Valentine’s Day. The mere mention of this Hallmark holiday brings ice to my heart. On February 14th, while many women are dreaming of romance, I am trying to suppress the bile that is rising from my churning stomach. Oh, fine. Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic. However, I am a true unromantic, an anomaly in the female population and, not unlike the albino alligator, a freak of nature.
It probably stems from the fact that I never once had that Valentine’s Day that women fantasize about. And, knowing me as I do, that’s probably a good thing. I’m fairly certain that if some guy started serenading me with a love song he had written for me I would probably have to work to avoid an exaggerated eye roll and to stifle a hearty laugh. I have never been the type of gal who appreciates that sappy, cinematic version of romance. (I loathed Pretty Woman. And, don’t even get me started on Dirty Dancing.) Now that I’m married with children, I consider it romantic if my husband cleans the bathroom without prompting.
I’m sure some of my disdain for this pseudo-holiday is a result of the years I spent working in retail, watching men rush into the store at 6 p.m. looking desperately for something, anything, to bring home to the girlfriend/fiancee/wife who expected something magical because the calendar happened to read February 14th. I saw the looks of confusion, panic, and fear on their faces, and I felt sorry for them. Worse, though, were the guys who were completely apathetic and just grabbed something quickly, paid for it, and flew out of the store without a second thought. Those guys depressed me. I vowed never to become that woman who put so many expectations out there for Valentine’s Day romance that not even Prince Charming himself could come through appropriately.
Men have tried to make my Valentine’s Day one for the memory books, and they have succeeded. There is the guy who told me he’d be picking me up at 6 for a surprise and then took me to a 7 o’clock play. I hadn’t eaten because it was Valentine’s Day and I had expected dinner would be on a schedule that began at 6 p.m. I spent the entire two-hour play trying to disguise the fact that my stomach was growling more than a junkyard dog, and then I was just plain cranky because my blood sugar was so low. On another Valentine’s Day, I wore some new lingerie for my boyfriend because he had told me how much he liked it when his ex-girlfriend wore something similar; apparently he didn’t like it on me, though, and told me that it didn’t “suit” me. Nice. The one time I actually received a dozen, perfect red roses at my house on Valentine’s Day, it turned out to be just a fluke; I found out later that they had been ordered more or less to secure certain sexual favors, presumably as some type of reimbursement for the flowers themselves. Ugh. And people wonder why I am so cynical about Valentine’s Day.
But what really bothers me about this day, I suppose, is the expectation: the expectation that for one day a year a guy who is wholly unromantic will suddenly become a debonair mind reader and create a flawless night of romance, perfection made to order for the love of his life. Seriously? What kind of crack are we women on? If your darling husband can’t seem to find the hamper so he can properly dispose of his boxer shorts at the end of the day, what makes you think he’s going to know how to pull off a perfect Valentine’s Day? Why do we expect this? And, the guys are no better. Let’s face it. They have expectations too and by the time they disappoint us with their Valentine’s Day gestures, we’re not in the right frame of mind to make their Valentine’s Day wishes come true. It’s a lose-lose set up from the get go.
My mother taught me that “expectation is the mother of disappointment,” and I repeat that phrase constantly to myself because it is so incredibly true…at least in terms of what happens when I place my expectations on others. I have learned that no one is clairvoyant and that if I want something I need to ask for it. So hubby, if you’re reading this, my perfect Valentine’s Day this year includes a not-so peaceful dinner at home followed by movie night with you and the kids because you three mean the world to me. And let’s face it, the most romantic thing I ever did was take a chance on marriage and parenthood. So far, so good, though.
I’m sitting on a couch, blanket on my lap, watching snow falling outside and skiers winding their way down uncrowded slopes. Yep. We’re in Steamboat again. Steamboat Springs is our home away from home because, well, we have a vacation place here. We share it with family (so it’s not technically solely ours, per se), but it’s definitely a luxury and it’s definitely home. I can’t explain it, but somehow I am more relaxed in this townhouse than I am nearly anywhere else, including our home in Denver. So, sitting here, enjoying the stillness of the scenery, I am struck by how my need to move and go and do dissipates when I am here. I could sit here and enjoy the view and just relax all day and not “do” anything. And that is huge for a non-stop squirrel like me.
