At 2016 Children’s Book Week, toddlers and moms join me in acting out MOM ME movements during a MOM ME book reading at Village House of Books, Los Gatos, CA. Shown here moms and children stretch their arms to perform, “Sometimes my mommy can be an airplane!” I chose to act out the second half of the book because I didn’t think parents would appreciate their kids miming, “My Mommy is not a tissue!”
The oddity I feel when a transgender friend shows up at our house dressed to the nines including earrings, stockings, breasts, and perfume. We exchange hellos while I, crouched under a desk, vacuum cobwebs housed for years under a former craft table.
Splotched with paint at the front of the desk, I aim to flip it so the paint spats are at the back and the new owner will have a clean space to work. But it’s not easy, because the desk has only a small square space to turn in. So, dressed in a black skirt and pretty blouse, our transgender friend, skirts female self for a moment and steps into manhood to help me lift the desk up over the other desk so the craft table can spin in a circle.
As we turn the table together, I, dressed in the same blue jeans and crumpled t-shirt left last night un-hangered on the floor, transform into my female self. Without missing a beat, I let my friend direct the furniture move. My friend lifts the work table, spins it, while describing the physics. Me? I lift a little, but mostly caution against not knocking a protruding Egyptian sculpture and a shadow box full of painted metal figures off the wall.
Strange how we fluidly we can change roles.
Do you ever wake up and want to exercise? It’s a rare day I do. Out of eight mornings in a new regimen, yesterday was the only rooster time I awoke rested and ready to run. And yet, on most days, after one lap — sometimes — it takes just half way around the track when I realize, I’m happy I started.
The problem, or rather the challenge, is that the relaxed post exercise state that steeps in the bloodstream, lasts a scant 24 hours. Exercise endorphins are like drugs, and the dosage is one small injection per day.
While in the endorphin-induced euphoric exercise moment, I commit, completely confident that next morning, there will be no internal discussion about whether to jog my mile. But every morning, like, well, clockwork, 6:30 a.m. arrives, and it’s a Monty Python argument (“Yes you will, no you won’t.)
I create combative conflict about whether to go out and run.
Here’s the script:
- Resistant me: “Not today’s, it’s my day off.”
- Resilient me: “Get out of bed now!”
- Resistant me: “Exercised every day this week (It’s Tuesday).
- Resilient Me: “You’ll feel better if you go.”
- Resistant Me: “Time to rest.”
- Resilient Me: “Get Dressed.”
- Resistant Me: It’s warm inside; cold out there.”
- Resilient me: “Just walk today, you don’t have to run.”
On the days resilient self agrees, resistant self grudgingly follows.
At the park, my resilient self remembers why I returned to the track. I always feel better.
Each day I commit builds on the day before.
What motivates you outside to run or walk or exercise when you don’t want to? Got any tricks or internal dialogue to share?
Do your kids (or anyone you know) need a new idea about what to cook themselves for breakfast? Here’s a step-by-step recipe for making French Toast. If they are not used to using the stove on their own, stand next to them while they follow these steps.
French Toast on an Electric Stove
- Crack one egg into a bowl. Add pinch cinnamon, one small shake vanilla. Mix with fork.
- Cut with butter knife or fold in half one slice of bread.
- Soak bread in egg mixture until egg is gone from bowl.
- Put frying pan on burner, turn stove on high, set timer for one minute.
- Put small slice of butter in pan.
- Turn down heat to four.
- Put egg-soaked bread slices in frying pan.
- Turn timer on for two minutes. Watch carefully. Using a spatula, lift slice.
- If it’s golden brown, flip. If not, leave for one or two more minutes.
- Repeat #2, #3.
- When toast is done, turn off burner, put French Toast on plate.
- Eat. Yum!
Walking in, I notice, birdseed, dust, and wood chips, on the floor. Couches are covered in games, books, and pillows; no place to sit.
Resorting to the kitchen to cook lunch. I vow not to move or wipe anything. My vow is impossible. All the stove burners are piled with pots.
Exiting the kitchen, a yellow clump catches my eye. Stooping to investigate, I learn it’s butter. Committed to my rule, even if it gets mashed onto the bottom of someone’s shoe, I leave it.
Daily I wonder what would happen if I stopped picking up, cleaning, clearing, wiping, replacing, and reminding about all of the above. Would someone else do it? And if I find out it doesn’t get done, then what?
But here’s a better question. Does it need to?
Sadly, or perhaps happily, all of this mess has always been here, and until recently, I’ve been spinning myself into a frenzy trying to keep up with it. All of the swirling to see how many plates I can throw and keep in the air, tossing them higher and collecting more with each trick, so that I’m juggling first three, then eight, then 10, then 20, or more — is me, a dervish, twirling.
But not in a pretty, sequined colorful Turkish skirt. Instead, and unfortunately, it’s a “Watch me. I’ll do it all. I’ll make the house orderly and then we will feel settled and happy, and we will live this way.”
But we won’t. Because all of the mess is activity. It’s life, and it’s here to stay.
The real work is for me to stop cleaning and clearing. Make and leave more messiness.
