My Guy

IMG_2257I write often in Facebook posts and blog stories about my younger son. He’s a sweet and affection boy who is prone to dramatics; accordingly, there’s a funny story waiting to be written almost each and every day. My older son, though, is different. Maybe because he’s older. Maybe because as he enters his tween years he’s quieter. Maybe because I allow myself to be distracted by the antics of my young son so often that I don’t tap into my older son’s more subtle approach to life. Maybe because this older son, the boy who made me a mother, is a little too much like me and watching him too closely would be like watching myself and sometimes that reflection is just a little too clear to bear.

While I often marvel at my young son and how it is his spirit came through me into a life we all now cherish, it is my older son I know instinctively. There is no wonder about from where he came or why he came to me. I know him, as I’m sure down to my bones I’ve known him forever. He’s funny and kind and loving and sensitive and smart and gorgeous and sweet. In short, he’s my guy.

When he was a baby his dad started graduate school and for the years following he and I really were the two amigos. My husband was always a fully present father to our son, but the day-to-day goings on of life, especially on the weekends, were really between my son and me. He adored me. His sweet little self in his navy blue sweat pants and his long sleeve onesie. His multicolored socks that had foot treads even though he didn’t walk until well past 18 months. His flailing boy parts that always managed to pee just as I took off his diaper. His soft belly that could never quite get full no matter how much milk I produced and was never quite settled no matter how often I rubbed it. His sensitive system that required a strict schedule, likely picking up on my energy that required the same. He and I were in sync and inseparable.

I look back on those early years and think about the hours I spent on the floor of his room, reading and playing and almost falling asleep when he wouldn’t stop reading and playing. The hours we spent together before bed, the way the floor creaked ever so slightly as the music played—Baby Mine, Blackbird, Over the Rainbow—and we rocked together.

I can still feel him all warm and snuggly in his fuzzy foot pajamas. I can still see his wafts of curly blond hair and giant blue eyes struggling to stay open as he fought in vain to keep sleep away. I made patchwork curtains when I was on maternity leave for this soft yellow room his dad painted when we found out I was pregnant. The sheets in his honey-colored crib were a pastel blue plaid and his favorite sleeping companion was a half-stuffed floppy grey and white kitty. Our two cats—the real ones, not the half-stuffed floppy kind–always wanted to sleep by him because he was so warm. I wonder now if they also saw themselves as my son’s protectors, guardians of my greatest gift.

When my son woke in the mornings it was with great delight. He’d laugh and roll around, banging the sides of the crib with his giant head, kicking the slats the way he used to kick me when he was in my belly, usually getting hiccups from the excitement just as he did in utero as well. Later he’d stand, hold the rail, and jump as hard as he could, screeching in joy. I knew when I heard him that it wouldn’t be long before he’d call, “Mommy!” and if I tried to eek out a few more minutes of sleep he’d call again, “Mommmmm-my!” Every time I shuffled into his room those big blue eyes would light up like the morning sky and he’d jump harder and faster as if he’d fly to me if he could only grow some wings.

Soon enough he was crawling, pounding around on the wood floors of our tiny house like a jackhammer—just as loud and just as fast—as if there was nothing more important in the world than hugging our cat or getting his soccer ball. The noise would change from a “bang-bang-bang” to a “slap-slap-slap” as he crossed the threshold from the wood floors of the dining room into the tile of the kitchen. There he’d find the one cabinet not locked and pull out all the metal bowls to clang and stack.

It wouldn’t be long before he was trying to build things like Bob the Builder. We moved to a bigger house just about the time he moved on to the Wiggles. When I was pregnant with his younger brother, trying desperately to both stay awake and not throw up every day after work, his favorite was Dora the Explorer. Later came her cousin Diego. His dad and I chose Bob and the Wiggles and Dora and Digeo to help our son navigate his preschool terrain and, as much as I dreaded them then, I almost long for them now.

As the years pass my melancholy deepens, especially as I look back to the time when my son’s brother was born and can see more clearly how something significantly shifted as a result. He sensed, I think, that his spot was taken. Innately understanding the social cues and familial expectations that he love this new brother, he was conflicted. How could he love someone who took his place?

