Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here: Part I


The death of Freddie Gray and the questions surrounding it are an ongoing issue that is sparking protest and violence across the city of Baltimore. While this event in Baltimore's history is far from over, I think it is important work to begin to look forward to what happens next. Marches, protests, looting, peace, and violence cannot change anything about what has already happened; Freddie Gray is no less dead, his family is no less grief-stricken.

What matters is where we go from here.

I have said it before and will say it again: real change requires a cultural shift. Once this cultural shift occurs, everything else changes.

To wit, everyone needs to care about other people's children as much as they care about their own.

We need to value the neighborhood two streets over as much as we do our own block.

"We" is defined as everyone, regardless of race and income level (because we are talking about socioeconomics here. Let's not kid ourselves and think that racism is over - take a quick peek at Twitter - but the new racism is institutionalized socioeconomic oppression. But I digress. Sort of. Not really.

It's easy to say that these things need to change, harder to change them. Everyone is an armchair quarterback, criticizing and dissecting and saying what should have been done.


It is impossible to forget the legacy of violence, racism, oppression, and white supremacy in this country, but we need to move forward. We can forgive without forgetting. We can change things and honor those who came before.

Maybe a cultural shift is the only way true change will occur, but we can nudge it along with action that involves the entire community. Here's how, starting with education.

Before we begin, here's a disclaimer: These are generalizations, but they are based on research first and experience second. This is not the blathering of someone who has not done their homework, and it's not simply anecdotal (although as someone with 16 years of experience as a teacher I can certainly offer concrete examples). Feel free to offer alternate sources if you feel it's warranted.


Students from low socioeconomic (SES) neighborhoods (predominantly minority but let's talk about all low-SES students) come to school not knowing how to read or sometimes even recognize letters. Many students from middle- and high-SES neighborhoods have been reading environmental print and recognize their names along with other everyday words. They may be writing. They may know the alphabet, and some may be reading many levels above kindergarten.

Based on this second group (higher-SES students), national standards have been written to require kindergartners to reach certain benchmarks prior to moving to the next grade. A student coming to school who does not recognize their name or know the alphabet is targeted for remediation. This could come in the form of additional classes or pull-out study groups.

If these students do not catch up to their peers by the 3rd grade, if they are not reading and writing on grade level, the rest of their schooling career, however long or abbreviated it may be, will be marked by extra classes for reading and math, and limited classes in the arts or PE.

So here's what happens, and we will use a young male as an example.

William comes to school as a low-SES student. He knows letters exist, but chances are good that in his neighborhood and family, there are not many books or magazines around. So although he is a curious, bright-eyed, active little boy, he tests poorly on kindergarten entrance tests and is immediately flagged for remediation.

First, he gets pulled out of regular classes when students are working on small group work, so he misses crucial information on how to work well in a group.

As the year progresses, William makes some strides forward, but not fast enough to meet the benchmarks, so he gets pulled out of his once-weekly art class and his twice-weekly PE class. Now William is in academic seatwork mode every day, all week long.

He is five. He is squirmy.

He begins to get antsy during the day, especially after lunch time. He starts to talk out in class, get up and wander around.

Suddenly, William is labeled as a behavior issue. His parents are called. They may come in, they may not come in, but they report that he is fine at home. After school he goes to a program where he runs around and then comes home and goes to sleep. This activity combined with a school day that starts at 7 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. means there are few issues at home that aren't age appropriate (he is only five). The school repeats that William has behavior issues, and they put him on some sort of behavior monitoring system, sending William home with a red, yellow, green checklist to be signed nightly. This may or may not get signed because it may or may not get home. William is, after all, five years old.

Now William has gone from being an active, curious five-year-old entering kindergarten to meet new people and learn, to a behavior problem who is failing and may need to be held back. He gets no time out of the classroom setting and is not often working in a group because he is pulled out to drill in reading and math.

This continues, and by the time William reaches third grade, not only is he not reading fluently, but he is having trouble getting along with his peers and working in groups. He has not been able to develop any artistic talent because he has been out of those classes and there is no money for special art supplies or classes at home. His behavior has caused him to miss field trips. He hates school and thinks his teachers hate him. His parents are fed up with William, fed up with school, and don't know what to do with the continuing negativity.

Now, since William isn't a fluent reader, he is on the fast-track to dropping out and continuing the cycle of poverty.

This is a long anecdote to illustrate the path of millions of low-SES kids in our school systems. Of course some get out of the cycle of poverty, but relatively few. And newsflash: the majority of public school children are living in poverty. And the majority of school-aged children are in public school.

So what can we do? Throwing money at the problem hasn't helped. National standards haven't helped. Here's what will help.

1. Make the solution inter-generational. Parents in low-SES neighborhoods often have the same issues their children face. They may be functionally illiterate, which may prevent them from getting a job that pays a living wage. Offer parents the opportunity to come into the school to get their GED, take continuing education classes (including classes in the trades), and learn job-seeking skills. Then help parents with employment placement (team up with already-existing resources in the city or see #4 in funding options below) and offer computers, printing stations, and a quiet place for the whole family to do homework or study in the evening.

2. Implement solution #1 by offering flexible school hours. Parents who do have jobs cannot come to class during the day, and if their kids are home at night parents are faced with the choice of leaving them alone or not going to class. Schools need to adapt to the needs of their communities. If the community needs a school to function as a resource during the evening, then it should remain open.

3. As with everything, the most effective implementation of this will occur if teachers and administrators live in the community they serve. This may mean developing a teacher training program for students who are currently in high school, offering students the guarantee of a job as a teacher in their former school when they become appropriately certified. High schools can team with local community colleges to offer students who are interested dual enrollment opportunities. There are several of these types of structures already in place in Baltimore city, but making sure students and parents are aware of them is key. And because there are placement criteria and attendance criteria, this process needs to begin in middle school.

4. For #3, this means having counselors in place starting in middle school who are actually counseling students on all of the opportunities that are available to them. This includes college, trade school, travel as a part of a volunteer organization, taking a gap year that includes and internship, and other opportunities that high-SES neighborhoods have at their fingertips.

5. Middle school needs to be more effective. Counseling needs to start in middle school because that is when the decision to drop out is made.

"In high-poverty schools, if a sixth grade child attends less than 80 percent of the time, receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, or fails math or English, there is a 75 percent chance that they will later drop out of high school — absent effective intervention."

Effective intervention includes academics that encourage exploration, lots of peer interaction and discussion (including instruction and direction on how to communicate effectively), and programs that help identify and develop a student's individual talents. Field experiences and travel into the world, even for an overnight trip out of state, can be eye-opening to students who have not been out of their neighborhood. Merciless test prep and lecture are lethal; they are neither engaging nor educational. Learning how to learn, explore, ask questions, and advocate for themselves should be the primary function of middle school. Academics can support these goals without superseding them.

