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.

 

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?

Victory is mine! I conquer swim meet angst and release an old nightmare from the depths.

Image

Peace out, old demons. I got my victory on and loved every hundredth-of-a-second of it.

I’ve had a recurring bad dream for nearly two decades.

I walk into an important swim meet or a killer high-yardage workout for which I’m ill prepared, and everything (EVERYTHING!) is riding on how well I swim. I always try to explain that I quit swimming years ago, but my coaches won’t hear it. They make me swim anyway. And I’m gripped by fear, inadequacy and insane awareness of my mom belly.

I know people who have actual nightmares, so I recognize this doesn’t qualify, but I still wake up breathing hard and patting the bed around me.

Image

This is me. In the black suit. On the blocks. Lane 3. Rocking my first track start in 17 years.

Past-life regression, swim-style

There’s much to be said about my former life as a competitive swimmer, but for this story, you only need to know five things:

  1. When I was 15, the most important thing in the world to me, besides boy craziness and an undying, unrequited fondness for Josh, was qualifying for Junior Nationals.
  2. I missed the Junior Nationals qualifying time by two one-hundredths of a second.
  3. I thought going to Junior Nationals would make me awesome. I thought not going made me un-awesome.
  4. I spent the next two years of high school training really hard in and out of the pool, sometimes six hours a day, to shave those last two one hundredths off my time.
  5. I never swam fast enough to qualify for Junior Nationals.

On realizing I was never going to Junior Nationals, which would’ve been my ticket to both awesomeness and a decent Division I scholarship, I was devastated. Openly so for several months, and covertly so for a lot of years.

Image

This is me trying to beat the boy in lane 1. (Revelation! In this masters meet, we were seeded solely by time, so I ended up swimming against both sexes and all age groups, depending on my seed time. Yet another way–like the fact I swam the 100 IM–in which Masters reminds me of being 7 years old.)

But it was more than just a race to me, my coach said so.

Enter Hank Krusen, one of my all-time favorite coaches. He pulled me aside during practice one day about six months after my fateful so-close race in Oklahoma City to give me a piece of his mind:

The 100 breaststroke is just a metaphor for life. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to put your whole self into it. Then, when it comes time to race, trust you’re ready. And go for it.

I see you holding yourself back. Why? Think about it and find the answer. If you don’t fix this, you’ll come up against this theme for the rest of your life. It’s a JOs cut now, but someday it’ll be a job, or a relationship, or a calling or any number of things. You’ve got to go for what you want. Nip this in the bud now so it doesn’t become a pattern in your life.

So much for happy-go-lucky teenager. It was a tough little chat for 16-year-old me. But Hank’s words still ring true.

The Coach Hank effect

Now any time I feel simultaneously afraid and electrified by anything, I take notice. Why the reaction? Is fear holding me back? Once I’ve explored the feelings and determined fear is showing up as a saboteur, I get behind the part that feels electrified, go for it and see where it takes me. It can get bumpy, but Hank’s advice has proven to be spot on. I think his advice is how I ended up joining a masters swim team last fall and, furthermore, entering a masters swim meet a couple weeks ago.

To be sure, leading up to the meet, fear and electricity were in a stranglehold, generally fueled by a vague question with endless applications: What if I don’t meet expectations?

Image

This is me again. Swim caps make me look so pretty. (Photo credit: my amazing friend, Kellie. She is the bomb diggy. So much so that she morphed into a proud mama as soon as I stepped onto the block and snapped 600 photos of me swimming.) It’s kinda hard to believe how awesome she is.

Surprise! The whole racing-again shebang exceeds my expectations. 

There’s much to be said about the High Ridge YMCA US Masters meet, but for this story, you only need to know five things:

  1. I qualified for nationals in the 100 breaststroke—masters “old-people” nationals, but still. It felt awesome. I also qualified in three other events.
  2. I felt joyful and alive from the moment I got in to warm up till the end of the meet. I had so. much. fun.
  3. I was mysteriously calm before each of my races, two of which I won. (Woot.)
  4. My nightmares are gone. In fact, Peter D. Malone and Hank Krusen have made nary a visit from the depths of my sleeping unconscious since I swam in the meet.
  5. I will not be going to Nationals. This is key. I may have healed an aspect of my teenagey swimmery self, but I’m not even trying to pretend I’m suddenly Dara Torres. This is still just about having fun and getting a workout.
swim smiles

See how much fun I had? Even without my face on (because you know how much I love playing with eye makeup), it seems I was really freaking happy.

