Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lucky Break

“Are you hurt, or are you injured?”


A family friend who is also a fireman asked one of my sons this question after my son had whacked his nose at a birthday party a few years ago. Kneeling down in front of my boy, my friend inspected the bloody nose and said, “If you’re hurt, I can help you. If you’re injured, I can still help you, but we’ve got to get you to the doctor. Let’s see which it is.”


Fortunately, my son was only hurt. One ice pack and 10 minutes later, he was back in the fray of pizza, cupcakes, and bowling. But my friend’s words stuck with me. So when the skate guard glided up to me in Lake Placid last January and asked if I needed to see an EMT, I had to think about it.


“Hold on,” I said, sitting in the snow. “”Give me a sec.”


Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we are hurt or if we are injured. We can be dismissive of serious problems or too concerned with benign issues. When it comes to the body, we can be deceived. Moreso, too, when it comes to the heart.


In this case, it was my arm, not my heart, that took the blow. It was such a stupid fall. There I was, sailing around the Olympic oval on my skates under a starry winter sky. The ice was the smoothest I’d ever experienced, and I happily joined in skating with my younger son, his hockey teammates, and several parents as we enjoyed our last night of a hockey tournament in Lake Placid.


At the center of the oval there was a bonfire. A narrow, snowy path led from the rink to the fire, and I spontaneously decided to hop off the ice and walk down the path toward some toasty flames. In doing so, I underestimated how fast I had been going, and therefore I overestimated my stopping ability on the snow. There was nothing to grab in order to steady to myself, and there was no rubber mat to keep my skates from slipping. There was just ice and a hard, packed, snowy path. I slid off the ice, took one step onto the snow, lost my balance, tried to steady myself with another step, and then seemed to slip up into the air before landing--entirely on my left elbow.


It hurt, but it was also kind of numb. I sat in the snow, trying to steady my shaken nerves and assess the situation, when the skate guard showed up.


“Are you okay?” he asked.


“I fell on my elbow,” I said. I tried to move my arm. Something was wrong, though. My forearm wasn’t moving. It was just kind of hanging there.


The sweet, pimply-faced kid said, “We have EMTs. You should probably get that looked at. Can you move it?”


I instinctively held my arm close to my body. Although I was wearing layers of clothing and a puffy down jacket, I could tell something was definitely not right. My mind immediately flashed to visions of sitting in an ER in Lake Placid, effectively ruining the last night of an otherwise amazing tournament weekend.


Hurts can inconvenience us; injuries can change the game completely.  


I tried to move my arm and felt pain around the bicep while having no control of anything below the elbow. “Shit,” I said out loud, realizing that my elbow might have actually dislocated. Then, to the guard, “Sorry.” I straightened my arm as best as I could and then pulled hard on my elbow. Something popped. Eureka! I could move my arm again! “There!” I said before being overtaken by pain and nausea. “Oh,” I gasped. “It’s better, but it’s worse.”


I conceded defeat. “Maybe I should see the EMT,” I said.


“I think that’s a good idea,” the skate guard said, reaching out his hand and helping me onto the ice and into the arms of my husband, who could only shake his head at my awesomeness as he guided me toward the EMT. He rolls his eyes. A lot.


At me.


The EMT determined that my arm didn’t seem broken, but it was severely bruised. She gave me a bag full of Lake Placid snow to ice it. “Sorry,” she said. ‘It’s all we have here.” Then she told me to take some ibuprofen and get checked out when I got home. I followed her orders, and 36 hours later I was at the doctor with a black and blue arm that was frozen at a 90 degree angle and an elbow that had swelled to the size of a tennis ball. Two doctors and several x-rays later, the results were in: I was injured.


I had not only dislocated my elbow--and somehow managed to relocate it by myself--but I had chipped it in the process. Worse, though, was that the tendons and ligaments of my left arm were in rough shape after being rocked by the dislocation. Prognosis: I would heal, but the healing process required time, rest, physical therapy, and absolutely no weight bearing activity whatsoever until the orthopedist said otherwise. “You’re lucky,” said the orthopedist. “Injuries as severe as yours to the ligaments and tendons often require surgery. I’m hopeful we can avoid that, but we will see.” She added that my 18 years of yoga practice had likely kept my bones nice and strong, which is why I hadn’t suffered a compound fracture.


I didn’t feel all that lucky. I was actually annoyed. I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to get hurt--wait, injured--like that. I should have known better than try to skate off the ice too fast. Now I was stuck in a cuff and collar, perhaps one of the ugliest slings ever made, and I couldn’t hook or unhook my bra every day without excruciating pain. But of course, I never asked for help. I’m too stubborn. My body was injured, and my pride was hurt. And I damn sure didn’t want surgery.


I wasn’t feeling particularly good in my own skin, and the injury had left me feeling vulnerable and weak. Most arm-oriented yoga poses were ruled out for several weeks, which was a serious bummer for this downdog girl. It was winter, dark, and cold, and I couldn’t even ice skate. Faced with limited options, I made a decision: I was going to get back into my running routine. My orthopedist gave it the green light after two weeks in the sling, and I was off. I began new, more mindful eating habits, too. By April, I had dropped several pounds, gained a ton of strength, and felt better than I had in months. Even better, my arm had mostly healed, thanks to my persistence with at-home physical therapy and the guidance of my PT at Yale.  


I kept running, reminding myself to keep my body loose and my breath steady, and on a very hot day in June this 43-year-old ran her first-ever five-miler in under 56 minutes. My goal is to do a 10k next spring, and a half by next fall. But, as with everything, we will see how it plays out. I’m not married to that schedule of progression. As long as I keep running and challenging myself, I think I’ll be in a good, healthy place, regardless of when I make it to that half.


My injury may have healed, but I can still feel its ghost. When I move my arm a certain way or slightly overextend it, my bicep winces. My elbow no longer feels wonky and wobbly, but the arm is still recovering. It’s not as strong as my right arm, although one day it will be. And I will skate again this winter, but with some hockey padding on my left elbow from now on.


That’s how it goes with injuries, I guess. Healing is a long process, and sometimes we have to adapt and modify our ways if we want the payoff to last. If we don’t learn how to heal and how to stay healed, we will open ourselves up to injury again and again. But sometimes, if we are really good to ourselves, we can turn our injuries into new beginnings.


Tomorrow I will teach my regular Wednesday night beach yoga class, one of my two summer jobs that I have come to love. I will guide my students into downdog and show them how to care for themselves and their joints in the pose in order to avoid injury--especially on the sand, which can seem deceptively safe. As usual, I will also remind them of the importance of caring for small hurts and pains on and off the mat, in the body, and in the heart. It is just as important to care for the little hurts lest they turn into injuries. Healing takes work, and not everyone is up to that task.



