Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving - Giving Thanks

There are a few too many things in my life to be thankful for, and so I won't make a list. I'd prefer to use this space to remind you, my favorite people and dear readers, of the things that keep you going when it's too much and the people and experiences and moments that inspire and delight you. Because that's what it's all about, isn't it? When it's said and done, and our moment in this life is over, it may only be these things that "live" on.

And for that, I'd like to say thanks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Giving 'Em What They Deserve

Pool slide, 3 trampolines and a tree-house 
This is my backyard - or, at least, the very kid-friendly part of it at the back.  There's a pool slide, three trampolines (one for each kid, and they alternately share and fight over them) and, as of yesterday, the beginnings of a tree house/fort in the big pine tree that shades us.  It is fairly spectacular for kids and, in some ways, it makes me a little envious.

Sand surfing at Zuma
I've heard this sentiment from other parents from time to time, too: Why, if I had had just a fraction of the stuff my kids have, I'd never complain!  Or My parents would never have gotten this for me, [insert kid's name], aren't you lucky?

Well, yeah, they are lucky.  But, as I've said before, maybe they deserve it.  I'm not talking about giving a kid every single thing in the world that they want, building up an annoying sense of entitlement.  No way, that's not it at all.  I'm only suggesting that, if you can give something special to your child that you know (s)he really wants, why not?
Emme's first riding lesson

I listened to a phenomenal podcast from This American Life yesterday about the love between a parent and child, and the chilling life-long effects of children who do NOT have an attached bond to their parent when they are babies.  I won't do the podcast justice here - you'll have to listen for yourself - but there was one story of a Romanian orphan who'd lived in a crib (only getting out of it to go to the bathroom or to eat), never going outside, and sharing the crib with another child for 7 1/2 years! That fact alone made me want to cry, but when this boy finally was adopted by a couple from the midwest, he had severe problems that stemmed from his inability to bond with other people.  He would hurt his mother and smile and lived in a state of complete hatred that, if he'd had a "normal" conscience, would have consumed him.  But he could not feel empathy, and therefore he could inflict pain on others without feeling anything. The huge breakthrough treatment for this 10-year-old child - whose parents had used mental illness professionals and medication to try to help him, and had had to hire a bodyguard at one point to keep him from hurting his mother - was to simulate the infant bonding experience.  And so for 8 weeks, the mother and son were required to be within 3 feet of each other at all times (except when using the bathroom and sleeping), and to make complete eye contact during any interaction.  His "punishment," if he didn't make eye contact or said mean things, for example, was to sit next to his mother on the couch and be hugged for an extended period of time.  And, after about 3 weeks, it began to work. I didn't finish listening to the podcast, so I'll have to make sure that everything worked out well - sometimes This American Life surprises me with its endings - but this bit alone was enough for me to chew on.

I feel guilty about "not doing enough" for my girls from time to time.  But, after listening to this, I remembered that they were so well loved as babies and are so hugged and cherished on a daily basis - loved so much that I am perhaps too strict with them about their friends and behavior, because I want for them to be citizens of the world rather than self-important Valley girls or aloof, indulged American kids.  After all is said and done, though, they are good people.  Good enough for a tree house and a trampoline and a pool slide... and all the hugs and kisses that Raf and I can give them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Expansive Oneness (Joy in the Little Things)

I don't know if this post will make any sense, but I'll give it a go anyway.  A few days ago, I listened to a Ted Talk on my iPhone featuring Jill Bolte-Taylor, a renown neuroscientist who had a stroke several years ago.  It took her 8 years to fully recover her faculties, to walk and speak and be "normal" again. The fascinating part is, here is a woman who made it her life to study the brain and then she had the unique opportunity to study her own brain while it was having a stroke... and, miraculously, lived to tell about it.

She talks about the two sides of the brain: the left one, which is rational and keeps us on schedule and makes sure that our separate uniqueness (I'd even call this the "ego") stands up for itself; and the right one, which is more creative and free-thinking, able to literally think out of the box and sense the energies of all the molecules (people, things) around us.  The right one, to paraphrase her, enables us to be a part of the "expansiveness" of the universe, the connective tissue that binds us to each other and everything.

I got chills when I heard this.  It's as if all the struggling that we do in our lives comes from within, battling between the desire for connection on a cellular or molecular level and the need to keep it all in check so that we can live in the real world and keep gas in the car, pick the kids up on time, have enough savings in our bank accounts.  And it made me think about all the times when I feel like I'm juggling a million things and activities in order to get to a place (a party or an event or even just home for dinner) so that I can simply melt into the experience of the moment.  These moments, strung together, create a life.

Bolte-Tayler talks about the moment when she felt that she was dying, leaving her physical body.  In most circles, I've heard that called an "out of body experience," but she describes it as more of an "in the body" experience, a moment in which she felt so connected with everything else in the universe that the letting go actually enabled her to embrace and expand to her limitless existence.  And she doesn't talk at all about fear or commitments or responsibility.  She talks of love.

I cry at everything, so it will not suprise anyone that tears streamed down my face as I heard Jill Bolte-Taylor's voice crackle when trying to describe the awesome power of that experience.  But my mind had wandered, to Max.  I wondered, if he had taken an Ambien to go to sleep on his final night, had he been conscious enough to experience that Expansive Oneness when he passed away?  If that is the ultimate moment of love and awareness in  life, was he able to enjoy it and feel it and at least float into his next adventure with the knowledge that the love he'd created in this lifetime would continue on after his physical body had stopped working?  Was he able to feel the joy of all of the little things he'd seen/been/done in his life?

And how far did his soul stretch when it was no longer limited by his body?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Fortieth Year

Halloween 2010
NYE 2008
So, to look at the photos I've chosen, along with the title of this post, you'd think I was EXCITED about turning 40 next year.  Well, you'd be half-correct.  

I suppose I'm thrilled to have gotten to that place where, yeah, I "know better."  I know better than to drink too much at a party when I have to get up with the kids and walk the dog the next morning.  I know better than to make an illegal U-turn in front of my kids' school... and I accept full responsibility when I slip up and do it anyway.  I know better than to buy every new season's fashion trends (although buying a couple of them do make my closet seem happier).  I know I need to use sunscreen religiously -- with a hat -- or else I'll look like the crypt keeper before too long.  I know that if I decide to hack off my hair into a pixie cut, it will be a slow, painful growing-out process.  I know that I'm better off being on this side of my 30s (the late side) than on the other one, when I was still trying so hard to figure my shit out.

But now I'm in the throes of my 40th year.  Sure, as Raf keeps reminding me, I just turned 39 in August.  But I realized that, if babies are considered to be in their 1st year throughout those first 12 months of their lives outside the womb, then I'm already in my 40th year, calendar be damned.  Yes, yes, I like that I'm still in my 30s, no need to rush to the "finish line" of 40, blah blah, but this 40th year thing is driving me a little nuts.

I'm trying to tease it out.  Why are you menacing me?  I'll ask this shadow of 40, as it pops up and sits next to me while I'm having a quiet cup of coffee.  I have months to go before I have to let you into my house.

I want you to take stock, 40 says, whispering in my ear.  What do you want to do?  Then 40 does an impression of the caterpillar from "Alice in Wonderland," puffing on a pipe and asking, Who ARE you?

I am me.  That's all.  I'm a different me than I was at 20 -- hence the creams and vitamin C serum and crazy ballet-style class and cleaner diet -- but I don't think I'd go back to 20 unless I could bring my 39-year-old's point-of-view with me.  And there's the rub, right? 

So I guess it's on, 40.  Bring it.  You have 10 months to prepare, and so do I.  I'll be ready.  Will you?