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.

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.

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.

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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.

Being Catholic, Family

finding boundaries when life happens

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The tears flowed silently as the rain fell on the windshield; the air in the vehicle subdued.  In my mind I wondered, where did I go wrong?

I question my boundaries in parenting my sons.

This week had been especially busy and stressful with deadlines looming at the end of-the month.  This year one of my resolutions is to put myself outside of my comfort zone.  I had been complacent in my personal growth and like to stay within the confines of things I know; things I know I can do well.

With the new year I didn’t waste any time and I am already feeling the discomfort and struggle.  I was careful to not stretch myself too thin but did not account for any other issues along the way.  Assuming all other things remained the same, the new roles I’ve undertaken were manageable.  I hadn’t anticipated any hiccups outside of this plan.  From life.

I have always been a creature of habit and routine.

Most of my life has been planned out.  When I met my future husband I  had been very clear.  We were to only be friends.  I was uninterested in relationships because I had my career path planned out.  We had two years of friendship together when this conversation took place, both aged twenty.

bridge close

I had a fifteen year plan.   After graduation I would apply to medical school.  Four years after that I would be in a three year residency.  I would then take my exams and settle into a practice for a few years and at age thirty-five, I would then have some time to become involved in a relationship.

It was this man who drove me two thousand miles, a year after graduation, to begin coursework in a a medical school.  He suggested a navy recruiter, to offset my costs in joining a flight surgeon program and to our surprise, they readily took me.  I spent the year in my studies and found myself in a professor’s office regarding me across his desk.

Why are you here? he had asked.

I had visited the lieutenant commander and he had plotted where my path would take me.  It would take me away from my boyfriend, whom I was beginning to realize, I had fallen in love with.   He shared the reality of his life, both he and his wife serving the navy.  There were no naval installations close to Bethesda, Maryland and the likelihood of being stationed together, given our paths, were not likely.

I had left the base feeling angry that I was being distracted from my career path by some stupid emotion called love.

And so I pondered the question by the professor.

Each student had to pass through his office as we concluded our first year.  He questioned my ideas of what my life would be and why I thought medicine was for me.  He didn’t question my aptitude in my studies but probed my mental state.  My ideals were not what the reality of the profession was.  And though I knew the answer of why I was there, I was not willing to acknowledge it.

How does one decide to walk away from the pathway set-in-stone, from age fourteen with thousands of dollars invested, to go with where your heart lies?

I would not be able to delve into the psyho-social mental state of my patients with end-stage cancer; there would be no time.  I had red tape, policies and time constraints that would hinder the real reasons I chose the medical profession.  I essentially would be a body mechanic; nothing more.

And so I walked away to the shock of my family and friends.  I have never regretted this decision.  But it has shaped the way I parent my sons.  I do not lock them onto a pathway because it is rare to find the teen that knows exactly what he/she wants do with his/her life and follows it through.

Life happens.  When it doesn’t pan out the way you expect it to; you feel the failure.  The not adding up.

I am now a parent of a high school junior.  I have mentally prepared myself as he embarks on the college admissions season.  I seek resolutions on underlying issues from my past.  My own life choices were exhausting, stressful and expensive and I try not to impose these pressures on my own son.

I had taken my path at the wishes of my dying father; in the end-stages of colon cancer.  I would find a cure.  I would talk with families and patients to mentally help them through these difficult times.  It was the reason I chose my pre-med major, undertook opportunities in research and hospice.

It had been my driving force and I was well on my way.  I never stopped to consider if these were my own desires and I truly believed this was my calling.

The swish-swish of the windshield wipers brought me back to the present.  I had been blind-sided by the anger emanating from my sixteen year old in the dark, quiet car as we drove home from a restaurant.

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As a family we had decided to dine out, on this Friday evening, prior to dropping off this son at a weekend retreat.  He was allowed to choose the restaurant as we picked him up from his friend’s home.  We arrived just prior to the busy dinner rush, obtaining a table quickly in a rapidly filling restaurant.  But in the waiting area our son’s simmering anger bubbled to the surface.

