Uterus on Wheels

I have a love-hate relationship with my minivan.

It’s mostly love.  Ninety percent love.  OK, eighty-five percent.  I remember being in my 20’s and scoffing at the 30- and 40-somethings around me who had embraced the minivan stage of life, and thinking, “I will NEVER be that person.  There is no way I will ever drive a minivan.  Ever”  And yet, here I am, rocking my 2011 Honda Odyssey.  Black, because that makes it look sexy.  Power doors, so that they can magically open with the light touch of a button on my key fob, fascinating and delighting my children time and time again.

My two work BFF’s and I used to have matching Honda minivans, parked side-by-side in our parking lot at work, announcing to the world our position in life without a word. My one friend coined the term “Uterus on Wheels” (UOW) when referring to her minivan, which is the most sad yet accurate description I have heard yet.  She once threatened to hang a set of truck nuts from her bumper to balance out the estrogen that seems to ooze from every crevice.  Instead she traded her UOW for a sporty little BMW.   Mid-life crisis if you ask me, and unwise at this time when storage and function simply must take precedence over vanity.

I was recently at my local Honda dealership for a service appointment, and while I was there one of the salesmen was trying to talk me into buying a new car.
“What are you driving now?”, he asked me.
“A Honda Odyssey”, I replied.
“You got kids?  Married?” he inquired, and this is where I gave him the side-eye.  I mean, does he know a lot of single gals without a partner and a gaggle of kids who drive around in minivans for giggles?

My husband was devastated when we first took the plunge into minivan-land.  We were both 32 at the time, with a 2 year-old and another on the way.  The day we picked it up and drove off the lot, he appeared humbled and ashamed, his manhood challenged.  Would he be strong enough to drive a UOW?  Could he withstand this assault on his testosterone levels?  He started calling it the “family mobile”, and I told my 2-year old that our new van was a “cool car”.  He repeated the phrase “cool car” in his cute little toddler voice which always intoned upward at the end of every phrase, so that each time he said it, it sounded like a question.  “Cool car?  Cool car?”  Allllll the way home, we rode in our cool car (?), our toddler repeating his mantra from the back seat as if to convince us both that if you say it enough, it must be true.

But my new van WAS cool, especially with my pregnant belly and a toddler in arms.   I no longer had to bend over and strain my back as I once did in my 4-door sedan to buckle my little one into his car seat.  Loading up the trunk after my weekly grocery haul was a breeze, and we had room for all the toddler and baby paraphernalia on our road trips to see family.

My kids are bigger now, but the UOW is still working overtime.  My husband has since bought a Toyota Tacoma for him to drive, likely an effort to recover his manhood.  He looks really cool in it, but guess what?  It still doesn’t haul as much stuff as my uterus.  Anytime he has to haul a big load, the uterus gets it done.  Road trips are always a job for the UOW, which easily accommodates all of the suitcases, coolers, bikes, toys, and people that we need to bring with us.  The man-mobile just can’t manage quite as much.  There may be a metaphor in there.

All that said, my UOW is not without its faults.  Her turning radius–not so good.  I had an angry man in a little compact sedan flip me off the other week when I underestimated the breadth of my turn while coming out of a school parking lot onto a narrow side street, causing him to have to hit the brakes.  Never mind that he was barreling down a side street adjacent to a school about 30 miles over the speed limit. Jerk. Move out of the way, dude–my uterus is coming at you!  Your compact sedan must yield in my wake!

Parking can be a challenge. It’s kind of like trying to wiggle into a pair of skinny jeans one size too small. On a good day if you come at it from the right angle, it’s possible.  But it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes once you get in, you can’t get out.  Then you have to open the door a tiny crack, suck in, and scootch out, praying that the person beside you won’t leave an angry note on your windshield.  And parallel parking?  Fuggeddaboutit.  Just don’t.

She’s looking a little beat up these days, my UOW.  She is bearing the scars of life with a young family.  In this way, I feel like we understand each other.  She has some exterior scratches, and the other day she had an unfortunate encounter with a deer.  She tries to be pretty, but it’s really an uphill battle for her, what with the constant stream of Goldfish crackers getting ground into her upholstery and the dead bugs freckling her front-side.  Her windows hide secret messages and pictures that can only be seen from the inside when the glass fogs up.  We could probably survive at least 2 days after an apocalypse in there between the snack remnants that have fallen between the seat cracks and the half-empty water bottles camping out in all of the cup-holders.   No one cares about washing the UOW consistently, though sometimes she is the recipient of a homespun car wash in the driveway, with kids in bathing suits who only manage to get her streaky-clean at best, and even with that her upper third goes completely untouched. I don’t think the UOW cares, nor do I, since we both know it is just a matter of time before the rain comes to wash away the soapy streaks.  She is the embodiment of functionality.  And I love her, streaks and all.

