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My Ten Cents

My Ten Cents

Why is it a lucky dime?

Palindrome week, Tuesday (51215).

I’m sitting in Starbucks—not my usual Starbucks, but one three minutes farther away from Twelve’s dance studio that stays open later—trying to settle in after a day of making arrangements. Twelve hours earlier my surgeon confirmed my worst suspicions: the only way my frozen knuckle was going to get better was surgery. I’ve spent the day making lists, shooting out email messages, lining up teachers to sub my classes, taking a hiatus from my corporate gig … I’m having trouble settling in partly because I feel the tick-tock pressure cooker of more to do than I can in the five days before surgery and partly because I never saw any surgery as part of my personal story. Yet here I am, prepping for surgery number two.

I’ve left my phone in the car and that doesn’t seem like a good idea as it’s been op center all day, so I hustle out to my car, find it under the pile of mail I dumped on it earlier, and hustle back. I check Facebook and email again because, well, who doesn’t. They’re lovely distractions. Then I stare out the window, trying to riddle through a pivotal plot point in my revisionist fairy tale, as yet untitled.

It’s not twilight, but the sun is low enough in the sky to evidence the coming night. I see a shiny object on the patio. I decide it’s a penny and I should leave it alone. I look away. I look at my screen. I stare across the café at the shuffling baristas. I look back out the window. Penny. Shiny.

An hour ago I might have contemplated sitting outside, but it’s not quite warm enough now, so even though the music is a little louder than I’d like and I’m sitting with my back to the door, something I never prefer, I’ve settled in and I’m not going to move. I tell myself: It’s time to write. I see the penny again. Aww, crap. I’ve always taught my children not to disregard small change. It adds up. I unfold from my chair and go outside, leaving my table, computer, wallet for the second time, to pick up the penny. When I get there, I’m rewarded—it’s a 2015 dime. Back inside I place it next to me on my table and write steadily for an hour. On my drive to collect Twelve, the dime goes in the center console of my car—a talisman for the week.

Palindrome week, Thursday (51415).

Wednesday was a busy teaching day, as Wednesdays always are, and already this morning I started with a meeting, subbed two classes, and taught a private at my studio, but a few other things have moved around and my lists are keeping me organized. I’m inside Home Depot to purchase light bulbs when I get the phone call every parent dreads: This is the nurse at the junior high school … I have Twelve here. She fell in PE and she has a pretty good goose egg on her head. I’m reluctant to put her on the bus.

“I’m close. I’ll be right there.”

I walk into the nurse’s office, and there is my daughter holding an ice pack to her forehead. The goose egg on her head is enormous, such that I catch my breath. She’s also got two skinned knees, a fat lip, and pain in her right elbow and wrist. She’s been crying.

“I think we’re going to the emergency room.”

“Really?” Twelve eyes fill up, “but I have dress rehearsal this afternoon.”

“Oh Sweetie. We have to get you checked out first. We’ll worry about dress rehearsal in a little while.” The nurse looks relieved.

It was more than a spill, as she will explain first to me and then to each of the medical people we see. The game was sharks and minnows, a variation of tag in which the sharks tag the minnows and they become seaweed, sitting on the floor. Running and swerving to avoid both a shark and seaweed, she tripped on a seated student and crashed right into the wall. We leave the ER two hours later with the diagnosed broken elbow in a sling, the hematoma still under ice, and a referral to an orthopedist. The tears have dried now; she’s hungry and quite stoic, talking about attending school the next day and how she might support her dance friends when they take the stage without her on Sunday. Plus, she’s oddly jazzed about breaking a bone, another first for either of my children. My mind is trying to add this to the story of the week. And I’m wondering how do I go forward with my surgery while taking care of my injured child?

Palindrome week, Friday (51515).

On the drive to school, it’s foggy. I love fog, always have. Twelve agrees that it’s magical, and we marvel that up ahead we see the edge of the fog, but when we arrive at that place, it’s clear. The fog moves with us. Twelve decides it’s like we’re driving in a bubble.

After I leave Twelve to school, walking her in and making certain that she’ll have a study hall instead of PE, I get it. Her school is her world and they take care of one another there. The counselor and the nurse made much of her when we arrived, the principal stopped to offer kind words, students rallied around and asked her what happened. The counselor arranged for a student to be her book buddy, leaving class a few minutes early and helping Twelve from one classroom to another. It’ll be healing for her to be at school. Saturday can be a day on the sofa.

When you're close enough to the target, whatever it is, it'll be clear.

When you’re close enough to the target, whatever it is, it’ll be clear.

lrk brownies

Twelve and her sling stopping by pre-recital to deliver her famous brownies and best wishes to her ballerina friends.

