Thursday, September 28, 2017

That's enough

In August, Steve and I spent a gorgeous week on the shores of Posey Lake near Hudson, Michigan.  While I worked in the gardens around the cottage, Steve trolled his friend’s fishing boat around the lake, searching for bass and bluegill.  The days were long and lazy, the nights cool and peaceful.  It was a far cry from the often stressful summer we’d been having.  I’d spent the majority of July and early August sick with an unrelenting fever, and Steve had been dealing with a lot of stuff in his personal life, so a week away was a welcome relief from life in Toledo. 
One sunny afternoon, Steve and I were boating around the lake when we saw a man working on his dock.  Steve admired the man’s luxurious ski boat, so we stopped to chat for a bit.  In less than five minutes, the man regaled us on all of the bells and whistles, saying that since the boat was last year’s model it only cost him a certain amount of money.
While I kept a straight face, I thought to myself, Good night!  That boat costs more than my house!
“Of course I added some more stuff to the tune of $20,000.00,” the man continued.  Then he proceeded to describe the extras he and his family couldn’t live without.
Later on when Steve and I were alone, I asked him, “Why in the world would he tell complete strangers all that stuff?”
“Because he identifies himself with what he has,” Steve replied. 
“I think that for him, nothing will ever be enough.”
“Probably not.”
For the rest of the week, I didn’t give the man and his luxury boat much thought…until I came home from vacation.

For months I knew that, come September, my financial life was going to change.  Big time.  My part-time work would end, and that meant a significant loss of income I would somehow need to recoup.  While I’m not frivolous and have lived within my means for decades, I realized that with the cost of living continually inching up, my income needed to be proportionate. 
In a last ditch effort to get my work into the hands of a new literary agent, I rewrote query letters, then sent more than a dozen in the hopes that one of my novels might appeal to someone. In less than a week, five rejections had piled up in my inbox. 
“I need to find,” I told Steve.  “I don’t want to quit teaching yoga, but that might be inevitable.  I just can’t get ahead doing what I’m doing.”  Tears ran down my cheeks when I said, “After seventeen years of trying to get published, after hundreds of query letters, after writing ten books, it just doesn’t seem worth the work anymore.  I've not made a penny's profit in all the time I've been self-publishing and I don’t want to write if it’s not going anywhere.  It’s just a waste of my time.”
“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I admitted.  “I need to take some time and figure it out.”
I had planned to spend the month of September writing my resume and looking for meaningful work.  But life had other plans.  On Friday the first, I went to the gym for a fitness test.  The week before I had been running a low-grade temp and knew I had lost some weight due to lack of appetite.  Even though I was in pretty good shape, I wanted to see where my weaknesses were and how to improve them.  After being put through my paces, it was surprising to learn that for a woman my age, I clocked in at athlete status. 
I decided to get a workout in before I went home, so I hit the weight room.  But half an hour into it, a relenting ache in my lower abdomen forced me to cut it short and go home.  Two hours later, I called Steve and asked him to bring home some ginger ale as I’d developed an upset stomach.  Shortly after sipping some soda and nibbling on corn chips, I was projectile vomiting.  An hour after that, the pain was excruciating and had radiated to my back.  On top of all that, my temperature had spiked to 105.4 which terrified me.  By six thirty, Steve and I were at the ER where I was immediately taken not to a triage room, but to the surgical corner at the far end of the floor.
After being poked and prodded by a host of doctors, after enduring the hell of drinking what seemed like a gallon of barium for a CT scan, after lingering in pain for a few hours, I was diagnosed with a kidney stone that was blocking a ureter. 
“You’re septic,” one of the ER doctors told me.  “We’re going to treat this as quickly as possible.”
So at two in the morning, I went in for emergency surgery to move the stone aside so the infection could drain.  Inserting the stint only took twenty minutes and afterward, the surgeon talked to Steve in the waiting room.
After explaining what had happened and that I would soon be moved to ICU, the doctor told him, “We sometimes lose patients like this.”
Of course, it devastated him and when Steve told me a few days later, I cried because during the first day in the ICU, I wasn’t sure I would make it.  I was in and out from the anesthesia, but when I was awake, I could hardly move.  The sepsis was pretty severe and my blood pressure kept falling.  After having a central line put in, I was given a lot fluids to stabilize my vitals and in the end, developed pneumonia because my lungs got too wet from being on bed rest.
By the third day, I could only sit up for an hour or so before needing to lie back down, but had gone from critical status to stable.  By that night, I was moved to a step-down room.
“You’re really lucky to be young and healthy,” one of the nurses told me.  “I’m sure it’s what pulled you through.”
But I didn’t feel lucky when all night long, I woke up coughing from the pneumonia.  When I could hardly roll over, let alone sit up and slide on my flip-flops.  When standing up took an eternity.  When walking to and from the bathroom seemed like a marathon.  But I did it anyway.   Every so often, I made myself walk up and down the short hallway outside my room.  The first day, I could only do it three or four times, and always with the help of the railing or Steve, who supported my snail’s pace.  Every time, I came back to my room exhausted, even though I had only been on my feet for less than ten minutes.   
By the third day in the step down room, I had been on antibiotics for nearly a week and felt stronger.  When the doctors came in for their morning rounds, I asked if I could go home that day.
“I don’t see why not,” the internist replied. 
After calling Steve and letting him know I was going to be released, I packed my duffle bag, then went for a walk.  After shuffling up and down the short hallway, I was heading back to my room when I stopped for a moment.  Looking down the long corridor past the nurse’s station, I thought to myself, Try it…just try it once.
So I did.
Scuttling along, I gradually made it all the way to the end of the hallway, then was able to make it back to my room.  Along the way, I marveled at the fact that in six days I had gone from being a seemingly healthy athlete to being utterly septic and unable to move.  Now, here I was, on the slow road to recovery, grateful beyond words to be on my feet.  I could finally walk on my own, and that was more than enough to know that eventually, I would be just fine.

