Batter Up!

Back to school week is my least favorite. The sweet togetherness of summer is replaced by the anticipation of anxiety and stress. Everyone still wants to sleep in, but they need me to make sure their shit is taken care of. My inbox is jammed with more information than I care to process, and everywhere I go I find myself struggling to maneuver my own loaded shopping cart  through aisles packed with Moms who sport a similar stricken expression.

Just weeks ago I was  gallivanting the country with my beautiful family, discovering  Atlanta’s most magnificent donuts. Now I find myself  pondering whether a package of Sharpie Electro Pop Ultra Fine Point Pens will soothe my daughter’s battered self confidence. After some debate, and with Little Bear lolling about in the front of the cart, my M&M bribe to keep him quiet rapidly diminishing, I decide that no, the Sharpies are unnecessary. I will just stick to the list.

We need three boxes of tissues and they only have a pack of five. We dig in yellow cardboard boxes for the last “ultra fine point black marker (sharpie preferred!)” We decide we probably have one at home, maybe in the junk drawer? I find my Mom with the girls. They are tossing their popcorn snack out of the wagon and shreiking. I am sweating now, and regretting my decision to eat the other sharing size bag of M&Ms  back in the clothing section. I tell them to clean up the mess, but soon recognize this as fruitless and sort of gather it all up into a pile and smile apologetically at a  nearby employee.

A few days later I walk my beautiful, confident six year old to the front porch of her new classroom. She’s wearing a cow backpack with a matching lunchbox and has my old yoga mat under her arm. Her hair is braided into a crown, and all the crazy strands are already falling out around her pretty face which just radiates pure joy. She shakes her teacher’s hand and forgets to say  goodbye. “Cleo!” I yell. “What?” Her face is fantastically annoyed. “Have a great day!”

Then I walk little bear to his room. He won’t have his sister for support  this year and he’s been up all night worrying. He has bona fide circles under his eyes and he’s visibly holding back tears. He wants to sit on the bench outside and I we do this for way too long. I can feel the disapproval of his teachers that I’m letting him drag this out. I look around for a more competent adult  to take control of the situation. The process of peeling his little self from my arms is predictably horrifying, so I spend my first free morning in months purchasing new craft supplies and planning fun projects for us to do together. It helps.

The big kids board the bus on their first day without much fanfare, but Maeve calls me in the afternoon upset. My girl has taken a giant leap out of her comfort zone and signed up for middle school athletics. Her new coach has, with exactly zero tact, called her out in front of her peers for failing to provide the necessary forms and purchase the proper athletic shorts. I have missed the email and Maeve doesn’t have telepathic capabilities, so she is fucked.  I am livid. I recall an image of this woman to mind, standing in the gym with her hands clasped behind her back and her feet spread apart. She’s using a bunch of terminology I don’t understand because I don’t live and breathe middle school athletics, and all I need to know is where to show up and when. Just tell me where to get the damn shorts lady!  I write her a scathing email and then delete the whole thing. I write her another asking that she contact me urgently.

The next few days are a shit show. There’s the trip to the UPS store to sort out the whole athletic form debacle. And the trip to the pediatrician for Bear’s cough. There’s the morning ritual wherein I watch bear gulp back tears in the rearview mirror and then observe while he takes deep breaths on our walk up the path. Of course it’s all for naught since he still loses his cool when we reach the classroom door, and I feel my heart physically breaking every time. There are job interviews because this year I will have to work so we can afford the fancy school tuition. And the talk with the athletics teacher, where I do my best to hold back because really, she’s just like me, and the first week of school probably isn’t her favorite either.

The Guy Who Made Me Ugly Cry in Yoga Class

One of the initial steps in my recovery from panic disorder is to expose myself to the places and things that have induced extreme anxiety and panic in the past. This meant it was time recently to reintroduce myself to Bikram Yoga. Bikram is an interesting experience turned love of mine that I discovered during the honeymoon phase of being put  on the anti anxiety medication Escitalopram. This phase, whether due to placebo effect (I am on an extremely low and likely ineffectual dose), or actual efficacy of the drug lasted about a year, and enabled me to try out some things I had been itching to for a long time.

I dragged my sister along to our first class a little over a year ago. We entered the hot room feeling self conscious and unsure. I spent the first half  of the class coercing my body into postures it surely did not welcome and the second half lying on my mat studying the water spots on the ceiling tiles and worrying that the headache I was experiencing was indicative of heatstroke. But the lovely teacher encouraged me to drink a ton of water and come back the next day, so I did! I attended twelve days of the fourteen day promotional period. During that time I learned a great deal about my mind and body. I gained flexibility and confidence, and I quickly realized it was the only form of exercise I had actually enjoyed…ever. This, I thought, might be “my thing”.

