Mazi’s Gang (originally posted 3-20-17)

 

 

What kind of parents invite their 13 year old sons to join them in a little illegal spray painting? And encourage gang signs? Late. On a school night. Aren’t we supposed to be lecturing them against that type of behavior?

Mothers who miss Mazi Maghsoodnia, that’s who. Mothers who one year ago climbed this same damp, dark hill to let the world know that a great man was going to be missed.  And mothers who understand that the pain of missing Mazi has barely begun and his family still needs reminders of the community who love them and will not let Mazi be forgotten.  This time it seemed right to bring our sons, the boys from his soccer team, along.

We painted up our faces and commenced operation Mazi.

The moon was so bright, yet the trail still so dark.  Hiking single file along the narrow cow path left us fighting for who would bring up the rear, because even before stepping over the broken barbed wire fence we saw an animal we were sure was a mountain lion. This is how much we love Mazi, we went anyway. The last two of us in the line held hands the whole way, sure each rustle behind us signaled the launch of a pouncing wild animal.

We slipped and climbed and shushed the boys and finally made it to the top of the rock (did I mention how steep those hills are? Like, a foot slips and you hear pebbles go tumbling, tumbling, tumbling down towards the sinkhole).  Even though the moon was so bright the rock and surrounding hill seemed darker than last year, which of course it was.  The sinkhole below the hill is still there but the lights that blazed through the night last year are gone (maybe it just isn’t in the Moraga budget to illuminate a sinkhole for a whole year.  It clearly isn’t in the budget to fix it quickly).

The boys were ecstatic to be out late, on a school night, spray painting, for crying out loud.  The moms tried not to ruin the fun by pointing out that they were doing this cool delinquent-like thing with . . . their moms.

Excited to begin their tagging careers the boys quickly pulled the tops off of the spray paint cans only to find that at least half of them lost the nozzles upon opening.  Just try to find a 5 millimeter nozzle on a dark, grassy hillside (hint, can’t be done, you’d have better luck finding $10 front row seats to Hamilton).

We heard laughter float up the hill and looked down to see a couple of figures moving carefully up the path.  It was Lida, Auveen, Kian and Nauder coming to join us, arriving full of smiles and jokes.  “Mom, are you talking in Farsi? While scaling the cliff?”

13 year old boys are at an interesting stage of life, simultaneously enjoying and rejecting the nurturing of their mothers. Some of the moms on this trip get at most 3 syllables at a time out of their sons these days, but this night was like stepping outside of time and stage of life.  We all worked together, we talked, we laughed, and traditions were passed down from moms to sons, like the cliff hanging.

 

 

The only way to get the top of the letters painted correctly is for someone to hang out over the top of the rock, and the only way to do that with any degree of safety is for one or more people to hold onto the cliff hanger.  Here is last year’s cliff hanger passing the tradition along to her son (with a mask for good measure, isn’t it just like a mom to take her son spray painting and yet insist he wear a mask?????).

The tradition of getting the soccer ball painted just right.

The tradition of an adult beverage toast was not passed along to the sons. We aren’t that depraved.  They will have to discover Fireball all on their own, hopefully far in the future, in their own dark field like the rest of us did.

A new tradition of initials added to the bottom.

A new tradition of including Lida, Auveen, Kian, and Nauder.  Last year we painted the rock for them, this year we painted it with them and that felt just right.

A new tradition of a prayer, right after the Fireball (or was it before?).

A new tradition of a gang sign in Mazi’s honor (hand pointed downward with an “M” of middle three fingers).

 

Perhaps the most important tradition to pass down. An ancient tradition of gathering around a family in grief.

 

I want to write about grief but am finding it hard.  I have not been struck with this level of loss, so my imagination fails me when I try to truly understand what Mazi’s family has gone through this past year.  I feel the urge to focus on how well they have coped (they have) to allow myself to step back from looking into that abyss of pain that they still face every single day.  My mind flinches when I try to think about what it must be like for Lida to wake up in the middle of the night alone. My mind rushes to reassure itself with images of her smiling and hugging us all up on the hill.  See? My mind says to itself.  She is okay, she must be, she’s hugging and smiling and laughing.

Even while part of me knows she must still have very dark moments.

Even while a part of me feels helpless to do anything about those moments.

