Family

embracing the dark

20170923_234138Sometimes you have to sit quietly and embrace the darker side of things; the unpleasantness that life brings.

I hadn’t realized I had dwelt in this place for the past few months.

There are many issues that pervade our world and society that are not within my control. Fires, hurricanes, politics, economics.

I found refuge in books, seeking classics like Wuthering Heights and Fahrenheit 451;  plots and themes dark in nature.   I disengaged.

We think we can determine our life’s paths but it’s the paths our life takes that influence our determination and resolve.

My words were in the word cloud of my mind; jumbled and unfocused.  I stopped trying to find them; choosing to escape in reading others’ words instead.

I had lost my way.  Instead of grabbing the steering wheel to drive where I wanted to go; I let cruise control take over with the windows rolled up and the music turned off.

At work I held the phone as the doctor shared her health concerns.  The hubs stood nearby as he heard my responses and queries.  I looked ahead at my calendar; buying time past the crazy hectic fall schedule of our household.   He, thankfully, is a man of few words and embraced me with quiet strength.

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I see beauty in the dark.

The monochromatic subdued hues of black, white and grey are comforting.  My favorite time of day is when I jog in the pre-dawn stillness before everything awakens; the black of night lightening to shades of purple, red and orange.

My mind clearly sees the vibrant garden of my youth filled with calla lilies, roses, lupine and geraniums.  At seventeen many days were spent looking out my bedroom window.    I questioned how I would find my way and where life would take me.

Recently I cleared the weeds in my garden; the chaos that always tries to take over fertile soil.  I smiled when the hubs came home with bulbs and seeds as I hope to recreate the wildflowers from my childhood home.

The “C” word was unspoken as hospice frequented my home and at my high school graduation my father stood proudly hoping for better things for his only daughter.  His time was short and five months later, he was gone.

I now find myself thinking these same thoughts for my sons as cells proliferate a little out of control.   They are always there; deep within, indiscriminate of race, religion or social class.

Life circled me back to my own senior year as my son had me fill in the parent portion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).   As he pondered various career paths to pursue and colleges to apply to  I remembered having great expectations; buoyed by the ideal that hard work and education would bring me happiness.

I felt the weight of reality as my thoughts dropped me back into my present.  I listened quietly and made myself remain quiet; though the words were on the tip of my tongue.

Life isn’t everything roses.  It isn’t predetermined.  We can’t always control where life takes us.  I lost my resolve.

The questions and thoughts currently in my mind are the same as the seventeen year old teenager.  Where will life take me?  Who am I supposed to be?  What makes a life well-lived?

I feel anxiety each morning, focusing on taking one step-at-a-time.

I prefer the cloak of darkness to the harsh light of day.  The hours turned into days turned into weeks and into months.  Life kept me busy and I pushed through my days on autopilot.

Today, the words unexpectedly came after a dear friend shared her concerns about our teens.  I finally engaged.

I arrived home from work  and asked my two sons to sit with me at the table as I inquired about their school day.   I had pondered how I would unveil my project as I worked through worst case scenarios in my head.  I told my sons they were my “control” group and handed each the following boxes.

20171017_123614I was met with shocked guffaws.  My eldest grabbed the box and said, “I’m game.”  The middle son needed something to drink before being able to provide a sample.  The youngest emerged from the den wanting to know what all the commotion was about.

Our local high school is a “commuter school;” meaning students are dropped off by dual working parents.  Teens are left to their own devices with disposable cash to get themselves into trouble.  The instant gratification of social media and technology allows lives to be changed in an instant.

The hormones rage; the peers influence.

The pressure cooker of helicopter parenting and performance (academic or sports) permeates our children’s self-worth.  The stakes are high and with a son in the college application process; I find my parenting peers to be as stressed out; if not more, than their own kids.

What twisted fate has both mothers and teenagers on hormotional rollercoasters at exactly the same time in their lives?

I stand by my garage door as my sons back out of our driveway each morning; watching them grow before me as tears gather.  I hear my youngest son talk about everything under the sun on our short ride to the junior high as his voice fluctuates; deepening and squeaking.

I am running out of time.

I entered the den as all three of my sons worked on computers.  I thanked them for taking part in my project and informed them that their results were negative.  I voiced that I appreciated their candor and hoped they would always feel safe to share the good things of their every day; but especially the bad. 

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There is beauty in the prickly things that don’t need a lot of watering.    I feel an affinity with the cacti planted along my entryway and patio.

I do not shelter my sons.  I try hard not to hover.  They know that life is unfair.

I welcome the physical labor of manufacturing; rolling threads mindlessly as the  rhythmic gears of the machine bring steadiness to the unknown.  My resolve is slowly returning.

It’s my job, as a parent, to teach my boys how to navigate through life’s disappointments and to persevere.  

 

We can’t numb the disappointments life brings with food, promiscuity, alcohol, medication or drugs.

Cutting and self-inflicted, controlled pain, or eating disorders are extremes to our life balance and well-being.  Control is a false sense of security.  

It’s okay to sit quietly in the dark for a little while.  To ruminate and contemplate; filter and sort.  

It’s the relationships that matter.  Engage and embrace them.

 

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Family

getting lost and being here

When summer arrives I feel the urge to head out on the road.  To watch the center lines blur and the scenery change to wide open spaces.  I love to feel my hair whipping around my face, arms stretched out of windows.  The wind swirling between my fingers.

My sons groaned.  “Do we really have to go?  You didn’t consult us when you made these vacation plans.”

Instead of getting offended, I mentally checked my automatic Mom response and sighed.  Driving a 2,000 mile road trip with seventeen and fifteen year old teens and a hormotional pubescent twelve-year old tween didn’t sound like an enjoyable experience for two weeks.  They were completely plugged into their devices: personal computers, lap tops and phones with earbuds in.  When I shared that our cabins had no wi-fi service; they bristled.  The lodging literature promoted being outdoors versus Internet access and could only be found in specific, public locations like lobbies.

We were embarking on a road trip the hubs and I have been wanting to take for several years.  Last summer this vacation was summarily canceled when my sons’ summer camp schedules directly conflicted with our dates.   It was on our bucket list of things to do before our kids begin to leave the nest and have schedules of their own but our sons were not enthused in the least.  They weren’t buying it.

In April 2016 the hubs had to pull over on the interstate. I had unsuccessfully tried to make reservations online (via my cell phone) while traveling home from a jazz festival.  Cell reception in the northern Sierras had been sketchy and when the highway patrol officer inquired why my husband was on the side of the road; he explained.  My wife has been trying for three hours, with limited cell reception, to book this online or phone and she just finally got a person on the phone.  The officer smiled, wished us well and encouraged us to make it brief and left us alone.

Our schedules were busy up until we left.  It took me a few days to relax and stop worrying about the things that I had left behind.  So many things to do.  So little time.

Navigation with my hubs is always a stressful affair.  Accustomed to his military days; his version of navigation entails coordinates, utilizing various apps such as Waze for traffic and Gas Buddy for finding the cheapest gas en route, Yelp for food destinations, multiple views (both digital and satellite) using Google maps AND our GPS navigation device since cell reception, again, would be sketchy.  As we left home and had to choose the freeway less impacted by traffic, the fight was on.

This has always  been a particular point of contention whenever we travel.  In Texas, I almost jumped out of our moving car…so angry with my, THEN, fiance.  In Utah we had pulled over to the side of the road, sleeping under the stars, on a cross-country move to Chicago worrying that my car wouldn’t make the trip; constantly overheating.  Using TripTiks, atlas maps and Thomas Guides (remember those?)…I had to be sure we were on the right interstate (which we were).

We found ourselves on this same stretch of highway and the hubs excitedly pointed out the exact place where we had pulled over in my Toyota Tercel twenty-three years before.  Incredulous, I could only laugh.  I could never co-pilot with this man in a plane; but I’ve survived co-piloting our relationship, and family, since 1990.  In the backseat, the kids heard us recount our stories of cross-country travel; curious of our lives before the idea of them ever existed.

