I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: May, 2016

Why Are You Reading That?


The Pile of Books by My Bed (Not to Mention the Piles on the Floor)

“Why are you reading that?” my husband asked. And asked. It started as gentle teasing, his questioning of my penchant for dark, sad, memoirs of loss and grief. It became a family joke. “Oh, here’s a tragic book Mom will enjoy!” He regularly would recommend fiction. He reads more novels than I do, having more time to read, and his repertoire is impressive. He has a fairly good handle on my taste. Recently his questioning has gotten more probing. “Seriously honey, why do you read these books? Why don’t you try fiction or something lighter?” Puzzled by my fascination with sadness and anxious about my tendency to be anxious and sad, he regularly contemplates how to bring more humor, lightness, and play into my life. I married well.

I have just finished reading When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi’s memoir about dying. And living. It’s a beautiful book, with a stunningly honest and eloquent epilogue written by his wife, after his death. As I was reading, and reflecting on my husband’s questions, it came to me why.

Death is life. When we come to grips, really come to grips, with the fact that our time is finite, we choose differently. What is important? Who is important? If I were to die in the next year, how would I spend my time? Who would I spend my time with? There is nothing so clarifying than contemplating those questions. If my husband, my children, my father, my friends were to die in the next year, have I told them how much I love them? Have we spent our time together the way we want to? Have I asked all the questions? Have I answered all their questions?

As with all books, I connect with the character or the narrator or the author. These books about tragedy and loss, I imagine it happening to me and am of course overwhelmed with intense emotion. These books elicit profound feeling. Through loss and grief, one feels acutely the full range of emotions that makes us feel alive, including love and connection and joy.

It was different than when I was young, devouring first Nancy Drew and then Jane Austen, reading for hours on end, learning how to live and to be a woman. Then, reading was an escape from boredom, anxiety, depression, loneliness. It was an education, an outlet for my imagination. I wanted to be a plucky, adventurous outspoken girl, like my favorite heroines, instead of a quiet and reflective and cautious/sensitive soul. It was a way of understanding the world.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less interested in escaping and intensely interested in real life. I find it almost impossible to read fiction. A troublesome evolution that I blame on my anxiety and the distractions offered by social media. As an English Major, I place great value on literature. I seem to no longer have the patience or the ability to focus on long and complicated novels unless they feature modern-day contemporary women I can identify with or dark and terrifying-to-imagine futuristic scenarios about the apocalypse, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The pile (PILE!) of books by my bed expands to include a myriad of genres including books about Yoga and spirituality, books about cooking and eating, inspiring memoirs, self-help, books my son is reading for school, and fascinating non-fiction. But it’s the books that remind me that life is precious, time is short, and people are what matter that take my breath away.

P.S. I took my husband’s advice and am now reading All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  It is absorbing and immersive, just the way I like my fiction. Maybe I haven’t lost my love of novels after all.

What Is Your Dharma?


Sacred Purpose

“What if you don’t know your dharma?” I whispered. Urgently.

Without hesitation Jill answered that my dharma was to be a mom.


Consumed by my own self-centered ambition to achieve something great, or at least be superior at everything I do, I’ve always thought of being a mom as something I did while pursuing achievement of external goals.

But the truth of the matter is that there is one thing that feels profoundly meaningful and elicits intense, tight chest, lump in the throat emotion. My children.

I was sitting in a circle discussing the Baghavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with a group of yoga teachers. I had shared a strong emotional reaction I had to the Baghavad Gita and its poetic argument for non-attachment. Arjuna is stuck in a state of indecisive and pained inaction as he resists the war he is destined to fight. (Been there. Haven’t you?) He is terrified. Not wanting to kill or be killed. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Krishna counsels him to act. It is his dharma, his sacred purpose, to be a soldier and to fight. He must be the best soldier he can be. He should not be afraid of death, because our souls live on.

I understand loosening the attachment – the grip we have on our stuff. I don’t need all the stuff in my house, in my life. It is not what makes me happy. And there is always someone who has better stuff then me. But after that it gets hard. I care deeply for the ideas I have come to think of as important. Living mindfully, making the world a better place with what you do and how you live.

And when it comes to people, how can we not be attached? Especially to our children. What does it mean to be not attached?

With their birth was born a new and infinite sense of responsibility, fear, and love. Hovering over them as newborns when they slept, making sure I could still sense their breath. Now that they are 16 and 20, the anxiety has evolved.

Are you happy?

Do you feel loved?

Please. Please be safe.

Worrying, worrying, worrying that all my neuroses have rubbed off on my children. (How could they not?) Worrying that my daughter is too much like me, too obedient, too diligent. Is she having enough fun?

Worrying that my son is too much like me, too eager to please.  Will he be decisive and express himself, especially if he is angry or wants to pursue something different from what we have in mind for him?

Worrying that in both cases we’ve controlled their interests and pursuits so tightly that they have lost track of what they feel and want, overshadowed by the need to please Mom and Dad.

But most of all, I am afraid. Afraid of losing them. Please. Please be safe.

If you believe that we are a soul, not a body, and that we continue on in some capacity even after this body dies, then, perhaps, you can lessen your grip on the people you love. Reduce the fear that they will die or that you will die.

But what if you’re not sure?

What does non-attachment mean when it comes to being a mom?

I think it means pausing. Considering whether you are putting your self first or putting them first.

A friend, with still young children, shared how she wakes up very very early so she can have time alone. (I know it well.) Every now and then, a child tiptoes downstairs to be with her. (I know it well.) Shit! There goes my alone time. (I know it well.) Do you send the child back to bed: It’s too early! Go back to bed! Go watch TV! Yes, I’ve done that. Or: Do you welcome the child to join you? Hello Sweetheart! You’re up early! What a wonderful surprise! I love you! What shall we do with our special time together? I have not done that as much as I should have. And when those young children get older, they will stop reaching out to you and you will have as much alone time as you want. (I know it well.)

I think it means being joyful and loving at their presence. Happy to see them.

I think it means helping them be them, not what you want them to be.

I think it means letting go of worrying about whether you are a good mom. I mean, really, how narcissistic is that?

You can’t change what’s already happened in the past and the impact it’s had. After all, it’s made them who they are.

It’s not about regretting the past or worrying about the future. It’s about being present in the present moment for them right here right now. And letting go. Letting them be them.

Photo Credit:  Photo by Cindy Knoke at cindyknoke.com.  Thank you Cindy for your beautiful photos!

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