It feels cowardly, like a failure of compassion, to hide from the pain, so I try again to put myself in their shoes.  I try to imagine what it must be like to wake up and face the knowledge all over again, every single day.  And again the sadness drives me towards trying to find something reassuring.  Perhaps there is a deeper richness to life once something like this happens?  Perhaps Mazi was needed on the angels soccer team?  Perhaps they are stronger people now? Surely there is some meaning to this.

We all want to know that the Maghsoodnias are doing okay because we care about them, but also because we would like to believe you can survive tragedy.  It is too hard to imagine the long days and nights of pain so we would like to cut to the end of the movie, the laughing, smiling family who have triumphed, who have remade their world into something good again.  And people do survive, but are altered so profoundly that it is a whole different world that they are now living in. A world where the presence of the one lost has to be created in new ways, ways that will, inevitably, sometimes heartbreakingly, fall short of what they used to have.

I read Kian’s exquisite FB post about meeting his dad in his dreams.  I look at the picture of Mazi’s headstone that Lida sent me, surrounded by flowers, bright sunlight shining off of it. I see a hint of the ways that they are remaking their world and it is, as Glennon Doyle Melton would say, ‘brutiful’ (brutal and beautiful all at once).

The painful moments will exist no matter how much other love and joy comes to their lives. Those moments are part of the landscape now.  Part of our job as a community is to not pretend those moments out of existence.  To be ready with the happy hug but also with the courage to acknowledge the pain that will never completely go away. To hold hands and stand vigil in the dark night so that no one has to feel completely alone.

So the trip up the hill this time was a way to circle around the Maghsoodnias and allow all the messy feelings to coexist, joy in the presence of grief, beautiful memories in the face of great loss, connection alongside loneliness. To say we understand that joy and grief may stay forever intertwined for them. What we tried to offer is what the poet David Whyte calls solace.

“Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind.  Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part.  Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of.”

Mazi’s Gang did something hard and scary in the darkness of night, our only illumination the full and luminous moon.  Instead of the blazing warmth of the sun he used to be, maybe Mazi is now more like the moon, a steady, encircling presence, not always visible, but with luck, revealing himself as an incandescent glow in a dark night. And what we discovered was that the brightness of that moon was, in the end, more than enough light to get the job done.

The Most Famous Woman in the World

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I have a very active imagination, and never more so than when I’m running.  One of my favorite scenarios is that I’m winning the NY marathon (sometimes it’s Boston). It doesn’t matter that I’m actually running slow, in my imagination I’m running so fast I’m beating the men.  I’m even beating the Kenyans and the announcers are going wild and women all over the world are jumping up and down and cheering at their TV’s and calling each other to share the great news.  Abused women are dumping their husbands on the spot they are so inspired. Oprah and Gayle are hugging and toasting me with fancy cocktails even as Oprah gives the order to get me for her next Super Soul Sunday taping or someone’s losing their job.  Nike executives are scrambling madly to find my telephone number.  They are sending representatives down to the finish line with boxes of running shoes for me, only to sadly discover when they meet my husband that I am a Born To Run devotee and am wearing a thirty year old pair of Asics.  Asics, which have been out of business for three years, decides to get back into the game and have filed a new company license by the time I hit mile twenty.

The producers of the broadcast switch out the cart carrying the camera filming me, putting their lone camerawoman on the job, knowing this story needs to be covered by another woman.  She has tears running down her face but stays laser focused on getting my image just right, even as she has a fist in the air in solidarity.  She zooms in on my face, capturing my perfect eyelashes, the ones I used extra adhesive on so they wouldn’t blow off with my flaming speed.  They have held up remarkably, but then again I’m a master at make-up, and eyelashes in particular. I did just the slightest smoky eye to go with my eyelashes and my foundation and blush are impeccably applied. When you are over fifty there is no shame in wearing make-up to exercise and I knew I was going to be on national TV today anyway. L’Oreal sends a representative as well, not knowing I’m a Clinique gal.

I’m running so smoothly it is hard to tell I’m running that fast but they keep checking my splits and I’m scorching it. Each man I pass looks at my back in horror, seeing my bouncing blond ponytail and trim, obviously female, figure. They look at each other, at the cameramen, at the race employees along the route, who let this crazy woman crash their race? The announcers are going apeshit because I am on track to be the first ever sub-two hour finisher. People have been chasing this unicorn for years and it is looking like it might be a woman who catches it first.

