Monday, January 29, 2007

Hope and Fear

Yesterday I returned to my beloved yoga studio, that I have missed for 2 weeks while I was away. My instructor Keith (I only attend his sessions, not out of any dislike for the other instructors, but for a strong appreciation for his teaching style and the content of his practice) usually weaves some sort of concept into each practice, upon which to meditate or focus. Sometimes it is something as simple as slowing down, choosing to move very fluidly and purposefully between asanas and between thoughts. Increasing the distance between thoughts. Sometimes the ideas are more complex. The studio is a Buddhist yoga studio, which evidently differs from others in that Buddhist teachings exterior to the actual practice of yoga aren't necessarily woven throughout other yoga classes. Having been only to a class offered at a former workplace years ago, I wouldn't know. But I really have developed an appreciation for the works of poetry Keith works into the class as well as the philosophy he shares very humbly with us all. He does it in a way that lures you to chew on these questions in your mind long after the 90 minutes are over.
So on Sunday, on the board was written something to the effect of this: "Tension is what you think you should be. Relaxation is who you really are. Chinese proverb." And then at the beginning of class he shared a quote from an author who said, "The essence of happiness is this: fear nothing, hope nothing." Keith claimed it took him years before he could fully grasp the meaning of those statements, and come to see them as true. And that the absence of hope is not to be confused with pessimism. Because there's an absence of both fear and hope. This limbo place in the middle where basically you aren't married to the outcome of anything.
We're conditioned in our American environment to always have hope. To pray for what you want, to hope in your heart for the best outcome. But I think what Keith was getting at is that implicit inside hope is desire. And when you desire something you do not have, you set yourself up for disappointment and unhappiness if the outcome isn't in your favor. Inherent in that statement is the focus on the self, the "ego", which Buddhists work to eliminate in order to become one with each person's higher self. God, "Buddha Nature", Allah. So from what I understand, the intention is to be happy with whatever comes in life, to not expect or yearn for more than what it is, to experience it with wonder and curiosity and equanimity, fully without expectation. Everything is basically neutral, not good or bad. Attachment causes suffering, which is to be avoided in order to join in "bliss" with the higher self.
While I can definitely see the point of "fear nothing" and can work in my life toward that goal whole-heartedly, I have a hard time with "hope nothing". In fact, I think I have a hard time with living a life devoid of attachment. How does one stay connected to anyone, without a certain level of attachment? How do Buddhists define concrete relationships like marriage, without the concept of attachment? I understand the damage done by excess attachment, where you grasp at someone or something, often causing it to slip even further from our grasp. Love openly and you love without demands or possession. I'm all good with that. But even if we can imagine this state of being in which you are basically fine with whatever happens in life, birth, death, disease, and so on... not wishing or hoping for the best, just letting life unfold... it seems very void of the intense joys and sorrows to be experienced in life. Hope implies that you are fighting for an outcome. How does anyone with cancer actually beat it without hope? A lot of the point is to not fear death, to not see it as an "end" but rather as a transition. And therefore, not to cling to this life we are living here and now. But that would seem to mean you are neutral towards death, and aren't fighting against it. And I just can't take that stance. When I go, I'm sure I'll go kicking and screaming into the next phase, wanting to fully get as much of life and experience out of this one as is possible.
As a mother, I know that if my own life were ever in jeopardy, I damn well would fight like hell to stay on this earth, for no other reason than to be there for my child. Losing a parent at such a young age is devastating, and often can cause irreparable damage to a little one's psyche. While I know my daughter has a large number of people who love and cherish her to where she would never be without family and nurturing, I cannot imagine it would be as good as if her mother were there with her. Damn straight I'd fight to be here for her. And for my husband and family as well. When people die, it's not sad for them, they're moving on into the next phase. But for those of us left on earth to miss their presence, it leaves a hole and an ache. I don't think that I would want to be this stoic individual who remained so unattached to everyone and everything that they didn't feel the sense of loss in experiencing the remainder of their lives without their missing loved one. I am fully willing to go through the suffering and sadness of loss, in order to experience the abundant joys of rich, deep respectful attachments to other people in this world. Maybe I am missing something, or perhaps I am just delving into the bottom layer of this concept, for it can't be that simple, if it took Keith many years to grasp and embody it. I guess I'm just not there. May never be there. I think it is possible to hope for the best, and then deal with the reality. And I don't see the inherent "unhappiness" in doing so.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Okay, so I realize that this post is probably significantly controversial to a good many people who may read it. People seem polarized on the issue. But, it's my blog, so I will offer up the topic and anyone feel free to debate my points.

