Yoga Mother in the Time of Corona Virus

The thing is, during this pandemic, there seems to have been a shift in my parenting style. No longer operating like a mother on speed, I now move as if in a pool of thick quick sand. I step through the house quietly, inching my way at a snail’s pace from one room to the next. These days, there’s little whirling bustle from my children, no summer camp activity to rush off to. Often, everyone is asleep or typing away on their computers, maybe reading a book. I no longer catch myself shouting up or down the stairs with directives. I’ll just wait to say whatever I need to tell them in an hour or two when they emerge from their bedrooms – if I remember.

I barely accomplish three things on any given day. There are the usual chores: preparing meals, washing clothes and dishes, walking the dogs, grocery shopping for our family or my recently widowed mother-in-law. I complete my chores mindfully. I slow my breathing. Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. Sometimes I day dream. Sometimes, I wander around my home with no other intention than just feeling how my bare feet contact the cold stone floor.

When I’m not writing for various work projects, I have time to do things for and by myself: yoga, reading, gardening, socially distanced walks with friends, my own writing. In many respects, the pandemic is working out for me. An obnoxious thing to write perhaps. I mean, I worry that I may never see my parents again. The last time we visited in person was at Christmas. I think about how Christmas this year will be different. Dad is eighty-one. He had a heart attack several years ago. I could drive all the way to New Hampshire, meet with my folks in their condo parking lot, air hug and chat for a few hours, then drive back home to Jersey so I don’t have to stay in a hotel. I could do that, right?

Twice, we were scared that Scott had Covid. He cropped a fever out of the blue in mid-May and then again six weeks later. Scott’s never sick. I can count on one hand the times he’s fallen ill since we’ve been married these twenty-four years. The tests were negative, both times. We were lucky.

There are bad days, times when I feel completely overwhelmed and unaccomplished, trying to sit with the discomfort of not knowing. Just not knowing anything about tomorrow or the next day. No plans. Moving through quicksand is slow going. I snail-trudge along and continue my deep breathing.

Despite the bad, I catch myself feeling good for a few moments almost every day. I look out the four large windows of our bedroom, which is also my home office and private yoga studio. I find comfort in knowing which same vista I’ll see out each window. From one window, there are the backyard trees and  train tracks beyond. I always look for movement in the trees’ branches, which might indicate a breeze. Towards the end of day, the sunlight streams through the western facing windows and geometric patterns sprawl across my walls. I have time now to pause and watch as the shimmering sunlight makes the shapes move in a dance. I like the show.

My kids appear happier as the pace of our household has slowed. Each child creates their own space to just be, molding their personal routines with little intervention from me. While virtual college, high school, and elementary school were still in session, the children adapted well. Chloe was pleased to finish her third semester of sophomore year at Northwestern from home. She found it easier to deal with her anxiety about grades and “What’s my major going to be?” here, with us, rather than on campus, where she often shifted into “competitive overdrive.”

Charlie The Kid enjoyed finishing his sophomore year of high school online. He got more sleep. He ate full breakfasts and lunches he cooked himself. In addition to his online learning, he had more time to take YouTube tutorials on whatever subject he desired. He also had space to play and compose music on guitar and piano, to paint and sketch portraits, to build his own website, to write a screenplay, to watch all five seasons of “Breaking Bad.”

Gigi smoothly handled her last few months of fifth grade online, self-managing the entire process. Occasionally, she came to us in a panic about uploading a homework document, but, for the most part, we didn’t get involved. Gigi became accustomed to her self-directed world of online learning. When we suddenly instituted limitations to her use of electronics at the start of summer, she objected loudly. Soon, however, she began a biking regimen and remembered how fun the escape of a good book could be.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been making Gigi’s lunch – usually Campbell’s Homestyle Chicken Soup with cinnamon toast on the side. There’s a ritual to this lunch making and eating which I’ve enjoyed, even when Gigi is bossy about some of the steps. “Let the butter melt into the toast all the way before you spread the jam, Mom. Don’t rush it.”

