Uncategorized

Finding hope

I sat next to my cousin as she nursed her infant daughter; my goddaughter.  To this day I have not forgotten what it felt like to nurse.   It was NOT easy.  It was NOT natural.

But I stuck it out at the urging of my dear husband.  You’re doing the best thing for our baby, he’d say as I clenched my teeth; wincing in pain as the baby latched on.

It did get easier and with my three boys I nursed the obligatory year with each.  But nursing wasn’t the end-all, be-all to being a great mother.  I was the live and tired, “dairy queen.”

In those young years I wondered what it would be like to get sleep, to have kids who talked to me and dreamed of what they’d become.  How easy it would be when they’re older.

These days I ponder these same questions: what it would be like to get sleep, to have kids who talked to me?   Who are these people who cohabit these four walls?

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How easy it was when they were younger.  They listened to what I had to say without question.  I knew what they were eating, what they were doing.  I knew their friends and their mothers.   I am now the live money and laundering machine.  And I still dream of what they will become.

I contemplate all this as my eldest son’s senior year comes to an end.

As an infant he was jaundiced and lived under “bili” (bilirubin) lights.  When my husband deployed when he was 3 months, he was hospitalized with pneumonia.  He had GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) and spit up an entire nursing session, much to my dismay, through most of his first year.

I spent many a night crying my eyes out, peering anxiously into the bassinet hoping he’d survive and be okay.

This past winter I’ve seethed in frustration after this son’s car was hit in the high school parking lot as he reversed out of his stall.  The state law automatically defaults the blame on the person in reverse; not caring that the other car had sped in the almost empty high school parking lot.

The other student driver, who had his license for only ten days, thought my son saw him and so he stepped on the gas to hurry past.   The kid lied to his father-in-law and placed the blame on my son.  Even with multiple witnesses and accounts by staff, the other kid learned he could get away with it.

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I felt the pain of my son’s rejections from his first choice schools and berated myself for not forcing him to apply to more colleges.  I gave him the responsibility to choose his schools but I should have looked over his shoulder to push him to try more options.  If  I had made him apply to more schools, then maybe he’d have more choices.

I spent these last four weeks crying my eyes out.  I awoke at 4 AM in the morning and pounded the pavement in the predawn hours in frustration.  I’d return and peer anxiously into his room, wondering how he was taking it all and how I’d survive this season.  I was not okay.

It was in this stressful parenting season of college admissions that it all came full circle.  What was the point of all those AP classes when it all came down to numbers and statistics?  With so many applicants there weren’t enough slots in his choice schools for his impacted major.  Were all my parenting hopes and dreams for naught?

I’d discovered that some high school senior parents, with students who were applying to college, did NOT want to share.  They claimed they “didn’t know” where their kids were applying to or what choice of major they wanted to pursue.   I learned to keep my questions to myself and stayed away from people and social media.

I felt hopeless.

I had sat dejectedly at a GNO (girls night out) when one of the women observed my silence.  It was the third rejection that week, in mid-March, and the text had just been sent from my son to let me know.   None of these girlfriends were parents of seniors and they immediately acknowledged my feelings.

Immediately after his first text, the following one came through my cell,

“IDC tho what college I go to doesn’t matter as much as what I learn.”

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I saved that text.  And over the course of a few weeks, my son, instead comforted me.  He handled the rejections well and with the few acceptances or wait lists, he embraced them.  While I continued to berate myself as a terrible mother, he was surprisingly fine.

And finally one day, he had to sit me down and let me know that I had to get over it.  That he was, really, okay.

On Easter Sunday, our church handed each family a book entitled, Beautiful HOPE: Finding Hope Every Day In a Broken World.   How did they know I needed this?

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To those friends who reached out to me during this time.  I am grateful.

  • For the transparency of other senior moms who commiserated with me at junior high open houses and private messages, on late night or weekend morning texts, and in-person.
  • For those parents who don’t define themselves by their children’s successes and failures and are teaching me to do the same.
  • For the hubs who goes through the pre-menopausal ups and downs with me; the one equally vested in each of our three sons.
  • For the women who can dish out criticism but can also take it in return.  Who chose to share their words versus walking away.  Who take the time to do the work, with me, versus shutting me down.

