:  Still my favorite part of being mom.

You are helpful:  No matter how often I deny it, I was his Sherpa and apparently he liked it.  I have fixed this problem to a great extent, but sometimes he pretends he’s seven and asks me to do stuff.  A lot of times I do.

You read a lot: The reason for number 17 above.

You cook good:  Funny that he continues to go back to the one thing about “mothering” I Love You Momthat I truly loathe.  Is it validation when you are approved of most for the thing you like the least?

You like things I do:  I show interest in his interests.  It’s that simple and it’s that hard.

You help me when I cry:  Compassion.  My greatest strength and my biggest weakness.  I hope this is always true.

You are cool: Proof positive that at one time I was cool.

Made up holiday

From looking at my Facebook feed, I see there was some sort of big holiday last weekend.  I saw lots of pictures of friends with their spouses, their children, their parents, other friends, even their dogs.  Sadly no cat pictures, I guess cats are not cuddly enough for Valentine’s Day.  I was pleased to see that the day is becoming more inclusive, and that we can now interpret it more broadly than lover, partner, or spouse.  It’s nice to no longer be left out of a holiday because you’re single, or because your partner feels that it’s a made up holiday/corporate plot.  But this year I missed it altogether. No chocolates for the kids, no cards, certainly no presents.  I did send my husband a perfunctory text, but it was hardly more than a begrudging acknowledgement.  I’m not sure why it passed this year with so little thought on my part.  It would be easy to say that it was because I was on the last day of a grueling 4 day road trip that included over 26 hours of driving, or maybe because we were so far out in the middle of nowhere that my internet coverage was too sketchy to post the cute picture with my particular valentine.  But neither of those were the reason.  I think the real reason I didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day was because I was too busy falling in love.  With my teenager.

Valentine cats with flowers
There should be more Valentine cats!

It happened so slowly I almost missed it.  My son and I were on a long road trip to visit a college he is considering.  It was a 13 hour drive each way, with some additional time added on for looking around and visiting museums and bookstores.  I’m usually game for a road trip but this was long even by my standards, and spending that much time alone with your teenager, wow.  Since I have gotten into the habit of only seeing him at meals and occasional drives to this appointment or that, because our routine has become only glancing conversations unless a therapist was present it felt even more daunting.  What do you talk about for that long?  Recovery was off the table, we are all so run down by recovery.  It’s always there like the elephant in the room, we decided to banish it for the weekend.  That left us with a pretty big void.  At home we are so often adversaries struggling for power or trying to fix things, trying not to let someone else in, trying to avoid being hurt, trying not to hurt while still being honest. Was that what our drive was going to be like? It felt like we would be walking through a 13 hour minefield.  And at the start that’s what it was.  It was first date awkward, trying to come up with a subject that would be compelling to both parties but not touchy. We started out with music taking tentative steps around a safe subject then let the rest just take off from there.

I was surprised that just letting the conversation rise and lull at its own rhythm was easier than I thought.  It seemed since we had such a large space to fill, nothing felt rushed or urgent.  Nothing was too trivial, nothing was too important to let lie there for a while and come back to it.  My first steps to falling in love again centered on the recognition of what an easy traveling companion he is.  We don’t always agree on everything, but he was willing to go out of his comfort zone a bit to make things easier for me.  He put up with my music requests without complaint, didn’t requests stops or breaks, and he seemed comfortable.  This was the way we used to be, how he was as a baby and toddler; a challenge but delightful all the same.  He joked about the last minute-subpar accommodations.  He decided I may be the one person in my family that doesn’t plan everything out and will just let stuff flow.  He told me sometimes he likes it and sometimes it’s annoying.  I thought for a moment things were going back to the way they were, but I stopped myself.  Nothing will ever be the same because everything is always changing.  Good, bad, who am I to judge? I decided to let myself be swept away in the now.

Let me tell you, the now was pretty incredible.  Small talk out of the way during those initial 13 hours, our first dinner out was a gab fest.  I discovered an almost-adult who had thought about the problems of the world with more depth and imagination than most of the already-adults I know.  I found in him a self-awareness that I wish I could manage, and an honesty tinged with enough humor to pull us through to dessert.  I’m pretty sure our individual theories on social mobility and the best way to initiate social interactions in groups vs one on one were not interesting to the couple in the booth behind us eating their blackberry cobbler, but to us they were fascinating.  His description of his decision making process for how he will decide where he goes next fall left me longing for those skills in the decisions I’m making right now.  At 50!  From the looks on our fellow diners’ faces as we left the restaurant it was clear that our discussion was out of the ordinary, we were both amused by the confusion and the odd looks, even wondered briefly if we had cobbler or ice cream on our face.

This falling in love process continued, everything seemed to add to it and it became larger than life.  When he said he would rather go to the bookstore instead of Chinatown, when we both headed to the poetry section independently, when I looked over and he was skipping the postcards to read an esoteric book on poetry and the end of print culture.  That’s when I knew.  He was letting me in on this part of his journey.  I know I can’t be in on the whole thing, like I was when he was two, but I was in on this part. It felt like a warm breeze in the early evening.  Comfortable and right.

In our early years my husband and I talked about the difference between loving someone and being in love.  I remember long earnest conversations about it.  I remember having conversations in the last few years with my son about how you know that you are in love and what it means.  I’ve had conversations about how you fall out of love.   I hope to have conversations with my daughter on these same things in due time.  I wish I had a magic answer for all the questions I have, a viable argument as to how you know, a perfect quote to explain it all.  I know this new love I began to feel was different from the mothering love I feel for him, different from the nurturing and care and worry and responsibility.  It’s different from the romantic love that I feel for my husband and the partnership and journey we are walking together.    Maybe love is the wrong word for it, maybe it’s just a deeper knowing illuminated by listening without judgment and feeling without thought of the consequences.  But it feels like love, it felt like falling in love, and it’s exciting to imagine where it will take us.