The Road to 2020

It’s the last day of the year––and the last day of the decade–– and like many of you, I find myself staring back down the road at the past ten years. I started this decade as a single mom of two tween girls, and pregnant with my son. I was broke, in so very many ways other than just financial. I lived in a tiny, 600-square-foot apartment, not far from my home now, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I was still searching for the truth of life in others back then, still looking beyond myself for what I needed. I was still plugged into the world of cable TV, materialism, the standard American diet, and what other people thought of me. It had no idea how to find more. I was surviving. That’s the best way I could put it. 

What I ate, who I chose to listen to, and who I spent my time with. What I found valuable, who I admired, and how I treated others. All of it wasmy very best back then. That isn’t an excuse––it’s merely a part of my story. I had so much to learn. Looking back over the chasm created this past 10 years gives so much perspective as to how I’ve changed. 

Growth rarely comes easily, and it’s been a rough decade. It was wonderful, too. I met my husband and we bought a big, beautiful house and poverty stopped being my reality. My mom’s health deteriorated and she died. My two oldest daughters went to college and have families of their own now. My two youngest children were born and are thriving. These past 10 years have been the fullest of my life. So much gained and lost that I often feel like an entirely different person. And yet, I’m not. The person who I was in 2010 is still in here, she has merely changed shape and substance based on the winds of change. I am not someone new. I have merely changed my focus to redirect my growth. 

When I look back at who I was then, I know that I was doing the best I could for my own level of consciousness. I was still asleep to so much about the world and us humans who think we know so much. But liars will always think everyone lies. Cheaters are going to think everyone is sleeping with their husbands, and thieves will always blame the one standing closest for stealing what they themselves misplaced. We all see the world through our own lens, created by the people who raised us and influence us, the life we’ve made for ourselves and the way we choose to walk through it. Maybe in another decade we’ll be lucky enough to look back and see our own growth. Or maybe we’ll still be standing in the ashes of what was, yelling “poor, little old me” in hopes someone feels sorry for us. Maybe if life is shitty enough, someone actually will take pity, for whatever that is worth. As for me, I’d rather live here and now.

Yet we live in difficult and divisive times that everyone wants to escape from here and now. We are at war with each other and ourselves and no one seems to know how to fix any of it. We’ve tried everything from yoga to juice cleanses to the keto diet in hopes of fixing the seemingly unfixable. It seems to me that most don’t even want to look behind the curtain to see what exactly needs to be fixed. We’d rather take a pill and get back to the bar. Or the internet. Or whatever vice we’ve chosen. We all have our own demons. It’s just a matter of how visible they are, or how socially acceptable, but we all have them.

Everyone one of us feels the sting and tasted the bitterness of this division and we all deal with it our own ways. We’ve all lost friends because of “politics,” which is really just saying what direction our own moral compasses and values are directed. We’ve all lost loved ones to death, disagreements, rumors or truths. Not a one of us has walked out of this decade unscathed, though we all like to think of our own pain as so special. But we are all victims of life, because loss itself is part of the human condition. We will all rise and fall. We will all get broken. We all have to get up each day and go on anyway.

Hopefully some of us will find a way to heal ourselves. Maybe some of us will even find ways to heal others at the same time. It remains to be seen what this mammal called human beings will end up doing with our big brains, our opposable thumbs, and all our technology and power.

Will we save the planet, or doom it? Will we use all the knowledge at our fingertips to evolve, or will we perish like all the other endangered species? Do we even realize we’re endangered?

We can use our gifts for good or for evil. It’s up to us–– as a race, as a society, and as individuals. 

The path is ours, whichever one we choose to take. We can look toward the future and see hope and possibility, or we can claim it will always be this way and use it as an excuse to eat and drink our lives away in a haze. We can use our energy to make a better world for the humans we’ve created, or we can cry over all we lost over while binging on the same recipes that continue to pass heart disease through the generations. 

We are one little set of finger prints, so we can’t change everything, but it does start with us. No one ever really wants to hear that and I’m sure I’ll get nasty messages in my inbox from people thinking I’m talking directly to them.They’ll scream that their high blood pressure is genetic, that they are doing all they can and I have no right to talk this way, and they’ll give excuses why they cheated on their wife for over a decade while demanding I tell them who blabbed.

 The truth is, this message is for all of you and none of you. It’s for whoever feels the call to listen and hear. 