At home in Denver, there are always things I think I should be doing. “Should” is such a dirty word, and it’s difficult to escape. Laundry, dishes, and cleaning greet me at every turn. Obligations to school, neighborhood, family, and social events constantly murmur for my attention. I spend hours a day in my car, negotiating traffic and attempting to get as much done as possible during my short time for solid accomplishment while the kids are in school. I’m pulled in every direction by oodles of things I need to finish in a brief period of time. In Steamboat, however, there is very little of that, which is why I relax. The options for things to do are endless, but I don’t have anything I need to be doing. I can choose what I want to do instead of fighting to accomplish things I think I should do. I’m here to exist as a human BEing and not a human DOing. How refreshing is that?
Last night we went to enjoy the hot springs pool. Today we’re going to the Winter Carnival, an event where the local children compete in timed events on the snowy main street in town. The kids are on skis or snowboards, pulled by horses down the street, while they try to throw rings into boxes. The Winter Carnival raises funds for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC), a group that trains local children in winter sports events. Because of their dedication to training children, Steamboat Springs has produced more winter olympians than any other town in the country, sixty-nine to be exact. After the events this morning, we’ll be heading out with friends on our snowshoes for our own winter wonderland adventure. And, tonight when we’re at the Night Extravaganza watching future Olympians weaving their way down Howelsen Hill carrying lighted torches, we will revel in the small-town pride that makes Steamboat so great.
A while back I added one of those vinyl sayings to the wall here. It’s a Chinese proverb that explains, “Tension is who you think you should be; relaxation is who you are.” There is unbelievable truth in that statement. When I’m here, the tension is gone and the relaxation seeps into my skin until eventually it overwhelms me and oozes back out my pores. I’m genuinely able just to exist, enjoy, and be myself without pretension, stress, worry, tasks, or those rotten, dirty “shoulds.”
I need to find more places like this. I need to find places of stillness in our home in Denver, in my car, in the everyday places that I frequent so I can live more authentically as myself and spend less time trying to be who I think I should be. After all, I am already who I should be. I just need to relax more and be myself.
I know that most of my blog entries are about life-giving adventures, the kind that we want to undertake. And, that’s as it should be. We should focus on things in life that we want to achieve. We only go around once; we should make the best of it. Sometimes, however, there are other risky adventures we should undertake, ones that make us uncomfortable. These are emotional risks. Funny how some people find it easier to jump out of a plane than to say something important to a loved one.
Earlier today, I was sitting in my office doing some work and listening to a playlist of John Mayer songs I put together for a friend who had never heard of him. (I promise that my friend does not live in a cave in Afghanistan.) At any rate, as the songs were on in the background, “Say” came on and I got choked up…again. That song gets me every time. I suppose it’s because I so heartily believe in the song’s message: “You better know that in the end it’s better to say too much than never to say what you need to say again.” This is my mantra. I’d rather say a bit too much than to say nothing and risk regret.
Now, this is not to imply that it’s easy for me to do this. It isn’t. I struggle with the spoken word constantly. I speak in fits and starts because I am keenly aware of how razor sharp words can be and how quickly they can inflict seemingly irrevocable damage. I’ve spent my lifetime crafting written words because I can control them. This is why I prefer texting or emails to phone calls. I can go back and edit. I can rearrange my thoughts, cut the parts that might be misconstrued, and carve my words into a clear and concise communication. And then, when I feel I have drafted a genuine and appropriate message, I can hit Send with confidence. It’s all so tidy.
But, let’s face it. Life isn’t tidy, and it rarely gives us the opportunity to design perfect messages in difficult situations. Sometimes words attack us, and even those words precisely chosen can strike a chord we don’t appreciate. Then, instead of taking the time to recognize our true feelings of hurt, we lash out with anger and confusion. Sometimes we even take it so far as to sever a relationship rather than putting ourselves out there again to explain our point of view and work towards a solution. Sometimes we think we can’t handle any further pain, so we send something that was entirely fixable off to the relationship scrapyard and move on.
While I understand it’s in our nature to avoid pain, I sometimes wish we were more brave. I think that the best relationships are the not the ones that are never tested but are the ones that are tested time and time again and survive. To have relationships like that, though, we have to be willing to take emotional risks and go on adventures of temporary discomfort. We need to take the time to say what we need to say, and we have to afford other people their chance to express themselves while keeping our mind open and our mouth shut. It’s know it’s scary, but avoiding emotional pain is tantamount to avoiding life. It’s no way to live.