So, WWTET*? (What Would Teen Emily Think?) 

Let’s time travel for a moment. I think my 17-year-old self would chuckle at the idea of 34-year-old me competing in a masters meet, and being psyched about qualifying for Masters Nationals. It wouldn’t smack of “cool” to her, after all.

But after she laughed behind my back, I think she’d also feel kinda relieved. Reassured to find there was indeed life after the only life she knew, and life after missing the mark that meant so much. Comforted to know the richness of her world 17 years in the future. And I think her heart would feel lighter knowing she’d eventually find joy in swimming once again.

 

 

Fast approaching: My first swim meet in nearly two decades.

I’m swimming in a swim meet this Sunday. It’ll be my first in 17 years.

Image

See? It’s for real. I’m swimming the 100 IM in a swim meet for grown ups. I repeat the 100. Not the 200 IM, not the 400 IM. The 100. And a bunch of 50s. Cha cha cha.

Mysteriously, I ended up in a pool back in October. I suppose I wanted to take an interest in myself again, I wanted to give my body the gift of movement, to tell my arms and legs and everything in between, “Hey, I see you. You made a couple babies and you want to be strong again. I get it. And you deserve that. I appreciate all you do. Let’s spend some time together.” And swimming is what I knew, so I went for it.

I stumbled upon a soul sister of a masters coach and small crew of laid-back, smart-assed, superfun swimfriends. We don’t do crazy yardage; we just get exercise. We gab during sets. We take long rest intervals. We do social kick. We laugh. We goof around. We enjoy being in the water. It’s nothing like the intensity that permeated my olden days. Let it be known I was never a swimming phenom, but it was my entire life at one time. I may not have been bound for the Olympics, but I trained like I was. (Possibly because one of my teammates actually was training for the Olympics and ultimately won gold in 1996. I just kinda ate her wake.) I always adored my BFF teammates and did enjoy a good race back then but, compared to high school, my swimming do-over is a chilled-out dream.

And so here I am approaching Sunday, when I’ll swim four races, three of which I haven’t swum since I was approximately 10 years of age because only summer leaguers and Masters swimmers rock 50 flys and 100 IMs. That said, I did decide to try the 100 breaststroke, which I last swam the spring of 1997, at the Kansas high school state meet.

Image

State championships, circa 1997. What’s up, Manhattan, Kan.? I think this was snapped just before my last race. Also known as my forever farewell to 12.5 percent body fat.

Missing the mark

Long story short, this race was my thing. I was never the very bestest at it, not even regionally, but the 100-yd breast was my race. So when I missed my junior national time by two one hundredths of a second (the difference between a so-so college scholarship and a bigger scholarship at a slightly better swimming school) and ultimately never got back down to the time I needed, it devastated me.

Looking back, it’s clear I had more than college riding on that time (1:07.49, btw). Because, see, for a lot of years of my life, I thought swimming was all I could do, all I had to offer. I had school and I had swimming and I was fairly good at both. I wasn’t very pretty, I’d never have a fantastic body and I didn’t think I had a great many other gifts, but people told me that I was an elite athlete and that I was smart. Somewhere along the way, I decided my value in the world rested solely on two pillars: Emily Hughey is athletic and smart. Stop.

Image

I loved a pool from the beginning. Betcha I didn’t give a flip about what I was and wasn’t back then. What’s athletic? What’s smart? What’s pretty? I’d yet to identify with any of these things as constructs for self worth. Also, how cute is my mom?

Thanks to the encouragement of an outrageously cool boyfriend who saw me for way more than I saw myself (three cheers for Sam, y’all), I made the decision to see what else I could be, foregoing the chance to swim in college and quitting the sport after State, at which point I enrolled in the University of Kansas, joined a sorority and the newspaper and decided that Emily Hughey would be fun and smart. Stop.

