wanderlust

Looking through my google docs this morning, I came across this piece.

On this cold, November morning, it was nice to be reminded of that early summer day, nice to remember how good it felt to push myself out of my comfort zone, nice to remember, again, that I am brave. Even the act of writing these stories down and sharing them publicly takes a bit of courage, but every time I do, I get a little bit stronger.

These small acts of personal bravery may seem insignificant to some, but I don’t care. They mean something to me. And if something I write encourages another to step out of her bubble of comfort-even the smallest bit- and live a little more fully, then I think it was worth the risk to put my words out there.

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 June 2014     Stratton, VT   

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I just spend the weekend with three glorious women. We traveled to a farmhouse in the Vermont woods and talked and ate and laughed. During the day we journeyed over the mountain and were brave enough to attend the Stratton Wanderlust festival. I say brave because it isn’t really my scene; the crowds are large, the music’s loud and the bodies young and beautiful. It’s a bit much for this almost fifty mom of seven, but I am lured by all the great teachers gathered in my little corner of the world.

My friends and I would all go to our individual class choices and then meet at the end of the day for a debriefing with a glass of wine, relaxing and enjoying every second of our time together.

This was my second year at the festival and I decided to try something different: Paddleboard yoga; it’s basically yoga on a fat surfboard. It just looked so cool! I paid my extra 50 bucks (on top of the festival fee) for the class and tried to get a friend to join me. The only other taker was my much younger friend- fit and beautiful and cool. I knew I’d probably be the oldest, biggest person on the pond, but I was going for it, dammit.

A few months ago, I ran across this passage in a book I was reading by Elizabeth Berg:

“I’ve seen that when you’re pulled away from your normal routine, it’s as though air and sunlight come into your brain and do a little housekeeping. A lifting up of what’s been practically rusted into place, to reveal something else, a thing that makes you understand the origin of the phrase new and exciting, a phrase usually offered with irony, in order to hide the longing.”

Well, I was feeling rusted and definitely longing. The monotony of my day-to-day was wearing me down. It was time to shake things up a bit. So, within a  few clicks, I was on my way to new and exciting.

But, as the day of the festival approached, my confidence was waning. What was I thinking? I’ve never even SEEN a paddleboard, let alone done yoga on one! When I googled it, every picture and video featured incredibly fit 20-somethings doing seemingly impossible moves on a floating surface. Shit. Luckily, I had paid that extra money for the class. I couldn’t justify backing out now.

The morning of the class arrives and it is unseasonably chilly for the first day of summer. The sun is dancing behind clouds as the wind gusts. My young friend is all ready to go in her cutting edge, quick-dry pants and sleek tank top. I am in my mom-over-forty bathing suit with built-in tummy control and I’ve-had-lots-of-kids built-in skirt. The butterflies start in my stomach. Now, I am not an anxious kinda gal and I don’t get intimidated very easily, but I am nervous. I have to stop and analyze this unfamiliar feeling…Wow, what was this about? Body image? Aging? Insecurity? Or maybe just the old standby: fear. Doing this new thing with new people scares me. I don’t want to admit it to myself, but it is true. Eleanor Roosevelt’s classic quote, “do one thing everyday that scares you” comes into my head as we climb onto the shuttle bus that will bring us to the lake. Ok, Eleanor, here we go.

The ride is bumpy and not quite long enough to soothe my nerves. The sun glistens off the (very!) choppy water as we emerge from the bus and gather on the small beach. Our perky, photo-shoot ready instructor was waiting for us, paddle in hand.

As all the participants gather together to listen to the preliminary instructions, I peek nonchalantly around the circle at the rest of the group.  Apparently, I am the only participant expecting to fall off the paddleboard, because everyone else is standing about fully clothed. I am shivering in the wind in my granny suit.

And then, like there’s nothing to it, we’re told to hop on our boards.

I sent some more oxygen to the winged creatures in my stomach and approached the water.

I thank the fit, beautiful assistant (in a wet suit!) as she pushed my board toward me and hands me my paddle. I crawl on and float on my hands and knees. Now this I can do!