Every ex-boyfriend has found a TV and is watching, regretting that they ever lost me, calling all their friends and telling them they dated me.  Their current wives are getting more and more annoyed at how complimentary they are of me.

No one can believe a 53 year old woman looks that effing good and Vogue also has a representative down at the finish line to sign me up for a photo shoot. The Vogue representative gets into a hair pulling fight with the Cosmo representative.  My husband tells them not to bother, I’m headed straight to Sports Illustrated.  Swimsuit edition!

All the girls/women who have ever been mean to me in my life are busy stuffing that information into their unconscious and claiming to have been my best friend.

My dad and brother, who were golfing together, are called in from out on the course and are watching my big finish in the country club bar, which is packed with people cheering me on, high fiving my brother and dad, toasting each other and them with lots of beers.

My mom is on a cruise and someone in the bar points out to her that a woman is leading in the NY marathon and she looks and sees that it is me and starts screaming.  People call the ship’s doctor, sure she has lost her mind but they finally realize she is the mother of the most famous woman on earth and instead start buying her drinks and wanting her autograph. When she turns down the drinks (she’s not a fan of alcohol) they switch to buying her shrimp cocktails and lobsters. That doesn’t impress her either since the cruise is all you can eat, and they finally come up with the idea to bring her jewelry from the gift shop. By the time I cross the finish line she is adorned in more diamonds than Elizabeth Taylor.

My sister is at a hockey game and when the big screen switches to the unprecedented event of a woman beating the world’s fastest men in a marathon she discovers it is her sister.  Word quickly travels around the stadium and she and her family are invited down onto the ice as the entire place watches, breathless, the finish of my race. Her sons are hoisted onto the shoulders of the toothless hockey players and get rides around the ice as the place starts chanting ‘USA! USA!’ It’s like the two biggest sports miracles have merged. The Olympic track coach happens to be at the hockey game and as he watches my race he holds his heart then looks up in the air and says ‘thank you God!’ He’s sure he can get me for the Olympics and I’m the final piece in his plan to dominate the track and field events.

The footage is streamed live onto scoreboards around MLB parks and games stop to let the crowds watch the finish of the race.  All of my husband’s baseball friends and former players are blowing up his phone.  He sends out a group text ‘of course she’s winning, she’s a stud!”

The camera takes a break from my perfect eyelashes to zoom in on my “I’m STILL with Her” T-shirt and then to all the arrows pointing to ‘and her’ ‘and her’ ‘and her’ representing all the women in the world.  Women around the world cheer in solidarity. Women rock!  We rule!  We are about to beat the men in a f*#*ing marathon. Hillary Clinton makes her way down to the finish line too, but makes Bill stay home, I’m that attractive.  Even though she can see from the images of my husband (they have found him in the crowd) that wrinkled old Bill poorly compares to my movie star handsome husband, she’s been managing Bill a long time and knows she doesn’t have the bandwidth to pay attention to me and keep him from straying at the same time.

Donald Trump, from his solitary confinement prison cell, watches in disbelief. As part of his punishment his cell is equipped with a TV turned on 24 hours a day to MSNBC.  Donald has decompensated to the point where he is sure my race is a made up TV show designed to torture him, and that part is true, he’s tortured by it, and yet the pale monster (he is not allowed to have tanning spray in prison and now has the filmy translucence of a jellyfish) can’t look away.  His fingers twitch as if he is tweeting but there is no phone in his hands. He flings his head forward to dump his comb-over into his face, hoping to block sight of the TV but without the dye and other products it is just a couple of wisps of white with orange tips and he can still see clearly through it. He knows he should look away but he’s never been able to do even one thing he knows he should do, so he keeps watching, fingers air-tweeting.

My website crashes and my amazon self published book starts selling at a rate of a hundred books a minute.  It can’t sell out since it is digital so the numbers just keep climbing and climbing. All the publishers who turned down my books are desperately searching through their emails to see if they still have my contact information.

Someone from the Zac Brown band notices on my website that I said they are my favorite band and sends a car to the finish line with the message that I’m to be their guest at their next concert, which just happens to be that night in NY.  We can hang out with the band, and in fact, since they see that I am a dancer too, they will have me on stage with them for as many numbers as I’m willing to give them.

