Silent Breakfast

pleasure abounding:
up with the sun, kids asleep.
surreal silence
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I went on a short weekend retreat recently. It took place at Kripalu, a yoga center in Massachusetts – you’ve doubtless seen the beautiful pictures of it in the back of women’s magazines. I wasn’t there for yoga reasons — I’ll talk more about what I did in future posts. But since we were at a yoga place, we had to abide by one of their practices – silent breakfast.

I can honestly say that I have never, ever experienced silent breakfast before. Maybe, once… when I was single?? No, I’m sure the TV was on. And there was that one time in 2010 when both kids took too big a bite and spent 30 seconds chewing. Otherwise, nope, never. Regardless, I think we all can imagine a silent breakfast alone, but it is quite another thing to experience it with 400 of your closest friends in a spacious, airy cafeteria. Let me share…

I actually found it pleasant at times. Being fully present. Being one with the food. Ahh, the food. Did I mention it was yoga center? Think vegetarian meets hippie meets macrobiotic meets green – that about covers the food selection, morning, noon and night. It was tasty for the most part (I will never like kale, I should just stop trying), but not exactly recognizable for this mother-of-two-who-thinks-pancakes-for-dinner-is-a-solid-choice sometimes.

Anyway, back to the nothingness. The first morning I experienced it I frankly spent most of the time trying to figure out what to do with my eyes. Do I just stare at my food? Do I look around? Am I allowed to smile at someone if I catch their eye? Is it creepy to watch the person across from me eat? I ended up looking about a foot above everyone’s head and maintaining a banal smile in an attempt to fake contemplating-ness. I did ok.

The second morning was brutal.  I was totally annoyed by the people around me who, for some reason, seemed incapable of abiding by the rules. There was the guy in the serving line who looked like he should have been a puppeteer — felt shoes, wild, gray hair, a bouncing step. He could not quit talking to himself about the food. The worker stocking the line with more tofu and edamame ‘shushed’ him vigorously, but Muppet man continued. I kept my distance from him because he started to act more like a homeless guy who wandered in and less like a friendly creative type.

Next were two women, clearly friends, who sat at same table as me. They just faked it. They whispered. A lot.  It wasn’t like they just did it a few times – they did it the whole time.   I was looking around for Shush-man but he was nowhere to be found. I realized what a total rule follower I am — who do they think they are by talking?! How dare they. I was going to say something to them (or at least mime something so as to not stoop to their level) but I then noticed zen lady.

Zen lady sat on my other side. Her lack of talking seemed to create a black hole. She made no noise. No clink of silverware or tink of cup. She was a ninja. She also was part bird (clearly a yoga type) so perhaps that made her lighter than air. I suddenly became aware that although I spoke no words, I was breathing like a linebacker. When I raised  fork to mouth, I heard the sound of my forearm peel from the table. (No, I wasn’t sticky — this was just a normal flesh-meets-wood-and-separates-again sound. Try it. It’s a little loud, right??) I felt like my swallowing was disturbing her. Was that the sound of me blinking? Good god! I inhaled the last of my quinoa cream and organic nuts and beat feet as fast I could lest I stand on the table and shout “Okay, who farted?”

Prior to this, I would have told you that on a normal weekday morning, when the kids are whining about eating cereal (again…) and my husband has made himself hoarse repeating “put your shoes on” 100 times, a silent breakfast would be a welcome alternative. But trust me, I’ve seen the other side and I’m not sure I can take it.

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My Life as a Borg

The tiredness descends:
Like a fog it surrounds me
Chokes the light, the life.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was with some amount of kicking and silent screaming that I went to the sleep center for an evaluation. “Who me? Sleep Apnea? No way…” I kept repeating.  But 3 skeptical looks from the sleep doctor while taking my personal history, and one terrifying bit of understanding later, I had booked a sleep study. Although unenthusiastic, I felt the best way to silence everyone was to take the damn test.

The test was actually fun. Well, fun in the “I’ve never done this before so might as well enjoy it” kind of way. The staff was lighthearted. I had my own room with a TV and no other family members… it felt a little like summer camp, only a summer camp where they hook you up to machines via wires attached all over your body.  That would be a creepy summer camp if I didn’t look so hysterical.