We drove through 120 degree high desert valleys, through mesa buttes among hoodoos and deep canyons.  My stress level was indirectly proportional to the miles we were logging in.  As the miles away from home increased, my stress level decreased.

Upon arrival at our first destination the boys had been forewarned of our early wake-up time the next morning.  Lamenting that they were on “summer vacation” and should be sleeping in…they eventually crammed into a queen bed and were rudely awakened by the alarm clock at 6 AM.  This was not their idea of a vacation.  They imagined the white sands of Hawaii and the bright neon lights of Vegas (where we had spent the night the day before).

The arches of Utah were calling.  But after being yelled at for not bringing our best camera (left in our hotel room), I was  consoled by our youngest who cried quietly in empathy.  The eldest sat in the navigation seat, arguing directions with his father.  Our vacation was having a stellar start and after a missed turn, all was silent in our vehicle.

We trekked in 100 degree heat on an incline with no shade at 8:30 AM.    With Camelbaks on our backs and the GoPro on my cap; we took one step at-a-time; the boys patiently waiting for their father to catch up.  When we finally reached our destination, all cameras and phones were out taking the scenic panorama before us.  It dawned on me then that not one single complaint was uttered the entire ninety minute hike.  The hubs was shocked that I had handed my camera to the German tourist who took our family shot beneath this arch from afar.

Thus began our epic adventure.

We had many more missed directions and navigation foibles and the hubs learned to curb his impatience.  Comprehension had finally dawned on him that his idea of navigation was vastly different from other people.  He learned to take the missed roads in stride and the rest of us learned how to navigate more efficiently.  Driving an old SUV was very different from flying a multi-million dollar military aircraft.

We all learned to compromise and exerted endless patience; a reminder that it is not the destination that matters, it’s the journey in getting there.  And the pictures came out just as well with our other cameras versus our better one because the best pictures from our trip are etched indelibly in our own minds.

We found ourselves lost in the middle of Idaho; stumbling upon a quaint town decked out in all-Americana; pre-Fourth of July glory.  We passed bucolic panoramas with hundreds of herds of cattle, snow-capped mountains and blue skies.  When I sang, “Home on the Range” my sons had never heard of the tune and the hubs and I were aghast at their ignorance.

Home, home on the range.  Where the deer and the antelope play.  Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word.  And the skies were not cloudy all day.

Our lack of Internet connectivity made us mandatorily unplug.  As a family we have never been on vacation where we were together ALL of the time.  There were no separate rooms or walls to isolate us.  We always were within one another’s view; unless we were using restrooms.

I had expected fights, and there were a few squabbles; but nothing that wasn’t easily resolved.   My stereotypical, oppositional, middle teenage son took great joy in counting the days until we returned home.  But  he was constantly taking pictures to eventually share with his friends on SnapChat.  He was actually enjoying the trip and wanted to keep it a secret from us, his family.

When it thundered and rained for two of our days in Yellowstone; we were undeterred.  We hiked in rain and traversed mountains and peaks where the temperature registered as low as thirty nine degrees. We marveled at the geothermal features of springs, mud pots, fumaroles and of course, the geysers although the boys felt that after walking through several geyser basins, once you’ve seen one geyser; you’ve seen them all.

Daylight began at 5:40 AM and ended close to 10 PM…the hours long in the northern latitude and summer days.  We sat in road jams as bison herds ambled past and were eaten alive by mosquitoes on our first day’s hike to Mystic Falls.  On the days when the boys slept in or napped, hubs included, I explored our inn and sat with my cup of coffee watching Old Faithful in all its geyser glory as the sun rose or set with few people lingering.  The scenery was all my own.

As we hiked among wildflowers and rivers, geysers or travertine terraces sighting bison, elk, a moose, bears, foxes, eagles and everything in-between, I breathed in the crisp mountain air, taking it all in.  Whenever our family hikes, I take the rear; the mother constantly keeping tabs of her sons.  The hubs used to take the lead, but the older teens now scout the trail before us; the hubs with the bear repellent spray not too far behind.

I immersed into Nature; feeling blessed for the opportunity.  Gratitude filled me.  I. am. here.

When the purple mountain majesty of the Grant Tetons loomed into our landscape, several days later,  the boys immediately knew they would like it there.   Early for check-in for our cabin, the hubs spontaneously decided to hike one of the short and easy dog-eared hikes in my travel guide.  I had directed him to the trailhead (not realizing there was an eastern and southern route) and found ourselves on a difficult ascent with spectacular views of my Grand Teton peak looming ever closer to us.

I had chosen an easy-to-moderate trail on this particular route from the southern entrance and quickly realized this was something different.  But the hubs persisted that THIS was the correct place and had commenced on the moderate-to-difficult trail I had chosen to avoid; after the hubs had difficulty with the Delicate Arch trail in Utah.  We were on the eastern trail to Inspiration point along the shores of Jenny Lake.

Five hours later from our “short” hike prompted one of the boys to finally ask, “Who chose this hike anyway?” as we returned to our vehicle and empty trailhead parking lot.

Even on the most strenuous trek, the boys did not complain.  Not once.  They patiently waited as their dad caught his breath and I followed behind in the rear.  The eldest had control of the “best” camera, the youngest composed panoramic shots with our waterproof camera and the middle son’s phone was constantly snapping pictures.  They threw snowballs at one another when we finally reached the “saddle” portion of the mountain and we soon found ourselves at our destination, inspired by the 360 view.

In the remaining days we rafted down the Snake River, hiked trails and the hubs and tween, in sixty degree rainy weather, leapt off a 23 foot rock into the 48 degree deep alpine lake below; while the eldest carried a baby snake.  We constantly were on the lookout for wildlife; encountering a few along our hikes and drives.  Wildflowers sprouted along road ways, trails and riverbanks; infusing their vibrant colors and fragrant aromas in the verdant green alpine forests.  I was tempted to read Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Life’s misdirection took us on paths we’d never thought to take.  At one point, in the car, we didn’t know if we were in Montana or Wyoming.

In getting lost we found each other.

In the two weeks I had let all expectations go; trying hard to NOT create an itinerary for the hubs.  I listened to all of my family members’ thoughts and input to consider what to do.  The middle son enjoyed the hike he chose best; taking the lead.  The youngest felt the accomplishment of doing what he said he’d do by leaping off the 23 foot rock on the trail he chose.  And the eldest had matured, assisting with the long drives and navigation.

The take-aways were things I would have never predicted.  Our road trip had finally brought us back full circle to home.  To here.

My eldest developed a love for manual digital photography and outdoors; expressing the desire to return outdoors before summer ends. The middle son loved hiking and physical activity; wanting to take control and having a choice.   The youngest had vision and loved to compose shots with artistic flair.   We all have a greater appreciation for jazz; the music paired with my bluetooth stereo as we embarked on our endless drives.

Most importantly, we had a greater appreciation for one another; forced to interact and compromise.

Upon our return, the hubs decided he wanted to keep our physical daily activity going, finally getting on the treadmill, swimming and eating well towards better health and well being.   He doesn’t want his family to have to wait or hike without him.  It is one thing for me, or our sons, to want him to be on the path to wellness.  It’s another thing to want to be well and healthy, for himself.

The son who walked away from competitive swim has been swimming in our lap pool.  The middle son chooses to wake early to accompany me on my morning jog.  And the youngest enjoys cooking meals versus always eating out while on the road.  He likes having more choices with his ingredients.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Appreciate life and live in the now.  Be here.  Get a little lost in the great outdoors.  Life takes us in directions unknown but navigate your inner compass and find your true north.  You will always land where you are meant to be.

Uncategorized

flat tires

It was 9 PM and I was hungry and tired.  The eldest son playfully nudged me at the dinner table, late Sunday night, noting my mood as he shared our excursion with his younger brothers.  Get it Mom!?

When you’re feeling flat and tired, what do you do?  You get pumped up!

