Thursday, September 23, 2010

Love is not loving

(A few thoughts on love after a difficult night with my spirited children)

Feeling love is not loving. Loving is every day. Every minute. Every time our eyes meet or not, every time our forces clash, every single every we experience together. Loving is getting to know someone well enough to help them become who they are with as little impediment and as much encouragement as possible in this dangerous, dastardly world. 

Love, as a feeling, is unconditional and possibly uncontrollable. Love, as an action, is a deliberate choice every moment I have the strength, presence of mind, time and will to make it. I have more loving moments now in a widening variety of ways. I also have many hurried, disconnected, impatient, unwilling, irritated, dark, despairing moments. I try not to beat myself up about it. 

Love, as a feeling, is compelling, strength-giving, patience building. It can be a well to draw from.

Love, as an action, is demanding, often difficult, and requires skill and practice. It draws on the well.

My life of practice aims to increase my focus on the love I feel in order to strengthen and grow it, while deliberately choosing to overcome myself to act lovingly more often. I've been consciously in practice for about two years. I'm sometimes proud of how far I've come, and often ashamed to find myself so unskilled, so lacking in staying power.

Ah, child, soldier on. There's naught but muck from here one way or t'other. 

Musical accompaniment by David Bowie Soul Love http://tinysong.com/fozG

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Strength in the moment

I imagine a spirit, a wild, giant, savage thing, dancing like a flame. A spirit, beautiful and terrible. A spirit, accustomed to power and omnipotence, expecting to be free, suddenly finds itself trapped in a very small, helpless bio-mechanical container, unable to flow beyond it.

The spirit lies at the mercy of large and unintentionally brutish people with very specific expectations and confusing rules. Its body has demands and requirements for which it is entirely dependent. The spirit discovers itself subject to pain, discomfort, coercion and force. Its cries and thrashing are ineffective. It also experiences comfort, love, pleasure, wonder, curiosity. It leaps with joy when it recognizes itself. It rails against what it doesn't like. It has no idea why it's here.

My son's spirit made itself known yesterday morning. He tranced out in the bathtub, his eyes kind of staring while he squealed, not unlike a dolphin. Normally I ask him to stop when he gets into repetitive, grating noise. Yesterday we had a bit of time, so instead I caught his eyes and smiled encouragingly. He kept making high, keening noises with more confidence.

His squeals were strangely like the language of a frightened, questioning creature. Behind his eyes I sensed his spirit thrashing. I felt he was fighting to stop his body from just exploding out in force from every limb with the strength of what was inside. That spirit wanted out. And if it couldn't get out, it wanted to hit and bang and flail. I saw the tremendous strength he uses to keep it in. He couldn't hold still, but he was keeping it together.

It's no wonder he so often loses control. It's no wonder he seems so serious and stressed sometimes. Holding in such a spirit, all the time, with few acceptable outlets to clear the exuberant rushes and only four years of experience to work with. Maybe he even feels like my love might be conditional on success.  I know I get impatient with him, hush him, hold him to the highest expectations I think he can achieve in a moment. Does he interpret that as conditions for love? Does he live in fear of losing control of that spirit? Am I doing to him what I did to myself?

I put my hand on his arm. I continued to use my eyes to hold his, encouraging him, nodding as if his squeals were words. And they were, in a way. I heard his confusion with this world, his hope for my love. He turned slowly and his voice rose, his finger pointing to my daughter sitting in the tub beside him. I heard his rabid jealousy tearing him in two because of his love for her. I heard that he wanted to be my only love, that he didn't believe I could love him completely and love her as well.

My eyes filled with tears. "I love you," I said and held open my arms. He slumped forward across the tub, his cheek on my chest just above my heart and water dripping down between us. I held my daughter's hand in the water, and met her eyes while I stroked my son's head. They were quiet.

I lifted him out of the bath, standing him up, and he came back to himself. "I can dry myself, mom," he said insistently, taking the towel from my hands. And he did.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A punch in the gut

Two mornings ago I punched myself in the stomach. Repeatedly.

(oh my god, she is certifiable, I thought she seemed a bit too extreme...) Well, read on, if only for morbid curiosity.

I was in the bathroom, so I saw the viscous attack in the mirror. I had lifted my shirt, as I do most mornings, to gaze mournfully and hopefully at my train wreck midsection and wonder, is it discernibly smaller? Is this leftover layer going to go away? Ever? So I recognized that's not a helpful line of thought, and tried to be okay with slow progress. But then I looked more closely at the latticework of betrayal my skin inflicted as retaliation for asking it to stretch so far, and again so quickly. Not helpful.

Two mornings ago I tried, like I do every morning, to reframe it, to congratulate myself on progress, to see my strong muscles, my clear eyes. It felt like pushing my fear and shame down to crowd in with the fat layer. Suffocating my organs.

And I was so angry with that glaring, useless lump of mush STILL lining my real body like body armour, heavy and cumbersome. I hated it mightily. The next thing I knew, I was punching it. Hard. The dull, splooshy thud felt good. "Go away!" I growled under my breath.

