Poo Happens

I’ve discovered a cure (or perhaps simply a treatment) for the anxiety that’s been following me around about this upcoming move: Compulsive cleaning.

“I have a job now,” my husband said to me yesterday. “Why are you still anxious?”

I just stared at him.

There are two main reasons I’m still anxious, 1) it’s my nature and my default response, and 2) in less than two weeks, we’re putting our house on the market and fixing to move 2400 miles away to a place I’ve never seen before.

While my poor husband expected my anxiety to simply dissolve, he’s doing his best to adjust to the permanent nature of my high-strungedness. After 16 years together, he’s still finding new things to learn about me.

Even though the anxiety is natural to me, I am still doing my best to alleviate it. And that’s where the compulsive cleaning comes in.

We’ve been decluttering, with the focus of avoiding shipping unnecessary items cross-country and clearing surfaces in anticipation of showing the house. I ramped this up over the past couple of days, challenging myself to keep the floors clean, surfaces clear, and the dishes done up constantly. I’m even wiping the oven out every time I use it (after it’s cool). I know I can’t keep up this level of order for too long, but for now, it seems to be giving me a release for my nervous energy.

At the same time all of this is going on, my toddler is making new strides in the gradual transition to independent pottying. He’s still not great at recognizing he has to go when he’s wearing trousers (much less being able to recognize it in time to pull down his trousers before going), so he runs about nekky quite a lot. He met our realtor at the door in his birthday suit this morning. Luckily she’s a mom of four and isn’t easily shocked by a toddler running about au naturale. I’m not sure how our fellow residents at the extended-stay hotel are going to feel about it, though. Perhaps we’ll institute a “pants mandatory” policy during the move.

Today, he made a valiant effort to take himself to the potty when he had to go poo. (Yes, I’m blogging about poo.) He didn’t even tell me when he had to go, just went into the bathroom and did his best to manage the situation on his own. The first I heard about all of this was my son coming into the kitchen where I was doing dishes and saying in a very tragic voice, “Poo!”

I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say there were some complications.

And that with the help of my children, I won’t be short of things to clean any time soon.

Stop me Before I Blanch Again

When I post to this blog, I usually do so with the faith that someone else out there is thinking/feeling/doing the same thing, or that at least you might find it amusing to read about what I’m thinking/feeling/doing even if (or especially if) it’s a little off the wall.

But I recognize that there is a line across which laughing along with me turns into shifting uncomfortably in your seat. The smile is still on your lips, but it’s tentative now. You’re not sure what it says about you that you’re laughing at me. You’re looking around for the exits.

I don’t know where that line is, but I’m still hearing folks saying “Right on,” “Word,” and the occasional, “Amen” in response to my posts, so I’m fairly certain I’ve not crossed it yet.

And yet there’s sometimes that question in my mind: Is this the post that’s going to meet with that uncomfortable shifting and polite smiling? Is this the post that someone in real life is going to mention to me and lead me to say, “Oh, my. I can’t believe I said that about myself”?

I don’t think this is that post.

This post is about Rachael Ray and how insidiously her influence has infiltrated my consciousness.

It starts at the gym. I spent 30 minutes running on the treadmill yesterday, which means that I spent 30 minutes watching Dr Oz even though Ira Glass was talking about the 2010 congressional elections on my headphones. Rachael Ray was a guest on this particular show. She was promoting her new book and giving little tips about how to stretch your food dollar. I got two main messages from her. The first was to buy a lot of something when it’s on sale, then blanch it, if necessary, and freeze it, thereby preserving that sale price. The second was to prepare all of the week’s meals on the weekend and essentially eat leftovers all week. These ideas rode the exercise-induced elevated adrenaline levels to my brain where they proceeded to produce new synaptic connections and thereby alter the way I think.

Today, I went grocery shopping.

I went online before making my list and found the current sales flyer, which I read carefully while the words “loss leaders” echoed through my head. After looking at the sales flyer, I wrote on my list things like navel oranges, turkey, and canola oil because they were on sale. When I arrived at the store, I discovered that the items in the flyer weren’t the only items on sale. I also purchased, among other things, two pomegranates, five yams, three bunches of broccoli, and a pound of tortellini in tomato pesto for the kids to eat for lunch.

