Sunday, September 26, 2021

Slow Motion Memory Growth

It’s been almost two years since I sold my business, but it feels like two lifetimes. The timing of me selling my yoga studio of almost two decades was uncanny. I completed the sale and transition just a few months before COVID hit; four months before our world essentially shut down. It’s been a busy two years. Besides COVID, here’s what else has happened:

Three jobs. Ten interviews. Two grade levels. Three remodels. A death. Birth control. Driving. Fires.Another death. Protests. Hurricanes. Floods. Hospice. Knee Replacements. Dementia. Family. Friends. Sadness. Happiness. New job. Another new job. Hot tub. New plants. Outside dining. New driver’s license. Less meat. Four online classes. Electric bikes. Hulu. A vegetable garden. More baking. New habits. Fourty COVID tests. Outside heaters. Less drinking. Twenty-five COVID tests. More walking. HBO Max. Two volunteer gigs. Less yoga. Two road trips. Watercolors. Home office. One plane trip. Three vaccinations. Outdoor rituals. Honey cake. Holidays outside. Roller skating. Friday morning coffee. Raised beds. Outside heaters. Netflix.

As I’ve gotten older time seems to move faster, except for these past few years. When I look back at the last two years, I can actually remember stuff. COVID slowed the world down. As I reflect back on this time, it feels like there have been ten extra months crammed into the last two years. It seems impossible that so much has happened in just one-twenty-fifth of my life. 

When COVID first hit there was a collective adrenaline rush in my household and community. We all went on high alert. Details were everything. Who did you talk to? How close did you stand? Did you wear your mask? Use hand sanitizer? Do you feel okay? The details of our lives became common conversation in a way they never had before.

In my family, we all knew where we all were all the time because mostly we were home. If someone took a walk or went to the grocery, we knew. If there was a social event there was lots of planning and preparation— COVID testing, isolation, organizing outdoor space. 

The way we lived changed. During COVID we were no longer running in different directions. Before COVID my partner would be at her office and my daughter would be at school. I would be at the yoga studio. What each of us had for lunch or who we spoke to during the day was our own private story. At dinner each night we’d share a brief overview, but there were so many moments of each day that none of them was that precious, that memorable. 

When I ran my business I was gone a lot. I had classes to teach, employees to manage, meetings to attend. When I sold the business all of that busyness was gone. Combined with the great slowing of COVID, suddenly a vast amount of space opened up in my life. My interior world expanded and my external life contracted. 

When I contemplate how full my life has been in these last two years, years where our ability to travel, socialize and congregate has been severely curbed, I become acutely aware of how jam-packed my life was pre-COVID. I moved at warp speed. And I hardly remember it.

There is a joke among my family and friends that I have a terrible memory. It is why I rarely hold a grudge. I don’t remember the details of arguments or conflicts, probably because historically I have been too scatterbrained from an overly busy life. There were always too many other things going on to really focus on any one thing.

I benefited a lot from the great slowing that came with COVID. At first, like many people, I struggled to adapt to the changes. But in hindsight I can see that, through COVID, I learned to value the things in my life I took for granted in the past. My ability to remember significant, important moments is one of the things I notice. In the slowness, the relative emptiness of activity, my memory was able to retain more moments.

We’re getting back to normal now. My daughter is in school and she is able to socialize as she did before COVID. Her days and often evenings are a mystery to me. Last weekend my partner went away to see a friend for the weekend. Next week I will travel by plane to see my mother. We all engage in activities outside the nest of our home every day. The world is speeding up and I can feel myself losing track of many of the small moments. 

I know that next year my memory for the past will not be as clear as it is now at the edge of COVID. There will be too many things to sort out and keep track of. Like before COVID, my mind will be like a stuffed suitcase where I can’t find my running bra or iron pills. 

It’s a tradeoff. For me, the freedom that comes from moving beyond the imminent dangers of COVID is a super full life that moves really fast; a life where I get to see friends and family, work outside of my home, celebrate with others, and travel. What I lose is the experience of appreciating and remembering the preciousness of each moment. 

I am grateful for this return to a more abundant life but I also lament the loss of the slow presence I have felt these past few years.

