You and magical realism

It’s a warm October night. And it’s raining just lightly. The stoplights are hazy, the shadows dark, and wispy slips of autumn sprinkle windshields in the breeze.

You’re noticing how beautiful it all is as you’re driving down Ravenswood when the wind blows a golden sprig of maple leaves onto the street about 25 yards ahead of you. As it falls, the leaves catch your headlights just so and flop back and forth on the pavement, which is shining with rain.

Glowing black street, like the lake at night, and a bright golden flash dancing in your headlights. The glimmering splotch of gold looks so alive you think it’s a fish. You hit the brakes because you believe a fish has fallen from the sky, is flapping on the street, you better slow down, you might run it over. It’s raining fish!

When you’re not in the pool, which is where you’ve been tonight, your body, your mind, your heart, your spirit are in the midst of a transformation so surprising, so inexplicable, so otherworldly, so outrageous that you actually believe, right, this is an unseasonably warm fall night and golden fish are raining from the sky. If all that can be going on, why can’t this?

So you slow down and wonder if you might save it. Take it home, put it in your big flower vase with some lukewarm water and tomorrow show the kids the goldfish you rescued in the street last night. You look around. Are there others?

Eventually you get five yards away from the dying goldfish and you see it’s a bouquet of maple leaves, blowing in the warm breeze and lapping up the warm rain. Your brain flips a switch, allowing you to see what’s really there. And you laugh. It’s an out-loud laugh full of real, boisterous joy because, holy hell, you’ve always said if your life were a literary genre, you’d like it to be magical realism. And then there you are—enacting something out of Gabriel García Marquez’ world. This is some certifiable Pablo Neruda shit. Oh, how you used to love Laura Esquivel…

You just keep laughing. At yourself, at what’s going on with you, at the insertion of magical realism right there on the dark drive home. You are so consumed in your own peculiar reality that, for a few moments, you, a reasonably logical person, actually thought it was raining fish.

It’s just funny. You throw your hands off the steering wheel in delight and thank the leaf fish for reminding you that even in a weird, heartbreaking story, there’s beauty and whimsy and undoubtedly even some magic. Which, you pray, is on its way.

Epilogue: In the third paragraph of this post, your spellcheck wants you to make “black street” a proper noun. Which also makes you laugh. Magic delivered! No diggety. No doubt.

And, just for fun, a Pablo Neruda poem I love and excerpt often with my kids:

Ode to a pair of socks

Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
Violent socks,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.

Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
keep fireflies,
as learned men collect
sacred texts,
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.

The moral of my ode is this:
beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.

Impulse control is for everybody

You can be anyone and still face temptation to knock down the Jenga tower.

Impulses take many forms and have varying degrees of consequence, but you can be anyone and still face temptation to knock down the Jenga tower.

The start of another school year—a massive transition period in our family—inevitably marks the start of my six-year-old sensory kid’s battle with impulse control.

If you’re not familiar with the term “impulse control” as it relates to children with Sensory Processing Disorder (oh, and to everyone else on the planet) allow me to explain with a haiku:

I want to do this.

But I probably shouldn’t.

I’m doing it now!!!!

Most of us can admit to having issues around impulse control from time to time—we all have our triggers and weaknesses—and transitions are Charlie’s kryptonite.

Autumn, when we remove our toes from the sand and plant them in school shoes, generally brings the crazy. For all of us, yes, but my sensory kid feels it bigger and harder. When settling into a new routine, something happens in his brain that seems to wear down his nerves, making him just a little more raw than normal, a little unhinged.

Fall is a big departure from this. We go from dirt, sweat, sand and sun on our skin to covering up with lace-up shoes and school uniforms. Summer girl that I am, I come a little unhinged at the thought, too, so I can't fault Charlie for doing the same.

Fall is a big departure from this. We go from dirt, sweat, sand and sun on our skin to covering up with lace-up shoes and school uniforms. Summer girl that I am, I come a little unhinged at the thought, too, so I can’t fault Charlie for doing the same.

Sometimes transition behaviors surface predictably—flying off the handle at home when he doesn’t get his way. And other times, they are a wild card. Take, for example, the following tale.

“Mommy, Mrs. G says she needs to have a conversation with you,” a macabre Charlie informed me after school a few weeks ago.

I soon learned he had snapped the erasers off of a whole lot of classroom pencils.

“I kept finding all these erasers all over the place,” Mrs. G. explained. “And, finally, I realized what was going on. He wasn’t alone—there were others involved—but it appears Charlie was the main one. I already talked with him about it, I could tell he felt bad and he had a great day otherwise, so I don’t want him to get in trouble, but sometimes it helps to let the parents know so we can nip certain behavior in the bud.”

If only I knew how. My kid loves to break stuff. Even on a good day, he’s a destructobot. Charlie lives for the snap of a twig, the dismantling of a prized toy, the rip of paper, the cracking of plastic, the feel of his brother’s skin pinching between his fingertips, the energy released when one thing is made into two, the power of breaking something unbreakable with his own bare hands….

He knows it’s wrong, but he has a hell of a time stopping himself. It’s a daily challenge at home and, while he usually can keep himself together at school, during times of transition, he struggles with impulse control outside of home as well.

“Um, Andy inspired me to do it,” Charlie explains when I question him on the ride home. “But he just did one pencil. …And then I just sorta did a whole bunch more.”

“Hmm…I think I can see how that happened,” I say. “But you knew it was destructive, right? So why do you think you did it anyway?”

“I don’t know…I thought it was funny at first. And then I just couldn’t stop myself,” he says, the words tumbling rapidly from his mouth like boiling water.

“You know, Charlie, Mommy knows what that’s like. I’ve had this same problem before,” I say, trying to soothe him. “Sometimes there are things Mommy reeeeeally wants to do, but they’re not a very good idea, so I have to stop myself.”

