Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Love Bank

I'm getting married this month. As The Fiance and I contemplate this, we can't help but discuss what kind of marriage we hope to have. We both feel strongly that we have a pretty damn good shot at it. We were both fortunate enough to go through some pretty traumatic relationships and their consequential breakups/divorces. Fortunately for us, we didn't come through them unscathed and we didn't come through them with any illusions about ourselves. 

We came out of these experiences with a strong desire, if not zeal, to never let it happen again. I think what we both learned is that yes, we probably chose the wrong people the last time around. But I think we also learned that neither one of us is perfect, and if we're going to make a relationship work, we're going to have to actually do some work.

The Fiance reminded me of a great site he'd told me about not long after we first met. It's called Marriage Builders and it's based on the work of Dr. Harley. One of the concepts that made a lasting impression on me is the idea of The Love Bank.

Dr. Harley's idea is that we all have a love bank, a reservoir of needs, that must be filled in order for us to feel happy and loved. Having our needs met not only makes us personally happy, it makes us generous with others. If your love bank is full, you're more likely to want to fill your significant other's love bank too. It creates a culture of giving, where the giving is free and easy because it's so abundant. It's how you usually feel in a new relationship.

Now if someone grows unhappy, feels neglected or simply starts to grow apart as is often the case in long-term relationships, that person is not so likely to fill the significant other's love bank. It becomes a, "Screw you. Why should I do something for you, when you're not doing anything for me" culture.

That's bad news, and I suspect we've all been there. I know I have.

So sometimes we've got to take one for the team. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but I think sometimes, especially early on in relationships (or before things have gone way, way south) we've got to do the nice things for our significant other, even if we don't necessarily feel like it. You've got to keep doing it, just like you've got to keep exercising, or picking up your house or paying your bills. It's maintenance, baby.

I know maintenance doesn't sound particularly romantic, but I think it's necessary. It's not unlike making your bed. Sure, your bed doesn't really have to be made every day. You're just going to get back into anyway. I was a serial non-bedmaker for decades. I was a bedmaking rebel and I held its flag high. 

It wasn't until the past couple of years that I realized it's not about making the bed. It's not about the bed at all. It's about Right Effort. The Buddha said that without effort, nothing can be accomplished. If you don't make your bed in the morning, you leave your bedroom in disharmony. You sense that disharmony when you come home at night. Not making the bed can be like leaving dishes in the sink. It's a pattern of behavior and that behavior is neglect. Neglect begets more neglect. Soon your house is a mess, all the time.

Making regular, consistent, reliable deposits in your significant other's love bank is simply a matter of putting right effort into the relationship. For instance, whenever The Fiance is at my house, I get up first, go downstairs and make a pot of coffee. I bring him a cup of hot coffee when it's done. I never make a pot of coffee during the week when I'm home alone, I do it for him because it makes him feel loved. And guess what? When I'm at his house, he does the same for me.

Sure, it's a small gesture, but it's like making the bed. Bringing each other a cup of coffee is making a deposit in our love banks (yes, I realize this sounds dirty, you pervs). Dr. Harley covers all manner of ways you can make deposits in each other's love banks (stop it), and he also recognizes that all of our love banks are not the same (really now, you should be ashamed of yourselves).

Some of us don't like coffee.

Some of us like back rubs, or going mountain biking together, or receiving presents, or hugs, or sex (happy now?), conversation and attending one another's events. All manner of things. That's why it's important to find out what's important to your significant other, and vice versa.

You've got to get used to making the bed every day and making it the way your significant other likes it. It's got to become habit. Habits are hard to break. But they can be broken, of course. I'm under no illusions that this is easy. Even someone with OCD-lite can stop making the bed if their psyche changes. Depression can lead to neglect, and neglect can lead to disarray.

It's all connected.

Right Effort permeates all facets of our lives, from our romantic relationships to our friendships, to our parenting and our careers. You've got to make the bed every day. You've got to make deposits.

Otherwise you've got nothing. You're broke and your house is trashed.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Elastic

What a difference elastic-waist pants make!

I'm not kidding. I feel kinder, gentler and more tolerant of mankind in general today. I feel optimistic, as though, yes, I will in fact lose the baby weight within three months of heaving my daughter out into the world. I feel relaxed and cool, as though I'm not afraid of losing my job. I feel an expanding and yea, limitless capacity for love. I want to hold you all collectively to my bosom. Well, symbolically, that is. Don't touch me please.

(I totally had to dictionary.com "bosom." I tried typing it four different ways and none of them were right. Now I want to find a reason to use "bosomy" in this blog.)

I have a bosomy friend who is on Match.com. She often sends me the choicest of her matches. Today she received this missive from a prospective lover:

"Hi.

I like to ride my bicycle most of all. When I'm home I like to relax and play with my cats and have a cigar and a glass of water and watch a little TV before bedtime."

And there it ended.

I have to admit, I don't know what confuses me the most, that he drinks water with his cigar or that he has cats (multiple) and he likes to play with them. The macho cigar, together with the cats and the glass of water just jars me.

Clearly, something is not right with the man.

My friend bemoans being on Match.com and says to me, "I just want to get off Match someday and meet my prince like you did." I had to remind her that I met my "prince" (he's going to love this) on Match.com so she's going to have to stay on Match in order to meet her prince and then sign off.

Thank god The Fiance never mentioned smoking cigars while drinking water nor owning a small herd of cats. Though he was separated and not divorced when I met him, and I had vowed never to date a separated man again after I met a few too many separated men who only wanted to talk about their Exes while on lovely dates with me.

The moral of the story, you see, is that everything is better when you're elastic. Give yourself a little room to breathe. Open yourself and expand your mind to men with cats and not-quite-divorced lovers.

You never know, you might be surpised by what fits.


(Or, you might just wind up wearing elastic waist pants. You know, because the not-quite-divorced lover knocked you up.)

*Snicker*

Saturday, November 28, 2009

So You Have a Vagina

I'm having a girl.

Despite my protests that it wouldn't make any difference what sex my child was, within hours of finding out I had already dropped some serious change at Baby Gap, Old Navy and Nordstroms. So there is one difference between girls and boys, and that's that girls have a fierce selection of wardrobe options and retail adorableness available to their parents.

Did anyone else know that Roxy made baby clothes? I mean, seriously, how am I suppose to resist?

*Sigh*

My son was ever the diplomat upon finding out he was having a sister. He didn't even pause, he didn't pout, he didn't look disappointed. He simply squealed, "I'm having a sister!" and that was that. Now that he stands about eye-level with my navel, he frequently hugs me and puts his face in my belly while announcing, "Hi baby! This is your brother, Cracky!"

Both Cracky and The Fiance like to put their mouths right up to my belly and announce their presence to the baby. I wonder if it startles her? They both want her to know them, so I encourage this behavior.

And also I'm fat.

21 weeks into this pregnancy and I have officially popped. Unfortunately I'm probably not huge enough to be absolutely-positively-super-obviously pregnant, so I find myself humiliated to work out at the gym. There's no mistaking the volleyball sticking out of my tank top. It wouldn't bother me so much if I were certain everyone there were certain I was pregnant. But I'm not. So I wonder if people just assume I have muscular arms and legs and a fondness for beer. I also vacillate between trying to suck in my gut and pushing it out even further to make sure I really do look pregnant.

*Sigh*

And I've had to increase the assistance on the pull-up machine each week. Either I'm getting weaker each week or I'm getting fatter.

Probably both.