Fast forward 17 years, a couple careers, an expat stint in Mexico, typhoid fever, eight years of meditation, an intricate soul mate relationship-turned-marriage, two children, one Enoughness Project and worlds of change later. I’m 34 years old and in the pool again—the same chlorine, the same black line and the same stroke count in from the flags to the wall—but this time around:

  1. I’m not all that smart, thank goodness. It’s such a relief not having to know everything.
  2. “Athletic,” “smart,” and “fun” aren’t even in the top five of things I have to offer these days. Oh, unless we’re out drinking, in which case “Fun Emily” reigns.
  3. While it’s just as unnerving to be in a swimsuit in front of boys as it once was, I’ve miraculously grown to (mostly) appreciate my body aesthetic for the first time ever.

Then what the deuce is up with the stuff that’s coming up right now?

If I’m supposedly so different from teenage Emily, so evolved beyond my adolescence, why are some of the familiar not-good-enough beliefs about myself cropping up as I get close to this meet? For example…

  • If I don’t swim less than 10 seconds over my best time from when I was 15 years old, am I not good enough?
  • If I don’t win all my races, am I not good enough?
  • If I lose, am I not good enough?
  • When there are other swimmer moms with way hotter bodies on that pool deck, am I not good enough?
  • If I take my race too seriously, am I not good enough?
  • If I’m not light-hearted enough about it all, am I not good enough?
  • If I don’t have an appropriate amount of fun…
Image

Is this fun enough!? Can I be laid back about swimming in a meet? Can I have fun racing again? We’ll see…

When I bore my friends, compassionate pals that they are (d’ya hear me, Sister, Brian, Jeff, cin and Kellie?) with this rant, they say, “Just have fun. Who cares? This is about fun. Your time doesn’t matter.” But, fact is, I’m not practiced at having fun swimming. Swimming was always a loaded thing for me. Swim fast; get props. Don’t; don’t. So if you want to feel good, you better do well.

It’s taken me a full four months just to get used to enjoying workouts—and I finally do. victory!—but this have-fun-and-be-chill-about-racing-don’t-link-performance-with-self-worth thing is new territory. How will it unfold?

I don’t know how it’s going to go, but the good news is I get to face it head-on at 8 a.m. Sunday, when the first gun goes off and my little guys, who’ve never even seen me in goggles, are cheering for me in the stands.

Wish me luck?

Image

I left this note, along with three lonely mozzarella sticks, for Brian and the boys before I left the house one recent Sunday afternoon. The swimmer Emily of old never would’ve had this on her training table–candy corns in abundance, yes, but never something loaded with so much fat. I invite that Emily to sit down. This time around is about fun.

357-word review of Frozen (yep, that Disney cartoon)

You don’t have to see the movie, Frozen, for a good gobsmacking, but if you like cartoons and musicals as unashamedly as I do, I recommend it. (Cynics, be still. Everybody knows neither cartoons nor musicals are “cool” and I just don’t care.)

Yes, the characters are vibrant, the compelling love story is between two sisters rather than a shallow prince/princess and the music is off the chain. In any event, the importance of Frozen lies less in the visual and aural appeal, more in the prevailing theme, which is this: Fear and love cannot coexist.

When Queen Elsa is raked with fear of her own power, everything becomes cold, frozen and bleak. When Elsa chooses love over fear, everything melts, blooms and flows again. Her fear causes destruction. Love makes everything ok. And love allows her to step fully into the brilliance of her own power.

Did you get that? Because my kids sure did. And, whether they were conscious of it or not, so did every other kid in that theatre, something for which I want to high-five the hell out of Disney.

But let’s talk about you. Did you know fear and love were incapable of coexisting in your consciousness at the same time? It’s true. Try it:

  1. Think of something that terrifies you. Something you can’t control. Someone you don’t want to lose. A possibility that makes you shudder.
  2. Now think of the object in those scenarios, whatever or whoever it is, and send loving thoughts toward her, him or it and send love toward yourself as well.
  3. Buh bye fear. Hello, vulnerability. (Not that vulnerability feels good, exactly, but it gets better over time, and anything is better than the fear space.)
  4. Eventually, with practice, that gripping, freezing fear automatically transforms into a cagey sense of vulnerability, which ultimately melts into blossoming love and tranquility.

