Wednesday, January 31, 2007

So you think you're doing better?

I am doing better. I am doing so much better that I am actually considering a professional commitment. In light of this consideration, I went to a prenatal yoga class with my friend Robin the other night to observe and pick the teacher's brain. When she started correcting my postures, I had an interesting new experience.

I say "interesting" because that is the nonjudgmental word I use to remark on a sudden emotional jumps in yoga practice. Such as, "Hmm, it's interesting that my teacher is asking us to stay in chatturanga for this long. It's interesting that I just thought of my teacher as a bitch." That kind of thing. It helps me not get mad at myself for having a response, so I can just have the response and then move on with my life. It also helps me not grasp at positive feelings, like, "I feel so strong and awesome right now! There are rays shooting out of my body! I can conquer the world!" So that has to fall under the category of "interesting," too. Whatever it is, it is temporary and I don't have to do anything about it.

Anyway, so I'm in this class with a bunch pregnant ladies. I'm there to observe them and the teacher. I'm doing a totally half-assed yoga practice while craning my neck to watch all the mamas do their pigeon-prep poses or what have you. And, to be honest, I am feeling arrogant. I mean, come on, with all the training I've been doing, this has got to be a piece of cake, right?

"Susie, is it?" says the teacher, coming across the wood floor toward me. I am on my mat with my shoulders and feet on the floor in bridge pose. She kneels down to grasp my ankles. "Move your feet more parallel and a little farther away from your hips," she says, manually placing my body into the correct position. I allow this, while thinking, "You can't tell me what to do! You're not my real teacher!" I lift my hips higher. I squeeze my butt really hard, which you just aren't supposed to do, to get my hips up really high, to prove that I know what I am doing. Then I feel icky. I think, wow, she must think I'm a total nimrod and probably shouldn't be a prenatal yoga instructor after all. Why do I think I could be a teacher? I'm not really that good…

Etcetera, etcetera.

I haven't worried much about how "good" I am for a very long time. I started yoga with the knowledge that I was uncoordinated and hopelessly high strung, and never thought too much about getting "good." And my big life practice over the past year has been to let go of measuring myself against other people at all. (A lifelong practice, but you have to start somewhere.)

Now that I'm in the process of becoming a teacher, of putting myself in a position to be judged, serious doubts are coming up. Do I really want to have to judge myself? Isn't this process against the whole reason why I practice yoga?

Maybe. I guess I will find out. In the meantime, what if I could really encourage an open heart toward myself? My practice is, if nothing else, totally sincere, and I do believe I've had incredible training from my beloved teacher. Can I remember that I want to teach yoga to pregnant ladies for the same reason I lead new parent support groups? That it's not about being an expert, but being a good shepherd and a supportive presence? Can I continue to retrain my brain this way, and really cultivate fearlessness?

Hell, maybe if I can learn that a little more, I can go off drugs. Wouldn't life really be an adventure then?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mexico Diary (Part II)

January 12

There is a relaxed attitude about smoking here, which I, coming from the US, find at first alarming and then incredibly seductive. Wow, I think, noting the clean ashtrays at tables of restaurants and poolside lounges, I could just light up and no one would ask me to leave! I saw a man shepherding his family through an outdoor restaurant with a cigarette in his hand. You just NEVER see anything like this at home anymore. You have this sudden jolt, like, "Hey, he can't…how come no one is…" and then realize no one gives a rip.

This combined with all the drinking we've been doing (yet staying sober, I swear), has been making me desperate for a cigarette. I think about it all the time. I pass a super deli (Cabo's equivalent of a corner store) and think, I could just nip in there and get one.

Finally, this evening after the 24/7 family time came to be a bit much and I saw an opportunity to slough the children for a few minutes, I offered brightly to go in search of swim diapers for Audrey.

Matt was instantly suspicious. "Where are you going?"

"I want to check out the super deli off the lobby," I said. "Get us some limes. We need limes. It'll be great! I’ll get some swim diapers so you can stop worrying about poop in the pool, and we can have proper margaritas tonight. OK? Can I go?"

"Wait," he said, raising himself up on an elbow from his spot on the suite sofa. The kids were enjoying a post-dinner movie on the laptop. "You're going over there just to get limes?"