When I arrived home, I warmed the tortellini and sat the kids down in front of it while I put away the groceries. I froze the turkey wings I bought in anticipation of turkey soup next week. I halved the beef roast and chopped half of it up for stew meat and left the other half for a mini pot roast and put both in labeled freezer bags. I sliced the sirloin steak for thai steak salad and put that in a freezer bag.

It was at about this time that I discovered that my son was chewing up the tortellini then spitting them out and sitting on them, so I took a break to clean that up. Then I cut up and blanched the three bunches of broccoli, and put them in three labeled freezer bags, too. It was as I was putting everything into the freezer that I remembered why it is I’ve never taken this course of action to save money on food before: we have a serious freezer-space deficiency.

I did manage to cram everything in there while saying a silent prayer of gratitude that the dairy-free ice cream bars weren’t on sale.

 

That ice maker isn't hooked up to the water supply. If I could figure out how to remove it to make space for more blanched veggies, I would.

 

 

I’ve been lobbying for a chest freezer for a while. My husband’s reasons for not getting one are decent: he doesn’t want to spend the money, he doesn’t want something else taking up space, he doesn’t want something else using up electricity. He read somewhere that a totally full freezer runs more efficiently than a partially full freezer, and that has become his mantra when I bring up the chest freezer idea. I’ve suggested that adequate airflow is also important for proper freezer function, but he is not swayed by this argument.

I’ve also argued that we could make our Costco membership go further if we had the freezer space to buy perishables in bulk, and that I wouldn’t need to buy expensive frozen berries over the winter if I had ample freezer space to freeze berries when they’re ripe at the farmers market. The berry argument gave him pause, but he remains resolute about his “no chest freezer” stance.

Maybe I should just buy one for him to put under the tree for me.

Fabulous Friday

Modern kitchen

Not my kitchen. (Photograph by Gnangarra...commons.wikimedia.org)

Day 5 word count: 8,371

Friday’s my “mad-dash, lick-and-a-promise housecleaning” day. The goal is to spend one hour just rushing through the house, vacuuming and mopping and putting stuff away (not necessarily in that order). It’s a variation of FlyLady‘s “Weekly Home Blessing Hour.”

Some weeks, it goes great. the kids cooperate (and sometimes even help), and by the time we leave for gymnastics, I’ve got the house so that every third step isn’t accompanied by a cry of pain and/or the snap of a toy or plastic utensil, and if I walk across the kitchen in my bare feet I don’t end up with a coating of crumbs and dirt and sticky mystery items on the soles of my feet.

Most cleanup days, however, are like today. It took me nearly an hour just to get the kitchen floor swept and mopped. As I picked up toys, my son threw them on the floor. When I got out my broom, my son asked for his. I thought, Oh, that will be cute and it will keep him busy while I’m trying to sweep.

Not so much. As I swept the dirt into a pile, he used his little broom to redistribute the dirt across the floor.

Having learned from previous weeks, I didn’t get out the bucket for the mop water but instead just put the mop water in one side of the sink (after putting away the clean dishes from the drainer on the counter, another lesson learned from past weeks). My son danced with excitement when he saw the mop. When he realized he wasn’t going to get to mop, he dissolved into tears. I handed him a towel and asked him to wipe up the floor, which occupied him for about 17 seconds. Then he went into the dining room and started coloring on the picture of Wonder Red (from Super WHY!) that my daughter was working on.

To calm the resultant screaming, I resituated both of the children at the kitchen table, my son strapped into his high chair with some crayons and a piece of paper. Every few seconds, he would grunt to get my attention then sign “fish” and point at the scribbles he’d made on the page. This was my cue to say, “You drew a fish! Wow! Look at that! It’s a green fish! What else are you going to draw?”

In the meantime, my daughter showed me why sometimes I just need a straight-up coloring book rather than an “activity” book. She asked me to read the directions on each page and then to help her through the activities. As a homeschooling mom, I am aware that this is a primary part of my job description. I just don’t understand why she has no interest in doing it until I’m engaged in another activity.

