Say Yes to Self Care

So I have two little stories for you this week, which I think are related, but you can decide. The first is about a daydream, and the second is about an encounter with a homeless woman.

The daydream happened last Saturday, when my cousin came by my house with his truck to haul something of my mom’s from my garage to hers.

Okay, in truth, the “something” was two bikes, one a new adult trike, which is huge, and the other a mountain bike that had been given to my mom, and which she was hoping that I could help her sell. These bikes have been taking up the only open space in our garage for a few weeks now.

I’m always happy to see my cousin (not just because of his truck). He gave me a quick run-down of his busy life, then, pointing to my kids, he said, “But what am I saying? My life is no where near as crazy as yours.”

In a fit of silliness – or, sure, okay, cynicism – I said, “Oh no, our life is simple now that we have kids. They cook our meals, clean the house, garden, care for the animals, plan vacations for us, and find the coolest camps for us to take…”

The funny thing is, in that moment of fantasy, cynical though it was, I had the most lovely feeling come over me. A calm, or happiness, or was it maybe even bliss?

“Can you imagine?” I asked my husband later. “Wouldn’t it feel great to have someone say to you, ‘I’ve done all your laundry, made your favorite dinner, driven you to your ceramics class, and while I was waiting for your lesson to end, I signed you up for a writing retreat with your favorite author. Now I’m going to read aloud to you so you can fall asleep.'”

Heh.

Perhaps the reason this little fantasy struck such a cord with me is because I took on an extra-large helping of “child scheduling” this year, what with homeschooling my son. As his main teacher, I’ve not only got the usual after-school and summer activities that all parents must plan, but also year-round curriculum and field-trip planning.

 

So every week I evaluate all kinds of possibilities, not just for curriculum, but for classes:

  • sailing on a big ship in the SF bay
  • the physics of sound and motion
  • spinning yarn from fiber
  • game of international trade and relationships
  • belly dancing
  • KQED television and radio tour
  • the science behind upcoming biotech companies

These are just a few of the many exciting options available to kids in the Bay Area. I’m not kidding.

This is way different from when – and where – I grew up. In our little town, the options were football, dance, or 4-H. There was no soccer or lacrosse or yoga. No oil painting or origami. No coding dojos or cooking classes (unless you count home ec).

My child does not do all these classes. We would be broke and unimaginably harried if we tried to take advantage of all, or even most, of the educational opportunities out there.

Even without all these extracurriculars, I still feel unimaginably harried most days. I think this is because, like most moms out there, I tend to do a lot of things to take care of other people, but don’t often do much for myself.

The thing is, I like taking care of my family and friends. I want them to feel that I care for them, and that they have help if they need it. I like watching my kids swim or fence, and I like listening to my husband’s music. I feel good when I can help my mom with her bikes.

All this, though, doesn’t leave a lot of time to care for myself. Hence my little daydream.

The best thing about that little daydream, though?

It made me realize how grateful I am for this Year of Yoga. Because of the commitment I made to myself when I took on this project, I’ve practiced yoga and written every week for the last seven months. Sometimes I’ve only made it to one class, or haven’t finished a post quite in time, but mostly I’ve kept my commitment.

My husband says that I’ve changed since I started to do regular yoga, that I’m more calm, more steady. I handle problems or setbacks with more ease and grace. This is good to hear.

I can feel that it’s true. I know for certain I wouldn’t be able to homeschool very well if I weren’t also doing this Year of Yoga project. Maybe it’s the regular exercise, or sitting down to write (which always feels like a treat). Maybe it’s just grabbing an hour away for the class. Maybe it’s that yoga really is as good for you as they say.

These past few weeks one child got sick, then I got sick, and so there wasn’t a lot of time or energy for yoga or writing. I missed a post and didn’t get in a single class. I could feel my calm slipping away. I wasn’t taking very good care of anyone around me, and I certainly didn’t feel like I was taking care of myself. And yes, it was about then that I had my silly, cynical little daydream.

Now comes the second story.

