I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: April, 2013

On the Road to Boston

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Grateful

I’ve planned it all out.  I will live to be at least 100.  There is longevity in my family.  I am thin, I eat excruciatingly healthy meals, and I do yoga.  Why wouldn’t that be the case?  That would give me another 50 years to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  Sure, it might get lonely.  Statistics are quite certain that I will outlive my husband.  I figure I’ll go live on an ashram when I am old and widowed.  It has to be better than a nursing home.  I have plans to help my children with their children.  My parents couldn’t, didn’t help me.  I am determined to help my children.  There is a lot that I want to do with my next 50 years.

Every now and then, though, I am shocked into the realization that my life could end at any moment.

“Hi honey.  I am just calling to tell you that I am heading to Grand Central to catch a train home.  In case a bomb goes off and I don’t make it home, I love you.  And the life insurance policy is in effect.”

That was my phone call to my husband on Monday after I heard the news about the bombs in Boston.

That feeling was back.  After September 11, every good-bye became imbued with meaning and emotion.  I made a point to look in my loved ones eyes, to hug them, to tell them I love them.  I closed my eyes in the Grand Central tunnel.  I … prayed … that my commute, that my daily ordinary life, would not kill me or anyone else.  After all, you never know.  Of course, over a decade later, I relaxed.  A little bit.   Now, it’s back.

Coincidentally, my daughter and I had finally planned our first trip to look at colleges.  In Boston.  This week.  No more procrastination.  Winter Break in Stowe is behind us.  Spring Break in Spain is behind her.  My first 100 days on my new job is behind me.  No more denial.  She is 17 and leaving home in 16 months.  It’s time.  Where to look?  Eastern corridor.  D.C., Philadelphia, Boston.  She has loved Boston since her first school trip there in 7th grade.  Boston it is.  We made the reservations.  Tufts – a beautiful campus school.  MIT – she is an engineering nerd like her father (and just a regular nerd like her mother).  BU – what about an urban experience?  Instead of anxiety, I started getting excited.  There is perhaps no more exciting life transition than going to college.  Instead of focusing on how much I am going to miss her and worry about her, I started focusing on what she must be experiencing.  What a thrill!

After the bombs on Monday, we discussed rescheduling the trip.  Our schedules are so tight; our excitement so high; we rationalized that Boston is as safe a place as any.  Boston it is.

We packed Thursday night and went to bed, ready to leave before dawn in order to make our 10am info session at BU.  They warned that parking was terrible, so we needed plenty of time.  In the car, fortified with Starbucks before 6 am, we were off.  Dark and quiet, the magic I had hoped for happened.  No radio, no tv, no computer, no cell phone, we talked.  And talked and talked and talked.  What kind of school would be a supportive and nurturing environment for my beloved first born?  Where might she be happy?  Where might she want to live?  What might she want to do?  How to reconcile her math/science head with her intensely creative and talented art ability?  And, not to spoil the dreaming, what could we afford?  We couldn’t afford any of the schools we were looking at.  We just have to start somewhere.

Two hours later, half way to Boston, the conversation lulled.  She checked her cell phone.  “Mom!”  She was almost crying.  “Dad has called a whole bunch of times and he texted us, ‘Turn Around!  Aren’t you listening to the radio?’”

No, we were obliviously and happily in our magical mother-daughter world.

It took a while for the news to sink in.  Boston was locked down.  Everything was closed.  A manhunt was on.  There was a shooting at MIT, precisely where we here headed that afternoon.  This was not a movie, this was real life.  WTF?!  WTF?!  WTF?!

