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.

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friendships, School, Work

take two, or five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.  To this I must plead guilty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HLM cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

atoz

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.

friendships

talking too much

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I had been sitting in traffic on my daily commute to work; stewing.  A parent had cut-me-off as I exited the parking lot, dropping off my youngest son at his school.  I had then gotten stuck behind a slow driver who was texting and almost hit the crossing guard in the crosswalk.  When the third car went out-of- turn at a four-way stop I threw my hands up in the air; mumbling epithets under my breath, in my vehicle.

Then a song caught my ear and I turned it up.  Music can immediately change my mood, especially when I discover something new.  I’m grateful to Coin’s new song, “Talk Too Much” for doing that for me this past week.

I work through my issues by voicing them or typing them and in a household of males, the hubs bears the brunt of this burden.  I constantly chastise myself with why I can’t leave things unsaid.

My teens, surprisingly, are maturing and are now able to engage again in conversation with more than two words.  Recently we’ve had some great discussions about the things happening in their lives.

As a teen I felt disconnected with my parents so any tidbits of information from any of my three sons are welcome.  I know they do not tell me everything but I am grateful they choose to talk and willingly share something (without prodding).

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The spontaneous texts from my girlfriends to meet for walks, coffee, brunch and Friday night beverages were most welcome.  I’ve missed face time with fellow females and my schedule has finally opened up.

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Most times I walk my path alone in the morning, watching the fog rise from the ground in eerie patches of mist.  The silence and solitude allow me time to process and think through the various events occurring around me.  But the issues don’t resolve themselves until I talk them out.

My hubs is always the first filter, the one I trust implicitly, but females are vastly different than males.  He offers solutions and when I don’t take his advice he becomes frustrated.  I merely want him to “hear me;” to affirm the words and things that I observe are, in fact, real.  I want to talk through the scenarios, all umpteenth million of them, and consider the actions and reactions of those involved.

This is taxing for my dear hubs and so I am always grateful to the girlfriends who empathize; the ones who hear me.  The ones who don’t judge or critique.  These friends are rare and, over the years, I have discerned which ones I can feel affirmed with and, surprisingly, have gained a few new girlfriends along the way.

For a while I kept my thoughts and words for the hubs alone.  I soul-searched for the person I was/am after feeling bitter disappointment in various things.  This process allowed me to discover myself, both the good and bad, and in sorting and filtering I have been able to reconnect with my husband and family.

To engage.  To say no.  To let things go.

This has opened up space for me to discover things new.

To learn.  To explore. To grow.

My sons have watched me struggle and have heard me with my hubs.  For the boys to become decent men, they must have decent men in their lives to teach them these things.  To learn how to navigate through friends; to sort and filter if they affirm them.

Our two older sons have recently had to go through this and in observing my own process and discovery, they had a path to guide them.  Teenagers, today, are having to grow up faster and are exposed to more things due to technology.

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This morning I had to acknowledge this fact after discovering that my son’s close friend posted a suicide letter on a chat page and was admitted to a hospital.  At 12:59 AM my son received a text and a phone call from another close friend trying to help him.  But my son and the hubs had been watching a movie downstairs; his phone upstairs on his bed unanswered and unseen.

This is the second time this scenario has played out, with an entirely different person and situation, in three months.  But this one was close to home.

Growing up suicide letters were NOT the norm.  But social media has become the primary means of communication versus face-to-face interactions.   Talking has been replaced with typing and I wished my sons DID talk too much.

Instead, words are acronyms, memes and emoticons.  When the son saw the jumping off a cliff meme with the GKY (Go Kill Yourself) acronym, he assumed it was a joke.

This would be unheard of even a decade before, but our children have become desensitized to these thoughts and ideas.  When someone talks of cutting; kids roll their eyes.  Prescribing prescription drugs for anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have become common practice.  Everything is immediate and easy; just take a pill.

I stood at this son’s bedside, this morning, after receiving the call from my girlfriend of his friend’s suicidal ideation.   I quickly communicated with the other parents of my teen’s close circle.

