Mindful Living: An Oxymoron

photo.JPGMindfulness

Mindfulness. Lately it seems that I can’t flip through a magazine, listen to the radio, turn on the television or read a parenting blog without reading or listening to yet another person extolling the virtues of mindfulness. So what exactly is mindfulness? According to psychologytoday.com:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present.  When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad.  Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening experience.

Sounds fantastic.  Right?  “Living in the moment.”  “Awakening experience!”  Being in a “state of active, open attention on the present!”*  Holy shit, for a chick with OCD, it seems that being able to achieve a state of mindfulness is akin to reaching Nirvana.  I dig it.  I really do. While I now have the whole OCD thing under control (my motto: don’t suffer; see a shrink), two years ago the very idea of thinking about only one thing without insanely invasive thoughts of environmental contaminants and other horrific things invading my mental space would have seemed an utter impossibility.  At the time, the thought of concentrating on anything at all other than obsessive thoughts seemed impossible.  Mindfulness?  Back then? Forget it. Mindfulness now?  Well, I’m not so sure about that either.  As much as I like the idea of it, upon deeper reflection and research, it doesn’t quite seem to fit our lifestyle here in the Nanni house. 

We Nanni’s thrive on an amped up kind of energy.  There isn’t a hell of a lot of stillness and quiet in our home.  There is, however, a lot of vacillating between great sorrow (over things like empty bowls of goldfish and being told it’s time to go to bed) and rage (usually brought on by a fight  over something like who gets to pet the dog first).  Oh, and let’s not forget joy (resulting from both children teaming up and doing something to vex Giorgio and I).  And with all this sorrow, rage and joy comes a great deal of mournful cries, screams of rage and fits of high pitched laughter.  So, hypothetically speaking, if I am trying to make dinner and one child is screaming because he can’t find his favorite show on television, and the other is crying because she finished all her goldfish, and the dog is barking at me to feed her, and the phone is ringing, what am I supposed to be minding?  The dinner?  The kids? The dog?  The phone?  The whole jacked up situation in its entirety?  Perhaps that’s it.  Perhaps achieving mindfulness requires a more holistic approach.  Let’s develop that idea.

Just this afternoon, the Nanni’s were in the car heading to Starbucks.  Giorgio was trying to talk to me about something going on at his job; meanwhile, both children were screaming at us about crazy stuff like how to find the Ariel song on the iphone and how to spell Bastille. Now, please tell me, how am I, a poor, wretched person, supposed to be attentive, focused, mindful during this particular moment?  Here’s what I’ve come up with.  I need to view mindfulness in broader strokes.  At that given moment, I could not possibly attend to just one person or to one thought.   I needed to transcend the situation, the entire chaotic, loud, frustrating situation.  I needed to embrace it for what it was and not judge it.  I was not supposed to chastise myself for my inferior parenting which resulted in children that interrupt and demand attention.  I was not supposed to feel anxious and annoyed.  I was supposed to observe it calmly and breathe.  Okay.  Got it.  I guess. 

And how about this? This Christmas Santa gifted both my children with razor scooters.  Clearly Santa was concerned about the kids not getting enough exercise during these cold and snowy winter months.  He also figured that Giorgio and I are laid back enough to allow the kids to scoot in the house. While this was a good idea in theory, these damned scooters have turned our home into a madhouse. I am constantly being chased down by maniacs on scooters. I now live in fear of having my heel rammed by a scooter. I dodge and weave as I go about my daily business.  Never do I feel safe.  I am always wondering, waiting for the moment when a scooter will make contact with my body. The sound of rumbling tiny wheels on tile echos in my dreams.  I am never free of those damned scooters.  And it’s not just the noise and fear of being hit.  It’s also the sound of my children and their scooters.  It’s hearing the BANG!!! Then silence, silence, wait for it…SCREAM!!! Or, silence, silence, wait for it…”I’m okay mommy!”  How am I to be mindful with that looming fear of an impending scooter disaster.  My mind is constantly occupied with thoughts of those G.D. scooters. 