On the way home I continue to enjoy the fog. Fog always makes me feel like it’s okay to focus in close. I watch the Target sign emerge out of the fog and smile at the symbolism as I drive past. Like a palindrome, in the fog it’s hard to tell whether you’re coming or going. But, this, too, all of it, shall pass. It’s going to be a bumpy few weeks, but no more impossible than anything else. The fog gives me permission to keep my focus on the close-in targets, the things I can see, and to do just what needs to be done to facilitate my healing and Twelve’s. The larger picture that I’m forever questioning but rarely feel like I can see—it will become clear soon enough. We can only ever really know the parts of our personal stories that have played out. And when we know them clearly, we will all have, in fact, moved forward.

Palindrome week, Monday (51815). It’s a new moon and I’m ready to get my hand repaired. I don’t know how soon I’ll be typing steadily again so the next overneathitall might be a while … still, the lessons in this one precious life keep arriving and I feel richer for them, and for the dime I paused to pick up, and for the dear ones who make the fabric of this world more opulent. Thank you for taking this journey with me, love, Rxo

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By Appointment

What are you “looking forward” to?

I love the word hiatus, not really because of what it means but because of how I learned what it means. The story recalls one of those moments when I felt my own brain expand, like sitting on the dryer at the age of four, watching the indefatigable Arlene Snyder, a Mennonite woman who did housekeeping and childcare for our family, fold sheets hot out of the dryer. “Hot,” she said to me. “H-O-T spells hot.” “Hot,” I repeated, “H-O-T spells hot.” I spent the rest of the day celebrating, “H-O-T spells hot.” I shouted it. I danced it. I napped to it. H-O-T is the first word I ever learned to spell.

I don’t remember subsequently learning to read, but when I could I devoured the TV Guide each week. As I sometimes remind the ever-astonished Twelve and Fifteen, we had no Internet, no cable, no smart phones, no Netflix, no way of recording shows even—we watched them when they came on or we missed them. Television viewing was by appointment, and in our household it was even more so because my brother and I had television viewing allotments of seven hours each per week. That meant reading the schedule for the entire week and circling the shows we wanted to watch, plus negotiating if we chose shows in the same timeslot. It wasn’t long before I started reading the features that filled the front of the glossy book, maybe six inches wide by nine inches tall, on slippery paper with a square binding. There I read about up-and-coming celebrities, new shows, television in other countries, and shows “on hiatus.”

In graduate school I would learn that our vocabulary expands via frontiers. We can grab a list of words we don’t know and force feed them into our memories, but the words we will really learn and learn to use are the words that we have several exposures to and one day realize are familiar. Then when we look them up we’ll have context for them—a landscape with features that are becoming landmarks. With context, we assimilate a word far better and more completely than if we have no associations for the word. When I studied frontier words, I remembered, oh yes, like “hiatus.”

Because I didn’t know, reading the TV Guide at a young age, what it meant for a show to be on hiatus. I probably ignored it the first few times I read it. Eventually I saw the word enough times that I took notice and thought to look it up in the dictionary. This I remember doing. And then I learned that the word meant not canceled, but not on the schedule either. A hiatus is a pause, a gap, a break or an interruption in a series or sequence. In TV land it logically comes when a network likes a show but it isn’t raising revenue. The network isn’t ready to cancel the show altogether, so it goes on hiatus until its future can be figured out.

In the days leading up to my last real post on 12.5.14, I thought about announcing that I was going to take a hiatus from Overneath It All to focus on enjoying the holidays with my family, rebuilding the studio website and posting my novel on Smashwords. At the last minute, happy with my post “The Rhythm of Life,” I thought to myself—it’s not a huge commitment and I’ve got my writing times set for this month, why let it go? I can do all of the above.

Then along came a plot twist. A huge plot twist.

The blog and the website and a lot more went on hiatus when my heart got broken. Smashed, really. Smithereens. All I wanted to do was spend each day curled up in the fetal position hiding under the covers. I haven’t been able to, of course, with holidays to observe, a family to care for, my business to tend, and the myriad of other issues of modern life that require seemingly endless attention. A couple of times I thought writing might help, and I made a few attempts at starting pieces, but nothing stuck. I find the love I have lost impossible to categorize, but it doesn’t do to categorize such things; what I know is I have dissolved in this heartbreak. At the Solstice new moon and the January full, I looked up and my commitment to post fluttered and I dropped my head again. I let go of a lot of the things that I do professionally and for myself, or really I let them be. Writing, in particular writing blog posts, was one of them.

There have been several major plot twists and a sizable speeding ticket since—none of which, to my dismay, included a rekindling of love lost. Nor have I found a magic lantern to rub, releasing a genie to make my hopes and dreams come true nor fill my bank account, a constant worry. I haven’t even been able to go one whole day without crying, often silent tears as I fall asleep, sometimes noisy ones alone in my car. But this morning when I woke up I thought, I know one thing I can do about this. All of this. I know what I teach—that I need to make and keep appointments with myself, with the world. Writing is one appointment that will make me feel better, stronger, more certain of my voice. When I write and when I put my words out there, it helps me put together what I know and lift my head up just a little bit.