My own words have been a long time in coming, years in fact.  It took a Friday night book club to confirm everything I was feeling.   I have remained silent for too long.   I, the woman of words.

I sit in board meetings and read emails with those who advocate for their own children versus the organization as a whole.  In a time of transition there is division and confrontation versus coordination and collaboration.

With the retirement of our leader, I am losing hope that we’ll find common ground.  That the history and foundation that this organization has been built upon will fall to egos and personal legacies.

My volunteer service is a lot like our political climate and I am feeling burnt out.  There are too many words thrown out and very little listening or compromising.   Again, my words are lost in translation.

Finding one’s passion, on one’s own terms, is all that matters.  The traditional pathways don’t define a person’s success and I have had to reprogram my way of thinking as my sophomore, middle son, considers his own path after high school.

A college acceptance letter wasn’t the end-all, be-all to being a great mother.

I celebrate my friends’ children’s successes, surprisingly with no envy.   Our kids have worked hard and they are well deserved.

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This morning, while sitting in hard pews, I heard the sermon of one of our beloved priests.   As his words washed over me, I felt the confirmation that my anxiety and frustration will eventually come to an end.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philipians 4:6-7 NIV.

In the past four days I have sat in three different Catholic parishes and it has put things in perspective.  In times of stress I am usually comforted sitting in a congregation; feeling the sense of community.  It was on an Easter Sunday, at a church in Chicago at age 22, that I was able to finally reconcile the anger and grief of my father’s death to cancer; four years before.

My home parish is large, prosperous and diverse.  Each week I greet the people who sit next to me in the pews by name.  At the second parish I took a baptismal class; which was similar to the one I grew up with.  It wasn’t diverse with many amenities, but the congregation is close knit and equally strong.

The third parish I attended was the one my extended family attends.  It was here that I held my goddaughter as she was baptized.  My sons hadn’t known it was in this church that I had married their father almost twenty years ago.  I had, again, come full circle.

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While attending college admit preview days, the answer as to where to attend, for my son, came in an unexpected way.   We had randomly walked into a tour of the building where our son would spend most of his time.  And he met the professor who changed his trajectory.   I felt that God’s hand had something to do with it.

The hubs and I couldn’t be more proud.  This son has finally arrived and I see what he has become.  

I’ve survived, but just barely.  I hope that, in two years, I’ll navigate this stage, the second time, with less stress and more success.

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I have hope for my son’s future and am finding my own.

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friendships, joys of music

finding roots in my own backyard

I stopped in the middle of the aisle in the grocery store; my ears straining to hear the background music.  They say supermarket chains do a lot of research on the target demographic shopper and play music to keep them in the store; filling their carts.   The older gentleman glared at me in annoyance; finding my cart blocking the produce aisle.  The words were out of my mouth before I could register what I was saying,

“Who sings this song?”

While I grabbed my smartphone and busily tried to activate my Shazam app, the man looked at me incredulous.  And then he half-snorted and half-laughed as the song reached the chorus.

“The Eagles.  Lyin’ Eyes.”  We grinned at one another and I apologized for blocking the aisle.

I LOVE this song.  It brought me back to clothes lines waving in the breeze, the wildflower garden outside of my bedroom window, the smell of clothes being ironed and my mom humming, off-key, to the local radio station.  It’s amazing how our brains and neuronal pathways can immediately take you to a certain time and place.  To a simpler time.  A happy space.

My hubs and sons know my tendencies to stop in random places when a song catches my fancy.  And when it does, I find myself on YouTube enjoying the tune, over-and-over again until I finally get my fill.  I am very fond of the repeat button on my car stereo and when my middle son showed me how to loop songs on YouTube, he instantly regretted it.  Those who know me well understand this quirky part of my personality.

I realized at a young age that if I paired a well-liked song with a task, such as trying to memorize chemical formulas or literature, that I could retain and recall the information quickly and accurately.  The song and lyrics became background noise and I would become ultra-focused on the sights and sensory inputs before me.  It is how I can still, decades later, sit in front of the ivories and play Bing Crosby’s, ‘White Christmas’ with no practice at all.  It doesn’t come out perfect but my finger memory returns and with a few practice runs, the chords harmoniously come together as my fingers find the keys.  I do this once a  year; at Christmas.