I pulled off the road to consider our options.  My first instinct was denial.  They’ll catch him and everything will be fine.  Let’s keep going.  Ridiculous.  And she was scared.  My second instinct was panic.  Let’s go home.  But we were so psyched to look at schools and have this special trip together!  I breathed.  I calmed down.  I decided to exercise my live-in-the-moment flexibility muscle.  You know, the one that is not very strong because I am a controlling, rigid, organized, disciplined, set-in-my ways, always-in-motion, nut.  What else could we do?  Aren’t there other schools we could look at?  Well, we’re right near Rhode Island.  Some good schools there.  Providence is a nice town.  Newport is a nice town.  We set the GPS for the University of Rhode Island arriving, magically, at 10am just as an Information Session and Campus Tour was about to begin.  They welcomed us heartily and off we went on our very first tour.  There was a lot to like, though it didn’t inspire that Aha! thrill of an ivy quad that she is waiting for.  She raised her eyebrows at me when we looked at the dorm room for three.  I teased her, reminding her that she had once dreamed of bringing her beautiful Queen bed to college with her.  And where would all her clothes go?  I reassured her that she could store off-season clothes at home, requiring regular visits home to update her wardrobe.  Phew, that problem was solved.

The day was looking up.  We jaunted off to Newport for lunch having the most delicious tuna I have ever ever had at Diego’s (truly, it is amazing and worth the trip) and topping it off with the best chocolate – ever – at Destination Chocolate (truly, it is amazing and worth the trip).  We fantasized about the sailboat my husband wants.  She and my husband had the same thought at the same time.  As he texted, she spoke out loud:  “If I go to URI, Daddy will want to get a boat and keep it at Newport!”  They are DNA twins.  We drove past the Newport mansions, anticipating the movie release of Gatsby.  I hope it’s good.  Maybe I should read the book.  She read it for school this year, but I never have.

Off to Providence.  Brown didn’t have any tours this weekend, but we figured we could just walk around and have our mother-daughter hotel night there.  We drove into town.  What a manageable city!  We headed toward Brown.  You drive up “College Hill” and it hits you.  Beautiful, understated, old, ivy academic richness.  It was what she was waiting for.  She fell in love.  Even if she’s one of the 6% or 9% or some silly low percentage that gets accepted, we can’t afford it.  Back at our hotel, I found it hard to tame my urge to be in anxious and perpetual motion to DO SOMETHING.  Movie?  Providence Bruins game?  Restaurant?  I was ready!  She confided, “Mom, could we get room service?  I’ve always wanted to get room service.  Maybe we could just hang here and watch a movie on the tv.”  Gulp, how unaspiring.  OK.  Gulp.  We can do that.  Gulp.  We looked at the room service menu.  Hamburgers struck us as a decadent choice.  Especially for me, the excruciatingly healthy sometimes meatless one.  Gulp.  We ordered hamburgers.  She picked the movie, Pitch Perfect.  I would have picked some Oscar nominee that I hadn’t seen.  It was such a fun movie.  We ate our delicious hamburgers.  We ate our delicious chocolate.  We laughed at our fun movie.  It was the best night – just about ever.  Safe as anyone can be, blessed to have such a special chance for mother-daughter time, I enjoyed just being with her. The movie ended.  We checked the news from our haven and were beyond relieved to see that the manhunt was over.

The next day, I continued (or tried) to follow her lead.  Did she want to take the tour at RISD?  Did she want to look at Quinnipeac?  Yale?  After all, she’s the one who’s going to college, not me.  It’s her life and she is wise and knows herself with amazing clarity.  We spent the day exploring and just being together.  I am so grateful.  Grateful for my life, for her life.  Grateful to be home safe and looking forward to the next road trip.

I Can’t Hide My Chocolate

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The Liebster Blog Award

I doubled my followers (from 29 to 58) – thank you OM – last weekend.  One result of this greatly expanded readership is that my blog was nominated for the Leibster Award – thank you Erin.  I am thrilled.  Completely and totally thrilled.

But, as usual, it took me a while to accept and enjoy this much appreciated appreciation and to express how I feel:  I am SO EXCITED!

When OM respectfully asked permission to reblog my post, I hesitated.  Oh no, that would mean people would read what I wrote.  Umm, isn’t that why I am writing?  To say what I don’t always have the nerve to speak, to say what other people are thinking but don’t always have the nerve to speak, to connect.  I cautiously agreed.  An assortment of thoughtful people read what I wrote and commented.  I was touched.  And a little freaked out, ready to go into hiding.

When Erin enthusiastically nominated me for the Leibster Award, I was exhilarated.  I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life!  Finally, recognition for my greatness.  Then I researched the award and saw it referred to as like a chain letter.  I groaned.  Oh, it’s just a stupid marketing ploy.  (Full disclosure, my day job is: professional marketer.)  That is what happens every time I get excited.  Someone belittles my enthusiasm, my achievement, and I let them.  Which results in my need to hide or quit.