So the big question: how is this funded? 

1. Immediately stop all nationally standardized testing. In Baltimore City, this means an additional $2,268,000 in the budget (or more, as the national average of per-pupil spending on standardized testing is $27 per student, and BCPS has a current enrollment of approximately 84,000 students).

2. Trim the administrative fat. School districts are notorious for top-heavy paydays for administrators who are part of the system in name only. Identify essential personnel in administration and eliminate the rest. This is a painful process, but it can be done in such a way to utilize the talents of administrators who are willing to dedicate themselves in other areas of the system.

3. Tap community resources: the people. To generalize a community and say that they aren't interested or don't have anything to offer is absurd. The hard part is identifying where people shine and helping them to share it with the school. This can be in the form of after school homework help or classes in art, music, and other enrichment areas. I am a former educator who started and ran my own accredited, non-profit school, but my daughter's high school has not asked for my assistance to volunteer in any capacity. I feel unwelcome in the school, and communication home is poor and sporadic. For a school to thrive, the community must be invested in its success.

4. Tap community resources: businesses. Administrators at each school should be tasked with developing relationships with businesses both large and small to offer internships and practical support. These relationships are not one-way streets; there are many ways in which a school can help a business. The ways in which each can benefit the other will be highly personal to each school. The school district should work to develop relationships with national companies or larger companies in the Baltimore area. Companies like Underarmour have a wide range of teaching and training opportunities, and they also have a large potential workforce.

(side note: If  Underarmour would bring manufacturing to Baltimore they could help schools implement specific training programs for design and production in the schools. This would not only offer potentially thousands of jobs to Baltimore but it would also give them the cachet of being "Made in America.")

These ideas are just the beginning, and each needs specifics and further development. They require looking at education differently, focusing more on the assets that a student and his or her family brings to the table instead of what's missing. It eliminates deficit-model thinking, involves the community surrounding the school, and promotes multiple pathways to success. It expands the borders of a student's life and helps them to see that there is more in the world.

Most importantly, it stresses that there is no "us" or "them." It is "we" working together to offer our children the support and the voice they need to be successful in the world. It is the community tailoring the school to their needs and goals, not an administration or a federal government dictating what each student learn.

Is it easy? Of course not. Nothing worth a damn comes easy, unfortunately. But progress would be steady and visible. The payoff of real empowerment is people who care about what happens to their not only themselves but also their neighbors.

Next stop: policing and housing.

Please add to the conversation below.

Updated to add: Alice Goffman: How where you live can determine your path to college — or prison

(image source)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Unless And Until: Baltimore


Unless and until all lives matter as more than a soundbite and a hashtag...

Unless and until we are so sickened by the site of assault of any kind...

Unless and until equal rights are more than a campaign slogan...

Unless and until everyone has a voice...

Unless and until it stops being, "Would you look at those people..."

Nothing will change. When someone sets a senior center on fire and burns and loots their own neighborhood, businesses owned by people they know, they feel they have nothing to lose. They are disenfranchised to the point that they don't feel like they even live in the same country that they see on TV.

Two blocks from the looting last night are million dollar homes.

Police set up in front of Camden Yards but let rioters destroy their own neighborhoods.

People of all races were dragged out of cars and beaten.

The mayor was silent for five hours, appearing only to look beaten herself and call the rioters thugs.

Please don't misunderstand: I cannot condone anything that happened last night. But my endorsement or the lack thereof is not the point.

People keep quoting MLK, to wit: "A riot is the language when people don't feel heard" (paraphrasing).

But it's more than that. Before they can open their mouths, rioters don't even feel seen. It's The Invisible Man all over again. It's black men disappearing. It's an entire race of people excommunicated from the business of life by the color of their skin. Before we judge the actions of a few (and it was only a few, in relative terms) imagine what you would do if everyday you were told you were inferior and not worth anything, both implicitly and explicitly. Chances are good you can't begin to imagine it. If you are reading this blog (and even as I am writing this blog), you have privilege that is so ingrained it doesn't even feel like privilege. It just is.

Unless and until we can pretend to put ourselves in the shoes of others for just a moment to imagine that they love their children just as much as we do...

Unless and until we are committed to the success of everyone, not as a handout, not as a hand up, but as a journey that we take side-by-side...

Unless and until we are as invested in the future of the whole country, not just a select few...

Nothing will change.

It's not a conservative vs. liberal thing. It's not Christians vs. Muslims. Or us vs. them. It is us vs. our own humanity. Are we humans? Are we separated from the animals by our compassion and ability to reason? Can we not see that this is an issue that goes beyond throwing money at a problem?

Buying a house on a block of abandoned rowhouses is not the solution.

More testing in school is not the solution.

More death and violence is not the solution.

The solution requires nothing less than a cultural shift in attitude on both sides. It almost requires a do-over, a wiping of the slate. When you burn something down, you can live in the ashes, assemble a crude structure to keep the rain off but that will probably fall down again, or build something to last.

Unless and until we get to the core, address the institutionalized nature of deeply held prejudice and remedy the wrongs on both sides, our flimsy structure will come crashing down around our ears. Maybe not in a year or five years or ten years, but maybe today. Or tonight.

We are not these riots. Are we?

(image source)


Friday, April 24, 2015

What's Wrong With Baltimore


So I just spent a solid 15 minutes reading this Reddit on the dirt bikes of Baltimore. Specifically, the douches who ride around in packs in the city, running red lights, popping wheelies, and intimidating drivers and pedestrians (and police).

And this past Wednesday as I drove up The Alameda near 33rd to pick up my kid from City, I looked to the left and saw two boys fighting in the door way of a church. A group of about 20 kids had formed around the two and were laughing, screaming with bloodlust, and filming with their cellphones. Nobody stopped to help, no police were around, and eventually the boy who was literally pounding the other boy just stopped, shoved him away, and the crowd dispersed.

I find myself struggling to love my city this week.

It's not because of the dirt bike gangs (the 12 o'clock boys) themselves, although I can't say that I love the idea of being pummeled by one of these dudes for daring to drive on the same road (which apparently has happened).

And it's not necessarily because of the issues surrounding the police, although it's hard to love a group which continues to systematically break the law, exhibit extreme racial bias, and then hide those who perpetrate heinous crimes.

It is because of the seeming impossibility of the problem, the hugeness and complexity of the issues underlying all of the racial, social, financial, educational, and artistic divides in the city.

The Reddit post linked a New York Times documentary on the 12 o'clock boys, and at the end of the short film, one of the people interviewed talks about how the 12 o'clock boys are free when they are riding. It's like they can escape from everything; it's deeper than just fleeing the police or breaking the law. The footage shows the gang riding through deserted streets of boarded up houses, trash flying through the air and graffiti everywhere (not "street art," just spray-painted tags on plywood, territory marked just as if the tagger had lifted a leg and pissed). In this way, leaning back on the wheels of a (sometimes stolen) dirtbike, only in this way, did the commenter feel free.