I can say that I will try to keep it simple but I know deep down this will likely not happen. Already the dinner parties are starting. The travel plans and happening. The expectations are mounting. 

We are going back to a life more like the life we lived before COVID, but we will never be the same. The normal now is not the normal we lived before the pandemic. And for me, this is a good thing. I love the clarity of memory I have of the past two years of my life. 

I want to take some of what I learned from COVID into my future. I know it will be hard to impose a slowing down when there is no external mandate. But I can see now how important slowing down is, how doing it has helped me live a more memorable life. It won’t be easy to step away from the excitement and adventure of the world opening up again but I’m going to do my best. I’m going to try. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

My Butt Moved to My Belly

My Nana was one of my favorite people. She spent most of her time reading and doing crossword puzzles. She suffered from back pain as long as I knew her. She rubbed many people the wrong way, coming off as snobby and judgemental. But she loved me and I loved her. A black and white photo of her sits on my desk reminding me of that abiding feeling of unconditional love I experienced with Nana.

Nana had a beautifully chiseled jawline, a strong nose, and high cheekbones. She had a long neck and thin arms and legs which she accentuated by wearing solid colors, often black. I remember her most in black turtlenecks with a large artistic necklace hanging right at her sternum.

In addition to her long thin arms and legs, Nana had a hard, round stomach which got bigger as she got older. It was there in my first memory of her which meant that she was in her early fifties. I remember her little round belly growing over the years. Nana never wore loose clothes. She never donned moo-moos or loose blouses. She always wore close-fitting knits that showed her whole body.

I have many of the same characteristics that my Nana had — thin arms and legs, a long neck. Like Nana, I love to read. I’m in my early fifties now and I notice my body changing. Last night lying in bed I said to my partner, “I feel like my butt migrated to my stomach.” She laughed in agreement and understanding. She too is experiencing this physical shift in her body.

Whatever butt meat I had before has left the room, walked across the hall, and made itself comfortable in a circle right around my belly button. When I wear high-waisted pants now the waistband has a little platform to sit on. My belly isn’t that big yet, but if I follow Nana’s path, it will only get bigger.

I remember Nana’s belly. It seemed so out of place with the rest of her body. I have images of her in her black bathing suit — long arms and legs, strong, pronounced collar bones, and a little paunch right at the belly. I regularly accompanied Nana to the swimming pool on the top floor of their apartment building so she could do her physical therapy exercises. She’s put a volleyball under each armpit and float while she moved her legs to release the tension in her back. 

My belly isn’t always pronounced. Around my period it gets bigger. If I have gas it grows. But it’s always there, no matter how much weight I lose, the shape of my body doesn’t change — long, thin arms and legs and a little butt belly.

Nana’s belly is the one I remember most clearly but most of the female elders in my life have had the same progression of the butt rounding the corner to live at the belly. It’s easy to complain about this, to lament the fate of the aging body. But complaining is a waste of energy and completely unproductive. I could commit to doing more core work to try to get my butt to move back to its original position but I’m not sure I really care that much.

Mens’ bodies change too; their butts also move to their bellies. But men aren’t considered physically the way women are; they aren’t objectified from puberty through death. They aren’t socialized to keep up their looks as they get older. 

Why are women fighting this battle? Why am I? For whatever physicological reason, my butt has decided it would be happier on the front of my body than it was at the back. So what. When I think of Nana, sitting in her chair, reading Russian literature, one elbow resting on her belly as she puffed away at her True cigarette, I think of how much I loved her, not about how big her belly was.

It’s profound, to think that, with all that is going on in the world, that I, that millions of women, are focused on the changing nature of their bellies. Right now my belly feels a little like it did when I was very newly pregnant, not quite showing the world, but fully aware that my body was changing. I could feel the tightness of my jeans, the subtle discomfort of something shifting. 

Maybe that’s how to think of this aging body belly — there’s new life there, new possibilities, dreams, and hopes. Growing my daughter in my belly, giving birth, and raising her has been one of the greatest joys of my life. 

I’ve been lucky. Besides my butt moving around the bend to my belly and my hair going gray, I’ve not had many other physical changes with getting older. There is so much room for new life experiences and growth as we get older. Focusing on my belly is an unnecessary distraction, a pull away from all the good stuff that comes with aging. 