I took a picture of myself all wired up which I will NOT share here, or ever. I was fully clothed in my PJs and you could clearly see I had things attached to my face, my head and my chest under my shirt.  There were wires down my legs and attached to my shins.  I had two black belts wrapped around my body above and below the girls, which trust me was one of the least attractive things I have ever seen in my life.   When I saw myself in the mirror I burst out laughing and immediately took a picture and sent it to Frank. His reply was simple and to the point. “I want you.”

As you will accurately imagine, sleeping in a strange bed, with wires all over you, keenly aware that there is a low light video camera watching you and people listening to you sleep is a little on the difficult side. Took about an hour to fall asleep even with the help of a lovely little Rx. Imagine my surprise and dismay, then, when what seemed like 15 minutes later, the tech came in and woke me up.

“We’re going to go ahead and have you sleep with the CPAP machine,” she said.

Uh-oh, I thought. They prepped me for this. If this happened, it meant that I clearly was testing positive for sleep apnea and they wanted to see how I did with the mask on.

“Okay.” I mumbled. How in god’s name was I going to sleep with all the wires and Darth Vader mask on my face. These people had moved from being lighthearted and kind to unrealistic jerks. And then I asked a question.

“So I must have stopped breathing some then, huh? How many times did it happen?”

“In the last two and a half hours, about 50 times an hour.”

Long pause.

“50? Like five zero?” Praying I mis-heard one-five…

“Yes, five-zero.”

Holy be-jeebers. “Where’s the machine…”

Thus began my life as a sufferer of sleep apnea. The next 4 hours were entirely restful – yes, restful —  mask, wires, cameras and all. The next day, surely it was in my head, I had a tremendous amount of energy. I started to think about how tired I was all the time — the tired that is just below the surface which I have always been master of — could it be that that feeling might go away? And that the energy that people always remark that I have naturally (I don’t use caffeine) might get even higher?

Two weeks ago I got the official results of the test — talk about eye-opening and depressing.  I’m not sure how I was functioning on a daily basis if that test was any indication of my normal sleep quality.  And now I’m here, 2 weeks into sleeping each night with Snuffy, as in Snuffaluffagus (my name for my CPAP machine) to tell you that I feel great.  Yes, I have more energy. No, I don’t feel dead dog tired as often as I used to.  There have been only a few drawbacks, if you want to call them that. One, Frank says that now I am freakishly quiet and still while sleeping. He’s had over 19 years of snoring to deal with — and snoring more in the 18 wheeler range than the Ford Focus  range. Now I sleep on my back, quietly, still-ly. He says it’s a little weird.  I also haven’t figured out how to not wake up with strange marks on my face from the mask — clearly a vanity issue, but something I’m not enjoying. And lastly, I wonder what the kids are thinking. They get the concept, but how odd to come into your parents’ room and see your mom with a weird elephant-like tube snaking from her face. I’ve gotten very good at snatching it off the instant I hear our door open.

So there you are – I’ve become assimilated. I am now, at times, more machine than me.  But I’m pretty much ok with that. Unfortunately for my family and friends, I’m now telling everyone they need to “get the test” because it clearly cures everything just look at me… I’m sure that will wane as the novelty of feeling rested wears off and the assumption of feeling great takes over.  That’s kind of cool.

I’m Sick (or Why They Make You Take Vows)

Her head, heavy as lead;
Her throat, makes sounds like a goat.
South from there sucks too.

…………………………………………………………………..

I’m sick. (pathetic cough, grimacing swallow)

I have a headache – actually, anything north of my shoulder blades feels like it has been knitted together with steel wire. Stiff, pokey, extra heavy.

My sinuses have decide to expand to monumental proportions, and I’m quite confident they would have burst out of my face if it weren’t for the steel wiring.

My throat is currently home to… (I couldn’t find a word to adequately describe what feels like “my flesh having unsuccessfully met a cheese grater” so for inspiration I decided to google “images of sore”, at which point I lost my desire for further descriptive words. Don’t try that search at home, it will haunt you.)

