Aloha, Dad. And Aloha, Self-Compassion.

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Sometimes, the Universe decides it’s time for you to learn or practice skills.  You notice the same lesson or situation repeating itself until you figure it out.  I believe that if you open your eyes to subtle messages, support and solutions, they are usually waiting in the wings at the ready.  Well, apparently, it’s my time to further hone my self-compassion and quiet the droning voice of criticism and not-enoughism.  Universe, I hear you loud and clear, and I am working on it.  Dude.  Uncle.  Whatever.

Let me set the scene.  Last week, I was visiting family on O’ahu.  Yes, I realize the fact that my people are all in Hawai’i is a good thing when I make my yearly visit home.  My kids spend a week hiking trails tourists don’t usually visit, eating shaved ice known by locals to be the best, playing on uncrowded, breathtaking, and a little harder to find beaches and hanging out with other kids.  Not a bad deal.

For me, it was a little more complicated, of course, as visits home often are.  My dad passed away almost a year ago, and his ashes have been waiting to be scattered.  My sister and I had a distant and difficult relationship with our dad.  As an adult, I see that his life was bubbling over with challenges.  I can understand why he wasn’t fully available to anyone.  He drank, he cheated, he fought hard, and sometimes, he didn’t come home.  When he was home, it wasn’t peaceful.  Police showed up.  I went to sleep praying for quiet at home.  He didn’t remember our birthdays.  Not sure he was certain of his grandkids’ names.

When he was given 6 months to live, my father’s communication with us ramped up.  He told us he loved us.  He wasn’t afraid of death.  He donated his body to the medical school, and asked that we scatter his ashes in a bay that just happens to be a wildlife preserve with deadly currents.  Seriously, Dad?

A month before he died, his girlfriend of 20 years evicted him from her apartment.  He rented a room with a bed, a desk and a tv in an apartment with three men he had never met before.  He deteriorated steadily and relied on my sister to deliver groceries and do his laundry.  Hospice nurses checked on him, but there was no bed available for him in the facility.  He died sitting up in his bed, tv blaring, roommates home but unaware.  Not the best death, but somehow fitting.

Last week, my sister and I paddled a canoe out from the beach in our hometown early Saturday morning.  We shared memories, tears, and laughter, and forgave our dad for his dreaded fish stew, among other things. We remembered him singing happily along with the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, and Simon and Garfunkel. We prepped the water with flowers, and together, dropped his ashes, contained in a sea salt urn, into the ocean that he so loved.

My Guilt

Here’s where the self-flagellation comes in.  And trust, I excel at the self-flagellation.  Imagine each of these statements delivered with a pointing finger and head shaking, brows furrowed:

Didn’t Dad deserve to end up where he wanted?  The thought of hiking the rocky ridge to the water’s threatening edge with my kids scared the BeJesus out of me, but, really did he ask for much?  It was yet another disappointment in the picture of his life.

Was he scared and lonely as he left this Earth?  I flew all the way across the Pacific to see him before he passed, only to leave his apartment hours before he died.

Maybe I should have traveled back more while he was dying.  My sister was stuck with so much responsibility.

Should I have taken him into my home?

During our vacation, I brooded, I cried, I snapped at my family.  I wanted someone to take care of me.  I had to cancel a client call that was scheduled on a particularly rough day for me.  That was a first, and I didn’t feel like much of a professional.

Divine Nods

Here’s where I found support in unexpected places. I gratefully received it.

I decided earlier this summer to participate in an online retreat with two inspiring and rocking women, Christine Arylo and Kristine Carlson.  Immediately after I returned from this trip, our group call centered on the topic of Self-Compassion.  One woman shared her experience of choosing to cancel a work meeting so that she could be available to her family amid a collective emotional crisis.  It was an act of self-compassion. Necessary and forgivable.  I could so relate, having just done the same thing.  Thank you, Universe. I so needed that.