He refused to order or eat.  He was feeling the stress and pressure from his AP homework workload that he was unable to begin until his return on Sunday evening at 7 PM.  He was due to be dropped off at 8PM on this rainy, Friday night and it was 6 PM.  He was adamantly opposed to attending this church retreat; a requirement for his Confirmation in his Catholic faith, this upcoming May.  To our server’s surprise, we cancelled our order and walked out of the restaurant.  It was on the drive home that I cried.

The questions circled and spiraled as I stifled my sobs.

Am I pushing my son into a faith, knowing, that there is a 60% chance he will choose to leave it anyway?  Am I wasting his time?  The stats are that 40% of Catholic teens remain Catholics as adults.

My mind circled back…

When my hubs asked my mother for my hand, in marriage, she had only one request.  We must marry in the Catholic church.

My husband was not brought up with religion but he acquiesced to her wishes.  As we prepared for our wedding with a Pre Cana Catholic marriage counseling program, the first question the priest had asked, my then fiance, was if he believed in God.  The silence had been deafening as my very, science-oriented partner, mulled this over for a a few minutes.

It had felt like hours as we waited uncomfortably for his reply.  To my relief, he had finally answered yes and presented the priest with a list of thoughtful questions about Christianity and faith.

The priest had then asked us both if we would agree to raising any children we had, in Catholicism.  To this, my future hubs instantaneously answered yes.

Guiding my sons, spiritually, is not an easy task in a world of distractions.  When work, school or extra curricular activities get in the way, church or religious education is the first thing my hubs and sons want to take off our schedule.  It is not a priority; mostly a chore.  But once they are immersed in the environment, they are happy they went.  But it is always a fight to get my hubs or older sons there.

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Years ago, my hubs chose to serve as an usher in hospitality.  He had been inspired when our young sons chose to become altar servers in 2010.  But these seven years have changed their alacrity as hormones and life happens; distracting and pulling them away.  When my son’s upcoming Confirmation ceremony conflicted with a mandatory jazz festival weekend, he angrily asked to move his his church obligation to choose jazz.

As a parent, I try to stay attuned to the pressures on teenagers today.  I am not naive in thinking my sons will continue to choose the faith in which they were raised; or in any faith at all.

It is my obligation, as their parent, to guide them and expose them; to lay a foundation of values and morals so that my boys will have a code of ethics on being a responsible human being.

And sometimes, when these boundaries are questioned and resisted, it’s difficult.  I had already felt the strain of the past week and this unexpected attack had been the last straw.  Instead of arguing back, to defend, I quietly sat as the tears began to fall.  This same fight has already begun in my middle son as he questions why we must have faith.  Only my eleven year-old’s mind and heart remain open, still enjoying serving in our church and accepting blind belief versus science.

Where did I go wrong?  I’ve done all the things I was supposed to?  

Being a parent, sucks.  I want the manual with the checklist that tells me that I am on the right path and am not overstepping my bounds.  I want clear boundaries.  But none of life is clear and my expectations of smooth sailing and perfect, complying children is a fallacy.  I need to get over it and accept that life will always throw wrenches in my way and all I can do is give them my very best.  I can’t make their choices for them and soon enough they will leave my nest.

All I can do is give them my very best.

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I am currently reading the book, The A to Z of You and Me  by James Hannah and the line jumped out at me as I felt the adrenaline rush, my heart skipping a beat.

“What you don’t get right, you can always put  right.  Don’t be afraid to change your mind.”

And though I’m not sure how to put things right I know that I must be steadfast on this path.  This had not been on my radar on my parenting checklist.  I have been accustomed to my family accepting my beliefs. But it time to let this assumption go; to know that these boundaries must be crossed in order for my own sons to grow.

I must prepare myself to accept the choices my sons will make when they venture outside of the nest.  The choices they will make will be their own.

I cannot base my parenting abilities solely on my sons’ choices.  It is easy to judge, to blame the parents for the outcome of their children.  But this is not fair.  You cannot value a person’s life on their resume in black print.  We must read between the lines in the white spaces and illustrations; the stories and memories that remain.

I shared with the sixth graders in my youngest son’s class how Egyptian pharaohs had artists draw happy illustrations of their lives on the frescoes of their pyramids and tombs; believing their ba and ka spirits would bring these pictorals to life after death.  As the students boisterously created sarcophagi out of modeling clay, I pondered what stories would remain in my life’s book and what words would be shared in my obituary.

