Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Art of Doing Everything

One time someone bought me a copy of the book, "The Art of Doing Nothing." I took one cursory glance at the photos of ladies doing, well, nothing, and I tossed the book into the Goodwill pile.

Then I went about my quest to master everything.

This last week, I was supposed to settle down. Calm my mind. Rest my body. Rejuvenate my spirit. It didn't quite happen like that.

Because I had a million things to do.

But I really didn't.

I needed to keep Ben entertained for the week. I needed to pick up a few things for my upcoming vacations. I needed to exercise moderately and eat regularly. I needed to keep my client schedule flowing despite last minute cancellations. I needed to get some sleep.

I'm not even going to tell you how crazed I became just with the tasks listed above. Put it this way: if there was Xanax in the house, I would have popped a pill each hour. If there was anything green in the house, I probably would have smoked it. If someone came in with a syringe full of Botox, I would have offered up my forehead. It's a wonder that I didn't dip into the vodka or uncork a bottle of wine.

Instead, I escaped each night with an episode of "Rescue Me." I don't even know why I watch, except for the fact that I laugh out loud at the raunchy FDNY firehouse humor. And I thank the good Lord above that I am no longer a fire fighter's wife. And, truth be told, Denis Leary has a strange, sexy-like appeal that I can't quite put my finger on.

I digress.

Now it is Saturday and I have gotten up early, cleaned out my shoes, picked up a friend for yoga, killed myself with 75 minutes of ungodly hard yoga, eaten egg white omelet and two delectable bites of peach pancake with two of my favorite yogi ladies, dropped off my friend, stood in an ungodly line at the ATM, deposited business checks for the week, stood in an ungodly line at the pharmacy, picked up endocrine pills that I probably don't need anymore, stalled out in the Whole Foods supplement section, selected vitamins to help with the sore throat that is lasting an ungodly length of time, stood once again in ungodly line to pay ungodly amounts of money for said vitamins, greek yogurt, fake cheeto-s, and organic brown rice, searched car for dry cleaning ticket, waited an ungodly amount of time for the dry cleaning gal to track down my white pants and my black pants, fuel up the car, return ungodly Cover Girl lip stick to RiteAid, contemplate quick trip to Macys to buy a decent lip stick, decide instead to go home and lay on couch for an undetermined - and perhaps, ungodly - amount of time.

And I wonder why I look so darn tired all the time.

Part of me thinks that I still can't quite handle my time without Ben so I create a million and one excuses to stay on the move.

Part of me says that I am a perfectionist at heart and every day needs to be filled with productivity, exercise and multi-tasking.

Part of me knows that I need to slow way, way, way down and get a little more centered.

So rather than take apart the above statements to find out the root cause of my busy-ness, I'm going to sign off and go supine for a while on my beloved couch.

Besides, I have to rest up for tomorrow, which starts with an early Reformer class that I've already signed up for.

Old habits are going to die hard, I'm afraid.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

All or Nothing

My dearest and most treasured friend, Kathie, made an interesting observation about me recently. She's always brutally honest and generally, spot-on with her comments. So, I try to listen. And take heed.

This particular insight hit close to home. Really close to home. She pointed out an issue that I've struggled with for a long, long time and distilled it down to a couple of sentences. Here is what she said:

"Janeen, you have no middle ground. You're are either taking life by storm, running at a hundred miles an hour, or you're completely downshifted into low or no gear."

There it is again, that elusive sense of equanimity that I simply cannot wrap my brain around: balance.

This week is the perfect example.

I was supposed to lay low while Ben was on vacation with his dad. Brush up on continuing education. Write some sample pieces for potential online gig. Finish a book. Organize Ben's school projects from last year. Troubleshoot the printer. Take a nap. Or two. Or three.

I also thought about doing a little bit of nothing or as the Italians call it, "far niente." My big vision of nothingness included a blanket to lay on, a book to read, maybe an Italian glass of wine to sip. I can almost feel the lines in my forehead relaxing every time I conjure up this image.

Well, anyway.

Here it is, Day 6, and none of the above happened.

