To Know Us

I think a lot about the things you are missing.

There are the obvious ones like Chayna’s high school graduation, Mom excelling at a job she finally loves, Jamie’s wedding, and every Christmas since that fall.

I think of the selfish ones like showing you my new favorite trail while we laugh about the fact that Chayna drives a forklift on a daily basis, the ugly truth that I no longer have an ally to duck out of family parties early with.

But I think the most about the subtleties – the number of times Chayna has changed her hair color, the people I’ve called to help me change a tire that weren’t you, the way Cailynn puts on her cleats. The way she loves and respects the game we did too would light you up and I wish you were around to see it. I wish you knew that she couldn’t wait to get to practice and that Mom has to drag her off after the stadium lights have gone off; she thanks her coaches at the end of every practice the way she learned from me the way I learned from you.

I think about the way it would feel for you to know us.

Chatter in the Breeze

Each step forward makes a cloud of dust underneath my worn out Nike’s and the endless mind chatter loses steam; both the winding path ahead and the wild heart within liberate me.

I’ve been highly critical of myself as of late based on how I’m choosing to spend my “fitness funds” and where I believe I’m deriving newfound mental energy. The answer to both of these propositions lies on the cushy floors of the bougie yoga studio down the road from my house. I started the free trial membership two weeks ago and was hooked. It really is worth all the pizazz. I’ve been obsessed with this notion that I am somehow a less authentic person because I’ve been moving my body in a warm, scented room with a bunch of other privileged individuals. I feel like I’ve been sneaking around, having an affair of sorts and cheating on my down-to-earth movement routines that feel like a symbol of who I am… and loving every second.

Then, the breeze across my cheeks on the trail calms my mind chatter and I am allowed to settle into myself. This breeze is an old friend and she reminds me that I’m okay and everything is exactly how it’s supposed to be.

It seems like such an obvious thing, but perhaps I was never taught that it was okay to be all the things and to keep exploring, to be unsure and curious. Maybe we all need to be reminded sometimes that impermanence is our only constant and we can do so many things that are new, scary, and interesting and still come home to our authentic selves, however evolved she might be by now.

The truth is, I think it’s bullshit that we get to be only one thing. As it turns out, I am allowed to love hiking, big ass trees, and getting unmentionably sweaty and dirty and be intoxicated by the experience of practicing yoga in a community that challenges and inspires me. It is permitted that I am equal parts invigorated by the rocky hillside and the smell of the spring air and scared absolutely shitless of any rustling brush because RATTLESNAKES. It is completely okay to be mutually devoted to the idea of getting lost in unnamed campgrounds and sleeping on the ground underneath a blanket of endless stars and that of a weekend on the couch with Sean, drinking our favorite wine and watching How I Met Your Mother.

It is my intention to accept myself in this new practice I’ve been enamored with.

It is an intention in love.

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On Second Thought

A week ago, I learned that I was denied admission to a graduate program for the upcoming year.

Failure is an ugly and unhelpful word and truthfully, I believe that there is no such thing. However, until this morning, I had a piece all typed up ready to be published about all the ways in which that was true in everyone’s story but my own.

My words sat there like a big, organic multivitamin that I thought I was able to swallow completely, but clung stubbornly to the edge of my trachea.

I had listed the disappointments and frustrations that are surfacing in tandem with this experience, mostly the fears. The rejection letter sparked fear within me about who I want to be and how I’ll get there, but mostly, fear that you believed in me too heavily and I don’t deserve it.

I sat with the words until I felt something magical happen. I sat with them until they were boring and had no meaning to me. I sat with them long enough for me to separate from them and understand that they were a written representation of my mind chatter and nothing more.

The truth is, who I want to be has nothing to do with external accomplishments and the people whose opinion I’m really worried about already see me – with or without a Master’s degree by the time I’m 30. Most importantly, I still see me.