I wonder if Nana thought about her belly; if she tried to tame its growth. I have some of her jewelry, several of those ornate necklaces she used to wear. I’ve rarely worn them because I haven’t felt like they quite suit my style yet. Until now, they’ve felt too “old” for me. But my body is changing. I’m getting older. Maybe now is a good time to try on some of those necklaces. I bet they’d look great with my new belly.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Riptides and Other Life Adventures

Yesterday my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia went surfing with her friends. She’s only surfed once before in Mexico and that was when she was ten or eleven years old. She went surfing with her cousin and two friends, all sixteen, to a beach two hours away.

We live in the Pacific Northwest and the water is cold. People die in that water every day. As a mother, especially the mother of a teen, I live in a constant state of low-grade anxiety for what I do not know and what I cannot control. I worry about the big bad world eating up my little girl and spitting her back out. 

At the same time, I want Lucia to have experiences in her life that will make her life richer, more fulfilling. I want her to do things that help her feel engaged and alive. When Lucia told me she was going surfing yesterday I immediately began to worry about her drowning. I didn’t even know one of the kids she was going with. Maybe he was an asshole, one of those kids you read about who is just a bad seed, who always brings trouble. Lucia assured me that this kid was a good kid and a good surfer.

When Lucia and her cousin got home last night they were rosy-cheeked, frizzy-headed, excited, and exhausted. Lucia told me how she’d been hit by a big wave and pulled out into the riptide. She said it was really scary, that she’d tried and tried to swim but felt like she couldn’t get anywhere. Finally, she was able to get back. It wasn’t that long, she said, but it felt like forever.

This is what I had worried about. That the Pacific Ocean would swallow her up and keep her. That her friends would lose sight of her or lack the ability to recover her. That she would die alone and afraid in the freezing cold water. But that didn’t happen. She saved herself. She figured it out. 

At that moment, time stopped. Light swooshed in and around me from all directions — from outside my body, from inside, from above, from below. I was like a time traveler coming back to the present moment. Everything was okay. All of my fears and worries, images of her lost at sea, whirled around me as I looked at my daughter — smiling, healthy, happy, and alive. This was reality. She’d made it. She had figured it out without me.

How many of these moments will my daughter have? Close calls? Almosts? Could have beens? And I will not be with her for most of these moments. The thought of her navigating all of that on her own overwhelms me. How do I prepare her for this life she is living, more and more without me?

When Lucia was little I had the daily satisfaction, a sense of immediate gratification when I helped her cross the street or put on her floaties so she could swim in the lake. I had so much control over keeping her safe. Now all I have are words that I hope she will hear and heed.

We talk about hard things all the time. About drinking and drugs. About dangerous things that might happen at parties. About sex and consent. About birth control. About drowning. But whenever Lucia goes out to a party or to the ocean or in her car, there is a part of me that worries that something will go array. The possibilities for danger in my crazy-mother brain are infinite and (often) irrational.

Yesterday when Lucia saved herself from drowning, I had a moment of clarity. My job is to plant seeds of guidance and wisdom and then nurture the seeds with water and fertilizer. I can share advice with Lucia and engage in regular conversations about risk and choice and discernment. But without sunlight, the seeds will not grow. 

That’s Lucia’s part. Each life experience she lives is sunlight on the seeds. Yesterday at the ocean when she got swept out and felt the fear of danger, that was a life lesson, sunlight on a seed. The time a few weeks ago when she had to call the ambulance for the girl at the party who passed out was sunlight on her seed. Negotiating with her boyfriend about how often she wants to see him is sunlight on her seed. 

I want to believe that with each of these life experiences the seeds are growing into thriving plants that will surround her like a beautiful garden as she moves through life, maybe even growing fruit trees or vegetables. Being the mother of a teenager is gut-wrenching but it helps me to look at it from this angle. These experiences that are scary for me are fruitful for her. Sometimes Lucia will fly too close to the sun, like yesterday in the riptide. I wish I could control that, but I can’t; without sunlight, seeds cease to grow.