To my little middle class white girl self, it feels hopeless. It looks hopeless. I imagine that if the only way out is to fly through the streets of the city of one wheel, tossing a fuck you over your shoulder as you pass cop cars and stunned pedestrians, then you might take that way out if you are desperate enough.

In a city where snitches get stitches and old men are beaten because they ask kids to pick up a piece of trash they dropped, it's hard to feel the love. It's hard to feel free. It's hard to feel hope.

It's easy to avoid or ignore the problems of this city until it isn't. Then what? The city schools suck (especially in poorer neighborhoods), there is a cultural issue surrounding trash and litter, gentrification is taking over historic neighborhoods, causing financial hardship, the police force has no relationship with the community, and the future looks hopeless for many kids. Violence is shrugged off (the fight I witnessed had a crowd of about 20 kids, laughing and clapping and surrounding the boys), jobs are scarce and ill-paying, and graduating students (or dropouts) join their parents on the street corner.

I lived in New York City briefly in 1989, the year the term "wilding" was coined. Shortly after I moved, the city began a decades-long effort to clean up the city - of crime and also of trash. They did it by targeting drugs and guns, and now the Big Apple is one of the safest cities in the country. New York was one of the first states to decriminalize marijuana, freeing up resources to go after bigger drug issues.

New York City also chose to focus on education reform. As the largest public school system in the country with the responsibility of educating over one million kids, New York City public schools boast some of the best (and some of the worst) schools in the country. Lotteries for high-demand charter schools can decide whether or not a child gets a chance in life. The system has the largest per-pupil spending rate (nearly $20,000 per student) or any system in the country.

When Baltimore talks about improving the city, most conversations center on pleading with middle-class families to stay and addressing blight, the entire blocks of boarded up houses that turn into dens of drugs and violence.

But it's more than housing. It's more than trash. It's more than education. It's more than a new coffee shop, a safe corner.

Has anyone ever developed a relationship so deep with some of the 12 o'clock boys (or other hopeless, inner city youth who are headed towards becoming just another a stereotype) that they could ask them what they would do if they could do anything? I imagine from the very beginning as small children they realized that dreams and imaginings were not part of their lives. Dangling a $12 an hour job (if that) and a roach-filled Section 8 house in front of someone who could make  a week's salary in one hour on a street corner, then informing them that they can work this same mind-numbing job for the next 30 years when they may or may not have a pension to retire on in a neighborhood they may no longer be able to afford isn't going to cut it.

My kid is looking for a job in the next few months. She won't make much, but she knows there is value in this act of employment. She knows because she has examples, she has seen it in me and Dane and all of the people around her. She knows $12 isn't much but it's a start, and it all starts somewhere.

From the very beginning, half of the city of Baltimore isn't really considering how it starts. They are just wondering how it will all end.

It's hard to be at home with this discontent, even if it doesn't reach me directly in my small circle. I can't abide throwing away an entire population of people, and yet that's what we are doing: gentrifying from the Harbor out until we are financially, racially, and socially segregated. I don't know what the answer is. I just know that if we don't seek out solutions and go deeper than flipping some rowhomes and starting a community garden, nothing will get better. And that's what's wrong with Baltimore.

(photo source)

(also, mad love to an essay in The Baltimore Chop which prompted this blog and these thoughts.)


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Road To Hell


So my 30-days-of-blogging extravaganza came to a screeching halt on the 15th when life intervened in the form of malware.

I am going to go ahead and give myself a big fat pass for missing the last five days because, well, just because. We all of us sometimes need to just forgive ourselves for not following through. It doesn't matter a bit sometimes why we don't follow through. In my case, a substantial malware infection, a yoga teacher training weekend, and a renovation intervened, not in that order, but even if I just felt like taking the weekend off because it was a gorgeous two days strung together, that's good, too.

This yoga weekend was not particularly fabulous for me, on a couple different levels, but the one thing I had reaffirmed was that it's really important to figure out what it is you want and go for that. The guest teacher talked about the word "should" as the heavy cat-o-nine that we flagellate ourselves with. He called it "shouldistic behavior" and said we were "shoulding" all over ourselves, two clever plays on words to indicate the painful and grotesque ways in which we sometimes attempt to motivate ourselves.

This applies even when your intentions are good. If you say things like "I should exercise more," then maybe your inner anti-cheerleader is talking shit in your head about how flabby you are. Maybe it's comparing you to the toned arms or buff abs of other people. In this way you perpetuate the cycle of feeling badly about yourself instead of focusing at the core of why you aren't doing what you feel you "should" be doing.

And here is (one of the places)  where the teacher and I parted ways. He said that motivation is about changing the word "should" to the word "want," and then everything will be just peachy. Turns out that is kind of bullshit. I have studied what motivates people for the past 18 years and have found unequivocally that just changing the words, although that may be a start, is not nearly enough to change the behavior. Even just changing the behavior (like forcing yourself to exercise more) doesn't really silence the anti-cheerleader or change the internal dialogue.

And here's the unfortunate punchline: motivation is a complex issue that I have no answer to (nor do experts, really. Just suggestions.). Neither did the speaker in the workshop (although he seemed to feel that he had the only answer, and any time there were objections it meant the objector just wasn't ready for his message or the objector was lying to themselves or  some other something. I felt like this teacher's ethos was very deeply rooted in est, the cult founded by Werner Erhard. I can speak directly to my interpretation of his premise because my father forced the entire family to go to an est weekend when I was younger, and the humiliation of that remains a vivid memory).

In other (somewhat depressing) words, motivation is unique to each person and can change over time. Key components to following through seem to be a mix of factors that are both internal and external. People who spend their lives being externally motivated (by gold stars as a child in school, by money in a job, or by compliments on appearance) may find themselves at a loss should (when) those external things disappear. Internal (intrinsic) motivation is far more valuable in the long run but far harder to cultivate, especially in a culture that is so comparative (and competitive)  in nature.  And, as evidenced by this weekend's computus interruptus, internal motivation can still be affected by the vagaries of life.

And here's where the rubber meets the road to hell:

"Notice that the stiffest tree is most  easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind." ~Bruce Lee~

It's good to have goals and develop persistence and internal motivation. It is satisfying to meet the bar we set for ourselves.

What's not good is beating ourselves up when shit happens. What's not good is comparing what we are doing to what other people are doing. What's not good is "shoulding" all over ourselves to the point where we are a puddly mess, incapable of taking the shape of the next move (that's  a Wonder Twins reference).

So today I am back on the road to hell. Expect blogs this week covering writing like a motherfucker and why Deepak Chopra made me cry. But if it doesn't happen, that's fine, too.

Have a beautiful week. Or don't. Either way, don't beat yourself up.