If I don’t allow my truth to emerge, my excitement and passion, how do I connect?  When does life begin?  At 50, it better begin soon.  Now is as good a time as any.  No more hiding.

The Leibster Blog Award is a clever way for new bloggers to gain readers and to share blogs with their readers.  The “rules” are straightforward:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to them.
  2. Answer their 11 questions.
  3. List 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 11 bloggers with under 200 followers.  And comment on their blog.
  5. Ask 11 questions for them to answer.

I am a rule-follower.  When I cannot follow the rules, I do not participate.  I want to participate, but I cannot follow the rules.  Here goes.

11 Random Facts About Me

  1. My Myers-Briggs score is I-N-F-J…heavy on the N.
  2. I got into significant shop-a-holic debt at Nordstrom, which took years to pay off.  Although now debt-free for years, I am terrified of shopping.  My wardrobe is getting shabby.
  3. I adore our pet parakeet, Cooper (named after the island in the BVI where we woke on Christmas morning to an amazing double rainbow.)
  4. As a girl, I read Little Women as often as my son has watched The Big Bang Theory.  Louisa May Alcott was my writing and feminist role model.
  5. Speaking of feminism, I am a feminist.
  6. I love Daylight Savings Time and am so happy in the Summer time with sunlight and long days.  SADD is real.
  7. My favorite yoga pose is handstand.  Thank you Jill for teaching it to me.  It makes me as happy as sunlight and long days.
  8. I hope my children suffer less and find what makes them happy.  I hope they will want to spend time with me when they are adults.
  9. I ate Grilled Artichokes with Shitake Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese for dinner Friday night, with a side of Broccoli Rabe.  It was delicious.  I am eating less meat.
  10. I weigh 122 pounds, less than I weighed when I got married nearly 20 years ago – I am absurdly triumphant about this, even though my disordered eating is a reason for my current thinness and I am intellectually aware that thinness does not equate to happiness.
  11. I eat dark chocolate every day.  (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are my fall back option.)

Nominations

I am struggling with the nomination aspect of this award “assignment.”  Who should I pick?  What will my picks reveal about me?  What if my readers think I made poor picks and judge me accordingly?  Exhausting.  I find that many of the blogs have well over 200 followers and those with fewer are inconsistently posting.  So, continuing on my theme of not precisely following the rules, here are a few blogs that I find noteworthy for one reason or another:

Boho Chic Cafe:  A young woman exploring fashion and food.

Cafe Casey: She posts about teaching, parenting, and life.  She has honed her sarcasm and writes dialog with her son in a pitch-perfect way.  Her musings are always honest and on target.

Clotildajamcracker:  Her drawings are amazing.

End Picking: A fellow struggler with anxiety and skin picking.  I have deep sympathy.

The Gifting Whisperer:  She understands the beauty and importance of gift-giving in this uncertain world…and that the best gifts don’t always require money.

Tamina’s Turn:  Lovely and fun writings and photographs about movement.

This award is reminding me that it’s okay to be proud and excited to be part of a thoughtful community.  Thank you.

Standing Guiltless

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Dance Me to the End of Love

When my husband first played a Leonard Cohen CD for me, I rolled my eyes and groaned.  A decade (or so) ahead of me, he is a product of his generation (as we all are), frequently nostalgic for the 60’s poets who couldn’t sing.  Geesh, what was it about Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits that these older boomers revere?  Why, they can’t even sing?!   And that ubiquitous Hallelujah.  Turn it off already.

I, on the other hand, have years of formal music education and grew up with parents who were accomplished string musicians and valued only classical music.  I should know music.  Classical was the ideal.  Country and Gospel were at the bottom (and Leonard Cohen had too many hints of both).  Jazz was “interesting.”  My complete enjoyment of pop, Sinatra standards, and musicals shall go unmentioned, an enormous disappointment to my father and all others who I imagine have higher standards and expectations of me.  I had absorbed my parents’ xenophobic attitude toward musical genres that were unfamiliar – constrained by a rigid hierarchical ranking system and not open to thinking differently.  Though, of course, over time and through exposure by many music-loving friends, I have expanded my horizons and softened my judgments.