You can either freeze or you can bloom. You can choose fear, or choose love. Please choose love, if only for this one moment. And maybe the moment after that. And again after that. Just go see Frozen if you need more convincing.

A bedtime meditation for sensory kids

Image

For those who don’t already know, I have two sons, one of whom is an official sensory kid, the other unofficial. While heightened intuition, innate wisdom and emotional sensitivity are grand gifts in today’s world, parenting sensory kids like my little guys can be a nail-biting ride.

Throughout the course of a day, these kids absorb a lot. By “a lot,” I mean they take in all surrounding sounds, smells, sights, touch, tastes, energies and even other people’s emotional frequencies. In other words, their level of perception can get a bit like that of Robert Downey, Jr., as Sherlock Holmes. At the end of the day, if I’m lucky, their little nervous systems may have processed all this input effectively. However, after a long day of school and/or the stimulation of daily life as a city kid, it’s more likely they’re amped to high heaven.

So, before they go to sleep, we clear it all out. That way, they can start the next day fresh.

When they get older, they’ll figure out their own tricks for hitting the re-set button, but because my kids are so little, I’ve found they need help releasing all the gunk they’ve absorbed throughout the day. After years of experimenting with different approaches and gleaning knowledge from friends and experts like Alicia Isaacs Howes, an intuitive coach and friend who’s used visualization with her own sons, and Nancy Floy, whose powerful Mindfulness of the Body exercise prepares her patients to receive miraculous healing through her acupuncture practice at The Heartwood Center for Body, Mind, Spirit, I’ve come up with an evening meditation that works well for my boys. If anyone’s wondering, it works for grown-ups, too.

After we’ve bathed, brushed teeth, read stories, snuggled a bit and the lights are low, I help them draw attention to the soles of their feet by taking their feet in my hands and gently yet firmly squeezing the bottom of each foot, using my thumbs to give them a little massage. The idea is to treat the soles of the feet as exit doors for releasing built-up energy. If your child is super ticklish, just press the bottom of the foot firmly with your fist or open palm, using the heel of your hand to press into the heel, instep and ball of their feet, to the extent that it’s peaceful for them. If it’s not, just skip the touch and go straight into the guided meditation.

Guided bedtime meditation for Sensory Kids

The following is just a guide; it’s what works for our family. If a bedtime meditation resonates with you and your kids, play with your “script.” Tailor it to your kids, make it your own.

You’re walking through the forest* and you notice the ground feels soft beneath your feet. Right there, amid the tall, tall trees, you take your shoes off and let your bare feet sink into the cool, squishy mud.**

You feel the mud squishing between your toes, and it covers the tops of your feet, just up to your ankles. As you stand there feeling the squishiness of the soft earth, you notice the bottoms of your feet opening up, releasing all the stuff that you don’t need anymore. Any thoughts, feelings, experiences, beliefs, energies, ideas and other things that no longer serve your highest and greatest good come flushing out of your body through the bottoms of your feet and into the earth, where these things are cleaned and transformed. Anything from this life or past lifetimes that no longer serves your highest and greatest good flows gently and easily out of your feet like a faucet and you feel light and free.

At the same time, you notice a cord extending from the base of your spine*** into the ground. It extends down through all the layers of the earth—grass, mud, dirt, water, rock—all the way to the earth’s core, where you are always connected for as long as you want to be.

You now notice the crown of your head tingling gently as shimmering white light enters your body through the top of your head, filling it, your brain, your eyes and your throat with the brightest, most beautiful, most peaceful white light. This sparkling white light fills your chest, your heart, your lungs, your spine, your nervous system, your blood vessels and all your glands, purifying everything it touches and recharging every cell in your body. The glistening white light fills all of your organs, cleansing and restoring your liver, your gall bladder, your kidneys, your pancreas, your spleen, your stomach, your intestines, your bladder and your reproductive system. The shimmering white light then moves down into your arms, hands and fingers, and your legs, feet and toes. All of the bones and tissues in your body are filled with this brilliant white light. Soon, your whole body is shimmering light, and you feel totally free, totally peaceful and totally rejuvenated. You are ready for a wonderful night’s sleep.