Some days were better than others. It was disheartening at first to look around the room at the veritable sea of svelte, toned, and super flexible bodies, the bodies of yogis who have been practicing for many years. I began to understand pretty quickly, however, that becoming more fit and healthy was only a byproduct of the yoga, and far from the actual point. I started to look only at myself in the mirror. I tried to be compassionate toward my  body, abused as it was by my sustained weakness for banana nut muffins and  unassailable respect for the ritual of afternoon tea. I learned to celebrate mini victories, rejoicing in my newfound ability to touch my toes or balance on one leg. I noticed that the usual, persistent thoughts and worries about the kids would dissipate as I studied myself in those mirrors. The Bikram dialogue became my meditation and I pushed myself hard as I dared to “reach for the back wall” in backward bending pose, or to “lock the knee” in standing head to knee. My sister loved it too and together we encouraged the rest of my family to get involved. Before long five of us had signed up for the Thirty Day Challenge.

We sweat… gallons, we twisted, we wobbled, we learned to breathe through  the discomfort. “In by the nose, out by the nose, it calms the nervous system” they said. Some days we cheated ourselves, others we pushed too hard, but every day, for thirty days, we showed up. And we were victorious! Every one of us finished the challenge and experienced massive improvements in our flexibility and strength. I felt calmer in my interactions with the kids and with Andy, and my sleep was incredibly restful. It was the tip of the iceberg in terms of what yoga can do for a person, but it was a strong start.

I did not continue a daily practice, but I did show up regularly for a while. That is, until the day I had a massive panic in class. I was late, class had already started and I could feel it rising. Maybe my blood sugar was low, maybe I didn’t get enough sleep. It doesn’t matter. I tried to resist rather than accept and soon I found myself trembling on the mat, dizzy and nauseous, heart pounding, thoughts racing. I remember it took about forty minutes before I could really engage. Forty minutes of intense waves of panic in a room heated to 105 degrees at forty percent humidity. At the time I felt it was the kind of experience a person shouldn’t have to endure without help.

I wish now that I had just continued to show up, to let the panic roll through while I simply did the yoga. It is a simple approach that is anything but easy. But instead I allowed the panic to choose. I attended class sporadically for a while, but the panic kept coming and I eventually sent an email canceling my membership. It was a difficult time.

Fast forward to today, forging deeper into this journey of acceptance and mindfulness I signed myself up for another Thirty Day challenge. The purpose this time had very little to do with training my body. I knew going into it that I would have many panic attacks because I had conditioned myself to believe they would occur. One day, one of the co owners asked if it might be helpful for me to set my mat up by the door. “No”, I explained  “I just need to accept”. That day I set my mat up in the front row.

There were days where I felt it wouldn’t be possible to will my body out of the car, but I did. One day I found myself at the studio door having slept very little. I had been enduring waves of panic since 4am. I had dropped my children at school dressed, fed, hugged, lunches packed, and now I wanted to crawl into a hole. I struggled through the drive, every turn toward the studio a deliberate decision, the motions of throwing my bag over my shoulder, locking my car, pulling open the door and signing my name on the sheet, each an act of bravery. But I noticed halfway though class that I was meditating, breathing, accepting. Victory. Once again I completed the challenge, but this time it meant so much more.

Somewhere in the middle of the challenge the studio owners treated us to a demonstration and kinda sorta posture clinic with yoga champion Joseph Encinia. It’s not really an experience I can do justice on this page. It was beyond inspiring. His story alone; the story of a little boy suffering from a painful autoimmune disease, of a teenager who endured a heart attack due to his medication, the story of a man who triumphed over his illnesses and lives a full, rich life due in part to yoga was motivating enough. But the man himself, with his energy and drive and light, not to mention his awe inspiring  demonstration…well, it’s the kind of thing you look back on to pull yourself out of the dark places.

At the end of class, when it was time for savasana, a time I usually reserve for desperately struggling to pull my busy mind back into stillness, Joseph said “let’s meditate”.  It was a short yet powerful meditation that required us to hold in our minds the person we love most in the world, to wish them safety, peace and happiness, we wished these things for ourselves too, then for someone we struggle with, and finally for all beings. It was a profoundly moving meditation and the tears came out of nowhere. After Joseph left the room I covered my face with my arms and lay helplessly on the mat allowing the tears to come. At first I thought it was just me, but soon I could hear a few other stifled sobs.