*Repeat Sigh*

Being pregnant isn't as cute as I remembered. I'm thinking I'm on to some sort of Mother Nature Conspiracy. You really do forget what it's like to be pregnant, give birth and raise a newborn after a few years. This is how you get tricked into thinking you can do it again.

Well, at least she'll be well dressed. And I'll have really buff arms and legs. I've already determined that I'm not recovering from pregnancy and delivery without a personal trainer. If Heidi Klum can do it repeatedly, what not me?

And I don't even have to strut around in a bikini with angel's wings, so I've got that going for me too. Though my new-found buxomness would suit me well in their lineup. Oddly enough, I'm not enjoying my voluptuousness quite as much as I thought I would. I find big boobs somewhat embarrassing. They stick out so rudely, so obviously. It's like they're trying too hard.

I miss my polite boobs. My aerodynamic chest. My sleek, svelte, cheetah-like self. Made for speed and predation. This larger, rounder, softer, more slothful me is made for fertility. And naps. The Fiance seems to like the latter.

Boys are so weird. 

I think I'm fat, he thinks I'm phat. 

Mars vs. Venus.

XY vs. XX. 

Guess we do have some differences, aside from retail.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On Second Chances

There's something much more romantic and uplifting about second marriages to me. I know to say that is practically akin to sacrilege, but for those of us who have been through divorce, we know it's true.

Isn't there something inherently beautiful about giving love a second chance? Isn't there something absolutely life-affirming when you've been broken-hearted, yet you pick yourself up and dare to risk it again?

It moves me, I tell you.

I don't know many people who have gone through a divorce who haven't said to themselves at least once (even if it was just a whisper): "Never again." I think that's a normal human response to pain. "Ouch that hurt" = "Don't do that again." Pretty simple, really.

But when it comes to love, marriage and babies — if you don't do that again, it could mean you might wind up living alone with a lot of cats.

Just kidding.

(Sort of.)

I love the triumph of the human spirit. I love that love can conquer all. Well sort of. In a global sense, I mean. Not necessarily in your first marriage. Ha. Just kidding. (Sort of.) I love that you can be chewed up, spit out and left for dead on the love highway, only to scrape yourself back up again and say: "I believe in me. I believe I am lovable. I believe I deserve love even if I screwed it up once before. Or ten times before. I believe I have learned something valuable here on the pavement of failed marriages. And therefore I will try, try again — except this time I'm a little bit older and a heck of a lot wiser."

The Fiance says he loves any story about the redemption of souls.

First marriages aren't about the redemption of souls. First marriages are about innocence. First marriages are often about a couple of kids who have no idea what life has in store for them. First marriages are about life-virgins. Second marriages are a little beat up, it's true. We've been rode hard and put up wet, you could say. But the two hearts standing there, risking once more to commit a lifetime to another person, they really know how much this can hurt. How much is at risk.

And yet they venture forth anyway.

Their faith isn't dead.

Their belief in love, intact.

You can't break the human spirit, at least not this one. And not the Fiance's. We won't mock marriage or innocence or second chances. We won't laugh at unintended babies either. None of these things are foolish, or accidents, or laughable.

These are acts of redemption.

It's a baptism by love and we can all be born again.

(You just have to believe.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Life Humbles Us. If We're Lucky.

The Fiance went to his 25th college reunion this weekend. Of the stories he told me and the friends he reconnected with, what stands out the most to me is his observation that everyone had been humbled by life.

25 years after college graduation, the kids who knew where they were going and were self-assured that theirs would be a life of success and privilege had evolved into people who had suffered. Loss had come to them in all manner of ways, from death, to divorce to career disappointments. The Fiance noted that even ten years ago all of these folks still had life by the tail, but now they realized that it's life that has us.

It's a humbling thing, this living. When you look back at the plans of your youth, how many of us have followed a straight path from our planned point A to our planned point B? I'm embarrassed to say that I used to tell my friends in high school that my goal was to have a "Jag by 30." This seemed a perfectly reasonable goal, and I was talented enough to get it.

Now I walk around with a banner that reads: "Busted-up Honda by 38."

I laugh to write that, and realize that could really be the banner for my life. My duct-taped Civic is a metaphor for my life. It's got 115,000 miles on it, it still runs, and hell, most of the mechanics tell me, "That's nothing for a Honda."

It's all a matter of perspective.

I may be a busted-up hooptie of a girl now, but I've got a good engine and a reputation for tenaciousness. There are all manner of things I never thought  I would do, endure, survive. I never thought I'd be divorced. You can believe at 21 that you would never get divorced and when you promised through "sickness and in health" you meant it. You meant it like religion, and you would have been quick to judge anyone who failed those vows.

But I did it.

I left him in sickness.

I never thought I'd have a child, let alone a child out of wedlock. Nice girls from Bloomfield Hills don't do such things. I used to joke that my life had become a Jerry Springer show, and the pain of that truth wasn't buried too deeply underneath my bravado.

Strong, feminist, educated women don't let their boyfriends knock them around. Strong women don't disappear under the force of some bully's might. Anyone who has known me, even from our playground days, would never imagine I would take crap from any man. I was always a tough little tomboy. I never knew I would become a cliche.

But I did.

There are all sorts of failings, losses, disappointments and heartaches I never thought I'd go through. And even the ones I have encountered, I didn't handle nearly so well as I'd hoped. I have not gone through life with the poise and grace I'd expected of myself. The rigid expectations and the cocky assurances of my youth have been weathered away by this humbling life.

Though it's taken nearly 40 years, I'd have to say I wouldn't have it any other way. What I have discovered from this life of loss is a capacity for understanding. If I have failed myself and have had to pick up and start all over again more times than I care to admit, I find I am more apt to understand how you could fall. And more likely to help you up.

Some folks don't seem to soften with age, it's true. Some may not be so humbled by life but rage against it still. In their inability to forgive themselves their failings and to recognize their own weaknesses, they'll never acquire the ability to forgive you yours.

I'd take a life riddled with imperfection and messy humanity, if it leaves me sympathetic to yours. At 38 years old, I realize this is what it is to be a good person — not living a life free from mistakes and failures. Recently I'd confided in a friend when I was scared, disappointed and on the verge of castigating myself yet again for the direction my life had taken,  she stopped me in my tracks.

"It is your life, Mandy. And you get to live it exactly how you want."

So yes, it's messy. And yes, it's not ideal. But it's mine, and I'll take it just as it is.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kindergarten Love

"Mom, I have a girlfriend at school," Cracky announced and then caught himself. "Is it okay if I have a girlfriend?"

"Sure, you can have a girlfriend."

"Remember at daycare Miss Kathy said I couldn't have a wife until I graduated from college?"

"Yes, I remember," I said and stifled a snort. "So who's your girlfriend?"

"Her name is Kate and she is very beautiful." He pursed his lips and then smiled a secret smile to himself — half-pleased, half-embarrassed. And then his little cheeks went crimson.

My god. The boy is smitten, I thought.

"What color hair does she have?" I asked, checking to see if he was staying true to the blondes.

"Yellow."

Good boy.

He sat there with the same pleased look on his face and it was so tender, so sweet, I felt I would burst. Did you know five-year-old boys got like this? I didn't.

"Is Kate in your class?" I asked.

"No, she's in the class next door. But I go over there to do the calendar with her. That's our job."

"Oh. Do you get to see her at lunch or on the playground?" I wondered how my little Casanova had wooed a girl from another class. Love knows no boundaries, I guess.

"Yes. I eat lunch with her everyday."

My eyebrows shot up. This was obviously serious.

"She is the most beautiful girl I ever saw."

Because I couldn't contain the adorableness, I immediately texted The Boyfriend to update him on Cracky's new relationship status.

