Why I Exercise

Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

We all know the benefits of exercise, don’t we? Pretty much exercise is the cure to everything. Yup, everything. Health issues, mental issues (within reason I realize. I’m pretty sure exercise can’t cure schizophrenia so please don’t get mad at me for being insensitive.) Exercise helps with self-esteem, strength, flexibility, the list goes on and on. I really don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do it. But that’s another story.

I was never athletic as a kid. In the fourth grade, Mr. Havilland, my gym teacher kept me after class one time because I couldn’t get the basketball in the net. He wasn’t going to let me leave the gym until I made a swish or whatever you call it. I suppose Mr. Havilland might’ve been trying to do something positive. Maybe he wanted me to succeed. Instead, while watching all of my classmates escorted out of the gym and back to class I only wanted to hit Mr. Havilland over the head with the ball or go running from the gym in tears. He only managed to send me the message – I sucked at basketball. And by the way, I never made the shot that day.

In middle school I played intramural softball. I sucked at that too. I could never hit the ball no matter how hard I tried. Because I always struck out my coach put me last in the batting order and shoved me out in right field to pick the dandelions. (I grew up in a time when adults didn’t really care or understood a child had feelings. Heck, my grammar school art teacher had a sticker on her door that read – Children should be seen and not heard.  I mean, really? From a teacher??) Anyway, back to softball. I stunk. But it wasn’t until a year ago I learned my eyes don’t work together all the time.

I have an eye condition called Strabismus Amblyopia. My eyes turned in as a baby and when I was six my eyes were operated on to fix the problem. Which for the most part, it did. I don’t have peripheral vision in my right eye when I look left. Go ahead, try it. Cover your left eye. How far can you see peripherally with your right eye to the left? I can’t do that. I can’t look through binoculars and use both eyes either. (Plus, other stuff I won’t bore you with.)

Now I know my right eye doesn’t always work with my left eye. It’s always been that way, but I can’t tell it’s happening. But what does it cause? When your eyes don’t work together it hinders your ability to hit a ball! So, all those years of striking out on the softball team wasn’t because I was a lousy athlete, it was because my eyes weren’t working properly. Who knew? But I believed athletics were for other kids.

The agreement had been made. I wasn’t an athlete. I hated gym class in high school because I was a slow runner, no one wanted to pick me for their team. And I had a gym teacher who felt it was her duty to point out every chance she had there was a line between those that had been gifted in sports and the rest of us. Like when she’d divide the class up into teams. One team would be all the jocks and they got to play together whatever sport we were doing. The rest of us were exiled to the other team to play amongst ourselves. As if we didn’t know what she was up to. Or she didn’t care if we knew. She wanted the athletes to have a more successful gym class. How fun could it be to have to play with someone who can’t get the ball over the net? Why should the athletes suffer, right? It’s not like gym class is a team building opportunity. Or that high school isn’t ripe with opportunities for judgement, exclusion, bullying. I mean, that crap only happens in the movies, right?

Even though I couldn’t play sports, I loved to exercise. I could be competitive with just myself. I did aerobics in college. When I started working I went to the gym and took the classes there. I also love to dance. (Not good at that either.) But because I love to dance that’s why step classes spoke to me. Exercising was the only time I could be completely free. My mind shut off for an hour. The exercise high took me to the moon. I loved it and wanted more.

Then I found yoga. Well, holy cow. Yoga was a life changer. I felt amazing. Even though there isn’t supposed to be any judgement in yoga, I knew I was good. I could get deep into many of the poses.

But an athlete? Well, no. Yoga wasn’t a “no pain no gain” sport. Is it even a sport? It’s not in the Olympics. But I’ll tell you what, you work your butt off in yoga. I’m confident I could rival some of those athletes during a yoga class. Still, I never thought of myself as an athlete because I can handle crow pose.

Ten years ago I worked out with a trainer. Again, I fell in love. I loved the weights in my hands. I loved the strength I built. Being strong is very important to me in more ways than one. I loved the changes happening to my body. One day the trainer said, “you must’ve been some athlete in school.” I spun my head around. “Are you talking to me?” He laughed. “Of course, you. What sports did you play?” Me: “I wasn’t an athlete. I suck at sports. I was a baton twirler.” Him: “You are an athlete. No one told you.”

And the agreement was broken.

Sure, I exercise for all the health benefits it provides. I exercise because it keeps me nice and my family appreciates it when I’m nice. But the real reason I exercise?

So, I can tell that nine year-old she doesn’t suck at basketball. And so I can tell Mr. Havilland to shove it. I exercise so that middle schooler who so desperately wanted to hit the ball just once knows it’s not her fault. She would’ve hit the ball if her eyes worked correctly.

I exercise for all the times in high school I wanted to hide during gym class instead of being brave enough to run toward the ball and kick it in the goal.

I exercise so I can be heard.

I’m strong and determined.

I am a contender.

I am an athlete.



