Tag Archives: rowing

Make Each Moment Yours

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I am so glad to be back here. Typing away. I have been very busy, of late, tending to several things that have either brought me great satisfaction or consternation; sometimes both.

The quote in yoga last week was along the lines of choosing a life for yourself. That no matter how laudable the pursuit, that if it’s not your idea or it doesn’t set your heart on fire, then it’s not for you, and pursuing it may very likely leave you feeling empty.

I have been faced with several situations which fit right up that alley, a few of them lately. Most of them were foisted on to me as a child and then I just learned that fighting someone else’s battle or managing someone else’s business was just the way the world worked, even though I was rarely the benefactor, nor did my life advance much because of my involvement.

When one parent is unavailable for one reason or another, the other parent will likely enlist a child to either manage the deficit or solve the problem, sometimes both. If that scenario rolls out enough times, the boundaries get blurred so much that it’s like wiping Crisco on a windshield. The only way to cut through and see what’s going on is to eliminate all the smears. If you’re in a situation where that simply didn’t ever really happen, then the wipers just glide over the haze and the boundaries are never really established or even imagined. You can’t see what isn’t clear.

That’s how a lot of my life went for many years. I took on way too much because I thought I was there to solve everyone’s problems. Adult responsibilities were abdicated on to me (I can’t speak for anyone else so I don’t) and slipped and slid through the Crisco.

The boundaries and responsibilities aren’t vetted and established until someone with a clear mission in mind and a strong sense of advocacy comes along and wipes down the glass with a really firm hand, soapy water and a brand-new squeegee. There it all is, laid out before you: what’s yours and what’s not yours.

Suddenly you are lost. The sun is too bright. The air is too cold, clear. The ground is too stable. The items are to large. The items are too small. The items look totally different than they used to. The items don’t fit anymore. The items aren’t familiar. You want your old items back: at least they were predictable in their unpredictability. You want the grime and the haze. You miss the instability it all assured: at least you could count on the crazy. You miss the confusion because now, you aren’t a fixer or the blame or the cause or the cure. You are just … you. Responsible only for your Self and the choices you make, and you’ve made all along for your life.

Yikes.

So you get used to that after a while. Sometimes you even enjoy it, this not having to apologize for the weather if it rains on a picnic day; or if the store is out of the requested ice cream; or if there are no close-enough parking spots outside the movie theater / restaurant / boutique / bookstore / psychiatrist…

I used to feel responsible for stuff like that. When you grow up with a parent who says you’re the reason s/he gets up every day, then the algebra would also dictate that you’re the reason s/he DOESN’T get up every day… It’s a double-edged sword.

The relevance any of this has to my current life is that I’ve recently attended to some things and made a few choices that have not always been “mine.” I have not always chosen them with My Interest in Mind. I chose them because it felt socially appropriate, or I wanted to Be Someone to someone else, or because the void existed and I didn’t have enough guts to say “no.” PTA vice president, PTA president, Sports Club President, rowing partner.

Always a recipe for disaster: following through on someone else’s plan because you don’t want to let them down. HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I DONE THAT?!

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That’s me on the left.

You learn who you are real quick when you’re in a tiny boat with another person in the middle of a river committed to a six-mile row, three miles of which are dedicated to competition. The good news is that we came in second. The could-be-better news is that I likely lost my patience and sacrificed an otherwise amiable friendship because I wanted to stick to my commitment and see my way through the race because I was not going to let any static take me under: either I was jumping out or we were going on.

My therapist would tell me that blending personalities in a confining space (be it a racing shell, a marriage, a dorm room or an airline cabin) is a tricky endeavor no matter the context. That blending is ok as long as respect is shared and the work is doled out fairly. In a rowing shell, it’s possible to not do your share of the work, but it’s unlikely if you make good time (and we made good time, we could’ve gone a little faster, but seeing as how we’d only been together six times previous, I’m pleased with how things turned out). It’s also possible to confuse your perception of the work due to stress or in my case a conscious effort to counter the stress load borne and expressed by the other person in the boat.