"He's in love," The Boyfriend responded. I paused and stared at the screen. My initial reaction was to laugh, but then I reconsidered.

"Are you in love?" I asked Cracky.

"Yes."

"With who?" I replied, still surprised, half-expecting him to say he was in love with me, his mom, of course.

"With Kate," he said, simply and certainly.

So there it is.

And I won't laugh at it. I still remember the boy I loved in Kindergarten. I was in love with Jason for the first half of elementary school, until he moved away. And then I loved him a while longer — until blue-eyed Eric moved to our school. 

Those childhood loves are still just as real to me as any other I have loved.

Is that odd?

I was always faithful like that. Cracky is too, it appears. He was "married" to a girl in daycare for two years, despite Miss Kathy's Rule.

We are lovers, the boy and I. Romantics, through-and-through. I wonder if Romanticism is Nature or Nurture? Are you born with a willingness, an eagerness to love? Are we all? I do love to see the world through my son's eyes, and to witness the newness and innocence of schoolyard love. As I write this, I remember standing with Jason and Robin in the doorway of the elementary school. Robin had announced her love for Jason, right in front of me, Jason's known best friend and suspected, besotted, unspoken-for girlfriend. 

Robin demanded that he choose.

"I choose Mandy," he said.

And I'm quite sure I stood in that doorway with the same little smile I saw on Cracky's face last night.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Power of Neutral

"Put it in Neutral."

I think it's a term I've heard The Boyfriend use.

Sometimes you have to put your brain in Neutral. Sometimes you're ready to slam it into fourth gear and run over somebody. But instead of doing that — or instead of throwing it into Reverse and backing over the body repeatedly — what we really should do is just slide it on over to Neutral.

Sit a spell.

Rest a bit.

Don't react.

Seems we're always reacting, slamming on the brakes, speeding up, chasing some folks down, and flipping others off out our windows. Everyone is pissing us off, hurting our feelings, irritating us, asking us too much, doing too little, saying too much or not enough, or saying the wrong thing, or the right thing in the wrong tone. My lord, we're all a bunch of bumper cars. Without bumpers.

Sometimes we need to just shift on over to Neutral. Go ahead and watch the other cars bolt around. Let them crash and careen around while we just sit by and watch the chaos. It's much better to sit and watch from the outside than to participate in the cacophony.

That stuff is exhausting.

Besides, what one person says in the heat in the moment would surely not be repeated a few minutes or hours later. Why react to it? And whatever event seems tragic and insurmountable to you today will merely be a fond memory a few years down the road. Oftentimes it's those moments of which you're the most proud.

It's the overcoming of the obstacles, not never-having them.

It's the triumphing over difficulties, not letting them bury you.

And so I shift my mind into Neutral more and more. Reacting, defending, getting my word or my sense of injustice out there into the cosmos just isn't as important anymore. I see how it is. I can kick and scream and yell and it won't change a damn thing.

I'm in it.

I'm in this screwed up traffic jam of life, and I can't get off. My exit isn't coming for a while, so far as I can tell. So either I sit here and wait patiently to see what comes next, or I lean on my horn and jam my arm out the window with my middle finger flying while I press the gas and tail gait every asshole who doesn't get out of my way. Or I just sit in Neutral and wait for the way to clear.

I used to think Buddhists didn't care.

I used to worry that equanimity was apathy.

But it's not that. It's a patience full of faith.

I have faith that this is all temporary. I have faith in my ability to cope with life and change. I have faith in the greater wisdom that will be clear to me when I look back on the times I struggled.

I can be patient.

I can park it in Neutral.

I am not going spend my life in a permanent state of road rage.

You can call me passive. But I know a secret: My stillness is the most powerful force of all.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who Are You?

My son started kindergarten this week. This means he is officially a "big boy." And oh, he is

I watched him stand in line outside the school doors and marveled at how tall and boyish he is. The baby is all gone. Long lean limbs jut out of his cargo shorts and short sleeves. He was all smiles and excitedly gripped his backpack as he waited for the school doors to open.

The parents were all greeting one another and coming over to say hello. His father was approached by at least ten people, social butterfly that he is. And then my son looked up at me and said, "That boy over there is wearing a cool shirt. Can I go over and tell him it's cool?'

"Yes, of course you can," I said.

I watched as he marched up to the kid, an older kid, and told him he liked his shirt.

Who are you? I wondered.

Who is this boy? Who is this friendly, outgoing, happy, self-possessed person? When I look back on my own first day of kindergarten, I clung to my mother's leg and howled as she walked down the hall. For the first hour or so of the day I refused to play with the other kids, despite my teacher's attempts to encourage me to play with the other girls in the play kitchen.

(Maybe I was crying because of the forced gender roles?)

But not my son. He was happy to find his kindergarten class, delighted to hang his backpack in his cubby, and proudly took his seat at the table. He immediately looked around and started talking to the other kids. He smiled at his teacher, and looked somewhat surprised that his dad and I were still there when we came over to hug and kiss him goodbye.

He was like, "Oh. You two are still here? Yeah, bye."

No, he wasn't like that. He just gave us hugs and kisses goodbye and happily waved goodbye as his father and I peered through the door.

I've always marveled at my son. He is this separate entity. He is not mine. I am merely here to hold his hand from childhood to adulthood, and then let go.

But I still marvel at him.

Where did he come from? Who is he? He is not me and he is not his father. He is more outgoing and confident than I am, and he is more tender and sensitive than his dad. Sure you can see a little of each of us in him, but he really is his own person. People often credit his various attributes to my good parenting, which I discount. I don't discount it because I'm modest. I discount it because I know this is simply who he is.

It is not the result of me or my work.

It is his nature, his temperament, the personality that was set in stone when his heart first began to beat in my womb. His genetic code was set and he would be who he is. Yes, I understand that this is Nature, and the other part is Nurture. So yes, his father and I may have each done a decent job of nurturing his nature to fruition — but he is still Cracky.

A certain Crackiness that is not my doing.

The innate Crackiness of him.

Beautiful.

What a beautiful human being he is! I know most mothers will say such things of their children, but I say it not in ownership or pride. I say it as an observer. I observe that this strange human being that came into my world is lovely. Such a lovely, kind-hearted, funny, sensitive, thoughtful, caring, affectionate, confident, character-of-a-boy.

That's all him.

And I marvel as his personality continues to unveil as he grows. I know the five-year-old boy, but wonder who the man will be? Just as I wondered that first day I discovered he was in me. I sat on my porch rubbing my belly, mystified and incredulous that a separate entity resided within me.

"Who are you?" I said to him then.

And I still say it now.

That's the beautiful mystery of children. They are not ours. They are their own. We are merely temporary custodians.

But what a lovely shift it is.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Euthanizing Your Dog and Good Hair Days

I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow and I had decided I was going to whack a good bit of it. My hair grows like a bad weed, you see,  so it's really not that much of a life-altering decision. The Boyfriend jokes that it grows back by the end of the week.

The trouble with my hair is that I have a lot of it. Blondes have more hairs per square inch than brunettes. Did you know that? I have a fistful of hair, very thick stuff, and it is a wrestling match to blow it out in the morning. It is also very absorbent. I had one hairdresser tell me that she'd never seen anything quite like it. It takes a really long time to dry. So much so that my arm gets tired.

*Rubs arm and looks for sympathy. Finds none.*

And this hair is also unfortunately wavy, in all the wrong places, so I have to aggressively blow it out straight. I tug, I pull, repeatedly, trying to train it to lie straight. Then I flat iron the hell out of it, if I have time. On a humid August day like today, I walk out my door and the ends immediately start to curl, like the tendrils of a creeping vine.