This group of teens had just sat in our house on Friday evening talking.  This teen was the only one missing from their group and I am grateful that I have engaged with my boys’ lives; that I know who their friends are.  That I can open up my home to have them hang out on a Friday night so they can talk to one another, face-to-face or, most times, heads down texting phone to phone.

If ever I have appreciated the gift of hospitality and friendship, it is now.

We, moms, texted one another.

These kids, these days aren’t given coping skills.  When they get the real world, they are ill equipped to cope.  We protect them too much and don’t let them fail.  How do we guide them?

This pack of teens have one another.  They work things out together and that’s real life. 

One of the moms decided to open up her home, next week, and cook dinner because all conversations go better with food.  While our sons hang out, the parents will work through the issues to figure out how to navigate parenting today.  Our kids try to do the best they can.

Although I have a conflict with this dinner my son told me my presence is important to him.  So I must balance and make it work.  For him. 

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When my sons, this weekend, determined they wanted to bake cookies…I stopped what I was doing.  I rarely bake and all of my boys associate the holidays with their Mom baking cookies.

I took the time to directly look at my boys and frankly talk about what to do if your friend wants to commit suicide.  Thankfully, the teens in the situation did the right thing and called 911.  They were not critical nor judgmental.  They heard a teen’s cry for help and brought in the proper authorities and people to see it through.

We, parents, need to follow things through. 

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Being a parent isn’t always about giving our kids the best things, sheltering them or doing work for them so that they won’t have to worry.  They need to fail.

They need to learn how to navigate through stressful situations,with our guidance and support, to learn coping mechanisms to move forward.  And they need friends.

It is important for our kids to watch parents work through their conflicts to find resolution.  It is in talking too much with our friends, and spending face time that makes us human.  In walking alongside other people’s struggles, or vice versa, we learn the power of the ties that bind.

It’s easy to be our own islands, to try to work things out ourselves.  It is only in experiences that we can discern what a good friend is.  It’s not someone to gossip with; nor is it a competition of who has more things or titles.  It isn’t the one who brings in more money; nor is it the one who volunteers on PTA or booster boards.

We are not super Moms; we are all flawed.  We try to do the best we can.

I texted this friend’s mom, to make sure her son is okay.  The teens wanted to visit him.  His friends are ready to be there for him.

Parenting is a community and today, I am grateful to be a member of it.   Thanks to my fellow moms for being transparent and keeping it real.

Marriage

my happy place

I am with my hubs 24/7.  We work together in the small business we own.   I handle office matters and accounting and he handles everything else.

Admittedly, it is trying being with this man all of the time and when I meet couples who have endured through the years, for much longer than our mere eighteen years, I am compelled to ask this burning question in my mind.

How do you do it?  What’s the secret to a lasting marriage?

Last Saturday I awoke to bright, glaring sunlight as our cat pounced upon my foot above the covers.  Our bedroom, and entire house, looked like a hurricane had blown through it.  Normally this brings me anxiety and frustration.  I am a creature that thrives on order and routine, but I am learning to live through the chaos of my  life; to be present in the moment.

I recently was reminded of this after learning of two people’s passing.  A seventeen year old girl, who had performed with her high school band at Grand Nationals in Indianapolis as a vocalist and flutist, had been instrumental in placing their band in the top ten in finals.  Upon driving home that night, the car she had been in was struck.  She, her father and grandmother were killed.  This band program had experienced both its highest and lowest point,  in the same evening.

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During a district showcase event, featuring our local band programs, we learned of the loss of a staff member’s infant child at full-term.  Upon our flight’s return from Indianapolis our family of five had run into this family at a local restaurant.  They had beamed in happiness as they excitedly looked forward to the addition of this child.  We quietly absorbed the news in the high school stadium, saddened by this loss.

Life is short.

This past Saturday morning  was the first, in several months, where none of us needed to be somewhere.  I imagined myself lazily rousing, just as our sixth grader came bounding into the bedroom in search of the cat.  He had returned from a week- long science camp, immediately following our travel from Indianapolis.  The hubs and eldest son had fallen asleep downstairs, watching movies late into the night.  So much for a leisurely awakening.

