The Early Wisdom of the “Mom”bbatical!

At this moment, I find myself sitting on the serene terrace of my Airbnb in the 20th arrondissement in Paris, France. It is stunningly beautiful here and I am both overwhelmed and relieved that I have finally made it to this destination in my life. Since the official start of my “mom”bbatical, when I deposited my son onto a train in June, the last few months have been wrought with endlessly long to-do lists and transactions as I prepared to leave my life in Brooklyn and begin a new adventure. Despite the frenzy, that time offered me some valuable wisdom that I know will ground me as I take my next steps.

It’s okay to revisit the pain and scars from the past. “Let it go.” “Put it behind you.” “Get over it.” When we experience pain and hurt, how often are these the phrases that we are bombarded with by well intentioned family and friends to facilitate our healing? For their benefit, we take a deep breath, wipe the tears away and tell ourselves to move on. Liberated from the daily demands of parenting, I took the mental and emotional space to look back, to evaluate, to lament and to often cringe at the valleys of the past.

It is scary taking a raw look at the past. To look at the ways in which we have allowed others to treat us or the hurts we may have inflicted ourselves. And perhaps it is a little cliché, but only in doing so, am I able to appreciate the present moment I am in now, to celebrate the failures and stumbles that led me to this very place. It is humbling and gratifying to know that we are never standing still in life. Our capacity to grow and learn is vast if we choose to accept it.

Joy in the present moment is priceless. Before I made my sojourn to the airport with two suitcases and a cat, I decided to pick up some items that might not be readily available to me in Paris, You know, like my favorite Trader Joe’s snacks and uh. . .well, a certain little something to prepare me for when a certain moment should present itself. . .(hint: Elaine’s favorite from Seinfeld)

So, I go to the CVS drugstore to pick up my “item” and of course, it’s behind a locked glass cabinet. . . downtown Brooklyn. But no worries, all I had to do was push the little customer service button to my right and someone would come along and open the cabinet. I push the button and all of a sudden LOUDLY over the PA system, the following announcement is made, “Customer service needed in family planning.”

I look around and everyone at the pharmacy department is staring at me as I stood there, humiliated, waiting for some tall lanky kid with his special key to open up the cabinet. I felt like Jonah Hill in a Judd Apatow movie. . so embarrassing. But, all I could do was laugh and relish in the hilarity of it all.  There’s no question that there’s a lot of crappy things going on in the world today and as one who tends to obsess about the future, I’m glad that I’ve gotten to a place in life where I can be in the present moment and take its joy for all that it is worth, even at my own expense.

Facing the future with courage is a discipline. Without fail, whenever I have mentioned to folks that I was moving to Paris, their first question was usually, “Do you have a job there?” When the answer is “no”, it becomes a very awkward question to answer and it’s so loaded with that person’s expectations and fears. I did make an effort to find a job, but nothing quite felt right and something inside of me is telling me that my life has more in store than just a job.

But, it’s not easy to wake up each day without falling into a panic about my financial and professional future. I stored the resources for this move and I’m very conscious of how much runway I have left, but I’m facing an unknown like never before in my life. So I write and I meditate and I stay grounded in the very present moment. It is a discipline that requires the daily strengthening of my faith muscle as I create a new vision.

Thankfully, I am surrounded by a beautiful community of people who are supporting me every step of the way. It is profound actually. The love of friends and family, colleagues and neighbors, mentors and students. It is what is pushing me through and I am so grateful.

I have no idea what this “mom”bbatical has in store. But I’m taking it on with gratitude and wonder and joy. I really can’t ask for anything more.

Oh, the Places We’ve Been. . .

Recently, I took a little break from blogging and packing and New Yorking and made my way to the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a pretty spontaneous decision egged on by my bestie, who always seems to know what I need. I’m no stranger to the area, having lived there twice, once for two years and then again for five. But, it was weird going back this time, bittersweet and yet, a much needed journey of resolution.

I think it’s easy to take for granted the energy of the places we live and the impact it can have on our lives, if we let it. San Francisco was supposed to be my nirvana, my happy place. When I moved there in 1993, I was completely enamored by the hills and the houses, the way the water surrounded the city and the perfect weather day after day. And although I missed my New York bagels and Brooklyn pizza, the local Thai and Mexican food surely made up for it.