So tomorrow is the hair appointment, and I've come to the momentous decision to cut quite a bit of it off. It goes past my shoulders right now, and I was thinking of even going to somewhere between my chin and shoulder.

*Gasp*

Yes, above my shoulder. Scandalous.

Those of you who have made momentous decisions about your hair will not be surprised when I tell you what happened this morning. I blew out my hair, and it softly folded itself around my shoulders. The bangs that were in my eyes yesterday and curling up at the tips are now delicately framing my face. The back of my hair which is hard-to-reach and usually an unruly path of curls and frizz are now soft, golden waves of blondissimo.

In short, today I am Brigitte Bardot.

Voila.

The day before my hair appointment. Isn't that always how it goes? You decide to cut your hair off and the day before the chopping block — your hair presents its best self. As if it is saying, "Look at how lovely I am! Look how soft! How perfect! How well-behaved! Please don't cut meeeeeeeee!"

The same thing happened with my dog.

I had a black lab named Odin who lived to be 16 years old. The last couple of years were rough, as you can imagine. He lost a lot of his muscle tone, he'd always been hard of hearing and now he'd gone completely deaf, and the cataracts in his eyes had rendered him legally blind (I'm guessing). I'm sure he couldn't drive.

But he was still my sweet black puppy and his tail would thump when he'd put his doggy head in my lap. It never seemed he was suffering to such an extent that I felt I was abusing him by prolonging his life. Besides, as a Buddhist, that whole "Do Not Kill" rule echoes in my mind, so I felt it was not my place to play Decider in the life of a dog. I wanted him to die a natural death, free from my having to make that choice.

Another year passed, and I went from having to find Odin in the backyard to place a gentle hand on his shoulder to let him know it was time to come in, to having to carry him down the three stairs that led out of the house. He'd lost some of the use of his hind legs, and the vet had assured me that it was not painful. At this point in his life, he had a degenerative disease of the spine, and he would gradually lose control of his body as the damage progressed up his spine.

"Will you tell me when he is suffering?" I asked her.

"I will," she said.

At one point I was convinced Odin could no longer continue in this condition, and it seemed selfish of me to keep him alive. I had another dog, a sweet German Shepherd named Elsa whom I was also concerned about. They were the best of companions, and I didn't want to leave Elsa alone in the house without her best friend.

Odin continued to lose muscle tone and weight, and when I lifted him to carry him down the stairs outside, he felt like a hollow bag of bones. I finally made the appointment with the vet to put him down. I was well aware of the "Do Not Kill" rule but the rule was based on the premise of not causing harm. So as far as I could see, I was causing more harm by allowing him to continue on like this.

The day before the appointment Odin perked up.

Oh, he was wiggly and waggily like a puppy. He was nosing me playfully and rolling over for me to rub his belly. He and Elsa were nipping at each other, and mouthing each other on the doggy bed they shared.

Jesus Christ Siddhartha Gautama.

What was I to do?

Curled up on the doggy bed, they both looked at me with wide, moist puppy eyes that seemed to say, "Please don't kill Odin. We love each other. We're happy. He's not suffering. Please Mommy, don't kill us."

And so I cancelled the appointment.

A couple of months later I had taken the day off of work after spending the entire night awake with Odin. He had lost control of his bodily functions, and I think he was sick. All night long I carried him in and out of the house. I sprayed Resolve Carpet Cleaner on the multitude of stains he had leaked that night. I washed and re-washed his doggy bed and various old comforters over and over again throughout the night, as each clean, warm bed was soon soiled and had to be changed again.

By that time it was pretty clear I was running a nursing home for dogs. I'm sure my friends thought I was nuts but no one was saying anything. Not to me, at least.

"Do you think I should put him down?" I'd ask.

"I don't know," they'd say.

"Do you think I'm making him suffer by letting him live?" I'd ask.

"I think you'll know when the time is right," they'd reply.

I'd ask the vet too, and she would say the same thing. She reassured me that his spinal degeneration was completely painless to him.

Until that night I did not believe my dog was suffering. When I came home at night and sat on his doggy bed, he'd rest his gray face in my lap and thump his tail. So long as he did that, I felt he was happy.

Until that night, my dog still had the energy to thump his tail. That night he did not. That night he was just a suffering bag of bones. In the morning, I call the vet, sobbing. I begged them to take us in immediately, and they did.

I cried as I patted Odin's face, my face next to his. I talked soothingly to him, "You're such a good boy, Odin. You've been such a sweet boy your whole life." Of course he was deaf and couldn't hear a thing. And he was pretty much blind so he probably couldn't see much of my face either. But he did feel my hands stroking his face — petting him as he sighed and softly went to sleep.

Today I am petting my hair.

I don't get the sense that it's suffering.

I may have to cancel the appointment.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Opening My Eyes to Compassion Blind Spots

I have a blind spot in my compassion for others.

I have a difficult time tolerating people who are helpless. I know, it's not terribly helpful of me, is it? Don't get me wrong, I can have all the sympathy in the world for the mentally ill, the homeless, the poor, children, animals ... all manner of "helpless" beings who illicit great compassion and empathy in me.

But when I encounter everyday folks with the regular abilities to hold down a job, to have relationships, to generally function in the world, and yet remain seemingly helpless in the face of one particular aspect of their lives — my compassion goes out the window. 

I'm not proud of this.

My compassion completely ceases when anyone claims helplessness and then proceeds to blame someone else. Drives me batshit crazy, actually. I know, I know. I told you it was a blind spot in my ability to feel compassion for my fellow man. A grave one, if I were to be completely honest.

I have friends who claim helplessness in relationships. They can't change. They love him. Or her. They believe the other person will change and so they chain themselves to someone who is physically or emotionally abusive, in the hopes that the other will change. They stay with cheaters. They do all manner of things that make the rest of their friends grit their teeth and say, "Why?"

It doesn't matter how much you talk them up — pep-talking, tough-talking — no amount of offers to help, suggestions for therapists, books to read, examples of other people who have left only to find greater happiness — nothing can abate these folks from their self-destructive lives. 

"But I love him."

"I don't know what to do."

"I'm stuck."

And no matter how many escape routes you map out for them, they won't set foot on one of them. They are helpless to their own desires, their own fears, to their own blindness to their incredible power.

That's just it.

We are all so incredibly powerful. Each one of us, unto ourselves. No one but no one else has the power to free you the way you can free yourself. Perhaps this is the source of my frustration? So many friends and family blame other people for their predicament, or blame the economy, or the geography, or their psychology or whatever reason you want to drum up —my point is it doesn't matter.

Your mind is the most powerful thing of all.

The rest of it is nothing.

The Buddha said, "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world." The way you feel, the way you think about your life and your situation, is made up primarily in your head. I'm not saying if you're starving or living in a dangerous environment that this wouldn't be a very real discomfort — of course it would be. But for the majority of my friends and family (and me), we are not living in a war zone. We have a roof over our heads, food in the refrigerator and it is safe to go outside.

So much suffering is created in our own minds.

So much resistance to ending that suffering resides in our own minds.

I recently listened to a friend uncork on how another friend's parents had ruined her life. These controlling parents had taken their adult daughter away from the city she loved, the job she loved, the girlfriend she'd loved ... all of this through the power of their religious guilt.

My friend argued that I didn't understand the power of parents' guilt, the power of religion, the power of having been raised in such an environment and the inability to stop that power and control.

She's right.