Saturday, July 16, 2016

Disconnect

I keep my cellphone far away from me at night these days. For the past several months I have elected to drop technology completely from my bedroom in an attempt to create a more relaxing and restful environment. I use a Moonbeam alarm clock to wake up instead of my cellphone alarm, and I do not miss my phone one bit. Not when I’m reading. Not when I’m falling asleep. And especially not in those precious early morning moments when I’m waking up to greet a new day. Instead of reaching for my phone to check emails and social media updates, I stretch, say a few prayers of gratitude, read some meditations, rock a few yoga poses, and start off my day right.

So it was strange this week to have the cellphone back on the nightstand. My oldest son was away at camp, which means that I needed my phone by my bedside—not because he was homesick. He definitely wasn’t. But because, you know, I’m his mother. That’s what mothers do.

It was the best and worst possible time for me to have my phone at an arm’s length first thing in the morning. The current racial climate in our country has had me engaged in some Facebook discussions in which I restated my support for the Black Lives Movement, which resulted in disappointing yet unsurprising backlash from some people. It was a reminder of why I try to avoid Facebook on a general basis, and it was a good reason to get away from it again.

I’ve gone long stretches with a break from Facebook, having deleted the app from my phone. For the first five months of this year I only checked my account once or twice a week on my computer, with my posts being mostly Instagram photos that I shared to the site without ever logging in. Only since roughly the end of the school year have I become again more entrenched in Facebookland—through the browser on my phone, because I refuse to reinstall the app--mostly because I’ve got a little more free time. I also have a lot to say about the status quo of American society, and I’m brave enough—and stupid enough—to share my thoughts about it in that space.

So Wednesday morning I woke up, did my standard morning routine, and then fired up the phone. As expected, there were no texts from my boy—he was too busy being 14 and away from home. But there were some distressing comments to a recent Facebook post of mine, a post that was centered more on looking at a situation from a black man’s point of view than it was of anything else. After rolling my eyes and feeling a knot well up in my chest, I sleepily typed out what I hoped was a coherent response. Then I posted that Facebook needed to fix its face because its ugly is showing. “Peace out,” I said. And I meant it.

I was barely awake, but the “peace out” was genuine. I just knew that if I want to keep my own peace of mind, which I need if I want to be able to think clearly about the big issues of our time and the work that must be done to fix them, then I can’t have my brain muddled by the cacophony of thinly-veiled racism on social media. I need a break from the ugliness. For the record, there’s a lot more that makes Facebook ugly than just the current conversations on race, gun control, and our upcoming presidential election. I need a big break from all of it.

I decided to go for a run. I’ve gotten back into my running groove, and it feels fantastic. Summer heat mandates that my delicate constitution run earlier in the day, however, since late day temperatures make it tough to muddle through three or four turtle miles. So at 6:30, I wrestled myself into a sports bra, popped in my earbuds, and took off for pre-breakfast 5k.

Anyone who runs knows the first mile is a liar, especially early in the morning when you’re still rubbing sleep from your eyes. With “The Cool Out” from the Clash helping me lumber toward the one-mile mark, I began to look forward to the second hill of my route, since I was finally picking up some speed and momentum. I rounded the corner to take the hill, setting my sights at the top of it.

And there was a deer.

This beautiful young deer was just standing on the sidewalk about 20 feet in front of me. It was so unexpected and peaceful, I gasped. It stared at me, and I stared back. I was afraid to move. Morning traffic was increasing on the main road at the top of the hill, and I didn’t want to scare the poor thing right into it. I raised my phone to take a photo of the gorgeous creature, but then I stopped. I decided I wanted to just experience that moment rather than document it. I wanted that moment to be between only me and the deer. I’m tired of sharing so much of my life with the Internet.

The deer gracefully strutted across the Upson Terrace, becoming more skittish as it neared the main road. It crossed back toward my side but then stood in the road for a moment as I signaled to an oncoming car to slow down. The old man driving the equally old station wagon yelled out his window to me, “What’s he doing around here? He looks lost.” Then he coughed a smoky laugh and drove on.

I slowly trailed the deer to the intersection, where my obnoxious, blaze-orange running shorts helped get a few drivers to slow down and even stop as the deer decided to bolt across the main thoroughfare. So there we were, me on the even side of Townsend Avenue and the deer on the odd side. I felt like if I could just make sure that he made it to the big chunk of open land at the Townsend estate just a couple of blocks away, then I could relax. I didn’t trust most of the speeding drivers on Townsend to stop in time if the deer bolted again. Getting him to that wide open space would be an assurance that he was safe for at least a little while.

The deer sniffed around the corner property to which he had crossed, and then he gingerly poked around the grass of the neighboring lawn. I began to run again, much slower than usual, keeping an eye on him. As I ran, he began to pick up speed, so I sped up. He kept going faster, and so did I. I can’t explain why I felt it was so important to keep up with this deer, but it did. He gracefully leapt over a hedgerow. I laughed. He glanced my way and kept going, with me mirroring him far less gracefully across the road. For a block we ran together. His scamper was my all-out-haul.

He slowed at a side-street corner and seemed to actually look both ways before he crossed and made his way toward the tall grass of the Townsend estate. I stopped for a moment as he lingered by a driveway at the edge of the property. “Go, go,” I whispered, as if he could hear me. “Go, be safe.” And just like that, he scampered behind a high row of boxwood and was gone.

I turned back to the sidewalk before me. I smiled. What had just happened? Everything, and nothing. I picked up my pace again.

A block later I passed an older gentleman who teaches at another high school in New Haven. I was beaming, “I just saw a deer!” I exclaimed with the giddiness of a little kid.

“Beautiful,” he said as he passed me. “But watch out for the black bears. I saw one on Kneeland on my run a few days ago.”

I turned my head over my shoulder to reply, “They’re more afraid of us than we should be of them.”

“Maybe, but you never know,” he called back. I didn’t turn around.

My strides were lighter and freer, and I wanted to run forever—toward a place where deer, and bears, and even people can share space without fear. Instead, I ran home and shared my story with my husband and younger son. And I was proud of myself for having no pictures to prove any of it. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Keep Going


“Mom?”

I was knee-deep in the salty Sound, giving the horizon a thousand-yard stare. August’s balmy breeze belied the strength of the sun that warmed my shoulders. For the first time in weeks, I was truly relaxed.

“Yes, sweetheart?”

My youngest stood next to me holding a small snail in his hand. “Did you know that if you hum to a snail it will come out of its shell?”

In 42 summers at the beach, why had I never heard this?

“No way. Really?”

“Really. Try it.”  My son gently dropped the snail into my outstretched palms. We both looked it.

“Try it,” he said again.

I raised my open hands toward my chin and began to hum a quiet, happy little tune. The snail remained firmly in its shell. I stopped after a few seconds, my hands still raised, and cocked an eyebrow at my son.