I wanted to row in a race this fall. I didn’t get to last year because Mom died and I was overwhelmed with grief. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to this year because I didn’t get on the water very often, so when the chance popped up to row a double with someone as equally interested and dubious of her own performance, I was nervous, but grateful for the chance. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Ruh-roh…

The thing is (and here’s where we get back to the yoga quote and the lessons I had to unlearn earlier in life by not taking one someone else’s program): just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.

When things get crazy in my world now, I tend to go quiet. I used to jump in and lose my mind and amplify the craze (i.e., act like an idiot) because it was easier and way more fun than rationality, but those bells can’t be unrung. So now, after years of couch time and a ton of mat time, I just breathe deeply, sit on my hands and do my best to wait.

The first day we sculled in the double I chalked up the chatter to jitters and newness. I thought a few things about some of the drills we did right after warming up and I wondered about the near-constant outflow of commands at me. It had been a while since I’d been coached, and about four years since I’d had a coxswain, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to always be about drills and racing starts and other things so early in our pairing — after all: this was casual; we’d not even discussed a race yet. (We’d discussed plenty else.)

The second day, the chatter continued and I have to tell you: as a yoga person and someone who’s used to being alone a lot in a shell, the talking became unnerving. I didn’t mind talking while we stopped for breathers and breaks, but it wasn’t like that. I decided I could do a race, hopeful that things would ease down.

I also started to fall into a creepy and familiar place, the Crisco. The boundaries were getting blurry and I started to feel responsible for this person’s ease and I also wanted to be liked, be trusted and be considered a help. (Bad move.)

So I talked to my husband. I described the scenarios and conversations. He told me he was getting antsy just hearing about it. He noticed I started ramping up too, taking on the anxiety / jitters I was steeped in in the boat. “You have to get to a place where you’re comfortable, Mol, or this is going to be a disaster.” I noted internally that I felt like I was with my mother when I was in the shell with this partner. She expressed so many verbal observations, too many issues with the rigging, the oar locks, the slides, the water (it was too dark), the position she was rowing, the footstretchers, the boat itself… Ordinarily, I’d consider what I could to make it all better — make it stop, just make it stop! — solve the problem. Be the fixer. But not anymore. Something switched in me and I knew the difference between what was mine and what wasn’t.

The following week, I asked my coach to observe us in a launch, it was great. She was super helpful and really got us to work on some of our stroke habits and errors. She said, “No talking in the boat. When you talk in the boat, you screw everything up; you lose place of your hands, where your breath is, where your blades are, where you are on the slide… just be quiet. Eyes ahead and no talking.”

‘No Talking!’

I WAS SOOOO HAPPY!!!

A funny moment occurred between my partner and me after a row later that week. She expressed her awareness of her chatter and said kindly but without apology that when she gets nervous she talks a lot. “I understand,” I said, because I did understand. “I used to be like that,” I said.

She asked, “Oh? What do you do when you get nervous?” I laughed a little and paused. I said, “I just get nervous. But I don’t talk anymore. I get quiet and try to focus. My nervous chatter is wasted energy,” and I finished to myself, “I still seek a moment to learn to be OK with the silence.” There was no comment.

A couple more days of practice and she made a few more asides about seats we rowed and inquiries about the shell. I took on one request which made sense for safety and fitting concerns and that was taken care of. I also took on another request, despite my better instinct to let it go. I paid for that one. After that, I was out. I realized they weren’t mine. (There was that old Crisco lurking again: solve someone else’s problem.)

I decided ahead of time that regardless of how the event was going to end up, that I was going to hold fast to whatever fraction that belonged to me: that I would make it mine and I would make it good.