When the P. Allen Smith gardening book appeared on our doorstep, my sons quizzically asked why I was reading it.  As a rule I don’t read through gardening books but while recuperating on the couch, at work, I found myself watching hours of PBS shows.  The green thumb gene seems to keep passing me by as I try to re-create the wildflower garden outside of my childhood bedroom window.  My hubs has exasperatedly watched me grow from one phase into another as I’ve gone through various vegetable gardening phases and a formal gardening expansion.

But as our schedules became busier with growing sons and work demands, the gardens lay fallow and weeds took over.   It was a visit to the local botanical garden that finally brought me back to the succulents that now grace my front entry.  They are sustainable in our drought resistance state, are low maintenance and are indigenous to our region.  But I yearn for the wildflowers of my youth.

I find myself returning back to my roots.  The ones that I ran away from at age eighteen to the bright lights and big city.

I have had some time to think about these things after recovering from surgery these past seven weeks.  I did a lot of reading and a lot of reminiscing.  And a lot of reflecting.

One of my favorite things about the holidays is that it is the time of year when people reach out to one another and when asked how I was, I would answer without fanfare that I was, “a little bit okay” (a phrase my mom would often say with a thick accent).

I loved receiving the greeting cards and annual letters and hearing the sounds of Christmas in concert performances. When the youngest belted out his trumpet jazz solo in, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’; the older brothers, hubs and I were stunned.    A caccophany of sounds always fill our home; whether it be the sounds of any of our three sons playing their instruments, music blaring from playlists  or YouTube or all of these things at the same time.

Silence is not common within our four walls and I know that someday, I will miss all the noise and activity my family brings.

The doc had demanded that my husband keep me on bed rest and he took her words to a whole new level.  He left a cowbell, the one I used to cheer my sons on during their fall marching band competition season, on my nightstand which I refused to ring; even once.  The hubs relented and purchased a $19.99 skinny tree for the bedroom to decorate with my extensive ornament collection of my favorites.  I was to remain upstairs; my bedroom becoming my hospital room.  My sanctuary that few people enter outside of our family of five.

During the holidays my bed became hospitable and family and friends came to sit in bed with me for hours on end.   I found my hospitality gene from the confines of my own bed.  This was the best holiday season EVER.

I was embarrassed by the “food train” organized by the woman who wouldn’t accept my, “no” for an answer.   I was humbled by the school, book club and band moms who fed my hubs and sons during the hectic holiday season.   The women who stood with me on my wedding day, almost two decades before,  generously gave their time and presence in surprising and unexpected ways. As an only child with deceased parents, I felt rootless; my ties to my childhood home marked by two tombstones in a cemetery.

Through the years the weeds and bright lights clouded my perspective; the negative becoming my default mode.   I came to realize my frame of reference was all wrong.    The nostalgia and feelings from my childhood can be rekindled.  The songs were bringing me back; reminding me of the simpler times in life.  I can create my own garden of beauty.  It doesn’t have to be the wildflowers of my youth.  It merely needs to bring me joy.

My roots can be planted in my own backyard.

I’ve spent too many years trying to replicate things from the past.  Happiness isn’t found in creating an exact blueprint.  I must create my own footprint in this garden of life; my own version of beauty and music.

And then my words came.  Confined to my bed the hubs would lay nearby and I could finally articulate the words that were stuck on repeat in my mind.

I used to love to watch my husband work on cars.  When two different friends had car troubles, I had been surprised that the hubs had offered to look at them.  Countless hours were spent troubleshooting and watching How To videos on YouTube.  And when the cars were fixed, the hubs felt the contentment in paying it forward.   Helping others took his mind off of his own worries and he, too, rekindled his love of fixing and building things.

This past weekend the hubs and I weeded in our garden.  We’ve stopped using the excuse of ‘someday’ and have turned our attentions to ‘today.’  We are re-framing our perspectives, planting seeds and sons to grow on this Earth and simply living one day at-a-time.  Life will never be picture perfect.  But we both discovered that the relationships in our lives can sustain us through the tough times.

Lyin’ Eyes is on repeat in the background.  My fingers fly over the keyboard and my dormant thoughts, unlocked by this beloved song of the past, have emerged from my subconscious over the past ninety minutes.