As I close in on the finish line I know there are no men close behind me because there is only one TV cart, and that is my girl right in front of me.  I pull off my baseball cap and let my hair blow back like I have a Beyonce fan on me.  Glam to the end.

I do it. I finish in 1:58:03, almost two minutes under two hours. I am triumphant and barely winded. The men in the race, once they finally finish, are bent over, hands on knees, gasping for breath, stunned and speechless.  A couple of them are throwing up, whether from running hard or being beaten by a woman I don’t know. The world goes crazy, people run into the streets cheering. Women high five each other for the next three hours, tears running down their faces. Around the world news shows have something positive to show for once so run the highlights of me over and over. Malala lets people know she would like to meet me. The Pope sends out a congratulatory tweet. George and Amal Clooney invite me to their Italian lake house to meet the twins. Even more unbelievably, both of my teenagers hug and kiss me. In public.

I agree to appear on every TV show I like and snub the rest (so sorry Pierce Morgan, thrilled to meet you James Corden!). Diane Sawyer comes out of retirement to interview me because I’ve always loved her. That night I dance the night away on stage with the Zac Brown band and stay until morning signing an autograph for every single girl and woman at the concert.  My legs are a little sore but that was more from the dancing than the running. Without the need for sleep, and with eyelashes still perfect, I go on Kelly and Ryan because I’ve been a fan of Kelly Ripa’s forever and always thought she and I could be the next Oprah and Gayle.

 

By this time I’ve slogged my four miles in just under forty five minutes and the most famous woman in the world slips back into her secret identity as a suburban mom. Although, if you look closely, there are signs of my real super hero self –  I have a sub-two hour carpool record and my perfect eyelashes truly do stay firmly attached.

 

Mazi Belongs to the World

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It turns out I have more to say about Mazi.  I thought I had done my bit with my first blog post trying to capture the experience of painting ‘Mazi’ on the town rock and then going on about the business of private grieving, but it isn’t over.  I can’t stop thinking about him and the fact that he is gone from this form of interaction (I suspect there are other forms, beyond this earthly existence, but not knowing for sure I feel sad right now).

I don’t what the exact definition of something online going ‘viral’ is, but I know that my blog post about Mazi has gotten way more traffic than I usually get.

It has been read over 1600 times.

It has been read in 32 countries.

I know this is not due to my writing skill because up until the Mazi post my readers were in the high single digits at most (I was so under the radar my own mother didn’t know I had a blog).

Mazi knew a lot of people.

The 14th Dalai Lama said, “One family can influence another, then another, then ten, one hundred, one thousand more, and the whole of society will benefit.”  It is as if he was talking about Mazi Maghsoodnia.  The family he and Lida created is the best way to understand what a great man he was.  They are his legacy, are loving and generous and full of life and fun and dancing, just like their dad.  Mazi greeted everyone with a hug and a smile that made you know the world was going to be okay and his family is doing the same thing.

In the midst of the most painful experience of their lives they are doing this.

This family influence, this love, is literally spread throughout the world – I know this when I look at the map of where the blog piece was read.  Everywhere from Iceland to Kenya to the Phillipines there are people who shine brighter from knowing Mazi.

I have had people contact me to ask where the rock is so they can go see it.  I got a message from one person who reported her family ate dinner at one of the restaurants below the hill so that they could look up at Mazi on the rock while they ate.

It is as if we all want to be close to him again and are using the rock as a proxy.

Eventually someone will paint their own message on that rock and I’m already angry at them.  Angry at those self-centered insensitive teenagers (see that?  They don’t even know who they are yet and I have already made them villains.  Excuse my reaction to teenagers.  I have one.  A new one.  And maybe like baby rattlesnakes the new ones have the most venom?).

I started planning another bit of midnight mischief to take up a little sign to post by the rock.  Something explaining who Mazi is and asking these future delinquents to paint the smaller rock to the left, the one we left alone (you can only carry so much paint up those hills).  I keep driving past the rock to make sure the bright white ‘Mazi’ on its red background is still there.

And then it hit me, even once it is painted over Mazi will still be there.