The night before the race we had a disagreement because of a late-night email she sent me which I considered an unnecessary distraction / spill over from her continued apprehension about the class in which she registered us and boat we’d rigged and were promised. I was done. I offered to drop out and let her go in a single. I was determined, even at this late juncture that I was still going to brand for me whatever I could of the training and of the moment: the choice was going to be hers because the problem was hers. I had to leave her with her stuff.

This was a big moment for me. I’ve been faced with many of them before and I know this won’t be the last. The more experienced I become with familiar personalities and Crisco moments, the faster I’ll be looking for the squeegee to cut through the muck and show me what’s mine.

We spoke by phone the next morning and agreed to race. We smoothed over what we could. There’s a song “Loving a Person” by Sara Groves which starts out, “Loving a person the way they are isn’t just a small thing, it’s the whole thing …” and it goes on to say “it’s the beauty of seeing things through…” and that was the message for me in this situation. I was going to accept how she was and how things were, but I didn’t have to own what wasn’t mine and I was going to see it all the way through — we’d worked hard to get here in a short amount of time and if parlayed properly, we were both going to be each others’ teachers.

When we pushed off to row the 2.5 miles to the starting line, my further (Crisco) attempts at smoothing things over were received but brushed aside; she made it clear, there would be no group hug. That’s the part about being in a small boat in the middle of a river that teaches you about yourself: just get it done (seeing it through). Sometimes you gel, but not then. It felt pointy and perfunctory for the most part, but I can’t own that. It was never mine. What’s great for me is that I realized it and we had no choice but to work together to get it done. To me, it was a success!

It was a “head race” which is a longer distance and thus is usually following the curves of a river. You’re also racing a clock. The starts are staggered to allow for room on the water. We came in second of three boats. Although we were the first to start, we had our asses handed to us by the boat which started immediately after us. It passed us in the first two minutes but we kept the boat which started after that one where it belonged. I knew we wouldn’t likely win, but I didn’t want to finish last. That was my intention.

And I’ve decided that it has to be this way for all of my life. That if I grew up with dysfunction, that I have to find a way to make it worthy and valuable: mine. That if I have a crappy time at a party or event, that I find something about the occasion that makes it mine, so that it doesn’t belong to anyone else: I wore my favorite shoes or scarf or the weather was gorgeous that night or I heard an old favorite song I’d long forgotten.

So it was with the race: I made mine what I could. The weather was perfect, the water fair and I had a great workout. Are you wondering? The chatter in the boat continued but I just did what I could to listen for “need to know” content and I want to say we kept our spirits up even though we were both pretty raw from the previous night’s discourse.

We made good time, about 25 minutes and docked well “That was very professional!” the dock master said and he was right, she’s a terrific bow seat even though she is convinced she’s terrible at it. I disagreed once and moved on.

So I guess this is a long-winded way of inspiring you to know the difference between what’s yours and what isn’t yours. What’s yours feels good and it fits. What isn’t yours feels forced and might cause you some struggle — but you can always make it yours when you find the beauty in it.

Thank you.

Friday #Fiction 2.1 — Perfect is the Enemy of Good

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Although she was not normally a morning person, Claire relished this time of day: dawn, in the “donzerly light” (as she used to call it as a little girl) and watching the sun rise, crest the tops of the baby green leaves on the tallest oaks and poplars by the river and see its climb to the high noon. It’s when she did her best thinking, her only thinking, really. She felt melancholy, but couldn’t understand why. She felt distracted but didn’t know by what. She felt unsettled but everything was in place in her world.

This is a fourth in a series; please go here for the first “chapter”: https://mollyfielddotcom.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/friday-fiction-friends-2-0-familiarity-breeds-fonder-over-greener-ponds/

She unlocked the boathouse door, walked inside, flipped on the light, unlocked the padlock and hoisted up the roller door to let out the barely lit into the darker. She saw her shell, “Claire-ity” sighed and said aloud, “Girl, it has been toooo long, it’s so good to see you.” The water had warmed just enough for single rowers could take out their shells and go it alone. She wouldn’t be alone though, she had her memories with her and the geese and cormorants and fish and frogs, her long-lost friends. Crickets were still chirping outside the boathouse. She turned to grab a dusting cloth from the musty racks and gently wiped down the shell’s periwinkle fiberglas hull.

