Wednesday, May 9, 2018

you happy?

maggie super
"I SUPER want to stand there,
mommy"

The most unexpected joy (while also absolutely terrifying) I have discovered in having two toddlers is their ability to mirror adults, and of course, most namely, the wifey and me. Where I work we love say things like "hold up a mirror" to our work, and I have now discovered that we actually need to employ small children to do that work for us - as they are really the experts.

It started with SUPER. Maggie started adding the word "super" as an adjective in all the right and wrong places... "I run super fast" was juxtaposed with "I super want to do that." Clearly we found it adorable, as any grammar-blind parents would. With this new little verbal quirk Maggie had acquired, the wifey and I noticed we, too, were saying "super" all the time, which begged the question - was it the chicken or the egg? Did we say super before she did? Or did she start this? We are still not sure (I'd wager it was us, but we will never know). Sadly, this phase has already passed (although likely not sad for their secondary english teachers), and new ones have arrived (turns out we say "oh man," "bummer," and "let's do this" more than we realize, among other things).

"you happy?"
One phase that has endured is, "you happy?" It was one of very first questions Ellen ever asked, and it has become (or perhaps always was?) commonplace in our house. You have to imagine it being asked with extremely exaggerated "up speak" (something that also, coincidentally, has been highly utilized by the organization I work for...) - so more like, "you hap-PY?" - with the final syllable coming in a strong two to three octaves above the former. Again, we are not sure if we started it or they did, but we find ourselves sitting on the couch after the girls are in bed, cuddled up in bed saying goodnight, or even out on date nights looking at each other and saying "you happy?" as fully grown, well-educated (with strong vocabularies and decent grammar skills) adults. If we did start it, I can be proud of that - it means we've been checking in with each other on one of, if not the the single most important aspect of life, long before those two peppers arrived. Happiness. It's an important question.

It has felt like life has been going at the speed of light for the last couple of months - and that's not (just) an excuse for why this is the first time I have written (and it's not even using one of my book prompts - oy!) since February. I haven't taken time to do much for myself, and even exercise has been getting hard to keep on the schedule.

On a work trip in March a colleague shared with me a quote that was something along the lines of "live a life a you don't need to escape from," and while I always love me some cheesy quotes in trendy fonts with a calming background (am I right?), this actually struck a chord that I was not comfortable with. It rang a little a too true for me at that moment in time. Especially since I had told my wife just weeks before that I "wouldn't mind a few days hospital stay just to take a break from life for a bit." (Yes, that's truth, and yes, I know that's not at all an acceptable thing to say for so many reasons, but sharing candidly to illustrate my level of burn out and "doneness." Judge away. Please.)

As some kind of cruel twist of events and also extremely backward blessing in disguise, at the very end of March I tore my ACL. April was the fiercest and most chaotic (not to mention painful) month of them all so far this year, and my surgery, a month later, on April 30, brought life to a screeching halt (or at least a snail's pace... life just can't slow down that much when you have two almost three year olds literally running, dancing, and jumping all around house all day, every day).

As per my usual (I see you there, 2014), I rang in my birthday drugged up on pain medication and unable to do much of anything except sleep on the couch with my legs elevated. As a result of having surgery right before my birthday, again, I was reminded of my 29th birthday when it had felt like my whole world, and future, had crashed down around me. It was that birthday that made me appreciate all the birthdays that will follow (because you truly can only go up from that), including my most recent one, regardless of how well the day lives up to my expectations. For better or for worse (usually worse), I really (really) love holidays and special occasions, and my birthday is no exception. I have incredibly high hopes for my birthday and, as a result, birthdays tend to leave me in bad place - no matter how awesome the day is (and to that end, my wife and family are amazing and always ensure I'm very loved on my birthday).  The "ending poorly" is all 100% self-imposed by yours truly - when you have a vivid imagination and ambitious goals for yourself, and then you also expect perfection, you are bound to be disappointed in life (#putitonmygravestone).

So here I am, turning another year older, sitting on my couch with my leg in a passive motion machine for eight hours a day, in and out of sleep, getting to catch my breath for a moment, and thinking about the four months of restricted activity I have ahead of me. As such, I've come to a few key headlines in my reflections over the last week, the most important being that feeling like I wanted, or perhaps even needed, a hospital stay in order to turn off, escape, take a break, etc. is a very, very alarming place to be, that is so very far from acceptable it's off the other end of the spectrum.

spectrum

In the spirit of silver linings, however, I have had several days all to myself (conscious or not), and have been able to feel completely guilt free in doing so, as I really didn't have a choice, given I have been unable to go to the bathroom, get food, water, or really do anything at all without assistance. While I have mostly filled these days with naps, back to back re-runs of old Trading Spaces episodes (which has resulted in what will likely be an extreme revival of some home improvement DIYing when I can move and use power tools again), some gaming, reading, and getting estimates to replace our driveway, I have also had some more coherent moments of clarity where I've been able to make sense of my burn out and what it truly is that I've been lacking in life that led me to that completely unacceptable desire/need for hospital-grade seclusion from the world. (Again, yikes.)