I’d been feeling a bit flat, lately and when our tire blew on the freeway, it wasn’t the only thing feeling deflated.

We had been on our way to a grocery shopping excursion and, for reasons unknown, our eldest son decided to join the hubs and I.  I had inwardly grimaced, knowing this growing boy was planning to fill our grocery cart with junk that I wouldn’t normally buy for our household, and the first week of summer was to begin the very next day.

As we rounded the corner onto the freeway we heard the Pop! and hiss.  By the time we exited, at the very next off-ramp, the person peddling at the stop light pointed and in a friendly voice, mentioned that our rear tire was, indeed, flat.

Our son ended up assisting his father in changing the flat tire.  He read from the vehicle owner’s manual while the hubs grunted beneath, releasing the spare from the undercarriage.  They worked in tandem.  The hubs loosened the lug nuts on the wheel then the son jacked the car, manually.

I sat on the deflated tire, quietly watching as the sun went beneath the horizon.  Within thirty minutes the father and son had changed the flat tire; filthy with asphalt but grinning like fools.  This was a teachable moment since this boy is now a driver with a vehicle of his own.

We then made our way into the grocery store, filled our cart and headed home to make dinner another hour later.

This morning I made my way to work worrying over the additional expense of getting a new tire; as we prepare to embark on a long road trip in the coming weeks.   It was one more thing to weigh me down with health concerns for immediate family members, looming trip expenses and juggling various work projects.

The transition from the hectic school year into summer is never an easy one.  I am a creature of habit and routine and it takes me several weeks to adjust.

Transitions are not my thing.

I struggle to stay motivated and inspired.  I wake each morning with the goal of having a decent day, to feel like I am not spinning my wheels; stagnant.  I strive daily to find my balance as a wife, mother and friend.

There is not enough time in the day to do all things and I have learned to let things go.  I must say more nos and consent with fewer yeses to give quality time.  To not feel barely adequate.  To give my best with each endeavor.

I am counting my days.

I mourn the changes that come due to health issues, life situations, relationships or job changes.    In this stage and age of my life I see less progress and more loss and resignation.  I am having to process how to let things and people go, gracefully.

Later I found myself in the tire store, tears in my eyes.  My tire was irreparable.

I had been prepared for this possibility and as the associate before me discussed my tire options, the store manager negated his reasonable price quotes.  He took me aside to his computer while saying the following.

We will take care of you, you’ll see.   A call came in from our associate to treat you well.

To my shock the price quote for four new, exactly the same, tires was well below what I had imagined.  I would even receive a rebate!  I had not expected this favor.

The husband of my girlfriend, a warehouse manager for this national tire chain, had called in to take care of me.  I hadn’t realized the hubs had been in contact with him, deciphering what kind of tires I should purchase.

I stood with tears in my eyes, thinking of my girlfriend who passed just over a year ago; leaving a son and dear husband behind.

This girlfriend had been in my thoughts as they commemorated her one year anniversary with a balloon release; two weeks ago.  Her unwavering faith and ability to always see the positive; even faced with adversity, had amazed me.  She had been a force to be reckoned with, while she lived.  She had never been bitter.  She had fought with the hope of recovery until the very end.

In thirty minutes, the same amount of time it had taken the hubs and son to change my flat tire, I pulled away from the store with four new tires.  I felt lighter, humbled,  and the cheesy words of my son came to mind.

I was fated to be here, a reminder from my girlfriend, to get pumped up.  To be grateful.  To not lose hope.  To embrace change.

My daily mantra is to alter my frame of mind.  To set a daily goal.  To be transparent.  To be a fair and effective communicator.  To be humble and empathetic versus trying to always be right.  I get distracted with the details and negative things that can weigh me down; an easy place for my mind to dwell.

Instead of counting my days, I should make my days count.

I am not always spinning my wheels or getting derailed with flat tires.  I drove away, today, feeling hopeful and progressing forward.

Family, friendships

my wake-up call

Last Thursday night, I remembered the importance of life’s checks and balances.

Upon entering my garage door, at 9:57 PM, my eldest son explained why my husband’s truck was not in our driveway.  Their aunt, my husband’s sister, had flat-lined and he’d rushed to the emergency room to be with her and her husband.   I immediately looked at my mobile phone log, remembering the distinct cell ring of my mother-in-law at 8:16 PM during the budget meeting I had been presiding over; balancing income versus expenditures.   My sister-in-law had been at the right place at the right time; immediately revived.  She is expected to have a full recovery.

On Mother’s day she had complained of feeling under the weather, sharing that age was catching up with her as she entered her fifth decade earlier this year.   I had noted that, instead of mother’s day being a day of celebration, it was a day of higher expectations and stress.  In trying to celebrate her mother-in-law, her own mother, as well as being a mother herself and acknowledging her daughter, a young mother, she had been worn out trying to do it all.  The symptoms she had exhibited on Sunday came in full force Thursday; finding herself in an emergency room and being resuscitated back.   This was a definitive wake-up call.   Literally.

We, women, try to do it all; at a cost to ourselves.

My own physical body felt the stress and I took the time to sleep from Friday afternoon through Saturday morning.

This weekend, at a family BBQ, I was reminded of the earlier years of motherhood; my younger cousins now beginning to have kids of their own.  As toddlers roamed and babies gurgled in delight on other Moms’ laps, my pre-teen and teenaged sons attempted to sit on my own; dwarfing me.  Only a decade or so earlier I had been pushing double strollers and carrying boys on infant carriers; trying to do everything.  My days had been filled with caring for their every need and these days, I struggle knowing that I must let them go.

I am feeling the weight of life’s transitions as I watch family and friends go through their own.    My sister-in-law is now forced to make her own choices versus trying to please everyone.

  • Deteriorating health issues commanding lifestyle changes and watching numbers.  Blood sugar, high blood pressure, liver and heart function.
  • Burying loved ones and caregiving for those left behind.
  •  Worrying about the future with our current economic and political climate; including retirement
  • Adjusting to the empty nest and discovering new interests, occupations and relationships
  • Raising grandkids when your own kids can barely make ends meet

We look at the numbers and ponder statistical probabilities and outcomes.  We worry about aging successfully, both in health and in wealth; as we navigate through midlife and beyond.  We work to define our roles, roles that constantly change and merge into one another.

We are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and we try to balance it all.  We nurture everyone, but accept care from none.

Something has to give; and it usually is the mother giving.  It is in our support community of family and friends that we must gain strength.

For the past month I have walked from one room into another, assuming different roles.  I step out of our business into the threshold of my home; briefly getting dinner before heading into a volunteer role at one of my sons’ programs or schools.  It is important for me to serve and contribute; knowing this is my way to remain involved in my growing boys’ lives; lives that no longer need me to hover in the wings.  And so I work behind-the scenes to promote and support the activities that sustain them since the time with my sons grows short.  I am thankful for the distraction and rarely complain.

I watched my older sons turn left, in their car, as my own vehicle continued straight; our paths diverging.  I hadn’t expected the sharp pang as I drove alone in my SUV to my destination and I turned down the music; preferring silence.  The loss of their presence in my, now too large, car was felt and the tears began to gather.  But the bright glare of my destination, among adults, brought me back to the tasks at hand.

I’ve spent a lot of time letting go of ideals and unmet expectations in my life.  As my sons soon embark on their journeys beyond high school, I recalled my own hopes and dreams; hoping their paths will be smoother.  Their accomplishments do not need to be grand, photo shopped or shared on social media with hundreds of followers or likes.  The bigger things are fleeting.

Life is lived in the details of waking every morning and striving to do the best that we can.  To give the best of ourselves without expecting much in return.   When life gets busy and crazy, as it always does at the end of the school year, it is the boring, routine that I crave.  To make the smallest of choices within my own spaces and cultivating relationships within these places.  

I struggle to find my balance, each and every day.  But numbers no longer define me.  Not on weigh scales, clothes sizes, bank accounts, friendships nor age.  Age is just a number.

Successful aging is embodied in the spirit we choose to live our lives.

