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.

The great girlfriend lip gloss interrogation

My first-floor toiletry essentials.

My first-floor toiletry essentials.

There’s a basket on the back of the toilet in the bathroom off our kitchen. In it are bathroomy things like tissues, hand lotion, nail files, tampons (plus pads for visiting preteens and old-school girls out there), a hairbrush, Altoids, moisturizing face mist and a selection of lip glosses. These are things for which I’m not willing to risk general destruction of property by my children were I to run up to my boudoir and leave them alone for two minutes. So, I keep them handy.

During a party, some girlfriends commented on the basket, and then cornered me about the lip gloss. They observed that I always have it on, even while away at camp with another family for Memorial Day weekend.

“Wait! I was really good about not wearing any makeup while at Family Camp,” I protested.

“You were really good at making sure you had lip gloss on,” the camp-witness friend quipped.

Was I really wearing gloss at camp?

I clearly slowed it down with the eye makeup, but was I really wearing gloss in the camp hammock, and everywhere else?

I don’t want to believe that I glossed my lips out in the wilds of Michigan, but I can’t confirm I didn’t because the habit of swiping a wand across my pout is so ingrained that, in hindsight, I frankly don’t know what the truth is. She’s probably right. Ack. What does that say about me? Something bad? Something good?

“So what is your deal with lip gloss?” they asked. “Where does that come from?”

I gave them a story, one of them sweetly declared that I always look so nice, we moved on and then, the next day, I thought about it some more. And—taaa daaa!—I uncovered the following layers to my own personal lip gloss tale…

Level 1: I just love lip gloss. It’s girly, it’s fun, it’s shiny and I like it.
Level 2: I have this really luminous friend who always wore lipgloss. It inspired me, I thought she always looked really nice, so I picked up the habit and ran with it.
Level 3: I learned it by watching my extraordinarily lovely grandma, who even at age 93, doesn’t go a day without sprucing up. Makeup, clothing, accessories, nice shoes, the whole bit. I wasn’t afforded the indulgence of being girly as a kid and young woman, so now it’s my turn to relish femininity. Like grandmother, like granddaughter?

She even looks good mashing potatoes.

She even looks good mashing potatoes.

But when I reeeeally think about it, I can trace the habitual use of lip gloss to a very specific conversation with a very specific human being: my then-suitor, now-husband. Which brings me to the deepest level…

Level 4: Because I wanted to look like a “Fox girl.” For him.

When I first met Brian, the Fox News Network was young and not yet freaky business, and all the anchors were polished to the nines, right up to what he affectionately called “Fox girl lips.”

“What are Fox girl lips?” I asked him, young, impressionable and yet unsure of what it meant to be a real woman, at age 22.

“I don’t know…they just all have really shiny lips,” he explained. “They must use some kind of special lipstick or something.”

I knew enough to know that this “special lipstick” was called “gloss.” So then and there, I decided lip gloss was the surest way for me to look like a Fox girl. Because, having studied so many issues of Teen magazine and later Cosmo, I was an expert in deciphering casual comments from guys, and I assessed that’s what Brian liked. And I wanted to be what he wanted. And now, almost mindlessly, 12 years later, I have the right shade of lipstick and gloss for almost every occasion, and I’ll be darned if you catch me with naked lips. What’s more, sometimes I do look like a news anchor. (Thanks, Lemon Tree Photography.)

This is but a sampling of my lip-sprucing collection.

This is but a sampling of my lip-sprucing collection.

Lip gloss aside, I’m in a place right now of looking earnestly at who I am. I think all of us are, really. On a cosmic level, that’s what this age is about—finding out who we truly are.

What is my true nature? Who am I, really? How can I authentically be myself and act from my heart in everything I do? Who do I want to become? What do I want my life to look like, present and future? How might I soar while simultaneously empowering my loved ones? How do I want to live? How can I manifest the best possible life for myself and my loved ones?

You may have your own version of these questions; they are not small ones. And because habits are more telling than we often give them credit for, neither is this one: Why do I so diligently brush on lip gloss?

Do I actually “love” lip gloss? And for whom am I wearing it? Is it really who I am to wear lipgloss, or is it just a holdover from my days of figuring out how to be what someone else wanted me to be?

Habits are sticky. They hang around unbeknownst to us. We all have the stories we tell ourselves if people ask about them, but very rarely do we thoughtfully consider our habits and determine whether we wish to change them. For whatever reason, the simple question of “what’s your deal with lip gloss?” set me off on a crusade to examine my own drives for this and one or two other habits.

Long story short, it doesn’t matter where I end up falling on the lip gloss issue. Whether I decide to keep wearing it because I actually do love the girliness of perpetually glossed lips or I decide to abandon the shine because it no longer serves me is inconsequential. In this 24 hours of self-exploration regarding cosmetics usage, I am ultra-clear on one thing I hadn’t consciously noticed about me before the girlfriend lipgloss interrogation: This practice of morphing myself into the person he, she or you want me to be is a habit that no longer holds stock in my being. And that new awareness makes any time spent under the microscope worthwhile.

So, I encourage you to climb onto the glass and look deeply at what’s there. If you have any epiphanies, message me. I want to hear about them so I can cheer you on.

Are you there, Goddess? It’s me, Margaret.

We remember this book cover, don’t we, girls?

My tried-and-true crew of goddess-friends recently got together to celebrate the summer solstice and, naturally, conversation turned toward periods. You know, as it’s prone to do at a girls night*.

(*ASIDE: Surprise! I was being ironic. As lavishly liberated ladies, it’s actually quite rare for us to discuss our periods when we get together. Usually we stick to talking about organic baking and our favorite bras. Haha. Tricked you again. We actually did discuss bras—the fact that no woman should waste her breasts on anything but a sexy one. But, really, normally we just have pillow fights in our panties.)

But about bras, this vintage La Perla longline will do just fine.