What is it I’m looking forward to? My concerned friend asked me yesterday when we got together for lunch. I don’t really know yet. But I do know that I’m not going to get there if I don’t keep the appointments to do the things that nourish me—writing this blog is one of those things. A big one. And while I’m posting today in between the full moon and the new moon, I’m also declaring that I have writing appointments for next week on my calendar, that I will post again by the light of the February 3rd full moon, and that this is the end of the hiatus.

In between Christmas and New Year's, Twelve, Fifteen and I visited the city I love the best in the whole wide world. Here's my attempt at an art shot, taken near sunset at the Lincoln Memorial. Like a sunflower, I do tend to head into the light ... eventually.

In between Christmas and New Year’s, Twelve, Fifteen and I visited the city I love the best in the whole wide world. Here’s my attempt at an art shot, taken near sunset at the Lincoln Memorial. Like a sunflower, I do tend to head into the light … eventually.

A special thank you to readers Barbara P., who let me know that my experiences and my writing about them are something she looks forward to, Mya N., who said simply, “and I love reading your blog,” and Annemarie C., who has challenged me to find the humor she associates with sitting at the island in my kitchen in my written voice. Not to say that this piece has much to laugh about in it, but learning to write funny is on my frontier. Happy New Year to each and every one of you and thank you, Rxo

Kindness Counts

What else can go right?

One minute you’re singing along to the radio, the volume a little too high, and the next you turn it off because your twelve-year-old daughter has climbed off of her bus and piled into the car with all of her school day bits and pieces and you don’t want to miss anything she reports in the precious few minutes it takes to drive down the hill, up the circle and into your welcoming garage. A scant hour later, your sidekick—now decked out in one of her bright blue leotards, ballet pink tights, her hair coiled into a bun—tumbles back into the front seat and you scan to make sure she’s put on enough outer wear for this day when the low is fifty degrees below normal. She hasn’t, really, but rather than fuss at her you turn up the heat a little and seeing the yellow streak of your son’s high school bus zip by down the hill, you rev the engine just a little in order to pick him up, circle back up to drop him near the warmth of the house, and head back out, glancing down at the electronic clock to register whether you’re really going to maybe be on time for dance for once.

And that’s when you notice that there’s no clock.

In fact, there’re no lights at all. The heat still works, the dash is lit up, but the stereo is nonresponsive. The Bluetooth button on the steering wheel elicits no response. Pressing the button off and on and pushing all of others have no effect. At dance you turn the car engine all the way off and on again, because it’s a computer after all, and still nothing. Your daughter leans her head toward you for a kiss and lightly bounces off, and you wince a little because you know this is the day she has to wait an hour after her class releases in order to accommodate your teaching schedule, but she’s got a book and she claims she doesn’t mind. As you’re driving away you notice the next thing: the odometer is flashing even as the miles mount. You call your service advisor, his name and cell phone number memorized in your phone but, you think, you sure don’t want to resort to putting him on speed dial.

The next day at the enormous dealership under the even more enormous American flag, he agrees: “You don’t want to get to know my children’s birthdays,” he says. He’s right. You love that this young man has children and you’re even glad to ask just now about their ages and genders—when he reports that his little girl is six months and his son just turned two, you understand completely why you need to refresh his memory about who you are even though you were just in the week before.

You leave the car and catch a ride with the chatty courtesy shuttle driver back home where you retrieve your unreliable car and proceed to the grocery store. There’s a whole other little family of people there who keep tabs on you, who know that if you’re not there at 8am on Tuesday as you weren’t this morning because you were dropping off the car there’s something wrong, who will listen, shake their heads, and even make a gift to you of the reusable grocery bags you’re purchasing. You thank them for listening and head off for the rest of your day.

Before the sleep-deprived service advisor calls with a report that—and here’s a surprise—your radio isn’t functioning, your son arrives home from school ill for the second time in two weeks. You have to run out to teach again, so you leave your daughter to care for him and she covers him through his chills and a hard sleep while she does her homework and doesn’t practice because she doesn’t want to wake him up. A quick supper for her and it’s out the door to ballet again while her brother sleeps on. When you get home and go to check on him, he’s burning up. His temperature climbs up to 103.5.

Now you find a substitute for your class in the morning with the knowledge that no matter what happens next it’s going to be a wakeful night. You breathe a sigh of relief as the fever drops to around 100.5—no emergency room, you’ll call the doctor in the morning—and you leave to go get your dancer a little before her class is over so she won’t be waiting for you in the dark. You crawl into bed still fully dressed, not caring really. It’s been a long day.

