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 often harass my kids about not using their better judgment…you know the old, “Well, if Ben jumped off a bridge would you jump too?” thing. Today, though, I need to have that conversation with myself. Last night I went a bit overboard while entertaining some friends. It’s one thing to be sick because you’ve picked up an icky virus. But, it’s ludicrous when you’re sick because you refused to listen to your own body telling you to knock it the heck off.
Medically speaking, I am not really supposed to eat and drink whatever I want because I had my gallbladder removed in 2002 when my first son was not quite 9 months old. My body cannot process high fat foods as well as it once did. The surgery was a medical necessity because, as an ER doctor so eloquently put it, my gallbladder was a “useless, completely filled beanbag.” I was having severe attacks that would leave me doubled over in pain for 4-10 hours at a time, and the attacks were becoming more frequent. Multiple doctors assured me that my beanbag gallbladder was damaged enough to become infected and potentially burst.
However, I was a young mother, sleep-deprived, and not really paying attention as the doctor rattled off post-surgical behaviors I would need to adhere to. He told me that I should be able to lead a normal life, but I would need to watch my fat intake to avoid digestive issues. In my brain, that meant that provided I didn’t try to eat a cheeseburger, fries, a shake, and a piece of cheesecake in the same sitting, I shouldn’t have any trouble. I’m a relatively healthy eater, so that menu seemed highly improbable anyway. And, any concern I had about what the surgery meant for my future went into a jar with my diseased organ. It was gone, and I was done with the stomach pain.
Or so I thought until the first time I really overdid it while eating. I hadn’t been paying attention to what I was consuming. And, that night I fell asleep feeling not quite right. I woke up just an hour later feeling truly sick. I started to think maybe I’d gotten a stomach bug or perhaps food poisoning. Nope. Turns out my body was working furiously trying to process all the junk I had eaten. After a sleepless, nauseous, and very uncomfortable night, you would think I’d have learned my lesson. You’d be wrong. Last night is a case in point. I still will occasionally forget that I should not eat whatever I want. And, since there isn’t a meter in my body that lets me know when I am reaching DEFCON 5 with regard to the amount of fat I’ve consumed, sometimes it sneaks past me one bite at a time until I am positively miserable.
As I was awake for hours last night, praying my food would digest faster and riding waves of cold sweat and nausea, I kept returning to this one thought: “Why do I do this to myself?” Certainly, I know better. This has happened to me more times than I should admit. But, it’s easy for me to ignore my body because it should simply do whatever my brain believes it should be able to do, right? And I need it to do a lot.
I think women do this quite often. We ignore our health because we are busy and don’t have time to deal with it. We push ourselves when we need to back off because we’re the mom and we have to keep things running. This is how last fall I let a cold become a sinus infection and eventually become bronchitis. It’s how I shoveled my way to 5 weeks’ worth of bed rest when I was pregnant with our second child. My employers don’t tolerate sick days or slackers, so I neglect my health and soldier on.
It’s wrong, though, how I’ve learned not to pay attention to what my body needs. I only have this one vessel and if I disregard it and it falls into disrepair, what then? Who will run my vast empire of laundry, dirty dishes, and dusty ceiling fans? Who will take care of my two small bosses in my absence? I need to remember that sleep is imperative, healthy food choice is crucial, and water consumption is compulsory. I need to use my better judgment. After all, just because everyone else is eating cheesecake and chocolate doesn’t mean I need to too…although I’ll definitely want to.
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 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.
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!)
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.