Don’t rush it.

Is it the influence of yoga that has kept me calmer and moving more slowly than I might have expected during this time of corona virus? The kids are older now and maybe that has helped me let go of my usual director role, instead allowing the gifted actors to move about the stage in choreographed sequences of their own making. Maybe I am so overwhelmed by this pandemic and the state of our country and world that I’ve been forced to ignore the everyday mundane details. People are dying. They can’t breathe. Details seem a frivolous waste of time now. Besides, rushing from here to there requires logistical problem solving that’s too much for me. I crave stillness and slow, deep breaths.

In yoga, through asana practice (poses), meditation, pranayama (regulated breathing), and stillness, the practitioner is invited to be with what is, to embrace imperfection, and to find gifts and learning in moments of discomfort and failure. A yogi learns to recognize the blessing and power of forgiveness, and how beautiful the act of forgiving others, and most importantly yourself, can be. In moments of forgiveness, is love.

Much of what I have learned in my yoga practice, especially while completing my yoga teacher training, has helped me to sit with the discomfort of this worldwide pandemic and the horrific racial injustices that have been exposed. Uncomfortably, I sit with the knowledge that systemic racism exists, and that I am guilty of racism because I am part of the system. Painfully, I sit with the failure of this nation’s current administration to lead and inspire in the face of these crises, and I feel angry and hopeless.

Then, I apply the salve of yoga. I breathe into all the deep places in my mind and body that are locked tight from fear and anger. I find the space to let go, pushing aside nagging thoughts, loosening hardened muscles. The pandemic has allowed me time to find more space for myself and to refine my yoga teaching skills to help others find space too. Even as evil and fear swirl around us while we go about our lives, we can practice making space for hope, for light, for forgiveness, for love.

Six weeks ago, while the pandemic raged, Max, our twenty-two-year-old son, returned home to live in New Jersey. He and his girlfriend packed up a U-Haul, and with their German Shepard squeezed between them in the cab of their rental truck, they drove across country. They are currently living in our basement while searching for a place of their own nearby. When Max ran away from home at age 17, I dared to hope for his return to us one day.

This pandemic has been good to me. My mothering style is changing for the better. I move more slowly, sometimes in quicksand, but more often in a moving meditation. I practice my yoga teaching, trying to guide students in how to find more space so they can let go, allow, forgive, love. I watch sunlight dance on my walls. I try not to rush it when I butter the cinnamon toast. I get to hug my children, and since they’ve been quarantined with me for what seems like forever, I can embrace them without wearing a mask. Now that he has returned, I even get to hold my oldest son. Max lets me do that now. Forgiveness is pure love.



Baby Alive


As far back as I can remember I have wanted to be a mother. Even at the early age of four, motherhood was a primary goal of mine. As I grew older, there may have been imaginings about having a husband in the picture, maybe a career, but come Hell or high water, I was going to have a baby, or two, or three.

My Baby Alive doll, a pretend infant that “ate” baby food and then “pooped” the recently “consumed” baby food, was a toy I treasured. Gifted to me by my mother, Baby Alive was the PERFECT baby doll to help me live out my fantasy of motherhood. With my very own infant cradled in my arms, I convinced my mother to allow me to take over her linen closet and turn it into a nursery. In the center of the closet, surrounded by many shelves stuffed with sheets and bath towels, I gently placed my baby into a pink plastic toy crib. A re-purposed laundry basket was filled to the brim with pretend disposable diapers that had come with the doll.

I prepared my baby’s food by mixing the faux baby food packets with water and voila… banana and strawberry baby cereal for multiple feeding sessions. Yes, of course I tried it! Any mother would. It tasted remarkably good. And so began many hours of feeding and changing Baby Jane. I called my first child by my middle name. All this feeding and then quickly having to change diapers was a nasty business but I relished it. I loved being a mother.