Finally I got the kitchen mopped. I probably should have just been content with the progress I’d made and left it at that. But with the mop water still warm, I wanted to mop the bathroom. Somehow that turned into sorting through clothes to figure out what was dirty and what was clean, wiping down the sink and toilet while my son used the toilet brush to spread soapy toilet water on the bathroom floor, and picking up everything that was on my bedroom floor in preparation for vacuuming.

In the end, I did get the bathroom wiped and mopped before we left for gymnastics, and we walked into the gym just as the two other little girls in her class were starting their warm-ups.

20 minutes of walking my son around the neighborhood during the class yielded a 30-minute nap in the stroller, during which I got to clean out the diaper bag, another of my Friday tasks. And because the baby wasn’t asleep when we left for home, I was able to stop at the car wash. (The last time I tried it, he was asleep when we entered the car wash but awake and crying when we exited it.) I even got to vacuum the interior of the car with the free-vacuums-with-car-wash.

After lunch, the baby refused to fall asleep, so I gave up and instead recruited his “help” in vacuuming the bedroom and the living room. We were halfway through when the babysitter arrived. It took me 30 minutes to leave the house, and I didn’t have high hopes for getting the exercise and writing done that I wanted to.

At the gym, I did 40 minutes on the treadmill at a comfortable 10-minute-mile pace. Then did a few sets on the weights and headed to the locker room. I showered and got dressed in my street clothes again. It’s interesting that I’m at a time in my life when I find bathing in a public shower to be a luxury simply because my children aren’t in there with me. I even put some “product” in my hair to optimize the curl.

By the time I made it to the coffee shop with my laptop, it was 4:30. The babysitter needed to leave a little after 5, so that gave me 30 minutes to write as much as I could. I considered scrapping the writing and just heading home with plans to write after dinner, as I’ve been doing for the past three days, but I soldiered on. I figured I’d get 500 words in and then have that much less to write in the evening. I’ve even heard some people recommend shorter writing sessions to make the most of the high-energy creative juices before fatigue sets in.

With that attitude in place, I sat down and just wrote without thinking too much. At 4:53 I checked my word count. It was 8,300-something. I was surprised. I had calculated the total I needed for today to keep at my 1,667-words daily average at 8,335. I must have made a mistake. I couldn’t possibly have written that much in just a half hour. I checked my math and sure enough, I was within 30 words of meeting my goal. I kept on chugging and when 5:00 arrived, I was at 8,371 words. I had run, I had written, and I’d met my goal. And I’m pretty sure I’d experienced “flow” during my writing session. I went home feeling awesome.

At home, I nursed the baby while I chatted with my husband about economic progressivism and watched our daughter do tricks on the sofa and coffee table. Then we made homemade pizza and homemade ice cream and listened to Pearl Jam (my daughter said, “This is my favorite music!” and my son danced around smiling).

I love it when things just kind of come together. And now I have my whole evening free to read, read, read!

Another night I’ll need to write about this odd period of my life right now in which stories about animals attacking people are part of my daily experience. Please remind me if I forget.

Week 13/October Review

What a trip this month has been! I’ve not gotten through the whole house yet, but much of it has been decluttered, or at least organized so that the clutter can be easily stashed. With my mother’s help, I’ve finished a bazillion unfinished tasks — mounted and hung my belly cast, cleaned out the garage, put the garden beds to bed for the winter, caulked the bathtub, framed and hung our photos and cross stitch birth samplers — and only have about 347 to go. I don’t know that I’ve made much progress on daily and weekly routines, but I’m not doing any worse than I was in September. On that, at least. I’m back to late bedtime and eating fewer vegetables, but I’m not going to dwell in that.

Oh, the purchasing fast? What purchasing fast?

Focussing on Order was more emotionally turbulent than I’d expected, and only became more difficult as the month progressed. It’s brought some awareness to how I use material possessions to try to meet emotional and spiritual needs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now at the end of the month I’m looking to renew my search for a local religious congregation.

