Friday, April 30, 2010

Relax (Take it Easy)

There is something so scary about being out of control. Is it just me or are most humans on some level, terrified of not being in control of our lives. Perhaps it is a fear deeply rooted in the inner knowledge that we are not actually in control of anything. Could it be that we do not have as much power as we think we do? As beings who spend their lives striving for power, power over ourselves, over the environment, over other peoples, power over commodities, this notion is deeply frightening.

I’m officially terrified of flying. I never saw it coming. I used to LOVE flying when I was a kid. For my sisters and I, the flight WAS the vacation. It didn’t matter where we were going, we exulted in the adrenaline rush of taking off, the moment of weightlessness when the plane reaches its maximum takeoff height and hesitates there in outer space before angling to the left or the right.

Now that moment in space feels like the top of the roller coaster when you have finally crept as high as the metal gears will take you and you know the tiny cart will creep no higher and just as you think you might raise your hand and ask to take those rickety metal safety stairs back down, (why on earth do they have those little stairs?) the cart drops as if it has come off its tracks and you are falling through the clouds, your stomach in your throat, your throat in your brain and your brain somewhere out there hovering in midair. It is that dropping, hurdling through space feeling that I am constantly waiting for when I fly.

I can breathe my way through the take off, convincing myself that even though we are ramping at an alarming angle and the engines sounds as if they might give way at any moment and the exterior walls of the plane and the tail are lurching and flexing as if they may break in half at any moment, soon we will level off and the bell will ding and the captain will speak and all will be well. That small period I can get through, it is the first sign of turbulence that makes my head swim, my eyes, blur, my armpits sweat and my stomach turn. I really believe, in those bumpy moments that we all may die.

And why does that notion scare me so much? Especially as I sit next to my incredible husband, holding my infant daughter and sitting next to my three year old, shouldn’t I feel some peace in knowing we are all here together? Truthfully, it’s not the passage from this life to the next that scares me. I’m not one who clings to life. I would not miss the trappings of this world. I hold on to the belief that there is beauty far greater, air much fresher, food more alive and wine far finer elsewhere. That aspect of death is exciting; it draws me in and whispers mysteriously to me, like the voice of a friend I haven’t seen in years; like a memory I can’t quite recall.

No it isn’t death per se that paralyzes me with fear, it is waiting for the plane to hurdle towards the ground thousands of feet bellow at hundreds of miles per hour.

It is a wonder to me that airplanes aren’t subject to anarchy all the time. How, I ask myself as I sit gripping my arm rests waiting for my head to it the luggage rack above me, are all these people sitting so calmly reading their magazines and sipping their cokes as if death isn’t imminent? Fools. Why aren’t they screaming the obscenities that are racing through my head? But they aren’t scared and maybe I shouldn’t be either, I think.

So I turn the bumping, rocking, trembling airplane ride into a spiritual lesson. I pray and mediated and breathe and ask God to take my fear; I remind myself that I am not in control of anything and to let go and rest in the lack of control. But this never works.

I have found over the course of the last few flights that the only thing that does seem to work is Mika on the ipod and airplane chardonnay over ice.

The game is to drink the furniture polish-tasting wine as fast as I can while listening first to, Love Today then Relax, perhaps finishing off with a little Billy Brown or Big Girl. By the time I get to We Are Golden, I am indeed feeling fairly golden. I am of course no safer on the plane because I am drinking wine in the afternoon than I was moments before, sober and terrified. But something about having a light buzz enables me to see the big picture. It relaxes me enough that I can pull myself out of the microcosm of my momentary struggle, reminding myself that I probably will land at my destination, I will enjoy my week and likely live to face the anxiety of the return flight.