Thankfully, I walked away from this vintage romper. But, don't worry, I sure did get the one-piece pantsuit in the background. I think I might be Zool for Halloween. (Aside: I snapped this special selfie for Kellie, who encouraged me in my hunt for an age-appropriate romper this summer. Unfortunately, I never found one and am yet uncertain of their existence.)

Thankfully, I stopped myself from this vintage romper. But, don’t worry, I now own the plum silk jumpsuit in the background. I might be Zool for Halloween. (Aside: I snapped this special selfie for Kellie, who steadfastly encouraged me in my hunt for an age-appropriate romper this summer and courageously gave me the thumbs down on more than one dressing room snapshot.) Unfortunately, I never found my mythical romper and am unconvinced of its existence.

“What do you mean? Why are they not a good idea?” he asks. (Also not a good idea: speaking about myself in the third person. He’s six. It’s time for pronouns.)

“Wellllll,” I draw out a pause long enough to gather the right words. “Sometimes I realize that things I want to do may have consequences that aren’t good for me or for people I care about. So I’ve had to try to stop myself from doing them.”

“Was it hard for you, Mommy?” he asks.

“Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes, no,” I say. “It depends on what it is. Sometimes, it’s easy. But other times, it’s reeeeeeally hard to stop myself.”

He regards me quizzically.

“This drive to do stuff and learning to decide when you need to stop yourself is something you may face your entire life,” I admit.

“My whole life?!” He’s incredulous, like, this simply cannot be. It can’t be.

“Yep. That’s why I want us to come up with tools for you to start learning how to do it while you’re young,” I say, deeply wishing I could tell him from experience that it would get easier.

Lookie here. It's a gelato party! Tip of the iceberg as far as my impulses are concerned.

Lookie here. It’s a gelato party! Tip of the iceberg as far as my impulses are concerned.

We immediately begin workshopping ideas for how he can stop himself from acting on potentially negative impulses. It’s not a perfect list, but if you’re looking for tools—for your sensory kid, or for your perfectly grown-up self—here’s what we came up with:

Sensory Kid tricks for interrupting an impulse

  • Get a cup of ice from the freezer and throw ice cubes off the back steps. Hard.
  • Thrash around on your bed punching the pillow till you get it all out.
  • Sing a song…an actual song, or a made-up song about the feelings you’re having.
  • Count to 10 and then think again about what it is you want to do.
  • Grab some sticks outside and break them into pieces.
  • Listen to heavy metal on Pandora and headbang till you feel better.
  • Tell the person you’re with how you’re feeling. Give the feeling words. (i.e., “I am so frustrated! I am really mad at you! I don’t like this at all! I reeeeeally want that! I feel impatient!” etc.)
  • Ask Archangel Michael to help. (Charlie’s selection. You could personally ask for any kind of divine intervention. Some ideas: your higher self, God, the Universe, your angels, Jesus, Mary, Goddess, Allah, your guides, your guru, a deceased grandma, the spirit of your favorite dead pet, etc. Whatever works!)
  • Take three deep, slow breaths.
  • Step outside and listen. Pick out as many sounds as you can.
  • Go stand next to a tree. Hug it, even.
  • Pet the dogs.
  • Ask for more divine intervention.
  • Rub some salt between your hands, take an Epsom salt bath or get in the tub and rub salt scrub on your feet (grainy textures sometimes help to take you out of the impulse and into the present moment.)
  • Go for hugs. The big, lingering, strong, don’t-let-go-till-you-feel-better variety.

Sensory kid wisdom: Healing the body

As we lay in his bed by the glow of a nightlight, my arms wrapped around his body and his head resting in the curve of my shoulder, I had this conversation with my sweet, soul-wise sensory kid tonight.

Him: Mommy, my tongue is feeling so much better. I just bit it yesterday—remember how bad it was?—and now it’s almost all gone. It doesn’t hurt at all.

Me: Oh good! I hoped it would heal really fast.

Him: Yeah, my body does heal extra fast.

Aside: It’s true. He gets a cut and it’s all better the next day. He slams his back hard against marble stairs in the rain and is doubled over in pain, but totally fine the next day. He bites his tongue at the playground such that blood gushes from his mouth and a black-and-blue lump swells, but hours later it’s as if nothing ever happened.

Me: I think it’s because you’re aware of God living in your cells. So your body heals itself superfast.

Him: I think that is why, Mommy. (pause.) But I think everyone has God living in their cells.

Me: I agree. But so many of us don’t know it. I mean, I technically know it, but I don’t really feel it all throughout my body like you do. I don’t live in the consciousness of knowing God is in me as much as I would like to. This seems to come a lot easier for you and most of your friends. You kids being born today get this way more than people my age do. We have to work to understand it. That’s why I meditate, I guess.

Him: Yeah. It can be really hard for some people. It can take a lot of work, but it’s so important you and they know God really is in all of us. Sometimes I wish I could just tell them.

Me: It’s so cool you see God in people, buddy. Thank you for reminding me of this in your amazing way.

Him: I wish it weren’t so hard for some people to feel God inside of them. But it’s just really difficult for certain cells of certain people to understand it sometimes. For some people, it can be tricky for them to know God is in their heart, and for others to know He’s their brains. Or, like, other people can’t remember God is in their intestines. But God is there and they can heal fast if they remember. … Wait, Mommy, what are intestines?

Bathed in his spiritshine, I felt relieved that I can serve a purpose other than just to feed him, clothe him and send him to school–I can explain what intestines are. Soulwise sensory kids + earthwise parents = match made in heaven.

And, by the way, Charlie wanted me to tell you that God is in your cells, too.

Looking for Charlie this weekend, I came across him perched on the bathroom sink decorating his face with a magic marker.

