Getting- And Staying-Hitched

Look at those two crazy kids.

Look at those two crazy kids.

After Valentine’s Day last week, I started thinking a lot about marriage.  About yours, mine and those that surround us.  About the neurochemistry in our brains that causes two people to click.  About how marriage looks in the suburbs.  About the future of marriage as we know it.  I mean, is it important at all to even be married?  And most importantly, to me anyway, what it takes to keep a good thing going.

Recent brain science tells us some pretty cool stuff about coupling and why we are drawn to our partners.  There are four personality types as defined by preeminent “love” researcher, Helen Fisher, a bio-anthropologist at Rutgers University.  There are builders, who are focused on family and who they know.  There are explorers, who thrive on adventure and doing.  There are negotiators, whose passion is introspection and who are interested most in feelings and finally, directors whose focus is intelligence and thinking it through.  (Single ladies! Or not! Find out which you are here).  Mostly we are drawn to others of the same type but apparently any type can match up and be successful if you are willing to do the work you need to do.  Like swallowing the fact that you are not right all the time.  And ignoring that irritating little thing he does with his lip when he’s looking for a parking spot.

Does it sometimes feel like things are fucked up in marriage land?  When I was growing up, people waited to have kids until they got married.  Not many parents were divorced, but the numbers seemed to go up and up as I got older.  A lot of people waited until they got married to have sex.  (I don’t know many of those people, but I know they existed.)  Also, “cougar” type couplings were pretty rare and, at the time, men were still the expected breadwinners.  None of this seems to exist anymore, which mostly is a good thing.  Nowadays (do only old people say “nowadays?”), it seems, people have babies without getting married.  Or ever planning to get married.  They get divorced and remarry all the time!  It’s not even a big deal.  Women are heads of households all over the place!  In terms of female sexuality, it’s actually women who are more turned on by novelty than men.  Really!  Is everything I was taught about marriage passe?  Am I, in fact, a dinosaur?  Are my notions of marriage quaint?  While I think lots of these things are great, why do I cling to the whole “til death do us part?”  When I look at my wedding photo, I see a much less worn version of me: my hair it’s natural brunette without a hint of gray, my smooth skin, flat pre-baby belly and my lovestruck eyes.  Hell yes, I can see how my perspective is a little, well, dated.

Now, I am going to do some cheerleading here for long-term romantic relationships, so be prepared.  Yes, “hook-ups” with someone new are exciting.  Ah the stomach flipping, the obsession, the constant checking of your messages,  the staring at each other for hours.  There’s nothing like new love.  Except, as it turns out, old love.  In new studies on long-term pairings, Helen Fisher has discovered that some of the feelings we have when we are hot on that new stud are interpreted by the brain in the very same manner as those of us who remain with our tried-and-true.  This area, known as the VTA (ventral tegmental area) , is responsible for how we respond to food, money, drugs and other highly addictive goodies.  That’s right, babe.  Everything old is new again.

In the study, people were shown photos of their long term partners.  Their brains were hooked up to see which areas lit up and bam!  Neural activity jumped in areas of the brains that process rewards, motivation, reinforcement learning and, get this, survival.  This means that the same guy who can’t get a dirty shirt into the laundry basket to save his life actually sustains your life.  Wow.  The studies also showed that these partnerships were associated with proximity seeking (wanting to be together), alleviating stress, greater calm in face of adversity and improving responses to pain. As far as sexual frequency, the long term couples’ brains equated cravings like hunger with a need for sex.  So whether you get hungry once, twice or 7 days a week, you want it.  Bad.  Now, it should be stated that the couples involved in the study were actually in love and not in one of those marriages where you wonder, “how the hell did that happen?”