Here's what did happen:

I took two Body Pump classes and two Body Attack classes and two Reformer classes and two yoga class. Don't do the math. It's too many damn classes.

I met up with four girlfriends one night for dinner and wine. I'm glad I had the foresight to pass on the wine because...

I then connected with my online friend, L, for more dinner and drinks the following night.

Then, the next day, I taught a late night class.

Are you still with me?

I took one whole workday and went shopping. Most of my clients were out on vacation and I needed swim suits and rashguards for an upcoming vacation. If you looked in my bags after I came stumbling through the door, you might also think that I needed sundresses, white pants, sandals, a purse, two long sleeve sweaters and a new lip gloss, too. To set the record straight, I did not need any of these items. And I came home with zero swim suits. Thankfully, REI saved the day by making kids rashguards big enough to fit female adults so I scored a pink, girls rashguard.

Then, this morning I went with 106 other people to a yoga fundraiser in McKinley Park. My girlfriend and I sweated through the 90 minute practice, then we hung out to register as bone marrow donors, which required multiple swaps of saliva and rather lengthy paperwork. We hiked it across the park to the Farmer's Market, then took the long way around, back to the car. Once we got back to her house, I went through of all of her clothes (because she is an amazing fashionista), trying on multiple dresses for multiple events this summer. Then it was on to her jewelry.

Arriving home, I realized that I had no food for Ben tomorrow - since he will not eat chicken, fish, vegetables, or flax - and those are the only things on the menu here theses days. So it was off to the grocery store to get the necessary items for his arrival: nuggets, hot dogs, mac and cheese (obviously "Operation Adult Food" is not going well).

Glancing around the house that I've hardly seen this week, I also realized that it was in dire need -especially the studio - of a major cleaning. And that all the yoga pants I own were in the laundry basket.

So now it's Saturday afternoon, the house is (relatively) clean, the pantry is stocked, most of the laundry is folded and put away. Is it time for a nap?

Oh yes, you're probably saying. Lay down. Close your eyes. Rest.

But no. There is one last thing and that is church with my Dad tonight and dinner after, which I've very much been looking forward to.

My friend Kathie is almost always right. I knew it this morning when I woke up with a sore throat.

So next week, next week will about slowing down. Not over-scheduling Ben. Not over-scheduling myself. Getting to bed before midnight. Spending some time in the home that we love.

It's so very hard for me to throttle back, to take the much-needed time of caring for myself. But I feel so much better when I do.

If there's one place I'd love to find, it's the middle ground. The place where I can manage my energy and my expectations and reality.

I'm still looking for it.

In the meantime, there are gym classes and nights with friends and yoga in the park and shopping. So many things to tempt me.

And, likewise, so many reasons to say "no," "no," "no" and "maybe next week."

I'm going to blog a week from today. We'll see how I did.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where To Find Happiness? On An Old Blue Pool Slide.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this last weekend we went to my sister's home in the East Bay. We spent two days by the pool, lathered up in SPF 70 sunscreen (I am the sunscreen Nazi).

I love going to my sister's house for many reason.

One, it's not in Sacramento and it's in a gorgeous part of the East Bay. When I'm at her house, I can briefly forget about my life in Sacramento. It's cooler there, it's prettier there, the shopping is better, the yoga studios are plentiful and Peet's is within walking distance.

Two, her house is big and comfortable. Not big and pretentious. When I don't have Ben, I go to her home and sink into a couch, a love seat or a chaise lounge and sit for hours with a book. I'm so relaxed there that time has no relevance.

Third, she has a great pool and a spa. The pool is warm, or as she likes to say, "open" all summer long.

And last, there is an old, plastic 70s style pool slide. The slide is probably on its last legs and if she's smart, my sister will have anyone who ventures into the pool sign a waver so that she doesn't get her ass sued when a 200 pound "friend" attempts to climb the rickety ladder and the whole thing comes apart.

But I digress.

I am not 200 pounds (yet) and Ben isn't either. Never mind about Ben though because he wasn't having anything to do with the slide. Which is fairly typical, given that unless he has a baseball bat, a glove or a soccer ball, he will not take on any physical risk.

