My empty room

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Silence before sunrise. Shiny wood floor for my yoga mat, a flickering candle for light. The warm glow soothes me. I can breathe deeply and completely. I feel light and strong. I feel calm.

This empty room lets me be in the moment. I can balance my emotions and feel graceful with my poses. I purposefully spread my toes on the mat and ground my wandering thoughts. Just for that short time.

This empty room quiets my mind. I focus on strengthening the warriors in me. All three. I am my own mountain, and I give in to five more minutes of stillness as the sun rises. My day begins.

My empty room. The serenity, the simplicity. I found peace.

I will miss my empty room.

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Badass

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My 18 year-old daughter told me a few months ago that when she was in middle school, boys routinely groped and pinched her butt.

Why didn’t you tell me?!

Because I thought that was just the way things are. But don’t worry mama, I’m woke now. I’m a strong independent black woman.**
**inside joke

I stared at this beautiful, strong, young woman in front of me. What else did she have to tolerate? We talk about this often — I’m obsessed with raising badass daughters who will not take shit from men.

Don’t just tell them off. Educate them. And always make them know they can’t fuck with you.

We discuss different ways to explain to men that women are humans not objects. We share ideas on how to get out of shitty situations, how to avoid them, and how to convert their male friends into feminists. Just like their father.

Last year, my 14 year-old goddess stood up to teachers regarding the school dress code, accused them of body-shaming girls and sending conflicting messages. Be strong and confident, they tell girls, but here’s a long list of what you can’t wear. Enforcement is random depending on a girl’s body shape and size. My long-legged goddess got dress-coded many times last year.

If what I wear makes me feel beautiful and proud why do I have to change the way I dress? Why can’t they punish the boys who grope my butt?

Wear whatever the hell you want, my goddess. Be proud.

I usually deftly deflect crude invitations, comments, leers and catcalls. Like a chef wielding a knife. I generally ignore the whistles and kissy sounds, but I can be cruel to the shitheads. I’m never intimidated. My daughters think I’m the #1 badass, and I’m a hard act to follow.

But 30 years ago I was a vulnerable 19 year-old college student half a world away from home. I was very naïve, and it pains me to remember, but it’s important not to forget.

So, my darling daughters, yes, I got roofied. But I was lucky, a friend helped me. I have been mentally and physically abused, and I was sexually assaulted multiple times. All by the same man, and it lasted more than a year. I thought I loved him and believed it was my fault. When it eventually ended, I crawled into a shell to heal. I emerged a few years later wiser, stronger, and opened my heart to true love and friendship. I was stronger and I was ready.

So charge forward my beauties. Put on your armor and build an army. I will join you and never leave. Be strong, calm and forceful with the assholes you will meet — fake it until you feel it. Don’t. Back. Down. And if you feel like crying, do it LATER.

One day, you too will raise badass daughters.

FORCE FIELD

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My oldest child is leaving me. She’s flying into the future, outside my force field. I won’t be able to protect her. It doesn’t feel natural, but here we are. My herd is shrinking and my heart is breaking.

My mother did it, as did my father, both my brothers, and me. We all traveled thousands of miles from home to learn, to be uncomfortable with change, to sleep in new beds, to make new friends, to walk with strangers, and sometimes to eat dinner alone. Now it’s her turn. She is traveling 378 miles, and my force field can’t reach that far. This is natural, I’m told.

Her departure date is coming fast, and I’m trying to step around this new sadness. When I allow my toes to dip into it, I’m simply overcome. How is this natural?

When I left home 30 years ago, the shock of feeling so alone among hundreds of students lingered for months. I didn’t dare speak much and the loneliness was crippling. Yet somehow, I lived, learned, and discovered. Not all my discoveries were good, some were quite painful. And I had no force field.

She won’t have a force field either. And she may be so lonely, sad, and homesick. Ohhh.

It won’t last, trust me.

But I don’t want her to suffer for one second.

She has to learn.

I have to learn.

