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.