His mother, however, will.

On Sunday, I was all over that slide. My mission was to get a Facebook worthy profile shot which was really quite hard to do. I probably went down the slide 30 times, with my sister behind the camera. There were quite a few belly flops and painful landings on my back.

Nevertheless, here is what our day looked like:

Fueling up for the slide with an Otter Pop. Ben consumed about 83 of these over the weekend. Don't look at my hair. One dip in the chlorine = one bad idea for expensive (and extensive) highlights!

The big prepare. I'm holding on for dear life here.

This is right before the first belly flop.

And my best imitation of Superman. Another belly flop.

I laughed so hard after the Superman plunge that I couldn't swim in. My sister snapped this picture once I had my footing; never mind that I was practically drowning!

Last time down. Ben requests "the french fry." Body straight, arms extended. Thank God for my mommy swim suit. A bikini just wouldn't have worked for this one. Hardest landing yet; right on the back! Ben's favorite photo, by far.

Then I took over the camera and caught some sweet pictures with my awesome sister and her favorite nephew. She loves Ben so much.

We have to go back. Soon. Before that 200 pound friend takes down the slide and takes away all our fun.

Thanks, Alisa for a beautiful weekend and for being the amazing sister and aunt that you are.
We love you!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Parenting On The Periphery

July of 2010 is not going to go down as a stellar month in hands-on parenting for this mom. And for that...

I'm sorry, Ben.

We did have some Blackberry camera worthy moments:

But for the most part, I have been not quite the mom that I want to be.

Sometimes, it's good to share; to let it all out. So, here it is; my confession.

Time pulled on my heartstrings and I wrote "One Third" and it tore my heart up and healed it, all at once.

I started this crazy nutrition program. I went through the ups and the downs of extreme carbohydrate deprivation. I was crabby for several weeks.

Then, I got this idea that it was time to push the envelope on my writing. I researched opportunities; I talked to people "in the know," I started to devise a plan.

I pushed myself back into the social realm of life.

I took on Tahoe for the 4th. I came home too tired.

I scheduled more adult time, in the way of trips, happy hours, yoga classes, and other social events, than any other previous summer.

I have been killing myself at the gym.

Did you notice all the "I" statements above? Normally, I'm a big fun of the "I" statements; in this case, not so much.

Consequently, there's been more DS time and less nighttime reading in Ben's bed.

At playdates, Ben's drifted to his friends, without any interaction from me.

I can hear myself being dismissive and impatient.

I can feel myself being more passive; less engaged.

I don't like this.

I, I, I.

This weekend, my sister swam with Ben while I huddled under a blanket. Granted, I'm still battling some endocrine issues that make swimming in anything less than 80 degrees totally uncomfortable.


I had all afternoon to swim with Ben.

Instead, I enjoyed cocktails with the adults. I do believe that Ben had a great time with the other child in the pool but I also know that he would have keeled over in delight if I had climbed the ladder of my sister's 70s style rickety slide and let it rip. On my belly. Face first. Oh yeah. What 6-year-old wouldn't love to see his mother do that.

I must tell myself eighteen hundred times a day, every day: "You are not going to get this time back!" It's become my own personal mantra; my threat to myself, an ever-constant reminder of time pushing me out of its cruel way. But right now, I don't seem to be listening.

I know that it's a natural evolution for parents to start to drift, ever so slightly, into the background of a child's life. Kids make friends, they begin playing sports, they want autonomy. Some children make this transition sooner than others. Ben is not one of those children.

He's always leaned on me a bit more. He's sought me out for comfort, for input, for guidance. And in turn, my attention for him has mostly been unbridled and enthusiastic. I've always reasoned that I only get Ben half the time so I better damn well do my best for the short days that I have him. Besides, I may only do this once. I can't take one moment for granted.

So, why is this summer so different?

In all honestly, this has felt like the first time, since my divorce, that my adult life has really evolved. I have trips to look forward to and events to attend. I have a life outside of single parenting that is starting to emerge. That's exciting.