A few years later, my cousin Elizabeth was visiting us.  A rare and special occasion.  She was the sister I never had.  I looked to her for insight about our shared family.  She had the nerve to speak the unspoken (at least to me) in a family that did not speak the unspoken and I admired her courage for choosing a life of independence and adventure.  She was an extrovert who loved people and made friends with everyone, open to all genres of music, of people, of life.  Killed by a drugged up drunk driver 11 years ago, I still miss her and what we might have shared.  During her visit, my husband put on the Leonard Cohen CD.  She was a fan.  Hmmm, maybe I should give this guy some more attention.

Two years ago, my yoga mentor quoted Leonard Cohen in a teacher-training clinic.  It was his quote about the meaning of his song The Traitor, where he suggests that the song is about:

“failing or betraying some mission you were mandated to fulfill and being unable to fulfill it and then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it but to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you found yourself.” 

Huh?  I did not understand the song nor his suggested meaning, and was beginning to think my degree in English Lit was failing me.  Nevertheless, because my wise mentor, my beloved cousin/sister, and my husband all found meaning in Leonard Cohen, I began to pay attention.  Six months later in a private session with my yoga teacher, she looked me in the eye and shared this quote again with me.  AGAIN!  I strained to grasp its meaning and its application to me.  I am not guilty.  It was not my fault.  I don’t have to be anyone other than me.

It was not my fault.  Guiltless, I don’t have to be anyone other than me.

When I became aware that Leonard Cohen would be performing in concert for his Old Ideas Tour, I knew I had to go.  With my husband.

We went.  Cohen, 78, lithely jogged on to stage and opened with “Dance Me to the End of Love,” my current personal favorite, the meaning of which I am mulling.

“Dance Me” is physical, full of life and passion, something you do with your partner.  “To the End of Love.”  What does that mean?  Love never ends, so we will dance together forever.  Love always ends, but we will be together until it ends. Love ends only when life ends – it is our deepest joy, our deepest meaning, even amidst horrific suffering.  All possible meanings are profoundly passionate and put love front and center.  When Cohen drops to he knees (his signature gesture) and proclaims his physical longing and reverence for the  love of his life, his soul-baring honesty is an offering. It is perhaps easier on stage in front of strangers than in the intimacy of one’s relationship to be naked.  Yet, even with his soulful poetry on display for all to see, he is a classic introvert, his hat shielding his eyes.  He bows deeply with gratitude and respect for his fellow musicians (who are accomplished and richly musical), he bows deeply with humility and appreciation for his audience; he bows deeply with honor and love for all.  May I have the nerve to drop to my knees and bare my soul to the love of my life.  Guiltless.  Just me.  And may he reciprocate.  What courage it takes to live and to love to the end.

Photo is from leonardcohen.com 

Believing in OM

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OM is God?

If you knew that the goal of yoga was to quiet the body and quiet the mind so that your soul could experience “God,” would you still do yoga?  Would I?

Brought up with an attitude of condescension towards religion (scientists know better), I pursued an intellect’s path.  Regretfully.  As a child, I was awed by beautiful churches and temples, intrigued by the mysterious rituals, moved by the harmonic vibrations of the chants and hymns, and jealous of the social community that my friends belonged to.  Not belonging to church heightened my sense of being an outsider, alone, different.  My parents allowed me to explore Christianity while making it clear that they would have none of it.  At the age of 12, 13, 14, I threw myself into it (pretty much how I do everything in the new throes of a passionate interest), preparing myself to be confirmed as a member of the church.    I read the Bible, joined the youth group and the choir, went on retreats, attended church school, but ultimately decided I did not believe in God.  Wistfully but decisively, I chose not to be confirmed.  I went forward with my intellect’s life.