Yes, there is disappointment and frustration where I hoped there would be excitement and I believe it is my duty to let myself be fully human and acknowledge these things. It is okay to not be okay about this for the moment.

But when that moment dies and a new one is born, I am able to feel my higher self trusting the timing of the universe with full surrender; submission to this idea is as easy to me as taking in air. Practicing patience in the meantime, however, requires a bit more effort.

This time for me is not becoming what I thought it would. But then, it never really is. As it turns out, I don’t appear to be headed any of the places I had planned to be. Isn’t it beautiful to think that there are storylines for me (and for you) that we haven’t imagined yet? I have no idea what it looks like, but man, am I excited to learn what it is.

When we get there, we’ll be right on time.

The Untapped Market

I have grown up into the junior adult I am today with the notion that a vast majority of the great mysteries, overwhelming emotions, and paralyzing conundrums of my life have already been written for me. Books are transportation devices to times, places, and conditions that make us feel less alone; they’re my favorite way to satiate my endless fascination with human nature without having to interact with too many actual humans.

There are self-help books on an endless slue of subjects and I would venture to say that some of them are even legitimate. I’ve scoured the shelves of Barnes & Noble, investigated every inch of my beloved community library and I’m coming up empty handed. It turns out there isn’t a book for how to meet up with your partially estranged father for a casual coffee in the middle of a suburban city neither of you know well for which one of you will be tremendously tardy (cough, not me) and you have both accidentally found yourself in the middle of a historic antique car show. It’s a damn shame, because I see a real untapped market there.

Before this day, I had not seen my father in over six months and it had been at least a year since the two of us were alone. Coffee and sports are our bonding zones and given that he was coming from a sporting event and I only had an hour and a half before work, coffee seemed like a safe call. It felt mature and so very ordinary to meet up with my father for coffee, which is precisely why it felt so unnatural. Him and I have never lived in that place. Our relationship was built on drinking from the hose, building janky skateboard ramps and duck-tape appliances, annoying my mother, and bowls of ice cream the size of our heads. The two of us sitting down for coffee in a public place surrounded by other civilized adults felt vaguely like a turtle and a grizzly bear walking through the savanna hand-in-hand. I chuckled to myself imagining the strangeness of it all as I guzzled my nitro cold brew and watched the minutes before work tick by and  monopolized a table for two. Time passed, I lost the ability to hide the fact that the cold brew went straight to my head, and we looked at old cars I couldn’t care less about like we had seen each other last week. It wasn’t tragic or simple or the most revelatory, meaningful hour of my life. It just was. We joked like none of the rest of it happened.

As we turned to go our separate ways, he stopped. “Wait! I forgot I have something for you.” He dug through the back of his camper shell covered truck bed filled to the brim with god only knows and finally came up with a thick black binder. He flipped through the pages to show me charts of family trees, typed and handwritten chronicles of my genealogy, which has apparently become the hobby of my paternal grandfather’s golden years. The front of the binder displays a blurry portrait of a dozen grey-haired, wrinkly-faced souls – my paternal grandparents smack in the middle. It’s a funny thing, this binder. I don’t have the time or energy to study it, though I sense that I someday might. Furthermore, my already-filled-to-the-brim apartment is literally begging me to not bring another object over the threshold. Storing it somewhere seems packrat-esque and strange, but I certainly don’t have the heart to throw it out. So, for now, it lives on the passenger seat of my car. It feels weirdly symbolic that I let it ride around with me without feeling the need to open it or trash it.

It’s a tricky thing to make peace with things that do not make you happy, things that you never would have chosen. I suppose acceptance doesn’t require my approval. As the universe constantly reminds me, alignment with my expectations is not a prerequisite for the things in my life that will eventually bring about healing. So, for now, I’m driving around with a peaceful sense of grief, an undeniable caffeine buzz, and a binder full of old people.

Messy, Imperfect Practice

“I’ve been busy”: Everyone’s least favorite excuse. I guess I can’t speak for you but it’s definitely towards the top of my list.