While I can see parents controlling their children, and I can even see parents controlling or trying to control their children as they emerge into young adults, I cannot see how once you are an adult, hell, if you are in your thirties, how you can blame your parents for ruining your life.

Do something about it.

Get therapy.

Read self-help books.

Move away.

Make friends.

Create your own life.

It is not your parents' fault if you choose to let them ruin your life. It is not your parents' fault if you choose to let them control you. Now of course I do understand the concept of learned helplessness, and I do realize it is very possible that abused and neglected children may have been raised to behave this way.

Hell, I was.

But at what point do you, as an adult, decide to re-train yourself?

If I have been conditioned to lay down and give up because I know any attempt to change my environment is useless, it is no wonder I may spend my adolescence and early adulthood just laying down.

I may let men abuse and neglect me.

I may abuse drugs and alcohol.

I may develop and eating disorder and stay victim to it.

I may have done all of the above.

But at what point do you realize that you, as a rational creature with the amazing powers of the human mind have the ability to ... change? At what point do you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and say, "I will no longer be a victim. I will save myself. I will blame no one for my current predicament. I take full ownership of the life I am leading right now, and I vow to use my powers as a free adult to change it."

My concern is this: Has my own ability to change ruined my ability to feel compassion for those who haven't?

I no longer believe in "can't" change. 

I just don't.

I believe in "won't" change.

How to find compassion in that outlook? I suppose the Buddha or the Dalai Lama would feel great empathy for those who are stuck in dukkha (suffering). How awful to be a prison of your own mind.

I do remember that feeling.

I remember how helpless I felt.

I remember being weak with tears, sobbing on the cold tile of the bathroom floor because I couldn't get out of the vicious cycle of an eating disorder.

I felt helpless.

I felt I couldn't change.

Yet I still needed compassion.

Deserved it, actually, just as every soft animal does. I believe that.

But oh Buddha, how I struggle to give it. I do see the irony of my own helplessness here. Here I am, claiming that I can't change my reaction to the stubbornly helpless. A victim of my own recovery, unable to extend sympathy to those I've left behind.

That's unacceptable, of course.

I often think of Maya Angelou who once said, "When I knew better, I did better." If I go there, I find myself better able to let go of my anger at my friends and family's self-victimization. When they know better, they'll do better.

When they figure out that they themselves hold the keys to their own freedom, they will open the door. They will take advice. They will make phone calls. They will do something about it. In the meantime, I can continue to point out that there is a way to change if they ask me. I can sympathize with their suffering. I can fervently hope they find a way to change.

To believe they can change.

To find it in their own beautiful minds, brave minds, minds that are so much stronger than they realize. If only they would just risk it. Risk the unknown. Risk the fear. Risk change. Take the leap.

But who am I to push them?

*Sigh*

Who am I to judge?

If I am human, the only thing I can do is sympathize. Lend my compassion. Be kind. I must find my way back to the place where I suffered, and there I will find the ability to connect. The ability to see, and to not turn a blind eye to my friends' suffering.

Namaste.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Sheet of Secrecy and Other Vaginal Mysteries


My five-year-old son's curiosity about sex and babies has continued unabated. 

Now that I've scientifically answered "Where do babies come from?" the boy wants to know "How do the babies get out?"

"The birth canal," is not cutting it as an explanation anymore.

"Where is the birth canal?" is the new refrain. "Is it here?" He waves his hand over his belly-area. "Is it here?" He waves his hand over his pelvic area. "Do babies come out of the mama's toes?"

Oh lord.

"How about we buy a book?" I suggested. I don't know why it took me so long to think of this. I'm a little slow on the uptake sometimes.

"Where's the Sex Ed for Preschoolers section?" I asked the Borders lady. She took me to the Sex Ed section (they actually have one!) and showed me three titles that were appropriate for the preschool/kindergarten set.

After previewing them (and snickering at the pencil-drawn naked man and woman, with their hairy gender-specific parts) I couldn't decide which Cracky would prefer. I decided to turn it over to him.

"Which book do you like best?"

"Let me see," he said, all business. He grabbed the three books, sat on the floor of Borders and started flipping through the pages. He studied each drawing, nodding his head here and there, asking me, "What's that?" and approving my answers ("Those are sperm, that's the vas deferens") as he scoured the books like a doctoral candidate.

When he got to the page with the baby pictured in its mother's uterus, I could feel his excitement build. He flipped the page and at long last beheld the birthing room. There stood the doctor, poised between the mother's legs. The nurses and father were standing by. Mother pushed and did her lamaze breathing behind a modest sheet draped across her legs.

"What?" he said, confused, bordering on outrage.

He quickly flipped the page back, then forward, then to the next page. He flipped through several times, frantically looking for the birthing scene.

"I think a page is missing!"

"What do you mean?" I said, feeling like a fraud.

"Here's the baby inside the mother's tummy," he explained, clearly exasperated. "Here's the doctor and the mother with the sheet over her tummy. Why's that sheet there? And then here's the baby." 

"Yep, that looks right to me!" I chirped.

"But HOW does the baby come out? Where's the HOLE?"

Crap.

"The baby comes out of the mother's vagina," I said, at long last.

"There's a hole in the vagina?"

"Yes, and it stretches so the baby can get out."

"But where is it?" he flipped through the other books, only to confront the same draped sheet of modesty. "Why do they have the sheet over her? I can't see!"

"I think they put it over the mother so she has some privacy," I said.

"Oh. But I want to see the baby come out."

"I might have to buy you a DVD for that," I said, recalling a Miracle of Life video on PBS or the Discovery Channel.

"Yeah, let's get that!" the future doctor said.

As I sat there and thought about my son's thwarted curiosity, and how matter-of-fact he was about the w(hole) thing, I realized that it was my fear of revealing that a baby comes out of a mother's vagina, my discomfort. Five-year-old Cracky is not shocked or surprised by anything. It's all new to him, so nothing is a surprise. If I say a baby comes out of its mother's vagina, and that the vagina stretches so the baby can get out, it is no more shocking to him than the fact that the stars are planets or that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

He finally relented and picked the least disappointing of the sex books, the one with the picture of the baby happily floating in his mother's tummy. He decided he could live with the SHEET OF SECRECY in the birthing room, and we went home to read it three more times before bed.

When I closed the book for the last time that night, Cracky put his finger in the air and raised his eyebrows. 

"I have a great idea!" he said and reached around to grab the throw blanket from the back of the couch. "You go lay down on the floor. I'll put this over your legs and we can pretend to have a baby! I'll be the doctor!"

He busily started unfolding the blanket and was just heading towards the floor when I finally managed to speak.

"Noooooooo way!" I said.

"What?" he looked up, honestly confused by my reaction. "Why not?"

"I already went through this once! For real. I'm certainly not going to act it out again." I was laughing and kind of shocked all-at-once.

"Oh. Okay," he said, and scrunched up his eyebrows. But I knew what he was thinking. 

He was totally thinking of the girls at school. And I totally knew I'd be getting a call from his teacher the next day.

Oh well.

I'll let the school know I have a video they can borrow.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nuts.


"Mom, where do babies come from?" my son asked as we were enjoying a summer evening on The Boyfriend's deck.

"I've told you, they come from their mothers' tummies," I said, somewhat surprised at this out-of-the-blue question.

"I  mean, how do babies get out of their mothers' tummies?"

"Through the birth canal, didn't I tell you this already?" I asked and smiled at his sweet little choir-boy face.

"Yeah, but I think I know how babies really come out of their mama's tummies."

Ruh roh.

"Okay. Tell me." I was careful to remain light and calm, though I figured this would be good.