We can awaken each morning expecting the worst.  Or we can awaken each morning hoping for the best.  To continue to believe that we serve a purpose and that the world is still filled with people who are good.  It’s not about what the world can do for me.  It’s about how I can contribute to the world.

My sons and husband know I chirp,  “Good morning,” as they grumble and throw covers over their heads or turn off alarms.  Some days I take it personally but most days I take it in; hoping to get a smile or a, “Good morning” in return.  These days, these gestures are few and far between.  But occasionally I catch glimpses and it is enough.

No longer do I project into the future past twenty-four hours.  I have learned to focus on the minutes before me; to be present in them.  To not use my words to break, but to build.  To not be present where I do not want to be.  To not compare with what I don’t have.   It is a huge learning process, this change in mindset.  Success is measured in navigating through the day and looking forward to the next one.  

This is my wake-up call, each and every single day.  May your life be resuscitated by those who revive you.

And I STILL sing this song to my boys; much to their annoyance.

 

 

Family, School

what the DMV and tea taught me

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Two weeks ago, my eldest son and I rushed after school to our local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.  We made our way towards line 3 and when called upon, the woman patiently asked where the golden rod colored paper was as this son and I questioningly looked at one another.  The one that provided the signature and proof that this boy had driven and passed with a certified driving school instructor.

We had to forfeit the appointment.

We both left dejectedly and waves of guilt washed over me.  I thought I had checked the list for required documentation to take the behind-the-wheel driving test thoroughly and I saw the slump of the sixteen year old’s shoulders.  I hadn’t realized how much he had wanted to take the test; to finally have a license to drive.

Why didn’t you check me? I asked this son.  He shrugged as I apologized, again, and he stated that he was okay with it.  He thought we had everything in order, too.  It gave him more time to practice behind-the-wheel in his busy spring schedule.

I immediately went home and tore apart the files in my home office in search of the golden rod document.  I had even called the driving instructor on his cell phone to inquire how to get another form while at the DMV.  Within fifteen minutes of organizing and sorting I found the document and spent the following two hours in frustration, filing and shredding.

If I had been better organized, this son could’ve taken his test.  It had already been a trying week and it took another 24 hours to reschedule another drive test appointment.

Two weeks later, we returned to this same line.  This time we had all the required documentation and when the woman asked what time the test appointment was for, we both answered at the same time.  I stepped away from the counter as he continued to answer her questions.

We proceeded to sit in the hard, plastic chairs in the very crowded DMV for an hour and when his name was called, I anxiously stood nearby as he was given instructions.  As he drove the car into the drive test line, I focused my energy on not fidgeting; to remain calm for this son as he jibber-jabbered for another fifteen minutes and inched slowly to the beginning of the line.

When the instructor finally arrived I exited quickly and stood by a tree with others awaiting their drivers on tests to return. I glanced at the time as this son pulled away from the curb.

Within seven minutes my car had returned and as I slowly walked towards my son, I caught his reflection on the driver side’s mirror and immediately knew what had transpired.  He had failed his drive test.

He chose not to drive home and crawled to the back seat of my car; angrily dealing with his humiliation.  He wanted to tear up the examination sheet and when I asked where it all went wrong, he claimed he didn’t know.  The instructor had simply written his suggestions, politely asked him to return to the DMV parking lot and exited the vehicle.

Upon reading the examiner’s words I inwardly cringed.  Critical driving error.  And though my heart hurt for this son; the one not used to failing anything, a surprising emotion had risen unbidden to my consciousness and I chastised myself.

I was secretly glad.

I couldn’t put into words these conflicting feelings until I sat across my childhood friend I’ve known since aged nine.  We both had left our humble, small-town upbringings to attend universities four hours away in the city .  As a high school language teacher in a highly ranked school district, she shared the scenarios that play out before her, day-after-day.  

All work and no play.

She handed me the book by Dr. Stuart Brown; hoping that the next generation can still cling to open, unstructured time.  Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.

This is an ongoing conversation between us; she as an educator and myself the parent of two high school teens.  The high school years have become the pressure cooker, high stakes years when students build resumes and look towards college admissions.

  • They shuttle from one structured organized activity to another; not for the love of learning or joy of playing…but to stay afloat and rise above their peers.
  • They have various extra-curricular activities to fill all of their free time, burden themselves with advanced placement courses and stay up till the wee hours of the morning trying to fit it all in.
  • They hire tutors or become tutors themselves, adding the time to community service hours to check that block on their application resume.

We sat for three hours dissecting the high school years we lived versus the ones our children currently live in.  Living two hundred miles from our hometown we easily understand how different our upbringings were versus those of our children.

As mothers we both feel like hamsters running in place as we do the things we are expected to do.  

We go to work, we parent our kids, we try to be good spouses and multi-task efficiently to prove we are productive and don’t waste time.  Our time is structured and the words come back to haunt us.  All work.  No play.

As we sat in her car in a crowded restaurant parking lot, the words began to form on the fringes of my mind.  My dear friend stated the obvious.

We forgot how to play.

Her version of unstructured time was in socializing; making time for friendships.

Both avid readers, I had shared my desire to go to a tea house after reading Lisa See’s The Tea Girl on Hummingbird Lane.  My girlfriend teaches in the community where this book takes place and, surprisingly, portrays the same scenarios we live.  The Play book had not been on my to do list, this weekend, but I found myself making the time.

Reading for pleasure is my own version of play.

I returned home telling my husband I craved tea and scones as he made a fresh pot.  My girlfriend and I hadn’t  realized the long waiting lists to even have tea in a local tea house.  Reservations needed to be made a month in advance.  When we looked online at menus and saw the cost; both of us opted to forego this option for the time being.

The hubs muttered under his breath how he was doing his part and so, I found myself perusing my recipes on how to make scones.

As I kneaded dough, like Play Doh, I realized how I contributed to my son’s critical driving error and I replayed the seemingly disconnected thoughts in my mind trying to make sense of them.

I processed the words I had shared with my girlfriend, who happens to also be this son’s godmother.

  • How I questioned his maturity level when he was behind-the-wheel recently.
  • That, after leaving the DMV two weeks ago I had felt guilt ridden and then began angrily questioning why I had felt guilty.
  • When I was sixteen I knew all the rules.  I made my own DMV drive test appointment.  I had all my documentation.  I did it on my own.
  • When this son drove, he relied on my instructions to reach our destinations.  Rarely did I remain silent to let him make his own mistakes or figure out the directions by himself.

This feeling of guilt persisted but not for the reasons I had thought.

I feel the guilt of being the overbearing parent.

  • The one that scheduled the online DMV appointment.
  • The one that, when my son was questioned and he didn’t immediately answer, filled in the space and answered with him at the same time.  I had caught the glance he shot me; one of irritation.
  •  When I questioned the son if he had checked me, he really should have been doing all this documentation search on his own and I should’ve checked myself.  Checked myself out.

He has suffered setbacks but he must learn how to cope with rejection.  I am not teaching my son how to be independent and, much as I tell myself he must fail, he never does.

Until he failed his drive test.

It was a critical driving error.  He had been asked to turn left at the intersection and when the signal had turned green, he had made the left.  But there had not been a left turn signal and he had not waited for the oncoming traffic to pass through the intersection first.  He had just went for it.

I had looked at my son through the rear view mirror that day, after reading the examiner’s words while stopped at an intersection and calmly stated the following.  I know you will never forget that rule again.  That could be fatal.  My son had silently shaken his head in agreement.

I had known all along he hadn’t been ready but it took someone else to finally drive it home.

I walked into the computer den, announcing to my boys that dinner and tea would be ready in ten minutes.  They confirmed with grunts and nods, questioning the comment about tea but I had exited the den to check on my scones.  My sons know I am not, normally, a baker of any sort, unless it is cookies during the holidays.

My husband watched me pull out our fine china and tea cups; wondering if I had lost my mind.  Are you seriously bringing out your tea sets?  I brought out five different settings and began to set my table.

