The Beauty of Surrender

Today, I went to a second yoga session on my trip to Nicaragua. It will likely be my last here as we leave for home in a couple of days. It has been an illuminating, exciting and utterly exhausting trip. Caring for two toddlers is a lot of work in perfect conditions with all the tools in place like diaper pales, level sidewalks and regulatory high chairs with seat belts. All things for which I have a new appreciation. Doing all of the same day-to-day tasks here in the remote Third World without these luxuries has been a challenge for sure. A challenge that has stretched my coping abilities to their max.

I’ve yelled at my children more than I would like. I’ve been short with my husband for no reason. I have been too tired to enjoy some of the fun things because there’s just so much damn work to be done everyday. I’m not proud of it, but even on vacation surrounded by immense beauty I can be pissed off.

I needed yoga today to bring me back to myself. To remind me of the important things.

The wind was whipping my hair in the open-air studio. My dingy, borrowed mat flipped up on the edges from time to time. The pigeons congregated and cooed somewhere above me while the sounds of small-town Nicaragua swirled around me in cries, hollers, motors and horns. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was part of the soundtrack to the practice and somewhere around “…with every breath we drew a hallelujah” I let it all go and I sank into the beautiful space of surrender.

Surrender is beautiful, isn’t it? When we fall on our knees and crumple from the strain of life? When we’re brave enough to admit that we don’t have it all together, that we struggle, that we need help, that even on vacation in paradise we can get pissed off? When we stretch out our arms or join our hands in prayer asking, often begging for love, for peace, for a moment of grace in a hectic world–it is nothing short of a beauty-filled miracle. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to a controlling, anxiety-ridden, yeller… like me.

But it came. It came with the strength of a thousand wind storms.

I was in the zone, or in yoga speak, “on my edge” in every pose. My leg went up in wheel. I held crow. I got closer to a head stand than ever before and I stretched farther and deeper than usual… I chatuaronga’d the shit out of that mat. The hour and a half felt like mere moments in time. I was in my breath. I was humbled yet confident; filled with a strong weakness that transformed me from one inhalation to the next. I have been in many yoga classes in the last 10 years but this one will stay with me forever. It shifted me–left an indelible impression on my soul.

The teacher said, “Every breath brings an opportunity for change.” Like a gong this struck a chord deep inside. She is right. With every breath, I can change. With every minute, I can be better– I can come back to myself and all I have to do is surrender… “with every breath a hallelujah.”

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Let Go And Trust the Direction of the Wind

There are so many lessons to be learned when traveling to foreign countries, in particular, developing countries. I wrote last week about traveling for the first time as the mother of (and with) young children to Nicaragua. I am still here in Nicaragua as I type this and there is still profound perspective around every unbaby-proofed corner.

Nicaraguan Baby

The second lesson that is hitting me hard is this: Let go and go with the wind.

The wind here blows in all directions, sometimes all at once. We were evicted from the place we planned to stay for the duration of our trip partly because of a veracious wind storm that ripped out a couple of window screens. The main reason we were evicted, was because the owner didn’t understand (nor could he tolerate) children. Although for months he led us to believe otherwise. After my daughter wet the bed (which we’d later discover was because of a UTI) along with other realitively minor infractions considering the environment, like not shutting the windows properly to prevent his curtains from be whipped by the wind, he let us know that we were no longer welcome on the 4th day of our 14-day trip. We were understandably upset by this development as my husband spent months planning our trip and corresponding with the owner to insure the safety and proper environment for our young family. Without notice, at 7am one morning, we were suddenly without lodging in a third world country with two small children and lots of luggage.

We railed against the situation and the owner. We vented and called him names and I wrote a review for his place of business and then edited it a dozen times. We were mad for being blind-sided. We were mad because our much-anticipated vacation wasn’t turning out as we’d hoped.

Luckily, there was space available at an excellent resort community that had great amenities including air-conditioning. We didn’t choose this location from the start because on the top of our checklist of accommodations, we wanted a stunning view, immediate beach access and someone to cook most (if not all) of meals. Although this place has a great view, it did not offer the other two things. This ordeal stole an entire day of our vacation by having to relocate and spend time shopping for food and necessities. Not a fun day with two cranky, sweaty, napless toddlers.  To add to the situation, the Nicaraguan woman we hired to help with our children during days up and quit in the middle of our shopping trip because she had problems at home. At some point later this day, I said to my husband in a moment of frustration: “I’m not having fun anymore!”