While I was up in Washington helping my mom (the second Mom, not the first one) after foot surgery, there were a few rough days in there. Hootie is in a very long 3-year-old phase of testing all the boundaries and I admittedly am not as consistent as I probably should be. I've got my head focusing on other areas for improvement right now, such as managing my irritation and frustration levels, and responding to those things appropriately. We were in a cold place, making it hard for Hootie to play outside for any length of time. I haven't really restocked the toys up there to suit her age, so most of them are still baby/toddler toys. On top of that, I was much less available to help direct her play and get her set up with arts and crafts and so forth, because of the time spent taking care of Mom and the house. Two days in a row, I tried getting Hootie out of the house for a few hours - over to my sister's house to play with her cousin Zakky, and once we took the kids together to the mall to play on their little indoor playscape. Both times, Mom ended up wanting or needing my help while I was gone, and became irritated that I wasn't there as I should be. The second time, I called and found her friend Susan there visiting, but Mom would not let Susan prepare her lunch. She waited for me to come back home to do that, bring it to her bedside, and then basically dismissed me and Hootie so she could visit with her friend. She wouldn't let Susan read Hootie stories or visit with me, she just wanted me to do my work and be gone. All of that set my mood to one where I felt I was between a rock and a hard place. Unable to please anyone in the situation. I was frustrated and stressed by it. This general frustration and stress lasted about two days and then Mom and I had a big discussion about it, and "cleared the air" so to speak. We discussed how Hootie is learning the "art of manipulation" and how I am not responding to it in a firm, authoritative way. I know we disagree on a few areas of child rearing, one of which is the use of corporal punishment - spanking and the like. It isn't that I do not believe in the use of a physical deterrent from some behaviors. In particular, I have used a "flick" of the lip when Hootie is grossly disrespectful to me, especially after repeated verbal warnings. But spanking her, which I have tried a few times, has had very little positive effect. I think it's good for things like teaching a toddler not to go in the street or not to touch a hot stove, etc. Or when they are throwing fits and disobeying direct requests or commands intentionally, after escalating warnings and consequences. But I believe in using consequences which somehow relate or tie to the misbehavior. Flicking her mouth tells her that she's being hurtful with her mouth, so her mouth will get "stung" by my flick. If she cannot share a toy, I will take it away so that nobody plays with it. If she cannot exhibit proper dining etiquette, she will sit in a time out in her room. And so on. This is just how I see it, and each parent makes up their own mind on these issues. It is each parent's perrogative to choose what they see as appropriate discipline to deter poor behaviors and guide their child. But it clearly bothers my mother that Hootie hasn't quit exhibiting these behaviors yet. And she doesn't agree with how I handle her. But for me, that is okay. I don't need permission or approval on that front. It'd be nice if my mom thought I did a good job with my child, but it's not critical that she approve. But, things went much smoother after that conversation. However, yesterday she told me that she thought she had mentioned (which she didn't), that maybe I should consider getting on some anti-depressant medications. That perhaps I need some help in managing my stress.
Anti-depressant medications have made a huge difference for many people that I know, and I am all in favor of them for these folks. My Mother in Nevada has been on them for years, and constantly struggles with getting the "balance" just right. However, without any medications, she'd be in a mental hospital or dead, I am sure. She's got a chemical imbalance which causes her to irrationally experience a lot of depression. My mom and sister both use anti-depressants, for different reasons. My mom's got a progressively debilitating disease which causes a lot of pain and stress and fear, and these drugs help her immeasurably. My sister has not explained a whole lot of what she experiences when she does not take medications which manage her depression, but I can definitely see what benefit they have for her, how they help her feel so much better. My friend Kathleen has taken two different medications for as long as I have known her, and she's also told me she needs them to even herself out - she's also been diagnosed with depression. So clearly, I am not against them at ALL.
But, I think there's a time and a place for them, and I don't believe that I fall into the category of needing them. I see it as either a temporary problem (a very close loved one dies - a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling - which causes deep sadness and despair), or a chronic problem (like a chemical imbalance, making one prone to depressive thoughts). I don't feel I have either of these issues. Generally speaking, I am happy and content with my life. Of course I have adversity. Of course I have things which I work on to improve in myself. But I don't believe I fit any of the classic signs of depression. According to a website on signs of depression from the Mayo Clinic, the two hallmark signs to look out for are:
1. Loss of interest in normal daily activities; you lose interest in activities that you once used to enjoy
2. Depressed mood; You feel sad, helpless or hopeless, and may have crying spells.
Further, it goes on to note that for a doctor or clinician to diagnose depression, most of the following symptoms should be present for at least two weeks:
Sleep disturbances. Sleeping too much or having problems sleeping can be a sign you're depressed. Waking in the middle of the night or early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep are typical.
Impaired thinking or concentration. You may have trouble concentrating or making decisions and have problems with memory.
Changes in weight. An increased or reduced appetite and unexplained weight gain or loss may indicate depression.
Agitation. You may seem restless, agitated, irritable and easily annoyed.
Fatigue or slowing of body movements. You feel weariness and lack of energy nearly every day. You may feel as tired in the morning as you did when you went to bed the night before. You may feel like you're doing everything in slow motion, or you may speak in a slow, monotonous tone.
Low self-esteem. You feel worthless and have excessive guilt.
Less interest in sex. If you were sexually active before developing depression, you may notice a dramatic decrease in your level of interest in having sexual relations.
Thoughts of death. You have a persistent negative view of yourself, your situation and the future. You may have thoughts of death, dying or suicide.