The other truth is that I no longer have the energy to deal with all the drama. What you do to change the world––or don’t do––in the grand scale or your own path, that’s your business. Your excuses and reasoning will be your cross to bear and you will carry that weight. I have my own past and truths to walk through the world with. 

There came a tipping point in my life where I looked around and saw that it was no longer about me­­–– it’s about the whole. Maybe it was when my granddaughter was born and I saw how the seeds we plant in this life cast out further and further, and how our hands and our lives touch all of it. It doesn’t start with us and it won’t end with us, either. We are but links in the chain, mere visitors here, but this journey is ours to create while we last. We can waste it on rumors and bullshit, or we can go out and make it the best damn life we can. 

If I’m going to make the world a better place for the generations that come after, I can’t stop to address every yipping complaint. I can no longer care about what people think of me. I can only concentrate on my own truths, and what I’m doing to assure that this amazing, sparkling, painful, beautiful life we live as humans continues for my children, my granddaughter and her children. That is doesn’t stop with us.That we leave this place better than we found it. And I don’t think that’s about money, or how big or fancy our home is, or what college we go to. Or what kind of status our job brings.

I think it’s about how much we loved, and how much of that love was unconditional ––a word we throw around as easily as we cast off those who say something we didn’t want to hear. I think it’s about how we walk the one and only path we have, how we treated those we loved, and what we leave them when we pass.

Who will I be remembered as? What lessons, joys, sorrows, and truths will be left behind in my wake? Did I leave a big fat mess of lies and secrets to be unraveled like an unkempt skein of yarn, or did I live my life out loud so that only the lessons of my path are laid out like a Sunday dress, pressed and ready to be picked up and used? Did I love enough? Do they know it? Did I do all I could? 

I would love to say we all have time. But this decade has shown far too much loss for any of us to believe that the clock isn’t ticking.

For me, it’s time to close the door on what is left behind. It’s time to give it all we’ve got for the generations that come behind us, to clean up the mess in the here and now, starting with ourselves. 

My Yoga Journey

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I’m Michelle, a 42-year-old wife and mother of four children. I am also a writer and a photographer and somewhere along the way these things became too much and I fell off of the yoga bandwagon. I’m finding my way back now. I am currently on day 7 of the Yoga30for30 program.

I stumbled upon yoga almost 10 years ago in a yoga class at our local YMCA. I knew right away that there was something magical there. I knew that there was more to find, but it didn’t occur to me (for years) that maybe I should make yoga a part of my daily life.

When I did realize that I wanted and needed more yoga, I had a hard time finding it. I found some DVD’s but they all left me still wanting for more. As if the magic wasn’t there, or as if I was only being told part of the story but not the whole thing. And since I live in a small town in Wisconsin, there isn’t much for yoga here unless I drive nearly an hour. I kept searching though, and then someone told me about the Ultimate Yogi.

I was a single mom of three kids back then and it took me some time to be able to purchase the program. My mom pitched in half and I began immediately. And I knew, right away, that I had found my teacher. Travis spoke to me on so many levels and I found myself wanting to be on my yoga mat. And I found a sense of calm that I have never experienced in my life. (On top of all of this, I was in the best shape of my life and never felt better.)

And then, as if the yoga wasn’t enough, I found this amazing group of people doing the UY together for the first time in a Facebook group.  I felt like I had found my class and my yoga people. It took me longer to finish (167 days, I think. I was a single mom of 3, remember) But I did finish, and I continued with yoga for years. Even through my pregnancy with my now 2-year-old.

And then, my mom got very ill and died. I sent two kids to college. My 7-year-old niece got cancer and we bought a house and a million other things until life was just crazy and full. And somehow, the yoga got set down. I wish I could tell you that I replaced it with lots of great things but I didn’t. Because that’s not really how it works, is it? It took some time to find my way back.

I do lots of walking,  but it’s too cold in the winter. I dropped gluten from my diet this summer, and I walked away from coffee a couple months ago. And I have (once again) broken up with sugar. Sneaky bitch creeps her way back into my house all the time though. I am finding my way back to health and wellness, one little piece of the puzzle at a time.

I tried numerous times to get back into yoga, but I would fizzle out after a day or two. I couldn’t get to the daily yoga part. Something else always felt more important. But I know and very much feel the difference between doing yoga sometimes and a regular yoga practice.