Anyone who has been in a relationship for an extended period of time knows that there are ups and downs.  Sometimes the spark gets dull.  And sometimes it is hot.  All long term relationships go through this, and it’s part of the natural ebb and flow of a relationship that stands the test of time.  After all, don’t the lows make you appreciate the highs even more?  Sometimes I think how great it would be if we were back to the time when we first met, with all the new gooey love.  Not being able to sleep or eat!  Sheer in-loveness!  Staying in bed all day! Starting a movie at 10 pm!  Sometimes I feel nostalgic for, even envious of new love.  But I wouldn’t trade our now for our then; looking at the fabulous humans we created, the home we built together and the wool socks-flannel wearing-cozy-newspaper reading on a Sunday morning-kind of love we have now.  So what that we are relics?  I’d do it all again.

You're the one I want to be with for all the days to come.

You’re the one I want to be with for all the days to come.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen for the beautiful photos in this post.  

Report Cards Are Coming Home Today

Ready to get schooled.

Ready to get schooled.

Here we are again!  Ah, the glowing lights, the familiar carols, the cookies.  But a different kind of treat comes along at this time of the year.  Something I used to dread:  report cards.  Now and at the new year, how would it feel if someone was grading me in all my subjects? How would I be doing?  What would my subjects even be?

Well, obviously I’d be taking a health course of some kind.  Given my natural inclination toward mind-body and helping, I am sure I would be acing that shit.  But not so with lots of American moms.  Over the last few decades, we have gotten more sedentary and less active than in past years.  According to an article by Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times, our lack of movement is causing our kids to become more obese.  Not only do we do less housework (not fun but burns a mean calorie), we sit in front of the tv far more often.  The study authors conclude that moving your ass is an “absolute prerequisite for health and wellness.”  As a physician, my husband bemoans the fact that so many common ailments could be treated with exercise, not drugs.  I don’t want to raise couch potatoes.  Plus, I hate the idea of being all creaky and out of shape.  My grade:  A-.

For the sake of our family, I am taking a lifelong financial course. This stuff does not come easily to me, and I need all the help I can get.  If it weren’t for my financially savvy husband, I may have gotten myself into some serious debt by now.  And I wouldn’t be alone.  He helped me understand how valuable it is to save, and hopefully, prosper.  The kids are getting schooled too.  They have their own checkbooks, savings accounts and allowances.  They have to keep track of it all on their own.  But for the grown-up stuff, I am utterly and completely bumblefucked.  I cannot speak coherently on topics ranging from money markets to 503B’s to the stock market.  I also spend in a haphazard way that could certainly use some tuning up.  For homework, I signed up to take an online course on investing.  Eek, I feel out of my element.  My grade:  B.  Okay, B-.

Currently, one of my favorite subjects is community.  We all know that fostering social connections helps to lengthen your lifespan, avoid depression and improve your general happiness quotient.  However, in the winter months, particularly in the upcoming months after the holidays are over, it’s easy to hide out in the house when it’s dark and gray outside.  We have also made a commitment to have happy hours at our house on a semi-regular basis to keep the friends in the same room.  It’s amazing how just those brief little get together’s help with the isolation of winter.  For me, writing and meeting new people help keep the desire to bury myself under my covers at bay.  It would be great to form a dinner club or something along those lines but right now that feels a bit overwhelming.  After the holidays.  Maybe.  My grade:  B+.

One subject that I am doing fairly well in is keeper of the family.  You know the one.  You are in charge of photos, establishing traditions, recording memories, collecting recipes, organizing schedules, ordering what needs to be ordered, grocery shopping, keeping track of hair/dentist/doctor appointments…The list goes on and on.  While managing to keep this ever-growing file going, I do drop the ball occasionally.  And when I do, I am reminded frequently by my children.  Sometimes I think they actually enjoy when I mess up.  Although I haven’t put the scrapbook together for the last 3 years (okay 4, maybe 5), I know where everything is and I just have to get my act together and do it.  Unfortunately I don’t get a study hall to work on this stuff.  Maybe I’ll apply for an internship!  My grade:  B+.

