Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Art of Letting Stuff Go

Over the past few years, I've become slightly obsessed by the amount of possesions I keep in my life. This obsession was triggered by a large number of moves in short succession; over the course of eight years, I moved six times! With each move, I began to take a much closer look at the significance of my belongings. Somehow the act of moving back-breakingly heavy book boxes, makes you ponder the need for so many self-help books. During these moves, I decided that the best way to help myself involved carrying four hefty boxes, instead of ten.

The act of managing my "stuff" has become somewhat of a spiritual practice for me. When we actually stop to think about why we're keeping certain items, we realize how attached we are to the past. How many of us are guilty of holding onto those pre-pregnancy jeans? Or perhaps we're clinging to boxes and boxes of baby clothes. Or maybe we simply can't let go of those old newspapers in our basement.

The fact is, that by the time we fit into those jeans again, they'll probably be out of style. Or worse yet, we'll never fit into them again and they'll stay in our closet taunting us, and subsequently flouting all of our future fitness endeavors. And no matter how cute those baby clothes are, our children will never be babies again. Our time might be better spent enjoying our children at their current age, rather than lamenting a stage that has long past. And while those newspapers may certainly be interesting, they also succeed in distracting us from the present moment.

Let me clarify... I don't suggest that we jettison every physical item that has meaning for us, but we could probably manage on fewer of these precious belongings. There comes a point when we stop owning our possesions and they begin to own us. I ask myself two questions when I'm deciding whether or not to keep an object...
  • Does this item serve a practical purpose, and do I use it regularly?
  • Does this item make me happy when I look at it?
If I can't easily answer "yes" to at least one of those questions, I usually get rid of it. These simple rules allow me to surround myself with only the things that actually have meaning for me.

My urge to purge intensified last year, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. When I received this news, I needed a project, something to distract me from the fear I was battling. I also needed to reaccess what mattered to me in my life. Not surprisingly, most of my things seemed pretty meaningless, when compared with the thought of losing my mother.

This impulse to simplify was exaggerated even further last month, when my mom passed away.

When a loved one dies, one's first inclination is to grasp at every last memory. There's no denying that a shirt isn't just a shirt any longer; all of a sudden, this garment has supreme significance. It holds memories, scents, and history; it feels impossible to let go of. But we must.

I loved my mother more than anything in the world; we had a closer bond that most mothers and daughters could every dream of. When she passed, all of her belongings came into my home. Thankfully, my mother was a good teacher in the art of simplification. She, too, had let go of many unneccesary items. Despite her minimalist efforts; however, there are still many emotionally-charged items in my house. Going through each belonging is a very draining process.

Part of me wants to keep everything, especially the clothing that still holds her scent. It's incredibly painful to let these items go, but I know that I have to. From a practical standpoint, I have to release them, because my mom was a very petite woman, so neither my sister or I can fit in most of her clothes. But I'm also freeing myself of these things, because they won't bring her back; they'll only hold me back.

My mother wants me to live every moment of my life as though it were my last. She wants me to see the sky every morning with a fresh set of eyes. She wants me to run with my children, as if I were a child myself. Her essence is reflected through me and the love I put forth into the world, it's not in her old sports bras.

Over the past month, my siblings, my dad, and I have been dividing up her belongings. A few days after she passed, we all sat on my living room floor surrounded by her pottery. Amazingly, we were all compelled to share and honor these items. In these bowls, she served lovingly prepared food. Her vases held freshly gathered wild flowers. On other occasions, these containers would hold special stones or hand-picked shells. Her pottery was never meant for show, it was meant for holding life. This collection has a purpose: to be shared and enjoyed by those who loved her. I hope to pass this pottery down to her grandchildren someday.

There are other things I will keep, but only if they follow my two golden rules. Her belongings should feel like a gift, not a burden.

So as you manage the clutter in your life, consider this thought... When we die, we can't bring anything with us. It's not as though we're given a checklist of items to carry into the afterlife. There must be a reason for this. Maybe, just maybe, we can let go of some things that have been holding us back. Chances are, this will create some much-needed space for new energy to flow into our lives.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Itchy Butt"

For the past 6 1/2 years, my husband and I have been fully immersed in parenthood. We happen to love the job; however, there are times when it is less than glamorous. For example, I've had the opportunity to catch vomit in my lap. My husband has had the rare treat of being spit up on, into his own mouth, while holding our daughter up in the air. I've gotten the chance to scrub poop off of the floor, walls, and exam table at the doctor's office. And my husband has had the remarkable experience of holding our son, in the checkout line, while our little bundle proceeds to have explosive diarrhea all over his arm. And yes, he still managed to pay the bill.