So, I guess I’ve established that mindful parenting escapes me, but how about plain old generic mindful living. I’m assuming that I’m not the only one who has thoughts tear through her mind in rapid succession.  As long as my thoughts aren’t obsessive or fear-based, I like being this way.  I cram a lot of thought into the sixteen wakeful hours I have a day.  When I was dancing, and, if I am going to be completely honest, even to this day, I cannot listen to beautiful music without choreographing dances in my head (lousy dances, yes, but dances nonetheless).  I cannot fully concentrate on the music itself, so I guess I do not fully enjoy music in its purest form.  I think over it.  I add something to it.  I visualize beautiful dancers moving in harmony with the music.   So, I guess that means I am not mindful of what I am listening to because I am evaluating it and applying it to something else.

How about taking a walk on a cold early spring morning. Is it possible for writers to walk past crocuses poking through the recently thawed ground without simultaneously enjoying the sight and weaving it into their greater narratives?  Aren’t we, as humans, thinkers, writers of our own life stories, supposed to judge, analyze and evaluate as we experience?  How can we just be?  How can we just be mindful?  How can we be so cold and disconnected that we choose when to ignore, when to not feel, when to not judge, when to not experience our most primal emotions?  How can we be flat?  Muted?  I prefer energy and emotion in all its beauty, its bitter sorrow and great, great joy.  I prefer to feel without restraint.  I prefer to react when something is wrong.  I prefer to judge when something is unjust.  I prefer to feel strong emotions, the euphoria that comes with bliss and the regret that comes when I make emotional decisions.  I prefer to be myself.  And I guess I am just too emotional, too wrapped up in all around me, too fucked up to be fully mindful.  And I can live with that.

*From www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness Mindfulness: Present Moment Awareness

Dreamers-Outside of the Box; Not Out to Lunch

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I am a dreamer.  I have always been.  I have never believed that there are certain pleasures in life that are reserved for certain, special people.  Even as a young child, I had big plans, and now, as a middle aged adult, I still have big plans.  I believe that the treasures this life holds are vast, nearly infinite, and they are mine to be discovered, claimed, lost, cherished, broken and adored. Dreams make this life wonderous. After forty years on this earth, I have not yet allowed maturity, pragmatism and the bitter aftertaste of negative experiences rob me of my childlike musings.  Life has yet to suck the life out of me.  If I didn’t have my dreams, however, I would die inside.

There is so, so much to do in such limited time.  There are creative endeavors to pursue and business plans to hatch.  There are new places to visit and live, yachts to sail, beaches to bask and mountains to ski. This would all seem so much more plausible if I were a wealthy woman, which I am not, but I never allow money to stand in the way of my pursuit of dreams.  I am a reasonably intelligent  and resourceful woman. I can get that which I desire. I usually do.

All of this bravado doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t feel like I sound like a compete lunatic when I share some of my plans. And, gauging from the responses my declarations often elicit, many do think I am a mad cat. “You want to do what?” “You think you can do that?”  “What?” “Huh?”  Well, the answer is-yes.  Yes, I want to do that.  I will do it with my intellect and my talents, my sheer willpower and don’t forget, a healthy dose of joie de vivre. I will do it because I want to feel alive; I want my kids to feel alive and know that life can be extraordinary and magical.  We all know it can be pretty horrible and tedious and pain inducing, so why can’t it also be wonderful?  How about that? 

Don’t worry.  I do realize that dreams cannot be attained without risk. Before I had children, taking risks wasn’t nearly as stress inducing as it is now.  Back in the day, I had no qualms about packing my bags and moving to NYC to become a dancer or quitting a stable job at a state college to open a business with my husband.  Whether I failed or made it, the risks were worth it.  I was alive, moving, changing, growing. 

With children, risk taking is a different business. Risk must be weighed and security can never be sacrificed.  As a parent, you can never be reckless, or, worse yet, completely selfish.  Any pursuit that consumes your time and resources as a parent must benefit all members of the family.  That said, I want my children to take chances, to be brave, to embrace adventure and see what the world has to offer.  As my husband likes to say, there is no value living like a declawed cat, staring out the window and watching life pass by .  I want my children to take risks, take chances and dream.

One of the most simple, yet profound things I have heard came from Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.  Considering I do not follow football, I am so grateful that I caught this interview. Wilson was discussing how he got to where he was and recalled his father posing this question to him: “Why not you Russ?  Why not you?”  What a phenomenal question to pose to our children, to ourselves!  Why not me?  Why not my children? Why not my family?  Why not dream?  The riches and wonders of the world are not hidden away for an elite few.  For those of us who want, they are there for us to claim.  So if you hear me say that I want to move to Bora Bora, or buy a horse farm or open a restaurant, don’t think me mad.  Why not me?