But I'm not a mom who has a sense of entitlement, as in: "I work so hard as a single mom that I deserve time away from my child." The thing is, I already have plenty of time away from my child, thanks to the State of California and a very modern parenting plan.

I have too much time away from my child. There are so many nights when it's dead quiet, when I wish he was chattering at me about all his six-year-old notions; so many mornings when I wait for him to call me from his bed, then realize he's not here.

Time with adult friends is fun, it's an escape. But I always come back missing Ben.

This is also the first time, since my divorce, that I'm really starting to take a hard look at my work and my passions. Bringing those two together, merging them into something that resembles a career, is going to be damn hard. It's going to take a lot of work. And time. I'm also going against my philosophy, ever so slightly, of not putting my career in front of my child.

To that end, Ben might have to stay in after school care next year so that I can start to get my arms around this project. I'm trying to get used to that possibility. It will be a first for both of us.

For now, there is an opportunity to salvage this month. To have some "we" instead of "I."

We're spending weekdays together after early pick-ups from camp. Saturday nights are chicken nuggets and Tom and Jerry and books. Sundays at the pool. And I am very much looking forward to the eight days in August that we have together - just me and Ben - to take on Lego Land and San Diego.

Yesterday, we had the pool slide. I know I went down at least a dozen times. My sister caught it all on my camera. I swallowed a lot of pool water from laughing. Ben's still talking about it.

Tomorrow, he goes to his dad's for six days. Gulp.

As a mother, I know all too well that there will always be guilt. There will never be enough time. I will forever second-guess myself. It will never be easy.

The tightrope I walk. The fine act of balance. Just as I feel like I'm about to tumble after a couple of weeks of autopilot parenting - and as the rope careens wildly - an afternoon of countless times down an old pool slide brings me right back to my center.

Pictures to come, I promise.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This (So Called) Writing Life

I have been writing all my life.

I come from a long line of writers: my dad, my sister, my grandmother. Each are and were amazing in their own literary ways. I'm not as talented as any of them. Not by a long shot.

Nevertheless, I wrote through every grade of school. I wrote for every yearbook, for each newsletter, for any essay contest. I wrote for the Journalism Club. I wrote letters, I wrote in journals.

I went on to to college and wrote for my degree. I wrote for the debate team. I wrote for the college radio station. I tried to write my way into graduate school.

I found jobs where I could write. I wrote for publicity. I wrote for business development. I wrote for marketing. I wrote for the Visa Check Card. I wrote for co-workers. I wrote for clients. I wrote for advertisers. I wrote for focus groups.

I tried to write my ticket to grad school again. But it wasn't meant to be because...

I had a baby.

I became a single mother.

And I started a small business.

Then, I woke up one day and I missed writing.

I wrote a blog. I wrote another. I wrote a third.

I wrote in Google documents.

Every night before bed, I would write. About everything. About nothing.

I figure that over the last two years, I've spent more time with my laptop than any one person, except Ben. Is that bad? I don't know. I think sometimes, that instead of giving my heart out, I've focused on writing my heart out.

I've written a lot. Blog posts that I never publish. Letters that I never send. Dreams that I can never articulate. Fears that I can only share with my beloved friend, Google.

For me, writing it coping. Writing is therapy. Writing heals. Writing doesn't judge. When everything else is amiss, writing brings me back to my center.

It's been eating at me, this sense of not quite doing what I should be doing with my love for writing. So...

Last week, I had a phone interview with a national journalist. He knows about my background; he's read my work. We talked for ninety minutes. "This is your passion, isn't it?" he asked.

I think it is. But I have a lot of passions.

He shared some ideas, gave me some input, scared the shit out of me.

I could go anywhere with my writing. I could?

I could go to San Francisco. I could go to Los Angeles. I could go to DC.

The journalism field is as crazy as any other industry right now, but there are opportunities. Good opportunities. Right now. Like as in, next week.

I could write for a major publication. I could go to a newspaper, as he had. Work my way up to splashy freelance assignments. Hit the coup de gras of journalism: Vanity Fair.

Or not.

