Yoga, With a Side of Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, I won’t be with my daughter. It’s an odd-numbered year, so she will be spending the holiday with her father. Odd year him, even year me. That’s how the holidays are dictated now. There’s no other way to characterize how I feel about this new reality except that It. Sucks.

I try not to think too much about the time that I don’t have R., especially for weekends and holidays, because I’ll just dissolve into tears. When she’s not with me, I try to keep myself as busy as possible so my mind won’t have as many chances to go to that sad place of missing. Missing her. Missing out. Missing time that is more precious than ever.

This is all still pretty painful, and I have no idea when it gets better. I worry that it won’t ever really get better. Perhaps I will eventually make peace with it. It’s hard to know right now.

This Thanksgiving, I will be by myself. Or rather, I will be with myself.

This Thanksgiving will remind of the first Thanksgiving that I spent with myself.

It was two years ago, and I was supposed to spend the holiday with my then-husband’s family. Two days before Thanksgiving, he and I got into a huge fight. I was so incredibly upset about the idea of having to put on a happy face in front of all his relatives. I was afraid of not being able to hold my tongue and snapping at him and embarrassing us all. I was afraid of what R. would witness.

I also desperately needed peace and quiet from the tumultuous, life-sucking energy that existed in our home. More than anything, I needed his absence.

I told him to take R. and go without me.

He was a little shocked. He kept asking me if I was sure and tried to make up with me, but it was too late. I think in that moment he realized that I was done. I was willing to be alone on Thanksgiving and that seemed to say everything.

While R. watched the parade on TV, I prepared the side dish I had promised his mother I would make. I packed up R.’s things to stay overnight and told her I would not be going to her grandma’s because I didn’t feel well and I needed to stay home and rest. Which was actually true. When I said goodbye to them, I wasn’t even really sad. I felt good. Lighter. For the first time in a long time, I knew I was doing right by myself.

I already knew what my first activity  would be: yoga. I hadn’t had a regular practice since my pregnancy, and I missed it terribly. Yoga did so much for me—it was calming and energizing and fulfilling. It reassured my soul like nothing else I have experienced. For years, it was practically a religious experience for me. It was exactly what I needed.

The warm yoga studio was packed. There was only one space remaining, up front and near the door. It was pretty much the worst spot in the room. I didn’t care. I unfurled my mat. There was no more two inches around it and between my neighbors. In such a tight spot, people wind up knocking limbs into each other and it can be a little distracting. But I was so grateful that day that there was room for one more. My mat completed the puzzle. And I didn’t feel like it was crowded. It felt…full.

The instructor told us to close our eyes and she began to chant. The familiar sounds were like dear friends coming out to keep me sweet company and they filled the room and the space around my body. As I began to repeat the phrases in our call and response, my tears began to fall. And they fell and fell and fell. They wouldn’t stop. They ran in tiny streams down my cheeks and chin and onto my clothes. I wept through the entire class. I wept for my heartbreak. I wept for my loneliness. I wept for all the fighting. I wept for my exhaustion and the futility of hanging on to a marriage that wasn’t going to make it. I wept.

I had a pile of used tissues on the side of my mat and I wasn’t worried for one minute what someone else would think. When the class ended, my tears finally did, too. I had cried it all out. It was a true catharsis.

I thanked the teacher from the bottom of my heart and the kindness in her eyes spoke volumes. My insides, which were usually in tight knots, had finally unwound. At that moment, I felt completely back to my self.

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I headed to the grocery store to get a Thanksgiving meal and a delicious dessert for one. I got into my pajamas, ate dinner on the couch and watched a movie, all in quiet solitude that brought a smile to my face. I felt sweetly content and peaceful. It was one of the best Thanksgivings I have ever had.

This Thanksgiving, R. will be with her father. I will wake up early and go to yoga. I will chant, I will feel the welcoming “om” in my mouth and the way it resonates and makes me feel filled up and whole. I will breathe. In and out. Over and over. I will move into the positions that my body still knows so well. I will find peace in being present, being with myself. And being truly, truly thankful.