“Jeez, Mom. Give it a minute. Keep going,” he said.

I began to hum again, unconcerned with how silly I might have seemed humming a lullaby into my palms. After a few bars of steady melody, the snail slowly emerged from its shell. Its striped, squishy body arched as high as it could. I stopped humming. “Look at it. It’s like a little miracle!” I exclaimed, and just as quickly it retreated into its shell. I tried again, humming a few gentle bars of the song and, sure enough, the little snail wiggled out of its shell and seemed to peer all around.

If I had to choose a moment in time to freeze forever, it might be that afternoon at the beach with my boys. Our summer jobs and camps had ended, we had just returned from a family trip to Washington, D.C., and we had a couple of blissfully uneventful weeks ahead of us before we returned to the school routine.

And yet, despite how happy I was to enjoy this time off, I kind of missed my job—not the work, per se. Not the meetings, data, grading, or planning. But I missed my students, and I had spent the summer thinking about a few of them in particular. I looked forward to returning to school August 31st and being reassured of their well-being.

What they don’t prepare you for in teacher school—what they don’t tell you at all—is how much you could possibly care about your students. Sure, they tell you that you’ll care about them. Yes, they’ll warn you that you will likely, at least once, grieve their untimely loss. But they don’t tell you how much you will fear that loss for certain at-risk students in particular. They don’t tell you how deeply you’ll care. They don’t tell you how hard it will become to listen to the superficial chatter of peers outside of education who, through no fault of their own, have No Clue what it’s like to be a teacher—especially in a city.

Especially in New Haven.

No one prepares you for the day your lesson plans will need to be tossed aside to address the collective grief in class over the shooting death of their friend from another school. They don’t tell you that you’ll worry all summer long about your student who missed the last two weeks of school recovering from a gunshot wound. They don’t tell you that you and a colleague will sob together in a small office because a very disruptive student revealed that both of his parents were dead, and that he’s being raised by his grandmother—but they don’t have any food to eat because she’s too proud to ask for help. That’s why he’s always hungry first period. And, you note to yourself, he’s often so dirty, too.

They don’t tell you how much you’re going to care about kids who often don’t believe you even like them let alone want the best for them. They don’t warn you that some days you’ll stand alone in your classroom after the last bell, forehead pressed against the cool cinderblock wall, one hand holding the phone’s receiver as your weigh whether it’s worth calling home today to report a student’s awful behavior, or if that might make things worse for him, for you, and ultimately for the whole class. You wonder, exhausted, if instead you should talk to him in the hallway next time you see him. You wonder if that class learned anything that day. You wonder if you’re even a good teacher. You wonder if you ever should have become a teacher in the first place. You realize you haven't used the bathroom in five hours, and that's contributing to your crippling indecision. Then you hang up the phone.

They don’t tell you about how you will sit and stare blankly at your gradebook in June, wondering how to convert a high F to a D for a kid who has twice failed freshman English, but who was always present and respectful, who always said hello to you in the hallways, and whose mother once said she had “given up on him” because she has “other kids to raise.” What is a third year of English 1 going to accomplish here? If you pass him, does that mean you are a crappy, easy teacher? Should you have ever bothered becoming a teacher in the first place? The gradebook will stare back at you in silence. 

And surely you never would have become a teacher if you had known that some of your colleagues would say—out loud, for people to actually hear – that they aren’t interested in getting to know their students. They’re just at school to do their job, teach their material, and go home at 2:15. No one tells you how you’ll surprise yourself by wanting to throw punches for that.

They don’t tell you that you’ll get summer emails from students who just want to say hi, who want to share good news, or who need reassurance that their first year of college will be okay. No one lets you in on the secret that you’ll be tearfully proud of your students when they graduate and make their way to college and into the big, beautiful world that awaits them. No one could prepare you for the day an emotionally and academically struggling student would find his way senior year and receive a huge ovation from his supportive class upon receiving an award. And while they might tell you how those aha! moments in the classroom are the reason we all teach, no one could prepare you for just how beautiful it is to see a student's face light up when something clicks or when they find the courage to present something in front of the entire class. 

No one clues you in to the fact that your students will come to you when they are proud of an accomplishment—a good grade, a spot on the team, acceptance to their reach school, or simply that they walked away from an invitation to fight. No one tells you about the invitations you will receive – to recitals, art shows, sporting events, and talent shows – from students seeking your support outside of the classroom. No one warns you how often your Sad Teacher Lunch (a baked sweet potato and apple sauce, anyone?) will be interrupted by visits from freshmen who would much rather sit and safely chat with you during lunch than wither in the wilds of the cafeteria. 

No one could prepare you for the hugs, hugs, and more hugs you would receive the first week back to school. Hugs from kids who gave you hell all last year, but who come back to school a little taller, a little more mature, and who actually ask you if you had a nice summer vacation. No one told you how much you’d want to cry when that student who had been shot shows up after three months and gives you the biggest hug of your life—in front of all of his friends. And you are so grateful—so impossibly grateful—that he is alive. That he is smiling. That he is now where you and your colleagues can see him, keep an eye on him, and remind him to do his best at this game of high school, this game of life. You wonder if you care so much about this kid and so many others because you're a mom, or if it's just who you are. You wonder if you would actually be a better, more rigorous, more effective teacher if you cared a little less.

Really, though, how on earth could you ever care less?

No one told you that you would care this much, and that some people might even chide you for it. But the truth is that you don’t care what they think. Instead you quietly, persistently hum a gentle melody to yourself and know that little miracles are hiding everywhere for those who care to find them.



Friday, July 10, 2015

Teen Beat

If you time it right, and the breeze is slight, and the din of mowers and leaf blowers isn’t crowding your head, you can hear the muffled clang-clang of buoys in the harbor just a few hundred yards from my house. The cool song of the robin and the chit-chat of the cat bird provide the melody, but the buoys bring the harmony of summer to my backyard.

I am entirely sincere when I say I thank God for these seabreezy moments in my small oasis here in New Haven. Summer is here, and although I am enjoying it, I am still busy. I am teaching a freshman transition program at school, where I have the opportunity to work with wide-eyed, incoming students—babies!—for the month of July. I also have one night of graduate classes left next week before wrapping up my Masters program with a capstone project this fall (!). And next week, as soon as my graduate classes are done, I will once again be teaching a six-week session of yoga on the beach to raise money for classroom supplies. I am grateful for all of the above, and I am especially grateful that, despite my commitments, my summer schedule allows me plenty of time to spend with my growing boys.

Maybe too much time.

You see, my boys are 11 and 13. This means that I am now the mother of a teenager.