I’ve been home from the hospital for a few weeks now and am back to teaching yoga in my home studio.  Still, I sleep a lot and rest and sit outside while I can.  I take walks, reminding myself that these days, it’s better to be the tortoise than the hare.  Just yesterday I slowly ambled through the local metro park, watching for signs of autumn.  After this week’s heat wave, we’re going to have to wait a while longer, but I don’t mind at all.
Time, I’ve learned, is the most precious thing we have…and I’ve been given more than enough to meander my way forward in this unfinished, uncertain, yet incredible life.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Plant a it grow

Last month at a church rummage sale, I discovered a book by one of my favorite authors.  More than ten years ago, Sue Monk Kidd, who penned The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings, compiled a host of essays she had written for Guideposts magazine since the 1980’s.  Reading Firstlight has lovingly reminded me of Christmases long ago.  My grandmother always gave me a copy of Daily Guideposts from the time I was in eighth grade and I spent the better part of every holiday afternoon holed up in my room, eagerly searching through the book for Sue’s essays.  Each one was captivating because of her incredible attention to detail and open-hearted way of looking at life, from the simplest moments to the most perplexing.  Perhaps what struck me the most was the feeling of as she writes in Firstlight, “a soulful being together between the reader and the author".
Many of the essays I’ve been rereading remind me of some of the ones I have written for Open Road, so I now fully realize it was back then the initial seed of inspiration was planted.  A little more than a decade later, I would begin writing essays of my own.  One turned into a novel which turned into a sequel which turned into eight more books.  And I’m not done writing yet.
In one of my favorite essays, Sue writes about how growth takes time.  A seed must be buried in the darkness of the soil, releasing roots invisible to the eye, but necessary for the sprout to appear above the surface.  Over time the sprout becomes a seedling, and the seedling a sapling, and so on until a strong, healthy tree grows from what was once hidden in the earth.   A caterpillar begins its life cycle as an egg, then a larva, then a pupa where it completely transforms itself into an adult butterfly, never to return to its original state again.  It takes a butterfly only twenty-eight days to go from egg to its magical metamorphosis.  Sadly, it only lives for four to six weeks.  Of course a tree takes much longer to grow to its full height, but its beauty can last much longer than one human lifetime.

A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I were heading up to Posey Lake, Michigan for a much-needed vacation.  While I sat in the car waiting for him to fill the gas tank, I checked my phone for messages.  To my surprise, one of my former first graders sent me a private message on my professional Facebook PageRemember the trees you gave us and told us to plant them when we got home? Eric wrote.  Look at her now!
He sent a picture of a gorgeous pine tree that dwarfed a two-story house. 
Oh my gosh! I wrote back.  That’s amazing!  How old is that tree?
I planted it when I was six, he replied.  You gave it to me when I was in first grade, so it’s been going now for twenty-six years.
 I quickly did the math.  How in the world are there kids I taught who are now thirty-two years old? I wondered.  Then I realized that there are kids much older than that…and it made me laugh. 
Steve got back in the car and I showed him the picture.
“Who is that from?” he asked.
“One of my first graders…I gave them saplings on Earth Day the year Eric was in my class.  I think someone from a nursery donated a bunch of them.”  Smiling at the picture, I sighed, “That made my whole day.”
When I asked if I could use his photo in this blog, Eric enthusiastically replied, Sure!  I’ll get a better picture at my mom’s later today.  Can my daughter Mariah be in it?
What a joy a few hours later to see their smiling faces standing at the base of the tree and to read Eric’s profound caption:  I planted the tree with my dad.  I’m really proud of it and talk about it often.  I try not to be boastful about it, but I think that talking about it will hopefully plant a seed in someone to do the same.
Mariah is one blessed young woman to have such an incredible father.  I remember Eric fondly and am not at all surprised to know that he has loved and nurtured that tree for decades, much in the same way I’m sure he has and will love and nurture his daughter.