Christine spreads the message of self-love to women and girls, and Kristine, who exudes calm and grace, helps others navigate life and its rocky times with greater ease.  I had no idea when I signed up for their program that I would find both of these women so instrumental in helping me recognize and shake off my self-imposed guilt.  On our trip to O’ahu, the book atop the bedside table of our rental house was a collection of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff writings by both Kristine and her late husband, Richard Carlson.  Bedtime doses of kindness, comfort, and inspiration.  Thank you, Universe.

Divine timing.  One of my most intuitive and present friends in Oakland just happened to text me a message of support as I drove to the cemetery to have my father’s ashes transferred into a biodegradable urn.  I was torn about where to scatter him.  I was upset.  Her words healed and lifted me.  The urn available for my dad was hella heavy.  That took the hiking idea out of the picture.  The mortician was a young, warm, and affable woman (another surprise) who assured me that I was doing the right thing.  Salve for the soul. Thank you, Universe.

I got the message.  I was supported. Now it was my turn to treat myself with kindness and compassion.

My dad’s story was his, not mine.  As much as I would have liked to give him the fairy tale ending, it was not to be.  Honestly, I was as present as being a wife and mother of three living across the ocean could be.  I called weekly and flew home as often as possible.   He would have been miserable at our house, having little patience for children and spaces in which he could not smoke, and being displaced from his home of over 50 years.

I thank my father for teaching me, in his own way, how important it is to be present for my kids.  I will do everything in my power to make my family know that they are precious, safe, and my priority.   Many of my childhood experiences have led me to choose to live in love.  I honor him with a legacy of presence and connection I hope he can find in his new journey.

I am at peace now.  I know I gave me as much as I could, without compromising my own family and wellbeing.  I know I did my best.

So, here’s what I suggest if you need to practice self-compassion:

Remember, you do the best you can in any given circumstance.  We are always learning and growing.  Each experience provides new lessons and opportunities to evolve.  You are being the best you at any given time.

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  Are you as generous with yourself as you  are with loved ones? Do you speak to yourself as kindly as you do your friends and family?  If not, what do you expect to gain from punishing yourself?  We learn more when relaxed and open.  You deserve love too.

If you seek guidance, watch for it.  It may appear in your surroundings in a lesson from a mentor, in a feeling you just know to be true, or in an image or message you seem to hear repeatedly.  Practice connecting to your intuition.  You’ll be surprised at how much it reveals.  The wise voice deep inside knows the truth, and if given the floor, will stand up in your favor.

 

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Holding onto Hope While the World Implodes

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An airplane carrying almost 300 passengers shot down over Ukraine. Parents sending their children away, because detention at the US border is more promising than life amid Central American violence and poverty. Palestinian children gunned down while playing on the beach. Eat that with your oatmeal this morning. All this heartbreak and heaviness brought right to our fingertips, thanks to the Internet.

 

So, I am shutting it out and sending love to the victims. I’m instituting a news limitation in my house. Especially around my 7 year old. I spend many evenings soothing her worries. Will we have water to drink? Always? Why are the polar bears and bees dying? Why do some grown-ups hurt kids? I’m afraid someone will break into our house during the night, Mom. I weave a quilt of comforting responses to concerns that also chill me.  I do whatever I can to divert the constant assault on her innocence. Or on both of our optimism.  Both are precious.

 

Vitamin H.  Hope doesn’t just feel good.  It helps keep us healthy.

 

One of my favorite recent reads was a book entitled, “Mind Over Medicine”, by Dr. Lissa Rankin. She has collected data and explored the effect that mindset and beliefs have on health. She eloquently illustrates the importance of optimism to wellbeing by pointing out its association with longer life expectancy, improved immunity, dramatically lower rates of heart disease, less depression, and happier relationships. Who doesn’t want to experience all of these benefits? Let’s keep the hope rolling!

 

But, HOW?

 

How do we keep our attitudes on the upswing in the face of all this global pain? I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to spend my life fearing the next crisis or terrorist attack. I want to wake up excited for opportunity, for improvement, for growth. I subscribe to the belief that focusing on the positive will create even more positive, and that immersion in darkness makes happiness seem elusive. I’m not saying to pretend it’s not out there.  Pain is part of life.  When pain visits, feel it, listen to it, acknowledge it, give it the time it needs, but know that in the end, it will all be okay.  Remember that the difficulties pass.  Life moves on.  Keep the faith.