Turns out Cin was in the process of plotting a coming-of-age ritual for a dear friend’s daughter. The questions started flying: How old were you when you got your first period? How was that for you? Who helped you through it? What did your mom do? Did you have any idea of the amazing gift you’d been given—to create life—at that moment? Were you able to fathom that, in all this mess, you’d just received the world’s most wondrous superpower?

We all reflected on how glorious it might have been to be surrounded by a bunch of loving women when our bodies decided to go off the effing reservation. Because that’s how it seems when you’re 10 or 13 or 16, or whatever, and you have fertility rushing from your body for the first time.

My mom was pretty great—warm, loving and matter-of-fact—about the whole period thing, but it certainly wasn’t, like, a celebration. I was given some Ivory soap, some pads and a big hug. “Welcome to womanhood,” she smiled sincerely. She was sweet and I felt like I’d joined a new club, but it was shocking. And solitary. I was young—I got it on vacation in Colorado on my 11th birthday—so it was also a secret. If anyone had found out about me getting my period while riding Mademoiselle, the spunky brown Bay, up the mountain toward the old abandoned sheepherders’ cabins on the Jacques’ ranch only to notice blood through my jeans, I might’ve killed them.

So last week when my babysitter’s 11-year-old daughter revealed with an uncomfy grin that she couldn’t swim today, I went in. “Is it because…?” I asked her. Her mom was sitting right next to me, and she leaned toward me, smiling. The girl nodded.

“Oh, honey, that’s wonderful!” I beamed. She and her mom beamed back. The glow of her beautiful face was unforgettable. I started gushing. “Congratulations! I’m so excited for you. This is such a big deal. You know that right? You now have a superpower! You can create life, you are infinite, you are connected to all women throughout all time, you are a goddess, you are a queen.”

This isn’t how most of us feel about our first period, but this is how I want girls to feel about coming of age.

I stopped, glancing at her mom, who was smiling from ear to ear. “I mean, of course just because you can create life doesn’t mean you should—you’re so young—but you have a gift, the gift of womanhood. Wow, honey, I’m so happy for you.”

She beamed so brightly, her lovely features completely absorbed in the joy of my reaction. We hugged. She pressed her flawless face into my chest and wrapped her arms tightly around my waist as we embraced. When I pulled away, her smile was so big, and her eyes so wide. She searched my face and I knew what she wanted to ask.

“You know you can swim,” I started. “If you want to, right?”

Her mom jumped in, talking really fast. “I never learned how to use those things, Emily. Can you teach her? Please? Would you mind?”

Oh. My. Holy. Can I teach your luminous, sports-loving daughter how to use a tampon so that she can swim today because it’s hot out and she really, really, really wants to? Would I mind?!

“It would be such an honor,” I said, with tears in my eyes, for sure. “Thank you for asking me!”

We tucked away on a sidewalk behind the bushes at the park and I rifled through my purse for a tampon. Even though my little boys already know all about periods, they and their buddies were curious about what was going on with this unlikely pow wow, which mortified the new young woman. They eventually lost interest and gave us the privacy we wanted.

This was kinda what the scene looked like. But at a park.

We sat in a circle and they listened, rapt, as I explained how to use the magical thing that would allow her to swim with her friends even while on her period. She was so excited about it, and her mom seemed relieved to find someone she knew who could teach her daughter about this thing. It was awkward, so we laughed a lot. It was the kind of laughing that starts out nervous, moves to a crescendo of sincerity that acts as glue between those sharing it and culminates in a deep, comforting sigh. Eventually, after doing my best to answer her questions, I gave her one for the road—it was all I had in my purse—and we re-engaged with the park around us.

On some level, I aspire to heal my own girlhood, fraught with stifling, subverting and frequent invisibility, by seeing, uplifting and empowering the young girls I get to know now that I’m a grown-up.

It may say something strange of me to get so excited about taking part in an aspect of this lovely girl’s initiation into womanhood, but my feet didn’t touch the ground the rest of the afternoon. Naturally, as I happen to be in a season of making intentional effort to experience gratitude for all the things going wonderfully in my life, I felt overcome with thanksgiving for this girl, her mom and the favor they so generously asked of me.

And, bonus, I now have the perfect story to tell the ladies at our Fall Equinox celebration. Right after we discuss casserole recipes and hair conditioner.

So quiet outside; so loud inside: My retreat recap

It’s been a while since I’ve written, so I’ll catch up on everything soon—our trip to Baja, family camp, my inner life and more—but first, the meditation retreat…

IMG_2830

Paramahansa Yogananda’s hermitage in Encinitas, Calif. This is the window near which he wrote “Autobiography of a Yogi,” the most formative book I’ve read. My guru’s hermitage holds a definitive magic for me.

Two months ago, I went on a three-day silent retreat at the Self-Realization Fellowship ashram in Encinitas, Calif. Ever since, I’ve been telling friends who ask about it: “It was great. Intense, but awesome. I’ll share more about it later.”

I keep waiting for fascinating words of inspiring profundity, but they haven’t come. This business of leading a spiritual life can be so personal, so gritty, so impossible to explain.

As such, instead of my typical long-form essay, here’s a stream-of-consciousness re-cap on what it was like to keep silence, meditate way more than is normal for me and be alone with God for three days, in chronological order, with several parts missing:

  • Excitement
  • Aw, I look super cute today. This is just the perfect outfit for meditation.
  • I’m kinda nervous. What might come up when I get quiet?
  • Silence now? I thought the retreat didn’t officially start until tomorrow?
  • It’s weird not talking at the dinner table
  • Substitute smiles and eye contact for words. Hmm. I kinda like this.
  • Nature Gardens Wildlife Waves Hummingbirds Euphoria
nature

View from my favorite meditation bench in the gardens. Sitting there, I was surrounded by jasmine, hummingbirds, jackrabbits, giant jade bushes, koi ponds, palms, birds of paradise and the massive Pacific.

