Saturday, August 29, 2009

Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn. ~Elizabeth Lawrence

Every year my internal clock recognizes the first signs of autumn, long before the temperature changes. Rays of sun penetrate the air at sharper angles, are more yellow, richer and thick. The air itself is no longer opaque from the summer humidity and heat, but is clear…feels fresh and crisp on my skin and in my lungs when I breathe. Leaves, not yet their brilliant yellow, orange and red, whisper secrets of their colors to come, hints of their future. Hanging loosely on tree limbs, they wait for autumn winds to tug and pull them from the comfort of mother tree to gently fall, float and land safely on the ground below.

There is something about this time of year that conjures up a deep well of melancholy for me…not quite sorrow…not quite gratitude, but a feeling that lands somewhere between the two…a yearning of things not yet revealed, but that wait to be. The autumn season brings with it an inherent need for me to reminisce, ponder and visit the places of my life that have been points of transition, change and revelation.

My son’s birthday is in the fall: September 24th to be exact. Fourteen years ago Hank was born. A violent thunderstorm raged outside our hospital room as he and I worked together to transition him from the comfort of my body to the world outside. This week he started high school. These days when I talk with Hank it is generally on his terms. My questions are often responded to with a “I dunno“ or some other hard to understand series of words. His tone of voice hints at frustration and sometimes annoyance that I asked the question in the first place.

So I often wait for him to initiate the conversation. I let him take us to the places he wants to explore…with me serving as guide, sounding board, his friend…his mom. He is taller than me and his voice much deeper than it used to be. With the musculature of his back beginning to unveil the man beneath, I feel small and almost frail in his presence. I can remember the night of his birth holding him in my arms and nursing him to sleep. The thunder in the distance, the lightening on the horizon and the comfort of steady rain outside our window, the two of us there, getting to know each other.

And now, I see his wheels turning, the silence and solitude of a young man searching…exploring…seeking answers from within. At times I long for the ability to return to the days of before…hold in my arms and tell him all is right with the world and know that saying this is enough…know that this is all my boy needs to feel comforted, safe and secure.

But the truth is, my internal clock is signaling that the time is ripe for us to transition from the relationship we have known to something new, different, sometimes scary and often times right. Hank the leaf and me the tree. His full colors are not yet present but are slowly revealing themselves in the decisions he is making and the person he is becoming…his waiting now for the winds of his future to gently tug and pull him from the tree of youth to fall and float to the solid ground of adulthood.

Birth to life…summer to autumn…leaf to ground…boy to man. Another year passes and I am present in the melancholy…resting somewhere between sorrow and gratitude. I love you Hank.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Morning People

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.”

E.B. White

I am SO a morning person. One day last week, while driving my children to an orthodontist appointment I had conveniently (for me anyway) scheduled at 7:45 a.m., my son commented out of the blue, half-dozing, half awake. “I just don’t know why you do that.”

Hank is a rising ninth grader. He starts high school on Tuesday. I hear this particular phrase from him a lot these days. He seems to have a need right now to NOT understand me…a kind of tribal rite of passage…a universal statement that allows him to safely move toward more autonomy and a healthy dose of self-sufficiency and curious questioning.

“I just don’t know why you get up so early. Why do you do that?”

I thought for a minute. By the time I responded, Hank had fallen back asleep, this time with his head against the passenger side window. I responded anyway. “Because, it’s the one time of the day I own.”

My Mom got sober in 1970. I was in fourth grade. Not shortly after, she started running. She would launch out of the house, the screen door slamming behind her, feet to follow on the gravel pathway just outside. One hour later she would come back, perspiring, red-faced and happy. She was literally transforming before my very eyes.

My mom was tall, svelte and quite elegant. She was captain of the basketball team and Homecoming Queen. She went to Smith College and shortly after, met my father. He drove onto campus, one fall day, in a baby blue convertible and the rest was history.

Mary still is the most authentic woman I’ve ever known. In March of 1970, she hit bottom. It took a couple of tries before sobriety “stuck” but once it did, she became a tremendous advocate for women struggling to get sober. She started working at a local Alcohol Treatment facility and sponsored dozens of women in a 12-step program. She wrote poetry, read poetry and even had a number of her poems published. She competed in many local 5k’s, winning her age group. She started running longer distances and competed in a number of 10k’s, 15k’s and even one half-marathon.

In 1974, I joined her on one of her early morning runs. I was 14. She was 52. The sun was not yet up. The screen door screeched “good morning”, our feet hit the gravel and we were soon journeying through our neighborhood. I ran one block with her--about a mile. We didn’t say a word. Our feet rhythmically hit the hard cement in unison, our breath in and out—mantra like--the crisp edge to approaching autumn filling our lungs. I had never experienced anything quite like it…the quiet, the fellowship, the power.