Yesterday I attended the Kick-Off Party for NaNoWriMo 2010 and was reminded that writers can be a socially awkward bunch (and that it’s not just me). Tune in tomorrow for more about what’s in store for me in November!

Martha Stewart is no Friend of Mine

I don’t know if it’s country-wide, but in our neck of the woods, trick-or-treating happens on the 30th when the 31st falls on a Sunday. My Halloween experiences have given me a sneak peak of what I’m likely to experience throughout this fall and winter holiday season. And unless I can change my outlook, it’s not going to be pretty.

I’ve recognized for a number of years that I can’t reasonably accomplish all of the things I ideally would like to in relation to holidays. Since I’ve never been quite willing to give up my desire for perfection, however, I generally compromise by doing a half-assed job while feeling as tense and acting as irate as I would were I actually attempting to achieve perfection.

The past couple of years, we’ve gone trick-or-treating with our friends in their neighborhood. This year, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, we’re on our own. Now that my daughter is old enough to remember Halloweens past and compare those with this year, I felt extra pressure to make this Halloween special for her. I’ve sought out every event involving costumes I could find, and we’ve been attending Halloween-related activities since the 21st. As a result, I’ve been burned out on Halloween for a week already and it’s not even officially here yet. And my daughter seems totally content with whatever we end up doing. Trick-or-treating? Great! Staying home and giving candy out to the kids who come to our door? Great!

I’m really at a loss as to how to reconcile my desire for traditional holidays (with things like decorations and special foods and gift wrap) with my desire for holidays that don’t involve my daughter very patiently explaining to my husband that Mommy tries not to yell, but that sometimes she does anyway. (“When she yells, I just cry and ask her for huggles. Sometimes she just says bad words without yelling. I think when she yells, she’s teaching me to yell.”)

Do I lower my standards even further, which would reduce our celebration of holidays to little more than a “Happy [insert holiday name here]!”? I would love to hire someone to do the decorating and planning while I just relax and concentrate on not criticizing the people I’ve hired for not doing things the way I would were I perfect. I don’t really see how I can do any celebrating at all while at the same time letting go of the perfectionist part of me.

I guess the nice part is that I’m thinking about this already and it’s just Halloween. This gives me hope for figuring something out by the time New Year’s rolls around.

In the meantime, here’s some of what we did:

 

Our Jack-o-Lanterns. Somehow I ended up carving them all myself (although I only chose the design for one). I let go of my desire for the perfect photo and let my husband take the picture while I made dinner.

This is the only reason I carve pumpkins at all.

 

 

A Record of my Accomplishments (Decluttering-wise)

Here’s what I did yesterday while the sitter was with the kids:

 

Left side of upstairs closet #1. Luckily, it passed the cat's rigorous inspection.

Right side of upstairs closet #1. Don't ask what's in those plastic storage bins.

Pantry (aka, closet under the stairs with the low doorframe I always whack my forehead on). Yes, it's stuffed. But that's a good thing, right?

 

If you sent us a card for our wedding, sorry but it’s now in the recycling. (Well, I kept a couple of personal notes, but the cards that were just signed are outta here.) And what you don’t see is that there used to be a ridiculous set of white plastic shelves just inside our office door that served as our pantry. I managed to get rid of enough stuff that I was able to fit all of the items from those shelves into either the kitchen cupboards or that under-the-stairs closet, which might explode next time we go to Costco. The shelves are now in the upstairs bathroom waiting for the extra toilet paper and tissues that are currently stored in my clothes closet.

Today, I moved all of the craft supplies from the upstairs closet to the hutch-and-buffet thing in our dining room, which is where we do most all of our crafts anyway. I made space in that piece of furniture by moving a bunch of cake pans and glass pitchers to the otherwise useless space in the back of the corner cupboard in the kitchen. I did this while standing on a stool with my son clinging to my legs and laughing.

The bottom shelf still holds food items, but the upper two shelves are all crafts.

 

Craft closet/pantry extension/hutch and buffet. The green boxes are from the extra wedding invitations I finally discarded. They now hold pompoms and sheets of colored craft foam.