Then Miss Perky yells from the water, ”Now come up to your knees and start paddling. If you’re feeling really stable, come on up to standing.”

Damn.

The board wobbles as I make even the slightest shift, but it is actually a lot more stable than I thought it would be. When I manage to get on my knees and start paddling, I look up to see everyone standing but me. My ego will not this happen. Before I think too much, I’m on my feet and paddling. I’m digging that paddle into the water and I am cruising. The sun is on my back and my granny skirt is flitting about my legs and it feels like I am flying. I am having FUN.

We journey around the perimeter of the pond and I am strong and beautiful and free. Suddenly, Perky’s voice breaks through my reverie: “Now that we’re warm,  lets anchor and start our yoga.”

What? Yoga? Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that. Couldn’t we just paddle? I got the hang of this!

We come closer to shore and tether all of our boards together. The wind whips and water splashes and the boards bump together. Yoga? Really? Who the hell thought this up anyway?

Perky wastes no time and before I know it, I’m in down dog on a paddleboard. I’m flowing through the yoga poses as my board rocks and my body reacts to each unexpected movement. I’m doing it and I’m doing it well. Fuckin’ a, man, I’m doing it! My 49-year-old body is in a backbend on a floating board in a pond on top of a mountain in Vermont. I heart is bursting with gratitude.

The class winds down and I find myself in the most glorious shavasana of my yoga life. Perky is respectfully silent as we all float together on our backs and feel the sun on our bodies and the sway of our boards. The only sound is the water slapping the board and the call of the birds. It is a moment of pure grace.

The class regrettably ends and I get off my board knowing that a small part of the self-doubting me has been transformed. I catch the eye of my younger friend and know right away that the profound experience was mine alone. She agrees that “yeah, that was cool.”

But for me it was more.

I did something that I was afraid of, that I felt intimidated by, that my nasty voice whispered that I was too old/fat/uncool to do.  I could have easily chose another class, (or not even come to this damn yoga festival to begin with!) but I did this one and I fuckin’ rocked it.  Now, I am walking away full of pride.

I am strong and beautiful and friggin’ amazing.

Bring it on, baby.

this is not my pic, i was in a bathing suit, remember? ...and my legs are more muscular ;-)

this is not my pic, I was in a bathing suit, remember? …and my feet are better lookin’ 😉

moral of the story: want more fun in your life? Get out there and grab it! It’s out there, but you have to go find it…it ain’t gonna come looking for you. And when fear asks to tag along, acknowledge it and kindly ask it to step aside. You’ve got a life to live!

When you’re done, document it somehow: write about it, put it in your journal, save pictures of it, appreciate it! Say thank you, thank you, thank you! These are magical, transformative words; the more you say them, the more powerful they become.

f.u.n.

f.u.n.

amazing grace…continued

 

photo credit: Martha Temple

photo credit: Martha Temple

If it weren’t for Ava, I wouldn’t have these characters. That’s how I choose to look at it anyway.
I’m thankful for her lessons every day, but today there will be cake.

Happy birthday, Ava.

 

 

 cracked

My baby was coming early. I tried to ignore it, wish the contractions away, but there was no denying it. It was happening. This was my fifth child, so I knew.

The school of life had already given us plenty of intense lessons: our third child surprised us with Down Syndrome and our fourth shocked us with a birth defect that required immediate surgery and a month long hospitalization two hours from our home. We thought we had graduated, but life had other lessons for us.

As I labored in the bathtub, the fear came in waves along with the contractions. The memory of the ultrasound five weeks earlier surfaced: the suddenly silent technician excusing herself to get the radiologist. The radiologist bluntly telling us of the many abnormalities. So many problems that her condition was deemed “incompatible with life.”  Our baby girl would not survive.