The other day, hubby said that we probably won’t need our UOW much longer, now that the kids are getting older.  He proposed getting a bigger truck for him, and downsizing my car.  “But, what about all the high-school friends I will have to shuttle to and fro?  And the family road trips?  What about college move-in days??”  He’s clearly not thinking this through all the way to the end.  We’re not ready for a vehicular hysterectomy quite yet, in my opinion.

So in the meantime, I shall drive my uterus proudly through town, racking up the miles and the memories, angering hurried men in compact sedans and inciting jeers from twenty year-olds who look upon my streaky, bug-speckled van and say, “I will never drive a minivan.”

 

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Questions for Deepak Chopra

The other day I was listening to a podcast, in which Oprah was interviewing Deepak Chopra on the subject of meditation.  They spent some time talking about the well-established benefits of meditation, in addition to how Deepak himself practices daily. Though some Christians would criticize a practice of meditation as being “new age” or in some way counter to their faith, he explained how it is actually a vehicle we can use that allows our mind to be quiet enough to hear the voice of God.  I enjoyed this part of the conversation, and as someone who started practicing yoga a little over a year ago, I can fully see the benefit of learning to turn down the background noise in order to pay attention to that “still small voice”.

Of the benefits that he himself experienced, he said that he had no one he needs to forgive, and he does not have any stress.  When queried, Deepak told Oprah that he meditates for 2 hours in the morning, in addition to a half- hour to one hour in the afternoon.  [insert record scratch sound]

Wait, what?

OK, now I just have a lot of questions.  I know Deepak probably doesn’t read my blog (YET!).  However, I am still going to raise these questions directly to you, Deepak. I feel it will be the most direct way for me to try to get to the truth of the matter.

First of all, Deepak, you said that in order to meditate effectively one must be well-rested, or else one will find themselves falling asleep.  This makes perfect sense.  However, you then went on to tell us that you meditated from 4-6 AM every morning.  This, for me, was the most troubling section of the podcast.  Four in the morning, Deepak?  Deepak, what is your bedtime?  According to my calculations, this would mean that in order to get enough sleep to be adequately prepared for a 4 AM wake up call, you would have to get your peaceful butt in bed by 8 PM, maybe 8:30 at the latest.

And Deepak, if your bedtime is indeed between 8-8:30 pm, this raises a whole other set of questions for me.  Like, when do you fold your laundry?

What time do you eat dinner?  Are you one of those people that shows up at restaurants at 4:30 PM for the early bird special?  I’m just asking because you know it’s not really good for your digestion to lie down to sleep right after dinner.  So if you eat at 6:30 or 7 PM and then you have to go to bed an hour later, I’m just worried you’re going to get indigestion or something.

When do you watch Homeland and Breaking Bad and House of  Cards and all those other swear-y TV shows that are inappropriate to watch in front of young children so you have to wait until they go to bed?

Speaking of children, when your kids were young, what time did they go to bed?  Did you go to bed before them?  When they were doing the bedtime stalling thing where they get up and down 17 times for water and one more hug and please close my closet door, and I’m scared and et cetera, did this interfere with your pre-meditation sleep sesh?  What if they had a bad dream or puked in their bed in the middle of the night or something like that?  This adequate rest + waking at 4 AM thing is not adding up for me.  I feel confident that I could do either of those things individually, but not both at the same time.  How do you do both, Deepak?

Do you ever hit snooze and skip the meditation in favor of sleep?  If so, approximately how often does this happen?

Is coffee allowed at morning meditation?

I don’t know about you Deepak, but my children have this uncanny ability that causes them to know when I am awake.  Maybe they are light sleepers simply responding to the faint creaking of the stairs underfoot, or perhaps something more calculated is occurring.  Either way, I am quite certain I would have some inquires at some point along the lines of, “what are you doing mom?”  If this happens, say, an hour into my two-hour session, do I have to start all over, Deepak?  If I get agitated about my meditation getting interrupted by small people, does this negate the benefits for me?  Can I still successfully meditate with two people watching me and asking me rapid-fire questions?