 

While the potatoes simmered on the stove this afternoon, the kids and I raked the yard in preparation for the snow/rain/sleet/slush we’re getting as I type this. Mostly what the kids did was sit in the leaves I piled on the tarp then rode on the tarp as I hauled them and the leaves to the holding piles under the big evergreen tree things at the edge of the yard.

I got one heck of a workout this afternoon.

 

Leaves that were, until a few hours ago, covering our lawn. We keep them in piles to use as "brown" for the compost throughout the year and to cover the garden beds in the hopes we'll have lovely soil in them that's ready to plant come spring.

 

I also went through a collection of keepsakes in the antique trunk my mom gave me when I got married. I found portions of my childhood rock and shell collections, which I gave to my daughter, and several stuffed toys which I tossed towards the children and let them dive upon. Included in the bunch was a plush football with the initials of my high school on it that my brother made in home ec class, a hand-made “word fun” activity sheet (an Easter-themed word-find) that my sister made for me, I think when I left for college, and this:

 

I'm pretty sure my little brother drew this for me to take with me when I left for college. I love that Garfield is saying, "Rad."

 

I also found several school photos, band photos, and homecoming photos of friends from middle school and high school. I considered scanning and posting those to my Facebook profile, but decided that these were people I’d prefer didn’t unfriend me.

When my husband returned home from work, my daughter immediately showed him all of the great stuff I’d given her and made a point of how special they’d been to me when I was a kid and that now I had given them to her. My husband spent the evening asking me where things were. (“Honey, where are the crackers these days?”) I gave him helpful responses. (“In the cracker cupboard, dear.”)

Joyfully Moving

I got to attend the Monday night step class at my gym tonight, which I’ve only done once before, even though I loved it that one time I went. I’ve got the babysitter from 2-5 on Mondays and the class is at 5:30. Every time I think of how much I want to go to that step class and start to reason through how I can make it work to attend the class, I stop myself. It’s bad enough to take time away from my kids to go to the gym. I should just work out while the babysitter’s there and not try to take any more evening time. It’s too much trouble for my husband, it’s too much time away from the kids, it’ll mess up dinner time.

I recognized this attempt to avoid doing something for myself in the section of Marion Woodman’s Addiction to Perfection that I read last night:

For the perfectionist who has trained herself to do, simply being sounds like a euphemism for nothingness, or ceasing to exist. When the energy that has gone into trying to justify her existence is redirected into discovering herself and loving herself, intense insecurities surface. Abysmal emptiness questions whether she is here at all . . . To cease to give is to cease to mother, and where the ego is identified with mothering it doesn’t know at first what to do. It is so used to giving that it doesn’t believe it is worthy to receive, or else thinks that receiving is demeaning or selfish.

I smiled as I recognized myself in this passage. Then I took a pad of paper and wrote a note to my husband (who was already in bed) explaining that I was going to stick around home and clean out closets and get dinner ready while the babysitter was here, and then I was going to go to the 5:30 step class.

During the morning, I did manage to do some prep work for dinner (including making two batches of GF/CF pita bread, one that turned out more like GF/CF hockey pucks and the other that was softer but for some reason didn’t form the little pocket in the middle). But I ended up spending the entire three hours that the sitter was here on two closets, and I didn’t get any more done on dinner. I considered scrapping the step class idea, but in the end, I stuck with the plan and left my husband with a recipe book open to the falafel recipe and a bowl full of soaked garbanzo beans.

Waiting for the step class to begin, I scrutinized my image in the mirror (especially the tummy pooch I still have because I cannot seem to get my abdominal muscles to close up since they separated while I was pregnant with my son), compared myself to the other attendees, wondered if I should have worn long pants instead of shorts or a short-sleeved top instead of a tank top or if I was lame for having only one riser under each end of my step rather than two like most of the rest of the class had. But as the class began, I let these thoughts pass and focused on the beat of the music and my breath and the rhythm of my feet. I found that I was able to keep up with the cues better when I didn’t think about them. There were a number of times when I got to the end of a sequence and realized with surprise that I was actually on the same foot as the instructor and facing the same direction as the rest of the class without consciously trying. I also enjoyed watching how the instructor clearly enjoyed leading the class. I decided I really liked him, and I really liked my gym and Salt Lake City and my kids and my husband. I spent the class filled with love and joy, and I had just a great deal of fun.