Maybe flying is just the avenue for the fear. Perhaps that kind of anxiety lurks below the surface of our calm façades. Maybe a turbulent flight is the outlet our fears and anxieties need to let off steam—for others maybe fear comes in the form of a panic attack, an outburst of anger, in sabotaging relationships, or overconsumption of food, gadgets, clothes, alcohol. Maybe inside we are always screaming in desperation, searching for some way to have more control over our lives; power over what happens to our children, power over the choices our siblings and parents make, power over the difficulties our friends face, the loss of loved ones, the loss of jobs, environmental travesties, oil spills, murder, genocide.

Maybe humans are constantly functioning in a delicate balance of ignoring reality and self-medication, trying to live in some semblance of happiness and peace when we know on a deep level that the world we are living in is often not peaceful or even close to happy. And once in a while the realness dares creep in. When the airplane ride becomes turbulent the velocity at which you are traveling becomes apparent. When you are cruising smoothly along you might as well be floating slowly down the River Thames on a still day as flying unnaturally fast through the stratosphere. But then the bumps happen and you realize your incredible speed; how unnaturally fast your body is traveling. And the façade is dissolved.

So to in life turbulence wakes us up to the reality that all is perhaps not well. We can breathe through it, pray for peace, grip the arm rests and sweat it out, or have another drink and put on the headphones.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Portabella Mushroom Stroganoff

This pasta was so deliciously satisfying and made with just the things I had on hand; a delicious vegetarian dish that even my three year old loved. Feel free to add or subtract ingredients based on what you have available.

1. ½ cup all purpose flour
2. Garlic salt
3. Pepper
4. Three medium portabella mushroom caps
5. A little white wine
6. 2 cups of chicken broth
7. 6tbls butter
8. ¼ cup chopped red onion
9. Whole wheat pasta cooked according to package (with lots of salt)

1. Chop portabellas how ever you like, preferably in bite sized pieces
2. Mix the flour, pepper and salt in a small bowl
3. Sauté the onion in all the butter
4. When onions are soft and nearly translucent, toss the mushrooms in the seasoned flour then add to the pan
5. Add a little wine and stir the mushrooms and onions until softened about 7 minutes
6. Begin slowly adding chicken broth while you stir
7. Let the sauce simmer five or ten minutes until it reaches desired thickness
8. Add noodles and stir to combine
9. For added protein, top with feta cheese

Friday, April 23, 2010

Beautiful, Youthful Boredom

Time goes exponentially faster when you are marking the days through the life of a growing child. And yet, for children the days are long and imagination is the only passage through the danger of boredom.

I remember my freshman year of high school feeling like it would go on forever. Each day was an eternity, the weeks dragged slowly by and months seemed like they would never lead to spring and summer breaks. Sophomore year was less unbearably slow, junior year was the first year of high school that I really enjoyed and it seemed to fly by. By senior year, it felt like the warmth of spring that led to that final walk out of the doors of Central High School was creeping into the halls before I’d finished going through my first syllabus. Time undoubtedly accelerates as one’s life goes on, but nothing compares to the whirlwind of time that blows by as a mother watches her infant grow.

Motherhood was once explained to me this way: the days are long but the years fly by. And the phenomenon of time accelerating as we age has been said to be due to the fact that as we get older, one year is a smaller and smaller fraction of our lives. When we are two, a year is half our life. No wonder junior high took a century to get through; those years were a tenth of my life. Now a year is one thirtieth of my life, a thin slice of time that seems to hurdle past me as I run to catch up, to get involved, to embrace life and live it up, to be productive yet relax, stop and smell the roses. It is a difficult balance to find as I maybe say too often. But motherhood has indeed put many of these opposing forces into perspective.

Mothers, indeed adults in general, perhaps American adults in particular seem to grow busier each year they are alive. Obligations and activities get tacked onto our days like an overfull bulletin board. My life now feels like an unpleasant race, like the eight-hundred in track: a full sprint that lasts longer than your body wants to sprint.

