To Sir, with Thanks

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To Sir Paul,

This is a Thank You note from a long-time fan and a grateful parent.  About three weeks ago, our entire family traveled from Vermont to Boston to see you perform at Fenway Park.  We were a little nervous – it was our first visit to Boston in over a year, and we had high hopes.  Thanks to you, they were met in ways we hadn’t begun to imagine.

We got to our seats in Fenway just about quarter to seven and not before shelling out a sinful amount of money for T-shirts.  I rationalized this was the only time we may get to see you perform.  And, even though a friend who had been to your sound check earlier in the afternoon had warned us that you were late, we decided it was more fun to wait inside a ballpark that had so many memories for the Big Guy and I than to stand around Yawkey Way.

About forty minutes after we sat down, an introductory slideshow began scrolling up the two massive screens on either side of the stage.  I’ve been listening to your songs since I was in the womb, and my husband has been a fan since seeing you perform on Ed Sullivan, and loved seeing the photos of you and the Beatles and your more recent years.  We’ve done our best to move the tradition forward to our kids, and even they loved seeing the photos of you growing up and growing your own family.

Our six-year-old, lovingly known as Thing2 around our house, waited as patiently as I have ever seen him wait for anything.  When the first song began, about an hour and a half after the scheduled time, he was just starting to want to go back to the hotel, but when the first notes began to echo through the ball park, you brought him back.  You also brought me and the Big Guy to our feet.  The three of us were singing and dancing and clapping as you belted out, “‘Eight Days a We-e-ek.. ‘Eight Days a We-e–eek””.

My older son, twelve-year-old Thing1 who is about to be thirteen and, while not your oldest fan could possibly be your most devoted one, was sitting in his sit trying to cover his face with his hands so that he wouldn’t be recognizable if pictures of his parents dancing like idiots made it onto a concert tour DVD.  But we kept dancing, and despite himself, Thing1 began to silently mouth the words to the song.

Everytime I peeked at him, he rewarded our dancing a look of mortification.  But somewhere between ‘Eight Days a Week’ and ‘We Can Work it Out’ and your soul-lifting introduction to and rendition of Blackbird (I can scarcely remember a more uplifting moment than sitting in the dark with 30,000 people singing along with your guitar), Thing1 had an epiphany that could only have happened here.

As the Big Guy, Thing2 and I were dancing and clapping, Thing1 and I glanced across the aisle and noticed another set of parents with a pair of young sons around 10 and 12.  The mother of the family was also dancing, but the dad – about the same age as the Big Guy – was lost in the music and the moment.  Clapping his hands, waving his arms, and stomping his feet as he sang along, word for word.  He looked younger than his two horrified boys sitting beside him.

For me it was confirmation that we had all found the fountain of youth for a night.  For Thing1, it was something different.  Watching the other two boys trying to obscure their own faces as they tugged at their dad’s sleeve, begging him to dance less effusively, it dawned on my twelve-year-old that all kids have the same problem.  They have parents.  And they can’t get rid of us until they get out of the house.

Any other night that knowledge might have been depressing.  He might have thought about his future independence, but that night, Sir Paul, that knowledge became freedom.  And for the first time ever, I saw my son begin to sing along – out loud – in public.  For the first time in a long time, I saw him shed the inhibitions he had begun to take on with his adolescence, and, as he did, he began to find his way back to himself.

So, not only for the unrestrained joy I got to see on the face of my six-year-old, but the serenity Thing1 got from accepting the parents he can’t change, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Abbyroad

Sincerely,

Ma Barlow

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A Banner Routine

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I wasn’t exactly pudgy in high school. I doubt any of my friends would have called me fat, but I doubt I was the only girl who looked in the mirror and wished they were skinnier, taller, more like the faces staring out from the magazines. I was hardly model height or weight or anything else, but looking back, I can hardly believe how hard I was on myself.  I’m sure I wasn’t alone there either.

Decades later, standards have changed, but so have I. There are now petite models, plus-size models, and, if they ever start looking for a petite, plus-sized model shaped roughly like an orange, I’ll be in serious demand. So, even though I’ve lost twenty-seven pounds since the beginning of the summer, I still have a long way to go.