The things I hope to be remembered by are not tangible ones.  They aren’t the numbers and formulas of science, the facts of history in what I did.  I want to be remembered by the things intangible and immaterial; my love for my family and friends, my strong faith and ethics, my service to help others and my appreciation for the outdoors, art, history, literature and music.

I push my boundaries outwards; my barriers becoming porous as my mental alignment shifts.  Life happens and I won’t always get it together.  But I can always change my mental state to progress; to put it right.

In a distracted world, a nation divided, it was empowering to observe over a hundred teens  pursuing their faith even when life happens.  As we heard testimonials I realized I was surrounded by parents going through this same struggle.

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On a cold rainy Sunday eve, in a church filled with teenagers returning from retreat; my sense of hope remained.  I hope they continue to pursue…even when.

Family

deep in the 3rd quarter

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The gift I gave myself for Christmas 2016.  One week.

  • The week between Christmas and New Year’s I left the LED lights on.  On trees.  Outdoors.  On garlands.
  • I allowed the mess to accumulate downstairs…foam and plastic packaging inside boxes, discarded ribbon.
  • I did not fret as I lost sight of my tile floor or that crumbs littered my tablecloth at the dining table filled with trays of cookies.
  • I chose not to cook meals and instead; tried to re-purpose the various items in our very full fridge.  Leftovers were my friends.
  • I lit my 3-wick candle and let it burn into the late hours of the night; the aroma filling my home with a book, always, in-hand.  I read three of them.
  • I didn’t live by the clock; all alarms off.  I awoke when I wanted to and allowed my routine to be flexible.
  • I ate anything my  heart desired (in moderation).  The cultural foods that only come out this time of year were my faves.
  • I spent as much time in my pajamas as possible; changing only to do things I wanted to do.
  • The paper piles were untouched; the laundry hampers overflowed and the dishwasher filled.  They would all get cleaned and sorted through in good time.

When I stopped placing expectations on myself, or others, an amazing thing happened.  I was content.

This is a 180 degree change in mindset from Christmases past.  I had been a slave to my expectations; the Rockwell portrait Christmas where everything fell into place in perfect harmony.  Time and time again I’ve felt the sting of disappointment of things unfulfilled.  I’ve felt the bile lodge in my throat as I clenched my teeth in frustration when events didn’t go my way.

This one week allowed me some needed respite and serenity among the messiness of my life and home.  It is rare for my family of five to have nothing on our schedules.  We took the week off from work.  The boys were on winter break.   We were free.

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I took a mental retreat from the things that normally filled my days: work, social dynamics and parenting.  I focused on my five strengths discovered from the StrengthsFinder 2.0  book borrowed from a dear friend.  I reflected and sought closure on things that happened in 2016; sorting and filtering.   Usually at this time of year I am cataloging the things I need improvement on; including cleaning and organizing my messy home.  But as 2016 drew to a close, I considered my talents and strengths and how to build upon them.  How can I be the best me that I can be?  What does that even mean?

You would think that during my “mini week retreat” that I had focused on myself.  But instead, I decided to consider what I have to give.  I spend a lot of time considering what people do for me, and what I receive in return?  Who’s getting the better end of the deal?

But that’s not really what I want my life to be about.  What do I have to offerto my kids, to my spouse, to my friends, to the world?

I’m going deep.

Every day it’s the little mundane choices we make, that occupy our time.  Should I have coffee or tea?  Where do I need to be?  What shall we have for dinner?  Are these daily details of any consequence in the greater scheme of life?  I think not.  This is when the if only statements start to circle in my brain.  If only I had this, if only I did that, if only I had chosen…  It’s an endless spiral with no end, circling, circling…

I’ve decided to alter my mindset in 2017.  When my world starts narrowing and spiraling inward I need to expand it outwards; to give of myself to assist others. 

I am usually like most people, withdrawing when everything doesn’t go well.  But in 2017 I will focus my attentions on a cause, person, project that I can give of myself without any expectation in return.   I won’t dwell on the things I cannot change and will pray for wisdom to know the difference (Serenity Prayer).  I will choose to use my strengths to change outcomes in other ways; ways that I don’t need to laud over people, or to receive recognition.

