Best Intentions

It was my sophomore year in college. I was sitting around with a group of friends, and we were telling stories about our childhood pets.  I shared the story of my fluffy, white bunny, Sparky.

“My parents were driving down the rode in their convertible,” I began, “and he saw his family on the other side of the road and he jumped right out of the car.”

My friends stared back at me. I repeated what I’d just said out loud in my head and my jaw dropped open. My friends erupted in laughter. I laughed along, but was also confused and angry and hurt. Why had my parents lied to me?

And then I became a mom. And my boy’s hermit crab died. Well, not right away. First the crab left his familiar shell and began the journey around his five-gallon sand filled aquarium in search of a new home.

My son was ecstatic. “He’s moving!  Rocky’s moving shells!”  And he was. We watched that strange little bug eyed creature (who was much cuter in his shell) drag his crusty curled tail around the tank.
Best-IntentionsAn hour passed.  Then several more, and Rocky was still without a shell.

“Is he ok?”  Tucker asked his eyes round with concern.

I picked up the phone and called The Fish Bowl. Minutes later, Tucker and I were filling an empty beer cap with peanut butter and putting it in the tank for Rocky. “He might be tired and in need of a protein source,” the pet shop owner had said.

But the day passed, and the peanut butter hadn’t helped.

I put Tucker to bed with tears drying on his cheeks.

Later, I checked on Tucker and Rocky. Tucker was asleep, his dark lashes resting on his flushed cheeks and Rocky was in the same place but his curled tail looked cut and was oozing a clear liquid. I stared into the tank, willing that little crustacean to please just pick a shell. I moved a couple of shells closer to him and noticed how easily his body could just slide in. Then I placed a shell beneath Rocky’s tail and sort of scooped him up. He slid right in, and I carefully set the crab and shell back in the tank and went to bed.

The next morning Tucker shook me awake. “He picked a shell!  Rocky picked a shell!” He grabbed my hand and pulled me out of bed to follow him down the hall. “Look,” he said and there was Rocky, in the shell, right where I’d left him.  Tuck reached into the tank to pick him up. “Don’t…” I began, but it was too late.  Tuck picked up the shell and Rocky dropped out.

Tucker took a step away from the tank and covered his mouth.  “Is he dead?” he asked.

After my Sparky discovery, I called my parents and demanded an explanation for their lie. “Was I supposed to tell my five year old her rabbit was eaten by the next door neighbor’s dog?”  My mom had asked.

“I guess not,” I had replied.  “But you didn’t have to make up that lie.”

“We were just trying to protect you,” my mother had said.

And as I continued to stare into Tucker’s sad eyes, I understood.

I wanted to tell him that Rocky was just asleep.  I wanted to tell him that we’d get him a new hermit crab, two new hermit crabs.  I wanted to pull him into me and hold him, forever and never let him feel any pain.

Instead I took a deep breath and said, “Yes, Tucker.  He is dead.”

Tucker stared down at the empty shell in his hand.

“But he picked a new shell.”

I cleared my throat.  “Actually, Tuck, I put him in the shell.”

He looked up, his eyes wide with shock.  “You shouldn’t have done that mom,” he said.

“I know, Buddy.  I know that now.”

And I pulled my little boy into my arms and held him close while he wept and mourned the loss of his beloved pet.

Send in the Clowns

clownsMy husband grew up in a family of tricksters.

We’d been dating a few months when he brought me home to meet his family. They lived on a dairy farm in Upstate New York. I first met his mom and then the gazillion cousins all gathered in the kitchen. I slid into a seat on the far side of the kitchen table and watched the punching, jabbing and joking between Lee and his cousins. Eventually the back door opened and everyone turned to look. By the sudden quiet, I knew Lee’s dad had arrived. He stepped in the door, took off his baseball cap and gave Lee a big hug. Then Lee turned and motioned to me.  All the cousins turned and stared. “Dad,” Lee said in a ceremonious fashion I hadn’t known he was capable of, “this is Kasey.”  His Dad took a step into the kitchen and squinted at me. I waited for him to say something. Then he looked back at Lee and said, “I don’t think she’s that chunky.”  The cousins erupted in laughter. Lee was instantly at my side wrapping his arm around me. Lee’s mom scolded his dad and swiped at him with a dishcloth. And with that I was initiated into the clan.