I’ve been traveling a good part of that road on foot on the make-shift track I’ve formed in the tenth of a mile of grass and gravel that surrounds our house like a wavy running track. This morning, after a bad fall from grace the night before, I got up and greeted the apple tree between the house and garden thirty-two times, I glanced at the soon-to-expire inspection tag on the front of my car thirty-two times, and I said hello to my puzzled dog thirty-two times.

It was routine again after the second lap, and there’s something comforting in routine. My legs no longer feel tired on every lap. I’m not out of breath after each lap. When my music program ends on my iPod, I keep going for a few more minutes because I can. A few more songs and it’s no longer about the weight but about going the distance. It’s about making taking care of myself part of my routine. It’s the same mentality that helped me make writing a part of my routine last summer.

Anyone who’s been reading this blog since last summer knows that my posts have gone from being daily and even twice daily to weekly or semi-weekly on good weeks. I can blame some of the lapse on a little more chaotic work schedule and the kids being home from school all summer. But the reality is that at the beginning of the summer, I had to make some hard decisions about which battles I needed to fight the hardest for a while.

In the middle of May, chest pains sent me to the hospital for a stress test. It was the culmination of a winter of health neglect that coincided with a fairly serious bout with depression. The chest pain turned out to be a very bad lung infection, but it was a wakeup call. So I started walking.

Eating right takes more time than opening a box of Shake’n’Bake. Exercising takes more time than sitting down on the couch for another book. Fitting those things into my life, however, was a battle that I knew I had to fight for me.

At first I thought it was selfish and destructive. I wanted to write. I had committed to it. I needed to take care of my job and my house (in that order). But I knew I needed to take care of me. Then I stumbled on a quote by Michele Obama that, whether you love her or love to hate her, had a lot of truth in it.

She said, “You’d get up at four in the morning to get to a job. You’d get up a half hour earlier in the morning to take care of your kids, so why shouldn’t you take a little extra time to take care of yourself.” That hit me like two tons of liposucked lipids.

I get up at five in the morning to work on email or fix a file for a customer.  I spent most nights for the better part of 2 years and then 3 with an infant glued to my breast because they needed it. So why, I asked myself, wasn’t I willing to do that for myself. Now I do because I’ve come to the recognition that it’s okay for a mom to do something for herself. You are doing it for them. You’re doing it to be there for them for the long haul and to be an example, but it’s okay to do it for yourself.

Now I feel I’m starting to feel like I’m winning the battle, even if it will never end. But it’s not an uphill fight, and it’s giving me the gumption to take up the writing banner that has meant almost as much as my health. There have been spurts and fits trying to get the routine back, but the challenge now is to find a way to make those two battles one.

Magic Reclaimed

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About a year ago – almost exactly a year ago – I wrote a piece about a very special place not far from our house.

Hubbard Hall, a community theatre and art center in the one-traffic light town of Cambridge, NY, had been on our radar for a number of years. My husband became involved with their theatre company and returns at least twice a year. Then I got pulled in by a writing workshop/group that is moving into its second year. My sons are the most recent members of the flock, and it was their experience at summer theatre workshops that prompted my piece last year.

Jack, my oldest, was already navigating the self-conciousness that comes with early teen years and thought he had no interest in being in a play.  Thing2, my six-year-old, never had much of a shell, but, like a lot of kids his age, he sometimes takes a few minutes to get used to a new classroom before letting go of my hand. In the presence of the Hubbard Hall Magic, however, Jack came out of his shell, and Thing2 discovered new worlds.  Both kids came away from their camps with new friends and new outlooks, and every subsequent workshop begins with Thing2 exclaiming, “Oh I LOVE this place.”

Over the spring we got a little disconnected from this magical place. I’m still at the Ministry of Encouragement hosted by author Jon Katz, but our little group has been going in different directions for a few weeks. It’s been temporary, but disconnection can morph into discouragement if left to fester.

So now, a year after I first wrote about this magical place, I’m sitting under the same oak tree on the same rotting picnic bench watching the same kids emerging from the murderously hot buildings as they scamper from rehearsal to craft projects. Thing2 and two of his friends become involved in a very sophisticated game of make-believe, laughing and waving their arms and looking like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Parents go in and out of the nearby Battenkill Books, seeking company and relief from the heat.