When I was five, my parents adopted my brother, Jeremy, who was only seven months old when he was ceremoniously placed into my child arms at Boston’s Logan Airport. I had waited many minutes, many hours (it seemed like a whole day) in the cold, beige plastic airport waiting room chair for my new baby brother to arrive from Florida.

The airport air was stale, tinged with cigarette smoke and airplane fuel. I remember the tiresome wait was finally interrupted when my grandfather announced that the plane had landed. Bouncing uncontrollably like a human Tigger, I anxiously watched a uniformed woman in a dark navy-blue suit open a large door. With her navy pump, she pushed a doorstop into place so the door at our gate remained open and through the doorway I saw a carpeted hallway that wound forever into the distance. My grandparents said my mother and father would be coming down that hallway with my new baby brother.

The infant was placed onto my lap and my grandmother encircled us both. Despite Jeremy’s sour smell, I was overcome with love for him. His skin was light brown, his hair scattered in small tufts of soft black curls at the top of his head. Jeremy’s eyes, wet from tears, were large dark brown orbs. He fussed. I pushed my lips into one side of his brown face, then the other.

On his first night home with us, Baby Jeremy lay gurgling in his crib. The adults allowed me to watch quietly over him while he settled into sleep. I didn’t take my eyes off him for a second, constantly searching for any sign of distress, an opportunity to comfort him by stroking his head and cheek. I listened intently to his inhales, his exhales, his squeaks in between.

Squishing my face into the slats of the crib, I reached in and traced my fingers across my baby brother’s wet lips. I held his fist and watched him breathe for a long time into the night…like any mother would.

I had no idea what motherhood was really going to be like…whether it would fit or not. Motherhood is a risk. You can’t put the baby back into the packaging and decide to play with something else. You can’t just hand the baby back to the real mother. YOU ARE THE REAL MOTHER.

The reality of motherhood is that I’m fifty-two and my four babies aren’t babies anymore. In an instant, I’ve gone from precious first nights with my treasured newborns to arguing about science fair projects, stressing over college applications, and consoling broken hearts during bad breakups. The reality of motherhood is that it’s much harder than I ever imagined. It never ends. There’s no control. I make mistakes. There are times when I’m just not very good at it. It’s no fantasy.

The one thing that links my fantasy motherhood with my reality motherhood? The need I’ve always had to nurture. The physical, deep-in-the-gut need to love a child and to give of myself. I cannot live without that feeling. I will always treasure my memories of Baby Alive and my baby brother because they satisfied that need in me to love.

But nothing satisfies the need to give and love as much as motherhood in real time. The minute-by-minute details of my four kids’ lives are so intertwined with the details of my own life that I feel their pains and joys as if they were my own. Even as they grow older and appear more and more to be trying to loosen those intricate ties with me, the love still holds. All I can do now is stockpile the details, hoard the memories…so I can treasure them forever…like any mother would.


On Her 18th Birthday

Right now, Chloe girl is out in Cali looking hard at UCLA, one of the many colleges where she was accepted. Decision Day looms —
Dartmouth, Northwestern, UCLA? I think it’s down to those three. Which one will she choose?

We are immensely proud of Chloe Rose Bollinger, who turns 18 tomorrow, and it seems like only yesterday that we were making our way home from the hospital, our baby girl’s tiny body befitted in a fancy “going home” outfit. We struggled again (just as we had with our first child) in getting her buckled snugly into her car seat. There was a freakish April snow storm that delayed the entire discharge process at the hospital. I remember so clearly how happy I was to be able to crawl back into my own bed with my  baby girl in my arms once we’d finally made it home from the hospital.

Who knew all the places this little bundle of pink love would go in life and the heights of joy her living in our world would bring us? You can’t really comprehend all the paths your child will bring you down. It’s too overwhelming. The mystery of it all is exciting, yes, but frightening too.