In the “taking time for myself” class, I have managed to surpass all expectations.  With girls trips planned and executed over the last year, time with my friends has been a necessary diversion.  Getting some alone time, it’s taken me awhile to learn, is also essential to the well-being of not only me but the whole family.  I need “buffer days” if I’ve been working a lot or if we’ve been travelling.  Others have ways to deal with the hectic pace of life, but a cup of tea in a silent house is a great way to rejigger the chaos.  Along the same lines, my husband and I have carved out more time to be together for quick dinners or beers when we need it, which is weekly.  Our kids are now able to be on their own for short periods (if my hands weren’t on the keyboard they’d be clapping).   My grade:  A.

Parenting class has it’s highs and lows.  Some days I wonder how I ever thought I could do well in this course and I have definitely pulled lots of all-nighters.  Sometimes I wish I had an advisor I could go to, but even if I did, I probably couldn’t make the office hours.  There are times I feel totally competent, rolling and grooving, like I am kicking this thing’s ass…and then…I’m a complete failure.  I mean, can I get any extra credit here?  The tests feel like they come every day:  friendship troubles, teaching gratitude, handling disappointment and hardest of all…being a good role model.  The biggest surprise, I suppose, is that two little creatures can serve so often as my teacher, instead of the other way around.  Like you, I get it right a lot.  And wrong.  But the essence of me is always that it matters to me more than anything in the world.  Anyway, I wish someone would give me a grade since it seems impossible to give myself one.  But in the meantime, I give myself a B.

Ah, fuck that.  Make it an A.

What courses are you taking?

Yeah.

Yeah.

Top photograph by the A+ photographer Barbara Paulsen.

Bottom from jumpingwithmyfingerscrossed.com.

Answering the Questions

I'm thinking about how some of the questions you ask in your youth can reappear later on...

In the suburbs, we question…

So my husband and I were talking as we were drifting off to sleep, as we often do.  He said something about how odd it was that all the big questions we had as our younger selves, well, they’d all been answered.  He said it with a hint of sentiment, like maybe there were no big questions left.  You know the big questions of your story: Who will I marry?  Who will my children be?  What will my career look like?  Where will I live?  Who will my friends be?  and the biggest big one… Who am I?  So I got to thinking, I’m only 45.  I can’t have answered all my questions yet.  Or have I?

Maybe in your twenties, like me, you dreamily thought about who it was that you would marry.  Husband, wife, partner, lover:  Who would it be?  And when that question was answered, and the flowers faded and the music in your head stopped playing…20 years later…were they really the one?  Some of us answered yes and are still enjoying a growing and evolving partnership (because as we all know, it changes).  And others of us found out that the glass slipper was actually the wrong size.  But I think in relationships; whether spouse or partner, new or old, we still have to ask ourselves some questions.  Am I the partner I want to be?  How can we work together when times change?  How can I be the best partner I can be?  What goals do we both have?  What can we both do to get it right?  The questions aren’t the same.  Hell, they’re not as sexy as they once were either.  But they remain, even though firm thighs, uncolored hair, smooth skin and pain-free days may not.

Ah, then those dreams of your children.  They laughed, blond and blue eyed, one boy and one girl, adequately spaced apart with no allergies or faults or ugliness of any kind, as they ran through a field of wildflowers.   They were virtually perfect, innocent, without a whisper of sarcasm or dissent.  They had no need for technology of any kind and their thoughts were purely aspirational and altruistic.  In fact, you armchair parented on many an occasion, judging the parent with the screaming child and the unruly hair.  Your parenting would be so good, so fucking exemplary, that your children would be well rounded individuals with perfect SAT’s who never talked back, never rejected foods you prepared, hurt another person’s feelings or had bad breath.

Then your children came.  And your questions were answered.  Mostly.  But, as with marriage,  the questions continue.  Who is my child?   What kind of person does my child want to be?  How can I get out of the way and help him/her get there?  and the last question…I’m not even shitting you…Who will my grandchildren be?  Zowie!  