I quickly learned that if I didn’t lock the bathroom door, someone might sneak in and turn the shower from hot to cold.  I also learned the water could be shut off in the basement leaving me in the shower shivering and covered in soap.  I learned that a restaurant bathroom with the light switch on the outside could leave me sitting in the pitch-dark with my pants at my ankles. I learned to keep my pants tied tightly or they could end up on the floor and that if Lee’s 80-year-old grandmother wasn’t immune from wedgies, neither was I.

And I learned that Lee’s family actually plotted pranks in anticipation of our visits.

We arrived at the farm one weekend and Lee’s parents asked me to follow them into the dining room. “You’ve become an important part of our family,” his mother said. “Thanks,” I said, quickly calculating that Lee and I had been dating less than a year. His dad gave me a big smile. I glanced over my shoulder into the kitchen but Lee had disappeared. Lee’s mom walked over to the tall, glass china cabinet and pulled out a platter with little roses around the scalloped edges.  She handed it to Lee’s dad who took a step toward me.  “We wanted to show how much we care about you,” he said.  “Lee’s grandmother carried this over on the boat from Sweden.” My whole body burned, but I made myself step toward him. Lee’s dad held out the platter and I reached out to take it.  I felt the emptiness in my hand and watched, as if in slow motion, as the dish fell to the floor and smashed into hundreds of pieces. I staggered backwards.

“Not the rose platter!”  Lee’s dad said.

“I didn’t have it,” I said, covering my mouth with my hand and staring down at the destroyed plate, my eyes blurring with tears.

I looked up and Lee’s parents exploded with laughter. “We bought that plate at a garage sale for twenty-five cents!”

And as we stepped around the broken pieces on the floor, I learned, well, first of all, to stay on my toes, and more importantly, that every family has their own unique way of displaying their love.

Peeling Labels

The other day I had a conversation with a couple of ski team parents.  The mom was relaying a funny conversation she’d had with their 11-year-old son. He was urging her to dress more like a “ski mom.”

“He wants me to dress from head to toe all in black,” she said waving her hands in the air, “like those moms from the (insert here – name of rival ski mountain).”  I felt her husband’s eyes scan me from head to toe. I didn’t have to look down to know what he was seeing – I was dressed all in black, from hat to ski boot.

“So I told my son, I like color,” my friend went on, pointing to her lime green baseball cap and matching jacket, completely oblivious to my attire. I could feel her husband trying to telepathically kick her shin. I decided to save them the embarrassment and motioned to my outfit. “So you’re not into the all black look, hun?”

Her eyes slightly widened as she registered my outfit. Then she said, “Oh, no, no.  That’s not the kind of black I meant at all.  I mean, the more, you know, designer black look.”

I looked down at my shapeless men’s ski jacket and knew exactly what she meant. Yet her husband went on to offer further clarification. “Yeah, you’re not the designer-y type at all.  You’re more,” he thought for a moment,  “more of a crunchy, sprout-y ski mom.”

I am?

I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the conversation, because I was stuck on crunchy and sprouty, picturing the alfalfa sprouts growing in a glass jar on my kitchen counter.

Later that day I sat in the ski lodge, still thinking about that conversation and remembered the creative writing lesson I’d taught several years before.

march1After passing out pages of blank white shipping labels, I asked my students to write down any labels that had ever been placed on them – by others or themselves – good, bad or somewhere in between.  After writing down all the labels (me, too) we peeled off the stickers and placed them all over ourselves.  Words like Weird, Strange, Brainy, Cool, Crazy, Stupid, Cute, Ugly, Chubby, Sweet, Selfish, Creative, Athletic, Funny, Odd, Quirky, Artistic and Wild covered our shirt sleeves, pant legs, shoes and foreheads.

Then came the fun part. We examined each of our labels and decided what to keep and what to peel off, tear up and throw away. I have to say, there’s nothing quite like watching a 7th grader rip up the labels Freak and Weird and proudly wear Funky, Imaginative and Unique instead.