When our thoughts and values are aligned we can do anything.

 

Uncategorized

little wins

While picking up poinsettias at a fundraiser, a mom tapped my shoulder and pointed to my boots.

“Are those Dr. Martens?” she had asked with a grin.

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Surprised she knew and even noticed my Docs, she shared that her sixteen year old daughter had taken a picture of me, in them, and told her mom that she needed these boots.

I assessed what I looked like.  I had dressed in my default style of black jeans, my black Only Music Can Save Us hoodie (with the hood on because I was cold) and the aforementioned Doc Martens boots.  It had been my style as a teen but I had not had the means to purchase the boots version.  Several Christmases back it was an impulse buy; a black Friday sale, just because.

Initially when I wore them, a few of the book club moms raised their eyebrows at my footwear.  I had been happily surprised when one admitted to wearing them as a teen.  My sons didn’t bat an eyelash.  They know their mom can easily switch from plaid flannel, my other favorite, to business semi-formal in the same day.

The group of moms surrounding us chimed in as I sheepishly answered that Docs are my ‘style.’  “It suits you,” said one and the other countered that, “Only I could wear it.”  I had walked away a bit stunned, not expecting anyone to see me after coming home from work.  I am fond of the teenage girl who secretly admires the Docs and my smile widened from ear-to-ear.

It was a little win.

For over a year I’ve struggled with the changes of midlife as I parallel my teens.  I have been mourning the losses; the loss of becoming an adult and not achieving my youthful hopes and expectations.  That as my sons’ hormones peak, mine wane.  My boys have their whole lives ahead of them and my wish is that they do not get stuck like their mother.

I count these little wins; short moments in the day that pick me up and remind me of why I am here.  That my purpose doesn’t need to be something grandiose.  That merely my existence matters among the chaos and unsettled feelings of change that overwhelm me.

When I seek answers, the first place I go to isn’t a person.  I seek answers in books.  I hesitantly purchased Your Best Age Is Now: Embrace an Ageless Mindset, Reenergize Your Dreams, and Live a Soul-Satisfying Life by Robi Ludwig.  I wasn’t enthusiastic but I needed to read something mindless to try to get me out of my funk.

“If we choose to live more aligned with our adolescent selves, we can make choices that work for us that will then positively influence our life.  When we remove ourselves from the adolescent way of thinking, life runs the risk of becoming boring, isolating, dull and routinized.” 

I made myself get out the door at 5:03 AM.  As puffs of breath materialized in the cold pre-dawn I caught sight of the lighted banners along the street as I jogged past my sons’ high school, community park and equestrian center.  I returned within the hour; the endorphins penetrating the haze.  A win.   I overcame my mental barriers of comfort (and sleep); pushing my limits.

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Later that same afternoon, fighting lethargy and craving caffeine and sugar, the package arrived from the bff.  The youngest and I tore it open expecting to find her chocolate chip cookies that she sends each holiday season.  To my son’s dismay he discovered a book.  Surprised, we opened the cover and the tears threatened to overwhelm.  It was an unexpected care package, sent from 2,000 miles away.

I had disengaged from family and friends as I worked through the conflicting and confusing feelings of loss.  Though the bff isn’t physically present; she sent the reminder that she is always emotionally there.  How did she know?

We have shared many milestones together, such as being maids of honor for each other’s weddings.  But we’ve weathered more milestones with the death of our parents, stressful job transitions, addictions and all things unpleasant.  One visit came to an abrupt end when I received the call that my mother was dying and I had to fly home.   It isn’t fair that the few times we see one another, we are always carrying heavy burdens.

Is this what life has in store for us now?

After arguing back-and-forth for the better part of an hour, her strident voice came clear across the cell.  Let me win.  Her offered gift was one I could not accept but her logic was sound.  I told her I would think about it through her imposed timeline of seven days.

My answer flashed briefly in its simplicity.  I am mourning unresolved issues in my past.

Observing my seventeen year old I’m reminded of my own hopes and dreams and how life did not take me in that direction.  I feel stuck.

My fifteen year old pushes the limits, changing his styles and moods, trying to figure out who he is.  I feel like I am journeying with him in midlife, trying to find my purpose and who I am.