Within an hour, all of my sons had made their way into our bedroom; strewn across our bed.  The dog and cat hairs clung to their pajama bottoms as the dog excitedly barked and the cat demurely purred.   Suitcases and blankets were pushed aside as my teens offered their own backs to be scratched and the tween found room in-between.

My mind flashed back to these boys as infants longing to be underneath our covers; jockeying for space on our queen sized bed.  It is now I who fights to find room, these sons now taking up most of the space.  When the hubs joined in, we were crammed; all of my boys somehow laying atop one another.

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It goes by in a blink.  I no longer take them for granted.  I cherish each one of them for who they are.

But in all this, it is the hubs that gets lost in the chaos.  Of all my family members, he is the one most taken for granted.  Most of this fall season I have busily coordinated our schedules, accounted for numbers for work and made sure we met our obligations to be where we’ve needed to be.  It is rare that I am being with he; the one who started this all.

I sat in bleachers in another stadium.  Whenever I meet a couple, my other most pressing question is how and when they’ve met; particularly those who have endured the years and have been married longer than ourselves.  This woman shared how she had met her husband of thirty-two years and I pointed out to her my other half, sitting in a far corner in disheveled and unmatched camouflage-wear.  We grinned at one another in understanding.

We appreciate our spouses when we step out of our normal routines and see them as others do.

It’s easy to get distracted and derailed with details and detritus.  The work-a-holic who bends over backwards  to make another customer happy with an unreasonable timeline.  The man who doesn’t bother with clothes or appearance and comes just as he is.  The father who sometimes forgets to check his sailor mouth from his days as a naval aviator, with his kids.  This man of spontaneity and my complete opposite in more ways than one.

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I type this from my happy place.

I had been shocked when the hubs saw the fall savings email and urged me to book an overnight stay at our beloved winery.  Financially we are recovering from our  recent travel, as well as large material purchases for the business.  I was anxious about leaving our sons at home, even overnight.  Our home was a mess and there was plenty to do to prepare for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

I’ve learned that more is not better.  That living with less makes life simpler and more clear.  That all these things to do, can wait.

The hubs and I walked across the road to honor the girlfriend who passed this last May at her preferred winery.  It is one of my favorite memories with her and another dear friend, as we headed to a book signing in San Diego.

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I passed on the extra glass of wine, only choosing quality versus the excess quantity. I watched as people stumbled around me and spoke in too loud voices in the wine tasting room.  I could taste the tannins on my tongue, smell the bouquet of flavors and appreciate the time and patience required to ferment grapes into an award winning wine.   As I sipped, I thought of the various answers I’ve received, over the years…

  • from the couple who sits behind our pew each Sunday… they’ve made it over sixty years because they give one another space.  He reads the paper in one room, she watches novellas in the other.   They appreciate one another’s diverse interests and do their own thing.
  • from my in-laws who just celebrated fifty years this July…who’ve made it because they never go to bed angry and are together 24/7.  They’ve weathered storms, since their teens, together against all odds and spent twenty five years creating the business we have inherited.  Currently they enjoy their years of retirement side-by-side on slot machines.
  • from the woman in the stadium…they’ve made it because they separated home from work and independently pursued what was important to each of them.  We had laughed out loud as she referred to her husband in third person…a separate entity from the one she usually deals with, in the first (person).  In watching him work she remembered the man she had fallen in love with.

And so I watched my own hubs in the third person; trying it on for size.

Instead of grimacing when he changed our schedule to stay late to appease, yet another customer, I saw the man who selflessly gives of his time.  He is the reason why our customers return.

I ignored the mess of our home; pushing aside clothes strewn on couches to sit and watch movies in a spontaneous movie marathon with our boys.  This is my hubs’ favorite pastime as I flit around picking up around them.  I decided to just sit with them instead.

I thought of my book club girlfriends who refer to my husband as, “the good guy” and tried to see the man they see…the one who teaches our boys how to build campfires, creates chef quality meals, assists them with trig/calc/physics/all things technological and being an all around “good guy.”

