Scare Tactics

My father has given me many things in my life. Of course he, along with my mother, taught me integrity, gratitude, empathy. They gave me food and shelter and protection, and you know, life. My dad also gave each of his kids some things which come from him alone. To my brother he gave a love of music and the annoying ability to carry a single word through about 15 puns. To me, crooked pinky fingers, bags under my eyes (which we’ve dubbed “Brust bags”), and rather unfortunately, a bunion. But by far, my favorite gift my father has given me is a deep abiding love of scaring people.

We have a gift, and we take this gift seriously. It might be cruel, and it might be slightly twisted, but you can’t squander a gift like ours.

The success of our scares is measured by three things: 1) how loudly we can make the victim person scream; 2) how long it takes them to recover; and 3) how long we, the scare-er, laughs.

His favorite person to scare is my brother. My favorite person to scare is my husband.

If you haven’t jumped out and made your 6’2” husband scream like a three-year-old on a playground, you haven’t fully lived.

When we’d been married for just over a year, Porter went to do his nightly chore of feeding the cats. He thought I was in the bathroom getting ready for bed, but instead I was hiding in the kitchen waiting for my moment. I listened as he scooped the food in the laundry room, poured it into the bowl, and started walking back to the bathroom to deliver the food to the cats. Just as he passed the kitchen, I jumped out with my usual BOO, and the man jumped so high that the cat food flew across the apartment. We found the kernels for days. His scream traumatized the cats, and they hid under the bed for hours.

It was perfection.

Just a few months ago, I heard him say to the boys Where’s Momma? I took it as my cue. They were all in one of the bedrooms waiting for me to come join them. They called me, and they called me, and they called me. I pretended not to hear them and slowly and quietly crept through the house until I was at good jumping distance. When the time was right, I made my scare. Porter jumped into some sort of frenetic pose, his eyes wild and panicked, his scream a decibel so high it could have shattered glass.

It might have been my best scare to date.

As a parent, I consider it my duty to pass on gifts to my children. This morning I heard Case, our middle son, sneaking around a corner and jumping out to scare his brother. When Jet jumped (unfortunately, they don’t scream since they’re a little used to being scared), Case laughed hysterically.

Naturally, I sent a video to my dad of the third generation hard at work.

My work here is done, I said.

He responded simply, Good work, but he’ll need tactical and strategic work throughout the years.

It’s so good to know you’re needed.

Humble Your Warrior

Once a month I walk into the large three-story suburban office building. I open the double doors; to the left the elevator, to the right the stairs.  Every month I tell myself Take the stairs, it’s better for you. Every month I turn left.

When the elevator door dings open, I walk down the hallway, passing a few dental offices and open another door. The hum of sound machines greets me, and my shoulders relax. Soon I’m greeted with a smile and walk into the office, plop myself down on her big plum-colored sofa and bear my soul.

Therapists are like house cleaners and take-out restaurants. When you find a good one, you never let them go.

I love my therapist. She’s a wonderful mix of gentleness, winsomeness, and wisdom. She’s also not afraid to tell it like she sees it. It’s something I value in her, even though sometimes truth is a hard pill to swallow.

Two months ago she told me I was an overfunctioner. (Overfunctioning is basically a politely clinical way of saying control freak and problem-fixer.) I resisted the urge to say, Oh yeah? Overfunction THIS! and storm out.

Instead, I was forced to sit there, facing the truth she saw in me.

As you do in a good therapy session, we eventually got to the core issue: anxiety. Circumstances I can’t control make me anxious. I’m an overfunctioner, remember? I like things to work. I like things to be easy. I like to know the outcome before I get in the game.

There’s just one slight problem, I say. Nothing over the last five years of life has been predictable. In fact, over the last five years we’ve had a baby, moved halfway across the country, been promoted twice, had another baby, finished a Master’s degree, received a raise, been let go, faced an 18-month-long unemployment, become a one car family, had another baby, been hit with a plumbing bill that was the equivalent cost to a very nice used car, began a PhD program, started a business, and a reality TV star was elected president.

She listened and nodded one of those therapist “I hear you and acknowledge you, but I want you to sit there on that sofa and soak in the uncomfortableness of what you just realized” nods.

Finally, she broke the silence and quoted Richard Rohr: These dark periods are good teachers.

Rebecca, I have some homework for you this week. I prepared myself for the regularly-suggested-and-always-ignored advice to journal.

Instead, I want you to begin a yoga practice. I want you to learn how to sit in discomfort without needing to try to control it. I think yoga can teach you that.

Done I assure her. I’ve always wanted to begin a yoga practice, but I’ve always had a hard time justifying the expense. Now that my therapist was telling me to go, it seemed like a perfect excuse. A few days later, I nervously walked into a yoga studio lobby. The owner greeted me and assured me that the class I was attending was good for beginners. She gave me a quick run down of the class, showed me where to put my shoes, and sent me into the studio like I knew what I was doing.

When I walked in, there were three other women lying on their backs. Oh good, I thought, just set up your mat and then lie down. Look relaxed. Look like you know what you’re doing.

I heard the door open a few more times, mats unroll, each person coming to their mat. I opened my eyes a few times to look around and make sure I will still doing what I was supposed to be doing. Over the next few minutes, the room gets warm. Really, really, really warm. Suddenly it occurs to me that I might be in a hot yoga class.

Soon the class begins. Good evening, yogis. My name is Kim and I’ll be guiding you through your practice today. As we begin with some collective breaths, I want you to focus on letting go of the control of your practice. Set your intentions, but accept that you can’t control this time.

Or the thermostat.

Within minutes, I’m drenched in sweat. I’m suddenly angry with my therapist. Maybe this was all a ploy to get me to stop overfunctioning. Afterall, if you die of a heat stroke there’s no longer a high risk of overfunctioning.

Great warm up yogis. Please join me in savasna. I look around and everyone is lying on the ground looking dead. No wonder they look dead, it’s 110 degrees in here.

Soon savasna is over and we begin four flows. More sweat. More cursing in my head. I’m never going to my therapist again. Why don’t these people look tired?

Kim guides us through one more flow. Toward the end she leads us in another pose and says humble your warrior. It suddenly makes sense to me. Humble your warrior. Stop overfunctioning. Surrender.

So I try. The pose hurts, but not as much as the concept.

I believe in therapy because I believe I don’t have life figured out. I believe that exploring my character defects, my fears, my hurts and my emotions is important. Therapy is a journey of self discovery and brutal honesty. It is also a journey of forgiveness, both inward and outward, grace, and healing. Therapy helps me navigate the ascents and descents of my life and heart. It helps me discover who I am at the core, and who I am called to be.

Yoga is a lot like life. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes you do well, sometimes you don’t. But the practice always teaches us.