  • Breathing
  • Quiet
  • Soundest sleep I’ve had in months
  • Wake up. I choose to shower instead of meditate. Again, I find the perfect outfit and lip gloss for the occasion.
  • Meet up for energization exercises and group meditation
  • Darkened chapel, sit down, straight spine, woo! Here we go!
  • Peace, quiet, gratitude for the time to do this
  • Here comes the back pain
  • Break. Sneak off during the break to get a massage in Encinitas. The back pain is unbearable.
  • Return for more meditation.
  • This chapel is so peaceful.
  • I would like to feel as peaceful as that woman sitting over there smiling.
  • I talk too much in real life.
  • So quiet outside; so loud inside
  • Get distracted while meditating, draw myself back (repeat times a billion)
  • Feel an inner storm rising, shudder at the thought, tell myself that’s why I’m here, and try to trust that I’ll be ok no matter what comes up for me.
  • Feel ridiculous for even thinking about clothes and lipgloss
  • Breakfast is delicious
  • Loooong period of meditation (2.5 hours)
  • Stabbing upper back pain
  • Inner storm hits
  • Frustration
  • Gurus, could you take away this back pain so I can concentrate better?
  • Cool. Thanks!
  • Dang. It’s back again. Mother effer! This is so hard.
  • Despair
  • Tears
  • Please, God, make this easier, I want to hear You.
  • #$%&!!!
  • Resignation to the fact I’m going to be here a while.
  • Keep dragging my mind back to the techniques.
  • Relief! It’s finally over. And now we chant.
  • Can I go home now? I’m sure Marina will let me stay with her the next couple nights…
meditation bench

I passed a few hours in meditation and general reverie on this bench overlooking the Pacific. This spot was like salve for the stings that came up during my chapel meditations. Being outside is always what soothes me.

  • Another meditation
  • I can’t effing believe I’m going back for more. Not fun. I should’ve booked a beach vacation with girlfriends…
  • Straight spine, open heart, aching back
  • Praying, praying, praying for help
  • Kriya-o-rama
  • Light across the Christ Center (third eye)
  • Joy

Sister Yogamahi—my fave nun—pulls me aside because she feels like I could use a counseling session. OMG! She’s like a rockstar nun! And she’s going to talk with ME about MY problems! Squee! I break silence to chat with Sister Yogamahi

Me: blah blah blah, bunch of majorly un-spiritual admissions I can’t believe I tell a nun. Vent, vent, vent. What would Master say about this? Cry, cry, cry. Do you have any advice?

Sister Yogamahi: Warm smile, gleaming eyes, doles out real-deal wisdom, offers perspective, cracks some jokes, makes me laugh, gives me support with zero judgment, promises to pray for me and it feels like I’ve just hooked up with God Himself, tells me stuff that comforts me, puts me back in touch with my own ability to feel God’s presence, makes me wonder if she’s not actually on the line with Jesus and Paramahansa Yogananda as she’s talking with me.

Me: “Wow. Thanks. Can I hug you? Wait, do nuns hug?” (It occurs to me she might prefer to connect with the heart than with the body, or her vibration might be so high from meditating like a boss all these years that touching a mere mortal might send my nervous system reeling.)

Sister Yogamahi: Only when no one is looking. And I think we’re being watched. She laughs.

Me: Etheric hug, then! (I clasp my hands at my heart and bow my head in gratitude to her.)

Sister Yogamahi: Smiles with a bazillion watts of God’s love, then swishes away in her ochre robes.

Me: 80 pounds lighter and heaps clearer than moments before.

meditation gardens

Amazing how so much soul gunk can find its way up in a place bursting with this much beauty.

  • Another long period of meditation. I approach sans dread.
  • Breathing
  • No more back pain
  • No more caring about what I’m wearing, or how cute I look for this
  • Kriya-o-rama
  • Depth
  • Clarity
  • Peace
  • Happiness
  • Melancholy about leaving, about returning to the noisy world
  • Missing my family, but loving the peace that’s finally settled. It’s a bittersweet farewell
  • Fly back home

That’s that. Someday maybe stories of substance will emerge, but this was my experience. If any of you have ever gone within for several days, I’d love to hear of your experience. What went down for you when you went inward?

Missing Mexico in honor of 5 de Mayo

Sea of Cortez selfie

Hard to believe this is where I was a week ago. 30 feet down in the Sea of Cortez literally swimming in my favorite color and streaming rays of sunlight. Today my cold little toes are tucked into wooly slippers beneath my desk. Also, I have the sniffles and the tip of my nose is an ice cube. It’s all got me contemplating the time-space continuum. Might I be able to beam myself–if only in consciousness–back to Baja for a quick hit of the sea, sky, mountains, desert, dear friends and vitamin D? All is as it should be but, as grateful as I dearly am both for the vacation we just enjoyed and for the totality of my life in Chicago, I’m missing the Baja love on this ultra chilly Cinco de Mayo.

We thrash to be still: A tale of detox after a tough day

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The sensory-magical power of bowling was revealed to us last weekend. Heavy lifting, gross-motor throwing, twirling around in slippery shoes on waxy wood floors. Both boys were in heaven. It was a dream. We went twice.

I knew it’d been a rough day at school by the way the teacher handed me the clipboard to sign Charlie out. Before she could share any details, he darted out the door toward the parking lot in an attempt to avoid the ultimate nightmare—mom and teacher converging to talk about his tough day. He couldn’t dematerialize fast enough.

Tough days are the same for kids as they are for grown ups, I think. Something not awesome happens. You make some sort of mistake. Someone gets upset. You feel in some way uneasy. You try to pull yourself out of it. But it’s hard. What does this situation say about me? How do I feel right now? What do I do about it? Maybe you keep getting reminded of your shortcoming. Maybe you’re not sure of how to recover, so maybe you keep messing up. Maybe you feel generally discombobulated. Maybe you don’t want to face anyone because you’re embarrassed. Maybe it’s just one of those days. In the end, it doesn’t matter what went down. It’s just a tough day.