I gain greater joy in doing things for others without them knowing I did them.  There is a quiet satisfaction in being humble and in trying to do good for someone else.

Each day has its trials and January 3rd was no different.  I found myself yelling to my motley crew of four males to awaken on this first day back to school and work.  When the eldest sarcastically responded that yelling wasn’t working, I quieted and simply said the words.  I. Am. Done.

In the silence I had quietly made lunches, gathered my bills and files for work and prepared to leave.  My sons and husband made their way downstairs and were surprised to not be greeted with snarky remarks about being organized, being punctual and attitude.  Each son thanked me for their lunches, the hubs quietly asked to grab some silverware and I took deep breaths, silently focusing on the things I could change by making different choices.  I could rage at 6:53 AM at my family, or I could move the responsibility onto their shoulders knowing that I had tried my best to wake them and let it go.

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Today I sat in the cushioned pew, in the hills that bear my name, at a family funeral service.  Of all places…this setting was where the random thought settled in my mind.   I have finally grown up.  

Silly as it may seem, over the holidays my thoughts circled this and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  As I sat with various family members and friends sharing conversations and memories, the trivial things that would set me off did not.  No longer do I feel the need to prove myself.  I am not compelled to out do anyone in any of my pursuits.  I have settled into my own skin and take responsibility for the choices I make.  I do not blame outside circumstances to justify my current life predicament.

  • I stared at the feasts and ate only what I could consume.  I chose not to overeat and would mentally remind myself that I can choose to bake these things for myself.  These aren’t things I have to eat only once a year to justify a binge.
  • For the past two years I have told myself how much I hate to run and it was only, over winter break when I awoke of my own accord, that I discovered I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to.  I actually wake up on my own, because I want to.
  • I’ve surrounded myself with the things and people whose values align with my own.  They aren’t there to prove their agendas to make me see their way, or for them to see mine.  We walk alongside to celebrate our imperfect lives together.
  • I acknowledged family dynamics and drama but chose to let things go.  Most times I try to pacify and have all parties reconcile but I do not have control over others; only how I react to them.  I must enjoy these people based on my own relationships with them.
  • The only games I chose to participate in were in kids games… giant jumble tower Jenga, card games or cheering for my alma mater in college football.  I quietly observed the mental games, in other areas of my life, get played out and trusted my instincts on how to handle situations and people.  Normally I get sucked right in; trying to hash through things and making all things transparent.  To show others my point of view (which may or may not be right).  I no longer question myself.

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These thoughts of clarity came once I owned the statement that I had finally grown up.   The past few years I’ve been underwater, things swimmingly unclear and murky.  But once I broke through the surface, I could take a deep breath and saw things clearly, for the first time.  The words to articulate what I’ve been feeling finally came.

Over winter break I had sat in the back of a college information session at my alma mater, as the puzzle pieces snapped into place.  It is only through the eyes, as a parent, that I could truly appreciate the sacrifice my parents and others have done for me.  For years I felt cheated thinking if only I had different opportunities things would’ve been different.    Sorting through my own issues helps me become a better parent to my boys.  It has taken me almost three decades to figure this all out.

I am deep in the 3rd quarter of my life and I’ve finally gotten my head in the game.  Everything’s coming up roses.

The best conversations happen in my SUV and as I vocalized these thoughts to my hubs and sons, this afternoon, I felt the weight lift from my shoulders.  No longer do I dread this coming year of worrying about my eldest son’s educational future.  Instead, I shared my new motto with my family for 2017 and I hope they will take it to heart.  It is simple.  I’m putting myself out there; to offer my strengths and talents in service, outside of my comfort zone.

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Own what you do (or say) and follow it through.

Get your head mentally in the game and play.  Go deep.  Live.  Don’t stand on the sidelines of life waiting for the perfect pass or opportunity.   Own it and follow it through.

Family, School

just cheer

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The blog posts in my drafts folder are full of words, all negative and unpublished, as I filter through my days.  I currently struggle with my words.

