January 2014 archive

And It All Started with Yogurt Cups

urlA few months ago I was grocery shopping. I filled my cart with the usual suspects: cage-free eggs, almond milk, veggies, fruit, string cheese…you know. Clean eating.
I walked through the dairy section and saw the yogurt cups. I love yogurt cups, I thought to myself. But they have fruit and sugar and they’re not good for me. We don’t buy those. I kept walking towards the eggs and a wave of rebellion washed over me.
Yogurt. I like yogurt. With fruit in it. Why can’t I have that?
I rolled my cart back by the yogurt cups, stalking them, trying to decide if I should put one in my cart or just wait and see if one might spontaneously hop into the basket. If it hops in on it’s own, then it’s a sign I’m supposed to get yogurt. I gave the yogurt cups plenty of time to jump as I creeped by, but alas. It would appear yogurt cups remain inanimate objects and I was going to have to make some hard choices.
Staring at the hundreds of flavors, it hit me. During my marriage, I gave up so much of what I love. I didn’t give anything up because my husband asked me to, or because he scolded me when I did what I wanted to do. I did it because I thought I was supposed to like what he liked, eat what he ate, do what he did. So much of the person I know myself to be got lost in the confines of Man and Wife that I was reduced to a stand-off in the yogurt section on a Tuesday afternoon, fighting with myself about whether or not I was going to do something SO naughty as to buy the tart cherry Chobani yogurt that’s on sale, 5 for $5.00. It took every ounce of my to place one in my cart and keep walking.
As I moved towards the front of the store, a weird little liberating feeling rushed over me. I am allowed to buy anything I want in this grocery store. I am allowed to eat anything I want to eat! Anytime! I don’t have to do things the way other people do them, the way the books and articles say I should, the way anyone tells me is “best” for me. I stopped my cart, flipped it around, and gathered up 9 more Chobani yogurts in my cart.
While enjoying my first, delectable cup of yogurt the next morning, I contemplated all of the other things in my life I have done before other people suggested them: Keeping my hair short. Not wearing Uggs. Separating whites and colors. Not eating gluten. Why can’t I just do this life the way I want to do it?! If I want to wear Uggs, I should! If I want to grow my hair, I will! If I want to eat a hamburger, I’M GONNA!
(As it turns out, the gluten thing really turned out to be true. I was sick for a day after that delicious hamburger, so I’m going to keep the “no gluten” deal going for a while longer.)
I’m starting to discover who I am again, the whole me. I’m remembering things I love to do and love to eat. I’m finding myself in little things like the proper way to fold socks and putting the good knives in the dishwasher. And with each simple, little new thing I re-discover about myself, I settle in more and more to the new normal of my life (which, in all actuality, is the old normal, too). And it all started with yogurt cups.