We can never know how our presence will impact another person.  I’ve not given birth, but I did spend my twenties and early thirties with hundreds of kids who I’m happy to still call my own.  Now every time a man or woman who I had the privilege to teach contacts me, it always lifts my spirits and connects me to the distant past in incredible ways which remind me once again that I didn’t have to have a child of my own to be a mother.  I’ve attended weddings of my former students, spent time with their families at graduation parties, and often run into people who ask, “Are you Miss Ingersoll?”
I laugh and nod.  “Yes.”
“You were my first grade teacher!” they smile broadly.  “You don’t look the same, but I could tell it was you from the sound of your voice.”
Then I laugh some more because that’s often how I recognize them as well…even the men.
They reminisce about stories from our classroom, and each one reminds me that even though teaching was incredibly demanding, it was time well spent…and then some, for many of the lessons I shared with them when they were little are now, decades later, being passed down to their children. What an incredible blessing to know that the seeds which were planted back then have magically metamorphosed into a soulful being together between what was once the teacher and the student, but has now transformed into something even more beautiful, yet indescribable.  

Eric with his daughter, Mariah, August 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Lipstick Maverick

"Lipstick Maverick"
an excerpt from my memoir, OPEN ROAD: a life worth waiting for

It's five o’clock on Monday morning.  The sun has yet to rise and the house is shrouded in silence.  I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, studying my twelve-year-old reflection with bitter judgment.  My hair is too bushy, my make-up is too dark, and glasses hide most of my face behind a thick layer of plastic. 
“You are ugly,” I say out loud.  “You are fat and ugly and I hate you.”
My reflection does nothing but stare back at me with the same venomous look on her face. 
I step on the scale and find that I have gained four pounds since last week, no thanks to the hours I've spent running or doing aerobics.  My clothes are tight and uncomfortable, but I have to wear them anyway.  I have no choice.
Closing my eyes, I wait until the dark abyss fills my awareness, and then I say to myself, “I’m not me…I’m not me…I’m not me” until the feeling of dread passes.  I say it over and over and over again until I have distanced myself from reality...until I feel as though I am no longer standing there.  My anger folds in on itself and begins to retreat to the back of my mind. 
Once again, I am in control.
“I’m not me…I’m not me…I’m not me,” I continue chanting. 

A year passes.
Now I'm thirteen and my Aunt Karen has come to visit.  It's summertime and she and my cousins will stay for nearly a week.  Mom's youngest sister lives hours away, so we only see her family a couple of times a year.  It's a treat when all the cousins can hang out together.  We sleep in the basement and stay up late watching TV or listening to "Another One Bites the Dust," changing the lyrics to "Another One Bites Your Butt," an allusion to all the mosquitoes swarming our backyard this season. 
This year I've lost all the baby fat from grade school and now wear a size seven, something I'm simultaneously very proud of, but also hide from my mother.  She thinks I'm too thin, but I think I'm just right.  I weigh myself every day on the pink scale in the bathroom and if the needle hovers any higher than 103 pounds, I make sure to cut back on my food and walk an extra lap around the neighborhood.  It took a long time to drop all that weight.  I won't ever put it back on and have to endure Patricia's teasing again.  She even had the gall to tell me that one of the little girls down the street didn't want me to baby-sit her because I was too fat.  Patricia, of course, is skinny and can eat whatever she wants. 
I had to wear a bra in fourth grade which totally embarrassed me, especially when Adam Chandler would run his finger down my back every day.  I wanted to tell the teacher but was too afraid.  I got my first period at camp in sixth grade while riding a horse of all things, and, likewise, was too afraid to tell the teachers as well.  I pinned handkerchiefs inside my underpants, then buried the soiled ones in the garbage can when no one was looking.
Now I don't get my period anymore and I'm glad.  One less thing for Patricia to bother me about.  She's fourteen and still hasn't gotten hers.
Aunt Karen is staying in my room and I love watching her get ready to go out.  We're heading to the mall to visit Olde Towne and get our pictures taken.  They'll look like old fashioned photos from the early 1900's and I can't wait.  Aunt Karen teases her platinum blonde hair, then spritzes it lightly with spray.  My room smells like Shalimar and White Rain.  She's wearing dark blue jeans with wide back pockets.  Her blouse is colorful and gauzy.  I think she looks like a beautiful gypsy…or Marilyn Monroe.  I can’t decide which one.
Standing in front of the dresser mirror, she pulls a long, black cylinder from her make-up bag and uncaps the lipstick.  It doesn't look like my mother's short, thick tubes of Estee Lauder and it certainly doesn't smell like waxy chemicals.  Aunt Karen smoothes it on her lips, then turns to me.  "Here, Katie...want to try it on?"
I take the thin, black lipstick and look at the name written in tiny gold letters on the side:  toasted topaz.  I enjoy the alliteration.  I learned about that in seventh grade and love to say the words aloud.  "Toasted topaz would look terrific on my toes," I smile at Aunt Karen.  I walk the short distance to the mirror and study my face.  My cheekbones are prominent as are my brow bones, but I'm proud of the effort I've put into looking this way.  It's as if I can see my real face for the first time, not the fat-faced Hippo of my childhood.
The lipstick looks really nice against my olive skin now toasted tan in the summer.  I cap the stick and hand it back to Aunt Karen.  She slides the slender black tube into her back pocket as if it were a gun slipping into a tiny holster.  I wonder, How does it keep from melting when she sits down?
I've never seen my mother carry a lipstick in her back pocket and it intrigues me.
My aunt is a maverick, and in that moment, I want to be one, too.

