Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mean Mommy

Lately, Lucia has been saying, "you're the meanest Mommy in the world." At first it kind of smarted when she said that. Lately though, (like tonight when she chanted it naked from her bathtub while I, like a maidservant searched for the bedtime book she wanted) the words bounced off of me with barely a sting. After Lucia's raging tantrum and full-on tirade declaring me "the meanest Mommy in the world", we talked in bed. "Lucia", I said, "just because you are mad or sad or tired, does not give you permission to be unkind to me. It is my job to make rules for you and sometimes you won't like them. Sometimes it will seem like I am mean but I love you all the time, even when I'm mean." Now, calm and sweet and irresistible with her eau de Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo, Lucia explained emphatically, "Mommy, I know you're not really mean. Sometimes I just need to cry it out. But I always know you love me." Whatever. Maybe I'll crack the code to parenting and maybe I won't, but in the meantime, I'll still make rules.

Lucia knows that I will always be her mom. She knows that when she pours water in her gym shoes and puts glitter all over her scalp I will still love her. She knows that she can roll her eyes at me and slam the door in my face and I will still love her. She knows that she can hate me and be ragingly frustrated with the rules I impose on her and that I'll still be here. I'll still be her mom. Like all moms, I am her touchstone. She'll go away from me and come back, sometimes staying for a long time, calm and content and then she'll run from me, stifled and needing independence. Just like I did with my mom. Some days it feels thankless. "I birthed you and this is how you treat me?!" I know that, just like me, Lucia is in a process, feeling her feelings, finding her way with Mean Mommy.

For me, Mean Mommy comes in the form of my yoga practice. Anyone who has read my blog knows that I often go to yoga feeling resistant. I make myself go because I know I will always always always feel better after I practice. In the time I have been doing yoga I have gone through great times, good times, mediocre times and don't- want-to-get-out-of-bed-can't-eat-a-thing-don't-want-to-brush-my-teeth bad times. No matter where on the emotional continuum I start my practice for the day, I am invariably better after practice. My better feelings might last for an hour or a week or a month. When I go on vacation and eat crap and don't exercise for a week, I know what will make me feel better. Yoga. When I forget to pay my gas bill for three months and feel like a loser. Yoga. It's like Visa. Yoga is priceless. For me, it can make me feel better about almost anything.

My job as Lucia's mom is to keep her safe, teach her the rules, guide her so she is equipped to navigate through her world. My yoga practice does the same thing for me. When I am a spinning out of control maniac trying to manage a business, parenting, friendships, emotions, Yoga keeps me sane. Just like Lucia knows I will always love her, always be there, I know that about my practice. I might resent it, push away from it, even avoid it, but I know my yoga practice is always there. It will always love me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's inside.

Last month I witnessed a group of people practicing yoga every day for thirty days. This means these people spent over 45 hours yogastudio. They committed to doing this challenge for a range of personal reasons. Private reasons. They were not graded nor judged nor paid. The rewards came from within. These 30-Dayers reported feeling happier, more energetic, calmer. They told me they slept better, ate better, smiled more. I received so much joy from teaching the 30-Dayers. They were (and are) strong, radiating energy and strength from within. Amazingly, though very few factors in their lives changed during their challenge (stress at work, relationship challenges, financial woes), they were happier, inside out, bones to the skin.

I've always been an over-achiever. If a teacher told me to do it, I’d do it. No shortcuts. The more tedious the assignment, the better. If I struggled more, I felt more accomplished because there was always the reward at the end of the task in the form of a grade or a compliment. I was forever competing with my twin sister or my classmates. When my partying high school girlfriends opted for a free period junior and senior years, I balked, signing up instead for the non-required Physics and Chemistry. When my swim coach gave us a ball-busting workout, I joined in the moaning and groaning of my teammates, but inside I was thrilled. I could work harder, show my coach that I was stronger. Then he’d pat me on the back and say, “Good work today Culberg.”

But what reward was I getting internally? Was I feeding my own sense of accomplishment or was I just ticking off achievements to tally at the end of each day? It was not until I was years into my yoga practice that I started to move away from being mostly externally motivated in my actions. Yoga is personal. It is a process of seeking the divinity within. In my yoga practice, I began to recognize the satisfaction of approving myself. It was enough to be proud of myself in standing head to knee pose. I stopped worrying (and even noticing) if I needed to take more breaks than the 75 year old woman practicing next to me. I practiced because I wanted to, because it was a gift I could give to myself.

Understanding the power of self-satisfaction has affected almost every part of my life. Of course I still struggle. I find myself in petty emotional predicaments with friends and family. The trouble is almost always rooted in some kind of disconnect I am having internally. I’m trying to be the most popular friend or the number one daughter. The difference is that now I can see when I am playing that old game. I can step back and say to myself, “What do you want? What do you need? And how are you going to get it?” And, like the 30-Dayers, in my process of finding what I need inside, I am exponentially happier, calmer, and more satisfied with the world outside.