Category Archives: Zen Momma

LAX to JFK

I am currently 30,000 feet in the air, heading home to my family after one long and luxurious week on the west coast.

My jaunt began in Northern California and ended in my old Los Angeles stomping ground where this blog was conceived, along with my children and all the turmoil a 30 something’s crisis can muster.

The trip was for work, although I hardly think singing musical theatre tunes in the middle of glorious wine country could be qualified as such. None the less, I do have my paycheck tucked in my purse, safely stowed in the overhead compartment above me because items do tend to shift during flight.

Santa Rosa, just outside of San Francisco, is breathtaking, along with most everywhere else in Northern California, and my time there was scrumptious. I got to meet naptimewriting and her spouse for the first time after a year of cyber-bonding through writing, and all of us chatted over cocktails and snacks in the hotel wine bar after the performance. We could have talked for hours, but some of us had to get home to put babies to bed. Some. Myself not included. That was strange and amazing, wrapped inside a tortilla of guilt.

I spent the next day meandering through wine country with another dear friend, wondering whose life I quantum leapt into. It was surreal and odd with a devilish splash of Sauvignon Blanc and a side of Brie. Ok. Enough with the food and beverage references. Clearly I’m hungry and they don’t serve food on flights anymore. (I was given a blanket which I haven’t seen in years and I wonder how many got laid off for that cuddly perk)

Once all of my friends had left, I had an evening alone in the hotel before heading off for the second leg of my trip. It’s ironic how much we ache for this alone time, compiling mental lists of all we could accomplish if we had it, but find ourselves rather lost when blessed with silence. Mommy brains must undergo some scientific process of evolution, rendering them useless outside the midst of madness, mess and chaos.

I got nothing completed that evening, other than ingesting entirely too much food off the hotel restaurant menu while emailing a friend about how much I missed my babies.

It occurred to me at that moment that a week is an extremely long block of time. Four days might be the max for mommy-child, bi-coastal distance…just from my experience. But Los Angeles awaited, and the children were in the amazing and quite capable hands of Mr. Mom.

I landed at LAX and immediately felt like I was home. My time there would be brief so I told very few that I was coming. There were girlfriends on my list that had priority. Three of them, all of whom helped me through the insanity of being a new Mom, witnessing first-hand what I now recognize as postpartum anxiety, became pregnant before our move back east and would deliver just after we left.

“Thanks for all the help in supporting me through these couple of years and loving me in spite of all my batshit crazy, guys! Good luck! Peace out!”

How kind of me.

But these cherubs were calling, and had to be met and held by yours truly, If even for a brief moment. I was amazed and a bit humbled by how easy these ladies made it look. One was kind enough to say she learned from me, but I am quite certain I never exhibited such grace and ease with motherhood during my time in LA. A tornado, frantically spinning through the town with no clear path or direction, wreaking havoc on all who meet it, is the only picture that comes to mind.

That said, the juxtaposition during this trip was surreal. I visited all of the special hideaways that brought me peace during emotional and confusing times. I made my way to what we have named “Kennedy’s beach” and had a brief moment with our first-born. But, oddly I didn’t feel any closer to her than I do on a daily basis. It became clear yesterday, that that place was for us, to give us something symbolic to think of and visit. But our actual physical presence there isn’t necessary for her closeness.

I hiked the hike that pulled me, on a daily basis through every step of healing from her loss, trying to conceive again, and finally to a place where hope throughout my pregnancy with Zachary was allowed. If I had left a grain of sand for every agonizing thought and emotion processed on Fryman Canyon, it would be veritable trail of quicksand.

These sacred places, along with every nook and cranny surrounding them, right down to our neighborhood grocery store, brought flashes of specific moments all having to do with these emotionally dense and soul-shaping years.

As I now have some sort of direction, with a new career that invigorates and gives me purpose (I know I haven’t yet told you anything about that. See blogger’s note at the bottom) I feel like I’m visiting these places with a new set of eyes. Everything seems slower. More deliberate.

A long exhale.

So, while a week is too long, and I miss my family like the dickens, this trip was priceless in every way.

And necessary.

California will always have a substantial slice of my heart, but now it’s time to go home. My babies are waiting at JFK.