I think the most vexing thing about how fast our days are racing by is that even the things I love to do start to feel like chores I have to check off the list. Twila and I planted seeds in our new planter box a few days ago. The sky was completely clear, blue, the lake was glassy, birds sang in the air which was the heavenly temperature of high sixties, low seventies and life was serene and fun and my daughter and I had our fingers in the dirt and were working together, the baby was napping and the cats were still in the basement from the night and the scene really couldn’t have been more perfect. But completer that I am, I could not help but mentally page through my ever-growing, never-ending to do list as we worked, laughed and played.

What a Grinch. How can anyone not completely enter into the moment of planting vegetables with her daughter? What on earth is life about if it’s not that: interacting with a child; growing food? If this isn’t the very essence of life than I don’t know what is. But something about my human nature, or my American nature, refuses to let me fully enter into it. I stay at the surface of the experience looking for what I will cross off my list next.

Even the things that drive my passion most deeply, like writing, takes its place on my list of chores right next to unload the dishwasher and take the laundry out of the washer so it doesn’t get that telltale neglected laundry mildew smell. Shouldn’t writing get a special place in my day? A place of honor that cannot be put aside for anything, not even the threat of mildew laundry? I think the only thing I do more efficiently than race through the day and subsequently my life, is complain about the fact that I am racing through life at lightning speed.

So all this complaining about how fast time goes; watching my daughters grow in speed screen like those time lapse videos of pregnancy, leads me to believe that there must be something that can be done to slow the rapid disappearance of my daughter’s youth, and my life.

In reality time is not speeding up. The years are every bit as long as they were when I walked to school in January in sixth grade and the expanse of the snow-covered playground may as well have been the arctic tundra. Time, I have to assume stays constant no matter how old and busy we are. In short, we all (young and old) have the same number of hours in the day.

Perhaps time seems to move slower for kids because they have so little to do. I remember feeling bored when I was a kid. Bored. Boredom is a phenomenon I haven’t experienced in years. There just isn’t time to be bored. Perhaps if there was, I might have to seek out an activity. It’s when we are seeking out activities that we wind up doing glorious things like read a book or rock in a hammock; walk on the shoreline looking for pretty rocks, poke our fingers into the dirt and drop seeds with the hope that they will grow up to look like broccoli and various kinds of lettuce. It’s when I have extra time that I ask my daughter what she wants to do.

And it’s through Twila’s youth, her quickly changing and growing youth, that I can occasionally recapture the feeling that each day is a wide and open expanse of time waiting to be navigated anew each morning. But it is only if I make the choice to have extra time that I can be welcomed into Twila’s world. Because she never rushes. When she plays it is slowly and thoughtfully and she fully enters into the world of play. It is through her commitment to each creative activity, each curiosity and fancy that I can, occasionally relive this beautiful, youthful boredom.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Magnifying Compassion through the Din of Struggle

I’ve heard it said that parenting is the toughest job; I’ve also heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Such statements are almost cliché in their commonness. It wasn’t until this past week that we came to see in an uncomfortably real way that these catch phrases have been born from nothing short of absolute truth. Parenting is indeed the hardest job on the planet; and yes, it does take a village to raise a child

Twila is tremendously tough lately. All those phenomenal attributes like questioning, challenging, speaking her mind and negotiating are looking a lot like arguing, complaining, wining and button-pushing. Our good ideas and creative solutions are not amounting to much these days.

We were in Boston for four days last week and though the weather was beautiful and the trip an overall success, I found that dealing with Twila’s ‘negotiations’ on the road was wont to leave me with wafer thin patience. And, as it turns out, Jada was teething.

It’s often in these trying weeks though that kind people come floating to the surface of our experience and these really rotten weeks are suddenly magnifying glasses for the compassion that still exists in the human experience.

The last day of our trip I took Twila and Jada to the Boston Commons to play on the swings. As Twila took off down the dusty cement path, on a sharp decline that jogged to the right, her feet skidded out from under her and she found herself sliding over gravely terrain on her knees and palms. It was bad road rash.