I am a mom of three boys and a husband and have no occasions to have a tea party.  But I’m going to have one, just because.

Our boys came to the table staring in surprise.  It was the youngest son who summarized succinctly.  This looks like those play tea sets from preschool for girls.  He was surprised to discover there were tea sets for adults.

The hubs poured the tea and the middle son got his finger caught in the dainty tea handle.  I had to hold the cup so he could gingerly wedge his finger out.

They discovered the scones and readily ate them, placing blackberry jam on their tea plates and gingerly holding fine porcelain cups.  They even pointed their pinky fingers out and stoically posed for my pic; for posterity.

They didn’t even question why we were having scones and tea in fancy china; they merely enjoyed the food and to my husband’s chagrin, quickly drained the pot of tea he painstakingly made.

I have finally learned my lesson from my son’s DMV experience.

Later, I sat on this son’s bed and candidly shared my thoughts and that, when he is ready, I’ll direct him to the online DMV page to schedule another drive test.  I brace myself, and my son, for his upcoming senior year so that when rejections come, he will pick himself up after disappointment.  He feels the pressure as his junior year is coming to a close; as do I.

In this whole process I am most surprised by this son’s resiliency after taking some time to lick his wounds.  For this I am glad.  I am slowly exiting the hamster wheel; finding my footing in the things in life that bring me joy outside of my family.

It’s time for me to create unstructured down time, turn up the music, find my rhythm and throw some more tea parties.

Uncategorized

my status

Amidst the March madness our schedule finally settled.  It is rare for my family of five to sit at home with nothing to do and so I let my three sons choose their preferred mode of unwinding;  online gaming.

Unlike my sons, the overcast outdoors beckoned.  The hubs chose to accompany the dog and I and, book in-hand, we headed out for a walk through the equestrian stables adjacent to my neighborhood to the duck pond park.

I get so absorbed with the things that happen between my four walls that I needed to see the world beyond.

As we walked through the neighborhood park I observed the various families with small children and remembered my former afternoons spent here.  When my boys were very young I frequented the local parks every afternoon, surrounded by the sounds of people to break up the monotony of my days.  During those years my husband was often deployed and, living away from a military community, I often felt isolated.

I knew most of the people who worked at the local supermarket, nearest to my home, who always greeted me by name.   Although the produce and items are much more expensive here than a wholesale grocer, I remember why I continue to frequent this store.   In the thirteen years that I have resided here, the employees have remained the same.  We are like an extended family and to this day, they continue to greet me by name.

In the park we walked past the birthday party that looked Pinterest worthy; the tables set with tea cups and beautiful decor.  I enviously wished I was young like the birthday participants; the cares of the world revolving around what color of dress to wear for a party or what the next meal to be served would be.

My sons also had these type of parties and the hubs and I both remembered the motorized jeeps my in-laws brought to our middle son’s third birthday party in this very same park.  The eldest, then four, had immediately settled at the wheel and driven his brothers around.

These days the eldest son is behind the wheel of my car, driving his brothers around.  The middle son is already chomping at the bit to take the test for his permit.  He is not eligible to do this until December of this year.

In the early predawn hours I am always grateful to live in this community; one where I feel safe enough to jog solo on my neighborhood streets in the early morning dark.   I trek past my sons’ elementary and high school and use the outdoor resistance equipment of the community park across the way before making my way home to awaken my household to begin a new day.

Normally I take comfort in daily rituals and routines; the cyclical wheels and spokes that drive my life forward.  But lately I’ve been feeling stuck.

My rose colored shades have been getting blurry and so I’ve tried to wipe them off; to see clearly.  The sun shines too brightly into my eyes.  I feel like a hamster running in place.  I seek inspiration and motivation without a lot of success.

I walk through my life a bit like one of the walking dead zombies my husband is fond of watching.  Talking heads.

My hubs, sons and dear girlfriends know that when I get fixated on a song that it stays on repeat until I finally get it out of my head.   The Katy Perry song appears light and frothy but upon listening to the message, is deeper.  It resonates with the undertones that currently are stuck in my head.

Usually music is the one medium that can take me out of my funk.  I’m losing faith and I’m stumbling along trying to find my way once again.

The text from my girlfriend was most welcome.  Occasionally our vehicles pass one another in the library parking lot as we pick-up or drop-off our sons and, surprisingly, my schedule was clear to meet her the very next day.  We chatted books, food, family and everything in-between and we talked of retirement; something I am nowhere near.  We imagined what our lives will be and I get a bit disheartened, wondering if I’ll ever get there.

The utopia that my baby boomer in-laws’ generation lives will be vastly different when the hubs and I get there.

Our generation is so lost in work, with no play, and we’ve passed this on to our own children.  We supervise their play dates, their extra curriculars, their resumes.  What will motivate our own kids when their lives are comfortable little bubbles managed by others?  The things that normally motivate people: money, things, titles continue to drive people to run faster on their hamster wheels.  Things like relationships, familial ties and loyalty are filtered by online screens and cyberspace.

My hippocampal brain space isn’t being used because I rely on my mobile device to memorize and organize my life.  I don’t even have my sons’ cell numbers memorized.  I put the book down at the duck pond and process the people activity around me, instead.  I tell the hubs that I want my own tea party.

On our walk home the hubs asked if there was a reason I was walking so fast.  It took me a minute to respond, slowing my stride and noting it is my normal pace.  He reminded me to slow it down, as he pointed at trees.  He stopped mid-stride and had me glance up to the patriotic military banners that grace this grand avenue and pointed to a fellow booster parent’s image in his army/national guard uniform.  I have jogged this route, weekly over several years, and have not once noted his banner above.

I watch my friends live their lives on Facebook and Instagram.  I, too, like their posts and pictures…escaping my walls in cyberspace.  But it’s time for me to step out of my rhythm and comfortable spaces; to journey untraveled roads in unexpected places.

What’s your status?  

I don’t have one.

Family

When you’re fed up

When you’re finally fed up , I asked my husband, what do you do?

He looked at me mutely, knowing I had reached my boiling point.  I didn’t have an answer as I fired the question to the hubs and left our business quiet and frustrated.  It wasn’t until I walked through the aisles of the large wholesale grocer; the $0.88 cake boxes in the main display, that my answer arrived.

You feed.

I made my way through the produce aisles, noting the garlic from Gilroy, California.  Other grocery chains only carry imported garlic from China and my angst returned; knowing that cost drives our current economy.

It would be nice for the consumer to have the choice to purchase the cheaper garlic bulbs from overseas next to the garlic grown in my home state.  But most times these choices are made by higher powers in large corporations or political chambers.   I mull this over as a long time customer finally chose the larger profit margin, acknowledging they will be purchasing fasteners from overseas.

I grabbed four Betty Crocker cake boxes and threw them into my cart in various flavors; chosen specifically for their colors.  Red (red velvet), yellow, white and brown (chocolate) and a white frosting tub for good measure.  This was an impulse buy.

I had remembered my youngest son’s request to bake a cake for his sixth grade plate tectonics project; something that required time.  When my two older sons had to do this same project in sixth grade, foam globes from the craft store littered our kitchen table as they painted, cut and mounted the various strata layers of the Earth.  The youngest’s globe currently sat upon our dinner table, primed and ready to be painted.  The layered strata cake was not required.  It was one or the other.

This son’s voice penetrated through my anger; the one that reminded me that sometimes I don’t hear him.   He is lost among the older brothers whose problems seem to take precedence.  Why reinvent the wheel if the globes worked with the older sibs?  But his words came back to haunt me and I needed the distraction.

You never hear me.  It was the icing on the cake and so IN the cart the cake boxes went.

This was fortuitous.   Immediately upon entering my garage door, with my grocery bags, this youngest son sheepishly stood nearby.

“Mom, my project isn’t due on Thursday.  It’s due TOMORROW.”  

The cake mixer came out as he continued to prep and paint his foam globe.  When called to choose his cake layers he quizzically asked,  Why are we doing both?  To which I replied.