Blogger’s Note:
I will share more about the job, but it didn’t fit in this post. However, I feel it’s annoying to be so cryptic. Especially if I am going to drop off the face of the blog world for months at a time. (Which it seems I may do)

The short version:
I have been offered a performing arts teaching position at a remarkable charter school in Newark. As the top charter school in the country, it is overhauling the face of urban education. Stay tuned for more details, but I am so honored to have been chosen to be a part of this school that is literally changing lives daily…for good.

#couldn’tresist

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Termite Meditation

 

8:30 a.m.  Fresh scent of morning dew wafts through screened windows, tickling my nose and inviting inspiration.  A new spring day with endless possibilities tapping at the door.  Kids fed, dressed and playing happily in the sun-room, Daddy sipping coffee nearby as rays of crisp, clean light cascade over all three contented lovelies.

 A thought flashes before me.  Yoga!  Might I escape for a brief, but sacred moving meditation to stretch away the cobwebs that have nestled within my neglected joints?
I arrive at class with seconds to spare and settle onto my mat, my temple of solitude. I am equally inspired by an enlightened guru of a teacher who chose deep Ujjayi (oo-Juh-eye-ee) breathing as the day’s main focus, and depart with even more refreshed enthusiasm for this day than before, all the way home hydrating my cells with deep, glorious, soul-filling breath.
As I walk my joyful and invigorated self across the threshold of my home, I am greeted by the vision of my husband and children crawling around on their hands and knees chasing after an army of scattering bugs.  Lovely sight, armies of bugs.  Even more lovely as they dance, crawl and flutter around on top of, under, and in every nook and cranny of each of the 486 toys that line the playroom walls and floor.
Termites.
It seems our rental home is infested with termites. I take a deep breath in, still basking in the glow of my yogic trance, calmly make the necessary phone calls to have the problem taken care of, put the kids down for their naps and move the entire contents of the playroom outside for a thorough and deep cleaning.
We sit on the deck atop creepy crawly wool rugs, amidst a sea of contaminated toys.  The afternoon sun hugs us as a pitying consolation for the madness that is our lives, and the breeze of this May-ish March whispers through the blossoms as a reminder that all things shall pass.
In our quick ipad termite research, we learn that these rapidly breeding insects lose their wings once they find a place in which to colonize. Picking tiny translucent flyers off of our babies’ past times, we are aware that they have found their cozy nesting ground in which to rest their bellies, bloated with wood and quiet their busy little antennas.
I like to think of these wings as one may think of petals on a daisy. Refreshing signs of the cycle of life on a summer afternoon, all organisms playing their vital role in the ecosystem.
Ujjayi breath in…. One toy disinfected. Ujjayi breath out…. Exterminator announces his arrival. Ujjayi breath in…. Tiny black eggs sucked into a vacuum bag. Ujjayi breath out…. We have too many toys anyway. Ujjayi breath in…. We had felt like failures for not yet owning our home. Ujjayi breath out…. Thank the Lord Almighty we don’t own our home.  Ujjay breath in…. The kids are sleeping. Ujjayi breath out….the bedrooms are pest free. Ujjayi breath in….bad things happen in three’s. Ujjayi breath out…I think this counts as three.
3.) Crumbling foundation with millions of antennaed house guests.
But should this occurrence lack substantial enough poundage to qualify as an acceptable number three , may my writing not be misconstrued as seduction of a replacement number three.   I think we are done.
Maybe?
Please?
Perhaps?
Blogger’s Note: Yes. The answer is yes. I have gone completely googley eyed, Gene Wilder in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, stark-raving mad.

Hangin’ With the Ducks

Playful, brisk breezes
Dancing on
Rings of rippling water
Wings flapping overhead
Symphonic swoosh
Feathered creatures
Birds, geese, ducks
Tweeting, honking, quacking
Calls and answers in their communal habitat.





I have about five hours of “free” time per week. Both of our families live on the opposite coast, so there is no dropping the kids off with Mom to run an errand or two.  I get a babysitter that we really can’t afford, two days a week for two and a half hours each day. Such a blessing, but never enough time.   Usually I have the best intentions for these limited hours.  I plan to take a yoga class, or a hike, or to just sit in a coffee shop and read.

