Balance is a tricky bugger. It means different things to different people. For kids, achieving balance means riding without training wheels. Or holding a handstand for a count of 3. Or keeping perfectly still while a friend crawls between your legs to set you free during a game of California freeze tag.
For adults, balance can mean a litany of things. There’s the dreaded credit card balance. The elusive work/life balance. There is theoretical balance of a strong body and a peaceful mind.
My balance is nonexistent this summer. My essence, my qi, my sanity, my peace of mind, my routine. All of it is in a proverbial tizzy. It’s much hotter than I’d expected. I want to write more than I’d planned. When I do sit to write, the distractions are more frequent and disruptive than I’d anticipated. The kids are hungrier than they’ve ever been. We’ve crossed nothing off our summer bucket list. Last, and certainly not least, I haven’t made a single goddamn recipe that I pinned on Pinterest.
For almost a decade, I’ve found my balance in running. It’s been the secret ingredient to making the recipe of my life work. Running allows my jeans to fit. It wards off the demons and holds depression and anxiety at bay. It grants me patience as I listen to the 72nd “Mommy, what if…” story of the day. Running allows the smile on my lips to reach and illuminate my eyes. It provides me with the goal of a race and a formula to achieve that goal. Running has been the bridge of friendship that’s connected me with some of the most extraordinary people in my life. It’s been the topic of conversation between me and B&B as we’ve looked at our race calendars, assessed our times, demanded increasingly more of our bodies, and dared to articulate our running goals…if only to each other. Running has brought balance to my life.
One of my dearest running friends has been practicing power vinyasa yoga for awhile. She knows me to my very core and accepts every imperfect inch of me. She’s encouraged me to practice with her. The only thing worse than my balance is my flexibility. I gather that both balance and flexibility are rather important in yoga, so I don’t bend over backwards…nor can I since I have yet to practice…to shift my schedule around to accommodate yoga.
I was on a tear one day and censored myself from posting my tirade on FB, which would amuse the masses but bring Social Services to my door in record time. So I texted Jess and let loose on her.
Jess’ text: “You need to come to yoga with me.”
My text: “I don’t know. My flexibility sucks. I’ll be a laughing stock.”
Jess’ text: “Bethany, you need to try it.”
My text: “Jess, I am the sweatiest person you know. The last thing I need is to spend an hour in a sauna trying to touch my toes.”
Jess’ text: “It will bring you balance.”
Oh, that’s a dirty trick. She used the magic words.
My text, accompanied with a deep sigh: “Fine. Friday morning.”
So I show up. With my $9.99 mat from Marshall’s. My son’s Buzz Lightyear towel. My water bottle. My running tank and tights. And a semi-skeptical attitude.
We walk into the room, set at 88 steamy degrees, and I spend the next 75 minutes struggling to keep up…with the lingo, with the poses, with the breathing…with my most trusted running partner by my side executing each with precision and concentration. She is a specimen of flexibility and strength. I am in awe of her. The last few minutes, the instructor stretches us out individually. I lie on my mat, drenched in sweat, wondering not if but when my hamstrings will seize up, frustrated by my lack of experience, yet mysteriously intrigued.
To my surprise, a single tear escapes my eye, and I catch it before it hits my mat. WTH is this? Am I crying? Must be PMS.
For several days after yoga, I feel good. In my mind. I feel sore. In my body. I feel like I’ve been hit with a baseball bat. The strange thing about me is I love that feeling. My sweet spot is my body in a state of fatigue and my mind at peace. I seek one to achieve the other.
I will try yoga again.
I continue to go back. Only once a week at this point. But each time, I set a mental goal before class and dedicate that hour to achieving it. And to celebrating it. The 60 minutes I spend practicing yoga is mine. I am present. I am focused. I am not Mom. I am not wife. I am not daughter, friend, sister, writer. I am Bethany. Happy that I can finally hold crow pose for a consecutive count of five while marveling at the guy who’s holding a handstand for a full minute. Something to celebrate and something to work towards. And, as I lie, eyes closed, on my mat in the last moments of every class, a single tear escapes my eye. Not PMS.
Jess was right.
Yoga brings me balance.
And I need balance. Because Camp Mom is a freakin’ sideshow. Weeks 2 and 3 bring with them another chipmunk into the house…this one alive. Alive but playing dead. An evolved little vermin. Waldorf saves the day and removes him, saving me the dreaded task.
Weeks 2 and 3 bring with them a milestone for Waldorf. After intense discussions with B&B, we agree he and the Kenyan can stay at the house alone while I take the Interrogator and the Verb to the Acme. Less than a mile away. For 3 items only. I leave emergency phone numbers along with explicit instructions. No microwave, no toaster oven. Do not answer the door. Do not leave the house. I am gone for a total of 18 minutes. Everything looks and sounds as it should upon my return. Such a milestone! I’m so relieved that I grab both of them in a tight embrace.
What is that smell? It smells like…like sour milk.
Me: Wrinkling my nose, “What did you boys eat?”
They giggle: “Nothing.”
Me: “I smell something. It’s OK, as long as you didn’t use the microwave or the toaster oven. You’re not going to be in trouble.”