The only symptoms in all of these which pertain to me are "agitation" (my frustration and ability to be easily irritated), and some level of fatigue. As was clearly proven to me at my mom's house, I am able to sleep all night if not interruped multiple times by a child or a dog, which is the case at home. I'm tired because I don't get uninterrupted sleep most nights. I'm easily irritated because I am tired. But none of the other things describe me at all. I get a lot of pleasure out of many things I do routinely - yoga, taking walks with my husband and daughter, cooking meals, cleaning my house and seeing it all tidy and cute, shopping, reading, visiting with friends. My self esteem is just fine, my interest in sex remains strong and unchanged, and the thought of death... well, I just don't ever think about that, unless I'm on an airplane and it's really turbulent, and I'm afraid. But I don't think that's what the Mayo Clinic is referring to.

Medication is appropriate when a person needs medication to solve a problem. When there aren't other ways to really solve them. I take ibuprofen multiple times a day to deal with the pain in my shoulder. I take allergy pills to combat my severe allergies to everything in this town. I do yoga and meditate and garden and spend some time alone to help calm and reenergize myself. And I think those things are appropriate ways for me to deal with stress and frustration. I'm a at a bit of a loss on how to deal with my dog waking me up at night, and we've been progressively working on the child so that she will sleep through the night in her own bed. But what I deal with is just life. Normal things in life.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

No I Didn't Fall Off the Face of the Earth.

Have been away, up in Washington, helping my Mom post-op. Just returned back to Austin last night. I missed a bad-ass ice storm, from what I hear (see attached pic of my roof! With ICICLES!)

