Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Oh, the places you'll go (in your head)!

A decade ago, I quit smoking as a New Year's resolution.  Sounds commendable, but truthfully the impetus was less that I wanted to promote the well-being of myself or anyone else, and more that I was dating a non-smoker.  Before that, my resolutions had typically been more private, self-improvement type promises that I silently made and usually blew off, either gradually or in moments of spectacular weakness.

Over the years, I've alternated between taking resolutions almost too seriously, or dismissing them completely and making none.  I have the tendency to see things in black or white, and as a result I often set the bar either too high or too low, when in fact the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, in a grey area.  So, my resolutions over the years have often been either lofty goals (Forego Buying New Clothes in 2004) or a cheap way to reassure myself (Try to Listen Better in 2008).

In 2005 I started going to yoga classes.  It began as a way to get in shape (and perhaps to fulfill an NYU physical education requirement without actually having to participate in a legit sport...).  I was drawn to the welcoming hippie-love vibe of yogis, but still felt like somewhat of a fraud, because, among other things:
(a) I'm not remotely athletic.
(b) I'm not remotely flexible.
(c) I hate exercising.  Don't run unless chased!
(d) I love cheeseburgers.

(e) I hate green juices.
(f) I didn't want to "find myself" or even get in touch with myself.  I was kind of a jerk, why would I want to know me better?

Week after week, I showed up at class (usually late, of course), sat in the back row, and figured I'd fake it until either I got the hang of things and started to legit blend in, or met the (minimum, of course) requirement for NYU and could bail completely.  My favorite part of the class was the end, when I got to nap during the final resting pose while everyone else engaged in something they called "guided meditation."  Whatever. Although I did get a feel for some of the poses, I still didn't get the point.

Eventually, I satisfied NYU's phys ed requirement and graduated from their College of Nursing, only to get into a car accident immediately thereafter.  At least I was able to take the vitals of the lady who hit me..

A few weeks later, still sore, I decided to try private yoga in case it might help.  My teacher's name was also Karen - which, if I was a believer, would have been *totally cosmic.*  But I wasn't a believer.  I just wanted my back to be less painful, and getting massages seemed too decadent. Yoga still counted as exercise!  For six months, I went to weekly private sessions.  My back did start to hurt less, and oddly enough, so did everything else.  I learned a lot of new vocabulary words, or, really, old words with new meanings, like Intention and Alignment.  I practiced breathing, and briefly considered meditating.  But, since it involved sitting still for extended periods of time, I skipped that part.  I tried standing on my head.  It was fun!  Weird.

Over the next few years, I continued going to Karen's classes, which became familiar, safe territory, a grounding point during periods of change.  "I" became "we" (got married!).  My niece and new stepdaughter led me to kids' yoga classes, which turned out to be phenomenal and had less of the heavy spiritual component that had made me uncomfortable, if curious, in adult yoga.  Yoga kids and their grownups have a blast, and in those classes, I saw the big yoga concepts I'd heard from Karen broken down into simpler lessons that really resonated, like:  

-In yoga, there are no winners or losers.  
-Imagination is paramount.
-Animals are sometimes the best teachers.
-Listen to yourself!  You never know what you might hear :)
-Stop Being So Serious.  Life can be fun.    
-Play!  But play safely.

The things that had been introduced in prior yoga classes, which I'd tried hard to discredit as crunchy hippie whathaveyou started showing up in my professional and personal life. Mindfulness was the subject of a lecture series my boss sent me to, and was being incorporated into the treatment plans of trauma patients.  At prenatal yoga and childbirth groups, we were guided through pretty much exactly all of the breathing practices I'd already done (albeit somewhat irritatedly) on my yoga mat. When I was in labor for nearly four days, the only thing that got me through was that yoga breathing, because the epidural they stuck in my back on day 2 sure as sh*t didn't work.

With my son's birth came a new appreciation for the practical applications of yoga.   When the baby would sleep, I'd lay on the floor by his crib and position myself in poses that reduced pressure on my back, or took the strain off of my oh-so-sore belly.  My husband, at that time the only one who could lift heavy things, was treated to lectures from me on how he needed to turn his intention into action and empty the diaper pail. Mommy-and-me yoga offered a sense of community, and helped me connect to the baby. As I eased back into work and life, I took my toolbox of yoga knowledge with me, and signed up for yoga teacher training to learn more about everything that I'd tried so hard not to absorb during the first few years of my practice.