The scene is completely ordinary and completely magical, and in that moment I’m reminded of the things that inspired me last summer when I couldn’t stop writing. I’m still a big believer in the Ministry of Encouragement, but this is the perfect way to be reminded that I found it at the Church of Possibility here at Hubbard Hall.

Climb Any Mountain

 

The road from our driveway down to the main road winds around our hill, creating an idyllic s-curve framed by the trees that line the horse farm near the bottom of the hill. Since the bridge at that bottom closed, I haven't seen my favorite S-Curve much, but a few days ago, I took it into my head to incorporate more hills into my run and, instead of running the quarter mile laps around our house, I walked to the top of the driveway and then down the road. It's hardly the path not taken, but it's rarely done on foot, let alone at a decent pace, and that made all the difference.

Swinging my arms, music turned off so I could hear the woods around me, I marched down the hill at a good clip. There's a fallen tree in front of the defunct bridge at the bottom of the hill, and I decided it was a good place to turn around.

Katy, my wonder dog (she wonders about everything), had run our trail back and forth several times and wagged her tail as I started back up the hill. She bounded up the first swell in the road, stopping at the orange barrels and 'Road Closed' sign just as the sun climbed high enough in the sky to begin casting long purple shadows on the road. Shadows still covered my part of the dirt road, but Katy was now silhouetted in silvery gold, and the mountain behind her was completely illuminated. I couldn't see the rest of the hill I had to climb, and as I started back, I felt as though I was entering new territory.

This is a place where I make time for fitness and where fitness propels the other things in my life that matter. It's a place where I take the time to savor the simple things around me.

By the time I walked back to the middle of the hill where our driveway begins, I was huffing and puffing, but I was still climbing. The climbs have gotten easier each day, and each day I add a little more hill and a little more road to the routine.

I still do my dance at the scale – finding triumph or shame on any given day. On any given day, I may find Katy, neighbor's dogs, sweltering heat or soothing cool morning air on the trail, but I always find some reason for triumph. And I never find a reason for shame.

 

Sinner on the Tread of an Angry Scale

Some mornings I feel like I’ve joined a cult. Every morning I step on the scale, hoping to see the digital digits in decline The amount of decline, however, can vary with the time of day or what I’m wearing or even where on the scale I step as I try to disperse my weight over the greatest possible surface area. I perform my ritual dance – tap to zero, step up, step down, repeat as needed to produce desired results. Sometimes the ritual can last as many as five minutes, but most mornings my devotions are rewarded.

There are a more than a few days, however, when I creep to the altar. Like a penitent kneeling in the confessional, I slough off every possible bit of mass before stepping, naked, onto the scale. Sometimes I think I can hear it speak to me.

“You seem troubled…”

“Forgive me, it’s been three days since my last weigh-in.”

“So I see. Have you anything to confess?”

“I’m too embarrassed.”

“There’s nothing to fear. Step closer. After all, you know you can’t hide your sins from me.”

“No. Well, I have sinned. It started with this pint of Ben and Jerry’s. See, I was trying to eat local and – ”

“Everyone makes mistakes once in a while. Except for me, of course. I’m 100% accurate. Just step on and see.”

“Yes, well there were several once-in-a-whiles this weekend. It’s a bit of a blur.”

“Step on and we’ll see what your penance will be.”

I do a mental rundown of my sins in the last twenty-four hours, wondering what the penalty will be and quietly greatful the scale doesn’t come with a buzzer or alarm of any kind. I tap-to-zero and then step on the pads between the outlines I’d drawn years ago. My penance began immediately and painfully as the numbers climbed by whole numbers. I dance a little longer, but the number only increases with my rationalizations and excuses.

A few minutes later, chastened, I creep from the treads of my angry scale. But unlike an unburdened magdalen, I don’t leave the shame with my confessor. It follows me, gnawing at my faith in the possibility of another possibility. But, while my faith is shaken, fear of the numbers will bring me crawling back in another day.