Looking back over the years there are many things I remember about young Chloe. Here are a few — She never cried as a baby. She just didn’t. She didn’t cry at birth. She didn’t cry when she was hungry. She’d make tiny mewing, cooing sounds when she needed something but there was never any wailing. She slept through the entire night in her crib on that first night home from the hospital, the whole discharge scene perhaps exhausting her as much as it had me.

Chloe was enthralled with the film,”The Wizard of Oz,” and for a lengthy period of time in her young life, she wore red ruby slippers every day. If she couldn’t wear them to preschool, she’d quickly change into them as soon as she got home. We purchased many, many pairs of ruby slippers.

Chloe played “school” with gusto, usually assuming the role of teacher. During these school enactments, she taught her younger brother, Charlie The Kid, how to read.

Chloe was present at her younger sister, Genevieve’s, birth. Chloe came up with her baby sister’s nickname, “Gigi,” short for Genevieve Gray and she doted on “her” baby. Gigi, to this day, turns to Chloe first when she needs something and Mom and Dad are not around or not paying close enough attention.

Chloe loves her dogs – Simone, Daffodil and Abbie – and boy do they love her, greeting her whenever she walks in the door with a frenzy that causes an uproar throughout the entire house.

Chloe is kind…to her parents, to her siblings, to her friends and peers. She is certainly intelligent, book smart as they say, but it’s her emotional intelligence that puts her far and above. She is far and above…

Chloe has a beautiful voice, rich in tone and pitch perfect. She has been constantly humming and singing to herself for years, which can sometimes be annoying to those around her, but I know it’s going to be one of the first things I’ll miss when she’s off to college this fall.

The goodbye-for-college is going to be rough, no doubt about it. This being our second time around for a “child-leaves-the-nest” moment, I’m hopeful that I can draw on my wisdom and past experience to bring a bit more grace to the whole affair. We shall see about that.

One thing is for sure, Chloe has taught me so many things these past 18 years…about myself, my family, my marriage, what it means to be a human in this world, what it means to be loved and adored. I can’t wait to witness the paths she chooses and how far those paths will take her…how far and above she will soar.

Happy Birthday, Chloe Rose! Happy Birthday to you!

Feeling Old About Horror

When questioning Charlie The Kid about the appropriateness of watching The Shining this afternoon….

Cassie: Holy Crap! Are you watching The Shining?

Charlie: Why yes, yes I am.

Cassie: (ignoring the fresh tone of the thirteen-year-old) That’s a totally scary movie, Char. Not a good idea at all.

Charlie: It’s a perfect idea.

Cassie: Terrifying.

Charlie: Not really.

Cassie: Yes. Really.

Charlie: Perhaps a little scary in 1980. Now? Not so much.

Cassie: Next you’ll tell me you’re going to watch the Exorcist. Dear God and Goddess.

Charlie: Already saw that — like three times. Some parts of that film are phenomenal.

Cassie: I don’t think you’re ready for these horror flicks, Char.

Charlie: Of course I am.

Cassie: Thirteen is young.

Charlie: Not really. I can handle it. Time marches on, Mom.

Cassie: Pffft. (pause) Charlie?

Charlie: Yea?

Cassie: REDRUM

Charlie: Nice try.

Barbie Stories

(Overheard while Gigi and a friend are playing with Gigi’s vast Barbie collection in our basement playroom)

Gigi: We have to come up with a story. Each Barbie doll has to have a story.

Friend: Why?

Gigi: Because otherwise it’s boring.

Friend: What do ya mean a story?

Gigi: You know, why the Barbie is doing something or saying something. Like, the reason.

Friend: We can only play Barbies if there’s a story?

Gigi: Yes.

Friend: You have a lot of Barbies. We have to do a story for all of them?

Gigi: No, no, no. Just the ones we’re playing with.

Cassie: (sensing annoyance in the friend’s voice; inquiring as I start down the stairs leading to the playroom) Gigi, are you being nice to K?

Gigi: Totally, Mom. Don’t embarrass me.

(Having been told off, I retrace my steps and return to the kitchen.)