He marches to the beat of his own drum, for sure. This weekend, after a little too much time had passed without a peep from Charlie, I came across him perched on the bathroom sink decorating his face with a magic marker.

He thought he was going to get in trouble, but he looked legitimately cool, so we let him wear his marker mask until it dyed the bathwater green later that evening.

He thought he was going to get in trouble, but I legitimately appreciated the intricate face art, so we let him wear his marker mask until it dyed the bathwater green later that evening.

Hurricane Odile

We were just there...and now this coastline is thrashed.

We were just there in April…and now this coastline is thrashed.

A place I love, the land and sea that shaped my twenties, is now a disaster area. Hurricane Odile passed through Los Cabos and traveled up the Baja Peninsula this week, crushing homes, infrastructure, an entire industry and human spirit as it went. It hasn’t been widely reported in the States but, today, some of my friends are waiting in mile-long lines for food, water or an airlift to anywhere else. Others are staying to pick up the pieces, sticking it out despite the devastation, the heat, the lack of power/cell service and the clear-and-present threat of looters, who are going from home to home in search of anything, everything. (Sign this petition here to ask the Mexican government to send in security reinforcements.)

Los Cabos International Airport following Hurricane Odile.

Los Cabos International Airport following Hurricane Odile.

As far as I can tell from Facebook and word of mouth, all of my friends are technically safe, but biblically scared. (Listen here for one Canadian expat’s experience.)

If Southern Baja has ever touched your heart, or has a place in your memory treasure box, following are a couple legit places you can donate. These two organizations probably have no way of updating their websites with fancy hurricane relief links as yet, but I can tell you they do SO much good for the people and animals of Los Cabos and you can trust that your donation ultimately will be put to good use. I will be keeping my eyes and ears open for ways to help specific friends over the next week or so, so message me if you’re interested in being kept posted on other ways to help.

http://www.ligamac.org/

www.loscaboshumanesociety.com or their Crowdrise page, https://www.crowdrise.com/HurricaneOdileReliefFund

And also, here: http://www.cruzrojamexicana.org.mx/

Looking back on Hurricane John

I’m reminded of a brush we had with a hurricane when I lived in San Jose del Cabo. I journaled about it at the time–pre-blog days–and am reposting my journal entry (which I sent as a letter to friends in the States at the time) here today. It’s inane to even talk about Hurricane John in the same sentence as Hurricane Odile, but I’m marveling at what catastrophe might have been, and holding all the people of Baja California Sur in my prayers. If you’re so inspired, please do the same.

These used to be people's homes.

These used to be people’s homes.

TBT: Hurricane John, Los Cabos, 2006

Aside: I cannot even imagine what my friends and everyone else has lost in this horror. I dearly wish Hurricane Odile had unfolded as trivially as Hurricane John…

Thursday 8/31/06

I made a giant vegetable omelet for breakfast this morning. After all, I have to do something with all this food before the power goes out. I’ve thought about eating what’s left of my frozen 27th birthday cake—slathered in Grandma Fogel’s chocolate icing. And I’ve momentarily mourned the impending demise of my homemade Caesar salad dressing. The worst test, though, is to figure out what to do with the frozen filets of Brian-speared snapper, sea bass and dorado from our cruise in the Sea of Cortez a month ago. It’s not just fish; it’s memories.

Taking a break from considering the culinary impact of Hurricane John, I just put a tattered copy of Appley Dappley’s Nursery Rhymes, the 1980 favorite of Emily’s Book Club, into a Ziplock bag and stashed it in the corner of a bookshelf. Alongside it is my collection of journals from age 11 to the present, sealed away in freezer bags like the leftovers I can’t figure out how to save. And I, a Kansas City girl who barely knows the scrapes of a tornado, am left to wonder what exactly will be left over after a massive hurricane.

The carpets are rolled up, the paintings are hidden in closets, favorite books are in plastic and the TV is in a trash bag. The lawn chairs, flowerpots and other would-be projectiles are stowed on the side of the house and water, canned food and boxes of juice are stocked in the laundry room. A stash of clean clothes waits in a garbage bag that will hopefully still be dry after the storm has made itself at home. I have a first-aid kit, flashlights, candles and even a muzzle for the ever-loyal Tinkerbell, should she feel that someone gets too close to me in the hotel shelter. Nevertheless, even as I scurry around in a caffeine-assisted frenzy, the three dogs sprawled on the bare tile floor with their eyes trailing my every move, it’s hard to fathom the reality that a Class 3 or 4 hurricane is on its way.

All the networks have descended on Los Cabos—along with blue-bottomed clouds—and Brian did a live interview with Fox News this morning. Traffic is congested and the lines at the supermarket are 15 minutes at least. Everyone is buying just one more thing they think they may need: plastic buckets, batteries, masking tape, water and more. A woman in front of me had 750 plastic straws in her cart and I almost bought myself a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Now it’s a quarter till 2 p.m. on Thursday and I’m moving into Brian’s office at the Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos, at 4:30 p.m. Since I probably can’t save the food in the freezer, my next step will be shoving our down comforter into a plastic trashcan, loading the seemingly unaffected dogs into the car and making my way to shelter. I will try to keep you all posted as long as we have power and phone lines and, in the mean time, know that we’ll be safe at the Westin and don’t pay too much attention to the news networks. As we all know, they’re always in search of the most dramatic story and sometimes they’re not afraid to make it up as they go…

This is the Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos, where Brian worked, where we took shelter from the mini hurricane in 2006 and, as pictured here, the scene of our wedding.

This is the Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos, where Brian worked, where we took shelter from the mini hurricane in 2006 and, as pictured here, the scene of our wedding.

This is an aerial shot of the Westin after Hurricane Odile.

This is an aerial shot of the Westin after Hurricane Odile.

9/4/06 Hurricane Juan?

I should’ve known better. I’ve been in Mexico long enough to know the drill.