I don't want anything that grand. I still want to be a mother. I still want to have a hand in wellness. I still want to teach. Vanity Fair writers are never home and when they are, they're always writing. There's not much time for anything else.

Besides, I'm here in Sacramento for while. The Bay Area, I might be able to swing. Maybe. But it would be hard.

We talked about the current economic landscape in Sacramento. "A desert," we agreed. A city with a decent newspaper that's about to fold. Not the best place to be for an aspiring writer.

I hung up the phone feeling a little disheartened. I experienced a brief moment of anger, over the fact that I am here and that the writing jobs are there, there and there. Then, I let it go and focused instead on the online opportunities that I could pursue.

This morning, I got a text from a client. "My friend (who owns a local PR firm) wants to see your writing samples."

I called her up. Yes, the PR firm is here. Yes, they need writers. Yes, they are interested. "You're such a great writer," she said. "I thought it might be a good chance for you."

When I had to go back to work after my divorce, it would be an understatement to say that every door relating to pilates, yoga and wellness opened up for me. I felt like mountains were moved and opportunities were practically served up on a silver platter. People gave me training, they gave me resources, they gave me chances.

I have always looked back on that time in my life with complete amazement. And more than once, I asked, "Why me? Why do I get to be so fortunate?"

Now it feels like it's happening all over again.

Not long ago, I read "The Alchemist." I was about fifteen years overdue in reading it, but it probably takes a "late 30s" mind to really absorb the messages that this little book imparts. My takeaway from it was this: The Universe - or God - wants to give you what you want. Whether that's a rewarding career, a loving family, eight children or just a pile of treasure in the middle of the desert, it's the Universal way to reward those who really work hard for the thing (or things) that they most desire.

But there's a caveat. Most people back away once they get thisclose to what they want. It's too scary. It's too real. It's outside of their own personal "status quo."

We all know someone who has bowed out of a wedding, last minute, or who has bailed from the seemingly perfect relationship. I know people who have been offered long-awaited, killer promotions and they've walked away. I also have friends in my life who want children but are terrified of taking the step toward parenthood.

Getting what you want is scary.

I so get that. I'm right there. I can feel the edge of the jumping off point. It's not a soft surface to stand on and it will likely not be a soft place to land.

But I need to do it. As I push up against this milestone birthday (30, thanks for asking!) I'd love to have one more "real" accomplishment crossed off my list. Not a new haircut, not a new car, not another trip and most certainly, not a new outfit!

Something I can call my own. Something that is separate from everything else. Something that could lead to other things. Something that I pour my heart into and bust my ass for.

I have a few friends who are pushing the envelope this year. One is moving to New York City. I'm terribly envious and proud of her, all at the same time. Another is training for her first Ironman. I'm not envious of her in the least bit. Yet another is taking on a live-in boyfriend with his small daughter, in a home that she is purchasing. I tried to talk her out of it.

When I surround myself with people who take healthy risks, I feel inspired. I'm not the most aggressive girl on the block, but I don't like to back down in the face of fear either. It's always a difficult balance to strike. The friends around me who do great things push me to see that I can too and that the discomfort associated with being a go-getter who also allows for a healthy amount of surrender, is okay.

So, I'm off to write for the rest of the summer. I have a list of assignments - the biggest one being the creation of a web site for wellness - which is a huge and daunting task.

I may go nowhere with this. I may go everywhere.

Being the person I am, I may find somewhere in the middle -someplace that feels really good - and stay a long, long while.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Party Like A Rock Star

I went to Tahoe this weekend. And I found out what 30-somethings do when they have no children and access to a great lakefront home.

They party like rock stars.

Holy shit.

I feel so old.

My client has a friend who has a fabulous home at Emerald Bay. She invited me months ago to come with their group for the 4th of July weekend.

Since it wasn't my year to have Ben, I readily agreed.

We went up on Saturday, my client and I, and a couple of other (younger) girls.

By noon, we had found the house (mansion) and scoured every level (five, total), all the while taking in the full-on view of the lake, just steps from the house.

By 12:30pm, we had drinks in hand.