A good teenager. A smart teenager. A hardworking, high-honors-with-distinction for three years running, witty, clever, creative, and insightful teenager. A teenager who loves to ride his bike around the neighborhood with friends.  A teenager who is still willing to be an altar boy. A teenager who has gainful, self-generated employment mowing lawns for his neighbors. A teenager who loves iFunny, making jokes about politics, and who just earned his red belt in karate. A teenager who loves to kayak. A voracious reader of comics, graphic novels, and all books. Good books. A teenager who is a great brother and a great son. A teenager who loves his three dogs and affectionately calls each one of them “Dogger.”

But still, a teenager.

Please take a moment of silence to recognize what this means for me.

First, there is a great deal of snark and indifference with which I must contend on a regular basis. I, the English teacher, might ask him, “Can you please set the table for dinner?” to which the student-turned-master might reply, “I can. Haha.” I might say, “Are you looking forward to [insert amazing plans here]?” to which he might reply with a shrug while chugging 16 ounces of chocolate milk, “I guess.” I have even been known to ask, quite brazenly, “So, are you and [insert name of awesome girl here] an item? Are you going out? What’s going on?” to which he has replied, “Mom, if you were Alex’s mom, I would tell you. But you’re not. You’re MY mom, so I’m not going to talk about it, ok?”

Add to this the host of other questions I might have for him, from mundane to important, to which I am often given the response, “Because reasons.”

Maybe the problem is me. Maybe I ask too many questions. Maybe I shouldn’t seem so interested in what’s going on his life. Maybe I should just back off and let him have unlimited, unchecked hours of online gaming time in peace.  And for the love of God, maybe I shouldn’t interrupt him when he’s wearing his Beats.

Or maybe nothing is the problem. Maybe this is all just par for the course in the life of raising a young American teenager. Boys are not girls, and many boys are not as forthcoming about their lives as their parents might hope them to be. Case in point: my (much, much) younger brother just graduated high school. He is a wonderful young man, and I love him to pieces. He is a volunteer firefighter in his town—has been for a few years—and he asked one of his friends, a female volunteer firefighter—to the prom. However, it wasn’t until we were snapping pics on prom night that we were told by his date’s parents exactly how my brother asked her to the prom: by spelling out his prom-posal in firehoses on the roof of the firehouse.

Are you kidding me? Can you get more adorable than that?

But no, my brother never bothered to tell any of us that. It wasn’t that he didn’t want us to know. He just didn’t tell us because he didn’t tell us. Because he’s 18, a good listener, and keeps his cards close to his chest. And there is something to be said for that. While my teenage boy is a great talker about anything besides his own life, he listens more than anyone realizes, and he knows how to play his hand close, too. That is a skill, actually. It will serve him well in the long run, but it can really infuriate a mom who wants to hear more than grunts and acerbic comebacks from him at the dinner table.

There is more to him than that, though, and I know it. His friends see it, and he is always polite and engaging with other adults. But what he has, and what he rightly takes advantage of, is the safety and comfort of an accepting, loving, funny home, where he is unconditionally loved and sometimes teased for his monosyllabic self. He knows that, without question, when he is ready to share the more personal details about his life, he will not only be heard—he will be listened to. He will be supported and loved throughout anything life throws at him, even if he doesn’t want to say too much about it. And as he gets older, the truth is that he doesn’t have to say too much about many things. Often, he only has to look at me, and I understand.

I cannot help but wonder if we will experience the same with my 11 year old, the teenage understudy who is quite possibly the most observant kid I’ve ever met. I’m not in a rush to find out if my sweet, snuggly boy will soon morph into a grunting teen creature. For now, I will relish his hugs, keep close his confidence, and stay in the moment. And that moment is beautiful. It is loaded with baseball games and, starting this fall, hockey. It is brimming with broken windows from driveway pucks, cracked fence posts from backyard baseballs, car conversations about sharks, a collection of Nike Elite socks, and lots of dog whispering.

And sometimes, during a street hockey shootout, the teenager will share a few secrets with the understudy. And the younger kid will never reveal what he knows, unless he has cause for concern. So far, he’s shared nothing. Those boys have each other’s backs in teen solidarity. They rarely fight. Just the other day, as I weeded the vegetable beds against the quiet clanging of the buoys in the harbor, the peace was punctuated by the crack of hockey sticks and laughter in the driveway. I don’t know what the boys were laughing at.

The truth is, I don’t need to know. They are entitled to their own lives. They belong to themselves; they do not belong to me.

But still, they are “my” boys. And even if, as they grow, they no longer need to share every detail of their lives with me, they do still love a long car ride with some good music and their mom. Whether my oldest chooses to play “Gates of the West” from the Clash and then exhales contentedly, or my youngest asks to hear Aerosmith’s “Dream On” because it reminds him of the movie Miracle and, he has said, it’s such a good song it gives him chills, we can usually agree on a soundtrack for our ride. We will drive, rock out, and maybe talk about baseball standings, hockey trades, or the water shortage in California.

In the end, what we choose to talk about doesn’t matter. All that does matter is the fact that we love each other’s company and enjoy being together, exactly as we are, grunts and all.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Joy (a Miracle) in Winter

Pitchers and catchers reported today for the Yankees. Spring training has begun, and with it the hope and promise that warmer weather is on the way. However, it's still February--and it feels like it. It was two degrees when I woke up this morning, but the wind chill was -14.

It was a perfect day for our family to go ice skating. Outside. In Brooklyn.

And that's what we did. Despite the frigid temps, we shared a fun day skating in snowy Prospect Park. It was a deliciously sunny afternoon, and the open air rink was blindingly bright. I laced up to the PA system bellowing "Mack the Knife," and I practiced my backward skating to Bowie's "Starman." The cold temps kept the crowds away, so we had lots of room to find our groove, dig in, and skate. 

I love to watch my boys on the ice. Sean is a natural skater. Like me, he loves the freedom that comes with gliding on the ice, and he and I enjoy skating side-by-side and chatting while we go along. Nolan has a true love of it, too--and then some. This year he has blossomed into a truly athletic skater after doing a few months of learn-to-play hockey clinics. It has been a joy to watch him develop into a strong, graceful skater who has taught his older brother how to do proper cross-overs. 

Nolan was initially drawn to hockey for the gear. On the baseball field, he has taken to catching this past year. He loves the gear, and he loves being behind the plate during a game. It's a lot of work, it requires focus, and that's what he enjoys. It's no surprise, then, that he would love hockey. It's got all the components that he relishes: gear, intensity, and focus. So here we are, in a house where the movie Miracle is rolling (again) tonight, where the walls are knicked up with black scuffs from inside puck-handling, and where our budget is feeling pressured by planning for Nolan possibly playing on a hockey team next season (in addition to travel baseball this season)--and by the payments on a new Honda Pilot to handle two growing boys and all of that gear

For a long time, before Nolan got into it, I eye-rolled hockey. I had dated a couple of hockey players in high school and, as much as I loved the game, there was a lot that went along it that I didn't appreciate. For one, the smell of hockey gear is absolutely vile. There is also the entitled-white-boy aspect of the sport, especially in Connecticut. But looking at my sweet, kind, long-haired kid who loves to wear winter hats and a Blackhawks jersey every day, and whose confidence has grown so much as a result of learning to play, I am reminded that there is also a lot of good to be gained from playing the sport. I can honestly say my son believes in himself more after starting to play. 