I started running regularly with my Mom. The one-mile block grew into two blocks and then three. Eventually we were running eight, nine and ten miles together, usually first thing in the morning. And no matter how crazy my “other life” got (high school, college, my 20’s) meeting my mom for that early morning run was a welcoming sanctuary, where mother-daughter became woman-woman…where I felt connected, loved and whole in spite of the low feelings of self-worth during the remainder of my day.

There is something quite magical about the early mornings. These days it is simple…a cup of coffee, a lit candle and time to just be with myself, by myself. The sound of night crickets crosses over to early birds, traffic, school buses and my children just waking. I have learned a lot about myself in the early morning hours…time to think, ponder, wonder and be. The weariness of the day hasn’t yet soaked in and my big ideas, hopes and dreams somehow seem to feel more honest, doable and realistic. There is a gleaming optimism that shines with each morning…not yet tarnished by carpools, homework and laundry.

I love the morning, whether I’m running, writing or just being. The solitude, quiet and expectation of the day feeds my idealism, hope and belief in my life's work, my children's futures and the future of all children. I am fueled by the certainty with which I write THIS morning that if I seek the good, then the good will come.

Do you set aside time to dream, think and hope for bigger things not yet obtained? If not, why not? If yes, when? Let me know here or at

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What Do You Want to See?

Alright...I'm on vacation. Based on the last two blogs entries, I need one. Sometimes in my effort to connect the dots, I literally wear myself out.

Something fun I've done with my kids in the past that we are re-visiting on this vacation is the "What do I want to see today?" game.

So, here is how it works. First thing in the morning, gather the clan together and ask the question, "What do you want to see today?" The object of the game is for each person to name something they rarely see, that they want to see some time over the course of their day. The challenge, however, is that the "thing seen" must be seen a total of three times. No more, no less.

Several months ago, my daughter Helen set a pretty high bar. "I want to see three pink cars." We had no plans to attend a Mary Kay seminar in the next 24 hours so the apparent likelihood of seeing three pink cars before my daughter's bedtime was slim to none.

Well...I'll be darned if three hours later, two of the three pink cars had been spotted. The remainder of the day, as we went about our errands, we searched high and low for the final pink car...but to no avail...the car did not reveal itself.

About 8:00 just before Helen's bedtime, I realized I had run out of my asthma medication. (I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma in my early 20's) so off Helen and I trekked to the pharmacy. The prescription was ready for us when we arrived. As I stood at the check-out counter, Helen squeals with delight. "Mom. Look! The pink car. See! THE pink car!" Helen is pointing to a small pink toy car which is precariously balanced on the magazine rack, apparently forgotten and left there by another family.

We left the car there, but OUR mission was accomplished. Three pink cars had, indeed been seen.

On another occasion, the goal was to see three red stars. Helen was very specific this time...the stars had to have five points and the red had to be through and through. No outlines of a star were acceptable. The stars had to be solid red.

Just starting out on our errands, Helen shouts out from the backseat of the car, "Look Mom, there's the first one!" On the side of a large tractor trailer, tucked neatly into the company's logo, rested a five-pointed solid red star! I chuckle as I ponder her nonchalant approach to the game these if she just KNOWS that what she is seeking will be seen. (The pink car experience must have solidified her belief in expectation.)

"Very cool, Helen. Very cool."

A couple of hours later, we are leaving one of our errand-stops. The automated doors open and Helen and I step out. A woman shouts, "Molly Barker. Stop! Molly! Do you remember me?"

The woman walked over and reminded me that she had attended a coach's training some time ago. During our conversation, Helen begins nudging me.

"Hold on a minute, Helen. Hold on." I knew she was ready to go home.

The nudging continued.

I leaned down to be eye level with her and asked, "What is it, sweetie? You are not letting up on this one."

With a huge grin on her face, Helen whispered, "Mom. Look at her arms!"

There neatly tucked away on each wrist was a red star tattoo. A solid red, five-pointed star tattoo.

Mission accomplished.

Believe me, we've been very demanding of the universe with our expectations. We've looked for neon green shoes, yellow butterflies, and purple hats. We've looked for "I love you's" which we overhear, two people high-fiving and bald men running. Seriously, when is the last time YOU hoped to see three men, who were bald, out on a run!

But I'll be darned, if every time...yes EVERY TIME we asked, we received.

The power behind the game is obvious. We see what we choose to see. The world is rich with so much wonder. When I get caught in seeing only the negative, a quick reminder to pull me out is to remember the beautiful red stars tucked away on those wrists. When I can't see anything positive in the actions of my 14 year old son, I can flip the coin and recognize his actions as those of an evolving, maturing and independent young man...a process I truly welcome.

I close with this story.

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later, the violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes later, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes later, a 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The child stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother was persistent and they continued to walk. He turned his head the entire time.

45 minutes later, the musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made.... How many other things are we missing?

So, now it is your turn. What do you choose to see today?

(For a full recap of the Washington Post article on this topic check out this link...