I said some things—shamey, punitive things—to him as we walked to the car that weren’t my best parenting. Maybe I haven’t been my best in general lately. Maybe I’ve been having my own tough days. Maybe my cropped-up-out-of-nowhere, monolithic internal shifting has prevented me from showing up for my kids in the super-present, heart-centered way to which I aspire. Maybe I could’ve been trying harder. Maybe I could’ve done something proactive to prevent the overload of his sensory system that’s been causing him three tough days in a row at school. Maybe.

Chicago is going on 21 days of below-zero temperatures. It’s been nearly a month of no outdoor recess, no park play and no running around out front. Too cold. This doesn’t bode well for a kid who regulates his nervous system primarily through gross motor activities.

We’ve had a ton of snow, which is heaped in parallel strips through unplowed alleys and side streets. When the sun comes out, it melts ever so slightly, such that it softens to collect and later freeze in the tire wells of our car. Charlie likes to kick at these hardened deposits of grimy, icy snow before and after school. Sometimes they dislodge from his blows, which he relishes; sometimes they don’t.

We pulled into the garage after school yesterday afternoon and he began kicking, to no avail. I helped him get one of the ice blocks unglued from the car’s undercarriage and what happened next amazed me.

Charlie began kicking and stomping the ice block with ferocity. Oh. He is mad, I observed. Wow. He’s really fucking pissed off about something.

“Kick it, buddy,” I encouraged, considering he might need to express his emotions physically. “Stomp that ice chunk. That’s it. Get it.”

His fervor in kicking and stomping grew. With each chunk of ice he chipped, he seemed a little more consumed by it. I stood nearby watching him, being there with him in his expression.

“Hey, Charlie. Are you mad?” I asked gently. He just kept kicking, almost as though he couldn’t hear me. “Yep, you’re mad, aren’t you buddy?”

He looked up at me and nodded his head once before going back to the demolition.

“I totally get it,” I said, noticing a delightful cocoon forming around the two of us. “You know it’s ok to be mad, don’t you? You won’t get in trouble for feeling mad. Say it out loud, even. Let yourself feel angry. Let it out.”

“Ok!” he fired back at me. “I’m mad. I’m really, really mad.” He looked up and, through the anger, I saw his relief. We found another ice chunk, but this one was too stubborn for his boots to dent, so I picked up a skinny length of firewood and he used it to whack the ice into oblivion. We found some more ice. And when all the ice was fractured in pieces around the garage, he marched into the back yard, where he began thrusting piles of snow off the table, chairs and steps with sweeping arm movements.

I pressed him on why he was angry, and at whom. It was a short list of people, and I was on it. I told him I understood why he was mad, and that I knew it was a hard day for him. He didn’t say much. Just kind of growled. “You don’t have to talk about it, but if you want to, I’m here to listen,” I said. “Or you can growl, or yell or whatever feels right to you. This is a safe space for that.”

He went to the trampoline, jumping and kicking at piles of snow, sweeping it away with a ceremonious combination of punches and footwork. On the stairs, he kicked at the ice buildup on the sides. Kip got a little too close and I encouraged him to steer clear of Charlie’s thrashing. “Kip, stand back,” Charlie cautioned. “I am like a ball of fire right now.”

He thrashed around the yard, strumming tiny icicles from their place under the back stairs, kicking at ice and whooshing his arms around wildly through piles of snow for a good 10 minutes. I could hear his breath from a few feet away. All throughout, I acted like a congregant at that Baptist church we’ve visited a few times.

That’s it.

Mmmhmm.

Do your thing.

I feel you.

All right, now.

That’s how you do it.

I got you.

Finally, with a touch of flair, he yanked his hat from his head, handed it to me and heaved a sigh. “I think I’m done, Mommy,” he said, the sweetness back in his face. “I’m ready to go inside. I feel so much better now.”

After the thrashing, we snuggled and played into evening, and we talked about what to do when he’s feeling overloaded at school. The next day, his teacher handed me the clipboard and tossed her hands in the air. “Well, today was much better,” she reported, baffled. “I have no idea why, but it was.”

I guess kids aren’t much different from adults on this front. After a tough day, sometimes the best medicine is to call it what it is, give yourself room to be mad (reeeeally mad, if need be), get your heart rate up to flush it out of your body and then go for hugs.

Image

While Brian was at a meditation retreat all weekend in Encinitas, Calif., this trio took to the bowling alley. After a rousing game, we huddled together for a photo. (it’s really too bad the scoreboard doesn’t show, because yours truly bowled an impressive 130. I felt sufficiently awesome about that. Grandpa Fogel would’ve been proud.)

Love lessons from kindergarten sweethearts

ImageLove flowing freely is a wonder to behold. Think back. You know the feeling. It’s that pure, can’t-stop-it-and-why-would-you thing that happens when you meet another who sparks you, the sort of falling-in-love kind of love that brings spectacular joy without condition or expectation or design or hope. It wants nothing; it just is. Your souls spark an ember at first meeting, the ember catches flame and, when the love is returned, it consumes your whole being and warms everyone in your radius.

I believe I’d grown a bit out of touch with the magic of this glow, the spectacular power of seemingly out-of-nowhere, ancient love. Then on the way home from school yesterday, Charlie opened his mouth, seemingly out of nowhere, and we all grew warmer.

Charlie: (Mumbling) Mommy, I’m in love with Rosie*.

Me: What, bud?

Charlie: Oh, never mind. I didn’t say anything.

Me: Babe, did you just say you’re in love with Rosie?

Charlie: (Getting worked up, about to cry) Yes, I did! I said that, ok?!