The tween is entering the hormonal change, just as my own hormones wane.  I fortify myself for battle, wondering what life will throw at me next.

The hubs and I consider career options as the manufacturing sector and small business continue to take a hit.  This isn’t where I want to be.

My predisposed genetics are resurfacing.  Am I destined to get cancer?  Dementia?  Will I be able to successfully age?

“If we can approach midlife in this new context of taking risks, connecting with friends, becoming more in touch with our feelings and creatively exploring our options, it just may force us into  a whole new world of possibilities.”

The visual of my Doc Martens came to mind.   I was reverting back, never progressing forward, stuck in my teenage years.  Did I not learn anything?

And then I realized I was mourning; that I never did truly resolve the issues of loss felt at age seventeen.

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My current diagnosis of borderline stage one cancer brought me back to the endless oncologist appointments for my father; metastasized colon cancer, stage four.  It had been too late and I had pledged to become a geriatric oncologist.   I followed that path through college and a year of medical school.

I realized this was not my journey.   I was not interested in being a body mechanic to fix all ailments.  I am a proponent of giving people choices, such as hospice, to deal with darker issues of death and dying.  To die, with dignity.  To age successfully.

I am a communicator, coordinator and collaborator.  My strength is in advocating my cause and bringing people to action, together, to find resolution.  I have always fought this pathway, my introverted personality preferring to stay behind the scenes.

In my life journeys and travels, the paths were always returning to the simpler ideals from my childhood but I had packaged these ideals as glamorous and glossy; magazine print worthy.  They could never hold up to the simple values of finding a mate, a home, starting a family or a rewarding career.   My expectations of success were unrealistic.  Comprehension was dawning.   This was a win.

Recently talking about the hubs and his career choices, I found my own questions being asked out loud.  I found those answers, of all places, on Fakebook.  Faces from the past posted pics when the light bulb flickered on.

The guys who chose the upwardly mobile career paths,  the same path the hubs walked away from, were all divorced and single; their kids living with their mothers.   The hubs had been tired of being constantly away; our sons not knowing him.  Taking the financial hit, he wanted to be his own boss.  He had chosen, us.

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I’m begrudgingly learning to let things go.

I head to church alone, these days, hoping my family will want to come versus being forced.  I want them to get something out of it, to seek their own spiritual journey and believe in something higher than ourselves.  It is one of the places where I find peace; a sense of belonging in a sea of people who believe in the same thing.   My eldest accompanied me last week, on his own.  A little win.

The little wins were beginning to gain momentum.  They were bright sparks in dark days and were accumulating into a star filled sky twinkling around me.  With each win counted I felt comforted.  Small as they were, they kindled hope that brighter days would eventually lie ahead.

I sit with my losses, acknowledging them and mourning them.   Giving them substance finally allows for resolution.  Progress.

I’ve realized the value of my relationships as they patiently wait for me; who flex schedules and understand that I will find them when ready.   The childhood friend who connects me to my simpler beginnings and reminds me of where I come from.  My dear college girlfriend who sits in hospitals, whether for labor or my surgery, and through life’s earthquakes as things settle.   It’s the little things, sometimes, that are more important in the bigger picture.

It’s the friends who walk and talk in the dark times that bring light in our lives.

I count my blessings as it all comes together.  A win.  I continue to fight on.

 

friendships

Things lost

  • my idealism and youth as I enter middlescence and question my identity
  • the diamond on my wedding band that I’ve worn for almost twenty years
  • my reproductive system; to prevent squamous cells from turning sinister
  • the original alternator on my vehicle that hasn’t been changed since we drove my new vehicle off the lot

A creature of habit I splashed cold water on my face this morning as I reached for my wedding rings; aligning the bands.  It was then that I discovered the diamond was gone.

When under duress I am not the type of person that “freaks out.”  I methodically searched the areas where a diamond and prongs could have dislodged.  But between work and home and everywhere in-between; the search was in vain.

It is vanity that makes me search for the diamond; just as it is vanity that makes me cling to my youthful ideals knowing that those years are behind me.

I mourn them as I think of the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ves” of my life; wondering if different choices would change the trajectory I currently am on to a more prosperous one.