My mother often said she would never want to return to her teenage years.  When I was thirteen, I thought she was crazy.  Who would deny themselves the ability to go back in time in order to relive a period where there were minimal responsibilities, lots of fun things to occupy her time, and endless hours to listen to music and watch television?  It wasn't until I reached my early twenties that I began to understand what Mom had meant.  
Being a teenager was hellacious.
The summer before my eighth grade year, I vowed to make some serious changes in my life.  Tired of being called “fat” or “chubby” by my sister, Patricia, (who was genetically predisposed to be ultra-thin), I started riding my bike and taking long walks at the park.  I stopped eating cookies, bread, and ice cream.  When I begged my mother to buy me only skim milk and yogurt, she balked, but did it anyway. 
As long as I ate something, Mom left me to my own devices until the following spring when I wore a bathing suit for the first time since the previous August.  By then I had lost nearly thirty pounds and my ribs showed through my skin and the sharp angles of my collarbones stood out beneath the straps of the suit.  I was barely surviving on bananas and Vitamin C tablets.  Eating at the dinner table became a game of “hide the food in my napkin” or “dump it in the trashcan when no one is looking.” 
When I admitted my periods had stopped, Mom was frantic and took me to the doctor who weighed and measured me.  “One hundred and five...she’s a little on the slender side for her height,” Dr. Woodley said, tucking a pencil in the bun of hair twisted near her nape.  She gave me a soft smile.  “No more losing, Katie,” she gently admonished.  “And I want to see you in six months if your periods don’t start up again.”
I nodded, but silently vowed to lose just two more pounds.  By then I had dropped three clothes sizes and could easily fit into most of Patricia’s outfits.  I could even wear some of the shorts and tops left over from my grade school days.  Fearful of gaining, I decided that maintaining 103 pounds on my five foot, five inch frame was acceptable and so I continued to vigilantly watch what I ate. 
Nothing crossed my lips until I had carefully calculated how many calories it contained, and how many laps around the neighborhood I would have to complete in order to burn it off.  I had even rationed my Easter candy in a white shoebox I kept in my closet, tightly sealing the M&M’s, jellybeans, and chocolate eggs in Ziploc bags.  If I allowed myself one slip up, one extra goodie, I was certain I would lose control and end up where I started:  fat and ugly and no boys would want me…ever.  At least that's what Patricia always told me.
Boys followed her everywhere.  Even when we were on vacation at the beach, she was sure to have at least two boys chatting her up by the pool or on the beach.  Patricia flirted carelessly with them and I often saw her as a Midwestern Scarlett O’Hara in the opening scenes of “Gone with the Wind,” effortlessly entertaining the Tarrleton twins while anticipating the arrival of her one, true love.
On the other hand, I was labeled “Hippo” by my father, and often asked by my mother, “Why don’t you try harder, Kate?  I’m sure there are nice boys out there looking for nice girls like you.”
But there were no nice boys in my circle.  There were boys who pretended to like a girl, but if someone better came along, off they went to chase another skirt.  There were boys who smoked pot.  Boys who only wanted to get to second base or even further if allowed.  (I had no idea what that meant until I was a senior in high school).  There were dorky boys who kept their noses pressed in books and jocks who either snapped my bra or pinched my behind on the school bus, just to get a rise out of me.  And then there were boys who liked my sister and sidled up to me, only pretending to be my friend so that they could get closer to her.
No, there were no nice boys out there.  So why bother?
But I did anyway. 
I bothered to make myself as thin as possible, to lacquer my hair, to wear make-up and paint my nails.  I bothered to wear nylons to church, despite that fact that I loathed panty hose.  I even bothered to try out for the eighth grade musical because a boy I had a crush on was rumored to have the lead.  He did and I made the cut, but he never noticed me at all, choosing to take another chorus girl to the cast party.  I bothered to attend youth group and Sunday School partly because Steven Napp would be there.  No matter that he liked my older sister.  What else was new? 
As I lost weight, I thought I would be more attractive to boys.  I could wear skinny jeans and halter tops, sleeveless dresses and more grown up bathing suits.  I lined my eyes with Maybelline, glossed my mouth with Lip Smacker, and spritzed Love’s Baby Soft on my shoulders and wrists.  I tried to be like the pure girls who resembled that fresh pile of grapes...clean, untouched, and yet on full display. 
It did no good. 
There always seemed to be an invisible barbed wire fence around me with a sign secured firmly to my heart that read: “KEEP OUT."
I always loved to watch Aunt Karen do her hair and put on makeup.  She had an attitude that was vastly different than mine.  Sure, I was only thirteen and barely able to apply mascara without poking myself in the eye, but Aunt Karen knew her strengths and played to them by using the endless goodies in her cosmetics drawer.  She had the bluest eyes and lined them meticulously.  Her blonde hair was short, stylishly cut, and accentuated her features.  And when she pulled that lipstick from her back pocket to reapply a gorgeous shade of red or pink, I was mesmerized.  As she blotted the excess, then puckered her lips, it was as if she was saying to the world, “Stand back…I’m comin’ atcha!” 
All my thirteen-year-old self could muster at the time was a silent, “Am I good enough?”
Aunt Karen is still a maverick, although she told me recently that she now keeps her lipstick in her bra.  “That way I don’t have to reach as far since I’m older,” she laughed.  My incredible aunt inspires me to tell the truth, be who I am, and never settle for less than what is right for me even though it often means making many choices on my own.  We aren't rebels, my aunt and I.  We don't need to be defiant to feel unique or genuine.
We simply feel the need to go our own way.
It was Aunt Karen who inherently showed me that I didn't have to fade away to feel myself more fully.  I was a silent, yet captivated witness to the self confidence I would eventually embody in my thirties and forties. 
But it's better late than never.
Better to be authentic than fake it for someone else's comfort.
Better to be happily at home within myself than trying to balance precariously on the razor's edge of someone else’s expectations.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