 

At the end of the week your car is back in your garage, even though the radio has yet to be replaced and your son is on the mend, even though he’s missed three full days of school. Your to-do list for the week has been entirely derailed, you missed some of your regular activities, and you’ve woken up feeling like you haven’t slept at all. You know this has been a week of missteps and small concerns, but you think when health and basic transportation are at issue, it’s something more than petty and it all feels a little too enormous, so it’s a week from which you require some healing. You start by reflecting on kindnesses, little and big, because these are the things that go right and the gestures that keep you going: the friend who brought you two kinds of Wheat Thins; the grocery store employee who gifted you free reusable bags; the teacher who leapt in to teach for you; the yogi who texted “Happy Friday” just because; the woman you barely know who offered to loan you her car; the friend who wrote that you’re a “super Mom;” the opportunity to write it down and send it out there under the new moon. You breathe in, you breathe out, you move on.

Namaste & big love, Rxo

My dancer, dressed in her Nutcracker costume ... a rat to love

My dancer, dressed in her Nutcracker costume … a rat to love

Guilty Pleasures

What do I envy about my children’s lives?

Sometimes, late in the evening, I relax after a long day with a hot bath, my computer nearby streaming something from Netflix, an iced beverage beside me. If I feel like it, bath complete, I can keep right on watching in bed or I can surf the Internet and post nonsense to Facebook, or I can chat into the night online with a west-coast friend. I don’t have a bedtime.

Granted, if I do stay up indulging myself, the morning call to my treadmill that is meant to start the day might be met with a grumpy thump on the snooze button. I really do get up early and work hard all day, but the choice to relax and stay up late, like eating too much chocolate, is often more alluring than minding my very real need for sleep.

And then there are some nights I can’t sleep. After turning this way and that, finding the pillow too cool and then too hot, flipping the covers off and back on in a hurry, sipping some water, putting drops in my eyes, and wondering if I should go downstairs to make hot milk, after moments like these I’ll reach for my computer just for some way to try to wind down. It’s not a good solution and I usually end up cross with its light rather than enchanted by anything I find to look at.

It was after just such a night when I had gone to bed at a decent hour but then woken so often I finally got up, made a snack, warmed a cup of milk and carried my computer up to bed to watch something, anything to take my mind off being awake, that I was reporting on my night to Fourteen.

“I can’t wait until I’m a grow-up,” he said, “so I can stay up late and eat and watch whatever I want. It sounds really fun.”

On that morning as I went about my routine, sipping tea while I made school lunches and kept Fourteen and Eleven on their way to their buses, I wanted to retort—well, I wish I was fourteen and someone told me when to go to bed and fed me and made sure I got where I needed to be with my homework done and my equipment clean and provided money for the bills so there’s electric and water and … but before I complained I thought for how it must sound to him. When I was living the strains of being the adult, he was seeing freedom, just as I was seeing the freedom to relax in the care of a grownup.

In the first-ever guest voice here at Overneath It All, Fourteen comments a further:

Guest author Fourteen at his computer, headphones on because he is, after all, a teenager.

Guest author Fourteen at his computer, headphones on because he is, after all, a teenager.

As a teenager, being an adult seems wonderful to me. I suppose that I’m in the middle between childhood and adulthood, and at this stage in my life, adulthood looks to be the better of the two options. Certainly, adults have more freedoms and can stay up as late as they want, but what really appeals to me about being an adult is having my own space in the world.

To have one’s own space is a great thing, be that space a house, apartment, or even a dorm room. From my experiences at sleep-away camps, it is a liberating experience to be able to do just about whatever I want. I also find the idea interesting to be able to really make a space in the universe obviously my own.

Another thing about being an adult is that it looks like an accomplishment. Many people ask me “What do you want to do when you grow up” or “What do you want to be when you grow up” in casual conversation or when trying to make small talk. My answers to these questions have varied greatly, but generally end in “but I’m not sure.” As an adult, I would rarely be asked this question, and I think I will try not to ask it, as it pressures kids into deciding their futures too soon.

Fourteen lives his questions and they’re not small. From my vantage point I’d love to encourage him not to be in a hurry to grow up. That’s best left unsaid, but I can ask myself, would I really want to be a kid again? What do I actually envy about their lives? It would be fun, I think, to go to school again. I’d be better at it this time, would enjoy learning, would take stellar notes, wouldn’t be stressed out by studying, and could probably do fairly well on exams and papers. I’d love to be taken care of—meals planned, shopped for and prepared, laundry done, outings, special events, and vacations booked and paid for—for a while. But life is a series of learning experiences, something I don’t have to go to school to explore. And I’m enough of a control freak that being cared for would become claustrophobic quite quickly. I don’t envy my children many of their first-time experiences, like travel abroad or performing on stage, because I get to experience these firsts with them, through their eyes, anew. So I guess what I envy my children most is sleep—they both fall asleep easily. Eleven sleeps ten hours a night; Fourteen between eight and nine.