(image source)


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How Much Does Kindness Cost?

There is an old man in our neighborhood. He walks slowly, hunched over and using two canes. He only wears button-up, long-sleeved flannel shirts, no matter the temperature. Every day - rain, shine, snow, or sleet - he walks his even older dog across the street to the expansive, grassy playing field by the elementary school so they can both get a little fresh air, and maybe the dog can feel some grass between his toes.

In the last five months since we moved to this neighborhood, I have watched him get progressively weaker. Back in October, he used only one cane, and the sunny, surprising days of good weather gave him an almost-jaunty gait. Winter must have been hard on him, though; now he leans heavily on two, and they wobble as they take his weight. I wonder if he has anyone who takes care of him. I wonder if he would be angry or embarrassed if I stopped and offered to keep him company or to walk his dog.

I don't know why I don't try. I don't know why I think this kindness might be met with anger.

This neighborhood is filled with contradictions: young families just starting out, complete with hipster-approved sideburns and pegged jeans, and older single people on the other end of life's spectrum, winding down. Adding one cane to the mix. And then another.

A farmer's market on one corner and a 7-11 on the other. Modern, renovated rowhouses on one street and houses with porches propped up with two-by-fours on the other. A bright, sunny park that used to be a place to buy and sell drugs. A few alleys with dark corners.

I love this city. I love the little pockets of beauty and community, all 250 neighborhoods that have their own flavor and feeling.

But as I watch the old man tottering up the hill, snow-faced senior dog leading the way, I think about what really makes a place. It's the people in that place. It's the way they treat themselves, and then each other. If you ask a little kid to draw a neighborhood they might draw a circle with houses all around, or maybe the winding streets of suburbia, or maybe rectangles in a row with triangle tops like so many of Baltimore's houses. But it's the people, shoveling each other's sidewalks in the snow or holding packages or watching the house when you're out of town. If those small bits of kindness, those free gestures, don't happen, then a place is lean and spare. Penurious in a way that has nothing to do with money and everything to do with spirit.

So the next time I see him I will stop. Maybe I will pretend I am just out for a walk myself, and stop to pet his dog, or comment on the weather. We are moving into our renovated house in a few weeks, and I have already waited too long.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


[caption id="attachment_1080" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Where I'd like to be, even if in my own mind. Where I'd like to be, even if in my own mind.[/caption]

"You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day - unless you're too busy. Then you should sit for an hour." ~Zen proverb~

Today, I am dealing with:

1. The wrong color cabinets in a renovation that has already dragged on for too long

2. Rats under the house in Georgia

3. Writing deadlines for a job I wasn't going to try for then decided I should try for because...

4. Changes in my steady writing job (that don't take effect for a while, but still)

5. A leaky pipe in the tiny house that may be a connection outside...or it could be a burst pipe in the wall

I am so distracted and vata-high that I nearly ran over my yoga teacher just now at the little cafe where I was picking up some coffee to head to the next thing. I have so much running through my head (like rats in a crawlspace?) that I have tunnel vision. One task to the next, like a rat focused on cheese.

Do you see the rat-based figurative language? It's getting to me...

I am not sure even a couple of hours of meditation would help.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Yoga For Detoxification

Today's blog is brought to you by guest blogger Lori Batcheller of Northwest Pharmacy. It isn't often, never until now, actually, that I will put up a guest post, but I like this one. The Food Babe has sort of ruined the word "toxins," but the fact is that our bodies do processes quite a bit of junk from our food and the air around us. We don't need to fast or juice or do anything of that. Even when we eat terribly and sit around too much, our gorgeous organs are busy, busy, making the bad stuff go away.


There are yoga poses and exercises that you can do to help them speed it along. And it wouldn't kill you to have some carrots instead of chips, or some tangy spring greens, every now and then.

Drink a glass of water, then do a couple of these daily. All of them if you are feeling particularly rambunctious. And for those of you who aren't big on reading, there is a handy infographic and lots of pictures. See you tomorrow!

Yoga for Detoxification: Kundalini Kriyas to Detox

Kundalini Kriyas to Detox

Our bodies and minds are naturally designed to serve us throughout our lives: We take in nourishment through food and drink, process information and sort through what is most important, and experience a deluge of emotions, which keeps life interesting. When we get adequate rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy whole foods, allow emotions to flow naturally, and keep stress levels low, we can manage what life presents us more easily.

In reality, most of us do not eat an ideal diet free of processed foods and rich in organic fresh fruits vegetables, hormone-free fish and meat, and whole grains. Many of us do not drink the eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Some of us may have learned to block emotions and shut down rather than allow them to move through fully, so we stick to negative patterns or become numb. And while the body is designed to naturally remove toxins that enter through the air we breath, food we ingest, and experiences we face, today’s overwhelming pace of life and frequent ongoing stress make it difficult for the body and mind to do what they were designed to do.

“Toxins are everywhere: in our water, in the air, even in the foods we eat,” says Deborah Fryer, a certified Kundalini and vinyasa yoga teacher in Boulder, Colorado. “When we’re in good health and stress free, our bodies are designed to rid us of these chemicals through an intricate detoxification system.”

What is Detoxification?

Detoxification is the body’s natural process of neutralizing, transforming, or clearing out unwanted materials or toxins. The liver, kidney, colon, lungs, skin, and lymph system all play essential roles in this process. As the major detoxifier of the body, the liver deactivates and removes harmful substances we ingest, including food additives, harmful minerals, toxic medication, and excess hormones. The kidneys filter out excess salt and waste from cell metabolism, in additional to regulating water fluid levels. The colon, also known as the large intestine, rids the body of leftovers from digestion in the form of solid waste (feces). Through exhalation, the lungs rid the body of carbon dioxide, a byproduct of breathing. As the body’s largest organ, the skin removes crystal waste products through sweating. Finally, the lymphatic system, part of the body’s circulatory system, helps rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials with the help of white blood cells.

How the Human Body Naturally Detoxes

How Yoga Can Help Us Detoxify

Detoxification isn’t just about ridding the body of physical toxins. Yoga, an ancient system of pranayama (breathing exercises), asana (postures), and meditation (mindfulness) can aid the body and mind to cleanse both physical and emotional excess.

“All yoga is good for detoxifying,” Fryer says, “because all yoga incorporates movement, pranayama, and relaxation, which are all necessary. Yoga creates a safe space for emotional letting go as well, which has a huge effect on our ability to digest and be nourished by the food we eat.”

Yoga is an ideal practice to help the body and mind detoxify, according to Dr. Arielle Schwartz, a clinical psychologist and certified Kripalu Yoga instructor. “By stretching and squeezing the muscles of the body, yoga massages the organs, stimulates lymph and blood flow, enhances breathing, and invites release of blocked emotions," Schwartz says. “Yoga’s focus on the body and breath also help purge the mind of unnecessary thoughts.”