You never know

You never know
Originally published on November 22, 2015

Last Sunday I had a long-awaited play date with my pal, Satish.  When he was little, that meant an afternoon of basketball, T-ball, and maybe even time to read a book or two.  Now that he's older, it means we hang out and watch a football game.  This week it was the Lions "versing" the Green Bay Packers...or at least that's how Satish and his little brother, Danta, say "versus". 
Satish didn't know what time I was going to come over, so when I arrived a little later than planned, I heard his voice call from the living room, "Finally!"  He wasn't being rude -- it's just his way of letting me know he was looking forward to seeing me. 
As he's ten now, there's an unspoken agreement between us that a hello hug is not really necessary, but a good-bye hug is fine as long as I don't kiss him in front of his soccer buddies.  So instead of snuggling on the couch with a storybook like we did when he was younger, Satish regaled me on what would have to happen in order for the University of Michigan to make it to a bowl game.
"First, they'd have to do super well in the rest of their games," he explained.  "And other teams would have to do poorly so Michigan could rise in the ranks."  Shaking his head sadly, Satish said, "Really, there are too many variables that have to go right in order for it to happen."
I smiled, delighted by his ever-present astute wisdom.  "Well, you never know."
Satish flashed me a knowing smile.  "Yeah, you never know."
When we get together, the boys and I love playing chess or a board game.  When they were little, I always asked if I should let them win at chess or play my best.  Neither Satish nor Danta wanted me to throw the game, so after a stealth move on my part, one of them usually said, "Drat!  Now I'm going to lose!"
Shaking my head, I always replied, "The game's not over never know."
Time proved that the tide often turned and they end up being victorious.  Actually...nowadays Satish always beats me soundly, although the last time we played I gave him a pretty good run for his money.
Seeing a clear opening early in the match, I snatched his queen with a pawn.  "Holy cow, dude!" I cried.  "That was too easy!"
"I haven't practiced for a long time and I'm not thinking properly," he lamented.  "That's why you're going to win." 
Of course, with his next move, Satish captured my queen and eventually won the match.
In any event, last Sunday at the beginning of the Lions vs. Packers game, Satish (a die-hard Lions fan to the end) bitterly complained about the poor season they're having this year. 
"See?  They're already down three points and it's not even a few minutes into the first quarter," he sighed.
"Oh, well," I shrugged.  "There are three more quarters.  You never know...they could kick their butts into high gear and get the job done."
And that's just how it went.  Play by play, down by down, the Lions tried to rally.  I've never, ever seen a "fourth down and inches", but sure enough, there it was on the big screen TV. 
Alas, all too quickly it was time to leave as I was driving Satish to his indoor soccer game and didn't know how long it would take to get there.
"Don't worry...there's lots of time," he said as we buckled up and hit the road.  "We always have to wait until the other team finishes using the court."
Sure enough, we arrived before anyone else, so Satish and I chatted until the rest of his teammates arrived.
"Are you taping the Lions game?" I asked.
"Nah...I don't usually tape football games."
"Not even Michigan ones?"
"How come?"
Satish shrugged.  "Because it's too hard to not hear the final score before I have time to watch it.  Sometimes Danta tells me who won and that kinda spoils it for me."
"'s more fun to have the suspense, huh?  Makes the game more interesting."
Once his buddies arrived, Satish put on his game face and talked with them while I found a seat near the window where I could watch the last few minutes of a pretty good soccer match.  
Moments later, Satish hurried over to me.  "Katie!  Someone just told me that the Lions are up ten to seven!"
"Well, how about that?" I beamed.  "They might win after all."
" never know," he grinned as he trotted off to the soccer field.