On the other hand, when I can’t sleep, I’m in my own room in my very own house, a place that is expressly my space. I own Radiant Om Yoga, another space I’ve designed just the way I want it to be. Nobody bothers me about what I want to be when I grow up because I’ve had three careers already—it’s better not to inquire! And I just discovered Orange Is the New Black on Netflix; what’s not to love???

Happy First Day of Spring, gentle and lovely readers. May it be sunny where you are, xoR

Letting Go

How’s your week?

I am so lucky, I thought as I watched Vicki kick off her shoes near the coatrack, tossing her how ya doin’ question at me. Every day at the studio I see people walk through the door, happy to be headed for their yoga mats. We exchange greetings and inquire, really ask, how things are. Regulars I see two and three times in a week follow the events in my life as I follow theirs. “How’s your week?” might be followed by a catch-up question about one of my children, the status of my car repair, or a query about last weekend’s guest instructor at the studio. In return I hear details about vacations and irascible bosses and family drama. I ask practice-related questions, too, and so I learn about aches that are healing and check in with mommas-to-be as their bellies swell.

We head up the ramp into the studio and I routinely invite students to leave behind their distractions, their to-do lists, their worries, their lives. For the time on the mat we focus on the lift of the arch in the feet, the extension from fingertip to fingertip, the breath flowing easily in and out. The studio is designed to hold space for the practice with little to fixate upon and a wide-open ceiling. Practice is the time, I say over and over, to let go.

Vairagya, the Sanskrit word for nonattachment, is one half of a pair of essential principles of yoga; the other is Abhyasa, or practice. Taken together, practice leads you in the right direction, while nonattachment keeps you from getting distracted by or stuck to pains and pleasures along the way. Persevere to let go; let go to persevere.

When Vicki asked me about my week, I was closing my laptop, giving up on finishing a message I was working to write before the first few people arrived for class. Maybe I sighed a little, and I said, “just can’t seem to get one thing good and finished this week.”

Vicki looked at me and replied, “They say that not finishing things is one of our biggest stress producers.”

“That explains a lot,” I laughed. Later I found myself thinking about what she said.

Not finishing things—a thought, a letter, an editing job, a household chore, a to-do list of errands—does stress me out. I can be deep in thought or trying to remember everything I need for the day and Eleven or Fourteen will launch into something very important to them and completely unrelated to whatever it is I’m thinking about. I try to be present for them, to bear witness, but sometimes they’re being goofy and utterly random. Friday morning, I was backing the car down the drive in something of a morning rush to drop Fourteen for before-school band practice, Eleven started to detail her Christmas shopping plan. Fourteen was talking about String Theory. I just wanted to know where my telephone was.

Fourteen deposited at school, Eleven and I went to Panera for breakfast. Settled in our usual booth, Eleven with a book and two muffies and me with an egg and cheese on a multi-grain bagel and my laptop open, I looked at Eleven and said, “I can’t put my mind on my phone.”

We joke in my household that I’m more of a teenager than either of my children because my phone is nearly always close to me. Texts, phone calls, social media postings, and email messages are all a part of my yoga studio world. I keep my phone next to my bed so my mother, Eighty-Nine, can phone me upstairs if she needs something. When I’m not home, Eleven or Fourteen can telephone to let me know they’ve reached home safely. And, too, my phone is a social outlet, connecting me to friends far and wide.

Complete with "Blue Dog" as painted by Eleven several years ago, my phone at hand as usual.

Complete with “Blue Dog” as painted by Eleven several years ago, my phone at hand as usual.

By the time we were back in the car and on the way to school, I was feeling alarmed that I had in fact left my phone at home. I don’t like being unreachable to my mother, my children, the Friday morning yoga teacher, the myriad of tiny matters that come up during any given day … Contemplating taking the time to return home for the phone, I found myself saying no thank you to Eleven’s generous offer to use her phone for the morning. “You can still text and make calls,” she assured me.

“Thank you, Sweetie, but it’s not the same. It won’t help if someone is trying to get in touch with me.” It’s not my phone is what I really meant. “I’ll email your grandmother and let her know I don’t have it with me today. I’ll be reconnected with it by twelve-thirty or so.” And when that happens, I thought but didn’t say to Eleven, I’ll be reattached to you by our electronic umbilical cord, a happy byproduct of giving both of my children cellular phones. “So,” I reassured us both, “I’ll be fine until then.”