You invite friends for dinner and either they’re an hour or two late or sometimes, if it’s a larger party, they may never even show up. Regardless, at the appointed time, the table is set, the music is on and your lipstick is fresh. And then you wait.

You wait for them to arrive and, if and when they ever do, both of you will act as though everything is fine, even though you have threatened your husband at least twice that you’re just going to eat all the smoked salmon cakes yourself if they don’t arrive in 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, you tell him you’re just going to call Francis and Therese to see if they want to come over for a last-minute dinner because it’s obvious your guests aren’t coming. Fifteen minutes more, you take your shoes off, plop on the couch with the dog, spill a drop of wine on your white blouse and the doorbell rings. We’re in Mexico for goodness’ sake. Why should a hurricane be any different?

After transforming our home into a big, black trash bag Thursday afternoon, I took shelter with the dogs in Brian’s office at 5:30 a.m. Friday. Despite all our hurricane preparedness, by noon, the birds were still chirping. Forecasters said Hurricane John would arrive at 8 a.m. Friday. At 8 a.m., they said he would join us at 11 a.m. At 11 a.m., they said 2 p.m. and at 2 p.m. they said 8 p.m. Somewhere along the way, Mr. Category-Four-turned-Category-Three, Nevermind-I’m-a-Category-Two slowed down to a leisurely 6 miles an hour, taking his sweet time in arriving. And, in the end, he must’ve had a better invitation.

We waited all day for something to happen. The satellite maps kept predicting the storm was heading straight for us, and Harris Whitbeck himself was live on the scene at the Westin covering the storm for CNN. However, we never saw the 110-mile-an-hour winds and horizontal rain for which we’d prepared.

In fact, it wasn’t until the eye was already 100 miles north of Cabo that we got anything more than flickering sprinkles, a gentle breeze and a sea without whitecaps. Unfortunately for our neighbors on the East Cape, John rearranged his evening to visit to Cabo Pulmo, Los Barriles, La Ribera and La Paz. I guess it didn’t matter to Hurricane John that the entire destination of Los Cabos was closed down, taped up and huddled in shelters awaiting his arrival.

When we returned to our home on Saturday afternoon, puddles of water greeted us in every room along with the stale smell of towels we forgot to pick up off the floor before we left. The arroyos had turned to rivers and the highway was covered in runoff from the hills, but other than that, there was little evidence of John in Los Cabos. We were lucky to have water, so it didn’t seem like a big deal to go without power for a day and a half, or to live without Internet for three days.

We still have six weeks left of hurricane season, and I’m counting down the days till October 15. With any luck, if Mother Nature takes hurricane form in the near future, she’ll again take the “when in Rome” approach to her travels. Because, lucky for us, Hurricane John behaved much more like a Hurricane Juan and, just this once, I was grateful.

Unfortunately, the Cabo San Lucas Marina endured a destructive beating by Hurricane Odile.

Unfortunately, the Cabo San Lucas Marina endured a destructive beating by Hurricane Odile.

Thanks to Edgar, Mike and Sherry's amazing friend and deckhand, shown helping Charlie back onto the boat, the Ambar III made it through Odile. The hurricane ripped through La Paz, where the Ambar III is docked.

However, our beloved friends’ boat made it through the storm in La Paz. Hurricane Odile ripped through La Paz, B.C.S., where the Ambar III is docked. Edgar, Mike and Sherry’s amazing friend and deckhand, is here helping Charlie back onto the boat in April somewhere near Isla Espiritu Santo.

 

My body and I swim a race, have a breakthrough.

Early morning stillness on Lake Michigan last Sunday before the 2014 North Shore Triathlon.

Early morning stillness on Lake Michigan last Sunday before the 2014 North Shore Triathlon.

Saturday night I sat in a hot salty bath with nerves in my tummy over an email I’d just received from one of my swim team friends.

Hi Emily;

I went to the pre race meeting this afternoon.  They said that depending on the water temp and waves tomorrow morning we may not be swimming.  Instead we will do a 1.5 mi run in place of the swim if it is called off.  Just wanted to give you a heads up.  See you tomorrow.  I will be there by 5:30-6.

Toussaint

Is this some kind of cruel joke? I don’t run. I signed up to swim the first leg of a triathlon relay—not run. Running hurts my shins, like, a lot. I have a recurring nightmare in which I try to run and I can’t. In dreams and on earth, I’m not that good at running. And I don’t like doing things I’m not good at. (I know, get over yourself, Emily.)

So I did what I always do when I’m anxious—made myself busy. Packing my bag, returning texts and emails, filling water bottles, digging out a sports bra, doing dishes, searching for my very old running shoes…

And then I noticed my shoulders felt a little sore from a dryland workout two nights before, so I filled my tub with the hottest water I could stand, poured cup after cup of Epsom salts and a few drops of Eucalyptus oil into it, lit a candle and sunk beneath the surface for a good 30 minutes.

I do a lot of my processing submerged in hot water in darkened bathrooms. And, in this particular session, I had an actual chat with my body:

“Hey, legs. Thanks for being there. So… you may end up having to run tomorrow. I know we’ve been planning to swim in some really cold water—and thanks for being ready for that—but I just want to give you a heads up that the water might be too cold, and we might be running instead. Did you hear that, knees? I know you’re not really used to running, so how do you feel about this? I don’t want to do anything you don’t feel like you can do, so let me ask you, legs, knees, hips and body, are you cool with a 1.5-mile run?”

Then it happened. My body talked back. Like an instant message in my brain:

“Girl, look at us,” my legs said. “Of course we are cool with a 1.5-mile run. We can do that. You can do that. We’ll have fun together.”

“Wow, legs! Thanks!” I replied. “I promise to take reeeally good care of you all day afterward, regardless of whether we swim or run. Thank you so much for being up for anything, body. I’m so grateful to you.”