The truth is – I’ve been burnt out. I’ve been spending a lot of hours doing something that I’m not deeply passionate about, which feels very stressful. That feeling wears me down and I want to check out when I have free time. When all the boxes have been ticked and all the noses have been wiped, I want to sleep. And then I wonder why I feel slightly disconnected, slightly offcentered, slightly flat.

It’s the cardinal sin of hobbies that bring us great joy, I believe, that we start them to light a fire when our lives feel perhaps a little darker. It excites something inside us and then we find the rest of our life getting a little bigger and a little brighter because that spark is contagious. The universe senses when you are your most creative, inspired, connected, and loving. For me personally, these things go hand in hand. It is my sincere belief that people cannot help but gravitate towards this vibration. This energy that our thing builds in us is absolutely contagious and consequently, our lives continue to get even bigger. Our calendars fill with work opportunities, academic pursuits, and social responsibilities (because of that godforsaken contagious vibe) and then, do you know what happens?

We stop doing the thing.

I’m in that place. My life got busy. I stopped doing the thing that gave me the passion to engage in this busy life of mine in the first place. I believe that this blank page was the beginning of my spark and then I continuously told myself that I was too busy, too tired, too mentally depleted to return to it. As the days crept on, the mean voice that is sometimes in my head told my insides that I do not have anything worthy of publishing and I listened far too often. I woke up this morning (on Earth day, no less) with a bigger voice – the love voice. The love voice reminded me gently but unequivocally that I have this full, exhausting life today because I pursued this thing that excites me first. I have forgotten that this blank page is not a chore or a heavy obligation; this blank page is church, freedom, and authenticity. The honesty and grace this thing has helped me to find in myself deserves to be remembered and to be honored with messy, imperfect practice.

The Massage

Last weekend, I had my massage V Card taken.

My cousin recently started Massage Therapy school and apparently, the students are asked to find “clients” to bring in to their “clinical environment” so that they may practice on new pieces of flesh for a certain number of hours. My family, as you might imagine, is thrilled with my cousin’s choice of academic pursuits (especially because two years ago I, by contrast, chose to learn the masterful art of phlebotomy in an off-brand program in the civic center).

As the story goes, I was in Arizona for the weekend for my youngest sister’s 13th birthday and voila, the opportunity for a FREE massage fell right into my lap and despite my relentless anxiety, I accepted. I sat with my mother and my aunt in the Zen-Wannabe lobby of a small building in an absolutely terrifying part of town. The minimalist decor, clad with bamboo planters and soft chimey music on repeat playing overhead did little to squelch my preexisting awareness of the imminent crime lying just outside the simple glass door. It seemed oddly humorous to me at the time that I was about to get naked and let a stranger touch me in such a horrible neighborhood.

I’m led back to a small curtained space by a large, warm, nervous looking woman named Christina. Christina struck me as warm in the softness in her chocolate brown eyes and also in the sense that she was red faced and wearing a sweat band. I took a mental oath not to read to much into it, to treat the next 50 minutes of my life “as a sociological experiment,” which is what I sometimes tell myself to distance my busy brain from my actual physical environment (ie-turbulence on an airplane, waiting for my uber on the only rainy day of the year, when my nose bleeds in yoga class). We walk into the 6×6 makeshift curtain “room” and Christina tells me, in her best “zen, comforting, new massage therapist student” voice to “undress to my comfort level.” I almost laughed. I found it interesting that she did not offer me additional layers of clothing, which would, of course, been my honest comfort level. I thought of how much I could F**k poor, nervous Christina’s day up (and possibly the future of her education as a massage therapist) if she returned to the curtain to find me wearing a secret parka, smuggled into the space in my very large purse, declaring that I had reached my comfort level, thank you.

As one would expect, the massage commenced and the next 50 minutes of my life flew by in an uneventful, warm, blissful haze. Other than my periodic instances of unwanted mental commentary about why they choose white sheets, which are sooo very see-through, and trying to ignore the festering giggle inside that I sometimes get when people touch my hands – I was relaxed.