After she got out of the car, I thought, how silly of me. I should have at least had her try calling my phone with hers to see if it’s in the car. She would have been helping me, and I would know if it was buried somewhere in my workbasket. As I drove along, I continued to try, without success, to remember where I had put the phone after unplugging it from the charger earlier that morning.

And then I remembered that my car would know if my phone was present. I hit the U-connect button on the steering wheel and there was the reassuring voice: “U-Connect Phone, Ready!” The phone was in the car! Happily I commanded the car to call Eleven, but I realized she’d had enough time already to stow her backpack, and with it her phone, deep in her locker. I settled for sending her a mental message to relax—she could reach me if she needed to.

At Starbucks, computer in front of me, phone and note pad to my right, I worked through my to-do list—balance the books for the studio, write a practice for Absolute Asana, an advanced class I teach once a month, make notes for a blog post I would write in the afternoon about nonattachment … how can I encourage nonattachment, I pondered, if I am ridiculously attached to my phone, my rolling phone booth of a car, my computer, my daughter?

Baffled by my own query, I flipped over to Facebook to post a message on the studio page. My attention was arrested by a status update: RIP William Weaver, Bard College. My brain derailed. The William Weaver? Did my mother know? How’d it happen? When? Well, I thought, it had to be, but it took quite a bit of searching on the Internet to confirm that the man who had died earlier in the week at the age of 90 was the man my father served with in the British Field Service in the early 1940s. Twice my family visited him in Italy and over the years we saw him in New York City. Most famously the only translator Umberto Eco would allow to touch his work, William Weaver was a man my brother and I called “Uncle.”

When I regained my equilibrium, I’d forgotten what I was doing. I felt that edge of discomfort—something left unfinished. It was time to go and my progress had been waylaid. I walked my brain back along through my list, posted the status report, finished the blog note I was making, and packed up to leave for a class. On the way to my next gig, I phoned my mother to break the news to her—preferring for her to hear it from me than discover the obituary online.

We passed the news back and forth, inspecting it, testing our memories of the man’s details, saying some of the things we always say about the literary men and women of the twentieth century that were a part of our shared past. By the end of the phone call, we were gently laughing. She asked me where I was and I told her I was passing a sushi restaurant she likes. We said goodbye and my car announced: “Phone call completed.” I smiled at the closure—together we detached from William Weaver even as we warmed to his memory. My electronics allowed us to connect to one another.

And with that it arrives: Attachment is one directional, like a one-way street. Connection moves between and among. I am attached to my phone and my car, sure, but it’s because they are the connective media between me and the stars in my universe. It’s okay to talk about and encourage nonattachment on and off the mat because we don’t have to give up connection. And when we shape time to connect to the beings and the practices we love, life is  sweeter and it becomes easier to detach from all that no longer serves.

In memory of William Weaver, and with gratitude for all of you under the full November moon. Thanks for sharing my journey, Rxo

Accidental Angels

Accidental Angels

How do you feel about flying?

The strangers I select never know the important role they play for me—or do they? Is it their energy that draws me to name them as my angels? My hairstylist, the talented Kim who quarterly takes me from shaggy to coiffed and quips easily my greys are “natural highlights,” gave me the notion of angels in the air. During one appointment she handed me the gift of her technique for feeling more certain on airplanes: Look around and select someone to be your angel. For longer flights, maybe more than one.

Kim’s is a practice I’ve adopted and adapted; I choose upwards of four people and always make sure to name at least one person who I’m certain would annoy me were it not for his or her purpose in keeping me safe. If there are children getting ready to board, they are always additional angels, particularly tiny ones. I peruse the crowd at the gate in those moments that routinely stretch way out before boarding and name them silently in my head: man with a mustache in a red shirt, lady reading an oversized hardcover, attractive twenty-year-old with the French manicure and a carryon too many, harried looking Asian mother with two pig-tailed daughters.

As a child, I flew easily and all over, crossing the Atlantic unaccompanied five times by the age my daughter is now. Eleven looks stricken when I mention this. She loves home, and boarding school would not be a good fit. Her brother, Fourteen, grins broadly at the notion and suggests, “All the good books happen at fancy boarding schools. Send me.” “Hogwarts,” I disappoint him, “is not an option.”

I still flew regularly after I returned to American junior high. My father’s wanderlust took us to a variety of destinations in America and Europe. I flew back and forth to college, even as I became a confident and happy driver of distances short and long.

Then, in 1989, a DC-10 en route from Denver to Chicago crash landed in Sioux City, IA. Although historically the handling of the engine malfunction that preceded the crash and the quick-thinking response of the crew are lauded, the televised footage of the wreckage that included sections of the busted apart plane smoldering in a cornfield caused an unease to descend on me regarding flying. It didn’t stop me—I still flew regularly from my first real job on Long Island to my Iowa home, to the Caribbean, and even all the way from Kennedy Airport to Taiwan to visit, in 1992, the friend who claimed she would not come home to the United States until someone came to visit her.