In your twenties, did you make assumptions about your career and where you would be now?  Like, I was “never” going to go part time to raise my kids.  Not to mention (heaven forbid) switching careers after investing 10’s of thousands of dollars on an education.  (For our kids, it will be 100’s of thousands.  Just sayin’.)  I am fortunate to have a job that I still find rewarding even after close to 25 years of practicing.  I am one of the few.  Some of us keep reinventing ourselves in a different direction over and over again.  Some of us keep getting beaten down by the same asshole boss in the same shit-eating company and yet we stay put.  Some of us are climbing the ladder, grabbing the brass ring and pulling in some major coin.  Others, content to be in the non-profit world, give of ourselves in lieu of a hefty paycheck.  Whatever your career has brought you, it is no doubt different from what you had in mind while you were drinking a beer bong and making out with that guy, what was his name again?  The questions are different now.  What is my career and what is my calling?  What feeds my soul vs. what feeds my family?  What is my vocation and when is my vacation?  You may just find you have a choice after all.

Who your friends were and where you lived in your twenties may be very different than today.  And then again, they may not.  For me, I got the itch for the west coast after a couple conferences I attended made me yearn for mountains and a more laid back lifestyle.  I thought I’d come here to live for maybe a few years, then go back home.  Turns out, this is home.  Yesterday was Thanksgiving and we were fortunate enough to spend it with some great friends.  Did I miss my family: my new niece, my hilarious older sister, my precious mom, my insightful younger sister?  Yes, of course I did.  I thought of them all day.  But I also embrace the family I have made, the connections that deepen every day and the choices which brought me here.  Our house, built in 1950, has a litany of idiosyncracies, too.  Creaky floors.  Lots of knotty pine.  Low ceilings.  A dripping roof.  In spite of it all, it holds inside the sturdiest of beams, the firmest of foundations and the truest of hearts.  Is there another place which is better for us now?  Who is our community?  Can we afford to stay?  Home is where you make it.

Lastly,  the question of who you are.  More often than it should, we ask ourselves who we think we are.  Really, the answer changes constantly, that is, if you keep moving.  Who you are today is not who you were a year ago or who you will be a year from now.  And that’s how it should be. To feel alive, it seems to me, there are more questions than there are answers.  Then living is the answering.

I'll never stop asking "Who am I?"  The answers are endless...

I’ll never stop asking “Who am I?” The answer never ends.

What questions are you answering?

Thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen, from whom all beautiful photos emerge.

I don’t like being scared. It’s scary.

Halloween is fun.  When it's not terrifying.

Halloween is fun. When it’s not terrifying.

It’s Halloween time!  While I love carving pumpkins, finding the perfect costume and eating all things pumpkin, I do not, repeat: DO NOT like scary things.  Suburban yards littered with coffins.  Fangs, blood, gore and leaking brains are not my idea of fun.  Even a trip to Target with a giant devil/ghost hanging over the doorway is enough to send me screaming.  But hey, whatever works for you!

After watching the Exorcist when I was about 12 years old, I was convinced that I was possessed by the devil.  No, I never peed on the floor while my parents hosted a dinner party.  Nor did my head ever do a complete 360.  I may have puked a substance reminiscent of split pea soup on my mom at one time or another, but do not remember doing so.  Complicated by the fact that I was attending Catholic school at the time, the whole priest/devil thing was intense. At one point, I asked one of my nun-teachers if it was possible to be possessed by the devil.  She told me yes, and that she herself had required an exorcism as a child.  Great.  More nightmares.

Last night, we started to watch a kid movie called Paranorman with my 9 year old daughter.  Supposedly made for  kids, this shit had a kid talking to his dead grandmother (who bounced around his room), coffins and skeletons coming out of the ground and a scene where the kid pulls a book out of his uncle’s rigor mortis-ed hand.  What the fuck?  If that’s suitable viewing for kids, I’ll be under the couch.