While all forms of yoga ultimately help the detoxification process, the following Kundalini kriyas (or exercise sets) and yoga postures are especially helpful. When practicing any form of yoga, stop immediately if you experience pain, modify the pose according to your body, move onto the next, or simply rest.

Kundalini Kriyas for Detoxification

Fryer recommends the following kriyas, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, to help the mind and body detoxify. During each exercise, focus on strong breath and movement.

  1. Lie down on the back with legs straight, heels together, and toes pointed upward. Spread the feet apart so they both point out to the sides, the right foot pointing to the right and the left foot pointing to the left. Close the feet so they once again point straight upward. Continue quickly opening and closing the feet, keeping the heels together. Continue this movement for 4 minutes.

Detox details: This exercise detoxifies the leg channels associated with the spleen, liver, and kidney.

  1. Remain on the back and place the hands under the head. Lift the legs about two feet from the floor and scissor them up and down. Keep the legs straight at the knees and keep the heels from touching the ground. Continue this movement for 4 minutes. (Suzannah's note: Be sure to engage the abdominal muscles to support the legs, not the low back. If you need help doing that, place your hands under your hips.)

Detox details: When done vigorously, this exercise clears up inner anger.

  1. Lie on the stomach with the hands under the shoulders and the fingers spread wide. Tuck the elbows towards the sides of the body and stick out the tongue. On an exhale through the mouth, push up into Cobra Pose. On an inhale through the mouth, lower back down until the chin touches the ground. Continue this movement for 6 1/2 minutes.

Detox details: This exercise removes toxins from the body by stretching the muscles around the liver.

  1. Turn over onto the back, draw the knees to the chest, and take a moment to rest. As the knees touch the chest, raise the arms up to 90 degrees, keeping them parallel to each other. Straighten the legs and lower the arms and legs back to the floor at the same time. Maintain control as you move vigorously so there is no noise when the arms and legs touch the ground. Continue this movement for 3 minutes.

Detox details: This exercise helps to eliminate emotional debris. Give yourself permission to experience your feelings.

  1. Sit in Easy Pose with the legs crossed, palms on the knees. Twist the torso around the base of the spine in a counter-clockwise direction, then return to center. Continue for 3 minutes, moving as quickly as you can during the last minute. Keep the eyes soft, with a downward gaze. (Suzannah's note: Be protective of your low back again by engaging abdominals and twisting from the base of the spine.)

Detox details: This exercise is especially good for detoxifying the organs of the abdominal region.

  1. Stand up, bend over, and grab the ankles. While holding onto the ankles, come into a squat with the legs shoulder width apart, feet flat on the ground, and the toes pointing outward. Continue to move between standing and squatting for 2 minutes.

Detox details: In addition to assisting the body in eliminating toxins, this exercise invites the flow of love and compassion. (Suzannah's note: And couldn't we all use a little more of that?)

  1. Sit comfortably in Easy Pose with the spine straight. Chant “Sat Nam, Sat Nam, Sat Nam, Sat Nam, Sat Nam, Sat Nam, Wahe Guru,” with one full repetition of the mantra taking 7 to 8 seconds. Continue for 11 minutes.

Detox details: Sat Nam, often translated as “Truth is my identity,” helps the mind enter a deeply meditative state. Wahe Guru basically means “Praise to the teacher.”

  1. To finish, inhale deeply and stretch the arms overhead with the palms touching. Hold the breath 20 to 40 seconds while stretching the spine upward. Exhale. Repeat this sequence two more times.

Kundalini Kriyas to Detox

Flow through the following asanas to promote detoxification of mind, body, and emotions. When completing the following postures, breathe deeply through the nostrils and keep the breath smooth and flowing.

Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

This asana massages all the organs of digestion and elimination, including the kidney, liver, colon, and spleen, which is part of the lymph system.

Sit with the legs extended, hands resting on the floor at your sides. Feel the bones of the pelvis connect down to the earth and lengthen through the spine, from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Bend the left knee and place the sole of the left foot to the inside of the right thigh. Tuck the right foot under the buttocks. Wrap the right arm around the left knee and pull the belly to the left with the left hand. Bring the left hand around behind you and place it near the buttocks. On an exhale, begin to twist deeper to the left first in the belly, then the chest, the neck, and the eyes. On the inhale, gently lengthen more from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Take several deep breaths, deepening your awareness into the sensations provided by the pose. To release, inhale the left arm to shoulder height and draw it forward, gently straighten the legs, and shake them before repeating the twist to the other side.

Seated Spinal Twist

Note: If you cannot wrap the elbow around your knee, hold the raised knee with the opposite hand. You can also keep the bottom leg straight if bending it under the buttocks feels like too much of a stretch on the hip. (Suzannah's note: You will know it's too much if your hip of the leg beneath you pops off the ground. Or else your hip will hurt like hell. Either way.)

Staff Pose (Dandasana)

This asana encourages good posture through lengthening the spine, allowing the lungs to fully expand and contract with each breath.

Sit with the legs extended out in front of you. Place the palms flat on the floor beside the hips and press them into the ground, keeping the arms as straight as possible. Lengthen from the tailbone to the crown of the head, as if you had a zipper in front of and behind the spine. Draw the shoulder blades down the back and tuck the chin slightly. Flex the feet and engage the leg muscles. Take five deep breaths into the chest, noticing the expansion and contraction of the lungs.

Staff Pose

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

As an inversion, this pose places the head below the heart and encourages the lymph fluid to drain back to the heart via gravity.

Place the short edge of the yoga mat, if you’re using one, against a wall. Place a folded blanket or bolster on the mat next to the wall. Sit sideways to the wall, on the bolster or blanket, with the hands behind you. Shift the forearms onto the yoga mat and extend the legs up the wall. Allow the hips to sink into the bolster or blanket, the legs to rest against the wall, the eyes to close, and the face to relax. Remain in this position five to 15 minutes.

To release, gently draw your knees into your chest, and roll to one side.

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

While we can’t always prevent stressful situations and harmful toxins from entering our systems, we can support the body’s natural detoxifying process through the age-old practice of yoga.