As we sat on a nearby bench, crying and comforting respectively, and as I assured her we did not need to go to the hospital while simultaneously searching out the nearest CVS on my blackberry, a kindly man approached and asked if we needed a Band-Aid. He could not have known just how badly we needed a Band-Aid. I have always had a hard time asking for help and accepting a strangers offer to shuffle through his briefcase to look for a tiny piece of first-aid would, in my mind, qualify as putting someone out. But having a crying baby slipping out of my Ergo and a panicked three-year-old with a bloody knee in a strange city with no car and no sense of where anything is was apparently the missing ingredient to my humility.

“Yes!” I very nearly screamed so that I would be heard over my wailing daughters. “Yes! I need a Band-Aid!”

After a fair amount of digging he produced two old and worn Band-Aids and I could have kissed him. Amazingly, that was all Twila needed to feel like the world would go on turning and within ten minutes we were playing happily on the playground.

But later that day, we were all tired from a long week and were trying to squeeze in one last swim in the hotel pool. Twila was wet and unwilling to leave a ball that a restaurant owner had given her; Jada was again slipping out of the Ergo and screaming bloody murder as I squatted to force Twila’s sticky legs into her tight pants. And just as my head was about to explode, a middle aged Hispanic woman came around the corner with a badge around her neck. But she was not from child services as I initially thought. She was just coming off a shift; apparently a member of the hospitality staff at the Residence Inn.

“What’s wrong?” she asked of the thrashing lump on my chest in a thick, Mexican accent.
I raised my eyebrows and shoulders in a universal, ‘I have no effing idea.’

“What’s the matter baby?” She asked again putting her facing inches from Jada’s as she thuwunked her back rhythmically so hard that I felt it in my chest.

Jada stopped crying and strained her neck around to see the woman’s face. They were nose to nose for a moment and Jada grinned her most charming grin.

“You make me so sad when you cry, yes, yes, that’s better, no cry.”

Then Jada’s head slammed on my chest and she was asleep.

“Okay,” I said in dazed confusion, “okay, I can do that…thank you.”

The woman smiled at me as she removed her hand, mine in its place, and continued down the hall.

I realized when I met my birthdaughter’s parents for the first time that there is something healing about the process of adoption and it’s not just finally welcoming a child into your home. There is beauty simply in needing each other.

So often lately it seems that we are growing further and further apart as humans. Like estranged family members we are forgetting how important it once was to rely on each other. Sometimes it’s not until things come crashing down that we realize we can’t, and shouldn’t, do it alone.

Whether its infertility, the loss of a job, an illness or death of a loved one, or just a fussy baby and a skinned knee; life seems to find a way to remind us that we can’t do it alone. Through the din of our struggle, compassion is magnified by ordinary people who are willing to sacrifice what they have so someone else can have more, make a tough choice for the benefit of someone else, or just stop when someone needs help.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wild Rice Meat Loaf


1. 2 eggs

2. 2/3 cup milk

3. 3 slices bread

4. 1/2 cup chopped onion, sautéed

5. 4 oz of shredded cheese

6. ¼ cup of wild rice, cooked

7. 1 teaspoon salt

8. 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1 1/2 lean ground beef


1. 1/2 cup organic tomato catsup

2. 1/4 cup brown sugar

3. 1 tablespoon mustard

4. 2 dashes of Tabasco or other hot sauce


1. Beat eggs

2. Add milk and bread and let stand until bread absorbs liquid

3. Stir in onion and cheese and wild rice

4. Add ground beef

5. Mix well.

6. Pat into loaf pan

7. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

8. Combine topping and spoon over meatloaf after about 30 minutes


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Always We Are Given Gifts

We are so randomly placed in this life. How do we get up each day and face the obvious disparity in human existence? Some people are lucky enough to be born into families with homes, money, food, support. And some children are born to poverty, fear and abuse.