Well, I can count on one finger how many times in the past 6 months I have actually used this coveted time in such a way. I wind up going to the grocery store, talking on the phone, taking one of the kids to the doctor, or driving aimlessly, wondering what on earth I am doing driving on the traffic jammed highways of Los Angeles with no destination.

Today, although I had many chances to diverge away from my intended path, with 25 other things on my list, I forced myself to take a small 1 hour retreat to a secluded pond, one of the Valley’s best kept secrets.

As I sat and allowed my breath to sweep through dust and cobwebs in neglected places, my mind slowed, my shoulders found respite from my ears, and my soul emerged to shake my hand, almost as if to say “Hey there. Haven’t seen you in awhile. Should we start from the beginning?”

As the saying goes, “you must secure your own mask before assisting others”. Yes. We all know that. Nothing new. Why then, is it so hard to remember or follow through with?  While it is wonderful to talk to friends with whom we never get to finish sentences, and necessary to prepare meals and run errands, it is just as imperative to be still, and reacquaint ourselves with…ourselves.

So, in answer to a question in my previous post about why some of us as mothers feel insecure at times, I’ll pose another question. How can we be secure with someone we hardly know? Perhaps we just need to reconnect with who we are sans labels… Mom, Wife, Artist, Employee, Boss, Sister, Friend, etc.

If I don’t take time to open my arms up to myself, I can’t very well open them up to anyone else, can I?  Maybe this would explain my short fuse and lack of patience lately with normal two-year-old behavior.

As mothers, time to do this is limited, if nonexistent, and yet maybe more necessary than for any other. So, as I have been looking for the “Off” switch on the treadmill for quite some time, today it was just a matter of simply stepping off and hanging with the ducks.

Yes, dinner was left unprepared, and voicemails and emails remain unanswered, but thank God for takeout and tomorrows.  What small thing can you do for yourself today to “hang with the ducks”?



P.S.
After several people alerted me to the fact that they attempted to comment on this blog and were unable, I investigated.  It seems as though “blogger” has been trying to rectify a technical problem with the “embedded comment form”.  I have changed the format, hopefully avoiding the issue. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what all of you have to say, and how much I LOVE all of my facebook messages, but if you have attempted to comment here and have been unable, please be so kind as to try again and let me know if you still encounter a problem.

Oh, blissful phase…wont you stay and play?

I understand that my entries are not nearly as amusing when I am not in a state of complete panic, ready to check myself into a mental ward and about to sell my children to the highest bidder. But, I must apologize for my lack of entertainment and cautiously admit that we are in a place of glorious balance at the moment. Zachary is behaving as if he has entered some sort of “most angelic two year old” contest and Isabelle is, well, Isabelle…delightful even with sunscreen and sand in her eyes.
My son has been walking around saying things like, “Mommy? Would you like some water?” And, if accidentally bumps into one of us, says  “Oops. I’m sorry. Can I kiss it?”  And, can’t seem to pass by his sister without a sweet peck on her forehead and an offer of his favorite toy.   Um…who is this little person who used to resemble Bam Bam in more ways than one?  His communication abilities seem to have progressed overnight, leaving us to feel as though the foreign exchange student we’ve been housing has actually known English all along, and has just now decided it’s time to stop the insanity.
So for now, that highest bidder will have to wait before purchasing my children, and my readers may feel nostalgia for the original “on the verge of a breakdown” author.   But, lest you worry, I believe I stated in a not too far off post, that these periods are usually the calm before the storm.  Massive upheaval is surely just around the corner, whether it be caused by new teeth, a cognitive burst (a term that is supposed to make us feel better about being awakened every hour), a germ from the park, or just plain boredom with being agreeable. But, if you would like me to hurry it along, perhaps a trip to the beach is in order.
P.S.
As I write this, my child has decided that a 20 minute nap should suffice for the day….that tragic post is surely on its way.

"How was home?"

To work or not to work?  A decision for many of us that is not as much based on desire as it is dictated by circumstance…especially at this current time.  But, it has been coming up a lot with friends and acquaintances of mine.  Those that work 40+ hour weeks are yearning to roll around on the floor with edible baby toes in their faces, and those of us that are home full time are dying to brush our hair, put on a pants suit (or in my case, a pair of tap shoes) and flex some of our long forgotten muscles.  It is not a new hypothesis that the part- time scenario offers the best of both worlds, although I hear that too comes with its disadvantages.  Nothing is perfect.