So I'm just happy that he's happy. I'm happy that he has found something new that profoundly challenges him, and he has embraced that. I'm happy that it doesn't compete with his brother, who prefers to run and do karate--two beautiful things in their own right, and I love watching him do both. I'm happy that Nolan supports his brother in his endeavors, and I'm happy that Sean supports Nolan in everything he does. (In fact, in summer Sean regularly gives up other plans so he won't miss his brother's baseball games.)

And I'm happy that we've all found something new to share together as a family.We skate as often as possible, and we share a love of watching hockey. Of course, as with baseball, we are a house divided. Sean and I are Rangers fans. Ian likes the Red Wings. Nolan follows the Blackhawks. Whether it's playing street hockey in the driveway or going to Yale hockey games whenever possible, it is a new tradition for our family. We have found something common to get us through winter, something that keeps us in the moment in this long, dark season rather than always looking ahead to spring--and baseball.

Today, skating at Prospect Park kept us absolutely in the moment. While Ella Fitzgerald crooned, I bravely (or stupidly) closed my eyes for a moment as I glided along the ice. I heard the scrape of Nolan's skates catch up to me. I opened my eyes. "Mom," he said, his little cheeks and nose pink from the frigid air. "Mom, this ice is so good. Listen." He sped up. His skates sliced acrosss the glassy surface. "Hear that? Now listen to this." He stopped on a dime, spraying ice everywhere. "This ice is legit." 

No, kid. You are. 

Now, as he watches Miracle again while wearing his Little League all-star jersey, NHL pajama pants, and Yale hockey hat, I am so happy that he is finding new confidence and joy as a result of trying a new sport. I don't care how bad that gear smells, his smile when he's on the ice is worth all the stinky hockey equipment in the world. 

(Opening day at Yankee Stadium is 44 days away, by the way.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time is Big

I haven't written in this space in eight months. I'm busy--like, super-busy--with this beautiful, messy life. My most recent entry here was at the tip-off of summer break, a time spent at baseball fields watching my younger son play, wrapping up a fellowship, teaching in a summer program for incoming freshmen, planning lessons for the then-upcoming school year, starting graduate school, teaching summer beach yoga, carting the kids around to day-camp programs, and even managing to get to Orleans in the Cape with friends for what has become a cherished annual tradition. And, of course, I spent plenty of time digging around the backyard with the dogs and trying to reconcile my love of gardening with my love of active, crazy dogs--two things that are in direct conflict with each other. (I am a Pisces, so that makes sense if you believe in that sort of stuff.)

But that's not what I've returned to write about today.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and last year I coincidentally wrote something in this space on the very same day. As an admittedly weak Catholic, I still manage to observe most Lenten customs and holy days, and this is one of them. I'll spend the next 40 days doing my best to sacrifice something that I enjoy but that also keeps me from being more spiritually and emotionally grounded. Translation? I'm sort of ditching Facebook.

I say sort of, because it would actually be impractical of me to ditch it altogether. Facebook has become a means of keeping in touch with certain friends and relatives with whom I might not otherwise communicate, because we don't cross paths in the real world. But apart from that--and viral dog videos, articles about education, Humans of New York, and silly memes--I pretty much use it as a vehicle to share photos from my life. That is, my life away from Facebook.

The problem isn't Facebook. The problem is that I allow myself to be sucked into it like it's some black hole, and I lose track of time. That has become so much more evident the past month, when we've been dealing with bitterly cold temperatures and lots of snow here in the Northeast. (Yankee hats off to Boston, though. They win the prize for most snow this year. Our snow here in New Haven is but a dusting compared to what they're dealing with.) More time inside = more time to be sucked in to the vortex.

The problem, really, is me. And the solution is to put some limits on the time I waste on Facebook. Just like I wouldn't spend countless hours watching TV (except maybe Downton Abbey, Brooklyn 99, or the Yankees), and just like I don't let my kids spend unchecked time playing Xbox or Minecraft or TF2 or whatever the heck they are playing these days, I need to be more self-aware of the time I'm letting slip away while I scroll and troll social media.

So...five minutes a day. That's what I'm giving myself. It's enough time to check in, quickly peruse, and realize that everything posted today pretty much mirrors what was posted yesterday--and the day before that. If I choose not to use my five minutes, I can bank it for another day, not to exceed 10 minutes in a day. That's it.

Curiously, I don't feel the need to do this with Instagram or Pinterest. Instagram usually only keeps my attention for a few minutes anyway, since I'm following so few people. And Pinterest feels somehow more constructive, since I'm usually trolling that site for recipes, gardening ideas, home improvement tips, and teaching templates.

The key word here is constructive.

Facebook, for me, is not a constructive use of my time. That's not to say all use of time needs to be constructive. I'm a firm believer in allotting some time each day to simply being. But if I'm going to spend time on some interwebby social media, I'd rather it be somewhat creative. Pinterest allows me to feel that way, since I get to plan crafty schemes. Instagram lets me play with my crappy photos and make them look pretty. Blogging? That's definitely not passive.

But there's another reason why I dislike spending too much time on Facebook: there, I often find myself comparing my life to others', and that is just not healthy. Depending on my own sense of self on any given day, a trip to Facebookland can sometimes leave me feeling "less-than" someone or something. As the wonderful writer Elizabeth Gilbert recently reminded her readers (on Facebook), comparison is the thief of joy. This is truth. For example, say I'm in a funk because it's winter, and I haven't been able to go running outside, I'm not getting the sunlight I need, and I'm reconciling tight finances for my youngest's baseball and hockey (!) pursuits while trying to plan for a new garage. Then say I go on Facebook, where I am bombarded by shells from other people's lives: trips to the gym, new homes, fulfilling personal relationships, and seemingly endless vacation photos. On most days, I'm usually happy for my friends and family in these matters. But Discontented Winter Moira often sees it as something else: how she's lacking EVERTHING.

This has happened before. Sometime in the mid '90's, when I was in my mid 20's, I stopped reading beauty magazines. I realized they almost always made me feel like absolute crap about myself. The message I received from them was that I was not enough: I wasn't thin enough, young enough, pretty enough, tall enough, fashionable enough, or rich enough to be all of the above. So I ditched them, and now I pretty much only read them when I'm at the salon. That, my friends, is enough.