I watched a terribly wonderful movie last night called Precious. The title character is a young girl growing up in Harlem in the eighties. She is sixteen and pregnant for the second time by her dad. Her mother is cruel and monstrous; as vicious with her words as she is with her hands. Fear and abuse begets fear and abuse in the slum where welfare checks are king and children are forced into adulthood and the harsh realities that will be their lives indefinitely.

Sometimes watching movies with such obviously terrible parents is reassuring in a perverse way. You know as you watch that even on your worst day you are far kinder and gentler that that horrendous mother. But I did not experience that smug levity as I watched Precious last night.

The actress who plays Precious’s mother was so convincing and the character so well written, that she did not seem like a caricature of an abusive mother, but simply a mother pushed too far, put in too horrible a circumstance and saddled with obvious anger issues. Maybe I was touched by her because I have, of late, been striving to deal with my own quick temper.

Perhaps it is too generous to suggest that this beastly woman, wont to sling jars and large objects at her daughter’s head is simply dealing with a hot temper, but there is something so real and believable about her ferociousness. Watching her life unfold left me feeling not reassured about my own abilities but instead more critical of my shortcomings as a mother.

Perhaps I should feel secretly gratified watching a movie like Precious because I know that I would never let that kind of abuse befall my daughters. But I didn’t. All I could think of was the times that I have lost my temper, shouted when I meant to speak, spoken when I should have kept my mouth shut, lectured when I should have hugged, pulled when I should have waited, dragged when I should have pulled. All I could think last night as I went to bed feeling slightly ill was how I was like Precious’s mother. Perhaps it is ludicrous to compare myself to a verbal and physical abuser who allowed her daughter to be sexually abused but also as ludicrous, I felt, was to consider myself better than this woman.

Truth be told, I wanted to. I wanted to feel superior—at least to this mother—but I found it impossible to compare myself to her at all. How can I know what kind of mother I would be if I were brought up in the place she was, given the life she was, given the challenges, hardships and judgments she was used to facing each day. And suddenly, as I thought of the disparity between my life and hers, life looked incredibly absurd.

How can it be that my children were born to love, safety and privilege, and this young girl, this Precious and the anonymous girls who I shudder to think are out there living similar lives, are born—just by chance—into violence, starvation fear, abuse? It is, to understate it, unfair.

Ryan and I both felt an overwhelming desire last night to rush around the planet scooping up children and feed and love them. But as I lay awake in bed last night, it seemed not enough. Where did abuse and violence start? When did it become possible to hurt one’s own child, or any child for that matter?

I think most sexual abusers were likely abused when they were children but how far back can that go? Who was the first human on earth to abuse? It’s not good enough to say that abuse is as old as human kind because that doesn’t make sense. If we are evolved from Chimpanzees, do chimpanzees abuse their young? If not than is abuse unique to the human experience? I know I tend to get obsessive about these kinds of questions but you have to wonder, where does abuse come from? Is it born from the eternal human struggle for power?

As a mother of a new infant, I feel especially tuned into all infants; the unfairness of their placements strikes me in an intense way. Maybe because I am a birthmother, the randomness of parenthood strikes me more poignantly. Sandy and I used to talk about this a lot when her babies were young. As an adoptive mother she said that meeting babies was sort of surreal because in a slight variation of this very life, one of those babies could have been hers. But really is this not true for all babies and mothers? And the randomness of how we are each injected into our lives is staggering if you give it even a little thought.

I ended up with a gentle actor for a father (with a slightly short fuse) and a stay-at-home, emotional, hippy for a mother. And this chance placement has equipped me with so much of my ability to parent gently, patiently, with a sense of humor, abundant love, and a sometimes quick temper. We are all products of our placements and left to do our best with what we are given. Sometimes we have to push against our instincts, sometimes we need only follow them, sometimes we have to shed the hurt of our past entirely, but always we are given gifts and obstacles and life is all about identifying them and capitalizing on them. And randomly and unfairly, some of us have it splendidly easy and some of us humans have work ahead of us.