How Do You Handle Confrontation?

wolfThere is something inherently wrong with my internal wiring. I can’t walk away from a confrontation. All the years of yoga and all the spirituality books I’ve read go right out the window when I’m staring into the face of a fight. I don’t know why. I think I like it. I can let the anger go, but I need to have the last word. It’s just that simple.

Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of hot-headed, opinionated, loud, but lovely people. Well, that’s not even true. Some of my relatives aren’t very nice. (And I’m not referring to my mother. Okay, ma? You can take a deep breath.)  See? Poison runs deep in my blood.

I’m especially confrontational when it comes to my children. When Noodge 2 was no more than 3 we were at the mall. She stopped to look at these colorful, fake aquariums. A young man working the kiosk patted her on the head to which I replied, “don’t touch my child.” We all know I skeeve everything. Especially some stranger’s hand near my kid. Had he just said, “sorry” that would have been the end of it. He decided instead to tell me to go do something to myself which I believe is impossible and possibly immoral.

I don’t like being spoken to that way about as much as I don’t like strangers within inches of my kids. I think I scared my sister Kiki because she tried to drag me away from the scene I was causing. But I had the last word.

I could bore you with a long list of times I grew out of my 5’1″ frame into a firebreathing, beast with long claws, a purple cloak and gold crown. (I didn’t want to be a dragon.) Like the time I was pretty sure I was going to have to knock over the old guy with a cane who told my 2  year-old daughter he loved her.

Recently, I had a run in with a neighbor. (Ironically, Noodge 2 was involved again. I’m noticing a pattern here.) I wanted so badly to send a scathing text message to her. Who was she to speak to me like that? No one tells me what to do. But I didn’t send the scathing text I so desperately wanted to. The Coffee King pleaded with me not to. “Trust me,” he said. I stormed out of the house quite certain my blood pressure was high enough to cause a stroke and chewing off the head of my meaningful husband like the firebreathing beast I repeatedly turn into.

Who did that woman think she was talking to me like that? I couldn’t let her get away with it. But I did. And I’m not happy about it. Not even now, even though I know it might be better to stay quiet. I should’ve said something. I should’ve had the last word.

Even when friends tell me stories about walking away from a situation without telling someone how they feel, I see it as letting someone get something over on you. You’re sister-in-law yells at your middle-school aged kids for having a different opinion than she does about something completely innocuous and you don’t say something? Not this girl.

Do we get to a point in our lives when we finally accept who we are without judgement?  I spent my twenties and thirties trying to tame my personality. Think first and speak later. Speaking without thinking isn’t right. No good can come from expressing every emotion I have. What does it solve by telling someone I think they’re an idiot except that I feel better? Why is it so important for me to have the last word?

How do you handle confrontation? Do you shy away from it? Or do you face it head on?

Life Lessons of a Mom: Nothing Is As It Seems

Image taken from the Amazon buying page.
Image taken from the Amazon buying page.

I read a fantastic book, How Yoga Works, by Geshe Michael Roach. It’s a story about a young woman who must teach her prison warden about the ways of yoga. The book takes place a very long time ago. There’s a wonderful scene where our female protagonist, Miss Friday, takes the warden’s bamboo pen and throws it out the window to the cow below. The cow eats it. To the warden, the piece of bamboo is a writing instrument. To the cow, it’s a snack. Nothing is as it seems. And nothing is all good or all bad. It just depends on how you look at it.

This school year I haven’t been very fond of the Noodges’ music teacher. And that’s putting it nicely. I won’t bore you with the details of how I’ve come to this decision, that’s a post for another time. But something happened recently. During the 8th grade band concert, the music teacher was introducing the next song with a little explanation about the piece. He mentioned “Oh, Danny Boy,” the Irish classic, was part of the number and that song was something his father sang to him as a child. (The music teacher is about five minutes past puberty, so to us old folks, when he was a young child.) Music Teacher introduced his father sitting in the front row and thanked him for sharing that song with him. He held out his hand to his father who gladly shook it and Music Teacher found his words were being cut off by emotion and tears.

And that’s when it hit me. I was having my own bamboo pen moment. This young man standing on the stage isn’t all bad. He’s clearly capable of emotion. He loves his father who loves him back. As a mother witnessing this special moment, I found myself with a tear or two. Or maybe it was an eyelash, but go with me on this.

I thought, if Music Teacher would show a little of this side of himself to his students and to the parents of those students he’d be liked more. But that’s a lesson he might learn with experience. Or not. It’s all up to him.

But for me, I’m going to try and remember that moment on stage when I have to deal with this teacher over the next two school years, as Noodge 2 will be alone to navigate the many moods of music. I will try to be more patient and understand that for some the music teacher is an instrument made from bamboo and to me he can’t be a snack.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

A friend of mine recently said to me, “It’s about having fun, isn’t it?” Of course, the answer to that is “Yes!”  Then I started thinking, yes, I know, I’m thinking again, are we having enough fun?

As a mom, I’m always worried about who did their homework, who needs to be taken where, who has clean clothes to wear, when was the last time someone showered, brushed their teeth, their hair, did they eat, did they do their chores, okay, the list goes on and on. But how come I’m not worrying about who has had fun? Note, worrying and fun don’t belong in the same sentence.