Michele Silver is a professional writer and editor living in Montclair, NJ with her daughter who is first grade. Follow Michele @ http://heartstringsandshoelaces.com

 

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Home Sweet Home

I live in a building that many people mistake for an old-age home. Granted, there are many elderly people who live here. It offers many amenities that make life a little easier. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in my town, according to my realtor. I completely agree.

This place is my Craig’s List miracle. Somehow during one of my searches, this listing caught my eye. But there were no photos (almost always cause for suspicion, what are they hiding??) and then only two sentences describing the property. It didn’t look like much thought went into it. How good could this place possibly be? Then I read it. A 24-hour doorman. Workout room. Parking. Laundry on the premises. A pool. A POOL? Where was this place? It turned out to be a six-story building tucked away in a lovely residential neighborhood yet within walking distance to many of my favorite restaurants, shops and yoga studio. I was positively giddy about finally finding this glorious needle in a haystack of overpriced, too-this, too-that apartments.

The pool really helped me sell the place to R. It was going to be hard enough moving out of the only home she ever knew. And even though we made this huge transition during the winter, we always talked about how great the summer was going to be. The day we saw the pool-cleaning van in the parking lot, we couldn’t contain our joy. We started skipping around, chanting “We have a pooo-llll! We have a poooo-lllll!”

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The big selling point of my new place

It turns out that the pool is just one of the many things we love about our place. We love that in the lobby every week, there’s a platter of treats and candy. We love the carpeted hallways that are perfect for practicing cartwheels. We love our doorpeople, especially Alice, who takes a little extra time to wish us a good morning and a good day in her sweet, upbeat way. “Good morning R. and R’s mommy,” she says.

Whenever we get dressed up to go out, there is always someone who smiles at us and tells us how nice we look. There is acknowledgement of our life here, and I feel it every day.

We love our wonderful neighbors who always take the time to talk to R. about school or her plans for the day. They’ve done special things, too. Florence dropped off a special bag of Purim goodies for R. Shirley took R. on a tour of the fascinating artwork in her home from all the places she has traveled. Mark gives R. mini Dove bar ice cream treats.

But our No. 1 favorite neighbor is Jeanne, who lives right across the hallway, two doors down. Jeanne is 90 and plays the piano. I love hearing her play. She runs a chorus group in the building, too. Jeanne was a widower at 34 and raised two children on her own and never got remarried. She has a zest for life that is enviable.

I always feel better after I see Jeanne and we chat about what good things (and sometimes not so good) have happened to us during the week. Jeanne knows that I am divorced and work full time and have most of the responsibility for R. She often has helpful bits of advice or an encouraging word for me. I feel a connection to her as a woman. She is a grandmother/aunt/wise friend all rolled into one.

Jeanne has been giving R. piano lessons and the relationship that has formed between the two of them is precious. R. always wants to pop in and say hello to her when we come home from school. When we see Jeanne sitting outside reading on warm, sunny day, R. goes running to her for a hug. R. even asked me if she could invite Jeanne to her birthday celebration. A 6 year old wanting to have her 90-year-old neighbor at her party? That was something special.

Of course, there are plenty of downsides to apartment living. Like hearing your neighbors’ conversations (and them hearing yours) through the vents. Like the woman who insists on vacuuming at 10:30pm every Sunday. Like the tough-as-nails building manager who scolded me for moving a table that was outside the pool area to inside. I actually felt shame from the incident and for several weeks afterwards, I was terrified of running into her.

But, I feel over the moon that I have discovered this best-kept secret.

Of course I often wish we could live in a real house with a playroom and a backyard and more space to entertain friends. But in this apartment, I no longer have to pretend that I am happily married and we are moving to that next step of “planning to save for a house,” which my ex liked to tell people even though we didn’t know if our relationship was going to make it to our next anniversary. Hearing him say that made me feel like a fraud. There were so many times that I just wanted to blurt out, “No! That’s never going to happen!” I kept this feeling a secret for a long time, until I couldn’t anymore.

My divorce, in a way, has leveled the emotional playing field for me. I am actually more comfortable as a single parent than an unhappily married one. I am exactly where I need to be. Discovering and feeling this truth has been wildly freeing. I am infinitely happier.

I adore our “old-age home” and it has given me a new lease on life. It turns out that best-kept secrets are meant to be discovered.