Yesterday, just as I got out of my car to pick up my son, a woman rode by on her bike, trailing a big dog on a leash. She hopped off her bike and started to go through a recycling bin. When she saw me, she said, “Do you have any water?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, because I didn’t. Not even a half-empty water bottle in the car.

Her voice became aggressive. “It’s for the dog.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I don’t have any water.”

I went on up the sidewalk to pick up my son, and she yelled after me some things I won’t repeat. Then she yelled at a man in a wheelchair who was trying to get past her bike and dog on the sidewalk. Finally, frustrated with the recycling bin, she got back on her bike and rode on, muttering.

The thing is, in that moment, I got her. I recognized her frustration and anger, her aggressiveness, even her paranoia. I thought, “There is a woman who is trying to care for someone else (her dog), but she can’t, because no one is caring for her. Not even her.” That is what extreme lack of care looks like.

So this week I’ve re-committed to my Year of Yoga. Once again, I’m saying yes to self care. Because there are a lot of people (and animals) who need care, and I can’t help them very well unless I help myself.

I have a feeling everyone will be happier.

 

 

 

Vibrant

The most frequent question I get these days is, “How is homeschooling going?” It used to be, “How is your novel going?” or, more recently, “How is your Year of Yoga going?”

Lately, though, it’s all about the homeschooling.

So, I’ll tell you how it’s going.

My son loves homeschooling. He was pretty much made for it. He’s not the kind of kid who sits around complaining that he’s bored (unless he’s in school). He reads, researches, creates, invents, (destroys), writes, sets himself goals, comes up with projects, and constantly challenges his homeroom teacher (me). Neither one of us is bored.

Experimenthomeschool

We had a debate the other day about the best adjective to describe his relationship to knowledge. I said he was a “curator” of knowledge; he preferred the term “hoarder.” I suppose if you saw all the books in and under and beside his bed, you might agree with him. But I told him a hoarder doesn’t use or even value the things he hoards, he just keeps them. “You use and value your knowledge,” I said, “so I can’t really agree that you’re a hoarder of knowledge.”

“Well,” he said, “I still like ‘hoarder of knowledge,’ because sometimes I have all this knowledge and I don’t even know what to do with it, but I still want more.”

See? Perfect kid for homeschooling.

Homeschool isn’t always perfect for me, though.

For one thing, I don’t always know what I’m doing. I’ve never trained to be a teacher. Yes, I taught creative writing to undergraduates, but how hard was that? They were all busy making up their lives anyway, so to pull a little fiction out of them wasn’t such a stretch. Plus, they were in college. Already they had a huge advantage.

Anyhow, for some silly reason, the stakes just feel higher with this current teaching gig.

To make matters worse, I’m sometimes – ha! always – overwhelmed by the choices of curriculum, classes, and styles available for homeschooling. As soon as I settle on one course of study, I inevitably find another I prefer more. It’s a bit like being at an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. So little stomach room! So much food! And if I stuff too much in at once, my kid will barf. Or something like that.

Also, no matter what I want to do, there’s never enough time. Not for all the classes and curriculum and projects and field trips, and certainly not for me. Yes, I would like more time to write my novel, or to work on this blog, but the kind of time I really need is more in the range of 40 hours/week so that I can bring in some bucks.

Unfortunately, that’s the real catch of homeschooling: It’s expensive.

“What? Why? Aren’t you just sitting in your dining room over some library books?” (Yes, I do know what you are thinking.)

Well, first of all, there are all the way-too-great-too-miss classes out there. They Are Not Cheap. (See the “all-you-can-eat” part above.)

But there’s also the opportunity cost. For example, let’s say you make $50,ooo. If you have five kids and you quit your job to homeschool them, then that’s a $10,000 per kid investment each year. If you have one, well, it’s a $50,000 investment. I know for a fact the most expensive Bay Area private school is not that costly.

But none of this – not the worry that I don’t know what I’m doing, not the constant feelings of being overwhelmed, and not the lack of time and money – are nearly as hard as my final confession about homeschooling:

My house is always messy. It has not been this messy in years.