I woke at 4:45 a.m. and, in my walk to Betsy’s house, saw a woman in a peach party dress closing the car door while her nicely dressed male companion puked in the gutter. I love a late night, but I was surprised to discover I was much happier being on the early riser end this morning.

Amanda, Betsy and I mug for the camera in the wee, chilly hours.

Amanda, Betsy and I huddle up in the wee, chilly hours.

We drove in darkness to Wilmette, where we learned the swim was still on, so I pulled up my wetsuit and tried to wait till the last minute possible to remove my shoes. On the beach, the sand was extra cold. I overheard that the water was 52 degrees, just one degree over the cutoff for a swim cancellation. Crowds were gathering—600 people, to be exact. Almost everyone was smiling, or laughing, about what they were about to do. I was excited. And nervous. All the women looked so fit, so strong, so young. What if I couldn’t hang with them?

600 athletes gathered on the beach before the North Shore Triathlon last Sunday.

Swimmers begin gathering on the beach before the North Shore Triathlon, in which nearly 600 athletes competed last Sunday.

I watched four waves of male swimmers enter Lake Michigan before me and no one shrieked in pain or turned back from the chill. Then my wave was called. I waded in, water seeped through my wetsuit. I lost my breath, and then it felt invigorating as I bobbed among the others. “So do we just swim right this way, following the buoys all the way down?” I asked to no one in particular, probably super annoying, but I’m a double-checker from way back.

“You can swim wherever you want,” sassed an agro young thing who’d pushed her way to the front like she owned the race. Ok, Sassy Agro Chick, I thought.

The starter megaphoned “go!” and we took off. I resisted the urge to grab her foot and yank her back at the sound of the start. Turns out Sassy Agro Chick was hella fast. So I made sure to draft off of her. I got kicked or elbowed a couple times by bodies in the crowd at the start, but about 100 yards in, Sassy Agro Chick and I had broken away from the others.

Six, maybe seven strokes in, I started questioning my decision. The 52-degree water rushing over my head, in my ears, in my mouth, around my face…it was all so much worse than even the coldest June morning at Ad Astra. But I can’t let Sassy Agro Chick get too far ahead of me, I thought. Body, let’s do this!

We did it! Next year, we think we may do the whole thing.

We did it! And now my body and I are going to start training for all three legs next summer.

One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe. I put my face down and plodded forth, counting strokes to try to stay focused. Occasionally, I popped my head up to see where I was—and to make sure I still drafting off Sassy Agro Chick. Soon we were mingling with the men who’d started two minutes before us and I eventually fell off her trail in the crowd. My arms were in shock. The cold was all-consuming. My shoulders could barely rotate. I felt as though I was clawing at the water in an eccentric dog paddle. I kicked harder, relying on my legs to move me along. A couple times, I paused for a breaststroke break, saying aloud, “This is absolutely crazy. What am I doing?”

Each time, my body talked back, “We’re doing a race. So, c’mon. Get your head back down and let’s race.”

The whole thing is a real-deal blur. It was only 500 yards, and what ultimately took me 6 minutes, 44 seconds is an icy haze. I rounded the last buoy, swam till it was shallow enough to walk, immediately yanked off my cap and goggles and started running up the beach, catching sight of my family on the way. Both boys and Brian had just arrived at the sidelines and were intently searching the crowds for me. I heard Brian say, “Boys, keep an eye out for Mommy.”

“Heeeeey!!! You’re here! Hi, guys!” I called joyfully as I jogged toward them (you’ve seen Baywatch, right? Totally what I looked like.) Charlie’s eyes lit up, Kip’s face cracked into a huge smile and Brian looked excited, and relieved, that he hadn’t missed me.

I emerged from the cold water to cheering, kisses and nuzzles on dry land.

I emerged from the cold water to cheering, kisses and nuzzles on dry land.

“Goooo, Mommy! Go, Mommy!” Charlie and Kip cheered as I passed them. Seeing their animated faces gave me the jolt of energy I needed to run uphill in the cold, squishy mud a quarter mile to the transition area. Once there, I clumsily ripped off my timing chip, almost falling down in the process, and handed it over to Betsy for the bike leg. She took off quick and my boys soon joined me, covering me in nuzzles, hugs, kisses and more cheers. “Yay, Mommy!” they said. “You look so strong, Mommy. Did you swim fast, Mommy?”

The fam loves on me after my race leg.

The fam loves on me after my race leg. Sharing the post-race glow with my kids was the best feeling ever.

Turns out I swam fast enough to place third overall for women in the swim, which was exceedingly gratifying for this old bird, even if Sassy Agro Chick did beat me. And then Betsy rocked a stellar bike leg, followed by Amanda’s mind-blowingly fast 22-minute 5K. As relays go, we placed second, beating out a team of 20-something guys and ceding victory to a charming trio of men, one of whom looked startlingly like Bill Compton (any True Blood fans out there?), so I was ok with it.

Standing around by the finish line eating bananas, drinking coffee, chatting with new acquaintances and old friends was dreamy. I got to watch a couple of my favorite swimpals, Joe and Toussaint, cross the finish line for the full triathlon, a scene that brought me so much joy I’m going to start training for one myself. They absolutely rocked their races and it filled me up to watch them doing their thing.

Toussaint and Joe, my masters team swimpals, flank me after they nail their tri.

Toussaint and Joe, my masters team swimpals, flank me at the finish line after they nail their triathlons.

All day, I found myself straight-up reveling in what my body and I had just done together. It was a breakthrough day for us. Like any relationship, we have our ups and downs, but my body and me, well, I think we’re starting to find our groove.

Instead of fixating on my various body neuroses, including the stretch marks my sons proudly tell me they created, my interior monologue was saying, “Right on, Bod. You are so amazing.”