This week, the new version of Carrie is hitting a box office near you.  Frankly, I would rather poke hot coals in my eyes than see this movie.  If it’s anything like the first, I’ll be a blithering idiot for the year following my viewing of this flick, and I will be of no use to society.  BUT…I have friends who watch the shit out of this stuff and LOVE it.  I mean, they go to zombie live performances where they get sprayed with blood, have horror movie clubs and read scary books too.  Why?  When the keys of the piano start playing in that high pitched soundtrack to Halloween, I have to cover my ears.  But they are like, bring it.

To all you horror loving folk, what you are experiencing has a name.  It’s called the excitation transfer process.  Sharing the scary is one reason for loving the scary.  Most people who love the horror stuff love it in groups.  This way, they can enjoy going out to eat or getting a drink afterward.  Have you ever gone to a scary movie and afterward hung out with a group and you were just laughing and having a great old time?  Because it wasn’t you that got chased by a zombie and your brain chewed out?  Talk about relief!  Your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration all increase during the frightening foray into murder and mayhem, but they continue to stay elevated as you are having a beer and enjoying your not-death.  And what do you know?  To your brain, that translated into a good time.

In the instances of say, a fearful young girl watching the Exorcist, well the neurological response is not so favorable.  Not surprisingly, some of us are just wired differently.  About 10% of the population love the adrenalin rush (aka:  physiological arousal) of horror flicks.   They may also be the same people who love roller coasters and other high-fear experiences.  Men also are much more likely to love horror movies than women, who sometimes go to horror movies simply to snuggle up to someone.  However, very few enjoy watching a scary movie alone.

Also, scary movies may be one way that our primitive brain is still trying to master control over dangerous situations.  Or, we may be subconciously attempting to deal with violence in our own world.  Or we just can’t look away.  Like that wreck on the side of the road.  In any event, highly empathetic people resist scary movies altogether.  A-ha! That must be me.

At a Halloween party today, there were zombies, skeletons and a cute/freaky Easter bunny.  And it was dimly lit.  And I found myself wanting to bolt.  Candy is awesome, but I don’t want to be trapped in a room with a guy in a hockey mask. I have seen too many movies, people.  Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, the Exorcist…What do they all have in common?  The suburbs.  Face it, some scary shit goes down here.

And so, last night I turned off Paranorman.  It was freaking us all out, anyway.  We turned on Spy Kids 2 which was quite literally the worst movie I have ever seen.  But it wasn’t scary.  And any movie with Steve Buscemi can’t be that bad.  I got in a good cuddle with my 9 year old.  And I surfed the internet on my I-pad.  And I forgot about all the dead people and cemeteries and body counts.   Instead, I focused on one thing I really love about Halloween:  the glow of a bright harvest moon.

Are you a scaredy-cat?

I'm not scared anymore.

I’m not scared anymore.

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen of Mt. Hood Mama photos.  These photos are so eerily beautiful.

“Mom, I’m scared.” Yeah, me too.

I'm thinking about fear; how it affects what we do, who we are and how we live.

I’m thinking about fear; how it affects what we do, who we are and how we live.

As parents, we are often called upon to allay our children’s fears.  Spiders, the dark and blood are common fears among the kid-set.  But what about when their fears overlay our own?  What about when the things they fear bring about thoughts about what we fear in ourselves and our own lives?  When your 8 year old says, “I’m afraid that you might die in a car accident,” is there a little voice in your own head that says, oh my sweet girl, that scares the shit out of me, too.

The things I am scared of now are not the same things I was scared of in my twenties.   Then, it was more about worry over getting my heart broken, obtaining a speeding ticket, sleeping through my alarm or getting caught with an open bottle of beer in my car.  Now, my fears directly relate to my people.  I’m sure yours do, too.  Am I doing damage by the way I parent them?  Subtext:  will they get pregnant at 18 and drop out of college?  Am I giving my husband the attention he deserves?  Subtext:  will he finally get tired of the fact that I put my pajamas on at 7:30 and go have an affair?  At this point, all my fears come down to one basic fear:  There are people in this world for whom I am responsible.  They count on me.  I can’t screw this up.  It is no longer just about me.