"You'll get mad." 

"No I won't. Just tell me and if you have it wrong, I'll correct you. But I won't be mad."

"Well Ben at school told me that babies come from their mother's nuts." 

Pause.

The sweet cherubic face stared at me, waiting for my response. Braced for anger, perhaps. The Boyfriend and I stared at each other, each caught in a stunned moment of silence. I fully expected him to laugh first, but the bastard kept his shit together. I, on the other hand, collapsed into a fit of laughter.

"What? What's so funny, Mom?" My son was smiling nervously, confused.

"Oh baby, girls don't have nuts," I managed to choke out, just to assuage any fear of his mother's wrath for saying a word he obviously knew was loaded.

"They don't?"

"No, only have boys have nuts." I heard The Boyfriend finally start to snicker across the table. But I stumbled through. "Do you know what nuts are?"

He nodded.

"Where are they?" I asked.

He pointed at his nuts.

"Okay, so you know boys have nuts and a penis. Well, actually 'nuts' isn't really the polite way of referring to them. You really should call them 'testicles.'"

"Testicles?" 

"Yes, that's more polite. Calling them nuts or 'balls' is considered rude. Anyway, boys have testicles and penises, and girls don't. Girls have a vagina."

"You mean that flat thing?" He scrunched up his face and made his hand flat.

"Yes, where you have a penis and testicles that stick out, girls have a vagina, which is flat, relatively speaking."

He nodded his head soberly.

"What are the other names for 'vagina?'" he asked, rather shrewdly, I thought.

"I don't know," I paused and looked at The Boyfriend. "Do you care to fill Cracky in on the other names for vagina?" I smirked.

The Boyfriend just shook his head, mouth clamped shut. I have never known the man to miss an opportunity to talk about vaginas and nuts, but now Mr. Prolific was suddenly at a loss for words.

"I think we should stick with 'vagina,'" I explained to the boy. "It's more polite."

Just then The Boyfriend caught my eye and mouthed the word Poontang, which I studiously ignored.

Though that'd be quite a word  for Cracky to teach Ben. It'd be a nice little tit-for-tat for Ben's parents at their dinner table, I think. 

"Mom, Cracky told me babies come from their mamas' poontangs."

What?

At least it'd be anatomically correct.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dancing With TamiGuru

One of my co-workers just wanted to throw down with me.

That's right.

She stepped up to Blondzilla and wanted to dance. I let her know immediately that I've been taking cardio kickboxing classes.

She threw her head back and laughed.

The gall of that woman!

So I grapevined over to her and gave her three quick air punches, to tempo, right in front of her face.

"Did you just grapevine me?" she said, visibly frightened.

"That's right, bitch," I replied, while doing the boxer shuffle and air punching a bag.

She was so intimidated she bent over in fear and covered her face to muffle her sobs.

I don't think TamiGuru will be messing with me again anytime soon.




Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fists of Flurry: Kickboxing on Amphetamines

I was on my way to my kickboxing class the other night, when some spazzy woman ran past me and the other people walking up the stairs at the gym. She weaved her way through the crowd, rushing up and squeezing past the other patrons. She didn't say "Excuse me" or "Pardon me" as she hustled by us. It irritated me a little, because we were all in a hurry, and the rest of us didn't see the need to make our hurry more important than everyone else's.

I arrived to the class right on time, which means the room was packed and I had to wedge myself into a non-row somewhere in the middle towards the back. I wondered if anyone would kick me in the face in the crowded room, what with me not in a real row and all. Oh well. I was taller than the other women, so they'd better watch their faces with these 34-inch inseam legs shooting around me like a death star of kicks.

Then I noticed the spazzy woman from the stairs hustle herself up to the raised stage for the instructor and I realized it was my ADHD kickboxing instructor. The woman is thin and wiry, with thin and wiry muscles. She is also a spazz the likes of which I've never seen. Not only does she play fast music, she turns up the rpm so all of the songs sound as though they're being performed by Alvin and the Chipmunks.

I haven't been doing cardio kickboxing long, so I still haven't got all the choreography down right. Plus, it's an advanced class which means it's more choreography at a super-high rate of speed. When I watch the instructor throwing punches "up to tempo" her arms whirl so fast it is a blur. 

Then I start to snicker.

Cardio kickboxing is one of the most ridiculous activities I've ever witnessed. How did anybody come up with it? It's like the bastard child of boxing and aerobics. Did anyone ever really want or need to see boxing, only faster? As I try to keep up with jabs and uppercuts on speed, double-double, double-up, single, upper-cut, jab, roundhouse, repeat, threepeat — I can't help but laugh at what an oddity we are.  If you were watching a YouTube video without the sound you would immediately post it on your Facebook to LOLZ with your friends.

We look like a bunch of insane ladies amped-up on amphetamines, doing some sort of psycho speed boxing dance routine. 

And what is this training us for, anyway? 

What a useless activity, if you think about it. I'm not getting any applicable skills from the class. I won't be able to kick anyone's ass in the real world because I can do a choreography of kicks and punches to the tempo of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing "It's Raining Men."

If I encounter a thief in my house, what am I going to do? Run up to him and turbo rabbit-punch him in the shoulder?

"Hey!" he might say. "Quit it! What are you doing?" as he holds up his hands and looks at me wide-eyed, a flurry of soft-thudded baby punches landing on his shoulder, followed by some rapid-fire soft thuds in his hip from my not-so-high kicks.

Fwap-fwap-fwap-fwap!

"Don't mess with these fists of flurry!" I might say as I air pummeled him.

See?

Ridiculous.

I really should be taking a real kickboxing class where I can kick and punch someone or something for real. At least that wouldn't feel quite so silly. Honestly. A bunch of women pantomiming boxing moves to frenetic high-pitched music?

Who thought of this?

I will say this, however. I do leave the class covered in sweat. I won't work out this hard for 60 minutes by myself. I hate cardio. I find it boring. I love to lift weights and pump iron, to do push-ups or pull-ups, but jumping around for an hour by myself on a treadmill or elliptical machine bores me to tears.

And despite all my mockery, I do enjoy air punching the shit out of all my mortal enemies. So don't mess with me. I will hyper-punch you one hundred times, and though my fists are not accustomed to hitting actual flesh, I'll have the endurance to hit you softly for a very, very long time.

Which may start to hurt. 

Eventually.






Sunday, April 12, 2009

Huevos

My son just announced, "I'm going to do something funny."

Then he scooped up all his plastic Easter eggs and shoved them under his legs.

"I'm going to hatch you, babies!" he said, and hunched over like a mother hen and made a goofy face. Okay, the face was alarmingly like my own goofy, intentionally dorky face. You know the face, when you force out your bottom lip and jaw in an exaggerated underbite and smile with narrowed eyes.

What have I created?

Yesterday I tried to teach him about his balls. Or "huevos" as they call them in Spanish. My boyfriend grew up in Fresno, California. He tells me it's the armpit of California and he has regaled me with a number of tales of the Mexican gangsters who used to threaten him on his way to and from school. One of the many cultural lessons he learned from them was how to say filthy disgusting things in Spanish. Calling the balls, "eggs" is actually more accurate, I think. They are more egg-shaped than ball or nut-shaped.

They are also delicate.

Anyway, I tried to teach my son Cracky about his huevos yesterday because I've been concerned about his total indifference towards his own ballsack. He doesn't even fumble around with his penis either. I guess he's just not in the "genital" stage yet. Although he knows his penis is called his penis, he's never asked me what the heck that ballsack is hanging beneath it.

Weird.