As the massage finished, Christina left the curtain to allow me to re-dress to my comfort level. She walked me back to the lobby and I thanked her, declaring that I would like to bring her home with me and bake her cookies. She laughed uncomfortably, as many people do when they don’t quite know how to respond to whatever shenanigans have just left my mouth. Honestly, it’s all a little fuzzy at this point, but I’m sure I meant something grandmotherly by it that implied that I would like to receive her massages on the regular.

 

…And then I walked back out the glass door onto the crime-riddled streets, as if none of it had ever happened. Maybe that’s for the best.

Confessions of a Middle Schooler

I’m sitting here watching the tiny learners, tiny explorers, tiny dreamers mindlessly copying notes about Ancient Egypt. A few of them are present but most of them, it seems, are letting their brain tell their highly trained writing hand to mimic the precise curvatures they practiced years ago and now execute on autopilot. They’re rehearsing a dance of muscle memory while their focus is elsewhere.

What I don’t think they know is that I’m sitting up here – trying to figure out adulthood and life the same exact way they’re trying to figure out middle school and life. I’ve been learning social cues longer and I’m the one with the laminated name tag and bathroom key hanging from my neck, so they think we’re different. They’re sitting right there copying down words they’ll never remember and I’m up here copying down their little faces, trying to open my heart enough to tell their little hearts that we’re the same, them and I.

 

And most days, I’m pretty sure they’re teaching me a lot more than I teach them.

No Place like MY OWN Home for the Holidays

I’ve decided to stay home for Christmas this year.

I’ve decided that traveling 300 miles to see my immediate and extended family is not the deepest longing of my heart. I’ve decided to sleep in my own bed on the night Santa may or may not be coming through my chimney. I’ve decided to walk and read at the beach on Christmas Eve instead of participating in the loud antics of White Elephant with my family. I’ve decided to spend the holiday with my Fr-amily 10 minutes from my own front door. I’ve decided to listen to the quiet voice inside me that tells me how to take care of myself, the one I’ve spent so long silencing so that I could be sure other people were happy.

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Don’t get me wrong – I believe in kindness and doing all that you can to spread joy to others. I believe in family, sacrifice, and commitment. I just also happen to believe that you can’t pour from an empty cup and sometimes when I visit my family, my cup feels really freakin empty.. like bone dry to the point where the ceramic is chipping and the cup is starting to crack. I love them very much, they’re just a loooot for several days at a time (with no space to call my own).

This process of making the decision to stay home and then communicating it to my family with love, respect, and clarity has been a big one for me. I had to dig deep to make the pro-con list that helped me look analytically at what that nagging feeling in my gut really was. I talked it out with a few people I trust, people who know me really well and understand the emotional implications of the situation for me. [Side note: it’s taken me a long time to find these people, the real ones, and they are the most important people in my life. I’m grateful for their love, their wisdom, and perspective every second that I am breathing.] I also know myself enough to know that it was important to be clear with my family when a conclusion (which I was about 80% confident about) had been reached because I will change my mind if I perceive that someone is disappointed in me. I have always felt drawn to caring for the needs of others and if I had a Native American name indicative of my fundamental nature, it would probably be: “The-One-Who-Does-Not-Rock-The-Boat.” So, the bottom line here is that this decision was uncomfortable. Initially, people griped and I received many messages dripping with the hot, molten lava of guilt pleading with me to change my mind. I let them come and didn’t feel the need to over-console my family or over-explain my reasons for deciding to stay home. I just let it happen and something lifted for me. Guilt and the “should haves” are heavy, people; they are also a choice, I’m learning (slowly and arduously). Eventually the messages stopped coming, but truthfully, the letting go on my part had already been done when I decided that my self-care was bigger than my guilt or my FOMO.