We stepped out of our normal routines, leaving our three sons  (with grandma nearby) and even taking a day off work, to decompress after this whirlwind of a year.  All things work related, financial and school  remained at home.  We sat among the vineyards, he with an electronic book; myself with my son’s laptop typing words.

Life is short and I would not want it to end without this man knowing the depth of love and gratitude for what we have (the good and the bad).  For years I’ve considered him my parenting partner or my “evil” work boss.

I had forgotten the love that began it all and the ties that bound us together. We are quite different in many ways but in things that matter, our beliefs are the same.  I considered all the answers people have shared over the years, finding my own on how our marriage will endure.

Marriage is like a fine wine requiring lots of attention and endless amounts of patience.

I may not always be in love with my life.  But I’m thankful to be here to live it.  It’s tough to always do what you love and love what you do...but I’ll spend the rest of my time trying, with this guy, ’til death do us part.

My heart is joyful as the holiday season comes upon us.  It isn’t about the material things and gifts.  In my marriage, my presence is the only present I have to give.

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This Thanksgiving be grateful.  Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

boys-adrift

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.

Uncategorized

walking-the-line

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In the pre-dawn stillness I jog towards my shadow, cast by the illuminated street lamps.   Pretend you are a runner, I say to myself as I put one unwilling foot in front of the other.  It is the rhythm of my wake cycle but this is not something I like to do.  It is something I have to do.

I say this out loud to the hubs; how I mentally do this.  How the amount of time I jog is decreasing.  My youngest son, nearby asked,

“But why do you pretend you are a runner?  You’re running, aren’t you?  You ARE a runner.”  Out-of-the mouth of babes.

I’m finding my way among people who pretend to be something else; myself included.

The ones who are super Moms who put all this stress upon themselves.  They make homemade lunches for their kids.  Their homes are immaculate.  They can do all things and look great at the same time and their kids are perfect.

The co-workers who have exciting lives that are way better than yours.   On Fakebook they have hundreds of likes for the interesting things they do.  Their weekends are full of amazing things and you wonder how they afford it all.

The parents in volunteer organizations who think they are managers of corporations.  Their suggestions are always right and they know the right people to implement them; including you.  They want the star by their name to be recognized for all things.

The parishioners who sit in mass and cut people off in the church parking lot with crude hand gestures.  Piety lasts for one hour.   Being religious is merely an adjective that doesn’t transcend into practice and real life.

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While lunching with a girlfriend she shared the comment her son made after experiencing great disappointment.  You don’t need a title; to be a leader.  I applaud this teen for having the maturity to recognize this.

Because sometimes, our teens are more mature than their parents.

I find this happening among alpha parents in the organization which I serve.  There is always something to be gained: recognition, financial profit or access to people to garner favor.   I grit my teeth and filter my words.  This is a fault of mine; my words have to be spoken (or written).

Alphaadj. Being the most prominent, talented, or aggressive person in a group [Def. 5b]. (n.d.). In The Free Dictionary Online, Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/alpha.

I feel weighed down by politics and control issues that are a part of human nature.  When there are too many alphas, conflict arises and words and actions are misconstrued.  If there is no transparency, people arrive at their own skewed conclusions.

Frustrated, I wheeled the tiny portable cart with two cases of water to the stadium.  Things were not going my way, the entire day.  Emails and texts were flying.  Communication was misfiring.  People were angry and accusatory.   I found myself treading carefully between groups; trying to move forward.  When the cart spilled over, it foreshadowed how the evening would go.   I was wary.

I stood in the aisle, handing out bottled water to the two sections of students I had promised I’d serve water to; over a month before.  It had been a hot day in August, the kids sweltering in the heat, and as I had walked by, the friend of my son asked if I could purchase water at the concession stand for his group.  I told him I couldn’t this time, but that I’d take care of his section of kids, next time and he shrugged and returned to watching the game.

I saw the moment it registered to this teen that I had remembered, when he craned his neck out to catch my attention.  I continued to pass water down the row to the eighteen students in his section, and the twenty-two students, with my son, in the row above.  The simple act of bringing bottled water to these kids was appreciated.  When my son’s friend grinned and yelled, “thank you,” I smiled back.  I remembered.