Lori Batcheller

Lori Batcheller, MA, CYT, MPT, LMT, is a certified Kripalu Yoga instructor and freelance writer living in Boulder, CO. When she’s not writing, teaching yoga, or offering bodywork at her private practice, she is outdoors enjoying the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Throwing Out Cupcakes, Or How To Test Recipes

So this happened:

[caption id="attachment_1069" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Gluten-free, vegan chocolate cake with vegan mocha frosting Gluten-free, vegan chocolate cake with vegan mocha frosting[/caption]

And then this happened:

[caption id="attachment_1070" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Gluten-free, vegan chocolate cupcakes in the trash. :( Gluten-free, vegan chocolate cupcakes in the trash. :([/caption]

What no one tells you when you start testing recipes, but which should probably be self-explanatory, is that you will throw out a lot of food. These cupcakes in particular were gummy and flavorless. Unlike the cake in the first picture, which was light and fluffy, with a rich and delicious ganache-like glaze/frosting, the flavor and bake on the cupcakes was so bad that they were unsalvageable. Even the frosting, a velvety combination of vegan chocolate chips and coconut milk cream, couldn't save them. The only proper place for them was the trash. This hurts me, deeply. I am not one to throw anything out; I make do, do without, use it up, or wear it out. I am my grandmother's favorite grandchild because of it (sorry Scott, Matt, and Jim. I am also the only girl, and a widow with a child of her own to boot, so the pity vote is strong in my favor. #TooBadForYou).

Side note to self: This is another reason city chickens are such a good idea. City chickens would devour these, and their eggs' sunny yolks would be all the sweeter.

But recipe development and testing requires non-attachment. It is the perfect place to practice Buddhism. I have to be willing to let them go when they are awful. The process, the path, is what makes the end result. When there is a rock in the path (or in this case, a low-temperature oven and a cook who ignored her instincts about ingredients and doneness), the point is to deal with the rock, not focus on the end of the path. I really wanted this recipe to work, but it just doesn't.

So into the trash they go.

This is an exercise in letting go and its sister, non-Buddhist trait, persistence. If I have to make this recipe 20 times, tweaking it slightly each time to make it perfect, that's what has to happen. Because delicious gluten-free cupcakes are the goal, cupcakes that are so good that non-gluten-free people will love them.

Who wants to be a tester?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Better To Say Nothing At All

I have nothing nice to say, so it's truly best to say nothing at all today.

Today's blog brought to you by a shitty night of sleep, the only asshole dude at the yoga studio WHO LEAVES THE SEAT UP in a studio full of women, and the rude woman at the farmer's market who cut in front of a line of five people because she needed cheese and her time is obviously more important than everyone else's.

Have a great fucking weekend.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Common Courtesy


I started this post earlier in the week, but it got ranty and you-kids-get-off-my-lawn pretty fast, so I stepped back and am trying again.

The simple fact is this: the title of this post is an oxymoron. Common courtesy is uncommon, largely because we exist in our own little bubble and don't bother to look up from our screens long enough to recognize how we are impacting those around us.

From the person who lets the door slam in your face when you are coming in right behind them to the guy who leans his seat all the way back for seven hours on a transatlantic flight (during the day, including dinner service) to the person who takes up two parking spaces in a crowded lot. From the weird practice of walking around in a grocery store listening to (bad) music...without head the neighbor who decides to hang some pictures at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.

To everyone reading this or picking up the common vibrations of these words I say this: practice a little courtesy today. Before you get ready to do something, think for a moment about how it might impact the people around you. Not in a cosmic, climate-changing, evolutionary way. In a very simple, right-here-right-now way. Put down your cell phone and engage with the world around you. Say please and thank you. Hold the door for someone. Let old people go first. Let mothers with children go first. Pick up something someone dropped. Put your dishes away after you eat.

It is ridiculously easy to do something nice. You don't even have to go out of your way or be inconvenienced. Let's take approximately zero seconds out of our day today (or this weekend if you can't spare zero seconds) to offer up a little courtesy to someone.

As Garrison Keillor says as he closes his show The Writer's Almanac: "Be well, do good work, and stay in touch."

As a common courtesy and to spread the love, please share this post on your various social networks. Maybe we can get something started today.

(image source)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Making Lists

Sky BUilding

(sky's the limit...get it?)

I am a list maker. There is something very satisfying about organizing your day/life in one column, checking off tasks and goals as they are completed. There are all kinds of rules about making to-do lists, like the one about not putting more than four items on a list per day and the requirement that you prioritize items, just in case you go back to bed instead of working on the list. Which never happens here. Or hardly ever.

This morning when I was coming home from yoga, I felt an overwhelming urge to create a list. Rare these, days, to get an overwhelming urge to do anything, so I have indulged myself. Ten things I want to do in 2015. Not prioritized because that's dumb and not helpful to me and how can I say which one of these will feel most important two months from now?

Also, this might be cheating a little because some of this stuff I already know is happening. But it's my list, so I can do what I want. There are big things and little things on this list, but if I can control it, they will all happen.

Here it is. Good luck to me.

1. Publish a book. I have two that I am working on, and it's time to stop putting them off. If they are published electronically, then the deadline is December 31, 2015. If I actually manage to get a publisher, then a contract by the end of the year is the goal. So I guess I better start writing.

2. Dip a toe in the Pacific. Down in Cali. Comin' at you, Left Coast.

3. See my friend Michael in Chicago and eat his food (he's a sous at The Brass Monkey). He has lived there for many years, and I have threatened to visit a couple different times but have dropped the ball. That's dumb. Combining this with a cross-country jaunt to fulfill goal #2 and stopping in Denver to see my friend Mandy, too.

4. Go riding. I miss horses, so much that it is hard to even look at pictures of my horse, Sadie. I have had a few opportunities to go in the past year, but I have a feeling it is going to be difficult for me and have been avoiding it. Just a little trail ride, nothing major. Get back on the horse, literally and metaphorically.

5. See my grandmother once a month. We were doing that when we first moved here, now three months have gone by and we haven't seen her. She is 97 years old, and it is such a small thing, to go see her and to help The Teenager develop a relationship with her. I have one memory of my great-grandmother, and it is filled with dusty cobwebs and dark wood. I want Sicily to know her great grandmother. Plus, it makes my grandmother happy to see us.

6. Plant a garden. Our new house has limited sunshine and a tiny backyard. This doesn't mean I can't grow my own food. Much to my neighbors' chagrin, I am also researching ways to cram a couple chickens in the backyard, too.

7. Work on my French. I speak passable French but understand more than I speak. I would like to change that, and it's not hard. Since this is a really vague goal, I will make it more specific: ten minutes of French daily. I have an app on my phone, and in the time it takes to whiz through all of my social media, I can surely squeeze that in.

8. Tattoo #2. This is going to happen as soon as I donate blood. So sooner rather than later. And while I'm at it, here's my call for you all to go donate blood. You can save up to 11 lives with a single donation. Find a donor center here.

9. Play the ponies at Pimlico. The best part of having non-traditional employment is that I can go day drinking on a Tuesday and take my chances at the track. I have hazy memories of a Preakness infield experience, but I'd like to go as a grown up.

10. Crab feast at the new house, and institute Sunday Dinner. Sunday Dinner is unrelated to the crab feast (more on that as it unfolds), but both are important, and both are happening this year.

Bonus: Dating a boy or two would be nice. Unless it's not. Then this item can be scratched off the list.

Double bonus: There is the possibility of Opening Day tickets for Friday. Cross your fingers!!!!