Unlike beauty magainzes, the happiness of my friends and family does not have an agenda. It doesn't seek to change me or have me buy any products. It's not the fault of anyone but me that I sometimes compare myself to how others are living. But it's hard for me to step back from it and get perspective if I'm spending too much time on Facebook. So Lent is a great time for me to make some changes and to focus on what is really true and important in my own life.

I came to this little realization the other afternoon when I was in the basement, racing along on my elliptical like a hamster on a wheel and wishing for warmer temperatures so I can run outside. (I'm not a runner who enjoys the wind in my face when it's below 30 degrees, and I make no apologies for that.) The Clash's cover of Booker T and the MG's "Time is Tight" cued up on my playlist. It's one of my favorite songs from them. As I slowed my pace for a cool-down to the bass line of the song, I realized that time isn't tight. Time is big, as the great yoga teacher and philosopher Judith Hansen Lasater has said. Time is big. We are all given the same amount of it. It's what we choose to do with that time that matters.

So now I choose to stop comparing myself to others quite so much. What's to compare? I am proud of who I am: a mother of two incredible kids, the wife of a great husband and stepdad, a high school teacher, a graduate student, a yoga teacher, and a good friend, daughter, and sister. I love my old, small, cozy home by the water. I love my block, my neighbors, and my backyard. I love that I enjoy running, even though I'm slower than a turtle covered in molasses. I love that I LOVE to ice skate. I love myself, those extra ten (or so) pounds and all. I love myself, mistakes and all. I love my life, because it's mine.

Rather than get on Facebook this morning to see who "liked" (read: validated) my posts from yesterday, I chose to write. Then, taking advantage of a gift card and February break, I enjoyed an early-morning massage at the spa. Then I had a house full of kids, and we all took a walk with the dogs to Black Rock Fort, where we spent the afternoon hunting for seaglass on a snowy beach, throwing chuncks of ice into the water, identifying animal tracks in the snow, and body-sledding hills. I took a bunch of photos. I posted them on Instagram and shared them to Facebook. I went on Facebook for three minutes to tag people in those pics, and I didn't linger much longer. Later, I took a nap, whipped up some homemade pizza, and then headed to church for a stamp of ashes on my head. While there, Deacon Marty reminded us that Lent is a time for remembering our purpose here beyond the superficiality of our busy lives. It's a time to get out of our heads and into our hearts.

It's a season to remember that time--and life--is bigger and more beautiful than any status update can convey.

xo




Saturday, June 21, 2014

Finals

I had big plans for my blog this year. And by big plans I mean that I had planned to at least WRITE IT. But, oh, how I underestimated how much time it takes to live my life offline.

So here I am, three days out from the end of the school year. It is a busy, stressful time when all of our final grades for the year must be completed, our comments must be finalized, our TEVALs must be approved, and we look forward to two months of rediscovering ourselves apart from  the usual routine.

That is, of course, unless we like routine.

I like routine.

So this year I'm working five weeks during the summer. I'll be teaching an enrichment program for incoming freshmen--many of whom I will be teaching next fall. And now that I have officially been handed the baton to be a freshman cohort English teacher, which means I'll be teaching ONLY freshmen English next year, it's a good opportunity to break the ice with some incoming students who are still just babies. Really. They are. And maybe that's what makes me a good fit as a freshman teacher, if I'm to believe what a colleague said of me yesterday: I'm maternal enough to nurture them, but firm enough not to take any of their B.S. In the game of good cop vs bad cop, I'm the good cop. Usually. Unless you stroll into class 45 minutes late reeking--REEKING--of skunk weed. Then I'm just pissed.

I don't know that I love this time of year. I actually greatly disliked being off last summer. I had no structure, and I felt like I was just waiting for the next school year to begin. That's my issue, and that might be a little more prevalent in those of us, including so many teachers, lucky enough to tend toward anxiety. And by tend toward I mean have it in spades.

I've added to my plate this year in other ways, making this summer break a bit more attractive. I scored a fellowship at a local college, which has been challenging and fulfilling. It winds down in a month, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't ready for it to end. While I've definitely grown professionally and personally as a result of my work as a fellow, I'm ready for a break. I've been writing and reading my ass off in that program. And then, next fall, I will begin working toward my M.S. in Education at another local college. Fortunately, it's a fast-tracked program, and I will be done next summer. As a friend said yesterday, "basically you're going to hold you breath, jump in and come up for air next July. With your Masters. That's pretty awesome." Yes. It is. And it's a program designed for working teachers who theoretically have lives outside of teaching, so I will hopefully be a little less overwhelmed than if I attended a traditional Masters program. Hopefully.

Despite looking forward to some longer nights on the porch, more time to read and lots more time with my boys this summer, I think one reason why me and so many of my colleagues get so irritable this time of year is because not only are we mired in paperwork and other year-end "deliverables", but our routines are changing. And I don't just mean our schedules. We're saying goodbye to students who are graduating, we're accepting that we didn't get some students to achieve the way we had hoped we would and, in one of the most socially isolating jobs out there, we are stepping away from the friends and colleagues who make our days bearable. In some cases, maybe we're getting a break from colleagues who make our days worse. But usually, we're leaving a support network behind, and that can be a little weird.

A colleague recently said that first responders, nurses and teachers are the only people whose colleagues really and truly understand what they experience. I'm sure this point can be argued, but I get the idea. And it's true in many ways. While I may not be running into a burning building or backing up a partner in a hail of gunfire, teaching--especially "urban" teaching--is a beast. Each story outdoes the next. And while there are many successes, it's hard for anyone not in the profession to understand the kind of crying teachers can do together when they finally reach a kid who had seemed so unreachable, so unwilling, so angry, so at-risk, who had never made eye contact with you or trusted you until... until they do. And when they do, even if they are never A students, you've got them. They've no longer given up. That is why we teach.

Then there are the kids who do give up. That? That can make you more disgusted and discouraged than you want to admit.

And so I think for me it's weird to say goodbye to colleagues for two months, and it's hard to put the year to bed without rehashing what could have been done better. We have to, though. It's over. And so we break for a couple of months, get tan, eat s'mores and let our memories recede a little further. Then, with that chronic (sometimes) low-level anxiety that most teachers have, we start to count on a new school year to tell us how to feel like ourselves again.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Give It Up

Lent begins today. For the next 40 days I will try to stick to my Lenten "sacrifice" of not complaining. Ideally, this sacrifice will become a habit, and I will find I gain time, breath and peace of mind formerly wasted on blowing hot air about things over which I have no control.

Make no mistake: I am not a chronic complainer. I'm overall proactive and positive--sometimes naively so--and I usually look at the bright side of things. Still, I feel like lately I've been more critical and negative with respect to certain areas of my life, and I don't like it. I want to change it. Lent seems like the perfect time to do it. I've already ditched sweets on a regular basis, quit smoking 16 years ago, gave up fast food 19 years ago and I almost never drink alcohol anymore. (No wonder I'm complaining.) Might as well give up this. 