As a young girl I never said them; taught by my conservative parents to “not make waves” and to assimilate.  In my formative years I was shy, asking my girlfriends to speak for me.  I was to blend in and please others; to succeed academically.  I was taught that I would excel based on merit alone.

I kept my words to myself; my only escape in writing stories.  Recently, while clearing garage storage space, I found the dusty photo album among my late mother’s things.  While my husband encouraged me to toss trophies, give away clothes and furniture, the only things from my childhood home are my mother’s china, and photo albums that sit in my garage.  As I sneezed my way through its pages, my sixth grade son found the newspaper articles and certificates I received at his age.  His curiosity made me remember.

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As an only child I always listened and observed my environment, trying to understand the social dynamics of people.  At a young age I would re-enact the social situations with my Barbies or marbles, creating families and social groups based on the interactions I encountered.  I would create stories for fun.  At the end of fifth grade, a teacher submitted my essay into a local contest and to everyone’s surprise, my writing won.  The quiet girl had a hidden world.

I had been happy to join a group of students in an extended learning program (the precursor to Gifted and Talented Education aka GATE) to hone my writing skills.  It was a ten mile drive for my older parents and I excitedly headed into the classroom, ready to learn.  But then I heard the comments from first, fellow students and then from parents.  I didn’t belong there.  It was only because I came from a poor, immigrant town that I had been accepted.  And so I rarely spoke and doodled on my papers.  When my essay advanced to the university level, I felt no joy.  I felt unworthy; the token kid in a prestigious writing program.

My sons listened to me quietly.  My voice had become brittle and hard as the memories washed over me.

Real life entered the picture as I grew older; the lessons learned in high school, college and beyond.  Humility and silence does not always serve well when you must lead or speak.  When all other things are created equal (grades, test scores, essays) the person who got the nod was the one who spoke up and touted these things.  It didn’t matter what I looked like on paper if nobody knew what I did.   I had mastered the ability to remain quiet.

The names from the past came to mind.  Mrs. Murphy, Mr. Jennings, Gerry Starowicz, Mr. Osborne and Mr. Murtha; the teachers and counselors who advocated for me and taught me to speak my words.

The elementary ELP teacher, Mrs. Murphy, ferreted out why I had lacked motivation in the writing program.  She spoke directly to the program administrator who quickly put a stop to the unkind comments but I always sat alone; choosing not to make friends.

Mr. Jennings, in seventh grade, brought a modem to my home and taught me how to dial a connection to my first online chat board. He made science fun and introduced me to technology with a Commodore 64.  Could this be why I married a computer scientist LOL?

Gerry Starowicz, the cheer/song advisor and arts teacher, finally taught me to yell and to yell LOUD.  It was on a high school songleading squad that I learned about queen bees and wanna bes and how to navigate through what was popular and what was right.

Mr. Osborne, the band director, kept me interested in music and challenged me to continue playing.  After twelve years of piano I still got jitters performing in recitals or solos.  But concert groups and marching band kept me involved and eventually, my university choice came down to its well-known college marching band.

Mr. Murtha, my high school counselor, guided me to scholarships and college financial forms when my father was dying of colon cancer.  He walked me through the  college application process and  proofread all of my college essays.  We had hoped I would gain entrance to a few of my colleges and he celebrated when I got into them all.

In high school and beyond I learned to assert and to speak my words clearly and succinctly.  I thrived.  But my glaring fault is that justice, in my eyes, must be served.  To call out when things are wrong.

I used to do this to get noticed (in school and in work); to be the one to get things done.  But in these middle years I’ve realized that words don’t need to always be spoken.  With words I say what I mean but saying them doesn’t always make things right.  I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. I must mean what I say.  In some cases, I must NOT act upon them.

  • At work when the evil boss tasks me with unpleasant tasks, I whine in complaint.  We own a small business and so I remain with my evil boss 24/7.
  • In organizations which I serve, the queen bees and wanna bes suck me in.  I try hard to keep my words to myself as egos and hidden agendas get in the way.
  • In the social groups I am involved with I try not to let kid or parent dramas affect my relationships.  I cannot change others’ opinions; even with mediation.
  • At home my pent-up frustration builds.  The words flow freely but I find no resolution.  My need to make things right gets in the way.