P1010303.JPG
Water Experiments (photo: E.Maupin)

Seriously. It’s like having a toddler again. Remember how you could never keep your house clean? How you’d tell yourself that as soon as you cleaned the living room, you’d head out to the park? But how by then the bedrooms were all a disaster because your son had been building a fort with all the pillows in the entire house, and now it was time for lunch, but then there were the dishes to do and also you needed to go to the grocery store?

Yes, that kind of messy.

The real benefit of sending your kids to traditional schools? Your house stays clean for one day.

But you know what? I’m okay with it. Not just the mess, but all of it – the lack of time and money, the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. All of it. And here’s why:

Before my son went off to kindergarten, he had such a radiantly curious energy to him, such a joy of being in this world. His was an eager and open-minded approach to life; he was always game to try new things, to explore. He believed in himself. He liked himself.

Taz
(photo: E. Maupin)

Then he went to school. Of course he had teachers he adored. The two schools he attended, one public and one private, I hold in high regard.

But school seemed to dim his very existence. He was always tired, allergic, and sick. He didn’t want to try new things. He was overwhelmed and down on himself. He apologized constantly. He certainly didn’t seem to like himself very much. He’d lost his confidence, and he also seemed to have lost himself. It was as if the little pilot light of his soul had been snuffed out.

You would think that I saw all this as it was happening. I did, but I also didn’t. In other words, I saw that school wasn’t the right choice for him. But it was only recently, after five months of homeschooling, that I understood how completely lost he’d been while he was in school.

What made me finally see this?

The other day he played his fiddle at the farmer’s market, something he hasn’t done in almost four years. When he first put down his case and took up his fiddle, the area around him was in a lull. There was a wide empty space, not many folks stopping at the vendors there. As he played, however, people began to gather. Children pulled on their parents’ hands so that they might stop to watch. The farmers on either side of him began to do a more brisk business. Within a few minutes, the area was alive and bustling, transformed by his presence and his music.

Busking2016

Watching him fiddle, I realized that he, too, has been transformed. He was connected to his music in a way he hasn’t been for years. He played with energy and confidence, smiled at folks, enjoyed himself. I felt like I’d suddenly come upon an old friend, one I hadn’t seen in a long while. That got me thinking about who he was in school, and how he’s changed in these past few months of homeschooling.

He’s no longer constantly allergic or sick. Yes, he’s sometimes tired, but that’s because he reads too late (no matter, he can also sleep in now). He’s eager and excited to take on new challenges. He comes up with new projects to do every day. He’s rediscovered the joy of learning for learning’s sake. He laughs a lot. He’s confident again. Most importantly, he likes himself.

Vibrant would be the best adjective to describe him.

So, yep. Homeschooling is going great.

happyboy

The Trigonometry of Life

The other morning began normally, meaning that I was doing the relatively simple geometry problem of:

 

  1. Calculating just how long I could let my daughter sleep (line AB),
  2. while also leaving enough time to feed her a good breakfast (line BC),
  3. before rushing off to get her to school on time (line AC),
  4. so that she can have a good day at school (equilateral triangle ABC).

 

 

gooddaytriangle

After a combined total of seven years of elementary school mornings, I’ve gotten pretty good at this kind of equation. We even made it to school early!

Then I went back home. That’s when things got hard.

Coming home to a day of home-schooling with my son is a bit like coming home to a Labrador puppy who hasn’t been walked in several hours. As soon as we walk into the kitchen, he says, “What are we going to do today?”

The calculations of a home-school day are never easy. Even if I have a plan in place (line AB), he is certain to come up with his own very pressing agenda (line BC). This might involve testing out his recently constructed gold-panning sluice in the backyard, building a trebuchet, or making a map of the world.

While these activities may start at point B, I can never predict exactly how far they will extend into our day. Therefore point C is unknown, which of course makes it almost impossible to determine when we’ll get back to my plan (hypotenuse of line AC). Just how long this hypotenuse will be depends partly on the angle of my patience on that particular morning, whether it be acute, obtuse, or just right, so to speak.

tazwelltriangle

 

This week we’ve been studying explorers. I had readings for him to do, and writing, and of course some math. But he said, “I’d like to build my own sextant and figure out how it works.”