As you can see... the slimy, smelly, and sticky aspects of parenting are, indeed, plentiful.  I thought after all of these experiences, that we were experts in the "art of yuck", but I was wrong... so very wrong.

Let us rewind to last week. As my son was about to hop out of the car on his way to school, he stopped and said, "Ouch, my butt itches!" My initial response was, "Well, scratch it!" Within a moment, his discomfort subsided and he proceeded to head into school. I figured that this was simply a random "itchy butt" moment; it happens to the best of us, right? Anyway, he mentioned later that it bothered him a couple of times during the day, but it wasn't too bad. I didn't think much of this, until I brought it up to my Mom. She immediately said, "Uh oh!" And I said, "What do you mean, uh oh?" She then uttered the dreaded word... "worms!"

My husband and I looked at each other, and then said, "Well, that's just gross!" I decided that this was simply too terrible a thought to entertain, so this mustn't be the problem, period. Besides, we bathe our kids at least every other day and my son is a very conscientious hand washer. The next day went by fine, so my husband and I decided that we were out of the "itchy butt" woods, so to speak. We really felt like we dodged a bullet on this one! That is, until... 12:30 A.M., Friday night (why do these things always happen on the weekend!) when our son came into our room. He stood next to the bed and sheepishly said, "Mom, Dad my butt really itches."

"Freakin' great!"

My husband immediately pulls out his trusty IPAD and starts researching, what he so affectionately refers to as, "itchy butt". There are a few causes for "itchy butt"; such as, improper wiping, hemorrhoids, a rectal scratch, and... you guessed it, worms! Well, for the next hour we all laid in bed bantering wildly about "itchy butt"! And since my husband and I are both hypochondriacs, we immediately concluded that we also had "itchy butt"! In our defense, it's nearly impossible to talk about "itchy butt" without somehow experiencing the symptom. Admit it... your butt is probably itching at this very moment!

So long story short, we manage to get our son a Saturday doctor's appointment. My husband, lucky guy, gets to take him. The doctor isn't certain that he has worms, but she does say that it is very common among children. And since our son's classroom has the sink outside the room with the toilet, there is certainly the opportunity for dirty little hands to touch the bathroom doorknob all day long. It is highly likely, that a finger will sneak its way into the mouth or nose before getting to the sink. So, worms is certainly a possibility for all young children, nasty!

The doctor then makes a surprising suggestion about how to confidently make this determination. Get ready for this... She tells my husband, that we should go into our son's room in the middle of the night with a flashlight and some scotch tape. We're supposed to stick the tape to his butt and then examine it. Apparently, these nasty little suckers glow in the dark! My husband explains the plan to me and my son says, "If you're going to do that, make sure that I'm sleeping!" We promised that we would be very stealth about the whole thing.

When nighttime rolled around, my husband and I made a very important collective decision about the doc's suggestion. We decided, "Thanks, but no thanks. We'll have to respectfully pass on that one!"

Instead, we opted to give him the worming meds... just in case. We're not big on prescriptions in our household, but on this occasion, we made an exception.

Our son took this whole experience in amazing stride, which is highly uncharacteristic for him. Honestly, you can ask anyone who knows him; going with the flow is not his natural state. He didn't even mind when his sister ran up to him and said, "Hey, can I see your butt bugs?"

He simply laughed, and thankfully, kept his "butt bugs" to himself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ahhhh, Today was a Great Day!

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a downright foul mood! I spent the entire day in my head, which can be a dangerous place to dwell. Too much thinking inevitably turns to worrying, which undoubtedly snowballs into obsessing, and before you know it, you can't stand being around yourself! So by the time bedtime rolled around, I had tired of excessive thinking and had progressed to mind-numbing guilt.

At this particular moment, I decided that I was a crap mom, because I wasted an entire day being distracted by my own stupid thoughts! With each passing moment, I sunk deeper and deeper into this stinking pool of remorse, because try as I might, I couldn't stop my monkey mind! As I held my daughter's little hand, my attention darted back and forth between loving thoughts and compulsive worries. Each time my mind drifted towards unease, I doubled over with a nasty guilt-pang and figuratively slapped myself for squandering even more time! This pathetic shame-game continued until my daughter finally interrupted my thoughts (thank goodness!)

She simply sighed and said, “Ahhhhh, today was a great day! I got to go to the coffee shop and the bank and Grandma’s house. Today was the best day ever!” Those few little sentences completely silenced the noise in my head.