Like many people, I like to know when and how things will happen.  I want to keep a pulse on the future, working toward something new, not spinning my wheels waiting around for the inevitable.  Yes, I'm a Type A, but according to my friend, Brenda, I'm a relaxed Type A who's mellowing as the years go by.  Still, on Friday, while teaching a knitting group in Danta's lower-elementary classroom, one of the boys grinned at me.  "Aren't you that control freaky friend of Danta's I met at his house last month?"
Remembering my diligence in getting them to the soccer field on time, I had to laugh.  "Yeah, but I'm also a lot of fun...or don't you remember that part?"
Eric nodded playfully.  "Oh, sure...that, too."
Lately I've been earnest in letting go of my control freaky ways.  The philosopher, Alan Watt, once wrote:  Supposing you knew the future and could control it perfectly.  What would you do?  You'd say, "Let's shuffle the deck and have another deal."
Isn't that the truth? 
Sure, I'd love to know a lot of things, but I've recently figured out that to have it all figured out is impossible, for the variables are always changing.  These days I don't get too comfortable with what I think or feel or intuit because I've learned that it's better to go with the flow than get stuck in the muck of a limiting mindset.  For the first time in my life, I'm a woman without a clear plan, and ever since I let go of needing one, I've received more joy, abundance, and creative energy than I've had in nearly ten years.  I'm working in a host of venues, doing a variety of work, meeting a plethora of people and discovering that the future will take care of itself while I take of myself in the present moment.  After all, I can never know all the events that are taking place behind the scenes...the things other people are experiencing, the pieces that need to be put into place in order for my dreams to come true. 

At halftime during Satish's game, I needed to go back to the lobby as the strong odor of the rubber turf was giving me a headache.  I couldn't catch his eye to let him know I wasn't leaving, that I'd be watching from the other side of the glass.  When he got back on the field, I noticed Satish glancing toward the sidelines where his father and other parents were standing. 
I'm still here, I silently said, hoping he'd pick up on my mental telepathy.
I needn't have worried.  My pal and I know each other all too well.  When the game was done and I congratulated him on a match well-played, he beamed. 
"I was watching from the lobby," I smiled as we headed to the parking lot.  "You know I'd never leave in the middle of one of your games."
He gave me a hug, nodding.
I savored the moment, knowing Satish is growing up all too fast...somewhere in-between being a child and becoming a young adult. 
In this game of life, I feel as though I'm still in the middle, too -- somewhere between where I've been and where I'm going.  But isn't that true for everyone?  Aren't we all hanging in the balance of what has been and what will be?  It's what we do right now that matters, for as Alan Watt also reminds us, Tomorrow never comes
Life is always changing, and with everything that's left behind in Satish's childhood, something richer comes to life as he grows up.  We've traded stuffed animals for soccer balls and good-night kisses for high fives.  Still, through it all, I've come to understand that embracing change always reveals the joy of what has been as it clears the path for something new.
Satish may never know how much I love him.  But today, tomorrow, and forever, I know for certain there will be endless opportunities to show him.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Don't get me started

Don't get me started
Originally published on June 12, 2013

School's out for the summer in Toledo.  Cookouts and picnics abound in my neighborhood as well as the sound of laughing children, happy to be outside after a long winter into spring.  For two and half months, my friends who are teachers are able to work on home projects, attend workshops and prepare for the 2013-14 school year.  In addition, many of them have a summer job to help cover their expenses. 
When I quit teaching fourteen years ago, someone asked, "What are you going to do now?"
"Work less and get paid more," I replied.
"How could you work any less?" she sneered.  "After all, you get your summer's off."
"Why don't you come into my classroom on a Monday morning at 9:00," I said.  "I'll leave you lessons or behavioral plans; no indication of what the kids need or their challenges.  By Friday at 3:00, you tell me how little I work."
Her eyebrows shot up.  "I wouldn't want your job in a million years."           
And so it goes.

Teachers in America have become the target for why our children are failing.  Many of my former colleagues, all highly educated and trained professionals, are now facing the fact that their salaries may one day be linked to how well their students perform on standardized tests.  They've been instructed to teach to the test to avoid having their schools labeled "at risk," and often feel scapegoated by those who spend little to no time in their classrooms.  
I began every school year by saying something like this to the parents of my first graders at Open House:  "You are most welcome in our classroom at any time.  It's important for you to know what's happening here at school.  I encourage you to keep in mind that while I'm responsible for your child's academic work and safety while he or she is with me from nine until three, you are responsible for the other eighteen hours of the day. 
"You are your child's first and most important teacher.  For the first five years of their life, you taught them how to speak and think and eat and everything else a little person need to learn.  You taught them your values and your habits and they will reflect you here in the classroom. Let's work together to make your child's education a success."
I was lucky.  The majority of the parents attended conferences and signed their children's homework notebooks.  Some of them called to talk about issues at home and asked my advice on what I was doing in the classroom that seemed to make a difference.
But that was in the nineties.  Testing was just beginning to become influential and by late 1998, I could see the writing on the wall.  Watching my first graders sob over mandated standardized tests was one of the reasons I left the classroom the following spring.  No longer would I be able to teach creative, developmentally accurate lessons.   And with more and more children coming to school without their basic needs met (let alone the need to be seen and heard and loved), I knew that if I continued teaching, my life would be so stressful, I'd end up burned out before my fortieth birthday.

