Thank You For Your Kindness, Week Four in The New Abnormal

Morning View from My Bedroom Window

Small kindnesses have huge impacts.  This week I hadn’t felt well, and the comments, texts, calls, messages, and extra care have been particularly meaningful. Larry, my husband, asked me if he could help take care of me, if I would let him.  The truth is I usually don’t let him help me.  I can be stubbornly independent, even at my own expense.  So, I “let” him.  Every query to see if there was anything he could do was welcomed.  He made trips to the pharmacy to find the right over-the-counter remedies.  He cooked or ordered dinner. We chatted casually.  Something we don’t often have a chance to do. 

In the past I’d get defensive as if he were accusing me of not being able to do something myself.  And sometimes his accusations were spot on.  Nonetheless I’d get defensive as if that truth wasn’t already fully clear.  

Friends and family have been kind.  Interdependence can soften us, as it has me this past week, leaving me more grateful and treasuring those I love even more.  Gifts can come in odd shapes.  Being vulnerable has allowed me to take in those gifts.  

I am feeling better day by day.  And I plan to remember this week so I can accept help when offered in the future.  The kindness of others deepens us and makes us stronger in a positively vulnerable way.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Clean out apps.  We always have apps that we thought were a good idea, but that we either never use, or they no longer serve us.  It’s okay to delete those.  
  • Give yourself a news free day.  See if it lightens your stress load.  
  • Ask for help.  Even if you could go it alone, it may save time and forge a connection when done with or by another. 

Balancing Act, Week Three in the New Abnormal

I keep deluding myself into thinking I know the best formula for getting through these difficult times.  I meditate twice daily.  I make sure I don’t make plans more than once a week, except in special circumstances.  I go for daily walks.  I work.  I try to make easy dinner a few times a week.  I like doing all these things.  While I’m doing them, I feel perfectly fine.  But in other moments I am short-tempered.  I am impatient.  I long for more assistance.  I understand how fortunate I am to have supportive people in my life.  But we all need extra scaffolding, and since most of us are depleted, we have less inner resources from which to give.

When I get heated, lash out, or feel deflated, I know I am far from being balanced.  I was never athletic, and I could barely do a cartwheel in gym class, but throughout school I felt comfortable on the balance beam.  Not skilled, but able to stay upright.  Now at a more advanced age, I feel at ease with balance stances on my yoga mat.  But feeling steadied after a full day of work and a few minutes facing my to-do lists is not an available option these days.  I am off-balance.  

For months on end during the pandemic I was keen on regaining whatever balance I had before.  That wasn’t working so I tried to find a new balance.  Perhaps for some that’s a possibility, but I can only speak for myself, and I was nowhere near anything I could call balanced, beam or no beam.  Now I’m not quite embracing the collective destabilizing forces, but I am doing what I can to live in it.  

Yes, walking helps.  True, carving out alone time makes a difference.  Saying no when I don’t have the wherewithal.  And saying yes when opening myself up to something out of my routine gives me renewed joy. All simple, but not always easy.  I am grateful for laughter and art as balms in this uncertain storm.  It allows me to come back to myself.  A place in which I can be kind to myself and others, understanding most of us are a bit wobbly as we try to regain our footing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Have a private Karaoke. Turn up a song and sing along loudly, releasing your inner artistic spirit. 
  • Get a small plant while practicing loving discipline.  Choose a commitment level by picking out a plant you can easily care for.  
  • Read a short story.  It gives you a sense of accomplishment without a long-term reading commitment.    

A New Abnormal, Week One in the New Abnormal

Welcome to 2022.  There are a lot of surprises in store.  I’ll be surprised along-side you.  I’m calling it the “New Abnormal” due to the fact that it’s been abnormal for awhile.  A new normal doesn’t resonate with me since there have been too many tectonic shifts these last couple of years.  Although this new abnormal is, well, new, I am no stranger to abnormal.  