No one strips the paint off the rock before painting it, they just paint over it.  So he will be there, forever one of the layers of the history of this town. Just like he will be for the rest of our lives, there, inside us when we do something kind, feel God’s love shine through.  As Antoine Saint-Exupéry said in The Little Prince ‘what is essential is invisible to the eye.’  And the essential Mazi will never go away.

When I look at the map of people reading about and remembering him I know that just like his name is forever preserved on the rock, the name Mazi Maghsoodnia is forever written on the world.

 

Marriage Savers and Magic Mike XXL

How do you thank someone who just gave you the gift of your own child? As in, all six years of elementary school? My friend Susan texted me the other day to say that she had just dropped off a ‘wee gift’ in my mailbox. When I opened it up I found a CD with pictures of my son and all his school buddies from Kindergarten through their just completed fifth grade. Set to music. I watched it three times in a row, reliving so many moments from his elementary school experience, things I had forgotten, things that made me laugh and then cry. The missing front teeth, the longish hair then the shortish hair. The matching Paul Frank t-shirts with a buddy. The Halloween costumes, the field trips, the goofy poses only eight year old boys can do, the half shy, half confident brink-of-maturity smiles of eleven year olds.  All that time, from Kindergarten on, Susan had been taking beautiful pictures, and keeping them in some sort of order, and then she put them all together, set to music, everyone represented, and gave us all the gift of our own children. She would probably say she was just doing something that interested her. She would be modest about her skill and her passion and most likely doesn’t realize the value of the gift she has given me.

Part of why I don’t take a lot of pictures (aside from being cataclysmically bad at it) is that I like to enjoy the moment that is happening. That’s hard to do when your face is behind a camera, when you are focusing on the focus, the centering, the zoom in or zoom out issue. Susan made that sacrifice and we all are benefiting from it. She didn’t get to live in a lot of moments so that we could have them preserved forever and I don’t know how to thank her enough.

Because what she did is part of what saves my marriage. I don’t take good pictures and with someone like Susan around, I don’t have to expect my husband to take good pictures. With people like Susan (and there are more, lots more in this community) I don’t have to expect him to do all the stuff that I can’t do (the old ‘you complete me’ bullshit, can we all just agree to stop expecting our romantic partner to complete us? My work here on earth would be done if I could convince people of just that one thing). All the people in my community who do the stuff my husband doesn’t do (and sometimes I don’t do), they are the glue that keeps us together. Not just as a couple, but also as a family, and as part of this community. My book club fulfills my deep need to talk about a book I just read (making it fine that my husband isn’t much of a fiction reader). My group of boy-mom friends gives me the chance to laugh about the intensity of odor emitting from boy feet. My group of girl-mom friends helps me figure out what age girls are starting to shave their legs these days.

I’m grateful to the dads and moms who give up so much time to coach my kids, because neither my husband nor I are up to the task (he has the skills but no time, I have the time but no skills).   I’m grateful for the parents who prep the fields before every baseball game. The moms who remember to collect money for coach’s gifts. The mom who set up a google docs spreadsheet for soccer carpool (I would have no idea how to set that up. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to just open it).

Thank you to everyone who has given what you have to give, it has kept my life full and satisfying, it has kept my marriage happy. You have allowed me to appreciate what my husband brings to the party without focusing on what he doesn’t. I can enjoy his humor and his affection and admire his unmatched work ethic (really, I do admire it, except when I’m tired. I feel all too mortal next to him, He Who Never Tires). I can appreciate his brilliant baseball mind, his amazing understanding of people, his kindness. I can enjoy watching him throw a baseball with my son and a football with my daughter without getting all bent out of shape that he didn’t drive carpool or read that parenting book or take me to see Magic Mike XXL (that would really be asking too much, wouldn’t it? Definitely a job for a girlfriend).

Some of us probably don’t feel like we are giving a lot to the world, at least not in a Sheryl Sandberg or Oprah kind of way. But maybe what we are giving comes so easily it doesn’t seem like a gift. Maybe just pursuing something that is interesting to you is enough. As Howard Thurman (theologian) said, “Don’t just ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and then go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Susan, my deepest thanks for doing something that makes you come alive. It was just what I needed.