Oh, how I love you Saleha Mai. I must let you go, I know. I want you to see the world and meet many people who will open your heart and your mind. I want you to surround yourself with people you respect, who also will help you reach your stars.

Don’t be stingy with love, and try to love yourself as much as others love you. Always be kind and gentle to those who need it, but most of all, be kind and gentle to yourself. And remember, if you build yourself a strong sisterhood, and you will have an army to fight your life battles with you.

And never forget when you have to lick your wounds, heal your heart, or rest your soul, you can always come home to be loved and soothed. My force field will always protect you.

Fix it

Babies without their mamas
Mamas without their babies.
Children in cages.
Families separated.
I’m so sorry Mama.

Women are standing up. Shouting. Crying. Remembering.
So angry.
No one believes us.
I’m so sorry Mama.

Hate is king.
Protect the racists.
Celebrate them.
Racists walk free and proud.
I’m so sorry Mama.

Hundreds of children.
Dead from gunshots.
So many of us screaming for help.
Money makes them deaf.
I’m so sorry Mama.

Innocent young black men
Dead from police gunshots.
So many of us screaming for justice.
On our knees. They are deaf.
I’m so sorry Mama

Where is kindness.
Help him. Give him shelter
Give him hope.
No. The rich won’t get richer.
I’m so sorry Mama.

Good will is wrong.
Cruelty is right.
We have to catch the good ones.
Before they give up.
I’m so sorry Mama.

There’s so much to fix.
So many broken spirits.
So many hopeless thoughts.
Show us the way.
I’m so sorry Mama.

Love

It’s not enough. 

To just love is not enough to raise a happy child.

I am guided by love that allows me to feel her sadness, and to always know where to find that missing shoe. This love also allows me to offer up the last juicy shrimp in my bowl, and to know exactly how much salt to put on her eggs. Every time.

It’s not enough.

My legs and my heart, they’re a little wobbly. It’s getting harder to stand back up when I get knocked down by this growing, beautiful child. Her cold shoulder and harsh words overwhelm me, they make me weak. I should hide so she won’t have a target. Oh my love.

It’s not enough.

I am her ugly monster. The source of her anxiety, her stress, and everything that is wrong with her life. I can’t be spoken to, trusted, or treated like a loved one. But I have so much love.

It’s not enough.

Stay low, move quietly, and avoid direct contact. I need to repair the damage within and protect my fragile, cracking shell. She needs more than love.

It’s not enough.

Listen

In 2015 I approached the start line of my second Marine Corps Marathon convinced I was ready to kick ass. But instead my ass got kicked to the curb. I was not fit enough or ready. I didn’t listen to my body. In fact, I realized I never REALLY listen, and I have never really been honest with what I hear.

Listen2

When I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, I started fixing a few things. I got myself a personal trainer who taught me how to get stronger, leaner and more muscular. He changed the way I looked at food and nutrition. Almost a year later, With my new hardware in place I started running again. And I failed again. Still slow, still hard.

Hire a running coach, the husband said. So I did. And that’s when I learned to listen. And respond honestly.

At my first pre-dawn track workout in years, my first listening lesson began. It was hard to run and listen to my pounding heart and my mind telling me to slow down. I couldn’t silence it. But that morning, the twice-deployed soldier coach asked me if anything hurt. And an honest mental check revealed that nothing did. My exploding heart really wasn’t exploding. My hip, my legs, my knees, my feet, they all actually felt good. But it’s so hard, I said. It’s supposed to be hard he said. Keep going, said the soldier coach. And enjoy the run.

 

It was a fast track workout. And that was the beginning.

No music. Trust your body. 

Then he told me to ditch the music. Listen to your body he said. Don’t rely on music to help you when it gets tough. His instructions for my first 60-minute training run without music: 30 minutes out, and 30 minutes back. And see if you can make the second 30 minutes faster than the first. Oh, and ditch the Garmin too. Just pay attention to how you feel.

That day I listened to my footsteps and my breathing. I listened to my head saying I was tired and uncomfortable when I sped up. I asked my legs if they could go faster.  And I responded as honestly as I could. And my second 30 minutes was faster.