So yeah. And I switched to Verizon, got a new phone (a Cherry Chocolate, which I like though I would have liked the Mint Chocolate more, had they had one in stock, which they didn't. And all efforts to exchange it for a Mint Chocolate in Washington were foiled due in the first part to my first Cherry Chocolate breaking, and in second part to me leaving the BLOODY BOX AT MY MOM'S HOUSE instead of bringing it with me to the store. DUH. Now it is probably too late, if they even have any at any store in Austin.) The husband bought me a 1MB card to put in the phone so I can download some music to it, and use it as a... well, it's not an IPOD, though the UI is frighteningly similar, and the format isn't MP3, so it isn't an MP3 player. I can use it to play music, OKAY? So I downloaded individual songs to it, and then I sat and relished in my song choices, and the songs I haven't listened to in quite some time, and so that was all fun.
I'm sure I'll have something to say here soon. I am rarely without something to say. Like maybe how my mom suggested perhaps I ought to think about anti-depressants to help me deal with stress and my 3-year-old. That went over like a fart in church. For a lot of reasons. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Balancing Act

So I have this dilemma.

My Mother (the one who raised me, not the one I'm going to see next week) has invited me and my family to come to Nevada for the holidays this year.

What to do about this?

My gut reaction to this invitation is unfortunately, "No thank you." In short, I do not wish to spend the holidays with them in Nevada. I would rather either spend time with them in Nevada another time of the year, or POSSIBLY spend a holiday with them in Austin. But even that isn't high on my list.

They left Austin two weeks after Hootie was born. They saw her twice as a newborn infant before they left. Once at the hospital, and once when I took her up to their house as they were preparing to pack up and leave. They have not been back to Austin since they moved to Nevada. They claim it is because they cannot afford it. Because they sunk their retirement income into a custom-built, beautiful house in a little golf community north of Las Vegas. They don't play golf. Or gamble. But they like this little town, and they like the lack of state income tax in Nevada. And they felt they had no other choices but to buy a home which continued to increase in price as it was being designed and built. They also have three dogs to board, should they leave town. So evidently, it's a big ordeal to go out of town.

I brought Hootie to their little house once, when she was almost 2. And my Mother saw her at a family funeral in Washington when she was about 9 months old, for a short time. So that's all they have seen of their granddaughter.

After a rather unpleasant exchange about holidays in mid-2005, wherein I explained that we already had made commitments for both Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, my mother tearfully claimed she felt like a bastard stepchild, unimportant and left out, and would I EVER spend holidays with them? I suggested they come to visit between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we could celebrate a joint holiday and go to festivals and see lights and what-not, but this wasn't received well. If it isn't THE day of the holiday, it isn't worth anything, evidently. I eventually conceded out of pity, and said that the Thanksgiving of 2006, the following year, this past year, was free, and we'd love to have them come visit in Austin. I reiterated my invitation multiple times throughout the year, only to be told they hadn't discussed it yet, and maybe, maybe not. I even reserved the little guesthouse across the street which I manage, in case they decided to come. Throughout the year, whenever I would inquire about it, they blew me off, didn't really respond to my invitation, and of course, did not come.

Further information pertaining to this dilemma resides in my earlier post regarding why I have two mothers, and the state of the relationship with my parents. Holidays with a bipolar individual are not usually easy. My mother's medications are not consistent in their effectiveness, and I've spent many a holiday with her where she's miserable to be around. Sometimes not, but it's a crapshoot. Add to it the fact that there's little to do in this little town in Nevada, and my parents are pretty sedentary, and we haven't got terribly much to discuss as it is. We couldn't find an open playground anywhere in this little town, only the one attached to the school, which was fenced off from the public. My parents have nothing which accommodates a child, and the town has even less, considering it's really a retirement community of sorts. The thought of spending my holiday there doesn't appeal to me personally. If we were to go, it would be solely out of a sense of sadness that these two people are alone in Nevada, with no other children to celebrate the holidays with, and little initiative to make of it something special between the two of them. I realize that this situation is all of their own doing, yet I nevertheless feel sad for them that this is how it is.