 

This is a Job for Bullet Girl

When I was in graduate school, I got to experience thrilling new challenges that also could be quite overwhelming.

The Medill School of Journalism had been coined as a boot camp and I immediately saw why. It was intense. We were learning a craft at warp speed. The instructors expected us to learn new skills, integrate them quickly and produce compelling copy on deadline.

Interviewing subjects proved to be the toughest for me. While I am fairly extroverted, I learned that I was shy when conducting interviews. I wasn’t used to asking people so many questions. It felt a little invasive and uncomfortable. One night, I was stressing about my less-than-stellar interview skills to a good friend whose creativity and drive I admired. He told me that whenever he faced a challenging client, he would take on a sort of superhero persona: Bullet Boy. Bullet Boy was a highly focused, more aggressive version of himself who didn’t take no for an answer. It seemed like a great way to tackle my challenges. So for my next writing assignment, I channeled my inner Bullet Girl. And she delivered.

During my publishing cornerstone project, I scored a major coup. We were producing an upscale magazine for rich, urban motorcycle enthusiasts, and I had been assigned a piece on congressmen who ride. I called the office of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell to ask his press secretary if he might be interested, and the next thing I knew, I was flying to Washington, D.C. to interview him and another Harley-Davidson devotee, Rep. Gary Condit. (This was years before the intern scandal.)

I rode in the members-only elevator and had lunch with Campbell and Condit in the Senate dining room. It was incredibly exciting and I knew my class was rooting for me. I had prepped like crazy and I had a long list of questions–some general, conservative ones and others that were more provocative. I was trying to get through the basic questions, but Campbell seemed to have his own agenda. He had a huge personality and it was taking over; even Condit had stopped talking. I needed to regain control of the interview. Bullet Girl spoke up. “Senator,” she said, “do you feel sexy on your motorcycle?”

The question stopped him in his tracks. For a split second, I had no idea if I had crossed the line. He looked at me and dove into the answer, his voice booming out, “Honey, I AM sexy!! The motorcycle just helps!” I was in. He showed me his Softail that was being watched over by a security guard on the Capitol steps. Then he invited me out that night to a popular D.C. biker bar where he and his friends were hanging out after their H.O.G. chapter meeting. I got the most amazing material and wrote a feature that was selected for the coveted cover story.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell poses with a motorcycle at San Diego's Planet Hollywood. | AP Photo
My Bullet Girl journalism moment happened with Senator Campbell.

My inner Bullet Girl continued to emerge at various points in my professional career. But during the five years that I was a stay-at-home mom, she had stayed very much tucked away.

Until that day in court.

We were waiting for the judge to call our case so that our divorce could get finalized. My lawyer was doing the talking, and I was staying quiet, as I had been instructed. I was supposed to let the professional do his job so he could get me the best possible outcome. I didn’t really trust myself to speak, anyway. During the required meeting with the court mediator to discuss our parenting schedule, I had gotten so emotional that I could barely speak without crying. I hadn’t been able to keep it together or fully express my thoughts. I was supposed to stay angry and strong, and I felt like I had failed.

I was terribly afraid of losing it again, and now we were down to the final sticking points.

At this very moment, my lawyer and opposing counsel were arguing loudly outside the courtroom.  Maybe this was normal for lawyers in this situation, but I felt grossly uncomfortable. It felt embarrassing and out of control. My stomach was in knots. Every so often I would re-cross my legs while I sat on our side of a hard wooden bench. Finally I got up and walked down the hallway, and the clicking of my heels on the glossy floor started to ground me. I went to the restroom, took some deep breaths and stared in the mirror. I heard my best friend’s voice in my head, “You are strong. You can do this.” I walked back to the benches and the lawyers were still at it.

Something in me sprang into action. It was Bullet Girl, and she spoke up in a strong, clear voice. I had spent time preparing for this possible scenario, and I was ready. It was go time. I wound up doing the final negotiations with opposing counsel, with my lawyer and my soon-to-be ex sitting there listening and watching. I held my ground, I fought back with facts, and I did not give in any more than I wanted to. It was the most incredible moment, and I wanted to run a victory lap up and down that hallway. Bullet Girl was the best version of myself, and I had triumphed.