I worry sometimes that the step class isn’t as intense or well-rounded a workout as my regular workout. As a result, I tend to consider it a treat to only take part in once in a while rather than as a core element of my exercise regimen. If I start going to the class regularly, I wonder if I’ll experience what Woodman describes: “once that forgotten energy begins to flow through dancing, painting, singing, joy is not experienced as selfish or luxurious, but as an absolute need.”

Woodman also writes about a lecture by Northrup Frye in which he points out that the word “rejoicing” in a passage from Proverbs is translated from the root word for “play.” One of the churches I’m planning to visit has this note on their website:

We Worship God Through Movement As Well As Words
Our bodies are God’s own creation through Jesus.  God knows what it is to be human.  Movement can be a way of giving ourselves back to God.  You will see many people crossing themselves, bowing, and kneeling at certain times.  When you come to worship try movement and see if your experience of God is made greater.  Movement, though, is not required. You may find it perfectly fulfilling without it.

I noticed that when I first read this, I felt a little uncomfortable. It seemed kind of hokey to me, and I felt a little nervous about what the service would be like with everyone moving around and giving themselves to God. But now I’m wondering if this could just be the reaction of that part of myself that is more comfortable with the “masculine” and resists any shift towards the more “feminine,” which would include the physical body rather than just the intellect. Maybe I feel more loving when I’m moving with the music in step class because I’m more complete and therefore more open to the spiritual. Maybe I’m rejoicing through play.

This morning while mixing up the first batch of pita dough, I put Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53, on the CD player. The baby smiled up at me and started dancing. He ran his little feet, flapped his arms, spun in circles until he fell down, and laughed when I joined him and danced across the kitchen. I remember dancing with my daughter when she was around this age. Her favorite was Bing Crosby singing Jingle Bells. I wonder if kids are born knowing how to rejoice through unselfconscious movement and we—well, some of us—just lose it as we grow older. Maybe we’re all born with the masculine and feminine fully integrated within us, and as adults, it’s simply a matter of rediscovering that balance.

Week 12 Review: The Dangers of Openness

As I’ve come to expect at this point in the month, I’ve started losing my zest for my resolutions. I’ve not done much decluttering this week since my mom left. I’ve been buying things. I’ve made some headway keeping daily routines and examining why I have trouble keeping the ones I’m not keeping. I did complete another nagging task by re-caulking the bathtub. This was actually a task on my husband’s to-do list (it’s been on there since we moved in in January of 2009), but it was nagging at me, so I just did it.

I’ve found that after two weeks in a row attending Mass, I miss attending church. I’m considering doing some church-hopping starting in November to see if I can’t find something that feels right for me and my family.

Something else I’ve discovered this week is that I’m feeling really emotionally raw. I think this might be a side effect of all of the mindfulness and openness and emotional awareness I’ve been fostering in myself. I just feel really sensitive to rough treatment and rough words, even those not directed at me.

A friend posted a link to a story about a 5-week-old baby who died of pertussis. I felt so much pain for the family who lost their little baby. I don’t even care to imagine what that must be like for that baby’s mother, father, and brother. After reading the article, I scrolled down to the comments, against my better judgment. Some were outpourings of emotion for this family, but for the most part, it was an argument about vaccinations and whether people who don’t vaccinate are evil or not and whether they ought to be imprisoned and/or have their children taken away from them.

I wonder if this is an example of giving over to the “masculine” side and using our intellect at the expense of our emotions. Perhaps it’s more comfortable for people to argue causes and lay blame than it is to simply sit with the pain of realizing that sometimes babies die.