Of course his place was never taken, nor will it ever be, but at three-years-old the concept of unconditional and undying love is not something easily understood. His dad was soon done with  school and  available on weekends to play; between that and this new creature attached to my body more often than not, my son naturally gravitated to his dad. Our new house was on a cul-de-sac and he couldn’t get enough of playing outside, so off he and his dad would go, just as it should have been.

I didn’t mourn our shift in family dynamics then. I had a beautiful new baby and was so grateful to have the opportunity to give my child a sibling, something I didn’t have but wanted desperately. Now, though, I can’t help but wax nostalgic. My son is so tall now, with his black and red checkered Vans and his long hairy legs and his unkept hair—his childhood is giving way to young adulthood. I’m so grateful for this. I’m so proud of this. And I’m so pained by this.

My son is growing into the finest of young men. He’s kind and thoughtful, he’s sweet and funny, he’s sensitive and smart and gorgeous. He’s the guy who made me a mother. The guy I’ve known forever and will love forever.

This guy. He’s my guy.

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Word of the Day

My first thought as I wake up these days is “What’s the word of the day, God?”

It’s been an interesting practice because I often get words I didn’t anticipate but, as the day wears on, turn out to be just right.

Quiet.

Patience.

Presence.

On this gorgeous fall day I woke up in the majestic Yosemite, a trip I take twice a year with a group of women who are my personal and professional mentors. Women who at once make me laugh and cry, who will always tell me the truth, who will always honor my truth, who lift me up to the light with pride in the knowing that they are as a part of me as anyone else I know.

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And, like all other mornings, I woke up this morning with my question, “So, God, what’s the word today?”

Mediate.

I have been working almost two years on meditation. I go in spurts, sometimes every day but often not. Lately, I haven’t meditated at all. It wasn’t a surprise, this word, because I know in my heart it’s what I should be doing. Like writing. Like exercising. Things I know to be at the core of my soul and things I resist with great intensity.

I’ve known for many years about resistance, but I thought it a passive thing that existed in the form of excuses and complaints that masked fears I knew were there but could not quite explain. This weekend, however, I’ve come to a whole new understanding of Resistance.

A couple months back I heard an interview with author Steven Pressfield about his book called The War of Art. I only heard bits and pieces of the whole interview, but what I did hear stirred me deeply. I ordered the book right when I got home.

It sat on my desk ever since.

Then early Thursday morning I started packing for this weekend. I usually bring three or four books with me on this trip; this time, though, I thought I’d only bring one (because that’s all I usually read anyway).

I looked from my book shelf to my desk at this book, sticking out from under a pile of papers yet to be dealt with, papers with lists of ideas and partial outlines and articles—all the writing I want to be doing but am not yet doing. This stack of papers with the book at the bottom sat on my desk under a picture of a woman running, exercise I want to do but am not yet doing, next to a candle I light when I mediate, something I want to do but am doing no longer.

A theme, you say? I agree.

That’s the book I want, I thought. As I pushed the papers aside to grab the book, I knocked over the unlit candle with the rough edge; it caught the picture of the woman running and tore it. I did not see that as a domino until now, three days later, writing this story as I sit in a bed in Yosemite with the window open and the river running by me not twenty yards away.

Why now? I was obedient to the word God gave me: Meditate, the first action word in the weeks of words that have come. Before I got to this bed by the window to write, I spent the afternoon in the warm sun of this most Divine place doing just what I was told to do.

But three days ago standing in front of my desk with the book in my hand I swore at the knocked over candle and the mess of papers and the torn picture. Then I stuffed the book in my bag and put the bag by the door because I was late for work.

When I got to work my friend, also my boss, also a woman on this trip, uncharacteristically approached me in the office about writing. She said she was ready to publish her book and asked me to help her do it. Honored, we chatted briefly and I mentioned, pretty much off-topic and definitely unprompted, that I was waiting to publish the memoir I’ve written because it didn’t yet feel quite right.

“That’s Resistance. You need to read The War of Art.”

Are you kidding me?

