Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Sister, My Self

My sis and me, l954

I just had a visit from my sister, who lives a twelve-hour drive away from me, so we don’t get together as often as we’d like. We were delighted to see one another, stayed up half the night talking, took her little rat terrier to the beach for a run, dissected our continuing hopes and dreams, and reminisced a bit about the past.  When I’m with my sister, life is pure bliss.
Now, I know that not everyone feels that way about his or her sisters or brothers. In fact, I know quite a few people who run the other way when their sis is in town, or who cringe when they find out the brother who tortured them with nasty tricks as a child will be at Thanksgiving dinner. Sadly, there are brothers and sisters who don’t even speak, and I’ve heard far too many tales (especially after a parent has died) of folks who no longer communicate with siblings in any way, shape, or form. Oftentimes, these rifts occur after a parent’s will is read, which just goes to show how “stuff” can really get in the way. 
 I don’t blame these individuals, because everyone has a reason for why they stay connected—or disconnect—from another person, whether that person is a blood relative or not.  But I count my close relationships with my brother and sister among my life’s greatest blessings. I don’t take my sibs for granted, and I do have to work (a bit) to keep the connection strong. (Though it matters less and less as we age, there is just a tad of space between us in terms of years. I was our parents', ahem, afterthought.)
             Whatever the case, I’m personally declaring this week Hug Your Sister Week. It seems like a good week for it, since my sister is here. But even if your sister is around all the time, you might want to give her an affectionate squeeze. There’s something to be said for people who share the past in a way that no one else ever can. (And I’m sure there’s something to be said for being an only child, as well!)
 After all, only my siblings know what it was really like to wake up in the night to the sound of our father’s house-rattling snoring, or how long the trip to our favorite lake in the Adirondacks seemed on a hot August morning. Only my sibs truly understand why we all hate that grizzly, vile stuff called cube steak, or why the very word penuche (a delicious maple sugar fudge our mom used to make) can bring tears to our eyes.
 Of course, we are different in many ways, but siblings are our first living lessons on how much we share in common.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Make Like a Tree!

photo © Terhox |

A few nights ago, in a gentle yoga class for healing and stress I’d brought a friend to try, we did an interesting pose. We gathered in a circle, raised our hands to touch our neighbors’ hands, stood on one leg, and lifted the other to a bent position, resting the foot just below the knee of the standing leg. Tree pose is usually done solo with hands in prayer position or with hands and arms lifted straight to the sky. In this case, however, we all managed to stay balanced by gently relying on others. If one went down, no doubt we all would have toppled. The miracle was that though some were novices and others had been practicing for years, we all were able to stand firm when we were given an opportunity to borrow or share strength from one another.
           The pose (or asana) struck me that night because I’d been thinking about balance all week. It seems that everyone I know (including myself) has been struggling in this area. Maybe it’s the changing seasons, but everywhere I look I see that people are having trouble keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground. The worst offenders seem to be those who have over-scheduled themselves (and their kids) to the point where so much as reading one page of a novel before bed is a ludicrous impossibility. “I just don’t have time!” is the lament.

            This makes me wonder what would happen if we totally realigned our “to do” lists. What if instead of starting with “finish the report for tomorrow’s meeting” or “grocery shopping and make dinners to freeze for the week” we began the list in a different way? What if our to do list looked more like this:
1.     Take a walk at sunrise or sunset.
2.     Listen to Mozart, Willie Nelson or Deva Premal every day.
3.     Kiss and hug kids, spouses, friends, and others.
4.     Journal and/or read.
5.     Meditate, or just sit and be grateful...
You get my drift.
Hmm, I wondered, would this be possible? Especially for those who work full-time or are home raising children?
And then I remembered the Tree pose. It is difficult to find balance in our busy lives, and the bottom line is, it’s your own strength and dedication that will get you there. But if you stretch your branches a bit and offer some support to a friend or if you admit that yes, sometimes YOU need support or help, I’ll bet you’ll find yourself standing firm and tall. If you offer a little strength, and borrow a bit as well, you may be surprised at how things seem to come into balance.
 And you’ll have time to read!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Control Freak? NOT!