When I was 9 years old I secretly played with Barbies.  Under our ping pong table in the basement, I created a world that entertained me for hours.  I quickly came to understand that my third-grade classmates were not still playing with their Barbie dolls.  At least no one admitted to it.  They had moved on to more sophisticated toys like the Zig Zag sewing machine or the totally cool walkie-talkies. But I relished my alone time away from my three siblings to do as I pleased, inventing new roles that my small dolls could inhabit.  Even later when I was to learn that Barbie was no friend to feminists, I silently appreciated those precious years when they provided me with a gateway to my creative mind.  

As much as I loved those solo hours under the table, on Sundays my Grandpop, Sam, would play ping pong with me, my Barbies far from underneath the table in the appropriate cases tucked into the basement closet.  My Grandpop was quite athletic.  When he played ping pong, he played to win.  I only learned the game by trying to keep up.  He usually won.  But he never gloated.  He was a humble man, who taught me the importance of doing a good job for oneself. 

At school I was relentlessly teased for my frizzy hair, my hand-me-down wardrobe, or my socially awkward demeanor.  To certain kids at Stafford School, I was abnormal.  It felt like an unwanted burden as a tween.  As an adult, especially in this time of Coronavirus, I have come to understand that having had a tough beginning was the introduction I needed to get through difficult times.  

As we enter 2022, we all have a sense of what it takes when the unexpected comes.  We’ve had plenty of practice these last 22 months.  Abnormal times require abnormal qualities.  I may have been unpopular playing with my Barbies, but being able to entertain myself for long periods of time in my own company has served me well.  Plus enjoying the company and sportsmanship of my Grandpop has given me an ease with quiet focus.  Let’s rejoice in what’s distinct from others.  Celebrating our inner abnormalities may just get us through this new year.  

Self-Care Tips:  

  • Laugh a little.  Watch a Betty White clip on YouTube or elsewhere.  
  • Clean out something simple as a signal for a fresh beginning.  It can be a drawer, a pencil holder, a room, your refrigerator or freezer, your oven or a closet.  Throw out what doesn’t serve you anymore.  If you can recycle it or repurpose it, great.  
  • In what ways have you known yourself to veer from the crowd? If it’s something that gives you pleasure and it doesn’t harm you or anyone else, allow yourself the grace to appreciate and enjoy your “inner abnormal.”

Generosity of Spirit, Week 34 in the Time of Transition

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I always thought I was a generous person.  Then I got married and I came to realize that I was only generous in certain circumstances.  If something was my idea, great, I was happy to offer services, a gift, or lend an ear.  However, if asked, I found I could be withholding.  Somehow I felt being asked for something implied I was stingy.  And I was.  Sometimes I still am.  Apparently a generous heart is not a one way endeavor. 

I started to notice that “no” was my immediate response when asked for something.  I had to learn to pause to see why.  I didn’t like this stingy quality and wanted to do better. What I found was that I had often volunteered or ignored my needs to give in ways that more often than not were a sacrifice.  I ignored my own needs to unconsciously gain acceptance from others.  Once I stopped giving in those instances I had more room to give of myself at other times.    I felt less resentful, less parsimonious.

Holidays often highlight our generosity or lack thereof.  If we’re motivated by a giving heart, we will feel the joy of the season.  If we receive with a generous spirit, we take in so much more than the gift at hand.  And, yet we’ve been through a lot.  Having foregone so much, with more closures happening at present, we might feel particularly challenged to access our generous spirit.  

As we traverse the Omicron variant surge, let’s do our best to open our hearts to one another.  We’re in for a bumpy ride.  I’m going to do my best in finding the humanity for those who make me bristle.  I will be testing myself.  Do I have the grace to live and let live?  Or will I be judging others?  Seething through a tight jaw.  

I don’t know what will show up when I’m stressed or down.  But I’ll use my reactions as measures of what I might need in terms of grace.  And, then I’ll do what I can to have patience as I move through the end of this difficult year into a new year in which living in the spirit of generosity will serve me more than holding on.  