I heard you.

Fed up with the world, the very least I could do was feed my kids.  Not with junk food and cake..but with my time, and my bottled up energy.  I sometimes wonder why this is all worth it and it was as I watched my son painting his Earth project that I realized what my subconscious wanted me to do.

It’s love that makes the world go round.  It makes it all worth it.

It may not be perfect, ever.  But it’s the reason I wake up each and every morning…even lately when it’s something I don’t want to do.  I worry about our financial future for my family.  I worry about the direction our country is taking.  We are a balanced household, the hubs and I moderately on either side of the political fence.  I am a proponent of global economy but want things to be fair.

Everyone looks out for their bottom line.

Small business and customer service are becoming a thing of the past…transitioning into large, subsidized corporate profits with technological interfaces.  Customer service comes in the form of chat rooms and emails; not voice or face-to-face interaction.

Our globalization is allowing us to reach wide, but leaving a deficit in how to converse locally.

My sons sit with phones across from their friends with no words audibly spoken.  We are losing our ability to communicate up close and personal.

When the weeds took over our garden after a record winter of rain, our family had mandatory weeding time for an hour this past weekend.   The hubs and I noted after this physical, outdoor activity among gripes from our boys, that they animatedly returned to their computer screens and interacted with one another.  It’s easy to get lost in cyberspace, independently saving the free world or trading stocks and bonds.

With the ground cleared, our yard looked empty.  But removing the weeds made room for new growth.  A level playing field to start over.

Thankfully, our customer of fifteen years was not a sizable portion of our business bottom line.  But relationships and loyalties no longer reign in the climate we live in and we are cultivating future generations to forego these relations; to rely purely on statistics and numbers.

In the grocery store I see the choice to pay more for organic and/or made in the USA versus overseas.  I want to stretch my dollar, to make the fiscally sound choice.  But I grab the yellow squash from the produce home grown in my home state.  I will pay extra for the choice.

Why purchase the cheaper import produce that is flown on an airplane; that creates a larger carbon footprint in our world with the fuel it uses to get to my location?  I want my produce fresh, not gassed.

I ponder what my bottom line is.  I’ve been silently shadowing and sulking, not standing my ground.  I am finally fed up and need to make a choice and have a stance.

In choosing to feed my kids and family, fresh and locally sourced produce, I make my choice.  With the help of my sixth grader I bake for several hours, cooking dinner with my garlic from Gilroy and spinach from Salinas.  I buy strawberries from Oxnard, cauliflower from Santa Maria and beverage from Paso Robles.  My grass roots campaign is seemingly small but our business will be following the same path.

I am sowing seeds in my own garden.  I want quality relationships with my family, my community, our customers.

I carried the cake box into the sixth grade classroom this morning and told the teacher to please share with her thirty-two students.   She was surprised to learn my son submitted two projects.

When fed up with the world, I choose to feed the world instead.  For my sons.  For myself.  For the future.

 

 

 

Family, Marriage, Work

spring cleaning through the years

I want someone to tell me how to get through the bad days.

  • When the hubs arrived at work he found our motorized gate broken.  Again.  Hours are spent dismantling the motor and eventually removing it.
  • When I drive into our parking lot I watch a woman dump clothes on our public easement.  I yell to her to pick-up her used clothes and she walks away.  I am left to put them in our trash bin.
  • The J-bolts from the platers are mottled and rejected.  It is when we question the quality that we discover they’ve also increased their price with new ownership.

It’s days like this when we feel the burden of small business.

Hours in labor spent maintaining our building and equipment.  Picking up other people’s messes.  Whether it’s used clothes, low quality plating or just unprofessional practices we are left to our own devices.  Most times we eat the cost.

  • At home I stare at the washing machine wondering why it won’t spin.  Again, the hubs spends time dismantling.
  • I walk into bedrooms with overfilled hampers because sons don’t understand to lift the lid to place the dirty clothes, inside the receptacle.  I yell to my sons to pick-up their clothes and they walk away.  “Okay, Mom,” is all I get and so I leave the mess.
  • I look at progress reports with grades that I cannot accept.  I question the quality of time my boys put into their studies since their primary responsibility is to do well in school.

I feel the burden of parenting tweens and teens.

After work I spend time maintaining our house and appliances.  I am cleaning up my family’s messes in the place that is supposed to be my sanctuary.  Whether it’s dirty laundry, dishes or irresponsible sons who make poor choices and don’t have their priorities straight, I feel the mental and emotional cost.

I am spent.  Financially.  Physically.  Mentally.  I tell my husband, I am done as we dejectedly sit across the desk at work.  He is too.

 

This past weekend, my father in-law (FIL)  requested the help of our eldest son with the upkeep of a car.  Eight hours were spent doing various things as the grandfather passed his car knowledge to his grandson. First he was under the hood learning about the parts of the motor.   Later I found myself stepping over my husband and son, under the car, as they discussed what to do with the oil pan while my FIL stood nearby supervising and instructing.  Finally, bemused, I pulled up a chair as I listened to the grandfather explaining to the grandson how to detail a car interior.

I found myself detailing my own car’s interior.  It had been untouched for years and as I scrubbed and emptied the Simple Green spray bottle, my seemingly random, disorganized thoughts formed together.

When you don’t do what you love or love what you do, it makes getting up in the morning that much harder.   It’s not realistic, sometimes, to love life.

There are days when I don’t even like the ones I’m supposed to love.

I wake up each morning wondering, What am I supposed to do?

I want someone to tell me the answers but really, I need to figure this one out for myself.   If someone else tells me what to do, it’s easy to not accept ownership; to blame others.

I scrubbed years of grease from my car’s upholstery and carpets.  I saw the cracks and tears, the mottled colors.  But my vehicle feels new.

I accept the scars and abuse my interior has endured; remembering how they got there.

…the time my youngest son thought my light gray leather interior was a drawing board and chose to write on our dashboard with Sharpie pen.

…the double phone charger at the bottom of the seat pocket, bought in Arizona outside the Grand Canyon, as the older boys constantly fought for the lone rear battery outlet.

…the indentations from the carseats all of my sons formerly sat in.

…the sticky markings on the car ceiling from the soda that exploded as we rose in altitude during a snowy Memorial day camping trip.

It took several hours to detail the inside of my car.   Normally I take care of the exterior, the big things that people see, and sweep things under the rug to deal with another day.   I have spent the least amount of time maintaining the interior.  Thankfully, my hubs handles most things under the hood which allows my car to run.

When I drive my SUV, on a daily basis, I don’t see the outside.  I live and breathe on the inside.  A lot of my time is spent behind the wheel commuting to work, shuttling kids to/from school.   My most meaningful conversations with my family occur within this car’s interior whether it be on short trips or long ones.

I was mistaken in thinking my house was my sanctuary.  The reality is, my happy place is in my car…windows down, music blaring as yellow lines blur in open spaces.  I love my solo commute to work but I also love people driving in my car with me to infinity, and beyond.

While reading the novel, The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney for our monthly book club, the line resonates.

You can make your surroundings as polished and empty as you like.  But it doesn’t really matter if you’re still messed up inside.  And that’s all anyone’s looking for really, isn’t it?  Someone to take care of the mess inside our heads?

I finally took ownership of it.  All of it.  It is time to repair, clean and maintain my mental interior.

In dealing with a sticky situation, in one of the organizations which I serve, I found myself seeking answers once again.  My goal is always transparency but the time has come for me to stand my ground, to stop having others tell me what to do based on past history.  To filter and sort my words.

I know what I need to do.  I trust my gut.  And so my boundaries are becoming defined as I mentally prepare for uncomfortable and awkward moments to do the right thing.  To handle the messy details.  To not sweep things under the rug to help someone save face for appearances’ sake.

I must deal with my mental interior and sift through the clutter and detritus.  To make things simple and wipe away at the years of neglect, accumulated gripes and pent-up frustrations.

I will let go of the idea that I must love what I do and shoulder the things life brings my way; to carry my own weight.

