Sunday, June 19, 2005

camping and making one's heart light as a feather

What would life be like without kids? I love those little crazies. I took them with me to Angelina National Forest where we learned about longleaf pine ecosystems with a USFS biologist, and then the kids and I camped at Martin Dies Jr. State Park at the northern edge of the Big Thicket. They complained the whole time we were out with the biologist ("it's hot," "I don't feel good," "Sam says he would rather be at the MALL shopping than out here!" etc etc).

I sent them on a quest to find the coolest pine cone, which Sam took to with abandon and Savannah ignored completely. Halfway through the day, Savannah was whining and complaining and I gave her a little talkin'-to about appreciating the day and the moment because it can always be worse - all the things we have can disappear in an instant: our health, our family, our financial blessings. I told her kids her age have suffered through cancer, the Great Depression where families struggled to put food on the table or keep the kids at home at all, the death of family members. While this may seem harsh for a kid, I believe they must learn this lesson because it's a deep truth. The present moment is all we truly have, and I believe so much "life" is lost because we fail to just take a deep breath and appreciate that we can breathe, that we can walk, that we can talk, smell, taste, hug, and see and appreciate the beautiful outdoors. (See more photos of Angelina NF and Martin Dies Jr SP.)

Immediately after this "talk" we went swimming in Sexton Pond at Boykin Springs campground of the Angelina National Forest, and she cheered up quite a bit. In the pond I told her she was my Mystery Magic, and she liked this at the time, at least it made her smile. I decided Sam was my Sunshine Crazy. I am still working on a name for myself but it starts with Bohemian. The kids thought Bohemian Stupidhead sounded good... I said if you both came from me, then I must be Bohemian Magic Sunshine or Bohemian Mystery Crazy.

Sam convinced us all to try to catch minnows by hand, at which we failed miserably. Then he found a hairy mud monster, which he proceeded to try to attack Savannah and I with. We had a great time. On the way back to the car, Savannah started singing a song the kids made up at school that just cracked me up, I just love the silliness of kids. In chapel they sing the song "Go now in peace..." and she was singing "go now in peas... go now in broccoli... may the love of the Lord surround you..." I just think kids are funny. To listen to what they talk about and how their minds think is fascinating. I get so busy, its easy to miss so much of it. Even when they whine 50% of the time, its worth it when they give great big hugs and make me smile by their silliness.

What makes me feel great is when I can just be myself and act silly (which is me being me...); when I can laugh and do cartwheels and roll down grassy hills and hang upside down on the monkey bars and pick my kids up and spin them around in the middle of the mall and make silly faces and really not give a rats a** what anyone else thinks. And I do these things! But more often than not we grownups are so constrained to worry about what everyone else thinks. I really abhor being a grownup sometimes because of this. Because it's not that I'm worried about what other people think in terms of doing something immoral or unethical but its more, "Is being me ok?" if being me is something certain people might frown on - I'm too old to act like that, I talk too much ("chatty Cathy" persona - LOL), I open my mouth (or my outgoing email) when I should shut up, then I obsess over if I said the wrong thing, I don't ask the right people permission, I ask too many questions, I don't trust, I have thin boundaries... so many things that are just me learning how to live and yet is it ok to be here where I am? Is it ok to not be perfect? Yet?! In the mall today after a movie I was swinging my bag around and around and she was like "Mom! That is something a kid does! You are supposed to be old and boring like a grown-up." So I proceeded to pick her up and twirl her around and around several times, and she laughed and acted embarrassed but I know she loves it (because she gave me a big hug). Why should kids have all the fun?

I had an odd family structure growing up and I really taught myself most of what I needed to know about life (much through music and books); my dad and mom and Celeta and Skip taught much about being a genuine and "good" person, but I learned so little about how to interact with other people because I never had a real or cohesive family unit, and I spent most of my time alone, reading, doing my own thing, or proving adults wrong so that I learned not to trust authority. This issue is something I am working on, how to interact in a team. Savannah and I went to see the movie "The Perfect Man" tonight and the teenager has a line at the end of the movie when she wants to move and says, "I'm done with these people, I want new ones." I remember feeling that exact same thing when I was growing up - we moved so often that I rarely had to deal with working things through with friends and people who I went to school with. I remember being glad to move again because I could completely start over. In a meditation before we saw the movie, that same message came to me, that I need to learn to stay and work through things when they get tough and everything isn't perfect. Weird!

To the questions of whether it's ok to be one's imperfect self, Debbie Ford retells a beautiful lesson she learned from her rabbi: to write on a piece of paper, "I am nothing but dust and ashes" and put it in one pocket and meditate on it. Then write on another piece of paper, "The whole universe was created just for me" and put it in the other pocket. Then meditate on both truths. She also related something Deepak Chopra said, which is that when we die God puts our heart in one hand and a feather in another; if our heart is lighter than the feather we know we have evolved. I like this because so many people (myself included) have heavy hearts, we become entangled as we weave our way through life's spiderwebs. To find the Way that makes our heart light and joyful has got to be the greatest gift we can give ourselves and those who encounter us in life. Jesus did say that he came so that we could have life, and have it to the full (Jn 10:10); and to lay our burdens on him, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Mt 11:30). How to get from here to there, that is the question. I think part of the answer is that the joy comes like manna to God's people in the desert: a hug, the splashing of water, the lesson learned, the work completed successfully, an awareness and recognition in the present moment that "I am alive, healthy, have two great kids and wonderful friends and an imperfect but loving family..." The huge mountaintop moments come only rarely, but manna comes daily, we just have to recognize the smallness of it can still nourish every part of our soul and provide just what God knows we need.

Anne LaMott completely cracks me up. She has got to be my all-time favorite author. My friend Daline and I have been talking about the parts of our personality that we define (Daline gives them names, aka chatty Cathy, so I started this practice too). I am reminded of something in LaMott's book "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" where she relates the chattering voices in her head, and how she mentally shrinks them down and puts them in a jar, screws the lids on tight and watches them chattering away clawing at the sides. She writes, "There's the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady who says primly, 'Well that's not very interesting is it?'" and then about sitting down to write, "Then your mental illnesses arive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back." I love someone who can make me laugh because I hate to say it, but I don't laugh much anymore, and someone who can make me laugh out loud is my hero! I can usually make myself laugh at myself (I do write things and laugh out loud at them...), and sometime my kids make me laugh but sheesh I gotta work on this...

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