Going to Prison

“Can you watch my daughter when I go to prison?”

In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have phrased the question to my mom in this way.  As if any mom would plan on their offspring going to prison, a law-abiding, mid-western,  suburban mother of three adult children with no criminal history might have an immediate stroke at the image of their beloved going to lock-up.  So I quickly backtracked to explain, “Only for one dinner.”

Llama Chuck teaches my Basic of Buddhism class and facilitates Buddhism for prisoners too, once a year he gets to invite others to attend a dinner with the prison participants.  He mentioned this outing for several weeks at class and encouraged people to sign up to come.  I had considered it, thought it would be an interesting experience, though I wasn’t sure it would fit in my busy schedule of motherhood.

Class seven was about Equanimity and The Eight Worldly Concerns.  Equanimity is the power of the mind being able to experience change and remain unmoved.  As a mountain remains stable through snow, wind and lightning; equanimity can maintain the mind through trauma, accidents and emotional pain.  In the Buddhist perspective it means accepting things as they are and not how you want them to be.  In the moment of crisis it would be difficult to engage my Buddha mind even though I understand the concept.  What is more challenging for me to grasp is how you can accept circumstances of the world and avoid apathy, indifference or detachment.  How do you care, without caring to be truly identifying with equanimity?

The usual rhythm of the class discusses the chapter and then breaks into smaller groups to talk about discussion questions.  The question of the day related to situations where equanimity would be best utilized and asked “How do you feel about inviting pain into your life?”  No one in our group admitted to masochism and struggled with the term inviting pain.  Once we agreed to think in terms of accepting pain as a part of life our group shared different sides of the spectrum, one individual reporting she avoids pain by keeping people at a distance in her life and not maintaining relationships while another woman stated she has noticed being ultra sensitive and feels she is in pain more than necessary.  Our discussion turned to opportunities we do “invite pain” when we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations like helping struggling friends or volunteering.  Spending time working at a soup kitchen or with hospice patients could be a way to practice equanimity, accepting things as they are without being apathetic.

At the end of class Llama Chuck reiterated his invitation to prison stating it was the last day to sign up.  Going to prison prisonsounded like a practice of equanimity for me.  I am angered at the prison system in our country and the rate of incarceration for petty and nonviolent crimes, and because of my feelings towards the system I have detached myself in many ways.  After his closing people began gathering their belongings.  In that moment I knew it would be an opportunity to practice caring without caring.  I needed one final push to nudge me all the way in to my decision.  I looked forward to a classmate who I had socialized with for the last several weeks, a Spanish teacher at a local college.  “Do you want to go to prison with me?”  I nonchalantly inquired knowing if she denied I was not signing up alone.

“I don’t have to teach a class that night,”  she thought for a second, “Sure.”  And within seconds we were jotting our names on the sign-up sheet.  (Sorry Mom, I’m locked-in to attend the prison dinner but I am not going to lock-up.)

The prison dinner is later this month and I will try to multiply my meditation practice to prepare to be equanimitable in prison.  Afterall I am only going for a few hours as a guest, equanimity as a true prisoner would take much more strength of the mind.

Buddha Boots

In third grade I had the distinct realization my family was not like others.  Obviously a little slow in my childhood, or just too busy with Barbies and baby dolls to notice, I finally had the clarity to understand how different my family was from my friends’.  We did not go to church on Sundays and we ate a vegetarian diet.  In that devastated moment I questioned why my parents would be sabotaging my chances at leading a normal existence.  I can imagine my mom reassuring me in her usual calm and undisturbed manner, suggesting I can go to church if I choose and I can eat meat if I choose too. And so I did.  I tried tasting meat and I attended Sunday school with friends a few times before deciding I wasn’t really missing much with either.

Into adulthood the urge to eat meat never reappeared and the desire to find religion, well that never presented itself either, except I am at a firm disadvantage when biblical trivia comes up in games or television trivia. Despite my lack of time spent in places of worship, my life was not absent of spiritual teachings. And as I learned more about religions in general, I found ideas based in the Buddhist traditions paralleled my own thoughts the most.

Still not identifying with any specific religion I decided to take a Basics of Buddhism class to learn about Buddhism, practice meditation and give mommy some required weekly time out each week.

Part of week three’s lesson covered the Four Nobel Truths relating to dissatisfaction and suffering. The Nobel Truths recognize how all beings desire happiness and peace even though the nature of the world is impermanent. In other words, what makes us happy and secure in this moment could be very different in the next moment since life is ever-changing. The Nobel Truths explain if you can recognize your attachment, delusion or craving for what is not present in your life you can relieve yourself from the suffering associated with it.  Our thoughts revolving the attachment can perpetuate a negative emotion and the opposite is true by letting go of the attachment.