 

Keeping Hope Afloat:

 

  1. Be very selective in what you feed your absorbent mind. Take a break from the news and downer discussions if you are feeling overwhelmed or sad.  Dose yourself with the positive. Say YES to any depiction of:

–       laughter

–       compassion

–       learning

–       connection

–       love

 

  1. Notice beauty in everyday moments, like:

–       the joy in your dog’s face when you say the word, “walk”

–       the smell of your favorite meal cooking in the kitchen

–       the feel of cool grass on your bare feet

–       sharing raucous laughter with friends

–       lying down in a bed with fresh sheets

 

  1. Set aside time each day for quiet contemplation. Find stillness in your breath, your heartbeat, and your thoughts. Know that no matter what happens around you, you will be fine. It will all be okay. You have an endless reserve of  peace that lies inside of you.

 

  1. Imagine solutions. If we spent more time discussing fixes instead of the problems, we’d be a happier bunch, and we’d get a lot more solved.  Keep moving forward.  Don’t get stuck in the misery or hardship of an event.

 

  1. Exercise in a way that makes you feel free. For some, running is the ultimate cathartic. For others, the solid thuck of a tennis ball smacking against a racket brings satisfaction. For me, nothing is better than dancing the day or night away. Whatever it is that gives you that happy escape, do it. Regularly.  Better yet, have a few activities from which to choose, and mix it up.

 

  1. Help others. Buy someone a few more minutes of metered parking. Help a friend move. Surprise your mom with a letter of appreciation. Give a few hours at the community food bank. Be a positive force in a world hungry for it.

 

  1. Soak in each happy moment and let it absorb completely into every cell of your being. Immerse yourself completely in the time you spend laughing, feeling peace, and loving. Appreciate the many, many positives in life. The more we look for them, the more we realize they surround us.

 

Life is filled with frightening, infuriating, and tragic events. Let them remind you that there are no guarantees in life. Instead of letting the trying times terrify you, use them to motivate you to be and do your best.  To love bigger, hug tighter, laugh harder, and to make the most of the time we have.  Push your limits past your fears and shine more. Take every opportunity to counter the bad with good, and help foster hope in ourselves and in others.

I choose to tuck my daughter in bed at night and share stories of happy times, overcoming challenges, strength, and love. I want her to incorporate these messages into choices she makes and the way she views the world around her.  Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give to others.

How do you stay hopeful?  I’d love to hear!

I am Shamelessly Parenting with Minimal Milk

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I have a love-hate relationship with dairy products.  My nurse grandmother “strongly encouraged” that we drink milk with each meal to keep healthy and strong.  I have always relished the comfort of a drippy, warm grilled cheese sandwich.  Oh, and believe me when I say that nachos were an important part of my emotional well-being throughout college.  When I turned 40, the tables turned on me.  I spent a year congested and trying different allergy medicines.  Nothing worked.  Then, I gave up dairy.  In 3 days, I was nose breathing, sleeping, and smelling again.  Hallelujah!  Needless to say, since that point, I have not been the mother who has cajoled my children to down milk or cheese in great quantities.

The Subtle Shaming

Last week, I took my 7 and 13 year old daughters for their annual well-child check-ups.   Their smart, warm, adored pediatrician asked if they had milk, cheese, and yogurt on the daily. [Cue danger music].  Not even close.  My girls immediately looked to me for back-up, as if they were about to confess to living on Jolly Ranchers.  Their doctor’s gaze shifted my way.  I offered that we’re not a big dairy family, but they do eat a lot of veggies.  Notes were taken.  Subject changed. Of course, the self-doubting voice in the back of my mind led me right to Google when we returned home.  This is what I found in all the conflicting opinions and dairy information I discovered.  (Dairy apparently provokes strong reactions in some, and enjoys a loud, well-funded lobby).

