A post about friends…

The intention of starting my blog is to highlight women I know well, women I have been inspired by, women I have taught, who have taught me and the women I love. This post has been on the tip of my fingers for several weeks buried by the responsibilities of the holidays and my studio. Sharing the point of view of others on my blog is my ultimate goal. However, I feel it important to share my positive experience as a member of Delta Gamma sorority while attending NIU. It is not my intention to pontificate about the exclusivity of sorority membership. In fact, that part of it is a little weird for me and I know seems unappealing and even offensive to most people. This post is about friends I have continued to enjoy and make a priority. Originally, learned from the example set by my mother who is now a 50 year member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. She has always been and had wonderful friends. My mother taught me to value and maintain my relationships with women and showed me how much life is enriched by having them. It is perhaps, the greatest value she taught me.

On this snowy Saturday, as I composed this post, I received an email from one of the 12 women about whom this post is written. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 days ago. She doesn’t know many details but is certain to go through at least a year of intense treatment. Lisa, I dedicate this post to you. I know you’ve got this, but you need to know that WE’VE got this too. We will do everything we can to help you fight this fight and will love you through every weird, tiring, funny, painful, and happy moment you will have.

The typical way that sorority life is depicted in television shows or movies couldn’t be farther from what I experienced during my sorority days of college. Sorority girls are most frequently represented by shallow, perfect-looking, mean girls who are only out for themselves and willing to humiliate and sabotage anyone perceived as competition.

The young women who recruited me into Delta Gamma, the women with whom I was recruited, and the young women we recruited were all darling, kind, funny, smart, self-deprecating and have become fixtures in my life. There are 12 of us from two different pledge classes, who have stayed in close contact and get together regularly. We graduated from college 25 years ago and since then have three annual events and add in other impromptu outings, lunches, dinners etc. when we can. My favorite is our annual holiday party. We take turns hosting this event and either kick off our holiday season or close the season with it, depending on which time works better for us. The tradition began 25 years ago and we have not missed a year. Each year we do an ornament exchange. So every time I unpack these ornaments and put them on my tree I am reminded of my loving sisters. This year, my holiday season began with this party and inspired me to see the chaos of the rest of the month through loving and grateful eyes.

In the beginning we shared secrets, clothes, academic pressure, dressing for themed parties and dances, countless crushes, late night talks, studying, workouts, heart breaks, meals, libations, classes, meetings, rush, philanthropy, advice, tears, make-up, cleaning duties, “flushing!”, and just about everything shared by people who live together. In the years after graduation we supported each other as we started careers, shared apartments, searched for “the one”, got engaged and married, started families, bought houses and became adults.

Now that we are in our mid to late 40’s we have been there for each other as we have experienced the declining health, illness and even death of some of our parents, divorces, second marriages, infertility, financial ups and downs, raising teenagers, and spousal or our own health challenges. Upon making our commitment to Delta Gamma we agreed to be her champion in her absence and her friend always. And we do just that.

When we plan any event, we tirelessly try to find a date when everyone can attend. This is nearly impossible but never causes us to opt out of the event. We know that some of us getting together is better than none of us. When any of us has experienced the death of a loved one someone takes charge to order flowers and an accompanying memorializing gift to be sent, signed by all of us. Whoever is available attends visitations and memorial services and it is always understood that who is there is also representing who was unable to be there that time.

We have made it a priority to meet and/or know of each other’s family and friends outside of Delta Gamma and inquire about them with genuine interest and concern. When one of us has recovered from surgery or health challenge we have even done our best to participate and help out with neighborhood meal trains and support. We don’t live close to

each other, but luckily, with the exception of two, we are all in northern Illinois. Recently, by the blessing of social media, we found out that one of the DGs from my pledge class had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Through Facebook messenger, 60 of us rallied together and sent her gift cards, meals, gifts for her daughter, and some even accompanied her to her chemotherapy appointments. Now, we have made a new group and are planning a reunion with DGs who pledged over a 10 year period.

We are a ways from the practically perfect bodies, faces, and hair of our college days, but every one of these women is more beautiful and stunning to me than they were 25 years ago. Pondering this, I realized because after all this time, what remains through every life event we endure, is love. It’s just love.

I’m Thankful for…

For many Thanksgiving dinners while I was growing up, we passed a chalice of wine around the table and before taking a sip, had to say what we were thankful for. Of course we would respond with the usual “family, food, friends” ; but this year I would like to express my gratitude for something different.