To which my body replied, through happy tears, “Thank you so much for finally noticing.”

This is minutes before my body and I put our wetsuit to the test in 52-degree water.

This is minutes before my body and I put our wetsuit to the test in 52-degree water. And, in case anyone’s wondering, hell yes, I was wearing lip gloss.

Lost and found: My kid

Here we are in Baja, just off Isla Espiritu Santo, and I'm teaching Kip how to snorkel for the first time.

Here we are in Baja, bobbing around in the Sea of Cortez near Isla Espiritu Santo, and I’m teaching Kip how to snorkel for the first time.

I lost track of my youngest son Sunday afternoon. At a crowded beach on Chicago’s North Side, I looked around and discovered Kip, my soft-cheeked, sweet-spirited, strong-willed, face-caressing, twinkly eyed, soulful, viking-metal-loving, sun-bleached blond of a four year old was missing. “Where is Kip?” I asked his buddies, my husband, my friends. “Have you seen Kip?” He was completely out of range. Friends scooped up babies, grabbed tiny hands and, all together, combed the shoreline both directions in search of him.

He wasn’t by the kayak. He wasn’t by his other little friend, who’d wandered a ways south as well. He wasn’t up in the grasses. He wasn’t on the sidewalk. He wasn’t on the wall from which he’d asked to jump earlier. He wasn’t on the playground. He wasn’t anywhere. I tried to still my worry so I could feel his energy, wherever he was. I figured maybe I could detect on the woo-woo waves whether he was in danger, and where he might be. My gut told me he was ok, but I prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more nonetheless. He couldn’t swim very well, and yet he had a lifejacket on, so after a cursory search, I ruled out drowning and my mind jumped almost immediately to “someone took him.”

I stopped a lifeguard. “Hi. I’ve lost my son. Is there protocol in place for when this happens? Anything you can do to help?” She very calmly led me to another lifeguard, who asked me what Kip looked like and what he was wearing. I told them in detail. Someone radioed someone else. My surrounding friends looked at me with concern. They hadn’t found him, either.

Charlie, my oldest, who has beautiful intuitive gifts, looked shaken. He had been running down the beach yelling, “Kip!” I grabbed his hand, knelt down, looked into his eyes and placed my hands on his heart. “Charlie. I need to ask you to do something really huge. If it feels ok to you, drop down into your heart, close your eyes, look in the center of your forehead and see if you can see Kip. See if you can see where he might be.” He nodded his head once and closed his eyes, then opened them almost immediately and turned around. My gaze followed his. One of our friends, with a baby strapped to her chest, was rushing toward me with Kip’s hand in hers.

IMG_0501

Kip’s hands. Oh, his sweet hands. They hold delicate things so softly and grip cameras just so to snap photos like this one, on the Ambar III last April.

I promptly lost all composure.

I ran to my amazing little boy, scooped him up and wrapped my arms so tightly around his damp lifejacket, hand on the back of his head as though he were a newborn. He sobbed into my neck. I sobbed into his cheek. We both held each other and heaved.

“I was so scared, Mommy,” he bawled. “I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

“I’m so sorry you were scared, my Kippy. You’re ok now. I was so worried about you,” I cried and cried. “I am so happy you’re ok. I am so, so happy you’re here in my arms. We are going to do a better job of keeping our eyes on each other from now on, ok?”

“I just wanted to give Maya these stones I found,” he sobbed even harder. As we suspected, it seemed he’d gone on a mission for his favorite girl. “I was trying to find sea glass to give her, but I didn’t find anything good. I kept looking, but could only find these ones. And they’re not even that good!” He opened his cool little hand to reveal two stones, which were warm from his careful guarding.

“Oh, buddy. She’s coming back from the paddleboard with her daddy right now. Would it make you feel better if you could see her and give them to her?”

“Yeeeeesssssss!” he cried. “I want to give her these rocks I found for her.”

I don’t know how that amazing little six-year-old girl knew to be thrilled with the nondescript rocks he brought her, but when she approached moments later, he presented the two smallish stones and her face completely lit up.

She said something like, “Wow, Kip! Thank you so much! I love them!” Right then, his face cracked into a big smile and everything we’d just experienced seemingly washed away from his being.

My recovery wasn’t as quick. It felt as though I’d aged a year in however many minutes it was I thought he might be gone. My eyes hurt. My heart felt tender. Brian couldn’t fall asleep that night. But hours after we returned home, I was able to go into Kip’s room and curl up next to his sleeping body, safe and sound. And that felt absolutely euphoric.

He gave her a couple unremarkable stones, she gave him this hug. His heart is full.

He gave her a couple unremarkable stones, she gave him this hug. His heart is full.

To be clear, this is not a cautionary tale

I don’t need to tell you to learn from my mistake and make sure you watch your kids closely at the beach. Because, if you have kids, or even friends, or cats, you all probably do that already. That’s why I’ve omitted the details of the moments before we noticed he was missing—they’re inconsequential because we obviously weren’t en pointe, and mistakes happen. To everyone. It’s really obvious that if we’d been keeping a closer eye on the little guy, this wouldn’t have happened, and any amount of ridiculing you could throw down would pale in comparison to what’s already been unfurled in my own head. (you’ve met my inner mean girl, yes?)

But I do want to drop a tiny piece of preaching

I was surprised by the response of passersby once I had Kip safely in my arms. When Laura found him, the countenance of the lifeguards and the surrounding people who’d worn masks of concern moments earlier shifted completely. They glared at her as she ushered Kip back to our spot on the sand. As I hugged my baby and cried, the lifeguards looked me up and down, cocked their heads and darn near rolled their eyes at me. On the way toward me with Kip in hand, one woman even snarled at my friend: “Happens fast, doesn’t it?”

Ouch, bitches.