Let’s pray:

God, give these children all the protection they need tonight while they sleep. As they journey through dreams, bless them that they may be bathed in Your protective light, accompanied by angels and filled with the peace, joy, love and belonging that comes from knowing Your constant presence. May they sleep beautifully and awaken in the morning feeling peaceful, restored, joyful, excited about the day and filled with the knowledge that they are loved, wanted and supported as Your divine child and as my child on Earth. Thank you, God. Bless these children. Amen.

NOTES: I use the term, sensory kid, to describe a child who has sensory integration issues or has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD). If you’re not familiar with SPD, see the SPD Foundation website. Regardless of how your child’s sensory issues present, I’ve observed that all sensory kids have at least a few things in common: They are highly intuitive, sensitive, quirky kids who often seem to have an otherworldly wisdom about them. (Not that it presents all the time but, when it does, wow.) These kids have great imaginations, which makes them especially open to visualization and guided meditation. I came up with the below script one night while putting them to bed and it stuck. Now, it’s part of our nighttime ritual. 

*Pick the element of nature that resonates most with your child. Nature is the ultimate cleansing agent for all of us, which is why many guided meditations begin by setting the stage in some beautiful outdoor place. As I desire to bring a sense of grounding before my boys enter the superconscious sleep state, I choose to paint a picture of earth and trees. However, we’ve tried it with sand and sea before as well. If your kid loves mountains, describe a mountain setting. If your kid loves the lake, describe the lake. If your kid loves rocks, describe a field of boulders. And so on.

**If your child is sensory averting, you may wish to describe something that feels less messy and offensive than mud or wet sand. For example, you guide them in removing their socks to feel a warm or cool stone beneath their feet.

***You may wish to touch the base of the spine to help your child with the visual. In fact, feel free to have your child lie on his or her stomach so you can give a gentle full-body massage as you walk him or her through the meditation.

Farewell, summer. And, all hail the benevolent Mark Wahlberg. (Spoiler alert: This is about healing my inner teenager.)

Since June, I’ve been calling this “The Summer of the Golden Tan.” My golden tan.

I shed my cover-up at the beach, caught morning vitamin D on as much of my body as a tankini allows and admired the gilded shade of my legs every time I stretched out on a picnic blanket. Which was a lot. It’s true:  I have a phenomenal tan this summer. Not too much, not too little. Very summery. Mission, like, totally accomplished.

Image

Who can argue with that golden tan?

Summer is now over. Beginning this week, both my boys are in school, one for three hours and one is there all day long, and in the time I have to myself, I’m left to carry out my freelance work and, hopefully, attend regular yoga classes, all without having to pay a babysitter for the time. Money saved!

I’m already missing the Summer of the Golden Tan. But off I go into autumn, like everyone else.

Image

First day of school

What’s that, Mark Wahlberg? You like my tan, too?

One day after preschool I took my littlest to the set of Transformers 4, which was filming less than two miles from our house. I figured on seeing some Hollywood mass destruction, which Kip would love, and I hoped I’d catch a glimpse of Mark Wahlberg, whom I’ve appreciated for various reasons since I was a teenager. I was in a hurry to pick up Kip from school, so I wore my clothes from a yoga class two hours earlier. If you know me, you know how I’ve struggled with various aspects of my physique (see here), and I try to avoid public displays of tight clothing because I think I look like a Hot Doug’s special sausage in stretchy stuff.

Image

Here, the Hot Doug’s specials menu. I went with the smoked Texas pork hot link. Obviously.

With that context, the hot yoga getup fit me a lot closer than usual and, moments after parking the car, I regretted that. Why? Because I was about to stroll past Mark Wahlberg and there was no hiding.

Mark Wahlberg was sitting on a bucket a few feet away from us just hanging out between takes. I looked over, pulled my stomach as tight as she goes, smiled at him and reached for Kip’s hand. He looked at Kip and smiled just a quarter twinge, then he looked at me and squinted. And he squinted at me again. And again.