I’m thankful for dance, yoga and the ability to be physically active. It is therapy for me. The first week of my senior year in high school, my brother Joe died suddenly.  Each surviving member of my family, my dad, mom, two brothers and I were awakened just after midnight and told the shocking news. In hindsight, only now do I begin to understand how profoundly changed I was in that moment.

One week later, I had a glimpse when one of my teachers handed back a homework assignment I had completed only hours before I found out Joe died. Staring at the assignment, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I realized the person I was before Joey died was gone; nothing about me was the same but I couldn’t put my finger on how I had changed. For several years I struggled to concentrate on schoolwork, reading, and physically passive tasks. What this experience put in motion for me was a deep commitment to spending most of my time in my body. What I was able to do well was dance. From the momentum of a strong academic background, I made it through my senior year; but by the time I started college, a year later, studying seemed impossible.

Heartbroken and in shock, the only time I felt good was while I was dancing. So, after a semester as a nursing major, I changed my major to dance. For several hours each day, my body felt strong and healthy. I could connect to myself without having to acknowledge how sad I was. Physically exhausted, I slept well and I received constant and appropriate attention from teachers in the form of constructive criticism during dance class which kept me present and mindful of what I was doing each moment.

Consequently, when grief would wash over me like a massive wave that knocked me down and left me gasping for air, I could recover. Occasionally, waking up in the morning was the worst part of grieving. Upon waking, my mind would be consumed with a dream I had. In my dreams Joey was alive so there would be that moment of happiness quickly replaced with the dread of realizing, again, that he was gone. I was able to get out of bed because I had somewhere to go where, at least physically, I felt good.

At the time, I had no idea that what I was doing through physical exercise was rebalancing stress hormones and raising endorphins and that there are provable scientific reasons I felt better. I was just doing what helped me survive. For this, I am so thankful for my career teaching dance and yoga. Each class I am helping my students be present and heal their bodies, hearts, and minds while providing them with tools to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. Just like every aging dancer, I have reached a time when dancing the way I did as a 20 or 30 year old isn’t possible or even safe. As a result, I practice yoga. My practice helps me manage and care for old physical wounds, but it also isn’t lost on me that my favorite yoga poses are heart opening postures. The healing of my heart is what led me to it and I am forever grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Robin

P.S. Yoga is accesible to everyone!! See photos for some of my favorite heart opening postures!! Message me if you need help with your practice!

 

Election Day!!!

I love election day. There is something about the excitement and satisfaction I feel going in on the day of the elections to vote. In this way I am taking part in our civic duty, making a difference, exercising my right, and honoring a long -standing tradition in my family.

I grew up in a house where all of the members and guests were encouraged to discuss, shout, argue and even offend each other on the subject of politics. My husband’s entire career has been in public service. He has served at the state, federal, county, and local levels of government. When I stop and think and realize that when my grandmothers were born women weren’t allowed to vote and my great grandmothers were unable to vote in the first few elections of their lifetimes; I wouldn’t even consider not voting.

The expectation in my family that we will all partake in this civic duty began with the election of 1948, 23 years before I was born. On election day, my mother, Jacquie, was home from school sick with the measles. She was eight years old. Her mother, my Meemaw, came into her room, sat down on her bed and told her that she was going to have to leave my mother alone for a little while because she had to go vote. Meemaw said it simply was in her DNA to support Truman. She told Jacquie that Truman supported the labor unions and that Meemaw’s step father was an early organizer for the Teamsters. Meemaw explained that she remembered how much better things were for her stepfather and other truck drivers after the Teamsters organized. People could live off their wages and their lives improved. Meemaw would never forget being taken to those initial meetings by her stepfather in Battlecreeek, Michigan and Toledo,Ohio. To her, voting meant that things would not go back to how they were.

My grandparents had both been Roosevelt democrats, but were not in agreement of who should win this election. Meemaw wasn’t out the door 10 minutes when the phone at home rang and Jacquie answered. It was her dad, Grandpa Marvin. He chatted with his daughter and then asked to talk to her mother.

Jacquie said, “She’s not here. She went to go vote, and this is why.” She proceeded to repeat everything Meemaw had said to her. Exasparated, Grandpa Marvin said he would call back later. My grandfather always jumped around, waved his arms and yelled a lot. He was more animated than mad. In fact, he said that he would only be mad if Dewey lost by one vote.

When my grandparents spoke on the phone later he said, “you left her alone to go vote for that son of a @#$%&??!!”