Complaining is something my exceedingly positive and faithful grandmother warned me about when I was studying for my midlife career shift into teaching. She had more than 40 years in the profession, including a few years as principal, and yet she rarely doled out unsolicited advice about it--except once: "Just be careful who you ally yourself with in a school. You'll find that some teachers, in any school, spend most of their time complaining and blaming rather than reflecting and improving." 

These were some of the most important words I ever heard about fitting into the culture and climate of  a school. But it is not my job that has me feeling more cantankerous lately. In fact, my job is a highlight of my life. I love it, I love my students and I love some of the talented and selfless people with whom I work. Teaching is simply a fit with my life in a way no other job has been, especially now that I'm teaching high school. I enjoy going to work in the morning. I missed my colleagues and students during our extended mid-winter break. I want to teach in some capacity over summer vacation. Teaching is hard work, but it brings me a lot of joy. It doesn't aggravate me. (Well, not much and not most days, anyway.) 

Other things do, though. I can pinpoint a few things that get my Irish up. Some days my eyes can't roll high enough in my head over these triggers. But is it worth it to actually complain about them--especially if there is nothing I can do to change them? No. And after 16 years of yoga and lots of meditation, I know this. Still, enduring this impossibly long winter, coupled with grieving the death of my father throughout it all, definitely has me a little more contemptuous than usual when it comes to things that annoy me. 

When I want something, I go for it. In this case, I want to stop allowing myself to be annoyed by things that are truly of no consequence. Sounds simple enough, although I know some days it won't be. But life really is short, and I don't want to waste any more of it on things undeserving of my attention. 

In a little while the boys and I will head out to an evening Ash Wednesday service, where the priest will cross our foreheads with the ashes of last year's Easter palms. The last Ash Wednesday that Grandma was alive was two years ago, and at the time I was a student teacher at the very school where I am a full-time faculty member now. After receiving ashes, my brother, sons and I went to visit Grandma, who was too frail from cancer to go to services that night. It may have been the first time in her life that she had missed receiving ashes. We visited in her warm and snug kitchen, sharing stories about teaching and listening to the boys share stories about school. We teased her about skipping services, and I asked her if she wanted some ashes. I rubbed my index finger on the cross smudged into my forehead and gently touched the thin skin above her brows, making the sign of the cross in faded, second-hand ashes from St. Bernadette Church. The boys giggled at the gesture. 

It's one of those genuine moments forever frozen in time for me. Less than two months later Grandma died. 

Tonight the boys and I will once again bare our foreheads to receive ashes, something that for me always signifies the start of spring and baseball as well as Lent. And if some of the inky soot from Father's hand sifts down onto my eyelashes like it does every year, I won't complain. 


Monday, February 17, 2014

'S now...

It's that tricky time of year again, when the shortest month feels infinite. It's been a long winter, starting with the unexpected death of my father before Christmas. The near-daily snow has only added to the monotony. Cabin fever has set in, despite long walks, sledding and skating. During today's walk there was a glimmer of hope, though, when I saw the first robin of the season flitting through the branches of a tree covered in new red buds. The sun is shining, too. These little things, plus following the Olympics, will help get me through to March.

I'm ready for muddy gardens, seeds and sprouts, long runs with my first-born, afternoons on the front porch and chilly baseball baseball practices on the field by the water. I'm craving both routine--which has been broken by snow days--and a departure from it, since it seems the only routine I have is a domestic one. I'm also working hard to accept the (snowy, cold, house-bound) moments as they come and yet always look forward to something new, but not at the expense of experiencing the now.

Now.

Snow.

'Snow. It's now?

Yep, this this my challenge: accepting, maybe even enjoying, winter while it lasts, no matter how long it lasts. For some, this is easy. But for this summer girl, it often feels like a test. I can skate and do yoga through it, my boys can skate and snowboard through it, we can watch hockey through it, but it still feels like a task. While I preach that we shouldn't wish away our lives, I do sometimes wish away a little bit of this season. And by "a little bit", I mean everything that comes between New Year's Day and St. Patrick's Day.

Vices get many people through it. I know plenty of people who stock up on booze and chocolate for winter storms, but those days are long behind me as I so rarely drink anymore and have cut back a ton on sugar. Some people go tanning (blech, but I get the primal need for warmth and light). Others compulsively exercise (or eat). And most of us take to Facebook, another vice, to share it all.

After seven (Right? I've lost count.) snow days inside, I can safely say I am burnt on Facebook. Yes, I like reading pithy status updates, inspirational quotes and silly memes, but I am Just. So. Tired. Of. It. One of the only things left about Facebook that I enjoy, save for being loosely in touch with friends with whom I might otherwise never communicate, is Humans of New York. And one of those Humans recently remarked that all of her friends on Facebook are getting married, buying houses and having kids, and she was trying not to freak out about it.

I hear that. Yet for those of us with the marriages, kids and houses, we take it to the next level: there is a tendency to compare ourselves to the projected perfection of the same in our friends' worlds. If I judged my life against the standards of modern American living on Facebook, I a) don't work out enough; b) do not eat organic enough; c) do not use enough non-toxic products and therefore am poisoning my family; d) do not create enough projects from Pinterest; e) do not go out enough at night, boozing with friends and raging against the dying of the light (aka, middle age); f) am not a red-blooded 'Merican because I've not yet taken my kids to Di$ney World; g) am anti-American because I voted for Obama; and h) have not achieved the American dream because I've not yet sold my house in the city and moved to the suburbs.

Believe me, I don't always compare myself to other people's lives on Facebook (cue the guy from the Dos Equis commercials), but when I do, I usually feel like a miserable failure.

Okay, that's not true. At all. But I do find myself sometimes stupidly comparing my life (but definitely not my politics) to other people's lives, and then I get angry with myself. The fact is that there IS NO COMPARISON. Everyone's lives are different, interesting and beautiful.

I just forget that about my own life sometimes.

Years ago I stopped reading beauty magazines (beauty sections of magazines like Real Simple excepted), because I realized I felt like crap about myself whenever I read them. Those magazines are garbage filled with mostly unimportant information designed to fill space, sell ads and sell magazines. Facebook, while often fun, sometimes makes me feel the same way if I'm not careful about my negative self-talk when I'm on it. But no matter--I'm tired of being on it. I won't disable my account or anything, but I'm definitely bored with it. In the end, it's really just a tool for me. It's a place to keep connected to friends, post lots (and lots and lots and lots and lots) of pictures of my children, provide links to this silly blog, make snarky comments about politics, and share positive affirmations.

