Friday, October 27, 2017

¡Solo Español!

My seventh grade daughter Lucia is taking her first year of Spanish. After a summer of worrying if she'd get Spanish (instead of French of Japanese), Lucia was thrilled to learn that she would be enrolled in her language of choice.

I took Spanish all four years of high school and majored in Spanish in college. I spent a year living in Spain. Sadly I rarely use Spanish in my day-to-day life, but now that Lucia has Spanish homework and quizzes and tests, I speak it much more than I have in the past twenty years.

Lucia is filled with questions about Spanish, "Is there a way to say 'high five' in Spanish?"; "How do people who speak Spanish say 'um'?"; "Why do they use upside down question marks and explanation points in Spanish?" It is so fun to have this new concept to talk about together.

Our neighbor Ella, also in first year Spanish often carpools to soccer with Lucia. At the beginning of the school year, hearing the girls talking about their new language, I implemented a new soccer carpool policy: ¡Solo Español! (Only Spanish).

With ¡Solo Español!, I speak to the girls only in Spanish and they have to try to figure out what I'm saying. I give them lots of hints, do as much hand gesticulating as possible while driving, and I put one of my old Spanish-English dictionaries in the back seat for them to reference (though they'd much rather use their phones.)

Last night after a late practice that finished close to 9pm, driving home I started speaking in Spanish. I talked about the leaves on the trees on Lake Washington turning yellow, red, and orange. Since they had learned colors, after several attempts they were able to deduce that I was talking about the trees. I asked if they were hungry and they could answer, "Sí.I asked if practice was fun and they could say, "Sí, muy bueno."

There were lots of things the girls didn't understand, but we still had a conversation. And, most important, we had fun. I often get so frustrated dealing with areas in my life I don't comprehend fully. I anticipated this feeling yesterday when I called my insurance carrier to figure out where my family will land with Trump's demolition of Obamacare. I went into the call with a sense of dread but I ended up spending an hour-and-a-half on the phone with three incredibly helpful customer service agents. One guy, Owen, said at the beginning of our conversation, "Good. You're asking questions. When you don't understand, keep asking me questions. That's what I'm here for."

We can't be experts in everything. We need each other to learn, especially new things. The idea that learning can be fun is something every parent hopes for their kids--that they are exposed to teachers who are creative and energetic and enthusiastic in ways that give kids joy when they are learning.  The idea that learning can be fun is important as an adult too. When I take a yoga class or training, I want to feel excited and engaged. When the teacher gives me enough information to feel like I know what I'm doing and room to be confused and a little bit lost, I am in a situation where I feel safe enough to try new things, to take risks, but also to fail as often as I succeed.

By the end of my talk with Owen, even though I was still a little bit confused when we hung up, I felt great. I felt confident that I'd learned enough (though not everything) and I felt certain that Owen had heard my concerns and given me as much help as he could. I had to send a few more emails and make a few more phone calls, but I wasn't cranky or distraught. I was in a surprisingly good mood.

Last night after soccer when we dropped Ella off around the corner, as she got out of the back seat, I yelled, "Hasta el Sabado," (see you Saturday), and she stammered, "uh, uh?"

Then I tried, "Buenas noches."

Ella looked back from her front walkway, ¿Qué? 

"Adios", Lucia and finally yelled together.

"Ohhhhh....Adios", Ella replied with a big fat smile on her face.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pioneer Days

I have a binge TV watching habit. Currently I am on Season 3 of The Americans. I justify this habit by telling myself that everyone needs to check out sometimes. Nancy reverts to reading The New York Times and The Washington Post on her phone fifteen times a day. My friend Alia follows every detail of each victim of every disaster in the news. All three of us are spending time that could be spent elsewhere, doing other things, real life activities that would make us feel happier.

I love all things Prairie Days. I was a devotee of the whole Little House on the Prairie series (books and television) and I love Willa Cather. The wholesomeness and completeness of the lives of pioneers makes sense to me. I sometimes wonder if Laura Ingalls Wilder ever had "check out" time.  It's not that the lives of the pioneers were without struggle or drama, but the necessary tasks to make daily life function kept everyone on track and focused and in constant connection with each other.

Recently Nancy quit her news habit in preparation for a week-long retreat where she'd be without internet,  phone or any other kind of media. When she came back she stayed off her devices, especially the news sites. The day she got back she said to me, "Laura, my Lyft driver in California kept talking about Las Vegas. What happened in Las Vegas?" This was several days after the massacre. About a week later she started to tell me about a Tom Petty video a friend had emailed her. 