In regard to your afternoon meditation session, my question is this:  Deepak, do you have a cloak of invisibility?  Like the one from Harry Potter?  If not, how do you get people to leave you alone for that length of time?  How is it that no one interrupts you?  I’m just asking because I myself have not had an uninterrupted shower in over a decade, and even attempts at defecation are, in the eyes of the people I live with, perfectly good opportunities to ask me questions such as, “Do you know what the weather is going to be like today?”, or “Can you toast me a bagel?”

Does lying on your side in the fetal position whilst seething with resentment count as “meditation”, Deepak?  Asking for a friend.

I know you’re probably too busy to respond directly to my inquiries, Deepak, what with being a doctor, an author , a sought-after speaker, and a spiritual guru, in addition to your time-consuming meditation schedule.  I think you would probably tell me to start with small increments of time and work my way up, and I think this is sound advice.  So right now I am playing hide-and-seek with the family and I found a really good hiding spot, and I am being as quiet as I can.  Hopefully this will last 3 whole minutes before someone finds me, so if the Divine voice has anything to say to me, He better do it quick.  Full disclosure:  I didn’t actually tell my family  we were playing hide-and-seek.  I just hid.  Is that a good start, Deepak?

I admire you Deepak, I really do.  Maybe one day you and I can meditate together, and you can show me how your cloak of invisibility works.  Let’s do it at your house, OK?  My house is a little crazy.

Superfoods

Something in my fridge stinks and I don’t know what it is.

No lie–I have a super power.  I can smell things before other people can smell them.  I think I am part hound.  Or I was a hound in a previous life.  I can walk into my kitchen and smell that there is something amiss.  “What is that smell?”, I ask my family, my face contorted in disgust.  They all shrug and bite into their waffles, and my husband rolls his eyes, because I probably say “What is that smell?” or “Something stinks in here” at least 4 times a day, and everybody’s tired of it.  But then–THEN–2 weeks later we will be cooking spaghetti sauce and I will ask that same husband to reach into the pantry and grab me an onion, and he will emerge with a full-on rotting onion, all soft and dripping rotten onion juice, and I will say:  “HA!  I TOLD YOU SOMETHING WAS STINKY IN HERE!”

I have not figured out how to use my super powers for anything other than driving my family crazy and occasionally sniffing out rotten food 2 weeks before it is actually rotten.  It’s really a burden more than a gift.  It’s not like I’m one of those dogs who can smell when someone has cancer or something cool like that.  It’s more like I will be laying in my bed at night and feel completely distracted and unable to sleep because I can smell that something in the kitchen downstairs is decidedly not right but I couldn’t find it on my pre-bedtime stink search so now I’m just laying in bed smelling it and wondering what it is and trying to ignore it so I can go to sleep but I CAN’T GO TO SLEEP BECAUSE I CAN SMELL IT, so then I have to put Vick’s Vapo-Rub under my nose so I can finally go to sleep.

Anyhow, this fridge business is different than the onion business, because everyone can smell it, not just me.  That’s how you know it’s bad.  I have been through that fridge at least a half-dozen times in the past 3 days, sniffing and wiping and scrutinizing its contents.  Yesterday I roasted up 3 heads of broccoli, just to get it out of the fridge.  It was still fresh, but you know how sometimes those cruciferous vegetables can emit that certain odor?  I had to get the broccoli out of the mix, just to narrow things down.

The only thing left that might be questionable is the kale.

I mean, it looks fine.  It’s in a bag, and it’s not slimy or anything.  But it’s kale.  It’s easy to blame things on kale, I think.  I started eating kale as I was approaching 40 because it’s good for you, and it’s a superfood and all.  I have this complicated relationship with kale because I don’t love it, but if it’s prepped right I don’t hate it either.  It’s growing on me.  And after I eat it I just feel like the biggest superstar, because I just ate a superfood.  So I’m trying to eat more of it, and I try to sneak it into recipes, much to my children’s chagrin.  So this morning after opening the fridge, the husband said, “Just throw out the kale!”  But I feel guilty.  I should eat the kale, because it’s good for me and all the health experts say it prevents cancer and is a good source of antioxidants.  But realistically, how much kale can I eat in one sitting?  Also, what if I throw away the kale and then the fridge still stinks?  You see my dilemma.