And my fever, despite assaults by way more ibuprofen than the manufacturer thinks I can survive, has held on. 103 sucks. 103 for two days has left me gooey and useless. I spent all day yesterday in either the recliner or in bed.

To top it off, my son and daughter are also not well – fevers, infections — but they are well enough to insist on joining me on the recliner or talking to me approximately .0005 seconds after I finally drop off for a nap.   Trust me when I say that I continue with my not mother of the year streak.

Which leaves Frank. Frank the wonderful. Frank the sent from heaven. Frank the “I don’t deserve you”.

Today, Frank earned the “that’s why they make you take vows” award.  As if yesterday wasn’t bad enough (my inability to do more than lay down required far more attention from him than you might think), today topped it by a lot.  I’m not going to tell you what happened (What?!? Me not reveal something embarrassing and personal? Surely this is the antibiotic talking…). Just know that it involved me and required his help. Awkward help. God love you kind of help.

And he stepped up. Did what needed to be done without complaint. He could have made some jokes about situation, but he didn’t.  I love this man. I’d like to say that I would do the same for him. If I had a better memory I might recall such a circumstance in our 19 year history, but I don’t.  I also have a fairly horrible track record when it comes to patience for the sick. After about 36 hours you had better be well, because my attention and sympathy are waning. (This last sentence really applies to other adults, not so much for the kids; somehow the kids are blameless but the adults are faking lay-abouts…) All this adds up to some doubt on my part as to whether I would be as good to him as he has been to me. Nonetheless, I will hope that I, too, step up.

So this post is dedicated to my beloved.  Thank you thank you thank you for picking me. I’m a better person for it. I promise to do my best to never put you in a situation that nominates you for this award again.

Making Choices – My 5 Roles

Embrace the choices:
They map your way forward and
Soothe the looks backward.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

I learned something a few years ago from an executive at my company that has helped me with my work/life balance. He (yes, it was a he) hypothesized that each of us can reasonably have 5 roles in life that we are committed to. A role is something like wife or mother or tennis player or gardener.  If we decide to take on more than 5 roles, and want to fully commit to those roles (meaning we want to do them well), then he claimed something or someone will suffer.

I’ve been experimenting with this concept for a few years now and I think he is right.  Once I started thinking in these terms, I quit beating myself up for not “doing/having it all,” a self doubt-a-thon that I think many working moms engage in.  Instead, I decided that “having it all” was as simple as focusing on these 5 roles such that I was doing them well. Not perfectly, not full on all the time, but in a consistent way, with focus.  If I am able to do that, then I count myself successful, consider myself living the dream, and cut myself some slack on the things I’m not doing.  How powerful would it be if we could all see 5 reasonably well-executed roles as cause for celebration.

That isn’t to say that this is easy. Take a look at my current list of 5 roles.

  1. Wife (this is purposefully first, because it is too easy to make it last; I still struggle to give him as much time as I’d like)
  2. Mother (there may be a time when I won’t need to have this on the list, but not for a long time…)
  3. Employee (another “not really a choice” choice for our family, but still, have to acknowledge it is a role and it takes time)
  4. Healthy person (writing it down gives me permission to choose a work-out over coming home early)
  5. Writer/Blogger (new this year, yeah! Finally made it to the top 5)

These may seem obvious choices, to you, but to help dimensionalize how hard it is to pick the top 5, let’s list some of the things that didn’t make my list.

Daughter. Gasp! Really!?!? How can I do that? First, it doesn’t mean I don’t call my parents. It just means than I don’t focus time and attention on cultivating that role. Time and attention would probably mean more trips South to see them; a regularly scheduled phone call; more emails; home-made videos of the kids, etc. But I haven’t made this choice. So we talk about every 2 weeks while I’m driving home from work or on a random weekend when I get a moment. There may come a time in the future when their health drives “daughter” right back on the list, but I’ll clearly know it can’t be an incremental role, something will have to go.