And with that in mind, I dug down to the bottom of my ski bag and pulled out the fancy orange scarf with the designer label that I’d never worn. I looped it around my neck and felt the possibility of myself sprouting into something else.


Every year I take the kids down to Florida to visit my Mom and Dad.  In anticipation of our visit, Mom always goes shopping and has gifts waiting for us.  A few years back she was extra excited about the gift she’d bought me.  “Wait ‘til you see,” she said, her gold bangles jangling. “You’ll love them.”

Following my mother’s instructions I went into the guest room to find a pair of Lilly Pulitzer pants lying on the bed – blue and white with a pattern of palm trees and ocean scenes.

Mom came up behind me.  “Do you love them?” she asked.  I looked down at my black yoga pants and t-shirt – my uniform. “Well, um, thanks, but they’re not really my usual style.”
reflectionsMom pushed through the doorway.  “Not your style?” she said holding the pants up in front of her.  “They’ll be darling on you.  Try them on.”

I held them up in front of me and turned toward the mirror, Mom looking over my shoulder.  “I really won’t wear them,” I said.

Mom was hurt.  She took the pants and walked out the door.  “I can’t believe you don’t like them,” she said.  “I thought you’d love them.”

“They’re cute,” I called after her, fingering the beaded choker on my neck, “just not on me.”

And with that my mother and the pants were gone, upstairs to her bedroom.

And yet, hours later the discussion continued. This time with Dad.

“So I heard you don’t like those pants your mother got you,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder.

I looked up from my book. “They’re not really my style, Dad.”

“Well, maybe you should work on your style,” he said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  I asked, dropping my book on the table.

“Well, I just think you could spruce up your look a bit.” He took a step away from me.  “Maybe add some color. Get rid of some of those dark, baggy clothes you’re always wearing.”

And with that, I was 13 again.

“Thanks, Dad,” I said and picked up my book, and then because I couldn’t stop myself, I motioned to his madras Bermuda shorts and shoeless loafers. “I’ve always counted on you for fashion advice.”

It wasn’t but a week later; we were home from Florida, getting ready for a special assembly at the kid’s school.

“There’s a new dress on your bed for you,” I told Andie. “You’ll love it.”

A few minutes later I found her sitting on the edge of her bed, still in her pjs. “What are you doing?” I asked.  “We gotta get going.”

“I don’t like that dress,” Andie said.

“What do you mean you don’t like that dress?  That dress is gorgeous.”  I held it up and motioned for her to come stand in front of the mirror. “Look how pretty that looks,” I said, holding the dress up in front of her.

“Lee, come see how pretty Andie’s dress is.”  My husband came in the room and stood behind me, so we were all three standing in a row in front of the mirror. Lee told her how nice the dress would look on her.

“It’s not the kind of dress I like,” she said softly, wiping a tear off her cheek.

And then I saw what was happening.  Lee looked up and met my eyes in the mirror.  He saw too.  He kissed the top of Andie’s head and said, “Sweetie, wear whatever you like.” I left the dress on the bed and we both walked out of her room shaking our heads.

And there she was, not five minutes later, standing in the kitchen wearing the exact dress she’d been crying over.  Lee and I exchanged looks.  “I actually do like this dress,” she said.  I wanted to tell her how beautiful she looked.  I wanted to jump for joy at the sight of my daughter out of her usual sweat pants and t-shirt.  Instead, I hid my smile, took her hand in mine and walked out the door.

Maybe I should take another look at those Lilly Pulitzer pants.

Welcome Home

The other day in yoga class, my teacher posed the question, “What is yoga to you?”  She wasn’t looking for any raised hands. The question was more of an offering, something to meditate upon throughout our practice.

As I began bending and twisting, I thought that yoga, to me, was simply moving my body. Keeping it limber and flexible – stretching in response to tennis and skiing and shoveling snow.

As I kept moving, more bends and twists, my breaths grew deeper and fuller, and I could feel myself letting go. Letting go of everything I’d carried in with me to class.

And then, as I continued to bend and twist and breathe even more deeply, I felt me return to me. I felt myself remember who I was.  I felt the real me, deep inside of myself, awaken and smile up at me.