What Dairy Provides

Milk, yogurt, and cheese do indeed provide calcium, but included in the dairy package are some unsavory extras.  Beside the fact that many children and even more adults do not tolerate lactose, or milk sugar, dairy products are linked with ovarian and prostate cancer, allergies, and in children, anemia.  Dairy products contain growth factors that work well for calves; not so much for humans.  It may also have contaminants such as antibiotics, which are sometimes used to fight infection in dairy cows kept in overcrowded, unsanitary pens.  Dr Neal Barnard’s Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (which embraces a vegan diet) notes that the animal proteins in milk can leach calcium from bones, and that dairy cows are impregnated each year to maintain milk production.  Moms, do you hear this?  Ugh.

What Dairy Doesn’t Provide

So, you know that idea that upping your dairy intake will protect you against fractures?  It’s not true.  Seriously.  Dr Mark Hyman cites Harvard’s Dr Walter Willett’s work to point out that populations that don’t eat much dairy at all, such as those in Africa and Asia, have lower rates of osteoporosis than we do.  In fact, added calcium may actually go hand in hand with more fractures.  So, it’s time to throw that reasoning out the window.  It’s so passé.

Know this if you love your dairy:

If milk, cheese, yogurt, or ice cream holds a special place in your heart, choose organic.  Organic dairy provides more Omega 3 and fewer Omega 6 fatty acids than conventional does.  This is important for maintaining a healthy balance between the two, and for keeping inflammation and chronic disease at bay.  Also, don’t feel like you need to keep the flow going.  A glass of milk a day is probably fine, but studies have shown that men who drink 2 or more glasses of milk daily are twice as likely to develop advanced prostate cancer than men who don’t.  There is some evidence linking a glass of milk a day to a decreased incidence of colon cancer.  Yes, this is all about adults here, but kids develop habits that carry forward.  Just saying.

When the Milk Mustache is not your Style (well, maybe even if it is)

Whether you love dairy, hate it, or are in between, know that calcium supplies also abound in broccoli, brussels sprouts, beans, and green leafy vegetables.  Beans-n-greens.  Fun to say.  So good for you.  What’s not to love?  Okay, your littles may not fawn over kale and collards, but sneaking them into smoothies and sauces and emphasizing the yum factor works like a charm.  Veggie voodoo.  Beans should be soaked overnight before cooking so that their nutrients are better absorbed.

Calcium’s Bone Building Partners

In addition to having adequate calcium in the diet, kids should also have enough Vitamin K, Vitamin D, and plenty of exercise to keep bones strong and healthy.  Vitamin K is also found in broccoli, brussels sprouts, and those green leafy vegetables, which have numerous health benefits above and beyond these.  Getting your kids out running and playing in the sunshine for a little while each day will help them get Vitamin D and exercise.  Vitamin D helps our bodies better absorb calcium, and weight-bearing exercise helps strengthen bones.  Plus, the combination of sun and fun is hard to beat, and will contribute sanity to your household.  Run. It. Out. Kids.

I’m Ditching the Guilt, Thank You

So, I’m giving up the dairy stress.  There are times that ice cream is a necessary bribe (should I say reward?) for my kids.  I’m not going to get all uppity about them having a glass of milk, or the occasional mac ‘n cheese.  I’m also not going to slink off guiltily when others silently-loudly decide my kids are dairy-deprived.  I will remind my crew to savor the ice cream, the grilled cheese, and the ice-cold glass of milk, which, of course, will follow or accompany a heaping pile of vegetables.  It’ll be a treat enjoyed here and there, not every day.  Bon appetit!

Really, Einstein? Ditch my People?

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If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”   – Albert Einstein

I’ve never really connected with this quote.  It seems like such a pessimistic point of view.  Like the way to be happy is to create distance from our people and favorite things and attach to achievement.  Goodbye, whiskers on kittens.

Today, I ran into it again and it took on a whole different flavor.  It made sense.  Either I’ve become more Einstein-like (very likely), or perhaps I’ve evolved emotionally another notch (I’ll take this option as well).  You might be thinking that I’ve barricaded myself away from my family and have donated my favorite pillow to a good cause, but I’ve done neither.  I’m actually living quite happily surrounded by both.