My heart sings on flights of fancy.  I dream mountains and feel oceans and live.

Help! I’m Stuck In Survival Mode!

My Arch Nemesis...The Laundry Hamper

My Arch Nemesis…The Laundry Hamper

The other day a very wise person told me that I am in “survival mode.” I found her statement incredibly enlightening because it is true; I am in survival mode. Survival mode in and of itself is not a terrible place to be.  I mean it’ s not as if I’m in Holy Shit! My Life is Crumbling to Pieces Right in Front of My Eyes mode.  I’ve been there before, so I would recognize that awful place.  Nope.  Thankfully I am not there. When you’re in that place, you feel like you’re a peasant from  the Dark Ages, living in a cruck house, suffering from scurvy and lice and just waiting for the Dear Lord, a neighboring warlord or the bubonic plague to take you out of your misery.   I am also not in Wow! Life is Really Freaking Great mode either.  No.  Not there, unfortunately. Survival mode should more accurately be called Just Barely Keeping My Head Above Water, But, Somehow I’m Managing mode, but that is far too long to either say or type over and over again, so survival mode it is. 

When you are in survival mode, you are still able to experience happiness.  You are still able to hold onto your hopes and dreams.  The problem is that when you are in survival mode, you are only able, in fact, you are often barely able, to make it through your day.  You have your hopes and dreams and plans, but you are unable to see any of them through because you are too busy, well, surviving.  I am too busy muddling through my daily life. Sometimes I don’t even do a very good job with those things that other mothers and homemakers seem to do with ease.

My children create messes faster than I can clean them, and, yes, they are responsible with cleaning up after themselves, but they can’t even keep up with the disasters they create.  I feel like I spend my days caught in the aftermath of a hurricane (this hurricane being a perfect scenario where two storms-Storm Jack and Storm Allegra- converge to create optimal devastation).  Meanwhile, I’m being chased by two tornadoes, whipping around and tossing shit all over the place.  It doesn’t help that Jack, due to some visual perception issues, tends to dump things out in order to find anything.  He doesn’t calmly sift through a drawer of clothes or a bin of toys to find a desired item.  No. In order to locate an item, he dumps everything out and spreads it all over the floor until desired item is found.  I have to say, there’s nothing like the sweet sound of an entire bin of Playmobile figures being dumped all over the floor. 

Never mind the kids, I can’t keep up with a laundry pile that has morphed into something like the blob from the 1958 horror sci/fi movie. Before, I can make a dent in the damned thing it grows and expands, dirty clothes oozing out of the hamper and onto to the floor, spreading faster than any human can possibly manage to keep up with.  Oh, and the dishes.  I can wash dishes for hours, only turn around and find that more dirty dishes have magically appeared in the sink .Add to the dumped bins and spills and laundry and dishes the fact that I am homeschooling my son and attempting to teach two college courses.  Now it’s only the beginning of the semester. Just wait until my students start submitting term papers and research projects.  Also add that I seldom say “no” when the kids ask me to play and never say “no” when they ask me to read to them.  Another point that I have to add is that my husband is a chef and pretty much always at work. 

So what does this all add up to?  One frazzled, wreck of a woman who’s stuck in survival mode. Like I said, I still dream of doing really fabulous things with my family and for myself.  I plan to uuber organize my home Montessori style.  I plan to decorate our home in a lovely fashion.  I plan to read the thousands of books I have piled next to my bed. I plan to take my children to beautiful and exotic places. I just don’t know when or how I’ll do all these things.  When will I stop just surviving?  When will I stop throwing myself down on my bed at the end of the day and saying, “Holy Shit!  What the hell just happened?”

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. You don’t have to be a parent to be in this place.  You can be stuck in survival mode at work, in your relationships, in your own unique life.  Again, it’s not that bad.  We are alive.  We are so lucky compared to those who are in true survival mode, as in those struggling to literally survive without clean water, food, money or their health.  Again, what we are doing is really just barely keeping our heads above water, yet we’re managing.  And we should be grateful to be managing.  That said, as humans, we have the capacity for so much more.  If we didn’t, why would we dream?  We want our lives to be extraordinary.  We want the lives of our children and those we love to be extraordinary.  And they can be.  The question is “how?”  What changes can we make?  What improvements can we make in our own lives in order to enable ourselves to fully enjoy all the extraordinary things that are waiting for us.  I am an eternal optimist.  I will figure this out.  How about you?  Any ideas?

