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.

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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.)