The past month has been a bit funky.  Not George Clinton, good funky, but funky in a disturbing way.  My roof surrendered to the rain.  My garbage disposal quit, and my pipes clogged.  Water rerouted to all the wrong places.  A passing ruffian removed my super-cute, berry-colored Kate Spade purse gifted to me by my family from my possession.  He took it from my car through the passenger side door and made a run for it.  I happened to be sitting in the driver’s seat at the time.  One of my children, who shall remain unnamed, created a bit of drama.  Nothing major, but enough to make waves in the household for a couple of days.  There is a chance my husband and I had different ideas about how to manage this disruption.  Funky.  Funky, but fine.

But guess what?  All is well.  Great, even.  We have a shiny new roof on the way.  I’ll be sure to have friends over for a glass of wine and some roof viewing when it’s ready.  What fun!  The water is all running appropriately now.  I’ve pulled an oldie but goodie of a bag out of retirement.  It’s dotted with memories.  A formerly beautiful leather tote spattered with spit-up, spills, and wear to boast a fine patina.  A kind woman discovered my pink purse in the bushes and returned it to me, noting that we ladies need to stick together.  She filled me with soul-felt appreciation.  It was drenched with rainwater, but also contained my keychain from my first day at Barnard College and some photos that miraculously survived the water.

My anonymous child created an opportunity for renewed communication in the family.  “How was your day?” “Good.” “Fine.” “Okay.” was momentarily replaced with talk about expectations, love, emotions, and the stuff of self-help books.  We, too, became shiny for a while.  I’m pretty sure we’ve upgraded and are all a bit closer now, too.

So, Einstein, I see your point.  My most important goal is to appreciate the good in life, to keep happy memories close to my heart, and roll with the adventures we face with grace and to learn the lessons they hurl our way.  Possessions are ruined, stolen, and lost.  People make mistakes and may disappoint.  Life’s funky foibles can serve to expose what really matters and wash away the cluttering debris.  Beneath the stained, aged, and sometimes battered exterior of our lives lies an intricately woven web of memories, connections, feelings, and growth.  My take on this quote?  Stockpile in your memory those experiences that have set your soul aglow, love deeply, ride out the bumps, and you will develop a fine patina of happiness.

 

 

 

Pushing my Buttons

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If you asked my friends about me, they’d tell you I was a smart ass.  A dancer.  Sassy-silly.  A little hippy-dippy. Loyal.  Reliable.  And positive.  I really try to look for the good in all situations.  For instance, a year ago, I was in a head-on collision on a highway when an elderly driver suffered a heart attack (which he fortunately survived) and careened across the median strip into my lane.  I was shocked, shaky, and delighted to walk away from an accident that left the front end of my tank of a car crumpled like paper.  I took that incident as a sign that I absolutely had to redirect my life.  Go for the career that secretly intrigued me, as frilly as it might be, spend the savings on a summer trip to Paris, and make time to nurture myself and be excited about life.  Really.

I am a happier person today after deciding not to waste time hanging out with people who don’t appreciate me or make me smile.  It’s not that I shun anyone else; I just choose to learn from them, and go back to my homies.  This is huge.  I grew up hiding my opinions for fear they would be silly, and regularly verged on practicing doormatism.  Learning how to assert my own needs without anger or aggression has been amazing.

Well, this new system was working beautifully for me until two weeks ago.  Guess what?!  A new opportunity for growth emerged!  Hallelujah!(?)  I was paired on a project with someone who triggers me like no one I’ve ever met.  I’ll just say we operate with opposite styles. This person takes control and anxiety to what I consider an art form, and needs to plan each detail of the project meticulously, finding my “go with the flow” attitude distressing and risky instead of charming and amusing.  (I am Hawaii born and raised, after all).  I know that I get my stuff done, and have always prided myself on remaining calm and measured, even in literally life-or-death situations.  Now my “lax” affect clearly signaled incompetence to my partner.