 

Zen and the Art of Purse Maintenance: Goodbye Athletic Cups and Popsicle Wrappers

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I have had sciatica for about a year now (pain originating in my lower back and extending down my left leg to my knee). It is not debilitating and sometimes I don’t even notice it, however at other times it flares up to the point of waking me in the middle of the night. I have tried exercise (I’m a long time yoga bear and runner), no exercise (hey, worth a try), acupuncture, ibuprofen, aspirin, massage, and meditation, among other things, and yet it stubbornly lingers. Yesterday I came out of my acupuncture appointment and as I was walking to my car I shifted my purse onto my shoulder. Zing! Hello sciatica.

Aha! Had I finally zeroed in on the culprit? I had actually considered the purse problem months ago. I downsized (giving me an excuse to buy a cute new purse) and streamlined. Only the most necessary items would go in. It felt great. I felt organized and light on my feet. However in the intervening months things got added back in, quite without my noticing. I don’t want to speak for all women, but I do think some of us have a tendency to literally carry the baggage of those around us, most especially our children. Why am I carrying my son’s athletic cup?! Because he takes it off the moment he steps off the field and is too embarrassed to carry it himself. Maybe my back hurts clear down my leg because I have inadvertently taken on his, and others’, issues. I am carrying his potential embarrassment, my daughter’s hearing (batteries for her hearing aids), and any number of other insurance policies (credit cards, bandaids, Kleenex, Immodium, Advil, flossers, pens, note pads, phone charger cords).

over full purse

We all (well, most of us) accumulate. We accumulate clothes, newspapers, mail, pounds.

And we accumulate ideas. We take in beliefs of those around us (first our parents, then our peers, teachers, neighbors, then inevitably, the Kardashians) and they keep building up in our brains just like the stuff we bring into our houses or purses.

And we also accumulate pain. Just like I’ve been willing to hold other people’s stuff in my purse, I have also been willing to hold other people’s pain in my brain. This made me a good living for a while, there is an entire, honorable, profession that does this. A good therapist is not afraid of her client’s pain. We can sit with it together, we can share it, we can find a way through it. The brave clients are willing to feel this pain, look at what is causing it, make sometimes hard changes and get through it. This is a noble endeavor. And it isn’t limited to a therapist-client relationship, this is also an example of friendship at its best. This, however, is different than someone dumping his/her pain on you and running away, like shoving their sticky popsicle wrapper in your purse. “Here, I can’t handle this so I’m dumping it on you. You do something with it. Let it mess up your life with worry.” Without meaning to, sometimes we accept those sticky popsicle wrappers and let them clutter up our lives.

My brain is still wired to respond to other people’s pain, to take it in, consider it, try to ameliorate it. In many situations, this is a good thing. But like my purse full of my kids’ stuff, I may be holding on to some pain that isn’t rightfully mine, and that I can do nothing about. I had a roommate once who was in a bad relationship. And I listened to her complain about him over and over. And I worried, and I felt sad for her, and I tried to offer advice. Nothing changed. And finally I realized that every time she complained to me about it and I sympathized, it gave her enough relief that she didn’t have to actually deal with the problem with him. Once I told her that I couldn’t listen anymore, that I would talk about anything else, I would go out with her, I would support her in any other way, but that I wouldn’t talk about him, it wasn’t long until the sh*t hit the fan and they broke up. As long as I kept carrying her pain for her, she was free to do exactly nothing about it.

Which brings me back to carrying stuff for my kids. Oh how so many of us want to make our children’s lives pain free! Why? Because it hurts us when they hurt. We don’t allow them any discomfort at all, not even the (minor) embarrassment of carrying an athletic cup. Not even the (very slight) weight of carrying their own phone in their pocket, or the fear they might lose the phone. But here’s the thing, if we are not able to tolerate their embarrassment or anxiety, how will they ever learn to?

Which leads me to one of the beliefs that I had accumulated but am getting rid of. “You are only as happy as your unhappiest child.” It makes sense when you hear it but the more I thought about it, the more trouble I had believing it. In fact, I would argue that if we really love that child the best thing we can do is stay in the light. Me being sad or upset does nothing to help my child feel better, it just adds another unhappy person to the world. And my sadness makes me less able to listen to my child’s sadness because sadness brings a self-focus, it has now become about me too. It is not disloyal to be happy when someone you love is sad, you can still be compassionate and supportive and bake them homemade cookies. In fact, if you persist in what I call a stubborn faith in happiness you have a chance to bring them back to the light. Because the research has shown, over and over, that moods are contagious. A house full of unhappy moods only breeds more unhappy moods.