Exasperated, I said, "Look, I just want to go out for a minute, Ok?" I cupped my hands around my mouth and mouthed, "I want to smoke."

I have hidden my intermittent smoking life from the children thus far, which is good because they do know what smoking is. They've seen my parents do it a hundred times and asked me why people do it, is it okay, etc. We take a firm stand that it is dirty, unhealthy, and not okay.

"You want to smoke?" Matt yelped. The kids looked up from "Cinderella."


"Mommy why do you want to smoke?" asked Jonah.

"I don't! I think you misunderstood me, Matt," I said, glaring at him hard. "Anyway, off I go in search of diapers and limes. Good bye!"

When I came back later with limes and cigarettes (alas, no diapers), I helped Matt put the kids to bed and then poured us some really terrible homemade margaritas. Out on the balcony I sat with my drink and stubbornly lit a cigarette. I closed the glass door behind me. I took a wonderful burning drag.

The glass door slid open. Dang. One whole second for my nicotine-alcohol-solitude buzz.

"Can I join you?" Matt said, pulling out a chair.

"Are you sure you want to?" I asked. "I'm smoking."

"I don't understand your attitude," he said.

"I know." Pause. "I made you a drink."

We sat on the white deck chairs and watched the scene on the darkened beach: a few straggling couples, some lit torches near the steps to the resort. A smattering of boats rocked in the bay, barely visible but for the lights on their masts.

And it was nice for awhile.

January 13

The music here is categorically bad, except for a great, truly professional band we heard last night at dinner. As we waited for our food in a dim, catacomb-like room replete with walls of candles, two men set up chairs in a corner near the kitchen and began working on a samba. One patted some bongos between his thighs and the other strummed his guitar and crooned sweetly like Joao Gilberto. They leaned toward each other, watching the other's eyes and hands. Every now and then they'd stop abruptly and discuss something, then pick up again.

During dinner, they were joined by a stand-up bass player and another guitarist. A rollicking Latin blast ensued. To me, it felt like sweet relief. The kids clapped. I snapped. Audrey high-chair danced. I swayed a bit while nibbling my explosively hot seafood-stuffed, bacon-wrapped jalapenos. Pretty soon the kids and I drifted over to be in the presence of the strings and bongos and passionate male voices. Jonah allowed me to take him into my arms and spin him around a few times. Audrey bounced and smiled hugely. For their part, the men seemed delighted to have an audience (the rest of the diners were ignoring them completely). They all turned and directed their voices right to us. The bass player, a heavy mustachioed man with a scarred face (and one of the few locals I've seen with long enough limbs to manage a stand-up bass) laughed at Audrey's antics and made crazy faces at her.

Later I sent Jonah with a bunch of pesos over to their tip jar. I was quite happy to pay for being in their light for while. Because in the morning, the piano man who performs (badly) on the breakfast patio will bore us all to death with "Moon River."

This morning, by the pool, I watched a silver-haired woman glide past the pool's waterfall, limbs elegantly performing the inelegant breast stroke. From the patio came the troubled strains of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The pianist missed a note. The lady swimmer kept swimming. I turned over on my chaise longue.

After a life of travel anxiety, I think I am getting the hang of vacation.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Am I Done Yet?

My shrink:
Same time next week?

Well, you know I've been thinking about cutting back. What if we skip a week?


You're smiling.

My shrink:
We've been here before.

You don't think I should cut back.

My shrink:
I think we should talk about it next week.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mexico Diary (Part I)

Cabo San Lucas, Baja del Sur, Mexico

Jan 9

This place is a paradise of easy pleasure. Easy pleasure is suspect…except when I have two kids and sunlight deprivation. Bring it on, Mexico. Drench me in Pina Colada, dry sunshine, and obsequious poolside service. I need you.

Thanks to Sara at Wax-On Capitol Hill, I am sleek and hairless in the parts that matter, thus not worrying about that as I go everywhere in my swim suit. (Typically the only people who see my normally European grooming habits are my husband and the people at my yoga studio. And some of the women there don't even wax their mustaches. But I digress.) I'm white but intend to stay that way. Didn't even mess with the suntan-in-a bottle. Why bother? I'm just one out of a hundred fish-belly-colored gringos on Playa Medano today.