But, I quickly learned that my “city by the Bay” would not settle for my superficial love. And just as the ominous fog or sudden earthquake can shatter the idyllic postcard image of San Francisco, so did the city to my life and not just once, but twice. The first time, my life was turned upside down by the broken trust of a colleague. The details are long behind me, but at the tender age of 23, I was burnt out and betrayed. In the face of complete exhaustion, I packed up my bags and sought refuge in my parents’ home, inevitably forced to confront and heal the lifetime of accumulated tensions and offenses between parents and child.

I survived my brief stint with mom and dad and made my way back to the Bay Area in 2005 by way of Brooklyn and Washington D.C.  This time, I had a 1 year old in tow and was embarking on a professional path that I thought would settle me there for life. But, the aftershocks came and San Francisco let me know that I had more healing work to do. Five years of heartbreak and unfulfilled expectations sent me back to the East coast in an attempt to escape the craziness that had descended on my life.

Now, eight years later, as my plane started its descent into SFO, I began to feel a little melancholy. Of most of my East coast friends, I had been the trailblazer to this glorious place. As I took in the view, I felt as though I was mourning a vision of a life; a dream deferred. How had so many unexpected twists and turns taken me so far away from this place my heart had been devoted to? With all its peace and love, quaint cable cars and painted ladies, how had this city come to hurt me so?

During my visit, a dear friend treated me to all the Thai food I could eat and reminded me of how far I had come since those dark days in the Bay. And I thought perhaps I had it wrong. Maybe I didn’t see or understand the real energy of the Bay and its capacity to shake me into a healing place. Yes, the San Francisco Bay Area is beautiful, but she’s also fierce as hell and demands activism, both personal and communal. Beyond the earthquakes, she gave us the Black Panthers and Harvey Milk. She gave us Alcatraz which exists as both “the Rock” and the sacred gathering place of Native Americans daring to take their land back. She opened her arms wide to the gay community and led the charge against the AIDS epidemic when the rest of the nation wasn’t listening.

Maybe the Bay hadn’t hurt me at all, but helped to heal and fortify me for the dreams to come. Thank you San Francisco and Oakland and Alameda and Berkeley and Marin. Thank you for the energy of your awe-inspiring hills, chilly fog and rough waves.

I can bid you a proper farewell now.

Taco-print Fanny Packs and Treason?

Final Reflection

I hate trash. I hate it with a passion so fierce that I decide what side of the street to walk down based on if there are trash bags lining the sidewalk, even if it takes me out of the way. If I have to walk next to it, I put as much distance as I can between me and all of those bags. And if someone is walking towards me on the sidewalk, they are just going to have to pass on the left because I’m not getting any closer to that curb. Seriously, it gives me the heebie jeebies. So I cringed as I was making piles and piles of stuff while packing that I had no use for, but no one else would have a use for either–more trash.

I say this because today, coincidentally, is Amazon Prime Day.  A day to buy as much stuff as possible for as cheap as possible delivered right to our doorsteps. And hey, no judgement. I know that there are items that are essential to our needs, like cat litter, an electronic toothbrush or a six-pack of shower gel. But is a taco-print fanny pack really necessary in life? And how soon before that fanny pack ends up in a trash heap?

And while we’re conveniently distracted by fanny packs and pineapple string lights that will eventually end up in a landfill somewhere, our democracy has gone up in flames.

I was late with this post because I sat in horror yesterday watching the President of the United States essentially commit treason. He threw our nation’s intelligence community under the bus and gave deference to a known dictator. Then, on the commercial break, I’m supposed to digest an animated kid and his dad trying to do the Floss dance in celebration of Prime Day. It felt like I was in the Twilight Zone or the Upside Down for our Stranger Things fans.

So, I can be cool with the Russian leader controlling our head of state because I just bought a car dash cam for 70 bucks, right?

The American way of life can be so baffling.  We claim the foundation of our nation is freedom–freedom to elect our leaders, freedom to compete and consume in the open market, freedom to express our concerns and disappointments with our elected officials, policies and citizenry. And when we’re finished with all of these things, when we feel they no longer serve our interests, we just toss them away into a trash pile–policies, leaders and stuff alike.

Is this freedom?

I’m just going to sit over here and have my own existential crisis. You’re welcome to join me.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Perfect Timing of Books

Reflection #4

I’m pretty certain that every time I have prepared for a move, I have packed my books first. Partly because they are the easiest things to pack into boxes and I feel like I’m making real progress as they disappear from the shelves. Did I mention that I hate packing?

Packing up the books also forces me to purge the titles that are no longer serving me. I do believe that books are intended to serve us. As C.S. Lewis states, “We read to know that we’re not alone.” Books are so critical in ushering us through so many phases in life, even if it is merely a phase of complete and utter boredom.