So I have been doing a little Spring Cleaning for my purse and my brain. I’m not sure how many people still follow the ritual of Spring Cleaning but the genius of it is its regularity. Like church once a week reminds you of God, like the JiffyLube sticker that reminds you to change your oil, the beauty of Spring Cleaning comes with the Spring part of the phrase. We forget, but our calendar can remind us to clean out. I dumped out the purse and picked up each item, one at a time, looking for the belief attached to it. Why was I carrying it? Who was I carrying it for? What would happen if I didn’t have it?

From now on, around here people will be carrying their own athletic cups and disposing of their own sticky popsicle wrappers. My job is to figure out what is reasonable for me to carry and what is not.   To purge myself of beliefs that no longer work for me. And to pursue happiness with a vengeance, because I want my contribution to the mood contagion to be more Pooh Bear, less Eeyore.

I would like to think that it won’t take me another year of back pain to remember to clean out the house and brain on a regular basis, but then again, like Pooh Bear, I am a Bear of Little Brain.

And now, I am also a Bear of Little Purse.

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Cat’s in the Cradle in the Cherry Trees

 

 

cherry blossomsI am the worst photographer in the history of time (and also modest and not at all prone to hyperbole) so the credit for this picture of cherry blossoms is shared by Mother Nature and my Android phone (with a small nod to my kids for teaching me how to use the phone).

 

I took this picture of blossoming cherry trees on February 26 in northern California along the walking/running/biking trail near my house. I often see people tromping along this trail, faces tense, arms in motion, grimly determined to get that workout in. With their heads down, slogging along with not even a glance at the spectacular show Mother Nature is putting on.  No judgment here, I’ve been that person, putting my time in on the trail just to check it off my To Do list, but I’m on the hunt for joy these days (and free joy is my favorite kind) so I’m trying to slow it all down a bit (you know, in between my jobs as chauffeur, cook, laundress, coach, nurse, butterer of pancakes, and did I mention chauffeur? Basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, these things all have practices and guess how kids get to practices?)

We have lived in our house for, yikes, fifteen years now and one year, in a flurry of child rearing and work, I missed the blooming of the cherry trees. Oh, I knew it was happening, I saw them as a blur in my windshield as I marched along the ant trails I follow day in and day out. I kept meaning to go for a walk and see them up close. But by the time I actually got out to the trail to see this particular trio of pretty ladies all that remained was a sprinkling of faded petals littering the grass below. In my rush to Get Things Done I had missed one of my favorite parts of spring and now I would have to wait an entire year for the chance to see it again. An entire year.

I am in a busy phase of life (maybe they are all busy) and most of us have a To Do list that is longer than the day. So it is all about choices, which task to do (brush teeth), which activity to skip (we missed the Science fair this year), do I fit in a quick trip to the grocery store or play a game of Horse as my daughter is begging me to and just have breakfast for dinner again? I would like to sometimes choose joy, or fun, or a moment with one of my children over being an efficient family manager. The cherry blossoms have become my version of Cat’s in the Cradle (the Harry Chapin song of a father who keeps putting off spending time with his son, and his son who grows up just like him). For me, the lesson of the cherry blossoms is that life doesn’t have a pause button, it moves on with or without you, and far faster than you expect.

So I made time to walk the dog past the blooming cherry trees (still feeling a bit of the ‘hurry-up-and-slow-down’ but I was out there) and then, too quickly, the blooms were gone.  This left me a bit sad, it would be so long until they bloomed again. And then I opened an email from my sister who lives in New Jersey, sending me a picture of her backyard on the first day of spring (March 20).

 

 NJ first day spring

Talk about Fifty Shades of Gray, and not the fun ones.

 

First. Day. Of. Spring.

It kind of put it all in perspective. So what, my cherry blossoms are gone. At least I’m not on my 25th day of school closings. And look what is blooming in my backyard now?

 lilacLilac!