I was reminded of the first time I’d experienced that sensation. It was several years ago during a yoga class at Kripalu I was about half way through class when suddenly it was like a mirror on my inside was reflecting out.  I remember wanting to reach out and touch my own imaginary light reflection. I remember whispering, “Hi, there.  I remember you.”

Because most of the time I forget.  I forget the deep me hidden away inside.  I’m just a busy body doing whatever it is I do.  Too busy to stop and say hello to that inner me.

So by the end of class I had found my answer. To me yoga is simply… returning to me.

I didn’t raise my hand or share my answer with anyone else. Instead, I rolled up my mat, took my own hand in the other and walked the whole me out of class, fully ready to begin my day.

walcottLove After Love 
by Derek Walcott

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

Yoga, Celebrities, and God

Screen-Shot-2013-01-12-at-11.20.34-AMEarlier this year, my sister and I went for a weekend of retreat and renewal at Kripalu, a yoga center in the Berkshires. I’d been to Kripalu several times, but it was Libbie’s first, and I couldn’t wait to experience the newness of my favorite place through her eyes.

We arrived on Friday afternoon, just in time to catch the 4:15 yoga class and enjoy a leisurely dinner. As we sampled off of each other’s plates, ooh and ahhing over every delicious concoction, a man with a head of grey hair and a beard to match walked past. “Celebrity watch, Michael McDonald,” Libbie said.

“Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald? Are you sure?”

She laughed and explained that “Celebrity Watch” was a game that she and her husband played – looking for ordinary folk who resemble celebrities. “Gwyneth Paltrow,” she said as a blond waif of a woman floated past. A tall man entering the dining room looked familiar, maybe like someone I’d seen in a movie or tv, but I wasn’t sure.

Lib continued to play all weekend. Between our 6:30 am yoga classes, inspirational lectures, walks to the lake and labyrinth, and our repeated trips to the bookstore, she’d spot someone. “Paul Reiser,” she whispered in my ear as we browsed the bookstore shelves. “Who?” I whispered back, but knew she meant the actor from the tv show Mad About You when I followed her gaze.  “Totally,” I agreed, and we continued to leaf through books.

“Did you ever watch that show Joan of Arcadia?” I asked. I’d recently borrowed the dvd series from the library and couldn’t get enough of it. She hadn’t. I explained the premise, about a young high school girl who can see God. “God appears in every episode taking on the form of some human character. He/She’s been a school janitor, a bus driver, a dog walker, a flight attendant…” I followed Lib to the cookbook section.  “Anyway, God always has some assignment for Joan that ultimately influences and impacts the lives of others. It’s like the curtain is pulled back and you see how there’s some divine plan we’re all a part of.”

“Cool.” Lib said, picking up a vegetarian cookbook. “Jennifer Aniston, by the yoga pants.”

By noon on Sunday we’d reluctantly packed and prepared for our departure. We stood in the doorway, just outside the dining hall, willing ourselves to head to the exit. That tall, possible celeb I’d seen when we first arrived walked through the door.  It was my last chance, and as he passed I blurted, “Are you…?”  He stopped and smiled. We had to crane our necks to look up at him.  “Yup, I’m that guy,” he said.  “TV?” I asked.  “Some” he said. “More movies and theatre.”  We coaxed a few names out of him and Goodfellas was one I recognized.
celeb1When my sister asked, “Did you eat the hot pepper in Dumb and Dumber?” his face lit up.

“That was me,” he said, standing a little taller.

We stood in the doorway for almost a half hour as he entertained us with stories from his weekend course Big Guy Yoga, and tales of growing up in Brooklyn with a bunch of brothers and life on a movie set with Jim Carrey.  By the time we said goodbye, we’d exchanged hugs and email addresses.

“Leave it to you to take celebrity watch to a whole new level,” my sister said as we walked toward the parking lot.

I thought about him several times on the drive home.  There was something so familiar about him.

That night after tucking the kids into bed, curiosity got the best of me. When I typed Mike Starr into Google, pages of movies and theatre credits appeared on the screen.  “Holy smokes,” I said aloud, as I took in all the titles.  The last page had a long list of his tv roles.  I scanned the list and felt my fingers tingle when my eyes stopped on the show Joan of Arcadia.

