Sunday, January 29, 2012

What's on Your Menu?

When I go out to a restaurant to eat, I usually order something healthy and reasonably priced, and I almost always get what I ask for. Occasionally, of course, the restaurant is out of my selection or the dish that I ordered tastes nothing like its description  (some gnocchi I had at an Italian restaurant last week, for instance, tasted a lot more like a mixture of sand and clay than delicate potato dumplings with delicious pesto sauce). But for the most part, if you order the tofu with three kinds of mushrooms or the sautéed escarole that’s exactly what you’re going to get. The waiter is not going to come out carrying a huge slab of red meat (especially if you’re a vegetarian) and expect you to eat it.
            Not so with life, I’ve noticed. In fact, many of the dishes I’ve ordered off the menu of life have not appeared on my plate, or, if they have, they’ve tasted like something else. And waiters keep turning up with things I’ve never ordered. If I were in a restaurant I might send these things back, but out here in the world that’s not always possible.        
            The cabin on the lake and the beach house I expected to own by now, for instance, haven’t showed up yet. I ordered a boy and a girl and got three boys.  I fully intended to have a bestseller published by now, but that hasn’t happened. And the list goes on.
 The menu of life has a mind of its own. It gives you teaching gigs when you least want to be teaching. It gives you quirky friends you never could have conjured up in your wildest dreams. It gives you boys when you wanted girls, or girls when you wanted boys--kids you would not trade for anything.        
            Yes, I know that the “Law of Attraction” says you can basically manifest anything you can imagine, right down to the details, and I do believe that.  But I also believe that the menu of life is so vast and so unfathomable (kinda like the menu at my favorite Greek diner) that sometimes the Cosmic Chefs just serve you whatever they please.  
           And when that happens, I’ve found, it just may be best to dig right in (though it may be wise to ask for a little black pepper or parmesan cheese!).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Happy OmBirthday

I had a birthday recently. After a  “certain age” many women don’t like to make a big deal about their birthdays, but I’ve found that the older I get the more I want to celebrate.  In the past I actually considered having an “un-birthday” party in which I would celebrate on a day other than my birthday so that I wouldn’t have to face the reality on the actual day. But I’ve now decided that an “OmBirthday” is the way to go. Just say OM and give thanks, that is.
            Why the turn around? A few years ago I was visiting my breast surgeon (having weathered the trials of breast cancer), and, looking at my chart she cheerfully said, “Oh, I see you just had a birthday!” I must have made a face because she next scolded, “Well, it’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?”
            That got me thinking. Yes, indeed, having a birthday is way better than never having a birthday again. So from that day on, I decided to approach my birthday with a positive attitude. This year the celebration started by meeting a dear friend for tea. Then I went to a favorite yoga class where my Kundalini yoga friends sang me a beautiful song. I had pizza (my favorite food) with my husband and children on my birthday night. I talked on the phone with many of my friends and family, and enjoyed the comments various folks wrote on my Facebook page. (One, from a childhood friend, recalled the tradition of making each other gum ribbons--and if you have any idea what those are then you must be at least as old as I am!).
            A few days later I met some writer friends for lunch, and had dinner at a dear friend’s house (another dear friend brought the awesome cake featured above). In fact, I got lots of yoga related presents—a gift certificate to a wonderful yoga studio, special yoga socks and gloves, candles, yogi calendars, etc.  I am touched that so many of my friends and family—even those who don’t do yoga, don’t particularly even like yoga or have any interest in yoga—have begun showering me with yoga-related gifts (for Christmas I received a beautiful white meditation shawl  from my sister—who actually does love yoga--and a miniature statue of a woman doing “camel” pose from my sons, who think my yoga fascination is rather freaky).  But it’s truly a gift when the people you love accept and support your interests and passions.
            Of course, the best gift of all is life itself, and as the years go by and I realize more deeply how miraculous this gift is I’m more and more convinced that the OmBirthday is definitely the way to go. Anyway, being a year older, as my surgeon says, is sure a heck of a lot better than the alternative.
         So Happy OmBirthday to me, and when your day arrives, as indeed it will, Happy OmBirthday to you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Home Sweet Home

I grew up in a beautiful Victorian house in upstate New York.  The place had five bedrooms (six if you counted the upstairs back kitchen where my elderly aunt once slept), a wraparound porch, a walk up attic, and plenty of closets that were great for playing hide and seek. After my great aunts passed away, my parents expanded into the use of the entire house, and I was happy to call a huge bedroom with bay windows and antique chairs and a non-working fireplace my own. Let me just say that even though the house was in need of a great deal of repair, it was a wonderful space in which to grow up.
            My parents took advantage of the space they had, and over the years opened the house up to everyone in the family. I stayed there many a time between jobs and schools, as did my siblings, nephews, niece, and cousins.  After my Dad died my mother took in a border or two to help her pay the bills; these people ended up being just like family members, joining us for Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners. Relatives traveling through our town would often spend the night or the weekend with my mom (of course, she kept track of everyone’s birthday and never let the birth of a baby slide).
I learned from an early age that although my parents owned our house (having bought the place for a song from my great grandfather), our doors were always open (and back in the day—at least during the day-- they weren’t even locked).  There was always a sense that although the house remained the same on the outside (always green, my mother’s favorite color), the insides were constantly evolving. What was an empty bedroom one month became a temporary home for a cousin the next, or a place for me to stay while working on a book, or a refuge for grandkids with trucks, trains, and Legos or a place for teenagers to hang out.
            Fast-forward a few decades to purchasing my own tiny bungalow in the suburbs of New Jersey where I raised my three (now grown) children. The house that we live in has no wrap around porch, not enough bedrooms or closet space, and a tiny kitchen with barely any counter space. And yet my little home—just like mom’s—is a refuge. My boomerang boys move in and out (one just arrived again last night). Friends who come for dinner often end up staying until 3 or 4 in the morning. Though others in my family have far more space, we always end up hosting Christmas; in fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
            I learned from my mother that a home has nothing to do with square footage, granite or marble countertops, or window treatments. Instead, I was taught that a home is all about opening your doors wide and saying “welcome.”