Unfortunately, this was a bad thing that happened. We effed up, and it could’ve gone much worse. Thank God, our beach companions and the pack of concerned little kids who searched for Kip, everything turned out ok and I was supremely supported in the emotional aftermath despite the weirdness of strangers.

Next time it turns out ok for someone—anyone—would it be possible for all of humanity to hide their disgust, pretty please? Like, maybe try tapping into a loving or compassionate place and saying something to the tune of, “I’m so happy you found him,” or “Oh, wow. We were concerned. Glad he’s ok.”

As the cropped t-shirt of one woman strutting down the beach an hour or so later read in huge block print, “Shit happens.” It sure does, I can attest. To everyone, I might add. (Even to generally type-A, hypervigilant parents.) And, when it does, an outstretched hand and little compassion goes a long way.

Kip parties on. And now understands a bit more about the importance of staying with his grown ups.

Kip parties on. And now understands a bit more about the importance of staying with his grown ups. Note: This was second his costume change at our block party this summer–he washed off *most* of his face paint and threw on this Hawaiian get up from Aunt Andrea so he could really tear it up. And, of course, by “tear it up,” I mean stub his bare foot on the curb and rip his pinkie toenail off. This kid has given me too many a fright this summer…

 

The good and bad of birthdays, and the gift we can give ourselves and others every day.

See? Historically, I relish my birthday no matter what. You wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid, too, little sister? Aw, I hope you get one on your special day. But stand aside because it's MY birthday and I'm gonna enjoy it. Smile!

Do you see? Historically, I relish my birthday no matter what. You wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid, too, little sister? Aw, I feel a little awkward about this, and I sure hope you get one on your special day. But, shhhh, stand aside because it’s MY birthday, this is MY gift and I want to make sure Mom gets a pic of me with Henrika Lily. Wait, no. I think I’m going to name her Jenny Henrika. I’m turning 7 today, so I can totally change the name on the Cabbage Patch Kids birth certificate. You know, I can actually do anything I want today. It’s my birthday. I’m the star. Sing to me! Feed me cake! Give me ice cream! Let me open presents! Cheeeeeeese!

I turned 35 two weeks ago. Appreciation and surprises rolled in from near and far. People made me smile, laugh, blush and feel overcome with gratitude because I can’t believe they love me so perfectly. (cookie bouquets, haikus, notes, flowers, jewelry, cars pulled over on the side of the road and technology given to kids to make space to talk to me, oh my!)

And, yet, there’s the other side of birthdays, and it didn’t elude me. There were tears. Not because I’m getting older—although I was once told by someone who is obviously mistaken that 35 is a woman’s tip toward the downhill slide—but because of this: My journey sometimes feels way harder than I want it to be. And, though I know this journey is all for the greater good, even my birthday couldn’t relieve me of its present weight.

I didn’t get why I was feeling so heavy on my birthday, the ultimate festival of awesomeness for a hardcore Leo, and I felt generally very awkward, alone and socially inept all day. I just wanted to hide and not have to face anyone because I simply wasn’t “myself,” and I was definitely not playing the part of the happy-go-lucky birthday girl I felt I should be.

So I called up a friend who’s always good for spiritual refreshment. Cin is a poet of some renown (check it) and always has a fresh way of seeing things. She said, “Everything is just extra on your birthday. Ouchy things feel extra ouchy. Wonderful things feel extra wonderful. This is kind of how birthdays are. They’re extra everything.”

So this is obviously, like, "extra" fabulous. This is me on my 35th birthday, post-tears. If this is the downhill slide, I'm wearing tight jeans and big necklaces the rest of the way.

So this is obviously, like, “extra” fabulous. This is me on my 35th birthday, post-tears. If 35 marks the downhill slide, I’m totally wearing tight jeans, Blanche Devereaux jackets and big necklaces the rest of the way.

One thing we can learn about being a friend, from a comedy writer

So, yeah, on the topic of those “extra” kinds of feelings and friendship, I read this really cool Cracked.com article the other day. (Hey-oh, David Goldstein, thanks for the share!) It’s called “Robin Williams and why funny people kill themselves.” It paints a vivid picture of why comics develop the gift of funny, and how they often feel compelled to hide their dark stuff throughout their lives, sometimes all the way up until a self-inflicted end. It’s insightful and it’s sad. And I hereby declare it required reading.

(Aside: My inner circle does not need to read the article because they already know. They miraculously like me even when my need to process is incessant, my forehead vein is sticking out and mascara is streaking down my cheeks. Which is doggone decent of them.)

Anyway, David Wong’s boiled-down advice to friends of funny people is this:

“Be there when they need you, and keep being there even when they stop being funny. Every time they make a joke around you, they’re doing it because they instinctively and reflexively think that’s what they need to do to make you like them. They’re afraid that the moment the laughter stops, all that’s left is that gross, awkward kid everyone hated on the playground, the one they’ve been hiding behind bricks all their adult life. If they come to you wanting to have a boring-ass conversation about their problems, don’t drop hints that you wish they’d ‘lighten up.’ It’s really easy to hear that as ‘Man, what happened to the clown? I liked him better.’”

It got me thinking. I wonder what would happen if we substituted different personality traits in for “funny.” Nice. Smart. Strong. Empowering. Sexy. Snarky. Motivational. Witty. Holy. Wise. Tough. Passionate. Ornery. Creative. Cool. Shiny.

What’s your schtick?

I’m not funny, so the applications of Wong’s article aren’t an exact match, but, like you, I am a bunch of other stuff (warm, open, caring, playful…) These are real things about me, and I generally try to be my real self at all costs, but sometimes other qualities (over-thinky-ness, overwhelm, hard-on-myself-ness, perfectionism, fearfulness, etc.) take the stage. On those days, I feel afraid of what might happen if my shiny self doesn’t present.

Will you still want me?