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My preteen and teens listened intently as I shared the words above; of the adults who made a difference in my life.  They, too, are on this precipice  where they are discerning what is fair and unfair; right from wrong.  They weed through social groups, heavy homework loads, time consuming extra-curriculars and looming college applications.  I had forgotten these pubescent memories; wishing them away.  But my sons gleaned information from sharing about my own preteen and teen years; a time I rarely speak of.  A time they currently reside in, in their own lives.

I went from the quiet only child to the extrovert adult with too many words.  I feel the burden as scenarios play out in my overactive mind.  And when the words build, unspoken, they always find their way out.

In the most random of places, a music store, the epiphany came.  I had been slow to recognize the solution to all of the negativity surrounding my life.  For weeks I filtered and kept my words, hoping that time would lessen the urge to say them.  But I had gone about this all wrong.  The multiple unpublished blog posts were symptomatic.   It goes against my nature to be something I am not.  Words are my medium and my negative environment didn’t have to dictate who or what I am.

I dug deep for the inner cheerleader within.  The one that emerged in high school as my father’s cancer spread.

As a teen I often wondered why I could not be gloomy or negative at school; knowing my father was dying at home.  School had  engaged me and I found respite in books, writing, music and cheering at games.  I inherited my father’s indomitable spirit; his zeal for all things social.  Both of my parents exuded hospitality; my father with words, my mother with hosting others in our home.   I often felt like a fraud for not publicly grieving my dad’s deteriorating health.  But I’ve come to realize it is this trait that kept me going, and the ability to compartmentalize allowed me to survive various difficult periods in my life.

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We commiserated in the store and quietly absorbed the negative vibe when my own son’s words came forth from my lips.  It had been on a day, this week, when he was exhausted and frustrated; hearing comments from various people as his marching band prepares for an out-of-state national competition.  He hears of how his section struggles and he plopped on the couch stating that they would, most likely, not make the final cut and they felt the burden.  They have tirelessly worked and played towards this goal from the month of June; even canceling a Yellowstone trip so he and his brother wouldn’t miss camp.

I had sat beside him.  It’s not always about winning.  My sons knows this is an acquired mantra; my competitive streak reined in during their younger years in recreational sports.

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I’ve struggled with my competitiveness and my perceived sons’ lack of it in sports, academics.  I see twenty and thirty year old men addicted to video games, porn, or substances like alcohol or marijuana.  They don’t feel the compulsion to work and lack competitiveness and drive and have no motivation.  I don’t want this for my boys.  In a competitive world I want my sons to engage and participate; to self motivate and serve.  Dr. Sax’s book, Boys Adrift is affirming many things that I observe.  Winning can’t always be everything but it is a great motivator.  It is only by initiating and leading by example, particularly with male role models, that my boys can become productive men.  I am grateful they have plenty of those type of men in their lives.

I also enjoy sports, particularly college football, and my voice can be heard in the crowd as I cheer my team or my boys’ teams on.  In soccer I’d squeal excitedly, in competitive swim I would chant at the end of the lane as they flip-turned.  I had to remain quiet for golf; so I clapped politely.  The shy girl has become quite boisterous; cheering everyone on from the stands.  I try my best to applaud all things good and my boys know their mother has got their back.  I had forgotten how to do this simple act; too busy criticizing and analyzing.

The girl I once was, in high school, has resurfaced.  In the midst of frustration and exhaustion my inner cheerleader has returned as I compartmentalize the chaos and craziness of our busy lives.

As the friend listened and commented on my son’s frame of mind, I shared my resolutions and we both agreed on what we will do.  We must encourage our kids to do their best.  They must put aside the negative and accentuate the positive to move forward, to encourage others.  When I encourage others to do better, I am forced to do better for myself.  Those are the words that need to be spoken.

When we encourage others to do better, we are forced to be better for ourselves.

I am deleting my drafts folder full of diatribes and frustrations.  I acknowledge that they are there and when the right time presents itself, I may share these thoughts; or not.  I don’t need to be right or call things out all the time.  I just need to speak encouraging words that are true.  To say them clearly and just cheer.