This whole thing was a huge, beautiful, uncomfortable, enlightening experience for me. Yes, it seems like a simple one, a decision that all people have to learn how to make at some point in their lives and I missed the boat on the “learning how to piss your parents off and not care about it” seminar in high school or college or whenever they offered it on a day I was clearly absent… Because I definitely still care.

I’ve decided that that’s okay. What’s no longer okay with me is ignoring the voice that reminds me what I need to do to care for myself at the expense of disappointing someone. As I’ve made this choice, I’m learning that I am more proud to be the person who sets boundaries and honors them by communicating her limits clearly, lovingly, and respectfully to those she shares her time with than the one who shows up and goes through the motions, letting resentment and social fatigue infiltrate opportunities for connection. I’m really lucky because my people understand that and want to help me continue practicing and growing my “showing up for myself” muscle. I’m pretty sure these people know who they are and hopefully also know that I am deeply grateful for the way they love me and teach me, patiently, how to become the best version of myself. But in case you didn’t already, thank you.

 

Buckle Up, Kids.

Once again, the universe has given me some sort of cheap ticket to one of the most raw and intensive storytelling retreats ever created. It’s not for the faint of heart; it’s not for most people, I imagine. Its sense of adventure lives in the uniqueness and unpredictability of every day, every hour. It’s challenging and scary, particularly for an introvert who needs to know nearly everything in advance, thinks about germs too much, and only likes to be touched a maximum of five times per day – preferably on the hand, which can be easily sanitized.

Its name is substitute teaching.

I’ve learned that sixth graders respond with the same amount of respect that you show them, but that they can also smell your fear. Respect and fear can coexist, but they are not interchangeable.

I’ve learned that keeping a trash can near the teacher’s desk is a subtle comfort item for me, in case my anxious disposition doesn’t agree with my brain’s plan for the day.

I’ve learned that if you stand up in front of the classroom, looking moderately put together and adult-ish and tell the students that you are their teacher for the day, they will believe you. I imagine it helps if you believe it yourself, but it seems to work either way.

I’ve learned that if a boy takes off his shoe and you think to yourself, “no way is he going to throw the shoe,” that you should always expect him to throw the shoe.

I’ve learned that I have always taken for granted that learning and processing comes easily to me (and that I’m even more fortunate to have loved school) because it simply does not come easily to every child.

I’ve learned that most of this game is improv and there is no legitimate way to prepare or anticipate what each day may bring.

I’ve learned that these days are a great lesson for life: my job is to show up and do my best to support whatever environment I’m thrown into. The day is going to go how it’s going to go with or without my consent or my attempt to control it and it’s better for everyone involved if I sit down, shut up, and enjoy the ride. (And a sense of humor is a mandatory prerequisite for survival here).

I’ve learned that every child has a gift. Some kids are gifted in the classroom, some are gifted on an athletic field, others in the music room. It takes a lot of work, patience, diligence, and grace to help children find their gifts so that they can share them. It’s a worthwhile endeavor.

I’ve learned that it’s really exciting when you spend several hours trying to get a student to understand his assignment and then at the end of the day, he thanks you.

I’ve learned that there is at least one know-it-all (usually somewhere in the front) in every class and if you get stuck or unsure, going to this kid is your golden ticket. He/She will tell you exactly how their teacher does it, in tremendous detail, and will often offer to “show you”. MY GOD, ALWAYS LET THEM SHOW YOU. It’s basically fool proof – you’re getting the child to do a small part of your job for you and making him/her feel empowered at the very same time. Literally everyone wins, except for the Know-Some-Of-It in the second row that is angry and jealous towards know-it-all number one and probably always will be. But you’re only there for a day, you can’t be expected to solve all their problems.

I’ve learned that teachers are superheroes (along with the parents who have to deal with each of the tiny, nose picking miracles when they go home for the day). Teachers of special education classes (and those parents) are extra special superheroes that should be allowed to cut everyone else in the line at Costco for the rest of eternity.