As a married woman, I live that life where you go to one spouse's family's house for one of the holidays, and the other family for the next one, being Thanksgiving and Christmas. It rotates around and adjusts when the husband's sister is able to come to Texas and be with us for a specific holiday, so that we can all see her as well. So, when it's time for my family's "turn", I like to go to Washington. I like to see my Mama and sister and her family. Hootie loves to play with her cousins, we get to play in the snow and possibly go skiing, everyone laughs and plays poker and watches football and has a lot of holiday cheer going around. It's FUN. So, to give that up to assuage any sense of guilt or burden of responsibility toward the people who raised me... it just isn't appealing.

Believe me, in having been an only child and having one live in my home, I have put a good deal of thought into how I am going to raise her and treat her, such that she doesn't inherit the same pitfalls of only childhood which I have had over the years. I know that I am "lucky" not to have depression or bipolar disorder, and that I am also very blessed to be a self-sufficient individual. We plan to travel and invite Hootie to join us if she so chooses, during holidays. I think the idea of spending a Christmas with just my husband sounds lovely anyway. But I don't want Hootie to face that same sense of pressure to "entertain" her parents, or to make us feel loved or give us reason for being.

So how did I respond? Well, I told my Mother via email that I appreciated her offer, but we would not be able to come for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. However, if she wanted us to come for one of their birthdays, or in between the holidays, or some other time, we could possibly arrange that. I have yet to hear back, but I'm anticipating another long, unpleasant silent treatment initiated by my ghastly selfishness.

I don't know what I want or expect from this post, other than just to get it out of me. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

First Bicycle, Learning to Ride

Some might say that perhaps 3 is too young for a first bicycle, that Hootie ought to be riding a tricycle at this point. Well, PAH, on that. Although the little red flyer tricycle is cute, it is "vintage", is is nostalgic... it isn't Hootie's forte. The diameter of the pedaling circle is so bloody small, it takes MUCH more force to even make the pedals GO, let alone keep pedaling. And it's high up, easily tipping over. She does MUCH better on a bicycle, IMHO. I'm sure the training wheels will be on it for some time, but that's okay. I am dreaming in my head of the day when we can actually all head out on our own bicycles for a family ride. I so remember the beautiful days when the husband and I would hop on the bikes, head downtown, weave through the lovely old buildings and shops and coffeehouses, down to Town Lake, where we would head east toward the little-used section of the lake, past the Holly Street Power Plant, over the bridge at Pleasant Valley, through the parks and back around to the populated section where the joggers and walkers and bikers and dogs and kids all were, creating our obstacle course through to Zilker Park and back around to the downtown area. We'd stop at the Cedar Door for a Mexican Martini and some pubgrub, and head back up toward the house, a little bit wobbly from a long ride and a nice, relaxing margarita. Haven't done that in about 4 1/2 years, sadly. And the child hasn't come along in a baby carrier because a) the husband doesn't like the safety of the bike-mounted carriers, and b) the husband also doesn't like the idea of dragging a child trailer behind the bicycle through downtown. So when the day comes that Hootie's old enough to go do that with us, HALLELUJAH! I will be THRILLED. Usually the initial riding of a bicycle brings on feelings in a mother akin to, "Oh, my little BABY is growing up, she's not a baby anymore!" and all that. I have PLENTY of other things that trigger THAT response, thanks. Bicycling? That will be a delight!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

It's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It's stunningly beautiful outside, about 60 degrees and clear and dry. One of the days I dream about all summer when it's 98 and sweltering and humid. We took a lovely walk down on Town Lake this morning and I took a few pictures:

Nothing exciting to report on a Sunday afternoon, just posting pics.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Elaine in Training

This is Hootie, dancing to Shonna's boss Nick playing piano at their party in Driftwood.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy 2007!

This was us, out last night for a delicious dinner with good friends. Happy New Year to everyone!