It turned out that while I was busy toiling with my thoughts and wrestling with my monkey-mind, my daughter was actually enjoying her day. She loves the coffee shop with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the women in her life, so she celebrates each trip. The bank is always an adventure, because she gets the pleasure of choosing a mouth-watering lollipop. And she is overjoyed every time she gets to go to Grandma’s house. She enjoyed her time at Grandma’s, even though my Mom decided to jump on the worry-wagon with me, which meant that we spent hours agonizing together! But somehow, my daughter managed to find the goodness in all of this.

Not only did she find contentment in each of these simple acts, she even delighted in the simple thought of these experiences. So while I sitting in her bed riding the guilt-train, she was blissfully recounting our day together.

This day taught me two very important things….

1. My daughter is light-years ahead of me in the mindfulness department.


2. Even when we’re not the perfect parents, our kids can often find something right with what we do.

Monday, May 9, 2011

For my Mom

How do you describe the woman who gave you life? For most of us, this is a difficult question to answer. The relationship between mother and child is almost too intense to put into words. She is with you before you are born and she remains connected to you throughout your life. This bond is something that we don't think about much, but it's worth putting some time into. Consider this... the female fetus carries all the eggs that she will ever have in her lifetime. This means that while we, (ladies), were in our mothers' bellies, she was also carrying our future children (her future grandchildren) in her body. Crazy, right?!

Whether you have a positive or negative relationship with your mother doesn't really matter, the point is, that this connection is profound. I am one of the fortunate ones, who truly loves her mother. As I mentioned earlier, it's pretty hard to put this relationship into words, but I'm going to give it a whirl anyway!

Now that I'm a mother, I always wonder what my kids will remember. If you're a parent, you've probably wondered the same. Will they remember the hours you spent rocking them or the tantrums you endured? Will they remember the vacation you planned for months or the party you agonized over for weeks? Will they recall the cookies, cakes, and costumes you created? Will they remember how you cried when they got their first injury? Probably not, but they will remember things that you have long, since forgotten. Here are a few things that have stayed with me about my own Mom. For these memories, and millions more, she deserves to be honored on Mother's Day and every day...

I cried every day in preschool. I don't even know why, I just know that I hated it. Then one day, I found myself in a wonderful new school; I loved it from the moment I walked in! My Mom heard my cries and took action. I knew early on that she would never force me to stay somewhere that I felt unsafe.

When I was four, I almost drowned at a family picnic on a lake. My siblings were further out in the water and didn't see me fall down. I remember wearing a pale pink bathing suit with a ballerina skirt; I loved that bathing suit! I also remember being very scared and unable to stand up. The next thing I remember is seeing my Mom's panic-stricken face, feeling her arms, and knowing that I was now safe.

Around second grade, I was really into the 1950's, don't ask me why, because I honestly don't remember. However, I do remember, that my Mom threw me a 1950's themed birthday party. She made me a poodle skirt, collected all the right music, and opened our home to a bunch of rowdy kids. I still laugh when I think about one classmate who dressed as a greaser. His dad coated his hair with Vaseline, and when we threw confetti, it got plastered to his head. I can only imagine how many washings it took to get out! That day goes down in history as one of my favorite birthdays.

In third grade, I had a miserable violin teacher, who made me feel horribly guilty for not practicing more. I would make myself sick, just thinking about having to go to his class. When my Mom realized how traumatized I was, she marched into school and ripped this teacher a new one! By the time she was done, all he could do was stare at his own shoes.

During my elementary years, I also had a crappy principal. I don't recall what led my Mom to enter his office, but I do remember her calling him a "twit" to his face. I felt extremely validated at the time, in fact, I still feel validated, because he was truly a "twit"! From that point on, I knew that my Mom would always have my back.

Whenever we had a big snowstorm, my Mom would get bundled up and head outside. She was notorious for making these giant snow creatures. One year, she made an octopus that covered our entire lawn; she even built the tentacles climbing up our front stairs. She filled spray bottles with purple food coloring and sprayed the whole beast; he had oranges for eyes, evergreen eye lashes (Why? I don't know, that's just how my Mom rolls!), and a sign saying, "Go Giants!" (They happened to be in the Super Bowl that year.) On another occasion, she made a brilliantly green snow dragon. Her creations always stopped traffic and often landed us in the paper. Of course, by the time a reporter would come by, she was usually warming up in the house, so the kids would get the credit for her masterpieces. Totally unfair, but she never complained.

Throughout childhood, my sister suffered from asthma. Hospital trips and ambulance rides were no rare occurrence. Our Mom would bravely endure each terrifying attack. I vividly recall her sneaking Chinese herbal remedies into the hospital, when the countless nebulizer treatments failed to work.