Gigi: I’ll just tell you how I do the story for this Barbie. Her mother is that Barbie doll over there. The Mother-Barbie and the Teenager Daughter-Barbie just had a fight about the dinner and now the Dad – you know, the Ken doll over there? He walks in and tells everyone to calm down…..’Get a grip,’ he says to the family. The Baby-Barbie starts to cry and the pretend Barbie-dog poodle barks like crazy….Now we make the Barbies talk and the story goes on.

Friend: That’s how you do the story?

Gigi: Yes. We just make stuff up. And talk and talk. Hurry up because you have to go home at 6:30.

Friend: I thought we just set up the mansion house and take the Barbie’s clothes on and off. That’s what we do at my house.

Gigi: Nah. At my house, you have to make it fun with a story. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Tooth Fairy Tardiness

Genevieve: So it took the tooth fairy a lot of nights to remember to come and take my tooth.

Cassie: Ridiculous!

Genevieve: Anyway, that’s really forgetful. Which is a lot like how you are sometimes, Mom.

Cassie: I know. I think both moms and tooth fairies get super busy. Can you imagine what the tooth fairy’s schedule must be like?

Genevieve: (with furrowed brow) The tooth fairy doesn’t have a schedule, Mom. She’s magic.


Soft Chocolate

unnamedGigi: I like my chocolate to be soft. You know what I mean?

Cassie: Umm. No. Not really.

Gigi: That bite you gave me of that chocolate cake was too rough in my mouth.

Cassie: It wasn’t rough. It was absolutely delicious. From a very fancy restaurant. Dark chocolate mousse cake. Extremely soft.

Gigi: Did you say dark chocolate?

Cassie: Yes.

Gigi: Dark chocolate is rough. I like the soft kind.

Cassie: Maybe you mean milk chocolate.

Gigi: Yep. That’s it. That dark chocolate is so rough it’s probably making my throat and stomach have a blister.

Cassie: Oh brother. I’ll remember that the next time I bring home a fancy dark chocolate dessert to share with my beloved children.

Gigi: Yea…if it’s not soft chocolate, I don’t want to hear about it.


Vigorously Tying a Necktie

Charlie The Kid: This YouTube video on how to tie a necktie is lame. The voice over instructions are super annoying to me. Like he needs to have a better voice.

Cassie: Try another one.

Charlie The Kid: Right. (Goes to another video) Ok. I’m doing it. (He makes a twist and turn of the tie material, a tie loop appears) No. No. No. It’s sloppy. This knot didn’t work at all.

Cassie: Can’t you just wait for Dad?

Charlie The Kid: He’s shown me before. A long time ago. He ties the tie vigorously. You know, like zip, zip, zip. He does a good knot. Tight. Mine is too loose again. Nope. Total crap.

(He undoes the loose knot he’s attempted and fiddles with his phone to find another video on YouTube…he mumbles…he watches the next video, he laughs, he swings the tie around with one hand, his other hand nimbly scrolling the phone screen in search of necktie tying videos – are we on the third or fourth one now? He watches the video, slowly moving, twisting, looping his tie, which is a red, grey and black plaid. Very grown-up. One of Max’s old ties. I watch. I start to giggle. Charlie laughs, then swears under his breath.)

Cassie: Sorry, sorry to laugh. Your eyebrows. It’s funny.

Charlie The Kid: Sort of. Why are you watching me anyway?

Cassie: I’m not. I’m putting your clothes away. I see what you mean about vigorously holding the tie.

Charlie The Kid: Right? You can’t be loose and sloppy about how you hold the tie to make the knot. How many more days before the bar mitzvah?

Cassie: A few. It’s this Saturday.

Charlie The Kid: How long did it take Max?

Cassie: To tie a necktie?

Charlie The Kid: Yeah.

Cassie: I can’t remember.

Charlie The Kid: Pffft.

(I continue to put clothes away in the dresser as Charlie leaves his bedroom, moving onward in search of a mirror? Or a place where he can be alone to practice?