The cleaning and clearing of other’s things, and the self-assigned task of reminding them to, are avoiding life. I’ve got things to do, and need to step to.
Got a cleaning or clearing task you don’t need (or want) to do? Got something more meaningful and important to create?
Long ago, a friend of my moms left a bottle of medicine at our house. I saw it on the kitchen table and didn’t tell her. When her friend arrived home, she called my mom to see if her medicine was there.
“I knew she left the medicine,” I told my mom.
“Why didn’t you tell her?” she scolded. “That wasn’t very thoughtful.”
Though I couldn’t explain it to her, I had a reason.
I was working on becoming what my then 10-year-old self called, “A non caring person,” a person who didn’t take care of everyone, a person who didn’t notice when others forgot their things. I was tired of noticing other’s oversights.
Toni, a girl in my fifth grade class could absent-mindedly drop her pencil while she raced down the stairs and it was I who picked it up. Scampering after her, I’d hold out the pencil, saying, “Here Toni, your pencil.” My fifth-grade mind thought remembering her pencil might create a bond between she and I. Maybe we could be friends. Sadly, retrieving the falling yellow stick yielded nothing, barely a glance let alone a thank you.
With my mom’s friend, I didn’t intend to be unthoughtful, instead, my 10-year-old self, was trying to be less attentive to others. I wanted to “not care” thinking if I didn’t, maybe others would find my things. I wanted to be carefree. Perhaps I wanted to attend to myself.
On a recent morning many years later, I am in the stall at the park and notice hanging heavy on the door a white canvass bag. Peaking inside I find a phone and other purse things. Someone has left it.
When the bathroom door opens, I know it’s the owner of the bag. But she is silent. She does not say, “Hey do you see a bag on the door hook?” Does she not know she left a bag in here? I wonder. I step outside. A woman stands tentatively at her idling car, which is live-parked at the curb. A man waits in the driver seat.
“Did you leave something in the disabled bathroom stall,” I call to to the lady. She nods, still tentative. She walks slowly, but does not speak.
“Is it a canvass bag?” I ask?
“With red straps?” she finishes.
“Yes,” I say. As she plods to the door, it’s clear she needs help. I ask, “Would you like me to get it for you?”
She nods again, staring at me. I fetch the bag and hand it to her.
After all these years, I still notice things. But as an adult, I enjoy noticing. That morning I made a connection with the woman who left her bag. Entering the flow of that stranger’s world for one minute, I am in synch with her. Noticing her we connect, and I help.
The woman walks to the car. The driver, likely the caretaker, and I make eye contact. He gives me a thumbs up. As her caretaker, it must be a relief for him to have a bit of help for that one moment. He notices too!
Paying attention is good; it creates an opportunity to connect to another person.
Anything you can notice today? Maybe you, like me will find an opportunity to help and connect with someone.
Attribution for bottle image: <a href=”http://cliparts.co/clipart/2332183″ title=”Image from cliparts.co”><img src=”http://cliparts.co/cliparts/pio/Agk/pioAgkRBT.png” width=”350″ alt=”Medicine Bottle clip art – vector clip art online, royalty free …” /></a>
Long ago in a time I can barely remember, I ate lunch at a place in Hartford, Connecticut called the Arch Street Tavern. In my just-twenties, looking for a restaurant on a work lunch hour, I found this cafe. On the menu was a spinach salad with roasted red peppers, blue cheese, and toasted almonds.
I think they tossed it with bacon dressing. It was the only thing I ever ordered there. Recently while “gathering” at a local market, red peppers catch my attention, and I remember this lunch experience. Inspired by the memory, I recreate the salad, sans bacon dressing. Gorgonzola cheese replaces the blue.
Two roasted red peppers
Twenty almonds, sliced, and lightly roasted
Three cups fresh spinach
¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
Roasting Red Peppers –. Place red peppers on a cookie sheet. Use top oven rack; put tray of peppers under broiler until lightly blackened on all sides. Turn frequently. Remove from oven. Put in bowl and cover tightly with plastic. I repurposed a produce bag and pulled it tight across the bowl. Leave about 15 minutes. Cut peppers in half; remove innards, seeds, and stem and peel. Slice lengthwise into 1/8-inch pieces, cut these pieces into thirds. Set aside. (Or buy a jar of roasted peppers and slice.)
Almonds – Slice lengthwise into about four pieces each. Put in dry frying pan. Turn pan on high and shake until almonds are an even brown. They will smell good. (You could also buy pre-sliced almonds and roast.)
Spinach – Place in salad bowl.
Cheese – Crumble onto spinach.
Toss in almonds and half the peppers. Use the other half for sandwiches or another salad the second night!
Gently toss all ingredients together. No dressing needed. Yum
“Yes, that would be nice,” I say.
“I’ll get you one,” she tells me.
She’s African American, and immediately I feel the usual, overly self aware, sensation, afraid I’ll do or say something wrong, act phony, or come across as, “Hey, I’m one of the nice white people.” See jenncastro.com/2014/12/07/take-your-seat-white-america/
Lately, I’m very aware of micro aggressions, where white people naively say or do something insensitive to a person of color. I don’t want to commit a micro aggression.