The reality of life is that there are many things we do not like to do, that must be done.  To consistently wake up each and every day with the goal of trying to be the best person that I can be.  And not just for me.

I strive to stop worrying about appearances and embrace the people whose relationships keep my cup full.  The ones who make me get out of bed every morning who need me; and I, them.  There will soon be a day where there will be no mess to pick up after (okay, maybe the hubs but someday, not even him).  There are days when nothing needs to be repaired and all things are pristine.

I gaze over to my grease covered hubs as he labors beneath the machine with our employee.  I don’t have to love what I’m doing every single minute of the day.  I can do without the tenant drama behind our building, the broken gates, the shoddy workmanship from vendors, the not-so-reliable appliances at home and my broken kitchen tile.

The accumulated daily grime, through the years, builds and it’s time to spring clean and make it like new.  Scars, flaws, head clutter and all.

Most days I don’t love what I do.  But I work alongside the hubs, the one I love.

It’s never really been about the money, the candy and roses.  It’s about going through the monotonous daily grind, through the years, with someone who loves me unconditionally and helps me take care of the mess inside my head.

I trust my heart.  I own this.

 

 

Family, joys of jazz

crystal clear

As a mom in mid-life, parenting teenagers, I find myself alone.  A lot.  I am an alien in my own household of males; three sons and one husband.

Acronyms fly out of their mouths; my PC online gamers, YouTube and action movie watchers and social media chatters.  I’ve learned of websites I’d hoped to never encounter. My political views are vastly different from theirs. But I am grateful my sons share their thoughts with me (even when I’m offended), that the door is still slightly open.  For a while I felt it slam in my face and I stood on the other side wondering, What did I miss?  Where did I go wrong?

You just don’t understand, Mom.

And they would be right.  As an only child I did not have to worry about sibling rivalry.  As a female I communicated both vocally and in written form so I always said what I meant.  How did my own points of view and values present drastically different with my three sons?

Parenting male teens is a challenge.

img_5016

When my friend drops her daughters to carpool on Mondays mornings, it is like night and day.  They ask questions and share about their lives as I prepare lunches in the kitchen.  They awaken at 5:30 AM and take an hour to decipher what outfit to wear for the day.

My sons stumble out of bed, thirty minutes prior to the first bell, and quietly and grumpily grab their backpacks.  They stalk to the car while the girls animatedly chat about this and that.  When they separate, they hug one another good-byes with words of love and encouragement.

My sons can barely stand to walk together the short distance to their high school, most days.  It is only on Mondays, with the teen girl they’ve known for twelve years, that they walk together on each side, protective. If my sons hugged and told one another, have a great day and I love you, bro; you’d knock me over with a feather.

It’s taken me a long time to wrap my head around this idea but slowly it’s crystallized and has become crystal clear.

The things I want for them are not the same as the things they want for themselves.

Most times, they don’t even know what they want.

I practically dropped my purse in the grocery store as the supermarket music played a song from decades back.  I quickly found my Shazam phone app to find the tune but it was too late.  I’ve since found myself searching playlists of hits from the 90s to try to find the “ear worm” that keeps ringing in my head.

Those who know me well know that I can get a bit obsessive/compulsive over music.  I never found the tune but instead, discovered a song long forgotten; one that I recalled blaring through my car speakers in college and driving my girlfriends crazy.

As I heard the Darling Buds song, Crystal Clear, from my late teens, the words resonated with me as they did then.  At the time, this song played often on the alternative radio waves as I dealt with the death of my father.

The visual of my girlfriends from my dorm came to mind.  The girlfriend who works for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the bff who lives 2000 miles away under arches and the one that resides less than two miles from me; whose daughter is classmates with my son at our local high school.  I live in my community because of her.

You need a friend someone to say
Get your act together
And in between they’ll have to stay
Around to kiss it better

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS. Everybody’s sad (everybody’s sad)
Wipe away a tear (wipe away a tear)
And I’m making it all
Crystal clear

Oh say it’s true yeah I need to
Believe in what I’m seeing
I want to scream you know what I mean
I’ll show you how I’m feeling

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

You need a friend someone to pray
Take away the pressure
And in the end they’ll have to stay
Around to make it better

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

Everybody’s sad (everybody’s sad)
I gotta get out of here (gotta get out of here)
And I’m making it all
Crystal clear

As I deal with my teenage sons I find myself going back to my teen years; trying to find a way to connect.  But my teens were vastly different from theirs.  I am stuck on repeat; having a hard time giving them freedom and letting go.  When my feelings get hurt or my anger crystallizes out of thin air, I need to get a grip and get over it.  But it’s hard to follow through and do this.

I want to share my wisdom with my boys.  To prevent them from making the mistakes I did.  To give them opportunities I did not have.  To push them to be the best they can be.

I get swept up in the parenting tide of wanting to enroll my kids in things to prepare them for the “real world.”  To get tutoring or lessons to get good grades and results.  To enroll in prep classes to get into the good colleges.   To expose them to experiences that will be memorable.  But what I’ve sadly realized is that…

My expectations may be too high, unrealistic and most importantly  NOT THEIRS.

When I questioned my son for the umpteenth time, he fired back.  I’ve told you the answer many times, you just don’t want to hear it.

I had been surprised when my family agreed to my planned trek north.  I had made the plans months before and had almost forgotten until a reminder email arrived in my inbox.

I had arranged a visit to the university where my cousin pursues his doctorate in education.  Years ago I had turned in my own acceptance letter there for my declared major of chemistry.  I had been offered a full scholarship and was excited to know a few of the professors in my department were Nobel laureates.

I wanted my sons to see this place; particularly my high school junior.

But this place was not on his radar and so I considered canceling the trip.  It wasn’t in our budget, it was raining cats and dogs, and I had many things to do during the three day weekend.

Why would I make the trek if my kids didn’t really care?   Maybe this was just me, reliving the high school experience I had wanted and never got.

I found myself in this same predicament regarding lessons.  My son was not vested and I was pouring money into something he didn’t want.  He had responded with the statement above; that I wasn’t hearing him.   Is it because I had wanted lessons in high school?  Is it because he is lazy and unmotivated?  Where is his drive?

Months before I had purchased tickets to a jazz performance with the local philharmonic orchestra.  Long ago I had vowed that I would give my kids cultural experiences with local museums in history, science and art and to attend stage, theater, music and sporting events; at least once a year.

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The last time we ventured to the philharmonic, the eldest and I had argued and I angrily sat through our restaurant reservation and music performance.   I had asked my family if this jazz event would be something they would like to attend and at the time, they had all answered yes.

When I reminded them that this performance is, this evening, a resigned sigh could collectively be heard.

Are you sure, Mom?  I have an AP English project I need to film today.  From the other son, Do we have to go to dinner and dress up cuz that’s dumb?  And from the third son, Is it all just jazz?  My visions of re-enacting our excursion of dinner reservations and a concert quickly dissipated.   They all nixed the idea of attending a book presentation on the history of jazz prior to the concert.  Again, high expectations.

I am making a mental note to tell my hubs that this would be an ideal date, for me, for my birthday.

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I close the double doors to my upstairs office, light the 3-wick candle, plug in my tree lights and put the Darling Buds song on repeat.   Surprisingly, I’m not too disappointed.  I appoint the hubs as my planning ambassador, for the four of them to decide what they want to do regarding dinner before we head downtown to the concert.

I’ve learned in my work and volunteer activities that my strength lies in coordinating groups of people and in mediating communications to seek resolutions.  What hasn’t been very clear, until now, is that I need to practice this principle in my home life within my own four walls.  To think reasonably and responsibly.  To follow things through.

Thankfully, our weekend trip north went well.  Road trips unplug us from our every day routines and we are forced to interact with one another.  I am a big proponent for taking trips with young kids; to not wait until they are older.  

We have camped, hiked, driven and flown trans continental and attended cultural events since they were infants.  Yes.  It is difficult, at times, to spend money on things that you may be distracted from with young kids.  Things we thought our boys would love weren’t always what we had expected.