photo © Genarosilva |

What can you control? This is a question that’s been plaguing me lately. Or, if not really plaguing, at least mystifying.
Iyengar yoga is for “Type A” people, I’ve been told. But I am definitely not a “Type A” individual. Still, I love Iyengar, because this yoga practice requires me to put some discipline into my life. I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of woman. It’s sometimes both a challenge and a relief to have to fold blankets in a particular manner and pay attention to what my left little toe is doing (as we do at Iyengar class) because most of the time my head is drifting up in the clouds. So really Iyengar yoga isn’t just for those who match personality-wise—it’s also for people who don’t fit, because we may actually get more out of it.
On to motherhood, my other favorite topic. Of course we need discipline in our lives, as do our children. Schedules, routines, rules, all of these things have their place.  But some of my happiest mommy moments are from days when I let all the rules fly. TV at dinner? Go for it!  Halloween candy for breakfast? Eat your heart out! Of course if I did these things every day someone would have to call in the social workers. But once in a while moms have to go with the flow. If we don’t we will surely send both ourselves and our children into years of therapy. As one wise auntie once advised on this topic, “Don’t try to control too much. You may make it worse.”
            Here’s the question: how much control is good and now much letting go do we need? My best childhood friend and I used to have a saying: “Too much of a good thing is bad, but too much of a bad thing is worse.”  I think that’s the case with control (not that it’s a bad thing). But when you try to orchestrate every bit of life you lose the magic. Better to err on the side of free-flow, is my opinion.
            I for one like waking up in the morning and not knowing where my day is headed. Yes, I “set an intention” in yogic terms, and I try to envision all the best things coming my way. But I also leave the door open to surprise, serendipity, and chance. That way, I’m not shocked because I have to drop everything when my college sophomore calls with a 103 temp and wants to come home for some R&R. Nor am I distressed when I realize that I have lots of work to do, but this just may be the last late summer day to catch some rays (and Vitamin D) at the beach.

            Flow with the river? Or fight against it? I prefer to know that there’s a thing called “possibility” in every day. Without it, life is just one neatly folded blanket too many. With possibility, that blanket can be a tent, a warm covering, something to drape over a mirror when you don’t feel like looking in it, a place behind which to change into a bathing suit, an ad hoc throw for an antique chair, a baby’s lovey…etcetera.
Why limit a blanket? Why limit your self?  Just let go!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Empty Nest? No, Never!

photo: © Lyn Baxter |

I'd been hearing about--and dreading-- this frightening "syndrome" for many years before I became its victim. You know the one--the horrible affliction that parents suffer when all the birdies fly the nest, leaving mom and dad with (supposedly) nothing to do. In fact, for years I'd prepared myself for the terrifying day when all the beds (except mine and my husband's) would be empty, when there would be only two places instead of five at the dinner table, and no school lunches to make. Yes, when our first son left for college and eventually his own apartment I wept with abandon, and when the second son was delivered to faraway Pittsburgh for his college experience I cried for days. And just last year, when our third offspring left for his Freshman year, my knees buckled and I nearly crumpled to the floor. I couldn't imagine what my life would be like without piles of laundry and elaborate family dinners to make. After all, I'd been on this nesting track for twenty-some years.

But  then, a funny thing happened. A bunch of other eggs that had been sitting in my nest for a couple of decades began to hatch! I'd warmed them here and there, and paid them a bit of attention over the years, but I'd never really had the time to sit with them long enough to give them life. With my wonderful children off on their own and following their independent agendas, however, these eggs began to crack.

Inside, I found hours and hours of yoga--a practice I absolutely love. No longer did I need to "steal away" to yoga class--I could go any time I liked!  And so I began to practice Iyengar yoga almost every day at the gym, and to explore the beautiful and spiritual path of Kundalini yoga. About the same time, I found myself reading scores of books from the toppling pile I hadn't gotten to while raising my children. And my husband and I began taking daily walks, sometimes for hours. Midday lunch at a fancy French restaurant? Why the hell not? A day-trip to the beach in mid-February? Go for it! How about meditating, gardening, or lifting weights? Or just lighting a candle and journaling? Yes, I still did some "work"--writing is my trade. But the "empty nest" offered an opportunity to "fill" so many hours I'd never had to myself before. 

Of course, I miss my children, as most parents do. And I love having them home for summers and holidays. But I must admit that the "empty nest" syndrome is not what it's cracked up to be. Instead of lonesome days reminiscing about diapers, sandboxes, and school plays, I find my "empty" new  life to be over-flowing.  The empty nest, I've discovered, isn't a stage of life parents should fear; instead, it's a golden opportunity to spread your own wings and soar.