At a Friday night high school homecoming football game, I was reminded why I serve.  This was why.

The heaviness and parent drama still remained.  But I don’t serve any of these people.   I want for these kids to enjoy the same rewards I experienced at their ages and so I serve in this booster organization; to advocate for them and their program.

Our tweens and teenagers begin to notice the subtleties and snubs; they discover there are gray areas and observe the adults on how they navigate through them.  We look at this age group and assume they are rebellious and difficult.  They don’t expect follow-through.  They’re accustomed to people telling them what to do.

But respect earned by a teen is a feat.  They can see the imperfect yet appreciate when things get done.  They want consistency and respect; to know that they count.

Respect is important, yes.   But I don’t want others’ respect.  I need to be able to look in the mirror, each morning, and respect myself..  To walk/jog/run through life trying to do the right thing.  To have integrity.

Integrity.  Noun.  firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values [Def. 1].  (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster Online, Retrieved October 2, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/integrity.

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Walk-the line. Verb.  1. (idiomatic)  To maintain an intermediate position between contrasting choices, opinions, etc. [Def. 1].   (idiomatic) To behave in an authorized or socially accepted manner, especially as prescribed by law or morality; to exercise self control.  [Def. 2]. (n.d.). In Your Dictionary Online, Retrieved October 2, 2016, from http://www.yourdictionary.com/walk-the-line.

I include the definitions; not for others, but for myself.  I need to see it in black and white to navigate through the gray of life.

And so the email is typed, the words are said.  I do not lean towards what is popular; nor easy.  I say the things that are usually unsaid; unsure how they’ll be received.  I walk-the-line of integrity and when I choose this path, the gray haze becomes clear.

  • I am an imperfect mother, but that is okay.  My kids need to see me struggle through conflicts so they can learn the tools to struggle through their own.
  • I don’t have to travel far to enjoy amazing moments with my kids.  Most of those moments are usually when they’re home or in my car, sans Instagram or Fakebook.  The best part?

Giving and receiving joy is FREE.

  • I don’t need to be seen with a title, star or accolades.  I am not a CFO of a corporation among alphas.  I volunteer my time for the kids and do what needs to get done.
  • I am not a saintly woman.  But I have faith, moral values and try to follow them as best as I can.  God loves me, just as I am.  Flawed.  (I try hard not to cut people off in the parking lot).

I walk-the-line, straying from it often.  But what’s important is to know where that line is and what it stands for.  My path is clearing.

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Stop pretending and run with it.

Family, friendships

changing seats

This is my favorite time of year…the changing of season from summer to fall.

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As a young girl fall meant back to school after a long summer.  I missed my friends and couldn’t wait to get back into the routine; the anticipation of all things new.  I couldn’t wait to learn; to get closer to being what it was I was going to be.  Life was a mystery and I wanted to unlock it.

With time that love of learning became lost.  It got lost in worrying about the future…in getting the grades, being involved in activities so colleges would take a second look.  It became competitive and the power of whom you know versus what you do sometimes got muddled.  It was all about the end-goal.

I grew up and got deposited into real life; not the sheltered one I lived in a small, rural coast community.  In the city I was a speck in the crowd and found myself getting swept up in the sea of people reaching higher, working harder, running faster.

Surprisingly, love found me in the most unlikely places and I have been fortunate to have our friendship grow into relationship; our shared history binding us over decades.   I had hoped to choose a safe, stable and very routine career.  I did not aspire to move far away.  I did not want a lot of change.

But to grow, to learn, change is what we must do.  When stuck at a plateau, we change up our routines to revive our metabolism, boredom and complacency.  Some refuse to budge, others choose the other extreme.  But the word, change, does not normally have a positive connotation.  I often hear that change is good but, really, what I’m feeling is the opposite.

Change. [Full Def.]  transitive verb.  1 a :  to make different in some particular  b :  to make radically different c :  to give a different position, course, or direction to  2 a :  to replace with another  b :  to make a shift from one to another c :  to exchange for an equivalent sum of money (as in smaller denominations or in a foreign currency)  d :  to undergo a modification of  e :  to put fresh clothes or covering on.  (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved September 20, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/change.