Inside my head: Wait a minute. Is he looking at me? Nope, Kellie and the kids are over there, Kip and I are right here, there’s no one else next to me, so, ok, this is happening. I’m having extended eye contact with Marky Mark. Wow. He really is a handsome man. Well, duh, but he’s rocking some enormous depth in his eyes and a very still, very masculine energy. Even awesomer than I expected. Hmm. He kinda reminds me of Brian. That’s hot. They have the same energy, same shoulders. Wait, he’s still looking at me. Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh.

Image

One of our summer adventures was to have a picnic in Millennium Park while the symphony played. Also, we attempted yet another photo of ourselves in Cloudgate. I do like Mark Wahlberg, but I’ll take this guy’s shoulders any day. (here’s hoping neither Mark Wahlberg nor my husband mind my objectifying them a little bit.)

He was probably was thinking, “That’s a cute kid. Look at his mom. Whoa, what’s with the tight top? Why is she smiling? Wait—she looks like someone I know…yeah, yeah, yeah. A fat Mary Louise Parker. MLP has an amazon twin in Chicago.”

But *maybe* he was thinking, “I’m sooo tired of filming with Megan Fox. If I have to look at that girl one more time—hey, that’s a cute kid. Wait, look at his mom. Yep, that’s one stunningly beautiful woman. I think I’m going to watch her walk away now because she’s just that lovely.”

I’m not always telepathic, so it was hard to tell. He was squinting. Expressionless. And it all took place in about 20 seconds. But when a man’s eyes do the face-legs-face-torso-face-nod course, it’s usually not out of disgust, right? And, frankly, it doesn’t really matter because, hey, Mark Wahlberg didn’t ignore me as I walked by and that feels like an honor. The rest is just details. I’m going to go with calling it a respectful double-take. Because that’s what I need right now. Victory!

It was a couple minutes after I half-loud-whispered, half-bursted to my friend that I noticed it was not my 34-year-old self talking: “Kellie!!! I will only say this out loud one time, and don’t tell anyone I said it, but I think Marky Mark just checked me out. Oh my gosh!!!”

What adult says “checked me out”?

The euphoric chick making eye contact with a movie star was not the grown-woman Emily with the husband whose biceps are naturally as magnificent as Mark Wahlberg’s (seriously). I had jumped time zones and landed right in my teen years.

Which explains my dive into external personal validation, an otherwise adolescent pattern of thought, and one I work to avoid. Quite simply, I was channeling my inner teenager. And she was super excited.

Image

This is Kellie and me at the New Kids on the Block concert this summer. Can you see my inner teen in this photo? Huge shout-out to the Wahlberg boys for making my summer awesome.

The Summer of my Adolescent Do-Over?

On second thought, I’ve been lingering with my inner teenager a lot this summer*. This summer has been about great tans and lighter hair, boy band concerts and ice cream nightcaps. I even got surprised by the arrival of my period—twice—in the most nightmarish ways a teen girl could dread: at the pool, and in white jeans. (handled it. no humiliation involved.)

Perhaps I should rename this “The Summer of my Adolescent Do-Over.” At the onset of warmer temperatures, it was like I grabbed my very serious, goal-oriented, unimaginably driven, shame-drenched 13- to 15-year-old self by the hand and said, “You’re coming with me, honey, and we’re gonna have some fun.”

It makes sense. My inner teen has needed some TLC for a long time. Being a teenager is hard on everyone, and there are specific things with which we all remember struggling. For me, I never learned the promise of my own vastness, how to not feel shame about my darkness or imperfections, or that being pretty enough to get the attention of a man—let alone a handsome one—wasn’t the most important factor in my self-worth.

Fast forward to the present day. I am more acquainted with my vastness, my darkness, my drives and, yes, my beauty, subjective though it may be. As with most 30-something women—wow, the thirties are potent—I’m in a wiser, more magnanimous place, largely owed to all the work I’ve done and am doing to understand myself and to make the all-important journey toward love.

Image

More evidence I was channeling my 15-year-old self: I picked myself up some sunglasses, which, as it turns out are probably better fit for a teenager. I later realized I’d found them in the juniors department. Also, note the blonde in my hair. That’s not natural. Now that I’m back in the present, I went ahead and dyed my hair back to its dark self.