Yoga has given me the ability to put things in perspective, and to guide myself back to reality when I start to head off the reservation.  So I find myself here at resolution-making time going back to the most important lesson I learned from my first (and still my favorite) yoga teacher: Before we can really implement change, we have to first set an intention.  And those intentions, like most of my New Year's resolutions over the years, will not amount to anything if they are not combined with a commitment to action.  I'm going to base my intention on what matters to me most in the world, not on some type of insecurity, like what anyone might think of me.  What matters most to me in the world is undoubtedly family.  So my intention for this coming year is to agonize less about what could go wrong, and concentrate on enjoying the good things that are happening right now.  I'm going to commit to getting out of my head and into my heart (and my baby 
is my heart!) more.

Not getting caught up in the stress of new parenthood is really hard.  It seems like everywhere I turn, we're set up for comparing, and worrying. Why does my kid hate sippy cups?  No one else's kid has a bottle in their Facebook photos!  Should he have more words than he does?  My mommy BFF Alisha's son Kellan talked more at 23 months than my little guy is talking at the same age, just before his second birthday.  Everything has to be evaluated, compared, read about, from bowel habits to head circumference.  On a good day, it's still anxiety provoking.  

All of these little worries take up so much of my time and head space that I know I'm missing moments.  And I hate it.  But laying awake at night with regrets is not going to change anything.  Instead, I'll set my intention here to spend more time enjoying everything that is amazing about my little boy, and less time worrying about what could go wrong.  This is, of course, much easier said than done - but I've gone and put it here for all the world to see, so I better buckle my seatbelt and get ready to roll.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

21 Parenting lessons my dogs have taught me (which also apply to children)

Nearly everything I have learned about parenting came from my dogs, although for most of the time I thought I was practicing on them, I did not realize they, in fact, were training me.

A number of my friends started their families years, some even a decade before me.  That never bothered me at all.  I continued to relate to them, only their children had 2 legs and mine 4.  While children cannot be crated for several hours (legally, anyway...), being responsible for the health, safety, and happiness of another creature is a daunting task. Gone are the days of spontaneous travel and freedom from responsibilities. Many are the nights spent worrying about potential signs of illness or injury, and decisions related thereto.

Having my own kids, both biologic and non, has only further demonstrated that the lessons taught to me by all of our dogs continue to apply to child-rearing.

21 Dog-parenting lessons which also apply to children:

1. It's messy.  
2. It's an art, not a science.
3. The brand and contents of foods will suddenly become extremely important.
4. You can hold your breath for more than 2 minutes.
5. Sniff suspicious substances and smears *before* tasting.
6. You will spend a significant amount of time searching for, cleaning up, wiping at and even inspecting poop.
7. You will have conversations about the aforementioned poop.
8. You will find poop smears on clothing.  
Note: *If you have more than one dog/child: you will continue on your merry way after finding that smear, and address it (maybe) when you have more time for that sort of thing.  Which might be never.*
9. Everyone has an opinion - especially about pets and kids.
10. While other people's opinions should not matter, conflicting ones can trigger fits of never-before-felt insecurity, defensiveness, and outrage. 
11. Weeks, months, and even years after potty-training, you will find a petrified turd somewhere it had never occurred to you to look.
12. The cost of a cheaply made toy: $8.  The value of 7 minutes of silence: priceless.
13. You can carry a living creature for miles who weighs more than half of what you do, if that creature is injured/ill/frightened.
14. Seeing the above-mentioned creature suffer in any way will cause your heart to fill with such explosive pain it will feel like it might break through your chest wall.
15. You can tidy up your car and house every single day, but neither will ever look or smell clean again.
16. Bath water can turn very dark, very disturbing colors if the bath recipient has had a festive romp outside.
17. You will break rules, both your own and other people's.
18. You will become wary of people who do not like dogs or kids. 
19. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
20. You are more capable than you ever realized.
21. Nothing - nothing - compares to the feeling of walking in the door and being greeted with unbridled enthusiasm and unconditional love.