As we open ourselves up to the many gifts in life, may we all benefit from the act of giving and receiving.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Send thank you notes.  It means so much to those who give to us to know that the gift was received in the spirit of generosity
  • Stay within your budget.  It can feel challenging to not overspend.  Remember that an act of love can mean so much more than a boxed gift paid on credit.  
  • Regift to places that accept new items for those who might have lost so much.  Some places you might consider are domestic abuse shelters, tornado victims, emergency immigrant centers. 

We Are Not Okay, Week 33 in the Time of Transition

I’m finding this holiday season to be quite odd.  On the one hand, many of us are able to travel, visit with friends and family, and celebrate the holidays in person rather than on Zoom.  On the other hand, our nervous systems have been taxed beyond what we thought possible as we forge ahead.  

I so appreciate the invitations I’ve received for in-person celebrations.  And, yet, I just don’t feel up to it.  I am less inclined to have small talk.  I like to see people, but not much is new in terms of life changes, and I don’t have the wherewithal to listen even though I’m interested.  So I sit out the parties.  Parties I yearned to attend in my 20s and 30s.  Parties I will forego in my 60s while we still cope with a pandemic.  

When we ask, “how much more can we endure?”, we’re simply given more.  Plodding ahead, a bit slower than before.  Sometimes I can delight in a small moment.  Such as walking with a friend or enjoying a chance meeting in Central Park.  Other times I am enraged by what would seem an insignificant event.  

Today my face burned as I attempted to walk around a family who abruptly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to adjust something in their stroller.  It wasn’t an emergency and they had plenty of room had they cared to walk a couple of steps moving closer to the curb. I have little patience for those who are not considerate of others.  Simple kindnesses go a long way.  I soften when someone is gentle or thoughtful.  Later in the day a neighbor helped me with a package, and I could have cried from gratitude.  Ambivalence and a general malaise have ruled these last months.  It’s kind of like a throwback to my adolescence, or maybe even menopause.  Two stages I would have preferred to leave in the past.  Yet here I am, moody and grateful.  

Self-Care Tools:  

  • Smile to a stranger.  Know that they, too, are going through a lot
  • Allow yourself to slow down.  It’s easier to make room for your feelings, your process, or anything you’re experiencing when you slow down, take a breath, and say, “In this moment this is where I am.”
  • Take a bath.  If you can, find some bath soap paint that washes away.  Create art on your body, in the tub, then wash it away.  It’s fun and it will be a reminder of the impermanence of our situation. 

Don’t Get Caught With Tattered Underwear, Week 29 in the Time of Transition

I was doing my laundry last week.  While hanging my underwear on the hand dryer, I noticed the rips that must have happened over time, the time spent quietly during the pandemic.   Everything was so comfortable, so I never stopped to examine them.  And comfort has been key.  Though comfort still matters, I’ll take my underwear without rips. 

 

While I was choosing my new briefs, which I was thrilled to find on sale, I was thinking of the last time tattered undies played a role in my life.  It was 25 years ago.  I was walking to work, crossing the street when a cab turned the corner without looking.  He hit me and lifted me onto his bumper until he stopped suddenly, and I slid down onto the cold street.  

An ambulance came and checked on me.  I didn’t know I was in shock, but I wouldn’t let them take me to the hospital.  I insisted I’d go to my doctor’s office.  I went, but only after I returned home to call work.  This was before everyone had cell phones.  After I made that call, I searched through my undergarment drawer to find at least one pair that was worthy of a doctor’s visit.  I was not putting on an examining gown with torn granny panties.  Since that time, I’ve made it a point to have accident-ready underwear.  I see it as a preventative measure. 

 

The truth is I learned a lot more than to avoid torn clothing.  The accident, and the months following really taught me to take care of myself in a more conscious way.  The first steps were to heal from the accident.  Thanks to good physical therapists, medical massage therapists, an acupuncturist, medical specialists, and my psychotherapist, I got through the pain to other side.  I was lucky.  Not only did I have good insurance, I had good care.  