I have struggled with figuring out how to embrace this new vocation while not having to watch my original career float away on a helium balloon. From age 5, my talents as a performer made up almost 100 percent of who I thought Emily Smith was, and if I may be so bold, I had some success within my field.  It was never my intention (and isn’t still) to enter into motherhood with a ceremonial waive of farewell to this huge slice of myself.  So, as each day passes and that balloon seems but a tiny speck in the sky, I dig my heels further in.  However, it has occurred to me that maybe one of the things keeping me from immersing myself into these limited days of puzzles, purees and pat-a- cake, is the fear that in so doing, a crucial part of me is dying.
However, weeks like this make me want to sing praises for the gift of this time at home.  I have been able to bask in the delightful sunshine of my children, and ironically feel more in the head space than ever to be creative and accept work, should the opportunity arise.  Someone said to me “Emily, you can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time.”  I fought this statement tooth and nail, and in protest, last year piled way too much on my plate.  Starring in a show, 24 weeks pregnant, alone with a 10 month old with my husband 8 hours away, was possibly up there with one of the most insane endeavors of my lifetime.   What on earth, except that the term “nervous breakdown” is not always used as a hyperbole, was I trying to prove, and to whom?!
So, this beautiful and rewarding week ended with a perfect Broadway button.  Zachary has picked up our dinnertime pleasantries, and at the table every evening turns to Steve and says “How was work?”  Tonight he added to his dialogue with a turn to me and said “How was home?”  
“Home was good Zachary. Home was really, really good.”
P.S.  What’s a pants suit?

A break in the fog

I think I have yet to explain the actual title of this blog.  Mother “fog” doesn’t only apply to the flightiness and lack of memory that mothers often joke about, but also to a rather significant haze that many of us feel throughout the first year and beyond.  I have spent some time discussing this with friends of mine.  Some are mothers, some are health care professionals and some are both. I have even gone as far as to discuss it with my own doctors to be sure I am not ignoring signs of something more significant.  The answers I have gotten have been somewhat unanimous.  This is just what should be expected. The first few years of motherhood, women most often find themselves in survival mode, especially once the second child is born so closely on the heels of the first.   Even more so, for those us that struggle with rigid perfectionism. 
While on one hand, it is reassuring to hear that I am not crazy, it is also disheartening to think that I have to merely “survive” this precious time in my life and the lives of my children.  I don’t want to wake up clear headed one day 3 years from now and realize I have blindly barreled through a few of the sweetest years of my babies’ lives.  Right now, there seems to be a constant static, leaving me feeling frantic and unfocused.  When visiting with friends during playdates or parties, I often feel like I’m running behind the conversation or racing 5 miles in front of it. Never right on top of it.  I want so desperately to fully drop into my life with my kids and savor every minute.  Notice I did not say “love” every minute, as I believe that is unattainable.  But, “savor” the good, the bad and all of the chaos in between.
It breaks my heart to say that I have not been able to do this since Isabelle was born. And if I am to be painfully honest, probably much longer before that.  Since the loss of our first baby girl, late in the pregnancy, I have literally spent the last 3 years going from grieving, to obsessively trying to conceive, to pregnant, to figuring out how to be a Mom, to surprisingly pregnant again.  I am just now attempting to catch my breath if not my hormones.
But today was my baby’s birthday.  My precious little boy, whom I love in a way that is indescribable, turned 2.  What better day for the sun to break through than today?  Steve and I went back and forth for 2 months with different birthday party ideas.   Do we host a party here? At a park? An indoor playroom?  Any idea we came up with required a lot of work and energy (which I don’t have right now) or a rather large sum of money when all was said and done.   At this particular time, this seemed silly for us, if not irresponsible.  So we decided that at age 2, it would be just as special for Zachary to celebrate his birthday with us, at home.
So, that’s just what we did.  Mommy, Daddy, Isabelle and an 8 dollar cake Zachary picked out at Ralphs Supermarket.  He chose the green and blue one and called it “broccoli cake” and shouted “Happy Birthday!” all through the store.  The simplicity of our economical decision, turned out to be perfect in more ways than one.  Not only would this “overly concerned about others’ needs and well being” mother,  have not been able to pay any attention to the birthday boy if hosting a party, either at home or a rented space, but the spontaneity and lack of commotion brought out something special in Zachary.  His energy is joyful and infectious most of the time, I have to say, but witnessing his exuberance over every birthday related discovery was pure magic, in no other terms.  I have been desperately trying to simplify and slow down for months, and for some reason, today of all blessed days, it happened on its own.
Do I believe that Zachary suffered for lack of a birthday extravaganza, filled with lots of friends, party games and presents? I am absolutely certain (and I am certain of very little these days), that he did not.   We’ll save that for birthday number 3.  Perhaps the 100% presence of his Mommy, along with his Daddy, his sister, and a new tee ball set was everything this 2 year old could ask for.  And, the fact that I got to truly experience it with every piece of me is just the icing on the cake.