While driving home from our older boys’ final high school marching band competition, my vehicle began to lose power downhill on the steep grade of the Grapevine.  The hubs watched the voltage decrease and I quickly searched for the nearest auto parts store as we entered the outer city limits.  After coasting six miles we had enough “juice” to arrive at the auto parts store as the alternator finally shut off my vehicle.

I remembered the advice of parents as I ran after toddlers while my husband was  deployed.  “Enjoy this time now because it goes by in a blink.”

It seemed so cliche and I recalled dismissing them as I stayed up all night with a colicky baby or fretted over potty training, first words and preschool.  My priorities were to listen to Mozart, read board books, join baby Gym classes and socialize with other new parents.

I voraciously devoured parenting books to learn how to be a mother; lamenting the unexpected loss of my own mother in 2003.

As I undergo the hormonal changes of middlescence my sons parallel me in adolescence.  Their testosterone peaks as my moods ebb; struggling to find balance and common ground.  All of us feel misunderstood.  As my sons mature I now stand on the precipice of rediscovering the person I was, before the hubs and kids.

I’ve slowly come to realize that I am not that person; that marriage and motherhood have altered my identity.

I am reminded of what changes life can bring as I wait for my upcoming surgery.  My reproductive system has served its purpose and it now turns against me.

I watch as my eldest is about to step off into the next phase of his life.  I remembered the hopes and dreams I once carried at his age.   Life was an open book and its pages were still unwritten.

My own book has many earmarked pages.  Some chapters have closed.   I am at a loss for words.

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As the alternator died; so did our battery charge and my cell phone.  I quickly texted the group of moms who were driving home to greet the five charter buses carrying our 225 member marching band.

“I’m not gonna make it.”  

It was my senior’s final homecoming and I had coordinated logistics between several parties to help make it happen.  But my mind quickly returned to the task at hand to replace the alternator.  I had to let it go.

The hubs muttered under his breath.  He did not bring any tools.   I had no words and I pondered whom to call first with the remaining 6% battery my mobile device had left.  I held my automobile club card in my hand, ready to dial the toll free number.

And then the phone rang.  My girlfriend, ten miles ahead, had pulled over.  She and her husband decided to backtrack the ten miles to offer tools and to transport the senior portraits that were to be given at the homecoming at the high school.  The moms in my text, on various miles on their journey, also offered their assistance and the ones already home offered to take my sons home.   My mother-in-law agreed to pick up our boys, representing our family upon the group’s arrival.  Soon after my phone died.

The alternator got replaced within the hour and we were on our way.   I realized that my vehicle is symbolic of my family; the mode of transport since 2002.  It couldn’t die because with its demise, it would symbolize the changing dynamics of my nuclear family and the endless road trips and memories associated with it.  It has sentimental value that I am not ready to part with.

My fellow parents took pictures and videos of the police escort and grand homecoming that awaited our kids back home.  My sons quickly spotted their grandmother with her foam “Fight on” sign; grinning at her spirit.

Relationships.  They are everything.  The quality of these relationships determine how prosperous we are.    

My vanity made me lose sight of this.  For large retirement accounts for financial stability.  For material things that represent my success.  For titles that tell me I’ve made it.  For accolades that affirm my time was spent well; that it was worth it.

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As the hubs fixed the alternator in the parking lot I remembered the years when he washed and waxed his first car; proud that he maintained and cared for it.  I quietly watched him work.  It had been one of the things that drew me to him all those years ago.  Through thick and thin we have one another and it is the years we have between us that keep us bound.  Diamond or no diamond.

I’ve realized I am not alone in my journey of what lies ahead. The friends who walk with me on this middle road of life and are transparent with their own; we are hormonal together.

The moms on my text continued to keep me in the loop of the status of our band’s arrival home.  And the girls who happily read words with me insist on providing meals during my recovery period in December.  When another mom got unexpected health news, she reminded me that our reproductive systems have given us beautiful kids and it’s time to let them go; to reinvent ourselves and find what makes us happy.

Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.  Our friendships are priceless.

I called the insurance company and filed the property claim for my ring and realized, my policy had not been updated since 2002.  I’m slowly coming out of my mourning.  It’s time to re-engage, to let things go and to update my status.

In acknowledging things that are lost, new things can be found.  I am finding myself and my words.  My book is open.

 

 

 

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.

 

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

d

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.