Goth Girls Hosting Superbowl Parties, Chinese New Year, Peyton Place and Other Random Stuff

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Oh blog , how I have missed thee. The last couple of weeks have been long and busy. I did make one lame attempt at a blog post, and I was angry, so it was angry.   It was angry, angry, oh so angry. To have posted it would have been an act of sheer lunacy.  Instead, I have saved it, which I find rather titillating.  With one click of a key I can send my deepest, darkest thoughts out into blogosphere for all to read.  I can send words I will most certainly…well, let’s not get carried away here.  I will rephrase.  I can send words that I might, perhaps someday wish that I could take back.  It’s all so dangerous and exciting that I’m getting hot and bothered.  No let me rephrase…again. The thought of posting it is mildly exciting because it may elicit a mildly negative emotional response from very few readers.  Bottom line, the night I wrote it I was so very tired, and, instead of going to bed like a normal, responsible person, I had the genius idea to stay up very, very late and blog. I wrote and wrote for hours.  It was epic.  Thankfully, something told me that I should just run the whole thing by Giorgio before hitting publish. Upon hearing what I wrote, my dear, darling, ever supportive husband suggested that perhaps, just this once, I sleep on it before I post.  So I did.  I went to bed like I should have done in the first place, rather than wasting hours pounding out some mildly antagonistic blog. I slept one of those amazingly unsatisfying sleeps where you drop on the bed, as if you just dropped dead, and wake up in the same position as you landed the night before.  When I awoke the next morning, I no longer felt angry, and I decided to save my jive post for a later date. To sum it all up, I delved into the dark recesses of my demented brain.  No, that doesn’t sound quite right. Let me rephrase…again.   I thought some moderately negative thoughts, wrote them down, didn’t feel good about it and decided to put them on the back-burner and focus on lighter matters. In an attempt to purge myself of any residual negativity, I have decided to rundown the silly, awkward and ironic situations I found myself in this week.  So here goes:

Chinese New Year at School: We are in the process of selecting a school for Allegra for next year.  Last week Giorgio and I went to visit one school for the second time.  I really like this place and, wanting to present myself in a somewhat respectable manner, took great care to look my best.   I donned my favorite Chinese inspired jacket, which Giorgio HATES, but I love. Giorgio, who has become a caricature of himself, wore his chef uniform.  He did have to run to work after our visit, but I also suspect that he’s morphing into a kind of chefinator, always in uniform and ready to whip up a souffle on a moment’s notice. Then, we headed out the door. 

Once we arrived at the school and made our way inside, Giorgio, chef-in-uniform, began speaking with a school administrator.  Although I was chatting with an instructor at the time, I distinctly recall hearing him speaking metaphorically and comparing the inflexibility of the current education system to the policies of most chinese restaurants which do not allow simple changes or substitutions to be made to menu items. Hmmmm.

Then we observed classes and spoke to a few teachers.  One of my favorite instructors at the school actually complimented my jacket and noted that it was very festive.  You know, with the Chinese New Year and all, which the preschool happened to be celebrating when we made our way past their classroom.  It was a bit later that I was struck by how ridiculous the two of us must have looked…showing up at a school wearing a Chinese jacket, weaving Chinese food metaphors into our dialogue, all the while one of the classes is holding its Chinese New Year celebration*.  If we don’t get our shit together and stop sabotaging our child, she won’t be accepted anywhere. 

* I do have to add that, in fairness to Giorgio and myself, we really weren’t aware that it was the Chinese New Year.