Housekeeper.  If you ever visit me you will find dust. And likely a floor that needs to be swept assuming you can find it under the toys. If you are lucky enough to see upstairs, then you’ll see unmade beds and likely a dirty sock on the floor. Get over it. It isn’t a priority – I don’t put money or more than minimal time against this role. We don’t live in squalor (don’t worry, the kitchen and bathrooms are quite clean, the clothes are washed – even I have standards), and I do clean the house on a regular-ish basis, but I’m sure there are those out there who would frown if they visited.

House rehabber. This was a role last year (when writer wasn’t on the list). That’s because last year was our first full year in this amazing 86-year-old house which requires a lot of time and attention (not to mention money). Last year we focused on the house. This year, we don’t need to as much.

Sister.  Just like my daughter role, I don’t make this a priority.

Friend. There is an amazing women’s group that I get together with once a month. But I don’t have “girl friend” time the rest of the month for the most part.  Facebook keeps us connected, but I don’t foster the relationships like I see other people do.  I work with people I consider friends, and I like the moms of kids at school, so the itch gets scratched in those ways, but that’s it.  Sometimes I miss this…

Are there drawbacks to these choices? Sure there are. If it were painless, then it probably wouldn’t really be a choice.   But what keeps me committed to this concept is this:  when I think about how (even more) stretched I’d be if I also tried to put effort against more than 5, I realize none would be done well, and that is something I’m not willing to sacrifice.

Do I do some things outside of my roles? Of course, but I recognize that they will get less investment and thus lower returns. Or, I rethink my definition of it. For instance,  I’m a girl scout troop leader. Is that a new role or a “mother” role? I did it at my daughter’s request, so frankly I think of it as something special we do together – mother role, check.   I also keep a garden in the summer – is that another role? If you saw my garden you would agree it was NOT a focus area for me. Instead, I get the kids involved (harvesting carrots this year was a riot) or I treat it as exercise (healthy person role).  Again, you might see this as cheating, but I approach it holistically and it makes it easier. This doesn’t need to be any harder than it already is.

Lastly, you might ask “where are you on the list”? Healthy person – that is broadly defined to cover all the things I do to take care of my mental and physical health. Sleep in when I can, no work in the evenings when possible, Pilates class, etc.  Make sure you have you on your list too.

Deposits and Withdrawals

“Mom… I don’t feel good”
A ploy? A ruse? The truth? Ack!
Who can ever tell?!

………………………………………………………

There are days I seriously doubt my abilities as a mom, especially when my kids don’t feel well. I have this fantasy that in Little House on the Prairie days the mothers all had this 6th sense about their families.  A child would sniffle; the mother would go out back and find the root of the pine-prick bush and gently stew it with oaks leaves, dried herbs and tear drops to make a magic elixir that would cure the child.

Me?  My kid tells me her stomach hurts… her head hurts… his foot hurts… his eyes feel funny… what do I do? Two simple questions:

  1. Have you had enough water today?
  2. When was the last time you pooped?

That’s it. No magic elixir. No tear drop potion. I don’t even push on the offending body part to see if I can make the kid twinge.

Here’s the sad part. The kid in question usually drops his or her head and admits to either a lack of water or an under utilization of the toilet. He/She disappears and I never hear of the ailment again.

So, those MUST be the right questions, right?

I feel like the family in that movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding… “Put some Windex on it!”  Me? Make a deposit or a withdrawal… one will fix you. I’m sure this (among other reasons yet to be explored on this blog) is why I will never be mother of the year. Oh well.

A Parent’s Responsibility… Childhood Obesity and Georgia’s Campaign

A parent’s challenge:
To raise, but not to repeat
Our own tragedies.
———————————– 
I am veering sharply away from my usual humor into a current serious hot topic. This is a difficult post to write, but I can’t stop composing it in my head, so I decided to put it in writing.

There is a lot of controversy about a new advertising campaign in Georgia addressing childhood obesity which aims the heart breaking messages (and the blame) at the parents. Here is the ABC news story about it, which includes video of several parts of the campaign. I am sure there will be many experts chiming in on the pros and cons of this approach. Here is my perspective.