"It's so sad that Tom Petty died" I said.  

"Tom Petty died!!!!?" Nancy screamed in surprise from the couch.

The changes I've noticed with Nancy being mostly news free (she only reads it on Sunday now), are that she seems happier; she reports feeling better overall, more at ease and balanced. Nancy has replaced her news time with meditation, spending time with her family and friends, and reconnecting on the phone with other people she loves. This summer when I started a garden as a habit to counter my after-work screen tendencies, I too felt happier and more balanced. Being outside, seeing the fruits of my labor has given me a sense of joy and accomplishment. The shift from vacantly filling time (escaping into media) to engaging in something real is a choice that Laura Ingalls Wilder never had to make.

For many of us, the drive to escape from the intensity of life is strong. Most of us are inundated with details about news and other life issues even if we don't want to hear them. Living in a city, having a job, raising families, we have to be connected to function. There are tasks we need to be engaged with-- driving carpool, paying bills, cooking dinner, organizing work tasks. It's the modern day version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family responsibilities-- sowing the wheat, building the barn, churning the butter, planning the church picnic.

The problem is that a lot of these current era daily functions bring us to our phones or laptops. Look up a recipe online, pay bills with online banking, text the parents from soccer carpool. We have too much connection. We're so used to this information overload that we fill our quiet time with more of it, exacerbating the problem and systematically destroying our ability to be without our devices.

The two times I am actually without my phone on a regular basis are in the yoga room and in my bed. I always plug my phone in downstairs in the kitchen when I go to sleep and we have a cell phone free yoga studio, so the phone stays quiet when I am practicing or teaching. I'm grateful for these few hours of each day that remind me that I don't need to be connected to my device to be connected to the world, the real world.  Divesting from our devices is a practice, just like quitting caffeine or meditating. I will still use my device to coordinate and plan and organize and get information, but I'm committed to being ever mindful of where my true connections are-- with myself, with other people, with real life.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My beautiful mug

Last year for Mother's Day Lucia made me a mug at one of those paint-and-go ceramics places. Lucia is close to thirteen, past her enthusiastic arts and crafts days. It's rare that I get handmade gifts anymore, and I really cherished that mug. Beyond the fact that Lucia made the mug, I loved the thickness of the lip and of the handle. They felt perfect for my mouth and my hand.

I used that mug every morning. My partner Nancy and I have a ritual of setting up the coffee maker the night before and then, whoever gets up first (usually me) goes down and turns it on, warms the milk and then brings coffee to whomever is still in bed. Every morning that mug sat at our little coffee station waiting for me. Every morning I derived immense joy from sipping my perfectly prepared coffee in my special mug. I almost always drank a second cup on my way to work. I hand washed the mug so it wouldn't fade in the dishwasher.

One afternoon, arms full of groceries, I tossed the mug into my yoga bag to bring into the house. I dropped my yoga bag full of sweaty clothes on the landing to the basement as I always do. This time though, in addition to the normal thud, I heard a loud crash. I knew immediately that I had broken "the mug." I was heartbroken, devastated, anguished. Lucia, who was standing there immediately said, "Mom, it's no big deal."

I continued moving around the house, getting dinner ready, putting away laundry, checking my email and periodically I'd let out a moan, "OOOOhhhh, I can't believe I broke the mug." Lucia was always right there reminding me, "Mom, it's no big deal. What is wrong with you?!!!"

When Nancy came home a few hours later I told her, as if I'd lost my first born child, "Honey, I broke my mug."

"Darn," she said as she flipped through the day's mail, "That's a bummer."

Based on the reactions of my family members, I was clearly over-reacting to this broken piece of porcelain. The remnants of the mug sat pathetically on the dining room table for a few days. The sad pieces were definitely not glue-able but I couldn't bring myself to part with them.

Then one morning I woke up and did my usual morning mediation. When I came downstairs and saw the ceramic remains still on the dining room table, I knew that I would move past this "drama" by giving the mug a new life. I took the broken shards and put them in my garden around a basil plant and the rest, extra special because it had Lucia's initials and mine on the bottom, I put on my altar. It fits my little vial of eclipse water just perfectly.

What's the lesson? I see now that this beautiful, perfect mug, this predictable, stable part of my life, could not last forever because nothing lasts forever. Nothing stays the same. The weather changes. Our roles as parents change. Our relationships with our partners change. Our positions in our work lives change.  Sometimes it's a slow change, subtle and calm. Other times, like the mug, it comes with an unexpected crash. The result is the same. With change, we need to shift gears, redirect, repurpose, find new ways to make meaning out of what is left.

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