There was so much more to learn.  Being prepared for the unexpected was not part of my toolbox.   Through the years I’ve learned patience.  I learned how to pivot when needed.  Being flexible, even if I inwardly resist change, has been invaluable.  It took the pandemic to teach me to slow down.  Slowing down helps when the world turns upside down. It even helps as the world, step by step, turns back around, with an unfamiliar view.  

For now, getting new underwear is a fresh start in this changing world.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Slow Down.  It seems like there’s always something to get done because there usually is.  But slowing down gives us a perspective that we don’t get when we’re speeding ahead.  
  • Ask yourself what act of kindness will help you prepare for the unexpected.  Change is a given.  Having patience and kindness for ourselves when we face the unknown brings a bit of peace when we may be inclined to stress.  
  • If you’re able, indulge in a new pair of underwear.  And, throw out one that is no longer comfortable for you.  

Funny Thing About Gratitude, Week 26 in the Time of Transition

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I find it incredibly annoying when I’m upset about a person, place, or thing, I’m on a rant, and the individual listening responds by telling me I should be grateful.  It feels like a dismissal of my complaint, valid or not, and a recommendation that I pivot to a “soft music inserted here” blissful moment when I see how lovely life is and how wrong I was to find the awful in this grand world we inhabit.  

I see the benefits of complaining.  I find it helps me to release my frustration, as well as other unpleasant emotions, so that I can find that blissful place on my own.  I am all for being inspired, but I am not a fan of skipping the messy parts so that I make it easier for someone else.  

Conversely, in moments of awe and wonder I enjoy the wave of gratitude that envelops me.  And, in times when I experience hardship and my family, friends, acquaintances and/or strangers offer their support, I am forever grateful.  Kindness is taken in and helps me to grow.  My heart softens.  

When I listen to award shows, I feel badly for the winners who only want to share their special moment by acknowledging the countless others who allowed them to reach that stage, but the orchestra music plays to interrupt them.  Though I won’t name names here, only because I am apt to miss some, I am forever grateful to my relatives, friends, teachers, mentors, therapists, co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and others who have shared their thoughtfulness.  It has inspired me.  Their acts of kindnesses have been invaluable whether they remember them or not.  

So, if for a short time I complain, it is only so that I can unload on my own terms, allowing me to get back to a place in which I am genuinely grateful for all the times I’ve been the recipient of your and others’ generosity of heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find a person to whom you can share your complaints.  In the absence of a neutral listener, write down your complaints so they are not swimming in circles in your brain.  
  • Remember times in which you were the recipient of arbitrary kindness.  Check in with how it feels to recollect that time.  
  • Write a thank you note.  We have lost that art, and they are so appreciated.  

Hello Sunrise, Week 25 in the Time of Transition

When I was a young child and my bedtime was 7:30, the advent of a darker evening meant that I was awake longer while the night sky became opaque.  It felt as if I was staying up later, even though I understood in theory I was going to bed at the same time.  Since the pandemic my bedtime has gotten earlier.  I go out less, plus I got older these past 19 months.  I have yet to go to bed at 7:30, but it feels easy to get into bed when it’s been dark for a few hours.  

The advantage to this is that the sun rises later giving me a chance to wake up with time for coffee and a very short walk to the East River promenade to get a picture of the morning’s dawn.  I love how frequently the light changes from moment to moment and from day to day.  While our world has changed in so many ways, I appreciate the regularity of the sun.  Even on cloudy or rainy days, the sun may not make an appearance, but trusting it resides behind the clouds gives me great comfort.  

There is a simple joy in recognizing the beauty in nature.  While a city girl at heart, getting away, or finding the green patches among the concrete, is a balm for the soul.  The cool weather sunrises, and when possible, the sunsets provide a colorful array of grace.  Those moments have been invaluable in bringing ease during these tenuous times. 

