Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Own What the Hell List

1. Color my hair auburn brown on my next appointment and see what it feels like.
2. Paint the mudroom door purple
3. Cut flowers from the yard. Put them in as many rooms as possible.
4. Try on hats. Buy one. Wear it all day.
5. Keep my camera with me all day. Take at least 20 pictures without changing my normal routine.
6. Visit the clock shop on the square in downtown Noblesville.
7. Smell every bin of coffee at Freshmarket. Buy a pound.
8. Organize my jewelery
9. Bake a cake from scratch for no particular reason.
10. Buy a bouquet of flowers for a friend.
11. Deliver them with a "Top 10 Reasons You Are Awesome" list.
12. Make a collage of all of the images that appeal to me.
13. Type up the St. Francis of Assisi prayer for peace and Marianne Williamson's poem, "Our Greatest Fear".
14. Frame them above my desk
15. Write out a personal mission statement.
16. Buy an essential oil from Whole Foods. Mix a couple of drops with water and spritz it around the house.
17. Click through Etsy for inspiration. Pretend I have $1,200 to spend.
18. Set aside a day for no radio or television.
19. Write down every hope and dream I am holding on to right now, tiny or huge, put them all in the blue jar. Hide the jar. :)
20. Wake up early and work on Kai's quilt before the kids get up.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What the Hell, You Might As Well

Kai wanted to eat lunch outside today, so I laid out my well-worn childhood quilt for him and toted his turkey and cheese sandwich out the front door where he sat waiting patiently on our downward sloping front lawn. Tired for some reason, I brought out my “last resort” third mug of coffee for the day and joined him.

While our neighbor across the street practiced his trumpet, one boring scale after another, I read more of my book, Walking in this World by Julia Cameron. Julia Cameron has authored a series of books on the creative process. Her first book, The Artist’s Way, is probably the best known. I devoured her books when I first ventured back into some form of writing, and then fell away over time. I’ve experienced such a pull to get back at it, so I went to the library and checked out this book of hers.

She provides a series of exercises to do. Today I read the following assignment:

What the Hell, You Might As Well
“Often we experience a sense of powerlessness because we do not see any direct action that we can take to concretely alter our sense of being stuck…sometimes we need to exercise just a little elbow grease in any creative direction…taking small action moves us…instead of a tantrum, try doing this instead:

Take a pen and number down from 1 to 20. List 20 small creative actions you could take. For example:

1. Paint a kitchen windowsill
2. Hang lace on a bedroom door
3. Put the primrose in a good pot
4. Change the downstairs shower curtain
5. Buy a photo album and put pictures of my dog in it
6. Send my sister the fudge recipe she asked for
7. Send my sister fudge
8. Buy red socks
9. Wear them to church
10. Make a computer file of poems I love
11. Send a great poem to each of my friends
12. Photograph my current life and send the pictures to my grandmother
13. Designate something a “God Jar”, a special incubator for my dreams and hopes
14. Designate something else a “what the hell!” basket for my resentment, fears, and annoyances
15. Throw a slumber party and ask each guest to bring a ghost story to tell
16. Make a pot of soup
17. Give away every outfit I even mildly dislike
18. Get a CD player case for my car and stock it
19. Go to a great perfume store and get one great perfume
20. Take an elderly friend to a good aquarium"

**Taken from Walking in This World by Julia Cameron, page 22-23

This list jolted me with inspiration. I’ll work on a list of my own this week.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An Unexpected Swimming Lesson

Lately, each time Kai and I walk out of the gym, he runs over to the glass wall overlooking the lap pool. “Was the splashing guy there today Mommy?” he’ll ask me. Apparently, at some point I must’ve made a comment about a splashy swimmer. It obviously stuck with Kai and he wanted to see the guy. Luckily for me, the novice swimmer, I normally swim next to fairly calm people… until today.

Water aerobics takes place every Tuesday at 9:30am. This translates into eight to ten women sporting waterproof tennis shoes on their feet and tropical flowered bathing suits with little skirts on their bodies. The lifeguards take away two of the lap lanes and the rest of the lap swimmers share lanes. About half way through my workout, a young mom pushed her stroller into the pool area and parked it and her sleeping newborn on the pool deck. “Do you mind if I share a lane with you?” she asked. “Absolutely, go right ahead,” I answered. As a rule, I try to move over as soon as I see the lanes fill up. Some swimmers try to totally ignore the people waiting. Since it is proper etiquette to ask to share a lane, some determined swimmers just keep their head down, and flip turn their way out of the question. One woman, who I respect greatly, avoids this rude behavior by sticking a kickboard at the end of the lane by the wall. Serving as a big blue stop sign, the swimmer must see and address the person holding it there. She never waits too long for a lane.

The mom, wearing a red Speedo and tinted blue goggles slipped in on the left side of the dark blue line that runs along the bottom of the pool. I proceeded on the right with the rest of my workout. Glancing up at her stroller, I remembered what it was like for me as a young mom, during those first few weeks and months after Elizabeth was born. Working out proved to be a challenge. She was so tiny, and needed to be fed so often. I lived in fear of her angry newborn screams. I feared not being able to find a private spot to feed her, that the baby police would force me to whip out my boob in public in order to quiet her down, feed her, and keep my good mom status.

