I got this quote in an email from a fellow MIA member yesterday morning, and I haven’t been able to pry it from my brain: “I bargained with life for a penny…only to learn dismayed, that any wage I would have asked of life, life would have paid.” The author, Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948), was a poet, literary critic, and compiler of anthologies. She was also the only female founding member of the Poetry Society of America, and she worked on the editorial staff of the New York Times for ten years in the early 1900s, as well.
I know it sounds crazy, but I feel immense pride when I think about women who were writing, publishing, and professionally employed in journalism before my grandmother was born. I know that Jessie Rittenhouse was a pioneer. She got her degree, went to work, and became well-respected in a male-dominated, intellectual field in a time when what she was doing was the exception rather than the rule. I am impressed by her gumption and wonder what might have made her choose such a non-traditional life for herself. After all, she didn’t bother getting married until she was 55, and she never had children.
I have a feeling that perhaps she did not so much intentionally choose that path as her talent and drive chose it for her and along the way she merely continued to raise the bar for herself. I examine the excerpt from her poem and I think that she clearly understood that she was the architect of her destiny. Her successes, taken within the context of the time period in which they were accomplished, were a direct result of her asking more of her life than her contemporaries were likely asking of theirs. While her college classmates were keeping house, she was hanging out with Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot and reviewing their poetry.
I think the reason that I am so affected by Ms. Rittenhouse’s poetic words, however, is because they embody the entire reason I started this Moms Into Adventure group. I realized it was time for me to ask more from life. I started down a different path than I originally had mapped out for myself and for a while I felt lost, but then I realized that my slight shift in direction didn’t have to mean that I had necessarily sacrificed all my dreams for myself. I still had those dreams. I still wanted those things. I was just traveling a back road to reach them.
When I think about what I want out of my life before it’s all said and done, it goes beyond having family. I know. I know. Having my beautiful and precious family should be enough for me; our culture indoctrinates us early with this idea, and I feel a tad bit uncomfortable knowing that I need more. I’ve always been a bit on the greedy side, though. I have perpetually asked life for more than a penny’s worth and now can say in all honesty that I am happy with who I am. When I ask more from myself, I rise to the occasion. When I want something, I find a means to get it because I am nothing but absolutely determined to have my way. When I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, I somehow find a way to pull myself out of the chasm. I refuse to believe that I can’t have what I want. It might take me longer than anticipated to get it, but I will get there. I know it. When it comes to my dreams and goals, I have patience and perseverance.
You can gain none of life’s prizes without being brave and perhaps ruffling some feathers along the way. You know Ms. Rittenhouse’s mother was constantly railing on her: “You’re an old maid. Why don’t you settle down? Get married and give me some grandchildren already.” But her determination to walk her own path and ask for more than a penny’s worth made her powerful. Asking life for what we want is always a worthwhile venture, even if it means we encounter some opposition. I’ve long said my greatest fear is getting to the end of my life and realizing I’ve lived someone else’s. So, I’m going to continue asking for the things I want from life. I’m betting I’ll get them, so I’m going to be bold, up the ante, and enjoy taking home the whole pot.
We’ve gotten a lot of snow the past week here in Denver, so instead of going to yoga today as planned I could not pass up the opportunity to get out and enjoy the fresh powder snow. If the perfectly clear, beautiful blue winter sky wasn’t reason enough to get out, I noticed that no one had yet taken their snowshoes or skis out onto the open space field behind our house, which meant I was going to get to break a fresh trail. I have always loved making my mark in the snow and, since I was born a penis-less female, using snowshoes is the closest I come to peeing in the snow and marking my territory.
It was a balmy 6 degrees when the hyper border collie and I headed out. The thing I have always appreciated about snowshoeing is that it’s such a good workout that I am rarely cold for long. And, sure enough, it wasn’t but a few minutes until I was huffing and puffing and already unzipping layers of Smartwool. I planned to do the 4-mile loop the dog and I usually hike. It seemed like a reasonable and attainable goal. I snowshoe fairly often, but I usually head out on paths that have already been trodden down somewhat. In fact, I had completely forgotten how much work it is snowshoeing in fresh snow. I was stopping far more frequently than I had planned, just to catch my breath. The dog, completely unaccustomed to my taking breaks, enjoyed every last second by flying off in different directions with total freedom.