I am a fat parent (and by fat, I hate to admit it, I mean obese) trying to raise trim kids (my husband is also fat). Watching this campaign was a kick in the gut. My children (ages 9 and 5) are just the right size, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I worry multiple times a week about their weight. I don’t want them to be fat like me. But I didn’t need an advertising campaign to tell me this.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was close to my highest ever weight and determined that my child would not be overweight.  I read everything I could about how to have a healthy child-parent relationship with food. Well, that isn’t exactly right… I did some research, quickly found a great book that resonated with me, and that’s the approach I took.  Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense stated something that made clicked for me: My job is to put nutritious food on the table on a regular basis. The kid’s job is to eat it. Parents should stop doing the kid’s job.  If you approach it this way, everyone has a positive food relationship.

I also evolved some practices that were different from how I grew up:

  • Eat dinner early – 6/6:30.
  • Fruit at every meal. (A fruit is as good as a veggie in my book.)
  • No forbidden foods. (I wanted to demystify sweets, which were a forbidden temptress in my youth.)
  • Get the kids into an activity of some sort.

This seems to be working. My kids love fruit and don’t fuss about eating it (don’t worry, they eat veggies too).  They eat candy – we keep a dish of treats – but they don’t obsess about it. In fact, Halloween candy is usually ignored by day 2 or 3. They each have regular sporting activities which they enjoy and take satisfaction from.  So far, so good.

So why do I still worry? Did you watch the campaign? Do you think that took a lot of acting skills? I don’t recall feeling that same pain in my school days – I wasn’t as overweight as these kids – but when I read my old diaries I ache inside: losing weight is mentioned over and over again.  It is the number 1 topic, with boys as the second most prevalent topic.  Without those written records, I would have denied it was such a focus for me, but there it is, in black and white… Disappointment in myself. Admission of failure. Yearning to be like everyone else. Desire to be thin.  Why in God’s name would I want to subject my children to this? I don’t need anyone to convince me my kids need, wait, deserve, a different fate.

I also worry what to do should one of my kids start to pudge up.  How will I react? Will my reaction screw them up?  More importantly, I carry sadness that I am a crappy role model for my kids in terms of my weight. I know they notice. My daughter mentioned my weight to me years ago (the classic “mommy, why are you fat?”), although not recently, but I know she recognizes that most everyone else’s mom is normal size.  That makes me sad.

So why don’t I get off my ass and lose weight? Raise your hand if you asked that question. I’m guessing those with their hands up are all thin. Well, I wish it was that easy. I’m not here to claim that food is a drug and food addiction is akin to drug or alcohol addiction, but man it sure feels like it sometimes. I’ve lost and gained more weight than you can imagine, and believe me, my adult diaries still have my struggles with weight as their #1 topic (although I’ve solved the boy thing now…). I wish I had an answer.  It’s January, so time to try once again to do something about it. Wish me luck. No, wait, don’t do that. Just promise not to stare at the gym.

In the meantime, our society will continue to judge the obese. Continue to point to the parents of fat kids.  I’ve been typing and deleting this next part for 15 minutes… Am I ok with this? Do I believe that parents of fat kids should be held accountable for their children’s weight?  I think I do – we are the parents for Christ sake. If it isn’t our jobs, whose then?  In a world devoid of personal responsibility, I believe in parental responsibility – from not letting the kids get drunk in the basement to not tolerating your child as a bully to not letting your kid feast on ding dongs 24/7.  This is what you signed up for.  I can tell you that for me, I see it as my responsibility to these amazing little human beings to set them up as much as I can to be healthy and happy, inside and out.  You have no idea how hard I try.   The obvious next question is “how to hold us accountable? how do you punish the parents of obese kids?” but I’m not prepared to answer this one; I have no idea and this has been difficult enough.

(A final note: It’s hard to write this and not imply that my own parents were horrible role models and “made” me fat.  I refuse to do this. For one, I don’t think that (my) weight issues are that simple. I won’t justify this statement or explain it any more, it’s my opinion.  And second, I got a lot fatter after I left home, so they were doing something right. So thanks mom and dad. Don’t worry about me, and please don’t worry about your parenting. My own kids would be way more wacky if you hadn’t done a great job.)

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