I know a woman who is a labor and delivery nurse in a local hospital. Several months ago, pertussis went through the nursing staff. It took an alarmingly long time for anyone to recognize it for what it was, and the nurses continued working through their illnesses, exposing goodness knows how many postpartum moms and newborn babies before the illness was identified. In my experience, most nurses are caring, educated people who work awful hours and get paid not nearly enough for the intensity of their jobs and the toll it takes on their health and their personal relationships. Also in my experience, nurses are pretty big proponents of vaccination. If an outbreak of pertussis can happen in this group of people, it seems to me you can’t really link it to negligence or poor morals or just not caring about others, which were some of the accusations lobbed in the comments on the article. Sometimes shit just happens, even when we do our best to prevent it. Contrary to what some of the commenters suggest, I believe that no parent “deserves” the death or serious illness of their child as a result of the decisions they’ve made.

From what I can tell, as parents, we’re all doing the best we can. We all have our children’s best interests at heart, even when we disagree about what the best decisions are for our kids. We gather the information, weigh the pros and cons based on that information, and make very difficult decisions, many of which we won’t know the results of for years and years, if ever. Nothing is black and white. But I can see the appeal of trying to make it so when faced with a reality as painful as the death of a baby.

And it really hurts to be open to these things. My inclination is to shut myself off again, bury myself in Facebook or reading or frenetic decluttering, anything to turn up the mental noise and distract me from these feelings. But another part of me doesn’t want to close down. That part of me actually enjoys in a way the feeling of connection I get along with this pain. It kind of reminds me of how it felt to give birth to my son. The sensation was so intense that it was difficult to just surrender to it and let my body birth. Much of me wanted to get away, to run away, or specifically to crawl under the floor to escape the intensity of the sensation. But in the days following his birth, I found I missed the experience. There was a part of me that loved that intensity. I felt alive and connected and powerful even as I surrendered to the power surging through me. I cried and cried in the days following his birth because I wanted so badly to have that experience again, to be in the middle of something so big and all-encompassing.

Perhaps if I’m able to let go and birth myself in this new wholeness, I’ll look back at the pain and intensity of the process wistfully while at the same time reveling in the release of the complete—and joyfully imperfect—person inside me.

There’s No Place Like Home

Military brat (U.S. subculture)

Destined to wander? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot about home lately, and apparently I’m not alone. My friends Victoria and Maggie have both blogged about this in the past couple of days.

Victoria lives aboard her sailing vessel with her husband and two young children, the realization of a dream she and Tucker have had for many years. She expected that once she was on her boat, anywhere she sailed would be—and feel like—home. But on a weekend excursion down the coast to Monterey, she was surprised to find herself homesick for their little slip in the San Francisco Bay, which led her to reflect on the nature of home.

Maggie is three months into a year-long trek around the world. Her most recent stopover is Bulungula in South Africa, where she seems to feel a strong connection to both the geography and the culture. “And, of course, there’s that lovely backdrop — scenery that stuns the eyes, holds the heart and inspires you to leave your own home behind,” she writes. “Yes, I could live here.” She doesn’t say, “This feels like home,” but rather that she could “leave her own home behind” and “live here.” Is there a difference?

Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss talks about the phenomenon of travelers for purposes of business or study—anthropologists, reporters—“going native,” that is, abandoning their professional objectivity and the home of their birth to immerse themselves in an adopted culture. How does one know home when they find it?

I grew up a Navy Brat. We moved about every three years. All of our moves were in the United States, and I’ve only left the country once when I went to Toronto with my high school band. I’ve never even had a passport. All during my childhood, I had a craving for “home.” The thought, “I want to go home,” would come to me, but upon further reflection, I could never identify where home was. The closest to home I felt growing up was when we’d visit my maternal grandparents in Ohio each year. Their home was a central gathering place for my mother’s seven siblings and their children. Everywhere we went, I was surrounded by people related to me. In the town where my parents grew up, it seemed cousins of various degrees were everywhere. Grandma and Grandpa had a garden, and even now I think of them when I work with my own tomato plants. There was a spooky basement with an old refrigerator that was always filled with glass bottles of pop, that, when empty, we would return to the grocery store for money in what seemed a kind of alchemy. There were pickled eggs in large jars, grape juice that we drank out of jelly jars, hulless popcorn, late-night horror films on TV, and the tandem bike I rode with my aunt. In the summer, we’d watch the Fourth of July parade come by the house, and we’d collect the candy they tossed from the fire truck before we walked up to the high school for the carnival. One year I won a goldfish by tossing a ping pong ball into a small fish bowl.