“Oars first. With the water bottle, check,” she said quietly to herself. “Being off the water for several months, even though you mostly know what you’re doing, does not mean your first time out will be flawless. Perfect is the enemy of good. Perfect is impossible, clarity, yes. Perfect, no.” She said as she lifted the oars out of the rack, signed them out of the log and headed down to the docks, leaving her water bottle behind.

“How many times do I have to forget to learn?!” she whispered to herself. “Just one more time, Master Bruce,” she answered to herself as Michael Caine. She kept walking down the slope to the dock, she had decided that the water bottle would have to wait.

The dock was barely visible, save for the abrupt reflection of the water when it met its sides. Claire had been to the boathouse so many times though that she could walk to that ramp with her eyes closed.

“End of the dock, smoother push-off,” she said gently to herself. “It’s all coming back now…good,” she had learned to be kinder to herself and allow tiny moments of praise when she had figured things out. The concept of self-congratulation was foreign to her. She grew up in a world where adults abdicated their responsibilities to their children to desperately flee their reality. “If no one dies or winds up under the table with a bottle, we have achieved success. Today,” was how she encapsulated her life as a child, teenager and young adult.

The guilt from being unable to fix her mother and perform her father’s bidding to try to fix her mother was just too much at times. It hung around her neck on a 10-pound choker, like a 100-pound iron weight on a 50-pound chain and Claire weighed only 140-pounds so, it held her down from time to time even now, in her late 20s.

She placed her oars at the end of the dock and as she turned, the sun was lighting the sky although she still saw Venus behind her near the moon to the west. “Venus, you beautiful thing! Go to bed!” she shouted at the sky, laughing to herself and startling a heron perched on the water level sign about 12 feet off the shoreline. She jumped when the heron barked at her, “the feeling’s mutual, bird!” she said to the tail of the great gray bird who silently coasted above the water landing on a log floating on the surface.

“Looks like it’ll be a row in the cove today,” she said to herself, taking notice of the debris floating downriver from the recent rains. “Yup. Not going on that with no one else on the water.”

When she approached the shell, she squatted down to make sure the bolts and riggers were still in shape and to inspect for any signs of rust or bugs. A small red spider dropped down from inside the port hole cover on the bow of the boat as if to greet her. “Sorry chap, no free rides today,” she said to the spider and grabbed its web as she gently placed it on another rack. She checked her boat’s position to the other riggers and her riggers to the other hulls and mentally prepared to remove the shell.

On a mental count to three, she squatted back down, straightened her back, leaned in, shuffled her feet out and lifted the shell. Her bow ball tapped into the floor, sending a vibration through the shell and Claire overcorrected, slamming the stern into a rack. Crestfallen, she apologized to the shell and took a few deep breaths saying to herself, “Easy now. Do NOT let this get to you. First time out is always rusty.” She got her bearings straight and smoothly executed a “lower to the waist, water-side down” so she could exit the boat house with the riggers pointing up and down and narrowing her chances at hitting anything else in the boathouse. With the boat in her hands, she looked down and saw her water bottle, again, all by itself. “You will just have to wait,” she said.

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The sky was much brighter now and rays of the sun’s telltale white glow were shining above the treetops. She was relieved that she was no longer in the dark. Carrying sculls is one thing, carrying a 25-foot, 31-pound racing shell in the dark was quite another. As she approached the dock, she saw a pair of slings ready and waiting for a shell like a cradle waiting for a baby. She put the boat in the slings and turned back to get her water bottle.