Here at the resort, there are four resident flamingoes standing around a small pond, dipping their beaks into the water and emitting soulful moans every so often. I'm not sure the coastal desert is their natural habitat. I'm going to pretend it is so I can enjoy looking at them. Same with the green and turquoise budgies flapping around in a soaring cage by the pool.

Audrey is all bravado and curiosity in the water. The only thing she wants to do is "swim." Here's how she swims: flaps her hands and feet while I support her shoulders and hips just under the surface of the water. Her face beams with pride. "I swimming!" she crows.

Why did I wait so long to come here?

Jan. 11

Beautiful Ellya the concierge helped arrange a coconut birthday cake for Matt. He's 39 today. It says "Feliz Cumpleanos Matteo."

I also arranged a sunset cruise to celebrate. The four of us took a water taxi from the beach to the marina. After I sent us walking in the wrong direction around the very large, G-shaped waterfront, we discovered the correct dock and that our boat had left an hour earlier. Guess I left my suspicion of easy pleasure AND my ability to read boat schedules back at the customs line in San Jose del Cabo. No matter: it had begun to rain and a cruise out on the open water would have been very unpleasant. Instead, we went to dinner.

The restaurant was centered around a courtyard. Just off the kitchen in a dim corner, a woman stood behind a counter pressing balls of dough into a two-sided, cast-iron, round tortilla press. A hot grill sizzled with a dozen tortillas. The woman stood over this grill, surrounded by mounds of coarse-looking dough and stacks of fresh, warm rounds. Audrey and I watched her for awhile. She never looked up.

At this, the best restaurant we'd been to so far, the kids behaved their worst. In their defense I have to say it was hard finding a bite of anything that wasn't too spicy for them. The food had not been bastardized to please the turista palate. Audrey insisted on sitting on my lap, Jonah whined that his leche tasted funny, and both of them grew distrustful of anything I put on a fork and tried to coax them into eating.

We took a taxi back to the hotel. I couldn't stomach another half hour of walking the gauntlet of Mexican hustlers and fat white men in golf shirts blocking the tiny sidewalks downtown. Plus, Jonah kept trying to pick up really scary things off the ground. A crack vial. An old band-aid. Etcetera. I just wanted to get there, get the kids to bed, and drink some tequila on the balcony.

Jan 12

If I may be allowed a gross generalization about the Cabo locals: they love children. Everywhere we go, Audrey attracts shameless flirtation from Mexican women and men. Today a woman standing near us talking to her companion absently reached down and stroked Jonah's hair. We smiled in surprise, but she never even caught our eye. Just petted Jonah and kept talking.

This was not so much the case on our sunset cruise tonight. It turned out to be kind of a bust – although the 40-something drunk ladies doing the Macarena with the hot waiters probably wouldn't say so. The liquor flowed freely from an endless supply of flimsy plastic cups. If you were lucky enough to be drunk before the buffet was served, then you didn't care how drippy and lardy the frijoles were, or that the "queso" was really congealed Velveeta. (I think the chef must have been Mexican by way of Kansas.) I stayed sober in order to keep the children from careening over the sides of the boat or tumbling down the vertiginous stairs that led below deck. Or being hit by a drunk gringo who lost his sea legs as we entered a small rain and wind squall. To be honest, it was all a little scary.

But we saw whales. And we idled in front of the awe-inspiring rock formation called Land's End. (Land's End and El Arco are what you see in every picture of Los Cabos.) I looked in vain for the formation that is supposed to look like a group of hooded monks, but couldn't elbow my way through the people taking pictures and keep hold of Jonah's hand.

As we sailed back toward the marina, much later than I wished, I watched the drunks dancing to "My Humps" and thought, man, if my mom was on this trip with us, she'd be right there." Then a fortyish woman in white walking shorts and Keds started gyrating around a flagpole. No, I thought, she'd be right there.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

School Daze

My kindergarten sat on a large landscaped lot about 10 blocks from my stucco house in Milpitas, CA. I went there because it was free. I crossed a four-lane street with traffic lights by myself to get there, then found my way to a painted green line on the expansive playground blacktop, where I waited for the bell to ring.

