Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Best Lesson My Kids Taught Me

by Amy Ruhlin


I remember standing in my kitchen as a young mother, staring out the window and saying out loud to no one in particular, “ there's got to be a better way.” I had recently walked away from my career and much to my own surprise, decided to stay home with my children. My decision wasn't based on the notion that staying home was the more noble choice, but rather, on my inability to balance both a career and motherhood with any semblance of grace or sanity. I thought that simply by staying home, motherhood would somehow be easier.
But in those early years of learning to be a parent, I found myself approaching my days at home in the same way that I had at my work--as a series of tasks to be completed so that I could enjoy a reward at some later point in time: a quiet hour, time to myself, maybe a nap. These are all good things, actually, some of the best things, but I knew that I was missing something important.
I once read that living with children is like living with a Zen master. This was a truth for me, or at least the way that I chose to experience the privilege that is motherhood. Standing in my kitchen all those years ago, I realized that being a parent wasn't just about taking care of and giving.  It was also about receiving. And in the midst of the hard, daily work of raising children, I began to take in all that they were offering me.
I learned to sit on a curbside for hours with my 2-year-old son, and feel contentment just by counting the different types of trucks that passed by. I learned to see beauty in unexpected places, especially in a rock house that my daughter carefully created, complete with cardboard furnishings and name tags for each member of her rock family. I remembered the joy of feeling weightless in space, as I joined them on our trampoline, and I felt delight as I watched them play in the puddles of a pouring rain. I learned to stay in the moment where children naturally live.

It felt like someone had given me a present wrapped up in shiny paper with a large bow and said, "Here, open this, it will remind you of what you have forgotten and give you what you seek." And it did. My children showed me the better way, by reminding me that the rewards are right there in the moment itself.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Embracing Ourselves at 50

by Amy Ruhlin

"The highest reward for a man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it" ~John Ruskin 

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night jolted by the fact that I am now 50 years old.  For a brief moment, I think it's all just a big mistake, a cosmic joke, and that I am really still only 35.  I seem to be able to see my former selves so clearly at 3am. There I am at 22, rushing towards my first job; at 30, clueless and having my first child; and at 45, stumbling into midlife.

I begin to wonder if I've wasted years, lost opportunities, missed beauty, missed the point.  I almost move into panic when an unexpected calm arrives and I know for certain that it's all been grist for the mill; it's all really been about growth.

My own growth is what I take with me into these golden years. It is the constant that I get to keep as time passes and youth fades.

In the middle of the night, it becomes clear that I was right where I needed to be at each decade. I needed  to be driven in my twenties to know how to relax at 50; to be surprised  by the challenges of motherhood in my thirties, so that I could rise to the occasion and meet them; to wrestle with midlife so that I could learn to let go of one stage of life and enter another.

It's so easy, here at middle age, to begin to pine for our youth, to have regrets, to think we missed the mark, to beat up on our younger selves. While there is loss, and necessary grief for things past,  maybe something bigger is also going on: maybe life is always moving us towards something and aging is that movement along a giant learning curve.

Maybe we get to learn compassion for those younger selves who were doing the best that they could and bringing us to where we are right now. Maybe 50 is a grand culmination of all of those selves who fought so hard to get here.  And maybe I can wake up in the middle of the night with relief that I have made it to 50 and am not 35 anymore.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thank You, Carole King

Carole King - Tapestry by Piano Piano!
Carole King - Tapestry, a photo by Piano Piano! on Flickr.
 by Amy Ruhlin
I was so happy to see a photo of Carole King appear on my facebook newsfeed yesterday. NPR had posted an article about her new memoir, “A Natural Woman.” It was so comforting to see her face and to remember her music. Who can forget the great Tapestry album? I was only nine years old when that album came out, but I remember listening to it in elementary school and just the cover photo made a lasting impression on me. I never forgot her sitting barefoot in that window seat, the sunlight streaming in, the gray cat by her side. And her hair! I spent my twenties getting perms hoping to achieve the Carole King look. Her lyrics have stayed with me for 40 years. I loved what she had to say to us, "that you’re beautiful as you feel" and that life is  "a tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold."  I can still sing most of her songs by heart.

So many women have been role models for me and helped shape my life and Carole King is one of them. I haven’t read her memoir yet, but I did see a quote from the book, where she says “the key to success in performing… is to be authentically myself.” And after all these years, I realize that is what so appealed to me as a young girl back in the 1970s. She was a role model because what I saw, and heard, was a woman being real. Thank you Carole for being a natural woman and for inspiring so many of us to want to be one too.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What I Learned From Touring Colleges For Spring Break

by Amy Ruhlin

I had the privilege of touring college campuses last week with my teenage son. I didn’t see it this way at first; in fact, I thought it was a dreadful way to spend spring break. I know I’m not suppose to think that, or God forbid, say it, since touring colleges with your kids is de rigueur these days. But I missed our spring trips when the children were small and their laughter filled the car on long drives to the beach, or when we shared the thrill of riding the same roller coaster over and over again at Disney World. I wanted those days to last forever and I wasn't looking forward to this spring break since we had to do something so responsible and serious.

I wanted my flip flops and my silly hat and my kids not caring what I looked like or how I acted. Instead, I had to wear sensible mom clothes and I could tell that my son was a little concerned about being seen with his fifty-something parents on hip college campuses. I promised I'd try really hard not to embarrass him and I hid my tears knowing that the days of my kids thinking that I’m wonderful are over.

The first tour was a college located in the center of a large city. I was expecting lots of concrete and a boring tour guide. Instead, I was surrounded by stunning architecture and magnificent trees as we were led through campus by a third-year student with an exuberance that I had long forgotten. She was thrilled with her school, excited for her future, and happy to share it all with us. The campus brimmed with activity as students walked to class and laughed in coffee shops, and my son was gleefully taking it all in. I have to admit, it gave Disney World a run for its money and the campus bookstore even sold silly hats, though no Mickey ears.

The next stop was a University in a rural area with rolling hills and trees draped in Spanish moss. Students jogged alongside a winding river and bicycles were everywhere. I had forgotten  that college campuses are so fully alive and the excitement I saw in my son's eyes was as beautiful a sight as any ocean.

Although I’ve tried to make a smooth transition from young mother to older mom, it’s mostly been a bumpy ride. It is difficult for me to leave behind sand castles and  amusement parks and young children who give spontaneous bear hugs. The teenage years don't serve up quite the same offerings.

But the feelings that I remember from past spring breaks were there with me on college campuses last week: the thrill of change, the pleasure of new surroundings, the joy of seeing my child experience something new.

I learned that if I can just let go and follow the thread that is our lives, nothing really is left behind.   It’s all still here, only in different forms.

I even managed to keep my promise and not embarrass my son. And I think that just may make me wonderful still.