I've been out of the classroom more than I was in it, but I still teach.  I choose where and when and how.  I choose how much I will charge for my services and live with the reality of being in a service profession which can be feast or famine.  But it's still my choice, and it's one I'm thankful to make.
I stay in touch with many of my former students and their parents, some who are very close friends.  They keep me grounded in why I love working with children, why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place.   While I am deeply blessed to be surrounded by many people who love and nurture their children, it's heartbreaking for me to watch how many parents don't parent. 
There was a blog posted last week by a woman who sardonically bragged about being "the worst end of the school year mom ever."  She hadn't checked her son's homework notebook in three weeks, complained mightily about the time and energy it took to throw together a mediocre project and whined about how she just wished the school year would end already.  She didn't make the time to check his work or make sure he was doing his best on a project, but she made the time to a write a blog complaining about it. 
I wonder what her son is learning from his mother's behavior.  Beyond that, does she realize how difficult the end of the year is for teachers who are trying to cover curriculum, complete grade cards, and manage a classroom filled with children infested with spring fever?  I wonder how she would feel if she were under pressure at work to finish a project that was a year in the making only to have her co-workers drop the ball in the final quarter.     

Teachers do not create children. 
Parents create children.
Teachers can influence them greatly, but the unpleasant truth is the lack of accountability for who is responsible for the other eighteen hours in a child's day and how that environment more profoundly colors who the child is and who he/she becomes.
I recently spent the day at a friend's home and in a five hour period, her sons and I played chess and Monopoly, did a little knitting, wrote a story, played outside, and finally, at the end of the day, read some books before bedtime.  This is common place for my friend's boys and I love every moment I get to spend with them.  Their parents often hold them close and listen to what they have to say.  They occasionally will ask a question, then they listen some more.  The boys are well adjusted, bright, articulate and confident children.  They are also curious and honest and hardworking when given a task.  It's no wonder they do well in school and continue to thrive in their home environment.
But not all children are as fortunate.
When shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond, I was trying to steer a large cart through a narrow aisle.  A family with four small children sat in the seasonal area, trying out lawn furniture.  The littlest, a boy who couldn't have been more than fourteen months, was pulling himself up on his father's chair.  As I approached the family, I said to the father, "Excuse me, I don't want to bump into your baby."
He had been staring into space and when I spoke, he reached down and grabbed the baby's arm, pulling the boy into his lap.  "I forgot I had another one," he grumbled.
I glanced at the mother whose face didn't register a thing.  I imagined she had heard him, but chose not to acknowledge his sardonic comment.  The other three children looked at me with grimy faces, oblivious to their father's cruelty.  I felt sorry for them all.  So I smiled at the kids and sent them all thoughts of peace.
Then, as I walked away, I sent a prayer to the teachers who will one day have all four of those children in their classrooms.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer lovin'

Yesterday afternoon, I relaxed in my baby-pool while enjoying a bowl of juicy watermelon.  It was supposed to thunderstorm, but alas, rain must have fallen elsewhere, for my sweetheart and I enjoyed a lazy day catching rays and listening to music.  While Steve trimmed shrubs, I soaked in the sun, enjoying Beatles radio on Pandora.  Song after song after song, I was reminded of the summers I spent as a child in south Toledo where my friends and I blared music on our transistor radios while lying on aluminum foil, our preteen bodies coated in baby oil.  Soon enough, I longed for a soft-serve ice cream cone at Penguin Palace, at swim at the Rec Center, and an afternoon goofing around on the Slip and Slide in my own backyard.
The night before Steve and I went to a Toledo Mud Hen’s baseball game with his daughters.  Sitting in the stands, I remembered a summer night when I was seven and my father caught a pop fly with his bare hands.  We had been sitting in the second row near first base, and I’ll never forget how amazed I was that Dad not only caught the ball, but was brave enough to ask the players to autograph it at the end of the game.  Back then the only sounds on the loud speaker were the announcer’s voice and the pipe organ playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame".  This past Saturday, I was surprised at how much things have changed.  Now it’s no longer only about the game, for music constantly blared, t-shirts were tossed into the eagerly awaiting crowd, and there were constant interruptions from advertisements and video shots of the crowd on the Jumbotron.
As we left the stadium, I was talking with Steve’s youngest about how when I was her age, there was no such thing as the Internet or cell phones.  “When I was twenty-two, things were a lot simpler,” I told her. 
Silently I added, Man, I miss those days sometimes.
While I’m not a fan of all things summer related (like fireworks and high humidity and endless road construction), I do enjoy this season more now that we’re finally in mid-July.  The crickets are chirping, shadows are getting longer, and my garden is finally producing after an odd start this past spring.  There’s still a lot to look forward to (like peach season, endless hours relaxing on the front porch swing, and the week Steve and I will spend at Posey Lake in Michigan), so I don’t want to wish summer away.  When I was little girl, I’d keep track of how many days until school started so I could pack in every ounce of fun before the inevitable loss of freedom.
These days I’m waxing nostalgic for the summers of my childhood.
Back then, time was different…slower somehow.  Every day there seemed to be endless hours to ride my bike, watch game shows on TV, bask in the sun coated with baby oil, and even go to a matinee movie if it was too hot and muggy.  When I was ten in the summer of 1977, Star Wars was released and I did odd jobs around the house to earn a dollar and a trip to the Glenbyrne I and II where I watched Luke Skywalker destroy the Death Star eleven times.  The next summer, my sisters and I memorized all of the songs (and most of the lines) from Grease.  
Not every day was stellar though.  I recall a particularly humdrum Sunday afternoon when we deviled my mother for something to do.  She took a nap while my father drove us to Penguin Palace for chocolate ice cream cones coated with chocolate shot, then we came home and watched fifteen years worth of 35 millimeter silent home movies in the basement until suppertime. 
It was heavenly…and one of my most cherished memories.