It’s much easier complain than it is to compliment or to be sarcastic than it is to share. But, if we don’t put ourselves out on that proverbial ledge occasionally and go on an emotional adventure, we risk everything. The lyrics to that John Mayer song are always with me. As stressful as it is for me to open up my heart, I don’t ever want to find myself in a situation where I regret not having told someone how much they meant to me. Life is fleeting. Don’t waste a minute of it being too proud or too fearful to say something genuine to someone you care about. They might reject it and you might get hurt but, then again, they might not and it might be the best risk you ever took.
“Even if your hands are shaking and your faith is broken, even as the eyes are closing, do it with a heart wide open…say what you need to say.”
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!)
Moms are constantly being called upon to fix things. We sew stuffed animals, superglue broken toys, and settle sibling squabbles. When trouble is brewing, we’re on the front lines. I know I take this role of Caretaker of Everything quite seriously. I’ve probably taken it too far. I’ve heaped responsibility upon responsibility upon myself because, let’s face it, no one can get the job done as well as I can or as quickly. If something is broken or in need of repair, I am The Fixer.
I internalize struggles my children are having and, reminiscent of some grand, imaginary machine full of life’s answers (something like Spencer Tracy was promoting to Katharine Hepburn in The Desk Set), I try to spit out a response towards improving them. It’s exhausting. My oldest son has ADHD, and I’ve spent the past year and a half trying to coach him around it. I feel this is my responsibility. In my work with him, however, I think I’ve made him pay more attention to his deficits than I’ve asked him to pay to his strengths, which are many. How sad is that?
My mom challenged me with this thought yesterday: what if, instead of trying to fix everyone we thought was broken in some way, we focused instead on what is unique, right, and wonderful about that individual? I mean, there are amazing things about my husband that I overlook because I’m too busy nagging him about things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. If I focused on his positives, like his limitless patience with me and his constant willingness to give of himself, then the fact that he has seven pairs of shoes under our bed perhaps is a small price to pay for his genuine kindness.
Dealing with my oldest son’s ADHD has been quite a challenge for me. I don’t understand how his brain works. I’ve spent so much time being frustrated by how his true intelligence can’t be measured in his average grades that I’ve forgotten to pay attention to how truly awesome he is. The same goes for my youngest son. While his grades are not an issue, I get wrapped up sometimes in trying to rein in his boundless energy and creativity to improve him in areas where he needs focus. Why am I doing this? Because I am The Fixer. And, it’s my duty to turn out well-rounded, responsible, successful individuals with something legitimate to contribute to the world, right?
But, what if the best thing I can do for my children and my husband is not to fix them but instead to cherish them for who they are and for what they bring to our family? We each have a role to play. Why can I not let go of my queen bee hat and just accept that we’re all doing the best we can with what we were given? Wouldn’t our house be much more peaceful if I stopped harping on things I see that I believe need to be fixed? Wouldn’t I be much happier if I paid more attention to people’s positive qualities instead of their negative ones? I’ve been incredibly blessed, and yet I make work for myself trying to fix things that aren’t broken. They might be different than I would like, but that doesn’t mean they need to be repaired.
And what if, while cutting everyone else some slack, I applied the same principle to myself? What if I stopped trying to fix things about me that I dislike and I allowed myself to be authentically me, self-perceived flaws and all. I’m not broken. I am who I am because I have something to contribute from this one-of-a-kind perspective. It would be a shame to eliminate differences. They’re what make the world interesting.
Now, none of this is to say that I’m gonna put my superglue away and stop mending things permanently. I’m not sure I’m capable of that, nor do I believe my family would appreciate it. But, perhaps, I will try to tread a little more softly with myself and the people with whom I come into contact. Maybe instead of wanting to strangle the guy who cuts me off in traffic, I can approach the incident from a very zen place and appreciate his skillful maneuvering instead? Yeah. You’re right. I don’t think I’m quite ready for that either. I guess that’s just a good reminder that you can’t fix everything.
Clearly, I am perseverating about this whole “not where I wanted to be” topic; I am not ready to move forward just yet from yesterday’s blog. I find myself still moving thoughts around in my muddled head, puzzling them out, and piecing them back together for different insights. For example, in my lamenting yesterday I forgot one important thing: my life isn’t over yet. I may not have yet achieved the things I dreamed of for myself, but my opportunity to do so is not gone. It might be more difficult now than it would have been when I was in my 20s, unmarried, and sans children, but that doesn’t mean that it is impossible.