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mirror, Mirror...

One of my favorite yogis, a man named Yogi Bhajan, who was the master of Kundalini yoga, used to say something along the lines of “recognize that the other person is you.”  This quote came to mind the other day when I was standing in a very crowded line at the grocery store. In fact, it was just a few hours before New Year’s Eve and the place was mobbed.
            Behind me was a young mother with three children in one of those car/shopping carts that I wish they’d had when I was a kid. The two year old was in the top basket, the four year old was in with the food, and the six year old (or thereabouts) was hanging off the side. It was clear that the children and the mother were stressed out by their grocery run. The girls were poking their fingers in their little brother’s eyes, the mother was alternately screaming and chatting on her cell phone. I could tell from the rising pitch of her voice that she was really getting ready to lose it.
            Secretly, I was thinking that she had better just calm down and take a deep breath, and that if I had been in her shoes I would never have threatened or yelled at my kids that way. But then I remememberd some of the nasty things I said to my kids when they were little, on days when I was stressed, frustrated, overworked, lacking sleep, and overwhelmed. Yeah, I’d been exactly where that woman was now. Quite a few times in fact.
            So as I inched closer to the checkout, I turned and asked the woman if she’d like to go ahead of me. I thought she was going to kiss my feet in gratitude. “You are so kind! Thank you so much!” she cried, quickly edging ahead and putting her stuff up on the counter. “I can’t thank you enough.”
            That felt good, of course, but the best part was what she said to her kids. “You see, children? It’s so important to be kind!”
In fact, the kids were so visibly relieved that someone had given their mom a break that I thought they were going to hug me. They stopped punching and poking at each other. They started smiling at me and trying to be cute. Well, actually, they were quite cute once they stopped whining.
            Of course, this woman’s problems weren’t all solved because of me, and on the way out the door I did notice that she was stuck by the Redbox kiosk with the kids whining and poking again. But what was really important about the exchange wasn’t that I let the mom go first. It was that I saw myself in her, and I realized that kindness rather than judgment was in order.
            Who knows, really, what the kids got out of the experience, anyway. Maybe—I’m certainly hoping—they learned that it’s important to be kind. (Or maybe they learned that punching and poking at the checkout line is a sure-fire way to get some silly lady to let you go ahead so you can get your movies!)

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Order

It’s the New Year, and it’s finally happened: My “children” (28, 23, & 20) have begun telling me what to do as if they are the authorities and I am the child. I guess I’m lucky it took them this long, but to tell you the truth, I’m in no mood for this role change.
            It all began when I was attempting to learn to do Handstand during my home yoga practice. My eldest son caught me flinging myself against the front door and yelled, “Stop that right now! You’re going to hurt yourself!”
            Why did those words ring with such familiarity? Probably because I’d said them myself at least a million times--to my son. And like my son, I didn’t listen (though I did stop flinging in his presence).
            Not long afterwards, I was sitting in a restaurant with my middle child, waiting for the waitress to bring me my morning cup of decaf. “Why is she taking so long?” I whined. I picked up my empty coffee cup and wiggled it in the air.
            “Settle down now!” my middle son chided. “Calm yourself.”
            What? Didn’t those words sound familiar again? How many times had I told this boy to settle down (and especially in restaurants)? And now he was telling me!
            On the way home he admonished my husband, who was driving: “Speed up here! Sometimes you need to speed up to slow down!”  I laughed as my husband sped up in the left lane and then moved over to the right. Didn’t we teach them to drive?
            Later that evening, my youngest son was sharing a research study with me online. “Read this over,” he instructed. “Do you understand it?"
            “I don’t have a clue what this means,” I admitted.
            He sighed and began explaining the intricate correlation between various chemical components. But he stopped when he noticed that my eyes were glazing over. Gosh, it seemed a lot like those days of yore when he was in elementary school and I tried to talk to him about the plots of my favorite literary novels. "Well," he instructed, "you'd better read this over again on your own time."
            Yes, it has finally come down to this: My children are telling me what to do, just as I once told my parents. I’m not certain why this happens (and I’m sure the exact timing is a bit different for each family) but apparently there’s a tipping point, a point at which  the parent who knows everything becomes an idiotic child, and the child who knew nothing becomes the expert on everything in the world.
            Today when I was doing my handstand against the front door (early in the morning, long before my kids were up to scold me), I realized how much fun it is to go against their wishes. It’s my turn now to be naughty, to get back at them for all the years when they ignored my advice, snuck behind my back, or did stupid, risky things right under my nose (like climbing on top of our garage or sledding down our hill into Main Street, or jumping off beds and breaking their legs, or climbing over fences and breaking their arms, or…well, the list of the crazy things they did is virtually endless).
            Yes, boys, it’s my turn now!  (And I finally understand why my mother never listened to me!)