Once on the water, things started to click into place. She felt her muscles ease into their old motions and she thought actively about her form. “Press through the heels, straight back, left hand over right, straight back, square the blade, drop the blade, pull the handles, feather the blade, roll back up, press through the heels …” and on and on. Again and again, taking her to her zone, her place where she was most alive and free from the weight of the world. A fish jumped beside her shell leaving the water in ripples and her scull blades did the same. Down, whoosh, slide, up, back, down, whoosh, slide. She was warming up and felt a bead of sweat under her baseball cap. Her skin was cooled by the gentle breeze her rowing provided. She was at peace.

She decided to practice some balance drills.

Lay back, pull in the handles, hover the blades, hover … hover … skimming and shisshing is okay… shisshing is ok, hover … hover… shish…balaaaaance… hands together… silence! annnnd roll back up to the catch, repeat the drive and hover…. balance … balaaaaaaance… skim… roll back up to the catch…

“This. This is MY happy place,” she said with a mild swelling in her heart, a little tear in her eye and an effortless smile on her face. It had been a long winter for Claire and now it was spring and she was ready to begin anew.

© 2013 Molly Field :: All Rights Reserved.

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Thank you.

Next round: https://mollyfielddotcom.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/friday-fiction-2-1-pants-on-fire/

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Here is today’s prompt provided by the lovely World’s Worst Moms: “Let your characters work through the old saying, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” 

That’s it. piece of cake. Cupcake.;)”

Check out the posts from our other Fiction writers today:

http://clearlykristal.com/?p=3532

http://wp.me/p2FdGQ-1mK

http://worldsworstmoms.com/friday-fiction-part-16-the-ties-that-bind/

http://debiehive.blogspot.com/2013/05/fiction-friday-challenge-impossible.html

http://neargenius1.blogspot.com/2013/05/fiction-friday-may-episode-2.html

Three Things Thursday 5 — Water: Boathouse, Beauty and Breathing

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Aoomaigaaaad.

I started a post detailing and lamenting my situation with my parents, their ambitions to age in place, and their requests for consults and professionals (which I delivered) despite their patent and wholesale inaction, and total avoidance of meaningful change to make any of it possible. You can’t make a fish climb a tree. The gist of the post was about need for boundaries and how they help everything, which they do, but it was too much and I am too close to the subject matter to make it digestible. Let’s just say this: it’s FUBAR.

There’s nothing more I can do for them short of apoplexy-inducing betrayal, so I won’t do anything until they do, and that’s highly unlikely. We will have to stay in crisis-reactive mode as we resigned ourselves to be four years ago. For me to turn myself inside out to help them simply because of a sense of guilt is futile, ego-driven, vain and “fixer”-istic: unhealthy. Consider this: I would be doing & wanting more than they would to improve their situation. That’s toxic.

One of my favorite quotes of all time, by the amazing Marcus Aurelius is this: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Word.

The good news is that writing the-post-you-will-never-see was excellent catharsis. The bad news is that it kept me up until 2am. I’m ok though. But the birds are chirping outside, the sun is shining and so I am reframing: taking back my brain and changing gears.

Three things for our mind, body and soul. This is really simple and it has nothing to do with aging.

Mind: Boathouses

Rowing season has begun and I’m thrilled to be making a daily trek back to the boathouse to drive my oldest son and up to six of his teammates for practice. They are chatty, funny, smart and polite kids. Their parents should be proud because they’re doing an excellent job raising their children.

Yes, it’s cold as butt, yes. Last week, ice was forming on the hull (body) of the shells (boats) and the wind chills were likely insane, but rowers are insane and my son is thrilled to be back on the water despite his shivering when he returns home. The other night, we had 2″-4″ of rain fall during 38˚ temps and 20mph winds. He came home a boysicle, but he had a huge grin on his face. That’s all that matters. When we got to the boathouse yesterday, it was 15˚ warmer than the day before and the sun was sort of out. This kind of change in the weather enhances the mindset when you’re in the boat to such a degree that the difference can be as apparent as walking compared to crawling.

For me: it’s being back down there, if only for a moment to look down at this and know soon, I too will be back in my racing shell and sculling toward peace; leaving the bipeds and their noise behind.