I honestly got very excited when I saw the promotions for Yoga30for30. Because as much as I LOVE Ultimate Yogi, I can’t commit to over an hour a day. But 30-40 minutes, I can sneak that in before we start our morning. And I have. For 7 days now.

So, my thoughts and feelings after 7 days…

This program is perfect for ME where I am in MY life. I’m an avid walker, but I was only doing yoga 3-5 times a month and couldn’t get myself into a rhythm. This has helped jump-start my love for yoga and has me eager to begin each morning.

I am proud of myself. I haven’t done 7 straight days of yoga in years. This program has encouraged me and for that, I’m already thankful.

In the 7 days since I started, I no longer feel like a rusty old truck. My hips and back and shoulders are so much more flexible in just this week. My body, overall, feels wonderful. I’m a little sore here and there, but I did take Epson salt baths twice this week, but mostly because I’m in love with my big old bathtub.

It is helpful and encouraging to see people’s post about their own journeys and to feel a part of something bigger. I feel calmer and happier. More focused and less stressed. All the magical things that yoga does. Most of all, I feel more gratitude, for all things.

I did not have an expectation that this program would somehow replace the UY for me. Mainly because 70-minute classes will always give you more of a challenge than a 30-minute class. But for me, right here and now, 70 minutes would be very difficult to make happen consistently. And I’d rather do 30 minute practices consistently than 70 minute classes 3 times a month.

My hope is that I will start to mix in UY classes after the challenge is over. I’ll keep the 30 minute classes as a staple because I know that they are shorter and fit my life more reasonably, but at the same time they seem to keep the yoga within the yoga.

I’m in love with my yoga mat again. I am reminded to honor myself and my body and where I am, in ALL moments. I’m grateful and humbled by yoga, and how it feels so much like a circle that pulls me back in time and time again.

Thanks for coming along on the journey. Namaste to you all.

The Mom at Chuck E Cheese

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We went to Chuck E Cheese for a birthday party yesterday. This sort of breaks one of my big rules in life – going to Chuck E Cheese at all – but we were invited to a cousin’s birthday party and it seems like a good idea to have the boys grow up with family. I grew up this way, and Steve did, but as we’ve gotten older, our families have scattered and we often “do our own thing,” like so many families these days. We’re all so busy, right?

I used to call Chuck E Cheese the worst place on earth. But I’m older now and I have new definitions of the worst place on earth. Watching my mom die in a sad old nursing home and spending any time at Children’s hospital pretty much made me realize that Chuck E Cheese is a breeze. So, we went.

The boys ate pizza and cake and watched the little show they put on with the big furry robots, which Lincoln loved at a distance and hated close up. Incidentally, this reassured me that he is smart. Then the boys ran wild with the games and the coins and the tickets, having fun with all of the noise and the chaos and being allowed to act accordingly. Hence why I hate it. Because I’m a control freak, you know? Plus, I’m also a germaphobe and there are a million kids there eating and playing all at once with their snotty little noses and I’m pretty sure we could start the Bubonic plague again out of one of those places without trying hard at all.

On this note, I used the bathroom there, which also kind of breaks my rule but it was necessary. A young mother came into the bathroom as I was washing my hands. She was holding a big chubby baby of maybe 6 months old. The mom kind of peeked around as if there might be somewhere to put the baby and then went looking for a stall. I realized she was just going to do her thing with her baby in her arms.

Go ahead, freak out about the gross factor here but let me tell you that every mom has had this moment. Where you just have to pee or whatever and the baby is with you so you make the most of it. I almost didn’t ask her if she needed my help, but then I did, because I’ve been practicing using my instinct and not my crazy questioning mind.

So I said “Do you want help?” over the sound of the hand dryer. But she didn’t speak English. She cocked her head and raised one hand as if to say she didn’t understand, and kind of like why was I talking to her when she had to use the bathroom.

So I said, “Help?” and I held my arms out to her in a gesture to take the baby. And her face fell in relief and she rushed over and handed me her most prized possession. Her most prized person and her most precious anything. The one she made from her body but needed two minutes away from to take care of herself. She handed me her baby and I took her.

Big, dark, dark brown eyes and big dark lashes and the sweetest little head full of dark hair. So very different than my light-skinned, fair-haired babies, yet she had the same lazy, chubby baby body of my 3rd baby. And that amazing baby smell that every baby on the planet has. She warmed my heart from the second she hit my hands.