Its called loving kindness meditation or metta meditation. Years ago, Andy sent me an email as part of our thread “What the F*** is wrong with Elaine”, detailing how this particular type of meditation is helpful for those experiencing anxiety and panic. Turns out it’s also coming up soon in the meditation series provided by my therapist. There are plenty of beautiful and inspiring examples of loving kindness meditation on you tube, but I’ll leave you with this. It’s a version of the Loving Kindness Prayer similar to what was said to us in class:

Loving Kindness Prayer

May you be happy

May you be well

May you be peaceful

May you be safe

 

Namaste

Fifteen

Fifteen years, two days, one hour and sixteen minutes. That’s how long I’ve been a mother. Fifteen years, two days, one hour and sixteen minutes ago I watched as my flaccid, unresponsive son, his tone a sickly purplish gray was whisked from my body and to a far corner of the delivery room. There, an army of attendants cajoled him into being; their nervousness betrayed by voices unnaturally loud. My mother tells me she saw it coming, but I had been clueless. When they turned down the volume on the fetal heart rate monitor, it’s normally reassuring “clippety clop” alarmingly slow, when two nurses appeared out of nowhere to push on the top of my belly, when all manner of instruments were used to drag him into the world, I was mostly unaware of the gravity of the situation. Nobody told me. Nobody had enough respect for that nineteen year old girl to fill her in.

I looked into my Mothers face in the moments after he was born, while we waited for his cry, mostly confused. She reassured me that he was beautiful,  perfect. She smiled and her eyes were filled with tears. I think I asked if he was okay. He was. He was beautiful and perfect indeed. They wrapped him in his little receiving blanket, covered his little cone head with a hospital hat and placed him in my arms. I looked down into his blinking eyes, his sweet face searching for the voice he knew so well, for the voice that told him he was safe. His bottom lip was tucked all the way inside his mouth so he looked like a little old man, and he had some red marks on his tiny swollen cheeks. I don’t remember what I said. I don’t remember what anyone said. But I remember the enormity of the feeling. It wasn’t overwhelming or frightening, not even as young as I was. But there was a fierceness to it, my complete and perfect devotion to this little soul. And then the breathtaking realization that he was everything.

We’ve travelled the years at lightening speed. Every long newborn night, every doctor’s office struggle, every harrowing toddler tantrum and nineteen hour plane flight, the harrowing tantrum on the nineteen hour flight seemed never ending at the time. But the good stuff, it’s all just in snapshots. They’re shuffled all wrong and I can’t piece them together properly into a coherent story. But oh they are wonderful to just spread out on the floor of my memory, a big messy pile. It’s achingly sweet to pick them up, squint at them, try to see deeper, to remember what his sweet toddler hair smelled like, how it was to hold his hand in mine as we crossed the bridge at the park, how our feet sounded together as we stamped loudly across it to scare away trolls. Can I recall how his breath sounded when I knew he was asleep and I could safely retreat from the room? How did his voice sound as he played pretend with his toy trains? I can almost hear it, but not quite. They told me it would go fast. I didn’t listen. I couldn’t have understood. Listen, watch, pay attention. Soon it’ll all just be snapshots.

On his birthday I made him a mountain bike cake. Mountain biking promises to be a lifelong passion of Aidan’s if this year is anything to go by. He is an athlete, and a boy scout. A freakin’ boy scout! And a loving, if mischievous, big brother. He is a prankster and he has a wicked sense of humor. You may or may not be able to tell, but I am insanely proud of him. He is heading into high school this year and I am helping him to navigate scheduling, relationships, responsibility. This is the dreaded year he will learn to drive.

My role in his life has recently shifted dramatically. I have a measure of trust in him that I wouldn’t have thought possible a few short years ago. Don’t judge me. This is the kid who I am ninety nine percent sure pulled the fire alarm at the Extended Stay hotel in Nashua, New Hampshire causing dozens of guests to stand outside in the cold while we waited for the fire department to arrive. He still won’t own up to it. He’s the kid who had his father running laps around said hotel after him before pulling said fire alarm. He’s the kid who would steal and hide my keys in restaurants and then watch me frantically turn the diaper bag inside out, all the while insisting that this time it really wasn’t him.

We also seem to be coming out the other side of the whole “parents are embarrassing” phase. I am often surprised to learn that I’m invited to his school or scouting events and, happily, hugs in public are no longer verboten. When I speak to him now I am acutely aware that I am speaking with a young man. We can discuss politics, music, or the most recent episode of The Walking Dead with equal candor and I am finding out what an utterly cool human being we have raised.

To Aidan, who will read this before it is published; I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to be your mother. Maybe the Waldorfies are right and from somewhere out there you chose me.  More likely we just ended up each others people by random chance out here in this fantastic universe. Either way, holy crap I am glad you are you,  I am me, and we’re together.