This week has piled fear on top of fear in our country: bombs, jihad, chemical explosions and all manner of anarchy.  The footage of those young guys calmly preparing to kill people is disconcerting to say the least.  The London marathon, held this past weekend, reportedly had significantly fewer and more jittery spectators in attendance.  My daughter, despite her fears, rides in the car with me on a nearly daily basis. So it got me thinking.   How do we do it?  How do we get past our fears?  Of course, there is a fear and subsequent emotional response when we encounter situations which make us afraid.  Your lovely amygdala, almond sized in the temporal portion of your brain, mediates the fear response.  When you get sweaty palmed, tight lipped and tummy-sick from fear, you have your amygdala to blame.  So what keeps this little guy from going into overload?  Another structure called the rostrate cingulate tells your amygdala to chill out.  In my daughter’s case, having been in the car many times, the rostrate cingulate quells the fears by relying on prior evidence that this car thing is actually pretty safe.

That little gem the amygdala.

That little gem the amygdala.

And also, there is Brene Brown‘s work which tells us that “faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”  According to her research on courage and vulnerability, anything worthwhile we get in life is basically because we put ourselves out there.  And being fearful is in direct conflict with being joyful in the world.

Ok, so I get it.  Fear is part of life.  We rely physiologically on fear to prepare us in case we need to get the hell out of a situation.  We need to walk through fear to feel relief and relinquish the idea that we actually have some modicum of control in our lives.  I think about people like Woody Allen or author Jonathan Goldstein, who have made careers out of their fretful, some would say neurotic manner.  Both are highly successful, but retain a certain level of skepticism and arms-distance from the scarier aspects of life.  Then I think about adventure junkies like that rock climber who doesn’t use ropes.  Or people who hike by themselves for vast distances without knowing where they are going.  We are all part of the same human continuum.  After the Boston marathon, we can choose to never do a sponsored race again.  We can live in blame.  Or we can sign up.  And show up.  And see what happens.

In suburbia, I have heard people wondering if this is the “new normal.”  Worrying about the future of our children.  Of our country.  I get it.  I worry, too.  While following the news coverage of the hunt for the suspects, I heard the story of a community in the heart of the lock down.  The families gathered in a neighbor’s house, made pancakes, the kids played in the playroom and the adults made inappropriate jokes and speculated on the reasons the suspects did what they did.  What an awesome gathering!  What a remarkable way to heal.  Together.  Because really, aren’t we all just a little fucking over being afraid?

So, yes, my 8 year old is afraid.  She frets.  She worries.  But I admire her deeply.  She tells me what scares her.  She trusts me listen, help and most importantly, not judge.  With such unabashed honesty, her giant pooling eyes well with tears.  But she is so smart.  She knows she doesn’t have to go it alone, that sharing gives purpose and meaning to things which make no sense.  In her fear, she does not blame and she does not get angry.  And after we talk and snuggle, she’s better and runs off to play.

We could learn a thing or two from her.

It's okay.

It’s going to be okay.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen from Mt. Hood MaMa Iphoneography for her beautiful photos.  Don’t be afraid to check out some of them.

I confess. I didn’t work out today.

I'm thinking about exercise, guilt and time.

I’m thinking about exercise, guilt and time.

I didn’t go to the gym today.  My gym shoes lie dormant in the shoe closet, festering in dark silence.  My yoga mat sits neatly rolled up in the corner.  The pad of my index finger did not sit on a screen to check me into the gym.  My dog did not pant gratefully, then flop onto the cool tile after a run.  My speedy green road bike hangs on it’s hook, its odometer stuck on the same number from my last ride a few days ago.  Still and peaceful in my drawer, my heart rate monitor awaits it’s next challenge.  But my brain?  Ah, my brain.  That’s been going a thousand miles an hour.