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this is my ride.

View from the Bow

this is a view from the Bow

Body: Breathing

So the sun was out yesterday and I went for a nice long walk with The Murph around the ponds after dropping the boys at school.

I used the “panorama” option on my phone to take this. I love the reflection so much. What a glorious morning.

My breathing intensified, my legs warmed up and so did my core. I actually had to unzip my parka, despite the 37˚ outside. I felt alive and “OK” — you know, peaceful, for the first time in a while. I almost wanted to run. I haven’t been able to do this very often because the kids being home. The walk did me some good because I was able to appreciate the …

Soul: Beauty

Of our physical world. No matter where you live: in the mountains or in a city; on the water or on a suburban street: there is beauty everywhere. And this time of year, the days are getting longer, the grass is turning green, trees are starting to bud, and the daffodils are coming up beside their friends the tulips. I saw some totally new ducks at one of the ponds — two pairs of these, they’re called “Hooded Merganser” ducks:

This one apparently has something to say. I will try to get my own pictures of them. I will have to go without The Murph because he scares them. from http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/PHOTO/LARGE/hoodmerg_gregschn.jpg

Isn’t this gorgeous? He was with his wife (male birds are hotter and all birds are monogamous) and another Merganser couple along with some Mallards and Canada Geese. It was really glorious to behold them all. Just doing their thing, y’know: being waterfowl. So, no matter where you live, establish some personal boundaries to take back your space and time for yourself first and get out and breathe to take in the beauty. No matter where you look, it’s there waiting to be appreciated.

I guess the underlying theme is water today. Go drink some, look at it and get in it if you can.

Thank you.

Communication & Filters

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Communication & Filters

I always thought I was an excellent communicator.

Today I went out with my husband in the rowing double. He sits in front of me so I can stabilize the boat. So this means I see his back as his blades hit and move the water. That’s it; but it’s not nothing: I see his posture and his slide technique and so I can tell him (or whomever is in that seat) what’s up with the strokes, how to improve form and the rest. It’s not so much that I’m a genius, it’s that I’ve got experience and when you’re dealing with novice rowers in a double (the theories are different in larger boats) the more experienced rower sits in the bow seat, behind the stern seat.

This was our second outing and per the rules of the boat club, I can’t take him out any more; he’ll have to join. I’m allowed to take a person as a guest twice; I can take you if you’d like, but only twice. It’s fair.

It’s also a good thing that I can’t go any more to teach my husband.

I don’t know if our marriage would survive it.

The thing is, no man wants his wife telling him how to do anything; least of all anything athletic and as exquisite and responsive as a sport as rowing. Even though he rationally defers to my expertise, I suspect that deep inside he’s thinking, “It can’t really be this hard… I mean, she does it…” and this is not to paint a broad brush of antiman-ness: my husband is extremely open-minded about this stuff. It’s just that it’s an adjustment.

But in the boat, I’m not his wife: I’m a rower and a member of the club. The equipment is signed out on my name with my person being the responsible party.

What all this means in the boat and on the water is that I’m a coach to him. So I’m more technical, detached, professional and … intense. It’s not my $7,000 boat to screw around in. But as much as he benefitted from my teaching, he wanted me to be softer, more patient, more “here’s a sandwich I made for you”: more wifely.

No frigging way. Our chances of tipping were low because I was holding the balance with my blades flat on the water while he gained experience. Today we rowed four miles and were out for about 90 minutes. He liked it and when I was rowing us around turns, he got a few moments to watch the sunlight dance on the water as it just crested the trees while being rocked to the rhythm of my rowing.

My husband is smart, mellow and athletic, so his catching on to the work, technique and gaining confidence is simply a matter of time and he’s well on his way.