Memories Made…Memories Lost



The Country Wagon – Maine, NY



This is a picture of the Country Wagon.  A produce market and gift shop in the upstate New York town of Maine, and a place that holds many beloved childhood memories for me.  My home town, and many surrounding, recently experienced catastrophic flooding as a result of tropical storm Lee, and is vastly under water.  As I flip through these pictures, I can’t help but be overcome with sadness and nostalgia for my somewhat of a fairy-tale childhood.  Right out of a chapter of Anne of Green Gables, the Country Wagon provided many summer and fall family excursions to pick peas, strawberries, apples or the perfectly shaped pumpkin on a crisp and colorful October afternoon. 
Although my family lost the entire contents of their basements filled with 5 and 6 feet of water, it is nothing in contrast to the devastation people have experienced, as entire homes have literally floated away leaving them with nothing.  But among those contents was a 30 year collection of photo albums and video tapes that my late Father painstakingly created of every event throughout our childhood and early adult years.  It has left me questioning what it means to truly create memories. 
We all have different ways of holding onto our most cherished things and loved ones.  My Father clung to his video camera at every function and spent hours afterward re-watching and editing for future posterity.  I have very vivid memories of him sitting on the couch and watching a performance of my sisters’ and me over and over, with an expression that I understand now to have been pure and tremendous pride.  As has often happened since the birth of my children, I am revisiting much of his behaviors and habits as I recognize them so clearly in myself.   Now, through a parent’s eye, I understand them on a different level.  I too, seem to be quite obsessed with creating digital memories.  In fact, one of the many things adding to the constant feeling of “catch up”, is the fact that I have yet to complete photo books 2009 and 2010. They have been on a “to do” list every day for over a year.  Now, as hundreds of VHS video tapes lay on the grass, in my mother’s futile attempt to preserve them, I am left to wonder what we do this for.  What is this magical time in the future for which we are waiting to revisit these memories? And, does it in fact keep us quite distant from experiencing our lives fully right now? 
I say this with the acceptance that I will continue to carry around my flip video camera and create movies of my children.  I get as much joy out of making and sharing them as I understand my Father did.  At the time, I remember being frustrated that his camera was a constant appendage and wishing he could just simply “be” at the event and enjoy it.  So, while I can appreciate now his need to savour these moments, I wonder if my children have the same sense that I am not always “present” and with them.  However, perhaps on some level it is because of the “fog” and chaos I’m feeling so frequently, that I feel the need to capture so many moments, for fear that I am not quiet and centered enough to remember them.   Either way, as I think about the untimely death of my Father and wonder how much he actually got to enjoy his masterpieces, I feel that maybe the practice simply calls for more awareness.
 We live in a world that is rapidly becoming completely technological.  Every phone and gadget has a camera and these snapshots and videos can be shared instantly across cyberspace.  “Hold still!  Let me grab my phone! I’ve got to send this to Nana!”  Instead of “Wow!  You guys look so silly and adorable right now.  Can I join you as you make each other giggle with funny faces?”  While I am so thankful to be able to share these tender and funny moments with my family, whom all live 3000 miles away, I might try to practice more mindfulness throughout the day and absorb some of these treasured “snapshots” with a deep breath and sigh of gratitude just for myself.      
If you would like to contribute to the Flood Relief efforts,  please click on this link
Thank you