Self-care Tips:

  • Enjoy sunrises and sunsets.  If you don’t have a view of them, there are amazing pictures online.  Thank you to those who post such gorgeous photographs. 
  • Ground yourself by standing on grass, rocks, or other solid earthbound foundations.  Feel your feet connecting to the earth.  Stand tall so that you feel as if the crown of your head is extended from an invisible cord skyward.  
  • If your schedule permits, allow the early dark evenings to ease you into a sense of restfulness.  

Getting Away, Week 23 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Sometimes we just need to get away.  It helps to clear our heads and take a break from day-to-day stress.  That’s exactly what we did this weekend. It’s been a long time coming.  I booked this trip before the pandemic shut down our world.  I rebooked three times in the hope that quarantines were a temporary inconvenience.  In the end we had to wait until the Canadian borders opened up for the fully vaccinated. 

I was nervous to take my first big trip out of the country.  But I also wanted a proper vacation.  It felt like I needed a proper vacation.  So here we are in Quebec City fully enjoying the hospitality and food that is offered with care.  

The joy of walking unfamiliar streets and seeing the colors change on the trees has proven to be just the break I needed.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take a break.  If you can’t get away, give yourself quick moments throughout the day when you take 5 deep breaths for a short pause.
  • Start taking note of the colors changing on the trees.  What colors do you like the most?  Which trees look as if they’re ablaze?  Enjoy he richness of the season.  
  • Savor the natural foods of the season.  Whether you like all things pumpkin, or you’re an apple fan, the flavors of fall offer so much.  

Singing in the Park, Week 21 in the Time of Transition

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As a young child I delighted in our Magnavox HiFi.  I would sit on the scratchy green wool sofa in our den while listening to Rosemary Clooney.  Her album, Rosemary Clooney Sings for Children with its pink background was a clear favorite.  I loved the track, Betsy, My Paper Doll, because I was the lucky recipient of the Betsy McCall paper dolls hidden in the pages of my mother’s McCall’s Magazine.  The other song that spoke to me was The Little Shoemaker because my father was in the shoe business.  At six, it felt like Rosemary Clooney was singing to me personally.  I hadn’t realized Rosemary Clooney was an icon until years later when I watched her sing with Bing Crosby in White Christmas on the Sunday Million Dollar Movie. 

Recently I was reminded of that album while walking in Central and Carl Shurz Parks in this time of transition.  On the grass are one- and two year-olds in a safely distanced semi-circle with their caregivers listening to Broadway level singers shaking egg instruments and leading the children in song.  They are singing their hearts out to their young audiences who may or may not be singing along.  Each performer grateful for any gig as theater crawls back from being dark.  

How fortunate I was to have enjoyed the musical styling of a great songstress.  And, how lucky these toddlers are to meet up with some of the best singers from around the country. It’s not clear if it’s simply a part of their activity schedule or if the family values the influence of music in our lives.  Either way, I appreciate walking past them remembering the simple touch of my mother’s hand when placing the needle gently on the spinning album even when I asked to hear it again and again. 

In addition to Rosemary Clooney, I heard Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, and many more who allude my memory, crooning through our oak HiFi.  On Sundays we listened to opera on the classical radio station.  That’s when my grandparents visited. We all sat quietly on the same itchy green sofa or love seat.  If we couldn’t be quiet, we had to go play in the basement.  I favored Puccini and Mozart.  The songs felt pretty to me.  But not having an album cover to attempt to read was a limitation that had me go to the basement after an aria or two.  

I’m not listening to enough music these days.  It’s time to open-up iTunes and delight in Rosemary Clooney and friends.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Play music you used to enjoy.  Take in the memories and notice how the songs and music impact you now
  • Take a walk and see what associations you conjure.  What recollections come to mind?
  • Create new memories by sharing music with someone you respect.  If possible, listen together.  If you can’t, you can enjoy the association with the music.