RICK! gave this print to me for my birthday last year. She is a very thoughtful gift giver. I can learn a lot from her. “Rushing the slide” is what happens when someone slides up to the catch (the beginning of the stroke, which is where they are all positioned) apart from the rhythm of the rest of the rowers. Superman, sitting in “stroke” seat, feels it most. It’s frustrating to Green Lantern in “bow” seat because Flash’s back might come in contact with the handle of Green Lantern’s oar if the timing is off. After a while, if you were to row in front of me and consistently mess up the timing, you’d probably end up in dialysis because I’d get tired of you being in my space when I’m prepping to take a stroke. While the sketch is cute, it’s Batman who would be most disturbed by Flash’s rushing although the entire boat would feel it. I wonder if that’s why they made me stroke last year because I was such a jerk to anyone who slacked in front of me by the fourth month of rowing together.

What I learned from our second outing is something I’ve always known, but it was made phantasmagorically obvious (despite our 22 years as a couple) in the shell: he’s nice and tender and I’m a bull in a china shop. I know the lingo, I know the sport, I know the effects of lifting one hand over the other and what that does to the boat’s balance. The first time we went out, we had only an hour when we planned on having two hours. We lost all that time due to technical difficulties with the equipment which resulted in our having to take the entire first shell out of the water and bringing it back to the boathouse and trading it in for another one. I was glad he was undeterred about getting the second boat because he was sort of playing hooky from work for that extra hour. That first outing made us both slightly more efficient and clippy in our chatter and the resulting intensity was not entirely welcome.

When we docked after that first outing, the head coach of a local university crew quipped, “Are you still married? How’d it go?” He knows how this can go.

Because I know the jargon, I take a lot for granted. My husband wanted me to not use the jargon or to use the jargon and then its street equivalent; he wanted me to tenderize it all for him a bit.

No frigging way. I learned with coaches saying “weigh nuf,” followed by the street “stop rowing” about three times and then I was on my own and people in the boat would yell at me with both versions if I didn’t figure it out. Same thing with “square and bury your blades. That means to put them in the water perpendicularly.” It was the same with “sit ready at the catch” (which means to sit all the way up the slide with your shins perpendicular to the water and you’re ready to press / slide back for the boat to move beneath you, as in the picture above) – I told him what it meant, but I wasn’t going to add, “honey” or “sweets” to it.

It can be overwhelming on the water: it’s wet, deep and murky and the air is cool now. You don’t want to fall in. You want to succeed and so much of what you’re learning is multi-sensory. But the number one thing that’s gonna blow it for you on the water is thinking, so just be.  I stated commands (he’ll probably tell you I barked them) and was clear about them. I could have been gentler, but he’s not a child and part of sitting behind the person is that I can’t see what he’s actually doing so my comments are based on evidence and results of his actions rather than the actions themselves.

At about miles two and three, things began to significantly improve. We did a couple stationary drills and some balance work and I was very enthusiastic about his progress: he really started to get it! And then…

At the end of the fourth mile, he was getting tired, his posture was fading, he was making old mistakes and becoming easily frustrated. It was time for a naaaap. We’d been out for more than an hour and we were both ready to head in (he’s heavy!). We had a successful outing and all of it –from my china shop bull to his love me tender– started to gel and sink in. For him, the action is a part of his muscle memory now and just needs more experience and time. And another partner. He can go with RICK next time and I’ll take her husband in my shell.

All this got me thinking: despite my best intentions, our communication is not as strong as I thought it was and this was slightly dismaying to me because we talk a lot.

And then there’s the filter, or the perspective or the perception of both parties: I had an unfair expectation that he was able to deal with the massive amounts of information on a physically unstable surface and he had the expectation that I was going to be wifely and kind and patient.