Several Caribbean adventures, a couple of tours of Europe, and a move to Bethesda, MD, later, I flew up to Long Island from DC with a four-month baby bump. It was November 1998. The trip was uneventful; the visit nice. I didn’t know it then, but I wouldn’t again step foot inside an airplane for some time.

At first it was happenstance—while mommy friends flew everywhere with their newborns, my baby’s medical challenges kept me close to doctors and specialists for the first year of his life. We drove when we opted to visit grandparents, but it was most comfortable to stay home. As the baby grew and then his sister joined the fold, flying en famille seemed daunting to me. The rise in incidents and the ever-increasing cost of air travel versus the ease and flexibility of putting a family of four with diaper bags, car seats, portable cribs and more in the Volvo station wagon meant car travel won out in my planning every time. If I was aware that I was working around a gnawing fear, I let it be without close examination.

Then, in 2004 I needed to travel to Des Moines on a house hunting expedition. It would mark a number of firsts—some surprising for a thirty-nine year old woman. It would be the first time I had left Five and Two for more than a single night. It would be the first time I had ever rented a car or checked into a hotel on my own. And it would be my first time on an airplane in six years.

It was that flight that started me on the collection of practices I routinely employ to make flying feel comfortable to this day. Stepping onto the plane, I paused that day, put my hand on the outside of the actual plane itself and thought hard about pressing into that hand, turning on my heels and walking the other way. Instead I gave the plane a little pat and made my way to my seat. Luggage stowed and seatbelt secured, I thought, if I prayed, I would pray right now. That didn’t feel genuine, so I whispered the Sanskrit Invocation to Patanjoli under my breath. It’s what we used to begin each class at my studio in Bethesda, and I loved the ancient rich feel of it rolling through my mouth. Deep, steady yoga breathing followed until right before the plane started to taxi, at which point I dove into the book I was reading, strategically started ahead of time such that I was already absorbed by the plot.

Several incident-free journeys later, a family vacation to San Diego meant I had a choice—I could be the mother who transmitted my fear of flying to my children, by then Seven and Four, or I could be the mother my sterling friend Rachel advised me to be: The one who stowed her fear and showed her children the possibilities flying allowed.

I still touched the outside of the plane. I still found my breath and chanted in Sanskrit. But I did not look anxiously at the flight attendants’ faces searching for signs of the unusual as I had so many times before. “Whee,” I said, when the plane rolled over bumps. And in glow of delight and amazement in my children’s faces, I almost believed it.

Flying with my children made flying alone easier. Still, I hadn’t done that much of it when I was off to New York for a long weekend in 2011. It was during my pretrip haircut that Kim shared her angel strategy. In the early morning quiet at the gate, I gazed at the slowly assembling crowd. There were people blowing on coffee cups and people studying their electronics. Scattered around the gate area were several people in unusually bright colors, with elaborate, stagy hairdos and bulky musical instrument cases. In spite of being spread out, they were clearly a group and I elected each of them an angel.

Only near the end of my flight, during which the gentleman across the aisle from me and I had been chatting affably, did I put the pieces together. He was KC and the shimmering people who were seated randomly through the plane dozing were the Sunshine Band.

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I haven’t had such famous angels since, but I’ve elected angels a-plenty each leg I fly. So it was a surprise to me last Saturday when my peeps and I, on our way for a summer vacation in California, were already comfortably seated in our row, luggage stowed, and nary an angel selected. I had been so happily occupied in the Minneapolis airport, enjoying a meal, purchasing chocolates, and arriving at the gate just in time to waltz on board, that I hadn’t scanned the folks at the gate to spot my angels. I looked at my peeps, Fourteen and Eleven, and we were laughing as we so often are, easily and freely. Then I knew: I had brought my angels with me. There is nothing accidental about them, but in their company I soar high and fearlessly.

At the full moon, I gave myself a posting break for this new moon … and then this post virtually wrote itself on the journey out to vacation in Napa, where by the magic of the Internet I can post even without my own computer. So here it is, celebrating all that is good about summer, not the least of which is family summer travel. When we return, the whirl of the new school year begins, but for now we’re relaxed and happy under the new August moon—called by various cultures the Sturgeon, Fruit, Dog Days’, Dispute or Woman’s Moon. With love & thanks for flying with me, Rxo

Shift Happens

Can I get a witness? (Marvin Gaye)

In consultation with Ten on Mother’s Day, I elected not to try to push through planting a vegetable garden this year. The garden, a sunny twelve-by-twenty-four-foot fenced patch, got away from me last year. It was the perfect storm of intense heat, lack of rain, and work-oriented absences from home that left the cabbages and tomatoes, cucumbers and salad greens puny and choked by weeds. In terms of outdoor upkeep, it was all I could do, in reality, to run the mower, and even so my grass was usually three to four days longer than my neighbors’ precision-cut lawns.