In working at coming to peace with what I thought were my goals versus where I am now, I need to remember that the path I wandered down led me to become the person I am today. While sometimes I may not love the rather prosaic state of my life, I am genuinely happy with who I am on the inside. That is something I most certainly could not say when I was 21 and dreaming of who I would like become. How could I have known then who I truly needed to be when I didn’t even truly appreciate who I was?
A shift in the wind may have gently persuaded my parachute away from my intended target, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I completely missed my mark. I may have just overshot it a bit. Now that I’m firmly on the ground, I can decide if I need to back up a bit to reach my expected target or if I should boldly go forward down the new path that has presented itself to me and chart a different course…you know, two roads diverged in a yellow wood and all that. The change from what I thought I wanted to be to what I have become doesn’t need to be a negative. I can bounce forward on optimistic, Tigger-like paws and see where I end up. Or, I can go back, regroup, and figure out a new way to reach my goals if they are still what I want for myself. It’s not really over until it’s over, and as long as I’m still living and breathing it’s not officially over. There’s this great quote by George Eliot: “It’s never to late to be who you might have been.” I think George (aka Mary Anne Evans) and I might have had some wonderful conversations.
Maybe it’s the level of endorphins I’m riding right now as I consume another Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll (after an hour of strenuous hot yoga, nonetheless), but I’m feeling happier today with where I am and less concerned with where I am not. The only trouble is that when I get like this, I often find myself searching for my next adventure. For a long time now I’ve been seriously contemplating jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Anyone want to parachute down with me this summer and see where we end up?
My life is filled with worriers. It’s getting to the point where I am going to have to refuse any new friendships with people prone to excessive worry. It’s that bad. My husband and his entire immediate family are worriers, which I find quite interesting since they are some of the most fortunate people I’ve ever known. My husband will actually worry about things in the past. Seriously? Dude. They’re OVER. Move on already. And, now I realize he has passed this worry habit on to our oldest son. Joe’s constant worrying is about the only thing that worries me. Today he asked me to get rid of our stove so we won’t be killed in a natural gas explosion. Oy.
When I was young, I too worried a great deal. I worried about big things I could not control, like my parents dying or nuclear bombs exploding. I worried about ridiculous things too, like a sniper spraying our comfortable suburban home with bullets as I walked by a window or my being bitten by a shark (good luck with that while living in Colorado). On a smaller scale, if I didn’t finish my math assignment, I would be awake all night imagining that the next day the teacher would certainly call on me to answer the one problem I didn’t complete. I was a fairly neurotic child.
Then, during my 8th grade year, something marvelous happened: I got chickenpox during finals week of third quarter. My report card arrived the following week during spring break, and there were several Fs and incomplete grades. I was horrified because I had always been an A student. I sat there at home on spring break stressing about that report card and what it meant to my GPA. But, guess what? Nothing bad happened. I simply had to make up the tests, and the grades would be adjusted. It turned out to be no big deal.
I realized then that sometimes unfortunate things happen at inopportune times but the world continues. Of course, there are things that are far worse than not getting straight A grades. I understand my friends’ reasons for worry. But knowing that worrying about things will not change them, I have chosen not to waste my time. Some things are far beyond our realm of control (like our children dying unexpectedly) and other things can be remedied or will eventually work themselves out. And, even if they don’t, life goes on. Perhaps it goes on in a way we didn’t want it to, but it does indeed go on.
I saw a news story this morning about a suburban Denver mom who was driving her car when two tires came off a semi going the opposite direction on the highway. One of the tires bounced across the median in the interstate and landed directly on the roof above the driver’s seat. She was killed instantly. Her husband had been following her in another car and witnessed the event. It’s a horrible, tragic story. I bet her husband has been rolling around some “what if” thoughts in his head. But the fact remains that the what ifs don’t matter. All that matters is the outcome. Whatever happened happened. It’s our responses to life’s surprises that make a difference, not our anticipation of them.
If I had one wish for my friends, it would be that they relinquish worry. It is such an incredible waste of a mom’s precious energy and mental talents. I challenge you worriers (you know who you are) to resolve to move forward and stop wondering if your kids will turn out all right. They will. Choose to put your energy into changing things you truly have power over rather than considering things you can’t control. Accept that, although life is unpredictable, things have a way of working themselves out. Know that what ifs are worthless and just let them go. Vow to channel your inner Bobby McFerrin.
Don’t worry. Be happy.
(You’re singing it now, aren’t you?)