The same sort of disconnect happened last month for his birthday. He wanted these super-awesome TRX bands for his workouts and I ordered them for him. I’d never used them and he used them in his bootcamp last year. The thing is: they take a while to set up and then you’re supposedly good to go. He was so excited to show them to me that he opened the box and tried to demonstrate them. I am TRX-neutral: I don’t care and I probably won’t really use them as I have my own routines. The thing is: he wanted me to see how easy and awesome they are and he couldn’t because it took a while to set up and I stood and watched. In a lather of frustration, he ended up throwing up his arms and not being able to show me. I said, “I’m glad you’re excited and I’m sure they’re great…” and he took that as a dismissal. The thing is: there was no winning or losing for either of us. He was thrilled but he wasn’t prepared to show me and I waited in neutral for him to show me while he couldn’t get it to work. If I said nothing, I’dve been a jerk. If I said “yay!” I’dve been insincere.

.  .  .  .  .  .

These expectations and filters bring lots of thoughts and memories and personal experiences to my mind and I’d like to share a couple with you.

I’m reminded me of a demonstration I saw on a middle-school children’s TV show, “Zoom!” a few years back when my team still watched public television. The challenge was simple enough: instruct a partner to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They had four pairs of the kids and each pair built its success / communication formula off the previous pair’s demonstration with not much time between sets. In each pair one person was the director and the other person was ops. The director was blindfolded and the ops person was not allowed to speak back or ask questions, the ops person simply had to do what it was told.

mmm. send me to the hospital. stat.

The first pair’s basically ended up with a loaf of still-bagged sliced bread crushed under the weight of a closed jar of peanut butter and a closed jar of jelly and then both ends of the bagged bread were pressed together. That was funny and it showed me how much we all take for granted when we communicate — these kids on Zoom! are supposed to be the creme de la creme of their peer group. The second pair improved but only slightly: two slices of bread were taken out of the bag and the jars were still closed, but the jelly jar was on top of the peanut butter jar and both jars nested between the slices of bread. The third pair took out the slices, spread the peanut butter on a slice of bread and then spread the jelly on a slice of bread and then stacked the slices, condiment side up so it looked like this from the top: jelly on bread, peanut butter on bread. The fourth pair got it figured out and enjoyed the sandwich. Their cups of milk were already poured for them and everyone learned a valuable lesson: slow down, use details, listen and watch.

Another example is holidays — personal, national, dubious (Hallmark) or imaginary: If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I look askance at New Year’s Day as a time for personal renewal: every day is a chance to change our lives. Valentine’s Day is a gimmick (to me) and I don’t get stupid drunk on St. Patrick’s Day.

In my home on birthdays, we make a cake and frost it and sing and give nice gifts. It’s not a full-bore blowout experience. In my family of origin, birthdays were special, but not considered reasons to have explosives and helium tanks and gunships. I used to know someone whose family of origin dwarfed coronations with their birthday celebrations: balloons at breakfast, the table festooned with used car lot flags, party hats, noise makers, the works. So when this person’s birthday came around and I was in the picture, I presented a card and a thoughtful gift. Sometimes I was late, but I never forgot the person’s special day and I’d call or send a note if I didn’t present the gift on time. The reception was frosty and any recognition was doomed to fail. This was based on both our filters: she was used to people taking out second mortgages to celebrate and I was used to people giving a hug, singing a song and life resuming to its normally scheduled programming. Even after we talked about our historical differences and expectations and filters, the experiences were never fulfilling for either of us. On my birthdays, she’d come over with a cake and balloons and her kids and they’d all sing to me and I’d be all like “WOAH” and “GetthefuckoutIjustwokeup!” and whatnot.

As I ponder all these experiences and examples of communication and filters and expectations, it makes me think of how to best survive on this big blue rock: have an open mind and have an open heart. I can do myself a favor by not expecting people to be able to read my mind and I can try not to anticipate what other people might have in their minds. I was at a wedding a few years ago and the celebrant said this, “My mother often reminded me as I grew up that I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. As our beloved couple embarks on their lifelong journey together as husband and wife and as we all bear witness to their union, I propose to all of us here tonight that we remember to use our ears more than our mouths.”

And I’ll add this: when we use our mouths, we do so with kindness and efficiency.

Sometimes easier said than done.

Thank you.