On one of my oh-too-many stops to catch my breath, I started thinking about my desire to blaze a trail today and how I’ve come a long way from my high school days when I was a truly devoted follower. My best friend was the leader, and I was happy being in her shadow (which was considerable since she is 6 feet tall in bare feet). In high school, I wanted to be able to camouflage myself, to fade into my surroundings. There’s a photo of me in the yearbook that comes to mind. The camera was pointed right at me, and I ducked my head and stared at my schoolwork as if I could disappear into it. I remember that girl as hesitant, reticent, and fearful. Definitely not a trailblazer.
Now that I am older and have more miles in my own skin, I’m a bit less concerned about whether or not I blend in. It’s not that I want to stand out necessarily. I just don’t care if I do or not. Other peoples’ opinions of me matter so much less than they used to. And, that makes it easier for me to be my own woman, to do what I want, and to move forward in my life unabashed. I may not be a true female pioneer like Amelia Earheart, but I’m closer to that adventurer now than I’ve ever been before. It’s not always easy. In fact, just like breaking a fresh trail in snowshoeing, sometimes making my own way is much more work than I imagined it would be. But, at least the path I create is uniquely mine, and that has to be worth more than just running with the pack. There’s something about breaking out on your own. Each step is a new beginning and the possibilities are limitless. It takes your breath away.
I have this small plaque on my kitchen wall that reads, “Who are these kids and why are they calling me Mom?” No. Seriously. Explain it to me. Some days I honestly wonder how I got here…and by “here” I mean “mother of two boys.” Okay. Okay. I know how it happened technically speaking. I just mean that I never imagined myself here. I’m sure many women envision growing up, getting married, and starting a family. I just never did. But five years after we got married, hubby and I found ourselves saying, “This is great, but now what?” Apparently our next great adventure after getting married, buying a home, and caring for two dogs just in case we decided to have kids, was actually having children.
I can’t believe I thought that becoming a parent would make my life dull. My life hasn’t had a dull (read: “quiet”) moment since the boys arrived. Raising them has been incredibly interesting. Remember before you had kids when you were worried about changing diapers and sleep deprivation? As if those were going to be your biggest concerns? HA. I giggle now when I think about it. It never occurred to me that there might be actual issues with my boys. I never imagined that they might have trouble with growth and development. It never crossed my mind that one of them might be ADHD. I certainly didn’t foresee my son feeling socially awkward or having a hard time making friends. Nor did I imagine how I would handle it when I found my six year old tying Barbie to trees or my eight year old researching “skinny dipping” on Google. Why is it that I have a million books on raising children, and not one of them tells me what I should do about my son with the killer gag reflex who vomits at least once during every dental appointment.
Through my time with my children, however, I have learned more than I did in 6 years of college and graduate study. What I couldn’t get in “book smarts” from college, I learn in hands-on lessons in real life. With my boys, I truly do learn something new every day. Granted, maybe I didn’t need to know that there is a gecko in Namibia that survives the deadly desert temperatures by using its large webbed feet to burrow deep beneath the sand it traverses during the day. I also probably didn’t need to know that baby powder, when completely emptied unceremoniously from its container, would take weeks to remove completely from the walls, carpet, and baseboards of a bedroom. I know I didn’t want to know that boogers are virtually impossible to pry from heavily textured walls or that you can pick up a so-called permanent tooth that has been knocked out and shove it back into its socket in the mouth, hold it there, and probably save it.
For each thing I’ve learned that maybe I didn’t feel I wanted to or needed to know, though, I have also learned something about myself. I pick my battles more carefully these days. I understand that sometimes it’s just best to cut your losses and that doing so doesn’t have to imply failure. I’ve become much better at problem solving and much more adept at improvising. I’ve learned that worrying about things doesn’t affect their outcome. I now know that sometimes even when things don’t work out as I’ve planned they have still worked out just fine. I’ve also learned that I am much stronger than I ever thought I was.
Parenting has been my life’s greatest adventure so far. It hasn’t always been a pleasant journey, but it’s been infinitely educational. Please remind me of that the next time Luke pukes in the dentist’s chair all over himself, me, and the floor, and I’m looking around as if I have no idea whose child this is. Please remind me that there are lessons to be learned everywhere in life. And then remind me that Spray ‘n Wash will remove regurgitated chocolate milk from a khaki sweatshirt if you catch it quickly enough.