Shouldn’t childhood be about having fun? How often have I told my daughter she can’t wear makeup because she’s too young. Don’t grow up so fast, you have plenty of time to be an adult and wear makeup. If I’m telling my kids to enjoy their childhood how come I’m not telling them to have more fun? I mean, does anyone even have time for fun?

I have to schedule my fun in. That’s not so fun, but if I don’t somehow my week has consisted of a lot of responsibility. And don’t get me wrong, being a writer is fun, but it’s hard work too. Way harder than I ever thought and there are plenty of days I think I could scrap this writing thing and get a job at Starbucks, which would be way more fun! At least I’d have people to talk to besides my characters.

I’m teaching my children to schedule their fun in too. Gone are the days of calling a friend in the morning and they can come over by lunch time. I tell my kids, plan it for next weekend. Plan fun? Really?

So how do we have more fun? Do we toss away our calendars and our planners and… get ready for it our phones and live in the moment? That’s what yoga teaches us. Live in the moment. I’m always having fun when I’m doing yoga. Hmm…I’m seeing a connection here. Make my kids take yoga. Yeah, okay…no.

I don’t have all the answers. If I did I’d write a book and make millions. (Are we laughing yet?) I do know this much. I’m going to have more fun and I’m going to see to it my children have more fun too. Right after they finish their homework.

Appreciation Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

I don’t know about you, but as a mother I rarely feel appreciated. I spend my days driving my kids to school when they tell me the bus is too cold to stay on for the 30 minute  ride. I will drive back, the seven miles, on the same day when I receive a call at 2 pm that there’s a band meeting scheduled at the last moment and we don’t have a late bus for them to take home.  This will also be the day there is an orthodontist appointment so now I’ve driven to the school three times, four if you count the fact I had to return the child to school after his appointment. When I drop everything for my children I’m sacrificing something of my own. Usually yoga which keeps me nice so I want to continue playing chauffeur in sub zero weather and not want to shove snow down your shirt.

I’m not unique. I’m just a mom and  I survive on hugs and proud moments my kids don’t know I’m watching. You grow a thick skin when you become a mother. It actually prepared me for all the rejections I received while pitching my book.

The other day something magical happened. (No, not with the kids, but stick with me.) I stopped to get gas and the attendant asked me if I wanted my windshield cleaned. That’s magical all by itself because usually the attendant just grunts at you when he hands back your credit card. But this guy didn’t just clean the windshield. He cleaned all the windows and I have a SUV.

I never tipped anyone for washing my windshield before, but  I did this time. And in his attempt to thank me, there was a language barrier there, he went back and wiped down the frames of all the windows. He felt appreciated and so did I.

Was it the unprompted “thank you for driving me all over the planet so I can fit into society, have straight teeth, and some day the  job of my dreams” from one of my children? Was it “I’d love to help you shovel the snow because you bought me the sneakers I wanted” without eye roll? Not exactly.

I will continue to sacrifice yoga to drive my kids where they need to go. I’ll give up my writing time to help search for reliable sources for that science paper. I will remember that appreciation comes in all shapes and sizes. And when I’m not looking one of the young people that live in my house will clean my windows without asking and I’ll know all is right with the world.

Fight or Flight?

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net Image by hin255
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net Image by hin255

Maybe it’s because I am the stereotypical hot-headed Italian, as are my parents, but when it comes to the choice of fight or flight I land in the fight category with both feet solid on the ground. I never miss an opportunity for confrontation. I don’t shy away from it and honestly, don’t completely understand my counterparts who run in the other direction when confrontation is on the horizon. Why run? Let your voice be heard. Loudly!

Maturity, (not much) my husband, and yoga have taught me it’s better to at least stop and take a breath before jumping in with both fists, or loud mouth, flailing. Sometimes it’s a day’s worth of breathing before I can choose the non-fighting approach.

The hardest place for me to take a breather in the face of the fight is where my children are concerned. Last year Daughter, in the 5th grade at the time, came out of school at the end of the day hysterical crying. Before she even got to me I wanted to know who I should hurt first. Through the tears I managed to find out what happened. I told her to stay in the car and I’d get to the bottom of it. With only one thought on my mind, I marched through the school and wasn’t going to stop until the teacher did some explaining. Thankfully, the Universe interfered. Someone else was already in the classroom talking to the teacher and when I saw this woman I realized, in the nick of time, I couldn’t go barreling in there the way I was. I stopped, took a breath, and at least sounded somewhat like an intelligent person when I spoke. Had I continued on my quest in total fight mode I’m sure I would’ve under minded my credibility.

Today I’m faced with a similar situation and I have to tell you, I’m chewing on the inside of my cheek trying not to speak up yet. My instincts are to fight, but that might not be the best choice for all who are concerned. So, I’m breathing in the mean time.

The best place for conflict? On the page. I try very hard to allow my characters to say and do the very things we shouldn’t so they will get into some trouble and make my stories more interesting to read.

What do you choose? Fight? Flight?