I’m not sure you will. So I can identify with Wong on this point. I’ve seen it before—that moment when someone you consider a friend isn’t quite sure what to do with a state of being that’s not your modus operandi—you get the glazed-over eyes and emotional detachment and end up feeling dumb for venturing from your usual shininess, or whatever it is you think they like about you. And so you bottle it up around them and, next time, you’re darn sure to put on the face you think they want to see.

Feeling dumb after showing your real self sucks. And it veers awfully close to feeling un-liked or unloved or isolated. Which, in some cases, can be a slippery slope.

So my point is: If funny people feel required to stay funny because that’s what’s expected of them, as Wong asserts, others may feel it behooves them to maintain X, Y or Z persona for the same reason. And it’s just as damaging. We must break this pattern. All of us. I’m talking to you.

The shiny mask keeps things nice and pleasant, but behind the mask, we feel glaringly alone walking around in the world. You tell yourself people don’t want anything to do with this heavier, lackluster version of you. You keep your sunglasses on.

And if you remove the sunglasses? And the mask?

Well, I can’t say I’m skilled at doing this myself, but all I know is that when someone takes off his or her sunnies and lets me see their heart and soul, no matter what shape it’s in that day, it gets pretty awesome. Unfortunately, most of us walk around with some masterful masks, which may cause us to miss out on potentially expansive connections.

Recently a friend I’ve known for almost a year shared one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard. It was a tale of unending loss and grief in his life. In our relationship of pleasantries and passing conversation, I never could’ve guessed he’d been through such tragedy. After he laid it out there, he apologized for telling me, for weighing me down. But, on the contrary, I felt both more alive and more connected with him. I’m not sure how this works, but something about the honor of becoming privy to the trials of this guy as he was processing some deep feelings was ultimately very, very uplifting. And, as a result of being let in and letting him into my own world, I am now way more into what’s beneath his facade than my experience of him from the past 10 months. It took some time to develop a friendship, as it usually does, but the dude is now in my heartspace.

Another example: I was recently shaking it with a big crowd at a festive occasion, delighted to have run into a much admired friend I hadn’t seen in a while. As we hugged, shimmied and bumped booties on the dance floor, I asked her how she was doing and she responded so simply, to the tune of, “Well. Here I am. I haven’t done this (insert her deep desire) yet, and I want it so bad. So, I’m happy for these people, but I’m really not doing so well at the moment.”

The honesty. The authenticity. The courage. The vulnerability. The real, pulsing life being laid out there in an unlikely space. The power of it all will take your breath away. At the time, when each of these friends opened their hearts and showed me what was inside rather than what they thought they should display, my heart opened, too. And what came next in each instance was infinitely better than whatever I was doing or planning to do the moment before they got real with me.

This chick--let's call her "Tiffany" in honor of the artist who created her--is all, "Hey, Fish. I'm kinda blue today. Do you still wanna hang out? No? Ok. I'm just going to descend, then."

This chick–let’s call her “Tiffany” in honor of the artist who created her–is all, “Hey, Fish. I’m kinda blue today. Do you still wanna hang out? No? Ok. I’m just going to descend, then.”

It’s awesome when people get real.

On one end, the willingness to let down the walls and just be who you are, whatever it is, in that instant, is a pure, glistening gift.

On the other end, compassion, sincerity and general openness is equally as valuable. For example, at a BBQ last weekend, someone I don’t know as well as I hope to one day circled back to a nonspecific comment I made weeks ago about a tough time I was having. She asked me about it in the most sincere, caring, understanding, open way, and it instantly brought me to tears. She might as well have said, “I see you, I care about you and I’m here for you.” It’s ballsy to jump into someone’s world like that. I’d call it heroic, even. But now I know that if I want to reach out to her and be my stripped-down self, I totally can. What a gift. Happy Birthday to me.

So, what if we were genuinely open to allowing the people in our lives to be however they are on any given day? And what if we were authentic about our own feelings as well? When we’re not our usual shiny selves, what if we could just be ok with that? And not worry about how others might receive us? And not feel icky about their response, if unfavorable, to us on these days?

I think we can try for all of this.

Kip frosted this cake for me all by himself. Because it was my birthday cake, and because he loved frosting it so much, it was extra-extra delicious.

Kip frosted this cake for me all by himself. Because it was my birthday cake, and because he loved frosting it so much, it was extra-extra delicious.

But back to my birthday.

Birthdays feel like the New Year to me. They’re a chance to look at your life, at what you’ve created, and reflect on what you want to manifest in the coming year. I’ve got a rough sketch in my head of how I might want my 36th year to look. It’s pretty bold and there are a lot of unknowns, and being true about my feelings and wholly accepting of others is on the list.

But if it ever gets to be too much, I could take the tongue-in-cheek advice from my burst-of-goodness-and-wisdom-and-laughter friend, who rocked an extended text convo with me the day after my bday. Here’s a sample:

Her: That pic of Kip and the cake summarizes how blessed yet awesome you are. I hope your day is as rockin as yooooouuuu!

Me: You are so right. 🙂 It was an up and down day (birthdays are kinda like that sometimes), but overall definitely rockin. Thanks for your kickass love!

Her: Ummm, yes, birthdays are bittersweet, emotional, thought provoking in maybe not the best ways…why is that?! … I hope wine punched those thoughts in the ass…ha!!

No filter. No mask. Let’s just feel what we feel and be who we are today, tomorrow and every day after. And, if friends aren’t ready to embrace the real you when you’re “not yourself,” don’t let it get to you. Be that person anyway and go for a cup of the fancy tea, a talk with your closest friend, a nice yoga class, a long run, an Epsom-salt bath or, yes, maybe even a glass of wine. You are not alone. You are divine. You are loved. A tough day—be it your birthday or otherwise—doesn’t have to mean a downhill slide. It can mean your very blossoming.