By 1:00pm, we were on a boat, in the middle of the lake, where the partying definitely went up a few notches (if you know what I mean).

By 2:00pm, we were all pretty much gone.

By 4:00pm, I was drinking coffee to clear my head for the task of cooking dinner. For fourteen.

By 8:00pm. dinner was served (I seriously underestimated how much time it would take to feed that many people!)

By 9:00pm, I was in bed.

On Sunday, we got up and pretty much repeated all of the above. Except that I only had to cook breakfast and I slowed my wine consumption up enough to actually read "Cutting for Stone." I finished 20 pages and threw it in the lake. I didn't actually, but I wanted to!

The only difference between Saturday and Sunday were the fireworks. Oh, and the fact that I didn't have to cook dinner!

The fireworks were 'effing amazing. How have I lived my entire life here without seeing the famous Tahoe 4th of July fireworks?

From our vantage point (sprawled out on blankets on the boat dock), we watched several shows across the lake. Music blasted from the Ipod. Various substances were passed. As for me, I didn't need anything mind-altering to appreciate the already mind-blowing show that was taking place in front of me.

The reflection of the fire works against the calm lake was unlike anything I've ever seen. Every color that illuminated the sky, also had an effect on the water. It was one of the most beautiful illusions. I found it to be more captivating than the vividest of sunsets on Maui. I didn't want it to end.

I came home not necessarily feeling like I'd partied like a rock star, but I felt like I'd lived like one.

Would it have been more rewarding to stay at home with Ben, tossing water balloons with his friends, grilling hot dogs, sharing beers with my best friend and watching the kids delight in their sparklers?

I don't know.

But I do know that 4th of July fireworks in Tahoe was one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time. And that there's a reason that people pour into the Tahoe basin each year at this time. It's that great.

And as for hot dogs and water balloons and sparklers and beer with friends, there's always next year.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Literary Acquiescence

I'm about to give up on this book.

I hate giving up on books. I make it a practice not to quit a book unless it is a chick lit story that completely insults what little intelligence I have left over after parenting a small child. Outside of that rare occasion, I commit to any book I've opened. I really do. It's either a great trait or a questionable compulsion.


I have really had it with "Cutting for Stone." In fact, I'm sensing a big break-up.

I had such high hopes. Some of my clients recommended the book. One actually gave me her copy. The author was just in town last week. Another client went his reading. My clients are not literary lightweights. They make great recommendations.

But then I started the book. And it seriously kicked my ass.

For starters, it's over 600 pages long. I'm about 250 pages in.

The story takes place in Ethiopia, not a bad thing, but I've had to really keep up with the cultural references.

Then, there's the whole cast of characters. Good Lord. It's like the author was on a mission to develop as many entities for the story as he could, just to see if readers could keep track.

As with most of my commitments, I've given the book time and energy. My Netflix envelopes are still sealed. The TV remote is getting dusty. I have yet to power up the DVR.

I am giving so much! Yet all I am getting back is frustration. And a big ass-kicking.

Maybe I'm just not that smart.

Maybe I am not a "literary heavyweight" like my Mensa clients.

Maybe it's time to start shopping in the paperback section at Costco.

Maybe I should listen to another client - a smart client, I might add, who said to me: "Dear, that book is just too hard. I had to put it down."

Yet, I can't walk away just yet. It will bug me for days if I do. I'm terrible at turning away from things (and people) that I've committed to. I just can't do it. I get too invested in the outcome.

Then again, perhaps this is another lesson that I need to learn about letting go and lightening up, a bit. Cutting myself some slack (no pun intended). Saying "it's okay to put the damn book down and pick up a trash magazine."

So, that's what I'm going to do. "Cutting for Stone" is going on the shelf tonight, and it may stay there for awhile (sorry, Mary!).

If you need me, look behind the People magazine. Or the Us Weekly.

And if you've read "Cutting For Stone" and it was a literary cake walk for you, do not leave me a comment to that effect. It'll only make me feel worse.

Likewise, if you also have had your ass kicked by "Stone," do share. Please.