Superbowl Party at the Aging Goth Chick’s Place:  Let me preface this by stating that I am not gothic.  As a matter of fact, I get the heebie jeebies very easily and can handle absolutely nothing that deals with the supernatural, vampires, witches, witchcraft, the occult, animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, spooky castles set atop cliffs, coffins, fog, medieval crucifixes, incense, velvet, the color burgundy, burgundy velvet …you get the point.  I do however like to wear black.  Of course, on special occasions, like visiting my child’s potential future school, I sometimes offset the black with cool Asian jackets or sparkly costume jewelry. Other than that, black is pretty much the only “color” I wear in the fall, winter and spring (in the summer I usually pull out some hot pink and bright yellow). Also, I do have a sort of severe look  and I have been questioned by my son’s former teacher if we were a goth family (because, as you know, goth families tend to send their children to parochial schools)…

I really need to dedicate an entire post to this topic, so I’ll give you the abridged version.  Jack was in kindergarten.  Due to sensory issues, he would only color in black.  He also told the teacher that we lost our pet snake in our house.  Here again, I am petrified of snakes.  I can’t look at them, think about them, hear their creepy hisssssssssses.  But, Jack decided to tell the teacher that we had one as a pet, or we did until we lost it.  So putting it all together-child drawing in black, mother wearing black, pet snake-she thought that, perhaps, we were goth.

Now where was I?  Oh yes. I am not goth. I just took some liberties to make the title more interesting.  Anyway, I also don’t look much like the stereotypical gal who gets all worked out about the Superbowl much less hosts a Superbowl party.  In truth, I can care less about the game itself, but I do host a Superbowl party. You see, as child, I always felt left out on Superbowl Sunday.  I believed that everyone else in the entire world was sitting in their living rooms eating cheesy nachos and drinking Cokes.  Although I had no interest in the game, I did like the idea of the holiday that Superbowl Sunday had become.  So every year we have a very small Superbowl party with the kids, my parents, my brother Sean and my sister-in-law Jen.  We make tons of junk food and, some watch the game. Meanwhile, the kids disturb everyone by making  too much noise which is completely unrelated to game viewing, and Jen and I suck down martinis (although this year we tried margaritas which were fabulous and will most likely be replayed next year).  It’s a great time. Even Ginger enjoyed her first Superbowl party and had a Manwich for dinner.

So this year, a couple of hours before the game, I found myself in the grocery picking up our party food and a couple of Superbowl balloons for the kids. The store was PACKED and people were crazed.  Seriously people, if we’re going to treat the Superbowl like it’s a holiday then we need to shop like it’s a holiday and get it done by the day before at least. But I digress.  Back to the story. I foolishly decided to pick up the kids balloons first.  Have you ever tried shopping with balloons tied to your cart?  It’s just ridiculous.  You look ridiculous.  You annoy everyone because you either smack them with your balloons or you bang into them because the balloons obstruct your view.  So that was me, banging into people, smacking them with my balloons and “I’m sorrying” everyone to death.  It was so obvious what I was up to, cart loaded with chips and soda, Superbowl balloons…  At some point I began to feel pretty foolish.  I must have looked pretty stupid, dressed in faux leather skin-tight pants, as usual,  and a faux feather top, racing around, balloons smacking my face.  It didn’t help that I had to endure the sneers of a few hipster types.  Hey, hold up a minute.  What were they doing with nachos in their cart?  Going home to watch Daniel Day Lewis in the Unbearable Lightness of Being?  I don’t think so.  Such a movie would require cigarettes and perhaps some humus and wheat crackers, not Doritos.  That’s right. On Superbowl Sunday everyone (well, a lot of people), even aging “goth” chicks want to eat nachos and pretend that we belong to something greater than just ourselves.  Now that I’ve put it into words, I don’t feel so foolish.  Grant it, I may have looked foolish, but that’s not really very important. Is it?

Peyton Place: A couple of nights ago, Giorgio suggested that we watch the movie Peyton Place.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Giorgio wanted to watch Peyton Place.  And we did.  And it was pretty bad.  All that potential for greatness, flushed down the toilet along with a boatload of melodrama and probably one of the stupidest monologues ever delivered in cinematic history (perhaps an overstatement, but you get my point).  It wasn’t until the next day that I realized what an unusual dude my husband is and texted him the following, “U r a very strange person.  What kind of 43 yr old man stays up until 2 in the morning watching Peyton Place?”  Really. Recently, did any of your spouse’s suggest that you watch Peyton Place?  Of course the two of us fall asleep watching reruns of Columbo (yes we have the box set) almost every night, so what do you expect? 

That’s it folks.  Another week gone and the following lessons learned: don’t publish angry blog posts; don’t wear costumes to you child’s potential future school and don’t waste your time watching Peyton Place.  Oh, and, yes, aging goth chicks do in fact host Superbowl parties.  Peace.