Me: (Gushing) That’s wonderful, Charlie! Wow! I’m so happy for you that you feel so much love for Rosie. How does it feel in your body to feel this way about someone? How does your heart feel?

Charlie: (doing his little half-smile.) Really, really good. Awesome, even.

Long pause

Charlie: I thought you would be mad at me.

I admit, my gut-nanosecond reaction was to think, “What the—? But he’s too young for this kind of…” And then I remembered that falling in love is recognizing the infinite light in another, and no one is too young or too old for that.

Falling in love is seeing the truth of another’s perfection and him or her beaming your own perfection back at you. It’s pure. It’s beautiful. It’s world enhancing. It’s everything and the only thing. And, without a doubt, this glimpse of heaven is entirely accessible to two bright-as-the-sun five-year-olds.

Me: Mad at you? No way! Being in love is such an amazing feeling and I’m so happy for you that you get to feel this way for your friend. This is a huge deal, Charlie. You must enjoy it! It’s absolutely wonderful. You can’t control who you end up loving, I know that. So I will never be mad at you for falling in love with someone.

Charlie: Ok, Mommy. That’s good. Thanks. (smiles.) I’m just really in love with Rosie.

In the words of Rosie’s supercool mom: “If only love could stay this simple forever.”

Kindergartners, they only know one way to love:  With abandon and without expectation. Grownups, on the other hand, we don’t always get this. And if we ever did, we may have forgotten it by now. We’re so quick to build walls, apply stipulations, put up protections, drive expectations, make demands, play games and otherwise move further away from the unconditional, unattached purity of that first divinely orchestrated spark.

Kindergartners, they don’t want to hold the other, they just want to love the other. For Charlie and Rosie, there are no plans or aspirations, for example. Just loving is quite enough.

We arrived home, went inside and opened his backpack for the note Rosie’s mom said would be in his folder. She’d written him a note over winter break, presumably because the only thing that feels more victorious than simply loving is speaking it aloud. He opened the note slowly and intentionally, savoring the moment. I read it to him, right down to the “P.S. I love you” part, and he smiled.

“That’s so nice,” he said. “I’m hungry. Can I eat something?”

A couple moments passed as we dug into the pantry and then…

Me: How did it feel to read that super sweet letter from Rosie?

Charlie: Awesome. So good I almost feel like I could cry. Can I have some pretzels now?

Even at this stage of life, maybe it can stay that simple. I, for one, am going to take a page out of Charlie and Rosie’s book, and look for the perfection in others, raze my walls and detach from expectations. If just loving each other is enough for them, maybe it’s enough for all of us.

(*Rosie’s name has been changed.)

In time for the Winter Solstice, let’s all explore my boozy alter ego!

AKA, MEETING MY DARKNESS AT THE DOOR LAUGHING AND INVITING HER IN (Special thanks to Rumi for the alternate title)

We all have many sides. Some are light, some are dark. And that’s that.

Personally, I have Empathetic Emily, Joyful Emily, Compassionate Emily and Deep-Connecting Emily. On the darker end, I’ve got Self-Absorbed Emily, Serious Overthinking Emily, Talky Emily, Worrying Emily, Judgmental Emily and…

Coming soon to a cocktail party near you: Saucy, Unbridled Emily. (Mom and Dad, feel free to discontinue reading here.)

And she's off. Little Miss Life of the Party.

And she’s off. Little Miss Life of the Party.

PART ONE

Boozy alter-ego: Is she light or is she shadow?

Let’s explore this a bit, shall we? Except in the case of very close friends, who have to deal with my complete personality with some frequency, Saucy, Unbridled Emily usually only makes an appearance while cocktailing. So, because she surfaces when I’m in a less conscious state, it follows that she plays for Team Shadow. (Naturally, our Team Light traits are probably fielded by the personality aspects we want everyone to see in the light of day. The ones we can cultivate.)

After reviewing the fuzzy details from a particularly big night for Saucy, Unbridled Emily at a superbly festive cocktail party, and then feeling the aftermath of “Oh, boy. Did I really go there?” I feel called to explore her. After all, she must be trying to tell me something. I’m not done delving on my own yet but, for starters, I *think* she wants me to grow comfier with her and with owning the things she’s about. She wants me to embrace and display my whole self, not just put my socially acceptable “pretties” on display as for company. In case it helps convince you to explore your own version of a shadowy alter ego, Winter Solstice is next week and we could all be taking advantage of the seasonal support to dive into our own darkness. ‘Tis the season for that.

‘Tis also the season for parties and drinks with friends, which means Saucy, Unbridled Emily has been climbing out of the shadows more than usual. She’s very pleased to meet you, by the way. In fact, she finds you riveting. She wants to know all about you, and she has no taste for small talk, so she’s probably going to say some bold things to coax you into sharing some of your own real stuff. If you shock easily, it might be a little uncomfortable at first, but you’ll warm up as you go along and, in the end, you’ll at least have a modestly entertaining conversation.

Linds and Em

Saucy, Unbridled Emily likes to wear sparkly things. She’s loud. She’s flashy. She’ll tell you like it is. And then some.

—PAUSE—

Let’s take this out of the third person because, holy cow, it’s time I own the fact that “she” is actually me. I am Saucy, Unbridled Emily. There. I feel better already. Now let’s give some examples of what you and I might chat about should we find ourselves sharing a couple bottles of bubbles, or something with bourbon in it.