My son gets lost going to the bathroom in our house. This is one reason why, despite the fact that there are other options, I am lobbying for him to attend his default neighborhood public school for kindergarten next year. It's two blocks away. I can stand at the end of my yard and watch him make it to the crossing guard.

Another reason is that I just can't bring myself to get into the kindergarten hysteria that descends upon a certain Seattle demographic this time of year. There's this attitude that if you don't get accepted into one of the "good" public schools, you must do dire things to afford a private school or your kid will never learn how to read.

"OMIGOD did you get your app in for [blank]????" In the Little Gym class lobby, the preschool parking lot, and the book group, it is THE topic of conversation right now. I hear many expressions of fear, angst, disgust at the application fees. There is much eye-rolling at the non-aligned deadlines of Seattle Public School applications and those of virtually every private grade school in town. Parents swap test score data and free-and-reduced-lunch numbers when they run into each other with their dogs and kids and paper cups of coffee.

Some of these parents are friends, good people that I respect and like. Yet the whole thing gets my Irish up. I hate the notion that where you go to school makes you who you are. I hate the attitude of many parents that their kid will be, by default, elite or advanced or gifted. (I really hated this when I was a teacher. Those parents were a pain in my ass.)

This feeling took hold for me when Jonah was going to a little co-op down in a fancy zip code. The kids were 1-2 years old. It was a play class. The kids wandered around like cats, exploring objects, bumping against one another, climbing on pillows. The teacher sang songs with hand motions and made each kid feel special. It was lovely and developmentally appropriate. But some parents were pissed because the teacher wasn't using flash cards.

It's not all about the fucking flash cards.

Anyway, what makes some kids so special that they get to go to exclusive schools, and other kids not so special? I mean, who do these parents think they are?

This came up in a conversation yesterday with my husband. He blinked at me as if I had just told him I wanted Jonah to go to an elementary school that does weapons pat-downs at the door.

"I don't understand this," he said, shaking his head. "You complain about the crappy schools you went to and how your parents weren't involved, and now when you have some options..."

I know, I know. But look - I come from a place where to ask for something better is to invite a swift kick in the ass. Who do you think you are? Once I brought up the idea that I might change to a different high school, and my mother threw a screechy tantrum.

Maybe if I had my druthers Jonah would be learning to read while taking backpacking trips with Outward Bound. For the next ten years. (Of course, he'd have to be strapped with a GPS unit.)He would be completely out of the normal school loop until it came time to apply to college.

Because for me, the normal loop sucks. In the normal loop, life becomes all about the flash cards, the tests, and where you are in the pecking order of the lunchroom. I have never flourished in this kind of environment.

My husband, however, has and does. He was the kind of kid for whom public schools are made. He blossoms in regimented environments. He enjoys competition. And if it weren't for those traits, and quite possibly the great schools he attended that helped him develop his large brain, we'd be fuckin' broke.

So I guess we just start trying stuff and see what happens. In the meantime, I need to relax my judgment. Stop thinking about what's best for Society and think about what's best for Jonah. It is okay to do that. It's good to do that. It makes me less angry to do that. I don't need to be fighting these old ghosts.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Bitch Lit

Blogs are supposed to be for ranting, right? I have one this morning, inspired by a quote in a week-old article in the New York Times about the rise of "mom lit." Mom lit is, apparently, light and frothy narrative about the perils of choosing an Italian stroller in Manhattan. Or something. Anyway, it picks up where "chick lit" left off. Jill Kargman, author of the forthcoming "Momzilla," describes her readers as savvy and hip and, one has to infer, somehow better.

"They don't feel like the crusty, over-the-hill J.C. Penney moms with the tapestry vest," says she.

My first thought: Bitch.

My second thought: Why are publishers giving so much shelf space to these bitches?

Every mother who does the daily grind with her kids knows that we are all about one vomit-stain away from giving up on the artifice of looking good. If that means shopping at J.C. Penney for sturdy wash-and-wear items that are cheap enough to discard without guilt after the breast milk leaks through the breast pad for the 400th time, then so be it. Shit, who do we have to impress during the day?

Not Jill Kargman. I hate to think what she might say about my second-day hair and (gasp!) last year's shoes.

Did that sound judgmental?