A year ago, I did something I swore I would never do, and it truly changed my life: I attended my first power yoga class. I have to admit that my decision to attend this class had little to do with a desire to do yoga at all. In fact, I was basically strong-armed into yoga by my well-intentioned sisters-in-law who purchased a $75 yoga gift card for me for Christmas because they thought (and I quote) “yoga is great as your body ages.” Ouch. I would like to tell you that this gift thoroughly annoyed me, but that would be admitting that I am an ungrateful brat, and I try not to be that transparent.
At any rate, I wandered into a beginner class at a CorePower Yoga studio near my home to fulfill my duty and use up my gift card. I didn’t expect much from the class. I had already convinced myself that yoga had nothing to offer me. I was certain I would be bored. I knew it wasn’t much of a cardiovascular workout. I was positive that my body was plenty strong and balanced. Still, I brought my mat, a water bottle, and a towel and situated myself in the back of the room so no one could watch me make a total ass of myself.
The class was led by a very mellow and earthy gal named Melissa. I was already rolling my eyes. She had us get into the easy and relaxing child’s pose, which I immediately discovered was neither easy nor relaxing for me. Melissa reminded us that yoga is a practice, not a competition, and that we should let go of judgment. That statement stabbed me right in the heart. I’m my own worst critic. Then she told us to focus on a worry we brought into class then exhale and let it go. So, with a big exhalation, I decided to let go of ego and enter into the experience without negativity.
That hour of yoga flew by for me. I was shocked. I was not bored, my mind did not wander, and I didn’t once think it was too “easy” for me. She had us do an abdominal workout that messed me up for days. And, I actually broke a sweat even though the room wasn’t heated. I was so excited to learn something new and I was determined to get into Crow pose. I was genuinely surprised by how the whole experience had left me feeling peaceful, positive, and poised. I left that class absolutely knowing I would come back to do another one. Wonders never cease.
Well, it’s a year later. I did get into crow pose. I did it within the first couple months once my core strength improved. I am much stronger now and love it when the guy in the pet store asks if I need him to carry the 40 pound bag of dog food to my car. (I always respond with a giggle, “No, thanks. I think I can manage.” Then I hoist that bag onto my shoulder like it’s nothing and stroll out the door.) Could not do that before. When I entered that first class, I could barely touch my fingertips to the floor. Now, my palms sit flat on the floor even with straight legs. My balance is better, I’m more limber, and you can actually see my abs (although you’d see them much more clearly if I could give up my nightly need for dessert). The most amazing thing for me, though, is that even after a year of classes I have not once gotten bored on my mat. Every hour long session is a challenge. I never wonder when it will be over. On that yoga mat, I am 100% fully present in my life. Yoga challenges me, relaxes me, balances me, clears my head, and gives me confidence. I guess these folks who have been practicing it for centuries were onto something.
Last month I did the unthinkable: I started doing hot yoga. A year ago I said I’d never be able to handle yoga in a 105 degree room with humidity. Now, on freezing winter days when I can’t thaw out my toes, a hot yoga studio is a quick, pseudo-tropical escape; and I welcome the opportunity to sweat and remember how miserable summer can be. It’s amazing how your perspective can change if you’re just adventurous enough to take a chance on the “no way” things in your life.
(Postscript: The day after I published this, I got into a headstand in yoga class for the first time. Yay me!)
It’s cold here today and getting colder. The projected daytime high for tomorrow is a whopping -2 degrees before windchill. I know I’ve already written about how much I hate to be cold, but I can’t emphasize that fact enough. Oddly enough, though, when the weather gets like this it changes me. It freezes the apathy in my heart and suddenly I care more than usual about things I generally forget.
So today, as I sit in my heated home (wearing a cozy sweater and the Ugg boots that are so-hideous-I-cringe-as-I-put-them-on-but-so-comfy-and-warm-I-won’t-live-without them) and watch through insulated windows as the snow swirls and the outdoor temperature plummets, I can’t help but think of those who aren’t as fortunate as I am. On days like this when I’m such a baby that I whimper as I warm up my car and fire up its heavenly, heated leather seats, my mind turns to the multitude of homeless men and women I see on Denver’s streets each day. Denver, despite all its positive, noteworthy distinctions, also is in the top ten cities with the highest population of homeless individuals. Most days I manage to forget about the homeless. I tuck them neatly into the recesses of my mind so I don’t feel too uncomfortable about my cushy life. But, on days like today, I can’t stop thinking about them and hoping that they will find somewhere to be tonight so they don’t freeze to death.