So I’m here writing this story, having finished The War of Art an hour ago and having finished meditating down by the river just minutes ago. I’m writing because out of my mediation came one word.

Write.

Interestingly enough, I initially went down to the river not to meditate, but because these women I love are so damned loud this weekend I just couldn’t stand to be in the house one minute longer. We’ve been coming here for sixteen years and never in those sixteen years have I been down by the water. I even had to ask how to get down there.

“Um, the stairs?”

There’s stairs?

The main floor of the house sits up high with an expansive deck that looks over gorgeous rocks and flowing water. I sit out on that deck quite a bit, especially when the weather is as perfectly calm and warm and beautiful as it is today. But because these women I love are so loud this weekend, the deck was not far enough away. And, come to find out, there’s a set of stairs that will take me right down where I want to be.

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Meditate.

It hit me as I got to the bottom of the stairs, the stairs that were always there waiting to bring me down here, stairs that I had never known existed.

Right, today’s word is meditate. So off I went on a walking meditation to contemplate this entity called Resistance. According to Pressfield, I need to call on the angels to help me wage war against this very active source of energy by virtue of hard-ass work. In return for my openness to the words that come not from me but through me, the angels will reward me not only with inspiration, but also with the sustenance that comes to me only through writing. It calms me. It fuels me. It nourishes me.  In order to earn those things I have to be a professional and to be a professional I have to work like a professional.

Interestingly enough, the question of how did not surface. Instead, a knowing came to town. A knowing that these concepts are ones I’ve innately understood from the beginning but instead of acting on them I’ve allowed Resistance to take charge. For the last two years I’ve been an amateur writer. I’ve also been an amateur athlete and an amateur meditator. Three things that I know will turn the volume up on my life, things that will make the birdsong more clear and the sky more blue, I’ve left those things to the whim of Resistance. I’ve grappled and lashed and cried and yelled because I knew what I had to do but for some reason I just couldn’t do it.

Then, in recent weeks, I got quiet. I didn’t meditate or write or exercise, but I did stop fighting. I realized all that lashing was doing nothing but locking me into unhappiness even harder. Like struggling with the finger trap you get out of a child’s vending machine, only when you stop fighting can you truly be free.

In recent weeks I’ve started to say out loud that this is my last year in a traditional classroom. More surprising, I’m saying out loud “I don’t know” when people ask what’s next and I calmly add, “but I know something just right is out there waiting for me.”

What kind of triple-type-A person have I become? I’m a planner and a doer and a go-damn-getter. Recently, though, I haven’t been. I’ve been doing things like asking God what my word is for the day and, instead of panicking about the ridiculous amount of things I have to do in any given day, I just trust there will always be enough time to get them done. I’ve been floating like a leaf in the river, slow and steady, the back of my head cool and light with my ears just below the surface so I can hear the calming water pull me along ever so gently, ever so gently, ever so gently.

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When I stopped walking I found myself on the river’s edge. My eyes adjusted and my gaze landed on a place where the calm, slow water starts to pick up in this spot as it slides still gently but with more speed through the rocks. A blue-gray squirrel with a tail longer and fluffier than any I’ve ever seen bounced from rock to rock across the river and up the bank as I realized that God brought me here to look back and see my path. God brought me here to look forward and see my direction.

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God brought me here.

And here is just right.

Marriage

Nico_0001This past summer my family and I traveled to the countryside of France for my brother’s wedding. He and his bride gave me the honor of not only walking my beautiful niece down the aisle, but also of speaking to what I know of marriage. My hard-earned wisdom on the subject came as the following.

As a point of reference, my brother’s name is Nicholas. Born to different mothers, perhaps our father knew somehow that he could not provide us the stability most siblings share, so he gave us names so closely related in order to thread us together the best he could. My brother is one of the great gifts my father has given me and I’m so very grateful that our families have come to know and love each other.

Love coming in a way that is unexpected and, yet, just the way it is supposed to. That, in itself, is marriage.

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IMG_8077Nic and I have had an unusual vantage point when it comes to marriage. To say we grew up without a traditional model is probably an understatement, yet for whatever reason both of us have chosen faith over fear. I did so very young and with reckless abandon; Nic has done so thoughtfully, reflectively, and with great intention. He may be my younger brother, but often times and in many ways, he is far wiser.