They smile. Giggle. Exchange a look. Shrug their shoulders. Giggle again.
Kenyan: Giggle, “OK, Mommy, we had whipped cream.”
Waldorf: Giggle, giggle, “ALOT of whipped cream.”
There is a tremendous amount of giggling between them now. Perfect. Just perfect. I leave them alone for 18 minutes and they are doing whip-its in my kitchen. I shake my head as I throw the whipped topping cans in the trash. I quickly check the closets and under the beds to make sure Demi Moore didn’t arrive in my absence. And make a mental note never to buy whipped cream again. Sons of bitches will have a keg party if I leave them to go to Costco.
Week three brings with it a writing high point for me when the Huffington Post runs my Baby Pool piece. I am humbled. Validated. Excited. Thankful. Proud. Lucky. Feel like I am on the cusp of something. Something that’s mine. Just shy of eleven years ago, I put my wants, my needs, my dreams, and a large part of my identity into a box. And I put that box on a shelf, out of reach. And I haven’t dared to crack that box open until recently. It was right for my family. It was hard on my marriage. It taught me a great deal about myself. As my last baby prepares to go to school in September, I am conflicted by emotions. I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia that this eleven year chapter in my life is closing. But I’m ready. And I’m hoping that writing plays a leading role in this next chapter of my life.
Weeks 2 and 3 also bring with them the beach. And Arizona cousins. And Texas cousins. And Virginia cousins. And ice cream. And hotdogs. And hoagies. And too much sun. And margaritas. And wine. And Waldorf and the Kenyan staying up too late at night. And the Verb and the Interrogator waking up too early in the morning. And very scary storms that hit the Jersey shore out of nowhere and have me running outside to fold down lounge chairs on my parents’ deck at 1AM. Storms that have me standing guard over my sleeping children as I feel the disturbing yet unmistakable shaking of the house.
Monday is a particularly intense day between the Interrogator and the Verb. They score a record 12 time-out’s between the two of them. The pepper comes out of the spice cabinet as a visual reminder that potty words are to be uttered in the bathroom…and he who doesn’t adhere to that rule may sample a dash of pepper against his will. There are two votes for the pool and two votes against the pool. I am stepping onto the treadmill on our back patio in the late afternoon mid-90 degree heat when the Verb comes streaking out the back door…completely naked but for the large black stamp of a tree on the side of his face…and busts out a forbidden flip on the trampoline.
Enter my need for balance.
I immediately step off the treadmill and text B&B: “I’m going to lose my shit.”
He texts me: “When I get home, go to yoga.”
I reply: “Thank you.”
So I get to yoga. And I am feeling very authentic because I’ve just purchased a sweet yoga towel at Indigo Schuy, the hippest sports boutique in Philly. I smile as I open it to cover my mat, feeling a strange sense of accomplishment that I’ve graduated from the Buzz Lightyear beach towel. I set my goals for class. Give this time to yourself, Bethany. Believe in your strength. Remember your breathing. Be present. Hold crow. Try to kick back. Focus.
It’s exactly what I need to rinse away my toughest day yet of the summer. I hold crow for 20 seconds…a record for me. I kick back and fall. But it doesn’t stop me from kicking back again…and falling again. I focus on my breathing. I bust out a Bird of Paradise…something I didn’t think I’d ever achieve with my poor balance…something I celebrate. I watch a girl perform the most beautiful, fluid handstand…something towards which I’ll work. I leave feeling cleansed, tired, at peace, and as though my balance…my essence, my qi…has been restored.
Somewhere between my running shoes and my yoga mat, I believe I’ll find my balance.
Thank you, Jess. My dear, dear friend.
On my way home, I stop at the Acme. I want to steam some crab legs for a late dinner for B&B and me. I’m drenched with sweat. My clothes are soaking wet. My hair is sopping wet. I look like I’ve just stepped out of the pool. As I hurry through the produce section, a young employee…not one of my regular peeps…blatantly checks out my boobs.
Namaste, Benjamin Braddock. Look all you want. I’m in my zone.
I order the crab legs and quickly pay for them. I race home, kiss everybody hello, and head straight to the kitchen. B&B follows me.
B&B: “So, how was it?”
Me: “Awesome. Look at what I can do!”
While I search for a spot on the floor devoid of Legos in which to show him my Bird of Paradise, he too blatantly stares at my boobs.
Me: “What is with you men tonight?”
Me: “I caught you looking at my boobs just now. The kid at the Acme was staring at them too.”
He smiles. Nods. Says nothing.
I look down. And curse myself. I’d worn my padded sports bra. Goddamn. My entire body looks like I’ve just emerged from the pool. With the exception of the two circular pads right smack in the middle of my chest. Perfectly dry. Illuminating my boobs in their stark contrast to the rest of the soaking wet turquoise fabric. Bringing entirely new meaning to the notion that my headlights are on.
I look at him. I laugh. He laughs. I look back down at my chest.
Me: “At least they’re lined up, right?”
B&B: “Indeed they are. In perfect symmetry.”
Perfect symmetry=Perfect balance. Namaste, indeed.