And then this morning the husband was in the crisper and found a little nubbin of an English cucumber that was all soft and macerated and sitting in its own cucumber juice there in the corner of the drawer, cleverly hiding under the tomatoes.  Could this nubbin have been the source of our fridge odor?  I have to tell you, it was nasty and drippy, but I sniffed it with my super-smeller and it really was not emitting any smell at all, which is impressive if you think about it.  The bag of kale doesn’t smell either, but I think all of these vegetables are LYING TO ME.  I just gave a whole bunch of celery the boot last night because it was looking a little brown around the edges of the leaves.  I HAVE NO PATIENCE FOR BROWN CELERY LEAVES.

I guess I could spend a little time today making up a fresh batch of kale chips with all of the kale that I feel guilty throwing away.  Except for one small problem:  Kale chips sound disgusting.  I have saved many a recipe to my Pinterest boards for kale chips, but I have not yet been able to bring myself to actually make them.  Chips are made of potatoes or corn.  End of story.  Bake them, fry them, cook them in a kettle, whatever.  They are one of life’s simple pleasures.  They are perfection.  To try to imitate this perfection with a cruciferous vegetable just seems wrong.  I can’t do it.  And you know that I would be the only one eating them.  No way that I could convince my two kids to eat chips made of kale.  And then if they were gross I would feel guilty throwing them away.  Because of the antioxidants.  You can’t just throw antioxidants into the garbage next to brown celery leaves and macerated cucumber nubbins.

So here’s what’s on the menu today:

Breakfast:  Smoothies made with bananas, berries, and kale
Snack:  Massaged kale, drizzled with a citrus dressing and tossed with walnuts and dried cranberries
Lunch:  Quinoa and mixed vegetable salad (featuring:  kale)
Dinner:  Teriyaki vegetables with rice noodles, edamame, and a side of sautéed kale.
Snack:  My tears
Midnight snack:  An entire bag of tortilla chips, with a side of Lay’s Classic.

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A Midsummer Maternal Airing of Grievances

It’s getting kinda crazy up in here, people.  My children have been out of school for exactly a month now.  We have about 6.5 weeks left to go.  Holy crap, I just looked that up to be sure.  That’s longer than I thought!

I’m trying to enjoy summer with the kids, really I am.  We made our summer “bucket list” in June, and everyone contributed all of their very excellent and creative and expensive ideas about how we, as a family, can squeeze every ounce of fun out of our short Upstate New York summer.  Never mind the fact that in order to execute all of these fun things on the bucket list, both the hubby and I would need to get second jobs to have the money to pay for all the amusement park fees and movie tickets and road trip expenses, and then NOT ACTUALLY SHOW UP TO WORK AT ALL for 4 straight weeks so that we have the time to have all the fun.  Who’s stupid idea was a summer bucket list anyway?  My kids learned about this from school.  They actually came home with a drawing of a bucket that they had colored and cut out, and there was lined paper on the front to write out all the ways that they hoped that their parents would disappoint them over the summer.

Let me give you an example to illustrate how well our family activities are going so far this summer.  This is an actual conversation that occurred in the car today:

Kid:  You know what we should do?  We should go play glow golf!  It’s so fun!  I played it at a birthday party last year!

Other kid:  Yeah!  Glow golf!

Me:  Glow golf?  That sound fu–

Husband (interrupts):  Are you kidding me?  You guys are the WORST to play golf with!  Every time we go golfing you fight over who’s going to go first, and cry if your ball goes in the water, and someone has a meltdown before we even get to the second hole.  NO WAY am I golfing with you guys.

–silence–

So, yeah.

When it comes to parenting and family life, I usually look for the path of least resistance.  Typically, I’m all about keeping things simple, planning in down-time, and not over-scheduling our lives.  Everything with parenting has been feeling really hard and sticky and overly busy and difficult since summer started, and I haven’t been able to get a grip on why that is. Where are you, path of least resistance?  And that’s when it occurred to me.  THERE IS NO PATH.  There may be a path from September through May, but in the summer, the path is hidden under piles of Goldfish crackers (also lovingly referred to as lunch), popsicle wrappers, summer camp schedules, wet bathing suits, and a huge pile of laundry that multiplies exponentially every hour because everyone changes their clothes four times a day.

Let’s talk about the fighting.  Good Lord, please make it stop.  I know my mother is laughing right now and you can just stop it, mom.

And bedtime. Disastrous.  Every night.  I never told them they were exempt from bedtime in the summer.  But they seem to think that bedtime should be optional when school is not in session, so every night is like trying to herd wandering cats.  Listen kids, if you want me to like you in the morning, you need to be in bed by 9 pm.  End of story. Feel free to go at 8:30 pm for bonus points.