So yesterday Cracky was digging away at his groinal area and I asked him, "Is something bothering you?"

"Yes, it itches!"

"Do you want me to take a look?"

"Yes, please!" So he came over and pulled his shorts over to the side and showed me the little crevice next to his ballsack, sort of in the crease of his leg, and it was red and dry. I had a little bit of eczema or dermatitis or some such thing when I was a kid, so I went upstairs to get some hydrocortisone.

"This will make it stop itching," I told him and squeezed out some of the ointment.

"Can you warm it up first?" he asked.

*Laugh*

"Do you know what this is called?" I asked, pointing at his testicular-region.

"No."

"Well you know what your penis is called, right?"

"Yes," he giggled.

"Well, these are your testicles."

"Testicles?"

"You have like, uh, balls inside that sack. Those testicles make babies," I said, trying to make it scientific.

"I have balls that make babies?" he looked at me as though I'd lost my mind.

"Well, yes. It takes a man and a woman to make babies. They each contribute half of the genetic material to make a baby. Men have testicles that make sperm, and women have ovaries that make eggs. When you mix the sperm with the egg, you make a baby."

"Sperm?" Again he made a scrunched up face, and looked like he was about to laugh.

"Yes, to make babies."

"Boys make babies? I thought girls made babies?"

"The girls need boys to make the babies. Like I said, a boy contributes the sperm, and the girl contributes the eggs, and together they make the baby."

"I have a baby inside my testicles?" He bent over and peered at his sack.

"No. When you are grown up, and you get married, you'll be able to make babies if you want to. With your wife." I figured I'd better add a dash of morality to this play.

"But I already have a wife."

"Well, that's just your pretend wife. You're not making babies until you're an adult."

"We pretend to make babies at school."

*Pause*

"Kayla pretends to be our baby," he explained.

"Okay, that's fine. Pretending is fine."

"Mom?"

"Yes?"

"How does the boy give the girl the sperm?" He made a handing-over gesture with pinched fingers, as though handing me some jelly beans.

*Pause*

"He just gives it to her. Um, er, when you love someone, you get to share your sperm." Christ almighty, this wasn't going how I intended at all. "Well, if you want to make a baby with your wife, you and your wife can decided to share your eggs and sperm and make a baby..." I was flailing.

"You mean to make a family?"

"Yes," I sighed. "To make a family."

Thank you Cracky. Thank you for saving me. You're one good egg.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Zombie Chicken Blog Awards

My friend and fellow blogger Char was kind enough to give me a Zombie Chicken Blog Award:

"The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all..."

Char also commented that I was the least likely to tag five of my favorite bloggers. Well, I take that as a challenge! A direct slap to the cheek with her lambskin glove. Prithee, dear Char, I will tag, and I will tag five bloggers with impunity.

First and foremost, I nominate my newest and most favoritist blogger, Becky at Steam Me Up, Kid. I actually spent my evening last night reading through each and every one of her blogs since 2006. That's a rarity for me. It's been a while since I read a blogger who took me by surprise, who grabbed me and shook me by the shoulders and said, "Engage, woman!" Several times as I read her blogs last night, I sat with my eyes closed, my entire body shaking with laughter, as I read her words and recognized myself in them. She wrote a blog about her father a few days ago that left had me laughing in the beginning, and literally weeping by the end.

I forwarded it to the boyfriend, so he could read it.

God damn, I have to take my hat off to a writer who can make me laugh and cry within the span of an internet blog. If she wrote a book, I would read it cover to cover and keep it in my bookshelf to read again. I want to steal her from her real life and keep her in my pocket to whisper my secret thoughts to and giggle with over a coffee. I wish she were a tiny little gnome and portable like that.


My second Zombie Chicken Award goes to Gilmore, at Pretty on the Outside. He is so wickedly funny, I can't believe the turns of phrase he spins on his favorite reality television shows. I have to admit, you have to be a reality television whore to appreciate his blogs, and his blogs on The Real Housewives series are his most inspired work. Gilmore is unusual in that he is not only a hilarious writing talent, he is also a gifted artist. Each Pretty on the Outside blog is accompanied by Gilmore's pen and ink drawings of the characters on the show, penned under the influence of a glass of cabernet.





The third Zombie Chicken goes to Prosy on Toast. She's really captured me this week with her tales of working in a religious hair salon. Upper lip waxing and holy sperm is a win-win proposition in a blog, if you ask me. She also recently wrote about a college roommate whom all her readers suspect was a bit of a sociopath. I enjoy reading about roommates who give out free blowjobs to visitors and weigh themselves naked in the living room for all to see. That's the real life information I'm looking for in a blog.


My fourth choice goes to a relatively new voice to me on Blogspot, Just Kate at Dear Buddha, and she's another blogger who has really captured my attention this week. In fact, this morning she wrote a blog that was so honest and real, it stood out because the rest of us seem to be on a "Look How Funny I Am!" kick (I know I have been). Kate reminds me that the good stuff is the real and raw stuff. I have to admit I've been keeping those real blogs as drafts lately because the Trolls have gotten the best of me. I've withdrawn my soft underbelly from the public and have gone back to the safe land of humor. Perhaps Kate can coax me back out by example.




My last choice is not last in my heart, but actually first. Julie at Sweet Herald is a long-time friend and blogger, the artist formerly known as Tits McGee from Myspace. She first caught my attention for her over-the-top, laugh-out-loud, cover-your-mouth in shock sense of humor. She writes what we all think, what we all wish we could say, and there is such a joyous freedom in her writing that it'll make you spit your morning coffee out. I miss the days when we would practically goad each other in our blogs to out-crass and out-perv one another in our writing.



So check out my writers and friends. You won't be disappointed. I'm only sorry there weren't ten Zombie Chicken Awards, or twenty. As you can see my blogroll there to the right is pretty lengthy. Go ahead and click through them if you're looking for a surprising new voice.


XXOO (don't touch me),

Mandy

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stretched Out

Sometimes I'm not the best mom.

Sometimes I'm running late for this thing or that, sometimes I have to bring work home night after night, weekend after weekend, and sometimes I have to deal with jerks. All of these things collectively build until the relentless barrage of a five-year-old's questions can irritate me.

In this case I usually close my eyes, take a deep breath, and say:

"Cracky, can you give me a minute? I'm a little stressed out."

Which usually leads to him asking me:

"Mom, why are you stretched out?"

So then I tell him, and then he asks me if it will help if he gives me a hug when we get home.

Gah.

If only all relationships could be this easy. I know it's an oversimplification to suggest that the relationship skills you use on your child and your child employs on you could be applied to other adults, but damn. If only we could do that.

Instead of snapping at each other, it would probably help if we thought about other adults just as we do five-year-olds. We know we can't snap at a five-year-old because they won't understand why we're yelling at them. They'll think they did something wrong.

That's why I explain to the kid that Mama's stressed out. He asks why, I explain the root cause of my stress, and then he hugs me.

I think this could totally work with other adults. Hell, if I snap at a grown-up, I'm sure they wonder what the hell they did to piss me off. Either that or they think I'm a bitch.

Ha.

Who would ever think that?

*Glares*

Anyway, if only I could picture adults like over-sized kids. I'm sure I'd communicate much better with them. I certainly don't expect my little boy to be a mind-reader, why should I expect anyone to do so regardless of age?

I also think Cracky's misunderstanding of the word "stressed out" for "stretched out" is pretty apt too. I know when I'm stressed, I do feel as though I were stretched thin, like a bow ready to snap.