To which my Meemaw replied, “yes, of course I did!”

This election was one of the biggest upsets in American history. The newspapers had already predicted a Dewey victory and had printed the following day’s papers with the banner headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman!”

Meemaw was right, our votes matter. Every vote counts. I am honoring the legacy of my grandmothers and great grandmothers, all of the women before me who didn’t have the right to vote, and the women who fought so our voices could be heard. Election day always makes me feel hopeful and excited for the future. No matter what the outcome, whether I agree or not; as I settle in and watch election returns tonight I will be reminded that we are a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Concerns, Complaints, and Congratulations

I teach a gentle yoga class at my dance studio two days/week. The students in class are all women over the age of 60 including my mother who is almost 20 years older. Each of them comes to class with her concerns, complaints, wisdom, wit, humor, and willingness to practice yoga. They arrive stiff with arthritis resulting from old athletic injuries or recent falls. All of them experience post-menopausal balance issues and flexibility loss, a few have post-surgical limitations including the lack of ability to hang their heads, and many deal with chronic pain. Teaching them has become the highlight of my week. Each exemplifies what I adore about women. They are willing, coachable, and brave; and they have chosen to deal with aging through the support of others and lots of humor! These women faithfully show up for class; sometimes griping about how they feel physically, but always willing to share and reveal how they feel emotionally. As their yoga teacher it is my job to get them out of their heads and into their bodies; but I can’t resist participating in the gab session before class. In fact, I am often guilty of starting a conversation with something on my mind and they supportively chime in sharing their life experience in support of my tribulation. Each time we meet is an opportunity to vent, which means we begin and end class 10 minutes late!

Sometimes we start class sitting on folding chairs but usually we begin sitting cross-legged on the floor. For some, this requires the use of blankets and blocks to create what we refer to in the yoga community as “modifications” because many have tight hips, “bad knees”, or newly replaced joints. Regardless, we begin class breathing deeply and turning inward together. I am always humbled and somewhat amused by their trust in me. They allow me to lead them through breathing exercises and mantras seated like a pretzel with their eyes closed. However, once we start moving, I am snapped back into reality as they will verbalize shameless protests at my instructions, at the same time, giving a valiant effort to try to do what I am telling them to.

It is my responsibility to keep my students safe and make sure that they aren’t stretching too far or attempting something that may cause injury. At the same time, I want them to realize their potential and help them make changes to their bodies that will improve how they feel. Often, one of them will remind me that they have already reached their potential and they are as good as they are going to get! So I do what any good yoga teacher would do. I continue to teach. One of them will snicker, half of them will obediently take action and inevitably someone will bellow, “Robin, that’s just not gonna happen today!”

To which I respond with a number of solutions involving the use of yoga props, body placement modifications, and a reminder to breathe, which is then usually met with affirmation that the changes were successful, but sometimes uproarious laughter contagious to the whole class, including the teacher. Even though we spend much of our class time laughing, I am impressed by their progress and eagerness to enrich and improve their lives. They have chosen to learn to adapt to the changes they have experienced in their lives  by participating in something supportive, humorous, fun and healthy.

Congratulations to the women who take my gentle yoga class!!

I am grateful to you for many reasons. You have made me a better yoga and dance teacher, by example you have shown me how to be supportive of one another, how to be brave, how to laugh and mostly how to love each other!

Namaste,

Robin

 

 

By Women For Women

Thanks for joining me!

I am writing this blog, and hope to start a podcast, to create a community for women of all ages to tell their stories and share their strategies of how they live day to day. On the outside, our lives appear ordinary. However, upon further exploration, all of us are extraordinary. I know that as we reveal ourselves and learn about each other we will realize this. We have all come from somewhere. Our families, careers, friends, enemies, talents, gifts, challenges, and faith and/or spirituality have all shaped our lives and made us who we are. Our experiences and backgrounds create the lenses through which we see. I am interested in not only telling my story but also the stories of all women. It is my hope that through this endeavor we help one another feel great about who and where we are in our lives right now.

What and how do we prioritize to help us live our best life? From where have we drawn strength to overcome pitfalls, challenges, grief or setbacks? Is that still working for us now? What are our greatest accomplishments so far? What are our greatest challenges? From where do we draw inspiration? Where will this take us? What do we offer each other to help one another? I hope that by sharing our stories; the women of my community will thrive!

Together, we will explore, collaborate, commiserate, get to know each other, and open our hearts and minds!

XX,                                                                                                                                                      Robin