Top 10 conversation topics Saucy, Unbridled Emily is most likely to bring up after her third glass of wine

  1. Why we should either go out dancing or put on some 90s jams and have a dance party right in there in your kitchen. Excuse me, Pandora, can you play “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thang.”
  2. The clear vision I had of a past life with you. What? You didn’t know I believed in past lives? Oops. I guess we’ve never talked about this before. Yeah…sometimes I have psychic experiences, which sometimes involve visions, which might sometimes involve you. In a good way, though, I promise. It’s totally not as weird as it sounds…
  3. That time I was propositioned by swingers. No, no, no. I hailed a cab long before the catsuit actually came out of the closet.
  4. The metaphysics of Sensory Processing Disorder. Let’s talk about today’s ultra-intuitive kids and the book I’m going to write about them. But first, who needs another drink?
  5. Couples therapy. Mine, that is. Likely as a segue to suggesting you get some, too. Because marriage is hard for everyone, you know? And it’s worth working on. Once you see how normal I am, there’ll be no question therapy is right for you, too. Right?
  6. Outlandish stories about my husband when he was a young, single wild child. Fine. You won’t quit prodding about why he went home early, or why he’s not out with me, so here’s your answer: A.) He’s more of an introvert than I am. Like, by a long shot, B.) He was tired and didn’t want to drink any more and C.) He got his hardcore partying out before we even met. Here, let me tell you about the time he was a ski bum in Aspen in the 80s…
  7. My deep admiration of men, and of women, for all the magic that each of them hold. Hush. No human is hotter or better suited for me than my husband, scout’s honor. But a girl can still enjoy the human form and spirit, especially while she’s drinking like the good sorority girl she was.
  8. The names and personalities of my spirit guides. I know, I know. Crazy town. But the thing is, you have spirit guides, too. Yes, really. Hold on. Lemme see if I can tune into them for you… Maybe? Nope. I’m a little fuzzy right now. But you totally have spirit guides. Ask me about this again when I’m not drinking.
  9. Tales of one or two unconventional relationships from my single days. I mean, didn’t you experiment, too? Oh, you didn’t? Oh, ok. Now this is awkward. I’m gonna get another drink now.
  10. All things TMI. (also, bawdy jokes, prodding questions and a general vulnerability floodlight.) It’s so great getting to know you better. Thanks for opening up so much. I hate small talk, so this conversation is the bomb.

Get a few glasses of wine in me and we’re diving right in. Because, after all, I mean, who likes small talk?

Small talk? I will not have it. This is my serious listeny face. It's a face I might make while you dish up some of your real-life stories. (I can't be sure of this, but I suspect my Oprah's Lifeclass face and my Saucy, Unbridled Emily listening to you talk about real stuff face might look similar.)

Small talk? I will have none of it. This is my intent listening face. I suspect my Oprah studio audience face and my Saucy, Unbridled Emily listening  face might look similar.

PART TWO (Here come the gratuitous selfies)

Let’s explore a little more about how I feel when I look at Saucy, Unbridled Emily. What purpose might she be serving, for example? What am I to learn from this side of myself? (Feel free to apply these questions to your own boozy alter-ego, whomever he or she may be.)

What I like about myself as Saucy, Unbridled Emily:

  • I’m fearless.
  • I laughingly own up to my shortcomings.
  • I brazenly claim the stuff that makes me awesome.

Those all sound like things I might want to apply to my life across the board. However, when I wake up the next day to find a more conscious version of myself is in charge, it still feels a little icky.

What I don’t like about myself as Saucy, Unbridled Emily:

  • I experience a sense of vulnerability from sharing details of my inner life.
  • I feel a sense of shame for losing sight of my normally steadfast commitment to higher consciousness. Simultaneously, I feel concerned that “Nice Girl” and “Good Girl” were nowhere to be found in Saucy, Unbridled Emily’s spotlight.
  • I’m embarrassed about certain parts of myself. Like, the fact that I turn into a loudmouth hedonist when I choose to imbibe.

It’s true. Saucy, Unbridled Emily is a hedonistic, show-offy aspect of my makeup that, somewhere along the road, must have been deemed frivolous and indulgent and inappropriate and dirty and naughty and not allowed and therefore stuffed into the darkness only to emerge when my tight controls were compromised. Around that time, “Nice Girl” and “Good Girl” began their salad days, gradually evolving into deft oppressors of Saucy, Unbridled Emily, and other shadow sides. See, look how socially appropriate I can be. But, as we know, when you push something down, it’s going to keep coming up until–

See? There she is!

See? There she is! No more hiding. This moment just calls for a selfie, don’t you think? (Admittedly, this pic is rather chastely inspired, as I sent it to Brian because I was appreciative of the fact he’d made me breakfast that morning. Lest anyone think I’m into sexting. It’d surely take a lot more drinks for me to go there.)

Boom! It’s so obvious! You can’t turn away from it, girl. Look at it, look at it, look at it…

Aw, man. Throughout my adult life, I’ve been using occasional big-drinking nights to silence “Nice Girl”* and “Good Girl”* so that saucier sides might emerge.

*I use scare quotes here because what the deuce do “nice” and “good” even mean? The expectation to be “nice” and “good” is woven into many a woman’s inner fabric, still without clear definition, I might add.

Hear this, Socially Appropriate Emily:  Saucy, Unbridled Emily refuses to be pushed down any longer.

These shadow sides of ourselves, whatever they look like to you, want to, need to surface. And there are two ways they can come out:

  1. Getting yourself chemically uninhibited or otherwise “weakened”
  2. Asking for it.

I’ll be darned if I haven’t repeatedly done both of those things this holiday season. One, alcohol. Two, prayer:

“God, please help me to discover and understand all that stuff I’ve pushed down over the years because I somehow decided it’s not fit for human consumption. Yep, I want to see that stuff, and I want to embrace it. I know it’s in there because I can feel it prickle me sometimes. I want to understand it. I want it to not be so scary and powerful anymore. And, whatever it is, I want to integrate it into my everyday persona. I want you to shine some light on it and make it visible so that I can move beyond and be bigger and better for you. Cool?”

PART THREE

I find a lot of people who don’t want to know what’s lingering there in the dark. It’s terrifying. It’s deep down there for a reason—not going to bring it up. Don’t even go there. What would happen?