With this school year I was loathe to give up my SUV; the hubs and I switching up our school drop-off routines.  Car travel time, with my sons, is one of my favorite things.  Soon our eldest will be the one behind the wheel; driving himself and his brother to high school.  Because they begin earlier, the hubs navigates the craziness of their drop-off en route to work and I use his vehicle to drop-off our youngest.

I miss all of my sons being dropped off from my vehicle.

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Out-of-the-box thinking is squashed with years of history.  It has always been done this way and why change it?  For years, after high school, I chose to sever my old fashioned ideals to embrace the novel.  Plato, Einstein, Columbus, Watson & Crick, Wozniak & Jobs, …they chose to question the status quo and discovered new answers.  I had many questions and debated them often.  But never did I find my answers and I just stopped asking.

In this season of midlife, I begin to question many things.  For years I never questioned, always following the herd and wanting to fit the mold to be a good spouse, daughter, mother and friend.  I’ve failed many times at all of these things and it’s only with time and experience that I can finally find my way.  Severing my ties with my childhood ideals worked against my end-goals.  They used to be: a great career, titles, material things and many friends.  But quantity never makes up for quality and I recently was reminded of this over the weekend.

I mulled over these thoughts in the hubs’ truck.  While most people in my community lease cars and change them every few years to experience new, our household remains with our 1998 and 2002 vehicle models.  Now that my son drives my vehicle, I see it anew through his eyes.

Did I realize that my vehicle drives itself?  My son is finding things I had never noticed as I drove them to and fro.  The seat that folds down into a table.  A hidden compartment.  I’ve missed all of these things.  The youngest notes similar things in the hubs’ truck.

Did I know this button caused my speakers to change tone?  I’ve missed the accelerating power of the hubs’ truck;  its V8 engine and its deep-throated thrum.  Each morning my son and I lean forward each time I brake; forgetting the sensitivity of the pedal.  The music gets cranked up as I accelerate onto the freeway.

Slowly I have transitioned between the two cars; remembering the nuances of each and enjoying the amenities of both.  I’m hoping to thread through this time of life, as well.

Just as I struggle to let things go for my boys and allow them more independence; so I must also learn to let go of my defining title as the center of my sons’ world as a mother, to an independent adult and attentive spouse. 

I am redefining my roles, once again, and hope that I can retain the nuances of each and enjoy the amenities of both.  In order to grow I must accept and embrace change.  I’ve become complacent.

This past weekend as we celebrated my son’s sixteenth birthday I had been surprised by his request.  He asked that gifts NOT be opened publicly; knowing one of his friends’ family struggles financially.  Normally this son chooses not to celebrate his birthday with a party and prefers a dinner with just family.

I agreed to honor his request even though our family enjoys watching the reaction of the person opening gifts.  I had not anticipated that all of our family or my son’s eight friends could attend.

The hubs and I were just happy that this son chose to invite his friends to celebrate with him.

As I drove the hubs’ vehicle to work, in traffic, I remembered this same son wailing inconsolably in the infant carseat; the visiting bff trapped in the truck with us for five hours.  I gripped the steering wheel teary eyed.  I wouldn’t trade this truck in for a newer model.  Not ever.  The memories and history that is told in each fold, scratch and dent were reminders of the growth and changes that life has brought.

History is important.

On Sunday I stared at the cake before me while my sister-in-law counted guests.  It was not enough.  The silver lining in her words wasn’t lost on me…at least you won’t have leftovers.

My son relented to his friends’ requests to OPEN all of his gifts in front of everyone.  And so he did, as he has many birthdays before.

When the remaining Victoria’s Secret gift bag remained; the family and friends jeered and cheered for him to look at what was inside.  What kind of gag gift did these friends decide to gift to this boy on his sixteenth birthday?!   As pink tissue paper crinkled we all waited…

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I stood alongside and watched his friends’ faces before looking at my own son.  They had looks of anticipation and when I heard him gasp I finally looked at what he held in his hand.