Are you a list maker? What's on your list for 2015?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

You Are Here: How Small Is The Universe

milky way

So the universe is vast and expansive and wee at the same time. How do I know this?

Dane's 7th grade girlfriend is married to a childhood friend's brother and living in Myersville, Maryland, about 10 minutes from where I grew up.

To clarify, Dane was living in Seattle in his middle school years, in a neighborhood called Magnolia, the same neighborhood we moved when The Teenager was born. All the way across the country in a little backwater of a city (at the time; this was the early 80's) tucked between two mountain ranges.

This morning, I got a message in my Facebook "other" folder from Dane's middle school girlfriend who happens to have married into the family of one of my own middle school friends.

So if the universe isn't small in some ways, at least it has a good sense of humor.



Monday, April 6, 2015

Springtime Pickling

So what do you do when on Monday it's 75 degrees and sunny, a perfect spring day, light breeze included, and then on Tuesday it's 54 degrees, blustery and rainy?

You pickle some radishes, of course.

Radish Jar

You like your radishes in a quick pickle because you are impatient, but you want a pickle that will only get better with time. So you throw together the following in a saucepan and bring it to a boil, stirring very now and then: 3/4 c. water, 3/4 c. white vinegar (cider vinegar works, too, or white wine if you drink tea with your pinky extended), 2 tablespoons maple syrup (honey works also), 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (or chop a jalapeno - even better), and 1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds. Sometimes you get crazy and sprinkle in some black peppercorns, or some whole garlic cloves. Maybe even fennel, if have lots of people who like that sort of thing, or some thinly sliced sweet Vidalia onion. #Trust

Then you haul out your mandolin, the one you have had for years, the one you bought with a  gift card that your friend Mandy gave to you but have never used until two days ago, and now you use it like it's going out of style.

You take your excess of radishes that you bought in a fit of thinking The Teenager might actually like radishes, and you slice them into beautiful, mildly speckled rounds that you then pack into a wide-mouthed Mason jar.


Maybe you slice off a little bit of your thumb, but that doesn't make it into the jar.

You are a pro, and you know that if you want radishes that keep their crunch, you will slice them a little thicker.

Your brine is ready, and you pour it, hot and steamy, over the radishes.


Whatever you do, you don't inhale the steam because these are SPICY pickled radishes, and if steam does get into your lungs you will feel it all the way down to the bottom of your spine.

Then you wait for an hour or two. If you can.

Which you can't.

You eat one just after they cool and find that this brine goes from a tart pinch in the cheeks to a spreading warmth and a final touch of mild sweetness. The radishes are still crunchy, and you get  a hint of the mustard seed at the end.

You start planning for fish tacos, or maybe a burger, or maybe you check the weather and hope it rains for the next couple days so you can waste time on the couch with radishes and a beer.

What do you do when it rains in the spring?


Sorrow Prepares You For Joy


What would the world be without Rumi? A dark and terrible place, I think. A place I wouldn't want to be.

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

~ Rumi ~

I confess I have not deeply read his writings; rather, it seems like the universe sends them to me at times that are most appropriate. Which is very considerate of the universe, seeing as how I have not always been its most enthusiastic or reverent member.

If I had read this two years ago, it would have washed over me like rain on a newly-waxed car. Today, this quote speaks to a place in me that is so deep I cannot see the bottom. With a child newly returned from Paris, spring on the horizon (even as clouds and chilly rain move in), and a plethora of professional and personal opportunities offering themselves up, this quote gives me, dare I say it, hope. Curiosity.

The tagline of this blog is "Seeking joy." How nice would that be? Joy.

Do I dare hope?


Sunday, April 5, 2015

And So It Begins: Welcome Home


The Teenager came home yesterday.

I waited for two hours, tracking her plane as it landed, sat on the tarmac for a bit, and then pulled into the gate. She cleared customs quickly and only requested a ginger ale be waiting when she came out for a turbulence-induced queasy belly.

I didn't recognize her immediately as she strode through the crowd at International Arrivals. Her hair was in a messy bun, and she was all in black; tall, confident. Then I saw her, a moment before she saw me. Her face lit up when our eyes met, and I had the pleasure of my teenaged daughter running to greet me in public.

I imagine this is just the beginning of the times I will be picking her up at airports.

I thought I would miss her more in the longing, lonely sense of missing someone, but mostly I just felt elated that she was out in the world and proud that I was able to send her there. There were definitely moments this week when I missed her chatter, and the hugs I got when I picked her up and before she went to bed were sorely missed, but mostly I was glad to have sent her off.

Parenting seems to always be a balance between two things. When they are little, you are balancing keeping them safe (i.e., poking their eye out on the corner of the coffee table) with letting them learn new things (like how to walk). In adolescence, right now it seems to be letting go and enfolding.

I have to let her leave me so that I can feel the pleasure of her return.

I have to let her make mistakes but then be there to figure out where to go from there.

She has to know that as much as I want her to come home I  want her to experience the world in equal measure.

These truths seem self-evident, but try it once. I am so proud of the woman she is becoming, but I still remember the fat wrists and the chubby cheeks. The tiny voice. The sweet smile and delicious kisses. I want her to take her time, to savor each part of life as it comes. Even grief, in its own way, is something that must be felt and experienced. I want her to slow down as life comes rushing towards her and carries her away from me like a leaf dancing on the surface of a stream.

So instead of moaning the loss of The Teenager to the world, this morning I am vowing that I will be her home, the one person she knows will always meet her at the gate, take her in, make sure her sheets are clean and that there is a juicy, mid-rare barbecue bacon burger with fries waiting.

I think that's our job as parents, really, to teach them to be independent and make good choices, then to send them out in the world to see how we did. I am just glad she is home and that I have her until the next time. Which may be sooner rather than later, as my evil plan seems to have worked and the travel bug has bitten.

Who are you home to?


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Stories You Don't Know You Have


The Teenager comes back today from Paris, and I can't wait to see her. I imagine she is brimming with stories that she doesn't even realize she has.

It's like that, sometimes, that you have things to say that you didn't even know until you sit down with another human and start talking. Maybe the conversation is lubricated with booze, perhaps not, but you suddenly realize that there are things to discuss that were humming in the background for awhile.

I have friends that help me do that, and I am just now realizing it. I feel like the winter sort of threw me off a little; the lessons of Dane's death faded, and I let things slide back into the way they were. As a recap, the way they were was taking things for granted and making excuses.

Yoga philosophy talks about the stories we have about ourselves, the things that we say that hold us back: "I am not a traveler," or "I hate crowds," or "I am never going to be able to ____." I have been thinking a lot about these stories lately, the ones I have about myself (and other people) and thinking about where the truth lies. Usually not in the story. Usually somewhere hidden. And then the rest of life hides away behind the story, and we get into the rhythm of That's Just How Things Are, and then we pay our taxes and die after our requisite average life span.