Aware I am definitely over complicating the interaction, I’m certain she is making sure I know, that by helping me, she is just doing her job. Still I’m aware that whenever I’m around an African American person, I feel like I’m seeking to be forgiven.
“Could you tell me where to find the kid’s sheets?” I ask.
“My children’s sheets are behind you to the left,” she responds. A minute later, I’ve forgotten the directions and walk through the store in an endless circle. Cycling back to her department, I have to repeat my question.
She tells me. I don’t find what I want, and seek her help again, “Do you have printed queen size sheets?”
She doesn’t, but offers to special order them.
I hesitate, “Will there be a shipping fee?” I ask.
“That would depend on the cost,” she replies. She looks it up, and there is.
“Well, I’ll just get these,” I say pointing to the drab beige in my cart.
“Maybe shipping could be waived for a one-time deal since we’re out of stock,” she offers. It can. I thank her.
“Would you like to pay here or downstairs?” she asks.
“Here is easier,” I respond. I give her all my information. She suggests I continue my shopping and offers to find me to give me the hard copy of the receipt.
I tell her I’ve finished shopping, so she invites me to follow her to the printer. I do.
We walk through the endlessly full, busy aisles. We don’t talk. I don’t expect to. Arriving at the printer, I’m aware of every move. I extend my hand to hers to receive the receipt, thank her, and head down the escalator to finish my other purchases.
But I want to thank her more. How? I wonder as I wait on line. About to leave, I ask to see a manager. “Was there a problem?” the cash register employee asks.
“Not at all, I just received some very nice help from someone upstairs, and I want to let her manager know,” I offer.
“Do you know her name?” he asks. I don’t.
“She’s an African-American woman in the bedding department,” I respond.
“Yes, I know her, I’ll tell the manager,” he says.
Suddenly I feel connected. Maybe I helped. A little.
Here’s a question.
Any action around the Black Lives Matter movement you can take, today?
Black Lives Matter.
I don’t know why I remember, but at church one Sunday I stayed sitting when everyone else got up to sing. Then I looked left, and a woman three seats down was also still sitting. I don’t know why I remember but her hair was scraggily. I don’t know why I remember but she was holding her stomach. I don’t know why I remember but she was wearing a lime green skirt and torn yellow leggings. Her sweatshirt and her arms were wrapped around her middle, and her head was down. She was wrapped up inside her own arms. She was wrapped small, but I think standing she would be taller than me, which isn’t saying much, but it’s saying something. I don’t know why I remember, but after I rose to sing the last stanza if only to drown out the man down the row who always sings off-key, I looked again and the woman was still sitting. The song was over, and I don’t know why I remember, but everyone but me walked away. I stood staring, watching everyone walk away and was about to walk away too, but I didn’t. I don’t know why I remember, but it seemed like I should go talk to her. I don’t know why I remember, but I didn’t know what to say. I ran sentences through my mind. Ask if she’s ok; see if she wants to talk. See if she needs money. See how she found the church. I stood staring. I don’t know why I remember, but I wasn’t self conscious about staring. If she were someone I knew, I wouldn’t have stared but she was so wrapped up inside I didn’t think she noticed me and so I took advantage. I don’t know why I remember but I decided to sit down next to her and ask if she was ok and I don’t know why I remember but I do, she said, “No.” And I sat there and remembered that everything I’ve heard about helping someone is to listen, to simply sit with and be in their presence. And I don’t know why I remember, but it felt good to listen. And I don’t know why I remember, but eventually i talked too, to this complete stranger. I told her she wasn’t alone and that someone was there and she told me, “People are following me.” And I asked her, “Who?” And I don’t know why I remember, but I wanted her to feel believed. I don’t know why I remember but I asked her if it was ok if I put my hand on her shoulder and she said it was and I don’t know why I remember, but she cried. I think she felt as if some sadness could come out because someone was next to her. I introduced myself and she told me her name was Jane. I don’t know why I remember, but Jane told me that she knew people who practice witchcraft and that she was tired of locking up her things, and I told her that it must be hard to have to lock her things and I don’t know why I remember but I asked her if she thought she had a mental illness and she said, “yes,” and I thought that since she answered yes, maybe she wasn’t so far beyond gone, and I don’t know why I remember but I told her that she must have done something to get herself to the church and that maybe she didn’t need to understand everything but that maybe it was important that she came to church today. And I asked her if she was homeless and she said sometimes. And I don’t know why I remember, but she said thank you for sitting with me, and that makes me smile right now while I remember. And then I asked her if she wanted a cup of coffee and if she would like to meet our minister and she said yes then I introduced them to each other, and walked away. I feel bad about that, but I wasn’t sure what else to do, so later I talked to the minister again. And that night I sent notes to all the people I know who work with mentally ill or homeless people and I got some ideas about how to help her and I wrote them down and put them inside my purse for her and she was on my mind all that week and still is from time to time, when I see that piece of paper in my purse. And I still don’t know why I remember, but that was a lot to remember.