This woman was ingenious, pushing her tiny baby in here to sleep in the stroller. She could check the baby on each lap, and still workout without any childcare. Plus, the locker room was just a few feet away if the baby needed to be fed. This mom looked so young. Did I look that young with Elizabeth? I was only 27 but certainly didn’t feel especially young, but dreadfully uncertain.

Just as I was about to mentally place this woman into her “brilliant mommy” box; she started in with the kicking. This woman had grabbed a blue nubby kickboard and was kicking as if she were trying to exorcise a demon from her lower body. Her legs churned like an out of control propeller, fist-like knees and slapping feet appeared confused to find themselves no longer safe on land, but instead in the water. To my eyes, those parts of her body wanted the hell out of there. Lost in my own observations, I quickly found myself sandwiched between the bobbing full-figured bottoms of the women in the aerobics class on one and the thrashing of this new mother on the other side.

I tried my best to roll out a bit further to the side on each breath, imagining myself in the first wave of a triathlon. Positive imagery could not match the wake the mom left behind her. Coughing with as much grace as I could muster after I unexpectedly sucked in water, I stopped twice to catch my breath, as we continued to pass each other in our laps. The water aerobics women looked up a few times and gave me gentle smiles as they raised their arms over their heads in time to the music. The leader twisted from side to side and sang out, “Up and down, let’s go ladies, move those arms!”

This weekend we watched old home movies at the request of my kids. We sat in our family room and watched two-year old Kai being led out to us from the back room in a stark government building in downtown Guangzhou. His face turned up to us in a huge smile. It was the first time we met, Mom, Dad and son. He called Josh Go-go and refused to take off his prized new shoes, sleeping in them for months after we brought him home.

We laughed as we saw Elizabeth, just over a year, her hair in tight shiny curls dancing with the stuffed dog who sang, “Singing in the Rain.” Pressing the button again and again, her eyes grew wide with the discovery of the new toy and the pleasure of moving her body to the music. Seeing those movies, it felt so bittersweet. We’ve been so blessed, but it just goes by so fast. Elizabeth has many of her adult teeth now. She is playing the Little Red Hen in her school play. Kai has now been with us longer than he was in the orphanage. He loves super heroes and is in his last year of preschool. For as many times that I say “Our family is the perfect size for us,” after watching those movies, I wanted a third.

Standing in the middle of the lap lane, I waited until the mom passed me once again. Finished with my coughing, I headed back down to the end of the lane, pulling with my arms, slipping them into the liquid sleeves beneath me. I enjoyed the flex of my feet as they moved back and forth stirring the water with gentle purpose. I recalled the thrashing and splashing of my own first years parenting our kids. Like this mom in the pool, I experienced many days of unrest and confusion about what it meant to be a mom. Was I a good mom? A crappy mom? An obnoxious mom? After all, I hated breast feeding. I missed my job. I felt like I would never sleep again, be alone again, or be acknowledged as an individual again. But I did, and I have and I probably was all of those moms at one time or another.

I don’t know if the future holds another child for us. Probably not, but I am certainly not ruling it out. For today, I remained content to let the new mom splash, make her wake, feel her body and its resistance and pull her frustrations through the water. I could take it. I only needed to complete a few more laps. Pushing off from the wall, a sense of gratitude for time, space, children and aging washed over me in an impromptu baptism. Looking to my right, the sneakered water shoes began to march in time to the music, not really going anywhere, but happy to be present right where they were. And that was fine with me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Back to China

This June I will head back to China. As I type those words, I can hardly believe it. For someone who is not the best traveler, I seem to be doing more and more of it. Never in my life, did I imagine that I would travel to China not once, but twice, and to have neither time be strictly for tourism. On our last trip, we spent more time in government buildings sitting in hard plastic chairs waiting for our turn to show someone behind a sliding glass window our papers than we did sight-seeing. We walked miles and miles around the tiny island we were on, pushing Kai in the rented stroller as the oppressive heat and humidity swirled around us making us feel sticky and grimy. I constantly needed a shower. We waited for signatures to clear, papers to come back stamped with approval, and counted down the days until we would finally bring our son home to our house.

This time, I am going for a class. We are doing a cross-cultural comparison of the Chinese health care system and the system here in the United States. Specifically, we will be looking at how the Chinese system is now addressing depression, cancer and HIV/AIDS. The use of social services is a fairly new idea in China. We will stay in a dorm at Peking University in Beijing. (That also means I’ll have a roommate for three weeks. ) For three weeks we will have lecture in the morning, and in the afternoon we will visit different agencies throughout China that are currently serving the given populations.

This will be such a learning experience for me, because I have never really been in a cancer ward in a hospital here, nor have I experienced the treatment programs for people living with HIV and AIDS here in the United States. Much is known about depression here in the United States, but in China, the taboo surrounding mental health is just now starting to lift.

I feel so blessed to be able to go. I am thrilled that my family, specifically, my husband Josh, is so supportive of me. It’s funny. Many people have asked either me or Josh when they hear of this trip, “Wow, will you/he be okay with the kids for three weeks?” I laugh for two reasons; first of all, no one bats an eye when husbands are out of town for weeks upon weeks and their wives are home alone with the kids. Second, Josh absolutely knows how to run this house AND the kids. The man could do it blindfolded. I am not at all worried about them getting along just fine. I AM a bit worried about missing them. I keep telling myself that it’s only three weeks.

I will most likely keep the blog updated throughout the process and the trip. Maybe this is a good excuse to get me writing a little again. Feel free to check in. Get ready China, Kate Kneifel is coming back!