The clock now reads 7:47 pm, and I am still thinking about where I could have squeezed in a workout.  (Okay, dammit!  Not “thinking.”  Obsessing.)  In the 45 minutes I had before I picked up the kids?  Could I have gotten up early?  I should have gotten up early.  The mental space taken up negotiating, fact checking, brow beating and ass kicking has been a workout in and of itself.  I mean, seriously.  What a waste of time.

Now, I grew up Catholic and my husband is Jewish so we are no strangers to guilt around here.  But my fellow suburbanites also carry around a fair bit of guilt themselves.  They work too much.  They don’t exercise enough.  They don’t make enough money.  They should be more crafty, more creative.  More interesting.  Less critical.  More kind.  More productive.   They should take more classes, go back to work.  (I swear to you all overheard in one happy hour).  There are multiple structures in your brain which are responsible for how you perceive and process guilt.  What motivates one person is different than what motivates another, but we are all profoundly and universally influenced by community.  This means that if your friends and community didn’t exercise, it would be a hell of a lot easier to hit the snooze button rather than get up and go to the gym.  Conversely, this is often why groups like Crossfit and for me, my yoga community, are intrinsic motivators.  You think about who you will see and who will miss you if you don’t show up.

In suburbia, if you see other people making good money, working out/looking fit, having good marriages and managing their time wisely, you want to do it too.  It’s a testament to my social network and neighborhood that there are some pretty hot 40 somethings (with great lives to boot).  So that’s probably why I feel bad when I miss a workout.

Personal blame, like when you are a lazy ass and don’t work out and beat yourself up for it, is mitigated in the subgenual cingulate cortex by the limbic (primitive and emotional) region of the brain.  These layers of emotion, blame and guilt make for some very busy collaborations.  It also makes sense to me, given all the stuff your cranium is processing, that you would be exhausted.  At this point, you should do yourself a favor.  You should, as my grandma used to say, shit or get off the pot.  For me, I should either not work out and chalk it up as a rest day or I should just go work out and be done with it.  Today, I am choosing to call it a night.   And I’ll tell you why.

First of all, it was a great day.  Beginning with a fun field trip with my 8 year old daughter, followed by getting some errands done, doing some writing, talking with a friend and ending with some real magic, it’s okay that my day didn’t include breaking a sweat.  Also, rest days help the following day to be stronger and better.  Maybe it will help that nagging knee pain I’ve been experiencing.  Maybe I’ll tackle an 8 or 10 miler tomorrow with my pup.  And you know what else?  There is SO MUCH more time in the day when you don’t work out!   I got my paperwork organized for work tomorrow, got my daughter to swim lessons on time, grudgingly mailed the taxes my hubby thoughtfully prepared, wrote a note to my sister-in-law and did some yard work.

As for the magic, the picture below was a rainbow we saw right out my front window tonight.  We would never have even known it was there if my neighbor hadn’t called to tell us to look out our window.  Thank you, neighbor.

Thank you, community.

No more guilt for me.

Now that's a little suburban magic right there.

Now that’s a little suburban magic right there.

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen for the image at the top of this post.   She continues to inspire me with her creativity.

Who is your person?

I'm thinking about all the people along the way who have believed in me.

I’m thinking about all the people along the way who have believed in me.

I lost my mother in law recently.  She was sick for a long time, and her death was something we knew was coming.  But when I think of her, there is an empty feeling in the hollow of my stomach.  It twists and groans and makes tears blink into my eyes.  Not as much for me, or even for my husband.  For my kids, only my kids.  You see, to Betsy, my children were perfect.  And everyone needs that kind of cheerleader in their life.