Don’t get me started on the mess.  No one can “remember” to hang up their wet towel, or put their dishes in the dishwasher, or put things away.    I told the kids I felt like a broken record, and they were all like, “What’s a record?”

I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but some days it feels a little bit like a house arrest situation.  My guards are short, demanding, prone to mood swings, and hungry all the time.  They do not allow me to have showers or bathroom breaks without supervision.  They follow me everywhere. They interrogate me multiple times per day, often until I am close to tears.  Their main tactics to break my spirit are constant interruptions, talking to me before my morning caffeine load, and repeating my name over and over.  Sometimes I am allowed out of the house to drive them places or to gather additional rations.  Sometimes they bring their friends over to help them make large amounts of noise.

In addition to driving everyone to and fro, the extra laundry, refereeing the fights, getting harassed poolside, and reading the same sentence in my book over and over (see constant interruptions in the previous paragraph!), I also have to make time to prevent summer slide.  I usually don’t even think about summer slide until it is the end of the day, and then it’s too late!  They have already slid.  They are sliding, a little each day, and it’s all my fault.  Today I broke our screen time rule and let them play video games for 2 hours straight because I just needed some peace and quiet and yes, it was glorious for me.

Moms and dads, fess up.  Tell me what your summer looks like.  Not your Instagram version, but the real stuff.  The messy stuff.  We need to talk about it.  I can’t be the only one.

Processing:  Little by little

During our last few days in Haiti my roommate said that she felt like she was in some kind of suspended state, like when you’re waiting for a webpage to load and just watching that annoying circle go around and around.  There’s never much time to think or process while we are there and actually in it.  But we know that the emotions, the changes in our perspective, the shades of grey that start to cover over what was once black and white are all there, just waiting to download.  I have been home for about a week now, and the download is still trickling in, little by little, in between the busyness of family life.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sit in a decompression chamber for 24 hours after my trip, which would have been really helpful.  I was just thrown right back into life and work and parenting and all that craziness.

This daily meditation popped into my inbox the other day from Richard Rohr, who is a Franciscan monk and one of my favorite teachers right now.  It seemed fitting for me, pondering the issues of social justice within the larger framework of my faith:

Francis of Assisi taught us the importance of living close to the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts in society. The outer poverty, injustice, and absurdity around us mirror our own inner poverty, injustice, and absurdity. The poor man or woman outside is an invitation to the poor man or woman inside. As you nurture compassion and sympathy for the brokenness of things, encounter the visible icon of the painful mystery in “the little ones,” build bridges between the inner and outer, learn to move between action and contemplation, then you’ll find compassion and sympathy for the brokenness within yourself.

Each time I was recovering from cancer, I had to sit with my own broken absurdity as I’ve done with others at the jail or hospital or sick bed. The suffering person’s poverty is visible and extraverted; mine is invisible and interior, but just as real. I think that’s why Jesus said we have to recognize Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. It was for our redemption, our liberation, our healing—not just to “help” others and put a check on our spiritual resume.

I can’t hate the person on welfare when I realize I’m on God’s welfare. It all becomes one truth; the inner and the outer reflect one another. As compassion and sympathy flow out of us to any marginalized person for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 108-110.

In Haiti, it’s not hard to find brokenness.  There is greed, there is violence, there is darkness, there is homelessness, hunger, sickness, and pain.  Not so different from my own country.  As privileged as we are, we don’t get to escape the human condition.  It is a different flavor, but it is the same brew.  As Mama T said, “Calcutta is everywhere, if only we have eyes to see”.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the social, economic, and cultural nuances at play in Haiti.  I have so much to learn.  But mostly I am learning more about my own self.  Every time I see something that looks broken, regardless of whether I stand in the dusty streets of Port-au-Prince or on my own green lawn which is slowly being overtaken by crabgrass, I am learning to look inward first–to hold up the mirror.  I’m not good at it yet.  I would rather turn the mirror the other way and spout my opinion about what others (be it government, society, institutions, or individuals) need to change, than to stare hard at what is looking at me right in the face.


The processing is going to take a while.  It’s almost too much to do all at once, like staring directly into the sun.  I take one piece out at a time and turn it over a few times, carry it around in my pocket, then look at it again later.  Each time I see something new.  Or something really old, but in a new way.

Photo credit: Amanda Ellison

I haven’t been able to answer very well when people ask me, “how was your trip?”.  It was a lot of things, but it’s not easy to sum up in a few neat sentences.  I’m just going to carry it around in my pocket for a bit longer and let it all percolate, little by little.