The pay-off is seen with my tween and teens.  My three sons had projects to do, last weekend.  But they flexed and brought them with them and made the most of our quick trek.  We got a break from the rain and enjoyed the scenery without fog; a rare thing in February.  We reconnected with my cousin as he shared his life; encouraging the boys to explore and pursue higher education.

We had plenty of things to talk about as our sons observed the free speech environment while we rode the public transportation system and walked past the iconic views of famous landmarks.   And we experienced the diverse culinary delights that this region is known for.

It’s never been about the destination.  It’s about the journey in getting there.

My sons actually enjoyed visiting the university campus.  I’m not sure if they see themselves there.  In the end, I too, chose a different university because, of all things, music.  My declared major became my minor and I loved where I landed.  It is where I met my above girlfriends and it was in calculus lab that I met my husband.

Regarding the lessons, I finally had to acknowledge that my son’s words rang true.  I had selective hearing and felt his choices were not valid.  That Mom really doesn’t want to understand what he has to say.    I canceled the lessons and hope that maybe he will change his mind in the future.

In the bigger picture I know what’s important is not whether I am right or wrong; but that I follow through with what I say and acknowledge that I hear his words.  If I ignore them, he will learn to keep his words and ideas to himself.

I need to keep the door slightly open.  I don’t want to be left on the other side pounding my fists and shouting, “Let me in!”  If they lock me out, I’m hoping love will always be the key that allows me entry.  But I’m working on an offensive strategy so that doors aren’t closed and that all things are communicated and clear.

I want it to be crystal.

friendships, School, Work

take two, or five

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I hung up the phone with my son after he refused to attend any of his scheduled activities last evening.

He was to be in three places at the same time.  I’ve come to realize that when this son is stressed, he becomes adversarial and shuts down in all things.  There would be no reasoning with this teen as he continued his diatribe on the phone as to why he couldn’t attend any of his events.  He had already been excused from attending a jazz pep band at the high school basketball game due to a conflict with his Confirmation class.  But the high school course information night was sandwiched between these two commitments and he stated he was not required to be there.

It was easy to disconnect the line.  It’s hard to have honest conversations; to not seem disingenuous.

  • After a long day at work I want to ignore the fact that my sons are (on social media/playing video games/general procrastination) not doing what they’re supposed to; namely homework.
  • To tell the employee off when he feels “sick” while doing a task he doesn’t want to do.
  • When your friend/spouse sounds like a broken record; repeating the same issues over and over and not wanting to find resolutions.

Being an effective communicator takes a lot of tact, patience, empathy and practice.  I struggle with all of these things within my own circle of family and friends.    I overthink my words and in doing so; choose to be silent.  To mull them over and over, just so, until the perfect lines emerge.  Since this hardly ever happens, I swallow them and work through my issues on my own.

I am one that can sit silently.  To observe quietly.  To serve humbly.  I do not need a lot of words; a mere tap on the shoulder, a simple smile or hug can relay encouragement or acknowledgement.   I find that when people use too many words; are too effusive with their thank yous or compliments; that they are not sincere.  I know, I’ve caught myself doing this same thing.

With our current political climate dividing our nation I listen and observe as those around me weigh in.  But recently, the hubs called me out.  In choosing to remain passive and quiet, I am choosing not to participate and allowing events to happen so that I do not take ownership of the outcomes.  His words were not just meant for politics; but in all things regarding our home and business.

Ouch.  To this I must plead guilty.

I got quiet when the hubs chastised our sons that things cost money.  February, traditionally, is our slowest month at work.  Anticipating our upcoming property tax bills and income tax filings, the hubs’ worries pervaded our dinner.   Later, the youngest asked about our financials and I found myself explaining economics.  On my high school transcript, my one B was in this course.

How transparent should I be with my boys?  With people?

From work I headed to the high school to glean information.  Ironically, I thought about this while sitting in an economics class as the teacher presented the course to would-be senior students.   As a parent I appreciate the efforts the school administration and staff offer to include parents in our students’ education.  The texts, that very morning, from my girlfriend regarding the confirmation of the new secretary of the Department of Education were etched in my mind.

Education is important and I do not want to sit passively.  I want to be informed.

As I had exited the general meeting, deciphering the location of the sessions my son may decide to take, a figure appeared from the shadows and grabbed my arm.  Shocked, I blindly followed my son through four sessions before he walked to his Confirmation class at our church; which is adjacent to his high school.  He had asked his father to drop him off.  We went to none of the courses I thought he’d be taking.  I’m glad he decided to show up; to take ownership of his education.

It was in the economics class that I could process my thoughts.

I spoke with my sons after remaining quiet for a few weeks about the virtue of honesty.  They have felt my bitter disappointment.

  • I am not fooled by screen savers masking online chats, inappropriate content or video gaming.  Do not deceive.
  • I do not want the carpool mom to sit in a high school parking lot waiting for forty-five minutes for a son who claimed he was “studying” and was walking at the outdoor mall with his “friend.”  Do not be disrespectful.
  • I will not be fooled again when the attendance office tells me a son has unexcused absences in a period to visit, said “friend” in her classroom.  Do not lie.

I recount the details of those who have deceived me in the not-so-recent past.  Of the grade level teachers who said one thing and turned around and did something else.  Of the friend(s), whom I asked a question confidentially, who shared my probing with others.

I realized who were true, who wanted to discuss things with me to work things through and those who never would.  The parachutes that held me down have been cut loose and it has taken me time to forgive; but not necessarily forget.

I cannot be fake; nor disingenuous.  In dealing with disappointments I discovered what was important.  Trust and truth trump all things.  The words I need to speak finally do come.  And it always takes two.

I will speak up.  I do not have control over how my words are received.  I must accept this and remain true to who I am.

The two boys sitting in front of me, in an economics presentation, reminded me of what friendships are.  These high school teens have not mastered the art of deception.  When their fellow friend went through a difficult time with a cry for attention; these boys rallied.  They listened.  They didn’t completely understand.  They didn’t lie, gossip or tell their friend that everything was okay.  They continued on their quests to work things through and trusted that their conversations were confidential.  They are loyal to one another.

I hope that life’s distractions don’t ruin what these boys have, right now.  It may not last.  But each of these guys are accepted for whom they are; not by an outside measure of success like high grades, cool gadgets/ cars or by whom they know.  They don’t need to be popular.  They just need to be their transparent selves.

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Recently in the midst of a boisterous book club group, someone heard the distinctive ring of my cell phone; Dave Brubeck’s tune, “Take Five.”  Our shaken friend had just been involved in an accident, while driving to us, and was alone with police and paramedics with very low cell battery.

My hubs, still at work, was not nearby and so I interrupted the group discussion to inquire if any of their male counterparts were available to go to our friend; to provide support and inspect the vehicle.  Immediately four girls called and texted their spouses.

I had just settled in; a glass of something yummy in-hand.  I knew I would not be of much help but felt the plea of this dear friend; who didn’t need anything additional on her full plate.  As her minivan got towed away, the officer urged her to let it go, to have a good time at book club.

When she walked through the door, the hugs engulfed her, the tequila relaxed her and she was embraced by the room of women discussing a book about hormones.  It was later that I discovered our hostess loaned their extra vehicle so she wouldn’t have to be without a car.  And the other friend, who has always opened her home and heart to this family who has undergone too many hurts and disappointments, deployed her husband to her aid.

I have been empowered by these friendships.  For the moms who look out for my sons; as if they were their own.  For the girlfriends who hear me on repeat and listen; gently redirecting me to other solutions to my issues.  To those who are transparent; even when we do not agree on parenting, religion, politics and everything in-between.  I hope to be able to reciprocate; even when it is not convenient.  Even when I can’t afford it.  Even when time doesn’t allow.

It is in honest, genuine interactions with others that matter.  I can’t let life passively go by.  Silence is lonely, solo and a cop-out.  It takes two (or in my family’s case, five).  Engage.