I’m Supposed to Write about the Rain Today

rainOn a morning walk along one of the biggest roads in Jacksonville, ear buds gently placed in my ears and Ben Folds serenading me with every step, I kept my eyes forward and cleared my mind. When a rain drop tapped the toe of my Ugg boot, I felt it soak in and chill my little, sockless toe. I have a habit of putting my boots on without socks, and this time it wasn’t working to my advantage. Not only was I 20 minutes from home, my boots were far from water-proof. I started walking faster as the rain started falling faster. Can someone outrun the rain?
Frustrated at how quickly my tank top soaked through, I felt my anxiety level rising. What a mess this rain is. I’m going to have to strip my clothes outside and run to the bathroom to the shower to warm up and grab a robe. In hindsight, what a silly thing to worry about.
I remembered a writing prompt as I power-walked that our Executive Editor gave to my team last week: take a moment to go outside, listen to nature, see the tree leaves both dying and living, feel the air, taste the sun on my face. My plan was to sit on my back porch with a cup of coffee and do just that on a sunny afternoon when the birds were invading the Holly Trees and the vulture who lives on our block soared overhead, searching for a mole or a rat I’d imagine. That is how I wanted to complete the exercise, it was my plan.
And yet, here I walked, out of control and far from the ideal and serene circumstances set forth by my own expectations. What an opportunity for growth.
Once I finished having my tantrum over the rain interrupting my walk, taking away my very controlled and planned writing exercise, I stood still on a sidewalk and gave in to life’s circumstances. Guess what, Erin? You don’t get to control it. This is the experience you were given. Make it beautiful.
I sat down on a small, brick wall outside of a doctor’s office next to a hibiscus tree. Everything was soaked, including me, as I took the ear buds out of my ears and stuck them in my pocket. I sat, resigned, open, and I began to notice my surroundings. The rain, “big rain” as my son calls this type of downpour, ran down my face, my arms, my knees. It was cold, it was uncomfortable. I closed my eyes, partly because I wanted to use my other senses but more because the raindrops were mixing with my mascara and burning my eyes. The cars whizzed by, puddles interrupted and ripped apart by busy tires. I worried for a split second that all those raindrops purposefully got together to form a puddle, a family, and that they were being forced away from each other with each work-bound splash. The rain drops plopped down onto the hibiscus leaves, and the sound asked me to open my eyes and watch as they slid down from one leaf to another, giggling like the biggest water slide ever for a raindrop.
And what’s that? An owl? How could an owl be awake right now?! Maybe he’s complaining about the rain keeping him awake. Or maybe he’s talking about how nice it feels to take a bath.
I got comfortable with being uncomfortable and accepted life on life’s terms that day. I couldn’t control my surroundings, but if I surrendered to them, I learned that what life gives you can be way more awesome than anything I could dream up or control. The rain dripped off my hands and for a moment, I couldn’t tell if tears or raindrops were falling from my eyes. The writing exercise turned into a lesson: there’s beauty in everything, experience in everything if you give yourself the space to go with the flow, and an unexpected Florida rainstorm reminded me of that truth.
I walked home, slowly and soaked through, with a slight smirk on my face. I did it. I let go, I listened, and I noticed the world on the world’s terms. It was far more beautiful than the sunny, bird-chirping day I imagined this experience would include. Life isn’t always sunny, but learning to walk through the rain offers up lessons that a sunny day couldn’t compare to.
Thank you, Katie, for posing the writing prompt. And thank you life for taking away my need to control it. The outcome was far more beautiful than anything I could have planned.

It Happened

It finally happened tonight.
“Mommy? Girls have a vagina. Boys have a penis.”
Obviously, I’ve purchased condoms and contacted a therapist. I’m planning on having “the talk” with him tomorrow. Too soon?

Mommy Needs a Break

photo“Mommy? What is that?”
“That’s a bus.”
“That’s a bus?”
“A school bus?”
“No, it’s a city bus.”
“That’s a city bus?”
“I don’t know how to answer that, Abe.”
“There’s no answer to that question.”
“Because it’s not a why question.”
“It’s not a why question?”
“Why not?”
“Abe. Mommy needs a break from talking.”
“Mommy, you needs a break from talking?”
“Yes. No more talking for a few minutes.”
“Ok, mommy. No more talking?”
“Ok, mommy. I’ll be quiet.”
“Thank you.”
(10 second pause)
“Mommy, you need a break?”
“Yes, Abe, I need a break.”
“Ok, mommy. You need a break from talking.”
“You’re taking a break?”
“Abe, you’re still talking.”
“I’m still talking?”
“Yes, you are still talking. And mommy needs a break from talking.”
“You need a break from talking?”
“Ok, mommy. I’ll be quiet.”
“Thank you.”
(3 minute pause)
“Yes, Abe?”
“Are you still taking a break?”
“Because I need some quiet for a minute.”
“You need some quiet for a minute?”
“That’s ok, Mommy. I’ll be quiet.”
“Thank you.”
(10 second pause.)
“It’s ok you need a break, mommy.”
I don’t answer.
“It’s ok, mommy.”
I still don’t answer.
“Mommy? It’s ok.”
I still don’t answer.
“Mommy? Mooooooommy? Moooooooooooooooommy? I can’t hear you!”
“Mommy? It’s ok you need a break.”
“Ok, but when you’re talking I don’t get a break.”
“Because you’re still talking.”
“Because I’m still talking?”
If you haven’t started drinking yet, you should, because this went on for another 30 minutes.

I Can’t Make You Happy

ce8c2550c8fea1512668765b346e8107I’ve survived on cleverness and my unending ability to prove myself capable for years. When someone asked something of me, I often said what I figured they wanted to hear. I could charm the pants off anyone (and have). It gave me a huge sense of pride knowing that I could predict what made someone happy. Never without the answers, never bewildered, I was the Type A everyone could rely on to make the right choices. I even made an entire job out of it. I’m the Directoress of Happiness for my company.