But I am looking at my stories, and I have sunshine and friends, new and old, to thank for that. This week I have been left to my own devices, and rather than being a quiet, sad time (minus the first Sunday, which started with an argument with a neighbor and just went downhill from there), I have managed to spend some time out in the world with strangers I didn't immediately want to kill, and I got to step back and re-evaluate a bit.

This is awfully vague, I know. It's still early, and I am still on my first cup of coffee, and I may or may not have just cleaned the bathroom with a chemical so noxious that I am a little dizzy. It's okay. I feel like I am slowly wending my way through the labyrinth into the next stage. I am ready to look forward to something (or someone).

For now, though, I will finish this blog, drink another cup of coffee, and clean the house for The Teenager's return.

Do you feel a similar unfolding in the spring? 

Friday, April 3, 2015

I Believe In Ladybugs

I believe in ladybugs.

I throw salt over my shoulder when I spill it.

I am immune to black cats, having owned one myself, and I don't set much stock in the rumors swirling around the bad-luck potency of the number 13.

I believe in the power of the moon, as it moves the ocean, and we are, all of us, 90% water. How could we not be swayed?

When my nose itches I wonder who is talking about me, and who is coming to visit when my ears tingle. Or the other way around. I can never remember.

I believe in the irrefutable power of the first kiss. That flutter means something, and if it's not there, well, that means something, too.

I can tell you for sure that when a bird flies into a house, someone is going to die.

I believe in signs and symbols. I think the universe talks to me, if I can just shut up enough to listen.

Today at the coffee shop I force myself to go to at least once a week, right after I hit "send" on an application for a job that I really, really want, this ladybug landed on my coffee.


S/he circled the rim, playing hide and seek as I tried to snap a photo. When I finally got this picture, s/he fluttered down to rest on my sweater and got cozy until I stood up to leave, when I finally placed him/her on the table.

I believe in ladybugs.

Do you?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Single Parenting: Don't You Yell At My Child!

April 2

It's funny, but it is only just now sinking in that I am a single parent. How strange is that? I would read articles online about the struggles single parents face and think to myself about how hard it must be for all those single parents out there. Which is ironic, because with one parent of the parenting team dead you don't get much more single. I have been a little slow for the past 24 months, but I finally got it.

I am actually a single parent, and it sucks in one really unexpected way: no one will ever share my child with me the way Dane did.

Yes, dealing with financial worries and plumbing and the stupid fucking computer and discipline and The Teenager's crushes is really hard. Yes, I have friends around who will give me a break and willingly take The Teenager when she is being awful or will let me sit at their kitchen bar or table and drink really delicious cocktails or work in peace when I just can't take it anymore. Yes, the practical parts of being solely responsible for the life of another person is sometimes crushing and requires huge sacrifice, but that's not the hardest part.

The hardest part is that no one will ever share The Teenager with me on a cellular level. No one will ever look across the room when she does something amazing and feel the same kind of pride I do. No one will love her the way I do. The only other person who was there THE WHOLE TIME is now in a box on my dresser. The only person that shares the birth story (and, well, the conception also) is no longer here.

I am not currently dating anyone because I am a hermit and strangers are awful so how will I ever meet someone, but in the event that a miracle occurs and I suddenly become less critical and judgmental and meet a dude to date, he will not understand that when I say, "I just want to poke her in the eye!! What a jerk!!" that he is not really allowed to say, "I know! She's a total jerk!!" Dane could say she was a jerk and get away with it because underneath there are all those little cells that make her part of us in a very physical way, a way that prevents us from meaning too deeply what we say when we call her a jerk.

A stranger, some new dude, won't have those cells. He won't know on a cellular level about the time when she cried for five hours straight and almost fell off the bed because she refused to just LAY DOWN AND GO TO SLEEP. He won't get how compassionate she is, even when she pushes the dog away, because he doesn't really know her. He won't know when she is nervous just by looking at her hands, or how happy she is by watching her walk.

And when she is being 100% teenager he might be tempted to criticize the way she thinks, acts, or dresses, but he won't have the right to do that. To be clear, no one really has the right to do that, but some dude thinking he can waltz in here and insert commentary should probably just waltz right back on out of here.

Dating after divorce (really, the more common form of single parenthood and the whole reason for this blog, as a friend of mine is going through this right now) is probably very much the same, especially when your ex- is a shitbox. My friend's ex- is a dangerous shitbox, so in addition to being on edge when her kid is with the ex-, many states away, she has to deal with knowing that her boyfriend is happy the kid is away for awhile. I don't think it is possible to describe in words how deeply hurtful that is. It's also not grounds for a sustainable relationship, knowing that the person you are with is biding their time until The Kid is out of the picture.

Newsflash: The kid is NEVER out of the picture. Maya Angelou said that having a child is like consenting to have your heart walk around outside of your body, and I can't find a better explanation of this type of love. The kid may be off at college or in the world, but they are forever a part of you in a way that is real and true and inexplicable. When someone insults The Kid, they are insulting you, even if you are the healthiest, most non-striving parent who is not living through their child. And the insult is not a flesh wound; it's deep, slow to scab, easily re-opened with the smallest conflict.

I have another single parent friend who deals with this by just never introducing her boyfriend of many years to the kids. Or rather, they have been introduced, but the contact is minimal.

Are you a dating single parent? How do you deal with this thorny issue?


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spark It Up: NaBloPoMo


Today is April 1st, and already I have been the victim of a very well-played practical joke by my friend Andrew Odom. Turns out, you can't actually believe everything you read on the internet.

I'd like to say that this is an April Fool's Joke, but what I am about to write is true and a bi-annual occurrence. In April and November, I commit myself to writing a blog a day for 30 days. Formally known as NaBloPoMo, the official span is just in November, but I think April is a great 30-day time to do it as well. I wrote my book in 30 days in April 2012 (took another year and a half to edit and publish), and every time I force myself to the discipline of keyboard and blogging, it tends to spark things up a bit, something that is necessary right about now.

I can say in all honesty that I am not even remotely excited for this at this point; everything about my being has tended to the sludge-like, the monotonous, the tedium of daily routine. I feel like molasses uphill in January; yoga has become a chore that I have to get through (and I always feel better after, but still), and although my mercenary writing life is fine, my personal projects have come to a standstill as I actively avoid looking at what I am supposed to be doing.

So I read Steinbeck's six tips on writing, and this is what stuck:

"Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised."

His rules mostly apply to his fiction, but there is extreme value in this rule. Abandon the hope of being done; writers know that a) it's never done, and b) even when it's finished it's still not "done." Just one piece of my own writing daily is my goal, even something beyond this blog. A paragraph. A line.

I am in a funk, no doubt, and 30 days, two more days than rehab, may be enough to get me out. At least until November.

Bloggers, won't you join me?