I’ll tell you what can happen when you “go there.”

Just Saturday morning, after a very back-bendy yoga class with a friend, I found myself standing on the curb in the noonday light crying in her arms. Our casual after-class conversation got real when a truth from the darkest corner of my shadow came rolling off my tongue. I was safe with her, but this part of me was painful to release, because it was not at all in line with who I’ve long thought I’m supposed to be in order to be “good” and “nice.”

I showed her my darkness. After she beamed her own warming, understanding light directly onto my patch of spiky, neglected shadow, do you know what she did? She thanked me. She said my vulnerability was a gift to our friendship, and she wrote me: “Know that there is no judgment, only compassion and empathy.” I felt a kind of emotional freedom I never imagined. She then sent me the Rumi poem that follows.

In one very well-timed, no doubt divinely orchestrated conversation with a true and wise friend, all my tremendous fear of these darker aspects of myself softened into curiosity, even compassion. I’m still figuring things out, but I can see a faint glimmer of how I’ll feel and who I’ll be once I’ve completed the process of observing, embracing and integrating my various shadows into the me everyone sees. It’s hard to describe, but this future vision is so comforting, so surprisingly empowering.

In any event, for the time being, Saucy, Unbridled Emily, (and all the other shadow aspects of myself) I bid you a warm welcome to the Guest House.

The Guest House

By Jelaluddin Rumi
Translation by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Charlie put this sticker on my throat once because he said it would help my fifth chakra get stronger. Sure enough, blue is the color of the throat chakra, which is all about self expression and sharing your truth. I think it's pretty appropriate for where I am right now. Figuring out how to be me. All of me, all the time.

Charlie put this sticker on my throat once because he said it would help my throat chakra get stronger. Sure enough, blue is the color of the fifth chakra, which is all about self expression and sharing your truth. I think remembering this sticker is pretty appropriate for where I am right now. Figuring out how to be me, how to express my true self, all the time.

Stressy week calls for upswing in joy awareness

This week is feeling a bit harried. How are you feeling? If you’re anything like me, plenty of thoughts, demands, responsibilities and pendings are nipping at your heels begging you to cave to a feeling of overwhelm or, worse, to try to fix, manage and control everything you can get your hands on.

Not sure about you, but when daily stuff gets intricate and piles on, staying in the flow of life gets tricky for me.

I rely on meditation to keep me balanced and tuned into what’s important during these times but, this week, focusing on joy seems to be the ticket.

I’m an affirmations girl, so I’ve been reminding myself that “I now choose to enjoy my life” and that “I trust the process of life.” With this, I’m noticing more joy in my world.

Here are 10 things that have been delighting me this week:

1. This kid! He kills it. This vid inspired my youngest son to request dance classes. Done deal.

2. Our first official family portrait, a blind contour drawing by Ian Sklarsky. No, we’ve never had professional photos taken. Someday I may regret that, but I don’t have fond recollections of photo sittings as a child. I remember fighting a lot with my sister. This impromptu decision to take advantage of Room Service‘s super cool  (and ultra affordable) offer for Andersonville Arts Weekend involved relaxing for 10 minutes before a disarmingly handsome smouldering-eyed artist who studied each of our faces intently while not removing his pen from paper. And then he dabbed in some water color. Chickow! Moment preserved in original art.

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3. This really gets me grinning. Banksy hired a guy to sell some of his pieces in a street stall in NYC. For $60 a pop. The thought makes me a little breathless. I love it when awesome people do stuff like this.

4. All Kip wants to do all day is play baseball. Seriously. That is all. Hearing him say “Batter up!” in his lispy three-year-old voice is enough to fill my heart for a whole day.

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5. Brian went out of town and as soon as I got the boys to bed, I cued up some shameful music on my ipod and embarked hard on a one-woman dance party. From Swedish House Mafia, The Killers and The Weeknd to Shakira, Biggie and Enrique Iglesias (“Jou can ruuu-uu-un”), I left it all on my (dining room) dance floor. Shout out to my old friend, Vanessa, for the instructions on how to do this properly.

6. If you know me at all, you know I love a bouncy house. Even better? An old-school, full-size trampoline, which is just what I got when we visited our friends last weekend. My amazing pal, Kris, goddess of our trampoline-euphoria-and-delicious-lunch Sunday snapped this of Charlie and me bounding around, although it looks like I’m just winding up here. Don’t worry, I was all toe-touches and permasmiles from there on out.

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7. I feel badly for the poor Lego guy who crossed Kip’s tiger, but this had me laughing huge.

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8. The tornadic upending of an entire room during a playdate caused me both extreme shoulder tension and extreme joy at once, if that’s possible. (yes, those are flax seeds all over the floor. the kids found my secret stash of sensory toys. i eventually got it all cleaned up and the kids had a freeform blast. no foul.)

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9. Let’s bring the lights down a moment for this one. From the back seat of the car, the boys asked me what Macklemore’s “Same Love” is about. So I told them. Their response? Total incredulity that all people aren’t treated equally by law. “Why do people care who other people love?” Charlie asked. “When I grow up, I’m going to marry a lovely girl,” Kip announced. “And I’m going to marry a strong, beautiful woman,” Charlie added. All this led to my saying something I’d been wanting to say for some time: “Boys, it’s wonderful you feel like you want to marry lovely, strong, beautiful women when you grow up, but if you ever feel like you love a man, that’s wonderful by me as well. Your daddy and I will still love you no matter who you love. We love you no matter what.”

“We know that, Mommy,” they both said. And that really made me happy.