In order for books to be of service, they must come into our lives with perfect timing and that they do. I love those moments when I’m talking to someone about something going on in my life and they say, “There’s a great book I read about that.” or I’m sitting on a train and I see someone reading a book that resonates and I know I’m supposed to have it. My next stop is usually the bookstore. The synchronicity of books is a beautiful thing.

While I was packing up my books this time around, I had an unexpected, yet perfectly timed, magical moment with an old book. A book I read about twenty years ago, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron is a course in recovering one’s creative self. The first time I read it, I was in my mid-twenties and really cannot remember what motivated me at that time. Now, as I’m facing a huge life transition, including a career transition, this book could not have found me at a better time. I felt like I ran into an old friend.

To anyone reading this, I’d like to invite you to have a little fun. Go to your bookcase or your local bookstore and allow yourself to be led by the things weighing on your spirit. Or if you’re sitting on a train or a bus, look around and see if anyone is reading something that catches your eye. Allow yourself to be open to the perfect timing of books. If you are so moved, share a comment on this post of what you found.

And if you’re not a reader . . .well, here are some words of wisdom that may get you to reconsider. . .

“If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t f**k them. Don’t sleep with people who don’t read!”–John Waters

The Irony of the World Cup in the Era of Trump

Reflection #3

Fortunately for me, the drudgery of packing has been against the backdrop of the World Cup. For Americans, the arrival of the World Cup is a bit like Girl Scout cookies.  After finishing that last Thin Mint from April’s month-long cookie binge, life goes back to normal and the brain moves on to other priorities. Then, January comes around and you catch a glimpse of that cookie order form and it’s as if Girl Scout cookies were the most important thing in your life.

So it is with the World Cup. The drama of the most recent World Cup ends and we go back to our sports cycle of baseball, football, hockey, basketball. . .rinse and repeat for three years. Then, the world flags start to emerge at the local bars, the commercials start to play(Volkswagen really nailed it this year) and we’re sucked back into the excitement as if it had never left us.

There is a bit of irony to this World Cup as it is the first to take place in the era of Trump. For starters, for the first time since 1986, the United States Men’s National Team did not punch their ticket to the show. The road to defeat started with a loss to Mexico in the November 11, 2016 qualifier.  .  .a mere 3 days after Trump was elected as the President of the United States. Given all of Trump’s bloviating about Mexico, its citizens and the like, you might say karma acted pretty swiftly. Trinidad and Tobago landed the knockout punch about a year later.

The more poignant irony is that while this wonderful celebration of the countries and peoples of the world is going on, the US President is taking brown children away from their families, criminalizing their mothers and fathers as if neither they nor their children have a meaningful contribution to make to the world. It’s beyond disgusting. I spent my days cheering for Iran, Mexico, Iceland and Nigeria and my nights in tears seeing the trauma that was being inflicted on these babies by my own nation.

And beyond the celebration of the diversity of nations that the World Cup inspires, the cultural representation on many of the leading squads is a sight to behold. The French team alone has players with roots from the Congo, Mali, Algeria, Senegal, Togo and Cameroon, to name a few. Athletes that hail from countries that Trump would consider “s**tholes” are bringing joy and beauty to one of the few sports that unites our nations. Perhaps Trump will send our own USMNT player, Jozy Altidore, packing next year; he is the son of Haitian immigrants.

My point is pretty simple. Xenophobia and racism are just stupid. They don’t make any sense at all. And thank you to London for that big Trump baby balloon and your spirited opposition to hosting a racist and a monster.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in a Masters program overseas that included a cohort of people representing 17 different countries from 6 continents. I was just texting this morning with one of my closest classmates, a German woman married to a Pakistani man living in London. They happen to be visiting one of our other classmates in Singapore right now. We were discussing how cool it is that there will always be somebody we know wherever we go. It really is a gift. But she said it best when she said,

“If you only know your own front steps, you’ll never get over your fear of change and people who are different to you. Only exposure and friendships can bring us closer.”

Maybe it’s not possible for everyone to travel the world, but a tournament as spectacular as the World Cup really does say it all. And if you find yourself cheering on Lukaku or Pogba, but you don’t want their brethen crossing your borders, then perhaps you’re not getting it.

Now on to the Final!!  Allez Les Bleus!!!

Reflection #2: Longing for the Days When We Held Music in our Hands. . .