It was true. I was exhausted. Things weren’t looking good in the near-term future. All I wanted to do was rest and take a break from all the work and worry. In spite this, I picked up my frustrated, disappointed, tired-ass and took my kids to the pool.

Within 10 minutes of being there, I met the owner of the only yoga studio in the small town of San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. Within 20 minutes of meeting her, our vacation would turn around significantly. The next morning, I went to my first yoga practice in two weeks at her studio. While there, on my mat, I would hear this lesson with crushing clarity: Let go and trust the wind.

I have said before that yoga is my church. It is where I check-in with myself. It is where I become the best version of me, and it is where I hear God speak, most clearly. As I sat there on my mat waiting to begin, I started to focus on my breath and become present. It was an open-air studio on the second floor and the breeze blew lightly through.

Yoga NicaraguaI lifted my gaze to watch a butterfly struggling against a sheer, black screen. It struggled, fluttering it’s yellow and black wings over and over again into a barrier it could not see. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew it around the screen into the exact direction it wanted to go. In that instant, I knew what I came to Nicaragua to learn more profoundly.

When life isn’t working out the way you planned; when you get kicked out your accommodations (in part because of a wind storm) and then find yourself on the streets of a third world country with two cranky toddlers, four bags of luggage and nowhere to go; trust, and follow the wind. Stop struggling against the Universe, stop arguing with reality, stop putting energy where there are no solutions or peace or love; stop fighting the obstacles in your path. Go with wind and trust that God will be there waiting to lift you around the screens you cannot see, toward the place where the Yoga teacher is waiting; to a better, brighter space where you can fly where you want to go without struggle.

From that moment on, our vacation got better and better. Since we were not beholden to this snake-oil salesman and his place, we were free to move about, wherever.  Because of this, we are now settled into a beautiful place on the most pristine white sand beach in Nicaragua called Coco which is just 45 minutes outside of San Juan Del Sur . Last night, we watched the most dramatic, stunning, outrageous sunset of our lives. Afterward, my little family of four walked on a the soft sand beach laughing, watching tiny crabs scurry about while the horizon over the ocean blazed on in fiery red-orange. My 3-year-old threw her arms out wide and exclaimed, “Everything is so beautiful!”

She was so right. It was beyond beautiful. I wanted to capture it with my new camera but no digital photograph would contain what we were feeling, seeing and experiencing as a family. We were alone, on a remote corner of the world looking into the dying light of day, gazing up at a crisp sliver of a moon and a sky beginning to dust itself with bright, glittering stars. It is a moment my husband and I will never forget and would never have had, had we held on to our disappointments and let that be our guide instead of being, “…Like a feather on the breath of God.’

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Coco Beach Nicaragua

Playa El Coco, Nicaragua, January 2013

Kids in Nicaragua and Mother Eyes

When my husband first said let’s take the kids to Nicaragua, I worried. I saw pictures of the place he wanted to stay and the first thing I worried about was the pool. Next, were all the unbaby-proofed pitfalls waiting around every jagged corner. The worries continued. How well will they travel for that many hours? What about car seats? The kids are so picky; what are they going to eat? Are they going to be able to adapt to the heat, and oh my, what about sunburns, dysentary, bug bites and where is the nearest hospital? On and on it went. Everytime we told someone we were taking the kids to Nicaragua they wanted to know– is it safe?

I’ve been to third-world countries before but this is my first time as a mother of two small children. It might as well be my first time ever because I see the world anew with Mother Eyes.

We brought two car seats; one for my 17-month-old son, and a booster for my 3-year-old-daughter. I worried that the booster wouldn’t be safe enough because she’s 3lbs shy of the weight limit, but we decided it would be best for packing reasons. Speaking of packing, we brought two large suitcases, a large duffle bag to hold the pack-n-play, two back packs and a rolling carry-on. We would be gone for 14 days and we reasoned that we needed all this stuff for our family of four. We brought snacks, toys, electronics, three kinds of diapers (day, night, swim) and clothes upon clothes upon clothes. Between my daughter and I, we have 10 swimsuits.