When I say this person pushed my buttons, I mean I was really, really bugged by her mistrust of me.  When daydreams of publicly shaming my partner danced through my mind, I knew urgent action was required.  (Did I mention that I’m a positive person?) I tried to step away from the situation to look at it more clearly.  I took slow, deep breaths.  I went to yoga.  I discussed my feelings with a dear friend who conveniently just happens to be a therapist.  And then, I let go of trying to control the situation.  I didn’t need to fix anyone’s anxiety or conform my methods to match someone else’s.  I excused my bruised ego from taking the wheel, and let compassion take over.  Who knows what this person has experienced in the past?  Not me. Her story might be much more difficult that I could imagine.  I allowed myself to release my defensive response and focus on doing my best work. So. Damn. Freeing.

My lesson?  I have no control over, or business worrying about another person’s opinions about me.  I know in my soul who I am and what I am about, and my best tactic is to remain anchored by that knowledge.  It’s so much easier to do when I care for myself, body and spirit.  It makes me believe that people would be so much happier and more at peace with each other if they felt a strong sense of self and remembered that each of us is on our own journey.  You know deep down what you are about, regardless of anyone else’s beliefs.  So, go do your thing the best way you know how.  When someone pushes your buttons, do what feeds your soul, reconnect with who you know yourself to be, and return to sharing your gifts with the world.

A Puppy, Some Firefighters, and my Bolster

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It’s been a day. Made challenging by a self-imposed situation. As if in a reckless, drunken college student decision-making moment, I recently needed to adopt a puppy. Really. Needed. A rescue puppy. He would so nicely accompany my two teens, first-grader, 10 year old yellow lab, baby business, and husband. Plus, look at him.

Huxley on the way home

Huxley on the way home

That was Saturday. Yes, I know puppies are a handful. Yes, I know mothering infants on their schedules was not so good for my bubbly personality. But, I made it though those years, and it was fine. Uh huh. After 3 nights of waking up every 3 hours, walking dogs downstairs to the yard for a potty party and trying to fall back to sleep within, say, 30 minutes of our return, I could easily be cast as an extra in The Walking Dead. Seriously. It’s truly unfortunate I have to leave my house in this condition. Not pretty. My mommy memory is refreshed.

Last night, I backed my tank of a car into my half-closed garage door until it bowed out nicely toward the street. A ladder truck with three strapping fire fighters came to my aid, kindly beating upon the door until it was flat enough to close. I’ve upped my status as the amusing neighbor on my very quiet street where a bike whizzes by and everyone takes note.

Thankfully, my car was rescued from the garage so that it could be at the shop for servicing this morning. I had successfully disregarded the groaning it made during acceleration over the past week until the CHECK ENGINE light flashed yesterday. As I explained the symptoms to the mechanic this morning, he started my car and the roar of the semi engine seemed not to faze him one little bit. Silly woman.

Please don’t think I’ve neglected my mom duties. I’ve studied genetics with my teen daughter, helped my youngest distinguish e_e words from u_e words, hired a car to drive my son to hockey practice while my car awaited release from my battered garage, and provided nourishment, fashion advice, alarm clocking, cattle prodding, and cheerleading. And laundered a room full of clothes. In an hour, I’m going to give a PowerPoint presentation to a 5th grade class about cyber safety. I hear what you’re thinking. So what’s new? Welcome to motherhood, lady. We all have days like this, more often than we’d care to consider.

Here’s what’s new. I have committed to recognizing that the sucky, soul and energy-vacuum type of days happen. What needs to happen alongside them is some self care, because there is a risk that tomorrow will be a re-run of today. There can be no delay in the refueling. This may necessitate Max and Ruby babysitting my youngest, but at least I know my teens will be hidden away quietly in their cave/rooms.

Before dinner tonight, I will lock myself in my room for at least 30 minutes. I will light my candles, sit on my yoga bolster, close my eyes, and if it feels right, have soft music playing. I will make myself a green smoothie, packed with nourishing vegetables, fruit, cacao, ginger, and super foods. I will call out several facets of my life and appreciate each one. Deeply. In all, this will take about 45 minutes. And it will make all the difference between discreetly muttered f-bombs behind my kids’ backs and truly participating in this amazing life I have, crazy days and all.