These days, there’s still so much to love about summertime – the vibrant colors in my flower gardens.  Long hours of evening sunlight, perfect for twilight bike rides.  Open windows and canopied swings.  Sweet basil and baseball and board games played on the back porch.  It’s a wonderful thing to turn off the phone and tune in to the natural world.  Or visit with a friend over iced coffee at an outdoor cafe.  Or sit in the sun, savoring a good book. 
Before we know it, autumn will arrive in all its glory.  School will be back in session.  Life will get busier for many of us.   But for now, it’s nice to slow down and enjoy the little things easily discovered during this season of light.  So I’m headed outside to watch the baby cardinals play in the birdbath.  To breathe in the cool breeze blowing in from the northwest.  To bask in the baby pool for a bit before I go back to work.
And abundantly enjoy every moment this beautiful summer day has to offer. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Counting crows

When I was a beginner yoga student, I despised cobra pose.  While it was one of the basic positions taught every week, I mightily struggled with it for more than three years.  Ironically, arching up into cobra made me feel as though I was choking, even though my throat and neck were lengthening upward, supported by my hands, arms, shoulders, and upper back. Yet practice after practice, I became more aware of how incredibly challenging it was to lift the front of my body off of the floor and extend the pose upward through my head.
I was stuck in my throat…literally.    
Over the years, I tried every variation, every modification.  Sometimes I pushed myself to do it.  Other times I skipped it altogether.  Even now I prefer to practice sphinx, or baby cobra, instead.  It’s much more stable to prop myself on my forearms and while my neck is in neutral position, I’m still able to stretch without feeling strangled.    
Having practiced for more than twenty years, I’m not surprised at all to recognize that my neck and upper back were incredibly tight, having held on to unspoken words for almost three decades.  And it’s not really a revelation to realize that through diligently working with a host of healing modalities, my ability to speak up for myself has been transformed.   While I’ve always been able to bang the drum for the underdog or any child in my care if I knew they needed a strong support system, I’ve not always been forthright in speaking my own truth. 
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I became a writer. 
Still, for a while now I’ve been practicing honesty…with myself and with others.  Not that it’s been a cake walk.  I’ve lost friends who couldn’t understand my reasons for setting boundaries.  I’ve lost work because I was outspoken enough to ask that my business policies be respected.  Like struggling to make peace with cobra pose, I’ve often grappled with the knowledge that, for me at least, it’s a risk every time I open my mouth to say how I feel.   To be really truthful, sometimes I have to push myself to find the courage to speak.  Other times, I still keep my mouth shut out of fear.
Conversations that begin with my saying to someone, “Can we talk?” are always like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates.  I never, ever know what I’m going to get. 

A few weeks ago I noticed several crows circling over my neighborhood.  It had been a while since I had seen more than one, and that was years ago when a brazen bird angrily chased an unsuspecting cat out of my yard.  For days, three crows flew into the tall treetops across the street and silently sat there, fluttering their wings, surveying the territory.  One Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on my porch next to a friend with whom I had recently argued.  The spat ended quickly, but because I needed time to sift out my angry emotions to get to the heart of what I was feeling, a day later I was still a bit bruised and didn’t know what to say. 
So, like the crows, I said nothing.
They nestled together, not moving an inch the entire time we sat on the porch.  As the person talked about the plans we had made earlier in the day, I listened, but I also noticed the crows and their silent, stoic posture.  Moments later, just as I was getting up to cut the grass, the crows instantly flew away.
Later that evening, I pulled Animal Speak from my bookshelf and looked up “crow”, remembering that the feisty black bird had shown up in significant moments in the past.  I read in part:  Crow’s voice is a notable characteristic which reminds us to listen for the ways creation is continually calling out to us.  Wherever crows are, there is magic, for they are symbols of creation and spiritual strength. 
The next evening my friend and I were sitting on the porch after having hashed out the better part of our disagreement.  As another round of conversation started, I noticed the three crows sitting in the treetop, but this time, they were cawing loudly…over and over again.  I don’t remember exactly what I said to my friend, but I do recall firmly saying what I needed to say, even though it was incredibly difficult.  For a long while, the cawing of the crows echoed around us as we talked past twilight, finally creating some common ground.
Oddly enough, since then I’ve not seen or heard another crow, and these days I’m counting humming birds, robins, and rabbits. 

I believe that everything in nature continually speaks to us, and if we know how to truly listen, magic can be a constant presence in our lives.  While I was jolted to discover that a group of crows is called a “murder”, it doesn’t really surprise me, for whenever they show up in my life, I know that a part of me has to die in order for another part to be born.  This time around the trio of messengers reminded me that while my truth might not always be the same as another’s, I no longer need to stay silent out of fear or apprehension...and that miracles spontaneously arise when I’m being my most authentic self. 
In the fall, I’ll be re-introducing preparatory work for the crow pose in my yoga classes.  While I’m still not able to hold it for long, I have found that being in it, even for a split second, arching my neck upward toward the sky has never made me feel more alive and free.