Decluttering a to-do list is perhaps more challenging than emptying a closet. It requires saying no, sometimes—as in the case of my garden—to things we love to do. My vegetable patch here has been a touchstone to the massive garden we lived out of when I was growing up. It’s one in a long line of gardens that stretch back through several moves. When I look outside now, instead of freshly upturned earth and precious green shoots, I see the mess that was last year’s garden, untouched and wintered over, with brown stems and stalks sticking out in every direction like unkempt hair.

Monday morning after Mother’s Day, I used the decision in my opening remarks during yoga class. “Even though letting go is the right decision,” I commented, “it makes me sad.” I didn’t say that it feels like I’ve given up on a part of who I am. I didn’t say that the shift makes me feel less grounded, nor did I remark how much I miss getting my hands dirty in pursuit of fresh homegrown vegetables.

“Why don’t you go to the farmers’ market?” One of my regulars soothed.

I can’t go on Saturday to the downtown market, a multi-block event that is part street festival, part market, part social scene. “I teach Saturdays,” I said. We agreed among the assembled group that there were other markets. “Yes,” I told them hoping to put an end to the conversation, “I’ll have to find one that works with my schedule.”

“I’ll shop for you,” the same sweet regular said.

“You will?”

“We go every Saturday at 7 o’clock. I know all the vendors. Give me a list,” she smiled and scrunched her eyes a little, “and some money.”

“You’ve got a deal.”

True to her word and armed with my $25 and a list that read: “just get me what you’re getting yourself,” she went to the market, loaded up on produce, granola, and eggs, and brought them to me Saturday morning fresh from the market and the gardens just beyond. Fresh steamed asparagus and kale with poached eggs for Sunday morning breakfast? Heaven.

When she brought in my goodies to the studio, I walked out of the class I was teaching to hug her, thank her, and call, “I love you,” as she sallied out the door. She stopped and turned in her tracks, “well you know I love you too.” A big smile and she was gone.

My personal shopper at the farmers’ market, the woman who took my earrings to her beading chum to be repaired, the high school friend who phones sometimes twice or three times a day from Arizona to check in with me: These people bear witness to my life, the decisions I make, the needs I have. They and others like them arrive with a smile and are quick to exchange an embrace, an endearment, a favor. Whether we see each other weekdays at the studio, bi-monthly in my writing group, or not once in the past twenty-four years, as is the case with my friend in Arizona, we create framework and fabric that make our lives more dimensional. Sometimes it takes no more than noticing—the color of someone’s toenail polish, a new haircut or the way a person’s eyes light up at the thought of an accomplishment. We witness each other’s triumphs and witness, too, each other’s pains.

I bear witness for a cadre of people I adore; it is my greatest responsibility to bear witness to everything Ten and Fourteen. Earlier this week, at yet another end-of-the year recital, Ten and I sat wedged together on a folded up yoga mat, the bleacher underneath us unforgivably hard. We were in the gym to hear Fourteen play the trumpet with his band, the orchestra, the chorus, and ultimately the band, orchestra and chorus all performing together. Before the music started, Ten flitted off several times to say hello to school friends who had older siblings also performing. She came back and found me touching letters on my phone.

“What’re you doing?”

“Amusing myself.”

“Is it on silent?”

“It is.”

“No texting during the concert.”

I made a face that mockingly asked, “Who, me?”

“I’ve got my eye on you,” Ten shook her finger, her own face screwed up in her best “don’t mess with me” look.

Fourteen sounds his trumpet

Fourteen sounds his trumpet

And I thought—she does indeed. Like other witnesses in my life, Ten and Fourteen have begun asking me how my day was. They have been known to tuck me in for a nap when I’m struggling to keep my eyes open and offer to go to bat for me at the slightest perception of someone’s wrongdoing in my direction. I am still more primarily their witness than they are mine, and more than any other parenting task I do, they need me to watch, to listen, to witness their accomplishments and crashes. Still, every day the balance shifts a little, and the way they witness for me brings me unending comfort.

I tell a friend, my business witness who meets with me every two weeks in a coffee shop where we can compare notes on owning our own small businesses, about the decision to let the garden go. “Oh,” she says. “I want a garden. But I don’t have space. And I don’t know how. Maybe next year we could do it together.” And just like that, another shift. This time I shift back toward that piece of me I felt like I was leaving behind, the gardener, and forward toward someone I think I might like even better, a collaborative gardening partner, a team that could witness the garden growing together.

Enjoy the full flower moon of May. Thank you, as always, for reading & witnessing here. xoR

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