It’s easy to become complacent about difficult things these days. There are so many of them (diseases, violence, natural disasters, political unrest, etc.), and they are constantly in the news. If we focused on the dark, scary things that come at us in this continual barrage of information, it would be hard to be positive, get out of bed each day, and live our lives. I have chosen to stop watching the news because I can’t deal with the negativity. I read it when I make the time. Otherwise, I often go about in happy oblivion because there is enough drama in my life without worrying about things out there that are out of my control but not outside my realm of concern.
A few years ago, however, I decided that I needed to do something to make a positive impact in a world. I wanted to gain some control over the negatives I hear about constantly, so I started doing athletic events that are fundraisers for charities. I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s infinitely better than inaction. In 2006, I did my first two-day, 40-mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I raised $1800. The following year, I did another 40-mile walk and raised $2200. In 2009 I raised $2500 walking 50 miles for MS. Last year, I did 150 miles on my bike for MS and raised another $500. This year I will do another MS 150 ride and I hope to double what I raised last year.
I wish I could say that these events, including the hours upon hours of training and fundraising, were labors of love. Truth is, though, that there was nothing laborious about them. I got nothing but good things from my investment. I was working towards fitness goals, and I achieved them all. I got to spend time with people I genuinely like while training and participating. I was overwhelmed by the support I got from family and friends, both through donations made and by the people who actually showed up to cheer me on. Through the events, I made new friends and met many inspiring people. And, I got to feel powerful for a few minutes, knowing that my effort was a contribution to something much bigger and far reaching than myself. In the past few years, MS has become my chosen cause because of the increasing number of people I know personally who suffer because of it. Anything I can do while healthy to help them in their fight is a blessing to me. It reminds me how lucky I am. I walk and ride because I know people who can’t, and I can’t live with that.
So, today as I sit here enjoying the view of the snow from my warm home, I remember how lucky I am. And, I try to think of ways I can make a difference for someone else. It warms my heart to know there are others out there tonight, working in shelters and on the streets to help someone who is homeless because they care. Find something you care about and do something about it. You might change someone else’s life, but I know without a doubt that you will change your own.
A couple years ago after years of virtually non-stop time with my small bosses, I needed a break. Being the infinitely good sport that he is, my husband agreed it was a good idea. So, I booked a ticket to the city where I was born, Buffalo, New York. Hubby was surprised that I would pick Buffalo as my private vacation destination, but I told him that it wasn’t getting away if it didn’t involve two flights’ distance between us.
So, on Friday, June 12th, 2009 (yes…the date is engraved in my memory), I started my first solo adventure in 8 years. Sure. I’d traveled during those 8 years, but not entirely on my own just for the purpose of fun and relaxation. This was a HUGE deal. I was actually going to be free to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted for three full days. My mind was dizzy with possibilities. Aside from my luggage, I had no baggage. I felt lighter than I’ve felt in years.
Although I’d made plans to see friends and family during my visit, I made sure to allow myself one 24-hour day of complete solitude. So, on my first full-day in New York I made a promise to myself: I would do only what I felt like doing, even if that meant staying in bed in my hotel all day and reading. I had no obligations, and I was going to suck up every minute of that freedom.
That day was my personal heaven. I had no specific plans. I would go where the spirit led me. I planned to check things off my to-do list that I didn’t even know were on my to-do list. I ran the track at a local high school because I had to see what living at altitude would do for my running game at sea level. (It didn’t help as much as I imagined it would.) After that, I purchased an enormous vanilla latte, which I leisurely enjoyed while getting ready for the rest of my day. Uninterrupted, ridiculously long, hot shower? Check.
Around 11, I grabbed a bottle of Classic Coke (no Diet Coke…this was serious), my iPod with its portable speaker, and some snacks and hopped into the rental car. I love to drive, but I perpetually have a destination. I was so excited to just drive and see what I would find. About an hour south of Buffalo, I saw a sign for Lake Erie State Park. How could I pass that up? It was cool and overcast, but I could not resist the opportunity to walk on some sand, sit by the lake, listen to the waves, and just be. I sighed just now thinking about it.
After lunch at the lake, I got back in the car and found myself in idyllic Chautauqua watching the sailboats glide effortlessly while I snarfed down my favorite salty snack, Bugles, with another Coke. (Yes. I was living life on the edge.) Then, just for giggles, I fired up Facebook on my iPhone and updated my status to “Having my best day EVER.” Hubby loved that.