There are many cliches about marriage–the journey not the destination, the marathon, not the sprint…and they are all true. However what I’ve come to understand after being married almost 16 years is that each marriage is unique to its participants.

So rather than speak about marriage in specific terms, I will share a perspective. In very general terms there are three ways to view a marriage. There is the romantic version of marriage that lasts about five minutes and, while wonderful in the moment, is destined to end in disappointment. And there is the institutional version of marriage, an agreement between two people to create a practical set of mutually agreeable routines that guide their days. Then there is a third version of marriage, one I see already blooming between Nic and Nejma, and that is one of spiritual partnership.

From this perspective the two people involved consciously view their roles as partners in an evolutionary process. Sometimes this can take the form of nurturing support. When one of us is afraid the other is there to guide, ushering us through doors we know are right but we are afraid walk through on our own. These are the kind of times when gratitude comes easily and love flows freely.

Choosing a spiritual partnership, however, means accepting the reality that the lessons we are on this earth to learn are not always easy and that our greatest teachers are also the source of our greatest frustration and pain. Everything we avoid in life comes to pass again and again until we learn the lesson but when that lesson comes haunting in our marriage it can make our partner almost unrecognizable.

This is disconcerting and can be deeply frightening because in our marriage is where things are supposed to be most safe. When we remember our purpose for one another, however, built on a strong foundation of trust and clear intentions, then we can be vulnerable enough to stop defending ourselves against this stranger in our home and instead ask ourselves what lesson our love is trying to teach us.

Choosing learning over fear isn’t easy, but it is as simple as making the choice. It is a choice made day by day, sometimes moment by moment, and it is a gift we give to one another in love and for love. And it is this love that will sustain and grow us into the people we are meant to be.

Learning to lean into marriage as our greatest classroom and our partner as our greatest teacher is where true Love resides. Nic and Nejma have crossed this threshold and to you both I say, welcome home.

Traveling Tuesdays Part VI: No Cameras Allowed

Today we went to the beautiful d’Orsay Musee. On this, our last day of our European adventure, 23 days of foreign country madness with all of its high highs and low lows, we finally figured out the best way to start the day.

Get there before it opens.

And we learned that on accident, frankly, because I thought it opened at 9am and we were there right at 9am. Turns out, it opened at 9:30. This allowed me to get in line and the kids to run their fool heads off. Turns out, that’s the kind of thing that makes everyone happy.

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(Should you be curious about my children’s personalities, you can find them pretty much summed up in this picture.)

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(To the untrained eye I may not look happy, but the fact that you see no sweat dripping from my brow nor complaining child hanging from my bag–just me leaning on a pole considering the beautiful breakfast I had just eaten and the beautiful art that awaited me inside–that’s glory right there, baby.)

Once inside we found the architecture remenicent of the Grand Central Station, gorgeous tall domed ceilings with a huge clock on either side.

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Immediately we started taking pictures. Until we couldn’t.

“Excusez Moi, Madame. La caméra, non, si vous plait.” the docent said, shaking her finger and smiling gently.

No camera? What the hell?!

(Pause.)

Really, Lusiani? Have you learned nothing in the last three weeks? We’re talking about a camera, not your life’s bread. Dial in the perspective.

(Reset.)

It must be because they can’t control who uses a flash and who doesn’t, and I’m guessing that could legitimately damage the art over time. We have one of those big cameras with far too many settings for a lay photographer and I found myself breaking the rules all over the Louvre because I couldn’t get the flash to not pop up.

Annoyed, I was at least satisfied with this explanation of why I couldn’t take photos of my favorite paintings and sculptures in this most magnificent space. Wandering through the bottom floor (not the first floor, mind you, because that is up one level; we are on floor zero at this point), many docents were reminding tourists, mostly Americans, that photos were not allowed. Our kind-eyed rule enforcer was not so kind-eyed as she had to repeat herself several times to people who said they understood and didn’t (or, more likely, said they understood and chose to break the rules anyway).