I try to remember Max’s necktie learning process. It was some years back and I just can’t remember how or when it went from loose and sloppy to vigorous and tight. How could I have forgotten such an important coming of age detail? How could I have forgotten?)

Swim Teachers

Gigi SwimGenevieve: That’s it! I told you I only want a girl for my swim teacher. I’m NOT changing my mind about it. No way!

Cassie: In California you had a boy swim teacher.

Genevieve: I was too little to know but I think I remember that I didn’t like him. Yeah. He wasn’t good at all.

Cassie: Okay. Okay. It’s just that there don’t seem to be a lot of female lifeguards who are also giving lessons at the pool this year. Every time I inquire, the three female lifeguards are all booked up with lessons, like for weeks in advance.

Genevieve: How come? Is there a policy?

Cassie: A policy?

Genevieve: Yeah. Like only boys can be lifeguards and teachers?

Cassie: No. It’s just how it worked out this year. And your teacher from last year has another job and isn’t working at the community pool this summer. She already texted me back.

Genevieve: My plan’s not going to work. I need to know how to swim for real THIS summer. (pause) When did you learn how to swim?

Cassie: I think when I was seven or eight. Maybe even later.

Genevieve: Who taught you?

Cassie: My Aunt Pat. She swam with my brother and me every day at my Grandma and Grandpa’s pool. I was definitely a late bloomer on swimming. Uncle Jay and all my cousins learned at a pretty early age. Jay was very physical; he never stopped moving until he went to sleep at night. So, of course, he got the swimming trick down easily. Also riding a bike….extremely quick to pick that up as well.

Genevieve: I already know how to ride a bike.

Cassie: Yes, you do.

Genevieve: When did Max and Chloe learn to swim?

Cassie: I don’t know if I remember exactly. They had lessons at the YMCA which Chloe did not like at all.

Genevieve: Why? How come she didn’t like it?

Cassie: She didn’t like having swimming lessons with a whole group of other kids. Also the teacher, one time, was male.

Genevieve: See? She wanted a girl too.

Cassie: Yes. Anyway, I don’t think Max or Chloe nailed it with swimming until six or seven years old.

Genevieve: And Charlie?

Cassie: Late bloomer.

Genevieve: How late?

Cassie: I don’t know. Eight, I think.

Genevieve: Yeah. I need a teacher right away. I gotta learn how to swim before I turn eight. You have to find me a teacher, Mom.

Cassie: I’ll do my best.

Airing the Injured Finger

injured fingerCharlie The Kid: Please let me know the next time you plan to “air” your finger while roaming about this house.

Cassie: Too gross?

Charlie The Kid: Extremely.

Cassie: I can’t have it bandaged the whole time. I have to let air get at it.

Charlie The Kid: Ummmm.

Cassie: What?

Charlie The Kid: I just threw up in my mouth again for like the seventh time since the whole finger incident started.

Cassie: Sorry. Sometimes life is disgusting.

Charlie The Kid: I know. I wish I could go back to when I was little and oblivious so I wouldn’t have to think about cut up fingers. Or the problems with black and white people in this country killing each other.

Cassie: (pausing to catch my breath since we’ve so quickly gone from my cut finger to the horrific racial tensions of the moment) Charlie, with age comes knowledge and awareness. You’re at an age when you start growing your wisdom about life and big serious issues and problems that are all around us every day. It’s not easy. I know. You have to stop and reflect about it every once in a while. So you don’t get overwhelmed.

Charlie The Kid: I don’t want to reflect on it. I want to escape it. How do you escape it?

Cassie: Probably can’t ever escape it fully. But reading a good book with a solid story that takes you to another place, watching a fun movie, music. Your music and artwork….I think those are really good outlets for calming down a little.

Charlie The Kid: Okay. But I meant what I said about airing your finger. Do that at night or something when your children are sleeping so we don’t have to see it.

Cassie: Will do.

Charlie The Kid: Thank you.

Cassie: Welcome.