Later, I wound my way carelessly back toward Buffalo on quiet highways through quaint towns that looked like they would have inspired Norman Rockwell. I stopped once to walk briefly around Ellicottville, but mostly I just drove and enjoyed the treed countryside and my unending iPod playlist. Finally, around 6 p.m. I landed back in Buffalo. I set my GPS to locate my all-time childhood favorite sub shop, John and Mary’s. I ordered my usual (ham and provolone with mayo, lettuce, and tomato) and drove back to my hotel room to enjoy it. It was warm. I temporarily freaked out. Had they given me the wrong sandwich? Nope. The bread was fresh from the oven. I nearly died.
Every woman should take one day a year just to be truly on her own, to remember who she is and what she likes to do, to relax and exist in her own skin…not as wife or mother but as human being. If you haven’t tried it in a while, you really should. Your family will survive a day without you. Who knows? In your absence, they might realize how much you are worth. Maybe we should make it a national holiday? We could call it Mother’s Day.
I am a “hat person.” Or at least this is what I’ve been told repeatedly throughout my life. I’d be somewhere, try on a hat for giggles, and someone around me would say, “You look great in that hat. I wish I could wear hats,” as if wearing hats is some kind of fashion dream that only a few can attain. Maybe it is. I’m not sure. But the truth is that despite my being a hat person, I have never worn hats. I assume this is because I’m kind of shy and feel that hats require a certain outgoing attitude I have never possessed. I prefer to blend into the wallpaper and become invisible. And unless British or you’re wearing a baseball cap at a game or you’re wearing a knit hat on a ski slope, a hat draws attention to you.
Yet for years, buoyed by compliments from others, I’ve bought hats, squirreled them away, and imagined I would one day wear them. I would conjure elaborate scenarios whereby I’d be wearing a hat and having a fabulous adventure, something positively Audrey Hepburn-ish; but I never got up the nerve to put one of my many hats on my head and actually go out in public. So, they’ve sat in boxes in our storage room and on shelves in my closet, completely ignored and collecting dust. Last fall as I was doing my semi-yearly closet clean out, I came across a bevy of neglected hats and vowed to stop being such a wimp. I promised myself I would start wearing hats more often, which is to say I would start wearing them more often than never.
The only way to get myself out of my self-consciousness was to force myself to wear them for a solid period of time until it felt not quite so conspicuous. I chose a week as the appropriate time period, figuring that it was long enough to get me used to hats but not so long that suddenly people would start asking me, “What’s up with the hats?” I also decided that I couldn’t count it as a day of wearing a hat if I didn’t go out in public while wearing it…at least for a little while. I mean, there’s no point in wearing a hat to get over your hat phobia if you don’t pointedly announce to the world, “Hey…there’s a hat intentionally placed on my head.”
I’m a gifted avoider. I put off my Week of Hats for months. Then, finally tired of the disappointment I would feel in myself each time I opened my closet and saw those hats judging me, I decided last Monday would begin my official Week of Hats. I spent Sunday night figuring out appropriate outfits to go with the hats. Because hats are an accessory, I had to make it look as if I cleverly tossed the hat on with this darling outfit because I am quite fashion savvy. There is nothing further from the truth. I am a fashion kindergartner.
Still, Monday came around and I got dressed, put on a hat, and went out into the world. At first I was sure people were staring. I felt out of place and uncomfortable. But then I would get a grip and stop over-thinking it. The more I acted as if it was completely unremarkable for a hat person like me to be wearing a hat, the less self-conscious I felt. It was the old “fake it until you make it” scheme and it was working. By day three, I didn’t notice if people were looking at me. By day six, I didn’t care if people were looking at me.
You know what I had forgotten? Everyone is wrapped up in their own personal drama, oblivious to what is going on around them. How silly had I been to imagine that people were actually regarding me at all? And, even if they had been, why did I care? It’s my life, and I’m a hat person. I should wear hats once in a while, otherwise it’s a perfect waste of my hat-wearing ability. Now, I’m not saying I’m going to start wearing hats every day in the future, but because of the hat trick I will now probably throw one on more often than never. If there’s something you’ve not been doing because it makes you a bit nervous, let go. Live your life. Who knows? You might inspire someone with your daring…even if you’re only being a little daring.