This son has begged for us to purchase this electronic gaming item for the past two years and the hubs and I have refused to purchase it.  His friends, of their own accord, chose to pitch in money to give this to him.  They hoped I didn’t mind.

I gaped in shock, knowing this wasn’t something small, and I quickly snatched the camera to distract myself from crying right then and there.  The picture of nine teens placing their hands in a Victoria’s Secret bag, grinning from ear-to-ear, was priceless.

Later that same night, after a high school community jazz performance, our son sat quietly at the table with the hubs and I.  The middle son plopped himself into a chair and announced, “Dude.  My friends wouldn’t do that for me.  You’ve got some really good friends.” 

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In response, the older one shared how he had been shocked and embarrassed and didn’t know how to react when opening the present.   He had been happy that these friends merely were present.

It was the idea that these boys pooled their resources together and gave a thoughtful gift all on their own.  They couldn’t wait for him to open it and shared these sentiments on their online chatroom.

That mattered more to him than the gift. He had been humbled.

The very next night I found these parents in a high school stadium.  Did they realize what their boys had done?

A mom bluntly shared her sentiments.  She had refused to pay for the gift but if, these boys figured it out on their own, she’d purchase it with their money.  Each of the parents agreed that the money issue wasn’t a deterrent.  They all were encouraged that their sons worked collaboratively to get through obstacles and to selflessly give.

It’s the history these guys share with one another that’s important; their relationships solidifying year-after-year.  I hugged each of the parents and saw the joy mirrored in their eyes; even the dads.

I’d become complacent in my relationships with my fellow humans; believing the worst and losing sight of what is good.  I stayed within the status quo and just did.  I focused on my sons and my family; forgetting about the bigger picture.

But life constantly changes with transitions.  While sitting at a funeral mass for a dear friend’s mother; I heard family members share memories of their beloved.  It wasn’t in the things she gave them that kept this family together.  It was in the relationships she forged with her children and grandchildren, that mattered.  It impacted who they all had become.

Why search for new and better things when the best things in life are steeped in history?  Our evolution as a species, as a people, relies on our ability to navigate through transitions and obstacles and progress.   To pass these traits on to the next generation, I must embody them in myself.

This is the end-goal; to strive to be better.  To change.  To grow.

Being married to the hubs brought many opportunities to experience change.  He brought varying views into my life.  Travel.  Our sons.  He taught me the strength in doing things on my own.  With constant military deployments I was left to my own devices.  And I could weather life’s storms knowing that, even though he wasn’t always physically near, our ideals and values were the same; his love unwavering.

My unlikely partner, quite opposite from myself, has anchored me.  We continue to make history together; hopefully for many more decades.

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On the harvest moon I stood alongside fellow friends, experiencing mooncakes for the very first time and appreciating their endless hospitality.

Life never ceases to amaze me, there are so many new things to learn.  I am open now to new friendships and experiences; stepping out of my box and comfort zones.

I am remembering this gift of hospitality, handed down to me from generations past.  As my birthday came and went I finally realized the greatest birthday gifts I’ve received.  Get-togethers with various groups of friends; just to celebrate being together.  No presents; just presence.

The overbearing mama bear in me is learning to let go.

The eldest son is always the one who’s struggled to find a friend and it was only on his birthday that my worries for his future were needless.  He is capable of finding friends all on his own.  His changes, both physically and emotionally, are okay.  He doesn’t need to reinvent himself or try to conform.

I’m getting comfortable sitting in the passenger seat; ceding control and the wheel to him, to drive.

The waning moon is still bright.  I roll down the windows, hair flying, and enjoy the ride.

 

 

Family, friendships

celebrating today

the-geneSomething struck me recently, while reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book, The Gene.   Mutations in phenotypes (physical traits) caused scientists to dig deeper; to find the mechanisms of diversity in humans and discovering the gene. It is only when something appears abnormal that we try to figure things out.  Otherwise, we would never have known something was abnormal to begin with.

Usually when I type, I am working something out and seeking the simplest answer to the lowest common denominator.  It is rare to share things when things are going well.  They always have to contrast with something bad; something relatable to the faults of the human condition.  Nobody likes to hear someone toot their own horn in jubilant bliss.