10. Lights up. Here’s one thing that’s made me smile consistently for 30+ years, and it’s in my freezer right now:

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11. Bonus entry: One night this week I’m attending a fashion show, per the generous invite of my favorite bastion of coolness. (I’m talking to you, Angel.) This guy singlehandedly keeps my toes in a world I otherwise might never know by inviting me to things like opening nights and VIP seating and galas and such. With a gal pal on my arm, I will likely don ridiculous shoes and uncharacteristic lip color and watch skinny girls strut around in clothing I will never wear. In other words, I get to play dress up and, for a girl like me, that’s a whole heap of fun. I’m thankful for the chance.

Whew! This week doesn’t seem so angsty any more. This is just a sampling of the joy I’m finding in the midst of hectic life. What’s bringing you joy right now? Take notice. May you find and endless stream of joy, great and small, in your week as well.

Get to juking, Chicago. Pride Week is upon you.

This weekend begins the 44th Annual Chicago Pride Week. As such, I would like to come out in support of my queer pals, and offer up a devastatingly vivid visual of this mama letting it all hang out at a big, gay dance party a few weekends ago.

How long has it been since you’ve danced with reckless abandon? Your own hands weaving through your hair like the fingers of a lover lifting the locks off your neck at 1 a.m. when the music is so loud and you’ve been dancing for hours and the new air on the skin of your nape feels like heaven.

A particular sense of freedom rises, uncaged after God knows how long. And you’re picking up the beat or the melody, or sometimes both, and moving without once worrying what everyone in the club thinks of you. You don’t even pause to consider what you look like, who sees you or whether you actually have any business dancing like no one’s watching, because you magically feel unconcerned that your body wasn’t built for music videos, and you can’t wipe the smile off your face. Your hips shake, your head tilts back and a hand laces in yours, pulls you in close, chest to chest and now you’re face to face.

I’m going to take you away. Just escape into the music. DJ let it play…

You haven’t felt this way in public in…maybe not ever. It’s ecstatic without X, drunk without drunkenness, sexy without sex. You laugh. And then you break it the hell down with the warm body pressed up against yours like you’re on Soul Train. No, more like Save the Last Dance, but the imaginary version starring a straight girl and her gay male friends.

You learn a new word, “juking,” and you’re not sure what it means, but you are pretty sure you’re nailing it. You find out later juking* is “A frequently used word by the Chicago urban scene meaning to dance, party, get crunk, get buck, get loose, and just simply have fun,” and you know you that’s what you did.

This is not how you spend most Saturday nights, not anymore. Usually you’re snuggled in the hammock with your husband after putting the kids to bed. Sometimes you’re out to dinner for a girlfriend’s birthday. Sometimes you’re already asleep. But Saturday night is rarely about unleashing your best attempt at Shakira hips, unless in front of your dining room mirror, and, if you do happen to be out dancing with actual people in public, it’s never to a gay bar because you’ve had too many wonderful friends mention they’re not fond of the bachelorettes who storm into the only place some gay people feel comfortable publicly revealing their sexuality with penis necklaces and cameras as though they’re visiting the circus. “I’m not your clown,” comments one of your friends. So, with respect as your intention, you stay away from Boystown and Andersonville’s dancey bars. You let your gay friends and their gay friends have their space, knowing that, as a heterosexual person, comparatively, the whole world is your space.

But these generous men talk you into joining them one night, this night, and you don’t feel like you’re dressed for a night out in white shorts and a top you’ve had for ages, but you throw on some heels and go anyway. You talk, you laugh, you dance together, the world slips away with the spinning DJ, you get told you’re gorgeous approximately 105 times by people who want nothing from you, no one so much as looks at you with disrespect and you smile the entire night. You wonder if, you being you, you could experience this kind of euphoria at a regular dance club, and, if you were out with your girlfriends in a typical hetero club, would you be ducking around, trying not to let loose for fear of a.) looking foolish, b.) not being as good a dancer as the glamorous chick in the sequins, or c.) attracting attention inappropriate for a married woman to entertain?

You brush the thought away because you’re here and not there, and your new favorite song is playing. Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child. See Heaven’s got a plan for you…

You watch one of your friends, a particularly tender soul, fall into conversation with a handsome stranger. And it makes you smile, like, huge, because he really needed someone to just notice him tonight. Whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh. See Heaven’s got a plan for you…

Despite all the joy, it’s late and you’re losing steam, so two friends wait with you on the curb to see you safely into a cab. You go home and fall asleep wrapped around your husband with your hand on his heart. You wake a few hours later pinned between your man and your five-year-old, who’s saying, “It’s morning, Mommy.” You tell him you’re super tired because you were out very late dancing in one of those places where grown-ups dance all night long. He responds by saying, with a quivering lip, “You’re making me feel a little jealous, Mommy.”

You know that it was a fluke of a night, and that it’ll be a while before you enjoy another dance party like that one, but you feel the sense of freedom lingering. And you pause to consider whether that freedom was accessible to you before this night, and before the two other nights of your adult life in which dear friends invited you to dance with them amid a sea of some of the free-est-seeming people you’ve ever seen.

But whether it happens again doesn’t really matter.

Your hypercritical inner mean girl got a little bit smaller tonight because your appearance-conscious self was juking without a care in the world. What else is there to say?

…A prayer. Yes. You can say a prayer.

Dear God,

May all queer people of the world feel as free to be their true selves as I felt in the safety of their space. You made us all, and we’re all perfect in your image. Thank you, God.

Amen

Happy Pride Week, Chicago!

*Note: “Juking” may also have a slightly more risqué connotation, and I can assure you what I was doing on that dancefloor didn’t remotely resemble the juking you might find on YouTube. How I’d love to be able to make my body do that.

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Sometimes you can’t even believe how blessed you are to count these guys as your dear ones. They have treated you to innumerable joys, but for context of this blog post, they’ve facilitated two of your life’s best dance parties. And by facilitated, I mean they have made a sandwich out of you for the entirety of “Hungry like the Wolf” and not laughed at your serious efforts to pretend you know how to samba. Here, you prepare to break it down to 80s cover tunes at Midsommarfest.