Then I remembered.  He was God.

I sat back in my chair and a shiver went through my entire body.  Divine plan indeed. celeb2

Then I called out to my husband.  “Hey, Leebo, you’ll never guess who I met at Kripalu.”

Clean Laundry, Clear Mind

laundry1Today I folded laundry… with mindfulness.

I didn’t rush. I didn’t complain. I didn’t have a phone balanced between my ear and my shoulder. I just folded laundry.

And I noticed. I became aware. As I folded my husband’s white work t-shirts, I pictured his broad chest beneath the smooth, cotton fabric. I could smell his morning shampoo. As I folded my daughter’s prized Taylor Swift t-shirt, I smiled at her pre-adolescent innocence and joy. Folding her clean, white winter tank tops, I remembered her little toddler body scampering away from me as I tried to get her dressed.

Tucker’s gray t-shirts with the Burton logo’s and skateboard company names and scary looking men dressed in shapeless baggy clothes, reminded me of the day when he was three years old and stood high on the back of our living room couch, a homemade cardboard snowboard beneath his feet and screamed, “Watch this, Mom!”

As I folded my new white bras, I thought Oprah would be so proud that I went to a “bra-fitting specialist,” to have them sized correctly, but that the sales clerk would be disappointed they’d gone in the dryer after she’d specifically told me they shouldn’t.

As I gathered up all the lone socks, I thought of Meg, our loyal English Mastiff, always greeting us at the door, with a single sock hanging from her mouth.

And then, just like that, all the laundry was folded.

And I was so glad that I’d gone to that mindful place, so that when I put my daughter’s pajamas in her bottom drawer and saw that the cat had pooped underneath, I could just breathe (not too deeply), get a plastic bag, cleaning spray and remind myself to remind her to clean the litter box.

And I was so glad to be in that mindful state so that when I put my husband’s t-shirts on top of his dresser and found his mountain bike clothes in a sweaty heap on the floor, I could just breathe (again, not too deeply) and move them to the hamper.

And when I went to put my son’s clothes in his closet and saw… that he had made his bed (!!!!), I could truly take a deep breath and choose to overlook the dried up, black banana peel stuck to his writing desk.

Wishes Fulfilled

I have a secret.  Well, not exactly a secret, more of a secret talent. I don’t tell many people about it, until today, that is, when I decided to write about it in my blog.  Yet, I’ve just launched my website, and very few people know about it, so I guess it’s kind of a secret between us.

So here it is… I can order things at the dump.

No, not trash, good stuff. We have a give and take table, and I can wish for something, or visualize something and then it appears.  It’s not really even conscious wishing, more like I might think something out loud, and then soon after, there it is on the give and take table, or as my friend Eleanor calls it, “the still good pile.”

When Eleanor told me that she hadn’t read Many Lives Many Masters by Brian Weiss, I told her that I’d get her a copy. Unfortunately for my friends at Toadstool Bookstore, there it was on the give and take table two days later.

“This popcorn is too oily,” I said on a Tuesday. “I wish we had an air popper.”  There it was on Saturday, still in the box.  Same with the French coffee press, still in its box as well.  We’d had one, but I’d given it away and then wished I hadn’t (I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t mine, it was a different brand.)  My son’s class was going on a camping trip and the only thing missing from the list was a teapot.  I wasn’t giving up the new white kettle on my stove, and nobody else offered up theirs either.  “Do I dare?” I thought, “Try to order it?”  “Absolutely, not,” I told myself. “But, if I happen to go to the dump on Thursday and there happens to be a teapot, that would be swell.” There it was. I took it home, cleaned it up and sent it on the trip.  Never saw it again, which is why I didn’t loan mine in the first place.

The rug just about put my mother in law through the roof. I had just finished telling her that I wished I could find a new rug for our sitting room – something blue. “Blues are hard to find,” she said. She knew because she’d been looking for a rug for over a year. That same day, my husband and I went to the dump. There was a rug folded up under the give and take table. I grabbed Lee’s shirt. He tried to pull away. “No way,” he said curling his lip. “Not a used rug.” Even Lois, the dump’s recycling vigilantly, took his side.  “You never know with a rug,” she said.  I could see that it was a hooked rug, blues, and as you now know, I’d had luck before.  I begged Lee to help me carry it to the car, promising to return it immediately if it was no good.