Once up on the second floor (floor one must have been storage or some other set of rooms not open to the public, another reminder that maps in this country are very misleading to the average American) I began to feel the difference between traveling through the Louvre with a camera and d’Orsay without one. I was seeing more but more importantly I was feeling more. I found myself more moved by the art as I viewed it through my own eyes and not through the viewfinder of my camera.

Further, I spent more time with each piece of art instead of fumbling with the camera to turn it on, focus it, take the photo, put it back, realize how far my guys had advanced and then hurry up to catch them. We strolled leisurely-ish together, stopping to admire things like the thickness of the paint on a canvas (Starry Night Over the Rhone by Van Gogh? WHOLE NEW APPRECIATION) or the way a sculptor had captured the energy of the man in addition to his likeness (I will never again hear Beethoven’s music in the same way after seeing that wild-haired bust).

The flash may be the logistical reason cameras weren’t allowed, but the experience was the artistic reason.

Sorry, my kind-eyed docent friend. Now I know, and now I understand. I had spent much of the last 23 days behind the lens of a camera. Today I didn’t. D’Orsay gave me perhaps the best gift of the whole trip.

Still, one picture had to be taken. On this, our last day in Paris, it just had to be taken.

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Traveling Tuesdays Part V: Mind the Gap

(Author’s Note: I’ve since rediscovered where I got the idea for “Mind the Gap.” It’s from Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Chapter 5. If you don’t yet have that book, I highly recommend it!)

Paris and Rome are very different places. Both cool in their own way, both fashionable in their own way, both beautiful in their own way, both have kind people who, when they see you in need will come to your aid with their culture’s version of kindness which, while different, is both kind in its own way.

Notice in the repeating phrase “in their own way.” That’s because, while they are similar, they are, in fact, *very* different places.

After ten days in Rome living in the neighborhoods and eating in the restaurants and delighting in the gelaterias of locals, were were feeling pretty Roman. Imagine our surprise when our four American-Roman selves landed in Paris. No coffee on the bus? No old women on the metro? No chain smoking men whistling at me as I go up the stairs? What the hell is going on here?

Another big difference? This city is crazy clean. And by crazy clean I mean, crazy clean. There is no complaint here for gone are the polluted skies and graffiti and trash in the gutters. Everything sparkles like new, even when it’s hundreds of years old. It’s absolutely beautiful. But different.

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The metro system is also so different; in fact it took us several days to figure out how to navigate it. We were told Paris has the best metro system in the world but for those few days it just felt like the most confusing one.

And then one day I started to feel like I was getting a handle on it. We had walked for two hours–two hours–the night before because we couldn’t figure the transportation situation in relation to the construction going on at several train stations where we could have transferred.  As you can imagine, my sons just about lost their minds on that two-hour walk, especially considering it occurred after walking all day in Versailles.

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Here’s one clear similarity: crowded and hot. No difference there. July in Paris is just like July in Rome with regard to those two little gems.

“What the heck, Dad?” is how our two-hour walk began, but I couldn’t let Craig take the fall. There was construction everywhere and our geographical challenge, this time, was a mutually created problem. As we began the trek home that we thought would be only about a half hour–maps in Paris, different–soon enough we separated into our usual walking pattern. Craig and Jackson head down and leading the charge up front while Tommy and I took in the sights and entertained ourselves in the back.

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After about an hour, we started go get punchy.

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“Too legit, too legit to quit! Bau, bau!” I was lead singer. This doesn’t happen very often in my family so I was making the most of it. Soon enough, Tommy cut in on my action.

“Too legit, bau, too legit to quit! Bau, bau, ba, ba, bau!”

“Tommy, I’ve told you three times, that’s not how it goes.”

“Well, maybe that’s how it should go,” he responded. “Let’s call MC Hammer when we get home and suggest it. Hey, wait, did his mom name him ‘MC?'”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I think that’s AWESOME! I’m Hammer MC Hammer, go Hammer, MC Hammer! Too legit, bau, too legit to quit! Bau, bau, ba, ba, bau!”