Master&Commander
Master & Commander, “Sextant Lesson”

 

Huh.

It is at just these times that I feel profoundly under-qualified for my job. It is also at just these times that I feel exceptionally grateful for the internet.

I quickly found this very handy bit of curriculum, and we set to work on the sextant, which in this lesson is technically a quadrant, Tazwell pointed out.

Horary-quadrant
Whether Acceffible or InAcceffible, it makes no difference.

A ruler, a protractor, a washer, a string, some tape… and we had our quadrant. Easy-peasy.

No, not easy-peasy, because then Tazwell wanted to to learn how to use his quadrant to figure out the height of a mountain. “One that you can’t climb,” he clarified.

Now, folks, I have not studied trigonometry for 30 years. Even back when I was in trigonometry, I wasn’t a great student. So I felt very ill-prepared to figure out the height of an mountain, be it “acceffible” or “inacceffible.”

Still, I pulled out the math books. Because the truth is, I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how to take the height of an inaccessible mountain, though my mountains are of the more figurative sort. They include:

  1. Finishing my novel
  2. Starting a new career
  3. Homeschooling
  4. Living on one salary in the Bay Area

Well, again thanks to the internet, I found this helpful formula, and using this wonderful home resource, we proceeded to walk through the calculations, using measurements my son had taken with his quadrant:

InaccessibleMountain
Determining the height of an inaccessible mountain.

 

The only problem was that he didn’t really care about plugging numbers into the formula. He cared about the steps behind the formula. In other words, he cared about the process.

So he re-wrote it:

tazwell's notes
Don’t worry if you can’t understand it. He does. He’ll explain it to you.

Now, what motivated him to determine the height of an inaccessible mountain is beyond me. Perhaps it was that we’d recently been in Yosemite to see the snow. Perhaps it was just that he likes to know things.

YosemiteSnow.jpg

Anyhow, we spent three hours on this project. Three hours. And it was great, because my son simply LIT UP when he understood the process. This is part of the beauty of homeschooling.  And perhaps as a result of traveling that three hours with my son simply in the pursuit of knowledge, I suddenly felt as if my own inaccessible mountains might not be so terribly insurmountable.

So I wrote down my process for dealing with inaccessible mountains. See what you think:

MyNotes

I tried it out. I thought back to when I first started this Year of Yoga project, about four months ago. I know how I felt: Totally terrified. This was going to be yet another of those great ideas that never went anywhere, one of those projects that I started and never finished.

Well, just the other day I got a report from WordPress on my stats for 2015. I’d written 15 posts in four months! Not so bad. And already I’m a third of the way home!

This whole thing is starting to feel way more acceffible.

 

 

 

 

Do No Harm

I have been writing my novel for years. Seven years, to be honest. On and off.

I’ve also been raising young kids (with all that that entails… volunteering, scheduling, sick days, vacation, summer, parent conferences, etc., etc.,), and holding down the homefront from 6am to 8pm while my husband commutes four hours a day (!) and/or juggles two jobs. I, too, have worked (out of the home, yes, actually) – sometimes part-time, sometimes way more than full-time.

In an exceptionally good week, I find 20 hours to write. In a normal week, it’s probably more like six. For over a year, while I worked full-time, I didn’t write at all. Or even read much. Unless you count work emails.

Here are three things I’ve learned about writing – or not writing – these past seven years:

  1. Writing without a regular schedule is tough. Every extended break means you have to rewind. It’s like trying to watch a movie while you’re falling asleep. Your spouse keeps waking you up, but nothing in the movie makes sense. Not even when you rewind.
  2. Speaking of sleep… If you don’t get enough, you will write crap. You might as well just write down your weird dreams for all the sense it will make. Plus, falling asleep over your own words is demoralizing. If you can’t stay awake for your own story, who else will?
  3. If you’ve got money worries, it’s almost impossible to write. (Tip: Do NOT move to the Bay Area if you want to be a writer). Maybe a single person with no offspring can write even when they’re worried about money, or maybe someone farther away from retirement, but not me. I need to feel like everyone in this reality is going to be financially okay before I can start contemplating a fictional reality (oddly enough my characters have no money either).