This principle can be applied to anything which causes suffering and it could be extremely useful if one could be effective at using it for major situations.  Imagine if you could just let go of the attachment to a home following a foreclosure, a spouse following a divorce, or a loved one following a death.  Imagine skipping out on the grief, despair and anger to move towards acceptance of what is present instead of what is missing.

Amazing, in concept, to have the power within my own mind to escape suffering. I’m not going to even pretend, after a few weeks of beginning to learn about Buddhism, that I could incarnate the patience and understanding of a Buddhist monk in the moment of crisis. I’m sure I would completely lose sight of these lessons and appear completely irrational should a tragedy occur in this moment, however, I have already had some real life application of this teaching.

Two days after my lesson on the Four Nobel Truths I was struck my the necessity to implement this strategy and acknowledge I was causing my own suffering. As so much of my learning is associated with my toddler these days she was also the target of this scenario. We had been shopping at a kids consignment sale, and with limited two-year old patience we managed to pick out a few toys and avoid the coveted riding toy area beforebuddhaboots1 we had to make it through the line to check out. The checkout line happened to be situated next to the long table of shoes. I’m usually not one to be interested in previously worn shoes and since my daughter’s Nana can’t leave a store without buying her a pair I hardly ever even browse.  Except these red leather cowgirl boots caught my eye and I immediately envisioned these being beloved shoes she would want to wear with every outfit. I could picture red boots over leggings or with a jean skirt and a white t-shirt. She would be stylish and ready to hop on a horse at any moment. Excited by my finding I showed them to Parker and even offered her the choice in colors, and was thrilled when she agreed with the red.

When we got home I couldn’t wait to try them on, to watch the magic and celebrate our consignment sale find. The boots slid on easily and about as quickly as they were on she shook her legs to kick them back off.  Without an explanation, she decided she would not wear them.  It seemed the harder I urged, the frequency I requested and the more creative I tried to trick her into the boots only made her increase the stubbornness against it. After much frustration and disappointment I remembered the ideas of the Four Nobel Truths and recognized I was creating my own suffering by holding onto my attachment of the red boots.

buddhaboots2We can spend a lot of energy being frustrated by things not going as planned, by failure or changes to our vision. And in some cases, if we really decide we don’t want to be unhappy, we can be mindful of what’s causing the suffering and let go of how we thought things should be.  I let go of the red boots, I acknowledged my ideas of how adorable they would be weren’t worth the misery I was feeling with my toddler creating her own vision.  I finally gave up on the boots and formulated the connection to the Buddhist teachings with this plan to write about it.  When I set up the boots to take a picture, Parker suddenly regained interest.  She pulled them from my picture set-up, sat down and pulled each onto their respective foot.  I snapped a few pictures while she stomped and wiggled, then within minutes they were kicked back off again.  After the little tease it was easier for me to remind myself to let go of the attachment – these little red boots were only meant to be a Buddha Boot lesson for me.

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Hits & Misses

Spending all day with my sweet little girl it’s impossible to give her undivided attention all the time.  It would be lovely to just get to play nanny and focus only on her, unfortunately I have to play housekeeper, cook, chauffeur, and house manager cohesively.  This conflict of roles lends it’s self to many hits and misses as far as connections we get to have as mother and daughter thoughout the day.

We both have times when we deny each other’s affections, when the opposite is fulfilled by a task.  Like this morning while she ate her breakfast I began preparing a crafting collage until she finished eating and promptly decided she needed to be sitting in my lap.  I held her off with distractions in her own chair as long as I could and somehow she ended up crawling her way back into my lap, blinding my efforts with scissors and paper with her curly brown locks.  Eventually I gave in and assumed the project would have to wait.  We pulled down the Play-Doh for her to roll and press shapes, this time it was her brushing mommy’s affection.  It’s just so hard for me to resist her enthusiastic smile and positive energy, I want to swoop in to her kissable cheeks and savor the moment.  And as if she suddenly incarnates a “too cool for parents” teenaged attitude her shoulder comes up to block her cheek – too busy for a kiss right now.

Those moments of craving attention are frequently coorelated with times of being tired or hungry, and when this is the case there is lot of whining involved.  My response to the whining is encouragement for her to use her words, and when that doesn’t seem to make an impact I tell her I think she might be tired and needing a nap.  This technique usually works since naps are the enemy and she would never volunteer herself for one.  Except since this has been my response to her whining, she has begun beating me to the punch.  She informs me: “I’m going to take a nap,” when I have repeatidly told her I can’t hold her while I am cooking.  She doesn’t actually take a nap though, she just leaves for a minute and usually brings back a toy from her room.

I have to learn to not be hard on myself about the misses.  I can’t entertain, hold, clean and fix everything for her and I have to be okay with her being upset about that sometimes.  It makes it easier to accept the rough parts of the days when there are so many hits of the days to look back on and appreciate.