Maybe you don’t know it, but there’s a song from Snoopy the Musical  (I believe most of life can be easily summed up in some quality show tunes) called “Just One Person.”  The words are about one person believing in you, and then, like a cascade, others believe in you so you can ultimately believe in yourself.  Okay, it’s a lot of sentimental hooey, but it’s so sweet and true.  Studies show that support from others can help you rise above challenges that at first glance seem insurmountable:  think poverty.  In Oakland, a new program is demonstrating this paradigm.  Called  The Family Independence Initiativesmall groups of women get together.  They receive a monthly stipend, a laptop and very little else but have accomplished a 20% gain in income since the program started.  Why?  A variety of reasons, but quite simply, the members believe in each other.

Think back on your own life and who believed in you.  These are your people.  Your parents and your spouse are obvious choices.  The people who are most influential tend to be friends, teachers, bosses.   Because they are not obligated because of maybe, giving birth to you.  They are someone you look up to and want to emulate.  But they also have to listen to you, challenge you and you get an intuitive sense that they see the real you.  Just look at the growing field of “personal coaching.”   The ICF, or International Coaching Foundation, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”  Wow, who doesn’t want one of those, right?  Too bad you have to pay to get it.  The magic really happens when it’s someone you already know, someone you already think is awesome.  And it’s your responsibility to be open to the truth of your person’s idea of you.

Certain attributes have been documented as predictors of success:  high IQ, emotional intelligence, and most recently self regulation.   However, it’s the connections you make and feel that result in the real world that make the difference.  In suburbia, we have things like Big Brothers/Sisters to help form these kinds of relationships.  In our community, there is a lunch buddy program to help kids have someone to look up to.  All parents know the importance of a teacher who pushes a kid to apply for a school they may have thought was out of their reach.  Or a sports coach who tells them they should try out for the select team.  A friend’s parent who lets them know that it’s a pleasure to have them come over to their house.  It’s important.  It matters.

All over suburbia I hear talk of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and her new book “Lean In,” and her crusade to change the dialogue about feminism.  She’s taken a lot of heat lately, mostly because your average suburban working mom can’t relate to Ms. Sandberg’s wealth and the amount of domestic help she receives.  I’m withholding judgment until I read the book, but she is struggling because many women don’t see her as their person.  To be someone’s person, you have to be accessible.  Your person has to be someone who you respect, but also feels a little like you in some way.  Someone who doesn’t have to scrub the fucking toilet?  Hard to relate to that person.  No matter how big or great her ideas.

So who is your person?  Your person doesn’t have to be in your life anymore.  They don’t even have to be alive.  They just have to be someone who laid a brick in the pathway of your life.

Some examples of my people:

My boss in Philadelphia:  He defended me to an angry professor when I unintentionally messed up some data in a research project.  I will never forget what he told me, “Everyone fucks up.  You have my permission to get over it.”

My biology professor in community college:  He wrote me a glowing recommendation for a university I didn’t think I could get into (but did).  When I read it,  I was stunned.  He told me, “It’s all true.  When you believe it is when you’ll succeed.”

My writing mentor in my writing group:  A phenomenal writer, she told me that someone who writes like me should read my work “loud and proud,” and that she was jealous of my writing voice.  Made my year.

The list goes on.. and I thank all of my people for their words.

So, when I think of my mother in law.  Well, she was a huge person for my kids.  As I said at her funeral, if they breathed, she was like, “Did you hear how they breathed?  The way it went in and out?  Wasn’t that fantastic!  They are so special!”  I saved all the cards from her proclaiming their absolute perfection, their sheer magnificence.  Her words were her honest appraisal of their gifts, albeit rose-colored.  I will continue to remind them how she was thoroughly and completely their person.  She was all in.  Just like I hope to be their person, too.

How about you?  Tell me about your person.

Who is your person?

Your person helps you move forward.

Thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen for her inspiring photos.  Visit her work at Mt. Hood Mama Iphoneography.