Or would she? I felt I had to have hope for the little life inside of me. Ava. Sweet Ava. Couldn’t she defy the odds? For five weeks I oscillated between cheering my miracle baby on and knowing that she would die. The constant peaks and valleys of these emotions were relentless and exhausting. My labor truly began at that ultrasound. All the questions, questions, questions, tormenting me every hour of every day and into the night. What would this mean for my family? How would we get through this? How would this affect my other young children? Why? Why us? So much uncertainty.

Until finally there was no more room for thought.  The moment when everything changed, when the worries of the past and future can no longer exist. Every sense focused on the now. Any birthing woman knows this intense time: transition-the time when you cannot go on, yet the only choice is to move forward, to move beyond everything you thought was possible, opening beyond what you thought your limits were. You cannot bear for things to escalate, yet they must for this new life to be born, for the world to change.

And Ava would change us in the deepest, most profound ways and answer all of the questions. There was nothing that could be done for her, nothing for us to fix. Her body was just not made for this world. She would leave the world in the very same room she entered. She would only know the touch of those that loved her, the sounds and smells of a busy, loving home. This tiny life would be with us for just ten days, yet she would be one of our greatest teachers.

New and fascinating questions emerged for all of us to ponder: What happens when we die?  Where do we go?  What is Heaven like?

We were able to openly explore these questions and my older children would come up with even more: If death happens to everyone and every living thing, why are we so afraid of it? Together we journeyed through life’s most awesome mysteries and for a small bubble of time, death would not be dark and scary, but graceful and peaceful and full of love.

And mixed with this grace would be life itself. The full spectrum of which would unfold before us in ten short days.

And then, abruptly, we would be marched forward.  The fragile, beautiful bubble of that sacred time would burst and the urgency of life would take over once again: children to feed, dishes to do and balls to be kicked.

But Ava opened us all up to the glorious possibility of angels and that could never be taken away.  Suddenly, there was a whole new dimension added to life. What a comfort it is to think someone is looking out for us, helping to guide our way.  Maybe we are not alone in all of this. Maybe there is more.

I would never have asked for this gift. If the gods had sat me down and said, “Listen, we’re going to give you a baby. We know that you’ve been through a lot already and you’re not expecting another, but this one will teach you so much more!  She will be born with a lot of problems and you and your family will have to face them head on. You are going to have to dive right in and explore the full spectrum of all that life has to offer, from birth to death.  You ready for that?”

Hmm, gee…No, I think I’ll pass on that experience, thanks all the same.

There would be no way to understand how the depth of this experience would alter the very fabric of who I am. I would have no way of knowing that having and losing this child would leave me more appreciative, more spiritual, more compassionate. More. Just more.

This tiny soul would stretch me in ways I didn’t know I could survive. She would take me places I didn’t know I needed to go. She would change me and mold every part of who I am, never to be the same.

The experience would break me open and when I would heal, the pieces would not fit back together so seamlessly.  There would now be cracks, and through these cracks, slivers of light would touch places inside of me that had known only darkness-places that I didn’t know were there.

Ava taught me that there are some things I just cannot control, no matter how much I question, or worry, or work. She showed me that despite how hard I fought, I would never be in charge. And when I finally gave up the fight, surrendering would bring sweet relief. I learned how nice it was to give up the illusion of control.

This experience moved through me and changed me. It did not crush me. Things were okay. They were really okay.

These lessons are hidden in the scars that now make up the intricate tapestry of who I am. They are not unsightly and they are no longer painful. Their complexity and depth add a whole new dimension to this person that I call me. Now all of life has to pass through the filter of these scars, making my everyday experience is more rich, more colorful and more delicious because of it. They are lessons that I would never ask for, yet they have been essential to my growth, my evolution. They cracked me open to the idea that maybe this is exactly what life is about: healing and learning and growing and healing and learning and growing.

I wish I could say that the next time life comes a-calling, I will greet her with no resistance, but I cannot be sure of that. I know that the intensity of my time with Ava has left me wiser and stronger, but I am not totally fearless.  Not yet.  That will take more work and more lessons- lessons that I have no doubt life will supply.  And with these inevitable lessons part of me will crack and, hopefully,

I will welcome the light.

my girls

my girls