The mornings we stay extra long in bed pulling the covers over our heads to play with a flashlight.  Dancing in our living room for hours on end stomping, twirling and shaking with laughter and songs.  And closing each day with reading books, snuggles and kisses.  There are so many moments when it’s just me and Parker, when I am completely present with her.  In those moments she heals me from the chaos of life, problems in the world and the grown up worries which consume my mind most other waking hours of the day.  For now though, I had better go finish my collage while she takes her nap.

Under The Covers

Under The Covers

Red Hope

Yesterday I was thrilled to find a sea of unity on my Facebook wall in the form of a simple red equality sign.  In case you’re one of the few without a Facebook or Twitter account, the equality sign has been promoted by the Human Rights Campaign in the wake of the congressional hearing on same-sex marriage.  The HRC released a statement stating “the original image has been shared more than 100,000 times and created upwards of 10 million impressions in all 50 states – not including countless user-created versions.”

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Yay!  It makes my heart smile to see people empowered to express their stance on a hot subject.  The equality sign posted on a Facebook wall or replacing a profile picture is not a means to ignite an argument with non-supporters or demand a high level of activism which can often dissuade people from becoming involved.  The equality sign was an awakening and measurable shock to congress, though more importantly an encouraging message to the gay community.  The LGBT community faces discrimination and hate in ways most of us cannot relate.  I hope the sea of red yesterday was a sign of support, progress and love. I also hope the volume of equality signs visible yesterday was an inspiration to non-supporters to reconsider their position.

I know I have many conservative friends on Facebook who don’t support gay marriage, and sometimes it’s bewildering to me why they don’t talk about it publicly.  It’s like they want to keep their narrow-mindedness a secret, maybe deep down they know they are wrong for trying to impose their religious beliefs to control others.  In stark contrast, I see so many ignorant insults being flung anonymously on forums and posts.  Here is what I know for sure: The change is going to happen.  So the faster the non-supporters work their way into acceptance the easier it will be for them to make the adjustment.  Even better, their children can grow up accepting and loving rather than fearing and hating.

Two words, out of the blue.

danceBehavior is lawful, I learned this phrase when I became an instructor for Positive Behavior Support.  It has been a long time since I have taught the class, however this phrase always stays with me.  In short it means no behavior is ‘out of the blue,’ as we sometimes describe actions of others.  Any action an individual takes is a response to something whether we are aware of it or not, the trigger could be anything in the environment noticed by our senses, a reaction to another person’s behavior or behavior can stem from a thought.

There have been many occurrences, since by daughter began speaking regularly, where I would have been caught off guard by her simple communication.  Sometimes it’s while I am driving the car with her behind me in the car seat sitting peacefully observing the scenes passing outside her window when I hear the two words in her sweet high-pitched voice, “Thank you,” she says.  She is very polite expressing thanks to family, friends and strangers on a regular basis; it’s the times when there is no apparent prompt for the comment I am boggled by.  The comment appears to come out of the blue, except I know behavior is lawful and it must have a purpose.  thankyou

I’m so curious at the thoughts in her two-year-old mind which evoked this comment.  She didn’t get anything, no compliment received or favor helped.  Is she thanking me for the ride, praising me for being a safe driver?  Is she as appreciative to get out of the house as I am?  Was she just trying to start a conversation to break the silence and these are the words others respond to?  And then my mind takes me to wondering if it’s simply a thank you for being, kids are present in a way we lose as life gets more complicated.  They are not congested with the volume of thoughts, opinions, data and stresses we have in our adult minds.

Without having the words to provide an explanation, I am left to imagine.  Her enduring two-word expression, when the environment is otherwise silent, has developed meaning for me even when I don’t know what it means from her.  It’s a reminder to focus on the present, no moment is ordinary, I need to appreciate it all.

Happy Sleep

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Just a photograph to share from this past weekend. Parker had a busy morning playing with cousins and caught some quick zzz’s before an afternoon birthday party. I have a friend who loves to check in on her little ones while they sleep peacefully and says it’s the best moments to catch them looking angelic. I, on the other hand, don’t reenter the toddler bedroom until I hear her calling for me or on the occasions I have to wake her up to be somewhere.

Hope you get some happy sleep tonight.

Just Like Winning The Lottery

I’m a little out of the loop on child development research and all of the very specific (I’m sure very useful yet soon to be out of date) information on toddler potty training. It seems there is a treasure trove of data regarding when to start, how to schedule and what reinforcement should look like in regards to toileting. On the one hand, had I taken advantage of what knowledge is out there I could have an underwear wearing two-year-old. On the other hand I could have spent hours carefully plotting my methods and then banging my head against the wall when my independently minded two-year-old sabotages my agenda (speaking from experience.) Needless to say, we bought a seat for her and have crossed our fingers for the last six months she would gain interest and decide when she is ready.

potty

In the last week she has requested “pooh-poddy” (she has a habit of creating her own nicknames for things) and successfully completed #1’s and #2’s in the toilet. YES – Progress! There were plenty more diaper changes than uses of the pooh-poddy, progress nonetheless.