The drive from the airport in Managua, to the place we’re staying, San Juan del Sur, took 2.5 hours. It was in a “fancy” car which was a early model jeep of some kind with “air conditioning” which was slightly cooler than the muggy 85 degrees outside. The regular seatbelts were rusted and you can forget about those safety latches in the seat crack for attaching car seats. I don’t even think they know those exist. I was sure we were going to get into a head-on collision multiple times on the long drive down a narrow two-lane road. We passed horse-drawn carts, tractors, busses with people hanging out the sides (including children) and tons of rusted out (but functioning) motorcycles and bicycles loaded down with two or three people, including babies.

Nissan truck nicaragua

I’m not sure I saw a single helmet. It makes me feel a little silly worrying about the 3lbs my daughter lacked to be “regulation” for her booster seat because this is how toddlers travel in Nicaragua.

Toddler Nicaragua

With these new Mother Eyes, I can’t stop seeing all the Nicaraguan children and their mothers.

little girl & mom nicaraguaI went to the unairconditioned grocery store were I watched two mothers chat in the narrow aisles. When I passed them with my loud and whiney kids in the wobbly cart, they got quiet and parted letting me pass between them. They smiled and stared a little as I walked by. I couldn’t seem to hold their gaze. I felt shy, spoiled, foreign in every way and I can’t even imagine what they were thinking of my excessive persperation, new blonde highlights and coral painted toenails.

As we walked up and down the balmy aisles of the grocery store we looked for things our kids might eat. As a rule we try to limit their sugar, not only because it’s not good for them, but because my son has an intolerance when he has too much. There wasn’t much we could find. We bought some basic corn flakes, crackers and condensed milk in unrefrigerated cartons, because everything from the orange juice to the jams and cereals were loaded with tons and tons of added sugar and hydrogenated oils. Those things are cheap and work well to preserve and sweeten foods that aren’t that good for you and made to sit on unairconditioned shelves. They do have plenty of tropical fruit here; pinneaple, bananas, watermellons; but vegetables are hard to find and more expensive. Whole wheat bread is non-existent.

toddler boy and mom nicaragua

The woman that comes to the house from 7am-3pm to clean and cook breakfast for us has four children of her own. When we sit down to eat she holds my son and entertains my daughter. She doesn’t speak English but we try to communicate. My husband types into Google translation: “Thank you for helping with our children. We tip well.” Gracias por su atención a nuestros hijos. Nos propina. She smiles and laughs. Before she cleans our rooms I look around at all our stuff and I am embarrassed. I can’t find anything because we brought so much and it’s now strewn from one corner to the next. On top of it all, my daughter only wants to wear the pink swimsuit with the skirt, and my son has slept in the pack-n-play twice because he prefers to sleep next to me. I can’t help but wonder what she thinks of it all while she cleans. Of us. Of me.

I am humbled here. I feel silly for worrying so much about my children and their picky appetites while the children here clearly have so much less. There is perspective around every unbaby-proofed corner. It breaks my heart but I am equally grateful. I’m grateful to see these things; to understand so profoundly exactly what I have in my life.

Because when I look around I don’t just see all that’s different or lacking. I see what is also the same. That these mothers work, shop, cook and clean for their children because they love them as much as I do, mine. They may not have a LeapPad2, non-toxic crayons made in Europe or even car seats, but there is no difference in how we feel or what they would do for their kids. We all want the best for them. We will all worry about them no matter what and we will do our best to provide what we can. Nic- me & kids on hammock

The irony in all this is; the kids are oblivious to our angst. Everywhere, in any language, country and climate, all kids want is to wear is the pink swimsuit, sleep by Mommy, and instead of playing with fancy electronics, throw the scrabble letters around because of the cool sound they make on the tile floors.

Nic- BB morning deck bananagrams

It’s the kids that know how to live this life. It’s the kids everywhere that should teach us how to live. They don’t feel shy or embarrassed or silly around anyone and they don’t need Google to translate anything.

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Life Puzzles

life puzzlesWe have several wooden, peg puzzles for our children. I started purchasing them when our first child, our daughter, was barely a year old. We have letters, numbers, shapes, colors, animals… you get the picture. I thought it would be a wonderful way to teach my children the basics. My three-year-old has all but abandoned them having tired of the basic puzzles long ago but because of those puzzles, she now associates the letter K with Key, X with X-Ray and T with Daddy’s Tie.