Not being ignored + eye contact with a movie star = triumph for my inner teen

The sheer act of not being ignored by one of Hollywood’s finest worked like a wonder drug for my enduring 15-year-old self-image. Instantly. With one mindless double-take, Mark Wahlberg told me I was noticeable, maybe worth regarding. Do you know what a thoughtless nod from a megastar does for a girl who’s stuck in her adolescent belief that she has nothing to offer in the looks department? Grand shifting.

Basically, Mark Wahlberg looked right at my imperfect body in tight clothing and didn’t turn away. (Yeah, my standard for validation is what it is. I know how utterly ridiculous this all sounds. But it just is.) His simple, most likely unconscious gaze zoomed right through some inexplicable wormhole and touched an earlier version of myself that felt like she was not enough, not a viable woman, because she was never going to be movie-star skinny or movie-star pretty. The result of being noticed by His Benevolent Funkiness is that my inner teen was able to drift peacefully to the dimension where she belongs, allowing me to stand stronger in my own present-day self. Euphoria.

Picking up the kids

For people who’ve ever experienced a healing of their inner child, cheesy as it sounds, it’s the real-ass deal.

Time isn’t on a continuum as we often think. It all exists at once, on varying dimensions. So it’s much easier to slip back into a childish pattern than we think. (Not to worry! If you have awareness, it’s just as easy to pull yourself back into the present. Well, not easy, but very do-able with practice.)

My brilliant friend is writing a book about healing from sexual trauma and she has a chapter called “Picking up the kids.” As she described it to me, anyone who’s ever experienced trauma in childhood or young adulthood has to go back and pick up the kids, or the younger versions of ourselves, and bring them home with us to take care of them. (Aside: It doesn’t apply only to victims of sexual trauma. Picking up the kids has a much broader application, as you can see from my own experience in this post.) Once we do gather up the kids, we can love them and help ourselves heal in the past so that we can thrive in the present. Because when a kid hasn’t gotten what he/she needs before growing into the next phase of life, that kid remains in state of need, and it won’t settle down until those needs are met.

For me, this summer, my inner teenager whispered to my spirit that she desperately needed to cut loose, have some carefree fun, frolic at the beach, dance without caring what she looked like, sleep in as often as possible, squeal at a concert, stalk a movie set, drink in the unconditional love of a hot guy (grown-up Emily’s husband) and eat a ton of ice cream.

And, you know what? She feels so much better now.

Image

After Brian left for work and the kids had figured out how to turn on the TV downstairs, Ralph was my cherished late-morning snuggle buddy. Who wouldn’t feel better after cozying up to this? I always wanted to sleep with a dog when I was a kid. Living the dream.

In paying attention to and caring for that inner child, whatever age she is, you heal him or her. And once that child is healed, you can step more fully into who you truly are, who you’re meant to be. You can step into your power.

Visualizing the healing

Here’s how this healing of your inner child may look, metaphysically speaking, or how you might visualize your own healing: The teenage version of myself, which I can picture in my mind’s eye, becomes surrounded in gold light, which radiates from her heart center and consumes her entire body until she joyfully dissolves in a sprinkling, twinkling of radiant light. This is how I believe it works when you heal younger versions of yourself. You give your inner child the medicine he/she needs, you both become consumed with light, the child rests and you are stronger in your present.

Before floating away with a big smile on her light-filled face, my inner teenager asked one thing of grown-up me: Please stop being mean to yourself about your looks, and please stop being so consumed with the features you lack. You are vast, powerful and beautiful, and you always have been. Marky Mark thinks so, too. <squeal!>

Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh!

*Sidebar

My teen summer divulged:

–       I got blonde highlights for the first time in my life last spring. It wasn’t me. Last week, I joyfully dyed it back to my natural color.

–       I rocked out at my first-ever New Kids on the Block concert, precisely 23 years after my parents refused my pleading to attend with a friend and her mom.

–       On more than one occasion, after a dinner with girlfriends, we headed to an ice cream parlor for sundaes instead of to a bar for cocktails.

– I taught the boys how to turn on the TV and find PBS Kids so that I could stay in bed till, sometimes, 8 a.m. It was pure luxury.