So during my last work retreat, I made a suggestion to my team that I give up my title. I no longer want to be in charge of directing other people’s happiness, ensuring they have what they need at all times. I don’t want our clients thinking that I am here to make them happy. It’s an impossibility. I can certainly advocate for someone’s happiness, or listen to them at a time they feel scared or uncomfortable. But I can no longer make myself responsible for anyone’s happiness but my own. It’s just too exhausting.
I’m lucky that they were incredibly receptive.
Practicing the art of keeping myself happy at work is a microcosm of life. Focusing on my own happiness in life is the real challenge. It’s one I have to work on everyday. The other night someone kindly purchased two small appetizers for me, both containing gluten. I don’t eat gluten. Old Erin would have said thank you and eaten them, worried that she’d hurt the friend’s feelings because they went to all the trouble of purchasing them. However, New Erin took a deep breath and said, “These look delicious, but I do need to eat something without wheat. Maybe I could order one more thing for myself and you can eat these.” My friend felt horrible, embarrassed, but that only lasted a moment. It became a joke, something we now look back on and crack up about. And my friend will probably never make that mistake again. Not to mention I didn’t get sick the next day in order to protect my friend’s feelings.
That New Erin that now focuses on her own happiness, and that doesn’t make everyone happy. That sucks. I love making people happy. But I rarely give other people the gift of making me happy, and the folks that truly matter actually want to do that. When I let them, low and behold, they don’t leave in a huff, disgusted at my selfishness. They actually become a bigger, more important part of my life.
So, here I am, writing about what I feel like writing about today and not what I think my readers want to read. And I’m happy. I haven’t decided what my new title will be at work; my team is working with me to give it just the right flare. Maybe Erin Cohen – Get it your Damn Self or Erin Cohen – I Don’t Wanna. Whatever it is, it’ll be an honest and new representation of someone who takes care of herself and her son first.


New Year’s Resolution

My first new years resolution, that I can recall, was when I was about 7. I decided my resolution was to eat more onions.
I hate onions.
I thought resolutions were promises you made to yourself to do things you don’t like or don’t want to do. I made those kinds of resolutions for years: exercise everyday, meditate everyday, cook more, eat out more, eat less, eat differently. Just like most, the resolutions stick for 4 months or so and then I fall off the wagon because I didn’t want to make the change in the first place.
So this year I decided not to make a resolution. I decided to go easy and stop expecting things from myself that I am not truly motivated to do/change and, instead, just do the things that make me feel good. Sometimes that may be yoga, sometimes that may be wine, sometimes that may be an extra cup of coffee even though it makes me jittery.
While sitting outside with my roommate and best friend one morning, I listened as she talked to every little sound she heard and every little bird she watched fly across the open sky above us. “Good morning, trees!” or “Listen to that little bird. Is that a mockingbird or a grouse?” I realized that acknowledging the beauty around her is a daily routine, noticing the little things she likes in her environment. So I decided to try it for a day. I realized I was thinking these things all the time. But I wondered what would happen if I verbalized the things that I noticed. Would it make the noticing more intentional?
I thanked the refrigerator for keeping my half and half cold.
I thanked my space heater for keeping my feet warm.
I thanked the sun for shining on the new growth of our hibiscus plants.
I thanked the garbage men for picking up the remnants of Christmas and New Years.
As I did get a little more intentional about noticing, I realized my form of noticing was always in the form of gratitude. And I began to accept that gratitude doesn’t have to be something you write down in a journal everyday for it to become a practice. It’s something I can do in little bits all day long, and it somehow makes my world a brighter place.
photoI decided to buy a big white board from Lowes and hang it in our entry way with a note asking, “What are you grateful for today?” As roommates, friends, and family enter and exit, anyone can make a note of the things that bring them joy, or simply the things they notice. Something as insignificant as a spring rod for the closet, or as big as sky, all of it belongs on the gratitude board. There’s no rule about how many things you must write, how often, or what the things must be. Rules, regulations, restrictions are what have always blown my New Years Resolutions in past. But this year, the rule is to be gentle with myself and practice gratitude in any way that works for me that day, whether it be in my head, saying it out loud, or writing it on the gratitude board. Without the strict confines of my typical, “Write in your journal for ten minutes a day” resolutions, I’m starting a new life practice instead of embarking on a journey I’ll eventually abandon.
So, quite my accident, my New Years Resolution is gratitude. And boy, am I grateful for it. 🙂
What’s yours?