My mother in law helped me carry it in, and she unfolded it before I had a chance. “I am officially mad at you,” she said.  “I know this rug, and it sells for 700 bucks. It’s practically brand new!”  As she vacuumed, she grumbled about looking for a rug for over a year. I offered to give her that one, but she said the colors weren’t right.  She did ask, however, if I’d order one for her. “Something with reds and tans, but not too red and not too tan.”  I told her I’d try.

Many unsuccessful months later, it’s beginning to look like my secret talent is reserved for my wishes alone.

Don’t tell my mother in law, but look at the gorgeous oil painting I picked up at the dump yesterday! Just right on the wall where I wished for something with a burst of color.


Birth and Blogging

I must admit… I was soooo anxious about starting a blog. I mean anxious enough, that it lingered in the back of my mind for many months as my website developed, stopped developing and started again.

I wondered…what would I write about and why would anyone want to read it?  For months, I created lists of possible blog topics. On the back of scrap paper, napkins and some times my hand.  But, scrap paper gets lost, napkins get tossed, hands get washed, and I was left to again wonder and worry about what I’d write.

Then my website was just about done.  I received a book contract from the publisher.  I learned to tweet. I registered on facebook.  “Just put up a couple of blog entries before you unveil your website,” the designer suggested.  “Yeah, sure,” I said, my poker face hiding my great unease.

When I spoke of my fear to a friend, she told me I was silly.  “You wrote a book,” she said.  “A book that’s going to get published.”  Of course she was right, but book writing involved a period of years, followed by months, ok years, of editing.  A blog entry is supposed to be quick and witty, not too long, not too short.  It’s a perfectionist’s nightmare!

So, finally, the other day, I bit the bullet.  I wrote my first blog entry. It’s the one about taking down the tree.  (The Andie turning 10 entry had been blank for quite some time).  So I wrote and I clicked save, thinking I go back, maybe 2 or 3 or 30 more times to review and revise. But, lo and behold, to my great surprise, there it was posted on my website.  Just like that.  I had blogged (is that really a verb?).

So for months I had worried about something that was over in a matter of seconds.

It reminded me of my epidural fear.  Throughout my entire pregnancy with Tuck (never got that far during Andie’s) I worried about a needle going in my back.  Back in 1998, not getting drugs wasn’t even a thought in my mind.  So I carried a growing Tuck in my front, and a growing fear of the drug that would keep me calm, pain free and less afraid, in my back.

When I was in labor, I begged the young anesthesiologist to please, please, pleasetell me when he was going to stick the needle in my back.  When he laughed and said that he’d already done it, I sunk back on the bed, relieved, and maybe even a bit disappointed, that I wasted all that energy worrying about something that turned out to be no big deal.

As I continue to learn, it’s like so many things in life…you just don’t know ‘til you get there.

Taking Down the Tree

As I took the first ornament off the tree, I felt a wave of sadness come over me. I didn’t expect to feel sad. Just yesterday I said how relieved I was that the holidays were over. Life could return to “normal.”
treeAs I tucked a white porcelain teddy bear ornament in the cardboard box, I pulled a chair out from the dining room table and sat. I realized, as I gazed at this trim, perfectly manicured, Douglas Fir, standing proudly in the corner of our dining room, that I actually am taking a holiday. A holiday from making lists, racing to crowded stores, stamping envelopes, cutting glossy paper that will later fill a landfill, preparing elaborate, meat and starch laden meals and all the rest.

This post-holiday holiday has brought open spaces on my calendar, time to write and walk and breathe. Time to reflect. Time to be.

Perhaps I won’t take the tree down just yet. Instead, I think I’ll brew a cup of tea and enjoy this gift of a newfound holiday. I will relish this beautiful evergreen that I had so little time to enjoy during the previous holiday.

FYI – holiday |ˈhäliˌdā| noun –  a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done

Thanks, Webster. I’ll try to remember that next year!