Then I saw my face in the mirror. I looked like my vulnerable child-self playing dress-up in an old face. Disbelief, betrayal, broken heart, pain. My lips quivered. My eyes and cheeks crumpled.

"You hit me," I wailed to myself, hugging my arms in protection around my abdomen. I rocked myself for comfort.

Oh my god, what the fuck is wrong with me? I hit myself. I fucking hit myself?! I was supposed to be brushing my teeth!

So clearly I am not okay with slow progress. Clearly I am pretty angry.

Tonight I stood in front of the mirror in my exercise clothes, like I do most nights, trying to tell myself that it makes a difference when often I'm sure it doesn't. I tried to stand straight, which is a challenge with tight muscles and tendons, a skeleton trained to bending at preschool height, 20 extra pounds distributed from ribcage to knees, and maybe a little bit of pain starting in the joints? I started to massage my back, and I felt the excess fat in the way. I grabbed it in my hands about a third of the way up my ribcage, at the place where side becomes back. I held the weight of that excess in my hands, away from the rest of me. Immediately my hips fell into place. I felt bones and joints shifting, and I rattled them around a little, wiggling and twisting. Lifting that little bit of weight let me stand straighter, taller.

I started to work the fat forward, picking up more excess along the way, moving it all front and centre. I squeezed it like toothpaste, gathering and kneading, until it almost spilled out of my hands right at my centre, above my belly button and in front of my ribcage. It was the size of a very large grapefruit or a small children's ball, too big for me to put my hands around. It was mottled, lumpy and it disgusted me. It didn't belong to me. Without it, the rest of me settled onto my muscular frame nicely, and I could see the shape my body would hold behind it. It looked familiar because it's the body I had. Before.

I held the full weight of the fat ball, probably 10 pounds or more, as firmly as I could in my hands to isolate it. I let my body feel itself without this unnecessary baggage. I felt good. Light, ready, strong, solid, balanced. I thought, this lump of extra weight doesn't belong to me. It's just what I have to carry around.

I've blamed my body for it. My poor poor body, who has done everything I ever asked of her, all the way along. I still haven't forgiven her for letting my first baby go, which was totally not her fault. I can't stand that she needs so much maintenance when I want to use my time in other ways. I'm irritated as she gets older and becomes more demanding. I disparage and disrespect her for not being as capable or beautiful as I want. I'm like a parent who really, truly feels like her child is a disappointment while knowing full well they shouldn't. It's so unfair. I can talk myself out of it, I can cheer myself on, but I'm disappointed in my body, and I'm disappointed in myself for not being better in a lot of different ways. There's no logicizing my way out.

Now I know. Again. Let the decoding continue.

I've given myself two years of forgiveness and encouragement, but under it, all the time, is impatience. It's not kind, this impatience. Yet I hold it. I think it serves me in other ways and I don't want to let it go. I don't want to smooth myself out. I want to find a way to get the drive for continuous improvement that impatience fosters, without hating the imperfection of "what is," which of course underlies impatience. Call it a life work.

I stumble between my dichotomies but I think I'm stumbling forward. It's better than when I was just sitting there, even if I'm going nowhere in the end.

This is my weight, about the size of a large grapefruit physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. I must find a way to wear it away from the inside, because I cannot simply take a knife and excise it (even though it does kind of look like I could). I can't shrink it with a magic pill or by telling it to go away. Or by punching it. I need to melt it away over time, by putting good things in, working through pain, stretching and challenging, doing the work in the cracks and crevices of a busy life devoted to love. Slowly. Over years. Getting better at walking forward, better at settling in place. Better at being okay with that.

I must not be discouraged.

(this is my 100th post)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Different Mommy

I stood, speechless, watching my 4 year old son sob on the sofa. I'd just been very short with him. Actually, I'd classify it as a low-level yell. He was sputtering and stuttering over a sentence while I waited to see what he had to say. "I want a different...a different...a different..."

"I want a different mommy."

I stiffened. Hurtful. But then I thought, of course you do. I said it out loud.

"Of course you do." His sobbing subsided a little to listen. "Why wouldn't you want a different mommy. This one is yelling at you. Hold on. I'll get you a different mommy."

I closed my eyes. Breathe two three four five. Out, two three, four five. I thought, poor little man, so sad about so little. I need to help him learn to work through this grief, whether or not I agree with the severity. I want to be a different mommy. I am a different mommy.

"Okay, here's a different mommy for you."

He came willingly to my lap, and sighed.

"It's hard when you really want something and it turns out a different way, and then mommy starts getting mad because you're upset and that just makes it harder, huh?" He cuddled in like he did when he was smaller.

"Maybe we can think of a way that you can keep track of whose turn it is yourselves, so I don't have to keep arbitrating this conflict."

He looked up, excited. "Yeah! I can have ideas! I'll think about it!"

"What do you need to think about?"

"Maybe like using stickers, or maybe we put a paper and practice writing it, or maybe...I don't know. I want to think about it."

He jumped off my lap. Tantrum finished. Because I was a different mommy.