I thought briefly that she might cry when her mom left her sight but she didn’t. She let me hold her and looked at me like I was new but not scary. I said, “Well hello, little friend,” and she looked at me for a few moments and then laid her little head on my shoulder. I leaned my cheek into her dark hair and I was so thankful. Just bursting from top to bottom with thankful. Because this baby felt safe with me. And thankful for being a mama and knowing how to make a baby feel safe. And thankful I could help this mom, who didn’t know me but knew that I was offering help and not more problems. Just… Thankful.

It was a little moment. A blink. A fraction of the day and speck of sand in the grand scheme of my life. But it meant something to me. To know that there is trust out there. To know that there are mothers willing to take each other’s hands for help. To know that we have a connection that goes deeper than language or words. Some magic that speaks merely between the beats of a mother’s heart.

Lincoln the Shrieker

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Lincoln has been shrieking. A stupid loud, high-pitched noise that could make your ears bleed. He lets these rip for 20 seconds at a time, for a variety of reasons. It’s become like a habit. I’m not ashamed to say this to all of you: I HATE it.

I do. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. All the nails in a 2nd grade glass. Like that.

I don’t know when it started. Weeks ago, maybe? A month? A loooong time. And it only gets worse. He’s gotten smarter and he knows how to use what little devices he has in the world. So now the shrieks are a weapon.

In the midst of preparing to have my ears removed to solve this problem, I heard my mom say, “Just ignore him. He’ll knock it off.”

I hear her, in her nonchalant way, because with kids she just knew what to do. And I instantly knew that she was right.

She does that, tells me what I need to hear when I need to hear it. Little things, like how to finish a recipe that I can’t find or how to stop a 5 year old (momentarily, anyway) from being annoying. Or big things, like how to find my way when I feel lost in this roller coaster of life. I am convinced that she is still with me. Convinced in the same way that I know that the sun will go down this evening.

And the best part? As I miss her less, I feel her more. Like she could call out to me anytime from the next room.

And I won’t say the shrieking has stopped, but it’s wayyyy better.

How to Change the World

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My husband and I spend a lot of time talking about changing the world. We talk about what we can change, and it often feels like we can’t do nearly enough.

There seem to be so many problems these days. I peek out of the window of my blessed, wonderful little life and I see a lot of trauma and drama and sickness and sadness and hatred out there. We pay to stream it into our homes 24 hours a day in 3D Technicolor, in the interest of being entertained and informed. We practically bathe in it.

But for being so connected and up-to-date, we are more closed-off and critical than ever. I see far too many examples of how we are downright terrible (to just plain not very nice) to one another these days. At least all the people outside our little circles and families. Those who aren’t our people.

We have forgotten that we are all the same people. We are all human beings. If we seem different, it’s merely because we’ve been raised in different ways and lived different lives. We’re still all part of the same race: the human race. We have forgotten that we still belong to one another.

Did you just roll your eyes at that? It’s because you’ve forgotten.

Maybe we do remember and we want to help,  but what can we do? When we’re too tired to shower and the kids’ lunches still aren’t made and it’s all just hard enough already? It feels like we can’t possibly do enough.

But I don’t think we change the world by huge sweeping gestures. Maybe sometimes, but I think that’s the rare exception, like a winning lottery ticket. I think most of the time the world is changed by small and honest little acts of kindness.

It would be easy to get caught up in our feelings and spread political memes like peanut butter all over the social networks and say we’re doing our part. And it is important to speak our truths. But is that doing anything? Saying is not the same as doing.

So what can you do, today, to change the world?

Hold open a door. Tell someone, with every fiber of your being, that you hope they have a nice day. See what happens when you say it like you mean it.

Catch someone’s eye for a moment and tell them you know what it’s like, whether “it” is dropping the contents of your purse on the floor at Kwik Trip or a toddler meltdown in Aisle 4. (Aisle 4 is always the cookies or candy. Aka, the meltdown aisle.)

If we spent even 5 minutes a day doing or saying something nice for others, we can make a huge difference in the world. Why? Why would that 5 minutes mean anything? Because people have a tendency to follow the good stuff. Meaning, that shit spreads. They pass it on. They pay it forward.

Go out and share some of your unique goodness today. Say something nice to a stranger. Do something nice for a neighbor or friend or someone you can think of who needs it. Do something just for the doing (as opposed to the telling or the wanting something back.) Just go put something nice out there, like a gift on the steps of the universe.

This is how we change the world. (It is also how we change ourselves, if you are interested in such things.)