I married a man who has an even stronger history of disbelief in religion (though perhaps a more open relationship with God).  His father was damaged (exactly how is unspoken and unknown – I can only imagine the worst) by his Catholic upbringing.  While introducing his children, intellectually, to all the religions of the world, he made it clear that he was vehemently opposed to religion, characterizing it as inhumane, self-serving, even evil – definitely not spiritual.  When we had children, I found myself wondering again.  Is there a way to belong to a church community and provide a spiritual foundation for my children that is beautiful and meaningful and supportive?  I explored the most open and liberal church in our neighborhood, but came to the same conclusion.  If I don’t believe in God, how can I whole-heartedly join this community?

At mid-life, questioning the meaning of my life and frantic that it was going by too fast, I discovered yoga.  It was a delicious form of exercise!  My body loved the poses: the stretching, the challenge, the exhilaration.  I was awed by the beautiful space, intrigued by the mysterious rituals, moved by the harmonic vibrations of the chants.  I belonged.  It was secular spirituality!  And my body got a workout!  I was in Heaven!  I kept the “crazy hokum” at a distance.  Chakras?  Energy?  Devotion?  Samadhi?  I just knew that I loved the feel of going inside, feeling my breath, feeling my body, listening to my gut, listening and communicating with my loved ones with more honesty.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti?   Peace Peace Peace.  Who could argue with that?

I went deeper and got my 200 hour teacher certification.  Yeah, okay, I read the Bhagavad Gita.  Lovely mythology.  Life is a journey, don’t be attached to the outcome.  I read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Yoga is the stilling of the mind.  Thank God, because my mind is in overdrive and yoga was the only place it quieted down.  My family tolerated my chanting, Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah over and over as I prepared for my certification exam.  Yoga had become profoundly important to me, a sanctuary.  I began to think maybe I was a spiritual being after all.

I started teaching.  Beginners.  Primarily women looking for a form of exercise that didn’t hurt.  When I started teaching, I realized how little I knew.  Two years later, I am now embarking on “continuing education.”  We began with philosophy.  I reread Book 1 of Patanjali’s Sutras.  Hmm, it’s making more sense this time, or perhaps it is simply becoming more familiar.  I warned my beginners that I might be introducing OM next week.  They appeared curious and interested.  As fate would have it, I and a classmate were assigned the task of reading, explaining, and teaching Sutra 1.27.  You know, the one about OM.  The one that says OM is God.  What?  I don’t think I realized that the first time I read it.

Here is what we said:

OM is a deeply expressive, full, and mystical sound.  Like breath, like life, it has a beginning, “AHH,” a middle, “OOO” and an end, “MMM,” the vibration of which resonates through your body.  OM is the yogic word for God.  It is the manifestation of God.  It IS God.  Chanting OM quiets the body and quiets the mind so that your soul may experience God – the goal of yoga.

Do I believe this?  I don’t know.

My son, now 13, is the same age I was when I explored Christianity.  His close friend is a devout Catholic.  My son is curious, searching for what he believes, and trying to reconcile his friend’s faith with our skepticism.  “Mary was definitely not a virgin!”  he exclaims with certainty.  We marked Easter in our quiet and secular way.  Easter baskets filled with chocolate, an Easter Egg hunt demanded by my son, and a dinner worthy of Spring are our traditions.  But at our festive Spring dinner, we found ourselves musing on Jesus and the events of Holy Week and the inexplicable mystery of Jesus’ disappearance and resurrection.  I do not believe that Jesus is any more divine than you or me, but I do believe that Jesus was a wise and compassionate man who preached beautiful teachings of love, the power of love.  I believe in love.  I will do what I can to help my son feel free to appreciate the mystery of life and to guide him toward the healthy ways that religions attempt to deal with the mystery.  I will try to guide him without being too academic and intellectual.  (Truth be told, I bought him a book yesterday.  That is my way.  Sigh.)

Will I introduce OM to my students this week?  Yes.  I have decided to start with just feeling the MMM vibration.  It’s a mysteriously powerful sensation!  Is it God?  I don’t know.  I do know that I will keep practicing yoga.  Yoga is where I feel still and sacred, able to be me, able to love and be loved.  I feel holy in those rare moments when I float in Svasana.  I feel holy when I chant OM with my yoga community and the vibrations make me feel like I am expanding and taking off.  I feel holy when I look in my husband’s eyes, my children’s eyes, and know love.

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