  1. Not feeling pressure to constantly move. That lovely Fitbit of mine has been stowed away for 10 days now and not being constantly anxious about hitting my step goal every day is liberating. Granted, being unable to move at all is utterly maddening, so no surprise here, but being tethered to a hospital bed? Not the solution to all my problems. I am, however, reassessing my relationship with my Fitbit. I still think it is incredibly important for my health and well being to get at least 12,000 steps a day - and firmly believe it has had awesomely positive effects on my metabolism and body shape. However, if that's the case, I need to get up and get as many of those steps in early on in the day so I can truly sit and relax, think, etc. when I need to/can, later in the day.
  2. Losing the guilt and minimizing my obsessiveness/anxiety. I think 90% of my misguided desire to have "forced" seclusion was born out of it being the only way I could have "me time" and not feel guilty about it. When I first admitted what I was feeling to the wifey, she offered to put me up in a hotel for a couple nights, and I shrugged off the suggestion as I get to spend nights in hotel rooms by myself every month, usually for multiple days/weeks in a month with all my work travel. When she suggested it as an alternative to the morbid and alarming solution I had offered I couldn't articulate this, but having been in a position of "forced helplessness" for the last week, I see it much more clearly. I have felt almost zero guilt for the last 10 days as it's a simple matter of physical fact that there is very little I can do to help around the house and with the girls. I must find ways to have "me" time feel/be guilt-free, without being physically forced to, and still have it be just as restorative. 
  3. parenting
    parenting on crutches:
    "hold my crutch, there are cars"
  4. Not being constantly being distracted by the people and spaces I'm not currently around/in, and be fully present in the moment. I was laying in the hospital bed pre-surgery (and pre-anesthetics) and just hysterically laughing and enjoying getting to be one on one with my wife (and all of the doctor and nursing staff at the Hamden Surgery Center who were a flimsy hospital curtain away). It was amazing. That morning I had started on medical leave from work which meant my email, slack, etc. was completely turned off an unaccessible from anything but my work computer, which was in my office in the basement (i.e. may as well have been in California given my lack of mobility). While I feel incredibly fortunate to work where I do and with the people I do, I don't know how to turn off that part of my life given my tendency to both obsesses and empathize (apparently without borders and boundaries). It's part of my nature to never shut any part of my life off - I am constantly worried about the happiness and comfort of others, whether it's my family, friends, my teammates, or even more distant colleagues and acquaintances. I had a miscarriage while at a team stepback and showed up the next morning ready to facilitate a session - I just can't handle not delivering or under-performing in any way, which leads to constant worry. I obsess and ruminate on words, interactions, conversations, written exchanges in extremely unhealthy ways, even when I am supposed to be in my own space - taking a bath, out on a run, working out, at the zoo/park/anywhere with my kids, etc. My old therapist used to have me think about all things stressing me out and imagine them being shoved into a container, closed up, labeled (naturally), and put on a shelf until I was ready to be in that space and focus on and sort thorough it. To me it feels a bit like having multiple personalities, but I've got to be able to shut things off for the sake of being fully present and richly engaged in whatever space I am in at the current moment.  
girls_at_pianoMy wife is my best friend, my kids are bundles of kindness and love, I have good job doing mission-driven work with some of the most amazing people on this planet, and an exceptionally loving and brilliant family (even if they all live way too far away). I live in a stunningly beautiful part of the world and have built up a circle of friends that share our values and ensure our children have strong role models. The wifey and I have always prided ourselves on living our best lives every single day, whether traipsing about Italy, camping in the mountains, or just having cocktails on back porch watching a Tigers game. 

I should not, and do not, have a care in the world to escape from, if I just take proper care of myself. 

The worst part is that I do practice "self-care." I do things that, in theory, and in a vacuum, make me happy... I take hot bubble baths with wine and a luxuriously soft bath pillow, I find joy in exercising regularly (or, used to, and will again in three to four short months...), I clean my house every week in my underwear and jam out to the greatest hits of the 90s, I go on long walks, I garden, I drink cocktails on my patio with my wife while my kids (mostly) happily play with each other in our backyard... hell, I even find time to draw, paint, write, and make cool shit now and then. I'm honestly not sure what else I could hope for or ask for in life.

The problem is, I do all of things thing while neurotically checking my work email, obsessively playing and re-playing what I could I have done/said differently in any countless number of recent interactions, counting up the things I haven't yet done/accomplished (big and small, from decluttering a nightstand drawer to not yet being the CEO of my own venture), etc. None of which is at all relaxing, restorative, or the least bit healthy. 

thorpepark
Thanks to a quaint little park in downtown Flagstaff, AZ, genes that run thick with competitiveness (even against a six year old), and a haunting pop in my knee I won't soon forget, I've had my brush with forced "down time" and, at the very least, have achieved clarity on what exactly is is that I truly need (which is not a hospital stay) for my bucket to be full.

You happy? 

Monday, February 26, 2018

my daughter

ellen_poolMy daughter? She is perfect.

She is also me. Every inch of her is me... except maybe her heart. Her heart is so, so incredibly vast. I love. Of course I do. I lead with love, I start with love, and work towards love in everything I do. But this girl? She loves unconditionally in a way I'm not sure I even yet grasp. She just IS love. (Is that even possible?)

She has my legs. She has my hips. She has my hair.

I've spent thirty (plus) years wondering why on earth god thought it was OK to give me these legs. These hips. This hair. And then she comes along. A thirty-nine inch tall copy of my legs, hips, and hair... and it's beautiful. It is perfect.

ellen_hikeShe has sparked an inner-dialog for me that no therapist, gym routine, diet, or inspirational story/quote/etc ever managed to do. I just stare at her little tiny human self and wonder how on earth she could ever see herself as anything but utterly perfect.

And then I realize... she will. Because she is me. And as perfect as she is, she is not society's image of perfect.

So now I spend my days wondering how on earth I make sure she knows how perfect she is...how on earth I make sure I know how perfect I am, so she can internalize that through me.

I'll be here. Working on it.


[Also, this post has no prompt - which is bad, because I am terribly far behind on my writing commitment, but I'll figure that out, too.]