So, yes, I want to live in the moment, enjoy the blossoms or the story my daughter is telling me or the sunset my son ran inside to get me to watch. But I also want to let go and move on to the next moment, the next set of blooms. I want to trust that more good moments are on their way and not cling to the ones that have passed. As George Santayana said, “To be interested in the changing seasons is . . . a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.’’

(And for those of you living in New Jersey, here’s hoping the changing of the seasons comes, like, yesterday.)

 

 

 

Rubber Bands Everywhere

Or the art of seeing what you need when it is right in front of you.

Current daily mantra: exercise something, write something, clean something

February 27, 2015

It’s been a very up and down week/month/year. I went for a run today, reminding me for the hundred thousandth time that running resets my brain into something suitable for human interaction (how can a brain that can successfully complete 24 years of school forget, over and over, that running is my greatest mood stabilizer?). I saw a hair twisty on the ground and was suddenly back in Chapel Hill, a little slice of heaven where I lived during my graduate school days. Come to think of it, life was very up and down there too, and not just because of the hills (it is named Chapel Hill for a reason).

In Chapel Hill I was out running one day and my brain was running even faster, doing its agitated squirrel race from one thing to the next, despairing of even one solution to the many problems I tend to dream up on a daily basis. At the time my hair was Rapunzel length down my back and I had it tied back in a pony tail. It started to rain, which experience had shown me would snarl my long thin hair into a mess (not the magnitude of a just-lied-to-congress mess, but definitely in the realm of a just-cut-it-off-rather-than-try-to-comb-it-out mess). I actually like running in the rain and if it was raining before I started I would braid the pony tail so it wouldn’t get tangled. However I was about three miles into the run when it started to rain and I cursed myself for not having a second rubber band to tie off the braid. Then I cursed myself for being such a sissy (I mean really, snarled hair has never topped the list of world problems –you don’t see Bono lobbying foreign governments to stamp out snarled hair).

I pounded along the trail for about 10 yards before I realized I had just seen a rubber band on the ground behind me. Because I was so focused on having only brought one rubber band and because I didn’t believe I would be able to make a braid while out running I didn’t even look for a rubber band. My eyes took in the rubber band but my Bear-of-Little-Brain self didn’t make sense of it because it didn’t believe I could find the answer to my problem out on the trail. I turned around and ran back and got the rubber band and braided my hair and eventually ended up at home with untangled hair. My professors at the time could have told me this was an example of selective attention. Oh wait, in fact they did. Sometimes I’m a little slow in the application.

The whole rest of the run I wondered how many times I had stepped right over the answer to a problem. How many times has my narrow vision for life prevented me from an obvious solution? It reminds me of the saying (or is it a song?) ‘standing knee deep in water and dying of thirst.’ Sometimes the thing you need is right there.

After that I started picking up the rubber bands I found lying around in the world and within months had filled two honking big nails I pounded into the wall in my closet. I stopped collecting but the clutch of rubber bands stood as a reminder to broaden my vision.

And then I moved to California, married a great guy, had children and I swear each of them came out clutching one of my cerebral lobes, turning my steel trap of a brain into sleep deprived, hormonal oatmeal. On a quick grocery store run for even more diapers (size 5 and size 2, how’s that for failing to space out the procreating) I stepped out of the car covered in spit up and amped on stress and landed in, I swear, a scattered clump of brand new rubber bands. Like, about a hundred of them. As if someone had just bought a bag and it tore open and spilled and the person didn’t even notice.

Sometimes God has to use a whole bag of rubber bands to get your attention. And there it was, the reminder that the answers might well be right under my feet. It’s not like life immediately became the soft focus fairy tale of motherhood we see in the movies but I did have a moment of remembering that I was probably standing in the water I was so thirsty for.

And I looked around and noticed I had friends and play group moms and neighbors who care about me and while life still goes up and down, it feels like there are a lot of soft places to fall. And a lot of hands helping me back up. Turns out I have a village.

But it also turns out that when it comes to life skills I have a memory like Dory in Finding Nemo (remember, those kids, now 12 and 11 years old, kept chunks of my brain as souvenirs of our first journey together). So I’m starting this blog as a way to remind myself of the stuff I know, or once knew, or knew someone who knew. A sort of guide wire out of the cave. Feel free to join me. You can start by picking up some of those rubber bands you find lying around in the world. I swear, they are everywhere.