Last week I spent seven days with my family at a house in Michigan. It was my little family-- Nancy and Lucia (12), our 12-year old niece Kaye, my sister Amy, her husband Ben and their seven-year-old Sam, my sister Katherine and her two boys, Joe (15 1/2) and Sean (14), my mom (76) and stepfather (89).
All families are intense and dysfunction in their own special ways. My family is no different. Depending on the year and the individual states of mind among all of the kids and parents, different combinations of people work well and others not so well on our family trips. There are always good times, lots of laughing, game playing, teasing, cooking and eating on our family trips, but there's also a collective tension that builds. By the end, even though we all love each other, we're ready to say goodbye.
This morning as we were cleaning up our rental house, I was washing the dishes and broke a vase. When I told my mom, she said, "Oh God, that's a fancy one. It's an Aalto!" I had no idea what an Aalto was, but I was quickly schooled. Yes, indeed it was a fancy one. "The Aalto Littala" to be specific, retailing for $175 at MOMA.
So the end of my trip was punctuated by bullshit-- texting the owner about replacing a vase that we used for 4 days for flowers that died. I spent fifteen minutes stewing in my room between attempts to find the Aalto Littala on sale, but eventually there was nothing I could do but let it go. A broken glass vase cannot be pieced back together, no matter how many ways you try.
As we left the vacation rental I was stewing. The broken vase compounded by the build up of tension from lots of family time made me feel manic and a little bit violent. As we started the two-hour drive from Michigan to Midway airport in Chicago, I tried to redirect my energy by thinking about all of the great moments we had together. One of my favorite was an impromptu poolside yoga class with my fourteen year old nephew Sean, his 15 year old brother Joe, Lucia and Kaye (12), Nancy, my mom and my two sisters.
We only had beach towels, no mats, and it was 8pm, the end of a full day of swimming, tennis and a huge dinner. But somehow it happened. Nancy and Lucia are used to family yoga; we do it often. But I was truly surprised that anyone else joined in. My nephew Sean was the biggest shocker. Sean is an extreme athlete. He's a trampolinist, a wild flipping scooterer, the kind of kid who jumps off roofs without batting an eye. A few months ago, while jumping off of a roof onto a trampoline doing a triple flip, Sean broke his neck and had surgery to fuse two of his cervical vertebrae. In addition to his recent injury, Sean is also a quintessential teen, spending most of his time on his phone and in his room.
So when I asked Sean to join he said, "Sure, I'll try," I was floored. I started the class quickly so that nothing would distract him away from doing yoga. The class lasted about 40 minutes and was very low key. Sean did every posture and stayed seemingly present the whole time (no phone, eyes closed, snickering undetectable). I can still his face in final Savasana-- peaceful, quiet, beautiful. I can picture the faces of everyone in my family that evening. I have these moments often at the studio when I look around the room after a class and see my students recalibrating, integrating all of the information from the class. It's why I love my job. It's a gift to me to see the peace that comes to people when they slow down, take away the bullshit, and breathe new life into their bodies. I'm not sure when my family will get together again, but until we do, I'll so grateful to have the image of their beautiful post-yoga faces to remember.