* * *



Please check out Megan's blog for a little stress-relief. She's hosting a Pay-It-Forward blog. It's your chance to win an act of kindness by commenting on her blog. I really want the scarf. I mean, I really want to do something nice for someone else. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Equanimity

They find fault in one sitting silently,
They find fault in one speaking much,
They find fault in one speaking moderately.
No one in this world is not found at fault.
There has been, there is,
     And there will be no person
Who is only criticized,
     Or only praised.

Dhammapada 227-228


I wear a necklace everyday with the Four Immeasurables engraved on it — in Sanskrit on one side, English on the other. It is rather my hope that perhaps the constant rubbing of the prayer for love, compassion, joy and equanimity will somehow rub off on to me and stick.

The one quality I hope for most and the one that most eludes me is equanimity. If only I could be even-tempered and even-handed with all my dealings in the world! I wish I could maintain a calm inner-state no matter what struggles I encounter or conflicts I face. If only I could approach all of it with openness, calmness, candor, kindness and curiosity. 

Yes, please. 

I'd like to order up that personality. And can I get it To Go?

*Sigh*

There is plenty in this world to ruffle the spirit. There are jobs to be lost, cars to break down, bills to pay, sickness to fight, children to guide, lovers to tend, employers to impress, friends to help and family to tolerate. Amidst all of that, it's no surprise that things are constantly going wrong. You simply can't make everyone happy all of the time, and you can't prevent bad things from happening, no matter how large or how small.

But how to approach it all with even-mindedness and balance? How to remain unruffled when the winds are blowing? 

You must seek refuge within. The world outside is full of uncertainty and change. You have absolutely no control over whether you'll get cancer tomorrow or lose your job, to a certain extent. I mean, you can exercise and not smoke, work hard, be helpful and pleasant — and yet  you still can't prevent either of these things from happening anyway.

Some events are simply out of your control. Well, most are. 

It's a very disturbing concept. "What do you mean I'm not in control? That's bullshit!" I hear you, hell, I hear my own mind rebelling against my words. "I'll show you! Watch how hard I'm going to control this life of yours, lady!"

Okay.

You can go on and think that, rant and rage, work and dig at it, and exhaust yourself in the process while you still encounter some sort of tragedy or suffering, misfortune or irritant. The only peace is the peace within, that you yourself have cultivated.

Rude comment on a blog?

Meh. I shrug it off. I've listened to my readers enough now that I get it. All of the comments on my blogs are reflections of the commenters, not me. Now I cock my head to the side and say, "How very interesting!" as I try to figure out what's going on in that person's psyche that they would react this way.

Bad day at work?

I can't make everybody like me or my writing at work either. By the time I've written a piece of advertising copy and it goes to print or appears on the web, hundreds of hands have written on it, commented on it, changed it, disparaged it, praised it, loved it, hated it, didn't notice it, remarked on it,  and re-written it. Am I going to let my life and happiness be swayed by the changing tides of clients, bosses, account people, editing departments, product specialists and other writers? My happiness would be set out to sea if I did. 

Better to watch the process with equanimity, as if it were a separate entity than myself. These words on paper are certainly from me, of me, but they are not me. They change once they hit the paper, they change once the reader sees them, digests them, and filters them through their brain and the memories therein.

What my words become after that is entirely out of my control.

And so I will cultivate this equanimity. I will sit and quietly observe. I will watch the tide of my emotions as they crest and subside. I will turn my focus away from my own thoughts and see what is happening outside of it. I will notice how very different the world is from my own view, my own feelings, my own experiences.

And I will marvel at it all.

I will not own other's feelings nor their reactions to me. I will not own my successes and failures. I attach myself to none of this. I will not be washed out to sea.

I will stay here.

In the calm waters of my mind. My mind is an ocean, fathomless, deep and still.

I will practice this, and this alone will last. This alone endures.

Namaste.

Monday, March 2, 2009

So Lightly in Their Fingertips

While trolling through the internet searching for quotations and dictionary definitions to try and get the dried up riverbed that is my creative brain to come up with headlines, I read this:

"Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option."

I tried to scan down to the next quote, clearly this one had nothing to do with the snappy automotive headlines I so desperately needed, but failed to do so. My eyes kept leaping back to that line, reading it over and over again while one relationship in particular flashed in my mind like hazard lights.

It also made me think of so many friends and loved ones. How many stories have I heard of men and women who dedicated themselves to a husband, wife or lover who didn't seem to care one way or another about what their actions did to their significant other? Oh, how they held that love so lightly, so carelessly, they let it slip from their fingertips as though it were nothing more than last season's silk scarf.

I read once that the only way to guarantee a happy marriage is to marry someone who loves you just a little bit more than you love them. Never be the one who loves the most, or you'll surely be heartbroken at some point. Certainly I've seen marriages like this, and I've seen a lot of happy women who were worshipped and adored by their loving husbands. How they doted on them! How secure and carefree were the beloved wives in their husband's affection. I marveled at it.

Such confidence. Such self-assured ease.

Women are told that men won't love you if you're too clingy. We all want what we can't have, men love a challenge, and all that pop psychology we've digested in Hungry Man-size portions. "He's Just Not That Into You," is entirely based on this premise. Don't chase after someone who isn't as into you as you are them.

But some of us seem to be chasers. Men and women alike. We think if we just love them enough, or the right way, or change ourselves just so, that they'll come around. It's a humiliating enough experience that it could turn your heart cold if you let it.

Rather than let it turn my heart cold and untrusting, I did develop a hyper-sensitivity to being "optional." If I'm in a relationship, you're the priority. If you aren't the priority, I'm breaking up with you. I'm not going to string either one of us along. If I get the sense I'm being balanced ever-so-lightly on your fingertips, I'm outta there.

I won't ever make that mistake again, and neither will my boyfriend. Perhaps it works for us because we were both there. We both lived life as someone else's option, while they were everything to us. Rather than be embarrassed by this, I often remind myself of my sister's kind words:

"You should never be ashamed that you loved and trusted someone. They should be ashamed for betraying that love and that trust. They are the losers, not you."


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Boys Who Love Boys

"Boys can't kiss boys!" my son shouted, turning away from the television to laugh with me.

"Sure they can," I said.

"They CAN?" he said, and scrunched up his face to show his amused disgust, a practiced look I'd seen on one of the more inbred boys in his class. 

"You kiss your dad, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"And your dad kisses and hugs your Papa, doesn't he?"

"Yeah."

"So there you go," I said and shrugged. "Boys can kiss boys."

"But boys can't get married, can they?" he repeated the exaggerated disgusted face from the oaf at school.

"Sure they can," I said, immediately deciding that I wasn't going to get into a discussion of the law with a five-year-old.

"They CAN?" he looked surprised and watched my face to see if I was serious.

"Sure why not? If you love someone you can marry them," I shrugged again.

"And can girls marry girls?" Now his eyebrows were raised and he wasn't making the stupid Deliverance face.

"Absolutely."

"Oh. I didn't know that," he said, and went back to playing with his superheros clad in tights. "I'd like to go to a wedding."

"Me too. We could get you a suit."

"I'd look handsome in a suit."

"Yes, you would," I said, and closed the conversation that could have turned my son into a homophobe but didn't. For today.

Uncle Stephen is coming over tonight. He has a new boyfriend about whom he is all a-flutter. I accused him of acting like a lesbian because you'd swear these two were ready to move in after their second date. He sends me giddy little love text messages that make me smile and feel as though the world isn't about to collapse.

"I think I'm pregnant," he texted me this weekend.

I know he was kidding, but I'll have to talk with him about the importance of getting married first. Besides, Cracky and I want to go to the wedding.