I'm not selling my house and moving to the suburbs, but I'm happy for my friends who want to and make it happen for themselves. Disney isn't going anywhere--I'll get there when I can safely spend the money (emphasis on safely), and most Friday nights I'd rather eat take-out and catch on DVR'd episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Downton Abbey. I like my life, a lot. I'd rather spend more time exploring it in this space than waste too much of it scrolling and trolling on social media.

My life is here. And now. Snow and all.

That said, I'm totally posting a link to this blog post today.

xo


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Memory's Radio Dial

Another snow day here. The kids went out and played in it early, before the snow began to fall heavily. Now the flakes seem to be howling in every direction, criss-crossing and drifting into high corners around our 20's Cape-style house. Despite how so totally over the snow I am this season, it's still beautiful, peaceful and quiet on our little street.

Well, it's kind of quiet. My house is occasionally rattling with the boys' floor hockey games, wrestling, epic Xbox battles, hula hoop contests, chocolate milk messes and hilarious Facetime chats with friends. Wet boots, snow pants, hats and gloves drape every radiator on the first floor of the house, and the dogs are playing musical chairs as they rearrange sleeping positions on the couch in between chewing bones and tracking in snow. I'm not complaining. I love it. These days are fleeting, and before I know it I will be a 49 year old empty nester lonesome for these moments with my witty, handsome sidekicks.

Still, I have to carve out my own little headspace here somehow on these long, crowded, housebound days. I can--and do--escape to my room or the study/sewing room/guest room/yoga room to do a little yoga, meditate, get crafty, read or just exhale. Sometimes, like today, I write. I am also the queen of the 30+ minute shower. Maybe that's the Pisces in me. But oftentimes all it takes is some music and mundane chores to get me out of my head and into some kind of winter-defying catharsis. Give me a sponge, a counter and some music, and I'm good to go.

But what I choose to listen to these days depends upon not only the mood I'm in--or want to be in--but also what memories I'm feeling brave enough to conjure up. After more than 40 blessed years of this amazing, wacky life, there are very few songs on my personal rotation that aren't tethered to some kind of memory. I guess that's what happens when you're raised by teenage wolves and wean yourself on punk rock.

Some of my earliest memories involve music. Being the daughter of a teenage mom who was the oldest of her siblings, I grew up in a loud, political and well-read Irish-Catholic household that always--always--had some kind of music playing. One of my very first memories is from when I was about three, and my Uncle Danny was about 18. It was 1976. I sat on his tapestry-covered bed and pleaded with him to play Bowie's Diamond Dogs. I would squeal and scream, terrified and thrilled, every time Bowie's howl began. As soon as it ended, I would cry, "Again!" As always, Danny obliged. Upstairs, in the room my mother shared with one of her sisters, I would dance with my mom to Sonny and Cher's "I Got You, Babe". My mom would hold me in her arms, smelling of sand, salt and Ban de Soleil suntan lotion, and we would spin around the room singing, laughing, smiling. When I was five, I would hang my head off the bottom of my mother's bed and stare at the ceiling, picking apart all of the instruments on Springteen's "Thunder Road". Next to me, my mom's sister brushed her beautiful long, dark hair, stubbed out a Marlboro into a Wedgewood ashtray and spritzed herself with Chanel No. 5 before running off to bartend at the beach club. Then, alone in the room, I would pick up the needle and set it down again at the beginning of the song, resume my spot on the bed, and listen to piano. Saxophone. Guitar. Bass. Drums. Piano. Piano.

The Rolling Stones and Beatles were obvious staples of my youth, along with CCR, CSNY, Zeppelin, the Who, the Faces and a lot of other "classic" rock. As I aged, my tastes never changed as much as they compounded. I added punk, hardcore, rap and some new wave and pop to my repertoire. From U2 to Minor Threat, Pavement to Fugazi, Liz Phair to Public Enemy, the Clash to Norah Jones, and everything in between, there is a lot of music in the back pocket of my heart. Each of these artists and more represent moments and, more acutely, relationships in my life. No longer 20 with it all ahead of me, I'm now 40 with it all ahead of me and a whole lot behind me. Family discord, divorce, financial struggle, poor choices, loss, unrequited love and heartbreak are all reflected somewhere in a stack of records or in files on my iPod. But that's not all. My children, good friendships, good career moves and integrity in motherhood, work and self are all reflected in there, too. The problem is, some days I can handle songs from my past. I love them. I sing them at the top my lungs. Other days, not so much.

Other days, no lie, I sometimes feel a wave of anxiety course through me when I hear a long-forgotten or avoided song, depending on my association with it. But while a year or two ago I might have immediately skipped the track or turned the dial upon hearing it, in recent months I've given over to letting a dreaded song and any related feelings toward it wash over me. Music and the moments connected to it is part of me, like it or not. To deny it is to deny myself, my full story. That said, some songs truly suck, and I won't listen to them anymore no matter what the association--this goes mainly for some mid-80's pop songs that are as horrendous as my middle school memories linked to them. But there are certain songs that I've buried for years, unable to listen to them because I couldn't accept something about the memory attached to them. Now, for whatever reason, I'm more accepting of the past as just that: over. No more do I hang to hope that some old, broken relationships will bear new fruit. From family to friendships, some losses just have to be cut and dealt with.

What is is about a relationship that we hang on to, anyway? Isn't it about how we felt about ourselves when we were in it? When I was five, my mother's family was large and full of messy, noisy love. I felt good as a little McGuire kid. As years went on and patriarchs and matriarchs passed on, the family became smaller, and full of messy, noisy resentment and even downright cruelty. At times I lamented this shift, and I wondered why it couldn't be like it used to be. But sometime in more recent years I woke up. I realized that the family had always been the same, but that I no longer saw it through the lens of childhood. Yet that didn't mean I couldn't hold on to those feelings of messy, noisy love within myself. I could still feel good as a McGuire, even if the McGuire's aren't much of anything anymore.

The same goes for other relationships. What we miss is not always the person--although sometimes that pain is undeniable. Often what we miss is how good we felt about ourselves while in that relationship. That doesn't have to end when someone leaves, or dies, or when we walk away from something that no longer serves us. It also doesn't mean that a relationships was healthy just because it evoked positive sense of self for us. It can simply mean that, even for a brief moment in time, someone crossed our path--even if only with shadows--to help us see our own light. Memories are just feelings we have about ourselves in moments that are frozen in time.

I didn't particularly like "Thunder Road" for a while. And there are some songs or even entire albums that I don't ever need to hear again, simply because they don't stand the test of time. But there are songs I loved that I have avoided because of the hurt I associated with them. Not anymore. What's done is done. I have given up on the past, and that is one thing I have to give up on if I want to have hope for now and for the future. But the sunshiney, warm, summery love I have for myself in spite of the past lives on, baby. It's all I came with into this world, and it's the only thing I'll be able to take with me. So I might as well sing along to its soundtrack while I'm here.

xo