Week 5:

Me: I’m a little scared for Wednesday’s track workout

Soldier coach: LOL. Don’t be scared, I wouldn’t make you do anything you couldn’t do.

Me: I know. That’s what I’m afraid of.

Soldier coach: You should be scared. Scared of not doing it because you know what you can achieve when you do.

I realized then, that I have to silence the negative thoughts. I have to be completely honest with myself. If I don’t, I will fail. Again.

Homework.

For eight weeks leading up to a 10 mile race (my first in 18 months since the failed marathon), my training homework had me running, lifting weights, and paying attention to how I responded to what I heard and felt. Especially when things got tough, like that sucky 9 mile run in week 6.

Soldier coach said to mentally prepare myself and visualize how I’m going to handle it next time, so my mind will be conditioned to combat it (see reference to soldier). And for good measure he told me that if I change the way I think, I will change what I believe I’m capable of. And this is running homework, people.

I listened hard and the honesty paid off. Even during those pre-dawn 800 meter sprints.

Listen4

No, nothing hurts.

This sucks.

Hey, my heart isn’t exploding!

Why can’t I catch up to that old guy.

That felt goooood.  

I hate doing 800s.

WHAT?? I RAN 800 IN 3:50???

 

Race day.

The eternally patient and beloved husband humored my usual race-day neurosis.

No music, no Garmin. Just my watch, some water and a gel. Each mile I checked the official clock and checked in with myself. I listened.

I ran the last mile in a sub-9 pace and felt great. I beat my goal. No fuss, no muss. No music, no Garmin, no salt tabs, no cramps, no drama. Just a good run, and I enjoyed it.

I have more in the tank I texted the soldier coach after I crossed the finish line. That means you low-balled it the soldier coach responded when he saw my time. Yes I did.

So listen. And be very, very honest with how you respond. It can be a little scary, but always revealing. I’m listening to many other things too now. Clearly I didn’t just hire a running coach.

I can’t wait to discover what else I’ll hear this year.

BIG APPLE

All I had to do was take Saleha to New York. Not to Africa. And not to Haiti, where I recently saw firsthand what abject poverty looks like. It was in New York, where she learned that she can help poor and hungry people. It is a big leap for a privileged first-world teenager, who was in New York to celebrate her birthday by eating good food, shopping and sightseeing. A teenager–like thousands of others who walk on this planet in a bubble with their heads bowed to their personal electronic devices.

It started that first night with a full belly when she decided to give her leftovers to the first homeless person she saw. Twenty steps later, a very grateful woman took it, her sign declared she had three hungry children. As we walked away, Saleha declared…

…I feel bad.

Well, do you have money?

Yes.

Why don’t you buy her a meal?

Saleha’s offer was graciously turned down repeatedly. Dejected, she walked away.

One day, several conversations, many meals, and a few leftover packs of food later, I asked what we should do on our last day in New York.

I want to spend my money to buy food and give it to the homeless. And I want to find that woman.

My heart ached and soared. An antidote to the weekend of loud screaming lights, wafts of cloying perfume, hours of shopping, and the constant sightings of posters with half naked bodies promising many things. And a soothing healing balm to my own personal wounds inflicted by the teenage verbal and emotional rocks she sometimes throws at me.

After a gluttonous Sunday brunch, armed with bags of sandwiches, off we went to Central Park to find hungry homeless people.

Food

Some were easy, some were not. And we never found that woman.

This is complicated.

It sometimes is, my love.

 

When we got home, she churned ideas with a friend and they are off to pretty solid start on easy ways for people to donate money to Dimes for Dining. With the cash, they are going to make food, and I will drive them to personally feed hungry people on the street. And maybe it won’t be so complicated for right now.

So it was the big city in America that did it. Not a faraway small city with mountains and rivers of trash. It was in New York that she connected with the hungry and homeless who were surrounded by wealth and obscene overindulgence.

For her, and for now, I guess charity does start at home.