I can still visualize the night when I came down the stairs and saw my Mom sitting with my college-aged brother. I had never seen him cry, but he was sobbing to her as he suffered an intense heartbreak. He was preparing to end a relationship and was plagued by guilt and sadness about the situation. I don't know how long they sat there, but I know she counseled him through the whole, painful process.

My Mom went to college while we were growing up, so her days were always very long. She worked, helped with homework, made dinner, cleaned, gave baths, read books (every night), and then "hit" her own books into the wee hours of the morning.

She opened her home, heart, and refrigerator to every one of our friends. My sister and I spent most of our formative years, tripping over our brother's sleeping friends. She provided a safe space for them to be kids/teenagers and then allowed them to crash on any available floor space. Everyone was always welcome, so they never wanted to leave.

As a teenager, I remember walking through the kitchen and finding all of my friends in my Mom's room. I quickly realized that they each went to her with everything that they couldn't tell their own mothers. No one ever felt judged in her presence, so they felt free to share their true selves. When they went home, they were "perfect". But when they were in our home, they were real.

Eight months after ending a bad relationship, I met my husband-to-be; I was 19-years-old. I felt that this new man had been brought to me by divine intervention, but I feared that it was too soon to enter into a new partnership. When I voiced my concerns to my Mom, she said simply, "There are no guarantees in life, so just follow your heart." This advice freed me to trust my intuition. Seven months later he proposed, and we have been happily united ever since.

When I was 24-years-old, I told my Mom that she was going to be a grandmother. She beamed from the deepest part of her soul and told me it was the best thing in the world! She gave me the confidence to become a mother.

At 27-years-old, I cried to her, as I told her that she was going to be a grandmother again. I knew I wanted another baby, but I couldn't imagine loving another one as much as my first. She told me that there is always enough love, and when that baby comes, it will follow. And of course, she was right... again.

These memories are mere snippets in time; they represent only the smallest fraction of our relationship. However, if you piece these experiences together with countless others, you begin to get a picture of the beauty that is my Mom. She is nurturing, yet fierce. Compassionate, yet cunning. Gentle, yet brutally honest. If you are her friend, count your blessings. If you are her enemy, watch out! If you cross her path, pause and pay attention. And if you are her child, biologically or otherwise, be eternally grateful. She will hold you in her heart forever, and that is a wonderful place to be.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! I Love You to the Moon and Back!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rediscovering Fish Sticks

One of the greatest things about parenthood is having the opportunity to rediscover childhood delights. For instance, on a recent trip to the grocery store I spied fish sticks in the freezer section and felt compelled to buy them. This compulsion was fueled by the fact that my daughter has the palate of a seasoned truck driver! Seriously, she would be overjoyed if I allowed her to eat at truck stops and diners on a daily basis. In her four short years, she has sampled french fries, egg sandwiches, bacon, gyros, hot dogs and mayo-drenched cole slaw. Let me tell ya, she has loved them all! Fortunately, my deep adoration for fruits, veggies, and all things home-made, prohibit me from indulging her taste buds too often.

However, I just couldn't pass up these fish sticks! I actually had not eaten a fish stick since early childhood, but I have to say, that my recent taste test proved that they are delicious! Why did I abandon these tasty morsels so long ago?! As suspected, my daughter relished in this newfound frozen goodness. Now, I realize that many people will disagree with our, "Fish sticks rock!" claim, but I challenge you to rediscover the under-appreciated fish stick. We sampled a gluten-free variety that was breaded in cornmeal, along with another "healthy" version; neither brand disappointed.

So, there you have it! I'm not saying that fish sticks will be a daily, or even weekly, addition to our family's menu, but they may make a monthly appearance on our kitchen table. Let me know if the fish stick reappears in your home, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much it was missed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Perfect Day

A perfect day
As simple as can be
It doesn't take much
To bring peace to me

Husband's home
Get to sleep in
Leisurely breakfast
Ear to ear grin

Garden center beckons
Together we roam
Dirt, flowers, and herbs
Can't wait to get our bounty home

Kids lounge on mulch bags
I plant the first herb
My husband builds me flower boxes
Our house looks superb!

Kids picking flowers
Dirt starts to fly
Imaginations wander
Time quickly speeds by

Wheelbarrow rides
Our new favorite thing
Again, again Daddy!
The kids start to sing

Much needed baths
With Grandma we dine
Home-made ice cream
We're all feeling fine

These are the days
When life seems to flow
We need more of these
In my heart, this I know.