My 16-month-old plays with them regularly. He isn’t proficient enough yet to put them all back together but we do it together, just like I did with his sister. At the end of the day they are inevitably scattered into a pile of mixed up pieces and upturned boards and each night I sit on my knees putting the A back in the Apple slot and matching the blue fish tale with the blue fish head. It’s a nightly chore, like any other. Sometimes pieces go missing for days and I am on the look out for them because if the puzzles don’t have all their pieces and aren’t reassembled, what’s the point of having them? At which point will my son learn how to match the number 5 puzzle piece with the 5 butterflies if the pieces are forever scattered and missing?

My husband, he doesn’t see the point in such nonsense. His answer is to brush all the pieces aside in a heap each night. Sometimes, when he steps on an errant pig peg piece, in a huff he suggests throwing them all away because they make such a mess. He doesn’t understand my logic and why I insist on putting them all back together each night. I can’t ever get him to help me put the puzzles back together, either. It is always my job. And I do it, usually, no matter how tired.

We’ve been together for over 11 years, married for 7 of them. We met when I was 23 and he was 24. Previous to meeting my husband I had a couple of “serious” relationships, but nothing that lasted more than a year. Mostly, it was tragic lineage of one mistake after another but on the bright side; by the time I met Brian, I was pretty sure I knew what I didn’t want and decently sure I knew what I did.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when he came along. He was everything I’d been looking for and much more. I fell, we moved and then married. Eight years in to our relationship, and four years into our marriage, we had our first child. How could we have ever known what to expect? How does anyone?

Personally, becoming a mother rocked me to my core. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be wonderful. I knew it would be one of the most important things I would ever do and I knew (logically) that it would “change everything” (or so people liked to advise), but how was I to really know what that meant? How does anyone?

How was I to know that I would become a different person from that girl 11 years ago who was pretty sure of what she didn’t want and only decently sure of what she did? How was I to know that having children would push me to the precipice of all my shortcomings and then throw me into the fire of change? How was I supposed to know that wooden puzzles, writing and women’s issues would become important pieces in my life’s puzzle? How was I supposed to know that in the process of shifting the lens of my life onto a child, it would create such a profound shift in me that I no longer recognized the piece of ground on which I stood?

When we first became a couple we fit together so well. We were two people with the same ideas about the same ideas and what differed, didn’t seem to matter. We wanted the same things about the same things and those were the most important things, so it seemed. But then, the two pieces multiplied and at the same time divided into four. Now the puzzle contains more pieces than available slots and some pieces are missing all-together. Right now, there’s a difference in opinion as to how it should all be put back together.

It’s hard enough to make you want to run away.

But the biggest piece of this puzzle we’re facing, is that no one is doing that. No one is running and no one is giving up on trying to solve it. No one is ready to shove all the pieces in a pile and move on. I do know that, and for that, I am grateful.

As for my half of this conundrum; I’m trying to focus on the fact that he knows all these wooden puzzles by heart because he has gotten down on his knees dozens of times to put them back together again with our children. I’m trying to become softer, to fit into places I’ve never been before and learn to mold myself to a new, better shape so that it might complement this new structure because I love this structure.

I won’t stop putting the puzzles back together anytime soon because that’s my job, but I’m also trying to respect the fact that he doesn’t feel the same way. My intuition tells me that all married couples traverse these crossroads at some point in their marriage. There is always a moment (or moments) when you look around at the pieces of your life and have to make hard changes and choices as to how they’re all going to fit together on the new ground on which you stand.

Still, some parts seem too hard and all are requiring change.

Right now, we are both being forged by the fires of change and I won’t lie, it hurts. It hurts like hell. There is no definitive answers as to what shape we’re going to be in when we emerge from this crucible, but because we’re here together, my hope is that we’ll find a way to fit together again. There are a few pieces coming together as I write this.

Right now, I’m trying to withstand the heat for the sake of the structure as a whole. I’m trying to put aside the pain and focus on the hand that’s shaping me blow-by-blow because the only way to make something as strong as steel into something softer and more malleable… is with flames and pressure. It’s hard work becoming soft, but I’m trying like hell.

We’re trying like hell. And that’s got to be worth something… right?