Anyhow, after a year of so much work and no writing, I thought I’d lost my novel. I really didn’t know how or where to start again. It just seemed completely overwhelming. Sort of like getting halfway up Everest but an avalanche wipes out the trail, kills several of your hiking buddies, and breaks both your legs… and now it’s a year later and you have to start at the bottom all over again.

I could have stood at the bottom of that mountain and thought of all the many ways I’d failed, of how I’d never be able to get back to where I’d been before, much less go further. I could have criticized myself to no end.

Instead, I chose another mountain to climb. Well, hill, really.

I picked up a paintbrush and tackled my fireplace. It had been an ugly mess for years, and I just wanted some color. For a few weeks I’d pick up the brush and paint when I had a few minutes, and fill in another color. It was like putting all the pieces back together again. (It makes me happy every time I see it).

newfireplace
Color!

Then, while I had paintbrush in hand, I somehow found the gumption to do this blogging project.

Guess what happened next? After a few weeks of blog posts, I got excited about my novel again!

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic, she writes “Call attention to yourself with some sort of creative action, and – most of all – trust that if you make enough of a glorious commotion, eventually inspiration will find its way home to you again.” So very true.

The past month or so my struggle has not been starting up the mountain again, but finding time to do both my novel and this blog. A much better struggle, by far, than standing there at the bottom of the mountain feeling defeated and demoralized and beating myself up.

And you know what? Lots of other fun and creative projects have been coming my way, too! Here are a just a few:

Coco&Taz1
Tazwell as Edmund and Coco as Regan.

I got to help my kids prepare for their roles in King Lear, put on by SF Shakes this past weekend. Wow! What a remarkable experience to see those two just rock it! Such poise and so grounded, both of them. They are amazing people and I am lucky to know them.

I’ve also been helping to promote the upcoming yoga teacher training, put on by the Yoga Well Institute, that will take place here in Berkeley in February. Last week I spent a few hours reviewing and logging video footage of Chase talking about his own training and all that the teacher training will entail. Not only was it a really fun job to do, but I came away thinking, “We are lucky to have people like Chase around in this world.”

LogoYellow
Fantastic logo for Matt’s campaign done by the talented artist, Miriam Klein Stahl: http://www.miriamkleinstahl.com/

Finally, I’ve had the incredible experience of collaborating with Matt, my wonderfully talented husband, to launch his Indiegogo campaign for his new album. His lyrics are poetic, philosophical, and courageous. I’m so excited that he’s finally going to record his new songs and share them with everyone!  Check it out!

All the while, I’ve been working my way steadily up the mountainside of my novel. I’ve been able to write some scenes that before seemed just impossible to even approach, and I’ve also figured out some crucial plot points.

I’m not saying writing has all of a sudden become easy. There still isn’t enough time or money to write as much as I’d like. I still struggle to get good sleep.

And terrible, terrible things happen in the world that just seem to halt all forward momentum of creativity.

Saturday morning, I was halfway through this post when I learned of the Paris attacks. I didn’t know how to keep writing. Then, in yoga class, Marisha (one of my favorite instructors), spoke of dedicating our practice to ahimsa, or nonviolence and compassion. And I realized that to allow the violence done in Paris to defeat creativity would be to throw another victim on the pile, and to give himsa, injury or harm, another victory.

Every time we pick up a paintbrush, sing a song, plant a garden, see a play, or even cook a good meal, we are bringing inspiration and beauty and love to the world. We are practicing ahimsa.

So today I am dedicating this post, and all the creativity that has come my way these past few months, to ahimsa, and to the people of Paris and Beirut. And I am going to keep hiking up my mountain.