And when she makes the request to remove her diaper and give it a try, I sit on her bathroom stool patiently observing her face grimacing and squeezing pause. When she sees my expression in response to the sound I hear in the toilet she looks as startled and happy as me. Parker receives high fives and praises. We have invited in daddy and any house guests who happen to be there to also give congratulatory high fives. We have called Nana’s and Papa’s on the phone to share the news and hear their encouraging “yay, big girl!” Her pride in a job well done is so enthusiastic.

And after she has properly wiped, flushed and washed; Parker gets a rewarding treat, of the Peez variety. She holds her treat between two fingers with an exploding grin. She dances and displays her prize holding it out long in front of her “Look mommy, look daddy… Look.” Finally, sometimes after some redirection, she finally puts it in her mouth and quickly chews it until it’s gone. She has so much energy and excitement about her new found accomplishment, just like she has won the lottery.

Marriage and Club Misery

e&mMy grandma, Eleanor, passed a little over a month ago. I wrote about her the day it happened, blessed with the image of her passing surrounded by family and love. Grammy has been on my mind daily since. Our family gathered at her home the night before her memorial service and I spent a great deal of time going through and collecting photographs. Call me a hoarder or even obsessive, I don’t mind, I love pictures. I waste hours upon hours looking through photographs, taking pictures and editing pictures. For as much as I stress to others the importance of being in the present, I spend too much time stuck in frozen images from the past.

I never met my grandfather, my sister and I even commented last month about how awkward we sometimes felt not knowing how to refer to him. I don’t really know how he was addressed by his grandchildren, so I sometimes would say “my dad’s dad,” or “your husband” if I was asking Grammy about him. She did talk about him a lot too, often telling us how he would have loved us and how much he adored children. He died of a heart attack while my dad was in college. Grammy was never interested in dating or remarrying, she already had the love of her life, she would tell us.
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And even though I never saw them in real life together I know it was true. Grammy teared up talking about him sometimes, as if the decades since he had been gone hadn’t eased the grief she felt. I knew she still missed him desperately. During the memorial service family members talked about the love they shared, how they were always affectionate and caring towards one another. I still can’t wrap my mind around how she loved to iron his clothes just because it was for him, I do try to mimic the same enthusiasm for mundane tasks – trying to appreciate the ordinary.

Even without the stories, I know my grandparents were in love through the photographs I found in Grammy’s albums. Many of the pictures have one or both of them looking at each other instead of the camera, in many pictures his arms are around her squeezing tightly. Happiness and mutual respect exude from the black and white images. Their smiles are pure joy.

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My grandparents appeared to have the marriage everyone dreams of, they managed to stay dedicated to each other and their relationship. Was it just easier back then?

On Oprah’s interview with Jamie Foxx they got to talking about marriage. Without directly quoting, she said something about having a difficult time naming 5 couples she knows who have a “happy marriage.” Of course this statement made me ponder the same idea, how many couples do I know who appear to be happily married? Why is it so hard to stay happy in a relationship?

It’s as if married couples buy into Club Misery after saying “I do” and forget it takes work to create mutual satisfaction in a relationship. Friends can get carried away griping about their spouses, unintentionally creating a breeding ground for negativity in a relationship. On top of the social acceptance for the misery of marriage we are also tainted my social media distractions. There is less necessity to correspond with the love of your life when you can connect with whoever pops up on the Twitter or Facebook feed about the appealing subject of the hour. By the end of the day when significant others finally reach each other they have exhausted the day’s news with virtual friends.

I’m frightened for the next generation of individuals hopeful of finding love and happy marriage with a significant pattern being established of meeting and dating online. Manti Te’o, for example, maybe the only national story of this kind though he is certainly not the first to fall in love with a fake profile. The MTV show Catfish highlights even more of these cases, I can’t stop watching because I am shocked at how much people will trust in the hope for love.

e&m4So part of me wonders if my grandparents had it easier with their relationship in the era they fell in love? Or did their passion for family and love stems from some early struggles long before the internet. They did get married following The Great Depression, a time when Grammy’s family lost their business and had to close their stores. My grandfather was also drafted to World War II after Grammy gave birth to their first child. I wonder if these major life events helped to shape their relationship and reinforce what really matters the most.

Without being devastated by financial loss, being separated by war, natural disasters, illness or any other tragic events, what would it take for couples to focus on what really matters? Couples need to strive to love more, to be more devoted and to demonstrate more respect for marriage, it doesn’t have to be miserable unless you allow it.