When Grandma died, this all began to change. Then Grandpa sold the house, and there was no longer a central meeting place. The close-knit feeling of the family faded, as did my sense of home. For years, I’ve still felt the “I want to go home” sensation, but it’s not been connected to any particular place. As adults, my husband and I continue to move every few years, trying out different locations, looking for home. I’ve lately come to fear that the looking has become such a habit that I won’t even recognize home when I find it.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to dream of Ohio. In my dreams, it is home. It is the place I’m longing to be. I see the rolling, green hills of northeast Ohio and yearn to belong to them. When we visit, I love driving out into that farmland and imagining a little house amid those green hills. But I wonder if it would still feel like home if I actually lived there. When I was in college there, I couldn’t wait to leave. I hated it there. I couldn’t stand the overcast skies, the decay of the post-Industrial Revolution, the culture of depression and helplessness. It feels different looking at it now from a couple thousand miles and a decade away. Is Ohio truly my home, and I could only recognize it by leaving? Or if I lived there now, would it soon feel as oppressive to me as it did when I was 20? How long would it be before I went in search of my next home?

I have a suspicion that my longing for home isn’t actually a longing for a particular place, but rather a longing for a feeling. This feeling is one of belonging and of being loved unconditionally. It’s an escape from the alienation I often feel as someone who is carving her own path through the world. I made an off-hand remark to my husband last night: If you’re going to rock the boat, you’d better not get sea sick. Even though I have a consistent need to rock the boat, I seem to experience perpetual seasickness. I want to find my sea legs. I want to be myself but still feel like I belong. Even more than happiness, I want to feel wholeness. I suspect that this feeling is something I need to come to on my own, and if I don’t find it, no place is going to feel like home.

Conscious Sacrifice

Here’s part of what I read today in Marion Woodman’s Addiction to Perfection:

The overconscientious perfectionist knows she cannot control her obsession; she recognizes at the center of her whirlpool another power to which she is hostile. The whirling through her daytime efficiency and nighttime compulsion avoids as long as it can the confrontation with the Eye. That confrontation demands surrender of the rigid, self-deceptive “I.”

…The attitude of the ego towards the Eye is everything. If the ego is hostile, then it experiences itself as victim and sets itself up for self-murder. If the attitude is one of acceptance–not resignation, but open receptivity–then murder is transformed into conscious sacrifice. That change in attitude opens the heart to the power of love radiating from the Eye–the all-embracing, nourishing love that can support rather than destroy the “I.” Psychologically speaking, so long as conscious and unconscious are enemies, the ego experiences itself in constant danger of death. Once they are in harmony the ego experiences itself open and supported by the maternal matrix of love.

This idea of murder being “transformed into conscious sacrifice” is intriguing to me. In the book, Woodman writes about a woman who eats compulsively choosing to fast for a week. The choice to sacrifice through fasting yields remarkable insights for this particular woman. This leaves me considering what the difference is between the “Biggest Loser” boot camp model of weight-loss and the inside-out sacrifice of fasting.

Listening to RadioWest on KUER this afternoon, I caught a portion of an interview with Judge Thomas Buergenthal about his memoir, A Lucky Child, which deals with his past as one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Buergenthal spoke about one instance in which prisoners were selected for hanging and then their close friends were ordered to perform the executions. One young man went to put the noose over his friend’s head. The friend took the noose and put it around his neck himself, kissed his friend’s face, then jumped from the platform. He turned a murder, literally, into a conscious act of sacrifice.

I don’t mean to imply that my situation is anything near that of a concentration camp prisoner or a compulsive eater, but I do think there are common human experiences from which I can learn. I don’t need to be a prisoner sentenced to death to engage in a conscious act of sacrifice. But the haunting story of this prisoner’s final act of rebellion, which was also an act of love for his friend, could give me insight into how I might move towards a similar state of psychological harmony.