It went on like that another hour. Craig and Jackson tried to be annoyed, but they couldn’t because our way of getting through this torture was far more fun than theirs. About a half hour into our show they laughed but soon after got very quiet. We tried to mind our manners, but we just ended up laughing even louder which irritated them to no end. The did manage to keep their cool, though, and when we finally got back to the apartment they went straight to bed without dinner. MC Tommy and I, exhausted and blistered, went back out to get a burger.

The food. Let’s pause for a second about the food. With the exception of the burgers, the food was not so great. Not terrible, but not great. Not even in its own way.

At any rate, this traumatic/entertaining two-hour walk stiffened my spine and the next morning I set out to make the metro work for us. No more is it going to take down my family. I OWN this metro.

Turns out, attitude is everything. We rode that thing like pros from then forward.

Once the stress loosened it’s grip I noticed something new. Every time we get to a stop on the metro a recorded voice asks me to mind the gap. She’s speaking of the space between where I step off the train and where I step on to the platform. I heard her today and felt strongly that I had heard that phrase before, at least I thought I had. I searched Google when I got back to our apartment because I didn’t want to write something that has already been said.

After 3 pages of searching I came up with nothing familiar so I write with this crystal clear notion that may or may not be original: Mind the Gap.

To me (or maybe to this other person) (or maybe that other person is me and it’s one of many things I intended to write about but promptly forgot) “Mind the Gap” applies to everything in life because it’s about being aware.

Mind the Gap between cultures. Recognize that my version of what’s real is not everyone’s and that, in fact, it’s a construct made up by the people who came before me and then was followed by me as gospel. When in someone else’s home follow their rules; when others are in my home, remember what it feels like to be in theirs and cut them some slack. 90%(ish) of frustration is based in one’s own perception.

Mind that Gap.

Mind the Gap between what it means to be 8 and 11 year old boys and what it means to be their parent. Don’t get so caught up in shoulds. Hold a line but do so in a way that teaches, not preaches. That shares, not controls. Keep clear about how my voice is becoming their inner voice and be even more clear just what exactly I want them to grow up telling themselves. Remember there are many gaps between them and me–in age, in gender, in individual personas-–and that they are to become a grown up version of themselves one day, not a grown up version of me.

Mind the Gap.

Mind the Gap between my husband in myself. We are not one fluid being, but the fluidity between two individuals. Remember I have a dam at my disposal that can come up to stop the flow of his frustration before it enters my heart and he can do the same. The gap is a gift in that regard, use it. Just remember to hang on the bridge where the fluidity flows more than the shore where it stops lest I forget that bridge exists.

Mind the Gap.

Mind the Gap between discomfort and joy to be sure one does not invade the other too often. Discomfort has it’s place, but it’s not a place that has to be tenated very long because whenever I choose to leave it there is always a gap over which I can walk back into joy. The inbetween is indifference and never a place I’d like to roam. Or fall.

Mind the Gap.

Mind the Gap between myself and my extended family and friends. It’s good to be on my side of the gap alone to recharge and refuel, but if the work I am doing has me there all the time, take that as a sign to change the work, not avoid crossing the gap. Family and friends remind me where I come from and who I am; they need to be visited often lest I forget who I am and from where I came.

Mind the Gap.

Mind the Gap between work and self. Work is wonderful but without a gap between the work and the heart, even when the work is of the heart, perhaps especially when the work is of the heart, everything else suffers. Remember why I do what I do but don’t let it define me to the point I can do nothing else. Involve myself in work that refuels and recharges, not work that I have to run from to find the refueling and recharging station.

Mind the Gap.

Mind the Gap between anxiety and Truth. This is a place where imbalance is healthy and spending more time on one side than the other is the right thing to do. Anxiety has ruled me most of my life and, while it’s protected and served me in many wonderful ways, the time for it is over. Visiting its side is inevitable because it’s part of who I am, but staying there is a choice I will actively choose against. Staying in Truth is where God is and where I want to be.

Mind the Gap.

Mind the Gap means living mindfully, honestly, making active choices and being aware of the consequences. I must be aware of what lies on both sides as well as the space in between. In all things and in all ways.

Mind the Gap.

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