In less than two years Lucia will be going to college. She’ll move away from home and have to make decisions mostly on her own. Until she goes I’ll keep planting the seeds, watering and feeding them. And she’ll keep being a teenager, going out and trying new things. And each time she does, I’ll take a deep breath, force a confident smile and say, “Be safe and have a good time. Don’t forget your sunscreen.” 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Opening the Joy Valve

Yesterday I was talking to a friend in England about the feeling of joy. We only talk once a month but it’s always intentional and enlightening. I look forward to these monthly chats. She associated the feeling of joy with the experience of discovering. For many years she was a teacher of young children, a path she chose because she loved being around them in their constantly discovering state.

I remember when my daughter was little. We used to take “night walks.” After dinner, with her sometimes already in her polyester Dora the Explorer short-sleeved nighty, we’d each take a tiny bowl of ice cream and walk up and down our street, eating little spoonfuls as we chatted. The walks were never more than a block or two because there was so much to see, so many questions to ask and answer.

We looked at the tiny blue weed flowers and took our shoes off to walk on the moss. Sometimes we picked blackberries or pondered over the big trash heap behind the house at the corner of the alley. After twenty minutes or so we’d head home, read a story (also an extended undertaking full of observations and questions), and kiss goodnight.

I was never bored by these moments. To be in proximity of my daughter’s experience of discovering was a joyful, energizing experience for me. I understand my friend’s desire to be around that kind of energy all the time.

Last week I had a clothing swap for several friends and their teenage daughters. It was the first large gathering I’ve had in a few years. The idea was for all of us to bring clothes, shoes, and accessories we no longer wore, sort them into huge piles, and then shop each other’s rejects.

The seven mothers and eight daughters perused the piles finding little treasures that they’d try on and either throw into a “keep” pile of their own or toss back into the sorted mounds. After the first go-round people started to form little groups on patches of grass — having a snack, catching up on life, or sharing Tiktoks.

And then slowly people would revisit the piles, this time finding items that might be good for someone else at the swap. This is when it really started to get fun. Someone would hold a blouse up and shout, “Laura, this is perfect for you” or a mother would hold up a dress for her daughter, suggesting she try it. Occasionally, the daughter would say yes but more often she’d roll her eyes and reply, “You try it!” 

It wasn’t the outcome that mattered, it was the exchanges, the interactions, the idea of sharing discoveries with each other. It was the laughing, the teasing, the trying on, and modeling that sparked moment after moment of joy.

For the past eighteen months we’ve been living in relative isolation, at first because we were in fear, but later just out of habit. Socializing became more of a special event than part of daily life.

Reflecting on the sheer happiness I had at this gathering, I could see clearly that I have been living in isolation for too long. Isolation is truly the opposite of discovering. Isolation is quiet, still, hidden, and closed. Discovery is expansive, unknown, exciting, colorful, and thrilling.

During the clothing swap party, I became engulfed in a twister of joy that came from each of us, alone and together, discovering. I discovered a tie-dyed silk dress that I never would have selected for myself. My daughter found a simple beige t-shirt that ended up being perfect for her new job as a busser. One of my friends whose daughters couldn’t come, went home with two bags of clothes and shoes for them to try at home.

When I told my friend in England about how profound my joy was during this clothing swap, she wisely observed, “You have been missing this part of yourself and it finally had a chance to come out.” She’s right. My discovery valve has been sealed closed during the isolation of COVID. On that sunny Saturday in my yard, it finally opened up and the joy was released.

COVID has revealed many truths about our world — vulnerability, inequity, divisiveness, and fear. And all of these things have invited, for many of us, isolation. I understood isolation to be protective, and it was. But this protective isolation also limited opportunities for discovery. One can only discover so much in the confines of their home. True discovery, at least for me, involves other people, fresh air, and possibilities. 

I loved those night walks with my daughter, those short journeys filled with possibilities for discovery. And I loved the expansive happiness of the clothing swap too. The joy valve is open and I can feel the difference. The hidden darkness has lifted and I’m ready to be in the world, to keep discovering.

Work Life Balance

Yesterday while I was working I thought to myself, “I could do this all day long!” And that’s a good thing because that was the plan. I rece...