Today I celebrate a birthday.  It is usually a day I try to forget; to avoid the inevitable feeling sorry for myself funk as an only child with deceased parents.   It’s only taken me two-and-a-half decades to work through this day but this year, I am finally over it.   In fact, my youngest son had to yell upstairs for me to turn my music down.

I know it’s your birthday, Mom, but you need to turn it down.  You’re going to lose hearing in your ears.

I can embrace life with open arms, singing at the top of my lungs.   The greatest birthday gift not being presents; but presence among those who love me.  Love never felt so good.

‘Cause, baby, every time I love you, in and out my life, in out, baby,
Tell me, if you really love me it’s in and out my life, in out, baby
So, baby, yes, love never felt so good.

It took hearing this song, in a sushi cafe with my husband and three sons, to finally feel the joy in aging another year.   The boys laughed as I pulled out my cell, frantically using my Shazam app to identify what song played in the muted, blue-light background. This song was reminiscent of the Jackon 5 music played in our household as a child.   My father loved Motown and this song by MJ/JT brought happy memories of my youth flooding back.

I spent years of my life anxious about what-ifs.  I wasted time ruminating about past things that I could not control.  Rarely do I plant myself in the present.  And when I do, I have to type it for myself to believe it.  It’s the reason I am obsessed with photos.  If it’s captured on camera, it really did happen.  But sadly I am usually looking through a viewfinder behind the lens versus being an active participant.

Lately I’ve taken great joy in mundane things.  Driving with my eldest son, soon to be sixteen, hasn’t been the harrowing, stressful experience I’ve heard from fellow parents.  We found ourselves hysterically laughing as my son discovered how to turn left when there are two turn lanes.

Mom!?  How do I stay in my lane? he asked (while actively turning and venturing dangerously close to the curb).   I had braced myself; thinking I would be constantly yelling at and correcting my son.  It’s been a nice surprise to discover I am the opposite.  I enjoy being driven by my teenage son.  The hubs; not so much.

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These are my favorite ages; the tween/teen stages.  There is pride in watching your children grow before your very eyes into young men.

Yesterday we had arrived home after a long work day with one thing after another going wrong.  I had been physically and emotionally drained and the hubs and I sat in the quiet of our vehicle sans kids.  We had arrived at the high school and our three sons dutifully came into our vehicle; protesting that we were not heading straight home.  They had mounds of homework; grumbling the entire drive to the sushi restaurant.   My actual birthday is chock full of appointments and late night practices and so we had dinner the night before (besides the fact that our refrigerator is empty and we  haven’t had time to go to the grocery store).

My husband usually over compensates for my birthday; knowing my predilection for wanting to be left alone.  My girlfriends, over the years, have celebrated me in various ways and I am always grateful for their love, acknowledgement and friendship.  But the feeling of birthday happy has never truly come from within; all joyful moments external to those around me.   The best gifts have been friendships; not in the items they give but in the act of accepting my quirks and idiosyncrasies.   All relational. 

In learning to love others I have learned to love myself.

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For years I blamed myself for my losses.  Bad things happen.  Friendships come and go.  People die.    I found myself whining and complaining; fighting for things to work in my favor.   But with age and time I’ve come to discover that all of us have something to contribute.  It doesn’t have to be big (I won’t be winning the Nobel Prize) nor expensive.  If I share my gifts, my time without any expectations in return; then I’ve done my fair share.

I close my eyes and make my birthday wishes.

  • With my voice I can make a conscious choice to seek the good things.  I can choose to sing.
  • When I look in the mirror I see health versus girth.  I am able to walk and jog in the great outdoors.
  • I can’t force my opinions or will on those I love.  I must accept them as they are and hope they make good choices, for themselves.
  • What I have is enough.  I don’t need more, I must learn to live simply with less.
  • I don’t need others to know what I do.  I do things because I want to.
  • If I’m trying too hard, it’s not meant to be.  Things happen naturally.

And so I celebrate these kernels of knowledge, gained from my years of birth.  Not just today, but every day.  Crank up the volume of your life and dance to the music.